There is something about Doctor Maladar’s workers that seems to both unnerve and astound me at the same time. They are loyal, well trained, and highly efficient. And yet, I feel like there’s more beneath the surface. These people are so much more than effective servants. Each of them possesses some quality that I find astounding. And the loyalty, beyond compare. How he can get such prowess and effort from his help is outside my comprehension.

“Do try to keep up, Branner. We will be heading outside now. I wouldn’t like if you were to lose your way.” I really must learn how to walk while lost in mine own thoughts. It would truly be of use.

I had been out in the gardens earlier in the day, but part of me was now in a more relaxed state since I no longer had to worry about attacks out here. If the demons’ were bound to the house then they were prevented from leaving the estate, and I’m sure they want to focus on completing their contracts so they might be free.

With such fears at ease, I could enjoy the view of such stunning plants the Doctor had accumulated in this place. He must have some particular love of the botanical sciences, as the various flora were arranged by their genus.

“You wished to see me, Branner?” We had arrived, and it would appear, The Doctor had not completely cooled from his earlier row with me.

“Not quite. I was looking for your man, Lance Welling. He was going to report my findings to you, last I saw him. Has he yet found you?” I keep things as amicable as possible.

The Doctor looks me over, like he’s sizing up how best to answer me. Any other time, I’d argue about time being of most importance, but it will get me nowhere. And I must keep as much goodwill as I have left.

“Mr. Welling did report to me a short time ago. I asked him to rest and return to his quarters. I figured it best considering the circumstances.”

“Wonderful. Could you by chance tell me where the servants’ quarters is located?”

“Branner, what do you intend to do when you reach Mr. Welling?” His gaze is very unnerving. I can not stress that enough. But he speaks as if he already knows what I need him for.

“Doctor, I have seen far too much today.” My words must reach him. I’m not normally a person so accustomed to the feelings of others, but he must know my urgency.

“As many things as I have done in my life, few can match the plethora of low level demons I killed, the young boy I discovered with his unique talents, facing a partially corporeal demon, summoning and trapping a ghost only to discover it is not a ghost, all the while, trying not to die while exorcising two demons possessing such a large estate.” I suppose when I say it all like that, my day certainly seems much more amazing than I ever really considered.

“This case must be closed and soon, if we’re to save not only your people, but potentially the entire county.” My pacing must seem more agitated than calm, for The Doctor is letting a nervous look through.

“I tell you this so that you may understand me when I say, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I find Mr. Welling. I would like to think that my initial judgment of the poor boy was correct, and this is all a misunderstanding,” I say, as I cross behind him. I emphasize my last few words to ensure he gets my meaning, “but I cannot rule out the possibility that he is at the center of this whole nasty business.”

“Branner… these things you are insinuating…..” The Doctor spoke slowly, his every word perfectly enunciated. “These are grievous charges to bring on someone who has experienced such recent tragedy. Before I tell you where he went, are you certain of this?”

“Not at all.” I wish I were… “Lance Welling is an incredibly talented young man, and has weathered much in his short life, and I would hate if my actions would unnecessarily hurt him. But evidence has lead me to the conclusion that I must at least question him, if not outright interrogate.”

The Doctor turned and looked me over. With all the brash things I’ve done today, I have to wonder how long his patience will hold.

“Why do you see fit to balance out all the incredible, and reassuring spectacles you perform with such insanity? You slay blood-born demons of which I knew nothing. Then proceed to run about my home, peering through an odd glass. You hire on an urchin, known to thieve from my premises, in the middle of your investigation! Yet, you successfully fought and repelled a much larger, unseen beast, moving about this building.”

He looked at me with an odd, inquisitive face. I wasn’t really sure how to answer. I had done what was needed. What I felt was needed. I suppose I did take some permissions for granted.

“You want this house cleansed, from what is infecting it. I can tell you right now, it’s two demons. And while one alone is complicated, two is a messy war. Everything I’ve done has been working toward this goal. Not a one of your previous hires has done things the way I do, and look where you are. It seems I am to fight you as much as these dark spirits, through this endeavor, and I shouldn’t. After all the things I’ve shown you, I absolutely shouldn’t.”

I only hope this is the last time I must do this.
“I shouldn’t have to keep doing this.”

The Doctor was somber. His authority and pride must be withering with all my intrusions.

“Branner, I must apologize.”

…How many times today will I be so surprised.

“I have been just as inconsistent with you, as you have been with me. You proved fairly quickly upon your arrival that this house and my people can be saved. I agreed you’d have full permissions to the grounds and manor, and every time since then, I’ve done nothing but question you. You who only wish to help. And for that, I am sorry.”

I’m stunned. This may be the third time today I’ve gotten into such a discussion with Doctor Maladar, but it is by far the one I least expected. I should just be gracious, and move on to Lance.

“I thank you, Doctor. Now, if you please, to continue with my investigation, I must know, where is Mr. Welling?”

“He went to the kitchen for some food. I excused him from the rest of his duties for the day.”

The Doctor wouldn’t do that under standard circumstances. Then he must know what Lance learned in the study.

“Doctor, I should tell you-”

“I don’t want to hear it, Branner. I don’t want to know any more than I already do. Please, finish this investigation. And do it quickly.”

His fist was shaking, his head drooped at my words. The memory must be painful. This man cares so much for his staff, and yet he gave me Lance’s location. This entire ordeal is putting him through the some of the worst pain imaginable.

I turn to the young maid I had escort me here, whom I seem to have forgotten. She looked very uncomfortable in all our talk.

I can’t help it. I must give him one last thing.
I don’t turn around.
“He doesn’t blame you.”

The maid quietly leads me back into the house, my conversation with the doctor likely keeping her from articulating any thoughts. This building was gorgeous, and yet actually looking at it, I can see the signs of previous attacks. Panels with scratches, immediately adjacent to new ones. Rooms the staff seems to avoid. And they all look to me, hoping for salvation. It is for this reason, that I force myself to push against my compassion. Lance may know more about this affair than initially believed, and if I am to free us, I will need to know what he knows.

The kitchen is massive. Such a large estate requires much in the way of hired help, and a lot of people require much food. The head chef wouldn’t be bothered to cook for the staff, so an under-cook or apprentice would be serving Lance. I felt like I was in a children’s game, constantly chasing a moving target. Normally when I do so, I’m in a much greater sense of exhilaration. Running after magi through dark ruins, or fighting off a pack of crocotta. Intense situations lead me to use my mind more effectively. I piece together these puzzles amidst the chaos. Here, while I have endured plenty of turmoil, it has been interspersed with long lulls of politeness. Social situations that require a much more refined personality to wade through such murky waters.

“Mr. Branner? Are you feeling all right, sir?”

I am snapped back to my senses.

“Yes! Right. Where’s the cook?”

“Um, he’s standing right in front of you…” The maid sheepishly gestured to the man standing clearly in front of me, his brow furrowed.

I clear my throat.

“Of course. My good man, have you seen young Lance Welling, recently?”

The cook was a larger man, who seemed annoyed at my presence. Why? I could not say.

“You’re taking me away from my duties, to inquire about one lowly servant?”

Well, I suppose that could be why.

“His whereabouts are imperative to my investigation. If you could please tell me where he is, I will be on my way.”

The chef looked me over, placing a hand to his chin. I didn’t like this feeling.

“Or, here is another thing I could do. I could go back to preparing supper, not tell you where that poor boy is, and let you go take care of our problem without the harassment of someone who recently lost his brother.” He turned around and started to walk away.

“Why must everyone throw everything they can in my path?” These people seem determined that I must fight against them in addition to the demons. I must show I am not to be taken lightly.

I reach into my pocket for my jade gem. “Restringo.”