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Section 1

I have done well in my work and deserve a rest. I have my garden to attend to, and dinners down in old Darnik, where the wash floods the salt fields. Yet in these troubled times it still soothes me to approach a matter which, while on the outside appears straightforward, provides a surprise turn under examination.

But this shall be my last case, I think. I am too tired, too tired
Who more fitting to bring it to me then, than Empress Tangana of the Kioki, who some call "the sickly". Sick or well, she is still as pretty as a Verduban rose.

Rumour of my success in some small matters has evidently spread as high as her court, and I was told by telegram to expect a visit. In my reply, I explained that justice was the right of all people, whether they be born loweest, or indeed highest in the land.

Section 2

I was summoned to port at Darnik by Sorvik's pipe - what a wonderful long-legged beast it is, dispatching messages to all parts of the marsh.

As I walked leisurely between the bobbing platforms of the marsh, I saw that a vast and ornate skyship had docked in the estuary, and knew it must belong to the Empress. When I drew near, a party disembarked to meet me.

It rankles they found my appearance so astonishing, since I took the utmost care in my wardrobe that day. Nevertheless they quickly set aside their prejudice, and asked what payment I might expect in return for helping the Empress with a mystery.

I had considered the matter in advance, and answered directly, "If I settle your case, I sould like Great Marsha to have the protection of the Unity if it comes to war with the Saborians."

At this, the party of scribe and counsel turned away sharply, and went back aboard thes ship.

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Section 4

"When my mother Empress Massimala died, I was very young. My mother's rule had been short but fine. Though I was a young Empress, I was constantly reminded that Denoue the Great had acceded to the throne at the age of six, and that I had much to live up to. My life was court, stuck between three tiny rooms..."

I knew the rooms to be actual fact grandly-sized, but thought better of correcting her.

"...when I did have a rare moment alone, I'd gaze up at the skyships and dream of being an explorer, navigating the jungles of Koinos, or finding sunken treasure in the warm sea. But those dreams never came to pass."

She looked at me, and her spirits seemed lifted again.

"I take every chance to leave the court, now that I may. Though usually I have Gloam with me."

"Your warlock is busy?"

"I decided that this matter did not concern him, and that it was something I must do alone."

She seemed to want reassurance on this point, which being a simple man, I could not provide.

"Please, continue," I said.

"I want to know why my mother died."

Section 5

I hopped off my chair, and took up my thinking position on the floor, my legs crossed, hands on top of my head.

"It was long ago Empress, and vital evidence may have been lost, yet your quest interests me greatly. If I do accept, then please understand, I can make no guarantee of success."

"Yes Mr. Puggibun, I trust you to do your best with it. If return, I swear you shall have protection if Sabor ever threatens your people."

"In that case, I shall be delighted to take your case," I said.

The Empress sighed, and I immediately regretted my poor choice of words.

"My dear mother. I was only ever told she'd died, not how or why. But recent developments have me asking questions."

"Recent developments?" I said.

"Come, let us sail for Ten-Rui. It will take a week, and I am keen to return. Perhaps seeing things for yourself will aid your deduction."

I felt a pang that I must once again leave my beloved Marsha, but nothing could dissuade me from the promise of a new case.

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Section 7

We flew over the fields and forest of Karem, before landing the skyship, and riding the final mile in the Empress' palanquin. She had arranged me a place at her side during the journey, during which she managed her politics by use of a conical apparatus.

As we drew up to the estate, the Warlock of Koinos was in the process of clipping back his flowers. He was very old, his hair thin and scarce.

"Good afternoon, Koinos," said the Empress.

Koinos' hooded eyes peered at us for a few moments, then returned to his task.

"Your highness," he muttered, "what on earth could possible bring you, and this frog-fellow, all the way out here?"

"The death of my mother," said Empress Tangana.

"Thought so. Why don't you just let the thing lie, like everyone else."

"Do not address the Empress in that tone," said one of the clerks.

"Oh shut your cake-hole! I do as I please. If you've come here to chop off my head, get on with it."

He snipped a great cushion of foliage onto his lap. The Empress made a huff of displeasure.

"I will not chop it off, Koinos, until you have reliquished the truth."

"I have told the trush. Your mother died naturally."

I hopped down off the palanquin without the aid of its bearers, and approached him.

"Do you not fear death?" I said.

"I do not."

"I presume buy your title, that you are a master of medicine, as is common to the people of Koinos? And that you are the medic who bore the crane badge at court during the time of Massimala's passing."

"That I am, Frog-man. Of what importance is it to you?"

"I merely question whether by lying about the nature of Emrpess Massimala's death, you betray your entire legacy as a sworn medic of the cranes."

"What slander! My lawyer shall hear of this."

"Steady Mr.Puggibun," called the Empress from her cushion, "the people of Karem do not take accusation lightly."

"And I do not make it lightly. I merely wish to enquire of this gentlemen, the exact species of nettle that was used by the murderer to kill your mother."

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Section 10

There were great gunplumes of smoke and balloons set off upon our arrival at Ten-Rui, though few spectators were there to enjoy them.

The Empress had not yet decided what to do with old Koinos, but I suggested she ought to consult her Warlock of the Gloam on the matter after all.

"No. He has displeased me of late."

I waited for an explanation, but she did not furnish me with one.

"But what will you do Mr. Puggibun?" she said, changing the subject.

"I will go to the royal bedchamber, and have a good look around."

"You know, all of this was nearly twenty years ago," said the Empress.

"I know, but one must not speculate, one must prove," I said.

"What a thorough little fellow you are."

"I admit I am little, but I do not always need reminding! Now..let me see to my business, your highness."

"Wait. Do you remember I spoke of a development that made up my mind to call on your services?"

She thrust a letter into my hands. It read as follows;

Dear Empress,
I killed your mother. It was me. I wanted to wait until you were older, to tell you how much I enjoyed it.
Your mother was a miserable woman, far too stubborn.
If you want to be a good Empress, you will comply with the wishes of others, or I shall bite you in the night too.

Section 11

I was so thrown by the letter, that I put aside the investigation I had planned in the imperial bedroom, and immediately began an analysis of the letter's contents.

The hand had been careful to write in such a way as to appear naive, and probably in no way resembled the owner's true style. The paper used was ordinary for the region, and of course, I was drawn immediately to the mysterious "S", which was either an audacious clue, or a red herring.

"Horrible isn't it," said the Empress, "and with everything else, I feel like I don't want to go on living any more."

I knew not what she meant by "everything else," but I did what I could to steer her away from darkness.

"Come now, take heart. There is always something to live for. Your people need you."

The Empress recovered herself, "Of course Mr. Puggibun, forgive me. Do you think the letter could be some silly trick?"

"I cannon say. But if I may, I'd like the use of your library."

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Section 13

Making our escape from the Empress' chambers disguised in the simpler dress of courtiers, we bustled quickly across the complex. I followed the Empress into a grand outhouse, and down some marble steps. She pointed to a concealed door between a stack of wine barrels.

"What do we expect to find beyond it?" she whispered.

"A tailor, probably from an impoverished background, working carefully over one of your dresses," I said.

We opened the door, and there he was, exactly as I had described.

"Who are you?" he said agitatedly.

"I am your Empress," she said, and the tailor cowered.

"I beg forgiveness, highness."

"Explain yourself to Mr. Puggibun, and it might be considered."

"Tell me," I said, "the Empress' dress you are working on. Does it contain the prickles of the Naira Rain Nettle, that you weave into the fabric, so that it shall effect the wearer?"

"Yes sir."

"And you do this knowing it would cause deep sleep at night, and that in the morning, the wearer would be dead."

"Yes sir,"

The man was downcast, although I sense his shame was insincere. In Ten-Rui, the morals of any man could be bought if the price was right.

"Where is the man who commissioned you, the Warlock of the Snake?"

"He is at Wellah."

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