441 Meat Puppet Part 2
The group spent the morning interrogating more witnesses, but neither Jirni's wits nor Tista's charm managed to find anything that could further the investigation.
"Embezzlement, illegal gambling, fencing.
All things that would make today a field day if they weren't completely irrelevant for the task at hand!" Jirni cursed in frustration.
To add insult to injury, no made mage had appeared since they had defeated the merchant the previous day.
It left them with only one shot at cracking the mystery behind the specimen still stored inside the quarantine array.
"Did you learn anything useful from that meatball" She asked Manohar.
First, keeping it alive requires a steady supply of mana and flesh.
Second, it uses part of the mana to convert the flesh it consumes into its own and the rest gets stored somehow.
"Lith" She cut him short, since Manohar seemed unable to understand the "useful" part.
We know that whoever made it is a genius and that they employ Forbidden Magic.
So far we have no clue about its purpose or how to track its source." He replied, making her sigh.
"There isn't much we can do right now.
You three get back to the lab and please bring me good news.
Mage Felhorn and I have been summoned by Marquis Lanza, Othre's ruler.
He doesn't seem too happy with our results."
"Did he really expect us to solve the case in one day Why not also demand that we turn hay into gold while he is at it" Tista said sarcastically.
"Before our arrival, he was the one the Crown held accountable for the ongoing crisis.
I guess the old coot is eager to put the blame on us and wash his hands of the problem.
Keep me posted, I'll do the same."
Once they reached the Marquis' office, both Jirni and Dorian had a clear idea of what to expect.
"So much for your experts, Felhorn.
In less than 24 hours they managed to ruin months of my hard work! The Crown will be informed of it and believe me, they will not be pleased." Lanza said while smoothing his black mustaches.
The Marquis was a man in his late fifties, around 1.67 meters (5'6") tall, with greying black hair and a wide belly that was a testament to his love for good food.
Despite the cold weather and an open window, he was sweating profusely.
His vast amount of excess body fat helped Lady Ernas to make up her mind.
'Today I'll have roasted pork for lunch.' She thought while pondering which side dish was better suited for her meal while she pretended to listen to his rants.
"At least while I supervised the investigation, the collateral damage while handling the made mages was minimal.
You allowed a single one to burn down a whole building in broad daylight! Do you have any idea how many lives you have destroyed Or the panic you have caused" He lied through his teeth.
Made mages had done plenty of damage already, and their victims' body count had reached the double digits.
The only differences with the Marquis's crisis management were that the made mages would die at the first spell and the victims would be forced into silence.
"Winter is coming and I have six families that have lost everything, without even a place to live.
Merchants came to me claiming the fire has destroyed hundreds of silver coins worth of merchandise.
Who is going to pay for that" The Marquis' voice was outraged, but his grin told another story.
'The bigger their failure, the more negligible mine will appear in comparison.' He thought.
"The Association will cover all the expenses." Dorian said with a nod of his head.
'I bet a good part of that money will end up his pockets.' Was what he actually thought.
"It's the least you can do." The Marquis said.
"Your incompetence has caused incalculable losses to Othre's establishments.
Now everyone knows about made mages.
People are so scared that they prefer to stay at home all day rather than risk their lives.
"Even my poor Mynna had to cancel the weekly gala we host in our home because not one of our friends is willing to attend!"
"I know you are upset, father, but you're being unfair to these people." Mynna walked into the room, followed closely by a housemaid.
She was a stunning young woman in her early twenties, with light chestnut hair and blue eyes.
Mynna was as tall as her father, wearing a skin-tight yellow evening dress that emphasized her soft curves.
'What the heck' Mynna's arrival interrupted Jirni's internal debate about the best suited wine to accompany her lunch.
'They seem like they were pulled out of the "The beauty and the pig" fable.
The only reasonable explanation is that she is adopted.'
"Between people going missing on a daily basis and the blue pillars reaping our peers, most of the members of our social circle left Othre weeks ago.
Even our friends don't trust your skills.
Mage Felhorn deserves the benefit of the doubt!"
Mynna said with an angry tone.
'Definitely adopted.' Jirni thought.
"But pumpkin…" The Marquis turned beet red from embarrassment.
"No buts, father! Have you told them about Count Xolver" She cut him short.
"No, he didn't.
Why do you think he should have" Jirni asked.
"Count Xolver is a lunatic.
He is the only one in his family that was born without a shred of magic power.
He's always been obsessed with the dream of becoming as powerful as his siblings.
"He wasted a small fortune to pay mages, Alchemists, and every charlatan that promised him they could boost his talent for magic.
When I heard about common people suddenly turning into powerful mages, he was the first suspect that came to my mind.
"Yet my father never listened to me because the Xolver household is among his most loyal retainers!"
"Watch your mouth, young miss!" The Marquis seemed to have regained his spunk.
"I will not allow you to berate your father or our dear friends solely because you have no pity for an unfortunate gentleman.
Go to your room, now!"
Mynna and the housemaid left the Marquis office, but not before the young lady 'accidentally' bumped into the Marquis' desk and spilled an inkwell over his documents.
Hours of hard work were gone in an instant, and so was Mynna.
Jirni and Dorian ignored Lonza's desperate pleas for help and followed the young miss outside the office to obtain more details about the Count.
Meanwhile, in the Mage Association's underground lab, the three healers kept studying the living tissue.
The moment they had removed it from the quarantine array, it had resumed its growth.
It kept getting bigger with each piece of game they were forced to feed it while they performed their tests.
"I think it would be a good idea to seal it again." Tista said.
"Its growth rate is much faster than yesterday.
Something is very wrong."
"Nonsense." Manohar replied.
"The more specimen we have, the more experiments we can perform.
Without a host this thing is powerless.
A good healer is always cautious but never afraid of the unknown."
Just as Manohar had finished talking, the living tissue that now was as big as a small dog, started to writhe and twist until it assumed a humanoid shape made only of veins and muscles.
"…of the unknown." Its pseudo mouth echoed with a voice that sounded identical to the Professor's.
While Manohar performed a tier five spell at breakneck speed to place the sample back inside the quarantine array, the living tissue shapeshifted again.