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The Shadow Throne (The Shadow Campaigns #2)
Django Wexler

PROLOGUE

THE LAST DUKE

There were stories about what went on inside the Ministry of Information. The building—dubbed “the Cobweb”—was innocuous enough on the outside, another example of Farus VI’s fondness for marble, classical columns, and elaborately decorated facades. Inside, the stories ran, it was a place of dust and shadows, full of hidden archives, rat-infested cells, and elaborate death traps. More than one adventure serial had featured some hero rescuing his ladylove from its forgotten oubliettes.

Duke Mallus Kengire Orlanko, Minister of Information and head of the Concordat, found all of this faintly offensive. In reality the Cobweb was lit by thousands of standing lamps, day and night, and a whole corps of junior servants was employed refilling oil and replacing wicks. There was no point in having the clerks ruin their eyesight trying to squint by candlelight, after all. And if one thought about it logically for a moment, it would be much harder to sneak into a brightly lit building bustling with activity than a moldering dungeon full of death traps. As for cells, there were a few, of course, but they were hardly rat-infested. Orlanko tolerated no vermin in his domain.

It was yet another example of the popular taste for colorful fantasy over prosaic reality. In Orlanko’s opinion, if the Vordanai as a people could be said to have a fault, it was an excess of imagination outweighing proper sense. Not that the duke was complaining. He’d become an expert at playing on that imagination over the years.

His private office, at the top of the building, was a remarkably small and well-organized one. If an outsider had wandered in—though of course none were ever allowed to do so—he might have wondered where all the books and papers had gotten to. This was, after all, the heart of the Ministry of Information, the nerve center of the Concordat, the omniscient (again, in the popular imagination) secret police who knew everything about everyone. And yet here was the Last Duke himself, sitting behind a modest oak desk with only a few clipped bundles of paper, and not even a bookshelf to decorate the walls or a leather-bound tome full of dark secrets.

Again, the duke thought, a failure of common sense. What was the point of turning his office into a library? The whole building was his library, and all he really needed to do his business was the little copper bell on his desk. Ringing it would send in a clerk—there was always a queue of them waiting outside—who would silently accept the Last Duke’s instructions and take them down into the archives, deputizing subclerks and sub-subclerks to break his order into manageable tasks. Files would be read, copied, summarized, and collated, until the original clerk returned to Orlanko’s desk with another neat clipped bundle of paper. It was a machine for knowing things, for carrying out the will of the man sitting behind the desk, and Orlanko was immensely proud of it. Building it had been his life’s work.

In that sense, Andreas bothered him. Not the man specifically, but the need for him, and others like him. Duke Orlanko wished that everything was like his Ministry, where he could just ring a little bell and speak a few words to set the whole vast apparatus clicking into motion. Beyond the walls of the Cobweb, unfortunately, things were messier, and required the employment of those who, like Andreas, had . . . special talents.

Andreas was in his middle thirties, with an average build and a forgettable face, both assets in his line of work. He wore one of the black, floor-length leather greatcoats that were the unofficial uniform of the Concordat. The coat had become a symbol. Parents frightened their children with it. This was useful, since if everyone knew what a Concordat agent looked like, it made it all the easier not to look like one when that was what was required.

Orlanko shifted in his special chair, which creaked slightly as hidden springs took up his weight. He adjusted his spectacles and pretended to notice Andreas for the first time, though the man had been waiting patiently for at least a quarter of an hour.

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