Wizard! Chapter 202
Time passed, and William continued to carry out unofficial… and admittedly somewhat sloppy investigations. There were a few close calls where more alert guards or sloppier stealth on his part almost got him in trouble, and in one case he actually had to flee the grounds of that manor. He didn’t return to that particular one for some time, allowing the more alert security to be reduced again.
Sometimes William found no problems, or at least not enough evidence to do anything with. However, in some cases he found some good evidence. When he did, he brought the information to a contact the knights had arranged. Among other things he frequently entered the compound, so his presence wouldn’t be particularly noted by anyone watching, and he was trustworthy. Then the knights would act as they thought appropriate. There were indeed a few raids on those houses that had particularly grievous offenses, though most of the time William didn’t see anything happen. That didn’t mean the knights weren’t doing anything with that particular information, but rather that it was being done more subtly. There were probably a few cases with marginal evidence where nothing was done… or at least not right away.
William wasn’t surprised to see how often there were occurrences of corruption among the nobles, even for a specific incident he was looking into. Disappointed, but not surprised. A good number of nobles still paid their taxes, even the new ones, in full. After that, there were some who skimped slightly, trying to get away with the minimum possible, or somehow even less. Then there were those who had refused to pay entirely, with reasons and excuses ranging from valid, to technically valid, to flimsy, to borderline traitorous. William didn’t even technically belong in this country anymore, but they weren’t edging the line of just traitors to the country, but to humanity. They somehow seemed to not know that humanity included themselves.
Although there was still time before the war, and getting some money later would only result in slight delays for certain things, those could be critical. Perhaps they wouldn’t be, but a troop finishing training a month or two later than they should have could result in a battle being lost when it could have been won. Of course, it was hard to say exactly what the consequences of any particular thing would be, but it was certainly better to be preparing earlier, but there were those who were intentionally causing delays because they didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation, or cared about themselves more than the rest of humanity while managing to ignore how much the situation was going to be a danger to them.
William was happy when several months had gone by and he was nearing the end of his list. There had seemed like almost endless amounts of corruption, but William had to remind himself that he was only looking at those who were more probably corrupt, at least in this particular way. He thought about these things, even as he snuck into various manors, even as he slipped passed guards. A side effect that was both fortunate and unfortunate was that William was becoming able to predict when he would have coughing fits. While the sound wouldn’t travel if he was doing well, a coughing fit might cause lapses in his concentration or movements that caught the eye of a guard. Now that he could predict them, he could go find a relatively safer location. The unfortunate part was that his disease wasn’t getting any better. Not that he expected it to, but it would have been nice if it did. It wasn’t getting worse, or at least not quickly, and the medicines certainly helped it be less unpleasant… but that didn’t make him healthy.
Though William was disappointed at the nobles he had investigated, at least none of them had been outright traitorous. Greedy, self-serving, and stupid perhaps, but not intentionally traitors to Ostana and humanity in general. He was currently investigating the Hengan properties. They didn’t have just one, after all. Their main grounds and two of their “vacation estates” were clean, and William was in a pretty good mood. He wasn’t necessarily expecting to find anything, because this particular house hadn’t failed to pay taxes, nor were there any bad rumors about them. Instead, they were just one of the larger noble families, and William had decided he should check them all out, because it was better to be safe than sorry. Lorelei had recommended it, too. Though it was impolite and of course very illegal to snoop around on various properties, William didn’t care that much. He justified himself with the thought that, if they hadn’t done anything, they wouldn’t have any problems, and hopefully wouldn’t even notice anything.
As he was almost finished with his sweep of the grounds, William discovered a hidden ladder to a cellar. It probably was just a cellar, but he had to check it anyway. William didn’t like places with only one entrance, because they weren’t great for stealth, just like long straight hallways. However, he could tell there was nobody immediately below, so he descended.
The passageway below didn’t have any light, but William wasn’t going to give himself away by adding any. Fortunately, he could navigate without sight… well enough. Aside from the occasional stubbed toe. At least he could avoid anything large enough to trip him or running into any walls, but smaller details required more concentration to discern. This particular corridor was fairly straight, which was good for walking down but would be very problematic if anyone else entered. A blob of darkness would be, at best, very suspicious. A humanoid shadowy form wouldn’t be better. Of course, it was also possibly just another escape corridor, and empty.
Alas, William’s hopes were dashed. Up ahead, he heard voices. It was hard to hear what they were saying, but William didn’t like what he did hear one bit. Of course, midnight clandestine meetings weren’t usually completely innocent, so he didn’t know what he expected. He wondered if he was lucky or unlucky to have come here this particular night.