The Rise of the Dark, Chapter 5-6

Scream on Banks St. Fun and games at the Portal Service.

Chapter 5.
Zirgoccol, Fellowship of Peoples.
Jorgreg Merryhorn had been in charge of foreign accounts at the bank for twenty years. In practice that meant managing one rather large account, the transactions with the House Bank of Qinvaris. The House borrowed notes against bullion every year to cover the cash needed to meet its payrolls in the spring and the fall and paid it back as the year went on. The account was as creditworthy as it came and it was easy money as far as the bank was concerned. A lot of easy money, which kept the bank in the black regardless of what else the bank was doing. So Jorgreg was mystified when a sheet of paper folded and Sealed with the House seal turned up in his in box. He picked it up and went out to his secretary. “Lydia, what is this?”
“I don’t know, sir. Nurasaes from the desk sent it up and since it had the house seal on it, I put it with the rest.”
Jorgreg opened the message and his hands started to shake as he read it. He turned to Lydia and said, “Did Nurasaes mention that young lord Qinvaris was at the bank, yesterday?”
“No. He didn’t call up or send a messenger. Was he?”
Jorgreg handed Lydia the message. “Apparently he came here with a check and rather than just cashing it, or sending the young lord to me, so that I could cash it, said that I was tied up with important business. Call Bhastrath and have Nurasaes come up immediately.”
“Bhastrath is in a meeting with the directors.”
“Tell him that his biggest account may go up in flames if we don’t have a plan to resolve this before it gets bad. Also find out which hotel that young Lord Qinvaris is staying in. I will need to see him and make an apology.”
Jorgreg returned to his office and looked for the bottle he had stashed there for years until he remembered that Madetrude had insisted that Lydia manage the liquor cabinet and Jorgreg was not to touch a drop. By the time that he had stopped looking, Bhastrath came into the office and bellowed, “What is this about, Jorg and it better be good?”
Jorg handed him the message, “We had a visitor yesterday, and rather than telling me that the visitor was here, or just simply cashing the check, our idiot cousin turned him away.”
Nurasaes came into the office and said, “You wanted to see me, Jorgreg?”
“Nurasaes, what is our biggest foreign account?”
“House Qinvaris.”
“How much money does that account transact, on a daily basis?”
“I wouldn’t know for sure. I expect that it is a large part of the daily business.”
“What would happen if the bank were to lose that business?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Do you like working at a bank?”
“Of course. The family has been in banking for a very long time.”
“So the family would be in trouble if the bank were in trouble?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Then why did you turn away the Lord Qinvaris yesterday?”
“He was a child, a teenager. I expect that some family retainer will be back with an explanation and a correct draft for funds. I requested a guardian.”
“How much did he want?”
“One thousand gold.”
“So about the same amount, more or less as probably transacted in the brief time that you were speaking to the young man. Apparently he asked to see me. Why didn’t you send him to my office?”
“I didn’t want to waste your time with some teenagers.”
“When the young man gave you that message, what did he say that he was going to do?”
“Send a letter to his father.”
“He also said here in the message that he was sending a letter to the House business manager. I expect that he said that as well. What do you think that will do to our business relationship?”
“I doubt that either the father or the business manager will listen to the whines of a teenager.”
“Bhastrath, since our cousin here is so concerned with the whines of teenagers, I think that he should work in new accounts, don’t you?”
Bhastrath grinned. “Yes, I think that is highly appropriate. Nurasaes I am transferring you from the desk, to the young new accounts. I expect to see growth in the new accounts from now on.”
“You can’t do this!”
“We can. You can always look for another job. I suspect that it will not be on the street when the word of your idiocy gets out. I just hope at this point, that the rest of the street is full of idiots as well, because if somebody actually cashes that check and makes that young man happy, the rest of us are going to get burned, badly. Now get going and move to your new desk.”
Nurasaes left and Bhastrath turned to Jorge and said, “I need a drink. You were right to call me out of that meeting, though the family and the other directors are going to be asking questions. Do you think that Richard is going to hurt us?”
“Over something like this? Probably not. But Nurasaes didn’t think things through. The young man is seventeen. Richard will probably send both boys to college in the Republic now that he can. So in a fairly brief time, the young man will have a lot of clout and House Qinvaris only has the family to conduct a lot of the business. So the boys and the girls as well, will be very active in the business. Nurasaes never seemed to realize that, check or not, this was a golden opportunity to scout out the people that will be handling the business all too soon.”
“Why do you think that the boy came to the bank in the first place?”
“I’m not sure. I will put some people on this, but it may be that the young man handles business for his father at home and takes a hands on approach to the business. Richard is a Harper and that’s the way they do things. The young man wanted something, for his lady friend more than likely, another thing that would be very useful to know, and came here to cash a check. So he showed up, thinking that it wouldn’t be a big deal and Nurasaes treated him the way he always treats people that don’t fit his expectations. He was looking for a handler and could never imagine that the boy didn’t need one.”
“Do you think that Taenaran was testing us?”
“Not deliberately. I think that this was just what it looked like; the young man attempting to cash a check that he probably thought wasn’t that big a deal. On the other hand, if the young man actually finds somebody to cash the check, guess which bank is going to get any new business and guess which banks are going to have to eat crow to keep what we have.”
Jorg pressed the button on his intercom. “Lydia, how is the rumor mill this morning?”
“There have been screams up and down the street and Axebrew seems awfully smug about something this morning. I think that we know just who cashed the young man’s check.”
“Could he afford to?”
“He may be a bit stretched for the moment, but yes, he can cash the check. Since it’s Qinvaris paper, that check is better than any gold. In any case, I expect that he handled the thing himself, treated the young man like business and handed the young man to his son for getting around the city and seeing the sights rather than wasting time cashing checks for small amounts.”
“Lydia, I sense some disdain there.”
“Jorge, that idiot cousin of yours was so sure that the kid had an army of handlers like the rich kids here have that he didn’t even bother to call me and tell me that the kid was here. I found that out just a bit late, when Evenao called from tellers after she overheard the kid talking as she got off break. I went down to the desk and all Nurasaes did was hand me that message and say to hand it to you. You had already gone by the time that I got back upstairs. I should have opened it yesterday. I apologize for that.”
“Lydia, apology accepted. You did hand the message to me first thing this morning. Have you found out which hotel the young man is staying at?”
“He and the rest of the very rich kids from the Empire are all staying at the Crown Estate. There are seven girls, five boys, Lady Amarille from the Empire with a servant and the Lady’s two grand children. No staff or servants came with the bunch and they don’t seem to miss them very much. Gloria at the Crown said that the lot of them seem to be rather fun and the staff likes them. They also tip well once they realized that they should.”
“I assume you have names.”
“I will be right in with the list.”
She came into the office and handed Jorg the list. He looked at the list and whistled. Then he handed the list to Bhastrath. “I don’t know who the Lion girl is, but this is the Beinan family, the Shahana family, the Yllanan, the Qinvaris we already know about, another minor House, and a faery kingdom.”
“Didn’t Sal Lion’s kids disappear a while ago?” Bhastrath said. “He’s tight with Dan Harper and if his kids ended up in the Empire, they might have tied up with Richard and the Yllanan.”
“That would make a strange bit of sense, since Dan Harper has been staying at Richard’s the last few moons. The other two girls must be why Lady Amarille is chaperoning them somewhat. I don’t know who the Dawkins boy is, but he probably has connections in the Empire that we don’t know about.”
“I will call Gloria and see if they had the concierge make any reservations for dinner” Lydia said. “I will also call Madetrude and see what we can set up. There’s a new goblin place that just opened up and maybe we can get in if we make the arrangements early enough. If Kammik is smart, he’s had Rukrin showing them around town all day and is having the lot of them at home for dinner.”
“If he does that, we’re in trouble,” Bhastrath said. “Kethrykllia handles the banker’s society dinner because nobody can find a place that cooks as well as she does. Lydia, how does she manage that?”
“Elfin magic. At least that’s what she says. I think it’s that elfin lifespan and the fact that cooking doesn’t go to her waist like us mere very jealous mortals. I just enjoy the cooking when I can.”
The goblin restaurant was busy as the maitre de led Amarille to the table where Kethrykllia was waiting. Kethrykllia smiled and said, “Welcome to Zirgoccol, milady.”
“It’s Amarille and my daughter and her husband live outside the city. So why did you ask to see me?”
“I was hoping that you knew who to talk discreetly to about testing children of a certain nature.”
“You and some others are probably concerned about some rumors going around.”
“Yes.”
“The people that were taking the children have been stopped in the Empire. The group that I am trying to herd like cats escaped from the last team that did things like you mention and the people responsible are known.”
“That may be the case, but there is a deeper dark behind it and since they cannot function in the Empire, they may move to the Fellowship.”
“That would be more difficult as there are no portals here.”
“I’m not so sure about that. The portals would not work very well, true, but they could have been brought over from the Empire and hidden.”
“The Portal Service won’t like that very much. Still, I would set up a contact through House Yllanan and the Hidden City for getting your children tested. I imagine that your husband can set things up.”
“Yes he can, now that he knows where to go. Thank you, milady. So tell me about these cats you are herding.”
“I can do that. I was living all by myself and enjoying it, until my son came and turned things sideways.”
“Who is your son?”
“In this case, it is Paeris, who was sucked into the dark and cannot escape it at this point. He came to the house recently and we talked for a bit. Then his prosecutor and defense turned up to discuss Paeris with me.”
“From the Republic? That would be Harper and Ironaxe. They even sound like a law partnership.”
Amarille giggled. “You know them?”
“Not personally, but they have a reputation. So, those two came for a chat while your son absconded again.”
“Paeris was well ahead of them and left long before they showed up. That was good for him. I am afraid that my son has gone to a very bad place.”
“That is as may be. In any case, lunch has arrived and why don’t we move on to happier things. I think that I will start by telling you the story of the young Tarranth and his battles with the rather foolish bankers of Bank Street.”
“Tarranth has been a bit closed mouth about that, so tell me.”
“Tarranth knows that he may have to deal with the clowns for his father in the future. On the other hand, I have known most of the clowns involved for years and have good connections to the gossip so, in order, starting with Merryhorn, here is what went on.”
Kethrykllia told Amarille in the most cutting and amusing way how bank after bank had refused to cash Tarranth’s check or even let him see the various officers responsible for handling the family accounts. At the end she said, “Then Tarranth walks into our little bank and my husband, demonstrating his true worth, treats the young man as if he was there to actually conduct some business, something that none of the other banks thought to do. Even if cashing that check was more than our little bank could really afford to have outstanding for very long, my husband did it anyway.”
“The check was more than your bank could afford?”
“Having that much cash outstanding for very long means that our regular business, small business loans and so forth, would suffer because the bank would not have the cash on hand to loan the money. These loans are often needed very quickly and our customers need that fast service. But my husband has vision and more importantly saw young Tarranth and the young lady as a future business that made it worth the risk. Fortunately the clearing house cleared the check and returned the cash to us this morning. Qinvaris paper is as good as cash in most circumstances. So the only consequence is howls of anguish up and down Bank Street as they realize what they did to themselves.”
“You seem to know a lot of about the business, especially for a high elf lady.”
“They teach us to manage a household. In my case, it was a household that was heading for collapse, a collapse that ended in my exile and my parents’ impoverishment and suicide while my brother and his more powerful family watched and did nothing. Then it was off to Silver Mountain where I met Kammik and from the start we realized that we were partners in all things. Kammik’s mother wanted her son to marry into royalty and when Kammik chose me instead, had Kammik’s father cut Kammik off with nothing but his own funds. We came down here and started again, with our little business and our new friends and customers. We are not wealthy but we do all right and some of Kammik’s cousins and nephews and their families have joined us as Kammik’s mother gets more oppressive.”
“What about the lady that his mother wanted Kammik to marry?”
“She married a woodworker’s son and they do very well in the business. We do some business with them. So that ended well for us all.”
“I met your son last night and if he is any indication, very well indeed. Of course the rest of Bank Street may not like what he and Tarranth got up to last night.”
“Let me guess, my son gave Tarranth all sorts of dirt and Tarranth has one of those little portals with him.”
“How did you guess?”
“Most of the street thinks that the tellers and junior family members are beneath notice by the high families. So they don’t know that they see everything, and talk with each other. For the most part, they keep quiet about things, but after the idiots all embarrassed themselves over Tarranth yesterday, I imagine that Tarranth was writing a report home and Rukrin wanted to make sure that Taranths’ report had the full impact that it deserved. As for the portal, even if this was strictly a pleasure trip, which I suspect that it is not, Lord Qinvaris is not an idiot and having regular and instant communication is something that I would want with three of my four children in foreign lands.”
“If the trip is not for pleasure, what do you think that it is for?”
“I know that there was a story about a kidnapping of several high family children in the empire recently. Girls from the same families that your girls come from. If somebody were looking for them, the last place they will look for them is an innocent shopping and sightseeing trip through the Blasted Lands. So they come here for a couple of days, go to Kugrim and catch the ship to the Republic. The kids disappear off the map while the families take action against the people who took the girls in the first place. Even if they find the girls, trying to pull things like that in the Fellowship is harder than it would be in the Empire and the families have friends here that the other side doesn’t know about.”
“Me, for instance?”
“You, milady and friends that you may have. I know that you have had that house over there across the border for a long time and that you do not care for your family, at least most of it very much.”
“You are very well informed.”
“Let’s just say that we may have some of the same friends.”
“I will have to ask them about you, then.”
“Do so, and I invite you and your cats to dinner this evening.”
“At your home?”
“Of course. While the food here is excellent and I really should have taken you meet Wriang in back, I like to have my friends come and share my devilment, as my husband calls it.”
“That sounds truly intriguing. May my daughter, son in law and their children come?”
“By all means. We have room for a crowd.”
Ruki knew that he was in trouble when he saw the other boys, in uniform and not looking happy. Deri walked up and said, “Ruki, you let us down today? It was Decaday and you were supposed to be at the game this afternoon.”
“Did you win?”
“It was close, but yes. But it would have been easier with our better kicker. My brother just doesn’t have your talents with the ball.”
“I’m sorry. I had business and forgot to tell you.”
Deri looked at the girls and the rest and said, “This doesn’t look like business. Who are your new friends?”
“Derivel Strongiron, meet Tarranth, Nimue and Alinis Qinvaris, Maylin and Merethyl Zylvyre, Renna Shahana, Dessielle Beinan, Chrissie Lion, Sylvar Aezeiros, Periwinkle Yllanan, Midnight Rosehollow and Myrdin Dawkins. Guys, Deri and the other boys who are deservedly annoyed at me right now, are the members of my bladder ball team, the Bank Street Boys.”
“You could have taken us to the game, Ruki,” Tarranth said. “It would have been fun. Dan and I have a bit of a team out at the farm, but it isn’t that organized because we have to work around harvest.”
“Ruki, this can’t be the Qinvaris. They wouldn’t let a character like you near him. There would be bodyguards and a staff.”
“Dan and I don’t normally go around with a staff unless we are in the middle of a big crew and as for bodyguards, we think that being discreet and rather anonymous works better than having big men with nasty looks walking around with us all the time. I imagine that somebody has people watching us, but so far, we’ve been fine.”
“That explains yesterday.”
“What do you know about yesterday?”
“You went from one end of the street to the other and all the old sticks at the desk wouldn’t cash your check. Ruki, your dad did, didn’t he? Could he afford it?”
“It was a stretch, but I helped Renna and Taranth make a purchase this morning and it is off to the Hidden City.”
“What was the purchase?”
“Renna found the piece that my family had done for her family,” Dessielle said. “I don’t think that the antique store knew what they had or they would have wanted more than the seven hundred and fifty that they did. Beinan automatons are rare even when they don’t work. This one did when we checked it after Renna and Tarranth closed the deal. My dad will go over it anyway when he returns it to the House.”
“Tarranth, that makes the whole thing worth it. The screams upstairs were loud and frightened when the old sticks got those messages you sent. We lowly tellers, clerks and messengers, with occasional family members like Ruki salute you for making our betters scream in anguish a bit and helping the purveyors of fine drink stay in business until we get old enough and well heeled enough to imbibe said substances ourselves, hopefully for not being as big a bunch of idiots as they were.”
“You all don’t like your bosses very much.”
“We are family for the most part and the bank is the family business. Ruki has probably told you some of the mess already, but as far as your family goes, all of the people that manage your family’s account treat it as if it will always be there and don’t make much of an effort to do much more than file the paperwork. I guess it’s because your dad never visits the Street himself, but they don’t make an effort to keep the business or do very much. That is our biggest account. The other large accounts get better treatment, but those people send flunkies who the old sticks take to a nice lunch and who they know already. That was what they all were looking for when you showed up. They were expecting the little boy to return to your rented palace and scream at your tired staff, who would send somebody and deal with whatever it was. That was when some back door arranging and quid quo pros would go on, probably with the Beinan quietly being purchased by a relative and sold again to your flunky, for a very good price, of course.”
Taranth grinned. “We never thought of renting a palace, did we, Nimue?”
“We leave tomorrow. I thought that the hotel was wonderful and the staff likes us. Frankly compared to Dessielle’s place, our palace isn’t all that palatial.”
“Don’t bring my place into this, Nimue,” Desseille said with a bit of a giggle. “First of all, we haven’t lived there that long and second, a big part of that palace is workshops and tools. The fancy façade is a bit of a fraud.”
“Yes, but you have that wonderful parlor filled with automatons.”
“Along with more of the things scattered around the House. The family made the things. Most of the automatons in the House are Masterworks of House members made to demonstrate to the House that the builder could create an automaton. With the canceled commissions and whatnot, the things pile up. Nimue, I haven’t taken you upstairs yet, but the ones you’ve seen in the parlor and downstairs are the best. The automatons upstairs, not so much. If any of you boys knows a smarter antique store that might be interested in genuine Beinan Automatons that work, we can arrange a deal.”
A bunch of eyes lit up and one of the boys said, “I’m Hazzie Ingotbasher and I will talk with mother about who she likes and send you a letter, Dessielle.”
“Hazzie, mother will love that. We just got the House back from the Inquisition and we still find things all over the place. We gave dressmaker six sewing machines as part of his payment. Now we have to see if we can discreetly get rid of most of the rest of them so that we can have the bedroom that they are stored in back. Could your banks use calculating machines?”
“Do you have one?”
“Five. Plus parts for more. The family had just started to make them for Exchange Street when the family was exiled. We are giving one to House Qinvaris for Winterfaire, but the rest need to have homes found for them, preferably where the Inquisition can’t make a fuss about them.”
“We have calculating machines already, Dessielle,” Ruki said. “If these are like some of the other things that your family made, then I imagine that they are as much art as machine.”
“Yes they are. Very nice things for bank lobbies. Deals can be made.”
“Dessielle, I am glad that Ruki skipped the game today,” Deri said. “Even if you have a boyfriend.”
“I do, he’s here and Hazzie, if you can make mother happy by helping to clean out the House rather discreetly, she will really appreciate it and perhaps we can arrange for you to surprise your mother.”
“Mother would love to have a Bienan and I couldn’t afford to buy the one that you found, Tarranth.”
“Hazzie, I will be paying for that for a long time unless I find something really remarkable,” Tarranth said. “I don’t have an allowance, I have a job. I imagine that you have handled large sums of money that are not yours. That is one thing that I do for my dad. I also have to help plan seeding and field planning for farms that are in most cases measured in square miles and my sister here helps plan for feeding the crews that handle the work. That piddle check yesterday wouldn’t even raise any eyebrows at home as I write little checks like that all the time to pay for the little odds and ends that keep the business running. That account was for our trip and mother hinted to us that spending some money and spoiling ourselves would be a good thing as it would draw the House accounts down a bit. Mother had the swan dancers in the park at home fixed and had the park redone in the process for my parents wedding and I have no idea what she spent to do that, but consider that she raised a Great House back to prominence to do that. Of course, my grandmother could be worse.”
“You called a thousand gold a piddle check?” Deri asked.
“That is a small delivery contract, a new cook wagon, parts for some reapers and things like that. It wasn’t a check for a payroll or a thousand tons of seed that the farm needed in hurry. So, yes it was a piddle check. It was for something that wasn’t very important. I don’t know what I would have done if I had come off the farm over the border, taken the train down here, wrote a check for the payroll, with a thousand men expecting to get paid so that they can feed their families over the winter and those characters played games with me.”
“I thought that they had slaves for things like that in the Empire,” Deri asked.
“The slaves are working their own fields, harvesting rice and truck crops. The wheat, barley and rye we hire the crews for. Some slaves work the harvest, but they get paid like everybody else. In any case, I would expect that a bank that the family deals with would not blink if I came in and handed them a check on our seal for half a million gold.”
“You’ve done that?”
“Twice this year. On Exchange Street, where I had guards arranged and transport for the silver arranged as ten million in silver is rather heavy. The teams got paid. So they will be back next year and the Empire gets fed. You all have to understand that dad doesn’t care about the palace that we have, the big farm house, the other houses or any of the rest of that. We have a staff at home, because we need them. Most of them have been with the House through the worst times and some have been with the House since before the Turmoils. I am well aware that mother is much older than dad and that she gave some of her life so that they could be together. In any case we are not a family of dilettantes and useless drones expecting somebody else to do the biggest job out there. Mother played that game and tried to keep things together until dad came along and saved her and the Empire. If you have a way to discreetly pass the word around that dad is probably a bit annoyed at the people that he does business with on Bank Street, that would probably be a good thing.”
“Is he annoyed?”
“I sent the message. If he does things the way he usually does, he will be looking at his dealings here long and hard. In any case, I have a few five days where I will not be expected to do very much and money to spend, so what is fun?”
Colonel Anvilblade looked up as the smiling Lieutenant walked into the office and saluted. “What is so funny?”
“First of all, Byddri had some great stories.”
“How did you manage that?”
“He spotted me, came over to chat and we arranged to meet for lunch. Since we are both more or less doing the same job, knowing that I had people watching the kids was a bit of a load off his back.”
“He’s watching the kids? I thought that he was a reporter.”
“He is. But that doesn’t mean that the Harpers will not prevail on him to keep an eye on the girls, especially. He’s sharp, had practice and is a royal dragon who has been rated by Flight Instructor Khumkith as “adequate.”
“That is high praise from the man. How did he come under that man’s thumb?”
“His father hired the Flight instructor for the Dragonguard and Byddri wanted to take the course.”
“Apparently the people at the Press Service did not warn him.”
“No they did not. Nor did his family. In any case, Byddri and Kythaela can act as bodyguards while not making it obvious that that is what they are while filing copy that will make for a good read.”
“So what else has gone on?”
“Have you heard the screams from Bank Street yet?”
“No. What happened on Bank Street?”
“Tarranth Qinvaris wanted to buy an old family heirloom for Miss Shahana when they encountered it. He didn’t have the cash on hand, so he went to one of the banks that his family does business with it to cash a check. They didn’t cash it.”
“Why not?”
“The buzz that I got was that they saw the young man the same the way that they see similar types here, that is managed by “assistants” who would be sent to deal with the matter. But the young man doesn’t have any “assistants” and doesn’t seem to need them. So he went down the street, looking to cash his check and sending messages to the people that handle the family’s business until he reached Axebrew, Kammik gambled and cashed the check.”
“We will have to ask Kethrykllia about that.”
“She is having Amarille and the kids for dinner this evening.”
“That is a good connection all around. I imagine that Kethrykllia is looking for connections for fae testing.”
“Along with new business connections, for the bank and for us.

Chapter 6.
The Hidden City.
Yrvien stepped from the portal and returned the salute of the Republican Lieutenant that was at the desk. He grinned and said, “Welcome back Dragonleader. Some people have returned from the airship base.”
“Who?”
“I will let you discover that. The Dragonmaster is waiting for you at the inn.”
“Very well.”
She left the castle and headed down to the inn. The old city still had much of its charm as there had been some space for the city to grow and the several new buildings had not required the destruction of the old city as yet. Shuli marched up as only an eleven year old could and said, “Hi, Dragonleader, did you enjoy the Empire?”
“Yes I did, for the most part. Have you seen anything new, lately?”
“Two big ships came for a bit with some other ships. They stayed for a couple of days and left again. Some new airplanes, but that is not unusual, and the fake Ravathrya ships are back.”
“What fake Ravathyra ships?”
“When the Republic came, they had some ships that were fake Ravathrya ships that had the marines inside. They were here for a long time in the harbor and then taken away again. They are back now.”
“That is very interesting, Shuli. I need get going or the Dragonmaster will be upset with me.”
Yrvien reached the inn and went inside. Admiral’s Harper and Shaneli were scheming at the back table with both Dragonmasters and Yrvien walked up and saluted. Qambois grinned and said, “Welcome back Dragonleader. Was your trip to your House interesting?”
“Yes, for a variety of reasons. Apparently the other side is composed of idiots, because they took the girls while they were being watched and never expected the portals to be traced. Of course the girls promptly escaped.”
“How did they manage that?”
“Two of the girls were the mage that was processing them for their “Camp’s” daughters. So he essentially made the trip a pleasure ride and when it was inappropriate, the girls all Jumped out to the Lady Amarille’s estate and she took them to the Fellowship. In the meantime the mage that was the girl’s father had made his own escape via a portal that wasn’t as dead as the other side thought.”
“What did you think of your family’s House?”Admiral Harper asked.
“Rebecca took me through the place and it was amazing. You have this feeling that you could make just about anything you wanted. There are storage rooms and even bedrooms filled with the most amazing things. You could pay a fortune for a Beinan automaton in the Fellowship that didn’t actually work and there were a hundred of them all over the House, tucked in corners. Rebecca is looking for somebody to help her sell them. There were five wonderful mechanical calculating machines that had been finished but never delivered when the family was exiled. House Qinvaris is getting one for the House bank’s lobby and Rebecca is looking for good homes for the rest of them. I could go on, but the most amazing thing is Folmon and Rebecca. They have stepped up and taken up the burden of the House and set out to join the family together again.”
“Were they worried when Dessielle was taken?”
“Somewhat, I expect. They knew that she had been tested and had friends and family in the Blasted Lands, could go to family offices if necessary or find people in the Empire if it came to that. Of course everybody reacted very quickly as events unfolded.”
“What happened to Sollor Richflight?” Ghedrun asked.
“As far as I know, he is still at that Retreat of theirs. At this point if he shows up outside he’s in real trouble.”
Qambois said, “What we called you back for is to see if you can find that Camp of theirs, by having engine trouble.”
“Like the Dragoncaptain seems to have from time to time.”
“Not quite. Since the Lady is not at home, there is no point in just dropping in at her field. What we want you and Roger to do is go off course with some engine trouble and have Nathan with you to take pictures while Mokem and Danni chase the little flamers around somewhat.”
“Why Nathan and not somebody from the Fellowship?”
“First of all, Nathan and Mokem have been involved from the beginning,” Admiral Harper said. “Second, Nathan has taking aerial photographs of things here in the Hidden City, over the Empire and of the things that Ravathrya did not want us to see.”
“Are Nathan and the rest here?”
“Danni has been here all along and Nathan and Mokem flew in yesterday.”
“We will want to coordinate things with my parents, along with Onvyr and Elincia.”
“How so?”
“They have taken over the harass the Retreat duty in the Lower City at the Portal Service. My cousin has a big portal set up as a one way portal that just coincidently lands at the same place that the portals that Paeris, Zanis and Rolin used to escape and Sollor was sending people through to. They have been coming up with things to make the annoyances in the Retreat miserable. If we coordinate my pass with the plane at the same time that there is something big going off at the Retreat we may be able to avoid mages taking shots at the airplane.”
The Portal Service.
Moving the harassment campaign to the Portal Service had worked better than anyone had expected. First of all the Portal that was under test was large enough that it could handle any size wagon that anyone had. The launch rig had been greatly enlarged and some changes made to the portal had been made as well. The landing spot now moved in a more or less random circular pattern around the area so that the exact spot and angle of the exit always changed and the things sent though could not be blocked. Then the kinds of things being sent changed. The dolls of the Grand Master continued to be sent through, but they were augmented by printed sheets of paper and wooden cylinders with crystals loudly admonishing the mages to go and turn themselves into the mage academy. The children at the Retreat were being rather spoiled as toys that sent messages were sent through fairly regularly. Gander had setup a desk at the mage academy where he had a team waiting to debrief any mages that turned themselves in. Dan Qinvaris watched the load being prepared. In this case the load was balloons with crystals attached that had been tagged or rather had been given little signal devices that Adiun had come up with. The crystals would get pictures as they floated away and then the crystals could be recovered by fae and seafolk on land and from the submarine. When the load was ready, Dan looked around, called out “Ready for Release!”
There was a chorus of “Ready!” and Dan pushed the lever that released the weight, the wagon headed to the portal which activated and the wagon passed though.
The Retreat.
Rolin watched as the wagon emerged, rolled a bit, the cover fell open and disgorged its cargo of balloons. The people responsible for handling the various things sent through didn’t approach the wagon until they were sure that the load was not immediately explosive. The balloons floated off inland and Rolin cursed when he realized what the balloons had attached to them. Zanis looked at him and said, “At least this one didn’t explode.”
“No, but those crystals are going to fly everywhere and you can bet that they are tagged.”
“So, we can send fae to find them.”
“That may not be as easy all that, as the tag may be known to the other side, but not as obvious to our people. Also some of the balloons will float out over water where they have seafolk and we do not.”
“So what, it was just some crystals.”
“What if one flies over something important and no one spots the balloon?”
“I can ask the mages to be alert.”
“By the time you can get to where the information will be useful, the balloons will be on the ground and the crystals recovered. Damn Onvyr. He knows how things work here and can set things up to take advantage.”
Another wagon came through and the crew moved to intercept only to realize that the wagon had been filled with rather annoyed skunks. The area was soon filled with a rather foul odor as the skunks sprayed and ran. Rolin and Zanis made a judicious retreat and Rolin said, “I hope that they find the Camp soon.”
“Why?”
“I want the Camp’s location to found because they will reset the portal to an exit point there and the Master can get the full effect of what is going on. This is an almost perfect tactic. Since the portal is one way, we cannot return fire through the portal and if we have a one way portal, we have to figure out where their portal actually is.”
“This is the portal at the Richflight estate.”
“Is it? The things that they have been sending are too big for that portal. For that matter, they could be using the double portals if the Service hasn’t dismantled them. We know so little about what is happening outside that we can’t make a plan of action.”
“The Master must have a plan.”
“If he does, I would really like to know before somebody drops the hammer on us.”
“We have seen no evidence that somebody is preparing a hammer.”
“They don’t need to prepare it, they have it already.”
“Both Taser and Gormer have had another training voyage and encountered no Republican Navy vessels.”
“Then they are doing something else, or the submarines are being cagier and not allowing themselves to be seen.”
“You are saying that we must assume that we are being observed at all times at sea.”
“I would say that is the safest course. Now, it may be that they have figured out that we are sending the ships out for training, but Admiral Harper is not that stupid.”
RNS Progress
Commodore Billings looked at the plot. He had moved his flag to Progress when Constellation had gone into her refit. So he was getting a firsthand look at the gadget at last. His flag captain, Iefyr Steelgrinder came in to the plot room and said, “When Borug told me how well this thing worked, I didn’t believe him. But there they are, two squadrons of the enemy and they have no clue that we are here.”
“As long as we stay over their horizon, they won’t have a clue.”
“I’m surprised that Admiral Harper hasn’t asked us to dispose of the bastards.”
“Rather bloody minded, Iefyr?”
“My sister is in the Empire right now. We are trying to discreetly arrange her sale to the family but her owner is recalcitrant.”
“Have you asked if there are any kids involved?”
“Why would there be?”
“I would talk to Captain Shanelis and see what is really going on. There may be a relationship and kids involved, or there may be other reasons.”
“The owner is a Ravathyra Great Captain.”
“Anything is possible. I know that things are messed up, but consider what happened when Barrister Ironaxe tried to bring the relatives of the prosecution team home. That turned out to include senior family members of at least three Great Houses, including the Admiral’s brother. I would find out what is really going on. Which Great Captain is it?”
“Daylor Zylvyre.”
“From the reports that I heard, he ordered his ships to strike when the Great Captains evacuated and he led the mutiny against Rolin when Rolin ran. He also has a better reputation than most of the Great Captains. Certainly he never created the level of atrocities that Paeris did. If he shared blood with your sister, there may be some real affection and children that they don’t want to talk about in public.”
“And these clowns?”
“I feel sorry for Taser and Gormer. Considering that they have had the ships out three times now and these people still can’t get their act together even a little bit.”

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