The Blight Returns, Chapter 31-32

“So you really lucked out. I would say that your dad sacrificed Kolgaela to a demon, but she’s been here after school.”
“Dad did. The demon sent her back.”

Chapter 31.
Zirgoccol.
“Mr. Bidove?”
“Can I help you, milord? We have been getting more people from the Empire of late.”
“I was sent by a lady who said that you buy books from the Empire. I have some books that you may be interested in.”
“From your House?”
“My House was disbanded more or less and our library, what is left of it after the Inquisition was done with it is very small. But I work for House Qinvaris and recently became in a position where I have access to a great deal of books that the House no longer wants. The lady said that you were in her web connections and were willing to pay good prices for books from the Empire.”
“That is my trade. As you can see, my store is essentially empty and as an exile, I cannot return and poke for more.”
“Then I can do that for you. As I said, the Qinvaris have duplicates from lost libraries like the Naelana. So there are books that need to be dealt with. I can also look for books at the occasional bookfaires in the Lower City for you.”
“Young sir, why are you here in the Fellowship.”
“I function as the aide to young Lord Qinvaris and he is here for the agricultural conference. It is likely that I will be here, handling business matters frequently as the Young Lord has to deal with some issues that have come up here in the Fellowship and starts college in Yellowleaf.”
“Books from House Naelana are very rare and prized by collectors simply because of Mrs. Harper. Did you bring any with you?”
“I brought two that I have with me to sell. Why don’t I show you them now and you can judge for yourself. If these do well, I can bring more every two five days when I provide a report for the finance manager and pick up some reports resulting from work that the Young Lord has hired.”
Dan and Renestrae strode through the huge hall, filled with the kinds of machinery that Dan could only dream of. Renestrae grinned and said, “How many Inquisitors do you want to shoot?”
“That’s a problem. I like Arbane, who has been our House Inquisitor since I was a kid. I really don’t want to hurt him and he does what he does because he honestly thinks that the Proscriptions are a good thing. He’s not a Delion in any way and if you show him that what you are doing makes life better, even for slaves, he will buy in. At least he will kick it upstairs with a recommendation.”
“Has he seen your tests?”
“Not yet. He stays at his House during the winter and I wanted to limit the people that actually attended the tests so that the word did not get spread around and start a panic. I’m going to buy fungicides here, all that I can find and run some more tests. I have five more greenhouses with wheat and barley that I am breeding that I can use. I also have some experimental fungicides coming from the agricultural station as well as resistant strains of wheat for breeding.”
“Today, sir, we work. But this evening, you and I are going out to dinner and a show. That is my charge for a day working.”
“I will pay, I will pay.”
The lieutenant had watched the pair for the five day of the conference. Not surprisingly, when the news had gotten out that Dan was coming to the conference, the various machinery manufacturers and dealers treated him much differently than the banks had treated his brother. Maybe it was because farmers started young, but all the dealers went out of their way to treat the young man very seriously indeed and all of them were willing to talk serious business with him. For the rest of it, one of the young man’s aides was playing with Mr. Bidove. He was also apparently a junkie, or at least was trying to establish himself as one. The Lieutenant had arranged a chat with him this evening.
If there was any doubt in Ruki’s mind that Nimeroni was a good thing in his life, the five days of the agricultural conference dispelled that. The conference was a big deal for new business, but meant long hours for Ruki and his cousins manning the booth while his parents were wining and dining those new customers. This year, business was extraordinarily good and Dan and Renestrae’s visits didn’t hurt one bit. Nor did Renestrae taking Nimeroni, Nightrose and Umilythe on expeditions that seemed to come back to the booth with lunch, swag and potential customers. Deri came by and snarled, “How did you luck out?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your dad doesn’t hire girls for the booth and you have the hottest girls in the place hanging around.”
“One is my sister, who you know all too well, Nimeroni is my girl, who I need to introduce you to and the others are her friends. Both of them are taken.”
“So you really lucked out. I would say that your dad sacrificed Kolgaela to a demon, but she’s been here after school.”
“Dad did. The demon sent her back.”
Taenaran looked at Almon and said, “I’m not surprised that you showed up. You are probably more than a bit worried. I’m a bit surprised that you picked up on things.”
“There was too much money suddenly going into space. You could have gotten away with a couple million, but once things went above ten, my people started to get nervous.”
“Richard wanted to move fast before you could put something together that might stop him. I wouldn’t try at this point as I have the bases covered.”
“This could ruin the Empire.”
“That was a risk and I pointed that out to Richard when we put this together. It was a contingency plan that we hoped we wouldn’t need. But when we discovered that the bolts were being made, Richard kicked things off.”
“Ralnor isn’t happy.”
“Tarranth Jumped down and told me. I’m not surprised and Richard was supposed to tell him before things kicked off. But Richard was in the Republic, taking his vacation and couldn’t wait. We had to have things in place and ready before the clowns did their thing. If they had waited a year, they probably wouldn’t have gotten away with it, but Tarranth can’t get all the road work done and finish realigning the post roads, so we aren’t there yet. Kicking things off actually slowed that down because the roads need to be widened and there are other things coming.”
“Tarranth said that what is coming is bigger than everything Richard has done.”
“I don’t know the details, but you can see the things over there at the show. Massey Deare has a nice display with Richard’s picture and a big check in every way. They were very pleased with themselves.”
“Alwin will feel more than a bit betrayed.”
“Then he should talk to that “Master” character about what he is about to do and send his people with armies all over the Empty Lands looking for the Blight. At this point it won’t matter. The first tractors are being delivered from the Fellowship as we speak, with road construction equipment. The new plows are starting on the Zylvyre land that Richard leased and there will be a lot of road work between the salt flats and Nytfnas. That has already been contracted out to a contractor from the Fellowship. If Delion wants to watch, he can.”
“This is more than a little bit frightening.”
“I know. But it’s been fun. If this all works, it will be the biggest thing ever. One thing that is certain. Richard will not let the kids in the Lower City and on his farms and towns starve to death. If you are worried now about the flow of money now, be very frightened when the Blight hits and Richard has to buy grain to cover his commitments. When Richard gets back, he is going to show you and the rest of the Regency Council the crystals of some tests that Dan and others have been running if you haven’t seen them yet. If the Blight hits, it is not going to be pretty. By the way, Richard has the backing of the entire family on this. So he can incur debts in the Republic that you will not see until he has to pay them.”
Durlan watched the strange vehicle unload its load of kids, who all walked in a gaggle down the street. Durlan was going to take this one slow and careful. He wasn’t going to touch the portal until he started things up. Durlan had worked the better part of a moon to set this up, with his team taking various menial jobs and becoming part of the street while watching the children from exile families come home from the school. The school had been established by an exile long ago and many exiles sent their kids there and so did others, most of whom had the kind of irregular marriages that created good prospects. This time, Durlan was going to take the lot, go through the portal and be gone. Since he was sure that the port would be traced, he was going to use a portal that was right next to a dock in Lylalune where the coaster would be leaving on the tide. Nice and tight. If there were any problems, he had contingencies.
Cory realized that he might be in trouble when the character he was trying to make deal for some Clear, just up and disappeared. He looked around and was surrounded by large men in heavy coats that were carrying guns. One held up a badge and said, “Sir elf, would you come with us?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You can come with us or we arrest you for possession of Clear.”
“If I had actually managed to obtain some, that would be a valid threat.”
The man held up a vial. “Since Greasy has your money, he wanted to make sure that you had your goods.”
“I think that I must come with you then.”
“Come with us to the car.”
They got in the car and Cory said, “I take it that Greasy is a snitch.”
“Imagine, a citizen of the Empire talking in such a fashion about the citizens of the Fellowship. Sir elf, I would have you know that Greasy has never snitched in his life. On the other hand, he may tell the constabulary and some others where is going to be at certain times, for his own protection, of course. I’m Sergeant Steelcutter, military intelligence. The lieutenant wanted to have a discrete word with you and this worked.”
They arrived at a police station and went to the back and bare room with two chairs with a man seated in one of them. He said, “Mr. Vavaris, your uncle would be disappointed in you. I’m Lieutenant Lazg of Military intelligence.”
“I’ve never met my uncle, so how would I know?”
“You are a rather interesting fellow. Selling stolen books to fund a habit that you don’t seem to have.”
“How do you know that I don’t have it?”
“Because if you did, you would have died a long time ago. Clear is not kind to elves and users don’t last very long.”
“Suppose I had just started the habit?”
“You wouldn’t try to buy off the street in that case. You would have suppliers in the Lower City and the signs would be visible. Of course, the interesting question is why you went straight to Mr. Bidove to sell your books. For a Clear user, that would be a very bad thing to do, because Mr. Bidove is a spy for the Inquisition.”
“I had heard about Bidove in the Empire. Since I needed money, I acquired the books and brought them down.”
“From the Qinvaris, who bought Mr. Bidove’s entire store and made the books disappear.”
“They didn’t disappear. I wouldn’t have had to work so hard if they had.”
“Where did they end up?”
“Some went home with Mrs. Harper. Dan wanted to give his grandmother a surprise and when he found the books, bought them. He bought the whole store so that he could have us sort out the books that his grandmother would want, give some others to his grandmother for the new Library she is building in the Lower City and the duplicates were put in storage. A friend hinted that Bidove was looking for books from the Naelana and would pay good money. I have debts and the racket was easy.”
“Did Bidove pay well?”
“Very well. Gold for silver.”
“That is very well indeed. That makes the whole thing worthwhile. Of course I will have to report this to your employer.”
“That could be bad for me, or Dan wouldn’t care. I will probably get a dress down from Hubys, but as far as Dan goes, he won’t care very much. He accomplished his goal, making his grandmother happy, the library isn’t losing anything, and there are too many books to really dump on the bookfaire anyway. Of course, we could cut a deal. You must want something.”
“I do have some questions and if you can share things, we can cut a deal. It’s obvious that this isn’t just some druggie stealing for his fix.”
“We needed a cover. How much do you know about the House?”
“I know some things. The lady was alone for a very long time, found Mr. Harper and took him to bed. Mr. Harper has made the House by far the largest in the Empire and very very rich. Dan’s brother just walking down Bank Street caused a minor panic not too long ago.”
“Ok. Just after the Turmoils, the Lady’s parents were murdered by the assassin’s guild. Her brother was taken by the Inquisition and the Lady was left alone. My parents were both left the same way, but since their Houses were crushed, they were beneath the notice of the Inquisition and so was I, my brothers and sisters. After the Lady was left alone, her head of Household took fallen Houses in and gave them homes. He also recruited disreputable types to train many of us in the same sorts of things that the guild provides, just in case.”
“Has Lord Qinvaris used you?”
“For the most part, no. Some of us are friends with Dan and Tarranth, as my sister is friends with Nimue and Alanis, but the only time that Mr. Harper called us out was when Lord Aymon Sarfaren decided that hitting the House and stealing people and property was an easy way to make money.”
“Were you used for assassinations?”
“No. In fact we were told not to kill any the Sarfaren unless they were actively carrying out an operation and risking lives. Most of what we did was collecting information that could be turned over to Justiciar Sarrieth and backing up the Justiciar when he needed it. Lord Qinvaris felt that just killing wouldn’t get the point across, but crushing the House would and so that is what he did.”
“Mr. Vavaris, this is very interesting. Since young Daniel is going to be spending time in the Fellowship, perhaps we can come to an arrangement.”
“That should be possible. My dad and your boss should get together at some point.”
“Your dad heads your little thing?”
“He’s one of the heads. For obvious reasons we have a rather flexible structure. What do you know about Mr. Bidove?”
“He is a spy for the Inquisition.”
“Are you aware that he is more than that?”
“We hadn’t looked deeply into that.”
“He has compulsions. I picked them up when I sold him those books. I also know that he works for a lady that likes to put the bite on people and suck them dry, especially slaves.”
“Lady Flingladui. That is very interesting. Thank you for that. We must talk again. The sergeant will boot you out with your warning.”
“Not to buy from Greasy. I get it.”
“Actually, I suspect that you will be one of Greasy’s regular customers for as long as you last.”
The lieutenant called for the sergeant and after they left, went to his car and returned to the office. He walked into the Colonel’s office and the Colonel asked, “How did it go?”
“Very well actually. He was playing junkie like we figured. He’s also doing something with House Naelana books and our friend Bidove is paying gold for silver. He also told us that Bidove is working for the spider lady. Apparently the young man is part of a group of fallen families that the Qinvaris provided for and taught the skills that the guild uses.”
“They weren’t with Tarranth when he was here. At least we didn’t pick up on them.”
“Byddri and his lady were and the lot of them were being managed by Lady Amarille. They also didn’t stay in any one place very long until they reached the Republic. Of course we could have slipped up and not noticed them.”
“Do you think that they are any good?”
“Some of them are elves that are probably over century old. All of them have reason to be very good indeed and the young man was doing a very good job of playing things close to the vest and didn’t panic a bit when he was busted. I would say that they are very good indeed.”
Hall of Justiciars, City In The Clouds.
Ilythyrra waved Gander into Kelvahn’s office where Kelvahn and Mage Pyrravyn were waiting. Kelvahn said, “How did it go?”
“Interesting. I have a recruit and we will be seeing more. The kingdoms like the idea of having Justiciars that can resolve things across the border. We may get another recruit who I have misgivings about.”
“Who is that?”
“Mage Elenaril.”
“I think I understand. You, Traelion and Alen have all had run ins with her mother.”
“Yes we have. Me, not so much at first, until she realized that I was not the bumbling slave that I was playing and got to Allisa. Then it was “Gander dear, you must investigate.” I hinted that Julien should watch out for the evil mage lady. Now that he is here, he will run into her. Elenaril has been getting together with Julien, but they were afraid of the relationship for political reasons.”
“So, other than new recruits that sound as if they will fit right in, how did it go?”
“The crystals had been stolen like we figured for political reasons, the bishops were going around showing the crystals, without context, of course and blaming all the mages for the Sanctum. So far, so good. I was tempted to just have the boys make the crystals disappear when a fae lady attached to one of the traveling brothers who performed the scans, told her mother about the crystals after her partner, Brother Aratamo told her. Her mother told the other members of the Council of Kings, and they sent Esgalwathanar and Lazuli to look into things. They started a campaign of crystal warfare by passing copies of the Grand Master’s apology with some help from the boys and me and the archbishop decided to take things to the next level by attacking a village full of “pollution” with Militant Brothers equipped with projectors designed to replicate magefire.”
“Trying to make it look as if the mages did it. So then what happened?”
“I had used Eddie to infiltrate the archbishop’s and had the archbishop’s letter telling the bishop militant to take a team up and toast the village scanned. I messed them up, Artamo went up because his bishop told him to go up, talk with his mother, go to the grove and get tested. A neighbor saw the archbishop’s merry crew go through Lower Timbercreek, Jumped to Upper Timbercreek and warned Artamo’s parents, the Faery kingdom’s lorekeeper and gatekeeper and I went to the Lower City and collected Jimmy. Moonflower went to get Esgalwathanar and Lavidia. Esgalwathanar and Lazuli went for faery kingdom people and Lavidia borrowed the boys from the Portal Service. In the meantime, the bishop’s merry crew spent most of the morning getting their act together, I went into the village, the bishop’s merry crew ran into all sorts of surprises, the most effective one being Jimmy being Awful Hungry and Naexi explaining what had happened to the last gang of bandits that Jimmy had run into. We then went to lunch. I had people collect the bishops and the Pontiff wanted to know where they went. King Aestaeros told the Pontiff’s man that the Pontiff could either excommunicate the archbishop and the rest and hand them over or that I would execute the archbishop and the bishop militant, sell the rest into slavery and tell Byddri and his partner Hoddy to go ahead with the story. The Pontiff in a surprise move, excommunicated the clowns, turned them over to Aestaeros and handed everything he had to the press after giving an apology to the Deepwoods faery kingdom. I was rather impressed. He even raised Artamo’s bishop to the archbishop’s empty seat.”
Kelvahn laughed. “A good way to close the case. Why did you take the carriage rather than Jumping back? I could understand Tom and Naexi.”
“I wanted a nice easy trip, to escort our new recruit, make sure that he didn’t run into any wild Justiciars or evil mage ladies and write my report.”
“Now Shanyrria is not that bad,” Pyrravyn said.
“Pyrravyn, you haven’t been on the other side of one of her crusades. Especially when she doesn’t understand and messes things up. Maybe if she lived down in the Lower City, she would moderate, but as it is, Traelion, Alen and I are tired of having to pick up the pieces afterwards. In any case, I will let Shanyrria be Elenaril’s problem.”

Chapter 32.
The Crystal Palace, Chatsrey.
“Rebecca, you having us come here with our husbands was inspired.”
“Rosa, we have been, with limited success, been trying to keep our workaholic husbands from doing any real work. It didn’t help that the clowns are planning to mess with the Empire again. They could have waited a moon or two. Instead they place that order for those crossbow bolts right when Folmon was looking for them. At least I have all the family now. Of course the Inquisition is not going to be happy with us when the things we bought home show up at home. Those things are going out on the estate anyway. For now we will be pampered and not let our husbands think of work for the next five day.”
“Oh, yes. Nyla agreed to keep Jacob out of the place and at home for the five day and we will relax.”
Richard looked at Rosa and Rebecca and then at Folmon. “We are in trouble.”
“No we are not. We are here and we will sit by our private pool, have drinks until we are fuzzy, spend time with our wives and do our best not to think about what is going to happen when we return home. You didn’t have to spend all that money so fast.”
“It wasn’t the money I was spending that was the problem. I need to get enough out to cover all the things that I might need to do before Almon started to look for ways to stop me.”
We better stop this and talk with our wives.”
“We could take them to the casino.”
“Nyla won’t let us in there.”
“How was I supposed to know that they scan for things like fae and mages. Of course you had to play games with the scanner.”
“I’m a Beinan. It’s what we do. We almost got away with it, but you wouldn’t cheat at the tables. We could have had all of Nyla’s money.”
“Nyla was watching me with that expression that teachers get. I just couldn’t go through with it. Anyway, I think that Nyla has more money than I do.”
“How is that possible, Mr. 75% of the land in the Empire?”
“She has a chunk of this city and I have to imagine that the rents she collects are unbelieveable.”
“You could buy the Lower City.”
“The parts that you don’t already have?”
“What are you talking about? I have some property, yes.”
“That cooperative down there with all those “elvish craftsmen” hiding things. All those little shops that add up to a big shop. Don’t tell me that you don’t have a big involvement in that.”
Folmon grinned. “We do work together on things. Since we won’t be here that long, let’s go down, get some cars and do some things that they won’t let us do at home. I’m tempted to smuggle one of those little cars in.”
“We can do that. Let’s get some for the boys too. We can put them with the rest. Frankly I’ve had it with clowns like Delion telling me what I can’t do on my own property. Let’s go startle some cops.”
“We’ll get tickets.”
“So? We can afford them.”
Sergeant Oxcutter was sitting in his patrol car in the empty Chatsrey produce market when two roaring blurs charged past, brakes and tires squealing as they turned the corner on the empty street. Both cars were new Tiger V12s and the sergeant knew that there was no way that he could catch them driving flat out. But he didn’t have to. All he had to do was move his car to cover the road they had just used and wait. He did and shortly both cars roared around the bend, saw him in the road and stopped in a squeal of brakes and tires. The sergeant got out of his car, ticket book in hand and said, “You two youngsters are in a lot of trouble. License and registrations, please.”
He looked at the drivers and one was a seeming middle aged man and the other was probably an exile. The man said, “I’m afraid that I don’t have my license with me and it has almost certainly expired, Folmon doesn’t have one and the registrations haven’t been finalized yet since we just bought the cars. They were a lot of fun, weren’t they Folmon?”
“Who are you idiots?”
“I’m Richard Harper and this is Folmon Beinan.”
“Tell me another one. The only Richard in the Harpers was taken by that monster Zylvyre a long time ago and there is no Folmon Bienan.”
“Sergeant, I assure you that I am Folmon Beinan,” the elf said. “If you can tell us the fine, Richard can write you a check and we will be on our way.”
“Are you trying to bribe me?”
“Not at all, sergeant,” the man said. “It’s just that Folmon is trying to make things easier all around. We will plead guilty, there will be a fine, I will write the check and we will be on our way. I imagine that you can take us to the magistrate, but that is the way it will end up. We came here for some fun, because the place is empty, paid cash for the cars and the only people at risk were ourselves. Nyla suggested the market when Folmon and I wanted to try the cars out and the streets were rather crowded. We could have done it at dad’s ranch, but that’s four hours away and we needed to be back to take our wives to a show this evening.”
“You stay here. I’m calling for a wagon and some tow trucks.”
“After you make your call, may I call my hotel?”
“You can do that from the station.”
The sergeant called for the wagon and the tow trucks, they showed up and Sergeant followed the parade to the police station. While they were waiting for the magistrate, the man made his call. About a twentieth later, the Attorney General showed up and said, “Mr. Harper, what did you do?”
“Bought some cars and took them for a test drive in the market. If the magistrate will tell me the fine, I will write the check.”
“I will settle this with the magistrate. Your wife sent a car for you. She is rather put out with you.”
“Ok, come on Folmon.”
The sergeant’s jaw dropped as the two left. After a bit, the Attorney General left, the magistrate came out and said, “Ozzy, what did you do?”
“They were playing around in the market driving recklessly.”
“Did they offer to pay the fine?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Mr. Harper’s wife will probably keep those two from doing that again but, if they do, just take the check.”
“Somebody could get hurt.”
“In the empty market? The only person there was you and the only time you were at risk was when you were out in the road. If they do that again, call Mrs. Harper. They are staying at the Crystal Palace. Here’s the number. By the way the station’s dinner is on the lady.”
“So who was he?”
“Who did he say he was?”
“Richard Harper.”
“That’s who he was.”
“They were playing around like a couple of kids.”
“They probably needed to. They could afford it.”
Upper Timbercreek, Kingdom of Dolmon.
“It’s time, you lout.” Goldenrod said.
“It’s cold,”Artamo said. “Shouldn’t you be trying to beguile me into the woods, aunt?”
“If I thought for a hundredth that luring you into the woods and putting you in fog would work, I would try that. I know that you have been in and out of the woods since you were a boy and I tried that before you went off and joined the Church, so I know that it wouldn’t work. So I have to use stronger measures. Now, you will come with me or the archbishop here will order you to do it.”
Hamelin laughed. “Artamo, you go or I will order you to. The longer you put it off the worse it is going to be because I doubt that Esgalwathanar and Lazuli will let up on you and you are going to need to be able to Jump for your new job.”
“You are telling me that I have to renounce my vows.”
“We’ve been over that. The gods have set you on a different path, a path that is important. Think about those families where you were forced to take the children.”
“You have changed that.”
“Yes I have. Now the rule is that if a child fails the test, the parents are told to take the child to the grove here or some other locations for testing when they are ten or so. That way the separation ends and the process is seen as a good thing.”
“What about the priests that want to remove the pollution.”
“There are other duties than evaluating the children. They may be unpleasant, but then those of our Brothers will not have to face the temptation that presents itself at the test. If they get really obnoxious they can renounce their vows or ask for a transfer. Now, as for you, your aunt wants to get this over with so that we can have our party and that chicken that Moonflower has learned to make. So go with her.”
Left with no choice, Artamo followed his aunt along the trail into the woods. A cottage loomed and his aunt said, “Go in there and take your clothes off. I will be waiting in the grove.”
Artamo removed his scapula and then his tunic and trews. Once naked, he stepped out into the grove. Almost immediately he felt himself reach out and sensed the world in new ways. He realized that he could go anyplace that he wanted or be just about anything. Before he did any of that, he returned to himself and his aunt was there with a pea. “Moonflower will be pleased. Now why don’t you put your tunic back on? You can carry your robes. You won’t need them anymore. We can Jump back.”
They did that and Moonflower was smiling in trueform as he exited the Jump. “Good, you are yourself at last. We must visit my parents. They have talked with your parents and set the joining for Green. They don’t want to put it off.”
“I’m not sure where I am anymore.”
“A good place, count on it. You are with me, at last. Now the food is ready, so let’s eat.”

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