The Blight Returns, Chapter 43-44.

Durlan takes some kids. Moonflower get Art to chase her into a grove.

Chapter 43.
Everything was ready for the bus. Durlan looked around and his team was ready to go. Wyrran was going to provide the distraction by pushing the cart he used for street cleaning into the street in front of a car, Wymlis had discreetly scanned the kids and it hadn’t mattered because all of them were good prospects, the mana battery was ready and so was Wymlis. The lady had been staying home the last few five days and as far as Durlan was concerned, she chould stay there. Now the goal was to get the prospects and haul them through the portal. Llarm whistled and whistled again. That meant that the bus was turning the corner. It stopped, the kids got off and Durlan whistled once. The bus closed the door, started down the street and Durlan whistled again. There was a screech of brakes and a crash as a car hit the cart, the kids lined up obediently and Durlan activated the portal. Wymlis led the prospects through, Durlan and the others followed and the portal shut down behind them.
Terry was in the process of heading to a meeting when the devise beeped. It was portal 0078 again and it had just connected to portal 0065 in what was apparently Lylalune. He picked up the phone, dialed and said, “Lieutenant, there was another port.”
“Out to the road portal?”
“No, to a portal in Lylalune.”
“That’s new. On the other hand, the characters have a ship that drops off dried fish and picks up cargo. I’ll look into it.”
Terry put the phone back down and went to the meeting. As he returned to his office, Licient called. “Terry, I need you to come up to the office.”
“What about?”
“I’ll tell you when you get there. Has there been any portal activity?”
“Yes there was. I called it in before my meeting. I’ll be right up.”
Terry went upstairs and Licient said, “Thundra and Alice called. Neither Alissa nor Geral returned from school. I’ve called around and some of the other kids haven’t made it back either.”
“I called the lieutenant and the exit portal was in Lylalune. The people that take kids have a ship there.”
“Folmon warned us about this. Things were so quiet that we slacked off. Get a list of the kids that were taken and send it to the House.”
“I will get right on this. The report said that Durlan isn’t a slouch and he plans things. It looks as if he was planning this for some time. Let me send a message to the House and Starflower.”
Jandor came out of his office and said, “Any news?”
“I’ve just put Terry on this.” Licient said. “There was a port to Lylalune about the time that the bus drops off the kids.”
“A port to Lylalune? They’re breaking the trail. They have a ship there, probably. Terry, have you sent to the House and Adiun yet?”
“Not yet. I’m on my way right now.”
Terry went back to his office and sent messages to the House and Adiun. Surprisingly, a young fae man and and an elf girl popped into the office, followed shortly by Starflower. The elf girl said, “You must be Terry. I’m Dessielle Beinan and this is Periwinkle Yllanan. Mom and dad are up at Red Mountain right now. What happened?”
“There was a port about half a twentieth ago and several children haven’t made it home from school.”
“Do you have a car?” Peri asked. “I can get a better trace from the portal, especially since you already know where it is on this end.”
“We know where the two in the city are and that should make it easier.”
“Starflower, how come you didn’t lock them shut.”
“Peri, at the time the spider was making regular visits and we were trying to hand the book over. She was using the portals to get to the city and then Jumping out after taking her meals. She probably stopped coming here once the book was turned over, but all of us were busy and there hadn’t been any other usage of the portals at all.”
“Peri, part of that is my fault,” Terry said. “Other than knowing that they are here, there really isn’t a way to track a portal until it gets used and I don’t have a list from Adiun of all the portals that are here the Fellowship, so I needed the two here in the city to be used so that I can get the others.”
“Ok, good point. Let’s go lock down the two here in Zirgoccol.”
They all went down stairs and Terry drove them over to the portal that had been activated. When they arrived the police were already there, along with a destroyed cart and a car that had obviously hit it. Terry parked the car and the four got out. Lieutenant Lazg saw them and said, “A witness saw them take some kids.”
Ruki and Nimeroni came walking up and said, “You all are probably here for the same reason we are.”
“Do you know what kids they took?” The lieutenant asked.
“My younger brother and sister, along with their friends if they actually took kids from here. Mother called the bank and we Jumped home and tracked back. Mother is calling the other mothers and the school and she should have a list of the kids by now.”
Another car stopped on the street and Dragonleader Beinan and Lieutenant Littlechild got out. The Dragonleader said, “We heard over the radio. So what happened, Lieutenant?”
The lieutenant told them and Yrvien said, “Ok, the Dragonmaster will want a report. I need to send a message to Dragon Captain Fuseshadow to step up patrols over the empty lands.”
A fae in Marshall’s uniform walked down the street, looked at the crowd and asked, “Who is in charge?”
The police lieutenant that had been in charge of the police said, “I am Lieutenant Gretoris, Zirgoccol City police and this is my jurisdiction, so officially I’m in charge. How is this your case, Marshall?”
“This is my case because it probably involves the fugitives Durlan and Wyrann Richflight, who just made a big mistake. I’m Marshall Lightning Limegrace, by the way. What do you have so far?”
“About half a twentieth ago, the portal over there was activated. Several men pushed fifteen children that had just gotten off their school bus through the opened portal. I suspect that the young man is from Beinan’s and we have two people from the Portal Service who arrived with him.”
“Are you from Beinan’s, sir?”
Terry answered, “Yes I am. I have been tasked with finding the portals here in the Fellowship, among other tasks. The others here are from the Portal Service and Miss Beinan from the House in the Empire.”
“Then they can all Jump?”
“Excellent. I don’t suppose that you can?”
“I haven’t been tested yet.”
“That will probably change fairly quickly.”
“Starflower is going to make sure of that.”
“My team is here. I will Jump to Lylalune and send somebody back when we know what is going on. The Marshall and his team Jumped and after about 25 hundredths the Marshall returned and said, “They had things timed fairly tightly. Apparently they transferred the children to crates, loaded the crates on a small ship and left before we could arrive.”
Peri said, “Somebody take me to the other portal in town. The rest of the crew should be coming with the low mana power up kit that we made for this. If somebody can arrange a truck, we can use this portal to go to the exit portal and locate it and maybe any others in that town.”
“I’ll make the arrangements,” Lieutenant Lazg said. He went off with Peri
“I need to make some calls,” the dragonleader said. She and Lieutenant Littlechild returned to their car.
Another young lady appeared and said, “This looks bad. What happened, Ruki?”
“It looks like the Richflights struck here. They took the squirts and all their friends, Umilythe.”
“That is not going to make mother happy. Grandfather and grandmother just arrived. I wish that we had had the squirts tested. Me too, for that matter.”
“Umilythe, tell mom what happened.”
“Young lady, is your mother the one making the list of the missing children?” Lieutentant Gretoris asked. “I want to have that and pictures put together.”
“Do you think that they will make demands for money?” Umilythe asked.
“No,” Dessielle answered. “They took me and some other girls at the end of last year and it wasn’t for money. Of course I hope that Durlan hasn’t quite taken kids with as much clout as last time.”
“Considering that there were two Beinan kids, a Senator’s son, several banker’s kids and my brother and sister in the batch, how much clout are we talking about?”
“The last time they managed to annoy at least six Great Houses one way or another, including House Qinvaris, House Shahana, House Bienan and House Yllanan , to say nothing of what became House Zylvyre.”
“That was a lot of clout, all right. Of course when the Beinans find out that these characters hit their kids again, things are going to get fun.”
“We’ve already started,” Dessielle said with a little grin. “Peri’s back with the truck, Uncle Adiun and the crew, so I need to get to work.”
The portal Service people started to attach a large mana battery to the portal as another car drove up and Jandor and Licient got out. Jandor looked at the controlled chaos and walked over to Terry. “What’s going on?”
“It looks as if the Richflight kidnappers were here, watching the kids. They made their move this afternoon. Adiun and the Portal Service people are setting up a mana battery so that we can repeat the port. The marshalls have already been to Lylalune and the Richflights caught a ship that was leaving.”
“I called Admiral Ironbender and he doesn’t have anything close enough to intercept the coaster for another two days other than some torpedo boats and there may be some of those Ravathyra raiders out there. So they may transfer the children to another ship.”
Adiun came over and said, “The portal is activated, let’s got through.”
They did, with the people inside the warehouse where the portal had been placed running as soon as the police started to emerge. Lieutenant Lazg waved down local police and told them what had happened. No trace of the children was found.
Coaster Dasyra.
Jammunli was as scared as he had ever been. The people had put them in the boxes more or less randomly and he was sharing the crate with Lissy Beinan who was crying. Jammunli wanted to cry too, but he thought that he needed to be strong for Lissy. So he said with a confidence he didn’t feel, “It will be all right, Lissy.”
“How do you know?”
“These people probably want money from our dads, so they won’t hurt us until they get it and our dads won’t give them the money until they have us back. Then your grandpa has that big building filled with all those people and I bet that they know about this already.”
“We used a portal.”
“Didn’t your grandfather say that your uncle Folmon and Uncle Adiun were looking for portals? I bet that your whole family is smarter than anybody’s. Mom got that magic music box from your aunt that somebody in your family made. I bet that they can make things and have friends to get us out. Georgie’s dad is in the Senate and he will get the navy or even worse, the Dragonmaster to come and get us.”
Lissy dried her eyes and said, “The Dragonmaster will come and get us? He’s real old.”
“I bet he has a team of really sneaky people that he’s the boss of. He’ll come up with something really sneaky and get us out. When we get out, your dad will probably arrange to get us tested at this place in the Empire where my brother was and then we will be able to Jump around and transform like my brother can. Remember the girls and their boyfriends who visited last year. So we have to be sneaky and smart, smarter than these men.”
The crate was opened and it was obvious as they were put with the other kids that they were on a sailing boat going along the coast that they could see in the gathering darkness. Looking the other way, some of the Ravthayra raiding ships were with them, between them and the ocean. Across the deck, the men that took them were arguing.
Durlan looked at his cousin. “We stick to the plan. As soons as we get across the border, we land us and the kids and get them under cover.”
“Then why the bigger ships?”
“Because Taser has them out training and if that all seeing eye of the Republic is watching, it’s watching them and not us. Taser and I went over this before I set this up. The Fellowship Navy doesn’t have active patrols near Lylalune. That’s why we were on the boat in the first place. The Fellowship navy doesn’t have any of those damned cruisers because the Ravathyra didn’t raid them like they did the Republic. On the other hand, those damn airplanes are going to be all over us like that one now.”
The plane that Durlan saw roared overhead and turned for another pass, circling around until it got dark.
LRP-23, Fellowship Air Force.
Captain Flamespinner cursed as the Ravathyra squadron loomed in the growing darkness. The navy had a pair of torpedo boats on the way, but with only two torpedos and a deck gun, dealing with all five of the big raiders and finding the coaster without the other side doing something with the kids was more than a bit problematic and the captain and his wingman had left base with a full fuel load and no ordnance. Flight Lieutenant Steelmender said, “Where’s a Pug sub when you need one?”
“At the Hidden City while its crew gets R and R and the boat gets an overhaul. At least that was Captain Forger said when I checked in before we left. I imagine that Captain Pinch will have his boats out as soon as the word gets to him, but by the time they get here, these characters will have pulled something.”
“There’s a cruiser out there. Beinan won’t sell us gadgets without the Pug navy’s say so and the Senate won’t fund a research program to let us build our own.”
“At least they were watching the raider ships for us.”
RNS Enterprise
Captain McRodden was glad to be at sea again. At least he had been until the routine following of the two Ravathyra squadrons had gone beyond the usual fun and games that both sides had been playing for moons now and something more serious. When ships clustered together in a tight formation it was impossible for the gadget to pick out individual ships. It was also possible to hide another ship in the shadow. Borug was sure that Taser and Gormar probably had a good idea that that was the case and as the last six moons had passed, had practiced ways to hide what they were doing somewhat. Right now, that meant that while Gormar was off at sea on his starboard side, Taser was near the coast and the coaster he was really interested in was masked by Taser’s ships. It was getting dark and Borug was sure that the people that had taken the kids were fully aware that they were probably being watched.
FNS Swift
Lieutenant Commander Ecthelion Wavechaser looked at the Revathrya squadron in the darkness and cursed. It had taken the wheels of the navy chain of command two twentieths to get word to him that the coaster had been involved in a kidnapping. Swift and Osprey had even cruised right past it on their way into the harbor. When the word had finally come, Wavechaser and the boats had been told to wait for a special seafolk assault platoon to be flown in, which delayed things for another two twentieths. Then they had to find the coaster and that delayed things still further and when they did, the coaster had these escorts and the lieutenant commander’s squadron was in search mode and had to be collected. He turned to the chief and said, “Tell the squadron to rendezvous here, off Sylvy’s point. We’ll hit the coaster in the morning.”
What about the raiders?”
“We go in before dawn, we drop the squad and the other boats distract the raiders. We don’t want to sink them, in case the switch the kids to another ship.”
“Do you think that they will?”
“I would, especially if I could pull the switch without us knowing.”
Sparky came up and said, “Message from the admiralty sir. We are to rendevous with a Pug cruiser offshore.”
“One of those ships with the fancy eyes we don’t have.That makes sense.”
Thoryuhr, Red Mountain.
Uzilsia had a message in her hand as she came into the room where Rebecca was packing with the assistance of the staff, a rather precocious Aierilaya and an eager Toldro. The pair had managed to convince Rebbeca and more importantly, their parents that a tour through the House would be a good thing for them during the warm season. So, the two of them were returning to the House with Rebecca and Folmon.
Rebecca looked at Uzilsia and said, “What’s wrong?”
“Jandor just sent this. Apparently the clowns that took your daughter went after some school kids including Jandor’s grandson and granddaughter as well as the kids of two other senior Beinan employees and several other notables. Here’s the list.”
“Are they sure that it was Durlan?”
“The kidnappers used portals to escape and escaped on the coaster to the retreat. It’s all there.”
“I’ll send a message back to Jandor and Halamar. I was already starting something up and we know the territory already, thanks to them taking my daughter and the other girls. Frankly this was stupid, as we have the airship again, the patrols from the Fellowship and everything else.”
“I think that Evin and I will go with you. We can make these people a family reunion project.”
The Yllanan Estate.
The party was going well, but the girls seemed to be a bit distracted, so Esgalwathanar found Nimue, still dressed in feathers and costume and asked, “You girls seem a bit distracted and I haven’t seen Folmon, Rebecca, or any Bienans other than Dessielle.”
“The Richflight clowns went to the Fellowship the day before yesterday and made off with some more kids, including some Beinans.”
“That explains it. I will talk to Dessielle and offer her my support.”
Esgalwathanar moved through the party in practiced ease, making polite conversation as he went, but never staying very long until he reached where Dessielle and Peri talking to Peri’s parents. “Dessielle, I understand that family members were kidnapped the day before yesterday.”
“Yes. Peri and I went down with the portal crew and my Uncle Jandor had two grandchildren on the same bus as some other kids, all of which had high potential, apparently. Durlan went after them.”
“Are you all sure that it was Durlan?”
“Yes. He and his crew had been working jobs in the neighborhood for some time and we and the Marshalls gave the police pictures. The police went around, talked with people and Durlan and some of the others were identified.”
“Where are the children now?”
“We don’t know. Durlan left the coaster before the Fellowship could intercept it. The patrol planes and the cruiser from the Republic couldn’t find them on some Ravathrya ships that were intercepted and the coaster was boarded and the kids were not there. None of the pictures the planes brought back show the kids or the kidnappers.”
“So the kids were sent ashore at some point in the night. You have my family’s, that is your family’s full support in this, even if the children were taken in the Fellowship.”
“Thank you, milord. I will tell my parents. Peri’s cousins are already part of that and we have others.”
Lazuli joined Esgalwathanar and said, “Dessielle, Rosa just told me. So what idiot took on the entire Beinan family?”
“Durlan Richflight.”
“Again? He is looking for real trouble. The last time, you all got loose before the family could really get started.”
“How do you know, Lazuli?” Esgalwathanar asked.
‘I’m not going to say, but the Bienans have habit of unconventional marriages and Dessielle is hardly the first in her family to go into the woods.”
The Retreat.
Rolin looked at Taser and said, “You look beat. What happened?”
“That’s the last time that I do any favors for Durlan. I offered to cover for his little taking and the idiot took a kid that was the son of the head of the Naval committee in the Senate. Needless to say, I was harassed mercilessly by the Fellowship Navy once they showed up. There are just so many accidental overshots and near misses that you can take. By the way, Ilbryen is an idiot.”
“What did he say this time?”
“Remember when he said that airplanes were harmless? He was wrong. The Fellowship naval air force used me for practice runs with things that didn’t go boom. There are now some nice pieces of steel in my ships and rather large holes to go with them. They didn’t actually manage to sink any of my ships. But being under glamor almost full time is not fun. I’ll have a report written as soon as I can get a drink.”
“Does the Fellowship Navy have the eye?”
“Probably not. Enterprise was tracking us, so they were talking back and forth. I could disappear under glamor and the Fellowship ships couldn’t find me until Enterprise was in range. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant five day.”
“Where’s Durlan now?”
“I have no clue. He didn’t tell me his plans other than to have me cover the coaster for a few runs. I figured that it was good training for the crews and went with it. The idiot went for the wrong kids again.”
“Was the coaster boarded?”
“What do you think?”
“Yes, they took it over.”
“A seafolk assault team had the thing taken over in thousandths, followed by fast torpedo boats and the marines.”
“We could send a message to Erlan complaining about piracy from the Fellowship.”
“Those characters were pretty pissed and I wouldn’t want to do that. In any case, they let the coaster go when neither Durlan nor the kids were aboard. Apparently the exit portal was in a warehouse, nobody actually saw Durlan or the kids on the ship until they were put ashore and the crew didn’t know much more than they were told to cooperate with Durlan.”
“By Ilbryen, right?”
“Yes. Who is in a lot of trouble right now, because the crew told the navy people that as well.”
“He should be, along with the Master, who gave the go ahead to his sister and Durlan.”
Durlan looked at his cousin and said, “That went well. Our employer will be pleased.”
“She’ll want us to do that again and Zirgoccol is out now,” Wyrran said. “If they haven’t blocked off the portals we used, I will be remarkably surprised.”
“I’m sure that they have. So we don’t go to Zirgoccol the next time. Oceanside is about to have a lot of vistors and considering the kinds of relationships in Zirgoccol, there will be a lot of mutt relationships and loads of prospects, all of whom will be clueless.”
“I hope so. The spider lady messed things up for us because she used those portals and the kid from Beinan’s could see them activate.”
“I’ve got some ideas and there are some portals out there in the empty lands. We could set up out there and do a double portal. That way they can’t track through. We haul in a portal in the empty lands that that mage fixed or use one that isn’t too far away. We build our own portal network and it won’t be so easy to track.”
“If the Portal Service doesn’t get to them first and lock us out.”
“We don’t encourage them to look. We also learn how to drive those car things.”
“That will be breaking the Proscriptions.”
“We’re already under anathema and enslavement. If we get caught, the Proscriptions are going to be the least of our problems. We go back to the Fellowship and get our hands on some cars and trucks and use those. In any case, if the Inquisition comes poking around here, some cars are going to be the last things they bother with.”
“That’s true.”
Rebecca Jumped to the lobby of the Beinan building and Marneg jumped a bit and said, “Milady Beinan, don’t scare me like that.”
“I’m sorry, Marneg. I used Starflower’s Jump point and didn’t realize that you didn’t know that I could do that.”
“I hope that Lord Beinan isn’t Jumping in too.”
“He can’t quite Jump here from Innshys. He didn’t quite test as high I did. In any case, I need to go upstairs and talk to Licient and Jandor.”
“You have news?”
“We have news and I want to meet with the parents of the kids.”
“Go right to the elevator. I’ll call up.”
Rebecca took the elevator upstairs and Licient was waiting as she stepped out. “Rebecca, you came!”
“I needed to get a list of the kids that were taken, pictures if we can and discuss some things with the parents.”
“You already had something going.”
“Yes. This is not the first time that the Richflights have played these games and a certain lady needs to learn that messing with my family is not a smart thing to do. We were setting things up just before Durlan did this.”
“Let me take you right in and talk to Jandor. As for the rest of the families, you know some of them already, like the Axebrews, my daughter and Jandor’s son. Halamar and Andaphin are here as well. Jandar must have spotted you because here he comes with Halamar.”
Jandar had been walking out of his office with Halamar and turned course when he saw Rebecca. “Rebecca, does this mean that the House is already working on this?”
“Yes. I was kicking things off to make the people who were responsible for this lives’ miserable when Durlan pulled his little stunt.”
“Have you set up a base?”
“We’ve set up at the old abandoned town of Innshys on the Zylvyre empty lands. Richard has been rebuilding the town with the help of the people from the Sanctum and Eryding. It’s been a joint project with the Zylvyres, the Qinvaris, the Shahana and now us.”
“Why did they need a new town?”
“Richard is starting up farms, Amarille and the other Zylvyres have opened up a store and the Shahana and the Hienorin are cutting timber and trucking it to the canal.”
“Trucking the timber?”
“Yes. Since Richard was breaking the Proscriptions anyway, Vesryn and Ivarin bought some used trucks and just kept right on with using them. Delion hasn’t been back out there and any other Inquisitors get to the town and subverted.”
“How so?”
“Really good beer. They don’t see anything and they can come back. There is also a convenient taxi service to the railroad station at the Salt flats and Fayspire is a very nice trip.”
“I see. We are having a meeting with the families at Wriang’s.”
“Good, I have materials that you can have reproduced later about what is going on.”
“The kidnappers have not made any demands,” Licient said.”
“That was not what they wanted the kids for. Why don’t we go to Wriang’s and I will explain to everybody. I thought that I had explained to Jandor, but I guess it hadn’t sunk in yet.”
The four returned to the lobby and went out to the waiting car. After a short drive through the city, they reached Wriang’s and Jandor led them inside. There was a crowd inside and Kethrykllia spotted Rebecca and said, “Rebecca, you came!”
“Yes I did. I see that Gander has beaten me here somehow, with Mhaenal.”
“Since I had never been out of the Empire, Kelvahn wanted Gander to keep me out of trouble, Rebecca.”
“Ok. Mhaenal, you and Gander should stop at Innshys.”
“We did on the way in,” Gander said. We ported through there and used the taxi to the train. We came down with what we had yesterday and talked with Lieutenant Gretoris and the Dragonmaster. Folmon seems to have things rolling with Evin and Adiun. Mhaenal will be joining them on his way back from this.”
“I’ll let you and Mhaenal give your presentation and then provide what I have.”
Mhaenal did, going through the events of the last year and what happened so far this year. When asked, “Why didn’t you tell somebody here about these people?”
Mhaenal answered, “First of all, the Justiciars don’t have a liaison in the Fellowship and second, we hadn’t realized that Durlan and the others were operating here. That was a mistake and I will work with the authorities here to bring them up to speed. I am still only a Justiciar adjunct, I have been dealing with trying to workout Lord Richflight’s disposition, Durlan and the others were apparently gone from the Retreat and until they hit here, we did not know where they had gone. They are very good at doing this. They have been doing this for a very long time and Durlan is very careful. The lieutenant can tell you that he and his people were careful to blend in and become part of the scenery and they did not port directly back to the Retreat. The Justiciars were, for a long time, unsure that it was even the Richflights doing the takings and for the most part, they took people that were beneath the notice of the high. This time, he went after people of status right off the bat. That may be because of the convenient portal. I will say one thing. The people that did this do not want the children dead. They may come back transformed, but the chances are that they will survive and what they will need will be loving homes. The one case that has been recovered has recovered very well from his ordeal.”
“Why didn’t you bring the boy?” A lady asked.
“His mother wouldn’t let me,” Gander replied. “She was not pleased that I taught him that he could play the awful hungry landdragon teenager. He is also busy watching some kids at a party today.”
The room laughed and the lady said, “He’s a landdragon and babysits? Is that safe?”
“For the kids, yes. For anybody taking the kids, I don’t think so. The thing with the “awful hungry” was my subordinate’s idea. Scared the willies out of some characters were setting up to massacre a village. The story has been in the papers, complete with Jimmy.”
“In Dolmon, yes?”
“Yes. In fact, that is where he is today, because the queen wanted him for one of her things. Rebecca, since Mhaenal is done with the “what,” why don’t you explain the why concerning what is going on.”
“Ok. For those who don’t know me already, I’m Rebecca Beinan. My husband purchased me to clean house for him and things went a lot further than that. In any case, the Ravathrya had been taking slaves from backgrounds of families that had exiles like my grandmother or mixed backgrounds with the fae or seafolk. Because of the way things were after the Scourge, the mana potential of the children of those relationships could grow to great levels. The Ravathrya took slaves from those communities, mostly like mine in the Republic, where people like that were concentrated while exiling members of elf families with high potential to the Republic and other places. This left a void in the elf population and when the slaves returned, many of them, like myself, had relationships of one kind or another with high elves seeking those with high potential, instinctively. The Richflights farmed those people for their employers.”
“Who are their employers?” a man asked. “I’m Senator Astasius, milady, by the way.”
“It’s Rebecca. I’m not quite used being a high elf yet. As to who their employer is, he is a mage who calls himself, the Master. What their plan is, I am not sure about, but we, that is several people who have been looking into this, believe that they want to take over the Empire and as much else as they can by undermining the fabric of the Empire and other countries. The kidnappings are used to create soldiers, monsters and possibly mages loyal to the Master that the Grand Master does not know about.”
“It’s Joelyn, Rebecca and that seems to be a rather preposterous scheme.”
“I would have thought so as well, but the pieces have been coming together. The Dragonmaster knows some of it and I will remind everybody in this room to keep this discreet. I would not have mentioned this, except that you all have to know what to expect. I am hoping to recover as many of the lost children as possible, but I suspect that some, indeed many, are total monsters by now. This is after talking to Jimmy. In any case your children will get the priority in this, simply because we want to get the kids before the lady does.”
“The lady?”
“I have a brief that the company will reproduce and provide that will explain. I imagine that Wriang wants to serve, so we should sit down and eat.”
The Fortress.
Nethangwa grinned as the mostly wolf chimera appeared at her pavilion. Along with the mages that were her hands, Stormwolf was her greatest triumph. He bowed and said, “You wanted to see me, mistress.”
“Yes. I wanted to discuss Jimmy with you.”
“Jimmy? He is gone, destroyed by the other side, more than likely. He was weak in any case, which is why I released him to Stormfire.”
Nethangwa held up a paper and said, “Not as gone as all that. Here he is in Dolmon, at the princess’s birthday party.”
Stormwolf’s eyes had problems making out the picture, but Jimmy was rather hard to miss. “Read this to me, mistress.”
“I won’t read the entire story to you, but gist of it is that Jimmy was there because the princess wanted him for the party for obvious reasons.”
“With Jimmy there, the other children did not need bodyguards for the party. Jimmy was weak, but he would stand between me and the younglings in rebellion. He was losing his fear of me and as he grew, getting stronger. If he has not been destroyed and is making powerful connections, we must keep on guard.”
“That is a strange admission of weakness from you.”
“The most dangerous to me and us are not the ones like myself, the strong, but the growing. Jimmy and the other culls are weak, but their danger is that they have not accepted the natural order or the holy project. They still resist. I wish that you would let me slay them.”
“The time is near and we have so few prospects. We also do not have the enhanced army that the Ravathrya lost. In the turmoils to come, we will need all. Fortunately we have more prospects coming. That is a good thing, because you may need to take over Darkblade’s duties.”
“He never returned from his last assignment and the target is apparently still alive.”
“Then he is dead. He must have been incautious.”
“Gone, in any case.”
“Your brothers seem to be having problems of late.”
“My sister as well. On the other hand, she did deliver the keys to father.”
“Ok, I will prepare. Do you want me to follow up on Darkblade’s assignment?”
“Only if brother asks me, which he hasn’t.”

Chapter 44.
Treehollow Faery Kingdom.
He had caught her again. Moonflower grinned. In every way, Artamo had proved to be worthy of her. Her brothers had not managed to befuddle him at all, and even though he had touch with his abilities, he barely touched them, preferring to use skills that he had had in his youth. He had dealt correctly with the various relatives trying to trap him up or misguide him and his experience dealing with the high in troubling circumstances helped him when he was dealing with Moonflower’s supposedly hostile father and brothers in the hall of the faery kingdom. He had mastered all the quests that her family had sent him on with equanimity and aceepted aid when it was offered and aided those who asked. Now the game was up and it was her turn, as the mysterious golden doe that Artamo had to bring the heart from to free her from her imprisonment. He had caught her next to the grove where she was supposedly imprisoned and instead of shooting, laughed and said, “I think that the game is about over.”
Moonflower transformed and said, “Only if you want it to be.”
Art kissed her and said, “I think that it is time that I grew up. I understand a bit that I was perhaps running from things that frightened me more than a bit.”
“So while you were true to your vows, the vows were not something that you truly believed in. I sensed the doubt, even before the bishop.”
“You parading around the way you did, did not help.”
“I hope not. I was trying to get your attention. Now it is your turn. Get your clothes off.”
“Must I?”
“Look at where we are.”
Art looked around and realized that rather than being outside the grove, they were inside it.
“You tricked me.”
“Yes, with the cooperation of my, that is our, grove and a bit of glamor. All too soon, those things you are wearing are going to hurt.”
Moonflower was right as his clothes were becoming all too warm on his skin. He shed his coat, and then his shoes, shirt and trews, finally stripping down to his skin. Moonflower started to kiss him and said, “Don’t worry about the next part. It is time for your trueself to emerge at last.”
Art felt his skin get hotter and then dissolve as if he was emerging from a chrysalis. He felt so sensitive to everything and he could feel the wings on his back fill and grow for the first time. Suddenly he wanted to fly and Moonflower joined him in the dance that began their lives together.
The Yllanan Estate.
Vesstan grinned at his young trainee. Jimmy didn’t realize just how remarkable it was to have an unformed talent like his. Esgalwathanar had offered to have Jimmy trained when Rebecca had returned him from the hell he had been living in for the last three years. Jimmy had recovered well from that hell, and even if his transformed form was a landdragon, was determined to learn the skills that would help him fight without transformation. They had just finished another sparring session and Vesstan asked Jimmy, “So how did it go in Dolmon?”
“Fine. I’m not sure why the princess keeps asking me back.”
“How old is the princess?”
“Sixteen now.”
“Maybe she likes you.”
“Now that’s scary. I’m just a half elf from the Lower City. My dad can’t really spend as much time with mom and me as he wants because he has one of those arranged marriages and his wife keeps him on bit of a short leash. My half brother is nice, though and he likes to come down and visit with us. But I am hardly royal quality.”
“I would say that that is for the princess to determine.”
Vesstan suddenly lashed out at Jimmy who dodged and they were off again in another bout, racing through the training ground as they bit fought hand to hand and with improvised weapons as swordsmen in Yllanan livery attacked them both in a manner as if their fight had startled some guards who were trying to stop both of them. If Jimmy’s princess did catch him, Vesstan would make sure that he was ready. What Jimmy didn’t know was that Vesstan’s daughter was part of Queen Diona’s court for discreet security reasons and she had sent back that young Princess Talissa thought that Jimmy was royal quality indeed.
The Regency Council.
Ralnor wasn’t sure if he missed the emergency sessions or not. On the one hand, it made the business of the Council easier. On the other, he wasn’t sure if that meant that the knives were going to come out again. At least when he arrived, the pictures going around had been wedding pictures. Specifically Jessamine Yllanan and Aneirin Hienorin and Kythaela Brownlow and Byddri Flamefire. Since the early arrivals had, for the most part, been attendees at both weddings, there was quite a happy conversation until the others arrived. Ralnor called the meeting and started around the table. When he got to Princess Enania, she said, “I am concerned about the mass violations on the Proscriptions by House Qinvaris.”
“How so, sister?”
“Young Dan has been performing experiments in greenhouses with wheat and other grains.”
“He does that,” Ralnor said. “Greenhouses are not against the Proscriptions and Dan has been using the greenhouses to improve the quality of grain on the farms.”
“High Inquisitor Keaynore says that there were clear violations of the Proscriptions.”
“High Inquisitor Keaynore was being a jackass and Dan slapped him down because the matter at hand was rather serious.”
“Emmyth said that Dan was making stuff up about the Blight being released deliberately.”
“I’m not going to go into that, but there have been some discoveries and there is evidence that the Blight was indeed spread deliberately by parties as yet undetermined.”
“Emmyth says that that was nonsense.”
“Emmyth saw the test with his own eyes, as did I. In any case, Emmyth’s accusations have little merit.”
“Delion also saw heresy in the south on Qinvaris land and that land that was appropriated from the Ravathrya.”
“That’s Delion, who managed to not actually take a crystal with him and sees heresy at every turn.”
“Are you saying that an Inquisitor would lie?”
“I’m saying that Delion has a very long track record of exaggeration. In any case, Delion did not have a writ to go down to the salt flats and what, if anything went on is based on his view of events. I discussed it with Richard and he explained that he wanted to clear the new land and a company in the Fellowship offered to do the work very fast, so he contracted. How they did things may have been heretical, but you can take that up with Richard.”
“I want to sanction Richard for heresy.”
“Not this again,” Lelayme said. “We could do that. Richard would move right across the border and do what he wants anyway. Of course, he could take his money across the border as well. Almon, you have been discussing the fact that Richard drew some of his reserve. What would happen if he drew all of it?”
“The Empire would be in dire straits and I would be hard ptressed to borrow money for the Imperium from banks in either the Fellowship or the dwarven kingdoms. Fortunately some of the money Richard spent has been compensated for by increased exports.”
“I’ve seen that too, Saphielle said. “Both House Travyre and House Yllanan have seen steep increases in export business and House Shahana and House Hienorin are exporting wood and finished wood products. The Lower City has done very well this year.”
“Making toys,” Glynnii sneered.
“Making toys, yes. Fine glasswear, clothing and related things as well. A lot of things are going through the Hidden City. The Lower City and the Houses that have things there are doing very well.”
Saphielle gave a rather thorough trade report. She finished with. “We are actually seeing businesses return that had been taken to the Republic and some Houses recovering. All in all, the Empire is doing very well.”
The meeting went around the table as the various members made their reports and when things were done, Ralnor closed the meeting.

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