The Blight Returns Chapter 49-50

A hidden place is investigated. A princess is turned down.

Chapter 49.
The Empty Lands.
Wolf Waterstream looked down at the compound that the airship had found. It had taken him two five days of evading the hunting monsters to get to this place, but if it was what everybody suspected it was, the care taken to get here was about to pay off. The Darkmage’s library had been a bit of a disappointment concerning the Blight, with hints and lines that the archives people, people from the Mage Academy and the Lower City Library were chasing down but nothing truly concrete. The search for the place that produced the Blight had started and Wolf had carefully made sure that there was no trace of his looking into the place in front of him as he carfully took pictures of the compound and the people inside.
Now, having used up his crystals, it was time to leave. Wolf slunk, walked and crawled back to the stash that he had carefully brought down with him. He inflated the large balloon, dumped the crystals in the carrier and released the balloon. Regardless of what happened to him, the crystals would not be with him and somebody else could track them. Then he started the slow exit back to Innshys.
He had moved several miles from the stash when he had the sense that something was stalking him. He changed course and moved down a creek where the cover was broken and then across a beaver dam. Once he was across he turned and waited. A shape appeared and sniffed. “I know that you are there, coward.”
Wolf didn’t answer, just watching for the thing to make its move. The thing growled and said, “Too scared to fight? Well I am not.”
The thing charged across the dam and tripped the wire that Wolf had placed on his way in. He was dragged across the dam and slammed into a tree, left swinging from a broken fore paw. Wolf emerged and said, “Why fight when you can be smart. Now I might cut you down if you answer some questions.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because otherwise you will probably have a nasty death due to exposure.”
“I will tell you nothing?!”
“So be it. I figured that you were one of the unsalvageables anyway. Perhaps you could answer one question.”
“I will tell you nothing?!”
“I was just going to ask for your mother’s name, so that I would tell her that you had died.”
“My mother?”
“Yes, your mother. We have a bunch of them, wondering what has become of their boys and girls.”
“My mother is looking for me?”
“Your father too, probably, but certainly your mother.”
“Zelie, Zelie Philana.”
“Do you want to talk with her?”
“That cannot happen.”
“What if I could make it happen?”
“I am collared.”
“I see that. We can fix that. Hold on.”
Wolf went to the satchel that he had with him, picked a tool out of its slot and turned to the still hanging monster. The thing watched him approach and with a quick flip, Wolf unlocked the collar. Then Wolf went to the satchel, pulled out his knife and cut the monster down. He collected the satchel and said, “Can you Jump?”
“Then we have to do this a bit harder than I planned. Here, hold on to me.”
Wolf took the thing on his shoulder. “I’m going to Jump with you, we’re going to have to walk a bit and then, we use the portal. I hope that they pulled the guards or things may be unpleasant.”
Wolf put his portal key in his hand, said, “Here we go,” and Jumped. They emerged in front of the guards and Wolf dragged the thing into the portal house, activated the portal and dragged them both through. Sam had portal duty, pointed his shotgun at was now a naked and battered young half elf and said, “Who is this?”
“I don’t know his name, but he’s probably salvageable. Keep an eye on him while I get the doctor.”
Wolf Jumped to the Marshall’s headquarters and said to Nehitaari, “Is Miriam available?”
“She should be. Were you hurt in the woods?”
“Not me, but another one of taken. I was forced to trap him and he was injured.”
“Let me get Miriam.”
Nehitaari returned with Miriam who said, “Another taken? How did that happen?”
“Meet me in Innshys. He’s there and I don’t want to leave him very long.”
Wolf Jumped back to Innshys and the local healer was already looking at the half elf. Miriam followed with her medical kit and looked at the Half Elf. “Young man, what did Wolf do to you?”
“I think it’s a broken wrist.”
“That we can fix. What is your name?”
“Terry, Terry Philana. What is going to happen to me?”
“First of all, we are going to get you fixed up. Then we are going to take you home. I imagine that your mother is worried about you. Then you can have a nice long chat with some people about what you went through.”
“I’m not supposed to talk.”
“They won’t ask about those things. We have a lot of that already. You can talk about the things that you are ready to talk about.”
Rebecca appeared and said, “Wolf, you brought another one out. Will that jeopardize what you are doing?”
“I don’t think so. At least not more than Terry catching me did. In any case, bringing in Terry helps us and hurts them.”
“Jimmy is going to bring some more out, or he is going to try.”
The Pen.
Jimmy knew that once a five day, the girls were allowed by the mistress to take their collars off and bathe. The culls bathed last in the bathing pond and Jimmy was going to take advantage of that to collect all five girls if he could. The bathing pond was in the rear of the Pen and hidden by some trees. Most importantly, the wall surrounding it was only a wooden fence. He had quietly broken the fence and now he was going in and seeing if he could get the girls out. Looking around after he Jumped to the front of the bathing pool, he didn’t sense any of the Taken nearby, especially his old nemisis, Stormwolf. Jimmy had been beaten to an inch of his life by Stormwolf more than once.This time, if Stormwolf showed up, he was the one getting the beating. Even if Jimmy was sure that he could take Stormwolf, he would be happier if Stormwolf and the rest never saw him at all.
He crept into the bathing pond, Silly spotted him and squealed, “Jimmy, what are you doing here? You are dead.”
“Getting you all out. Your mothers want you home.”
“How are you going to do that?”
Jimmy ran through the girls and slammed into the fence, which collapsed. “By doing this. Now come on and get on my back.”
The girls all climbed on and Jimmy headed to the waiting wagon that had Gracie and some of the boys aboard. They were nearly to the wagon when Jimmy sensed Stormwolf coming toward the wagon. Jimmy picked up the pace and as he passed the wagon he yelled, “Grab the girls, we a problem coming.”
Gracie and the others grabbed the girls and Flix started the horses. Jimmy called out, “I’m going to buy you some time!”
He turned and ran forward to confront the approaching Stormwolf, who skidded to a stop. “I thought that I sensed you prowling around, runt!”
“Well, yes I was. Lose any loose Prospects recently?”
“I will kill you for that.”
“Big words from you. I hope that you trained up. Landdragons are tough and beating up darkmages and monks is getting to be too easy.”
“Don’t you read the papers? Oh, that’s right, you never bothered to learn and now you can’t. In any case, you should tell the Mistress that the Beinans are rather upset with you all. Taking their kids tends to do that. Of course you probably can’t handle the adult Beinans. Beating up kids is more your style.”
“I can beat you!”
Stormwolf charged and to Jimmy, it was as if he was watching things in slow motion as he move a bit to the left and swiped the monster’s legs out from under him, causing him to slam to the ground. Stormwolf rolled to his feet and charged again, swiping with his claws. Jimmy ducked the swipe and punched Stormwolf, knocking his head back and dropping him again. “This is too easy. Here, let me help.”
Jimmy stepped back and transformed. “Now you can just deal with little old me.”
“What trickery is this?”
“Ok, since I don’t want to make it too hard on myself, I’ll use my knife. A bit heavy for me when I am not in dragonform, but I think that handicapping me a bit is a good thing.”
Jimmy had the knife unfolded as Stormwolf got up and charged, only to get sliced across the leg by the fast moving Jimmy. He turned, bleeding and swiped at Jimmy’s head, only to have his clawed arm shoved aside and the knife come slicing lightly across his chest. “I thought that you were going to kill me. Me, naked with just a knife and you can’t manage it.”
Stormwolf charged again and received a near miss cut on his hamstrings for his trouble. He rolled, grabbed some dirt and tossed the cloud at Jimmy, trying to blind him. He charged and Jimmy dodged, cutting deep into his forearm. Then Jimmy started to attack, cutting Stormwolf with a series of light cuts. Stormwolf was reeling and Jimmy dropped the knife. “I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time.”
Stormwolf felt sharp blow after sharp painful blow that hit nerves and soft spots, finally dropping a battered and ruined Stormwolf on the ground. “I think that I will be going now. You can be thankful that I didn’t want to kill you, today. You really need to get some training. You are pathetic.”
Jimmy picked up his knife, folded it and disappeared.
Gracie drove the wagon to the road and said, “Everybody out!”
One of the girls squealed, “You are leaving us?”
“No, I’m not leaving you, but I have to return this wagon and the boys need to pick up the wagon with some clothes for you and drop you off at the portal.”
The girls and the fae boys got off the wagon and Gracie moved to the driver’s seat, put on her feathered cap and started off with the wagon. The boys started to tear a bush apart, demonstrating that it was cut branches, hiding another, smaller wagon. One of the boys grabbed a bundle and said, “get dressed.”
Silly said, “The lady doesn’t let us wear clothes.”
“Well, she isn’t here, is she? If she does show up, you all can transform, but I think that we will all be better off if you girls wear clothes. We wouldn’t want to make your mothers embarrassed, now would we?”
The girls all took clothes out of the bundle and put the dresses on, looking like the other girls in the fae village. Flix looked them over as Daylight brought the horses and they were off. They drove through the village, stopped in front of the portal, one of the other fae boys took the wagon and Flix led the girls through the portal and out.
Nighteyes came up as Stormwolf groaned painfully. “What did this to you?”
“Jimmy? Jimmy beat you up. You’ve always been able to beat him up before.”
“Jimmy made beating me look easy. Give me a shoulder. I need to see a healer.”
“We’ll get Jimmy if he comes back.”
“I wouldn’t go up against him by yourself. He’s too tough to just mess with.”
“This is cull Jimmy we were talking about, right?”
“Fine, you can deal with him if he shows up.”

Chapter 50.
Upper Timbercreek.
Robbie watched the unusual pair ride up the road. The elder was a full elf and the younger was a mortal, but Robbie could sense the fae in her recent past and her potential, so she was the daughter of a lorekeeper or traveler. They reached the gateway and stopped. The younger said, “I understand that people can be tested here for their potential.”
“If you are from the kingdom, you should have been tested already, long ago. The priests have those scanners. Do you doubt the priests?”
“If I said that I had reason to do so?”
“I suppose that you could go back and get scanned again.”
“Now, that might not be the smartest thing to do if I suspected that I was polluted, now would it?”
“Nay, it would not. As for being tested, you can see about that at the Mayor’s house. Don’t be surprised if the mayor throws you out on your ear, lassie.”
‘Now why would they do a rude thing like that?”
“Because the lady has a wedding coming up and another on the way. Watch out or the fee for being tested is that you get dragged into the chaos.”
“She has two weddings? How did that happen at the same time?”
“I think that I will let the lady tell the tale. After all, it is her two sons.”
“Where is the Mayor’s house, then?” the elf lady asked.
“Up the street, you can’t miss it. Listen for the forge.”
Talissa and Kavrala rode up through the village until they reached a large house with a forge attached. A man was pounding away at something, stopped to look at them and returned to his work. The paiir tied their horses and stepped up to the door. The door opened and the seeming maid said, “Welcome, the Lady is waiting.”
They followed the maid to a small parlor where a woman was waiting and said, “Welcome Talissa. I am Willownight Cordier.”
“Mother sent ahead, didn’t she? She sent something through the small portal.”
Willow grinned. “Well, yes, she did. I have expected you for some time in any case. Unfortunately, in your case, I cannot give you what you desire.”
“Why not?”
“That is where things get complicated. What do you know about your parents?”
“That father found mother in a cottage, they had adventures together, my uncle was killed and father had to be king. Kavrala was there for most of it.”
“Do you know where the cottage was?”
“I have never been there, but in the south, near the Fellowship. In the woods.”
“The Deephollow. Have you met Queen Lazuli?”
“Yes, with her friend Lord Yllanan.”
“Would you be surprised if I said that your great uncle was her bonded?”
“What? Nobody explained that.”
“Queen Lazuli is your great aunt. More importantly, she does not have an heir.”
“Why does this mean that I cannot be tested here?”
“The grove here would reject you, for good reasons and the failed test has consequences, because it creates a barrier between you and mana. That is to protect the failed from touching just enough mana to start something, but not enough to complete. That is why drastic changes in mana levels create such havoc in mages. So the only grove that you should be tested in is your grove.”
“It didn’t seem to matter for Jimmy.”
“Jimmy is a different case. Until he bonded with you, he didn’t have a grove of his own and until he was tested, he was unlikely to bond. Of course what that lady did to him still has consequences and once you test, I would seek Jimmy out and join in your grove as soon as you can. The sooner you bond, the less the taint will grow.”
“So I must go to mother’s grove to be tested. I don’t think that it would be politic or even safe for me to return to talk with her.”
“Returning home will be unsafe?”
“Kavrala, tell her.”
Kavrala frowned. “I think that you are right. Milady, may I ask that you be a bit discreet about this. The royal family has acquired a spy.”
“I imagine that the palace has many spies.”
“Well yes, it does. In most cases, even if the spies are not known, the players behind them are. In this case, Talissa discovered a drop by accident. I have somebody copying the messages and they don’t seem to be going to the usual places. Also the person taking the messages uses proxies to collect them and is very good. My people have not been able to track them down, as they move in and out of the city very quickly and are careful not to fall into patterns. The spy we know about, in the palace, may be from a religious order, but isn’t sending anything to the Church hierarchy. The spy is new to the household, so whoever it is, they are a new player.”
Moonflower came in and said, “I thought that I heard your voice, Talissa. What brings you here to this place?”
“I wanted to have a test done and apparently I cannot have it done here.”
“Did Willow explain?”
“Yes, somewhat. Apparently I am royal in two kingdoms, one of which I did not know about.”
“I think that you should talk to your mother about that. For right now, perhaps you can convince my new sister in law that dresses are a good thing, even if you are in trueform. Come along.”
Moonflower dragged Talissa into the bowels of the house and as Kavrala started to follow them, Willow held up her hand. “Wait Kavrala. I think that we should discuss something while Moonflower keeps Talissa occupied.”
“What would that be?”
“At some point, you and Talissa are going to be separated.”
“I expected that. Her mother and I have discussed this journey for some time and the time will come that she must fight her own battles. I have told no one that it was not I who killed Vulred Richflight, but Diona. I was hired to kill the man, but by the time that I was ready, Diona had managed it. To this day, she has never said how, and considering what was left, she transformed and then transformed back. To my knowledge she has never shown any fae traits and has aged like her husband. On the other hand, they were careful that both children never went under the scanner. Brother Hamelin helped with that.”
“They were keeping certain secrets in the family, so to speak. Does Talissa know about your family history?”
“I have told her. I am surprised that you knew.”
“My father paid your father for a job. Since it was outside the Empire, my father didn’t go through the guild. In any case he didn’t want the target dead for political reasons.”
“What was going on?”
“This was on the other side of the Faery kingdom. House Miranelis had had long standing arangments with the kingdom about cutting hardwood on the kingdom’s side of the border. Suddenly the House was dissolved, much of the family sent into exile and the House that purchased the estate claimed part of the kingdom as their own and instead of replacing the forest, turned the land over to pasture. My father complained and our messenger was beaten. So father had to take stronger measures and he hired your father for advice.”
“That was interesting. I assume that things were resolved.”
“Yes. There was some clever spy work, documents were found and taken to the Justiciars and House Miranelis had the writ of dissolution revoked and their property returned. Of course the exiles had moved to Dolmon and some of them had had inappropriate relationships, but we will not talk about those.”
“I must get the details from father. In any case, I have prepared Talissa to be able to function alone in dangerous situations including being prepared to accept certain things if she has no choice.”
“Being raped.”
“Yes. Diona and I went over that with her, since we had both had experience with situations where rape was a possibility. Of course, I suspect that a man that attempts to force Talissa will get a rather nasty shock.”
“How so?”
“I’m not sure what is going on, but Talissa has woken up on some mornings a bit scaly. Considering what happened to her mother and what happened to Jimmy, something that father and I have gone over, I suspect that Talissa may transform if she gets into a situation where rape or murder is possible.”
“That is called the lost child effect and it does happen, especially with those like Jimmy and Talissa that have high mana potential. If it does happen, reassure Talissa that it is not some sort of curse and is not permanent. I suspect that, since Jimmy is a landdragon, Talissa wants to be one too. She could do worse. I think that I, at least, had better join my daughters in law. My daughter had it easy. Her prince came out of the woods, which wasn’t a surprise as they had known each other since they were children. Moonflower didn’t have to work on Art that hard, once he realized that he was never going to be a priest. My other son, on the other hand, takes a bit too much from his father.”
BT&C Railroad, Beltian Republic.
Admatius d’Dolmon was getting the weekly reports. Of course he was doing that from his favorite place, the right hand seat on a high drivered six coupled locomotive going over eighty miles an hour on flat track with all fourteen cars of the Beltian Clipper trailing behind. He turned to the normal engineer, and said, “It’s sad that we have to send these to the dead line, George.”
“Not all of them, Admatius. Electrics and the new oil engines make more sense, but there is just something right about these ladies. Orders up.”
Admatuis slipped the cut off, closed the throttle and applied the brakes, slowing the train. The head brakeman took the hoop and quickly pulled the thin paper out before dropping the hoop back out onto the ground. He looked at the paper and said, “They want us to stop at West Chatsrey for a special pick up.”
“Did they say what for?”
“Senator Harper is catching the train.”
Admatius opened the throttle, pushed the cut off full forward and said, “He’s looking for me, probably. Something he doesn’t want spread around the office. George, she’s all yours again. I think that Bruce and I need to finish up.”
“Sir, the only thing left is a response to your nephew.”
“Don’t answer it.”
“Sir, he’s the king of Dolmon.”
“I know who he is. I know what he wants to talk about and it’s not something that I want to involve myself with.”
“You don’t want to build another line?”
“Not in Dolmon. I have my reasons.”
George slowed the train. “Stop coming up.”
The train pulled to a stop and it had barely stopped when Dan Harper was climbing into the cab. He looked back and said, “It shouldn’t take long to get Lythienne aboard.”
“What do you want, Dan?” Admatius growled.
“Not me, but Richard. He wants to buy the right of way in Dolmon.”
“What for?”
“He’s hoping that he can get you, or somebody to build the railroad to Selnalion.”
“For what traffic?”
“Grain at first. Timber and finished materials as well.”
“It doesn’t matter. I won’t sell and I won’t build.”
“Why not?”
“A private matter involving family. Something happened and I told myself that if the line was cursed, I would let it lie and I have.”
“It’s not going to be that easy. Richard is going to need a better answer.”
“Richard is in the Empire. He can piss on a rope as far as I am concerned.”
“Admatius, we’ve known each other for a very long time and this isn’t like you at all.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. As I said, it involves family.”
“What if Richard grades a new line?”
“I won’t allow an interchange. He’ll have to build all the way to sea and build his own port if he wants access to tidewater. I see Bill ready to call board, so I would run back, because you are not authorized up here.”
“Very well, be that way.”
Dan went back to the first coach and boarded. Bruce followed him and said, “I don’t know why he’s acting that way, senator. His nephew, the king of Dolmon wanted to talk about the same thing. I don’t know what’s going on. Why does your son want the railroad?”
“He’s afraid that he might need to get a lot of grain fast to the Empire. He wanted at least the beginnings of a line so that he can get grain across the border. The problem is that the line that your boss started is the only way that Richard could get things done fast enough.”
“What is going on?”
“Here’s the report that I was going to give Admatius. You can see what Richard is concerned about. Do you know who Admatius’s family is in Dolmon?”
“King Aestaeros is his nephew. He sends letters fairly frequently asking about the railroad that you were discussing. Admatius will not let me answer them.”
“I’ll send a message. I don’t think that Richard knows the king, but he certainly knows people who do and it sounds as if they are both on the same side on this.”
Bruce grinned. “Since you handed me a report and you are on the board of the line, I will make up a report concerning the issue. With all the correspondence included. Perhaps we can push things a bit.”
“Won’t that get you in trouble?”
“With my father in law? Maybe, but I don’t work for him directly and my boss wouldn’t fire me if I made Admatius mad over something like this, especially if we handle it discreetly and resolve it, which as far as I am concerned, is the important thing. This thing has been a sore in the family for a long time and the rest of us want to figure it out and resolve it, even without the railroad.”
“You do know that Richard doesn’t take no for answer when he feels that he has a duty.”
“I’ve heard stories before Paeris hauled him off to the Empire. I did my time in Service and while it was after that war, the rumors went around. The butcher’s bill that Paeris Zylvyre paid for your son just added to the stories. Does he have a wife and kids?”
“Yes and yes. A rather amazing crowd all around. We will have to bring the lot down if we can. They’ve all been here at this point, but not at the same time.”
“Doing things related to this?”
“Among other things, yes.”
Hall Of The Cleansing.
The Abbot looked at the large map of the Empire that had been hung in the hall. He turned to the brothers and said, “This map is no longer accurate? The map has not changed in centuries.”
“The cities are in the same places. Some of the towns and the roads have been changed,” Brother Omer said.
“The post roads?”
“They are in the process of being rerouted. The old roads have been gated and closed in many cases. The Post Service has maps of the changes at the way stations. The roads are rerouted to run beside new canals and roads built by the Qinvaris to towns moved to be closer to the canals and new road junctions.”
“Are the portals being moved?”
“Some of them may be. I am not sure as the Portal Service has been more active as of late in restoring portal service to portals.”
“What about the repositories?”
“They have been either closed off or are being used for other things now. We checked all five and they were being watched or as the old lab, were in use again. We will have to find new repositories.”
“I will take this up with the Master. How do the crops fare?”
“Many of the areas that would be targeted have been planted early or with new crops.”
“They planted early?”
“Yes and quickly.”
“Return and make new maps. We will have to change the plan.”
“The farm roads are patrolled. We may be risking exposure.”
“We do not have a choice. I told you that our enemy is wily. It seems that he has proven to be so.”
The Mage Academy.
Elenaril looked at the man across from the desk from her and asked, “To what do we owe the pleasure of a visit, milord?”
“I had some free time and I wanted to talk with you about a discreet meeting with King Aestaeros,” Richard said.
“Shouldn’t you go through the princess for that?”
“I could and will, but I want to have a more or less private chat that will involve the king’s family and some personal as well as business matters and I figured that you would be a better channel for that.”
“Because of my grandfather and his relationship with Aestaeros.”
“Yes. Though I don’t want to bother the Grand Master about this if I can avoid it.”
“What is the issue?”
“I want a railroad from Kugrim to Selnalion.”
“The king does not have a railroad.”
“His uncle does and started one in Dolmon. But his uncle will not talk to my father and will not give up the right of way in Dolmon or provide interchange. For other reasons I would like to avoid being too involved in the Fellowship and negotiating a new right of way to tidewater will be expensive and more importantly, time consuming. So I want a discreet chat with Aestaeros about seeing what we can do to resolve the thing with his uncle. I think I know what is going on and I’m hoping that I can resolve some things.”
“What is going on?”
“This goes back about fifty years and involves Lazuli, her husband, the accident and Aestaeros’s brother. I will know more, but the gist of it was that Lazuli’s husband saw the railroad work, was curious and Jumped into the wrong spot, just as a charge went off. Lazuli’s family and Aestaero’s family are related and the death hit everybody hard. This caused a huge fight between Aestaero’s father and uncle with the uncle moving to the Republic to build railroads there and Aestaero’s father blaming his brother for the accident. At least that is what I have been able to piece together so far.”
“You have good sources.”
“I have good people that are good at getting what I need and more importantly, my wife talks to Lazuli and some of the other faery queens and people involved. When I started to have problems with Admatius d’Dolmon, who I knew as a kid, Rosa started to ask around. After getting most of it, she talked with Lazuli about the rest. The whole thing was a mess and it wasn’t made easier by the fact that it involved family.”
“I hadn’t realized that Aestaeros and Lazuli were related.”
“According to Lazuli, back and forth, going back to the mage wars and the beginning of the Empire. Talissa is Lazuli’s grand niece and the heir to the kingdom since Lazuli does not have any children and her bonded was the other brother of Aestaeros’s father. The whole thing was a real mess.”
“Aestaeros wants to make a discreet visit with Diona and meet with Jimmy’s parents. Grandfather has tasked me with helping with that. I will mention that you want to have them visit and why.”
“Thank you. I don’t want to make a stink and I may need the railroad.”
“From what Diona and Aestaeros have said, they want the railroad too.”
“Lazuli said the same thing. I can’t have one in the Empire, but I if I can get one from tidewater to Selnalion, that will be a big relief to me.”
“Have you been here before?”
“No I haven’t”
“Grandfather is away, but let me take you on a tour.”
“Why did you not go with him?”
“My cousin is taking over many of my duties as I am being reassigned to the Justiciars.”
“I heard rumors about that and a young man from Dolmon, in fact, who was just tested and is joining the Justiciars. Considering the results, those monks doing the testing in Dolmon have bad scanners or are not being careful.”
Elenaril grinned “I wouldn’t know about that. I can say that the Justiciars are recruiting from new places.”
“I suspect that the traditional places for recruitment are on to them.”
“Have you seen too many of those bad plays?”
“Movies now and yes, I have. Of course that was before I met the real Justiciars. On the other hand, one of my nephews sort of had the idea that joining the Justiciars would be a good thing. The family has not managed to discourage him.”
“Where is he now?”
“The Federal officer’s academy in the Republic. He figures that the training will stand him in good stead in the Empire.”
“I will tell Naexi.”
Richard grinned. “I think that I am in trouble.”
Brother Iccinus could not believe his luck. The team had been forced to split up to cover the roads as the news of the young princess’s running away with just a servant had been received. So the team had been spread across the road junction and had covered the road the Empire with the most people as that had been the most likely direction that it had been thought that the princess was going to go, only to realize that the princess had not gone in that direction. Brother Iccinus had made some discret inquiries at inns and the princess had gone north and then disappeared again. The brother had reached the end of the time where he must return when he spotted the elf servant and then the princess in simple clothing as they prepared to stay at the inn. He had watched them leave from the north gate and had had to head south, only to realize that the pair had gone around the town and were on the road behind him. He grinned as he rode ahead. He could meet the rest of his team and prepare something along the road.
Cory watched the monk as he rode past. He had noticed the monk because he had stayed at the inn rather than the monastery. Monks had a vow of poverty and if a monastery was available, why would a Brother stay at an inn. Cory’s dad had given him the assignment of tracking down a group of riders that had tried to look like they were riding post while being something else. From what Coyr’s dad had been able to discover, the mysterious riders seemed to have come over the border from Astaire and had been poking around the farms before heading to Dolmon. So Cory had a team here in Dolmon looking into things. The news of the princess disappearing had been going around and Cory and Aein had run into them on their way to Timbercreek and decided to keep an eye on them from a distance.
Ayre Qinralei was taking advantage of his wife’s cooking and the consequences, along with a touch of glamor to hide certain things, such as the fact that he was an elf. He was playing the role of a travelling jewel merchant, which he was. Ayre had been traversing the mortal and dwarven kingdoms for a long time. That was a side business. His real employer was Taenaran Orivalur and his job was being Taenaran’s expert on the kingdoms and their financial and social health. That let House Qinvaris know what the buying or selling prospects were, how much to to plant and what kind of market for what grain existed. Right now, Ayre was looking into an abandoned railroad and why it had never been constructed. He had never seen a railroad, other than the grade from the Fellowship, but the story surrounding it, when he talked with the people that were still alive, was more than a bit interesting. As was the royal family’s rather interesting relationships.
The other part of the job at hand walked in as Maldin sat down at the table. “Good news, my lord. We found the missing jewel and its companion.”
“Excellent. Is it on its way here?”
“Not at present. There are also people looking at it. You may have to place a higher bid for it.”
“We can do that. We do not want to lose such a prize. Hand me the paper.”
Maldin handed him the report, bowed and left. Ayre looked at the report and grinned. His granddaughter and neice were on the way. If he played this right, he could confuse whoever these people were. He thought that they were monks, but they didn’t really seem to be part of the Church. It was time that he looked into something that he had been curious about for some time. The failed in Dolmon had been cleansed until recently. In the other four kingdoms they were turned over to a supposedly benevolent order that gave them lives. Ayre had talked with all the Faery kingdoms by this point and none of the failed had been given over to them. After the discovery of the Richflight’s activities, Richard, Hubys and the committee were a bit concerned about what happened to the other failed.
With that in mind, he went to talk with Archbishop Hamelin. The Archbishop greeted him, Ayre kissed his ring and Hamelin said, “You know that you don’t have to that, Ayre.”
“I know, but keeping in character is rather important.”
“So what brings you to me today?”
“Other than to congratulate you on a well deserved promotion, you mean?”
“I am not really worthy. Aestaeros wanted me.”
“That does not mean that you are unworthy for the job. Rather the opposite, in fact. In any case, I wanted to discuss a jewel that went missing recently. We found it.”
“Don’t interfere.”
“We’re not. I’ve explained to my people somewhat. This is something that the royal family does with the younger children.”
“Yes. It is a very old tradition.”
“The girl went straight for a grove. I think she wants to get closer to her favorite dragon.”
“That is certainly true. In Talissa’s case that isn’t that easy as just about anybody fae or connected to the fae will make sure that she is tested in the correct grove.”
“In the meantime, she has people looking for her.”
“What for?”
“I’m not sure, but I suspect that either they want to use her to pressure Aestaeros or for something else.”
“What something else?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Dolmon’s hierarchy had the policy of cleansing the failed. The others turn the failed over to a secret order of the Church and they disappear.”
“You think that the failed are killed.”
“No, I think that it’s worse. I think they are used to make monsters of one kind or another. I think that the Master may have manipulated things so that he has a group of fanatical almost mages and infiltrators.”
“What for?”
“We think that some of them showed up scouting the farms a part of setting up the next Blight. The House has evidence that the other side is planning to launch the Blight again, but not how they are going to do it.”
“You seem very sure.”
“We have recent shipments of the components used to make the tools that spread the Blight and we have these people sniffing around.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“Could you poke a bit and find out just who this secret order is and where they have their House? I hope that they can be stopped before they can actually launch the worst disaster ever.”
“What will you do if you find the order?”
“That depends. I hope that the people there can be recovered, but with millions of lives at stake, the order has already gone out and if necessary, the Order will be burned to the ground with everybody inside.”
“That’s mass murder.”
“I know. So do my bosses. Again, there are millions of lives at stake and Lord Qinvaris had us all down for a little test. If the Blight gets loose again, there are very few options. If you and the Church can get these people to stop before they launch the Blight, they can be saved, but once things go off, the orders are clear. We find the place and burn it to the ground.”
The Qinvaris Estate.
The large field that had been left fallow was the perfect training ground for the the crews that occupied it now, with the ten huge machines that the crews were becoming all too familiar with. The machines moved across the field in a martial line, flags waving. Trucks and tractors practiced driving next to the machines to empty the grain tanks. The whole thing was still a bit rough, but Dan watched and grinned. When the time came, the crews would be ready. Amon Stokton, dirty from taking his turn at the wheel of a combine said, “We did all that work on those threshers and your dad brings these.”
“The threshers and the rest aren’t going away quite yet. On the other hand, you’re right. These are going to take the whole job once everything is ready. If you want a new project, there is a market for a cotton picker and if you come up with one, you will make a mint.”
“A cotton picker? Don’t slaves do that?”
“Look at it this way, a bunch of slaves keeps eating whether they are working or not. That thing stops once it’s done.”
“Good point.”
“For that matter, you could come up with a rice harvester and the slaves will buy the things from you.”
“Now there is something to think about. For right now, this is good enough.”

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