The Blight Returns, Chapter 51-52

“It didn’t hurt that my dad had one of these new machines and there it was, all nice and shiny. I just had to have a bunch.”

Chapter 51.

The Empty Lands.

It had taken time, but Durlan had his camp and his set up. Wyrran had even found two portals that had not been found by the mage as yet, so it was unlikely that they would be tracked very quickly. In any case, they were being used as exit portals only. Also from now on, Durlan and his people were handling things right up until the Prospects were in the Camp. No more of the lady complaining to him about lost Prospects after he turned them over. Wyrran came over and said, “The truck is ready.”

“That thing has been the best thing that we bought. Especially out here.”

“I know. We moved the portals and the rest, no problem. The only problem is getting gas.”

“That’s why I set things up here, near the border. We go across the border, buy the gas and nobody pays any attention to us. That makes things easy.”

“Until the other side figures it out.”

“So we are careful.”

The Pen.

Nethangwa entered and sensed something wrong. Heretofore, the culls had always come running to her, looking for support and protection. Now, they seemed to be absent, at least most of them did. The few that she saw were going about their business, not even bothering to transform or wearing their collars. The strongers looked at her and cringed as if they were afraid of something. She went to Stormwolf’s room and he was being administered to by a healer, rather badly beaten. She looked at him and said, “What did this to you? I haven’t sent you out on assignment.”

“Jimmy did this a five day ago. It wasn’t the first time.”

“Why?”

“I think that he is taking the culls. The first time, I encountered him in the woods and he beat me up pretty badly. Afterwards the girls that had been in the bath had gone missing.”

“He’s done this to you more than once?”

“Three times now. The last two, he wasn’t even transformed and didn’t use a knife. He’s done the same thing to Nighteyes. He killed Moonstalker. I guess Moonstalker went after the cull, saw something, or didn’t know when to quit, so Jimmy beat him to death.”

“Why haven’t you taken the entire pack and destroyed him?”

“We’ve tried. If we spread out, we run into traps or Jimmy, one on one and he just beats us into the ground. If we stay in a group, we don’t see him at all, or there is a trap that goes boom. I think that there are others with him, but I’ve never seen them and they mask their scent. They are probably fae in any case.”

“All of you should go on a hunt.”

“It’s not that easy. For one thing, a lot of us are guarding the compounds. Second, we don’t know when Jimmy will show up. Finally we don’t know who he has with him or can bring in. For that matter if we all go out on a hunt, we may be doing exactly what Jimmy and the others want. In any case, it will be a five day before I am able to do very much.”

“I will go and talk with Nighteyes.”

“It won’t do you any good. He’s laid up for another five day too. Moonstalker is dead and I don’t think that you could convince any of the others to go out in the woods alone right now.”

“This is Jimmy that we are talking about. The soft landdragon. You beat him up all the time.”

“I said that he was growing. He escaped and found somebody to help him grow more than we imagined. What’s that?” He turned to the healer. “Help me up.”

Nethangwa went back through the door, followed by Stormwolf and the healer. The pen had suddenly filled with wagons rolling about and paper. A huge golem bear was rampaging about, there were fireworks and animals racing about, all of which added to the chaos. Nethangwa picked up a piece of paper and it was a writ, against her, apparently. There was a flash and a woman’s voice said. “The writ has been served. I’m afraid, lady, that you are in a great deal of trouble.”

“Who are you?”

“Just your friendly neighborhood Justiciar adjunct, making sure that all the paperwork is in order. By the way, taking House Beinan kids annoys them, a lot. Bye.”

The lady disappeared, leaving the three staring at empty space. Nethangwa looked closely at the paper and the writ was against her, by name, demanding all the taken or giving House Beinan and other offended parties permission to take any action whatsoever to recover the taken. Suddenly another wagon appeared, carrying a portal, whch dropped on the ground and activated. Jimmy came tearing out, followed by fae and tough looking men with strange weapons, and a lady. The lady called out, “You all come on over and line up! Anybody who wants to go home, the portal is here!” She turned to Nethangwa and said, “I’m Rebecca Beinan. I think that you wondered what I could do.”

The culls came running and went through the portal. Nethangwa’s dress tore as she transformed. “I will Consssume you!”
“Really?” Rebecca held up a strange bottle with a nozzle and started to spray Nethangwa who suddenly felt very sluggish. “CO2 fire extinguisher. Also works on giant snake ladies. Snakes are cold blooded. You seem to be too, at least when you transform.” Nethangwa could barely move as Rebecca handed the fire extinguisher to one of the departing boys. “Take that back with you, would you Tommy.”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Beinan.”

The flow to the portal had slowed, Rebecca turned to Jimmy and said, “Do you think that we got all of them that want to come?”

“Some are probably scared or think that their collars still work.”

“Then we can leave the portal here and they can use it later. Snake lady, I wouldn’t hurt any more of the kids. If you do, I will be rather put out with you. Next time it will be liquid Nitrogen. Peri, we’re pulling out!”

The fae returned through the portal, followed by Jimmy and Rebecca, leaving the portal standing there. Nethangwa slowly recovered and turned on Stormwolf. “Why didn’t you order an attack?”
“The fae were armed, had weapons pointed at us and Jimmy was there. The collars were apparently suppressed and most of the Strong that are not wounded are out guarding the compounds. It looks as if Redtooth went with them.”

“I will Hunt and consssume that woman!”

“I think that she has you all wrapped up. What is liquid Nitrogen?”
“I don’t know. Sssomething cold.”

 

 

 

Chapter 52.

The Road Outside Montvin, Kingdom of Dolmon.

Aien cursed as he saw the ambush developing. He had hoped that he could get ahead of the mysterious people that had been pursuing the girl and her servant, but this second group had come from the direction of Middlecross and were ahead of the two as the group that had been setting this up were probably following along behind. Rania and Seldanna were supposed to replace the pair on this road, but they had also come from Middlecross and were not here yet. Nor was the wagon and traveling merchant that was supposed to get in the middle of things. Aien made a bird call and the team prepared to spring their surprise if they could get there soon enough. Looking closely at the wagon, it looked as if the mysterious people had taken the wrong wagon and the traveling merchant had indeed arrived.

Kavrala quietly said to Talissa, “Trouble ahead.”

“How many?”

“Five and a wagon.”

“I see the wagon. It’s blocking the road somewhat. So, do we run or fight?”

“Run preferably, that is if this is an ambush.”

Brother Sagillius grinned as the pair rode up. He was sure that they were the right pair as he held up his hand and said, “Hold!”

The woman said, “This is a public road, let us pass!”

“Just a moment. We want to get this wagon squared away.”

Brother Sagillius could see Brother Iccinus riding up behind and waited for them to get close. He stood there arguing and distracting the woman as the team got close enough and then whistled. The team closed in to drag the girl and woman off their horse and the woman was dragged and held against the wagon as she fought against three of the Brothers while Sagillius turned to the girl. “We have made a fine catch today, haven’t we princess.”
“What do you mean! I am just a servant with her highness. As is Kavrala here, who is running an errand for the princess.”

Sagillius waved his hand, dispelling the glamor that both had. “A high elf for a mere servant, I think not.”

“You are ignorant if you haven’t heard of the exiles, sir.”

“In any case, we will take you, princess. Kill the elf.”

The princess yelled “No!” as the Brother’s drew their knives. The elf woman had managed to get loose and the merchant that whose wagon they had taken was suddenly loose with a strange weapon. The woman fought and one of the Brothers stunned her using his abilities, so she dropped. There were some banging noises and two of the Brothers dropped and Sagellius turned as he heard clothes tearing and horses scream. Instead of the princess, he found himself face to face with a landdragon. The land dragon’s tail swept through Brother Iccinus squad and there were more bangs that dropped their horses. Fae Jumped in and surrounded what was left of the Brothers with strange weapons pointed at them. Brother Sagellius looked around and used his abilities one last time to stop his heart and complete his penance.

Kavrala looked at the dead bodies as more strangers Jumped in. She turned to them and said, “Many thanks. Who are you all?”

“I am Aien and I would rather not say who our employer is at present. We were hoping that these characters would talk. Apparently not.”

Talissa said, “I am very hungry.”

That got everybody’s attention and Kavrala said, “Can you revert, Talissa?”

“I don’t know how.”

“There are these characters that you could eat, princess,” Aien said.

“I’m not a cannibal!”

“Then we will have to take the bodies off the road and let something else deal with that. There are two horses that are dead and you could probably eat.”

Talissa started to tear into one of the horses as Aien said, “You seem to be injured, milady.”

“A bit.”

“More than a bit. Let me call for the healer while you rest in the wagon.”

Now that the fight was over, Kavrala started to feel the pain of her wounds and sat down in the wagon. The healer came over and started to adminster to her as Aien started to expertly clean up the mess, stripping the bodies after taking their pictures with crystals and having them Jumped. He had the two carcasses of the horses that Talissa had not fed on dragged to the edge of the road. As everything was being done, another pair arrived and the elf woman said, “It looks as if we missed the show. So now what, cousin?”

“You and Malon return with me to Selnalion. King Aestaeros is on his way there already. We take Kavrala. Talissa the landdragon rampages her way across the countryside to where ever it was she is supposed to go, sticking to the forests for the most part. Some elven hunters from the Empire will be chasing the rampaging landdragon, but not catching the wily thing, of course.”

“I am not in the habit of rampaging,” Talissa said.

Aien grinned. “Princess, my uncle has talked with your servants. They had a different point of view. I will say that the landdragon suits you and that Jimmy will probably like it when he sees it.”

Kavrala hadn’t known that landdragons could blush.

Selnalion, Border of the Empire and The Kingdom of Dolmon.

Baron d’Ambray had heard about the general modesty of the man who was easily one of the most powerful men in the world. That was there and so were the drive and competence that had also made part of the legend. He looked at him and said, “Apparently you are turning the Empire on its head, milord.”

“Somewhat. I will assume that you have seen a copy of the report.”

“I don’t know if I should say yes or not.”

“Your brother almost certainly has. I will make sure that you have a copy in any case.”

“Thank you. To what do I owe this favor?”

“There are some strange characters that were all over Dolmon recently looking for a landdragon that wasn’t rampaging. I want to know where they came from and I think that you have sources in the kingdoms that I do not.”

The Baron grinned. “I think that I have an interest in investigating those people looking for loose landdragons that were not hurting anybody at the time. I think that we have a deal, Lord Qinvaris. Frankly I am surprised that you are dealing with me directly.”

“I could have had somebody talk with you, but I have had people say good things about you and I wanted to meet with you myself.”

“It’s usually not a good thing to meet with spies.”

“For you, or for me? I am fairly disreputable anyway and as far as spies go, I have very good legal talent living at my House right now.”
“Your brother?”

“Yes, along with his best friend. If it weren’t for the ensuing chaos, I would haul Paeris up and hand him over just to get them to go home. He’s been careful enough not to give the Marshalls a pattern to work from and stay away from portals. He doesn’t go to sea and all of that makes things easy for him to stay out of the Marshall’s grasp. In any case, I have other things to worry about. If you want to meet my brother and the other nuisance, they are at the House. I need to be going.”

Richard left as the Baron grinned. That had been an experience to tell his father about.

Caltassa, Kingdom of Dolmon.

Talissa was stalking another sheep pen. For all her talk about not rampaging, Talissa was hampered by two things; a landdragon’s appetite and the fact that she didn’t know how to hunt. At least not well enough to sustain a landdragon. She was also traveling and didn’t want to take the time that it would take for her to learn to hunt well enough to sustain herself as she was now. So rampage it was. At least daddy could pay for the damage. Talissa prepared for her assault when another landdragon appeared. “Princess, what are you doing?”

“Jimmy?”

“Do you know any other landdragons?”

“I’m taking some sheep for dinner.”

“Are you sure that that is a good idea?”
“No, but I’m sort of stuck like this and I don’t really have a choice.”

“How about a nice bear?”

“Do you have a bear?”

“It just so happens that I did find one. Why don’t we share?”

“We could have sheep.”

“I’ve had sheep a lot. Let’s have the bear and then we can talk.”

Jimmy led her to the bear and they took turns at it until it was consumed. When they were done, Talissa asked, “Why did you come?”
“I came because it was obvious that you needed to learn certain things or your rampages would lead the people chasing you right to the grove and maybe you afterwards. If you were going to be a lost child, couldn’t you choose something less obvious than a landdragon?”

“I don’t know. It seemed to fit you just fine.”

“Princess, you shouldn’t be interested in me. I am just a poor boy from the Lower City.”

“A poor boy who is a landdragon. What have you been doing while you couldn’t visit?”
“I was working. I was rescuing the other kids that were at the Pen with the Beinans and the portal fae.”
“There are portal fae?”

“Yes, there are portal fae.”

“How many Beinans do you know?”

“A lot of them, now. All the lord’s kids, his cousins and the cousin’s kids.”

“Do you know Lord Qinvaris?”

“Richard? Yes I do.”

“The Imperial princes and princesses?”

“Glynnii and Enania haven’t had me watch the kids at one of their things. The others all have.”

“So you know everybody who is anybody in the Empire.”

“Pretty much, I guess.”

“How about the Fellowship? Who do you know there?”

“I helped rescue some kids that Durlan Richflight took. Beinans, some banker and other kids, including a Senator’s son. Of course I also have done things for Halamar Beinan and his wife and the Dragonmaster was working with us on the current thing.”

“So poor landdragon from the Lower City, you know a lot of people with clout. Let me tell you about our family. The second child is supposed to go out and have an adventure, to bring back a treasure that helps the kingdom. This princess thinks that she has found hers, a landdragon with clout.”

“I don’t have any clout. I’m just sixteen.”

“I just turned sixteen, so I don’t have a lot of clout either, but look at all those people that came after me. The same people that had you come for me.”

“I haven’t talked with your dad about this.”
“That would be against the rules. This is my adventure and I am allowed certain things, like some money to start and a companion, but my parents will not send people to bring me home or help me very much until I decide to return home. Those are the rules.”

“That’s weird.”

“Not really. The family has been doing that for a very long time. Being stuck as a landdragon is hardly the strangest thing that has happened in my family.”

“I don’t think that it will work out for us.”

“Now we will have the chance to find out. We have to have me tested, I am stuck like this and here you are.”

“Here I am. So, no more sheep stealing.”

“Why not? It’s sort of fun.”

“Think about the next landdragon who comes along. He will be regarded as a thief or be forced to watch kids forever.”

Talissa licked Jimmy on the snout. “We can’t have that. So why don’t we get going and get me tested.”

House Beinan.

Terry prepared the wagons with the load for his trip to the Fellowship. He turned to Folmon and asked, “Isn’t this a strange thing to do, milord?”
“Not as much as you might think, Terry. First of all, the various family branches all wanted copies of the library. Second, having the library here and not copying it makes the family legacy vulnerable. So I agreed with the rest of the family to send the books and journals to Jandor and have him have the House print shop create copies for the rest of the House. Then the master set will be archived at a secret location and one of the sets returned here to the House. The family does not want to have the family treasure handed over or destroyed by the Inquisition. So we are doing this while we can.”

“Things are ok with Inquisition now.”
“I have an agreement with Lord Waestoris and the Regency Council, yes. The family also had an agreement with the then lord of the Inquisition when the family built and installed the portals. Then the turmoils came and the Inquisition tore the agreement and the family to shreds. In the long run, that was good for the family and bad for the Empire, but at the time it was a lot of grief and pain that none of us who were there want to go through again. So the House is going to be ready to evacuate and that will be easier if the contents of the House are protected.”

“That all makes sense. Of course as the mere flunky, my job is to serve.”

“And as the mere flunky, you have no idea what is in these crates and were told that the shipment was things that will be sold in the Fellowship.”

“Some of those things are going in the shipment. You and Rebecca planned this, didn’t you?”

“There was some thought about this, yes. That was one reason that we made the auctions a public and visible process.”

“The auctions that keep getting bigger. You don’t want to know how big the bribes are getting.”

“They are bribing you? What for?”

“Somebody figured out that I was bringing the things that would be sold and wanted pictures and descriptions so that they know what to look for. So they offer me money. I hand them copies of the catalog pictures a bit earlier than Kiirion can have the catalogs printed. It’s all the same stuff that is in the catalog and the catalog is cheaper, but if they want to pay me for the pictures, I’ll take the money.”
Folmon laughed. “Does Kiirion know?”

“What do you think?”

“He told you to do that.”
“That’s about right. He knows his business and the whole thing about secrets and making the thing mysterious is part of the game. In any case, we’ve just about cleared out the House and can start on the estate. Let me get this stuff packed and on its way.”

The Zylvyre Estate.

Brother Covirus was sharing the bus from Nytfnas to Innshys with what were apparently a large number of spies as well as hands looking for work and women heading to the Fellowship for some shopping. The bus had come and was going to the salt flats train station and was stopping at Innshys on the way. Someone had apparently taken advantage of the new road to start the service. The Junior Inquisitor who was sharing the seat with the brother confided that he used the bus rather frequently as he had been tasked to chase down heresy in the south. “But isn’t the bus heretical?”

“Yes, but I can do my investigations in Innshys in a day, take the train to Fayspire and have three days before I am expected back. I’m hardly going to tell my head Inquisitor everything and if I find and return with some evidence of minor heresy, that’s fine. Frankly, if the rumors I keep hearing in town are true, the real atrocity is in the south where we are not investigating. Some kids have been brought back, Changed and the mages and fae healers are not sure if they will recover fully. They have all been sent to a grove for testing. I saw the kids port back and reported it. The Justiciars and the Beinans gave me a full report, which I think was just filed. For that matter, there is a lot of talk about the Blight coming and if the choice is between heresy and the Blight, I will choose the heresy. Compared to the Blight, a few bus rides are nothing.”

They got off the bus and followed a crowd that was emerging from the portal to board yet another bus. The bus took them out to a field with ripe wheat and ten huge machines surrounded by smaller machines. There was tent set up with food and drink and filled with what seemed to be the high as well as a group of farm types and peasants. A man stood up and said, “You all know me. In any case, I am Richard Harper and this is the first use of self powered harvesters in the Empire. Today marks a real change in how harvesting will be done in the future. Most of you have seen the report that my son has created on the likelyhood of unknown forces to release the Blight on the Empire. This is my response. START THEM UP!!!”

The ten machines roared to life, one by one, starting across the large field, cutting the wheat in large swaths as the smaller vehicles collected the grain and transferred it to vehicles on the road that drove off when they were full. The whole thing moved across the field at a great rate with military precision, complete with flags streaming in the wind. After just a few twentieths of watching, the field had been harvested and the straw was being collected by yet another machine and converted to rectangular bales. The show having ended, the busses returned the guests to Innshys. The Brother had made sure to pick up a copy of the report.

Richard watched the busses leave and turned to Darfin Phirieth. “How many spies do you think we picked up?”
“Quite a few, if the bus from Nytfnas is any indication. The Junior Inquisitor has been in town a lot already and I know that he had sent the report to his bosses. He was also here when Rebecca brought all those Changed from the Pen. He’s all for taking the Inquisition and poking around in the Retreat and Empty lands looking for the Blight. As for this, his grandfather died out at the family estate during the Turmoils. I’m not sure about his seatmate. He seems to have that fanatical look to him.”

“He took a copy of the report, didn’t he?”

“Yes he did. I hope that he enjoys reading it. Putting Phyrra’s diary in the appendix was inspired.”

“It’s one thing to talk about cleansing or killing when it is a distant thing. It’s quite another to stare at it right in the face.”

King Aestaeros joined them and said, “Thank you for the show, Richard. I wish that the lords would wise up and make some investments. Do you have a report on how it was done?”

“I will when we are finished, your majesty. I’m still working out the entire cost picture and I rushed things. I had planned to introduce horse drawn combines at some point in the next few years, but the clowns pushed and I couldn’t take the time I wanted. I hope that I made an impression in the right places. It didn’t hurt that my dad had one of these new machines and there it was, all nice and shiny. I just had to have a bunch.”

Aestaeros laughed.

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