The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 18

Paeris wants to make a deal

Chapter 18.
The Imperial Palace.
The Darkmage approached his quarters a bit nervously. He had not been able to convince even his sons that there had been a bear in the room. As he opened the door a wonderful smell hit him and there was a tray of what appeared to be fresh bread and soup. He started to pick up the bread and the contents of the tray suddenly rotted and changed to a horrible stench. He turned away in disgust and went back outside. The guard was there and he snarled, “What servant put that tray in my room?”
“There has been no one here at all, milord.”
“There was a tray in my room! Come, see!”
The guard looked inside and the tray was gone, along with the stench. The guard looked at him and said, “There is no tray here, milord.”
Neither of them noticed the powder on the floor.
Folmon looked at the statue and said, “I sometimes think that I should just knock it over.”
“Why don’t you,” Richard said.
“Because I don’t know precisely what will happen and the consequences could be ugly. There is a lot we don’t know about the things in the magewar and not all of them went down nicely. There could be a shock that rips the Empire apart.”
“Good point. We may be running out of time.”
“We’ll figure something out. We have so far. How did it go on Exchange Street?”
“I think that the fact that I wasn’t asking for anything surprised some people.”
“That was a strange thing that Paeris did.”
“Not as much as you might think. That grain will take the Empty Lands away from the Darkmage when the time comes. He’s developing loyalty where the Darkmage didn’t care.”
“What he offered was very shrewd.”
“I frightened the man more than a bit and he is no coward. Also, the ledgers had become useless to him because we knew he had them, so he used them when it was obvious that the Darkmage had not kept his side of the bargain. I think that is the core of what Paeris is. He has been betrayed enough. I think that he feels that he owes Rolin and the Master for getting him away from my brother and his friend.”
“Now that I have met them, wanting to escape was perfectly undstandable. Have you heard the rumors about the Darkmage?”
“Which ones?”
That he said that there was a bear in his room.”
Richard grinned. “That would disturb Haramara.”
“You know something, spill.”
“I would talk with Peri and your daughter. Adiun probably knows by now. I’m not sure about Wyrran. Your son probably knows something as well.”
“You mean my own kids are responsible?”
“They may or may not be. Think about who knows something about those rooms and how to get into them discreetly.”
“Ok, it’s Peri, Dessielle, probably some of your kids and maybe some of the portal kids. Whatever it was, involved one way portals and Maethanar’s room. I will profess to know nothing.”
“That would be the safe approach.”
“Let’s get to lunch. Our wives are waiting.”
Haramara looked at Stormfire and said, “I checked with Lord Biqen. His cook is still up at Grimfrost. No other bears use the portal except his guard commander, Snowball. His cook has been seen at the Qinvaris market, but I doubt that is a surprise. Most Houses’ cooks shop there.”
“Father said that there was a tray of food which went rotten. Then when the guard came in, there was nothing.”
“Your people take the Darkmage’s meals. I doubt that anybody could get to those rooms without being seen.”
“Are there any secret passages?”
“No. Not even any convenient trysting passages like they have in bad poetry. Some Houses may have such things. The palace does not and never has. You can see that the walls are all just walls.”
“I’m sorry to bother you over these things, but father insists.”
“That is quite all right.”
Stormfire left and a grinning Myriil said, “Should we tell him?”
“No. They assaulted the palace and killed a bunch of your fellow high guard who were my friends. I don’t know who is doing it and the Darkmage himself insured that the Portal Service is unreachable and that we can’t send messages.”
“For that matter, the Beinans and the Portal Service have been harassing the clowns with that one way portal at the Portal Service. After murdering Lord Sarceran, why would they believe that the Portal Service would not continue the harassment?”
“I think that they trust the palace shields.”
“Yes. When the Conclave is concluded, we must deal with that. I will make a note and talk to Galan about that.”
The Tunnel.
It had taken a five day before Horsecaptain Belanor Iliwynn could look into the strangers to the East. First he had run a sweep to the west to see if there was a force that had followed him up the road. Then there had been a snowstorm. Finally, he put together a troop and a squad of protectors and two mages and headed to the east toward the old tunnel. He was within five miles of the tunnel when there was a crack, something passed his nose very quickly and tore a divot out of dirt. “That’s close Enough!”
“Who are you?!”
“House Shahana!”
“What do you want!?”
“I want somebody to come out and talk about compensation for sending monsters and mages to House Shahana’s towns! We were a bit annoyed that you sent those things without even letting us know that you were neighbors!”
“The lands were supposed to be managed by the Ravathrya!”
“Not for some time! My uncle annulled the marriage when he discovered that the Ravathrya had murdered a bunch of our relatives! The Ravathrya are gone! Here!”
A satchel hit the ground in front of the Horsecaptain’s horse. “That includes a brief, some reports and a crystal from my Uncle! Come back in a five day with a negotiator!”
The Horsecaptain reached down with his lance and picked up the satchel. The Protector squad leader said quietly, “We could dig them out.”
“I suspect that they are expecting that. Let’s take this back.”
Timber watched them leave and then returned to where Victor was set up to shoot. “That loudspeaker worked a hoot. They never figured out where we were.”
“I know. That officer must be the same one that was on the Grimfrost road.”
“Why did you give him the Blight book, the brief and the rest of it?”
“Simple. Whoever is in charge over there is probably related to the Darkmage, who has probably kept him in the dark even before the supressors started. After all, both those armies and the detachment were working in the dark. Let’s head back to the camp.”
“Do you think that they have another army?”
“That is hard to tell. That place throws all the calculations off. We can figure that out when we have more people here.”
“At least we have clear weather today and the planes are up.”
“Yes they are. I hope that they get some pictures.”
The Salt Flats.
It had taken two days, but Zanis reached the source. It had been closed and locked with a simple lock, which said that it had probably been Saevel that had locked it, though even doing that with no mage training was remarkable. Zanis concentrated, opened the lock and the source and then locked it open, making sure that that it would require a combination to close the source again. Saevel could probably work it out, especially if he asked his father about it. Of course that would mean going to the Cloud City, where Onvyr had established a House. Having locked the source open, Zanis had to figure out how to return to the palace without being taken, killed or arrested. He was sure that there were people looking for him already. He thought about it, waved to the soldiers and headed in the direction of his sister in law’s house.
The Sanctuary.
Keerla was back in the dome for the Horsecaptain’s encounter with the strangers. The Horsecaptain had not made a report to the people of the Sanctuary and nothing was said about the army. Keerla supposed that the army was busy establishing the the new order and returning civilization. She was watching the Horsecaptain when a bell rang and a voice said, “Aircraft detected. Type unknown. Speed 75, Altitude 2500.”
The screen shifted to a winged yellow thing approaching the sanctuary. Keerla turned to Kast and said, “What is that?”
“I don’t know?”
He walked over to the edge of the dome and looked out. “It’s really there, though.”
The voice continued. “Engage aircraft?”
“What is engage?”
“Weapons activated, no power to projectors, missile magazines empty, no munitions in cannon. No engagement possible.”
The aircraft flew around the Sanctuary several times before heading to the east again. Kast said, “Did you get a picture, mistress?”
“Yes I did. Take it to the library. I must endure dance lessons.”
“Better you than me.”
“Some days I wonder who the mistress actually is.”
Iezzen cursed when the projectors deployed. Fortunately the weapons did not fire. He circled several more times while Byddri took his pictures and then headed back to the airstrip. When they were far enough away, Byddri said, “They either had not powered those projectors, or decided not to open fire.”
“I think that the projectors were not working. If they had not seen an airplane for a very long time, the projectors were probably disconnected. I don’t think I want to fly very close to that place again unless absolutely necessary.”
“I just hope that I don’t get in trouble with my wife over this flight.”
Iezzen laughed. “You didn’t do any crazy stuff and they didn’t try to kill us.”
“True and true. I still think that I’m in trouble when my wife hears about this. Seeing that was worth the trip, though.”
“Now you have to go back to the circus.”
“Now I go back, to the next important issue.”
“Are they running out?”
“You can tell the fear by counting how fast the votes come. The more the Darkmage is seen as a clown, the faster the votes.”
“That makes sense. Are the votes going in his direction?”
“Not at all. The Ravathyra lost much of their support and haven’t gained much back. The Darkmage made a bad mistake when he murdered Lord Sarceran and then the armies showed up.”
“The armies that disappeared. They underestimated Lord Qinvaris, badly.”
“Lord Qinvaris was playing a game, using his brother’s marines. Everybody, including me, was watching them and paying no attention to what else Lord Qinvaris had. They should have, because he did have that reputation. The irony is that the Ravathrya handed him the people he needed to make it work.”
“They did. Of course they have been idiots.”
The Retreat.
“Where are you taking those slaves?”
Phaerille held up a map. “We’re going hunting for grandfather’s things, Ilbryen.”
“Why are you doing that?”
“Because grandfather is busy up at the palace. We thought that we would help.”
“So you need all these wagons, and slaves? With the kids too?”
“The kids will make it more fun. We have Berry and Stargazer with us and some guards. We should be fine.”
“Those gangsters may still be out there.”
Alyndra giggled. “That might be fun. We need to go.”
The girls and the wagon train headed into the woods. Ilbryen saw Paeris and said, Great Captain, you must stop the girls!”
“They could be in danger!”
“Most of the dangerous things are gone with their grandfather and I sent Berry and Stargazer to keep an eye on them.”
“They could be kidnapped!”
“As far as I know, Durlan knows who they are and wouldn’t touch them. I don’t know anybody else in the habit of kidnapping.”
“Those gangsters!”
“The gangster’s boss was emancipating some slaves in the process of looking for his daughter. Since the daughter was found, and is now under sea with her boyfriend, her father is hardly likely to be prowling the empty lands looking for things. The other crowd may be, but I doubt that even fae and dragon school children and their minders would be that much trouble. In any case the girls wanted to help move the project along. By the way, the grain will be arriving soon and I want to arrange unloading.”
“I was supposed to receive grain from Stormfire.”
“Grain that he could not obtain. I dealt with it, so all you have to worry about is unloading it.”
“How is it arriving?”
“On barges. I rebuilt some of the old ships that were in reserve into barges. There will be more, if I see the need.”
“Those were supposed to be the new fleet!”
“They were rotten hulks. You couldn’t deal with it, so I did. As far as the fleet goes, the ships were death traps anyway as my father so aptly proved. I ordered new boats that will do the job. We will use the ships that actually float for playing games and training crews in basic seamanship. The hulks will be used as I see fit, the ships in pieces will get sold for timber for the most part, though I may build some more boats, once I have the shipyard going.”
“You can’t do this!”
“I already have. While you have been essentially doing nothing, I did the work you were supposed to have done.”
“I didn’t order any of this.”
“You should have. It was your responsibility, like the grain was. You couldn’t even put that together or make sure that somebody did. So I took care of it.”
“The Master will hear about all of this!”
“I am not sure that he cares. You can go up to the palace and ask, that is if they will let you inside. Send a message, if you can discover a way.”
“Why are you here?”
“I am on my way to determine the final disposition of some assets I obtained. I need to port to the palace, so good day.”
Paeris headed to the portal and away.
The Empty Lands.
Zanis cursed as the plane flew overhead. He had headed to his sister in law’s house, where his sister in law was not at home, the crochety groundskeeper threw them right back out again and said that the portal options were Innshys and the portal on the Qinvaris property. So it was off to hopefully make the several day trip through the Empty Lands before the fae that were probably already looking for him discovered where he was.
Roger grinned as he saw the riders on the ground.
“Jorge, we may have just landed the big one.”
“I suspect that that is Mage Zylvyre heading into the Empty lands. Bank gently around, would you?”
Jorge banked the plane and Roger said, “You are doing very well for a nondragon.”
“My boss insisted, since I was an idiot and crazy to boot.”
“What did you do?”
“I and a pilot flew up to Grimfrost to restore the portal there. I was trying to make a statement to the Darkmage. So I arranged with some white bears to have a bear lady pay the Darkmage a visit. That was the idiot part, because my boss knew that I was willing to jump out of airplanes and do crazy stunts.”
“I hadn’t heard about a bear in the Darkmage’s quarters.”
“She got out clean and did some grocery shopping in the Qinvaris market after Lord Qinvaris took us to dinner. That led to other crazy stunts and my boss and the Flight Instructor insisting that if I was going to be doing crazy stuff in airplanes, I better know how to fly one.”
“I have pictures, so bring us around and head us back to the barn.”
“I’m surprised that Zanis didn’t shoot magefire at us.”
“So am I, a bit. I think he knew that it wouldn’t do him much good as we aren’t the only plane up today. Also, magefire dissipates at long range and they were rather far away when we saw him. I wish that we could call this in.”
“I could jump out and drop.”
“Not with me. I have trainee dragons for that. You don’t have to do stunts. You’ve already been through the Flight Instructor’s course. Anyway, Zanis isn’t going anywhere very fast.”
The Sanctuary.
Keerla was back in the dome looking out over the snow at the camp. Kast was with her as she watched the camp being enlarged right in front of her eyes. She turned to Kast and said, “I wonder how they bring so much.”
“The tunnel is right there and the road could be repaired.”
“There are some new people, from the south.”
“Indeed there are. Let me take a picture.”
“Are you keeping the librarians entertained?”
“Mystified is more like it. They had no identification for the aircraft.”
“Dragons! They have dragons with them!”
“Do they? Let me see. Indeed they do. They seem to be young.”
“I wonder why they flew in.”
“They must be for something.”
Durhir looked at the book and at the crystal. He hadn’t watched the crystal as yet, but he had gone through the book and the brief fairly thoroughly. Much of the information in the book was about the Blight and the Lord Qinvaris and his sons had built up a fairly good analysis of the Blight, collected as much information as they could and performed tests to determine what they needed to do. Then they had done it, disregarding the Proscriptions and defeating the Blight soundly. Durhir wasn’t sure why his brother had used such an unreliable tool as the Brothers, but Lord Qinvaris had taken full advantage of that unreliability. The rest of the brief was the sort of material that his brother and father should have provided to him. Apparently his siblings’ hideout was fully infiltrated by everybody’s spies. Now that the family’s enemies knew about the Sanctuary, Durhir was going to have to be wary. The last thing he needed was some portal fae getting in and restoring the portals. Of course the portals at the sanctuary were old Imperial portals and probably would not connect in any case, but that was probably. With a bit of a chill down his back, he activated the crystal. “Hello. I do not know how to style the person viewing this, so I will call you milord, going forward. I am Vesryn Shahana. Recently you sent monsters to my property in attempt to disrupt my business and kill my people. In the latter, you were unsuccessful and in the former, fairly successful, though no shipments were or have been delayed. Still I want some compensation for my trouble. You have some stands of timber on this side of the tunnel and I have markets for that timber. Since the casualties on my side were so light, with two killed, I think that cutting the timber would be fair compensation. I look forward to discussing the details with you, milord.”
The rest of the crystal was views of a running battle were the force of Protectors and mages had been slowly bled and ending with masses of the Protectors being reverted by the grove. Durhir rang for Khatar and said, “This deal seems fair. Talk to this Lord Shahana or his representative.”
“What does he want?”
“The timber near the tunnel.”
“That is interesting as they would have to move it elsewhere. I have a hard time believing that there is such a demand for timber that he would need to cut on our side of the tunnel and take the timber through the tunnel.”
“Discover what you can. My brother has kept us in the dark and we have almost no true knowledge of the outside world. The world was supposed to be shattered and corrupted by the witch and her husband, the Empire weak and full of corruption, unable to resist our efforts. Yet here we are with the outside world at our doorstep and I don’t think that the outside world will just up and go away.”
“I suspect not.”
Wyrran was looking for the map of the Empire with the supressors marked on it on Guillis’s desk. Guillis’s daughter Lilly must have thought of it was just a piece of scrap paper as she had drawn stars on it. Wyrran and Kaylessa were laughing as Guillis took his daughter to task. “Why stars, Lilly?”
“Because the points make a big star, see?”
She pointed out the points on the map and Wyrran grinned. “Thank you Lilly. You just answered a big question. Guillis, we were assuming that the suppressor in the capital was in the center of the pattern. We were looking in the wrong place.”
Wyrran went outside the office. “Magpie, Daylight, Nebula. We are going on a hunt. Lilly just found the last suppressor for us. The supressors are in the shape of a star.”

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