The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 20

The Dowager Empress begins to realize that Gander may be investigating.

Chapter 20.
The Imperial Palace.
The Darkmage looked at the statue. The mana store was at 78%. Soon, all too soon this would all be over. Then he would be able to get somebody to deal with the sendings in his quarters. Even Herdir and Stormfire were looking at him a bit askance and all the guards and servants had seen nothing. The Darkmage knew that there were whispering campaigns against him and that Rolin and Erlan were looking at him with more than a bit of concern. Zanis had disappeared entirely even though the guards had returned. Stormfire would not let Darkfire or Herdir punish the guards for losing Zanis and believed them when they said that Zanis had gone through the portal before they had. Melaris said that they should try the Justiciars, but Kelvahn was not letting any outsiders inside the hall until the Conclave was over. Soon, the Conclave would be irrelevant.
“What may I do for you, Justiciar?” Connall Farthya had not had very much to do with the rather strange Justiciar, though the staff gave him high marks when he had asked about the man when the Justiciar had asked for an appointment.”
“I want to have some of my people go through the server’s meal records.”
“I should ask for a writ.”
“I want it done a bit discreetly. While I could serve a writ and you could make a public stink about it, right now that would serve nobody’s interests. You want certain guests out of the palace and I am dealing with a royal wild goose chase that I need to get off my back.”
Connall grinned. “I see, one of those. Will you want the stink later?”
“I may. As far as the meal records go, my people will be discreet. Right now, we want to keep a lid on things. Nor do we care what the residents of the palace eat and how many meals get served where. At least we do not care about the current residents.”
Elre stepped into the parlor of the quarters that the Dowager Empress kept in the palace. She looked at him and said, “Well?”
“The Justiciar has not gone to the Hall of the Justiciars and hasn’t done very much other than in the Lower City. We have been following him.”
“What about his staff?”
“He has talked with fellow Justiciars and relatives, but whether they are on his staff is hard to determine as I do not have somebody inside the Hall. Nor do I have the resources to keep track of all the Justiciars, their families or the servants and slaves.”
“I miss our friends in the Justiciars. I haven’t cultivated Eithriel at all after her cousin was caught up in that scandal. Perhaps I should.”
“Do you want me to keep an eye on Justiciar Dawkins?”
“Yes. I know that he seems mortal, but I knew his grandmother and she was someone who would have caused us a great deal of trouble.”
“He hasn’t seemed to be doing very much.”
“We have not been watching for very long. Narbeth is being recalcitrant and called the Justiciar in. I doubt that Narbeth would resist me and his sister without a reserve. We must discover what that is.”
“The Justiciar was called in to investigate Mirthal’s death.”
“Even that could have its issues if the Justiciar is looking at the right things.”
“Do you think that he would be?”
“That is hard to say, but he doesn’t seem to be the bumbling fool that he projects. The matter with Zanis was very well done and the thing in the mortal kingdoms was brilliant work, worthy of his grandmother.”
“The Emperor did die.”
“That was as much the result of Haramara’s lapses as it was Gander’s. Gander was moving to arrest those mages and his people were just a bit slow. I think that both of them thought that Emperor would be safe aboard the airplane and that they could deal with the mages once the Emperor was gone. That worked out well for us, taking Maethanar off the board.”
“I should have handled that.”
“The Darkmage was perfect for that. It was about time that we called in our debt in any case and if the Darkmage was seen as being responsible, our hands would be kept out of it.”
“Still, it was sloppy and almost failed. If those mages had missed the plane, we would have been stuck with all sorts of questions and a Maethanar that had come out of his hole.”
“We could have worked around that. We were taking steps to discredit Maethanar and we could have taken steps to encourage people to think that he was indeed mad.”
“Like someone has been doing to the Darkmage.”
“Someone has been driving the Darkmage crazy? How?”
“I’mnot sure about the details, but for a while the Darkmage was screaming about things in his quarters that no one else saw. I checked with staff and there have been traces of something. It may be things that the fae are doing.”
“The Palace is shielded and the Fae cannot Jump because of the supressors.”
“True, but with all the people in and out for the Conclave, including some fae or nearly fae for perfectly legimate reasons, they could still infiltrate.”
“Perhaps I should start a campaign. The fae will need to be suppressed again when we are in charge in any case.”
Elre grinned. “It is nice to see you back, your majesty.”
“I think that people have forgotten me. The Conclave was humiliating and I owe Rosaniya for that.”
“We underestimated her, badly. I should have been more wary after the thing in the park. I apologize for not being more assertive.”
“Nothing to apologize for. I had not been paying attention to the fact that she had taken over the park long ago. We will have to address that and Itireae will support Rosaniya in what she does to spite me. Putting both of them in their place will be troublesome.”
“I will look into Lady Qinvaris. Perhaps there is some scandal we can pursue.”
“Have some people look into Richard and his family. I know that we are out of communication with our sources in the Republic, but Lythienne hit the Empire like a storm and she must have enemies we can cultivate. A frontal assault will not work with Rosaniya, but perhaps a flank attack will.”
“I will pursue that. Is the anything else, your majesty?”
“Not at present. Return to your duties.”
“With pleasure.”
Elre left and Shaerra returned to the list of palace staff. She was going to make some adjustments when the Conclave was over. She still controlled the Palace household, even if Itireae was being more assertive about taking charge. She had been at the game for a very long time and making sure that Itireae was not able to take over was an important part of her goals.
Robin grinned as he watched Elre leave the Empress’s quarters. Gander didn’t know how long Robin had been watching palace politics and unlike Gander, Robin knew that when something involved the palace, the Empress had her fingers in it one way or another. The fact that the Empress was involved in the Clear trade, or had been, at least was new, but did not surprise Robin a bit. Narbeth bringing Gander in, with his lack of knowledge of the palace workings combined with his ability to operate far outside the palace in places outside Shaerra’s vision was a masterstroke on Narbeth’s part. Robin was sure that the Empress did not know the full scope of what Gander was doing. Her concentration on palace politics probably helped that immensely.
Breaking into the palace without Haramara knowing about it had been a game that he and Haramara had been playing for a very long time. Those skills were paying off now as Robin discreetly followed the Empress’s right hand. If Elre was looking to play with Gander, the game would be fun to watch. Gander had matured a lot since becoming a full Justiciar and the game in Dolmon and the other Mortal Kingdoms was a true work of art, even if the emperor had died. Robin had had hints that Maethanar and Gander were playing a game about that death, but with the supressors, Robin had not had a chance to pursue what had happened and why. If he played this right, he could trade what he discovered to get the full story from Gander or Haramara.
Fayspire.
Kaylessa came into the room, kissed Wyrran and said, “I got him. I had to threaten my brother with blackmail, wave Dan Harper aound and get grandfather involved, but I got Cornaith. The sticky was that certain people did not want him here in the Fellowship. I worked around that and waved the magic word around.
Wyrran grinned. “Good because, I have good news and bad news.”
“What is the good news?”
“We found all the supressors. Lilly was playing with the map and realized that the supressors were in the shape of a five pointed star. Knowing the approximate location, we were able to find the last suppressor. Unfortunately it is on the estate of a Ravathyra ally and the House holder will not let us on the estate without a Justiciar and a writ. We did confirm with some discreet investigation that the suppressor was there.”
“What is the bad news?”
“The supressors have enough mana stored that they are synchronizing the amplifiers and shutting down any of them individually is no longer possible. We need to either discover how the Darkmage controls the supressors and get the key or have people at all the supressors and shut them down. Even worse, from the documentation we found, if we don’t manage to shut them down before the amplifiers are activated, there is a risk that the compelled will die from having their minds destroyed or be turned into a sort of mindless monster that has been reduced to the lowest animal state. There is some good news, though. Apparently Saevel shut the source down recently and stopped the amplifiers from storing mana. The problem is that Zanis showed up in Innshys and headed out, probably to the source to open it again.”
“Why did Saevel shut the source down in the first place?”
“He did it by accident. The source was tied to the family and he was riding by in his motorbike. He sensed the source and closed it.”
“Have you sent Saevel back out again?”
“Yes. Terry and Starflower took him out. Zanis locked the source open and created a key.”
“What happened to Zanis?”
“He hasn’t returned to the Cloud City. The soldiers that went with him did and said that he ported before they did from the road portal.”
Kaylessa grinned. “Were you playing with the portals?”
“I’ve been busy. On the other hand, your sister hasn’t.”
“She likes to play with load shifting. She certainly redirected my things. She is very good at that. Is there something that you want me to do?”
“Yes, after we get Cornaith settled. He has been standing there quietly.”
“Wyrran, it is good to see you again and I wanted to see how you tamed the tiger. Kaylessa has a reputation, I will have you know.”
“I didn’t, actually. But then I think that the family was manipulating me more than a bit and Kaylessa and I seem to go well.”
“You do and she worked her brother over to get me here. This looks like fun. Just what is going on?”
Wyrran caught both of them up on the supressors and the events going on. “When we get a chance, I want all of us to take a peek at that old Imperial city building. But for right now, the Darkmage and his toys have to take priority. Of course the portal boys are looking for clever things to give the Darkmage a hard time.”
“The portal boys?”
“Adiun hired some fae and Lower City boys to work for him because most of them could Jump and do various service jobs.When the Portal Administrator was murdered by the Darkmage, they took that rather personally and have been restoring every portal they find. One of them had the clever idea to send things to the Darkmage from Grimfrost.”
“In the palace? Don’t they shield the place?”
“Adiun with some help from myself has been using a one way portal to harass the Darkmage’s children for some time now, with portal boys assisting. They know how to set up one way portals and crack shields without much difficulty at this point and neither Adiun nor I locked the large portal that we were using so getting the code for doing things like one way ports and all the locations of the Darkmage’s operations was hardly difficult. So far, the lady in charge of security at the palace has other concerns than renewing the shield and since the Darkmage has disrupted things and the Academy is shut down and empty, contracting a mage to do the work might be difficult.”
Cornaith grinned. “You know, I want to see the House, I have some exiles on staff that I brought with me and it shouldn’t take that long. Kaylessa, since your uncle has the Seat, how hard would it be to offer to upgrade the shields?”
“Not at all. We can send a message and port up. The Grand Master is at the Conclave and I imagine that he will want to know what you all have been up to.”
“We have been out of touch, haven’t we?”
The Salt Flats.
Seavel, Bellflower, Terry and Starflower were all back at the source and Saevel was trying to close it again. The problem was that his grandfather was a very good mage and had made a complicated lock to keep the source open. He turned to Terry and said, “We’ve been working at this for three days now. We need to talk to my dad and maybe get him here.”
“That won’t be easy.”
“I’m not a mage, and I could probably work this out if I had time to work on it, but the drain is increasing.”
“Could you add a drain?”
“Probably, why?”
“Why don’t we head back to Innshys and port to the Beinan estate? I bet that there are things there that drain mana and are useless now, but were stashed away. An early portal, for instance, that Adiuns father collected when he was developing the current portals. We bring it to Innshys and tie it in and the supressors won’t have the mana to tap. That will slow things down. Let’s go. You and Bellflower can prowl around the estate while Starflower and I talk with your dad and see if we can make arrangements. We’ll stop in at Fayspire and talk to Wyrran and see if he has any mages that we can recruit for this.”
The Sanctuary.
Keerla was in the dome again. The stranger’s camps had become almost like villages and the activities were growing day by day. She turned to Kast and said, “I wish that we could go there.”
“Why mistress?”
“To meet new people.”
“It is cold outside.”
“We can find some coats. Maybe they know what happened to father. What is that?”
“What?”
“A Protector is running. He is being chased by men on horse with a net. Oh, they caught it and are taking it back to the camp. Why are they doing that?”
“I wouldn’t know, mistress.”
Lord Durhir looked at his Chamberlain and said, “They are taking the Protectors?”
“Yes. So far, ten have not checked in.”
“What were the operations on the other side of the tunnel like?”
“Growing. You could see the old water powered sawmills, but there were four newer ones that used power from some motors that used rock oil.”
“They didn’t use mana?”
“The mills came from the Blasted Lands and the scourge. Without the restrictions of the Proscriptions such machines could be made and were. They also have vehicles that use rock oil to transport the logs to the mill.”
“Why do they need so much?”
“Apparently House Shahana has customers in the Mortal Kingdoms for a railroad, whatever that is, house construction in the dwarven kingdoms and everywhere else, for that matter. Much of the timber has been cut out in those other places or is set aside, so as a result of the Ravathrya keeping the cutting at a low level, the timber is available and there is great demand.The operation is quite impressive.”
“Why are they taking Protectors?”
“That is House Qinvaris, where most of our army ended up. Both of the armies, apparently.”
“If the locations of the final battles were correct, the armies were at least two hundred miles apart when they were defeated. House Qinvaris is that large?”
“Apparently House Qinvaris farms a good portion of the Empire.”
“My father and brother sent me nothing about this. Nothing at all. Do you think that the young man would be more generous than his father?”
“His father has a reputation. I overheard some things and first of all, the father has said that anyone who was connected with launching the Blight will be crushed. I also overheard that your father and brother lauched the project in fear of what Lord Qinvaris would do to them after the Conclave ended.”
“That explains a lot of things. Of course that means that I am holding the bag for my father and brother’s actions. We were supposed to be the ones that restored order out of the chaos and instead, started a war with a powerful enemy. Did things seem prosperous otherwise?”
“Very much so. At least for House Shahana and the people there. The timber work was hard, but nobody was starving. In fact the cooks were making sure that the crews were well fed and the camps were well set up. The Sanctum and timbertown were still empty, though the people evacuated were in the process of moving back in and there was new construction. Most people had portal keys and portal use was heavy. All in all, a prosperous place.”
“What about the strange things we saw?”
“Most of that came from the Blasted Lands and their need to work around the lack of mana.”
“Are they killing the Protectors?”
“No, actually. They take them to the faery grove and encourage them to revert. Many of the Protectors in the army died due to the strain of being a Protector, but the fae healers have worked to prevent that and help restore the child to what he was. The Protctors they are taking now, do not have that problem, because they were newly brought into the Protector ranks. The fae are universally very angry with us about the creators and the Beinans have committed themselves to collecting and recovering all of the lost children as they call them.”
“House Beinan was caused to fall long ago.”
“The House has recovered and since they provided things to so many outside the Empire, when the House was restored, they had a large pool of family and resources to draw on.”
“This is not the Empire that we were led to expect. My father apparently never noticed these things happening or did not think to tell us about them. Talk with the young man some more. We may have to give up the Protectors.”
“We cannot keep them inside and they will be taken in the end in any case. If you negotiate, your father will not be pleased.”
“My father is not in a position to talk with me and apparently did not see fit to insure that he could. There are five hundred thousand people here and they are at risk. They were our only supporters when the world tossed my great grandfather away and I, at least owe them a degree of loyalty. My father and brothers have had their places outside in the world and I have been here. What do you want, granddaughter?”
Keerla had entered the room and was waiting by the door with obvious questions on her face.
“Is father coming back?” Keerla said. “Mother will not say.”
“I am looking into negotiating for your father’s return.”
“What happened to the army?”
“I don’t want to say until I get the details from your father.’
“Ok, I will keep watching for him. Tell mother that I am doing that. Kast and I are going now.”
She left and Durhir smiled. At least she seemed to understand. He looked at the report that his son in law’s captors had allowed to be sent. Her father, at least, would be coming home if he could come to an agreement. Considering what his father had planned for the new order, the contrast was sharp.
The Lower City.
Gander’s tail was rather foolish. First of all, it was clear that whoever was responsible did not deign to hire locals to aid in the tail. So he was using people from an estate or a House in the Cloud City for the effort. So, they didn’t think to look in the right places and what he was up to. Gander had even been inside Healer Eilric’s shop three times and other than making his kids happy, there hadn’t been any sign that the people tailing him knew that there would be any other reason to go to the shop. As he stepped up to the counter, Healer Eilric said, “Is there a reason that you have become a regular customer, Justiciar?”
Gander smiled. “I have some clowns following me and I was hoping to poke them a bit. I wouldn’t worry. I have Tony watching your place. I set that up right after we talked the first time.”
Eilric grinned. “Tell Miriam thank you for the materials that she is sending. I look forward to sending Robert to medical school and to get tested when the current thing ends.”
“Miriam and Tomali are good people. I haven’t known them that long, but the Marshalls are lucky to have them.”
“How are the Marshalls catching fugitives these days?”
“I wouldn’t know, because I am here, stuck on my Seat. I need to get to my next stop.”
Gander headed to the school. He had arranged to talk to a teacher and Lymseia Reymyar smiled when he walked in. “You found me, Justiciar.”
“It wasn’t really hard once I talked to my wife.”
“Your four younglings have already talked with me at length, so why did you hunt me up?”
“Actually, I am hoping to make somebody nervous so that he pushes a bit and I can bust him legitimately without letting his principle realize that there is more involved than an annoyed Justiciar.”
“One of the old style Justiciars?”
“Yes. I figure that I can ape their mannerisms somewhat, especially if the people involved think that I don’t think that I am secure in my job.”
“Who are you making nervous?”
“Elre Wynjeon. He’s had his people tailing me here in the Lower City for the last two five days or so. Of course I’ve been fairly careful to not look into the things he should be worried about and frankly, my people have already collected most of what I need for the case. On the other hand, if I can get Elf Wynjeon busted for messing with a Justiciar because he got nervous that I was getting too close to things that his lady would rather not have me investigating, then I can put him under seal and his lady will either have to make moves to extract him or leave him visibly in the lurch. Considering that I will pin his Lady’s side business on him if he doesn’t spill, either way works.”
“So you would treat him like a drug dealer pushing you to back off? That is an interesting approach.”
“After all, I know nothing about his connections and I was just looking into the drug thing because I wanted to get something out of the stupid case that Narbeth handed me. I can work the Clear angle without too much trouble because I know the business fairly well already. Do you think that will make Elf Wynjeon nervous?”
“I think that it would indeed. I see why Narbeth recruited you into the swamp of palace politics.”
“He did do that. Of course some others had already dragged me in somewhat and being stuck in my Seat encouraged that, as I needed to do something to keep my boys and girls active or honest criminals get upset because the office starts to look into things on its own.”
Lymseia laughed. “How am I involved?”
“I figure that Elf Wynjeon’s boys will figure out who you are, even if you are not in your work clothes. The Dowager Empress will get nervous and push Elf Wynjeon for more.”
“If it doesn’t work, you will have to visit me at my place of work, visibly, of course. I can start some rumors about you harassing me, if you like.”
“I would like. I wouldn’t involve you without your permission in this.”
“The game seems fun and as I said, I owe Theodamar for abandoning him and allowing Shaerra free reign would not be in my best interest. She is a very deep plotter.”
“I was aware of some of that. After all I have my grandmother and she is no slouch at such things either and was generous with tales about her life in the Empire. So I was aware of certain people. I was more than a bit leery about being dropped into a Seat.”
“You have done well. The interesting thing is that it took Shaerra so long to pick up on the fact that you were looking into things that she probably wanted buried.”
“Narbeth was careful and I have tried to keep a low profile. Now have we discussed Traelion’s misbehavior long enough?”
Lymseia grinned as she replied, “I think that your son and his friends’ latest misbehavior has been covered.”
“Now I will take my leave, madam.”
“Thank you for not putting me on a pedestal.”
“You were wrong about what you said when you said that you had never been a lady and I know quite a bit about the fallen. Tell Benny that I said hello.”
“I will.”
Gander left the school and picked up his tail as he headed home.

C

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