The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 21

The Darkmage is looking at his toys. A portal is opened to the Sanctuary.

Chapter 21.
The Imperial Palace.
Richard watched the Darkmage putter around the suppressor. The Darkmage had been happier of late and even the sendings had not seemed to throw him off, though the various people using the portal to get creative had grown into a large group, pooling their various skills. The balance of being just enough to make an impression on the Darkmage, yet leave as few traces as possible when whatever it was disappeared was tricky. In any case, the Darkmage had been more solicitous and checking the suppressor more often of late.
Folmon joined Richard and said, “He seems happy.”
“That worries me somewhat.”
“I have people working the suppressor problem and you have already dealt with his armies.”
“I am concerned about Tarranth being up there.”
“He’s your son, doing what he thinks is right and being there when you can’t be. The girls are in the Hidden City, as is Sylvar, on their way back to the Republic.”
“They didn’t like that much, any of them.”
“Dessielle just about threw a fit and Charlie was almost worse. Fortunately the other two are already at the Aerie in the Fellowship and Charlie’s girlfriend is in the Aerie with the rest of the kids.”
“Most of the rest of the Seats have gotten their kids out as well, even the Seats allied with Erlan. At least the kids were sent to the estates and told not to come to their Houses until things were over. Another good thing is the Darkmage doesn’t know is that Adiun has both of the control boards and almost all the portals.”
“If the source can be closed down again, at least Zanis can’t just go back and open it again.”
“He would have to get out of the cell that his friends don’t even know that he is in.”
Folmon laughed. “Let alone where it is. Kelvahn has a private cell block for prisoners who are politically hot that is accessed through the hall using a private portal. The portal is part of the security procedures.”
“The Republic would have a fit over something like that. The jailed are not considered criminals until they are convicted.”
“But Zanis has been convicted. Gander passed him the writ of execution and he had been a fugitive for some time. In any case, the jail is accessible from the Hall of Justiciars. You can send Kulgha to look in on him.”
“I think that I will pass on that. So what should we do if things trip off?”
“Rebecca and I are leaving, if we can. I suspect that that will be difficult as the Darkmage will probably trip things off. We’ve all taken steps. We don’t exactly know what may happen, so the only thing is to be flexible.”
“True. We’re sort of stuck here anyway. Otherwise we risk everything we have built to the clowns who tried to destroy us.”
Vesryn joined them and looked at them with a frown.”Why so down?”
Richard pointed at the departing Darkmage. “That clown bothers me.”
“I’m not surprised, but anything specific?”
“He’s too happy and keeps looking at that thing. I think that something is going to break loose soon.”
“We’ve done what we can. Worst case is that the thing does what we think it does and he compels a lot of people, including a chunk of the Conclave, who vote in the things that Glynnii and the others want and then disband the Conclave. Then he has to let us all go home or none of that matters. He may be able to compel enough people to create armies, but it is Guesting and in a moon, Snowfall. In the meantime, the Fellowship will probably move the army to the border. We can always state the intention to secede if the Conclave does not reconconvene and you and I just demonstrated that we have capable armies. The Imperial Army will probably remain neutral and is dispersed all over the Empire. You control the food supply and the Darkmage doesn’t even know where to look for it. Short of murdering him, there isn’t much we can do at this point.”
“I’m not sure that murdering him would shut things down at this point,” Folmon said. “In any case we are supposedly still hostages. The Conclave is in session, so let’s go.”
Itireae looked at the visiting group of ladies and grinned. A better contrast to the old sticks that had been such of a part of the Cloud City social scene she could not have come up with if she had tried. Some of them, like Imryll Shanelis and Eithriel Trislana were carry overs, But Rosaniya Qinvaris, Rebecca Beinan, Lavidia Yllanan, Maria Shahana and some of the others were poised to tilt the social scene sideways. The presentations of the Conclave had demonstrated that all too well. With a true smile she said, “Welcome ladies, to this little tea.”
“We were glad to come, your majesty,” Rosaniya said. “I hope that my things have not been disturbing you.”
“That side of the palace is unoccupied at present because the quarters were used by the late emperor and the other apartments were kept empty for his privacy. My husband and I live in the old Imperial apartments on the other side of the palace. That apartment is closer to my husband’s office. My grandchildren have enjoyed your things very much.”
“We’ve seen them. I am sorry about the lack of other children for them to be with, but under the circumstances, the families felt that the park might not be the best place for them.”
“That is perfectly understandable and my son and daughter have sent them off in any case to the estate to go riding while they still can. My mother is with them.”
“If we can, we will have the children back for the Winterfaire thing. My daughters and some of the other daughters went to the Republic to setup for the party this year. That is if circumstances do not change.”
“That is why I called you all here. Most of you know what my mother in law is like and you humiliated her during the presentations. Once the Conclave is over, she will want her pound of flesh for the humiliations and she will want it from you all.”
“If that lady thinks that she frightens us, she will discover that that is not the case,” Maria said. “I think that you are implying that she would send nuisances to mess up our get togethers. That would be a mistake on her part. Also, my son is with his uncles and half brother in the Republic right now, getting an education. My daughter has been kidnapped once by the Richlights already and my brother has taught her some things. Other things do not work right now, but the supressors will have to shutdown at some point.”
The other ladies said similar things and when they finished, Itireae said, “I want to warn you to tell your staff to keep away from any attempts to provide them with intoxicating substances and going forward, to buy wines from reputable sources or use your own vineyards if you have them. My mother in law has not been as active as she had been because doing so during the Regency would not have helped her. On the other hand, it will be a battle to remove her from her position in charge of the palace and evict her. She is very careful to avoid any scandal that can touch her directly and very good at turning a minor misstep into a great scandal. The good part of what is coming is that she doesn’t have a firm grip on her associates and while she is careful, they are not. The murder of Kailu Sarceran was expensive for them and my mother in law, who was forced to expend a great deal of energy to control the damage and keep a lower profile so as not to be seen as connected to the Darkmage. Frankly the raid was poorly handled as it gained them nothing in the end and cost them much. If they had not comittted the raid, their devise could have sat here, in the palace, unnoticed until it did what it was going to do and Erlan and my mother in law could have worked their poison in the Conclave until it was too late.”
“That was the work of the inexperienced,” Mariona Aezeiros said. “Some of us have been watching the Darkmage and his actions and they made mistake after mistake. Rosaniya and Rebecca know more than I do, but from the time that Ehlark Zylvyre was killed, the Master has gone from misstep to misstep. He has been so busy reacting to sometimes imaginary threats that he didn’t have a coordinated strategy for his goals.”
“My mother in law never loses sight of her goals.”
“At least the Assassins guild is out of the picture,” Rebecca said.
“How did that happen?” Itireae asked. “That did keep the body count low during the Conclave.”
“Some members of House Qinvvaris made it clear to the guild that if they came after the House, it would be tit for tat, starting with the guildmaster and that certain members of the House, who have experience in such things were willing to play games with the guild’s finances” Rosaniya said. “The guildmaster refused all the requests and declared neutrality. There was also the fact that we have Seats and the guild does not have Seats directly, and certain laws could be changed if the guild pushed and brought out the knives. They decided not to play.”
“I think that Vinny and the other boys may have helped the issue,” Rebecca added. “They even managed to get Stormfire to back off.”
Itireae grinned as the tea went on and plots were laid and plans made.
Wyrran grinned at the portal that had been found at the Beinan estates and brought here. For most of the Empire, the portal would be unusable because it had such draw on mana when it was started up. Here, the portal would pull from the mana well just fine. When it did, the load would be significant and the suppressors would not like that at all. Saevel looked at Wyrran and said, “It is hooked up, Mage Wyrran.”
“Shall we start it then?”
Saevel keyed the startup and the reason that the portal was such a hog became apparent as the portal apparently started up the Camp portal that Saevel had coded in. Saevel went through, the portal closed and then opened again as Saevel ported back to the smiling crowd. “I powered up the portal. This would have made the job easier.”
Wyrran looked at the list. “Why don’t we make some people happy and power up portals?”
As they went down the list, four portals returned the error message, “Duplicate code different addresses.”
Wyrran noted them down to see what the problem was and continued down the list. By the time the day ended, most of the outstanding portals had been restored.
A fae girl exited the other portal and said, “Saevel, it took you long enough to fix the portal. Mage Wyrran, why didn’t you have him do that earlier.”
“Dayflower, we were busy doing the other portals and Saevel was here working.”
“Well you did it, at last. Could you fix it so that we can Jump again?”
“That is one of the things that we are working on.”
“Good. Saevel, you are forgiven.”
The Fae girls marched off to the store go shopping. Kaylessa said, “That didn’t take long.”
Wyrran laughed. “No it didn’t. I imagine that they tried the portal every day to see if it worked and when it did, used it.”
“What about those error messages?” Adiun asked.
“Why don’t I look at them right now.”
Wyrran connected his portal coder and went through the address requests. “I see. There were these four portals that still existed from the early Empire network that this portal could power up. Their portal codes overlapped 1550-1553, which we hadn’t powered up yet, so there were two different addresses for the same code. I’ve forced the addresses to the current codes. The old portals are not on the network at present. When you get back to the board, Adiun, have somebody change the codes on 1550-1553 to 5550-5553 and that will clear the issue.”
“Why don’t I do that right now?”
Adiun ported to the estate, using the old portal and shortly thereafter returned. “Done. So what do you want to do with those other portals?”
“Send the returner.”
“What is that?”
“It’s simple. I thought about those dangerous portals that you encountered and the few that we’ve encountered since and the little carts that we’ve been sending to the Master and his sisters and brother. I thought that I would build some that go through portals, activate them, take a crystal and come right back. So I built some when I was down at the ruins. I brought two and this is a perfect opportunity to try them out.”
“I can agree with that. Let’s do that.”
They did and the first returner didn’t. Wyrran said, “That is why you send the cart. Let’s send the other one.” They did, and when the second came back, the first one was pushed through after it. When they pulled the pictures from the crystals the first one was of curious elven children looking at the returner. The second picture was of the first returner surrounded by the children in a large open space.
Adiun laughed. “The kids sent the first one back when they realized that that they should. Maybe we should reward them. I will be right back.”
He went over to the store and came back with several tins of hard candy. “This should do the trick.”
He sent the returner throught and it came back with the tins removed.
The Sanctuary.
Keerla was on her way to her mother after a session in the dome when she passed a group of her friends by the portals surrounding a crude cart. She looked at them and said, “What are you doing?”
Ailen turned around and said, “Keerla, we’re trading.”
“Yes. A cart came here yesterday, to take pictures, since it had crystals on it. We caught it and when another cart came through and went back through the portals we sent the first one back. Then the cart came through with hard sweet things. They were good, so when a cart came back, we filled the cart with some things and sent it back. It came back with more sweet things and a picture of a small mall and a picture of some kids. We took some pictures of the mall and we sent that back with how many tins of sweet balls each thing was worth. We made two trades today and we are setting up a third for bottles of this bubbly juice.”
Ailen handed her the bottle and said, “You pop the top like this. It fizzes. Try it.”
Keerla did and it tickled her mouth and nose. “This is fun and tastes funny in a good way.”
“I know. This is great.”
“Have you gone through the portal?”
“No. We are afraid that we could get stuck and get in trouble. So we are just trading with the cart. The other kids haven’t come through either. We also don’t know what they use for money over there and we figure that our keys won’t work for money there. This works so far.”
‘Have you found out the other kids’ names yet?”
“Yes. They seem to be fae for the most part. They live in a place called the Camp. The town where the portal is is called Innshys. It is part of House Zylvyre and near another country called the Fellowship. The kids sent pictures of the town. It looks all new.”
Kast found Keerla and the others kids looked at him with worried expressions as he said, “Have you sent the pictures to the Librarians?”
“Were we supposed to?”
“They might be able to tell you about the people on the other side of the portal.”
“We didn’t want to get in trouble.”
“Why don’t you hand me the pictures and I will ask the questions for you. That way you won’t get in any trouble. Mistress, it is time for your lessons.”
Keerla said goodbye as Kast took the pictures from the other kids. After Kast dropped Keerla at her apartments he headed to the librarian’s enclave. Tamrissa smiled at him and said, “You have brought more for us today. What suprises did you bring us this day?”
“Some more pictures from the dome. There should be a librarian there, full time to watch and learn about the activity.”
“Only the high and their servants are allowed into the dome. So we have to settle for what bits and pieces that we receive. Is there anything else?”
“The portals are working somewhat and the children are trading back and forth with children in a town far away. I have the pictures that were sent.”
“Now that is interesting. What do you know about the town on the other end?”
“I didn’t hear very much, as I was not there for the conversation and the children were concerned about getting in trouble if they said too much. The children said that the town seemed new.”
“That could be a year or a hundred years. Encourage the children to continue, if you can do that discreetly. We know little about life outside.”
“Should I ask the children to ask for specific things?”
“No. There will be adults on the other side watching as you are. If we start asking questions they will know and stop things.”
Kast handed Tamrissa a bottle. “Here, this is good. You pop the top off.”
Tamrissa did and took a sip. “You are right, this is good. How did you get this?”
“The children are trading for it through the portal and young Ailen handed me two bottles. I think that he was trying to bribe me somewhat, the scamp.”
Tamrissa looked at the bottle and said, “Bottled in Zirgoccol? A place we have never heard of. This could be very profitable for us. Keep an eye on the things that they trade. Even the containers will be interesting. This did not come from the Empire at all.”
“I will do that.”
“I wonder why the portal just started to work. They have not worked since the first Blight.”
“I would not know. The town where the portal is must have a mana source nearby that they can use for a portal. I understand that there are new portals that are not as heavy a drain on mana as the old portals, but that is just something that I heard.”
“So there are new portals? That is good to know. We have been so cut off here because of the portals not working.”
“When the strangers arrived, there was so much that was not what we would expect.”
“Please take advantage of your position and keep bringing us these things. The High Lord was not happy with what happened to the army.”
Wyrann grinned as he drank his bottle of pop and watched the kids pass things back and forth through the portal. So far, neither group of kids had actually sent a kid through the portal, probably because the fae here in Innshys were sure that they wouldn’t be able to Jump and the kids on the other end didn’t want to leave where they were and get in trouble. Wyrran had run a trace on the old portals and they were in that city in the building in the far north. Thanks to the efforts of the Lower city and the Portal Service, the fae kids had a lot of trade material to send through, including all those Grand Master dolls that the mages in the camp had been inflicted with and the kids had grabbed as they were thrown away. The kids on the other side had sent quite a few things that were very interesting indeed, such as large crystal teaching tablets. The inquisition would probably have a fit, but Wyrran could live with that. Deputy Saevel, in his role of keeping order, activated the portal and said, “Send it through!”
The cart went, pushed by the smiling fae and the rest. Cornaith took another picture and said, “I’m in trouble.”
“My kids are going to hate missing this. Where did the Camp fae get all those Grand Master dolls?”
“When the thing started, Dan Qinvaris and some others found them in the Lower City and since they already had crystals with sayings from the Grand Master, started to send them through the one way portal, keyed to the various mages, telling them to report to the Grand Master. We sent a lot of them through the portal and as you see, if the mages didn’t want them, the kids did.”
“Who paid for all that?”
“House Qinvaris paid for it as part of looking into the Blight and other things. Of course The Lower City craftsmen gave a substantial discount when they realized that the things were being used to harass the people responsible for the Richflights and other things harassing the Lower City and there was quite a bit of imaginative things done to come up with new ways to surprise the people on the other end and entertain the kids. So the kids are well prepared to provide things for trade.”
“Very well prepared. We will have to speak to the Grand Master about his subtle efforts there.”
“It wasn’t his fault. The people in Dolmon like the Grand Master, but the Church would object of they were too openly supportive of mages. Children’s toys are beneath the notice of the Church. So the dolls sell well in Dolmon and the other Mortal Kingdoms. In the Fellowship and dwarven kingdoms as well.”
“My daughter will want one of the dolls, so I, at least, must make a trip to the Lower City.”
“Not right now. I imagine that somebody is rather bothered by the drain caused by the kids here.”
“That was the point and they seem to be enjoying themselves.”
The Cloud City.
Gander looked at the slightly dilapidated House and grinned. He had looked into it when his grandmother had pointed it out and like several other fallen Houses, it was right across the plaza from the Palace. Making a deal with Richard and Gander’s great uncle over the House as part of the university project had not been difficult and now Gander was going to play the insecure upstart newly raised Justiciar for a select audience and get the House Beinan, which was still in the House, sent to House Beinan for repair. The crated Beinan was being loaded on a wagon while Gander stood, apparently nervous, as the crate was gently placed. He went inside where a crew of his people were supposedly cleaning the House and Tom said as he passed through the door, “The clown is watching.”
“One of his stooges or the man himself?”
“The man himself.”
“Good. Then we make a show of moving some things.”
“Grandmother’s files, the files that we pulled before any of this even started.”
“Those files, yes. The Emperor’s man is coming to look at some things that he is just going to have to talk to Narbeth Immediately about. In the meantime, you, Naexi and Mhaenal start hassling the Clear dealers here in the Cloud City.”
“That could raise a stink.”
“That’s the point. Hint that their principles can ease the heat if they pay me under the table somewhat. After all, I have a House to support now.”
“We haven’t used the crooked cop angle before.”
“I haven’t wanted to hint at that. I also didn’t think that the High would buy into that. It turned out that I was wrong, somewhat, at least for the old sticks. Let’s see of this character buys in.”
“Grandmother is going to love this.”
“I know. I will arrange it so that one of you can make a trip at least once a five day.”
“What for?”
“I think that we may need her insights as things go forward. Also, if we leave her out now, Kenia is going to hear about it when thing are over, if not before and then we will be in trouble.”
Elre frowned as he looked at the House. He wasn’t sure what the Justiciar was doing. On the one hand, restoring his family’s House was an indication of his appreciation of his new status. On the other hand, the House had been his grandmother’s second headquarters and office and the Inquisition had not been allowed to search the House or investigate the library for heresy. Elre turned to his man and said, “Let me know if there is anything removed that looks like files.”
“Yes, milord. Should we intercept?”
“If you can do that without being obvious, yes. We don’t want to annoy the Justiciar at present if we can avoid it. He may not be as reasonable as he should be.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
The Hidden City.
Sarya grinned as she said, “General Ironaxe, I am glad that you can join us for our little adventure.”
“Ma’am, I hope that we don’t need my people, but if things go off, we might and I need to be ready.”
“I see that you brought your rather interesting improvisations.”
“I figured that using them will throw the people at the Retreat off a bit. We redecorated them and built some more when we had the hulks to do it.”
“I think that the people over there have figured out that the gadget may have issues with the supressors,” Tom said. “Gormer and Taser have been going under glamor more frequently and maneuvering to evade the cruisers with a fair degree of success. Of, course they are learning and so are we. The fact that we can’t use radio is a liability.”
“According to the colonel’s people, the Great Captain has acquired someone from the Beinans,” Qambois said. “He has probably revealed things to the Great Captain, who told his cousins about them.”
“I’m not sure what the point is,” Tom said, “At least what the goal is other than to prepare the crews for action in the future.”
“Great Captain Paeris likes to be one step ahead,” Sifrin said. “He also loathes the incompetent.”
The Arsenal.
Paeris grinned as the last hulk was being unloaded of its deck cargo. Having the barges loaded with grain for the Retreat had avoided any issues with getting the crane and other equipement delivered. The fact that Richard had gone for the deal was icing on the cake, especially as young Lord Qinvaris had not asked too many questions as to why the Paeris had wanted to load in Kugrim. Now, with the barges unloaded, he could transfer the grain openly. He turned to Wiz and said, “That went well.”
“We even have the fuel barge.”
“We have the barge for the time being. I suspect that something will happen to it at some point.”
“That is why you have the plates and created the ability to fabricate.”
“Yes. When the rules get changed, you have to learn the new rules. My father refused, even though I tried to tell him that he was going to have to change the way he did things or the costs were going become too much to pay. For him, they were.”
“What if what we are doing is not needed?”
“The Darkmage is going to need what we have, count on it. He is not in a position where he can gain everything he wants without it. Since the unloading is done here, I must make some arrangements.”
The Empty Lands.
Phaerille laughed as Kadryt rolled into his own flame, showing off. Brian yelled, “Kadryt, you are supposed to be looking for ruins, not dancing!”
Kadryt manged to look a bit sheepish as Phaerille laughed again. Phaerille and Alyndra had joined the rather eclectic collection of junior mages, dragons, fae and gangsters that were running down the Darkmage’s things for the Beinans and the Mage Academy. Brian, from the Lions was in charge of the circus, mostly because he yelled the loudest and had the most experience with the expedition, with the fact that the other gangsters did what he said and he was good at keeping things running, making sure that everybody had enough to eat and that the ladies had things like showers when the camp was set up. In the five day since Phaerille and Alyndra had joined the expedition they had found two ruins connected to the Darkmage. Berry came by and said, “We made the right choice.”
Phaerille giggled and said. “To come right back where we had been?”
“Look at it this way. If your grandfather looks for us, he won’t be looking for us here and if we find his stuff, we won’t be in trouble with him.”
“That is if he can find it after we dig it up.”
“He’s going to have to talk to the Beinans about it. They are taking it all. Perhaps he’ll trade those damned supressors for the stuff.”
“I’m worried about what happens when whatever grandfather wants happens.”
“So am I. I was heading to a dark place and right now, I don’t want to go there.”
“Neither do I, so why don’t we keep going. This is much easier this way, with the truck and the airplanes.”
“The dragons too. I think that Kadryt likes you.”
“I think so too. That is interesting for a change.”

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