The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 22.

The Dowager Empress is getting a bit nervous.

Chapter 22.
The Imperial Palace.
The Darkmage checked the suppressor and the flow had slowed down again just at almost 80%. The whole thing was frustrating. He went to find Herdir and said, “The supressor’s mana flow has been dropped to a trickle.”
“The source could have been more or less tapped out. Without Zanis, there is no way to check, finding the boy may be difficult and if what had done was discovered, then the boy would be protected and with the portals active and probably an open key, he can go anywhere there is a portal.”
“We are almost at the point where the amplifiers can be started. I hate to wait further, but I think that we must.”
“We may be in trouble if the Conclave ends before the suppressor becomes active.”
“We will have to take that chance.”
“Should I send my brother and sister to the Fortress?”
“Perhaps we should consider it. In any case, we are very close.”
“Perhaps you should go, father.”
“I think that I must see this out to the end.”
Shaerra grinned as Elre bowed after he entered the parlor. “So, what news of our rather unorthodox Justiciar?”
“On the one hand, he seems to be restoring his family’s old House, but for what purpose is rather uncertain. Also his people have started to harass the dealers in Clear.”
“That will make some of our friends unhappy. Why do you think that he is arranging that?”
“He is either trying to show Lord Bryneiros his dedication or he is starting to shakedown our friends.”
“We could hint that he may be willing to come to an arrangement and see what happens. Do you think that he is aware that he is being watched?”
“No. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t increased his guards or changed his patterns, though with the Conclave, it is hard to get a baseline as to what his patterns actually are.”
“Tell me more about the House. Where is it?”
“You should know. It is across the plaza from the palace. It is the old House Thetis. We arranged the fall to remove a potential threat.”
“I thought that all those Houses were to become part of Lord Qinvaris’s university scheme.”
“Apparently not House Thetis or the Justiciar has related plans that coincide with Lord Qinvaris’s.”
“That is more likely. I imagine that Kelvahn wants a place where he can train and recruit Justiciars and adjuncts. Since the house was already there, it would make a good addition to the university scheme. Of course there are other things to worry about, concerning that House.”
“The materials that Sarya left behind.”
“Yes. I am sure that there are shielded spaces in the House and documents that Sarya and her brother left behind.”
“Some crates have left and Galan has visited the House twice.”
“Did he take anything with him?”
“Not as far as could be seen. The crates that were taken elsewhere were under Justiciar’s seal and my people didn’t want to mess with that.”
“If the Justiciar is using his seal for personal purposes, that is something that we must bring to Kelvahn’s attention.”
“I will leave that to you, your majesty. I will let our friends know that a discreet approach may end their present troubles.”
“If that does turn out to be the case or even if it appears so, we can make it work for us.”
Kelvan and Eithriel found Gander as the Conclave ended and Kelvahn said, “Some people have been hinting that you are just a bit too zealous.”
Gander had a surprised look on his face as he said, “How so?”
“Some people are saying that you are poking into legitmate business.”
“Have they said why?”
“You are in league with Tony and helping him somewhat.”
“They want me to have my people back off, I take it. Should I?”
“Now that is an interesting question. Why don’t we join our families at the carnival and discuss that.”
As they walked down the hall, Eithriel said, “I am surprised that you are going after the untouchables.”
“I’m not, really. Do you want me to? I have enough to hurt them if I really want to.”
“I think that drawing that crowd out will help, as long as you don’t mess up your other cases.”
“I am just doing some long overdue cleanup using things I discovered when I was forced to look into the unlamented Mirthal. The evidence was there and since the case with Mirthal was going to be something that would put me in bad light with the Emperor, who had offered me a substantial bonus for resolving the case, money that I had already borrowed against to start the work on my House, I need something to ensure that I get the bonus. Galan and I have already discussed the matter and the Empress is concerned about the ease of which certain intoxicants are available, especially to children, and if I can demonstrate that I have reduced the sources significantly, I will receive the bonus and not have any financial worries.”
“I was not consulted about the bonus. I will have to have a chat with Galan going over my head about that.”
The three exited the palace and headed to the park. As they entered, Kelvahn said, “I doubt that anybody is listening. Do you want me to make noise about me cancelling the bonus?”
“Make it noisy and splashy.”
“Frankly if you do substantially deal with the Clear problem, you deserve a bonus,” Eithriel said. “The stuff has been the cause of a lot of distress and quite a few deaths. Unfortunately the Houses that deal with the stuff are well protected.”
Gander grinned, “This will probably be the last time that I can get away with my stupid mortal cop routine and I really don’t like using the crooked cop angle, but I’ve been wagging my tail around and the clown doesn’t seem to pick up that I’m deep into things that should make him nervous. There are just so many trips to the apothecary and teacher meetings that I can legitimately use. My kids don’t misbehave that badly and right now, they are not even in the Lower City. I thought that the idiots would pick up that the ex Imperial Mistress was Benny’s wife, but they haven’t, even when the lady paraded right into the palace.”
“Benny Jessen, a slave whose nominal owner is Lymseia Reymyar who he keeps in state and kids in his very nice home in the Lower City. Your toast was probably baked in his ovens.”
“How did that happen?”
“The bakery part is easy. His family has been in the business, one way or another since the founding of the Empire. How he ended up with Lymseia goes back to our friend and his boss being worried and sending some goons to beat the lady up. Benny had his bread cart, found the lady, took her in and brought in a healer. You can figure out who. Lymseia purchased Benny, shared blood and they have been together since. She has that place up in the Cloud City, but she has people who run it for her and she teaches school and watches her grandkids. I don’t think that she has serviced a client since she and Benny got together and that is one reason that up until recently, she was very hard to find.”
“You didn’t seem to know who she was.”
“The guise of Imperial Mistress has a lot of glamor attached and mystery. Her role as a high state courtesan is to be an artist and Lymseia does that very well. So, for a bit, I didn’t recognize someone that I have known for quite a long time now. She certainly knew me very well and when I set Naexi and the others to investigate, they found the rest. I figured that a certain lady and her flunky would already know or be able to guess the connections but he didn’t seem to know and didn’t look into who I was talking to.”
“So you were hoping that said flunky saw you talking in depth with Lymseia outside her expected role and that he would be concerned and maybe go after you or some others.”
“Yes. I was hoping to draw him out and hand him a writ of obstruction of the kind that the old style Justiciars used to hand out and then push for what he had on his boss or force his boss to haul him out, with all the scandal that goes with that. It hasn’t worked the way I wanted and thus your new Justiciar is going to be naïve, stupid and crooked.”
Kelvahn laughed. “Since Shaerra has been looking to involve me in a scandal and get me removed so that she could replace me with my cousin, who is all of those things, she will probably bite, one way or another.”
Eithriel started to laugh. “Gander, I look forward to how this works out.”
“It will make a nice movie.”
“Parts of it have already.”
The Grand Master grinned as he exited the Conclave and there were Cornaith Binorin and Guillis Qikian with several other mages that had been exiled. He looked at them and said, “So how did you all manage to return?”
“We haven’t really, Master. Lord Beinan noticed the state of the palace shields and since the Mage Academy has been temporarily dispersed and the records of mage assignments are rather hard to get to at present and we were near the Empire, he thought that he would see if he could offer Lady Zylmyar a contract to renew the shields and wanted us to take a look at them. Of course the reason that the shields are having issues is the reaction to a certain devise that was activated recently and it’s resonance to the shield. We’re afraid that until the devise is shutdown, the shields here at the palace cannot be restored.”
“You were the experts in such things. Why don’t we go to lunch and you tell me all about what you have been up to. Do you have families?”
“Yes, we do,” Cornaith said. “We both work at Beinans in different capacities that we can’t really talk about for contractural reasons, even to each other, except on the current project.”
“That must make things awkward.”
“Not at all, since the current thing is fun and we are learning much about certain things. One thing, Master. When it becomes obvious that the thing has started, go to the portal and use this code.”
Cornaith handed the Grand Master a portal code.
Lyari looked at it and said, “Where will this take me?”
“We can’t say, but it will be safe and you can go on from there. Wyrran is fairly sure that the other side can’t trace ports, but just to be certain, he wants you, and some others to disappear when it becomes necessary.”
Lyari handed the code back and said, “I will stick it out, regardless. My children and grandchildren are away and I have had a long and successful life. I have never shirked from an unpleasant duty and I hardly will change now.”
Cornaith pushed the code on the Grand Master and said, “We can’t force this on you, but we and some others care too much about you to let you get stuck in something that could be very bad when it goes off. The idiots don’t really know what they are playing with and the problem now is that while we have managed to slow things down, we can’t shut it down gently without the key and the head idiot has the key. If things get as bad as they could, you will need to be away and there will be little you can do to change anything. We understand your commitment, but there are too many who will need your wisdom for you to practice martyrdom when it may be pointless.”
“You have all grown while you were away. The younglings that I knew would never have pressed me so. I will keep this and hope that it is not necessary. I suspect that there is much that you cannot tell me here. Why don’t I take you to dinner and you tell me all about your families and where you live.”
Elenaril turned to Julien and said, “They grabbed grandfather.”
“Did they get him to take the code?”
“Good. A lot of people will be upset if he gets caught up in this and I see why you wanted me to take over security for him. I don’t think he understands the reverence that he is held just about every place, even in places like the Mortal Kingdoms, where mages are anathema.”
“I know, and we have all tried to tell him that, but he thinks about how some of the family martyred themselves and thinks of that as a duty. But his great achievement has been to make such things unnecessary. Then clowns like the Darkmage and Zanis come along and ruin all that he has worked for. At least we have locked Zanis up, thanks to Gracie. Why don’t we go to lunch?”
House Ravathrya.
Nueleth had a little grin as she stood in her usual role at yet another of the House’s things. Apparently Justiciar Dawkins had undertaken to look into some things that various Houses that were allied to the Ravathrya were doing and since the houses were traditionally in somewhat of a competition with each other, House Ravathyra was neutral ground. So the ladies were having a chat about what to do about the annoyance that had been afflicting their Houses. Kharzug grinned as she stopped with a plate of little things that could be eaten with the fingers. “This bunch isn’t seeing the obvious.”
“That being?”
“That they should just get out of the business if they can’t take the heat.”
“These Houses have been in the various businesses for a very long time with a degree of immunity. So they do not see that they should change. Considering some examples in the recent past, they should know better. House Richflight, for example. You are right and they should have expected that their bad business would catch up with them.”
“I don’t think that Justiciar Dawkins is as corruptable as they would like to believe.”
“I agree, but we shall see.”
Shaerra moved around the crowd of ladies, consoling and providing advice. This was working out as she had expected and the Justiciar’s actions in certain businesses were causing more disruption than he probably realized. She grinned as she moved through the crowd, dropping more subtle hints. She also reminded herself to look into the Wysalynn family and perhaps discussing some discreet favors. Young Traelion had been left adrift when the exile of the rest of the family had been arranged in the general purge of certain people and the Justiciar had seemingly done well at his job at the gates. Perhaps it was time to begin to cultivate the Justiciars again.

When the thing was over, Kharzug sat down with Nueleth who said, “I wish that we had the kids for these things now.”
“We will have to suffer somewhat. Has Thalia asked what happened to them?”
“Not as yet. She leaves it to me to manage such things.”
“I don’t think she realizes that the kids are all being moved away from their clutches. At some point, the Darkmage’s thing is going to do whatever it does and things are going to get bad.”
“We will manage. We have so far.”
The Sanctuary.
Keerla was in the dome again, watching the rapid growth of a large camp next to the one that the timber workers had built. The camp had buildings for what appeared to be a large number of people who had not yet arrived and Keerla had wondered what is was all for when the marching army came up the road from the south. The army was guarded by men on the strange vehicles and carrying strange weapons. The army’s troops were also not carrying any weapons of their own and looking very ragged and cold as the army was marched into the new camp. The strange vehicles started to unload men in stretchers accompanied by what were probably healers. The stretchers were taken from the vehicles to a building that was larger than the others. The rest of the army was marched into the camp and formed up before going to the various bunkhouses. After the army was sent to the buildings, Keerla Turned to Kast and said, “We must talk to grandfather. I wonder why the army was not just sent home?”
“There are probably reasons, Mistress. Why don’t I take you to your Grandfather.”
Kast took her past the portals where some of the other younglings were conducting yet another trading session. Ailen looked at Keerla and said, “Do you want to help, Keerla?”
“Not right now. The army is back, but the people outside are putting it into a camp.”
“The army is back? Didn’t they win?”
“Apparently not. They came back under guard and are in a guarded camp. I am going to ask grandfather about it.”
The Chamberlain looked out the window from Durhir’s office and said, “They made it fairly obvious.”
“I wonder why they marched the army back here.”
“So, that it is here and not where it can do any harm. Or to make the point to us that the army was utterly defeated. If the army was still in the Empire, we might convince ourselves that the other side was lying. There is the truth for all to see and people here will.”
“I doubt that people will go outside.”
“If they see the camp, I expect that questions that we have been avoiding will be asked and families will be looking for husbands, fathers and sons. This was a not so subtle way of putting the pressure on us.”
“How are the Protectors holding out?”
“We are down to less than a hundred. I think that at least some of them have been caught and sent back.”
“So that they could tell the others that being caught may be a good thing for them.”
“I wish that I could talk to father. None of this was supposed to be like it is.”
“That hasn’t been your fault. Your father was supposed to be responsible for the launching of the Project.”
“True, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are in trouble and it was because I initiated things blindly.”
Keerla came in and said, “Grandfather, the army has returned.”
“I have seen.”
“Will father be back?”
“I don’t know, Keerla. I suspect that the other side will have things to say to him.”
“Why? He was supposed to bring order to the Empire.”
“We didn’t understand that there was order in the Empire already and that order is rather annoyed at us, for good reasons. So they may hold on to your father and the other soldiers.”
“Can’t you do something about that?”
“I will do what I can, but it won’t be easy.”
“Ok, I will go to the tutors now.”
She left and Durhir said, “Kast, wait a hundredth.”
“Certainly master. What do you want?”
“First of all, to keep an eye on Keerla and make sure that she doesn’t go outside and stay with her if she does.”
“That is a given. I think that she will at least try to go outside. I am amazed that her friends at the portal haven’t been through already.”
“At the portal? The portals are dead.”
“Not any more. One activated recently. Hasn’t somebody told you?”
“No one has.”
“The younglings may have been keeping it their secret. Very few people go to the portal hall. The younglings have been trading through the portals after somebody activated one and sent a cart with crystals through. I am monitoring things somewhat for the librarians.”
“What is on the other end of the portal?”
“A town called Innshys. It seems to be a small place, with many of the inhabitants being fae and the rest a mixture of people. A country called the Fellowship is nearby.”
“Thank you for telling me this.”
“Should I have somebody tell the younglings to stop?”
“No. Apparently this has gone on for some time already and it hasn’t hurt anything. How are they trading anyway?”
“The younglings use a hard sweet ball as a medium of exchange since that was the first thing that was sent through. The younglings trade for the balls and then use their money to buy things and send them back.”
“What are they trading?”
“So far things from school supplies, tablets and such for toys and things, as well as fizzy drinks and the hard balls. Some books from an elvish poet have come though. I have handed copies to the librarians.”
“I doubt that books from the Empire would be in the hands of children.”
“These were printed, actually. They were printed in a city called Chatsrey in a country called the Republic. The poems are all about the Empire though. I must go.”
Kast left and Durhir said, “We may want to send some people to explore.”
“I will discuss that with the Colonel,” the chamberlain said. “The fact that the portal is opened is rather astonishing, in itself. Doing that would require another portal from the old empire, a mana source that is strong and somebody with a great deal of expertise in portals.”
“My brother had somebody with that expertise. If the other side coopted him or if the Beinans did, then father may not have the control over the portals that he was supposed to have when launching the project.”
“If what I saw in the timberlands is the case, your father does not have that control. I think that you are right and we must send some people to explore. I will prepare them. The Horsecaptain may be a good choice.”
“I agree. Do that then.”
Richard looked at his younger son and Peri and said, “I hate to do this to you, boys, but it is time that you both went through the portal to the Hidden City. Your mothers will be very unhappy with me if I let you continue to play.”
Peri grinned, “Haven’t we been doing a good job, Lord Qinvaris?”
“Yes you have. That is why I let you stay in the Empire as long as you have. But things are coming to a head and I need you out of the Empire in case things get very bad.”
“You must be worried, dad. You can handle just about everything. This is worse than you were with the Blight.”
“I’ve been talking with Folmon, Versyrn, Esgalwathanar and even your grandfather, Peri and we all think that when the Darkmage’s things go off, it will be bad. First of all, the things are unstable. Folmon had some experts take a look and there just isn’t enough mana flow for them to operate fully when they start. The problem is that the only person with the key to the suppressors is the Darkmage. It wasn’t in the diary or any of the other things we found so far. Zanis won’t tell us the key he used on the source and Onvyr can’t be visibly gone from the Conclave for long enough to go to the source for the amount of time that it will take to unlock it. Saevel hasn’t quite managed it and Folmon’s people don’t want him to keep playing with it and cause instabilities that could cause the mana sources to drain spontaneously. It is beginning to look as if the best course is to let the Darkmage set things off and then pick up the pieces when things collapse. That is why we want you and the others out.”
“What about Saevel?”
“He’s down there in Innshys with Bellflower and that motorbike of his. His mother has told him to head to the Salt Flats or Fayspire and the train to Zirgoccol.”
“When do we go?”
“In a twentieth with some others, including Delion’s family.”
“That is not a surprise, other than the fact that you set that up.”
“He’s staying and wants his family out discreetly. He knows the players on the other side and what they will do when they get power. When the Darkmage kicks off, Delion is certain that the Darkmage is least of our problems. The Dowager Empress is going to be on the hunt and you, your sisters, and Dan are on her short list because of what Rosa did to her. I want you and some others out of the picture, but ready. Frankly if you are in the Hidden City, you can return all too quickly and discreetly.”
“What about the thing in the north? I was handling that.”
“Osmond can handle it. He will be more conciliatory than you were. You did a pretty good job with the Protectors anyway.”
“I wasn’t done. Send Vinny up there with his boys. They can make persuasive arguments.”
“Rosa needs Vinny to keep Stormfire out of the Carnival and to provide cover for the evacuation. On the other hand, Adiun knows a very good marine recruiter who is very persuasive.”
“You are sending Jorge and his people. How are they even here?”
“They have been here from the start. They have been prowling the Empty Lands and setting up to hit the Fortress. I imagine that Jorge won’t mind taking a camping trip in the snow. Anyway, that is my problem. I need to show up at home, so you boys had better get to the portal and gone.”
House Ravathrya.
Narbeth came into Nueleth’s office and said, “The wine has arrived.”
“I didn’t order any. Did you?”
“Apparently Lord Paeris is sending some from the Fellowship.”
“That is unlike him. Was there anything else in the cases?”
“Indeed, milady. There seem to be some ledgers and other paper that may have come from Exchange St.”
“Then why come to me?”
“I wasn’t sure how it should be handled.”
“Now all that material is evidence of crime. The crime was committed by a member of the House, but the House cannot be held responsible for the independent actions of an individual member as long as the rest of the House takes action to turn over any evidence it has. Lord Paeris was already a fugitive and known criminal who has injured our House. The logical thing to do would be to turn the material over to the Justiciars discreetly.”
“What if Lord Erlan objects?”
“Did Lord Erlan give you any instructions about the wine?”
“Not at all.”
“Nor did I receive any. Without such instructions, our path is clear, as we must avoid any taint on the House during the Conclave.”
Narbeth grinned. “Very well, milady.”
“I will take the heat, if any, for the decision.”
The Cloud City.
Amon turned to Raibyn, who was behind the wheel of the combine as it rumbled slowly through the streets to the Lower City and the waiting truck, “This makes the harvest worth it.”
“I know. The thing is a girl magnet. High elf girls too. Of course the kids are loving this.”
“We make a parade.”
“With the truck carrying the cutting head, the GP and the High guard blocking traffic, we do. Keep waving that flag. We want these people to know who we are.”
Shaerra fumed as the machine moved slowly past the gardens and the conservancy, followed by enthusiastic crowds. She had wanted the machine gone, indeed had insisted on it and now that it was going, realized that she had made a mistake. By the time the machine returned to the Lower City, the entire city would have seen it. Getting support for sanctioning Richard would be almost impossible and with the Proscriptions a dead letter, there would be more machines in the Cloud City. Some had already poked their noses in, making deliveries. Thalia came alongside her and said, “At least that thing is leaving.”
“Leaving, not destroyed. It’s being moved because the slave wants it moved and doesn’t need it here.”
“It’s also rather visible. The Portal Service was supposed to bring a big portal, but we can hardly send a complaint to the Portal Service at present.”
“No, we cannot. At least this will be over.”
Gander grinned as the raid went off. This had been the third in the Cloud City on wine dealers that sold more than wine. A sedan chair appeared and a young elf got out. “What are you doing, Slave?!”
“Clean up, Lord Yllaris. Clean up.”
The young lord drew a sword. Gander said, “You should put that away, milord.”
“I could put it in you!”
“I am sure that your father will love the scandal and what it will do to his business if you were to kill a Justiciar, that is if you could manage it, which I doubt. On the other hand, Tom is rather good with the shotgun he has pointed at you, that would make a mess on the street and your mother probably will miss you. So put the toy away.”
Another sedan chair appeared and Abarat Ylarris jumped out. “Kymil, just what do you think that you are doing?”
“Stopping this thief slave from robbing us.”
“He is a Justiciar in the course of his duties. Justiciar, I apologize for my son. He gets rather exciteable. Perhaps we can have a discreet discussion.”
“Very well milord. What do you wish to discuss.”
“I understand that you are setting up a Household and I imagine that you will need to fill your cellars. Perhaps we could come to arrangement where you were not so assertive about certain things.”
“That is an interesting approach. You must understand that I have an Emperor who is a bit disappointed that I could not make the real world fit his vision and an Empress that wants certain things cleaned up a bit.”
“A good show once in a while doesn’t hurt and if you could find certain things so easily, my people must have been sloppy. Make some noise and if my people are sloppy, then they must pay the price.”
“Certainly, we want to reduce the sloppiness. You are correct about the cellars. My wife would like to entertain as she did in her youth. I think that we can come to an arrangement.”
“Thank you and ignore my rather hot headed son. He is young and will learn.”
“I hope so. On the other hand, I understand why he was upset. After all, losing business is not a happy thing. I think that I can be agreeable to some sort of arrangement.”
“Excellent! You can expect to see your cellars filled. I will bid you good day then and let you continue.”
Gander walked over to Tom and handed him the crystal. “I think that we have another one.”
“You are going to have to be careful about actually taking the bribes.”
“Presents, Tom, presents and assistance.It would be far too coarse and unrefined to call what they are doing, bribes.”
Tom laughed. “Changing the name doesn’t make it smell any better. You should be careful that the stink doesn’t rub off.”
“I am being careful. Note that not once have I ever actually asked for anything. The things were offered and I never actually committed to anything definite. In any case, the goal here isn’t the little fish, it is to draw out the bigger fish. If we can stir up the waters enough, the fish will start to wonder what we are up to. I have been very careful to choose my targets, as you well know. I think that I must be off.”
Gander headed to the portal and the Imperial Plaza. The raid had been conducted during yet another debate, so Gander’s attendance had not been necessary. He ported through and there was a surprise waiting for him. An elf intercepted him and said, Justiciar, I am Elre Wynjeon. I was hoping to have a chat with you about some things.”
“I have very little time at present, Elf Wynjeon, so speak quickly.”
“Let me get right to the point then. My mistress understands that you are looking into some things and would like you to know that certain things are not really serious.”
“I take murder very seriously indeed, Elf Wynjeon.”
“Was it murder or justice?”
“That is not for me to decide.”
“Actually that is part of your purview. I doubt that you are not aware that you hold high and low justice.”
“In certain cases, yes. There are exceptions, though and a request from the Crown comes under those exceptions.”
“You could hurt a young girl more than she has been hurt already by insisting on turning over rocks.”
“Why does the murder of a man with bad habits concern your mistress, Elf Wynjeon?”
“That is not for me to say. Perhaps she is just looking for peace.”
“The man was allowed to live in the palace for some time, Elf Wynjeon. The Crown thinks that the man was murdered for a reason and my job is to determine things like that. I would be wary of getting in my way. In any case, things are about to be turned over to the crown and decisions made.”
“Then what is going on with the interference in other people’s business?”
“The raids on the Clear factories and the dealers being shutdown? The Empress was concerned about certain things and the murder victim had been involved in those things and had evidence that when combined with other things I had, led to some things that I could use as cleanup. I thought that dealing with certain places rather visibly would put me in good water with the Empress. So I have taken some actions.”
“You are new to palace politics, so you probably didn’t understand that you should have cleared some things with my mistress. Just a word of warning. You don’t want to cross her.”
“Is that a threat, Elf Wynjeon?”
“No, just some friendly advice. You seem to be doing well and I wouldn’t want you to mess up and ruin everything.”
“I will keep that in mind, Elf Wynjeon. I think that I must go or I will be late. There are some rather important matters awaiting.”
Gander walked off whistling the little ditty from that oh, so useful play.
The Horsecaptain emerged from the portal in the misty early morning. His picked team followed him through into the mist. Looking around, the town looked as if it was new construction built from older ruins that had been rebuilt fairly quickly. One of the strange vehicles came out of the mist and stopped. The door opened and a voice said, “Going to Fayspire? The fare is one silver each.”
The Horsecaptain held up four of the silvers that the Chamberlain had given him in preparation for the expedition and said, “I guess that Fayspire is where we are going.”
They boarded the vehicle and started off. The bus, as it was called, was fairly full with shoppers heading to Fayspire for things like some vegetables that were unavailable in Nytfnas as well as a salesman from the Lower City on his way to confirm some final order for Winterfaire toys in Zirgoccol. The bus flew along past large farm fields and groves of trees. The exploration was off to a good start.
Saevel had arrived early in the morning before the fae kids did and had caught the strangers emerging from the old portal. Since that portal wasn’t used to connect to anything other than the city in the north, he took the stranger’s pictures. He hoped that they wouldn’t cause too much trouble in the Fellowship. Bellflower emerged from the portal and said, “What are you up to, Saevel?”
“Nothing. Some people came through the old portal and just got on the bus when it came.”
“Did they look like they knew about the bus?”
“Honestly, I think that they just took the bus because it was there.”
“That must mean that they have Imperial money in the city in the north.”
“They may have some for spies.”
“Do you think that those people you saw were spies?”
“I’m not sure, but something like that. I think I will send a message to the people in Zirgoccoal. That way they can be watched and kept out of trouble.”
“Good thinking. After all, we don’t want a fuss.”
The fae started to emerge from the portal and they started to load the cart. The leftovers from the campaign against the Master had proven to be very profitable for the fae kids. So far, none of them had tried to convert the things they had to money, since they didn’t have very much in the Camp anyway. The leftovers worked just fine in any case.
House Aezieros.
Kharis looked at the varied high lords that were here with their wives for the luncheon and grinned. “Welcome all to my House. I thought that it was my turn for one of these little gatherings.”
“I think that the fact that we move these around has kept some people off guard,” Richard said. “With things coming down to the end, how do each of you think that we should handle things when the Amplifiers go off?”
“Don’t think that we should do much of anything,” Vesryn said. “We’ve all got the kids as far out of things as we can and taken every step that we could. What the Darkmage doesn’t understand is what it will take to manage things the way they are and that doing that requires people that are not coerced into doing things. I give it a five day before the Darkmage starts to demand that we do things again, especially from you, Richard.”
“Why. It is not as if he cares about the Lower City and the rest of it.”
“Perhaps not, but when he starts to have problems getting something to eat, he will notice. We can take steps to encourage things, but I suspect that even if we didn’t, thing will start to come apart for them fairly quickly. For one thing, depending on how strong the Amplifiers actually turn out to be, the compulsions will be less effective than they expect and if enough people are compelled, they will need to be told what to do, by people who do know what needs to be done and who does what.”
“The Darkmage doesn’t know those things, but do not ignore the Dowager Empress and the Ravathryra,” Kelvahn said. “They have been in the Empire for a long time and know how to make things work, at least the way they used to.”
“That may be difficult,” Richard said. “Much of that was the result of the previous Blight, the turmoils and the Regency. By the time I arrived on the scene, there was a lot of the Empire that was dead or dying. I managed to recover, but a lot of that was using farm methods that didn’t require the mass numbers of serfs or slaves that no longer existed.”
“House Qinvaris has purchased slaves,” Esgalwathanar said, “Both from inside and outside the Empire, even after you took over.”
“Yes I did. Of course where they ended up was not something that the Darkmage would understand. I purchased from Rolin to prevent certain things and to get the skills I needed that were not available with the people I had. The pay off was that little battle I had with the north, where my militia squashed them without any real problems. For that matter, the fact that I was able to make the switch to harvesting with the combines without any real issues was because I had been trolling the slave markets and looking for the right skills. I was hardly the only ones as Kelvahn, Aerendyl, and Vesryn certainly were doing the same sorts of things. The good thing is that our people are by and large resistant to compulsions. Just how powerful the amplifier will turn out to be is an open question, but the Empire now is different place than the Empire during the mage wars and even then, the supressors were all down in what is now the Fellowship and Kingdom. They were not spread all over the Empire.”
“They are also going to have mana issues,” Folmon said. “The fact that the Darkmage set things off without being prepared allowed Wyrran to get on top of working with the suppressors and dealing with them. There is also the problem they have that their source is controlled by the members of what is now House Zylvyre, and Wyrran and the others have set up things to drain the source. Innshys has a very nice shield now against harsh weather, for instance and the fae kids are trading back and forth with that city in the north through the old portal. Some people came through from the city and caught the bus yesterday.”
“What happened?”
“They went to Fayspire. I suspect that somebody in charge up there realized that the portal worked and send somebody to look around a bit. The bus apparently arrived about the time that they exited the portal and they got on. Saevel and the guard captain sent a message to the people in the Dragonmaster’s office and they will probably keep a discrete eye on them and keep them out of trouble.”
“Saevel did that?” Onvyr said.
“Apparently he takes his deputy duties seriously and when he arrived just before the people from the north arrived, went to the telegraph office and sent the message. Then he went to the guard office and filed a short report. The guard captain sent along another message.”
Onvyr laughed. “Saevel does take his obligations seriously. That is my fault and I should have fought the compulsions. Still he is remarkable.”
“Yes he is,” Vesryn said. “At least the deputy job is better than being in the Camp and spying on the Master.”
“That brings up another issue,” Aerendyl said. “Has the Darkmage or the Master even bothered to look into the portals? After all the Darkmage killed Kailu over them and seemingly has ignored theme since, even though it should be fairly obvious that service is restored. Folmon, what is going on with that?”
“As far as that goes, Adiun hasn’t even seen any attempts to look into Portal 1000. There were some misdials, but that is it. Portal 1000 has been locked anyway unless you were a resident there because nobody lives there anymore, the residents wanted their property protected and the Portal Service doesn’t want people poking around on their property, even though things are shut down there.”
“Where did the residents go?”
“Some of them are at my estate at present, because that is the temporary headquarters of the Portal Service and others have moved to places like the Sanctum, Innshys or Elysahone.”
Richard laughed. “The Darkmage can’t even complain about the Portal Sevice being dispersed after he murdered Kailu and was the reason that it happened.”
“When things kick off, I will tell the Emperor what we are planning to do,” Kelvahn said. “I think that the Amplifiers will be active very soon.”
“Tell him not to attempt to shut down the suppressor here,” Folmon said. “We have indications that it will not work and if it does, the consequences could be worse than leaving them on. Wyrran has people working on the suppresors and they have some concerns about how they have to be shut down at this point. So don’t try to shut them down unless we have people at all of them. As I said, we are trying to drain the source.”
“I wish that I could deal with that,”Onvyr said. “The problem is that the Darkmage would start asking questions if I were to be away from the Conclave more than a day. Sending my father down to open it again worked for them even though he up and disappeared. Where is he, by the way?”
Kelvahn grinned. “Not in my custody. The fae Council of Kings had the Marshalls take custody. I have no idea what happened to him and they will not conduct a trial until the suppressors are shutdown. Unfortunately that means that he is not available for us, but I can live with that.”
“Luncheon is over and we all need to return to our Seats,” Kharis said. “So we need to say good bye to our wives and return to the Palace.”

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