The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 24.

Shaerra sends an invitation. The Darkmage plots.

Chapter 24.
The Imperial Palace.
After the Conclave was over, with the votes for some of the last things on Glynnii’s list coming up and passing, with one exception that being the sanctioning of Richard, which was voided as being unnecessary in light of the pardon already voted on and passed and nobody willing to veto that vote, The Darkmage gathered his three remaining chidren and the three Zylvyre brothers that remained. Soon the Conclave would be over and the next stage could begin, with the millions of slaves that the supressors would provide. The first order of business here in the Empire was to sieze the well and any other sources and turn them to the project if they could. That would not be absolutely critical, but even failure would aid the plan. He turned to the gathered group and said, “The first order of business is to take the Well and secure the source here in the Lower City and at the Salt flats.”
“The Salt flats shouldn’t be a problem,” Rolin said. “There are not enough people to resist anything very much and we have people in the area already. The Sanctum is another story. I don’t know where you pulled those armies out of, but the fact that they underestimated what was there, badly, makes it highly unlikely that anything you have will succeed and right now, we don’t even know what is going on up there. Richard is hardly likely to let our people just go up there and poke around and Vesryn is going to be worse since you sent those monsters to prance all over Timbertown and the Sanctum. He also has his crews cutting up there and those crews are full of half elf boys from Eryding and fae from various faery kingdoms salted with junior mages, supported by Vesryn’s brother and whatever Vesryn came up with. I suspect that all the portals have restrictions on them to prevent unauthorized people from storming in and the weather is going to close things off soon anyway.”
“What about the Lower City?”
“That source is managed by the city government and provides lighting, powers the portals and does other things, all of which are necessary and locked into the source. We could probably get the things unlocked and shut down, but the Houses will squeal and there would be writs against you for interference in business from the usual people.”
“Send somebody to figure out why the source at the Salt Flats is draining. We took steps to prevent that, yet the source has a heavy drain on it.”
“I will send Camus down, but he won’t be able to do very much. Saevel may be playing with it or somebody else put loads on the source.”
“Who would have such things?”
“At a guess, the Beinans,” Meleris said. “They were digging up old Imperial magic and devises before they were exiled and probably stashed them at the estate or over the border in Red Mountain. My people never did get a chance to search the estate before the Emperor told us to keep our hands off. So if they had some old Imperial devises that were mana hogs and Saevel could connect them, that would drain the source. The problem we have is that without Zanis, we can’t disconnect whatever it is unless we get our hands on Saevel.”
“We could compel Ovnyr to disconnect the devises.”
“There are some problems with that,” Rolin said. “First of all, both he and Elincia are very strong mages and immune to compulsions in any case because we held them under for so long and they were released. Then we are right back to using the kids as hostages again, that is if we could even find them, or take them from the Sanctum if that is where they are. Then, even if we arrange all that, there is nothing to prevent Onvyr from closing the source, for good, this time.”
“If we had hostages, would he do such a thing,” The Darkmage asked.
“I don’t know him that well, but if he does close the source, he has us hostage and if we were to hurt his kids, that would be the end for us. Of course the hard part will be finding the kids in the first place and I am sure that that will not be easy with the portals under the other side’s control. Didn’t somebody think to check that the board was still there?”
“There was no way to check until the portal was restored,” Herdir said. “I assumed that the portal was restored by the people there.”
“The people you had compelled so that they didn’t even know what the board or the portals were and thought of Adiun Beinan, of all people, as a god. What do you think he was going to do when he did show up?”
“I didn’t think that he could find the board or would even think to look for it.”
“Would Wyrran be asking questions or did you ask him for things related to the board?”
“I did have Mage Grevaris ask him for some patches for failed parts of the board, yes. Mage Grevaris was not told why I wanted the patches.”
“It is likely that Mage Wyrran knew about the board then. That is if Adiun’s father didn’t remind Wyrran and Adiun about it as he certainly knew about it, since he built the thing in the first place. When you had the people at the board set up for Paeris’s little visit to Exchange Street, Adiun was probably tracking the activity and that told Adiun and Mage Wyrran where the board was.”
“The board was used for the raid.”
“The board caused the shutdown of all the portals. I didn’t think that that was the plan. But, if somebody had done something to the board and the compelled panicked when they couldn’t disconnect portals, they may have intiated the general shutdown and cut all the portals out, which we saw happen. In any case, if I were Wyrran, I would quietly build another board and discreetly patch in a command so that the old board doesn’t do things like disconnect portals anymore, but just connects them to the new board, another little thing that we will have to find.”
“That is a lot of speculation, Rolin,” Erlan said. “Do you have anything to back that up?”
“Adiun made off with all the Portal Service’s operating materials except for whatever was used to restore the portals, which was handed out to the various fae and whatever Lower City denizens that Adiun had hired. Almost nothing works faster than kids playing a game and the game was, “Restore the portals,” which they did, doing the entire Lower and Cloud Cities by the end of the Conclave that day, while we had monsters on the streets. Once they were done with that, they moved on to restoring all the portals, handing the portals right to Adiun and Mage Wyrran.”
“We could demand that the Portal Service be returned,” the Darkmage said.
“That would have worked if you hadn’t murdered the Director. Right now, Adiun is legitimately able to point to that and say that in light of the threats to a vital service to the Empire and your interference, the steps that he took were appropriate and necessary. That is if Adiun was here to talk to.”
“We could demand that House Beinan be called into account.”
“House Bienan was not operating the Portal Service, nor were they in charge of it. Legally, as far as the House is concerned, they know knothing of Adiun’s actions, the same way that legally, we did not know of Paeris’s raid on Exchange street or are responsible for his actions.”
“That reminds me,” Erlan said. “There should have been a wine delivery from the Retreat recently. Did Narbeth say anything about it to you?”
“No, he didn’t. There was something in the wine cases, wasn’t there?”
“The ledgers that Paeris took, along with the paper.”
“We can check with Narbeth about that. Of course, if he and Nueleth dealt with discovering the ledgers, we probably don’t have them anymore.”
“Why not?” Stormfire asked.
“Since neither Erlan nor I gave neither Nueleth nor Narbeth any instructions about any special handling of the wine, when the ledgers were discovered, they probably arranged for them to be handed to the Justiciars as the House would be obligated to do. I will ask, but if that is what happened then I really have nobody to blame other than myself.”
“Is Great Captain Zylvyre playing games with us?”
“He does that. Of course we did agree on the return of the ledgers and the other paper, he did tell me the method of delivery and I did forget to tell Narbeth about the things that were not wine in the delivery. So, Nueleth was her usual efficient self and and handled the matter appropriately. The problem with having competent staff is that things like that do happen and something like that is far better than having my wife or Lielatha trying to manage the household by themselves.”
“I can second that,” Erlan said. “Nueleth keeps things running smoothly and separated from her husband to stay with the House. Daylor captains one of the Shahana ships now.”
“The Shahana trust him with that?”
“There is no real reason not to and he is a capable captain. He never liked the idea of the raids in any case and running timber and other cargo probably suits him fine. He has a bed warmer in Eryding.”
“Do you think that Nueleth could get eyes up into the Sanctum?” Herdir asked.
“She may actually be able to accomplish that. She maintains a better relationship with some of the former House than we do and hires them for the ladies’ things and what not. Of course my daughter has a child due soon and I should see if she needs anything. Since she lives at the Sanctum, I should see how she is. Or ask Neuleth about her and have her visit. Llorva and Nueleth get along just fine. My wife and our daughter do not, as my wife was not pleased when our daughter found somebody that my wife thought was inappropriate.”
“That was her own fault,” Rolin said. “She kept insisting that Llorva parade in and out of that House to attend her, right past all those high fae men when she was aware of her family’s history.”
“I think that we have a path forward then,” the Darkmage said. “We send the lady and some servants to look into Erlan’s daughter and then we discuss what we find with the Great Captain. He can take the boy and we can free the source and perhaps the Well at the same time. When things are prepared, we can draw on the source here. I will recover the thing from the Empty Lands and start the next part of the project. I think that we have a path forward.”
Shaerra frowned as Elre entered the parlor. “The staff tells me that certain things that I have provided for my entertainments are no longer available. Would you look into that?”
“I don’t have to. Justiciar’s Dawkins’ people have developed the habit of finding those things and certain things are shutting down before they get shut down. Also, obtaining things like exotic meats and playtoys in the Lower City has become impossible after the actions of Lord Richflight and The Office of Investigations has been shutting those down as well.”
“I thought that you had a chat with the man?”
“I had, and I thought he had backed off on the Clear providers. He had, only to start in on other intoxicants and the rest of it.”
“If a direct approach didn’t work, perhaps I should have a chat with his wife. Arrange that, if you please.”
“I could ask nicely, but she has stayed away from the palace and I do not think that you want to take the risk of a formal invitation and the consequences of that. She is the wife of one Justiciar and the daughter of another, after all.”
“I agree that a formal invitation is probably not possible at present with my son keeping an eye on me and Itireae looking for any excuse to get me thrown out of here permanently. Handle it discreetly. Do not hurt the lady. We do not want to have the Justiciars looking into us at present. Handle this yourself to make sure that it is handled properly.”
“Very well.”
Narbeth looked at Galan and said, “What has you all in grins.”
“That toad Elre Wynjeon is about to do something very stupid.”
“What makes you think that?”
“He was seen attending your mother and then leaving, not looking happy at all. Lately he has been looking into what Gander has been doing with very little success and rather poorly as Gander has been poking at the Dowager Empress by shutting down some rather ugly things and doing a lot of clean up. Somebody must have given him a list and he is using it. A lot of sick debauchery is going to be far more difficult.”
“Do you think that Wynjeon is going after the Justiciar?”
“No, but if your mother fits her usual pattern, she probably wants one of her chats with the Justiciar’s wife about certain things, social climbing and paying certain respects.”
“Wynjeon has done that before for mother. Why do you think that he will not succeed this time?”
“My cousin has a kid in that school there in the Lower City. Mrs. Dawkins teaches a class there for kids on how to deal with certain things. She learned those things from her mother, who before she married Traelion, was known in certain circles as the Dancer. Mrs. Dawkins also trains the guard down there in the Lower City to do something that the Inquisition is better off not knowing about and that the guard did to the Darkmage’s things recently. All in all, even without pissing off Gander, pushing Mrs. Dawkins is not going to end well. If Wynjeon knew about those things, he would have told your mother flat out that messing with Mrs.Dawkins is stupid.”
Richard looked at Gander as they walked together after the morning session and said, “Did you increase the protection on your wife? Things are about to get uglier.”
“No, I haven’t, and a certain individual is about to learn why I am not too concerned about Alissa.”
“Why not?”
“Alissa’s mother’s maiden name is Elstina. Vesstan is her brother. Traelion was actually a contract, which made their romance rather fun.”
Richard laughed. “Traelion married the woman who was trying to kill him?”
“That was the only way he could get her to back off. It worked. But Axilya made sure that Alissa was competent in certain things.”
“That is interesting, especially if the Dowager Empress doesn’t know about that.”
“It isn’t that big a secret and there was a minor scandal over it, which is one reason that Traelion lives in the Lower City. The Dowager Empress has probably not been paying attention to the acvtivities of the Justiciars and we were not about to come out and tell her how we were operating. I just hope that Alissa doesn’t go overboard in making her point and that she doesn’t leave too much blood on the floor.”
“I’m just glad that this is over.”
“Actually we will have to reconvene after the supressors shutdown and clean house on the council. I suspect that with some exceptions, Glynnii and the Dowager Empress are going to get their choices.”
“I know, which means we may have that Jackass Nerihorn in the Exchequer and some other choice picks. I’m hoping that we can have Cohnal for interior and Kellan as your boss.”
“That would not be as blatant as Kelvahn.”
“I know. Kelvahn would probably not fly and if he did, that would put you in the hot seat at the Justiciars.”
“You have the largest responsibility and a stream of successes, so you are the obvious pick and the most recently visible.”
“That is quite a jump for me.”
“Just watch out for my nephew.”
“Why would I need to do that?”
“He wants to join the Justiciars for some crazy reason. I told Elenaril about him and I don’t think that she took me seriously. I’m not sure that I took Bill seriously at first. If he shows up, we will know.”
Gander started to laugh. “At least Paeris Zylvyre’s free cruise to the Empire has gone out of business.”
“Yes, it has. That is a good thing for a variety of reason, though your grandmother is probably unhappy about it, since sending the spies will have to come out of her budget from now on. So, why don’t we get together about the Council picks that we want? I wish that we could more or less go with the Council we had, but it is traditional to replace the Council when a new Emperor is crowned.”
“I wouldn’t know. Look at it this way, it could be your mother and my grandmother making the choices.”
“Who knows that they are not? Dad hasn’t mentioned it, but mother is an expert at pulling strings and if the small portals were working, she and your grandmother would be. Let’s pick up our tails and go to lunch.”
“Not very good, are they.”
The Lower City.
Lymseia grinned across the little table behind the shelves of bread in the bakery at the elven lady across from her. “Alissa, it was good of you to stop in for tea this afternoon, even if your children were sent away.”
“Gander’s grandmother gave me this recipe for muffins and it worked for me, so I thought that I would pass it on to you.”
“Are you really planning to move up to the Cloud City?”
“That is Gander playing. After he couldn’t get the attention of the people he wanted, because they didn’t figure out who you were and why Gander kept going to a certain apothecary and seemingly was just buying hard candy for the kids, he had to step up the game.”
“He didn’t visit me at the establishment. I was expecting him to. I had to turn down quite a few propositions that would have been profitable.”
“I don’t think that he wanted to be that obvious. Also, he obtained that list from Paeris and Amarille and Itireae had hinted that making a statement about certain things would be a good thing.”
A rather well muscled flour covered young man poked his nose in and said, “Grandmother, the creeps are back.”
“Which ones?”
“Elre Wynjeon’s idiots.”
“I suspect that they are here for you, Allissa,” Lymseia said with a grin. “Shaerra probably wants to extend the kind of invitation that is impossible to refuse. Do you want an escort home?”
“Yes, but not close, immediately. I’ve been good recently and apparently Elf Wynjeon wants to dance. Clay, have your little brother go to the guard station and get some guards here to make an arrest. I want Elre, Clay. You and the boys can have the rest. Run them off if you can once Elre makes his move.”
“You aren’t going to kill him, are you?” Lymseia asked.
“That would be going easy on him and Gander wants him anyway. I just want to make the case that playing with me on the street has consequences.” Alissa pulled what looked like a fancy hair brush out of her purse and pressed a hidden button, which caused the brush to transform to an elf slicer. “Dancer and I have not had a workout in some time. Of course I have Little Hitter here and extra cartridges.” She withdrew a rather large pistol, opened the cylinder and snapped it closed again, putting the gun back in the purse. “That should be more than enough, even if the Darkmage sends some of his things.”
“We’ll keep an eye on you anyway, Mrs. Dawkins,” Clay said. “We’re going off work anyway and we’ve frankly had enough of the high coming down in our neighborhoods and doing things like taking kids. Gander has done some good clean up last year and this year. Bertie went to Tony’s as well as the guard, so we should be covered.”
“With that I will take my leave,” Alissa said.
Alissa left the bakery with a basket filled with bread for dinner and breakfast and the tail started to follow her. She wandered a bit toward the house, walking through an empty spot that had become sort of a park when she was accosted by an elf. She looked around and there were more in the shadows. She looked at the elf and said, “What do you want, sir?”
“To exend an invitation from a great lady.”
“This is a rather rude way to do such things. Who is this great lady?”
“I think that I will leave that for you to discover.”
“Then I will be on my way and she can send a polite invitation with a messenger. I am inclined to turn it down in any case.”
“I don’t think that you have a choice.” Elre reached for her, only to grab air. He tried again and she evaded his effort seemingly without trying. The others moved forward as Alissa said, “You do know that my husband is a Justiciar.”
“We won’t bother the Justiciar with this. This is a nice peaceful chat.”
“Is it now? Five big strong elves for little me. Of course it was never just me.”
Five rather large figures covered in flour and carrying what appeared to be large wooden hammers appeared and moved to surround the elves. Alissa looked at Elre and said, “Why don’t we dance, Elf Wynjeon? You know, before you attempt to pick up random women off the street, you really should do your homework. It isn’t that great a secret who my father married and what she was famous for.”
Alissa set the basket of bread down and pulled what appeared to be a hairbrush out of her purse. The brush transformed and the blade was shiny as the elf slicer appeared. Alissa started to twirl and dance as Elre tried to grab her, just missing with cuts from the slicer. “Elf Wynjeon you are a rather poor dancer. Surely you must know the legend of the Dancer, don’t you? The only one who survived my mother’s dances was my father. Of course mother was dancing a different dance then.” The dance continued as Alissa circled around Elre. His team was motionless on the ground and Alissa said, “Esgalwathanar took Zanis out with three blows. Why don’t I see if I can do better than that?”
A panicked Elre drew his knife and Alissa laughed. “The big elf needs a knife to deal with the helpless woman.” She twirled and slashed, cutting Elre’s right arm and Elre dropped the knife and screamed in pain. Allissa tapped the side of his knee and Elre went down. “Two. That will do. I see that the guard has arrived, so I will leave you all to them. I think that I will go and have a chat with your mistress about certain proprieties. You can speak with my husband after he writes the writ for obstruction and attempted kidnapping of a member of a Justiciar’s family. Frankly, whatever the Dowager Empress wanted, doing this, here in the Lower City was just stupid. Clay, make sure that Elf Wynjeon sees a healer before he does permanent damage to his right hand. I have an appointment to keep.”
With that, Alissa picked up the basket again and headed to the house to put the bread away.
Alen arrived at the scene and asked Head Guard Grafarin Valwyn, “So what is going on here?”
“The clown over there screaming tried to have Alissa go to have a chat with a “Great Lady.””
“Did he say who?”
“No, but she must be important from what this character is saying to get us to let him go, in between screams, of course.”
“Are you asking me if we should let this character go?”
“Of course not. First of all, Alissa and Gander are friends of mine and second, this character committed a capital crime, in fact several capital crimes and third, he might go after Alissa again and get a case of the dead before Gander can talk with him, something Gander has been trying to arrange for some time. Gander has been waving his tail around and performing public services trying to get this character to bite for almost a moon now and this character has been clueless. Then he pulls this. When you get back to the Conclave, let Gander know that we have this character and let Haramara know that Alissa may be on her way to make a stink with a “Great Lady.””
“Alissa does that. I will let them know.”
House Ravathyra.
Erlan stepped into Nueleth’s office and said, “Nueleth there may have been something that I neglected to inform you about. Did the house receive a shipment of wine from Great Captain Paeris?”
“Yes we did, which was rather irregular as he was trying to smuggle those ledgers and what not that he made off with in the wine cases.”
“What did you do with those?”
“I sent them discreetly to the Justiciars. I thought that they could deal with them appropriately.”
“I should have told you to hold the material. I had planned to return it all discreetly to not arouse a panic on Exchange Street. If you handed the ledgers to the Justiciars, that should be fine. The other matter concerns my daughter.”
“Yes. Since her mother refuses to do her duty as far as those things go and it would be impolitic for me to go up to the Sanctum, would you port up there and see if Llorva needs anything? Regardless of the situation, politically, she is still my daughter and I do care about her.”
“I can port up and look into things. Even if Llorva is not at the Sanctum, Iris will be and I can get a report from her.”
“Look into my nieces and nephew as well. With things possibly dangerously unstable at present I want to make sure that they are taken care of.”
“I am sure that they are, but I will check.”
“Thank you.”
House Trahorn.
Imra Yesxalim looked at the scene and wanted to scream. The portal had been restored and her efforts to do some discreet house cleaning had been frustrated. Young Lord Niossae had returned, looking for his small Bienan horse, which he loved, even though it no longer worked properly. The horse was nowhere to be found and Imra was sure that the wayward lady Trislana’s servants had made off with it, which considering the young Lord’s attraction to the thing was only a good result. The problem was rather than Lady Trislana just admitting to her servants’obvious proclivities and sending the horse back, she had sent two rather unorthodox Junior Justiciars to plow through the estate looking for the horse. That had led to three five days of chaos and not being able to clear certain things out until the horse actually turned up in the attic of Niossae’s old playhouse. Imra Yesxalim went to the Justiciars and said, “I owe Lady Trislana an apology.”
“Actually you, don’t,” a voice said. “I am Justiciar adjunct Naexi Bryneiros. This is a formal inquiry on an Imperial investigation. . At this point all testimony cannot be shared with anyone else other than myself or another Justiciar. You will speak truth and any criminal actions that you or anyone else that are revealed to me cannot be used against you as a result of my investigation. Is that understood?”
“What do you want of me?”
“We are investigating matters that involve the production of Clear here in the past and the relationships the family had with certain individuals.”
“I can’t speak about those.”
“This is an Imperial investigation and as such, withholding information that is relevant to the case is a capital crime. You can remain silent, but that silence will not protect you if more information about your culpability and involvement should arise. On the other hand your testimony given truthfully and freely will protect you from the crimes that we are not investigating at present.”
“Are you aware who may be involved? You are playing with fire.”
“That is what we do. We have enough evidence to place you and some others in a conspiracy to commit regicide.”
Imra sat down at the table and put her head between her hands. “I should have known that this day would come at some point. What I will tell you goes under seal, correct?”
“Yes. Tom, start the crystal.”
Tom did and Imra started the story. Once she started the rest was easy and she was glad to be rid of it at last.
Jandar looked at Terry and Starflower and grinned. “I expect that you are here to relieve some pressure.”
“Yes, we are. The Darkmage lit things off.”
“Getting the company cleared of the compulsions will help, but I am more worried about the senate and the army.”
“We want to get the company cleared first. We figure that the Darkmage will take the Empire first and come here after. The problem he will have is that he didn’t make sure that he had control of the portals when he activated the suppressors and he doesn’t have the board or control. Mage Wyrran and the others are working on how the supressors are used to control people and we gave Licient the latest report. We need to keep going now that we have covered this floor.”
“Get this building clear as fast as you can and coordinate with the Dragonmaster’s people.”
Licient came in and said, “They did your office, excellent. The last thing we need is somebody trying to murder a floor of the building.”
“Contact the Aerie and Deephollow. I want anybody who works for the company that can pull the compulsions doing that, highest priority. Our places first and then the other companies. Get together with Kethrykllia and see what all those kids that were tested can do. If they can pull compulsions, send them to Bank St and the Senate. The faster we do this, the harder it will be to have some darkmage just start to take over. We have a window where the darkmages probably have not been instructed to take things over and we and the Dragonmaster can use that to our advantage.”
“I’ve already started. You are right and we probably have a fiveday before the Darkmage starts to get messages to his people. At least he doesn’t seem to know about the telegraph or telephones.”
“Yet, and we can hope that in the dark continues to be his operating mode.”
Admatius d’Dolmon looked at the end of track and grinned. All that was there was a siding, an operator’s booth and a platform that would under most circumstances, be an embarrassment to call a station. It was there, though, and Admatius’s debt to his dead brothers was paid. Admatius had planned a big ceremony for the first train, but other than some curious onlookers, the train pulled into the station, chuffing away under its cloud of smoke, unnoticed. The mail was unloaded, along with some freight bound for places inside the Empire, the locomotive ran around the train, was turned in the wye track and watered before being attached to the other end and the train prepared return to Dolmas. Solana looked across at the Empire and Admatius said, “Do you want to go over there?”
“Not really. It isn’t home anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. My home is where you are.”
“That hasn’t always been easy, considering all those construction camps.”
“You would think that they were bad places, but compared to some of the things that the high would get up to there in the Cloud City, all protected from exposure, the camps were tame, and at least in the camps, almost nobody pretended to be something that they were not. Frankly, those camps and all the people in them, all there working toward a goal, felt healthier than the Great Houses and their constant parade of nothingness. Life in the camps meant something and the Empire had lost that somehow.”
“Since there is no point in staying here, why don’t we get back onboard and rejoin our grandchildren in Dolmas.”
“I have my engineer’s hat and goggles and I am taking this back.”
“I swear, you like it as much as I do.”
“Of course I do, for some rather dirty reasons. Let me change and get the show on the road.”

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