I’m going to post the last four chapters one at a time. The next book has been a slog and doesn’t want to close things up.
The hunter has more adventures on the road.
Aeson Keanorin was preparing to leave the Conclave for lunch when he was approached by Lord Nerihorn, another elf wearing a Nerihorn tunic and a pair of Justiciars. Lord Nerihorn said, “Lord Keanorin, I am Alinar Nerihorn and this is my nephew Tathaln.”
“Where is Filverel? He has not been here at the Conclave.”
“My brother is indisposed,” Tathaln said.
“So do you want my vote for something? I might be willing to discuss it.”
“This is a bit more serious. I was apointed director of the Portal Service and the day before yesterday, some of my people discovered an illegal portal on your estate. I would like to have permission to remove it and some other things that may be there discreetly.”
“So your people were the trespassers in the reserve on my estate.”
“Yes. That was an accident and I apologize somewhat. The portal was one that had been marked as dangerous, since we lost a Portal fae there. We activated the portal, sent what we call a returner through, saw wilderness and assumed that the portal was out in an empty part of the Empire and that our fae had run into an animal that was dangerous and couldn’t Jump out. So our operations manager took a team out there to take a look and prepare the portal for removal. At that point your guardsman appeared and threw my people out. I would like your permission to remove the portal and some other things that are probably there rather discreetly.”
“If I say no?”
“Then Justiciar Wysalynn signs the writ, we go in, retrieve the portal and you are liable for the penalties incurred for stealing and tampering with a portal. Of course, you would also be responsible for whatever else we find.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The vaults, the ancient portal and some other things that my people saw are the same pattern that we and some others have seen when there were Scourge devises stored. If it were discovered that you, or somebody on your estate, knew that the devises were there and what they were, that is an Imperial capital crime. On the other hand, if we discreetly remove the devises, then you never knew about them and we have an Inquisitor that will certify that the devises were removed and disposed of.”
“The Portal Service does that?”
“Not us, the Radiation laboratory on House Qinvaris has experts that handle the devises.”
“You must know that House Qinvaris has filed a Letter of Intent against my House. This could be seen as disarming my House before a war starts.”
“I cosigned the Letter of Intent against your House because it was evident that your House was colluding with the people that had held my House in bondage with threats and extortion for centuries and had placed devises on my property that could have destroyed my estate and all my neighbors,” Alinar said. “One of those devises was stolen and went off, destroying two estates. Having those devises and knowing about it is an Imperial capital crime written into law by the Conclave.We are giving your House a way out of a rather nasty predicament and you are skating the edge of putting the axe over your head, Lord Keanorin. The fact that there may be devises on your estate was discovered by accident. I would want the things off my estate before it becomes an official matter. Several other estates have already had the devises removed, so doing that is not unusual. On the other hand, the Crown, my House and the Inquisition have an interest in seeing the devises removed and disposed of. If you insist on a writ, the Justiciars will be glad to accommodate you, but those of us behind this effort would prefer that a House not pay a price for something your ancestors may have done in a panic.
“I will also add that of the devises that have been examined so far, most of them were in fact, unlikely to function correctly. The devises are more a danger to someone that has one than they may be to the people that they plan to send them at. One final thing. My House and and the allied Houses have made a commitment that any if House that should attempt to Scourge any nation or Imperial House, the House that attempted to launch a Scourge devise will be destroyed. That includes retaliation in kind if necessary. I would think of having the devises not as being disarmed, but relieving yourself of a burden that you do not want to carry.
“As far as the Letter of Intent is concerned, our Houses had done nothing to offend your House. If there was some dispute, none of us knew about it. If you have some grievances, you have not presented them at this Conclave, the previous Conclave or the previous two Conclaves. Yet your brother undertook to carry out a plan to assasinate Lord Qinvaris and there is evidence that he did assassinate the current Lord Qinvaris’s father in law after Lord Tarranth Qinvaris gave a speech during the Conclave before last. The rules of the Conclave are there to encourage the abilty of a Seat to speak freely without concern that others will take such action against them. If you want to avoid a potential war, I would restrain your brother before he goes over the line. In any case, you can expect the Portal Service and a writ in the morning and if any devises are found, you may be held culpable. Of course your brother may have gotten himself in difficulties by that point.”
Horse Post Road 23.
When he reached the post road, the Hunter dismounted to rest his horse and walked slowly down the road, horse trailing along behind him. Suddenly he was at the entrance to the old estate and Old Ayred Xilzana, dead for a very long time, said, “You have arrived milord, at last. Your sister awaits. Let me take care of your horse.”
He went in the estate house as it was long ago and his long dead sister, Lura said, “Welcome, Feredir. You have joined us at last. Come, join the party.”
His sister led him inside and there, were the dead left behinds of his hunts, all gathered together. He turned to Lura and said, “What is going on here?”
“We are going on, now that you have joined us. You kept links to us and kept us here for far too long because you couldn’t let us go. So we were waiting for you.”
He moved through the party to the table and something shimmered as his harness touched it. He then realized what this was, pulled out Cutter and sliced at his sister. The glamor fell away, except for his sister, who said, “You can’t kill me twice, brother.”
“I didn’t kill you at all. You took your own life.”
“Brother, have you learned nothing in the life you have had. You killed Fireflower, my bonded, when he came to the estate.”
“He was a fae, a worthless fae.”
“He was my bond, my life. You took that, and my future. Almost a century and you never understood. And all those others, all those futures you snuffed out, many of them helpless. Well, you cannot hurt me any longer, nor can you hurt them. Good bye, brother.”
Lura disappeared. Feredir was left with the horse, standing there in the rain. He mounted and continued up the road. The rain perfectly suited his mood as he rode at a walk in the mist and the fog.
Fireoak watched the Hunter leave and retrieved the house ring and the crystal that had recorded the trap. Tarranth joined him and said, “That second layer, tripped by cutting the first layer with iron was clever.”
“I learned that on my bench down in Racketgarde. My cousins are very good at pranks and we all learned some things. Your great grandfather was right about the fact that there was some guilt still there. Apparently he never understood what killing his sister’s bonded did to her.”
“Let’s get out of the rain. He’s still a good distance from the estate.”
“That’s going to be fun. I have a surprise coming at the bridge.”
“Why at the bridge?”
“You’ll see. Charlie and I were playing around with low power Projectors and you actually provided some info we needed.”
“What do you mean?”
“How to massage the effect of resonance on a Projector. It turns out that you can do interesting things if you use low power and the effect might be disarming.”
“What have you done?”
Isarrel looked at Tanyl and said, “You have come out of hiding, Tanyl.”
“I was forced to by circumstances. Circumstances that you created. Do you have any idea what is about to fall on House Keanorin, on all our Houses?”
“I guess that no one has told you about the Letter of Intent written by House Qinvaris and the allied Houses.”
“I was told about the document, yes. I imagine that the House will defend itself.”
“House Keanorin is going to be destroyed by the day after the crazy man attacks House Qinvaris. House Qinvaris is moving large military machines the House obtained from someplace into position as we speak. His aircraft have been flying over all the Houses in the Project and defenses are under construction in Innshys to prevent a counterattack.”
“There are surprises at House Keanorin.”
“I would say that there were surprises. Were you so foolish to believe that it would be that easy? Send a madman out and have him kill a family?”
“That has worked in the past as, I admit, a rather extreme solution. I felt that House Qinvaris had gained too much power and influence too quickly and needed to be culled.”
“What did the guild say when you, or more likely, the late unlamented Aunt Shaerra requested a contract?”
“They refused the contract.”
“That isn’t a surprise. Lady Qinvaris was more than a little put out after the last little visit the guild paid to House Qinvaris and recruited and trained people to play the same sort of games that the guild does. I understand that they are very good at it.”
“So are House Keanorin’s boys.”
“That doesn’t make things better, because if Lord Qinvaris knows that the House itself is involved, House Keanorin is dead and so are all the other Houses that you led into the Project my uncle wanted the family involved in. I am going to talk to father, but you can expect House Ravathyra’s withdrawl from the Project, full disclosure and alliance with House Qinvaris going forward. The house is not going to commit suicide. I, as heir, will not allow it. Good day, aunt.”
Tanyl left the rather shocked Isarrel sitting in her chair. If House Ravathyra was withdrawing from the Project at this point, the Project would collapse. She would have to make arrangements for the Hunter to deal with Tanyl when he completed his present task.
Horse Post Road 23.
The Hunter looked at the bridge and the creek high from the rain and was forced to risk the potential trap. He started to cross the wooden bridge covered to protect it and provide a place for travelers to get out of the rain. As he neared the midpoint of the crossing, he began to feel a bit warm. As he drew closer to the other side of the creek, his clothes started to steam and then he smelled the smell of scorched leather. He quickly took off his coat and on his harness all his steel weapons were red hot. Pulling gingerly he drew them out and threw the weapons toward the other side of the bridge where they sizzled and started to scorch the bridge a bit. Having rid of himself of all his steel, he managed to cross the bridge. He picked up Cutter, but the other weapons were too hot to pick up and he heard the distant sounds of more riders approaching. With a bit of a chagrin, he went onward.
Tarranth looked at the rather bedraggled figure and said, “I wonder why he doesn’t use portals?”
“What do you mean?” Cory said. “He probably doesn’t use portals because he doesn’t want to be tracked by the Portal Service the same way that Paeris didn’t use portals.”
“Paeris would have used portals in an emergency, if he knew that there was nobody after him or to achieve what he wanted. This character hasn’t used portals once, even when using portals would have helped him.”
“He didn’t want to be tracked.”
“He should know at this point that we are all over him and he is being tracked. Using portals, especially if he lifted somebody’s key down in the Lower City would have helped him. If he lifted the key and hid the body, he would be free and clear for a while. This character kills people and is going after dad, yet he hasn’t taken advantage of something that should be a given.”
“Good point. Do you have some ideas?”
“Yes and let’s all get back to the estate. I think at some point he’s going to be using a portal even if he doesn’t want to. I just had an idea on how to finish this and where. We need to work fast and talk to Wyrran, Adiun and Jorge, but I think we can get what dad wants.”
“We were already planning to use portals.”
“I know, but knowing that he will try to avoid them means that we will have to change things up.”
Erlan looked at his nephew “Where have you been? How did you survive? Do you know what your father’s been going through?”
“I imagine that he was rather distraught that I didn’t manage to evade the deaths that he was sending my crews into. At least I can’t be branded a coward. In a way I wish that I could join my crew in their deaths, but chance has let me survive.”
“Where were you?”
“I think that I will keep that a secret, for my wife’s sake, as well as my son’s. Frankly I was happy to let you, my father and my other uncle bumble your way into failure, but circumstances have changed and like it or not, I am still heir to the House, what is left of it. As the sole child still remainining tied to the House, that makes the House my responsibilty and the current circumstances necessitate my taking some actions that I was hoping to avoid, to wit, taking over all House functions and finances. I’m sorry, but I can’t let the House commit suicide.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you sent someone out to look around the Empire at what is happening?”
“Camus is out poking around. He should be back soon.”
“I don’t think you can wait. In any case, effective immediately House Ravathyra is severing all relations with House Petris, House Keanorin and any other Houses that have any involvement in the so called Project as long as those Houses are connected to the Project. All house activities involved in the Project are to be terminated and all related documents and materials are to be turned over to the Emperor’s office or the Justiciars as soon as can be arranged. Any accounts related to people that may be concerned with the Project are to be frozen. Also the House is to declare alliance with House Qinvaris and the Allied Houses against the Project.”
“If we refuse?”
“Then I declare secession and the House dies without an heir.”
“We could lock you up, now that you have returned.”
“Then you will never see my wife or my son again. For that matter, I’m not that easy to lock up and I have friends that you don’t know about.”
“So you believe that war talk that Richard spouted.”
“Uncle, you really should spend some time out of the city. Then you might actually see that it wasn’t talk. There are House Qinvaris troops moving right now to attack positions near House Keanorin and you probably have noticed that House Qinvaris owns our paper as well as House Keanorin’s. There is a very limited amount of time to save the House and we are wasting it right now.”
Thalia came in and said “I see that you are alive, Tanyl. Where is my grandson.”
“I am happy to see you too, mother. As for Rolin, we were just discussing that. I am asking for some rather dramatic changes in the House’s postures immediately.”
“To save the House from destruction. Lord Qinvaris and the machinations of Aunt Isarrel have put the House in jeopardy.”
“Are you talking about that silly thing that Richard sent to House Keanorin? That’s just talk.”
“Actually, it isn’t. House Qinvaris has been moving war machines, Projectors and troops all over the Empire. I’ve seen some of it. I imagine that the House could start some sort of troop call up, but most of the House’s soldiers work for our enemies or in the Republic, for other people, along with the House’s sailors and my fellow Great Captains. The House no longer has a port of significance or a fleet, I’m not sure what the revenue sources look like, but I don’t think that the house has the resources to fight a bunch of school children, let alone House Qinvaris. I suppose that the House could hire Orcish mercenaries, except that the House probably couldn’t afford them, they would have to go through the Mortal Kingdoms to get here and I doubt that any of them would allow troop movements that would injure the House that made sacrifices to save their countries from starvation. In any case, they wouldn’t get here before things were over at this point.
“Since the future of the House is the heir’s responsibility, something I admit that I have been neglecting for a bit of an island vacation, I am taking the House on a different course. I just explained to Uncle Erlan here what needs to happen and why. As heir, I am not going to let the House go down with an idiot. Aunt Isarrel was leading the House on a path that will lead to suicide and as heir, I can’t allow that. Uncle Erlan, if you are not going to start work on the things that are required, I will sever my connection to the House and you all can go to your dooms. I will let all House businesses know that as heir, I am taking over and I will tell them that going forward all decisions related to the business go through me. I will also tell my wife that she and Rolin are to take the actions that we planned as a contingency. I need to move on to other things and find Paeris, so I will return later for your decision.”
Tanyl left and Thalia turned on Erlan. “What does he want, and where was he?”
“He wants the House to sever relations with the other Houses connected to the Project, for us to turn over everthing related to the Project to the Emperor and create an alliance with House Qinvaris in opposition to the Project. I don’t know where he has been or where Tinesi and Rolin are.”
“That’s ludicrous. Richard was just posturing to get House Keanorin to give some things up that he wants.”
“Tanyl doesn’t seem to think so and Camus hasn’t returned, so there may be something to that.”
“Let me get Melaris. Richard is probably violating the Proscriptions.”
“If the Scourge is somehow involved, and it very may well be, Richard has permission to take what actions he needs to. In any case, I don’t think that Richard cares very much about the Inquisition.”
“What does Richard care about? He needs to be stopped.”
“Protecting his family, House and people. The very things that have been under attack. So we are in a position of poking him in exactly the wrong place.”
House Qinvaris Estate
The Hunter had finally reached the estate house. In the distance, he could see the estate marked on the map, dark and surrounded by trees, with the sign, “Qinvaris Farm offices, Eastern region and Market, Qinvaris Agricultural Laboratory” pointing to the dark estate. On the other hand, the estate pointed out by the obnoxious pair was full of light in the growing darkness and a parade of sedan chairs and small carriages were going from the portal to the house. Something was going on, just like the pair had described. The problem is that if the Qinvaris were all here, they would hardly be retreating in chaos under the stress of an assault and he had no plans or information about this house at all, so he would be going in blind. On the other hand, he was sure that if he retreated to plan, he would never get the chance to complete his task and win his hard won award. With that in mind, he moved closer in, looking for a way to infiltrate. Using skills well honed, he moved past the outer guards and around to the back of the house. A cook or servant from the presumably hot kitchens was sitting by an open window and after a time, was called away to a task, leaving the window open.
Seizing the opportunity, the hunter was though the window and into a dark storeroom. He stepped quietly to the door on the other side of the room ringed by a crack of light and slightly open. He could hear voices as men left the room, apparently too join the party in the house and looked into the empty room. There was a map on the table with pins with little flags on them. He looked at the map and it was a map of the Empire with his House’s properties marked on it and what were apparently military units marked by the pins. There were also smaller maps of the important estates and a plan of the House with assault points marked on it. Obviously an attack was being planned on his House by House Qinvaris. That made his task all the more urgent. He heard voices and returned to the storeroom, only it wasn’t the storeroom. He had been tricked into using a portal. He turned around and there was no exit portal. He looked around and he was in the familiar environs of his House in his own room, which was empty except the bed and a wardrobe. His niece came into the room and said, “Good, you are up, uncle.”
“Where are my things?”
“What things? There has never been anything here. At least no trophies. You told me that you prefer the discovery than the treasures and that your reward is in the pictures you take and the discoveries you share. Those are in all sorts of places. It is time for you to go to the Lower City Library where you are presenting your latest discoveries, the ancient ruins of the north and what you found there.”
This was the childhood dream come to life, the desire to probe the ancient ruins and discover the skills lost, the dream that had been belittled and crushed by his father. The things that his father had thought useless because they could not aid the Project until he had discovered the Scourge devises on the neighboring estate, only after the tragedy of his sister’s death. He looked at his niece and said, “This isn’t real.”
“How could it not be? Don’t talk like that. Now, you have to eat your breakfast before Fire picks you up in the Jumper and you meet with Lord Beinan before your presentation. He admires your work so much.”
“Lord Qinvaris is going to attack the estate.”
“Why would the Qinvaris attack the estate? There is no reason for them to. They are our friends, and appreciate your work. Come.”
Feredir looked out a large window and the Cloud City had become amazing with structures like those on the slip in a tablet that he discovered and still hid in his room, a slip of the Empire of old, with the great things that elves had done. He knew it was all a lie, another glamor, but he didn’t think that he wanted to leave. It was with deep regret that he slipped Cutter out and sliced a doorframe. The glamor disappeared, leaving a dark empty house. The vision was gone. The bed was still there and since there was nothing he could do in the dark and the rain, he collapsed.