Mysteries of The Hidden Estate, Chapter 21-22

An astromoner captures something on film. The people at the estate get some bad news.

Chapter 21.

Beltain University Observatory.

Alre Ironaxe looked at the object pictured on the glass plate and grinned. The plate was the result of moons of hard work with the 24 inch telescope that had been neglected in the observatory and rebuilding the mount so that it could track the small moons that had plagued the astronomers since the observatory had been built and had stirred debate as to whether the objects were artificial or natural moons. The object in the plate, still rather blurry, was obviously artificial. Alre, full of the glow of his success, started to make a last print of the plate. Once the print was set and dried, the plate filed and everything put away, he took the print to his advisor and said, “Professor, I caught it.”

Roger Graymace, who had been chasing the pesky streaks for his entire career and been laughed at for most of the time, said, “natural or artificial.”
“Definitely artificial. Here, see for yourself. The albedo is far too high for a natural object and there are too many surfaces that have flat faces and regular corners. This is a large cylinder with things attached.” Ironaxe handed the picture to his advisor. “Here’s the picture I took last night.”

Graymace looked at it. “That is fairly conclusive. Very good work. This should get you your parchment without any problems. Now, to get the tracks of the others. May I keep this print?”
“Yes. I made several prints this morning and have secured the plate.”

“Excellent. Some people will be interested in your work.”

“This will validate some things that were in the papers recently. I think that I will send a print to that dragon who was doing that series on ancient Imperial things.”
“I suspect that making a connection with dragon Flamefire would be a good thing. We gutter scientists have to make a splash now and then.”
The Island.

The Darkmage looked at the packet that he had received through the small portal from his spy and smiled. There was a newspaper article and pictures that the spy had taken of the conflagration and death that the devise sent through had caused. He picked up the packet and went to Herdir’s quarters. “The devise worked.”
Herdir looked at his father and said, “How do you know, father?”
“My spy in the Republic sent the newspapers and some pictures. The effects of the devise were all that we could have hoped for. Prepare the portal. We will strike. Then we can leave this place.”

“And go where, father? We have lost all our sanctuaries and you are the most hunted man in the world right now.”

“There is a place. Now that we can ruin the Blasted Lands, the stain of failure will be removed.”

 Jorge grinned at Jorge, handed him the message and said, “They are going right down the list in the order that you programmed it.”
“They hit the university district as a test. Nobody has said anything about more of them.”

“The Office of Inanimates set up with the Darkmage’s spy to send a fake newspaper and some pictures through. Chatsrey has a hundred thousand dead and fierce fires doing great damage to the city because the firefighters die when they try to enter the dead zone. That tablet you found in Ishendell was very useful in setting that up so that it was realistic. They’ve already started the movie.”

“I’ve been lucky and none of those characters have found me yet.”
“I would be careful, Jorge. You have made quite a legend for yourself already, flying over armies and dropping bombs on the kitchens, crashing planes at Grimfrost and sending bears at the Darkmage.”
“The airplane crash was the army’s fault and Snuggles was her brother’s idea.”
“You’ve also dropped into Ishendell and all the things you’ve done since. You will catch somebody’s eye all too soon and be asked to tell your story. Do yourself a favor and write or dictate it yourself. That way you can keep the story the one you want to tell.”

“That sounds like the voice of experience.”
“Not mine. You can guess whose story I’m talking about.”
“The Great Captain’s. I have a feeling that the ruthless bloody sociopath pirate is more than a bit of an exaggeration. After all, he arranged for all the people he recruited and me to get out from under this thing.”

“I had to watch what he went through and that clown yesterday just had to bring all that back in an attempt to discredit me.”

“What clown was that?”
“Your turn will come. I think that I will let you discover for yourself.”

“The tribunal. So far they haven’t contacted Wyrran or Talthaln.”

“I suspect that they will want your testimony. Yours, Jimmy’s and Talissa’s if they can get it.”

“They shouldn’t need it.”
“No, they should not. On the other hand, you three were involved in what the Darkmage was doing before Ishendell and were all there at some point during the siege. Giving testimony of some kind will probably be part of your job from now on, so I would get used to it.”

“You’re taking a lot of the fun out of my job.”

“Get used to it. At least you probably won’t have to send your people to their deaths.”

“I don’t have any people.”
“Not yet, but you will, all too soon. You will be the Portal Service’s guy on the spot, with a crew behind you to do your heavy lifting and watch out for you. What you now know about how the portals work is valuable.”

“Are you saying that the Darkmage pulled me because of what I knew and not because I dropped mud on his little meeting?”
“Who are the others that know what you know?”

“Adiun, Wyrran, Kaylessa, Gracie, Nebula, Magpie and Peri, probably. Ayen Nerihorn and his dad probably know as much about the ancient portals as I do. Darkmaker knows most of it.”

“So we are talking about the Beinans, the operations director at the Portal Service, who is  a master mage, some fae who probably aren’t as good with the old portals as you are, a high elf known to be mad and his son and a former darkmage who is very wary and is in the Fellowship, surrounded by Provisional Troopers. None of the rest are as accessible as you were. I would Jump more often when you go home at night.”

“I like the walk home at night. It means that I don’t lose my connection to the Lower City.”

“The problem is that somebody with more Scourge devises will need somebody good with the old portals, not the Beinan portals, because using the Beinan portals exposes them. So you are at risk until whoever they are is shut down.”
“Do you think that there are more Scourge devises?”
“I’m not sure. We have that plant that EiMagic started and they enriched Uranium there. We found some things that said that some was extracted from the gas and metalized. The quantity of the enriched material was small, but it may be enough.  The big question is whether or not they have managed to build a transmuter.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

‘Because if they do take you again, you know what to look for. This isn’t Paeris’s little island hideaway with some ruins that nobody knows anything about. They will have to take you and secure you at their main facility at this point because the others are all revealed or taken. So they may put you right in the middle of things. Another thing. Make a habit of carrying a crystal with you. Getting pictures could be vital.”

“You are scaring me more than a bit.”
“I hope so. Snowball told me to make sure that you were scared and being careful. He doesn’t want to end up in Oceanside dragging a cart around again. Let’s go over the pictures of the place we found near EiMagic.”

“Was there a portal in the town?”
“You know, we didn’t look.”

“I think that I will check. The Eiljeon may not have known that there should be one and left it there.”

“I would talk to Peri and coordinate anything you do.”
Jorge grinned. “We could play the illegal portal gag. I will talk to Peri about that.”

“That has interesting possibilities, since there have been issues in the area with the Richflights and kidnappings.”

“There have, haven’t there? The Portal Service has been tied up and Wyrran has been on my back wanting to get the illegal portal issue resolved.”
“After the incident at the Keanorin and some others, that is perfectly understandable.”

Keerla smiled as she shepherded her happy charges through the portal and home. Quite a few of them were only going back to tell their families that they were fine and finish the arrangements they had made for various business dealings. All in all the Conclave had been a success and the various people were looking forward to the next one. Tamrissa and her stack of books for the library was bringing up the tail end with a crew to handle her rather large cartload and accompanied by Aired Phivre and Tarron Joran, who were paying a visit to the library with some younglings from the archives and Tarron’s sons helping with the books. Lissia walked up and said, “That looks like a success. Keerla, this is Stacey Tollings, Jorge’s brother. She is here to help mother with the wedding.”

“Are you here to shop? If you want, you can join my crowd.”
“Why don’t we, Stacey? I wasn’t going to subject you to the lines but the Sanctuary is a wonderful place to visit.”

“I’ve heard stories,” Stacey said. “Shall we go? It looks as if the Conclave was a success for you all.”

“Yes it was,” Keerla said. “We met so many new people and did very well from the business. The Conclave was a surprise as so many people came from all over the place.” She looked at the Portal Service portal and said, “Uh oh.”

“What is it?” Lissia said, looking in the same direction. Then she looked again and said, “Stacey, we will want to port through as fast as we can.”


“I think that the Imperial grandchildren and their many friends got loose again. They will want to tie on to Keerla’s port before their minders catch up with them. Too late, here they are. Hello menaces.”

“Hello Lissia,” Prince Airden said. “Keerla, we are taking these kids to the Sanctuary and I was wondering if we could share your port?”
Keerla looked rather skeptically at the kids and said, “Where are your minders, prince?”

“The guard is all busy helping with tearing down the Conclave and since we know the guards at the Sanctuary already, grandmother said that we could go there.”

“All right, but, I will be talking to your grandmother if somebody comes chasing after you. Take this bunch and go ahead.”

The kids lined up and Stacey said quietly, “Should the Empress let the kids loose like that?”

“This was probably the safest option,” Lissia whispered back. “As the prince said, it is not as if they are unknown at the Sanctuary and the Sanctuary is fairly safe. There are a couple of Justiciar kids in the crowd as well.”

“Justiciciar kids? That sounds ridiculous.”

“It does until you see them work. They can all do things that most people wouldn’t expect and become essentially invisible. The kids are a mix of slave and family that do various things like handle messages and do the occasional bit of spying.”

“How did you know that they were in the crowd?”
“They were collared, but not acting like a slave. The collars have some special features. I think that it is our turn.”

“Yes it is,” Keerla said.

As the car pulled up to the hotel, Spitty said, “This place is booming.”

“How can you tell?” Orik asked.

“Everything is new or rebuilt. What’s going on here?”
“We’ll take you around after our chat,” Roger said. “What’s happened here is rather amazing and I was here for most of it. Would you believe that it started with candy?”
“Yes, candy, along with the supressors needing to be stopped, a mana source drained and an old portal used to do that.”

“That sounds like some crazy Beinan thing. At least they got the suppressors shut down.”

“Let’s go inside while I tell you the story.”

They went inside the hotel and there were some people waiting for them. Roger introduced Dessielle, Peri, Terry and Starflower. Spitty looked at the four and said, “What is this about?”
“Weddings,” Dessielle said. “I have to pull a caper off or I will not be able to draw on the pool for my wedding.”

“Should you be saying that with these here?” Spitty said. “After all, they are both cops.”

“We are not in their jurisdiction at present, so there is no problem.”

“What did you want me for?”
“My Uncle Jandar will not admit that he has certain connections, though I am sure that he does, Andy doesn’t want to get involved and Terry doesn’t have the connections that we might need.”

“Who’s Andy?”
“Andy Lion. I know his brother, but that doesn’t help me in the Fellowship and since the family was struck there, I can’t use Tony’s people. Andy doesn’t want to get involved in my family’s feud, something that I can’t really blame him for. My dad didn’t want to be involved either until it was apparent that the Eiljeon were hitting the business.”

“Why should I get involved with your caper?”
“First of all, you would be giving the Eiljeon a bloody nose. Second, my aunt is now working for your uncle and has wedding plans as well. If we tie you up, your uncle can’t. Third, this should be fun.”

“You don’t look to be the kind of people to pull things off.”
“Looks can be deceiving and I grew up in the Lower City. My dad is goody two shoes, but mom ended up on the Ravathrya boat for reasons, even if her brother works for the justice department. He told me stories that mother didn’t and some cousins have told me more. In any case, I have to establish myself in the family and that means that I have to demonstrate that I can hold my own.”
“So what’s the caper?”

“The library at the Beinan facilty in Fayspire was wrecked as part of the fire. We want to make off with the library at the EiMagic facility in Fayspire.”

“I don’t know Fayspire or the EiMagic joint there.”
“You don’t have to,” Terry said. “We have that handled. We want you to help with the Zirgoccol end.”

“What are you doing there?”
“Ayre Elijeon is going to lose some paper. I can help get in, but we need somebody good at extraction to pull something out when we are done.”


“Are you in?”

“I’m going to hate myself, but I’m in. Orik, why are you in on this?”
“Spitty, you know your uncle. He wouldn’t be involved, even for a feud between two important businesses. On the other hand, there are things that we all want to know where the Eiljeon are concerned and if I’m busting you again for a petty break in and recovering some things lifted, the Eiljeon won’t notice the other game being played.”

“What if we are caught inside?”
“All of us will have perfectly legitimate reasons to be there, thanks to the
Eiljeon being cheapskates, my brother making an offer and a vendor change” Terry said. “Of course, the Eiljeon contracted out the vending machines and it wasn’t hard for my brother to buy the contract.”

“Tell me more.”

Terry did and Spitty began to smile.

Chapter 22.

 The Refuge.

Mórsairon looked at the claims that his brother had sent and the report from the Eyes that Varitan had sent. Dúrgúl had sent reports of a Chatsrey in flames and hundreds of thousands dead from the Scourge. The Eyes told a different story, as none of the target areas showed any damage at all. Apparently the youngling that Dúrgúl had forced to set up the ports had played games or the devises had all failed. It was apparent that somebody in the Republic had subverted Dúrgúl’s spy and was feeding Dúrgúl falsehoods at his hidden base. Varitan’s report also had some rather troubling things. At least the Eyes gave Mórsairon a true picture of what was actually going on.

The Hidden Estate

Varitan was looking at a rather dramatic set of pictures when his brother came in. “That tears it.”
“That idiot Dúrgúl murdered the Grand Master.”

“So? He was going to have to be removed at some point.”

“Not out in the open. You haven’t been out in the world, brother. There are very few people who are respected and liked all over the world and the Grand Master was probably the most well liked person in the world. Even those who would be his worst enemies respected the mage. Dúrgúl, and anybdy connected with what he was doing are going to be hunted so that they can be turned over to the Mage Academy. The Academy could get a Guild contract on all of us and the Guild wouldn’t charge for it. Dúrgúl has managed to put all our heads in a noose if we are in any way connected and I, at least, am definitely known to be connected.”

“We need to talk to mother. Before we do, what do you make of these?” Varitan handed the pictures to his brother. Sinaht looked at them and said, “Are these all the same place?”
“Yes. Two years or so, it was trees and a ruin. Lady Zylvyre’s house was nearby, which is why I had the Eyes looking into it. There was this road here, going to the salt flats and the railroad in the Fellowship, and there was some caravan and wagon traffic back and forth from the Fellowship to the canal over here. It was that way for the last fifteen years or so. Then there was an army camp next to the old Imperial road. Suddenly the trees were all cut, a new road put in, fields cleared and planted very quickly and the town starting to be repaired. Then suddenly the town has all sorts of new construction, the road is widened and even more roads added. There were large machines harvesting the fields and apparently significant road traffic, into the Empire.”

“Brother, for perfectly valid reasons, I have stayed away from that area of the Empire and the Empty Lands. Herdir or Dúrgúl would be the people to ask, that is, if we could communicate. We can send somebody to look and probably should, if you are so concerned.”

“If nothing else, there must be quite a bit of business going on there. New business, that we were not aware of.”

“We should naturally look into that. I can’t do that because I am probably known and connected to both the death of the Orcenchief and Dúrgúl’s idiocy. Let us discuss this with mother.”  

Phinara Omayarus had ruled her home here since her arrival half a century before when the Dowager Empress had arranged for her and her husband to take over. Her husband had been sent to the fire twenty years previously as a result of an accident with a horse and Phinara had directed the affairs in the castle ever since. She was attending to the planting in her office when her sons came in. She looked at them and said, “You look as if the world was going to end.”
“It may have, for me anyway, mother,” Sinaht said.

“What happened?”

“That idiot Dúrgúl murdered the Grand Master.”

“After the mess he has already made of things, I’m not sure how that changes things.”

“It essentially means that Dúrgúl and everybody connected with what he was doing is going to be looked for and I attended the Project meeting. That means that our opponents know who I am.”
“Did they track you here?”
“No, they did not. At least I didn’t see them looking for me.”

“You are here in any case, and we watch the road, so you are safe. Your sons and some others should have their time outside in any case. Is there anything else?”

“I verified some things in the report,” Varitan said. “At least I think that I did. These pictures were taken by the Eyes over the fifteen years or so. I was looking into Amarille Zylvyre and seeing what she may have been up to, but by and large there was nothing that changed until the canal was built. Then there was some wagon traffic back and forth to the Fellowship from the canal, and about two years ago, a encampment that was up for a brief time and then disappeared and then the land was cleared, the ruined town was rebuilt, a new road to the Fellowship put in and in the last few moons, there has been what appears to be a large market, a lot of traffic in and out of the Empire and new construction. Something caused the town to grow dramatically.”

“If your eyes in the sky have failed you, send somebody to look. Sinaht, did you see this town or similar things?”
“Similar things, yes. The area that Varitan is discussing, no, as it was part of the Empty Lands.”

“Why was it cleared then?”
“According to Isarrel, some members of House Ravathrya split off, including Amarille and reformed House Zylvyre. That part of the Empty Lands was Zylvyre land and House Qinvaris probably leased the land as part of their preparations for dealing with the Blight.”

“Did Isarrel or Dúrgúl explain why the Blight was discovered before it was launched?”
“No, they did not. It was apparent that Lord Qinvaris knew what the Blight was and what to look for when it was going to be launched. Various forces unknown smashed the culture factories and the Order just a bit late. House Qinvaris brought in large machines to harvest the grain and harvested faster than the Blight could spread and took measures to prevent the Blight from being launched. The area that was most severely struck by the Blight was Astaire.”

“I was aware that there was some hardship last year. That was the Blight?”

“Yes. Apparently some of the Brothers from the Order returned, found the Order smashed and went on a rampage, launching the Blight in the Mortal Kingdoms. I discovered that and the fact that Lord Qinvaris came and saved the Mortal Kingdoms with the Emperor, who was murdered by darkmages.”

“So Shaerra controls the Empire through her son, Narbeth.”
“The Dowager Empress is dead.”
“Dead? How did that happen?”

“The Emperor had the Dowager Empress investigated by a Justiciar and he discovered all. The Dowager Empress committed suicide. That is in the report we gave you, mother.”
“So who is this Justiciar? Did Isarrel not take steps?”
“Mother, send a message to her. I was not there and if the details were not in the report, I do not have them.”
“I have been lax about maintaining communication. I will go over the report more thoroughly. It seems that our big issue is that lack of information about the situation in the outside world. Let me look at the report.”
Her sons left, Phinara started to go through the report in greater detail. She pulled her journal over and started to make notes and questions. The situation was more complicated than she had assumed. Perhaps she should ask some questions of the guests that would start to arrive soon.

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