The Five Doomed Cities, Chapter 7-8

Isarrel plays a crystal from the last meeting. Bill takes some pictures.

Chapter 7.

Lain Othrond

Dúhael looked around the crude table in the rather rough room in the inn and snarled, “I’m not sure why you insisted that we have the meeting here in the inn, Isarrel? Or why Ayre, Jorhaek, Xolag and Johel supported you.”

Isarrel put a crystal on the table and started it. Screams and shouts started along with screams of “Mud, Mud everywhere.” The crystal ended and Isarrel said, “This was the last meeting.” She held up another crystal. “I found this in the castle. It was embedded in the wall, probably by a workman working on the repairs.” She pulled out a bag and emptied a pile of microportals onto the table. “It is a good thing that Orrian is so diligent, as these were all over the city here and in the inn. Our enemies want to know what we are planning and have a great amount of resources to get what they are looking for.”

“You have made your point, Isarrel,” Mórsairon said. “Shall we get down to business? How much support do we have in the Empire?”
“Almost none. My House has abandoned the Project, the Ravathyra have abandoned the Project, as have the other Houses for various reasons. The fact that the Scourge was hauled out and there was that visible accident sucked a lot of interest in support out of the Seats and House Qinvaris and some others have pledged to go to war against any Houses that have Scourge devises or are seen as actively supporting the Project. Frankly, the Houses that had been the largest supporters have been drained more than a bit and without Shaerra and the threat of exile, the Houses would rather not get involved, that is if they are not outright hostile.”

“Could any of the Houses be persuaded to return to the cause?”

 “Dúrgúl’s perceived failures and lapses in judgment work against any attempts to restore a power base. He also put the Houses that had been part of the project at risk of Anathema and dissolution without any potential for increases in influence and power for the Houses involved. Many of the Project’s allies feel rather betrayed by Dúrgúl’s actions. His failures at Ishendell and his inability to suppress the Blasted Lands after the destruction of the Ravathyra fleet hurt the people that had supported the Project in their family status.”
“Including yourself? House Petris is no longer part of the Project.”
“After the debacles and House Qinvaris’s Letter of Intent, I was more or less exiled from the House and forced to live on the estate, yes. Apparently, while my son was still working as part of House Ravathyra, the rest of the House had formed ties to House Qinvaris, since the farm provided employment for the estate boys and fun things to do. I hadn’t been paying as close attention as I should have to the things that were happening in my own House.”
“What about House Ravathyra?”
“The heir to the House, Tanyl, has taken over after he was involved in the destruction of the fleet by his father, was stranded on an island as a Lost Child and made new friends on the island and in the Republic. He was fairly straight forward to me and the family about his determination to separate the House from the Project.”
“What brought that on?”
“I assigned the Hunter a task and that tripped Lord Qinvaris’s Letter of Intent. I was fairly sure that Lord Qinvaris was bluffing. Tanyl was sure that Lord Qinvaris was not. House Keanorin fell apart for other reasons before the bluff was called. Where is the Hunter, by the way?”

“He disappeared recently during the raid on the city,” Dúhael said. “We haven’t found the body as yet.”

“What about the Dancer?”

“Gone,” Mórsairon snarled. “I sent her against targets in the Empire, targets you requested, and her family recovered her. They were rather direct about taking her back.”

“I think that we can take it for granted that the Empire is lost to us for the time being,” Dúhael said. “We also sent out the Collector to assess the situation and as far as the prospects for the Project, the situation could not be worse. The Republic is very strong, and the suppression expeditions have failed.”
“Paeris was stabbing the expeditions, Dúrgúl and his father in the back,” Mórsairon said. “That came out during the Headbasher tribunal. He was working with Admiral Harper for a very long time, sabotaging the raids in exchange for access to Racketgarde for his side business. Xolag, do you have a feel for the Champion that the Orcenchief has emplaced?”

“I haven’t met the orc, that is if you can call a half dwarf abomination an orc, as yet. My nephews like him, but they are clan traitors in any case.”

“What did they do?”
“They arranged to turn over the Scourge devises that the clan was holding in trust to the Republic and Lord Qinvaris. They were able to convince most of the clan that turning the devises over was a good idea. They were also collaborating with that young portal expert and were partially responsible for the incident that Isarrel brought up.”

“What is the status for the other things?”
“There has been no active search for devises as yet. The Bloodfoots have suspected that there is a suppressor and perhaps some other things in the Orcenlands for a long time, but since they were exiled, they do not have much influence and can’t poke into things too deeply.”

“Do they have any influence with the Champion?”
“That I do not know.”

“How susceptible to compulsions would the Champion and his staff be?”
“I wouldn’t know.”

“Ok, I have to report that the situation here is grave as well. The raid hurt the town and even worse, the town is short of funds and has debts that are a heavy burden. I also cannot use scrip in the city as funds as a money changer has been buying the charges with coin and then submitting them to me for payment rather than using them to pay his taxes.”
Ayre cursed. “I thought that the money changer looked familiar.”
“You know something about him?”

“I am fairly sure that he is Betrek Merryhorn, from Zirgoccol. His cousin was slightly involved in the kidnapping of that slave and the Umevan cut ties. If the slave ended up here, Betrek might be setting the city up to be tied up in a bow and handed to the Umevan to reestablish ties and work together on new projects.”

“Can you handle getting around that, Jorhaek?” Dúhael asked.

“Under normal circumstances, I could,” Jorhaek replied with a grimace. “Unfortunately the bank has suffered some reverses and our paper was purchased by an outsider who forced us to trade the bonds for stock. He owns a significant portion of the bank. I don’t think that I could arrange the kind of financing that dealing with this would require, especially as the debt would be seen as shaky in any case.”

“Who was the outsider?”
“A young elf named Tom Orivalur. Apparently the news of the reverses got around and he was able to buy the paper for “play money.”

“Taenaran Orivalur has been the House Qinvaris finance manager for the last twenty years,” Isarrel said. “The investor may be his son, acting as a front for his father and Lord Qinvaris.”

Dúhael looked around the table and said, “So we can expect a financial assault?”
“Lord Qinvaris has used those means before. He likes multiple approaches and doesn’t like to use harsher means unless there are extreme provocations involved.”

“Paeris assaulted Exchange Street.” What happened to the money, Herdir?”
“Other than the money we spent, it disappeared from the vault while 2nd Army was in the Camp. There was a portal conveniently placed near the vault by “mistake.” You can guess who was probably responsible. The money appeared later in the Exchange in the Cloud City.”

Blackfire looked around the table and asked, “Could we raid Exchange Street again?”
“Paeris had portals locked from the portal control board because I arranged that,” Herdir replied. “That allowed him to contain the situation, have a rapid exit and prevent the high guard and the army from reinforcing. We no longer have the portal control board or the access that provided. You would have to use a one way port and haul a portal with you like you did at the wedding, with the other portals all active and the High Guard porting in. The Justiciars and the High Guard have probably taken steps.”

“I’ve been thinking about our circumstances and I was thinking that rather than going small, we go big,” Dúhael said. “If we do anything, we cannot ensure that our enemies will not strike. So I propose-.”

Orrian came into the room, scanner in hand, pointed it at the table and said, “There’s the bugger.” He grabbed a box of matches from the Fellowship and tore it open. Pulling the microportal out, he showed it around. “Somebody probably ported the matches in after I scanned the room. I picked up the microportal when it went active. By the way, I could hear everything you said through the scanner, so whoever sent this could as well. I will let you get back to your meeting.” He left again.

The rather shaken Dúhael said, “Isarrel, I apologize. I underestimated the lengths our enemies would go.”

“That is fine. Continue with your proposal.”

“I propose that we drop animators in Athlin, Vesticour, Semmont, Altensee and Clerves. Then we Scourge all five cities, animate as many inanimates as possible, attach Blight cultures to them and port them throughout the Empire and then Astaire and the Fellowship.”
“What about us?” Mórsairon asked. “Food could be short if we kill off so many near here.”

“I think that we can round up enough peasants to feed us once the towns are gone. We can protect them from loose Inanimates.”

“You will have to ensure that our opposition does not take action,” Isarell said. “How are you planning to do that?”
“We have Primaries and can use them to act tactically.”

“Primaries? What happened to the hidden Scourge devises?”
“They were all discovered and disabled,” Blackfire said. “The opposition probably knows approximately how many active devises and how many Primaries we have. Using them is an escalation that we can probably not afford at present.”

“Blackfire, we are heading to a collapse and eviction if things go on, if not the block. You know as well I do that the duc would love to have his chance at us.”

Mórsairon looked across the table. “You were involved with your father’s efforts, Herdir. What is your opinion of this?”
Herdir frowned. “I stated my concerns to Dúhael about his plan when he told me about it. The problem with the Scourge is that once we set the devises off, we are fully committed and our enemies will know rather quickly that we are doing something big. Also, our enemies are familiar with Inanimates and as I discovered with the Order, Lord Qinvaris probably has made preparations for things like Inanimates.”
“Has Lord Qinvaris been making preparations, Isarrel?”

“He has been doing some things differently for the harvest,” Isarrel replied. “I didn’t look too deeply into what he was doing, but I could not get staff for some storm clean up earlier this year before the harvest and my estate was harvested in three days rather than the two five days that the harvest took last year.”

“So Lord Qinvaris is harvesting faster than he did last year. That matches with Captain Ravathyra’s report concerning Lord Qinvaris purchasing more machinery.”
“Will that report be available? I would like to see it.”

“We will make the reports available, Isarrel,” Dúhael said. “I think that we want to mull over what we have heard during this meeting, so why don’t we break up for the time being.”

Ferret hated dogs. He hated terriers, especially, because they couldn’t seem to tell the difference between the rats that they were supposed to be chasing and a ferret, which is what Ferret was at the moment. As a result, he had been forced to run from the place where he had been hiding just before Dúhael had started to talk about going big. So he didn’t know what that meant. Dodging the pack of dogs chasing him, he slipped through a hole in a slightly rotted hulk that supported some of the town’s buildings. Once inside, he ran down to a hidden place next to the water and lay down to wait. It wasn’t too long before Pearl’s head popped up. The surprise was the second head with her. Pearl must have sensed him as she turned to the merman and said, “Feredir, we have a guest. Hello Ferret. Why are you in town?”
“I was recruited for a task.”
The merfolk flipped out of the water and Feredir said, “Watch out for those.”
“Ferret, this Feredir, who I seem to have bonded with and am dragging out of a dark place. Feredir, this is Ferret,  part of the local fae community. Why are you here, Ferret?”
“I am snooping on your relatives.”

“What are they doing now? Feredir, in case you haven’t already figure it out, Ferret is a spy, I think for his cousin, the duc. That is unless he has new employers.”

“I’m not going to say. As for what your relatives are planning, I was forced away before I could discover that. Dúhael was talking about “something big” and the town is having money issues. Apparently a Scion from a Fellowship banking family wants to play here because the Umevan were rather annoyed that your relatives didn’t send a boy right back home. Since I had the chance to see Jorge the Prankster in action, sending him home was the right thing to do.”

“The Umevan were partially destroyed at my hand, unfortunately and most of the rest exiled so that their estate could be taken.”
“From what I saw, the old elf goes where he wants and nobody sane is going to cross him. He had some orcs show up and took the town apart a bit.”

“Were you watching, scamp?” Pearl asked.

“Yes. The Loremaster was here and we were keeping an eye on him.” Ferret looked more closely at Feredir. “The Loremaster had a fight with you, in fact, Feredir.”
“That was the Hunter, somebody that was imposed on me. I’m not going to tell you the story of how that happened, but Pearl saved me after Taeren didn’t kill me.”

Ferret laughed. “His wife took the Animals. You mother is going to be rather upset when she finds out, Pearl.”
Pearl suddenly smiled from ear to ear. “Obviously mother didn’t get them back. What happened?”

“The Prankster had a dragon who was performing as a dancer, he was very good with locks and flew out with the collars. I gave the boy’s collar to you to sink and I have no idea where the others ended up.”
“How did the boy escape? Was it with the circus?”
“That was the greatest prank. The dragon put him to sleep, launched a balloon and an airplane took him away. Nobody here even noticed.”

“I will keep an eye on things somewhat. Uncle Dúhael may be thinking of doing something foolish.”   

The Beinan Estate.

Gracie looked at the dead crystal and sighed. The “mud” crystal had gotten around just a bit much and between Lady Petris and the fellow obsessed with tracking and disabling microportals, listening in to certain conversations was going to be more difficult. On the other hand, Jorge had introduced some new friends to the party and even though there was a suppressor in Lain Othrond, some fae were willing to risk finding out what certain people were up to. Gracie’s father came in and said, “You look frustrated.”

“That character came in with a scanner and found the microportal just as the boss was making his proposal for “going big.” I was so close to finding out what he was planning.”

“There isn’t much you can do about that right now. I want to port down to Fayspire and take the train to Zirgoccol. Terrel said that Halamar is getting a surprise and we can get Charlie, Folmon and Rebecca and work the air show for the five days.”
Gracie grinned. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but Terrel seemed to be fairly sure that the surprise was going to be rather amazing and if we just show up and start working the show, we can be there for it without raising any suspicions.”

“Let’s get mother, Kaylessa and Wyrran too. We should introduce Wyrran to the show. Maybe the portal service will want an airplane.”

Chapter 8.

Racketgarde.

Fire looked at Bill and said, “Why did you tell me to arrange my ticket so that we get off at Racketgarde?”
“I want to talk to your uncle and cousins and arrange something.”

“What are you thinking?”
“Those pictures of the vault got out and the people that want the vault have seen them. Since we rather publically opened the vault at your uncle’s plant, I want to arrange for that character from Strange Science to see all the pictures from that vault. So we stop, talk to Tom and Don, get some pictures from them, and on the way to the airport, we stop by Strange Science’s office and I drop some pictures of a vault that a friend, that is you, found and opened. They already know that I was talking to your uncle about the furnace and if we play it right, we can cover up just what vault I took the pictures in. We can Jump to Chatsrey”

Fire grinned. “I hadn’t thought of things quite that way.”

After talking to Moonshine and Alinis, who promised to cover for them, they got off the train in Racketgarde. After debarking from the train, they took a cab from the station to the plant where they were escorted to Fire’s smiling uncle. “What brings you two here today?”

“Uncle Retling, Bill has a proposal.”
“Since his ideas have a habit of paying off, what is it?”
“This isn’t anything big, but with some of the other things stolen by Mr. Eiljeon were some pictures of a place,” Bill said. “Since I don’t really want people to know about that place quite yet, I’m hoping that Tom and Don have some pictures that I can give to Strange Science with my prints and make it look like they were taken here when I was here talking to you about the furnace.”

Retling grinned. “You want to use the fabrication plant here to cover up the fact that you opened a vault in Desert Howl.  Let me get Fire’s cousins here and they can get you some pictures and take you through a bit. Can you stay for dinner? Where is Alinis, Fire?”

“We can’t stay that long, Uncle Retling. Bill’s dad wants him in Ishendell and I’m going up on the same plane. Alinis is still on the train.”

“I see. She is covering for you while you do this. Let me get your cousins, Fire.”

Retling put a call out for the cousins and they showed up in the office shortly afterwards. They grinned when they saw Fire and Bill and Tom said, “So what are you up to today, Fire?”
“Not me, Bill.”

“What are you up to, Bill?” Don said.

“You know about that Eiljeon character stealing that stuff from my lab. I got it back, but there are some pictures of a place that I don’t want certain people knowing that I have been in. Since I am sure that they discovered the furnace in Strange Science and the fact that the factory you opened is known, I want some pictures of it. I will slip the pictures that I took of the other place into the pictures here and hand the stuff over to Mr. Steamfire.”

“So you want to cover up the fact that you were in the other vault?”
 “Yes.”

“What’s in it for us?”

“We’ll let you in on more when we get back,” Fire said. “We are also pulling this on some friends of Ayre Eiljeon.”

“Now that will get us some credit up in Ishendell.”
“Have you been going up there?” Bill asked.”
“We’ve been up a lot, handling deliveries and quotes from your dad, Bill. So you can help us with them when you start.”

“I can also introduce you to Charlie Beinan and the Lower City.”
Tom smiled. “That makes it worthwhile. We haven’t wanted to go there just by ourselves.”
“I’ll see what I can do. We need to get those pictures and be on our way. Alinis and Moonshine are covering for us.”

Tom and Don gave Fire and Bill a quick tour of the ancient plant, handed Bill some pictures and Bill took some more, filling out a roll in his camera that had some pictures from the vault on the island. Then they Jumped to the train station in Chatsrey, emerging from the rest room as the train pulled in.

Windegar Aerie.

Resod looked at the row of rather monstrous and elven new students, along with Sarya and grinned. He marched up and said, “Somebody must really not like you, because they sent you to me. Sarya, why did you put yourself in my hands again? You were an exemplary student the first time around and these poor maggots probably won’t have it in them to get to your level. We’ll have to see. The boys are ready, so I get the Justiciars to pay for your bruises. Since I am getting up there and retired, Sarya, you show the rest of these folk that the course can be done.

At the end of the day, Ulairekamba turned to the exhausted Andrathath Valmys and said, “Can you sign a writ that would get me in the cell block for the next two five days?”
“Dad would sign a writ, and then send us here. Worse, we have driving and then Vesstan and his friend.”

“The assassin?”
“Retired, so he plays with Lord Yllanan. At least your girlfriend is untouched.”
“She made it look easy and we fell for that.”

“You do know that she has been learning to dance since she could walk.”
“She didn’t tell me that and neither has her dad.” Ulairekamba waved his hand over his appearance. “I don’t think that she wants to bring a monster home, so I haven’t met her mother yet.”

“She doesn’t want to scare you away, actually. Her dad has been interviewing you and your buddies, so that’s work. So he hasn’t been scary yet. I don’t think that Sarya’s mother cares what you look like.”

“Really?”

“In any case, we are stuck with this for the next little time.”   

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