Author Topic: Chapter 9  (Read 13225 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 9
« on: April 08, 2022, 02:02:30 AM »
Chapter 9

Once they were back in the Hideaway, with light filtering down from glass surfaces that Arico and Durhu had strategically placed above, Jaas could see the entire cave clearly now. It looked very rough, but they’d obviously put a great deal of effort into it. The cave was bigger than she’d first thought. It occurred to her that this emergency shelter was meant for more than just them. In a pinch, it could probably hold dozens of people.

They spent the rest of the day inside, exchanging information. Jaas reveled in just how much she’d learned in so short a time. Her colleagues would be overwhelmed, if she ever found a way to contact them. Arico’s brief display of deep emotions seemed to have passed. He made no mention of it, and Jaas didn’t want to press the issue. She could only imagine what life would be like in his situation: like some kind of specimen in a glass case. Able to see out, but never able to leave. In a way it would have been less cruel if the barriers had just stayed opaque, as they’d apparently started out. At least that way the people inside wouldn’t have known what they were missing.

Jaas decided then and there to do whatever she could to get them out of here—or at least the people who wanted to go. She’d just have to figure out how. The Blessed had set up this whole place to suppress magic, so Jaas would have to find another way out.

As it turned out, it was possible to send messages between patches without a navigator. All that was required was that the message be entirely encapsulated in water as it hit the threads. It was a bit of a stretch, but Jaas assumed that she could send a message out of the city the same way. After all, she’d been completely encapsulated in water when she’d arrived.

It would require a waterproof case of course. Her own waterproof scroll cases had been taken away, but Arico told her how people in the city had done it for years. A well-blown glass bottle would work for the people on the river, but poorer folks would have to be more inventive. A sheep’s stomach, properly cured, could serve just as well as a bottle. Arico promised that if she wrote a letter, he’d take it to the south end of the city and send it through the barrier to the Outside.

The timing was very fortunate. It was already the third day since she’d arrived, and Inelem was unlikely to wait around after dusk. She wrote her message quickly, trying to condense all she’d learned into a few pages. It wasn’t easy—there was so much to tell!

After Arico took off to deliver the letter, Jaas pulled out another parchment and started another section of notes, aided here and there by Durhu. She was able to make out some of his handtalk, but didn’t have enough of a grasp of it to get everything.

Field notes, Martus 18, 1571.

My situation has improved markedly. I’ve now met friendly locals who are not only willing to share information, but have detailed histories on the city. See my enclosed notes for specifics. With luck, I’ll be able to send out parchments containing a great deal of information on the city on a regular basis, provided I survive. Apparently there are dangerous political complications here.

As I suspected after I got into the city, there are hundreds of sections within the barriers (six hundred and thirty-seven to be exact). They’re known here as ‘patches’, and most are inhabited. Nearly all of them are identically sized squares, except for the ones on the edges of the city. All told, Arico (one of my local contacts) thinks there are about eighty thousand people living here.

I continue to be troubled by this apparent religion that has ‘sprung up’ around the river (no pun intended). Even Arico, who seems rational and logical, is obviously influenced by it, and others are probably fanatical. There was no mention of ‘sacred Waters’ in any of the Vasiri histories I studied. That means this Aquunite religion was only founded after the Threading, and possibly as a result of it.

It seems the water spirit Aquun has a counterpart of sorts, just like most religious icons I studied back at the Academy. The Shemra figure Arico mentioned is also known as the Many, or the Multitude. It represents exactly one thousand evil spirits, who are said to be everywhere in the city. Apparently they’re spirits of thirst, so of course they’re blamed if there is a drought. However over the years, it seems the Many have also become responsible for bad luck, disease, aging—just about every bad thing there is, really.

The Sustained families also sound like they’re going to be trouble. At first there were only two such powerful families in here: the Smiths and the Masons. Named after their original professions of course. But as it turns out, having only two groups ruling the city makes for a very bad system of government. Because they were roughly equal in power and almost always on opposite sides, pretty much nothing got done. The city’s government had nearly shut down before long. Businesses ground to a halt, and the citizens themselves were in danger of starvation because of bickering leaders who had neither the power to overrule each other, nor the wisdom to cooperate.

Thankfully, more families eventually found that they had navigators as well and rose to power. Before long there were over a hundred different noble families in Sustained territory, and nearly all of them were named after the professions their ancestors had practiced just before the Threading: Miller, Grover, Tanner, Scrivener (which apparently means scribe), and so on.

About twenty of those families now work together to rule the city collectively. Each is led by a navigator (that’s apparently a requirement) and together those leaders choose the city’s ruler, the Lord Ascendant, from among their own Sustained Council. Arico seemed a little distracted while explaining that last bit. Obviously he has strong feelings about them.

Also, while each Sustained family has its own guards and soldiers, the Council itself uses a group of professional soldiers called the Ascendant Guard. Almost all of the Ascendants are required to keep their heads completely shaven, so I assume the thugs who grabbed me when I arrived were just local guards working for a single family. It’s not unlike many of the histories I studied back at the Academy, but without magic this particular history has taken a few turns along the way.

I was quite surprised when I first heard the name Sustained. From my studies, I knew all about the ancient Sustained mages: how they used magic to ‘sustain’ their lives, sometimes to three or four times what others lived. Obviously some of them were trapped here in the city when the threads appeared. They wouldn’t have lasted long, not without their magic, but apparently just after the Threading, the early navigators decided to take the name Sustained for themselves. Probably as a way of justifying their ‘magic’ navigation powers to a frightened and superstitious populace.

Clearly, none of the locals here know that my superiors at the Bresorian Academy are themselves descendants of the original Sustained mages. Of course they’re all called Imbued now, but in a strange roundabout way, I am working for the very people Arico fears so much.

No doubt that’ll make an amusing footnote for any of my colleagues to read, if they ever get the chance.


Jaas tapped the feather on her nose a few times, before dipping the quill and adding one final section.

I’ve taken notes on the threads, and navigators, as well as the basics of the people who live here, but there is one physiological change that I feel the need to describe to anyone who ends up reading this. Arico told me all about it, though I’ve yet to experience it myself. It’s called the sha’haln.

Apparently, people living here have much more intense dreams than those outside. These sha’haln dreams are so immersive that people often have a hard time distinguishing them from real life. They usually take the form of memories, at least at first. Vivid, intense memories that have some special meaning to the person in question. However, just as our own memories are clouded by our emotions and intent, so too is the sha’haln. It seems that when one of these people dreams up a memory, it always ends differently than the real life version did. Usually in some significant way subconsciously important to the dreamer.

In addition, some people have claimed that they can communicate with each other
through the sha’haln. They say they share a dream identically, experiencing it together, even if they didn’t actually experience the event itself together. Arico is understandably skeptical of these claims, but then he did mention a ‘dream-friend’ of his own named Odjes. Apparently, there’s no one by that name living here in Vasiriah, so he assumes this Odjes is just part of his own mind. Further study is needed, of course.

For now, I myself am ‘sustained’ by recent events, and am more optimistic about my future.


-.-

They were just settling down to eat when there was a rough knock at the door. Jaas gave Arico a concerned look, but he nodded reassuringly and limped up the short staircase. Afraid he’d hurt himself trying to move the door, Jaas hurried over to help him.

The big bald man, Alzhi, was waiting for them on the other side. Surprisingly, his face split into a wide grin upon seeing Arico, and he grabbed the younger man up in a bear hug. Arico grunted in pain, and Alzhi put him down in a hurry, apologizing in his own language.

By now Jaas had a pretty firm grip on their dialect of Vasrah. It really wasn’t that different from her own language; it was just the root sounds that needed practicing. “You’re wanted in the Enclave.” Alzhi gave a serious look down at Arico, and then glanced over at her. “Both of you, right now.”

Arico nodded slowly. “I’m ready.”

Whoever this person was who had summoned them, he seemed to be very important to both Arico and Alzhi. They waited just long enough to let her grab a quill and parchment, and then headed off to the nearest threads. When they reached it, Arico extended a hand to her, and Jaas took it without hesitation. Whatever was coming next, she trusted Arico.

That in itself was strange. She’d never really had to put her trust in anyone except for Lem and her own family, but for some reason she did trust him. She’d have to figure out exactly why later on, when she had time to puzzle it out.

Jaas was starting to get used to these trips through the threads. This time around, Alzhi was his usual boar, and Arico was the kingfisher bird he liked so much. That was particularly strange, given that kingfishers were not native to this part of the world, and Arico had only ever seen one in a book. Still, it apparently made no difference to him, and Jaas had to admit he made a pretty convincing one. She didn’t have time to study it—him—too closely, though. The trip only took a few seconds, suggesting that they’d both been here many times before.

They arrived in complete darkness. Jaas couldn’t see even a mote of light anywhere, but Arico immediately spoke up. “We’re all right. Just step forward with us, all right?” Jaas let them pull her forward by the hand, before she could hear a door opening nearby, and then closing behind them. There was a soft cracking noise of a tinder twig being lit, and then the spark lit up a tunnel. Alzhi used it to light a torch, and then slowly moved it around so she could get a look.

The tunnel was low hanging—her hair brushed the top of it—but sturdy from the looks of things. Apparently they’d exited the threads into the tunnel, moved past the door and then closed it, blocking the tunnel behind them. “It’s a security precaution,” Arico explained before she could ask. “The Sustained watch this area very closely. The only way to come and go without being spotted is to do so in complete darkness.”

“So anyone floating in the threads doesn’t see where you arrived,” Jaas finished for him, nodding. It was a natural conclusion to make, but it would have taken her some time to reach it. “But if you can’t see where you’re going, how could you get here?”

Arico exchanged a brief look with Alzhi, who as usual was stone-faced and silent. “The first few times I came here, it was someone else who brought me. Once you know the way, you can just zip back here whenever, remember?”

It made some sense, but Jaas got the feeling there was more to it. Either way, now wasn’t the time to question further. Apparently they were in a hurry, so Jaas left it at that and followed them up the tunnel. It extended a few dozen spans in a straight line before turning into a stone staircase leading up. At the top of the stairs, Jaas could make out sunlight peeking through the building above them. When they exited, it was safely behind a stout wall and out of sight of the threads, and by extension anyone watching from them.

Once Jaas got a look at it from the surface, she could tell this patch was clearly a dwarven settlement. Of course! When Alzhi had mentioned the Enclave Jaas hadn’t put the pieces together, but dwarven towns were often called Enclaves, and there had been dwarves living in Vasiriah when the city had been cut off from the rest of the world.

It was clear in the construction, too. The buildings were shorter and sturdier. The colors were more earthen, brown rather than gray, green rather than blue, and so on. Dwarves were renowned throughout the world for stonework and metalwork, so she wasn’t surprised to hear the sound of bellows blowing and hammers ringing at a nearby forge.

There was a manned and particularly impressive metal gate just to their left, but the dwarven guards didn’t challenge them in any way. They seemed to know Arico and Alzhi on sight, but they did give her a few strange looks as two of them led their human guests further into the patch.

From the fortifications behind them, and the reinforced underground entrance ahead, it was clear this wasn’t just any dwarven patch. This was a keep, in every sense of the word. The guards kept a close eye on both their visitors and the defenses in place. The gates looked thick enough to handle a siege if it came to that. The walls appeared to run the length of the patch, and were thicker than she was tall! And ahead, it looked like the majority of the keep was built into the ground, rather than above it. That made sense, too. Dwarven cities were often built underground, both for protection and the preferences of the dwarves living there. Arico paused ahead, touching Alzhi’s shoulder briefly, and the bigger man paused as well. They stepped apart, glancing at her, and Jaas felt a certain anticipation as she moved up between them. She gasped as she looked up and down.

There was a massive vertical tunnel in front of them, extending up to an ornate ceiling about fifty spans above, and down out of sight below! From her vantage point near the sunlit summit of this gargantuan cylinder, she could make out horizontal walkways on the other side. Smaller tunnels connected to this one at regular intervals, as if she was merely on the branch of a tree that grew down instead of up.

The architecture inside the side tunnels was fascinating. Aside from the obvious dwarven traits, it seemed that the building design had also been influenced by the threads themselves. On one of the descending staircases she could see actual paintings of the threads, just as she remembered from her trips around the city. Intertwining streams of light, which themselves seemed to actually move in the flickering torchlight. It made for an almost mesmerizing effect, and she nearly lost her step before Arico caught her arm.

The wall paintings looked old. Far older than either Alzhi or Arico. Obviously the dwarves had navigators of their own, who had painted what they’d seen in the barriers. Two more sets of doors and at least two dozen guards later, they seemed to have reached their destination: the great hall at the center of any dwarven Enclave.

It was roomy by comparison to the rest, and thankfully tall enough for them to stand comfortably. Ornate pillars lined the room and intricate pieces of metalwork and artistry could be seen on pedestals along the wall. At the end, from a large stone throne, a dwarf rose to approach them.

His brown beard, starting to go gray, was immaculately braided all the way down to his belly. It partially obscured the dwarven rune emblazoned on his chest plate: one she hadn’t seen before. He wore a thin metal circlet on his head and chain mail on his arms and legs, and moved towards them with the confident stride of a seasoned warrior. From her experience, even dwarven merchants and commoners were almost always trained in combat. They were a very hardy race.

Arico slipped past his friend and bowed respectfully. “We have come as called, Hauld,” he said gravely in dwarven.

Jaas had heard that word before. A Hauld was the lord of a castle or keep, specifically one built in human lands. Almost all dwarven societies were rigidly hierarchical in nature, and this dwarf certainly looked like the patriarch. The Hauld gave him a grave nod, and turned to face her. Arico took the cue. “May I present Lady Jaas Senneco of Satacha. My lady, this is Hauld Recco Ulthos, Head of Clan Firebrand and leader of the dwarves here in Patchwork.”

Jaas gave him a surprised look at his uses of the word lady but her old behavior patterns kicked in quickly, and she gave a passable curtsy to the dwarf. Suddenly she wished she’d paid more attention in the Academy’s class on foreign social settings.

“So ye’re the pebble in the pond, eh?” He gave her an appraising glance. “Ye’ve been causin’ a lot o’ ripples, te be sure. I hope ye’re as interestin’ in person as ye are in rumor.”

“I hope so too, my lord,” she answered diplomatically.

“Ach. Call me Recco, lass, or Hauld if yeh wanna be formal,” he said with a chuckle. “Tall-folk are always usin’ titles and bows and fancy words like they’re grown on trees. Arico, lad!” He suddenly turned away from her, peering at Arico’s midsection. “How’re yeh feelin, now?”

“Better, thank you, sir.” Arico gingerly held a hand to his side. “I’ll be back to fighting form in a few days. I’m glad you called us here, sir. There’s a lot you need to hear.”

The Hauld gave her another brief look. “Aye, tha’s true enough.”

-.-

Arico felt a nervous chill as the Hauld and Jaas spoke quietly with each other. He had great respect for his dwarven lord, who’d provided so much for him and Durhu over the years, but the Hauld could be stubborn and irascible. Arico had given him a quick rundown of everything he knew about Jaas, which wasn’t much.

“How’s it going?” Chanul said from behind him, causing Arico to jump in surprise.

“Don’t do that!” Arico responded, glaring back at his friend. He tried to compose himself as Alzhi chuckled softly beside them both.

Chanul kept a straight face as he eyed Jaas and the Hauld from a distance. He wore armor just like the Hauld, but more comfortably. More sociably. He had the annoying habit of sneaking up on people, and he thought it was funny. Which it was sometimes, Arico had to admit.

Chanul didn’t seem bothered by seeing Arico again, which actually fit with dwarven norms. Once an indiscretion had been dealt with, it was as if it had never happened. Chanul wouldn’t forget about Arico’s actions, nor his threats if Arico slipped up again, but they would also have no effect on how Chanul behaved in the future. Total forgiveness was important here in the Enclave.

Jaas’ arrival had provided a big distraction, as did Chanul’s duty here in dwarven territory. As the Hauld’s eldest child, he was destined to inherit all of this someday, but unlike most of his kin he was much more comfortable around humans. Arico sometimes thought of him as the son of the future. That was, if they were successful and the movement led to better dwarven-human relations.

“It’s fine so far,” Arico said softly, trying not to interrupt them. “What are you doing down here anyway?”

“Oh, I couldn’t resist the chance to see the legendary Harbinger for myself,” Chanul said snidely. “I kinda expected her to be, I don’t know… glowing or something.”

Arico ignored that. Chanul was just being sarcastic, as most dwarves were when it came to human religion. But there was something Arico had been meaning to ask. “Could you do me a favor and arrange some room for her in the Fishbowl? She might be staying here for a while.”

Chanul shrugged. “There’s no need. Your old place is empty for now; she can stay there. Who knows? It might even save some time in the long run. For both of you.” Alzhi made another noise of amusement, and Arico glowered up at him.

“Come on,” Chanul continued. “You broke her out of prison, right? And you took a bullet for her. You gotta take advantage of that while you have the chance. You know, before she finds out you’re not really that interesting.”

“They were shooting at me, not her,” Arico protested. “Besides, she’s the Harbinger! Even if I was interested—which I’m not—she’s important to the movement just for who she is. There’s no way I’m gonna risk that, ok?”

“If you say so,” Chanul said unconvincingly. “I better get back to training, but I’ll take care of your Fishbowl thing after. Good luck with my father, whatever it is you need to ask him.”

“Thanks,” Arico answered, and Chanul headed out through the north door. For a moment, Arico was worried, but it seemed Jaas knew what she was doing as he and Alzhi quietly approached.

“Actually, Satacha has a small Enclave of its own,” she described easily. “I went there often during my studies. No one keeps records like the dwarves.”

“Too true, lass,” the Hauld smiled. “An’ here in Patchwork, that’ll be all tha more importan’, dinnae ye say?”

He was speaking of genealogies, recording the bloodlines of all the dwarven families stretching back to the Threading itself. Arico had heard there were similar records kept by the Sustained Council as well. In addition to the Registry itself, of course. Jaas seemed to catch on to that, as well. “From what I’ve heard, yes. So much has been lost over the years, my lor—uh, Recco.”

The Hauld chuckled. “Tell me, lass. Tha Enclave in yer hometown… wha’ clan lives there?”

“Clan Stonefoot, though I haven’t been there since I was a child.”

“An’ tha rune above tha hearth in Stonefoot’s Enclave?” He said appraisingly.

She hesitated just a moment. “That would be Toris, the golden hound.”

“Aye,” he said, chuckling. “Ye’re in the right, o’ course. Ye really are from Satacha.”

“Have you been there, yourself, sir?”

He shook his head. “Nay, lass. Ye know even dwarves dinnae live as long as all tha’. Me great-grandfather told me stories, though.” After a long moment apparently lost in thought, the Hauld gave her a slight smile. “Arico told me yeh used the Waters ta get here, but he dinnae say how, exactly. Care ta share, lass?”

Jaas smiled in return, a bit tentatively, Arico thought. “I know the riv—the, uh, Waters are a touchy subject with him, and with a lot of people in Patchwork, but somehow I knew the dwarves would be different.”

Arico grimaced. It wasn’t his fault that the Sustained used the faith as a weapon. It was just one more obstacle they would have to overcome. He kept quiet, though—the Hauld had very little tolerance for interruptions.

“When the barriers first went up, there was chaos on the Outside,” she continued, her voice taking on that teacher’s tone she did so well. “The Vasiri Empire collapsed in a matter of days, and thousands died in battles across the continent over the next few months as warlords and governors and self-styled kings tried to fill the power void. A few scholars from the Imperial court studied the barriers as best they could during the turmoil, but eventually the entire area was declared off-limits. Too many people had died studying them.

“I compiled as much research as I could before coming here myself, but I and a friend still had to spend months running our own tests on the barriers. Water could pass through them; we knew that. Both ends of the river were unaffected, but objects pushed into it were always destroyed. Living beings that touched it just vanished before our eyes. Except fish, apparently. For some reason, all aquatic creatures could swim in and out of the barriers safely.

The Hauld nodded. “Aye, from wha’ Alzhi’s told me, tha Sustained know tha same. They even send messages downstream from time ta time.”

Jaas nodded and accepted a mug offered by a dwarven attendant. She took a sip from it, and immediately put a hand to her mouth. She made a truly heroic effort not to cough, but failed in the end. Arico had to hide his smile at that, and the Hauld politely pretended not to notice. She hurried to continue, even though her voice was still a little off. “Eventually, I knew someone would have to take the risk and try to make it through. It didn’t make sense to risk anyone else, so I did it myself. My friend cast a spell on me, to turn me into a fish for a few moments so I could swim into the city.”

Despite his long experience as a statesman and leader, the Hauld’s mouth dropped open. Arico knew exactly how he felt, as he was hearing this for the first time. “Ye turned into a fish?? Ye can do that?”

“Of course.” She again reached for her side, in her usual reflexive manner. “If I had my bag, I could show you some of the magic scrolls I brought, but of course, magic doesn’t work in this city. It’s a pity, really. Shape-changing is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Arico had seen more different kinds of animals than just about anyone else in the city. Farm animals of course, in Tellek patch. Dogs, cats, rats, and horses just about everywhere. Fish in the Waters, naturally. There was even a Menagerie inside Mason territory, with exotic birds in cages, descended from the initial birds kept there before the Threading. Monkeys too, climbing the bars on the inside of the Menagerie.

In fact, one of the previous Lord Ascendants had set aside an entire patch planted with wildflowers for the use of the beehives in the center. The bees, like most other animals, instinctively avoided the threads. Only a few animals like horses and dogs had been trained to go through them while touching a navigator master.

But the idea of becoming an animal, even if only for a few seconds, that was just plain incredible. Even more so was how she’d done it! “What… did it feel like—being a fish?” He asked, immediately wincing for speaking out of turn. The Hauld didn’t seem to mind this once, though. He seemed just as interested in hearing the answer.

She shook her head. “I don’t really remember. The spell doesn’t just turn your body into a fish, it changes your mind as well. In fact, that’s why we used that particular spell. Animals can get through the barriers, but people can’t, so I suspected the barriers were built specifically to keep out anything that can think for itself. The spell made me think I was a fish as well, so I was able to fool the barriers into thinking I was just a fish.” The tone in her voice was about as close to smug as Arico had ever heard Jaas get.

“Anyway, as soon as I swam into the city, the magic must have drained away, and I turned back into me again. That’s when I found myself pressed up against that metal grate.”

“Tha Sustained put tha grate there, years ago,” the Hauld said softly, apparently still thinking about her trip. “There’s another at tha other end o’ the Waters, too. Ta keep things from floatin’ out o’ tha city.”

“So they isolated this city on purpose?” She said excitedly. “That’s why none of my messages into the city got a response! But it must have been that way since the Threading itself, though. No messages into the city have ever gotten any response!”

“Aye, tha’ was tha Sustained plan a’ first. They’ve been in charge fer centuries now, an’ they’re very careful abou’ tha’ sorta stuff.” He paused for a moment. “Now, can ye give me a momen’ with Arico, lass?”

“Oh, of course my lor—uh, Recco,” she said softly, withdrawing and politely pretending to examine the artwork on the walls. Alzhi stayed close, naturally.

“Wha’ were ye thinkin’, lad?” The Hauld said severely, in a voice Arico was sure would carry across the room. “Ye know we’re na ready ta take on tha Council, nor tha Ascendants!”

“I know, sir. And I’m sorry.” Arico took a deep breath and tried to speak respectfully. “But think about what this could mean for the movement! She’s from the Outside, sir! And there can be no doubt about that: the quake happened exactly when she got here. The prophecy says-”

The Hauld cut him off irritably. “Gah, ye know we dinnae believe in yer fool prophecy here, lad!”

Arico took a deep breath and tried to even out his tone. “I know that sir, but a lot of humans do believe it. If she really is the Harbinger, even the Sustained Council will have to take her seriously. And even if she isn’t, think about what she could teach us, and not just about our past! If she can get into the city, others can as well. Contact with the Outside for the first time, sir! It might even be possible to evacuate the city!”

“Tha Lord Ascendan’ himself dropped by ta question me abou’ tha quake, lad.” The Hauld grunted irritably. “He wasn’ inna good mood, I can tell ye. I dinnae know if he knew abou’ yer little break-out, but either way…”

He sighed. “It dinnae be yer place te make tha’ call fer all o’ us! Sustained guards up-ended half tha city yesterday lookin’ for her! We had a plan, ye and me, a good plan, an’ now we’ll have te move much faster than either o’ us wanted! Are ye prepared for tha’?”

“Yes, Hauld.” Arico spoke with certainty. The Hauld stared at him in surprise for a moment. Arico briefly wondered if he’d overstepped his bounds.

By dwarven standards, all humans were impulsive and reckless. That was why Arico had taken such pains during his training to be calm and deliberate. They’d invested a great deal in him, and he didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Unfortunately, sometimes careful thought took too long, as Jaas’ breakout had proven.

Still, breaking her out had caused problems. The Hauld was right; they weren’t ready yet. Because of his actions, they would have to use the Laentana instead of the Ramachi, cutting their timetable by a full three months! Arico wasn’t so sure they’d have all the paper ready in time, but he was certain the delivery system would be ready. At least they didn’t have to worry about that.

“I realize we don’t have enough sparkpowder yet, but if I could use the barrels stored here in the Enclave, that should make up the difference.” Arico paused, with raised hopes for a moment.

The Hauld was already shaking his head, though. “Tha’s na gonna happen, lad. Tha sparkpowder says here, in case Ascendan’s come a knockin’.” Arico had never been fully comfortable with those barrels being here in the first place. The fact that the Hauld could turn the whole keep into a pile of rubble with a single spark was terrifying, but apparently it had been that way for decades—long before Arico had been born.

“Then I’ll find another source before the Laentana begins. I’m ready for this, sir,” he went on implacably. “This is exactly what you’ve been training me for! I know it’s a bit earlier than we planned, but I’m willing to take the risk. And she can be useful. She knows a great deal, and has friends on the Outside who may be willing to help. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what she knows—what she could teach us!”

“She’s frail, sir.” Alzhi stepped up next to them, breaking his silent vigil. “Soft. When the fighting begins, or the next winter comes, she’ll most certainly die.”

Arico resisted the urge to give his friend a nasty look. “I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll train her myself.”

Though technically Arico was Alzhi’s superior, they’d always been pretty close. Alzhi had helped train Arico how to fight—with one unfortunate mishap—and they’d known each other for more than four years. Alzhi kept a respectful tone, but as usual he didn’t mince his words. “She can’t even speak the common tongue, sir! How could she possibly help us?”

“She does now,” Arico responded hotly. “She learned it overnight! She’s learning more every moment she’s here. She may not be a fighter, but the movement is going to need more than just fighters if we ever hope to succeed!”

“You’re being naïve, sir. We can afford to have some dead weight for now, but when the fighting starts, she could get you killed!”

Arico gave his longtime friend a surprised look. “Since when is looking out for the movement being na-”

“Shut it, both of ye!” The Hauld cut them off, quietly but harshly. He glared at them both for a few moments.

Arico held his breath. The Hauld needed him, to be sure. Without Arico this planned revolution of theirs didn’t even stand a chance. Still he hated forcing the Hauld’s hand like this, even if it was necessary.

Apparently the Hauld was thinking the same thing. “Ye’re both too importan’. I cannae tie either o’ ye down with this! Ye put me in a hard place here, lad.”

“Yes, sir, I know. I’d keep her with Durhu, in Tellek patch, but that’s no longer safe. And the Hideaway won’t stay safe forever either. The Fishbowl should have room for her, though. If you assigned a dwarven navigator to keep an eye on her-”

“Nay, lad,” the Hauld cut him off again. “That’d be too big a risk. If any o’ the Sustained caught a whiff o’ our involvement, they’d kick us in the stones faster than ye can say ‘broken treaty’. The Sustained didn’t find ye yesterday, so they’ll be lookin’ at each other fer a time. Ach,” he decided suddenly. “I’ll have one o’ me lads train ‘er fer a few days, an’ then she’ll be in yer hands.”

“Thank you, sir.” Arico said with some relief, as Alzhi grimaced and looked away. “You won’t regret this.’

The Hauld grunted. “What the lass knows an’ can do could help a great deal, but she’ll be in yer charge, lad. If she dies, it’ll be on ye.”
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 03:38:02 AM by Daen »