Sorenar looked up and stood alertly as Minnow, still dripping entered their new home. An obscenely tall woman with the shoulders a hard working dwarf woman would be proud of followed in her wake. She was trailed by two very alert, strangely armed and armoured leopard girl bodyguards, and then by a small force of beastfolk. Wolf, Cat and Badger mostly.
Sorenar was bemused to notice a certain similarity between this young woman and Minnow. They moved in similar ways. Swimmers both he realized.
Minnow for her part was feeling overwhelmed. This— this, sea human, for she, just like her and the chief had gills. And she could somehow feel the ocean. Minnow turned to face her, “Why can I feel the deeps?”
“Call me Mary. Possibly because the only temple I have that is wholly mine is located in the deepest location available in my domain.”
Minnow bowed her head and dropped to her knees. Sorenar froze and watched.
Mary snorted, “Oh get up, do. Minnow what can you tell me of the local sea gods?” Then she turned and gestured the motley band that had followed her towards the entrance. “Go. Rich is going to need help with the cages.”
“The sea gods. Um, they seem to have withdrawn in despair. Most seem to have vanished entirely and their temples are... empty. Collapsing.”
“So there’s room for me an’ Ocidon.”
“But... but the air is killing the sea. Why would you?”
“’Cause I believe I can fix that if only there’s enough time.” Then seeing the looks on Minnow and Sorenar’s faces she shrugged. “The sea, not the air, at least not yet. I’m a water girl after all.”
= = O = =
Rich felt like some kind of old time oriental potentate leading a gaggle of ragged followers and towing a couple of cages along. He found the liftwood slats in the big cage clever. Though he wasn’t sure if the damn thing wasn’t more dangerous now it was mostly weightless but retained all its momentum.
“Hiya Richie, need a hand?”
He looked round and spotted Tessa at the door to the eatery. She wasn’t wearing a mask but she was, all of her, surrounded by clear, pure air.
“Show off. Yes please Tessa. How are you managing that?”
Tessa grinned showing her fangs as she flicked her right ear causing her earring to flicker. “Just one of Mother’s toys. Do you want one?”
Rich noted that the other beastfolk were using masks as they swarmed out and collected the cages and his recent purchases. “Damn it Tessa, the carters and cabbies are going to spread the news of that enchanted earring of yours to the winds.”
Tessa chuckled, “Who’s going to believe ’em. Or rather, no self important high falutin’ nob’s gonna believe ’em.”
“Too right,” grumbled one of the carters as he watched the two withdraw into the Eatery after their followers. He followed them and watched as they disappeared through a door at the end of the room. He then returned to his wagon and took up the reins of his horse. “They went through a big door at the end of the room, it’s marked private,” he informed his friend and the cabbie.
* * *
Rich was not surprised to find Mother in his suite. She was frowning at the three children he had bought to act as runners. She looked up when he entered the room. “You know these poor brats have lead poisoning. They also seem to be contaminated with mercury and a few trace amounts of other heavy metals.” She frowned at his ring, the one that detected poisons. “Mmm, that should detect lead, it’s a poison after all. I’m afraid you’ll have to use it on all your drinks if these idiots are usin’ lead pipes for their water.”
“Can you cure them Mother? What about the rest of these people?”
“They’re not as bad, but I’ll have to set something up to strip out heavy metals,” she frowned and then looked blank. “Yeah that could work.”
* * *
Mary looked up, still looking unhappy. “Let’s see the pixies.” There were five unhappy lethargic pixies in the cage.
“Get them out of there and take them to the flower cave on Maui. Now!” ordered Mary. Three of the beastfolk picked up the sufferers and left.
“Now the Drow.”
When they removed the covers from the cage they found that they had two males, one female and one child. Mary straightened and started to glow. Minnow dropped to her knees, and then the carver also dropped to his knees with a look of surprise on his face. Eldaan seeing this did likewise. In the cage, the two males and the child did likewise. The female, wide eyed tried to stand, but then she curtseyed deeply. Rich bowed his head and dropped to one knee as did all the beastfolk. Two of the young would be messengers or runners looked round apprehensively and dropped to their knees.
Sorenar locked his knees, ‘I’m a dwarf of the blood of Sulfurus Swordsmith, of the line of Swordsmiths. I’m a dwarf, and dwarves don’t kneel to anybody.’
The Drow grew wider eyed if that was possible when they perceived the Spider Queen’s manifestation hovering over Mary. They all promptly prostrated themselves.
Mary shook herself and looked round at the stunned company. She moved to Minnow and placed a hand on her head. “You’ll do. I hereby appoint you my priestess to this world. Sorry but this is goin’ to hurt, but you’re goin’ to need the knowledge girl.”
Minnow moaned and collapsed to the ground while clutching her head.
Then Mary stopped by Eldaan. “I accept your allegiance, but I think I need to strengthen your human side or you will die of old age far too soon for my liking. So sleep...”
Mary continued while behind her Eldaan dropped to the ground as his body writhed and blood began to pool around him. She came next to the two kneeling children. “You two I claim and will change to my purpose. You will assist my priestess. Sleep and wake healthy and truly mine.”
The children dropped and their bodies too writhed and far more blood pooled and flew along with scraps of flesh as they changed.
To the other slaves who were kneeling, and now terrified, she simply offered the chance of accepting her and Ocidon. About half did. When she came to Cinders, she found her trembling on one knee. “Can’t swim? That won’t do, I absolutely refuse to have one of mine incapable of swimmin’. So I’ll gift you with the skill. And with this.” Mary touched her ear and left an earring matching the one in Tessa’s ear. “And yes I’ll accept you as one of mine.”
Finally she was in front of the cage containing the drow. She opened the door and held out a hand to the priestess. Her collar and chains dropped away. “The thief no longer holds you. Be true to your Goddess.”
The priestess of the Spider Queen rose to her feet and bowed low. “My thanks Balancer.”
Then Mary turned to the youngster. “I think I will claim you boy. I see this moment is not that far away so I will move it forward as I see your experiences have aged you. So, conditions met – you have been offered Shadow Mage – accept yes / no. C’mon Bluey you’re up...”
Something seemed to shift in the world.
« conditions met – silver-tongue of the drow you have been offered the path of the shadow mage – accept yes / no »
Silver-tongue reached out with a wondering hand, his heart racing. He whispered, “yes.”
“Shadow Mage?” wondered Silver-blade who was just climbing to his feet. He looked at his son speculatively and fingered his bare neck.
Finally Mary looked at the wall next to the entrance to the sea cave and stone flowed and a smaller sea cave formed. The water writhed as assorted modified plankton and krill formed and settled into their new home.
“Rich, make sure the people suffering from heavy metal poisoning spend time in that. And unpleasant as it will be make sure they swallow a mouthful or two. It’ll take time but some of the organisms in that mess will infiltrate any organism and latch onto heavy metals allowing them to be expelled.”
Mary then grabbed the arm of a tall somewhat spindly wolf ’folk man. “This is Charlie Parsons, he’s an expert on steam engines. Something tells me the ones that are makin’ a mess of the planet aren’t that good so Charlie is here to help you. I’ve given him one of the earrings ’cause he tends to forget things when he gets interested in something. Oh,” Mary handed Rich a small box, “there are another five in there. Do with them as you will.”
= = O = =
Dercat Gutripper woke with a pounding headache and a truly foul mouth. He realised his head was lying in a pool of drool. His eyes squinted almost completely shut as the light drilled twin needles of agony into his brain. Once again he vowed to never again drink this much.
“You two awake? Good I have to close so you have to leave,” somebody said in a much too loud and cheerful voice.
Dercat gingerly pushed himself upright. He noticed that his friend Gunner seemed to be even worse off than himself. He squinted warily at the elderly owner of the Flying Pig Tavern and croaked. “Got a sobriety potion Fats?”
Fats snorted and placed a small bottle on the table. The muted click of the bottle hitting the table reverberated loudly in Dercat’s mind.
Fats watched with a certain sadistic satisfaction as Dercat clutched his head and groaned as the potion took effect. Fats knew from long experience that it took about two minutes of hell before the potion took full effect.
By the time Dercat was thinking straight and feeling as if life was worth living Gunner started groaning and reaching around blindly. Gunner somehow found a mug of ale, blinked at it and downed it with a shudder. Then, with extreme reluctance he uncapped the potion Fats placed in front of him and downed it.
Dercat eyed the empty potion bottle in his hand in confusion. “How come you handed these over without arguments Fats? Not like you.”
“Your captain paid for them earlier. He’s made some kind of deal with a toff. Figure he needs you. Said to tell you to make tracks for the yard. Now get out before I get into trouble for being open after hours.”
Gunnar and Dercat made their way cautiously through the early morning streets of Conimbriga, hands on weapons. “You remember anything about a deal with a toff Gunner?”
“No. Last thing I remember is Luuribelle, ah Waitress III, stealing my collection of tankards.”
When the pair returned to the shipyard where they had left the Silver Sparrow, they found her surrounded by scaffolding. Captain Bordal was smoking his pipe in the enclosed veranda of the boarding house located on the opposite side of the road of the main entrance to the shipyard. They moved through the crude airlock into the Young Gentlebeings Boarding House and went to find their captain and friend.
“What’s going on Cap? The old girl seems to be the centre of attention. I thought we couldn’t afford to fix her up properly?” asked Dercat.
“Welcome back to the world of the living. We have a charter. We will be at the beck and call of a foreign nobleman who just happens to be a truth reader for a year and a day after the Silver Sparrow is ready to fly. He’s paying for the rebuild and he owns Greenie. Greenie seems happy enough, bronze collar, no bruises or whipmarks.”
“What are we going to do for a crew Cap?” asked Gunner. “We will need to replace that incompetent ass of an engineer. Trimsmen, stokers and deckhands are two a copper but a competent engineer...”
“Worse come to the worse we get Sir Rich Burton to buy us one. A truth reader should make an excellent recruiter of talent. The way our employer’s throwing money around I suspect we’ll be ready to go in a week or less.”
= = O = =
Rich found his hands full after Mary’s departure. The visibly amused drow didn’t help, as nobody trusted them. The young shadow mage was enjoying himself practicing what the leopard girls had taught him in the short time before they left. Minnow, now collarless was drilling her two young acolytes, also collarless. Or maybe they were just playing as she had dragged them into the sea cave. Her uncle the sea elf carver had followed them.
Then when everyone had more or less settled down he took his shell-shocked bodyguard, the visibly taller and less green Eldaan who somehow managed to look younger, and Charlie Parsons to inspect the Silver Sparrow.
“Honestly Rich old man, those engines are a pile of junk. They’re primitive, heavy and inefficient. Also two props would allow this scow to handle better. Two small steam turbines would be far more efficient and even one of the bloody things could handle both props.”
Captain Bordal who had just hurried across from the boarding house when he had spotted Rich head towards his baby was incensed. “Look you hairy lanky dog man, how dare you call the Silver Sparrow a scow!”
Charlie screwed a monocle into his right eye and elevated his snout. “That’s Wolf man my dear chap. Just who is this excitable chap my dear sir Rich?”
“This Charlie, is Captain Bordal Vitrius of the Silver Sparrow and he’s the man who managed to fly this wreck back to town.”
Charlie inspected the slowly purpling Bordal with apparent curiosity. “I suppose allowances must be made for these provincial sky sailor chappies. Pleased to meetcha captain.”
Dercat and Gunnar watched their fuming captain with appreciation. They could see the glint of humour in the wolf man’s eye and they grinned.
“Captain Bordal, this is Charlie Parsons whom my goddess assures me is the most knowledgeable being on this world when it comes to steam engines.” The he dropped his grin. “And he will be replacing the engines. You may have an engineer watching, and if you want I’ll pay to replace them with the rubbish you are using when the charter is concluded. But I won’t pay to store them.”
Charlie removed his monocle, cleaned it thoughtfully as he examined the sky ship. “Very well old boy, I will need to have a word with Lewis and possibly Mother.” Then he turned and strode towards the entrance of the yard.
“See you soon captain,” said Rich before following Charlie.