Rich leaned back in the chair and stretched. He was starting to feel irritated, nine o’ clock they had said and it was now ten. And he had been on time. Ah well, he relaxed back in his chair, placed his booted feet on the delicate side table he had appropriated for the occasion and crossed his legs, picked up his copy of Dragonsong and returned his attention to the travails of Menolly.
Finally he came to the end of his book. Rich glanced at his wristwatch and snorted. Ten to eleven. He stood and made his way out the Zeehaven council’s waiting room. He left the citadel without looking back and made his way back to the island’s skyport.
Rich made his way across the gangplank to the Silver Sparrow. He smiled in relief and nodded to Dercat before making his way to Captain Bordal Vitrius. “Well captain, is everyone on board? The new passengers too?”
“Yes sir. Can I say again that I really don’t like the idea of having drow on my ship.”
“You can say it all you like captain, but the paladin of the balancer and lady Hellwing are accompanying us. Please cast off, we are leaving.”
“THE lady Hellwing? That cripple is the scourge of the skies?”
“Yes captain, her injuries were the result of her last fight. She destroyed three pirate ships and Mother intends to reward her. We’ll be escorting the big clipper back to her domain.”
“Humph!” snorted the captain, “sailing ships like that can’t compete with airships. They’re too limited and slow.”
“Possibly, but they don’t need coal or liftwood. And Mother needed something in a hurry and she already had that pattern available and the skillsets too. Needs must, not ideal but why change what works.”
= = O = =
Meanwhile in the council chamber the oligarchs of the council were in disarray. The old guard sensed a chance to upset the self-professed progressives who wanted to move their society and form of government closer to the forms increasingly practiced on the mainland.
Bonadur was visibly unhappy as his protégée had been slain by the upstart lesser goddess of the drow, while the old guard secretly relished that it had happened when Blackbeard had been possessing the fool.
Neither side liked that there seemed to be a voluntary exodus happening. Prior to the confrontation between the gods in the capital the only ones leaving had for the most part been unimportant malcontents. But now several well regarded artisans, merchants and artists had joined their number.
Bonadur and his progressives refused to acknowledge that the cause of the exodus was the very public revelation that they were followers of Vortexius Blackbeard. They seemed incapable of seeing that the solid, hard working elves of the middle classes did not approve of a god of thieves and cutthroats.
The reactionaries of the old guard, for their part, were more flexible when it came to religion, but they firmly believed that the citizens should respect and obey their betters and not pack up and leave.
When noon came and they realized that the young girl’s mentor and employer, sir Rich Burton had decided not to await their pleasure they, both progressives and reactionaries, made a common cause and after some further heated debate ordered the council guard to go fetch the upstart human.
On being told somewhat later that the upstart had left the island resulting in the irritated and now lunch deprived oligarchs ordering their sole warship to up stream, to chase and arrest the insolent human and force the runaways back home where they belonged.
= = O = =
The Silver Sparrow ascended slowly into the sky her propellers turning slowly the faintest wisps of smoke curling from her tall funnels. Bordal squinted at the funnels, he grumbled softly to himself.
“What’s the problem cap?” asked Dercat.
“I can’t judge how the engines are doing by the smoke anymore, how is Charlie doing it?”
“When I asked him, he replied magitech. When I complained to Rich he explained Charlie uses his pet salamanders to get the most out of the coal.”
“SALAMANDERS!” bellowed Bordal, “For the gods sake Dercat those things are... are...”
“Dangerous, devious, unpredictable, treacherous?”
“Yes! All of those... How can you be so calm about this?”
“What can we do about it cap? You agreed the charter. Charlie will take his pets with him when the charter is over. Until then,” Dercat shrugged. “Personally I’m more worried by the fact that the Zeeland’s Pride is raising steam.”
Bordal kept his eye on the island’s principal warship as smoke started to rise from it’s three funnels, even as it’s crew came scurrying from the barracks and making their way on board. The Silver Sparrow slowly got under way and turned after the big clipper as it heeled under a full spread of canvass and made its way south, its rail lined by elves waving goodbye to friends and family.
* * *
Rich grinned at Minnow when his ears caught the distant rumble approaching swiftly from the south. H grinned at the badly scarred legless drow in the wheelchair. “I think you’ll like this lady Hellwing. They’re similar to the flyers that will form the strikeforce your carrier will house. Mother is counting on you and the forces you train to sweep the skies and seas clear of pirates.”
“How am I to capture them when I can’t even walk?”
“Mother doesn’t want prisoners. She wants dead pirates. And I would be surprised if Blackbeard’s temples won’t find themselves on the to be destroyed list. As for your injuries, I’m sure Mother will fix them.”
Hellwing cocked her head to one side and grinned crookedly. “It’s been too long. Healing magic won’t work. It believes this is how I’m supposed to be,” she said bitterly.
“Mother uses DNA manipulation, not spells. She’ll fix you. Though you might come out of it with gills like Minnow and me.”
Hellwing didn’t answer as her attention was captured by the two small silvery delta winged shapes that flashed past the Silver Sparrow in a roar of jet engines before banking and turning back and flying a large looping set of circles around the clipper and the Silver Sparrow.
“Mother tells me those are slow, they can only reach six hundred knots or so. They have a crew of three and are armed with two air to air radar controlled missiles and a fixed forward firing 30mm rotary autocannon.”
= = O = =
Captain Gullwing of the Zeeland’s Pride contemplated his orders with distaste. He watched as the Silver Sparrow rose into the sky, turned to the south and headed off. His eyes narrowed as he noted the fact that barely any smoke was coming from her funnels despite the fact that her propellers had blurred into near invisibility.
By some miracle the Zeeland’s Pride raised steam in under an hour. She rose majestically into the sky, dense black smoke pouring from her funnels. Slowly she set course for the south.
= = O = =
Rich watched the Zeeland’s Pride through his binoculars. They seemed to be preparing their six pounder bow gun. He raised his radio handset, checked that he had the right setting, then spoke. “Alpha One, can you use a missile to take out that six pounder on the Pride’s bow?”
“Yes sir. Easy.”
“Then when they fire it, do so.”
“Yes sir. On it.”
The Zeeland’s Pride crawled closer. Finally they fired. And a missile separated from Alpha One, curved and headed towards the Zeeland’s Pride. It started to turn away but the missile corrected its trajectory and hit its target. The explosion destroyed a good part of the skyship’s bow in addition to destroying the gun.
Rich watched as the Zeeland’s Pride turned away and limped off.
“Impressive,” murmured lady Hellwing.
* * * CONIMBRIGA – BOLITHICO * * *
Bolithico walked through the flexible tube that had been attached to their firewagon’s door and into the lobby of the Queen of Hearts. He was closely followed by his team.
It was immediately obvious that the Queen of Hearts contained a dungeon, the lobby was comfortable in a rather understated way. It was quite obviously aimed at a different strata of society than the Mount Royal, merchants and trades rather than high society. It was however spotlessly clean and the staff, mostly mournful looking dogfolk, attentive.
Bolithico introduced himself to the clerk manning the reception desk and asked to speak with the manager.
Just over five minutes later they were speaking to a tall burly smiling Lion ’folk lady in her office.
“I’m Leona Africana, the manager of the Queen of Hearts. How may I help the Guild?”
Bolithico got right down to business. “Ma’am, we have been tasked by the guild with cataloguing all the dungeons in Conimbriga. Yours is one of the ones that was not known to the guild. Could you tell us something about it? And would it be possible for us to observe the core?”
Leona considered them tilting her head slightly to the right. “I don’t have authorisation to allow you to see the core. I would have to clear that with the owner.” She paused for a few seconds. “The dungeon is called Mock Turtle and is ranked Elite. His name is Lewis Carroll, his companion is a human girl named Alice Liddell.”
“Please don’t joke. It is impossible to dominate a dungeon ranked Elite.”
Leona played with the signet ring on her finger. “Lewis Carroll is the vassal of Mary Silvestre. She is his Suzerain. He is not the property of anyone.”
* * * SAMAROBRIVIA – GARDENIA STRACANIS * * *
Gardenia was feeling worried, she had just come from a meeting with one of the guild’s spies. This one had spent a few months in Shag’rilan. He was certain that the liftwood groves were dying. Over a third of the trees had masses of brown leaves and there had been very few flowers. Also the high mountain bees seemed to be dissapearing.
Once the groves around Shag’rilan disappeared there would be only a few small cluster of liftwood trees left scattered around.
She nodded to her secretary and strode into her office. She settled into her chair and pulled her in tray closer. The top letter was had a green flecked blue seal with the coiled whip and dolphin of the Balancer. She held the envelope and wondered about the symbol. The whip matched what she knew of the drow and their imagery but the dolphin somehow just didn’t fit.
Carefully she opened the envelope and eased out the letter. Idly she opened it and began to read.
“To the most excellent lady, guild master prime of the adventurer’s guild Gardenia Stracanis,
I wish to solicit your assistance for a new foundation of the Adventurer’s Guild.
As I am sure you are aware several of the dungeons seeded by Azurea in this last year hail from a peculiar world. The world is called Earth or Terra by its inhabitants.
I wish to inform you that several of those dungeons retain links to their former homeworld through their alter egos. I was able to game those links to expand my influence into your world, and am now the proud owner of powerful dungeons on three worlds. I have every intention of expanding onto at least one more world.
Earth was, until Azurea’s meddling, a world almost totally devoid of magic. Science and technology ruled, as in fact they still do. The System is now establishing itself on my former homeworld and it is causing Earth to change rapidly.
Earth is far more advanced, in a technological way than Tarifax, and thanks to a differing format of technological advancement it is not hindered by the acid fogs that so beset your world. We learnt how to avoid that trap and how to fix the damage that had been caused.
One of the first true adventurers on Earth; a Mr. Jacob Hennessy has established the first branch of the Adventurer’s Guild on Earth. He and his Assistant Guild Master, a Mr. Carlos Mendez are in need of knowledgeable assistance. I have informed them of the information available through the System but as you are no doubt aware, it is badly organised and worse explained.
If you wish to help this new and no doubt struggling guild master I will be happy to deliver to him anything you wish to send to Earth along with an appropriate language skill crystal.
Please send any help you deem useful to Guild Master the honourable Jacob Hennessy, C/O Blue Lagoon at the Queen of Hearts Inn in Conimbriga.
Wishing you a long and prosperous life,
Blue Lagoon, dungeon.”
Gardenia Stracanis laid this missive carefully on her desk, she examined the green flecked blue wax seal carefully. Her finger rubbed the design of a coiled whip overlaid by a leaping dolphin and stared into the distance.
Gardenia bellowed for her assistant and almost immediately Folssana Mirabilis poked her head round the door. “Yes guild master?”
“Prepare a pack with everything a major guild office would need, see if you can get a reasonably senior and intelligent volunteer willing to venture into another world. Make them aware that this might be a trap but allow them to read a copy of this letter.”
‘Bolithico is going to be so surprised, and that idiot niece of mine,’ thought Gardenia even as she smiled.