Rich watched the stupefied look on Captain Bordal Vitrius’ face with amusement as the man looked down on the island that hadn’t existed ten days before. Rich leant against the airship’s rail and breathed deeply of the sweet clean air. “Well captain, is there a market for sulphur? We have a stockpile of the stuff down there. You’re welcome to stock up free of charge.”
Bordal swung round to stare at Rich, “How? An island can rise quickly but there is no volcano. And it’s covered in vegetation?”
“How? You’re asking me how a goddess does something.” Rich waved his hands, “Magic? Miracles?”
Bordal gave him a long sour look then turned to prepare the Silver Sparrow for landing. Down on the surface of the sea the big clipper dropped anchor in the deep water of the protected bay. On the island two silvery delta winged shapes rested at the end of a short runway.
Once they had landed, Rich watched as Hellwing was helped down from the Silver Sparrow. Captain Bordal Vitrius caught him at the top of the gangplank where he was conversing with Steelheart the paladin.
“I wish to protest sir Rich. You have no business installing Salamanders on my skyship. They are dangerously uncontrollable. And the presence of drow is likely to cause trouble for us in future. They are not to be trusted.”
Rich looked coldly at Bordal, “I find your sense of gratitude lacking. I understand you are stating the truth as you see it. Very well I will release you from our agreement. You may keep the engines as agreed but the radar is remaining here to be installed on Captain Steelheart’s new ship.” Rich turned to Eldaan, “Eldaan, please go tell Charlie we’re staying here and for him to collect his Salamanders and gear and come ashore. Then tell all the others we’re staying and to pack and come ashore.”
Eldaan snapped out a “Yes sir” and dashed off.
* * *
Bordal watched as his latest passengers disembarked led by his now former employer. Derkat and Gunner watched with their captain. “Are you sure this was a good idea captain?” asked Derkat.
“I wanted those infernal Salamanders off my ship and we are free and clear with holds full of sulphur. I think we’ll manage. I figure we can exchange those engines for the best Conimbriga has to offer.”
“We’ll be a lot slower captain,” complained Gunner.
“I’ll lay odds it is the new gearing and those propellers that make us fast,” suggested Bordal wistfully.
= = O = =
Mary examined Hellwing as she floated unconscious in the first of her experimental caverns on Tarifax. The block of nutrients she had summoned up floated beside Hellwing. Mary felt satisfied, the drow’s DNA was undamaged so the task ahead was going to be simple. Slowly a thread of force connected the drow with the nutrients and it started to shrink as Hellwing’s legs started to regrow themselves.
* * * CONIMBRIGA – BOLITHICO * * *
Bolithico stepped down from their hired firewagon and stood glaring at the half ruined ramshackle building that occupied the entire frontage of the small block. He snorted in indignation. “What has that idiot been up to?”
He strode through the front doors followed by his fellow party members. The big room was empty and strewn with dirt and what looked like dried blood. The reception desk was unmanned. Bolithico looked round then he strode through the back room. The guild master’s office on the second floor showed signs of a hasty exit. It had quite obviously been stripped of anything of value. The office safe was open and empty of everything except dust. A telegram announcing their arrival lay crumpled in a ball beside the waste bin.
Bolithico glared around the room taking in the luxurious furniture, the antique oak desk and the paintings on the walls. He flicked the fingers of his left hand and flame dart impacted the portrait of Bartold Kennings leaving a burnt spot on the wall and scraps of burnt canvas in a singed gilt frame.
Dropping into the luxurious office chair behind the desk Bolithico shared a look of near despair with the rest of his team. “This – this is worse than anything I expected.” He looked at Leemanda Stracanis, “I think you’re the best of us at gleaning facts from files Lee. Do you think you could find out if there are any guild members still present in this cesspit of a town?”
Lee sighed and made her way to where three filing cabinets stood against one of the walls. “They’re locked, could you unlock them for me Polly?” she asked Poliarcos ak Bowyer.
The elven woman nodded and glided across to the metal cabinets. After studying them for a moment she disarmed a couple of simple traps and had them open in no time.
* * *
Bolithico mopped his brow. The communications room was as neglected as the rest of the guild. The shards of the room’s previous enchanted mirror had been swept into one corner of the room along with a pile of dust. On the wall in place of the broken mirror he’d found was a much plainer, and considerably smaller mirror holding a temporary enchantment.
Bolithico dropped onto the sole chair in the room to recover from his exertions. Lee joined him in the room, she looked peeved. “No point tidying this place up Bolithico. It is mortgaged to the hilt and Bartold hasn’t been keeping up with the payments. He knew the Council wanted to keep the Guild office running so he knew they wouldn’t kick him out. This building belongs to the local city council.”
“We could pay the mortgage,” suggested Bolithico.
“And the penalties for missed payments. Better to buy something new and start over. The city council still needs our guild with that Arena of Blood dungeon sitting in the middle of the lower guilds quarter of the city.”
Bolithico sighed, rose from the chair and activated his mirror. It shimmered, the image trembled slightly but it connected, and he was able to update guild master Gardenia Stacanis in Samarobrivia and receive her instructions.
Bolithico shared a look of incredulity with Lee. He reclaimed his mirror and they left the room. Soon they had collected all the files and left the building. While they were making their way back to their lodgings in their hired firewagon Bolithico and Lee updated their team.
* * * SAMAROBRIVIA – GARDENIA STRACANIS * * *
Gardenia looked at her the two guild members. They were sitting in the uncomfortable wooden chairs she kept in her office just for occasions like these. She smiled briefly at Fidget, the gnome mechanic was not pushy, unlike Swiftfall Sunhigh the rogue. She frowned slightly why the exiled drow was so insistent on accepting this distinctly uncertain mission.
“Why are you so insistent Swiftfall, we need a mechanic of researcher for this mission not a rogue?”
Swiftfall braced his legs to keep from sliding off of his chair. Mentally he cursed his guild master’s nature and these chairs with shorter front legs than back. “Auntie Hellwing messaged me by mirror. I accepted the accepted quest. One of the rewards is getting my exile lifted.”
Gardenia thought about this answer. “So you really are the scourge’s nephew? What’s happened to her?”
“She was betrayed by the followers of Blackbeard.” Swiftfall grinned happily. “They’re all dead of fled now. The Spider Queen doesn’t like the thief. And as for the Balancer...” Swiftfall just grinned.
“So you are confirming that the goddesses of the drow actually fought and defeated Vortexius Blackbeard. The gods are fighting again. I thought that as a rogue you followed Vortexius.”
“Well I paid the thief lip service, had too after all.” He grinned even wider, “The Balancer doesn’t approve of thieves but she’s perfect for a rogue.” He rubbed a small gold brooch in form of a coiled bullwhip pinned to the underside of his coat’s collar.
Gardenia threw her hands up into the air in exasperation. “Oh all right! You might as well go.” Then she turned her attention to the uncomfortable looking gnome, and once again tried to remember her name. Giving up she addressed her, “Well Fidget, are you still willing to do this?”
“Yes guild master. Everyone at the machine shop is bursting with curiosity about the new gadgets the Balancer’s followers are using.”
“Well I expect you to share your discoveries with us. But the main thing is to teach this new guild. It’s quite a coup if we get the credit for helping set up the guild on a new world.” Gardenia smiled beatifically at the thought.
‘With any luck I’ll join the likes of Guild Master Iron Falx of Melomix. My name like his will reside in the System’s archives for millennia.’
* * *
Swiftfall watched as the local stevedores loaded their crates into the old tramp airship. The blatantly misnamed Dancer was almost ready to depart, smoke was already pouring out of its funnel. He watched unsmiling as Fidget clambered aboard. With a jump he grabbed the rail and swung aboard behind Fidget avoiding the rickety gangplank that had creaked and complained under the slight weight of the gnome.
He tried hard to ignore the itch by his nose, as his breather mask prevented him from scratching it. He watched indifferent as the Dancer’s big propeller groaned to life and the whole airship shivered at the out of sync thump of the old engines. He was unable to contain a wry smile at Fidget’s horror and discomfort. He bet himself that she would disappear into the engine room out of desperation before their short trip was over. Happily the guild had paid the captain a bonus for taking them direct to Conimbriga.
* * * CONIMBRIGA * * *
Bolithico and Flamehand strained their eyes in an almost vain attempt to see the tramp Dancer dock in the commercial docks. As soon as it was secured they ascended the gangplank to meet the odd duo that had been sent by Gardenia to act as ambassadors from their guild to the nascent guild on the other world.
Fidget and Swiftfall for their part were happy to see Bolithico and Flamehand and after a brief exchange of news they went to confer with the Dancer’s cargo master.
Fidget spent the entire return journey to the Queen of Hearts badgering Rolf, the black and tan dogman driver of the flatbed truck that was carrying their crates. She was rather frustrated by the time they arrived because Rolf’s knowledge of the big truck’s mechanical makeup was limited. As he freely admitted he was a trucker not a mechanic.