|Quayam Srae||Elf adventurer (31) and sorcerer, husband of Gristel||M 190|
|Romayne Srae||Half-elf adventurer (5), daughter of Gristel||F 22|
|Gristel Virage||Adventurer (27), wife of Quayam||F 53|
|Thristen Alomere||Adventurer (31), friend of Quayam and Gristel||M 45|
|Travis Alomere||Adventurer (10), son of Thristen||M 30|
|Onorato Publius||The boy in the photograph, a bridge sorcerer||M 15|
|Fabio Publius||Father of Onorato, a bridge sorcerer||M 15|
|Elivinsikil Mordenixus||Policewoman of Guildencrassen, Knight of Diamantis (6)||F 26|
|Eldano Kiarello||Organiser of Crime in Scartoni||M 47|
|Richard Crockford||Endan Ambassador to Ursia||M 53|
|Oleg Olegson||Slave Trader of Morden||M 34|
|Camden Beal||A Crime Boss in Ankle||M 45|
|Flasheen Underson||Bandit Chief in Borderlands||F 32|
|Precilla Fascia||Leader of Rastafaranabas's Kabal||F 56|
|Cloe Stern||Corrupted Police Chief of Heal||F 36|
|Didcot Watford||Corrupt Ankle District Attourney||M 41|
|Essex Stroud||Chief Detective of Police in Ankle||M 52|
|Jarred Smalls||Escaped Slave||M 26|
|Harry Arbalast||Manager of the Gumption Arms, formerley the cook||M 46|
It is the 7th March, 2486. The sky is cloudy, temperature is 4°C, the wind is out of the south-west at 25 kph. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen mount their wyverns outside the Green Horn Tavern in the Borderlands between Mokul and Morden. Thristen is eager to return to Gutak to see is wife Zak and their daughter Kim. Quayam and Gristel are eager to find out what is going wrong with the surface of the Trans-Outland Highway.
Three weeks ago, while Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen were a thousand kilometers away in Guildencrassen, Romayne reported that road's conjured wood surface going through the Long Hills was disintigrating six months ahead of schedule. A dozen wagons were stuck, unable to proceed through the mountains on the north side in Mokul. Another half-dozen were stuck on the south side of the hills in Gutak. Our heroes ordered the road closed. Today, at the Green Horn Tavern, there are several wagons waiting for the road to open again.
With a leap and a few powerful strokes of mighty, leathery wings, the wyverns are airborn. They fly low, following the course of their road out of Mokul City to the Long Hills. At the base of the hills they see twelve wagons encamped around one of the road's conjured hostels. The light brown colored conjured matter of the road appears to be in good condition, but once in the Long Hills, every thirty or forty meters the surface is missing for a stretch of ten meters or so. Because the surface underneath is rocky, it is impossible for wagons to navigate. Those with mule trains, or riding on horseback, have been passing through without much trouble. The bridges on the road are all made of wood, at the insistence of Bladebreaker when the road was build.
Thristen flies on to Gutak. Quayam and Gristel land and talk to the merchants. The merchants are distressed, but Quayam assures them they will be moving today. TOHA will give them three free passes for future trips, plus a free night's stay in the Cliff House Hotel, as well as making sure that they make it through this time.
Quayam begins repairing the road. He repairs the gaps in 10 km of road with a spell that creates 1000 m of 30-hour sticky, brown, conjured rubber over the course of several hours of work. Gristel, meanwhile, scouts around, looking for troops from Garaz dressed in white clothes. She sees none of them, but she does see a dragon-sized green lizard in a stand of trees, only 500 m from the road where the merchants are readying their wagons. She lands and enters the trees. The lizard attacks her as soon as he sees her, by breathing a great cloud of noxious green gas. Gristel runs around the cloud, rushes the lizard from one side and kills it before it can breath again, driving her sword through its eye and into its brain. It belches forth another cloud, but she is already running, her sword covered in black blood. Outside the stand of trees, she stops and looks back. "All in a day's work." She wipes the sword on the grass, cleans it with mud, and wipes it again. There are black stains on it. "Rats," she says. She mounts her wyvern and is soon airborn again. She sees a party of ogres marching with heavy loads from the south-west. She lands and talks to them in orcish. They agree to cross the road north of the merchants and change their course.
The twelve wagons catch up with Quayam. He creates a shelter and summons food. A party of local giants appears with great quantities of firewood, which the merchants purchase. They light a fire, eat their food, sing songs, and generally appear to be making the best of things. Quayam spends the night in comfort at the Cliff House Hotel with Gristel, Romayne, and Travis.
For the next eight days, from the 8th March to 15th March, Quayam repairs 10 km of road through the Long Hills each day, bringing the twelve wagons entirely through to Gutak, where the road is once again in good condition. Quayam has concluded that the brown conjured wood in the Long Hills is decaying. It has not suffered from fatigue or cold. It is breaking off in places and floating away. Every now and then, while he's working, he sees a chunk of it lift off and rise up into the air, blowing away with the wind.
During this week, Quayam and Gristel stay in Gashley's Ambassadorial Residence in Gutak. Quayam flies out from there each day. Larak Moodmender has arrived from Tabriz and flies up and down the road with his flying bench, powered by space bridge thruster. He agrees that the brown material in the hills is decaying. He does not understand why. He shows Quayam a record of when each section of the road was surface and re-surfaced.
|Gutak to East of Long Hills||March '84||Light Brown|
|East of Long Hills to Cliff House||April '84||Brown|
|Cliff House to West of Long Hills||September '84||Brown|
|West of Long Hills to Green Horn Tavern||April '85||Light Brown|
|Hostels||April '85||Light Brown|
|Entire Length of Road||April '86||Green|
"As you can see, that section was made over a year ago. But I told you it should be good until this spring, because it usually is. But we only guarantee it for one year, as I believe you understood at the time. I thought we could get away with it. We should have got away with it." Larak wipes his brow. "Anyway, we'll drop this year's resurfacing price from five hundred thousand to three hundred and eighty thousand."
Quayam stares at him for a few moment, thinking. "Fine. It's a deal. Thank you for being her promptly."
Larak lets out a breath and relaxes his shoulders. "Good. I have been worried. And I have to say: I am glad Bladebreaker insisted on wooden bridges. Another thing we are going to do is put spirit matter markers every kilometer along the road. We have a mould to do it. They will say TOH and each have a kilometer number. They will last ten years. In the future, when your travelers have a problem, they can refer to the marker to let you know where it is."
On 17th March, Larak's machines arrive in Gutak, along with his team of two adjutants and a second wizard, his son. They move to the base of the Long Hills, where the problematic surface begins, and start work on the morning of 18th March. They remove the old, brown surface, or what is left of it, and what is left of Quayam's surface, and lay down a new green surface of conjured wood. The six wagons waiting at the base of the road follow behind the machines.
By the 29th March, the surface through the Long Hills is complete. TOHA re-opens the road. Many wagons that have been waiting set off from the Green Horn Tavern in the north, and from Heel in the south. By 17th April, the entire surface has been refurbished, and all the new markers are in place. Larak and his crew are back in Gutak. They make their way south, heading back to Tabriz, to finish a road they have been working on between that city and Pakesh.
"Let me know if you see signs of decay," Larak says. "The sooner you let me know, the sooner we can get here. I don't know what went wrong, but if it happens again, I am determined to find out."
"Thank you," Quayam says.
In the library of the Cliff House on 18th April 2486, Rackhammer sits with Quayam and Thristen. Gristel is with her parents in Gutak.
"Someone killed a green dragon on the 7th March," Rackhammer says, "Five hundred meters from the highway. Do you know anything about the slaying?"
"Gristel did it," Quayam says. "It was going to attack the merchants. We assumed Scholastican sent it."
"That's a bold assumption. The dragon belonged to someone. Someone who has rights under the law to own property, such as a green dragon. And that person has complained to Queen Daybreak, and Queen Daybreak has forwarded the complaint to me. So far as the owner decalares, this dragon was five hundred meters from the highway, doing nothing in particular in a stand of trees, when some adventurer advanced, sword drawn, and killed it."
"That could be true," Quayam says, "Nevertheless, it was hiding in a stand of trees. It attacked her with poison gas. She killed it."
"What business did she have killing something five hundred meters from the road?" Rackhammer says. We understand that our forces and all other threatening creatures should remain at least one hundred meters from the highway. The dragon was well outside that region. I visited the site of the slaying myself, and observed the state of the body. There is no sign of it advancing towards the road, and every sign that it spent most of its life in those trees. Gristel espied it only because she was airborn."
"Well," Thristen says, "We regret the killing of the dragon. Gristel deemed it was necessary. Has the owner filed a law suit?"
Rackhammer puts down his tea mug. "Not yet. She may not. It is complicated."
"Why not talk to Gristel about it?" Thristen says. "Perhaps she can give a better explanation."
On 21st April, in Ambassador Gashley's Residence, Gristel and Rackhammer debate the issue of the slaying of the green dragon in front of several representatives of the court, and Bolus, the ambassador from Pakesh. Gristel states that she had not drawn her sword. She merely advanced, as is her right. The dragon attacked her with a deadly weapon. She slew it, believing the dragon to be a threat to traffic on the road. Rackhammer argues that the dragon was outside the threatening distance from the road, and so was immune to any ill consequences of being threatening or unpleasant or demanding of privacy in its stand of trees. The only reason Gristel might have to kill the dragon is if she herself felt her life was in danger, and this was patently not the case, because she is so formidable and adventurer that no green dragon could under any circumstances be a threat to her personally. Because she was alone, there was no other that might have been threatened in her stead. So the killing was unlawful.
After an hour of debate, the audience is of the opinion that Rackhammer has made the stronger point. Gristel still feels she acted correctly. But she agrees to hesitate in future. Privately, to Quayam and Thristen, she says, "If I had not killed it, and it had scared the life out of those merchants, traffic on our road would drop to nothing. That would be a disaster for us and maybe for the future. Our mission is the road, and I safeguarded the mission."
"I understand my dear," Quayam says. "But next time don't kill the dragon."
"Very well," Gristel says.
Our previous look at the TOHA accounts is here, extending to December 2485. Revenue in 2485 was $1.01M from tolls. Cliff House Hotel profit ignoring fixed costs was $0.37M. The fixed costs for the road and hotel are $1.75M. At the end of the year TOHA had $2.93M in the bank and owed $3M to QTG.
The year 2456 begins with TOHA paying $1.36M for summoned food and mounts for QTG's activities from January to March, leaving $1.59M in cash. In April, TOHA pays Larak Moodmender $375k to re-surface the road (usual cost is $500k), leaving $1.19k. Fixed operating expenses for January-April, one third of a year, are $420k, leaving $770k in the bank.
The price of iron on 1st May 2486 is: Kiali $105/kg, Varay $125/kg, Pakesh $140/kg. We examine a map of the continent and note that, when it comes to transport from the Star Mountains to Varay and Pakesh, there are two likely routes. One is to follow the course of the Goon River from the Whispering Sea, over the hills into Anon, and down to one of the crossing-points on the Fen River such as Biali (site of a recent battle). From Biali there is a road overland to Pakesh (Ursia) and Ankle (Varay). A wagon will take roughly thirty days to go from Kiali to Pakesh, and thirty-five to go from Kiali to Ankle. By the TOH, a wagon takes roughly eighteen days to Pakesh and thirteen days to Ankle. Thus any trade within a few days wagon-ride of Kiali is far faster via TOH. As a result, the road is seeing increased traffic.
A wagon driver can make a decent living carrying iron from Kiali to Varay along the TOH. For the driver to make $40k profit per year, off 4 trips per year, he must make $10k per trip. The trip is 400 km each way, and a two-horse, two-axel wagon can go for eight hours a day at 5 km/hr, so the journey can take 10 days if all goes well. The horses need 15 kg of oats per day. He loads his two-horse cart with 300 kg of oats and 700 kg of iron. He has to load 300 kg of oats on the way back as well. The 600 kg of oats costs $3k. His tolls both ways come to $6k. He must pay about $1k for his own food and accommodation. His expenses come to $10k. He sells the 700 kg of iron for $20/kg profit, or $14k. He makes $4k profit. But he has 700 kg capacity in the wagon on the way back, and he has cash from the sale of the iron. He stocks up on some commodity with a $10 spread per kg to take back, such as Ursian cloth, and he will make his $10k.
In its first year, we assumed a 50 wagon trips one-way per month baseline and rolled randomly for monthly traffic. Now we roll for this year's baseline traffic 20 + 1d100 per month. We roll a baseline of 77 wagons-trips/month average, or 26 + 1d100. This will apply to all months except for February and March, when traffic was stopped by the decay of the road surface in the Long Hills. What traffic was stuck had its tolls waved, and was awarded other compensations for the future, which we will count as paid for by revenue from February and MArch. Traffic in January: 109 wagon-trips, in April: 109 wagon-trips again (same roll on 1d100). Revenue is $3k/wagon-trip in tolls. Hotel profit is 1d6 × $10k/month, get $20k in January, $40k in April. Thus our revenue plus hotel profit is $714k by the end of April. This brings TOHA cash to around $1.3M.
"If we keep going like this, we'll actually be making money," Gristel says. At this point, TOHA can afford to reimburse Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen $500k for the deed to Guildencrassen and $300k, but they will wait until later in the year to get their money back.
Meanwhile, in Guildencrassen, we assume a $3M/yr extraction of gold, or 25kg/month, so we will roll 5d10/mo and we will have 1% probability per month of some problem with the town, which we will accumulate if we forget to roll. We roll for March and April, no problems. Of the extracted gold, one third goes to QTG on site to be stored in the Manor House, one third goes to the town government, to be locked up separately in the Manor House and administered by Babatunde, and on third will be set aside for Thrassus, which for the moment means it is locked up in the Manor House as well. Extraction is 30 kg in March and 32 kg in April. Thrassus is teaching the population of the town to make beer and cheese. Elivinsikil lets Alerix the local chief, and ten of his men in to the town to "Hear Complaints", of which there are none, tastes the beer and cheese, and is well pleased. He remains on the far side of the town square from Thrassus, who is still sitting out in the open. Elivinsikil lives in the Manor House. Babatunde works there. She is slowly cleaning and brightening up the Manor House, which has ample bedrooms for visitors.
The town expects to receive 100 kg of gold per year. Out of this, it will pay 10 kg to Alerix for protection, as arranged by QTG, and 10 kg to Elivinsikil as policewoman, as hired by QTG. By the end of April, Guildencrassen has attracted a visiting cleric, who spends one day each week at the New Guildencrassen Inn. He does house calls. His time and effort will cost around 20 kg of gold a year, and exceptional serums or other emergency medicines from Olympia may add another 20 kg. This money is paid by the town. The town has a budget of 20 kg to maintain the streets and public fixtures, which leaves 20 kg to pay the ten miners who work six-hour days five days a week at the mine (that's $20k/yr for each miner).
The beer and cheese production in Guildencrassen is showing promise. Thrassus has declared that if the town can make 1 kg of cheese per person per day, they can trade this for sufficient food to eat well. By Elivinsikil's account, Thrassus will talk all day to anyone who wants to learn about making beer or cheese, and his advice is patient, humorous, and accurate.
"Why wouldn't he talk to us like that?" Thristen says.
"Strange," Gristel says, "I doubt he finds us intimidating. Maybe we're too serious."
"I'm not serious," Quayam says. "I'm chatty."
On the first of May 2486, Richard Crockford sets out from the Green Horn Tavern with his wife, four children, five staff, ten cavalry, and ten four-horse wagons. Richard is on his way from Caravel to Ursia. He has chosen to travel the Trans-Outland Higheway, passing through Gutak and Varay on the way to Pakesh, where he will assume the post of Endan Ambassador to Ursia. The cavalry wear shining steel armor and red plumes on their helmets. The staff wear the livery of the Endan State Department. The Trans-Outland Highway Authority has arranged for Richard to pay an official visit to the Court of Daybreak in Gutak, and after that he will make an official visit to the Varayan State in Ankle. The Trans-Outland Highway toll for fifty horses is $25k, and for twenty axels is $20k, making $45k in all. One of Richard's staff pays the toll with an Endan Government Note for 4.5 kg of gold.
Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen take turns to escort the Endan Ambassador's Party along the road. Sitting with them in or on the wagons during the day, camping with them at night. Each morning, two of them fly out from the Cliff House. One person gets dropped off and the other gets picked up. Richard and his children want to ride the wyverns, but our heroes decline, saying it's too dangerous. In Pakesh they can pay professional mentors to ride wyverns and hippogriffs safely. Richard Crockford is now fifty-three years old. His wife, Lee-Ping, was twenty-two years old and pregnant ten years ago, when Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen brought her and Richard back from Feras. She is now thirty-two. Her eldest child is Crassus, a boy of ten. Next is Julia, a girl of seven, Scipio, a boy of seven, and Cordilla, a girl of five. During the three days it takes the Ambassador's Party to reach the Cliff House Hotel, Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen decide that the youngest child Cordilla is a bit of a handful, but the other three are charming. Lee-Ping, as it turns out, speaks fluent Endan. Gristel has a long conversation with her about children, riding in the back of a wagon.
In escorting the Ambassador's Party, the owners of the road experience travel upon it first-hand. They learn that refuse is piling up out behind the hostels. The outhouses are poorly-made. Some have caved in. One swampy trash pile with adjacent outhouses has been occupied by a sludge monster. At least that trash pile does not smell, because the monster eats it all, but not many travelers can sit and relax over a refuse pile occupied by a creature capable of setting fire to the outhouse around them, and which occasionally will move up through the filthy water and lurk under the seat, awaiting its next meal, visible as a huge, flattened blob beneath the surface.
Furthermore, the wells and streams near the hostels have been muddied and fouled by traffic. The hostels themselves rapidly become fouled by refuse left inside them by the less fastidious travelers. There is advantage to camping near the hostels, because the local orc and giant populations have learned to bring firewood to these places to trade for luxuries or gold. Richard's staff and the cavalry captain decide where to camp each night, and they pick places several hundred meters from the hostels, and fill up three large water tanks in the wagons once a day to give them more freedom to choose their spot.
On the evening of 4th of May, the Ambassador's Party arrives at the Cliff House Hotel, and all twenty-one poeple stay there, with the horses stabled below, and the wagons parked nearby. Thristen assures the cavalry captain that there is no need to post guards on the valley floor, but the captain posts two guards as a matter or policy, to protect the Ambassador's possessions, which include some items of furniture. With nineteen of Richard's party sleeping in the hotel, plus Quayam, Gristel, Thristen, three other guests, Felicity Jones, Michael Skinner, the chef, two cooks, a few other guests, the it is packed. Lee-Ping and Gristel are putting the children to bed. Quayam and Thristen are talking to Richard over brandy in the library. They have an intense discussion about the fate of Fabio Publius, which ends with Richard and Quayam talking about dragons.
Dragons like to sit on a pile of gold, and gold gets warm in Clarus's maeon wind, generating 5 W per kilogram. Richard claims the following expressions come from the warmth of gold. "As warm as gold" to mean a warm bed or seat, and "Heart of gold" to mean warm-hearted rather than pure-hearted, and "Cooling your pockets" to mean spending your money, "Burning a hole in my pocket" to mean you want to spend some money. A ten-kilogram vest of gold would generate 50 W of heat for its wearer. This might make a good flying vest, although it would cost $100k (1000 gp). But a well-insulated jacket would be better, because the human body generates 200W, so it's just a question of keeping the heat from escaping.
On the 5th of May, in the evening, Quayam and Thristen are once again sitting with Richard in the Library of the Cliff House Hotel. They have spent the day going up and down the stairs to the valley floor with the children, walking around the valley, and letting the children drop some spirit matter lumps off the balcony of the Cliff House. The visitors meet Sid the Demon, and observe him curled up on his 3-kg hoard of gold on a high shelf in the library. Sapiens can reach the shelf only by standing on a chair. Richard spends at least an hour watching Sid and talking to him. By the end, Richard has taught Sid to play tic-tac-toe, and plays two games with him, or so Richard claims. Nobody else witnessed the games, which took place on the library desk with black and white chess pieces, and the four lines carved on the underside of the chess board. Now, Sid is belly-down on his gold, his black eyes staring without blinking at the three men sitting and talking.
"Will Endromis file a suit against TOHA?" Quayam says, "Saying that we are breaching the Reconcilliation Treaty?"
"File a suit where?" Richard says.
"On Olympia, I suppose," Thristen says.
"I don't think the Endan government has standing on Olympia," Richard says. "The Reconcilliation Treaty is not a law of Endromis. I don't think it would be possible to bring such a suit."
"Would you like to see the road stopped?" Quayam says.
Richard shrugs. "I have enjoyed myself. I met some orcs. I'm going to meet more of them in Gutak. I like to travel. Roads are a good thing."
"And what if the Gods annulled the Reconcilliation Treaty?" Quayam says.
"Well, I don't know," Richard says. "Look at this planet. We have health care. We have contraception. Almost everyone has a good life. Those who don't can have one if they work hard. There is plenty of land. There is no other free world like it. Remember Feras?"
Thristen nods. "Crowded."
"Yes, and diseased. Population limited by disease and war and starvation. What kind of life is that? You could live on the Open Worlds, where you are subject to the laws of the Gods. Would you like that?"
"No," Quayam says. Gristel enters and sits down beside him.
"Exactly. We are free here. Life on Clarus is as good as it gets. No other free world is set up like this one. Why change anything? For personal ambition? Because of some romantic notion of a more exciting world? I want to enjoy being Ambassador to Ursia. I want peace. I want health care for my children. We should try to prevent change, not advance it."
"I agree that life here is good. But change will happen," Gristel says. "The Reconcilliation Treaty is not a stable arrangement. The black orcs don't like being hostage to the Princes of Hell. There is trade to be done across the outlands. There are plenty of people who want to work less and earn more. If we try to stop the changes, they will happen all at once, against our wishes, and under the direction of those who care nothing for the harm they do. So we might as well embrace the changes and guide them so that they do as little harm as possible."
"Yes," Richard says, "I decided much the same thing. Not going to Ursia to stop the wizards from changing the world. Going to try to make sure the changes will do as little harm as possible. I don't think the changes are going to do any good. But I'm willing to be surprized. And it's exciting to think about them."
"Life is a journey," Thristen says. "It does not have to lead anywhere in particular. But it is important to travel. Isn't that what the Nemesist's say?"
"Indeed. And I love to travel," Richard says. He raises his brandy glass. "To good travels, my friends."
They toast him in return.
From 6th May to 8th May, Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen take turns escorting Ambassador Richard Crockford's party to Gutak, arriving in the evening of the 8th after a fine spring day. Queen Daybreak provides the Endan Ambassador with a suit of several rooms in the palace. The horses are given a yard, there being no stables for horses. In years past, forage for horses would have been hard to come by, but with the traffic of the Trans-Outland Highway passing through the center of Gutak, the orcs have been storing hay and oats. Richard's staff are able to obtain an adequate supply. Food for the human members of Richard's party is provided by the palace kitchen. Gutak being a nation of orcs, waking hours are noon until a few hours after midnight. Upon his arrival, Richard has his supper with his family, and then proceeds to the Gutak Royal Court to meet Daybreak. Several of his soldiers accompany him to the court, but other than that, he goes alone.
Richard stays two days in Gutak. He meets with Gashley Virage, ambassador from Varay, and Bolus Harkman, Ambassador from Ursia. He tours the city and the engineering works escorted by four of his soldiers, a black orc of the royal staff, and ten orc soldiers. His family remains in the palace, watched over by the remaining six soldiers and ten more orcs. He meets Prince Bladebreaker and General Rackhammer. Richard appears delighted with his visit, with the sight of a troll and several ogres, and with the boystrous but loyal character of the orcs.
On the evening of the 10th of May, the news in court is the election of a new king in Dag. Zak and Thristen sit with Richard at midnight in Ambassador Virage's garden. A fire burns in a pit, which Thristen tends, and Kim toddles about with a rag doll.
"The mark of Dag is a white square," Zak says, "Gutak is a blue circle." The orc soliders that guarded Richard all carried shields with blue circles on them. "Garaz is a green curving cross like this." She draws a shape in the air. The light is dim, and Richard can't make out the shape, but he has seen them already in a book he read. "Mokul is a red cross like this. Gadz is a diamond the color of blood." She holds the fingers of both hands in the shape of a diamond. Richard admires her white tusks, black lips, wide eyes, and perfect skin. An orc can be beautiful just as any animal can be beautiful. Thristen has, of course, taking his appreciation one step farther than mere admiration, but Richard is a man of the world, and not one to judge. "Ankh is two yellow lines side by side, and they don't care what direction the lines are in. Up and down, side to side, it does not matter. It's still Ankh. Vaz is like an upside-down Latin letter T, colored dark green."
Zak has been living in Gashley Virage's residence in Gutak. Gashley, Dominican, and Zak settled upon Latin as the language they would all speak together. Latin is the High Speech of the black orcs, and all three of them spoke it well enough when they moved in. Now she is fluent and colloquial in her Latin, but Richard has no trouble understanding her. "We performed for Queen Silverleaf of Dag. She paid us well. I liked her. But she was known for squeezing money for herself out of everything, and the other karazi didn't like it. She's been on the way out for a long time. Now they have ditched her and elected Xanthus. I met him too. He was a big fan of our tumbling routines."
"And why is this change so interesting to Daybreak?" Richard says.
"They are reconsidering their alliance with Gutak, and rumor has it that they have approached King Trackandslay of Mokul and asked him to ally with them against Gutak. That will mean Garaz can crush Gadz without opposition while Gutak deals with Mokul and Dag."
"Were Dag and Mokul enemies until now?" Richard says.
"No. Dag, Gutak, and Mokul have been allies for over thirty years," Zak says. "When Trackandslay first took the throne of Mokul, he hosted a conference between all the orc nations except Garaz, proposing a grand alliance, and out of that came the alliance between Dag, Gutak, and Mokul."
Richard nods. "How did Trackandslay become king of Mokul?"
"He defeated Queen Blessedcloud in hand-to-hand combat. It was not much of a fight, according to the stories. She was weak, and she had the throne only because her father had the throne. Mokul was paying tribute to Garaz, and Trackandslay wanted to put a stop to it. Which he did."
Thristen sits back from the fire and puts his daughter on his lap. "If he started the alliance, why would he end it now?"
"I don't know what he's going to do," Zak says, "But some people think that Rackhammer is such a great general that he can and will conquor all the orc nations one day."
"Remarkable," Richard says. "Where do you get all this information?"
"I was a spy," Zak says. "Hasn't Thristen told you? I have been to every court in the land, and spoken to many disloyal courtiers, and bribed them too, with Orbelastican's gold."
"I see. Well, why, in your opinion, is it a bad thing for Rackhammer to conquor the orc nations?"
Zak frowns and licks her lips. "If Rackhammer unites the nations, there will be no war between orcs, only tribute payment to Gutak. We like war, but we don't like paying tribute. The only reason to unite under one general is if we have some other enemy to fight, which we don't at the moment, and in any case, most karazi think it's better to keep war among orcs, who fight fair. That's one reason. For Trackandslay, he is getting tired of letting Rackhammer direct Mokul's forces. Trackandslay is proud. In Dag, they have had no tribute for several years, and their queen wasted their money on stuff for herself. They think Mokul and Dag together can conquor Gutak if Gutak makes the mistake of splitting its forces to help Gadz. If Gutak stays in place to fight Dag and Mokul, Garaz will take Gadz and split the tribute somehow with Dag. Maybe that's what they are thinking. They are probably talking to Scholastican, now that he is king."
Richard stares into the night sky. "No advantage to one country becoming dominant. Unless there is some outside enemy. Yes? And if there is such an enemy, you will unit and fight together."
"Yes," Thristen says, "Better not give them an excuse to unite."
"Well, who is this Scholastican fellow?"
Thristen tells Richard the story of when Quayam, Gristel, and he first met Scholastican, black-orc Prince of Garaz, when rescuing Gila from an elf scientist in the mountains south of Ursia. Quayam and Thristen fought him hand-to-hand, and he defended himself with his fire lance and annihilation. Scholastican fled in the end, but only because he was outnumbered. "His father was Orbelastican," Thristen says, "And he abdicated this past winter. Now his son is king."
"Why did Orbelastican abdicate?" Richard says.
Zak laughs. "Rumor has it that it was something to do with Thristen coming to rescue me on the back of a dragon. Thristen forced Orbelastican to give up two hundred kilograms of gold from the Garaz treasure, or else the dragon was going to destroy Orbelastican's castle. That was a shameful moment for the old man, or so they say, and he has quit to devote himself to his studies."
Richard has already heard the story of Zak's rescue from Garaz from Quayam and Thristen during their discussion of The Dragons at the Cliff House. "Is Scholastican a good general?"
"Not as good as Carnus," Zak says. "Last year, Carnus was Garaz's general. He is only fifty-six years old. Six years ago, he set out on his pilgrimage to Gelden and−"
Kim gets off Thristen's lap and takes an olive from a bowl by Richard's chair. Zak takes a breath. "Every karazi, when they reach the age of fifty. They go there and find the holy place where Gelden first came to Clarus and lead our people here. There is a temple. They become enlightened or something. When Rackhammer went there, he met Lacewater, Princess of Garaz, daughter of Orbelastican, sister of Scholastican. They are both seventy-eight now. They are still in love, and they want to marry, but it's a secret."
"A secret?" Richard says. He pats Kim on the head. "Who knows the secret? Does Orbelastican know?"
"Of course," Zak says. "But Lacewater has not told him, so he is not suppose to know. It would be dishonorable to act upon a rumor and speak to your daughter about it if you were a karazi. You have to know how they think to deal with them." Zak smiles, which means she bares her teeth.
"I'm sure," Richard says. "Orbelastican does not want Rackhammer to marry Lacewater because Gutak and Garaz are mortal enemies."
"Oh, no!" Zak says. "Don't be silly. He does not want Lacewater to marry Rackhammer because Rackhammer is not a sorcerer, and if she marries him, their children are unlikely to carry on the family tradition of being sorcerers. She is a sorcerer, and her brother, and both their parents."
Kim takes another olive and Thristen pulls it out of her mouth and removes the seed, gives it back to her. "Does Scholastican have a girlfriend or a wife?" he says.
"Not that I know of," Zak says. "The women karazi think he is not kind."
"He's a prince and a warrior," Richard says. "Surely they must be lining up to marry him."
"No. The karazi women are strange that way. They want their man to be strong and kind. They have a long time to live and a long time to choose. When they have a baby it takes seven years. It does not matter that he is a prince. And Thristen tells me Scholastican had an elf girlfriend, so he does not need to wait for a karazi woman."
"How about keshi like you?" Richard says, "Kind men, strong men, what?"
"We can have our babies all by ourselves. We don't need men for that, do we Thristen?" Thristen frowns. He disagrees. He was there at the birth. "Keshi women need men for money, booze, and good times. That's all. So we like strong, we like gold in the pocket, but not too much, because a rich man worries too much."
"You chose well," Richard says, nodding at Thristen.
"Oh, didn't I!" Zak says. She gets up and sits on Thristen's lap and licks his face.
"Okay," Thristen says, "Richard is here."
Zak returns to her seat. Richard is not sure if she is pretending to pout or really pouting. He cannot read her expressions well enough. "Tell me about Carnus, if you please, Miss Zak."
Thristen says, "Carnus went on his pilgrimage. On his way home, he was bitten by a sand crab and infected with a disease. It's a long story, but in the end, Quayam and Gristel met him and cured him of his disease, so now he's back home. And the irony of it is, he is a great general. Maybe not as great as Rackhammer, but very good. He was a child prodigy. He could not be general until he had done his pilgrimage."
"The karazi can lead troops when they are twenty-five," Zak says. "He was acting general when he was forty-two, but not officially. Now it is official. And Quayam and Gristel rescued him."
"He will lead Garaz and allies this summer?" Richard says.
"Garaz, Ankh, and Vaz are allied," Thristen says. "Their total population is one hundred and forty thousand orcs, including woman and children. They will field fourteen divisions of three thousand each in the campaign. Gutak fields five divisions, Dag three, Mokul two."
"Who is the leader of Ankh?"
"They have a new champion," Zak says, "He's supposed to be a drunk, but super-strong, covered with scars."
"How did he become king?"
"In Ankh, the king is the champion. Every year, anyone who wants to be king takes part in a tournament. The winner of the tournament fights the king, one-on-one with weapons and sorcery only, and the winner is the new king."
"Is it do the death?" Richard says.
"Sometimes. It depends on how the winner feels about the loser."
"Can anyone take part in the tournament?"
"Oh yes," Zak says. "Anyone. I have been telling Thristen he should go do it. He would win. I'd be so proud. Wife of the king of Ankh. I don't know if any keshi has every been queen before."
"But he's not an orc," Richard says.
A great cloud of sparks rises from the fire. Kim has thrown a pile of sticks and leaves onto it. When the sparks have died down, and Thristen has once again gathered his daughter on to his lap, Thristen says, "Zak tells me there was a sapien king of Ankh once, long ago."
"Yes, the Tyrant Belamak. He was the most horrible king of Ankh in history, so the legend says."
Thristen smiles. "The god of Ankh is Beelzebub, Prince of Hell, God of Pain. A tyrant sounds just right for Ankh."
"I'm just telling you what the legend says. I have been to Ankh. They have lots of stone bridges and wonderful public baths with tile all over the inside, bright colors, and hot water. They have hot water coming out of the ground there. All the baths and bridges were built when the Tyrant Belamak was ruler."
"He sounds terrible indeed," Richard says.
"Beelzibub probably did not like him," Thristen says. "Not enough pain."
"You should go take part in the tournament," Zak says.
Thristen shakes his head. "No."
Richard looks at Thristen and turns to Zak. "That's a maybe."
The 11th and 12th of May, Thristen, Zak, and Kim escort Ambassador Crockford's party through Gutak, the Borderlands, and to Heal in Varay. From here, he will make his way to Ankle, there to meet with representatives of the Varayan government. Zak hugs him goodbye. "I like you, Richard," she says.
"And I like you too," Richard says. "You are the prettiest orc I have every seen."
Thristen rolls his eyes. Lee-Ping shakes her head. But she hugs Zak also, and so they say farewell. "Until Pakesh," Richard says, as he steps up on a wagon.
Some thinking about campaigning: Each standard division 100 hit points and striking power 10, or 2D10 damage to the opposing forces. A division loses 1 from striking power per 10% loss of hit points. Correct division size for orc armies is 3000 in order for Gutak, a country of 50k, to have 5 divisions. Every 10k orcs can provide one 3000-man division. Orc women build defences, maintain stockades and ditches. Home advantage in orc campaigns due to woman-only divisions that maneuver and fight with a companion male orc division. If city is invaded by foreign army when only women are present to defend the city, they may or may not fight. Carnus will be general for Garaz, gives all divisions under his command +2. Rackhammer is general of Gutak, +4. Rockorso is general of Gadz, gives +2. A river represents a hinderance to striking power, say −1 for small and −5 for long pontoon bridge, per division. Remember the Battle of Eagle Field, total 5% killed in 2484.
18th May: Daybreak declares war on Garaz, Ankh, and Vaz.
22nd May: Gadz declares war on Garaz, Ankh, and Vaz.
23rd May: Mokul and Dag declare war on Gutak and form alliance sharing tribute equally between their nations, despite Mokul having a population two thirds as large as Dag. Rackhammer and TOHA agree that the road will not be used to transport troops for combat between Mokul and Gutak.
24th-31st May: Last days for possible declarations. Much activity and secrecy in Bladebreaker's engineering works in Gutak.
10th June: Hostilities begin. Dag advances its three divisions towards Gutak and entrenchmes for +3 battle advantage. Gutak's five divisions cross the river with many pontoon bridges and attack Dag at night, a ten-hour battle ends with Dag down to 46 of 300 hit points and Gutak down to 407 of 500.
11th June: Trackandslay moves troops up Trans Outland Highway into the Long Hills a few kilometers. Quayam blocks with conjured wall. Trackandslay annihilates. Debate ensues between Quayam and Trackandslay, in which Quayam assumes Trackandslay has already agreed not to use the road to move his troops against Gutak. Trackandslay is indignant. Quayam withdraws and talks to Thristen and Gristel, who inform him that no such deal has been made with Mokul, only with Gutak. Quayam flies back, apolosises, and agrees to let Trackandslay station troops at the Mokul end of the road, but not to ascend into the Long Hills. At night, Rackhammer attacks Dag's weakened and entrenched troops. Dag surrenders.
12th June: Day of rest for Gutak and Dag's forces. Trackandslay moves to home turf of Mokul.
13th June: Rackhammer moves 4 divisions into Dag. 1 division escorts 3 captured Dag divisons towards Gutak. Garaz has 8 divisions crossing the Long Hills to Gadz.
14-17th June: Battles in the Pass, Garaz versus Gadz, constraind to one division each side. No winner.
18th June: Garaz has 7 divisions across the Long Hills in Gadz and attacks Gadz's 4 divisions on their home turf. Day-long battle in which Garaz drops from 700 to 504 hp and Gadz from 400 to 250 hp. Meanhile battle in the pass continues. Same day Mokul is invade by four divisions of Gutak under Rackhammer. Mokul drops from 200 to 119 and Gutak from 400 to 332. Trackandslay makes a deal with Scholastican to split tribute that must be paid to Gutak if Trackandslay delays Rackhammer for 2 days.
19th June: Rackhammer has joined Gadz and Rockorso gives him strategic command and himself commands a division in the pass. Battle for Mokul continues as does the battle for Gadz.
20th June: Gadz withdraws forces to swamp wilderness in darkness and daytime. Garaz seizes Gadz. Gutak still fighting to take Mokul. Mokul down to 70, Gutak down to 405. Mokul falls in the evening. Rackhammer accepts Trackandslay's surrender and captures Mokul's two divisions.
21st June: Movement. Rockorso is in the swamp, moving East, then waiting.
24th June: Gutak leaves Mokul going south-west with 2 divisions of prisoners.
25th June: Small movements. Gadz still hiding in swamp.
26th June: Rackhammer moves north-east.
27th-29th June: Waiting.
30th June: Gadz and Gutak agree to join forces under Rackhammer and to split any tribute Gutak earns in this campaign. Rockorso retreats farther east into swamp.
1-4th July: Rockorso climing up into the Long Hills and finally united with Rackhammer at Henk Bottom, just on the north side of the Long Hills. Garaz's troops do not close. They are following behind Rockorso, and another half are one day from Rackhammer. But Garaz does not come forward with seven divisions, realizing that Rackhammer's five and Rockorso's five could bet him.
5th July: Rackhammer and Rockorso withdraw towards Mokul. Carnus is now at Henk Bottom with all fourteen divisions.
6th July: Rackhammer and allies withdrawing and Carnus following.
7th July: Rackhammer and Rockorso in Mokul, Carnus stopped 100 km from Mokul.
9th July: Carnus enters Mokul. Quayam and Carnus talk. Carnus agrees not to agree with TOH traffic.
13th July: Rackhammer's four divisions and Rockorso's five in Gutak with 5 divisions of prisoners. One division of Gutak occupies Dag.
26th July: End of hostilities. Gadz owes Garaz/Ankh/Vaz 50k city tribute = $10M. Mokul owes Gutak/Gadz 2 division prisoner tribute = $4M. Garaz owes Mokul one half of two-division prisoner tribute = $2M. Dag owes Gutak/Gadz 3 division prisoner tribute $6M. Dag owes Gutak/Gadz 30k city tribute = $6M. Thus we have Gutak receives $8M. Gadz pays $2M. Mokul loses $2M. Garaz/Ankh/Vaz alliance makes $8M. Dag pays $12M.
New session 20th March 2015 at 1236 Norfolk Road, MA, Chris, Kirk, and Kevan. Game date is 1st August 2486. We begin the Varayan Slave-Ring adventure, which is a group effort, with roles divided among the three of us. A cabal has been smuggling slaves into Varay on the TOHA, telling each slave they will be freed after six months service to their new master.
For May through August Guildencrassen produces $320k worth of gold for QTG. Revenue from tolls and profit from Cliff-House Hotel, including exceptional revenue from Richard Crockford's party in May, comes to $1.2M. Fixed costs are $420k. The TOHA bank balance is now $2.26M, plus 52 kg of gold in Guildencrassen. No trouble in Guildencrassen (1% per month).
Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen have been paying Opportunities Incorporated for space bridges on a local network with access to the wider bridge network. These bridges are held by Romayne, Travis, Zak, Gashley, Rackhammer, Babatunde, Elivinsikil, Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel, leaving two spares that they carry with them. That's a total of thirteen bridges. Each bridge is tuned once every three months, and given a new sibilant membrane. The spell the tuners tend to use is an all-in one tune and refurbish, combining a difficulty two membrane function with a difficulty three tuning function, making its difficulty four, costing 40 gp in Pakesh, or $4k. With thirteen bridges and four tunes per year each, the total cost will be $200k, but Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen get a great deal with OpInc for several reasons. First, they get a bulk discount. Second, they buy research services that are expensive, so OpInc wants to give them access to their own research facilities rather than those of a summoning agency. Third, OpInc is permitted to brag about their association with such famous adventurers. Fourth, the adventurers are willing to be quoted in advertisements recommending OpInc servies in the Adventurer's Gazette and Adventuring Wizard. Fifth, Gristel mentions them at least once a year in her diary stories published in such magazines. But now QTG want this $100k annual expense to be taken over for 2486 by TOHA, and so it will be, raising the annual fixed expenses in the future to $1.85M. We have not yet deducted these payments from TOHA's bank account, we'll leave it to the end of 2486.
Romayne and Travis are joint managers of TOHA, acting as policemen and coordinators of the staff and money collection. Romayne keeps copies of the traveler manifests in the TOHA office at the Cliff House. That office is small but efficient, and Romayne has asked to have some dwarf miners come from Eisengard to extend the passages into the cliff. "We could expand inwards as far as we like," she says. "The entire hill is granite. This is what dwarves do." Travis estimates he is thirty years old, although his mysterious time-traveling past precludes him knowing exactly. He is a tenth level adventurer. Romayne is now twenty-two and fifth level.
On the 1st of August 2486, Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen are staying in Ambassador Gashley's residence in Gutak City. Gristel receives a letter forwarded from the TOHA office in Heal.
From: Essex Stroud, Chief Detective, Ankle Police, 25th July 2486.
To: Gristel Virage, TOHA, P.O. Box 6, Heal, Varay.
Dear Mrs. Virage, We have here in Ankle a traveler on your road who testifies he as brought to Varay to work indentured some period of time before earning his freedom. He claims two others were making the same journey at the same time. We cannot locate these other two. Please help us root out any potential slave trading by letting us know the names and descriptions as you may know them, of the travelers arriving at Varay on TOHA in the week July 15 to July 22. Yours Sincerely, Signed Chief Detective Essex Stroud.
On 2nd August, Gristel and Romayne fly without armor on Stanley the Wyvern to Ankle. Romayne brings with her the TOHA manifest for the first three weeks in July. They arrive at 11 am, check in to the Gumption Arms, and make their way on foot to the Ankle Police Headquarters, where they obtain an appointment to see Essex Stroud in the late afternoon. After a good lunch and a nap, they return for their 5 pm appointment. They meet Essex Stroud and a young man from Morden called Jarred Smalls. It turns out that Jarred speaks Varayan.
"A slaver called Oleg Olegson bought me in Morden," Jarred says. "He told me I had to agree to the terms of the purchase, or else he would not buy me. He said I would go by cart across the orc lands to Varay, and there I would work for six months without pay for my new master, then I would be free."
"That's rather unusual," Gristel says. "You would be free on the Trans-Outland Highway. What's to stop you running away?"
"The orcs. We're not supposed to leave the road. And if you don't speak Varayan when you get here, what are you to do? But he wanted me to promise that I would follow the terms of the sale. I questioned him a while, because I did not want him to think I was too keen. I didn't tell him I spoke Varayan, because I figured he would not buy me if he knew."
"Did he tell you who you were going to work for?" Romayne says.
"No. But I agreed and I ended up traveling with Mordi iron-trader called Aiden. On the way, I met two other travelers who were also slaves purchased in Morden, and had been asked to make the same promise. They were Keelia, a woman, and Vaughn, a man. When Aiden and I were past the TOHA check-point south of Gutak, and almost to the Varayan side of the borderlands, I ran into the forest and came to a river. I found a canoe and borrowed it to paddle downstream to Ankle. Once here, I went to the police, told them my story, including borrowing the canoe, and asked them for visitor papers so I could work."
Gristel looks at Essex. He says, "We found his story compelling. We are trying to find the owners of the canoe. But we would like some independent verification."
"Is Jarred's name on the TOHA manifests?"
Romayne takes out the passenger lists and cargo manifests. Jarred's name is recorded. But there is no Aiden, Keelia, or Vaughn.
"I'm surprised," Jarred says. "Maybe they did not give their real names. I gave my real name."
"Well, your name is on there," Essex says. "I see no reason why you would paddle down the river instead of come by road, unless your story were true."
"Thank you detective," Jarred says.
Further discussion leads to the conclusion that Jarred might be in danger from whatever criminal elements are organising the slave trade. He asks the detective for some money so he can leave Varay. The detective declines. Jarred has been working at the docks, earning roughly $100 a day, which is enough to support himself. When Romayne and Gristel take their leave, Romayne attempts, but fails, to put ten guineas in Jarred's pocket without the detective noticing. She gives him the money and the detective does not object. Jarred remains to make a sworn statement in Latin with a police witness. Because it is in Latin, this statement might be useful when attempting to obtain the cooperation of police in other nations.
In the square outside the police station, Gristel and Romayne sit down and order coffee. They are going to wait until Jarred comes out, and see if anyone is following him. They relax, watch the people go by, and keep an eye on the front door of the police station. A young man recognises them and tries to converse with them even after they sign his copy of Adventurer's Gazette. Gristel tells him she does not want to talk, but he persists. Eventually, the proprietor of the coffee shop orders the intrusive young man away, and he leaves. At about the same time, Jarred walks out of the police station. Another man, who had been sitting on a bench, stands up.
Gristel and Romayne greet Jarred. With his ten gold pieces, Jarred wants to leave Varay, and the easiest way to do that is down the Fen River on a barge. Gristel and Romayne walk with Jarred to the docks. During their ten-minute journey, Romayne believes they are being followed by at least one man. When they get to the docks, the sun is setting. They question the captains of several barges and find one who is willing to leave tonight for ten guineas. Jarred agrees to work as a member of the crew, saying he has done so before, and knows how to pole a barge. It will take him two hours to get his crew together and finish stowing the cargo.
Gristel takes Romayne and Jarred out to dinner. Over pasta and sauce, Gristel learns that Jarred worked for a few years in Varay, after coming up the Fen River on a barge. He went home the same way three years ago. Through some financial misfortune in Morden, he ended up a slave. After dinner, Gristel and Romayne escort him to the barge and see the barge off. They walk back to the Gumption Arms and take to the air on Stanley. It is a clear summer night with a three-quarter moon rising in the east. They identify Jarred's barge and follow it for an hour. The barge is thirty meters from the south shore, traveling with the help of poles across the moonlit water. Standing in the middle of the barge are two cart horses, riding at ease after pulling the barge all the way from Karadan. On the bank are two other barges with lanterns being towed up the river.
"I think that's enough," Gristel shouts over her shoulder. "To get him now, the bad guys would have to send someone down to their next port of call. I don't think they are prepared to do that. He's leaving. They should let him go."
A road and tow path follow the Fen River west from Ankle, until the river passes through the Sharp Hills. The road bends slightly to the south and the river flows slightly to the north. It enters a swamp. All the way from Ankle, and a hundred kilometers into the swamp, the north bank of the Fen River is the Borderlands, with no dominant nation of orcs, and home to monsters and bandits of all sorts. The river, however, is over a hundred meters wide, and the barges stick close to the south bank on their way upstream, when they are towed by horses, and when they drift down-river, a little farther from the bank, they keep a sharp lookout for small boats launched from the north bank to come raiding. The Swamp Way is the wooden tow path with a conjured wood surface, on the south bank of the Fen River, opposite the Outlands. Beside the towpath the banks of the river are excavated to make a canal. The canal and roadway were built fifty years ago, a labor of ten years, and joint venture by Ursia and Varay. The road is now managed by the Swamp Way Corporation. Along the way are rest stops and trading posts every twenty kilometers. One of the hotels, The Willowisp, is a fine house popular with adventurers. It provides a griff and wyvern landing platform, built out over the swamp, and stables. The Swamp Way runs from Kureek in Ursia up to Ankle in Varay.
The Fen River moves at around 2.5 km/hr. The current is weaker on the edges, which makes it easier to tow a barge up-river. The Swamp Way Corporation provides tow horses so that barges can move twenty-four hours a day with the help of borrowed animals. Towing sixteen hours a day, it takes twenty days to go from Kureek to Ankle. Poling with the current takes a little longer, because it requires light. At Kureek, tug boats pull barges back and forth from Nipoly, the Endan town on the north bank. From and Kureek, cargoes go by sailboat to Karadan, and return by sail. The river is several hundred meters to a kilometer wide downstream of these two towns. Cargoes may also travel on the fine road that runs from Nipoly to Biali, also on the north bank of the river. From Biali, a road runs north to the source of the Goon River. Jarred came this way when he was young, and went by sail boat and barge to Ankle.
On the 3rd August, Camden Beal meets Precilla in a reastaurant in Ankle. She expresses concern about the disturbance in the slave delivery schedule.
Aiden, the driver described by Jarred, has set off back up the TOH on 28th July. Thristen and Travis suspect as much, although they can't find his name on the manifests. They fly on Thristen's wyvern from Gutak City and question cart riders on the road. Travis recognises one of them, a thirty-five year old Mordi who appears as Aldeen on his TOHA passes. After some fragmented discussion in Latin, Travis concludes that Aiden, who cannot read or write, believed Aldeen was the correct spelling of his own name. There was an Aldeen who came south with Jarred, so these are one and the same person. Aiden says he has made the journey with a passanger like Jarred three times alltogether.
Given that Jarred's story has now been further corroberated, Thristen and Travis press on to the Green Horn Tavern, where they ask Falmut to direct them to the nearest slave market in Morden. The market is held twice a week. On the seventh of August, they visit the market. They land their wyvern in the middle. Travis guards the beast and Thristen finds Oleg Olegson. The slaver exists, acknowleges his name, but refuses to talk. He walks away.
After Camden Beal was hired by Precilla Fascia to obtain slaves for Rastafaranabas's Varayan cabal, he came up the TOHA Road himself in September 2484. Now that the TOHA Road was open, it was the most likely way he could get slaves into the country. He met Oleg at the market and made arrangements with him for how Oleg was to be paid and how the slaves were to be convinced and delivered. The two of them got along well, and their system has been working. Both of them are making good money. The idea is to transport ten slaves in the three months following the summer and winter solistices to ten locations in Varay. Sometimes the slave escapes and has to be tracked down and killed. But almost always, the slave cooperates and in those cases, Camden and Oleg split the profits from the sale. An adequate slave costs around $40k in Morden, but Precilla is paying $100k each. With thirty slaves delivered over the last one and a half years, they have each made over half a million dollars. So Oleg does not want to talk to Thristen or Travis. He has not heard word of any problems from Camden, but he knows they are the TOHA owners, and he figures this means trouble for his profitable venture.
In the market, Olaf the Strong challenges Thristen to a fist fight. He is wearing chain mail. Thristen agrees to the duel. He is wearing his flying armor. Olaf proves to be a stoic and resilient opponent. Thristen gives Olaf no time to catch his breath. There is no circling and hoping for advantage. The fight is a sustained battering of Olaf until Thristen knocks the wind out of the huge man and wins the fight.
"That took over half a minute," Travis says. "And you're tired. Are you losing your touch?"
Oleg watches this display, but still refuses to talk to Thristen, turning away into the crowd and disappearing once again. And so Travis and Thristen fly away.
"I'm sorry about what I said after the fight," Travis says, shouting from behind Thristen on the wyvern's back. "That was a stupid thing to say. You fought well. I'm proud of you. I don't think I'll ever equal your skill. Maybe one day I'll have the knowledge to understand how you do it."
"A little trash talk never hurt anyone," Thristen says.
Gristel and Romayne fly to visit Cloe Stern, Police Chief in Heal. They arrive at 10 am on 8th August, 2486. They leave Stanley the Wyvern in the woods a few hundred meters outside town. They walk to the police station and are immediately able to sit down with Cloe. They confront Cloe with the potential slave smuggling. When Cloe claims to talk to the travelers, Gristel asks her where she learned to speak Mordi. Cloe, who does not speak Mordi and did not in fact speak to the travelers, realises that Gristel is supicious.
To Gristel's surprise, Cloe reveals to them that she has been doing services for Camden Beal, a crime boss in Ankle. He has helped her pay off some debts, and in return, she has been arresting certain travelers on the road who try to escape from their "mentors". The mentors are employees of Camden's who come and meet the travelers in Heal. Cloe calls them "goons". There is one such goon in Heal at all times. He has lunch every day in The Grape Vine restaurant, and the traveler is supposed to meet him there for lunch. If they don't meet him, but wander off somewhere else, Cloe and one of her officers will invent some infraction and arrest the traveler. The goon then shows up and pays bail, and takes charge of the traveler, who is usually more submissive by then. The goon drives a one-horse buggy, and takes the traveler away on it the same day, after lunch. Cloe does not know where they go or what becomes of them. She estimates there have been two or three such travelers a month, for the past year and a half. She has been police chief since September 2484. Since them, she has had to arrest six of travelers.
Gristel says Cloe may be able to avoid trouble is she cooperates. Of course Camden Beal, if he finds out that Cloe has betrayed him, will try to have her killed. So Cloe should keep up appearances. Meanwhile, two wagons have arrived. Romayne and Gristel walk back to Stanley. On their way they send word to Quayam and Thristen, who set off immediately on Quayam's wyvern from the Cliff House. Gristel and Romayne jump on Stanley and fly away from Heal, then back towards the Stockton Farm, so as not to be seen from the town. By 11:30 am, Gristel is disguised as an old woman. By 12:00 pm she is entering the town on Brock's cart, driven by Brock himself. She gets down and enters The Grape Vine, where she soon spots the goon and a young woman having lunch. The young woman has red hair and fair skin. The goon is tanned and pock-marked, with big hands. At 12:30 pm, Thristen and Quauam arrive at the farm. At 12:45 pm, the goon and the girl leave on the goon's one-horse buggy. Only the goon knows where they are going: a mansion nine kilometers south-east of Clavicle.
Thristen sets out from the Stockton Farm and picks up the trail of the buggy in the town. He is riding a horse he has leased from the Stocktons. At 2:00 pm he loses the trail in the confusion of cart tracks on the road. He arrives at Coclea at 6 pm. He camps at the far side of the town, on the far side of a bridge, from which he can view three roads leading away. He assumes the goon and slave stayed in Coclea over-night, and that they will not return to Heal.
New session, Kevan Kirk and Chris, Norfolk Road, 29th May 2015.
At dawn on the 9th August 2486, Quayam, Gristel, and Romayne, having spent the night on the Stockton Farm in a conjured shelter, set out on their two wyverns and circle high above Coclea. It is cool and quiet as the sun comes up and baths the uplands of Varay in summer light. At 9 am, the buggy emerges from the town, crosses the bridge, and passes right by Thristen, where he sits hidden with his horse in the trees. Thristen follows two hundred meters behind. Quayam and Gristel take their wyverns to the Virage Estate in Clavicle. The wind has risen with the sun: it is blowing 24 kph from the south-west.
The buggy continues south on the road, with Thristen following, staying out of sight, now a thousand meters back. When the buggy stops for lunch, Thristen hides in the forest. "I think they are headed for Clavicle," Thristen reports to his comrades over space bridge. Clavicle is Gristel's home-town. She went to school there, as did her two sisters after her. Her sister Sandra lives there now, in a fine house, with her husband and three children.
Clavicle has a population of twenty-five thousand, and its streets are lit with luminous stones. The population pays $50/person/yr to the Clavicle Light Company, making a $1.25M/yr lighting budget. The company owns a 1-5, luminous stones magical amplifier, at a cost of $1M ($4/person/yr), which allows them to make a 2-year half-life, 10-W luminous stone with a first-level spell. The total cost of creating and installing one luminous stone is roughly $2k (includes $1k for first-level spell), so the company installs 625 street lamps per year, maintaining a total of 1250 that are no more than half-way through their life. With one lamp every 20 m, Clavicle has 25 km of illuminated streets. The company employs two wizards and four lamp-men, who maintain the lamp posts, clean the luminous stones, and install new stones.
The main roads out of Clavicle are the River Road, which is a paved highway to Ankle that leaves on the west side of town, and the North Road, which crosses the bridge and leads to Coclea, Heal, and Gutak. Traffic on the River Road is roughly thirty people per hour in each direction. Most are travellers, but a third are merchants with wagons. The East Road follows the foothills of the Iron Mountains and is unpaved. It eventually turns west and runs to Ankle.
Gristel disguises herself once again as an old lady, and walks into town. She is pleased to find that her disguise does fool several people she is acquainted with. She walks by the Clavicle Savings Bank, where Charles Crump, the husband of her youngest sister Sandra, is manager. She looks through the window and sees Charles talking to one of his employees. He does not look up. She sits on a bench watching the bridge over the river. After half an hour, the buggy with the man and the young woman crosses from the north side and enters the town. Gristel follows. The buggy goes straight through town to the East Road. Gristel follows to the city limits. Thristen arrives soon after and picks up the trail.
The trail ends at the driveway to Splenium Manor, an estate of several hundred acres of forest, with hay fields and lawns around a sandstone manor house of perhaps a twenty rooms. The buggy goes up the driveway and emerges again without the young woman, heading back to Clavicle. Thristen camps in the forest with his horse, west of the driveway, and spends the night watching. Nothing happens.
The next day dawns at 6:30 am. It is the 10th of August, 2484, Romayne's 22nd birthday. Thristen watches the driveway to Splenium Manor. At 9 am two women, one with brown skin and black hair, the other with white skin and red hair, leave on a one-horse buggy and go north. At 10 am the grocery delivery cart arrives from Clavicle. Fifteen minutes later, the grocer leaves and continues south. At 11 am, a fat man leaves on a one-horse buggy driven by a man with white skin. Thristen cannot guess the ages of any of the people leaving the manor. They look young and vigorous, but their faces are lined. At 11:45 am, a pretty woman with tan skin and long white hair kanters south on a horse. Thristen breaks camp and rides back to Clavicle and on to the Virage Estate, arriving at 2 pm.
Romayne, meanwhile, goes to the town hall and looks up Splenium Manor. She determine that the manor sold four years ago to Drago Aytakin. The former Lord Splenium moved out. She looks in the papers and finds rumor that Lord Splenium was bankrupt. One of the conditions of the sale of the house was that Lord Splenium's cat be allowed to remain on in the house.
It is the evening of 10th August, 2486. Romayne, Travis, Gristel, Quayam, and Thristen are gathered at the rebuilt home of Gashley and Dominican on the Virage Estate. Quayam and Gristel's wyverns are stabled outside, and the horse Thristen borrowed from Brock Stockton. The grounds of the estate are maintained by the groundsman. Gristel's sister Celia has been staying in the house most of the time, but at the moment she is in Pakesh, staying in Quayam and Gristel's house there. She left the kitchen a bit of a mess, and the rest of the house is untidy. But Gristel and Travis get it cleaned up and prepare birthday supper for Romayne.
"Shall we invite Sandra and her family also?" Travis asks.
"It's too late notice," Gristel says. "They will have plans already, or Sandra will be distressed because Luke does not want to come, or Gertrude has piano practice. They need a week's notice to arrange their schedule."
"Can you play piano?"
"No. But I can play the recorder. Or could. So let's invite them for next week, assuming we are not flying about looking for slave traders every night. I'm sure we can manage something. It will be like work for other people. Go to work during the day, or maybe a night shift, then back home and cook dinner for family and friends. I could get to like it."
"We shall see. I'm thinking it will get complicated." Travis says, throwing Celia's sheets into the laundry basket. "Do we do this ourselves, or do we have someone come and wash stuff?"
Gristel frowns. "It's already complicated. Leave them there. We'll figure that out tomorrow. We have money. People need work. I don't want to do laundry."
"I understand," Travis says. "But I'll point out the words of one of my Zen teachers on Domus. He said that in simple work is to be found an understanding of time and fate."
"I have no idea what that means," Gristel says, walking to the door.
Travis calls after her. "I thought you were going to tell me to do the lanudry myself."
Varay Observer, Report from Pakesh, 5th August 2486. Ursia has begun levying a 10% tax on all magical items it exports. An Ursian spokesman stated that half the tax revenue is expected to be used to pay for the gathering of the tax and for the monitoring of production and export of magical items. The other half will be used to pay off war bonds. The tax is part of the Ursian Government's efforts to implement one of the terms of its armistice with Endromis, in which the export of dangerous magical items such as thunder-eggs is declared and licensed, with a license for import being required on the Endan border. The Endans have long complained of the carnage caused by thunder-eggs brought into their country by Anoni Rebels.
"That's nice," Gristel says. "We are making 2% interest on our war bonds. We figure they are as good as cash, so we'll keep them." She continues reading.
In an alley off The Triangle is a new basement restaurant with no windows. The food is rice and kebabs only, and they are good, if not the best. But it is the view we come for, in a party of four. We sit at a table against the wall, and in the wall is a half-meter circle of glass. Behind the glass is a space bridge that looks out on another part of the world. We looked the frozen wastes of the far north, the sea smashing on sun-lit cliffs, a lake with jungle borders, a packed square in Chi'in, and the view from a high mountain. There are ten views available, and we spent six minutes with each one during our one-hour meal. The standard price for four people at one table for an hour with food included: one thousand Ursian dollars, or ten gold pieces.
"Cloe gave you Camden Beal's name," Thristen says.
"Yes," Gristel says. Romayne nods.
"And you gave Camden Beal's name to Chief Detective Essex Stroud."
"Yes," Romayn says.
"If Camden has a spy in the police department," Thristen says, "Camden might hear about Cloe giving us his name. She might be in danger."
"I'm sure she is in danger," Gristel says, "But I'm not about to spend my time playing body-guard. She's going to have to look after herself."
"It would be a pity if she ended up dead," Romayne says. "She would be a valuable witness in a trial."
"That's why Camden is going to try to have her killed," Thristen says.
"Maybe," Gristel says, "But that would make us angry, and would confirm that he is up to no good. If he does nothing, he can still claim that she simply named him because he is someone people don't like, despite his generous donations to charity, and so on."
On 11th August, Romayne and Gristel fly down to Ankle to talk to Essex Stroud. Meanwhile, Thristen takes Quayam to Splenium Manor on Quayam's wyvern. Quayam dismounts beside the fountain, and Thristen takes the wyvern up to circle a few hundred meters up. Quayam ascends granite steps to the front door. Along the edge of the Manor's flat roof are sandstone gargoyles, perched on a low wall. Quayam knocks on the front door. A man answers. Later discussion suggests this is the same man who Thristen saw driving the buggy with the fat man yesteraday morning at 11 am.
The man's skin is pale, but there are age spots on his cheeks, and lines about his eyes and mouth. The lines suggest this fellow spends most of his time frowning, and some of his time squinting in bright light. His eyes are gray. His hair is short and black. A blue tint to the black suggests the application of hair color. He is about the same height as Quayam, and lean. He wears a buttoned shirt and trousers, both baggy. These do not appear to be a uniform of any kind. He holds the door open a good twenty seconds before he speaks, and when he speaks it is with an accent that Quayam cannot place. He rolls his r's and strethes out is e's.
"What can I do for you, sir?"
"I'd like to speak to Drago Aytakin about the young woman who was delivered to this house two days ago. The young woman traveled down the Trans Outland Highway."
The man raises one eyebrow. "What is your name?"
Quayam tells him. "I am one of the directors of the Trans-Outland Highway."
The man stares at Quayam for a long time, examining his cloths. Quayam is unarmed and wears no armor, just a shirt and trousers. He has is flying jacket over his arm. The man looks up and sees the wyvern circling. He watches.
"Come in," the man says. He opens the door and Quayam enters a high-ceilinged hall. He follows the man to a door on the right, and into a room in which there are several couches, many chairs, and a piano, but all of them covered by white sheets. The man points to one of the couches. "Please sit. I will tell Drago of your presence here." The man leaves the room, closing the door behind him. There is a click from the lock on the door. Quayam is not sure if it has been locked or not.
He looks around the room. The windows are glass-paned, two meters high, and shuttered. Two have their curtains drawn open, and the remaining four have their curtains drawn shut. The curtains are of light-blue velvet. There is another door. A large fireplace has no sign of ash in its grate. It is dim and quiet. He sits on the couch.
Beneath the sheet that covers another couch, something about the size of a pillow is moving. Quayam watches the object traverse the length of the couch, drop on to the floor, and emerge from beneath the sheet to reveal itself as a fat ginger cat. The cat stares at Quayam. Quayam stares back. A full minute passes. The door rattles, as if someone is trying to enter. The cat dashes between a chair and the piano and disappears. The door opens. In walks a fat man in a silk shirt with wool trousers and a polished walking stick. On his head is a bright green felt hat with a brim and a feather. A watch gold watch chain decorates his hip. A purse hangs from his belt. He is smiling, and his cheeks are shiny.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Srae, I am Drago Aytakin, owner of Splenium Manor." Quayam stands and shakes a hand with soft skin but a firm grip.
"I represent the Trans-Outland Highway," Quayam says. "We understand that a young woman has arrived here from Morden. We are concerned that she is a slave, or is somehow here as an indentured servant."
"Oh," Drago says. He frowns at the floor for a moment and then shouts at the open door. "Flavius! Fetch Penny." He turns back to Quayam. "You had better talk to her yourself. She does not speak Varayan yet, nor Latin. Do you know any Mordi?"
"Nor do I. But Flavius does."
Drago sits on a couch. Quayam remains standing. After a minute, the young woman from Heal enters the room, dressed in a cotten dress. She is smiling. With her is Flavius. Quayam asks a her a few questions, with Flavius as interpreter. It appeasr that she is here of her own free will. Drago dismisses both Flavius and Penny.
"It appears to us that you bought Penny as a slave in Morden, or you went through some intermediary to purchase her, and now she has been delivered here with an obligation to work for you for six months or more."
"We did pay for her freedome, yes, through a tax-deductable donation made to a certain charity set up for the benefit of people such as myself, who are against slavery."
"What charity is that?"
Drago smiles. "That will remain confidential. But suffice to say that, once freed, a slave needs to learn how to support herself, or himself. Penny is under no obligation to stay here and work for us, other than a moral obligation. She agreed to work for us in exchange for our buying her freedom. It is better this way, because now she can learn a trade and a new language in a country where she will remain free." He extends his hands. "Our country."
"Why not just hire a local servant?"
Drago stands. "Mr. Srae, you are a powerful and influential person. I know who you are. But you are prying into my business. I have allowed you into my home. I have reassured you that the young woman is well. Do not question how I spend my money. I spend it however I like. This is a free country, after all. Now, if you will be so kind, I have more of my own business to attend to, such as a cup of coffee and a hot croissant." He indicates the door.
Quayam walks to the front door. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Aytakin."
Drago bows. "You are welcome. I am glad you are concerned about traffic on your road. It is reassuring that even people with such power as yourself retain a social conscience. Good day to you."
Drago turns and walks across the hall. Flavius opens the front door for Quayam and lets him out. Moments later, Quayam is flying with Thristen above the estate. There are twenty gargoyles on the wall around the roof.
Gristel and Romayne are in Ankle, where they spend the night. The next day, after talking to Quayam by space bridge, they meet with Essex Stroud and relate Quayam's experience at Splenium Manor.
"I have not heard of any such charity," Essex said. "I'll ask for a warrent to get Mr. Aytakin's tax records. And I will send a detective to interview Drago again."
"Good," Gristel says. "We are thinking of staking out the place, to see if we can catch them doing anything nefarious."
"The less I hear about that the better," Essex says. "But trespassing is a civil offence, so if you are hiding on his property, try not to do any damage, frighten anyone, or leave a mess that they have to clean up."
On 18th August, all three wyverns are at the Virage Estate, Quayam, Thristen, Gristel, Zak and Kim. Travis and Romayne are at the Cliff House with their griffs. Brock Stockton's horse has been returned.
Quayam and Gristel fly down to Ankle to talk to Essex Stroud at 4 pm. "My detective interviewed Drago Aytakin. We remain suspicious. But we have no grounds to issue a warrent to search the place. The detective met Penny, the girl from Morden, and she seems happy. There is no sign of injury upon her, nor signs of coersion. She looks well fed and healthy. I asked the district attourney for a warrent to get Drago Aytakin's tax records, but he denied me."
"The DA is Didcot Watford?" Gristel says.
"Did you tell him Camden Beal was involved, and the slave traffic as well?" Quayam says.
Essex gives a tight-lipped smile. "I did my best to make the case for issuing a warrent. But Mr. Watford was not impressed. I believe I irritated him, in fact."
They fly back to the Virage Estate after the interview, arriving in time to save the kitchen from being burned down by Zak's efforts to bake bread in the stove. Thristen returns just before dark with Kim. He has been showing her around the estate. She will be two years old on 27th August. She looks like Zak in some ways, but has no outward features to mark her as being the daughter of an orc. But she keeps the hours of an orc: bed at midnight, which gives her mother a few hours to herself, and up at noon. She is no longer nursing, and no longer wearing diapers.
After supper, Zak answers questions about the Garaz royal family. Pyrotechnican, a sorcerer, and Wingmender wereking and queen in the old days. They had two children, both of whom grew up to be sorcerers. They are Orbelastican (male, now 261 years old) and Vernonmatrix (male, now 218 yrs old). Orbelastican became king when his father died, and has been king so long as Zak's father can remember. He married Moonwalker (female, now 266) and they had two children, Scholastican (male, now 109) and Lacewater (female, now 81). Scholastican is a sorcerer, and now king of Garaz. He is unmarried. Lacewater, Zak claims, is the lover of Rackhammer, general of Gutak (also 78 years old). They met on their pilgrimage to Gelden when they were both 50. Meanwhile, Vernonmatrix married Silkweaver (female, now 296), and they had two children, Dreamweaver (female, now 126) and Hawkwing (female sorcerer, now 155).
Hawkwing was exiled from Garaz for slaying a rival for the love of her cousin Scholastican. She was later exiled from Mokul for spying in an effort to restore herself to Garaz. She was exiled from Gutak for assaulting Stonecrusher when he refused to divorce Daybreak (then princess, but now Queen) in order to marry her. She was already unwanted by Earthscorcher because Trackandslay had warned of her spying. Dag Exiled her after the fact when she stole the crown jewels and made off on her wyvern ten years agon. Garaz insisted upon Gadz exiling her too, which they did until recently. As an exile, Hawkwing lived in luxury for ten years as one of the magnates of Gelden. Four years ago, she ran out of money and she met Cliffandstone, who had made his way north after being cured of his desert crab affliction by Thristen and Throm. She provides him with a wyvern, and together they fly back to the Western Outlands to hide in the Borderlands as live as bandits. These two were the wyvern bandits preying on hippogriff traffic outside Ankle back in May 2483.
When Gadz broke its alliance with Garaz and joined with Gutak in 2484, Cliffandstone, who had been exiled for his outspoken opposition to alliance with Garaz, was allowed to return, and Hawkwing's exile from Gadz, which had been ordered by Garaz, was rescinded also. Now Hawkwing and Cliffandstone live in Gadz, and Hawkwing is rumored to be pregnant.
The next day, 19th August, after dark, it is the night of the new moon. By the light of the stars in a clear summer night sky, Gristel flies Thristen and then Zak from the Virage Estate to the East Road a couple of hours after midnight. Quayam stays home to watch Kim. Thristen has his night-vision goggles. Together they walk to a spot with a view of the front of the manor, and make camp. This is the first time Zak and Thristen have been away together without Kim since she was born.
Zak and Thristen spend the 20th August watching the manor. Seven people leave the house and return during the day. A knife sharpener visits and sharpens knives outside the manor. A grocer visits, and gets a $100 tip, so far as Thristen can tell through his 8×56 binoculars. The grocer is grateful. The night is cloudy. Zak and Thristen move camp site to have a vie of the side of the house (see map above).
August 21st is a cloudy day, but still warm. Drago leaves with Flavius in a buggy in the morning. They drive north towards Clavicle. "He must have a working-place in the town," Zak says. The remaining inhabitents set about working on the garden that surrounds the house to a range of fifty meters, with flower beds, trimmed green grass, an immaculate croquet lawn, a tennis court with a netting around it on wooden poles, and a gravel bocce ball court. Behind the house is a swimming pond with a smaller garden around it of lawn and wild flowers, with a white gazebo. Today Zak and Thristen see one man pushing an iron mower across the lawn. It makes a well-oiled whirring noise. There are eight people working on the garden, five women and three men. Their skin varies from pale white to jet black, and their hair likewise. They prune the roses, weed the flower beds, and and trim the edges. An hour before noon, Penny starts setting a picnic on a blanket beneath the poplars on the south side of the house, near Zak and Thristen's hiding place.
The cleared area around the manor is almost a kilometer in diameter. It looks as if it has been cut in the past few weeks. Thristen figures that ten people, each spending one six-hour day a week cutting hay with a scyth can clear one million square meters in about ten weeks, assuming they can cut one thousand square meters an hour, which seems about right to him.
Penny serves lunch to the gardeners. The gardeners are friendly to her, but she does not eat with them. She withdraws to the house. The gardeners eat their meal, drink wine, and then, to Zak's intense interest, start making out with one another. Before long, there is a leisurely orgy going on under the poplars. Zak is staring through her binoculars. "I did not know sapiens did this. You said you didn't, but look."
"It's very unusual," Thristen says, looking through his own binoculars. "How old do you think they are?"
"I don't know. I can't tell how old sapiens are. You all look old to me."
It is true that orcs, although they die young, don't look much older at the age of forty than at the age of ten, except for the number of battle scars on the men. Thristen peers at the men and women on the blanket. Some of them are naked now. They don't make love like young people, that's for sure. There is nothing hurried about them. They seem to take their time over everything: their gardening, their food, their wine, and their orgies. But they are fit and strong, that much is clear. Men and women are muscular and lean. Drago is the only fat person in the house, but he is at work.
"I wonder what Penny thinks of this," Thristen says. He looks at the windows of the house to see if Penny is watching, but the sun is shining and he cannot see inside.
"I'm sure she's excited. I'm excited. It reminds me of home. Maybe we should go and join them. Would they like that? They would be scared of me."
"No, we stay here. Going and joining in the orgy would be what is known as blowing our cover. Gristel would not approve. Quayam would never stop teasing me about it."
"Wow," Zak says, "That woman is so flexible!"
After a moment, Thristen says, "Okay, that is impressive." He examines the rest of the property. The gargoyles on the roof are uncanny. He was looking at them from a different angle yesterday, so he cannot be sure, but it seems as if two of them are missing from the front side of the house. He mentions this to Zak, and Zak says yes, they are missing, and there are two extra on the south side, so that makes sense.
"They move around at night."
"They're gargoyls made of stone."
"No," Zak says, "They are mosters. You must fight them all and kill them before you can enter the house and save Penny."
Thristen sighs. "If only it were that simple."
On the 22nd August, Zak and Thristen are still camped out and Quayam and Gristel are still looking after Kim. It is another cloudy day. A man and a woman emerge from the house with bows and set off along the path next to Zak and Thristen's hiding place. Two hours later they come back with three pheasant. Quayam and Gristel spend the day in Clavicle. Gristel takes Kim to see Sandra and her children, who have a day off school, and Quayam spends a few hours in the town hall. He determines that cats and dogs do not require an owner to possess a license, but horses must be licensed. Drago Aytakin has six licenses for horses, all residing at Splenium Manor. But he has no licenses for any other strange beasts, certainly not for twenty demons, if that's what the gargoyles are. While he's there, he checks that Gashley's license to keep Zak is still valid, which it is.
At night, Zak and Thristen break camp, taking everything with them, except for refuse, which they have been burying with care. They have established that eleven people live in the house, including Penny. They walk back to the Virage Estate and arrive back in time to tuck Kim into bed. Then they have a long, hot bath.
It is the 23rd August, and our heroes are debating the advisability of flying to Splenium Manor at night and climbing up on the roof to determine the nature of the gargoyles.
"He has no license for the demons," Quayam says. "So if we can prove they are demons, he's committing a crime, and the police can search his house."
"It's a civil offence to own a wild animal without a license," Gristel says, "You are strictly liable for any damage such a creature does."
"In that case, we let them damage us a bit, and sue them," Thristen says. "They might scratch my armor."
"Good point. That would work," Gristel says, "Our trespassing would be a separate issue. Trespassing is also a civil offence in this country. We could be liable for damage to their property, but not if that damage was brought about by their unlicensed demons attacking us."
That night, they wait until an hour before midnight for the quarter-moon to set, and fly on their wyverns by starlight to the bottom of the field below the manor. As they land, two of the wyverns collide. One of them lets out a deafening screech, a sound unlike any made by beasts native to Varay. They calm the wyverns and order them to remain where they are. They proceed up through the grass, crawling to keep out of sight of any night-vision equipment the inhabitents of the house might possess.
They go past the swimming pond and are one hundred meters from the house, with Gristel thinking that the screech was unnoticed, when the back door of the manor flies open and light streams out from a bright lantern. Two women in night-gowns and a fat man in a robe stand outside the doorway on the porch. The man shouts in Varayan, "Halt! Reveal yourselves, trespassers! You are not welcome! Leave our land immediately!" He holds up the lantern higher, casting shadows across the grass.
Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel press themselves down into the ground, hoping the grass is long enough to hide them. Gristel grits her teeth. "This could be really embarrassing," Gristel says.
"They can't see us," Thristen says. "Just stay still."
"I can see the headlines now," Gristel says.
"Quiet woman," Quayam says.
Some of the rear windows of the house were open, with the curtains drawn back to let the cool night air inside. But now lights are coming on in the rooms at the back of the house, and the windows and shutters are being closed. The lights have the steady glow of luminous stones. People are putting on their night shirts and moving about. The fat man shouts again, this time in Latin. "Reveal yourselves!" Gristel assumes this must be Drago Aytakin. If he's trying Latin, then at least he is not certain it is her and her friends. But in the morning, the two hunters will see the wyvern footprints, and then they will know. What to do? Drago and the women go back into the house and close the door. All the windows are shut now.
Gristel whispers to Thristen, "How about we smash the door down, charge inside, kill them all, set fire to the place, and go home."
"Please be quiet," Quayam says.
New session, Kirk, Chris, Kirsten, Kevan, 62 Dalton Road, 20th Oct 2015. Game date, early hours of the morning on 24th August 2486.
It is two hours after midnight when Quayam, Thristen, and Gristel close the front door of the Virage Home behind them. Zak has been reading in the living room, with the windows open. Moths, flies, and mosquitoes circle a lamp on the window sill behind her. She stands up when they enter the house. "Did you find demons?"
Thristen sits on an armchair. He has his sword, scabbard, and belt on his lap. "No." He describes their noisy arrival in the grounds of Splenium manor. "Gristel was for charging in, but we just crept back to our wyverns and came home."
Gristel moves the lamp to a table and pulls the curtains closed. "Something is going on down there at the manor. Right on our doorstep. It's frustrating."
Quayam pours himself a glass of whisky. "Let's go see Camden Beal."
Zak sits on Thristens lap. With her weight, his weight, and the weight of his armor, the chair creaks. "I have been reading the history of Ursia," Zak says, "I'd like to go to all their night clubs. We went dancing only one time when you took me there."
Thristen moves his sword out from under Zak's bottom and leans it on the side of the armchair. "Fine. Good idea. This is a good time of year to go. Kim won't be too cold. We can fly there."
"I thought we could leave Kim with Quayam and Gristel."
"Why?" Thristan says.
Zak whispers in his ear. Gristel accepts a whisky from Quayam. "Yeah, let's go see Camden Beal. Let's have a chat with him. All three of us. We go and chat with him and make real nice. That will put the fear of Athena up him."
An hour before noon on the 24th August, they fly to Heal, leave their wyverns at the Stockton Farm, and walk into town. In Cloe Stern's office, they tell her they want to her to help them find one of Camden Beal's men, so they can send him a message. "The more I help you," she says, "The more he is going to want to kill me."
"Conversely," Gristel says, "The more you help us, the more we are going to not want him to kill you. So I guess it's a case of weighing those two factors and coming up with your own course."
Cloe bites her lip for a while. "Well, I don't think I'll be much help to you anyway. Take a look in The Grapevine restaurant."
"We already did."
"If I see any of them, I'll tell them you want to talk. But your best bet is to go to Ankle and find him. That's where he lives. There's no secret about that."
They thank Cloe and fly back to the Virage Estate. The next day, the 25th of August 2486, the wind is blowing from the south at ten kilometers per hour, the temperature near the ground is 22°C, with scattered clouds. Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen set off on their wyverns after breakfast and land at the Gumption Arms in Ankle at mid-morning. They stable their wyverns. Quayam and Gristel get a room for the night. Harry Arbalast, once the cook, but now the manager, emerges from the kitchen. He is almost two meters tall, and stout.
"Mr. and Mrs. Virage," he says. He smiles and wipes his hand on his apron.
"Harry," Gristel says, "You are looking enormous. How's business?"
"Good. We're glad to see you."
"We're looking for someone. Maybe you can help us."
"I'll try. Who are you looking for?"
"His name is Camden Beal," Gristel says, and looks up into Harry's face.
Without hesitation, Harry says, "Ah, yes, I know him. He comes in occasionally. A good tipper. The staff like him."
"Where can we find him?"
"He runs the Ankle Livery company down on the docks. On the corner of Griffon Street and Rollingstock Avenue. It's a big place. You can't miss it."
It's about lunch-time when Quayam, Gristel, and Thristen walk through the yard of Ankle Livery. Half a dozen staff are going about feeding horses and fixing carts. The office building is a converted brick warehouse, with wood steps leading up to the front door. Inside, two women are at a desk, managing appointments. A messenger boy runs out as our heroes enter. He stops at the bottom of the steps and stares with his mouth open. The door closes. Gristel, Quayam, and Thristen are wearing only summer clothes, and carry no weapons.
"We'd like to see Camden Beal," Gristel says.
A minute later, they step between two men in chain mail and through the door of Camden Beal's office. He is sitting on the other side of a large, polished desk of dark wood. He is a solid-looking man of about forty-five years. He has lost most of his hair, but what is left is combed back from his forehead and oiled. His hands, which rest on the desk, are large and muscular.
Camden stands up. One of the guards closes the door. The windows behind him are large and open. "Welcome," he says. "Take a seat." He points to a collection of padded chairs.
Gristel walks around the seats and extends here hand. "Camden Beal? I am Gristel Virage." They shake hands. She introduces her comrades, and Camden shakes both their hands. His grip is firm and dry. But when he sits down, Gristel notes a sheen of perspiration on his forehead.
"Thanks for seeing us," Gristel says.
"It's an honor to meet you," Camden says. "What can I do for you? Do you need a carriage somewhere?"
"No. We want you to stop buying slaves in Morden and bringing them down the Trans Outland Highway." Camden Beal sits back in his chair and folds his arms. Gristel holds up one hand. "I don't expect you to admit it. But I want you to know that we believe it. We are not in any doubt. We don't want anyone using our road to transport slaves, even if they are supposedly freed slaves. We can't figure out what happens to them once they get here. For a while, they seem to be working at the place your people deliver them to. But they disappear within a year. For all we know, they are being murdered. We just don't know. We want it to stop."
Camden says, "I can see that if slaves were being moved on your road, you would want it stopped."
"We understand that the traffic in these freed slaves may, technically be legal, and so, if you were involved, you were breaking no laws."
Camden Beal stars at her.
"On the other hand, you may have been working with Cloe Stern, police chief in Heal, to keep these freed slaves from running once they reached Heal. We talked to Cloe, in case you are wondering. She was one of the people who led us to you. We would be very sad to hear she had died in an accident."
Camden's jaw is clenched. They stare at one another.
"I kind of like her actually," Quayam says. "She is flawed, but she wants to do the right thing."
"We all want to do the right thing," Thristen says.
"Right," Gristel says, "And I'm sure you want to do the right thing too, Mr. Beal. If these slaves are meeting some gruesome end at the hands of some really messed up crazy people, I don't think you'd be comfortable with that. Am I right?"
"No, I would not," Camden says. "I would think I was helping a charitable organization. I would think everybody was going benefit from the arrangement. The slaves would be free, and they would be here in a civilized country. My clients would feel proud of themselves. I would make some money to feed my family."
"I know," Gristel says, "But that's not what it looks like any more. So we would appreciate it if you would exit that business. We don't want to make an enemy out of someone as well-repected as you are in certain formidable sections of society. And we flatter ourselves in thinking that you would not want to make enemies of us. So how about just don't do it any more, okay?"
"I assure you I will not use your road to transport slaves, freed or otherwise."
"Thank you," Gristel says. "Here is my card. If you want to talk about this some more, or if you would like to discuss anything else, feel free to call."
They exchange a few more pleasantries, and end up shaking hands and parting with smiles and assurances of amiable sentiment. When our heroes leave the yard, they are pleased. "I think he could be a good ally," Gristel says. "A crime boss ally. Everybody needs a crime boss ally."
"Do you think Cloe will be safe?" Thristen says.
"Oh yes," Gristel says. "Did you see the way he was sweating when we first came in? He thought he was in deep trouble. He was ready to jump out the window."
"I would have caught him before he went three steps," Quayam said.
"I know that, but he thought he might be running for his life. And you'll notice that he did not even bother to have his goons in there with him. I thought that was classy. He knew they would be no use to him, even with us un-armed. He's smart, that one, and brave."
"And a criminal," Thristen says.
"Someone has to do it," Gristel says. "Better that it be someone we can deal with."
Thristen flies back that night, but Quayam and Gristel enjoy a meal out and a walk in Ankle at night. Quayam reassures Gristel that they have done what they can. Eventually, she agrees, and they go dancing.