“Jeney ~ Awkwardity in Arian Sea. Advise you contact Guild at your earliest convenience regarding that deck you donated. Details and example upon arrival home after Sesus. Kindly wait upon me in eight days or less. Your brother, Pei.”
To those who had seen the message from Prince Peino — the messenger, the psychegraph operators, perhaps even Peino himself — Lord Jeneyeru’s alarmed reaction to the cryptic yet superficially innocuous note might have seemed extreme. In fact, however, the message had not been entirely unexpected. Even without knowing the specific “awkwardity” Peino was referring to, the wizard Nightwise received the message as the unwanted confirmation of a string of suspicions he had been nursing for over a year.
From the first cry of “Thimble, pack my bags!” Jeneyeru’s hurried journey was driven by a single thought: Are the Daemon Arcana where they are supposed to be?
In the carriage lurching wildly over the coast road to Plesz, that question was behind every message he dictated to his valet, Thimble. The diminutive faerie had to brace himself between the carriage wall and the excess of Jeneyeru’s luggage, too much to fit all on the roof, in order to avoid being bounced around so much he could not write. If he needed to wonder what had worked his employer into such a froth, he could piece it together from the notes he was taking down to be sent via psychegraph. One to the Secretary of the Masters Council of the Guild of Wizards and Magi – a light note of idle curiosity. One privately to the Mistress of the Luminous Shadows – a direct and concerned question. And one to the Sovereign Duchy’s ambassador to the Floating Throne – a list of specific instructions.
Thimble pinched up his wizened face with guarded worry. His beady black eyes glanced up repeatedly from his pen to watch Lord Jeneyeru, resplendent in a pale blue silk suit, white lace arranged elegantly at cuffs and throat, plumed hat resting between knee and graceful hand, as he gazed with an unaccustomedly grim and impatient expression at the countryside. The wizard’s valet had not been there when his master acquired the Daemon Arcana, but he had felt their dreadful aura in the house at Three Bears Cove, leaking through every barrier like a persistent mold, until finally Jeneyeru had consented to give them into the safekeeping of the Guild for care and study.
“Against my own judgment,” Jeneyeru had complained more than once after the letters updating him on the progress of research had stopped coming. “I laid them in the vault myself, yet still I doubt and doubt.”
Thimble could almost hear the word ticking through the wizard’s mind right now. Doubt and doubt and doubt… If a Shadow Master could doubt so intensely, if a paladin of Caillech the Gatekeeper could worry so fiercely, why should a lowly manservant not be rank with fear of he knew not what?
“I should have kept them” Lord Jeneyeru declared suddenly. “I should have sent the wretched things back whence they came.”
“But, milord, how could you?” piped Thimble’s thin voice.
“Ah, true enough.”
For if there was one thing the Lords of Ereon had learned during the far-flung pirate-hunt that had first revealed the existence of the vortex zone in the Sea of Lyr, it was that the vortices were a one-way trap. Try as he might, Jeneyeru could not return the Daemon Arcana to their makers.
“Perhaps it will prove otherwise, milord,” Thimble offered. “His Highness’s message was vague. Perhaps the example he mentioned is of something else entirely.”
It could be so, but Lord Jeneyeru’s impatience only grew the stronger as they traveled. The stop at Villa Grippio in Plesz to inform their Serene Graces, the Duke and Duchess, of the need for their Magus and son to leave the country, the rush of errands including Thimble’s stop at the psychegraph office to send the letters, all were accomplished with efficiency and haste. Before the sun had set, the Cairn Hawk, Jeneyeru’s two-masted yacht, was sailing west from the Grand Navigators to the Serpent Straits, bound for Sesus.
A night and a day and another night, the Cairn Hawk flew faster than the wind, riding the essences of air and water more than the reality of them. Shadows manned her lines and illusion the helm. Her captain sat in his cabin, rapt in darkness and meditation through the entire trip, and Thimble filled his hours with tidying all the little details of their belongings that had been thrown together in a tizzy during their departure.
At the second dawn, the wizard’s ship, calm and unassuming and better organized than when she had set out, entered the harbor of Sesus and was guided by the pilots to the quay reserved for visitors of state. There, Ceula Fairpath, the Ambassador of the Navigators, already waited.
“Lord Master Nightwise,” he exclaimed with elaborate bow, as the visibly tired Jeneyeru descended to the dock. “Welcome to Sesus.”
“Ah, My Lord Ambassador Fairpath,” Jeneyeru returned the compliments through his fatigue, cutting a courtly figure with the nodding plume on his broad-brimmed hat and the staff of his office adding to the elegant lines of his bow, “how delightful to see you again. I trust you are well?”
“Very well, milord, thank you,” the ambassador bowed again. “Your apartment at the embassy has been prepared. Come and take your rest.”
“Oh, my dear fellow, no rest for this weary head, I’m afraid. Is there word of my brother?”
“Not yet, milord, though His Highness is expected any day now. However, I do have psychegraph messages for you.”
Jeneyeru took the proffered papers eagerly, but soon fell to irritable tsks and tuts as he scanned them. “Ugh, simply typical. Not a true answer in the lot. Thimble!”
Jeneyeru turned to where his valet was overseeing the removal of their luggage from the Cairn Hawk to several goat carts.
“Are we all set? Everyone and everything off? Very good.”
Jeneyeru first murmured a few words and stamped his staff upon the dock, causing his shadow crew to dispel like a thought. Next he drew from among the many charms and amulets that adorned his coat and waistcoat a small crystal bottle on a silver chain. This he un-stoppered with a tiny pop, murmured another spell, and quick as a blink, the Cairn Hawk vanished from her mooring to reappear in perfect miniature inside the bottle. With a satisfied smile, Jeneyeru replaced the silver stopper and tucked the bottle into his vest.
“Now, my good Ceula,” he said to the ambassador, “perhaps a bath and some herbal tea would restore me, if it can be arranged?”
“By all means, milord, this way, if you please.”
And thus wizard, ambassador, and valet, and two carts full of luggage entered the Royal City of Lyrion, heading for the embassy of the Grand Navigators. Jeneyeru Nightwise had come here to meet Peino Starhand and see the reported “examples” all the more quickly. The wizard did not yet realize how much such evidence was already in the city, waiting to be discovered.