Meanwhile, in Plesz…
“You know, we don’t have plays where I came from. I would love a tour of the theatre, the set and what goes on behind the scenes, especially by a playwright such as you.”
Osrel Lancewing grinned with a playfully predatory glee. By comparison with Ruili Windwolf, this playwright was a bit thinner and sharper of face, with a bigger nose and browner hair, but like all selkies (for he and Ruili were of the same sea elf tribe), he had the sun-warmed and salt-scrubbed look of one whose home was the pounding surf, and the dark eyes and sharp smile of their totem animals, the hunters of the waves, the seals.
Gently taking Y’lanna Sparti’s violet hand, he said, “By all means, lady. Let us start at the top …” he waved a hand before her appropriately, “and work our way down.”
He looped her arm around his and led her deeper into the theater where, the shock of the recent crisis draining away, the last of the audience were leaving while the actors retired to their dressing rooms and the stage crew began to break down the sets. As romantic settings went, a theater after the show was done might have a certain charm, if one enjoyed the sounds of hammers and workmen and the smell of face paint, but at the very least, it would give Osrel Lancewing a great deal to talk about with the strange but beautiful Zoneloger as he watched for any chance that might come his way.
He began by leading her down among the chaotic jumble of chairs and litter in the “orchestra” level where the audience was traditionally the rowdiest, and up onto the stage itself, surrounded by the bustle of striking the sets and the dizzying tiers of box seats all around. Here, from this vantage the audience seldom saw, he pointed out the complicated systems of ropes and pulleys — very much like the rigging of a ship — that controlled the curtains, backdrops, revolving stage elements, and rising and descending props and platforms. He indicated the catwalks way up high where the effects masters, mundane and magical, managed their tricks.
“Would you like to go up, milady?” he said. “I can show you how the dragon works.”
— — —
While up the cliffs, in Cedar Gardens…
Time was passing quickly, and Lord Ruili Windwolf, third son of the House of Ereon and the Dukedom of the Grand Navigators, was getting nervous.
He had sent marines and guardians to fan out through the neighborhoods to make certain the strange lady-lion beast really was gone without trace, “vanished like a wish.” All the reports that came back indicated it was so. He could only conclude that the dark elf had been the summoner who inflicted the beast upon the city, and when Ruili knocked him unconscious, his spell was broken.
That person, one Lanus Snakesinger of the House of Sedoxiar according to the passport eventually found, was bound up like a roast, waiting to be carted off to the Fortress of Runes, the main prison of the Grand Navigators, for safekeeping.
“Snakesinger,” Ruili commented. “A summoner’s name, no doubt. He hasn’t the look of a reptile-hunter about him. Let the forensic wizards learn as much as they may from him, especially how he came by this card and why he brought it here.”
Meanwhile, the marines’ regimental wizard contained the magical playing card, the Queen of Blood, in a crystal Orb of Field Dampening, which had the immediate and notable effect of reducing the general sense of tension and dread in the park. Ruili took control of the Orb, buckling it up in a leather pouch which he slung over his shoulder. After seeing to the wounded guardians and the one unfortunate killed by the monster’s venom, he handed command of clearing the park and setting the neighborhood at ease to the Brigade Commander of the Cerulean Wave Archers and sent for a bicycle cart to take him back to the Half Moon Theater.
In the wicker seat bobbing along behind the cyclist, the selkie lord mused over the causes of his nervousness.
These cards, these Daemon Arcana, had come to Aeldreth from another world, brought back by him and his brothers from the voyage that had first revealed the vortices that connected the world of elves and faerie, dwarfs and goblins to other worlds stranger by far. The demonic deck of monster summoning cards was not the only treasure the Ereonis brothers had brought back. The bicycle that was carrying him now was an import from foreign realities. Mystical swords and transformational mirrors, art and science, any number of connections to different points of view and ways of doing things, they had brought home from that trip. And of course, there was the continuing awareness of the vortices themselves. He thought of the lavender lady he had left at the theater. He had left her among strangers, but they were his own kind, among whom he had left an alien.
He sighed heavily. Such thoughts could lead a man in circles forever. After all, they had only discovered the vortices, not created them. Who knew how many beings like Y’lanna Sparti had come and gone, lived whole lives, in Aeldreth already? Who knew how many of the ancient legends of strange beings were true, after all? There had always been those who believed that eormen or this or that other race of creatures had come from another world, and there were some now who said such beliefs were vindicated by the discoveries of the Ereonis brothers.
But a few swords or bicycles, what of them? These cards, however… They were to have been sealed in the vault of the Guild of Wizards and Magi upon the word of the goddess Caillech herself. The Lady of the Gates, who surely must have known of the vortices and the other worlds all along, certainly knew of the world where the cards had been made. She had expressly forbidden the things and beings of that corrupt and corrupting realm from entering her domain, Aeldreth, and it was a prohibition Ruili had to support, having first-hand knowledge, as it were. Ruili feared for his brother Jeneyeru, paladin of Caillech, if this mystery could not be resolved. And he feared for the city of Plesz and the Isles of the Navigators, and all the people of Aeldreth, even the alien ones, if the Daemon Arcana were truly loose in his world.
The forensic wizards of the guardian force would get the answers he needed from the dark elf. Until then, there was little more he could do.
His strained arm, the still not quite healed wound being another souvenir of that fateful voyage, ached, as did many other parts of him. The cart pulled up at last at the Half Moon. He heaved himself stiffly out of the wicker seat, paid the cyclist, and went inside, asking whoever he saw first for the whereabouts of Osrel Lancewing and the purple lady.
For a reason he did not feel like examining at the moment, he was anxious to see Y’lanna Sparti, to know she was safe and sound, to look into her frank eyes, so practical and free of guile. And so he strode into the theater, searching.