Ch. 392 – Sighting Battle

Ionas looked out from out his perch inside the lookout’s nest. The storm was about all that he could see. Even his sight could not drastically pierce the cloud that enveloped them. At least, that was how it was until the first tower of the Wizards Guild emerged into view.

“Tower, Ho!” he cried at the top of his lungs, attempting to alert the crew below. Now it could be targeted. Unfortunately so could they, but when copies of La Danse Calinda appeared to fill the sky that risk was now drastically mitigated.

As a lookout, the only job that remained was identifying and alerting the crew below of any drastic change to the circumstances, such as the approach of a dragon, ally or foe into the fray. Fortunately, the Calinda was not your ordinary ship and that gave him much more freedom in his role than any other ship he had been on.

He’d be joining one of the landing parties to infiltrate the guild. His keen eyesight was going to be useful in helping to identify potential illusions, traps and other such hazards. To this end, he’d join Lord Peino Starhand and one of Lord Jeneyeru Nightwise’s valets, Lotye O’Tulvar. He hadn’t quite pinned down exactly what it was about her, but being a valet seemed to be something new to her. She didn’t have the manner of a long-term valet, and the fact that she was going with Peino and himself rather than her master was something that struck Ionas as odd.

Lotye had a way skulking about as if she didn’t want to be seen. In fact, she seemed very good at making herself practically invisible, at least to others anyway. This was something that Ionas would have to eventually figure out, but for now she was an ally, one trusted by Jeneyeru so at least that meant he’d give her the benefit of the doubt, whatever she turned out to really be.

Ionas, unlike Lotye it seemed, was used to navigating ropes and so wasn’t really affected by the rope burn. Callouses that he’d developed had greatly assisted in his resistance to that. He was fully stocked with magical and mundane daggers, weapons of accuracy and speed rather than strength. Peino was in the lead, Loyte was able to keep in contact with the other group, and he himself had some long-range fighting capabilities rounding out the group.

It seemed a well-balanced team. The unknown factor was what they’d encounter as they infiltrated the guild keep. The wizards of the guild surely had all sorts of strange and weird defenses already set up not to mention whatever the new occupiers of the guild had installed as well. This was going to be quite interesting.

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Ch. 391. Battle Cries

With a few quick movements, the vest fit snugly around her chest, thanks to Ruili’s help. Testing her mobility, Lotye took a few deep breaths and moved her arms in circles. Then she straightened her rain-soaked clothes underneath and gave every strap one more good tug.

“Better than a corset anyway,” she said to Ruili with half a smirk, though the tremor around the corners of her mouth told that she wasn’t really in a state of mind to make jokes.

Next, Lotye moved on to her belt, making sure it sat tightly on her hips. Can’t have myself stumbling over my own britches, that would be a stupid way to die. It was a very real possibility with all that weight hanging from her belt. Thankfully, she at least didn’t have to carry around that wooden box with those damned cards. Those had been a weight more to her soul than to her belt. She had two pouches bound to her belt, one containing most of her slim belongings, the other one her remaining healing wares, slightly stocked up in the Calinda’s apothecary while no one was looking. Between them, sitting on her back, the leather clip for the three vials. On her left side hung the sheath for the weapon she had taken from the table. It was a one-handed sword with a slender blade, a little bit longer than usual, with a shapely, leather-wrapped handle. Weighing it in her hand, it had felt good, balanced more for stabbing and quick thrusts, but its edges nonetheless sharp. The spot on her hip taken up, the old, worn scabbard of her own small dagger had to be nestled behind one of the pouches, since Lotye wasn’t content with just leaving it behind. On the other hand, she wasn’t even sure where she left the buckler she had carried in the last battle, but she also didn’t lose much thought about it, deciding that an additional weight on her arm wouldn’t really help, and therefore not taking a shield. Looking back at the table, she instead spotted a small crossbow pistol no one seemed to show any interest in. Won’t be able to hit anything with that thing. Still better than nothing. And so she took it, adding the holster and a small quiver full of bolts to the collection on her belt.

With her equipment taken care of, Lotye went on to pin up her hair once again. The wet strands made it difficult to form a reasonable bun, but in the end, she felt she had her hair well enough in control for it not to be a problem during combat. This isn’t a beauty contest, after all. Lastly, she slung her cloak back over her shoulders, making sure its length wouldn’t hinder her movement.

Her preparations finished, Lotye took up position next to the men at the airship’s railing. Good men, all of them. Most of them at least. Great men, people would say about the Ereonis brothers. Insane men, Lotye thought them in that moment. The way she saw it, their chance of success was slim. Their chance of survival not much better. Then again, only people who tried something like this could even succeed. Great men, then. Jeneyeru’s spell was now in full effect. The sky filled with airships was one part an exhilarating sight, one part surreal. On one of them, she imagined to see a bun of red hair, standing at the railing. But that ghostly armada wouldn’t be of much help, their volley not much more than a mirage. The Calinda‘s bolts were material though. Lotye felt a slight jolt going through the planks every time the arms of a ballista snapped forward. Every time, Lotye nervously fiddled with the silver ring on her right hand, but the sailors around her seemed surprisingly calm, trained for these kind of scenarios.

Lotye’s rap sheet had never contained banditry, armed assault or piracy. Her military training consisted of watching the people on the deck of this ship. In her profession, one usually tried to stay quiet and unnoticed when in dangerous territory. But judging from the activity in those towers, it was already too late for that and after all, it was their intention to get noticed. Since her experience couldn’t tell her what to do, Lotye just went with what felt natural and began shouting battle cries:

La Danse Calinda! For House Ereon! We fight with the brothers! Down with the Arcana! For Aeldreth!”

Against the storm, her quavering voice was probably barely audible. Her choice of words was unlikely to inspire any feats of heroics in the hardened sailors around her. But at least it gave her an outlet for the adrenaline running in her veins. It was needed, as the red mark on her ring finger showed. The thoughts rushing through her head slowed down. Father … “My sea child” … Dev Gevyot and his way of fixing broken bones … The roads, the markets, the laughter of the travelling folk … Jeney and Thimble … Those damned cards! She now knew what she was fighting for. And so, Lotye continued to shout against the wind: “For Aeldreth!”

Soon they reached their final destination, a small courtyard at the back of the keep. The ropes were cast, and when it was her turn, Lotye took one and slid down. The wet hemp burned her hands so that she nearly let go, making the ground come closer at a rate she really wasn’t comfortable with. Once her feet touched the paved floor, she needed a moment to check whether all of her bones still were in the right places. But she seemed to be fine. A deep breath, then she looked around and quickly joined her assigned group.

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Ch. 390. The Illusory Attack

Captain Jean Lafitte III had been a sailor all his life until the Guilds forced him to take up new work in the skies and he landed in this strange world. He’d seen regimes rise and fall, and armies march, and armadas sink, yet he’d never seen anything like the Armada summoned by the wizard Jeneyeru. Lafitte smirked as he watched him do it. Even in the chaotic atmosphere of a stormy air raid the man managed to maintain a handsome disposition.

Tayliana, his master weather wizard whose powers kept La Danse Calinda moving in even the most stagnant air, whipped up Manawydden’s storm to ever greater heights of power, the better to conceal their movements in Jeney’s shadowy fleet.

At Peino’s instruction, Lafitte held aloft his hand, prompting his Chief Engineer and now acting First Mate, Larman Ogges, to shout “READY!” His archery teams readied their crossbows, ballista and bows.

Lafitte called out himself, “On my mark prepare a volley!” and his instructions were carried down the lines from Ogges on.

“At the north tower overlooking the nearest courtyard…AIM!” and at the last possible second Lafitte’s hand lowered, prompting Ogges to shout “Let fly!”

Within seconds an explosion rocked the north tower as a great line of magicked arrows descended upon her surface.

“Fire at will!” Lafitte said as he walked down to the main deck, leaving Ogges to steer the mighty airship, maneuvering between her shadowy cohorts in the sky.

The bombardment would hopefully disable the north tower for long enough to get the Calinda in position to drop the first assault team into the main courtyard and then back out again before any stray arrows punctured her great balloon which kept them aloft.

Lafitte gave no further orders as the din and chaos of the first drop would’ve made such an endeavor impractical if not impossible to accomplish. His Chief Engineer had been briefed on the plan and was now carrying out commands from the relative quiet of the navigational deck atop the Captain’s Quarters.

Instead, Lafitte put on the vest offered to him over his traditional jacket, lowered his hat and grabbed a grappling hook and rope. The second team had now made their way onto the rooftop. They wouldn’t have long before the defenders of the tower either regained their composure or summoned reinforcements. Checking his machete and two crossbow pistols at his side, he approached the rail just as his ship was circling around to the back of the mighty keep. Giving the rope a bit of a twirl, he swung his hook over the side, attempting to latch onto an object on the other end, though swinging down wouldn’t be too hard, he hoped if he had to.

“Alright Messers, this is it!” and with that he swung himself out and down into the courtyard below. Into the unknown which was awaiting him…

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Ch. 389. Armada of the Air

The crew of La Danse Calinda burst into action. All over the ship, weapons and armor were hurriedly distributed. The ballistas cranked into position as heavy bundles of the long spears, faintly glowing with their embedded enchantments, were hauled up from the hold.

The airship climbed higher amongst the mountain peaks. The navigators, helmsmen, and hands at the lines, good sailors all — Or flyers, rather? What would be the word for sailors of the air?, Jeneyeru wondered. Whatever, they must have been exhausted after so many days fighting Mr. Farseer’s storm to keep the Calinda aloft. It was only going to get worse for them.

Captain Lafitte’s wizard, Tayliana Winddancer, cast her spells to concentrate the power of the storm. Her style was different from that preferred by the Selkie folk, but the effect was just as good. The boiling clouds turned thick and gray. Lightning flashed continuously in vast sheets and branching arcs, the thunder merging into one unending howl in concert with the wind and the shriek of the lashing rain.

“It seems a blessing after all that Mr. Farseer took that idol, does it not?” said Peino.

“That it does, now,” Ruili agreed. “I wonder if the Masters are strong enough to stand against the fury of a god.”

They had both come up to join Jeneyeru in watching for the towers of the stronghold from the exposed and battered bow. Peino had assisted Lafitte in organizing landing parties and had earmarked six fighters who stood by, ready to support the infiltration team. Ruili, meanwhile, had commandeered gear for all of them — light body armor, a selection of swords and daggers, and a few crossbow pistols.

“Here’s a vest for you, Jeney,” he said, “and one for Mistress O’Tulvar, too.”

“Thank you kindly.” Jeneyeru slipped off his coat and strapped the stiff, laminated vest around his torso while Ruili offered to assist Lotye. He had changed into black garb for the occasion. The long silk coat, waistcoat and britches were embroidered in their linings with arcane spells designed to increase his aura channeling capacity. The vest would have no effect on his magic, just as the wizard’s suit would have no effect on a crossbow bolt. Soaked to the skin as he was, as they all were, the vest clamped tightly onto his body. He settled the wet, heavy coat back over the armor, and felt for the proper arrangement of his drenched lace cravat. Ruili laughed.

“Rain or no rain, brother,” Jeneyeru said, “war or no war, there’s no excuse for dishevelment.”

That got a laugh even out of Peino. Jeneyeru smiled at his brothers and at Lotye O’Tulvar who hovered nearby, almost certainly stiff and nervous.

“Are we ready?” he said.

Peino and Ruili nodded. Armored just as he was, they had outfitted themselves in traveling leathers. Peino’s favorite rapier and dagger rode on his hips, and additional daggers were tucked into his boots. Ruili’s Atasen sword was strapped across his back, and on his thighs he wore a pair of crossbow pistols. They both touched their coats. In their inner pockets they carried the small Boxes of Nothing in which were hidden the cards of the Blood Arcana they had collected in the past weeks. “Mistress O’Tulvar, give your box to Ruili, if you please,” Jeneyeru had said of the box Lotye had carried for him all this time. “We, after all, are the only ones on our side who have played with them before.” The third box, of course, rested in Jeneyeru’s pocket. He took a dagger from the gear Ruili had brought and slipped it into his boot.

“Right then,” he said. “If someone would be so kind as to signal Captain Lafitte. It is time to begin.”

He stepped forward. All around, above and below, the mountains flashed with blue-white lightning, casting black shadows against the clouds. Lightning was a difficult energy to harness, but light was the Shadow Magus’s forte. He held aloft the Staff of Ghosts and began the chant in the magical language, Atultaec.

“Bae…sra…Hurdak…uk…Scosro…”

In a few moments, the staff’s smokey crystal head began to emit a dark glow. The aura energy crackled through his tissues. He felt every muscle and bone, even the broken lines of his healing knife wound, lined with the power. It flowed into his hands and through them into the staff, where he held it with his will until the lightning flashed and the shadow of the Calinda appeared on a wall of cloud.

With instant reflexes, Jeneyeru pointed the staff at the shadow, shouting, “Craosa acru!”

A snap, an ear-splitting bang, and a second airship appeared in the sky. It was slightly darker and less substantial than the Calinda, but within a few seconds, it had settled into a near perfect likeness of the ship.

“Oh, well done,” said Ruili as he and Peino lightly applauded.

But Jeneyeru had already built more energy and shot another spell bolt at another shadow. “Craosa acru!” Pop! Another Calinda.

And another, and another. Within minutes, fifteen La Danse Calindas filled the stormy skies above the Usaneri mountains, each one almost indistinguishable from the others and the real one, even down to the crew movement, shouting, and possibly even the ballista shots, though the spears of shadow forms would not have much impact. Still, it made for a decent-looking flotilla.

Jeneyeru sighed, satisfied, and grounded the remaining energy to avoid burning out. “Not bad, if I do say so myself,” he said. “The rest is up to our dear Captain Lafitte.”

“And not a moment too soon,” said Peino, peering into the darkness ahead. “I thought I heard a lookout’s shout, and sure enough, there are the towers of the stronghold.”

At last, the headquarters of the Guild of Wizards and Magi came into view. Its tall, delicate watchtowers rose high above the castle perched on the very top of a precipitous cliff. As the armada of airships approached, the towers began to fluoresce with the glow of electricity in the air. The storm fell upon the castle like a rapacious wolf. Lightning struck the highest tower.

“There will be ballistas on those high points,” Jeneyeru said.

“Captain Lafitte!” Peino shouted. “Hit them with all your might. Give them no chance. Take out those towers and get us in there.”

Faintly, bells could be heard ringing from the castle.

— — —

“Arwwn’s hounds, what’s that?” the tower guard cried as the flying armada appeared out of the unexpected storm.

He had been sitting alone up there for hours, cursing the fate that had put him into this mutiny against the Guild Masters and thus forced him and four other men to stand lonely guard over a complex that could have used ten or more watchers. The sudden burst of wind and icy rain and thunder and lightning had driven him to shutter the windows of the watchtower and hunker down within his cloak. So he was taken by surprise when he peeked out to see what the weather was doing and saw by the flashing light what he at first took to be a flight of dragons but soon realized was a far madder sight.

Frantic, he rang the alarm bell. When the other guards, responding to the sound, took up the peals, he dropped the bell rope and ran like a mad bat down the endless spiraling stairs. He threw himself at the courtyard door, but stopped to fumble through his pocket for the charm he and his cohorts had been issued, a gold coin wrapped in the gut of a rat. He spat on it and raced through the door.

At first he thought the charm had failed and he had fallen into one of the boss’s traps, but in fact, the boss was truly standing before him.

“What’s going on?” the tall, gray-bearded man growled.

“Ships!” the guard yelled. “Ships in the sky! We’re under attack! A hundred at least!”

“What are you talking about? We’re in the mountains.”

“As Pwyll is my witness, ships,” the guard insisted. “They must be elementals. Wizards are attacking us.”

The gray man, his gaunt face shrouded under the hood of a long gray cloak, growled again. A hundred wizards in elemental ships? He had sensed one coming. A strong one, yes, but could he have been blind to more? This accursed storm that carried the spirit energy of the god of winds had been playing havoc with his divinations. Who would be so rash as to fly through these dragon-infested peaks, anyway?

He spun around to the heavily armed bandits and dark wizards who had come with him from the main hall.

“Man the ballistas. Let us make a greeting these fools will not have long to enjoy.”

No sooner did he speak than the courtyard was rocked by an explosion above. Shards of masonry fell with the rain as the first salvo struck the first tower and the airships descended for battle.

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Interlude: The Absent Lords

“It won’t do, husband,” said Mrs. Bodling, housekeeper to the Prince. “It simply will not do. His Highness must come home.”

Firelight warmed the couple’s bedchamber in the high top floor of the celebrated palace known as the Merchantman House for the emblem of a golden ship under full sail that graced its facade. His Serene Highness, Peino Starhand Ereonis of the House of Ereon, referred to it as his “townhouse,” but it was much more than that. The entirety of modern Cherryrose Lane had been designed around its elegant lines and decorations, and it took up the space of five of the actual townhouses and lesser palatial residences that snuggled up against it on the densely built road overlooking the turquoise waters of the Bay of Plesz on the southern cliffs. It was the most desirable neighborhood in the capital of the Grand Navigators, not least for its proximity to the Prince’s house, which one might suppose was a boon to the city’s residency agents since the house had to stand in for its owner most of the year.

Prince Peino had taken the house for the ocean view and the strong salt winds that stirred the cherry trees and roses for which the district was named, but he wouldn’t set foot in it if he could actually be on the water instead. Even when he did pay a visit, conditioned as he was to the simple, constrained life aboard ship, he confined himself to the space of a single small house in one part of the palace — the part with the best view.

Not that the Merchantman House stood empty otherwise. His Highness’s brother, His Excellency the Lord Admiral and Protector, Ruili Windwolf, stayed often enough to keep his own suite, though he preferred to be nearer the theater district. And Their Graces, the Duke and Duchess, freely used their son’s home to house guests of the Duchy. The Merchantman House was constantly abuzz with foreign dignitaries and their staff and servants, as well as glittering lords and ladies of fame in the arts, sports, military, academia, and so forth.

Their care, comfort and amusement, the maintenance of the house and its treasures, supervision of the household staff, contracting and payment of tradespeople, and the management of the vast budget with which to do it all, fell to the housekeeper, Mistress Gladiola Bodling. Once upon a time, longer ago than she cared to think about, Mrs. Bodling had applied to an advertisement at the Guild of Keepers, Managers and Stewards, the special focus of which were those professions that gave service by means of control — the generals of the armies of domestic life, in other words.

She would never forget that advertisement. It had apparently been written by the Prince himself. It had read: “Via the Office of the Chamberlain of the Sovereign Duchy, desired: One Housekeeper for a gentleman’s residence. Type: Townhouse. Children: None.”

And here she was.

“It is simply not to be tolerated any longer, Mr. Bodling,” she said to her husband.

When the last of their children had grown and gone, Mr. and Mrs. Bodling gave their house in the Gnomish Quarter to their married eldest and moved into an apartment the Prince had made specially for them in the Merchantman House. Here they spent each night together in their cozy bed, snug by the fire to stave off the wind the Prince loved so much, to tidy up the last of their days’ business before sleep. As usual, the coverlet over their laps was weighed down with ledgers and journals on Mrs. B’s side, ship plans on Mr. B’s side (that gentleman was a master rigging engineer in the Plesz shipyards), and newspapers distributed equally.

“Is this about that valet business again, my heart?” said Mr. Bodling, looking up over his glasses.

“What prince goes about without a valet, I ask you, dearest?” Mrs. B exclaimed. “Do you realize that it comes to me to press His Highness’s shirts? That he turns to me for opinions about his cravats? What sort of work is that for a housekeeper? And if I do not do it, then who will? Certainly not those frippery little things that come fluttering about hoping for a high marriage any time the Daughter is in port, I warrant. And what of all the other things a valet does for a gentleman? The keeping of his appointments and whatnot. He, the Prince, does them himself.”

She slapped her small, gnarled hands over the newspapers in gentle frustration, as if flattening them out would resolve this unordered detail of her world.

“At sea, he is no better. I wormed it out of the Quartermaster, Mr. Grayboar, once that the only reason his Highness does not appear in dirty slops in every port of the world is because Mr. Grayboar assigns a steward to do for him, without being asked. Why not keep the steward on land, then, ask I.”

“Because a sailor is best used on the sea,” said Mr. B, repeating an oft-heard remark. He was well aware of all these things, and that the work of a valet was in no way the work of a housekeeper. The work of a fond mother whose own children had moved on to adult life and who had come over the years to turn her maternal eye upon the three sons of Ereon and the Prince in particular, however, was another matter.

He patted his wife’s hand. “His Highness has never been one for social convention, even less for luxury. He’s a true Selkie’s Selkie, they say in the yards. He’s happier with a hard bunk than a feather bed and riding a pitching deck than dancing on a parquet floor. They’re all that way.”

“Bah! His brothers are just as much Selkies as he, yet Lord Jeneyeru has a valet. I won’t say what sort, but he has one. And Lord Ruili at least makes shift with young officer candidates to train them up for the academy. His men may learn more to drink rum and dance with courtesans than maintain a gentleman’s dignity, but at least he appears in town attended as befits his station – much of the time. Prince Peino will be Duke someday, and then he will be seen to, whether he likes it or no. Better he choose a man of his own, than have one foist upon him by those schemers in the Chamberlain’s Office,” said Mrs. B.

“Each time I broach the subject, he promises me he will do it, only to run off as the day approaches. This time, I had seven likely candidates vetted and waiting upon his pleasure, and he said he would interview them as soon as he returned from the voyage to Aria. He said so.” She flipped through the letters of reference stuck into her large journal to prove it. “But what does he do? This!”

She jabbed at the Aeldreth Gazette with the front page headline declaring that the whereabouts of the noble Ereonis brothers were unknown following a pitched battle against bandits at the Temple of Flidais in Raurugia, after which victory, they and their companions had boarded a flying ship and departed in stormy weather.

“He promised me,” Mrs. B said. She pressed her hand against her lips and then set to cleaning her eyeglasses to avoid looking at the reports of bloody battle, and fighters killed, and secret missions, and monsters. “He must come home and choose a valet. He must.”

Mr. Bodling put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and said nothing. There was no point in reminding her that the brothers were experienced warriors who faced danger in the course of their allotted duties. A hen will worry over her chicks whether they be chickens or eagles.

— — —

The reports out of Raurugia sparked concern not only in the Bodling bedchamber, but also in the Great Hall of Villa Grippio. There had been no rest in the citadel since Jeneyeru had left in the Cairn Hawk for Sesus in response to Peino’s psychegraph message. Even less after the incident of the card beast in the city center and Ruili’s departure to catch up with his brothers.

The assassin had been interrogated aggressively, and the information gleaned — what little there was — forwarded on to the Floating Throne. The Duke and Duchess could only hope it would somehow find its way to their sons and be of some help. In the meantime, Duke Yirie’s booming voice, which had struck fear into countless hundreds of navy officers and sailors, now shook the pillars of the Great Hall as he marshaled every resource at his command. Spies communicated with spies. Local Raurugian officials were approached by foreign agents with questions. The newspapers were watched incessantly. A constant stream of messages flew to and from the Floating Throne via psychegraph. All on the same theme: “Where are my sons?”

Lady Olimea retreated from the tense atmosphere. She stood alone on a balcony above the sea. Behind her, she could hear her husband shouting demands and orders. Her ladies-in-waiting hovered silently some yards away and watched as she combed her fingers through her long, flaxen hair and sang to the wind and to the trail of the moon shining on the sea. She combed her hair and sang a song to send a wind to her boys to support them in their fight, and another to carry them home.

— — —

Meanwhile, in a waterfront tavern in Sesus, Tahain O’th’Farwind slammed his fist down on the table and then kicked a stool for good measure.

“Curse him!” he exclaimed.

The other officers of the Marsh King’s Daughter, hunched over tankards and newspapers, nodded morosely.

“This is typical of him, isn’t it?” he said. “The lot of them, in fact. It’s one thing to go off on a few days’ jaunt playing pirate, but this?” He picked up the Daily Sesan and threw it down again, atop the News of the Realms, the Gazette, and a dozen others, which they’d been collecting for days. “War in the mountains, and us left here to cool our heels and mend the ship while they go off for loot and glory. Arrogant sprats.”

Loot, glory, and the violent danger that came with them. The officers sank into the dark funk that had been annoying the tavern keeper for nearly two weeks, since they had been left behind by their captain with orders to get his ship ready to sail and not to worry.

Another fist hit the table, this time belonging to Vaet Longblade.

“Piss on this,” said the bosun. “The Daughter is mended, and we’re at liberty, are we not? The goal of this quest is to stop those accursed cards slipping out to the innocent public, is it not? Well, why should we sit and grow barnacles on our asses, reading these rags? Let’s join the quest.”

“How?”

“Well,” Longblade blustered a moment as he thought about it, “They say the cards bobbed up here in town, aye? It’s all well to fly up to the Wizards Guild to find out how they got here, but what if there are still some floating about? And what of the scurvy scum that have been trading them? I say we go hunt them down. Get them off the streets and into a keep and maybe learn something in the bargain. We’d be doing the captain a service, and maybe the guardians, too. What say you all?” He drained his tankard of ale and wiped the foam from his beard with his sleeve. “At any rate, I’m bored with getting drunk in this hole. I could do with a bit of skull cracking.”

The others looked at each other and shrugged and nodded.

“Where was it they had that fight with that gang?” said the navigator, Lariud Moonwood, poking through the papers. “It should be in one of these accounts. We could start there.”

Tahain, thinking about it, finally began to grin his accustomed, sharp-toothed grin. “All right then, mates,” he said. “Let’s go hunting.”

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