On the night of the formal dinner, Emmeline had an opportunity to tell her story and that of the party. The song was well-received, though the audience was not the raukuss bar-crowd Emmeline was used to. They preferred their entertainment more subdued, and Emmeline delivered. She was one of seven entertainer for the evening and the only non-bard. She held her own. The Mayor was absent from this dinner and the entertainment after briefly arriving at the beginning and then leaving.
As the evening continued, the Baron asked Emmeline alone to step aside with him into an adjoining room. Three others joined them there. The Baron introduced the first as Captain Jean-Baptiste Tourville, a leader from the Admiralty; Captain Gabrielle Miraux, a leader and Sky Dragoon of the Phoenix Guard, and a man simply called Dumont, who was a civilian but dressed in the same style as the Mayor did the day before.
“My dear lady, please explain to our friends here whom you believe you can contact from your recent journey to the East.” the Baron asked.
Emmeline nodded, “Yes, my lord.” She dipped respectfully to the others and then said quietly, “I am able, via magical means, to contact those I have met personally. In brokering a truce between those leading Malith refugees when they besieged Storuvan, and the government of Storuvan, I met the leading priestess of the refugees at the time, Storuvan’s general, and her queen. I’ve met a number of less important people as well.
“This is not the emsending/em spell some of you may be familiar with. Under the correct conditions, I can speak with someone for many hours.”
Dumont spoke up, “so yes, yes, you can communicate with them? Good good. That is well. Our informants…oh, my apologies. I am in the service of the Mayor’s office, in specific the Committee on Secret Correspondence. We…um…learn things. Yes, that is it. With magic, mind, and methods more mundane. The Captains here probably have more…practical and tactical needs for such skills, but what you are saying is not a form of sending or scrying, but more a long-form discussion with others…given the right alignment of circumstances, yes yes? Not a gate either, correct?”
Emmeline nodded. “Yes. Not a gate, but a dream. So it only works when the intended recipient goes to sleep.”
“Ah,” he said. “We too have from time to time used such magics. True, true. The College of Illusion has been adept at something similar, and you are of that college, but also not of that college. But that said young witch, our friends who can do such, do know know who you know. Would you be ever so kind to use your abilities to reach out to the general? Our reports have stated that Storuvan may fall soon.”
Captain Miraux added, “If so, Thalassa could render aid to save some of them to fight another day and preserve the bulk their heritage, but only if we act quickly.”
“Yes, I would be happy to help,” Emmeline said. “I can do it tonight. I’m sure the general will have questions. Is there anything I can tell him that could help, even if it is only to provide a little hope?”
“Yes, yes. You must be schooled…briefly, that is. What what. Indeed,” Dumont remarked. “Tonight may be too late you see. May be too early. The world is round you know, yes. Day, night, sleep – all are in series. You young lady must learn what you can say and what you cannot and tonight gives us little time toy prepare you as night comes quickly. By your leave Baron, we should leave now to prepare her if what she says is true and what our spies say is happening.”
The Baron nodded, saying, “My lady, do you mind wrapping up your affairs here and departing with these three for the evening?”
Captain Tourville said, “We can leave immediately. With the troubles recently, the Guild and Temple have been reinforcing the Aegis, making unregistered magical communication more difficult and in some cases detectable. We can take ship and by midnight be outside the protections.”
Captain Miraux held out her hand, “my lady?”
Emmeline looked around slightly bewildered at the pace were going, but she covered nicely. “Of course my lord,” she said to the Baron respectfully, then let Captain Miraux take her hand. “I don’t believe I have anything waiting on me. I can leave now.”
Dumont said, “Very well. Yes. Now, Captain prepare your ship. Madame, if you please, please depart quickly through the servant’s stairs. Captain Miraux, I will meet you on the ship. Please take her there quickly.”
Miraux nodded as the others left. The Baron hugged her and said, “Be off then. I will see you tomorrow night. In the mean time I will let your cousin know you are busy for the evening.”
Emmeline smiled up at him and said, “Thank you.”
The female captain led Emmeline out a secret servant’s hall and up many flights of steps until they were on the roof looking over the city. The sun had almost set the the glittering of the golden city was a wonder to behold. “I will never tired of such sights,” the captain said. “Have you flown before? I am told you have certain magics to do so. I am also told you can shapeshift. If this true?”
“Yes, I have flown before, for limited periods of time. And yes, I can shapeshift a little. A giant eagle is my favorite. But I’m afraid I must avoid doing that for the time being,” Emmeline said.
She nodded, “Then we will do this the hard way, as this flight will take some time – more than ten minutes at the least.” She stepped toward the ledge and suddenly her cloak transformed into tawny and white feathered wings matching her hair. “Come here and hold on. I won’t let you fall.”
It was a bit of a thrill for Emmeline, a mix of anticipation and the fright that comes with stepping off any high place, but she did it. She did clutch the Captain tightly.
The captain leaped into the air, circling up and up beyond the height of the tallest of Thalassa’s many towers. The lights of the city were even more beautiful. Emmeline could see the roads, alight with lamps, radiate out from the center of the city resembling a spider’s web. “In your flights, have you seen anything like this?”
“Never,” she said breathlessly. “I’ve never flown over any major city. Just the wilds and small towns and villages. It’s beautiful!” After a moment’s thought, she asked with a note of worry, “The city watch won’t shoot at us, will they?”
“Of course not!” she laughed. “I am a captain of the Phoenix Guard young one. Besides, we are far too high for that. Only another dragoon could do so with any chance of success. But in any event, the Eyes of the Aegis are upon us. We are safe.” She began flying out towards the sea. “Look down there. That ship anchored in the outer harbor is the Erasmus, Captain Tourville’s command. He will be taking her out. In the mean time we will be flying there,” she pointed at a distant promontory rock north of the city. “You are familiar with Raptor Rock, are you not?”
Emmeline frowned. “No… I don’t think I can see it from the city… oh wait. Yes I know that. I think I can see it from my uncle’s farm. I didn’t know what it was called.”
“It is a hard climb, but it should be private enough for Dumont and you to have some discussions. I will guard you as you do. Then, when the ship is far enough out, we will fly there where you will make contact. Any questions as we are going there?” the officer asked.
“I understand why we should be away from the city to do the Dream spell. But I guess I don’t understand why Dumont wanted to speak at Raptor Rock. Won’t we be more open to scrying there compared to the city?” Emmeline wondered.
“He will protect us should it be needed. No, the rock is a mere convenience and just outside the Aegis. There he will explain more. You will be doing the scrying out at sea, far beyond the Aegis and the city’s protections, but also far enough you yourself are not stopped. Have you tried your dream spell in the city, or any communication using magic?” she asked as they began their descent.
Emmeline shook her head. “No. I avoid using magic as much as possible in cities. It’s a habit I got into in my travels — some cities are deadly serious about not using unauthorized magic”
She answered, “Well, you are Thalassan. This is Thalassa. You are also as I understand it a member of the Wizard’s Guild, which fully licenses you for magic. We are a magical people,” she added with a smile as they landed. “be proud of who you are. A full-blooded descendant of the hundred through the line of Emmeric the Silver, my great uncle through his elder sister, Constance. we are distant cousins of a proud family.”
She let Emmeline go, steadying her so she could get her footing. “I’m Gabrielle. We met when you were but seven years old. I was the fencer girl who taught you how to hold a weapon. Dumont must have known that, or if he didn’t I would be very surprised.”
“I’m sorry I don’t remember you,” Emmeline said. “Why would Dumont have known about a fencer and a little girl from the Thalassan countryside? Did you and he know my grandfather?”
She answered, “Dumont knows many things. He has served the Mayor’s office since before you were born. I’ve known him about nine months, when Mayor Delacroix called him out of retirement. How well he knew your grandfather I do not know, but I do know he was a graduate of one of the Bardic Colleges.”
“He seems like a emvery/em interesting person,” Emmeline said. She looked around the Rock. Without thinking about it, she stepped up into the air to get an even better view, but when the wind caused her to drift some, she settled back down to firm footing.
“Will he be flying in as well?” she asked, oblivious to the small faux pas.
“You can levitate then?” she said. “Is this at will? I heard no sound or spellcasting.”
“Huh?” Emmeline blushed. “Oh. Sorry. Yes, I can do a few small things, nothing flashy.”
“Interesting. For someone so young it is more flashy than you think. Even I cannot do that easily.” she replied.
They waited for a time. The Captain pointed out the various sights one could make out from the Rock as well as the lighthouses and the ships at sea. “The highest I have ever flown took me almost two miles I believe above the Isle. I could see all of the city below me and in the distance I could make out the lights of Renan and possibly Antaré. It was harder to breathe though. Eventually the air passes and you are in the astral aether between worlds. One colleague of my mentor once tried to fly to Lumia (ooc: the Moon). It is much farther than you expect. He never made it, or if he did he never returned. I’ve even heard tales of an Eterian sorcerer named Casca trying to teleport through the aether to Lumia. He too tried and never came back.”
“I admire you and yours. Exploring the unknown. My father sits on the Academy board and is looking forward to your group’s presentation.” she said.
“A lot happened on that trip. Far more than just what we discovered under the Hatani Gates,” Emmeline said. “Exploration, knowledge, horror and betrayal. One grows and adapts, or dies.”
Emmeline remembered another person who said something similar. emThrough strife one gets stronger, some die, and that is unfortunate, but you cannot let that get in the way of the dream/em – Jeminy (who was once Thea).
She reflected quietly for a moment. The Tyaanite’s emphasis was on conflict and too much of that led to a lot of waste, whereas their adventures emphasized learning for Elemix and defending others for herself. That was probably a very important distinction to make.
They heard a rustling from the nearby woods as the older man, Dumont arrived with his walking stick. Emmeline was certain he could not have scaled the Rock is such a short time, but from the burrs and his breathing, it certainly seemed so.
“Ah,” he said breathlessly, “you are here. Good good.” He caught his breath, waving off any help and then said, “Do you have any questions before we begin the instructions?”
“Yes. Have we met before?” Emmeline asked curiously.
“No,” he said directly, “now that that is done we must discuss your target for tonight. The dreams you need to talk to. Of the persons you met in Storuvan, whom would be the best one to contact to get the lay of the land. Someone without authority who would not necessarily be believed if they spoke about the dream, but would be able to inform you on the goings on?”
“Without authority? Well, yes I do know a certain rather well-connected shopkeeper there.” Given he ran the kind of place he did, Em was fairly sure he was able to keep up with current events.
“Tell me about this person, yes yes? What do they do? Who do they know? Are they the kind of person who would be willing to talk?” he asked.
“Thal? He manages an inn that caters to many comforts on behalf of an owner who is on the city council or their equivalent. It’s a little upscale, but people who go there tend to talk. I think he could find out a very great deal very quickly, if he doesn’t already,” Emmeline said. “I believe he’d be willing to talk to me. He knows me as an entertainer who increased his business considerably for the few days I was there, but also he knows I was the one who ended the Malith refugee siege of Storuvan.”
“Delayed I’m afraid my lady. Only delayed. But the extent of it today is unclear. We get snippets, but no details, and nothing from the leadership. But to effectively reach out to the leadership, we must first know what to ask. Right right? Hence this Thal person. Well, let us begin. A few legalities first. For the purposes of your contact and the duration of it, you are to be an agent of the Committee on Secret Communication. If you agrees to this, then we can petition the Guild & Temple to add you to the exceptions list so we do not have to go through this complex procedure again. Do you agree to be under the auspices of the Committee for the duration and once released to keep its secrets to your grave else suffer great calamity? Of course you may ask what you are getting in to, or you may agree on faith. That is your choice as a loyal citizen of the Republic. Is there anything you wish to know before making this agreement with me and the Captain as witnesses?”
“Well, of course I don’t intend to betray the Republic’s trust. But I think I need to understand the… parameters? For example, are there any other duties I should be aware of that an agent of the CSC is expected to perform?”
“Not at this time. We are a small group with like-minded ‘friends’ like yourself who help us. The Baron told the captain here, and she alerted me to the possibility of you helping the Republic. But, should this first time prove successful, then perhaps we may ask you to help again. But you are not an agent per se and I will be the only person whom you know that is part of the Committee. Does that answer your question?”
Emmeline smiled and nodded. “I just want to help end the savagery and war that endangers us all. I agree to be an agent of the Committee on Secret Communication, and I promise to keep its secrets.”
The Captain nodded to Dumont and stepped back. Dumont remove a box from his pack containing a pair of amulets, one of which he gave to Emmeline, “wear this for now and return it to me after this evening’s events are complete. If anyone was scrying you, they cannot now. But it is highly unlikely their scrying could have worked before as the Captain there cannot be scryed either.”
He then began. “Mademoiselle Emmeline de Garin, lately of Cerisey, daughter of Hoel de Garin and Lara de Garin né de Brunét granddaughter of Emmeric Brunét and Adelaide Lacasté né de Caan, lately of Portreaux as well as granddaughter of Hoel de Garin the Elder and Marie de Garin né Picard, all of Thalassa of lines known and documented by the Guilds and Library I welcome you.” The amulet activated.
“You are now protected. Now we have much to discuss. First we need to know the present situation in Storuvan. It is essential that you rapidly gain Thal’s trust. You are a talented performer, so that should not be a problem. I advise through by not leading off with the truth that it is not a dream. Such thing immediately place acquatences in a defensive mode. Close friends and loved ones tend to be the opposite. But, but however you do so, remember we likely do not have infinite time here to make new contacts. In any event, right right, we must establish the following: what is the situation in Storuvan? Who is, or was, or could be, besieging them for a second time? What became of the Maelith refugees that were allowed to pass through the city? Who is in charge of the city or the people of Storuvan currently? What news do they have of Visicarians from the east, such as the Ulaan-kitai? Use your time to learn what he thinks of the situation. Do not reveal yourself yet as an official embassy, but ask of the health, yes yes the heath and well being, of your other contacts.”
“Do you have any questions? Hmm?” Dumont asked.
“I think those questions are an excellent place to start, Master Dumont,” Emmeline said. “It may take some time to reach him, since it’s reasonable to expect him to be up quite late. After contact is made shall I write everything down or will you be on hand to tell directly?”
“For now, write everything down and give it to the Captain here. You will find paper and pen on the ship. When you are done, the Captain will bring you home and collect the amulet we lent you. Only when we learn what this Thal knows will we be able to move forward with the next step. Yes, yes only then.”
He then said, “I apologize for the strange way we have done this, but when combating other magics, one must be careful and misdirect as much as possible. And it will get stranger I’m afraid. The Captain will fill you in. Any last questions?”
“I’m ready Master Dumont,” Emmeline said.
“Just Dumont. Monsieur Dumont if you must be formal. Good luck,” he replied. The captain then took Emmeline back into the air and headed due north toward Cadia and not toward the ship.
Emmeline had the forethought to make herself less of a burden this time, using her Ascendant Step to reduce her own weight to nil. Clinging to the flying Captain was much less work this way.
“Captain, is there another stop we must make before we go to the ship?” Em asked.
“We are not going to that ship. The captain is well aware, but his crew are not. This is another misdirection. Magic is very fickle, but sadly you have several beings seeking you even now. While we appreciate your help, everything that was said back at the dinner was a fiction, just in case others were listening or someone knew you well enough to peer through the Aegis. Only I know where you are going. Even Dumont wished to not be informed until we are done. Does this make sense?” she replied.
“It makes a lot of sense,” Emmeline said. “One day I hope to get something of my own to defend against this incessant scrying, but it’s just not going to happen for a while.”
She nodded, “there are spells, but they are an expensive option. The amulet you wear is a rare and expensive item. Few who own one would ever part with it. But, think of it this way, you are important enough to someone to keep an eye on.” She smiled and then pointed, “there we are. The ship, the emEclipse/em at the end of the Cadian docks. That is our destination.”
As they closed in, Emmeline said, “Casting the spell takes only a moment, but since I don’t know how long it will be before he is asleep I’ll be in a trance for as long as it takes. It won’t seem like it, but I’ll be aware of what’s going on around me. If there is an emergency just a word or touch will be enough to let me know I need to end the spell.”
When they arrived, Emmeline stepped lightly to the deck and looked around.
“I’ll protect you, regardless. There is no one else aboard this evening. In Storuvan it is past midnight. When you reach him, do as advised by Dumont, no more please. May I ask, can you allow others to speak to the target’s dream?” she asked.
Emmeline thought about that. “Not directly. You could speak to me and I will hear and be able to act on that when in the dream, for example. But you wouldn’t know what was going on or the responses. I might be able to respond to you while in the trance if I’m very careful not to disrupt the spell or the dreamscape I would be maintaining for the dreamer in my mind. Maintaining a moment to moment commentary might be very disruptive, not to mention very difficult to do. But brief questions and answers might be possible. I’ve never had someone present when I did this before.”
“I’ll be quiet this time and just guard you.” she said. She guided Emmeline into the cabin. “I’ll be right outside standing watch.” Leaving Emmeline to start her trance, the captain exited. Emmeline could hear her on the far side taking position.
Emmeline sat down on the little cot took a few deep breaths to relax and then laid down. After listening to the ocean lap peacefully at the sides of the anchored ship for a little while, she turned her mind toward Thal, the gnome procurer and manager of the Royal Unicorn.
The dream she prepared was of a sunny day in some happier time. Emmeline and River had stopped through again and as a result business was even better than on the Royal Unicorn’s best days. Thal had nary a complaint all day, the women and men of comfort were busy and everyone wore smiles. Coins flowed to the coffers like water.
In the midst of this most comfortable and profitable of dreams, one of the entertainers, Emmeline, stopped to take a break while her companion carried on. She took a seat next to the greeting booth where Thal stood a top a high stool in order to greet customers. For the moment, there was a break in the stream of happy customers and visitors.
Emmeline sipped a cool drink to soothe her throat and smiled over at gnome proprietor. “It’s good to see you, Thal. And thank you for letting us play here again.”
“You! It’s you. I can’t believe you snuck in here, after what happened. You can’t stay, they’ll kill you.” he said insistently.
Emmeline looked surprised. “Thal, I’m sure I don’t understand what you mean. Am I in danger?” She looked around at the clients but no one seemed to be paying attention to them. She kept her voice down as she asked, “What happened?”
“Wait, this is a dream. My brothel is still here.” he said confused but realizing the lucidity of his dream. “And you, you helped make peace. You tried that is. We let them in to cross the river, and then we learned that the Ulaan-Kitai were coming. They crashed into the refugees, who assaulted the bridge and then rampaged into the city with the Kitai close at their heels. It took weeks to defeat them and by then the orc outriders of the Hordes of Maelith came up from the south and ravaged the fertile southern plain and nothing was planted and most villages razed. Thousands are dead, half the city burnt, and the defense weakened. My inn is destroyed, many of my girls dead or carried off to the north or south. Only the Queen is strong. She will save us. But many blame you and the General for letting the refugees in as free people.” Thal said.
“I sent warning of the approach of the barbarians to the temple north of the city. Was my warning not received?” Emmeline asked.
“I know of no warning. Who was it sent to?” Thal asked.
Emmeline blinked. “To the temple north of the city.”
Thal nodded, “the Great Temple of the Dreigeist. Yes, there is rumor that they did warn of a group of barbarians coming from the Hattani Gates, a tribe of Kitai that the temple delayed from joining the rest of the Visicarii horde coming down the Rift. But the herzogs insisted the refugees cross over despite the rumor. I don’t know why. I think the temple still stands.”
“Clearly the herzogs decided to use the refugees as fodder, a sacrifice to save the city but it backfired,” Emmeline said thoughtfully. “What is the situation now, Thal? Is the city under siege?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. The Maelith and other refugees that made it in the city are walled up in the western merchant ward. They have a lot of the food. The northern ward and the main bridge and docks is a wreck and no-mans land and much is destroyed by the fire. The herzogs control the east, and the south, patrol the north, but are sieging the west, which ironically has a lot of the food. Their witch seized power and sends terrors out against the herzog’s men. The walls are mostly controlled by the herzogs, except for the west wall, which is controlled by the Tyannite witch and her minions. I hear that both fear the roaming orc and barbarian bands which are near the walls. The city’s rural population has fled into the city as well – what’s left of it. Ironically the only remaining bridge is in the north west, which the witch controls.” Thal lamented.
Emmeline realized that with the city itself divided and raiders approaching, their odds for survival was minimal at best. Of course Thal knew this, so there was no point in belaboring that fact.
“Thal, I know you are in a dreadful situation and you’ve lost so much. I’m so sorry this disaster has befallen you.” Emmeline, sensing he wouldn’t refuse, hugged him to provide at least the small comfort she could. She only continued when she felt him relax. “Is General Gustave still in charge of the defense of Storuvan?”
“The general…the general was staked for letting in the foreigners. He’s still out there. We can hear his screams every night.” Thal said regretfully.
“How is he still alive? Those stakes looked to be greased,” Emmeline asked.
“They keep healing him,” he said. “The horrors are driving others away from the wall. Several barbarians are there with him.”
Anger burned in Emmeline’s eyes. The lighting in the inn dimmed to red in unconscious response to the heat of her wrath. “General Gustave is the only leader willing step up and think boldly of solutions. I risked my life and gave my freedom to save him from the Maelith ambush at the initial parlay, and then I risked everything again to try to save Storuvan. Whatever Storuvan’s fate may be now, I emcare/em, Thal. This matters to me.
“Yet for all that I tried to do, you tell me the herzogs ruthlessly condemned those refugees to death by marching them in front of an oncoming army and then when they turned against those that tried to kill them all, those same herzogs had the audacity to shift all blame to the me and the general best suited to defend Storuvan.”
The red glare slowly brightened to what the room was before as Emmeline’s wrath subsided. Tears ran down Emmeline’s face. “You deserve better than this, Thal. All the people of Storuvan do. Is this brutality, ignorance, and shameful behavior worthy of your city?”
The scene rushed away and the two of them rose upon the ramparts of a great, white palace that seemed to rise from the ground. Walls rushed up protectively, but the tower upon which they stood rose even higher. Soon they could see this was no castle but a living thing made of white oak. At it’s core, the great tree rose even higher than the palace, it’s massive limbs spreading out and ending a leafy canopy that spread for a half mile in every direction. The great palace, for all its glory, sat only at the feet of the great Tree.
From where they stood they could easily over the treetops of the surrounding woodland and across a small, silvery lake to the shadowed, mountainous walls of the valley. Overwhelming awe and beauty that overlaid a powerful sense of peace and magical power ignited every sense and energized the soul. Somewhere among the towers echoed a honeyed voice singing an ancient song of sadness and heartbreak. There was beauty and sorrow in the lilting hills and valleys of the singer’s voice. Emmeline’s voice. It was the sound of a breaking heart.
When Emmemline spoke again, it felt like an hour had passed, but it may have only been minutes. “Who truly rules Storuvan, Thal?”
Thal was crying, saying, “I don’t know, I don’t know anymore. I hope the queen saves us, but I don’t know where she is. ”
Emmeline knelt beside him and placed a steadying hand on Thal’s back. “What has happened to the Queen, Thal?”
“We don’t know. No one has seen her since the battles. The soldiers, priests, and sorcerers act through her name. None of the Vala are on the streets with the people. Herzog Stürm has been speaking to the people from the Kaisarine Palace balcony.”
“So it is the Herzogs who have power, who betrayed the refugees and caused the situation the city finds itself now,” Emmeline said. “And this is why you pray for the Queen to return and save you?”
Thal said, “yes. And she will return. She will.”
“I will find her, if I can,” she told Thal. “Now lets talk about you. I know the inn is gone. But are you all right? Are you surviving?”
Thal said, “I’m in a makeshift camp on the east side. I survive. This is a very odd dream.”
“I really appreciate you speaking with me.” Emmeline looked out across the valley. “I’ll try to find what happened to your queen. When I do, I’ll return here to let you know what I’ve found.” She turned to him again. “You’ll remember every detail of this dream when you wake, Thal. It is a dream, in that you are right. But it is not your dream. This dream is mine. Stay well. Stay alive.”
Emmeline, the palace, the valley, and even the gigantic white oak tree seemed to zoom away from him as Em broke the connection and roused herself from the trance.
Thal just sat there perplexed as the dream ended for Emmeline, his hand making a half-hearted wave of confusion.
Emmeline came out of her trance. No one was in the room and the sound of the creaking vessel was the only thing breaking the silence.
Em stood up, went to the door and opened it a crack.
The captain was still there. Without turning she whispered, “are you finished?”
Emmeline nodded. She added in a low voice. “Something awful has happened. I need to consult and take steps quickly to avert a terrible tragedy. Can we see him now?”
“Assuming you mean Dumont. He could be anywhere and I do not know where he lives. But like you now, in the past I have done other business with him. As a Phoenix Dragoon, I can use a message spell to send him an alert. What message do you wish me to send?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I’ve learned some terrible things. Lives hang in the balance and I feel I must reach the queen of Storuvan immediately,” she said. “I know that’s further than he wanted me to go tonight.”
“It is unlikely you could, legally or magically. As I understand it, they consider the Koenigin the descendant of gods and therefore a god herself, she will be protected from magics to one extent or another. And you are not a Senate-sanctioned ambassador to a foreign state. In any event, have you met her?” she asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Captain, she’s missing and the herzogs are torturing to death her most capable general. Repeatedly.”
“This is what I’ll do. First, give me 25 words or less for a message to Dumont. If he is awake, he will reply – he rarely sleeps I am told. Then I will fly you to wherever he asks of me, assuming he does ask. Will that work?” the captain asked.
“Yes. Tell him what I told you and add that I have met the Queen. That will be twenty words.”
She nodded and scribed a spell into the air, muttering Sidonian tongue twisters of Eterian while contrails of magic followed her fingertips. A minute later she nodded and turned to Emmeline, “He says that the information is important, but we do not know enough yet to act. We must learn more. He asks you to document everything, get a good night’s sleep, and we will discuss first thing in the morning. Do not try to contact her or anyone else from Storuvan tonight. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she said simply though her face showed how it pained her. She went back into the room to detail everything about the dream.
The captain took her back afterwards and took Emmeline’s report with her. The next morning, the Captain dutifully met Emmeline at the appointed time and took a carriage to one of the myriad of government buildings of the bureaucracy, an ancient-looking complex known as the Directorate. The specific building was an unassuming one near some gardens. The captain said, “they only let strangers in the building twice a day, but we should be on time.” Upon entry, the two were met Dumont. There were no guards at the door, just a bespectacled secretary, who watched the party like a hawk. Dumont said, “these two are with me Claire.”
As they walked he said, “I read your notes and the situation seems dire from this Thal’s point of view. Is there another you met there whom you could reach out to other than the queen. Or perhaps someone nearby that could help us get a larger picture, yes yes?”
Emmeline nodded. “I know a store owner, a Vala, a priestess from the Temple of Dreigest north of town, the unfortunate General Gustave of course, or the priestess that Thal called witch who leads the Maelith there.”
“Which do you believe would open up to you?” he asked.
“None of those are very good choices, in my opinion. One of our party got one of the Vala’s priestesses raped and murdered. General Gustave in the midst of being slowly impaled to death upon a greased pike, I don’t know the store owner well save for a single conversation, and the Tyaanite priestess likely blames me for the herzog’s betrayal of her people and the agreement I brokered between them. They all do.”
She gave him a wry smile. “Honestly? I probably have better rapport with the Queen than any of them, for all that I only spoke with her once. At least at that one time it was in positive circumstances. But since you want to wait on that, then I suppose I could try the merchant. He’s as likely as any of them to be spitting mad at me, but least able to take political action against me.”
“Direct contact with the Koenigin or Queen or High Vala as you say could cause an incident, and their sorcerers and priests are protecting her, right, right? It would be a gross breech of protocol for you to reach out to her without you being named an official lettered ambassador and we get the permission of her guardians. In fact, we would need the Mayor’s explicit approval for such a contact. Indeed, indeed, yes indeed how do we know the herzogs did not act on her explicit orders or have killed her or she may have fled.
The rape and murder of the priestess does make contact troubling. How was it a companion of yours let such a thing happen? Makes little sense, such a waste. Now if there was some way to cleverly rescue the general, he could tell us what we need to know. But, despite rumors to the contrary, we cannot easily ‘magic him’ here to safety short of the most powerful of magics, and for that we’d need to involve the Guild at the highest levels. They have other things on their agenda, suffice to say and likely won’t be staging a rescue mission for a Carian general who has no love for Thalassa.
But, the others. They may be spitting mad, but at least you could approach them in a dream and they would be none the wiser if you acted the part. Can you appear as anyone?”
“So the merchant Thilo, then. Hm. I don’t know anyone he knows. He could be very angry with me if he believes the herzog’s tripe. But I can soothe angry people,” Emmeline said confidently. “Or use a disguise. I don’t have to reveal myself to be anyone in particular.”
Dumont nodded, “Yes, yes. That will do fine. The captain will give you the necklace again at the door. Use it to protect yourself from detection – just in case. Return it tomorrow. Be sure to dispel magic in the area around you to remove any latent scry attempts.” He then wrote out a note. “Bring this to the High Temple of Aarith as soon as we are done here. They will add you as an exception for a limited part of the city – you choose, within reason – and there your can cast your spell without undo detection or monitoring; perhaps the home of a friend. The person you need to contact is Reverend Monsignor Maurice Blanchard, who is a colleague of mine and helps with the reinforcement of the Aegis. Then when that is done, bring the note to Wizard’s Guild and seek their high diviner, Magus Edouard André. He will add you to a list of persons casting such magics from the city for city business. As you are a Guild member, this should make things much easier for you, right, right?”
“I would also very much like to rescue General Gustave. Maybe when I get more information some opportunity will come to light.” Emmeline nodded to Dumont. “I’ll get these errands done so I’m ready tonight to contact Thilo.
“But Dumont, do you have any thoughts on the “witch” leading the refugees? I don’t think Thal knew her name and so it is not in the report. But I know who she is and I have some experience in communicating with Tyaanites. Does she count as a leader of state, such as it is for the Maelith refugees?”
Dumont thought for a moment, “You can reach out to her.”
Emmeline found herself wishing she had a network of people of her own she could dispatch to gather information. Something, perhaps for future thought. She nodded to Dumont. “I’ll speak with Thilo and then then Desmodia tonight.”
When Emmeline left the building, the captain asked, “Citizen Emmeline, as long as you are within the city, you should be fine. I should not be seen; however, escorting you everywhere. Do you have someone who can guard you?”
“Yes, I do. Come to think of it, she’s going to be rather upset with me for disappearing lately, since she promised my Baron she would watch out for me,” Emmeline said with a little smile.
“There is a young woman we’ve seen loitering around. She was hard to keep track of. Strawberry-blonde, about (she made a hand gesture a little under Emmeline’s height) yea high?”
Em nodded. “Yes, that sounds like Renee.”
“Renee? Mind if I ask her family name?” she asked.
“Du Triel, is her family name, Captain.”
“She is the daughter of Captain Reynard du Triel, who served the Phoenix years ago, and I understand is raising elements of a Legion in the north. He put in an application for her to become a Dragoon scout and be trained as an officer for next year’s class. There was mention of her having a body-guarding job. Are you her charge?”
Emmeline nodded. “Yes, though I didn’t know about her application.” She paused thoughtfully.
“I believe her father submitted it.” she replied. “In any event, you have several stops to make. The girl is currently in the East Garden. I know tomorrow you are making a presentation at the Academy. After that is complete, meet me at the Second Phoenix on Centré Isle and we can discuss next steps. Thank you.”
“Farewell, Captain.” After that Emmeline set off to meet up with Renee and then take care of the errands she’s been given.
Renee fell into line beside Emmeline as she left the government area toward the Centre Isle. Catching a carriage taxi they started over the Capital Bridge. Renee asked, “where did you go last night ma’am? Why did you head out this morning without protection?”
“Everything is fine, Renee,” Emmeline said gently. “I did have protection for the time I was gone. The Baron understands. I have to make some stops today and I really need your help now more than ever to keep things quiet, in case more people than you begin to watch me. Well, actually it’s very possible I’m already being watched. All I can say is that what I’m doing is the right thing and that I’m not not doing anything on my own.”
Emmeline stopped and turned to Renee. “Not telling you what’s going on is not at all about trust.” She looked Renee in the eye to try to read how the girl was taking this. “It’s about what I can and cannot do. Do you understand?”
Renee seemed fine with everything. She replied, “Ma’am. I understand, but I’m supposed to protect you by your Baron’s orders and my father’s arrangement with you. I’d hate to fail them and you – even if they drop a cairn on us, which they have. So, I don’t need to know what you are doing ma’am, but I do need to know if you will be safe. Otherwise I worry and get in a bother.”
Emmeline grinned. “Actually it was Elemix that dropped the cairn on us. But yes. I’m safe.”
“Good,” she said.
The first stop was at the Guild, which as a fairly easy one where Emmeline was given audience with Magus Dimoza, an elderly dwarf who was based at the Guild Tower. One of the Companion Guard brought Emmeline in. Renee waited outside. Emmeline noticed that the Companion Guards were uniformed and of varying ages, heights, and even races – Carian, Thalassan, Brentine, Danaean, Drawrven, and she swore she saw a Gnome. How does one become that she wondered briefly.
“Witch. Heard you wanted to get on the approved list for the Aegis. Do do understand what you are asking?” the grumpy dwarf said from behind a large desk. Models of winged apparatuses were scattered in her office including books on flight and other forms of aerial movement from insects to flying squirrels.
Emmeline nodded. “Yes Magus, I do. I would not ask if it was not important.”
“The Mayor ordered on her ascendancy at the turn of the year that the Aegis was to be reinforced by both the Guild and the Temple. Similarly, many of our more promising journeyman wizards have been ‘drafted’ for one thing or another. It seems you have been as well. Do you have an order in writing I may see?” the old dwarf said. She waited.
Emmeline nodded and dug out the paper. She handed it over and looked around a little while she waited for it to be verified.
“Looks in order. The Mayor’s Office, eh? Fine, so don’t resist these magics I will cast. They are part of the background check,” she said while using several magical headsets and contraptions with lenses. “Hmm. There is at least one magical element trying to reach out to locate you, maybe more, but they are weak. Hmm. I see you wear a magical necklace that protects you. Good. They would not be able to breech the Guild Walls anyway. Okay,” she finished, putting away the equipment, “you pass. Please deposit into this envelope a lock of hair, a tiny phial of blood, and the ashes of a personal wish written on paper, folded, and burnt. These will be turned over to Archmagus Augustin Deladera, who will inspect all of it and then fold you into the Aegis for a year and a day. You will be given a ring attuned to your blood only. With it you can cast spells out of the Aegis when located in the city without undue interference though it will be detected; however, you will need to protect this object as it could be used against you if taken. If you wish anyone to communicate IN to you, you must pair this with a blessing from the Temple for a specific exception. Do you understand and do you have any questions? If not, here is the phial, a piece of paper, a match and bowl, a hair tie, and the envelope.”
Emmeline nodded, thinking it all to be appropriate and in order. “Thank you, Magus.”
She took the items, set about getting the lock of hair and blood. Those were fairly simple, though she rather wished she had a needle to draw blood rather than the harsh edge of a blade she’d traveled with too long. Nevertheless that was done and then she wrote her wish:
emI wish to be strong enough to protect all that I love./em
She then carefully burnt it in the bowl. When finished, she returned the items to the dwarf woman.
The dwarf checked the items and handed Emmeline a receipt. “This is for you to bring to the temple. The inclusion of you in the Aegis for sending messages out of the city privately from Guild sanctioned areas and quasi-publicly otherwise will be done by tomorrow evening. You have a collegue, Elemix. If he is to do so, it would be wise of him to go through registration as well, just to avoid complications with the Quaestors. The Mayor was quite strict on the level of security we were to attain.”
“I understand, and thank you for noting that. I’ll make an effort to make sure he understands.” After making polite farewells, the made her way to the next stop.
Emmeline and Renee went past the Temple complex across two harbors to the Aegis in physical from, the artificial isle raised by St. Atia to protect the city. There in the Temple of Sacrifice, a hallowed place of constant prayer, Emmeline was led to the office of the Bishop of Vieux and Keeper of the Keys. A lay brother walked up and asked, “Young miss, how may we help you?”
“Good day, brother. I have a need to cast certain spells through the Aegis for which I can present authorizations.” Emmeline patted a scroll case with the missives she carried. “Will you direct me to whom I need to see about this?”
The brother asked, “You wish special dispensation? As a member of the Guild, you have that right. Follow me.” The brother led Emmeline to a woman, perhaps Bella’s age, who was kneeling at the high alter. After several minutes of her finishing her prayers (and Renee getting fidgety) she stood up, bowed, stepped back, turned and approached the party. The brother introduced woman, “This is Mother Avril, Servant of Aarith, Bishop of Vieux, Keeper of the Keys, Scion of Sidonius, and St. Aria’s Shield.
“Hello Mabrilith,” she said to Emmeline. “Hello Thavriel,” she said to Renee. She held her hand up to quiet a response, saying, “brother thank you. I will take this from here.”
The brother left. She lowered her hand and said, “Please walk with me and tell me what you require of this mere servant of the servant of Aarith?”
Emmeline was silent for several steps. “Mother Avril, how do you know me as Mabrilith?” Renee added, “and that name, Thavriel. That was what may mother called me as a baby. She called it my soul name.”
She answered in kind tone of a mother, “Those names are your true names. But worry not, I will not share them. I see nothing and I see many things. The future, the past, and the truth. I also see the important things and ignore mere surface. It is a great honor to carry this burden. Emmeline could see her eyes were of the palest blue – and that she was blind.
“I am here to request permission to cast a spell through the Aegis.” She dug out the papers and offered them to Mother Avril.
She reached for the papers without looking at them. “I know. You happened to arrive when the others who would handle this were at prayers. I am happy to help.’
Her fingers glanced over the message. “Ah, you are one of the clever fox’s hounds. Following up leads for him I suppose. It is a dangerous role to play but I feel you wish to embrace it willingly. I can help you. My child, do you understand the Aegis and the great responsibility placed upon you?”
Emmeline thought for a moment about Renee’s true name, then tucked it away in her mind for later. She wondered if Avril could see who it was that Elemix and she met recently. But supposed not — there would have been powerful magic in place to prevent such scrying.
“Mother Avril, I offered my aid to … the clever fox … because I fear for the Thalassans and all those we have called upon to defend the Periphery and Thalassa itself. For now, this is the only way I know to help. I know that the Aegis is meant to defend Thalassa. I know that any spells cast from the city through the Aegis will be noticed. But that is all.”
She answered, “The Aegis is St. Aria’s final gift to us. It is a great protective ritual maintained by constant prayers the surround the the city and reach outwards. We partner with the Wizards to make it even stronger. Over the years, holes do appear from time to time as random magics weaken it over time. Last year there were several small incidents that were pivotal in the new Mayor ordering the Aegis reinforced. Hence, exceptions are thoroughly vetted, a view I not only agree with, but have advocated for. But, it seems that the Fox wishes you to be one such exception. Why should the Temple trust you? It is not an accusation, just a humble question.”
Emmeline felt that was a fair question. She thought about it a long moment.
“Because I have always only wanted people to be safe, to live a life in peace. And because I will remain here only for a handful of days longer.
“But if my honesty could not be trusted, then you could still rely on my own personal interests in the specific matter into which I am looking. The father of the child I carry, one I love very much, is going to war on behalf of Thalassa. I would do anything I can to help ensure his safe return to me, our family, and our people. I can’t imagine a mother who would do any less. It is my hope that with the magic I possess, I can help to save the lives of all those caught in the conflict. Even if it is but one single life that I am able to save or improve, it’s worth it to me.
“And there is an old fox out there that believes me.”
“And there are those who do not. Who wish you dead or worse who wish to corrupt you to their service. I sense them, trying to find you. The Aegis, that necklace, your will, they all serve to push back the darkness. I believe that you will resist charming and temptation; therefore, I will send a priest to add your name to the area of the Wizard’s Guild and one location here in the city of your choice. Somewhere you feel safe, that you will return to in the days to come, or should you find yourself lost in another world, a place you can reach out to and place others may reach out to you. Where might that be?” she asked.
Emmeline thought about that. “The only place I feel safe is wherever Roland is,” Emmeline said finally. She told Avril where she was staying. “Can you tell me who exactly is wishing me harm? And why would be good to know, too…”
“In a moment we discuss it. On the point of you being here, unfortunately your paramour does not have a home here in the city that I am aware of; though it is fantastically large city, he may. You should think about it. Where do you or he have relatives in the city? Or have you considered buying a place for when you are here? Many nobles are. The Mayor I am told is reaching out to the great houses and asking them to spend some of their time in the city every year. I do not know the details. In any event, I would think on that and return when you know for certain.”
“What about the temple?” Emmeline asked. “All I need is a place to sit for a few hours. I could even just sit on top of the some tower. I don’t need much.”
She continued by turning to Renee, “Within the rectory there is a housemaid who helps me. Please go and ask her for four candied cherries. For your service, you may have two of those. Please give us a few minutes and return.” Renee looked at Emmeline for reassurance to leave, which Emmeline nodded to, then Renee said, “Happy to, your…excellency?” She bowed and left hurriedly.
The Bishop walked Emmeline to a bench, “Please sit.” When Emmeline had she continued, “I can see the magic around you, within you, and the essence of spirits which seek to watch you. However, just as they cannot find you, it is difficult for me to know for certain either at a glance. But there are ways. The most effective way is to lower your guards and let them in; but it is extremely dangerous. I do see that some cross the curtain of the ethereal, likely fey; some reach out from the abyss, I hope I need not explain that; some seek you from this world which could be anyone. None actively seek you at the moment as they cannot find you. The essence of their attempts remain. One at least, knows you are in the city I fear.”
“Do you think any of them are friendly?”
“They seek you. That is all I can see for certain. Fey are fickle and are most often selfish and amoral – like the one that fell from your cloak when you entered the Temple. She could not piece the protection and once you entered, you could not hear her. But worry not, she awaits you outside. Anything usually from the Abyss is an agent of selfish destruction, corruption, and malice. The ones on this world I cannot say. But I could perhaps pray to Aarith for the answer in your name. Perhaps.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Yet in the end young one, the challenge is that I have many duties that must to for many people and the Fox has given one such duty to me through you. We must complete that first. In answer to your question, and I sense you are earnest, the Temple cannot host magics that it does not understand and does not have full knowledge of?”
Emmeline was feeling completely disarmed by the woman’s magnetism, caring, and patient confidence. Not charmed or ensorcelled, as Mara had taught her how to turn that upon another, but more like the mother or grandmother she wished she had as a child as sung in her grandfather’s songs.
“What do you wish to do? If you cannot say, I understand. We would need to find another place, or perhaps the Guild would allow it, though they would know what you cast as well. Nothing gets past them in their Tower.”
“It’s all right. I think can tell you that. The spell I would cast allows me to speak to people I know through dreams. I believe it is classified under the illusion college, which happens to be the college of which I am a part,” Emmeline explained.
“I have heard of it. A very difficult spell. Some talented wizards and bards use it for communication. As do some warlocks, both malignant and benign. There are others as well.” She smiled and said, “You are quite talented for your age. Aarith has only rarely gifted such as a prayer, but I understand how it works. You may cast your spell in the Shrine of St. Yves tomorrow night. It can be reached easily enough from a winding path not far from this Temple. But, this may be a one-time thing. We cannot give you unlimited access to holy ground to cast magics born not of Aarith’s will; but we can do so once given its association with the protection of the City. In future, you will have to either exit the city, or risk casting your spell at the Guild. Do you understand?”
“I do. That will do perfectly. Thank you. May I ask you technical question about the Aegis?” Em asked.
“Within reason, yes,” she answered.
“I have some lands of my own on the Isle, and an uncle with his family, that reside well outside the city itself. My impression was that the Aegis protected only the city, or at least it did originally. Is it accurate to think the Aegis doesn’t protect the rest of the isle?”
She thought about it for a moment and then said, “The Aegis primarily protects the city from intrusion by magic means, and in many cases allows us to know if an intrusion occurs. Wizards have a similar spell that when added to the Aegis in critical areas make for quite the magical fortress; however, it only somewhat extends into the rest of the Isle. Why?”
“I need to go visit my lands and my uncle in the next few days. If what I do tomorrow night produces more work for me to do on behalf of the Fox, then I might have an option to follow up, if I forego sleep,” Emmeline said.