Once they were up above cloud level, the spy looked back over his left shoulder and asked, "So, to Shipsister, right?"
"Right," said Darius. "But how...? And, uh, who...?"
Their pilot grinned and said, "All will be explained. As well as possible, at any rate." He pushed some buttons, and then climbed into the back of the wagon with them.
"Hey!" shouted Tom. "What in the name of Brist do you think you're doing!? We need a pilot up there!"
"Actually, no. A neat, new magical trick our Sorreters have been working on, called 'autopilot.' Just program your destination, and the wagon will fly you there itself. You don't even need to see the terrain below. Very convenient, yes? Anyway, as for who I am: My name is Jasp Underground, and I am LandOrder's chief spy in Tonad."
"And just what interest does LandOrder have in helping us?" asked Darius.
"We... um... actually, it's not exactly official yet. Maybe we'll end up leaving you alone. This was just sort of a spur of the moment thing, no time to think. We helped you because InterGang seemed interested in hurting you."
"And why would InterGang have any interest in us, one way or the other?"
"Because we were interested in you."
"Wanna run that by me again? I thought you said you were interested because they..."
Underground held up a hand to interrupt. "It was a minor, pet project, or somesuch. Some of our spies in Plist noticed you were working together, and that got the don there interested. Mainly because of you, Mr. Lonewander. Don Chieftain took a passing interest because you almost always work alone. And because the Band almost always work alone. I'm not sure if the other two here played any part in his interest. I'm not even sure who you are. Except you.... You called yourself 'Tiejo,' didn't you?"
"Tiejo, yes. Going to help my master, they are. Good, kind adventurers. Order he is kept by." The street rat scrunched his face and gave the spy his most intense, piercing gaze. "LandOrder does work for Order, or no?"
Underground grinned. "Not at all. The name derives from the fact that there would be no intervillage gangs if not for the Coming of the Order. I trust some of you will be familiar with the rumors...?"
"I heard Vallus speak," said Darius. "It was with his reports of the Order's more clandestine efforts that I first began to reconsider my original pro-Order stance, as a youth."
"I think we all heard a bit about what they were doing behind the scenes, back then," said Cameron. "Many of us personally fought them." He looked to Ginger, who was asleep now. Back at the inn, in addition to bandaging her wound with some cloth napkins he'd found on a table, he'd performed a simple healing spell; with such a minor cut, not much magic would be needed to erase any trace of it within a day. Still, once they'd gotten airborne, he'd also given her a sleeping spell, over her half-hearted protests. "Perhaps most famously, her father," he said, turning to address Underground. "And no one in this world has more valid claim to the name 'Protestant' than she does."
The LandOrder spy nodded and went back to making his point: "So you must believe the rumors that it was the Order which first encouraged gangs to unite, expand their operations, make it a real profession type of thing, instead of a more temporary rite of passage for a few young malcontents. And that they helped us grow, in various ways."
"And," said Darius, "that that was ultimately just so they'd have a greater case to present the people that a united, intervillage police force was needed, thus leading to the establishment of InterVil. And eventually, a united world government, and universal laws, and all the rest. They set you all up for their own purposes, and then abandoned you. You should have as much reason to hate them as we do. And yet, you keep the name LandOrder. Why is that?"
"Well, it wasn't my decision, of course. It was agreed upon by the top four dons of the new, amalgamated gang, including of course capo Capp Primus. Along with him were Don Chieftain, Cherilyn Amalgamator, and Roger Fourth. About their early meetings, before any other villages joined them, we just don't know much. We have legends, many of which conflict on various points. But as to your question, most of us seem to think the name is mainly a way to needle the Order. Both of them, actually. The First Order understands the truth; but while the Second Order isn't aware of or doesn't believe the rumors, it still annoys them on another level."
Tiejo grinned. "Needle needle needle, darn enemies of us both! Trusting I am the good, kind gangster, then."
"I appreciate it," said Underground.
"Anyway," said Darius, "one of your dons takes a passing interest in us, which prompts your rivals to attack us, which prompts you all to take a greater interest in us. This is just great."
"Actually, I think they were just going to watch you, like we were. Except that one of them attacked you. I don't think that was part of their plan. ...It might've been part of don Illuminatus's plan, but if so, probably against the orders of her capo, and also without the direct knowledge of the man who did the attacking."
"How could it be without his knowledge?"
"She manipulates people and situations very subtly, sometimes. I can't say for sure she did this here, but it's a distinct possibility." He sighed. "I doubt the politics of it would very much interest you, so I won't go into it. Personal politics, I should say. Anyway... I'll take you wherever you're going, or you can have me leave you off whenever you want. Except that I think I'm supposed to stay with you until I hear otherwise."
Alecstar spoke up now, "Hey, I've just been checking the stuff Tiejo managed to get into the wagon before our hasty exit, and it seems he's left alot of it behind, including instruments and money. Still, it's a wonder he had the foresight to grab anything. Mainly clothes, is what it is."
"That's okay," said Darius. "We can get more stuff when we get to Shipsister. I'm sure we all have money in the bank, and some of us should have private stashes in various places we may travel to now and then. Anyway, thank you very much, Tiejo. You're very clever, you know."
"Used are street rats to quick getaways," Tiejo demurred.
"You know," said Cameron, "the police should be getting things under control, now. I don't see why we don't just land back by the inn and collect the rest of our things, and our own wagon."
"Well, it might not be impossible. But I really don't think Tonad will be safe for you anytime soon. While most of the InterGang and LandOrder enforcers involved in tonight's fight will likely be apprehended by the authorities, there are plenty more where they came from. And after this, InterGang will suddenly be a great deal more interested in you all, I'm afraid. They'll be watching for you everywhere, especially at the Apple-Spruce, and they'll have wagons and such ready to pursue, next time. I think it's best we continue to Shipsister, at least."
"Very well," agreed Cameron, "but I'll at least scry out the situation back there and make a few trips to get the rest of our stuff."
"If you must. But I caution you that InterGang's Sorreters will be watching for signs of such things. They could trace you back to us."
"And report our last known location, perhaps. But it's not like they can translocate enough people to attack us. And yes, they can send word to other branches, but neither of you have anybody in Shipsister, do you?"
"True, that's solely in the hands of the BiShip gang. But they could at least infer our general direction. The most likely next stop would be Jump Village or Tanq, and they have people in both places."
"So do you, if I'm not mistaken."
"I fear they'll be swifter to action than we will. We must wait for our messenger to reach Plist to speak with Chieftain, who then must translocate to Tonad and possibly Kimrin before LandOrder takes further action, if any. InterGang doesn't fear to use t-mail, so they may make plans more quickly."
"But," Darius interjected, "it should take us at least two days to reach Shipsister, anyway. How long will this messenger take to reach Plist?"
"It depends on his method of travel. He might take a carpet, or a strider, or he might even walk. We'll probably be in Shipsister before he gets to Plist."
"Couldn't your don have one of his Sorreters translocate?"
"No, for similar reasons to our not using t-mail. Besides, Carver Woodrat never lets anyone perform magic on him."
While Darius had taken over Cameron's side of the discussion, the Sorreter had been doing his scrying. "Looks like the police have taken away the trouble-makers," he said. "Our wagon isn't there, so either it's been impounded or InterGang stole it away. But it looks fairly safe in the inn."
"Go then, if you wish. But remember, the police won't recognize all of InterGang's spies, nor ours."
"As long as no one's free to take any immediate action against me, I think it should be okay." Looking around to his companions, he asked, "Any objections?"
They shook their heads, but Emma said, "Be careful, Cameron." Darius's look said the same.
"I will." And he disappeared.
After translocating to a covert spot behind some trees outside the Apple-Spruce, Cameron entered the inn and walked up to the check-in desk. "Hi... I guess we'll be checking out early. Mind if I head up to our rooms to collect a few things?"
"Police are up there. Wanna talk to you people."
"Ah... well, thanks for mentioning it. Actually, I think I'll collect our instruments, first."
"Police are in there, too."
"That's alright. I have nothing to hide."
Walking into the common room, he was stopped by a tall, middle-aged man with a badge on his belt. "You're with the band that was playing here, aren't you?"
"Yes. My name's Cameron Piper. And you are...?"
"Like Brist's uncle."
"Yeah, well, there're a few scientists in my clan. Anyway, I wanted to ask you and your friends a few questions. Where are they, anyway?"
"Left town, trying to get away from the gangs. I just came back to see if things had settled down."
"Well, they have. You all gonna be coming back, now?"
"Actually, we're kind of worried about the sort of people who seem not to like us, for some reason. Thought we should stay away awhile. I just came to collect our things, and I'll rejoin them."
"Which way you heading?"
The detective nodded. "Any idea what this was all about?"
"All I know is this big, drunk guy threw a bottle at us, hurt my friend Ginger, and we defended ourselves. That's when his friends stepped in to help him, and we soon realized they were part of a gang. I guess their rivals just joined in for the fun of it, or something. ...Will that be all, detective?"
"Well, for now, I guess. But I may want to get in touch with you again."
"Just call me via t-mail. You got my name down?"
"Yes." And he strode off to talk to some of his men.
Cameron headed for the stage, and gathered up Ginger's lyre, his own fife, and Emma's mandolin. He took them up to his and Alecstar's room, then went back for Star's drums. After that he headed to Emma and Ginger's room, where he ran into another detective and a few police.
"Ah, Mr. Piper, I believe. I'm detective Clueseek. I understand you've already spoken with my partner?"
"Yes. I'm just gathering up my friends' and my things. Are you almost through here?"
"Just about. It seems the rooms were ransacked before our arrival, however. A maid tells me she saw a street rat take some things-"
"Oh, he's a friend of ours, don't worry."
"...And after he left, someone else checked the rooms he'd been in, and took some more things."
"Oh. Well, nothing that can't be replaced, I expect." Glancing around the room, he asked, "I don't suppose you've seen an instrument in here?"
"No, what did it look like?"
"It's an Elven instrument called a duré. It actually might be a little tricky to replace. It's sort of a cross between a violin and a squeezebox, with a bow that's sort of flute-like."
"Never heard of such a thing. Sounds pretty weird. Also sounds like it'd be hard to find, outside of Woodstockade. Probably one of the gangs' dealers could make some money on a thing like that. Let me know if you find anything else missing."
"I will. I suppose you've been through the other two rooms already?" Clueseek nodded. "Well, then I'll have a look around those, and get out of your way."
He brought the things from Darius and Tom's room to his, and tried to think if anything seemed to be missing. Some things, after all, had been left in the wagon. Finally he decided that, besides Emma's duré, the only thing he could be sure had been stolen was whatever money they'd had with them. Except for Tom's, as he seemed to keep his pouch on his person at all times.
As he headed back to Ginger and Emma's room, the police were leaving. "Find any clues?" he asked.
"Nothing useful. Did you notice anything in the other rooms?"
"Just our money bags gone. I'm sure those are an utterly lost cause, but it's hardly our life's savings."
"Well, if you think of anything else, be sure to let us know. You need any help getting that stuff down to your wagon?"
"That's okay, I'll manage. I think I'm going to be here a little while yet, and I don't want to keep you. Anyway, I don't mind making a few trips."
The detective shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Cameron finished collecting things into one room, then went to the window to watch the police depart. When he was sure they were gone, he started translocating things to the wagon. On the first trip, he told Emma her duré was gone, along with everybody's money. Tom patted his belt and smiled. Emma said she'd find another somewhere, and she rarely used it, anyway.
Just when he thought he'd made his last trip, and he was getting very drained, something occurred to him. He sighed, disappeared again, and returned with a smile on his face and a jar in his hands. "Couldn't forget our tips, could I?" Handing the jar to Alecstar, he collapsed from exhaustion, and fell immediately and deeply asleep.
"Absolutely amazing," said Underground quietly. "Greater stamina than I've seen in any of our Sorreters, and I've certainly never seen one with such accuracy in translocating to and from a moving target." Sighing, he said, "Well, perhaps we should follow his example, and get some rest. Although, there should be at least one person awake at all times watching the autopilot. I'll show you all how to disengage it, in case it should become necessary...."
He did so, and then went in back again and soon drifted off to sleep himself.
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