Chapter 12
29 Sp'gin (Penul'day)

1

"Open," said don Jack Dockrat to his chiming t-mail bubble.

"Jack, hi," said don Milo Longshore. "How's things?"

"Things are fine here, Milo. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"My chief spy has brought me a little quid pro quo he got from a spy he knows in Tonad, from one of the independent gangs there. Says there was a big fight the other night between the Bigs. No idea what it was all about, except it had to do, apparently, with a group of adventurers who were in town. His friend called him about it because from all accounts, those adventurers are heading our way. To Shipsister, that is. Though they're not expected to stick around long. Anyway, I just wondered if we should maybe get involved, try to figure things out, maybe grab a piece of the action for BiShip."

"I doubt that would be wise, my friend. Still, is there any more information?"

"Adventurers consist of the Band-"

"Oh, I do so enjoy their music," Dockrat interjected.

"Yeah. Anyway, them and that Lonewander kid, and old Tom. Plus some crazy street rat was hangin' out with them. I think that's it."

"Hmmm... sure would be interesting to learn what's got Tom out of retirement. Still, we don't want to get involved in this, I think. Messing with the biggest gangs on the Land might be bad for the health of our organization. We're on the verge of expanding beyond our two villages; maybe someday we'll be big enough to take on those two, but not yet. Not by a long-shot. ...I guess we could both have our spies call all their outside contacts, have them keep us informed if they hear anything. Just out of curiosity."

"Yeah, that was my feeling. Thought maybe it should be a joint decision, though. Well! I guess my biggest question goes back to being what to call ourselves if we do finally get a few more villages. You know I always liked 'BiShip' for sounding so much like 'bishop...'"

"Ah, well. Time enough to ponder that one, Milo..."

2

The Chaos party stopped in Shipsister for only a few hours on the afternoon of 29 Sp'gin. Darius collected a hidden stash he had just outside of town. Everybody went to a public bathhouse, and later they enjoyed a half decent meal at a little diner Tom recommended; he hadn't been there in years, but it was just like he remembered. Darius suggested they also buy some new supplies and provisions, and they loaded up the wagon, which they flew down to the docks. There they booked passage on a ferry headed for Jump Village.

While they were waiting for it to depart, Tiejo disappeared. He said he wanted to talk to some old dock rat friends of his. Meanwhile, Underground took a black t-mail bubble from his wagon's supply, disappeared himself, and called don Breakhead.

The don answered with, "Jasp, where are you? You okay?"

Jasp smiled inwardly. He had more cause for concern about the don's well-being than Breakhead had for his, concerning the state he'd been in the last time they saw each other. "Quite alright, don. How about you?"

"They've patched me up pretty good. Although I've heard some rumors that I'm dead. I think I'll let them keep floating awhile...."

"Fun. So, is it safe to speak freely?" He knew it must be, or Breakhead wouldn't have asked him where he was; still, always best to be cautious, in his line of work.

"Yes, yes, our Sorreters have checked it all out. In fact, chief RD assured me just this morning that there was no leak; both black and grey bubbles are still better than any purple. So, I let our spies contact those in Plist, and they explained it was just Manager's dumb rivalry with Chieftain."

"Yeah, I thought as much. Actually, I was so sure, I think I kind of forgot it was just an educated guess on my part. Anyway, we're in Shipsister; going to be heading for Jump Village soon. But, should I just head home? I mean, have Chieftain or the capo let you know whether there's even any reason for us to remain involved with these people?"

"Actually I haven't talked to either of them about the matter, yet."

"What? Why not? I thought you said you'd been in contact-"

"No no, not me. Not with them. Atwater talked to one of Chieftain's spies; I basically had her do it to reassure me that RD was right about our communications being secure. She asked if they had any idea why InterGang would be watching those adventurers, or how they'd even know we were watching them. Like I said, it was Manager's doing. Apparently his spies in Plist picked up on Chieftain's interest in those people, and he suggested to Mysshroudedtery that if other LandOrder branches watched them, then other InterGang branches should do so, as well. Though even if she agreed with his suggestion, I can't imagine she'd have authorized actual violence, at this point."

"No, well, I told my companions my guess, which is that don Illuminatus manipulated chief Bipolar into it, just to annoy Manager. I hear she usually does get irritated by Mysshroudedtery always going along with Manager's ideas."

"Ah, yeah, now that does sound like her, doesn't it?" He chuckled. "If that's true, I shouldn't wonder she'll catch a bit of hell from her capo for it. But anyway, to answer your earlier question... Carver Woodrat was dispatched the other night to Plist; Atwater contacted him soon after you flew off. He was told it was a matter of some urgency, so I'll assume he's not walking. Shouldn't be much longer getting there. And, since he's already been paid, and there's no way to contact him, I thought I might as well just let him deliver the message I sent. At this point, contacting Chieftain or Primus wouldn't save that much time, and I'm not sure the matter's really all that important. I mean, even if Illuminatus gets in trouble over all this, I think she'll still end up getting her way; InterGang's bound to drop their interest in those people, and most likely we'll do the same. Hopefully within a day or two I'll be recalling you to Tonad, but for now it's probably best to just stick with your new friends. Still, as I'm sure you'll have guessed, the police are plenty interested in them, and their connection with us. This is all getting out of hand, but I don't see there's much we can do about it. Even if we do sever our tenuous ties with them, it's not like we can just go down to the station and say, 'Hey, you know those adventurers? They're not with us.' Heck, any number of reasons that'd be stupid. So be careful."

"Aren't I always? Oh, by the way... how's Cabbit? You've mentioned her a couple of times already. Sounds like she's been busy. I guess that means she came out of the fight at the inn alright."

Breakhead grinned. "She's doin' pretty damn good. Practically runnin' your network, in your absence. She just sort of unofficially took charge when you left; something seems to have clicked in her head. I don't think she's even thought about it, nor has anyone said anything to her, or asked her what she's thinking. Mostly your people are humoring her, and finding humor in it all. But she's actually doin' a good job, way I see it. When you get back here and review her reports and such, you may just give her a promotion, make her your official second."

"She deserves it, or with a bit more confidence and experience, she will. But everyone knows how I feel about her. Except her. They might think-"

"They also know you, and that you wouldn't make a bad leadership decision for a reason like that. Or for much of any reason. And I think, once they're done chuckling about the current situation, they'll realize how good she is, or can be. ...Now, Jasp, about these people you're with. Like I said, I don't know how much longer you'll have to stay with them, but in case it's longer than I'm guessing, what can you tell me about them? Are they... okay?"

Underground took a deep breath, and paused to consider. He knew his don wasn't asking about their health; he wanted to know if they could be trusted, or if they might end up posing a threat to LandOrder. "Well... they seem okay, but I still don't really know them well. At least I feel safe in saying they're no friendlier with the authorities than we are. Apparently they're planning some kind of rebellion- the Chaos, they call it- but so far I think it's just the seven of them. Or eight, if you count the absent member of the Band. Anyway, this whole Chaos thing is just getting underway, and it'll probably be a long while before anything comes of it. I mean like years, if ever. And their leader... I mean, this Darius Lonewander has an air about him of being the leader, kind of talks that way sometimes. At least he seems reasonably intelligent, even if he doesn't talk much. But I also think he might be a bit unstable. I've heard him whimpering in his sleep, and sometimes he seems almost as morose as Thom Bipolar can get, even if it doesn't lead to violence. So I don't know how effective a leader he'll be.

"But then, I really haven't had much of a chance to see any of them in action, except for the tail end of their involvement in that fight at the Apple-Spruce. Although one of them, Cameron Piper, is apparently a Protestant Sorreter, and a pretty damned good one, from what little I've seen. Well, a standard fireball, a little scrying, and incredible stamina and accuracy in translocating. I think they try to keep his status a secret from most people, but they didn't have much choice in letting me know. I felt I should tell you, don, but as a favor, please don't go spreading it around."

"Of course, Jasp. I expect I'll inform capo Primus, but no one else. You have my word."

"Thanks. Well, unless you have any further business, I can't think of anything else..."

"Neither can I. I'll be in touch." They closed the connection, and Underground headed back to the ferry.

3

"Tiejo, is that you?"

"Tiejo, yes. Still you are being my friend, George Dockrat?"

"Of course, Tiej, of course! Where the heck have ya been all these years?"

"Home have I been, yes, in old Plist. And where the hail hail all the old gang is being?"

"Here and there. Some have tried other villages, and I don't much if at all hear from them. Some are dead. Others are around, somewhere. Hey, you know the BiShip gang?"

"Having heard of them."

"Well, seems a dock rat from Ship is that village's don."

"Neat trick, but talented folk 'rats are being. Many in much the same line as gangsters."

"Yes. Well, things are fairly good now for dock rats in Ship, and through his partnership with don Longshore, things aren't bad here, either."

"Dock rats, only?"

"Well, mainly, yeah. Anyway, we're still 'rats, it's not like we've all got jobs or anything. But we're given a little more respect, y'know? Not so much kicked around by the general populace. They know we've got benefactors they're scared of. Well, we try to take care of our own, too. And some of us still consider street rats and the like about as good as our own."

"About," said Tiejo wryly. "So, some other 'rats of docks and streets may I be seeing?"

"I dunno. How long you gonna be around for, Tiej?"

Tiejo shook his head, "Not long, must a ferry catch. Friends I am traveling with."

"Not 'rats, I take it? Or are you hopping the ferry?"

"Good nice friends pay their way and think they pay mine, but surprise them I will! My own monies I am having. ...Going to Near Port we are, to free my master."

"Oh, wow... I thought sure you musta given up on that. You finally actually got some people to help you?"

"Is idea of friend Darius; mission of his own he is having, and takes a route of adventure for it. My goal becomes his as it is as good as any; no great planning, is his way. Chaos!"

"Oh...kay. Well, good luck. Listen, come back sometime and stay awhile longer. I know you've got friends in lots of villages you visited with that master of yours, but no village's 'rats can love you better than the ones in Shipsister."

Tiejo grinned and clasped his friend's arm. "Good friend you are, George. Good old friends I must see again. Will see you and others again, soon I am hoping. Must go now, find stash I stashed years ago! Help my friends. Goodbye!" And he ran off.

4

Tom looked at his pocket watch. "Gonna be leaving soon. Hope that kid's here before then."

"What the heck is that, Tom?" Darius asked, looking at the watch.

"This? Heh." He tucked it back away. "Pocket watch, one of my old masters called it. He was a spirit-talker, a smith, a tinkerer, and an inventor. Said a spirit told him about watches on Earth. Some like this, some for the wrist, or other types too. This was his favorite type, and frankly, the only kind he could manage to put together. Tell you the truth, I'd plumb forgot about it, 'til about an hour ago. Haven't used it in a couple years or so. But something musta jogged my memory, and I fished it out from the bottom of my old adventuring pack, then checked a clock to reset it by. Gotta keep these things wound up every couple days."

"Fascinating... I don't suppose he taught you to make them? Could you possibly make one for me?"

"I could give it a stab, but it's been say a decade and a half..." He rubbed his chin and looked off into space for a few moments, then returned his gaze to Darius. "Yeah, this is the last one I made, the last time I saw old Amestri, back in... '98, it was. So, fourteen years ago. Hard to believe it's been so long." For a moment, Darius almost thought he saw Tom's eyes start to water a little, but then he shook his head and smiled. "Anyway, don't know if I'll remember exactly how to do it. It's more than just putting the parts together, you know, you gotta make alot of them yourself. Tricky things to make, too; something he called 'minismithery.' Also said someday things'll get smaller still, and there'll be 'microsmithery,' whatever that means. But anyway, if I ever get a chance to sit in one place for a while, I'll try."

"I'd be very grateful. You know, I used to have a magical timepiece, and in fact I noticed Emma had one, the other day, though it wasn't quite like mine. Anyway, I lost mine, a few years back, in the course of an adventure. And... I just felt it would be a bit too expensive to bother replacing, between the initial cost and the refueling spells. Most places in villages have mechanical clocks I can check, and when I'm between villages, the exact time seems of little importance. Still, a portable, mechanical timepiece would be really cool." Darius fell silent, and stood watching the gangplank. After a centhour or so, he said, "Ah, here he comes now."

Tom followed his gaze, and watched Tiejo scurry up the plank and then over towards the two of them. "'Bout time you showed up."

"Here I am now," said Tiejo. He turned to Darius. "Kind adventurer paid my fare, but surprise I am having now! Pay back I will, pay my own fare!"

"That's okay, Tiejo, you know you don't have to."

"Besides, fun it is to see Tom's face. Here, Darius." And he pulled out a little pouch and produced from it a few gold coins.

Tom's face did in fact register the surprise Tiejo had been hoping for. "Where the heck did you get that?!"

"Always said gold I had, didn't I? My help my master paid me for when travel with him I did. Never needed it, said I, but insist he did. So I stashed it always, whereverywhere we went. Most Plist is in, but some also heres and theres. Enough for fare this is being?"

Darius said, "This is a bit more than enough. Is that all you have in your bag?"

"No, no. One part this is being, a fraction I think you say. Mathematics not so much am I knowing. You tell."

He handed Darius the bag. After pocketing the coins Tiejo had already given him, he emptied the contents into his hands. "Looks like that was maybe between a tenth and a fifteenth of what's left. You should be all set if we take another ferry to Tanq, plus you can get meals and rooms and whatever else you might want, for a few days. Maybe a week."

"And you say you've got more, elsewhere?" asked Tom.

"Oh, more, yes. Everywheres master and I went. Never took me did he to what you calling Northern Alliance villages, but to um... Triscot, Tanq, Shipsister, Tonad, and First Village. Many more villages has he been to than have I. No farther east than home of Plist, have I been. Master went east. Maybe all the world's villages he's been to! No... he said, I think... not Port, not Ristar, not Near Port before as prisoner brought there he was... and not another, he laughed. I am not remembering what he called the last..."

"That's okay, Tiejo. Anyway, if there are only three or so villages he hasn't been to, that's quite a life. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone traveling to so many villages as he must have."

"If it's true," said Tom. "Which I doubt."

"Gruff and doubting Tom will see," said Tiejo.

Then the ship started moving, and they went to find their friends.


chapter 13

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