Chapter 19
2 Sp'mo' (Wor'ginday)

Don Lydia Hornpowder was summoned before capo Mysshroudedtery early on the morning of 2 Sp'mo'. The don found the capo's personal Sorreter waiting in her office when she arrived that morning; this quite shocked Hornpowder, as she had thought her office both physically and magically impregnable. Still, if anyone were to be capable of breaking in, she supposed it would be the most powerful Sorreter in all of InterGang.

After her initial shock wore off, she greeted him. "First Sorreter T'Magus, I must say, this is a surprise! What ever are you doing here? May I offer you some tea?"

"No, thank you. I am to bring you before the capo. You may inform your assistant that you will be away for a time."

"How long?"

"That has yet to be determined."

She sighed. "Very well." She stepped outside her office long enough to tell her assistant she'd be gone indefinitely, then returned. The assistant was confused by her boss saying she was leaving and then going back into her office, but supposed there were a few possibilities. Hornpowder might have a secret exit of which she was unaware. Or the don could be planning to summon one of her Sorreters via t-mail, though as far as the assistant knew, she herself was always the one to arrange such meetings, per the don's request. Or it could simply be she had meant that she wanted her to tell people the don wasn't in. That there was already a Sorreter, and not one of Hornpowder's own, in the office, and that the don was just as surprised about this as she was, did not occur to the assistant. Whatever the case, the important thing, as she saw it, was that she was now free to go back to reading her magazine.

After closing the door behind her, Lydia Hornpowder said to her unexpected guest, "I guess I'm ready." T'Magus took her hand, and they vanished, reappearing a moment later in the office of capo Mysshroudedtery.

"Ah, thank you, Mordechai," said the capo. The Sorreter released the don's hand, and moved to stand beside Mysshroudedtery's throne.

Standing before her capo, Hornpowder clasped her hands behind her back, and waited for her superior to speak. In the few moments before the capo turned to address her subordinate, the don thought to herself (not for the first time), how very pompous it was of her capo to sit on a throne, like a queen, not to mention the affectedly grandiloquent speech patterns Amelia Mysshroudedtery tended to use. It was especially annoying when contrasted with that atrocious pun of a surname.

"Now, then, don Hornpowder, I am become aware of a certain situation in your village. It seems that slightly after midnight, your forces attacked a certain band of adventurers. I pray you, tell me, how did such a thing come to pass?"

"Is it not in keeping with your most recent edict concerning them, my capo?"

Mysshroudedtery frowned slightly, wrinkled her brow, and tapped her forefinger to her temple in thought. At last she said, "Now, how could you have come to such a conclusion, I very much wonder? Educate me, for I cannot perceive your chain of reasoning."

"Well..." Hornpowder began slowly, and stopped to consider. She tried to remember exactly what the capo had told her dons. After a time, she continued. "You said that... first of all, I mean, after the incident in Tonad, you said- and this was on the 28th, I believe, the day after the incident- that they seemed to be more important than we'd first suspected when don Manager mentioned them. That it would now be vital to discover exactly what their connection was with LandOrder. And in your address on the 30th, you further said that we must redouble our observation efforts; make them a front-burner project, so to speak. And most of all, you said that we'd have to have enforcers on alert, ready to spring to action should it prove necessary-"

Mysshroudedtery held up a hand and said, "Stop. What do you mean by 'most of all'?"

"Um... I'm sorry?"

"You make it sound as if the enforcers were the most important part of my orders concerning these adventurers."

"Weren't they?"

"I do apologize if I gave you that impression."

Hornpowder waited for the capo to elaborate, but when she didn't, replied, "I- it must have been my fault. I apologize for my misunderstanding."

"Accepted. As to 'ready to spring into action,' I don't think I said that at all."

"But you did say they should be on alert," Hornpowder said hesitantly, half-questioningly. Mysshroudedtery nodded, and the don continued. "Well, on alert for what, if not action? What else are enforcers for?"

"Defense, as much as offense. To give one simple, obvious example."

"Hmmm, well, yes...." she admitted. "But... well, they departed rather suddenly and in a most unexpected fashion, yesterday afternoon, according to a report I received from one of my contacts in Jump Village. A fashion they surely wouldn't have used had they not realized the docks were being watched. A fashion of travel, moreover, which even if they did realize that, I'd hardly expect anyone to use. Too dangerous, I think, unless they had special reason to assume it would be safe for them to take such an action. But even setting that issue aside, I still find it unlikely that they would have even noticed Zelcorner's spies in the first place. Surely InterGang's people know their business better than a motley crew of amateur adventurers, and would not be so easily sussed out by such."

"One must never underestimate one's enemies. Nor overestimate one's allies. Nor," and the capo put extra emphasis on this final thought, "should one be so easily spooked."

"Well, anyway, you did authorize the burgling of their wagon, because your informant in the First Village police department said-"

"I am well aware of my own reasoning processes," the capo cut in coldly. "It is yours that we are here to investigate."

"Of course, capo. My apologies. Um... well, the point I had intended to make was, I had already been growing more concerned about the Chaos' abilities, and therefore their potential threat to our organization, because of other elements of my friend's report... For one thing, it seems that soon after arriving in Jump Village, the group grew by at least two members. Soon after that, they were in contact with LandOrder's don in the village. And it was not long after that, that they found their wagon had been burgled." Don Hornpowder paused to think, Such a busy day for them, and they still had time for sightseeing. But rather than voice this stray thought, she got to her point: "And our spies tell us they- the Chaos- knew instantly that we were responsible."

"Well, what ever else were they to think?" Mysshroudedtery demanded, with some exasperation.

"Well, I'll admit it would be a logical guess on their part, I suppose." Mentally waving that detail aside, Hornpowder continued explaining her line of reasoning. "...And then, without even visiting a garage, nor returning to LandOrder, new lock spells were cast upon the wagon, along with alarms Zelcorner's chief thief dared not attempt to bypass, nor did the Sorreter he brought with him to the Green Otter. Where did those spells come from, unless at least one of the party was a Sorreter themselves?"

At this, the capo sat forward in her throne, with some interest. "Now, there at least is an interesting piece of information." Because of it, she momentarily considered not ending the meeting the way she had meant to, when the time came. "...And yet, I daresay the credit for its finding falls not to you, but to your friend in Jump Village."

"Of course, capo. I would never have thought to claim otherwise; I merely say that my decisions were based on the sum of the information at my disposal, from various sources, including yourself."

Mysshroudedtery sat back in her seat. "So, on account of the... sum of information at your disposal... you were scared, and decided to attempt to prevent them from entering your own village. You were scared because they had at least one Sorreter among them; whereas in your village, you command at least a dozen. And because their group had increased its overall numbers by two; whereas you command roughly 100 enforcers. By the way, I've learned myself this morning that whoever those new members may have been, they didn't go with the Chaos, after all."

"I hadn't heard that, my capo."

"No, you couldn't be expected to. I suppose you'd have heard it before long, though. In any event, the fact that the group's number hadn't truly increased can't be counted against you. Regardless, the point stands that two extra people doesn't begin to compare to the people at your own disposal. Moving on, you were also scared because they had had contact with LandOrder. Which we already knew, and was in fact the very reason we took an interest in them in the first place. And, finally, you were scared because they were clever enough to realize that they were being watched. Of course, they must already have known they were being watched, given the events in Tonad. Was there anything else?"

"They flew... over water, my capo." She shivered involuntarily at the thought.

Mysshroudedtery, however, was not in the least fazed by this particular detail. "Don Zelcorner left them precious little option, I'd say. ...Don't tell me you're frightened by superstitious nonsense?"

"Um... you don't believe they must have some new magic to allow them to fly safely...?" she trailed off.

"Of course not! Any aerial transport can fly over water. The old myth to the contrary is, I should think, perpetuated largely by the ferry and ship services."

"This... is not a theory of which I've ever heard. But if you say it is so, I believe it, capo."

"Naturally, you do. Now, surely you had greater incentive to order an attack, without even asking me? After all, the flight from Jump Village to Tanq would needs must require several hours, 'new magic' or not. More than enough time, I should think, for you to contact me, relay the latest information, and request specific instructions in the matter, for when the Chaos arrived. Regardless of whatever overinflated fear you might have felt, based on the trifling events in Jump Village. ...Ah, but I forget: at the outset of this interview, you indicated the assumption on your part that your actions were somehow in keeping with my previous instructions. You have, as per my subsequent request, explained the line of reasoning that led you to this erroneous assumption. It seems there can be little you've left unsaid, and yet I continue to find myself inadequately enlightened. Had you anything to add? What, specifically, within my earlier instructions, caused you to think you were at liberty to order a direct assault upon these adventurers without my express consent?"

"Um..." Hornpowder frantically thought back to the start of the conversation before responding, "What I meant chiefly about your orders regarding them, the Chaos, was... didn't you say we would take care of them?"

The capo opened her mouth to respond with genuine confusion, but then realization struck; she sighed, and closed her mouth. She closed her eyes and rubbed her face, and just for a few moments slumped further back into her seat. With another sigh, she looked up to her right, into the eyes of her Sorreter. "Mordechai, please fetch and play the recording of my last message to the group, from 30 Sp'gin. Thank you."

T'Magus walked to a filing cabinet set against (and magically affixed to) the near wall, held his upraised hand before it, almost imperceptibly humming to himself. The magically locked drawer opened, and he withdrew a record bubble. He brought it with him as he returned to his place by his capo's side, and held it on his palm so that both women might view it. "Activate," he said. The bubble enlarged, and lit up to display an image of the capo sitting at her desk. The image spoke:

"Greetings, executives. I've already spoken privately to those of you as I've had reason, concerning the normal course of your individual operations. Now, as this matter concerns you all, I shall share with you all my newest instructions regarding the group which don Zelcorner's spies have recently informed him, and he me, are calling themselves 'the Chaos.' These are, of course, Darius Lonewander, the Band, and their companions, as I have previously spoken with you all about.

"They are currently in Jump Village, as you may have surmised. Here is my newest information, from a delightfully swift-acting source in the First Village police force. Not an hour ago, Chief Councillor-slash-Bishop Durell Turner of Sorret and Chief Councillor-slash-Bishop Mallory Secundus of Monab contacted..." she paused, smiling, "shall we say, silent supporters, of theirs? in InterVil and the High Court. It seems that, despite our own efforts, the police have been hesitant to take any official action against the Chaos. They were content to simply observe their actions, whenever possible, perchance to witness overt connection with any gang.

"Despite my disappointment at our organization's failure to persuasively implicate these adventurers in illegal activities, I am nonetheless gratified to hear that others have had greater success in this matter. As of Wor'ginday morning, 2 Sp'mo', the known members of the group will have had their assets frozen, and warrants issued to bring them in for questioning. Not for arrest, luckily, for that would make our own observations of them... not more difficult, but more pointless. They can't do much of interest in jail, after all.

"This means, as has been our hope, that they will have less capital with which to work, may not want to count on the authorities for support against whatever enemies they might have-" she flashed another quick smile, "and of course that they will feel more desperate, which leads to a greater chance of our learning things about them. We may, in fact, soon be ready to do something with such information. If, that is, they should prove to be of as much interest to us as I'm sure they will. And of as much import to LandOrder.

"For now, continue to watch them diligently. I don't foresee any immediate threat from them, but our enforcers should also be ready, should their involvement become necessary.

"Don Zelcorner, why don't you have a thief see if they might not be parted with some of the coinage the banks don't have access to at the moment? I think that might provide some amusement when they first discover it, as well as when they stop into the bank to replace it, as I doubt they yet know of the recent official actions concerning them."

The recording did not show don Zelcorner nodding, but when he did, the capo again addressed the whole group. "I thank you all for your dedication, and I hope you look forward as much as I to uncovering the secrets of the Chaos. I think this matter is moving along relatively nicely thus far, and should only get better as events continue to develop." A slight smirk twitched at the corner of her lips. "If and when they make a move, we'll be ready, and we'll take care of them."

"Stop," said the capo, and the recording paused. There was little other than a dismissal remaining to it, anyway. "Put it away, Mordechai."

"Deactivate," he said to the bubble, and returned it to the cabinet, which he shut and locked.

Mysshroudedtery sighed again. "I really meant that a shade more innocently than it perhaps sounded," she told the don of the Tanq branch of InterGang. "In fact, I just sort of tossed it out there, without quite thinking about it. It was more of a quip than anything else, really."

"I apologize for my misunderstanding, capo," Hornpowder offered. But it's clear my interpretation was justified, she added mentally.

"It's... understandable. However, I have often enough said I only want them observed, for the time being. Any direct attack, unless unquestionably necessary for self-defense, should not have been engaged upon without explicit orders from me. Nothing I have said should have been misleading enough to induce you to do otherwise. You should not have done what you did."

"I'm sorry, capo. It won't happen again."

"I'm afraid you can't guarantee me of that, but hopefully your example will make others, including your replacement, think harder and more carefully in the future."

Hornpowder took an involuntary step backwards as she nearly lost her balance. Her arms fell from behind her back, to her sides. She stood agape. "My... my replacement?"

"You are hereby dismissed from your service to InterGang. You have until the end of the day to clear out of your office. You may expect two weeks' severance pay, but please don't think of asking for a letter of recommendation." This last was said in jest; even as she said it, the capo supposed humor was in poor taste in this situation. Though while she immediately regretted it, she showed not a trace of remorse, pausing barely a moment before she concluded, "That will be all." Turning to her chief Sorreter, she said, "Mordechai, please return Ms. Hornpowder to the office of the don of Tanq."

Hornpowder stammered, once again thinking of the Tonad incident which had precipitated all of this, "B-b-but... don Illuminatus, she-"

"Made a mistake."

"As did I!"

"Yes. Mind you, in a perfect world, we would all be treated in like fashion. But this is an imperfect world, to say the least, and in it I am trying to as effectively as I may run a world-wide organization. That, unfortunately, requires me to sometimes make certain concessions, to act not necessarily so much in terms of fairness, but rather in terms of what, ultimately, is best for the organization as a whole. Don Illuminatus no less deserves dismissal than do you, and yet, she has proven, with infrequent exceptions, an exemplary leader, one of my very best. In point of fact, it is not inconceivable- far from it- that she might one day be capo of InterGang, herself. Further, she commands great respect and loyalty from those under her." The capo, without noticeable pause, thought to herself, Most of them, anyway. "To lose her would be tantamount, in the short run, to losing Tonad, where in fact we presently have the edge over LandOrder.

"You, on the other hand, have always been... an adequate leader, competent enough, but far more expendable than she. Your subordinates have little or nothing against you- in fact they almost certainly like you better than Illuminatus's people do her- but I hardly think a significant number of them will quit when you are replaced. You are to them a reasonable boss, and affable enough, when things go your way. But that is all that you are; a boss, and nothing more. I have a list of several names I might promote from within, who would at least fit that bill, and perhaps exceed you in performance, and eventually inspire greater loyalty than do you.

"If you like, I suppose you might stay on, in a lesser position, in the organization, even move to another village. But I thought most likely-"

"You were right. It would be too demeaning." She sighed. "Very well. Let's go, magic-boy," she grumbled, walking toward First Sorreter T'Magus and roughly taking his hand.

He understood her unexpressed frustration, pain, rage, and respected her for not showing it- much. Therefore, he let her slight slight pass, and translocated her without comment to what had, until a few centhours ago, been her office.

Meanwhile, back in her throne room, capo Mysshroudedtery pondered upon what location might be best in which to meet with the Chaos, should she ever decide to do so. If one of them was a Sorreter, she couldn't take a chance on having T'Magus translocate any of them here; a Sorreter could sense the spatial coordinates of her headquarters, once he or she was here. At present, only she, her First Sorreter and First Spy, and fifty of the toughest, smartest, most trustworthy enforcers in InterGang even knew which village it was in. That was something she didn't want to risk changing.

Capp Primus might completely control Kimrin, as far as the gangs were concerned, but, Amelia Mysshroudedtery hoped, at least, that no one would ever know there was even a single gangster in-

chapter 20

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