Darius remembered enjoying We'ginday breakfasts when he was growing up; they always included a greater variety of foods than he generally had for breakfast, since leaving home shortly after his thirteen birthday (less than two months before the battle which had supposedly claimed the lives of his whole clan). And this morning's meal reminded him very much of those long-gone days of his youth. He spoke more than he was used to doing during meals; as Tom had suggested last night, everyone compared notes on the many events of the previous day. Actually, he enjoyed the meal more than usual, for he was used to eating quickly, having nothing to say, while having to listen to his many relatives converse about things which bored him no end, knowing that anything of interest to him would probably bore the others. It was a nice change of pace to be included in the conversation. But he supposed if not for the planned rebellion, things would be the same as ever. And someday, all this would be over, one way or another. Once again, he'd have nothing to say to his family, and would feel simultaneously guilty and irritated at being disinterested in their conversations.
After breakfast, everyone had some time to get ready for the day. Things were less rushed than Darius remembered, considering in the old days, as his mother had mentioned last night, the clan all had to go to church, which meant factoring travel time into the time available for washing, dressing, etc. Darius, of course had always taken less time than most of the others, feeling there wasn't much that really needed doing before he was ready to go. (The one major exception now was that he had to shave, which he hadn't done when he was last here. But even now, his facial hair didn't grow fast enough to require shaving more than once or twice a week.) Once he was ready, he went to the living room to sit and read. As he'd expected, his relatives took longer to get ready, just like he remembered. He thought with some amusement that they really made these things much more complicated than they had to be. On the other hand, his fellow adventurers managed to get ready quickly, which was hardly surprising. People in their line of work were used to a lifestyle with less pressure than most people imposed upon themselves. While this lifestyle often led to a leisurely attitude, it also soon taught them that you never know when you might have to get moving in a hurry, if some unexpected threat arose. So, they didn't dawdle about taking care of what they considered "trivial necessities" (which many non-adventurers found to be a contradiction in terms), nor did they allow such things to overwhelm them. The upshot of all this was that they had time to relax while Darius's relatives continued to dash about, frantically worrying about who knows what all.
As the other members of the Chaos joined him, Darius put down his book, figuring that with other people around, he wouldn't be able to concentrate. Soon, his sister Nelly came in the room, as well. He recalled that she and their mother had often exasperated each other, as did she and their aunt Lucia. He couldn't imagine how she'd managed to live here all these years with both of them, unable to ever leave. The thought of asking her about this crossed his mind, but as was the case with the majority of things that ever crossed his mind to say to anyone, he found himself unable. It didn't matter, in any event, as Nelly almost immediately asked everyone if they were looking forward to the service.
Ginger said that of course she was looking forward to it. Being a spirit-talker herself, she rarely missed a We'ginday service, whatever village the Band's travels might take them to. Nelly asked if she had thought of ever settling in one place and holding services herself, in some church or other. Ginger said that the thought had crossed her mind on occasion, but for the foreseeable future, it didn't strike her as the kind of thing that really interested her. To which Nelly replied that at least Ginger was better than her brother Darius, who skipped church whenever possible. But Ginger said that's fine, because as her father always said, life is meant to be enjoyed. Everyone worships God in their own way, and He wouldn't want His followers to feel obligated to do anything that made them feel less worshipful. Emma added that it's especially understandable for someone like Darius, who's generally uncomfortable around lots of people. Darius himself took no part in the discussion, though he was grateful for Ginger and Emma's words. Ginger added that We'ginday hadn't even been set aside as a day of worship until the Order- that is, the First Order- had been founded in 404, three centuries after Brist first introduced religion to the Land.
After a bit more small talk, Adam and Alyn showed up, said everyone else had already gone ahead to the meeting room, and led everyone currently in the living room to another room, in a part of the tunnel system they hadn't been to before. It was filled with pews much like the ones Darius remembered from the church his family used to attend, though instead of a pulpit in the front of the room, there was a desk and chair, much like the ones from Adam's study. And of course, there were no windows in the walls, though there was a spell like the one in the ceiling of the threenut grove, which allowed them to see the sky overhead.
The theme of Spivin's sermon was "Timing is everything." Apparently, it's a maxim that had been said a number of times in various books of the O'Gas, by various spirits and spirit-talkers. It's also been said fairly often by a number of secular historical figures on the Land, as well as obviously being a common expression in all walks of life. Darius tried to pay attention, but his focus drifted in and out, so he only caught occasional snippets. In any event, he was sure he'd used the expression himself before, and would likely do so again, sometime. It occurred to him that it probably applied quite well to the timing of everything that had happened to him since he met Tom, Tiejo, and the Band. He liked the bits of the sermon he caught, but nevertheless wasn't all that interested in the subject as a whole. Or rather, he was interested, but just didn't quite think it merited that much discourse.
Spivin closed the service with a prayer, and for what Darius thought might be the first time (though he couldn't remember for sure), he wondered how often most spirit-talkers actually did that. Surely it must be weird to pray to a spirit who isn't physically present, when at other times you can actually talk to spirits in person, even if most spirit-talkers never actually meet God Himself (who is, of course, the only spirit that would be prayed to, this way). It must be much different on other worlds, where no one ever gets to talk to any spirits at all. Darius had certainly thought before about how different it is for Landians who aren't spirit-talkers than it is for Terrans, but to actually be a spirit-talker... prayer must be even more different than it is for spiritual leaders on planets like Earth. While thinking these things, Darius failed to hear all of what Spivin was saying, but he figured that was okay, since he's not really talking to me, anyway.
He did, however, catch Spivin thanking God for bringing Darius back to the family, and while that made him a bit uncomfortable, it also prompted him to say his own little silent prayer, thanking God for bringing his family back to him. Even though of course I'll continue to feel guilty about the fact that, once this is all over, I'll only rarely feel any interest in spending time with them. Seriously, why do I have to be like this? I want to want to see my family more often. I want my feelings for them to be stronger than they are. I do care about them and appreciate them so much... but why is it so hard for me to truly love people without also liking them? I mean, I like them, but... meh. You know what I mean. You know everything, so whatever. I don't suppose I have to worry about putting my feelings into words, to explain them to you. Anyway, again, I'm really grateful to find they're alive... well, most of them.... It was then that Darius remembered some of his family really had died in the Battle of Triscot. And suddenly, he knew what he wanted to do today.
About an hour after the service, everyone once again gathered in the dining room, for We'ginday dinner. When Alyn asked if anyone had plans for the rest of the day, Darius said, "Actually, I was thinking I might go into town and visit the cemetery. Pay my respects to... you know, anyone who's not still with us." He felt embarrassed saying this, not wanting his parents or sister or anyone to think of him as being more sentimental than he in fact was; or in some odd way, in spite of wishing he was more sentimental, he simultaneously didn't like having even his actual level of sentimentality recognized. It really made no sense to him, and he supposed he'd be unable to explain it properly to anyone else, if he didn't understand it himself. But at least God probably understands. Maybe He'll explain it to me someday.
Quickly changing the subject, he turned to Cameron and said, "By the way, Cameron, you were going to explain bittrickle to me, right?"
"Oh, right. Well, bittrickle, as you may have guessed, is a bark-like candy made from threenuts..."
"Pa-dum-pum," said Darius.
"Thank you. But seriously, folks... it's actually a spell that was developed several years ago by Mordechai T'Magus, the First Sorreter of InterGang. Some time after that, Elliott Dragonpen, a non-magician who happens to be a spy for former Grand Sorreter Drag, just as I am, met and recruited T'Magus to become one of Drag's contacts. With the consent of capo Amelia Mysshroudedtery, T'Magus provided us with the spell, which we've been able to use for a purpose similar to that of InterGang, though there are other potential uses besides t-mail. I don't know how don Amalgamator would know that we ex-Sorreters have the spell, though. But I contacted Drag yesterday, and he said he'd ask Mordechai if I might be permitted to pass the knowledge on to Amalgamator's Sorreters. It's a lot to ask, considering the rivalry between LandOrder and InterGang.
"As for what bittrickle does, it's a sort of systemic spell which allows the piggybacking of magic over the signals of any other spells being used, anywhere in the world. Side note, 'piggybacking' is a weird word to use on a planet that doesn't exactly have pigs, per se; just another of the many expressions derived from Earth."
"Like 'as the crow flies,'" suggested Tom.
"Just so. Anyway, back to the point. Bittrickle would have been practically useless, before spell devices became available to the general public, and became so widespread, used around the world. But now, its potential uses are various and its value immeasurable. As far as I know, it's so far only been used to make t-mail calls even more difficult to trace than they would be with the most secure types of bubbles, which merely have localized anti-hacking spells. But... well, honestly, that's the only way I know how to apply the spell. But I'm told research has been conducted by some of my fellow ex-Sorreters into other possible applications."
"But what is 'bittrickle' actually meaning?" asked Tiejo, who'd been listening to the discussion intently.
"If you mean, how did it get that name," and Tiejo nodded at this, "then basically... when one casts a bittrickle spell, they create a particular kind of mana, which then gets broken up into smaller bits, and those bits are attracted to the mana that's powering other spells, all around the world. By the way, I should mention that consumer magic tends to have more mana than it really needs. This comes in handy, as the mana bits which attach themselves to all the spells that are floating around between villages can use the excess mana of those spells to transmit their own specially coded signal between all the mana bits that had been broken up by the bittrickle spell. But since the spells to which the bits attach themselves, particularly t-mail calls, are very temporary and always moving, the mana bits can't stay in one place long. So, they keep jumping from spell to spell, like jumping on stones to cross a stream. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's like jumping onto different logs that are floating on that stream. No, wait, it's more like jumping from one wagon onto another, while both are driving down the road. Or-"
"Okay, I get the idea," said Darius. "Can you jump to the next part of the explanation, now?"
"Right, sorry. Anyway, in spite of being in constant motion themselves, the mana bits maintain contact with one another, so that any call which is sent via the mana network trickles its way to its intended destination. Though even at a relative trickle, considering such signals can travel at virtually the speed of light, it actually doesn't take that long, assuming a previous connection between two end points has been made. For example, if one t-mail bubble- a permanent one- has made a connection with another, then any subsequent call can travel between them just as quickly as it would without using bittrickle. The only difference is, instead of transmitting a single stream of mana between bubbles, the signal bounces around every other mana bit that's already been distributed; and therefore, if anyone tries to trace the signal, they'll be unable to determine which one of the bits was the point of origin."
"But, they could at least see where all those bits are, couldn't they? I mean, I have no idea where your people are hiding, but I always sort of figured it must be somewhere far away from any other inhabited village. Therefore, if a bit of mana appeared someplace no one should be-"
"Well, that's very true, and very astute. But we have other spells in place to deal with that. We agents had ways of surreptitiously contacting home before we acquired the bittrickle spell; it merely made contact more convenient, and potentially more frequent. But the methods we originally used are sufficient to eliminate the problem you mention, when used in conjunction with bittrickle."
"Okay, but if this network of mana bits is already in place, why don't we just use that? What do we need LandOrder for?"
"Oh, it could certainly be done. But the problem with that is- and by the way, this is also one of the benefits- is that any given bittrickle network is unique unto itself. What I mean is... if I simply made you special t-mail bubbles that could utilize the ex-Sorreters' network-"
"Ah. Then we'd have access to the ex-Sorreters themselves. And you wouldn't want that."
"Trust me, none is taken."
"But by the same token, if a separate network is established specifically for the Chaos, then no one with access to a different bittrickle network would have access to yours. As far as I know, the Chaos network would be only the third to exist in the world, after ours and InterGang's. And while I'm confident that our enemies, including Durell, don't have access to the ex-Sorreters' network, I'd be very much surprised if they didn't have access to InterGang's. In fact, it's possible there's some other network I don't know about, but either way... knowledge of how such a network works wouldn't make it any more possible for them to trace or listen in on any of our calls. Unless they had one of the Chaos network's specially enchanted t-mail bubbles."
"Well then, I certainly hope that, um, what's his name, gives you the okay to share. Although I still don't see why you personally don't just enchant some bubbles in some unique way to create us our third network, yourself. I mean, assuming the spell's creator consents. Which I think he'd be more likely to do if it was just one of Drag's agents, and not LandOrder, making the new network."
Cameron sighed. "Again, very true. But first of all, I should point out that you were the one who asked Jasp to ask LandOrder about a network. Obviously you had no idea that such a thing existed, which I could've told you if you'd asked me... could have, though I'm not sure I would have. Not that I don't trust you; that should be obvious. I've already told you things I've never even told any of my bandmates until now. But this isn't just about me or who I, personally, choose to trust."
"I completely understand and appreciate your position. Hence the lack of offense-taking."
"Right. Anyway, even if you had asked me, and I had told you that it could be done, there is the matter of production. The bubbles themselves aren't a big deal; I'm sure I could easily enchant at least a couple per day, myself. But remember, the bubbles are only part of the total bittrickle spell; the far larger aspect of the spell is the network of all those little mana bits floating out around the world. And for the network to be effective, there have to be a lot of bits. Which means starting with a lot of mana to be broken up in the first place. One person cannot spare that much mana; or at least, it would take a long time and a lot of traveling for one person not only to produce that much mana, but also to distribute it. So even once we have the bubbles, we'll have to wait awhile, for LandOrder's Sorreters from all their branches to set up the network. Not just Amalgamator's Sorreters. Which means she'll need to have at least one of her people translocate to other villages, and teach the spell to their Sorreters. And mind you, this is asking a lot, because LandOrder can't afford to devote all their magicians to a single task which isn't even of direct benefit to their organization."
"Well, actually," said Jasp, "It kind of is. You may see this as the 'Chaos Network,' and while we appreciate that the rebellion is what is making this possible for us, in the long run I'm sure it will become LandOrder's network."
"Okay," said Darius, "that's fine by me, if it's fine by what's his name."
"Mordechai T'Magus," said Cameron.
"Right," said Darius. "That guy."
Everyone seemed to have a fair grasp of what bittrickle was, so they began to concentrate on eating rather than talking. But after a few centhours of quiet, Darius's grandmother, Laina, spoke up. "So, Darius, about this rebellion... any chance it'll be done in the next two or three months? I think it would be nice for the whole family to go to the World Fair. I've never gotten to go to one, and it would be the perfect chance to take Lucia and Kuris's kids to their first fairball game."
"Ooh, I love fairball!" exclaimed Emma.
"So do I," said Laina. "It's been much too long since I've had a chance to see a game."
Kuris said, "Of course, the boys and I would be rooting for Kurok's team."
"Well, that's okay," said Laina. "I'd root for Triscot, but as long as one of those two win, I'll be happy."
"I'd be rooting for Woodstockade," said Emma.
"Naturally, I'd be rooting for my hometown of Ship," said Adam, "which by the way, is not only where this year's World Fair is being held; it's also where fairball was invented."
"Yes, yes," said Darius with a hint of irritation, hoping to forestall anyone else from chiming in on the subject, "many different villages are represented by our little band of merry men and women. Hopefully none of us will mind too much if anyone else's team wins. Personally I have no great interest in sports, unless they're part of the plot of a good story. You know, like that one Tooblan play. Still, I suppose I'd root, vaguely, for Triscot."
"Eh, I haven't much interest in such things, myself," said Tom. "Besides which, I've spent time in so many different villages, I wouldn't know quite which to root for. Maybe Plist, since that's where I've lived for several years now, but still... I more likely wouldn't even bother watching the games."
"Can't say I'm interested, either," said Cameron.
"Nor I," agreed Ginger. "Though, Darius, I wonder how it is you'd heard of Anja Frontrun's father, if you don't care about sports?"
"Well, I really wanted to attend the first two World Fairs, but I didn't get a chance, for one reason or another. I did get to the third one, though. Anyway, I was disappointed about missing the first couple, so I read all I could about them, including the sporting aspects, even if that part wasn't of much interest to me. Of course, you could hardly read a paper for quite awhile before, during, and after each Fair without seeing the names of certain athletes. Nor could you help but hear people talking about it, especially after they returned home, if they'd had a chance to actually travel to each Fair's host village. Anyway, when I went to the third World Fair, in Sorret, I was so excited that I made an exception to my general rule about not attending sporting events. It actually wasn't bad. Kind of boring, but kind of not. It's hard to describe."
While Darius was talking, Luni was fidgeting, obviously waiting for his cousin to finish so he could say something. He immediately leapt at the chance to say, "Hey, Dare, you haven't answered Grandma's question. Will the rebellion be done by Su'mo', or not? I know we all have lots of reasons to want to come out of hiding, and Kar and I definitely want to go to a fairball game with Dad."
"Hmmm... well, things have certainly been proceeding faster than I ever expected, so maybe. But that still seems terribly optimistic. I'll do my best, though. And don't worry, even if you don't get to go to this year's World Fair, there'll be another one every four years. And other games will be played every year, I'm sure. Sooner or later, you'll get to see one. Probably lots of them."
"Kay," said Luni, though he seemed less than entirely satisfied with the answer.
After taking a few more bites, Darius said, "Grandma, you make the best meatloaf. It's a shame your sauce isn't available anywhere, since the Coming. Meatloaf just isn't as zesty without it; of course, I've also missed it as a topping for various things, not just as an ingredient."
"Well, that's another reason to hurry up with your rebellion, then. The sooner the world is safe for us to come out of hiding, the sooner your father's company can get back to distributing the sauce."
"Yeah," agreed Luni emphatically.
Darius smiled and said, "Okay! Man, I already said I'd do my best..."
Macen had failed to get through to Demos the previous night, which he supposed was hardly surprising. He had eventually given up, and returned home, after calling his father and apologizing for having missed the rest of the concert, as well as promising to come by for We'ginday dinner the next day. And so, while heading home from their estate after dinner today, he began to wonder whether Demos was even aware of the Chaos. After all, so far they hadn't really done anything that would necessarily amount to anything, and therefore Demos might not have been informed. He mentally reviewed everything he knew about them, trying to decide who best to contact, if not the king. Though he supposed he'd have to talk to him sooner or later, if only to mention Tulo's idea about capturing still images. Hardly seemed like a matter for the king, but... his old friend had a high opinion of his own importance to Demos, which wasn't entirely unjustified. Still, as long as he got someone to consider the idea, surely Tulo couldn't complain.
Anyway, the authorities had first become aware of the group's existence about a week and a half ago, on the night of 27 Sp'gin, when a fight had broken out at an inn in Tonad. The brawl had been started by InterGang's chief enforcer in that village, and quickly involved numerous enforcers from both InterGang and LandOrder. The latter gang took the side of the adventurers, who included among their number a musical group called 'The Band.' Macen paused briefly to reflect that he might have heard them perform, once. As he recalled, their sound was inspired by the music of medieval Earth, or maybe the Renaissance. Not that he knew much about alien history, but that's what he'd heard. He supposed it was fitting, given the current state of the Land's own development, though he was more interested in the new wave of modern music that was recently becoming popular. Though even that would be nine centuries old, by Terran standards....
He shook his head, and refocused on the matter at hand. At first, he thought, the adventurers had seemed of little importance, though naturally the local police had been curious as to the nature of their involvement with LandOrder. Something or other had also made them wonder whether one of them, Cameron Piper, might be a Sorreter. This had led one of the investigating detectives to contact Sorret Magic Academy on the 28th, which yielded no immediate results. However, two days later, the Tonadian police were contacted by Grand Sorreter Durell, who informed them of a suspicion that Cameron may in fact have been Cam, the younger brother of a Protestant Sorreter named Lorraine. If that was true, he very likely could be forced to reveal the location of the ex-Sorreters, who had been in hiding since 903. Of course, no official action could be taken against them, if they were found... but Macen was sure Durell wouldn't let a little thing like the law stand in his way. That very day, Durell had tried to get one of his puppets in the High Court to issue arrest warrants for the adventurers, but had failed. So he got his friend, Chief Councillor Secundus of Monab, to speak with Commissioner Gothic of InterVil about the matter. That conversation led to the group's assets being frozen, so that the bank might contact the police to inform them of their location. Ostensibly, so they could be brought in for informal questioning regarding their apparent ties to LandOrder.
It was also on 30 Sp'gin that InterGang spies in Jump Village had discovered that the adventurers were calling themselves 'The Chaos,' having overheard a couple of them conversing as they wandered around town. It never ceased to amaze Macen how people could assume that if an area is crowded enough, the general din will prevent their own conversations from being overheard. Usually people talked about nothing of importance, and any strangers would merely find their talk annoying. However, sometimes items of genuine interest could be picked up, especially by those who are well trained in the art of selective listening. The next day, 1 Sp'mo', Noson had called Macen and talked to him about the adventurers, and about having helped his father, Durell, the previous day, with a related matter. This was the first time Macen had heard of them, though he hadn't gotten to talk to his old friend for long, as Noson had a party to attend. Still, he promised Noson he'd begin looking into the matter, through his own spy network. By that afternoon, the group's name had been reported to InterVil, through a chain of communication Macen could easily guess at. It was from his contact in InterVil, Callum Monogwrangle, that he'd learned the name 'Chaos,' as well as more of the details leading up to this point than Noson had shared. The implications of a name like 'Chaos' were rather clear: they stood in opposition to the Order; though of course, such a name couldn't reasonably be used as proof of any wrongdoing. However, from other members of his network, he'd already heard speculation as to what the Chaos might be planning, and he shared this speculation with Monogwrangle.
Meanwhile, the people in question had apparently realized the docks were being watched, so they decided to fly from Jump Village to Tanq. It was there that their wagon was shot down by InterGang. This, of course, meant that they needed repairs, so the next day when the banks opened, one of them went to withdraw funds to pay for it. However, they were warned, God only knew by whom, and left the bank in a hurry. Unable to get money from the bank, they went instead to a local accountant named Bigthink, to ask for a loan. It was there that they were approached by the police, led by Monogwrangle, who accused them of plotting a rebellion. Macen shook his head again, regretting having put that notion in the agent's head, as there was no reason to assume it was true. Still, Monogwrangle was involved with other people, such as Durell, who could just as easily have given him the idea. In any event, the Chaos had escaped his grasp, and hadn't been heard of since then.
That was five days ago, during which time Macen's contacts in every village were on the lookout for the Chaos, though they had other matters to occupy them, as well. Besides which, as Tulo had said, it could be hard for them to recognize strangers based on rough descriptions, rather than having actual illustrations of their faces. All one could really hope for is to overhear private conversations which would reveal their identities, unless by some stroke of luck someone happened to recognize any of them from some past encounter. It wouldn't be too unreasonable, considering they'd all traveled to various villages, and at least some of them were mildly famous. Macen grinned as he thought, How ironic that the one who ultimately was recognized, was surely the least famous, and most unnoticeable of them all.
By the time he arrived home, he'd decided to call Monogwrangle. After all, in spite of the behind-the-scenes machinations of any number of important people, it was still a matter for the police. He took out a secure t-mail bubble and said, "Macen Illustri for Callum Monogwrangle."
Half a centhour later, his call was answered, "What the hell do you want?"
Macen couldn't help but smile. "Wow, touchy. What'd I do to you?"
The InterVil agent took a deep breath and replied, "Sorry. Maybe I shouldn't take it out on you, but things haven't gone that well for me, since the last time I talked to you. Gothic has been making his displeasure at my recent job performance quite clear. I feel like it's at least partly your fault... but I guess it's partly mine, as well. I should have known better than to bring up the rebellion that you mentioned, when I was talking to those Chaos people last week. Maybe if I hadn't, they would've come in."
"Maybe. Probably not. But speaking of them, I thought I'd let you know that one of my spies has informed me the Chaos are in Triscot. I know it's out of your jurisdiction, but perhaps you could pass this on to this village's liaison."
"Yeah, I guess. Was that all?"
"Actually, my spy also provided me with a video recording of one of the Chaos members, a street rat named Tiejo. Perhaps copies could be made and passed out to police in various villages, to help in locating him and his friends. My spy was actually commenting last night on how hard it is to find people when you don't know what they look like. By the way, I've actually been wondering how you managed to identify them?"
"Oh, that. Well, of course by that point InterVil had files on all of them. They didn't include illustrations, it's true, but they had enough details that it wasn't hard to tell who was who, once I saw them all together. As for finding them, it was simple enough. We knew they were in Tanq, because the police had actually talked to them after their wagon was shot down by InterGang. Unfortunately, at that time, Gothic and Justicar hadn't yet issued the order to have them questioned, so the locals had no idea who they were. But the next day, the order went out to every village's police department, as well as banks where they were each known to have accounts. When Tom tried to withdraw funds, InterVil was contacted, and I had a Sorreter translocate me to Tanq PD. Unfortunately, again, Tom slipped away before the police and I could get to the bank. Still, we knew they'd be needing money for repairs, and we knew Tom had a business arrangement with the partner of Dex Bigthink, so it was easy to guess they might contact him. As luck would have it, my guess turned out to be spot on. However, we've already established that luck tends to favor those wretches more than it does me, for some reason."
"There's no accounting for taste, especially in abstract forces of nature."
Though Macen had said this with a straight face, Monogwrangle strongly suspected it was a joke at his expense. However, he decided to let it slide. "Yes, well... kindly transmit that recording, and I'll pass it on. Thanks for the help, Mr. Illustri. I hope it pans out better, this time."
"As do I." He held up the bubble recording of Tiejo, and played it back for Monogwrangle to record on his own bubble. When it was done, he said, "Sorry about any trouble I may have caused you. And I hope your job situation improves soon."
"Quite. Good day. Close."
Macen considered calling Noson or someone, but decided one call was enough work for a We'ginday afternoon. No doubt Monogwrangle would contact Durell about this, anyway....
After dinner, Darius, Alecstar, Cameron, and Jasp went into town, while everyone else stayed behind. We'ginday is, after all, a day for relaxing. As they exited Evan's barn, Darius spent a few seconds blinking, to adjust his eyes to the bright afternoon sunlight, after the ride through the underground tunnel. Of course, it's not like he ever spent much time looking up, so he thought perhaps the sun shouldn't be as big a deal to him as it is to most people. On this particular day, as he was looking down, he spied some wood sorrel growing nearby, and chuckled as he stooped to pick and eat some.
"What's so funny?" asked Jasp.
"Oh, nothing, really. It's just, in case I hadn't mentioned it, the ship Cara serves on was named after this stuff. Originally. The current captain renamed it Woodsorrow, but I guess that's close enough, anyway."
"Okay, whatever. So, are you planning on walking into town, or taking the wagon? It seems a shame to harness the striders just for the ride from the hidden estate to this one. I'm sure they'd like to get out for awhile, too."
"Yeah, my feet are kinda sore after all the walking I did yesterday, anyway." He paused briefly to appreciate the fact that he was wearing sneakers today instead of boots. "Still, I'm not sure how much driving we'll be doing once we get into town. I do hate traffic. Maybe we should switch to the carriage, though it seems a hassle to unhook the striders from one transport and then harness them to another. Unless... I wonder if the wagon he keeps here has an internal enchantment engine? I should've thought to ask him."
"Even if it does, have any of us ever driven one?" asked Cameron. "I know I haven't. Surely it would be unwise to try it without taking lessons, first."
"True," said Darius. "Oh well, there'll probably be less traffic than usual, anyway, since most places will be closed for the day."
Having finished stretching their legs, they got back in the wagon and let the striders stretch theirs. Darius drove to the local cemetery, for the first stop of the day. He parked the wagon, and began walking in the direction of his clan's section of the grounds The others followed silently.
When he stopped, Cameron asked, "So... you seemed to know where you were going. I take it you've been here before."
"I came once, soon after the war, with West. I didn't want to; I have a rule about not attending funerals. But I figured, since he and I were the only two members of the clan who were left, I was kind of obligated. It wouldn't do for just one family member to attend. Of course, there were any number of friends and business associates here to pay their respects, so whatever discomfort I felt about being in a cemetery was largely overshadowed by my usual discomfort at being around large crowds. And it was worse because West and I were sort of the focus of their attention, after the service. Everyone had to give us their condolences, which I really didn't care for. Had to shake way too many hands that day... and simultaneously hated myself for being so upset about such things, when I should be upset about my family being gone."
Cameron wanted to say something to console him, but he knew Emma was better at that kind of thing, and wished she was here.
However, Darius sensed what he was thinking, and forestalled any attempt at comforting words by continuing his reminiscence. "Anyway, that was the second time I'd been here. The first was when I was around eight, when my Aunt Brista died. Actually, she was my great grand-aunt. I didn't know her well; but then, I don't feel like I knew anyone well, at that age. My memories of pretty much everything prior to my teen years are a bit hazy, and I have the feeling my awareness of things back then was quite limited. That's probably true to one extent or another for most young children, but I feel like it was truer of me than most. It's like it just didn't occur to me to pay much attention to anyone or anything, because so little in life interested me. If I ever did have to pay attention to things that were important to other people, it probably just annoyed me. So I just spent most of my time reading. That's something that hasn't changed, but at least I've gotten a bit better at being conscious of things beyond my own little world.
"But I digress. What I meant to say was, I've only been here twice in my life. But yes, I remember the way." He sighed. "Anyway, now I know that most of these graves are marked with stones bearing the wrong names. Someday... it would be good to find out which servants' or allies' bodies, or rather ashes, are buried here, and give them new tomb stones. They deserve that. They deserve to be remembered." After a pause, he added, "Meanwhile, I'm here today to remember those relatives who really are buried here."
The four of them stood silently for a few centhours, looking down at the graves. When Darius looked up, he noticed Alecstar had tears on his cheeks, so he asked "Are you okay?"
Star wiped his tears away. "It's just... you know, I made sure, during the battle, not to kill any of your kin... but I might as well have. I killed a number of good people that day, whether they were directly connected to your clan in any way, or not. Even if they were just allies, Protestants from other villages, who no one in your clan may have even met in person... they were good people, I'm sure. In fact, I regret having killed people in other battles throughout the war, but it wasn't until the Battle of Triscot that I'd realized I was on the wrong side. Which made those deaths all the more tragic. I was killing people on my own newfound side, just to maintain the appearance of still being on my old side, and they didn't even know it. Not that it would have mattered to them if they'd known I now supported their cause. Hell, I suppose they would have hated me all the more for it, had they known." He shook his head somberly. "I did my best to avoid wounding anyone lethally, but that can be impossible, in the heat of battle, when your opponents are truly trying to kill you. And even if I personally didn't kill some of them, the wounds I inflicted would have been enough to give other soldiers on the side of the Order the opportunity to finish the job. It's possible some of the people in graves falsely marked with your relatives' names were put there by my own sword. And if not, there is at least no question that somewhere in this graveyard there are people who were. God, I wish I could have found another way... maybe thought up some excuse to sit out the battle. But I was just so worried about arousing suspicion, and spoiling the plan that had been worked out to save your family. And after what happened at the Battle of Plist... I'm glad I can say I wasn't there. I don't think I ever could have faced Ginger, when we met years later, if I'd had any part in the battle that took her father's life. But it was that battle, and how many leaders of the Protestant Movement that were killed there, that made me incapable of accepting the idea of any other leaders of the Movement being killed, if I could possibly help it. That's why I was so desperate to save your father, and as much of his clan as I could. But that... it didn't give me the right to sacrifice lesser members of the Movement." His eyes began tearing up again.
Now it was Darius's turn to wish he could think of something to say to console a friend, which is something at which he'd always thought himself particularly unskilled. At the same time, he realized maybe he shouldn't comfort the former major. The man was right to feel bad about what he'd done, even if he'd had somewhat valid reasons for his actions, and even if those actions were the reason Darius was now able to be reunited with his clan, after all these years. He hated to see a friend in pain, but he told himself he couldn't even consider the man a friend if he didn't feel this way. A few tears were a bloody small price to pay.
It was at this point that Darius's mind began wandering down a tangential course, as it so often did. His mental use of the figurative word 'bloody' had made him think of the literal blood that had been shed during the war, by combatants on both sides. He thought about the fact that there had surely been good and bad people on both sides. He thought about Monogwrangle's accusations of adventurers being wrong to take lives, and that in some cases, the agent was probably right. And that the same could be said of soldiers in a war. Some of them were probably in it just for an excuse to do things that normal people found vile. For a moment, he considered telling Star that just because the people he killed were Protestants, didn't automatically mean they must be good people. But of course, that would be vague philosophic speculation, at best. Still, Darius was a fan of vague philosophic speculation- a thought that almost made him wonder if, under other circumstances, he and Monogwrangle could have been friends. But probably not. More importantly, he considered the fact that for all his fictionalized stories based on his real life adventures, he'd always avoided writing anything about the war, or his family's part in it. But now he began thinking maybe he should give it a try, one of these days. Try being totally unbiased about it, writing characters on both sides, to show how most of them had doubts about what they were doing, and would develop regrets that would last a lifetime. People like Alecstar....
After a few moments of thinking about the sort of story he might write... possibly involving a retired soldier visiting the graves of his victims, many years after the war, a sudden thought elicited a small laugh, which Darius couldn't quite suppress.
Alecstar looked at him with narrowed eyes, wondering what part of his monologue could have caused Darius to laugh. "What?" he demanded sharply.
"Nothing, it's stupid."
"I just thought... if I was writing this scene into one of my stories, I would have said you'd been speaking gravely. A moment later, I realized that sounded like a pun, but it was unintentional."
Alecstar's expression softened; he couldn't help grinning, slightly, and shook his head. "That's so wrong. These poor souls deserve more respect than puns, intentional or not."
"Yeah... I hate that my mind went there. Still, it's been over eight years. Too soon?"
Jasp rolled his eyes. "Is it too soon to hope we can get on with more important business? I mean, as it does seem you're finished paying your respects."
"Of course," said Darius with a sigh. "Cameron, now that we're away from the area covered by the anti-magic spell, could you call Drag and ask if he's talked with, uh, Mordechai?"
"Well, when I spoke with him yesterday, I did say I'd wait to hear back. I suppose I could call anyway, but he knows this is important, and I'm sure he'll get in touch as soon as possible. Besides, it is We'ginday, and you know... he's not just the former Grand Sorreter, he's also the former Bishop of Sorret. So, now he's the Bishop of... the ex-Sorreters. Which means he could be in the middle of a service. I wouldn't want to interrupt."
"He couldn't just leave his t-mail bubble behind, or have it deactivated, or something?" asked Jasp. "I mean, so even if he is occupied, he wouldn't actually be interrupted by incoming calls."
"A valid question, but no. He'd have an active bubble on him at all times, because you never know when there might be an emergency."
"Okay, well have you checked your bubble, to make sure he didn't call you while you were in the 'no service' zone?"
"I- uh, no. I thought it would be... more respectful to wait til after we left the cemetery."
"Well then, let's go." Jasp started leading the way back to the wagon, grinning as he thought Cameron was probably just making up an excuse for having forgotten to check for messages.
They all climbed into the back of the wagon, and Cameron took out his own private bittrickle t-mail bubble. "Well, would you look at that. There is a message, but it's not from Drag." He spoke the verbal command, "Play message."
A voice emerged from the bubble. "Cameron, this is Elliott. I hear you're in Triscot. Haven't seen you in awhile. We should get together for a drink or something. Call me."
When the message ended, Darius said, "That the guy you mentioned at dinner? You didn't say he was in Triscot."
"I didn't know. Naturally, the less any of Drag's spies know about each other, the safer we all are."
"That makes sense. That message, though... it sounded pretty casual. Is it common for you to get together with fellow spies? Or is that some kind of code? And why would you need one, if it's impossible to hack calls on the bubbles you all use?"
"No, it's not common. I wouldn't say it's a code, exactly, but it most likely means Drag contacted him, since I was out of reach, and asked him to pass on a message. And while there's no need to worry about people magically eavesdropping on our calls, that doesn't necessarily mean the calls couldn't be overheard by people who happened to be nearby."
"But why on the Land would either of you be making or accepting calls when there are strangers around?" asked Jasp.
"We wouldn't. If I'd actually answered his call, he probably would've talked freely, under the assumption that I'm not a complete frickin' idiot. But he had to leave a message, which means he had no way of knowing if I'm going to be the one listening. For all he knew, my bubble could have been stolen. Of course, I'd sooner die than let this bubble fall into the wrong hands, by which I mean any hands other than mine. Not that that would happen, anyway; the bubble has a self-destruct spell, which would be triggered if anyone other than me tried to activate it."
"If that's the case," asked Darius, "it negates the explanation you seemed to be making of why he would be so cautious in what he said."
"Self-destruct spells could be disarmed by a properly trained Sorreter."
"Wow. And I thought I overthink things.
Jasp turned to Darius and said, "Kinda seems like you underthink things."
"Plans for rebellion, sure. But I mean trivial things. Which... protecting espionage secrets isn't. So, comment withdrawn. Anyway, Cameron, you should call him back. You want the rest of us to leave you alone?"
"Um... yeah, that's probably best."
So, Darius, Jasp, and Alecstar once again exited the wagon, and Cameron made the call.
"Field op Cam for field op Elliott."
It was a few seconds before a recorded response came back saying "Hold just a tick." Less than five centhours later, Elliott's voice came on the line. "Ah, there you are, at last. Glad you caught me on my day off."
"I trust it's safe to talk."
"You trust correctly. But I don't really want to get chatty, okay? At least not with you. I have better people to chat with, in person. I'm just delivering a message from our common friend. And that message is: Do what you must. But try not to let InterGang know about it, okay? You think you can manage that?"
"I shall do my best. I don't think LandOrder is going to want them knowing, any more than you do."
"I have my doubts about that, but whatever. We done?"
"Yes. Thank you kindly."
Cameron put away his bubble, and stuck his head out the back of the wagon. "It's a go," he said with a grin.
"Sweet," said Darius. He then went to the front of the wagon and climbed into the cockpit, as did Jasp. Alecstar climbed in back again.
They went straight to the Jasmine Dragon, but it turned out that don Amalgamator wasn't in. While one of the servers went to inform the manager on duty that afternoon of their arrival, Darius ordered a cup of chai from another server.
"Are you sure, this time?" she asked with a smile.
Darius hadn't recognized her at first, but now realized she must have been the one who took his order yesterday. (It seemed more like two or three days ago, he thought to himself.) Darius surprised himself by returning her smile. "Yes, I'm sure. Thanks."
The first server soon returned, and showed them into an office, rather than the room in which they'd previously spoken with Amalgamator. "Gentlemen," said the manager, who rose from an office chair, behind a desk. "My name is Angus Lymon, and I am LandOrder's chief Sorreter in this village. Don Amalgamator has informed me of the conversation she had with you yesterday. I hope you bring good news."
"Indeed," said Cameron. "It seems I will be able to teach you and your sorretry department the basic bittrickle spell, and together we can select a specific frequency for our new network."
"Excellent! When do we start?"
"I'm ready any time you are. I would assume you already possess enough prerequisite knowledge that it shouldn't take more than a few hours to explain everything. If you're busy running the tea shop, I could come back whenever you like..."
"There's not likely to be anything the staff can't handle without me. I'd be perfectly happy to start immediately, as long as you don't mind interruptions, in case anything does come up that requires my attention."
"Sounds good." Turning to his companions, he said, "I don't suppose you guys will want to hang out that long, so... feel free to wander around town, or even go back to the estate. I can walk back later, if necessary."
"Alright," said Darius. "Call me later on a red bubble, and if we haven't gone home yet, we can come pick you up. Or else we can let you know you'll be walking."
Cameron agreed, and Darius returned to the dining room with Jasp and Alecstar.
"Well, what shall we do with the rest of the day?" asked Star.
Darius plunked himself down at a booth and said, "I dunno about the rest of the day, but for the next few centhours, at least-" and just then, the second server appeared and placed a cup on the table in front of him- "I'm gonna sit here and drink some chai."
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