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Chapter 37
9 Sp'mo' (Tuesday)

1

It was less than an hour til noon when Darius got out of bed Tuesday morning. Whenever he drank, he was always careful not to get drunk enough to suffer a hangover, but on rare occasions, such as last night, he cut it a bit close. In spite of staying in bed late, he hadn't gotten as much sleep as he would've liked; while alcohol helped him get to sleep, it often made it hard to stay asleep. So, the last few hours had been spent in and out of consciousness, and he felt as if he'd been trying unsuccessfully to return to sleep the whole time, before finally giving up.

He wandered into the kitchen and fixed himself some coffee and toast. Then he went to the dining room table, where a few others were having lunch. "Morning," he mumbled.

Tom checked his pocket watch. "Just barely," he said. "So, got any plans for the day?"

Darius rubbed his eyes. "Um. Plan one is to drink this coffee. Plan two is to make further plans after completing plan one."

While Darius started eating his toast, Cara said, "Cameron said he'd go with me to see Captain Teach and do his thing to make a bubble work for him. You wanna come with?"

"Uh... nah. I should probably see don Amalgamator one last time, and also see what else needs doing in town before we leave. If everyone's back before it gets too late, I'm thinking we should head out this evening. Or sooner, if possible. But give the captain my regards."

"Okay."

Thew spoke up next. "Hey, Dare... I've been thinking, I always wanted to see the Northern Alliance. Would you mind if I tagged along with you guys when you go to Near Port?"

"Hmmm, I-"

But before Darius could even think how to answer, Thew's father cut in. "I think you're a little too young to be getting involved in a rebellion."

"Come on, Dad, it's not like it would be my first adventure."

"There's a big difference between the things you've done in the last year, and what Darius and his friends are planning. You're only fourteen, after all."

"He's right," agreed Darius. "I was already starting to think vaguely about someday forming a rebellion, when I was your age, and first started adventuring, myself. But even then, I knew I'd have to wait until I was older and more experienced, to try anything like that. Of course, I'm not at all sure we're actually going to do the rebellion thing; and even if we do, I wouldn't expect it to get under way for quite some time, yet. It's not like the rebellion has ever been the reason we're going to Near Port. We're going to rescue Tiejo's master. However... that in itself is certainly going to be too dangerous for a 14-year-old."

"But-"

"That said, I don't think there's any reason you couldn't travel with us til we get there, then head off and do your own thing. That is, if you think you'll be capable of finding your own way home, if something happens to the rest of us after we part company. I'm sure you could book passage on a stage coach or something, heading back to Triscot. If you don't hear from us. Of course, all this depends on your father's approval."

Thew and Darius both looked at Spivin, who said, "Well... I don't know...."

Thew turned to his brother. "Help me out here. You know I could handle it, right?"

Joss replied, "Well, if you'd asked me when you first started adventuring if I thought you'd be ready to travel so far from home after just a year, I'd have had serious doubts. But you've changed more than I would have expected, in the last year. For one thing, you certainly look a lot stronger...."

"Yeah, I've been practicing my swordsmanship quite a bit. That really builds up the muscles."

"I'll say." He grinned as he added, "Your nickname definitely fits you better, now."

Darius set down his coffee and said, "I've been wondering about that, actually. Last time I saw any of you, when Thew was still like six, everyone called him Matt. How'd 'Thew' come about?"

Joss's grin widened. "Oh, that started soon after Mattelius was born, in 908. Kuris and Lucia were talking about what they should call him for short, since 'Matt' was already taken by my brother. So they settled on 'Matz.' Which, in case you don't know, we all spell with a 'z' at the end. I don't remember how that came about; it seems like it should be spelled with an 's.' But whatever, it's not important. The thing is, it was also right around that time that both Thew and I started spirit-talking; Nelly had already been doing that for a year or two, I think. Anyway-"

"Do we really have to do this?" Thew interrupted.

"Yes. Now, shush. Anyway, it was through conversations with spirits that we learned Matt's full name, Mattholomew, was actually an amalgam of two Terran names, which struck the spirits we talked to as funny. Apparently our parents had known about the Terran names 'Matthew' and 'Bartholomew,' and for whatever reason... or maybe no reason... they just thought it would be neat to mash up those names into one, when Matt was born. Once Matt figured this out, though- and until then, he and I had both always figured his name was just a normal Terran name, which we both liked- he suddenly found it embarrassing, and wanted to change it. He complained to Dad, 'Darn it, my name should end in thew, not tholomew. Thew!' So Dad said, 'Alright, then, Son, from now on we'll call you Thew.' And that's how it started."

"Yeah," said Thew somewhat bitterly- but also with a hint of a smile he was trying to fight- "and then Lucia said 'So maybe now we can just call Mattelius Matt, after all.' But I insisted that was still my name. I kept calling myself that for a few months, so everyone stuck with 'Matz' for Mattelius. Even though they'd all taken to calling me 'Thew.' Finally, I gave in and accepted the name, too."

"Neat," said Darius. "Well, anyway, Joss was right... those are some impressive thews you've got there, Thew."

Spivin had been smiling throughout the whole exchange. Now he said, "It's true... and aside from strength, I know you're good at handling a sword. Adam has taught you well."

"My father's good with a sword," said Darius, "so that's not surprising. Although it's a shame about being in hiding. He never once bested my swordsmanship master, when I was learning. Too bad you couldn't learn from a true master."

"Oh, I took a few lessons from a master, after I started adventuring, just to pick up a few pointers; though I'm sure it wasn't your master. But I was impatient to get out and actually start doing things, so I wasn't looking for a full course. Maybe someday, but for now it's not that important. I'm better than most 14-year-olds, and besides, I'm not planning on getting into any real fights. I'm quite capable of defending myself if need be, but I don't go looking for trouble. Still, I've won any sparring matches I've gotten into with anyone who wasn't a full-time student of swordsmanship."

"Well, that's good to hear," said Spivin. "I mean, that you try to avoid real fights." He sighed. "I suppose you do have a good head on your shoulders. I trust your judgment. If you think you're ready... you can go. Just promise to stay out of trouble. No rebellions, and no breaking into any dungeons to rescue prisoners."

Thew grinned widely. "I promise!"

Darius turned to Doog. "So what about you? You interested in coming along, too?"

"Nah, I've already got my next adventure lined up with some friends I met recently. We're heading to Tanq soon. Besides, I'm the same age as Thew, so I know I'm too young for any serious adventures, either. And my doogs aren't nearly as impressive as his thews."

Darius couldn't help laughing. "...The hell does that mean?"

"I... have no idea. It sounded funnier in my head."

It was then that Adam entered the room, followed by the other members of the Chaos. "Well," he announced, "both wagons are ready. Ah, Darius, nice to see you've joined the world of the living."

"What's that mean?" asked Tom.

"He means I got out of bed," said Darius.

"Weird. But I like it."

"Anyway," Adam continued, "because you slept in, you may not be aware of the day's plans...."

Darius turned to Tom and asked, "Did you know there were already plans? And if so, why'd you ask me if I had any?"

"No one was gonna force you to do anything. You could've gone to Shanty with Cameron and Cara, if you wanted, or else joined the rest of us. Or suggested your own plans. Now shut up and listen to your father."

"Sorry."

"Apparently you've already heard about your cousin's plans," said Adam. "They're flying the Chaos wagon to Shanty, while the others are taking my wagon into town. I've stocked the wagon with enough money to purchase any supplies you may need for the long trip ahead."

"Hey, that's just what I was going to suggest," said Darius. "I was gonna be all, 'We're about to begin the longest leg of our journey. Before we set out, there's something very important that I think we should do... go shopping!'"

"And when did you come up with that?" asked Tom.

"I told you I'd make plans after I finished my coffee. Which I did about five centhours ago. So that's when I came up with the plan."

"While you were listening to your cousins' story?"

"I can do two things at once!"

"If you say so."

"Anyway, Cameron" said Darius, turning to the ex-Sorreter, "do you want us to pick up anything for you while you're in Shanty?"

"All of us in the Band know what sorts of things we all use on adventures, and long trips in general."

"Okay." He turned back to Tom. "And you... if you haven't done so already, don't forget to get yourself a new tent."

Tom snorted derisively, but said nothing.

Turning to his father, Darius said, "And Dad... thanks for the money."

"Just the clan's contribution to the cause. Think nothing of it."

Not long after that, The Chaos members headed to Evan's estate, along with Adam, Alyn, Nelly, Thew, and Joss. Adam finally gave Darius and his allies a quick tour of the inside of the manor he maintained for his guise as Evan. Darius commented that it felt surprisingly lived-in, and his father told him that he did in fact spend some nights there, and that of course there were servants who lived there pretty much full time.

After the tour within, Adam showed everyone his back yard, where he sometimes entertained business associates with barbecues and such. There wasn't too much of a yard, as the forest wasn't far off, but it was fairly pretty. Darius said he hoped someday he could come to a barbecue here... one for family, rather than people who didn't even know Adam's real name.

After a few centhours spent standing quietly, looking out over the lawn, the ornamental trees which stood in contrast to the wild trees of the forest, the flutterbies fluttering by, and enjoying a light, cool breeze, Darius suddenly turned to Joss and said, "You know, I have a thought about... how we were talking the other day, about certain insects and things God creates that people may not like, and how those things have their purpose. I think I have an idea about that purpose."

"Yeah?"

"I know your point was that not everything has to be of direct benefit to humans, in order to be of value. But you know humans... it's hard for us not to try to make sense of things in a way that, you know, makes sense to us. So anyway... I was just looking at the trees and whatnot, and it got me thinking about how much beauty there is in nature. I hope you get to see more of it soon, because there is so much out there to see. Rivers and oceans and mountains and plains and so many kinds of trees that we don't have in Triscot, and so many kinds of animals, and... oh, I can't even tell you what all. And it makes me think... humans and other sentient beings are just as much a part of nature as everything else. So if we're a part of such beauty, how is it that we're capable of doing such ugly things? War, and crime, and hate, and class discrimination, and so forth. But that's when I suddenly remembered that there are ugly things in nature. Not only things that are aesthetically displeasing, but things that actually do harm. People have a tendency to talk as if animals never do bad things, never kill each other, never steal from each other, etc. But of course they do. There are countless examples of things animals do which we'd find distasteful, even evil, but it's just nature. Much of it is necessary for survival, and therefore justifiable, but much of it's not. God could have given them the same instincts toward civility that he gave us, but he didn't. And I think... maybe the reason he made nature the way he did, is so that people could understand that there's both beauty and ugliness in everything, in terms of both form and function. Which means... we shouldn't judge ourselves too harshly. I guess."

"It's true, doing ugly things doesn't mean we're behaving contrary to nature. It's like they say, you must take the bad with the good. Free will would be meaningless, otherwise. So, perhaps animals have their own kind of free will, even if their choices are guided more by instinct than conscious choice."

"Of course, that's not going to stop me from hating mosquitoes, or being glad we don't have bees or ants."

Joss grinned. "Of course." After half a centhour, he said, "So... I suppose you won't be coming back to the estate after you're done shopping?"

"Don't plan on it."

"Well then, I bid you farewell. I wish you could stay, but I fear you've already tarried too long in Lothlórien."

"Hmmm? Oh, that was a place in those books I lent you, right? I really need to reread those. Anyway... I've only been in town for like a week, I think. Yes, it'll be a week tomorrow that we got to Triscot. It does kinda seem longer, though, doesn't it?"

"Indeed."

"Well, I'll be back as soon as I can." Darius always felt awkward about making farewells; it always seemed to him that whatever he said must somehow be wrong. But, he had to say something. "So... see ya later, coz."

He turned then and saw his parents and sister, and tried to think what to say to them.

Before he could speak, his father said, "So, I'll be coming with you. I have an office in town, where we can wait for Cameron to get back from Shanty. Then we can transfer your purchases to your wagon, and I can drive mine home later."

Darius nodded, then said, "What about you, Mom?"

"I'll be staying here. There's only so much room in one wagon, and you have a lot of companions."

"Right. Well... goodbye, then." He hugged her, and of course it lasted a bit longer than he would have liked, but he didn't complain.

As she released him, she said, "Goodbye, Son. Please don't take any unnecessary risks, out there."

"I'll try not to." He turned then to Nelly and said, "Goodbye, Sis."

"Goodbye, Bro. Be safe." The two of them did not hug, as they never did.

He turned back to Joss, who had been saying his goodbyes to Thew. Darius waited for them to finish, and then led the group back to the barn, to get in the wagons.

On the way to the barn, Thew asked Cameron, "So, do I get one of those special bittrickle bubbles?"

"I'm afraid they're just for members of the Chaos and our potential allies, should our plans ultimately come to rebellion. I think your father made it pretty clear that doesn't include you. Sorry. But later on I should be able to give you one of the slightly less special, but still somewhat special t-mail bubbles we've all been using so far."

"Good enough."

A few centhours later, Cameron and Cara were in the air, and the others were on the road.

2

The foremost bubble sitting in the t-mail tray on the desk of Chief Keith Arresting of the Triscot PD chimed, and the chief immediately answered it. The call was from a patrolman, who informed the chief that he'd spotted Tiejo Streetrat and a group of his allies.

"What're they doing?" asked the chief.

"Uh... shopping. Do you want me to make contact?"

"No, just keep an eye on them for now, Leon. And try not to be noticed."

"Will do, Chief."

"Close," said Arresting, and the bubble vanished.

He waited half a centhour, then selected a new t-mail bubble and said, "Keith Arresting for Willow Bridgebuilder."

His call was answered almost immediately. "Chief, good to hear from you. I assume you're calling to report some news of the Chaos?"

"One of my patrolmen just spotted the street rat from the recording InterVil provided us the other day. He and his friends are apparently shopping. My man's keeping an eye on them. Do you want us to do anything else? Or will you be coming here in person?"

"That shouldn't be necessary. Commissioner Gothic has made it very clear that, after the bungling in Tanq, it would be best not to put them on guard, any more than they probably already are. Your people should definitely not let them out of their sight, but unless they do anything illegal, we have no business interfering with their business. Naturally, keep me informed of any developments."

"Of course. But... if they leave town, my people won't be able to watch them anymore."

"Which is why, when you inform me of their departure, I'll arrange for someone with broader jurisdiction to take over surveillance."

"Okay then. I'll be in touch."

"Thank you, Chief. Close."

3

Durell Turner sat smiling in his office for a few centhours, mentally reveling in the knowledge he'd just acquired, before actually doing anything with that knowledge. He had, of late, been quite annoyed by the failure of everyone to find these foolish, yet ridiculously lucky adventurers. And the one time someone had found them, he still managed to let them slip through his fingers. If he didn't still require Agent Monogwrangle's services, he might very well have terminated their private arrangement. He did make his displeasure known to the man, but decided to let any disciplinary action that might ensue his bungling come from Commissioner Gothic (not that Gothic would have any idea he was doing exactly what Durell wanted). Of course, he couldn't entirely fault Monogwrangle, or the police in general, for their failure. After all, he himself had failed to locate them via scrying. If he'd had any of the DNA of any member of the group, divination would have been an option; but as it was, the best he could do is random scry different areas of whatever village they were known or suspected to be in, at any given time. Which wasn't particularly useful, given that he didn't really know what any of them looked like, aside from Cam, whom he hadn't seen since the ex-Sorreter was a kid, barely an apprentice. And in fact, he'd barely known the boy's older sister, let alone Cam himself. And even if he did know what all of them looked like, there'd be no guarantee of his scries spotting them, or the blanked out space he'd expect to find if they were using an anti-scrying spell.

But now, thanks to the tap one of his associates had placed on the t-mail ID protocols of the office of Chief Arresting, he knew exactly where to look. Not only had he listened in on the chief's calls with his patrolman and Agent Bridgebuilder, he'd also traced the coordinates of the patrolman. So, once he was finished savoring the anticipation of finally viewing his quarry, he simply scried the spot from which that patrolman had called. He couldn't have waited too long, but even if the man had moved since he called his superior, he couldn't have moved so far, as yet, that it would be difficult to find him. Indeed, when Durell activated his scrying mirror, and concentrated on the coordinates, it took him mere moments to spot the patrolman. It was clear that the policeman was intently watching a particular area, which could only be the area presently occupied by the Chaos. Durell grinned as he leisurely adjusted his mental orientation to pan slowly toward that spot...

And he saw... nothing. Nothing but an aisle of merchandise, devoid of shoppers. Durell frowned, and began reorienting the vision left and right, back and forth. There were customers, but none of them were in the patrolman's immediate line of sight. More importantly, none of them matched the descriptions of the members of the Chaos. While Durell didn't know precisely what any of them looked like, aside from that one street rat whose image had recently been recorded by one of Macen Illustri's spies, he at least had an idea of what each of them looked like. He quickly looked back to the patrolman, who was still performing attentive surveillance. His viewpoint had shifted slightly in the centhour since Durell had begun scrying, consistent with the distance that might have been traversed in that time. Again, Durell shifted his own perspective along the man's line of sight. There was absolutely no one there worth watching. Durell wondered just for a moment if the patrolman was incompetently watching the wrong people, but he quickly realized the man didn't seem to be watching anyone in particular. He was just moving his gaze gradually along an empty path.

Durell was about to give up in confusion and frustration, when he noticed a random shopper who happened to be moving toward the spot being watched by the patrolman. The customer suddenly stepped aside and said, "No problem." Two seconds later, he went back to walking along his previous path. He not only had apparently said this to thin air, but had said it in response to... nothing. Durell looked closer, to see if he was holding a t-mail bubble, which might explain the seemingly odd behavior; but he was not.

And suddenly, he understood. The Chaos party was obviously cloaked not merely in a standard anti-scrying spell. Rather, they were using the very same spell which had been used during the Coming, to prevent the Protestants from locating the village of the elves, before they made themselves known in their surprise attack, on Durell's own fifty-first birthday. He'd always known that not all elves were in favor of the Coming, but he'd never heard of any of them actively supporting the Protestant Movement. Yet it was difficult to imagine Drag and his ex-Sorreters could have possibly learned the spell after their own disappearance at the Battle of Triscot. So that knowledge must have been passed on to them sometime in the two months or so between those two battles. This would actually explain why he'd never been able to find them, after they disappeared. Certainly, there were other ways they could have avoided detection, but now that he knew they knew that spell, it seemed likely they were using it to hide their settlement, wherever it might be. Unless of course, Cam or some other spy sent out by Drag in the years since their disappearance had learned the spell later...

But Durell quickly waved such thoughts out of his mind. Now was not the time for idle speculation about just when or how they'd learned the spell, or whether it was just Cam or all the ex-Sorreters who knew the spell. The salient point at the moment was that Cam, at least, was clearly using the spell to render himself and his friends invisible and inaudible to scries, while leaving the space they occupied at any moment looking exactly as it would if they weren't there. Which meant the only way to see them was to be there in person.

He cursed under his breath, then grabbed a t-mail bubble and said, "Durell Turner for Zeke Sanguine."

He drummed his fingers for nearly two centhours, waiting for an answer. Finally, the reply came. "Zeke here. What can I do for you?"

"Are you free to travel, right this instant?"

"I suppose so."

"Good. I'm going to send you coordinates to a shop in Triscot. I want you to translocate outside the shop, somewhere out of sight to any passersby, then go into the shop. There is a policeman who is watching a group of people who are of interest to me-"

"The Chaos?"

"Yes. I've just tried scrying them, and it's impossible."

"If you want to keep track of where they are, can't you just follow the empty space where they should be?"

Durell sighed with impatience. "Normally, yes. But they're using scry-spoofing."

"Damn. Wouldn't have expected that."

"Nor would I. Now listen, the police will be tracking them until they leave Triscot, at which point InterVil will be assigning someone else to watch them, between villages. I'll call Daily and see if he can arrange for you to be that someone. But I don't feel like waiting for this to become an official assignment; I trust your ability to avoid tipping them off that their being watched more than I trust the local authorities. The longer we wait, the better the chance of the Chaos getting wise and giving their observers the slip."

"Righty-o, Master. I'm on it. I'll give you a head's up when they're in my sights."

"Thank you kindly."

Durell transmitted the coordinates, closed the bubble, and returned his attention to the mirror. He shifted his field of vision to the store's front entrance, and just a couple of centhours later, he saw his former apprentice come around the side of the building and casually enter the shop. He allowed his vision to follow Zeke into the store, saw him spot the patrolman, and inconspicuously turn his gaze to where the man was looking. He saw Zeke grin, turn around, and exit the shop.

A couple of centhours more passed, and Durell received a t-mail call, which he promptly answered.

"So, yeah, I saw them," said Zeke. "Thought I'd wait for them outside."

"I have every confidence in your judgment. Keep me apprised of anything interesting. And be prepared to receive a call from Daily."

"Will do."

"Close," said Durell.

Once again, he sat back in his chair and smiled, lacing his hands behind his head. Finally, he said to himself. With Zeke on the case, I can stop worrying about this matter, and get back to concentrating solely on my normal responsibilities. After all, a Chief Councillor-slash-Bishop-slash-Grand Sorreter's work is never done... But a moment later he tore his hands away from his head, sat forward, and dropped his smile. "Oh, right. First I must call Daily. Then I can forget about the damn Chaos, for awhile..."

4

After a few hours of shopping, Adam's wagon was full of all the things Darius and the others thought they'd be needing for the long trip north. Once that was out of the way, Darius was planning to head to the Jasmine Dragon. But just as he and his friends were emerging from the last store the planned to visit, they ran into Arnold Sullenhest.

Tiejo immediately grinned and greeted him, "Ah, hello to friend of 'Rats! Wanting to see you I have been! And here, now you can meeting Darius."

Arnold took a look at the group, and realized the only one of them he hadn't yet met, aside from Adam and Thew, must be Darius. (He had no idea who Adam and Thew might be, but he had an idea of Darius's age.) He immediately offered his hand, which Darius forced himself to shake. "Pleased to meet you, Darius. I've been hoping to see you."

"Me too," said Darius. "I think you've met almost everyone here... Tom, Tiejo, Emma Pseud, Alecstar Inco, Ginger Protestant, Tino... oh, and these are Evan Wayfarer and Thew Protestant, no relation. Not sure if you've heard my full name: I'm Darius Lonewander."

"Ah, okay. So, the other day Tom said Tiejo had talked to friends who vouched for my character. Which I find gratifying, of course. Now... I want to know what I can do to help your cause, whatever it may be. After all, any friend of Dave Road's is a friend of mine."

"Well, I'll actually let Tiejo talk to you about that, if you'll join us. We're heading to the Jasmine Dragon. Do you know it?"

"Do I know it?!" he exclaimed. "Why, of course I know it! It's only the finest establishment in the village, to my way of thinking! I'd be delighted to join you."

And so, Arnold boarded the wagon with the others, and Tiejo and Darius both talked to him about their plans, while Ginger and Tino drove. They also explained a bit about bittrickle. By the time they arrived at the tea shop, a deal had been struck. And Tom and the Band finally learned what Tiejo himself had been up to, over the last few weeks.

The first thing Arnold did when they all entered the Jasmine Dragon was order a cup of nihonshu. He offered to buy a round for everyone, but no one in the Chaos felt like drinking, today. They were all soon ushered into don Amalgamator's office, where Darius introduced Arnold.

"Oh, I'm sure most of us in LandOrder, as well as InterGang, know Mr. Sullenhest," she said in a friendly tone. "An independent rival of both organizations, in this village and several others. Though not someone with whom we have any serious dispute."

Arnold said nothing to this, but smiled and gave a slight bow.

"Glad to hear it," said Darius. "Because I've just struck a deal with him to help our cause, should the need arise. And I was hoping you might provide him with a bittrickle bubble."

"Certainly. I don't doubt that he may prove useful to you, at some point. However, as Chief Underground has no doubt pointed out, sooner or later the network we're establishing for you will become ours... either once your goal has been achieved, or once it has become obvious that it has no chance of success. At that point, we will remotely activate a self-destruct mechanism we're building into all the bubbles we'll be distributing to the Chaos and its allies. Don't worry, though: we'll send out a group call first, telling everyone that such destruction is imminent, so you'll have time to rid yourself of the bubbles, and no harm will come to you."

"I appreciate that," said Darius wryly.

"Meanwhile, you should all be sure not to try to use your bubbles until a group call is made informing you that the network is ready."

"Of course," said Darius. "We look forward to it. And thank you again for all your help."

"You're welcome. Oh, in case Mr. Piper hasn't mentioned it, my own handle is 'Oddberry.'"

Darius smiled. "I like it. Mine's 'd'Artagnan.' Do you want to know all of our handles?"

"I'm sure knowing yours and Piper's will be sufficient for now. If we need to get in touch with your group, we can do so through one of the two of you. If others become necessary to know, we can find out later."

"Okay." He turned to Arnold and asked, "So, have you thought of a handle for yourself?"

Arnold shook his head. "Not yet. But once the network is ready, I can call you and let you know what it is, d'Artagnan."

"Right." Turning back to Amalgamator, he said, "Well, I guess that's pretty much everything. Unless you had anything else to say, or ask."

"I can think of nothing, at the moment. As Mr. Sullenhest said, I can call you if the need arises. Even if I think of something before the network is up and running, I can use regularly secure t-mail. Or rather, one of LandOrder's bubbles. I can give you a few, while you're here."

"Thanks."

Handing him the black bubbles, she said, "Well then, this is good-bye. Best of luck to you all."

"Okay, good-bye, then." He turned and left her office, and his friends all followed.

After they'd exited the tea shop itself, Arnold said, "Well, I'll be saying good-bye, as well. I have other business to attend to. As the lady said, best of luck to you."

"Thanks," said Darius.

As Arnold began walking away, Adam said, "Well then, time to head to my business office, and wait for Cameron."

It was nearly Third Two when they arrived at the building where Evan kept an office; about an hour later, Cameron showed up. Cara had chosen to remain in Shanty, after they delivered the bittrickle bubble to Teach. Everyone immediately set about transferring the day's purchases from Adam's wagon to that of the Chaos. The job was finished by Third Three and Twenty.

"I suppose it's my turn now to say good-bye," said Adam. He hugged Darius and said, "Take care, Son." After releasing him, he turned to the group. "You take care as well, Thew. And good luck to all of you."

"Bye, Dad," said Darius. "Thanks again for everything."

Adam went into his office, to check on a few things before heading home for the evening.

Darius sighed, and climbed into the wagon's cockpit, planning to take first shift piloting. He idly wondered who'd end up joining him as copilot. As it happened, it was Thew.

"This will actually be my first time flying," he said. "Think you can teach me to... what's the word? Pilot?"

"Sure."

The others were about to climb in back, when Tino announced, "Well, I think I'll head to Near Port on my own. I'll see you guys there. He called up to the cockpit, "Bye, Darius. Bye, Thew."

"Oh, bye. See ya later," said Darius.

"Yeah, bye," said Thew. He was a bit confused by this, but didn't say anything about it.

Alecstar, Cameron, and Emma all said good-bye, then got into the wagon, followed by Tom and Tiejo.

Ginger remained behind, for a centhour. "Well, you've been traveling with us longer than you usually do. I suppose I should've expected you to take off on your own, sometime soon. But I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too, kiddo." He held her arms for a few moments, gazing into her eyes and smiling just a bit sadly. Then he moved in and gave her a long, tight embrace, and kissed her.

When they separated, Ginger said, "You're acting as if you weren't going to be seeing me again for, like, months. I don't know about you, but it shouldn't take us much more than a week, week and a half to reach Near Port."

"Yeah... it might take me a little longer. Can't say exactly." He looked at her quietly for a few more moments, before giving a little laugh and saying, "Sorry, I... don't mean to get too sentimental. But, you know... I love you."

She smiled and replied, "I love you too... goofball."

The two of them stood and stared at each other a bit longer, holding hands, before Ginger sighed, turned, and climbed into the wagon. Half a centhour later, the wagon took flight. Tino stood and watched it fly away. He and Ginger waved to each other, til they could no longer see one another.


chapter 38

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