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Chapter 42
20-21 Sp'mo' (Wor'ginday-Tuesday)

1

Colonel Charles Woodman had two offices: one which he used in his capacity as commander of the Near Port regiment of the Army, and one which he used as a member of the Cabal. It was to the latter, secret office which he went first thing Wor'ginday morning. After seating himself at one of the room's two desks, and taking a sip of coffee, he called General Tovan Middlebury, whose own office was just down the hall from Woodman's main office. In fact, the office in which the colonel was currently sitting wasn't strictly his; it was shared by the general and himself, when either or both of them had Cabal business to which to attend. After ending the t-mail call, Woodman had but a few centhours to wait before Middlebury arrived in their joint office. The colonel spent a few more centhours apprising the general of his actions of the previous day. As he'd expected, Middlebury quickly agreed that they should call a t-mail conference of all the senior members of the Cabal, as well as King Royal. Naturally, they were all important people with regular duties that required their attention, so it was the better part of an hour before everyone managed to finish or excuse themselves from whatever business each of them was about when they received the general's call.

Finally, Woodman and Middlebury stood facing a series of t-mail screens which, altogether, took up half the circumference of the circular wall of the office. Each screen displayed a shadowy, unrecognizable figure, just as did the screens being viewed by each of those figures, in various villages around the Land. Middlebury often wondered why it was that the identities of the senior members mostly remained a mystery even to each other, but he supposed that as long as the head of the Cabal, Congressman Feng Daily, knew who each of them were, it didn't really matter that the others remained in the dark, so to speak. The Cabal still managed to function with reasonable efficiency. For the most part.

When the last member appeared on screen, Middlebury said, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I've called this meeting on behalf of Colonel Woodman, so I'll simply yield the floor to him."

"Thank you, Mr. Cyan," said the colonel. As always, it took some effort not to smirk or roll his eyes at the senior members' use of color-coded aliases. It was perhaps the only thing that made him glad he himself was only a mid-level member. "And good morning to you all. I'll get straight to the point: I'm sure you've all been informed of the recent formation of a group of adventurers calling themselves 'the Chaos,' who are suspected of plotting rebellion against the Second Order. While InterVil has taken an unofficial interest in the group, their hands have been bound by the fact that there is no proof of any wrongdoing on the part of these adventurers. At least, no proof which anyone would care to risk sharing in court, for fear of exposing themselves of breaking certain laws. So, the police have limited themselves to observing the suspected rebels, waiting to see if they actually do anything to warrant arrest. However, once they left Triscot, on the evening of 9 Sp'mo', the police no longer had legal jurisdiction even to observe them. At least, not until they reached another village. And so, Agent Bridgebuilder arranged for one of my own agents, Zeke Sanguine, to follow them, in the meantime. Mr. Sanguine is expected to report to Commissioner Gothic when the Chaos reach whatever village they were headed to, so that he could assign the appropriate InterVil agent to liaise with the police of that village, and resume their own observation of the group.

"Which brings me to the reason for this morning's meeting. On the night of 18 Sp'mo', I received a call from Sanguine, letting me know the location of the Chaos, and that they would likely be reaching Near Port after just one more day's travel. I'll apologize up front for not immediately calling a meeting of the Cabal, to decide what action to take, if any. However, I felt that if the alleged rebels were allowed to reach this village, and the police resumed their surveillance, the matter would be out of our hands, perhaps permanently. And quite frankly, that bothered me... for two reasons. First, the police have already proved themselves ineffectual in this matter. I'm sure you've all heard about the incident in Tanq, which was badly bungled by Agent Monogwrangle of InterVil. And second, if these people are planning a rebellion, I believe it is a matter for the military to handle, rather than the police. Of course, the military are bound by the law, just as are the police. But we in the Cabal, on the other hand, are above the law, at least in theory. And of course, there is no real point in our existence unless we occasionally put that theory into practice. I believe it would have been wise for Mr. Yellow, or someone of higher station within the organization than I, to have called a meeting much earlier than this, though of course it was not my place to do so, until the matter clearly affected me, personally. And once it was determined that the Chaos were almost certainly coming to my village, I believe that made it my business. Naturally, I cannot say what it is they may have had planned. But it does seem likely that this was, in fact, their final destination. If they were going to Kimrin, they would not have been so far east. If they were going to Port, it would have been far quicker and simpler to have taken a ship from Shipsister. And if they were planning rebellion, surely their coming to the seat of Army Headquarters couldn't be a coincidence. Therefore, I felt it incumbent upon myself to take preemptive action, to make sure they couldn't do my troops or base any harm, while the police stood idly by and watched. More to the point, I wanted to ensure that the Cabal had a chance to justify its existence, by remaining in control of the situation. And if I had failed to act immediately, control would surely have been lost. With all due respect, this group sometimes takes too long debating things, playing it safe, until circumstances preclude us from doing anything at all.

"Which is why, rather than calling a meeting immediately after receiving that call from Mr. Sanguine, I took a company out on the pretext of a training exercise, such as all the regiments and fleets of the military have been engaging in, over the last two weeks. What we really did was fly to the coordinates provided by Sanguine, reaching their camp site around dawn. We immediately placed them under observation, and made preparations to capture them. Had I waited to receive permission from you all, even if you'd been uncommonly speedy in reaching a decision, there's no way we could have arrived before the suspects took off. And while we might still have had a chance to stop them before they could reach Near Port, it would have been risky to do so in broad daylight, and commonly traveled airspace, where our actions might have been witnessed by any number of civilians. If any other travelers turned out to be present, it would have been impossible for us to take any action at all, which would have amounted to the same thing as having simply waited for the Chaos to arrive, and letting InterVil do what they do. But now, I have the rebels in my custody. We can do with them what we will. The police don't know we have them, Marshal Primus doesn't know we have them, no one knows we have them. And so, I put it to all of you: what will we do with them? And what shall we have Sanguine tell Commissioner Gothic?"

"I'd just as soon you kill them all," said Mr. Gold. "Problem solved."

"The problem of the Chaos, perhaps," said Mr. Cyan. "But not the problem of what to tell Gothic."

"Surely Bridgebuilder could come up with something."

"It's not her place to do so. As soon as the Chaos left Triscot, they ceased to be her concern."

"Well, then, Colonel Woodman could say they attacked his base, and were killed in the process."

"While I like that idea," said Woodman, "I'm afraid it would be a problematic story to substantiate. It would require our own people to stage a fake attack, in order to convince the rest of my troops that it had actually happened."

"What? You can't just order them to either keep their mouths shut or else say only what you tell them to say?"

"Some of them, undoubtedly. But not all of them. I suppose a scenario could be devised in which only those I can trust implicitly would be on duty, in a specific place and time... but it would mean shifting schedules without explanation. Not necessarily a problem, but we'd have to take other things into consideration. For example, unless the rebels were unbelievably stupid, they wouldn't stage an attack without a solid plan. So, to make it believable, we'd have to first figure out a plan to attack ourselves. Something that seemed theoretically workable."

"Wouldn't that require the rebels having inside knowledge of the base, and Army procedures?" asked Mr. Cyan. "How would you explain that?"

Woodman took a deep breath. "There's something I haven't told you about one of the adventurers. And I'm guessing you haven't looked at InterVil's files on them."

"I'm afraid I haven't. Why?"

"One of them, as it turns out... is in fact Major Alec."

Mr. Cyan- General Middlebury- was silent for a few moments, his face barely registering the shock he felt. However, it didn't take him long to realize it wasn't that surprising, after all. "Ah. Well then, yes... it would certainly be believable that he could plan a workable assault. And it's inconceivable that he'd do anything stupid. In fact, it makes me think that it would be unlikely for any attack the Chaos might plan to be so narrowly targeted as to make it possible for you to arrange for no one who would potentially question your orders to be aware of such an attack."

"As I told Mr. Gold... problematic. Additionally, I should inform you all that I have been briefed by Macen Illustri on all that his spy network has managed to uncover about the Chaos. It seems that they have made connections with an unknown number of potential allies. That is, some are known, though it would be wise to assume the actual number is greater. And even those who are known themselves have connections to a far larger number of potential allies. I can say, for example, that the Triscot PD have already begun watching a smuggler named Evan Wayfarer, in whose company the Chaos were seen shortly before departing that village. And one member of the Chaos is believed to be an ex-Sorreter, the implications of which cannot be overstated. There is also the supposed alliance with LandOrder, which was what instigated the notice taken of the Chaos in the first place. On top of all that, there have been rumblings within the pirate community of something... which seems likely to be connected to the Chaos."

"Well," said Mr. Cyan, "if that's the case, we'd do best not to make martyrs of these few individuals. Their deaths could inspire their allies to make a move, before we're ready to deal with them. On the other hand, knowing the leaders of the rebellion are alive, but in our custody, could make them apprehensive about rushing into action. Such an announcement might make them bide their time, while giving us more time to seek them out." He glanced at the screen containing the image of Mr. Gold. While he was as unrecognizable as any of the others, everyone in this meeting knew who he was. "As an added benefit, letting the public know of the existence of a potential rebellion would give them reason to believe a standing Army and Navy are necessary. Which would surely undercut Localpride's campaign."

Mr. Gold replied, "True... but still, it would mean keeping more prisoners like him." He didn't need to mention a name; everyone knew to whom he was referring. "Honestly, I've never seen the point in keeping him alive all this time. Seems a waste of perfectly good food."

"Trust me," said Woodman with a smirk, "the food isn't that good, and he's certainly never been given that much of it. The same will hold true for the new prisoners. Although, you do have a point. Keeping the old prisoner serves no real purpose, other than the sheer enjoyment I derive from his continued suffering. I haven't the same interest in the Chaos, so, once they've served their purpose... we might as well eliminate them. But of course, we still haven't addressed the matter of what to tell Gothic. And it probably won't be much longer before he starts wondering why Sanguine hasn't gotten back to him, yet."

"Very well," said Mr. Yellow, speaking for the first time. "They shall not be killed. Of course, they also cannot be released, nor permitted any contact with the outside world, for they would then be justified in accusing the Army of illegal detention. Which I'm afraid would spell the end of Colonel Woodman's career, if not his very freedom. I do not like the fact that he has forced us into our current position, but I accept his explanation of his reasoning. And I can assure him, that if his actions were to lead to trouble for anyone... that trouble would be his alone to bear. But I do appreciate the opportunity with which he has provided us. The only option, as I see it, is to make the very announcement which Mr. Cyan has suggested. It could be a propitious use of the new public address system. For the immediate future, I believe the public would agree with Colonel Woodman, that rebels are best dealt with by the military, not the police. And public opinion would forestall any complaints from Gothic about the legality of our actions, at least temporarily. Naturally, we would eventually be required to offer proof that the prisoners had received a fair trial. In the meantime, those of us who are in a position to do so could be working to establish a new law specifying how to deal with political prisoners. Since we've thus far failed to foresee such a rebellion, there is no specific law in place, which means InterVil would ultimately have jurisdiction. But if we can arrange for a law granting the military the right to try such prisoners, rather than the courts, before such time as Gothic can turn public opinion in his favor- which of course he'd be able to do, because as things stand, he'd be right- well then, such a law would change things in our favor. And once the military has the power to try political prisoners... we can simply say they've been tried and convicted. Of course, we'd have to make some kind of show of bringing in witnesses, but if the proceedings were closed and everyone involved was placed under a gag order, who would be to say they hadn't received a fair trial?" In his office, he glanced at each of the shadowy faces on his t-mail screen. "So say we all?"

A few answers of "Aye" came immediately; within a centhour, all twelve senior members had concurred, even if a few sounded vaguely reluctant.

"Good, then it's decided. I'll compose an announcement, and let you know when you may bubblecast it, Colonel. I should get back to you within a day or two; hopefully, Gothic won't be a problem before then. Now, unless-"

His words were briefly interrupted by a quiet cough from Mr. Purple.

Mr. Yellow had a sudden thought, and said, "Oh, yes... Colonel Woodman, I meant to say, earlier... I would be very much surprised if you didn't hear from Chief Councillor Turner of Sorret, before long. Assuming you haven't already. News travels fast, in certain circles, and as you pointed out, one of your prisoners is alleged to be an ex-Sorreter. I think we all understand why that makes him of interest to Turner; and in fact, it is because of Turner that anyone became suspicious of the Chaos, in the first place. I therefore urge you to extend him your full cooperation, in any requests he may make, concerning that particular prisoner."

"Of course, Mr. Yellow."

"So, unless anyone has further business...?" He waited a few beats before concluding, "Then I'll declare this meeting adjourned. Good day, everyone. Close." And one by one, the screens in Middlebury and Woodman's office went blank.

2

They had arrived at Army headquarters on the evening of 19 Sp'mo', at which point each member of the Chaos was assigned a separate cell in an underground dungeon. The walls were of solid stone, and the doors of sturdy oak. While each of the others were escorted by a pair of guards, Darius himself was taken to his cell by Woodman alone. The colonel unlocked the door, and Darius entered the room. It was pitch black, but for the scant light coming through the open doorway.

Woodman said, "Light on," and suddenly the room was dimly lit by a single illumination spell device, set in the center of the ceiling, which looked to be about fifteen feet high. The room itself was eight feet by four, though there was a second door in one of the walls. "Well, here we are. Make yourself at home. Let's see, what should I tell you about the accommodations? First of all, the overhead light which you are currently enjoying has a limited ration of mana, so it can only be used for fifty centhours on any given day. There is no rollover, so if you use less than that one day, the following day the light will receive exactly enough supplemental mana to work for fifty centhours. However, that door over there leads to a small water closet, which has its own light, with its own mana supply, for an additional fifty centhours per day. The WC has a toilet and sink; I'm afraid there's no bath, but if you're interested in keeping clean, you can manage, if somewhat awkwardly. There are some toiletries, which will be restocked as needed. Water isn't strictly limited, but if we find you use an excessive amount, it may be cut off, and a daily limit imposed thereafter. I'm afraid there's no laundry service for your clothes, though your towels may be laundered once a week, or so. And of course, if you wish to wash your own clothes in the sink, you may try, though I'm not sure how you'd dry them, nor what you'd wear in the meantime. But you won't have much chance to get them dirty, anyway, so it shouldn't matter. You'll notice the temperature is quite comfortable, neither too hot nor too cold. So, you shouldn't do much sweating. Um-pa-da-bum-pum-pum," he said, resting his left thumb on his chin while tapping his cheek with index and middle fingers and rolling his eyes upward in thought, "what else do you need to know?" Looking back at Darius, he said, "Oh yes... whenever you receive a visitor, whether myself, an interrogator, or just a guard bringing food, or what have you... there will be a knock on the door. When you hear that, you will say, 'Light on,' and move to the far side of the room, if you're not already there. The door will then open, and you will not move, until your visitor has left, and the door closed and locked behind him. If you try to escape, you will find at least two guards waiting just outside the door to stop you. If by some chance you managed to overpower them, as well as the first guard, you should know that you still wouldn't get far."

"I'm not an idiot. Which is why I haven't tried to overpower you."

Woodman smirked. "Very good. Well then, any questions?"

"You do know that you're holding us illegally."

"I believe you mentioned that, this morning. And that's something you should just let me worry about, okay? Meanwhile, I have a question for you. I'll have more, later, but for now, I'm just wondering about the boy who was traveling with you, until yesterday afternoon."

"Huh? Oh... he was some kid we met in Triscot. A novice adventurer who said he'd never been to the Northern Alliance, and when he heard that's where we were heading, he asked for a ride. But he actually was more interested in seeing Kimrin, and was planning on finding a ride with someone else, once we reached Near Port. As it happened, we met some other travelers who were headed that way, so he joined them. I'm glad he did; I'd hate for him to have gotten mixed up in our current predicament."

"And you honestly expect me to believe he wasn't involved in your little rebellion?"

"Rebellion? I'm sure you won't like to hear this, but you do remind me of that misguided InterVil agent. I don't know where you people got the idea that my companions and I are anything more than your run-of-the-mill adventurers, but-"

"As I said this morning, I'm not interested in playing games. You can deny it all you like, but we both know the truth. Of course, if you admit it to me, I'd have more reason to think of you as an honest man, and therefore more reason to believe you when you say that boy wasn't involved."

Darius sighed. "Believe what you will. In fact, go ahead and send people to find and apprehend him. And the two strangers he's currently traveling with, while you're at it. Since they're not flying, I imagine it'll take a couple of weeks for them to reach Kimrin. Plenty of time for you to take them in. But when the truth comes out, it'll just mean that much more you have to answer for. Bad enough to detain accused rebels without any proof, but an innocent child? I wouldn't want to be in your shoes."

"Very well, games it is, then. Just because I don't like them doesn't mean I'm not good at them. I must go now, but I'll try to find time for another visit, tomorrow, and the game can then start in earnest. Until then, don't let the bed bugs bite." He chuckled and added, "Just kidding, our cells don't have bugs, or vermin of any kind. No rats, for example... at least not the literal kind." He left, closing and locking the door.

A centhour later, Darius mimicked, "'Don't let the bed bugs bite.' Feh. 'No bugs,' he says. There are no bloody beds, either...." Looking around his cell, he saw that indeed there was absolutely nothing at all. He went into the bathroom, where he found a cup sitting on the sink. He filled it with water, took a drink, then went back into the main room of his cell, and sat down against one wall. After a few centhours, he sighed and said, "Light off." He was consumed by darkness.

Sleep never came easily to him, but that night it was harder to come by than usual. He did eventually manage some fitful sleep, though he had no idea how long it lasted. As there seemed nothing else to do, he just kept lying on the floor, always waiting for sleep to return. He had no way of measuring the passage of time, though it seemed to him to be something like a day since he'd arrived here, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. He said, "Light on," but remained where he was. There seemed no reason to get near the door in the first place, so there was no need to move away from it.

The door opened, and Colonel Woodman walked in, closing the door behind him. "Good afternoon, Mr. Lonewander," he said cheerfully. "Just so you know, unlike last night, I'm not alone. As I said, this time there are guards outside the door." He had brought with him a folding chair, in which he now seated himself, and two brown bags. He kept one, and offered the other to the prisoner. "It occurred to me that none of you got fed last night. Nor this morning. Sorry about that; I forgot to assign that particular duty to any of the guards. That won't happen again; from now on, all of you will be receiving two meals a day. Well, 'meals' might be a bit of an overstatement, but you'll receive enough to keep you alive. For today, I thought we might have lunch together."

The colonel opened his own bag, and took out a roast beef sandwich. Darius's bag contained a threenut butter sandwich. He supposed his captor's food was meant to be pointedly superior to his own, but Darius certainly didn't mind his sandwich. He did, however, hope he didn't get the same thing every day.

After finishing his sandwich, and washing it down with some tap water, he said, "You do know that you're holding us illegally."

Woodman laughed. "That's the exact wording you used last night, isn't it? Is that part of your game plan? Can I look forward to hearing that same sentence every time we meet?" Darius said nothing. "In any event, you will be getting a trial. I discussed the matter with some associates this morning, and we agreed to that. I'm afraid, however, that I can't predict, at this point, exactly when the trial will be."

"Rather difficult to hold a trial for people who haven't officially been arrested, let alone charged with anything. I know you're accusing us of planning a rebellion, but that's not the same as actually charging us. Unless that's changed... if we are being officially charged, I demand that we be remanded to the custody of the police, and provided with lawyers."

"God, you're making this such a boring game! So dry and matter-of-fact! If you insist on playing, try to have a little fun with it, why don't you?" Darius said nothing. "Fine, be that way. I'll give you this much: it is rather funny, hearing you ask to be handed over to the police, considering you ran away from them when you had the chance to go with them, a few weeks ago. Anyway... the fact is, you're not being charged, just yet, but you will be. The matter is complicated; I can't give you any details right now, but we're waiting for a certain change in the law to take place. I'll be sure to keep you updated on any developments."

"I look forward to it. Meanwhile, I never said I was playing a game. You're the one who said that. Of course, if your accusation is correct, then you're justified in calling it that. But if it's wrong, then maintaining our innocence can't be considered a game. So I see no reason to treat it as such."

"A fair point. And I suppose if you are lying, then the very fact that you give the appearance of not playing is, in its own way, a method of playing. But like I said, a boring one. Still, just because you're refusing to have any fun with it, doesn't mean I can't." He rubbed his chin and cheek. "Now, let's see, what sort of gambit could I have some fun with?"

A sudden thought struck as his fingers felt the familiar scar on his right cheek. "Ah, I've got it! You see this scar?" He pointed to his cheek, and then to his neck. "And this one? Got those at the Battle of Triscot. You weren't there, like the rest of your clan, but I'm sure you know of it." Woodman allowed himself a faint grin, but Darius didn't react. "Hmmm, I've read your psych profile, the one in your InterVil file. Which makes me wonder if you're simply not taking the bait, or if you genuinely have no feelings about the death of your family. In any event, I wasn't finished. Of course, I didn't know any of your relatives by face, so I'm not sure how many of them I may, personally, have fought or killed. Surely I never fought your grandparents, but from what I heard later, your grandfather, at least, put up a surprisingly good fight, for someone his age. Took out a fair number of my side's men, before being killed, himself."

"Well, it's not like they were typical noble landowners who oversaw plantations while doing little or no work, but reaping most of the rewards. The clan was always very hands-on, especially Grandpa. And farm work makes you strong, teaches you stamina. Of course he was good in a fight, when it came to that. Even those who had other jobs were hard workers, so I'm sure they all managed to hold their own."

Woodman nodded. “I suppose that stands to reason. But getting to my point... the one who really surprised me was your great-grandmother; farm work or no, she was too old to do any real fighting. But I can personally attest to her gumption. Toward the end of the battle, I was searching your clan's manor, for anyone who might be hiding. Not to kill them, or anything, you understand; but to evacuate them. Of course you've seen that all the buildings and trees and, well, everything on your estate was demolished, either during or immediately after the battle. There were rumors, of course, that the clan's children had been taken in by various families sympathetic to the Protestant cause, but not directly involved in it. Still, before burning down the house, I wanted to make sure there were no children inside. I suppose the rumors must have been true, because I found the house deserted. I mean, almost deserted, except for your great-grandmother. When I approached her and tried to convince her to leave, for her own safety, she refused. In fact, it was she who gave me these scars. I never saw the blade until it had sliced my cheek; I still can't believe how fast her hand moved. But it wasn't quite fast enough. Her second swipe grazed my throat, and if I had been a split second slower in jumping back, I'm sure I would have died then and there. Which hardly seems a fitting way to thank me for trying to spare her life. So... I didn't. But I suppose it was at least merciful that I took her life with my sword. Surely it was a quicker and less painful death than it would have been to let her burn along with the house. Don't you think?"

Darius remained silent for half a centhour. Finally, he said, "Please do not confuse my lack of passion for a lack of feeling. It's true that I often bemoan the fact that my feelings for my family are not as deep as I might wish them to be. It's also true that even when I do feel things deeply, I'm not usually good at displaying those feelings. But that doesn't mean I don't care at all. Nor does it mean I don't hate you for what you've done. It simply means, as you suggested earlier, that I refuse to be baited. Not that it would prove anything if I did allow my hatred to erupt in a violent- but quite futile- display of anger. The only thing that would accomplish would be to entertain you. The fact is, this little history lesson has nothing to do with the present. I suppose it's understandable that one would think I desire vengeance against those responsible for the deaths of my relatives, which might drive me to rebellion. But just because it's understandable, doesn't make it so. Before the war, I was actually in favor of the Coming, and often argued with my father about it. Certainly their deaths made me reconsider my stance, but that was a long time ago. I was a child, and in no position to do anything about it. I must admit, at the time, I entertained the occasional revenge fantasies, but I've long since outgrown all that. Will I ever forgive the Order? I very much doubt it. But can I really blame them? Blame any of you? No, not really. In fact, my friend Ginger said the same thing, recently. She may hate the Order for killing her father, but she doesn't blame them, because it was his choice to oppose them. The same can be said of my own clan. If they'd simply accepted the Coming, they'd still be alive today. Well, probably not Grandma Millith... I expect she would have died of natural causes, by now. In any event, as the years passed, my hatred subsided. I came to see that I'd been right in the first place, to believe that the goals of the Order were for the betterment of the world. And while I certainly can't approve of the methods employed to accomplish those goals... I am glad that those goals were achieved. It's true that because of the way my mind works, I'm never going to be entirely comfortable in any world; but on the whole, I'd say I like the world better as it is now than I did as it was. So you see, I have no reason to rebel. And I think the same holds true for all my companions. A strong and valid case could be made for any of us wanting to rebel, but the fact is... we're innocent."

Woodman sighed. "Very well. I must say, I enjoyed that little speech more than anything you've said heretofore. Perhaps you'll be more fun than I thought. But I'm afraid I don't buy it, so the game must go on. Not sure when, as I have plenty of regular duties to keep me busy, but I'll stop by whenever I can." He stood, folded up his chair, and said, "Good day, Mr. Lonewander." Again he left, and locked the door behind him.

Darius picked up both paper bags, which the colonel had left behind, and crumpled them up. He lay back down with the bags behind his head. They made for a terrible pillow. He sighed and said, "Light off." Twenty seconds later, he exclaimed, "Dammit! Light on." He went to the water closet, took his one hand towel, laid it over the crumpled bags, and once again lay down. "Not great, but I wish I'd thought of using the towel last night. Light off."

3

At the same time Darius was having his second chat with Woodman, Cameron received a visitor of his own. "Hello," he said. "My name is René Deadzone, and I'll be working closely with you for the foreseeable future. You may be interested to know, Mr. Piper- can I call you Cameron?"

"No."

"As you like. You may be interested to know, Mr. Piper, that your cell is identical to those of your companions, but for one detail. Whereas your cell obviously has three doors, the others all have but two. Of course you know that one is the entrance to the cell itself, and the other is the entrance to the water closet. But I bet you've been wondering what's behind door number three, haven't you?"

"Not particularly."

"Oh, come now! Anyone would be curious about a locked door. Especially anyone who's used to being able to simply scry the other side... but who suddenly find themself incapable of doing so. Don't tell me you haven't tried."

"I tried translocating out of here, but I didn't expect to succeed. And I didn't. Of course there's an anti-magic spell covering my cell. I couldn't translocate, I couldn't do an illumination spell, or intangibility, or anything else... so I figured I couldn't scry, either."

"Okay. I'm a little disappointed that the door didn't pique your curiosity, but... fair enough. Anyway, I'm here to tell you... on the other side of that door is my own private work room." He unlocked the door, and put his hand on the knob. "And since I'm a Sorreter, myself, it would hardly do for my room to be covered by an anti-magic spell. Now, would you like me to show you the room?"

"Not interested."

"Not even knowing that it's possible to perform magic in there?"

"Nope."

"Well... too bad. You get one chance to turn me down on something, and you already used it by not letting me call you by your first name. So..." he put his hand on Cameron's back, turned the knob, pushed open the door, and shoved the prisoner into the room. "In you go!" Deadzone followed him in, and closed the door. "Light on," he said.

Cameron gazed around the room. There was another door at the far end, presumably locked, and also presumably with a pair of guards waiting outside, in case he should try to escape that way. The room itself contained a desk and chair, a bookshelf, a large cabinet, a sink, and what looked like an operating table.

He looked back at Deadzone, who was holding his hand palm-up, with a fireball hovering just above it. "See, I told you magic was possible in here. You want to give it a try, now?"

Cameron sighed, turned his own palm up, and tried creating a fireball. He failed. "What kind of trick is this? Did you cast an anti-magic spell over particular spots in the room? Or over me personally?"

Deadzone grinned. "Nope. Well, not exactly. I suppose your latter guess was close enough to the truth, but it's actually more complicated than that. Buuut, I probably shouldn't explain it in detail. Trade secret, you know. I learned this particular spell from my former master, who developed it himself, years ago. As far as I know, he and I are the only two people in the world who know the spell. And while you won't be learning to cast the spell, you may take some pride in learning that you are now one of three people in the world who even know that such a spell exists. Doesn't that make you feel special?"

"Not really."

"Spoil sport. Oh, by the way, would you like to know the name of my master? I believe you may have heard of him."

"It doesn't matter how I answer any of your questions, does it? You're just going to tell me, so go ahead and tell me."

Deadzone's grin widened. "His name is Durell Turner. And while I'm sure he'd love to meet you in person, he's a very busy man, wearing three hats, as he does. Chief Councillor, Grand Sorreter, and bishop of Sorret. So, he's entrusted me with the task of getting you to reveal the information he's after."

"Good luck with that."

"Tch. I was hoping we could do this the easy way. Not expecting it, mind you, but hoping. Oh well." He cast a force field around Cameron, to prevent him from moving, then went to the far door and called in the guards. "Help me get him on the table, would you?"

Once Cameron was strapped down, Deadzone thanked the guards, and dismissed them. When they'd left the room, he broke the force field. "Now, let's get down to business. First order of which is to determine just how powerful you are, using a well-known spell that was also developed by my master. I'm sure you've had a chakra gauge spell performed on you before, when you first became an apprentice. Of course, all new apprentice Sorreters have had their chakra measured, in the few decades since Durell created the spell. And now, I'll use a fresh test to verify your identity. You see, Durell copied various files before the Protestant Sorreters destroyed them, so he has a record of, oh, many things about many people... including the innate chakra level of the person he suspects you of being. If I find your level matches, then I guess we'll have our answer. In fact, I've been working on a new spell, myself. A refinement of Durell's spell, to not only measure a person's base level of chakra, but analyze its precise pattern. It's something like the way we'd map out the entire molecular makeup of a person or object for translocation, but much quicker, since it involves detailing only a fraction of the body's total energy, with little or no concern paid to physical matter. Ultimately, I hope to create a spell device that can perform a chakra analysis, which people such as the police could use as a way of identifying suspects. I expect it will be, oh, a year or so before I complete my work. But in the meantime, I think Durell's spell will suffice to confirm his suspicion."

The chakra gauge was quick and painless. When it was done, Deadzone consulted the notes that Durell had provided about Cam. "Ding ding ding ding ding! We have a winner! Pleased to meet you, Cam! ...Now, don't worry, I won't address you by your given name again. We had a deal, and I intend to honor it. From here on out, you are 'Mr. Piper.' I must say, though... we have eyes everywhere, so I've had a chance to look over both police and gang reports concerning you and your associates. And you know, there were a couple of detectives in Tonad who seemed quite impressed by your magical stamina, as did the chief spy of LandOrder's Tonad branch. But you don't seem all that special to me."

"Well, I'm sure they've just never heard of a mana battery."

"No, I suppose they wouldn't have. Oh well. A bit disappointing, but... I'll get over it. Now, back to work. Second order of business is making you talk. Which I'm afraid will require a great deal more time and suffering than the first order did; but on the bright side, it is the final order of business. Well, at least as far as I'm concerned. After I've gotten my answers, however many days, weeks, months, or even years from now that may be... then you become someone else's problem.

"Before we begin, I should tell you that I've heard from a friend that I shouldn't leave any marks on you, at least for the first day or two. You'll see why, before long. It involves an invention of his, which, like my own planned invention, will be used for purposes of identification, but... in a much different way. Anyway, until then, I have plenty of ways of causing pain that won't be visible to anyone looking at the outside of you...."

4

It was on Tuesday morning, the day after the Cabal's conference, that Colonel Woodman received a call from Mr. Yellow. He was in his regular office at the time, where a signal alerted him to an incoming call in the other office. He immediately went there and answered the call.

"Good morning, Colonel. I have your announcement prepared, and you may bubblecast it whenever you're ready. Though I'd have your man Sanguine inform Commissioner Gothic beforehand, if I were you. You know, I actually thought for awhile, as I was writing the announcement, that it might be best to hold off on revealing that we have the rebels in custody, until after the new law I'm planning was already in place. But it occurred to me that that might well look suspicious. I'd rather that people think it was your announcement that inspired Congress to consider drafting the law, so they don't suspect we already knew you had the prisoners. It was actually that thought which inspired the final draft of the announcement."

"Ah... thank you, Mr. Yellow. I'll look over the text, and see if I can arrange to make the announcement on the evening news. By the way, I've heard from Macen that a friend of his has developed a new spell device, which could come in handy. It's called a camera, and it creates still images of things. He was thinking we could use it to- what was the phrase he used? Oh yes, to 'take pictures' of the prisoners, and display them when making the announcement. Personally, I don't see how it's different from video bubbles, especially for displaying images on bubble-screens, though I suppose in the future cameras could be useful for printing hard copies of such images. But before I make the announcement, do you have an opinion on whether we should release their images? Or their names, even?"

"You'll find their names are already in the text of the announcement, so I see no harm in releasing pictures of them, as well."

"Thank you again, Mr. Yellow."

"Not at all. Good day, Colonel." He transferred the text, then said, "Close."

5

It was about eight hours later that Zeke Sanguine called Mufasa Gothic, to tell him he should turn on the news at Third Three, and to apologize for the fact that his employer had altered the terms of their arrangement. Gothic wanted to know what he meant by that, but Sanguine just said, "Watch the news. You'll see."

About two centhours into the bubblecast, the news 'anchor' (an Earth term that had quickly come to be used on the Land in the last few weeks, even if it didn't make much sense to anyone, since reporting had nothing to do with ships) said, "Our top story tonight is a special announcement from Colonel Charles Woodman, commander of the Near Port regiment of the Army. While he's assured us that this will be of considerable interest to the public, he hasn't shared the subject of the announcement with us. We're planning on discussing whatever he has to say, after he's said it, though we haven't had time to prepare our thoughts, obviously. We take you now, live, to Army Headquarters, in Near Port."

The screen's image of the anchor and his fellow reporters was replaced by an image of Colonel Woodman, sitting in his office. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The news I am about to present to you is both disturbing and, I hope, reassuring. However, I don't doubt that it will also lead to a great degree of debate, in various circles. While most people- including many Protestants who once opposed the Coming of the Order- would agree that the world has been a better place for just about everyone, since the establishment of the Second Order eight years ago, there have always been those who have resented the outcome of the war, and who would seek to undo the changes brought about by the Coming. Until recently, such people have posed no real threat to the establishment, seeming content merely to grumble. But recently, a small group of malcontents began making plans to secretly build up a serious, renewed opposition to the Order. They call themselves 'the Chaos.' While it is unclear exactly how great this group's numbers have grown, we are lucky to have learned of the potential rebellion in its infancy. It is hoped that by stopping its leaders, any followers they may thus far have recruited will rethink any plans of rebellion, realizing they have no chance of success.

"The police first became aware of this threat less than a month ago, but having no proof of the rebels' true intentions, attempted to question them, hoping the matter could be resolved peacefully. There was some indication that the Chaos had allied themselves with one of the Land's two major inter-village gangs, LandOrder, though the possibility existed that that was merely a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the rebels refused to cooperate with the police, instead assaulting an agent of InterVil, and fleeing. This, in itself, makes them seem even more suspicious, but it's not the only thing they've done that makes them look guilty. Among the Chaos is an ex-Sorreter, who has used his magic to prevent police Sorreters from discovering their whereabouts. We also have reason to believe they have been in contact with a number of potential allies, to help them organize their rebellion.

"In spite of the alleged rebels' skill at evading observation, I believe that we will soon obtain irrefutable evidence of the plans they've been making and the allies they've been gathering. However, while I respect the police, and the principles that guide them- principles which preclude them from taking firm action against the Chaos- I too have sworn to defend my country and its people. I also believe that while it is and should be the responsibility of the police to deal with civil criminals, the acts these people have allegedly been planning are acts of war, and the Chaos should therefore be dealt with by the military. And as much as I believe in the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty,' there are some threats that warrant decisive preemptive action. While it makes sense that the police must wait for civil crimes to be committed before taking action, when it comes to rebellion, we as a country cannot afford to wait. If we did, there might be no authorities left in a position to react. Action against accused rebels must, of necessity, be preventive, rather than reactive.

"Which brings me to the reassuring part of this announcement, which I mentioned earlier. Two nights ago, I led a company of soldiers in apprehending the Chaos, who were closing in on Near Port. It seems a reasonable assumption that they intended to attack Army Headquarters, to launch their rebellion. We have prevented that from happening. And, for the reasons I have already established, I call now upon Congress and/or King Demos to draft a law granting the military the legal right to try anyone accused of crimes against the government, rather than leaving the police and the civil courts to deal with them. If the executive and legislative branches of the government refuse to draft such a law, or the judicial branch refuses to enact it, then I would either release the prisoners, or turn them over to civilian authorities. I would also voluntarily submit to being relieved of command, if those above me considered such action appropriate. I apologize for taking unilateral and unauthorized action, in apprehending the suspects, but I hope both my superiors and the public will agree that I had the best interests of all of you at heart. However, unless and until my request has been denied, after due consideration by the government, I shall stand by my decision.

"Finally, I believe it is the public's right to know the identities of the accused. If they are found innocent, I implore you to treat them as such. However, I would be remiss if I didn't also warn you to be on your guard around them, in the event that my superiors order their release without trial. It's also important for their potential followers to know this is not a bluff. Your leaders have been stopped, and if you take any action against the legal government of the Land, you also will be stopped." The video image of Woodman was replaced by still images of each of the prisoners in succession, as he named them. "Darius Lonewander, the suspected founder and leader of the Chaos, and son of Adam of Triscot, who was one of the most prominent leaders of the Protestant Movement. Alecstar Inco, formerly known as Major Alec of Kimrin, who deserted the Army at the Battle of Triscot. Ginger Protestant, daughter of Therman, the founder of the Protestant Movement. Cameron Piper, ex-Sorreter, a follower of former Grand Sorreter Drag, who fought against the Army during the Coming. Tom Morales, a man who is not known to have taken part in the war, but whose disdain for the government is so strong that he'd rather allow people to believe he's in breach of the surname law than admit to having a last name. Emma Pseud, who exiled herself because she disagreed with her parents' choice to side with the Order, during the Coming, and even changed her surname to distance herself from them. And Tiejo, a street rat who is believed to have been involved with the Protestant Movement, during the Coming."

The image of Woodman resumed. "That is all. I leave it to all of you, in the government, the police, as well as the general public, to decide for yourselves whether my actions have been justified, and what the next step should be. Thank you, and good night." The colonel ceased transmission, and the display returned to the news studio, where the anchor and reporters sat in stunned silence, before launching into a debate which lasted far longer than had been allotted for the evening's program. The top story turned out to be the only story that got reported, that night....

6

First Village

Police Commissioner Mufasa Gothic and his wife, Alanna, were sitting in the parlor of their friends, Chief Magistrate Thomas Justicar and his wife, Gina. While Tom and Gina were in the kitchen, finishing up the dinner they were preparing for their guests, Mufasa and Alanna were watching the news. The Justicars were among the first people to get a home-PA bubble-screen installed in their home, while the majority of Landians could still only see or hear bubblecasts in public places. It was because of this that the Gothics, who'd been en route to the Justicars' home when Mufasa received a call from Zeke Sanguine, knew they wouldn't have to cancel their dinner plans in order to heed Sanguine's advice. When Colonel Woodman began speaking, Mufasa immediately called Tom into the room. As soon as the announcement was completed, Thomas turned off the bubble, uninterested in hearing what any of the reporters had to say about it. He and Mufasa turned to look at each other, and the latter said, "That son of a monog! He can't do that, can he? He's damn right he's gonna be relieved of command, and if I have anything to say about it, he'll end up in jail, himself! What on the Land would make him think he could get away with this? ...Do you suppose Durell had anything to do with this? We both know how badly he wanted to get his hands on that ex-Sorreter...."

"It would be unwise to make any accusations, or even ask such a question, publicly. At least not without proof, and Chief Councillor Turner isn't the type to let any evidence lead back to himself. That speech did sound more like something that would have been written by a politician than a soldier, though. Which makes me wonder if Demos or someone in Congress already knew about this. But again, I'm not going to be engaging in any public speculation, myself. We'll just have to wait and see if the law the colonel suggested gets drafted."

"And then you can see to it that it doesn't pass, in the High Court."

"Well, it's not as though I can single-handled prevent such a thing. Nor am I certain I want to. I agree that Woodman has overstepped his bounds, but I don't necessarily believe it would be a bad law. He does have a point, even if he broke existing laws to make it."

"But-"

"Listen, my friend... don't let's allow this matter to ruin our evening, especially for our wives' sake. You and I can discuss this tomorrow. For now, let's just forget about it, and enjoy a good meal."

Mufasa sighed. "You're right, as always. Alanna, Gina, I apologize."

"No worries," said Alanna. "I look forward to discussing the matter when we get home."

"As do I, when they leave," Gina said to Thomas. Turning to her guests, she added, "Oh, but don't hurry off! I'm much more immediately interested in sharing the company of good friends."

And so, the four of them adjourned to the dining room. Meanwhile, other people were reacting to the announcement, all around the world....

***

Dirk Noir received a call from Gillian Mancer. "This isn't what I was expecting," she said. "Did you know about this?"

"Of course," said Dirk. "Well... since yesterday morning, anyway. Listen, you know as well as I that the picture we have of the future is fragmented, to say the least. I'm sure the capture of the Chaos is a necessary step along the path toward that future. We may not know exactly how that future will be arrived at, but arrived at it shall most assuredly be, my friend."

"I know... It's just that little surprises like this don't make it any easier to work out plans on how to use the things we do know in advance."

"I understand. But it can't be helped. Still, I have faith in you, and in all of us. We wouldn't be where we are today if we couldn't roll with the punches."

"True. Well, I suppose we should let the details take care of themselves. We've got bigger things to prepare for..."

***

Callum Monogwrangle received the news with a grin, though it soon subsided. "I'm a bit torn. I'm bloody glad to hear those losers have been captured; but I do wish it could've been InterVil that caught them. Oh well, I expect that self-righteous colonel will get what's coming to him, even if it takes a bit longer than it does for the Chaos."

Plist

The members of Black Radly were sitting at the bar in the Boar & Bear, celebrating the fact that they'd just signed a contract with a music agent, who'd recently heard them play a gig at that very inn. Though the agent said it could be several months, at least, before he got them a deal to produce an album, the kids were all very excited. All the more so because George Taverner had recently gotten a bubble-speaker installed, so that customers could listen to the radio. This meant he'd be hiring live bands far less often, which represented savings for him, but wasn't so great for bands like Black Radly. So they counted themselves lucky to have caught a break before it was too late; though George reminded them there were still plenty of other venues for bands, many of them far better than the Boar & Bear.

It was as he was saying this that an old friend of his walked in and said, "Hey, Georgie boy," she said with a smile, "what's new?"

He looked up and said, "Lor, long time no see! Oh, let me introduce you to my nephew, Marc Protestant, and his band. They're called Black Radly. These here are Anja, Jae, and Rain. If you really want to know what's new, they've just gotten an agent. This time next year, they may well be big celebrities with a best-selling bubble album. So, what's new with you? Oh, wait, I almost forgot to introduce you to the kids. Kids, this is Lorelei Chicory. She's an adventurer, and an old friend. Stops in every couple years or so."

"Pleased to meet you all," said Lor. "I look forward to buying your album. Meanwhile, George, I notice you've got one of those new radio things. Been seeing them all over the place, recently. I hope this doesn't mean you'll never have live entertainment, again."

"Oh, I'm sure it'll be less often, but I wouldn't give up on it entirely."

Just then, the music died away and was replaced by the evening news. Audio only, but George saw no reason to go to the expense of installing a screen as well as a speaker. They all stopped talking to listen to Woodman's announcement.

When the colonel finished speaking, George turned off the radio, and everyone sat in silence for a centhour, unsure what to say about this turn of events. Finally, Lorelei said, "Dammit, Darius, you and I have an appointment in seven years. I was hoping to see you any number of times before then, but you absolutely cannot miss that date. So you damn well better get out of this predicament before then."

She'd forced herself to sound annoyed, but after saying that, she turned to George with tears welling up in her eyes. "He will get out of it, right?"

"Oh, don't worry about him. He and his friends are all perfectly capable folks. I have every confidence they'll be okay. Just you wait and see." He paused a moment, then poured ales for Lorelei, himself, and the four teenagers. "Let's have a toast... to the Chaos. They got their start right here, and I fully expect them to return here, one day soon. When that day comes, I'll serve them all a drink on the house, and we'll laugh about that colonel's foolish attempt to stop them from achieving their destiny."

"Hear, hear," said Lorelei. And the six of them drank to their absent friends.

***

Maeve Protestant began receiving t-mail calls from friends. It was from the first caller that she received the news; after the fourth call, she set her entire bubble supply to silent mode, not wanting to talk to anyone else. She said a prayer to God to protect Ginger. And then, even though she knew he wouldn't hear her, she also said, with tears in her eyes, "Therman... oh, my dear, please watch over our daughter..."

***

Don Chieftain called Capp Primus to apologize for getting LandOrder involved with the Chaos, but Primus told him not to worry about it. He immediately called a meeting of all his dons, to discuss the implications of this turn of events, and make some decisions about what to do next... and how this might affect the plans to potentially hire Silas Des'Caina away from InterGang.

Tonad

Detectives Joe Levitn and Lou Clueseek were at their desks, making plans for what to do after work, when the news came on. When it was over, they went to Chief Masonjar to ask if this meant they could finally mark the case as closed.

"Thought you woulda done that weeks ago."

"Well, we haven't given it much thought lately," said Levitn, "seeing as they've been out of our jurisdiction. But we figured we should be ready for them in case they ever returned to Tonad. But now I'm thinking they won't."

"You're probably right about that. So... whatever. I don't know what to make of Woodman's announcement, but I reckon it's Mufasa's problem, now."

"Right. Thanks, Chief." As the detectives turned and left Masonjar's office, Levitn said, "So... drinks at Cally's?"

"Actually," said Clueseek, "in honor of the Chaos, how about the Apple-Spruce? That's where this all started, after all."

Levitn laughed. "Sure, why not?"

***

Larami Illuminatus sat in her office at InterGang's Tonad branch, contemplating Woodman's announcement. She felt it terribly unlikely that the colonel would have acted on his own, this way. Surely he wouldn't so blatantly break the law without some reason to believe the law would be on his side. Probably he had friends in the government who put him up to this, friends who must have suggested to him the law that he himself just now suggested to... well, the world. It wasn't hard to guess the reason for the powers that be wanting to give more authority to the military, but of course they couldn't do so without public opinion on their side. Which made her wonder whether the whole alleged rebellion was for real, or if the Chaos themselves were part of Demos's machinations.

Either way, she hated the fact that Seth Manager had turned out to be right in recommending InterGang take an interest in them. Or maybe... well, she knew that he had connections to both Demos Royal and Durell Turner, and God only knew how many other people who wouldn't want the public knowing they associated with gangsters. So it was entirely possible Seth had made his recommendation to capo Mysshroudedtery specifically to set off the chain of events that led to this moment. Maybe Larami herself had even been part of his machinations. Putting herself in Seth's shoes, she tried to imagine what he'd expect her to do in response to his own actions... and she had to admit, she'd probably been quite predictable. It was almost unbearably galling to think he'd manipulated her into causing the very incident that first got the Chaos noticed. But on the other hand, if it hadn't been for the reprimand from the capo, for her actions, she never would have come up with the idea to start her own gang. Perhaps for that, she owed Seth thanks. But no... he still deserved payback, and she'd find a way to get to him. She supposed the only way to do that would be to turn Mysshroudedtery against him... and to do that, she'd have to first find a way to turn Seth against the capo.

Well, she'd figure out how to do that another time. For now, she concentrated on deciding how best to use Woodman's announcement, and the political situation it was bound to stir up, to her own advantage. Her plans to leave InterGang and officially start the Illuminati were basically all in place; she was merely waiting for the right time to make her move. Now she began to wonder if the colonel's actions could lead to conflict between the police and the Army, as well as conflict between InterVil and Congress. If things got sufficiently chaotic in the coming weeks, that might be a good time to break away. And yet, if the authorities were squabbling amongst themselves, it could leave all the gangs in a better position. If Mysshroudedtery didn't have to worry about the police, she could focus all her attentions on retaliating against Larami. And the capo's wrath was something that worried Larami even more than how the police would respond to her establishing a new inter-village gang, whether they were distracted or not. So perhaps it would be best to wait a bit longer, to ensure that the police were in a position to serve as a deterrent to InterGang starting a war against the Illuminati, when the new gang made its existence known. In fact, the stronger the police's position, the better... a thought which made Larami laugh, realizing this was probably the first time she'd ever thought such a thing. But it occurred to her that the police would be at their strongest if Quinn Darkstrider won the election, later this year. That idea also appealed to her for the more nebulous reason that InterGang and LandOrder had always benefited from Demos being in office, so... if she intended for the Illuminati to be different, it seemed oddly appropriate for her gang to have no such ties to government. And yet, it amused her to think that she might play some small part in putting Darkstrider in office, whether he knew it or not. And perhaps the best way to do that, would be to fan the flames of the public's fear of a gang war. It would be tricky- and risky- but if she timed it just right... launching her gang close enough to the election that Mysshroudedtery wouldn't have time to strike back, but early enough to have an effect on the vote... Yes, such a move could make people more inclined to elect Darkstrider. Which would have not one, but two practical applications. On top of Darkstrider's victory making the police stronger, Demos's loss would make the gangs weaker....

***

Jasp Underground and Cabbit Atwater were having drinks at a pub, pointedly avoiding the subject of the news they'd heard earlier about the Chaos. Suddenly, someone grabbed a chair from a nearby table, and set it down, backwards, in front of their table. The newcomer sat down and said, "Hey, Jasp, I trust you've heard the news."

Cabbit had jumped up before the newcomer had even sat down, and there was now a dagger in her hand. Jasp had remained seated, put up a hand to calm his friend, and said, "Please, sit down. Cabbit, this is Tino. He's with the Chaos." She put her dagger away, and sat back down. "Tino, this is Cabbit. I know I mentioned her at least a couple of times while I was with your group, though I can't recall for sure if you were ever with us, at the time. You're kind of unpredictable, you know. Which reminds me... I guess it's not entirely surprising that you weren't with the others, in Woodman's announcement, though I can't help wondering why you're in Tonad, rather than Near Port."

"I know... after Triscot, I should have headed north, not... well, southeast. But one good thing about the Coming, ever since then you can find Sorreters in every village, not just Sorret. So I figured I could hire one to translocate me to Near Port, to catch up with my friends. Wasn't exactly counting on this though. Anyway, I had some personal business here in Tonad, and when I heard the news, I thought that as long as I'm here, I might as well stop in and see you. I was hoping... maybe you could talk to your superiors in LandOrder, on behalf of the Chaos. I'm sure this has already got them seriously rethinking their involvement with us, but I can assure you... Darius's dream isn't dead. I can't tell you how I know this, but I'm absolutely certain that things are going to work out for the Chaos, sooner or later."

Jasp and Cabbit turned to look at each other, and grinned. They looked back to Tino, and Jasp said, "Yeah, so I've heard."

Tino looked confused. "You've heard? From who?"

"You have your secrets, I have mine. Anyway, it's not important, right now. Meanwhile, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. Capo Primus and the dons will do whatever they decide to do; I have no say in the matter. And anyway, LandOrder has plenty of other things to worry about."

Tino sighed. "Okay, I understand. But regardless of what your gang decides, I hope you personally don't forget about us."

Jasp smirked "Oh, don't worry. I have it on the same authority that the Chaos will succeed, that I will someday get involved with them again. Now... can I buy you a drink, or something? Cabbit and I were basically trying to forget about this news, and we'd be happy to have you join us, if you'll stop talking about it."

"Uh... thanks, but no. I've actually got other things to do. Cabbit, it was a pleasure meeting you," he said with a grin. "I hope one of these days I have time to sit and chat."

"Me too. Though I was wondering... you do have one of those bittrickle bubbles, right? Why didn't you just use that to contact someone higher up than us?"

"I... am not the most... deeply involved, or serious member of the Chaos. As far as I recall, Jasp here is the only person in LandOrder I've ever even spoken to. So I didn't really feel comfortable introducing myself for the first time via t-mail. But that does remind me, Jasp, when you talk with your don, you might mention my handle is Burger Guy. See, if I had just called, no one would have known my handle. And the only person in LandOrder whose handle I know is don Amalgamator's."

Cabbit grinned. "Burger Guy?"

Tino shrugged. "What can I say? I like hamburgers. And I was trying to think of something so random that it wouldn't be likely for our enemies to guess."

"Okay," said Jasp. "I'll let him know. But since I didn't stick with you guys long enough to get a bittrickle bubble of my own, I don't have a handle, which means there's been no reason for Breakhead or anyone else to tell me theirs."

"Oh well. I probably won't be calling anyone, anyway, but at least I'll be able to take part in any group calls anyone makes on the network. Anyway... good night, and take care, both of you. I'm sure I'll see you again, sometime."

"Good night," said Jasp and Cabbit in unison, as Tino stood up. He returned his chair to the table from which he'd taken it, turned back to the spies and waved, then turned again and left the pub.

Jump Village

Marian and John were having supper at a diner, when the news came on the bubble-speaker. They both stopped eating when they heard the word 'Chaos.' When the announcement had been completed, John said, "Wow, that sucks. I hope they'll be alright. Sure glad we didn't go with them, though." Marian said nothing, and did her best to keep her face neutral. After a centhour, she took a swig of her kriek lambic, and went back to her meal. John realized her silence meant she didn't want to talk about it, so he went back to eating, as well.

Tanq

Dex Bigthink momentarily wondered if he should have played the incident with Agent Monogwrangle very differently, but quickly decided he'd done what seemed appropriate, given the information he had at the time. And he didn't believe that there would now be an adverse effect on his business. As for the Chaos themselves, it was a shame to lose them as clients, but after learning Monogwrangle may have been right about them, he probably would have dropped them, anyway. Though he still hoped they received a fair trial. Meanwhile, he supposed he should probably give Frank a call....

Triscot

Adam was just getting home to the estate he kept as Evan Wayfarer, where he was greeted by Sidney. 'Evan' had had a bubble-screen installed not long after the PA system was unveiled for Demos's speech, a couple of weeks earlier. Now, he and Sidney watched the news with heavy hearts. When it was over, Sidney asked, "Begging your pardon, sir, but... do you suppose the mention of 'potential allies' might include you?"

Adam sighed. "Possibly, though there've been no signs that they've discovered the underground path. Still, we should all be more cautious, from now on. On the other hand, it may be time for the clan to consider coming out of hiding. We might be safer in the public eye. But that's not what troubles me most, right now."

"Naturally, sir. I'm sure it won't be easy to share this news with Alyn, or any of the others. At least we may take some comfort that Thew wasn't mentioned. Perhaps they parted ways before the others were captured."

"Hopefully. Anyway, no point in putting this off; we should head back to our real home. But first... could you get the staff to have a look around, make sure we're not under observation?"

"I will, of course, though I daresay it wouldn't make much difference at this point, if they've been watching us since Darius and his friends left. Besides which, we could always be under magical surveillance."

"Right. Well, never mind, then. Maybe it's just as well not to let them know we even suspect we're being watched. But I really wish I had an entrance to the tunnel in the manor itself, rather than just the barn."

"Indeed. And by the way, sir... I truly believe Darius will come out of this alright."

"Thank you, Sidney. I don't plan on giving up hope, either."

***

Elliott Dragonpen was in a pub when he heard the news. He immediately went outside and ducked into an alley to call Drag, and let him know not to expect any reports from Cameron, for the foreseeable future.

***

On the outskirts of Triscot, the Vole and his friends were a bit troubled by the news, though most of them hadn't really thought the encounter they'd had with Tiejo a couple of weeks earlier would ever amount to anything, anyway. Meanwhile, one of the street rats in the group simply thought to himself, Nice to see my camera idea is being put to good use.

Shanty

Lance and Brynne began making plans to go to Triscot and visit the Lonewander clan, feeling this was an important time for family to be together.

Woodstockade

Zarrin and Gema Des'Lossin and their children all worried about Emma. Gema asked Zarrin if there was any way he might get in touch with Admiral Portman, and see if there was anything that could be done on behalf of their daughter. He said he'd try, but didn't expect to succeed.

***

Elsewhere in Woodstockade, the head of a group of elves who had been planning on founding a new village in the near future, felt a sudden burst of inspiration, after hearing the announcement. He immediately called for a meeting of his associates to convene at the earliest convenience, to discuss the new ideas which were suddenly swirling in his mind.

Kimrin

Colonel Stavros Supprus was having dinner with his wife and son. "Leopold, how many times do I have to tell you to turn off that radio when we're eating?"

"Sorry, Dad. I was just about to, though. There won't be any music for awhile; the news is coming on, now. Blah."

Just before Leopold turned it off, Stavros heard the voice of Colonel Woodman. "Wait, turn it back on."

"Gee, Dad, make up your mind," his son said sarcastically, as he turned it back on.

As they listened to the announcement, Stavros and his wife exchanged concerned glances, though their son had no idea what any of it meant. To him, the news was just boring noise. When it was over, Stavros said, "Okay, you can turn it off, again."

His wife asked, "So... what does this mean? How does it affect your plans?"

"I'm not sure exactly, Sev. I just know I'm going to have to do a little more thinking, and a lot more acting. Though maybe not right away. For the immediate future, I think we'll have to put our plans on hold. But before too long, we'll have to get bolder, and do things on a faster timetable."

"What about Marshal Primus?"

"I have no idea. I don't expect him to approve of Woodman's actions, but if the government backs him up, there'll be little or nothing Primus can do about it. Which may turn out to be good for us." He shook his head. "I just don't know."

"What are you guys talking about?" asked Leopold.

"We'll tell you when you're older," said his mother. "Now eat your vegetables."

***

Meanwhile, somewhere in the northern plains of Near Land, Taryn and Josh Hillrat were en route to Kimrin, accompanied by Thew Protestant. Suddenly, the t-mail bubble Tiejo had given Taryn chimed for the first time. "Um, identify caller?" she said.

"Arnold Sullenhest for Taryn Hillrat."

"Okay... open."

"Ms. Hillrat, I received a call the other day from a fairly recent acquaintance of mine by the name of Tiejo Streetrat. He wanted me to call you, and make a determination as to whether you, and perhaps your brother, might be the sort of people who would be of a mind to join a certain... fellowship. I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to it before now... but first, I should ask... is this on speaker?"

"Uh... I guess so. I mean... we can all hear you, if that's what you mean."

"I trust it's just you and your brother?"

"Actually, there's a boy with us named Thew, who was traveling with Tiejo and his friends. One of them was Thew's cousin."

"Thew, I believe I met you just before you all left Triscot."

"Sort of. Anyway, I'm not involved in my cousin's plans, but I know enough about them to know why you wouldn't want to speak openly about those plans. But I've gotten to know these folks a bit over the past couple of days, and I think you can trust them. In fact, I'll just go ahead and say it: the people with whom I was traveling until we met the other day are sort of planning a rebellion. Maybe. They don't seem to have fully decided yet. At least, they want to try to make some changes peacefully, but if that becomes impossible, they want to be prepared for war."

This took Taryn and Josh by surprise, but it was probably the first time since Thew had met Josh that he seemed particularly interested in anything. "Well," said Josh, "now you're talking!"

"I take it, then," said Arnold, "that the two of you would be interested in taking part in such an endeavor?"

"My brother certainly would," said Taryn. "I've never given such matters any thought. But I've nothing against the idea. So... convince me."

"Ah, yes. Well, I should start by explaining why I chose this moment, in particular, to call. The thing is... it seems Thew's cousin, and Tiejo, and their friends, have been imprisoned by the Army, in Near Port."

"That's not a very convincing argument for joining them," said Taryn.

"Would you like us to organize a jail break?" asked Josh.

"I wouldn't advise it," said Arnold. "But I would appreciate it if you could make some clandestine inquiries among the 'rat communities in at least Kimrin and Near Port, find out if anyone would be interested in taking part in a rebellion, and then get back to me. I definitely don't think you should take any action on your own, but... perhaps see if you can get some street rats to watch Army headquarters, and if they see any sign of prison break taking place, lend some assistance. But not without talking to me first. Oh... Thew, I should have said, first of all, that I'm sorry about your cousin."

"Thanks. But he knew what he was getting into. They all did. That's kind of why they were reluctant to bring me along in the first place, and why they were happy to have me join these two."

"Of course. Well, I'd advise you to remain uninvolved."

"Don't worry," said Taryn. "We'll see that he stays out of trouble. Or at least that we don't help get him into any."

"Thank you. Now... as for convincing you why you should help the cause. I got the best reason not to do so out of the way, so now let me tell you why I think you should...."


chapter 43

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