Post Tue Dec 13, 2005 7:33 pm

Savant's Blood: Hecate's Bounty -- Chapter 5

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I am aware that it does not seem
like a gentleman's game. It is however
played for gentleman's stakes, and the
need for skill as well as muscle is
oh so apparent. The broken bones and
torn flesh are just a symptom...<BR>
<DIV ALIGN="RIGHT"><font style="font-size:12pt">—Bertram Tarrantil</DIV>
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<div align="center"><font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 18pt;">Chapter 5<BR>
<font style="font-family: Times New Roman; font-size: 16pt;">Turnover</div>
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There had been a time when Desiray would have been the last person in the world Wren would have wanted to see. Right now, her face with its jade green eyes, slim nose, and broad mouth was a welcome sight indeed. Wren threw her arms around the woman’s neck. Desiray hugged her back.

“Oh my,” Desiray said with a grin. “Missed me that much, eh? Sorry, the reunion will have to wait.” She grabbed Wren around the waist and leaped into the air. They shot up out of the alley and over the buildings. Bertram trailed them into the sky. The burly warrior looked none too comfortable flying, his broad face and blue eyes were set in concentration—the focus of someone who hated heights and was controlling his reaction.

“You knew we were there didn’t you?” Desiray asked.

“The shadows didn’t look right. I guessed.”

“Sending her over to look at those boxes was real close to cheating.”

“Hey, you heard me ask Beia the rules. I just pointed out the box had been moved, I didn’t say she should go over an examine it.”

“Pretty fine line.” Desiray laughed. “I love it!” She looked back. “I’m going to speed up. Those two are going to be really miffed.”

“I shant think Lady Beia will be after us in great haste,” Bertram called over the sound of the rushing wind. “It will take her a bit to extricate herself from the ground.”

“About one long breath,” Desiray said. She focused on Wren. “So, are you glad enough at seeing me to hand over that gem?”

“You know what I want to trade it for,” Wren said. “Beia can’t help me against Mishaka because of Aarlen. Dorian can’t be trusted. I don’t know about Tal and Algernon.”

“I’m still amazed you pulled that off,” Desiray breathed. They angled down toward a small square filled with trees. They set down lightly and Bertram landed behind them. Desiray clapped her male partner on the shoulder. “We picked up twenty with that move. So we have to set up our next raid. Get our points from the cache in D-4. I’ll meet you in E-7. We’ll see if we can’t catch someone going after that score.”

The man nodded to Desiray, then turned to Wren. “I apologize for my wife’s lack of manners.” He bowed took Wren’s hand and kissed it. “Bertram Tarrantil—at your service, pleased to make your acquaintance. Desiray spoke your praises to me at length. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity to chat.” He bowed. “Pardon, I must fly.” And he did—north—at high speed.

Wren blinked. She was stunned. Everything about that man had been sweet; his voice, his manners, even the way he dressed. So sweet it almost made her teeth hurt. She simply had to be mistaken. “Desiray, he—can’t be a—a—paladin. You can’t have a paladin for a partner! Can you?”

Desiray laughed. “Actually, he’s a more than my partner. Like he said—he’s my husband.”

Wren’s jaw dropped. A guildmistress and a justicar? How in all the realms had that happened? The clergy had resisted her marriage to Jharon, and she wasn’t an infamous crime lord—nor was Jharon a representative of church authority.

“He’s gorgeous, Desiray,” Wren muttered. “But a—paladin? How could you?”

“I promised to only steal from evil people.”

Somehow that made perfect sense. “I thought you were married to Loric and Brin.”

“I am—and Bertram too. It’s a little different arrangement... kind of hard to explain.”

“I bet.” She put that aside, there was a far bigger matter at hand. “Desiray, I came to your team because I’m in trouble and need your help—Sen’Gen are on the playfield trying to get me. If Algernon hadn’t flattened them, they would have already caught me. The moderator, Aarlen, is in on it. Dorian was going to help me until she found out—then she dropped me like a hot rock.”

“That self-serving witch. Some friend she is,” Desiray growled. “You’re sure they’re Sen’Gen?”

“Big guys, black armor, just like the ones that tried to capture me at the citadel.”

The woman pushed a hand through her white hair. “Beautiful.” She let out a breath. “I mean I’m armed about as heavily as I’m going to be, but those guys are pretty tough.”

“We have Gaea’s weapon,” Wren said.

“Yes,” Desiray agreed with a little hesitation. “What happened with your package?”

“Everything went pretty much as planned.”

“So, tell me, did you know when we were casing Ranfast’s that you were going to hit it?”

“Sure. You asked me if I thought it was possible. I told you, ‘yes’. It took me about two bells to do.”

Desiray took Wren’s face in her hands. “Two bells—to hit that place without magic or hurting any bystanders?”

“Right. A little planning, bend a ward—hit the master switch… it certainly wasn’t routine… but I could do it again.”

“Damn,” Desiray growled. “To think of the summers I wasted. I can only image how good you would be now if I’d trained you myself.”

“I suppose,” Wren said, her voice non-committal. She could only imagine what she’d be like now if she’d become one of Desiray’s children. Would she be a walking library like Eviria or charming business merchant like Caldorian? “What do we do about those Sen’Gen? It’s only a matter of time before they show up again. I think the only reason they haven’t been on me since is I’ve been moving around too fast.”

“The air is definitely the best place for us.” She took Wren around the waist and the two of them drifted up out of the courtyard.

“Can Sen’Gen fly?” Wren asked.

“I have no idea,” Desiray answered, frowning.

“Oh, I feel safer now.”

“Would you prefer I lie?” the woman asked with an arch expression.

Wren blinked. “Not really.” She looked down. They had risen quite high above the city. The bay shimmered and flashed beneath them, the dozens of masts and sails like some strange forest. Further up the coast, waves rolled into a rocky shoreline. The wind blew cool and sharp in their faces, free of any of the city odors.

Desiray drew a breath. “Damn, I love flying like this. This amulet I bought from Cassandra is worth every copper I’m paying for it.” With narrowed eyes she peered at the city below. “Before we go too far with this, I want to check your conspiracy theory.” She turned them so they were oriented as though standing. “Put your foot on my instep and hold around my waist.”

Wren complied, wondering what the woman was planning. Situated like this she felt about as safe as she could, given they were suspended a thousand paces up in the sky with no visible means of support.

Desiray closed her eyes and her body stiffened. For moments she tensed, and a vein in her temple pulsed. Wren held tight as they lurched in the air. The woman’s face tightened. She opened her eyes a growled. “Well, that’s some confirmation.”

“What?”

“Outside telepathic communication is cut off. It’s been done in such a way so that we can still feel our outside contacts, we can even hear their thoughts. They just can’t hear anything we send direct. I tried a dozen different ways of getting through to Loric and got no-where.”

“That doesn’t prove who did it though,” Wren said.

“No it doesn’t, but it sure narrows it down. We’re way up here, any higher and we get penalized for leaving the game grid. It takes some sophisticated and powerful magic to blanket an entire city. I have one more test.” She drew a breath. “Moderator. Team Tarrantil requesting injury timeout and off grid escort for emergency care.”

**Request denied Team Tarrantil. Probes detect no injury of a life threatening nature. Return to play immediately or be penalized.** The deep feminine voice paused and its tone darkened. **Need we remind you that should you attempt to exit the game grid before end of play, agents will be dispatched to ensure legal completion of your contracted obligations.**

“Probe, ha,” Desiray muttered. “She answered way too fast.”

“Dorian warned me about trying to leave the grid,” Wren said. “They’d be delighted if I tried. Gives them an excuse to grab me.” She paused. “What if we got everybody in the game in on it? I mean if everyone knew what was going on wouldn’t they help us—back us up? I understand Aarlen is powerful—but against all twelve players?”

“I’d run with that idea Wren, but for one thing. Aarlen is just like any master of a guild, sure you might have the strength to defeat the leader, but to win the fight you have to beat the whole guild. Beia is the key—she’s Aarlen’s weak spot. If Sindra and Drucilla gave away you know how to find the phoenixes to the keys—even Beia may not be able to dissuade her. Our only chance is if Aarlen is simply trying to smooth out the issue with Mishaka. In that case, actually getting you is secondary, she simply has to make an effort.”

The air around them began to swirl and a spot of light off to their right blossomed and grew. A figure solidified in the light. A tall burly woman dressed in blue chainmail with dark hair, gray eyes, and a severe angular face. Here in brighter light Wren easily recognized her as Sebenreth’s wife.

“You two better get back in the game before the moderator gets really hacked at you,” Jolandrin told them. The woman’s face looked a little pale. “She’s already mad about something. I wouldn’t push her. I don’t know why she hasn’t penalized you already. I was told to escort you to grid E-7 to join the rest of your team.”

Wren swallowed and looked into Desiray’s eyes. “You know those Sen’Gen are going to be waiting for us.”

A muscle in Desiray’s cheek twitched. “My thoughts were running along that line, yes.”

Please,” Jolandrin said in her deep voice. “Mother Desiray, I know I can’t force you, but I’m charged to try. You know who comes when I can’t do it. They like twisting arms.”

“We understand, Jol,” Desiray answered. “You’re just doing your job, and it’s not like we didn’t sign up to play this game. We’ll come. Lead the way.”

The tall woman nodded, her expression showing that she was thankful they hadn’t offered any resistance. She obviously knew the kind of opposition she would have been facing.

The big woman obviously liked flying. She spread her arms and launched toward the ground like someone diving off a platform. With her long black hair trailing behind her, she looked like quite graceful.

“So, what do we do?” she asked over the rushing wind. “I’m still not all that thrilled about Gaea’s plan.”

“If Aarlen’s pushing to get you now with me there, we may not have a choice. She knows what I can do.”

Wren shuddered. “Both of us—in your body?”

Desiray frowned. “Well, don’t think I’m real eager to test this out either. Gaea made it pretty clear you might just take me over.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

As they neared the ground Desiray sniffed. “If our situations were reversed, I’d be really tempted. I remember being soft and breakable. I would almost rather die than be ordinary again.”

Below them, Jolandrin headed down into a cluster of warehouses. The sturdy looking brick buildings were adjacent a currently unoccupied pier, so few people were moving around. It was still early and the city had not yet come fully alive. Because they were visible, people were stopping in the streets to stare up at them as they drifted down. Magical flight was not unknown, but it was still rare enough to attract quite a bit of attention.

“I have a bad feeling,” Wren murmured. “My bones are itching.”

“Me too,” Desiray said in a quiet voice. Their rate of descent abruptly slowed. She unsheathed the dagger Khairhavkul and handed it to Wren. “This is a krill blade. If you can’t stop one of them with this…”

“I got the idea. What do I do then?”

“Grab hold of me and pray it works.”

Wren shuddered. All the hair on the nape of her neck stiffened. “Frell.” She looked around. Something more than the situation felt wrong. There was magic at work here. She narrowed her eyes letting her mind drift so that she could see ward energies. Her heart skipped at beat. “Desiray stop!”

The Mistress froze in the air. “What?”

“Wards—all over the place. I don’t know what they do—but they’re strong. They’re strung across all the walkways and from the trees.”

“Dammit,” Desiray looked left and right. “Is there someplace safe to set down?”

“In there?” Her heart was pounding. “I—don’t know. These things aren’t like anything I’ve ever seen. They’re bloody moving. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”

“I have—a frelling serpent web,” Desiray growled. “No way do we want to get stuck in that stuff. It kills magic.” She looked around. “Not a shredded chance I’m going anywhere near there.” They started to rise again.

**Team Tarrantil will report to the start position as designated by the consulting judge.**

The white-haired woman made a snarling sound. “Moderator, I was never stupid enough to stick my foot in a jaw trap, and I’m not frelling about to start now!”

Above them something flashed. Out of the illumination two huge figures solidified. Each woman was a mirror of the other, their long hair pulled back into a tail, bodies sheathed in dark close-fitting uniforms that gleamed like metal. Weapons hung from sheaths over their back, on their belts, and scabbards on their thighs and ankles. Silver eyes narrowed, teeth gritted, and hands twitching, the D’klace twins looked like nothing a sane person would willingly fight. Even when they were unarmed, Mishaka could barely sting these two.

“The moderator insists,” Sindra rasped. “Don’t force us to hurt you.”

“Shreds,” Desiray breathed. “Wren, give me a hug and pray…”