She dreamed of a shell. A small shell, lying at the bottom of the sea. Whatever creature had once occupied it had long since died or abandoned it. The shell, however, started to tremble. Slowly, it began turning, spinning from the center of the spiral pattern it had formed. The sea disappeared from around her, the ground slowly faded to reveal a void. Blackness from every direction. Below her, now instead of a shell was a galaxy, spinning slowly. Beneath her, a dynasty of stars lived their lives. They were born, and they died, and decayed into themselves. Time was a secondary concept. Where she was, there was no time. Only sight. She suddenly thought of Earth, and she was there. She saw the whole as it was, every moment of every being that had ever existed on the planet, all at once. Time was not a concept here. Not in this place.
There were others with her there, too, she realized. Watching over her shoulders, as if they were parents watching over a young child. She felt no threat from them. Just a strange form of comfort, almost guidance as she experienced the dream. She thought of Dunsmith now, where it resided within the Pactlands. The lights of the city could be seen from the sky. She went in closer, and watched the people sleep. She saw their faces.
But there was something different about them. As though there was something new about them. Something different. On Lily’s forehead she saw the light of a star bursting out, casting its light upon all of the Pactlands. It was blinded only by a creeping blackness, as though the void itself were creeping in on her from several directions.
And then Ryan, from his head sprouted a tree. A large, majestic tree whose leaves swayed in the wind. The leaves glowed as brightly as Lily’s star. And yet, she could see them shrivel; curl up, as though some unknown disease was eating at its very life, threatening to follow the branches back to Ryan.
She panicked. She could not watch the tree fall. She suddenly looked to Nalya, whose dreams were bothered. An egg, encrusted with gold was within her head. Black cracks appeared in the shell, spreading across the surface and—
No. She didn’t want to see these things. To see their beauty, and then their decay.
The entities prodded her onward. She now saw Boomer, far away to the west as he slept on a bed in a darkened room. Within his head was a pathway, a dark, winding forest trail. The night was growing within the trail, and dark things were starting to come of out of the wood.
No. No, not any more. She didn’t want it any more. She never asked for it.
Suddenly, she was wrenched away, and she could now see a young woman sleeping on a bed. She recognized herself. She felt herself calm.
Slowly, flesh-colored spikes started to grow out of the girl’s head. They joined each other through jewel-encrusted webbing and it emerged entirely. It was a crown. A crown of blood.
And that’s when her alarm clock went off.
Terra jumped from her bed. Blearily, she looked around. Morning’s light flowed through the window. She rolled her eyes back into her head and laid back down, rubbing her eyes. Was it a dream? Or was it another sign of her so-called gift? She wasn’t sure she wanted to call it that just yet, not since every time she had received a vision, it usually ended up with her in some kind of pain. Were gifts really supposed to cause that kind of pain?
And what did it mean? She watched herself sleep, and saw a crown of blood emerge from her head. That was normal, wasn’t it? People had dreams like that all the time, right?
She didn’t know. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Instead, she rolled out of her bed and onto the floor, laying half-buried in a pile of clothes for a moment before choosing to stand. She made her way out of her room only to hear the telltale sounds of Tam plucking at the computer keyboard like an old man who’d never typed before. Terra and Lily had chosen to allow Tam to stay with them. After all, he was the perfect roommate. He didn’t have to eat, didn’t need to shower or use the bathroom, and he didn’t sleep. All side effects of not really being… well… real. Still, he was quiet, and he did his part to keep the place clean.
And then there was Quick, the young ferret-like Tyl that Terra had befriended during her trip to Halen. Quick had proven he was infinitely useful during that time, and regardless of Lily’s initial hesitance to allow him to stay there with them, he was proving himself day after day. He was always the first one up in the morning, and he always made his bed—which only consisted of a small basket in the linen closet. He was clean, and was getting pretty good at video games. Terra always liked competition.
Tam and Quick both looked up at her as she stepped into the living room, rubbing her hair. Quick squeaked out a greeting while Tam nodded. They were watching one of the Harry Potter movies on DVD. She took a spot next to them and sat cross-legged, the fatigue showing on her face. Down the hall, the bathroom door opened, and Lily stepped out, joining them while she combed her hair.
Terra looked up at her. “It’s like six in the morning,” Terra said. “How are you already awake?”
“Time waits for no witch,” Lily replied. “Besides, I want to make sure I’m early.”
“Technically, you’re not a witch,” Tam stated. “You’re a magi.”
“Technically, you’re not a person. You’re a floating rock that looks like a man,” Lily replied. “But that’s just semantics.”
Tam harrumphed. Lily was often abrasive in the morning.
“You should be getting ready, too, you know,” Lily said. “Don’t you have see Goose this morning?”
“Out of weed,” Terra said. She shook her head and crossed her arms. “Not going.”
“God forbid you should run out of weed for a few days,” Lily said.
“Well, if someone hadn’t smoked my emergency stash, I wouldn’t have this problem,” Terra shot back.
“Oh, relax,” Lily said. Tam and Quick were slowly started to edge away from the two. They’d bore witness to the wrath of the roommates on a few occasions. This time was no different.
“Corpus has a shipment coming to town in a few days,” Lily said.
“For the hospital,” Terra replied. “For medical purposes. You need an analgesic prescription or you aren’t getting any. All the growers in town signed on to that stupid agreement in exchange for amnesty. It sucks.”
“Aw, muffin,” Lily said, pouting. She jumped on the couch next to Terra and gave her a hug.
Terra, naturally, writhed in Lily’s arms, trying to get loose.
“You’ve been like this ever since you got back,” Lily said. “I know you saw some messed-up stuff up there, but you’re home now.”
“I know,” Terra said. “It’s home, but it’s also not. Do you realize I’ll never get to see another Benny Benassi show ever again?”
“Nobody’s more disappointed at that than Bayne,” Tam stated. “And Bayne only just discovered him.” He turned his head toward Terra. “It sounds like noise to me.”
Terra laughed. “But what noise!” Terra leaned back on the couch, uncrossing her arms. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll go.”
“Good,” Lily replied. She stood up. “Now I’ve gotta go. I’ve got meetings all day. The new Magick Society’s got some serious new funding from the education initiative.”
Terra nodded. In the week or so since the battle, Lily had taken on a mountain of new responsibilities. Terra was surprised to have learned that her involvement with the Dunsmith Magick Society was absolute. She had a lot of say in what went on, seeing as she had taken such a serious interest in it from the beginning. She was even more shocked to learn that the town had moved them from the old Journeyman Inn to the unused Davies Road Elementary. It was south of town, and most of its students had lived in the area that was left behind when Dunsmith came over to the Disputed Lands during the Blacklight Event.
Then only yesterday she’d been offered a tentative spot in the newly-formed Ministry of Magick. Not only did she roll her eyes at the idea and refuse, but told them to change the name so it didn’t sound so Harry-Potter like. It was bad enough the world Muggle was being used by many local Magi, although it was mostly used in reference to Kayla Winder’s anti-magick group, which had only grown in strength since Terra had returned.
Lily had found her comfort zone in this new world, the thing that took her mind off of the fact that with the exception of a few cousins, most of her close family was left behind on Earth.
That was something most of the town was still mourning over. People were starting to move on, but there were always going to be lingering thoughts of lost loved ones.
The town was adapting well, however. Already a new government was being formed, a new Constitution was being penned, and Dunsmith was beginning to announce itself to the Pactlands in style. Already several villages in the surrounding area had heard of their victory against Vector, and had come to make relations. Some outright asked to be included in the creation of the new nation. Even the Caedens, before they left, made an agreement to supply them with spices and foodstuffs from Caede regularly. The village of Timberfall, a small fishing community north along the Aegel Coast had promised to supply them with lumber. The order was so large that they had to hire men from Dunsmith to meet the order. Naturally, they brought their chainsaws and other heavy equipment by boat. Another village that had been overtaken by Vector sent a messenger of thanks. The raid on Anastae had brought home many sons and daughters, and their village had been well-known to be host to a sizable copper vein. Coal and iron were plentiful from Stone’s Mouth, and several other villages in the area provided food, livestock, and other goods.
“Tam, you ready?” Lily asked.
Tam nodded. “Usually,” he replied. Tam had gotten better in the past week since his sister had left. After numerous talks from Lily and even Ryan, Tam had come to terms that Arie needed to do some things on her own. Her departure with Phearon Tome was only proof of that, and that Tam’s particular skill set would be useful alongside Lily. Especially considering Tam’s status as an Elemental, a human soul affixed to a stone, and projected into human form with the Eye of Lychon, which, as best as Terra could figure, was somewhere inside of him, projecting his very human-like appearance.
In short, Tam was made of magick. At least now he didn’t appear as a golem, or whatever else you might call a mass of moving stones. People were much warmer to him in his human appearance. The best part was that he could wear normal human clothes as well, and was completely impervious to pain and injury.
Terra watched Lily and Tam talk to each other jovially as they left the room. After they left the apartment, Terra turned to Quick.
“So, you wanna come with?” she asked.
Quick whimpered softly and gave a half-hearted ferret shrug.
“You want to watch the movie, don’t you?”
“How about if I buy you an ice cream?” she asked. Quick had taken quite a liking to Canadian foods.
Quick remained still for a moment, then reached for the remote. He paused the movie and jumped to the ground, giving Terra a salute.
“You’re just too cute,” she said.
It had been a month. Just a month since the town of Dunsmith, British Columbia had somehow gotten transplanted in the middle of the Pactlands. In thirty days, the townspeople had adapted as best they could. Rationing, extending help to the local villagers, defending them from the occasional Vectoran pillager. Then they had forged a tentative alliance with Halen, a place, that to them, reeked of medieval history. Castles and wizards, in the form of the Magii, swords and armor were the order of the day. It was a practical fairytale kingdom far to the north. If it hadn’t been for Halen, the people of Dunsmith might not have been able to turn away the Vectoran invasion. Dunsmith lost over four hundred sons and daughters that day. Halen had lost over a thousand. Dunsmith owed a debt to Halen.
It was a lot to process for such a brief period of time, especially for Ryan Stills. After returning from Halen to fight and win a battle, all he wanted to do was relax, take a few days for himself, maybe do a little fishing up at the new lake just outside of Stone’s Mouth.
But no. Fishing was off the itinerary, at least for the foreseeable future. There was still the risk of bandits, hiding Vectoran forces, and animals of all shapes and sizes that would eat him as soon as look at him. Also, he’d realized soon after returning to Dunsmith that his work was only just beginning.
Even in the week since he’d been back, he’d been called in to talk to Goose Payne, the town’s acting mayor seven times, brought in for debriefings in front of Sergeant Boone—sorry, General Boone a few times, and then sworn to secrecy on various things. And then there were the lectures and the new job posting.
Ryan wasn’t really given a choice on the job. He was kind of sore about that, but he understood the logic behind the placement. After all, for better or worse, he was the bearer of the black blade; the sword that once belonged to Rasshauer Flenn, made of an obsidian edge sharp enough to slice a hair down the middle, and somehow infused with Flenn’s fighting skill and muscle memory. It looked as fragile as glass, but he’d personally cut through thick armor like a samurai sword through bamboo. Ryan had picked up all of three swords in his life, and two of those were false economy. However, with the black blade in hand, he was a master of the dance. It came to him as naturally as breathing.
And oddly enough, it only worked for him. Hence his unexpected employment in the SIS. Ryan Stills, formerly of A-5 Drywalling, was officially a field agent. And as a result, there was a lot he had to learn about the business.
The oh-so-secret spy headquarters was currently run out of Boone’s back yard. Security consisted of Boone’s wife and his twelve year-old labradoodle. Ryan sat on the wooden picnic bench facing Boone as he stood at the barbecue, he could see the tops of people’s heads as they walked by the fence lining the yard. Boone was yammering on to Ansel Stephens, the man they’d put in charge of Dunsmith’s Naval fleet, about fuel rationing, and the use of sailboats for more routine missions. There was even a discussion on retrofitting all of the boats with sails. As it stood, the fleet consisted of a few dozen live-aboards, a large number of sailboats and about fifty fishing trawlers, tows and other large commercial vessels. And those were just the ones whose owners were beyond the range of the mysterious Blacklight that brought Dunsmith to the Pactlands.
Ryan was busy thinking about how valuable what he was hearing would be to a Vectoran ear, when Justin Alverra leaned over and spoke to him quietly. “You know, when I was a kid and wanted to be a spy, this is the last thing I pictured.”
Ryan laughed and looked over to his friend. He’d known Justin for some time. They’d originally played together a few years back in their on-again, off-again band Dreamland Conspiracy. They’d maintained a steady friendship since then, getting together to jam every now and then. Then Justin had somehow gotten himself involved with Boone’s spy games along with Boomer. He’d even joined the Vectoran army posing as a Freeman bandit in order to gather intelligence. The job earned him an injury that would have killed him if not for the Featherclaw. The very same raptor-like race that had given Ryan his sword of enchanted obsidian.
“Just wait, he hasn’t started passing out code names yet,” Ryan quipped.
Justin chortled as Ryan watched Boone handle the barbecue. The meat wasn’t the most flavorful, but it was plentiful since they’d begun to hunt roaming Spiketeeth in the area. With the right mix of now-extremely rare spices and seasonings, it was pretty good with mashed potato-like things and corn. The creatures themselves were large and stupid—but they spooked at any sign of a loud noise, which made them easier to hunt. Since the sightings began at the edge of town, it had been decided that their numbers had to be culled for reasons of public safety. Despite their not being outwardly aggressive, a spooked Spiketooth on a rampage could still cause untold amounts of damage to life and property. Besides, since the food rationing had begun, it was the smartest idea. People all through the town had taken it upon themselves to start selling canned and jarred food prepared at home. Classes had begun at the resource center on how to forage in the wilderness around Dunsmith for food. It was actually taught by a man who resided in Stone’s Mouth.
But there was always going to be the problem when the spices run out. Sugarcane existed all over the Pactlands, but the process used to refine it into the sugar people were used to in Dunsmith simply no longer existed. A sugar refinery would have to be built. But even prior to that, they needed to get the sugarcane.
There was some progress on restarting the supply chain, and Dunsmith was good for as long as the rations held out, but that wasn’t going to be much longer. Goose had said he figured another month at best before people start to miss their morning coffee, and that was going to be the beginning of the end unless they could secure better trade relations and get the supply train moving.
A few well-armed groups ventured out in the days following the Battle of Crown Square, some being escorted to Cilasia, where Nalya offered them the use of her family manor in the city as their temporary base of operations, at least until such time as they could establish a permanent beachhead in the city to handle all trading affairs. Other groups headed toward Arronay and Kura. A group had left with the Caedens, invited back to trade at Shelter. Ryan had even heard tell that a group had left the day after Boomer did, setting out for Telemenn.
Boomer had left in a hurry. Ryan hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to him. He’d heard from Lily about what had happened. How he blamed himself for Andy Johnson’s death. How, in a rage, he’d flayed several Vectorans alive using only his mind. Ryan could even see it in his eyes. It haunted him. What Ryan wasn’t sure of, however, was whether it was losing control like that or if it was the fact that he could read everyone’s thoughts that haunted his friend so much.
But he couldn’t think about his friend now. Boomer had made his choice. He had set out after Arie, regardless of her letter asking him not to. Boomer just couldn’t shake the idea that she was in danger. Nobody tried to talk him out of it. He was too set in his ways. That and he had little interest in hanging around. He packed, slept until the next morning, and set out. Arie and that strange magi Tome had maybe a day on the guy.
Ryan still couldn’t understand how the magick worked. From within a few days after the shift to the Pactlands, townspeople had been coming forward with abilities. Control over water. Fire. Earth. Healers, even illusionists. Even Lily had been affected with the gift, which the locals refer to as the Veil. She had a mastery over electricity that astounded even local Voltimagii. Lily believed it was because she’d been educated to understand how electricity works prior to displaying signs of her gift. People in the Pactlands start displaying their gifts around puberty. Lily was a good ten years behind other voltimagii in controlling her gift, but she was light-years ahead of them in the complexity and understanding of it. Ryan imagined it was due to the fact that Lily also had a standard Canadian high school education, which was likely head and shoulders above even the most expensive sort of education one could get in the Pactlands.
Ryan sighed as he watched Boone put the steaks on a plate and started passing them out. Terra should be here, he thought to himself. After all, Terra was a big part of all this. Of all the people in Dunsmith, of all the Pactlands in general, it was she whose gift was foretold in local prophecy. A girl from another world had been whispered of in the Pactlands for centuries, and she was a pothead. Not only that, but foretelling the future was her gift. From the moment the town had arrived, Terra received visions, messages in her head of events that hadn’t occurred yet. Not all of them, at least. One vision in particular still had Ryan nervous.
Boone tossed down a plate in front of Ryan and Justin. “There you go boys, eat up! Fill your boots.”
Ryan took a few thoughtful bites of his steak, listening to the dinner table conversation, when Boone suddenly cleared his throat, sending a clear signal that it was time to shut up.
“So we might as well get down to the raison d’etre for all of us being here tonight,” he said, butchering his French. “As of eleven o’clock this morning, we are no longer the Dunsmith Secret Intelligence Service. We’ve adopted the name as the New Canadian Secret Intelligence Service.”
“Do we get t-shirts?” Justin quipped. Ansel let out a long, loud and unexpected laugh. Ryan noticed it throw Justin off balance. Boone only glared at Justin.
“Anyway, that doesn’t change what we do. This morning, a decision was made in regards to the situation with Vector. The trial against Ryde is going to continue, and it’s been decided we’re going to take advance measures in Nostra.”
“What does that mean?” Ryan asked. “You’re sending us to Nostra?”
“Pretty much,” Boone said. “That’s where we need you. Indetae is currently making arrangements through the right diplomatic channels. But here’s the deal.” He slid two folders across the table, one to Ryan, and the other to Justin.
The two of them opened the files to find them almost identical. There were maps, both of Vector as a whole and of the individual cities therein. They were clearly photocopied versions of maps supplied by the Halish army, but there were pages of notes. Notes on local customs, culture, individuals of note complete with descriptions and personality profiles. The last page, however, contained their orders.
Ryan was impressed. “Jesus,” he commented. “How the hell did you get this together so quickly?”
“Need to know, kiddo,” Boone replied. “We’ve already decided that we’re going to send a diplomatic team. Now, you’re going to be there as a diplomat, so our sources tell me you’ll be reasonably well protected, at least under the rules of the Pact. But we’re not a part of the Pact, so that’s why I want you there. Whatever magic you pulled to get a title while you were in Halen is going to be our saving grace. Nalya has agreed to undertake this trip—“
“Wait, Nalya knows about this?” Ryan asked. He blinked in surprise. Since they’d gotten back from Halen, they’d been spending every spare moment together. Ryan managed to take her out to her first movie the night before. The theater was playing Titanic. Afterwards, Ryan saw her back to the house that had been provided for her, Bayne and Corpus while they were in town. They sat and talked for nearly two hours, and she never mentioned it to him.
“Nalya was the one who insisted it be you rather than Shephard,” Boone said. “Look, your job is simple. Protect the envoy, gather information, and play around in high society. The fact is that most of your job is going to be cushy. Think five-star hotels and sexy parties, Vectoran-style.” He looked to Justin. “Your job is going to be a bit harder, but you’ve already proved yourself. You’re going into the city under the radar. You’re going to mingle with the locals and gather information there. You’ll be going in as the sole Canadian stealth operative on this part of the mission, but you will have a partner.”
“A partner?” Justin asked.
“A local,” he replied. “We arrested him at the first incursion. I shot the bastard myself after watching him gut an old man, but the guy’s a conscript. He wasn’t given a choice on whether he wanted to join or not. That, and he’s asked if he can move his family here. He wants to do his part in exchange for amnesty.”
“Hold on, so this guy was one of them?” Justin asked. “How can we be so quick to trust him?”
Boone smirked. “Because he laughs at Seinfeld,” he explained.
Justin and Ryan shared a look.
“Don’t worry about that. I want you two to read and memorize those files. I want you to be able to recite it back to me before the end of next week.”
“Next week?” Ryan asked.
“That’s when this mission gets underway.”
It was midday when Boomer finally had the city of Telemenn in his sights. He’d passed into Rasza early the previous morning and camped at a roadside clearing with a few other travelers going to and coming from the capital. It wasn’t the first such camp site he’d come across. Rather, the moment he passed into Halen he’d noticed them. Often times it was a simple inn, sometimes with a few outbuildings, but mostly it was a flat, sandy area that smelled of campfire and had the telltale signs of being well-used. Rest stops on the Great Pactlandian Highway.
During the day, however, Boomer only stopped at the sites briefly enough to check his location, trade some trinkets he had thought to bring with him from Dunsmith for supplies, and on at least one occasion joined a Halish family traveling from Kura to Arronay for dinner. Mostly he had been focused on what he was doing.
However, when night rolled around, it was the most welcome place he could find. While camping out in the Disputed Lands, he’d barely gotten any sleep. He was alone in the woods with mountain lions the size of bears and roaming dinoosaurs, bloody dinosaurs, not to mention a list as long as his arm of other nasty beasts that called the Disputed Lands home. Camping for the night with a group of people, travelers like him, was a welcome change. There was a night watch at every camp, usually mercenaries for hire looking for work that would gladly accept a gratuity from the travelers to keep watch for the night in lieu of an actual paying job. Boomer himself had donated to the cause. If throwing in a half-ounce of gold would buy him a good night’s sleep, he’d take it.
But the nightly camps served other purposes. The first few camps he’d been to, he’d stuck out like a sore thumb. There he was, dressed in jeans, khakis, a variety of t-shirts with band logos and catchy slogans written across the front, steel-toed hiking boots, a Wal-Mart brand three-person tent and propane cooking stove. Needless to say, the people he’d come across had quite literally never seen anything like it. They tended to have a lot of questions.
Questions, unfortunately, that Boomer got sick of answering by the third day. There was no way, dressed like that, he was going to sneak up on Phearon Tome who was not only a reknowned Geomagi, but according to Bayne, was a member of the Zoar Enclave, a group that lived in the world of espionage.
So he started trading for the clothes off his back and some of the supplies. There were a few things he decided he didn’t want to do without. He was careful, though. Becoming a Psimagi, for all the crap he’d been through as a result, definitely had its uses. He could skim through the surface thoughts of the people he was trading with and ensure he was getting a fair trade. Eventually he traded every article of clothing he had with the exception of his boots.
His boots were comfy. They were broken in, and they were nondescript enough not to draw too much attention. His pack, while extremely well-suited for the journey, was traded as well. The bright colors stood out far too much. The contents moved into another, more common and equally well-suited pack.
One could barely tell Boomer apart from a local. That was how he liked it.
And now, after a week of journeying, he’d tracked down Arie and Tome to the city of Telemenn. They, too, had been making excellent time, and judging from the people he’d spoken to about them, were only about a day ahead of Boomer.
Boomer eyed one of the ships leaving the Telemenn harbor. Arie might have been on one of them. Or she might be waiting in line at the shipyards. Or, God-forbid, she could already be in Shavi. The worst part for Boomer was that he knew it was going to be a lot more difficult to track their movements through a city. On the open road was one matter.
Telemenn was another matter entirely.
Boomer studied the city from a distance as he inched closer toward its gates. The buildings closer to the center of the city were old. They were ornately constructed from light-colored materials, probably granite or marble.
It was the same here as many other places he’d seen. In Midsem, a few buildings had been constructed by Geomagi, and one could always tell when a Geomagi had designed a building as opposed to a building constructed the old-fashioned way, with wooden frames and stone.
In Telemenn, most of the large buildings near the center were clearly of Geomagi make. On the outskirts, however, there were more buildings, ranging from ornate and decorative to drab and run-down that had clearly been constructed by non-magick types. Boomer often wondered if it was a matter of preference, or if there were just too few Geomagi architects to go around.
People were walking by Boomer more frequently as he descended the ridge down to the city. He could absently hear their surface thoughts, but he pushed that away, blocked them out. He had to focus on his own thoughts in this place. He’d already decided what he was going to do once he got to the city. He was going to find an inn. A mid-level type of inn where he didn’t have to worry about bed bugs, but where there were people willing to accept a coin in exchange for some information. He was fairly certain he’d already known which inn he was going to.
The Wanderer’s Canvas was a name he’d heard from a few of the travelers he’d come across during his travels. It was a great place to relax, the beds were comfortable and free of pests. He’d even found himself looking forward to finally arriving at the Wanderer’s Canvas, almost as though it was his eventual destination.
And perhaps it was. Perhaps he’d walk in to find Tome and Arie sitting at the bar, having a drink.
He doubted it, though.
By the time he’d actually reached the city, he was surprised at the actual hustle and bustle of the place. People moves to and fro up the streets. People of all shapes and sizes. Traders, families, guardsmen, and more went about on their daily tasks. He watched a woman empty a chamber-pot into an open sewer in the ground.
Boomer found that interesting. Telemenn had a sewer system. It was good to know, especially after spending a night at Midsem in the smelly part of town.
The hustle and bustle became absolute madness as he approached the market district. Stalls and kiosks littered the sides of the buildings there, many of them storefronts themselves. If he had his directions correct, the Wanderer’s Canvas wouldn’t be far.
A few streets later, he saw the hanging wooden sign. A pair of boots crossed against a quill. He’d seen the image before, but he wasn’t entirely sure where. Probably in the surface thoughts of someone who had been talking about the place.
Boomer walked ahead, dodging traders and consumers alike, many of whom were yelling and screaming at each other, and came to the entrance. A moment later, he stepped inside.
Inside, the inn didn’t look very special. It was constructed the old-fashioned way with stone walls and a wooden frame inside. The place was lit by several lanterns placed throughout the building. A set of stairs led up to an open patio with several doors and two hallways. The bottom level resembled a Western-style saloon. Complete with men sitting at a table playing a dice game and a man sleeping in the corner with his hat over his face. All it needed was western-style ornamentation and a spittoon.
The bartender was every bit as stereotypical. He was a plump man with a thick handlebar moustache. At least he seemed to be well-groomed. He looked up at Boomer, and nodded in greeting. Boomer nodded in return. He’d been told about this man.
Boomer had made inquiries during his travels. According to two separate people, Tremain Fieran was the man he needed to talk to. The image they both had in their minds was of the man at the bar. Boomer walked up and set his pack next to him.
“I’d like a room,” Boomer said, trying to keep up his Halish accent. As far as this man was concerned, he was a traveler from Halen making some inquiries. He slid two gold pieces. One was Halish in origin, and had the seal of Halen pressed into it. The other, Boomer was pretty sure was Shavian, and bore a symbol that Boomer found eerily similar to the All-Seeing Eye on the back of an American dollar bill.
Tremain looked up at Boomer and raised an eyebrow. “Only ‘ave one room right now. It be four pieces,” he said, betraying an accent that sounded Irish. It was just another of the myriad of accents he’d come across in the Disputed Lands. The Halish had accents that were unmistakably British. Their accents ranged from Cockney to posh. The Raszan accents were ever more varied. Bayne had an angry Scot accent at times, and he’d met a young couple traveling to Arronay that were Pacific Islander in appearance, but had a distinct Spanish-like dialect.
But still, it was all English. He’d heard of Old Tongues, but he’d never heard any of them spoken. Still, he was willing to bet that he’d be able to recognize the language. German, he suspected. Maybe a bit of Latin. That the Pactlands had some kind of relation to Earth was unmistakable. He just didn’t know what that connection was yet.
Boomer reached into his pocket and pulled out four more pieces of gold, then put it on the table. It was what he’d been told to do, a code so the bartender knew he wanted more than just a room.
The bartender took the money, then eyed up Boomer, studying him. “Who sent ya, then?”
“Marlon,” Boomer replied.
“Lesser or the Greater?”
“The one who borrowed two pieces from you last year and still hasn’t paid you back,” Boomer said.
Tremain chuckled. “Aye, he’s a whore’s son, that one. So what ye lookin’ for, then?”
“I need to find two Geomagi,” Boomer explained. “A young girl, maybe nineteen years old, with an old man, probably wearing Geomagi garb. They’re headed to Shavi. I need to know if they’ve been through the city yet. And if they have, how long ago.”
Tremain studied Boomer for a moment. “That’s not much to go on. Might be a thousand Geomagi in the city.”
Boomer pulled out two more gold pieces.
Tremain paused for a moment, and looked to Boomer expectantly.
Reluctantly, Boomer pulled out another two pieces. He was going to have to do some trading soon.
“Maya can help,” Tremain said, picking up the pieces from the table. “She’s good at finding people. Expensive, but she’s good at it.”
“How expensive are we talking about here?”
Tremain smiled. “More expensive than me,” he said, gathering up the gold Boomer had placed on the countertop. “Here you are, then.” He plucked a key from the ring at his waist and handed it to Boomer. “You’re in the second room from the top o’ the stairs.”
“What about Maya?”
“Settle in,” Tremain said. “Have some food. I’ll send her by.”