[What do you want to do before meeting Thalia for dinner?]
Well the first thing Conner does is head back to the Sun and show that he won't need the cavalry after all. After that he spends some time writing down the stories he was told while the words are still fresh in his mind. After that he is content to browse through the stalls and shop until his dinner.
Conner is looking at an inlaid dagger that he thinks would please Brita, and considering whether to purchase it as a gift for her, when a shadow falls across him. It is a man, unknown to him, but local, and well-dressed.
"You are Conner of Amber. May I buy you a coffee?"
Conner knows that many business deals are made over coffee in the Land of Peace.
Conner turns to face the man and greets him with one of his trademark smiles. "A most kind offer. You have me at a disadvantage for you know my name but I do not know yours. Professional hazard really." Conner chuckles and clearly awaits an introduction.
"Forgive my forwardness. I am Uthman. I serve Hunaid the Munniwalite." He bows. "I wish to discuss matters of business with you."
Conner once more looks that man over carefully letting the moment drag just long enough that he feels he is being judged. "Very well." Conner nods apparently satisfied. "We shall drink coffee together and speak of your business."
He bows again. "Thank you, my Lord." He leads the way to a coffee shop and orders two drinks. The shop is not very busy, although the coffee is excellent. Uthman lets the drinking rituals pass before he turns to business.
"My master is desirous of some share of the lucrative Amber trade."
He looks Conner in the eyes.
"So is half of the Dar es Salaam, I'm sure." Conner says dryly meeting his gaze evenly. Long years of diplomatic training keep the annoyance from his gaze and leave the bored air of a merchant trying not to appear eager. "But I am afraid that will be difficult. Random, His Most Resplendant Majesty, seems not to have interest in further trades with the Land of Peace." Conner keeps his tone purposefully ambigous leaving Uthman to guess whether or not Conner agrees with this policy.
"Men do not make fortunes on tasks that are not difficult, my lord. Some might even find a lack of royal interest to be an opportunity rather than an obstacle." Utman smiles. "The right man, with the right goods and the right friends, would need to make few trips to assure his future, and those of his friends as well." Uthman lifts his coffee cup in salute.
"True enough, friend Uthman. True enough." Conner smiles. "One can never have enough friends. What is it that your master proposes?" Conner taps a finger against coffe cup thoughfully. The last thing he wanted was local entanglements at this stage but it is hard to break the habit of investigating oppurtunities.
"Through family connections, I have come into possession of a list of luxury goods that may sell well in Amber, mostly foodstuffs, literature, fine liquors, and art. And tulips, for some reason. The man who made this list, a sailor of Amber, is dead, casually murdered by Prince Jerod's pirate allies for inconveniently considering how to turn an honest trader's profit.
Conner smiles inwardly as this piece of the puzzle falls into place. Outwardly, he is all polite concern for such a loss of life.
"Even one trip to fabled Amber with a cargo we chose could turn a tremendous profit for my master. Not only would he be most generous to you for arranging such a trip, he also feels that Amber would be better off trading with honest Muniwalites rather than these pirates. There is much more to the Land of Peace than one can see from this poor outpost."
"I think you will find that list is somewhat out of date." Conner smiles in faint amusement. "But that is no real obstacle. Tell me of the Muniwalites, Uthman. I would know more about who I would deal with." Conner sits back preparing to hear the usual platitudes about they are the only ones you can in this whole land and the rest are all inferior scum. Conner can see why Bleys would choose this place. Charting its currents is like dealing with family. Conner pushes that thought aside and reads Uthman carefully as he speaks looking to glean what he can of what lies behind the words.
Muniwalid is a city as far to the east of the Holy City as this place is to the west. The people there were civilized before the coming of salaam. The silk road runs to Muniwalid, where the fabulous east opens the way across the eastern deserts to the forbidden kingdoms. The Muniwalites were traders of great skill while the men here were stealing camels from each other. It is an old, rich, and proud city. And Amber would do better going to the trade crossroads of the world than being here.
"Well the fact is I am here. And the last member trying to broaden the trade horizons came to a bad end." Conner muses. "Charting a new course seems less and less favorable." Conner sips his coffee. "Unless of course you have already thought of this and have assurance and plans to offer?"
"I have," he says so smoothly that Conner cannot be sure if he was going to say so anyway, "already thought of that. I have assurances and plans to offer." He sips his own coffee. "We could have three ships equipped and ready to sail with the tide, if you needs must depart that rapidly. And our ships would deter or defeat the pirates that plan to lie in wait for your Soleil when she sails out of the harbor."
Conner's eyes narrow. "It would be quite the fool that would dare cross a Lord of Amber so." Conner says conversationally. "But as you said this is a city of fools." Conner sips his coffee once more. "Do you have definite knowledge of such an attack or is it simply what you would do if in their place?"
"Only whispers. Amber is far from here and reports of her Navy that reached these shores have emboldened the steam-equipped pirates. You are quite likely to be a test case, if you are not careful. And there are those who live near to this city who are more desperate than wise."
Conner nods in acceptance of that. "There are always hangers-on hoping to snatch their bit of carrion from the carcass after the rest have feasted." Conner muses a moment more. "Very well. Prepare your ships. I know not when I shall be taking my leave of this place so be ready for that morning tide."
Conner goes to take take another sip and then looks up suddenly. "I take it you don't bother with steam technology for your ships."
Uthman raises his hand. "I am aware that steam vessels are defeated by the magical environs of Amber, although I know not who laid such a curse on your people. I am philosophical about it, my friend. If it were not your doom than perhaps you would already be plying the waters of ports closer to Muniwalid and my master and I would not be in the fortuitous position that we are in." He finishes his coffee and smiles at Conner.
Conner smiles back. "Like most blades it is double edged as much blessing as curse. As it is, I think I rather like things the way they are." Conner looks a little wistful at that then shakes his head to clear it. "Tell me how to contact you quickly when I am ready to leave I believe our business is concluded friend Uthman."
"I believe our agreement is concluded, friend Conner, but our business is to come. If you wish to reach me during the day, send word to the harbormaster's office to telephone me. At night, we will watch for you from our ships. We are somewhat closer to the harbor mouth aboard The Flying Fish. We will await your pleasure."
After his meeting is completed, Conner once again scours the market only for specific items this time: pocket watches and table clocks with easily alterable gears, hourglasses and heavier sands, water clocks and heavier liquids. He seeks anything and everything than he can alter for the appearance of time going faster. Conner has an idea what may happen in the near future and with luck his preparations will help the Sun outrun it.
Conner finds what he is looking for.
Once his shopping is done, Conner returns to the Sun and seeks out Captain Fearnought to get his opinion on how likely they are to come under attack when they leave and whether the Munniwalid are any more trustworthy than the pirates of this port..
The Captain seems well disposed to the Munniwalites and shows Conner a box that was just delivered to the Sun. It contains three rifles and six pistols, with ammunition for each.
"Well now." Conner smiles taking out one of the pistols and checking the balance. "I see someone is looking out for us. Any indication who they are from?" He asks.
"The Munniwalites, Lord Conner. They said that you would know when to stop using them. And that they were ready to sail on the tide."
"An armed society is a polite society." Conner quotes as he loads the pistol. "And the Mummiwalities are nothing if not polite." He says wryly. "Pass them around to the men with my compliments. Feel free to choose your favorites first of course." Conner smiles. "I have a dinner to attend and based on that I shall know my next move." Conner will take a few moments of concentration to convince the universe he left a belt and holster in his room and if open weapons were common he'll simply wear it under his cloak. If not, he'll go for a concealed weapon in a body holster. Then he takes some time setting up his various clocks and watches so that they are ready for use should he need them. Once he is statisfied with that, Conner heads off to dinner.
Short and long knives were not uncommon, but firearms seemed to be restricted to the authorities. Best to conceal it, Conner thinks.
Conner arrives at the foodseller's and Thalia is sitting where she said. She waves at him.
Conner waves back and once he arrives at the table he presents her with the single yellow tulip he has in his hand. "For you my dear. A symbol of the past and of new endeavors." Conner chuckles. "I trust I have not kept you waiting. My afternoon proved to be more interesting than I had expected."
"I just got here," she says, taking the flower. "My afternoon was not very exciting at all. Not compared to seeing you arrive at the Dey's."
"You certainly have a knack for finding the most interesting people wherever you go, my dear." Conner smiles. "Well now its our turn to trade to some tales." Conner chuckles slipping into the chair opposite her. "Have your investigations here proved fruitful?"
"You mean, other than the ones that led me to the Dey and managed to get him to feed you what he knew of the situation in Amber? Somewhat. I now want to find a way back to Gateway. Where are you going next, my dear?"
"Back to Amber I'm afraid." Conner informs her with a smile. "I've got a small trade fleet to lead there in exchange for pirate protection not to mention I've got to clear my name and expose a murderer. At some point of course I've got to bring them back. Do you wish to remain here? Assuming all goes well, I will be free to aid you in your travels then. I find myself curious to see if Gateway can still be found."
She smiles, softly. "I left Amber and plan to stay away for a bit. I have other options to explore for my to return to Gateway, although none are so pleasant as the thought of sailing there with you."
She looks down. "Are you sure you can't take a few weeks side-track?"
Thalia asked twice. Conner knows what that means. "A side track? No need, my dear. It suddenly occurs to me that Gateway is popular stop for those travelling to Amber." Conner grins. Conner reaches across and takes her hand. "Let us hope we find the Gateway of old, eh?"
Her eyes light up. "We normally don't spend so long without going home. Have you ever been to Gateway? I hope I can have at least a night to show you something of it. It's... Well, it's not Amber, but it has its attractions."
"Who can forget the fabled City of Portals where the wary traveller must watch his every step lest the most innocuous looking door or arch whisk him away to magical lands?" Conner chuckles. "Not as untrue as most sailor's tales and it kept the men from wandering." Conner grins at her. "During my Naval days I escorted the occasional convoy of ship to Gateway. It will be good to see the Tower of the Silver Stars once more and step through the Triple Arches. In fact, I feel sure I shall be able to appreciate your homeland with new eyes now." Conner chuckles once more.
"Perhaps the Collegia Arcanum could be part of the tour?" He inquires. "I never did get to see that on my previous visits."
She nods. "I should be able to procure an unofficial invitation for us. I know several of the Senior Researchers." Thalia smiles at the waiter who brings their food and, after he leaves, begins eating.
Before this meal breaks up Conner fills in Thalia on the Munniwalite escort and the potential sea battle that awaits them. Should she have any tricks up her sleeve for such matters, Conner suggests she readies them.
She grins and mentions something about really practicing some of what she knows out here. It's a reasonably feral grin.
Other than that, a last trip to the markets for knick knack type gifts for friends and family to be determined later and Conner is ready to fast forward to leaving on the tide.
Conner emerged from the Harbormaster's Office after his quick phone call to Uthman. Right on time, Thalia appeared with her things and together they walked up the gangplank onto the Sun.
"Captain Fearnaught, allow me to introduce Lady Thalia of Gateway. She'll be joining us for the first leg of our now two leg journey." Conner grins.
Captain Fearnaught looks somewhat confused, but is very polite and arranges to have Thalia's things stowed belowdecks.
After seeing Thalia is settled in, Conner returns to the Captain and the navigator over the sea charts. Conner charts out a course that is simply the quickest path to get away from the Land of Peace. "Once we are clear of this place, I shall chart the course for Gateway our first port of call." Conner informs them. "It shouldn't be more two weeks out of our way if the wind holds." He assures them. Once the tide is ready and the ship is underway, Conner will be found at the bow of the boat trying to shift shadow as soon as he thinks it will be possible. The sooner they leave a place of possible ambush the better.
There is a sleek looking merchanter sailing with them, and a local vessel that the Harbormaster mentioned was also departing on the same tide.
Conner has two options: go out to sea or hug the coast. The coast offers more options for shifting shadows, but it also is more likely to lead to an ambush.
Straight away from shore gives fewer anchors upon which to hang shadow shifting, but it can be done. It also gives pirates a possible advantage if they're better in open waters.
Conner will hug the coast. He'll gamble that he can shift away from the pirates faster than the Sun could sail away from them.
Conner gets far enough away that he feels that he can begin shifting shadow when the wind dies down and the ship begins to drift shoreward.
Thalia comes up on deck. "Magic," she says.
Conner stifles a curse and starts scanning the area with his third eye. "Can you counter it?" He asks Thalia simply then turns.
"Maybe! Wind isn't my specialty."
"Captain Fearnaught, I think we should prepare for visitors." Conner calls out and trusts the Captain to take it from there.
The captain nods, and looks to the nearest sailor. The man lopes off and returns moments later with guns. The captain puts a pistol into his waistband and offers a second to Conner. The sailor climbs the rigging with two rifles.
"They may regret becalming us."
The Muniwalite ship closes to shouting distance. "Trouble coming up!" Sure enough there are three steamers coming out from behind a cape on the shore. Uthman is taking his ship away, setting up what look to Conner like a good line of fire on any ship that approaches.
OOC: Does this mean my third eye shows nothing? Like the origin of the magic perhaps?
[sorry, I should've been more clear. It's out of sight. Actually, it's out of sight on one of the enemy ships, but Conner can only infer that for the moment.]
"They've no cannon," says Fearnaught. "It'll be small arms and hand-to-hand combat. Both are bad for us. We don't have a lot of crew to risk being shot at, but if they board, we're not strong enough to take them, unless you can do so yourself. What shall we do, Captain Conner?"
Thalia brushes a strand of hair from her eyes. "I can give you some wind, but unless we kill or disrupt their magician, I can't raise much. Would you prefer maneuverability or my assistance with the battle?"
"Assist with the battle my dear. We will end the spell the old fashioned way with the death of the magician." Conner says grimly. "I have a contingency prepared Captain. With luck we shall be as effective as crew three times our size." Conner grins. "You know how to best defend you ship Captain but rest assured I'll be up front if we are boarded."
"I've seen your Uncle in combat. I look forward to fighting beside you, Captain Conner."
"I'll try to give as good account of myself if not as flashy a show." Conner promised with a trademark grin.
From there Conner retires to the table he prepared earlier. He starts the mercury dripping heavy through the basins of the water clock. Sand spills swiftly through the neck of the hourglass while the pocketwatches click away the minutes and seconds faster than they were ever meant to. Conner immerses himself in the rushing sounds of time adjusting himself and the sailors and the ship to this new tempo. Ever mindful of the approaching pirates, Conner lets the spell grow and swell. Just before the enemy gets into rifle range, Conner throws his full will into the spell and demands the tripling of time.
Conner does not have as much time to prepare as he'd like, but his advance work stands him in good stead. The men and women aboard the Sun manage to lay down a withering barrage of fire on the now-slowly-oncoming vessels. One result of being becalmed is that the sailors are free to attack. Five riflemen are like fifteen, and their targets are very slow.
After an initial fusillade that did great damage (you saw at least 7 men fall on two of the ships), the crews of the steamers retreat into the blockhouses and start firing from cover. While they have little chance of hitting you, they're also very difficult to hit. Captain Fearnaught, perhaps concerned for the remaining powder and shot, orders them to stop firing and attach bayonets.
The largest of the enemy vessels turns to go after the Muniwalite ship. The other two are bearing down on the becalmed Sun. As they enter the sorcerous field, they'll speed up, like their bullets have been doing.
The other two vessels are doing a good job of coming up on opposite sides of the ship. "Well, Captain? It looks like they want a two front war. Will you command one side? They've got an advantage, but our two men in the crow will be of some use.
"Unless you want to try to take one of them and transfer the flag."
"I don't think any of those rustbuckets would be worth trading the Sun for." Conner comments while scanning the battlefield with his third eye. If one of the two approaching ships bears the mage, then Conner chooses to command that side of the battle and takes Thalia with him. Best that he can tell, no. On the other hand, there seems to be something in the water.
If neither ship has the mage, then one side is as good as another and he suggests Thalia bolster Captain Fearnaught's side as he strengthens the other.
Either way, Conner has one more sorcerous trick up his sleeve he'd like to try before these ships close.
There's just time for this before they're in hand-to-hand range. It's going to drop the current force multiplier, but it wouldn't work when they're close enough to board, anyway.
Once more taking his speeded watch, Conner focuses on a small portion one of the ships approaching the Sun, specificly the one on the side Conner will not be fighting on. He aims at a patch around the waterline and wills the gradual weathering of age to happen all at once. Now reducing the area to dust would be the ideal result of course but that is likely too much to ask for the work of a moment. Still, there are always seals and the like that need regular maintenance to keep ships sea-worthy and a decent size leak would be most useful about now.
Conner tries, but he doesn't see any visible effect. If he had a cannon to hit the weakened area, perhaps, but he doesn't.
OOC: Let me know if Conner starts to feel drained or fatigued by all this magic he's throwing around. I don't want him to overdo it with a physical battle coming up.
Conner is definitely feeling the effect, but doesn't think it will slow him down in the fight. Yet.
After that attempt, Conner moves to take command of his side of the battle.
Conner goes to the port side, away from the third vessel and their Muniwalite allies. They seem to be tied up with the largest of the assailants. The two attackers close under power, and as the boarding parties prepare to cross from the steamers to The Sun, all three ships erupt in small arms fire.
In the initial volley the bosun goes down, leaving Conner with two sailors. They stay close to him and protect his flanks as the pirates swarm aboard. The men in the rigging still get a few clean shots, but for the most part it is now hand-to-hand combat. The attackers outnumber the defenders by a factor of five, but the attackers don't have Conner with them. Things go well on Conner's side. Although he and his two remaining men take injuries, they are able to hold their own against the attackers. The few glimpses of the far side suggest that it's not going as well over there. Conner and his men keep an eye out to make sure that they aren't attacked from the rear.
After perhaps 10 minutes of fighting, there is a large explosion from the far rail and Conner (and everyone else) turns to see the steamer on that side exploding in a roiling mass of smoke. The sailors from The Sun cheer.
The only down side is that the steamship is connected to the Sun by grapples.
"High complexity but you failed to stick the dismount." Conner mumbles to himself then turns a full satisfied grin on the pirates before him. "Best run home now boys while you still have a ship." Conner commences staring them down over the blade of his sword.
If they break, Conner will make sure they clear off then leaves his men as rearguard and goes to cut the lines and/or help the other side.
In they hold, Conner throws himself into the attack to give one of his men the chance to break away and cut those grapples.
The moment stretches out and Conner is uncertain what will happen. They neither break nor renew their attack.
A sound from behind causes one of Conner's sailors to turn. "Ware!" he calls, as the crew of the sinking ship rush at you. The fighting is furious and smoke from the burning vessel covers the deck. First one, then both of the sailors goes down. Both of the sailors from Captain Fearnaught's side are with Conner now, but they aren't joined by any others.
The pirates have taken significant casualties, as well. Conner is sure he's personally killed a dozen. If nothing changes, Conner can probably rout them. Then it may depend on Uthman and the third pirate ship.
Someone must have cut the lines, because The Sun is being pulled away from the sinking wreck by the other steamer.
Conner simply throws himself into the battle and does something he doesn't do as a rule. He trusts to hope. He hopes that the Munniwalites proves good allies and better marines. He hopes that whoever cut the ropes was on his side and thinks to cut the other ropes attaching them to the steamer. Most of all, Conner hopes that Thalia is well and already planning to send the second ship to perdition. For now though, the battle is his focus.
Conner fights on and the two conjoined ships drag themselves slowly out of the way of the wreck. Conner hears gunfire, first in the distance and then from somewhere closer. He hears a voice shout out "back to the ship! Cast her loose!" The pirates are crossing the railings back to the remaining steamer and casting off the lines. Conner takes a few more of them out, but the survivors are back on their vessel.
Conner sees that most of his crew are down, although not all are dead. There are a few pirates in the same state on his decks as well. The sails seem to have taken some fire damage, but it's out now. The gunners in the crow's nest have taken care of that and now they're concentrating on keeping the pirates from shooting you.
Coming up from behind The Sun is another ship. It's still in the smoke and Conner can't see the colors, so it may be Uthman or it may be the other pirates.
Conner spares the oncoming ship little attention. If it's friends he need do nothing and if it's more foes he can do less. Conner slips his hand into his pocket and touches the Trump of herself Brita gave him in case he needs an exit. He scans the ocean with his third eye for the source of the magic he found earlier and hopes to put a bullet into it and raise some wind.
As far as Conner can tell, there is something in the water. If it has a center, it is trailing behind the ship about two hundred yards. It's as if there was a tremendous jellyfish made of magic down there. He doesn't notice anything about the wind. It might be a natural lull, now.
There is a moaning from the starboard side deck.
As neither Conner nor the Captain had the forsight to equip the Sun with a bathyshpere, Conner files this information under the heading Things I Can't Deal With Right Now. As no one has shouted the alarm of oncoming enemies yet, Conner feels safe enough to start treating the wounded starting with the moaning from the starboard side deck.
One of the sailors from the crow's nest is checking Captain Fearnaught for wounds. The Captain is apparently not out of the fight yet. The other sailor who was above is currently still up there keeping watch.
Thalia is face down near the forward hatch.
Conner strides to her side swiftly and gently turns her over. "Thalia? Thalia, can you hear me?" He asks urgently. Raw panic fights with medical discipline and discipline is the winner for the nonce.
She flops over, and her eyes open. "Yes. I'm OK. Are they gone?" She's breathing hard and her voice is weak.
"Yes those that didn't explode, drown, or die on our blades have fled." Conner assures her. "And as I haven't heard the cry of alarm, I take that to mean the ship to our stern is our Munniwalite allies. How do you feel?" He asks her. "You seem to have overextended yourself, my dear."
She blinks twice and replies. "Non. Nonsense. I have extended myself exactly the right amount." She's taking deeper breaths now, but still hasn't sat up.
"Well I certainly can't argue with the results." Conner smiles. "Quite the fireworks display."
From the starboard and to the stern, Conner hears a shouted "Ahoy, The Sun!" It is, indeed, the Munniwalites.
"I should go reassure our allies." Conner muses. "Come my dear. Let's get you somewhere more comfortable to recover." If there is no objection from Thalia, Conner bends down and gently picks her up cradling her against his chest.
Conner hears Captain Fearnaught's answering bellow. "Ahoy! Come alongside!"
As he carries Thalia to the stern and the cabins, he passes Captain Fearnaught and one of his crew. They are carrying a would-be pirate's corpse towards the farther rail.
"Should one of them still be breathing, find out who we have to thank for this." Conner calls out as he passes.
The mate calls out 'Aye, sir," smartly.
After getting Thalia settled, Conner returns to the deck as the Muniwalites are about to come alongside. Uthman is on deck, and waves a lazy salute in Conner's direction.
Conner snaps him a smart one in response with a grin. "So glad you made it through, Uthman. How fared you in the battle?" He hails them.
"Successfully, my friend. And you? Do you need a physician? Ours has tended our wounded." Uthman has a bandage on his arm, but otherwise his crew seems to be battered but intact. His ship, The Vantage, seems to have taken some battering as well. It may need some repairs. "We fought a wizard, but the damnable son of the red flame escaped us."
"More's the pity." Conner replies. "No need for the physician. We have things well in hand." Conner smiles at him. "How fares the Vantage? Will we need to make a stop for repairs or can she carry on?" Conner would love to offer Gateway as a natural place to stop assuming of course the Vantage can make it that far. Else he may have to find a waystation in Shadow. Shouldn't be difficult, Conner was just annoyed at more delays.
"Vantage is well enough. We will be doing some work on the way, but they did no serious damage. How fares your crew?"
As a matter of fact, Conner notices that they're down three, which makes a difference on a boat with a crew of six. If Conner and the captain pitch in, they won't be too shorthanded, but it will be difficult to shift shadows reliably.
"Not half as well as I'd like." Conner admits. "If you could spare a pair of men I'd appreciate it. It will make for a much faster trip if I am left free to navigate after all." Conner calls back. Should any inducements be needed, Conner is happy to bargain with Uthman to secure a pair of sailors. Assuming a pair come aboard he assigns each to one of the Sun's sailors to teach them the ropes. Additionally, he tells the Sun's crew to keep an eye on their guests during their stay.
Uthman agrees and two sailors transfer between the ships. They have some familiarity with sailing ships and seem willing to learn. Captain Fearnaught assigns them to opposite shifts.
The Sun and the Vantage get underway again and Conner thinks it will take a week or so to sail to Gateway.
[What does Conner do aboard ship in his week?]
Well when not needed for navigation, Conner can be found doing one of two things. The first is continuing to tinker with time. Seeing the results of his efforts during the battle, Conner analyzes and attempts to refine his first efforts. In fact his musings on that leads him into the second, namely spending time with Thalia. Mainly it is to enjoy her company but the conversations tend to come back to Gateway, the situation with Mister Apostrophe, and discussions on magic in general. He is particularly interested in a play by play of what she did during the battle if she is so inclined.
The former is noted, the latter is enjoyable. Thalia's magic is unlike Conner's and involves prepared spells. It seems to be what Conner's mother described as "shadow magic".
On one day though, as much to pass the time as to gain information, Conner finds himself in his quarters shuffling his deck of cards while focusing on the question, what will be the outcome of this journey to Gateway? He then places the cards in their spread and flips them over carefully.
Conner feels the power of the cards and their connection to the pattern and all things, as his mother had taught him. He does his best to clear his mind of want and to let the cards speak to him instead of letting himself speak through the cards. He carefully flips the cards, one at a time.
The bottom row--
Drowning in Armor
The Defender reversed
The Peasant reversed
The middle row--
The Eagle reversed
The Cockatrice reversed
The top card--
Conner lets out the breath he was holding with a resigned sigh. "Sorry I asked." He murmurs plucking a bottle from off his desk and pouring himself a brandy.
"Drowning in armor, eh?" Conner muses to himself. "Nothing in the recent past seems to fit that. Things have been going rather well all things considered." Conner frowns thoughtfully. "Unless it refers to my posting in Rebma. But how would that influence Gateway?" His glass is halfway to his lips before the answer comes. "Only if the paths of communication were open. Oh I mislike that thought very much. Of course, it may not refer to me at all. Perhaps something Gateway has done to survive now works against it." That interpretation cheers him somwhat, but he moves on unconvinced.
Conner skips past the present being peril as such a universal truth needs no interpreting. Conner's finger taps against the headstanding farmer. "Lack of vision. Hardly surprising really. I am going into this situation blind. Still, it remains to be seen who the short sighted ones are in this spread. Me or those of Gateway." Conner slides his eyes to the next two cards.
"Thoughtlessness my virtue? Healing my fault?" Conner shakes his head convinced he must have reversed the order of the spread. Half the glass of brandy disappears in wrestling to make that into some sort of sense. "Wait a moment, wait a moment." Conner murmurs while setting the glass down. "Maybe I'm being to hidebound. These two can be considered the competitors cant' they? The two main influences or the two forks in the road. That ties with you doesn't it?" Conner asks the peasant. "A short sighted choice that dooms everything or the tougher road to the brighter future. How many times has that story played out I wonder? And which part have I been cast in?
"Then to top it off, the one card I like in this spread." Conner smiles lifting the Priestess from her place of honor. His eyes dip back down to the rest of the spread and he favors the Priestess with a wry smile. "You offer me forbidden fruit this time, don't you Lady? A secret best left to lie perhaps? Or will it simply be a high cost to bring truths to light?" Conner drains the last of his glass. "Well at least I am of the right lineage to go rushing in where angels fear to tread." Conner gathers his cards back up and secures them in their box.
Conner then seeks out Thalia in her quarters. Assuming she answers his knock, Conner enters and takes a chair. "I just did a little cartomancy and am most disturbed by I what I saw. I am not sure if I came here for comfort or advice but either way I thought it best not to be alone with my thoughts right now.
Conner lays out the spread for her and gives his interpretations of the reading. "I realize your information of Gateway is somewhat out of date, but does any of this strike a chord with you?"
Thalia pours herself a drink (and one for Conner if he didn't bring his brandy or has finished it and wants another). "Hmm. I'm not sure how those apply. I'm not a fortune teller. What I know of it is that it can be interfered with, either by outsiders or by the caster's internal desires. Also, you asked about Gateway. What if we don't end up in Gateway? What would your cards say if there were too many unknowns for your question to be meaningful?"
"They tend to be vague at such times, not self contradictory." Conner murmurs. "I know first hand that internal desires can affect the reading. Its why I attempt to clear my mind before using them. But if I have any such dark forebodings within me they must be deeply hidden. I was actually feeling good about things." He shrugs.
"Besides, my question was about the journey not the destination. I think this reading would play out wherever we finally end up." Conner takes another sip. "Perhaps I should do a casting for Gateway itself and try to cross-reference." Conner takes another sip. "Then again with this reading to color it, I doubt I could be objective. Ah well, vaguely warned is vaguely armed."
"Do you want to change our destination based on the reading?" she asks.
There is a long pause there. "No." Conner says at last. "However unpleasant the future may be the end result is the explaining of mysteries. There are a few too many of those out there these days to turn down the opportunity. Are you having any second thoughts?" Conner asks leaning forward and taking one of Thalia's hands in his. "Are you prepared for a Gateway horribly twisted or missing? As much as anyone can be prepared for such a thing that is." Conner murmurs wryly but with an encouraging smile.
She shakes her head and then brushes her hair out of her eyes. "No, I'm not. Do you think that such a thing is in the cards?"
"Not in the cards no." Conner sighs squeezing her hand gently. "I speak now of the voyages my cousins have made. Many have gone looking for lands they knew before the Sundering. Some have been completely unchanged. Others merely different as any land would be cut off from trade for several years. And some simply haven't been found." Conner says simply. "I don't know what to expect when we find Gateway. I just wanted you to know that."
"Gateway has faced hard times before. And I have reason to believe that she still stands." She smiles. "One of the reasons that Amber and Rebma are so interested in Gateway is that we do have some powerful magics. And friends with abilities."
She looks up at him. "There was a reason I sought out the Dey."
"Well I didn't think you just happened to stumble across him in the Land of Peace." Conner smiles. "So tell me your reasons for your belief and of your previous dealings with the Dey and his kind. And for that matter, tell me of Rebma and Gateway. How did they ply their trade with each other?" Conner looks back to his cards and frowns slightly. "Yes, tell me all you will, and then I shall press for all you can." He chuckles.
Thalia puts her fingertips together. "Gateway is what it is, Conner. A place of great magic at the extremes of Amber's Golden Circle of trading partners and at the extremes of Rebma's seaward domains. We have profited greatly from the control we have over trade and news. Neither Rebma nor Amber want an unrestricted back door for this trade, but there are things that they do want to allow through.
"Think of Gateway as the safety valve of the trade circles and you will not be far from wrong. The Gate Between Worlds is a powerful bargaining chip that we hold."
"The intersection of three sets." Conner muses. "A valuable position indeed." Conner sips his drink and changes the subject slightly. "What did you do before becoming Ambassador to Rebma, Thalia? It must have been a distinguished career to capture a position of such importance." Conner smiles at her. Conner takes out one of his pocketwatches and idly winds it as she speaks.
"I was the only one with the requisite skills and connections who didn't hate seafood."
"I'll pass that onto the kitchens." Conner murmurs wryly. "Well I just hope Gateway has remained unspoiled and unvisited. Being at a crossroads can be a dangerous place when the armies march through."
Conner lets the discussion wind down into casual chat and a game of chess unless Thalia has anything to bring up.
No, casual chat and a game of cheese^h^h^hss it is.
Last modified: 11 November 2004