Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Seventeen

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


Finding Rein turned out to be harder than Tayne had anticipated. No one he talked to knew anyone by that name or description, whether in the Order or even the city, itself. When he finally found someone high enough in the hierarchy to be definitive on the matter-- it happened to be Ghaurin, his original contact-- he found that there was no Rein in the Order at all in the entire region.

If that wasn't baffling enough, the journal was yet another source of confusion. Ghaurin had been actually distressed to see it in his hand.

"That's not supposed to be out of quarantine yet!" he exclaimed. "It was guarded with a myriad of powerful wards and magical traps. No one was even supposed to touch it until our specialist got here, much less give it to anyone."

"It's safe enough now, though," Tayne protested, holding it up. Ghaurin actually backed up a pace. "Hey, relax, I've already read the whole thing! If it were going to blow something up, it would have done so already."

At his urging, the Inuun took the journal, though at first very tentatively. "It does appear to be clean, now... except-- what's this?"

"A translation rune," Tayne supplied as the offending spell lit up obligingly. "That Rein fellow put it on, or so I assumed. So I can read it."

Ghaurin gave the book a dubious look, tentatively opening it and turning a page. When nothing happened, he finally relaxed a little. "Well, thank you for returning it. I'll have some mages look it over, to make sure everything's been wiped clean--"

"Er, actually," Tayne interrupted before the Inuun could turn away with it, "do you have a way of duplicating it? Magic, armies of scribes, printing press, whatever? I need a copy of it, so while your folks work on getting every bit of helpful information out of it possible, my brother, the Exalted, and I can start mapping out places we need to search."

"Certainly... I can have it done for you within the hour if I give it to our archivist. Can you make due with a data crystal? It would be the fastest."

Tayne took a second or two to wipe the blank look off his face. He had no idea what a "data crystal" was, or if it was portable. "Er, could you make due with a data crystal, and let me keep the book?" he asked with a sheepish grin. "I'm planning on taking the thing with us wherever we go, in case we need to rethink en route."

It took effort not to be annoyed at Ghaurin's brief chuckle. "Of course, my apologies. You'll have it back within the hour."

"Thanks," Tayne replied, and headed back to the "sickroom", as it were.

He found Torshael attempting to wean Tekasynos back into conversation-- about things very obviously "not Zu"-- with limited success, as the infernal seemed to have fallen into an even quieter spell. Especially as he now had a tray in front of him and was trying to eat it, hungrily enough that it was clear he was recovering. Haiiro sidled aside to let him in, again-- he'd somehow managed to squeeze himself inside, and his bulk blocked the door-- ears perked eagerly. "What did they say?" he asked immediately.

"That the fellow who gave me that book doesn't exist, and that the book never should have been given to me to begin with, because it was supposed to be cursed every which way." Haiiro looked taken aback, and Torshael frowned at him. He even got a reaction out of Tekasynos, who turned away from his belated breakfast to raise a brow at him. "I don't suppose any of you have any idea who a red-haired, gold-eyed elf named Rein could be?" Tayne asked, without much hope. "Seems he did away with all the wards and spell-traps, enough to take days for most people, and set up a complicated spell on the thing so I could read it."

From Haiiro and Torshael he got blank looks and shrugs, and whatever thoughts Tekasynos had-- and he did think on it for a moment-- he shrugged them off or kept them to himself. "What are we going to do now?"

"Try to figure out where it's most likely for Ishtar to keep her heart," Tayne grinned lop-sidedly. "As soon as I get that book back from Ghuarin, one of us gets to catalogue all the possible locations she mentions."

"Could I?" Haiiro spoke up.

" ... you want to?" Torshael asked, surprised. Tayne was, too. Haiiro might have been clever, but he wasn't really one for digging around in books.

The kirin-dragon ducked his head shyly. "Well, I had a little inspiration with the 'heart'... I thought maybe I might get a little, if I asked for it, with places to look for it. It's awfully important, after all, and even narrowing it down a little would be helpful, don't you think?"

The brothers exchanged a look and a shrug. "If you think it might happen again, go ahead, then," Tayne said. "Leaves me free to get the Order organized to protecting the rest of Ishtar's named victims. The book ought to be back here in a little less than an hour. Ghaurin's having it put into a data crystal, for the rest of the Order to look into."

"Tekasynos," Torshael began, turning to the still-silent infernal-- it was actually a little strange, how quiet, even docile he was being; Tayne made a note to get back to bantering with him in an attempt to wake him up a little. Torshael had other ideas, for the moment. "You're the resident," he continued. "Who all would need to be told of this plan of Ishtar's to avert that war, even if protecting the victims isn't enough?"

Tekasynos rubbed the back of his head absently, considering. " ... that depends on exactly who she's targeting. It's possible some of those people are the ones that would need to know. What's worse is that I don't know how far Zu's influence extends. I'd consider the worst case scenario: that influential people could be working for her benefit, which would give Ishtar all the push she needs, not only to get her war started, but to discredit what we do to prevent it."

Tayne stared. He hadn't even considered such a possibility.

"That really only leaves the Order themselves. They're organized and they're all over the world. The downside there is that large scale action by them would normally have to be sanctioned by various leaders.... If we got them to act, they'd be playing more of a vigilante role in this case. Then there's the possibility that Zu has agents here as well, however unlikely. The Kaja Riihan-- the dragons that the knights have as partners-- never select anyone which malicious or deceptive intent... but not all members of the Order are under such watchful eyes. When you get the book back, let me see her list. I can at least identify some of them for you."

"High One save us," Torshael groaned. "You really think Zu and Ishtar might have world leaders and advisors working for them? How long as Zu been here?"

"I'm saying it's the worse case scenario," Tekasynos corrected, crossing his arms in the most peevishness they'd seen out of him yet, tapping one finger thoughtfully. "I didn't say it was true. But I also wouldn't put it past her. She showed up sometime after me, but I'd been here for quite a while."

"Maybe we'll let the Order do most of the talking," Torshael suggested. "We're outsiders, strangers-- different species. Haiiro could speak up for us if necessary, but we won't help things by getting to vocal."

"Good point," Tayne grimaced. "I hate not being able to work freely, but you have a point. We'll stick to Zu- and Ishtar-hunting, I suppose. At least we have one advantage: they think you're dead, Tekasynos."

"I can only hope it stays that way," Tekasynos sighed.

It wasn't much later that a knock on the wall beside the door interrupted the sporadic talk of Kynnese politics, black infernal influence, and lich weaknesses. Ghaurin stood in the doorway, holding the familiar little black book. "If I'm not intruding... we've finished making our copy of the journal."

"Ah, thank you." Tayne pushed up from the chair he'd claimed to retrieve it. "Do you have some people to spare to read through it and see if there's anything we missed? We've got a lot to do, thanks to this little book."

"Certainly." Ghaurin nodded. "I'll get some people on it right away. Is there anything else we can assist you with at the moment?"

"We'll need paper and something to write with," Tayne said after a moment of thought. "For Torshael, Haiiro, and Tekas. I'll come with you and give your researchers the overview of what we already know, maybe give you folks some more to do while we work."

"And a map," Tekasynos interjected. "Preferably world-wide."

"Silly of me," Tayne grinned at him for covering the thing he'd forgotten. "A map, yes."

Ghaurin blinked, a little nonplussed, but nodded. "I'll have the materials sent immediately."

Paper, ink, quills, and an extremely large map arrived within a quarter hour, and Tayne left with the messenger, leaving Tekasynos with the book in hand and paper to write down what he knew about each of the listed victims. Thankfully, the room was big enough for the map and Haiiro both, though it was tight, and Haiiro and Torshael set about getting it laid out on the floor so that when it was their turn with the book, Haiiro could see what locations "felt" most promising and Torshael could mark them.

Tayne wound up downstairs in a large, busy cellar room, full of tables bearing finds from Ishtar's fortress and the people examining them. One group was seated around a display, upon which was scrolling the familiar words from the journal. He recognized a couple, though he wasn't sure from where-- probably seen around the building. One of the captains from the towers stood in one corner, conferring with one of the researchers about the two teams still out: the one at the fortress itself, the other out doing the hunting. Tayne first sought out whoever was in charge of the journal research, to explain what they'd figured so far and what, exactly, they were looking for. Ghaurin stayed at his shoulder, presumably in case he was needed for anything.

"What are these?" Tayne asked curiously, after exchanging overviews with the head archivist, looking over the shoulder of someone who wasn't looking at the journal's contents, themselves, but rather at something that looked like more runes.

"There were some other magical markings on the book," the head archivist explained. "We've investigating what they do."

"Left there by the fellow who put the translation rune on it and cleared everything else off, I assume." Tayne blew out a sigh. "Wish we knew who he was."

"So do we," the archivist sniffed.

"Any idea what they do, so far?"

"Not a clue." The archivist sniffed lightly again, as if offended by the runes' stubborn refusal to be translated. "Not only do they not match any normal written language we have, but they do not appear to be any magical script we have archived. At least, nothing that makes sense. It's completely foreign."

"Huh." Tayne peered at the squiggly inscriptions curiously. "Are there any places in particular which you know you don't have any magical scripts archived for? On the planet, I mean? Might help narrow down where that Rein fellow was from, anyway."

The archivist shrugged helplessly. "Not really, and it's beginning to grind some nerves. We'll likely have to call in some favors outside of the Order, if only to locate a specialist. We're getting nowhere fast."

"Don't call in too many," Tayne warned, "we might need as many favors as we can get, if we need to convince the rest of the world that they're in danger." He gave the runes one more puzzled look, then shrugged. "I don't think they're hurting anything, really, anyway. Tekas, Haiiro, and my brother have had the thing for the past hour and I haven't heard of any problems from them."

"We'll stop if you don't think they're important.... I suppose we could be working on other things...." The archivist rubbed his eyes, obviously frustrated, and Tayne took pity on him, patting his shoulder.

"You're doing good work. If you happen to stumble on what those runes do, that'd be great, but don't drive yourselves crazy trying. For all we know they're runes for-- keeping the book from getting wet, or something."

The archivist chuckled. "Suppose you're right."

"Of course I am," Tayne grinned. "About how long until your boys are done with the journal and we can compare notes? Will you send somebody for us, then?"

"Not long, I'd imagine. We'll be sure to send someone for you, when we finish."

"And I'll bring whatever we've found by then," Tayne nodded. "I'll see you later, then. Thanks for all your help."

Tayne got a wave as he moved on, angling for the man in charge of the hunters chasing Zu. They managed to track her heading further north, but lost her in an oncoming blizzard.

"You haven't tried magic yet?" Tayne asked.

"We're still concerned about being discovered and retaliated against," the captain said.

"If you had the right protections, that could be made safer," Tayne mused. "But I suppose it doesn't matter right now. We don't really care where she's going to let Ishtar recover, it's more where she ends up to cause trouble. I doubt we could go up against her again without a lot more backup. Try some passive detection spells," he suggested. "Something that won't really lead back to you unless it's disturbed by whatever it's looking for. Then whenever she surfaces again, we'll know."

"Yes, sir," the captain nodded, and Tayne left him to get back to it. Whatever Haiiro turned up would probably be more important, anyway....


Chapter Eighteen

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