Party Time is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.

Party Time chapter 4

The ride through the darkened Telva streets was boring to most, only slightly dangerous with the storm making the wide asphalt roads slick. Two large carriages held the group, one with Juvon, Vionn, Bepa and Osh, the other with the rest. The Steeds harnessed up to these carriages were of the wingless variety, which Bepa hadn't seen often and was curious about. Either carriage seated six comfortably, with the driver placed above and outside, with his own small shelter. Their drivers urged the Steeds into motion with a snap of their reins, and the ride was much smoother than most would have imagined of a non-tech type.
Mirage's home seen from the outside at night was a marvel, and the road snaked through the southernmost portion of it where a vehicle port overhung the street, for just such an occasion: rainy weather was common here near the Pin Gulf, and it wouldn't do to have wet party guests.
The skyport was not more than a few minutes away from the huge mansion, but even so, the handfulls of people in the carriages got to know one another even more closely in that time. Osh and Juvon continued to bat about veiled threats of attraction and denial while Bepa and Vionn laughed at them. Vionn finally broke into their 'conversation' with a statement to the effect that he too could sense the weather.
"How far away will it get before it dies?" Bepa asked, and both of the weather-tuned mutants gazed off into a distance the other two couldn't see for all the world.
"I'd say three hours east, at best," Vionn said.
"Four, but I bet that's just the tail of it," countered Osh.
They talked about their love of rain, their frustration at not being able to do anything about it should they wish, and that their Breeders were both very proud of them.
"Who--" Bepa started, and Vionn laughed. He also had rather long fangs, longer than Juvon's by a bit.
"My mother," he said. "She's into everything, she'd like me to follow her into Breeding but I don't really fancy all that studying. I dropped the Status to become a Free'Holder, it suits me just fine."
"You lowered to be that?" Bepa asked, astonished. In her life, she'd never met anyone who had done such a thing. "What is it you do, anyway?"
"I play with electronics," he said, pulling out a small calculation machine. It came to life, and did things that it ought not to have been able to do. "So I fix things, I'm a mechanic."
"And your mother is a Breeder," Osh said.
"The best," Juvon said. "Morgontain."
"But..." Bepa said, "Salem's her son, and you look nothing like him."
"That's okay," Vionn said, "he looks nothing like her, so they're even. And he didn't go into Breeding either, she hates that."
"She's an Animal Master too," Bepa reminded him. "Why not choose that?"
"Because animals don't particularly like me," he said. "My father doesn't have that trouble at all, he's working in her Hunt park. Don't know why he didn't come with us to this party."
"He doesn't like the company," Juvon said.
"He doesn't like you," Vionn reminded his friend. "And he doesn't like crowds."
"Well, if there is one thing you could count on, it's that any party Mirage holds will have one of those," Osh said.
"And what do you do, Juvon?" Bepa asked.
His eyes were probably moving behind those small glasses, Osh thought, as he pondered what to tell the woman. "I attend those parties," Juvon finally offered.
"Is that all?" Bepa said, "I mean, no offense, High Master, but don't you need to do something?"
"I scare people," Juvon said, quietly. Vionn began laughing. "Stop it, LandMaster, or you'll just have to pay for that last shipment of wiring I sent you."
"I was going to do that anyway, Juvon, some of us have jobs, you know."
"I do have a job, my friends, I am a performer of certain tricks. I'm going to be opening a Hold up for tourists soon, give them tours, and make them scared of it."
"Why?" Bepa wondered aloud, but it was mainly to herself, and neither the High Holder nor his best friend offered her an explanation.

Kyoh clearly didn't like being outsized by not just one but two people in their carriage. Both of them Breeders, as well. He was uncomfortable with the look that the more sinister Breeder was giving him when he entered it. The more sinister of a pair which could very well be taken from the same stock, he thought, but the longer haired one was certainly making points with Haesh, and that would probably mean that he'd be seeing more of him.
Amazingly, Kyoh thought, his Membayar was holding his own in this rather impressive gathering. He's gone from wallflower to power-broker in one night.
If they survived to see another day, Kyoh thought, he might just have that sky-high potential the Chanay matriarch Iolen kept bragging about.
"What's wrong with him?" Haesh said of Vanya, when he noticed the man's eyes were closed or halfway rolled back at any given time.
"I'm keeping him sedated," Ten said. His long tail was wrapped around on the floor of the carriage, and the others were careful of stepping on it. The boy and his Master and Haesh were on one side of the vehicle's interior, while Darkhanis and Kyoh sat across from them, and the elder Breeder examined the other casually, but the concern showed on his dark eyebrows.
"What exactly are you doing, anyway?" Haesh asked of the boy. He found himself hoping that the boy would answer him and not because his voice was sweetly musical, but because he thought possibly that the Slave just had such an attitude that he might not want to.
"Normally, I'm just keeping his twisted little mind occupied with the pleasant thoughts he's supposed to be thinking, rather than the darker ones. Right now, since he's not... good with travel, I'm giving him as thorough an illusion of being still as I can, but it's not easy."
"You're amazing," Haesh said, quietly.
"Yes he is," Darkhanis said, "and I must admit to an amount of jealousy over him."
"Just because you didn't think of it first," Vanya said, slurred and dreamily. "Ha ha," he completed, while attempting to make a rude gesture with his hand. Ten took that hand and put it back onto the man's lap.
"Hush," Ten said, reaching from his delicate curl on the tall man's legs and touching his face. Haesh blandly noticed that the boy was already impossibly beautiful, that once he grew up how amazing he might be if he weren't a Slave, and if he wasn't one...
"In a way," Darkhanis said, after thinking, "I did make him. You provided the machinery but I, my dear impossible Sengihr, provided your working materials."
Vanya's eyes snapped open at that, without anger but not without a little wince indicating that he was not happy with having to open them at all. "I suppose you're right. You've gotten perfection down my friend. Perhaps we ought to collaborate in the future."
"You've continually asked Mirage if she's going to be available for it," Darkhanis said. "And your employer usually would agree if it weren't for this boy here." Darkhanis reached out and smoothed the Slave's long silvery hair, and Haesh detected an amount of pride on the boy's face.
And why not? Haesh wondered how much Ten would be able to get away with, once his identity was made public. Haesh still didn't quite want to guess who the other father was in this case, but clearly it was someone that Darkhanis had Bred, someone with whom Mirage would make an ideal mate, and who, it occurred to Haesh, Vanya was extremely attached to: his employer at that.
Later, he'd find out. For the moment, Haesh was content to slip that piece of paper over his hand, and out of it, practicing. He'd get to that other ability sooner or later, preferrably later. Kyoh continued to watch in silence, glad that the attention wasn't on him.

The carriages had stopped and Osh was arranging their payment, as the others gathered below a mostly decorative shelter. There were people out in this storm, as there were always people around Telva at any given moment, but they paid what Osh and his companions thought was too much attention to the group for their taste. Someone sent a commanding thought around to the nearest group of prying eyes, and they just left. Others stared after them, given to wonder.
"Does anyone have the slightest idea how we're going to do this?" Bepa asked, and the others paused, grumbled, or pondered as was their want.
"We go," Vionn said, "we get to the mansion, we see if the girl's been dragged into it, get her out, leave."
"Destroy the lab," Vanya muttered, but no one was certain if he meant it or not.
Once Osh was finished with the drivers, they moved from the wet road to the equally wet airstrip, where the promised sleek hoverjet was waiting. The storm had moved in quickly, over their short stay in the carriages, and would surely be dumping volumes of water on them soon if they didn't enter the aircraft. Their intent was to reach high atmosphere, and descend back to what equated to 'early tomorrow' when they got to Zerin. They hustled wetly and without further grumbling into the jet's seating area.
It was a long oval ship with a thick wedge-shaped wing somewhat more toward the back than the front, painted in Zerin colors of green and tan, and had an emblem of what appeared to be a ship quite like itself soaring over the sunrise over the Stetil mountains. The small opening for passengers was sheltered by its upper door, there was no one waiting for them or helping them up into the ship, the pilot was waiting already in his control cabin.
"Paclal," Osh said, "is the Emer field open?"
"It will be by the time we get there," the man said, tilting his large cap and examining the people loading onto his prize posession. He was very slightly unnerved at the fact that so many of them appeared to be of much higher Stock than himself, but then again, that was how he made his money. Osh had to duck constantly because of those horns of his, but Paclal and he had worked together before, and the pilot had noticed that he never once left a scrape mark with them on the interior of his beautiful plane.
"We'll be heading into the sunset, my Lords and Lady," Paclal said while they were strapping into their seats. "This trip will last probably three hours, but there may be some delay while we're in the local atmosphere, what with this storm." He politely went over a list of things he had to say to remain legally in business, where the exit was and how to use it, suchlike. The have-a-nice-trip speech was reserved for tourists and day-trippers, not these people, so he left it out. He disappeared into his cabin again, and the group nervously wondered as a whole (possibly aided by the fact that several of them were telepathic) if what they were doing was actually a good idea.
The seats were done as two rows of single, wide and comfortable reclining chairs, decorated in pale versions of the exterior colors, with a wide aisle between. Each of the passengers took a seat, some less willing than others.
"Three hours of this," Vanya muttered, jaw tight and fingers clenched already around the soft armrest, "I am a fool."
"No one has yet denied that," Darkhanis said, waving his hand gently at his friend from the seat behind. The other Breeder promptly fell asleep.
"Just like that?" Ten asked, standing barely over the backrest of his own seat, touching his Master's face and wondering openly at the way it was done.
"Just like that," the elegant grey man said. "You don't have to hurt him doing it, you know, that's just something he told you so you'd do it more often. Really ought to leave off doing that. It isn't any good for him. Some day he must learn the difference between pain and pleasure." He looked out the small window to his side, "Mihr would probably agree."
"He doesn't not know the difference," Juvon offered, smiling, but was met by the elder Breeder's scowl. "He seeks them out in his unique way."
"And he ought to stop it, it is no good for him," the elder Breeder insisted.
Ten looked down, away from the Breeder and the rest, and seemed to either be pouting or plotting.
The ship powered up and the engines roared, dampened but not completely unheard from inside. Three strong hover engines managed the vertical lift off, and then the large jets within the wing sped them into a climb. The bulk of the still aware passengers were mainly uninterested in the passage of the ship through the storm clouds, but to Bepa and Kyoh it was marvelous. Osh and Vionn rattled off several variables to each other regarding that formation or this squall, either of them intensely aware of the surrounding pressure systems and electrical build-ups.
Darkhanis closed his eyes and seemed to try to sleep as well, while Haesh and Juvon simply sat and watched the storm through their small windows. The ship passed through in several minutes, erupting onto the top of the turbulent clouds and the still-illuminated high stratosphere. There was little to see beyond the roiling clouds below them, the coastline was usually visible at this height as a wonderfully dramatic line of high cliffs and dark stone beaches, brightly colored buildings and wide, open streets crossing the hills beyond. The glaring of the sunset grew brighter, slowly, as the ship flew with ease at more than four times the speed of sound, over the sea.
"Isn't it dangerous to be flying over the ocean like this?" Bepa asked, "I mean, what if we--"
"We won't," Osh insisted. "Bepa, you've got to trust my pilots. They do this every day." Though his words and his voice were convinced, he like the rest of the group were still slightly nervous about it. The expanse of water they flew over was deeper in parts than the highest of the Stetil Peaks were above ground.
Bored soon, Bepa attempted to make small talk with Juvon, which he seemed to tolerate fairly well, but once she got into the realms of her Steeds, he deferred her to Vionn. Three hours, Haesh wondered, yes it's a long time when you're suddenly willing to endure much more than boredom afterward.
"Vionn," Haesh interrupted his casual speech about the benefits of electronic monitoring of flight Steeds, "when you take a look at the security system at this place we're going to --" He broke off and looked at Osh, then at the pilot's cabin.
Osh got offended, nodded deeply and waved his hand at his brother to continue.
"How are we going to get a map made? You said you can sense the area through it, right?"
"Yes," Vionn said, looking slightly annoyed at himself. "But I don't know --"
"What about that other thing you can do, Haesh?" Juvon said, "my mother said you might be able to do something with images."
"Yes, but I've never tried it, and I don't even really know what to expect of it."
"But you've got that piece of paper you've been annoyingly playing with all evening," the High Holder said, pointing at it with his dangerously dark and manicured nails.
"Anyone got a pen?" Haesh asked, and Osh of course came up with one. Always prepared.
Juvon moved in, kneeling beside the others. "Here. Let me just try this. Mom's always doing that trick, of finding people's deeper parts, she's been doing it all my life. I might know what you're able to do." As he spoke, he fiddled with the pen, scrawling across the page and generally making it messy with dark marks. "Now. Concentrate on a picture in your head." He tapped at the paper, "and how about showing it to us here."
Haesh decided that openly calling the man insane would be impolite, there was already one admittedly crazy gent in the plane, and there certainly didn't need to be namecalling. Even though Haesh and the group had just come from Mirage's mansion, and it was practically a shrine to her photographic arts -- the Treasury room was the most sparsely decorated in the place -- Haesh couldn't for the life of him think of a piece of 'art'. Finally, a memory of a detail from a carving that his father had been working when he was a child came to him, and Haesh closed his eyes to think on it.
The others waited, some more patiently than others. Juvon still crouched beside Haesh's seat, holding the doodled-on paper. Haesh thought in silence about the piece of artwork his father could craft, but Haesh could never -- because of those damnable hands of his.
Each detail came clear to him, the crown piece of a bedframe his father had made. Faces and trees, the images of flags and Steed lands etched into the slight relief of the darkly stained wood. This left-most face was the friendliest, Haesh remembered, but he didn't much like the right-hand one; the flags were four in number, one for each of the Homelands.
When Juvon jolted back and dropped the paper, Haesh's eyes came open sharply.
"It was hot," Juvon said, waving his hand at the other, but picking up the paper shortly. "Yeah, like I thought. Here. Nice work. I bet it'll work on electronic sources better, it's something about the molecules moving faster or slower. You're moving the dark into places it wasn't before."
"Moving the --" Haesh started, but soon enough his brother and Kyoh were standing over his shoulders looking with wide eyes and open mouths. The details were still a little fuzzy, as if the paper had been wetted down and then the ink had spread. But the details were there, of this fine headboard which Osh knew pretty well, it was his own. He snatched the paper from Haesh's limp hand, and showed it off shortly.
"Yeah," Osh said. "This could work. Wonder if it'll be bad to use the same piece over again?"
"Is it still warm?" Juvon asked, leaning himself back into a nearby seat.
"No, it feels like ... paper," Osh said, passing it to Kyoh, who nodded.
"Then when we get there, Haesh," Vionn said, "I'll be providing the images for you to illustrate. I'd say we could practice, but I don't know how easy it is for you, yet. You might get blown out before we need you."
For the first time in his life, and certainly the first time since meeting any of these people, Haesh Chanay felt undisguised pride at being needed. The fact that several telepaths nearest could pick up on that didn't dim the feeling in the slightest.

During the entire three-hour-plus ride across the Rainbow Sea and over the plains of Laiarta, the only vaguely interesting feature before flying over the land was that the huge peak of the Altem mountains could be seen on the horizon as a lumpy brown mass breaking up the otherwise featureless green-blue haze, as they passed south of the continent of Curra.
Haesh wanted to keep practicing his newly developed powers, but Vionn's warning had kept him wary of it. It seemed no trouble to use the density power to keep the paper on his person, and once he discovered that it couldn't be damaged by other parts of his anatomy, Haesh found himself being deviously clever in attempting to find other things he could hide just below the skin.
"You would make an excellent spy," Darkhanis said quietly over the hum of the jets, while others were having their own now-private discussions. Haesh was slightly startled, he thought that the High Breeder was still asleep.
"Oh, I don't know if I have the head for that, Sir," Haesh said, but the grey man merely smiled. His eyes had not opened, still.
"But you do, clearly, have the abilities needed. If you discover you've the taste for this adventure, young man," finally Darkhanis opened his eyes and focused them on the Membayar, "you ought to locate me again. Or Sengihr's employer for that matter. We could arrange something."
Flustered, wondering how in the world he got into this all, Haesh nodded and went back to his task of flattening the paper into his forearm.
Once the craft began to fly over land, high over, the group brightened again. Kyoh had slept some, as had Juvon, and apparently Ten as well. They woke to the sounds of the others (the sound of Bepa, actually) talking excitedly about the vast farmlands below them. It spread below the daylit sky in all shades of greens and brown, reds here and there from the huge zpara fields, broken by the large white and black masses of cities. Laiarta's population was spread thin here on the peninsula, but as the ship flew farther inland and began to descend (the passengers could hear Paclal making announcements to the local airstrips) they could actually see the huge twin cities of Hisai and Teklel across the river-border to Reimal.
They passed these features at alarming speeds, however, so there was little time to sight-see. Perhaps, many thought, on the way back they'd be afforded a slower view.
The ship cruised over the mountain range which was split by two Areas: Ka and Stetil.
Osh was able to say names of each peak as they passed them, others couldn't. He had always been up on mapping and such, certainly more of a hobby than anything else, but it clearly didn't hinder his job any. They passed more slowly over the Astan Ridge, the first tall mountainsides of Ka, then found the sharp valley between it and the Emer peak. A long, heavy river twisted between the ridges, but the peaks were too sharp-sided and rocky to provide much in the way of homesteading.
"We're going to be waiting another few minutes, while another transport goes in," Paclal's pleasantly high voice announced from his speakers throuout the plane. "But it won't be long now. We'll actually be seeing quite a bit of Emer, now's the time to sight see, when we go in for the landing you'll all have to be seated."
With a certain group effort, then, and Osh's penchant for maps, they looked for Zerrik's mansion. When they found it, it was a slight disappointment: it was in the middle of a large hilly area, practically isolated. Not easily gotten into without being seen.
Then Paclal decided they must return to their seats, and the ship descended with a louder hissing of the jets and re-starting of the hover-fans below. The Emer landing strip was larger than the rural township might normally have offered, by the city's size alone it didn't warrant such a nice strip. But this was Emer, a good exporter of ores and hardwoods. Large transports outnumbered passenger ships like Paclal's by at least three to one, and it was one of those which had to descend before they could land.
"Do you have transportation contacts around here?" Juvon asked Osh, who was busy flipping through a small booklet he kept on his person at all times.
"I believe so," he said, distractedly. The ship landed with an ease of a Steed in a quality show.
Kyoh watched as the only member of their party of a lower Status than he woke, and it seemed to the Bayaran that the boy was scheming.
A flair of sheer cruelty fleetingly crossed the beautiful features on the blue face, and then was replaced by a strange mix of confusion and anger.
"Don't even think about it, Ten," Darkhanis said, "and do not attempt it again in my presence. He needs to be left to sleep until we are completely at a stop. What you do to him alone is your business, but while I am here, you defer to my judgement of what's healthy and what isn't. Is that clear, boy?"
His voice alerted the whole of the others, set them on edge for some reason. That reason was the clear undercurrent of threat in his tone, and the words obviously stung the Slave deeply. Being chastised in private (Kyoh thought) was one thing and could be handled with more ease. Having everyone nearest you knowing that you're being punished was something else entirely, and by someone who was the clear ranking and senior member of their party... Kyoh didn't feel sorry for the boy, but he did suddenly feel wary of him. There was in fact something deeply unnerving about the lovely child, that his eyes betrayed a sense of age and wisdom -- or a treachery -- bound within.
Kyoh was able to keep this to himself, since both telepaths aboard ship were busy with other things.
"We'll get transport and locate the place as soon as we can," Juvon said, while the ship powered down and they were unhooking their seat buckles. "We might need some supplies and..."
"You know we're completely unprepared for this," Haesh muttered, moving by the silvery-haired man. "But I feel like walking into the landslide and I can't think of a better group of people to do it with."
"Why thank you, Master Chanay," Juvon said, smiling. "Does anyone know of where we could get --"
"We can stop at the Inheritance of Snow," Vanya said, more with disgust than groggily. Fully awake now, and apparently unnerved to be where he was, the BreedMaster hovered near Darkhanis and they spoke very quietly.
"Inheritance..." Juvon said, confused. They moved out of the ship one at a time, but continued speaking.
"Yes," Vanya said, smiling more, "of snow. It's fucking cold here, you know? Snows. Look, you can see some right up there," he pointed his long fingers at the nearest peaks, which were in fact covered with permanent snow. "I don't like it here. It's why I don't stay here."
"But you've a Hold here?" Osh asked, and the Breeder nodded, seeming to regret it.
"Why didn't you tell --" Bepa started but the hard stare from Osh cut her off.
"Because no one bothered to ask. It's one of those places I'd much rather forget about, than keep in my high memory. I was --" he stopped, turned disgustedly away, and then steeled himself again. "I was born here, in Emer." When he said it, it was as if he had to spit the word born out. Haesh suddenly wondered if having him along wasn't going to be the best idea. A confusion of anger and sadness was all Haesh could attribute to the man. "This is the only thing I have left of my family." He turned to Darkhanis. "I came here for revenge, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did."
"Is that wise?"
"No," Darkhanis said, "but you'll get out of it fine, I think. I'd feel sorry for him but that's rediculous. Where is this inheritance of yours?"
He waved his long, dark hand at a general direction, "somewhere over that way, I think."
"You don't know?" Juvon said, smirking. They had gathered on the tarmac, and were waiting for something to trigger their further action.
"I don't like it here, as I've said, Juvon. Don't mock me. It's all bad memories here. I've got a staff, I suppose I ought to warn them to stop doing whatever they're doing and get the place ready."
"Careless," Darkhanis said. "You ought to keep better track of your servants."
Only Ten reacted to that, slightly.
Osh asked Paclal to wait for them to return or for word from them, before taking any further assignments, and this was accompanied by a rather large sum of credit. Paclal tipped his hat to the Membayar, and instructed the field workers to move his plane into the shelter, at which point he walked to the pilot's lounge.
The group moved into the huge airstrip building, where people were loading and docking other transport machines, and it was as busy as one could expect a mountain top town to get. Vanya walked to a communication booth, and had soft words with whoever was still at his Hold. Half the group wondered if he remembered their names, either.
"Let me get this straight," Bepa said, mostly echoed by Juvon, "he's got this Hold. He doesn't know where it is?"
"He doesn't necessarily know how to get there," Ten said, still subdued by the elder Breeder's presence. "As you can see he doesn't take transport well. If you slept between every location, would you know how to get somewhere?"
That seemed to make sense to the others, enough so that they left off worrying about it. Osh wandered over to the tall Breeder and more successfully got the information they'd need, from the servant on the other end of the line, since it seemed to him that Vanya wouldn't be giving them terribly coherent instructions, at that.
Suddenly, Juvon disappeared, to the distress of Vionn again. They seemed to Bepa to be spending far too much time leaning on one another. Vionn stumbled again, rolled his deeply green eyes, and waited. Momentarily, Juvon reappeared.
His presence and sudden changes in its erratic nature startled others not in their group, but not so much that they made a scene about it.
"I've got Paclal watching for anyone matching Mihr's description being dragged into the building," he said, "so if he sees it we'll know."
"That's trusting," Kyoh pointed out.
"Yes, it is," Juvon said. "He already knows more than enough to condemn us, if it comes to a mistake being made, but we're not making any."
As a whole, they agreed. Osh and Vanya came back to the group shortly, vaguely pleased with the results of their conversation.
"Yes I know his name," Vanya was saying as they arrived, "but it simply slips my mind at the moment."
"That," Osh said, "is terrible."
"You're telling me?" Vanya admitted. "It's horribly embarrassing. I'm not usually that bad with people."
"What?" Haesh asked his brother.
"Nothing," Vanya growled, but as the first time he'd used that tone of voice in Haesh's presence, it was a joke.
"The BreedMaster here can't tell us the names of his other Slaves working in his Hold."
"I have such little contact with them," he explained, "why bother?"
"We're heading out as soon as our driver gets here," Osh said, "the Sengihr Hold is nearer the center of town than the mansion." Osh lowered his voice considerably. "But I don't know if I have the ability to get us there without notice."
"I can arrange that," Juvon said, smiling.
"How about I do," Darkhanis said, "I've much more practice and your ability is not the same as mine."
"Sharing is so wonderful," Juvon said.
"As long as you don't share any diseases with us," Vionn said, "we'll continue to get along."
"As long as I don't share any with my sister," Juvon muttered, "I might live to see next year."
About half the group hesitated before laughing at that, unsure if speaking about Amaranth in that context was either a joke or... Their transport captain arrived, a stout man with what he had left of his hair braided into two long cords.
Darkhanis looked at the man and his eyes sort of clouded over. Haesh noticed that this time when he concentrated, he could feel that ability being used. It was certainly more practiced, as he said, but also at a considerably more strong level than his own could ever be.
Haesh wondered if there was anything he could ever be better than anyone at, but pushed those thoughts away when they followed the driver to their carriage. They sat with less comfort than before, this cab was suited for six or seven people, not nine, however since three of them were much smaller they sat without complaint.
Juvon promptly relaxed himself across the laps of Osh and Vanya, since they were closest.
After a very long gaze at the silver skinned man, Vanya looked at Osh.
"I could disable him, if you like," he said, a faint smile on his face. "I have heard that he's been disturbing you all evening."
"Normally I'd say yes, please," Osh said, attempting to ignore the weight across his lap... and the hand where it had fallen, "but unfortunately I think we need him functional."
"Whatever you say," the Breeder said. "But if you ever decide you need him taken out of comission -- even for a few minutes -- just call me."
The ride was distractingly rough momentarily for Vanya to continue, and when he laughingly threatened bodily mess at Juvon the silver man sat up and moved to the other side of the cab. Osh noted with pleasure that in this town, most of the larger cabs like this one had a lot of head room, so his horns weren't in the way and didn't have to discomfort him when he sat. His normal huddle was unnecessary here, because many cabs were used to move large objects.
They did not speak further of the plan until they came to a stop, at the Sengihr Hold. The driver came along, attended smoothly by Darkhanis who handed him off to one of the other in-Hold servants. Short instructions seemed to be followed completely, Haesh noticed, but otherwise the driver was a zombie.
"When will that wear off, High Breeder?" Haesh asked, when they were moving inside.
"When I tell it to," was his answer.
"It was night, now it's not," Vionn muttered to himself, and Juvon walking beside him grumbled about it.
"I was going to take the shades off sometime," he said, fingering them, "but I think they'll be staying on now."
"If we were headed to my office," Vanya said, "you'd be able. So sorry. As I have said, I dislike this place but not entirely because it's displeasing. Come in. It isn't much but it's warmer and it's all I can offer."
The Hold was, in Haesh's eyes, very nice. Larger than his family's Hold in Geses, but not by much. A low two-story ramble of dark thick woods and large cut stone, heavy two-pane glass, and black metal trim. It was a pretty house, Haesh thought, but yes it was cold out here, quite cold, now that he was noticing it at all. The air was thinner and he felt more light headed than he had when first invited to Mirage's party.
It was his diffuse nature, he decided. He concentrated on keeping himself as solid as he could, and that seemed to help a little, but then he realized that if he had to do so for very much longer, he might wear himself out.
Sighing, he resigned himself to the cold, until he entered the homestead. It was warm and close, not particularly bright inside, but enough so that it was in a word: cozy. The others moved into the doorway and commented as they would, Haesh and Osh realized they were both giving the woodwork the once-over.
They turned to one another, pointed at one small loose peg in a fitting, and laughed together.
Separately, they realized how much they both missed times when they did nothing but things together. Nothing for it, Osh decided. But if this was an indication of the potential for this crowd... Anything was possible.
"Kaeris," Vanya said, loudly, and startled the others. He spun on Osh, and grinned madly. "Kaeris is the one we were talking to," he held the Slave's shoulder in a friendly (if slightly distressing) grip. Kaeris bowed to the others, and was released.
He looked to be an older man, Kaeris did, with darkly red skin wrinkled on his face, and flaxen yellow hair which was stringy and loosely bound into a ribbon behind his head. Dressed casually for the area, he moved his hand and indicated the major rooms beyond the group.
"We've set up, Master," he said, "will you be staying this night or...?"
"Possibly," Vanya said after a deliberating moment. "I suppose if we've got food I ought to offer it," the Slave nodded once and was off. Vanya looked back to the group. "Whatever we find here, I suppose, it's going to have to do for our outing. Make yourselves comfortable if you can."
"It's a nice place," Bepa annouced, loudly, as she passed. She looked around and decided that in fact it was roomy enough and the right colors for a home. She thought also: maybe the new Land she's got Held might wind up looking better with a place like this on it.
"You still have that plant here?" Vionn asked, and Vanya guiltily looked around.
"I don't know," he said. He looked at a Slave, an older woman who stood patiently by the entrance to the kitchen.
"We've been taking care of it, Master," she made a slight bow, "but it isn't taking the cold very well."
"It'd do better here than in my office, I suspect," the Breeder said, "thank you for reminding me, Vionn."
"Never a problem."
Haesh and Osh exchanged a glance, and openly watched Vionn for an explanation. By the time the rest of the group had moved around the homestead and settled where they would, Vionn told the brothers that Mirage had in fact insisted that what Vanya needed was a hobby other than his current ones, and handed him of all things a plant to take care of.
"She's got something against plants," Vanya muttered. "She wanted me to keep it in my Fi'ir place, but there aren't any windows there, I know that much about the detestable things, they need more light than I'm prepared to have there."
"I think she wanted you to spend time outside," Haesh suggested.
"I don't take the sun well," Vanya defended.
"You should be kept away from plants," Vionn agreed. "And she knows it."
"Mirage makes people stupid," Juvon said, leaning against the wall. "But only because you all love her so."
"You're saying you don't?" Osh asked, smiling.
"Not the way you would. She's my mother, Osh Chanay, not my sister."
He laughed and wandered into the larger, brighter room beyond their hallway. The brothers and the Breeder followed, slowly.
The others in the group finally gathered there, at the suggesting prod of Vionn and Juvon's minds. The room was pleasantly lit by gas lamps which also provided a scent to the room, their smoke was gathered gently by a quiet fan at the top of the room.
"Very rustic," Juvon commented, as he sat in the larger of the seats available. Around the center of the semi-round room, there were cushioned chairs, and charcoal colored leather bag-chairs, and the middle was sunken, framed by more elaborately cut stones and brick. The central pit was now cushioned and covered by draperies of silk and gold-colored cloth, but it had been a fire-pit when the homestead was built.
Haesh sighed, and attempted to stop giving himself a guided mental tour.
Darkhanis and Vanya sat at the edge of the pit, watching the others settle. Bepa finally came back from her actually guided tour, seated herself quietly under the elder Breeder's gaze at last.
"Do you have any e-pads?" Vionn asked, and Vanya had to defer to the knowledge found in his Slave Kaeris.
"Sir," the Slave said, "one we use in the kitchen for jotting down orders. If you need it, I'll bring it."
"Do it," Vanya said, "we'll bring it back for that later."
"And do you have any spare warmer clothes?" Bepa asked, rubbing her arms. "We'll freeze going out there and wandering in the hillsides."
"I agree," Vionn said. "But if we do this right, Bepa, we won't have to worry about it for very long. Cold keeps you on your toes."
The Slave brought their e-pad to his Master, who took it and in the same long motion passed it across the cushion pit to Haesh. Though Haesh wondered that it was Vanya and not one of the other people doing it: he'd been asleep that whole time in the plane, hadn't he?
"Try that one," Vanya said, "with Vionn backing your mind up. Don't worry about blowing it up. There are others."
The worry in Haesh's mind was replaced with a knowledge suddenly supplied by the elder Breeder's raised eyebrow. There was no such thing as ignorance when Darkhanis was also 'sleeping'.
"Let me through your mind," Vionn said, attempting this for the first time and distracting the younder Membayar. "I'll take something from my own e-pad, here, and transfer it through you. You concentrate on it appearing on that one."
Haesh turned on the square shaped pad. The existant words scrawled with a light pen wavered when he even looked at them, he noticed. Then, he felt Vionn's mind at the edge of his own.
Gently, let me give you a schematic.
The words were clear, but with Vionn's distinct mental flavor. Juvon's mind was slick and condensed, Vionn's seemed to be warmer and more full. And it had this amazing set of lines.
Which moved so easily over the e-pad that Haesh nearly surprised himself. Just a glimmer of the image had settled over his mind, when it appeared in the pad's grey surface. When Haesh concentrated, it flipped to another image, then another, he was quite sure that the electronic method was how this power was meant to be used. He turned off the e-pad, and kept it with him.
"How close do you need to get to the house to be able to sense their systems?" Darkhanis asked, and Vionn pondered.
"I've never really been taxed at it," he said. "I suspect all we'll need to be is on the grounds, or if there is a perimeter line that will do perfectly. It has to be connected to something inside."
"And if not?" Ten asked, "how will we get up to the mansion if there's a great wide space, like we saw out there?"
"Quickly," Vanya said, "we'll do it quickly. How fast do you think you can run, Ten?"
For the first time, Ten was very slightly afraid of his Master. He shook that off, however, and nodded.
"What else can we all do, once we're there mightn't we be better to split up?" The boy asked, and the rest nodded.
"Vionn, Juvon, you'll have to be split up," Darkhanis said, and they turned as one. "You're both openly telepathic, and if we'll be in two groups, there ought to be one of you in each, so we have two way communication."
"Makes sense," Vionn grumbled.
"Okay, so who's with me?" Juvon said, looking about.
"You and Ten, go with him," Darkhanis said, "I'll stay with the tech-elf," he smiled at the red and gold man. "We both know who we're looking for, Vanya."
"I'd smell him," the other Breeder muttered, darkly.
"And Ten," Darkhanis added momentarily, "be warned. Your ability with the powers you have is nothing to the exile. Nothing. Your job is to protect him, break the fear so Vanya can think clearly. The need will be there."
"Yes sir," Ten said. His tail nervously moved around, until he caught it with his foot and seemed to plant it where it lay.
"Haesh, you and he seem to be getting along fine, you ought to go with him," Darkhanis said.
"I'll have the second copy of the schematic, as well," he held up the e-pad. "Kyoh, come with us. You other two make up the rest of that group."
That settled, they as a group relaxed, just a little. Momentarily, when it seemed appropriate, one of the Slaves began circling with a tray of prepared foods, and another with drinks. Simple foods, it occurred to Osh.
It also occurred to him that most of the Breeder's Slaves were as old if not older than their Owner. He wisely didn't ask. He probably wouldn't like the answer and suspected that Haesh knew something, given all that his brother seemed to be carrying on his shoulders now, regarding the Breeder. He could tell, Osh always read his brother easily, but in this case he was doing such a good job of holding his own, that Osh just left him alone with it.
"So now we wait," Juvon said, "for sundown?"
"Slightly earlier," Vionn said. "It was sundown at the Kelen clinic, so we ought to move when it's nearer sundown here."
"It's at least two hours earlier in these mountains," Osh confirmed. "And it won't take but half an hour to fly from Kelen to here, as I've said. I wonder if they have their own service?"
"We could ask Paclal," Juvon said, "he'd probably know, he's a pilot after all."
"I'll do it," Osh said, unsure of how easily Paclal could be listened in on, if that was the case. Paranoia didn't set in easily for the man, but it did so deeply. "And I'll see if anyone's come in that we ought to know about, otherwise. Maybe they already did it and we're on a wild chase."
He found a vidphone and paged Paclal, who still was waiting in the pilot's lounge. There was activity behind him, but it had tapered off after the initial morning rushes. They spoke quietly and privately, so far as Paclal could tell there were no ears on them that should not have been. The pilot got a slightly conspiratorial look, and continued this charade as long as necessary: Osh was a good employer and a better tipper, he'd stay and chat with the locals and his friends in the industry as long as it took. That tip he'd already been given was enough for three trips worth.
There were no hints that anyone of the descriptions of Zerrik or his wife, nor a yellow-orange woman in tow having passed through the area. But Paclal wondered when Osh asked about them having their own plane or transport.
"I'd put even money on it," Paclal admitted, "but I can't name names, I don't know for certain. I could ask around."
"No, I don't think I... Well," Osh looked at his gathered new friends from between the hall and the near doorway where he stood at the vidphone, and the importance of what they were doing struck him like a blow. "Yes. You ask around. High Master Zerrik has a number of gambling casinos and betting halls, all over the place. Ask around like you're interested in working for them, that's probably best. Get back to me here."
They disconnected, and Osh wandered back to the group, told them of what he knew, and sat to enjoy the morning sun coming through the large, darkened windows, and a hot cup of skeren. He'd need it, it had already been a long day for all of them.