World of Zekira Stock in Trade 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.

Legal Tender 8

"There is no shame in telling us," Naaki said to her neice. "It's not a problem, I am just curious. And the Breeders will want to know."
"I do not have to tell them, either, they can just take gene samples and leave it at that." Evenree stated flatly to her adoptive mother. The young Land Mistress had grown into a well-rounded woman in the years following Wa'bin's Zoning. It was a time that she spent studying and practicing her abilities, and trying to decide just what to do with herself. Apparently, that included becoming pregnant, with a mystery man.
Everyone had their suspicions, but Evenree was a very private young LandMistress, and her abilities to block out her family's psionic queries was very strong. They let her make the decision to keep the father anonymous, and tried to respect it. Khadai all but insisted that Mhorlait come clean, but she too remained silent on the matter because she respected the girl's privacy.
But it was his, and would shortly endanger Evenree's life again. She was not such a fragile creature that she'd die during child birth, but she did become frightfully ill the whole time. It was with grand relief that she, at the age of thirty, squeezed out a two-toned boy, along with the first loud yelling she'd ever managed to do in her life.
When all was said and done, Veni was the boy's name and he would remain with Evenree at the Inn. But he would be trained by the family, since the Breeder that looked the infant over said that he showed a strong potential for psionics. There was little chance he would be more mutated than his two-colored skin, nothing odd seemed ready to spring out of him, no horns, no extras.
Khadai was almost disappointed. Inbreeding should do that to people.
The family left the young mother alone, as was her wish, all but the Healer leaving the Inn. It was a big thing for the group - their first grandchild? They all sort of claimed kinship with him, as was proper, and everyone was most happy that Evenree lived through the event. It wouldn't do to have a child being raised without his mother.

Theakhid paced around the office, in clear distress, and was worrying his cousin. Khadai put her hand out to prevent him from walking around the room again. "Thea, these things happen."
"Why do they always have to happen to me?!" He shouted, then slumped. "I shouldn't say that. It wasn't me killed, and I've already given my consolation to the family... But..."
Theakhid's bad luck with women had never been worse. Not only had he been dumped a decade before by a HighMistress who had at first been all over him - until she found out he'd been born a Slave that is - but just last week the best potential wife yet had been found brutally stabbed to death in Imaa's forest village of Nuris. Mistress Kaha had just told him how happy she was that she'd been able to release two Bayaran from their Bond service since they'd just discovered a knockout beautiful hot springs which she intended to develop into a tourist attraction...
"Was that it?" Thea muttered to himself. Khadai looked up curiously. He knew something, it had been on his mind for a couple days. Khadai knew it too, but she just didn't know what "it" was.
"Do you know what happened?" She asked.
"Well, I think I know something about it. I'm going to talk to the authorities about it."
"Why don't you talk to Mhorlait about it instead?" Khadai said, sly. She knew that her cousin would jump at the chance to help the family out, he was like that. Especially since Veni was born, right? Khadai was the only one who really knew, both of them had the same way of talking about the event.
"I don't know if I want to involve him, and get us embroiled in something that might be more serious," Thea said, jolting Khadai out of her thoughts. "I mean, if this... well, if whoever killed Kaha could do that to a person, what's to prevent them from doing it again?"
"Thinking only of the family, of course," Khadai nodded. She'd put Mhorlait on it the moment she knew where to send him. Heck, maybe he could take Veni with him. He was young but boy was he powerful.
When Theakhid did his duty and reported what he thought might be suspicious events to the authorities of Imaa who were investigating the murder, he found out that in fact, they'd been following someone already.
One Lord Iat, who had prior business ties with the Mistress. He'd been using her Bond Agency to supply him with scouts and woodsmen, people able to work the Nuris area. It wasn't hard for Theakhid to put together that the call he'd gotten from his fiancee regarded a pair of his employees, those who he might have had more use for. The investigators thanked Thea, and got back to their work. It wasn't often that murders like this got solved.
But this time, they did, publically. Because Mistress Kaha's family was a powerful one, and because Iat's investments weren't all that sound, they managed to bring to the public eye everything that had transpired. With some satisfaction, then, Theakhid regarded her family highly. They appreciated his presence at the trials, regretted that they did not in fact have another daughter to send his way. He was such a nice man. Theakhid did his best to keep them near him, in the future.
Khadai was glad for that, too. His precarious balance between distress and elation was getting worse, and the nice man sometimes turned into a terrified boy.

When Veni got the first call in his new office, he nearly jumped out of his two-toned skin. His eyes went from a rich gold to a dark brown, as he focused himself and picked up the call. The vid showed a lanky young black-red skinned woman with peachy-pink hair, holding a bundle which looked to him like a baby. The woman looked scared.
She looked like a Slave.
Did he want this? His instincts screamed that he didn't, in fact, but he cleared his throat and for the first time said, "Veni Qhaleb's Detective Agency - I find what you've lost. Can I help you?"
"I - I hope you can," she breathed. "My Lord has issued a reward for my capture... But I can't bring my baby back to him. He's going to kill her!"
"Where are you?" Asked Veni, throwing all forms of caution and good sense to the wind. "If you can't get to me, I can find you."
The woman's eyes were brimmed with thick tears. "I don't know!" She hissed into the vid's microphone, "I've never been off my Lord's Hold! I'm so scared, I didn't know what to do... Someone said that you did things for people, I found your advertisement..."
Darkly, Veni hoped that her Lord didn't find it too. Wouldn't that be interesting?
... On the other hand, wouldn't that be interesting?
"Is there a sign post anywhere? A store front?" He asked, and then more importantly, "Are you in Wa'bin?"
She nodded, "I'm next to a store that sells fruits and pastries, but I can't see that they have a sign..." She fussed for a moment with her baby, whose dark-cherry colored arm had worked its way out of the swaddling. "And the road is paved, all the others here are dirt."
"I know where you are," Veni said, with confidence. "I'll be there, and I'll have a grounded coach - it's got blue wheels. Remain near the store, but try to keep your face and the baby hidden."
She nodded, and Veni saw her ducking while the connection faded. This would be an adventure. He brought the carriage out, harnessed the big yellow-grey gelding to it, and rode away from his office. His place was a sturdy two-story office-home, he lived on the top floor while his office and other sundry things were below. The yard was filled with his grandmother's vines, and he rarely had time to prune them. The newly placed sign for his business was the only place on the yard where the vines had been cut recently, and he meant to remember that he'd have to keep the rest of the yard under control so people could see it.
Veni rode out to the edge of town, where the paved roads began. It was still a somewhat rare thing to have a town this large with only four main roads, Wa'bin was largely known for its dramatic waterfalls and the fringe industry, woods and rope of course. There was talk of adding more roads, because some extremely rich fellow wanted to put in a hovercraft station and move people along more quickly.
Right now, more quickly was high on Veni's mind. The Slave and her baby were standing behind a tall display of flowers, next door to the fruit stand. He pulled the reins and gave a quick whistle to her. She darted out from the flower stand, looked around quickly, and then nearly lept into the carriage. It was an open four-seater, meaning that there was room for her to cower on the floor behind the driver. The baby began to cry, and she hushed it frantically.
"Relax, hush," Veni said, and he exerted a bit of his powers. "No one is going to know you've even been here." He glanced at the flower seller and the fruit stand, sensing three people within. They found themselves a bit confused a few minutes later, realizing that they had customers and no memory of them entering the shop.
Veni got the Slave home to his Hold, and she stood as nervous as one person could be, while he unhitched the carriage. Veni finally brushed himself off and shut the carriage house's doors, and escorted the woman into the back doors of his home. "My name is Veni, but you knew that," he said. "What's yours?"
"Slave Hanoo, and this is Oolath," she announced holding her baby. "Lord Xeos has already announced my reward..."
"I'm not going to turn you in," Veni said. The woman visibly relaxed but she maintained a sharp-eyed glance at every window. "No one will know where you are, I can prevent people from remembering things like that. You're safe for the moment. I would like to know some things, though..."
The renegade Slave nodded. "It's that I was not supposed to be bearing this child. Lamath is her father, he's a Slave at another farm, belonging to Suzerinne Tal. She thought it was a good idea to introduce us, but my Lord didn't. It... just worked out this way."
"But why would he be so infuriated with you for her? Oolath is a splendid child," Veni said.
"She is, but... She was not supposed to be. My Lord wanted - me. Now, he's soured on that, and I will be caring for Oolath. Unless she goes away." The look of fright and desperation crept back into Hanoo's burgandy-red eyes. "He is so ... what's the word? Hateful."
"Vindictive," Veni said, "yes. Owners can be like that."
"Well he is. He's normally a generous man, I've attended parties and worked in his Hold long enough to know that. But I know he doesn't love his wife enough to keep this from her, and she hates me."
"That doesn't help," Veni said. "Have you tried contacting Suzerinne, what was it, Tal?"
"I tried, but she isn't in town. Ansvas - one of her Bayaran - told me that she's going to be out on business for the farm for another few days. I don't know where she's gone... She might be my only hope..." Hanoo clutched her baby, sobbing into the cloth swaddling.
"Hanoo, for the moment, just be my guest here. Relax. Take a bath, I'll make sure that there's food and drinks for you and Oolath."
"But you're... You'd be housing a renegade, and I ... I don't want you to -"
"Don't worry about it, Hanoo," Veni said, his eyes had shifted to a deep blue color. "I can find Suzerinne Tal, and I can make sure that your Lord doesn't find you here." He paused, "there is a guest room to the left of the stairs up this way," he indicated the top floor, his home. "Go ahead and make yourself comfortable. I'll start making calls."
Hanoo uncharateristically (for a Slave) threw her arm around Veni's shoulder, and cried a thank-you. Then she vanished into the guest rooms, while Veni pondered just how he could work this.
There was a reward, he found as he searched the news links. It was a sizable one, too. She was a pretty young woman, probably older than Veni by a few years, and fertile, which made her worth that much more to an Owner. Xeos lived somewhat near by, not on any kind of direct course to Veni's place, and Held a large farm which supplied the very same fruits that the vendor she'd made it to sold. He was decently well off, but not the richest Owner in the Zone. Suzerinne Tal on the other hand was a richly appointed woman who seemed to have about a dozen small estates and lands all over the world. Doubtless she was staying at one or another, while she was on business. She practically Held in every Area she could find.
That got Veni thinking. It was obvious by the way that Tal had arranged the girl's meeting with her Slave, Lamath. It was possible that she'd be able to front money to just buy the girl, but it was doubtful to Veni that Xeos would allow it. A bitter, overprotective man, and his posession that clearly meant more to him than his wife (was she infertile? was that it? he'd have to check) would bring a hard fight for Ownership. Veni didn't have nearly enough money to go into Ownership, at that time, so that was out. He couldn't buy her.
But would Tal be able to hide her? If she had so many Holds, wouldn't it be possible for her to keep switching the young mother around? Perhaps until Xeos gave up or lost interest... Or found another play toy? Or got interested in other things?
Veni was many generations removed from his manipulative ancestor - but that didn't mean he couldn't carry on the tradition. And he did it with style, too.

"So we finally meet, Master Veni," Xeos said darkly. He was a burly, dangerous looking man, who literally towered over Veni's lithe form. There was no look of pleasantries on Xeos' face, nothing saying to Veni that he'd be safe.
But Veni didn't mind. After five years, Xeos had at last figured out what had happened to Hanoo.
"You are a clever one," he added after a moment of silence. "Making your living off of these kinds of desperate people."
"The people I work for would hardly qualify as desperate, in most cases, Lord Xeos." Veni said, politely. His eyes had moved from color to color, and were obviously making Xeos annoyed.
"That does not matter, Master Veni," he spat. "You've stepped in a rather deep hole this time."
"My lawyers don't seem to think so," Veni said casually.
"You might be able to vanish," Xeos said while dipping in close to Veni, who flinched a bit. "But you're in the courts now, little man, and you can't vanish from here."
"I do not need to," Veni said, thankfully sensing his lawyer coming up behind Lord Xeos. "Now if you'll excuse me I have a meeting. Good day, in as much as you'd ever enjoy one," he completed, with a grin he didn't dare show in front of Xeos.
The Membayar lawyer Veni had found to help him had a number of cases under his belt, and he was concentrating on Breed law mainly. He'd taken this case because it did involve threats to a female Slave and her child - that was close enough for him. He'd even found a pair of qualified Breeders who could testify about the conditions that Hanoo would have been under when her baby was still gestating.
He had a stack of paperwork, folders, and a briefcase stuffed under his arm, a mug of exotic zpara clutched in his other hand, and a grin on his face. "Veni, you're going to love this latest..."
Veni couldn't help but notice that Xeos was still staring at him from across the hall. The marble floors and the rich wooden trim of the walls seemed to all point to the huge man. But all Veni could think of was how glad he was that Hanoo didn't have to be here just yet. She would not do well around him. She wasn't of the temperment that could handle a burly man like this, even his physical presense could scare anyone.
Master Anlon tapped Veni's shoulder and they went into the smaller office which was afforded to the defense, while the prosecution had their own on the other side of the court. "Let's get this on the table now."
They read over a list of complicated Breeder's statements. But what was consistantly clear was that Xeos was apt to cause not only terror and inspire fear just by being around his Slaves, he'd actually harmed a series of them in the past. Several of them were female, and unfortunately for their case, they were infertile ones. But it was painfully clear that the moment Xeos had located a fertile Slave, he'd be able and willing to isolate, hurt or cajole her into being more personal than she wished.
Slaves of course didn't get the option of choosing their duties, but when it came to pregnancy and such, it didn't much matter. That was the Breeders' realm alone. Veni was pretty sure that Anlon wanted to become a Breeder before he got into his current career. He was so animated about this situation, and he knew that if they won this case (which Veni had no doubts they would) Anlon could buy his education up to that level.
In just the five years since taking Hanoo and little Oolath's case, Veni found that this was the most thrilling way he could make his living. Plus, when he had established himself a bit, he'd been able to start Bonding too - his Membayar case was a story in itself.
His other cases were more tame, of course. Finding a lost child, that was a popular one. Locating Slaves or Bayaran who'd gone missing was half of how he spent his time. He knew that others were of two minds about his services. At times, he'd eagerly find a missing Slave. Others? He would do the job, but then recommend another lawyer for the escapee to buy their way out from their Lord or Master. He liked to claim that it was fair - that in the interests of the people involved, when he found a Slave who had made their way around the wilderness because of their grief over losing a child, he'd return them to their Lord and make sure that they got the right councilling. When there was a Bayaran who came to be found, and the fear and circumstances were clear that they left because of a bad situation, he would offer to become their Bond agent instead.
There was one case, a huge profit to be made on a renegade Slave bounty, that Veni knew he hadn't done the right thing. But one out of how many dozens? He could only console himself by keeping tabs on the Slave and hoping that the Lady who Held him would stay in line in the future.
But now, with the Breeders in their camp and the facts on their side, Veni felt confident that he'd be able to prove that Suzerinne Tal should become the new Owner of poor Slave Hanoo and her daughter.
Until he saw the judge sitting there. There was something about her. She sat comfortably in the big plush chair, cerimonial robes draped over her shoulders, and had a strangely satisfied look on her square face.
She looked to be Xeos' sibling, for sure.
"This isn't right," Anlon muttered. He approached the judge's tables, and glanced from her to Xeos. "Where is Judge Temello?"
"He's been called away," the woman said, unpleasantly. "I'll be your replacement for the duration of this trial."
"Oh no you won't," Anlon spat.
"Hold your tongue, Master Anlon!" She said, rising up. She had the same burly figure as her brother, and was if anything taller than he. Anlon stood his ground, but barely. "You are hardly in a position to decide who replaces whom around these courts."
"And when did your money decide to override the laws of this Area?" Anlon said, hard. His charcoal-black hand turned to a fist as he stood before her. "There are procedures to follow, and they have not been. We were scheduled with HighMaster Temello, and we will have our court with him."
"How about not at all?" Asked the woman. "Because he won't be returning."
A sinking sensation dwelled in Veni's gut. "You've killed him," he whispered. "Haven't you."
Judge High Mistress Xekcho stood right up next to Veni and sweetly said, "hardly, nothing as sinister as all that. Just ... the man needed a rest. He's ... on vacation. Far away."
"Then you can consider us to be suspending these proceedings, judge," Anlon said with a sneer. His face was dark, darker than typical with his coloration. He was richly angry. "While we locate the judge with whom we had a court date. Good day."
"You'll be leaving the Slave in her Owner's care, of course, in the mean time." The woman said caustically.
"Hardly," Anlon said, picking up his xpara mug and striding toward the door. Veni quickly followed him. "We'll be ... in touch."
There was a noise in the court room behind them as they left, but neither man was in the slightest interested in dawdling to see what it was. Probably the pair of siblings turning the place upside down to get to the doors.
"We have to get out of here," Anlon said.
"That's not a problem," Veni said. "This way."
He slipped into the corner nearest, and fell invisble. Anlon whispered, "that's fine for you, but..."
"No - wait." Veni said, and concentrated so hard that he shook. He was directly beside the other Membayar, and with difficulty the two of them faded into the woodwork. Anlon stood in silence, out of fear mostly, as Xeos and his sister Xekcho stormed out of the room and furiously looked for them. They didn't dare move. With sweat coming down over his red-tinted pink forehead, Veni finally relaxed when the pair had gone.
"We've got to get her," Anlon said, holding up Veni who appeared to be physically exhausted. "And Tal, she'll have to help. This has gotten out of hand."
"Damn right," Veni said. "You get Tal, and I'll find us somewhere else to hide than her place. I don't like this at all. Where do you think Temello went?"
"Who knows. You're the detective, remember?"

Suzerinne Tal held Oolath up in the morning sunlight, and the young girl squirmed and laughed. The Hold would be their home for a while, until Xeos either conceeded the case, or they found the missing High Master Temello. Veni worked tirelessly on this. His powers worked best when he had some object or a person who had some recent personal contact with the individual. He had neither. His thought was that he could get one of his uncle's contacts to help them with transportation. Tal was to remain with Hanoo and her daughter, to protect them. If it was just with her Status alone, that would have to do. She wasn't a strong or durable woman, not like Xekcho at least, but she had a lot of political sway in a number of Areas around the world.
Veni and the group were holed up in his recently-deceased 'uncle' Theakhid's Imat spread. The transportation business didn't suit Veni, but the others in their expanding family handled his businesses with ease. And, they were all generally willing to help out when they knew one of their own clan needed assistance.
Being that they all sprang from low beginnings, they were all but clamboring over one another for this case.
"I'm not even sixty years old," Veni said as he went over more information on the Breeder's net and other places. "And here I am smuggling around a renegade and with cohorts like you lot..."
That lot gave a collective snicker. Tal turned her eyes away from the sunlit child in her arms. "You should talk. We ought to surrender you to the authorities immediately. You started this."
"No - I started it," Hanoo said, more subdued. She was always like that, somewhat of a damper and an eternal reminder that things weren't all sunshine and laughs. "I should finish it. I should just go back to him."
"It's not going to happen," Anlon said, "and you know what would come of you if you did, at this rate. He'd kill you, Hanoo, and we've all invested way too much of our lives to let that happen now."
Hanoo was on the verge of tears, as she often was. "I can't thank you enough."
"It's all right," Anlon told her. "Eventually, he'll give up and we'll all get to lead normal lives again."
"You do not know him."
"Then we'll have to see about making him give up," Veni said. "There has to be a way of distracting him, while we look for Temello."
"Another woman would do it," Tal said, "but I don't know any women that I hate enough to send to him."
The men chuckled, and Hanoo gulped back a bit of a laugh herself. "You are wicked, Suzerinne."
"You know I want you to call me Tal, sweetheart," Tal told the Slave. "It's all right."
Veni half listened in on their conversation, which went somewhere like 'I'll raise you if you stop thinking you're worthless', as he kept scanning the info lines. Eventually, he found something worth looking into.
"Temello has a Hold about five hundred miles away, up in the mountains. He probably isn't there, but it's worth a shot looking for him, and I'll be able to get my hands on something to identify."
"You want to break into a Hold? A High Master's hold at that?" Tal jibed. She smiled brightly, her yellow skin betraying a flush of excitement. She was laughing because she wasn't going to be the one breaking in. That, she'd leave to the menfolk.
"I've got enough people to help too," Veni said. "When my father died, he left me with a list of people he'd worked with. And," Veni said while holding that list up, "my other siblings."
"What a great thing to be left with," Tal said, "he didn't leave you anything else?"
"Thank goodness for that," Veni laughed, "he was Bayaran already, and they never told anyone that I was his son anyway..."
And as it turned out, Mhorlait's bragging hadn't been at all exaggerated. Veni had perhaps half a dozen half-siblings all of whom had inherited a bit of Mhor's eccentricities. Three of them lived nearby, and were Free Holders. The others were either too far away to be of any help, or were Bayaran or Slaves themselves. Veni tried looking up some relatives on the other side, but it seemed Evenree's health prevented her from wanting to bear another child. That, and Breeders took one look at her allergies and backed away from asking her to donate.
So it was, that within two weeks of running from the courtroom, a group of some eight Qhaleb family members of varying generations arrived at the mountainside logging community of G'lan. The peaks were very sharp, but it was summer and there was no hint of snow on the tallest yet. Two of the cousins had transportation interests, so they were fit with a quiet hovercraft for the trip. They would get Steeds for any other ground touring, locally there were several steed farms that were breeding high-altitude compatable animals. Another pair of the cousins worked together in a more dark-sided detective business than Veni's turned out to be: they were spies like their father. They had tools that even Veni didn't, but they didn't have his ability to locate and identify things and people. Anlon was there largely for legal support and to get them into the right places. Tal had arranged it so that any bribery that needed to be done would go through her accounts.
It was a group event, and half of the group were there purely for the fun of it all. Veni and the rest located the all-wood estate on a map, and followed a well-traveled trail up to Temello's place. It wasn't in use, there were not even any Slaves on hand to keep the grounds up. However, it had been inhabited recently according to Veni's senses. He drew his hand over the door handle at the front and nodded.
"There were people here, not more than a month ago. I don't know whether it was Temello, but it's a start."
"How about this," one of the spy cousins said, holding a metal object that both Veni and Anlon recognized as an expensive lock pick, "we go inside and find who's been sleeping in the beds. A mug, something like that, that would have some kind of ... residue that you could identify?" She raised her bright red eyebrow.
"It would be ... yeah, that would work." Veni said, and the LandMistress got to work. Within moments, the door of the estate was opened. The air inside it was cool, it was dark and inviting.
"Come on, Anlon," Veni said. "We're already criminals. Let's make the best of it."
Veni could sense his friend's trepidation, but Anlon went along anyway. Inside the house, there were scattered items such as paperwork, dried flowers in expensive vases, and a number of teas and herbs for both brewing and smoking. Clearly High Master Temello liked to relax when he was away from work.
"Maybe one of these will have some information about where he's gone," said one of the cousins. She held up a dossier that had been laying on the table. "I guess we're looking for travel records, that kind of thing."
"I already asked around through Theakhid's information network," Veni said, "and got nothing. But that doesn't mean that he didn't have his own records. If he traveled through someone else's services."
That turned into a big if. It dwindled to a scant possibility that he'd chosen to travel without telling someone.
"Did you get anything?" Anlon asked when Veni came out of the bathroom.
"I got this," he said, holding up a wooden and stiff bristle brush. On it were several strands of the judge's distinctive black and red hairs. "I'm going to relax a bit, before digging in to this. It might take some time."
The others prepared his space, throwing pillow after pillow on him as he sat in the cushy couch in the main den. One of them thought to bring a cup of tea - made from the High Master's stash. Veni wasn't sure whether to trust it or not, but he then realized that the cup as well as the tea would supply further information. He leaned back and sipped at the tea. It was a blend of dark red leaves which gave a minty spice taste, and certan black and green teas. It was a rather rich tea, served in a thin porcelain cup that still had a faint feeling of Temello on it. It was deeply stained from this tea, it was something that the judge clearly enjoyed drinking, and habitually out of this particular cup.
As Veni used his location powers, the others watched out for any local activity outside. There was hardly a soul out there, but it could happen that they were being watched anyway. Paranoid? With a family full of spies, paranoid was a basic emotional state.
The visions that Veni had were clear - distant, but clear. Temello had been here perhaps three weeks prior, which narrowed their search. Veni gave off a constant monolog of what he saw or felt from any given item or moment. At first he descirbed things within the house. How a dresser was used for only certain bits of clothing. How the boots that were in the mud room needed mending. The tea brought a rush of color to Veni's face when the red spicy leaves began leaking some exotic psychotropic element.
"I ... am seeing things." Veni said.
"We're hoping you continue to," Anlon muttered.
"No, no," Veni said with a bit of a sway to his head. His changing eyes turned to Anlon and the Membayar jolted back a bit.
"Your eyes are black," he said. "I've never seen that."
"Now you have..." Veni said, leaning his head back and closing those eyes. "It's amazing. There is a Steed that Temello was boarding here. He's taken it." The others leaned in, waiting. "They flew west."
"... West?" Asked one of the cousins. She got a worried look on her pale grey-pink face. "That's into the cliffs. High mountains. Is that right?"
"I see peaks, yes. Cliffs. But..." Veni trailed off, furrowing his brow and raising his head again off the back of the couch. "But I see them returning."
He opened his eyes and glanced around at the blank expressions on the people around him. "How can that be?"
"Where are they, then?" Asked another cousin. He was almost glowing with a metallic brass gleam to his skin.
"They ..." Veni tried hard to concentrate on the confusing images in his mind. Several things competed for attention. "Well, they did get back. One Slave was sent with the Steed down to Imat, she could be of help if we can find her. She's meant to transport the beast down to Kirun somewhere." Veni paused, and tried to leave the Slave's information aside. "But then there's a visit from our favorite Lord and High Mistress... Xeos and Xekcho indeed. They came here, and that's when it gets confusing. I'm not certain that our judge was in a proper state of mind when they came."
"Well that wouldn't be hard to achieve," Anlon said, "given the amount of smokables here."
"Sure. But what I don't understand is that he just... Isn't here any more. He was packing up," Veni said and waved his arm at the office to the left of the main hall, "the siblings arrived," he pointed at the main doorway which they could see from the den, "and then... Temello just... Disappears."
"... No?" Veni said, completely unsure of what he was meant to be seeing.
Exhasperated, one cousin strode up to Veni. He hadn't even realized that he'd stood up and walked toward the hall. "Here, show me. Maybe I can make sense of it." She put her cream-colored fingers onto Veni's forehead and concentrated. He could feel her mind entering his, and he tried letting down his defenses for her. She stiffened a bit when the contact was made, and she fished around in his mind for the visions he was seeing.
"Hrm," she said.
"Rai?" Asked another of the cousins. "What do you see?"
"The ... same thing he does. Only, I think there's something else. I think they used some kind of ability on him. Something to disguise him maybe?"
"We've got to get a Breeder's registry open," Anlon said. "I wonder..."
He went to the vidlink, and tapped in a few codes. He contacted one of his Breeder friends, who listened intently before sending some kind of information packet to the vid unit. It printed out something, and Anlon looked it over. They spoke quietly for a few minutes, and the Breeder remained on the line out of sheer curiosity.
"You guys aren't going to believe this..." He said.
"Try me," Veni said. "About now, I'll believe anything."
"Okay..." Anlon started. He explained a bit about his contact's information first. There were three classic Breeder's Gibbrish lines on the paper. The first and second were Xeos and Xekcho's separately. They showed certain levels of mutation in different recognized genes. The third... Was the combination of the two siblings'.
From the vid, the Breeder said, "I've never seen anything like it, they work only together."
The pair of Lord and HighMistress' genes were nearly normal when taken singly. But when they were paired up as a team, working in close proximity to one another, they might be able to do any number of odd psionic tricks.
Not the least of which was a devistating mind wipe the likes of which the Qhaleb family's genetics could only have combatted five or six generations before.
"They must have wiped his entire personality," Veni said. "That's why I can't find him any more - he's not here because he doesn't exist any more. Physically I'm sure we'll find him sometime soon. But mentally? He might not recover."
"That's right," said the Breeder, "and when you do find him I'll be happy to put him into therapy for you..."
"Always working," Anlon said. "I'll get back to you Eikon," they disconnected.
As the group sat in a mix of awe, exhaustion and disgust, Veni finally stood up.
"We've got to go find him, in any case. I can't get a bead on his personality, but I might be able to find his hair." He held the brush up to his nose and closed his eyes. He finally had to pick out the hairs and feel them apart from the brush - the brush had too many old memories stored on it.
"Let's head out to the village," Veni said. "He might be there. I see a path, something that's traveled occasionally. Not the same way we came up."
"His Hold is right on the edge of the community," offered another cousin.
"Do we lock up?" Asked the snide dark-brown Halmho.

Temello's wife and son were extremely happy to see him. The poor orange skinned man however had no idea who they were. He had no clear recollection of any house, hold or steeds. He was in fact kind of iffy on the whole of Zekiran history, come to ask him anything factual about it. What he knew was that the smell of pine was quite nice this time of year, he didn't much like flying in machines, and he thought the idea of Owning Slaves was a bit preposterous in this day and age wasn't it?
Now, with the added pull of Dala and Lello's estates, Temello would hardly go unavenged.
"The first thing I really want to do," Veni said, "is talk to Tal and Hanoo. There might be a bit more delay if this has to be sent through another court."
"The first thing I want to do," Anlon said with a vicious smile, "is contact the local news authorities."
While Veni was busy making sure that Hanoo and her daughter were safe, Anlon did just that. They had brought his Breeder friend Eikon in from somewhere in Difar, just so they would have a better idea of how to get the courts - and the media - to understand what had happened.
There was no doubt in Veni's mind that the pair of siblings had done something horrible to the judge. He could be identified physically in all ways. Certainly his wife thought he was the same old man - she wanted to joke with him about a riding injury that he'd sustained that had left a small scar in a rather private place. He had to check for it because he didn't know he had a scar. It was both pathetic and quite frightening.
Lello was confounded and angry. "My father's estates will remain in his name until we ... figure out how to handle this."
"It might be a while," Anlon said. "I can't recall anything like this ever happening before."
"There is always a first time," Eikon said, gazing at the printouts of the sibling's records.
"You're positive that these are their readings?" Veni asked. "I mean, it'd be even worse than it is now if it turned out to be someone else."
"We can subpoena more testing, if you're in doubt," Eikon said. "How are your renegades?"
"Does everyone know what we're doing?" Veni glared at Anlon, who shrugged and grinned. "They're fine. Tal is kind of bored and she said she'll want to be bringing them out here."
"We're going to need a bigger estate then," said yet another cousin.
All told, then, before the media got there, the number of people staying in Temello's main estate was in fact quite high. Dala and Lello, Temello, Eikon, Anlon, Veni, Halmho, Rai, Nheil and his daughter Eildhar, Veni's adoptive brother Yanaak and his two sons Aafkar and Kaarnak, Tal, Hanoo and Oolath, and an assortment of Slaves and Bayaran who were already biting their nails to the quick because their Lord was missing in the first place. It was almost too much for the little place.
Fortunately, they moved around to the courtyard outside when the media arrived. The accusations would have to be put into writing, but that would happen soon enough. Dala was herself a minor court official, and could do any signings they needed.
When it was all said and done, though, Veni sat near Hanoo, her daughter on his lap sleeping after her day of travel. "Xeos and his sister will never recover from this mess," he said.
Hanoo nodded slowly. "Do you think that I ..." she faltered, and looked down. "Do you think I was worth all this effort? I mean, look at them all!" She waved her hand and Veni gazed at the batch of film crews, lawyers and such... And at the healthy beautiful little girl sleeping with her head nestled on his collarbone.
"Without a doubt, Hanoo. Without one doubt."

"And what will you be doing today?" Asked one of the other Bayaran.
"I'm going to be tending my young sister and her friend," Oolath announced with a grin, "we're going out to see the Steed parade."
The older woman nodded deeply and smiled. "That's a good thing to be doing on a day like this. I remember seeing my first parade..."
"Perhaps you could go with us?" Oolath asked, but the elderly Bayaran shook her head.
"No, no, I'm too old for that. My knees can't handle walking or riding, if you think that would help." She swept her broom at Oolath, "you collect those girls and have a good time."
Oolath did that. She was barely over twenty, and her sister was just seven, and Loneset was shy of six. Oolath had another dozen years in Bayaran before she would be released to work for Suzerinne Tal at her true worth, but she didn't even care. She was surrounded by good friends and family - all over the world, she had people who claimed that she was a cousin or little sister or something like that. And she reveled in it.
Oolath located Nooni and Loneset sitting with Nooni's father Veni. He was crouched down next to the girls and had a silly look on his face.
"Like this?" Nooni said, and she gave off a noise like she was trying to pass a watermellon. Her face showed effort, but nothing was happening.
"Well, sort of," Veni sighed, and looked up to see Oolath. "Ah, here's your sister now. You three get out of here and have a good time!"
"Why aren't you coming, daddy?" Nooni asked.
"I've got a big case to work on, but I will be back tomorrow. You behave yourself for your sister."
"I don't have to behave!" Loneset giggled at her friend. "He didn't tell me to behave!"
"But I will," Anlon announced from the doorway, and his own daughter quieted down.
Both girls calmed down and then started getting bubbly and eager as Oolath took their hands and walked them out of the house. "If they give me grief, I'll just put them on a Steed and smack it's behind, that'll keep them nice and far away."
"Daddy would find me," Nooni said proudly.
Anlon and Veni went out themselves, but off to a hovercar which would bring them to Imat's mountain port. The girls headed off on foot to the already-waiting carriage.
"What were you doing, when I came in?" Oolath asked. Nooni tilted her head, sunset colored skin shifting around pleasantly into different colors of red-orange-violet.
"I was trying to turn invisible!" Nooni said. "But it wasn't working very well."
"I don't think you can do that, Nooni," Oolath told her sister, feigning sadness. Loneset nodded and seemed to agree that Nooni's skin-changing powers were never going to be under her control, they just made her colorful all by themselves.
"I think it's okay," Loneset said, "if you were invisible I wouldn't be able to find you."
"But daddy would," Nooni said again, happy.
They made it to the Steed Parade with plenty of time to spare on gathering up pinwheels and ribbons, straw hats and the like. When they heard the jingling of tack they immediately bolted to the street side, among the other dozens of people up here on the Hill. Imat was a hilly, cliff ridden Zone already, but certain places had just acquired names like "The Hill" and "The Fall" because of who lived there or an event. The Hill carried with it a certain kind of pride, it was built up by Membayar and Suzerain, crafted nicely and kept up by a community that all seemed to spring from one source: Qhaleb's kids.
Tal went and Held some land up there, building a new smallish homestead. That would be Loneset's, when she was old enough. Anlon's daughter with her would be a very fine Membayar, if she remained in that position all her life, and Tal thought she would be an even better Suzerinne. They made their home in this place, comfortable, and safe. Nooni's mother Hanoo had finally been Raised, she and Oolath were sharing their duties as Bayaran to Tal until they knew that Xeos and his sister would never return from Exile.
It was only fitting, that they be exiled. That pair had done something amazing, yes, but criminal. It was one thing to destroy someone with politics or by poison. This ... what they did was unspeakable. It made every news organization, and clearly had a huge effect on the judging and legal professions. But the girls remained blissfully unaware of their family histories. There would be time enough for that, later.
For now, there was a Steed that had blue and gold flames on his fur, with wings that stood up straight in white tipped in purest sky blue. That was enough for them, for this moment.