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Rated: E · Novel · Fantasy · #2172004
Chronologically revised aka you lost it we find it 20069 words as of 10.31.2018

I sighed. The annual conclave held in The Dome on the anniversary of the city's founding was also the day of the accident in the warehouse district two years ago. Many people died on that fateful day. One, Bryan, my first love.

I brought my attention back to what my brother was saying.

"Come on Conia, they're many visitors asking permission to enter the Domain." Bena remarked as we finished our midday meal at the Inn where we lived and Jimin and I still worked. "Jimin and I arranged it so the three of us are off this afternoon and evening. We may meet someone and register as a 'Find' Team." Bena stopped not sure how to continue.

Jimin plunged in. "Bryan would have wanted us to Conia."

Bryan had talked of becoming a 'Find' Team as our individual 'Skills' manifested. Then the accident happened. The weeks following passed in a fog for me. Jimin and Bena got me through the fog, helped me keep going after Bryan's death. I had to admit it was time to move on.

Heading out the door I said. "I agree, let's go 'Find' someone who can work with the three of us." Walking along I started my favorite game. Teasing them. "I know you both hate to walk." They kept fit, but I enjoyed pretending they did not. "It'll take two hours to get to the Dome. Are you sure you can walk that far? Don't you two want to 'Transport'? Bena, you'll miss the opening ceremony!"

"No, I think we better stay with you to make sure you reach The Dome in two hours." Jimin stated. "That can happen if we keep you from stopping along the way." Bena laughed.

"Hey," I protested. "I don't spend your money." We were all laughing now. It was a rare afternoon with a clear sky after a morning of rain. Good weather for a walk and two hours for window shopping even if I could not stop. Things were looking up. I could tell.

We reached The Dome after the start of the opening ceremony. Navigating up the wide steps surrounding it we squeezed in through the crowd.

"I've never seen this many people at a conclave." Bena remarked.

A tall man let me slide in front of him while Bena and Jimin slid in the space I had just come through to his left. Our benefactor leaned down and spoke. "Do they always take this long to extol the virtues of the Alagan Domain?" I smiled looking at Bena, who huffed. Behind Bena, Jimin snorted.

"We are celebrating the 700th year of the Alagan Domain." Bena replied.

"A special occasion then. Excuse me, I must pay my respects." He bowed his head as he left us.

I watched as he slipped through the crowd. His features chiseled. He moved with a lethal grace. His hair, a rich auburn, pulled back and held in place with a gray, what Bena would have referred to as a manly, bow. His tailored attire accented his broad shoulders and slim torso but the style was unfamiliar. The dark gray jacket stopped at his waist above lighter gray close-fitting trousers tucked into black boots. "I haven't seen him in The City before, have either of you?"

"Yes, a nice view." Jimin said.

"Hey, you're taken!" Bena chided and elbowed Jimin in the ribs. Jimin put his arms around Bena and pulled him back against his chest for a brief hug.

"But not dead." Jimin responded. "Besides, I was just answering Conia's unspoken question."

My face heated. "Enough sight-seeing, let's go talk with those seeking entry." We moved toward the large group standing in the 'petitioners for entry' area. An eternity later, I sighed, I had given enough to the cause.

"How long have we been talking to these idiots?" I hissed when I next met up with Jimin. "It's a good thing getting permission to enter is just a formality. It feels like forever!"

"Not that long." Jimin replied. He looked toward the far end of The Dome where the Alagan Family was holding court. At six feet two inches he could see over the crowd.

"Our new dark-haired friend is meeting the Family, but he's not with an entourage. Rank but no money?" He mused. "Perhaps an acknowledged son, but outside marriage, of a wealthy family? A Third or Fourth son unable to inherit and convinced to find his own way outside his home Domain?" He enjoyed discovering the connections between people and places or items. He would do this all day if something didn't distract him so when he said. "What do you think Conia? Should we introduce ourselves to him? Ask him to join us for this evening's meal?"

I nodded and Jimin looked around for Bena.

"This way." Jimin said. We found Bena in a group of men and women having a lively conversation about fabric colors. "Time to go." Jimin said to Bena.

"What?" Bena said to us as we pulled him away. He looked back "You can find me at 'Weaver's Window' we can discuss terms." Two of the group gave affirmative nods to Bena then they returned to the conversation.

"I've found a new source for dyes. I can't wait to tell Maureen." Bena smiled. "Now, where're we going?"

"Food." I said to Bena and looked at Jimin, "Is he still talking to the Family?" I asked.

Jimin glanced at Bena. "Conia's expressed an interest in the man we conversed with after our arrival."

"Hey, I just want something to eat!" I protested.

Jimin and Bena smiled, identical smiles.

"NOT THAT!" I hissed at them. "You will not embarrass me in front of him. You understand." Their smiles widened. "Enough, let's ask him to join us before I fade away from hunger."

"Lead and I will follow, even unto the ends of the world." Bena expounded to Jimin, and he laughed.

I rolled my eyes. "It'll take a special personality to fit in with us. Let's see if he has what it takes. He may not be interested but if he joins us it will make for an interesting evening."

Jimin located our new 'friend' and started through the crowd. Bena and I followed in his wake as he moved toward the area set aside for the Alagan Family.

With the events over for the day the crowd left allowing us to reach the official receiving area quickly.

The immediate Ruling Family had withdrawn with the various visiting Domain's Family members and other dignitaries.

There were only a few guards, retainers and an elderly Lady our potential new acquaintance was speaking to.

"That's the great grandmother of our current ruler." Bena said with awe. "She's Guardian of the Alagan Library."

I had never seen this Lady up close. "She must be near her century year." I whispered to Bena.

"Thank you, Grand Duchess for allowing me to study in the Alagan Library." His voice carried over to us. "I look forward to conversing with you further, with your permission." She held up her right hand, and he bowed over it. As he straightened, he glanced over and noticed us.

She followed his glance. "I see you have companions waiting. You may go." She lowered her hand. He bowed again and walked toward us stopping when he reached us. His face expressionless and his stance guarded. A court upbringing? I wondered. His hazel eyes narrowed. He had slight wrinkles at the corners of his eyes so I put his age at? Early Thirties, I guessed. Then realized I was staring.
His left eyebrow lifted, "You require something of me?" He asked coolly.

Definitely, a court upbringing. I thought.

"Yes," Jimin answered in the same tone. "We would like an opportunity to introduce ourselves and thought I might interest you in joining us for the evening meal. Unless you have other plans?"

His stance relaxed, his expression warming a fraction and his eyebrow dropped. "I have no other plans. With this crowd I assume the closest eating places will be full. My guess is you have arrangements and I will accept your invitation."
Bena answered this time in that same cool tone. "it is only a few minutes' walk from here, shall we make our way there?"
"Enough pompous talk." I interrupted. "We're not at Court. Let's go, I'm hungry." The three men looked at me. "Well? What're we waiting for? We're going to Gillipie's, right?"
Our guest asked. "Is she always like this?"

Bena and Jimin nodded.

"I see," our guest remarked. "This will be interesting. Lead the way."
I turned moving toward a south exit hearing their laughter behind me. I did not hear what caused the laughter. Probably for the best.
Men. I thought. Then I heard footsteps as they moved to catch up and we hurried down the steps. The crowd had spilled out into the surrounding streets making it too noisy for conversation. We headed south.

Gillipie's was overflowing when we got there. Jimin hurried ahead to make sure we would have a chair for our guest. Bena and I escorted our guest in the main entrance through the press to the back of the dining hall. Close to the kitchen a small dining room awaited us. Inside was a table with a pitcher of water on it, three chairs. The sound of the crowd fell away when you crossed the threshold. A feeling of well-being permeated this room. Jimin arrived right behind us with a tall stool, two serving maids behind him with our meal. They placed a steaming serving bowl, small bowls, drinking mugs and spoons on the table then disappeared back into the kitchen. Bena took the stool for himself. Jimin smiled his thanks and sat in the remaining chair.

"The food keeps coming till we tell them to stop." Bena said as he filled the small bowls with the dish Gillipie's was famous for a thick chicken and dumplings that smelled like heaven.
"Welcome Back my friends!" Came a jovial voice belonging to a short wide man, who put a basket of rolls and a pitcher of light ale on the table. He noticed our guest and continued without a pause. "Welcome also, Sir, I am Gillipie. if you're interested in the services of my friends here to 'Find' an item for you, I can give you an account of their abilities." There was yelling behind him, "but perhaps not this evening. Now, enjoy your meal." Our guest nodded smiling as Gillipie moved away to restore calm to his establishment.
Jimin spoke using the cool voice from earlier. "I'm Jimin, this is my life companion Bena, and our sister by choice Conia. Welcome to The City."
"Thank you," He nodded to each of us. "I'm Jac."
Formalities over we ate a 'simple fare' shunned by the elite.
They don't know what they are missing, I thought, delicious.

"Gillipie has other dishes available depending upon the season but they always serve this one. I wasn't sure when we'd arrive but with this dish we'd eat as soon as we got here." Bena explained to our guest.

"A wise plan considering the crowds we saw today." Jac commented.
After we started on seconds of the thick dumplings, I asked "Have you been in The City long?" Starting a conversation was always awkward for me.

He laughed. "Only a few days. Just time enough to find lodgings and begin to learn my way around your city."

"I was born here. So was Bena. My mom took in Bena after his parents died when he was eight and I was ten. Jimin and Bryan..." I froze a moment over his name. "He died in an accident." Sadness came but the grief was gone. I went on "... came from some far-off rural district around six years ago. They walked into The Black Pony Inn, where Jimin and I still work for room and board, looking for work. Quite a change for cousins that had reached their 20th birth year, but they settled into city life well enough." I stopped for breath. Jac was just staring at me. I realized I had been rambling. Bena was smiling and Jimin looked amused. I decided just to put food in my month and regain my wits as we slipped back into a companionable silence with a smattering of small talk.
"Anyone need more?" Bena asked when it looked like our guest had eaten his fill. "No?" He confirmed as we shook our heads. Bena took the serving bowl back to the kitchen.
"A superb meal." Jac said as he stood. "Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment. Which way to the facilities?"
Jimin stood. "A good idea. Allow me to show you the way." He said as they walked down the corridor leading to the back courtyard.
I covered my eyes with my left hand.
Why did I ramble on like that? I asked myself. I hope he does not think I am a complete idiot. "Oh, well," I muttered as I took the ale pitcher back to the bar. Then I headed outside to visit the facilities. As I started back, I saw Bena ahead of me and I hurried to catch up with him.

"Well?" I whispered to Bena making sure no one was close enough to overhear as we walked back.

"I sense only curiosity from Jac. No negative emotions." Bena answered. Although not very strong his Skill at sensing emotions was a plus for us. "Although, your speech surprised Jac."
I groaned. "I've no idea what came over me."

Bena smiled at me.

I continued on ignoring his look. "Come on Jimin will wait till we get back to ask Jac about becoming a part of our Team.
Bena laughed as we went back inside.

Chapter 2

As we settled into our seats Jimin looked at me. I nodded.

Jimin's eyes moved to Bena. Sitting on the taller stool Bena looked Jimin in the eyes. They were opposites in appearance. Bena is six inches shorter than Jimin, dark-skinned with dark hair and eyes. While Jimin is tall, fair-haired with light green eyes. I am taller than Bena to my everlasting amusement. Bena nodded.

"Shall we discuss the reason I'm here?" Jac said. "Not that I'm complaining. I'll eat here often while I live in your city but simple introductions don't include a meal."
Jimin nodded. "As Gillipie mentioned, we 'Find' items. We've been doing so for over a year. The Charter of Doman's states you need four members to register as a Find Team. The humor in your question at our meeting led us to believe your personality could compliment ours giving us the opportunity to register. This isn't a full-time endeavor for us. We don't want to interfere with what you came here to do but since the worst you'd say to our offer was 'No' and we'd introduce a new customer to our good friend Gillipie asking had no risk with much to gain if you were interested."

"Win-Win" I smiled.
Jac was silent for a few moments. "The work I'll do in exchange for the privilege of studying in the Library won't encompass all of my time. Your offer is intriguing. I'll give it careful consideration. Where can I get in contact with you if I decide I'm interested?"
Bena answered "The Black Pony Inn, outside the city on the west side. Shall we say if you're interested you'll contact us in two weeks' time?" Jac nodded.

"Good," Bena continued "That concludes the business part of the evening. Shall we open the floor for questions?"
We laughed.

"Why four to register as a team?" Jac asked.

"That's how the law's written. I'd love to know the reasons behind the stipulations." I answered.

"A good research topic for a winter's evening." Jac remarked, looked thoughtful then asked "The story behind this unique room?"
Bena replied "A decade ago an expansion done to connect the dining hall and unattached kitchen. The builders couldn't explain it. The plans called for private meeting rooms the same size along this wall. The builder framed and finished three rooms leaving this 'extra' little room at the kitchen end."

"Remarkable." Jac said and stood. "Thank you for the evening meal and the interesting offer. May your days be pleasant." He bowed to us, smiled and left the room.

"I wonder if we'll hear from him." I asked.

"I hope so." Jimin said and looked at Bena who nodded. "Time to head home. At least one of us has to be up early to feed and groom the horses."

"Oh, you know you love it. The smell of hay reminds you of your early years. You were born in a barn, right?" Bena chided him as we headed out.

We walked to the area for transporting and found Gillipie fussing around with packages for us. We couldn't eat at Gillipie's without bringing something home.

"Who's transporting home?" Gillipie asked.
Jimin replied "I will. I need to be up early tomorrow. These two will sleep away the morning."

"You give my love to my sister and that scoundrel who stole her away to run an Inn." I smiled at the old joke. His sister had married over ten years ago. "A goodnight to you all." Gillipie said as he left us.

Jimin and Bena said their goodnights since Jimin would be asleep by the time we got home. Bena then transported the packages and Jimin transported himself. He'd have the honor of sharing the goodies to those blessed by Fate to call that inn home. We said our goodbyes to those in the kitchen as we grabbed a pastry each to sustain us on our long walk home.

A week later we received a note. I was off that afternoon and had gone up to my room to read a book Bena had lent me. I heard a familiar step and a knock on my door. "Come in." I said.

"This arrived for the Master and Mistress of The Black Pony Inn to be given to 'a Conia in residence there'." Clive, the master, was laughing, "This young messenger insisted on giving it to Silvia, the mistress, since everyone knows who runs 'The Pony'. I hope it is good news because it made Silvia's day when he refused to give it to anyone else." Clive wiped at his eyes. "Silvia made him sit after she received it and gave him a cup of milk as a reward for a job well done."

A smile spread over Clive's face. "if you can let Silvia know what it says." He winked. "She's like a cat full of curiosity." I nodded and Clive headed back downstairs.

Everyone would talk about the message. Jimin, working a horse in the padlock next to the stables, had probably learned of it before Clive brought it up to me but he would wait for Bena to return from his 'day job' at Maureen's. I returned to my book. Sometime later I heard their footsteps on the stairs and opened my door. I handed the note to Bena who opened it and read out loud 'My work for the library requires that I travel. I wanted to let you know I am interested in your offer and to discuss details. The Black Pony Inn was recommended to prepare for a journey. I'm assured a room is available. I will come tomorrow and stay the night then set off the next morning. Thank you again for a delightful evening. May your days be pleasant, signed Jac.'
"Well," Jimin said "That's good news." I agreed as we walked to the kitchen to partake in the household ritual of convincing whoever was on duty we needed a snack to hold us until the evening meal.

Late the next day I walked out of the inn toward the stables looking for Jimin. In the fenced training area next to it he was walking a sorrel mare he would 'Transport' to a new owner tomorrow morning. He looked at me. "Did you need something or have I lost track of the time and Bena sent you to tell me to come eat?"

"Oh no, Bena didn't send me, but Cook announced the meal is ready. I wanted to see the mare you told us about at noon." I said as I climbed the fence and walked over to him.

Jimin was not buying my story. "You don't want to get caught watching for Jac to arrive."

I huffed but did not argue the point. "She is a pretty one." I said. As I ran my hand along her neck, then patted her on the shoulder. I heard a horse enter the stable yard behind me.

Jimin looked past me "Well, well, well." He said.

I turned around to see Jac astride a slate gray horse with good lines but a large white patch on the left side of its face with a blue eye. The other eye was black. Some considered that an unlucky trait.

I gasped. "That horse!"

"Star Crossed, sired by Star of the Alagan stables." Jimin confirmed. "It'll be an interesting story how that four-year-old gelding came into Jac's possession." Jimin studied horse bloodlines.

Jac waved at us then dismounted removing the saddlebags and led the horse into the stable. Jimin unhooked the lead from the mare and we hurried over through the gate and into the stable. Jac was talking with the head groom and Jimin walked over to join the discussion.

They did not need me so I walked across behind the inn to a two-room outbuilding that Jimin and Bena had worked long hours to transform into their home. "Bena! The evening meal is ready. Jac's here. He's discussing with Danel and Jimin what he'll need for his journey."

"Good, I'll be right along." Bena replied.

I nodded and finished circling the Inn entering the main room.

"Not busy yet, but the night is young." Mimi, in charge of the waitresses smiled at me. "Be ready to lend a hand."

"Always." I moved on to the kitchen to help get more food on the table in the large pantry where the staff took turns eating before it got busy. On my last trip I glanced out the door to see Danel, Jimin, Jac and the stable lads coming toward the Inn.

Jimin's voice came from outside the door as he scolded the lads. "You stop and wash up before entering the inn to eat."

Danel laughed and said to Jac. "I remember when I gave the same advice to young Jimin here."

More laughter, the splashing of water and then footsteps in the back passageway heading for the food.

Bena's voice came down the passageway. "Smart man, just in time to eat. Welcome, Jac."

"... travel light on the outward journey" Jac was saying as I entered and took a seat." I'm to inspect an estate's library. A wagon and driver will be meeting me there. If it goes as planned the volumes that will survive being moved I'll pack for travel and come back with them."

"What happens to the ones you can't move?" Bena asked.

"Ah, Books." Jimin sighed, "Bena's first love. I shall have to be content as his second."

"Just ignore him." Bena requested.

I laughed.

Jac smiled, "Those are volumes that crumble when I pick them up. I should be back in three weeks. I need to get an early start. 'Quickly gone. Quickly back'." When we looked puzzled at the phrase Jac explained. "A saying from my childhood."

At the sound of horses and harness Danel gathered up the stable lads. The evening's business had begun.

"I'll show you to your room." Bena said.

Jac nodded, picking up his saddlebags starting across the room. He stopped next to me putting out his hand. When I reached for it a spark snapped between us. Pleasant surprise flashed across his face as he took my hand in his. Time stood still. I blinked and Jac released my hand. Time started again. "Conia, I'm looking forward to working with you. Good night." He and Bena walked out.

Loud talk came from the main room. Time for me to go to work.
Jac left early the next day. We settled into our normal spring routines as the days passed. Then weeks. One evening Bena asked me to join them for tea.

"Almost a month has passed since Jac left." I said as I walked in and paced.
"I'm sure Jac can take care of himself. The estate would've arranged an experienced wagon driver for a journey to The City." Jimin replied looking up at me. "Conia, I don't think wearing a path in our floor will bring him back any sooner."
"A wise person once said.' Time stops for no man'." Bena intoned as he checked to see if the tea had steeped enough to pour into cups.
I frowned at him. "Just what is that supposed to mean?"
"Bena, you're not helping." Jimin said setting aside his mending of leather harness. "Jac's only one week later than he said. I know from Bryan's and my journey it took longer than I imagined traveling from one city to another."

"We turned in the application to form a 'Find Team' when Jac agreed." Bena added as he handed me a cup. The blend was one he claimed calmed a worried mind.
I smiled, "Now you're helping." I said as I breathed deep, took a sip and relaxed. I didn't realize how worried I'd become.

Four days later we learned I wasn't the only one worried about Jac.

Silvia entered the kitchen, "Conia, there is someone here from the Library asking if we've news of Jac."

"Oh," I turned to Suni helping Cook and me. "I need you to find Jimin and have him meet us..." I looked at Silvia.

"I took him to the study, Clive's working there so he'll take care of the pleasantries."

"Good, Bena isn't home yet..." I looked at the girl. "Hurry please, Suni."

She ran.

I took a step to run to the study and Silvia stopped me. "Calm down." She ordered.

I took a deep breath and nodded.

Silvia nodded approval and calmly we walked to the study.

An elderly man was in the guest's chair.

"Ah," Clive said "Let me introduce the assistant to the Head of Acquisitions of the Alagan Library, Master Jacobe, my wife Silvia." She nodded and sat next to Clive behind the desk. "And this is Conia."

I nodded as I moved a couple more chairs closer to the desk then sat.

Master Jacobe frowned "By the look on your faces I fear you've not had word from Jac. We received word from the estate that there'd be a delay due to problems concerning the wagon but he should be back by now. He only went to Haverness. Even if the delay added a week in order to pack the volumes he and the wagon are overdue."

Jimin entered stating, "Jac didn't give any details but Haverness is only a long day's ride. We'll head out in the morning."

Master Jacobe looked relieved. "The Grand Duchess is assisting an old friend by acquiring the books. I'm sure she asked Jac not to give out details and although concerned, she can't draw attention to her interest. His personal associates searching for him won't raise comment so as his friend I'm seeking to find if he'd sent word to anyone. I'm instructed to provide discreet financial aid." He stood. "I'll leave the details to you. I've a young aide outside who'll mention I stopped to inquire about my friend Jac. You've my Thanks."

"I understand, we hope Jac will tell you himself what delayed him. We'll send word of what we learn." Clive said. He and Silvia accompanied Master Jacobe as he left.

We went to talk with Danel.

"I know who to ask for help in the search." Danel said after hearing the news. "You'll want to leave at first light, pack lightly and be here before dawn."

Chapter 3

Overnight, Danel arranged for two friends of his and Jimin, to lead the search and provide mounts. Bena wasn't a horseman so he wouldn't accompany us. I didn't ride much, but I was going.

"We're grateful for your help on our search. I didn't know you've been on search parties?" I said to the men who arrived before the sky began the change from the black of night toward the blue of day.

"When you've been a mercenary you've done a little of everything." Bran answered. "We're glad to help. Danel and Jimin have come to our aid." Lex nodded.

We were ready to start at first light. After a few miles we turned off the Alagan Road heading south on a less-traveled road as the sun peaked over the horizon.

"Half way we'll have a river to cross." Lex told us.

Lex and Bran set a swift pace for a time then slowed us to a walk.

"Why are we slowing?" I snapped.

"We train our horses to cover long distances with this alternating pace. It's easier on the rider and the horse can travel hours if needed and not become exhausted." Lex explained, his voice soft as if dealing with a skittish horse.

"Conia," Jimin murmured slowing his horse beside mine. "These men know what to do. That's why we asked them to help."

"Sorry, I didn't get much sleep." Bran nodded. I stayed silent as we rode. No one was interested in idle chatter. We ate while riding during one of the walk periods. The miles and morning passed.

Bran spoke as the river came into sight. "Jimin, Conia it'd be a good idea for you to dismount, stretch your legs, while Lex and I see what we can learn at the crossing."

Jimin and I dismounted leading the horses. Lex and Bran rode ahead.

"They will study the tracks around the crossing looking for signs of a wagon fording the river." Jimin began.

"... and they don't need us getting in the way." I interjected. "Another example they know what they're doing. How much further is it to Haverness?" I groaned as my legs reacted to spending the morning in the saddle.

"The river is the midway point Danel told me last night. The distance to Haverness from the river takes longer because the road twists and turns through a thick forest." Jimin answered. "I'm not used to riding for hours. Walking will work the stiffness out of our legs and reduce the chance of leg cramps."

"That's what altering the pace does for the horses. If it's good for a horse..." I started.

"... It's good for a human." Jimin finished. "Danel's lesson one for those wanting to learn from him."

Across the river Bran dismounted looking at the river bank. Lex rode on vanishing from sight. When we were close enough, Bran said "Someone has taken a horse into the river on this side heading east downstream. See the deep hoof prints in the mud on the bank?" Bran pointed. "No sign of a wagon." He remounted and waved at us to cross. We mounted up crossing just as Lex rode back to us.

"I found the wagon." He said turning his horse to retrace his steps along the road. We followed.

The wagon was a half mile up the narrow lane from the river. Someone had backed it up into the forest and wedged it between trees. The two horses pulling it gone. Lex and Bran had dismounted and were searching the forest nearby.

I started to dismount but Jimin stopped me. "No, it's not safe." I regained my seat. He rode up and examined pieces of harness still attached. "Cut loose when the wagon became stuck. Someone ransacked the books looking for something." He nodded toward the ground next to the wagon.

"At least four, riding double on the wagon's horses toward Haverness," Bran said walking back to the wagon. "A dead man is beyond the wagon. He looks too ill kept to be your friend or hired as a wagon driver."

I rode around the wagon. The dead man was not Jac. "Thank Fate." I whispered. Blood splashes on the wagon and the books thrown on the ground showed fighting after emptying the wagon.

Lex walked to the side of the road looking at the ground. "Signs of a struggle between someone on foot and someone mounted. The mounted man fell or was pulled off the horse. One or both injured slightly from the blood splattered. Someone remounted riding off toward the river."

"Jac" I said.

Jimin nodded. "Star Crossed wouldn't have let a stranger mount."

I got back on the road while the others mounted. We returned to the river.

Lex looked at Jimin and me after we pulled to a halt. "You'll need twenty feet between your horses and keep to the route we use. Understood?"

We nodded.

Bran entered the river and started downstream. Lex next, then Jimin. I waited then followed. Time seamed to crawl. The afternoon sun baked down on us as the river entered a gully with high banks. No place for a horse to leave the river. Finally, the river spread out. Bran headed toward the north bank where even I could tell something had struggled out of the river. Our horses struggled one after the other up the bank. As we moved away from the river Bran's horse whinnied. In the distance, another answered. We quickened our pace and saw Star Crossed at the opposite edge of a small meadow looking straight at us his ears pricked forward. He moved into the forest nosing at something on the ground.

Bran signaled Lex then looked at us. "Hopefully that is your friend, we'll check the surroundings." They moved off in different directions.

Jimin moved his horse into a fast walk to cross the meadow and I followed. He dismounted slowly when we neared the trees again.

Star Crossed raised his head. Jac was lying on his chest. The horse's hooves inches from his head. The horse put his head down and huffed into Jac's hair. I held my breath, frozen in place, until I saw Jac take in a breath. Jimin knelt next to Jac checking his injuries, murmuring to the horse, then turned to me. "He has a head injury. I'll need you to move the horse and help me turn Jac over."

I unfroze, dismounted and got Star Crossed to back up a few steps. My vision was blurry. I felt the horse nudge me then he walked over to graze. I pulled one rein loose letting it fall to the ground. I wiped my eyes. When had I started crying? No matter, I walked over to help Jimin.

Jimin finished checking for broken bones "Keep his head steady." He said. We rolled Jac over. Jimin looking for injuries. "He has a few knifes slashes but nothing deep."

I ended up sitting cross legged with Jac's head in my lap. My eyes were still blurry, so I wiped them again.

Lex rode up to us and dismounted. "Danel said he was sending a small wagon after us in case it would be needed. Bran has gone to find it and guide it to us. It is just a matter of waiting." He handed me a canteen. "Put water in your cupped palm and see if you can get him to drink. If he can keep it down, it'll tell us his head injury is not life threatening."

I leaned whispering to Jac, "I need you to drink this for me Jac." dribbling water over his lips he opened his mouth, so I poured the rest.

"More." Jac murmured.

I looked at Lex and he shook his head.

"You can have more later. Just rest now." Jac nodded, winced then relaxed. I looked at his face, it was pale but not clammy nor did he look in distress. The water stayed down.

"At least we've a shady spot to wait for the wagon." Lex remarked "The heat of summer is showing its face."

I closed my eyes for just a minute, jerking awake as the sounds of horses and a wagon filled the meadow. I looked at Jac. His eyes were open looking at me.

"Jac, you're awake, let me get..."

"Conia..." Jac murmured then his eyes closed.

Lex came over to us. "He'll fade in and out of consciousness. I've seen that with head injuries. We need to have someone he knows in the wagon. Keep him from panicking if he wakes and doesn't know where he is. Will you ride in the wagon with Jac?"

"If that's what's needed." I looked at the shadows. "How long was I asleep?

"Several hours. It's safe to give him water now and every few hours on the way." Lex rejoined the discussion of moving Jac. I watched the driver start the draft horse moving in a circle around the meadow. He stopped when the tail end of the wagon was facing where I sat with Jac. Jimin removed the back panel, a layer of straw, a stack of blankets and supplies in the back.

"Conia?" Jac's voice startled me. I looked at him. "Did I hear something about water now?"

My face heated and I busied myself getting a palm full of water and giving it to Jac. "They'll be loading you soon. Then we'll get you home."

A strange look passed across his face. "Where?" He tensed.

"Alagan City. You've had a blow to the head so we'll take you to a healing center first." I heard the men approaching. "Time to get you loaded." Jac relaxed closing his eyes.

They spread a blanket on the ground then shifted Jac onto it. The driver assisted to lift him and get him head first into the wagon bed. Jimin rolled up another blanket placing it under his head. I stood up stretching then walked over.

They mounted. Jimin on Star Crossed. The horses we borrowed were on leads tied on Lex and Bran's saddles.

"Lex told me you volunteered to ride in the wagon Conia." Jimin said. "I believe we're ready to head home."

I nodded. The driver and I climbed up to the seat, and he started the wagon moving. I looked at the driver whose appearance made me think young but his eyes told me he was older, mid-twenties. "I'm Conia."

"Call me Get, I help Danel from time 't time. He told me you're nice and I could talk to you. You bake for the 'Pony'. Help Jimin 'n Bena find stuff."

I nodded. "Get is an interesting name." I watched the men move into the lead taking us west along the tracks the wagon's wheels made on its way to us.

"Oh, when I was little, Ma' was always telling me to get this or get that. Pa' started calliin' me Get."

"How long have you been a driver?" I asked to get him to talk. There was something about his voice hiding behind his odd speech pattern.

"Starting driving carts when I was seven or eight helpin' m' dad. The las' couple years I'm workin' with the merchant's guild driving cargo wagons to 'n from The City. Danel helped me learn 'bout the big horses, harness 'n wagons."

His voice was soothing, something the big horses liked I was sure. A Skill? I wondered. A rare one if so. "I've an idea, tell me about your last trip?"

"You want me to tell you 'bout my last trip?" He repeated. "It'll take a while we went west to the sea."

"I've got nowhere else to be, have you?" I asked.

Get laughed and started his tale. "We harness four draft horses into a team. Each team hitched to a cargo wagon loaded for the trip." His Skill saturated the words. While he continued explaining the process, I stopped listening to the words instead focusing my Skill to 'Find' the tone of his voice. Concentrating I could see his Skill rippling out from him like he was a stone tossed into a pond. Soothing waves radiated out. I watched as the first waves washed against the horse pulling the wagon and it slowed. Then waves washed against Jimin riding just ahead and he relaxed. Star Crossed stopped pulling at the reins and his prancing settled into a gentle pace. Get stopped talking and glanced at me. Before fading the waves washed against Bran and Lex soothing them and the horses even at the distance of three wagon lengths ahead of us on the trail.

"You don't have control over your Skill. That is why you break up your speech patterns and take care who you talk to."

He nodded.

"I understand why you would want to keep such a rare gift secret." Jac's voice barely reached us from where he lay. I glanced at Jac when he continued. "Someone could use the ability to harm." He pushed himself into a sitting position coughing.

"Jac!" I crawled over the wagon seat finding with my feet the built-in ladder steps to climb into the wagon bed. I looked around me realizing there was not a water bottle in sight. "Get? Do you..." I said looking up.

Get was holding a canteen by the strap almost hitting me with it.

I snatched it out of his hand sitting down handing Jac the canteen. He took a few sips nodding his thanks.

"You should lay back down, give me that canteen. That's enough water for now." Jac frowned but I took the canteen away from him, anyway.

Get snickered and whispered "You better do as she says." His Skill sending soothing waves.

Jac smiled "Get, I'd like to offer my help. My cousin had a similar Skill, not as powerful but I remember the techniques she used to learn control."

"Jac, I would be in your dept." Get whispered, his excitement strengthening the waves washing over us to a point they were not as pleasant as before. The horse pulling the wagon snorted tossing his head. "Sorry about that." Get whispered and began a lullaby. The horse settled and Jac's eyelids drooped.

I pointed at the wagon bed. "Jac, lay down now." I said as Get chuckled. "You can discuss terms later."

Jac lay down on his side facing me. "We can discuss terms later." Jac said as his eyes closed. I watched until his breathing evened then leaned back against a bag of feed and closed my eyes.



Chapter 4

I woke up realizing the wagon was not moving. Jac was no longer in the wagon bed but I heard his voice coming from the front of the wagon and looked up to see him sitting next to Get. I stood up stretching and I could see Jimin, still mounted, on Jac's side of the wagon. Lex and Bran rode up on the opposite side of the wagon.

"You're sure. You don't need a Healer?" Jimin was saying.

"That isn't necessary, I'm fine and I need to recover the books. Get told me he brought supplies, we can camp here tonight."

"You'll need horses for the wagon with the books." Lex said. "Unless you're planning on pulling it yourself?" Laughter followed.

"I don't think I've recovered enough for that." Jac admitted to more laughter.

Bran took charge. "Let's get the horses settled and camp set up then we can work out the details."

Jac and Get climbed down when the others dismounted. Jimin handed Star Crossed reins to Jac and walked around to unsaddle the horses we were riding earlier.

Get removed the back plank of the wagon setting it to the side saying "Conia, there are brushes and feed bags for the horses in the tool chest. Would you pull them out for me while I unharness Dandy?"

I nodded turning to the chest, opening it pulling out a sack of assorted grooming brushes I placed the sack on the end of the wagon bed and walked back to get the feed bags ready. Jac, leading Star Crossed, grabbed the sack as he headed over to join the others. Pulling out the feed bags I heard the thumps of saddles hitting the ground and the jingle of harness as Get unhitched Dandy moving him away from the wagon struts then removed the harness. I untied the feed sack finding a battered cup and put one cup of feed in each bag setting it where I had put the brushes. That chore done I jumped down out of the wagon. Picking up two feed bags I carried them over to the horse line. Bran and Lex had pulled the bit out of their horse's mouths and slipped the bridle around their necks leaving the reins trailing on the ground. Bran nodded as I walked up, and I put the feed bags on while they continued brushing their mounts. Jac and Jimin had done the same thing with the bridles on their horses. Get had a halter on Dandy and tied his lead to a hitch mounted on the wagon. Jac finished with Star Crossed and was grooming the horse I had ridden earlier. I got the feed bags on the other horses. Setting up camp comprised moving the saddles over to the wagon. To the sound of contented munching we gathered firewood for a morning fire as the sun neared the horizon.

We sat next to the wagon as Lex passed out travel rations for our supper. Get filled cups from the water barrel as we told Jac the details of finding the wagon and the body.

Jac shook his head when we finished. "I've no idea what they were after, but the driver was in on it. He stopped the wagon saying, 'There's something glinting on the ground.' He pointed to the right of the wagon between the road and the trees. I rode up even with him looking down when I heard him move on the wagon seat. Something hit me. The blow folded me over the saddle as pain exploded across the back of my head. I swung around to look at him. He was holding a sturdy walking stick swinging it back at me. I flinched back turning away, but he struck me across my left temple. I heard shouts coming from the forest and kicked Star Cross to flee but a man grabbed the reins. We moved a few feet forward as the man yanked on the reins. I pulled out a knife as Star Cross reared and the man let go of the reins to grab me pulling me out of the saddle. I sliced him as I fell. He swore pulling a knife slashing at me as I rose. We traded knife cuts, and I knocked him off his feet, but I was getting dizzy and I didn't know how many more there were, so I remounted Star Crossed and took off down the road."

"What made you go downstream?" Jimin asked.

"My mind was blurry but if they had horses I didn't want to stay on the road. I thought if I followed the river I'd have a better chance of evading them if they came after me."

"A wise decision." Bren remarked.

Jac nodded, "So it turned out, I remember little of that journey. I jolted awake when Star Cross got out of the river. His struggle out splashed around a lot of water."

"He must have thought you needed a bath." Lex remarked, and we laughed.

Jac smiled but sobered "Thank you all for coming after me. I thought I was dreaming when I opened my eyes and saw Conia looking down at me."

"Yes, well she is a pretty thing. If you like that type." Lex said. More laughter followed.

My faced heated. I hoped no-one noticed in the sunsets glow.

Bran nodded and brought the conversation back to the business at hand. "Jac, you talked of needing to go back and get the books but is there anything else that Lex and I can help you with?"

"Not that I can think of. Are you going to start back tonight?"

Bran shook his head. "No, even late as it is I don't want to push the horses in this heat. Better to rest. Head back in the morning. Will either of you still need mounts?"

"Not me," Jimin said. "I can Transport home since Jac doesn't need transporting to the Healing Center and bring a two-horse team with harness tomorrow so you can get the books to the Library." Jimin offered.

Thinking about the logistics, I said. "Jimin, Bena could transport me home since you can give him my location. I'd leave early in the morning bringing the horses. You wouldn't need to cancel or try to reschedule any other transports."

"I can go with Jac and help bury the body and repack the books," Get put in. "We should be ready when Conia arrives with the horses." Jac nodded.

"Is it me or is Conia also offering to go home rather than sleep on the ground?" Lex put on a sad face. "You don't know what you'll be missing." He sniffed the surrounding air. "Then again..." Star Cross whinnied as if in agreement. Lex fell over with laughter.

Bran shook his head "There is a small spring to the north we can water the horses and wash up so we no longer offend our four-footed friends or each other."

Get stood moving over to climb into the wagon, "I've soap and towels." He said opening a smaller chest.

"The question is, what didn't you bring?" Lex chuckled.

"Soft mattresses, pillows, sheets..." Get shrugged, "There was not enough time to get everything."

Lex gave a heavy sigh, "We shall just have to make do." Bran shook his head.

Jac picked up his saddlebags stuffing inside a towel while walking over to gather up Star Crossed reins. Get jumped out of the wagon and untied Dandy leading him to wait next to Jac.

"Lex will stay with the wagon then come over when you get back to camp." Bran said to Jimin and me as he picked up his saddlebags and slung them over the back of his mount.

Lex walked up and handed him soap and a towel saying, "Don't forget to wash behind your ears." Bran sighed.

We walked along in companionable silence as twilight touched the sky.

I asked Bran, "How did you and Lex become friends?"

"Lex was with a mercenary group I joined. Almost twenty years ago now. He was always laughing and joking. I avoided him as much as I could. After six months he made a boast over drinks he could make me smile. They made bets. A time limit of thirty days settled on for this feat of magic. Those who had known me for years serving with other mercenary groups bet against Lex. Lex went to work but as the thirty days neared the end, he had not succeeded."

We reached the spring, and the horses drank.

Bran continued, "I felt sorry for him but he shouldn't have boasted. We were back from a job and settling in for some serious eating and drinking at an inn with good bathing facilities that catered to mercenaries. I saw Lex sitting at a table his hair damp when I walked in turning to the bar to grab a drink and hit the baths myself. I glanced back at him, this look of wonder crossed his face. He set down his drink and walked over. I frowned at him wondering what he had in mind and he kissed me."

"No!!" Get exclaimed his eyes filled with mirth and Jac laughed.

"What did you do?" I gasped.

"I smiled." Bran admitted a twinkle in his eyes. "We've been together ever since."

I laughed so hard I wiped tears from my eyes as Jimin and I started back to camp. Lit lanterns hung on the wagon even though it was still light enough to see. Lex started toward the spring as soon as we came into view. As he reached us I laughed.

"Has Bran been telling stories?" Lex asked smiling as he passed us. We nodded. "You can believe his stories." His comment floated back to us.

We were still chuckling as we walked into camp. There were two unlit lanterns sitting in the middle of the camp on top of the back plank from the wagon.

Jimin scrounged around in his saddlebags. "Do you have any travel rations left?" He asked after his search came up empty.

I walked over to mine and pulled out what I had. "Bena has suggested there is a bottomless pit inside you."

Jimin snickered, "One of the many reasons I work at The Pony, it keeps Bena from worrying about having a roof over our heads and food on the table."

I smiled and went over to the water barrel to fill my cup.

"Fill mine while you're at it, please." I looked over at him and held up my hand. He smiled and threw me his cup. I filled it up and walked over handing it to him as he sat looking up at the sky. We watched as it become a deep velvet blue.

"You could transport home now, I'll be fine. They'll be back soon." I said as I lit the two lanterns.

"And you know why I won't. Bena expects me to look out for you and he'd kick my ass if I didn't."

"Ah, now we know..." I shook my head. "Self-preservation."

Jimin nodded, "Bena would never forgive me if you got carried off and never seen again." He narrowed his eyes. "Unless... it was someone you wanted to carry you off..."

"Jimin!"

He ignored me. "If you wanted to be carried off what could we do, but without the never seen again part. I'd miss you and Bena would be all weepy and inconsolable."

I rolled my eyes. "Got it. I will not be carried off never to be seen again."

"I believe we understand each other."

"Oh brother." I said.

"Exactly." Jimin grinned.













Chapter 5

Winter's icy breath swirled into Bena and Jimin's two-room home as I slipped inside. "Cook said you're looking for me?"

"You've home! We haven't seen you since you went to help at Gillipie's when Alia became ill." Bena fussed as I sat. "You look worn out."

"Worked myself into a frazzle as mama used to say." I sighed. "No one expected Alia to be ill this long. She's talked of retiring for years."

Jimin scolded. "You should have sent word for a 'Transport'."

I shook my head. "Another baker hired on late this morning and I left after the noon meal. I didn't want to wait all afternoon to arrange transport. I'm home and before dark. Why should I spend one of the sunny afternoons this time of the year just sitting?" Eyeing Bena I asked, "Have you given up on transporting Jac to another domain?"

Bena frowned, "For now. I informed Jac it's Jimin's experience transporting livestock into other domains that enables him to transport anyone. Jac inquired, since he's only half the size of said livestock, which half of the animal he represented when transported."

I laughed.

"You must recover quickly." Jimin grinned "We've received a 'Find Request'. "The client wants an item he believes is in Fairweather, Norrevegr Domain. Bena is working on the details."

Bena's eyes lit up, "I contracted Jamil's Associates For the spell. We will have it by morning."

I gasped. "Does Jac know? "

"We've sent a message. We thought we'd have to send you a message."

"A job in another domain!!" I said rising, grinning myself, more of winter's cold swirled in as I left.

"Conia!" Silvia exclaimed when I found her in the study. "An official 'Find Request', yes?" She stood up from the desk, rounded it and pulled me into a hug. "We saw the messenger. Clive told him where to find Jimin." She retook her seat while I leaned on the desk. "Official looking messenger, so we suspected. I've sent word to Alia asking her to consider a semi-retired position here including room and board. She'd be perfect. I'll have the unused small pantry remade into a nice room by the kitchen for her. There are several people who worked to cover while you've been at Gillipie's, one of them might be interested in staying on. They'd be a big help as we get ready for the Spring-Summer season."

I smiled and nodded, she'd been planning this for some time I realized.

She paused for breath so I spoke fast. "What do you need me to do?"

"I have a list."

I took it and left the study planning the easiest way to get it done. Things were looking up. I could tell.

The following morning, I found Jimin, Bena and Jac talking over breakfast.

Jac was saying "Many places in this domain have Alagan in the name. Did the founder want to make sure no one would forget whose domain it is?"
Jimin snickered, and I was trying not to laugh while filling my plate leaving Bena to answer.

"It Is our belief that many of the people who first came to this domain at its founding wanted to show their loyalty to their new Ruler." Bena's pride evident in his voice.

"Understandable during the early years of a domain." Jac went on "but the Alagan Dome, where the conclave is held, feels much older."
I nodded, "The Dome is believed to ten thousand years old. Local myth says 'the Ancients' built it but no one knows who or what they were. Most believe the Dome is the main reason the first Alagan built his city here. I believe it was because he found a source of water, but what do I know?"
Jac smiled.

Bena pulled us back into the present. "There's a festival in Fairweather. I learned it has earned a reputation as a place to gain, shall we say, medicinal potions? Try to avoid it while locating the item. You and Jac will transport this afternoon."

"You three have volunteered to help so I'll have everything done on Silvia's 'list'!" Groans

followed my announcement. I laughed.

.



Transports are instantaneous but time differentials meant we'd arrived with this city's setting sun. We paid the toll to the Way guildsman and thanked him for his vigilance. Those with skills classified as low level ensured the 'Way' was clear during transports.

"They set your return for ten hours from now. Be here." He told us then disappeared into the twilight.

We walked from the transport area to where Bena had arranged a room. The air burned my lungs it was so cold, numbing my nose, I pulled my scarf up over my nose. "I can't imagine calling this frozen place 'Fairweather'." I grumbled to Jac. "I hate the cold!"

Jac frowned. "Yes, you keep telling me. I understood the first time and the second and the third..." he remarked. We entered the one-story Inn. The thick walls kept the heat in and the cold out in an efficient if ugly construction method.

I huffed." I'm just tired."

Jac glanced at me then nodded.

Bena told him. That's what brothers are for. I sighed.

We waited for the inn keeper to acknowledge us. Jac continued, "I recall Norrevegr has an amazing spring and summer season lasting almost twenty months. The founder of the domain claimed Ruling Right at the start of a spring cycle. That mining operations began immediately wasn't of concern. There is no limit on how long a family or group know about a 'Way' only that the claim is registered before they start immigration to ensure they pay the proper fees. Those who came learned how often it had fair weather as the planet returned to winter's frozen grip but since its founding a thousand years ago the mining never stops."

"How far into the current winter cycle are we?" I asked, studying the faces of those here. Hungry. I thought. Not a good sign.

"Almost nine years according to the official Time records Bena reviewed when he arranged for the transport. Three or four more years before fair weather returns." Jac said turning from me as the innkeeper walked up to us. "We've accommodations arranged, name's Jac."

The innkeeper, a surly man, heavy unlike his employees, narrowed his eyes when he glanced at me and looked back to Jac. "Yes, not staying long, why come at all then?" He asked fishing for information.

Jac stared at him.

"Not my business. Follow me." We walked across the main room into a hallway, doors along either side. "A room as requested," He stated opening one door. "with a meal..." He pointed to a small plate of cold meat, bread, cheese, a pitcher of water and a corked bottle of ale. Flanking the table and chairs were two cots along the side walls each having a rolled-up blanket as a pillow or cover.

"Acceptable, we require nothing more." Jac stated. He closed the door on the innkeepers frowning face. "Ready?" He asked removing his outer coat and gloves tossing them on a cot.

I nodded placing my coat and gloves on the other cot, "Differing ideas of ownership opens the possibility of others trying to 'Find' the same item or whoever has it not wanting to give it up. We can eat and rest while..." I realized I was rambling.

Jac lifted his eyebrow as he turned to look at me handing me the paper impregnated with the spell I would use as a focus.

"Right, I'll trigger the spell." I said removing a ten-inch blue glass rod containing the energy needed to increase the range of my Skill. I set the rod on the table tenting the spell over the rod and moved a lit candle touching flame to paper. The flame consumed it and sparks like tiny stars swirled above the rod. I concentrated my Skill watching the blue color leach out of the rod as I pulled the energy joining it with the sparks forming a blue sphere locator spell. It snapped apart when I released it. I felt it spreading out searching for what the client sought. I looked at Jac and smiled. "Let's eat."

The food was filing but bland. I dozed on the cot until the spell pinged, I could 'see' a compass needle pointing the direction.

"These spells are amazing," I remarked as we pulled on our heavy coats to start the 'Find'.

"I studied with a spell caster in my youth but I had no aptitude for it." Jac looked thoughtful. "To watch as the caster pulled the 'feel' of the item from a person creating a spell used to locate it. The ability to 'Find' items people seek, is a gift. After you." He bowed as he opened the door.

We walked across the main room toward the outside door. Jac would keep us together while I concentrated on following the spell. The cold slammed into me once we got outside. The energy from the glass rod powered the spell outward, but It took my personal energy to use the Skill. There was a drain I rarely felt. Weariness plucking at the edge of my awareness I wished there had been more time for me to rest before using my Skill.

This place was a warren of thick ugly buildings. Until we got close the spell only gave me a direction. We were walking in alleyways that were a maze as we moved across the city.

"Don't these people believe in a thru street?" I complained, "How long did we have before our return? Ten hours? We've been walking that long!"

"We've been here four hours, been walking for two. Arranging the streets this way keeps out the wind." Jack replied.

I could hear a crowd as we moved along. Around the next corner we came out into a large open area, a marketplace, filled with people, so much for avoiding the festival. Bonfires were lit, incense was heavy in the air. Each bonfire flared a different color, a priest or priestess attending it. For a coin you could buy a tiny bag of incense to throw into the flames. I walked from one bonfire to the next finding that each had a different incense offered to the flames.

A brooding intensity radiated from the crowd.

My compass needle pointed across the marketplace. Intoxicated by the aromas and delighted by the colors I breathed deep at each new one. My head spun. There were angry voices, then yelling over real or imagined slights. Fights broke out, like raindrops hitting a pond the ripples from each drop affecting those around them. Someone pushed me knocking me to the ground. when I regained my feet, I could not find Jac. I panicked as the crowd closed in. My awareness seemed to expand and time slowed. I felt my spirit lift out of my body. Looking up, I saw a silver thread connecting me to my spirit. I had to 'FIND' Jac!

Someone grabbed me as I stared upward. I glanced at him when he yelled "Conia". It was Jac, he was looking up. I saw his spirit lift and wrap itself around mine. Jac reached up to pull on his silver thread. I watched our spirits descend separating to settle back into us but a connection remained.

"We need to get back to the inn." Jac murmured in my ear as he put an arm around me guiding me out of the crowd. I nodded trusting Jac to get us there.

I do not remember the walk back to the inn until I heard a heavy door close behind us. Jac was saying "No, my companion is fine, the festival was a bit intense for her. She needs peace and quiet."

He ignored other comments as he guided me to the room we were in earlier. After closing the door Jac helped me take off my coat. I walked over and sat on a cot. Jac handed me a glass of water I swallowed in gulps. Jac filled himself a glass then refilled mine. I nodded my thanks as I finished the third glass. Between us we emptied the pitcher. My head felt like someone stuffed it with wool. Sleep was pulling at me. I looked over at Jac, a sliver thread hung in the air connecting us. I plucked it and it rang with a lovely pure tone.

Jac sighed. "We have forged a binding between us. You should sleep we can talk after you have rested."

I nodded. I was asleep when my head hit the pillow.

"Conia?" Jac's voice nudged me into awareness "I hate to wake you.,"

Sitting up. "I had the strangest dream..." I looked over at Jac. I could see the silver thread connecting us. "It wasn't a dream was it?"

"No, not a dream." Jac sighed, "A quirk of fate exposing us to an unknowable mix of awareness enhancing hallucinogens..."

"What does this mean for us? "I interrupted as I paced across the floor. "FATE! The item we were to 'Find'!"

"We'll make this connection work for us. Some aspects of our Skills will bleed over. I could latch onto your 'Find' spell and follow it to gain the item we came for. A bracelet. The 'Lady' who had it in her possession decided it was best to return it to our client even though it was a gift."

"Thank the Fates for that, I would've hated to fail on our first 'Find' job. How long did I sleep? Do we need to leave soon? I cannot believe this happened. Will I always see the connection between us?"

"Stop pacing Conia," Jac pulled out a chair from the table, "You slept about four hours, given the time we took to get back to the inn, we've about an hour. The drugs heightened your awareness as they leave your system you should stop seeing the connection unless you concentrate on doing so. Eat something and drink the ale, give yourself some time to wrap your mind around our new reality."

I sat, "Easy for you to say, you've had four hours to adjust."

Jac laughed.





..............



Chapter 6

I closed my eyes, took a deep calming breath. A brutal summer day had cooled from broiling to warm in this city's early morning hours. The locator spell showed the item close but with several transparent images laid on top of each other. I entered an abandoned courtyard glimmering in this moon's light. Refocusing my Skill to sensing the living in the immediate area I found only the usual nocturnal city creatures but no people close by.

Jac moved up behind me. "Conia," he murmured. "Odd there are multiple images with the locator spell. Let's find out why. Shall we?" He slid past me his hair glossy black in the moonlight.

I frowned. He was always so calm even though he was the redhead, well, a dark auburn. My hair, hidden under a black stocking cap, would be shiny silver in the moonlight, unlike my natural brown color. Had Jac ever noticed? FOCUS! I told myself. A successful job for this client should help us secure a formal designation and move our team from amateur to professional.

This close to the 'Find' I pushed my Skill out to my limit. Detail sacrificed for distance. Still no people, Good. I followed.

Jac walked past several doors, pausing at each one long enough to confirm the item was not inside. He worked his way around the courtyard halting on the left side of a door frame he turned facing me. With his left hand he pushed the door open. I stopped on the right side. At his look, I said. "I can sense no one near us." We slipped into the room shutting the door behind us.

"Let there be light." Jac said, a glowing ball appeared above his left palm. "That just never gets old."

I rolled my eyes. "We each have our Skill Set, Jac."

The room contained an overturned lightweight folding table resting on top of something. I pushed the table aside and found what the locator spell told us was the item we had come for, Sort of. The 'Find' item, as described by the Client, was "a glass rod an inch in diameter, two feet long and red". What we saw were glass rods in many colors laying in a pile. They were snapped in half. None of them two feet long now. At least four shades of 'red'.

"I believe that explains the multiple images." Jac said.

"Yes. Which of the 'reds'?" I sighed "I don't think our client will be happy about it being broken. We should take advantage of the optional 'Recovery' clause on this job. Better to have the client choose between the 'reds' in front of them instead of only reporting the 'Find'. We'll take them all. We can claim abandoned property. Turn the additional rods over to Jimin and Bena." The 'Transport' members of our team. "They'll have a use for the other colored rods or sell them. Win-Win. Right?"

Jac laughed.

I pulled out a canvas bag wanting more cushion for the rods during transport and put them inside. Something pinged at the edge of my senses. I froze for a moment.

"Company?" Jac said cupping his hands around the glowing ball to dim the light as I finished.

I put the packed rods into Jac's backpack and moved to open the door as the light went out. We waited as our eyes adjusted before moving into the courtyard.

"Which way?" Jac asked.

I focused on the ping. "The way we came. One, no two. They have made several turns to ensure they continue moving in this direction, five blocks away now."

"Right, another way then," Jac said. He moved away from where we entered, toward the far end of the courtyard. He always knew his location. While I could get lost going around the block in daylight.

Jac would take us in a circular route back to the retrieval point. I kept my senses on the two people as we moved. Our binding ensured I could 'Find' Jac and he could 'Find' me. It was not a location spell as used in 'Finding' items but for me the result was the same. Jac believed we would know if the other were injured but, so far, we've not tested that theory.

"They're speeding up." I said. Jac and I broke into a trot as we left the courtyard. Oh, this was going to be fun. I could tell. I trotted along after Jac as he led us into a dark alley way stepping in substances that squished and released odors that brought back memories of emptying chamber pots when helping at the healing center during the great sickness that swept through my home city over four years ago.

We moved faster.

I divided my senses between the two following us and the immediate vicinity. Slowing, we walked out of the alley way to cross a moonlit street. Back into a trot as darkness covered us again. I did not count how many streets we crossed in this fashion I just followed. "How much farther Jac!" I hissed when an alley way narrowed. The buildings to either side leaning overhead. Another smell, worse than a dead animal bloated in the hot sun, assaulted my nose. I am going to pay the stable boy to clean these boots, I decided as we spilled out into a street. Brick buildings lined it in both directions. The retrieval point was close. I could feel the spell that would inform Jimin, on watch for this job, that we were ready to transport home.

"Jac," He looked back at me and we slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. "The two following have changed directions and their current route will cross our path as we reach the retrieval point."

Jac swore and nodded. I moved until I was six feet from him, keeping to his right. My job would be to get to the retrieval point and trigger the spell.

"Can this get any better?" I muttered then groaned. Fate is always listening.

The air midway between us and the retrieval point seemed to pulse. The two following us now blocked our path. One, an Elder, his hair silvery gray in the moonlight. The other man, much younger, Apprentice? I wondered. I hated to be impressed but 'Transport' spells took a lot of energy. To use that much for such a short distance when they would cross our path, anyway? Well, I would just be impressed.

"An Elder looking for a glass rod? They can create them, can't they? Jac?" I glanced at him. "Jac?"

Jac frowned, narrowing his eyes as he looked at the two men before us.

The Elder nodded to Jac as an equal. "Jacard, you have been Summoned."

"Samel" Jac said as his frown deepened. "My allotted time is not up." He said.

I looked at Jac. Any calm I had evaporated. Jac did not talk about his past. Looks like we needed to have a talk. First, we needed to get home.

The younger man snarled "You will not ignore a Summoning." In a blink he was next to Jac. Something glinted in the moonlight as he raised his left hand. With his right he grabbed Jac's right arm.

"Release him!" I yelled and moved toward them. I do not know who was more surprised, Jac, the two men or me. With both hands I grabbed the left forearm of the man holding Jac. He let go of Jac and held his right-hand palm facing me.

"Simion!" The Elder shouted, "Stop."

The surrounding air rippled, and I was thrown backward across the street slamming into a brick wall. The pain lanced along my back on impact. My head hit the wall. I did not remember hitting the ground, but I was lying on my right side facing the street. Jac's movements were a blur as he struck Simion again and again till Simion fell to the ground.

"Jacard," The Elder slowly approached "That is enough, See to your companion."

Jac came out of a daze. Why was he in a daze? I was the one in pain here. In a blink Jac was beside me.

"Conia" Jac whispered as he laid a hand on my left side. "Let me check your injuries."

What a good idea. I thought as Jac murmured in a language I did not understand. Warmth spread around my body. My pain lessened, and the world blurred then faded. I heard Jac sigh.

Jac watched the individual spells pulling energy from the colored rods. The spells swirling like streamers in the wind around Conia. Each line of color representing a different spell. He never expected to use more than a few of his healing spells and not on a person other than himself. Thankful he'd had the energy to use as many as he did, he could not recall how many. Over thirty different spells he guessed. He would need to take inventory of what he had left later.

Jac whispered, "Help will be here soon Conia but I must go. I cherish the time we've had together."

Opening my eyes, I looked into his. I did not want a life without Jac, I would 'Find' Jac, I vowed silently. No way in Purgatory is our time together over. My decision made I gave up the struggle to remain awake.

Jac didn't want a life without Conia but obligations pulled at him to fulfil a promise his family made long ago. The day he and others for generations before him had worked for was coming. Fate decided the timing he would have to stay the course. He placed a finger on Conia's forehead then her breastbone repeating the gestures on himself.

"Will she survive?" Samel asked from where he was standing next to Simion's prone form.

"Yes, that's the only reason Simion's still breathing, but I will not use one of my healing spells on him." Jac stood turning from Conia, "We'll not have much time." He strode to the retrieval point setting his backpack on the ground triggering the spell to let Jimin know they were ready to come home. Well, Conia would go home. "Come on, we must go. Since you're not a transport and Simion is out of commission, that means we walk for now."

Jac pulled Simion up and over his shoulder. They hurried away from the retrieval point making for the Way opening for this domain. The only way out now.

"We'll stop at the first inn in the next domain and leave Simion there. I will not travel further with him." Jac growled.

Samel looked thoughtful remarking, "The Highest was livid when news reached her you forged a bond. She issued orders for the summoning. Demanding Simion as transport, we knew she intended to make your return uncomfortable, but she couldn't have intended this outcome."

"She plans for all outcomes. Simion's worship of Talena means he'd do whatever she asked or he believed she wanted of him. With Conia dead she'd expect Simion to be dead by my hand making proving her part in it impossible. She has misused the enslavement protocols binding my family with this summoning nonsense and provable or not causing Conia's injury!" His anger caused that last word to echo around the square. People looked his way watching as they entered the area surrounding the Way.

"Keep your voice down. You can list grievances if you decide to bring a case before the tribunal." Samel admonished as they stepped through, "We needn't draw attention to ourselves."

Chapter 7

"Conia?"

I opened my eyes. Jimin was on his knees next to me.

"Don't move" He said.

More good advice. I thought.

Jimin kept talking, "Jac triggered the retrieval spell but was not in the 'Transport' area. I told Bena to send out a call for help and I came through. Hold on for me Conia. Do you know where Jac is?"

"Jimin!" Bena's voice rang out in the distance. Jimin twisted in that direction.

Several other familiar voices drifted to me. One stood out. "Are there injuries?"

I knew that authoritative voice but her name was hiding from me. I decided it did not matter.

"Bena, Elish! Over here!" called Jimin, "Conia is injured." I heard the sounds of people running towards us.

I was still lying on my right side so I pushed against the ground with my left hand trying to get myself upright. I moved slightly. Pain lanced up and down my spine. My world swam in and out of focus. I groaned.

Jimin turned back to me, "Damn it Conia. Don't move; you'll aggravate your injuries." He gently settled me back on the ground. "Conia," His voice faded then came back ... "Jac? Do you remember?"

"Jac," I whispered. Memories beckoned me. "Yes, I remember when we first met Jac. It rained that morning." Warmth enveloped me again easing away the pain.

"What happened?" Bena asked, his voice floating down to me.

"She was unconscious when I found her." Jimin replied moving aside for Elish as she knelt.

"Her condition has been stabilized." Elish murmured. Louder she asked "Has Conia said who helped her?"

"She keeps mumbling about the day we met Jac. Clearly she doesn't remember what happened."

"We need to get her transported to the healing center." Elish stated taking charge of the situation I was more than willing for her to do so. The warmth surrounded me while sleep beckoned and I followed.

"Any idea when she'll wake?" Bena's agitated voice sifted through the mist surrounding me.
"The spell stabilizing her ensures she'll not wake until movement won't cause other injuries." Elish replied. "I can
read the spell..." her words trailed off, she sighed. "We'll just have to wait until the spell releases her. "

Bena erupted "When?!"

"Calm yourself Bena." Jimin said.

"I've talked with other healers." Elish began in her dealing with difficult patients/ family voice. "The speed of her recovery from these injuries is remarkable. She's checked daily. Her muscles stimulated to decrease adverse effects from her being unconscious for so long. She'll wake. Now, any news of Jac?"

Bena worked to calm himself, "No direct news, Jamil has his associates checking with contacts in other domains. To see if someone matching Jac's description passed through their area." He sighed. "I am going to talk with Master Jacobe to see if he has any ideas but we're no closer to finding Jac."

I will 'Find' him, I wanted to tell them, with this binding we forged....

.......

"After the pace you've insisted upon to reach this Way," Samel muttered to Jac as they crossed over into the Ruotsi Domain. "we cannot continue pushing these mounts and ourselves. We're down to a few coins." Samel sighed, this domain's early morning light emphasizing the older man's weariness.

Jac nodded saying," I worked with a man who told me associates of his were opening a business in this town. I've a plan that should prove profitable for them and provide us with the means to continue our journey, but first a place to rest ourselves and the horses." Jac road along the busy streets looking for a sign only a member of the Fellowship would recognize. Designating places members could find food, rest and of course the opportunity to make a profit. After crossing most of the town Jac found what he was looking for. Waving for Samel to follow him Jac turned into the stable yard of a small well-kept inn.

"We can stay here for a few days while I work on making the arrangements." Jac told Samel as he dismounted. They turned over the weary horses to the groom.

"You've been riding hard on these poor beasties." The man frowned at them.

"Yes, take good care of them. The sun is going to shine on our endeavors." Jac replied.

The grooms frown disappeared. A smile brightened his face. "May that day be soon, my friends. Welcome to 'Jord's Folly'."

Jac nodded as he and Samel removed their saddlebags and headed toward the front door.

"Just what was that about the sun going to shine on us?" Samel whispered as they waited while several men exited the inn.

"There is a chapter of the Fellowship here." Jac replied, taking a step as the men moved noisily down the street.

Samel did not move. "What!" he said so loudly one of the men looked back at them. He lowered his voice. "They are all assassins." He hissed.

"Nonsense." Jac stepped back to Samel grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the door. "We can discuss this in further detail in a more private setting."

..........

Chapter 8

"You must do whatever is necessary to find Jac." Maureen told Bena when he discussed the possibility of his stepping away from their lucrative business for a time. "Take as much time as you need. We'll use the opportunity to move the older apprentices into the daily running of the warehouse. If it goes well, we may expand."

That time had come. Bena looked up at the imposing edifice of the Alagan Library as the sun was setting. He had longed for a chance to walk through its corridors drinking in the sight of so many books. Looking across the square, he caught sight of Get, his hair damp, dressed as a junior scribe with a satchel similar to the one Bena carried, as he strode from the Library's transport ground over to join Bena.

"Those clothes suit you. You should clean up more often." Bena joked.

Get glanced down at himself then over at Bena, "I welcome the opportunity to rub elbows with a man of learning." Get smiled, "I got Silvia's message they needed me at the Pony. Once there, they rushed me through a meal, a bath and into these clothes. Silvia assured me my parents know of my job opportunity in the Library. Clive told me we're to continue the work Jac was doing for Master Jacobe?"

Bena nodded leading the way past the main door heading for a side entrance, "I was on my way here and Silvia sent one of the stable lads to let me know the caravan you were with had returned. Her message said Jimin would transport you over or if you could not join me right away come and let me know. Master Jacobe considers Jac a friend and offered to help in any way he could when sent word of Jac's disappearance. That was over a month ago and with no knowing when Conia will wake I asked Clive to send Master Jacobe a message requesting permission to go through any books or papers Jac was studying. I'm hoping to find something to tell us why Jac disappeared or where he might have gone. Master Jacobe wrote back saying he would mention to colleges he was hiring some of Jac's associates to continue the cataloging of items Jac was working on. Since my handwriting is illegible according to Silvia, she thought of you to keep our cover story believable with anyone else who may look in on us." Bena didn't add that since he could not help Conia, he needed to do something to help find Jac. "How long can you work with me?"

Get looked thoughtful as they entered a room with people seated on benches along the walls and found places to sit. "At least three weeks maybe as long as four before I am contracted to drive and oversee the care of the draft horses for a caravan of the merchant's guild." Get sounded loud in the entry room and his face flushed as he received several disapproving glances from those, well acquainted with the inner workings of the library, passing through the room.

Bena whispered "Sorry, I didn't know it would be so quiet even here. If this was the Pony, we couldn't hear ourselves think. Master Jacobe's instructions said we should wait here until he sent someone to get us. It would draw attention if we arrived and asked to see him."

Get only nodded, and they sat waiting.

Bena wondered how long an eternity was as he shifted again on the bench. Get smiled whispering "It's only been a little over an hour. I don't think you would enjoy sitting in a wagon all day." His smile widened as Bena shivered in mock horror at the thought. Get chuckled.

A young page walked in the room. Bena watched the page boy, no, the page girl. Her slim figure and small stature combined with the short haircut gave the outward impression of boyhood but Bena's focused his skill on her emotions. She was much older than she looked and he wondered why she hid herself in plain sight. She tilted her head studying those seated. Crowded but with a steady coming and going. Bena nudged Get, who glanced at him.

Bena nodded toward the page. "I think she is our escort." Bena whispered. Get looked her way. While they watched she finished surveying those waiting and looked back at them. No one else even glanced her way. Those moving through the room flowed around her like a river flows around a stone. She nodded and walked over to them.

"You're the one's continuing the cataloging for Master Jacobe?" She asked. They nodded. She smiled, "Follow me."

She turned heading back out the doorway she entered. Leaving Bena and Get scrambling to catch up with her.

They followed her down a long corridor with rooms on either side. From the look of the ones they passed with the door open these were meeting rooms of various sizes. Through a closed door Bena could hear raised voices but not the words.

Get whispered, "I'm glad we are not going into that room." Bena chuckled.

Their escort stopped at an unoccupied room just past the one with the raised voices and gestured for them to enter. "We'll wait here. Master Jacobe is in a meeting that is running long. He will join us when he can." She walked inside sitting at a long table with four chairs on each side and one at the far end. Bena walked around sitting opposite her but Get just leaned against the near end of the table.

The noise level from next door increased. Someone must have opened that door. A voice unknown to Bena carried to them. "But Master Jacobe, the finances won't allow..." the sound muffled as if someone had shut the door then returning a moment later. "... we can't have strangers..."

"This is my personal project I will cover any additional cost. Now, I have decided Master Brom. They will start today." From the sound of Master Jacobe's voice he was in the hallway coming toward them. They could hear footsteps coming in their direction. Get stopped leaning on the table and moved closer to the doorway.

Master Jacobe entered the room taking the seat at the head of the table. Walking much slower but following him into the room was a portly man, his anger clear, "But I must protest..."

Get spoke as the second man passed him, "Master Brom?" His voice soothing.

Master Brom turned to face Get. Get smiled, "Master Brom! I am honored to make your acquaintance. My cousin Doethia is always talking of your generosity in caring for those less fortunate. Although not of the order, she helps the Sisters of Mercy and often speaks of your concern for orphans and the keen interest you take in their well-being."

Bena had never heard Get use his Skill on a person. Master Brom was thunderstruck. Master Jacobe smiled.

Get stepped forward shaking Master Brom's hand. "I can't wait to tell my cousin I met the great man himself." Get's voice slowly returned to normal as he finished. "She won't believe I spoke with you. Doethia is rather shy and awed by you and hasn't had the nerve to speak to you herself."

Master Brom shook his head coming out of his daze. He smiled "Doethia, you say. I'll make sure I speak with her next time I see her. I consider it my duty care for those less fortunate." He looked around the room his anger dissipated but suspicion remained. "These two will continue the cataloging since they sent Jac on another acquisition trip?" He shook his head, "We've our own apprentices who could do this work."

"I appreciate your offer Master Brom but you have your schedule filled keeping the Library's finances in good order, plus your charity work benefiting so many." Master Brom preened under this additional praise. "Thank you, but no, I cannot take you or your assistants away from their vital work. I took on this project as a gift to the library to catalog books, papers and items stored so long ago but not cataloged. I have good references on these acquittances of Jac and I'll require Ami to assist them in the work."

"Whatever you require, Master Jacobe." Master Brom glanced at the page girl. "Ami, you will need to inform the master of apprentices you'll be assisting with this project." He rubbed his hands together relaxing and looking pleased, "Yes, a superb arrangement. You must let me know if I can be of further help. Now, I must get back to work. I'll leave you to get them started on the task. I'm glad to assist in any way I can."

Master Jacobe nodded his thanks and Master Brom left the room. Ami stood walking past Get to close the door.

Master Jacobe waved at the empty chairs, "Sit, sit." sighing he said, "Brom is a good soul, loyal to the Alagan Family and protective of the Library."

Ami returned to her seat and Get took the chair next to Bena as Master Jacobe continued.

"We take care in monitoring the entryways to prevent, shall we say, the removing of items without permission. Frequent comings and goings will draw unwanted attention. Meals will be with the apprentices. They sleep two to a room. I've arranged for you to share a sleeping room."

Bena nodded, "I have planned to be away from my place of business. Jimin understands the need for me to stay here but I hope to go home as circumstances allow."

Get added, "We can make sure one of us is here to reduce the possibility of gossip."

Master Jacobe nodded "Since I received your request I had Ami move Jac's belongings and any study materials from his private sleeping room into the workroom adjacent to the storage where the items to be cataloged are. I trust her discretion. I'll leave you three to work out the details. Tobias, I'm glad to witness the progress you've made with your skill, I hope we'll discuss it further."

"I would welcome that, great grandfather." Get replied.

Raising his eyebrows Bena looked at Get then mouthed 'Tobias?' then glanced at Master Jacobe and back and mouthed 'grandfather?' Get sighed and mouthed back 'later'.

Master Jacobe stood pretending not to notice the exchange and turned to Ami, "I leave them in your care."

Ami nodded moving over to open the door for Master Jacobe, bowing as he left. She turned to face them. "I'll take you to the archives to see the room we'll be working in." She exited heading further down the corridor.

Get looked at Bena, "Think we'll always be scrambling to keep up with her?"

Laughing Bena replied "Quick before she gets out of sight!"

Ami was looking back to make sure they were following before she slipped out the far doorway.

"Smart girl" Bena said, Get nodded.

A spiraling stairway awaited them lit by oil lamps nestled in wall alcoves. They could hear footsteps echoing from below. Ami's voice floated up to them, "Are you coming?"

They hurried down stairs carved out of bedrock ending at a doorway opening into a large room. More stand lamps surrounded the area where they entered. There were six writing desks to the right, two rows of three, four occupied with scribes. On the left side of the lit space a man sat behind a large carved desk piled high with books, pens and paper. Just a few feet beyond him thick carved wooden columns stood like sentinels at each row of bookshelves. The light only providing a glimpse of long shelves filled with Books and papers continuing on into the darkness. Ami's glanced over as they entered and waved them over.



Chapter 9

She turned to the seated man, "Father, I'd like to introduce the two who will continue the work Jac began. I'm to assist them with the task." She said, as they joined her, "Bena, Get, this is Master Anon, Keeper of the Archives."

They nodded unsure of what to say and Master Anon laughed. "We don't get new faces down here often, it is imposing now that darkness has fallen but the reflectors provide ample lighting during the day." He reached down next to his desk and picked up a candle lantern using a striker to light it. "I wasn't aware Ami would work with you." He said and waved at them to follow him as he headed across the room past the writing desks.

"It was a recent decision." She smiled.

As they walked, a scribe capped off an inkwell, pinched out the candle and picked up his copying. "Good evening Master Anon. Thank you for your help." He bowed and hurried for the stairs.

Master Anon lead them across the room to an arched doorway opening into a corridor. Closed doors were along each side. Handing the lantern to Ami he pulled a key ring out of his pocket searching through the keys. Selecting one he removed it from the ring using it to unlock the fourth door on the left. In the middle of that small room was a table with several unlit oil lamps, strikers for lighting them, assorted writing materials, inkwells, blank paper. Four chairs surrounded it. Against the right-side wall was another table with folded clothing, books, papers and many small storage boxes. Saddlebags and a worn pair of boots underneath. Across the room was another door. Striding over Master Anon used the same key to unlock this inner door and stood waiting.

Ami handed Get the lantern and lit one of the oil lamps. "I've seen the storage room. I'll wait here." Master Anon nodded and motioned Get and Bena to step inside.

Get stepped through the doorway lifting the lantern up. He stopped causing Bena to run into him bumping him forward another step.

"What..." Bena looked past Get his voice trailing off. The bookshelves overflowed with boxes, books, papers, statues and Get was sure a skull was looking down on them.

Bena walked past Get down the middle isle.

Get came up beside him. "This will take time. Fates! What a mess."

Bena sighed "At least there is not much dust. Someone at least cleaned around the items on the shelves."

A gong sounded.

Master Anon called into the storeroom. "The gong is to let us know the evening meal is ready. Come along. Tomorrow morning is soon enough for you to start."

Bena and Get hurried through the next room stopping in the corridor. Looking back in Bena saw Master Anon lock the storeroom and Ami put out the oil lamp. They walked out of the darkness into the light of the lantern. Master Anon then locked this door and handed the key to Ami. He studied the young men giving them the impression he looked deep within them. He nodded as if coming to a decision and spoke.

"Master Jacobe assures me you are trustworthy or Jac would not have counted you as friends but I wanted to meet you before you started. I'm trusting you to safeguard whatever you learn here. For several years I've felt something fundamental is unraveling, but this last year a sense of dread accompanies this premonition. I shared my concern with Jac at Jacobe's urging after his request to 'catalog' the items lying forgotten for centuries in this storeroom received approval by the Grand Duchess. Jac's disappearance came before the work started. I believe Jac was hoping to find something specific using the cataloging of these items to cover his search but I hadn't learned what knowledge he hoped to rediscover."

Get straighten looking Master Anon straight in the eyes. "We won't disappoint Master Jacobe or you." Get glanced at Ami. She was smiling. He blushed and hoped no one could tell in the lantern light.

Master Anon nodded. "Good."

They headed back into the entrance area. The writing desks were vacant but a meal covered with a cloth was on the desk. The smell made Bena's stomach rumble.

"A benefit of securing the archives for the night. We want no one hurrying because they are hungry." Master Anon smiled as he lifted the cloth. "Bena, Get, I will talk with you further as needed. Daughter, I'm relieved you will assist, we will go over what is needed for the cataloging later this evening."

Ami nodded and they headed back toward the stairs. Get noticed the thick door with a sturdy lock that would protect the archives.

Bena looked at Ami remarking as they headed up the stairs. "Quite a door."

"The collection in the archives goes back to the founding and includes a section for items gifted or acquired from other domains." Her stomach rumbled. "We better hurry."

Get looked dismayed "They won't run out, will they?"

Bena smiled and Ami laughed. "Not the main meal but sometimes there is a special dessert the cook is trying out, and that goes fast."

Ami pulled ahead of them in the hallway then slowed letting them catch up. "Running is frowned upon but walking fast is seen as industrious." The entry-room with the benches was empty and Ami stopped them pointing at the lintel over one of the side doors. "See that small black square above the door. That symbol marks doorways to the living quarters attached to the library." She turned to the opposite door there was a small silver triangle above it. "Those symbols mark entrances to the Library itself. Only senior staff are permitted in the main library unescorted."





The route crosses several domains with a four-day stayover in Utta, the major trading city of Bhu-utta

round trip takes between six to eight weeks."



...

Something was different, I heard the murmur of voices.

"... the complexity of this healing spell must have taken generations of research to perfect." Elish was saying, "and where did the energy needed to set and then continue to support it came from? Any idea what happened to Jac?"

"Jamil checked the retrieval point with his Skill. He determined two other people were there but someone went to a lot of trouble to blur the details." Bena replied.

"We found Jac's backpack," Jimin interjected "near the retrieval point. We don't know how the clear glass rods fit into this. The 'broken' ends were fabricated to look that way although why it would be done is puzzling but they're well made. One of Jamil's associates has been farming out the opportunity to study the rods in return for reenergizing them for spells. The client who wanted the red glass rod decided not to pursue the 'Find' when told of Conia's injury, told us to keep the request fee. We didn't mention Jac's disappearance."

"Can you tell who set Conia's healing spell?" Silvia asked.

The memory of Jac speaking in that strange language came back. "It was Jac." I said, my voice rough. Other details came crashing back. "How long?" I coughed.

Voices filled with relief and questions assaulted me, Elish took control. "Give her some water and calm down everyone. Conia, you've been unconscious for close to twelve weeks. I will clear everyone out if needed." Quiet followed her words. She smiled.

Bena helped me to drink and when I struggled to sit up Jimin got me propped into a sitting position. Finishing the water and clearing my throat I said. "Three months? I feel tired and weak but no pain." Clive and Silvia regained their seats. Looking at Bena then Jimin, "Better sit back down," I told them about the 'Find' and how my injuries happened. "The Elder told Jac someone summoned him, I'm sure he went with them." My resolve cemented into place. "I have to find Jac."

Elish was amazed, "Jac used the energy from those rods to fuel the healing spell for Conia."

Everyone talked at once, Elish clapped her hands. "That's enough for today let's get food into you and tomorrow you'll begin exercises to help you recover your strength." Bena handed me a bowl of beef broth and a spoon. I finished the broth, the voices of my family by choice surrounding me I drifted off to sleep.

...

...

Jac slowed the wagon to a stop careful to keep an eye on the mountain ponies, their lead lines tied to the back of the wagon. He made sure to set the brake, not wanting a repeat of the draft horse deciding to move with no one at the reins. Conia would have laughed and Get lecture him on taking better care of the big horse. "They depend on you to keep them safe." Get had told him. He hadn't paid much attention to Get's advice. He never expected the need to know about draft horses or wagons. Fate had decided otherwise, Jac thought climbing down into the wagon bed to unload what was needed to make camp leaving the pack saddles, cold weather gear and supplies they would need for the next domain's rugged terrain for tomorrow.

Jac's thoughts drifted always to Conia. He concentrated, sliding around the spell to hide his exact location from her. He checked too often, he knew, but he could not seem to help himself. The healing spells would do what was needed. He had used many over the years but he worried. With a start he realized Conia was awake. He withdrew back behind the shielding spell.

"I never expected to actually travel through the domains," Samel was saying climbing down from the wagon seat. "To see any of the world, the vastness of it, the different peoples and cultures is something I'd never have gotten permission to do." Samel glanced over when Jac started. "By your reaction she must be awake her healing complete."

Jac nodded, changing the subject. "We better hurry while we still have light to get the animals and camp ready for the night." After traveling for three months it would not take long even with the additional.



Throwing another log on the fire Samel remarked. "Simion would have recovered and made his way home sometime in our first month of travel. This three-month trip just to follow ancient protocols will only make it harder on you. Your bond-mate..."

Jac interrupted "Conia is not aware... that is, we haven't discussed the significant meaning of the bond..."

Samel waved away Jac's interruption "The Highest will not acknowledge any other distinction, but if you prefer, your bond-friend?"

Jac frowned, shaking his head, that phrase was an insult among his people he would not do that to Conia, even if she never learned of it.

Samel nodded "Your bond-mate escaped death, but should she learn the location of a Way into the Graecia Empire her fate will be sealed. Living as a slave is not a much better choice than death."

Jac frowned "I've a shielding spell combined with a life source spell in place since we left the Bhu-utta domain if she reaches...

"When she reaches." Samel interjected.

Resigned Jac nodded. "She'll only know I am alive."









...

Riding back in The City's Northern gate finished today's endurance training for Star Crossed and me. Midway down the lane I slowed to a stop. Blocking the street outside a blacksmith's shop were six, no eight big draft horses. There to have their hooves and shoes inspected, a familiar sight when a caravan returned home. I heard a soothing voice floating around the horses as the speaker came into view I called out to that familiar face.

"GET! I didn't know you were back!" I said dismounting and then found myself pulled into a bone-crushing hug.

"Conia, when did you wake? How're you? When'll we search for Jac?" Get's voice flowed around me as he rattled on. "I was so worried when I learned you'd been hurt. Silvia assured me you were getting the best of care. The merchant's caravan got back into town late yesterday. Once I have these beauties checked over and back to their stables my job will be finished."

"I'm glad to see you too. Three weeks ago, is when the healing spell released me, two since I came home. With help from Bran and Lex I've been working with Jac's Star Crossed. Mostly endurance training to prepare myself and the horse. Jamil has been gathering information using his network of associates. He is coming over to tell us what he has learned. Can you come to 'the Pony' for this evening's meal?"

"I'll be there." Get replied, turning back to the large animals under his supervision urging them to enter the stable yard of the blacksmith and I remounted to hurry home.

Danel walked up handing me a halter as I dismounted in front of the stable. Slipping the bridle off Star Crossed and the halter on I wondered at the twist of fate giving the horse one blue eye and the other black. Danel checked the horse for any sign of strain or injury. Finding neither he nodded his approval, "Your commitment to readying yourself and Star Crossed for whatever may come has impressed many."

I smiled my thanks. "It had the added benefit of making me tired enough to sleep even as frustrated as I've been at the need to wait. Knowing it takes time for someone to gather information and then send word back to us doesn't make the wait easier."

Turning Star Crossed over to Danel's stable lads for a well-deserved rub down and brushing I walked up to my room for clean clothes and a towel and headed to the bathing facilities. After showering I felt more like a person again and dressing, I went to the kitchen to help with the evening meal. Bena came in as I was refilling the serving platter on the table in the large pantry. Daniel and the stable lads had just finished eating.

"Conia, Silvia and Clive also want to hear what Jamil has learned. They offered use of the study for the meeting asking Jimin to move these chairs in there after we eat."

"Oh good. Since the list of those coming kept increasing I was wondering how we would fit in that snug place you have, let alone get everyone a place to sit. Will Jamil join us for dinner as well?"

Jimin and Get walked in "If Jamil is as smart as he thinks he is, he will!" Get stated filling his plate.

"I heard that!" Jamil said entering and finding a seat as laughter greeted him. We ate saving conversation for later.

While I cleared away the dishes, carrying them to the washtub, the men carried the chairs to the study. Silvia and Clive came down from their private rooms where they took their evening meal whenever circumstances allowed. Elish walked through the kitchen followed by Danel, I nodded to her as she went by.

Danel stopped as I gathered up the last of the dishes off the table. "Bran and Lex plan to join us, the lads will let them know the meeting is now in Clive's study." I nodded as Danel continued down the hall after Elish.

A minute later I put the last of our dinner dishes in the warm water, thank the Fates, Silvia had a rule whoever served dinner and cleared the table did not do the washing up. I felt something poking me when I turned Cook shook her finger at me, "Just 'cause I can't be there don't mean I don't want to help find Jac too."

Nodding I said. "I'll make sure they know. Thank you." I hugged her.

She blushed as she shooed me out of the kitchen. "Get on with you, Jac's needs 'Finding'."

I slipped in closing the study door behind me taking one of the three vacant seats.

Jamil finished spreading out a large map on Clive's desk. "This is a domains map Bena was able to borrow from the library. Most domains touch two others. There are a few that only touch one, Wysteria, where Jac was last seen by Conia, is one touching only finna. With only one Way crossing I contacted an associate in finna to see what he could learn."

There was a murmur of voice and someone started "What about...?"

Clive stood up. "let's wait until we have heard the whole of what has been learned. We want everyone's input but hold your questions. They may be answered as we go along there is a lot of information to go over."

After a show of agreement, Jamil continued, "First, Wisteria. That night three men together were seen crossing over into finna domain. One of the men fit Conia's description of the older of the two men she saw before she was injured. The other matching Jac's description was carrying a third man over his shoulder."

"Hard to fade into the background carrying someone over your shoulder." Lex remarked as he and Bran took the last two seats.

Jamil nodded, "Due to time differentials they arrived in that Way city's afternoon. From the witnesses Jac wasn't trying to escape notice. While still carrying the man over his shoulder he inquired the location of the nearest inn. One witness remarked the older man with him urged him to be circumspect. With that gossiped about the square they had the attention of most people there. Jac entered the 'Crossover Inn' the older man following. They were inside maybe an hour and left. The innkeeper said they got a room for the unconscious man paying extra for someone to care for him until he was able to leave, a meal for themselves, asking directions to the nearest stables where they could purchase mounts." He pointed at the map. "The chances of them heading for bh?mi domain was low. After learning they bought two horses, my associate sent men to the Way crossing to Sim?hapura, a three-day ride, confirming that the two men had crossed over."













Ideas for future use....

Opening a Way- Get had discovered knowledge of this lost Art, he had never imagined he would use it. The working of it simple but you needed the Skill, a vast amount of energy and the ability to follow the complex timing to master the Art of the Way. The consequences severe for errors made during the creation of a Way, too little skill, not enough energy to finish, a misstep in timing were just a few of the ways that would result in the death of the person making the attempt. The mildest would be to have your Skill burnt out. Leaving the Way opening small. Unknown to most, living only in myths, secret entrances to another domain guarded by those who had rediscovered them, the Fellowship. Some few in the hands of the wealthy, building their homes in both domains around the entrances. Using the ability to pass information to keep and increase their wealth.

After ten years Jac didn't realize her hatred of him still ran so deep.



Wondering again on how quickly my recovery was progressing I knew Elish was insisting that she should accompany me. She wanted to know why such a complex healing spell had been created as well as where it came from. It had not only sustained me for three months but I was eating solid food and demanding to go home just days after I awoke.





There are perks knowing the owners of an inn. I thought.


gifted to them by Clive and Silvia at their commitment ceremony

"Thanks be to Fate that mama looked for work at the Pony after we had taken in Bena." I hugged Clive. "You and Silvia have helped so many that would not have had a chance in this world if not for you both."
A smile spread over Clive's face. "Yes, our family by choice is large."






"Barring accidents the Alagan Family members usually lived into their 80's. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on who you asked, the Ruling Family enjoyed riding and hunting. Those types of accidents have haunted the Alagan generation after generation and a fair number died before their 50th year.

keeping track of time is not a Skill for me.

Retrieval point spell for transports-I could feel the spell that would inform Jimin, on watch for this job, that we were ready to be transported home. get to the retrieval point and trigger the spell.





Names:

Conia: age 28, 5'10" Light brown hair- Silver in a moon's light. Skill- Finding and senses living beings- Bonded to Jac

Bena- age 26, brother 'by choice' (taken in by Conia's mom when his parents died, he was 8, Conia was 10) 5'8", dark-skinned with dark hair and eyes. Conia is taller than Bena by two inches. Skill-Transport/ lesser- sensing emotions

Jimin - age 28 Bena's Life Companion. 6'2" fair-haired with light green eyes. Skill- Strong Transport

Samel: Elder

Jacard aka Jac: apparent age 32. 6'0" dark auburn hair-black in a moon's light with hazel eyes. Skill- location and illumination-bonded to Conia.

Simion: apprentice to Samel

Elish: Skill-healing

Maureen- owner of 'The Weaver's Window'.

Gillipie: owner Gillipie's a meeting and eating place

Jamil: Front man for Jamil's Associates a loose association of Spell casters and others with a vast array of talents. Skills - gaining the confidence of others. identifying the Skill of someone.

Clive and Silvia: master and mistress of The Black Pony Inn

Danel: Head groom at the Pony

Mimi; Head waitress - Suni her daughter one of Cook's helpers

Master Jacobe: an elderly assistant of Head of Acquisitions of the Alagan Library. Jac's friend. Great grandfather to Get.

Lex and Bran: Former mercenaries- they raise and train horses.

Alia: former baker at Gillipie's- now semi-retired at the Black Pony.

Get: real name Tobias Skill - Voice able to calm most people and animals- wagon driver - learned about horses, harness and wagons from Danel

Doethia- Cousin of Get's, works in several of the city's orphanages

Master Brom- Master of Finances for the Library and oversees the funding used by the city's orphanages

Master Anon- Keeper of the Archives. father to Ami

Ami- Skill she can mask her presence - she can boost the skill of others- daughter of Master Anon

Domains:

Alagan - home domain Conia, Bena and Jimin.

Wysteria Domain - Jac went missing from there.

Ile-ibinu, 'Land of Argument',

Bhu-uttan, 'High End'-

Herzegovina- 'Property of a Duke', or simply 'Duchy'.

Sanskrit bh?mi, 'land'.

Burkina, 'honest' or 'upright',

?eta, 'company' or 'group of warriors',

finna,

Graecia for the country- Graecus, a personal name.

Guhatezmalha, 'Mountain of Gushing Water', after the volcano of Agua.

Snand, 'Snow Land'

qazaq or quzzaq), 'Horsemen' or 'Riders of the Steppe'

marr?kus, the old Arabic version of Marrakech

The Northern Way' from the Old Norse Norrevegr, Where Jac and Conia's bonding occurred



panna mai, 'far away'.

Ruotsi,

las nieves, 'the snows'.

Sim?hapura meaning 'Lion City',

gabouri,

Gab,

Ba-Dimma, cbio

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