At Rynza’s orders, Carissa scurried Mike, Callie, Jon, Peggy, and Edward out of the Spirit Room, and back into the waiting room.
“My sister has to perform a ritual to cleanse the Spirit Room of any residual traces of dark magic.” Carissa said, “This is for your safety as well as hers. She’ll be ready to see you in a few minutes, okay?”
They all nodded. Carissa turned and re-entered the Spirit Room, to assist her sister.
“Where’d you put the ring, Mike?” Callie asked.
“It’s in my pocket.” Mike said, “I should never have given it to you, Callie.”
“There was no way you could have known.”
“I should have suspected something.” Mike insisted.
“Well,” Callie turned to Jon, “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you guys the whole story. We didn’t lie, but we kept things from you.”
“It’s understandable,” Jon said, “There was no way we were equipped to handle that information.”
“I’m not sure we’re equipped to handle it now.” Peggy added.
“Yeah, but we’ve put you guys in danger.” Mike said, “That’s a pretty big breach of trust. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you threw us out for that.”
“No one’s throwing anyone out.” Peggy said. She meant it to sound like a confident comment, but it ended up sounding more like a question. She looked at Jon, “Right?”
Jon looked down at his hands, his brow furrowed in thought. He looked like someone on the verge of a big decision.
“For the good of the Dreadniks,” he said, “I have no other choice. A Palabrin must look to the good of the group first.”
“Look Jon,” Mike said, “If you have to throw us out, we understand. There are no bad feelings from our end. You’ve all done a lot for us, and we’re thankful. Besides, with our wagon back, and Rynza about to tell us the whereabouts of our mother, there’s little reason for us to stick around anyway.”
“Isn’t there?” Callie asked. She looked at Jon.
“I guess not.” Jon said, but perhaps not to the question Callie had in mind, as he seemed lost in his own thoughts.
The five of them were left in an awkward silence that remained unbroken until Carissa at last returned from the Spirit Room once more, and beckoned them to go in.
“You can come in now.” she said.
They walked in. Carissa stopped Mike at the entrance. She held up and opened a small blue drawstring bag that looked shiny on the inside.
“Rynza says I should hold the ring for you outside the Spirit Room, to prevent further contamination.”
“You can keep the damned thing.” Mike said. He reached into his pocket, withdrew the ring, and dropped it inside the bag.
“You’ll get it back.” Rynza said, once Mike was seated, “My intuition tells me you will have need of it, somehow. You can keep it in the bag. It’s made of Sarsarin silk, which should provide ample protection.”
“What about all that time we had it in our pockets?”
“Unless one of you put it on your finger at some point, you should be okay.” Rynza said, “Neither of you ever put it on, did you?”
“No.” said Mike. Callie shook her head.
“Good.” Rynza said, “The bag is just for extra safety.”
“So...why did all hell break loose when Callie put the ring on the table?” Mike asked.
“This room and this table were designed to amplify my psychic powers. When the ring hit the table, the table must have amplified the dark magical forces within the ring. This radiated outward to the room, which amplified it further. If it wasn’t for you, Mike, I shudder to think what would have become of us---or what we would have become, for that matter.”
“Yay, Mike!” said Peggy.
“How did you do that, Mike?” Jon asked, “I couldn’t move a muscle.”
“Me neither.” Edward added.
“Beats the hell out of me,” Mike said, “I suppose the paralyzing effect wasn’t quite finished with me, or something.”
“Back to the subject at hand,” Callie said, “What’s the deal with the ring? What is its purpose?”
“I don’t know.” Rynza replied, “So let’s work with what I do know. I assume most of you have heard of The Lost City?”
All but Edward nodded.
“It’s in Goskoh, ain’t it?” Mike asked, “Not all that far from here, the cursed city of Cathim.”
Rynza nodded. “It was once a big city---not Idus Alth big---but certainly on par with Metromax. In fact, had Cathim not fallen, Metromax City would never have grown as much as it has, to take its place. No one knows who cursed it, and all attempts to undo the curse have ended badly, for those making the attempt.”
“So, who cursed it?” Mike asked.
“Nobody knows, dingleberry.” Callie said.
“You do, don’t you?” Mike said, looking at Rynza, “You wouldn’t be telling us all this if you didn’t, right?”
Rynza nodded. “I know, because my spirit guide, Valtina, knows, and told me. The one who cursed Cathim, all of its citizens, and all who may yet venture beneath its hazy mantle, was a powerful and evil Ma’jai named Araboam Sinestri. And I believe it is this very same Sinestri who is your unseen enemy.”
“Who is this guy?” Mike asked, “What’s his damage? What the hell does he have to do with me or Callie?”
“I cannot see his plan or purpose.” Rynza said, “That’s one of the pitfalls of psychic ability…sometimes you know the WHEN, the WHERE, sometimes even the WHY; but never all at the same time. Though I do think you’ll find the date of Cathim’s cursing provocative.”
“Why? When did it happen?” Callie asked.
“Eleven years ago,” Ryza answered, “In 3642.”
“That was the year our father took us away from our mother!” Callie said, “You don’t think…?”
“Yes,” Rynza replied, “I believe Cathim is the big city Mike remembers from long ago, the city where you two were born, the city where your mother may yet be found, among the accursed. You two and your father may have been among the last to see Cathim before it was damned.”
“You think he knew it was going to happen?” Callie asked.
“I think it went beyond mere knowing.” Rynza said, “Where could your father have picked up a dark magical ring, I wonder?”
“From a practitioner of dark magic, of course.” Mike said, nodding, “Say…an evil Ma’jai?”
“A gift from Sinestri, then?” Jon said, “A symbol of a pact?”
“You think he had a hand in it?” Callie asked.
“Foreknowledge does suggest some species of involvement.”
“That’s an odd statement from a psychic.” Callie retorted.
“Perhaps,” Rynza said, “But there is this: your father is here in Metromax, and he’s looking for you.”
Mike and Callie’s blood froze.
“He entered this city last night. He went to visit Crellat Mallacharr early this very morning. He knows you two are with the Dreadniks, somehow. He and Mallacharr are joining forces to catch the lot of you.”
Everyone leapt to their feet, but Rynza. “My spirits could not stand to be near your father for very long,” she said, “They told me he was foul with dark magic. Till the ring incident just now, I didn’t realize how dark.”
Rynza fixed Mike and Callie with a stern look. “You two must leave Metromax City immediately. You must draw your father and Sinestri away from here, before something terrible happens to our mutual Dreadnik friends.”
“Then what?!” Mike asked, “How do we deal with this Sinestri person?”
“I don’t know,” Rynza said, “But you have to confront him, of that I am sure.”
“How do we even find him?” Callie asked.
“Find your mother, and you will find Sinestri.” Rynza said, “To do that, you must travel on to Cathim.”
“And if we don’t?” Callie asked, “What’ll happen if we just head off in another direction?”
“How long are you two willing to be on the run? How long will your father give chase? How long before Sinestri comes and gets you in his own time and on his own terms?”
Mike squinted. “Are you implying that Sinestri is working on a timeframe?”
“No, I’m implying that Sinestri doesn’t seem to be playing at a level commensurate with his power---yet. Then again, a cat doesn’t always eat its prey directly upon capturing it; sometimes they toy with their food.”
“Cathim it is, then.” Mike said, “What do we do when we get there?”
“I wish I knew.” Rynza said.
Back at the frain station, in the office of the Raishera; Siana Nandehl sat at her desk, and drummed her fingers on its metal top.
Today had not been a good day for her, so far. Her long power struggle with Crellat Mallacharr over his job (she wanted it, he wanted to keep it), had come to an unexpected junction.
Here she had him over a barrel; weakened and prone for the kill (it helped that she had weaseled herself into the Vignach’s good graces, which gave her an unfair advantage over Mallcharr: he could not strike back at her with impunity). Then fate had appeared out of nowhere and had given Mallacharr a big sloppy wet kiss in the form of Charles Longstreet, who said he could find the Dreadniks.
Siana had sent a car to tail him, as he left the station, but somehow Longstreet had given them the slip. Her two usually competent compatriots had returned with embarrassed looks on their faces. They had no idea how Longstreet had shook them.
Siana had then contacted the frain station in Noah’s Oak, New Heedol, and found out that Longstreet was a low-profile kind of guy; no criminal record, no traffic tickets, no overdue books, no useful information on him beyond the fact that he owned a house there.
Now, to top it all off, came word that Mallacharr had just put in an order for a sweep team. This could only mean one thing: Longstreet had made good on his word, and had located the Dreadnik’s hideout. Frain sweeps were too much of a bureaucratic pain-in-the-ass to be ventured upon without some certainty of success; and Mallacharr’s last one had turned up nothing.
If Mallacharr succeeded now in capturing some or all of the Dreadniks, his position would be strengthened, and hers weakened. With new confidence and job security, he would be able to take her out, and she would no longer have protection against his reprisals. Mallacharr would act quickly.
So Siana Nandehl sat and drummed her fingers on her desk. She would not go down easy. Even now, she bent her will to the task of finding a way to rob Mallacharr of his victory (should his net catch the desired fish).
However it went, it was going to be a long day.
The consultation was over.
Mike, Callie, Jon, Peggy, and Edward, along with Rynza and Carissa, congregated in Rynza’s waiting room. Carissa gave Mike the blue silk bag, with the ring inside.
“So are you guys gonna take off from here?” Edward asked; a little sadly.
Since last night’s febwith, Mike and Callie had grown on him to an amazing extent. They had risked their own lives to save his, after all. He felt he could follow them to the ends of creation, if they’d let him (which, of course, they wouldn’t).
“I think we should probably drop you guys off first.” Mike said.
“I think you two should have a last lunch with us.” Jon said, “Plus, we can set you up with food and supplies.”
Rynza looked at Jon askance. “I’d skip the lunch.” she said.
They said their good-byes to Rynza and Carissa, got in the wagon, and headed off, back to the Wherehouse.
Rynza clenched and unclenched her hands (a nervous habit) as she watched them go.
“I have a terrible feeling, Rissa,” she said, “That things are going to go badly, if they haven’t already.”