I. GYFFERAN FARSPACE: NIGHT'S-BEAUTIFUL-DAUGHTER
SUIVI POINT: ENTIBORAN RESISTANCE HEADQUARTERS; WARHAMMER
OUT ON the farthest edge of Gyfferan-controlled space, the texture of the universe stretched and altered. Like a shadow against the stars, the flattened black teardrop shape of a Deathwing raider emerged from hyperspace. Minutes later a second ship appeared. This one displayed the bright colors and needle-sharp outline of a Space Force surface-to-hyperspace courier. Together, the mismatched pair began their realspace run toward the heart of the Gyfferan system.
On board Night's-Beautiful-Daughter--for so the Deathwing's log recordings had named the Magebuilt vessel--Mistress Llannat Hyfid wandered about the empty corridors, trying in vain to escape her own increasing inner tension.
Llannat was a small woman, dark-haired and brown-skinned, and her appearance these days implied enough contradictions to make anyone tense. She wore the black broadcloth tunic and trousers that were an Adept's formal garb; but her boots were Space Force standard issue, and instead of an Adept's plain wooden staff she carried the short,silver-bound ebony rod that was a Magelord's weapon and badge of rank. The crew members on board the Deathwing avoided her as much as possible, out of a respect that verged on superstitious awe.
The clothes and the staff don't help even a little with the main problem, she thought glumly. Her wanderings had taken her to the ship's galley, where the smell of fresh cha'a emanated from a bulky, squarish urn. We've got to make it to Gyffer without getting blown up by system defenses programmed to fire on "nervous."
Llannat had given the order for the hyperspace transit herself. At least, everybody else on board the Deathwing said that she had given it. She didn't recall doing any such thing; she'd been deep in a trance at the time, observing the structure of the universe through a Magelord's eyes.
And now I've got the whole damned crew looking at me' like they expect me to go crazy or work a miracle, or maybe both at once ... .
She abandoned her search for a mug and pressed the heels of her hands against her temples.
"I have a headache," she said aloud.
Her words sounded flat and dull against the echo-absorbent walls of the Deathwing's galley. She saw a movement in the doorway: Lieutenant Vinhalyn, Space Force reservist and scholar of Mageworlds language and culture, the acting captain of Night's-Beautiful-Daughter.
"We brought the emergency medikit over from Naversey," Vinhalyn said. "There may be something in there that can help you out."
"I don't think so. It's not that kind of an ache."
"If you're sure ..."
"I'm sure," she told him. "I'm a medic, remember?"
The expression on his face made it plain that he hadn't, in fact, remembered. Llannat shook her head, resigned.
"Never mind," she said. "I have trouble remembering it myself sometimes. Believe me, life was a whole lot easier when I was just Ensign Hyfid of the Space Force Medical Service."
Of course, that was before I started hearing voices thatweren't there and seeing things that hadn't happened yet and coming loose from my body while I was drifting off to sleep at night. Nobody asked me if I wanted all of that, but I got it anyway ... and the next thing I knew, there I was on a mountaintop on Galcen, with Master Ransome himself asking me if I wanted to join the Guild and be an Adept.
Llannat sighed. And like a fool, I said yes.
Vinhalyn looked at her. The scholar-reservist was an older man whose active service dated back to the end of the First Magewar, and he deferred to Llannat as he had to the Adepts of those earlier days. "If there's anything I can do to help ..."
"Not really," she said. "But thanks. Let me know when we make contact with Gyfferan Inspace Control."
Vinhalyn nodded and left.
Llannat watched him go, then went back to looking for a cup. When she found one, on a shelf where a half-dozen of the standard-issue plastic mugs from Naversey stood among the Deathwing's shorter, rounder ones, she poured herself some cha'a from the galley urn. What sort of hot drink the Mageworlders had brewed in the big metal pot she didn't know--maybe Vinhalyn did; she'd have to ask him about it sometime--but the Daughter's current crew had managed to adapt the filtration setup to produce cha'a of hair-curling strength.
She sipped at the steaming liquid. The Professor would have known what they used to brew on board the old Deathwings, she thought. He probably drank enough of it in his day.
"What's this 'probably' nonsense?" she muttered to herself. "The Prof owned this ship, galley and all."
He hadn't just owned it; that was the problem. The Professor--whose true name she had never learned, and doubted that anyone living had ever heard--had been a Magelord himself before he abandoned sorcery and gave his oath to the ruling House of Entibor. What kept Llannat Hyfid awake during the night and made her pace the ship's corridors during the day was knowing that the Professor had intended Night's-Beautiful-Daughter for her.
First his staff, she thought. Then his ship. What other little bequests does he have for me that I haven't found yet?
The original legacy had come to Llannat blamelessly enough. She'd lost her own staff in the fighting on Darvell, the same day the Professor had died, and Beka Rosselin-Metadi--in an impatient, almost unthinking gesture--had given her the dead man's staff as a replacement. Master Ransome, who hated the Magelords as he hated nothing else in the civilized galaxy, wasn't likely to be pleased with Llannat if he ever found out. In the end, however, an Adept's choice of staff was a personal decision. Not even the Master of the Guild could force her to alter it.
The ship was something else again. The Professor had emptied Night's-Beautiful-Daughter to vacuum and left her to drift. When the derelict raider turned up in the Mageworlds Border Zone, the pilot and copilot were still on board--five hundred years after the Professor had cut their throats and left Llannat Hyfid a message written in their blood.
"Adept from the forest world: bring this message to She-who-leads ... ."
Those were the words as Llannat remembered them, from the waking dream in which she had relived the Professor's deed. Lieutenant Vinhalyn, however, had translated the blood-scrawled characters somewhat differently: "Find the Domina."
But the Domina was dead.
"Domina of Entibor," said Beka Rosselin-Metadi. She jerked the twisted iron tiara out of her hair and threw it across the room onto the rumpled bedsheets. On Suivi Point appearances were everything; the acting government of Entibor-in-Exile kept its front office ready for official visitors, even early and unexpected ones, by throwing all the clutter into the living quarters at the back. "Leader of the Second Resistance. Hope of the Galaxy. It stinks like a load of rotten fish guts."
"Gently, Captain," Nyls Jessan advised. Beka's copilot and number-one gunner was lean and fair-haired, with greyeyes and pleasant, if ordinary, features. He smiled at her. "Gently. When did you ever smell rotten fish guts, anyway?"
"Sapne, in the main port-market. I told you the place was a pestilential sinkhole, remember?"
"I remember." Jessan moved up behind her and began taking the pins out of her long yellow hair. "If you're thinking about Tarveet of Pleyver, the comparison is certainly apt. But you don't have to like him--"
"I know, I know," said Beka, as the intertwined plaits came free and fell down one by one. "'Just work with him.' Mother used to say the same thing."
Jessan kept on unbraiding her hair; his fingers moved warmly against her neck, making it hard for her to concentrate. With an effort, she gathered her thoughts and went on.
"How did Tarveet get to Suivi Point, anyway? Why the hell couldn't the Mages have snapped him up on Galcen along with the rest of the Grand Council?"
"That would have been nice," agreed Jessan. "I suspect that the esteemed councillor was already here visiting his money when everything fell apart."
"Taking some cash out for a walk, more likely." Beka frowned. "I wonder who he was planning to buy with it."
"Before the Mageworlds invaded? He could have been after almost anybody." Jessan paused, and his hands came to rest lightly on Beka's shoulders. She leaned back against him; his breath caught for a second before he continued, "At least now he's willing to give some of it to us."
"And we can't afford to be choosy." She sighed. "I know. Tarveet needs a Resistance fleet to protect his investments for him, and we need all the backers we can get. But a fleet's the only thing his money is going to buy; I hope he isn't expecting me to come along with it."
She felt Jessan's grip tighten and then relax. "If the esteemed councillor from Pleyver makes that particular mistake," her copilot said, his High Khesatan accent more marked than usual, "then I will disabuse him of the notion."
"Poor Nyls." She shook her head. "I do believe that Tarveet managed to get under your skin."
"Well ... somewhat."
"'Somewhat.'" Beka turned to face Jessan. In spite of herself, she smiled. "You do a really good look of exquisite disdain, did you know that?"
"Just one of my many talents," he said.
"Ah." She regarded him thoughtfully. "You have others?"
"So I'm told."
"That's nice." Her finger traveled down his shirtfront, teasing op...