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Chapter Two - Dragons

From above them, on the second-level balcony where Gramps' office was, Gramps watched them. Hugh, observing his grandfather excused himself for another drink, but instead went upstairs.
Confronting Gramps wasn’t something Hugh took lightly, but Gramps had already made a move by discussing the situation with Mederei. While it wasn’t unusual for masters to offer advice for guild members, they mainly remained out of the situations. When they did intervene, it often meant something was wrong, or the individual needed extra guidance. Gramps, especially, tended to leave his guild members, or family as he referred to them, do their own thing. It was his way. While everyone knew Hugh was their master’s grandson, no one could say Hugh was given special treatment. Mederei, despite her relation to Gramps, was also given free rein to do as she pleased.
What was their master thinking?
“What's wrong?” Ramses asked, falling into step beside Hugh at the top of the stairs. Below them, Luna and Mederei had departed to pack. Neither girl had much to pack, but Mederei always had more research to do.
“Don't know,” Hugh admitted.
Gramps was nowhere to be found, but Hugh walked straight down the hallway to his grandfather's office and opened the door without knocking. “You told Mederei to watch her back,” Hugh said, entering his grandfather's office. “Why?”
Gramps leaned back in his chair. A faint trail of smoke wafted from his mouth and nose. “Because she needs to – you four are starting to take jobs that require more than her word magic can cover. Why did you choose this particular job?”
“Smythe said we were requested,” Ramses explained. “Though, I never did understand how someone would know to contact our team directly.” He looked between the two demidrakes. “Any ideas?”
Hugh pushed a hand through his russet hair, the same color, though darker than Gramps'. “She never uses her storyteller magic.”
“Most likely the Gwion,” Gramps said in answer to Ramses. “Mederei didn’t depart her family with bad feelings. Cynwal supports her decision, and I doubt if he or his heir would be disinclined to send work to their favorite rebel. The likelihood of the tapestries being Gwion-made are incredibly high. Since they're the only ones who have weaver's magic. None of the other tapestry guilds can compete with them on that level.”
“We know that,” Hugh grumbled.
Gramps looked at the two chairs in front of his desk. Ramses took the one on the left, while Hugh flung himself into the other chair and crossed his arms.
“Gramps, it's all right,” Ramses placated. “We watch her back, and she uses a wand for her word magic. Few people know she’s a blood Gwion. Most assume she’s a heritage like Gwion like the two of you.”
“She's still one of the Gwion, and a daughter at that,” Gramps reminded them. “Some believe that even the heritage Gwion can develop word magic.”
“But that’s just a myth, no one ...” Hugh stopped. Arguing was pointless with Gramps, and he'd never win anyway. Gramps’ best defense was always to send the argument down another path, anyway. “What do you want us to do?”
“Just keep her away from any reason to use her storyteller magic.” Gramps tented his fingers as he allowed the silence to lengthen. Finally, he spoke, “I know she practices it.”
Hugh gripped the arms of the chair.
Gramps chuckled. “Hugh; I'm nearly seventy, and one of my closest friends is Mederei's aunt. I know how the daughters practice.” He shook his head and settled his hands onto the desk in front of him. “Still, despite the fact I want her to develop her magic, storyteller magic is illegal, and she needs to remain vigilant.”
Hugh relaxed his grip and re-crossed his arms. “What else is there?”
Gramps pushed a folder across his desk.
Inside, there was a picture of two men and a woman. All were in their forties. The woman appeared to have some fae blood with the pointed tips of her ears, but the ancestry would be negligible at best especially if she was in a mage guild.
They could be a part of one of those shadow groups working with the various governments. While the islands were all a part of the Forty Isles, ruled by the High King, each island, and thereby kingdom, retained some independence. The kingdoms did not always appreciate intrusions from other kingdoms, and most kept some sort of shadow force to protect their own self-interests.
The High King employed his own group of shadow force to protect the kingdom from internal troubles as well external troubles. They were known as the Conmara, and were led by the Duke of Graeme. The current Captain of the High King was one of the Graeme as well.
Ramses picked up the photograph and scanned it into his glass. “Who are they?”
“Members of a mage guild called Lonan,” Gramps answered.
“Lonan?” Hugh repeated. He knew most of the guilds, but this one was either small or …
“They're one of the gray guilds,” Ramses said, returning the photo to Gramps’ desk. “They’re not well-known, but I remember my grandfather talking about them on occasion.”
Gray guilds, neither black nor white, but somewhere in between. Black guilds were those who used their magic for evil. They took the jobs no one wanted - assassination, poisoning and other things. White guilds refused to engage in any activity like murder; gray guilds were those who occasionally looked the other way. Though all guilds must register with the Magic Parliament, a governing body made from wizards, mages and the magical races, each guild's emblem was placed on a wall surrounded by a circle. It was this circle which lent the color name as it changed colors according to the practices of the guild.
“Are they dangerous?”
“Everyone's dangerous to one extent or another, Hugh,” Gramps said. “While I doubt if there is an actual thing out there, Lonan has connections to the conmara. At least, it has been suggested they have connections. After all, many of their prey are one the conmara seek.”
Hugh whistled. The conmara also were the ones who kept ultimate control on the illegal things which threatened the kingdoms. If there was anything which broke the laws of the Forty Isles, Graeme was the one who brought the individuals to justice. Depending upon the crime, no court was needed, but those were few and far between. To date, only five known actions existed.
At the head of the list was the use of storyteller magic.
Exceptions could be made. Isolde merc Gwion, the Captain of the High Queen was a Gwion, and the granddaughter of the previous head of the tapestry guild. She had been the High Queen’s protector since they were young, and the High Queen was still only the princess of Caergwlân. Isolde, due to her position, freely used her storyteller magic, but that was a secret Mederei knew, and few others.
But, Mederei wasn’t a royal protector, neither was she especially known to the High King. If she were to use her storyteller magic, there would be no one to protect her, especially if Isolde was unable to be contacted in time.
Beside Hugh, Ramses leaned forward. “Would they turn her in on suspicion of use?”
“Given enough money, most likely.” Gramps picked up the job flyer on his desk and looked over it again. “Keep an eye out for them is the only thing I can suggest, and make certain Mederei isn't put into a corner where she is forced to use her storyteller magic.”
Hugh stood. “Yes, Gramps. We'll do what we can.”
Outside, Ramses whistled, but said nothing as they left the guildhall to the flat he shared with his sister, Rawiya who was currently away on a mission with Luna's brothers and another girl. At the flat, Ramses pulled out some drinks from the refrigerator.
Everyone used magic for heating their stoves, cooling their refrigerators, long distance communications and running vehicles. Some chose to make a career in magic and they either joined the mage guilds or went to the wizard universities teaching magic. Humans gifted with magic, for humans were not one of the four magical races and needed a magical ancestor to possess magic, were divided into two groups - innate and acquired. Innate were often called mages. For these individuals, their magic developed as toddlers and connected to one of the many natural elements such as earth, air, water and fire. Others, like Mederei, had their magic connected to an activity such as weaving. In her family, magic came from their process of weaving cloth which protected the wearer.
Those with acquired magic, predominately known as wizards, were tested around the age of ten for any magical abilities. For the wizards, magic was learned through memorization normally at the many magical schools in the world. Requiring some sort of item to enhance and channel their magic, the most common instrument was a wand, but others included staffs or rings. A subset of the acquired wizards were those who used other elements, specifically magically induced items such as cards, weapons and other items.
Mages were forbidden from the schools primarily because they could not use spells. Most wizards refused to enter the guilds primarily from pride. For wizards to enter the mage guilds meant the wizard was most likely poor, inept, or from a non-magical family. In other cases, like Luna and her siblings, wizard orphans also entered the guilds.
“She's not using her magic anywhere but on her trips,” Ramses said shuffling a deck of cards. When they had to think, actions were the best way. Cards provided ample opportunity to talk and move without going outside.
“I know, but Gramps doesn't want her pushed into a corner. The Gwion, especially Mederei, can be like badgers. Generally amicable sort of fellows until they find themselves in a bloody hole then everyone look out.”
“What about the tapestries? If she has to weave something ...”
“Suppose we could call upon a cousin who’s in the guild,” Hugh murmured to himself. To receive payment, the weaver must be a member of a weaver's guild. But, they weren’t going on a weaving job, and technically, it would be a part of a magical job.
“Yeah, about that,” Ramses said, scratching the back of his head. “Do you think she might have, I don't know, joined the guild?”
Hugh paused shuffling the deck. “It's illegal for women to join the weavers' guilds.”
“Since when have the Gwion obeyed the rules? Her magic is as powerful, if not more powerful than her brothers' magic. She uses a wand to hide her word magic, and technically, she isn’t even a woman unless she remains unmarried by her twenty-fifth birthday. We both know she still uses her weaver's magic on a regular basis.”
“Well, it is her armor, isn't it?”
Ramses chuckled. “That it is.”
Gwion fabric protected the Gwion. On missions, Mederei wore clothing she wove for herself as well as pieces fabric, such as her cloak, other family members wove. When Gwion fabric covered a Gwion nothing could harm the Gwion whether fire, flood or cold. Only when it was fully destroyed did the Gwion lose the fabric’s protection. On the other hand, when the fabric covered or bound an enemy of the Gwion, the enemy was unable to attack the Gwion.
“We can't call Brys,” Hugh continued, more to himself. “The Branocs would also cause more trouble.”
“Caradoc would be the best choice; he already knows us, works well with us, and keeps the girls in line.”
“Only because he can take on Medi, and Luna likes him.”
“Works in our favor.”
“I'll let you tell them that.” Hugh walked over to the mirror and using a magic pen, wrote Caradoc's name onto the mirror.
A moment later, Caradoc's face appeared with a yawn, his dark red hair sticking up at all angles. “This better be good, Black. I had an early morning today.”
“It's not even ten there, is it?”
“Eight, but I was at work by four.”
Caradoc worked with his brother, Branoc and their cousins, Branoc and Brys to form a group of four weavers. Caradoc and his cousin Branoc specialized in weaving whereas his brother was a master dyer. Brys, Mederei's brother, primarily drew the cartoons for the tapestries.
“We have a mission which might involve weaving.”
Caradoc yawned, but his eyes lost their sleepy look. “Medi going?”
“Yeah,” Ramses said, standing beside Hugh. “She's probably spoken with her father about repairs, but I doubt if she'd talk to him about weaving.”
“Doesn't have too; she knows the rules,” Caradoc answered. “Uncle Cynwal won't change anything.” He looked over his mirror to a clock. “Where are you going?”
“Flatlands. I'll take the fast train there and meet you there. If you manage to arrive before me, let me know where you're staying.”
After ending the contact, Ramses fixed food for both of them and they sat at the table working out the logistics of the trip until it was time for them to leave for the train station.
“I couldn't find much information on the location,” Mederei informed them once seated in one of the train’s compartments. The style was ornate and old-fashioned with lots of reds and golds.  Unlike shorter commutes, the cross-kingdom trains provided private compartments for travelers. These could be turned into bed space as needed.  Currently, the four bunkbeds formed the two bench seats. In a cabinet in the corner was a small sink and mirror for washing and brushing their teeth.
Under the bench was the bedding and pillows, and above them were cabinets for their luggage. In their case, there wasn’t much need for luggage. Mederei and Luna, like most girls, had univercity bags which were small bags which had could hold an infinite amount of items.  Mederei had woven their bags, and provided an extra layer of protection to the things inside. The designs were originally a Gwion, but some wizards had managed to mass-produce them some three centuries back. Now, only the Gwion made their bags, and as always, added some tricks.
When Mederei packed, she always packed more than she needed, but invariably found that it came into use. The table sitting in the center of their compartment being a prime example. She had tossed it in some time ago, and promptly forgot to take it out. Upon remembering the table, she retrieved it to be used to hold the myriad of papers and books she had also packed.
She was providing the basic background they needed.
“It looks like the town is one of the older towns in the region, but not necessarily as large as it once was. There's a castle, though.”
“Are there rooms?”
“No; privately owned.”
The other three looked at Mederei who was studiously looking through her seeing glass. The smaller, handheld version of the looking mirror Hugh had in his flat. The Gwion were incredibly wealthy. The wealthiest of them was the current head of the Gwion family, Cynwal Gwion.
He also happened to be Mederei's father.
She glared at them for a moment before looking back at her notes. “What?”
“Can we stay there?”
“How should I know?” She picked up one of the books she had brought with her. “I think we should look at these possible locations.”
“Oh, I don't know, maybe someone in your family knows someone in their family?” Ramses suggested.
Mederei sighed. “They hate each other; besides, why not ask Hugh? His family has as many connections as many as my does. Maybe more.”
“Ah, but people fear the demidrakes, not your family.”
Mederei looked up to the ceiling. She didn't speak for a moment, and regret clung to Hugh chest. “If they know who my family is,” Mederei whispered, “do you think they wouldn't fear me?”
“It's probably wiser to keep it quiet.”
Ramses nudged Hugh's foot. “You'd better tell them.”
“Tell us what?” Luna asked when Hugh refused to answer. She elbowed Hugh and looked pointedly at Mederei. “Hugh?”
“Caradoc's coming.”
Mederei's shoulders slumped forward. “Brilliant; I won't have to do anything.”
“You're not angry?”
“No; he protects me, but it still would be wiser to take rooms in an inn.” She looked back down at her notes. “Don't have much other information, though.”

“We'll learn more when we arrive,” Hugh decided. “Best get some sleep now.”


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