The town center was the oldest and grayest part of the town, though, even there the buildings were still colorful with the stone buildings being blue-gray, pink-gray and lavender-gray. In the center of town, marking the absolute center of the town, was a park area with a fountain in the center, the fountain led down into an underground grotto which was currently overflowing with people not unlike the fountain above it.
“Looks like it’s connected,” Ramses said.
“I think Mederei said it was had healing properties.”
“That would be the place to look for the tapestries.”
“Mama,” a child whispered loudly. Why was it when children whispered they yelled? “Why is that man so brown?”
“Shh, honey, he’s probably from the capital region.”
“No, Mama, they’re black, he isn’t. He’s brown, and scary looking.” The boy, blonde haired and blue eyed like his mother, was probably from the town. It was said that on the Isle of Caergwlân, the darkest were those in the capital and from there, they lost their color the farther from power they went.
Many people in the kingdom darkened themselves through natural means such as sunlight, while others resorted to magic or makeup to be darker. Brown was beautiful on this isle.
“I’m from Eguzki,” Ramses explained to the boy. “All my people are like me.”
The boy stared up at Ramses. “I didn’t mean you, but the other guy.”
“Him?” Ramses thumbed at Hugh. “He’s red, not dark.”
“My son doesn’t meet too many people of a ruddy complexion,” the mother explained. She smiled at them, but her smile faded. “You’re one of them. She pushed her son behind her. “Nevermind, honey, he just looks that way.”
“Why?” The boy shoved his way to the front and planted his feet in front of Hugh. “Why are you red and why are your eyes weird? Are you a dragon or something?”
Hugh squatted in front of the boy and grinned, his canines extending slightly, and scales shimmered over his arms, neck and face. Smoke wafted from his nostrils. “Why, yes, I am.” His hand transformed into a modified claw and he rested it on the boy’s shoulder. “Have you ever met a dragon before?”
The boy shook his head and leaned to look at the claw. “Mom’s scared of dragons, but my friend, Georgie says it’s good luck to be touched by a dragon. Am I going to have good luck now?”
“Luck is what you make of it,” Hugh answered as he rose and diminished his dragon form. “But, your friend isn’t entirely wrong, either.”
The boy grinned. “I can’t wait until I tell George I met an honest-to-goodness dragon. What type of dragon are you?”
“Demidrake?” The boy scratched his head then his eyes went wide and his mouth opened. “Dragon riders?”
“Hugh, we should get going,” Ramses reminded him.
“There’s a picture of you downstairs,” the boy said. “It’s on the old picture. People leave things there in hope of good luck.”
The men glanced at each other then back at the boy. “What sort of picture?”
“It’s a stone one. Someone put it in there a long time ago, but it has a dragon and a dragon rider in it. Oh, and there’s a lady in there too. She’s really pretty. Her hair is red-gold and she has sapphire eyes.” He leaned in close. “Like real sapphires, I think it looks weird, but Mama says it’s because that’s how stone portraits were done way back when.”
“And what are they doing?”
The boy shrugged. “Flying, I guess. The woman is painting their picture.”
At that point, the mom had unfrozen from her demidrake fear and pulled her son away. Around them, the crowd murmured about the demidrake. “Maybe we should get going?” Hugh suggested.
“Maybe,” Ramses agreed.
On the north side of the park was the Board Council building. It was a large imposing building with three entrances: Board, Council and Everyone Else. The center entrance was the largest, and had a tourist line as well. The building, according to Mederei, was well over five hundred years old, and had managed to survive an earthquake, flood and hailstorm. The last was common enough, but this particular storm was the result of two young gods wanting to have a snowball fight in summer, and getting angry with each other over their snow, so they had a hail ball fight. It was said that the city survived only because of the magic of the tapestries.
It was also the last time that the tapestries had such a large impact on the city.
“Tourists need to use the right queue,” a guard insisted.
“We’re here to report in for our mage mission,” Ramses explained. “We’re members of the Fire Shadow Guild.”
The guard motioned for proof.
Both men showed them their shoulders. “Why are two members of Fire Shadow down here? We have a mage guild.”
“We were specifically requested,” Ramses continued explaining as he pulled out their job flyer. He handed it to the guard.
“The Board Council requested you? That’s strange, they can’t agree to anything. Well, they’re in a meeting at the moment, but the secretaries will be there.”
The Board Council of Rukisismos was actually two entities - the Board which ran the town, and the Council which ran the city - neither side liked the other, and several members within each hated each other, but agreed to dislike the other group more.
The joint chambers were in the center of the building behind their secretary offices. The offices had two distinct styles that oddly worked together. The Board side was more roughhewn with lots of browns and blues. The Council side was glass and silver with modern lines.
The doors to the chamber were beside each secretary – the Board was wood; Council was glass – and from behind the doors were the sounds of battle.
“It's a madhouse,” Ramses muttered, listening to the squabbling coming from the council chambers.
The secretaries for the Board and Council ignored the noises. “It's normal,” the Board secretary said as she crossed a light pen across a piece of glass. “The budget's due next week, and they always squabble like this.”
“Rather like a set of children throwing temper tantrums,” the Council secretary concurred. She was knitting a baby blanket. “Have you managed to knock out those idiotic suggestions?” She inquired of the Board secretary.
“I've highlighted them, but we're going to have to work on a way to compromise it. It’s a special project for two of the councilmen.”
“So who has the power here?” Ramses asked. “We’re from Fire Shadow Mage Guild.”
“We do,” the secretaries answered.
Council set down her knitting. “We're also the ones who hired you, but they don't know that since they can't agree on anything.”
Hugh held up a finger. “Shouldn't you be in there taking notes?”
“The doppelgangers are,” Board explained. “They never notice us in the first place, so we realized after two days we could use doppelgangers to record everything.”
“Ah,” Ramses said. “Makes sense.”
“Besides, if it's too dangerous, the doppelgangers can just disappear and come to no harm.”
Doppelgangers were a spell easily purchased, and required only a drop of blood to activate. They were short-lived items which acted and looked like their owners, but couldn't speak. Mostly, they were known for their unflinching gazes, the result of their eyes being kept to record items, not for sight. They were most commonly used for secretaries who needed to do little more than write or listen, but others also utilized them.
“See, we've been having problems of late,” Board began, rising to pour the now steeped tea she began when Ramses and Hugh arrived. “You'll see part of it once you arrive at the beach. There's darkness out at sea, like a storm coming in, but it never comes in. Some say they can hear a foul voice, but others can't.”
“Any indication who can and can't hear it?”
“Only those with exceptional good hearing can, so the Sentients and the Fae are the primary ones, oh, and maybe ones like the Graeme.”
“The Dae would be as well,” Council said.
“If any existed anymore.”
“There's that one kingdom on the one island on Pencaer.”
“Yeah, but they never leave.”
“Very true. I suppose the deific and the birace could also hear it, but none of them live around here.”
“No gods of the land?” Ramses took the tea Board offered. They had gathered around the table in the corner of the office. This seemed to be where the two women managed the affairs of the town and city.
“Not that we know of,” Council said. “There used to be several gods around here - the god of the rock, the god of the sea, the god of the earth, and the god of the tree.”
“I've never heard of a god of the tree before.”
“Hawthornes grow around here, but they're strange since most never grow very tall.”
“Except here,” Board finished. “The hawthornes here - spelled with an extra e at the end - grow tall and straight, hence a god of the tree.”
“Most likely he's faded away,” Council said. “Or dormant somewhere.”
“The trees aren't a part of the protection?” Hugh shook his head. “That’s unusual, they would have incorporated the trees if there was a god.”
“Who would have?” Board asked.
“The original weavers,” Hugh answered. “If your tapestries are indeed Gwion made ones, then they would have incorporated something with the trees.”
“How would you know that?”
“Heritage Gwion,” Hugh explained, pointing to himself. “That and my aunt and cousin have a love affair with the Gwion. They tell me things.”
“Ah,” Board continued. “That would make sense.”
“Regarding the trees, though,” Council interrupted. “Any actions from the god hasn’t been around for many years. There's a hawthorne grove north of the city, in fact, it's the only forest in the area. He was said to live there. The grove is still sacred to him, but the shrine which was inside isn't kept up.”
“What about the shrines to the other three?”
“Same thing. They're all ruins now.”
Ramses set his tea on the table before him. “So the inhabitants worship only the Uncreated One?”
“Primarily. You'll have those who pay homage to the older deities, but yes, most people go to the daeggaroc of the Uncreated One. If you want to come, you're more than welcomed.”
Ramses and Hugh shook their heads. “Our friends refuse to set foot inside a church unless it's connected to the Gwion Gathering.”
“We don't have them here,” Board said with a sigh. “Wouldn't mind having them around, but the people here are old-fashioned and set in their ways. They see the Gwion Gathering as a bunch of heretics set out to destroy the world.”
“Which, considering the tapestries we have to protect us are Gwion made never made any sense to me,” Council continued. She paused in her work and eyed the two young men. “I hope you have a Gwion on your team.”
“We brought one of the guild members,” Hugh confirmed. “He's an excellent weaver.”
The women looked at each other. “I'm not certain if we'd need weavers though,” Council began. “The tapestries are primarily in order, it's just ...”
“Something else is wrong with them,” Board finished. She tapped the table with her forefinger. “What we need is one of those daughters of the Gwion. Everyone knows they can see the magic structure.”
“You're not scared of the Dunslantan?” Ramses used the crassest term used for the Daughters of the Gwion as possible. The meaning roughly translated as the dark, defiant story.
“We prefer to call them Daughters of the Blood,” Council sniffed. She straightened her shoulders. “We requested one from the Gwion Guild, but they wouldn’t help us so we kept asking to speak to someone higher up until we got somewhere. The last one we spoke with said we needed to contact you all because you had a wizard who could help.”
“Did you get a name?”
“Yes,” Board said. “He was a rather charming young man who was incredibly handsome and such a lovely voice.”
Hugh rubbed his forehead. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he mumbled.
Board paused. “I’m not certain why I’m telling you this, though.”
“It’s because he’s a Heritage Gwion,” Council explained. “You can’t help it. His name was Brys ap Cynwal Gwion.” She gasped. “You know, I just thought of something. I wonder if he’s the son to the current head? Oh, my. Wait until I tell Bea that I spoke with the son to the head of the Gwion! She’s had a crush on Cynwal Gwion ever since we were fourteen.”
“Don’t do that,” Board muttered. “Her daughter is just as bad, and will want you to contact him again to make contact with Tewdr.”
“Very true. I wouldn’t recommend you saying you’re one of the Heritage Gwion too much. There is a Gwion fan club here in the city, and the head of the club is my friend, Bea. Her daughter runs a junior club dedicated to the sons of the Gwion.”
Ramses and Hugh glanced at each other, but said nothing else. There were several Gwion fan clubs around the Forty Isles. Luna hadn’t been far-off regarding the Gwion as models, in fact some were. There were many women who wanted to marry a Gwion because of the romance. Mederei and her sisters were amused by them. “When did all the troubles begin?”
“About three months ago,” Board answered. “At first, we didn't think much of the situation since it seemed to be the normal springtime ebbing of the power.”
“Normal?” The Gwion magic shouldn't ebb.
“It's as though at the end of the winter storms, the magic has dissipated and needs time to regain its strength.”
“Are the tapestries the only part of the defense?”
“As far as we know.”
“So what was different this year?”
“It's remained low.” Council motioned behind the men to the wall. “That map was put in the same time the tapestries were erected.”
The map was a mosaic made from precious stones. Around the edge of the map, the border glowed, though faded at the moment as though the power source was working, but barely or recharging.
While places changed over the centuries, main portions of established communities such as Rukisismos rarely changed beyond cosmetic. Where was once a grocer, might become a bookstore, but the building remained constant. The map indicated magic beyond the basic weaving skills the Gwion were known for. Someone else was involved, but that may not have meant someone outside the Gwion. According to Mederei and Hugh, at one time, very early in their history, the Gwion had other abilities.
“During the summer and into the winter, it's much brighter,” Board said, her voice sad. “This is the dullest I've ever seen it.”
Mosaics and tapestries. Ramses touched the edge of the mosaic to feel the flow of the magic. All earth related elements connected to him, though he had an affinity to stone. Many of the stones were from around the area, but some had been brought from a great distance. Whoever had built this had put a lot of love and care into the mosaic.
Mederei had joked on one of their first jobs together that they would make a good team. She had indicated that there was something about mosaics which she could use like a weft, but that didn’t make much sense. “Looks like there was a storyteller involved,” Ramses said, lowering his hand. “Either that or an earth mage.”
“I thought storyteller magic was illegal,” Board said.
“Only for the past five hundred years, but if no one remembers when they were placed, it's most likely before the laws were passed,” Hugh answered. “Medi's going to have to look at this to at least give us a time frame.”
“If not the weaver,” Board reminded them.
Council raised her hand. “Your friend can tell you who wove the tapestries?”
“All the Gwion could,” Hugh said. “But, Medi's the one who knows all that sort of stuff.” He turned back to the secretaries. “Anything else we need to know?”
“You shouldn't mention it to the Board or Council,” Board said. “Everyone else in the area knows since we voted on it, but they don't know.”
“How much do you two keep from them?”
“Most for their own good ... Or, our good, I suppose is more accurate. They can't agree on anything, and it proves easier for us to manage the bigger issues. They can handle budgets and the like, but if it comes down to our safety, we handle that.”
“This town has some serious issues,” Ramses observed.
The secretaries smiled. “Only the Board and Council has problems,” Council answered. “We run everything else quite nicely.”