The Flow is the place where spelljammers sail

                        With rivers of color, whose light never fails

                        Where the universe's grand mystery is almost revealed

                        And where stranger things are often concealed

 

 

                                                                                Chapter Eleven

 

 

            After the Nightwarder departed Weyrspace and entered the phlogiston, there was no way to tell whether they were being followed.  In theory, there should be no way for the other ship to follow.

            Nonetheless, many a day would find Reanyn Al'Nuoth on the stern deck, gazing back into the obscuring phlogiston.

            "I wouldn't worry," Tianna had said once.  "There's no possible way they can track us in the Flow."

            "It is always best to prepare for the worst," he had responded.  "That way the surprises are always pleasant."

            It didn't take long to find a flowriver which coursed in the direction Reanyn wished to go.  Soon the Nightwarder was submerged in the heavy flow, surfacing only once or twice a day to calculate direction.

            Tianna, incidentally, was allowed on deck again.  Ever since Reanyn had summoned her from her cabin, the door was left unlocked, and she soon found she was once again permitted to roam free.

            Tavras's visits had become more and more infrequent, and he seemed to become more irritable.  Privately she had begun to wonder whether or not he was searching through her memories at all.  Perhaps he had already found what he was looking for, and was simply witholding it from Reanyn.

            Although the rest of the crew still treated her as a 'jalhadi', Garn at least had warmed up to her a little.  Although he was every bit as politely stiff and formal as before, he seemed less inclined to look down his nose at her.  Sometimes the two even talked to each other - not the dry dialogue between student and teacher but the relaxed banter between two friends.

            Tianna often reflected how unnatural a friendship between a goblin and an elf was, and the disdain other elves would show her if it ever became known; she promised herself time and again that she would not allow herself to become close to one of the 'lower' species.  Goblinkin were to be hated and reviled; looked down upon in every way.  At best the relationship between elf and goblinkin should be like that of a human and a dog, and at times it should be like that of an elf about to crush an insect underfoot.  yet sometimes she would find herself forgetting who she was talking to.  She wondered whether the little goblin was faced with the same dilemma.

            Early in the voyage, Tavras badgered Reanyn continually, trying to prove that his psionic powers could be useful to the bounty hunter in his search for Windhook.

            "Can you tell me when people aren't telling the truth?" Reanyn had finally asked.

             "Not precisely," Tavras replied reluctantly.  "If someone actually believes he's telling the truth, then I cannot discern whether what he's saying is true or not."

            "Then I cannot imagine how you could be of use."

            "I can make sure someone tells the truth as far as they know it," Tavras had protested.

            Reanyn looked at him.  "Tell me more."

            Tavras smiled smugly.  "It's a telepathic devotion I'm familiar with.  After contacting a susceptible mind, I give it a short, clearly defined command that something is impossible, and then, no matter how difficult the task actually is, the person will respond as if it is completely impossible."

            Reanyn shook his head.  "I'm not certain I follow.  What does that have to do with making someone tell the truth?"

            "The truth as he or she knows it," corrected Tavras.  "It's simple.  I could insert the command 'lying to Reanyn Al'Nuoth is impossible' into their psyche.  Then they could not lie - or rather, they will completely believe that they can not, and so will not."

            Reanyn considered.  "This sounds like a pretty powerful devotion.  It seems to me that you could stop an advancing army by instilling in the troops the idea that the battle could not be won."

            "Not so," said Tavras.  "I can only affect one specific individual."

            "And what if you commanded someone to believe that 'breathing is impossible' or that 'it is impossible that your heart should keep beating'?"

            Tavras shook his head.  "I cannot override unconscious muscle control in this way.  The person might panic momentarily, then be awed by the miracle that he was able to breathe, but that would be all."

            "And what if you commanded that 'your life will cease instantly unless you cut your own throat'?"

            "Again, I cannot force someone to harm themselves in that way.  The psyche will rebel against the command, and the the mind will force me out."

            Reanyn shook his head.  "Then how can you guarantee that your 'lying to Reanyn is impossible' scenario will happen the way you say it will?"

            "Because it doesn't have anything to do with making the affected individual harm himself."

            Reanyn remained unconvinced.

            "Look," said Tavras, sensing Reanyn's skepticism, "why don't you let me demonstrate?  That way you'll know for certain."

            "On whom would you demonstrate?" asked Reanyn.

            "One of your crew, of course.  Don't worry, it won't damage them in the slightest.  And the effects are purely temporary."

            "I don't think you're going to find many volunteers."

            "Well, are you the captain or aren't you?"

            "I am the captain, yes."

            Tavras was impatient to begin.  "Well then, order one of them to take part."

            Reanyn shook his head.  "I'm not that kind of captain."

            "What?"  Tavras was taken aback.  "Well, what about the elf girl?" he said.

            Reanyn shrugged.  "Ask her.  Maybe she'll volunteer."

            Tavras was becoming exasperated.  "Why should I 'ask' her anything?  Just let me do it.  You don't seem to mind that I don't 'ask' her permission before rifling through her memories.  Surely you don't afford her the same protection as your crew!"

            Reanyn considered.  "You said she wouldn't be damaged by the experience?"

            Tavras shook his head emphatically.  "She won't even know anything is happening."

            Reanyn stared at him for a moment, thinking.  "Very well," he said at last, "on the provision that she isn't hurt."

            Tavras was almost gleeful.  "What would you like me to command as her 'impossible task'?"

            "How about 'coming abovedecks is impossible'?"

            Tavras smiled.  "Simplicity itself.  She is belowdecks now?"

            "In her cabin, I believe."

            "One moment," Tavras closed his eyes and felt out with his mind for Tianna's presence.  "There you are, my dear," he murmured.  A moment later he opened his eyes.  "Done."

            Reanyn was skeptical.  "So quickly?"

            "It would have been even faster if she had been in direct line-of-sight.  Very few psionicists can make telepathic contact with people who are not in line-of-sight, and then only with minds they are intimately familiar with."

            Reanyn nodded, then turned to Garn.  "Fetch Tianna up on deck."

            The little goblin hurried off, descending belowdecks.

            A moment later he returned, Tianna behind him.

            "My god!" she exclaimed as the goblin stepped from the final stair onto the main deck.  "How did you do that?"

            "What are you talking about?" asked Reanyn.

            An expression of shock crossed over he face as she realized there were other people on deck.  "How... how did you get up there?"

            "Don't be ridiculous.  We simply stepped up."

            "Come along, dear," said Tavras with a malicious smile.  "We want to talk with you."

            She had made her way to the top step, and was looking at the main deck as if she had never seen it before.  The psionicist's question caught her off guard.  "What do you mean?"

            "I mean come here."

            She raised a foot uncertainly, as if to step onto the deck, then put it back down again.  "I... I can't!  I don't see how you did it!"  She was nearly in tears.

            Tavras was smug.  "Impressed?" he asked Reanyn.

            Reanyn thought for a moment.  "This is temporary, correct?"

            "I can make it permanent, if you want, although obviously that would involve some damage to her mind."

            "What are you talking about?" asked Tianna.  "Come down below, where it's safe."

            Reanyn was silent for a moment.  "Keryth," he barked at last.  "Please take Tianna on deck."

            The gnoll stepped forward.

            "What are you doing?" asked Tavras.

            Reanyn looked at him.  "Testing the limits of your power."

            "Stay back!" said Tianna as the gnoll stepped forward.  "I'm not going up there!"  When the gnoll failed to respond, she turned and fled belowdecks.

            The gnoll through a look back over his shoulder to Reanyn.  Reanyn gave a brief nod, and Keryth turned and headed below.

            Reanyn and the others waited for a minute.  The crewmembers, unaware of what Tavras had done to Tianna's mind, were confused at the elven girl's actions.

            Keryth reappeared momentarily, pulling a struggling and screaming Tianna ungracefully up the stairs.

            She kicked and fought, and Keryth nearly lost his hold on her.  He turned, hoisted her off her feet, and dumped her unceremoniously over his shoulder.  He fought his way to the top of the stairs.

            After gaining the main deck, he dropped her.  She panted for a moment, then looked around her.  She stood, putting a hand to her head.  "I'm alive!  What...what on earth was I thinking?"  She turned to Tavras, pointing an accusing finger.  "You!  You did something to my mind, didn't you!"

            "So this power isn't exactly limitless," said Reanyn.

            Tavras was a little sheepish.  "Well, when you prove that the impossible can be done, it doesn't take long for it to become commonplace.  Look, I have other talents.  I'm not just a telepath, you know.  I have developed clairvoyant, telekinetic, psychometablolic, and psychoportive disciplines as well."

            "I think I've seen enough."

            Tianna screamed, and lunged at Tavras.  "You mind-rapist!"  Her fingers closed on his throat.  He gave a suprised yelp and then toppled over backwards from the force of the attack.

            It several moments for Keryth to drag her off of him.  He lay on his back, gasping, while Keryth held her away, still kicking and sputtering.

            She whirled, her fierce gaze lighting on Reanyn.  "You!" she said venomously.  "You did this!  You allowed that demon to tamper with my mind!"  She twisted in Keryth's grasp, her eyes still focused on Reanyn.  "You did it deliberately, as if I were no more than some test animal in a mages laboratory!"

            "I had to know," said Reanyn simply.

            "Well, I hope it was worth it!" she spat.  She looked down at Tavras.  "You keep him away from me.  You keep him away from me, or I'll kill him."

            "Let me go," she said icily.  "Let me go!"  She twisted in Keryth's grasp again, then elbowed the gnoll hard.  The gnoll grunted but maintained his grip, giving Reanyn a questioning look.

            Reanyn gave an almost imperceptable nod, and the gnoll released her.  She pulled away from him, then composed herself.  After another chilly look at Reanyn, she turned and descended below, controlled fury in her every step.

            Tavras gave a low chuckle, sitting up.  "Feisty lass," he said raspily, looking at Reanyn.  "Yes, I believe that's the term for her.  A feisty lass."

            Reanyn flushed, startled at how easily the psionicist had picked his thought out of the air.  "I suggest you give her some time to cool down before you continue with your sessions with her.   I won't always be around to protect you."

            Tavras chuckled again.  "I need no protection from her.  I could have turned her mind to jelly."

            "Do that," cautioned Reanyn, "and you'll need protection from me.  You are not to use your mind-bending talents aboard this ship for any reason other than to investigate the girl's memories."

            The psionicist was stung.  "I thought I had proved my talents could be a valuable asset in other areas as well."

            "You've proved you're even more dangerous than I thought, and bear watching.  Use your talents on this ship for any reason other than extracting information from Tianna's mind even one time and I'll kill you myself."

            And that was Reanyn's final word on the subject.  No matter how much Tavras pleaded and cajoled, there were no more 'demonstratations'.

            It was some time before Tianna allowed Tavras to perfom his 'sessions' with her again, not that either of them particularily wanted anything to do with the other.  Tavras was even more short with her than before, as if it were her fault personally that the demonstration had failed to impress Reanyn.  She was cool at best towards him, taking great pains to avoid him.  On those occasions when they had to speak, she was decidedly clipped and icy.

            Still, eventually they did talk to each other, as disgusted as she was with his presence.  Her anger with Reanyn however, only increased.  Psionicists, apparently, should be expected to do such things, while Reanyn clearly had absolutely no excuse.

            And the voyage through the Flow continued.

            Here, as in wildspace, time held no meaning.  The days were measured by sands pouring through an hourglass in the bow of the ship; night and day blurred into each other.  Tianna slept when she was tired and ate when she was hungry.  And quickly became bored with the confines of the small ship.

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            Ship closing! shrieked the bells, early on the fourth day.  Battle stations!

            "What's that?" asked Tianna, startled, as the bells rung.  "That's a signal I'm not familiar with."

            She and Garn were in her quarters, going over the day's lesson in the Wravvish language.  She was slowly beginning to learn most of the important words and their uses (it irked her to no end that what she had worked so long to learn was so casually and easily picked up by Tavras, who already had a much better grasp of the language than she.)

            "Something is wrong," said Garn, his tufted ears perking up as the signals rang again.  "Danger."  Quickly he picked himself up (he always insisted on sitting crosslegged on the floor) and scurried out of the room, headed abovedecks.

            Tianna trailed after him.

            Emerging on deck, she saw that most of the crew was already there, armed with personal weapons or manning the medium ballista which was mounted on the aft deck.  Although they appeared ready for trouble and were in battle positions, they did not seem to be alarmed.

            Tianna looked off into the flow, in direction to which the crewmembers were focused.

            Off the port bow, maybe five miles from where the Nightwarder held position, was another spelljamming vessel.

            It was not particularily approaching them, simply tumbling haphazardly through the Flow.  It was a galleon-class ship, of a style that had disappeared from the spacelanes centuries ago.

            "Dead ship," muttered Garn darkly.  It was considered a bad sign to run across an abandoned ship.  Superstitious crews had mutinied over less.

            "Let's not jump to conclusions," said Reanyn, who was standing at the helm.  Tianna wondered whether he had actually heard the little goblin's comment from so far away, or whether he was responding to something one of the orc helmsmen next to him had said.  "Stand fast."

            "Where did it come from?" Tianna asked, turning to Tarlach, the hobgoblin assistant cook, who was standing nearby, a heavy crossbow near to hand.  She was privately pleased that she was able to ask the question - it come out in nearly perfect Wravvish.

            Tarlach stared at her for a moment with one green eye, then looked back to the ship.  If it was surprised by her mastery of his language, it wasn't going to show it.  "We came out of the Flow-river for a routine coordinate check.  That's when the lookout sounded the alarm."

            Tianna didn't understand all of what the hobgoblin said, but made out enough to piece it together.  She looked back out at the other ship.

            It was approaching slowly.  Now it was close enough that its deck was visible.  Sprawled across the deck were a number of bones - human bones, realized Tianna, with a shudder.  Standing post at the ship's wheel was a grinning and bleached skeleton, gently rocking from side to side in the flow-wind.  For a moment she thought maybe it was animate, and that this was some sort of evil ship filled with undead, consigned to eternal unrest in the Flow, but she realized that the ship's wheel was what was holding the skeleton in place, rocking it gently from side to side.

            "Tavras," called Reanyn, "is there anything alive on that ship?"  The psionicist had come on deck a moment after Tianna and Garn had, and now stood directly behind them.

            "One moment," he said, putting a hand to his temple and closing his eyes.

            "Nothing," he said a moment later, shaking his head.  "It's a dead ship."

            "Prepare to evade," directed Reanyn as the other ship approached.

            Quickly the helmsman manuevered the little hummingbird to one side.  The other ship passed within fifty feet on its way, tumbling wildly.

            The crew of the Nightwarder watched in silence as the dead ship made its way past, its rotting sails flapping in the gentle breeze.  Eventually it disappeared in the distance.

            "Take the ship back down into the river," barked Reanyn at last, breaking the reverie.

            Tianna decided she would go below.  A chill seemed to have descended on her.

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            Although Reanyn allowed her on deck again, he still spared no time to speak with her.  Even when he was doing nothing other than gazing out into the Flow, he would simply walk away when she approached.

            She, of course, returned the favor whenever possible, going out of her way to avoid speaking to him.  Irritatingly, he seemed not to notice.

            Six days into the journey, the ship surfaced from the river to find a crystal sphere nearby.  Apparently this was their destination, for Reanyn ordered the helmsman to proceed to the crystal shell.

            Tianna had been on deck when the sphere was sighted, and had watched it growing steadily closer as the Nightwarder approached.

            Reanyn had come abovedecks shortly after the lookout had rung the 'sphere sighted' signal and then ordered an 'all stop'.  After taking some measurements, he and Gotam (the little kobold assistant navigator) had disappeared belowdecks for an hour, presumably to check their coordinates.  Then he had come up on deck again, the kobold in tow, and given the order to proceed to the sphere.

            He said nothing to Tianna, although he walked past her on several occasions.

            Damn the man!

            Eventually he had settled in on the prow of the bridge, looking out at the sphere.  Tianna wrestled with herself for a few moments, then approached him from behind.

            "What sphere is it?" Tianna asked, finally breaking her silence towards him.  "Where are we bound?"

            Reanyn ignored her.

            "Mortspace," said Tavras absently from behind her shoulder.  "Well don't look at me like that," he protested as Reanyn's suspicious gaze fell on him.  "The name means nothing to me.  It just flashed through your mind when she asked her question."

            "More and more often I wonder at my judgement in taking you aboard," said Reanyn darkly.

            "What's in this Mortspace sphere?" asked Tianna.  "I've never heard of it."

            "Well?" asked Reanyn, still staring at Tavras.

            Tavras shrugged.  "How would I know?  You've closed your mind."

            "Good," said Reanyn.  He didn't turn to look at Tianna, but rather flung his next words over his shoulder at her.  "The answer to your question is that Gyllus is in Mortspace."

            "Gyllus?" asked Tianna.  "I've never heard of it."

            "I'm not surprised.  It is a small waterworld with a few floating continents.  The inhabitants are completely groundling in nature, and have no knowledge of spelljamming technology."

            Tianna was puzzled.  "Why are we going there?"

            "Gyllus has twelve very small moons.  The fourth one,  Rim, has a small spelljamming port.  There is a moneylending/changing operation there."

            "A bank?"

            Reanyn shrugged.  "Close enough.  This particular organization has had dealings with Jarren Windhook."

            Tianna shook her head in confusion.  "But why would a bank be located in the middle of nowhere?"

            "It's not really a bank, just a similar financial institution.  As for being located in the 'middle of nowhere', that is precisely why they are here."

            "For secrecy?" asked Tavras.

            "That, and to escape the boundaries and laws of other spacegoing nations.  As I said, it isn't a bank by any means.  The people who patronize it are a very exclusive bunch."

            "And Windhook is one of them?" asked Tianna.

            Reanyn nodded.  "Always follow the money trail."

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            Surprisingly, Gyllus was only a day and a half's journey from the inner shell.  Apparently its orbit around the small white fireworld at the system's center was a wide one.

            Although Reanyn kept looking, there was no sign of a following ship.  It seemed probable that the Nightwarder had lost whoever was tailing it in the Flow.  Still, Reanyn kept a lookout constantly on duty on the aft deck, searching for some sign of pursuit.

            Gyllus turned out to be very unimpressive, a small watery world with flat continents.  The fireworld which lit the system was so distant that the planet was left in a kind of continual twilight.

            The starcharts for this system turned out to be slightly out of date, so it took a few hours to locate the correct moon.  Rim was even smaller than Reanyn had indicated.  It was little more than a rock with a few buildings scattered across it.  Its port facilities weren't large enough to accomodate more than three ships of twenty tons or less at one time.

            Reanyn brought the Nightwarder in with no trouble, docking it, and awaited the dockmaster.

            For such a small port, the authorities were remarkably thorough.

            The dockmaster turned out to be a short, wiry little man with a balding forehead, tiny spectacles, and a pinched, sour expression.  He was accompanied by three brawny local 'enforcers', all human, who were well armed.

            He turned out to be even more sour than he looked.  After he had examined the ship from top to bottom for any kind of concealed contraband, a local priest appeared (another human, slightly overweight with shifty eyes and an unkempt mustache), and checked the crew for spaceborne diseases.  After satisfying himself that no kind of quarantine would be necessary, the dockmaster finally gave Reanyn two official passes.

            "For the record," the man said, looking down his nose at Reanyn (a truly difficult feat considering how short the man was), "we don't like outsiders much here.  Get your business done and get out.  And we don't allow pets on the planet," - he jerked a thumb at the goblinoid crew - "so don't let 'em off your vessel, or we'll shoot them on sight.  Those passes are only good for intelligent beings."

            Tianna almost expected the crew to murder the man on the spot.  Most of them understood well enough what he was saying.  But they made no sign of it, and, indeed, did not even offer him any hostile looks.

            "Only two people are allowed off at a time," the man continued, "and let me stress again the word people.  Outsiders can be stopped and questioned at any time during their stay, and if you don't have your passes, the patrol commander who stops you has the right to execute you on the spot.  Don't even think about stepping out of line on our little moon, elf."

            Reanyn bowed, and paid the docking fees (which were unusually steep).

            "They're awfully strict here," complained Tianna when the dockmaster had finally left.  "You'd think that a backwards place like this would be easier to deal with, not more difficult."

            "This entire place exists for the holding of gold," said Reanyn.  "Did you expect security to be lax?"

            "Maybe."  She sighed.  "I suppose I won't be allowed off the ship again?"

            "You suppose right," said Reanyn, already turning away from her to adress the first mate.  "Keep an eye out," he instructed Keryth.  "If any ship docks here within the next few hours I want to know about it - especially if it turns out to be a hammership like the one that lifted from Westfall before we did, or the shrikeship that put down there just before we left."

            The gnoll grunted.  "How do we find you?  You'll have the only passes.  We won't be able to leave the ship."

            "You don't have to leave the ship to alert me.  This moon is small.  Blow the signal for 'battle stations'.  I'll hear it."  He turned to Tavras.  "You're with me."

            Tavras was surprised.  "Don't tell me you've decided my powers might actually be useful to you."

            Reanyn was already halfway down the gangplank.  "Not useful," he threw over his shoulder.  "Dangerous.  I don't trust you at my back."

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            The town proper on Rim was located only a small distance from the spaceport.  However, getting there wasn't easy, as the winding path leading up to it was both steep and rocky.

            Aside from the Rimian Credit and Money Union (the institution which had drawn Reanyn to Nym in the first place) there wasn't much else on the moon.  A small run-down inn, a few scattered houses, an armorer who charged outrageous prices, and a sailmaker's shop - altogether not enough to be termed anything more than a very small town.

            The Rimian Credit and Money Union wasn't hard to spot.  It was a large four-story building, well-kept, which loomed over the rest of the town.  Reanyn and Tavras made straight for it.

            "Al'Nuoth!" someone suddenly called from the far side of the street, halting them mid-stride.  "Reanyn Al'Nuoth!"

            Reanyn turned.

            A pair of nonhumans was approaching, a giff and a dracon, both grinning broadly.

            "Who is that?" Tavras asked.

            "That," said Reanyn, "is the pair of bounty hunters who call themselves Barundar and Nym."