Wayland Tavras is a wicked old soul
With his smile so grim and his heart so cold
He dwells in the darkest part of men's minds
And preys on whatever he happens to find
Wayland Tavras was arguably the most powerful psionicist to ever travel the spacelanes, so it wasn't surprising that the Storyteller would include a stanza about him. What was surprising was how quickly the Storyteller formed his opinion of Tavras.
Ordinarily the Storyteller would interview the people he wrote about, spending hours just talking to them. Tavras was different. The Storyteller just looked at him, once, across a crowded room, and immediately scribbled down the verse. They never so much as exchanged words.
Someone once asked the Storyteller why he used Tavras's real name. After all, he had dubbed Ji'llenhaiensha'rensesserett Diamond Jill, and Reanyn Al'Nuoth the Wayfarer. He'd simply shrugged and said that Tavras's name fit him better than any nickname ever could. In fact, of all the people and places he had seen, the Storyteller maintained that Wayland Tavras was the most colorless.
The Storyteller was not kind to Tavras. Perhaps he didn't like the man personally. Perhaps he didn't like psionicists in general.
Whatever the case, Tavras never took offense. In fact he rather enjoyed the sinister reputation the Storyteller had given him. He liked the idea of being mysterious and intimidating anyway - it kept people slightly off balance - and in one simple verse the Storyteller had made him into a man to be both feared and respected.
If Reanyn was impressed, however, he didn't show it.
"So, Wayfarer, do we have a deal?"
Reanyn shook his head. "I don't think so. You have nothing to offer me."
"I can be useful."
"Not to me." Reanyn stood, looking at Tianna. "You said you would release her from whatever it is you did. Please do so. We have a long journey ahead of us."
Tavras glanced at the elven girl. "I have already done so."
Reanyn was unconvinced. "She doesn't look any better to me."
Tavras shrugged. "I refocused her attention away from what was happening here. It will take her some time to focus again. I assure you I wasn't holding her against her will."
"You were controlling her will," Reanyn pointed out. "She probably couldn't even think of leaving."
Tavras chuckled. "There is that. Incidentally, since my arguments haven't swayed you, may I at least ask you a question?"
"Depends on the question."
Tavras leaned back, steepling his fingers. "Most people have a certain... reaction to me. They wonder if I haven't been playing around with their minds. Psionicists, by and far, have that reputation. Aren't you just the least bit concerned that I might do to you what I did to her?"
"I'd be surprised if you hadn't already tried. I have safeguarded myself against psionic meddling."
Tavras was surprised. "You have some talent, then?"
Reanyn shook his head. "Just some practical sense. I keep a star jewel on my person at all times." A starjewel was a tiny diamond-like jewel which flickered with inner light. When worn in contact with the skin, a starjewel prevented telepathic attacks of all kinds. No-one knew where the tiny gems came from or how they were made (even the Arcane couldn't get their hands on them) although it was speculated they were the end result of collapsing fireworlds. They were priceless of course, and so rare that there were only ten or eleven known to exist in the entire multiverse.
Tavras nodded. "That explains it then. For the record, I didn't try to meddle, but I was aware there was some block. I could only pick up surface thoughts." He considered. "There's absolutely no way to change your mind?"
"Hello, Wayfarer," said Tianna suddenly, blinking. "Where did you come from?" She looked around herself. "Who is he?" she asked, catching sight of Tavras.
"Why do you keep her with you?" asked Tavras. "She seems an unlikely partner. But then, she is so lovely. Especially that scar."
Self-consciously Tianna's hand flew to her cheek. "I don't think I caught your name," she said, irritated and suspicious.
Tavras ignored her, his attention shifting suddenly back to Reanyn. "I caught that," he said. "You just had a thought that I might be useful after all."
Reanyn was thoughtful. "Possibly. It depends."
"Someone wants Tianna dead. I want to know why."
"She knows something important. Something dangerous to someone very powerful."
"That," said Reanyn, "is exactly what I want to find out."
Tavras leaned back, understanding. "You think I might be able to find it."
"Do I get a say in this?" asked Tianna angrily.
Reanyn spared her a glance. "Not particularily." He turned back to Tavras. "Can you do it?"
Tavras gave a slow nod, as if not quite certain himself. "It will take time. I'll be looking for something blindly, and not knowing what I'm looking for. I can't guarantee success, but if any man can do it, I can."
"I'm not certain I like the idea of some mindbender rooting around in my mind," said Tianna, getting angrier. "In fact, I'm quite certain I don't like it."
"I've already been there, dear," said Tavras offhandedly. He stared at a Reanyn for a moment. "I could do it," he said at last. "but obviously there will be a price."
"The same as before. You take me with you on your hunt for the Raver."
Reanyn shook his head. "Does everyone have a problem hearing? I've already said that I'm not after the Raver." He gave Tavras a hard look. "You accompany me only as far as it takes to track down Windhook."
"Very well," agreed Tavras, "unless you decide to go after the Raver. Then I accompany you all the way."
Reanyn sighed. "Academic, but very well. And if Windhook doesn't give you any leads towards the Raver, that's not my problem."
"Done," said Tavras.
"I wasn't finished yet. Aboard my ship you keep your telepathic powers to yourself, except to search through Tianna's mind. If you use them for anything else, I'll jettison you into deep space."
"Are you certain? I could be a great help in many instances."
Reanyn shook his head. "No telepathic powers, or there's no deal."
"Very well," agreed Tavras reluctantly. "No telepathic powers."
"Now wait a minute!" stormed Tianna, furious by this time at how casually the invasion of her mind was being discussed. "No-one's asked me a single thing of what I think about all this. It is my mind after all, and I don't think-"
"Certainly you don't," interrupted Reanyn icily. "You don't obey either. From now on, when I tell you to wait aboard ship you'd better wait there. The next time I'll leave you behind."
* * *
By the time Reanyn returned to the Nightwarder, Tianna and the psionicist in tow, the hammership which had been there earlier had lifted. The tradesman and the vipership were still there, along with a new arrival: a shrikeship.
Tavras was very impressed with the Nightwarder. "Well, well, Wayfarer. First the starjewel and now this. You have very expensive toys."
Reanyn turned to face him. "That's another thing you're going to have to drop. My name isn't Wayfarer. It's Reanyn."
As soon as they had boarded, Reanyn ordered immediate liftoff.
As the wings began to beat and the ship began to whir, he gestured to Macha, one of the orc priests. He pointed to Tianna. "Escort her to her cabin. Don't let her out of your sight."
The orc bowed, then moved to Tianna. "Shenja - machtor," it said.
Tianna looked a question at Reanyn.
"I've ordered you confined to quarters," he explained. "Macha will escort you."
Tianna's cheeks colored with rage. As if it weren't enough that her mind would be open to that psionicist! She turned and stormed down the ladder leading below, determined not to retort.
Reanyn watched her go, then, when Macha looked at him curiously, gestured for the orc to follow. He was damned if he was going to give her the upper hand.
He turned to Keryth. "What happened to the hammership?"
The gnoll shrugged. "Lifted a half hour ago. Two humans came in from the city, boarded, left. Seemed in a hurry. Never saw any other crew."
"And the humans? Were they male or female?"
The gnoll shrugged. To him all humans and demi-humans looked alike. "They were young, I think," was all he could offer.
Reanyn sighed. Maybe one of them was the young man he had seen in the tavern. Maybe. And his companion? Perhaps it was someone else altogether.
He tried a different tack. "the shrikeship. Did it appear before or after the hammership lifted?"
"It put down just before the hammership lifted. No-one on deck, no-one left it. It just sat there. Kind of made me a little nervous. Eventually the port officer went out to the ship, went aboard and disappeared below. He came up after a while and went back to his shack."
Reanyn pondered. That was odd behavior. Were those aboard the shrikeship working with those who lifted in the hammership, or were they two separate groups with different interests and aims? And did either have anything to do with him?
"Strange crew you've got here, Wayfarer," said Tavras.
Reanyn just looked at him.
"What was that language you were just speaking?" Tavras asked. "I'm not familiar."
"Does it matter?"
Tavras smiled. "Not in the slightest. Someone with my abilities can always find ways of communicating. It's just that I have a passing interest in languages."
"No telepathy," reminded Reanyn.
"No telepathic abilities," corrected Tavras. "I can't 'switch off' my ability to pick up surface thoughts, any more than you can stop breathing. I only promised not to use my abilities; not to influence other minds."
"Which means you understood every word I just spoke."
Tavras shook his head. "Not so. I only understood the messages. I have no comprehension of the language yet. But, as I mentioned, I'm good with them. I'll pick this one up in a couple of days."
Reanyn looked at him for a moment. "It suddenly strikes me that you are a very difficult man to keep secrets from."
Tavras nodded. "That is true. But what need have we of secrets? We're on the same side."
"The ship is ready for liftoff," reported Keryth. "This one is coming with us?" he added, indicating Tavras.
"Yes," said Reanyn.
"We have no further quarters for another guest. Will you put him in the same room as the jalhadi?"
"Tell him I have very little need of sleep," interrupted Tavras, understanding the meaning of the gnolls words if not the context. "A space on the deck for meditation will be sufficient."
* * *
If the trip had been long before Westfall Tianna found it nearly suffocating now. She had been confined to her quarters for the duration of the trip and as a result the only people she was were Garn and Tavras.
She preferred Garn, by far.
Tavras had started his searching through Tianna's mind immediately.
To her surprise, the experience wasn't entirely unpleasant. In fact, she didn't feel a thing. Tavras would visit her in her quarters, place his hand on her brow, and go into a trancelike state. If not for his reputation as a powerful mindbender and the way he could pick her thoughts out of the air, she would have thought he wasn't doing anything at all. The searches seldom lasted more than an hour, and Tavras only visited her twice a day. Still, she disliked him intensely, and resented his intrusions.
When she asked him why his psionic probings were so brief, he had replied that it was for her own safety.
"My safety?" she had asked, in alarm.
"Too much probing could blast your mind," he'd answered. "Don't worry, I don't even come close to the amount of probing it would take to put you in danger."
"It's good to know you're concerned for my well being," she had said sarcastically.
"It's not just your safety," he'd confessed. "You've led an exceptionally uninteresting life, my dear. I can only look through so much of your memory before I lose interest and, with it, my concentration."
That was as close to friendly conversation as they ever had. Tavras had an oily, self-satisfied personality that Tianna found repugnant.
She actually started to like Garn. Like a goblinkin? No, better say endure. The little goblin was the only one who talked to her at any length, and always nodded politely when listening, even though he didn't always understand what she was saying. She was making some progress learning the wravvish language, and she liked to think that she was making some headway teaching him the intricacies of her own.
Still, Tavras was only to happy to make her feel that she had accomplished nothing. Within the first few days he was speaking wravvish fluently, and it annoyed her to no end that he had picked it up so much more quickly and easily than she.
The sessions were relatively short and painless, so she endured his presence as best she could. It was in the middle of the sixth such visit that the door flew open and Reanyn looked in on them.
"May I have a word with you?" he asked, and the two of them looked at each other, uncertain which he was adressing. "On deck. Both of you, please."
* * *
"What do you see?" asked Reanyn. He had brought them up abovedecks and the three now stood on the aft deck, looking sternward.
"Stars," said Tianna after a moment.
"What are we meant to see?" asked Tavras, confused.
"Perhaps this will help," said Reanyn, presenting a star chart. "This is the Great Turtle constellation. Do you see any discrepancies?"
"There's a star missing," said Tavras after a moment. "Your starcharts must be incorrect."
"Not so. When we entered Weyrspace the Great Turtle constellation was precisely the same as it appeared in the chart."
"It can't have been!" protested Tianna. "Stars don't just simply disappear!"
Reanyn shook his head. "The star is still there. We just can't see it."
"But why?" asked Tavras, mystified.
"Because there is something between this ship and that star which is obstructing the view."
"What?" asked Tavras.
"Not what," said Reanyn. "Who. A spelljamming ship, running dark."
"Are you certain? Couldn't it be an asteroid, or some space debris?"
Reanyn shook his head. "Then the star would wink back into existence again after we had passed a signifigant distance between ourselves and the object. That star's been missing for just over two hours. It's a ship, on the same course and heading as we are. Which means it is following us."
"Impossible," said Tianna. "You can't track a spelljamming ship in deep space. It must be some sort of coincidence."
"No coincidence," said Reanyn. "When we altered course and aim, it altered with us."
"Extraordinary," muttered Tavras with real respect. "We've been running dark since liftoff, so it can't be tracking us by sight. Besides, at that distance, it shouldn't be able to see us anyway. How is it doing it?"
"I was thinking you might be able to provide me with an answer," said Reanyn pointedly.
"Me? I'm no navigator."
"But you are a psionicist."
Tavras picked up on the thought. "And you think perhaps that ship out there is my doing?"
"It occured to me that you might be giving our position away psionically. It wouldn't take much effort: put another psionicist, maybe an apprentice, onto the trailing ship, then, every so often, make contact with him and tell him where we are."
Tavras shook his head. "In theory it might work, but in reality... First off, both I and my 'apprentice' would have to have a thorough background in navigation. It wouldn't be enough to communicate 'I'm somewhere in front and to the left of you' - it would have to be specific. And I would have to know where his ship was in relation to mine."
"Skills perhaps you have," said Reanyn.
"I don't, but the entire question is academic. The main problem is the distances involved. How far back is that ship, two-hundred thousand miles?"
Reanyn shrugged. "Maybe a little less."
"Let's say it is less. A lot less. One hundred thousand miles. That's still too far."
"What do you mean?" asked Tianna.
"Psionics has its limitations," said Tavras. "Most of the telepathic devotions are line-of-sight only, and that's just out to a distance of a few miles. Mind-to-mind communication can go a little farther, around two thousand miles, but any more than that and contact simply cannot be established between the two telepaths."
Reanyn grunted. "A powerful psionicist could extend that range."
"A few hundred miles, perhaps," said Tavras. "But that doesn't account for the other hundred thousand or so. The point is, no-one is that powerful."
"Then there's no way you could reach that ship?"
Reanyn shook his head. "That's a pity. I was hoping you might at least tell me who they were. I've tried everything to lose the mysterious ship: rapid course changes, quick manuevering, even coming to a full stop and waiting for the ship to approach. Nothing worked. The ship came no closer and got no farther away."
"I thought you said this ship was the fastest in the multiverse," said Tianna.
"Faster and more manueverable in combat, yes. But spelljamming speed is spelljamming speed, no matter what ship you fly," answered Reanyn. "Didn't they teach you anything of spatial physics at the academy?"
Tianna bristled. "I wouldn't worry," she said. "We'll be out of the sphere soon. It can't track us through the Flow."
Reanyn was not satisfied. "It shouldn't be able to track us now."