Team, 83

Late Nights Are Great for Both Work and Play

Ao3 Link

“You want to play that on the west side of the board,” Cal said, leaning against Joey.

“Why do I want to do that?”

“Because it protects against traps, which Ray likes to use, and he’s about to start moving there, see?”

Joey nodded, playing a card. “Okay.”

“Probably you’re going to want to use your next turn on fortifications so you don’t get overrun.”

“I was thinking I should attack in the north.”

“You should,” Cal agreed with a smile. “But you need to make sure you’re not leaving your ass open to attack while that’s happening.”

Joey giggled. “Right.”

Beside them, Ray was sitting in Wes’s lap, quietly conferring with Wes about his own cards, while Mick and Travis were watching. Cal, Mick and Wes were teaching these three to play a Kyainese strategy game called Conquer, which pretty much meant that Cal, Mick and Wes were playing the game and just getting someone to hold their cards for them. All three of them were picking it up pretty quickly, though. The others all knew how to play, and Cal had bought an expanded version of the game in a market today so that once everyone knew the rules, all nine of them could play together.

Cal was trying to read Wes’s lips to see what he was saying to Ray—cheating being an important part of winning—when a knock came at the open door of the sitting room they were using. Gavin had so many fucking sitting rooms, Cal figured someone should use them for sitting sometimes. At least the ones here had more variety of furniture than the house in Pelican Bay did, probably because Gavin hadn’t picked it out. He looked up, saw Ian standing there. “Something wrong?”

Ian shook his head, came inside. “Sorry to bother you. There’s someone here to see you, sir.”

“Me?” Cal asked, sitting straighter. “Who is it?”

“One Lady Helena Quate,” said Ian. “She’s waiting just down the hall.”

Why did some noble lady want to see Cal? Well, he could make a few educated guesses, but it was better just to ask her. He stood up, patting Joey’s shoulder. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Remember not to just react to what Travis does. If you ignore Ray he’ll kill your dragons.”

Joey’s entire strategy playing the game was, predictably, to get as many dragons as he could and then kill everything with them. It was surprisingly effective. He nodded. “Do you need someone to go with you?”

“Wes will go with him,” said Mick, nodding at him.

Cal could have protested, but why? Wes nodded and got up, setting Ray down on his chair. “Remember that you have the river here,” he told Ray. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Ray nodded, looking from Wes to Cal instead of at his cards. “What’s going on?”

“They’ll tell us when they come back,” Mick promised. “It’s still your turn.”

“Here,” said Beatrice. She and Lillian had been playing cards over on the other table, but she came over and sat in Ray’s chair with him. “I’ll be Wes until he gets back. What’ve you got going on here?”

Lillian sat with Joey, and Cal smiled at them. Sully was at the Citadel, but he’d promised to be back tonight. He’d begged for a pretty solid beating last night, worse even than the one Travis’s knights were headed toward, so he’d probably just want a quiet night in when he got back. There might be time to get that big game in tonight if these three finished early enough.

But for now, Cal went out into the hallway with Ian and Wes. “I thought you were the steward of Gavin’s house in Pelican Bay,” Cal said. “Why are you here?”

“Turns out the prince didn’t have a full-time steward here,” said Ian with a shrug. “And the houses are connected anyway. He said he’ll also have me be the steward for his house in the country once it’s warm enough to open it up again.”

“That’s not too much work for you?” Cal asked. “Sounds like a lot.”

“It’s not uncommon for the job description to change substantially once some competence is shown. And a house mostly runs itself if you hire competent staff,” Ian told Cal.

“Then why are you answering the door instead of letting the butler do it?” asked Wes.

“Marco’s in the kitchen getting tea for Lady Quate. There’s no reason to be rigid about roles so that everything takes longer than it should. She’s just in here.”

“Thanks,” Cal said, opening the door of the smaller room—it was also a himdamned sitting room—where a pale lady with long black hair sat on a sofa in a white and black striped dress. “Hello, Lady Quate,” said Cal. “You were looking for me, I think?”

Lady Helena Quate nodded, giving a cool smile. Not mean, just businesslike. “I was. Apologies for bothering you so late at night, Calvin.”

“It’s Cal, and it’s fine.” Cal sat opposite her, and Wes took a chair off a little bit. “This is Wes, one of my partners. What can we do for you?”

“You can work for me.”

Oh. Cal had expected that she was going to try and get gossip about Gavin and what he’d been up to, maybe one of his political enemies or something. This was a lot more straightforward than he’d expected. “I’m afraid I already have an employer,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the house.

“I’m aware. I don’t want to steal you from the prince and of course we’ll clear this with him if you agree. But I have something I’d like found and I hear your team is the best.”

Presumably she’d heard that from Gavin, Cal thought. That was nice of him. “You hear correctly. What do you need found?”

“The Map of Amker,” said Lady Quate, reaching into her coat.

Cal frowned. “The Map of Amker is in the academy’s Vault. It’s been there for a few hundred years.”

“No, it hasn’t,” said Lady Quate. She handed Cal a folded piece of paper. “I have a friend who’s faculty there. According to him, the Map that the academy has is a forgery.”

The paper was a letter, which was written in shorthand and indeed said exactly that. Demonstrable magical potential but no power reaching the heights attributed to the true Map of Amker, Cal skimmed. Handing this to him was a test, to make sure he was competent at what he did, Cal thought. Otherwise she’d have translated it out of the shorthand for him. He should have read it aloud to make clear that he’d understood it, but that was a stupid game and he didn’t want to play it. She’d obviously heard about him from somewhere, and somewhere wasn’t Gavin, who Cal didn’t think would have given her his full name. Which meant she already had information on him and knew he was good. So he read quietly, because it was faster. Has the ability to reveal a limited area, but a simple tracking spell could do this. Not useless by any means, but in no way the fabled artefact. “Huh. Okay then.”

The Map of Amker was supposed to be a map of the whole of creation that had been stolen from the Gated Land when humans had left it at the dawn of time. More likely it dated to the period just after the Catechism Wars, based on historical sources Cal had read. Its exact abilities were unclear but it was supposed to be capable of showing detailed maps of any place in the world, including how many people were in them.

“The reason I looked into this,” said Lady Quate, “is because of this.” She handed Cal another paper, this one smaller. “An Enjoni trader claims that a soothsayer up north has what he’s calling a Map of Everywhere.”

“Traders tell stories,” Cal said. He didn’t like this.

“This one has been corroborated by several people I trust,” said Lady Quate. “At the very least it needs to be looked into, because I’m not the only one who’s heard the story.”

Fuck. “And if it is the Map of Amker, we don’t want the Imperials getting their hands on it.” Aergyre had a huge presence in Enjon, and if they got a map that told them where everything and everyone in the world was, that would really help their efforts to take over the whole damn world.

“Exactly. If it isn’t the Map, that’s fine. But if it is, we need to keep it away from the empire.”

Thinking of Elias Aerchon in his jail cell, Cal nodded. “Okay. Tomorrow I’ll talk to Gavin and make sure he’s okay with it, but he will be. And then we’ll talk about how much you’re going to pay us.”

Lady Quate raised an eyebrow. “Did I not just explain that the fate of our civilization may hang in the balance?”

“Excuse my vulgarity, but get in fucking line, Lady Quate. This is the fourth thing I’m dealing with this week alone where the fate of our civilization hangs in the balance. When we save civilization I’m still going to need to buy clothes and food and eventually the prince won’t want me to live in his house. I can’t keep being expected to save the human race on a stipend of heartfelt gratitude.”

Wes snorted in the chair, hiding his laugh behind his hand, but badly. Lady Quate smiled, though, giving a nod. “Of course. Obviously I didn’t expect not to compensate you. I’m just used to working with people who are less straightforward, that’s all.”

“I don’t have time not to be straightforward. I’ll speak with Gavin tomorrow and we’ll figure it out.”

“Very well,” said Lady Quate, standing. “In that case, I will come see you again in two days and we’ll sort out the financial details. I’ll attempt to find out more in the meantime.”

“Don’t worry,” Cal said. “That’s my job. Can I keep these letters?”

“Of course. Thank you for your time.”

“Goodnight, Lady Quate,” Cal said. He walked her to the door, where Ian was waiting to walk her out. Just then arrived someone who must be Marco, with a tray of tea and cookies. He really was going to have to work on his speed, wow. “Could you take those to the room down there?” Cal asked, just so the food didn’t go to waste.

Marco nodded, looking a bit lost, and Wes came over and put an arm around Cal’s waist. “Been a while since I’ve seen you do that,” he said.

“Tell someone to give me food?”

“You know what I mean.”

Cal did. He smiled. “It was nice. It’ll be nice to work again, even if it has to be some stupid quest to save Dolovai—again. Why does this keep happening to us?”

“You are literally God.”

“That’s stupid. We shouldn’t have to keep doing this. Remember the time with the torch that put the sun out?” Cal rolled his eyes. “And the fucking door that made earthquakes? Who comes up with this shit?” He sighed. “Anyway, we’ll talk to Gavin tomorrow afternoon.”

Wes chuckled, walking Cal out of the room. “Not urgent enough to talk to him tomorrow morning, huh?”

“He’ll be asleep. He’s going to be up all night, it’s the full moon.”

“Right,” Wes said. “So…we could just go talk to him now.”

“Yeah, but right now Joey’s kicking Ray’s ass in Conquer and I plan to make sure that goes as planned,” Cal told him.

“Please, his strategy has the level of thought in it that you put into combing your hair in the mornings.”

Cal grinned. “What, does daddy want to cut my hair?”

“Maybe. But first, Ray’s going to eat Joey for dinner.”

“Even if that had been true before, Beatrice has had a lot of time to fuck him over, and I bet she sucks at it.”

“Sucks at the game or sucks at fucking him over?”

“Sucks generally,” Cal decided. “Let’s go tell them all what happened and then we’ll hang out before we have to start work again tomorrow. I’ve never actually been to Enjon. How fast do you think I could learn the rest of Nathnjek? It only took me a few minutes to learn how to tell someone to go fuck a dog.”

“That’s probably all you need to know.”

Cal nodded his agreement, and they went back to the game. Travis ended up winning by pretending to cheat with his cards so nobody noticed he was out-strategizing them, and then Sully came back and they all played together, staying up half the night, having more fun than Cal had ever had.

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6 thoughts on “Team, 83

  1. Huh. For all that they’re relatively common in fantasy themed RPGs (not to mention ubiquitous in the modern day IRL), it’s easy to forget that in actual medieval fantasy, a perfectly accurate world map is an overwhelming advantage that wars might well be fought over.

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    1. It is! We really take accurate maps for granted in the modern world (not that our maps are totally accurate anyway), so it’s hard to forget that a map that is 100% accurate is absolutely something that wars would be fought over in a world where they weren’t something that exists. I think it should be a really fun concept to dig into!

      Thanks!

      Like

  2. Is there more to the Map of Amker, or is it just a Marauder’s Map for the entire planet? (“Just”, they say. As if that wouldn’t make it unfathomably powerful and absolutely priceless on its own.)

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    1. Yes, as if that weren’t enough for it to be a huge deal on its own. 😀 No comment on exactly what the Map of Amker is, but it does, at least according to people who have studied it, have basically the properties of something like the Marauder’s Map. 😀

      Thanks!

      Like

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