Jack Campbell: The Hidden Masters of Marandur

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Jack Campbell The Hidden Masters of Marandur
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The Hidden Masters of Marandur

by Jack Campbell

To my daughter Carolyn

For S, as always


I am indebted to my agent, Joshua Bilmes, and to Steve Mancino and Eddie Schneider, for their relentless championing of this series and their ever-inspired suggestions and assistance, and to the rest of Jabberwocky (notably Lisa Rodgers and Krystyna Lopez) for their tireless labors, and to editor Betsy Mitchell for her enthusiasm and editing. Thanks also to Catherine Asaro, Robert Chase, Carolyn Ives Gilman, J.G. (Huck) Huckenpohler, Simcha Kuritzky, Michael LaViolette, Aly Parsons, Bud Sparhawk and Constance A. Warner for their suggestions, comments and recommendations as Dragons took the long path from draft to reality.

Chapter One

Her pursuers had not shown their faces today. Instead, shadows stalked Master Mechanic Mari of Caer Lyn through the streets of Edinton. “I didn’t see any Mages on the walk here,” Mari said.

Her companion furrowed his brow in thought. Mechanic Abad of Highgate was a stolid, unimaginative sort. He had doubtless never questioned his own loyalty to the Mechanics Guild, and he had been assigned repeatedly to go out on contracts with her. Some might call him Mari’s coworker, some might call him Mari’s safeguard, but she knew that Abad was also a spy for the Senior Mechanics here at Edinton. Every Mechanic submitted a routine report after completing a job, but Mari knew that Abad was also providing her superiors in the Mechanics Guild with updates on everything she said and did.

Fortunately for Mari, loyalty to the Mechanics Guild also meant that Abad was even more suspicious of Mages than he might be of her. “There’s always a Mage,” he muttered, looking around carefully. “There’s always one watching when we go out, following us.” His eyes went to Mari. “Watching you. They don’t hang around when I go out with other Mechanics.”

Mari nodded. She couldn’t very well explain all of the reasons for that. Not to Abad, and not to any other Mechanic. “Then you know I’m not exaggerating,” Mari said. “Ever since I had a run-in with the Mage Guild back at Dorcastle they’ve been watching me.”

“The Senior Mechanics don’t believe you,” Mechanic Abad said. “Even though I told them in my, uh, contract reports that the Mages were always hanging around when you were out. But I don't see any today. Do you think they’ve given up?”

“Mages? Who knows how they think?” She kept her words properly disdainful. Even though she was only eighteen years old, the youngest Master Mechanic in the history of the Guild, Mari probably knew more about how Mages thought than any other Mechanic did. She knew enough not to be truly scornful of Mages. The Senior Mechanics suspected that, which was one reason why Abad was watching her, and one reason why she had been sent to the place nicknamed “End-of-the-World Edinton.”

Mari knew enough to be worried about Mages she couldn’t see.

Abad snorted in derision. “Mages? Think? Let’s get this done and get back to the Guild Hall.”

Together they walked up the broad steps leading into the city hall, the dark Mechanics jackets they wore standing out amid the brighter clothes of the common folk entering and leaving the building, common folk who hastily made way for the two Mechanics. The commons bowed respectfully to the Mechanics’ faces, but Mari knew that if she turned fast enough to look behind her she would see expressions that held hostility rather than respect. The Mechanics Guild and the Mage Guild hated each other, but they were masters of the world of Dematr, and therefore the commons hated both of the Great Guilds equally.

The stone steps, grooved from centuries of foot traffic, had been here for a very long time. Mari kept her eyes on those worn steps as she climbed them, thinking about her Guild, which worked so hard to keep anything from changing in the world it controlled. And about the chaos to the south of here, in the land once known as Tiae, where all order had collapsed over a decade ago despite the efforts of the Mechanics Guild. Here, in the southernmost city of the Bakre Confederation, fear of similar anarchy helped keep the commons of Edinton in line.

At the entrance to the city hall two guards stood, wearing armor and weaponry that were, at least for common folk, state-of-the-art. Their freshly polished chain-mail armor gleamed in the sun, short-swords hung by their sides ready for use, and crossbows nestled in the guards’ arms.

Mari kept her gaze impassive as she met their eyes, but one of her hands strayed under her jacket, closing about the semi-automatic pistol holstered under her arm. She hadn’t met any commons in the Confederation who posed the kind of threat those in Ringhmon had, but the memories of her kidnapping and imprisonment there still jumped to the fore whenever she encountered armed commons. Few could afford the expensive and rare Mechanic weapons like Mari’s pistol, but either a sword or a crossbow bolt could be just as deadly as a bullet if it struck home.

“Contract,” Abad said to the guards, his tone arrogant in the normal way of Mechanic to common. “Calculating and Analysis Device.”

The guards saluted, their faces almost as expressionless as those of Mages, then the female guard gestured to her companion. “Escort the honored Mechanics to the city leaders,” she said.

Mari could almost hear the resentment buried beneath her outwardly deferential tone of voice. Alain would have heard it clearly, she thought, then winced inwardly. Don’t think about him. Never think about him. That’s the only way to protect him.

The city leaders presented smiling greetings, the polished skills of politicians enabling them to seem perfectly sincere in their welcome as they led Mari and Abad to the room holding the Calculating and Analysis Device. Most of the city hall was lit by oil lamps whose wavering light provided adequate illumination, but in the room holding the CAD two electric light fixtures provided a steady glow. Mari gave the lights a glance, thinking of the other electric light fixtures they had passed in this building, all old and non-operative. The electrical current provided by the Mechanics Guild was as expensive as everything else the Mechanics sold, as were the individually handcrafted light bulbs. At some point in the past, Edinton had been forced to cut expenses.

But even a city strapped for cash had need of the number-crunching and data storage a CAD could provide. Nothing smaller than a city could afford one, though. There were only two CADs in the city of Edinton, this one leased by the city and the other within the Mechanics Guild Hall itself. “What’s the exact problem?” Mari asked.

“It will not function,” one of the city leaders said.

Abad smirked as Mari fought to avoid rolling her eyes at the vague description. Even the smartest common was banned by the Mechanics Guild from learning anything about Guild technology, so she really shouldn’t blame the man for his ignorance. Going to the control panel, she typed in the commands to run a simple functionality test. Instead of lights blinking in response and a punched tape emitting with the results, nothing happened. “Yeah. It’s not functioning,” Mari agreed.

Abad watched her, frowning again, this time in concentration. “Can you fix a dead CAD?”

“If I can’t fix this, no one else in the Confederation can,” Mari replied.

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