Thadwick had been in the constant company of Mercer family bronze-rankers since having the star seed purged out of him. They stood watch as he slept for days in recovery, then they stood by his room at his parents' 'suggestion' that he stay put and focus on getting better.
Although his rooms in the Mercer family home were the opposite of prison-like, he chafed at the confinement. His sister had visited, only to be chased-off by screamed accusations of whoring herself out to outworlder trash. His father would not tolerate such tantrums and had not been back since teaching that lesson with the back of his hand. His mother was more gentle but no less unyielding. She probed him with incessant questions until he told her to leave him to rest.
Thadwick's memories of his time with a star seed were hazy. His last clear thoughts were of being taken in the astral space and knocked out. From there it was only disconnected flashes; fleeting moments without context or comprehension. Clarity only came when he woke up out of recovery, the star seed removed.
His mother had told him that the others had experienced much the same. She wanted to know everything he could remember, everything he could piece together. She was meant to be his mother but instead giving him the things he wanted she pestered him again and again with questions. In the end, she was just one more person who only wanted something from him. Like everyone else, she was blinded by whatever strange methods Asano was using to make everyone love him.
She was so enamoured of that filthy, interdimensional bastard. She had made no secret of her plans to match him with Cassandra. At least the family had put an end to that sordid idea. The thought of his beautiful, capable sister being wasted on such a vile creature filled him with anger.
Everything had started going wrong the moment Asano appeared. Showing him up in front of everyone at the field assessment gathering. Winning over the Gellers, the out-of-town big shots and even Thadwick's own mother. She once even had the gall to say that he could stand to be more like Asano.
Every step of the way, Asano was plotting to bring himself up by putting Thadwick down. He wormed his way into Cassandra’s affections, just to rile him up. How long had Asano worked to uncover Thadwick’s brilliant plan to show his father that he was ready to step up in running family affairs? Asano must have been looking for some way to undermine him from the moment he arrived in the city to figure it out.
Every since Asano’s arrival in the city, Thadwick had been feeling increasingly powerless. The sheer magnitude of Asano’s plotting was mind-boggling, and Thadwick was the only one smart enough to see through it. The only time he had felt powerful in months was in a handful of moments he didn’t understand. The memories were scattered, but one thing had been present in all of them: an incredible sense of power.
His memories included a few faces and places he recognised. Scraps of conversation he hadn’t told his mother when she was questioning him. He had a better use for those snatches of memory: he wanted that feeling of power back.
He got up and stripped out of the bedclothes he had been wearing throughout his confinement. He picked out some street clothes, yanked them on and marched out the door.
“Young master Mercer,” one of the bronze-rankers said as Thadwick strode past.
“Your mother told us it would be best if you stayed in your rooms to rest,” the other said.
“I’ve rested enough,” Thadwick said, not stopping. One of the two followed him, the other going off in the other direction. As Thadwick reached the ground level and was just leaving the tower, his mother teleported in front of him, along with the guard that had gone to fetch her.
“Thadwick, dear,” she said. Her sincerity might fool others but he saw right through it.
“I’m going out, mother. I’ve been cooped up long enough.”
“I don’t think that would be best,” she said.
“Am I a prisoner in my own home?” he asked.
“Of course not, dear.”
“Then I’m going out,” he said firmly.
“Very well,” she said, having no way around his masculine confidence. “With so many out of the city things should be quiet, so now may b the best time. But Geoffrey and Kyle will be going with you.”
“Who?” Thadwick asked.
Thalia gestured to the guards that had been stationed on Thadwick’s room for weeks, the one that had followed him and the one that had fetched her.
“I need them with you,” she said. “To keep you safe.”
“Fine,” Thadwick said. He didn’t care what they would suffer where he was going.
Almost two hours later, Thadwick and his escorts were walking through the streets of Old City. Close to the fortress ruled by the Big Three, many establishments were offering the kind of very specific services only the wealthy could afford.
“I don’t think this is where your mother would like you to be, young master Mercer,” one of his guards said.
“You aren’t paid to think, Geoffrey.”
“I’m Kyle, young master.”
“I don’t care.”
Thadwick took a familiar path down some stairs to an unmarked basement shopfront. A slat opened up, the eyes behind it taking in Thadwick and his guards.
“You know better than to bring people wearing house colours here,” a voice came from behind the door. Thadwick’s guards were indeed clad in the uniform of the Mercer household.
“Take it up with my mother,” Thadwick said. “You don’t have the stones to keep that door closed in my face, so hurry up and open it.”
The eyes glared but moments later the door swung open. Thadwick smirked at the doorman as he went past, his guards trailing behind. After a short hallway was a large, luxurious lounge. There was a long bar and a variety of booths that offered convenient seclusion. The room was adorned with beautiful men and women in provocative clothes; elves and humans, celestines, smoulders and even a few burly male or lithe female leonids.
Thadwick’s guards drew attention but people quickly turned back to their own affairs. Thadwick glanced around and spotted the person he was looking for. An indolent man splayed in a booth with a woman to either side of him.
“Thadwick,” the man greeted him, glancing over the Mercer guards. “I see your mother let you out, so long as you wore your leash.”
“I knew you’d be here, Timos.”
“I take my pleasure where I can find it,” Timos said. “You can hardly blame me for being so good at looking for it.”
“We need to talk.”
“Then, by all means, take a seat.”
“You’ll want this little chat in private, Timos.”
“Oh? Finally learning to explore all the tantalising treats life has to offer, Taddy?”
Thadwick leaned in, grabbing the front of Timos’ clothes and whispering in his ear.
“I’ve been having these very interesting flashes of what I went through, Timos. Some faces I recognised when I was captured during the expedition. If you don’t want to talk about them, I bet my mother will.”
Thadwick stood back up, looking with satisfaction at the Timos’ face, the dismissive sneer wiped right off of it.
“What about your boys, here?” Timos asked.
“I don’t care what happens to them.”
With all the auras, abilities and magic items being used, the ambient magic had become turbid. Clive closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath, sending out a wave of magical stillness that even those without magic perception abilities could feel.
Party member [Clive Standish] has used [Mana Equilibrium].
Ambient magic has entered a harmonious state.
The next spell cast in this area will cost reduced mana, and the harmonious state will be disrupted.
“So handy,” Jason said. “Thank you, Clive.”
Jason quickly enacted the ritual whose circle had been inscribed into the flat top of a large, lacquered board, ideal for marking with inscriptions. After a short chant from Jason, a shimmering bubble appeared around the board. Humphrey reached through the bubble unimpeded, picked it the platform and dropped it onto the water. It didn't strike the water, instead, stopping in the air over the surface. The water was visibly indented by the bubble.
The team all stepped into the bubble, onto the board which remained completely stable. It was a good-sized board, but it was standing room only with the five people on it. They watched as nearby, Beth’s team sailed off on a boat made of condensed water that somehow didn’t get the people in it wet.
“Maybe we should have used a bigger board,” Neil said.
“This as big as we can go before the ritual starts getting costly in materials,” Jason said. He concentrated on the board and it started floating slowly out onto the lake.
“Exactly right,” Clive said. “It may not be fast or big, but it will do what we need.”
They floated out, part of the mass of adventurers. Eventually, they found Rufus standing on the surface of the lake. On his feet were large, garish, blue boots, from which mist was drifting in wisps. He was directing people to descend to the bottom of the lake at that spot. He gave them an encouraging wave but didn't pause his task to speak with them. Jason directed the board to go down, the water enveloping their bubble as they descended into the lake.