Chapter 66 Hat

        "This is some kind of joke, isn't it? You're wearing an illusion."
        The image in the comsphere smiled. "I can assure you, my dear Ansle, that I am perfectly real." He nodded, frowned. "Oh, now you're disappointed..."
        "I'd been led to believe that you were dead - a fact with which I was most comfortable."
        "Dead? Me?" Giqus laughed. "I shall outlive you, Chancellor, be certain of that."
        "Where are you?"
        He shook his head, still smiling. "Come now, Ansle, have you really learned nothing these past ten years? Any experienced statesman at least makes some attempt to veil his intentions, it's so unbecoming otherwise. Thoughts of revenge can tarry a moment, I'll tell you my whereabouts soon enough."
        Ansle glared at him. "The same old, old Giqus - trying to promote your own intellect above that of those more intelligent than yourself."
        "Well at least you accept that I'm me now..."
        "How did you fake your death?"
        "As far as I'm aware, I didn't: nobody present when I enacted my disappearance would have seriously believed that it killed me."
        "You have an invisibility spell?"
        A snort. "I teleported, ten paces backwards."
        Ansle paused, thought. "Porett's Trans/Disc work came out of your research..." He raised his chin, knuckled the beard's-edge stubble where his Permazip razor hadn't reached, slowly sneered. "He uses a chain of small teleportative links, but you've discovered how to cast them individually."
        "Something like that, although how Porett employs his design skills is not my immediate concern; later, perhaps."
        Ansle narrowed his eyes. "Yes, Giqus, why exactly are you contacting me? It must be important if it warrants your showing yourself again."
        "And so it is. I have grand designs, Ansle, but time is against me. Ultimately, I had to flee Elbienau because I made the mistake of prematurely showing your daughter a certain gesturing skill I've developed; I've since realised, however, that I'm not the only person to have revealed too much too early. How did Conny and her friend kill the Messenger? What significance has Elet in their plans? And is there a connection between either of these questions and this rather stupendous collection of magical miscellanea which recently fell into my possession?"
        "What miscellanea would that be?" He shuffled in his seat. "And I ask again: where are you?"
        "I'm deep in the wilderness, among my worshippers. Oh, I learned well from the Messenger, how to be a god, how to design a religion; I've had my contingency plan in place for some years. The people here are primitives, superstitious of what they don't understand; as such, they are easily impressed - even simple spells are miracles to them. They've never seen or heard of magic before, which makes it all the more surprising when a baggage train stuffed with all manner of artefacts crosses their land."
        Ansle was frowning, about to speak when he stopped, smirked. "I'm not falling for that, Giqus. You've lived among the Messenger's gullibles for too long..."
        "So you know nothing of the train?"
        "I know that no such train ever existed."
        "And if I told you I'd captured it; that wouldn't interest you?"
        "How could it? You're inventing all this! Where are your prisoners?"
        "Ah, yes, well one of the problems of being a god is that the newly-converted tend to be, shall we say, `enthusiastic'. Even though the leader was known to them of yore, my minions ensured that there were no survivors."
        "How utterly convenient."
        Giqus sighed. "Before making this call, I long considered what information I should impart to you and what I should not. To find out whether you were appraised of the magic-smuggling expedition, I determined that I had to tell you the truth of how it came to my attention. I knew you'd freely admit it was nothing to do with you if indeed it wasn't, but if it had figured in your plans then before answering my subsequent questions you'd have needed convincing that I wasn't acting simply on second-whispered information. As you are plainly quite uninformed, it seems my honesty was wasted."
        "Ha! So you were lying!"
        "Believe what you will... That is not, however, the only reason I decided to break my silence."
        "Ah, yes: you purposefully mentioned earlier that you needed `time'."
        "Time, yes, to think and to act, to grow strong. Five years from now, I could be - oh, no matter. Suffice to say that what I am about to tell you will result in my remaining unmolested for a sufficient period, and will make my task thereafter considerably easier."
        "Then I won't listen. Goodbye!" He reached to tap out.
        "It concerns you personally."
        Ansle's hand was poised above the comsphere. "I should warn you that we're probably being listened in on."
        "I'm not calling through the exchange... Oh, it's of no consequence: what I have to say is common knowledge anyway."
        "Common knowledge? But - "
        "Look: on the whole, Ansle, you're stupid, aren't you?"
        "Stupid?" Spluttered.
        "You're educated, and ambitious, I'll grant that, but you don't have the brains necessary for survival at the top."
        "I've lasted longer than you did."
        "You're an easily-manipulated egotist, so far out of your depth it's a matter of some wonder that your stupidity extends to not recognising your situation. The real battle in my day was always between myself and Justan; you were simply the convenient idiot he installed to keep the Academy in its place while he stripped it of its power. You're laughable, yet - or perhaps because - you think you're one of the most influential people in the country. How people must mock!"
        "I don't have to sit here and take -"
        "Your wife, now, there was a smart woman. Why do you think she got into the state she did? She knew you were an ersatz husk too arrogantly pompous to realise it, knew she had to live the rest of her life with a never-was failure."
        "So why didn't she say so, then? She had innumerable opportunities!"
        "Because she also knew that if you ever found out the truth it would be the end of you as far as Justan was concerned, and therefore that her station would lower even further than it did upon her marriage to you."
        Ansle's face was red, the veins at his temples pounding. "I don't know what you're hoping to achieve with these insults, old man, but I warn you - "
        "No, Ansle, I warn you!" He was scowling. "Don't do whatever it is that Justan is waiting for you to do - organise a coup, I should imagine - but do keep up the appearance that you will eventually do it. As long as you might serve his purpose - but not once you have - you'll live."
        "Do you know what he has in mind for me?"
        "I know what I'd do in his position..."
        "Quite the prophet aren't you, Giqus?"
        "I like to th- "
        Ansle tapped him out mid-sentence.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif66.htm