Chapter 74. Threats And Promises
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The talks continue for quite a while after that. A LOT of detail about who and how and where and why. Dad and van der Klaas are asked to weigh in, then Rory is put to questioning by a combo of Alphonse and Klaus about the exact products dwarves would consider selling. Thankfully, the details themselves are not explosive. Nothing on the level of Klaus showing up, at least. Speaking of whom... I bugged the palace. Like, entirely. I want to know every last little thing Klaus does. To the best of my covert detection, he is the real deal and genetically equivalent to the version I chopped back in Champagne. Which means that he's either a regenerator and I done goofed by letting Hiram take his head back, or that there's even vonkier shit going on with him. Next time I kill him, I'm going to destroy the brain entirely and see if that affects the situation.

So... as much as I'd like to fly out to the Ashenvale and survey the.... Actually, fuck that. I'm totally going to fly out and survey the situation there. No need to let Klaus or anyone else know what I actually do for surveillance. I'll show up there later, poke around, make thoughtful faces and ambiguous sounds and let them figure out how that worked. A little later, though. I can't be arsed to do things covertly right now, I'll just split and send off a chunk I slated for observation and analysis as a post pigeon once I'm back to my rooms. I have to handle today's portion of mail anyhow, there should be a backlog actually. Annoying, but necessary. I generally handle things in situ, but certain documents have to be "sent" in for personal signature. Most importantly, purchase orders. The joys of controlling multiple businesses in pre-industrialized society.

As the meeting wraps up, I beg off the "entertainment" afterwards, citing tiredness, which garners me a bit of concerned clucking from every man involved and many wishes for me to "take care of yourself" and "rest well". Given that entertainment looks to be a bunch of bards, I think I got the better part of deal. Long-winded ballads are not exactly my choice entertainment, even if I have to admit the musical tastes in this reality fare better then the contemporary options in my original world. I've heard some bardic recreations on renfaires, and... yeah, well. I'd assume it's just recreators being shit singers, but the problem is less in singing and more in the fact pre-renaissance bards had no fucking sense of verse and ballads are really more of a story told along with lute strumming, without much care given to match the words and the tune. Around here, at least, poetry had flourished uninterrupted, so the songs are actually songs for the most part.

Back in my room, Bridgit has a complicated expression... And there is a portal hovering above my table, pouring sand into a bowl. Oh. Huh. That's more then a little curious.

"Oh, mistress, just in time." - she tells me - "Roxolane had figured out the easiest of the magic gates. She says this is stable but doesn't allow to throughput anything complicated. Only pure substances."

I stick a finger into the sand. Huh, that's pure quartz, crushed into sand. They probably raided the alchemy lab for this. Bridgit hands me the copperphone helpfully. "Roxy, good job." - I speak into receiver immediately - "I'm getting pure quartz sand here. Is that what you put through?"

"Yes!" - she yelps back, clearly excited - "Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods, it WORKS, it works, yes! And best of all, it is not me!"

"Not... you? Oh, you managed to make it into enchantment? Doubly good, then. What's the power source?" - I ask, as the sand tapers off.

"A pot of petunias! Pour it back please, I'm sure it should be two-way, but testing will tell for certain." - she exclaims, and I hear clatter on the other side. Probably putting a bowl. I scoop a handful of sand and let it trickle into the portal, figuring out it's dimensions. It looks like a flat surface perpendicular to the gravity vector three pouse in diameter. This will improve logistics ridiculously for raw stuff. A gesture, and the remaining sand clumps up above the portal, pouring into it through a telekinetic funnel.

"Yes yes yes yesss!" - Roxy exults on the other end of the line. This... requires a bit of encouragement. I have previously arranged with the girls to keep my instance over at the academy "asleep" most of the day, with them telling people I'm feeling under weather if asked, but for this... I wake it up, come up behind Roxy and hug her.

"You're a genius, dear." - I whisper into her ear. Moon Unit is right next to her, and both are grinning from ear to ear.

"Alyssa! MM..." - she offers, snuggling back to me - "I did it! The theory was right, it's possible to move stuff around with minimal mana expenditure!.... But, it becomes an order of magnitude more expensive with each added ingredient. I tried putting through regular sand and we couldn't power it together."

"Well, you could always poke me, you know." - I tell her.

"Yes, but... I wanted to achieve this on my own." - she pouts - "And I did!"

"You certainly did, Roxy. This is magnificent." - I agree, as I draw Moon Unit into a hug as well. Bridgit pops over and joins in the hug a moment after. "Wait, where's Lily-Anne?" - I ask after a few moments.

"Oh, she's with Newspaper Gals. They're figuring out the best way to dole out the articles on your airship." - Moon Unit offers jovially - "It's been wild here last few days, everyone wants to know how it was to fly." She pauses, then offers in lower voice - "And some girls have been harassing Selene over it."

"What, why?" - it's a legit question. The hell they're harassing Selene for?

"Well, some of the highborn are complaining she took "their spot" on the airship. Ridiculous, but..." - Moon Unit explains.

"Idiots. Well, keep an eye on her. Selene is kinda stubborn, but if someone goes too far, poke me so I could, ahem... settle the question, so to speak." - I reply, grinning viciously. This is beyond stupid, really. Selene had been invited because she's my friend, simple as that. And they're not. In fact, I did notice some of the highborn trying to give me cold shoulder. Of course, it doesn't work on me, I have nothing I want on them and was perfectly content to ignore them right back. "Wait. Did any of them harass you over it?" - I ask, and Moon Unit and Roxy both look away at that. Damn. "Right. Names?" - I ask tightly - "Don't think of this as 'giving me trouble', by the way. If anything, I will have more trouble if I end up appearing like I'm indifferent to people harassing me and mine."

"...Mainly Elaine de Braltar." - Moon Unit offers after a lengthy pause - "She's most vocal about how we're 'above our station'."

"There's also Vincent Gramme. He keeps insisting we're all 'available', whatever it is supposed to mean to him." - Roxy adds with a shudder.

"Girls. I expect any further harassment to be promptly reported." - I upbraid them gently - "You're not doing me any favors by grinning and bearing it."

Leaving them in awkward silence, I step out to settle things.

___

Let's see. Vincent Gramme... son of viscount. Generally speaking, not an opponent I should be worried about, but his insistence that MY girls are 'available'? That makes my non-existent blood boil. So I seek him out first. And I'm lucky with that, because I see him departing from some girls in the garden just ahead. So I simply wait behind the door, and as soon as he makes in, I grab him by the lapels and yank him into empty classroom. And, just so there are no doubts that kind of talk this is going to be, I sock him in the solar plexus right after, wait for him to bend and start coughing, then yank his head up by the hair.

"Vinnie. I'm gonna be blunt - stay the fuck away from my harem. They're spoken for, which means 'not fucking available', and I will not hesitate to beat the shit out of you, on or off piste. Understood?" - perhaps this is a little harsh, but given what I know of the boys interaction, this is not far off from how it would be handled, if I were a boy.

"Gah!" - is his eloquent response, and I add a second punch the moment he starts to unbend.

"Ah-ah-ah. The proper answer is "Yes, milady, it will not happen again.". Now, repeat." - I tell him.

"...Haaah! What... why.... let me go you... ugh!" - ok, a little more percussive therapy. In the soft spots and carefully measured, I do not want him to sport any visible bruises. Yet, at least. One from the left into liver, then once he bends that way, another under the ribs from the right and a finishing knee to the solar plexus yet again. He bends over hard, retching.

"Vinnie, I'm not hearing the response. Do we have a fucking understanding, or am I going to have to beat you until your innards give out? Because if you prefer death, just say the word." - I push at him, and he looks up fearfully.

"Ah...ah, ah... haaah... No, please, milady, I understood perfectly!" - he manages, swallowing hard - "You made your claim very clear!"

I pat his cheek. "Good boy. Keep your wits about you and this might be the only conversation of that sort we'll ever have." - I tell him, departing. From what I know, this would be sufficient to cow him, and his example would keep the other boys in line. Now to handle girls... Hm. I can't actually beat Elaine's face in as well, no matter how satisfying it would be. Well, I can, but that would involve declaring a blood feud, and I'm not ready to exterminate de Braltars. Duke de Braltar is actually one of the competent guys at the court, and Abe will not think of me fondly if I end his line. Unfortunately, he raised very spoiled daughter. So... instead of visiting her first, I return to my rooms and find out that letter I located in the library. It's penned by de Braltar's dad, and if I present it to Abe, he will pretty much have to execute the duke. Current law is that "conspiring to high treason is death", even if that conspiring fizzled out and didn't come to anything at all. A moment with Moon Unit's copier, and I depart for de Braltar mansion, a copy of letter in hand.

___

Getting a meeting with duke is surprisingly easy. He seems to be quite excited to see me either. I wonder why. His smile freezes and curdles, however, when I hand him the letter and he reads it.

"...Lady Gillespie, how did you end up coming by that missive?" - he finally asks, having gone pale after finishing the read-through.

"I've found it snuck away into one of the less perused books in the Academy library." - I explain - "I've been inclined to keep this a secret, but your daughter seems to be very intent on making an enemy of me."

He stills, then facepalms. "...Elaine, gods damn it." - he then grouses - "...My sincere apologies, lady Gillespie, that is probably my fault."

"How so?" - I ask. This gotta be good.

"I have asked of her to befriend you." - he offers ruefully - "I imagine she went about it... in overly high-handed fashion, in spite of my remonstrations not to?"

"Not even that." - I object - "Her friendly overtures, if they can be called such, consist of harassing my retainers about being above their station. Apparently, she believes she was entitled to an invitation to my airship. Which, well... If she was actually on friendly terms with me to begin with would have been furnished. Instead, she somehow seems to think my girls had "taken her spot", so to say."

He facepalms again. "...I'm very sorry about this." - he then offers - "I will notify her most promptly to cease and desist. Gods above, where did I go wrong with that girl?"

He is being rhetoric, but... "If I were to guess, the untimely departure of your wife had caused you to dote on your daughter to the exclusion of everything else." - I tell him - "It's pretty common for a single parent to spoil their only child."

He shakes his head. "I.. can't dispute that." - he agrees - "Please understand me right, lady Gillespie. I loved Madeline with all my heart, and Elaine is all that I have of her still."

"That's understandable, yes. You seem to be a rational man, your grace. If you can impress upon your daughter that disparaging me and mine is not the way to befriend me, I will keep the existence of this letter a secret." - I offer to him.

"But if Elaine continues to be foolhardy, you can end our house at any moment, for as long as king Abraham reigns.." - he continues my thought for me.

"I very much hope it is not something I will have to do, your grace. In fact, I would very much like if we could all be on friendly terms. I imagine you had something specific in mind when you asked your daughter to establish closer ties with me?" - I ask. Generally speaking, I wouldn't mind making some business deals with the guy, he has pretty good head on his shoulders and won't waste my or his time. The question is, however, what is his offer and how it would profit me.

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