The man in the gray silk suit studied the papers carefully for the third time. The gray suit marked him as one of the bankers guild; the fact that it was silk marked him as one of its more influential members. John Anaso was vice‑president of the Free Trade Bank; the most powerful of the banks not directly controlled by an Esaf.
Anaso was young to be a vice-president. The Power Brokers were the smallest of all the guilds, scarcely a dozen members. The average age of its members was well into the seventies. John Anaso was fifty‑four, and (excluding the Esafs of course) he was the third wealthiest person in Salmineria.
When his father, President of the Free Trade Bank, died, it would make John by far the wealthiest free agent on the planet; perhaps on a par with the Esafs themselves.
John read the papers over a fourth time. He was ambitious, brutally ambitious, many of his competitors would say. That trait made him reluctant to reject the loan request out of hand. The terms promised to make him a huge fortune in a short time. He wouldn’t have to wait for the old man to die off; he’d nearly triple his personnel wealth on this. And the bank would double its assets, keeping the other board members content.
As with every investment, the potential profit was balanced by the potential risk. A rather substantial risk that might ruin him and the bank; which was why he was equally reluctant to approve the loan. He was loath to put large amounts of capital at risk, and this loan would demand exactly that. The pot would have to be sweetened or the risk lowered.
“Lord Nexus, your request is all in order. Your project is really most intriguing. But the cost is so high! Surely you could start the project on a smaller scale.”
The white‑haired man pounded a fist upon the large finely polished wood desk, making the papers skitter across the desk. The crow on the wizard’s shoulder flapped its wings. “Of course the cost’s high! The most draining of all the spells are those dealing with inter-dimensional transport. But this one will pay for itself in mere weeks! Weeks! Not years. Imagine, John. A planet with vast, continuous electrical storms! I discovered it, explored it and tested it. But I’ll need power to physically open a gate and to…”
“Establish a fully independent, thousand megawatt power station,” John finished for him. “I’ve seen the write up in your papers. Your plans are logical, well laid out and very persuasive. I like the location, too. Aloria. Conveniently outside the official jurisdiction of either Esaf.”
“What better way to avoid taxes and maximize profits?”
John coughed. “But this station will cost over two million Megs to construct. That’s more than the hydro station over at Retil. It’s even more than Anro cost to build in those damn mountains.”
“Gliss is only a two hundred megawatt plant,” answered the old man, “This will be much larger; the largest plant in all the world, in fact. The extra cost is to be expected.”
“What about the market? I’m not convinced that the economy will support this much added reserve. If demand falls, there is always the threat of military action by one or both of the Esafs. They won’t stand by as their profits fall, especially to an independent.”
“Soldiers are reluctant to enter the Desolation. That natural reluctance can be amplified by magical and physical means. Political as well; I’m sure that the wizard’s guild and the Free Trade Bank could arrange some contractual agreements with both Esafs.”
“Setting up a balance of power, where we control the balance point,” Anaso continued. “Perhaps it would work. But the on‑hand reserves of the bank are only five million Megs. The loan would seriously reduce our ability to deal with short term fluctuations in the economy.”
“What short term fluctuations? The economy has been a stable as a rock for years. No internal or international crises are brewing. And you won’t need to be short for long. You have millions of Ks in callable debts; so call them in! Besides, the Free Trade Bank has a line of credit with Esaf Mileu for a million Megs.”
Anaso looked sharply at Nexus. The old blind face was unreadable, and Anaso knew better than to ask a wizard how he had learned about that line of credit. It was not in the bank’s interest to make such a thing public knowledge, not when the Free Trade Bank touted itself as fully independent from the Esafs. And Nexus damn well knew all that, and was clearly using it as a negotiating chip. Well, John knew a thing or two that would even up the score.
“Nexus, why don’t you simply use the reserves of the Magician’s Guild? As a Lord I’m sure you have certain influence; and you could certainly get your fellow Lords’ support for this. Your Guild has funds well over a million Megs. Use it up first, and a loan of a million more would be much more favorably looked on.”
The wizard leaned forward over the desk, but John’s attention was drawn to the crow. Its eyes were focused directly on his; bright and malignant, they were filled with an intelligence that filled made him shudder. Though not much better, he preferred the white sockets of Nexus’s face and turned away from the bird.
“I will not go to my guild for the same reason that you will not go to the Esaf.” Nexus smiled and his voice dropped to a silky smooth whisper. “The fewer know of this discovery and harness its power, the fewer ways the profits will need to be shared. Wizards seldom grow rich, John. You know that. This power plant will make me a very wealthy man. And as for you, well, the interest payments on my loan and the profit sharing option on the plant output can make you the richest person on the planet; richer even than the Esafs.”
“I’m surprised at you, Nexus. I didn’t think wizards coveted wealth.”
The old wizard shook his head. “I’m old, John. Old and nearly used up. And poor. You know the restrictions wizards have to live under.” Nexus paused and stroked his beard. “I have my retirement to consider.”
John chuckled, then looked at the papers a fifth time, the temptation growing very strong. But the almost genetically ingrained caution of all successful bankers was growing, too. He lifted his head to speak but Nexus spoke first.
“There is another consideration, John.”
“And what is that?”
“As a Lord, I have the power and authority to bestow longevity spells.”
Anaso eyes widened as he stared at the old wizard. “I-I thought such spells were impossible. Merely legends and wishful thinking. The wizard guild had never admitted…”
“Do you think we want the general population to know there is a spell that can restore youth? And that it can be administered over and over?” The old man shook his head. “It would never work. The masses could not afford it, and they would fiercely resent anyone that could; and their hatred would encompass the wizards that could give them the same gift, but refuse to do so for lack of money. We are talking about people’s lives, John. Money doesn’t matter to the plebes when it comes to preserving their paltry lives. They might even revolt in an attempt to force us to give it to them.”
John nodded, unconsciously licking his lips. Eternal youth. Unlimited wealth. Time and power to forge a dynasty. A dynasty. The family Anaso, rivals to the Esafs. Perhaps to forge a new nation and become an Esaf himself. Esafs. A thought suddenly struck him.
“Do the Esafs have access to the rejuvenation spell?”
“Of course. That is one reason they maintain such a grip on power and wealth. Unfortunately, we wizards can’t use the spell themselves. The precious gift of magic that our brains carry can’t be passed down when the brain is restored to a youthful state.”
“So wizards are doomed to a normal span of life?”
“Unfortunately. So we choose with care the one’s we decide to honor with restored youth.”
Anaso touched the darkened sensiball on his desk. The globe lightened, and he spoke to the face that appeared. “Grace, send in the notary for contract approval.” He broke contact and the sphere darkened even before the acknowledgment was complete.
Over the years, experience had shown that there were two weak links to the system of legal agreements. Impersonation of one of the principals was one. Tampering with the document prior to its delivery to a secure vault was the other. There were protocols to minimize the risks: every legal document had to be witnessed by a wizard who ensured that the signatures were genuine and that the document was entered into the banks memory tanks exactly as it had been signed. The hard copy would be safe once inside the vault with its white crystal walls.
A young man in simple white robes entered. Upon seeing Nexus, he gave a brief formal bow. “Greetings, Lord.” He turned to the power broker and nodded. “At your service, Mr. Anaso.”
“Validate the signatures of this contract and take it to the vault.”
Anaso knew he didn’t have to admonish the notary on the need for confidentiality; it was a basic condition of his employment. But for extra security, it might be wise to arrange an accident for the man. If word of this loan got out to the Esafs, John figured his remaining days could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Esaf Condeu would not be happy being cut out of the building permit fees, operating license fees, and taxes on profits.
Siting the plant in Aloria might make it legal, but until it was operating and could buy him more friends and protection, he’d have to keep his lips (and those of others!) tightly sealed, while keeping his eyes and ears wide open.
The first class magician respectfully touched the arm of Nexus, then of John Anaso. Genetic patterns were nearly impossible to duplicate, especially with the high level restrictive spells put in place by the Circle. In a moment the young mage had contacted the Guild, and verified the genetic match with patterns kept by the Library. The formalities completed, the white robed wizard slipped the loan agreement into a white crystal box, and left to place it in the bank’s massive white crystal vault. John rose and turned to Nexus.
“I’m sure we can have the energy available for your use in a few days. Before then, you will have to identify the subsidiary accounts that you want me to feed it into.”
“That will not be necessary, Mr. Anaso. I will take the funds with me tonight.”
John sputtered as his face turned an unhealthy shade of purple. “Tonight! Impossible! We have not worked out the transfer procedures! A transfer this large is going to be hard to hide without careful planning!”
“I will take physical possession of two thousand high capacity power wands, each fully charged to one G. An additional fifty thousand Megs will be transferred into uncharged wands that I have waiting in a wagon outside.”
“You haven’t been listening! I need time to set up an explanation for the auditors; and to call in the available debts.”
“Mr. Anaso,” said the old man’s voice harshly. “I will take possession tonight. Now. I too have plans, and they depend upon speed just as much as stealth.”
“No one ever gets their loan funds on the same day they apply! Banks have to follow their internal protocols!”
Nexus laughed. “You’re a fine one to talk of protocol! Let’s cut the bullshit. We have an agreement; the funds are available funds in the vault now. You said yourself that there are five thousand Gs on hand. I want immediate satisfaction of our agreement.”
“The bank needs reserves!”
“We already discussed that. You don’t need anywhere near five thousand Gs.”
“Yes I do! Just because there hasn’t been any recent economic crisis doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be one in the near future. The public can be fickle, and the reserves are there to dampen out that fickleness before it becomes a panic. I don’t want even the potential for a run on the bank.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Has there ever been a run on the bank?”
“Back in the war -”
“Decades ago! Move into the present, Anaso. The economy is solid as a rock. No one is going to suddenly start an economic upheaval.”
“It’s a contingency. Really. If everyone wanted there money at once, we’d need that reserve.”
“Your argument doesn’t even make sense. If everyone wanted all their money, even five thousand Gs wouldn’t be enough.”
Anaso was silent, sulking. Nexus continued.
“John, you’re smart. This is your bank. You can make this work.”
The banker continued sulking.
Nexus sighed. “I could make this agreement public.”
Anaso pointed his finger at Nexus and opened his mouth to speak, but choked back his words. He wanted to scream out, ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ but he felt that this bastard wizard probably would. The worse of it was, the damn wizard and his guild could probably survive the wrath of Esaf Mileu. John Anaso certainly wouldn’t. The Esaf might despise both wizards and bankers, but he needed the wizards. He didn’t need the bankers.
“Bring your men into the lobby and have them wait until we’re closed for the day,” Anaso said. “I will personally escort you and them to the vault and supervise the transfer of funds. I will have the bank guards on duty; so don’t let your men get any ideas, okay?”
“You will find the men have excellent discipline. And you will be supervising them without my direct presence.”
Anaso looked puzzled for a moment before he remembered that many wizards had an aversion to the white crystal used in the vault’s construction. “Of course. Then we have an understanding.”
“We certainly do,” replied Nexus.