Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » June 16th, 2017, 10:54 pm

OK, if anyone is still reading this, I will soon be starting volume 2 of the adventures of Sister Rose, nun of the Reformed Veracian Church. One note on this volume: there is going to be significant stuff in it that does not correspond to canonical knowledge of the Errant World, notably (this isn't really a spoiler) in positing a continent-size landmass east of the Anuban Colonies and west of Tsuiraku. In one of the Chronicles, Poe described the Anuban Archipelago as "sandwiched between Veracia’s east coast and what was then the Western Islands of Farrel [i.e., Tsuiraku -- GB]," which doesn't leave room for much of a continent -- even though the map implies that there's one there. I think I have a workaround for this that makes everything make sense, and it doesn't bend canon too badly. However, it does bend it.

First installment coming in about a week or so.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » July 1st, 2017, 11:49 pm

[So finally getting this rolling again. As already noted, what follows here is NOT canon, at least not explicitly ... but it'll explain some oddities in the Errant World once it's developed. So without further ado:]

Chapter One: Flight over water

As the Veracian airship droned through the night above the Veracian Sea, still-Sister Rose reflected that she’d probably never been happier in her entire life.

Argus lay snoring beside her. At first the airship captain had been reluctant to take an infidel (read: Tsuirakuan) on board, but Rose had left no doubt that if Argus wasn’t going on this flight, neither was she, and besides, he’d already traveled on more advanced airships than this one, with the Patriarch’s blessings. The captain hadn’t even bothered to get in touch with Emerylon, or even Father Red, to check that second part out, and that had told her all she needed to know about the first part. They really want me to do this mission.

He’d been stunned when Rose gave him the news that he was going to be a father again; stunned, but in his own quiet way, happy; indeed, overjoyed. It had only taken seconds for him to wear a troubled frown that she’d seen so many times that she could read his mind about it. “Don’t worry, we’ll tell Fayna when we get back from the Anuban Colonies,” she’d said, and the frown passed as quickly as it had arisen. I was right, she thought; of course she was right about that. It had gone without saying that there was no concern on either of their parts about telling Lillith; she’d be almost as happy as the two parents-to-be. Rose wondered for a fleeting moment how Lillith’s own pregnancies were going, then decided, accurately, that it was a no-news-is-good-news situation and Argus’ first daughter and her twins-in-utero (not to mention their father, Rose’s cousin) were all fine.

Before taking the warp gate from Kiyoka to Saus, she’d consulted with a Kiyokan lifemage who had advised her that contrary to urban folklore, warp-gate travel posed no hazard to a pregnant woman, and that she and her pregnancy were in good health. The woman had let drop one interesting tidbit, courtesy of a question Argus had raised about her shape-shifting. She’d blinked for a moment (Argus told her later that this was to be interpreted as showing utter astonishment) and then said, “Studies of effects of polymorph magic on the unborn have been inconclusive.” That had caused Argus to blink, and Rose had picked up on that: Tsuirakuan lifemages never admitted uncertainty about anything. (He would later confide that the Tsuirakuans had never seen or produced anyone with shape-shifting skills as effortless as her own, which wasn’t exactly news, but did explain the lifemage’s reaction.) Whatever lay behind the statement, Rose resolved not to use that magic until after her child was born unless absolutely necessary.

The moon was full, and she opened the curtain covering the porthole to enjoy the moonlight dancing on the water far below. As she did, she noticed something unexpected. Out in the distance, at least tens of miles away and probably a hundred or more, was the unmistakable edge of a coastline. What was land doing there? The route to the Anuban colonies shouldn’t pass within a hundred miles of the continent that bore the Northern Confederacy. Had they traveled north for some reason she didn’t understand?

An answer was forthcoming bare minutes later, when a crewman knocked softly on her cabin’s door. “Sir, ma’am?” the voice called. (Rose was only slightly annoyed, and much more amused, at the minor breach of decorum; as the senior officer present, she should have been addressed first. But Veracian habits were hard to break.) “The cap’n says ye might want to batten down. There’s a big storm comin’ off – comin’ up on the wind from the southeast, and the ride might get kind of rough for a while.”

Rose’s annoyance ramped up a small notch. So they think I don’t know about the Eastern Wastes, the land beyond the Anuban Colonies, she thought. Well, it wasn’t that far-fetched an assumption. The Eastern Wastes weren’t ever discussed, ever, in conventional Veracian schooling, and as far as she knew, the existence of a large body of land that kept the Colonies from performing their intended duties as a listening post on Tsuiraku was still classified LUMINOSITA’S SECRET. (As if that’s going to last long, she thought; the truth will out. But I don’t care about that after this trip, and until then, I’ll play their game.) She thanked the man at the door and turned in for what remained of the night.

- - - - -

Many miles to the south, however, the “spill storm,” to give it the name that a very few in the military or merchant marine gave it, was provoking a very different reception.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » July 12th, 2017, 11:18 pm

Chapter Two: Spill storm

There was a ballad by some bard of the ancient past, thought to have originated in what was now the Northern Confederacy, with a line in it that Lucy Kankaniel couldn’t get out of her head:
“The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
As the waves broke over the railing.”

It wasn’t lost on her, by any means, that that ballad was a fictional account of the destruction of a cargo ship, possibly one not unlike her own, by a violent storm. Her challenge now was to keep the same thing from happening as fact, rather than fiction, and it looked to be a daunting challenge.

The Anuban Colonies weren’t part of her regular “business;” as far as smuggling went, they were the Gilsoniel outfit’s turf, and the Nautkia-based gangs had an agreement (enforced, to be sure, by violence) to respect each other’s operation. However, she’d been there a few times with the blessings of Gianni Gilsoniel himself, capo of the Gilsoniel clan, to handle some – special shipments where Lucy’s fast ship was required for safe and timely transportation. Always in the past, she’d made the crossing of the Veracian Sea out of (and, on the return trip, into) the northern port town of Phidelphiel rather than directly from Lorenzel and Nautkia. The old hands she’d learned the trade from, among them one whose ship she’d “inherited” (she honestly hadn’t had anything to do with his curiously premature demise), had cautioned her always to do that, although they hadn’t said why and she hadn’t asked.

This trip was different. Her sinister “passenger” had taken exception to the turn northward that the ship had made as soon as the Lizard Head was out of sight. “Most direct route,” she’d said. “I’m in a hurry.” The sun was lowering toward the horizon, but it still gave more than enough light to glint off the short sword the elf had none-too-subtly drawn half way out of its scabbard. (Bitch, Lucy thought. She’s already shown enough magic that I know I have to go along with her. She doesn’t need to show the steel too. But subtlety had never been one of Peregin Paukii’s defining traits.) Lucy gritted her teeth, and without a word to Paukii, ordered her helmsman to change course again. Well, whatever had caused her predecessors to avoid the direct route couldn’t be that bad, particularly with an elf on board for magical firepower, could it?

Actually, yes, it could.

It all started quietly enough. For the first hour of travel, the sky was clear, the seas were calm, the wind was light—coming, unusually, from the east, but still nothing notable. The first clouds were so high and wispy and distant that neither Lucy nor her helmsman noticed them at first, and if they noticed the light chop that was beginning to appear on the surface of the sea, they didn’t think much of it.

The first clue that something might be threatening in the skies above came with a navigational observation; that is, with a thing not seen that should have been. The full moon should have risen in the east right after sundown, as both Lucy and her navigator knew. When it came time for moonrise, however, no light in the east was to be seen. At first there was a moment’s panic on the bridge: might there be uncharted, rocky islands in the Veracian Sea that blocked the moonlight and threatened a shipwreck? It seemed unlikely, but to be on the safe side, the ship changed course slightly to the northeast to avoid the possible rocks, and the elf could go hang … but twenty minutes later, still no moon. No stars, either, and that was disquieting. The constellation known as the Purple Dragon should be up in the east, well clear of the horizon, and its stars were bright enough to be seen in even a full-moonlit sky. Yet not a star was in sight toward the east.

“Hmmm,” mused the navigator. “Not so good. Might be a storm out there.” (Little did he know.) “Permission to alter course to the north, skipper?” But Lucy glared at the man. “Do you want to be the one to tell Her Obnoxiousness that we’re ignoring her order to take the direct route?” The navigator and helmsman both shuddered, and didn’t say another word.

When the storm hit them, it did it with the suddenness of a great cat falling on its prey.

Lucy had just ordered one of the crew to shinny up to the crow’s nest for a better look at the clouds to the east, when the sky went white with light, and barely a second later, thunder roared – and then a lightning bolt hit the mast with the crow’s nest. (Needless to say, the crewman did not comply with his order.) Their ears were still ringing with the second thunderclap when the wind surged almost instantly to gale force, and great waves tossed the ship from watery hand to hand. Later, Lucy would look back on the waves not merely with amusement, but as a bit of comic relief; Paukii had tried to teleport onto the bridge to find out what was going on (it had to be some manner of stupidity by the humans, she thought, incorrectly), only to find that her intended destination was now two or three feet lower than expected because of the waves, and sloping at a crazy angle. Some elves might have taken it all in stride, but Paukii was a Sanguen and not used to venturing out on the waves; she’d dropped to the deck with an indignant squawk. Lucy gave serious, if momentary, consideration to taking advantage of this vulnerable moment and putting a bullet in the elf’s head, but decided against it; she wasn’t sure she could bring it off, and besides, skippering the ship through the storm had suddenly become an all-consuming task.

For a good hour, the ship and the storm were locked in mortal combat. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, the wind howled, waves crashed – and crewmen prayed to Luminosita for deliverance. Even Paukii muttered more than one prayer to Anilis, in a language that the humans couldn’t understand, but the intent was clear enough. That ballad from the ancient past played in Lucy’s head over and over, and she began to fear that like the ship of the song, hers would disappear without a trace …

… And then, with a suddenness to mimic the storm’s onset, they were through. The wind subsided almost instantly and the seas calmed down. There was still lightning to the west, but it was receding rapidly into the distance. A few stray clouds of scud sped westward to join their fiercer colleagues, and in their wake, the full moon shone down on a ship that was tossed and turned and mangled, but still seaworthy, and still full of all the souls that had set sail on it.

Lucy Kankaniel wasn’t particularly religious, to put it mildly, but she still breathed a great sigh of relief and muttered, “Well, thank Luminosita, I think we’re going to be okay.” She didn’t check to see how her elf passenger was reacting to the name of the Veracian god-construct; she didn’t really care. A few orders were given, and the ship resumed its course to the Anuban Colonies.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » July 19th, 2017, 2:10 pm

[NOTE: Starting here, both culture and, particularly, geography diverge considerably from what we know as "canon" of the Errant World. I've tried to construct it in a way that actually resolves some logic problems in Errant Story itself, of which more some other time. Apologies to Poe if I've taken too many liberties here. :roll: So on to the Eastern Wastes, and the Outlanders:]

Chapter Three: Outlanders

A third party was taking an interest in what had just happened in the Anuban Colonies, although from a considerably different starting point from the other two.

Several tens, or a few hundreds, of miles east of the Anuban Archipelago, far enough to be out of sight but close enough to cause storms like the one that had nearly capsized Lucy Kankaniel’s ship, lay a continent known, to the few humans and elves who knew of it at all, as the “Eastern Wastes.” It had only been discovered, by humans at least, when Veracia, then the world’s most powerful nation, had sent a force to set up in the Anuban Colonies to “keep an eye on” Tsuiraku, newly emerged from isolation and rapidly gaining strength. The possibility that a significant landmass might lie between the Colonies and Tsuiraku came as quite the surprise to the exploratory force. It was rapidly decided, however, that this continent was of no significance to the worshippers of Luminosita: it was very distant and incredibly rugged and forbidding, armed with sea cliffs a full two thousand feet high with absolutely no break, all the way from its southern tip to its northern one. It was also, as far as could be told, completely uninhabited by men or elves. The Veracians therefore decided to basically ignore its existence; the few outside the Church who learned of it would be told (along with a stern exhortation to keep their mouths shut) that it represented a barrier erected by Our Lord Luminosita, in His wisdom and grace, to keep the ungodly Tsuirakuans from invading Veracia east to west. The Tsuirakuans themselves would reach a parallel (if rather more … secular) conclusion.

However, they were wrong about the “uninhabited” part.

At about the same time as Sister Rose was bedding down for the night, and a much-relieved Lucy Kankaniel was resuming course for the Anuban Colonies, a small group of hominids along the western coast (hardly a "shore," as it rose many hundreds if not thousands of feet above the ocean, separated from the water by sheer cliffs) of the Eastern Wastes were staring off into the gloom of the sea, waiting for sunrise. Whether they were actually humans would be a matter of semantics; they certainly weren’t elves or trolls or dwarves, anyway. They had no name for themselves in their own language that meant anything except simply “the people.” A very few humans had encountered them, mainly on the uninhabited [sic] southern islands of the Anuban Archipelago, and given them the name “The Outlanders,” which seemed as good as any.

“I fear for Speaker-To-Demons and Haddak-Carer,” one of them said, in a language very different from any known languages of humankind. “They should have been back from the Demon Isles long ago.” This got nods and grunts of approbation from his companions. “But the Demon Mouth has been silent.” More nods and grunts. “I fear something has happened to them.”

“Could they have been – eaten by the demons?” a young woman ventured fearfully.

The first speaker, whose name among his own people would translate to something like “People-Leader’s-Son,” produced a very human-like shrug, if with arms and shoulders very differently proportioned from those of most humans. “I do not know, Hurt-Tender’s-Daughter,” he said. “Maybe. Without venturing to the Demon Isles, there is no way to know.”

More rumbles and grunts passed among the gathered group. There’d been a time, not that long ago, when a very few Outlanders, maybe thirty or so, had eked out a living of sorts as nearly-permanent residents of the Demon Isles; the village they’d built, or more accurately, its ruins, still served as a shelter for the few who went to tend the haddaks and take their eggs and young for the stewpots. In time, even the Outlanders had come to find the Anuban Archipelago disturbing and unwelcoming, and the colony had returned whence it came, leaving the village also to return to its natural state.

A young Outlander cleared his throat and raised a hand. “Maybe I can help,” he said quietly. “My father has been teaching me his arts, to prepare for his Journey to the Hidden Lands.” Everyone knew that Old-Magic-Man’s health had been deteriorating and he wasn’t likely to live much longer; handing these arts down to the next generation was prudent, as it had been for as long as any of the Outlanders could remember, and much longer. “May I consult the gods?”

Magical aptitude wasn’t widespread among the Outlanders, but the non-magical had a hard enough time scrabbling for a living that they didn’t have time or energy for either the awe in which trolls held their (female) mages or the suspicion that Veracians felt for the magic-using clergy. People-Leader’s-Son didn’t have to think for long about a reply, which got approving nods from the others. “Please do so.”

Young-Magic-Man nodded, and magic flowed around him; magic that Cosmo or the late Shem, or Sister Rose or Brother Miguel, would have recognized as divination or forensics spellcraft similar to what they themselves had used not much earlier. When it cleared, the Outlander mage’s face bore a strangely neutral expression that passed, among the Outlanders, for a puzzled frown. “Very strange,” he stated. “Haddak-Carer is not in the Demon Isles. He is somewhere far away, beyond them and to the south. I do not know where.”

The general rumble among the gathered Outsiders grew louder; nothing like that had ever happened to one of their people before. But only Haddak-Carer? The people never, ever went to the Demon Isles alone; they always traveled in pairs. “And Speaker-To-Demons?” People-Leader’s-Son prompted.

The neutral expression on the mage’s face gave way to something more unequivocally pained. “He is far to the east, somewhere among the Inland People,” he said, referring to others of the Outlanders’ race who inhabited the interior of the continent …

“… But he is dead.”
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » July 28th, 2017, 11:52 pm

Chapter Four: Debriefing

It had been months, possibly even years, since Sister Marilyn had worn regular robes of a nun of the Veracian Church rather than the mini-skirt-like outfit she favored while ministering to her flock (such as it was) in Kiyoka. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she had robes; she’d had to borrow one from her twin (and more … conventional) sister, Sister Eva, for the trip back to Veracia with her fiancé, Brother Miguel. Both Miguel and Father Red had said they thought dressing more conventionally in Saus, and in Emerylon if she went that far, would be wise. However, no change of apparel would mask Marilyn’s distinctive personality.

Now she stood fidgeting at the airship terminal (it itches, she thought of her unfamiliar robe, and would only have been comforted slightly with the knowledge that Eva and Sister Rose both had similar thoughts at times) as she watched Miguel board the army airship bound for Emerylon; she hadn’t been able to join him, but would spend her time at the Reformed temple in town until he returned. Blown kisses were exchanged and the airship lifted off, the two lovers each proceeding to their destinations.

The fact that this departure, and Marilyn’s journey to the temple, were both observed by a tall, hooded stranger with pointed ears was unknown to either of them … yet.

For his part, Miguel felt more discomfort than the small airship’s ride would cause by itself, even combined with leaving his fiancée for a few days only a week or so before the wedding. He tried to mentally review what he knew of the hidden spaces beneath the castle at Provatiel; the orders that Father Red had relayed to him made it clear that he could carry no diagrams with him, whether physical or magical. “I don’t understand these,” Red had said, “but they give the orders and we follow them. Mostly.” The latter with a typical grin and rolling of eyes.

If the two men had realized that many airships of the Army of Our Lord Luminosita had at least one crewman who was Millenarian, the order might not have made sense at the time, but it would soon enough.

When he arrived in Emerylon, Miguel was met at the airship terminal by two stony-faced soldiers and a horse-drawn carriage. “Welcome, Brother Miguel,” one of the two said, his body language making it clear he didn’t really mean the “welcome” part; ultra-Orthodox zealots, Miguel guessed, correctly. The other soldier checked his credentials carefully (do they think somebody slipped a ringer in for me while I was on that airship? Miguel thought with no small indignation, but then he remembered what Rose had told him about the flight with the Carvial girl; maybe it wasn’t that far-fetched an idea), and a few minutes later, the three stood at the entrance to the Great Temple in Emerylon.

He had to admit: at least to someone who’d never been there before, the place was damned impressive. The top of the dome rose a good hundred feet above him, probably more. The statue at the top of the dome may have looked a bit, well, overblown to Reformed eyes, but to the Orthodox, it was probably a symbol of Luminosita’s Power worthy of outright veneration. The avenues leading to the central temple were as rich in gold-leaf adornment as the dome itself. Guards were everywhere – including, Miguel knew, at the entrance to the comparatively nondescript structure housing the Heretic Knowledge Vault. Where what I’m about to produce will probably be stored for all eternity, he thought, without anyone ever finding it useful. He was wrong about that last part. (It was also where a peculiar pair of break-ins would take place not quite two years later, not that anyone present would know that. The documents that Miguel was about to produce would be destroyed in the resulting fire, but they would have served their purpose by then.)

Three men were waiting for him at the entrance to the temple: a man in the uniform of an army general, another security guard, and to his surprise, a priest wearing the robes of the Mechanist sect. “Let’s get started,” the general said without preamble or introductions, and led the way into the same highly secure chamber that Bishop Carlo (for he was the Mechanist priest) had visited only the previous day. The guard fell into step behind Miguel and disappeared as soon as the door was closed and the expected Damping spell was raised. “Now,” the general said, “tell us what you know,” and he handed Miguel a pen and a piece of completely non-magical paper. Miguel nodded and began to draw.

__*__

Meanwhile, Marilyn, as safe and secure in the Reformed temple in Saus as circumstances (notably her own … restless personality) could reasonably allow, was becoming the focal point in a most curious case of mistaken identity.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » July 31st, 2017, 11:53 am

Chapter Five: The Artifact of Absonial

Even as Brother Miguel was drawing a surprisingly detailed map of the structures beneath the castle at Provatiel, other plans were being made for the attack on the castle, even if most of those involved were unaware of it.

Even though the Veracian Church tried to maintain the illusion of separation from the Veracian army, Miguel, Sister Rose, and Brother Timothy, now installed as priest in residence in a small Northern Confederacy town, were hardly the only people to fill roles in both organizations. Another dual-hatted soldier-priest was a short, aging, but muscular man who went by the name of Father Roderick, but was also an Army colonel, if one who was under cover almost all the time. As usual, he was wearing priest’s robes rather than a military uniform when he called on the Department of Thaumatic Studies at Emerylon University and asked for Professor Faziel. Even though the two men had been friends for almost fifty years, it was most definitely not a social call.

The two men could hardly have been more different. While Roderick was short and powerful, Gerson Faziel was tall and spindly, a man who looked as though he would blow away in a stiff wind. Roderick had a tough, flat face that looked like it might have taken a few too many punches to the nose, as indeed it had in his youth. Faziel’s face was dominated by a nose that one could have hung a small flag from. Roderick’s movements were direct and forceful as he entered the professor’s office. Faziel’s were slow and leisurely, his joints creaking audibly as he got to his feet to shake his friend’s hand.

One thing they had in common, though, was a willingness to serve Luminosita and Veracia with all their physical and intellectual resources, which, in the cases of both men, were considerable. “What can I do for you, Rod?” Faziel drawled laconically as his receptionist made tea, which both men liked.

“Got a weird one from the boss, Fuzzy,” Roderick said, his voice emulating the legendary machine guns the dwarves were supposed to have had. (A certain encounter a couple of years later would verify that the rumors were true, although no Veracian would ever know about it.) “Remember the – that thing you got for study and safekeeping a couple of months ago?”

“You mean the Artifact of Ab—OOF!” Despite the men’s considerable difference in height, Roderick could reach high enough to put a hand over Faziel’s mouth. With his other hand he made a shushing motion, then pointed to the outer office where the tea was being made. The hand released, Faziel produce a sheepish grin; he’d made the same gestures toward, and on, his more impetuous friend often enough when they were younger. Then he nodded soundlessly, although his jaw and teeth rattled.

“Yeah,” Roderick said, without elaboration. Then: “Is this office secure?”

Faziel crinkled his brow. “No, but it can be made that way.” As soon as the tea had been delivered and the receptionist shooed out of the office, he cast a Damping spell. “Please go on.”

“So anyway,” Roderick continued as though there’d been no interruption, “the big bosses want me to bring the Artifact over to the temple. They didn’t say why, said they’d put me in the picture as soon as they could.” He made a rude noise. “Typical regular-army pukes.”

Faziel looked dubious. “I don’t know … we can get it out of safe storage, of course, but, ah, we’re still not sure what it does and how it works. Is that really something that, uh, should be running around in the temple, even with you attached to it?”

“You’re hiding something from me, old buddy,” Rod countered; he’d known Faziel long enough to detect an evasion when he saw one.

The dubious look turned into something else, studied neutrality. “I am. I can’t go into it.”

“Need to know and all that crap.” It wasn’t a question.

“Right.”

Roderick waved a hand. “Whatever. They just give me the orders, I carry them out. I got a couple of guys outside as security, just in case you’re wondering.” (As indeed Faziel had been.)

The tall man sighed. “All right, then.” He dismissed the Damping spell. “We’ll need to get Ardith to help. Two-man rule for opening the vault.” The irony of having his definitely female receptionist serve as the second “man” for this operation wasn’t lost on either of the men. They stepped into the outer office, collected Ardith, and headed down the hall to the vault. Other than a fairly basic magical shrink-wrap that any priest or nun of middling ability could have applied (and most could have defeated), it had a very standard, very non-magical two-lock system. Ardith dialed in one combination and was shooed back to the office; Faziel put in the other one and dispelled the shrink wrap, and the door swung open.

“Doesn’t look like much,” Roderick judged, eyeing the parcel he’d come to receive.

“Well, you’re just looking at the packaging,” the professor said. That was unimpressive, to be sure, a mere wooden box barely more than a foot square, with the barest glimmering of magic on it and not a label to be found. “What’s inside isn’t much more impressive, though. Just this oddly colored cylinder about the size of a loaf of bread but made of some heavy metal. We’re still not sure what it does, although –“ He looked around and cast another Damping – “although we think it has something to do with the Festival of Departure. Maybe something the dwarves cooked up –“ He glanced furtively around despite the Damping, but no one was in sight – “to ward off Luminosita when He went wherever He went.” In this guess he was closer to the truth than either he or Roderick realized, but not entirely correct.

Roderick shrugged; despite being a priest, he had little patience for ventures into speculative theology. “Just as long as it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass. I’m just following orders here. Do I have to sign the thing out or anything?”

Faziel smiled. “No need. If the Patriarch wants it, the Patriarch gets it. One last thing, though. I put a basic magical Ward on the box. The key word to remove it is –“ a crinkled but broad smile – “the first name of your seventh-grade crush’s big sister.”

Roderick guffawed. He’d gotten over Bonita years ago – he’d entered the Orthodox priesthood, after all – but how could anyone forget Bethie? Faziel had his own laugh in turn, Roderick took the Artifact, the men sealed the vault and went their separate ways, memories of the – unforgettable – Bethie leaving smiles on both faces.

-*-*-

However, a most serious security breach had just happened that neither man was aware of – yet.

The Patriarch’s office had carefully vetted Brother Roderick and the muscle with him before sending them off on this mission, to make sure they were Orthodox and had no Millenarian leanings. Professor Faziel, of course, had been similarly well scrutinized at the very founding of Emerylon University, when he became the department’s first professor; he too was as Orthodox as could be hoped for, and the Artifact of Absonial would never have been entrusted to his care if he wasn’t.

However, nobody had bothered to make sure that Ardith – or Sister Ardith as she was known to a very few people in the Millenarian Church – was so Orthodox. They’d just made sure she was bright (for a woman, the interviewers had thought without saying it), and that she was; bright enough to have figured out the essence of what had just gone on.

It was close to quitting time at the Department when the transfer of the Artifact was transacted, and she left the office a bit early as usual, with Faziel’s usual acquiescence, to pick up her 7-year-old son from school. This accomplished, she headed home to make dinner for her husband … but first, to make a call that absolutely nobody north of Provatiel suspected she had the magical skills to make, on an instrument similar to that possessed by Father Reginald and by few others.

“Simiel here,” she said without preamble when the line was answered. “I need to tell the Lieutenant something right away…”
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » August 2nd, 2017, 9:49 am

Chapter Six: The Demon Mouth

It said much about the harshness of the Outlanders’ lives that Young-Magic-Man’s Divination magic caused more consternation because of what it said about Haddak-Carer, who was still alive, than about Speaker-to-Demons, who was not.

“Beyond the Demon Isles?” several listeners said at once, notably People-Leader’s-Son, who took the lead, as was his right and duty, in what followed. “How can that be? Can anything cross the Western Ocean and live? Surely not, the Spill Storms see to that. And yet you say he is beyond even the storms … how is that possible?”

“I do not know,” said Young-Magic-Man, more calmly than he felt; he had enough leadership potential, and ancestry, running through his veins that he knew he should speak in reassuring tones at a time like this. “The magic is clear: Haddak-Carer lives, and he is in that direction.” He pointed to the southwest. “Very far away; beyond where the Spill Storms reach.”

This caused hushed wonderment among the listeners. The Spill Storms, as the Outlanders called the violent weather that had almost sunk Lucy Kankaniel’s ship, had always struck the people of the coast as a barrier at least as impenetrable as the vast sea cliffs that gave rise to them. There were stories that, back in the days when the Demon Isles were (sparsely) inhabited, a few intrepid mariners had sought to pass beyond the Storms onto whatever sea lay beyond (lands of unimaginable riches and ease, so went the stories, but no one really believed them). The ones who ventured north found the Demons themselves, as they called the Veracians trying to eke out a similarly harsh living in the Anuban Colonies. The ones who went south … simply vanished, and were never heard from again.

In the silence, People-Leader’s-Son spoke. “We must consult the Demon Mouth, then. Who will go with me?”

Most of the crowd stepped back a pace, but Young-Magic-Man, Hurt-Tender’s-Daughter, and two others stood their ground. “We will go,” all four said.

The tribe’s leader’s son nodded. “Good. You are strong. Come.” He turned without another word and started along the path to the tribe’s shrine.

“Shrine” didn’t exactly capture the place’s essence, actually. It was a clearing in the low, scruffy forest that was trying to scrape out a living in the harsh climate just as the Outlanders themselves were. An array of tall, slender stones stood arranged in no obvious order, with one large, black, incongruously polished slab at their center. In times past, according to the legends of the tribe, the demons – or were they gods? – had spoken from this slab. Now, it served, silently and inscrutably, as the gateway for travel to the Demon Isles. The possibility that this and the gate in the Anuban Archipelago, to give the Demon Isles their human name, might be part of the secure elven transport-platform system, was lost on the Outlanders; indeed, they didn’t know about the elves at all, and would probably have considered them simply an unusual form of demon if they had known about them.

The five humanoids bowed respectfully as they entered the Mouth; even though it hadn’t spoken in centuries, it seemed the thing to do. Nor did it speak now (nor did the Outlanders expect it to). That didn’t keep a message from being learned, however, and it was an unwelcome one. “Over here,” one of the explorers called from the edge of the clearing, and Young-Magic-Man went to investigate …

… What turned out to be a huge pile of a carnivore’s excrement, steaming and fresh. Young-Magic-Man recoiled from the stench, but he had more than enough presence of mind to know what it meant. “An Eater has been here,” he called nervously to the others. “Come, we must hurry.”

Three of the Outlanders melted into the forest, but People-Leader’s-Son and one other man swallowed their very real (and very justified) fears and remained on the platform. “We must try to go through the Mouth,” the leader said. “Do you know the incantation, Sword-Mender?”

“I do,” the other man said, meaning the word (just one, albeit one that felt odd in an Outlander’s mouth) that would cause the Demon Mouth to gate them to a waiting counterpart in the Demon Isles … just as Haddak-Carer and Speaker-to-Demons had done three or four days earlier. It was a word that, thousands of years earlier, a very few elves would also have known as the key to this particular gating on their most secure travel-platform system. Not one of those elves had survived the Errant War, and unlike some other parts of the secure system, all memory of this particular gate operation had been lost … except to the Outlanders. If any of the world’s other civilizations had known that, their attitude toward the Eastern Wastes would have been very different. But the knowledge was literally extinct in the world beyond the blasted continent that rose thousands of feet above the Veracian Sea.

“Well, then, we must,” People-Leader’s-Son said. That was all there was to it. The other man pronounced the command word …

… And absolutely nothing happened.

Concerned muttering filled the air as a chagrined Sword-Mender tried again, with the same result. That had never happened before. Never. People-Leader’s-Son didn’t even bother asking whether Sword-Mender knew the right incantation; of course he did, the two of them had even been to the Demon Isles together themselves, and the other man had done the talking. (He would never forget the artifacts they’d brought back from that trip, a human shoe, a short, knife-like dagger, a beaded necklace, and most amazing of all, a small book in a language very foreign to their own. These strange artifacts had caused a sensation among the Outlanders; here was evidence that the frightening beings who appeared in the Desert Isles on rare occasion were not demons, but sentient beings the same as they themselves were. But the Millenarans didn’t know about the centuries-old proscription by the Army of Our Lord Luminosita against leaving anything behind on the Anuban Archipelago; didn’t know, or didn’t care.) “Try it again,” he commanded, trying to hide his nervousness. Sword-Mender tried yet a third time; no change.

“Possibly the demons are sleeping and do not wish to be disturbed?” one of the onlookers ventured.

The leader thought for a moment, then shook his head, a gesture that meant exactly the same in Outlander culture as among humans: no. “We often make pilgrimages there when there are no demons present,” he reminded the speaker. “The Mouth does not seem to care. We –“

THOOMB! THOOMB! THOOMB!

The ground literally shook with the approaching footfalls of a giant predator. “THE EATER! The Eater comes!” called all the Outlanders at the Mouth, and they all started to run in different directions, as was the law; thus dispersed, the enormous reptile could only catch one of them at a time.

Probably.

The oddity of the failed Mouth Opening was forgotten for the moment as the Outlanders struggled to save their lives.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » August 18th, 2017, 7:57 pm

Chapter Seven: Anuba City

Sister Rose (and Argus) had been through enough airship landings in the last few months to know what to expect as their craft came into the airship terminal in Anuba City: an odd swaying sensation as the ship lost altitude, several unsettling minutes where nothing seemed to be happening but the tie-downs were getting secured, and a bump of a gate being attached to the hatch, all with a small whiff of magic that neither the Luminositan Church nor the Veracian military really wanted to acknowledge. So it was here; and yet, there was something different about this arrival … different and unsettling.

She wasn’t sure what it was. The captain and navigator deserved full credit; foggy mist had covered the Anuban Archipelago as the sun rose, so that the lights of the city hadn’t emerged until the airship was barely five hundred feet above the ground, and yet, they’d flown straight to the terminal as though guided by Luminosita’s own Hand. (She was more right in this analogy than she knew.) The terminal tower looked conventional enough, as did the small squad of Veracian military people waiting to meet them. Even the city itself, a settlement of perhaps ten thousand people, had looked normal during the final descent, or at least its lights and streets had.

But there was just something – wrong about the place. Rose’s sense of empathy was intuitive and finely tuned even without the magical enhancement that was one of her stocks in trade, and it didn’t like what it was sensing. This city isn’t supposed to be here, she thought. The land itself objects to it. The only time she’d felt anything similar was at the unquiet ruins of Centoriel; but that, at least, was a place where there was no more human life, and a murky, uncomfortable feeling went with that kind of territory. Anuba had no such excuse.

“I feel it too,” Argus said quietly behind her. She hadn’t said a word, but she hadn’t needed to; they were attuned to each other’s thoughts by now, the “too” made that clear. She reached a hand behind her and silently squeezed Argus’; the Orthodox crew might not approve of the gesture, but the Orthodox crew could go hang. (Besides, she was the senior officer on board.)

The hatch opened, to reveal a welcoming party, such as it was. A military officer, wearing tabs identifying him as a Major in the Veracian Army, stood with a young, unhappy-looking Orthodox priest and a pair of uniformed security men. “Welcome to Anuba City, Sister Rose,” the major said. “Or, if you prefer, Colonel Nuria, ma’am.” His face looked like those last few words had got stuck in his mouth before he forced them out.

Rose was nonplussed, but managed a polite smile as she tried to remember the man’s name; ah, Ferenc Portiel, commander of the small military force in the colony. But – “Thank you, Major,” she smiled, “but I think there’s a mistake here. I’m only a Major myself, and a retired one at that.”

Major Portiel surprised her with what came next. “You were when you boarded the ship, ma’am, but we got a message saying you’d been breveted a Colonel for this mission. That means you have the full resources under my command at your disposal.” Interestingly, his face cleared at this declaration. Was he glad to have someone to pass the buck of command to? It sounded like it, although Rose wasn’t sure what there was to this mission that might require “resources” to support her.

The young priest introduced himself as Brother Yuli (what kind of name is that? Rose wondered; she’d never heard it before in Veracia, and he had an odd accent) and the group descended into a waiting hansom. A few minutes’ ride, and they pulled up in front of the dingiest, saddest-looking Orthodox temple Rose had ever seen. (Well, maybe second most, behind the one in Ramanzel, but that was a special case.) Morose young Yuli held the door for Rose, Argus and Portiel, and they stepped inside, but not before Rose heard the drone of the airship’s engines, westbound to the mainland already. She gave the Major a startled look, but he replied, “Don’t worry. They’re just getting out of here as fast as they can. I think you’ll have to admit that’s reasonable.” A sour, lopsided smile. “When you’re done with your mission, we’ll recall them and you won’t have to spend more than one extra day here.” The smile got sourer. “I envy you that.” A glance at Yuli left no doubt that he felt the same way.

Rose was mystified, though. “How am I supposed to get to – whatever the island is called, if I don’t have an airship?”

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to swim,” the young priest snarked. (Argus successfully resisted the temptation to conjure up a spike to run up the younger man’s – well.)

Portiel didn’t like the comment either, but he settled for a brief glare at the man before continuing. “Air space over the southern islands in the Archipelago is closed by order of the Patriarch himself. I wasn’t briefed on why. Let’s get some coffee and I’ll fill you in.” The arch look that he gave Yuli sent the man scurrying for a coffee pot and mugs, as the others settled into none-too-comfortable seats in the gloomy, forbidding sanctuary.

Portiel also excused himself momentarily and stepped into a side room, emerging shortly with an old-fashioned, roll-up paper map. Rose was surprised; she knew full well that Emerylon had developed, or “acquired” from the Tsuirakuans, thaumato-technology to display map-line information magically. After all, she’d seen some of it after her sister’s funeral. The LUMINOSITA’S SECRET markings on the document, however, explained at least a little of why this information wasn’t being presented magically.

“Here is your destination,” Portiel said, pointing to an island well down the chain that extended away from Anuba like pus dripping from a wound. “We don’t even have a name for it, at least not officially, and it is off limits to all travel, orders from the Patriarch. An exception is being made for this trip, if we can find a boat to do it.”

“’If,’ you say?” Rose replied. “You mean you haven’t found one yet?” And the Pleasure Dome dragged me all the way out here without taking that one utterly basic step of preparation? she thought but did not say.

Portiel snorted. “Oh, there’ll be one. I can’t send one of our few naval vessels, but half the ships in the harbor belong to smugglers who’ll do almost anything for a few silvers. Arrangements are being made for that even as we speak.”

And I’ll bet you and the preferred smuggler have a good … working arrangement, Rose thought sourly; she could tell that the same thought was going through Argus’ head. She held her tongue as a lower-ranking officer opened the temple door, as if on cue. “Sir?” the younger man said to Portiel, ignoring Argus and Rose. “The harbormaster says that a ship is coming into port tomorrow that –“ Now he noticed that the sanctuary had two other occupants. “Are they cleared to know this?”

“Spill it, Kravik,” Portiel ordered curtly. “They’re cleared for everything they need for this mission. Everything.” That wasn’t strictly true, but it was true enough to elicit a grimace from the underling. “Very well, sir,” he said, and finally deigned to address Argus. (Rose was so used to this by now that she didn’t even object.) “The skipper is a ‘trader’ who appears to be stateless. Word is, he spends all his time on the road between countries, doesn’t have any citizenship we know of, although I’ll admit we haven’t checked into him much. Goes by the name of Dess Marson.”

And Argus spilled his coffee.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » September 30th, 2017, 10:13 am

(Sorry this has taken so long; health issues, which are getting back under control.)

Chapter Eight: Dess Marson

Argus wasn’t the only one who’d been spilling his coffee this morning.

The Southern Continent was not on any of Dess Marson’s usual “trading” routes, to use the polite word. Rather the contrary; he’d only been there a few times, generally not for business but because he was on the lam from angry “authorities” in one country or another. So it was here and now. His acquisition of the truck (might as well call it what it was) that he’d been operating the last time Argus and Rose had seen him had upset some people; specifically, three city-states in the Northern Confederacy, two smuggling outfits in Nautkia, and one underground race that most humans didn’t even know existed.

A small incident with that truck had both worn out his welcome in the Confederacy, and caused him to see the possibilities of the Southern Continent in, it is fair to say, a more favorable light.

He was showing off his new toys to the headman of a village along the way that happened to have an “unobtainium” mine nearby. (Of course, that wasn’t the real name of the commodity mined there, but it worked well as a circumlocution for what was. The exact nature of that commodity had something to do with why his next trip to Nautkia was not going to meet a cordial reception from the Rogeriel outfit.) “You’d be amazed at what this baby can do, Tovarishch!” he enthused. “Here, let me be showin’ you-all some o’ the defensive toys. ‘Course, I ain’t gonna be showin’ all of ‘em; operational security, ya know.” He nudged the headman, who was looking half interested, half suspicious, in the ribs. “Uh, missy, you might want to be steppin’ back from there,” he went on, addressing the headman’s nine-months-pregnant wife. “Ol’ Bessie here don’t like to be touched when I turn on the defenses.” He slapped the truck on a fender … and in the process, touched a control stud he hadn’t even known was there.

There was a loud WUMPH!, and instantly the steam-powered, road-cruising truck transformed into a steam-powered, sea-cruising boat.

Marson would have been delighted by this metamorphosis if he’d discovered it in private, and even in the present circumstances, he’d have been more proud than discomfited … were it not for one little point. Specifically, the point at the end of the bowsprit that suddenly erupted from the front of the vehicle, impaling one of the headman’s subalterns and knocking the headman’s wife to the ground. She rolled away in her orange-colored maternity robe looking like a great peach. The subaltern, unfortunately, didn’t look great at all; he simply looked quite surprised for about two seconds, and then quite dead, as indeed he was.

Give the headman credit: he did love his wife. He rushed to her aid, while his two other lieutenants tried to retrieve their colleague, never mind that it was already too late. Marson, too, wasn’t totally heartless; just, well, practical. He was also sharp enough (so to speak) to have noticed the control stud a split second after he activated it, and now he pushed it again. Another WUMPH, and the amphibious invasion vehicle (again, might as well call it what it was) transformed back into its land-going shape, depositing the late subaltern on the ground and his two companions in an outraged heap on top of him. Marson knew what to do next: the hell with this compassion business. Without waiting around to see what the worthies of the village planned for him, he jumped into the cab and sped away, bullets from the armed subaltern clanging off the thing’s armor as he went.

----^----

For a brief time, once he’d evaded pursuit, Marson got a good chuckle out of this little escapade; just one of those things that happen to a trader on the road, he thought. What he faced now, however, was no laughing matter.

The unplanned trip to the Southern Continent had been considerably more fruitful than he’d dared hope. He’d landed on a section of coast line that he’d never visited before; knew almost nothing about, in fact. The humanoid-but-not-quite-human villagers who watched him make landfall were, if still suspicious of this remarkable apparition, at least not inclined to kill him outright. Well, he thought, he could work with that; and he reached deeply into his trader’s bag of tricks, and put on his best show – while his henchman Tomas manned some weaponry in the second vehicle that he hoped would remain unseen and unused.

That part, at least, he needn’t have worried about. The exiled Outlanders (for so they were) spoke a language similar enough to what the “Ghob” of the Northern Confederacy’s underground spoke, that the Tsuirakuan translation gadget that Marson had picked up worked more than adequately with it. Between that, the gee-whizzery that any good trader could produce to impress the yokels, and something that he couldn’t put his finger on but decided he could exploit, the Outlanders were more than willing to do some dealing. At the very minimum, Marson was pretty sure he could sell some of the weird carvings they gave him to some people in Nautkia, in exchange for him helping them “trade” (“fence” would probably be a better word) some of their own goods. And it was this prospect that was taking his outfit to the Anuban Colonies; the more mileage between Nautkia and his contacts in the Nautkian clans, when those transactions were made, the more secure everyone would feel, the less inclined to see just what the steam wagon’s defenses could do.

Once on the open sea, an odd thing happened. With a mildly rough sea, enough to make him spill his coffee a time or two but nothing too worrisome, his two vehicles started moving under their own control, from the looks of it; still going in the northeastward direction he wanted them to, but steering far closer to each other than he would have done himself. In fact, he was getting nervous about a collision when there was a sudden CLANG of metal. One of the ship-trucks had extended a pair of thick rods over to dock with the other. Immediately the ride quieted down … for the moment.

A catamaran! Marson marveled. He’d heard of such things, maybe even seen one or two, but never ridden in one; certainly he did not know he had one of his own. They were supposed to be good for riding out storms … at least until the storm got beyond what any boat could handle. That seemed like a good thing here. The wind had been rising slowly but steadily and the sea getting rougher, still nothing a good helmsman (as Tomas had turned out to be, surprisingly) couldn’t handle. Marson pulled on a rain slicker he’d picked up down south, and settled in to ride it out. “Well, ol’ boy,” he addressed the idol bundled at his feet (one that looked remarkably like the figures that Argus, Rose and others had encountered on Stone Man Pass -- and elsewhere), “looks like you’ll be a tad wet when we get you to your new owners.” He sniggered. “Course, havin’ stood out in a rain forest for centuries according to what they told me, you’re more used t’that than I am.” He snickered again and almost playfully poked the idol with his foot …

And that was the exact moment when the storm, just as it had done to Lucy Kankaniel’s ship well to the north, seized them with a sudden, vicious fury … and the idol’s faceted eyes might have glowed for that moment, or not.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » October 21st, 2017, 7:21 pm

Chapter Nine: Mistaken Identity

The minor diplomatic incident that occurred in Saus while all of these things were going on wasn’t the fault of young (by elven standards, at a mere 2500 years old) Viradior Matoy, not really. It certainly wasn’t the fault of Sister Marilyn, whose only “fault” was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and react … strongly to what happened there. If there was “fault” at all, it was probably with Peregin Paukii, for sending an inexperienced Viradior, who hadn’t been on his own outside the Elven Territories for a very long time, into an exposed situation without adequate preparation. But mainly it was just an illustration of the most time-honored of all military maxims, one that both Matoy and Marilyn could understand: shit happens.

Paukii herself had plenty of problems to deal with; too many, in fact, which was the primary reason for what happened. Having gone from being ordered to be in two different places at one time, to being in three places at once, she did the only thing she could do: she found an unsuspecting pigeon to stand in for her at one of those places. (Two, actually, but she’d already moved on from sending Viradior Lentyn to what certainly appeared to have been her death.) She’d briefed Matoy as fully as possible on the information she’d extracted, with certain unpleasant side effects, from that ridiculous “Luminositan Scientist” priest in Emerylon. Stripped of the usual Peregin sarcasm, this all came down to “go to this one particular temple in Saus; find the attractive nun visiting there from overseas; squeeze her for information.” All very simple.

It didn’t occur to either of the elves that there might just be more than one attractive nun visiting the Reformed Church headquarters from overseas at a time.

Matoy was fairly short for a male elf, at a mere six feet, five inches, and that made it easier than it might have been for him to find cover in front of the Reformed temple. (Paukii would try to convince herself later that that part had been in her plan all along. It wasn’t.) He’d done some other things right as well; for example, in direct contrast to Paukii, he’d had a word with Peregin Sarine on the best way to get close to Saus. As a result, he’d arrived at the temple in plenty of time to see Marilyn emerge after the day’s errands – a few favors for Father Red, a bit of planning on the liturgy (such as it was) for the wedding, nothing very important. She was still wearing the standard Reformed robes rather than her preferred mini-skirt-like outfit as she headed into town to pick up a present for Brother Miguel … and that was Matoy’s cue.

“Stop!” he said as he approached the young nun, just the tiniest bit of magic in his voice; enough to cause the typical non-magical Veracian to pause in his/her tracks, but “typical” was not a term often used with Marilyn. The magic rolled off Marilyn as water off a duck’s back, but did serve, amply, to alert her that something out of the ordinary was going on. She rocked subtly, almost imperceptibly, onto the balls of her feet, and beneath the robes, her body was coiling into a combat-ready mode. “And who are you?” she said, formally, coldly … dangerously.

Matoy’s response was no less cold, although something in the back of his mind was telling him he should play this encounter more cautiously than he was inclined to, or in fact, did. For starters, the human shouldn’t have been able to respond like that at all, after the magic-laden Command he’d given her. Ignoring this, he forged ahead. “That is no business of yours. You will answer my questions, Sister. I will not answer yours.”

Like most elves, Matoy had never had any experience with the Ensigerum, and therefore he had no sense of the danger associated with Marilyn’s summoning of time-energy (or whatever it was called) in response to this. It didn’t matter that Marilyn wasn’t Ensigerum, but had been raised as a child in a disastrously failed breakaway colony, now obliterated except for those few who’d escaped before the Ensigerum themselves took exception to the group. The danger was still the same.

“Wrong on both counts, buster,” Marilyn sneered; if thugs in the district of Kiyoka she called her own had heard that, they’d have immediately turned tail and sprinted for home, probably to change their pants. “You are going to answer my questions, after a start like that. Explain who you are. Now.”

Matoy’s face reddened, an unusual phenomenon for a Cimmerii, and Marilyn might have been inclined to laugh at the black-and-white-and-red effect under other circumstances … but not in this one. He drew himself up to his full height. “I warned you,” he proclaimed imperiously, never mind that he really hadn’t, not that he needed to. Magic flared just for a brief moment. “BIN –“ But that was as far as the Binding spell got.

In the place-outside-time where the time magic of the Ensigerum originated, Marilyn heard enough, more than enough, before that one syllable was ever vocalized. Still in a place where time did not apply, she planted herself and took a short, spinning hop into the air.

She wasn’t an unusually tall woman, but she wasn’t short either, and the hop took her high enough. Specifically, it was high enough that as the spin finished, still without any passage of time in any non-magical sense, the high kick she was executing with her right foot, slowed hardly at all by the robe, impacted the side of Matoy’s head with a loud kraack. His head jerked sideways; and what seemed to the accelerated Marilyn like a very long time later, there was another crack as he fell and struck that head on a cobblestone.

Elves are extremely difficult to kill with blunt-force trauma, and in fact, Matoy had somehow survived this double impact, even with a severe concussion and two hairline fractures in his skull. These injuries were sufficient, however, to ensure that by the time Marilyn was returning to normal time, he was out colder than a wet mackerel. “All right, you bastard,” Marilyn snarled, and more would have followed … except that the impact had also forced back the hood that Matoy wore over his head, revealing elf ears.

All of the time magic drained out of the young nun as though a switch had been thrown. “Oh, god,” she breathed, as she realized just whom, or what, she had nearly killed. Fortunately, the nearest spectator was still a good hundred feet away, an elderly woman who stood gaping at what she’d not-quite-seen; the whole spin move was too fast for even a trained observer to follow, let alone a pedestrian taken by surprise. “Get help! He’s hurt!” Marilyn yelled down the street, knowing that she’d have summoned her own help from the temple long before the woman could comply; and she sprinted (not using time magic now, but she was extremely fit and quick) back into the building to alert the priest on duty … and when both of them emerged seconds later, to find the elf still unconscious, was when things, at least from a diplomatic perspective, started to get really interesting.
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