Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » February 17th, 2019, 4:38 pm

Chapter Thirty-eight: Getsemiel

As Sister Rose and Argus were sailing away from Shield Island with Dess Marson and his castaways (hmmm… sounds like the name for a popular band, Rose thought whimsically, but did not say), and as the Outlanders were arriving at the island to find it jarringly inhabited, another ship was approaching landfall at the small west Veracian port of Getsemiel. This ship too carried a passenger who had an interest in Shield Island. However, the resemblances ended there.

Elgin Bindiel had gone to some lengths to disguise himself as the tramp steamer crossed the ocean from Farrel to Veracia. Part of the disguise was magical; part was cosmetic. He knew from his agent in Getsemiel that the town had odd limits on the availability of magic based on the magical energy of Luminosita, for reasons that nobody seemed to understand completely. He didn’t worry much about them; for one thing, he was, and knew himself to be, a proficient enough spellcaster that he had no need to tap into Luminosita’s Power. For another, the spellcasting of the immediate moment, minor Polymorphing and a few other things, would remain in effect after the ship docked. (Wouldn’t it? Probably. Maybe.)

The spellcasting, of course, had tired him out badly, but that wasn’t a problem; he was planning to keep out of sight of the crew anyway. By the time they made landfall, he was recovered, and he stealthily slipped ashore while some kind of commercial deal was transacted that did not particularly interest him; something involving the herbs that the Calfornican heretics used in their services, and that consumers in other lands might have found ... entertaining. Even though he had never been to Getsemiel before, he knew exactly where to find his man. Without any hesitation, he headed not for the small Millenarian temple in town, which he suspected (correctly) would have been razed and its few priests arrested, but for … a bar.

Will Parsiel was waiting there, as Bindiel knew he would be. He was a tall man, tall enough not to meet the exacting standards of the Redemption Army. In other regards, he fit the standards just fine; muscular but not excessively so, blond-haired, blue-eyed, not an obvious physical deformity on him. Well, not a real one, anyway; as part of his cover, he had pierced one ear to hold an earring, a common affectation among the seamen who came to town but taboo in the Millenarian Church, and the other had a notch as though he’d attempted a piercing that had not worked right. Both men knew that these blemishes would have to be restored if and when Parsiel ever went back to Provatiel where he had grown up.

He was nonchalantly tidying up the porch in front of the bar’s door when Bindiel approached him, wearing an outfit obviously of local creation that suggested that he worked as the bar’s bouncer, as indeed he did. Bindiel noted with approval that the big man emitted a faint but discernible odor of one of the sacramental herbs used in the Calfornican Church. Good; that little touch would provide some olfactory cover to match the visuals. He was pretty sure that Parsiel did not indulge in the stuff, other than by second-hand smoke.

“Bar’s closed,” Parsiel growled as Bindiel approached. The second man smiled. “Even to someone from your home town?” he said with a smirk.

That put Parsiel on his guard; he’d been careful never to mention to anyone in Getsemiel where he came from. He took Bindiel in with a long, appraising stare, measuring him against the Redemption Army standard and finding him wanting. “You don’t look like you’re from – the same place as I am,” he muttered. “Now get lost, I’m working.” But no sooner had he said these words than Bindiel began to hum a tune, one that was never, ever used outside the home city of the Millenarians.

He stopped short, and Bindiel noticed that his hand was moving toward a pocket that must have contained some kind of weapon. “Where did you pick that up?” Parsiel growled again.

“Same place as you did.”

A snort. “Unlikely. Now get out of here before –“

Bindiel spoke just one word. It was the name of the nominal commander of the Redemption Army, a secret name that was never spoken outside Provatiel. Both Bindiel and Parsiel knew that the real power in the Army lay with an obscure lieutenant named Bindiel, but the commander’s name was also cover. Of course, only one of the two knew where that obscure lieutenant was now – for another thirty seconds or so.

Parsiel’s demeanor shifted. “How did you know that?

“Mutual friends.” He named another very secret name from the Elders, this time of the man who he knew to be Parsiel’s nominal handler. (Of course he’d know that; he had made the arrangements.) “There’s another name I could give you too, but then I’d have to kill you.” My own.

Parsiel was satisfied, and intimidated. “Let’s go inside and talk.” He turned and opened a large, ostentatious, and non-magical lock on the door. Nobody but Bindiel noticed that he also dismissed what appeared to be a Ward.

Once they were seated inside, the larger man said, “Okay, talk.” But Bindiel countered, “Not quite yet.” He paused to cast a Damping spell that would not only prevent anyone outside the building from overhearing their conversation, but also establish himself as Veracian clergy. (Or a Tsuirakuan or an elf.) Both men knew, though, that the geographical oddity that prevented Luminosita’s Power from reaching Getsemiel would have made it impossible for ordinary priests to cast either the ward or the Damping. Each knew, therefore, that the other was no ordinary priest.

“Now, then,” Parsiel said once the spell was in effect. “Who are you, why are you here, and what do you want?”

“In reverse order: I need your help, you don’t need to know why, and I repeat: if I tell you who I am, I have to kill you.” Bindiel’s facial expression suggested he was dead serious (so to speak) about the last part.

Parsiel considered. This was obviously Church business, and it was probably bad. The Millenarian temple had been blown up several weeks earlier by what appeared to be an airship. In the aftermath, he noticed a band of out-of-towners who were neither members of the heretical Calfornican sect that he was here to keep an eye on, the Faithful, nor the Orthodox apostates, from the looks of them. Then, not even a week ago, the few priests and nuns of his Millenarian church had been rounded up by a grim-faced security party and marched off … with one exception. (Well, two, counting himself.) This man hadn’t been here then, apparently; he looked like he’d just been on a long, uncomfortable sea voyage, as indeed he had.

He took a guess. “You want me to arrange transportation out of town.”

“That is correct.”

“To where?”

“You don’t need to know that, either.” Parsiel could feel magic being gathered, as though his interlocutor was getting prepared for a sudden, lethal Force Bolt; he had seen it happen.

He made a decision. “Very well, then. I know of a man with a horse and wagon who has business – elsewhere.” The man was the surviving Millenarian priest, who was going to be traveling under cover to Saus to try to find out what had happened to his church. “He will be heading northeast –“ Parsiel decided he shouldn’t be too forthcoming with the details – “rather than southeast.” In other words, not toward Provatiel, but if you wanted to go there, we wouldn’t be dancing around the subject like this. And I’m beginning to suspect you’re going to the same place as he is. This was correct. “Is that satisfactory?”

“Yes.” Flat statement, flat voice, flat facial expression, as though Bindiel was deciding whether to step on a bug.

Parsiel sighed. “It will be done, then. It’ll take a day to arrange. I recommend you stay here and out of sight until then. There’s an upstairs room.” Mine, but I’m not going near it until you’re out of town.

“Thank you.” Still flat and lifeless, but was there at least a glimmer of hope that this strange newcomer wasn’t going to kill him?

Parsiel motioned up the stairs. “I need to go make arrangements. I work here this evening, so you’ll see –“

Bindiel cut him off. “No, I will not. Effective immediately, your cover here is blown, on my authority. You will return at once to –“ he checked the Damping spell – “Provatiel, where you will help comfort the bereaved there. There are one hell of a lot of them. Pick yourself a nice widow or three, settle down, raise your family, and remember.” He didn’t say you will not be traveling with me; he didn’t need to.

Parsiel’s mouth worked silently as he started to put the pieces together. He said nothing more until he was turning to leave this frightening man, but then he had one more thought. “I – you’re obviously senior enough to be giving me this order, sir. But Fath—the man who will be driving you to – your destination will not know that. He is one of the Faithful, and he will want to know on whose authority I am giving him this instruction. Now, after we’ve established each other’s bona fides, can you finally at least tell me who you are without killing me?”

Bindiel thought for a long minute. And then he told him, and didn't even kill him afterward.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » March 16th, 2019, 8:09 pm

[Short one this time, but I've been fighting writer's block and need to keep some momentum, so we'll come back to this merry crew soon enough ...]

Chapter Thirty-nine: Anoxia

Anoxia, the biological state of being without oxygen for a while, does strange and horrible things to the brain. It is an extremely oxygen-greedy organ. Deprive it of its need for even a very short time, and parts of it start to work not quite right. Deprive it for only a little longer, and first in small bits at a time, soon enough all over the organ, the dysfunction becomes permanent – even in an elf brain.

Peregin Paukii had stopped breathing for long enough, before Harker plummeted onto her chest, to be in that cerebral territory from which return is no automatic, certain thing. As Argus and Sister Rose had hoped (sort of), the magical iron lung that Argus improvised got her back breathing again, restoring the flow of precious oxygen to her blood and then to her body. Over the next few hours, the tough elven immune system would neutralize the toxins the huge venomous snake had filled her with, and she would begin to breathe again under her own power. In general, she would be functional again by the next day. However, certain parts of her brain … would not.

=^=^=

The Outlanders had hove-to a few miles off the coast of Shield Island when they spotted Dess Marson’s odd ship(s), and kept a low profile in the hope that Marson would not see them in return. (This hope would not be fulfilled; Marson knew they were there. However, they had nothing to do with the money-making deal that brought him here, he wasn’t going to bother them if they didn’t bother him, and after collecting Rose and Argus and Harker, he simply sped off.) As soon as the coast was clear, they began their own careful, stealthy approach to the island – at just about the time when Paukii was starting to breathe again without assistance.

The Outlanders were wiser in the ways of the wilds, or at least that part of the wilds composed of stinking swamps and disagreeable highlands, than Rose and Argus were. People-Leader’s-Son frowned while they were still a quarter of a mile or so from the shore. “That looks like a settlement,” he said, pointing with his long arm toward the ruins where the humans had spent the night. “We must approach carefully. Learning-Spirits, can you divine anything about them?”

The main spellcaster in the Outlander party frowned in her turn. “Let me consult.” She thought she was praying to one of the tribe’s divinities, although elves and Tsuirakuans would have dismissed what she was doing as simply a Farsight spell. After a minute or two of concentration, she nodded, a gesture that meant the same in her culture as in the other intelligent races. “It is in ruins, but I think it was a village of our people. It has that look about it, or so the Spirits tell me.”

It was People-Leader’s-Son’s turn to nod. “Good. We may find things there to help us in our search. Let us land.” And a few minutes later, the explorers were moving cautiously inland, toward the trailhead … and the now-awake elf, still in her thaumatic iron lung, a few hundred yards along it.

They happened to reach Paukii at just about the time when she was able to extricate herself from the device. The omnipresent light mist had brought a few leaves and a bit of dirt down from the treetops, and in addition, the light beneath the forest canopy was dim. Between this and the fact that Argus’ handiwork had been functional and not decorative, the life-sustaining gadget looked more like a moss-covered tube lying on the ground than like a magical artifact. In turn, the elf who now emerged from it looked more like she was crawling out of the underworld than like a representative of the planet’s oldest -- and most imperious -- race.

“GAAAA! A QUTSMOVI!” one of the Outlanders screamed, using a word that had no exact equivalent in any other known language; “earth-demon” came as close as anything without precisely capturing the fear of it. (Or “night wyrm”; a xenobiologist might have had some fun with that. But there were no xenobiologists on the island. As for whether there were actual night wyrms, that question is probably best left unexplored, like most of the island.) The screamer turned to run, as did two or three other of the explorers, but People-Leader’s-Son raised a hand and stood his ground. “Wait,” he commanded, and such was his stature already with his people that that gesture stopped the flight. “This looks like one of the –“ he tried to remember the word the demons used for themselves, no point in alarming his crew – “humans who come to the Demon Isles sometimes.” (The human/elf nuance was lost on him, of course, but that was understandable; no elf had set foot in the Eastern Wastes in centuries.) “They aren’t creatures of evil, just different from us. Treat it carefully and it will do no harm.”

Of course, nobody had bothered to check that last contention with Paukii, now gathering what remained of her wits as her breathing became regular and unassisted.
----
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