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

Postby Graybeard » April 12th, 2019, 12:50 pm

[Another short one to de-block some writer's block...]


Chapter Forty: Phidelphiel (I)

“So that’s Phidelphiel,” Sister Rose observed to Argus, squinting at the distant city lights through the coastal mists.

Nobody on board had expected the Veracian city to be their next port of call. Argus, Rose, Dess Marson, and Lucy Kankaniel had all planned to go back to the miasmas of Anuba City when they were done with Shield Island, after which they would go their separate ways. However, it didn’t take long for them all to decide, after hearing Lucy’s account of the sinking of her ship, that there was someone there whom they would much prefer to avoid. (In fact, Nikolai was just about to set sail back to Nautkia, believing that he’d accomplished his mission and having no further interest in the place or the ships that came and went there. Needless to say, none aboard Marson’s ship could know that – yet.)

Argus grimaced. “Don’t remind me.”

Rose knew he’d been there before they’d met, but he had never explained why, when or how; no big secret, she guessed, just no occasion to talk about it. Until now. “Not a fun, memorable trip, huh?”

Another grimace, and not just from the noise of the air horn behind them. “It was supposed to be. When I was young, my parents were big on us seeing the world.” He blushed. “Which is how – there is a Lillith.” The blush deepened.

Rose smiled and patted his hand. “For which all involved can be grateful.” (Argus’ scowl did brighten for that.) “But not so much here?”

The grimace was back. “No. I was about ten at the time. I’m still not sure why we came here. My father said it was a business trip, for whatever business he was in – I never knew much about that -- so why not bring the family along? But he got in trouble when he got back, for what happened.”

Rose waited him out, knowing he’d elaborate if he’d got this far, but she was thinking, and wondering. Two possibilities. The unflattering one is that Argus’ dad was involved in some smuggling activities like they do in Nautkia … and the scary one is that he was an agent of the Tsuirakuan government, in deep cover to do some snooping around, maybe break up those same smugglers. I know he’s talked about his father having had some government job, without ever saying wat it was. Dare I –

She didn’t need to. As expected, Argus sighed and continued. “My mother got mugged, practically kidnapped in fact. It’s a rough city. We were all in the harbor district. Dad and I were looking at a funny-looking ship, he wondered later if it had some dwarven features. Mom – some asshole got an arm around her, with a knife in his hand.”

What a horrible thing for a small child to have to see. But I know his parents were still alive when he went up to the Northern Confederacy to … “The guy tried to kidnap the wife of an arch-mage?” she pressed on. “Sounds … unwise.”

Argus’ mood brightened slightly. “That it was. I was about ready to try something stupid, the kind of thing ten-year-olds read about in comics, when there was this magical KRAAK and a black, smoking hole about half an inch in diameter appeared between the bastard’s eyes. My father had cast that precise a Force Bolt. Didn’t even singe Mom’s hair.” His smile widened a little more and he rolled his eyes. “They didn’t have any disciplinary trouble with me for a long time after that.”

“I bet,” said Rose, impressed, and she changed the subject.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » May 2nd, 2019, 11:17 pm

Chapter Forty-one: Phidelphiel (II)

“What now?” Argus asked Sister Rose once they had landed. Lucy Kankaniel, her surviving crew, and Dess Marson and Tomas had all vanished on arrival like dew before the sun, so they were on their own in an unfamiliar place.

“I’m not sure,” Rose answered. “This wasn’t planned.” She grimaced. “It should have been. Anuba City is unpleasant enough that people try to get away from it as fast as they can, even under normal conditions. This is about the closest mainland port to the Archipelago, and somebody should have had the foresight to set something up here as Plan B.” Another grimace. “I guess I should have been that somebody.” If I wasn’t so busy thinking about … family things.

“The military can’t help us here?” Argus wondered.

“Probably not. This trip was pretty close-hold. I doubt if anyone here was briefed on it. Just wading into a naval facility uninvited … isn’t a good idea.”

Argus chuckled. “It wouldn’t be in Tsuiraku either. Navies are like that. How about your church? Do they have anything useful in town?”

Rose brightened. “Now there’s an idea. There’s a small temple of my denomination here, the head priest and I were in school together before I got moved onto the military track. Nice enough guy, goes by Father Burton now. I think he’d help, if we can just find the temple.” A few minutes later, they had flagged down a hack, finding that the driver knew where the temple was, and were on their way.

It was only a few minutes after that, however, that Rose began to feel uncomfortable, and it wasn’t morning sickness that was the cause. <”Something doesn’t feel right here,”> she mind-spoke to Argus. <”I just checked this guy’s emotional state –“> she didn’t need to say she’d used her Empathy magic -- <”and he’s hiding something from us. No idea what, but there’s an unpleasant tinge to it.”>

<”Think he’s planning to try something?”> Argus thought back, his body language suggesting he was thinking the same thing; he’d grown astute at reading people’s own body language, being now more or less married to a master of the art.

<”Could be. We’d better stay on our toes.”> They rode in silence for a few minutes more, until the hack turned down a beat-up-looking lane that raised their sensitivities another notch. In fairness, what looked like a Reformed temple was visible a few blocks down the road.

Are we walking, or riding, into an ambush? Rose wondered. She decided to pre-empt. “Thanks. We’ll take it from here, we need to stretch our legs.” They’d been on a sea voyage, after all, so that was more true than not.

Then, as she and Argus were debarking, she made a terrible blunder: she let the hack driver get between her and Argus.

He was a big man, but startlingly quick … and he had a knife. Before she had a chance to react, he twisted around and enveloped her with a meaty arm, with the knife in his hand, and at her neck. She emitted a strangled “ArrrGLUH” before he pulled her off her feet and snarled at Argus, “Drop the money purse or your bitch gets it.”

=*=*=

Years earlier, this would have been a disastrous error for the mugger, not the intended victim.

Cadet Rose Nuria had not been very good, in general, at the hand-to-hand combat training she’d been forced to take as part of her preparations for the military. She was fairly strong for a 17-year-old girl, but she was a girl, as the obnoxious instructor never ceased to point out loudly. Her excellent balance didn’t make up for her limited strength, nor did quick reflexes completely overcome an unwillingness to shed blood or inflict a debilitating blow to … certain male anatomy. She would eventually pass the course – a corrupt priest would discover that, many years later, to his disadvantage – but in the lower half of the class, and only after many a punitive “remedial” session.

However, there was one part of the class where she wasn’t just skilled, she was better at it than any student in years had been: evasion.

Nobody ever, ever was able to keep Cadet Nuria in a headlock or other physical restraint for long, because of the shapeshifting magic that she already wielded with a proficiency never seen before in the Veracian military. In a flash of her green eyes, she could grow or shrink several inches and get wider-bodied or the opposite, whatever worked in the particular situation. Usually that would suffice to get out of the grip by itself, and it would certainly surprise her adversary … and if one polymorph only created surprise, another, cast barely a second or so later, would finish the job. She’d be out of the grip, and ready to cast a Force Bolt or some other counterattack, before the instructor could call off the fight.

Her performance gained her a nickname among her fellow cadets: The Eel. Her attitude toward this recognition was … ambivalent. Truthfully, though, she didn’t really care; the skill got her through the class, and on to a commission, and that was all she cared about.

=*=*=

This situation, though, was different.

She’d quickly sized up the man’s powerful, but clumsy and amateurish, grip, decided she could escape it with a shape-shift to a slender, smaller physique … but just as she was starting to rally magic to do it, she remembered what the Tsuirakuan lifemage in Kiyoka had said. “Studies of effects of polymorph magic on the unborn have been inconclusive.” She also remembered Argus’ reaction. And she made a decision: I don’t know how I’m getting out of this, but I know I’m not going to jeopardize this unborn –

She’d never been so glad to hear mind-speech as she was at this point. <”Not to worry,”> Argus said in her mind. <”I’m on it. Just hold absolutely still for about five seconds.”> And she knew what he had in mind.

Her assailant may, or may not, have had a little magic sensitivity. Either way, he turned to Argus and sneered, even as Rose could sense the magic rising. “Shaddup, Gramps,” he snarled. “Drop the money by the count of three, or say bye-bye to wifey. One … tARGHH!”

Rose felt a hint of pressure along her back, and that was all she needed. She threw herself sideways and spun around, breaking free just in time to see the hood transfixed by Argus’ favorite weapon, a spike raised out of the ground. This one hadn’t passed through the man’s flesh, just his clothes, but that was enough; it had grazed the skin of his arm, so that he dropped the weapon, and then the skin of his nose, so that he dropped something else that his torn pants were showing the signs of passing (so to speak).

“The next one comes out of your mouth,” Argus said in an unnaturally calm voice. “Guess which orifice it goes in by.”

The thug didn’t wait for the “next one.” Without a word, he pulled out of his shredded shirt and pants, and took off running. Argus produced a deep sigh, and Rose sagged into his arms as the adrenaline rush subsided.

Four hours and one meeting with a deeply apologetic Father Burton later, the pair were on an airship bound for Emerylon.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » June 9th, 2019, 10:39 pm

[Not real proud of this one, but it's been too long since the last one, so ... /EDIT: Oop, major continuity error, fixed. That's what happens when you try to write a callback to something written ten years ago ...]

Chapter Forty-two: Plotting

The wagon carrying Elgin Bindiel had not yet reached Saus by the time Sister Rose and Argus landed in Emerylon, but it was getting close, which meant that it was getting time for Bindiel to start working on killing Patriarch Jeramel.

He’d had plenty of time on the road to plot and plan. Most of that time, unfortunately, had been spent stewing over just how difficult his task was going to be. For a man who went to great lengths during public appearances to loudly proclaim his love for his flock, Jeramel was almost pathologically unwilling to actually expose himself to that flock. (As well he might be, Bindiel reflected. Nobody anywhere, whether in the Pleasure Dome nor in the countryside nor even in Emerylon, had any illusions as to whether that love was genuine, or reciprocated.) Getting close enough to the Patriarch, during one of those appearances, to do something lethal to him was too risky – not that Bindiel particularly cared whether he lived or died anymore, but he couldn’t complete his mission if he was dead.

Part of his problem was that it was hard for him to judge just how severe his problem was. His clandestine communications system had gone silent since that last horrifying conversation with his wife. On balance, that was probably good; it meant that the apostates hadn’t found out about the system, or at least, weren’t trying to penetrate it. (He shuddered at what might happen if they succeeded.) On the other hand, it also meant that he dared not use it to do any fact finding – not even with Sister Ardith, who he fervently hoped had gone to ground with her cover intact.

Time, and a small-world encounter so improbable that Bindiel would have considered it to be Luminosita’s Work if he’d known about it, would validate that hope in a way that neither of them was yet imagining.

Neither Will Parsiel nor his wagon driver could be much help with that loss of communications. Parsiel had picked up a few rumors from the townsfolk of Getsemiel who came to the bar, but nothing very useful – the Millenarians had been in cahoots with the dragon that destroyed the center of town, a gang of bandits had taken away the Millenarian priests (neither Parsiel nor Bindiel put much stock in that one, if for different reasons), that kind of thing. As for the strange, anonymous man at the reins, Bindiel was starting to wonder whether he was really a “Father” in the True Church as Parsiel had almost blurted out that he was. The man had cast him a sour look as they’d loaded up to hit the road, and had been entirely silent after that – not that Bindiel had been in a mood for small talk. However, there had been one curious incident on the road, the first night. They’d gone to ground in a small town that happened(?) to have a Millenarian temple. Its front doors stood ajar, it appeared deserted, and no townsfolk were getting anywhere close to it. The wagon driver inspected this sight, grunted, shook his head … and as soon as the horses were secured, simply walked through the front door of the temple, closing it behind him. Bindiel spent a not-very-comfortable, but entirely unmolested, night in the wagon, alone with his thoughts. The next morning, the wagoneer emerged with a cup of tea that he offered wordlessly to his passenger (where had he got that?), and they were off.

Most of the few words that the wagoneer spoke on the trip followed soon after this departure – well, relatively soon, if “an hour later” counts. Bindiel made one more try at conversation, after the earlier ones had gone nowhere. “How did you know the townspeople would leave you alone when you went into – our temple?”

The man grunted. “They think it’s cursed.”

“Is it?” said Bindiel, mildly intrigued, and wondering how he could turn this intelligence to his advantage.

Another grunt. “They think so, and that’s all that matters.” And that was that for conversation.

By the time they reached Saus, Bindiel was anxious to talk to someone – anyone. But the wagon driver still was in no mood for conversation. He deposited his passenger and his light travel bag unceremoniously in the middle of town and left, for Luminosita alone knew where. Bindiel, miffed, started to object, but then his gaze fell on what passed for a newspaper in town … and he realized the man had done him a favor after all.

“TEMPLE TO BE RE-CONSECRATED,” the headline read. Not just any temple, as Bindiel noted; the former Millenarian one (the paper’s language just talked about “heretics” and left the sect unnamed, but he could figure it out) that had burned a few months earlier and housed the church’s extensive genealogical records. That was interesting enough; Bindiel had been there years earlier, had a quiet conversation with the high priest (no mention of him in the article, of course; presumably something bad had happened to him by now), and gotten a tour … which, with his superb memory, he could still walk through as though he’d been there yesterday.

Better yet, the re-consecration of this temple, now an Orthodox one, was to occur in a week’s time.

And best of all, His Holiness the Patriarch (Bindiel produced an involuntary snort at the name, looked around quickly to see if it had been noticed, was relieved that it hadn’t) would be presiding.

An idea began to grow in Bindiel’s mind.
----
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