The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Church

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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » November 19th, 2016, 10:22 pm

Chapter Sixty-nine: Climbing

As she watched the advancing line of light sources (maybe torches, maybe light globes, she couldn’t tell) coming from below her and heading upward, Peregin Paukii had one loud and clear thought: I’m in trouble.

Her problem had several aspects. She estimated that the soldiers (as they certainly were) would reach her position in fifteen minutes or so. Experience had shown that a travel platform required about half an hour to recharge following a gate, so simply going back the way she’d got here wouldn’t work. Second, although she knew plenty of destructive magic, none of it had a large area of effect, and the soldiers were showing some professionalism, not bunching up so that one Fireball could kill any large number of them. Yes, she could probably take out ten or twenty before they knew what was happening, but more than that were coming, and eventually numbers would gain the upper hand.

Third, there was no place to hide near the platform. That was by design; it wouldn’t do to gate right into the middle of a tree, so the platforms were put in places where there weren’t trees. The standing stones found around the typical platform would usually provide enough cover from prying eyes, but not from fifty sets of those eyes at once.

Fourth, she wasn’t going to talk her way out of this one. Veracians were not reasonable people, and for all their blathering about the Love of Luminosita and Luminosita’s Peace and all that, their military was there to fight. The people coming up from below weren’t going to be in a talking mood (Anilis’ Tits, she’d react the same way in their position), and again, there were too many of them for mind magic.

She swallowed hard and came to a conclusion: the only way out was up.

She gathered her magical energies and used the Teleport spell she’d learned from Drusia. It couldn’t take her far, maybe 200 feet at most, but every little bit of head start would help. Besides, the break in her footprints would throw her pursuers off the track for a while. That would be useful …

… Or maybe it wouldn’t. As she reappeared in a rocky gully leading up toward the ridge line, still a good thousand feet above her, she noticed that the image of the Veracian god-gadget had moved right along with her, and was continuing to bellow invective in her direction. Dammitall! When had the Veracians learned that kind of magical sophistication?

(The answer, which would come to her much later, was: in the Mage-Priest War. The civilian Veracian population were still at least as cowed by magic – more accurately, by their church’s tirades about it – as they had been before the war. But the military were no fools, and they studied the ways of the winners of that war and learned. This would be something the elves would want to know about … if she survived to tell them.)

Well, no matter, the course of action from here was obvious. She began to climb.

At least the terrain was working in her favor. The gully was steep and rugged, the kind of thing that would normally take an expert rock climber to make good time in. The expert rock climber, however, didn’t have the array of magic at hand that a ranger did, and her time in the field kept her fit. She moved rapidly up the crags, a bit of Sticky Fingers or Slow Fall magic helping her through the tricky parts. She should be gaining on –

The pinggg of a bullet ricocheting off the rock she was about to use as a handhold, followed moments later by the sharp crack of the rifle that had fired it, shook her out of her reveries, and her self-confidence.

So much for the Anilis-damned climbing aids, she thought. She had no choice but to put up a Shield spell as another bullet hit too close to her body. That would take all the magical effort she could muster. She climbed faster, and without magical aid, throwing caution to the winds.

A bit of good fortune came to her aid now. Without any magical assistance, her feet fell more heavily on the rock of the gully, and in places it was loose and rotten, nothing one should ever want to put any weight on. She’d just pulled up onto a ledge when a boulder the size of a cow, which she had been standing on before making the move, decided it had had enough, and crumbled off the wall it had been attached to. Down the gully it plummeted, gathering speed and momentum, and dislodging more and more boulders as it went. At first the avalanche was almost silent, but that didn’t last, and soon the air was full of sound as well as flying rock – the sound not only of the avalanche itself, but of the humans below it, whose shouts made it clear that they’d figured out what was happening. In a fortuitous lull in the racket, she heard a distinct splat and a scream, as rock met flesh and bone, to the terminal misfortune of the latter …

Buoyed by this momentary victory, she finally gathered her wits to do something she should have done the moment she saw the image of Luminosita.

”DISPEL!!”

The magical visage may have looked terrifying to a Veracian, and was life-threatening to the climber whom it had detected and whose path it was illuminating, but it wasn’t magically robust. The Veracians’ spell winked out of existence and the scene became dark. Shouts and curses from below left no doubt that the humans were losing track of their quarry.

There was no time to linger, though; it wouldn’t be long, Paukii thought, before a priest or two joined the soldiers, and magical light filled the scene again. Elven night vision was superior to that of humans, and she was able to put it to good use now and make progress up the gully, which was becoming shallower as it reached the ridge line.

On and on she climbed, the calls and curses of the humans becoming fainter and more distant behind her.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » November 27th, 2016, 1:50 pm

Chapter Seventy: Father Red

Abbot Redmond, better known to the people of the Kiyoka temple simply as Father Red or just Red, was waiting for Brother Miguel and Sister Marilyn as they returned to the temple, leaving a pair of damaged young thugs (and a grateful and Healed small girl) at the park with a message that if they ever attacked a child in Marilyn’s care again, their broken arms would be replaced by something much worse.

Father Red was as surprised as anyone that he was now the Abbot here, actually. He’d come to the mission in Kiyoka to become the assistant Abbot, following strange goings-on that led to the death of the previous assistant, Father Egbert; strange goings-on that led to one of his senior nuns witnessing, and maybe being involved in, that death. (He was going to have to talk to Sister Rose about that some time, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.) What he had not expected was that the Abbot himself would be called to Emerylon for “consultations” and simply would never come back. He hadn’t “ascended” to the Abbot’s position as much as it had just landed on him by default. Well, no matter, he’d make do, do his best, and Luminosita would provide; this had been his mantra for most of his life, so why change now?

There had been some changes in the temple under his leadership; changes, he thought, for the better. The insulting “Mission to the Faithless” inscription on the sign above the main door had been chiseled off within hours of when he arrived. That its removal was followed in short order by a minor uptick in the number of Kiyokans who came to services, or outright converted, was no coincidence, he was sure. He’d also started using the numerous excess bunks in the cloister – bunks installed to accommodate extra “priests” who were in fact soldiers, if tensions between Tsuiraku and Veracia ever required them – as a shelter for homeless women and children. Some of the older hands at the temple, notably the obnoxious Brother Jerald, hadn’t liked that much, but they could go hang, and he’d told them so.

Now he was standing in the sanctuary with the improbable Brother Lemuel, trying to figure out how to work some indigenous Kiyokan motifs (to be designed and built by Kiyokans; another way of extending a hand to the people of the city) into the Luminosita-centered décor of the room. That shouldn’t be too difficult, he thought, and it could probably be done without getting the Church’s conservatives in a dither – well, some of them would dither at even the most microscopic departure from Veracian tradition, but those hard-core traditionalists would never travel to Kiyoka anyway, so no point in worrying about them. Having the first Tsuirakuan mission here rather than in Tsuirakushita or (Luminosita forbid) Tsuirakushiti itself would make that easier. Yes, replacing the stone altar with one carved from indigenous wood from the forests around Kiyoka would be a good start. If Lemuel had any reservations about replacing stonework, he kept them to himself, of course.

Their reveries were interrupted by the quiet arrival of Sister Margaret, who cleared her throat. “Father? There’s a message from Emerylon that’s for your eyes only.” Father Red smiled agreeably, keeping his mental rolling of eyes a purely internal, invisible gesture; Margaret was one of the people who still hadn’t become comfortable with calling him “Red,” even though she was his second in command and assistant Abbot in all but name. “Very well,” he said, “I’ll be there in just a minute. Lemuel, would you wait for me, please?” His companion nodded silently and became completely motionless; being, after all, a golem, he was very good at waiting.

Red returned from his office a few minutes later in a somewhat less congenial frame of mind. News of the renegade war golem had percolated from the mission in Isabel through the administrative rabbit warren of the Emerylon temple and now to him, and the Patriarch’s people had appended to it a “request” that stopped barely short of a direct order. It was this request that put a scowl on Red’s face; he knew full well that the person being all-but-ordered to go investigate wasn’t going to like it.

Well, she could still turn the “request” down, he thought, and went back to studying the sanctuary. It was only a few minutes later, though, when a sheepish Margaret returned with news of another eyes-only missive from Emerylon. The process repeated itself and he went back to the office, to return again with his scowl having reappeared and deepened. There was another “request,” coupled with the disturbing news that something had happened to the high priest of the Mechanist sect. This one didn’t just annoy him, it puzzled him; if somebody from this mission was to go investigate, why not Brother Miguel, their expert on Divination magic? But instead, the same resource was being requested as in the previous “request” … and she was going to like this one even less.

He’d barely settled back into thinking about the sanctuary when there was a third summons from a visibly chagrined Margaret.

This one, at least, struck him as something to be legitimately concerned about. Something had happened, details not given, that was creating pressure in Emerylon for the Millenarians to be declared heretical, with all that that implied. High on that list of implications was that the question of heresy in the minor sects might be getting re-opened again … and that was something that would make any Reformed priest or nun nervous.

And, of course, that same resource was being requested for involvement in that question as well.

When he finished listening to the message, he went back to the sanctuary and dismissed Brother Lemuel. Next, he spent a long time at the altar, his head bowed in prayer – prayer for wisdom to do the right thing, and prayer for the well-being of those in his charge, particularly that one person who seemed to be in unending demand in Emerylon. He was still in the posture of prayer when he was interrupted one more time by Margaret … and that was the last straw.

“Father?” she said softly, not wanting to interrupt, but the call from the Great Temple had been insistent. “Something has happened in the Anuban Colonies, they –“

Red jerked upright and raised a hand. “Save it for later,” he said curtly, quite surprising Margaret; neither she nor anyone else in the mission had ever heard him talk like that before. “Instead, I want you to go retrieve Sister Rose from her vineyard.” He sighed. “Some people have a use for her, apparently, and I want to talk to her about it.”

Margaret turned to go without another word, leaving Red alone with his thoughts … until Miguel and Marilyn came, with their own thoughts about their esteemed colleague in the Church of Luminosita.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » December 10th, 2016, 5:42 pm

Chapter Seventy-One: Another interrogation

One of the things that kept the Commentaries of Bishop Nuria from being incorporated into the canon of the Orthodox Veracian Church was their stubborn insistence on incorporating words of wisdom from other religions and traditions. To be sure, the scholars of the church (not to mention their accountants and generals) were well aware that the unbelievers and apostates had wise things to say on occasion. But to acknowledge those wise things in literature, and liturgy, intended to, um, buttress the Faithful in their belief in Luminosita might be … misinterpreted. The Commentaries therefore remained as marginalia, never to be quoted in Orthodox or most other Luminositan services – an exception being made for the Reformists, Sister Rose’s denomination.

Against that background, it was particularly ironic that the office of the Cardinal Inquisitor, most conservative of the major Orthodox offices, was preparing to launch at Rose, most “reformed” of the Reformists, an illustration of one of those Commentaries: “’If the Mountain will not come to Mahamet, Mahamet must go to the Mountain,’ so says a proverb of antiquity. In this there is truth; but it is also true that, on the rare occasions when the Mountain does come to Mahamet, Mahamet is well advised to pay the Mountain particularly careful attention.”

The Inquisitor, hard case though he was, was shrewd enough to realize that not every investigation should be undertaken by someone as abrasive as the late Sister Bree or as hidebound as Father Gaetan or as forbidding as, well, himself. Sometimes a more delicate touch was required; not often, but sometimes. And for those situations, he had found it convenient to use a rare asset from one of the minor denominations, one that had some … eccentricities of personal behavior, but was surprisingly conservative doctrinally, closer to mainstream Orthodoxy than any of the minor sects except the Millenarians. (And he certainly wasn’t going to use the Millenarians for this mission.)

This was why a priest and a nun from the Calfornican Church were now approaching a small temple on the outskirts of Emerylon, the pair hand in hand, the wife (the Calfornicans didn’t literally marry, but reality was what it was, so may as well call a spade a spade) heavily pregnant. This was not just any temple; indeed, it was barely a temple at all. A different, more hardened world would have called it a “safe house.” It existed not for the worship of Luminosita, but as half prison, half protector for those who might have made enemies while doing Luminosita’s work. At least that was the official line; in practice, it was a place to hide informers and snitches, one of whom Brother Arno and Sister Alicia, to give them their full names, were coming to see. They gave a coded knock on the carefully barred (and magically secured, although most Veracians would not recognize it) main door, and a moment later, were let inside.

“Sister Annmarie?” they addressed the pregnant blonde woman waiting for them in the small sanctuary.

“Not any more,” the woman sighed. “It’s just Annie now. And please, don’t call me Mrs. Bindiel.” She shuddered.

A quick look passed between the Calfornican couple. Then Alicia waddled forward – even pre-pregnancy, she was not exactly light on her feet – and sat down next to the woman they were there to interrogate. “I hope this all hasn’t been too hard on you, and on your baby,” she said with a quick caress of her own expansive belly.

That broke the ice, sort of. Annie smiled shyly and returned the gesture. “Th- thank you,” she said. “No, everyone has been very kind since – since I got here. And before. My –“ Just how did one describe the cousin of her first husband? – “my friend Sister Rose was so nice, so helpful, so sympathetic.”

Another look; they’d heard Rose’s name before, although they couldn’t place where. “So the reason you’re here,” Arno said, “want to talk about it?”

Annie sniffled. “Yes, I do.” And there followed what Arno and Alicia would later agree was the easiest, least threatening interrogation they’d ever been involved in. It confirmed everything Annie had told Rose earlier, about the budding insurrection in Provatiel, and much more. By the time it was finished, they also knew more about the deaths of Professor Avner Indianel and Rebekah Codoin than anyone (except possibly Rose) might have suspected. In a nutshell, they had more than enough, should the Cardinal Inquisitor desire it, to absolutely hang the Millenarian Church as apostate at best, and treasonous at worst.

Annie looked glad to have got all that off her chest, but she sagged into herself as a suddenly empty paper bag might sag. “And now,” she said, “I must make preparations to die.”

That, it was fair to say, caught Arno and Alicia completely off guard. “You’re not going to die,” Arno sputtered. “Why would you die? You’re under the protection of Our Lord’s Church, you look healthy, you –“

“They’re going to kill me now,” Annie said almost nonchalantly. “Just like they did Professor Indianel and the Codoin girl, when they said they wouldn’t work with them. And they’re everywhere now. You know that. They have people in the Patriarch’s office. They know where I am. And they’re going to kill me.”

A look passed between the two Calfornicans, and after a moment, Alicia said one word. “Agnes?”

“What’s an Agnes?” Annie asked.

Alicia looked like she wasn’t sure she should answer, but decided to give it a try. “Sister Agnes is another nun in the service of Our Lord Luminosita,” she explained, “and another in – a denomination that allows her to marry and have a family. She is a young mother now, as you and I will soon be. And she lives in – a place very far from here, far from Veracia in fact –“ Annie’s eyes got wide at this – “where she is safe. We can get you to that place. And you will be safe there too.”

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Remarkably enough, an ocean away, Sister Rose, who knew Sister Agnes well (although she did not know her current situation), was hearing that name at the same time, for the first time in many moons.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » January 4th, 2017, 10:16 am

Unfortunately, a worsening health problem means I'm going to have to put this on hiatus for a while. (Not sure whether anyone is reading it anyway.) It will be back for sure if Poe's writing of the Errant World resumes, assuming I'm still able to do it at all. Otherwise, things are going to go quiet for maybe a month or so while I try to get my health back to something reasonable. If I don't ... well, I'll at least try to write a synopsis of what is yet to follow. (SPOILER:
Spoiler: show
Rose, at least, is going to be OK.


More when I can, if I can. Writing Sister Rose has been fun from the first moment she was introduced to Errant Road almost nine years ago!
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » April 6th, 2017, 4:06 pm

Well, the health issues have been seen to a more-or-less satisfactory more-or-less conclusion, so I'll be getting back to writing this, to try to get it to a conclusion as well. Next installment later this week if all goes well.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » April 13th, 2017, 11:51 pm

[So finally getting back to it. Long and political, but some background stuff is needed, so ...]

Chapter Seventy-two: Sister Agnes


On an island off the northeastern coast of the main island of Tsuiraku:

Sister Agnes was up before the sun, as usual, but also as usual, not before her son.

Leaving her husband Seiji sleeping, she rose to heed the cry of the two-month-old infant. Luminosita be thanked, she thought, he was an easy baby to take care of; not like the … demanding daughter of Sister Rhoda, now ensconced in the “guest cottage” at the opposite end of the compound from her own quarters. She could hear that infant crying already as she went to the nursery and unbuttoned her pajama top to nurse. Honestly, did that child ever stop crying? A Luminositan purist would have sniffed that a colicky baby was Luminosita’s punishment for a nun who’d committed the unthinkable sin of getting pregnant. Of course, a Luminositan purist would never have countenanced letting such a sinner seek first sanctuary, and eventually absolution, on a Tsuirakuan island, either.

Agnes was an extreme rarity among the nuns of the Veracian Church, not just in being a young mother – there were a few others whose denominations permitted such a thing – but in being a nun of the Mechanist, or Luminositan Scientist, denomination who was permitted to travel overseas. There were a number of compelling reasons why the Patriarch rarely allowed that. However, there was also a reason why a nun of that denomination had been needed to get things rolling at the mission in Kiyoka, and Agnes had been carefully shielded from certain key parts of the Mechanist practice, notably the part that would never, never travel outside the boundaries of Veracia. It had been obvious that she should join the mission to … perform certain functions, and if she happened to fall in love with, and marry, a Kiyokan, that was just part of the “outreach” role of the mission. Wasn’t it?

Actually, no, it wasn’t.

A few years earlier, the leaders of both Veracia and Tsuiraku had realized that certain things needed to be done, to prevent the strains that still existed in the relations of the two countries from erupting in another Mage-Priest War. It was agreed that one useful step would be for each country to offer the other one “transparency” in observing certain things like political decision making, troop movements, and so on. The Tsuirakuans had won the previous Mage-Priest War; both sides knew this. Accordingly, they were in more of a position to dictate terms for the “transparency” arrangement than to listen to what the Veracians thought of it. That was why Tsuirakuans had relatively free movement in Veracia, with only the holy city of Emerylon and a few other sensitive sites (one of which Cosmo and Shem had tried to enter, to their misfortune) being off limits, while Veracia was denied access to much of Tsuiraku, notably Tsuirakushiti itself.

Both sides accepted, however, that some kind of “transparency” measure had to happen in the territory of Tsuiraku, even if it was token and ineffectual (as the Veracians would complain) or too much of a nuisance to be expanded (as the Tsuirakuans would insist). Eventually a compromise was worked out, whereby “troop movements” along the coast of Tsuiraku would be monitored by a “listening post” staffed by Veracians. It would be authorized to keep an eye on, and report movements of, the Tsuirakuan navy (nearly nonexistent apart from a few coastal-patrol vessels) and airship fleet (significant, but not necessarily traveling along the coast). The fact that the real movements of Tsuirakuan troops would be by other, magical means – maybe just warp gates, but maybe not – was not lost on the rulers of either country.

Agnes’ compound was the result of this compromise. Its island had been leased long-term to Veracia as a sign of Tsuirakuan “good will,” not to mention the fact that it was carefully sheltered from prying eyes on either side. Of course, it was also well out of the main airship travel lanes, but at least it was well positioned to keep an eye on the coastal-patrol fleet, so it wasn’t completely worthless, just close. Agnes, with the – unusual skills that went along with being a Mechanist, was as good a choice as any for the permanent Veracian presence at this listening post. Bringing husband and child along with her made for good public relations, and if the place wound up serving a useful function for a Veracian Church that still included many who were uncomfortable with nuns and priests who were parents in their midst, all the better.

It was against this background that Agnes took her son, now sleepy again with a full belly, along as she opened a certain highly sensitive, heavily secured, and carefully hidden door that looked like it might have protected gardening tools, but actually protected something altogether different.

The communications system was keyed to her personal magical signature, and it flared soundlessly as she made contact with it. The voice at the opposite end sounded sleepy, even though Veracia had been awake for a couple of hours before light came to the Tsuirakuan coast. “Yes?” the male voice inquired. “Nothing to report,” Agnes replied, just as she’d done every morning but one since Lance was born. (That one was the morning after the Tower of Artifex Incident, when all the Tsuirakuan military came to a high alert level, but both sides understood now that that had been a real anomaly.) “Any news for me?”

She almost broke the connection without waiting for a reply; there was never news coming back the other way, which was just fine, since that meant there was nothing she had to conceal from her husband. This time, however, she got a surprise. “As a matter of fact, yes, there is,” the male voice said, sounding just a bit more awake than previously. “You’re going to be getting another mother-to-be.” And he told her some of the story of Annie who had been Sister Annmarie as well as Mrs. Bindiel; not all of it, need-to-know being what it was, but enough that Agnes was shaking her head in wonderment when the connection was broken.

It was the second contact of that day, however, that left her not just shaking her head, but completely stunned at the identity of the next visitor she would receive.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » April 15th, 2017, 12:07 pm

Chapter Seventy-three: Hijacking

“Ready to come about, ma’am?” Lucy Kankaniel’s helmsman asked, Lizard Head, the easternmost point on the shore of the River Lorenzel, now looming behind them.

The smuggler shook her head and gave a two-word answer. “Not yet.” Actually, the ship could have started its turn already. The Lizard was uninhabited, rocky and forbidding; there would be no prying eyes there. On the starboard shore lay Elven Territory, and the elves had never taken the slightest interest in her smuggling operation; nor, as far as she knew, in any of the other human traffic on the Veracian Sea. Besides, on this trip to the Southern Continent, all of her cargo was legitimate, just as it had been on the inbound leg (although very definitely not as it had been on the voyage before that). Prying eyes, particularly inspectors’ eyes, would have found nothing out of the ordinary in the holds.

Still, it was always good to follow sound security practices, she thought. The propulsion system for this ship had some highly unusual features, not as much so as the Stagpooles’ “special” ship but still things she didn’t want the Veracian or Farrelite militaries, let alone what the Northern Confederacy had, to know about. They’d wait until they were out of sight of land to activate those. Steering also had some enhancements – the average Veracian mariner would have been amazed at how agile this ship was – and those might get exposed as the ship turned onto its southward course. They would make that maneuver once Lizard Head vanished beyond the horizon.

“Very well, ma’am,” the helmsman answered, and the ship continued on its course. Satisfied that they would reach a turning point within a few minutes, Lucy permitted herself a brief walk outside the bridge to look back at the view. She was hardly a romantic individual, and her attachment to her homeland was purely a matter of business, but passing the Lizard always caused her some brief contemplation. It had an element of defiance to it, she thought, jutting out into a sea that was determined to wear it down with storms and rain and waves. Still it persisted, unchanged and unyielding as far as human eyes could see. Idly, she wondered whether the elves had seen changes in the Lizard over their vastly longer lives. From what she understood, they’d been in this area for tens of thousands of years, long enough ”WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?”

A very tall, hooded man (or woman, she wasn’t sure yet) was standing on the deck, just at the limits of her peripheral vision. No one like that was supposed to be on this ship. As she turned toward this alarming apparition, it spoke, in a calm, almost flat woman’s voice. “Part of our deal is that you don’t ask questions like that.”

Lucy’s hand flew toward the handgun that she always kept concealed under her jacket, but it was less than half way there when a bolt of magic scorched the air between her and the intruder, delivering an incapacitating (and, soon enough, agonizing) burn to that hand. She swore a string of mighty seafarer’s oaths as the tall woman spoke again. “Another part of the deal is that you don’t do things like that, either.”

Although the pain in her hand was growing, Lucy’s temper was getting frayed enough to distract her from it. “What the f*ck are you doing on my ship?” she demanded. “And what’s this about a deal?”

The woman threw back her hood, and suddenly Lucy began to understand, for all the good it would do her; an elf. “I repeat,” the elf said, “part of the deal is that you don’t ask questions like that. And in return, I let you live.”

Well, that kind of deal was easy enough to understand. “So what is it you want of me?” Lucy asked; may as well start negotiating, before the burned hand made coherent thought impossible.

“Transportation.”

“To where?”

“What you humans call the Anuban Colonies.”

“Just like that, huh?” The pain didn’t cover Lucy’s skepticism for this kind of “deal,” not by a long shot. However, a surprise was coming.

“Not to worry,” the elf said, opening her jacket to reveal a surprising number of what appeared to be gems. “I’ll pay for your services.”

Now the conversation was going in directions Lucy could definitely understand, and to her surprise, relate to. Some of those gems would be worth as much, she judged with a practiced eye, as her entire cargo of simple consumer goods. Well, may as well get on with it. She called back to the bridge, “Steady as she goes, helmsman – uh?” She could see the man’s body slumped over his chair and her temper began to rise. “Bitch! Is he –“

“He is not dead,” the elf said calmly. “He’s just asleep. So are all the rest of your deck hands. They will wake up as soon as I am done talking to you.” She snickered. “Unless you decide you don’t want my deal, in which case they will never wake up again, and neither will you.” Magic played around her hands to illustrate the point.

Cowed for one of the few times in her life, Lucy gulped and nodded. “I guess we have a deal.”

The elf nodded in her turn. “Make it so, then. I will be watching.” Without another word, magic rose in her eyes, and she vanished, to reappear in a niche in one of the ship’s holds that she’d carefully prepared when she teleported onto the ship back in Lorenzel. Well, that was easy, she thought …

… But getting to Lorenzel from that military compound on the north side of the Sleeping Sexton hadn’t been easy for Peregin Paukii, not at all.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » April 17th, 2017, 10:31 pm

Chapter Seventy-four: Bishop Carlo

“Your Eminence?” the Mechanist novice said. “There’s a message for you on the organ.”

Bishop Carlo of the Church of Luminosita, Scientist, started to object. “I’m not a bi—“ But then he caught himself: after what had happened to Bishop Odilo only a few days earlier, he was the Bishop of his sect, at least in an acting way.

What had happened had no known precedent, either in the Mechanist Church’s relatively brief existence (until the forming of the Reformed Church, it had just been an unnamed, unusual, but very important department in the offices of the Orthodox) or at any time in the Veracian Church’s long history. Carlo had been working in his office behind the altar (and concealments) in the main Mechanist temple when, entirely routinely, he decided to take a break and walk around. He activated the pivoting turntable of the concealment mechanism and stepped out into the sanctuary … and there in front of him lay the former(?) Bishop Odilo Carvial, still alive but unconscious, his head lolling to one side and his eyes vacant.

That part wasn’t that abnormal; many senior clergy of the Veracian Church stayed at their posts well beyond when they should have retired, suffered incapacitating strokes, and were found in a similar state. What made this incident unusual, however, was a combination of two things. The lesser was that Odilo was comparatively young for his position, at 52 years of age, and seemingly in robust good health, or so the healers said despite his carefully-cultivated elderly appearance. A man like that shouldn’t have such an illness. Even so, that too had happened on rare occasions … but the second part had not.

When Carlo and a hastily-summoned nun bent to try to give the man enough Healing to preserve his brain, it was immediately apparent that whatever had happened to him was of magical, not physical, origin.

The head of the Mechanist (Luminositan Science) denomination occupied a little-known but unexpectedly important position in the hierarchy of the Veracian Church, and it was but minutes until a full-blown squad of Healers converged on the scene. They too were unsuccessful in dispelling the magical attack – it could hardly be called anything else – on the Bishop. Curiously, however, his body seemed to work just fine. The magical attack had done no damage to his automatic, subconscious physical systems; only his intellect seemed to have been completely wiped out.

Now, two days later, Odilo Karvial’s functioning but – empty body lay in a carefully guarded infirmary in the main Orthodox temple. Carlo was certain in his own mind that Odilo’s body would remain there until it died. Until that time, his own status was in some doubt. He’d been anointed “acting Bishop” by a Church emissary hours after the incident, and within the Mechanist Church itself, he’d functioned in that role as though he was the natural heir to the position, as indeed he was. His first action had been to summon Father Bosco, whom he and Odilo had already identified as next in line for the Bishop title, and to start to brief him on the unexpectedly significant role the Bishop played in the worship of Luminosita. Bosco’s eyes had widened at what Carlo had had to say, and that was without any of the really sensitive job content, which Carlo was not yet ready to reveal; one could always hope that Bishop Odilo would make a miraculous recovery – although one would probably be wrong to harbor such a hope.

He triggered the revolving barrier again, hoping that this time there wouldn’t be another inert body in the sanctuary to surprise him. There wasn’t, and he stepped over to retrieve the business card resting on the console of the organ. He didn’t need to read this (the text was all misleading banalities anyway) to get the message; the border to the card was designed and color-coded in a way that the heads of the Mechanist Church had understood for decades. Your services are required at the Great Temple of Our Lord Luminosita, the coded message said. He gulped, bade Bosco mind the shop for the rest of the afternoon, and set off for the temple.

He was expected there. Two armed guards fell in beside him, and for a brief, sickening moment, he worried that he was being taken in for interrogation or worse. Once inside, however, they turned away from the “corrective” part of the temple (what a euphemism, he thought) and headed deeper into the huge structure, toward the part controlled by the Veracian military … and now he knew, in broad outline, why he’d been called to the sanctum sanctorum of the Church.

A very high-ranking officer in the Veracian Army was waiting for him and escorted him to a small, stark office redolent of magical security features. As soon as the two of them were alone, the general cast the expected Damping spell and spoke without preamble. “You are needed to summon Our Lord Luminosita to take punitive action against a group of heretics.”

Carlo nodded; as he’d learned from Odilo (and concealed from most everyone else), that was one of the things the Mechanists did, one of the important things, although not the most important thing of all. (He would not discuss that even with a general.) “Will Mother Elspeth be assisting as usual?” he asked, naming the Orthodox Church’s top expert on summoning Luminosita, a nun who would meet a most curious end two years later.

The general shook his head. “Not this time, Your Eminence. You must take on this mission alone. Security reasons,” he finished with a vague wave of his hand.

That was unusual, but not unprecedented; some of the anti-heresy work Luminosita was summoned to “help” with was sensitive enough that regular clergy were kept out of it, “plausible deniability” and all that. Carlo nodded. “Shall I prepare for the summoning?”

The general shook his head again. “Not yet. This is Luminosita’s Top Secret: the heretics in question aren’t in Emerylon, or within range. They are here.” With a grunt of magical effort, he produced an image that displayed on the office wall …

… An image of the Millenarian temple-fortress at Provatiel.

Carlo was unimpressed. “Not familiar with the place, doesn’t look like anywhere I’ve been. Where is it?”

“You’ll be briefed in detail on that,” the general said. “For now, the challenge is figuring out how to do it. You will have the full resources of the base at Lorenzel.” (Carlo’s eyebrows rose at this; Lorenzel had something of a reputation.) “Unfortunately, even Lorenzel is out of direct summoning range from this fortification. Some massive amplification of existing magic down there may have to be used rather than a direct summoning of Luminosita Himself.”

“How massive?” Carlo wanted to know, his head starting to spin with the complexities of raising Luminosita in some remote location nowhere near Emerylon.

The general looked uneasy as he replied. “Truthfully, we don’t know. We have ancient drawings of this place, but apparently the Mi— heretics now occupying it have done additional strengthening, turned it into a real fortress rather than just an old abandoned castle. Our top expert on the current state of this structure is being summoned to participate in the planning.”

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However, the mere fact that Sister Rose was being “summoned” did not necessarily mean she was going to respond to this summons … at least not in any way the powers-that-be in Emerylon were going to like.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » May 14th, 2017, 10:01 pm

[Long, and a long time in coming, but it needed to be said, so ...]


Chapter Seventy-five: Absolution


“So,” Sister Rose said when Father Red was finished, “what you’re saying is that they want me to do four jobs, in three different places, all at the same time.”

Red nodded his head wearily. “That’s the long and the short of it.” They had spent much of the afternoon talking about the four highly secret messages that had come in from Emerylon, requesting Rose’s services for investigating the monster golem, finding out what had happened to Bishop Odilo, making a fact-finding visit to the Anuban Colonies, and most highly classified of all, making good, three-dimensional drawings of the castle at Provatiel. The first of these was fairly easy to understand and something she’d been anticipating, in broad outline. The next two were complete surprises, although she was already starting to guess (more or less correctly) how they might connect to the other missions. And as for that last mission … well, the only possible interpretation was that the warnings about the Millenarians had finally got through to someone, somewhere, somehow. Rose might have felt vindicated by that, but she didn’t care, not now.

“But I don’t understand,” she said, only slightly less wearily than Red, “why they want me to do these things. Yes, I saw the golem, but that’s nothing that requires – my kind of skills. I’ve never been to the Anuban Colonies in my life, and Luminosita willing, I’ll never have to go there. I’m not a big forensics expert and there’s no point in sending Special Forces people to somewhere uninhabited, that’s not what our skill sets are for. Same thing with poor Odilo – by the way, it sounds to me like he might have got crosswise with an elf.” Red shuddered at that thought, but Rose pushed on, with a passing smile that was almost a sneer. “I have to say, I do have some experience of watching elf magic … but again, I’m not that good at diagnostics, and there are lots of people in the Church who are better healers than I am. And I’m not even the top expert in this temple on that fortress in Provatiel.” She didn’t realize yet how thoroughly she’d put her foot in her mouth with that last part.

Red was on it immediately, though. “Well, if you aren’t, who is?”

The foot went deeper. “Miguel. He and that girl I told you about –“ although she hadn’t mentioned that ‘that girl’ was now both her stepdaughter (sort of) and married to her cousin – “they went a lot deeper into that place than I ever did, saw some things that I didn’t. They – oh.” It suddenly dawned on her that she’d just tried to dodge that particular highly urgent mission by foisting it off on someone who was getting married in ten days, and she blushed bright red.

Again, Red caught it; the man had social skills. “Don’t worry, I won’t let them have him. But what about you, Rose? How are you going to respond to this? Which of the missions are you going to accept?”

Rose thought for a long time … and reached a decision. “None of them. And there’s one more thing, Father.”

Red had been expecting the first half of what she said. The second half … He’d cultivated an air of informality among the senior priests and nuns of the mission ever since he’d arrived. To be addressed that way meant that something unexpected was coming, although he was beginning to guess what it might be. “And what is that, Sister?”

Rose took a deep breath … and went for it. “Father Redmond, I hereby request to be absolved of my vows to the Church of Our Lord Luminosita, effective as soon as I finish conducting those weddings.” The blush went away as though switched off. I’m glad to get that off my chest … and …

Red took a deep breath of his own, his face neutral. “Well, that wasn’t exactly the response I was expecting.” (This was not completely true, but it had to be said.) “Mind if I ask why?” he finally said, after thinking for what felt to Rose like an eternity.

Rose sagged and relaxed in her chair; it had been said, following the forms of the Church (can’t possibly avoid those, can we? the cynical part of her mind said inside her head, but was quickly silenced), and knowing her Abbot, she was confident the absolution would be granted, although there would probably be some conditions. She had a good guess as to what those might be, and she could live with them … as long as they didn’t include doing more than one of these fool’s errands at a time. She slipped back into the easy, comfortable informality that had characterized the interactions with this remarkably un-forbidding man ever since he had arrived in Kiyoka.

“Red, there are lots of reasons. And I know what you’re thinking: no, Argus isn’t one of them.” (“That was exactly what I was thinking,” Red murmured sotto voce as Rose continued.) “He isn’t a believer, but we agreed before – we agreed that we wouldn’t let religious differences be a problem for us.” Which is not to say they won’t try to be … if one counts certain members of our church under the heading of “religious differences.” But I’m not going to say that.

“Something that happened on your – missions in the last couple of months?” Red persisted. Now why did Rose have that odd look on her face?

“You might say that.” Rose was doing her best to be vague and evasive, but Red wasn’t buying it.

“Come on, Rose, give. We’re both Reformed, so you don’t need to spin me anything –“ he paused to make sure the Damping spell they’d erected at the start of the conversation was still in place, just in case – “anything about concerns about the Orthodox interpretation of the Person of Luminosita, we’re way beyond that.” (Why did he home in on that subject? Something about the Artifact of Absonial? Rose wondered, but she held her tongue.) “And the same about the elven gods, I’ve read about them in the Vault.” (Rose was a little more impressed by that, but she still didn’t speak.) “Don’t even tell me it’s something about the Millenarians. I think we’ve both figured out how that last call from the Pleasure Dome relates to them, and we’re all on the same side on that one. But I need something to work with here. Don’t worry, I’m going to grant your request, of course; least I can do after everything you’ve done for your Church and your country. But I need to be able to tell –“

Rose interrupted, because Red had just hit the nail on its protruding, festering head. And I didn’t even realize it until he made the connection for me. “Well, that’s the whole problem.” She produced the wan, humorless smile she’d been wearing altogether too frequently in the last few months. “What it is – I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that’s going to help you filling out paperwork for the Patriarch’s office. It’s that I can no longer reconcile serving the Church with –“

“With serving your country, and humanity,” Red finished for her; it wasn’t a question.

Rose gulped. “Right.” And she went on to describe the corrupt priest in Mazantzel; the priests in Homontel that would rather see a church burn, and people die, than use magic during Departure to save them; the venomous Sister Bree, whose main interest as an Inquisitor was not in finding the truth but in burning the accused (and self-aggrandizement, Rose thought, but that could be discussed later); the venal and possibly treasonous Father Boris in Goriel (she had to admit that the Church had eventually taken action against him, but would they have if her own people hadn’t forced their hand? She doubted it) … the list went on and on.

“I do think you’re missing something here,” Red pointed out when she was finished. “Every large organization has its share of corruption, venality, megalomania, intrigue, all that. From what I hear, the Tsuirakuans more or less make an art form out of it.” (After the things Argus had told her, Rose had to nod her head at that.) “There are at least a dozen guilds in Farrel that do the same thing, and more corrupt city-states in the Northern Confederacy than that. Luminosita’s Nethers, even the elves probably have it, if there are enough of them left.”

“They do,” Rose nodded sadly. She might fill Red in on some of what she’d learned from Drusia, but not now. “But that’s not what’s bothering me.”

“Then what is?”

Rose flushed and looked away before answering. “I … really don’t want to tell you, Red.”

“Why not?” He was getting slightly impatient.

Rose took a deep breath. “Because if I did, I’m afraid you’d want to be absolved from your vows too. And I don’t want that. You’re a good man, Father Red, and the Church needs men like you, more than they need people like me.”

Red could see this was an argument he wasn’t going to win … and also one where Rose, normally one of the most open of clergy, wasn’t going to be completely open with him. But there was one thing he had to know. He briefly considered putting up his own version of the Truth spell that Brother Miguel used, but decided not to; he was pretty sure he could read Rose like a book when the conversation got down to brass tacks … as it was just about to. “Just tell me one thing, Rose. Whatever’s bothering you – it isn’t any of the same – crap that Blaise got into, is it?”

Her green eyes flashed. “Heavens, no. About as far from it as possible.” Under no conditions was she going to raise with this man her horror at Blaise’s apparent departure from the Church in favor of serving a minion of the elven death god. Shouldn’t he be able to figure that out already?

He was. “Very well, then,” Red sighed. “I’ll grant your absolution, of course, but there are three conditions for it.”

This wasn’t a surprise. “Go on,” Rose said, knowing the formula.

“First,” Red said, “I’d like you to pick one of those four missions they’re trying to jam down your throat, and do it for them. You don’t have to do all four; as you said, you can only be in one place at a time, and Luminosita knows, you’ve earned the right to refuse three. But do one.”

That wasn’t a surprise either, and Rose had an answer ready. “Well … I guess some tiny part of me has been wanting to play tourist in the Anuban Colonies anyway.” Another wan smile; that part was very tiny. “But can my – Argus go with me?”

Red smiled. “I think I can arrange that. I’ll have Margaret put in a call for an airship as soon as we’re done. The second thing: you’ll do the weddings for your friends before you’re released.”

If that one was a surprise, it was only a matter of how easy it’d be. “Of course. So what’s the third thing?” Now why was Red looking at her like that?

“The third thing,” the Abbot said, “is that I want you to pay a quick visit to Sister Agnes.”

Whatever Rose had been expecting for the third thing, she certainly wasn’t expecting that. “Agnes? Isn’t she up at the treaty station with her husband? With their newborn, and running something for – oh.

If Red hadn’t been sure about the correctness of his deductions before Rose blushed spectacularly at the end of the cut-off sentence, he was now. He smiled softly. “No elaboration needed. Again, you’ll have transportation. Now go in peace, with my blessings – to your family as well.” The interview was over.

-*-*-*-

By the time a very thoughtful Rose made it home to the vineyard, the sun was well down and night was falling. Harker, bless his perverted little heart, had made dinner, but Rose barely picked at it as she told Argus of the events of the day; a conversation that lasted all the way to bedtime, and the bedroom.

“So that’s the story,” Rose said after – things were over. “He’s letting me out. I know this may be coming as a surprise to you.” She snuggled closer to her husband (lover? mate? whatever).

“It – does a little,” Argus confessed, slightly sleepily; Rose knew by now that lovemaking tired him out. Well, he is more than ten years older than I am … and I can live with that, she thought as he continued. “I hope you aren’t doing this just because of – well, because of me.”

“Of course not. I’ve been planning it for weeks. The opportunity, no, the need finally came up today.”

“As you say,” he answered, and then he flashed a wry smile, a facial expression she’d never seen on him for the first two months they’d known each other, but he’d finally adopted – having seen her own wry smile almost day and night since then. “A little surprised, though. When you said you had big news, I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant …” And he noticed that Rose’s face was positively lit up with a smile that was simultaneously impish, serene, and above all, just happy.

“Oh, that too,” she said airily, and snuggled more closely against Argus’ shoulder.

-*-*-*-

END OF VOLUME I
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