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 » August 28th, 2016, 4:14 pm

Chapter Fifty-nine: Lentyn

“Halt!” the elven sentry at the entrance to Praenubilus Astu called. “No unauthorized passage by –“

The expletive that Peregin Paukii unleashed at this challenge would be incomprehensible to anyone but an elf, but what followed wasn’t. “Stow it, iron ass. I’m a Senilis-damned ranger and I damn well have authorization to pass anywhere I damn well want to.” (This wasn’t strictly true, but it was true enough.) “I need to get out of this overgrown asshole of a city and take a nice, quiet walk.” Without waiting for a reply, not that the guard was going to give one other than incoherent sputtering, she activated the gate and stepped out onto the mountain.

The elves of five thousand years earlier had had the foresight to locate the secure, private entrance to the underground city in a cleft in the middle of what appeared to be a vertical rock face at least a hundred feet high. A human would have pronounced the face unclimbable, but getting down posed few problems to an elf, who would know any number of magicks – Levitation, Slow Fall, Sticky Fingers, and so on – that would let him/her descend safely. Paukii’s most recent use of a Levitation spell was still fresh in her mind, and it took only a few seconds for her to reach the steep but passable ground below the face. (At least the rain had finally stopped; getting down the face might have been tricky in a downpour, even for an elf.)

Before continuing down the mountain, she paused to look around. The elves patrolled its surface regularly, and there were footpaths leading down into the scrub forest in both directions from where she stood. The left-hand one showed signs of recent passage, undoubtedly by a patrol; the right one did not. Good; that meant she could probably go left without running into anyone, as that patrol continued on around the mountain. The lower hills surrounding the main peak would also be patrolled, but more intermittently, as would the plains, although the path to the outside travel platform would get more regular attention. That was fine; she wasn’t planning on going that way until she had her orders – and those orders were what she needed some alone time to think about.

Actually, the problem wasn’t that she didn’t have her orders. Rather, it was that she had two orders, and they were conflicting. Famair had told her to go interview the curiously formidable Veracian nun and her underage protegee; Ameurin had ordered her to lead the expedition to the Anuban Colonies to find out what had gone wrong with the platform. Both were councilors representing major houses. Neither had an obvious seniority advantage that she knew of.

Of course, there was one mission that she wanted to do considerably more than the other. No elf in his or her right mind would willingly accept an assignment to Anuba. (Well, almost no elf, she thought as she dropped into the forest. There was always Misa, who’d accept just about anything to prove she was an adult member of elven society … no, she couldn’t do that.) By contrast, interrogating the nun sounded interesting, even if she couldn’t use enhanced – read, fun – interrogation techniques.

The Misa thought, however, gave her an idea. Maybe if she downplayed certain facts, she could palm that Anuba mission off on some unsuspecting elf who was as sick of confinement in Praenubilus Astu as she was. There were more of them than the houses wanted to admit, many of them members of her own Sanguen race. (Sarine? she thought whimsically; if there was one elf who might take on something that crazy just to avoid others of her kind, Sarine might be that one … No, that wouldn’t do, what would happen if Errants were involved in the malfunctioning gate? Sarine would … she didn’t want to think about what Sarine would do, but she was pretty sure it would be the wrong thing.) But if she could find some other pigeon … Yes, that idea had possibilities.

She’d continued deeper into the forest as she pondered this possibility, and as usual, was perturbed by its silence. The elves had set up defensive systems to keep humans from getting too close to Praenubilus Astu, and some of them were scattered through this forest. What hadn’t been anticipated was that the defenses worked against animals, too. Anything larger and more biologically sophisticated than a spider was just as adversely affected by the system as humans were. (A later investigation would wonder why the barrier here had this effect, while another one, on the distant continent of Farrel, didn’t, with … unfortunate consequences. The answer, in all simplicity, was that there was a good reason to have the forest at Thranel seem “normal” to human passersby, and no such reason here, so the designers of this system hadn’t bothered to build in the capability to tell the difference.) As a result, the bird songs, animal calls and so on that were part of a normal forest were lacking in this one. To an elf who spent most of her time in noisy human territory, it just felt wrong. Furthermore, it basically announced, with the equivalent of trumpets and fanfare, that there was something around here that the elves thought worth defending. If anyone ever managed to penetrate those defenses, the silence was a security risk.

On the other hand, it did mean that she could hear large creatures that could pass the defenses – which was to say, other elves – coming a long way away, and it sounded like there was such a party on the way right now; presumably the patrol that had gone out the main entrance before she did and gone right, was now coming in from the left after circling the mountain. Yes, here they came now, the clank-clink of rattling metal armor incongruous amid what forest sounds remained. It was the usual six-person patrol party; complete overkill, Paukii had long felt, since there really were no human (or, more importantly, Errant) threats here, and one decently competent spellcaster could deal with whatever wildlife managed to evade the barriers. But she wasn’t the only elf who grew restless after a while in the underground city, and this was probably as harmless a way of letting others out to see the sun as any, or so she reasoned.

She stepped off the trail a short distance and pretended to study a redwood tree, hoping the approaching group would leave her alone. The leader was wearing the gaudy Viradior gear; an obnoxious Keiren named Kus’min, if she recalled correctly, and being Keiren, quite inclined to pass unnoticed. Three anonymous troops in full (impractical, she thought) military armor followed behind him, and bringing up the rear were two more lightly armored troops. She thought she’d managed to go unnoticed, or at least unacknowledged, as the patrol passed by … but then the last elf in line paused, with an almost child-like grin on her face. “Peregin!” she breathed, her voice excited, respectful, almost worshipful. “Is there something – exciting going on out here?”

And suddenly Paukii knew how to handle her conflicting orders.

Lentyn. One of the youngest of all the elves, older than Misa the Miraculous (Paukii avoided a snort at the thought) of course, but still, one of the few who’d been too young at the time of the Errant War to play a part in it. Like so many of the callow youth of 1800 years or so, she was always looking for some way to get out and get into the action beyond the Elven Territories … and Paukii had just the action in mind.

“Good morning,” she smiled, her expression (she hoped) having just enough mystery to it to appeal to a Keiren. “Yes, as a matter of fact, there’s something interesting going on. And if your patrol can spare you for the hike home, there’s an assignment I’d like to discuss with you…”
----
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » September 10th, 2016, 11:28 pm

[Getting one more Errant Road character introduced. Note, incidentally, that an assumption is made here about the location of Salvus that may be incorrect. If we ever learn more of the Errant World that places it inland, rather than on the Northern Confederacy's coast, change "Salvus" in the following to "some port city near Salvus" and go on...]

Chapter Sixty: Lucy Kankaniel

At about the same time as Paukii was recruiting the unsuspecting Lentyn – and the time when, a continent west, Carson Jeromiel was engaging his bedmate of the night for the third time, and an island chain west of that, Sister Rose was finally getting to sleep – a small, fast, unusual ship was making landfall in Lorenzel.

The ship itself wasn’t all that unusual, at least externally; there were many like it on the waterfront, tramp freighters carrying cargo between Lorenzel and points north, south and east. (Well, not exactly like it, but its exceptional features were all internal, carefully screened from official eyes.) Nor was it unusual that the captain was now standing on the bridge and peering in toward the dock through a pair of field glasses. The captain had just come on deck an hour or two earlier, after a mate had steered the ship up the Lorenzel Channel, and was coaxing it slowly, carefully in to land. That wasn’t unusual either; most ship’s captains preferred to handle this delicate stage of operations themselves.

What made this docking unusual, however, was that that captain was a woman.

She was short and squat; a casual observer might have called her obese. The observer would have been wrong, and quite possibly would have paid for the error with his life, particularly if he’d called attention to the small, unobtrusive platform the woman was standing on so she could see out the bridge windows. Her almost spherical body and shipmaster’s garb not only concealed considerably more muscles than the late observer would have suspected; they also concealed a dagger and a shotgun-like pepper-pot firearm, both of which she was highly proficient in using.

For the moment, this unusual captain was not staring at the dock itself; her helmsman was good enough to handle the approach, at least up to this point. Instead, she was observing a small shack a few meters away, bearing faded Veracian military insignia visible from the water but not from the shore. This, she knew (she’d checked the place out carefully enough that she certainly should know), was a Customs station that housed a single uniformed inspector. It was the insignia that had her attention, because its appearance would tell her everything she wanted to know about the inspector within. If the inspector was someone she’d worked out a business arrangement with – read, bribed – the stylized visage of Luminosita would be limned in a gold braid. If there was no braid, the inspector was someone with whom she had no such arrangement, and certain things might have to be concealed before landing. And if the braid was silver instead, it would serve as a warning that something was up, that (at least in the opinion of one of the inspectors she’d subverted) whoever was occupying the shack was going to be at least suspicious and possibly hostile, and docking would be unwise.

There; she could see the gold braid, as expected. She lowered the field glasses and nodded, about the strongest show of emotion she usually made on the bridge. Catching this, the helmsman glanced at her. “Safe to land, ma’am?” he said. Another nod, and a single word of command: “Proceed.” The helmsman complied, and the ship made a slight course adjustment and started to slow down.

Actually, there was nothing particularly sensitive aboard on this visit to Lorenzel, nor, to the captain’s knowledge, would anything sensitive be picked up as outbound cargo. Even the most shadowy and elusive of smugglers had to conduct a certain amount of legal, nominally legitimate business to keep up appearances. On this visit to port, the ship’s main cargo was furniture that had been made in the Southern Continent and was destined for sale to some of the more well-to-do citizenry of southern Veracia who fancied exotic imports. That was all legal and aboveboard, and appropriate duties would be paid, and then appropriate payment received when the captain and her purser went ashore. And if the inbound ship had paused at the small town of Nautkia downstream, and a small parcel of not-so-legal herbs might or might not been transferred to waiting hands in a rowboat, whose business was that besides the captain’s and the possible recipients’? Certainly, it wasn’t a transaction that an agent in Lorenzel needed to know about; at least not one of the subverted ones.

The previous outbound leg, however … that had been a different story.

She’d been preparing for a routine shipment of more or less legal goods to the Southern Continent, when the proverbial shadowy stranger put in an unexpected appearance with a large pile of money and a very different, and very urgent, job to do instead. The stranger was no less shadowy for being a representative of her own brother: Egbert Kankaniel, who had taken up the cloth years earlier and become known as Father Egbert of the Veracian Church. Lucy Kankaniel was not exactly one to be encumbered by familial affection, but her affection for money was clear enough, and she didn’t particularly dislike her older brother, so why not? But when the day came to take the good (or maybe not so good) Father to sanctuary on the Southern Continent, a large number of strange things happened that left the man a no-show, and the ship bound instead for the Northern Confederacy with a “cargo” of a group of half elves. They too paid well, and she still had the money that had been given her to move her brother, even if he’d mysteriously disappeared again; but the antics of the half elves … well, she and the crew definitely felt they’d earned their pay by the time they docked in Salvus.

She tried to put that trip out of her mind as the ship inched in to its mooring place. The Customs man who stood on the dock was indeed one of the ones she’d “cultivated.” Good; even though there was nothing on board now that would arouse the suspicions of a less – sympathetic agent, caution was always a good idea. “Morning, Mr. Yezhiel,” she smiled at the man as she came ashore.

“Welcome back to Lorenzel, Miss Kankaniel,” the man smiled back. Good, again; that phrasing was equivalent to “the coast is clear” in their own private language. “Have you anything to declare?”

“Just the usual, furniture, durable goods, all that.” A shrug.

“Very well, then. We can make this quick.” The two figures went off to transact business as the lines were made fast.
----
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » September 20th, 2016, 11:48 pm

Chapter Sixty-one: Encounter at the Mechanist temple

Emerylon:

The small Mechanist, or Luminositan Scientist, sect was the only one of the minor sects whose home temple the Orthodox Church tolerated being in Emerylon – a couple others were close, but were carefully held at bureaucratic as well as geographic arm’s length. This fact had not gone unnoticed by the other minor sects; unexplained, yes, but not unnoticed. Several of the higher-placed figures in those denominations had guesses as to the reasons for the Mechanist temple’s juxtaposition to the great Orthodox temple; a few, including Sister Rose, even were more or less right. But very few indeed (and certainly not including Rose or anyone else from the Reformed denomination) knew the reason. One of those who did, obviously, was the senior prelate in the Mechanist Church of Luminosita, Bishop Odilo Karvial, who was now emerging from the well-concealed (and guarded) back entrance to one of the city’s smaller Orthodox temples – smaller, but not necessarily less significant in its own way.

To call this man “unprepossessing” might be considered an affront to other unprepossessing men. He was small, shorter than his daughter Kassia in fact, and prematurely gray, looking closer to a man of seventy years than to his actual fifty-two. (Rose and that same few others had speculated more or less accurately on a possible connection between the gray hair and what he did on his curiously frequent visits to the Orthodox temple. Again, almost no one really knew, and those who did weren’t talking.) He had no notable features, no piercing eyes, no commanding nose, nothing noteworthy at all. He seemed designed to get lost in a crowd, which was just the way he wanted it. His vestments, such as they were, reflected this studied obscurity as well.

The exterior of the Mechanist temple was only slightly more ornate than its high priest was, a medium-sized, almost warehouse-like building with the obligatory Visage of Luminosita over its main door but none of the other external trappings of a typical Veracian temple. Unlike the other minor denominations, the Mechanists made sure their home base was less well ornamented than their other temples in the countryside (not that there were that many of them; the total membership in the denomination couldn’t be more than a few thousand, in the largest civilized country on the planet). A careful observer might note the presence of some characteristic Mechanist insignia on the lintels around the front windows, but nothing stood out, which was just the way the Mechanists wanted it. Emerylon was not a place where the members of this sect wanted to call attention to themselves.

Odilo passed through the streets of Emerylon almost without being noticed. (Almost, but not quite. Three or four old women in conservative garb noted his passing with a clucking of tongues and shaking of heads. The fact that at least one of these women was not what she seemed to be wasn’t obvious –yet.) Arriving at his temple, he stepped inside to a scene quite different from the temple’s exterior. Even the most observant Orthodox priest would have been hard pressed to see any differences between the ornate sanctuary and comparable halls in Orthodox temples all over Veracia. This was by design; the Mechanists were under constant threat of being declared heretical (at least by anyone who didn’t know what Odilo had been doing), and steps to make the denomination at least look conventional couldn’t hurt.

That, and the little secret concealed behind a small stud in the image of Luminosita behind the altar. Odilo walked up and, after looking around to make sure the hall was deserted as usual, pressed the stud. With a soft groan, a revolving section of the dais, carefully engineered by the Mechanists (they were good at that) to move quickly yet quietly and be essentially undetectable until it moved, pivoted. Moments later, Odilo was standing in a small, private cubicle behind the image, with no evidence in the sanctuary that he had ever been there.

Or so he thought.

“Morning, Carlo,” he smiled at the only other occupant of this office, another man wearing the subdued Mechanist vestments and looking as nondescript as Odilo himself. “All went well.” Father Carlo was to be his hand-picked successor to the office of Bishop, and he was the only other man in the Mechanist church who knew what Odilo did on his occasional visits to the Orthodox temple. “Anything to report here?”

“Not much, boss,” Carlo replied; the Mechanists weren’t big on titles and formality. “The usual little old ladies coming by and calling us heretics.” Odilo barely even smiled at that; the rants of the ancient ultra-Orthodox were nothing to worry about, of course, but he’d been in his position long enough to no longer find them amusing. But there was a followup that he wasn’t expecting. “There was this one, though, who was – well, different.”

“How so?”

“She was asking about your daughter.”

Odilo Karvial was not often taken aback, but there was a first time for everything. “She what?” Few outside the Mechanist church knew that he even had a daughter, and the very few ultra-Orthodox old ladies who knew it were most definitely not inclined to pursue the subject, other than clucking about the heresy of it all over their tea and crumpets.

Carlo shrugged. “I don’t know, boss. She just said she wanted to talk to Kassia, wanted to know how to get in contact with her, said it was a matter of state security.”

“Hmph. A likely story,” Odilo sniffed. “If there was anything like that brewing, they’d have told me about it over at the Machine Room.” Fewer than fifty people would know why that slang for the temple he’d just emerged from would fit. Carlo, of course, was one of that fifty. “Did she say anything else? Why, how to reach her, her credentials, any of that?”

Carlo thought for a minute, never suspecting that the answer he was about to give might have been placed in his head by someone else. “I don’t know about the who or the why, but she said she was leaving a business card on the organ keyboard.” This was indeed a marvelous contraption, more of the Mechanist art at its finest. It was also a place/thing that had served exactly this kind of bulletin-board-like role for the Mechanists for decades.

Odilo pondered in his own turn, then nodded. “Very well. I’ll check it out, be right back.” He activated the turntable and emerged moments later back in the sanctuary, where a surprise was waiting. The hall wasn’t deserted any more. Rather, a tall, slender figure in a uniform he did not recognize was standing near the altar, watching him. That was disturbing. This intruder was obviously part of the Veracian military, but nobody like that was supposed to come into this place without prior arrangements. There had been a security breakdown somewhere that would have to be fixed. Well, he’d learned enough (nominally forbidden) magic over the years to be able to cast something that would muddle this impertinent soldier’s memory, keep him from understanding what he’d just seen, keep a lid –

Magic flared from the intruder’s eyes; he (or, as would shortly turn out to be more accurate, she) didn’t even have to raise a hand to cast the bolt of magic that struck Odilo in the forehead. The effect was not lethal, but it did have its consequences …

“Now, you are going to answer my questions, aren’t you?” the newcomer said, her voice bearing an accent that Odilo would have recognized as elven if he’d still had enough of his senses. And her question was not a question at all; it was a command.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » October 10th, 2016, 5:04 pm

[Another tie back to something that happened in Errant Road...]

Chapter Sixty-two: The vineyard

Sister Rose had been an early riser through most of her adult life. Nuns had to be. There were simply too many rituals of the Veracian Church performed in the morning for rising late and groggily to be an option, even in the relaxed liturgy of the Reformed sect.

These last few weeks, however … they’d changed her habits somewhat. (As in: drastically.) Part of it was that what she’d been doing had more of the hallmarks of the military than the liturgical, and she knew well from her Special Forces years that a soldier slept when she could, arose when she must, and often had to spend much of the night on duty. That wasn’t exactly conducive to sound sleep and early rising. Another part was the physical toll that the fight against the Convergence (and also against the Millenarians? She still wasn’t completely sure about that) had taken on her.

Mostly, however, it was a matter of the man who lay sleeping beside her as she arose to do her morning prayers. Argus, by contrast, was not an early riser; since the sky city had artificial light everywhere, magical contraptions to do the early-morning chores, and no religion to require sunrise religious rites, he’d never needed to be otherwise. He’d had to face the same ordeals in the last few weeks as she had, and he was several years older than she was (although, fortunately, not too old to … well …), so they’d worn on him more strongly. This was a perfectly good time to let him catch up, she thought, as she stepped outside the tidy little house that had become their own, at least for now.

There’s a lot to a vineyard that I don’t know, and that I’ll have to learn, she thought. The seller’s agent (why had she never seen the sellers themselves? She wondered about that, but it didn’t seem something worth dwelling on) had billed this as basically a turn-key operation, and from what she could tell (she’d taken the liberty of putting up her Empathy before talking to him), he meant it. As far as it went, it seemed to be true; she had a list of names of Kiyokans who would pick the grapes in another month or so, and run the fermentation tanks and do the bottling and all the other things necessary to turn grapes into wine. Still, she couldn’t get over the feeling that she’d seen this place as a mere grape farm. An actual vineyard was much, much more than that, and it all had to be done right. Not to mention the bookkeeping … she shuddered at that thought, although there’d been enough of that in the earlier stages of her life as well.

The stages that I may be preparing to leave behind.

She felt a mild hint of nausea as she reached the gaping hole where the house for the hired help had stood. It had burned to the ground soon after she’d left Kiyoka, apparently due to a fire started in the derelict house down the road. She’d been told that nobody had died in the fire, Luminosita be thanked, but it still didn’t feel right somehow, and a house of some kind would have to be rebuilt on the ruins before harvest season got rolling, Well, that was something that Argus could and would help with. The man was an absolute master of inorganic manipulation, which after all had something to do with how they’d gotten together in the first place. (She smiled softly at that thought; it was much more comforting than thinking about the vineyard’s accounting requirements.) He could probably raise at least the stone foundations for a new house, and possibly the whole house itself, from the ground with a thought, a rallying of magic, and a literal snap of the fingers.

She was about to continue on to the fields, and to her prayers, when she noticed something unexpected, a glint of sunlight from metal in the crater. That was odd. There appeared to be little of value in the debris from the destroyed house, maybe because of pilferage, maybe because it was uninhabited at the time of the fire and nothing of value was there to begin with. (She did not know that this was by design.) But there was that one thing winking at her. Well, maybe it belonged to one of the previous occupants, who would be appreciative if it was returned to him or her. Not only was that completely consistent with Rose’s personality, of course; it was also good business as she and Argus started to get the vineyard up and running. She’d had enough practice moving carefully around destroyed places, back in the Albigenish Incident – she tried to forget about that – that she had no trouble making her way carefully through the debris to pick up the thing that she saw … and then she emitted a single word. “Huh?”

What was a pistol doing in the ruins of this otherwise very Tsuirakuan house?


-------------------

Faye Sorensen, among others high up in the hierarchy of the Gewehr, could have answered that question for Rose. However, if the question had been posed to her, she would have felt obliged to arrange two deaths. The first would have been that of the Gewehr goon who’d been given the job of torching the two houses, and had carelessly left his weapon at the scene of the crime, as indeed it was.

The second death, of course, would have been Rose’s.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » October 20th, 2016, 11:33 pm

[So another callback to Errant Road, this one connecting to a place mentioned there, not a person...]

Chapter Sixty-three: Cross country

It was a smugly self-satisfied Peregin Paukii that left Emerylon, heading for the nearest elven travel platform.

Her “interview” with Odilo Karvial, to use the polite term, had been even more informative than she’d hoped. She’d learned that his daughter Kassia had moved to Saus to further her education; she was attending the same seminary, in fact, as Sister Rose had twenty-plus years earlier, although none of the principals knew that. That was the main thing she’d wanted to extract from the man, and she’d got it. However, she also got considerably more. Specifically, she had a lead on the “formidable” nun who’d been on the airship with Kassia Karvial, had seen the decapitated corpse of Peregin Ramian, had filed a report with the Veracian authorities, and then had seemingly disappeared. This woman, she now knew, was a nun of another minor Luminositan sect, one also based in Saus, although the woman herself was somewhere overseas. Well, that shouldn’t prove too difficult a problem; another “interview” with whatever ridiculous superstition-monger styled himself the “high priest” of that sect would tell her where she needed to go next.

The fact that these “interviews” did not leave the interviewee in exactly the best mental condition, to put it mildly, didn’t bother her at all … yet.

There was one minor, practical problem with running down Kassia Karvial and the Reformed priest, though. For reasons unknown, there was no travel platform close to Saus. (That this deficiency would lead, a few years later, to a series of chance encounters that jeopardized the very existence of the elves, was of course also unknowable at present.) Paukii did not often visit the Veracian heartland, but if she remembered her maps and notes correctly, the platform nearest the port city was about half way between it and Emerylon, somewhere in the low range of mountains forming the spine of the continent. Going platform-to-platform would save a day or two of walking, but would still leave a long day of travel before she got to Saus. Well, maybe she could force some bumpkin encountered on the road to give her a ride, or simply “borrow” a wagon; it had been done.

Briefly, she considered contacting Peregin Sarine for guidance on how to get around in this backward human territory. It was more Sarine’s beat than her own, and she might know something useful (if she wasn’t off banging a human and forgetting about her job, anyway). She decided against this action quickly enough. Sarine was odd. She’d probably have travel ideas that no normal, self-respecting elf would want to use. Besides, the investigation of the platform malfunctions was still being treated as hush-hush, need to know, all that. The Council wouldn’t want anyone brought into it who wasn’t already in the know unless absolutely necessary, let alone someone whose political views were as … non-standard … as Sarine’s. No, she’d have to figure this one out herself.

As she pondered, she’d been walking north from the city, toward a badlands area that housed the platform. The sight of a very tall woman walking alone in the countryside had drawn some startled looks from passing Veracian farmers, but all passed without speaking to her or offering a ride or other help. (A bit of magic she’d taken the precaution of putting up before she left town had something to do with that.) It was therefore late in the day when she finally crested a low, rocky ridge and looked down on the assemblage of standing stones that marked the platform. Not for the first time, she wondered how much longer these standing stones were going to be effective concealment. The Veracians, from all she’d heard, were sufficiently cowed by the priests of their god-lightshow that they wouldn’t be asking too many questions. The priests themselves might be a different story, though; she knew from some of her diplomatic-escort jobs that the Veracian Church was very interested in figuring out where the elven parties that came to “negotiate” with them were coming from. To keep them from finding out, it was standard procedure to do a brief patrol of the area before using a platform. This she did, and satisfied that there were no prying human eyes, she triggered the magic.

Moments later, she emerged from the receiving platform. As with her point of origin, it lay in rugged country not suitable for farming or most other exploitation. A jagged mountain ridge rose off to one side (to the south, she deduced from the position of the setting sun), while the terrain on the other side dropped away to a valley that housed some human structures; farms, apparently. They all seemed distant enough that she could expect to move off the platform unnoticed. With any kind of luck, one would have a horse and buggy that she could steal (may as well drop the euphemisms, she thought) to speed her toward Saus; she’d done it often enough in the past. There appeared to be a rough road a short distance downhill. After another quick check for prying eyes – corporeal ones, anyway – she left the platform and headed for the road. With a little luck, she’d reach Saus some time during the –

INTRUDER!” a voice roared from somewhere above her.

Peregins were hard to surprise, but Paukii was as startled as she’d been in a very long time.

A magical form began to coalesce in midair, one that she recognized as a representation of the Veracian god. It spoke again, in the same thunderous tones. “YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON VERACIAN PROPERTY! HALT, IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD LUMINOSITA!

If she’d checked with Sarine, she’d have learned that there was a reason why the elves never used this platform any more … namely, that it was located right in the middle of the Veracian special-forces base on the north side of the Sleeping Sexton. And she might also have learned that the Veracians, or at least their priests, were more adept with detection magic than she thought.

Bright lights came on at the nearest human structure below, as Paukii swore under her breath.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » October 23rd, 2016, 11:08 am

Chapter Sixty-four: Successful experiment

The Kado commander and her troops were starting to get restless. They’d been on this Weave-forsaken island for four days now, setting up and running tests of the portable warp gates, all without anything obvious going wrong. They’d tightened the timing with every test, getting down to the millisecond level, and then all the way down to a ten-microsecond gap between the functioning of the two gates. Everything had worked correctly every time. The only glitch so far was that one of the pigs, which were obviously getting as tired of the experiments as the humans, had bitten a battlemage trying to hook it up for diagnostic measurements. Well, it would be “sacrificed” for closer study at the conclusion of the experiments, so the human would get the last laugh, although that didn’t compensate much for the loss of dignity/face he’d suffered first.

“Okay, one more time,” she said to her lieutenant. “Five-microsecond gap this time.”

The man looked at his superior with exasperation. “Ma’am? Why are we worrying about times so short? From what I’ve heard about scheduling of gate openings and all that, the odds against two openings that close in time in the next hundred years are about a million to one, unless we’re actively trying to do it.”

The commander sighed. “I know, Noboyuki,” she said wearily. “I said the same thing to the brass hats when they gave us our orders. But one of them said his ancestors had said, ‘Improbable events allow themselves the luxury of occurring. After all, think of the success rate of spermatozoa.’ How was I to argue with that?”

(The Tsuirakuans might have been amused to know that the first half of that aphorism appeared verbatim in the “Commentaries of Bishop Nuria,” the seminal document of the Reformed Veracian Church that compiled the wisdom of Sister Rose’s distant ancestor, the founder of the Reformed denomination. The second part, however, did not. The commander’s superior officer wasn’t related to Bishop Nuria, anyway.)

The lieutenant knew an argument that he couldn’t win. “Very well, ma’am. I’ll make the adjustments.”

Ten minutes later, just in time for the next Tsuiraku-wide shutdown of the warp-gate system for “security enhancements,” the tests were ready to go. Another quick check for flying or crawling intruders was made, and the timekeeper again gave her countdown. On the “mark” call, the earthbound gates functioned with the usual WHSSSHHH … but this time, things didn’t proceed from there exactly as they had for the previous several days.

Before the magical haze had cleared from the ground site, there was a brilliant flash of light from overhead, right where one of the target airships was – had been. The commander had been looking at that airship, and once her bedazzled eyes cleared, she realized that it wasn’t there any more. (Meanwhile, her lieutenant, watching the other airship a kilometer or so away, saw nothing out of the ordinary – yet.) She had barely enough time, and enough presence of mind, to erect a hasty magical Barrier, before a tremendous BOOOMMM reached the ground and echoed across the island; not just a loud noise, but a shock wave strong enough to make her ears hurt despite the Barrier. As her vision and ears cleared, she realized that not all of the other Kadoi had been able to react so quickly; two or three of the people around her were rolling on the ground clutching their ears, and would require significant magical Healing before their hearing returned to normal.

“Commander! What happened? We saw –“ came a voice over her earphone from her second in command, camped a kilometer away underneath the second, apparently (but not truly) intact airship. He didn’t finish his sentence, however, as the shock wave from the explosion reached him, now not strong enough to do actual damage, but still more than loud enough to make him jump (and other things).

An involuntary grin spread across the commander’s face. “Looks like these experiments are getting interesting after all,” she chortled into her throat mike, as she took cover from the bits of magically fried bacon now starting to fall from the sky.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » October 26th, 2016, 4:41 pm

Chapter Sixty-five: Golem meets priest

Somewhere south of Isabel:

The back roads of Farrel, and the villages connected by them, were not exactly prime assignments for priests of the Veracian Church, never mind that the country was still nominally Luminositan. Partly, of course, that was a matter of personal safety; although the comparatively large temple in Isabel made sure to arrange for “security” from several of the guilds in the eastern part of the country (read: keep the bribes flowing), they couldn’t “employ” everyone, and small, unaffiliated bandit gangs still roamed the countryside that the church couldn’t control directly. A wise priest ministering to the small towns would always make local arrangements before heading out on the roads, arrangements that tapped into the invariably scant coffers of his home temple. This led to a second reason for the unattractiveness of the assignment: the temples of Luminosita were constantly short on money, frequently run-down to the point almost of being derelict, and uncomfortable to spend much time in. To make ends meet, priests in the poorer communities usually had gardens or orchards or even small breweries, not just to feed themselves but to sell goods to the locals – all to further Luminosita’s Work, of course. (Well, also so they could buy the odd pipeful of tobacco or an extra bedspread for when the autumn chill came and the priests’ chambers got cold.)

The main reason why most priests shied away from such an assignment, however, was simply that working the hustings was boring. Very little of interest ever happened in most of the small towns and villages; little of interest to a man of Luminosita, anyway. Such villagers as attended church did so without enthusiasm and without commitment; they just went through the motions and went on their way. Most didn’t even turn up for smitings, which in more favored places might be not only acts of worship and contrition but also opportunities to socialize, if not outright entertainment. This tedium worked to discourage one of the two types of priest who might otherwise be tempted to accept an assignment to rural Farrel, the young idealist who didn’t care about material goods as he set out to do Luminosita’s Work. What remained, then, was the other type: old, tired, frequently embittered men who didn’t care about the Church any more and were just running out the string until they were gathered into Luminosita’s Presence. (That and the opportunity to grow a garden; this cadre of worn-out priests did include more than its share of people with a green thumb.)

It was one of these, a beaten-down little man who went by Father Howard (nobody had used his last name in a good forty years), who found himself on the coastal road toward Isabel, in a place where few Farrelites, let alone Veracian priests, ever trod. He’d never planned to be on this road, which basically led from nowhere to nowhere else. There was a wedding to be performed in some village on the way to Isabel, though, and that represented enough of a break in the routine that he wasn’t going to miss it just because a couple of mercenary guilds a few miles inland had decided to turn their posturing into a shooting war. He’d brushed up on the rudimentary offensive and defensive spellcraft he’d learned decades earlier, in case of an unwanted encounter on the main road, but better, a sympathetic parishioner had told him about the coastal road, which skirted (probably) the territories of the feuding guilds.

So now, here he was, riding on a placid gray donkey, fumbling to keep his pipe lit (no small challenge aboard a moving donkey), humming an old Luminositan hymn to himself, and keeping an eye open for bandits, not that he could do much about them if he found them or vice versa. In the event, bandits were a non-problem. If the farmhouse that Carson Jeromiel had used to test his golem had still been occupied, and if the occupants had lost a deal with an estate they were “protecting” recently and were strapped for cash, they might have seen this unexpected passer-by as an opportunity; they would ignore his threats of hellfire and damnation, figuring that they’d already been damned to hell anyway. The first condition was not met, however; the embers were still warm from the fire that had followed the golem’s attack. He passed by the farmhouse without a sound or a comment, other than a vague, non-specific prayer to Luminosita to take care of those who had lived there, or at least their souls.

There was an odd thrumming, thumping sound in the distance to the east, in a valley that was uninhabited as far as he knew, but he paid little attention to it; probably, he figured, some new kind of airship being tested by the accursed Tsuirakuans or their Farrelian trade partners. One of his roles, as for all priests abroad, was supposed to be as eyes and ears for the Church, but it had been years since he’d taken that seriously. There simply wasn’t anything to see or hear here that particularly mattered to Veracia. Besides, airships didn’t service tiny villages in the boonies of Farrel without stops in the major cities. The temple in Isabel would surely be equipped with resources to keep an eye on things like possibly threatening airships. Well, he’d still keep a casual eye on the sky once he got clear of the woods the road was passing through; a new airship might at least provide a little distraction for

”LUMINOSITA ABOVE!”

He sat bolt upright, dropping his pipe in the leaves at the side of the road. (Fortunately, it had gone out again, so there was no fire.) And he uttered a silent, desperate prayer to Luminosita for salvation.

Standing at the head of the valley a few hundred yards in front of him was a monster – he’d have called it a “demon” if it had been emitting smoke and brimstone, but for now “monster” would do. It was bipedal, man-like, but incredibly tall, taller than any statue he’d ever seen in his life, even the Great Statue of Luminosita Smiting the Heretic in Delphiniel. It carried no sword or other weapon, but in one enormous hand it held a huge boulder, nearly the size of Howard’s home village’s church. There was something on its shoulder that he couldn’t quite make out at this distance. Later, he would almost convince himself that he’d seen a strange light glowing in the thing’s eyes, but this was mistaken; a stray bit of reflected sunlight accounted for that.

Worst of all, it was moving.

Father Howard may have been old and worn, but he was still a servant of Luminosita and of the Veracian Church and government, and he was no fool. He was also braver than some would have suspected; braver, at the minimum, than many of the young priests who had their lives ahead of them, and were more anxious not to be gathered to Luminosita’s Presence any time soon. Most of those young priests might have beaten a hasty retreat to get away from this terrifying apparition. Howard did not.

He and the donkey quietly melted back into the fringe of the forest, and he used a Damping spell, one of the few bits of Luminositan magic (other than the special effects needed to create Luminosita’s Visage) with which he was current and proficient, to muffle the sounds he and his steed were producing. Satisfied that he had been neither heard nor seen, he watched anxiously as the monstrosity trundled, with unimaginably heavy footfalls, between the coastal hills and into the valley leading down to the coast; and as it did, he noticed the most remarkable, peculiar thing of all.

Half sitting, half standing on the shoulder of the behemoth was a man; as far as Howard could tell, a man of normal proportions, more or less his own size. And he was singing.

Father Howard could have no way of knowing that, in fact, the position of this man was the whole reason for the ancient war golem’s brief sojourn out of the valley and back. Carson Jeromiel was no fool either, and he’d realized that if he could hitch a ride on “Fred,” as he still called the golem, he could travel cross country more rapidly and comfortably than if he’d accompanied Fred on foot or on horseback. He’d rigged up a howdah-like contraption, and was giving it a test drive through country that he thought uninhabited – as indeed it was, except for one coincidental, itinerant priest.

As the golem disappeared from sight around a bend in the valley (although its footfalls could still be heard), Howard reached a decision. The Patriarch needs to know about this. As soon as he was satisfied the coast was clear, he dismissed the Damping and continued on his way; he’d have to overnight at the village where the wedding would be held, but after that, he’d continue on to Isabel to check in at the temple and file a report.

He completely forgot about his pipe, but it didn’t seem so important any more.


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Spoiler: show
[Incidentally, and not part of the story itself: the "valley" described above and in previous entries involving Carson Jeromiel and "Fred" is actually a pair of valleys, or maybe better, canyons, one of which opens onto the Farrel Sea and the other onto the plateau comprising eastern Farrel. They pass through the coastal range of mountains and meet at the headwall that Jeromiel and Fred had had to negotiate earlier. Hope that clears up any confusion about the geography, which may have sounded paradoxical.]
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » November 10th, 2016, 3:57 pm

[Apologies for co-opting the famous Nietzsche line, but it seems like the kind of thing that would appear in the Commentaries of Bishop Nuria...]


Chapter Sixty-six: Miguel and Marilyn

“Let’s go for a walk,” Sister Marilyn suggested to her fiancé once the smiting session was done.

Brother Miguel didn’t have to be asked twice. The smitings were one of those things you just had to do if you were a priest or nun in Luminosita’s Service, even if you were Reformed and took a … relaxed … view of the ritual (and many other things). Today’s session had at least been gratifying for the presence of rare converts to the Luminositan Church from among the Kiyokans themselves, an elderly couple whom Marilyn had encountered and helped through the tragic loss of a grandchild some weeks earlier, up in the seedy part of town that Marilyn considered her “parish.” Father Red, bless his heart, always tried to arrange for the young couple to be on duty for the smiting ceremony at the same time. That had worked well today, as they were able to do the ceremonial purging of sins gently and carefully (as most of the people at the Kiyokan mission did; in other places … not so much), and then make sincere inquiries as to the older couple’s well-being. All involved had felt better afterward for that. Still, the smitings weren’t as enjoyable for Miguel and Marilyn as for some more – traditional clergy (sickos, Marilyn sniffed whenever that subject came up), and they were always glad when their turn with the birch branches ended.

Waving a cheerful goodbye to Brother Farley, who was coming on duty (and would also be gentle with the branches, despite his heavily-muscled physique; Kristi would have insisted on that even if he wasn’t so inclined personally, as he was), they headed out the front door of the mission and north. Once they were past the central square, Marilyn took a minute to rearrange her robes into the mini-skirt-like outfit that was her trademark. Most women entering this part of town would have been putting themselves at some risk wearing such an outfit, of catcalls and embarrassment if not overt assault. Marilyn, however, wasn’t most women. By now her reputation preceded her into the seedy neighborhood, a reputation not only for honest and dedicated helpfulness to the downtrodden of the neighborhood, but also the ability to kick the asses of at least four large men at a time if any were foolish enough to get out of line. Both parts of the reputation were well founded, and nobody in this area would mess with her or anyone she happened to enter it with.

Together they walked to a tree-lined urban park, Marilyn noting with some satisfaction that there was noticeably less junk lying around than the first time she’d visited, some months ago. They found a bench and sat, and Miguel spoke for the first time since they’d left the temple. “It’s about Rose, isn’t it?”

Marilyn nodded. “Yeah. You’re worried about her too, aren’t you? Her and Argus, I mean?”

“A little,” Miguel conceded. “Mainly about just what happened up north. She doesn’t want to talk about it, and for the cloak-and-dagger part, I can’t say I blame her, some things are better off forgotten.” He chuckled humorlessly. “Rose has had to deal with more of those better-off-forgotten things than most people. Luminosita’s Nuts, I wish I could forget some of the things that happened when I was traveling with her. That Egbert episode…” He shivered involuntarily.

“But that’s not what’s worrying you.”

“It isn’t.”

“Do you think they’re really married?” Typical Marilyn, to get right to the point. Miguel thought about it for a long time before answering.

“No, I don’t. If they were, she wouldn’t be avoiding the subject so much. She isn’t going to lie about it; Rose never out-and-out lies. But she’ll be deceptive sometimes, and that’s what she’s doing now. You?”

“That’s the way I see it too.” Marilyn paused briefly to smile and make the Sign of Luminosita at a small girl and large dog who’d wandered into the park. The girl giggled and returned the Sign, then scampered away with the dog as Marilyn continued. “It’s not that they don’t love each other, it’s obvious enough that they do. And it’s not that Argus, being Tsuirakuan and all, thinks our religion is silly.” She produced her own giggle. “He does, of course. But so does Kristi, and that’s not stopping her and Farley from being part of the package deal that’s coming. No, it’s something else, and I wish to hell, or to Luminosita if you prefer, that I could figure out what it is – what’s wrong?” Miguel was looking decidedly uncomfortable at the way this conversation was going.

“I just started putting two and two together,” he said hesitantly, “and I hope to Luminosita that I’m getting five. How much of the stories about Father Egbert and Father Blaise did Rose tell you?”

Marilyn searched her memory. “A lot about Egbert,” she said, “but not much about Blaise, just that something went wrong with him down south, he went on the lam, and got killed up north. She didn’t say what, or why.”

“Nor to me,” Miguel agreed, “but I was there for the Egbert business, and I know it shook Rose badly. She watched him die, after all.” He shuddered at the thought.

“So what’s the two and two?” Marilyn wanted to know.

“Well, I just got to wondering …” He stared off into space for a moment as first a ball, then the little girl’s dog went flying by, and then he resumed. “She seemed fine before she went off on that mission to the Southern Continent, the one to try to figure out what became of that other priest. But between then and when she came back from up north, something happened to her. I don’t know what. But –“ He paused again as the small girl, laughing gleefully, followed dog and ball. “If it was something in the south – could it have been the same thing as happened to Blaise? Something that – made her lose her faith?”

“She got corrupted somehow, you mean?” Marilyn probed. “Seems unlikely. Sister Rose is maybe the most incorruptible person I’ve ever met.”

Miguel nodded. “She is. But something happened. And remember that line from the Commentaries? ‘He who does battle with monsters must see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze over-long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ Rose told me once that what happened to her in –“ he looked around to make sure no one else could hear his next words – “the town where her first husband was born, which she never talks about by name, was like looking into the abyss, and having it look back – Luminosita’s Sweatband, now I’m seeing corrupting influences under every rock.”

Whatever Marilyn was going to say in response to this, after a long, thoughtful pause, was cut off, first by a dog’s yelps, and then by a child’s scream; not just any child’s, but the voice of the little girl who had just passed by. “Damn,” said Marilyn. “I better look into that. Back in a minute.” There was a blur of what an Ensigerum monk would have recognized as time magic, and the rapid departure of a skilled practitioner of that magic, leaving Miguel alone with his thoughts.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » November 13th, 2016, 12:17 am

[Yes, the protagonist of this chapter, well, isn't very bright. Living for almost two thousand years in an underground city will do that to one, apparently...]

Chapter Sixty-seven: In the line of duty

Viradior Lentyn was literally quivering with excitement as she led the two elven soldiers to the travel platform. Finally, after all these years, I get to lead a mission, and to strange and foreign lands at that! And fairly bursting with pride, too; at least she had been when she’d told her even younger friend Misa what she’d be away from Praenubilus Astu doing, for the next day or two. Poor Misa; her first reaction had been excitement for her friend, of course, but following right on its heels was the usual sadness that she wasn’t going to be able to go along.

That latter part would change soon enough, however.

The Council hadn’t been hard to convince, or so Peregin Paukii had told her. Ameurin and Famair had figured out quickly that even a Peregin couldn’t be in two places at the same time, and although neither was about to admit error in the orders they’d given Paukii, a graceful way out was appealing to both. They’d seized on Paukii’s idea happily, and even found a way to spin it; what better way, they agreed, to get a neophyte Viradior (she’d only been on the job for six hundred years) some leadership experience than to send her off to a place that was deserted, where there were no humans to screw it all up with?

Of course, the fact that any of Lentyn’s older colleagues would have run the other way, fast, rather than accept command of a mission going to Anuba wasn’t lost on them, either. Nor was the fact that compared to those older colleagues, she could be considered “expendable” … not that there was any need to tell her either of those things, to be sure, so Paukii hadn’t.

So now she was preparing to gate to what her people were informally calling “Shield Island” (it seemed to have no known name) half way down the Anuba Archipelago, into a travel platform that hadn’t even been on the elven system a week earlier. At least it hadn’t been known to be; it had taken careful, round-the-clock research following the tete-a-tete between Ameurin and Paukii to confirm that it was there and work out the coordinates for the gate. The few experts on the platform system were as sure as they could reasonably be (which was to say, not all that sure, but sure enough) that it was still intact and wouldn’t simply shred the explorers on arrival. That was enough for Lentyn, and whether it was enough for the muscle accompanying her really didn’t matter; they had their orders.

It had taken longer than expected (hoped) to get the platform outside Praenubilus Astu programmed for this unusual transfer, so that it was almost sundown before the three elves could get there. That in turn meant that it would be getting dark at their destination. That wasn’t a direct problem for their explorations; of course, they had abundant light sources, and magical detection methods would augment elven eyes and ears, as usual. It might be a problem, though, if it alerted the strange “Outlander” people to their presence. Studies (to use the polite word) of the Outlander man still in a cell in Praenubilus Astu hadn’t yet determined how much of a threat the man and his people were, although they did make it clear that he didn’t like elves very much. Well, they’d cross that bridge when they came to it.

Preparations made, Lentyn spoke the command word, and one ZZZRRRAKK later, the elves were on Shield Island.

Lentyn felt an involuntary shiver run down her spine as they peered into the gathering dusk. Other than what appeared to be a pile of construction debris just off the active surface of the platform, there were no signs of human activity in sight. Presumably that had been left behind by some of the primitives who had built huts and shanties down in the forest that she could see in the gloom. (She did not ask herself why the debris would be left in this unlikely place.) Soon enough, she and the others would have to go down there and establish contact. Not tonight, though; it was getting too late to do anything but set up a defense perimeter.

If she hadn’t been so nervous and excited about her first command, it might have occurred to her to do some basic detection magic on that debris. That magic would have revealed that an enormous amount of magical energy was stored in something buried beneath the rubble; something carefully positioned so as to function as a shaped charge, with the material on top serving to keep animals, etc., away until its timer functioned. Lieutenant Bindiel had had second thoughts about relying purely on chemical explosives for his ordered demolition job. Lentyn might have noticed that. However, she didn’t.

“Viradior?” one of the armored elves asked, breaking her out of her reveries. “Shouldn’t we be checking for tracks and such, before we pitch camp for the night?”

Lentyn’s blush may not have been obvious in the waning light, but it was there. “Yes, Koshek, of course, thank you.” Without waiting for a reply, she put up a Divination spell like the one Bindiel had used there a day or two earlier. (Bindiel had taken the precaution of covering his own team’s tracks, both physical and thaumatic. Lentyn did not.) Concentrating intently, she noticed exactly the same tracks that Bindiel had seen, no more, no less; and she was exactly as puzzled as the Millenarian had been by the few tracks that were almost human, but not quite. She called her two soldiers over to have a look and give some ideas.

Thus distracted, none of the three elves heard a faint click from somewhere inside the debris pile.

They were still puzzling over the anomalous tracks – troll? Outlander? something else? – when the click gave way to something harder to ignore.

Koshek was the first to notice it. “Viradior! Look at that pile of junk!” No sensitivity to magic was required now to see that the pile was pulsating with magical light … or that the magic was growing exponentially stronger by the second. “I think we’d better –“

But that was as far as he got, before the thaumatic bomb exploded, shaking the ground with a tremor that would be felt on the human-inhabited islands of the Anuban Colonies, and a roar that would be heard even further away than that.

In that moment of clarity that precedes death, Viradior Lentyn had time for one last thought. At least I’ll die in the line of duty.

And then the magical shockwave reached her, and she and her companions thought no more.
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Re: The Further Adventures of Rose, Nun of the Veracian Chur

Postby Graybeard » November 15th, 2016, 12:15 am

Chapter Sixty-eight: Conspirators

“There has been a most unusual development,” Lieutenant Bindiel, also known as Brother Elgin, told the assembled elders of the Millenarian Church of Our Lord Luminosita.

They were gathered in an underground chamber beneath the main Millenarian temple in Provatiel, a chamber that no more than a hundred people in the Millenarian Church, and hopefully absolutely no one outside it, knew existed. There were as many magical Wards and Seals on the room as there were in the Patriarch’s chambers in the great temple in Emerylon; more, in fact, by a considerable margin. Bindiel had checked every last one of them before the elders were admitted to the room. Of course, he had installed many of them to begin with.

Elder Rumzik, known to the outside world as the innkeeper on the road to Provatiel where two Tsuirakuans had recently stayed and to most of the Millenarian Church as Father Reginald, cleared his throat. “A problem with the removal of the gate in Luminosita’s Spear?” he asked. Luminosita’s Spear was the code name the elders had given to the theoretically uninhabited, distant islands in the Anuban Archipelago; more than half of all the people who knew that code name were in this room. If anyone without the need to know had been heard to use the name, they would have been quietly killed and a highly rigorous security investigation started. There had never been such a compromise, nor was it expected that there would be one.

Bindiel shook his head. “No, that all seems to have gone smoothly. I got a signal last night that the charges had detonated as planned.” Most of the people in the room still thought that those “charges” were strictly high explosives, and he wasn’t about to disabuse them of the notion; the few who knew otherwise were never allowed to deal with the elders, and may not even have known that they existed. “A test gating this morning from the Resource Area failed, in just the way we would have expected if the receiving gate didn’t exist any more. I think we can conclude that it has been neutralized without problems.” His various diagnostics weren’t powerful enough for him to know that three elves had been “neutralized” along with the travel platform, but his assessment of the operation wouldn’t have been changed by that fact; inconvenient witnesses would have to be eliminated anyway.

“So what then?” Rumzik persisted. Bindiel had a habit of beating around the bush at times. Neither the very young nor the very old had patience for such things, and many of the Millenarian elders, himself included, were well into their seventies or beyond.

Elder Jacobiel raised a gnarled, weathered hand. “I can explain,” he said, and the room quieted down; Jacobiel was not only one of the most senior of the elders, he also had connections to Emerylon and other interesting places. It was one of these that he now described, citing the name of the priest who served as the denomination’s eyes and ears in the Orthodox temple-capital in Emerylon. “Father Obed says the Centoriel war golem you told us about, Brother Elgin –“ even though Bindiel was the prime mover of this group, the elders had to put him in his place sometimes – “has surfaced in Farrel. And it is not defunct, as we thought it would be. Quite the contrary, it is fully active, and ready for war.”

This caused a stir among the old men in the room, until an unusual one of their number stood up. He wore an eyepatch that left only one blue eye visible (and everyone in the room knew how he’d got it), his blond hair had gone to silver, and the years had put a slight stoop in his tall, lean body and turned much of his muscle to gristle. Still, he looked much as one might have imagined the blond, blue-eyed soldiers in the castle might look in fifty years or so, which was not unreasonable considering that he’d been among the first of their number when he was young.

“So I think I know where you’re going, Brother,” he said, his voice still firm and commanding. “You think that if we could just add this engine of war to our current forces, the Day of Jubilee may be close at hand, closer than we dared imagine.” He sat down without another word as the hubbub intensified around him.

“That is correct, Elder Sherman,” Bindiel said calmly; he wasn’t above letting others get to the point, particularly when it was the point he himself was hoping for. He went on to describe the report that the itinerant Orthodox priest Father Howard had filed, about how he had seen the golem in the wilds of Farrel; how it appeared to be under human control; how other information that the temple in Isabel had received suggested that one of the guilds there was the force behind that control; and importantly, the horror and loathing in the Patriarch’s inner council at the idea of doing anything with the infernal magical contraption again.

“So it is your belief that this golem, in conjunction with the special cannons, will give us enough firepower that we can begin the Day of Jubilee?” one of the elders asked Bindiel. “We believe so,” was the reply.

Elder Sherman wasn’t wholly convinced. “I remind you, Brother, that we are a very long distance from Farrel, and our church is not on the best of terms with the apostates who purport to run that country.” (By “our church” he meant the Millenarian sect, of course.) “Just how do you propose to get this war golem from their hands to ours?”

“It will walk,” Bindiel answered calmly, getting a minor titter of amusement from the elders; old men or not, they hadn’t totally lost their senses of humor.

“Across the ocean floor?” Sherman persisted, a bit of annoyance creeping into his voice.

“Exactly. That is how it got to Farrel in the first place, after all.” Another titter, and the old warrior retreated.

Another elder had a different, more significant objection, however. “But as our brother says, we are not on good terms with the apostates. Not only must the golem be transported here; we must make arrangements for them to allow it out of their country, without drawing the attention of our own apostates.” (By this, of course, he meant the Orthodox Church.) “How do you propose to accomplish this?”

A mysterious smile played around Lieutenant Elgin Bindiel’s lips for a moment. “Not to worry; for this I have a plan.”

And if that plan involved the humiliation, if not outright death, of his runaway fourth wife, so much the better…
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Because old is wise, does good, and above all, kicks ass.
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