Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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

Postby Graybeard » November 24th, 2017, 12:08 am

[Sorry this has been so slow in coming; I've had major health issues this year and have not been in a good spot to write. Those appear to be resolved now, so with any luck, things will pick up again. This one is quite short, but in the interest of starting that movement, I'm posting what I have while I write more.]

Chapter Ten: On the town

After Sister Rose and Argus recovered from the shock of hearing Dess Marson’s name again, they quickly got down to business. “Well, if it has to be Marson,” Rose observed, “then we’ll make it so.” A puckish smile passed quickly across her face as she considered how to tease Marson and her husband(?) as she had the previous times they’d met. It didn’t linger, however (although it would return soon enough), as this was serious business and they were going to be dealing with a known smuggler on his home turf (sort of). In situations like that, you played it straight.

It did take some time for the temple (or frontier outpost or whatever it was; Rose wondered sometimes) to make the arrangements with the harbor master (or chief smuggler, Rose thought cynically but probably accurately) to meet Marson when his ship came in. (Or was it two ships roped together? Rose wasn’t sure from the description and her memories of the vehicles up north.) However, that was the temple/compound’s business, not their own. There being little in the way of preparations that it made sense for the two of them to make while this was happening – after all, they were still basically packed up from the trip across the ocean -- Rose cast a wry smile at Argus and rolled her eyes. “Think Fayna would like a souvenir from this out-of-the-way corner of the world?” she asked.

Argus pondered for a moment, then produced his own wry grin, something that would have been out of character only a few short weeks earlier. “Yes, I doubt if my daughter’s travels, extensive as they have been, have ever brought her to a place quite like this.” The grin widened. “Her tastes run to bronzes.”

Somehow Rose found that amusing, just as Argus had known she would. “Then let’s go find one while we’re waiting for Marson to make landfall.” Argus shrugged and sighed – he’d been doing that ever since he and Rose met – and they set off to the marketplace to find souvenirs.

Which, however, were nowhere in sight. In fact, there was barely a marketplace at all. Anuba was not a large city, by any means, but it was no small, country village either, and Rose had seen more trade in the tiny towns of southern Veracia where she’d traveled (while starting to fall in love with Argus). No luxury goods were available, the clothes in the stalls were sparse and ragtag, even the food vendors had little on offer. Yet the people seemed well, or at least adequately, fed and clothed. Where was all the business done? She raised that question to Argus, who shrugged and sighed again. “Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer, my dear.” She had to admit, he had a point. They abandoned the shopping expedition and made their way back to the temple/compound, where they had a plain but adequate dinner and turned in early for a surprisingly restful night’s sleep; they’d been doing a lot of traveling, after all, and sleeping on the airship hadn’t been that restful.

:::::

As had been her custom for most of her adult life, Rose was up early the next morning to say her prayers; even though she was going to leave the Veracian Church shortly, she wasn’t abandoning her most basic spiritual compass. (Argus, also per custom, slept in.) To her surprise, Major Portiel was already in the small, grubby chapel when she entered to avoid disturbing Argus. She hadn’t pegged him as the spiritual (she preferred that to “religious”) type. She would discover she was right.

“Get your – husband up early,” he said without any preamble, and with a very obvious pause before “husband.” I no longer give a rat’s ass whether people like this guy approve of us or not, thought Rose, but she waited quietly for the elaboration that was coming. “We have to go meet this Marson before most of the harbor gets moving.”

“And why is that?” Rose asked.

“Some questions are better off not being asked, ma’am,” was the reply, and he would say no more. Appearances notwithstanding, he hadn't checked with Argus before giving this repetitive answer.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » December 17th, 2017, 6:07 pm

[Once again, what happens here diverges considerably from canon, although it does help solve a problem of geography in Errant Story. Again, sorry this has been slow in coming; with health issues resolved, things will pick up now. Really. I promise.]

Chapter Eleven: Coastwatchers

Deep in the interior of the Eastern Wastes, a man named Noboyuki Aso was awakened from his customary restless sleep by a surprisingly gentle knock on the door of his little shack. “Nobby-sir?” an Outlander’s voice called in fragmentary Tsuirakuan; the deference in that voice would also have been surprising to Aso’s countrymen if they had known about it. “You come, please. Strange thing there-is.” Intrigued – nothing “strange” ever happened in this outpost forty kilometers from nowhere – Aso got quickly to his feet, dressed, and went out into the omnipresent murk of the interior.

: : : : : :

Only a handful of Tsuirakuans had ever heard of the old “Coastwatchers” program that Aso (Nobby to his few friends among the Outlanders, and even fewer friends among the Tsuirakuans) was nominally a part of, although he was a long way from any coast. Even fewer wanted anything to do with it; fewer still were actual members of it. Most of the first category, the group that had heard of the program, thought that anyone who would volunteer for service in such a cadre must be out of his (almost all Coastwatchers were male) mind. By the standards of Tsuirakushiti, to be sure, there was something to be said for that position.

Back in the days before long-distance airship fleets ranged the Errant World, after the Veracians had sent Luminosita to bother the elves but before the Mage/Priest War, it had dawned on some of the more far-sighted individuals in the government of Tsuiraku that, despite their island’s isolation, something like a border patrol was soon going to be needed. Much of their knowledge of the world’s geography had atrophied during the sky city’s long seclusion, but some general things remained known. They floated above a large, nearly uninhabited (completely so, except for occasional barbarians against whom the Cloaking spell was targeted) island, with smaller islands along its coasts; they could see that. The presence of a large landmass off to the east, beyond the horizon, had been deduced from the clouds occasionally seen peeping over that horizon, and would soon be confirmed.

What lay to the west was less clear. Clearly there was something out there; the world was known to be round, after all. The clouds, and sometimes storms, that washed over and above the sky city suggested that there was a landmass somewhere beyond the horizon, something different from, and much closer than, the elven lands and Veracia. However, if their distant ancestors had ever known exactly what that landmass was, the knowledge had disappeared over time.

Then came the Mage/Priest war, and Tsuiraku had to learn about the geography to the east in a very quick hurry. The west, however, remained unknown, at least at first. They mounted patrols along their western shores, and over the sea beyond, but no Veracian raiders came their way; indeed, nothing came their way except occasional odd, twisted snags of wood carried by the ocean currents and winds. That frontier remained almost weirdly peaceful until the end of the War, and beyond.

When peace returned to a victorious but still injured and disturbed Tsuiraku, the government sent out ships both on the sea and in the air to get a better sense of the world they’d awakened to. To the east were Veracia and the elven lands, and between them and the Tsuirakuan archipelago, another fair-sized continent that they would eventually know as Farrel. To the north was the Northern Confederacy, remote, forbidding and insular. To the north lay the Southern Continent, then, as now, a sparsely inhabited place of strange creatures; scary enough to the adventurers who landed there, but no threat to the sky city.

And to the west, it was finally discovered, was the continent that they would simply call the Wild Lands, as the Veracians called it the Eastern Wastes. At first, having discovered that it was all but uninhabited and the few Outlanders seen were barely human, the Tsuirakuans, like any other land-starved population, had visions of colonizing its coast. Those vanished quickly on further investigation; the unscalable sea cliffs were even more imposing on the east side of the continent than the west, making colonization via naval ship impossible, and even Tsuiraku couldn’t fit more than a few colonists on an airship at a time. Besides, conditions there were so unpleasant that it was obvious that no sane human, colonist or otherwise, would want to live there.

The “sane” part did cause some concern. Tsuiraku had already decided that the entire nation of Veracia didn’t seem to fit into that heading. Might they try to mount another attack on Tsuirakushiti by coming across the Eastern Wastes? It seemed unlikely; the continent was simply too large and inhospitable for that. But if they could somehow establish a foothold on the eastern shore, and solve the problems of getting from there down to the ocean or across the skies … well, that was something to worry about.

The Coastwatchers were the response to that possibility. A cadre of a few tens of Tsuirakuans who were crazy enough to live on that coast themselves was identified, equipped with communications and magical gadgetry to at least make life tolerable, and transported to the plateau above the coast. There they would eke out a semi-barbarous living, try to get along with the Outlanders (who, it was found, were too busy surviving to worry much about the aliens among them), and most importantly, report back to Tsuiraku if there were any signs of the Veracians establishing a presence there as well. Needless to say, there were no such signs. Within a generation, the number of Coastwatchers had fallen by half; in another generation, by another half. But there were always a very few who remained to do a duty that most Tsuirakuans had long forgotten about. Noboyuki Aso was one of them.

Truthfully, Aso didn’t consider the duty that onerous. He didn’t like crowds (which would qualify him in the minds of some of his countrymen as borderline mentally ill), the cold mists were strangely invigorating to him (same comment), and he had more than enough creature comforts courtesy of Tsuirakuan magic. And so, as the years went by with (of course) no Veracians, he moved his base inland, where non-magical food was easier to grow and he could trade with more Outlanders; his thaumatic expertise, particularly in healing magic, for what a different society might call their “consumer goods.” His superiors back on the home island didn’t particularly care where he sent his reports from; there was never anything to report, anyway, and everyone involved knew it. In time he established a base that he found comfortable in his own, highly eccentric way, and the Outlanders not only tolerated, but appreciated, what he could do for them. It was an arrangement satisfactory for all involved … more or less.

:-:-:-:

“Show me, please,” Aso said to the Outlander woman he’d come to know as Chief’s-Youngest-Daughter, or just Dot for short. They’d become friends (he’d deny that there was anything more to it than that, whether truthfully or not), and he’d learned enough of his hosts’ language to get by without Translation effects. Using the host land’s language was just one of those respectful things; the Tsuirakuans did it even with the fully human barbarians to their east and north, after all.

The young woman (for certain definitions of “woman”) nodded – that meant the same in both cultures – and showed him the same kind of respect by using the bits of Tsuirakuan he’d taught her. “Yes, Nobby. Dead men there-be, in the Demon Place.” She motioned him to follow her into the forest; without even thinking about it, she’d made sure there were no signs of an Eater about.

Well, that was certainly interesting, Aso thought; maybe not interesting enough to warrant a call home, but the “Demon Place” was off limits to all but a few specialized and important Outlanders. He’d never been allowed there alone. To him, it was just another of the weird religious things that the barbarians around the world indulged in, nothing to get excited about. The pair entered a small clearing that a specialist in such things might have recognized as a derelict elven travel platform. That same specialist might then have expressed puzzlement that that platform wasn’t overgrown or otherwise reclaimed by the elements. Not being such a specialist, Aso didn’t notice.

He did, however, notice something about the bodies that very definitely did catch his interest.

They lay face down on the long grass, not an obvious mark on them … but it was clear enough that one of the two was a human, not an Outlander.

“Your kind,” Dot said, regret in her voice. “Sorry I-be. But how get-here?”

“A very good question,” Aso replied in the Outlander language. “I wish to – look at this unfortunate pers—oh, my.”

Peeking out from under a typical Veracian tunic were underclothes that marked the body as that of a Tsuirakuan.

Shinichi’s (or, as the barbarians would know him, Shem's) body, to be precise.

Aso opened his mouth to speak, closed it again without speaking, repeated the process. “I – must contact others of my kind about this,” he said to his companion. “Please excuse me for a moment.” To Dot’s wonderment, a Pocket Dimension opened, and a highly modified, extremely high-gain crystal ball emerged, into which he began to speak in soft, fast-paced Tsuirakuan.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » December 22nd, 2017, 8:18 pm

OK, Sister Rose and colleagues (can't really call most of the characters in this "friends" ...) will return after New Years -- I have the next chapter almost, but not quite entirely, written, but will be out of touch for most of the next week. Merry Christmas (and other holidays as applicable) to all, peace on earth, good will to all, even trolls.
----
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » January 3rd, 2018, 8:36 am

[OK, back in harness, hope everyone's holidays were happy...]

Chapter Twelve: Landfall


“All right, dammit, now what?” a very tired, very cranky elf asked a similarly out-of-sorts sea captain.

:=:=:=:

They both had ample reason to be in a bad mood. Lucy Kankaniel’s ship had survived the spill storm, but it had been a near thing, nearer than she’d thought when the winds suddenly lifted and the sky cleared. She’d been almost ready to return to her course, the sooner to drop the obnoxious Peregin Paukii off at her destination, when her helmsman reported that the rudder wasn’t responding to movements of the wheel. A quick check showed that the problem was somewhere between wheel and rudder, some linkage somewhere, and that was bad. “We’ve got trouble here,” she said to the overbearing elf, whose face had turned a curiously red-gray color. “I don’t know if we can –“

“Well, fix it then,” said Paukii crossly; the Sanguen weren’t a sea-faring race, and she’d been at least as seasick through the storm as any of the humans, and more than most. But she still had both her imperious demeanor and ability to use magic. That hadn’t stopped one of the crew from trying to get her “accidentally” washed overboard as one particularly potent wave broke over the ship, to his terminal disadvantage.

Shut it,” Lucy snarled back; she could be imperious herself, and to Paukii’s surprise, she found herself listening to the small, squat human. (Might she have somehow picked up the elven Command magic? Paukii would wonder about that later, and if she’d known that Lucy’s brother had had the ability to cause people to die just by telling them to, she’d have considerably more than just wondered.) “I don’t give a damn if you throw me over the side like you did Edric, because if you do, you aren’t making it home to wherever your kind live, and I’m not either. I was saying I don’t know if we can turn this thing, and in case you didn’t notice, our course is taking us straight away from our home continent, may your goddam Exitialis take the whole lot of ‘em.” That seemed to be getting through – Paukii’s face became more gray and less red – but Lucy wasn’t finished. “You, high and mighty magical bitch, are our only chance to get out of this alive.”

The ranger paused and retched; nothing came up – that had all happened early in the storm – but the act cleared her head slightly. “And how is that?” she asked, a little less imperiously than before.

“You’re an elf. You have detection magic, and you have magic to move things around. Now find out where the break is, and fix it.”

Paukii had to admit: this uppity human had a point. She did have some detection magic, and she did know how to mend things magically. She grunted and focused her attention on where the cable went down below the deck, sending probing tendrils of magic down the cable and reading them with eyes that saw more than mere light. Ah, there was the break, several feet below deck level. It would have required a fair bit of digging down with a shipwright’s tools … or one round of manipulative magic. The latter, she could do. An effort of will, a rallying of magic, and shredded cable strands came together in a flash that could be seen topside. Not only was that length of cable not broken any more; the mended part was probably stronger than the rest of it.

“All right, that’s done,” Paukii said. “So get on with –“

“Not so fast,” Lucy replied. “That fixes the steering. But there are about fifteen other things that need fixing before we can move this boat. For one, we can’t move it under – normal power until I can get to port and make repairs.” (She wasn’t going to explain to an elf about dwarven propulsion systems, which were acting up; she had a good idea of how to fix them, but they’d require an actual drydock.) “We’re going to have to run up the sails, and you just pitched overboard our deckhand for that. Got magic that can help unfurl and raise sails? Because if you don’t, we’re still not going anywhere, at least not very fast – and you’re the one who’s in the hurry.”

For a long moment, Paukii seriously considered simply using magic to start skinning this woman, a square inch at a time, until she screamed for mercy. However, once again, she appeared to have a point. The steady thrumming of a mechanical engine that had borne them across the sea (and into the storm) had turned into an irregular cough, then stopped altogether. She glared at the sea captain and nodded. “I’ll do what I can. But remember: I’m doing you a favor by letting you live.”

Lucy snorted. “Want to swim there?” And that ended that conversation for the moment.

:=:=:=:

They’d worked through the night and were exhausted, but Paukii had to admit, the ship seemed to be making good speed under sail. In fact, she fancied she could see a land mass on the eastern horizon in the first light of dawn, light that filtered up from the horizon not with the expected gray murk but with rosy, hopeful hues promising a better day. She’d been around long enough to know that this promise was deceptive; the old saying “red sky at morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight” had been coined, after all, by an elf. Probably.

She’d started to ask Lucy whether this apparition was Shield Island, but the response was “How the hell should I know? You damn elves are the only ones with accurate charts of this end.” Not that she was going to tell the human, but this wasn’t rigorously true; after all, she’d picked up the charts that her people had used for planning this operation somewhere in human territory. However, it was true enough, she had to admit. “Wait one,” she said, and teleported back to her niche in the hold – she still had enough energy for that – to retrieve that undeniably human map and then back to the bridge. “All right,” she said, unrolling it in front of a surprised skipper and navigator. “Here are your damn charts. Now where in Exitialis’ dark, damp pubic hair are we?”

Lucy had to admit: this imperious elf was actually trying to be helpful. Based on all the rumors she’d heard, she’d suspected they were congenitally incapable of that. “All right, then,” she muttered, and hung a patch over one eye so she could look at the map with a light globe with the other eye without ruining her night vision. People misunderstood, she reflected, why pirates used those patches. Most of them had two perfectly good eyes, but there were times when one of those eyes had to see in the dark while the other was squinting into bright sun abovedecks (unlike the dark holds) or at a light source on the bridge in the darkness, as now.

She looked up from the map. “Damn,” she said. “If I read this right, that’s your island alright. Probably. Hard to be sure.”

Paukii all but shoved her out of the way. “Let me see that.” She wasn’t a sailor, but she did know how to read a map; Anilis knew, she’d used enough of them to find and kill Errants. Satisfied, she stood to her full six-foot-plus height despite the fatigue. “So drop me there.”

Lucy looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “Are you crazy? You’re going to have to do the rest of it yourself.” And this was the cause of that “All right, dammit, now what?” explosion.

The sea captain held her ground. “Look at the charts.” She pointed out something that a landlubber like Paukii would miss: markers of soundings that had been taken, by whoever made this ancient map, to show the depth of the water around the island. “It’s tidal shallows all the way in from here. This ship draws too much water to get any closer. We’d risk grounding, and then, not only would I not get my own ass back to somewhere civilized again, your own precious ass would get marooned too.” And I am not getting marooned on a desert island with a crazy elf; I’ll try to shoot her if it comes to that.

Once again, Paukii retreated, sort of; she didn’t want to get marooned with these obnoxious humans either. “So how do I get there?” she asked, reasonably enough.

Lucy shrugged. “Your choice. Paddle one of our launches. Swim.” (Paukii’s face blanched at that, and not just because she wasn’t much of a swimmer; there were sharks out there, or so she’d heard. Probably. Maybe.) “Hell, if you’ve got the magic to walk on water, now’s the time to use it. Better be able to walk at least a quarter mile, though.”

Of these choices, Paukii reflected, there was only one real choice. “A launch it is. But I go alone. No humans are allowed on – sacred elf property.” No elf, of course, would call any of the land where Exitialis fell “sacred,” but she wasn’t going to say that.

Lucy chortled, for the first time in hours. “We wouldn’t have that part any other way. Now get some sleep. We’re still two hours from having enough light for you to make landfall. Put it to good use.”

Paukii had to admit, there was wisdom to that too. She put on a false smile and administered one last barb. “Aye, aye … bitch.” Without waiting for a response, she teleported to her nest in the hold, and was asleep in seconds.
----
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