Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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

Postby Graybeard » October 14th, 2019, 11:41 am

OK, now that the server is back up -- thanks, you folks -- this will be resuming later this week, with a couple chapters to follow in rapid succession. Can't post today owing to computer weirdness, but it's coming.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » October 17th, 2019, 10:59 pm

Chapter Forty-eight: Revenant

The cell at the Great Temple in Emerylon where the mortal shell of Bishop Odilo had been kept for several days now was not carefully guarded. There certainly didn’t seem to be any need for guards, at least after the first desperate hours when all the resources of the Veracian Church were rallied to try to wake him from his catatonic state. After those efforts failed, the cell had become no more than a storage closet for a body without a mind in it. That body would be tended a few times a day, for its basic biological needs, but there could be no need for round-the-clock surveillance.

At least that was what senior figures of the Veracian Church would tell themselves after events, now starting to get rolling as Paukii approached the homeland of the Outlanders, proved otherwise.

At first Odilo’s awakening was subtle to the point where even a Healer might have missed it. An eyelid fluttered; a thumb twitched. For half an hour, nothing more happened, except for the appearance of an orderly to tend certain of those basic needs: food, water, and, well, elimination. In the aftermath, this orderly would be grilled mercilessly on what he’d observed during the visit. He would protest indignantly that nothing had been out of the ordinary while he was there. Even though he was clearly not the brightest light globe in the temple, certain spellcasting would confirm that he was telling the truth, at least as he understood it. Not another soul would enter the holding area for eight hours …

… But one would leave it.

Odilo’s body had not been in its current state for long enough for his muscles to have atrophied as his mind had. When, another half hour after the orderly’s departure, he regained about as much consciousness as he would ever have again, he sat up on the side of his bed and stretched, just as he had on awakening for most of his adult life. (No great intellect was required for that.) His Mechanist robe was still hung thoughtfully on a hook near the door; there’d appeared to be no reason why it shouldn’t be. He peeled out of the light clothes he’d been wrapped in after he was put in the cell, and put on the robe. And as he did so, one thought flooded his mind:

I’ve got to warn Kassia!

He could not remember exactly what he was supposed to warn his daughter of -- he never would – but in a completely instinctive way, he was sure there was something. He loved his only daughter very much; his wife had died years ago giving birth to a second child who was himself stillborn, and Kassia was the only family he had. His conscious mind could not remember the grilling Paukii had given him about her whereabouts, but his subconscious could, and it knew that there was a terrible threat in that interrogation. She had to know about it.

I’ve got to warn Kassia!

As soon as he was dressed, he simply walked out the door, and all the way out of the Great Temple. Why not? There was no one to stop him. (A young nun on some manner of churchly errand would later admit to having seen him in the hall, but thought nothing of it; she would face the same kind of magical interrogation as the orderly, with the same outcome.) He didn’t have the remaining brainpower to know what he would do next, except that it would involve getting to Saus, where Kassia was in one of the Church’s schools for young nuns-to-be. No way of getting there was obvious, so he would just walk; Luminosita would provide. And sure enough, Luminosita did, or so it would seem.

He emerged into a gray, dreary day with a light rain beginning to fall. The dry summer was coming to a close, and the nourishing rains known and loved as “Luminosita’s Tears” were just starting to ramp up for autumn. It wasn’t much of a rain, but it would be enough to trigger the Festival of Luminosita’s Tears in a few days. For now, it sufficed to keep most of the traffic off the streets … except for the most motivated.

I’ve got to warn Kassia!

Motivated or not, Odilo probably would never have made it to Saus, were it not for a thoroughly unremarkable farmer named Simon Pottle.

This man was a distant relative of the Pottle boy who would meet a messy end less than two years later in the streets of Saus, not having learned how disastrously foolish it was to threaten to mug a scary little devil girl. Simon Pottle did not share his distant cousin’s thuggish personality; far from it. He was quietly driving his wagon back to the farm that was his home, having delivered a load of produce to a market in town, when he noticed a forlorn figure tramping westward in the drizzling rain. He was already preparing to offer this figure a ride before he noticed that the soaked man was wearing the robes of a very highly placed person in the Veracian Church; Odilo was a bishop, after all.

He reined the horses to a stop and called out, “Hey, Yer Em’nence! Kin I be offerin’ you a ride somewheres? You ain’t be lookin’ too good.”

Luminosita is providing, some functional brain cells briefly cooperated to place in what was left of Odilo’s mind. He nodded mutely and climbed aboard.

The cover on the wagon wasn’t fancy, but it was enough to fend off the rain. “Where be ye goin’?” Pottle asked sympathetically.

Odilo managed to get out one word, one of only two things he would say for the next hour. “Saus.”

Pottle whistled softly. “That be a fur piece from here, Yer Em’nence. I cain’t be takin’ ya all th’ way there, but I can be gettin’ ya close, anyways. But what be ye doin’ in Saus, if ye don’t be mindin’ me askin’?”

The second sentence came out…

I’ve got to warn Kassia!

He would say no more, but Pottle didn’t ask for more, either.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » November 2nd, 2019, 11:37 pm

[Not very happy with this, but sometimes you gotta just stop fighting the writer's block and get on with it ...]

Chapter Forty-nine: Levitation

Bishop Odilo may not have been able to remember who was the subject of the warning he wanted to give his daughter, but People-Leader’s-Son and the other Outlanders could certainly have reminded him.

Like many peoples with little technology, the Outlanders had cultivated an instinctive feel for time. Nobody among them knew exactly how long the sea voyage to the Demon Isles should take, but between the legends of the clan and the experiences of the two clansmen who’d gone missing, both the sea voyagers and those who awaited them on shore had a fairly good idea of when the voyagers should be returning. It was accordingly a surprisingly short time after a watch was posted at the cliff’s top when that watcher noticed two canoes far out on the sea; and the lookouts on the canoe gave the “Land ho!” call only minutes later.

“And about time,” Peregin Paukii grumped, not particularly caring who among the Outlanders could hear her. A detached observer would probably have forgiven her for this bit of impatience; the Sanguen had never been seafarers. Of course, there were no detached observers in the canoes.

People-Leader’s-Son had little choice but to tolerate the barb. The return home, he knew, would involve more important things to worry about; scaling the cliff, for example. The tides weren’t going to be as favorable on the return trip as they had been when he and the others descended to the canoes. The strand at the bottom of the cliff would be narrower, leaving little room to beach the boats, no room for error. Worse, if he judged the time correctly, the tide would be coming in. They would have to hurry to get everyone up the ropes before the boats were forced back out to sea … and he did not want to face the prospect of another night in a canoe with this woman.

As they approached land, he felt a great sense of relief at what he could see. Once again, the weather was unusually cooperative. The sharpest eyes in the party were soon able to make out the figures of Outlanders at the cliff’s top, and soon enough, so was he. Better yet, they were running down the lines that he’d had made earlier. Yes, if the gods (the real ones, he thought, not this – being that we’re transporting) were showing them favor, everyone should make it up the cliff in time. He said nothing more for the moment, just bent his back to the oars along with the others (except Paukii, of course), until to cheers from the top, they reached the transient shore.

No sooner had they arrived, however, than he had a problem to solve.

Paukii had been devoting what remained of her intellect to the question that now arose: who should be first up the ropes? By all rights, she should go first, to claim this new land and its people as her own, and to get home as quickly as possible. (Her scrambled brain had no problem holding these clearly contradictory thoughts at the same time.) But what if the rope that she’d be climbing, or better, that her new subjects would be raising her on, failed? She had an instinctive memory of a Slow Fall spell, but the cliff would be too far for it to get her safely to the shore, she was sure of that. So send some of the party up first, to test the ropes? That wouldn’t do either, it would reduce her status in the eyes of her subjects to merely that of the riffraff who’d been pulling the oars. Thinking hard, she arrived at a solution. She pointed at People-Leader’s-Son. “You are the leader of your people. You will go up the ropes first and prepare them for my arrival, and my dominion over them.”

The young leader winced, thought about it, and answered. “No, I will not.”

“You defy me?” She wasn’t quite rallying destructive magic yet, but there was fire in her eyes.

“I am the leader of this group,” People-Leader’s-Son explained, trying to project a calmness that he certainly didn’t feel. “I must be responsible for their safety. I will be the last one to the top, after everyone else is safe. If the waves come, they will take me, not one of them.” He indicated Learning-Spirits. “She will go first; she is the lightest of our group, and she can test the lines. And she has my trust; she can speak for me to my people.” Not to tell them to worship you, which is pretty clearly what you want, but to warn them about the crazy person with us. “And I will – escort you to the top.”

Paukii considered. Something she couldn’t identify was nagging at the back of her mind, but at least she’d be getting the obeisance she was due. Besides, sending the lightest person up first seemed like a good idea. “Very well. Proceed.”

People-Leader’s-Son relaxed a little – he’d been preparing for trouble, was already leaning forward to dodge the Force Bolt he thought might be coming. Learning-Spirits wasn’t going to argue the point; she just grabbed a line, and the hauling began.

The lines were holding just fine as the Outlanders, one by one, reached their home ground. Finally, it was time for People-Leader’s-Son and Paukii to make their ascent. Remarkably, what happened next was truly an accident. (If the Outlanders had realized how much trouble an elf could and would cause them, it might not have been.)

Maybe a line had just reached its limit; maybe an elven body was just that much heavier than an Outlander one. For whatever reason, when Paukii was only about ten feet from the top, her vine parted, and she began to slip seaward. People-Leader’s-Son watched first in horror, and then almost hopefully (he had no illusions as to whether this strange being would be good for his people), as she started to plummet down the cliff. But ….

”LEVITATE!”

Paukii didn’t actually vocalize the word; she just cast the spell. Regardless, it worked. Instincts had kicked in, to cast something that what remained of her mind had no idea she could do. She stabilized as the vine fell away beneath her, slowly floated upward. She wouldn’t have the magical power to keep it on for more than a few seconds by herself; but that would be enough.

Give the Outlanders this: they moved quickly to rescue this unexpected – visitor, never mind that she was clearly not of their own kind. Another few seconds, and Paukii and People-Leader’s-Son were safe on the plateau … and the elf resumed being an elf.

”Worship me!” she commanded, and the power of magic behind her words compelled it to be so.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » November 8th, 2019, 12:23 am

Chapter Fifty: Wedding guest

Meanwhile, another wielder of unusual magic, one whose skills would have appalled three different nations (or at least states) if they were known, was making her way to Saus.

Sister Marilyn, now putting the final touches on her wedding preparations (I wish Rose would hurry up and get back here, she thought with an impatience that was mirrored by Brother Miguel, Brother Farley, and Kristi Yugawa, but they had faith in Sister Rose), was wrong about one important part of the guest list, although she couldn’t know it. She’d sent invitations to her mother, step-father and step-brother, now living, as she’d quietly reminded her fiancé, incognito in a small town in southern Veracia. Daria and Lupo had responded positively and … enthusiastically (Marilyn took more after her mother than her twin sister did), but had expressed regrets on behalf of Lupo’s son Chaz, who was off serving Luminosita somewhere in Emerylon, they didn’t know exactly where or doing what. Well, no matter, Chaz and the twins had never been all that close growing up. Her mother’s attendance was the big thing, and if she brought along her second husband, whom Marilyn privately considered something of a dullard, she’d deal with it.

However, Lupo Oldriel would not be coming. Only a few days earlier, the Oldriels had received the shattering news that Chaz Oldriel had “been called to Our Lord Luminosita’s Presence while on a vital mission for the Holy Church,” as the message had rather tactlessly put it. No details were forthcoming, either about the younger man’s association with a shadowy intelligence organization that the Church did not acknowledge to exist, or about how he had died. None ever would be. After a -- difficult conversation between husband and wife, it was decided that one would go to the funeral, one to the wedding; the first in Emerylon, the second across the ocean in Kiyoka.

(The funeral would be a weird and uncomfortable affair. Not only would it have a closed coffin; there were a peculiar number of Wards on it. Lupo would know nobody there except for his ex-wife, whom he certainly wasn’t going to talk to, and two of their son’s childhood friends who’d somehow managed the trip from the small town where they’d grown up. The other guests were all “fellow servants of Luminosita,” as the officiating priest put it; strange and remote men, most single, a few with wives who looked almost as uncomfortable with being there as Lupo. He would be relieved, at least relatively speaking, when the service was over and he could get on with the miserable business of settling his son’s affairs and estate, which was … minimal.)

Daria Oldriel had never been to Tsuiraku before, and she was not looking forward to this trip there, apart from the obvious joy of seeing the girls again and sharing in Marilyn’s great day. To be sure, she didn’t buy into the general Veracian dislike of the place. However, between growing up in the Ensigerum village on the one hand, and her memories of the demolished Leonish on the other, she had more than enough reason for her a bit of xenophobia of her own. She was also constantly on her toes about risk of compromise. Not many people had escaped from the Leonish settlement before the Ensigerum destroyed it, but it would only take one person recognizing her, and connecting her to the past that she never talked about, for her cover as a small-town farmer’s wife to be blown.

Well, she thought, not much to do about that except try to avoid it. Despite being nearly fifty, she still remembered the time-magic tricks she’d learned during her time in the village, and practiced them when she was sure no one was watching. This trip would be a good occasion to test them again, to speed her trip from home to Saus. With that rapid passage, she only had to spend one night on the road. Marilyn, bless her heart, had bought her mother a travel rune for a non-stop, long-distance airship to Kiyoka; she’d considered booking a warp-gate passage instead, but that might be too much novelty at one time. Marilyn had also arranged lodging for her at a small inn in Saus. She could stay there, rest for a day (the time magic did take a toll on one after a while), get ready for the big adventure to a foreign land, and the big day for her daughter.

Neither Marilyn nor Daria could have any way of knowing that that inn was barely a block from where Elgin Bindiel and his cousin were holed up, plotting their revenge against the Patriarch.

She’d been to Saus a few times before, and while she could hardly be said to be well acquainted with the city, at least she didn’t find it as overwhelming as most travelers to a place a hundred times larger than their tiny home town might. She wasn’t able to use her time magic to hasten her arrival at the inn, of course, but a kindly farmer, not unlike the one who had helped Bishop Odilo, had given her a ride through the dripping rain toward the central marketplace. A short walk from there, and she was at her inn, where she checked into her room, unpacked her small traveling bag, and slept like a baby.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » December 1st, 2019, 1:05 pm

[A little mundane, maybe, but gotta get the players in their places before the curtain goes up ...]

Chapter Fifty-one: Parting ways, for the moment

As it happened, Sister Rose and Argus noticed Daria Odriel as they were heading for their own destinations, although neither paid her much attention. Argus saw her first. “Look,” he said, as Daria was alighting from the passing wagon. “Another beneficiary of a friendly wagoneer, from the looks of it.”

His wife(?) nodded and chuckled. “Nice to see the natives are friendly. As long as you don’t look like an elf or some kind of Tsoo-rakyan demon like Maduin was talking about, anyway.” That second part got a chuckle from Argus as well; Maduin had laid it on pretty thick … “Funny how much she reminds me of Eva and Marilyn, though.”

“Think she’s a wedding guest?” Argus asked, rolling his eyes to show he wasn’t serious.

“Not likely. Word from Miguel is that there aren’t going to be many people on Marilyn’s side of the aisle, which is just fine with her.” An impish smile crossed Rose’s face. “You can sit there if you want to, though.”

Argus’ own smile was less impish than nostalgic. The mini-skirted nun had done so much to get him out of his alcoholic haze and back on his feet, with his dignity restored … and had played no small role in him meeting Rose. (And she’d looked very good in that outfit, he also recalled.)

He decided to change the subject. “Before you go haring off to this mysterious diplomatic location that you can’t tell me about but I think I know where it is, anything I should know about managing the vineyard until you get back?”

Rose considered. “I don’t think so. From what I understand, they’ll have to come get me almost before I got there. I shouldn’t be gone more than two days, and that’s not enough for it to need much managing.”

Argus harrumphed. “I wish you hadn’t said that. We both know the way our timetable for most everything has worked for the last few months.”

“Point.” They were pulling up to the airship terminal, where the special diplomatic ship was waiting. (I feel flattered, Rose thought, but the ship was going back to its destination with or without her.) A “maturely” subdued kiss – the passion could come when they got back together – and she was off. Argus would be delivered to the warp gate only a few minutes later.

-*-*-

Rose may have started her trip first, but she’d be later arriving at her destination; airships didn’t provide instantaneous transportation, after all. Well, the flight would, and did, give her a good opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep. She felt much refreshed as the ship alit; there wasn’t even any morning sickness to contend with. As usual when the diplomatic ship came in, Sister Agnes and her husband (and child) were there to meet it, Rose saw as the ramp dropped to the ground. But there was someone else waiting with them, apparently waiting to board. I know that face, that pose, she thought … but she didn’t.

The Annie stand-in swept past her onto the ship without saying a word.

The real Annie, however, was only a few yards behind the diplomatic family … and as soon as a puzzled Rose was on the ground, Agnes called her forward, and the three women started a quiet, serious talk.

-_-_-

By that time, Argus was comfortably ensconced in the house at the vineyard – but interesting things had happened before he got there.

The mission had provided a coach to collect him. This caused a minor head-scratch at first; wasn’t he supposed to be going out to the countryside, not the temple of a church that he didn’t belong to? But the driver, a young initiate whom Argus didn’t recognize, simply smiled and waved him aboard. “Welcome, Dr. Cleiviein,” he said. “You have some people at your business who are expecting you.”

Well, the young man had used his name, Argus thought; no mistaken identity here. They’d be going to the right place, as was obvious when the coach pulled out from the warp gate and headed for the country.

There, a surprise awaited him, one that would leave him smiling until Rose got home late the next day.

A small, obviously pregnant woman was awaiting him. A taller man stood with his arm around her bulging waistline. Both were smiling from ear to ear.

“Welcome home, Father,” Lillith said softly. “We’ve been expecting you….”

Then there was no need for talk, just warm hugs all around.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » December 10th, 2019, 10:12 am

If anybody is still reading these, don't worry, they're not going away. However, real life necessitates a break from writing over the holidays. (Hard to write if you're a few thousand miles away from your computer.) Sister Rose and company will return in mid-to-late January. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
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