Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

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

Postby Graybeard » May 2nd, 2020, 8:55 pm

Chapter Fifty-five: Secret passage

Elgin Bindiel was still near exhaustion when he finally rolled out of bed the next morning, a full hour and a half after his usual rising time. In normal circumstances he would have lambasted himself for this scandalous breach in his self-discipline. Of course, this day’s circumstances hardly qualified as normal.

He awoke to the deeply reassuring aroma of a good bacon and eggs breakfast. His cousin Ardith, bless her heart, had fixed it before she left the house to begin her journey back to Emerylon. They’d talked until the wee small hours, one of the main reasons (or so he told himself) for his oversleeping; talked about many, many things. One of those things was the knotty question of how she should maintain her cover. Her husband wasn’t the brightest light globe in the temple of Luminosita – that was part of why she’d married him, after all – and as far as she knew, he had never figured out that he was married to, in effect, a Millenarian mole. When she fled to Saus, she’d left him a message saying there had been a family emergency and that she expected to be back in no more than three or four days. At the time, she had expected that her absence would last not those few days, but rather, for the rest of her life; much to her regret, as she did love her husband and their child. That long talk with “Elgie” had persuaded her that living up to the cover story would be better, for purposes of concealing her connection to Provatiel and what had happened there; risky, if her cover had been blown while she was gone, but she was … equipped … with means to enter into Luminosita’s Presence instantly and painlessly if it came to that. In the event, it did not; her voyage home was a great deal more comfortable than the one to Saus had been, in a coach and completely overtly, to resume her role as wife, mother and office worker, no one being the wiser for it, incredibly enough.

After a quick prayer, Bindiel ate his breakfast in silence, but despite his fatigue, his mind was hard at work. Ardie had told him some useful things. As she often did, she’d stayed briefly and gossiped with a few of the other mothers at school after she dropped off her son. None of them knew she was Millenarian, and she certainly wasn’t going to enlighten them; most were not highly religious at all, and as far as the few devoutly Orthodox women were concerned, she was just another stay-at-home wife of someone doing something somewhere. She’d never quite understood that; being a stay-at-home was fine, many of the Faithful were that way (and more than once, she’d envied them), but didn’t they have any sense of community?

And then … there was Mrs. Tatliel.

Rona Tatliel was the wife of some moderately highly-placed officer in the Veracian army, and she liked nothing better than to brag about her husband’s military accomplishments – the latest of which was getting assigned to command the Patriarch’s guard unit. She had made sure, after dropping her daughter off, to inform the other mothers of this honor, at great length. Included in this veritable storm of boastfulness were some things about the Patriarch’s impending trip, and the security arrangements for it, that certainly should have been classified LUMINOSITA’S SECRET, and quite possibly were. At least that was how Ardith the Administrator viewed them … but Sister Ardith just listened patiently. And now, to her great surprise, her cousin had been interested in the details. Very interested.

As soon as breakfast was done (and, of course, the dishes washed carefully and tidily put away), Bindiel did two things. First, he went to the market, carefully disguised, and bought a large, but hardly notable, quantity of a common agricultural fertilizer. Common it may have been, but benign, it was not. Someone who knew a little about explosives could mix this disagreeable stuff with some other ingredients, which he would pick up tomorrow from a different shop, and make a crude but powerful high explosive. Elgin Bindiel knew a lot about explosives.

Second, he searched the safe house for the tunnel entrance that he knew was there; a concealed entrance leading to a tunnel heading toward the shattered Millenarian temple. He found this without much difficulty, verified that the rather powerful Ward was in place, and after the appropriate magic to deal with it, opened the trap door. The tunnel stretched darkly away in front of him, just as it should.

Satisfied with the morning’s work, he stashed the fertilizer some yards down the tunnel – no need to take it to its final destination yet – retraced his steps, closed and Warded the trap door. Of course, he prayed faithfully after that, thanking Luminosita for arranging it so that things were going so well … although the Patriarch and others who would be at that temple, directly above the underground explosive mixture, would not have agreed with that assessment.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » May 25th, 2020, 11:29 pm

Chapter Fifty-six: Hiding place

A shaken Kassia Karvial, her light traveling bag packed, set out from the novitiate, unaware that her flight into hiding was no longer necessary.

Her father’s brain-fog had cleared just long enough to get the message across: an elf was looking for her, with malice in its mind, and she needed to be somewhere else for a while. Then the fog descended again, and Odilo Karvial, formerly Bishop Odilo of the Mechanist faction of the Veracian Church, had stumbled off to Luminosita knew where. A week or so later, in the aftermath of what would happen in Saus, his emaciated body would be found at the side of a country road between Saus and Emerylon. The puzzled priest in the nearest small town would prepare to give him a pauper’s burial … but then would be amazed at the number of hard-eyed, tight-lipped men from the Great Temple who would inform him that this unfortunate person’s return to Luminosita’s Presence would be their business, not his, thank you very much for your services to Our Lord, and don’t ask questions.

The news came as a double blow to her, her father’s appearance and behavior being the first part. Maybe that was why she did not stop to think about the improbability of what he had been saying, rather, just numbly obeyed. She did have enough of her wits about her that, when her roommate Tia came by between classes to find her preparing her traveling bag, she’d stammered out a story about a family emergency. This would pay unexpected dividends in making her harder to trace, because when Tia told one of the nuns why Cassie wouldn’t be in the afternoon catechism class, she happened to pick one of the few who knew that the girl’s father had been hospitalized, without knowing that he’d escaped from his confinement. (The first part of the coincidence was the more improbable; nobody outside the Great Temple knew about the second part.) Sister Eugenia wasn’t the brightest of the seminary’s faculty by any means, but she was long on empathy, and she promised Tia that she’d cover for her missing roommate until she got in touch. The next day, she would have second thoughts, but by then, the trail would have gone cold.

Cassie also retained enough of her thought processes – she was bright, after all, that was part of why she was there – to take certain steps to cover her tracks that few would have suspected her to be capable of doing. The shape-shifting skills that she’d learned from that nice Reformed nun hadn’t been stressed in the novitiate; too many of the nuns and priests were still suspicious of that very non-Luminositan magic, and she wouldn’t start the military side of her education for another year or two yet. Tia knew that she had the skills – late-night, whispered conversations, and a very carefully concealed example, had seen to that – but had never seen them fully demonstrated. That evening, Cassie would debate with herself whether she’d been holding one appearance in reserve all along, just in case a need came up, or whether Luminosita, praise His name, had planted the thought in her mind just now. It didn’t really matter, of course. What did matter was simply that she was able to make herself look shorter and heavier than ever before, with a different facial shape and (she hated to do this part) short dark hair rather than the blonde mane she’d worn for years. Would anyone think she’d succumbed to vanity because this new look fixed her complexion and teeth? Honestly, she didn’t particularly care.

There remained only the question of where to go. Clearly, returning to the family home in Emerylon was out. If an elf had done those horrible things to her father, it (she didn’t think of elves as “he” or “she,” just as something more or less monstrous) would surely know where the Kardials lived – such few of them as were still alive. After her mother’s death, she and her father had lived for a while in their modest home, but they had moved in with a cousin when the triple duty of father, bishop and householder had become too much for the man. This was no big secret in the Church (at least the Mechanists; she didn’t think about whether the statement was more generally true), so presumably the elf would know about it, since elves were rumored to know everything about the Church. It didn’t occur to her that the Mechanists might not have an entirely representative view about that.

As she walked away from the seminary (drawing no attention; that was good), she ran through her options. Anywhere associated with the Orthodox Church was also out, of course. The Reformed temple in town might be welcoming – Sister Rose wasn’t the only Reformed nun with a reputation for taking in strays – but it would be the first place the searchers would look, after the Orthodox sites (and her home) had been checked. Most of the other minor denominations would be unsympathetic, or worse. She’d always had the impression that the Millenarians were more welcoming than most, and besides, they allowed their clergy to marry, which was a good thing in Cassie’s mind. (There was that cute boy in her church history class that … well, her thoughts of him had not been entirely consistent with celibacy, nor had certain … joint experiments, even if none had proceeded to their natural conclusion; close, but not quite.) The rumor mill had it, though, that something had happened very recently to put them under a rather severe cloud. That wouldn’t help her evade –

Aha.

Vinnie, that cute boy in the history class, was big and strapping for his sixteen years, and he paid his seminary fees by doing handiwork for the Church. One night, while they were doing some things that a nun-to-be and a priest-to-be probably should not have been doing together (as much to spite her rival for his affections as anything else), he’d mentioned that he’d worked on cleaning up that old Millenarian temple that was being refurbished for some reason that he didn’t know. He bragged that he knew a way into it that nobody else knew about. (Well, nobody human knew about it, although he was unaware of that distinction.) And then, there was another night when they definitely were doing things that a priest-in-training and a nun-to-be shouldn’t have been doing together (and never mind that rival), and they decided to sneak into that temple to do them.

Could she remember the hidden entrance? She thought so. It hadn’t had a magical Ward or concealment, it was just hard to find amid all the carvings and engravings and other exterior trim that was supposed to show how much the Church loved Luminosita. It didn’t lead directly to the church’s interior, but rather, into a tunnel that ran underneath it, to a well concealed doorway at the bottom of the stairs up to the steeple. She’d never felt so adventurous in her life (not yet having met Rose, who seemed to be a magnet for weird adventures) as when they pried open that trap door; and she’d never felt as – aroused as when they climbed to the dusty steeple, and then they – they –

She put that last part out of her mind as best she could, and headed for the hidden entrance.
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Re: Sister Rose, v.2: Expecting the Unexpected

Postby Graybeard » June 26th, 2020, 11:25 am

[A few lines from some canon characters in a rater wordy chapter, but again, gotta get the players on stage ... Note also that the destroyed elven city of Nubecula mentioned below played a role in some other fanfic I wrote a long time ago.]


Chapter Fifty-seven: Elven council

“This is taking too long,” High Commander Yenhael grumbled.

He and a few in-the-know elves from the Elven Council were reviewing the mission that had been set for the curiously silent Peregin Paukii, of whom nothing had been heard now for many days. To be sure, it was hardly unusual for a Peregin to drop out of sight for a while, and Paukii was about average in this tendency, maybe a bit more evasive than most. Still, the councilors were growing impatient for a report, never mind that time moved at a glacial pace in Praenubilus Astu.

Councilor Skena had condescended to attend this little kvetch session, and she shooed the scribe Renane out of the chambers so that what followed could be off the record. A different, say human, culture might have been puzzled that a people as magical as the elves had never found a way to record council proceedings magically and automatically, without need for a scribe. That kind of creativity, of course, wasn’t a hallmark of the elves. “What do we know about Paukii’s movements?” she asked, as soon as the room was secure – relatively speaking.

“Not much,” said Commander Numilo; he normally wouldn’t rate a seat among this august company, but he’d been kept in the chambers because he was “running” Paukii on this mission, to the extent that anyone in Praenubilus Astu could direct a Peregin. “About six days ago, she was in that smelly human port, ‘Lorenzel’ I think they call it, trying to get transportation to – the islands.” Elves reflexively avoided naming the place where Exitialis fell if possible. “She found one, hired it to take her, but they ran into a spill storm.”

“What’s a spill storm?” Councilor Skarix asked; she was not one of the few elves who knew about the Eastern Wastes.

Skena knew, but she wasn’t about to say. “Nasty weather system that forms over the open ocean,” she said. “Nothing of any consequence to us.” She was wrong about that, but the hard look she gave Skarix at the same time got the real point across. “Continue, please, Commander.”

He did. “Anyway, they survived that and landed at that miserable hell hole in what the humans call the Anuban Colonies.” Again, he dodged the elven name. “Her last report was from there, said they were doing quick repairs on the ship and were about to leave for Shield Island.” (No getting around that name.) “Nothing since then.”

“I might have something on that,” Councilor Famair broke in, in a mild breach of decorum. However, his brief included intelligence gathering in Veracia, so the interruption was not just tolerated but welcome. “Our contact in Phidelphiel, coastal city in Veracia, said a tramp steamer came into port from the Anuban Colonies a few days later. Nothing too unusual about that, she says there’s regular traffic between the two, but she said this wasn’t either a military ship or one of the smuggling outfits that does most of the port-to-port runs. She says that’s odd.”

“Any elves on board?” Skena wanted to know.

“Not as far as she could tell, but she said she couldn't be sure.”

Skena turned to Numilo. “Do we have a platform close to this Phidelphiel? It might be worth sending a Peregin to follow this up.”

“Wait one.” Magic flowered in front of his face, showing a system map that nobody else in the room (indeed, few else in the world) could see. As it dissipated, he said, “No. The nearest one was in one of our cities, called Nubecula, that was destroyed in the war.” Nobody in the room had any misconceptions as to just what “war” that was. “Afterward –“ meaning during the centuries when the elves retreated to Praenubilus Astu – “it didn’t seem important to rebuild it. Nothing left of Nubecula but a crater. How were we to know the humans would build a new city of their own nearby?”

Famair interrupted a theatric Skena sigh. “My source said one other thing. Not too long after the ship came in, a Veracian military airship left in a big hurry, she thought it was carrying VIPs but didn’t know anything about who. It headed west, toward their big cities, but no way to tell which one they’re going to.”

Yenhael, who had been silent for a while, snorted. “I know which one.” He proceeded to give the right bottom-line conclusion, for the wrong reason. “Their finger-wagglers don’t allow anyone into Emerylon who hasn’t been sniffing their god-construct’s ass for at least two weeks. Whoever is on that ship, they’re in Saus, I’d bet an Errant’s horns on that.”

Skena rolled her eyes, but she had to admit: he had a point. She turned back to Numilo. “Do we have anyone there? … Now why are you smirking like that?”

“Peregin Bauti,” Numilo answered, the smirk widening. “She came back from some mission in the Northern Confederacy with her tail between her legs, wouldn’t report on it except to say the Northerners are crazy, which they are. She said she was going to do some Errant hunting in northern Veracia to get her groove back, her exact words.” The smirk reached almost indecent proportions. “I expect we’ll getting a diplomatic complaint about some little town in the middle of nowhere getting blown up most any day now.”

A titter of disapproval ran around the table. None of the participants had any great love for Veracian farm towns, and certainly not for Errants, but this wasn’t the time for a diplomatic incident, not so soon after Viradior Matoy had been sent back to Praenubilus Astu with a fractured skull, a concussion, no memory of how it had happened, and a curt, downright insolent warning that this particular elf was now persona non grata in Saus and Emerylon. He would recover from his injuries, but would never remember what (or more specifically, who) hit him.

“Sarine?” Famair asked; events of two years later might not show it, but he actually rather liked the – unconventional ranger. “She may have the right skills for this job.” Numilo, however, shook his head. “She says she’s tied up with some unpleasantness up near the Veracia-Confederacy border.” Indeed she was; for once Sarine was engaged in an actual Errant hunt, after getting a tip that the border town of Albigenish might need some investigation. (She’d never told anyone where she got that tip, and she certainly wasn’t about to tell anyone that she’d also be helping the harmless half elves who were still in the city. Above all, she wasn’t going to say that focusing the elves’ attention in that area would keep them away from Santuariel.)

A few other options were discussed and dismissed, and finally Skena sighed again. “Well, I guess Bauti it is. But –“ She scowled at Numilo and Yenhael. “Make it damn clear to her that this is a fact finding mission, not an Errant hunt, and she is not to blow anything up unless it’s her only way to save her own precious, dissolute ass.”

-*-*-

Far away, outside a small Veracian villiage, Peregin Bauti felt her ears begin to burn. However, that was probably because of the never-explained fire and explosion that had consumed a granary at the edge of town, with an Errant among the fatalities.
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