sundiver: (SF- Lady With Parrot)
[personal profile] sundiver
Not certain if this will be the last update on this for the rest of the month or not. I've got more, but there's two major sections that are still very much in the 'needs more everything' part of writing. With Christmas coming up, I don't know if I'll get them finished. But I'll try my best.
Updated 12/10/11



Previous

The adolescent young men who possibly actually were guards had tried to crowd their entire patrol into the office. Upon failing at that, they had volunteered two of the bulkier lads to stand guard inside the room while the rest waited outside, making certain to leave the door open. So that they could crowd their heads in to stare and eavesdrop shamelessly.

Tae thought they were being far too trusting, but she was not about to point it out to them. Not when they were being foolish in her favor.

Crunch took up most of their attention. Likely they had never seen anyone like him before. He looked uncomfortable, fidgeting under their curious gazes from where he sat on the floor between Petra and Tae. Standing, his presence had made the small office seem even more claustrophobic. There were also only the three chairs, and the young woman whose office it was already occupied the one behind the desk.

“His name is Crunch.”

“Full name please,” the young woman ordered. She wore the pale blue of the laity, her hair clipped back with an ornate comb in the shape of a sunburst. The large desk she sat at was overflowing with blank forms and other paperwork.

“He's a half-orc. Their names are usually pretty simple and easy to remember,” Petra said snidely.

“Crunch is his full name. Unless you count his chanting for dinner.”

Crunch brightened. “Get dinner soon? Crunch munch, Crunch munch.” The young woman frowned, not understanding his speech.

“All I've got on me right now is a couple dhourra cakes.”

Crunch's smile dimmed some, but he shrugged philosophically. “Crunch hungry enough to eat boring elf bread.” Petra pulled one of her dhourra cakes out of a belt pocket and passed it over. “Petra have drink too?”

The young woman cleared her throat noisily. “If we could get back to the matter at hand?”

“You have not already written it down?”

“It's not a name I am familiar with. I don't suppose you could spell it?”

“It would not be of any help,” Tae replied. She wondered why the woman found the word unfamiliar. Perhaps Odette's spell was not translating it?

Crunch shifted uneasily. “Crunch can help.”

“Pipe down, Crunch. You're supposed to be trying to look harmless. Your voice is so frightening you could recite nursery rhymes to these people and they'd still be looking for the nearest exit to escape through,” Petra hissed to the half-orc.

“Different alphabets, yes, the sorceress explained that,” the woman said, ignoring Petra's interruption. She started writing. “I had hoped someone might be able to, though. I'm afraid you'll have to make do with my attempts at spelling. And a half-orcus you say?”

“Half-orc,” Tae corrected. “I do not think there are any orcs on Caldonia. They come from the mountains in Carmen's homeland. Interbreeding with the humans is rare, but it happens.”

The clerk nodded along, not looking up from her papers.

“And how did he come to be in your company?”

“Athena and I hired his services as a bodyguard when I was sent to serve in the-”

“I think she meant more recently than that,' Petra interrupted. Ta flushed with embarrassment at the correction. Petra smirked at her, and then turned her shark-like grin upon the woman at desk. “We found him stashed in one of the back rooms. He'd been chained to a wall. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?”

The clerk arched her eyebrows disbelievingly. “We don't hold prisoners in such a manner. Nobody will believe that story. I'll just put down you refused to answer.”

“We did find them in the old disused smithy. There's nothing in there to steal, or much of anything at all. So no one goes there. Nobody would notice if somebody started occupying it,” Squire Wulfric said from his post by the door.

“Which obviously means somebody is locking up monsters in there. Past the wards at the sally port, the rotating watch at all the lookouts, and the wards the Inquisitors place in each building,” said Cenhelme rudely. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and a darkening eye he had received from his impromptu flight into his fellows. Tae was not certain what the lads had been thinking, letting him be one of the two in the room. He was not a particularly skilled combatant, and Crunch had already proven how quickly he could thrash the young man.

“The additional information is unnecessary,” the girl said primly. “Please state your name for the record, Peregrine.”

“Tae-Lana Que'Siddara. And I do not appreciate the insinuation that I was lying.”

“Key Saddyrrah,” the girl repeated, writing slowly. Tae’s fingers twitched at the mutilation the woman had made of her name. No wonder Petra was constantly harping about Tae’s poor pronunciation of Kelathyl. “You and the one woodswoman are sisters?”

“Que'Siddara,” Tae enunciated each syllable slowly, though she had a strong feeling the correction was in vain. The woman's knowledge of Athena's clan name did not strike Tae as a good sign. Had she not also mentioned Odette? “We are cousins. Siddara is the elven clan-”

“And you are a cleric who follows the sun?” The girl was very serious about not wanting extraneous information.

“I am a peregrine healer in the service of the Protector of the Elven Court,” Tae explained. “The sword-crossed sun is one of his major symbols, but members of the Court are not personifications of powers of the mortal world.”

“But he does use the sun as his symbol.” The girl finally looked up from her writing and stared at the sword-crossed sun motif that decorated Tae's armor.

Tae rather thought the girl was being obtuse on purpose. “The sword is part of it as well. All the higher ranked members of the Court use two emblems for their sigil. The Protector teaches that the best defense is a good offense, and thus uses the sword, and not the shield as a symbol. The sun is because, as leader of the Court, he must light the way for his Court and his faithful to follow.”

“I think she fell asleep,” Petra said, peering at the girl and her work. Her stylus had not moved while Tae spoke.

“That is not funny,” Tae scolded. “She is oversimplifying everything I say.”

“There isn't a lot of space on the page,” the girl commented. “Succinctness is needed.”

“Brevity to the point of revealing no information at all is just as unhelpful as an overabundance of information,” Tae argued.

“There's no such thing as too much information,” Petra said. The young elf was rolling a paperweight around on her hand. Tae appreciated her finding something to keep her hands busy. Bad things happened when Petra grew restless.

“That I am less certain of,” Tae told the redhead.

“And your full name?” Tae was impressed by the way the woman managed to look down her nose at Petra without actually changing her expression. She probably wanted her paperweight back. With the amount of papers crowded onto it, even the small breeze created by standing would send flying anything not held down.

“Pe’traveska Arn’le’Teugyrlel Syolkiir Tel’Ardennen,” Petra rattled off quickly.

The locals all stared. There was a clatter outside as one of the lads toppled over in surprise. Tae smirked. There was a reason why Petra normally introduced herself solely as Petra Moonhawk. The only naming system more convoluted than that of the elves was the one for the Valencian royalty, whose names consisted primarily of a list of their ancestors. Introductions at their parties were said to go on for hours.

The young woman finally had something other than condescension cross her face. “Pietrelske Eirna Tigerloll-” She trailed off. “Could you repeat that? Perhaps a bit slower?”

Crunch grinned, not understanding her words, but recognizing her attempt to wrap her tongue around Petra’s name.

It could have been worse. Petra could have been a gnome.

Gnomes’ names often were not even recognizable as names. Births were cause for great celebration, and everyone who attended one had the option of offering a name for the unfortunate newborn. The stressed parents, too worn out by the actual birth, normally just agreed with every suggestion, usually resulting in such names as Jeribonk Bottledizzy Daringjammer Prismfizz Bottlebloomers.

Dizzy had been a very sweet girl, as she recalled. And very fond of patterned scarves.

It would have been amusing to see the clerk work her way through Dizzy’s name.

Petra giggled. “You did ask for a full name. Of course, your alphabet doesn't have half the vowels necessary for you to properly spell it.”

“What sort of name runs longer than that of Valencian nobility?” Squire Wulfric asked in an awed voice.

Petra leaned back in her chair and tilted her head to the side to look at him. Her hand was still busy with the paperweight. “Elven names are very complicated,” she told him in a confidential voice. “Family name, and clan name, and soul name, and other lengthy things like that. All very descriptive and florid and absolutely nothing like how humans refer to each other. I used to go by Petra Teugyrlel, since that's the closest it gets to the given and family name combination most humans tend to go by. And they couldn't even pronounce that correctly, so I started using Petra Moonhawk instead.”

Used to how Petra’s mouth formed her name, Tae was surprised to note that what she spoke was not in Brygean. But then again, Moonhawk itself was a translation. Why would Petra not translate it into Allekheirn for the clerk’s peace of mind? Tae and Crunch, after all, already knew her name.

The woman jotted the name down with a clear look of relief.

“Then why is Priestess Tae-Lana's name so short?” Cenhelme asked.

“Petra is a full-blooded elf, while I am only half elven. That's what the 'Que' in Que'Siddara stands for. And why Athena has the same surname, even when her father was human and mine was elven.”

“Extraneous information,” the clerk murmured. “Are conversations with you women always so easily sidetracked?”

“Frequently it is worse,” Tae told her. “Do you require any other information, or can the nice young men in the metal suits escort us to our next destination on this ridiculous trek?”

“We'll have someone else to escort you up the tower,” the woman said, eying the lads crowded in the doorway with distaste. “They have someplace else they need to report to, I am certain.”

“They're our prisoners,” said one of the lads hanging about outside the door. Tae could not see which one from where she sat. “You're not allowed to steal them away just because they aren't cooperating with filling your paperwork out.”

There had been a minor argument over how to fill the paperwork out, since apparently prisoners were supposed to sign themselves in. Tae found it all very strange. Then again, she could count on one hand the number of times they had been arrested.

She was not certain this was the wisest of plans, but it was too late to do anything about it now.

“We already explained that we could not fill out the forms ourselves. At least not so that you folks could read it,” Tae said.

“You have to be taken somewhere to turn in your belongings. And none of them are cleared to be in there,” the woman said icily.

“You can blame the pages for that,” the priest said loudly from where he stood in the corridor. His voice, deeper than the lads', was easy to recognize. “They acquired some of the weaponry we had locked up for a previous prisoner.”

“Care to explain what you boys are doing hanging about Sister Sunnifa's office?” Someone else had joined the loiterers in the corridor. He had a gruff voice, but Tae was not about to assume his age or rank.

“Keeping an eye on our prisoners, sir,” piped up the youngest. “They swore to be on their best behavior, but they're still in our charge until they finally make it up to the tower.”

“And it takes all five of you? And Helios Godwin as well?” The newcomer sounded irritated.

“We could pass them off to you, sir.” Tae wasn't certain which of the lads that was. Whichever one he was, he was doing a passing good impression of not being panicked at being found doing something he probably was not supposed to. “We do have to report back to Master Ecbert about the wards in the old smithy.”

The man poked his head into the office and took in the six of them. He wore a chain shirt over his drab clothes and his sandy-brown hair was cropped very short. He wore the exasperated expression of someone who regularly had to deal with teenagers.

Tae sympathized with him. Petra was even worse than the squires were. On the other hand, there was just the one of her.

“Page Cenhelme, I see,” he said. His gaze lingered on the young man's blackened eye. “You seem to have found more doors to run into.”

Yessir,” the lad replied sullenly. “Very tricky things. Always swinging open out of nowhere.”

“And Squire Wulfric. Scut work again?”

“Algar wanted company,” he replied with a shrug. “The masters are always at us to help each other out.”

“Of course,” the man said dryly. “And your distaste for your current assignment on the roster has nothing to do with it.”

Wulfric wisely refrained from replying.

“Would you like me to take these off your hands, Sister Sunnifa?” he asked.

“The juniors or the prisoners, Master Hereward?”

He turned his gaze to Crunch and inspected him slowly. Even dressed in dirty, sweaty rags while trying to take up as little space as possible, the half-orc was an imposing sight. Especially with Petra's dainty form perched in the chair next to him. Crunch curled his lip at him in an unfriendly snarl.

“Might not want to annoy that one, Crunch,” Petra murmured. “We do actually want to be going to the donjon.”

“Crunch not understand why,” the half-orc grumbled. “No honor in surrender without battle.”

“Because everyone else will be there. They won't let Odette go, and Carmen and Athena won't be letting her out of their sight. We were supposed to meet back up with them over an hour ago. When you tripped the alarm where you were being held and warned the priests something was wrong, Odette and the others would have already been out of the room the Jadens assigned us to. And any guardsmen sent to arrest either them specifically or any intruders in general would bring them here. Where the only actual holding cells are.”

“What's he supposed to be?” the man asked, ignoring Petra's whispered explanation to Crunch.

“A half-orc,” Sunnifa read off her papers. “They won't say where they found him.”

“Slanderous lies,” Petra said. “She just won't believe us.”

He ignored Petra's comment. “And what paperwork are you filling out for them, sister?”

“Just the normal one for intruders, sir. Squire Algar said he found them wandering around the old smithy.”

“And none of you remembered the foreigners that showed up this morning?”

Sunnifa blinked.

“There wasn't a-” Wulfric paused and shot Crunch a glance. “-A big angry barbarian with them. We thought it best to bring him to the donjon, not to the Inquisitors.”

“We did know she was the heretic, sir,” Cenhelme said. “But the donjon has better cells, and Eric said the Inquisitors or whoever could just collect her from there.”

“It's only heresy if she follows the same god, boy. Is your paperwork complete, sister?”

The clerk shook her head. “No, but I rather doubt it could be. We’ve never had to detain foreigners before. And they're not as forthcoming about matters as the people I normally see.”

The man grunted in laughter. “Why would they have any respect for an alien religious authority? Just give me what you have. I'll take them and the boys up and have the prisoners turn over their belongings.”

“Sir, the juniors really aren't supposed to be there.”

“They'll be under supervision. And they’ll need to be questioned about what happened. And perhaps explain where their mail came from.” He gave the door a hard glare.

There were groans of dejection.

“Are you certain this is wise?” Tae murmured in Kelathyl to Petra as the clerk started gathering up various papers. The young guardsmen clanked noisily as they shifted about.

The walk to the donjon had not taken long, but Petra had still managed to find the time to come up with reasons why the Jadens would not want to let them leave- the Jaden priestess from earlier in the day had been particularly hostile about it. Although several of them had been sound, none of Petra’s hypotheses had been pleasant.

“Certain is a strong word for it,” Petra said. “But we need to get back to the others, and there’s been plenty of time for their healer to look over the sun-knights’ injuries. I know lightning damage when I see it. Odette can tell them she cast no spells until she’s blue in the face. They’ll hang her. And the only place set up for executions is the donjon.” She broke off, obviously holding back an explanation of how she knew that. Tae appreciated the gesture.

“It might have been lightning, but the power originated from you,” she murmured.

“Actually, I’m pretty certain it was the avatar sitting in my head. If you were suddenly released from millennia-long captivity and saw your jailers standing right in front of you, wouldn’t you strike out?”

Tae frowned at her. “Revenge hurts only those seeking it.”

“Discussing escape plans?” Hereward asked. He was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed across his chest. Both Wulfric and Cenhelme had moved out of the room.

“Of a sort,” Petra replied with a cheeky grin. “Mostly wondering what the charges are going to end up being.”

He gave her an unamused look. “Trespassing in restricted area.”

“No doubt,” Tae murmured. “Crunch, Master Hereward is here to escort us to our jail cells.”

“Crunch no want to sit in tiny cell,” the half-orc complained, crossing his arms and shooting the man an angry glare.

“It will only be for the night,” Petra said. “And they’ll probably be in bright and early to tell us what horrible people we are and what our punishments will be.”

“Why Tae in trouble?” Petra, of course, was always in trouble, so Crunch had little reason to wonder that Petra was again in disgrace.

“They seem to dislike my armor,” Tae said.

A shame, really. The armor had been a gift from the tutelary of her temple's region upon taking up the role of a peregrine. Runes etched into the different pieces gifted the set with many small blessings- greater protection from the elements, a somewhat lighter weight when worn, less damage done physically to the armor itself, and something that kept her from overheating. It was a princely gift, and Tae had taken great care in its upkeep.

Barring her amulet and the braided belt of her station, it had been the only thing she owned when she left. One gave up everything of their former life upon choosing the path of a peregrine. All the better to serve people without judgment, and to judge without bias.

Only luck had brought her back together with her cousin, and only an eloquent petition by her temple's tutelary had kept Tae from punishment for choosing Athena for an attendant.

“Too shiny?” Crunch suggested. Petra giggled.

“On your feet please,” Hereward said. “I’d like to get this wrapped up before their curfew.” He nodded in the direction of the doorway.

---

There was a squeal of excitement. “Odette! It’s been ages! Look what Tae and I got for you!”

Odette looked up from where she was scribing invisible equations into the ground. Logical progression of magic had never been her strong suit and it seemed the change in form had done little to help.

Down the line of cells, seven people approached. They were silhouetted by the light coming from the torch by the door, the only source of light in the room. Tae and Petra both had a guardsman at one side. Petra’s escort had a firm hand on her shoulder. It looked like it was to keep her from skipping ahead. Behind them, a filthy, somewhat emaciated half-orc was flanked by the biggest guardsmen she had yet to see. Both looked nervous.

She smiled as they continued their quick walk.

“Crunch,” she greeted. In the cells across the way, Carmen and Athena looked up. They had settled into lotus positions, facing each other through the empty cell that separated them. Athena’s handcuffs kept her from sitting in the proper position, but the quiet meditation seemed to have soothed the anguish the wood-speaker had been putting off in the days following Odette’s unexpected death and rebirth. She already knew from experience it would not last long. She hoped the night's rest would ease Athena some.

“Crunch not mean to get stolen,” he said, ducking his head in embarrassment. She half expected him to shuffle his feet as well, but the guards kept him moving forward.

The cell closest to the entrance was unlocked and Petra was motioned in.

“I see they did not bother trying to lock you up,” she observed. The little redhead had been stripped of everything save her pants, a thin high-necked undershirt, and her boots. Even the yellow band that usually held her hair back out of her face had been taken. Athena and Carmen had not gone through such a thorough divestment, even with Carmen leaving several swords and knives of varying lengths in the guards' repository. Tae still wore her armor, though her amulet and borrowed sword were missing.

Of course, Petra's missing garments both had the taint of magic upon them. They were wise to make her discard the gray robe; its camouflaging properties would be far too easy to make use of to escape. The missing tunic she usually layered over it made less sense. It was only a warming charm. Perhaps the Jadens had merely been able to sense the magic in them, but not its purpose.

They still should not have let Petra keep her sturdy boots, even if they did not have any magic to them.

“They're pretty easy-going with prisoners who surrender without putting up much of a fight,” Petra agreed, eyes moving about the room. Odette already knew what she would see; one wide corridor with a row of half a dozen barred cells running down either side of the room. Using bars instead of stone made the room seem bigger, and it was rather obvious they did not frequently have enough people that they could not lock them in alternating cells. The cells were unoccupied, barring the ones the women had been placed into. “Crunch was especially persuasive. And I did apologize to that one I kicked when he was trying to put them on.”

“We didn't have a set of locks small enough,” her escort explained as the rest moved past him. He looked very young. “The priestess swore an oath that she would not try to escape and asked us not to bind the orcus, as he had already been injured by such things.”

“Half-orc,” Petra corrected. There was a clang of a cell door. Tae now occupied a cell two down from Carmen's. The three other guards continued with Crunch to the end of the row of cells. Now that she thought to look for it, she could see that the skin at his wrists and ankles was rubbed raw. His ankles looked better off than his wrists. He had traces of magic rippling off of him, like a spell fading away, likely from Tae healing the injuries as well as she could. None of their energy levels were as they could be. She must have thought he would need his feet more than his hands.

“We really aren't usually this lax with prisoners,” he continued. “But the Inquisitors have called most of the regular sun-knights off somewhere else, so it's a bunch of half-trained squires and the masters running things until they get back. And the sun-priests seem to have taken this a sign to do some pretty odd things.” He shrugged. “There have been odd things afoot. A half-orc appearing in the middle of the compound without any sign of entrance isn't even the oddest.”

“That's enough, Squire Wulfric,” said one of the burly guards. They had finished locking up Crunch and were returning. “Stop gossiping with the prisoners.”

“Sorry, sir.” He dawdled as the others left.

“You need to go back to that smithy,” Tae said, voice pitched low enough the exiting men could not hear it. “We left someone there.”

He stared at Tae. “You couldn't have mentioned that while we were there?”

“Not without adding assault and kidnapping to our growing list of charges,” Petra said brightly.

“Squire Wulfric!”

“Yessir!” After shooting Tae another baffled look, he clanged noisily away, a strange combination of awkward limbs and boyish grace in his ill-fitting armor.

“What was that about?” Carmen asked.

“I asked him to stay behind a bit,” Tae said. “We left Selene Ailith locked up in the room we found Crunch in. She was unconscious, so it seemed the best way to keep her from looking complicit with Crunch's unforeseen jailbreak. And the juniors seemed more trustworthy about passing a word to than the actual donjon guards.”

“The juniors haven't finished their tests, never mind their vows,” Petra explained. It did not actually clear anything up, but that was not unusual. “Anyways, who cares about the Jadens, we've got Crunch back! Sort of.” She waved at him.

He had been placed in the furthest cell. It seemed to have better reinforced bars, as well being shrouded in a small chain link mesh to keep occupants from getting a grip on the bars.

She doubted they would stand up against Crunch should he really be interested in leaving, but it was a decent attempt.

Crunch waved back. “Why Odette tiny?”

“She accidentally destroyed her body,” Carmen explained. “Athena cobbled together a new one for her to possess. 'Twas some arbitration needed from the Court, so for payment they turned her into the pixie.”

“'Tis the short version, anyway,” Athena said.

“But still Odette, right? Not Odette-shaped dead thing?”

“Thank you so very much for that vote of confidence,” Odette said, torn between humor and annoyance. “See if I share my dinner with you again.”

“Is Odette,” Crunch agreed placidly.

The way to a half-orc's heart was through his stomach.

“You do look like you could use some extra food,” Carmen commented. “What happened? We found the barkeep that spiked your ale.”

“Barman was very not nice person. Crunch get sleepy and wake up on boat. Made to pull oar to gets back to land. Was lots of shouting and beating. Crunch teach them not to beat oar people.”

“The barkeep probably got paid a lot for a find like Crunch,” Petra said, tilting her head in an appraising fashion. “Bet the captain took it out with interest when he got back to that port.”

“How did you get off the ship?” Carmen asked. “You can't swim, so you would have had to wait until they docked. If they docked at all. They might have used freighters to take their cargo ashore. They would not have made it easy for any of the conscripts to get ashore.”

“Crunch swim well enough not to drown fast.” He looked put out by the idea that he couldn't swim. Odette had seen his attempts at it. Not drowning fast was the best way to describe it. “Crunch saw land out oar window. Bossy sailor tried to stop Crunch from going. Crunch toss him out side of boat to make better window.”

They all flinched. Crunch's tendency to fling inappropriate things- his usual choice of ammunition being people- was well known to all of them.

Petra usually enjoyed it, but that was because she often roped him into her overly-complicated schemes and had the reflexes to keep from breaking her neck. Most of Crunch's hapless victims had no say in the matter.

“The captain probably took that out of the bartender's hide,” Carmen said. “Fixing holes in ships is a hassle.” Tae and Odette frowned at her. Petra looked unsurprised by this display of knowledge. Carmen shrugged. “I may never be a sailor, but I know my wood.”

“A fair point,” Odette said.

“So you- swim- to shore.” Petra looked as though she wanted to use a different verb there, but was trying to be diplomatic about it. Odette appreciated the attempt, even if it was not a very good one. “And what happened when you got there?”

“Crunch ask for directions back to town. Now Crunch forget which town Crunch was meeting girls in,” he said apologetically. “Remembered then. Town folks not know it. Crunch wander down coast for long time, looking for town. Lots of people with all wrong words. No town. No girls. Crunch look further from beach, think maybe town get disappeared with girls in it.”

“You row across an ocean and think we be the ones lost?” Carmen’s voice was thick with disbelief.

“How would he know he had arrived upon a different continent?” Tae asked practically. “I had never heard of Caldonia before we started asking about men going missing in port towns.”

“The sunrise and sunset are usually a dead give away,” Petra said snarkily. She had removed her boots and was fiddling with the heel of one.

“Crunch thought had rowed around world,” he said defensively. “Petra no tell Crunch other islands in big ocean.”

“We never go on ocean voyages, why would I bother explaining the idea of other lands distant from ours, inhabited by control-freak sun-priests and rioting farmers? Also, I had no idea what was out here.”

“Then Crunch would know was on wrong land and couldn't walk home.” Crunch sounded as if he were stating the obvious and could not understand why Petra did not know it.

He lived in a very simple world. Odette rather wished she could move there. Then perhaps she might be able to actually get some rest and stop being inundated by the ley energies that she used to be able to turn on and off. It was like staring into the sun.

“We should try to get some rest,” Tae said. “The jailers will be up with the dawn, and we will need to be at our best to make our appeal.”

“Good luck sleeping on stone,” Carmen grunted. “This place was not built with comfort in mind.”

“I have had to sleep in my armor before.”

“Why did they not make you remove it?” Odette asked, curious.

“It would be a slight upon my station,” Tae explained. “Apparently, they have held priests captive before. They may keep any holy regalia they might be wearing. I do not think they meant this to include armor, but they did not have any appropriate clothes I could wear. However, priests must turn in any belongings they carry, especially weapons and holy symbols.”

“Thus why you do not have your amulet,” Odette said.

“There were quite a few binding oaths of good behavior involved,” the half-elf continued. “I could not try to leave even if I wanted to.”

“Most unfortunate if we were planning on escaping. Were we going to try to do that? Or are we going to throw ourselves upon the tender mercies of the Jaden judiciary and hope we can argue our way out of these matters?”

“I could use the rest,” Athena said. She moved to lean against the back of her cell, tilting her head down into her chest. Her manacles jangled as she shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position to sit in. “I will be of no help while I am like this. And they said these could not be unlocked for a day.”

Petra set down her boot and peered intently through the bars at Athena.

“They have placed magic-blocking manacles on her,” Odette explained. “They were meant for me, but there was a bit of a mix-up in the dark.”

“I think the shapeshifter may have done that on purpose,” Athena said, looking up. 'Tis fey, and would know the results should they have been placed on you.” Petra signaled at her to turn around so that she could look at the handcuffs. Athena shook her head and Petra huffed in annoyance.

“Blocking a fey from magic would kill her,” Tae said. Even in the dim light, Tae's face had paled noticeably. “Do they not know that?”

“Possibly that was what somebody wanted,” Petra said as she picked her boot back up.

Odette hoped that was just Petra's paranoia speaking. Having someone within the Jaden ranks that wanted her dead was not a pleasant idea. To even attempt to kill someone in such a matter was vengeance, not justice, and the priesthood was supposed to be above such matters. Especially one that was attempting to set up a theocracy.

But then, a priesthood doing that was not one that worried itself overmuch concerning the rights of life.

“Crunch no want Odette to die.”

“Neither did the lorist, it seems.”

“It's a very painful way to die,” said a voice from the entrance. Odette recognized the shapeshifter's voice. There was a soft thumping noise as Petra dropped her boot. It seemed Odette was not the only one who had not heard him arrive.

They all turned their gazes upon the entrance. A sandy-haired guardsman stood in the doorway, eyes coolly surveying them under the torch's flickering light. He held a long narrow wooden case in his arms. It was unpainted, obviously solely utilitarian in design, and sloppily at that. Dangling from his belt was a heavy set of keys.

“That was Brygean,” Petra pointed out.

Odette blinked in surprise at the man. She had not noticed his choice in language, used as she was to hearing it from everyone else in the room barring the multilingual Petra.

“I never said I didn't know it,” he pointed out. He looked at Athena. “I do apologize for the cruel manhandling, wood-speaker. I did not have time for anything terribly clever, and someone had to wear those.” He looked at her arms with distaste. “You were standing closer to her than the other woodswoman.”

“I managed to figure that out,” Athena said, accepting the apology. “I would say you owe me one for it, but I think that was you granting us a favor.”

He shook his head. “The Jadens have grown bold with their attempts upon the magic-users of Sundabar.” He paused, his thoughts clearly elsewhere. Had he known someone who had run afoul of one of the tainted clerics? “I'd just as soon not be owed a favor by the lady for saving her life. Consider it a gift, absolutely no strings attached.”

“If it pleases you,” Odette said, remembering not to thank him this time. He had seemed very determined about it earlier.

“It pleases me muchly,” he said with a smile that lit his eyes. “Although I do have a favor to ask of your little one.”

“Something tells me I'm not going to like it,” Petra said dryly.

“Probably not, no. I've been looking into a robbery from the catacombs here-”

“It wasn't me,” Petra interrupted.

He grinned. “Yes, I know. The weapon has been recovered. The thief was murdered a short time ago, and the city guard who found the body recognized the item as something of the Jadens'. I'm trying to find out how it was stolen in the first place.”

“Do you want her to pretend to steal it, then?” Carmen asked.

“Not precisely. It does need put back, though. The sun-knights had something of a problem with it, and I remembered your fascination with my necklace last time-”

“I apologized for that. And gave it back,” Petra muttered, picking her boot back up and resolutely not looking at him.

“That was neatly done too. It struck me as something more of a habit than any particular interest in male jewelry.” He paused, but Petra just shrugged. “I've already seen how well you can go unnoticed, so I thought I'd ask if you could break into the vaults and put the artifact back.”

“I'd bounce off the wards. I inspected them last time I was here.” Teilomere raised his eyebrows, though none of the rest of them looked surprised. Petra refused to look apologetic. “They would take hours to disassemble.”

He frowned. “I'd thought that was the case, but the Inquisitors are insisting it couldn't be an inside job.”

“Crunch very confused,” the quiet half-orc said from across the room. “Tin man good guard?”

Teilomere tilted his head to the side to peer into the dim light in Crunch's direction. “What?” he started, confusion evident on his face.

“Sorry, Crunch,” several voices chimed.

“This is a shapeshifter we found a few months ago locked up in a closet,” Petra explained as Teilomere walked down the corridor to stand in front of Crunch's cage. Her fiddling with the boot finally paid off and the heel pulled apart from the rest of it.

“Crunch no like being stared at,” he said, baring his teeth.

The shapeshifter shrugged. “No one likes being stared at. It's been years since I've seen an orc. I don't think I've ever seen a half-breed. Human fecundity never ceases to amaze me.”

“Crunch still not know who you are.”

He bent into an awkward half bow to the seated half-orc, juggling the case to keep from dropping it. “Teilomere of the Loremasters' Guild, currently on loan to the Inquisitors of Jadus. I look into things that sun-knights are a bit too noticeable for.”

“If tin man looks into things, why not find Crunch? Crunch kept being given thing to look into.”

Teilomere tilted his head back. Odette could not see his face from the angle she had, but she was certain it was one of interested appraisal.

What thing was Crunch talking about?

“Wrong sort of thing,” he replied. “Well, right sort, possibly, because I'm currently holding probably exactly the same sort of thing. I don't look for physical things for the most part, just the answers to very unusual questions.”

“So why can the sun-knights not put away whatever be in that case?” Carmen asked.

“The altar can't be approached by holy people.” He had the same 'that was an obvious question' tone of voice that Petra did. He moved to stand in front of Carmen's cell, leaving him basically in the center of the room.

“And 'tis something you're frightened of,” Athena said shrewdly.

“It gave me the creeps,” he said flatly. “And I wasn't about to pop the case open and lay hands on the damned thing when the altar where it was supposed to go was giving off evil like no one's business.”

“Why would you think I'd want to do it, then?” Petra asked.

“You bypassed my personal wards,” he said. “I thought there was a chance you might be able to squeeze around the stink the altar was giving off long enough to put the kris back. The Jadens are pretty certain the kris was part of the lock keeping that aura from running amok-”

“What’s in it for me?” Petra asked.

“Besides the joy of breaking into very secure vaults and leaving mustaches on all their ugly statues? There is the fact that the clergy started going completely insane around the same time this knife disappeared from the altar it was counteracting. The Helia might be less inclined to take heads if that altar wasn’t sitting deep in Jaden territory spewing evil energy.”

Tae stood up straighter at his words, shooting Petra a surprised look.

That sounded a great deal like the temple Crusader Yseult had asked Odette to accompany her to. She doubted it was a coincidence.

Petra frowned, an unhappy look on her face. She was probably remembering that forsaken temple as well. “Let me see it,” she said, motioning him over. With the boot still in her hand, it looked a little ridiculous. She had put the heel back on much faster than she had managed to get it apart, after pocketing the two narrow pieces of metal that had been hidden away inside the boot.

Lock picker's tools in one's pockets were only useful until the goods in one's pockets were confiscated. Shoes, especially ones in as dainty a size as Petra wore, were far less likely to be taken.

“Put the boot away first,” he said, tightening his grip on the case.

“It's not as if it's dangerous,” she said, but she tugged her boot back on anyway.

“Says someone who's never had one thrown at her,” Carmen pointed out. Teilomere tossed her a grateful smile. Carmen merely frowned at him.

He approached Petra's cell, and they moved as close as they could to try and see what was inside the case. Barring Athena, whose only view was of Teilomere’s back. She stayed where she was seated. Odette had the best vantage point, as she was in the nearest cell. Carefully undoing the latches, he flipped the lid over and tilted the case down for Petra to peer into.

Odette was surprised to see Tae flinch. The healer was too far away to see much of what was happening.

The latches must also have worked to keep the energy coming from inside the case from escaping outwards. With the lid open, there was no longer a barrier between the kris and the rest of the world. And Tae was far more sensitive to holy and unholy energies than any of the rest of them.

Petra frowned at it and looked back up. “Whose altar was it?” The magic emanating from the case thrummed discordantly like untuned harp strings with each word she spoke. The room felt darker, more confining, and the flickering torch light took on an ominous gleam. Purple tentacles of energy writhed in the case, reaching out towards where Petra stood.

“It didn't have any identifying markers on it,” the shapeshifter hedged. Odette recognized the energy coming from the kris, but could not recall from where. It was as if she were trying to see a reflection in the water in the midst of a storm.

She did not want to remember.

“Whose altar was it?” Petra repeated, her voice low, harsh. “I didn't stutter. Either say you don't know or give me a name.”

Overloaded as Odette was by all the magic coming out of the case, she almost missed Petra’s reaction to it. She had taken a half step forward, and was swaying a little, like she did not even know she was doing it. The shadow warping Petra’s personal energies writhed like a living thing.

“He doesn't have a name anymore.” Teilomere looked surprised to have spoken.

“Petra,” Tae said in a soft voice. Odette forced herself to break her gaze away from the case and looked over to the healer. One of her hands was to her chest, where her amulet usually rested. Tae was nervous. “Don't-”

Teilomere snapped the case shut, as if Tae's words had been a warning to him. The gloom that had fallen upon the room shut off as quickly as it had started. It still did not feel as bright as it had been before he had displayed the kris.

No wonder he had it sealed away inside the case.

“I kind of figured,” Petra said in a very small voice, her eyes still on the case.

“Most of the records involving him are either riddled with false information or written in dead languages we still haven’t managed working translations of. The Guild would love to know your sources.” He looked down to snap the latches all tightly shut, running his hands across each to ensure he had not forgotten one.

“Rather doubt that,” Petra muttered sullenly, withdrawing back into herself and backing away from the Teilomere and the case he held. “You said they think this works as a part of a locking mechanism?”

“Most of their active artifacts have other things stored with them to counteract their effects. More efficient that way. I swiped the case from one of the other storage vaults.” He grinned, trying to share the joke, but Petra had not looked up. “The kris wasn't really doing much besides making my teeth itch until I got close to the vault where it's supposed to be stored. The magic-blocking case seemed a good idea when it started acting up.”

“When the knife got close to the altar, did the lights go odd?” Carmen asked. The light from the torch somehow did not seem to hit her and her face was veiled in shadow. Neither Tae nor Crunch, standing further from the torch, had that same appearance. Feeling Odette’s gaze, Carmen looked her way. The shadow slid off at the movement. Odette shook her head at the question in Carmen’s eyes, and they both returned their attention to the shapeshifter.

“No,” Teilomere dragged out the vowel, “that didn't start until just now.” He looked Petra up and down, a frown on his face. “The pleasant thoughts of slitting throats started when I got close. Luckily, there was no one else there. Though that could have been horribly bad luck, since it could have tried to give me thoughts of slitting my own once it realized there was no one else there to slit the neck of.”

“Because such thoughts are always pleasant,” Tae said in an annoyed voice.

He turned to frown at her. “They were at the time. Why do you think I was so creeped out by it and the altar?”

“But you want Petra to take this kris there?”

“Well let's face it, I'm already used to suppressing such thoughts,” Petra said, crossing her arms across her chest.

There was a flurry of noise.

“That was a little more information than I wanted, and possibly I did not think this all the way through.”

“Really now, there is no need to be rude.”

“'Tis little wonder why you cannot-”

“That is a little over the line for exaggeration.”

“Crunch think knife just like fear.”

And suddenly silence.

“That is actually a really good point, Sir Crunch. I hadn't thought about that.”

Crunch's smile looked more like a grimace.

More likely, the knife had been responding to Petra, and the strange foreign presence winding itself though her in the ley energies. When she had come in, she had looked more as she had been before the calamity at the temple. But now, even with the case snapped shut and the strange evil sealed somewhat safely away, the shadow warping her energies was twice as prominent. As if it had gained strength from the unholy artifact.

A bad reaction, her foot. That was not the ley energies reacting to and attacking an addition to Petra’s power signature, as she had originally thought the warping had been. Nor was it just a somewhat benign piece of the avatar occupying pieces of Petra that she did not use, as she had suggested to Carmen and Athena hours earlier over dinner.

This was a full-scale invasion of Petra’s being.

And Petra knew it. And Tae knew it. And the priestess was terrified of it. Not just as Tae, the normal person, afraid of normal everyday things, like Carmen and her fear of the dark. But as Tae, the peregrine of the Protector, beacon of responsibility and faith.

Because Tae had no way of stopping it.

“I can put it back,” Petra spoke up.

“That would not be wise,” Tae said. Odette firmly agreed with her. Not with the way just being in the unshielded presence of that knife had strengthened the entity sharing space with Petra.

“Nobody else can. You’re holy, Carmen gets lost in buildings, Athena’s trussed up like a jackrabbit on a spit, Crunch wouldn’t be able to make it through the wards, and Odette would snap the moment she had to actually touch it.”

“And you would not?” Odette asked softly. “I will admit that the thought of re-opening that case fills me with dread, but that energy was reaching out for you, not me.”

“I’ve got more practice suppressing that sort of thing,” Petra said. “The real problem is the wards though.”

Teilomere looked doubtful. “Why would you even have practice suppressing-”

Petra interrupted. She was never very good at subtlety. “How certain are you that the theft was, at least in part, an inside job?”

His frown deepened, and for a few moments, Odette thought he was not going to let her change the subject. “It's one of the few things I haven't tested yet and the rest are all even more unlikely than it is. And as difficult as it would be to try and prove, the others would be even worse. Unless you know where to find an albino leucrocuta.”

“Albino what?” Carmen asked.

“'Tis a type of chimera,” Athena said. “Part lion, part deer.”

“Also capable of human speech, though they usually just use it to lure people close enough to be eaten,” Teilomere added. “Their blood has some interesting properties. They also aren't found within ten thousand kilometres of here, thus why I think there's little chance of one of its hooves being used to shield someone from entering holy wards.”

“If someone on the inside managed to bypass the wards, I can probably figure it out,” Petra said. “I'm good with those. Even if the language they wrote them in isn't something I can recognize, the basic level of the magic is all equations and those are universal.”

“That's an unusual talent,” he said.

“I had a sorceress as a teacher when I was young,” Petra said with a shrug.

“Younger,” Carmen coughed into her hand. Teilomere mouth twitched into a smile, but Petra continued on as if she hadn't heard the woodswoman.

“Finding common ground for lessons was difficult. Tearing magic down to its basic components in the ley energies ended up being the easiest way for us to translate each other's work.”

It was a story Petra had mentioned before. Normally when she and Odette were working on unusual magical experiments like the translation spell. 'Aunt Cal said this is the best way to do it' frequently peppered their discussions. By leaving out the kinship from her explanation, Petra obviously did not to want to share personal history with him.

“And you think you can tear apart Jaden wards placed by powerful clerics and reinforced frequently? That’s some ego.”

“No, I think someone else has already done it. It would only take one weak point to let her in, and then she would have all the time in the world to add additional wards.”

“Until guards on patrol interrupted him,” Teilomere corrected. “Such work takes a great deal of time. And all of the ward anchors are in the catacombs, and those are patrolled regularly.”

“Not if thieves take knife without sun men noticing,” Crunch pointed out.

“They timed the theft to be right after one of the priests tested the protective spells on the artifacts, and it was another week before the squires were sent round to check on everything,” he explained, tucking the case carefully under one arm to retrieve the key ring from his belt.

“If they were trying to be careful, why did they not leave a fake behind to keep attention off the theft?” Tae asked.

“Mayhap they did and the altar ate it,” Carmen suggested. “I saw that happen once. Not with a knife, 'twas a bowl of pickled herrings.”

Athena giggled. Crunch guffawed.

Teilomere concentrated on unlocking Petra's cell one handed. Odette could see the grin he was attempting to hide.

“So how's this going to work?” Petra asked. She had clasped her hands behind her back, to cut back on the temptation to swipe the key ring from the shapeshifter and unlock the door herself.

“You'll be putting this key ring back on the sleeping guardsman in the room just past here.”

“'Twas you who did that, yes?” Carmen asked.

“He's a good man. I just didn't want him asking uncomfortable questions that I'd have to answer. It will wear off in another hour or so. And the shift change isn't for hours.”

“So what will you be doing while Petra does this task of yours?” Odette asked.

“I'll be here, of course.” He sounded surprised at the question. There was a low click as he finally conquered the lock. “The guardsman will be checking in on you frequently, or at least he will once he wakes back up. There' areseveral parties interested in making you disappear, and the donjon guards take their responsibilities very seriously. So rather than see your little miss missing, I'll be impersonating her.” He entered the cell, dumped the case in Petra's arms, and then pushed her gently out of the cell.

Petra looked a little wild-eyed to finally be on the receiving end of quick-silver fey vivacity.

Of course, that might also be that while he was doing that, his features melted into a dark-haired dusky-skinned man's before quickly taking on her appearance.

“Don't,” she started hoarsely, and then stopped, just opening and closing her mouth silently, eyes never losing the wild look.

He tilted his head, curious. “Are you all right?”

“No. No, I'm not and I don't even know where to begin and I refuse to deal with this now.” She slipped the key from the lock and vanished out of the room. The door closed loudly shut behind her.

“What did I say?” he asked, peering after her.

“'Tis a little odd, to look at someone and see yourself instead,” Carmen offered.

Odette was not certain that was the problem, but the shift had been too quick for her to catch the face he had momentarily worn.

She tried to recall what he had looked like. He had been taller than Petra, but that was nothing unusual, she was not full grown. She had not seen his face, for he had been turned away from her. By the time she had seen it, he had already completed his ‘shift. He had, however, had the same woody skin tone that Petra claimed to be common to the elves of the land she was from. Had Petra recognized him somehow? It had not been surprise on her face, though, or at least not completely.

If Odette had to put a name to the emotion that had played across the girl’s features, she would have said- hurt.

“So,” Teilomere said brightly, turning to face the rest of the room. “Who's up for a rousing game of 'I Spy'?”

Carmen shuddered. “How abouts we get some rest instead?”

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