I liked Gai Qiu. I suspected that she might have a crush on Zhang Wong, but as that was his intention, with the way he presented himself I can’t say I blamed her. Zhang Wong’s long-term aim was probably a film or entertainment career so having female fans fall in love with him was probably part of his game plan. I hoped he would be kind to them.
( Read more... )
Thanks to a confluence of atmospheric lows and troughs, the rain front marched across the continent in a steady, soaking line. Out on the black grass plains, where the road builders had not yet ventured, the tracks used by the bullock teams to deliver goods to the fledgling towns of the farm settlers turned to axle-deep, thick, red mud. In the hills that previous, long gone inhabitants had called the Sharp Hills, water filled the crevasses and seeped downwards or ran off over rocks, filling the streams that ran down into the watercourses that were normally strings of lazy waterholes winding across the plains.
Tiny pink shrimp hatched in the rock-bound puddles of the hills and, down in the growing waterholes that were beginning to be joined by flowing trickles of water, the sharp toothed bunyips were preparing to mate. Wise farmer settlers moved their livestock and stockmen to higher ground, away from the homes of those increasingly bold ambush predators of the plain’s rivers, and the little towns built their baby levees a few feet higher. The few land singers left on plains went up onto the old safe places that the farmer settlers had not yet taken, and sang the songs of Diragool and Murrumbudge so that they would not be forgotten.
Water shapes the land. Water has always shaped the land, just as water and the lack of it has shaped the use of the land. Given time, water can get anywhere and change anything. Water is why the Sharp Hills are no longer sharp, and water is what opened what had been the deepest crevasse in the Sharp Hills into a gully. The water cascaded down the orange-brown rock face of the gully’s side at the height of the rain, and scoured out the silt and rubbish that had accumulated at the bottom. It was water that carried old bones, small stones, and the Gift of Tethwandue out of the gully and down into the first of the rush-edged waterholes at the foot of the hills.
And there the Gift lay in plain sight, which had been put away from reach and vision of all by the dream walkers, long before the land singers had come to the plains. Its fact, reason, and fate forgotten, the Gift sat in shallow water waiting for the sun to emerge from the clouds and give it back its natural sparkle. The sparkle that trapped, enslaved, and doomed.
I ate my lunch in the same place as I had the previous day, and then walked back to Earth Sciences to present myself at Room 12 on the fourth floor of Laboratory Building Number 5 (Earth Sciences) a little before noon. It was a large, well lit room furnished with fourteen large desks, each of which had two seats at it. I was the sixth person to arrive and I greeted our tutor, who was waiting at the door with a clay jar in his hands. “Scholar Wu,” I bowed politely.
Wu Gin, for my geography tutor was indeed also my importunate acquaintance from the train to Xiamtian from the capital, bowed slightly in return and said, “Please take a token from the jar, Miss Sung, and then find the seat with the matching mark. That will be your seat for the rest of this year in this class.” My token had the radical character ‘er’ on it, and I found my seat was set in the windowless corner of the room – something that was apparently compensated for by that position having two work or reading lamps allocated to it. I discovered that most of the position had an appalling view of the board behind the tutor’s desk, mainly because my desk was in line with the tutor’s desk, but if I moved to the corner of the table I could see it. That wasn’t quite enough to put me in the lap or line of sight of Chow Jian who sat at the next table, but there was a small enough separation that I reminded myself to be careful.
I didn’t know any of the other students in the group yet. Chow Jian was a jovial, barrel-shaped boy who had cheerfully introduced himself when I sat down, but I noticed that a girl who was probably the one Professor Tian had described as having ‘orange pom-poms for hair’ had the seat on the far end of the room’s diagonal from me, in the corner with two windows. When all twenty-five of us had turned up there was a sole empty desk in the middle of the middle row. My desk mate was Sen Chou who was a tall, serious fellow with a grave bow and didn’t seem at all talkative. The fourth member of our corner plonked himself down in a whirl of bags and shaggy hair at the last minute, then hastily introduced him as Mu Gen just before Scholar Wu began to address us. The elegant girl with a long hair braid directly behind him, something Zhang I thought I’d heard her say, pulled her chair into her desk to get further away from him.
Scholar Wu started by formally introducing himself, “I am Scholar Wu Gin, and I will be your tutor in Physical Geography for this year. In these laboratory sessions we will concentrate on the construction of maps – taking the data and representing it in comprehendible form on paper. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then we will identify the relevant words and then provide the picture. The tutorial session that we have later in the week will concentrate on written tasks, assigned readings, and questions arising from the lecture material. The assessment schedule was covered in the lecture so you already know about the exams, the weekly work from both our sessions together, and the projects you will be doing later in the year. Today we will work on identifying the relevant data for your first map, and I have handouts for both the map data, and the map making materials you will require. You should note that I have annotated the materials list with when you will require each item so you don’t need to get everything all at once.”
The handouts were passed around and I couldn’t help but notice that the materials list was a full double-sided page in length. Fortunately, for the next lab we only needed six items.
I spent the next three quarters of an hour working out what we were supposed to be mapping, the scale, and how many symbols I would need to have in my legend. My classmates did the same, and one of us accompanied his work with a whistled rendition of The Marshal’s Serenade, a folk tune that had been part of the obligatory curriculum cultural units every year of my school life. Our phantom musician had quite a good version, and although there were glances around the room to try and work out where the sound was coming from, no-one complained.
Ten minutes before the lab was due to end, Scholar Wu called for our attention and said, “Starting with the student in the outer seat on the front window desk, please stand, give your name, and tell us what you will be tracking in your map. If someone says something that isn’t in your map data, don’t panic.” He turned to the student sitting at the far end of my row and said, “If you will begin please.”
The student stood, silhouetted against the windows so I couldn’t see any details, and then he bowed. “I am Fat Rang, and I am mapping land use, soil type and settlement location.” The rest of us followed off in order, and I discovered that the elegant girl was Zang Zhang.
When it was my turn I stood, introduced myself with a bow and said, “I am mapping current and previous watercourse paths, with land use, roads and settlements.”
Scholar Wu resumed, “Thank you, everyone. You will have noticed, I’m sure, that only a very few of you are doing exactly the same map. That’s perfectly fine for this exercise, given the data and the instructions you’ve been given. We will spend several weeks on this map, so you’ll have time to consider other interpretations of the data than that which initially struck you or which you decided to pursue. You will also begin to develop your personal library of map symbols – even the standard ones can be personalised, if you wish, and of course different styles of map will require different symbols. We will meet again for our tutorial on the last day of the week, so please make sure you’ve done the readings set in the lecture by then. If you need to speak to me at any other time, my office is in Earth Sciences faculty building and a note into my pigeon hole in the front foyer will reach me if I’m not in my office. Have I covered everything for now?”
He looked around the room, and apparently no-one had any additional questions so he dismissed us. As we filed out of the room, a class of more senior students, who were toting map cases, were waiting to come in.
I had an hour before my statistics lecture and decided to make my way over to the Sung Mah Memorial Building so that I could meet up with Ong Tien. The mathematics buildings, including the graciously proportioned memorial, were in the eastern portion of the university campus near the main gates. Someone had apparently put a great deal of thought into what infrastructure mathematicians required to sustain themselves, and one of the support buildings was a food court arrangement with noodles, dim sum, and seafood options. That building’s two wings turned out to be an old-fashioned tea house on one side, and a tavern or bar on the other. The bar was called The Artilleryman, while the tea house was Views of the Kwaizhu under the Third Moon. Which sounded rather macabre in context, but that sort of melancholy name has a long history in tea houses and, I am told, in mingji and yueji establishments – although I didn’t expect to find one of those in the middle of the university.
I had tea and a snack in the food court before making my way into the memorial building and locating the lecture rooms. I was looking for Ong Tien but she saw me first, and the first I knew of her presence was a tap on the shoulder.
“Sung Nai, that is you, isn’t it?” When I turned around Ong Tien smiled at me with black lips and said, “I’m so glad to see you. My Modern History tutorial is full of earnest, would-be politicians and activists, and they’re all so intense! They look at me as if I’m weird whenever I say something, and can we please just go sit in our lecture and act like normal people?” She shuddered.
I asked, “What do they think is weird?”
“That maybe someone writing analysis on the Chiafu Movement at the time knew more about what was going on and was relevant than Deng bloody Shuo, who was born twenty years later and was writing during the Occupation. They don’t even consider that he might, just might, have been criticizing the Occupation Government that was in power at the time he was writing because he’s their political god, and he could never have done anything other than say exactly what he meant or have been in fear of his life if he did.”
I asked, “Should I admit that I’m not entirely sure who Deng Shuo was? Did he have something to do with drafting the Presidential Constitution? I think I remember something like that from Civics – I didn’t do Modern Studies.” With both Earth Sciences subjects in my timetable I hadn’t had room for any other major disciplines.
Ong Tien laughed. “No, Deng Shuo opposed the Presidential Constitution – he thought we should continue under the original Republican Constitution that was brought in when the Occupation ended. Apparently though he got on really well with Wang Wei, the first President under the Presidential Constitution.”
“I do remember reading that Wang Wei said that being a primary school teacher for almost thirty years had been a good grounding for dealing with Parliament.” My Civics class, only a year out of primary school ourselves when one of us had had to read that out to the class, had found the notion enormously amusing. It had also set an image in my mind of Wang Wei, President of the Republic of Tang-ji and incarnation of the Solar Emperor, as being like Mr Hei at my primary school who had spent his life teaching six year olds how to hold their pens correctly and read basic characters.
Ong Tien replied, “I like the eulogy that Deng Shuo gave at Wang Wei’s funeral where he said that even if the whole Solar Emperor incarnation was, as the Occupiers had claimed, nonsense, in Wang Wei the republic had found a President who had managed to make Parliament do what it was supposed to do.” She sighed. “Let’s go learn about statistics and forget about political history for now.”
We looked again at our timetables and went for the third lecturer’s session. Professor Cao Mian was in the fourth-floor lecture theatre and waiting for students to arrive when we entered the room, so our first view of her was of a small, energetic woman pacing backwards and forwards across the front of the podium. The energy continued when she started talking, and she spoke with both her hands and her body, using continuous gestures and lunges to emphasis her points. It was clear to me, if not necessarily others that when she paused was where we, the students, were supposed to think. My hand didn’t quite wear out taking notes, but we seemed to cover a lot of information in the hour – including examination and other assessment schedules. Professor Cao finished by giving us two lots of readings, one set for background for the lecture she’d just given us and the other pre-reading for next week’s lecture.
Ong Tien commented, “The question is, can I read my own notes?”
“Facts, queries, and population definition. Did I miss anything?” I looked at my own notes and realized that in places I’d inserted a movement diagram depicting what the professor or her hands had been doing at that moment. “I may have to work on the relevancy of my notes.”
“She certainly makes you feel like everything she’s saying is important, doesn’t she?” Ong Tien sounded slightly shell-shocked. “I need to go to the library and get some Water Science reading done, but would you like to have some tea first?”
“Yes, please.” I smiled and added, “I want to go to the Gi Club meeting at four. They’re in a gym up near Physical and Life Sciences, but I’m not sure what to expect given that they didn’t have a stand at orientation.”
Packing up her things, Ong Tien commented, “That’s the sort of thing groups do if they don’t take first year students, but a sporting club? Yes, that is weird.”
We had tea in Views of the Kwaizhu under the Third Moon, and I shocked Ong Tien by ordering from the expensive side of the menu for both of us.
After the waitress left us she hissed me, “What are you doing? I can’t afford that.”
“Buying us good tea,” I replied. “It’s my treat. I need fortification for the Gi Club and you need strengthening for your studies.”
“But that’s a Quimong tea!”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I like Red Dragon First Growth. I’m hoping that this Golden Phoenix will be almost as good.”
“My grandmother doesn’t drink Quimong. She says it’s too expensive!” Ong Tien was looking guilty.
“Your grandmother isn’t paying for this,” I pointed out. “Besides, Master Que always says I have an image to build and maintain, and I choose that image to include enjoying really good tea and sharing it with my friends. If you’re worried about what your grandmother will say, then consider this an information gathering expedition for potential future gift purchases.” I smiled at her and added, “Your grandmother might like a gift of expensive tea.”
“There is that,” agreed Ong Tien. She looked around and asked, “Is it just me or is this the sort of establishment that was originally for men?”
I looked around too and agreed, “It does look like the sort of place that the conspirators are always meeting in all the way through The Rice Paper Scroll novels, doesn’t it?”
“Did you do those too, the year before last?” Ong Tien leaned forward, “I thought they were fantastic but my mother wasn’t impressed that we did them instead of Pursuit of the Sun.”
“My class studied The Rice Paper Scroll series,” I poured Ong Thien more tea, “But the classes for people doing Classic Studies did Pursuit.” I dropped my voice and added, “No less than five sets of their parents complained about the content, and someone’s grandfather wrote a public letter complaining that Pursuit glamorised a level of brutality and lack of compassion that was inconsistent with civilised life.”
“What!” I had Ong Thien’s attention. “My mother talked about it like it was one of the classics that everyone should read.”
“I went to a very working class based school,” I told Ong Thien, “with lots of peasant families. Apparently, Ba Fun spends most of the book treating peasants like they’re not people. I believe torture and enslavement were mentioned.”
“I know that there’s some rebellion that’s put down,” replied Ong Thien. “What else did the grandfather complain of?”
“Scenes of gratuitous cruelty, I think,” I said. “Meanwhile we got lost gold mines, lots of daring do, a perfidious Count, and a missing pregnant concubine.”
“I still like the bit where Rotgut Siew goes into the burning mansion, and then rescues Lady Kou and her daughters who can’t get away fast enough because of their bound feet.” Ong Thien sipped happily on her tea. “I got full marks for an essay that argued that one of the themes was that anyone could be a hero.”
“Then Lady Kou saves Rotgut from being hung,” I nodded. “I like to imagine that they rubbed along happily as sort of friends for years after that.”
“You never know when you’ll need a man who knows how alcohol acts under pressure,” agreed Ong Thien, and we both laughed.
After we finished our tea and parted company, I made my way to the gym where the Gi Club was due to meet.
I arrived at the Gi Club’s gym as someone was putting out the sign announcing that the Club would be in session from four until five with booked practice periods until eight. I bowed, introduced myself, and then asked whether there was anything I could do to help with the setting up.
“Oh, you want to help!” The young man bowed in return. “Most people who come along want to compete – although of course you can do both.” He bowed quickly enough to make his hair untidy. “I’m Tong Nao, and I handle the Club’s equipment. If you’d like to put your things down inside, perhaps you could help me with the mats?”
I would, and I did. Together we got half the sparring mats out before anyone else showed up. I’d found out from Tong Nao while we worked that most of the people who looked after the equipment had graduated the previous year, and that he was trying to recruit a new equipment team. I told him, cautiously, that I might be interested, at least on Tuesday afternoons and evenings, but that I was going to have work commitments that I didn’t yet know about.
“Really?” Tong Nao looked pleased. “Just having one other person that I can rely on coming along to meeting afternoons would make so much difference.” He was interrupted by some more people arriving, one of whom was the Club Secretary, Wu Ching. Tong Nao made haste to introduce me, “Wu, please meet Sung Nai. If her work commitments pan out, she might be able to help me with the equipment on meeting nights!”
“That would be useful,” Wu Ching and I exchanged bows. “Do you want to take part in the intra-University competition as well, Miss Sung?”
“I’m afraid that I’m ineligible for amateur competitions, so no,” I answered apologetically. “I came along to make friends who are also interested in gi. Equipment handling needs to happen, and it is something I can help with without violating any rules.”
Wu Ching and Tong Nao exchanged glances. “Let’s get you signed up before the Club President arrives. Our illustrious leader is also captain of the inter-University team, and he has, let us say, narrow views on the role of the Club.”
I asked, “Narrow views?”
They looked at each other again. It was Tong Nao who said, “He’s not interested in the potential social or research activities of the Club. For Dang Huai, the club is purely a sporting endeavour and it’s going to get him to the national level. His friends who think the same way hold the other committee positions this year – all they’re interested in is the inter-University competition. Wu Ching is Secretary because they don’t want to do that level of administration, and Gai Qiu is the Treasurer because she’s studying accounting as well as being the deputy president’s girlfriend.”
Wu Ching added, “Of that group, Gai Qiu is the only one who sees that we need new members this year, but she and I don’t really get on so we haven’t been able to combine forces effectively on that front.”
I looked at them both and suggested, “Perhaps you should stop trying to warn me off, and just sign me up?”
Wu Ching gave me a wry smile and pulled out his paperwork. By the time anyone else arrived, they had me all signed up and ready to hand my membership fee for the first semester over to the Treasurer. Gai Qiu turned out to be a small, neat woman a few years older than me who had a worry crease between her eyes. It disappeared for a moment when I astonished her by handing her three fifty standard tael notes.
“You really meant that you’re paying for the whole semester straight up?” She looked at the notes in her hand like they might disappear. “Not weekly in arrears?”
“Well, I’ve got the money now,” I answered. “Maybe I won’t later. If I pay you now, then it’s out of the way.”
“And you don’t want to compete, you just want to help and hang out?” Gai Qiu looked up at me and I nodded. “So, what did you think of Zhang Wong in the nationals?”
I laughed and asked back, “His bouts, his fighting style, or those nails and hair?”
“All of it!” was her enthusiastic reply.
“Well, that could have been worse,” commented Clara Fowler as she poured hot chocolate from her thermos into mugs for her niece, Maig Trudhove, and her niece’s Magis Obscura teacher, Miss Crowmeyer. “My third sister, Agnetha, burnt down her high school. That was why St Serpentia’s wouldn’t take me when they reopened, and I had to come here.”
“Instead we just have to get the high school decursed,” said Miss Crowmeyer drily. “I know parent-teacher nights can be bad, but this was…special.”
“And not my fault,” pointed out Maig. “I’m not the one who tried to raise the dead.”
“Yes, you only laid them. Well, no-one expects ancestral possession to turn up in parents when they come to these things,” admitted Miss Crowmeyer. “Mr Batterby, the Agronomics teacher, said he should have realised something was up when he had an intelligent subject-matter conversation with Mr Tattler.”
The three of them considered that for a moment over hot chocolate before Maig’s father, the Magister Trudhove, joined them.
He looked at them for a moment, and Maig wasn’t sure whether he disapproved of the hot chocolate or wanted some, then he said, “Maig, dear, we all appreciate you getting rid of the would-be body snatching dead men, but I thought that we’d agreed that you weren’t going to perform Dark Magic or Necromancy?” He’d just named two of her three affinities, and defined most of Maig’s personal problems.
“It was only technically Necromancy,” said Maig defensively. “It’s not like I summoned demons to take them away.”
“Oh?” Her father looked sceptical. “What did you do then? They were definitely carried off.”
Maig shrugged. “I didn’t want those bozos coming back and bothering my friends like Covetnot Moore and Childofsorrow Tattler, so I petitioned Heaven. Those things that took away Praisethelord Tattler and Saltoftheearth Moore were angels – much more dangerous than demons.”
“Technically Necromancy.” Her father covered his eyes with a hand. “We’re going to have to talk, young lady.”
The Weavers’ Guild House was in Bolton Street, a block over from Christ Church Cathedral, which meant another walk, uphill and through several cross streets until they reached the east-facing brick building. The Guild House wasn’t a stand-alone building but an attachment to a house that had a workshop attached to its other side. The workshop had the legend “Joshua Weaverson, Master Weaver” over the main door, while the sign over the Guild House door read, “Weavers’ Guild, 1850”. Briony, flanked by Mr Niwa and Mr Tanaka, went to the unmarked door of the dwelling in the middle and used the doorknocker to rap loudly.
There was an audible call of “Coming, coming, wait a minute,” from inside the house, then a few minutes later as the door opened. “Now, who’s here at this time of night?” The speaker was a middle-aged man with grey hair who was wearing a dressing gown, tightly girded against the night. The dressing gown and its matching slippers were woollen in shades of red, rust and yellow, and held multiple protections against blows and stabbings in the patterns worked into them. He recognised Briony and smiled, “Miss Peters! Your cousin, Alf, said you might come by. He’s sleeping in the guest room after riding down to fetch the doctor for your uncle. But who are these gentlemen, and what do you have there?”
“Master Weaverson,” Briony bobbed her head politely, “these gentlemen are also trying to recover stolen property from our thief, property that we believe he put in here,” she indicated the box she was holding with her chin, “along with the patterns his thugs stole from my family. The problems are that we all want someone we trust to go through the contents of the box to make sure that we get all of our own things back, without any tricks or sleight of hand,” Maser Weaverson nodded in acknowledgement and then Briony added, “and the box appears to be a stolen master weaver’s pattern box.”
“We’d better take this into the Guild House then.” The master weaver stepped out onto the veranda and pulled the door closed behind him. “This way please, everyone. There’s more room for this sort of thing in the Guild House, plus that’s where the records of stolen or missing pattern boxes are.” He looked sharply at Briony at that point, but she kept her eyes downwards on the box.
Master Weaverson unlocked the big double doors, and revealed a small foyer gently illuminated by the light shed from a narrow loom-width of wall hanging. It was more than enough light for him to usher everyone in, close the doors behind them, and then open the large meeting chamber beyond. This room had a pair of the glowing wall hangings but Master Weaverson lit the partly used, yellowish candles in the four candlesticks on the big meeting table to greatly brighten the room. Then he went over to the sideboard that sat against one wall, took a folded cloth out of one of the drawers, and then laid the cloth out on the table.
After that he spoke again, “Now we can all see what we’re doing, and I’ve taken precautions to protect the contents of the box from unexpected damage, do you think you can let me see what we’re dealing with, Miss Peters?”
“Yes, sir.” Briony carefully put the box down on top of the cloth. As she did so, she couldn’t help but notice that there was a cleanliness Utility woven into the square of fabric.
“What do you think?” That was Sir Charles to the Master.
“Oh, it’s definitely a Master’s pattern box,” said Master Weaverson. “Do you have any idea whose?”
“I believe the marks to be those of my grandmother’s grandmother, Master Weaver Enari Midson,” answered Briony. “I wish to register the claim of my grandmother and her cousins to any patterns of Master Midson’s still remaining in this box.”
Uncle Lovess had brought two trunks for Kalbae to carry her possessions away from the farm in, and Kalbae didn’t expect to fill even one of them. She didn’t have that many clothes, just the new dress, the old good dress that Uncle Tomkin had found embarrassing at Midsummer, her set of summer work clothes, her two sets of winter work clothes, various underpinnings, a nightdress, a winter night robe that had been made from a blanket left behind when Great-aunt Betra had died and was now a bit too short, and the heavy winter work coat that Aunt Glythera had made her last winter after Kalbae had spent two days and nights helping the reeve find a lost party of clergy. Plus socks, one pair of shoes to go with the dresses, a pair of boots, and a pair of pattens. Given that Kalbae was planning to travel in the better set of winter work clothes, the boots and the winter coat, that left considerable space in the first trunk without even opening the second.
Then Uncle Tomkin started bringing in her tools for her to pack as well. Kalbae hadn’t even thought that she might take them with her because they belonged to the farm, but Uncle Tomkin said seriously, “Well, if you were leaving here to get married then these would be part of our contribution to your new household. If we’re sending you off to another new life, then we should make some contribution.”
“But you looked after me, and these are so expensive,” protested Kalbae, looking at the steel blades. “How will you replace them?”
“We can afford it,” answered Uncle Tomkin with a smile. “Did you think I’d made no thought or provision to you girls’ futures? Besides,” he was serious again, “I understand you’re going off to be some sort of wizard-mage. These tools are who you are, and you might need to keep that in mind.”
Uncle Lovess, who’d been regarding Kalbae’s assembled possessions with something that could have been disapproval turned and said, “Trainees usually spend their first few years finding their centre and working out who they are. From what your Uncle Tomkin has been saying, it seems to me that you’re likely to have done much of that work already, and that is important to deciding what sort of magic you’ll concentrate on. Wizard-mage,” he added apologetically with a glance at Uncle Tomkin, “is only one of the options. We’ll go into the subject more thoroughly when we return to my home. After we’ve been to Northcote.”
Kalbae looked at him and asked, carefully because she didn’t know her father’s brother well yet, “Why are we going to Northcote, sir?
“My supplier of Deadman Redcaps is in Northcote,” replied Uncle Lovess. “It’s time to renew my stocks – it’s a useful component.”
Kalbae asked curiously, “And you use it dried, or pickled, or something?
“Not precisely,” answered Uncle Loveless cautiously. “Why do you ask?”
“If it’s the red and white spotted pink toadstool with orange gills that I’m thinking of,” replied Kalbae practically, “then the person in Northcote won’t have their fresh supply yet this year. They don’t come up until the third day of the winter rains on the place where they grow.” Her uncle just looked at her, dumbfounded, so Kalbae added, “And the rains haven’t started yet this year.”
Uncle Lovess was quiet just long enough for Kalbae to worry that she’d made a mistake, then her uncle laughed. Between chuckles he said, “Oh, my dear, I can see you are going to be a treasure and formidable in your own right someday. Did you know that I’m so used to getting them this week of the year that I’d forgotten that about them? I’m sure that right now the price is five times their weight in gold instead the usual equal weight.” Uncle Tomkin’s eyebrows rose at the casual mention of gold. “Perhaps we should stop in Millward for a few days on the way, and order some of your learning materials? It sounds as if the delay will pay for itself, thanks to what you’ve learned here.” Over her head, Kalbae’s uncles nodded at each other - both pleased that things seemed likely to work out well.
Pharial had been summoned to the holy presence. Even for an angel of his rank and time in the Third Swordlord’s service it was a great privilege, a rare event for individuals among the Phalanxes of angels that served his holy master. Even more surprisingly, when he rose from his obeisance he found that he was almost alone with the god: the Choirmaster was absent and none of the Flight Generals were present. Clean, sparkling light filled the sanctum, and the Third Swordlord himself, Heraclaid by sacred name, stood on the other side of a large map table from both the entrance and Pharial. The only other angel present was one of much his own age who was also currently assigned to the care, guidance and support of their god’s paladins. Elekiel had brown wings that were permanently mottled from the effects of a vardbeast’s breath weapon that he’d survived during a battle of the Death War.
“I have summoned you here,” said Heraclaid in a quiet voice that Pharial felt throughout his being, “because my human servant, Sempleticus Lorax, has died in unusual circumstances.”
“I did not know him,” admitted Pharial humbly.
“I didn’t expect that you would, because he was on Elekiel’s roster,” Heraclaid answered quietly. He turned to the other angel, “Were you able to glean anything from his soul, Elekiel? From my point of view he was suddenly dead, and that’s all I have.”
“I don’t think he even saw me,” replied Elekiel carefully, “and neither did the priestess of Hasnor he was travelling with. From what I could tell, they could see and hear each other perfectly, but I and the angels of Hasnor who were there, four of them, couldn’t get a flicker of acknowledgement out of either of them. If I didn’t know it shouldn’t be possible, I’d say they were almost dissociated.”
“I know it happened in a temple of Hasnor, and that’s why I don’t know what happened,” admitted Heraclaid. “Pharial, Ordestia Prima is on your roster and she’s been praying to me about this. She’s there, she’s seen the bodies, and she and some religious of Hasnor’s seem to have found how the killer got in to the temple. Go there, talk to her, and find out what happened. If Hasnor decides not to let you enter his temple, then we will have to rely on her observations.”
“We have not, hitherto, been close, she and I,” admitted Pharial. “She has not required personal guidance or intervention from me – her mortal preceptors have been sufficient for her.”
“Ordestia Prima is a steady and steadfast soul,” agreed Heraclaid. “I should not like her to feel unappreciated or overlooked because she does not require as much cultivation as some of her fellows.”
Pharial bowed, chastened, and replied, “My lord, I will do my best to cultivate her acquaintance during our time together on this assignment.”
“Good,” said Heraclaid. “I’m glad we were able to cover this subject – I would not like to lose my little armoured lily because she became exhausted by a heart broken through unrequited love.”
The angel looked up, startled. “Unrequited love, my lord?”
“My paladins come to me from love, Pharial, and you are part of my response to that love. If you spend all your attention on others because she ‘doesn’t need you’, how will she know that her love is reciprocated? After all, she cannot hear me as I hear her.” The god smiled for a moment, then went on grimly, “I have already sent a messenger to Hasnor, asking his permission for you to enter the temple where Sempleticus died. Elekiel, I need you to return to the Hall of Judgement; see if you can make contact with his soul and find out what happened. Off with you both now, I have implications to consider.”
The two angels bowed and left their divine master considering a map of shifting and phasing elements that was too complex for an angel to understand.
It was pointed out to me that I had missed zero_pixel_count's prompt of "Brightly coloured cushions" for the February prompt request. Here is my correction of that error in 738 words. This is a new world and new characters.
Zistiva was nesting, there was no other word for it. She’d bought a little house, one the right size for her, a mate and a small number of puggles. Of course, not being a bgwi her children wouldn’t actually be puggles but the bgwii used that word for any child of any species being reared in their society and territory. Zistivia herself had been called a puggle as a child, and had begged her mother to braid her hair so it at least resembled the texture of her friends’ long reddy-brown head quills and underlying hair. These days she’d learnt to accept that she didn’t look anything like one of the long beaked bgwii and let her black hair float in light, feathery curls around her head.
It remained though that she’d learned at an early age how to signal like a bgwi, and the little house was a signal, but she wasn’t really sure who she was signalling to. She could take a male bgwi as her mate and then they could adopt a puggle or two who’d been orphaned or whose parents had surrendered them. She could take a male human as her mate, if she could find one as humans were rare in the Transvar, and bear her own live young. Alternatively, she could take a member of a third species, neither bgwi nor human, as her mate and they could adopt while negotiating all the cultural and biological issues. It was easier, for now, to just to work on her nest and see who paid attention.
The little house was repainted, inside and out, and Zistiva had put in the basic furniture it needed. Now she was getting the extras, the things that wouldn’t just show that she would be a prudent mate and mother, but a desirable and nurturing one too. The things that would make the surfaces soft and warm, to help the den and social areas be cosy and snuggly. Mainly throw rugs, quilted seat drapes, and lots and lots of cushions.
Zistiva was in the furnishings market, going through the stalls for the umpteenth time looking for things that she liked, when she saw the cushion. It was oversized but not overfilled so you would be able to smoosh down into it, and the cover was quartered in different blue fabrics: nubbly brocade; shaved velvet; rough silk; and textured linen. Zistiva loved it on sight and reached out a hand to claim it, but as she took hold of it, another hand grabbed it from the other side of the table. Another human hand.
Zistiva turned her gaze upwards so she could get a good look at the owner. He was looking straight back at her. Unlike her he had dark skin. His black hair was longer than hers and it had strands of shiny, dark blue beads hanging through it. His clothes were the same dark blue as the beads, and Zistiva thought that they looked like orhync-style clothes made for a human. That he looked good in them and at ease suggested that he was a familiar with the bird race as Zistiva was with the bgwi.
“I’m sorry,” said the man in a beautiful, deep voice, “But I need this – it’s the only one that’s this colour. Perhaps you could have another one?”
“It’s the only one with the right combination of textures, size and stuffing,” answered Zistiva. “I need it for my common room. Why do you need it?”
“I’m building a display bower,” he said apologetically. “All the decorations need to be blue.”
“I’m sure your harem will appreciate it,” said Zistiva without letting go of the cushion.
“I don’t actually have a harem yet.” He might have been blushing. “This is supposed to help me meet potential members. Are you sure your mate will like this cushion as much as you do?” He didn’t let go of the cushion either.
“I don’t have a mate yet either….” Her voice trailed off and they just looked at each other for a moment. “We could each pay half and then go somewhere quieter and less open to discuss…custody. There’s a little place near here that makes infusions and has an excellent seed cake.”
"That sounds like a very good idea,” he agreed. “My name is Rahnu, and you are?”
“Zistiva.” She smiled.
He smiled back. “It’s a nice name. I could be happy to get used to it.”
If I missed a prompt you gave me in February, please tell me about it. Likewise any extensions I might have mixed.
Because I have The Day Job, other things that need/want to be posted, and etcetera, there is a limit of one prompt to be written per prompter this month.
This month’s prompt request is themeless so within the rules below give me a character, a phrase or a setting so I can write you 300 to 500 piece of fiction.
Signal boosting will get you a 200 to 250 word extension to the piece of your choice. Please tell me about it so I know. thank you.
Certain levels of patron over on Patreon will get a 250 to 500 word update on a piece of their choice.
You may throw some money at me for an extension through the Paypal button below.
There are some rules.
• Please don't ask for main story Nai as your prompt - more Nai writing will happen each weekend;
• One prompt per prompter; and
• No erotica (I need to be in the mood) and no fanfic (I would mangle your favourite characters to no satisfactory result.)
Thank you for your participation and let’s go have some fun with this.
“Tobia,” the headmaster looked up at the schoolgirl standing in front of his desk. Her school blazer sported a wolf’s head and the grey pleated skirt brushed the top of knees. She looked like an ordinary fourteen, almost fifteen, year old school girl from an expensive private school. Someone had decided that her dark brown hair should be pulled tightly into an unflattering wreath around her head, and her expression was pale and tight. “As you’ve been told, you’ll be staying with us for most of the summer holidays this year. Your father intends to collect you for a few weeks just prior to school resuming but you’ll be with us until mid-January.”
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