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26 April 2017 @ 01:07 pm
_Lost and Found_ Part 1  
 

Lost and Found

Pam Uphoff

"I think we can close the file on this one. The perps were acting against orders and have since died." Xen sat back in his chair. "Thank you, gentlemen for talking about what must be an unpleasant memory."

The two retired Action Teamers glowered a bit at him, and glanced at their own superiors.

Izzo, now the Director of External Relations, walked them out.

Urfa, the Presidential Director eyed him. "I'd love to see any reports about the incident you have. Especially the Asian bit."

Izzo walked back in, and nodded. "They stuttered a bit. I think there's been some memory modeling there. I suspect you noticed it. Did you expect us to edit out a few things?"

Xen passed over two chips. "I brought with me the transcribed report from our agents on site. Lieutenant Bran Butcher and Lieutenant Oscar Harryson."

He settled back in silence, and let them read.

Urfa winced and pinched the bridge of his nose. Izzo looked like he was suppressing a grin.

"Oh. They impressed those memories. No Earthers were actually killed in their raid. No wonder their reaction was so much less than we'd . . . my predecessor . . . had hoped for." Izzo went back to reading.

Urfa grinned. "That wine. No doubt they are eliding past an interesting evening."

"Oh definitely." Xen brought up a picture and turned it around for them to view.

Urfa and Izzo looked at the picture.

"The redhead with the startling resemblance to Rael Withione is Bran Butcher, the son of the Archmage, and very well trained in magic. Oscar Harryson is what we call a Sea King, he is, or was, incredibly good at making water do what he wanted."

"Was?"

"They, with two other mages and some civilians disappeared when Pax teleported the Earther's gate anchor to Fascia. Some sort of odd interaction between the teleportation spell and the shield they were trying to hold. The spells edges overlapped. Everything inside the shield disappeared. We have no indication whether they were destroyed or transported elsewhere."

The two directors finished the report and shook their heads.

"They've certainly got . . . a lot of nerve." Izzo sighed. "I think I'm glad your group came and spied on us, rather than them."

Urfa grinned. "Although there are a lot of similarities."

Xen looked at the picture. "I wonder what happened. I really ought to sic Q on the question . . . although I might look into it myself."



A Thousand Years Ago

Scandia

Estaven Doscompos cracked his knuckles and admired his kicking foal statue with satisfaction.

The gods themselves had run away.

Most of them. Barry Virtue was still hanging about. He'd planted his mansion down in a big wildlife park on the outskirts of town and spent more time emoting over the four year comets and disaster than backing up the God of Art.

There were plenty of times when Estaven had doubted the wisdom of standing up to a god. His original desire had been to beat the god to that piece of crap Mikey Flicker. He'd have beaten the information out of Mikey, and then publicly delivered the quivering remains to the god, and told him who'd hired the little turd to rob the god's precious museum.

But Mikey had run like a coward, all the way to the Western Hemisphere. For a while it had looked bad. Doscompos had always known that the gods were the most powerful of the magic users. He hadn't realized he wouldn't be able to find anyone willing to stand up to them. He'd wound up with nothing but a pair of Black Widows to protect him magically, while he managed the rest of the matter in a normal fashion.

"Now? I don't figure anyone is going to give me any grief." He shifted uneasily. "But this shit with the buildings is starting to worry me. He's got more than three quarters of the city covered, now."

The two hags nodded. They had this unnerving habit of doing everything together. Tall thin and dark. Short plump and pale. Early signs of middle age were starting to show. Given their reputation as man killers, he had no desire to romance them, even if they'd been younger.

"Why don't you two go take a good look at Barry Virtue's mansion. See if there are any ways in and out that would make spying easy. Check out his servants, maybe infiltrate them."

They both shrugged. "God's don't overlook very much, but we'll take a look." Tall and thin answered this time.

***

Looking down at the mansion, Fair hoped they weren't getting over confident.

"No one there." Fair opened her eyes. "He must send all his servants away at night."

Hail nodded conformation. "Let's check out the grounds.

Fair and Hail hadn't been born with those names. The government required a bit more in the way of name, for identification, and society was seriously prejudiced against witches. And since only half of all their children grew up to grasp power, the witches of Scandia gave their daughters normal names, and granted them witch names when, if, they grasped power in their teen years.

The witches also policed themselves, refusing training to any witches who could be a hazard to the public, or otherwise bring the pyramid to the government's attention in a seriously negative way.

It hadn't been their fault. The boys who'd attacked them, raped them . . . they'd killed one each and the others had run and called the police. It had been the worst scandal the Pyramid had had to weather in a century. The law courts had found that they'd acted in self-defense. The courts of gossip had found them guilty, and the Pyramid had expelled them to save their own reputation.

At least there hadn't been any chance that they'd turn to the oldest profession to support themselves. They'd managed through a hodgepodge of begging, fortunetelling, selling charms and stealing.

The six and a half years they'd been supplying magical protection and spying for the Doscompos gang had been the most comfortable of their lives.

They'd been nearly drained, exhausted and close to collapse, the one time Art pulled a frontal assault on Estaven Doscompos. They were both well able to channel, but magic took energy from the self as well as the Earth. Lowering the body's supply of glycogen too far could be fatal.

So this absurd comet scare was a boon to them, distracting the god and his friends. Now, just a single god was left in the whole city. Outside of it, technically. Barry Virtue had made a habit of occasionally bestirring himself to take a slap at the local criminals. They'd managed to absorb, or deflect the attacks aimed at Estaven, and disguise the lack of actual damage from the god. It had been a great game, but now the god had gone completely over the edge.

He was wrapping whole buildings, people and all, in these strange bronze bubbles, claiming it would save them from the comet. Doscompos was sure it was a plot to get him. Everyone else figured the god had gone crazy and appealed to the government. Only to find the government gibbering in panic and swearing the gods could divert the comet, nothing to be afraid of, the bubbles were just a precaution . . .

"Open window upstairs. Let's go take a look." Plump little Hail trotted confidently down the slope and trotted across the lawn. Fair raced to catch up, and managed to be in time to boost her friend through the window. They had agreed that passive magic, listening and looking, would be the least likely to be detected. So she waited nervously for twenty damned minutes, at the french doors on the patio until the lock clicked and the door opened. She slipped in, and froze.

"I landed right on his bed." Hail was naked, whispering and obviously terrified.

The god smiled. "I do so love it when the evening's entertainment organizes itself like this. Now that the initial excitement has calmed down, we can make a night of it."

***

He kicked them back out the french doors at dawn.

They'd limped and supported each other and made it to their car. The little electric runabout had managed to get them home. And it wasn't far from the parking lot to their basement apartment, and still early. So not too many spectators had seen them naked.

Macy had been horrified. Hail's twelve year old daughter, sole fruit of the gang rape. She leaped into action, getting them into the shower, into clothes, fed them chicken soup as if they were sick. And finally asked what had happened.

"We tried to burgle the house of the God of Virtue. He did not treat us very virtuously." Hail kept it brief. "Once he got done beating us up, just a little dear, you can see we're not much hurt, he kicked us out. You will not speak of this to anyone."

"But, the police . . . "

Fair took over. "He could have had us arrested. Which might have been preferable . . . except for the jail time served. They would have put you in a foster home, or maybe sent you to you grandmother."

Macy snorted. "Tried to. You know she won't speak to any of us." She walked around the table, hugged her mother and courtesy aunt. "He raped you, didn't he? Just like . . ." She shut up, looking pale and furious.

"Yes." Fair sighed. "Maybe this time I'll have a baby."

Hail tried to divert the conversation by reaching for the newspaper on the fourth chair. "Has the Council voted on the tax bill? I swear that they'll raise taxes until they have everyone on the brink of starvation . . . Oh dear."

Three-Fourths of City Under Wrap

The headlines were in three centimeter type, hard to miss.

Closest Approach in Three Days

Mere two centimeter type beneath it.

"I lay no claim to virtue, myself, but that is a genuinely evil man." Fair scanned the article. "The President says all the gods agree, that they're going to try to push the comet core away."

Hail nodded. "Perhaps we ought to have taken the comet seriously. I just didn't believe it could actually hit."

"Yuck, and our lives are in the hands of that rapist?" Macy hunched her shoulders. "Do we have enough food for however long we're going to be all wrapped up?"

Hail nodded. "You know we always have plenty because of winter storms . . . shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"

"It's on the list. That god is going to bubble it today. Some time in the afternoon. I'm not going. I want to be with you two, wherever that is."

Group hug.

"You know. If we were fast, we could get there before the god and lay a magic trap for him. I'd like to give him a solid shot of terror." Fair met her witch partner's gaze.

"Confusion, too. So he has trouble diagnosing the problem." Hail smiled slowly. "I doubt we can actually hurt him, but let's just pull out all the stops for him. I think I can figure out how to make the reverse of the smart spell."

"Give him BO, and an itchy rash." Macy looked fierce.

"Hmm, those are definitely illegal." Hail grabbed paper and drew symbols. "I wish we'd had more training about how to interweave spells. I think we can do the panic, the confusion. What will the reversed smart spell look like?"

The combined spells had plenty of overlap of the basic charms, and very few oppositions to buffer. They mapped out the three sided web and then got down to the real work.

Their cozy quarters in the half basement of the building had high windows, the light brightening as the sun rose. They rolled up the rug and started pulling power from the Earth. It was four days early, and daylight, but they sung the song of the longest night, all three of them. If they'd been with the Pyramid, Macy would be getting witching lessons, and they'd tried their best to train her. And today little glints of light danced off the girl's fingers, and she stopped singing in surprise, gathering them together in her hands.

"Oh! I see it now."

Hail switched to the barely remembered song of joy, and Macy started smiling and sang the song of power.

They made a lumpy and uneven triad, a New Full Moon, an over-aged Crescent, and a new Crescent Moon. But the triple spell rolled out strong and solid, imbued on a small iron ring, an inexpensive plumbing part of a convenient size.

They walked to school and found school officials scrambling to rope off a patch of lawn. "Out, out, the god needs some space to work from!" The crowd shifted a little.

"Yes, parents may stay with their children. It will only feel like a few minutes pass, but here on the outside several weeks will pass. When all danger is past, everyone will be released." The Superintendent of the school district was in a tizzy. They were far from being the only parents here today.

Fair dropped the ring on the damp grass and stepped on it, to push it into the soil. They retreated, and stood and watched as the damned god drove up, all smiles and waves. Parents and children all entered the school. A number of fathers were staying out. They held critical jobs, or at least jobs they tried to convince everyone were critical, and would be the last to be bubbled. The witches hid behind several tall men as the god waved an arm and threw something over the school. The absurd gesture wouldn't have gotten a ball over the building, but some insubstantial nothing was turning itself inside out and swallowing up the school. Fair wondered about the foundations, the plumbing. Bet they all have to be re attached to the mains, after . . . whatever happens, happens. The process ended. The school stood, silent, glinting bronze in the afternoon sun.

"I hope that works." The words were soft, almost weary.

Fair looked over her shoulder at the man who'd spoken. He was tall, fair haired with improbably blue eyes. The dog at his side was huge. She smiled and nodded her agreement. Macy held her hand out for the big dog to sniff. It wagged its tail a tiny bit, as if unaccustomed to friendly people.

Then they both looked back at Barry Virtue. The god stepped away. Onto the ring. The three witches threw their will at the metal and triggered the tripled spells.

The God of Virtue leaped back, looking around in panic. The witches kept the small crowd between themselves and the god as he left in haste. They heard the car driving away, valves hissing.

The fair haired man burst into laughter. "Oh, that was brilliant! And so well deserved!" He placed a hand on the dog’s neck and disappeared.

The witches swapped looks.

Hail swallowed. “Was that the God of Just Deserts?” She could hear the slight whimper in her voice.

Macy frowned. “His dog was nice. Are you sure?”

“Only Gods Travel like that.”

Fair chuckled suddenly. “What do you want to bet his presence influenced that spell? I’ll bet it was incredibly powerful.”

They swapped looks of satisfaction and headed for home.

"I think we should celebrate, Sarah's Diner's is still open. Let's have lunch." Fair couldn't stop grinning. We put a spell on a God!

Hail glanced south and frowned. "What's that?"

The line of blackness swept over the sky.

"Is that what the bubble looks like from the inside? I thought it was supposed to be clear." Macy scowled as the line swept by overhead. "They said we wouldn't even notice."

A young man overheard them, almost young enough to call a boy. "It's the last bubble, the bronze side is in, this time. I thought there would be two more days, more places put under the first bubbles. I hope we can feed everyone left."

The witches clustered as the dark closed in. "But it will just be for a few days, at the worse." Hail protested. "They said that a week passes for every minute inside."

The man produced a pale glow in the palm of his hand. "Relax. I'm a wizard. This is pretty much the limit of my abilities. May I walk you ladies home?"

In the dim light, Hail frowned. "The power is swirling oddly in here. You should save your power, wizard, you may not be able to recover, without any light." She opened her hand and another globe of light floated before them. "We're witches, and gravity still seems to be working. I didn't know there were wizards in town."

Fair snorted. "Who would notice?" Rude but true. The wizards were the weakest of the magic users.

He stiffened, insulted, and the girl jumped in quickly. "Do you live near? We just walked."

He sighed. "I rode in. Bringing horses and cattle. They're all packed into a vacant lot. I certainly hope this doesn't last long, or we'll end up eating them so they don't starve, then we'll starve. I'm Hudson Maginness, by the way."

They gave him their witch names as they walked. His light dimmed gradually. As their eyes adjusted, they could see a warm blush of light through the bronze overhead.

They detoured a bit to see Hudson's horses, and found bronze statues. "Well, the god's been busy. They were all alive an hour ago. I mean, they're alive now, of course, but . . ." He looked a bit dismayed at the tableau. A couple dozen fat cows and three horses were crowded into an empty space between buildings. Even the crude fence was bronzed. A wagon full of hay and sacks that probably held grain. And two big herding type dogs. "Well, I guess they're taken care of." The buildings all along the street were also bronzed, and the line of bronzing went several blocks before turning.

Hudson wrinkled his nose. "It's like he drove along bronzing things as he passed. There were several of us who brought livestock inside the city, he must have had a list of where they were being put."

Hail eyed him thoughtfully. "Do you have a place to stay? We have a couch, if it hasn't been bronzed."

They walked back through empty dark streets to the apartment, and found the building unchanged.  

Mr. Hodges, in the first floor apartment looked out his window and glared at them. "This is you magic makers fault! Look at this!" He shook his pocket watch at them. "It's been twenty minutes! You know what that means? Twenty weeks on the outside! Almost five months we've been trapped in here! What went wrong?"

Fair cupped her hands around her mouth and tried to control her breathing. "It means the comet hit. It means there's a horrible disaster out there."

Hail snorted. "Either that or that wretched god is having a good giggle, and might remember to let us out in a year or two."

Hudson looked alarmed. "I don't know anything about gods. They wouldn't play about with something like this, would they?"                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Fair started giggling, and then had to fight off hysterics. "I didn't get any sleep last night. I'm going to crash, and hopefully wake up to a nice normal day."

She didn't.

The sky was unrelieved darkness. Perhaps a faint bronzy glow. Hudson was snoring on the couch, and Hail was sitting at the table sipping tea.

"It was a quiet night, or day. I've been making a list of everything we'll need to do, if this goes on. I didn't pay as much attention as I ought, to what the bubbles did. Are they gas and water permeable? Will we run out of air?"

Fair dredged up memories. "They're gas permeable. Nobody will suffocate. But what about food? Should we try to create light, keep all the parks and yards lit and gardens growing? Or is there enough food in the stores to last? For how long?"

Hail nodded, looking subdued. "We didn't cause this, by panicking a god, did we?"

Fair shook her head. "The half trained pair of us? Charm a god more than the few seconds he took to shrug it off? Ha! In my dreams."

Hail blushed. "Well, I'm now, technically, a Full Moon. And we were sort of a Triad. We might have held more power than we realized."

Fair rolled her eyes and waved at the window. "And Barry Virtue can bubble herds of horses and multiple schools in a single day. There isn't a witch alive who can even see those bubbles until a god has done something to them."

"Which will make it very awkward, if we have to get ourselves out of it, won't it?" Hail sighed, as she looked out the window. "I think we need to find out who's in charge, just now."

The Mayor's office was bronzed. Like everything else downtown. And in the better neighborhoods. Even the wharfs were bronzed. There were easily a hundred large bronzed ships.

 
 
 
muirecanmuirecan on April 26th, 2017 06:51 pm (UTC)
Ah the city in the bubble and the fate of Bran and Oscar.
James ResoldierJames Resoldier on April 26th, 2017 10:15 pm (UTC)
I wonder if this story will survive the change of Muse-gears...
ekuah on April 27th, 2017 10:45 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry if I'm asking something obvious...
... but how does Xen knows that Oscars is the real Sea King?
To my best knowledge nobody knows that, except the Sea Hags.
At least you never mentioned anything like that.
To be Oscar, Harry and all the other are completely unaware of this.
matapampamuphoff on April 28th, 2017 06:07 am (UTC)
Re: I'm sorry if I'm asking something obvious...
The Mage power genes has a large number of alleles that affect what frequencies it it pulls power from and what things it is easiest to bend that power to.

Storm mage, blood mage, sea king, vampire priest and so forth.

The king of the Cove Islands is called the Sea King, and prior to the assassination of Oscar's father, the Sea Kings had always had the sea king mage gene.

Oscar's skill on the sea is legendary, and in _Sea Wolves_ the mermaid confirms Xen's guess.

In this case, however, Xen is speaking of the type of Mage.

Edited at 2017-04-28 06:09 am (UTC)