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matapam
23 June 2018 @ 12:39 pm

Miles smacked his fist into his hand. “Damn them. They must have spies, they must know the Army troops are patrolling somewhere else.”

“Do they have a spy inside here? How did they know Adelphie is a widow?”

“Damn. At a minimum, they’ve been watching us enough to see her without a man. Or watched you, before you got here.”

Adrasos nodded. “Foolish of them to wait until we came here, though. Most of our camps have been less well protected, and with fewer defenders."

"More like, they thought we’d cast you out, and you’d lack Father Odeil and his three to help defending the women.”

In predawn, Adrasos snuck out to cover the water intake with spells of unnoticeable, stealthed to not be seen by another wizard. Of course, if they feel like some hard work and dam upstream, All the spells in the world won’t matter.

When he got back to camp, Father Odeil and his youngsters were burying the dead bandit. Adrosos stared down at the dead man’s mutilated head.

They cut off his horns. He looked over at Father Odeil.

“We send them to God, cleansed of the Demon, and the government pays a bounty on horns.”

Adrasos thought of Yainni, slow and innocent and swallowed bile. I will have to try to conceal his horns. “How does the government know they aren’t paying for steer’s horns?”

“They have seers, who can tell the difference. As a man of God I should disapprove of them—they too are demon touched—but somehow when the difference is invisible, it is not treated as proof of Evil.”

“Seers. They do magic?”

“God forbid! No, just, well, perhaps a touch. But they cannot do anything, just see things other cannot, mostly. They are approved by the Church.”

Adrasos nodded, and went to help dig a pond.

After a scant breakfast, he took a good hard look around beyond their flimsy barrier, then led out the horses and cattle to graze. With half his men on guard. And stayed out there himself.

At noon, his sister Adelphie brought bread wrapped around meat out to them all.

“I don’t know why I’m feeding you!” She shot him a bitter glare.

Adrasos sighed. “I am sorry you wound up tangled in this mess. But may I suggest that the thief and seducer in the family is to blame?

“Those were your troops. Your friends who raped me, and mother,” she snarled.

“They are the God-King’s troops. To have stolen the property of the God-King . . . everyone knows the Gods loan jewelry for the life of the woman, to placate discarded wives and lovers. They do not give away treasure. Not ever.

“I got permission to go in first and remove Peep. I knocked out Grandfather, so he couldn’t start a fight. Sent poor dumb Yainni off to buy wine. Dragged Peep away, so she didn’t see, didn’t hear, and especially so she wasn’t raped. Or killed. If there’d been much resistance everyone in the house could have been killed.” Adrasos sighed. “I am sorry. I did not know you were there.”

“But what am I to do? I’m a married woman. Endocrates . . .”

“Endocrates is a widower, by the laws of our people. The laws are completely indifferent to your plight. You will have to decide for yourself whether you are wife, widow or divorcee.”

“Endocrates would never have divorced me.” Tears started leaking down her cheeks. “No matter what Mama says. He knows the difference between rape and adultery.”

“Yes. But you are dead to him. Grieve, Adelphie, you have every right, for you will never see Endocrates again.”

“It’s not fair!” She shrugged off his attempt to hug her, and stalked away.

***

The night was broken by a quick warning and brief fight at the back of the Archer’s cow barn. The raiders failed to get into the barn. Cinnamon was hailed as a hero, not just for spotting the sneakers, but for hitting the leader with a club.

The stream of water entering their new pond stopped midday.

 
 
matapam
22 June 2018 @ 08:26 am

And that was that. The other accepted it. Adrasteia sent all the women out with the farm women to bring in all the cattle and pick over the gardens that lay beyond their houses.

Now Adrasos saw the wisdom of the three houses and barns clustered in their common corner. The outward facing walls were all solid wood, no entrances to be breeched by the invaders. House to barn to neighbor’s barn to house to house to barn they had high, solid fences. Sturdy. Facing the road, perhaps fifty feet was open and hard to defend. Well, he could help with close to half of that.

“Chol, back the carriage up to the barn there, and take the wheels off. Krid, unload the wagon at the barn there, then we’ll use it to block the road in. Rob?” He grabbed his sword and looked over at the elder Baker. “Those tables, can we barricade the last stretch?”

“Yes. And we’d better be quick about it.” Whistles out in the deepening twilight marked the raider’s coordinating.

“Krid, block the road now, we’ll unload later.” Adrasos grabbed one end of a table and ran to dump it on its side. Then he strung his bow. Nocked an arrow and waited. I’d rather be hunting rabbits.

***

Cinnamon opened the barn door, and then the gate. The cows came in readily, used to the evening milking, and the bit of grain they got to supplement their grazing. They stalled at the door, sensing her panic.

She took a deep breath and stepped away, telling herself to relax. The cows trotted on into the barn and she closed the door. Closed the pasture gate and slid all the braces into place. Adrasos’s little sister came running up towing their cow, the big man behind her was carrying a cage of chickens, and two horses followed him.

“Put the cow in here, and the chickens . . . under the tree there, I think. Can you tie the horses to trees, so they don’t run around and trample people?”

The man nodded, setting the cage down and turning to deal with the horses.

A whole lot of horses. How will we feed them, if this goes on? We have hay for three cows for the winter.

Her head pulled around at the sounds of whistles, echoing around the hills.

They were coming.

Jerry came running up. “Papa says for you women to spread out and look for them coming from other directions. He says he thinks they’ll charge the open side first, but we gotta watch.” He ran off, stopping another woman.

The big simpleton was looking uncertain, his hand on his sword hilt.

Cinnamon took a slow careful scan of the hill crest. Nothing suspicious at all. “I think you’d better go back up Adrasos.”

He looked relieved and trotted away.

One of the Greek women trotted up and swept a glance across the hills before giving Cinnamon a tentative smile.

“Lausian?” Cinnamon forced a bit of a smile when the woman nodded. They turned back to the hill, heard the sudden thunder of hooves on the road.

Someone spoke sharply in Greek. Adrasos? She didn’t know them well enough to be sure of the voice. A faint hissing, a scream, curses. A hideous shriek that she hoped came from a horse, not a man. Hooves faded into the distance. The first rush had been repelled.

It was too dark to see much, now. The half moon was sliding in and out of clouds, rendering the grounds a patchwork. The men were faint movements in the darkness, then Twilla came running around. Had they seen anything? No? Then stay and keep watching. The girl ran on. Some movements, a few fires started. Time dragged on, and she tried to keep her eyes on the hill, not the fires, even when delicious cooking odors started wafting their direction.

Adrasos walked around, bow and arrow in hand. “We wounded two of them, one possibly badly. And killed a horse. We went out and butchered the horse, in case they decide to settle in for a siege.”

Cinnamon swallowed as he spoke to Lausian, presumably repeating the news. Eat a horse? One of those beautiful creatures she’d always wanted, and always knew they could never afford?

In the darkness she could barely see him as he looked back at her. “Lausian says she’ll take first watch, here, if you want to get some sleep.”

“Sleep?” She jumped up suddenly. “I have to milk the cows! Poor things!”

“Oh, is ours around somewhere?”

“Yes. I’ll milk her too. And water your hens.”

The chores didn’t stop her from thinking. It seemed unreal, that men could be trying to harm them. Kill the men, rape the women, steal the animals. That’s what everyone says. Of course they also said the men were monsters, with horns and, umm, parts like a bull.

She finished the last cow. The Greeks' brown cow didn’t produce much. “What are they thinking, making you walk behind a wagon all day?” She scratched the friendly animal and forked hay down from the loft for them. How long would the hay last? They’d had their first fall rain, the hills were starting to green, and she shouldn’t be using this hay for another two months.

She checked the kitchen. Her mother and Aunt Vivi were cutting a large roast into thin strips.

“Jerky?”

“Yes. In case we get desperate. We have no idea where the horse has been, what he’s eaten.”

“Oh. I see.” Another reason to not eat a horse. She climbed into her bed and fell asleep almost instantly.

***

Adrasos helped unload the wagon into the Archer’s barn, and got bedding set up, inside and out. Father Odeil was doing the same in the Baker’s barn. Miles Preston’s barn seemed too vulnerable, being the building furthest down the lane.

Their oiled cloths and hides thrown over horizontal oak limbs and staked down made passable tents. Adrasos shared with his Grandfather and Yainni so the three guards and their women could have some privacy. The other women were in the barn. Gennadios was in the barn with his wife. Of course.

The three families here each had a bunch of children, there was no room for so many guests. Adrasos had stopped Gennadios’s bid for a real bed, dead in its tracks. Even Phadros had sneered at the man.

They’d shored up the flimsy wall of tables as best they could. He left Yainni on guard, and crawled into bed. Yainni, as ordered, woke him when the moon set. He sent the man to his own bed and made the circuit of the buildings. Adelphie was awake, huddled miserably in between the Archer’s house and barn. Krid was up, roaming, and had been for hours. Memu was watching where Lausian had been. Rob Baker was up, manning the post between his house and barn. His son was on the other side of the house, watching the gap between their house and the Preston’s. The Preston boy, Mark, was between their house and the barn.

Their four tents faced the largest opening, and Chol had it all under his eyes.

“Doubt they’d attack in force, in the moon dark. They don’t want to lose a horse to a broken leg. Or fight blind, for that matter.”

“Yes. But that doesn’t mean they might not try something sneaky. We spotted them up the creek, not far from where they collect the water for their houses. I think I’ll go take a look that direction, as soon as there’s any light at all.”

A light crunch of almost silent footfalls. Miles nodded to them. “Anything?”

“No. I was just thinking we should take a look at the water intake, as soon as we can see anything at all.”

“Damn. Now there’s a bad thought.” He frowned into the darkness. A few red spots gleamed, around the bases of the smokers. “Perhaps we should start digging a pond, inside the fence. At least we can keep the stock watered.”

“Yes. And like it or not, we’ll need to stake the horses out to graze, out there.”

He sighed. “Yes, I can see that. Damn, what a mess.”

“Have you been attacked before? Your houses are obviously set up for defense.”

“Only common sense. Bradley and Old Alex held off some bad sorts a long time ago. Bradley is, was, Ginger’s husband, and old Alex was her father. The three of them started the farm from scratch, and a single assay. Rob and I came out together and broke ground, each on our own piece, borrowing on the Archer’s success.”

“But a fourth family, to finish your square, never came?”

“One fellah tried. City boy, he had no idea farming was hard work. Thought his horses would do it all hard work while he walked along behind, steering them.”

Adrasos chuckled. “We won’t be any better. And eventually we’ll be at least seven families.”

“You could be a small town, all by yourselves.” Miles shut his mouth with a snap as Adrasos nocked an arrow and raised the bow.

The faint thuds of horse hooves were at a slow walking pace. The voice from the darkness was deep and powerful. “Now there’s no need for that. We just want a nice peaceful trade.”

Miles raised his voice. “You should have started with trade, now it’s too late.”

“You send out four horses and that pretty young widow and we’ll go away and leave you alone. How’s that for a deal?”

Adrasos could feel the faint flow of magic, and identified it. Night sight. He knew a similar invocation himself, but it was tiring to hold it for long. He called it from memory, now, and cast it silently on himself, and saw the speaker clearly. Barrel chested and muscular, light of hair, dressed like a dandy, lace around his thick wrists. Heavy jaw, clean shaven. And two other men flat on their bellies, creeping nearer.

He drew back and sent his first arrow into the nearest man hitting him head on between neck and collarbone, angling deep into the chest. The man collapsed without a sound. The other man was more sideways to him and took the second arrow in his side. His yelp was too hearty for his lung to have been hit. He scrambled away. A spell of shielding puffed up, out there across the barrier, and Adrasos breathed a spell of piercing onto his third arrow. The big man wheeled his horse and booted him into motion. Adrasos made a guess on direction and loosed the arrow. The man dodged toward the stream, rather than away. The arrow sailed into the darkness.


 
 
matapam
21 June 2018 @ 09:52 am

He noticed her heading his way and waited.

“I wasn’t sure you understood what Uncle Laru was saying. Do you know chemistry?” She showed him the chart.

He looked baffled, and she tried to explain the elements, and why they were arraigned as they were.

His eyes lit. “Kleos! The columns are because of common … actions? I never have seen the elements displayed this way. I make a copy?”

“Certainly. Umm, what I meant to show you were these heavy elements. They split naturally.”

“And give off invisible emissions, very harmful, and that was what your father was warning me about, with deer. I see.” His brows furrowed over that long straight nose. “Except I don’t understand how it all got all over.”

“Uncle, not father. Did you learn about the War, in school, where you came from?”

A spray of information opened in her mind, open and trusting, with no knowledge of mental shields. Apparently there had been a horrible war a century ago, and the people were still avoiding the ruins of the fallen civilization. The war had so reduced the countryside that just a few areas had people at all.

So, that was what Father Odeil was talking about. “Poisons.” What a brutal inheritance.

Adrasos shut down the mental connection. “My schooling was very different. So. The land was salted with heavy elements. Interesting. How do you know it is safe to farm here?”

“Because the vegetables grow normally. Where there is radiation, the plants, especially the gourds, grow oddly. Then one abandons the land and tries again somewhere else.”

“I see. I ought to be able . . . “ He stopped and thought. “Well. That will be something else to consider. We’ve just arrived. Father Odeil is letting us travel with him, to pick up some English. Mother is going to be a bit lost once we reach a town. This Chico the Father speaks of. In the mean time, perhaps tonight I should hunt rabbits.” He looked around. “If your uncle permits.”

“The land belongs to my mother.”

“Ah. Sorry. I shall ask her, then. Mistress Ginger?”

“Mrs. Archer would be the correct address, until she gives you permission to use her first name.”

“Indeed? Thank you . . . Miss Archer?”

“Yes. But, please, call me Cinnamon.”

“I am pleased to do so. My people do not have these family names, I think we must have to adopt some. However it is done.”

“Well, ours are frequently places or occupations, that became associated with the family. In all sorts of languages, of course. Or one of our forefathers. You might be Adrasos the Greek, and your children take the name Greekson, or even Adrason. They tend to get shortened. Or it could be Stranger, Traveler or Black. Although that wouldn’t fit your sisters at all.” Cinnamon waved to get her mother’s attention. Uncle Laru frowned and headed toward them as well.

“My father’s name was Xenocrates. A rather awkward mouthful to make a name of.”

“Xeno, perhaps? I think you can pick anything you want.”

Adrasos nodded politely to the mother. “Mrs. Archer, may I hunt rabbits on your property this evening?”

Uncle Laru scowled, but kept quiet.

“Oh, yes, they keep getting into the garden. Please kill as many as you wish.” She eyed Cinnamon. “Why don’t you show Mr. Adrasos around? The hill beyond the garden would be a good place to start.”

“Thank you,” the man flashed a bright smile at her, then switched it to Cinnamon. “Let me get my bow. I’ll be right back.”

She watched him stride down to the camping spot, then hustled up to her room to put the book away.

“I can’t believe it, you used a book to try and hook a handsome devil like that!”

Cinnamon turned long enough to glare at her cousin. “Did I beat you to one of them? Honestly Twilla, you’d better watch your step. You go too far, and then what?”

“I’ll get married. I can hook any one of them I want to.”

“You'll have no husband, and a baby on the way, more likely. Mother says men don’t marry loose women.” She cast a quick look at the door, this wasn’t something anyone should overhear.

Twilla rolled her eyes. “They all think I’m a virgin they’ve deflowered. I’ll pick one, soon enough.”

“Twilla! You didn’t actually!”

Twilla just laughed and walked downstairs and out to join the crowd out in the open space in the middle of the three farmhouses.

Cinnamon followed her and watched Adrasos as he stopped briefly to speak to the other men. They all followed him down to the wagons, where he handed out something, then they all walked back, the big man carrying a small cask. The farmers were clearing the dinner tables, cards were coming out.

Adrasos veered back toward her. “I just paid the guards. I hope I don’t regret it.”

“Oh dear. Well, so long as everyone doesn’t get drunk, it should stay friendly.”

“If they can work out the rules, if they can decide on the equivalencies of our coins and yours. The keg is half empty.” Adrasos shrugged. “Fortunately we have very little to lose, in terms of coin. And hopefully the guards have too much sense to bet their horses.”

“Oh good.” He didn’t say anything about the stepfather. “Well, let me show you my garden.”

***

Adrasos was glad to see a fat water pipe that collected water upstream of the cow pasture. It split to feed all four houses. A shallow channel from the creek also watered an extensive garden. The dusty brown soil was clearly fertile when watered.

“The rabbits dig under the fence back here, even when we bury logs and rocks.” Cinnamon let them through the gate and walked up the hill. Just shy of the crest she spotted movement and froze.

She turned and ran. Adrasos cast a quick look over the hill. Several dozen men on horseback, in several clumps, moving to each side of the little settlement. They hadn’t spotted Cinnamon, and Adrasos sank down and then followed her.

Their abrupt return caught everyone’s attention.

“Men on horses. Raiders! Just over the hill! Couple dozen of them.”

“They didn’t spot us. We have a few minutes to plan.” Adrasos switched to Greek. “Raiders. At least a serata. Go harness the horses get ready to move the wagon and carriage, I’ll negotiate our staying here.” He turned back to the farmers. “You don’t know us, but we add seven men to your fighting total. If you want us gone, decide quickly.”

Preston scowled. “Maybe they’d follow you, leave us alone.”

Cinnamon’s uncle was sweating with fear. Nodding.

Baker was shaking his head. “No. They’ll kill them, then come back and get us. No point in letting them deal with us half at a time. You Greeks bring your stuff up here.”

 
 
matapam
20 June 2018 @ 07:35 am

Rudy spent most of the next day studying the strangers' horses. He was a solitary man, and avoided people. But he knew his horses. These thin necked, long backed critters . . . they had excellent shoulders, good legs, if perhaps a bit heavily boned. Their heads ranged from long and elegant to long and ordinary, their ears were a bit long . . . A single one of them he wouldn't have particularly noticed. But nine of them? Eleven, really. The two hitched to the wagon were a bit heavier, but still had a lot of the same qualities. Eleven of them. All the same breed, all something he'd never heard of. Their manes were all cut short and upstanding.

Damn he knew he'd seen horses like that before, but where? Maybe he'd only seen pictures. The saddles were different, the harness like nothing he'd ever heard of. Damned inefficient, if you asked him, which no one did.

***

Adrasos accepted the Father's invitation to travel with him. The opportunity to practice this language, “English" he called it, was useful. The opportunity to find out all about the society was invaluable.

"And the lingering poisons, we're still having horrible birth defects. Most of the children die. Our medicine just isn't what it used to be. What about the Old Country? Do they have a cure? Cures?" Not unusual for a woman to have three living children – but the wide spread of ages, Adrasos to Adelphie to Peep, probably indicated as many children buried. Father Odeil didn’t ask, the answers were usually too painful.

"For some things. Poison . . . I don't know. I am not an expert, or even a dilatant, to be honest." He nodded at the guards. "I am competent to deal with wounds."

Father Odeil sighed. "We all have to deal with wounds. The demons attack us regularly, and no matter how many we kill, there are always more to replace them."

Adrasos bit his lip. He didn't want to appear too ignorant, raise suspicions. He had no idea how they would classify people from another layer of reality. No doubt when the demons attacked, he would be enlightened.

They cast out the ones who change even a little, and hide magical abilities. We will have to hide what we are, and live apart from most of them. At least Yainni and I.

Well. I survived the Grand Overlap. I merged with everything from desert wolves to horses and dust devils. I became a natural shape shifter, learned a few things about magic that even the instructors didn’t know. I can survive this as well. We just need to be discreet.

"We will have to sell things, or work, or hunt or otherwise make money before we can claim land and pay those taxes."

Of course there are taxes in Hel. How not?

Peep came out and rode behind him, and shyly learned a few words of English.

***

The road arced around the foothills, first running northwest, and then northeast.

Father Odeil stopped at three small clusters of farms to give open air sermons. Adrasos talked with the famers, and managed to trade for two large wooden barrels. He was much happier with them strapped to the sides of the wagon, and full of water. Rudy had gone ahead, but Adrasos kept their party with Father Odeil and worked at getting everyone a smattering of English. They crossed the Bear River where it broadened as it left the hills behind. Then they turned more northwest and reached Red Bluffs farms six days after they had passed through the Gates of Hel.

Chapter

Cinnamon hid her hair under a scarf, only a bit of ordinary brown hanging out in a corkscrew curl, for show. Her family helped hide her disgrace, the streaked hair of a woman who had merged with many other people. Or creatures. It wasn’t so bad, now. At first she hadn’t looked quite right, and the pale hair had been curly and rather reminiscent of a sheep’s wool. Her mother had cut it ruthlessly, even shaving small patches. Judicious braiding and coiling and bows had covered the damage, and by the second year the wooly hair had darkened and straightened. Not all the way, but enough that it almost blended. Almost. Jerry . . . Her father and Jerry’s had signed the papers for their engagement years before. Now Jerry wanted nothing to do with her, and with Father dead, there was no one to enforce the contract.

“Not that I want him, either,” she muttered.

Her uncle and his family had come, three years ago, now, to help Mother run the farm, and it wasn’t in Uncle Laru’s interest to have a local boy marry his niece and kick him out of his comfortable roost.

Lately he’d been acting like the farm was his, not mother’s.

Cinnamon kicked a dirt clod, then bent to grub up another weed. For all the snow in the mountains, down here they'd only had a few frosts. The garden was still producing, and the weeds were doing even better.

Cinnamon finished the row and tossed the weeds over the fence for the cows. Three left. Uncle Laru had sold a cow, without so much as a mention, so they hadn’t planned ahead and kept a heifer to replace her. Next year they’d have one less calf to sell or butcher, and be that much closer to losing the farm for taxes. Land already under the plow, with proven fertility, was valuable. Her grandfather had broken the ground here, and her father had helped, had planted the little orchard. Diverted the creek. Built the house. Mother’s brother had been only an occasional visitor, until Dad died. Now with his own father dead, and his older brother inheriting their parent’s farm fifteen miles northwest, he and his wife and three children seemed to have moved in permanently.

She heard the dogs barking and looked out toward the road. Father Odeil was unmistakable, on his fat gelding, but who were the other people following him into sight? They stopped at the camping spot, a wagon towing a big brown cow, and a ridiculous carriage, that looked like it should be carrying Ladies and Gentlemen around a city, not bumping over dirt tracks in the middle of nowhere. Five other men on horseback. She shivered. There’s not enough of them to be bandits! Stop being silly.

But she watched for a bit longer, until she saw women being helped down from the carriage, and horses being unharnessed. Why would they raid us? With eleven horses and a cow, they are richer than we are. The Father’s young initiates, and his grizzled servant were setting up camp communally with the newcomers. Obviously they knew them well enough to trust them. Cinnamon rubbed her hands together to get off the worst of the dirt, and walked out to greet the Priest.

He'd collected an instant crowd, and raised his voice a bit so they could all hear.

“They’re an odd group.” Father Odeil was saying. “The youngest fellow is in charge. His grandfather is, umm, quite old, his stepfather unreliable. The big fellow is simple, and the other three were hired guards before they got into trouble and fled west. Adrasos’s Mother, his two half-sisters, a maid, a cook and three women married to the guards make up the rest of the party. They speak Greek; only Adrasos has any English. They look pure, but I suppose we’ll see in a few days if we need to send them away.”

Cinnamon shivered. I’d never be accepted in a town. The neighbors only put up with me because they knew me before. She snuck a peek over to where Jerry Baker was ignoring her. And the Prestons were pointedly not looking at her. Her Uncle looked satisfied. When Mother dies, he’ll try to run me off and claim ownership, inherit from mother.

“We’ll be gone tomorrow, and be well away before the Full Moon. Now, why don’t I set up for a sermon under the trees here? The weather’s been lovely so far this fall, I almost hate to go indoors.”

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a holy day, Father Odeil only got by three or four times a years. They quickly fetched benches and the little table that they always used for an altar. Cinnamon took down a braid of garlic and some of the remaining apples, arranged them in one of the clay bowls mother brought and they walked back out. The men had gotten their heads together, and Jerry trotted down to the road with an invitation to join them for the service and potluck dinner after.

All the people watched the newcomers. They listened, obviously baffled, except for the man with black hair who listened attentively. They were odd looking people, well, different, but all in the same direction. Long straight noses that started practically at their foreheads, like pictures of old statues she’d seen. It was most obvious in the black haired man, but even the little girl was like that. They contributed very little to the basket, when it passed, but brought plenty to the dinner, after. The girl ran off with the other girls, all of them chattering away, in their own languages.

Cinnamon smiled at the women and pointed at herself. “Cinnamon.”

The youngest woman, she looked to be close to her age, perhaps eighteen, smiled in return. “Alelphie.” She pointed as the woman who was probably her mother. “Adrasteia.” Hecuba and Despoina were the two middle-aged women, Memu, Lausian and Epeti were the last three women.

Gennadios was the husband of the mother, a very handsome man. The way he looked her over flustered her, and she retreated to let the other women continue the introductions.

The black haired man was talking to her uncle. “Tell me of hunting, a few deer I have seen.”

Uncle scrunched up his face. “You’re taking a chance, eating deer. No telling how much radiation they’ve picked up, grazing any old where. Now, rabbits, you’ve got to figure they haven’t travelled very far. So around a farm like this, it’s not a problem. Out there, between towns and farms, who knows?”

The man, Father Odeil had called him Ad-something, nodded and looked thoughtful. Or perhaps he just hadn’t understood. Cinnamon slipped back into her room and pulled out her box of books. Precious things, rarely made any more. She found the chemistry book and walked out, and looked for the man.

***

 
 
matapam
19 June 2018 @ 10:16 am

While he helped his people setting up camp, he watched Adrasos checking his people's injuries, and unloaded his medicine box. "Need help? Let me take a look, ummm, looks good actually. Three or four days ago by the look of it? And no infection, excellent." He kept up a cheerful one way conversation, and even tried it on the mother. But unlike her son she apparently knew no English at all.

He at least managed an exchange of names. The old man was Phadros, the Patriarch of their little Clan. The others were servants and guards, or possibly the guards' wives. The huge fellow, pale skinned with curly black hair, Yonnie by name, was simple, but kind. He fetched and carried and brushed horses. Hecuba was a marvelous cook. If she'd been a man, he have tried to lure her away to cook for the little monastery that was the hub of his moving ministry. His understudies, Brother Francis and Initiate Pierre worshipped her with the appetites of teenagers. Even Carl looked a bit wistful, although being older he no doubt had more appetites than he was supposed to admit to.

Father Odeil admitted to himself that the mother was attractive in a way he couldn't quite describe and the older sister would be quite pretty, once she was settled down and not so fearful. The little girl's cheekbones and big eyes told of a spectacular beauty, waiting to blossom.

The women even baked a cobbler of the mixed fruit they had on hand. Father Odeil settled down with a happy sigh to watch the last of the twilight fade. "So, where do you think you will settle?" He spoke carefully and hoped that Adrasos could understand.

Adrasos shrugged. "How buy land?"

Father Odeil smiled. "Easy. Much of our land is still empty. You just register for it, and pay a year of taxes."

Adrasos looked a bit taken aback. A whistle from one of his guards brought him to his feet.

"Hail the Camp!" The voice was rough and rusty, an edge of caution to it.

Father Odeil grinned. "Is that you, Rudy? Come in."

"Ah, Father. I should have recognized that fat creature of yours."

Adrasos called a command to the fellow on duty. Father Odeil frowned. "That's not . . . what language is that?"

"Greek."

"Good heavens. And here I thought the Euro Empire had finally convinced everyone to speak Latin." He walked out to meet the old miner. "So, making your late fall run to town are you, Rudy?"

"Yep." His eyes were busy watching all the new people. "Passel of women, here. Where the hell did they come from?" His bastardized germanic and mex words mixed with the English.

"Running from the Inquisition, I haven't asked why."

"So long as they don't grow horns or start drinking blood at the Full Moon, I'm good." He shot a glance westward, where the thin crescent was dropping toward the horizon. "Almost two weeks before we have to worry about it." He pulled his string of pack mules into camp and stuck out his hand. "Rudy Helfmann."

Adrasos grasped his hand, and introduced himself, his grandfather and stepfather. Odeil blinked, and realized the women had all disappeared behind the carriage.

"I think the ladies have had some difficult times recently." Little Pierre piped up. "I guess getting to look us over in the daylight helped."

Adrasos nodded. "We have dinner, if you would like?"

Rudy would, but first he took care of his mules. Adrasos went to help, but backed off as Rudy's hand flashed to his knife.

"Rudy prefers to be the only one who comes near his winter's worth of hard work." Father Odeil chivvied Adrasos away.

The young man just shrugged and left Rudy to deal with his stock. The priest studied him.

He really was quite young. Not more than twenty-five, his face unlined but small scars on his arms that looked like knife wounds. Or swords. All of the men were wearing weapons with about a two foot blade. Rudy's knife was nearly as large. The family wasn't at all the usual sort that escaped from the Western Empire. I wonder how far they have been chased? And why.

He bit his lip, and stepped delicately around heresy. “We’re not as bad about things as the Spanish. But we’re still a bit touchy.”

Adrasos nodded, glancing toward Rudy. “Drink blood? This I no . . . I had not heard.”

“You have quite an ear for languages. Some people would think it was magic, and avoid you. The Change, we called it. Seven years ago, now. Did you feel it?”

Adrasos nodded.

“Some people were changed for the better, some for the worse. The blood drinkers . . . we laugh and call them oversized mosquitoes. But except at the full moon they look and act like men.”

Adrasos looked shocked. “At the full moon, they drink blood?”

“Yes. And kill most of their victims. So we kill them as soon as we identify them.”

“Indeed. But more common, in our place was shape changing. Some could all the way go, but most just grew horns or hair at the full moon.”

Odeil rubbed his arms. “We cast out all of those who grew horns. We should have been more tolerant. The outcasts turned to raiding, now everyone who changes is assumed to be evil.” He frowned. “All the way, you said. Surely no one could change all the way into an animal!”

Adrasos shrugged. “That is what is said. And have you. . . magicians?”

“Some people seem to have some small uncanny talents. They mostly hide them, for fear of what other might think.”

Adrasos nodded thoughtfully. Then as Rudy finished, and walked toward them, he started taking lids off the pots sitting by the warm coals.

Odeil gave in and had just a tiny bit more of the spicy stew.

 
 
 
matapam
18 June 2018 @ 08:22 am

The big man perked up, and started fumbling at buttons.

Adrasos pried off his boots as he started the change. Feet aching as the foot bones lengthened. He shucked pants, tail bones aching as they lengthened, as his hair grew. His face was aching. He ignored it, dropped his sword belt and stripped off his tunic. On four feet, with Yainni following, he headed down hill first. They could get the wagon and carriage down if they were careful. A stream had cut through the ridge and joined the small river. He tasted the water. Cold and clean. Ice melt. Good.

:: Lets take a careful look at these campfires. ::

Yainni tossed his horned head in wordless assent. Even in human form he was inarticulate, although far from the deaf mute he’d been before the Grand Overlap. They’d both picked up shape changer genes—so much easier than the magical transformations Adrasos had been slowly and painfully learning at the Akademi. Yainni was most comfortable in his bull form. Adrasos rather liked the desert wolf form, and used it unless something else was needed. Very odd, those wolves had been. Could this be their world?

He followed the side stream. The sun was above the distant mountains now, and the half walls of an old building were visible, in the next little valley between the ridges. Just the one small building, but a few suspicious angles of low growing grass made him suspect the presence of the foundations of at least one more beneath the surface. He trotted across the flat and wound up the far ridge, climbing around the tree filled ravine of the creek. On the other side, more ruins, the sinuous lines of a road, and the smell of campfires. Voices. He circled back and sought the crest of this ridge, keeping to the east side so as to not silhouette himself. Yainni stood lower, but with his head higher could see as much.

There were four campfires inside a ring of wagons. Yainni snorted in disapproval. :: Circled up. ::

:: Like they expected to be attacked. Let's not get ourselves mistaken for bandits. :: Adrasos eyed the figures of the men down below. Men, not something else, thank the Gods. Adrasos eased back off the ridge. :: Let's scout to the south, see if we can find an easy way to get the wagon and carriage over to that road. Once we're rolling along, perhaps they’ll assume we're honest men. ::

The bull eyed him. :: Are we honest men? ::

:: So far. ::

At the camp, they changed back. He checked Chol’s arm, and wafted healing spells around, trying to not be as obvious about the ones he sent toward the women. Adelphie looked the worse off, of the women. No doubt she and their mother had drawn most, if not all of the Guards’ attention. His mother, of course, was made of sterner material than her gentle daughter, and had over forty years of hard lived experience to temper her reaction to what had probably been a gang rape.

It was past noon before they carefully eased the top heavy carriage out to the road. The wagoners' camping spot was well chosen. A wall of concrete against their backs, a loop of sun warmed water in front of them with enough marshy ground to ensure that attackers would come from either north or south but not east and west.

With all their injuries and their nerves on edge, Adrasos ordered them to camp. In their small numbers they wouldn't be able to hold the campground if they were attacked in force, but it would give them a better edge than any other spot he'd seen.

"We need to take inventory, see what I managed to throw in, what I forgot. Get some food in us, a good night's sleep, then we can try to talk to some of the local people." He looked around at the group. "Seven years ago, at the merge, did any of you merge with people, pick up any languages?" Heads shook all around. Damn. His second stepfather had died that day, and Gennadios had appeared as if by magic by the time Adrasos had come home from school for a brief equinox break. "Well, it may be a bit awkward if we can't talk to the people around here, but we'll deal with it."

His mother was moderately able, magically, but poorly trained. A few women's tricks to attract men. Which work too damn well! Adelphie had never shown any signs of magical skill, and Peep was too young. Magic tended to blossom with the peak of puberty. Adrasos was the first of his family to attend the Akademi of Magic. He'd been kept away from, and in fact had not known of his father, for fear of the wrath of the man's goddess wife. Not until Adrasos had met Heliodoros at college, and felt the pull of blood had he realized he was the son of a God. His magical ability had gotten him into the Imperial Guard, and the strength of his arm had earned him a place at his half brother's side. But he'd never been presented at Court. The God-King's older son might marry and discard as many mortal woman as he wished, and tup others when he got bored, but the second son had married a goddess and never strayed – officially.

"Water under the bridge," he muttered, and started unhitching the horses. Peep came and helped, taking harness away and hanging it carefully over the sides of the wagon. Gennadios whined about his nose hurting, and sat with Gotu. Mother put Hecuba and Desponia to work, organizing some sort of temporary kitchen. Aldephie pulled herself together and put the three drabs to work hauling water for a big pot. They all moved as if stunned by the speed with which everything had changed. Less than a day since the raid.

Adrasos hesitated, then moved sacks of grain and pulled out six swords. Some were a bit rusty and nicked, but sound enough to take on bandits. Knives, too, for the women. “Until we find out how many bandits are about, I think everyone should be armed.” He’d brought everything from the armory. Spears, bows. Wish we had more arrows. He pulled out his hunting bow and a dozen arrows, put them up on the top of the carriage where he could reach them from either the driver’s bench or horseback.

***

Father Odeil spotted the campgrounds and frowned at bit to see them already occupied. His bodyguard, old Carl eyed the strangers, who were eyeing them in turn. Then a young man stepped out and waved them a welcome. Father Odeil kicked his gelding back into motion. Basically lazy, only the appearance of a familiar campground got the beast back into motion so easily. "I thought we'd be early, and the first." He raised his voice cheerfully.

The leader of the other group ducked him head politely. "Well Come."

Father Odeil cocked his head at the accent. "Good Heavens. You didn't just come across the mountains, did you? I wouldn't have thought the road was still clear." He frowned as he took in the group. Three of the seven men were obviously injured. There were seven women, and a girl of perhaps five or six years of age.

"Yes. Just arrived are we. I am Adrasos."

"Father Odeil of the Church of the New Days. I suppose you are Catholic?" He raised his voice a bit and smiled, trying to include all of them. The oldest woman looked to be the mother of one of the other women and the little girl, all of them with thick long hair, curly and a warm brown, and they sported the sort of nose he'd only seen in picture of ancient statuary. Adrasos for that matter—despite the man's shining straight black hair—had a resemblance.

"This is my mother Adrasteia, my sisters, Adelphie and Parthenope." He scowled across at the man with the broken nose. "My stepfather Gennadios."

The stepfather stomped over with a string of unintelligible words.

Adrasos nodded. "He is wondering where we are. We . . . find ourselves without as many preparations as we probably ought to have. Including a map."

"Well, Son, we're about halfway between the Gold Fields and Chico, with Redding another hundred and fifty miles on. I expect with your family, you'll be more interested in farming than mining, eh? Still too much radioactivity down south to risk the young ones, eh?"

The young man looked baffled, and Father Odeil decided he'd better start teaching them all to speak English. It would help them ease into society here. Those hideously intolerant Spanish on the other side of the Sierra Nevada had driven out more people . . . damn fools, with their witch and demon hunting.

Not a lot better here.

 
 
matapam
17 June 2018 @ 10:04 am

***

The looters hadn't had the nerve to move in right away.

Adrasos thanked the first one for harnessing the horses, and handed him the clock he'd loaded. "We'll have no use for this. Take it and good fortune to you." The pictures followed.

He switched the four glossy chestnut mares to the carriage, and harnessed the two heavier, plainer, horses to the wagon. And set to, to fill them both.

His grandfather staggered in and was put to work packing the library. Peep headed for the women's quarters, to pack clothing.

Adrasos first stripped the armory, then the kitchen. Grain for the animals. He tied the milk cow onto the wagon, gave the calf and the yearling heifer to neighbors. Saddled up Gennadios' high spirited mare and the guard's horses. His own was stabled at the barracks, he'd stop by on the way to the Gate. He grabbed Peep's bags, and Peep and Grandfather and the crates of scrolls and books. One of each; they were not a family known for their scholarship. The big crock of wheat flour from the kitchen.

One of the neighbors returned with a cage of chickens. “The wife says they’re good layers,” he muttered, not quite daring to wish them well.

A hasty grab of all the oiled cloths and hides around in case they needed tents, or to cover the wagon, and then he climbed to the driver's bench of the carriage, with Peep beside him and sent the impatient horses up the street. His Grandfather followed with the wagon. Yainni was barely able to stumble to the carriage. He was snoring as Adrasos stopped at the market and spent all his ready cash.

Halfway to the barracks, his Deka met him, a golden palomino in tow, a double set of packs across her back. "Some how she got out with Heliodoros' bay stallion just now. Good luck." He leaned to tie the mare to the back of the carriage.

"Thank you sir." Adrasos swallowed, unable to say more. He shook up the reins and turned down hill.

It was a long three hours through the hills to the Gates of Hel.

A narrow plaza encircled the Gates. The thin spot between worlds. As befit something in between realities it was awkwardly placed. Neither high nor low, a narrow path, off the road to somewhere definite, a fork into the unknown. There were twelve other Worlds, according to the best analyses of the Priests and Scholars. Which one the Gate would open to between day and night, was unknown and unknowable. They'd caught tiny glimpses in the Great Overlap, little slices of congruence . . .

The prisoners were there, waiting.

Yainni was removed from the carriage and added to the loaded wagon. Adrasos whispered a anti-hangover and healing spell and touched his head. The women crammed into and onto the carriage. Two of the hired guards were in good enough shape to mount their horses. The other was boosted up into the wagon. Gennadios met Adrasos' glare, and slunk to the wagon, not insisting on riding with the women. Peep abandoned Adrasos for her mother and sister. The cook and maid joined them inside the carriage, the three other women crowded onto the rear facing bench.

The sun touched the horizon, and touched the circle at the center of the space with gold. A faint dust, or possibly fog rose from the ground, glowing in the sideways light.

The three Scholars observing the circle stepped back. Gestured.

Adrasos released the brake and eased the reins. The impatient horses trotted forward. The chilly fog blew past them. Cleared. Adrasos steered the horses right as he saw the ground dropping away steeply ahead and to the left. In the twilight he could see that they were on the slope of a sharp ridge. To his left a silver gleam of water in the depths of a steep walled valley. To the right, the crest of the ridge, perhaps twenty feet higher. Steering along the slope, the carriage rocked a bit, his passengers yelping in alarm, and crying. They've had a very bad day. He turned the horses toward a flatish spot in front of a grove of large oaks and pulled them to a stop. His grandfather pulled the wagon up beside them.

"So, what great plan do you have now, Turncoat?" Gennadios climbed down unsteadily.

One horseman rode up, then the other, clutching a bleeding arm. Idiot must have tried to run. Well, can't blame him, considering the worst that might have been here.

"No swamp, and oak trees, so I think we've gotten one of the better worlds. No sign of dinosaurs, at any rate." Adrasos looked at the horsemen. Time to establish a few things. "Chol, Krid, ride up to the top of the ridge and take a look around."

Krid turned his horse. Chol, the one with the wounded arm looked at Gennadios, who scowled and nodded.

No immediate challenge to my authority. Good. Maybe they will notice that I've got the only weapon to hand. So I won't have to use it.

Adrasos frowned suddenly, looking at the heavily laden wagon.

One small keg of ale, a dozen bottles of wine. Not a drop of water, nor anything to carry it in. Good planning, boy. That had better be water, down there.

The men on the ridge were pointing things out to each other, didn't seem excited.

The carriage door thumped open. "What's going on out there?" His mother's voice was querulous. Adrasteia had not been a shrinking violet as a young woman when she'd seduced a God, and she wasn't getting any less forward after three marriages.

No wonder Xenocrates didn't marry her . . . quite apart from the wife he already had.

"I have the men taking a look around. We'll find a safe spot to camp and scout out the area, decide what we're going to do." Adrasos frowned. The twilight seemed to be getting lighter, not darker. Was that dawn rather than dusk lightening the sky to the left? The riders returned, their horses sitting back on their haunches on the steep part of the hill.

"There's campfires, I think, beyond the next ridge. And maybe a village, or what used to be a village. No roofs left on any of the walls I could see. It's pretty dark over there, though." Chol was trying to look like he was in command of the pair of them. Ambitious. Adrasos filed the information away. A bright spec of sun gleamed between mountains. "It's morning, here. A good time to scout around. Chol, you stay, get your arm bandaged. Leave the horses harnessed, in case we need to move in a hurry. Gotu?" He eye the man still in the wagon. "Are you well enough to drive?"

The man perked up. "Yes, Pente."

The stepfather jerked around and frowned at the title. Commander of five. Heh. Only if you counted the stepfather. He winced. I'll probably never see the Imperial Guard again.

"Good. Come up here, and be ready. Mother, keep your eyes open for anything dangerous." Keep her thinking she could be in danger and she might do a few less things stupidly. He took a quick look at Gotu's leg. Nasty cut into the thigh. "Lucky it missed the big arteries on the inside." It was well wrapped. He waved a healing spell on it, and another to dull the pain. Gotu relaxed in relief, and he helped him get up to the driver's bench without tearing the wound open.

Yainni moaned himself awake, and climbed down from the wagon.

“Want to take a little run?”

 
 
matapam
16 June 2018 @ 02:47 pm

So while I'm bashing _External Relations into shape, I'll dig deep and see if I can find anything I haven't snippeted before. Have you seen this one? It's vaguely connected to the Zombie story.

Gates of Hel


Adrasos ran up the steps and burst through the entrance.

"What have you done?" His voice was tight with rage, he was nearly shaking with fury.

His stepfather looked up with a sneer. "Something that took more nerve than you'll ever have you pathetic little tin soldier." He had the sapphire pectoral on the table before him, defiling the God's jewelry with his soft manicured hands. "Get out. Yainni, throw him out."

Poor Yainni hesitated. Not as dumb as he used to be, he understood how his residency here depended on the old man's charity, and the old man doted on his clever son-in-law. Adrasos turned and stalked past Yainni and the big man followed in his wake. No small coat in the hallway. Peep isn’t home. Adrasos walked back out the big double doors. Magnificent, once, flaking paint and warped, now. Adrasos stepped to the side and sank down on the stone step. There were a few things he could do to minimize the horrors that were about to happen.

Starting with Yainni.


He pull out his coin bag and dumped part of it into his hand, held it out to the looming hulk. Poor Yainni. Not a mean bone in his oversized body. The Imperial Guards would see only a threat, to be dealt with as permanently and quickly as possible. "Wine. I'm going to need a whole lot of wine to drown this. Go down to Michan's they're cheaper. Get as much red wine as that will buy."

The big man took it, and trotted happily away. It was his kind of errand.

Stomp and thud behind him.

"Hello Grandfather."

"Boy, you should be learning things from that man, not fighting with him all the time. He's the cleverest thief in all of Minos. He'll bring our family back into money and social prominence."

"Better that Mother had never laid eyes on him."

His mother's father reached out and slapped him.

"You think because the God King favors you, you're anything but a fancy dressed version of our household guards?"

"He seduced the dowager queen and stole her jewelry. For that he has condemned the entire household."

"Only if you talk, boy!"

Adrasos looked at him in disbelief. "How do you think I know! The dowager queen went to her former husband and confessed her sin, and then mentioned the missing jewelry. I was on duty, and slipped out, hoping it was some other slick con artist who had wormed his way into her boudoir." He looked around a heaved a sigh of relief. Parthenope trotted around the side of the house. His youngest sister. Half sister. He wished she didn't look so much like the pretty boy seducer.

"Dras! You're home! Why? Look I got some flowers for Mama."

"Peep, your papa's done something really bad, and  . . . "

Time had run out. The Ekasi had given him a few minutes to remove the littlest and most innocent. With her beside him, the guards were moving in.

He knocked his grandfather flat, grabbed his collar, grabbed Peep's arm and hauled them down the steps and to the side. The guards charged in. Yainni had not even shut the doors, let alone locked or barred them. Screams and crashes rose behind him. His grandfather started cursing as well, as he was dragged further away from his ancestral home. Peep was wiggling and trying to twist away, Adrasos couldn't deal with them both. He heaved the furious and flailing old man into the arms of his cronies, crowding up to see the excitement. He picked Peep up and carried her down the street, down to the little plaza where they couldn't hear the screams.

She was red faced and shrieking by then. "Let me go! What are they doing to Mama! What are they doing?"

"Your papa stole something he shouldn't have. The God King is very angry." Adrasos looked around at the heavy footsteps. Gestured, even though Yanni could hear now. "Sit down Yainni. Have some of that wine."

The big man had been a servant of the house since he was abandoned as a child, no doubt when his parents finally realized their strapping big boy was deaf, dumb, and lacking in wits. Adrasos's earliest memories included the teenaged Yainni, following him everywhere, sharing in his wonder over the discovery of caterpillars and bird nests. He was smarter than he’d been before the Great Overlap, he could hear and speak, now. But he was also . . . different. And he still had no head for wine. He would be snoring on the bench shortly. Perhaps, just perhaps, he would escape the retribution.


Peep wrenched her arm away, tears running down her face. "Why didn't you save Mama?"

"Because she is old enough to know right from wrong, and chose to do wrong."

"But it was Papa that did it."

"She knew. Not that it matters. The whole household will be punished. I had permission to remove you, if I could do it without warning them."

"You knew! You . . . you're part of the raid!"

He grabbed the back of her tunic as she rose. "Yes."

 "But what about Hecuba and Despoina?" She sat back down suddenly. "Adrasos, Adelphie was there, visiting Mama."

He closed his eyes in pain. His other sister, married just a few weeks ago. He took the jug from Yainni and took a swallow. Yainni rolled backwards off the bench, onto the dirt. Adrasos set the jug beside him and stood up.

"Well, let's get the bad news." He could hear the marching feet, getting closer. The crowds were getting quieter.


"I can't look." Peep hid her face against him. He looked between spectators and saw all the household guards on their feet. The stepfather's hirelings had been more for show than actual ability. Paid in room, board and a bit of coin, they'd been swept up with the rest. They looked a bit roughed up.  Gennadios himself was wobbling all over, his pretty face bleeding.
The women of the household were clumped. His mama, Adelphie, the Cook Hecuba and the maid Despoina. Three other women he didn't recognize, probably whores the guards had brought in. The women were all roughed up to, but not in the way of the men. As quick as the raid had been, Adrasos tried to tell himself they probably hadn't been raped.


More than once or twice. Several of the guards didn't think a raid well conducted unless the women had been tainted. Others didn't think women had any magic, and thus couldn't have it taken away. The more educated knew raping women didn’t do anything to their power directly, however much their distressed emotions made its usage problematical for a while after. But they wouldn't have bothered arguing with the ones who did believe.

The Ekasi—Commander of a hundred—caught his eye and gestured.

"Right. Come on Peep. Let's see what's going to happen now."

She grabbed his hand and clung, and they followed behind the prisoners amidst the curious crowd. At the gates of the Imperial Courts building, the crowd slowed and clustered. Adrasos wormed through and led Peep up the steps.

Heliodoros ascended to the bench as he walked in. Grandson of the God King, his father the second son, his uncle the former husband of the straying former queen. He surveyed the scruffy collection, ending with a long look at Gennadios, who was trying to clean his face around a broken nose. Did he think his pretty face could sway a God? Not that there weren't plenty of rumors about the Gods and what they did and did not do
.

"You are charged with Treason against the Gods. You are charged with Theft. What is the evidence, Ekasi?"

The Ekasi stepped forward and produced the pectoral. The sapphires shown coldly on the cloth.

For this eleven lives are forfeit. Thirteen if Yainni and Grandfather don't use their heads. Fifteen if the Gods think I took advantage of the situation.


Heliodoros flicked a glance his direction. Adrasos paled and tried to stop thinking.

"Do you have anything to say in your defense?"

Gennadios staggered forward a step. "But, she's been discarded. She isn't the wife of a god anymore. She gave me the gems, they were hers."

"Once touched by divinity, a queen is never open prey for another. Occasionally she may receive permission to marry a mortal, but you are already wed. And the jewelry was not a gift."

He picked up a paper and dripped a bit of blood on the bottom of it. "For this crime the household of Gennadios is sentenced to death."

He let the silence hang for a long moment. "However, in view of the extreme service rendered to the Gods by a son of the household, the sentence is placed in abeyance. The household will be ejected through the Gate of Hel, never to return, on pain of death. Take them to the Gate."


The soldiers muscled the stunned people away. Adrasos wiped his eyes and walked toward the podium.

Heliodoros stepped down and met him halfway.


"Brother-in-half, Comrade. Of course I could not kill your family, not even him. Will you go with them?"

"Yes." Adrasos could barely force the words past his tight throat.

"You'd better get busy, then. You only have until sundown. And Adrasos? You and your little sister here may return. If you can. Perhaps you'll come back some day and tell me what lies on the other side."

 
 
matapam
13 June 2018 @ 08:41 am

Chapter Two

10 February 3523 ce

Granite Peak

Jack Hemmingway had everything he wanted out of life except lots of money. And he had a . . . job that just might lead to something big. If he played it right.

“You! Hemmingway!”

Oh God. The Rabid Bitch. Thank god she lost the election. Twice. Even Granite Peak doesn’t deserve a governor like her.

Joyce Hall disagreed. And the old lady was still holding a grudge about it. She stalked up. Lean, mean, and moving easily. Not as old as her gray hair made her look. Lady ought to have dyed her hair.

“There’s been natives sighted around the outlying farms.”

Jack sighed. “It’s been three years since some over-exuberant young men stole any livestock. And right now, politically, this would be the worst possible time for an incident.”

“You can kiss Disco’s ass all you want, you’re just hired muscle. But we’ve got homes here.”

Jack sighed. “I’ll have the boys patrol out a bit wider.”

Granite Peak. We even call it by the Oner’s name now. On contracts it’s still Chelsea Company 15. On the original colony sales pitch it was Serene Plantation. Sounds like a generic suburb in some back-water old-american south. Fitting, really, the way we treat Natives.

Of course, here, we had to import people who had some sort of work ethic. No amount of money could get one of the horse nomads into a mine shaft.

Pity we didn’t just turn and walk away when we discovered the Empire of the One had discovered this world and colonized it over fifty years before we found it.

“See that you do!” The old lady’s eyes snapped.

Jack pulled out his comm. “Nate? Shift the patrols out further, and run a few extra.”

On the other end of the line, his second in command—for all intents and purposes the man in charge here—sighed. “Hall again?”

“Yep.”

Sigh. “Right. Enjoy your escape, Boss. See you in a week.”

“Unless there are complications.” Just hiring some specialized help.

And I hope like hell there aren’t any complications here. Like the guys on patrol getting too pushy-friendly. But Ferris knows who the problem boys are.

Jack clicked off and nodded politely to the not-governor. “That’ll give any . . . light-fingered natives something to make them a bit more cautious.” A polite nod and he put his gyp back in gear. Resisted the urge to gun it and leave the old pest in a cloud of dust.

Sometimes I hate being the good guy. There are days when hoisting the skull and cross bones is so tempting. And this simple hire . . . could be an opportunity.

If I dare.

There were two dimensional gates on the low bare hill. The metal arch marked the gate to Earth, dark now in their night time.

Usually the first gate touches down within a thousand miles or so of the same place on the parallel earth. This must be one of the outliers, nearly halfway around the world from Nowhereistan.

The other dimensional gate, the stone arch, showed daylight. Only an hour off from Disco Time. Embassy World. An Empty World where all the dimensionally able worlds could build an embassy and talk to the other worlds.

In theory.

Disco—the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation—kept inviting any inhabited world they encountered to come join the fun. Whether they had the ability to make gates or not. Disco’d be happy to make gates for them.

Earth and the Empire of the One could make their own gates. With huge, complex machinery, eating up electricity in terrifyingly—expensive—amounts to hold a gate open for a few minutes. These permanent gates . . . “A natural dimensional phenomenon that we can use for our own purposes” they said. “Like a sailboat uses the wind, instead of steam or diesel engines to get you where you want to go.”

Fine for them. Only Comet Fall, of all the Worlds, seems to have the “right” kind of magic to make them. Good thing the Ones can’t.

The view through the gate was clear, so he drove through, coming out facing a street and a . He eased out into the street—as usual, pretty empty—and turned left, away from the big black cubic building of Disco Headquarters. Right would have been quicker, but he didn’t particularly want to drive in front of the Earth’s embassy.

Nosey bastards. Always keeping track of people. Especially their own citizens.

So a bit more than halfway around the plaza, he turned again, looking carefully before driving through another gate. This Earth—most people called it Bogata Nuke, because that was the splitting point—was locally famous for having been a target of a cross-dimensional criminal gang.

Jack was known here, came through two or three times a month to check the small private security firm he had here. Mostly to escort freight through to other worlds. His staff here stayed up-to-date on import-export regulations and easily half their work was just making sure the right paperwork was with each shipment. And not infrequently providing drivers as well as security.

So he parked where they pointed, popped his trunk and hood, rolled down the windows and nodded to the customs people. Three out of four he knew by name.

“Hey Jack.” Officer Hicks bent and glanced at the empty ute. “Any more issues with the convoy last week?”

“Eh. Assholes being assholes. I thought they released all the trucks to return.”

“Yeah, they came back an hour ago. Grumpy as all hell.”

Jack nodded. “There are days when I hate my own government. And days when I wonder why anyone does any business with them.” Note to self, send more polite guards along!

“Heh. No kidding.” Hicks stepped back as his underlings closed the hood and trunk, and waved him on. “See ya next time.”

Then he drove through the growing sprawl around the gate—what’s it been ten years that this world’s been in contact with the multiverse? He followed the signs, they’d gotten the highway interchange open since the last time he’d been through, and headed south for the old city. His man, a local who . . . was an expert at expediting . . . things without troublesome paperwork, had arranged a meeting with the woman he was hoping to hire.

He followed the directions he’d been given, parked where he’d been told to park and walked from there. His clothes fit in, he subdued his dominant body language and no one gave him a second glance. A cheap auto café. He got a cup of coffee and spotted his expediter.

He was sitting at a small table, with a blonde woman. He stood up when he spotted Jack, said something to the woman and walked away.

Jack slid into the chair and eyed the blonde woman. Young enough to call a girl.

A Comet Fall Witch, just released from prison, working a menial job on a foreign world.

Arrow Albdaut. The youngest of the witches jailed here, and so far, the only one released.

"You don't want to be here, you want to find your friends. Good. Because I want to find them too. Not to hurt them. To hire them. So I figured I should start with you. I'm what most people call a mercenary. I hire myself and my people out for various duties, generally involving protecting them from Bad Guys." He couldn't read her emotions, her eyes were opaque, her lips pressed thin.

"Now, you and you buddies are Bad Guys, but generally you just steal things—you aren't in the business of killing people. Some of your guys get carried away, now and then—the robbery at the Senator's manse was funnier than hell."

Her brows lowered.

He shifted. Damn it, what is she thinking? "But what I really want is a World all my own, with a Gate or three to go shopping, to pick up a job here or there. So I need a magical person. You've got two problems, from what I've read. This Chain thing." He leaned forward and touched it. She didn't flinch. "And some genetic changes. Where can you go to get these fixed?"

Still no reaction.

"I've been exploring through some of the backwards, behind times, Earths. Some of your former buddies like them, for their raids. All connected to what they call the Maze, on Embassy. Lots of people explore them, some people do science on them.

“I found a back route to Comet Fall."

She straightened at that. A spark lit in her eyes. "On Comet Fall I can fix the genes. For the Chain—I just need to meet the right person."

"I figured we'd better hurry, in case your friends decided to take down the Gate." He held out a blue uniform jacket with his company log on it, like the one he was wearing.

She stood up and reached for the jacket. "Right. Let's go."

He had, among his staff, three tall blonde women. In the company jacket, Arrow didn't get a second glance as he barely slowed before being waved through.

They worry more about the people arriving, and what they might bring with them. They don’t care who leaves.

 
 
matapam
12 June 2018 @ 09:44 am

/// Probably need a section describing the Oner’s fort under construction and Jack bringing in supplies and ammunition. Arrow making a well and fixing the plumbing? Jack looking at the barred windows on one “barracks” building.

“Are you keeping people in or out? I don’t think kidnapping people is a good idea.”

A sneer from one of the passing Oners. “Softy. They aren’t mad enough about a few missing cows.”

Jack grit his teeth. They’re going to get us all killed.///

***

Jack climbed out of the truck with a curse, stretching his back. A Oner stomped out of the officer's quarters. Iqne, one of their action team leaders. Arrogant son of a bitch, they think they'll be the leaders, because of their damned magic. Sooner or later we'll find out if Arrow is stronger than they are, or not.

"Driving yourself?" the Oner sneered at Jack, leered at Arrow as she got down.

But kept his hands to himself. She’d only had to stun two more, over the last two months.

Iqne looked back at Jack. "I never thought I'd see you without your armored gyp."

"Bad trip, two flats on each vehicle." Jack shrugged, trying for indifference. "And only one spare on the gyp. Someone borrowed the other. I left the lads to deal with it."

"Ha!" The Oner turned and eyed the very few people around. "Ubso, get the forklift. Two pallets of canned and dried goods, one pallet of ammo. We'll be ready." He eyed Arrow. "If you can close the gates."

She smiled smugly. "I can. I’ll close to gate to Earth and the gate from Earth Town to Embassy. Then I'll close to gate to One World. Then we'll just see if we also need to close that gate to Embassy, or if we can negotiate our independence."

Iqne curled a lip. "Disco is owned heart and soul by Comet Fall." He shifted away to give the forklift space to get to the end pallet. "Everyone else there is just an employee. You really think that wizard let's Hackathorne make policy decisions?"

Arrow laughed. "Finally, some one who sees the truth. But if they play by their own rules we may have a chance. After all, we're sticking it to both Earth and Empire. We can pull this off."

The fork lift returned for the second pallet of food.

Arrow pulled four stones out of her pocket. “And I have a better way to get from Jack’s HQ to yours.” She stepped over to a bench, and set the stones down. Switched them around until she had them in the right shape. “This is one end of a gate. As you can see, the other end is a mile away from the Earthers two gates.”

Indeed, the “picture” showing through the rectangle of the rocks was of the roads up the hill to the two arches of the gates. Well separated. One dark in the daylight, one bright with arid desert tan.

“Take these with you. When it’s time, open them, stick them up on any outside wall and we’ll drive through . . . although it might be better if we walked through, inside.” She shrugged. “Your choice. We’ll look before we drive through.”

The fork lift snagged the last pallet and trundled off to the other warehouse.

A couple of figures climbed into the truck cab and shifted it forward, out of the way . . . kept going . . . Jack turned and frowned. "Hey! Don’t put it in the motor pool, we’ll need it in . . .”

It cruised past the solidly parked area . . .

“What are they doing with my truck?" He raised his voice. "Hey, close the gate, don't let them . . . Shit! Iqne, check the prisoners, I think a couple are escaping."

Half the vehicles here were company property and would start for his implanted ID. Why the hell did I leave the truck running? He bolted across to an armored transport. If that's just some idiots taking a joy ride, they're going to regret it. Because prisoners escaping right now would be bad PR. Fatal, in fact.

Iqne was standing, looking unfocused. The Action Teamers burst out of the barracks, half undressed, fumbling into clothes with weapons slung over their backs. They headed for the Oner vehicles.

Iqne snapped back into the present. Grinned. "Looks like the revolution is on, boys and girls. I'll call Arry and let him know, call the guard posts and tell the boys to head for Cough. You get your witch to Cough Town and close the gates." His grin widened. "We'll clean up this little escape and be right on your heels.

Jack scowled. “If we don’t catch them by the river, I’ll take Arrow back to [name of Earth’s town] and in position to take down those two gates. When you get to Cough Town, open the corridor. We’ll close our gates then come close yours.”