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matapam
17 September 2018 @ 10:32 am

Chapter Three

A Nice Village Inn

Rael rode down to the Inn in the moonlight, the fat gibbous moon rising over the mountains as she turned away from the winery.

Xen had managed to eat all his alfredo before he fell asleep, head on the table, and been manhandled up the stairs.

His father is not the least bit scary, and his mother's nice, in a rather logical fashion. Much like Q. The whole family is so competent it's . . . the way they just do things, like there's nothing the least bit extraordinary about it . . . it's humbling.

"The Gods of War, and the witch who invented the permanent dimensional gates. One!"

Carousel swiveled an ear to show that she was listening.

"I mean, I knew all these powerful people lived here. I just didn't expect them to be such nice . . . ordinary parents."

:: His horse is nice too. :: A big sigh. :: Pyrite. He's sort of a stallion. He said it's a spell, so he doesn't act like an idiot all time. Maybe next month, when I'm in the mood again, I can persuade him to take the spell off. ::

:: Sure! ::

Rael spotted the dark horse off to the side. "Hi, Pyrite. I figured you be here. Did you get burned? ::

Irritation. :: No. He said it was a world with cars, and I'd keep him from blending in. ::

"Sounds like he didn’t do much blending in himself. "

A snort of agreement, then the big horse faded back into the night.

Rael turned off the path and into the brick courtyard between the Inn and the stables behind it. The mare's iron shod hoof clopped solidly and a thin figured popped out of the barn.

Light bloomed as he . . . no, she, lit a lantern.

"Wow, so you're Xen's girlfriend? That's totally awesome. He just runs from most of the witches." Brown hair, blue eyes.

Must be related to Xen.

Rael swung off the mare and the girl took Carousel's reins to lead her toward the stables.

"Rustle said you'd be staying for several days? Whenever you want your horse, just send one of the brats, excuse me, younger witches who are working here, out to the barn and I'll have her all saddled up and ready to go quick as anything."

"Thank you, umm . . ."

"Mink."

"Mink. I'm Rael, but I guess everyone knows that."

"Oh yeah." The girl grinned. "You wouldn't believe the reputation you have here."

The door in the Inn's back wall banged open.

"Is this her? The Oner who tried to kill Xen?" A girl with long blonde hair, looking younger than Mink.

"Oooo! It is!" An even younger redhead.

Mink snorted. "These are the brats I mentioned. Urial's the blonde one, Dogwood's the redhead. Don't mind them, they're only eleven years old."

"I'm twelve! Doggy's eleven, and you're only thirteen, Minkie Stinkie!"

Rael cleared her throat. "So . . . are you guys all witches?"

A chorus of agreement, with Urial chiming in, "Of course none of us have grasped power yet."

"Shhh! She doesn't need to know that."

Rael grabbed her saddle bags, and let the younger pair lead her off toward the Inn.

They started pointing. "That's the privy."

Oh One! No bathrooms inside!

"And that's the bath house."

Private or communal? Eep!    

Dogwood giggled. "Xen's told us about how Oner's live. Eww! How can you brush you teeth with the toilet right there?"

"Ha!" Urial reached for the door handle. "Remember when Uncle Xen made that big Granite building? He said he was doing like a Oner hotel, so it was nice and compact."

“Yeah, yuck!”

“Umm,” Rael eyed the Blonde girl. “He’s your Uncle?”

“Oh . . . it’s a little more complicated than that. The Auld Wulf is my great grandfather.” She laughed suddenly. “And Mink is—technically—Xen’s aunt.”

Dogwood shook her head. “I don't think so, I think they're some sort of cousins. I am so glad I’m am not in that ridiculous tangle of relationships.”

“Ha! Like the Karista Pyramid is so . . . ordinary?”

Rael eyed the girls and wondering if she should stay out of or break up the incipient fist fight when the Inn door opened, silhouetting a tall figure.

“Girls?” In frosty tones.

The girls dropped all aggressive body language instantly.

Urial cleared her throat. “We were just showing that Oner person where things are.”

“Rael! Call her Rael!” Dogwood hissed. “Be polite!”

“Ah yes. The Killer Princess. Do come in.” The figure stepped back, and in the interior light turned into a woman, mature, but not even close to old. A slender blonde. Confident and cool, as she looked Rael over.

“I’m Particular.”

What? Oh, those witch names . . .

“Here’s the key to your room.” Particular gestured up the stairs and pointed. “North wing, first on the left.”

“Thank you.”

“You might want to take a bath. You look and smell like you’ve been traveling for days.” The witch strolled away, not even waiting for a response.

Rael giggled, feeling her lips pulling back into a grin.

“You think that’s funny?” Urial looked horrified.

“Oh yes. I know all about Mean Girl verbal battles.. I suppose she’s a relative, too?”

“Let’s see . . . I think it’s called first cousins once removed? Yeah, her mother is my grandmother’s sister.”

“I’m going to need a chart. And . . . she’s right about the bath.”

The privy had flushing toilets, the three bath tubs each had its own tiny cubby with a bolt on the door. And hot pipes. It felt so good after three days on the road. She was seriously pruney when she dragged herself out.

She walked back into the Inn, dirty clothes and damp towel over her arm.

Dogwood and Urial were chatting with two familiar witches. Demioselle and Egret, fortunately two of the nice witches she'd worked with three///years ago.

They spotted her and waved her over.

"Long time, no see, Rael." Demoiselle had dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, and a deep tanned skin. Along with the good looks and height that in the Empire would have immediately had her recognized as a High Oner.

"Yes, and luckily I'm here for a one person disaster, not a . . ."

"Multiworld mass murdering world." Egret was another elegant brunette, not so dark, and with bright blue eyes.

"Yeah. Although I've got to wonder about these cyborgs Xen encountered."

"I want to see them!" Urial bounced on her toes, then nodded at the bundle under Rael's arm. "Laundry service?"

"Yes, please." Rael surrendered her bundle, and sat at Demi's invitational wave.

"So, how's Xen? Was he finally awake?"

"Barely awake, for maybe twenty minutes. It looks like the remaining damage is mostly superficial. I've never heard of these cyborgs before, but Xen says he was investigating a powered gate. I wonder if the cyborgs were making the gate—or if Earth or the One was. Darn. I can see that I'll be writing another report."

Egret nodded. "We don't need aggressive neighbors."

A snort from Particular as she delivered a teapot and three cups. "If that idiot stopped bringing us to the attention of aggressive polities, we wouldn't wind up in wars with them." She looked down on Rael. "Simply destroying the Empire's and the Earth's gate mechanisms every time they touched us would have kept us safe."  

"And left us helpless in the path of the Helios. We do recognize that you saved us."

Sniff. "After you attacked us. And letting you come here? An agent of President Orde!"

Rael blinked. "These wretched names of ours—we've had two President Ordes in a row. The first was the man responsible for the attack. I was part of the One's efforts to remove him from office. The current Orde is doing his best to keep the peace."

Rael looked down at her cup as Demi poured. "Not that that damned War Party has quit."

Dubious looks from a number of directions.

"I am, as you point out, an agent of the Empire of the One. I . . . do not get to pick and choose which orders I carry out . . ." Mostly. Almost always. "Well, if I can, which rather obviously I sometimes can't."

A number of glares were aimed her way.

And from a dark corner, a dry old voice. "Pity."

Eyes widened, and bodies shifted a bit away from Rael. No one protested that single word.

The soft scrape of a chair, then a thin woman stepped out into the lantern light. Ancient. Powerful. Straight and moving easily despite her obvious age.

Rael stood up quickly as the old witch strolled out to look Rael up and down.

"I am Answer." Her blue eyes flicked to the other witches. "Bring her to the hotsprings tomorrow."

 
 
matapam
17 September 2018 @ 07:37 pm

I really hate finding a professional who can do it so much better than I can!!!!