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04 October 2015 @ 05:37 am
_Gods and Princesses_ part 5  
 

Arzo Withione took his gaze away from the scenery and focused on his team. He was still furious over the unasked for expansion of his Team. Three more people unbalanced what used to be a straightforward Full Circle. Eleven people just didn't work. Especially when two were women. And the Director was threatening to send through a bunch of the support staff, as well.

I am not here to train prospective field agents!

He paced over to the door and looked out on what could best be described as a picturesque medieval town.

The streets were paved. Under a few inches of sloppy mud. The drainage system could have done with a bit more surveying and planning than had actually been applied. Not to mention, maintenance. Something down stream was plugged up. Again.

As with most Early Industrial societies, it had been easy enough to wiggle their way in. They’d sold some iron bars for staring funds. Then set up as a gentleman with rental properties. Of course, this being an almost medieval society, half his rents were paid in livestock. With a little sleight of hand he was managing for no one to notice that half the animals he sold appeared out of nowhere, and the other half his ‘collections agents’ were buying and driving into town to keep up appearances.

"Nephews, you know, not good for anything else," he told his new neighbors, who nodded wisely and probably wished they had a few young men to order around.

Seven other people had been hard enough to explain, and to be rich enough to support. Ten, two of them good looking women, was beyond ordinarily well off, and edging into really, seriously rich enough to get noticed territory.

Arzo was an experienced team leader. Opby, Afdw,Ahlu and Izxu were a nice low key small action team. Ifta, Ohmu and Wgki an experienced info team. The eight of them could co-ordinate into a large circle at need.

Adding three lab techs was bad. At least he could pretend the women were cook and laundress. However much that skated the edges of ‘rich enough to get noticed.’ But Ekqi was just simply clueless. He was going to get them all killed, wandering off to collect samples, and lecturing the locals about hygiene.

"If Ajha sends some comfort staff and Princesses through, I will quit. Q.U.I.T."

Ekqi, AKA Horse, stuck his head out the door. "Who? Quit? I knew a woman named that in college. Utterly worthless. Refuse her. Honest."

Arzo leaned his head against the porch rail and wondered how much trouble he be in if Horse just sort of . . . disappeared. He had four men who’d already volunteered to do the wet work.


***

Arzo frowned at the men ahead of him. They weren’t dressed like locals, they held themselves apart and they were looking at the women around them like a housewife looks at vegetables.

"Hey, they’re from Comet Fall."

Arzo jumped, and turned to glare at Horse, who’d not only snuck up on him, but had also spoken much too loudly.

"Don’t say things like that out loud." His own voice was a threatening growl.

"What?" Horse looked blankly at him, then back at the odd men, all of whom were walking their direction, their eyes on the Oners. "See? They’ve got glow, but they’re a bit soft underneath." Still in that irritating, carrying voice.

"And I should have sent you home within five minutes of meeting you." Arzo crossed his arms and frowned as the eight men stopped, their leader in front of Arzo, the rest in a compact circle behind him. Eight. In a circle. One, I’m in trouble now. "Good morning gentlemen."

"Your friend has a loud mouth. Now, we don’t much care, but you lot look like you’ve settled in for the long haul. So you don’t want to jeopardize your fitting in." The Comet Fall mage looked him over. "So tell me, if I wanted to buy a dozen slave girls, where would I go?"

Horse gawped.

Arzo shook his head. "Slavery is not legal here. Although the legal status of women is lousy. I didn’t think Comet Fall went in for slavery either."

"I really hate that name. We’re Exile. Everyone used to know that."

Arzo blinked. "Really? This is the first I’ve heard of it."

"Hey, are these guys some of Rior’s criminal gang?" Horse’s voice turned heads all around them.

"Shut up, Ekqi. That is an order." Arzo kept his own voice down with an effort.

"Oh, I’d like to hear what he has to say, myself." The mage to the right of the leader broke the circle to step around Arzo and confront Ekqi. "What did he call you? Eqqui? Like Latin for horse? Where are you from?"

The idiot opened his mouth to reply, and Arzo hit him.

The sucker punch to the diaphragm doubled Ekqi over and knocked the wind out of him. The mage turned and punched at Arzo, who ducked, and then was tackled by the leader. Ekqi was no help at all. At eight to one the fight would have been over quickly if they hadn’t bumped the vegetable stand and brought in a family to defend their property, and . . .

Somewhere under the cursing fray, Arzo crawled for daylight. He got out of the mess, stood up and tried to spot Horse. Tempting though it was to abandon the idiot. Arzo turned to look for a route out of the market, and found himself face to face with a city guard. An officer. With a dozen men behind him.

"Crap."

The officer smiled.

"Er, I could snag my idiot nephew and leave?"

"No. I don’t think so."

***


The Captain of the Guard didn’t take them to the magistrate.

He took them to the King.

The King was a fat man, lolling about in silks, and looking petulant. Fortunately his displeasure was aimed at his "Court Magician" not the scruffed up and limping combatants.

The Magician limped forward and studied them all. He was scarred and one arm was obviously weak, the muscles wasted away. His jerky movement looked to be more a matter of partial paralysis than any obvious deformity of his legs. His hair was silver, with a touch of gold. His eyes molten metallic gold, the right side of his face scared, the ear missing. He interrupted a whining complaint from the King. "Those two are from the One World. Your former allies. The mage compass, now they are very interesting. Very out of place. I thought you died a thousand years ago, at Comet Fall, Archmage Marcus Olson."

The leader of the mages frowned back at the lame, scarred figure, and suddenly paled. "Pax? What happened to you? Art bubbled us all, we only escaped a couple of years ago. And ran afoul of some absurd laws."

"There was a second comet strike expected. I decided to leave with the Amma of Auralia, here. The Gate exploded behind us. A Earth gate. There was a great deal of shrapnel, if I were a mere human, I would have died. As it is, I have a fair amount of nerve damage. How did you get here? Is there a new Gate? Earth’s or the One’s?"

The Archmage jerked his head at Arzo. "The Oners may have a gate. But we have our own. Made by a Comet Fall witch, they’re much better than powered gates." His smile broadened. "And I’m sure they’d be glad to take you anywhere you’d like to go. They’re criminals, you see. And best of all, they have the Wine of the Gods."

"The . . . that hodgepodge repair with fertility and aphrodisiac spells on top?" The scared Pax smiled. "I do believe I could give it a try. But at what cost, Archmage?"

The man flapped his arms in irritation. "Wives. We’re on the run with nothing but those damned witches. We need some nice, quiet, obedient women."

Pax chuckled. "I happen to know where to find some of those."

The Amma stiffened. "Not my daughters!"

"Not too many of them." Pax didn’t seem impressed by the Amma’s ire. "Inbreeding is such a problem. Eight women?"

"Fifteen. I’m one man short of two full compasses. And perhaps some extra women as well, there are other men in our group."

"Hang on, are you saying that this is a former Earth Colony?" It was Arzo’s turn to gawp.

"Mining world. All those natives you’ve been studying are mixtures of mineworkers and slaves that were marooned when we blew up the gate mechanism."

"One! That was a beautiful move. Kept Earth all locked up for almost two years. And they still haven’t found this place? Brilliant!" Arzo could feel the grin on his face. "Umm, weren't there some Oners along, as well?"

Pax eyed him. "Do you think we’d welcome Oner overlords? Guess again. Ygti took his people off somewhere south of here. If you can find them, feel free to haul them away. But don't even think about taking over this world."

Arzo was shaking his head. "No. This is an inhabited world, we can trade, but we can’t colonize. New rules, you see? The Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation won’t let anyone attack anyone."

The leader – Archmage Marcus – nodded. "Or you could trade with us and through us. The Multiverse is getting much more complex, there are two separate criminal organizations with Gate-making abilities. We’ve joined with Rior’s Gang. There’s a smuggler’s operation that actually operates out of Comet Fall – those idiots have renamed our World to keep clear whose talking about what world." He nodded to Pax. "Some of Rior’s early people went straight – but they still explore, mostly for the fun of it. Then the three Worlds are all still exploring, plus the Disco people keep surveying, and selling off Empty Worlds to keep wars from springing up over minerals and so forth."

"Seven groups, eh?" Pax paced, uneven, crooked, ugly, but still drawing the eye with some odd depth to his personality. "The potential is irresistible."

The Amma growled. "I will decide. And I will decide about my daughters."

Pax turned and stared at him.

The Amma sat back with a friendly smile. Wiped a bit of drool away with the back of his hand. His eyes weren’t quite tracking evenly, crossing and unfocused. "Of course, of course. You must dine with me privately and meet my daughters." He waved to some of the nearly naked servants hovering about and heaved himself forward and staggered to his feet.

The Archmage leaped to steady him. "We are honored, Excellency."

The servants scampered off. The guards looked uncertain.

Arzo bit his lip, and followed the Amma. The baffled guards remained behind.

Somewhere in the fight, Ekqi had either been hit so hard he couldn’t speak, or perhaps some common sense had been driven into his skull. He was pale and silent, and remained that way as they wound through what had to be original Earth construction. No one else left soulless concrete bare to do the duty of interior wall texture.

The Amma’s people had redecorated to the best of their ability. Thirty-five years ago. The silk hangings covering the concrete of the dining hall were a bit dingy and faded, coarser stuff behind it was died in bright primary colors.

They should have brought a lot more people. Craftsmen. Artists. They’ve failed to maintain even the Amma’s level of technology.         

The servants scrambled back into sight, laying out a minor feast on the table, then disappearing again, closing the peeling laminated doors closed behind them.

At that signal, women flooded into the room. Dressed to cover the essentials and allow alluring glimpses of the rest. Glittering and chiming. The Amma’s women had brought all their jewelry with them, and that hadn’t faded a bit.

With their scarves and veils, Arzo was hard put to keep track of them. Eyes demurely lowered and trained graceful, dance-like movements hid individuality. He was reduced to thinking of the two who were concentrating on him as Red Scarf and Tons of Sapphires.

They giggled as they poured a pale dry wine, and served him tidbits that burned his palate with strange spices, breads, cheeses, a soufflé, then switched to a red wine for beef that gave his jaws a work out topped with mushrooms fried in butter, creamed vegetables, and finished with berry ice cream and a sweet white wine. Then brandy.

Arzo rather muzzily concluded that the Amma had brought cooks and vintners in large numbers.

He listened through a drunken stupor while the Amma, speaking an argot of mostly Arabic, consulted with some of the anonymous women and matched the Mages up with a couple of women each. Buying brides. Except that Pax seems to be giving them away free. Red Scarf and Tons of Sapphires helped him stand, and supported him while the Amma gave a long winded speech about how the mages had best treat his daughters well, pronounced them all married, and waved them grandly off.

Red and Tons supported his staggering steps back through the maze of the "palace" and back into the streets.

How did I manage to miss the Amma at the top? Everyone just talked about "The Lord" and I never asked. Subdirector Ajha, One help me, the former Prophet, is going to chew my ass when I tell him that.

He was still imagining the reaming he was in for when the girls steered him through a Comet Fall style gate and face-to-face with the most notorious rebel in the history of the Empire of the One.

Princess Rior. Strong even for a princess, sent by the One to marry the Amma and manipulate him.

No one quite knew what had happened. The Amma had executed the Oner general who was training his army in modern weaponry, and abused the ambassador. Rior and her female entourage had disappeared.

Almost eighty years later, Rior had reappeared as the leader of a brutally violent gang of interdimensional thieves and assassins. Morphed into a male, genetically engineered to add the Comet Fall power genes.

"One! We are in so much trouble." Arzo leaned on Tons and looked back at Ekqi. "Don’t tell them where we’re from."

And drunk, he’d been too loud. Rior focused on him. "Action Team?"

"Info, well, Exploration, now." Arzo sighed. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. "They disbanded all the Action Teams. Well, the ones that didn’t get executed for treason."

"I see we’re going to have to talk. Archmage, I see you’ve found what you needed. Why don’t you go introduce your new pets to your colleagues?" Rior strolled forward then, to walk around Pax. "Well, well, how the mighty are fallen. Why don’t I introduce you to some witches from Comet Fall. They don’t know you so they’ll probably not kill you."

Pax snorted. "Witches. Sex obsessed and snooty." He hobbled after the man.

Arzo looked around. They were standing on a circular rock surface set into a rough, untended grassy slope. A road led slightly uphill, where he could see the roofs of houses beyond trees. To his left, there were three other stone plazas. Other gates? Something to look into later. For now, he followed the others, still supported by Tons of Sapphires and Red Scarf.

"I think I’m sober enough now to walk on my own. Do you girls need to get home?"

Tons beamed at him. "Is your house up there, husband?"

"Wha . . . ? Oh, no it was just those Mages getting married . . ."

Their heads were shaking.

Red Scarf beamed. "Father married us to you. Do you have other wives?"

Tons looked hopeful. "Or are we your first?"

"I’m not married." Oh shit, what is the law about native ceremonies? So many laws have changed lately . . .

"Boss?" Ekqi sounded a bit dazed. "They followed me home. Can I keep them?"

 
 
 
matapampamuphoff on October 4th, 2015 10:41 am (UTC)
As you can probably guess, recovering the Project Dystopia personnel is a recent addition. It doesn't fit well with the "old story."

Anyhow, if you ever wondered what happened to Pax and Barry...they've run afoul of princesses and multi-dimensional criminals.
Zan Lynxzlynx on October 4th, 2015 08:07 pm (UTC)
Glad to see Pax again!

Well, not really glad I suppose because he's such a nasty sort. But something interesting is sure to happen.
Kjirstin Bentson on October 4th, 2015 01:09 pm (UTC)
This is great! I did wonder what happened to them... are Oscar and Bran floating around here somewhere, too?
matapampamuphoff on October 4th, 2015 03:46 pm (UTC)
No, they're still in limbo, waiting for a story that needs them.