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14 March 2017 @ 07:34 am
_Black Point Clan_ part 11  
 

The body behind her wasn't budging. "Let the Philosopher show what he's made of."

"Orc, don't be a blithering idiot!" Where the One Hell are those guards? Are they being blocked as well?

Ajha slid further downhill, and metal tinged as he pressed Bo's blade aside. They both slithered down to the path and found better footing. Bo lunged, lightening fast, Ajha parried, then the blades were moving so fast she couldn't follow them in the dark and rain. Spell sparks flew and the faint glow of mental shields was more visible than the men.

The guests started vaulting over the rails. Xiat dropped her barriers to half and hit Orc with a stun and dropped him. She climbed the rail and jumped. Lost her footing on the slick slope. Slid and rolled to the path. She saw Ajha lunge, Bo deflect the sword to the ground. The snap of the shattering blade was quite distinct. Bo's blade rose as he lunged. Ajha's right hand reached across and closed around the blade a third of the way from the point, deflecting it, he let the lunge pull him into a spin, back to the blade. His left fist, still holding the hilt of the broken sword, slammed into Bo's nose. Bo staggered backwards, jerking his sword from Ajha's grip. Ahja pivoted on his left leg and kicked out with his right. Bo threw himself back to minimize the impact. His elbow hit a tree and the sword flew from his hand. Bo blocked the follow on snap kick, backing rapidly, throwing enough spells to make Ajha keep his shield up. He obviously wasn't going to break through.

Ajha advanced, they exchanged a flurry of blows, then Bo got a hand on Ahja's shirt and pulled him off balance. Ajha grabbed back and stepped off the path. They slid, rolled and flailed their way further down the hill. Ajha found enough footing to leap the water-filled ditch along the road. They faced off again, on the hard tarmac.

Xiat could hear the Investigator calling for a halt, and cursing. They both knew Bo wasn't going to stop, so Ajha didn't dare. Xiat jumped the ditch in time to see Bo toss Ajha into the trees on the other side. The whole wild pack of spectators whooped and threw themselves down the next slope. She could barely distinguish the fighters, couldn't tell which was which, could see that throw, but the next looked more like a slip and trip than a deliberate . . . They rolled out onto the next road, a few feet from Aunt Zowm's. A car whipped around the corner. Ecclesiastical guards leaped out and one muddy figure got his shoulder into the other's stomach and shoved him into the ditch on the far side of the road. Cursed and flopped. They rolled around, hit the slope and started sliding again. Xiat was well to the side, and she threw herself down hill, got ahead of them and was waiting on the lower riding path as they floundered off the hill. One man flopped limply to the ground. An arm came back for a late blow.

She stepped in and snapped the handcuff on, got pulled forward, but concentrated on getting the other cuff on her own arm, and then heaving Bo away before he could strike the helpless Ajha. They slipped off the path and rolled down hill until they hit a tree.

Her prisoner yelped, then started laughing. She sat up, straddling him.

"Xiat! I didn't think you cared!"

"Ajha!"

"Shh! Lecture me. Let Bo go. If you want to know who ordered him to kill Udzi, treat this like a drunken stupid brawl."

She gawped at him.

"And you can get off me now. Unless you really like mud, handcuffs and . . ."

The guards grabbed her and removed her as far as the cuffs would permit, then removed them and shifted her ungently away from their charge.

"Relax, guys. Bo and I were just playing around. Right Bo?"

No answer.

"Damn! I didn't kill him, did I?" Ahja scrambled up the hill, his hovering guards had their hands half raised like they'd like to grab him and haul him off. About half of them were cover in mud, all of them radiating fury around hard held mental shields.

Bo was twitching slightly. An ambulance was already turning down the street. Some one must have called it about the time the duel started.

Let Bo go? One Damn it all! "I do not believe you'd get into a drunken brawl a day after meeting all three Philosophers!" She glared past the fence of guardians.

Ewmo laughed.

"And you lot! Egging them on. I swear you haven't grown up at all in the last fifty years." She shook mud and the detritus of the forest floor from her sleeves, grabbed the Investigator and hauled him away for a conference.

***

Ajha soaked in hot water for about an hour before he dragged out to face the still furious Guards. He looked at their rigid faces and sighed. Invited them all in his bedroom for a discussion.

"As you know, we've had a political assassination here. It doesn't really involve the Patriarchy, it's part of the political Game in Paris. I am reasonably certain that Ifbo was the assassin. No doubt if he'd managed to accidentally kill me, something incriminating would have shown up in my stuff. Stand still! You will leave Ifbo alone, because he is the only string we've got, to follow back to the Principal. Got that?"

"Yes. We'll find a reason to shift him . . . "

"No. He's easier to watch if he's living here."

He could hear Captain Wrlo's teeth grind. "That was not 'just Ifbo.' The whole group followed you toward the patio, and stopped in the doorway with their backs to us and pretended to accidentally block us. That was a deliberate set up."

"Yes. And we need to track down the source. So, sorry, guys. You can stick a guard in my room or out on the patio if you prefer. But we're just going to carry on like before. With less alcohol around as an excuse for accidents." He walked out to find a clean, sober, and subdued group watching the vid screen.

"How's Bo?"

Ewmo looked at Ajha, baffled. "Where did you learn to fight like that? Bo's fine, a stun spell got through to him, finally."

"We were both on the fencing team in school. You remember that, I expect." Ajha broke off as the screen changed for the hourly news update.

The only newsie braving the rain instead of covering the convention had gotten a few good shots of the early fight, and then cannily looped around and managed to get a shot of Xiat taking Ajha down.

Ajha sighed. It looked exactly like a drunken brawl between idiot Oners with no better sense than to try and kill each other with swords.

Teeth ground behind him. Captain Wrlo was probably having vision of losing his charge the first day he was trying to protect him. "Where did you learn that sword grabbing spin and kick."

They were showing it again, in slow motion, as he and Bo had both been fired up. "Xen Wolfson does a lot of unarmed-against weapons training. That was loosely based on something useful in a knife fight. Except you're supposed to grab the hand, so you don't loose fingers." Ajha flexed his hand. "Fortunately Ask Me brought along some legal swords. Blunt edges."

"They still had points!"

"Well, yes. But it wasn't like Bo was trying to kill me. And I wasn't trying to kill him, either." Ajha added hastily. "Look, let's just see if there's anything to eat, and watch the vote count. What time is it anyway? Two? Who made it traditional to stay up until the vote was recorded, surely we could have a rep for that as well?"

He was jeered at. Maij worked up a quick breakfast buffet, and kept pots of tea and coffee coming.

***

Xiat stayed quietly in the back of the girl pack. Or as quietly as she was allowed, as the very large screen once again showed her straddling Ajha, handcuffs evident, just enough mud and water to plaster her shirt to her chest and emphasize her freezing cold nipples.

"The Third Alternate Philosopher's drunken fight with his old school chum, and romp in the mud with housemate Princess Xiat . . . " She plugged her ears. Romp in the mud. Housemate! I am going to have an interesting time, my first day back at the office.

Ajha sent Mushy and Whipper to retrieve Bo from the clinic and bring him "home." The ecclesiastical guards pulled in from searching the house inch by inch and one always seemed to be hovering, disapprovingly, over Ajha.

She suspected the disapproval involved not admitting that they were protecting him from Bo. But there could be some real disapproval in there. She have to ask if they realized . . .

And what about Orc? He'd been conscious when she'd gotten back, and given her a dirty look. But he had deliberately blocked her. And Ask Me had brought dueling swords to a party that had sprung up "spontaneously."

She'd pulled muscles somewhere along the line. And raised a fine crop of bruises. She looked over at Ajha, relaxed, grinning, waving a cup and yawning. Cheerful despite his swollen red nose and the scrape on his forehead.

"By rights he shouldn't be able to move."

She looked around and backed off to talk with the Investigator. He had Mushy and Whipper waiting down in their bedroom. Formerly Ajha's bedroom. It looked about like she'd expect from occupation by three sporadically drunken Withiones.

Whipper squirmed. "Ajha said we should tell you about the party at Ewmo's. About how we went down with Ifbo, and then we didn't notice him for a while, and then he was in the shower with some maids and made a spectacle out of himself."

Mushy nodded. "I don't think he was there. I mean, we were all in and out of both bedrooms. He wasn't there, nor was he in the game room, unless he was hiding under the furniture. There were more guys than girls, we all knew where they were. We'd have noticed if he was around."

"Early on, do you remember where he was?"

"Yeah, he beat Yukky at air hockey. He always was fast. I hadn't realized that Ajha was as fast. Faster. Anyway, this girl was collecting, you know? We all laughed as she dragged him off, then again when he staggered out grinning. Naked. He challenged me to naked air hockey, so we played a game, then I went off with a girl. The next time I saw him, he was still naked." Mushy frowned. "That was after a couple hours, actually. I was recuperating, watching a match in Joburg. He was behind the couch and went into the bathroom. Then Echo started laughing in there, said there were soapy slippery girls available, so we all went in and got in the shower, well, not all of us, maybe three or four guys with the two girls? Well, everyone was laughing about the guys all being used up. Bo came out after awhile and toweled off and the third girl came in and he went for her, right there. Then, well, the party started breaking up. Everyone found the rest of their clothes. Or all their clothes, for the guys in the shower. And Bo. His were all in a pile . . . I think where he left them all night long."

Xiat looked over at the Investigator.

"And that's why there was no clothing residue. A couple of spots that were probably some sort of lightweight cloth shoes. He wore them back to the house tossed them in the case and walked in starkers, and no one thought anything of it. Straight into the shower. Those little spots of damaged cloth are where he brushed against them, or someone he brushed against touched."

The Investigator nodded, and looked back at the younger men. "Did Ajha have you watching anyone else?"

Whipper nodded. "Well, not watching. He got us to questions the maids here, about where Arja and Imgo were, that night. And then sent us barhopping. That's how we found out where the Director had been all night."

Xiat sighed. "Ajha started out my main suspect. I should turn in my handcuffs and find something I'm good at."

Mushy and Whipper managed to keep their faces straight. One smirk, or one comment about handcuffs . . .

"So, where were Imgo and Arja the night of the ninth?"

"They had dinner here, ten to almost eleven. Arja was almost late, on account of making a comm call. The maids were up and about all night long. Imgo hit the bathroom once, they didn't see Arja at all."

The Investigator nodded. "Thank you. Go ahead and party. Or investigate for the Philosopher. He seems to have a nose for a hot trail." He waited until the two were out of hearing. "Either that or he's Playing us."

"I suspect there's a bit of that. After all, he has to be wondering about his father's part in it all. I don't . . . well if the Ax were behind it, with Arja telling him when Ahja was vulnerable to being framed . . . that's pretty nasty. But what about Arlw? Plant Arja in Kiaj's household with a convenient marriage, then murder a rival of each of them, with the Ax's son seriously lacking in an alibi."

"Neat. How the hell do we prove it? Parties all week long, they are bound to have been in the same house at the same time, somewhere. I'll get Arlw's schedule. See if you can worm out Bo's from this houseful of snakes."

Back in the Great Room, the vid was back to showing the endless procession of Representatives shuffling along. Being called up. Giving their tallies verbally. Shuffling off for the next man along. Xiat timed them.

"They're averaging two a minute. They may actually finish this up by ten in the morning, if they can keep up the pace." Poppy was sitting on the arm of Ewmo's chair.

Xiat shifted to where she could see him better. "How many parties does this one make, Ewmo?"

Ewmo snorted. "This one barely counts. Insufficient women and booze."

"There are plenty of women here."

"Yeah, standing around talking. Even the maids are stiff arming us."

"What was the wildest party—not counting your own?"

"Oh, Chachi's, definitely. Do you remember Achi? Two years ahead of us, captain of the football team?"

"Oh him. I suppose he had all the sporting types over."

"Yeah, it was great to see the team again. I'm surprised you didn't come. It was great, eh, Poppy?" He nudged her. "The girls wouldn't try their old routine, though. We suggested they do it naked."

Poppy rolled her eyes. "I left early." She looked down at Ewmo and shuddered. "I can't even try to Play anymore. Yuck." She got up unsteadily and walked away.

"Eh, she always was all promise and no putout. Almost as bad as you, although you were pretty fun, once you got liquored up. Remember that graduation party?"

"Thankfully, no."

He thought that was funny. "Man, we all had bets about who the Daddy would be, finally gave up and used the money for a party."

Yukky, Orc and Ask Me were laughing too. Xiat resolved to kill them all at some future date.

She glanced Poppy's direction, the woman was heading upstairs. "So . . . lacking Poppy and me, who'd you get to do the cheers?"

"Oooo! Achi Chachi had some younger ones in reserve. You should have been there."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well right now all we wish is that we'd cheered on the fencing team. Not that they ever asked. Ifbo was the Captain, wasn't he? And Ajha was on the team. Did any of you other guys ever try out?"

Ewmo laughed. "That's what Bo said, 'Why didn't you ever cheer for me?' Huh. We all should have worked harder at it, all the Players can fence, even if they don't duel much, any more. They go down to the club and spar. Huh. Something else I've been learning. I've finally gotten good enough to move to a club with some big Players. I'll get myself noticed yet."

Mushy nodded. "Yeah, getting noticed is the pits, and not getting noticed is worse. And that little worm. Yeah, you, Bo. I'm going have to start taking lessons from you. Join a club. What do you recommend?"

"Start at a little one, out in some Halfer enclave. I go to Darab Salle in the northern suburbs twice a week or so. Once you're good enough to beat a few of the show offs, move to a more posh club, where you'll find the Players. You don't want to start there, get beaten regularly and look like an idiot." He scowled over at Ajha. "I've gotten rusty, since school. And he's certainly learned some dirty tricks." He put a hand to his nose. The hospital had fixed it; no swelling or redness remained.

All he has left is the memory of getting beaten up. Is Ajha insane, keeping him here?

Mushy flopped on the floor nearby and yawned. "I heard there was a party on Songbird, three houses involved, dancing in the street."

Bo nodded. "Freezing in the rain, then getting into hot tubs. No real action, though."

"Shouldn't you guys be about old enough to start going to nice dinner parties? Making yourselves Players instead of buffoons?" Xiat glanced up the stairs. No sign of Poppy.

"That's for you women. We'll be brawling for another twenty before we can even think about marrying." Orc shrugged. "That's the way it is."

That got universal nods.

Xiat eased out of the group and headed upstairs.

Poppy was sitting on the bed staring out at the dismal gray. "Can't tell if the Sun's up or not. And who cares?" She had a lacy handkerchief in her hands, nervously wringing it.

Xiat reached and took it away. "Poppy, you've got a marvelous son, something I can't ever have. Shouldn't ever torture myself with wanting. You've got a job, and the freedom to do whatever you want."

"Except play the Game. I thought I wanted Uzga, but he was just a . . . trap. So were the first two, but at least I didn't love them. And they weren't important enough to have attracted some One damned Princess. Uzga always consulted her. I wasn't able to do anything I wanted to do. Just sit and look pretty, show up for parties someone else arranged for him. Endi . . . He was so nice. He sympathized, but he made me laugh, too. But it was all a fake. When I got so mad at Uzga, and scooped up Endi, right there in public . . . I got carried away and went too far. And he took advantage of it because he was systematically emasculating the War Party. They've only just finally gotten any sort of strength back. 'Help us Poppy. You betrayed us once, now do this for us.' "

"Do what? Poppy?"

Poppy reached over and picked up a glass perhaps a quarter full of wine and drank it.

"Give this to Ajha."

Xiat hit the panic button on her comm as the woman keeled over.



 
 
 
mbarkermbarker on March 15th, 2017 01:40 am (UTC)
Completely off the beaten track, but if this was a samurai sequence, I would almost expect the Captain to turn up talking to Ajha, trying to volunteer to kill himself or at least to resign in shame for not managing to guard him. Something like that. Do the ecclesiastical guards have that kind of an ethos?
matapampamuphoff on March 15th, 2017 02:26 am (UTC)
No, they have more of a "get even" or "get revenge" than "be shamed" attitude.

Poor fellows. They've got their work cut out for them, trying to keep Ajha out of trouble.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2017 02:07 pm (UTC)
I've been a bit worried about Xiat's investigation. Mushy and Whipper have done what the investigation should have off the bat; identified who was in the house and where they were on a timeline of the evening. It does feel like Xiat's fixation on Ajha isn't just Ajha in peril (for the reader to worry about) but Xiat with big blinders on about what her feelings for Ajha are. I do hope you are hinting readers strongly about that :). I suppose I am feeling the need for more explanation about how the investigation is structured by the Investigating team otherwise they are reacting only. Investigations are about gathering lots of information. How are they managing that, e.g. taking statements from Mushy and Whipper then following up with other attendees? Also how do the Oners work their warrants for search and arrest given that a Priest can force the truth? I imagine investigators handing up a brief that guides questioning - what level of evidence do they need for that (if that is how it's done?) or is one murder enough for a Priest to be called in?
matapampamuphoff on March 15th, 2017 09:50 pm (UTC)
They did, in fact, question everyone in the house. I just didn't get repetitive by showing Xiat's participation in the questioning.

I gave Ajha's part and his observations, conversations with Whipper and Mushy afterwards. And recruitment.

And . . . I got busy with covers and forgot to put up the next exciting episode.