The first starts in the ruins of New Tokyo, when they opened Edmund Vice's building and rescued Rebeccah .
Lord Andre cast a quick look over his shoulder and saw that Lady Gisele and the injured woman were gone. Was that the Goddess of Healing?
Oscar and Bran edged back toward the temple.
"You know, if you think he'll summon this to him, we could set up some traps, ambush . . . "
The temple disappeared, raising a bit of a breeze as air flowed in to fill the space. Oscar and Bran were gone with it.
"Those two get into the worst trouble." Harry shook his head. "I hope they remember to call if they're in too deep this time."
Oscar spun as the world changed. "Old Gods, we've done it now."
Bran gulped and nudged him. The rapist statue come to life was here and really pissed.
He was naked, but so bloody it wasn't very noticeable. He had a haze of magic about him.
"Healing spells," Bran whispered, backing carefully away.
Oscar eased back as well, keeping his eyes on the man, err, god. He was tall and just fat enough to be a little saggy, without it handicapping him. Bright blond hair, hot blue eyes. Furious eyes.
"Where am I, where is everything? I shifted to Sahara, I swear, I Recognized it or I wouldn't be here." He stalked up to them, pain furrowing his face. He was tall. Six and a half feet. Good loom factors, there. Oscar and Bran were both over six feet tall, so only his bulk should have enabled him to loom. But the blood, the bloody handful of the breast he still had in his right hand, even more than the knife in his left hand, gave him huge loom factor.
"Sir." Bran looked cautious. "A thousand years ago a comet fell on the World. Very little has not changed."
The bloody god frowned. "Ye . . . es. The comet. The End of the World. I decided to get some delayed revenge on that Bitch that lobotomized my brother." He looked at the bloody handful of breast and chuckled. "Perhaps I would have been better advised to delay even longer, but the sheer ecstasy . . . " He turned his hand over and dropped it with a splat.
Oscar looked wistfully at the dry brown grass beyond the pavement.
:: If we can get off the pavement before he goes away again . . . ::
:: We can be stranded who knows where in the Old World. :: Bran retorted.
"So, where are all the people?" The god loomed.
"Discordia, in Auralia is said to be the biggest city." Oscar remembered the huge harbor and the city stretching up the hills. They'd gotten into so much trouble there . . .
"How much trouble?" the god stepped closer and Oscar gulped.
"We, well, we figured, the Solti was supposed to have a hundred wives, so he couldn't possibly recognize them all, so if we were all wrapped up, we could hear what he was saying to these special guests of his. We hadn't bargained on how lonely his wives would be, most of the time. And of course, we were much better looking than him."
"They helped us with disguises. Worked like a charm. We went out and served wine and heard the whole plan. Which was fine until the Solti started feeling romantic and noticed my red hair and wanted . . . well an illusion of red hair on one of the girls solved that little problem. The whole century of them kept singing and playing instruments and dancing and, well they kept us hidden. But they kept sneaking back . . ."
"And they were noisy." Oscar said. "I still can't believe we never got caught."
The god smiled then. "Do you know, I think I'm going to like you two." He looked deep into Oscar's eyes and it was suddenly dark, the full moon overhead, city noises all around.
Oscar choked as he recognized the back entrance of the Solti's palace.
The bloody figure walked in, the door flying open without him ever touching it.
Oscar and Bran swapped looks. "Should we witness this?"
They sidled in. Four guards were standing rigidly at attention. Their eyes didn't move toward them. Oscar reached out toward a neck to check for a pulse, but jerked his hand back. He didn't really want to know.
They followed the pattern of quietness to an overly ornate throne room. Everyone was frozen. The god was prowling around the throne, inspecting the Solti. He nodded approvingly. "Very nice. In fact, he's perfect."
Indeed the Solti had the same degree of plumpness over muscle as the god, although on a smaller scale. The Solti was tall by human standards, which put him about six inches shorter than the god. The god wrapped himself in an illusion of the Solti's robes, and leaned over to spend long moments staring into the man's eyes. Then he nodded, and with a swipe of his hand, Solti Mubera disappeared. The god sat down on the throne, and frowned over at Oscar and Bran. "Do you know where you are?"
Bran cleared his throat. "In your throne room, Solti."
"Very good. And as my . . . hmm, Special Assistants, I really do think you should wear something more suitable."
Oscar glanced down at his uniform. :: No kidding. :: he wrapped an illusion of Auralian civilian grab, the loose pants and belted loose shirt around himself as a flash, seen only with his inner eye, raced outward like a ripple in a pond.
The throne room returned to life, the courtiers chatting with each other, half their attention on the throne.
The Solti stood up and walked out. The chamberlain tapped his spear and everyone filed out, not rushing, but not lingering either.
Except for Bran and Oscar. Oscar nudged Bran and they walked off with the rest, but once free of observation, doubled back. The staff didn't seem to find that odd, and they headed for the Solti's private quarters. The big eunuch guards opened the doors for them without comment. The 'Solti' was bathing.
The god chuckled. "Don't worry, they'll all think they heard something appropriate." He grabbed the nearest woman, and pulled her into the tub. She yipped a bit in surprise, then wiggled around willingly and straddled him. "Bah. Willing little kittens. You two can have them. I need a challenge." He shoved the slippery wet girl out of the tub.
Bran grabbed and kept her from sprawling on the floor. "Well, taking the Solti's place was easy, how about the whole country? Err, well, actually I think the God of Peace has the Amma's ear, so that's probably out."
"Peace! The Golden Boy? Now that's rich. Hmm, and if he looks down here he could cause some problems." He lounged back in the tub. "Now fooling Peace, that would be worth doing. Sanctimonious little shit. Pity he hasn't any daughters to ravage. Maybe that's what I should do. Give him some daughters, and then . . . do something imaginative. Yes. The Solti will be going up to Fascia in a month." He eyed the women around the room. "We must pick two women, no, four. Make sure they don't get pregnant before hand, and I'll show you some of the fun little games we used to play. Hmm, I wonder where my brother is? Logic damaged him badly, but he ought to have recovered with so much time gone by. He was as bad as me, but he agonized over how bad he was. So amusingly futile. You may call me Edmund." He waved a hand in dismissal.
They settled with shocking ease into the harem. Some of the wives even remembered them. The Solti apparently didn't keep his wives very long, divorcing them so they could marry some Courtier, while the Solti married another teenage girl. Oscar and Bran did their best to distract the girls from the apparent indifference of their husband. The local wine, once improved with a bit of imported, was as popular as always.
The harem was guarded by two dozen eunuchs. They really appreciated the wine. The god laugh uproariously about that and even sampled it himself.
The girls were a bit in need of the healing properties after that night.
The women chosen by the god for his little coup at the Amma's party had been locked up like prisoners the whole time. And a damn good thing, the way the wine was flowing. The god had finally decided to use one girl of each of the regional racial types, and picked an exemplar of each. "A thousand years isn't really much time for this to have come about, you know." He liked to lecture. "This is the result of a serious population bottleneck. The semetic and negroid types must have been together in one enclave. You didn't used to see such aristocratic noses with such velvety warm dark skin." He nuzzled the baffled girl. And moved to an Island type. "These eyes, very oriental, but with blonde hair? Oh no, not found at all, not to mention the tan. And the Veronian type, all tawney and golden. My, won't you have a pretty little girl with my old buddy Pax." His chuckle was not at all nice, as he looked at the last girl. "And you. Oh my. Classic European type. Ah, this should be so much fun!"
The Solti's ship was both functional and ornate. Apparently taking only ten women with him was unusual, and Oscar and Bran in the Solti's quarters unheard of. Oh well. It was a three week trip up the coast and then in to the brackish Kara Sea to the Auralian capital city.
The Amma's Palace dominated the city, built on the highest point, emphasizing its size.
The Amma had twelve major Soltis. Powerful ones with regional control. Lesser nobles called themselves Solti, but it was an empty word outside their own city or region.
He gathered them together once a year, so that they could declare their loyalty in front of the rest of the government, the top Army officers and each other.
As they arrived, each Solti put on a bit of a spectacle and show. A quick bit of eavesdropping on the dock, and the hasty arrival of Solti Mubera's local staff confirmed that they were the fourth Solti to arrive, and that the second had suffered an unfortunate accident after making an attempt on the Amma's life.
"That will work perfectly." Oscar crowed. "As a sign of your complete trust in the Amma, you will bring a few unarmed attendants, and ten of your lovely wives, dancing about you."
"It will certainly be different." The god pondered. "They usually bring soldiers in fancy uniform to place in the Amma's service. Money. Art. Gold."
"Well, you've got all of those, too. Just leave the soldiers out of it and add the women. After an attempt on the Amma's life, Peace will probably be close." Bran said.
:: Why are we helping this pervert?::
:: Because anything that destabilizes the Amma is good for Western, and anything that take authority away from this Peace is good for the World. :: Oscar said.
:: Oh. I thought it was because it was funny in a mildly perverted fashion. ::
:: Well . . . So long as we don't get too perverted. :: Oscar worried a bit about that.
Then he got busy carrying platters stacked with gold coins. Bran was toting some paintings, and Nic, Loc and Tir, the three former eunuchs who had accompanied them were weighted down with statuary and jewelry. More jewelry was displayed on the girls, and they made quite a display of it, as the Solti walked forward, dancing up and leaving the choicer pieces at the Amma's feet.
Oscar spotted a very tall thin figure to one side, and several muffled figures beyond. Then he caught the quick flick of power as Edmund got close enough to the other god. A transport spell of some sort.
:: Good grief!:: Bran was laughing. ::Did you catch that? He stole some semen, put it in the four girls. I though he'd get the girls to seduce him and wondered what the big deal was. ::
:: The big deal was to catch him unguarded, and have a baby to prove it. :: Oscar snickered. :: Gods! Strange damn creatures. ::
The figure in the shadows strode forward. "You. Edmund. You dare!"
Edmund roared with laughter. "Of course I dared. You sanctimonious prig. Are you still a virgin? Still looking down on us as rutting swine? Why, Pax! In nine months you're going to be a father, four times over." He doubled over in laughter.
The Amma's sharp gesture brought his guards forward. Pax threw a line of fire that bounced off a shield and hit the ceiling and brought down plaster.
The guards were probing the shield as the god stopped giggling and waved a negligent hand and dumped the surprised Solti Mubera on the ground as the god disappeared.
Oscar and Bran suddenly realized their predicament.
Oscar tossed one tray of coins under the guards feet, grabbed a handful and tossed the second tray. It wasn't as slippery as he'd hoped. "Girls run!" He took to his heels and tried to focus on projecting a shield. He dropped his handful of gold in his pocket and herded the women together into a compact group. The pictures Bran was wearing weren't as easy to divest, but Nic crammed his glittering gold tower in the nearest guard's face, as Loc stripped the pictures off Bran and slammed them down over the next man's shoulders.
"Excellent, guys, now run." Bran grabbed the big men and hustled them out.
Oscar threw up an illusion ahead that they'd dodged down a side corridor, and then the same behind, and wrapped them all up in very different clothes, as he led them straight out the front into the torch lit night. "Stick together, stay in a close group, no matter how different things start looking, just follow me." He kept babbling, try to stem the incipient panic on most of their faces as they walked across the courtyard toward he main gates. There was much galloping about of the soldiers, but their group managed to slip out before the search became rigorous. He led them around several corners and blocks before seeking a quiet alley where they could all collapse.
"Bran, why were we so trusting of that wretched god?"
"Because we grew up trusting gods and we have nasty perverted senses of humor." Bran answered.
"Oh." Oscar looked around at the others. "Umm, Bran and I are about to try to get home. Would any of you like to come with us?"
They all did.
Oscar wandered off to the market, and finding everything being packed up, quickly found a woman selling used clothing and bought her entire stock and cart and donkey for three of the big gold coins and a persuasive spell. He suggested that she hide the coins for awhile, and then find a money breaker who didn't know her. She cackled and trotted off.
The wide selection of clothing was sufficient to clothe them all in something common, and the remaining stock made them look like respectable merchants. Or at least Oscar hoped so. He took Nic, Loc and Tir off with him, and they were shortly employed carrying heavy sacks to the next town. The gate guards didn't give them a second glance. Nor the two sisters with the baskets full of bread ahead of them, or the milliners behind them in the donkey cart.
The five prostitutes hovering around got some attention as the local whores attacked them. There were a lot of catcalls and whistles, as dresses were torn, and skin exposed. The sobbing girls fled through the gate, swearing they'd never come back to the city, as they pulled their clothing back into order.
Oscar never spotted Bran until they were a mile down the road. The girls traded off periodically in the donkey cart so the poor little beast wasn't too over loaded.
Oscar was very glad to reach the next little town and drop off his load at the merchant's. He took pennies in pay and led the others on through the town and out the other side. Bran had paid for the use of a currently empty hay barn.
"The farmer had kids the size of a lot of the clothes, so we swapped. I even got dinner out of the deal."
Oscar collapsed in the thin covering of old hay. "I was not made to be a dray beast."
Risti plopped down beside him. "I felt so sorry for you guys! Carrying all that weight all day!"
"Ah, it wasn't that bad." He said, not opening his eyes. Even his eyelids were tired. "I just kept remembering a certain naughty little girl who somehow managed to show some gate guards an amazing amount of breast while trying to modestly cover up."
She giggled. "That was so fun! Can we do it again at the next town?"
Bran poked him. "Beans, eat them. We need to do some planning."
Oscar moaned and sat up. "First, we need better transportation than the donkey. So in the next town we'll sell her. In fact, I'd like to head for the sea. If we could get a fisherman to drop us off on the northeast shore we'd be in Verona and practically home safe."
"You're Veronian spies?" Klyn was all big eyed and excited.
"Err, we're both Westerners and we got mixed up with Edmund accidentally. We're not spying."
The girls, hell even the guys all looked disappointed. "Well, we spy sometimes. Honest." Bran assured them.
Oscar finished his beans and sighed. "OK, I'm going to try and yell for help. After all, we're a lot closer to home now."
"Who you going to try?" Bran looked skeptical.
"Harry first, then Selano. You brave enough to try your Dad?"
"Hell no. Mages don't do that sort of magic, you heathen. How about Never?"
"Yeah. That might work."
He felt powerless off the ocean, but the humidity in the air condensed as he pulled the heat out of it. He had no feeling of Harry at all, Selano nothing. Never . . . almost, but his mind kept slipping off her and onto her daughter. Rustle, so bright and innocent at the Kings birthday, he wished he hadn't been sent back to duty, had been around just a few more weeks to prevent . . .
:: Who is this?:: Clear sharp thoughts. Female, young.
:: Good God! Is this Rustle? This is Oscar Harryson. ::
:: Goodness. Where are you? I'm in a little town on the Scoone –Verona border. ::
:: Ah. We're just northwest of Fascian. You must be the closest person I know. Are you in contact with anyone in Ash? We really, really wouldn't mind being rescued. ::
:: I'll bet. I heard all about your disappearing act in New Tokyo. ::
And suddenly a new voice, masculine, deep and as old as the World. Real, not mental.
"You certainly look like someone who needs rescuing." The Auld Wulf was looking around at the collection of women and appeared to be having trouble keeping a straight face.
"Ah, well, sir . . . "
The god chuckled. "Why don't we adjourn to Harry's and you can tell us all about it."
Home. Hot baths. Clean clothes. Good food. Tall tales.
"And you haven't seen or heard from him since?" Harry drummed his fingers on the table. "Damn."
"I wish I could have seen the expression on Pax's face." The Auld Wulf grinned. "He never showed in Scoone, so no doubt he's unfamiliar with birding."
Dydit scowled. Nil grinned.
Never was more practical. "Do you ladies and gentlemen have any plans?"
They all shook their heads.
"Well, since some of the witches moved off to the New Lands and started a new Pyramid, it has occurred to me that the mages might do the same. Selano's mentioned setting up a proper compass, what with Oscar and Bran in the Army, and more likely to call Karista home than Ash any more. You'll need to be out of the city, and you'll need people to take care of the place while you're gone. And if you girls are pregnant by any of the gods, your sons will be mages and your daughters witches. So, why don't you contact Selano about it Oscar?"
Bran perked up at the idea of keeping all these gorgeous women. Hell, Oscar was all perked up himself. Nic, Loc, and Tir looked hopeful, too.
Oscar concentrated on Selano.
:: Damn it boy, it's not proper behavior for a mage!::
:: Sorry. Do you have a site for a Mage Compass? I have some great staff all lined up to take care of it for us. ::
:: Women? Damn it, how do you two always find women?::
:: Just lucky I guess. They were stuck in a harem. Three guys, former harem guards, post wine. The women are all probably preggers with gods' babies. ::
:: Gods. ::
:: Peace and Excess. Apparently the boys will be mages and the girls witches. ::
:: So we should raise the boys, and the girls can go to Ash when they're older. ::
:: Right. So?::
:: So, I'll go ask for a place. You are at Harry's aren't you?::
Oscar could feel the old mage's wish to be here as well. :: Yes. The Auld Wulf dragged us all home from Fascian. ::
A long silence. :: Well, that explains where you found a harem to raid. See you in a week, maximum. ::
At that Oscar broke the connection. "Selano says he'll find a place."
"Excellent, now go sort yourselves out however you wish, there aren't any other guests," Harry shooed them toward the stairs.