An Inductive Proof

<< Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

“Why do unwinged people like flying about in the air so much? It seems inefficient to extend journeys by an entire additional dimension.”

-Quote attributed to Molly Nonakufa, founder of the Third Path Philosophy of Aidenism

The human watched his younger brother make an undignified jink in his swoop, and for the first time in almost two years he laughed from deep in his chest. His spouse noticed, wryly intrigued, and did what it did best: challenged him.

“The other team has no slightest measure of skill.”

Any victory won in this arena is the outcome of a glorified exhibition match.

“Maybe our Louis has become a man of condescension.”

If they’re going at it this hard and long, either it’s a very near exhibition match or my brother is as good an actor as anyone I’ve ever seen.

“Perhaps all of them have done so?”

Focusing on one person, no matter how significant, is against the very spirit of the game.

“If that is the case, excellent!”

Funnily enough, that’s not quite so bothersome to me.

At that, Seroku Adz Tataki Ba’fus huffed, and it reclined farther in its seat. Its broad long arms slid down its flanks in an arrangement of supreme poise, and the four eyespots lined up on its vaguely feline face fluttered along with its vaguely feline ears. The grayish sepia color of its scales meant it was one of the few creatures in the high-placed box whose color changed not in the slightest as the drowsing sunlight caught it with a full broadside. Its four meter height meant that very few people could have possibly obscured it from view anywhere in the maypoling arena. The high box where it and its husband both resided meant that its actions would be noticed.

The changes to the culture of Pennat Gate over the recent years meant its retention of dignity reassured the hardline classicists, and its permitting itself a certain emotive relaxation reassured the growing numbers of foreign-born residents.

Next to his Lady, Sebastio Artaxerxes laughed. Adz’s frustration with the “games of nobles” had actually been greatly improving, along with its skill, over the past year. Like all udod aodod, its mind was to the human mind what a train was to a groundcar. If he asked it about the statistical likelihood of the maypoling teams’ successes, it would produce numbers with greater than thirty-two-bit precision accuracy without ever touching its Monolith connection or other personal utilities. If he asked it about the most recent changes in relationship between its home estate and nearby neighbors, there might be as much as a twenty second delay in it providing a coherent response.

In any case, though, the human knew his “wife” would tell him exactly what it really thought with absolutely no deception. Lord of an entire Yrdkish estate or not, for that Adz was more than merely priceless.

He surveyed the entertainment underway. In the wake of the carnage of the Western Sunrise, he’d taken to eschewing any sort of disguise for how Caladhbolg (or Malumortis as it knew itself), the semi-sacred object which had subsumed his right arm, had changed his appearance for the slightly macabre. That meant that, in all likelihood, a fair number of the audience were watching him instead of the action. Some probably came to the event specifically for that end, like a fallflat waiting at an oasis for an unaware stipp to wander close. Those hoping to get a chance at offing one of the most controversial Lords of Yrdky alive, though, would have to contend with supermaximum security. The black-garbed armsmen who stood behind Lord and Lady stuck to a training regimen of Herculean strenuousness.

Of course, the lack of success for prior wetwork missions of that stripe probably helped make up the mind of many a would-be kingkiller.

However, it wasn’t exactly hard to find him, either. Many copycats aped the orange segment running from the rightmost third of the skull, down arm and shoulder, and ending at his waist; most of them adopted small liberties like having ears on both sides of the head. Usually, the effect was achieved with a subcutaneous media layer or a simple illusion spell. Even so, the little red gems embedded in his right temple and the center of the back of the hand, once adorning the basket hilt of a sword, glinted with an ethereal light that made them hard to mimic. The solid gilded orb of his right eyeball, however, had an uncommon something about how it played and darted. Distinguishing it from mere look-alikes didn’t take magical assessment.

His presence at the event served a couple of different purposes. First, he had a vested interest in watching one of the players in person, for the first time that year.

Second, starting at a time four or so years prior, he’d finally accepted, or realized the truth of, Adz’s opinion of his public image. Who had he been? A guardian, an idealist, a weapon, a person with a streak of faint cruel enjoyment in pulling the weeds threatening Pennat Gate’s blossoming mission and people. He was something that one loved in a protective father way, but with that love came fear, that the protective father might strike his get as he went about beating off the gryke-rushers threatening them. Yes, when one manages to save a vagrant child from the predations of the world, and take them in as one’s own, that child will love their guardian in their own way. But unless they have potent evidence otherwise, that child will still cherish a fertile grain of fear at the memory of their protector’s wroth.

Sebastio needed to get out, and be seen getting out, among his people. Not because he needed to shatter a presumption that he thought himself perfect; on the contrary, he’d published more information on his own flaws in the first year of his reign than most Lords saw over their whole careers. He needed to regularly reassure his people, his new people “imported” from the gem in particular, that he was hard, but not a monster.

But those ruminations were distractions.

I need distractions from my distractions about as much as Crippled False needs help keeping the peace in Rhaagm: if so, then only from someone far superior to me.

<So, from me and me alone,> said Caladhbolg in its psionic voice, and Sebastio chuckled inside.

The miscellaneous talents he’d inherited as part and parcel of his bodily inheriting the small-god-like artifact included a few which made it easy enough to watch the proceedings without the assistance of scrying or telescopic functions.

Down in the arena proper, the two four-player teams showed off their style by making the cool and skillful look calm and effortless. The Seventh Step team had very effective control over most of the maypole’s lower two thirds. Their dives and turns came and went, so sharp and quick their ornithopter wings almost set the air to bleeding. The Fifth Step team of which Louis Artaxerxes was an integral member had left not a centimeter of pole unpapered above their line of confrontation. The frieze-rippled wood peeked out sparsely below that point, but occasional strips of red paper also slashed down over the yellow sea. The scoreboard had a small but undeniable margin in favor of Seventh Step.

As things stood, the match would be over in the duration it took a human to walk around the arena’s highest level. Louis and his team had that much leeway to make a few more well-placed passes. The trick, like with non-synthesized cooking, marriage proposals, and kicking off civil wars, was timing. Somewhere between the onrushing wall of well-done failure that was the clock and the zippy fast-twitch muscles of the opposition’s rebuttal lay a sweet sweet optimum.

Louis Artaxerxes found it.

Pulling a fresh papering swatch from his dispenser, Sebastio’s adopted brother quickly slapped one end against the meter-thick maypole. In so doing his left wing actually tapped the pylon, making him shudder and wobble for a moment before he began his plummet down the hundred meters of its length. That little mishap was enough to throw off the rhythm of the lower-hovering team’s defensive rally.

As the first of the paper’s four attach points stuck to the pole’s surface, Louis began swinging out into the empty air. When he was close to ten meters from the maypole, he suddenly played out an extra-long stretch of paper. The excess began twisting about, trying to follow his movement despite the firm hand of gravity and air resistance. His wings’ mechanical advantage meant that he didn’t have to worry about the drag throwing him off unless he held most of a full sixty meter swatch unsupported.

He swung and doubled back, throwing down the second and third attach points of the colored banner with somewhat less than ideal placement. Instead of a beautiful rhumb like most of the other strips, Louis ended up leaving a meandering uneven squiggle in his wake. It didn’t cover nearly as much as a straight even papering, and in fact it even went over a good part of an earlier red swatch as well. But it also denied most of the effectiveness of Seventh Step’s counterstroke.

A sturdy assassin, expecting the paper to be played to its fullest length, had begun an ascending run even before Louis had placed his second attach point. Her own arc was formulated to end where the human’s started. While that was still a manageable feat, the early juke in the red paper meant she’d be wasting more than half of the swatch before overlapping his contribution no matter what happened. She offset this a bit by diverting to layer on top of a bit of a very early red contribution, untouched until that point.

That exchange rapidly evolved into a three-on-two volley, two more rising yellow roads being laid down, one of them immediately halved by a red remise. The other yellow stretch carved all the way up to the top of the maypole, adhering to its sticky lip. That team’s dut coach seemed to lose his mind in a fit of enthusiastic approval. One of the two defending Fifth Step contestants cut across the yellow invasion immediately and with lukewarm success. Each crew whittled away cautiously at the encroachments of the other.

For twenty seconds, things devolved into primitive lunges and posturing, each side doing its best to make the other overcommit. The balance had shifted still further toward Seventh Step, but not in anything close to a decisive level. Most of the crowd was voicing an appreciative and highly partisan support for one side or the other.

<Tense,> remarked Caladhbolg in the chest-thumping reprieve, using Sebastio’s mouth. His lustrous eye glinted as his voice grinned without showing a single tooth. The entity sharing his mind and body had long since become something like a dissociated but fraternally similar personality, or even a particularly strong mood. In fact, aside from voice modulation, it was difficult for most people to tell them apart.

Adz made a wheezing udod aodod snort. Its leg-cables twined together in bemusement – being seated, it didn’t have to worry about its humor tipping it over. It wasn’t most people, and yet it considered the artificial interloper just another part of its husband.

The Lord of Pennat Gate then noticed some subtle signal, either sent or picked up by the final member of Louis’s team. There was a thin head-bob, much like an Earth Standard sideways nod. Then a shift in center of gravity sent the man, a naufer with a stereotypical graphic of a raptor flapping on either side of his helmet, twisting away from his defensive post.

One of his hands already gripped the end of a paper swatch even before he began his dive. Dangerous; a single hand occupied for long deprived a maypoler of almost half of their mobility, and losing that before the apex of a sweep often ended badly. As he played out the first paper, he set himself on a beautiful helix trajectory, and stiffened his wings. That part was necessary because he shortly reached back with his other hand, and grabbed the catch of the dispenser.

Sebastio noticed the pattern of light above the dispenser as this happened, and his face went slack with concern.

The naufer then proceeded to do something which resulted in half a million different kinds of edits, replays, simulations, and two music sensories being derived from the spectacle in the course of a single day.

Wheeling in an incredibly tight spiral, using only his legs for stability, the man wound both strips side-by-side all the way around the maypole almost thirteen times. The move – gutsy and dangerous – drew the response of the whole opposing team almost immediately, but their response was too little, too late. The twin streamers of red covered nearly a full meter’s width between them. If it had been one paper swatch, or they had gone straight down the maypole, that would have been one thing. The angle and closeness of placement spurred Seventh Step on to take very drastic action.

The assassin made an attempt to physically collide with the naufer and cut his gambit short. It was a not uncommon end-game tactic. If two contestants ran irrecoverably afoul of each other, the maypoling equipment’s inertia sumps would keep them from harm. An Ullos container around the cylinder-shaped playing field – what people called a nanny net – would also prevent the plummeters from squashing spectators. However, maypoling had no substitution, and players unskilled enough to be swatted from the skies were so obviously unforgivable scoundrels that they had to be permanently kept from re-entering the action for the protection of all involved.

Unfortunately, arguments of the merit in removing players for the full duration of a thirty-two-minute match didn’t do much good for anybody if those making the attempt missed.

One of the other Seventh Step fliers obviously panicked. That was the best explanation for why the slimmest of the four tried to make a big hooking loop to the post’s top. He gained altitude and pulled away from the thing for twenty meters, pushing his ornithopter’s engine as hard and fast as if Hssi itself gave chase. The whole way he was hounded by both Louis and one of the other Fifth Step players, and the holding pattern amounted to as much of a distraction as a dut in an Aidenist convent.

The remaining two Seventh Step players swept up in a flurry of contrarian spirit, plastering their own strips in a zigzag that caught a good portion of the Fifth Step daredevil’s progress out in the cold. Their precision cancelled some thirty percent of the new red wave. Unfortunately, about seventy percent of forty eight square meters of paper still radically shifted the balance to Seventh Step’s favor.

Moments after spinning out the end of his strips, the naufer passed under the bottom of the maypole, dropped to the nanny net, and bounced off the photostatic structure just as the clock returned to its rest position. Light flickered up and down the maypole’s length: once, once again, once more.

“The red team has claimed victory this field, this day,” thrummed the arena’s announcer eidolon. Each person present usually latched onto the production of a favored commentator among the several thousand civilians present who made their names in doing just that for sporting events. As such, it was the first thing the announcer had said since kicking off the match at the start.

A ten-meter platform pushed up from the ground, rising until it drew up several meters short of the maypole’s bottom face. With a little persuasion amongst themselves, both teams managed to reach the platform’s top with something like civility. By long tradition, they all saluted east, symbolizing respect for the Lord who made the event possible.

By considerably lesser tradition, far more proprietary observance instituted during the hexadecade following the Western Sunrise, and the coincidence that he actually resided that day, they also turned and directly saluted Sebastio as well.

By the fingernail grip of his own respect for tradition, the Lord accepted the gesture without protest.

“Have these played well?” asked the announcer.

“YES!” roared the crowd in every conceivable manner of speech.

By very simple and very highly-respected tradition, this was where the host Lord (Sebastio, in case he hadn’t been paying attention to the fact that they were in a Fifth Step earldom of his own estate) replied with an eye toward the game’s satisfactory nature – or the converse. By and large, the people of Yrdky took all their games seriously, inter-estate battles and otherwise. It wasn’t that poor skill was worth a scourging and eternal shame, but poor sportsmanship was almost at that level. That had, in fact, generated some contention with the people of Pennat Gate shortly after his own victory.

Now here was the sticking point on his opinion in the matter: the naufer who’d won the day for Louis’s team had blatantly broken the rules by tampering with his paper dispenser.

The lights along the fabricator units of each player’s dispenser told the players and audience both how long their users had to wait before being allowed their next dispersal of fabric. It was a simple but effective measure at countering all kinds of trickery and tactics that would otherwise lie on the border between half a hundred kinds of technicalities.

That was fine. That was good. Except when undertaking his spectacular two-handed dive, the man had pulled a second paper swatch while the sequence indicated he had a few seconds before it ought to have obliged any grabby hands, whether with five digits or eight. More worrisome, it seemed that the effort and skill to alter such hardware at all was nearly the same as the effort and skill involved in doing so without leaving sign. Almost evidence that the infringement was supposed to be discovered.

Of course, all that meant that Sebastio’s dutiful tendencies should have directed him toward making the observation that, since “playing well” inherently involved not cheating, and cheating created the conditions of the Fifth Step team’s victory, they had not played well; QED. The offender’s identity… complicated that assessment.

The naufer in question had taken off his helmet, freeing abnormally long ears from the divots running back along its length to make wearing it a bearable experience. Based on the approving commentary he was picking up over the fora set aside for Pennat Gate’s sporting events, Heggad bet Lesredat bet Niner bettin Heggad the Grand had the reputation of an admirable and handsome specimen. One very enamored individual described him as “wonderfully fecund” among other things, several seconds before a moderator’s ban-hammer laid down its justice. Possibly that had something to do with the evident fact that he or his progenitors had benefited from a gene for albinism. Possibly it was the cosmetic vanity of scars crosshatching his snout, though fairly consistent rumor placed some of them as genuine trophies from hunting expeditions.

Sebastio, being the naïve innocent romantic soul he was, guessed that the man’s political ties played a not insubstantial part. Heggad’s grandmother had been comfortably bound for many years with a certain Gernasot, esteemed chief minister of intelligence for the whole estate of Nor’ridge. Gernasot, as it happened, was one of the more partisan critics of Sebastio’s reign. Not so much for who he was, but for what he represented: a whittling-away of Yrdkish tradition in a time where so much else had been taken from Yrdky already.

As it also happened, the woman was correct in her opinion that Sebastio corroded counter-productive designs of Pennat Gate’s entrenched culture. Following the rebuilding required by so many estates after the Western Sunrise’s invasions, certain habits had to go. Being a Lonely Lord – one whose estate owed no direct fealty to and received no protection from the more affluent ranks of Republic Lords, living out on the edge of Yrdky – Sebastio was already poised to throw grit into the gears of accepted norms when he’d taken the opal throne. The estate’s present insistence on disregarding normal schedules for Fountainist pilgrimages, on grounds of “allowing greater exposure for those involved in keeping cross-cultural peace, if they don’t wish to be expelled from Pennat Gate,” rankled profoundly. The continued eschewing of Yrdkish war games as a means of resolving conflict, except in a few obviously maleficent cases, made the estate something like a pariah.

At least Gernasot had some level of reason in her opinions, though. Lord O’Casey shared Gernasot’s misgivings about this upstart Artaxerxes, but proved even less cerebral in his distaste, distrust, and general dislike. One might think that being a banner-bearer, fundamental in helping a whole society to survive an extinction-level holocaust, provided the man who was part sword some degree of immunity from political pettiness. One would be wrong. O’Casey’s constant worrying-away at the political specie of Sebastio and Tuoamas, and their “fractured throne,” might have been two parts ambition to one part fanatic caution, but the man was lionized for his ability to lead, not for his logos. 

If Sebastio gave the match his blessing, and the people of Nor’ridge produced evidence he’d known about the illegal conduct (since he in fact did), it would form grounds for a slight against his character that he really, really didn’t need. It would obviously come from favoritism toward his sibling. Favoritism was natural and unavoidable for most thinking things, but if he actually obliged that favoritism when justice was required instead, then on what other issues might he willing to compromise his integrity? And – with the power now condensed in his estate – what kind of omen was it when a Lord risen to his profile began to show a feebleness of the egalitarianism-centric morals he’d originally championed? Of course, he might claim innocence of the infringement, but even if that wouldn’t shrink him in his own mind, there were probably a few people planted in the audience as supporters of Nor’ridge. Surely between a few of them, the proper footage existed to conclusively show Sebastio taking note of the faulty dispenser.

Conversely, the familial position of Heggad meant that actually accusing the fellow of cheating was no different from passing judgment on a relative of Nor’ridge’s golden child. Doing that, however accurate his claims, would get him lynched in Gernasot’s propaganda mills. Oh, eventually things might get “set right” and reveal the Lord as both honest and accurate, but that was the kind of taint which legal absolution couldn’t exactly banish. The same could be said of pretty much anywhere that Nor’ridge had influence to wield – and that covered a lot of places. An ugly business. Furthermore, an ugly business with the same outcome regardless of whether Heggad had compromised his hardware or it had been done by someone else.

But why now?

Then it hit him. The gathering of Republic Lords in Sixmonth, three and a half months into the future. Yrdky had seen but one Lordsmoot in the last hexadecade, an event attended by the most miniscule portion of Lords and their retinues. A larger gathering, in time of peace and (relative) stability, would make an excellent breeding ground for discontent. With Lord Tuoamas – and he was Lord Tuoamas, beloved and familiar with his subjects, despite his eccentricities where the Maker’s works were concerned – such an event would only have served to improve relations with other estates and their rulers. Lord Artaxerxes, being the icon that he was, could produce his own kind of fervid charismatic response… but not with such reckless patriotic approval. His evocations were more the territory of a cult of personality, not the sort of inarguable improvement to reputation a true-born citizen of Yrdky could coax from such a crowd.

For a moment, Sebastio felt that part of himself which revelled in pain hoping for a massive-scale confrontation, almost howling for release. It would be a wonderful cathartic cleansing to devastate those who would impugn a collection of asylee-citizens. A vast portion of the estate now resided as a result of the so-called Pennat Gate Haven Edict, a group of people who’d been welcomed into the estate’s arms because they literally had no other safe place to call home. If a collection of petty jealous nobles wanted to do harm to such helpless petitioners, he’d gladly destroy the destroyers first.

He shook inside.

No. Destroy only what’s absolutely necessary, preserve the rest.

He opened a direct channel to his Lady. On the one hand, he blessed himself for making the decision to consult with the udod aodod who was his co-regent, the unseen third point of the trifecta holding up his new home’s order. On the other hand, he ought to have contacted it sooner.

{Adz, I noticed a problem with the dispenser of our star player.}

{Did you? What sort of problem? How did it catch your attention?} Curious, concerned.

{It was compromised.}

He sent a package of his observations to his Lady, highlighting the light pattern on the side of the dispenser. Once he would have felt a bit uncertain as to how his observations would translate. Not in the sense of drawing forth the same perceptions. Cross-species adapters for sensory content had addressed the topic of going from two visual pickups to four, or losing the ability to perceive color, in ages long past. No, he was more concerned with how well he could convey the vector of his reason and suspicion. Once, that would have been a legitimate concern. After more than sixteen years of marriage, though, two creatures began to lose their doubts in each other’s comprehension. Discomfort? Not always, but that was also true of the once-security-consultant and the once-designer.

{The timing and context make me think of the Œlthlant Goldspire-Traders conspiracy. Very clever. Very dishonest.}

From Adz, “clever” lay at roughly the pinnacle of the Údanese stele of admiration; “dishonest” was nearly its antipode. It had some pride in its quality as a simulation designer, after all, and getting legitimate requirements from a client was the only way to achieve perfection. To the Lord’s great fortune, Adz’s ambition was never short of perfection, and its capacity to cope with disappointment was profound.

{What one is that, exactly?} asked Sebastio. His instant attempt to identify the event met a hundred hundred references to something either identical in name or so close as to make no difference.

{Back in the nineteenth epoch; battle was done between Hide Mountain and Ffenuu Ffenuu Smith. It ended poorly.}

He sensed that the udod aodod expected him to get his answers from the Monolith. However, his Lady had too much insight to avoid asking its input.

That was one of the reasons why we got married, after all – aside from politics, a relatively irreverent personality, and the adorable way it tries to avoid saying “I’m ALSO a huge follower of Eihks Richard’s work” outright.

{Enlighten me.}

{Hide Mountain’s Ninth Step nobles disliked the direction their estate’s leadership was headed. Ffenuu Ffenuu Smith was fresh from the yolk of their charter, and had a great need for prestige. A Duke of Hide Mountain, who I regret to admit is an adoptive ancestor, approached Ffenuu Ffenuu Smith’s Lord. To the credit of Lord Ansey, she… but that is not important. She and a group from Hyde Mountain tacitly agreed to make war on each other several times, the Duke’s side narrowly throwing the battle in each instance. Soon, Lord Ansey had herself a reputation for excellence in warfare and several estates eager for treaties, and Hyde Mountain’s cabinetry managed to convince their Lord to back a number of necessary changes in policy. Of course, had things worked out otherwise and the offenders get caught, a cry of libel would have just as surely earned the lesser party some sympathy, and the greater some suspicion. The… extreme bribery taken to anesthetize the presiding Lawmaster’s conscience probably would have helped as well.}

Deliberate sabotage of a noble’s own Lord. That was like Sebastio, a Rhaagmini by birth, taking an oath before Crippled False in vain. There were some, jioji and dagachas and ftalw and aarls to name a few, whose kinds held very different hereditary concepts of honor – but the human model of that virtue, no matter how alien at its presentation, somehow seemed to make sense to pretty much everybody. Did that mean it was followed all the time? Oh, yes, and there was no such thing as vagrancy in Rhaagm, and the Aidenists had finally brought peace to the whole circle of creation, and anentropic physics had been made universally legal. But violations on the scale of what Adz was describing…

{That information is more than sufficient to draw up a number of accounts of the matter, but please continue, Lady.}

{The estates involved both belonged to Lonely Lords, and back then the rules were more lax for Lonely Lord estates. Both of them could make use of more advanced weaponry for their conflict than we use today: solar lenses, Saint Peters, gray goo warheads, and so on. Hide Mountain, and Hide Mountain alone, neglected to do so – despite the fact that they had enough Saint Peters to void every complex machine for half a billion kilometers in every direction. As it happened, one of Œlthlant’s martial nobility was in the region, and noticed the manifests of each estate’s munitions. She eventually reported the altercation’s abnormality. If you consult those accounts, they will probably agree that without that noble’s observation, the Eighth War of the Goldspires probably would not have happened.}

{… Lady, it goes without saying that your parallel makes me unhappy.}

{Lord, your job is not to be happy, it is to better your subjects’ lives.}

{As it is yours to advise. I do not think I thank you often enough for how frustrating you are.}

Adz gave an impression of amusement, as though Sebastio was mostly kidding and had a scrap of perfect severity in his statement, instead of the other way around.

The Lord of Pennat Gate came back into his body, considering the different ways the game might resolve. After a short pause, his hand-that-was-not-a-hand tapping an arrhythmic beat on the air, he opened his mouth to reply. At that moment, he got a different direct channel request shoved down his throat. Scuffing the frustration from his bytevoice, he accepted the connection with Magdod Bartimaeus, and dove once again into his cerv-mesh.

{Lord Artaxerxes!}

{Magdod, I told you that I am Sebastio to you, now and always. I have vacillated on many issues in my mind’s confines over the years; so long as we are in private, that is not one of them.}

{… Sebastio, Kallahassee and I have found some problems. Some BEAST problems. Please stop by as soon as you conceivably can.}

{I have a bit of a situation here, Magdod. Is it life-or-death?}

{It might be much worse than that.}

Well, absolutely nothing was going to be easy today.

“It has been years since the competition when Pennat Gate last changed leadership,” Sebastio said to the crowds. “This was less happy, and more entertaining.”

He gave a reassuring look to Louis, and only after the younger man met his eyes did he also give him a smile.

The hubbub died horribly, like someone had put it out of its misery after leaving it kneecapped and without medical assistance for two days.

“WHAT’D HE SAY!?” screamed a lone Rhaagmini voice, New Armisian accent so thick it could only have been from a genuine out-of-towner, probably incapacitatingly drunk.

“Questioning our Lord?” seethed a ragathencider voice. “Why so foolish?” Its pheromones couldn’t reach all the way up to the box, but Sebastio guessed it was emanating a stew of disgust and anger.

A trumpeting whinny came from an executioner somewhere. The game’s participants traded concerned looks. There was a sound suspiciously like glass shattering from the first floor of the arena.

Sebastio turned to Adz.

“I need to be going,” he stated.

“Where?” Adz asked.

“Business with Kallahassee and Magdod. Purple business.” Both a mild curse and a factual statement.

“Very well, then I shall accompany you.”

“As you wish, Lady.”

He stopped, and looked up at the udod aodod as he stood and turned to the high box’s exit.

“You were right: all the players have turned to condescension, I should think.”

They both left the arena just as something barely short of a riot broke out in the arena’s spindly building, armsmen clearing a path to Sebastio’s Lordly gemship Walker where it awaited their pleasure. On the way out, a polling spirit that manned the towering structure’s northern arcade kiosk was informed that the Lord had only a single complaint about the venue. That complaint had to do with the fact that the maypole’s exterior depicted his own face in endless repetition. When asked how it might be improved, he told the spirit that the images should either show him with less nobility of bearing, or be changed to something else altogether. The spirit tried to ask him something else as he strolled out across the golden lawn to the gemship’s starboard door, but it was drowned out by the increasing sound of opinions.

As the gemship’s portal was about to close, Sebastio noted the strange man with an incredibly greasy mustache watching from the arcade’s safety. A strange man named Hereld Upswitch who he’d last seen very shortly before marrying. A strange man who was absolutely not the friend of Lord Artaxerxes, not the friend of Pennat Gate, and maybe not the friend of thinking existing creatures. Upswitch was, among other things, in the direct or indirect employ of certain Beings of Old. Sebastio absently considered, for the thousandth time, for which Olds other than the illustrious Target he himself was acting as unwitting agent.

Sebastio prevented the locking of Walker’s door, looked right at the sour man who’d basically told him off for wanting to marry his Lady. This was one of the few people he’d gladly rip to shreds at the slightest excuse, and not merely bestow with excruciating punishment.

Showing enough tact to avoid getting ripped to shreds, Hereld Upswitch did nothing.

Sebastio abused one of the privileges he’d received in return for his good judgment of surviving impalement by legendary sword thing: a security loophole. Caladhbolg’s first gift to its new corporeal vehicle’s inhabitant, aside from continued life, had been that of information. A very interesting public key, which brought a prompt when one passed it to one of the connectors that cerv-meshes borrowed from the Maker’s design of the central Monolith servers. If one had an additional private key – as seen in the weapon’s many bags of tricks – the prompt allowed all kinds of interesting things like breaching the security measures which kept a person’s direct channel connections consensual.

Sebastio forced open a connection to the man, and his bytevoice was as level and clean as any Earth Standard doctor’s instrument table.

{Hereld, you once advised me on my long-term relationship prospects. As a returned favor, I have a bit of advice for you.}

There was a delay of about a millisecond without response, which was to normal cerv-mesh communication times what an average atom was to an average elephant.

{Yes, Lord?} asked a mockingly obsequious voice, which to its credit had only the barest tremor at such a violation.

Sebastio snorted.

{If it is the last thing you do, get rid of that mustache.}

He allowed the gemship’s door to close.

“What was that?” asked Adz from its seat. 

“Hereld Upswitch,” replied Sebastio, without needing to look at his spouse to see its numb anger. His fleshy hand tightened on the air for an instant, as though it were Upswitch’s neck.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Sebastio turned, and made a quick gesture of annoyance. 

“He’s too stupid to be stupid, and I’m smarter than that,” he drawled, slipping into Bequastish to quote a Rhaagmini cliché.

Well, so be it. They’d need far more than intelligence soon enough, anyway.


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