Depart the Nest

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“Paradox is a useful unit measure of cognizance. A prime example, found in many extrafacetarily-conversant societies in this the thirty sixth age: consider the biases and attitudes on the subject of race and species. Should I desire, I can go through a conjugation procedure the afternoon that I write this, and tomorrow I’ll be a naufer. One would think that race and species would matter less, being a parameter we can change about our physiognomy. For some people, it’s just that – a trivial matter. For others, though, the fact that we can alter it as a matter of choice means an entire new layer of judgment is introduced. It’s somewhat akin to picking clothing. You can wear something flashy and loud, and that makes you a rebel. You can wear something plain, and that makes you either other-directed or unconcerned about your current day-to-day. The fact of making something an inconsequential part of life means that whatever we choose to do with that part of life becomes an indicator of what and who we are. A corollary: the smaller the detail, the bigger the construed meaning.”

-Hmensc Dorlilianmosoliligreganslilipror, Modern Bridges for Modern People

The two more-alien aliens watched the less-alien alien sprinting away like she was pursued by the profane grasp of Taralngegeshet. They kept silent for just an instant as her heavy frame thundered and her armor glinted dully in the skewed light.

The fact that Ktsn actually had practical use for expressing degrees of alienness was one of those decreasingly-rare observations that would have throttled the brain of a younger her.

“You know, it’s sometimes amazing how much practical use there is in expressing degrees of alienness,” she heard Eihks mutter half under his breath.

He was reaching deep into his jacket, lips widened into ribbons.

“Things are going to be very unsafe from here on,” he declared. The statement, spoken in Rhaagmini and cooked over the fires of impatience, accompanied an unusual and sour sort of reluctance in his movements.

“What I should be doing, in the arena of self-interest by avenue of you-interest, is making sure that we stick together,” he told her, turning and frowning. “What I’m actually going to do is make sure you can help His Highness and Sergeant Sandany, and keep yourself safe. For the time being, that means everything we can utilize is fair game.”

From his jacket he abruptly drew a long shape that couldn’t have reasonably fit under his clothes without a major tell, along the lines of an arm-sized bulge. He handed it over.

The object wasn’t as big as the arbalest he’d given her to play with that day back in Tienla-Gaphra. Its components didn’t resemble materials with which she had any familiarity, for the most part. In architecture, it wasn’t impossibly different from that of the gun he’d shown her shortly before they’d left Rhaagm. Unlike that metallic armament, though, the thing she cradled now consisted of a fat rectangular glass chamber, one end boasting an opening and metal edging that probably dispensed projectiles, the other end dressed and harnessed with geometry meant for hands and other body parts to grip, and a few other less-easily identifiable features scattered across the rest of its structure. One of the obvious features was very obviously a trigger.

“What…?” she started, more than slightly surprised at how light the weapon felt.

“It’s called a quadratic accelerator. If you’re in any sort of danger from any violent source, that should make it not dangerous anymore.”

Ktsn blinked, then did a lookup of the unusual term’s particulars. Her hands almost broke from her sudden deathgrip. She’d had a default amount of respectful caution for weapons or potentially lethal objects for most of her life. That gun she’d had a chance to shoot half a lifetime ago had made her… uneasy.

She’d never felt dread at the mere existence of an object like this before.

Eihks made two quick taps on prongs sticking off the thing’s top.

“Look down it lengthwise, and line these up with whatever you want dead or destroyed. If you pull the trigger, anything in a straight line of sight down that heading is going to have a very bad day. Don’t worry about firing arcs, just drop a couple centimeters for muzzle offset. Do NOT shoot if you have other options in a non-dangerous scenario, but don’t hesitate if you have legitimate reason to worry either. Aim high, please. That’s the strap for your shoulder. Try not to lose the thing, but that’s less important – I can give it a disassembly instruction if necessary. I’m doing a horrible job with this explanation and every second is screaming for absolution.”

He grabbed and pulled a fabric belt near the back end, and it came streaming out with a quiet ratcheting sound.

“I have many questions, but it sounds like we probably will not have time for them.”

“No,” Eihks hissed in annoyance. “We won’t. Just go after Sandany. Watch her, the king, and anyone else you feel like assisting, but… don’t hesitate. Please.”

“But what if Sandany is the one who attacks me?”

The tall man’s face almost switched to something she’d call genuinely humorous.

“If it’s her, then stay back. That armor will be shattered into enough shrapnel to kill anyone and anything behind her, and probably anyone standing to the side if they aren’t careful.”


“I’ve got stuff to do, you’ve got stuff to do, when things calm down then ask the king where to find me! Go!”

He pushed her, then darted off around a corner, arms and legs flashing in antisynchrony.

Immediately before vanishing he glanced back, his thumb pitched down, rested beneath his chin, then pushed in her direction. She didn’t stop to try and return the farewell.

She just picked up her feet and got moving.

Things blurred with a kind of sickly beauty, colors that she wouldn’t remember and shapes of motion that she wouldn’t forget. The beckoning doorway of the quarters she and he called their own seemed to give her an inattentive greeting, just as she thundered past.

Her jaws opened wider in anticipation as she flooded down the corridor at top speed. She vaguely heard bits of fabric and cloth rustling as she passed. Torches bled a bit in her wake, while the rarer glow of magical light sources caught every slight shift of her body’s joints. Approaching her destination got a bit tricky when she tried to flip onto highlegs while in motion, and nearly slid into a wall.

Ktsn bounded into the king’s chamber, taking in the sight of a confrontation-in-progress. Her panting arrival didn’t quite get her the startled reception she’d expected.

Around the edges of the room, a circling of couches made a nest for whomever Goeyren blessed or cursed with his company. Many of the places where one might choose to set a foot in the space between them had sleeves of carpets and pelts, given light by an imposing set of windows across the wall to the right.

She took in the decor with smeared eye-gasps, finding little glints of metal adorning polished wood furniture, and seats padded with soft cushioning contrasted against the palace’s frequent hard stone. Everywhere stood upright shapes in the oddest of placements, most of them some kind of strange dusty dusky marble. A moment’s vague attention to one showed that it was a pot; another was a jar. She quickly realized they spanned the range of conceivable liquid vessels, everything from pithoi and amphorae to cups and flasks.

Motion helped her put her attention where it belonged. The king had hands on a small barricade of chairs set up between himself and the room’s opposite doorway. On his person hung a thin spattering of blood, staining an airy fluff of thick woolen clothing. It clearly didn’t belong to him, given the lack of wounds and the way he held himself. Actually, his posture, and his face, made her wonder if Trehal of Tienla-Gaphra might be distantly related. Between the prone figures and his furniture barrier, three halberd-armed guards stood sentry – injured across a wide spectrum of disability that ran from a completely removed forearm to some highly visible but purely cosmetic facial lacerations.

The boots and weapons of a human soldier kept the downed but conscious people where they lay. Her breathing came slightly more heavily than the others in the room and stuck with a scowling visage like something from a horror tale. Sandany looked like her next move would be to start executing people.

Goeyren was upbraiding the three subdued figures with a special disgust.

“… without delay. That’s simply the way things are. Don’t waste time or breath trying to convince me that your little group were the only actors in this escapade in the palace. Give me names, or you’ll be giving me your fingers.”

Ktsn moved slowly into the room, keeping herself near the edges where she obviously wasn’t about to leap forward with killing intent. As she slipped over to the side just in front of the windows, Sandany spared her a glance. Behind her helmet, the heavily armored human had every one of her teeth on display.

Goeyren and his minders took notice of the karkshesh almost immediately after. The king’s expression went from coldly livid to curious – a curiosity with moribund and humorous ancestry.

“Ah, Ktsn. I wondered when you and your associate were going to show up,” he declared.

She tried and failed to watch every part of the room at the same time. It was almost a surprise that no howling throngs of warmongering madmen suddenly materialized and threw themselves headlong into battle.

“He is dealing with what seems to be a larger company of intruders,” she said.

Truthful as far as she knew, though she had no idea if said intruders offered more or less of a direct threat than the rebels in this room.

“The impression he gave was that they posed an extreme threat to not only your person, but those loyal to you as well,” she added.


The king’s eyebrow rose and fell.

“That might be a worthwhile point of investigation. Let’s deal with these loyal creatures first, then we can see exactly how worthwhile.”

A brief glance, almost but not quite entirely expunged of caged suspicion, licked out in Sandany’s direction. The suspicion mutated to disdain and came out in force when the glance dropped to the subdued trio.

“We have loyalty of the highest order,” said the man clothed in white and red, his face a terror with swollen lips almost eclipsing the nose and chin. That chin arranged itself to the side in a sneer, and Ktsn realized his jaw had gotten very badly broken. “We aren’t the ones who betrayed the order of succession. We aren’t the ones who abandoned our motherland to those who sought out illicit power.”

He spat, a globule of bubbly red that insulted him as much as the fabric on which it landed.

“And I am not the one who surrendered my motherland by abandoning my responsibilities as a ruler,” Goeyren replied in biting contemptuous clipped syllables. “Ragyomet, you weren’t in my closest circles, but you managed to earn my trust. And then you do this.”

The man rasped a deep breath and licked the grotesquerie of his lips, about to say something else, but paused.

In that pause, the doorway on the chamber’s far side became shadowed.

Sandany and Ragyomet, and Ragyomet’s allies, faced opposite the portal, and so didn’t see the clutch of footpads who whispered past the threshold. Goeyren, his bodyguards, and Ktsn had a full second to process the intrusion, though. One of the king’s guards gave a short cry, another readied his weapon and took a short low-stance step toward the entryway.

Sandany read the situation, connected the missing dots, followed the anticipatory trajectory of the guard who’d moved, and whipped about with her long firearm. Its haft caught the first of the intruders in the chest. The second retreated a pace, forcing the others back into the hall. He held a dagger in one hand, his grin filthy, before throwing it in the king’s direction. If he’d meant to actually wound the king then he’d sorely and humiliatingly failed in his ambition. If he’d meant to cause a distraction and gather the whole of Sandany’s attention, then he’d comprehensively succeeded.

A sound like someone’s soul exploding rocked the room for an instant; when it shredded in the air, part of a wall was afire and the man who no longer held a knife was only three quarters of the human being he’d been.

Two infinitesimal moments after the sergeant had stepped away to deal with the knife-joker, the human rugs scrambled away. The women scattered, one drunkenly limping toward the king and getting run through for her trouble. The other produced what had to be an entire longsword from… somewhere, and slipped inside another guard’s effective range. Things got very noisy, the king’s voice towering above the distractions, and the guards shouting for people to stop moving, and the rebels either loudly silent or heavily breathing or growling threats with half-false braggadocio.

Ktsn watched and tried to assess the situation, but she just gathered data in a passive occupation, holding onto the thing her partner had given her. Somewhere between her reasoning cortex and her motivation center, something was clogged and in dire need of fixing. She hefted herself, not really paying attention beyond mentally jotting down a running commentary of events in the most objective of ways. “Battle fatigue” wasn’t a term she’d ever heard before, but it applied to her present circumstances quite well. Over the last twisting upside-down handful of days she’d been in more dangerous situations caused by other people’s actions or inactions than in the rest of her previous life combined. Her gears of war hadn’t gotten rusty from age or stuck from inaction; they’d slipped and spun freely.

That state of mind persisted right up until she saw the rebel with the sword slap aside the guard she’d cut down to his guts, and come tottering past with her blade half-extended. She wore exhaustion on every muscle, but she also kept her aim so that just keeping her forward momentum – or even falling strategically – would put that sword right through a paralyzed karkshesh.

“I was so worried for you,” sighed the relieved voice of Cursog.

The apparition’s affection proved to be just the right mechanic to fix Ktsn’s malfunction.

With only the slightest pause, caused by muscle-memory delay rather than any conscious reservation, Ktsn lined up her weapon’s bore, mentally did the trigonometric miracles necessary to find a firing solution without actually holding the sights to her eye, and made the gesture that had propelled ranged weapons’ payloads for nearly as long as things more sophisticated than the flatbow had existed.

It wasn’t a perfect shot, but it didn’t need to be.

Immediately, the quadratic accelerator did five things too fast for her to process. First, it generated a metalloid slug in the transparent chamber, suspending it very briefly in the center of the passage. Second, the chamber emptied of all atmosphere. Third, a microsingularity formed at the very front of the chamber, in a perfectly chamber-sized tuning field – a microsingularity that in this use case was rated for a maximum of about two hundred times the gravitational acceleration of that place known as Earth Standard. Fourth, the tuning field created a really basic folding field that started and ended at the faces of its long dimension, so that when the microsingularity started dragging the projectile down its length, the projectile repeatedly looped at ever greater speeds. Fifth, after reaching sufficient velocity, the folding field and microsingularity both collapsed into nothing and released the slug into atmospheric conditions via the muzzle.

The slug punched through the woman, punched through the bedchamber wall, punched through multiple other architectural wooden obstructions, punched through the palace’s stone and mortar exterior, punched through the upper part of a grain silo at the city’s edge, and eventually punched through a ragamuffin cloud.

Because of the “frictionless” resistance-mitigating specifications of the projectile, it didn’t cause tissue rupture in every nearby combatant through air displacement. It moved far more slowly than it could have, which meant the woman whom it threaded merely became dead instead of abundantly explosively dead.

Despite the size of the new throat bored through her trunk, the noise and chaos ensured few others actually saw her perish. She stumbled back a bit, sword forgotten, then tripped and fell.

Another person came through the far door, pushing past the badly-burned man. The newcomer – armed with a knife whose blade was shorter than Ktsn’s smallest claw – found herself forced to circle-strafe the king at the end of a spear, then tripped over Ktsn’s victim like they’d been magnetically united. In a surreal moment of clarity, she watched as the guard who’d fended the short-knife-woman off stepped briskly over and stabbed her, then resumed his place with a perfectly businesslike expression.

Even Ktsn’s attention got drawn to the door when a manic burring growl came down the hall. The growl turned into a hot roar just as several hostile individuals came pinwheeling past the threshold, a couple of them slipping into the king’s quarters with less than their full attention on monarch murder. The roar turned back into a growl, and began complementing a man’s scream. A familiar many-legged thing rode him from one side to the other, plenty of moving mouthparts working at disconnecting his plumbing components.

Another man came sliding across the doorway with a knife. A yip succeeded some invisible use of the implement. This was followed by more shouting, and a familiar high-pitched harridan’s voice screaming “DON’T YOU HURT MY GIRL!” before an equally familiar woodworker lunged preternaturally fast after them.

A different kind of shouting, as Fonlat did something doubtlessly unpleasant – the sound was a reminder that long ago she used to… what was it? Ah yes, helped hunt down poachers.

It wasn’t clear exactly which person received her ministrations, but the man whose internal organs were busily becoming external organs probably didn’t need additional stabbing.

Ktsn’s arms curled close, and she hunched even lower into a defensive stance just as a rebel with massive hands and a tiny ax whirled on her. His eyes got huge. His ax rose in the air despite his distance from her, at which point she realized it was potentially meant for throwing.

“What in the dead-” he began (and ended) before she aimed a shot at him just above the nose. This time she paid attention, and heard the weird dynamic sound the weapon made in the telescoping instant before firing; it brought to mind a metal pot slowly being filled with water and stricken by a baton. Her target gained a hole that she’d shortly realize approximated the size of one of those widened eyes, but in the heat of the moment seemed to remove more of his head than it left.

She blinked, and like magic there was only a single shillelagh-laden hostile moving, screaming as she tried to rush the king from halfway across the room. Three guards moved to block her way and would have happily run her through, but Tassy’s lanky flowing shape rippled through the doorway and – ignoring a minor limp – fastened around her ankle.

Dirtied, with various appendages akimbo in a threat display, the long beast let go and curled away before the woman could crush her head. She coiled as though to spring when the woman fell, knocking over a decorative unlit lamp. Sandany beat her to the punch, though.

Whatever the armored soldier actually did was partially obscured by her heavy gear, but Ktsn’s lips retreated a tad at the decisive crack. A placid iron-smelling stillness followed.

For almost half a minute, the sounds of the room consisted of nothing besides breathing and the tromp of Sandany’s boots. Bodies got checked and kicked. Both exits and the windows received cursory perusal, and no additional weapons fire resulted.

“We appear secure,” she declared eventually, doing something probably priming-related to her really big gun. “For the time being, at least. I can’t give odds on how long that’ll be true.”

At precisely that instant, the part of the wall where she’d used her really big gun spread its flaming bounty to a woven tapestry. It disintegrated with alarming speed, prompting a guard to beat out the fire and extinguish some embers with a sleeve of living-water.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” said Goeyren, stepping to the side of his defensive line. “And thank you as well, dear woodworker.”

Fonlat gingerly admitted herself into the royal presence, a hand against her hip where she’d gotten jabbed. Tassy gave a happy moan and rubbed against her. The other hand tucked a very bloody file away, and gave comforting pets. Out of breath, but far less upset than most of the people present.

“Could hardly stay away with all this ruckus,” she said.

The karkshesh’s gaze flared, then smoldered, as she looked over the temporary tranquility and phrased her next thoughts. The king’s head tilted, whole body craning forward a little, when she spoke up.

“Your Highness, I will happily stay by your side, but if that is your wish then someone ought to go and investigate the… water chamber, I think it was. Eihks suggested he would be going that way. I do not think he declined to give your person his protection without reason.”

She glanced around, repressing a sneeze as her eye tracked the direction where she thought her associate was at that moment.

“Many things are probably going to be complicated shortly.”

Goeyren’s look at her turned into a raised-brow leer at the atomically ideal holes bitten out of his wall.

“Let’s set up a more defensible barrier, and then rest assured that I won’t be obstructing you from going wherever you please, good lady,” he replied.

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