Intermission: Heisting a Soldier

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

Sginer asked his ancestors to watch over him, then donned the necklace.

There were deeds to do.

He had help in the form of four assistants. This was good, because it wasn’t such a great number that their gathering might draw attention, and it wasn’t so small that he had to worry about the logistics of the ritual. Yetran, who stood beside Sginer in the center of the two rings in the earth, would handle managing the living-water and dead-water, as well as the water of a more mundane variety. Harretio had stewardship over the symbols crafted in the dry soil at the center of the site, and would be in charge of adding the crucial final section of script when the time came. He trusted Gaig to take care of filling in if and when one portion or another of the operation began coming apart, as well as watching the torches. The light they threw wasn’t much, but having no light at all would be quite troublesome.

Usfnūs, bless her heart, didn’t have much to do in the grand scheme of things – she would be losing enough blood to cause her some serious distress. She fidgeted in front of Sginer, separated only by a deep round depression filled with living-water.

All for the good of the kingdom.

Sginer looked at the horizon, where the second sun had yet to fully set. The ritual was, sadly, less than fully clear on a few points. Tattered manuscript leaves lay in the resealed box beyond the edge of the circle, in case they needed to consult the text. However, given that he’d only managed to pilfer part of the library’s contents when he’d fled the citadel at Ronnin-Sōlsig-Adur, they would have to extrapolate and guess at a couple of key elements. As far as he could tell, the really key ingredients were simple. The necklace, being a magical tool that removed the need for precisely comprehended language modeling from the equation of two people communicating, would… probably be necessary.

If they did manage to summon a hero for their nation, Sginer suspected that they would not speak the same tongue.

As the second sun disappeared, he gave the signal. “No outer light save that of the stars and bamboo” was a phrase that ran near the top of the ritual’s description, which they interpreted as meaning that the design had to occur either at night or in some sort of underground setting. Nobody was interested in trying what they were going to try in an enclosed space. An enclosed space in the neighborhood of other people would have outweighed any benefits from performing their task closer to civilization.

They’d see soon enough if their plans were workable at all.

Yetran reached down, and turned a wedge of living-water into dead-water, before handing it to Usfnūs. She hissed as she ran the blade down her left palm, and then the right, and then her forehead. Then, Yetran pulled the rest of the living-water up from the depression, using it to consummate the process with blood. Bulbous pulses of dark didn’t get quite enough light from the bamboo torches at the perimeter to pick out their color, but Sginer’s mind supplied the shredding ribbons with crimson hue regardless.

Yetran continued to hold the living-water like a ball of fleece, while in the background Harretio did what needed to be done with the script between the two rings: one of mundane water, one of dead-water. Gaig watched, relieved, while things came together without any problems.

Sginer gestured a final time, and stepped back to the limit of the inside ring. Yetran held the boiling living-water still, as Usfnūs exited the ritual site entirely, careful not to misstep and ruin the designs. After carefully lowering the bloody liquid back into the depression, Yetran followed her example and cleared the innermost section.

The moment of truth.

Sginer strode briskly forward, and poured out a tiny phial of alchemical slurry over the living-water: a half-dram of goldbeer was yet another thing he’d stolen during the last moments of his royal tenure. Then, he slapped the liquid as hard as he could.

It was like when a gas pocket in a mine met the embers of a miner’s lamp.

If it had gone in any direction except up, the liquid would probably have done fatally chiropractic things to the participants. His forearm had barely cleared the diameter of the circle before he felt the force of the geyser neatly sand some of the hairs from his skin’s surface. He fell to his back, relieved at his survival. The burst had far more volume than just the living-water could account for.

When the spray finally faltered, a crumpled gasping figure lay curled in the depression.

A hero, in duress and the embrace of water, either from here or elsewhere, the ritual had promised. Now to see if it had delivered.

He gave the signal to the others, and they began changing a few symbols with fevered speed.

There was, perhaps, some slim chance this great warrior could read the script of magic. If so, it wouldn’t do to offer proof that they had in fact stolen their champion – and done so at random – when their narrative was going to claim they’d attempted a “rescue” inste-

A click, and a hum, were all the warning Spiger got before the soaking figure stood holding something less than an arm’s length from his face.

His thoughts were, in order:

“Oh, that’s a woman!”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter if we have found a woman, because I’m sure she could kill me with no problem using this thing pointed at me.”

“Oh, she’s faster than I expected!”

“Oh, she’s upset.”

“Oh, I had better make this good.”

Where am I?” the figure snarled at him. “What is going on!? And you’d better make this good!

He heard her speak in a strange tongue, but over it was a glittery layer of meaning that ascended from the necklace to his ears.

“I beg your pardon, my lady,” he said, in the susurrus that had served Rollhir well whenever the king desired counsel. “We had… reason to believe you were in danger of drowning, and enacted a ritual to assist.”

The sheen of the woman’s forehead furrowed. Her skin had a bit of a strange tint to it in the torches’ glow, but his curiosity came from her complete baldness. Not simply the top of her head; no eyebrows, no eyelashes, not even those thin colorless filament hairs as far as he could tell.

“‘Ritual?’ What do you mean, ‘ritual?’” she demanded. Her anger had not abated, but it was now on a tighter leash.

“Why, this ritual, my lady,” he replied, gesturing at their preparations.

A swirling dip, eyes flickering through a down and around arc. The glance took in the standing torches, the state of Sginer himself, the concentric water rings with their written dictates of summoning. It took a moment, but she also turned while keeping the long ominously chirpy thing pointed in his direction, and saw the others faithfully serving the true sovereign of the kingdom.

Gaim, in a manic fit, had to be within a handwidth of trying to subdue their visitor. As he made for a hidden weapon, Sginer did his best to signal that in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, their guest mustn’t be harmed. Whether by dissuasion or second-guessing, Gaim untensed a bit without doing anything wretchedly stupid.

“I apologize, but it’s been disrupted with your arrival,” Sginer admitted, when her face contorted further. “If you’ll permit, I would be more than happy to reassemble our preparations for your inspection.”

“I don’t care what you-” she began, then stopped dead.

Sginer looked up from where he was reconstituting some of the living-water he could still save from soaking into the earth, and saw her staring at his hands.

“How in Shiva’s name are you doing that?” she asked in a conversational way that unsettled far more than any shrieking fury.

“I… I am picking up the living-water we used for our ritual, my lady,” he told her, suddenly aware of the frailties of mortal flesh. “If you would be so kind as to take a step away from the font, I will replace it.”

She pulled the forearm-sized thing in her hands back, and it stopped making the very quiet noise as she strafed a single pace away from his path. She still kept the thing pointed in his direction as he set most of the globule he’d scraped together back into the depression.

“There,” he said, looking at her as he slowly rose to his feet. Her focus briefly transitioned to the others in turn, and as her head swiveled by slight degrees he made out the thick collar around her neck. The collar in question was of one piece with a very bulky and very heavy looking chestplate, roughly the brown-black of river mud after a thousand years of fermentation. Her arms and legs had the same covering. In fact, everything except for her head – and possibly her hands, though those bore softer-looking gloves – had the same protective layer.

“If you wish to inspect any of our magic, I will happily assist in offering explanations,” he added.

“Magic?” she asked.

“Yes, my lady!” he answered, almost giddy with the inane ease of affirming questioning-tone restatements of his own phrasing. “We had the opportunity to rescue you, as we had… information, shall we say, that you were in distress.”

“‘In distress’ is one way to put it.”

She eyed the sigils with narrow-slitted lids.


She looked around, taking in the wooded environs where they’d managed to set up their attempt at wringing out a new hope for their country.

“Well. I can say this isn’t Edos Prime, and you obviously don’t have a Magellan-class transport anywhere in evidence, so that’s an almost believable explanation.”

She blinked, diverting her attention to the depression from whence she came once more.

“Either believable, or I’m currently bleeding out with a head injury against an underwater bulkhead. Did you happen to ‘rescue’…”

She used the word with a dry tone, and a wild twitchy swivel of her head in a half-circle.

“… anyone in green and orange clothing? Robes that are actually a lot like yours, in fact.”

“I… cannot say we did, my lady.”

A heavy fist struck her thigh.

“That tears it. The Consul might be atomized right now, then. That, or getting eaten by fish.”

He gulped as she slammed the same fist to her chest, finally lowering the lengthy object he could only assume was some sort of weapon.

“Sergeant Carline Sandany, Sol Confederation Marines, first echelon,” she said, in something too close to a shout for comfort.

Was that whole thing her name? By the dead, but maybe they’d gotten royalty to help re-seat royalty.

“Sginer, servant of King Rollhir of Dōdielnan. At your service, my… lady Sergeant.”

He gave a sweeping gesture with one flat hand at his compatriots. His beautiful, beautiful compatriots.

“It sounds as though you have an interest in returning to the locale from which we rescued you, though perhaps in a more advantageous position,” he said.

Her eyes lit up with a fervor that actually seemed to generate heat.

“YES,” she hissed.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “we cannot set you back in that cradle just yet, my lady. We haven’t all of the necessary ingredients to reenact this deed. One reagent at least is unfeasible for us to obtain, as we… are not much-beloved among those who could procure it for us.”

He held up the tiny glass container which had held a very minute amount of goldbeer.

“However,” he murmured with both slyness and sincerity, “I will be candid with you. Our king – wrongly exiled to the land of Fanlil – could ensure you receive not only whatever assistance can be provided, but also offer suitable awards for a person of your stature.”

“And all I need to do to earn such a distinction is… what?”

As he opened his mouth to do some desperate convincing, Sginer felt a thin but razor-sharp twinge of hope.

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