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<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“Guns! Hands! Guns! Hands! Guns! Words.”

-Shear Boot, True Danger, Eating With Your Eyes

Eihks Richard misestimated several important things while following the stompy trail of the Upset Lady.

First, he didn’t expect that her boots or shoulders were equipped with directional jets (which, granted, might not be the case; he couldn’t see any quick way for her to reach some of the heights she’d attained with standing jumps or even climbing gear, though). Second, he thought it would be a relatively simple case of following the lady until she got lost, then clapping her on the shoulder for a more placid chat – NOT a mad dash that half of Ronnin-Sōlsig-Adur witnessed at some time or other. Third, he’d assumed she’d go for something of a stealthy kill attempt instead of a public execution. Instead, he almost missed the place where she decided to camp out. Running as hard as he was across back streets and upper-story portions of bamboo roofs reduced his situational awareness somewhat.

Fourth, her agility – even when lassoed around the neck and pulled from a rooftop to a raised patio – was exceptional.

The distance from the patio to the roof was some three meters. It rose a bit lower to Eihks’s left, from where the woman had presumably vaulted to her sniper’s perch. Behind and to his right, open yet cramped cityscape slouched.

The figure shelled in layers of what would probably best be described as matte ablative brick somersaulted with grace suggestive of gyroscopic implants or ludicrous training or both. Trailing behind her on a thick cable leash was that long energy cannon thingy. Seeing how she righted herself in midair, he half expected her to be holding the bigger firearm in one hand and the pistol in the other.

Instead, he ducked as she flew overhead. The dragging weapon almost clipped his crown, then smacked into the unfinished smooth patio hard enough to carve a divot. She almost slid the four meters to the thin banisters on the side. However, she arrested her motion with a heavy stomp. A hand slapped against the wooden horizontal, setting the strung wedges of stained paper to shuddering between their flappy tug-swishes.

When she turned around, she had her pistol out of the way, and a knife meant to cut entirely through meat animals held low and at the ready.

Behind the tinted plating and lustrous face shield, he could barely make out the squint of her eyes. Those eyes walked the distance from him to her, the emptiness of the patio, moved over to the tall shape of his walking stick. Between each they returned to his torso and head. The eyes’ owner decided against immediately lunging at Mr. Long, Tall, and Beaten.

“You again!” she eventually said. It wasn’t an angry or frustrated declaration, just an observation of how-unlikely delivered at higher than normal volume.

“Hello,” he replied.

Calm, now. Calm.

She did something invisible, and the heftier of her weapons suddenly zipcorded up and away to slot onto her back. At the same time, her knife went through Lusendrad’s rope. The blade did what it was supposed to and peeled the fibers breadthwise with beautiful ease. Eihks wondered whether she could be persuaded to part with the knife. It was a very nice knife.

Much as it had already done earlier, Lusendrad’s native enchantments happily allowed its defacing, but almost instantly righted the damage done to its form.

Her eyes widened. The blade cut some more. The bullroarer’s rope repolymerized.

“You can keep doing that, but it won’t stay cut,” Eihks told her. “Give me just a second, I’ll take care of it.”

She glared, clearly less than fully eager to close with him given the unnatural developments. It was the look of someone who had been just about to throw everything on the table, but noticed just one teensy anomaly in the Grediwe match. A new card from the game’s current expansion that she’d never seen before.

A tiny unknown, like a tiny blood clot that could probably make it through the brain’s aqueducts.

Eihks positioned the staff where it wouldn’t cause problems, then hauled back on a braided strand. A smooth descent and extraction, and a loose loop ate itself. The stranger’s head practically freed itself.

A quick two-step winding brought the rope and its aerofoil back into its owner’s grasp. He spooled it around his humerus and wrist. Another knot here and there, and the strands were back as they should be. The staff flipped once as he lashed the rope around the bottom.

“Eihks,” he said, just before the wind dramatically ruffled his clothes.

Lusendrad finished its spin and stamped the patio with the shuddering weight of fate.


The woman remained crouched, blinking. Her knife hand was still low, her pistol gently resumed tracking him. She sounded like she was talking with a stick of butter that was reciting some really heady poetry in a drunken lolloping accent, and she hoped it could speak up a little bit.

“My name. I am Eihks Richard, but please, call me Eihks.”

He forehead-thumbed grandly. He couldn’t have bettered it if he were introducing himself to a Lord of Yrdky.

“Now… if we could put violence aside for a second, I’d like us to understand each other better.”

Her gaze jittered around like she was strung out on fidget. He kept tense, but made no attempt to hide it, nor to move. He remained braced on his special walking stick, upright and leaned distinctly forward.

“Carline Sandany. Sergeant, Sol Confederation Marines.”

“Ah. I wish we’d met in happier circumstances, Sergeant, but what can we do?”

“You’re very spry for someone who got quite beat up recently.”

She eyeballed the bandaging around his arrow wounds.

“Yes, I am. I’ve had experience in making do under such circumstances. Hopefully, there won’t be a need for more unprofessional medical procedures. Tell me, though – why is it that you’re doing what you’re doing?”

He indicated her armored form with a hand.

“It’s pretty obvious WHAT you are doing, at least.”

“I’m fulfilling a midpoint objective to reach my endpoint objective.”

Eihks gave a lipless smile. Ha ha, yes, good joke.

“Yes, and I was hoping to get the tiniest bit of explanation as to what that endpoint objective actually is.”

I don’t exactly think you have the right to that information, Mr. Richard.”

He wanted to insist on “Eihks” again, but kept himself in check.

Instead, he watched the woman very, very carefully. He’d scrapped with numerous fighters over the years. Never a Rhaagm mannequin or – the Way forbid – a skitcher, but brawlers, Rhaagm Minutemen (though that was a friendly bet), professional killers, esoteric entities up to and including several taxa of demons, sixgunners, magi, spear-carriers, creatures who fought with concrete realizations of persuasion and charisma, punk kids, pseudodeities, sentient bricks, sentient vitreous statues, sentient manifestations of the mothering instinct, sharp-toothed cows, and so on and so forth. Violence, among a great many communities, made for messy unfortunate acceptable conflict resolutions.

There were some bad military combatants, and there were some good military combatants, but the mean level of competence in those who fought in the name of a macrosocial order – and being an officer, she’d likely be above the mean competence of her own people – suggested he’d do well to find a nonviolent accord.

As she was busy internally debating, likely about whether or not she should just shoot him, he gave a longsuffering sigh, and folded to the ground with crossed legs. Lusendrad went across his lap lengthwise.

“Ms. Carline-”

“Sandany. Sergeant Sandany to you.”

“… Sergeant Sandany, a man much wiser than me once said something on the subject of what constitutes ‘my business’ in life. I won’t bore you, so let’s summarize his thoughts as ‘when something is big enough, it’s everybody’s business’ for our purposes.”

He leaned forward.

“If you are trying to kill a head of state, and I have a vested interest in said individual’s survival, then I’d certainly call it my right to question why you’re doing such a thing.”

She started to bring her pistol to bear, and he quickly stuck a finger to a temple, neck tilting.

“If forced to guess, I’d say it has something to do with events in the place you call your original home.”

She kept breathing, silent and controlled and fiercely analytical. Even so, she didn’t move her pistol’s bore a single degree closer to his skinny frame. Dots were coming out of the mist, vertices between them suggested by her supple mind.

“English,” she grunted, in a small voice of recollection.

Two quiet chirps. With a clickety clank, her helmet peeled open and sank into her suit’s collar. Her jaw sawed at the air.

“Explain yourself,” she commanded.

He gave her a stone-crushing grin.

The door in the wall behind him opened.

“Oy! I’m making art, what is this wretched racket?” a man snarled.

Eihks raised a brow over his shoulder at a spindly fellow wearing a mask of partially-dry ink, standing in front of a dark cedar-colored studio of some kind.

“You hooligans,” the man declared with serrated calm. His face darkened. “Look what you’ve done to my house.”

Eihks glanced about, then coldly returned his gaze.

“Yes, and I’d advise you to hush your noise and remove yourself from the area before things get even more vandalous,” he replied, quiet and even. “Please.”

“The damage has already been done. You can’t undo it, you can’t even-”

“Nitten!” shouted a voice from deeper in the building. “Get down here, the KING is outside!”

“There’s a bit of a problem up-”

The man got cut off again, by a cry of, “Get down here! I think he’s hurt!”

A quick glare around the patio, an emotionless soft growl, then the door slammed and steps rushed around inside.

Eihks waited a few seconds, then gave Sergeant Sandany his attention again.

“I’m familiar with what you might consider a different version of the tourist trap that is the English language. Even so, I can read the warnings and other information on your equipment well enough.”

The bootpants leg with the damage got extended, and he swept a palm along its length. It played with the horizontal cut in the fabric.

“I’m quite decent at things like triage and essentials of anatomy. Surely, though, you don’t think the medicine on this planet is advanced enough to deal with hobbling. I do have access to a few little technological advancements.”

And if the adaptor that let a cerv-mesh clip into reality and cook up a skein wasn’t considered advanced by Sandany’s standards, Eihks would eat every pair of shoes in the city.

She blinked twice, hard.

“If you’re like myself, then you’re originally from – to use a nice euphemism – elsewhere,” he continued. “Then, all of a sudden, you’re… here.”

He upturned a palm and looked off to the side, to the grass-hairy horizon and aslant suns, in a way that said, “Just look at all of this nonsense.”

“That ringing any bells?”

She squinted, and the pistol tightened in her grip.

“Are you saying you’re also some summoned grand hero?” she growled. “If so, then I can’t say you look like you’re from anywhere in the Sol Confederation. Not with those genes – maybe from Laodicean space, though.”

His own eyes turned spherical, and swelled to fill his head. Fonlat’s story of her mother’s origin snapped into his mind’s forefront – in particular, the part about the magic lost since the time of Rollhir’s ousting. Words swam and arranged themselves into solid thought particles.

“I’m sorry, what? You don’t exactly look like something pulled out of legend to free the oppressed and restore the alien to their rightful home.”

He kept his trap shut on that one as well, what with how he was occasionally used to small margins for success.

In Rhaagm, a business’s profits are often recouped over hexadecades, if not longer. See the many aspects of the synthwood industry as prime example material – converting steelteak to rubidium is easier than doing the same to, say, plastic-oak. Even when reconstituting on an atomic level, it’s usually less work to alter a relatively simple metal to make another metal than starting with complex hydrocarbon composites. The energy savings for a decent fabrication plant might be measured in picojoules per day, but that’s why a business owner plans for the long term. It’s also why preplanning and analytics and (God forbid) recuperation contingencies are such important aspects of extrafacetary startups.

That margin of error, he suspected, was about the same as the leeway he had right here. Pushing the Sergeant over the edge with any sort of disparagement would be a bad idea, and bad ideas – regardless of unlikelihood – weren’t something he should court just now unless they were the only ports left to him.

“I’m afraid I can’t claim familiarity with either of those names attached to a particular culture in the scope you seem to be assigning them. Sol I definitely do recognize, but not with a Confederation associated with it.”

He toyed with the idea of diving into the Monolith to cross-reference any entity by that name across other various facets. SOMEONE surely had run into these people earlier, in some form, with some difference in event chains or what-have-you that different versions of particulars sometimes had across facetary borders. However, legitimately not having any more background on which to draw for knowing things about this alternate subfacetarily distinct existence would give him the authority and honesty he’d prefer to have when saying, “Nope, never heard.”

“I and a companion were, well, elsewhere before suddenly finding ourselves here,” he reiterated, waving a hand in a speculative manner this time. “Nothing remotely close to… what did you say it was? A summoned grand hero? No, we ended up in some grove near a village a ways thataway.”

He pointed in the vague compass rose inclination of Tienla-Gaphra.

“She nearly got eaten by a thing that looked a bit like a dog after it got passed through industrial farming equipment and sewn back together.”

He breathed in, trying to make himself look like he was coming to grips with her revelations. It was funny, how playing enough parts could make an actor feel difficulty when asked to be natural, open, at-ease.

“Again, then: does your participation in today’s events have anything to do with your arrival here?”

Then, before she could answer, he interjected, “Does it have something to do with wanting to get home?”

The answer was a shocked jerk, an assessing survey of his person, a straightening of the spine, and – eventually – a shadowing of the eyes.

“… I’ve got to return and continue protecting the people who depend on me.”

Eihks frowned.

“Even if it means the overthrow of foreign powers?”

He stood and frowned down at her.

Hidden behind the raised-roof walls, a sheet of exclamations unspooled toward the sky.

“She was over here!” declared a voice that stood out of the rabble. “Get moving!”

The two of them ground away at each other with ocular drill bits.

“I have few prospects for returning home,” she answered. “The machine of nation is built on the backs of its infantry. Duty and fidelity.”

“Few enough that you, great hero from the Sol Confederation, must kill innocents?”

“Usurpers of Rollhir, king and country. And I prefer to kill as few as I can.”

Eihks’s nose scrunched as he smiled. Wan and anemic it was, but the warmth of good humor simmered in his breast for a microsecond. A kindred soul, of sorts.

“Funnily enough, I’ve heard that Goeyren the Lean is a moderate ruler and a blessing in lieu of his sibling. This crowd with whom you’ve thrown in – how civil do you think they are?”

He grimaced, thinking of a pale-colored outfit and a spined tree of living-water.

“Maybe not all of them, but as I understand it many of the people supporting Rollhir are thugs and brawlers. At least one example is from personal experience.”

Her lips arced away from each other. The sour bend faded instantly.

“A member doesn’t always represent the whole.”

“No, no. Entirely correct. Yet there is a reason that the synecdoche is a construct in human minds… assuming you and I think remotely alike.”

“I- what do you mean?”

Eihks leaned against the staff.

“When people speak of you, a marine, as a cipher representing your nation’s warfighters.”

“What do you mean, ‘think remotely alike’?”

“I mean we’re evidently from different cultures. Different mores, different insights, different stripes of different colors. Hopefully similar enough that we can find common ground.”

The world canted as his head swayed.

“You want to go home, don’t you? Maybe we can settle things without further bloodshed.”

He leaned forward farther, begging with his eyes.

“Whatever it is you want or need, explain it, and I – and those with whom I work – can try to get it sorted for you.”

The marine’s hands chewed the grips of her weaponry. She sighed.

“I have little objective reason to trust you, Mr. Richard. You are an unknown quantity which has made promises I can’t verify or call to account. The people that I presently find myself alongside are an unknown quantity which has made promises I can’t verify or call to account. In short, the both of you are largely similar in respect to trustworthiness.”

She spread her feet to a modified horse stance.

“Yes, my present compromise has been made with a group that has called for and condoned killing. There are times that that is the best possible course of action. I can’t deny I’ve ended not a few lives myself. Is this good? Is this what I ought to do right now? That’s a difficult question.”

The skin of her nose turned gilly with wrinkles as her lips contracted up.

“But I have given my word to these people that I stand with them, and when I take up a duty, in that place I will continue to stand until my feet are taken from under me. So… it’s possible we may end this particular exchange with no further bloodshed.”

The sacred seal of one’s word. Eihks felt his soul soften a bit.

There was a double-snap of things being put away and things being brought out. The large gun on her back abruptly sat cradled against an armored shoulder, cable running behind her.

“To do that, I will need you, all the security, and all the civilians between myself and Goeyren removed, and I will need to be permitted to take him from here to a place of my choosing. Whether there is bloodshed after that, I cannot say.”

He rapidly tapped his fingers up and down Lusendrad’s form.

“Well, then. I’m sorry that it must be this way,” he declared.

In the time it took her to bring her long gun down level, the end of the staff and accompanying planchette made the wide arc from one side to the fore. If he’d had the opportunity beforehand, he would have primed the bullroarer for more destructive uses, and since it was part of his identity that luxury of ease was reasonable. But, as it happened, it was a bit difficult to “play” a several-second-long pattern with a length of rope while also keeping an enemy with ranged armament at bay.

It had been sufficient before, and it would be sufficient now.

At the instant the staff’s very tip cracked into the heavy weapon, it gleamed green. The tiny moment of initiative he’d had meant Sandany, for all her probably formidable training, didn’t quite get her shot off in time. Shoulder swinging right, she planted a hard backward step and stabilized herself and made herself ready for a repeat performance of his little batting technique.

The projected crosshair of the gun was offset by about a sixteenth of a rotation, and the way he’d struck it at the bottom lifted its barrel or discharge mechanism a good bit. Thus, when it dispensed a compressed packet of some very fun radiant energy and adjusted the surrounding air to EXTREMELY high temperature, the bolt slammed into one of the corners of the roof. The corner of the roof stopped existing as a solid, wood sublimating in a way that normal heating mechanics couldn’t achieve with most biological organic matter.

Her aim picked up again on Eihks, preparing to fire off another shot with a preemptive trigger pull. It was just a little bit too late.

He careened into her, ducking and knocking upward with the staff, though she retracted just far enough to avoid his bunt. They clunked together as her helmet reconstituted around her head. His hand closed around the gun’s nose. The gun’s length made it… inconvenient as a tug-of-war (or push-of-war) nexus; more so for her than him. It turned into an ugly dance, doubly tricky because of their height difference. The hyperextension of an elbow sent another shot skyward rather than spewing across the left side of his body, but left his middle open.

A stiletto coughed out of some utility crevice, and by the time it landed in her grip she’d already retracted it from the first stab. His hip received a ragged slit, carving into the pelvic cavity but missing any would-be-vital organs. Then in quick succession he had another jab turned by the squares decorating his shirt, a puncture that actually went in but met with his ribs, and another slice which cut deeply into his arrow-stung forearm as he managed to force the gun from her grasp. He shouted with frustration as it parted the dressing, and he sharply twisted the arm. The small blade tore away from Sandany as he pushed them a lengthy step apart.

With a zip, her big gun stopped falling over the edge of the patio toward the street below, settled onto her back, then leapt to her hands once again. Eihks plucked the knife from his arm and gave the marine a boot to the center of mass. Just as she caught and started aiming her weapon again, she bent in the middle.

The railing around the patio cracked and gave. Sandany had a second of pinwheeling precariousness before she tipped, crashing into a slim overhang of the street below. She ended the five meter fall on hands and knees, draped in strung bunting and narrowly missing several frightened people.

Her attempt to rise was thwarted by Eihks hopping down to the overhang and stomping two-footed onto her back as hard as he could. His staff impacted the back of her head.

She retracted her big gun to her back again. It hit the side of a foot, but he retained his balance by leaning on the staff and snapping his leg out straight. She got a smack upside the head for her trouble.

His vision widened after bringing himself to standing again. The people of the street were staring aghast, feral animals circling the strange man and strange woman. At one end, he saw several people wearing the clothing of guards fast approaching. The masses parted for them more readily than any sea for a ship, booted feet smattering the air with short-lived dust clouds and voices like eardrum needles.

His solid footing rolled out from under him. Sandany pushed just her right side up, and the lipidlike surface rocketed sideways. He hunched over to keep his balance, she spun around while seated, then launched at him with the aid of a wooden crate someone had dropped nearby. That beautiful knife angled straight for his face. The rising clamor of the crowd turned galvanic.

Eihks caught her arm cold.

He could almost hear the stresses of motors supplementing her adductors, the pistons or quasimusculature or whatever artifices lent the armor its mobility competing against his kinematic chain. She wasn’t a weakling, it was easy to see, despite the taxation of what he suspected was a higher surface gravity than she was used to experiencing. Combining that with exoskeletal reinforcement was… formidable.

But the human body – when constructed from an artificially formulated genome, when grown up in a similar gravitational profile, when freed from the limitations and protections of pain and given free rein to exert itself to and beyond the point of damage – could do some formidable things as well.

Considering and discarding the possibility of manipulating her limb with gyrokinesis, he pushed hard. The internal positioning substitute he vaguely possessed, the concept of “applying so much exertion” and comparing his efforts to his results, told him he had more than enough oomph. The sense that the shove’s efficacy steeply dropped off suggested he was ripping his muscles and would need a lot of repair work.

He managed to force the marine’s knife arm out, pushing the other away with Lusendrad, until she had to drop the knife and grapple with him. A hysterical woman sprinted away as he first faked a relaxation of the pressure on one side of the wrestling impasse, then stopped pushing for real with Lusendrad. The marine caromed off his chest, and then Eihks swirled around behind her. She did still have his empty hand, but he shoved her down and fell atop her with all his weight.

Then, with a slap, he threw his stolen blob of living-water onto her right arm, and reached out for the substance. At his touch, he commanded the material, and – using one of the only applications of local magic he’d gotten down pat – it hardened immediately. Silent solidity settled over her shoulder, elbow, and wrist.

Keeping contact with the cast, he managed to fend off her further attempts to regain freedom with his legs and free arm.

The gang of armed folks arrived, sweat glistening in the light of the suns. Each of them wore enough dust to foul four cisterns. The leader, a strapping thick fellow with a strapping thick blade, clearly wanted to cut the marine apart.

Eihks gave a bob of the head, not moving from his perch.

“Sir, I would greatly appreciate some help restraining this fighter,” he said.

As the wind accelerated and settled back down again, he caught sight of a familiar quadrupedal shape down the street. He smiled.

“Maybe it’s best to remove her, but then maybe you and she can work something out.”

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