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Firie's picture

            She always felt awkward in full dresses.  Not uncomfortable.  They suited her well enough, and were tailored to a smooth fit, easy to wear and move in.  Just awkward, like they weren’t what she should be doing.  She was a fighter, after all.  Burnt and scarred, not pampered and pretty.  It felt like… wearing the wrong uniform.

            But it was the uniform for the job.  Straighten.  Take a deep breath.  Knock.


            Firie pushed the door open.  She ignored the crystal-shielded lamps, with their sparkling pure white shards of light scattered across the room, and the serene painting hanging behind the desk, with its ornate frame and pastoral scenery, and the elegant cared red walnut of the desk itself, simple and smooth.  She didn’t enter the room, only stood in the doorway, staring flatly at the person seated behind the desk.

            “Too far, Czene.”

            Her brother rose smoothly to his feet, robes falling around him without a wrinkle or smudge, despite the freshly inked papers arranged before him.  “Firie.  This is a first.  You’ve never visited my office before.  I hope my clerk offered you water?”

            “I haven’t been here because I’ve had no interest in your work.”  She kept her voice as flat and level as possible.  Staying steady was the only way to get him to take anything she said seriously.  If she acted upset, he would simply dismiss her out of hand, and she already knew how skilled he was at upsetting her.

            The dress, strangely, seemed to help.  Someone wearing something this formal shouldn’t start screaming.

            “Yet, you’re here now.”  Czene strode smoothly around his desk, almost gliding with the steady flow of his robe.  “Does that mean you have gained an interest?  Are you here to offer your service up to the Light, and lend your skills to our cause?  Or perhaps something simpler than yourself to donate?  Even a portion of that vault could do a great deal of good in the world.”

            Her eyes narrowed, and she took a small, clipped step forward, only enough to let the door swing shut behind her.  “In your hands, Czene?  Ashbringer itself wouldn’t do the world any good.  And your work?  Is far from benevolent.”

            He laughed, sounding casual, even friendly.  “My work?  It’s not mine, Fi`.  I talk to people.  I arrange money.  I don’t go on crusades.  All I do is make sure that the good people who do have the help they need.”

            Firie tried to restrain a sharp snort of exasperation.  “.. help?  Czene, do you even realize…  of course you do.  Attacking a senator?  You could have started a civil war!  Because you want an account?”

            “It’s a good thing you’re here to set the record straight, then.  I’ve been at my desk the entire afternoon and evening.  My clerks will verify.”  Czene gestured vaguely in the direction of the door.  “I have attacked nobody and done nothing.  As for the senator?  You brought him into this. It was a family matter until you started hiding behind people.  A few more months and I’d have had you in prison and you’d have given me the keys.”

            She felt her fingernails biting into her palms, and she glared at him.  “I know you better than that, and I know what you can do, remember?  You practiced on me for years,” the words felt sharp, almost spat out at him.  “I brought them into it because I thought you’d know better.  I should have handled it myself.”

            Something was wrong.  Czene was watching her with an expression of interest and curiosity, not the collected superiority she’d expected.  She froze.

            “Intriguing.  And which one is it, that has you?”

            Firie looked down.  Black smoke wisped out from between her clenched fingers, rising from where her nails were digging in.

            “… Pride.”

            Czene smiled, and she felt sick.  “Pride.  That makes much sense of things.  Too proud to do what was right, too desperate to hold on to your old view of the world. No wonder you went to such extremes to keep everything away from me.  You couldn’t let it go.”

            “Still won’t.”

            “You won’t win.  You never win.  I’ll strip it from you, like everything else.”

            Her hands twitched.  She wanted to tug on her hood, except she wasn’t wearing it.  “No, Czene.  This time, you’re wrong.  I’m not holding on to it for me.  That’s not my pride.  I never wanted the name and the land and the keys.  But I’ll never let you have any of it.  I’m proud of him.  I don’t want the land, I don’t care about the money, but you are never getting your reputation on his name.”

            For once, she saw it coming.  She’d never seen that flash of his eyes, before, not until it was too late to react.  This time, the black burst out to meet him, like it was waiting for him, and brought her hand with it.

            They froze, staring at each other.  His hammer hung over his head, ready to come crashing down on her, and her spell spun brightly at her side, waiting to throw itself forward.  His other hand hovered inches from her chest, a ring of burning gold hovering in the air, light that she knew from experience could sear straight down to the bone, and from her other hand…

            Black.  Thin, spindle-sharp black claws stretching from her fingertips all the way up to line both sides of Czene’s face.  She only had to flex, to twitch, and she’d take his head in half.

            His eyes narrowed, reflecting the molten gold of his power.  “You won’t win.  And you can’t escape.  Not ever again, now.  GUARDS!”

            Firie cringed. [Someone?  Could use a little help here… quicker is better please….]

Firie vs Czene

            It took only a moment.  The Meddlers were prompt like that, almost as eager to get into trouble as she was.  [Where are you at?]  It was Aerella’s voice over the link.  Good, she’d seen Firie like this before, even put a bullet through her leg.  She wouldn’t flip out.

            [Cathedral offices.  Um.  Juuust want a second set of eyes.]

            She could hear the guards outside, and barely had time to finish the thought before they smashed through the door.  Then people and weapons were all around her, and she hissed sharply.

            “Weapons down!  Step away from the priest!”

            “Nnnot gonna happen.  Just give me a minute.”  Firie silently urged Aerie to hurry.  There was no way out of getting arrested here, she’d blown that one.  The moment Czene had found out she was infected, he could have anything he wanted done to her.  The important thing was that someone else knew.  She couldn’t just vanish, or he could say anything he wanted.

            It seemed like only a second later that Aerie burst through the door.  She knew it had to have taken longer.  The guards were sweating, and crowding her, and Czene simply looked on, expressionless, never moving the molten gold away from her chest.

            “WHAT THE FEL?”

            Ah.  Amusing, that she was relieved to hear that.  Scolding didn’t sound too bad right now.

            “.. Hi Aerie.  Alright.  Lowering the claws now.”  Firie let the spell flicker out, and pointed her hand toward the floor.  She wasn’t entirely sure how to get the claws to go away, but they dissipated into smoke on their own.  The moment they’d faded, three guards piled onto her and yanked her arms around behind her back.

            The glowering she got from Aerie was less comforting, but it went with the territory, she supposed.  Dragging someone else into this wasn’t exactly a favor, and some displeasure was deserved.

            “Sorry Aerie.  Talk got out of hand.  It’s alright.  I just wasn’t gonna put down without someone else seein’.  Don’t want anything going accidentally wrong.”  No.  Everything was going to go deliberately wrong, but it had to go wrong the right way now.

            “All right.  Someone start explaining now.”  Aerie bit at the words, sharp and short.  “Firie, you start.”  She pointed a stern finger at Czene.  “I don’t want to hear a peep out of you ‘till she’s done, either.”

            “Nothing to explain.”  She would have shrugged, if guards hadn’t been keeping her arms pinned.  “I blew it.  They’re not gonna let me walk around like this.”

            “So get it under control.  What the hell are you doing here and why?”  That glare kept getting harder.  Firie began to worry that maybe Aerie hadn’t been the best person to call in after all.  If she could calm things too much, Czene might blink.

            “Came to talk.”  She scowled slightly, looking down at her gown, wreathed in black smoke.  “Didn’t mean to let this go.”

            “Well, you did, and now we gotta deal with it, but why are you fightin’ a priest in the offices?”

            “Not fighting.  Just not letting them take me anywhere ‘till someone else got here.”  Firie bit at her lip.  This was taking too long.  The guards not holding onto her arms were starting to look less wary.

            “Did they want to take you before or after the sha-ificiation?”

            “Bit of both,” Firie admitted.

            Aerella crossed her arms and stared at her.  “Start at the beginning.”

            “Came to talk to him, got upset, started smoking.  Czene got jumpy at the smoke, things escalated, more smoke, guards got called.”

            With a hmf, Aerie turned to Czene.  “You.  Your version.”

            Czene lowered his hammer, but kept the golden spell-ring burning around his other hand.  “Exactly what she said.  I am in complete agreement with her.”

            Aerella’s eyes narrowed, and looked back and forth between them.  “Siblings, aintcha?”  Firie nodded.  “If you were mine, I’d have whupped this nonsense out of you both ages ago.  I still might.  Fighting in the Cathedral.  You’re both acting like fools.  What got this mess started?”

            Firie twitched slightly.  Czene didn’t react, his composure remaining smooth.

            “… I had issues with his behavior,” she muttered.

            “Well, obviously, if he’s the priest I’m thinking of, he’s known as ‘that right smug bastard that keeps too clean’.”  She turned back to Czene.  “So what did you do to get attacked in your office, son?”

            Czene gave a very slight nod of his head to Aerie, like he was acknowledging a compliment.  He probably thought he was.  “Family disagreement.  We each have issues with each other’s’ behavior.”

            “I asked what you did.  This has gone beyond your little family drama now.”  Aerie shot her a withering glance.  “Firie’s hotheaded and reckless, but she don’t do things like this without serious provocation.”

            “Yes, she certainly is.”  Czene frowned.  “And she’s infected by a Sha.  You may not be the best judge of her behavior.  She has a long-standing grudge against me.  The last time I sent her a letter, she incinerated it with a flamestrike in the middle of a public park.  She needs very little reason to start any kind of fight.”

            “Last time she got like this,” Aerie gestured at the smoky aura around Firie, “I put bullets through her and sic’d my best worg on her.  I’ll do it again if I gotta.”  The thought didn’t seem to concern her.  Good, Fi` thought.  “What she does NOT do is doll up and go somewhere unarmed.  So what the fel did you do to get a reaction?”

            Czene gave an expression of complete innocence and bewilderment.  “Perhaps she thought it would make an impression?  Perhaps she finally felt like behaving within her station?  Or perhaps she thought it would intimidate the people she had to walk past?

            Aerie glowered with disapproval at Czene, then at her.  “Firie.  Your version.  Tell me honest.”

            “Thought I could deal on his – “ she paused, realized she was mumbling, and tried again.  “Tried to go on his level.  Mine woulda just gone messy faster.”

            Aerie let out an exasperated sigh.  “Yer both saying a lot of words but not managing to say a damned thing.”

            Czene arched an eyebrow.  “Due respect, ma’am, but whatever she was offended by hardly matters at this point.  She has revealed herself to be infected, and we can’t let it spread.”  He nodded to the guards.  “Bring her downstairs.”  Before Aerie could protest, he stepped back toward her again.  “Don’t worry though.  We will cure her.  That is, after all, what we’re here for.  To save people.”

            “It does rather matter, as she wouldn’t let herself be revealed like this if it didn’t.”  Czene was unmoved.  Firie hadn’t expected him to be, and Aerie continued on.  “Son, I have been sister to a paladin, and my daughter is Lirriel Meterein.  I know what holy people who want to save people look like.”  She peered at him intently, piercingly.  “I also know an awful lotta Scarlet Crusaders.  They wanted to save people too.  You remind me of them, than of my daughter’s brand.”

            Czene considered for a moment, calmly.  “The Scarlets only wanted to burn their ‘impure’.  Right now, I only want to see my little sister freed from this old god influence.  I promise you.  I want nothing more than to see her, healthy, alive, and safe, with no Sha presence inside her.”

            Firie felt fortunate that Aerie was keeping Czene so well occupied.  He might have caught the expression of relief on her face.

            “Well.  I would like nothing better myself.  So you have no objection to my coming along.  After all, she is a Meddler as well, and I am a due representative of Brother Nicholai’s group.  We’re all quite concerned as well.”

            The moment’s pause and consideration before Czene nodded was a show, Firie knew.  He didn’t have any choice, now.  “We will have to secure her, of course, and you will not be allowed in her room unsupervised.  But you may accompany us.”  He nodded, and the guards began walking her out of the room and down towards the staircase.  She didn’t resist.  The underground catacombs beneath the Cathedral were not the most welcoming, but they were secure.

            “You shouldn’t either.  Given the dangerous reactions.”

            Czene smiled.  “Of course I wouldn’t.  I’m only a clerk.  The Cathedral employs more experienced and talented people for this sort of care.”

            The room wasn’t exactly a cell.  Probably its intention was for quiet meditation, reflection and solitude.  It would do quite well for one though.  She went without complaint, only sitting down when the door closed and the guards stepped away.

            [Firie, just what is going on?]  Aerie’s voice came clearly across the link, rather than through the door.

            [They’re not gonna let me go.  Not now that they know] she thought back, and shut that part of her mind out.

            Firie heard Czene talking to someone further down the hall.  “We’ll need to separate her from the emotion her Sha is attached to.  She said it was Pride. “There’s only one way to dig this thing out then.”  She heard him pause for a moment, and imagined him looking at Aerie.  There wasn’t much she could do now, which is why he would have waited this long to say it.

            “Humiliate her.”



Lirriel's picture

Aerie's Report to the Bards

I was with Lirri going to visit Darlain and see if there was anything I could do to help when Firie called for someone to come--to the Cathedral offices, downstairs. I found her and her brother in ready-to-fight stances. More than that, Firie was completely sha-ified--but in control of her own mind, nevermind how they all ought to be dead.

I tried to get information out of them, but they acted like surly children caught breaking Mama's rules. Enough going on tonight I had an idea anyway, but then Czene had Firie taken downstairs to the inquisitors--ugly part of the Cathedral, that--to try to cleanse the Sha from her.

I am staying here to oversee, as she is also a Meddler, and to make sure things don't go too far. Meanwhile, I had some messages passed to Lirriel, and she's talking to the High Priestess about investigating in more detail just what the fel's been going on the last few months. That boy is hiding things--and worse, he thinks he's doing the right thing by it. He was utterly sincere, even when trying to snow me.

There's something else going on here, something I can't quite put my finger on. This is old and deep, longer than the issues these last few months. Whatever it is, it's coming to a head quickly.

In any case, if that boy gives me trouble, guards or no, I am taking him over my knee just to knock the smug look off his face.



((Putting this here instead of a separate blog.))

Lirriel's picture

((Also, Aerie wrecked Czene's dramatic exit))

"Those things ought to be gone entirely; the Heart of Y'Shaarj is dead, the Sha are defeated. Why is this thing still with her--that's something you may wanna consider..." Aerie grit her teeth at his "humiliate her" line. Damned brat; no boy should think like that about his sister. Ever. Even if this was "for her own good" (Aerie doubted that), his unflinching, unhesitating ability to throw Firie into the dungeon was just wrong.

Czene looked back to Aerie, and bowed. ".. Ma'am." Czene turned, and walked back up.

Aerella scowled. She looked at the inquisitor. "That sounds like a stupid idea, and more his wish fulfillment than anything. Also. I'll be here the whole time." Aerella crossed her arms and dared them.

The Inquisitor nodded to Czene as he left, and looked at Aerie.  "We do what it takes, ma'am. She'll be safe again when we're done." He looked over to the guards. "..If she interferes, please escort her out gently."

"If I gotta interfere, the hell you pay won't come from me, son."