Sunday, 28 September 2008 00:05

Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place (Part 8)

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Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 8

By Renae

[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! :) And Maggie for help with Saul.]

 

"Well fuck me, I've got tits," Saul as she looked down at her naked self.

“What did I say about the foul language?”

Saul replied in a very small voice, “Not to use it?”

“Exactly, I think three hundred should get the point across,” said Antonio as he removed his belt and pointed at the kneeling girl, “normally I would use my hand in a spanking, but I don’t think you would appreciate it as much.”

“Oh fuck.”

“Four hundred, and you will count them out,” instructed Antonio coolly as he placed her over his knees.

“Shit.”

“Five hundred.”

 

Silence reigned supreme as Antonio nudged the naked woman forward. The dark Amazon-like woman who was wearing a docile expression on her tear-stained face paused briefly to look around the room; she blinked a few times as her jaws twitched and then she seemed to stall. There was a loud pop as Antonio gave her a swat on the bum with a belt, “Ai! Ok, Ok, I was just trying to find the words.”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were about to renege,” said Antonio with a smirk as he removed his ‘The Princess Bride’ pirate’s mask that completed his all black attire.

  “No,” she said quickly as she gingerly walked forwards a step. “It has been brought painfully to my attention that I have been;” she paused to apparently think, “uncivilized, crude, inhumane, intolerant, a right bastard, unthinking, a poor excuse for a human much less a man.” She paused to glance down at her chest in disbelief, “Not to mention unsanitary, foul mouthed, overly proud of myself, disrespectful, unkind. Uh, did I leave anything out?”

“The apology?” he said with a crack of the belt in the air next to her butt.

She leaped half a step forwards in shock, “Ai! I apologize for anything that may have caused you to distress or if I have made myself unsociable in any way.”

“Are you satisfied with Saul’s apology Signora?” asked Antonio with a tight smirk.

“It is sufficient for the nonce, though I think the real person who needs the apology is still asleep upstairs,” said the Signora coolly, “and the child needs her rest yet.”

“I concur,” said the Matron with a glance at the bruised and discolored backside of ‘Saul’, “I somehow think that her prior attire will not fit her new form. Rose, be a dear and take ‘Saul’ here to see if one of the vendors in attendance has suitable attire.” 

Smirking Rose stood up and walked over to look at Saul, “I may have a night shirt that might cover ‘most’ of her, that is if we are worried about her mental equilibrium.”

“Well considering that she is going to be a part of our household, we should not leave her too exposed,” said the Signora with a sigh as she stood up.

“We should document her current condition first, just in case she should consider backsliding in her behavior that is,” said the Matron as she stood up with a smirk, “and maybe create a few passport photos and such for documents.”

“Her regeneration has been retarded,” said Antonio with a smile, “for a few hours or so, just so that she doesn’t misplace the lessons she has learned today.”

“How appropriate,” said the Matron with a chuckle.

The Signora walked over and slid her arm though Antonio’s with a friendly pat, “Come Antonio, I should like to see the amount of damage for myself.”

“I am at your pleasure,” said Antonio with a smile, “the last I checked the crater was starting to fill with water from the hot spring I inadvertently created.”

“Crater?” She looked at him with a frown, “I didn’t feel anything.”

“Well I could make the earth move for you, if you like,” said Antonio with a pleased smile.

“Come we should discuss such things away from the children,” said the Signora as her cheeks flushed slightly.

“As you wish.”

 

Saturday, (about 4pm)

Admittedly I felt marginally better after my enforced ‘nap,’ but not by much. My stomach more or less roared its emptiness as I got dressed slowly if not reluctantly. All of this enforced sleep I was getting evidently was good for me, though it also seemed to be pushing the date for my return to Rome further and further back. I was also beginning to feel like I was effectively nothing more than a target or bait; while things in Rome could only be getting worse.

A cautious and fortunately undetected descent to the first floor let me slip out of the Signora’s wing of the Lodge through a side door. I figured I could walk around the outside of the Lodge to where the main kitchen was connected to it and mooch some food for a late afternoon lunch. I still felt a bit down emotionally, even with the ‘nap,’ so I wasn’t exactly in the mood to be sociable with the others.

’No kidding,’ said Chaddy as he shook our head in annoyance and then our hands clenched into fists and he said aloud, “I hate this, I want my own life.”

 I didn’t quite trip over my feet as he let go of our body abruptly, “I can relate.  It seems like we’re a slave to this Knight crap.”

Ya think?’ commented Chaddy sarcastically.

Rolling my eyes, I nodded slowly as I looked down to where small clumps of people were moving around an oddly shaped lake and stream. Standing there in confusion, I tried to remember ever seeing if I had missed seeing the lake before or if I had stepped into an alternate plane of existence. As I walked down to it I could see steam or mist coming up from the water in the cold air. 

Ok, are we not in Kansas anymore?’ asked Chaddy as we stood there for a moment as our perceptions of the geography clashed in with what our eyes said should be correct.

“Italy is not the States,” I muttered as I walked down the boards someone had put down as a path.

Chaddy gave me a rude sound in my head and said, ‘You know what I mean.

“So what are we going to call it?” asked what could only have been the Matrons voice as I drew closer to one clump.

“Saul’s Folly?” suggested Rose with a smirk, as she appeared to study the lake.

“Inconceivable Lake?” suggested Michelle as she skimmed a rock across it with three hops.

“Oops Lake?” suggested Leigh as she waded in the edges of it.

“Lake ‘Don’t tick off a God?’” suggested Josh as he shook his head and glanced back. “Oh hi Petra, check out the new Crater Lake.”

I stood there frowning and doing a mental evaluation of the last few comments, and remembering that Gothy had intended to do something with Saul. Walking down to the edge of it I tried to picture the amount of energy it would take to make such a lake without shaking anything, and failed. “Crater… Um, is there anything left of Saul?” There was a lot of laughter as folks seemed to fall down with evident hilarity and or smirked a lot.

“Yes,” said the Matron as she giggled briefly and then covered her mouth with a hand, evidently trying to resume her usual dignified expression and failing. “Saul, has had an epiphany of a sort,” and with a snicker as she gave up her attempt at a somber expression.

Her statement produced a second riot of laughter from the rest of the group, as I looked at them with a faint smile and then asked, “Um, dare I ask what my Godfather did to Saul?” 

“He spanked her,” said Michelle with a giggle.

Josh grunted with a smirk, “Normally I would have issues with someone who abused a submissive like that, but considering it was a ‘God’-father who administered it…”

“… and it was Saul who needed it, Josh is just fine with it,” said Leigh with a devilish grin.

“I can’t feel any pity for the girl,” finished Michelle with a nod to the lake, “evidently Saul didn’t know when to shut up.”

Ya think?” asked Chaddy sarcastically as we knelt down to touch the warm water.

“I sense much anger in you,” said Michelle as she knelt down beside me.

I looked over to her and suppressed the urge to echo Chaddy’s ‘Ya think?’ “I don’t like Saul, and I’m upset that Otto would send such a dick-wad out to be my bodyguard without consulting Sara or me.”

“Maybe it was the best he could find on short notice,” offered the Matron, “someone with experience in how to stop daemons and with bodyguard skills would have to be fairly rare.”

I considered that for a moment and sigh, “Yeah I guess, but still…”

“I think Saul is going to be much easier to live with from now on,” said Michelle with a half smile on her face, “you both have something in common now; you were both male at one time.”

“And you would know more about being a girl than he does,” pointed out Rose from behind me, “though I am going to relish his reaction to PMS when it occurs.”

“Oh my,” said Leigh with a grin, “so a party at your Signora’s house in about twenty days or so?”

The Matron chuckled thoughtfully, “I’ll enquire of the Signora, as we can’t let such a momentous ‘period’ of Saul’s new life pass without some sort of commemoration.”

“And people say my puns are bad…” I finished with a groan.

“So back to naming the lake,” said Leigh as she pointed at the divers who were now on the surface, “or do we wait?”

I gave the lake a glance and then held up my hand and let it overlay the surface of the oddly shaped lake, “It looks kind of like a hand print.”

Michelle glanced at me and then copied my hand placement after a moment she nodded and said, “She’s right.”

Josh grunted as he too mimicked us, “That must have been some slap.”

“I was a bit wroth with him,” said Antonio from behind us, “I don’t get angry easily, but when I do, I tend to overdo things slightly.”

 I stood up and walked over to give him a hug, “It’s ok, my temper is worse than yours.”

He returned the hug and gave me a fatherly kiss on the head, “Yes, and you need to work on that too.”

“That’ll take some work,” commented Chaddy as he took control and hugged him as well.

“I’ll consider your lack of body problem Chaddy,” said Antonio with a second fatherly kiss, “but it may take some time.”

I felt Chaddy’s rush of pleasure as he made us exclaim in joy as he hugged Antonio tightly, “It’s ok I can wait.”

Stepping back I felt a blush form as Chaddy quickly released control, “Well someone is happy,” I said with a grin.

“Yes, he’s not integrating very well, if at all,” observed Antonio with a faint smile.

“What can I say, we’re occasionally stubborn, my sisters and me,” I said as I shrugged with a smile.

 “Being stubborn can be a useful trait,” commented the Signora as she eased an arm around Antonio, “as long as you know when it is time to concede.”

“I suppose,” I said with a sigh, “I just hate losing.”

“Now that I can agree with,” said the Signora with a smile, “the trick is to make your opponent think he’s won when you concede, when in fact you have the better of them.”

Blinking I considered that for a moment and filed it away, “I’ll have to give that some thought.”

“So do we call it Palm Lake or Handprint Lake?” asked Rose as she waved to the lake.

“Palm is likely friendlier sounding,” said Antonio with a chuckle, “though Saul might remember Handprint better.”

“That settles it then,” said the Signora with a smile, “I christen it, “Handprint Lake, and I can see we have frolickers already.”

“I vote for a clothing optional side, and private smaller bath houses on the fingers,” said Antonio with a wink.

“I vote for…” I paused as heads turned to look at me, “someplace safe where the kids can play when all the ‘adults’ get busy with stuff. Also I know it’s a bit selfish of me, but could I have a small cottage next to the kids bit?” 

“Cottage or fortress?” asked the Matron with a glance at me.

“I’d suggest a mix of both and with a bolt hole for the kids as well and maybe an indoors shooting range a safe distance away,” suggested a woman, of whom Mutt was ‘walking’ towards us.

Blinking a few times I looked from the woman to Antonio and back, “This would be?”

“Saul,” Antonio with a pleased smile, “she cleans up well doesn’t she?” I watched as he walked over and patted Mutt on the head before taking the log chain leash from ‘Saul,’ “I think I need a better look at Mutt here, there’s something blocking his full potential.”

Saul meekly let Antonio take Mutt’s leash and watched as Mutt happily walked a short distance away from everyone with him. Then evidently steeling herself she walked over to stand in front of me. Paused she looked down at the ground and then eased down to a knee, “I am sorry that I treated you so poorly, it was painfully brought to my attention that I stepped way over the lines of human decency, and I truly regret doing so.”

* AND? * inserted a heavy thought into the air from Gothy that seemed to rock everyone slightly.

Saul jerked as if slapped, “And I will never try to never ever wound you emotionally like that again,” she paused and sighed slightly, “nor injure you, apart from training injuries or from efforts to protect your life.”

“Do you swear by your life, blood and soul?” asked the Signora as she walked over to stand beside me.

Leigh walked to stand behind Saul, “To honor her with the best fruits of your labors and training, to strengthen her mind, body and soul as you do so?”

Before Saul could answer the Matron spoke as well, “Before the all the Gods and Goddesses, past, present and distant do you so swear?”

Saul glanced from face to face and then glanced back to where Gothy was doing something with Mutt, then after taking a deep breath let it out and said, “I so swear.”

* Witnessed! * proclaimed Gothy as he scratched Mutt’s belly.

“Do you Petra, take Saul to be your man at arms, and weapons master?” asked the Matron as she patted my shoulder.

“That she be afforded the protection, respect and equipage as befitting a loyal man at arms?” asked Rose as she rested her hands on Saul’s head gently pushed downwards so that Saul was on both knees.

“Never forsaking her loyalty and protection, while yet protecting her to the best of your abilities?” asked Leigh as she stood behind Saul placing bother her hands on one shoulder.

“In that you sisters and allies will know your faith in her, such that others would know her as your soldier?” asked Michelle as she stood behind Saul and placed her hands on Saul’s other shoulder

“Guiding her as if she was your own flesh in matters you know well, comforting her in times of pain and loss, rejoicing in her victories as if they were yours as well?” asked Alicia as she panted from her haste to arrive and then she pulled Saul’s hands up and placed them in mine.

Josh reached out and wrapped my hands around Saul’s hands, and then wrapped them with his own, and then asked “That both of you shall be bound to the others defense, in loss and victory?”

The Matron blinked at everyone and then smiled as she rested her hand on my head and addressed me, “Before the all the Gods and Goddesses, past, present and distant, do you so swear?”

I gave Gothy a suspicious look as he wrapped Mutts chain over my hands, and he then stepped back with a bland smile. After a moment of thought I sighed and said, “I so swear.”

* Witnessed! * proclaimed Gothy with what seemed like a triumphant shout.

* Witnessed and Blessed! * distantly proclaimed Sara as everyone who was connected to or touching me was briefly aglow with a reddish-orange light. For a moment the light grew brighter and then it seemed like everyone staggered slightly and sunk to a knee from a rush of orgasmic pleasure.

“Show off,” muttered Antonio with a pleased smile as Gothy eased off of his presence slightly.

I looked over at him and said, “Like you can talk.”

 

By general coconscious dinner turned into a massive bar-b-que and feast down by the new lake. It also seemed to have a medieval fair-like aspect as medieval banners; tents, awnings and things were brought out from the backs of cars and the Lodge. I had watched as several men worked to construct a huge bonfire and set up torches and chairs.

I also was surprised by the number of men and women that had easily doubled in numbers. Not to mention the influx of vehicles and what looked like construction equipment and crew, though construction seemed to be on hold for the evening. The three Signora’s had gathered the foremen and crew for a ‘walk-about’ tour of the facilities and new lake. Evidently the leaders of the three clan’s had a ‘get it done now’ rather than later, impetuous.

Antonio had ‘suggested’ that the three girls take his credit card and Saul, into the nearest town for clothing and stuff for me. I was delegated into the care of Mutt as they took off promising to try and put a dent in Antonio’s credit. From the look amused he gave them I fairly sure they would drop from exhaustion before that would occur. Then he sent me and the Matron off to talk money, evidently he thought I should tithe or something after dinner.

 

I eased up out of the Net and looked over my shoulder at the Matron, “Ok, I’ve tracked every single investment and bank account down like you asked, also I’ve fifteen million that I can put in the Clan coffers when you give me the account number. Also another fifty million into a house-hold fund, that fund should cover the lake and expenses for Saul, the team and myself.”

The Matron eased into a chair next to mine and nodded as I eased the laptop over to her, “Money has no value to you does it?”

“No not really, it only buys stuff,” I shrugged and leaned back in the chair I was using, “moving numbers doesn’t excite me, beating a puzzle, a making a difficult hack or beating game, now that is exciting.”

“I see you know how to use a spreadsheet,” she observed as she scrolled downwards, “but your accounting is atrocious, and you seem to have undervalued your net worth.”

 “I have help, my sister evidently has been working while I was out of it.” I chuckled as a comment she had left me in a file, “She says I am lazy.”

“One point two billion, is this correct?” she said as she pointed to a number on the screen.

“Yes, as of two minutes ago,” I shrugged at her look of amusement, “my sister is ‘working’ the Hong Kong markets since she is bored. Supposedly she got grounded to her room after a ‘training incident.’”

“Supposedly?” asked the Matron with a wry look at me.

“Oh I have no doubt there was an incident, they were giving her a powers testing and evidently shot her with a dart.” I rolled my eyes at her, “She’s a Were-Cougar cub, volatile emotionally and dealing with aspects of the change that make her ‘seem’ unstable.”

“So how much of this money is in flux?” asked the Matron as she smiled softly.

“No more than a third,” I said quickly, “it’s our rule of thumb as to how much we are willing to risk.”

“How much risk is there?” the Matron asked as she made an entry to a column.

“Slim, but that is mostly due to floor trader hesitation,” I paused to chuckle, “we are experts at data analysis, and are able to plum companies records at whim.”

“That’s not very ethical,” she observed with a scowl on her face.

“We are not bothered by the ethics of it, it’s just numbers,” I said calmly, “we’ve been careful not to put any company out of business, and many have made money through us. We have seen what happens when places go out of work first hand.”

“So what is the Ardent September Corporation to you?” asked the Matron as she looked at a separate page.

“Jo’s Legacy,” I said simply, “our sister will have the luxury of being rich and protected with all of the power such riches grant.”

“Ah I had wondered why it was ‘owned,’ where you have just large blocks in the others listed here,” she said as she smiled, “pet project of yours?”

“Both of us,” I said with a smile, “one third of our money is in it.”

“So the rest is divided three ways?” she asked.

“Not exactly, it’s more like two, with a trust fund for Jo coming out of it,” I shrugged indifferently, “it’s more or less Paige’s ‘escape money’ and my ‘it’s my life money.’”  

 “Planning on living ‘large?’” she asked dryly.

“I just plan on living well, with bouts of Knighthood induced stress.” I glanced around the smaller dining room, “I figure the Knights of the Church will just have to put up with my ‘worldly ways’ in return for my services.”

 “Good for you,” said the Signora as she walked in with the other Signoras and few older men trailing after her.

“Petra has offered to place fifteen million dollars into the Clans coffers,” smiling the Matron added, “and with the exchange value being what it is, we can easily update a great many things. Not to mention the new lake facilities.”

“I see, thank you Petra,” said the Signora with a soft chuckle.

“That’s pocket change to her,” said the Matron with a shake of her head, “her siblings and her are collectively worth one point two billion American dollars.”

The Signora’s shook her head as the others gave me thoughtful looks, “I see, that’s a bit more than seven hundred and fifty million.”

“My sister has been busy trading and such,” I said in my defense, “I’m better at the money markets than she is, but she has been really good with stocks and bonds.”

  “Do you object to tithing?” asked the Signora softly as she glanced at the others.

“Like Sara ‘needs’ my money,” I said with a chuckle as I shrugged, “and I don’t think the Pope ‘needs’ it either. If Sara needed cash and didn’t want to bother her followers or Cult Headquarters; Paige or I would just hand her whatever she needed.”

“Ah, I see your point, neither likely needs it.” The Signora motioned to the others to take up seats around the table. “Would you object to granting us a tenth of that to work with, for the betterment of the Crafty and for charities?”

I barely even paused to shrug, “Ok, just give me the account number you need it transferred to.”

“Are you sure?” asked one of the men with a glance at me then the Signora.

“Petra and her family have a unique knack at making money and the resources to replace that drop in the bucket,” said the Matron with a roll of her eyes, “she won’t even notice it.”

“Money buys stuff to make yourself comfortable, and to amuse yourself with,” I said with another shrug, “I get more joy out a game or being with friends; than I do with looking at numbers in my bank accounts.”

“You have an instant message from Paige,” said the Matron with a chuckle, “she’s says, ‘Just give me the bloody number already. Talk, talk, talk, there is too much of it ‘dah-link.’”

“Paige pretty much can listen in, over the net and evidently has,” I quickly explained to the group, “and we had been talking to her before you arrived. Just give her the account number and she’ll put it in there, but if it’s not used wisely she’ll likely jerk it right back out.”

 The Matron snickered as she looked at the screen, “She say’s, ‘Duh.’ Ok, I’ll give her the account numbers then.”

“So if you all are going to talk money stuff, I am going to let you do it without me,” I said as I stood up, “number’s bleh.”

“You don’t want to know where it is going?” asked one of the ladies.

“Ask my sister to listen in if you need an advisor who knows me intimately, but really what am I going to do here, sit and nod my head with a blank look on my face? I don’t know what you need, and I have my own set of problems to deal with,” I sighed and looked at them expectantly. “Seriously, pocket change is the ‘least’ of my worries.”

“Petra does have a point,” said the Signora smoothly in the silence my statement left in its wake. “Money means little if you have someone sending daemons after you, her priorities are not in question.”

“Agreed,” said Faustino as he walked into the room, “I’ve spoken with others of the Scourge. We have decided the current predicament in Rome and the rise of missing persons requires our full attention.” He paused to look at me, “While Petra is resilient, her Boshetto has not trained together. Thus we feel hers should not be the only Boshetto in the investigation and hunt for the perpetrators.”

“I’ll take all the help I can get,” I said quickly and honestly, “getting daemon stomped sucks.”

 “Even if it means letting another Boshetto takes the leadership of the operation?” Faustino asked quietly.

“I’m more worried with getting the problem taken care of,” I said with a sigh, “but I don’t want to be left in the dark though. And I’m the only one, aside from our enemy, that can gain access to the Rose Palace at the moment.”

“Very well, I think we can keep your Boshetto aware of all the information as it comes in,” he paused and then smiled somberly, “unlike the Knights and the Inquisition, we actually share information.”

I rolled my eyes and then paused, “I don’t think we’ll get any help from them, don’t they hate Witches?” I asked quickly.

“Ah that would be my cue,” said a voice from outside of the dining room. A brief moment later a man dressed in cardinal reds walked into the room, he was younger than Father Pete in appearance, yet his eyes seemed to speak for many, many years of age or suffering. “Hello I am Cardinal Thomas Buckner, and to answer your question Petra, the answer is no.”

I paused to glance at the others briefly, “Oh?”

He chuckled and nodded, "Contrary to popular belief, we are not witch hunters. Well, at least not any more. All the bad press we gotten over the years from it has forced us into a truce of sorts with that religion."  With an indifferent shrug he said, “While we could wish the Witches would recant their beliefs and turn to the Catholic Church for guidance, we don’t hunt them down any more.”

“You’ll pardon my skepticism,” I said with a frown, “but I can’t believe that entirely rings true.”

“That is because it isn’t,” he said with a small frown. “Of course there are exceptions from this live and let live policy, but they are not public knowledge. After all, not all witches are of the light and goodness; some do fall into darkness, seek forbidden mysteries and delve into things best never discovered. Then it falls to us or to others like Faustino and yourself to put them down.”

“So you work with Faustino on occasion?” I asked carefully.

“Petra, when it comes to daemons and other unpleasant things, the Church takes what allies we can get,” he explained with a dry laugh, “after all, we all live on this Earth.”

“So in other words, the Inquisition is practical?” I asked carefully.

 “Yes, we have to be, there are more of you than there are of us who are active in the Inquisition,” he sighed unhappily, “and most of you have better sources within the ‘magickal community’ to work with. While we do have magick users in the Church, most of them are very closed-mouth out of paranoia and fear, very few work openly with us.”

“We do a lot of talking with the Inquisition Petra, not ‘just’ the Knights,” Faustino paused to add, “well since they reformed their ways that is.”

 “OK well if Faustino vouches for you I guess it is good enough for me,” I paused and looked at the two of them, “So any idea what we should do first?”

“We wait for the next daemon to show up, and we let it kill you,” said Faustino with a pained smile.

“I think your plan sucks,” I said after the words sunk in.

“No kidding,” said Paige’s tinny voice from the laptop. “If we plot the distance between where you are right now, and the nearest good idea; it would describe a line too big to fit inside the known universe.”

“That’s how bad it sucks,” I emphatically finished for Paige.

“Admittedly the plan is still a work in progress…” said Faustino with a laugh.

“Obviously,” said the Cardinal in a sotto voice.

 

“Let me get this right,” I said incredulously, “you want to put me into half of a heavily armored suit; then you want me to willingly go out and let the daemon or daemons tear me in half. Where upon I bleed out to the point of unconsciousness and evident death, and then, and only ‘then’ will you blast the daemons into oblivion. After which you plan on electrifying the hell out of my upper half and hope I spring back to life.” I paused and took a deep breath before shrieking at the top of my lungs, “Are you fucking nuts?!?!”

  Faustino and the other winced as the lights flickered though it was Saul that spoke first, “I agree with the kid, that’s asking her body to do a lot of regrowth in a very short time, maybe too much.”

“But she has regrown that much or more of her body before,” pointed out Faustino calmly.

“Over a few days, a few days!” I countered with a growl, “And I was not even ‘in’ my body while it happened.”

“It’s not a great plan, but at the rate of disappearances in Rome, whomever it is that is after you and the Pope is stepping up the attacks,” said Father Rico unhappily from the speaker phone, “you don’t have a lot of time to work up a better one.”

“I am certain I can bring you back to life,” said Antonio calmly, “but it is likely you will take some real damage from the process.”

“What kind of damage,” I asked carefully, ”mental or gifts?”

“Mental,” he said somberly, “I have to go away and come back from my realm, that takes nearly twelve minutes or so. But your body will preserve more of your mind than a normal human’s mind, so I expect you will not lose anything too grievous.”

“Wonderful,” I said sourly, “and Sara ‘thinks’ this is a viable plan?”

~’It’s not without problems love,’~ chimed in Sara from afar, ~’but I have a priestess there and there is Bethany there as well.’~

I looked at everyone as I took the dagger out of its new sheath, “I think I want a second opinion,” I said and stabbed the blade into my thigh before anyone could react. As they freaked I looked down at my ring, “Heal me, you sorry bastard.”

 

Satan was laughing as he pulled me out from oven, “Oh this is too rich.”

“You think it’s funny?” I said with a disgusted look on my face as it slowly unburned itself.

“That you felt that you had to stick a knife into your leg to get a second opinion from me.” He paused to wipe a bloody tear from his eye, “Oh yes, I’ve not laughed so hard in days.”

“Well I am glad one of us is amused,” I said as he pulled the rotisserie tines out of my body.

“Quite amused, I assure you,” he said as he licked the tines briefly.

“So does the plan suck utterly?” I asked calmly as my blood literally boiled yet.

“Well it is a novel approach to the problem, one I was surprised to hear Faustino and the Cardinal cooked up,” he paused to smile wickedly, “now if it were one of my devout followers that cooked it up, I would have said, ‘eh business as normal.’”

“So it sucks?” I asked again.

“I didn’t say that, but it is so deliciously evil, they sacrifice you, and let the daemon’s master see you dead, just to gain some breathing room.” He shivered with glee, “I have not seen that level of callousness in the Church for some time.”

“I’ll bet,” I commented sourly.

“Still the plan could work if you don’t mind loosing some of your mental faculties for a while.” He paused and looked at me somberly, “Even with hyper-oxygenation before you do it, it is going to mess you up for a while and force you to possibly have to relearn things.”

“So it is a crap shoot no matter what?” I asked quietly.

“I am not going to lie to you, you will likely be well on your way to suffering from clinical brain death, maybe if they stuff you into a freezer right afterwards they could mitigate some of it. However for it be a convincing death you have to lay there dead and bloody for a time.” He paused and looked somberly at me, “If the daemons master is as paranoid as I would think they are, you may have to be dead for a while.”

“So twelve minutes or more?” I asked uncomfortably as I looked at him.

“Easily that, the only saving grace in the matter is if they put half of you in the meat wagon, and shelter the other half in a meat locker…” He looked at me thoughtfully for a minute, “And then blanketing you with so much magick that the area is in a white out, they would lose the scent of you, and follow the lower part of you to the morgue.”

“Ok so the daemon kills me, they stuff the top half of me in a meat locker, resurrect my ass, ”I paused to sigh unhappily, ”and I am stuck regrowing, and or relearning shit for the next few weeks?”

“Or longer, but you would be alive, and they would have more time to stop the daemon monger without the needless deaths.” He looked at me calmly, “it’s not a good plan, and if I had a better one I would offer it. However, the goal is the important bit, this person needs to be stopped, even I can sense that much from down here. And soon.”

“Duh, but it looks like I am going to be taking one for the team,” I said unhappily as I looked around the ‘kitchen.’

“I would offer you a ‘gratis’ trip, but I can’t, it is the way the rules were written,” Satan paused to shrug at me, “I could lie to you and say I’d go easy on you, but it’s be a lie.”

“And you dislike lying when the truth is more painful, yeah I got it,” I said as I gave him a foul look.

“Yes, see you soon Petra, at least I hope so,” he said with a smile, “otherwise I’ll have to settle for your sister.”

“Fuck-“

 

“You,” I said as I looked up into Saul’s face, “um hi.”

“Stabbing yourself is a no-no,” Saul said with a dirty look at me.

“Stabbing you or someone else would not get me a trip elsewhere,” I said as I glanced at folks before sitting up. Glancing down at his hand I saw the bloody dagger, “Thanks for removing the knife, it hurts more if I have remove sharp pointed things from my body by myself.”

“You are welcome, I guess,” she helped me to stand and the pain dropped quickly away from the wound, “did you learn anything of value?”

I paused and then recounted everything but the pain to everyone’s rapt attention, “… and there you have ‘his’ take on this screwy plan.”

Antonio snorted in annoyance, “Well he added a few things we overlooked, mostly I think from being too close to the problem.”

“I’m not surprised though,” said Faustino with grimace, “after all ‘the Devil is in the details.’”

I bit back on a pained laugh as the others groaned in disgust, then I pointed a finger at him, “You are evil.”

“It was there,” Faustino said with a shrug in his defense.

 
Sunday, December 3, 2006
(just after midnight.)

“Ok, all the kiddies are accounted for and tucked away into free play time in the main circle,” announced Rose with a nervous sigh.

“All the non-combatants are ready too,” said the Signora with an unhappy frown.

I was too busy trying to hyperventilate on pure oxygen to respond to all the others comments and activities. They had run several lines out to the main power pole and to a few of the generators the construction crew brought it. So power was the least of my worries, they had also cleared one of the meat lockers and filled large kiddy pool in it with water, and stacked ice and salt in close reach. While they could not put the power lines directly in the water, theoretically my body would pull in some of the juice while I was dead and waiting on Gothy to show up.

I was also sporting a second new tattoo under my hair, Gothy had called it extra insurance to make sure my soul stayed within easy reach. Sara wafted in and out of my perceptions, as she nervously seemed to wander in and out with comforting sensations. Nobody was happy with the plan, but I was oddly mellowed out from the oxygen and Saul was going to give me shot of morphine before I rushed out into combat along with a second shot of adrenalin as well.

Saul’s reasoning was that there was no sense in my suffering anything more than I had too. She was right in my book, but she also said that the adrenalin would help force my body to bleed out faster if all it did was disembowel me. She also said it sucks to be disemboweled and to be awake for things to knit. Saul also said she would make sure the daemon or daemons went down as quickly as she could kill them.

The ace in the hole card was Bethany, newly sworn to Knighthood and all fired up to worship Gaea and so on. Frankly I was worried she would choke when the time came to it, but I had Saul’s and everyone’s guarantee that if she choked it’d be because their hands would be on her throat. I almost hoped Satan would make her his bitch, but I would not wish that on someone who is supposed to be my ally… but I did consider it.

The non-combatants were unbriefed in part of the plan, they were going to come out and be shocked by my dead carcass. Saul had added that bit that even while we were going to be surely dismayed, nothing kicks up the gruesome factor like the unsuspecting bystander. Evidently she likes “Scare Tactics”, and not just the Sci-Fi Channel program. 

My helmet would be bolted on, and it looked like something the Juggernaught would wear. The rest of my armor looked like stuff real knights would wear, but it was an inch thick and I more or less could stand with it and the helmet on but not much. Which was also why I was getting does with the adrenalin, so I could run with it on. Don’t ask me how I was going to fight with it on, I had a gun and the dagger but I could but barely lift the right arm up. The left arm armor, had been welded to the chest piece and my ringed hand was inside an iron ball to protect it. Once the ball dropped the armor would be cloaked with the illusion of regular clothing, with luck it’d be masked by other combat type spells going off.

So as I sat there zoning on O2, everyone else fretted and ran around making last minute checks. I let the Cardinal give me last-rites more for his peace of mind than mine, I knew exactly where my soul was going if things really went south, Sara had dibs. It was kind of comforting knowing I wasn’t going to be misplaced or misdirected to hell, I got enough time in hell as it was; and an eternal life there was not on my to-do list.

 Finally when the time came to go out and die, I kissed everyone, even Saul, then they bolted the helmet on with seventeen bolts. Just at the door, as the daemons raged at the limit of the safe zone, Saul drugged me and picked up the pistol I would use and loaded it, and placed it in my right hand. Gravely she picked up her own weapons, and clicked the safeties off, “Give then hell kid.”

“I’ll try,” I said as I forced my legs to move me out the door.

Once I was moving under the weight, it was better it seemed to me. I could feel the drugs start to rush into effect washing away any fatigue giving me an odd feeling of euphoria. My hearts that were already going into overdrive from the sheer fear I was feeling, kicked into super-sonic as the adrenalin flooded them with an extra kick.

Laughing insanely, I was able run and I charged directly into the center or the mixed pack of daemon hybrid-dogs and cows. Dimly I was aware of a stinging sensation in my ass as Saul gave me a second shot of morphine from the trank rifle. I almost was able to empty my pistol before they drug me down and started tearing into my stomach and legs. I was pretty much in a state of nirvana before Sara triggered a massive orgasm that rendered me unconscious on top of the drugs.

 
Sunday, December 3rd
O1:00 (approximately)

Dying was easy, coming back was harder.

I don’t remember coming to life when Sara had pulled me and Chaddy out of Merry. Dying I only dimly remembered which was a blessing and a half if you ask me, though I had odd flashes of it waft in and out of my mind as I struggled back into consciousness. Only to fall in and out of darkness again and again.

I remember it being damned cold when I was first able to open my eyes, then I was sent back into darkness by Gothy.

 Sensations blurred between moments of light.

Sounds passed without recognition.

At times I wanted to scream but I had no air, even though I could sense my face and jaw working in the cold air.

I felt a finger warm slightly.

I could feel the electric currents under me, so I pulled on them with my mind, but they didn’t seem to fill me like before.

There was a timeless moment where part of me longed for the fires of Hell, just so I could feel warmer.

Another time I briefly felt my hearts spasm.

My first shuddering breath of air was followed by a scream.

My world was one of needles, numbness and darkness.

The only thing I was ever certain of was that I was loved, by both Sara and Gothy.

 

Monday, December 4, 2006

“Bethany is seemingly locked in a trance, so we’ve made sure she has fluids.”

“The other girl?”

“She barely grew a stomach, and we’ve been keeping it full via a direct infusion line, so far it’s a race to change colostomy bags and feeder bags.”

“The optic nerve may have been damaged by the lack of blood flow, but still the rest of her is regenerating so I expect that will return as well.”

 

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

“Yes she is technically in a coma but there is some sort of brain activity going on. I would recommend bringing in a telepath, but her files state she doesn’t trust them.”     

“Yes bad idea, we know a few people she trusts though.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way home.” There was a long sigh, “Diapers suck, wake up soon Petra.”

 

Thursday, December 7, 2006

* Ok Petra, naptime is over. * said both Sara and Gothy as one voice.

“But I like it here, no one is trying to kill me here,” I murmured into the thick air.

* Time to live dearest one. * Sara said with a rush of warmth that rose up from my groin.

“Doan wanna, hurts too much to live,” I said as I registered nothing but discomfort once the rush faded.

“Life generally sucks kid, but it beats being dead,” said what I thought was a familiar voice.

“Do I know you or do I have to break out from the nut house again?” I asked slowly as the words seemed hard to put together.

“I’m Saul,” she said quietly.

“Saul is a guys name, d-d-don’t so-und like a guy,” I said as I opened my eyes to a dimly lit room.

“Yeah I know, I’m still not used to it either,” she said with a sigh. “Do you remember anything from Saturday?”

I lay there and tried to place thoughts and memories together, “Ge-t-t-tting stab-b-bb-bed, a dog… being mad.”

“What about lunch on Saturday?” she asked in a calm but curious voice.

Struggling with the fogginess in my head I tried to remember things but I finally gave up and said, “C-rr-rap.”

“Don’t fight to remember it too hard kid, there was not much of any good that happened past that point,” said the woman with a pained sounding sigh, “the good bit is that you survived and it was worth doing.”

“Umm, wha—t-t-t d-d-day it is?” I looked over at her “wu-wu-words hard.”

“The following Friday,” she said calmly, “we’re just glad you are awake finally, just rest here and I’ll get the others.”

“Take t-time, I’m so t-t-t-ired…”

 

Friday, December 8, 2006

“I’m not a han… han, handeh, a freaking cripple,” I protested as they refused to let me out of bed. Laying there I sighed in protest, “Just be..cuase I am having trou.. troub difficulties putting wah, worrrds together doesn’t ma, mean I am brah, bran, mentally deficient.”

“No you are not,” stated the Signora calmly, “but your wiring is very confused currently, you used four different languages piecing together what you just said. Five if you count the odd Asian language parts I could not understand.”

“Well f,f,f,f shit,” I said and then sighed, “I can’t even c, ca, cur, swear prop-p-er-ly.”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” commented the Matron as I gave her a rude look, “it forces you to be inventive.”

“We have been in touch with Doctor Otto,” the Signora paused as I made a rude noise, “yes the two of you evidently do not get along well together, but Sara says he is one of the best doctors around. Well in the States anyways.” The Signora shrugged indifferently, “From what he says it is not uncommon for traumatic or anoxia brain injuries in regenerators to get rewired oddly.”

“Wonderf-ulll,” I said in annoyance.

“That was something Asian dear, try it again in Italian or English,” suggested the Matron quietly.

  “Chinese actually,” said the woman whose name was Saul as she entered.

The muscular black woman was pretty but overly muscled if you asked me. Her hair looked to have been recently close-cropped and didn’t seem to suit her as it was entirely frizzy in appearance. She was also fairly endowed in the boobs department, which make her blue knit rise and fall in interesting ways. She was wearing a denim dress that covered her knees but left the black boots she was wearing completely exposed.

“Ah, thank you,” said the Signora as she glanced from her to me, “Doctor Otto is of the belief that if you were given a laptop or computer with plenty of language resources in it, that you would be able to relearn most if not all of your language skills quickly.”

“S-ss-si,” I said as I forced my self to try and say yes.

“Well currently the girls are out with some lady from NEXT picking up computer equipment,” said the Matron with a roll of her eyes. “She gave us quite an earful about ‘letting’ you  get so messed up, as did her partner, but in less polite terms.”

“Tammy and Bill,” I was able to say easily enough.

“Yes, Bill gave me a hefty chewing out,” said Saul as she squirmed slightly, “until I showed him the tape someone had made of that bit, and we filled him in, in depth about the situation.”

“Ta-pe?” I asked around a verbal logjam.

“Evidently the Cardinal’s team records such things as part of their SOP,” Saul shrugged while running her hands through her hair, “evidently if their teams gets wiped out, they get a better bit of intel that way for the next team.”

“Can I…?” I paused and tried to find the next word and then groaned in annoyance.

“See it?” asked the Signora, who at my nod firmly shook her head, “No, child. One should not subject themselves to that sort of carnage, especially since you died in it.”

“F-ff- damn, whose bril-ttt stupid idea was that?” I asked as the words refused to make it to my mouth.

“That would be the Cardinal,” said Saul with a sigh, “though everyone reworked the plan over and over to give you the best shot at survival.”

“Fire him,” I said as I yawned. “Plan was... stupid.”

“I think you need to rest Petra,” said the Signora as she motioned the other to depart, “sleep if you can.”

“Ok,” I said as my eyes started to sag shut.

 

“But all I do sleep, ee-eee-eeee-eeeat and shit,” I protested in annoyance.

“The others are taking care of matters Petra,” said the Matron as she placed yet another meal in front of me.

“I am still a-tt the Lod-ggge?” I asked slowly.

“Yes moving you out from under the shield we’ve build over the Lodge these past few day would be a bad idea just yet.” She paused and said, “With luck we’ll be able to move you to the summer house soon, we don’t think it would be wise to move you anywhere close to Rome just yet.”

  “Bad guy, still a-live?” I asked with a frown.

“Yes, regrettably,” she sighed unhappily, “but the daily number of reported missing people has dropped radically. So your injuries were not without reward.”

“Yeah right,” I said with a disgusted sigh.

“Eat, they should have the laptops loaded up for you soon, then you can see if you can reconnect things in your language centers properly,” she instructed with a smile. “If you can stay awake that is.”

 

I fell out of the local intra-net with a frustrated grumble, “Damn it, I was th-is, cl-cl-close to fin-ishing basic It-al-ian.”

“Ok I think the next to last word you said actually was in Italian, but the other parts were Chinese,” said Saul as she dangled the power cord from the laptop in her hand idly. “You know I think you may have more success connecting to that language first, but I’d be the only you could speak with.”

“Ugh,” I said and tapped the laptop, “plug in?”

“I will in a moment, Father Peter Darcy was kidnapped and drug here from Rome,” she said with an odd look at me, “he’s ok but the spell that affected him is very slow to let go of him.”

“So?” I asked with a smile.

“They think he should be back to his crabby self in another day or so,” she chuckled and reached over to plug the cord in, “I suspect he’ll be happy to see you.”

“Si,” I said with a sigh as I rebooted the computer.

She walked over and started changing out the feeder bags, “It looks like your body is slowing down on food intake.”

“Go-od,” I grunted as the screen cleared.

 

Saturday, December 9, 2006

“The rain in Maine generally falls all over the damned place,” I said aloud in unbroken Italian, the first real success I have had since I really woke up.

“Truer words were never spoke lass,” said Father Pete as he looked over from a file he was reading.

“You know Father Pete, the next idiot who suggests I die for the cause is really going to suffer for it,” I smiled briefly as that sentence seemed correct too.

“Yes, I think that would be the proper response to such a suggestion,” opined Leigh with a big smile, “well you are sounding more coherent speech wise.”

I paused and nodded, “I have to focus on each word, just to make sure it is actually in Italian.”

“How is your typing coming along?” Father Pete asked as he watched me for a moment.

“I still h-have prob-blems,” I said with a sigh.

“It will come back to you in time. They say you have what amounts to Swiss-cheese for connected brain cells,” he paused briefly, “so you have to make the area in the holes reconnect.”

“G-g-great, I need a b-brain defrag,” I said with a groan of annoyance.

“Just keep plugging away at it,” said Saul with a half smile, “wait until they get the gym set up for you and then you’ll have new things to hate doing. You have to crawl before you can walk.”

I felt my face flush in embarrassment, at two am I had tried to go to the bathroom, by myself. I made it as far as the floor, not one of my better moments as I started crying like a baby not soon afterwards. Saul did not comment on my tears nor the attempt, in fact she seemed happy I had the gumption to try.

She walked over and waved a small box in front of Father Pete, “Ok you have had an hour to come up with your suggestions, give.”

 “I’ve always been a believer in biblical names,” he said with a chuckle, “I did however toss Jezebel out the window.”

“Did s-she b-b-bounce?” I asked as the words played hockey in my mouth before making the goal.

Father Pete chuckled, “Only once.” He then lifted a small pile folded slips of paper and placed them gravely into the box, “There.”

“So w-w-what is in the b-b-b-b, err container,” I said giving up on the word box for the moment, and then added it to a list of hard words.

“Hopefully a new name for me,” she sighed and walked over to sit next to the wheel chair I was in, “I could not make up my mind, so this was suggested.”

“Ah, d-d-dying sucks,” I said after a moment then switched to Chinese as it seemed easier for me to use, “I have had to redo my identity three times, I am beginning to feel like my last name should be Gray.”

“Stick with Italian,” chided Father Peter, “you need to be able to yell, ‘Duck you idiot,’ or other useful phrases if we are going to get you back into the field.”

“Speaking of the field, how goes the locating and kidnapping of lost Knights?” asked Saul as she placed the box in my lap.

“We recovered the Knight Marshall and one of the Watch Commanders, plus some of the staff.” He shook his head and sighed, “We’ve not recovered the Librarian yet, though we did find a few other Knights and are working on extracting them. One poor soul is on his way to the alter, I’ve argued that he be left alone for the time being.”

“Oh?” I asked and started the difficult chore of picking up the bits of paper and placing them neatly on the table before me. Who knew that the simple act of picking up a slim strip of paper was such a pain in the ass?

“He’s very stuffy, and tends to be ridiculously rigid in his thinking, and he’s one of those kind of people that needs a life.” Father Pete smirked at us, “An a wife, the sot can barely find his socks at times.”

  I laughed and continued the chore of taking names out of the box, “S-s-tupid fingers.”

“Wait until we start you on taking guns apart and putting them back together,” said Saul as she picked one slip of paper off of the floor looked at it and grimaced, “remind me to firmly plant Bethany into the mat a few times.”

“What has our newest Knight done this time?” Father Pete asked in resignation.

“I thought I was being friendly when I asked her for a help in picking out a new name,” Saul said as she crumpled up the slip of paper, “‘Fucking Whore’ is not a polite name to give a person. Prostitution is an occupation nothing more, nothing less, and I have know quite a few who were rather sweet.”

I considered that briefly and refrained from making comments about a lack of prior sociability, making them his only possible dates. I concentrated and slowly said, “Yeah, she’s got issues.”

“People like Bethany tend to view things in black and white,” said Father Pete carefully, “sometimes it can be useful, and the other times it is a stumbling block. I do not doubt she will be a wonderful ‘Rose’ but never a ‘Thorn,’ sadly we thorny-types are outnumbered by them, but we manage to get things done.”

I looked down the long column of names that the slips made, and then tried to pronounce each one rapidly. As the others ignored my occasional lapse into Chinese to swear, I finally was able to hit one name I could pronounce easily, “Sally, Sally, Sally, I can say Sally,” I looked at Saul who wasn’t exactly enthused by my choice. ”Um, not ok?”

“I had an ancient aunt named that, she used to love embarrassing me as a kid.” She shook her head, “But if you can pronounce it without tripping over your tongue doing it, it will do.”

    “How did she embar-r-rass you?” I asked carefully as I looked at her.

“Uh, she believed in petticoat discipline,” Saul said as she looked down at the floor, “I always hated that bitch for that.”

I blankly tried to picture what she meant and then shrugged as Father Pete chuckled and then said, “Oh dear.”

I watched as Saul flushed darker, “It’s not funny.”

“No, I suspect not,” he said as his eyes twinkled, “I need to go check on the Knight Marshall.”

“H-ha-ve fun,” I said as he nodded at us.

“I am sure it will be interesting,” he said as he started humming before he turned to walk out of the room.

After a moment I turned to look at ‘Sally’, “So Sally, what is p-p-pet, ah f-f-f-frak it, I’ll look it up.”

But before I could start typing she picked up the laptop and placed it on a high shelf, “Not now, you need a break, your fingers are spasming.”

I let myself fall fully into Chinese, “You just don’t want me to know do you?”

“No, suffer a bit, I am sure you will find out in due time,” Sally replied in the same language.

“C-c-crap!”

 

Upon awakening from my nap, I discovered that I had company in my bed, four legged company. Fortunately it was small sized, rather than the monster of a dog Sally had brought with her before her bounce into the female sex; other wise the be bed would have been crowded. It seemed to have reddish brown fur, and fairly large paws for a young dog, which likely meant it’d be bigger dog later on. Its eyes were coal black that seemed to have a glimmer of red light in the depths of them. It was also wearing a large bit of yellow cloth that read, ‘Service Dog’ on both sides of it as a part of its harness. 

It promptly rolled over as I scratched its ears so I obliged it and tried to find its name, “S-s-service dog, so wh-at do you s-s-service?” Naturally it didn’t answer apart from trying to lick my face a few times as I looked at the tag that read, ‘Dammutt.’ Frowning as an odd memory clicked on in my head, I looked at it carefully, “Mutt?”

It whined eagerly with a silly shiver and renewed its attack on my face with its tongue.

“I’ll take t-t-that as a maybe,” I said as I eased it out of my face and scratched its ears.

“Ah there is life in here,” said Michelle as she wandered in and placed a kiss on my forehead, “aren’t you a bit young for playing ‘patient?’”

“Hel-l-l-o N-n-nurse,” I said with an exasperated sigh and focused on putting the words together, “I wish I was playing.”

“Me too cutie,” she said and started unplugging my feeder lines from the connections at my stomach. “You and Dammutt getting reacquainted?” She had pronounced its name as Dahm-moot and smiled when it rolled over and wiggle-whined at her.

 “This is Mutt, the monster sized dog?” I asked while I scratched its ears.

“Yes, evidently your Godfather tweaked something that was blocked, and now Dammutt is a shape-changer,” she shook her head with a grin, “evidently Dammutt really has been trained as a service animal, I am not sure how well S-Sally pulled off actually needing one, but there you have it.”

“Sneaky of him, er her,” I said with a laugh as Dammutt started playing tug with a blanket and her as she tried to get it off of me.

“You should see his truly giant sized dog trick, just not in the bed with you,” she grinned as Dammutt shook its head. “He gets as large as the dancing dogs in some of those Asian parades, you know the ones all the martial artist like?”

I thought for a moment and drew a blank, “No, can’t remember s-s-seeing one.”

“It’s impressive, as are those kind of dancers,” she patted Dammutt on the head, “but it is not as impressive as his puppy dog trick, you could put him in a large purse if you wanted to then.”

Dammutt decided to show off and suddenly there was a small puppy wearing an oversized yellow cloth. “Aww he’s so cute.”

“The other kids have been spoiling the puppy,” she petted him and grinned, “Dammutt has been playing ‘watch the kids,’ just in case trouble shows up.”

I smiled and nodded, “Sneaky.”

Dammutt wiggled out of the harness and woofed once before springing out of the bed to run out of the room. “He’s been having a ball, but at night he’s been sleeping under your bed.” She paused and then said, “Evidently Dammut got Sau-Sally, I am so not used to thinking of her with that name yet, when you had your fall down and go boom moment.”

“Ah ok,” I paused and watched her as she rolled the wheel chair over. I then tried to string the next few words in my head and then say them, “What is p-petticoat d-d-discipline?”

She gave me an odd look, “It’s where woman put kids in really frilly girls clothing to correct their behavior, usually boys. What do you ask?”

I giggled insanely for a moment, “Sally had an aunt named Sally, that p-p-punished him with it, and she said it was embar-r-rass-ing.”

“Oh did she now?” She smirked oddly and then shook her head, “I suspect the Signora might find that amusing.”

“And-d a few udd-others,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

“Yes but I shall keep that bit of information for a time when Sally is backsliding,” she paused to smirk at me, “and I know her sizes.”

I laughed as she aided me into the wheelchair, “Ok so where I am going this time?”

“Well the Knight Marshal is holding a meeting, and we figured you should at least show up and nod in all the right places,” she chuckled as I made a rude noise, “from what I can tell it’s just a social bit. Meet and greet, and so on so he knows what resources that we have.”

I concentrated and said, “I am not sure I am a resource.”

“Sure you are,” she said as she draped a small blanket over my legs, “you are bank rolling the whole smear at the moment.”

“Receipts?” I managed to ask after a moment.

“Oh yes, the Matron and a few of the other Elders are keeping a check on things,” she stepped behind the chair and unlocked the wheels, “and off we go.”

 

“I trust you all will forgive my lack of priestly garb,” said the middle aged man who was wearing a loud shirt, as he stood at the front of a large ‘U’ of tables and chairs behind a podium, “it seems the sum total of my clothing is golfing related.”

There were a few chuckles and a few joking calls of ‘Fore!’ from both sides of the tables.

“Yes, well it would seem that my golfing vacation has been curtailed, as much as I evidently enjoyed it.” He shook his head with a chuckle, “Let me state empathically that we do appreciate the support you all have been giving us, and let me reassure you that we have no intentions of hunting anyone down later.” He paused and then added, “Except maybe to invite you to church that is… Consider it an occupational hazard from associating with priests.”

That seemed to mollify a few of the uneasy faces around the tables, and I found myself smiling. About that time Dammutt decided to place himself in my lap, fortunately he was puppy sized at the time. So I let him get settled and proceeded to scratch his ears and belly.

“I will say I am disturbed by both the situation, and the steps taken to buy us more time. Let me categorically state for the record I am proud of our sister knight. No one should have to sacrifice themselves to ensure the Order’s survival, though it has happened in the past; with luck it will never need occur again.” He paused and gravely nodded in my direction, “Her loyalty is not in question, nor are her associations. While Kellith and Gothmog are hardly Catholic, much less human, they are firmly of the stance that the Earth should endure freely.”

 Ignoring the indignant looks from a few parties, mostly and oddly enough from people wearing Church blacks. Bethany, well I pretty much was sure that she hated me yet, considering she glared daggers at me. I studiously ignored her for the most part but Dammutt growled softly in her direction, of which made me wonder just how much got tweaked in him. So I patted him on the head and softly said, “Good puppy.”

“I am heartened however, that in this day and age people of dissimilar backgrounds and skills, will put aside a century or so of distrust to work together for the common good.” He paused to nod at the various tables, “NEXT has placed several teams at our disposal for intelligence gathering both in Rome and external to it. The Inquisition is able to operate in Rome and will supplement the Holy Cee’s security and Vatican Security as well.”

Most of the Knights in the room frowned at that pronouncement. Evidently who got to guard the Pope was a big issue with them, at least that was the impression I got from glancing at Father Pete’s face.

“While traditionally we have often waged in heated discussion over the issue of security for the Pope, with the Inquisition we cannot afford to do so now.” He paused to look at both sides of the room, “As it stands I am concerned that this attack on his Holiness, and the Knights; especially once you consider that the Pope will be giving the customary sermons from the Square and so on.”

I glanced at Father Pete and he nodded at me slowly, making me wonder how heated things got in the Vatican.

“There are two likely scenarios we must prepare for and abate. One, the attacks on the Order evidently were planned to strip the Pope of his defenders and likely bring about his death. Two, that there is a larger scheme in motion that will result in the creation or reinforcement of a new proto-deity. Naturally both are intolerable in that they are being about through human suffering, and would cause further distress and suffering.”

   “We have less than sixteen days before Christmas, I would like to see both situations dealt with before the Solstice on the twenty-first.” He paused and looked around the room, “Thus the order of tasks will be such. NEXT will continue to recover our people from Rome, and perform data acquisition from a multitude of sources with the hopes of replenishing our ranks. With luck they will detect a pattern or patterns may show a weakness or trail to the enemy.”

“The Inquisition will shore up the Papal deficiency in magickal or spiritual defenses, they will also attempt to provide surveillance of the Rose Palace.” He paused to look at me briefly, “With luck we may detect who other than the Knights have access to our base, and possibly capture them.”

“Knights, those gifted with Magick will work to establish a larger external magical umbrella and add to our magickal defenses here. Those gifted with a knack for logistics and support will work with the Matron if they are not already. Those of you whom excel at field craft, I want patrols established and a ready reaction force prepared.”

The Knight Marshal paused and motioned to the three Signora’s, “Ladies and gentlemen of the Clans, I will trust you to assign people where needed.” He chuckled and added, “You would likely have a better idea who should be doing what than I would.”

“Quick, everybody hide!” someone said loudly to a variety of laughs.

“I also would like to state for the record that this rough plan was vetted by the leaders of all sides. We of the Church are grateful for this opportunity to work together with the Clans, though I could wish for better circumstances. While I have been granted tactical authority, I am not here to wrest control away from your normal leadership.” He paused and scratched his head thoughtfully, “Honestly I would be at a loss to figure out who should stir the pot as opposed to blasting things.”

Somehow I doubted he was that ignorant, but it evidently worked to defuse a few hostile looks.

“That said, I will leave you to sort yourselves out as to tasks, and maybe to get some food in you along the way,” he smiled and added, “evidently there are some superb cooks here.”

Dammutt and I watched the various groups separate and reform a few times as they sorted themselves out. As the knots of people circulated I kept thinking there were like bees, some of them totally lost, others evidently trying to find a queen to pollinate. Eventually I got tired of sitting there waiting for someone to come around and give me a job, but I lacked the will power and control needed to maneuver the chair.

Dammutt sat up and licked me in the face, so I petted him a moment and then I asked him, “Think you can find Sally?” Dammutt seemed to consider the idea, and then he looked around the room and growled softly. I concentrated and said, “I think I am safe from attack at the moment, they are mostly civilized and words can not hurt me.”

“Are you so sure?” asked a voice and I turned to see a weathered man placing a seat next to my chair, and then he sat facing me.

I considered that for a moment and carefully said, “They would be dumb to attempt physical attacks.”

“Ah,” he studied me briefly and nodded, “is thinking difficult or putting the words together difficult?”

“I t-t-think ok,” I paused to refocus, “the words are all jumbled and mixed up speaking wise. I have to f-f-focus to speak only one, otherwise it’s a mish-mash of lang-g-g-guages that comes out.”

He nodded slowly, “I am Doctor Cyrus Jacoby, CJ for short. I am the Knight’s medical recovery specialist, while I don’t often get to practice my trade on Knights, I am very good at it.” Grinning he added, “I spend most of my time working at the various hospitals around Rome, just to keep busy, otherwise I would be bored unto death.”

“Avid golf nut?” I asked him after a moment, as his attire was similar to the Knight Marshals.

“Guilty, though they actually caught me on the way to work at one of the hospitals,” he shrugged casually and said, “I enjoy my work too, so I spent half the day on the links the other half in the clinics.”

“Rough l-l-life,” I said with a shrug.

“Not as rough as you have endured thus far,” he paused briefly and added, “and you will likely hate me for a time as I’m going to be your physical therapist for the next few days.”

“Oh?” I asked as I looked at him expectantly.

“Yes, I am going to make you do all sorts of things, most of which will involve muscle strain on your part.” He paused to smile mirthlessly, “You see I am going to teach you how to crawl, walk, run and so on, after which the real evil stuff starts.”

 I paused to make sure I was in the right language, “It can not be h-h-harder than going out to die or waking up from being mostly dead.”

“Mostly dead is still partially alive,” he smiled lazily, “did you have any spare change when you woke up?”

“I d-d-d-din’t even hav-v-ve p-p-pants,” I said with a disgusted groan.

“Wow you must have been ‘really’ dead then,” he said with a chuckle.

“N-n-ow if on-n-ly my enemy was a six fingered man,” I muttered at him.

“Do you really want to spend twenty some odd years studying the sword just to kill one man?” he asked dryly.

“I’ll s-s-t-ick with grenades,” I paused to regroup my thinking, “I need to kill him in less than ten days.”

“That is the spirit,” he said with smile.

 

  I was sitting before what looked like a tandem bicycle sans wheels, seats and handlebars, “Ok I’ll bite what is this?”

CJ chuckled and patted it in mock affection, “These are your new wheels, now put one hand on each of the upper peddles and crank.” He paused and then said, “We have to build up your arms and legs before you can expect to crawl, it’ll also give you the strength to roll around on your own.”

Giving it a few cranks I looked at him dubiously, “This is supposed to make me stronger?”

 “Oh it will once I crank up the tension, but you need a few minutes at almost zero tension to reawaken your muscles.” He grinned wickedly, “Now crank for two minutes, rest for two, and repeat.”

 

“Bo-r-r-ring,” I said after an hour of making the pedals go around and around.

“Ok hotshot now put your feet on the other pedals,” he said with a smirk, “if you can manage to do both at the same time for a few minutes, I’ll bring in a DVD player and a selection of videos.”

“Sadist,” I muttered at him but started to try it.

“You have no idea,” CJ laughed darkly, “but I’ll leave the whips out of the program for now.”

 

“The wheels on the crank go round and round, round and round,” I gave him a dirty look, “the wheels on the crank go round and round, deducting from your bank.”

“Ha-ha, very cute, so Mouse World or Pixar?” he asked with a grin.

“How ab-b-bout something with b-b-bloodshed and real violence?” I asked in turn.

“Maybe after this next ninty-minute set,” he smirked and soon ‘Cars’ was starting, “four minutes of crank, two of rest, begin.”

 

“Faster, faster, faster and rest,” CJ ginned as I panted tiredly, “sucks doesn’t it?”

“No s-s-shit S-s-s-sherlock,” I replied as my arms and legs trembled.

“You need a break to tank up on food,” he said with a nod at my arms and legs, “and get some fluids in you. Which means lots of protein shakes and Gatorade from now on, on top of the feeding tubes going at max.”

I gave him a shaking bird in reply.

“At least you are able to roll yourself to the toilet now,” he handed me a towel, “cool off, and take a lap while I mix up your gruel.”

 

   “Well that is a first,” said CJ as he poured water onto the smoking resistance wheels, “good thing I have spares.”

I sat there panting tiredly as my arms and legs ached, “D-d-d-damn.”

“Take a lap, and then look up Lisa Franks and Paralympics on the web, it will take a few minutes to change out parts.” He smiled at my puzzled look, “Call it motivational therapy.”

“W-wond-d-der-f-f-ful,” I said as he paused to hand me another set of bottles to drink.

 

“So what do you make of Lisa Franks?” asked CJ as I rolled back in after a long break.

I took the time to thread the words correctly, “She had a lot of the same sort of problems to over come.”

“Yes,” he said simply as he motioned to the dreaded cranks, “she also spent many thousands of hours doing what you are doing, well not on the same machines, but in therapy.”

“Ugh,” I said as I rolled up to the cranks and locked back into place.

“But don’t worry, I should have you up and walking short distances in three days,” he smiled as he unlocked the leg supports and eased them out of the way. “Running will take longer, it’s a balance thing.”

“So how is our hero?” asked a voice and I turned to see the Knight Marshall standing behind me and in fatigues.

“She’s tough I’ll say that for certain,” said CJ with a smile as he patted my shoulder, and then he whispered, “some of the other Knights would be crying for relief by now.”

“I resemble that remark,” said the Knight Marshall and then he tapped his lower left leg of which made a hollow thunking sound. “A car crash left me one leg shorter and in casts for months. That was a long time before I was a Knight though.”

“Ah,” I said as he gave the cranks a dirty look.

“I still ache some days from it,” he said with a sigh as he glanced around the newly created gym, “still, being days from walking is better than months from walking, though in my case some of that was my own self pity getting in the way.”

“Ugh,” I said as I looked at the cranks unhappily.

“Look at it this way, the sooner you get on your feet the sooner you can help hunt down the bastard that caused this to happen to you.” The Knight Marshall smiled tightly, “Revenge as motivation isn’t always a bad thing.”

 I nodded and eased my feet onto the cranks, and carefully said, “I won’t be too upset if someone else gets the kill.”

“Just as long as they die?” he asked quietly.

“Yes.”

 
Read 10039 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 August 2021 00:46

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