Midnight Rose crossed the threshold of Gate 19 and found herself once more in Creation. The iridescent, dancing radiance of the gate filled the large stone chamber with blinding brilliance, revealing a normally dark room of dull moss and sandy stone. It has been exactly five days since she was reassigned to the Convention of Wood. During that time, she clocked in a fair bit of overtime to wrap up old missions, or set destinies rolling so that they would hopefully continue as planned. It would have been better if someone else had picked up where she left off, but knowing how things worked in the West, she was pretty sure that would be a very long wait. The thought kept her mood sour for most of the week. She did not like leaving things undone, but orders were orders.
Her boots clicked against the cold stone floors as she stepped onto the temple that housed the celestial gateway. The conventionâ€™s dossier mentioned the templeâ€™s name and importance, but she did not care enough to remember them. Something about an old shrine to a river goddess that still gets the occasional foot traffic.
The air was chilly, and she unconsciously tugged on the hem of her buttoned up jacket. Her Sifuâ€™s words were still fresh on her mind and she breathed a meditative sigh to brush away the frustration of being moved from the one Convention she actually liked. She straightened her shirt and checked her saber. She knew that her customary outfit was perfectly pressed and assembled, but the act calmed her nerves somewhat.
Right then, be calm, be polite. Donâ€™t piss anybody off. Just ten minutes and Iâ€™ll be back in the field again.
â€œHeads up, Greenhorn!â€ a manâ€™s voice shouted just as the dazzling lights of the gate blinked out, the pathway to heaven closed once more.
Rose glanced to her left towards the voice as her vision adjusted to the darkness just in time to catch a thrown bundle of paper as it was about to hit her in the face. The Chosen of Battles felt her face burn with annoyance. That irritation filled the glare that she shot towards the man who had hurled the files.
Standing off to the side of the now strangely out of place gateway stood a man of middling years. He appeared to be no stranger to labor, his leanly muscled frame filling his long, red and white tunic and dark tan pants. The tunic had the words â€˜good luckâ€™ written boldly in Old Realm characters in the center. The lack of sleeves emphasized his musculature and the simple black shoes made little noise as he slowly meandered his way towards her. There was a decidedly bored and resigned look about his face as he looked her up and down with seemingly disinterested yellow hued eyes. An off-white banana hid some of his short, neatly kept black hair. Rose might have thought him handsome, were she not so annoyed with him.
â€œWho the Hell are you? And what the Hell is this?â€ she snapped at the man while she waved the packet in the air.
The man stabbed a thumb against his chest, â€œThe nameâ€™s Errant Venture. Iâ€™m your chaperone, Greenhorn. And that,â€ he waved a sun darkened hand at the stack of bound documents, â€œis the Conventionâ€™s field agent handbook. Read it, or donâ€™t. I donâ€™t care.â€
â€œI donâ€™t need a chaperone.â€
â€œTough. Convention mandate states all transfers are to be taught the particulars by a senior agent until said agent deems the junior capable of operating independently.â€
â€œThis is bullshit! Iâ€™m not some paper pusher sticking her toes in the mud for the first time. I have over a century of independent fieldwork under my belt.â€
The self-proclaimed senior agent rolled his eyes, â€œLook, I donâ€™t care if youâ€™re Chejop Kejak himself, and neither does Mama Ura upstairs. Iâ€™m stuck with you, Greenhorn, whether I like it or not, and thatâ€™s exactly how this is going to work until I say otherwise. Now come along, Greenhorn. Weâ€™re late as it is.â€ With that he turned on his heel, stuffed his hands in his pant pockets and marched towards the one stone door in the chamber, not even looking back to see if she was following or not.
As the door ground open and Errant Venture disappeared beyond the threshold, Rose muttered several choice words that she picked up from a group of cutthroats near Skullstone. A fine day this is turning out to be, she thought with a scowl, then consciously relaxed her fists, much to the relief of the stack of papers in her hand, and followed the man out of the room.
The door led into a long hallway that branched into a series of corridors. Occasionally a little god entered the halls from one of the many doors. They all appeared busy with their own concerns and ignored the pair, moving with a rushed calm that only seasoned clerks used to looming deadlines could achieve. The paths were brightly lit with essence lamps that gave off a low hum along with a soft yellow light that was not all together unpleasant. Moss thrived on the moist stones, and there was a distinct, briny odor in the air that she knew would cling to everything she wore.
To her surprise, they crossed paths with a handful of other Chosen of the Maidens as well. They greeted them, Errant specifically, with friendly waves and short words. But they all appeared busy as well and went about their business without further ado.
She also noticed the Old Realm characters â€˜bad luckâ€™ stamped proudly upon the back of her self-declared chaperoneâ€™s tunic.
As Rose followed the other Chosen down the long halls of the River Temple, she was struck by how crowded the place felt. The small monastery that served as the convention house for the Convention of Water was never more than sparsely occupied. Even the Moon-Kissed Tidal House in Skullstone that they recently abandoned seemed quiet and empty compared to the activity here. Now that she thought about it, their headquarters never had more than two Sidereals staying there at any given time, and the most permanent Bureau occupants were the four little god desk clerks and the occasional minor elementals on mail errands.
In fact, a lot of things have surprised her today. And she did not like that one bit.
â€œWhat are we late for anyway?â€ she asked as she moved up to walk abreast the other Sidereal.
â€œOur first assignment, thanks to you,â€ Errant Venture replied briskly. â€œAnd you still need to file your transfer papers.â€
Rose checked the Resplendent Synchronizer of Heavenly Bodies on her wrist and frowned, â€œI wasnâ€™t late.â€
â€œYou werenâ€™t early.â€
She ignored the quip with some effort, â€œAnd why all the paperwork? Shouldnâ€™t we just head out since weâ€™re apparently late?â€
The man beside her looked to the ceiling and rolled his eyes, â€œLook, I donâ€™t know how you people ran that circus of a convention out in the West and frankly, I donâ€™t care. But here, we follow protocol.â€
â€œWe act when shit needs to get done if thatâ€™s what you getting atâ€ Rose shot back. The Convention of Water was not the smoothest running convention in the Bureau, but sheâ€™d be damned if she let some lazy paper baron get away with talking shit about her mates, â€œCanâ€™t imagine you people getting anything done here, what with all that paper stuffed up your asses.â€
â€œYouâ€™d know all about stuffing, wouldnâ€™t you?â€
You son of a-
â€œAh, here we are,â€ Errant Venture said with feigned good cheer and stopped in front of a door that looked no different from the other dozen along the corridor. The stone door slid open with the templeâ€™s characteristic low rumble to reveal a modest sized office. Neutrally colored file cabinets lined the walls and flanked a heavy desk of carved dull black marble. A single brass automaton with a large blinking red light for a face sat behind the desk.
The Chosen of Journeys motioned for her to enter with a limp wristed wave of his hand. She did what she was told and stepped inside, but not before she shot the golden eyed man a look that promised retribution to come.
â€œWelcome to the Administrative Registrar of the Convention of Wood,â€ the automaton greeted her with a voice that she decided was much too cheery for her current mood, â€œI am Slowly Spinning Sprocket. How may I assist you today?â€
Rose glanced at Errant Venture, then back at the lone automaton before responding. â€œI just transferred in. Take it I need to fill some stuff out?â€
â€œOne moment please.â€ The sentient deviceâ€™s head then rotated three full circles on its impractically narrow neck as smaller multicolored lights on its torso blinked in some strange pattern. Rose could even hear the muffled clanks of the spinning cogs in the thingâ€™s blocky chassis.
What an outdated heap, she thought with a silent, bemused sigh. Nothing like the new VE models the Crimson Panoply adopted a few years back. Even a freshly hired little god can work faster than this.
â€œYes!â€ the automaton chirped after a while, â€œThere is record of a personal transfer slated for this date. Please insert letter of transfer to complete the procedure.â€ As it spoke, a flap on its torso, just below the neck, opened to reveal some kind of paper feed just wide enough to accept Bureau documents one page at a time.
Rose looked over her shoulder and gave Errant Venture an incredulous stare, â€œYou canâ€™t be serious.â€
The Chosen of Mercury shrugged and tapped the synchronizer on his wrist in response, which made her glare and whip her head back towards the automaton, who remained politely still and silent. Grudgingly, Rose reached into the inside pocket of her jacket and fumbled around for a moment before she pulled out a crumpled wad that was her transfer orders. She shot a warning glare at the other Sidereal after hearing a strangled snicker, but the man was already staring intently at the ceiling with a grin that she just knew would only become increasingly aggravating in the coming days.
Turning back towards the automaton, she began to flatten out the letter on the desk. The sound of rustling paper was the only noise in the room as she struggled to get the damned thing into something that resembled respectable. When she was satisfied with her efforts, Rose fed the sheet into the automaton. As the first bit went in, gears began to whirl and unseen rollers pulled the rest of the letter inside the artifact clerkâ€™s body.
And then the page was promptly spat back out.
Had the Battles not recently paid off the destruction of a priceless stain glass window in the Forbidden Manse of Ivy, there would be an impressive pile of brass scrap on the office floor. But she had, and so the automaton remained unscathed.
Rose took a moment to calm down and unclenched her jaw. She thought she heard another snicker from behind her but ignored it. The automaton, wisely, remained dormant.
She spent the next few minutes meticulously straightening the creases in the letter, folding and refolding to get the thing as flat as possible. By the end of it, the sheet of paper felt almost like cloth, which added a new problem when she tried to feed it through the slot, with the limp page buckling under the pressure. At times, she angrily wondered if the automaton had completely turned off.
Finally, after some doing, the rollers came to life and the letter went in without a hitch. After several seconds, when she was sure that it would not spit it back out, she realized that she was holding her breath, so she let it go with a sigh.
â€œProcessing,â€ the automaton then chimed cheerily, the lights on its chest blinking randomly as more cogs and metal parts moved and spun. Rose found her opinion of â€˜intelligentâ€™ automata steadily decreasing as the seconds ticked by. Eventually, the robotic clerk finished analyzing the orders and bobbed its light bulb head. â€œWelcome to the Convention of Wood, Karal Midnight Rose. Please refer to your handbook or senior advisor with any questions. Please note that until your probationary period has elapsed, your mission dispatches will be relayed to your senior advisor.â€
â€œGreat,â€ Rose muttered, then spun on her heel to face Errant Venture. â€œCome we go now?â€
The Journeys grunted an affirmative and stepped out of the office. Rose followed the man out, glad to finally be on her way back into the field. Neither of them responded to the automatonâ€™s cheerful farewell as the door grinded shut once more.
Slowly Spinning Sprocket was not offended by the Siderealsâ€™ lack of manners. It was used to people ignoring it. In fact, it really did not matter, as its primary concern is with the careful administration of Convention documents. And so the automaton cheerily went back to work, oblivious to the fact that it had simultaneously made and ruined somebodyâ€™s day.
Back in the hall, Rose marched alongside Errant as he led her through the temple.
â€œThe backend of the temple is where our Convention House is located,â€ Errant mentioned as they neared the exit. â€œThe only way out to Creation is through the front half, which is what most of the locals know as the River Temple of Anisatsis. She lets us use the place as long as we make sure the pilgrims make it through here safely. Theyâ€™re mostly couples. Anisatsis is a fertility goddess after all.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t seem very secure.â€
Errant shrugged, â€œHiding in plain sight has its benefits.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t work so well with the Tidal House,â€ Rose pointed out, with a touch of something that she did not intend. Regret, perhaps, but she quickly brushed those thoughts aside.
The Chosen of Journeys glanced over at her for a brief moment, but said nothing, as though thinking better of it.
A few moments later, they arrived in a small waiting room. Several non-descript canvas robes and cloaks hung on pegs along the walls. A handful of pegs were empty, but the room remained well-stocked with such articles. The Journeys grabbed a robe and tossed the garment at Rose, who caught it with her left hand.
â€œPut those on, Greenhorn.â€
A shapely crimson brow arched, â€œDisguises?â€
â€œYep. Weâ€™ll be a cute, young couple hoping that Anisatsis blesses us with fertility,â€ Errant explained nonchalantly as he wrapped a cloak around his frame, making sure that it covered the flashiest sections of his clothing.
â€œOh lovely,â€ Rose lamented with exaggerated flair, â€œI married to an impotent husk of a man.â€
â€œSays the woman with the Underworld between her legs.â€
â€œDarling,â€ the Chosen of Battles admonished with feigned sweetness, â€œThis wouldnâ€™t have been a problem if you hadnâ€™t gone and learned Citrine Poxes of Contagion style from those harlots in the next village.â€
â€œIâ€™ll keep that in mind,â€ Errant Venture said with a wry smirk and pressed one of the smaller, uneven stone blocks on the wall. The tile sunk deeper into the wall and after several moments, a section of nearby wall began grinding open. A draft carried with it a stronger scent of the two rivers outside the temple. Through the newly opened door, she saw a dimly lit hall that was identical to the one they were just in. The only difference being the presence of oil lanterns rather than essence lamps. â€œLetâ€™s get moving, Greenhornâ€ he said when Rose got the robe over her clothes.
Errant seemed to expect more sass from her, but she did not oblige him as she followed him into the public face of the Eastâ€™s Convention House.
While the River Temple was not as crowded as the Convention House proper, the pair came across relatively few people on the grounds besides the occasional priest more concerned for the proper upkeep of the place than actual prayer.
Rose kept to herself, admiring the simple, cave-like architecture as they walked, easily fitting into the temporary role of half of a childless couple like the countless other covers she had assumed in her lifetime. â€œSo whatâ€™s the mission?â€
â€œWeâ€™re investigating an unauthorized mid-level essence burst.â€
â€œA few daysâ€™ ride due west, along the southern end of the Yellow River.â€
â€œMama Ura thinks Luna popped another one, but we have no specifics. There were a handful of silver shards at large during the time window and Hell, with our intel, it could just be another Lost Egg.â€
â€œAnd if it does turn out to be a Lunar?â€ Rose asked and flashed her colleague an inquiring look.
Errant shot her another glance in return, but did not volunteer any information. Instead, he stepped close and wrapped an arm around her waist. She stiffened as he pulled her in closer, but did not react as another couple moved into view. Rose leaned her head on his shoulder and smiled at the pair, newlyweds from the looks of it.
â€œThe goddessâ€™ blessing is upon us,â€ she murmured lovingly to Errant as the other couple passed them.
The Chosen of Journeys looked convincingly proud as he hugged her, â€œAnd soon we will be blessed with children as well.â€
Neither Sidereal dropped their act until they were out of sight of the mortals, and Rose shoved the Journeys away. â€œTouch me again, and Iâ€™ll break the arm,â€ the Battles warned in the same sweet tone as she had used a moment before.
â€œBattles,â€ Errant noted dryly and dug his hands into his pockets as he walked.
The two carried on silently for the rest of the walk, the occasional echoes of hushed conversations and feet upon stone the only sounds to punctuate the constant drone of the rivers beneath them.
He looked over his shoulder at her a little while later, as they exited the Temple and began moving single file down the winding, narrow stairs that led down to the bottom of the cliff the Temple was carved into. The steps themselves were originally part of the cliff as well and overlooked the fork where the Meander and Maruto merged to form the Yellow River. â€œSo the rumors of that bar fight during the Festivals of Meetingsâ€¦?â€
There was a slight pause, â€œI have no idea what you might be referring to.â€
â€œRight,â€ Errant looked at her, unconvinced before he turned his attention back to not tripping on the wet and narrow steps, â€œAt any rate, weâ€™ll take a cloud skiff to the scene. Itâ€™s not too far from here so weâ€™ll arrive within the day. From there weâ€™ll play it by ear.â€
â€œNot too different from how we do things over in the West,â€ Rose mused aloud.
Errant Venture did not say anything, but his one-fingered wave said more than words ever could.
Last edited by Fenris
on 24 Jun 2009, 17:42, edited 1 time in total.
Zhao Yi, "Venus! Will you look at the size of this closet?"
Midnight Rose, "Sifu, we're looking for booze here."
Current story is Sun and Stars
which can be found in my notebook.