Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 034
Jillian rounded another corner and found another dull flight of stairs to climb. Her sandaled feet plop-plopped up the steps without enthusiasm. Jack Snipe followed, kindly walking her back to her suite, much like helping an incapacitated unit off the battlefield.
Court was still proceeding, in its way. The Jack would normally have been providing the entertainment, but most of Faq‘s casters were spending the evening quietly discussing and meditating upon the grave course of action the King had “distilled from the wise counsel of all.” That course amounted to throwing out all of Jillian‘s ideas and ordering her out to do what they‘d intended for her in the first place: go find a bolt hole for the casters. The only new directive was, “hurry up about it.”
She‘d tried tonight. She had really dug in her heels. She made her case three or four different ways. By the end, she could hear herself yelling, and at that point her father cut her off. She had lost. Again, and as usual.
“The term they prefer for you is ‘turbulent,‘” said Jack, following a step or two behind her on the stairs. “I believe I shall be sick of the sound of that word over the next few turns.”
Jillian grunted. “They‘ll get over it. I‘m not around very often to kick their house of cards.”
“Mm. More‘s the pity. But don‘t take all the credit for that, Princess. This business about moving up the timetable for our doom is what‘s really got everyone‘s feathers on backward,” said Jack thoughtfully. “It‘s certainly got me worried.”
“Yeah, I gotta talk to Marie about that,” said Jillian. “Get her to nail down how much time we really have left. Or even how doomed we really are.”
“Good luck. The Good Sister is quite serious about her craft.”
Jillian sneered. Yeah, all the casters were so very serious. “What does that mean?”
“She‘ll tell you that it means...that the more she tells you, the worse off you‘ll be. She‘s a fun one to spar with at Court,” he said, with a hint of genuine admiration. “I usually lose.”
“I hear that,” said Jillian.
“What I find so disconcerting about it is that she changed her mind immediately upon hearing the name ‘Lady Firebaugh.‘”
Jillian came to the top of the stairs and spun around to face him. He stopped, unfazed by the sudden reverse. “I noticed that! Why? What do you know about her?” she said.
“Nothing at all,” said Jack. His voice he lowered to a conspiratorial murmur. “But Sister Marie‘s response to the name brought to my mind the recollection a certain day.”
Jillian waited for him to continue. He stood on the top step, glancing down both long corridors and up the next flight of stairs before continuing.
“It was before you were popped. We met a Croakamancer in the Magic Kingdom, and our Sister Marie has never been the same woman since. Shortly after the encounter, King Banhammer ordered an heir to be popped. I‘ve long suspected that she made her Prediction about the fall of the kingdom at that time. So perhaps that was ‘Lady Firebaugh.‘”
Jillian frowned. “If she knew then, why didn‘t–”
“Sh,” said Jack, putting his hand on Jillian‘s arm. He was looking past her, down the long corridor which led to her suite. “Little shadow on your door, see it?” whispered the Foolamancer.
She turned to look. This was her floor, and that was her suite at the end of the hall. Which meant no more stairs, hooray. She couldn‘t necessarily see what he meant at first, but after squinting at the open door, she did see something move.
“Are you expecting the room to be occupied?” whispered the Jack.
“No, but it could be a servant. I left the room a mess,” she admitted. She found she was whispering too.
“Too furtive, I think,” whispered Jack, shaking his head. How exactly could he tell that? “I‘d like to stack, and spend a bit of juice, if I might?”
Jillian gave him a nod, which served as her order to proceed. They stacked. Jack stepped lightly around her, looking her up and down. “Crypsis,” he whispered, his hand twitching. The air shimmered a bit, but there was no other effect.
“Now we won‘t be noticed, neither heard nor seen,” said Jack in a normal tone of voice. “Let‘s go and have a look!”
He took a few carefree steps toward the suite. Jillian followed down the empty hallway. The shadow on the door got more noticeable as they approached. There was definitely someone in there.
Jack poked his head in the doorway first. Jillian saw his eyes go wide with shock and his head pop back as if he‘d just walked into a window pane. Then those wide eyes slowly narrowed and settled into a look of deep disapproval. He turned his head and looked at her.
“It‘s, er– It‘s...nothing you‘re going to want to see. But go on.” He stepped out of her way, gesturing.
Jillian was too tired to guess, so she stepped right into the room. It was still a mess, but this was not quite the mess she had left. The armoire was open, as were the bureau drawers. Her clothes–mostly her “home” raiment but also a lot of her undergarments from the field–were strewn around on the bed and the floor.
Right in the middle of the room stood Faq‘s Shockamancer, Rusty Trombone, a tall, gaunt man, with long curly brown hair and an imperial soul patch beneath his lower lip.
He was wearing the green satin robe of Court, and (Jillian could unfortunately see) nothing else. In both his fists, he was holding two or three of her underthings. With his robe open, he looked vaguely up at the ceiling while he slowly rubbed the garments up and down his front. He was humming very quietly.
Jillian watched him for a moment, completely unprepared to even start thinking about how to react to this. In these few moments of stunned silence, her one utterly bizarre thought was that at least there was one other person here who was happy she was home.
Rusty held the two clumps of underwear to his face and took several deep whiffs, whispering “ahhhh” after each. Then he dropped them to the floor, knelt down before the bureau, and began rummaging through the bottom drawer.
“Jack,” said Jillian, not turning around, “you‘re about to see something here that might make you think less of me. You probably just want to go and fetch Betsy right now.”
“Oh. Oh, your Royal Highness, no,” said Jack very seriously, “I, too, take my craft seriously. A Foolamancer must see the world for exactly what it is, and what others wish it to be. If one loves a rose for its petals, then hates the poor flower for its thorns, then that‘s no sort of love at all.”
Jillian glanced back at him. “What?”
Jack gave her an odd little smile. “I‘ll fetch the Healomancer in good time. But I‘d like to watch you work.”
She nodded. “Nnkay,” she said, glancing around the room. “Drop the veil.”
She started by ripping one of the posts out of the canopy bed, more to make an opening statement than for its practical use as a bludgeon. No, the candlestick holders would prove better for that. And the tea set. The tea set would be fun...