Challenges, Queen of Daggers, Shorts/Drabbles

[Pre-Nano Shorts] Rankle

This is a continuation of the Pre-Nano shorts I wrote in 2006. The short series shall now be called Ity, and will consist of Pre-Nano shorts I’ve written before. It’ll be taking place at the same time as the events of Dreamer’s Trilogy, but as a side story.

It was night when Lance and Ran met again. They had elected to have dinner at Ran’s home, so they were assured of privacy. Zhilbar decided against cooking and literally whipped up a few dishes. Over dinner, they spoke about Zhilbar’s many emanations and children; Ran had not seen them in some time. They skipped talking about the murder at the temple until dinner was over and the plates were empty between them.

Ran kept quiet hearing Zhilbar’s encounter with the child at the temple. She sounded like she was perhaps a Priestess, for her bearing and her behaviour towards Zhilbar. He himself had never heard the girl being described by Zhilbar. She had not been present during his initial negotiations with the girls, and he highly doubted that they would have sent an amateur to check out the place.

“The acolyte looked unnerved by her. It seems that once she knew the target was dead, she decided to leave things as it was,” Zhilbar leant against the pillar, watching as Ran trimmed his bonsai.

“That’s unusual. It’s not like them to give up so easily,” Ran was fairly sure that there was something happening that should not have been.

“So, what’s your next move?”

“The boy can look after things in the office. What did the child look like?”

Zhilbar grinned and projected an illusion of the girl in front of Ran. The illusion though, was incomplete. There was a section of her neck that refused to show, so the dark-haired girl looked like her neck was missing a vital piece. That surprised Zhilbar, but before he could do anything, Ran let out a soft whistle.

“So she wasn’t kidding,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“That missing neck means she’s protected by another Divine Being. It’s where the mark of protection was put on her. At least I don’t have to wonder if the rumours were true,” Ran sat down.

“Rumours?” Zhilbar raised an eyebrow.

“Someone said that the women were a front for a religious organisation. With that mark, we can be absolutely certain,” Ran rolled himself a cigarette and offered one to Zhilbar, who declined. “It’d explain their decision to pull back and why he was afraid of her. The acolytes only fear other religious, never a commoner, and rarely a God,” he took a long puff.

“They don’t fear Gods?” Zhilbar raised an eyebrow.

“Gods in this part of the Universe are bound by interesting rules. The ones in the East are allowed to intervene directly without the aid of their followers. However, they pay the price by being limited to one area. This area can be expanded, of course, but the expansion often requires physical expenses,” Ran explained.

He nodded as a look of realisation came over Zhilbar’s face.

“Yes, you see now why this land has so many shrines. It’s not just here, but all over what they call the Far East. Here, the presence of the Gods needs to be backed by shrines, churches, temples, and the like. It’s a boundary of sorts; even those that did not need such trappings in their original countries find that such trappings are necessary here,” Ran took another long breath of his pipe.

“What about the West?”

“Ah now, that, that’s a conundrum. The West, on the other hand, may move freely, but they can only act when their subject prays for it. Even then, they must ensure that the faith of their subjects are sufficient for the miracle they wish to carry out,” Ran explained further.

“That does not seem fair,” Zhilbar pointed out, to which Ran laughed.

“Not on the surface. The Easterners are very distrustful of Gods. They worship these Gods, but they’ve been exposed to demons, so their view of the world is multi-coloured. They don’t see things in black and white. I’ve heard stories of Gods who made the mistake of offering a miracle to a mortal who did not need it; they ended up arguing about the matter for years.”

“They must be patient then.”

“On the contrary, they’re not. They’re just very cautious, and they came from the stock that is very calculating. It’s something that’s hardwired into them.”

“So how does this relate to the girl and the acolyte?”

“Well, all disciples can be imbued with certain power. Bear this in mind, a God needs to play by the rules dictated to him by Karma and Chronos. A religious is bound only by what they think is best for their God,” Ran waited for Zhilbar’s horror.

Which was not long in the coming.

“Now you see why I chose to settle here.”

“I would have joined you earlier if I had known,” Zhilbar raised his glass.

“I would not have allowed it. As you can see around you, the outcome of such systems is that the mortals discount the presence of the Gods, learning to accept the miracles as part and parcel of nature. What they cannot explain, they investigate, as it should be. This world has reached that point where Gods are no longer really needed; they’ll survive on their own even without us,” Ran sighed.

“Yet you won’t leave.”

“I won’t…” Ran’s words were cut off as the two Divine Beings jumped up and onto the walls of the small garden.

A projectile, hurled over the wall, landed in the garden and exploded. It had been aimed at no one in general, but the destruction temporarily blinded Zhilbar and Ran. As the smoke cleared, Zhilbar growled and took a step back.

His assailant came out of the smoke to attack him head on.

“Foolish!” Zhilbar let that slip, and raised his hands to ward off the attack.

His assailant hissed, and turned in mid air, a tail wrapping around Zhilbar’s human neck. Faster than the eye could follow, Zhilbar was lifted bodily and thrown to the ruined garden.

It was a move that was sure to have broken his back, but Zhilbar was not human.

“Urgh!”

The cry from Ran distracted Zhilbar’s attention, but the lizard attacker was jumping at him. Swiping the lizard away as he would a fly, Zhilbar went to find his friend.

The attackers were to realise that they had attacked the wrong pair.