Friday, February 6, 2009



Papantzin slapped the flat of the blade away. Her kick to the chest sent Flavius sprawling. Immediately she turned back to Anacaona, a reed-thin stiletto glinting wickedly in her hand.

Anacaona scrambled away, stumbling over the corner of the bed. She fell hard onto the small pile of her clothes on the floor.

“Damn ya for losing focus, ya git,” Flavius gasped from the floor where he’d fallen. He still held Memory--thank goodness--but his chest burned like fire where she’d kicked him and it felt as if all his ribs were pulling loose as he tried to get up. “She’s nae just some stuck-up handmaiden. Ach! Damn, but she kicks like a mule!”

Papantzin moved quickly and fluidly to Anacaona. She bent over the fallen Sajal, stiletto poised for the killing stroke--

A burst of green flashed, flinging Papantzin away.

Anacaona sat up, a miniature cuayab glowing in her hand.

“What the hell is that?” Flavius managed, glancing over at Papantzin, who lay moaning--and smoking--in the middle of the floor. Empress Malinche stood frozen in place, disbelief and outrage battling for supremacy on her face.

“Palm cuayab. Nobility of Sajal rank and higher are entitled to carry one for personal protection. What? I keep it in my belt pouch,” Anacaona said, staring down at Papantzin with loathing. “They’re not powerful enough to more than stun. Unfortunately.”

Papantzin grunted and propped herself up on her elbows. Flavius quickly directed the sharp tip of Memory menacingly above her chest.

“Ah! That’ll be far enough, I’m thinking,” he said. “I’m nae squeamish about bloodying a lass, or even ya, Papantzin, but I’ll be letting ya live out of respect for my deep, meaningful relationship with yer Empress. We had some good times, didn’t we Malinche?”

The Empress’ disbelief and outrage had compromised to express themselves via a disapproving scowl. “This joke has lost all humor. Sajal, you will help Papantzin up and then accompany her to your suite where she will administer atonement. Flavius will accompany me to the Imperial wing.”

“I ken yer having a wholly different conversation than the rest of us,” Flavius said, staring at the Empress in exasperation. “Right then. Anacaona, whatever’s in the wardrobe, fit it in my pack there. Hand me my sporran, too, when ya get a chance. Hurry now, lass, be quick about it.”

“Have you made up your mind, then?” Anacaona asked as she stuffed Flavius’ few possessions into the much-abused pack. “About my traveling otherwhere with you?”

“Dinnae be a git. Of course yer coming with me. On one condition-- I have to have yer solemn promise yer going to let me sleep at least a week before we finish our business.”

“Yes! Yes!”

“And lass, much as it pains me to say this, ya’d better put yer clothes back on. The Nexus of All Realities is nae place to be flouncing around starkers.”

The room shook suddenly, an unnerving lurch just strong enough to throw Flavius off-balance.

Papantzin reacted, rolling to the side as Memory wavered. She came up thrusting her stiletto. Flavius pivoted, dodging the blade. His momentum carried Memory around, catching Papantzin’s knuckles. She cried out. Blood flew across the room, streaking Anacaona’s breasts scarlet. The stiletto clattered to the floor, along with splattering drops of blood.

“You moved as quickly as she did,” Anacaona said, eyes wide. “Your skill in disarming her--”

“Skill, hell. I was aiming to lop off her goddamned head!” Flavius kicked the bloody stiletto to Anacaona while keeping Memory trained on Papantzin. Anacaona snatched it up. Flavius tried staring Papantzin down with a murderous glare, but she returned it with equal ferocity as she cradled her bloody hand. Finally, he gave up. “Anacaona, that shake we just felt--that something happens often around here?”

She shook her head. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”

“Yer Imperial Majesty...?”

“The Palace of Un-pic Ja’ab has the most advanced inertial dampers in forty cosms,” Empress Malinche said proudly. “It does not shake.”

“Then just what--” Flavius jabbed Memory at the Empress for emphasis, “--do ya call that belly-knotting jitter what came through a moment ago and made the room go all wobbly, eh?”

The door to the room opened. A squad of Eternal Militiamen stood outside in the hall.

“Your Imperial Majesty, a situation has...” the commander trailed off, dumbstruck by the scene before him. The sounds of alarms drifted in from the hall.

Flavius looked at the Militiamen, then at Memory, pointed directly at the Empress. He closed his eyes. “Bugger me,” he muttered under his breath. Quickly he directed Memory away from the Empress, back toward Papantzin.

“Lads, it’s nae what it looks like,” he said, forcing a smile. “I was just having a chat with Her Imperial Majesty, that’s all. It was Papantzin I was having a wee row with.”

The commander’s eyes, if possible, got even wider at the sight of Papantzin’s blood everywhere.

“Damnit man, I ken what yer thinking, and it’s nae like that. She tried to kill me first. Ask Sajal Acaona--” For the first time, Flavius noticed the blood streaking her naked body. “Oh, Goddamn it all to hell. I’m nae getting out of here without a fight, am I?”


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