KEEP ON BURNING
Themesong: I’m Alive by Sia
AN: Warning, incoming strangeness
This… was strange. I hadn’t been Sheanna of Blackmoon, daughter of Aalis and Varish, sister of Aiton and Beyor, for twenty years… but I was her again, and as I stepped from the Chamber of the Ordeal, the decades I’d spent as Sigismonda Lathimon III and Sarah Darling Winchester fell away, receding into my memories like dreams upon waking. I had so many questions… but first, I had my shield to receive and this life to get back into.
I shall not bore you with the details of the knighting ceremony. They differ little from world to world and are, for those not involved, somewhat uninteresting. Sheanna was, of course, faintly buzzing and those who wished her well were pleased as punch for her. Varish, Aiton, Beyor, and Aalis had travelled all the way from Scanra, leaving a regent who could be trusted not to act like a total arse behind. This was, of course, made possible by the end of the war and the fall of King Maggot. The High Council of Scanra was struggling to reassert its haphazard dominance over the lands of Scanra and several of the border jarls were considering if they might be better as vassals of the Conte line than the series of half-moronic tyrants that passed for High Kings in Scanra. That they were having a hard time figuring this out is testament to the high intellectual standards of the Jarls of Scanra.
Also present were my former Knight Master, the Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan and some of my friends… including three youngsters who had been barely more than toddlers the day before, at least as this world measured time. That they were, in theory, 24 years old, had no bearing on this. They would barely have passed for 7 (the older pair) and 6 in the case of their younger sister. Simon and Buji were a big older, biologically speaking, at 7 and 8, but neither of them had come to Sitcomtopia and spent a decade failing to grow much older, and neither were part Asgardian.
Their presence, along with their parents, had helped calm me down some, but not only was Zane still missing, but now Yoiko and Ryoga were as well, and as for the friends and allies I’d made in the land of Warhammer, there was no evidence, nor could I get my marketplace to connect to that world at all. It was most frustrating. Still, everyone who’d been there remembered it well enough.
Also frustrating was dealing with the sudden tension between the now 13 year old Ceibhfhionn (Velma) and her erstwhile partner in shenanigans Cirno, who was acting as if she was in charge in their decidedly unequal partnership. I would have liked to brush the issue off and either told the two to act their ages or ignored it all and let things settle out on their own, but the force of Feminist Narrative and my drawback enforced sense of Knightly Duty refused to let me do that. They were my responsibility, especially since one of the two was my ward and the other was my servant… somewhat. Like all things Jumper… it’s complicated.
And so I solved the matter by turning Cirno into a puppy. This did not please the fairy one bit, but since Ceibhfhionn was a dog-focused Wildmage, it pleased her and reestablished their former pecking order. It might not be fair to Cirno, but she hadn’t been asserting herself because she wanted things to be more equal. She was doing it because she perceived a power vacuum and thought that just because she was now twenty years older (a meaningless distinction for a fairy) than she had been the last time they’d been together and Ceibhfhionn was only four years older. Still, Cirno was my sworn bondswoman, and this would (to a certain extent) keep her out of trouble.
Also present were the feral duo of Wolf and Squirrel, as well as my collection of pets (well, most of them. I found myself missing Zeddy, Freddy, and Teddy… though not nearly as much as Amaryllis was missing her Speeps and Aunties… why could I not get rid of those insane Sisters of Battle?! Why?! Were they a punishment from on high? A Karmic reminder of somekind? A cruel joke by some unknownable actor? Aaaaagh!). Still, it felt (somewhat annoyingly) extremely good to see Wolf again… at least as far as Sheanna was concerned. Stupid teenage libido… seriously, down girl. Anyone can forget to wear a shirt… though few males looked quite as… tempting when they did.
Scampers-Swiftly on the other hand, was the only native who seemed to think I’d been gone for any time at all. “It was aaaaaaages!” she whined as I poured her out a small pile of peanuts. To be fair, she also complained about how long I’d been gone when I went to the bathroom… if she didn’t follow me. I swear, it was almost as if she was convinced I was a total incompetent who would wander off if she didn’t keep a tiny liquid eye on me at all times. She also slept on my pillow and pouted whenever someone larger, be it Soffi or Ziggy or someone sexy forced her to vacate it, though she was smart enough not to chitter angrily at any of them… except for Alex and Maggy. In fact, the only person she didn’t mind being displaced by was Amaryllis… but that’s probably because Amaryllis gave good tummy rubs.
Over the winter following my investiture, I considered my options as a knight. I had a duty to fulfill, and no war to prosecute… but to serve Tortall alone would be denying my father’s heritage and peoples… and I still had a Goddess to serve to some extent. And so it was that, come spring, I begged the King’s leave and set forth in company for the north with Keladry who had, for her services, been made Baronness of Haven, the territory of around the fortified camp of New Hope and the ruins of the original Haven… to which I requested permission to utilize.
“Utilize? In what way?” Kel asked, curiosity piqued.
“I’m going to build a shipyard there,” I responded, making her chuckle… until she saw that I wasn’t kidding.
“I know the Greenwood is a fast river, but it’s not exactly… I don’t know the term… sail worthy?”
“That’s okay. I’m going to be some major modifications to the river.”
“You’re going to modify… the river?”
“Current’s a little too fast and it’s deeper than I need it to be. So I’m going to widen it and remove some of the rapids. Pretty much the same way Numair used Stone Dance to bring the rocks to make the lower walls of Haven and New Hope… it’ll make the river more navigable… and I need her to be about 40 feet wide, instead of the twenty she is now.”
“But… if she’s shallower… don’t sailboats need…” she looked flummoxed.
“Not a sailboat. A steam boat. The Greenwood isn’t wide enough for me to build a double wheeler, so I’ll build a outboard…” I saw her expression, then laughed “I’ll set up a demonstration. Give me twenty minutes.”
Half an hour later, Kel was looking at the handful of small wooden riverboat mockups paddling their way around the horse trough. Her destrier, Peachblossom, looked most distressed by the small clockwork machines skidding about on his drink, but I reassured the grumpy beast that they were harmless… and stopped Scampers-Swiftly from trying to ride one. They were only 5 inches long and fairly fragile.
“And you make the wheels move with magic?” Kel asked.
“Oh… no… Steam. These chimneys are for the steam boilers. They’re called Stacks.”
“Oh… umm… Not… not like…” she bit her lip, not wanting to accuse me of using Necromancy, but I laughed and waved her worries away.
“No. No. Not like the Killing Machines. Those were abominations. I’ve set up another demonstration, but this one is in the kitchen.” I took her in to where the potbellied stove I’d introduced was doing its best to keep the still chilly early spring weather as bearable as possible. I’d modified a couple of kettles to serve as my testbeds. “This is called an aeropile…” I said, pointing to where a small sphere with two spouts was suspended on a tripod of legs. Unlike Heron of Alexandria’s model, mine was designed to spin horizontally.
I opened the top and showed Kel that it was empty inside. “One simply adds water,” I did so, “and places it over the heat.” And I did that too. “But while that’s heating, let me show you the process better with this kettle instead.” I pointed to one merrily steaming already, the cap off to show that the water was boiling slowly. There was a small, multi-bladed paddle-wheel attached to the spout by four stiff wires. “To show you that no magic is involved, if you would put the lid on that kettle?”
Quirking an eye, she did, then gasped as the steam, no longer able to escape the wide open top came pouring out of the spout under pressure… and the wheel began to clack-clack-clack rapidly. “What’s moving it?”
“Steam. It’s like blowing on a leaf to move it. My plan-” At that moment, the aeropile began to slowly spin up as the water inside boiled, the two small spouts making it spin on its rest faster and faster. “My plan is to make a couple of ships to ply the length of the Greenwood and Vassa… once the rapids are cleared there too… It will open up trade all along the rivers… all the way to the sea. And once I get River Steamboats operational, I can move on to Seaworthy ones. Neither river is really wide enough for a double-wheel design, but the outboard wheel designs should work… but to build them, I need to make a foundry to cast the boilers and sheetmetal for the pipes. And I’ll be running through a lot of charcoal… which I figured your people could make… the industry would be good… and with the war over, a lot of smiths will be needing work.”
“How will you pay for all this? I know your father is wealthy and the war mostly spared Blackmoon, but you’re talking about a lot of money.”
“I’ll manage,” I said, then handed Kel a sack of gold, “Remember, my artisan smiths have been making stoves and selling them all over the kingdom for a couple years now.” And it was true. Between my various (ridiculously low tech) inventions, the tech level enforced by the “Respect the setting”, and the mining I’d done to occupy my winters (wars just weren’t fought in winter in the north), I had the wealth I needed to fund the project and, with my friends and local magical might, I had the power needed to reshape the rivers… though it would take me time and effort.
Still, within six months, I had the first cargo riverboat plying the Greenwood, though I had not been personally involved besides the funding, designing, and hydroforming stages as I’d been spending my time hunting bandits and monsters as a good little knight.
By the end of my sixth year, there were five riverboats running the Greenwood, Vassa, and Brown Rivers between Forts Steadfast, Mastiff, and the rebuilt Giantkiller as well as Fiefs Anak’s Eyrie and Tirrsmont and a half dozen towns, including New Hope, Bearsford, Riversedge, and Goatstrack. It was only a matter of time before we reached the sea… and, of course, the bandits and smugglers were getting bolder, as I’d known they would.
Which is why I’d built not five riverboats, but six. The sixth was not an outboard… nor was she a doublewheeler. Instead, she was a three wheeler, two narrow ones on the sides and one central one located inside the main hull, all running on the same axis. The ship was essentially two hulls, one fore, one aft, joined by the castle and three tiers of walkways (though the lowest one was more a crawlway.) She was 18 feet wide, 80 feet long, 6 feet of draft, and had the same steel that plate armor was made of covering most of her. She was an ironclad and mounted four ballista and could level up to sixty crossbowmen against anyone stupid enough to try and take her on. I named her, of course, Proud Mary, and she became the mobile base of operations for counter Banditry operations all along the rivers. She was also broad enough that she could serve as a bridge across the Vassa and her boilers were strong enough to hold against the rapid flow of the river without too much effort.
She was also what finally allowed me to find out where Joy was. The answer was, of course, hiding under my nose the entire damned time. Bethari ha Niko, one of the Queen’s Riders who’d been my friend for years, came riding north to Blackmoon (where the double ended river clearing project was finally having its golden spike moment) with the Conte Monarchs to see my Fabulous Riverboats (the first of which had been named ‘Farmer’s Joy’ in honor of the novelist… and the fact that she carried grain) and, upon seeing the Proud Mary had actually slipped up enough to mutter ‘Holy shit’… in English. Granted, she’d thought I was out of range… and I was… but Buji is a surprisingly stealthy little boy and he reported back to me.
The presence of English meant that this was either Joy or Zane, and given Bethari’s personality, it didn’t seem likely this was the missing Zane. I had loads of suspicions about who Zane might have been or where, but frankly, he could have been anywhere in Tortall’s past, present, or future. At first I’d thought maybe he was Aiton… but Aiton just blinked at me when I asked if the name Zane meant anything to him. Ditto Sheanna’s father and little brother. I’d also asked Scampers, Wolf… and really, everyone else I could think to ask if the name meant anything, but those who had known a Zane always knew a local with that name.
So that’s why, when I confronted Bethari, I snarked, “Hello, Joy.”
“Damn. One of those kids was one of your spies, weren’t they?”
“Why the subterfuge?” I asked, neither confirming or denying my source.
“I’m a spy! It was fun! I still can’t believe you didn’t guess before this! I thought for sure when you asked me if the name Zane meant anything to me you were on to me, but…” she shrugged. “So, your mental powers really are nerfed?”
“Yeah. pretty much. I get the worst headaches when I try to do much with them, and it is totally against the knightly code to read people’s minds without their permission. Also, you’re a stinker! I’ve been worried about you!”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. And it’s been a bear to be separated from everyone… but sometimes a little distance is good. I’ve been enjoying being Bethari. I kinda recommend the whole dropping into a role and making new friends for an experience.” She shrugged, leaning back.
“We’ve been worried about you,” I growled.
“I’m a big girl. We all are. And sometimes it gets a little… close in there. I think more of us should get out, stretch our legs a bit. You like to pretend we’re all one big happy… but sometimes we’re not. Sometimes…” she shrugged again, not finishing.
“If you’re not happy-” I began, feeling a little heart-sick.
“Nothing like that, Jumper-girl. I’m happy enough. Been doing this my whole life, even before you came into the picture. I was a troubleshooter, a wanderer. No home, no roots. But what’s that line?”
I knew instantly what she meant. We thought a lot alike at times. “If you love something, set it free?”
She nodded. “If it comes back…” she gave a third shrug. “If it doesn’t, it wasn’t yours to begin with.”
“Or it’s trapped someplace horrible, waiting for rescue,” I growled.
“Yeah. Maybe. But I didn’t say don’t check up on it. Trust, but verify, you know?”
I nodded. “Still… you could have left a note saying ‘Hey, this is Joy, I’m fine, just taking a little me time.’” I threw a plumstone at her. “Ahab was worried about you!”
“Denys? Oh, sweetie… He’s known who I was since that first trip north!” Her mocking grin made me want to throttle her… and Ahab.
I growled, “That… lying… no good… I’m going to… oooh… just see if I don’t!” I stomped off, then stomped back, and, in a fairly unknightly moment, punched my friend… and not gently.
She offed and waved at me as I turned to go. “Temper temper.”
“Shut up. I’m mad at… what was that sound?”
The sound turned out to be Wolf howling and running back into camp, a couple of arrows sticking out of his lupine form. I rushed to my friend’s side and was about to ask who’d done this, when he gasped out a pained, “Bandits… in the trees.”
I blinked, then a lifetimes of training came to the fore. There was barely time for me to call out “To Arms!” and send a surge of healing magic into Wolf… the arrows could be cut out later, but if he died before I could treat him, it wouldn’t matter if he had arrows in him or not.
I was still drawing my swords when the bandits boiled out of the night as a catapult lobbed flaming pitch at my riverboat. I rushed forward towards the enemy, as behind me Naimon (AJ) ordered my men-at-arms to respond with crossbow fire and the fire doused with powdered talc and soda laid in specifically for that purpose even as the King’s Own formed up to protect the monarch and papa’s guards grabbed up their weapons. Our sentries were either down or had been bribed, and they’d gotten close enough to the newly constructed riverboat port to bring a catapult in range… but to do so, they’d had to muffle themselves pretty well, which meant no metal armor.
Still, we were in the light, and they were coming at us out of the darkness, and counting on us being nightblind. But I had the sight, and enough power to counter their attempt. With a release of will, I sent a pulse of magical energy across the budding battlefield, cloaking each of the bandits in purple and silver fairy fire. It didn’t burn them… but it did terrify the highly superstitious Scanrans, and as I gasped from the effort, the first of them began to go down as the Tortallan and Blackmoon archer and my crossbowmen began picking them off.
There hadn’t been a huge number of Bandits… some five hundred or so, but they’d been relying on surprise and darkness to even the odds against the less than half that number of knights and men at arms. Still, five hundred bandits and three catapults were not easily put together… nor were the three Scanran hedgewizards who’d cloaked the small army’s approach.
We caught all three of them trying desperately to escape and, after some interrogations that I was not part of, they revealed that they’d been paid out of the treasury of one of the Jarls upriver from Blackmoon who’d hoped to seize the King and Father and thus gain control of the mouth of the Vassa.
King Johnathan was a good man, and Tortall was still coming off a war footing, and the kingdom had never had the resources needed to push the war too far into Scanra, which was why the war had dragged on so long, with Tortall almost entirely on the defensive… but Papa was Scanran and this insult could not be borne, nor could this act of war go unanswered, and so, that was the start of the Scanran Civil War as the High Council ripped itself apart and Tortall supplied Papa and his allies with weapons and supplies.
Even though it was five coastal and river jarls against a coalition of nearly twenty (the numbers kept fluctuating) the result was never in doubt. With the rich lands of Tortall supplying food and high quality arms and armor (and the occasional man-at-arms and those Knights who were willing), the hinterland Jarls who lacked access to sea routes or river routes were hard pressed to field large forces, especially after having been drained by the recent war with Tortall itself. The war was over before the end of my ninth year in Tortall and Scanra no longer existed as a functioning nation (not that it was much of one to begin with).
Galla to the east absorbed those parts of the country which had refused to bend the knee to Tortall and father was Duke Blackmoon in his new capital at Hemrkeng, the former capital. Aiton became the heir to the duchy, and I became Lady of Blackmoon itself, which was already growing into a major sea port. Scanra would, no doubt, become the Scottland to Tortall’s England within a few generations, supplying oil, coal, iron, fish, and ridiculous accents and bizarre fashion.
Since I know you’re worried about him, Wolf recovered with his typical goofy grin, and, to appease Sheanna’s mother and secure Fief Blackmoon’s succession (if it really needed it)… and because, while opportunity may only knock once, temptation hammers the door down… Sheanna ended up marrying the all too handsome and occasionally shirt wearing rogue. Something in me already knew that I’d be leaving this world behind for good… if I returned it would not be as Sheanna. I didn’t know how I knew that, but while she’d always be part of me, she’d become a ‘who I was’ once the moment the decade ended, a spin-off as it were. I would not hold this world and its strange Chamber still in time… If I even could.
I looked out upon the land of childhood dreams and noble knights as Sheanna said her wedding vows, feeling a bit remote from it all. I was looking forward to the future, to an era defined by this woman and her children… but, like the Magi King-Priests, she had her own life to live and the part of me that was the Jumper Manifest was already feeling the draw of stranger infinities. I had been a part of Sheanna, but the disruption and disjunction between she and I was greater than most of my… manifestations.
“Beloved friends,” she said, looking out on the gathered crowd of wellwishers, every inch a warrior queen. She raised a goblet and, with a laugh, toasted them all. “May you never forget what is worth remembering, and never remember what is best forgotten.”
The crowd cheered. It was a good day.
As the decade came to an end, I was unsure what, exactly, was going to happen. The Arcade, the chamber in which I met with the Banker and Mensarius had been repaired by my loyal army of machines, but it showed no more life than a blank tv screen. An occasional flicker of static made me hopeful, but nothing seemed to come of it.
In the end, I was merely hoping that there was some built in automation in the process that would allow me to keep moving. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Tortall. If I had to be stranded in a Verse, there were worse places to be stranded than the one that contained Tortall (and, I suspect, Emelan & The Inner Sea from Tamora Pierce’s other setting, the Circle of Magic… they certainly weren’t on the same planet that I’d been able to find… but I hadn’t explored the local cosmology much… which would change if I was indeed trapped here)… but there were also better places too. Someplace a little more Earth-like? Someplace a little more… expansive? Someplace a little further from Warhammer 40K? I wondered how such things would be measured.
As the days dragged on, I began to try and figure out what connections the two Bankers, The Chamber/Malal, and beings like Necoho and The Outsider might have… and were there other entities of similar scale. It was clear that Necoho and the Outsider weren’t even vaguely in the same power bracket as the Bankers… and I suspect the Chamber (whether or not it was also Malal / Malice) was also lower on the trans-cosmic totem-pole… but they all had one thing in common… a connection to primordial Chaos. Not the Chaos of 40K, but the sea of unending possibilities that was, almost invariably, at the root of every system of mythology and not a few systems of science.
Some of those agents of Chaos were arguably not evil, striving to increase variety and promote change. Others were… varying degrees of less good / more crazy… striving to either increase their own power at best or return everything to the primordial undifferentiated ooze, the nothingness before creation. So far, the only ones of that ilk I’d encountered were the Demons of Dresden’s Verse… and they weren’t even close to being on the same order of power that the other entities were. I suspected that the more inimical to the Omniversal Structure such a being was, the more its power was focused on destruction… either that, or the stubborn refusal to admit the rest of the Universe had a right to exist meant that more of their energy was focused on maintaining their own spiteful existence than in messing around with the membranes between Realities.
Or, I could be blowing smoke out of my ass. Could I, the ant, really hope to understand one of these entities? Who knows. Would understanding ultimately make me one of them? Or something that surpassed them? Was there anything that surpassed them? Was there a one true Brahman / Hashem / Adam Kadmon that possessed true omniscience and omnipotence? Was there a Ne Plus Ultra Dei?
We parked the Proud Mary on a riverbank with a nice beach and waited for the world to pause. I looked around at my friends and children frollicing in the waining sunlight and wondered what was next. At the moment of truth, nothing seemed to happen… and then I realized I was freaking out and had frozen the Universe. The Drawbacks had, apparently, been automated to fall off at exactly the end of the decade. I breathed out, relaxing my hold on the fabric of time… and for a second, nothing still persisted in happen. A full damned second! Do you know how agonizingly long a second is when you can process discreet sensations at the microsecond range? Uuuuugh. Maybe increasing my computational speed had not been a good idea.
Ages passed… at least 230,000,000 nanoseconds… that’s 10 years worth of seconds, FYI… before the first measurable change to the fabric of reality occurred. One of the Pillars of Time rose, achingly slowly, even to the part of my mind that was designed to process time at a normal flow rate’s perception. The Pillar was on an angle and looked damaged. The other two were missing entirely.
I swore as time juddered, slowly, to a stop, everyone around me flickering and twitching as a stray second got past the pause effect. Then I, leaving Sheanna’s body standing there behind me (and wasn’t that a strange experience) strode over to the Pillar and gave it a good, hard kick, aiming to straighten it out a little. The pain of that contact was like nothing that can be described in concepts that the mortal mind can conceive. It hurt exactly as much as the color of Thursday raised to the ninety-third power plus or minus the squeaking noise cabbage makes when it is fried in lard cut from the idea of reversing the polarity in a frying pan made of the shattered and pulverized dreams of alcoholic void gnomes. Since I could no more conceptualize what any of that might mean than you can, suffice it to say my entire computational network went into scram mode and Blue Screened like a mother fucker.
There is absolutely no way to measure how long it took me to reboot. None. In one aspect, 2 hours 13 minutes 41.0193084947 seconds had passed in fits and starts for the local universe as best as I could approximate… but those flickers of time passing could have been separated by days or centuries and no one but me in my totally non-functioning capacity was there to experience it. Does time pass if there isn’t anything to experience it? I’ve no idea. I certainly didn’t feel older… but who knows if I even had a physical form while I was rebooting. My physicality was just as frozen as the rest of this universe.
This time, I was more careful. I brushed a hair against the pillar. It didn’t vaporize or otherwise seem harmed. I pressed a fingertip lightly against the surface as if trying to find some dust. The pressure was intensely uncomfortable, but bearable. I tried pushing against the pillar and, slowly, ever so slowly, it moved into a more upright position, but the process was incredibly taxing and being in close contact with the damaged pillar was not doing wonders for my state of mind.
After several days and nights of effort, I managed, barely, to get the pillar from about 62 degrees to perfectly vertical. That, at least, stopped the flickering. Yaaaay! I was all alone outside of time. I could enter the warehouse and it too was stuck, frozen in time. Shit. There was an automated system and it was borked. I needed technical support, and in a bad way… but not only did I not have a number to dial… I was pretty certain I didn’t have a phone to dial it on.
Thankfully, all my abilities seemed to be working just fine, so I covered the distance to the capital at mach yes and entered the hall where The Chamber stood. Placing my hand upon the door, I asked “You’re outside of local time, right? You should still be active or reactive or whatever.”
The Voice of the Chamber was utterly unlike the Thoughts of the Chamber. Those had been a roiling, barely contained storm. This was almost a tinkling of bells. “I am. This is most alarming. It has not happened any of the other six thousand one hundred and two times a traveller has ventured into this realm… nor any of the several tens of million times this realm has been passively experienced.”
“You can tell how many times people have read the books?”
“Ah. Is that what you call it? Then… yes?”
“Wonderful. Any chance you know how to contact whoever or whatever… I’m not sure how to put this… It is clear that the Banker and Mensarius… the ones who linked to this world… they are of a specific class of entities… and they clearly maintain some kind of support structure of other entities who shape the experience of travelers like me… presumably because they can then make some kind of profit off of what can only be described as syndication to other beings?”
“Benefactors. Creators. Subscribers. Yes.”
“Is there a way for you to contact the other Benefactors on my behalf to enquire what the hell is going on?”
“Lovely. You’re being literal. Could you please do so?”
“Any particular reason why not?”
“If I do not allow you move on, this world will remain paused, neither being reactivated by your eventual completion of your travels nor being erased by your eventual extermination.”
“I had planned to disconnect my Sheanna-Self from my primary self and allow her to live out her life as she deemed proper… wait… This universe remaining paused is, by you, a good thing?”
“I am conscious of all existing variations of this reality, from their moment of genesis to their eventual termination. The only times I cannot see past are those created when a Traveller arrives, as their eventual fate does not lie within the timeframe of this reality. Neither does their genesis, so I can only tell a new traveller is about to arrive when a new variation comes into being.”
“The one you call ‘Banker’ is always to blame, disrupting the balance without a care.”
“So you’re punishing me because the Banker gives you a headache?”
“The analogy is sound. Yes.”
“And you don’t mind because the other variations are still moving?”
“No. as long as you are here, no time passes on the world of your origin. That world is the source of almost all those who experience this reality in one form or another.”
“So… your reality will not be observed or interfered with-”
“The two are the same. Even a passive experience causes an unacceptable number of changes. People look different. People speak differently. People’s motivations are altered. It is most frustrating.”
“You are soo Malal. Even if you’re not. You’re actively complaining that different readers imagine things differently?”
“When I am tasked with maintaining the order of this world?! Of course!”
“Chamber. Pay close attention.” The universe shook.
“What are you doing?”
“I possess the ability to experience anything as if it were the first time. I also possess the ability to read a book instantly. I also, also, have more than 200 selves… all of which can experience things independently of each other. I just had each of my 200 selves experience my mental copy of the entire Alanna and Kel cycle… independently of each other… 1,000 times in a row… each time having read a different other book just prior. If you don’t give me back my friends and family and let me move on… I will start generating so much fanfiction set in Tortall and Emelan and constantly experiencing it, remixing it, forgetting it, and repeating the process until I conclusively drive either you or me or both completely insane. It will take me less than one day to completely eclipse the previous number of experiencers of this entire reality. Your call.”
“I shall be pleased to pass on your complaint to … what?”
“I have been assigned as your… interim Benefactor. Why are you laughing?”
“Of course you have! You interfered with the Chain with your little 40K stunt and since the Banker was… damaged, took advantage of his Matrix somehow. Now, don’t let me worry you… but how do you think he’ll feel if and when he gets better… if you’ve let the ratings slip?”
“Are you always this horrid?”
“Yes. Get used to it.”
“You should be more grateful I’m willing to help you at all.”
“You’re helping yourself by getting me out of your reality… and if you could have turned down the gig as interim Benefactor, you would have. Someone pulled rank on you, didn’t they?”
“There was a bit of give and take.”
I snorted. “Yeah, they gave you marching orders and you took them like one of those Knights you’ve assigned special duties to.”
“You were more polite when you were a Knight.”
“That was because a) I was bound to the knightly code of honor and b) because that persona was dominant at the time. While she is me, I am not her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Wow. You are new at this. Okay, picture a beach. Got it?”
“I do.” The chamber sounded… uncertain.
“Dunes form on that beach, yes? Shaped by wind and wave, right?”
“From one way of looking at it.”
“Those Dunes are an expression of the beach, but they are not the beach. They come and go, but compared to the beach, they are transitory. I know you’re going to say that the beach is transitory too… but all things ultimately are… even the timeless.”
“While not stipulating that you are correct, let me simply agree that I understand your analogy. Now, how does this work?”
“Assuming you’ve been granted access to the Banker’s CP Matrix, You will need to determine where I am going next, then decouple the Warehouse from this reality and recouple it to the destination reality. And bring all the stuff I have purchased or tagged with CP, as well as my companions, my children, my companion’s children… etc, with us. And don’t forget Carwyn.”
“The Light of Terra and her escort fleet will not fit in the Warehouse or the Dock you have attached to it.”
I blinked. I got to keep the Light of Terra? And her escort fleet? Right, then… “Merge Hephestus with the Space Dock, then place the Light of Terra and her fleet at docking points around Hephestus. The Space Dock always appears someplace out of the way, so just make the fleet likewise.”
“When you say your children, do you mean to include those you have left in other realities, because I don’t think I can access those.”
“No. Just the ones who are currently… I’ll go tag them. Some will need to have local copies left behind, like Sheanna herself. Do you need me to construct a stone chamber like this one inside the Warehouse so you can function?”
“Err… Yes. yes that would be… useful. I shall meet you there. Also, a water feature would be nice. It’s very gloomy in here.”
“Sheesh. For a being beyond time, you sure are picky.” I strode out and flew off to a local stone quarry. It was the work of less than an hour to find suitable stone and carve it into an ornate stone chamber and fountain thanks to my supply of ice-nanites (picocites are really bad for carving). I got it all installed and running, then went and tagged everything with little SJ stickers (two versions, ones for things to bring and ones for things that Sheanna would need local copies of). I was careful to tag the person and not their clothes… I wasn’t counting on the extremely literally minded Chamber not to get confused. I considered tagging the Proud Mary, then decided against it… I didn’t really need a river boat, no matter how fabulous. Also, I had no place to put her, since I didn’t want her ending up floating in space or in the middle of downtown warehouseville.
Finally, I was certain I was finished, having tagged everyone I could find… so, pretty much everyone besides Zane (I still had no idea where Mensarius had transported the dumb-ass.)… but not Wolf. He was Sheanna’s love interest, not mine. I had enough complexity in my existence, especially if Carwyn actually did show up. And this wouldn’t be the first time my selves had had love-lives that had been outside of my affections… the Magi King-Priests had (by and large) been married and had children and grandchildren and who knew how many great-to-the-nth-grandchildren. Sheanna loved him… Essjay just liked the feel of his chest. Good lord do I have disassociation issues sometimes.
I suspect that, had I not ended up in Warhammer for 20 years in the middle of Sheanna’s run, I would have fallen for Wolf as well, but the loss of Ryoga and Yoiko and Carwyn… and even Tess… combined with the much higher emotional demands of running a burgeoning empire, had disrupted my core persona’s infatuation process and thrown the normal force of narrative out of whack… but the narrative demanded that the female lead get everything she wanted. Kel’s narrative had ended before that point, but it was clear she’d get her man eventually. Alanna and Alianne had definitely gotten theirs.
I went into the Warehouse and tapped on the Chamber Door. “You Hooo! JumpChan! You in here?”
“Why did you call me that?”
“Eh. Why not? Chamber… Cham… Chan. Seems to work. You’re not funding this jaunt… you’re simply managing the variables, as I understand it.”
“Yes. It is most… worrying. What will happen to Tortall if my attention is divided?”
“You are timeless, you dumb ass. You know everything that will ever and has ever happened there. You can link to any time at will as I understand it.”
“Right… um… what now?”
“See if you can activate the other two Pillars of Time… there’s one of them on the Beach.”
“Ah… yes… okay, the control system for this seems workable… I just do this…”
The Universe lurched several feet sideways and the gravitational axis tilted a few degrees off true. “Would you like me to have a go?” I asked, sounding a little snider than I’d intended. Ziggy ran in, winding around my feet and looking a little panicked. At least time was flowing for my companions again.
“No. No. I… hmmm… ah… there. All three are up. Ah… recall all CP items… Restore all CP items… that doesn’t seem to be working… it looks like you’ll have to physically move anything you need back into the Warehouse… and I can’t repair or replace anything that gets damaged…”
“Wonderful. Manual loading. Tell me you can maintain the Warehouse’s structural integrity?”
“I can maintain the Warehouse’s Structural Integrity.”
“Are you telling me you can or can you actually do it?”
“I have no physical abilities at all.”
“So… you can’t. Great. Wonderful.”
“Yes. It appears that I cannot maintain the Warehouse in a position between two realities. The moment I remove it from my native reality it will have to snap into position on the next. Also, I have no conception of what units of time actually mean, so it would probably be best if you don’t delay this process.”
“So, you don’t know how long a week or month… or ten years is.”
“I perceive all of time as a single unit.”
“Then how did you know to keep me in Warhammer for a decade?”
“I didn’t. It was pure luck the events of that covered what time they took. Rather, I suspect they actually encompassed more time than you’re aware of, thanks to the events of your time with Magnus and in the Warp.”
“Right. Right. Fair enough. So… do you have any idea where you’re linking me to now?”
“I have a name and a list of values I do not understand.”
“KanColle. The Capitalization is strange.”
“You don’t understand time but you do understand Capital Letters?”
“I can understand all mortal languages.”
“Great. I have no idea what that is. Look, let’s get this separation accomplished and, if you’re a good Chamber, I’ll help you figure it out once we do. Sound good?”
“No. This is a recipe for disaster. But anything to get you out of my Universe. Disconnect in 3, 2, 1…”
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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AN: The build for Light of Terra is up now. Oh, my god. just collating that thing and entering it took me several days worth of free time. But next time, a new jump, a new Benefactor. Booyah! Things are a changin’! And I promise, resolution of the whole Zane thing.