Wake of Kerberos - Chapter 6

One of the most interesting details of the Burning Era was the economy that had arisen. Physical money was gone, because there were no strong governments to back them. Barter had risen up again, particularly when dealing with food. But most importantly to Alex and Ani, the use of Oracular Favors had risen.

Favors had become a standard expression of service, in the place of paper or coin money. The network of Oracles was able to maintain a precise count of Favors possessed by each person, transferring them for a small percentage for most transactions. You simply had to have an Oracle or an active scrying crystal around to make the transaction from one person to another, and in turn the Oracles asked for a donation of food every few months. (Other forms of payment were quite acceptable, the Oracles had a team of negotiators handy). A single Favor represented a very small amount of work: a service as small as giving directions would roughly equate. A larger, more difficult service would be represented by an agreed-upon number of Favors.

Ani was very, very fortunate in that she employed her own Oracle, even if he was only partly connected to the network. Besides being able to provide Alex with steady access to information, Ixion acted as an in-house bank. Ani was able to give and receive payments the moment the job was complete, a convenience that was not afforded to many. Most people had to go to a Oracles' headquarters to make a transaction.

So when it Alex and Ani were done eating, all that Ani had to do was contact Ixion by means of an echo amulet and ask him to transfer the funds to the owner of the establishment, who had a scrying device that showed him his current total. Ani asked the owner a few questions before they left, mostly about available paladins.

"Any luck?" Asked Alex as they left.

[A most discouraging lack of it. Paladins are getting rarer and rarer, people are noticing how short their lifespans are.] Ani leaned down to give instructions to a guiding attendant. [Alex, I hope your friend will be willing to work with us.]

"I think he will, he was always talking about doing more missions and getting out in the wilderness." Alex scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I just wish I knew why he was at the shrine."

[What exactly does that entail, him being at the shrine?] Ani shot an unreadable look at Alex: she had pulled her goggles back over her eyes, and they effectively erased whatever expression her face was making.

"Well, the shrines are maintained by prayer and meditation, right? So whenever any kind of paladin is at a shrine, it means that they are devoting themselves to constant, unrelenting meditation, because lives depend on their diligence. The men and women who go there are usually looking to escape the world, or recover from some great loss."

[Ah. You are worried that your friend has suffered a misfortune that has broken him.] Ani yanked on one of her numerous straps once, a gesture that Alex had difficulty interpreting. Some backwards way of showing support, or a gesture indicating patience, perhaps?

"Not exactly, I just... it has me worried." Alex finished lamely, scratching his chin. He decided it was well past time to change the subject, and began to walk a bit quicker. "Anyone else we need to visit? I thought you said we had several to see."

[Just on more.] Ani smiled in a small, kind of sad way. [I have a niece who lives here. She'd probably appreciate a visit.]

Alex was startled, but tried to cover it up. "You have family here? How many?"

[Just the girl and my younger sister. Her mother died about five years ago. I have no idea who the father was, neither does she probably.] Ani scowled a little at that last bit. [Family is too precious to go unknown.]

"I hear that. So where is this niece right now, I don't recognize this part of Ravenswing."

[We're almost at the elementary school, idiot.]


The Ravenswing elementary school was small and kind of primitive, but it did the job. There were only six classes, which were grouped together roughly by age. They met in a group of well-lit rooms that had highly malleable rune projections that the children could manipulate for their assignments, rather than using pen and paper.

After a quick word to the attendant watching the front desk, Ani and Alex stuck their heads into one of the younger classes. Ani had been trying to time it so that they'd show up during the children's lunch break, but she was a bit off, and the lesson was just starting.

The teacher made a gesture and an image of Ravenswing appeared in the air, rotating slowly. "Today we're going to learn about our home city, Ravenswing. What can you tell me about our home?"

The was a small cacophony as the children shouted out answers. They said it was tall, that it was long, that it was mostly metal, that there were lots of people in it. They wiser kids also said that it had a lot of visitors, that it could turn, that it was safe. The teacher smiled especially at the last one.

"Very good. Now, what is it that makes it safe? How does it work?" The teacher noticed Alex and Ani, but did nothing to attract the kid's attention to them.

There was a long pause.

"We are kept safe from the hound Kerberos by holy water, which creates a barrier that he can't touch. He hit the barrier and splits safely around it, which---"

"Wait, what?" interrupted a small boy. "The hound splits? How can a hound split?"

"Well, Kerberos is not a normal hound. He has no mortal flesh, but it made from brimstone, a lot like the old golems." Explained the teacher patiently.

"Golems?" aked a little girl, looking very confused.

"Drones made from different kinds of stone," piped an older girl. "Were all of the old golems as big as Kerberos?"

"Oh heavens no," started the teacher, trying not to lose her class. "Few of the old golems were even the size of his foot. Now, as I---"

"How big is Kerberos?" demanded a little boy. "My parents won't talk about him."

There was a chorus of agreement from other kids, whose parents wouldn't talk about the hound. The teacher held of up her hands and intoned a small spell that halved the noise level in the class. Once the kids had quieted on their own, she released the spell and relented a little. "Kerberos' actual height and length is impossible to measure precisely, but we can make some general estimates. This is because the brimstone that he is made from is chained together by hellfire, and the individual chunks of stone don't even touch that often. The hellfire is the reason it gets so hot whenever he comes."

"Is that why the holy water keeps us safe?" asked a small girl with golden eyes. "Because it puts out the fire?"

"It doesn't put it out, but it does damp it down to the point where we're safe." The teacher rubbed her forehead, looking tired. "Lets take a five minute break so you lot can get yourselves calmed down."

The kids began to get up and start talking to each other. Ani worked her way between them carefully, till she got to the girl with golden eyes. "H'lo, Mindi."

The girl looked up and grinned broadly. With a little squeak she tackled her aunt, hugging her around the waist. "AA! It's been so long!"

"Ye'h, it h's. You've gotten taller." Ani held Mindi out at arms length. "You been eating enough?"

"Yeah, Aunt Sara loves to cook. Look at you, you're all dusty!"

"Ye'h, c'nnot be helped. The ro'd is dusty, even when you're in the sky." Ani began to move a bit slower, trying not to leave dust everywhere.

"Aww, are you just visiting?" The girl pouted a bit, looking sad.

"I've got 'n import'nt job th't needs doing right 'w'y." Ani patted the girl on the head a bit. "But I'll be b'ck soon as I c'n. Just think, couple of ye'rs 'nd you'll be big enough to come with me."

"I'd like that." The girl put her fingers up to her eyes. "Would I get cool goggles like you?"

Ani laughed a bit. "Ye'h, you'll get goggles just like mine."

Feeling like a third wheel, Alex and asked the teacher about Mindi. The teacher explained that Mindi was living with one of Ani's other sisters, Sara. Sara was a good bit younger than Ani, but took good care of Mindi, though a fair bit of stuff slipped through the cracks. This was actually very normal for kids these days though, few people had the luxury of having living parents.

The class resumed shortly, and the two parted ways, with Ani promising to come back once the current job was done. Alex was a bit jealous of the the relationship between the two: being the favorite relative must be nice. "Alright, heading back. Do we need to pick up fuel or anything for your Angel?"

[Nah, she should be in pretty good shape. The Pale runs on moonlit silver, and as long as I cycle out the rods regularly in the night, she can run for months without needing a recharge. That's why the engine have that silvery output, and also where she gets her name.]

"Oh, neat. I guess we're good to go then." Alex was impressed by the use of moonlit silver: it was expensive and ornery stuff, but it could be reused until the end of time. Ani must have sunk a small fortune into buying it in the first place, and it meant that she had to have someone of Sternum's experience or higher in order to keep the rest of the ship addressing the silver properly.

[As long as Yaga got some rest, yeah. She had better be ready for a long trip, we're going to be in the air for a long time.]

"Can't we land and stuff so she can rest? I know that yur Angel has that nasal engine for vertical takeoff and landing." Alex had always been in awe of how some Angels, which were the physical manifestations of raw speed, could set down and take off without moving forward a single inch. Ani's ship was one of those Angels, and it made her ship much more multi-purpose.

[Landing is not the issue. I am more concerned about having a team this large out in the wilderness. We're going to be attracting Prints like mice to fresh fruit.] Ani paused as they arrived at the Dock entrance. [I hate to say it, but I'm worried that we may not be up to the amount of combat we're going to see. We need some more melee fighters.]

"We'll be fine." Alex grabbed one of the door handles and grinned widely at Ani. "Remember you and I taking on that pack of Prints by ourselves, all those years ago?"

Ani smiled back, ruefully. [We were exceptionally stupid to do that. We're lucky that neither one of us was decapitated.] Ani leaned on her door, and the two of them entered the Dock simultaneously. [Besides, wasn't that the fight were you nearly lost an eye?]

"Maybe. It gets hard to remember almost injuries like that."

The conversation was stopped once they got to the ship and the time net began to mess around with their movements. The net was already starting to fray (Alex disapproved of the shoddy workmanship in the spell, he could have done a much better job), so they had to move as quick as they could to get a nice clean takeoff. Chase and Mallory were already onboard, settling themselves into the main hangar. Ani sent a quizzical look at Alex when she noticed that Mal just had one more bag, and it wasn't even a large one... Alex just shrugged. Maybe she had some really high quality folding spells in those bags?

Ani made some quick preparations in the engine room and went up to the cockpit to strap herself in. Alex decided to join her there, because that was where he had been when they arrived, but paused on the way to cast some Turn magic on Chase and Mal in order to lessen the effect of the takeoff. He walked into the cockpit just as Yaga finished her pilot's checklist.

"Mikt aii," said Ixion, nodding approval. "Loughcus airbjer unta fiiliaw."

Ani nodded once, and then began to Drone to the ship. Any part that had changed state since their landing began to reset itself, trying to match the landing state as closely as possible. Alex sat down in one of the unused crew chairs and began to strap himself in.

"What's the time net deterioration?" He asked Yaga.

Yaga paused to consult one of the amulets hovering beside her eye. "About point seven. This jump is gonna be jerky."

"Damn. Oh well, can't be helped." Alex shifted around a bit in his seat and waited.

He didn't have to wait long. A couple of minutes later Ani had talked the craft back into a reasonable semblance of how it had arrived, but with a good bit more stuff on it. Ixion pulled up a couple of displays and read the numbers quickly to Yaga, in preparation of the upcoming course. Yaga nodded and braced herself, hands resting lightly on the controls, lines and symbols streaming cheerfully from her eye amulets.

There was a sudden, breaking sensation as the time net suddenly dissolved, and they were rocketing towards the other side of the hangar. The lines in front of Yaga's eyes danced merrily in a complex pattern, and then simplified suddenly the moment the Angel went rocketing out the of hangar. Yaga's fingers flew across the controls, yanking the wings out and down, and firing up the nasal engine so that they were suddenly climbing steeply. Within a few seconds they were extremely high up, Ravenswing becoming a distant speck behind them.

Ixion read out some numbers and the crew and Alex relaxed visibly. It would be an easy flight to the shrine where Oak was, so long as they didn't run into trouble. Alex eyeballed Ani's left arm, which was held back a little, the sheath around it clinking as the chains swayed. Judging from the way she did not relax her arm, she was expecting trouble after all.

"Want me to prep some spells?" Alex asked, unbuckling himself.

"Oh yes," replied Yaga. "I think I see some fliers already."


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