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Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 10

By Renae

[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! :) And Maggie for help with Saul.]

 

I felt my face getting slapped a few times and then I woke up enough to groan, “Oh my freaking head.”

“So what did you see?” asked the Knight Marshal’s from the speaker on my chair.

“Ants, dancing ants,” I said as my eyes refused to track coherently, “and they were doing the CanCan while singing ‘Busy Bee’ by Ugly Kid Joe.”

“Well something cleaned her clock magically,” said Michelle with a giggle, “she always complains about the ants in Australia singing too loudly when that sort of thing happens.”

I giggled softly as my head hurt too much to do it loudly, “I found it.”

“You found what?” asked Sally as she glanced at the walls, “There is nothing but a big blank space on the wall.”

“Lay on your back, and place your head against the wall like mine is,” I giggled again, “it’s heeeere.”

Sally did as I directed and then she smiled, “Well fuck me to tears, if that isn’t sneaky.” I watched as she sat up, only to lay back a few times, “Yes, very, very sneaky.”

“The frame’s shadow is only visible from an angle you cannot look at the picture,” I explained slowly to the Knight Marshal, as my aching head made it hard to think. “Using the magickal eyes to look at it was a big mistake.”

“Dummy,” pronounced Sally with a chuckle, “man I could really go for chili about now or pasta or steak, um yeah, food.”

“I think we can get it down, maybe cover it with a blanket to move it. The problem is if we bring it too you, well you would forget stuff,” I said as briefly debated trying to move the painting.

“That is apparent, we may have to blow it in place,” said the Knight Marshall with a laugh, “this is going to be an odd journal entry later on.”

“I’ll bet, am I done now?” I asked as the pain in my head forced me to close my eyes.

“Sally get her back into her chair and down to the van,” the Knight Marshall chuckled, “then head back quickly we don’t want a pack of daemons in Rome if we can avoid it.”

“What about the painting?” I asked as the room spun somewhat as Sally picked me up.

“We know the location of the painting, a robot doesn’t care if it gets blown up and or suffers magical damage,” the Knight Marshal said in a pleased tone as Sally put me in the chair, “come on home.”

 

“So do you remember anything from looking with your magickal eyes?” asked Michelle as she got into the front of the mini-van and looked back at me.

“It was like looking into hell, but worse,” I finally said after a tremor passed though me, “I’ll prolly have nightmares if the bare glimmer I remember stays with me.”

“Ugh,” commented Leigh as she started the van once everyone was inside and seated.

“You did well,” said the Knight Marshal, “the Matron has offered to monitor this channel while I work up the plans and gear needed to shatter a magickal painting with explosives.”

“Oh ok, have fun storming the castle boys,” I said in a faux Brooklyn accent while wearing a lopsided grin.

 

Tuesday, 12 December, 2006

It was after nine in the morning when a very grim looking Knight Marshal interrupted my training to bring us into the conference room. CJ and I had been working on careful stretches and object manipulation using both the heavier frame and the lighter one for most of the morning. In some ways it was a welcome break as I was getting tired of playing pick up the peg, screw or bolt from the floor.

Everyone who was ‘in the loop’ was seated around a bank of big screen televisions. The Knight Marshal waited patiently for CJ to find his own seat, I had the happy seat in the back and since my chair in the two-wheel mode put me head and shoulders over everyone I didn’t mind it. I did notice that a few of the Knights were either looking grim or down in the mouth as I glanced around.

The Knight Marshal walked to stand in front of the televisions, “Last night as you know, we performed a search on the Rose Palace in order to discover the cause of the influence upon us. Thanks to Petra, we managed to located the source and plan for its removal. Today at zero eight thirty-seven hours, an attempt was made to robotically remove the source, a painting, out of the building before attempting to destroy it. At just a few seconds into the operation, something occurred, causing significant damage if not a total loss of the Rose Palace.”

“We did record the entire event, and while no lives were lost, I can only thank God that no efforts were made last night to remove the painting by hand.” The Knight Marshal held up his hands to quell the murmurs, “Yes I know that there may be some finger waggling as others try to place blame for the loss of our ‘Home.’ However as many of you have known from your own rude surprises, that sometimes our enemies are very cunning and set traps.”

He ignored the brief bantering and embarrassed looks, “What we think occurred, was that the painting was emplaced, then later triggered into effect, arming it.” He paused and added, “In addition to the loss of Father Trovatelli, we must also add in two of our janitorial staff that evidently had contact with the painting. One was found deceased in his house, as he evidently gouged out his own eyes, cut his tongue off and had performed a series of other acts of self-mutilation that eventually lead to his death from blood loss.”

“The other custodian was found in her apartment, and raving insanely. Also she had covered the entirety of any writable surface and herself with symbols in an unknown language.” He paused and somberly added, “Those symbols are under cautious review by several experts, however the lady will likely need medical attention and heavy sedation for the rest of her life.”

“While the loss of the Rose Palace is a set back, we possibly have all the useful data that was to be had from it.” He paused and gave me a thoughtful look, “As you will see in the recordings the destruction was swift and violent, however from what we can tell the damage was limited to just the surface complex. The Librarian was able to access the Vaults via a secondary access, and she assures me that apart from some rubble, the Vaults are intact.”

“Tentatively, the Vatican is blaming the structure’s loss on a weakened catacomb section that collapsed under the building, causing it to collapse in upon itself.” The Knight Marshal paused and said, “We have structural engineers in the rubble who are going to be establishing that story as ‘fact’. Also they will be working to come up with plans for a new structure that will not compromise the Vaults. Plan on us ‘roughing it’ without a headquarters for some time.”

“Also plan for our enemies to attempt to take advantage of our ‘harried condition.’” He paused and said, “It is not a building that makes us strong. It is the men and women of the Order and our friends and allies that make us strong.”

“Now watch the videos and remember the Rose Palace for what it was, not what it is now,” he paused and said, “we’ve been without home before, doubtless we will again, but for now we endure.”

 

From my perspective it seemed like the Knights went through their own version of Nine-Eleven. Disbelief, shock anger, tears, hugs and some quiet swearing occupied them for a time. Then it seemed like they connected on an odd level and in evident quiet anger, they walked out one by one. I looked for CJ briefly then rolled over to where the Signora sat with the rest of the girls.

The Signora stood up to greeted me with a handclasp, “I am pleased that you are well.”

“As am I, I assure you Signora,” I replied as I lowered my chair so she would sit. “I think it is safe to say the rest of the Knights are angry.” 

“How do you feel about it Child?” she asked upon taking her seat again.

“I don’t feel the loss of the building as keenly as they do, I don’t have history with it,” I explained as I gave the stilled screen a glance, “I feel more for the Knights as people.”

“As well you should,” she said with a pleased nod. “I’ve taken the liberty of speaking with your sister about your economics.”

“Oh, has she broken the two billion mark?” I asked with a slightly curious chuckle.

“Not yet, however she thinks that the Knights should not lack for anything in the interim.” The Signora smiled and said, “Evidently she is fond of some of them.”

“There are some good people among them,” I said with smile.

“Yes, she and the Matron are setting up accounts for the Knight Marshal and the Order as we speak, placing a quarter of a billion Dollars at their disposal.” The Signora chuckled and said, “Apart from your medical needs, that you should try not to spend more than one hundred million for a few days as she has a project she is working on for your sister.”

“I do not think I am living that high on the hog,” I replied with a chuckle, “so it should not be a problem.”

“No I suppose not, have you made progress with eating utensils yet?” the Signora asked quietly.

“Off and on, CJ has me working with a spoon to capture and eat M&M’s,” I glanced down to my hands and said, “I am lucky if I get one in three tries actually in my mouth.”

“It will come in time, the chef has been hinting that he thinks your liquefied diet is inhumane,” the Signora said with a patient look at me, “of which I slightly agree.”

“As a chef, CJ makes a good doctor,” I said in CJ’s defense, “but the concoctions he has me drinking are horrid, even with sugar and flavorings.”

“Ah, I will speak with the doctor and arrange for him to meet with the chef. Between the two I am sure something can be arranged, and for some solid foods you could manage with little mess at dinner time.” She paused and delicately said, “You need not be ashamed to eat among us, the carpets and clothing will stand up to being cleaned or they will be replaced.”

“Have I been that obvious?” I asked quietly.

 “A trifle,” she said with a smile, “I will expect you to take time for civilized meals among us. While the Knight Marshal had needed to press you in your recovery, that time has passed by. Now you need to ease your pace as to not do harm to yourself.”

“Do I hear my marching orders in the offing?” asked the Knight Marshall as he entered the room.

“No Scott, we are not chasing you off in your time of need,” the Signora paused to indicate me, “yet this one needs to recover without additional taxing.”

“Several others, including her twin sister have expressed similar concerns,” he dryly replied with a slight shrug, “some of which have been loud. Yet it is unlikely our enemy is done with us.”

“Be that as it may,” interjected the Signora, “while a hefty measure of your Orders’ continuance did rest upon her shoulders, twice now. You do have Knight’s aplenty who are not in the grips of physical recovery to set to the task.”

“Yes, and they are going over the recovered items and the footage from the recovery operation, some are on their way to Rome to see if they can locate Father Davison or failing that his body.” At my seemingly blank look he added, “That’s whose office had the pictures and the map.”

“Ah,” said waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Doc CJ tells me that he dare not overdo the physical portion of your physical therapy anymore or I will likely push your recovery time back even further.” He gave a resigned sigh that was partially rueful, “I need more of you yet have the one of you.”

“I am sure I could do ‘something’ in between the manipulation stuff he has me doing,” I offered as he looked at the Signora and me.

“If the enemy is planning on something using the Solstice, we have eight days to figure out what it is and stop it,” the Knight Marshal said with a frown, “my gut says it likely that there is a Solstice event planned, with something to follow on.”

“A man of intuition?” asked the Signora with a faint smile.

“Within reason,” he replied as he indicated the Lodge with a wave, “they think Petra saw ‘something’ important, we just have to recreate what exactly made them jump.”

“So is it now a matter of brain power or waiting on them to make a mistake?” the Signora asked thoughtfully.

“Or forcing them to make more mistakes,” the Knight Marshal smiled tightly, “They already made a major mistake as it stands; they’ve angered the Order to its core, turning our outward focus to look solely for them.”

 

“It’s one battle at a time Petra,” commented CJ as he handed me back the spoon.

I was back in the gym playing with spoons and marbles and other assorted small things that were tricky to pick up. Basically it was pick it up with the spoon, raise it to my lips, and put it back in a different bowl. “I know I just get frustrated, this should be easy,” I said as the marble refused to go onto the spoon.

“Yes, but it will get easier over time,” he said as he looked at the clock on the wall briefly. “It only been two hours and it feels like ages.”

“Time does that in here,” I said sourly as I repositioned my hand on the very thick spoon handle.

“Yes I know, I just keep hoping some one in the next room will have a ‘Eureka’ moment,” he explained as he looked at me.

“Yeah it would be nice,” I said as I managed to lift the marble up only to lose it as it came closer to my lips, “damn.”

“You are shaking, it’s obviously that you are overdo for a break,” he said and eased the spoon out of my hand, “I’ve been pushing you too much these past few days and it’s gotten to be a habit.”

I rubbed my fingers and hand for a time, “You know I can do some of this without supervision.”

“Yes but would you stick to it if I wasn’t here?” he asked as he looked at my face.

“May-be,” I said with a chuckle as he shook his head, “but there is no real reason I have to sit ‘in here’ to play with the marbles is there?”

“No I could just ‘park’ you anyplace that was handy,” he admitted with a smile, “as much as I want to see you whole, I slightly feel like I am not doing enough for the Order.”

“So why don’t you go check on the others while I take a lap outside in the sunlight?” I asked with smile.

“I’ll do that,” he said with a smile as he quickly got up and not quite jogged out of the small gym.

“Well it didn’t take long to convince him,” I said with a chuckle to the empty room.

 

Going outside required the addition of a light jacket, which was a two-person task as the lighter frame restricted my movement some. Sally good-naturedly teased me about needing a jacket, but then she was wearing a thick fleece sweater and ski pants at the time so I didn’t pay too much attention to her teasing. Dammutt thought the idea of my going out was a good one as he all but danced in his puppy sized form near us while I was getting the jacket on.

Outside we took a lazy tour down to where the construction crews were building the frames for the bathhouses and cabins for the new hot spring. The small lake was steaming in the cooler air giving the area a bit of fog that danced away with the slight breeze. Dammutt thought that the water and weather was just fine, as he would run into the edges of the lake splash briefly and run out again.

“So,” started Sally as I rolled along.

“Hmm?” I asked glancing over to see her toying with her big damned rifle nervously.

She walked along for a moment then said, “How do you put up with being a girl?”

“Which part of it?” I asked in turn as our ‘walk’ slowed considerably.

“In general, it feels like I don’t know how to act, much less how to respond,” she said quietly.

“Ah,” I said and turned the chair to look across the lake. “I’ve only been a girl physically for barely three months now, I’m faking my way through most things.”

“You seem like you are doing ok,” she said after a time.

“Not really, I dread the idea of going to school with other girls,” I said as I glanced at her, “even around the girls and the Signora I sometimes feel vastly out of place.”

“Contrasting yourself with the Signora is hardly a good benchmark,” said Rose as she appeared out of thin air. “Oh and ‘boo.’”

“Nice trick,” I said with a smile.

“A power consuming one,” she said with a sigh, “we think it’s how the bad guys are pulling off their invisibility, I’ve been with in eyesight of you all near the lake the whole time.”

“Oh,” said Sally unhappily.

“Don’t worry Sally, I’m not going to blab away your secrets,” Rose said as she gave the taller woman a easy hug.

“Um ok,” said Sally as she awkwardly returned the hug.

“As I said trying to contrast yourself to the Signora is like trying to compare a chimpanzee to a human,” Rose rolled her eyes and gently tossed her hands in the air. “The woman is polished, refined and supremely confident. To the point to where if a President dropped his pants in front of her; she could sip her tea and make polite conversation about his choice in ties.”

I laughed as she pantomimed the Signora’s expression and tea sipping, “So she’s not a good source for contrast?”

“Maybe as a goal to eventually achieve, but she’s had years of practice, so basing a comparison on her is ludicrous.” Rose paused and said, “One day I want to be that smooth, but I have a bit of a temper.”

 “Ok so what would be a good contrast,” I asked as Sally seemed silent.

“Well not the Matron, she’s a firebrand at times and I tend to think of her as ‘the wild side of the Signora,’” said Rose with a grin, “the youngest of ‘natural girls’ in our group is Leigh, but she’s the extrovert from hell.”

“Ya think?” I asked as I pantomimed Leigh’s dancing through the Lodge with my arms, “she barely ever stops to rest it seems.”

“It works for her,” said Rose with a nodding laugh, “I think the two of you both should just realize that there is no hard and fast rules to being a girl or a woman. However there are a lot of small social conventions you need to work on to fit in easier.”

Sally grunted and said, “The Signora is constant telling me to sit with my knees together or ankles crossed.”

“Yes,” Rose chuckled and waved a finger at me, “Petra has a slight excuse due to the orthopedic frame she is wearing, and her ‘extra’ equipment. However I expect in time the Signora will be chiding her as well, the Signora was brought up in a very ‘old school’ of formality.”

“Wee,” I said with a chuckle, “so did you get the whole rigmarole as well?”

“Yes, to some extent,“ she sighed and added, “I had to deal with her meal and attire conventions. I used to frump around in relaxed clothes all the time.”

“Where as the Signora rarely seems to be less than the formal casual?” I asked with soft groan.

“’Proper’ young ladies to do not wear such attire,” Rose seemed to quote with a giggle, “you tend to learn the rules of the house fairly quickly. What may be acceptable wear on one level of the house is not suitable for the main floor.”

 “So I am not being singled out?” asked Sally with a faintly relieved look on her face.

“Well I am sure you are getting some ‘special attention’ in that she expects a certain level of propriety among the people in her household.” Rose paused and then said, “She’s even made the other Knights tidy up and act as gentlemen.”

“What does she make of the Knight Marshal’s running around in shorts?” I asked with a grin.

“I think she bites her tongue a lot, but she did discuss it with him in private I think,” Rose rolled her eyes, “evidently there has been discussion in the rank and file about what constitutes ‘fit for duty.’”

“Yeah it was mentioned,” I said with a sigh, “I really do not fit the typical Knight ‘mold’ as it is, and now I’m ‘mobility challenged’.”

“You look pretty mobile to me,” said Sally as she tapped my chair.

“Yeah right,” I said with a disgusted look down at my legs, “I can’t even stand on one foot for ten seconds without falling over.”

“It will come,” said Rose as she grinned at me, “I hated ballet class, as I used to be so uncoordinated that the instructor refused to let me work away from the bar.”

“I see,” I replied with a chuckle.

“I sort of dance,” said Sally as we started moving around the lake again.

“Oh?” asked Rose with a glance at Sally.

“Well it’s not just a dance. It’s called Capoeira, it’s a mix of dance, martial arts, rhythm and music,” Sally explained with small smile, “I originally picked it up as a way to gain more speed and flexibility.”

“I see, have you tried it lately?” asked Rose as she glanced at her with a smile.

Sally gave us a resigned groan, “Yes and my center of balance is totally messed up, I am having to relearn how to move properly in the forms.”

I refrained from telling Sally ‘it will come in time,’ but that was largely due a visual anomaly. I sat there immobile for a time blinking and trying to reconcile the glowing blue blob on the road, and the fact that nothing was there. Frowning I gave into to stupidity and opened my magickal eyes, and just as fast shut them, “Fucking ants.”

“What?” asked Rose as she looked back and then retraced her steps to me.

“Look down the road and then open and close your magickal eyes real quick,” I said as I tried to blink the spots our of my ‘eyes.’

“What, there’s noth… ow,” I winced in sympathy with Rose as she said, “the enemy is on the road… possibly.”

“Or their car,” I mumbled as Sally slowly unlimbered the rifle she carrying.

“I don’t see anything,” Sally commented as she glanced to the road thoughtfully. She reached into her jacket and pulled out a walkie-talkie and keyed it on speaking softly yet clearly, “Red alert, possible perimeter breach.”

“Report,” crackled the radio a brief moment later.

“Magically cloaked vehicle on the road leading in, visible to mage-sight only, confirmed by Petra and Rose,” Sally then added, “invisible to naked eye, checking for thermal.” Sally then turned and lifted her large rifle up, “Come out come out whereever you are.”

“What are you…” I paused as Sally pulled a lever back on her weapons and let it slid forward with a heavy clunk.

Sally paused briefly to key the radio again, “Heat source confirmed by thermal, requesting permission to engage.”

The Knight Marshal’s voice was quite distinct, “Attempt to disable, and prisoners are desired, understand?”

“Understood,” said Sally as she let the radio drop, and stepped into a braced stance, “you should cover your ears.” Just as I barely covered my ears, Sally opened fire.

Sitting there I cringed at the series of shots Sally released, to my eyes she was aiming at air, but she hit ‘something,’ as there were the sounds of ricochets in the distance. Sally appeared to smile and then she aimed higher and her rifle started making deeper booms. In seeming slow motion, the black dots in the air turned it small flowers of fire on the road. 

I was briefly elated in the hopes that we’d finally put a face on our enemy, and then I distinctly heard the sound of a car starting. “Shoot them some more!” I cried in frustration, “They are going to get away!”

Sally didn’t need much urging as she liberally sprayed the area with gunfire and explosives, only pausing to curse as she reloaded with two different sized magazines. I glanced back to the Lodge to see men spilling out of it at high speed and charging to the road. Sally gave Rose and I a quick look as she half growled, “Get to the Lodge,” before charging towards the road as well.

Rose placed a hand on my arm, and said, “It’s all over but the search…” she paused and frowned as Dammutt started growling at nothing and growing and larger, “crap.” Then she reached over and flipped my emergency toggle and danced away from me, “Sally, something near and on foot! Dammutt is pissed! Petra get to safety now!”

I briefly considered staying but then Rose’s hands gave off a bright wash of flame that roiled the air ahead of where Dammutt stood growling and barking his head off. Common sense and no bit of fear dug into my spine and I fled the area at high speed, not daring to look back at what possibly might be coming after me. Just as my chair seemed to hit top speed there was a bright flash of light and then the chair was catapulted into the air.

A loud crashing sound, the kind you hear when a several hundred pounds of junk metal catastrophically hit a wall, greeted my ears at the point of perigee. Then there was a new sound that I was fairly familiar with, my own screaming as the chair and I parted company in a violently spectacular manner. I had just enough time to realize that things were about to get really; really painful as I spun topsy-turvy in the air, and that the ground was so not my friend.

 

I was back in my bed, which was to my briefly confused mind, much better than being smeared across the ground. Sitting up slowly, I tried to not wince as things had evidently been removed from my body by cutting them off. As the aches slowly started to fade I shook my head slowly in dismay; noting that the light orthopedic frame had a distinctly twisted appearance where it sat in a chair.

“Could you possibly stay uninjured for more than a week?” asked CJ with a large frown as he gave me a once over visually.

“I think I would like that too,” I replied with a tired sigh of disgust, “please tell me that they got the bad guy.”

“They had one prisoner, and bits of two others,” CJ ran his hands through his hair, “the one prisoner evidently was magicked to death just as they started to interrogate him. It happens sometimes, and we did recover most of their van.”

I smiled and decided not to ask about the bits of the other person, “Oh good, more clues I hope?”

“A license plate survived as did a few receipts and some fast food containers, but not the driver; they are looking for the vehicles id numbers to run for further data.” CJ pointed at me, “Just lay there and rest some, I had to replace one of the feeder lines that connected into your stomach.”

“Oh, wonderful. I think I am glad to have missed that part,” I said as I glanced down to my stomach.

“They are going to run the prints and such off of the prisoner in a bit.” He shook his head and frowned slightly, “We are not sure what they hit you with, but the panic mode didn’t seem to protect you at all.”

“No, I would bet magick, maybe a bomb or something.” I briefly recalled the few bits I remembered and shook my head, “It was just a bright flash of light and then I was airborne.”

 “Your chair is a complete right off,” CJ said uncomfortably as he looked at me, “if it were not for your regeneration I think you would be dead… again.”

“Yeah it’s a nasty trend I would love to break,” I shook my head and looked at him, “is everyone else intact?”

“Rose was mildly injured as she had a broken hip, a few ribs and some bruises,” he shook his head and explained, “she was on the edges of whatever hit you, she’s fine now but a bit shaken.”

“All healed up?” I asked to make sure.

“Yes, and Dammutt is something fearful when angry,” CJ smiled mirthlessly, “evidently he tracked the person who attacked you by scent, and tore them to bits… We are not even sure what gender they were.”

“Yeah, remind me to get him a stack of peanut butter cookies later,” I said and after a moment there was a small yet pleased bark from under my bed. “He seems to approve of the idea.”

“I’ll fetch the other brace and the other chair,” CJ said with a chuckle, “after which I have to go visit the kitchen to discuss your dietary needs.” He paused and whispered, “Evidently someone took a sip of your ‘supplement’ drink and choked on the taste.”

“I have no doubt they did,” I said as I scowled at his retreating back.

 

Luncheon was delayed as the three Signora’s met in private with the foreman of the construction crews. Evidently the military and magickal war zone was a bit more than some his crew could take. From what I gathered there was a mass exodus away from the Lodge, not that I could blame them; as I was certain that the fight was a bit disturbing. I know it disturbed me, but then I was in the middle of the mess.

The various communities of the Lodge were tense, and were often found in small knots of people as they talked in hushed tones. Rose and Michelle were spending some ‘quality’ time together, of which I thought was cute if not a bit overly romantic. Which left me in the company of Sally and Leigh as I tried to find clothing that would look presentable over the frame.

Leigh picked up a dark blue broom skirt and measured it against my backside as I held onto the chair for balance.  Then she said with a giggle, “We need to take you shopping, this is barely going to be wide enough to fit.”

“It wasn’t my idea to ruin my other frame,” I said with a roll of my eyes, “Colin is sending out replacements via a fast courier and we’re supposed to ship the chair back for ‘stress assessment.’”

Sally laughed lightly, “I wish him luck with that, I looked for a launcher or the remains of a bomb, and found nothing.”

“I get the feeling those people ‘really’ don’t like you Petra,” said Leigh with a frown. She helped me to rest on the bed so we could get the skirt on and said, “First daemons, then a direct attack, what is next a nuke?”

“They are determined,” I acknowledged as we eased the skirt up and over the bulky frame to rest on my hips.

“Or desperate,” Sally said with grunt, “personally I suspect they are panicked and placing a lot of significance on your abilities.”

“Some abilities,” I said with a disgruntled sigh, “all I have been able to do is blunder into their plot and function while under their spells.”

 “Don’t knock it kid, you have been very effective in what you have done,” Sally said with a smile in my direction, “once we get your body up for some real training you will be even more effective.”

Part of me suspected that Sally’s version of training involved a lot of suffering on my part, “We shall see.”

“In any case they’ve have set up sensor’s on the road and we’ve evidently recruited some magickal ‘spotters’ to keep an eye on the road as well.” Sally smiled and shrugged, “I got a bit of grief for over-kill on the van; but as I pointed out to the Knight Marshal that I had to make it quick to get back and protect you. Then I challenged him to hit an invisible van the next time one arrived.”

“If they were smart they’d avoid the Knights and me like the plague,” I said with a chuckle, “more so the Knights I think.”

 “Yes, well the Knights are no slouches, they managed to find and capture the one who was making his way to the Lodge.” Sally shook her head in evident annoyance, “I think I like daemons more than hidden invaders. Daemons I can see and kill.”

I shivered unconsciously, “Well I suspect you may get your chance, considering they have no qualms in making sacrifices to do it.”

“You would think they would run out of victims to do it with,” said Leigh with a frown, “I have watched the news off and on, and there are no reports of missing people. It’s almost like they are importing them, which should be impossible.”

“Yeah that doesn’t make sense,” I said as I frowned, “eventually word would get out, even if the police suppressed the story.”

Leigh picked up a white dress shirt and helped me to ease it on over the frame, “So were are they getting them from then?”

“Well if this were the Mexican-American boarder it would be simple, they basically are able to load up cattle cars with people,” Sally explained with a frown, “then they reach a destination point and let them walk into the States. All for an outrageous fee.”

I took a moment to try and add up all the daemons sent after me thus far, and hit a count of eight. “So you would think eight, plus lets say a rough guess of sixty missing others, that is a lot of bodies to hide,” I said with a frown as Leigh helped me to stand and then tuck in the shirt.

“Depends,” said Sally with a frown, “maybe they have the place where they dumped the bodies spelled up so no one notices the stink.”

“That makes a sick sort of sense,” I said and tapped the my chair as I semi-shuffled into it, “we may have to see about renting a helicopter and taking turns playing ‘see the ants.’”

“I suppose we should bounce the idea off of the Knight Marshal, after dinner that is,” said Leigh with a pointed look at the two of us, “the Signora is taking pains to maintain a civilized presence, so we should attempt it.”

“I guess, with luck I won’t drip food all over,” I said with a unhappy sigh.”

“You’ll wash,” chided Leigh with a grin, “besides the Chef is supposedly making stuff so you won’t feel to embarrassed.”

 

While dinner had been delayed, it certainly was worth the effort of attending, well at least in my book it was. The Chef had prepared a tray of food for me that was almost entirely non-messy and after a week of gruel, an orgasmic experience. That and his version of a ‘power shake’ had the girls drooling after a sip; the one I was savoring was a close relation to a chocolate moose that you could sip. Food wise I was making soft happy noises, the kind where everyone knew I had a ‘happy tummy.’

“Someone is happy,” said Michelle with a grin.

“Well yes,” I said with a grin, “Apart from cookies, M&Ms and the odd cracker, all I have had for food is tube food all week, and those nasty shakes CJ concocted for me.”

“Yes we had noticed your looks of disgust with the shakes,” said Rose with a blasé grimace, “that and after a sip, I knew something had to be done.”

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” I said with smile, “I was about to sit on CJ and pour one down his throat.”

“Well I am pleased that additional violence has been forestalled,” said the Signora with a light smile, “we have had plenty of violence as it stands.”

“Have the construction difficulties been settled?” asked the Matron as she studied a glass of wine thoughtfully.

“In part, the crew that has remained will receive a bonus equal to the pay of those that have departed.” The Signora’s smile was slightly firm, “Loyalty under difficult conditions should be rewarded, and while it will slow overall construction the addition pay should promote exceptional work.”

“Good, I have contacted Stephan and relayed the changes in Petra’s physical condition,” commented the Matron with a small wave of her wine glass in my direction. “He assures me that when we can return to the manor, sufficient aids and amenities will be ready for her.”

“Thank you, I have been a trifle busy arranging for the alternate Lodges to be readied for use.” The Signora paused and with a slight shake of her head continued, “As active as the enemy is, we can not afford to place all of our Clans at risk.”

“I take it Yule may likely be postponed?” asked the Matron cautiously.

Looking far from happy the Signora said, “If the Knight Marshal is correct in his intuition, and I suspect he is, then we may be too busy.”

“Yule?” I asked trying to sort out the oddities.

“Winter Solstice, it is the longest night of the year, and many of us treat it as our ‘Christmas,’” explained Rose with a small smile, “or as an extra one.”

I smiled at the thought of two Christmas’, “Nice.”

“It can be,” Michelle grinned and said, “though it is occasionally interesting to explain to your relatives.”

“Ah, I do not think I will have that problem,” I said with a roll of my eyes, “my adoptive parents are Weres, and my sisters will likely just be happy to get extra presents.”

“There is that,” said Leigh as she looked at me oddly, “do we need to buy you a collar and doggie treats?”

I nearly choked on my shake and then smirked at her, “Well my sister needs one, she turns into a Were-cougar cub, a two hundred plus pounds one.

“But not you?” asked Michelle in a teasing voice.

“I’m not a punk rocker or a Goth,” I said with a roll of my eyes at her, “I never could figure out why I had to dress up to be depressed.”

“You have a point,” said Michelle with a laugh, “though I do profit from them on occasion.”

“Have you had any word from your insurance people yet?” asked the Matron with a hint of evident curiosity.

“Some,” she paused and rolled her eyes slightly, “they are trying to determine if it was arson yet, and I am sure daemons are not their usual fair.”

“I am sure that the fire department will rule out arson, the general public is not willing to accept that there are such things as daemons,” said the Matron with a chuckle. “The Church tends to suppress such information, mostly for good reasons.”

“Speaking of daemons and such, Petra has suggested an aerial search for magickal hotspots, though we might look for blank areas too,” said Leigh with a thoughtful expression, “things that should be visible but are not.”

“It has to work better than my attempting to remember where the pins were in the map,” I idly poked a bite with my fork, “of all the things to loose memory of.”

“No one is fretting what you cannot remember Child,” firmly said the Signora causing me to look at her, “do not trouble yourself over what has been lost.”

“Truly,” said the Matron in agreement, “you still remain yourself, which considering your ordeal is a small miracle in of itself.”

“I keep finding holes though,” I said with a disgruntled look at my hands, “some I can attribute to Chaddy being gone, others I am not so sure of.”

“The holes can be filled, though from what I am given to understand of your prior life, some of that you have lost may be a blessing in disguise.” The Signora indicated me with a wave of one hand, “You could have easily have been left with nothing but the bad memories and nothing good, which would have been tragic.”

I considered that for a moment and shivered uneasily, “Yes that would have been bad.”

“As it stands,” the Signora paused to briefly wipe her lips with a napkin, “a certain computer expert has extrapolated the pin holes from that missing map, from the video of the time you spent staring at the wall.”

“Oh? Has it helped?” I asked quickly with a faint bit of elation.

“Not exactly,” said the Signora with a puzzled frown, “your sister ran it against a multitude of possible ritual drawings and formations. Only a half dozen make a pentacle or pentagram, the rest she says are parabolic in nature, and the printouts she has sent, make us agree that it is likely.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Rose with a frown as she looked around the table, “parabolas are not used in rituals, only closed shapes hold energy or restrain things.”

“Or capture it,” said Michelle with a shake of her head, “if they are unfinished eclipses then there are a lot of missing bodies.”

“Or capture it…” I said idly as I traced a parabola carefully on my plate, “or capture it… maybe transmit it…”

The Signora looked at me critically, “A thought?”

“Maybe, it is in one of those holes though.” I slumped and shook my head, “I feel like I should know it, I can almost see the math in my head, and I know it is used for something and that there are points in one.”

“Perhaps we need someone who might know of the use of such,” the Matron said as her eyes were partially closed in thought, “a numerologist, a mathematician, and someone with technology I think.”

“That sounds like strange combination of people to ask,” said Leigh with slight chuckle, “almost techno-paganish in fact.”

A strange silence settled around us on the table then the Signora said, “There is no such thing as chance.”

“What? I was joking, I don’t think anyone ever takes techno-paganism as a real art,” said Leigh with a frown, “I know I don’t.”

“It would take an artifact or someone skilled in artifice to make a computer or even modern technology to make it a valid art,” stated the Signora in a slightly chiding tone. “Rare but not impossible.”

“So our enemy is using a relatively new magical art,” said Rose with a frown.

“Maybe not that new, Doctor Able Palm, the computer terrorist used something similar to put his soul into computer code,” at their blank looks I added, “something my sister discovered.”

“Possibly could be a resurgent art then, but we should relay these thoughts to the Knight Marshal,” said the Signora with a thoughtful look at us, “are there any other thoughts we should add to the topic?” At our silence she nodded, “Then we should adjourn to do so, desert will await our leisure.”

The Knight Marshal and the others working the map angle listened quietly as the Signora relayed the topics from dinner and as he did so he made a few quick notes. I studied my fellow Knights as she relayed the ideas, some of which actually were paying attention and seemed to take the few points in stride, the others sat with their arms crossed and looked decidedly unhappy. I mentally filed them into the ‘hostile’ camp of the Knights, and then took a moment to give them my best ‘I am here to stay’ smile.

The Knight Marshal nodded after the Signora concluded, “We do have a few teams out checking the focal points of the parabolic arches.” He paused and pointed to a map that had the arcs drawn on it and a few points circled along a line that extended across the city. “As you can see there are a number of points to check.”

I looked at the map and the centerline that cut short just past the city, “Ah well, I guess we reinvented the wheel then.”

“Perhaps not,” said one of the Knights as he tapped things into a laptop, “we only considered the concentrating of power, not a transmission of it.”

“But to where and for what purpose?” asked the Knight Marshal as he watched the other man pick up a ruler and extend the line way past a row of mountains.

“If we were to presume that they are operating on a radio or microwave and cell phone transmission model.” He paused and chuckled slightly, “Anything past the mountain ranges would likely be in a dead zone. I know I have a heck of time back packing up around them and calling in on a cell phone.”

“Which extends our search even further,” complained a Knight as he looked at the map and then me unhappily.

I eased over to the table and then lifted myself out of the chair to lean on it. Visually I looked at the line as it crossed a lake, then I saw that it hit a town at the edge of it. Frowning I saw two other towns that joined that town making a triangle on the lake.

“It cuts the triangle on the lake almost perfectly,” I said slowly as I tapped the lake on the map, “doesn’t it?”

“Lago di Bracciano?” asked the other Knight as he looked back at the map. “In-ter-rest-ting,” he said then he paused to quickly connect the towns on the map with lines. “Well it does to some extent, though it may be off a few degrees one way or the other, map error, human error and such.”

“I will send a few teams out that way,” said the Knight Marshal with a frown, “and have the Liberian see if there is a local legend, folklore or something tied to the lake and something in it.”

“Ah, there is,” said the Signora with a worried frown, “something lives deep under the water there. What it is no one has ever discovered, though the lake has a reputation for odd weather and being oddly deep in the center of it.”

“Why am I not surprised,” commented the Knight who had been giving me dirty looks all the while.

“Timothy do shut up,” said the Knight Marshal sternly to him before looking back to the Signora. “Is there anything else about the lake I should be aware of?”

The Signora paused to think for a moment, “The long term residents along the lake live well into their late nineties and also seem to lose one or more children to the lake. The midwives in that region are also very closed mouth about how many children they have delivered.”

“That is troubling,” commented the Knight Marshal as he paused to glance worriedly at the map.

“Also the aquifer that feeds it, is also supposedly the one that supplies the water to the Vatican,” added the Signora as an after thought. “Though I am not sure if it is just the Vatican it feeds or if it also feeds Rome as well.

“Well the Vatican’s water supply is filtered and screened heavily,” said the Knight Marshal, “so an attack from there is unlikely. However, I am concerned that the local residents of the lake may be protecting a darker secret, one that someone has exposed and may be using for their own nefarious goals.”

The Signora nodded gravely as she indicated for us to go, “We’ll leave you to plan, come girls desert is awaiting us.”

 

Dammutt and I went for a ‘walk’ after desert; dusk was just starting to creep down the distant mountain ranges trailing after the setting sun. Nighttime lately had been a source of agitation for me in that that was when the daemons would come out. Taking a suggestion from CJ I was trying to put the night back into perspective, which meant spending some time in it. Dammutt was there as both moral support and protector in case things went bump, though I am sure he thought it was for adventure.

So while Dammutt was doing doggie business, I was looking up at the sky and out to the horizons. After a time I noticed that I was sharing the view with someone and turned slightly to see Arturo, Father Pete and a few others standing there with me. Figuring there were there for a reason I let them decide when they wanted to talk.

“Well here we are,” said Arturo with chuckle as he patted me on the shoulder before starting to push my chair.

“Hi Arturo, long time and such,” I said after a moment.

“We’re going for a walk lass,” said Father Pete with sigh.

“Oh?” I asked with a tap of the armrests of the wheelchair, “Any set destination?”

“Someplace quiet,” said a lady’s voice and I craned my neck to see a nun walking with us.

“Dare I ask why?” I said as I glanced at the small group.

“Business,” said another lady who was dressed in a pantsuit.

Since no one was in a talkative mood I let myself be pushed, as Father Pete and Arturo were there I felt secure and safe. Dammutt of course was silent on the subject, though he scampered in his puppy sized self ahead of us. I did find my curiosity growing as we seemed to be heading to the far side of the lake and closer to a gathering of glowing dots, cell phones or radios I guessed.

As we drew closer to the other group, I could tell they were having a vehement discussion; the subject briefly eluded me until they mentioned me by name. Arturo had stopped pushing and everyone I could see were frowning, I sat there for a time listening to the arguments and discussion for a time.

It was rather disheartening to listen to a large group of Knights discussing me in less than favorable terms. A stern look from Father Pete kept me silent, though it seemed those that were with me were angered as well. Finally Father Pete motioned for us to move forward as a group, up to where the rest of the Knights were.

“So here is a fine lot of Knights I see before me,” said Father Pete in a chiding tone as we strolled and rolled into the center of them.

“Bullocks, if you ask me it looks like a coup attempt in the making,” said Arturo as he waded past once he had ‘parked’ me.

“Really gentlemen, holding a meeting of Knights and not inviting us,” scolded the lady in the nun’s habit, “dare I ask if you remembered to invite the Knight Marshal?”

“We were just having discussion,” said Timothy in an annoyed tone of voice.

“Yes we noticed that, so what have you decided, are you planning to kill our sister Knight?” asked the other lady as she lit a cigarette.

“Damned Thorns,” spat out Timothy, “if you must know, we have been trying to determine if she is a threat to the Order.”

“I don’t think that is your call to make Timothy, even if you are a watch commander,” slowly drawled a thin man as he made his way closer.

“Ah the heretic, so nice of you to join us,” Timothy acidly stated in a tone that oozed sarcasm.

“Love you too Timothy,” he replied as he saluted him with the finger.

“Rider you should not salute a superior in that manner,” drolly chuckled Arturo, “it’s generally impolite.”

“Sorry, I forgot my baseball bat, and my boots are freshly shines… or I would give him a proper salute all right, right after I put them up his ass,” Rider glared at Timothy and then smirked, “pedophile.”

“What did you say?” asked Timothy as he stepped up in Riders face.

“Well I figure if you are going to start using labels I could use them too,” Rider replied as he yawned into his face. “The only reason you are even a watch commander is because you can’t be trusted around the alter boys.”

I watched as Timothy’s expression turned murderous then cold, “Screw you.”

“You haven’t got what it takes, and I am too old for your personal tastes,” Rider replied through narrowed eyes.

“Rider, that’s enough,” said Father Pete, “you two can settle your squabble another day.”

“But isn’t putting harm onto a Knight what this little gather of his is about?” Rider asked as he stalked back to stand by me. “I am more than happy to oblige if it is.”

“As you can see Petra we are a rather disjointed company of Knights,” said the nun, “two factions, both barely civilized, and if you would believe it, actually can manage to keep the darkness at bay.”

“On a good day,” said the other lady.

“If you boys are done pissing at each other,” said the nun in a less than pleasant voice, “we would like to say our part.”

“Librarian, I yield the floor to you,” said Rider with a dry laugh, “such as it is.”

I watched as she walked up to Timothy and glared at him, forcing him to back down, “Now you lot, you listen to me, this is hardly the time to be having a dick measuring contest, so stuff it in your pants and shut your traps while I speak.”

Marveling slightly at her language I wondered just how she managed to quell them so abruptly. “As you know the Palace is nothing but ruins, and I can’t say that the vaults will survive re-construction of the Palace, as the fissures in the bedrock are too great.” The Librarian waited on the murmurs to stop before she spoke again, “As such I have arranged for the contents to be moved to safety.”

 “Now I come here and I find the lot of you at each other’s throats, when you should be pulling together,” the Librarian scowled at everyone before speaking again. “There have been seventeen Knights of the Order, Rose and Thorn alike that have borne a daemon mark. There have been nine Knights of the Order that were far from Catholic, barring the few still living among us. Five Knights of the order were barely sixteen when they were called to serve… and the Order and its members have endured to this day.”

She looked around from face to face, “We have lost six strongholds in our past. We have suffered a total fracture of the Order when Reginald the Traitorous broke faith with God and the Order seeking to supplant the Pope; some six hundred years ago. One child who follows a different deity is not going to break the Order… However, the lot of you with your poisonous minds and behavior may do just that.”

She stood there in the silence for a moment, “Yes Petra is young, yes she has been grievously injured and needs to heal yet. Yes she bears a daemon mark, if you can call it that.” She paused to look back at me then back at the rest, “Yes she needs a lot of training, be that as it may, she has done nothing to warrant the distrust and loathing many of you hold for her. I’ve been watching all of you, and barring a few exceptions, every single one of you have been less than supportive of her.”

“You should be ashamed of yourselves, as most of you consider yourselves to be men of God, but act otherwise when it comes to her.” She paused and shook a finger at Rider, “Even our most Agnostic of members while he may be an ass at times, holds faith with you lot. Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.’ He sure as hell did not mean for you to abuse, torture or cause harm to them.”

“She is tainted and corrupted,” countered Timothy, “she willing consorts with those of the Mythos.”

“Oh please,” I said as I rolled myself forward. “I gave comfort and was comforted by Sara in a time of emotional pain. Since then Sara and I became friends and if you must know, lovers.” I paused and looked in disgust at Timothy as he cringed, “Gothmog loves his daughter in a paternal way. Because he loves his daughter and in that I do too, he treats me like family.”

 

 “See? She admits it!” Timothy decried as he pointed a finger at me.

“Grow up,” I said as I pushed myself up and out of my chair to glare at him. “Gothmog and Sara are not evil, they are complex, powerful and different, but they not trying to take over the world much less the Holy Catholic Church.”

“So you say,” fumed Timothy as he put a finger in my face.

“Just what is your damage?” I asked tiredly as I eased back into my chair. “I’ve not done anything anyone of you would not have done, had you the ability.”

“That’s the problem,” said the Librarian in a calm voice, “it’s the first time in six hundred years that the Order has been blind-sided like this. So rather than looking for the people behind the attacks they’ve been wallowing in guilt and turning that anger and frustration onto you.”

“Gee and I thought it was because they were just being dicks,” I said as I scowled up at Timothy.

“It’s not just that, she has been manipulating the Knight Marshal and the Witches. Every time she turns up, they drop everything to run after her plans.” Timothy said among murmurs of agreement. 

“You are being absurd, I if anyone would know if the Knight Marshal was being affected or afflicted in such a manner.” The Librarian shook her head, “I’ve even peered into this child’s mind.”

“And?” I asked quietly.

“I am appalled by everything you have endured as a child, and marvel at your strength of will, and that everyone at one time or the others wishes they were not a Knight of the Order.” She paused and scowled at the circle of men, “Frankly with some of the assholes in it, I feel that way myself at times.”

“Ah,” I said with a shrug.

“You are just as bedazzled with her as the Knight Marshal is,” countered Timothy with an angry shake of his head.

~’Shut your holes or I will do it for you,’~ blasted the Librarian into the minds of everyone present. Dazed I watched thegathered Knights collectively sink to their knees or fall down, I was already seated or I would have been joining them.

The Librarian scowled briefly and then said, “Now that I have everyone’s attention, Petra is not the enemy of the Order, nor has she affected anyone’s minds. I if anyone, would have discovered that.”

“Dare I ask what is going on?” asked the Knight Marshal as he strolled into the center of the group.

“I was just clearing the air, sir,” said the Librarian with a scowl.

“I see,” he stood there for a moment and sighed, “there are times when leading the lot of you gives me gray hairs and utterly piss me off. I am only going to say this one time, the bickering and the bullshit stops here and now. If it doesn’t stop here, first I will break the offending persons chops, then after you get up from that I will assign your asses someplace useful, cold and boring. Like checking the Class X containment sites in the Artic Circle.”

He waited for a moment and then glared at a few individuals as if waiting on someone to comment. When none seemed forth coming he spoke in a softer tone, “It has been confirmed that we are likely going up against a Class X entity of unknown capacity. While the Vatican records are sketchy, local sources caved to some careful pressure and we now know that the threat is valid.”

“Local sources state that the entity is in two parts, the head of which lies below Lago di Bracciano, the torso lays below Lago di Bolsena. Of the two, the torso has no record of known activity, where as the head has been active. Also there have been reports of similar activity in Lago di Vicolo, and local legend says both Vicolo and Bracciano are connected.” The Knight Marshal paced around the center of the group as he continued, “Needless to say we can’t just deep nuke Lago di Bracciano or Lago di Vicolo and be done with it.”

“However, tactical nuclear weapons have been authorized as a last ditch option if it seems to be making a bee-line for Rome. They are also authorized if it breaks containment and heads to Lago di Bolsena.” The Knight Marshal looked around the pensive faces in the group, “Should the tactical nukes fail to stop the entity, heavier nuclear weapons will be brought to bear.”

“By that time most of us will likely be dead and radiation will be the least of our worries,” stated the Knight Marshal bluntly. “Now that being said, the Inquisition, along with members of the United Nations Class Zulu Task Force will be joining us in this joint operation along with members from the Army and Air Force. Our initial goal is to stop the ceremony, thus preventing the summoning of the Entity. Failing that we are to contain and neutralize the entity using conventional weapons, namely heavy weapons, explosives and anything else we can bring to bear.”

The Knight Marshal waited for the murmurs to die, “Yes it is going to be bloody, even with the support of the Inquisition Hunter/Killer teams and the UN Forces we expect forty to sixty plus percent casualties.”

“That light?” half joked Arturo with a harsh laugh, “I’ve heard of worse odds.”

“It’s the conventional weapons factor and the fact that our forces are going to be spread all over the map,” stated the Knight Marshal as he nodded. “If we could nuke the target from the onset we might only lose two percent or less, it is an imperfect solution but as I said; we are stuck going conventional… Part of the problem is political; naturally, the other part is that we are trying to keep the civilians from knowing just what is in the darkness.”

“It’s going to be pretty noisy, how do they expect to cover it up?” asked Father Pete as he looked around the circle.

“Depending on how it goes, it’ll be labeled as a Military exercise or an anti-terrorist action. The NATO Quick Reaction Force is getting an alert now that will preposition them so that they can provide a blocking force ahead of the entity should we fail to contain it.” The Knight Marshal shook his head and then said, “The spearhead of which will either stop the entity or contain it for a heavier nuke.”  

“The bulk of us, minus the usual Papal Preservation Force and a Diversionary Group, will head out tonight to acquire additional weapons and to infiltrate the region. We hope that the Diversionary Group will be able to keep the enemy focused here at the Lodge while we scurry. The PPF will secure the Pope and other key elements for evacuation should the Entity break containment and the tactical nukes fail to stop it.”

“It will be our job to see that it doesn’t break containment and God willing that no nukes will be used close to Rome.” He glanced around and smiled grimly, “It’s a dirty job, but one we know could be asked of us at anytime. I expect no less than your best efforts. Now I am going to get cleaned up and catch a chopper to Rome, I have to explain in detail to the Holy Father and the President’s staff just how screwed we may be.”

“Good luck with that,” said Arturo with a chuckle.

“I don’t think they going to be thrilled to learn just what lies in the two lakes and that we may have to nuke part of Italy to keep it out of Rome.” The Knight Marshal smirked and then shook his head, “And people think they want my job… are they nuts or what?”

 

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

“Welcome to the Diversionary Group,” I muttered to Michelle as the odd group sat down around a table.

“It beats Strike Force duty I am told,” she replied with a worried look, “their using nukes in the countryside are not what I wanted to hear as a game plan.”

“Yeah I couldn’t believe it either,” I shook my head, “but Otto says it’s not unheard of. He said he’s got people monitoring the region just in case nukes don’t stop it and to gather more intelligence.”

“Wonderful, so how did he take the news otherwise?” she asked with a roll of her eyes.

“Well he is not happy about it, evidently there is some sort of ‘activity’ going on with the Weres and stuff near Whateley as well. He doesn’t think they are related but given the timing he’s ‘concerned.’” I shook my head, “But he won’t say what exactly is going on with the Weres and ‘Mom’ isn’t talking about it.”

“Ugh, well with luck you can go home for Christmas, if not we’ll find a way to celebrate it,” she patted my arm, “maybe you could bring your family here?”

“Maybe,” I sighed as Sara and Paige had been mostly silent on the holiday front of things.

“Ok I thinks this is everyone,” said Rider as he walked to the front of the tale and sat down. “Welcome to the Diversionary Group, I am your designated group leader Rider, today’s topic of discussion: How to make the enemy focus on killing us here, while everyone gets in position to really fuck them up.”

“I suppose we could send them an invitation,” said Sally in a semi-sarcastic tone of voice.

“Ok, do you have an address?” Rider asked seriously.

“Well we have the one from the license plate,” said Sally with a grimace, “the company it belongs to… well the owner turned up dead.”

“Yes, quietly checked, reported and all of that.” Rider said with a smirk, “Since we quietly checked into it, we should add it to our ‘make an obvious showing’ list.”

“What list?” Rose asked with a frown.

“Oh it’s a list of places Petra is going to be seen going into, poking around and so on,” Rider smiled mirthlessly, “AKA she will be playing bait.”

“Oh goody, so what she goes in, waves the flag, and they send more monsters to kill her?” asked Sally with a frown.

“Well if they tried to attack her face to face I’d settle for that,” said Rider with a serious look on his face, “but apart from the one attack with the van, these people have been very cowardly or cautious in their operations.”

“So I’m to go places we think they may be watching and kick up whatever I can?” I asked, as the plan seemed very thin.

“We do have a list of possibilities, starting with the Restorations Department where Father Trovatelli worked.” Rider’s smile was grim as he added, “I think that your presence there should alarm them greatly, and who knows you might find a clue.”

“Oh goody, I suppose I get to field test my new chairs protective field,” I said with an exaggerated wave of my arms, “here I am bad guys come get me.”

 “That’s the spirit, I knew you would like the plan,” Rider said with a loud laugh.

“It’s marginally better than charging out to wrestle daemons,” I countered sarcastically.

“Yes, but the idea is for you to stay alive this time,” said Rider with a smile, “and I think we can manage that.”