Author Topic: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP  (Read 335 times)

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Offline Rage

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[NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:18 AM »
A couple of members have expressed interested in reading my 2014 National Novel Writing Month work.  Seeing as posting here will provide some extra incentive to keep going, I'm going to throw it up here, in all its unrefined glory.  Please remember that during NaNoWriMo, what counts is not quality, but quantity.  50,000 words, to be precise, in the month of November.  So - it's going to be BAD.  Horrible.  Pathetic.  Characters will often have long, pointless dialogue and soliloquy, for no other reason than WORD COUNT.  So don't bother trying to give me constructive criticism - I won't heed it, and will likely add you, passively-aggressively, to said novel, and kill you off.  Just sayin'....

Otherwise, enjoy....

Author: Rage

Title: Grimm's Reaper

Rating: PG-13 (I guess; I mean, I don't *think* I'm going to get any worse, but who knows.  The month is still young.

Fandom: None, unless you consider fairy tales a fandom.

Disclaimer: Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm put these in writing, but I'm reasonably certain they didn't write them themselves.  In any case, I certainly don't lay claim to Cinderella or anybody else who winds up in this story.

Summary: Rebekah Black is just your average, every-day human resources manager, until she suddenly is laid off and finds herself unemployed.  A chance meeting sends her into a world where she tracks down miscreant fairy tale characters and brings them to justice.  She is Grimm's Reaper.

Pairing: I don't think there's going to be any romance in here, but who can tell?  In any case, if it does turn up, it won't be anybody you're familiar with.  (That means NO LOKI.  Sorry, Aure.)

Archive: NO ARCHIVING, please.  This may or may not be worthy of editing and subsequent publication, but if it is, I don't want pieces of it floating around out in cyberspace.

Feedback: If you like it, tell me.  If you don't, keep it to yourself (see earlier paragraphs about constructive criticism).
« Last Edit: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:28 AM by Rage »

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #1 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:21 AM »
Chapter One

Layoffs.  Downsizing.  Reductions in Force.  WARN notices.  Attrition.  Termination.  I’d dealt with every variation of the human resources terminology that meant “you’re fired” – but I never expected to be on the receiving end of it.

The day had started off innocently enough, I suppose.  We were actually in the middle of a major reduction in force, layoffs forced by the sluggish economy and the current prevailing political wisdom that sustainable, renewable energy was nothing more than a liberal agenda, designed to cast doubt on Creationism (because, really, would God actually make the world in such a way that it would be destroyed by humans?  At least that was the argument being bandied about.)  But I’d assumed that as progressive as Colorado was, it could not possibly be as fundamentally fundamental as its eastern neighbor, Kansas.  Now THERE was a conservative state.  Renewable energy makes as much sense in Kansas as an ice cream truck does in Alaska.

I’d met with several of our employees who were soon to be former employees – doing the usual, going over termination paperwork, the options for COBRA, unemployment, the retirement plan vesting schedule, the availability of the Employee Assistance Program.  Routine stuff, rote knowledge, but it is never an easy message to extend to another, but I was good at it.  At least I felt I was good at it.  I was pretty sure others felt I was good at it, too.  This wasn’t the first round of layoffs or terminations I had dealt with – at this, and at other, employers – and in conversations around the coffee pot later on, with my fellow human resources officers, I heard tales of angry employees and disgruntled workers, yelling and screaming, threats.  I had never experienced anything of the sort.  All of the employees I had met with regarding termination – regardless of reason – treated me with the utmost respect.   Maybe it had to do with the fact that I treated THEM with respect. 

Whatever the reason, I was regarded as an expert when it came to layoff notification and coordination.  An unusual thing to specialize in, as far as human resources goes, but it had come in handy on several occasions.

Until I was on the other side of the desk.

I had met with four employees already that morning, and was finishing up the data entry in our software when the Vice President of Human Resources called my office extension.

“Rebekah,” he said, when I answered, “I need to meet with you.  Can you come to my office?”

“Of course,” I replied.  “Let me just finish up this report and I’ll be right there.”

Ten minutes later, I was listening to Mark Gonzalez deliver the same spiel to me that I had just delivered to four others, and twelve others the day before, and countless others before that.

He did look apologetic.  “I am sorry, Rebekah,” he said.  “You have been an outstanding employee, and a valued member of my team.  I am going to find it next to impossible to function without somebody of your knowledge and expertise.  But the directive comes from right from the CEO herself, and I do not have a choice.  I am losing almost my entire staff.”

In a sort of surreal haze, he covered the now familiar details: COBRA, 401K rollover, unemployment, my severance package.  But given my position, I was not getting the usual two week notice: they were already deactivating my employee badge, and revoking my domain server access.  Such is the process for employees with access to sensitive or proprietary data.

Once the meeting was over, Mark walked me back to my (former) office, and watched in uncomfortable silence as I gathered up my personal possessions: photos of my favorite vacation spots, a couple of knick knacks, a few books (“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” and “The Management Philosophy of Yoda”).  I stuffed them all carelessly into a spare box that had originally held brochures for the Employee Assistance Program; those that had remained in the box were now stacked haphazardly on one of the bookshelves. 

I picked up the box, and prepared to walk out of the office that had been my home away from home for the past five years.

Mark held out his hand for me to shake; I had to tuck the box under my left arm in order to do so.  “I… I am sorry about this,” he said.  “Believe me, I wish things had turned out differently.  In all seriousness, though…. Put me down as a reference if you need to.  I will give you a glowing recommendation for any human resources job.”

“Thanks, Mark,” I said thickly, still trying to wrap my head around what had just happened.  “I appreciate that.  I really do.”

And that was that.   My badge was in Mark’s office, on his desk.  I went to the parking lot, put the box of miscellany in the trunk of my Camry, and drove home.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #2 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:22 AM »
Chapter Two

Over the next few days, I navigated the confusing and frustrating world of unemployment benefits.  I sat in front of my computer, staring listlessly at my resume, trying to decide what updates were necessary.  And I occasionally scanned the job listings on the Society of Human Resources Managers, and, and Career Builder.  I was not sure if I wanted to stay in Colorado Springs, or if a move to another city or state would be more beneficial.  It was just me – no husband, no kids – and my cat, Providence.  I rented a townhome – home ownership had never really appealed to me, being a single woman.  Too much maintenance and upkeep for one person.  Plus renting gave me the flexibility to simply up and move if I so chose, and that might prove useful in my current situation.

Three weeks after my last day at SynGreen Energy, I was sitting in a small coffee house in downtown Colorado Springs.  I was not much of a coffee drinker, but this particular place also had a fairly large selection of teas, one of which was cooling in a mug in front of me.  While I had be sitting here, thoughtfully sipping, Mark had called my cell phone, wanting to check up on things, and to give me a couple of leads on jobs he had heard about.
One of the three sounded promising – the other two did not really resonate with me, being in industries I was not particularly fond of – and I agreed to follow up within the next day or two.  I agreed to meet Mark the next week for lunch, and hung up.

As I sat there, staring into what was left of my tea, I heard the distinctive sound of a throat being cleared nearby.  I looked up, and was surprised to see a well dressed gentleman standing just behind my shoulder.

“I apologize,” he said, “ but I could not help but overhear a portion of your telephone conversation.”  He stepped around and put a hand on the chair opposite mine.  “May I?” he asked, lifting his brows in question.

“Oh, of… of course,” I stammered, waving a hand toward the chair.  “Please do, sit down.”

“Thank you, thank you.”  He pulled out the chair and sat down, arranging the tails of his sports jacket carefully upon his legs.  He cleared his throat again.  “Before I get too far into my business,” he said, “I would like to clarify a point or two with you, if you do not mind.”

“Not at all,” I said, intrigued.  A vague thought that perhaps I would not need to follow through with the lead that Mark had found for me formed in my head, but I dismissed it quickly.  Surely my luck was not going to be THAT good.

“Excellent,” he said.  “Now, as I understood it, from what little of your conversation I was able to hear… You are currently unemployed, yes?”

I nodded.  “I am.”

“How long have you been unemployed?  And how did it come about?”

I shrugged.  “About three weeks now, I guess.  I was laid off, the victim of the same corporate policies I had long spent my days enforcing.”

“I see,” the man said.  “Well, allow me to introduce myself.  May name is Alistair Carruthers.   I am in need of an employee, and while I am a very discerning employer, I have a feeling that you just might be what I am looking for.”
I was surprised; apparently my initial read was not that far off.  A lucky break, perhaps.  “What sort of a position is it?” I asked.  “What are you looking for?”

“I do not wish to divulge every detail just now,” he said slowly.  “However, you mentioned that you had spent your days ‘enforcing’ polices.  Rules, if you will.  I am in need of a discerning employee, one who can know and understand the rules stated, and adhere to them, and bring others to bear under them.”

I eyed him suspiciously.  “This position,” I asked, “is it considered a sales position?”

“Goodness, no,” he said, shaking his head.  “No indeed.  I, or I should say, the agency, does not have a product to sell as such.  A better analogy for this line of work might be, ah, law enforcement.”

I grimaced.  “Not sure I want to be a cop,” I said.

“I think you will be pleasantly surprised,” he replied, undaunted.  He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a shiny silver case with delicate engraving on the lid.  He flipped the catch and it popped open, revealing a handful of business cards.  He removed one and placed it on the table in front of me.

Then he stood.  “If you would like to explore this opportunity further, come to my office tomorrow morning at ten o’clock sharp.”  He nodded politely and took his leave.

I sat silently for a few minutes, puzzled and surprised by this recent turn of events.  I had been rather unmotivated about my job search, and given the economy in the area, my options were few unless I agreed to relocate.  And while I was not necessarily opposed to moving, that is a huge hassle that I really did not want to deal with just at that moment.  I was not as if I had planned for this.

But this opportunity, even coming out of the blue as it did.  Perhaps it was worth looking into.  It certainly would not hurt anything to follow up with Alistair in the morning.  I did not have any other interviews or immediately pressing appointments, and it was not like it was going to hinder or delay my continuing job search in any way.

I sighed and finished my tea – it was cold now, and not very satisfying, but I had paid for it.  I left a dollar on the table, pocketed the business card, and went outside.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #3 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:24 AM »
Chapter Three

I did not look at the card until I got home, and I had stopped at the grocery store en route, in order to pick up a few items, and some chocolate.  I felt the need of some chocolate.

The card was plain and unadorned, black ink in Times New Roman type face, on a pale ivory card stock.  It read: Alistair Carruthers, GRIMM Agency.  An address and cell phone were also listed.

GRIMM Agency?  The only thing “GRIMM” I knew of was Grimm’s fairy tales.  It must be an acronym for something, but whatever it was, it was not spelled out on the card.  Government agency, then, I thought.  Makes sense, if what he was talking about was analogous to law enforcement.

I put the card down on the kitchen table, and set about preparing some dinner.  I fed Providence, who gave me her usual reproachful look when I did not give her her favorite flavor of canned food, and ate my salad while I read the news online.  My thoughts kept going back to the innocuous business card on the table.  Should I or should not I go tomorrow?  I debated calling Mark and telling him about the situation; I felt oddly like a girl agreeing to a blind date over the internet, and thinking she needed some security back up, in case something went horribly awry.

I had not yet made up my mind by the time I went to bed at about ten thirty.  I decided to sleep on the matter, and decide in the morning.

The day dawned bright and clear, and I awoke feeling strangely invigorated.  Over a lazy breakfast of a bagel and orange juice, I decided to go ahead and see what Mr. Carruthers had to say for himself.  It was worth a shot, and I was not going to lose anything by going.

I showered, dressed, and picked up the card and left.

I steered my silver Camry through downtown Colorado Springs until I found the address – a quaint little store front tucked in between a knitting supply store and used bookstore.  An odd place for a government agency, I thought, but parked in the closest available spot and pushed open the heavy wooden door just as a grandfather clock inside began to chime ten o’clock.

Alistair sat behind a large mahogany desk.  A pair of silver rimmed reading glasses were perched on his nose, and he was peering intently at a piece of paper. He looked up when the little brass bell above the door tinkled as I walked in.
A broad smile crossed his face.  “Well!  I must say I am pleased to see you.  I rather thought that you might not come, you seemed a bit hesitant yesterday.”

I returned the smile politely, crossing the room and seating myself in one of the leather chairs facing his desk.  “I was uncertain yesterday, but after some thought, I decided that at the very least I could see exactly what it is you are looking for,” I replied.

He put down the paper, and removed his glasses.  “Excellent,” he said.  “I really do feel that you would be a very good fit for this position.”  He opened one of the desk drawers and withdrew a folder.  He removed a single sheet of paper from it, and set it on the desk in front of me.  On top of that he placed an elegant fountain pen, the barrel gleaming black in the light from the overhead lamps, its edges trimmed in what looked like twenty four carat gold.

“Before we go any further,” he said, “I am afraid I must ask you to sign a non disclosure agreement.  The work that we do here is very serious, very serious indeed, and it would not be good for news of our activities to be spread amongst the general public.”

I frowned.  I was no stranger to non disclosure agreements, certainly, but I had never had one sprung upon me during an initial interview.  Definitely government work, I thought.  Possibly intelligence?  CIA?  FBI perhaps? 
I slid the pen to one side and picked up the paper.  The agreement seemed fairly straight forward, as such things go.  The agency was still referred to by the unhelpful acronym of GRIMM, and while thorough, the document still did not reveal any secrets about the type of work done.  It referred to “activities” and “clients” and “perpetrators” – which hinted at law enforcement again, but still gave me nothing more to go on.

There was nothing untoward about the document, but still tendrils of doubt were creeping up my spine.  Perhaps it was only because I had not been able to thoroughly research this company before coming here today – usually when I interviewed, I was well informed as to the nature of the business, their missing and vision, their structure and corporate culture.  In this case, however, I was walking in essentially unprepared.
It came to my mind again that perhaps I should have told somebody where I was going today.  Was that just crazy talk?  Or was I in danger simply by being here?

I decided to test the waters.  “This seems to be a fairly standard non disclosure agreement,” I said, putting the paper back down on the desk.  “But I confess I am a bit curious as to why you are asking me to sign it now. I have not agreed to anything yet, nor do I truly understand what it is you are seeking.”

“A fair question,” Alistair agreed.  “I will explain.  This is, as far as it goes, my standard operating procedure.  I find it difficult to truly explain, in words, precisely what it is we do here, and what we aim to accomplish.  And so, in lieu of a written job description filled with useless corporate jargon and meaningless turns of phrase such as excellent communication skills and other duties as assigned, I intend instead to show you – actually take you out in real time, into the field – and show you exactly what your job would be.  A living case study, as it were.”

Now I was definitely intrigued.  I had spent many years in corporate America and while I understood and could easily navigate the world of jargon speak and double talk, I did not much like it.  And the part I hated most was trying to translate exactly what a company meant on a job description.  Human Resources is fairly straight forward, as far as jobs go, but many companies have specific requirements that are odd or unusual, and trying to piece those out of a document that has been so carefully edited is a daunting task.

No, that is not what I hate the most; it is what I hate SECOND most.  What I hated most was actually have to craft those obnoxious and deceptive documents. 

In any case, I had never had the opportunity to actually witness a company in action before I hired on.  I had to rely on my own instincts to determine if not only was I a good fit for the job, but also if the company was a good fit for me.  I remember once when the true nature of the business was so cleverly concealed from me that I walked into a EEO officer’s living nightmare.  I still cringed at the memory of having to deal with those law breaking, sex crazed, idiot executives.  Instead of just investigating reports or filed complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, I was living it.  And I had to figure out how to bring suit against the business owners who were – I still had a hard time believing they had been actually getting away with it for so long – having sex with prostitutes in full view of the female team members.  Glass windows in the executive offices.  Crazy.  But true.  I had put an end to it – and lost my own job in the process, but that had not been a difficult thing to deal with.  I had hated the company, and knew that once I acted I would be out the door anyway.  But a federal lawsuit against the company owners had forced them to fire the executives (who were all members of the owning family), so it was some comfort.

Anyway, this was a chance I simply could not pass up.  I had to satisfy my curiosity, even if Providence was the only living creature I could talk to about the experience.

“All right,” I said.  “I will take you up on your offer.” I signed my name with the heavy black enamel pen and pushed the document back over to Alistair.  “I must admit, you have me very intrigued.”

“Excellent,” Alistair said, quickly scanning my signature, and then sliding the form into an empty folder.  “This little exercise should give you a much better idea of exactly what it is we do here, and whether or not you would be interested in joining us.  Though, I must say,” he added, as he pulled a set of keys out of his desk drawer, “I, personally, feel you would make an excellent addition to our team.”

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #4 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 11:26 AM »
Chapter Four

He stood up and extended an arm, ushering me toward the back of the office.  “This way,” he said.  He stepped ahead of me, and opened a door.  Inside the small room was an unusual object – it appeared to be the frame of a door, but it was fashioned out of a strange sort of metal, burnished to a soft finish.  Attached to the side of the frame was a metal box, with buttons and indicator lights. 

I stopped.  “What is this?” I asked.

Alistair gave me an appraising look.  “This,” he said, “is the heart and soul of our agency.  It allows us to do what we do.”

I returned his look.  “And what is it, exactly, that you do.”

“I will show you.”  He strode to the control box on the side, and punched two of the buttons.  The largest indicator light on the box glowed to life with an eerie yellow light, and the doorway began to hum softly.

I took a step back.
Alistair smiled kindly.  “There is nothing to be scared of,” he said.  “This this The Gateway.  I will not try to explain the science behind it to you – I only vaguely understand it myself.  In layman’s terms, this device opens a wormhole, or a portal to another dimension.”

“WHAT?!” I cried, unsure now whether I was either being completely deceived or possibly clinically insane. 

“It is true,” he said, “as difficult as it might be to believe.  I will freely admit it took me a good few weeks to come to grips with it.”

I shook my head in disbelief.  “But…. But why?  What IS it that you do?”

Alistair stood thoughtfully for a moment.  “Rebekah,” he said, “what does the name ‘GRIMM’ mean to you?”

I blinked.  “Grimm’s fairy tales.  That’s the only thing that comes to mind.”

He nodded.  “We did take our name from that.  Sort of a play on words, if you will.”

“I assumed GRIMM was an acronym,” I told him.

“It is,” he said.  “It stands for Galactic Intervention and Magical Management. G.R.I.M.M.”

I blinked again.  “Galactic….  What?”

“Where do you suppose Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm got the ideas that they put into the stories that they published as Grimm’s Fairy Tales?”

The abrupt change of subject took me off guard.  “I… I assumed that they were just the first people to actually put those old stories down on paper.”

“In a way, that is true,” Alistair said, looking thoughtfully at the Gateway.   “They were the first to commit them to official writing, but the stories and legends had been around for far longer than that.  And, as I am sure you are aware, myths and legends often have their basis in fact.  As is the case with what we know today as ‘fairy tales’.”

“Surely you are not telling me that those silly stories are actually true,” I said, the skepticism obvious in my tone of voice.

“Oh, yes,” Alistair said.  “Very much true.  Only they did not happen here.  They happened on about a half dozen other planets, in other universes than this one.”

“You are joking,” I said.

Alistair shook his head.  “It is no joke.  The universes are not the same one our planet is in, you see.  They are different worlds, and they overlap in places.  This device, The Gateway, was built in order that we might harness those overlaps, as it were, and not have to travel over multiple worlds, and through multiple natural gateways, in order to access any given world.”

I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes.  This was definitely not what I had been expecting.  “So let me get this straight: there are these other worlds, other universes, and in them occurred things that we ended up calling fairy tales in our world.”

“That is the gist of it, yes,” Alistair replied.

“I still do not understand,” I said.  “What is it that you DO?”

“We keep the balance.”

“The balance of what?”  I was beginning to feel like I was playing a game of Twenty Questions.  Or maybe I was in an Abbott and Costello routine.

“The balance of worlds.  Their stories crept into ours.  Their worlds influenced our mythology, our culture.  Is it so hard to believe that our world, then, also influenced theirs?”

OK, that made some sense.  “But how?  What is it that you do?”  I had asked that question at least five times already.  I wondered if I would ever get a clear answer?

“Redress the wrongs,” he said.  “Our culture has been steadily creeping into theirs.  Bad things are happening as a result.  It is our task to find them, and fix them.”

I cocked my head to look at him.  “That’s it?  That’s all you do?’

“Well, it is not all,” he conceded at last.  “There is more, but that is not for the telling now, and not something you would be dealing with right from the start.”  He gestured again towards the humming doorway.  “Come with me, and I will show you one of these worlds, and an example of the trouble it is facing.”

I took a single, hesitant step toward him and the doorway.  Did I dare trust him in this?  What was I going to see?  What was going to happen to me?

“It is quite safe,” Alistair assured me.  He held out his hand.

Taking a deep breath, I walked forward and allowed him to take my arm in his.  Together, we started to step through the doorway.

“Brace yourself,” he murmured, “this takes a bit of getting used to.”

The instant we were inside the Gateway, the world swirled before my eyes, a prismatic dance of color and light that partly thrilled me, and partly made me queasy.  I felt a jolt, it seemed more to come from inside me than from any outside source.  Then suddenly the swirling colors dimmed and cleared, and the room in front of me solidified. 

I blinked, trying to clear my vision.  I found myself standing in a room not unlike the one we had just left.  It was small, mostly square in shape.  The walls were fashioned of wood, but as I looked closer, I realized the wood was not as polished and dark as the walls in the office in Colorado Springs.  This was definitely not the same room in which we had started. 

The doorway here, too, was slightly different.  Instead of a silvery color, the material here was of a pale gold, with streaks of darker amber running through it. 

I looked around, but there were no other identifying details to be seen.  I looked at Alistair, who had turned away to flip another switch on the control box. “Where are we?” I asked.

He looked back at me.  “Ionus,” he said.  “It is the planet that lies closest to our own, and so tends to have quite a wide variety of societal issues that often occur on our world.   There is a situation here that has recently developed that, should you opt to accept my offer of employment, you would be handling.”

I was surprised.  “Your offer of employment?  You just met me yesterday, and our discussion today has been mostly about the agency and the position, not about me.  How do you know I am a suitable candidate for this job?”
Alistair moved to open the door, which – just like the other office – opened out into a larger office area.  I moved out past him into the room, and watched as he closed and locked the door.  He turned back to me and smiled.  “I am a very intelligent man,” he said, with just a trace of pride.  “And I have a keen sense of intuition and am an excellent judge of character.  But aside from all that, I have seen you in action.  I attended a presentation you gave at one of the meetings of the Colorado Springs Society of Human Resources Professionals.”

I knew what meeting he was referring to.  I had given a talk at one of the monthly lunch meetings on the topic of human resources and social media.  While I was rather proud of the presentation and felt it had gone very well, I could not rationalize how my performance at that one hour seminar could have possibly given anybody enough insight to offer me a job, especially one that was not directly related to human resources.

“And what did that talk reveal to you?” I asked.

Alistair walked toward what I assumed was the front door of the building.  “It told me that you have a strong attention to detail, are thorough in your research and investigation, have a certain adherence to rules and regulations, and a strong work ethic.  In short, you are exactly what I am looking for.”

He opened the door, and the light from another world streamed in.  I stepped forward, unwillingly drawn to something I never imagined I would see: the surface of a habitable planet that was not my own.

The building we were in fronted a small cobblestone street.  The buildings across the street were of unusual shape, but familiar none the less.  They were so unusual that they drew my attention away from anything else.  I turned back to Alistair.

“Shoes?” I asked.

He nodded.  “Ring any bells?” he asked.

“Uh… the old woman who lived in a shoe?”

He smiled. “Just so,” he said.  “Now, come along, and let me show you around.  This village is rather quaint, once you have adjusted to the unusual architectural designs.”

I stepped outside and looked around to get a better view of things, while Alistair locked up the office.  The street looked like virtually any other street that you might see anywhere in America (or even Europe), except for all of the buildings looked like giant shoes.  And what a variety of shoes!  There were tall, multi story buildings that looked like cowboy boots, with windows peeking out at various heights.  And smaller buildings that looked like tennis shoes.  But there were also shoes that were not similar to modern America.  Some looked like elf shoes, with curled toes at front.  Some were more like tall riding boots with filigreed patterns all over them, which reminded me sharply of Victorian or Renaissance periods in Europe. 

As we walked down the street, Alistair pointed out various buildings.  This was apparently a downtown or business district, as most of the buildings here were restaurants or shop fronts.  A fancy dress shoe had a wooden sign hanging above the door and small tables with chairs set out front.

Offline Silsin

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #5 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 12:27 PM »
Awesome idea! I hope there'll be more than 50,000 words though :)

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Offline Montgomery Burns 13

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #6 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 01:14 PM »
Love it!  Can't wait to see where you're takin' it.

That means NO LOKI.

Oh what a bummer!  lol
Who needs love when you've got a gun, who needs love to have some fun. Black Flag
Feelings are overrated. Dean Winchester

my fanfics

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #7 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 03:45 PM »
 ;D  This is awesome!  I second Monty, though.   :cry  No Loki?  Damn Midgardians and their foolish prejudices!  lol

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #8 on: Sun, Nov 09, 2014, 04:06 PM »
GUYS.  That's Norse mythology, not European fairy tale. 

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #9 on: Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 07:23 AM »
lol.  We know. 
Buuuut...  "Ronald Murphy writes in The Owl, the Raven and the Dove that the brothers and in particular Wilhelm, additionally added religious and spiritual motifs to the tales. He believes that Wilhelm "gleaned" bits of old Germanic faiths, Norse mythology, Roman and Greek mythology and from biblical stories that he reshaped.[17]"  from: ( the chapter titled: writing)

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #10 on: Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 09:05 AM »
LOL.  I'm still not puttin' him in here. 

Though....I suppose that would be an interesting case. "Go to Asgard and find out who's really sitting on Odin's throne...."

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #11 on: Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 03:29 PM »
Chapter Five

“Are you thirsty?” Alistair asked, heading over.  “This is an excellent little tea house, and I am a frequent visitor, when I am on world.”
Alistair courteously pulled a chair out for me, and once I was seated he walked around and took his own seat.  A woman, presumably the proprietor, appeared.  She was wearing a long skirt of some woolen material, brown in color, which fell down to her ankles.  A white blouse with puffy sleeves and lace at the collar was accented with a royal blue vest.  Her shoes were leather boots, that clicked delicately on the stone flagons.

“Good day, Sir Alistair!” she said.  “Your usual?”

“Yes, please, Cassandra,” he said.  He nodded toward me.  “This is a new colleague of mine.  Her name is Rebekah.  Rebekah, this is Cassandra.  She owns the High Heel House, which has some of the best tea in all the worlds I have visited.”

Cassandra laughed musically.  “Oh, you do go on, Alistair.  But it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Rebekah,” she said.  “What would you care for?”

I had no idea what kind of tea I would find on a planet with villages with shoes for houses, so I simply gestured toward Alistair.  “Just bring me a cup of whatever Alistair is having,” I said.

“Indeed I shall,” she said.  “It is one of my more popular blends, Toadstool Tea.  I will return shortly with your order.”

Alistair folded his hands in front of him.  “Now, to business.  Is it correct to assume that you believe me now, that we do actually have the technology and ability to travel between worlds?”

I looked around, taking a deep breath.  “It is a lot to take in,” I said.  “But I am unable to see how you could be making this up.  So, yes, I am prepared to believe that we are on a different world.  If I can believe that, then it is not a stretch to also believe there are multiple worlds, and that you can travel to all of them.”

“Well,” he said, “most of them.  There is one that we have not been able to establish a direct line of travel to.  But we can reach it via another world, so it is just a matter of a bit more travel time.”

“Do you have multiple offices on each planet?” I asked.  “I mean, this is not the only town here, is it?”

He shook his head.  “Goodness, no, these worlds are just as populated and diverse as our own, though perhaps not as quite as dense a population as is found in ours.  But in answer to your first question, no.  At this time we have only established a single connection on each world.  All worlds connect back to Earth, but not necessarily to each other world.  For example, from here on Ionus you can travel to Earth, of course, and also to Oslora, but not anywhere else.  But from Oslora, you can travel to Earth, Ionus, and Xonov.”

“I see.”  Though in truth, I was not sure I really did see.

“It is nothing to concern yourself with just now,” he said.  “Let us return to the original matter at hand.  So.  We have come to the agreement that the Galactic Rapid Intervention and Magical Management agency does travel between multiple universes, for the purpose of maintaining the balance and preventing too much negative influence from Earth contaminating the various cultures here.”

“I understand you so far,” I replied.

“Good.  So.  The job.  I am seeking another agent to assist with taking on the various cases that come through.  Duties are simple: investigate cases and, if appropriate, bring any perpetrators to justice.”

“Justice where?” I asked.  “I am familiar with how our American justice system functions.  But how does it work here?”

“It functions here rather much like it does in our world, though the laws are different.  They do not really have the infrastructure here to investigate and prosecute, which is where we come in.   But since the laws are not as plentiful and confusing as United States laws, or even European laws, convincing the King that the person has done wrong is much easier.”

“The King?” I said, raising my eyebrows.

Just then, Cassandra returned with a tray bearing two steaming pottery mugs and a small plate of breads and pastries. She balanced the tray with one arm and set a mug in front of each of them, and set the platter down in the center of the table. She also set down a small tray with a sugar bowl and a small creamer.  “There you are,” she said.  “Summon me if you need anything else.”

I picked up the mug and sniffed dubiously at the steaming liquid.  Alistair looked at me.  “You will want to put milk in it,” he said.

I wrinkled my nose.  “I do not put milk in my tea,” I said.

“If you had not yet gathered,” Alistair said, picking up the creamer and pouring a small stream of pale yellow cream into his mug, “I come from British stock, and milk or cream in tea is rather essential.”  He took a sip and sighed appreciatively.  “But with this particular brew,” he said, “I think you will want it.”

I took a sip and winced.  It was…. Strong.  Very strong.  It was not terribly bitter, as it seemed to have some natural fruit flavors included, some berries perhaps.  But it was definitely strong and needed a little something to tone it down a bit.

I looked at the pitcher of cream.  With a sigh, I reached over and picked it up, and added a splash to my mug.  I took another sipped, and raised my eyebrows.

“OK, you were right,” I admitted.  “This is better.”  And it was.  The milk gave the tea a smoother taste, less harsh (though it was not bitter at all). 

“Where were we?” he asked, taking a small pastry from the tray.

“The King,” I reminded him.

“Ah, yes,” he said, taking another sip of team.  “The King.  Yes, the King.  This is the village of Sixshire, in the land of Trucaster.  The King here is King Robion.   He is an older King, widowed for some years now.  He has two daughters, the elder of whom will inherit the throne upon his death.  While that day is probably a number of years off yet, Robion has been grooming the Princess to one day ascend to the throne, and as such has been having to preside over any sort of rulings or grievances.  So you may deal with either or both of them.”

“Assuming I take this job,” I reminded him.

“Yes,” Alistair sighed, “assuming you do.  And I really hope you do.”

I cocked my head at him.  “Why are so you insistent that I take this job?  Surely a person with a law enforcement or legal background would be a better choice than myself.”

Alistair nodded slowly, seeming in agreement.  “In some ways, perhaps.  But it is my experience that such people do not function well in this role.  They are too focused on the rules and regulations of our own world, and that tends to cause conflicts in this world.”

I snorted.  “And I’m not?”

“You work in human resources, not in law enforcement.  It will be easier for you to adjust to the variation of laws amongst the worlds than somebody with formal training.”

“I still do not understand why you want me.”

“Let us just say that I have a hunch.  And my hunches are rarely wrong.”

I sighed.  It did not seem like I was going to get any straight answers from Alistair, at least not with regard to why he was seriously recruiting me.  I decided at this point to cut to the chase.

I wrapped my hands around the pottery mug and took another sip of the flavorful tea. “So,” I said.  “Let us assume for the moment that I do accept this job. I have a better idea of the type of work I would be doing for you.  But what is in it for me?  What is the salary?  Benefits?   I have debts and obligations on Earth, and I would presume that even if I left Earth entirely and lived on one of these planets, I would still need means to support myself: housing, food, clothing, and such things.”

“Of course,” Alistair said.  “We function much as you would expect any sort of Earthly or American business or agency.  Your base salary, should you choose to accept it, will be seventy five thousand United States dollars.”

My jaw dropped.

Alistair continued as if he had not seen.  “Benefits include full medical, prescription, and dental insurance, paid for by GRIMM Agency.  We also have a retirement plan, a 401K, with an employer match of up to ten percent.  Three weeks of sick time, per calendar year, as well as three weeks of vacation time, per calendar year, increasing by one day each year, until a maximum of five weeks of vacation have been achieved.”

I stared in disbelief.  I was not wealthy, but my previous jobs had allowed me to live very comfortably.  But none of my previous employers had ever offered me anything remotely close to what I was being offered now.

If I was actually being offered it.

“Who funds you?” I asked.

“Interestingly enough,” Alistair said, setting his empty mug on the edge of the table, “we are jointly funded, with monies coming from both a variety of Earthly governments as well as from the coffers of the planets we serve.”

I frowned.  “Earthly governments?  Which ones?”

He shrugged.  “The United States, obviously.  The European Union also contributes, as does Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.”
That was a surprise.  “Soviet Union?  Russia? Why them?”

“They have had conflicts with person or persons coming from one or more of these worlds,” Alistair said.

Now this was new.  “What sort of trouble?”

He shrugged.  “Petty troubles, for the most part.  Theft, primarily.   As I said, there has been quite a bit of contamination between the worlds, and these incursions into our world are a direct result of that.”

“So that is the reason for GRIMM’s existence: as a result of crimes committed by residents of these other worlds in our own.”
Alistair nodded.  “Essentially.”

I frowned again.  “So how are these people getting into our world?  You said that travel was only available between certain worlds.  I assumed that meant that your Gateway was the only way to travel between, say, Earth and this world.  What did you say it was?  Ionis?”
“Ionus,” Alistair corrected.  “And you are mostly correct.  The Gateway that GRIMM is responsible for is the only method of travel between our world and this world… that we are currently aware of.  It is obvious, though, that there must be other avenues, avenues which we do not have control over.”

“And you do not know where they are,” I supplied.

“We do not,” he agreed.  “And it is one of the things that we are currently investigating.”

“Would that be something I would be investigating?” I queried.

Alistair shook his head.  “Not initially,” he said.  “I would prefer you begin with some of the simpler cases, in order to familiarize you with the worlds, and the connections between them.”

I nodded.  “All right,” I said.  “May I think about this for a few minutes?”

Alistair nodded.  “By all means,” he said, rising from his chair.  “Take your time.  I will settle our tab with Cassandra, and walk over to the little park just up the road.”  He pointed.  “See the archway?  It leads to a small garden, with a seating area in the center.  I will be waiting there for you.”

He started to leave, but then turned back to me.  “One thing,” he said.  “Please do not wander off beyond the immediate area.  This is not necessarily a dangerous area, but it is unfamiliar to you, and until you are officially under GRIMM’s protection, it is probably best for you to, shall we say, play it safe.”

I nodded, though this news was definitely concerning.  Then again, this job would not have been necessary were there not an element of danger involved.  Alistair patted the back of his chair, his only way of reply, and disappeared into the house. 

It occurred to me that sitting thoughtfully with a cup of tea cooling in front of me was becoming a bit of habit of late.  And it all had to do with Alistair Carruthers.

I was dimly aware of Alistair leaving the tea house.  He glanced over and caught my eye.  I shrugged and waved my hand, somewhat distracted, and he moved off down the street, toward the little park he had mentioned earlier.

Really, this should not have been a difficult decision.  I was a grounded, stable, American woman.  I had a degree in human resources and organizational development.  I was a solid fixture in corporate America.  I had an apartment and a cat and a Dell laptop, for Christ’s sake.  Why in the name of God was I sitting here, on another planet, with a cold mug of tea, thinking about becoming a bounty hunter?
I should get up, go to the park, and tell Alistair thank you very much, but no thank you, take me home now.  I should go back to my apartment and follow up with the leads that my former colleague Mark had provided me, and get a real job, either with another company in Colorado Springs – or, more likely, somewhere else in the country – and forget about other planets and universes and cultural contamination and freaking fairy tales.

But I could not do it.  This job, the situation, this opportunity – it pulled at me.  Why, I could not tell.  Perhaps it was the science behind the technology that allowed travel between worlds.   Perhaps it was the seeming normalcy of sitting outside a giant shoe, drinking tea and eating pastries. 

But the pay.  Incredible.  I had never been offered anything like that before, and doubted I would again.  But was I truly up to the job? 
Was something like this my strong suit?

Investigation was a bit of a passion of mine.  I will admit that I did enjoy it, even though whenever I was involved in an investigation it was never pretty.  Though, truly, in a perfect world, investigation would probably not be necessary.

I nodded decisively and stood up.  As crazy as it sounded, this was something I had to do.  Something I wanted to do.  Despite my stability and grounding, I found myself eerily drawn to Alistair and GRIMM and this job.  Or perhaps it was because of my grounding.  Grounding had not prevented me from being laid off, probably for less reason than I had used in laying off others.  Maybe normalcy was not all it was cracked up to be.

I walked down the street and passed under the archway.  Beyond was just as Alistair had described: a small garden, in the center of a wide grassy area.  Brightly colored flowers of a kind I could not identify nodded and swayed in the breeze.  Butterflies flitted between the blooms, and the gentle humming of bees came from all around. 

I saw Alistair in the center of the flower beds, and I walked toward him on the well tended stone path.  He looked up as I approached, and stood.

“A decision so soon?” he asked.  There was worry etched in the lines on his face.

He thinks I’m going to turn him down, I thought.

“Almost,” I said.  “I have a few more questions.”

He gestured for me to sit down on the stone bench, and he seated himself as well.

“What are your questions?” he asked.

“First,” I said, “are you willing to show me your financial records?”

Alistair smiled briefly.  “Yes,” he said.  “I believe in as much transparency as possible, and am willing to show you our financial reports, bank statements, and tax documents.  Anything you need in order to satisfy yourself that our agency is indeed a legal business under the laws of the United States and the State of Colorado.  I will also introduce you to the two other agents who are currently working with us as well.”

I cocked my head, intrigued.  “Two other agents?  That is all?  Just you and two others?”

He nodded.  “For now, yes.”

I sat thoughtfully for a moment, idly tapping my chin with a forefinger.  “The position you are recruiting me for… is it a new opening, or am I replacing a previous agent?”

“I am filling a vacancy,” Alistair said.

“What happened to the person who held this position before me?” I asked.

“He retired,” Alistair said.   

“I do not supposed you would allow me to speak with him,” I said.

Alistair shook his head.  “Even if I agreed to provide you with his contact information,” he said, “he would not speak to you.”

“Non disclosure?” I guessed.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “We are confidential and circumspect to the same level of the Central Intelligence Agency or Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Even after you leave employment with the agency, we require confidentiality to be maintained.”

“I see.”  It was not terribly surprising.  But something else had occurred to me.

“What is GRIMM’s front?  How do you explain yourself, your existence, to the public?  What cover story do you agents use in order to explain themselves to their family and friends?”

“It is quite simple,” Alistair said.  “Our front, as you call it, is a government contractor providing technology support local government agencies.  We carefully craft backgrounds and stories for our agents to use when dealing with the outside public, on both Earth and the associated worlds.  Your identity in Colorado Springs, should you accept this job, will be the human resources consultant for our organization, Mordant Consulting.”

I snorted.

Alistair looked at me oddly.  I gave a little laugh.  “Sorry,” I said. “I just find the name ‘Mordant’ amusing.”

“You know what it means, then?” he asked me, impressed.

I shrugged.  “Well, as an adjective, it means harsh or sinister.  You could say it is a synonym for the word ‘grim’.”

Alistair nodded, smiling.  “Yes, it was chosen for that very reason.  Most people are not familiar with that particular word.”
I shrugged again.  “I have done some writing,” I admitted.  “On the side, not as a serious exercise or anything, and so I have a bit of a fondness for unusual or unique words.”

“Ah, I see,” Alistair said. 

I shook my head.  “I am sorry,” I said, “I have derailed our conversation.  You were saying?”

Alistair chuckled.  “Our front.  Mordant Consulting.  As I was saying, you would describe yourself as our human resources consultant.  But since – obviously,” here, he looked around at the garden, “travel will be required of you as a G. R. I. M. M. agent, travel will also be required of you as a Mordant employee.   As such, we do have front offices across the country, and so your alibi can be easily established.  And since we do function as a normal business, you will receive regular paychecks, via direct deposit, and a W-2 at the beginning of every year.  We do try to maintain some semblance of normalcy, which of course allows us to continue our work, undetected.”

I nodded.  “And references?  Should I choose to leave the agency?”

“Of course,” he said.  “Just as you would expect from any employer.”

I took a deep breath.  “Okay, I said.  I am in.”

Alistair smiled broadly.  “Excellent!” he said, rising.  “Let us walk a bit, around the village.  I want to brief you a bit more on the first case that I will assign to you, and also show you around a bit more.  Once we are done with that, we will return to the Colorado Springs office, where we complete the necessary paperwork.”

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #12 on: Mon, Nov 10, 2014, 07:10 PM »
Chapter Six

Alistair and I strolled down the lane, and he continued to tell me the story of the situation developing here in the Village of Sixshire. 

“When we first arrived,” Alistair said, “you said the architecture here reminded you of the nursery rhyme of the old woman in the shoe.”

I laughed.  “Well, can you blame me?”

Alistair laughed, too.  “No indeed.  In fact, I would be concerned about somebody if they did not think of that.  But that little story, itself, is what is happening here, right now.”

I blinked.  “There is an old woman living in a shoe, with too many children?”

“Yes.  There are several, in fact, but the one we are particularly interested in is having considerable difficulty in keeping her children fed and clothed.”

“Why?” I asked.  “The rhyme said she did not know what to do… what is she doing, or what is she not doing?”

Alistair sighed.  “The rhyme fails to mention why she has so many children.  Can you think of any parallel circumstances that might occur in our world?”

I thought for a moment, then shrugged.  “Spousal abandonment?” I ventured.

Alistair smiled.  “And you had doubts about your ability to do this job,” he said in a teasing manner.

I blinked.  “Seriously?  The old woman who lived in a shoe, her husband left her?”

“And is not paying child support,” Alistair added.

I gaped at him.  “You… you must be joking,” I said.

He shook his head.  “I am not.   Though I wish I was.  Do you see, now, how our culture has contaminated theirs?”

I considered that.  “I take it, then, that this sort of issue was not a problem, say, fifty years ago?”

Alistair shook his head.  “It was not.  I was not an agent during that time – in fact, G. R. I. M. M. had only been around for about for about thirty five years at that point.  I joined about twenty years ago, but we do have detailed records from agents from that time.  Also, written reports from the royal recorders in many of the lands give us a very clear picture of life during that time.”

“What were they facing?” I asked.

“War,” he replied.  “Many of the planets experienced global wars, ones that involved multiple lands, our countries.”

“Just like ours,” I reflected, thinking of World War Two of the nineteen thirties. 

“Just so,” said Alistair.  “There is a delay, of course, of twenty or thirty years or so. And that is not surprising, seeing as it does take time for the contamination to take hold.”

“So, in addition to this social problem of not taking care of your children, what other issues are being seen?  Drugs?”

“Yes.  And what else do you think?”

That stumped me.  Our world had so many problems!  Which ones had crossed the borders to these worlds?  Twenty or thirty year delay…  “Um… war?  Again?”

“Not yet,” Alistair admitted, “though it may not be far off.  There is a lot of unrest among the Allied Worlds.”

Unrest.  Well, that was definitely a problem our world was facing.

“Political strife?”

“Not as in the United States.”  Alistair looked at me.  “You are missing one of the obvious.”

“Which one is ‘obvious’?”

“Ecological problems.  Pollution.”

I looked around at the quaint little village.  The air was fresh and pure.  I recalled the little park where we had spoken earlier.  There had been a little stream running through it, and the water in it had been clean and clear.  Vast reaches of forest stretched out beyond the last of the shoe houses in the little town.  I frowned at him.  “Ecological problems?  Here?”

He shook his head.  “Oh, no,” he said. “Not on this world, not yet.  But on Genovare, yes.”

“What is their technology level? Are they less advances than us?  Or more so?”

Alistair gave me an appraising look.  “Astute,” he commented.  “Obviously,” he waved his hand around, “this world, Ionus, is at the level of our planet in about the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  But Genovare is highly advanced, I would say slightly more advanced that we are.  The other worlds are somewhere in between, but mostly on the lesser end of the spectrum.”

I nodded thoughtfully.  “So,” I said, “tell me more about this case you want me to work.”

“Very well,” Alistair said. “As I said, a woman living here in Sixshire has been abandoned by her husband.  King Rubion issued a decree two years ago that Giles – the ex husband – was required to pay fourteen gold pieces per week.  One piece for Ramona, his former wife, and one piece per child.”

“Thirteen children!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, thirteen children,” Alistair confirmed.  “And to give you an idea of the exchange rate, fourteen pieces of gold roughly works out to about one hundred and twenty five dollars, United States currency.”

“Hmm,” I said, non committally.  “Are you adjusting for inflation?”

“Not really,” he admitted, “but the cost of living here is nowhere near as high as it is in the United States.  The approximately five hundred dollars that was ordered for the care of the family would have allowed them to live comfortably.  Simply, but comfortably.   It would have been adequate for food and clothing.”

“What about housing?  Utilities?  Water and heat?” I asked.

“There is no payment here for housing,” he replied.  “The houses are built by the family and community, and are owned by the woman.  Water is drawn up from wells on the property, and heating is primarily done through the fireplace hearth.  So all that is required is food and clothing.”

He turned to me suddenly.  “So, are you still in?”

I nodded.  “Still in,” I said.  “I am… strangely intrigued by this idea.”

He smiled.  “Excellent.  Shall we go?  We can continue with your orientation tomorrow.”

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #13 on: Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 06:37 AM »
This is awesome!  Just as your Rebekah, I am intrigued; enough that i can forgive you no Loki.  Perhaps you might consider a sequel with him involved?  The chaos caused by this 'contamination' between worlds would be something he would love.

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #14 on: Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 11:37 AM »
Lucky for me there's only seven worlds, not nine realms.  LOL  Less to keep track of. 

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #15 on: Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 12:13 PM »
You have such a vivid imagination.  I love it!

Lucky for me there's only seven worlds, not nine realms.  LOL  Less to keep track of.

I don't think it does really matter whether you have to keep track of seven worlds or of nine realms.  Both sounds pretty complicated to me.

The European Union also contributes, as does Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.

Great Britain is actually a member of the European Union.  Just sayin' :ggrin

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Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #16 on: Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 04:24 PM »
Yes, Great Britain is a member of the EU but they're also sort of stand-offish.  They are contributing on their own, as well as money funded through the EU consortium.

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #17 on: Thu, Nov 13, 2014, 10:03 PM »
Here's a couple chapters to keep you readers happy.  :D

Chapter Seven

We walked back to the building that housed this planet’s Gateway – which I was now able to see was in the shape of a rather nondescript black riding boot.  I shook my head.  This agency apparently had a sense of humor that bordered on the bizarre.

After an vision blurring and vertigo inducing trip back through the Gateway, I found myself once again seated in a chair across from Alistair, at his dark wood desk, watching as he rifled through various files, pulling out a selection of forms and packets.

I spent the rest of the afternoon filling out a veritable barrage of forms: employment application (like this one was really necessary, but hey, rules are rules), W-4, I-9, retirement plan enrollment, health insurance enrollment, life insurance forms, direct deposit authorization, etc, etc, etc.  It took several hours.  I had forgotten what a boring and time consuming procedure the hiring process was... from the employee’s side of things.

It was always much more interesting on the human resources side.  But that was behind me now.

Once we had completed all of the necessary paperwork, and I had copies of all of my hiring documents, the G. R. I. M. M. personnel manual (OK, the Mordant Consulting personnel manual), keys to the office, and my badge – I know it is crazy, but I never feel official until I have my badge – Alistair turned to more specific matters.

“Now,” he said, “I have some materials for you to take home and study.  There is quite a bit of material for you to cover, so I do not expect you to report to this office again until next Monday morning.  However, your official start date is today, and you will be paid for the time you spend looking over these documents.”

He reached down behind the desk and produced a box, a black plastic portable file, the kind with a locking lid and a handle on top.  He passed it over to me.  “Inside this,” he explained, “is virtually everything you will need in order to acquaint yourself with the Allied Worlds, the lands found on them, their governments, their level of technological advancement, and the people who live there.”

I took the box and balanced it on my lap.  I undid the clasp and lifted the lid.  Inside were six binders, each with a label on the spine: Ionus, Olsora, Xonov, Fenia, Genovare, and Elosie.

Alistair nodded toward the binders.  “One manual for each world,” he said.  “Inside each is a detailed description of the world.  In the bottom is a map that shows the lines of travel between each planet.   That information is in the manuals as well, of course, but I had the map created because I believe that a visual references for such things is easier to commit to memory.”

I nodded.  It made sense.

“I do not expect you to be an expert on every planet in that box by Monday,” he went on.  “I suggest thoroughly studying the binder for Ionus, as that will be where your first case will take you.  The others you can skim, and then go over again in greater detail later.”
He then handed me a thick manila envelope.  “In this is all of the pertinent information about your first case.”

I took the envelope and tucked it into the box with the binders.

Alistair’s face became grave.  “I do not think I need to impress upon you the necessity of not allowing this information to fall into the hands of any person not directly associated with G. R. I. M. M.  Not even the individuals on the Allied Words.  Not even King Robion, or any of his counterparts in any other land, on any other planet.”

I nodded.  “Yes, I understand.”  I set the box down at my feet.  “I have another question,” I said.

“What is it?” he asked.

“How much about the other worlds do the people – the general populace – know about the other worlds?  How about the ruling class, like King Robion?  Is he aware of the other worlds?  Of our world?”

Alistair shook his head.  “Very little, except of course, for Genovare.  They are definitely aware of the existence of the other worlds.  As a matter of fact, Genovare is the only world unified under a single planetary government.  It is a democracy, ruled by an elected planetary council, who appoints an Authority Minister to lead the council.  The planetary council actually controls the Gateway to that planet.”

“Who controls the Gateways on the other planets?” I asked.

“We do,” he answered.  He waved toward the box.  “But I will leave you to study the rest of the manuals on your own.  We have more important things to do just now than for me to reiterate what is already contained in those binders.”

I looked at him.  “What else do we have to do?” I asked.

He smiled.  “We have to meet up with the two other agents.  They have agreed to meet us for dinner this evening.”

I looked at my watch.  It was after five o’clock already, and I was starting to get hungry.  I stood up, holding the box.  “When are we supposed to meet them?”

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #18 on: Thu, Nov 13, 2014, 10:05 PM »
Chapter Eight

We took Alistair’s car to the restaurant.  He insisted that I leave the box in the large safe at the office.  “You can never be too cautious,” he said.  “I never take G. R. I. M. M. materials with me if I am not going directly home.  I simply will not risk the car being broken into.”
I shrugged.  “You could disguise them better if you made them look like an author’s notes for his next novel,” I suggested.

Alistair raised an eyebrow.  “Not a bad idea.  Still… I will not risk it.  We will be returning to the office after our meal in any case, so you can get your car, and you can easily retrieve your materials at that time.”

“Do you expect me to keep them under lock and key at my apartment?” I asked.  “Because I do not have a safe or other secure place inside.”

“Not under lock and key,” he said, “but I do ask that when you are not actively involved in reading them that you do put them somewhere as safe as possible.  Perhaps in the back of a closet, or high on a shelf.”

“Or under the bathroom sink, behind the sanitary napkins.”  I said.

Alistair looked at me out of the side of his eyes.  “That… is very creative.  I shall have to suggest it to the other female agent.”

I laughed.

“So, what can you tell me about these other agents?” I asked. 

Alistair became serious again.  “One male, one female.  The male works undercover for us, both on Earth and on the Allied Worlds.  The female is an agent such as yourself, but she works a slightly different angle than you will.”

“That seems to be a rather slim dossier,” I commented.

Alistair shrugged, and turned his car into the parking lot of the restaurant.  “I prefer not to divulge too many details, allowing you to form your own impressions.”  As he parked the car, he flicked a glance over at me.  “Something you will be doing soon enough.”

We got out of the car and walked toward the entrance.  Alistair held the door for me, ushering me courteously through into the lobby.  I had not actually been to this particular restaurant before, though I had always wanted to try it.  It was just one of those things that I had never gotten around to. 

By all accounts, The Pepper Tree Restaurant was one of the better steak houses in the city.  It seemed that somebody had already made reservations for the evening, because Alistair gave his name – and the name of Mordant Consulting – and the host ushered us to a small table in the corner.  There were two other people already seated there. Both had drinks and were engaged in a quiet, private conversation.

As we approached, both looked up.  The woman set down her drink and rose to her feet, smiling, and holding out her hand.  The man looked at me appraisingly, but made no move to rise.

Alistair extended a hand toward the two.  “Rebekah,” he said, “allow me to introduce two of the finest advisors that Mordant Consulting has to offer.”  He gestured to the woman.  “This is Ava Marconi.”

Ava smiled broadly and stepped forward with her hand extended.  “Rebekah,” she said.  “A pleasure to meet you.  I am so thrilled to have another woman to work with over at Mordant.  It was getting a little much to only be around males all day.”

I chuckled, and took the proffered hand.  Her grip was firm and confident, but not overly strong. 

“I look forward to working with you,” I said, and I meant it.

“Excellent,” said Alistair, pulling out my chair, as Ava returned to her seat.  As I settled into my seat, and unfolded the cloth napkin and placed it onto my lap, Alistair introduced the other agent.

“And this is Patton Wiley, who handles our most delicate cases.”

I nodded politely to Patton, who raised an eyebrow and lifted his glass of beer in greeting.  His personality was in stark contrast to the outgoing and friendly Ava.   As Alistair summoned a waiter and ordered some appetizers, I studied my two newest colleagues.

Ava was young, I would have guessed her age at late twenties, early thirties at the very most.  I was sure she was younger than I was, however.  She had black hair, cut into a short pixie, with brilliant blue accent streaks scattered throughout.  Her eyes were green and friendly and her face was pale complected.

Patton, on the other hand, had a darker complexion than his counterpart.  He looked almost Spanish, with olive toned skin and sleek, dark hair.  His eyes were dark, too, and his gaze was piercing.   From his physical description, I would have placed his age at around thirty years of age.  But his expression was filled with wisdom and insight, and made him in some ways appear decades older.

The appetizers arrived, and Alistair, Ava, and I made small talk.  Ava was particularly interested in my previous job, as well as how I had become recruited by Alistair.  But any mention of the work that we did was carefully encoded with references to Mordant Consulting, and client companies (which I assumed to be the planets, or possibly just the different lands associated with them), and projects.

Once our meals were brought to us, the conversation turned to more serious matters.  Alistair gave me some guarded, but useful, information about the type of undercover work that Patton did.  It seemed that he was directly involved in tracking down – or attempting to track down – the unknown gateways or portals that some people from some of the Allied Worlds (and / or possibly Earth) had been using to travel outside of G. R. I. M. M.’s knowledge.  I was not sure if he was having much success with that; he spoke little, and when he did speak, he was careful to never reveal more than necessary.  His voice was low pitched, yet held a ring of power and command.

Ava, by contrast, was far more open.  Apparently she dealt almost exclusively with animal related situations.  I had to stifle the urge to ask if she had ever tracked down a run away unicorn.  I figured that asking would just make me look silly, and that I would probably find out on my own at some point soon enough.

As we were finishing up, Alistair turned to me.  “One last thing,” he said, looking around carefully to ensure that no stray customer or wait staff was in earshot.  “Obviously, Mr. Wiley operates under strict secrecy, and to that end, he has a code name that we will use in any and all written documentation that our agency might generate.  And while this evening we have been using his given name – indeed, all of us have been using our given names – but this is, essentially, a non work event, and so it is not so terribly unusual.  However, going forward, Mr. Wiley does request that you utilize only his code name.”

I nodded.  It did not seem to be an unreasonable request.  “I can do that,” I replied.  “What is it?”

“Cloak,” Patton said softly.

I gave him a small smile.  “It describes the nature of your work very well,” I observed.

He returned the smile.  “Astute,” he said.

Ava laughed.  “I, however, have no such qualms about the use of my name.  For work purposes, of course, you must use my code name, but when the work day is over and we have clocked out, you are more than welcome to call me Ava.”

“And what is your code name?” I asked.

She grinned.  “Aesop.”

That one made me roll my eyes and shake my head.  “Goodness,” I said.  “You all are certainly fond of puns.”

Alistair inclined his head graciously.  “We like to operate, as much as is possible, in the open.  But due to the nature of our work, that is hardly a feasible option.  So this is our way of, shall we say, aiming a beam of bright light into a dark room, and lighting up the writing on the wall.  Only those who can decipher the message are granted the knowledge, though all in the room can see it for themselves.”

I looked at Alistair.  “Do I get a code name, too?” I inquired.

He smiled broadly.  “Yes.  Your task is to bring criminals and deviants to justice.  In a sense, you are merely bringing about the harvest that their sowing of ill has brought.  So.  Your code name is ‘Reaper’.  You are G. R. I. M. M.’s Reaper.”

Offline Silsin

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #19 on: Fri, Nov 14, 2014, 12:20 PM »
nice colleagues  ...

There is no reason not to follow your heart! Steve Jobs

Offline Montgomery Burns 13

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #20 on: Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 12:47 AM »
Awesome.  I. Need. More...
Who needs love when you've got a gun, who needs love to have some fun. Black Flag
Feelings are overrated. Dean Winchester

my fanfics

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #21 on: Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 06:16 AM »
Love her code name.  Does she realize everything that entails yet?  Interesting colleagues.  I'm with Monty.  More, please.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #22 on: Sat, Nov 15, 2014, 07:28 PM »
Chapter Nine

Alistair drove back to the office, where I retrieved my box of orientation materials, and then we both headed home, in opposite directions.  When I got back to my apartment, it was late, but I was too keyed up to sleep.  So after I fed Providence and gave her some attention, I plopped down on the couch and grabbed the binder labeled “Ionus”.  I wanted some background noise, so I punched the remote and the television came on with a soft beep.

I opened the binder and began to read.

The world of Ionus is the one of the Allied Worlds which most reminds people of ‘fairy tales’.  There is one main continent on the planet, and there are two large island nations off its west coast.  Each land in that world is ruled by a king or queen, with what is commonly referred to as a feudal system on Earth.  Noblemen own the land, and peasants live and work on the land at the behest of the landowners.   The only exception to this is the southern island nation of Pyric.  Their government is more of a theocracy than monarchy.  The inhabitants of that land, by and large, are followers of the Code of Mimosha.  The ruler of their land is also their High Priest, and his full title is Sultan of the Living Sand.  The sultan is always male, and has exactly three wives at all times.

In the other lands, the status of women in comparison to that of men varies, but they are usually allowed to own land and conduct their own affairs as they choose.  The lands do not seem to suffer the issues surrounding inequality, as often happens on Earth.  But only in Pyric are the differences between men and woman taken to such extremes.  Women are considered to be second class citizens, and men truly do dominate.  Women must marry at age fifteen, cannot hold land, are not allowed to handle finances, and must go about uncovered and unclothed at all times.  The only garment they are allowed to wear is a strapless tunic that is held up with ties about the neck, and then only when pregnant or nursing a child.  While pregnant, the garment is undyed cloth fashioned from a brown wool, with no decoration or accent of any type. After the birth, the type of garment worn dictates the gender of the child.  If the infant is male, the garment is purple.  If the infant is female, the garment is pale yellow.  If the father of the male child is of high status in the realm, gems of dark obsidian are fastened around the collar of the tunic.  No such decoration is allowed for the pale yellow garment indicating a female birth.

The Sultan of Pyric will refuse to speak to women from outside his land, and so negotiations with that realm must be handled by male agents of G. R. I. M. M.  Even then, dialogue is tricky and the Sultan is reluctant to treat with anybody outside of his domain.  They are a reclusive people, and not overly interested in expanding beyond their current island nation, and so dealings with other lands and other peoples are limited.  G. R. I. M. M. does not believe the people or ruling class of Pyric pose a threat to any of the other lands, or any of the Allied Worlds.  But great care must be taken, if one’s investigations lead into Pyric territory.

The other lands are less fraught with political difficulty and most seem to get along well with neighboring countries.  Formal alliances are usually only the result of marriage between members of the ruling classes of two nations.  There is limited trade between nations, even those who share borders.  This is largely due to the fact that the countries are relatively self sufficient in regards to production of needed items and supplies, including food, lumber, and metals.  Trade that does occur is primarily between nobles of one land and quality artisans of another. 

The Gateway on Ionus is located in the village of Sixshire, in the land of Trucaster.  The current ruler is King Robion. His elder daughter, Princess Estrid, is expected to ascend to the throne.  His younger daughter, Princess Elsaflor, is promised in marriage to Prince Kinled, the son of King Bale, in the neighboring land of Seolan. 

Trucaster, like many of the lands on Ionus, has arable land which is farmed for a variety of crops, including wheat, corn, barley, cotton, and flax.  Most farms also have animals such as cattle, pigs, and horses.  It is, in many regards, very like to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe.  The towns and cities in the land produce goods such as woven cloth, garments, wagons, and metal working.  The people of Trucaster, and indeed every land in Ionus (with the exception of Pyric) are friendly and welcoming to strangers and travelers.   Most of the ruling class are decent and fair, treating their populace with dignity.  Rarely do they abuse their power, and those that do have been found to be the victims of sudden uprisings by the peasantry (and sometimes even the nobles). 

I rubbed my eyes and stretched.  I felt like I was back in college, studying for some world history final exam.  I looked up at the television, not having paid close attention to what was playing.  It took me a moment to recognize it as “Thor: The Dark World.”  I remembered going to see it in the theater when it was first released.  It was towards the end, I realized, at the part where the openings between the worlds were aligning.  The Convergence or something. 

I snorted.  Now I knew how that female scientist must have felt, when she discovered the other worlds.  But at least I only had six other planets to keep track of.  She had nine realms.  I wondered how much of my new world and this fantasy world were going to collide.
But I was tired after all of that reading.  I stuck a piece of folded paper into the binder to mark my place, then put it and the entire box away up on a shelf in the closet in the spare bedroom.  I turned off the TV and went to bed.

The next morning, I realized that I had promised Mark to have lunch with him next week, and next week I was likely to be off gallivanting on another planet.  Not that I could tell him that.  But I thought perhaps I would see if he would meet me either today or tomorrow for lunch.  It might help to keep me grounded, as I was quickly feeling as if everything was getting a little bit out of control.
What on earth was I doing?  I looked at my official Mordant Consulting employee badge, and thought about the binders filled with information about worlds largely unknown to the general population.  I must have been insane to have accepted Alistair’s offer!
I shook my head.  No, I was not insane.   I needed a change.  I felt like I had been getting too complacent, too settled, too used to routine.  I needed something new, and this definitely counted as something new. 

I did some work around the apartment, basic housework chores, then about ten o’clock I called Mark. 

“Human Resources, this is Mark,” he answered his phone just as I remembered, but he sounded exhausted.

“Mark, it’s Rebekah.”

His voice perked up immediately.  “Hello!  How are you?  Did you follow up on those opportunities that I gave you the other day?”

“No,” I admitted, “something else came along.  Sort of dropped into my lap, you might say.  And I start on Monday morning, so our lunch date for next week is in jeopardy.  Do you want to move it up to today or even tomorrow?”

“Let’s do today,” he said.  “I am going to pull my hair out if I have to sit in this office and eat another Lean Cuisine.”

“Great,” I said.  “Where do you want to go?”

“Something homey,” was his reply. 

We met at Panera Bread.  It was homey enough for the comfort food that Mark was looking for.   I ordered a bowl of potato soup and a salad, and Mark had a bowl of chili. 

Once we had our food and were seated, Mark eyed me.  “So,” he said, breaking up crackers and stirring them into his chili, “something came up?”

I nodded.  “Yes.”

“Fell into your lap, you say,” he commented.

I nodded again, and swallowed a spoonful of soup.  “It really did,” I said in agreement.  “When we last spoke, I was at a coffee shop.  I met a gentleman there, and he ultimately offered me a job.”

Mark raised both eyebrows.  “And you accepted?”

“I did.”

“Wow, that was fast.  What is it?”

“Human resources consultant,” I answered.

He cocked his head and looked at me.  “Where?”

“Mordant Consulting.”  It was almost surprising how quickly and easily the lie rolled off my tongue.  Of course, it was not really a lie.  I really DID work for Mordant.  I just did not necessarily do what I said I did.

Mark made a sort of a humph sound, one of surprise.  “Huh.  I had not heard about that one.”

I looked at him.  “Have you heard of them?  Of Mordant?”

He nodded.  “Oh, sure.  Government contracting.  IT.  But they’re pretty small, dealing mostly with contract employees, not direct hires.  I had no idea they had an active human resources department.”

I gave a slight smile.  “Maybe not before,” I said, “but I think that is about to change.”

Mark nodded thoughtfully.  “Keep me in mind?” he asked.

I almost laughed at the idea.  “Things not going well at SynerGreen?”

He shook his head.  “No.  Not well at all.  I am getting the idea that the company itself is not going to last much longer.”

That gave me pause for thought.  I considered Mark while I finished my soup.  Would he make a good agent, a good addition to G. R. I. M. M.?  Then I stopped. Why was I even thinking of that?  I was not even sure that I would make a good agent, Alistair’s opinion notwithstanding.  I could not even consider the possibility of dragging a former colleague, one that I liked and respected, into this situation until I had been there long enough to formulate my own opinions.

In any case, I smiled and nodded.  “If things ever start ramping up, I will let you know.”

We walked out to our cars together.  The cool autumn air swirled between the rows of vehicles, and lifted my hair.  Such a stark contrast to the warm spring weather in Trucaster.  I was eager to get home and finish my research, in preparation for Monday morning.

“Take care, Rebekah,” Mark said.  He surprised me by opening his arms and reaching for me, giving me a quick hug.  “Keep in touch.”

I smiled, returning the hug gently.  “You, too,” I said.  “Do not let them drive you too crazy.”

“I won’t.”

Once I was back home, I took the box of binders down and went back to the living room, settling on the sofa.  I flipped back to where I had left off the night before and started to read.

The land of Seolan neighbors Trucaster to the west.  King Bale rules there, with his wife Queen Leonanne.  The two rule the land jointly, with Queen Leonanne handling many of the financial aspects of the land.  The have three children, the eldest being a son, Prince Kinled.  The two younger girls are Princess Sierra and Princess Kala. Both daughters live primarily at a religious enclave outside of the capital city, where they receive their schooling.

To the south is the land of Peremor, the only land on Ionus that is ruled solely by a female ruler.  Queen Sembryl is young, not even thirty years of age (as of Earth year 2014), and has chosen to not marry, to rather devote all of her time and energy toward the ruling of the Kingdom.  She has not yet divulged her plans for a line of succession.

South of Peremor is Daresta.  Daresta was originally two separate lands, Daresta and Titus.  However, approximately 100 Earth years ago, prior to G. R. I. M. M. making contact with this world, the King of Titus made war upon the land of Daresta shortly after the death of their King, King Obinad.  However, King Obinad’s eldest son, Prince Keton, rallied the people, stopped the invasion and turned the tables on the forces of Titus.  King Allon of Titus was killed upon the field of battle, whereupon the captains of his army and the noble lords of Titus surrendered.  It was revealed later that King Allon had been a tyrant, and his land was in serious trouble.  While clearing out the castle – which had been turned into a battle fortress by the late King – they discovered the daughter of King Titus, Princess Thera, held prisoner in a dungeon cell, seemingly upon the orders of her father.  The new King, King Keton, felt compassion for the young woman, and took her under his protection.  He then offered to absorb the entire land of Titus under his protection, and if the nobility agreed, he would not pursue judgment against them.  They agreed.

One year later, King Keton married Princess Thera, and they ruled long together.  As such, Daresta is the richest province on that world, as Keton discovered vast deposits of mineral ore and precious metals in the mountain ranges of the former land of Titus. Daresta is known throughout Ionus for their fine metal working and weaponry, which is sought after greatly by men at arms in all lands.

To the southwest of Daresta is the small kingdom of Xenia.  They are a relatively poor land, in comparison to the other lands, as they had been forced for many years to pay tribute to King Titus.  Despite the century of time since the destruction of Titus and the liberation of its people, The Xenians have not fully recovered. This is due mostly to their refusal to accept assistance or trade from Daresta (or any other land), as they have become a deeply suspicious people.  They are the only land on Ionus that is not fully accepting of visitors, though they will allow them to travel through their land.  Daresta has attempted several times to establish a trade port on their southwestern coast, as it would mean a shorter trip to Pyric, but the current ruler, King Brandar has been largely unsuccessful.  It is not currently known who sits upon the throne in Xathe, the capital city of Xenia.  The last known ruler was King Khury.  Contact was made by a G. R. I. M. M. agent in 1972, but no further news has come from that land.  King Brandar of Daresta has refused to name their leader, stating he does not feel comfortable in violating the confidence and trust of their ruler at this time.

Wow.  Politics.  I sighed.  But, then, I knew what I was getting into when I accepted Alistair’s offer.  But, in truth, it was not so different from corporate America.  There was politics there, too.  Not government politics, but politics nonetheless.  And if I could handle their politics, I could handle this too.

The rest of the binder contained information about travel options between the different lands.  It came as little surprise to find that the typical mode of travel between different lands was horse drawn carriage.  The roads were well maintained, on order of the various Kings and/or Queens.  Inns, which provided food and shelter for travelers, were situated in each village, as well as at major crossroads and other critical points along well traveled routes.  Each land promised the safety of travelers, and guaranteed it through judicious patrols of the roads between villages. 

The common currency was, as Alistair had mentioned earlier, gold and silver coinage.  It occurred me to that I would probably need some of their currency, if I was to effectively operate within that world.   I made a mental note to ask Alistair about it on Monday morning, then decided that a written list of final questions might be the better option.

I grabbed a note pad and pen, and flipped back through the binder, trying to organize my thoughts.  I started to make my list of questions:

1.   Will I receive funds in the currency commonly used on Ionus?
2.   Do I have a budget for travel, if my investigations require me to go to other lands?
3.   Will I have an option for housing, should it assist in my investigation?
4.   What is the procedure for requesting assistance should my investigations lead me into Pyric territory?

I frowned, and looked at the list again.  Travel.  Horse drawn carriage might be appropriate and fine between different lands, but what about just going between villages?  Surely for shorter trips like that, it would make more sense to either walk, or ride on my own.  There also might be times when I would want – or need – to travel incognito.  I would have to discuss getting a horse.

And, I would have to learn how to ride.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #23 on: Sun, Nov 16, 2014, 04:30 PM »
Chapter Ten

The first thing I did the next morning was look up information on horseback riding lessons in Colorado Springs.  I had never been on the back of a horse, never really even interacted with one, but I knew that was going to change very quickly.  And it was probably better that my first time on a horse be on Earth, in a controlled environment, than in the middle of nowhere between Trucaster and Seolan.

I selected Raptor Ridge Horseback Riding Instruction, and called them about weekend lessons.  The woman I spoke to was pleasant and informative, and she did have an opening on late Saturday afternoon, and early Sunday morning.

I requested an individual lesson for both days. 

Obviously, my request surprised her.  I guessed that not many people needed immediate horseback riding lessons.

“Both days?” she asked, trying to confirm.

“Both days,” I said.  I knew I needed to casually explain away this sudden desire for lessons.  I gave a little laugh.  “I must sound crazy,” I said, “but I am going overseas on business, and one of my international partners has organized a trip on horseback as an excursion.  I have never been on a horse before, and would prefer to not completely embarrass myself in front of an important client.”

It seemed my explanation was enough for her.  She laughed as well.  “I was wondering!” she said.  “May I ask where you are going?”

“London,” I said.  It was the first place overseas that came into my mind, probably because it was the only place overseas I had ever been.  “I believe we will be riding across Salisbury Plain, to go past Stonehenge.”

“Oh, how lovely,” she said.  “I’m jealous!  But at the very least I can offer you this: given your situation, I will do something a little different than my usual beginners class.  I will give you instruction on what to do in case you find yourself with a difficult or fractious horse, how to keep your seat, and how to get out of certain situations.”

That sounded like a plan to me.  “Excellent,” I said.  “I will see you tomorrow afternoon at four thirty.”

But before I could focus on that, I needed something else: clothing.  New clothes for a new job.   It was not anything terribly unusual, but normally I would be buying business suits and blouses and dress shoes.  Instead, I was buying jeans, durable khaki pants, a good pair of walking shoes, and a good pair of hiking boots, which would function quite well for riding.

My weekend riding lessons were instructive as well as fun.  The instructor, and owner of the ranch, was Mindy, an expert in horsemanship, and teaches both Western and English disciplines to both children and adults.  And she was not just going to teach me how to get on and off a horse, and what to do in between.  She started off with insisting that I learn how to properly groom a horse, and also how to both saddle and bridle my mount.  She had me start off on a huge horse that looked to me like it was better off pulling a wagon filled with Budweiser. 

But Mindy was insistent.  “Bob is a calm, placid horse,” she said.  “You will learn much about the movements that your horse will make, and feel how your own body responds.  That is far easier to do on a horse that isn’t trying to test its rider.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Test its rider?  As in, test me?”

Mindy nodded seriously.  “Horses are incredibly intelligent creatures,” she explained, handing me Bob’s reins.  “They know when they have somebody on their back who is not very experienced.  Some, like Bob, really don’t care, and will do whatever you ask of them, as long as you give them a carrot afterward.”

“I hope you have carrots,” I said.

She laughed.  “Of course.  But as I was saying, some will do whatever you like, regardless of your level of mastery.  Others will take advantage of that.  What I am going to teach you is how to, in essence, fake your level of experience to the horse, and what to do in events where an ornery horse attempts to push the envelope with you.”

She was right about the first thing: riding the gigantic Bob was like riding a bicycle.  He went forward when I wanted him to, he slowed down and stopped when I asked him to, he turned in whatever direction I asked.  Mindy taught me two different styles of reining: neck reining and split reining. 

“You have more control of the horse when you are split reining,” she said, guiding my hands.  “But you do not have the option to brace yourself with your spare hand.  So you need to work hard on your body posture.  Sit up straight as you can and grip hard with your knees.”

I must say, for my first time ever riding a horse, I think I did pretty good.  I got the gentle and complacent Bob up to a good trot on several occasions, and his size did help me to understand his movements, and the movements I should make in response.

After two hours, Mindy declared that we were done for the evening.  I dismounted (with the help of an extra high mounting block), and led Bob back along the rows of stables to his own box, where I fed him the requisite carrots, removed his saddle and bridle, and brushed him down. 

“Tomorrow,” Mindy said, “we will get you onto a smaller and more spirited horse, so I can show you what to do if a horse attempts to wrest control away from you.  Then you will be able to handle yourself on your business trip, and perhaps even impress your colleagues with your knowledge.”

After I paid for the lesson, Mindy said, “By the way, I do not know if you will realize it, but you will be sore tomorrow.  Very sore.  You  have been using muscles today that you have never used before, and you will feel it tomorrow.”

I grimaced.  How was I supposed to come back the next morning if I was too stiff to move?

Mindy had an answer for that.  “Take a nice, hot bath tonight,” she suggested, “with Epsom salts.  And take some anti inflammatory medications, Advil, Aleve, whatever you prefer.  Take some in the morning as well.”

I had Aleve at home in my medicine cabinet, but not Epsom salts, so I made a pit stop at the drug store on my way home.  While there, I also picked up a tube of Icy Hot, for I could already feel the soreness in my thigh muscles. 

The next morning, it was just as Mindy had predicted.  When I awoke, I found I could barely move.  Every muscle in my body was protesting, and I had to roll out of bed in order to stand.  I had enough time, so I took another hot bath with Epsom salts, and Aleve.    I felt better afterwards, not as sore, though I was still a bit stiff.  But I thought that would improve as I got up and started moving around.
Mindy certainly put me through all of the paces that morning at the ranch.  But I learned a lot.  The horse she had me working with was a female American quarter horse named Sheba, and she was every bit as spirited as my instructor had promised.  In the beginning, she was extremely difficult to handle, and did push the envelope, as Mindy had said, at every opportunity.  But after two hours, I was confidently guiding her around the ring, moving her between different gaits with surprising ease.

“I think you will do all right,” said Mindy.  “You have a bit of a streak of stubbornness, and that helps too.  You just have to out stubborn your mount.”

I only hoped her assessment was accurate.

I was still sore after lunch, so I called around to various spas in the area, and secured an appointment for a massage later in the afternoon.  I hoped it would work out the knots and the soreness so I could be on my best in the morning.

Monday morning, I presented myself at G. R. I. M. M.’s office at precisely eight thirty in the morning.  Alistair was already there, and he greeted me warmly.

“Ready to get started?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.  I was still a little sore, but not in any appreciable pain.  “But I have a couple of questions.”

I reviewed my list of concerns with Alistair.  He nodded soberly.  “Yes, we will issue you with a per diem, in the local currency where you are investigating your case.  In your case, since you are new, you will likely wish for now to return to Earth through the Ionus Gateway and sleep here.  At least for now.  As you grow more comfortable with Ionus – or whichever world you are on – you may elect to stay for extended periods.  And, as you pointed out, if you do travel, it may not be feasible to return on a regular basis.”

He stood and went over to a large safe that was secured into the foundation of the building.   He dialed it open, and removed a small leather pouch.  He closed the safe and returned to the desk, and handed me the pouch.  “Here is your first per diem,” he said.  “It contains ten gold pieces, and fifteen silver pieces.  Should be more than enough for you for this week, I should think.  But if you run up on any difficulties, please let me know.  If necessary, we can extend additional funds to you.”

I nodded, then considered the pouch.  I was not sure how I was going to carry this around without attracting attention from the general population.  Alistair seemed to understand.  “Get a belt and tie it around your waist underneath your shirt.  Then attach the pouch to that belt.”

I frowned.  “I do not have a spare belt,” I said.

“No matter,” said Alistair.  “In our office in Sixshire, there is a small closet which has a supply of materials which may be of assistance, including some period clothing.  Feel free to take what you need from there, and return it when you no longer have need of it.”

Alistair handed me a set of keys.  “These are keys to this office and the office in Sixshire. The Gateway is operated by a passcode, not a key, but I still must impress upon you the importance of carefully locking up behind you.  It would not do to have curious villagers poking around in there.”

I took a deep breath.  I was about to embark on my very first day as a private fairy tale investigator.

Alistair stood and gestured toward the door which hid the Gateway.  “All set?  Well, let me show you how this elegant piece of machinery works.” 

He gestured for me to unlocked the door with the keys he had just provided to me, and then had me lock it behind us.
“Now,” he said.  “The Gateway is rather simple to operate.  It responds to the biometric readings of each Agent, your passcode, and destination programming.”

“My biometric readings?”

“We shall program them into the Gateway now,” Alistair said.

I frowned.  “Will the other Gateways pick it up?” I asked.  “If not, will I be trapped over there?”

He shook his head.  “This is the primary Gateway; when you travel through it, for the first time, your biometric readings and passcode will transmit with you.  After that, they will be stored within each Gateway, until such time as you yourself delete them.”

“Why is that?” I asked. “Under what circumstances would I wish to delete my own information?”

“Should you terminate your employment with G. R. I. M. M.” was his reply.  “We have it set up so that no one Agent’s biometrics can be removed by any other individual.  It is for your own safety, so you do not find yourself trapped on another world, unable to return or report.”

I considered that.  “Has that ever happened before?” I asked.

Alistair shook his head.  “No.  We screen our recruits very carefully.”

I cocked my head at that.  “You did not seem to screen me very carefully.”

He smiled thinly.  “You have no idea how I screened you.”

That admission stopped me in my tracks.  I went back to his words, about how he had listened to my talk at the Society of Human Resources Professionals meeting.  Perhaps Alistair and G. R. I. M. M. had been watching me for longer than I had originally thought.  The idea was… unsettling.

I dismissed that train of thought immediately.  “What happens if… you know… I die? Or an agent dies?”

He shrugged.  “If you – or another Agent – dies, then their information can no longer be used to access the Gateway.  It is as simple as that.  The Gateway requires a living, conscious operator.”

Well, at least I knew I was safe from being trapped, should the unthinkable happen, and an agent go rogue.  Then something else occurred to me.

“What happens if an agent goes rogue?  If his or her information can only be deleted by the agent, what do you do if you have to, you know, fire one of them?  Stop them from going someplace?’

Alistair’s face was hard as stone.  “If we cannot stop them, then they must be killed.”

I swallowed.  “And… would such a task fall to….” I gulped, to get the words out.  “… the Reaper?”

His face relaxed somewhat.  “Not at this time.  At the moment, such a task would fall to me.  But in the future…. Well, we shall have to see.”

I took a deep breath and nodded.  Then, I realized that I did not know his code name.  He had not revealed it to me at dinner, when he had revealed the others’.

I looked at him.  “What is your code name?” I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know.

He looked at me.  “Executor.”

Oh that really did not make me comfortable.

Alistair seemed to sense my discomfort.  He quickly changed the subject, returning to our original discussion.  “So.  Place your right palm into the device, here.”  He indicated a slot about five inches wide, and two inches high, set into the control box to the right of the doorway.

I did so, and the box glowed green for a moment, and then faded. 

“Excellent,” he said.  “Your biometric profile has been loaded and activated.  Now, you enter your passcode.  I will not voice it.  Watch as I do so now.”

He pressed four buttons on the control panel, and I carefully committed them to memory.  The buttons were arranged in three rows of three, similar to a numeric keypad on a computer keyboard.  4 – 2 – 2 – 5 was my code. 

“That is your code,” Alistair said.   “Finally, you enter your requested destination.  In your case, you are traveling to Ionus.  That destination is this button.”

He gestured at me to press it, and once I did, the Gateway hummed to life as before.  “There you are,” he said.  “You are all set to go.”
I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what was to come.

He glanced back at me.  “Do you know where you are going to start?”

I shrugged.  “Not really.”

He regarded me silently.  “Where would you start, if this was your previous job, and you were faced with tracking down information?”
I considered that for a moment.  “Well, I would have started by interviewing the affected individuals, and his or her colleagues, associates, and friends.”

He inclined his head graciously.  “That sounds like an excellent starting place to me."

I took a deep breath, and stepped through the Gateway.

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #24 on: Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 05:13 PM »
Chapter Eleven

It was just as I remembered from the last time, but I was better prepared.  I staggered slightly when I exited the Gateway on Ionus.  The room was the same, the Gateway quiescent behind me.  I left the room, carefully locking the door behind me as Alistair has ordered.
My first order of business was not, as he would have thought, interviewing people.  Instead, I found the closet he had mentioned and dug through it until I had found suitable garb for this world, similar to what Cassandra, the proprietor of The High Heel House had been wearing.  I chose for myself a long skirt, dyed green, a white blouse, and a brown dyed leather vest.  The skirt had deep pockets on either side, which I thought would be perfect for carrying my money (something I had been worried about). 

I checked the front door, and it was locked, so I changed in the office and hung the jeans and shirt in the closet.  As I was doing so, I found a pair of leather boots in the back of the closet.  I felt them, they seemed to be sturdy enough, and might look better than the hiking boots I was currently wearing.  I made a quick decision and changed boots, too.  At least now I would look exactly like a resident of Ionus and Sixshire.

I left the building and locked the door carefully behind me. 

I strode purposefully down the cobbled street toward the High Heel House.  Instead of sitting down outside, I went ahead inside.
Cassandra saw me immediately.  She cocked her head.  “Rebekah, is it?  You were here the other day, with Alistair, yes?”

I smiled and nodded.  “Yes, Cassandra, I was.”

“I have known Alistair for years, ever since I was a girl and my mother owned this place.  So I am familiar with who he is, and what he does.  And what, I therefore assume, you do as well.”  She smiled.  “Are you hear for tea, or for information?”

I smiled back.  “Both,” I said.  “Tea first, and then I have some questions for you.”

She brought me a mug.  “This is a different brew,” she said.  “I call it Jasmine Pearl.”

The tea was good, though I think I preferred the Toadstool Tea I had had the last time, with Alistair.  This had a more flowery essence, though it was still good.  Cassandra pushed a plate of pastries across the counter towards me.

“So,” she said.  “Now you have your tea.  What information do you need?”

 I took another sip of tea.  “I am looking for a woman named Ramona,” I said.  “Do you know her.”

Cassandra nodded.  “I do, the poor thing.”  She looked at me curiously.  “Does this have anything to do with Giles?”

“It might,” I admitted. 

“Well,” she said, “everybody in the village knows what happened.  Giles left her one day and went to live with another woman in Dorae.”

“Where is Dorae?” I asked.

“It is a village about a half a day’s travel east of here,” she replied.  “Dorae is known for its wool, they have many farmers who raise sheep and alpaca.  The woman Giles is with now is said to own the largest herd of alpaca in all of Trucaster.”

I nodded.  “Has Giles married her, then?”

Cassandra shrugged.  “I do not think so, though it is possible.  Two months ago, Ramona petitioned the King for a divorce, which he granted.”

“Was that when he ordered Giles to pay…” I discarded the term ‘child support,’ “restitution?”

She shook her head.  “Oh, no, the King ordered that three months earlier.”

“How long ago did Giles leave her?” I asked.

“Almost eight months,” was Cassandra’s reply.

“How has she been providing for herself and the children since that time?” I asked.

Cassandra shrugged.  “She does some work for some of the families in town,” she replied.  “But her youngest is still nursing, the boy was born about a month before Giles left.”

“So he’s about nine months old,” I mused.  “Not even a year old.”

“No, poor babe,” said the woman sadly.  “And no father to help raise him.  So, as I said, Ramona does some work for the townspeople, and she mends clothes for the men.  And many of us send food home to the children.”

“So she has been dependent on your goodwill for the better part of a year.”

Cassandra nodded. 

I finished my tea and rose from the stool.  “Thank you, Cassandra.  I need to be going now.”

“Good luck,” she said.

I turned back.  “One more thing,” I asked her.  “Where does Ramona live? Where is her house?”

Cassandra pointed out the door.  “Go down the main road, south, past the garden, until you come to the crossroads.  Turn west and walk until you reach the outskirts.  Ramona’s home is the last house on the north side.  It is brown, three stories, with yellow trim.”

“Thank you.”

I followed her directions, walking quickly through the warm spring air. Trees lined the road, and birds flitted through the branches, singing.  The air was fresh and pure.  Colorado air was some of the freshest I had ever breathed in, but this had it beat by a long shot.  It made sense, they  had little pollution on this planet.  It was a shame our own world could not figure out how to get this for ourselves.
 The crossroads were easy to identify.  The main road, still cobbled, met with another, and the junction was large and had large fir trees standing at three of the corners.  On the fourth, a large shoe rose up, with a sign hanging above the door.  It read “Solomon’s Slipper” – I guessed this was one of the inns that Alistair had mentioned.  Along one side of the inn, a row of covered stables stood, with two horses housed there. 

I turned right, and continued down the lane.  This road was cobbled, as was the main road in the village, but as I continued on, the cobbles ended and I moved onto a firm, dirt packed avenue.  The houses here were different than the ones I had seen.  They were less decorative, most painted in shades of brown, green, and yellow (rather than the blues and reds and purples of the business district). 
About ten minutes later, I saw the house I was looking for.  As Cassandra had said, it was the last one on the north, or right, side of the lane.  It was brown, but the color was faded and peeling.  The yellow trim had not been repainted, either, and was dingy and dull.  There were flower beds lining the front of the shoe, which looked like a large work boot, but instead of flowers, the soil was choked with weeds.
There was a small brass bell hanging from the upper right corner of the front door, with a frayed red braided rope hanging from it.  I pulled gently on the rope, and the bell jangled.

I heard foot steps, and the door opened.  A woman who looked to be about forty years old stood there.  Her dark hair, streaked with gray, was tied back in a simple bun.  Several stray wisps of hair were sticking out in several directions.  Her eyes were red rimmed, with dark circles under them.  I could hear a baby crying in the background.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Good day,” I said.  “I am looking for Ramona.”

“I am Ramona,” she said.  She hesitated, then asked, “Did the King send you?”

I was not certain how to answer that question.  “Uh… actually, I am here on behalf of Alistair Carruthers.”

Ramona stepped back and opened the door wider.  “Oh, yes, please, come in, come in.”

I walked through the door, which Ramona closed behind us.  She beckoned to me.  “Come in and sit by the fire,” she said.  “Would you care for tea?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” I said.  “Very kind of you, but I am not thirsty at the moment.”

She led me down a short hall and into a large and surprisingly well appointed kitchen.  A small fire crackled merrily on the stone hearth.  Dried herbs hung from the wooden rafter beams over head, along with bundles of onions, garlic, and other root vegetables. 

“Please, sit down,” she urged me, scooting one of the wooden chairs at the large table around for me.  I sat down, and she took a seat opposite me.  She fiddled with the hem of her vest.  “How can I help you?”

“I take it you know Alistair?” I questioned her. 

She nodded.  “Oh, yes.  He spoke to me the day the King handed down the decree for… for Giles to provide for the children.”

“What did he say you to?”

She gave a little shrug.  “That if there were… difficulties… that I should send a message to him via the King’s messenger.”

“And I take it there have been difficulties.”

She nodded again.  “Yes.  Giles has been… most unwilling… to provide for his children.”  Her brown eyes filled with tears, and her mouth was a hard line.  “I would not mind, so much, were it just for myself.  But these children have done nothing to deserve this.  He promised when we married that he would provide for me and for any children we happened to have.”

“And he has not lived up to that promise.”

She shook her head.  “No, he most certainly has not.”

“So,” I said, “as I understand it, Giles was supposed to pay an amount equal to fourteen pieces of gold per week.  Is that correct?”

She nodded.

“And that order was handed down approximately six months ago?”

She nodded again.

“And that was two months after he had left, correct?”

She nodded again, tears beginning to stream down her face.

“Did the King intend for the weeks between the time Giles left and the time the decree was set to be included in that decree?”

“No,” she said.  “Because it was difficult for the King to discover when, exactly, he left.   The neighbors claimed that they saw him here during that time.”

I frowned.  “Did you see him here?  Around your house?  Or in town?”

She shook her head.  “No.  He told me he was doing to Dorae on business.  And then… he never came back.  I waited and waited, and the children waited and cried for him at night.  But he never came back to us.”

“Has Giles paid anything to you as a result of the decree?”

“No, not so much as a single silver piece,” she replied.

I had one final question.  “Ramona,” I said, “do you know where Giles is now?  Where is he living?”

She shuddered a little.  “I… I do not know for certain,” she said at last.  “There is talk in the town that he is living with a woman in Dorae.  But I have no proof of this, and I cannot go there myself to find out.”

I leaned over and patted her hand.  “That is my job, Ramona.  I will go and look for you.”

She smiled.  “Thank you.”

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #25 on: Tue, Nov 18, 2014, 06:23 AM »
So her first job is catching a scofflaw, huh?  I hope she kicks his ass..

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #26 on: Sat, Nov 22, 2014, 12:54 PM »
Chapter Twelve

After Ramona had showed me out, I started to walk back toward the main part of town.  I had a vague thought of checking in with the King to get his perspective.  Lost in thought, I did not notice the woman in the yard of the shoe house right next to Ramona’s until the woman hailed me with a cheerful greeting.

“Good day to you, friend!” a voice called.

I looked up, then over to where a plump woman stood in her yard.  She had a basket filled with freshly laundered cloth – either sheets or table clothes, I thought – and was hanging them up over lines strung between two stout apple trees. 

I smiled and returned the greeting.  “And a good day to you as well!”  I walked back over to her side of the road, where the hard packed dirt ran right up to the white picket fence surrounding her property.  The woman, seeing me approach, set down the cloth she had been hanging up and picked her way through the grass to meet me at the fence.

“I have not seen you in these parts before,” she said.

I inclined my head.  “No, I am visiting,” I explained, without going into detail.  “I have business with the King.”

She nodded gravely.  “King Robion is a good King,” she said.  “He is just and fair to his people, even those who do not necessarily deserve it.”

It might have been my imagination, but I thought I saw her eyes dart toward Ramona’s house.

“Oh, come now,” I said.  “I have not been in your village long, but I find it hard to believe that anybody here would be undeserving of such respect.  I have found your people to be open, welcoming, and forthright.”

“And most are,” she said agreeably.  “But every town has its undesirables.”

“If you do,” I said, with genuine honestly, “then I cannot say that I have met them here.”

“And I hope you do not have cause to,” she said.  “Those of us who have been residents of Sixshire for generations have a deep pride for our village.  It is others, these newcomers, who do us such disservice.”

“Well,” I said, “perhaps you should enlighten me.  I would not want to cause offense to any without knowing.”

She leaned forward to whisper.  “The house just alongside mine.  It was a sad day for the neighborhood when SHE turned up.”

“Why is that?  What did she do?”

The woman shook her head and pulled her shawl close around her shoulders.  “She just likes to stir up trouble.  We do not need that sort here.”

She adjusted her shawl again, and I took notice.  It was a beautiful shawl, finely woven of a rich plum colored thread.  The edges were scalloped and tiny gems sparkled along the hem.

“That is a beautiful shawl,” I commented.  “May I?” I asked, reaching out as if to finger the weave.

She eagerly held out one corner for me to feel.  “Is it not beautiful?” she gushed.  “It is the work of Alessandra of Dorae, the finest weaver of alpaca wool in Trucaster!”

Alpaca wool.    Cassandra had said something about the woman Giles was living with as owning a flock of alpaca.  “Oh,” I said, “I have heard of her!  This is truly her work?  Simply marvelous!  And so soft!”

“Like a cloud,” the woman agreed, obviously boastful. 

“It must have been terribly expensive,” I offered.

The woman looked around again. “It was a gift,” she said, “but Alessandra’s shawls cost at least fifteen gold pieces each.”

Math had never been my strong suit, but that was more than the amount that Giles had been ordered to pay per week.  Either Giles was getting off lightly, or these shawls were incredibly expensive.  I was betting on the latter.

“Well, I wish I was as lucky as you, to get a gift such as that.  It is truly a remarkable piece of clothing.  I should like one for myself.”
“Then when you have concluded your business,” she said, “if you have time, and your travels take you near Dorae, you simply must go and see her selections for yourself.  But they are expensive,” she warned.  “Not just anybody can afford one.”

“I will be sure to have at least a look,” I promised.  “Now, I must be going.  I am going to be late.”

The woman turned back toward her laundry.  “Safe travels!” she called.

I continued down the lane, mulling over the conversation.  It was obvious the woman, whoever she was, had not seen me leave Ramona’s house.  From where she had been standing, her house would have blocked any view she might have had of Ramona’s front yard.  And she had not been outside when I had first approached. 

It seemed odd, though, that for such an apparently expensive garment, that anybody would do something as earthy as hanging up laundry while wearing the equivalent of a week’s worth of pay.  Especially if ‘not just anybody’ could afford one. I would have wagered that the woman I had spoken to could not have afforded to buy one.  But she had one, and was wearing it for everyday work.  nteresting.

I wondered again if this Alessandra was the one Giles was shacking up with.  Now I had another place to go – I was still going to see the King, but after that, my journey was going to take me to Dorae.

I reached the crossroads, and on impulse, went into the inn.  The interior was fashioned out of dark wood, lit by dozens of lanterns hanging from the ceiling.  It was empty except for a man about my age, I guessed, well dressed by Sixshire standards.  He was sitting at a table with a glass of wine in front of him.

The Inkeeper, an rough looking older man, was standing behind the counter wiping glasses with a thin rag.  “Good day!” he said as I entered.  “How can I help you?”

“Directions,” I replied.  “I am a stranger here, and I have business with the King.  How might I get to the castle?”

“Oh, that is easy enough,” he said.  He came out from behind the bar.  “Come, I will show you.”  He led me back out the front door, and onto the cobbles of the main road. 

He pointed.  “Just follow the main road up for half a mile or so.  It winds around that big hill, there, on the left.  The castle is on the other side of the hill.  You will not be able to see it from here, but once you round that first bend, it will come into sight.”

“Thank you,” I said. 

“Any time, good lady,” he said.  “And if, in the future, you are in need of food or rest, just remember Solomon and Solomon’s Slipper.”

“And you are Solomon, I take it?” I asked.

“I am,” he replied, “the third of that name, and to hold forth here at the inn at the crossroads.”

“Well,” I said, “I may be in need in the very near future.  I will certainly remember you.”

He waved me off, and I started up the main road.  As I walked, I reflected that the boots I had taken from the closet in the G. R. I. M. M. office her were really easy on the feet.  I would have expected my feet to be sore from all this walking, but they hardly hurt at all.  I was not going to have blisters, either, which was better news that I had originally hoped for.

Just as the Innkeeper had said, the road began to curve between some sets of hills, and as I came around the bend in the road, I saw the castle.  The road forked, with part leading off toward the south and the other winding up to the castle.
It looked... like a castle.  Like you would expect to see in any Disney cartoon.  Gray stone walls, with large rounded corners.  The front two were buttressed, and I could see the spear tops of the wall guards and look outs.  The two in the rear were topped with conical roofs with red stone shingles.  There was even a moat surrounding the castle, and a large drawbridge. 

Just like Disney.

I headed up the path.  The drawbridge was down, and the entrance guarded by two pike wielding soldiers.  They watched me as I approached, but they did not seem to be threatened.

I drew near, just about ten or fifteen feet away, and they immediately crossed their pike staffs in front of me to bar my way.
“Halt!” the one on the right cried.  “Identify yourself, and state your business.”

“My name is Rebekah Black,” I said, “and I am a colleague and friend of Allistair Carruthers.  I seek an audience with King Robion.”

The crossed pikes were immediately withdrawn. 

“Enter,” the guard said.  “One of the squires in the entrance chamber will fetch an Advisor, who will gain your admittance.”

“Thank you,” I said cordially, and proceeded across the drawbridge. 

As soon as I passed through the high archway and into the castle proper, a young boy dashed up to me.  “Good day, Lady,” he said, a little breathlessly.  “How might I assist you?”

I smiled down at him.  “I am seeking an audience with the King. The guards said you would find an Advisor for me.”

“At once, my Lady!” the boy dashed off, down the hall, around the corner, and out of sight.

I stood there in the stone room, cool in the afternoon sunlight.  I paced a bit, looking at the magnificent portraits on the walls, the suits of armor – again, like it was out of Disney or something. 

I wonder which came first – our culture or theirs?  Is this an echo of our world, or did our world echo theirs?”

The slap of feet on stone brought me out of my musings, and I turned to see the young squire running back towards me.  “Advisor Perrin will be with you shortly, my Lady!” he called. 

“Thank you, young man.  May I know your name?”

He stood stiffly in front of me, and touched his cap with a finger.  “Squire Abraham, my Lady.”

“Well, Squire Abraham, you are a fine young man, dispatching your duties with speed and efficiency.”

“Thank you, my Lady!” He beamed at me and touched his cap again, then retreated to sit on a bench down another hallway.

A rustle of cloth turned my attention to the other side of the anteroom.  An older man had emerged from the shadows.  He wore a floor length robe of a deep reddish purple.  A golden sash was draped over his shoulders, and an ornate emblem hung from a golden chain to rest upon his chest.  He carried a leather packet that looked similar to a folio. 

He bowed toward me.  “Good day,” he greeted me.  “I am Advisor Perrin, chief advisor to King Robion. Might I inquire as to your name?”

“My name is Rebekah Black,” I replied politely.  “I am a colleague of Alistair Carruthers.”

“Ah!” Advisor Perrin’s manner moved from courtesy to a warmer regard.  He smiled broadly.  “Indeed, Alistair is well known to this court, and has been a good associate and friend to the King.  I presume you are the replacement for old Benjamin Haversham?”

I did not recognize the name, but I assumed he was the Agent who had recently retired.  I nodded.  “Yes.  Alistair has requested that I look into the matter of Giles and Ramona Travers.”

The Advisor nodded gravely.  “That is a sad situation,” he admitted, shaking his head.  “But we have limited resources with which to work to resolve such an issue, that sort of task being better suited to your talents, and the talents of your fellow colleagues.”

I looked at him curiously.  “What title do you – or would you – assign to somebody of my persuasion?” I asked.

“King Robion refers to Alistar as ‘Emissary’,” Advisor Perrin replied.  “And Mr. Haversham, when he was living and working here in Trucaster, was called either Minister or Praetor, depending upon the nature of the work he was doing on our behalf.”

I was somewhat surprised by this.  “He had different functions, then?” I asked.

“Not so much different functions as two parts of the same function,” he replied.  “Walk with me,” he said, “and I will show you around the castle while we speak.”

We moved off down the hall, stepping off the flagstones in the entrance onto thick, plush carpet, dyed a deep burgundy red.  “When Mr. Haverhsam was traveling throughout the region, and doing such things as the nature of his business required, he was referred to as Praetor.  But when he was holding forth with the King, who was passing judgment upon one brought before him as the result of Praetor Haversham’s actions, he was then referred to as Minister.  I would expect similar titles to be used for you as well.”

I nodded.  Advisor Perrin paused to open a set of gilded double doors on the left.  “This room is known as the Portrait Gallery.  It houses the framed portraits of every ruler of Trucaster, and his or her family.”

I stepped through the doors and gasped.  The ceiling rose high above our head and the towering walls were covered floor to ceiling with portraits, massive paintings hanging in golden worked frames.  Twin walkways, each spiraling about the room, allowed for closer examination of each and every portrait.  There were dozens here, I estimated. 

“The largest portraits are of the monarch,” Advisor Perrin explained.  “Smaller paintings are of siblings, younger children, and spouses.” 
I looked back at him.  “May I go up?” I asked, gesturing toward the stairs.

“By all means,” he said, seemingly delighted in my interest.  “Take all of the time you wish.”

I took the right hand staircase and slowly ascended, gazing raptly at the pictures on the wall as I rose.  The detail was exquisite, many of the figures seeming almost lifelike in their depictions.  Most were simple portraits as one might find in any art gallery from the European Renaissance on Earth – a single subject, either seated or standing, dressed in his or her finest clothing.  Rich fabrics draped the women, the men all cut dashing figures.  One or two, however, showed a person either riding or hawking, a slightly more demanding action pose.  But still beautiful and delicately realized.

I could have wandered about this room for hours, but I knew that time was pressing.  I wanted to meet with King Robion, and then consider my next move.  I still had not decided if I was going to stay here or return to Colorado Springs when night fell.   I suspected that our days and nights did not necessarily run the same between the worlds, and so keeping Earth hours for Ionus (or at least, Colorado Springs hours for Sixshire) might be too inefficient to be worthwhile.

I descended to where the Advisor stood, patiently waiting.  “Thank you,” I said.  “It is magnificent, and I would love to spend more time here, looking at these works, perhaps with somebody to give name to them, and share some stories or tales of their adventures.  But, time is pressing, and I need to speak to the King today.”

Advisor Perrin bowed slightly.  “Yes, I agree.  This way.  King Robion should be just finishing with the Ambassador from Seolan.”

“Ah,” I said.  The name of the country rang a bell, though I could not remember the King’s name, or precisely why it was important.  There was a liaison of some kind…. “Does it have to do with the betrothal of the younger princess?”

He seemed pleased that I knew.  “Yes, it does.  I believe they are discussing an arrangement to have Princess Elsaflor pay a visit to Seolan, and spend time with Prince Kinled, and see the land, and meet the rest of the family.”

“A wise idea,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “Mr. Haversham actually suggested that.  He stated that fostering a relationship between the two was in their best interests, before they got married.”

We had turned down another corridor while we had been talking, and now two extremely large doors rose up in front of us.  They were made of some sort of dark colored wood, with iron fastenings.  The doors were shut, and two attendant guards stood, armed with sword and shield, instead of pikes.

“Here we must wait,” said Advisor Perrin, “until the King has concluded his business with Ambassador Telan.”  He gestured toward a row of benches along the opposite wall, with burgundy cushions.  “Would you care to sit?” he asked.

“Not at the moment, thank you,” I replied.  “But if the wait is much longer, I may take you up on the offer.”

As it turned out, the wait was much shorter than anticipated.  Just moments after I had spoken, the doors creaked open and a richly dressed man emerged, with another man dressed similar to Advisor Perrin at his side.

“That is Advisor Morrey,” Advisor Perrin whispered to me.  “And the Ambassador from Seolan, Telan.”

I nodded.  The two men swept passed us, back in the direction from which we had just come.  The Ambassador did not so much as spare me a glance, but Advisor Morrey nodded politely to both of us, and said, “Madam.  Perrin.” 

“Morrey,” said Perrin by way of return. 

“Come, then,” said Advisor Perrin.  “I shall introduce you to King Robion.”

“Are there no others?” I asked.

“There are no other petitioners today,” answered Advisor Perrin.  “The King only accepts public petitions on Tuesdays.”

That did not help me much, as I was not entirely certain what day it was here in Ionus.  But I did not reveal my ignorance.  I merely followed in Advisor Perrin’s wake as he approached the door guards.

Both guards saluted.

“If you please,” said Advisor Perrin, “this is Lady Rebekah Black, the newest Praetor employed by Emissary Carruthers.”

The right hand guard immediately turned and entered the vast chamber beyond the door.  This was clearly the throne room.  It was laid out similar to a church or cathedral, with a long central aisle, carpeted in red plush, and rows of benches or pews on either side.  Large pillared columns rose, six on either side of the room, up to the peaked ceiling above.  At the far end of the room stood a raised dais, with three chairs of gilded metal.  The largest in the center was occupied by a man, his rich clothing clearly identifying him as the ruling monarch.   The chair on the right was vacant, but a young woman sat in the left hand chair.  She wore a simple gown of pale green, and a silver circlet on her head.

The guard led us down the aisle.    As we approached the dais, the guard said, formally, “Your Majesty.  Presenting Advisor Perrin, who brings Lady Rebekah Black, the new Praetor.”

Advisor Perrin knelt on one knee, glancing over at me as he did so.  I did not think it appropriate for me to kneel, and I was wearing a skirt, so instead I dipped a curtsy, silently thankful that I had watched period dramas on television.  It sort of kept the idea fresh in my mind!

“Thank you, Glorion,” the King said, in a low voice.  The guard turned smartly on his heel and strode back down the aisle, to return to his place at the door.  “Rise, Advisor Perrin.  Greetings to you, Lady Rebekah.  It is an honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“And yours, O King,” I said, feeling strangely like I was in some sort of play or theatrical reenactment.  “The Emissary, Alistair Carruthers, has spoken highly of you, and bid me come to introduce myself at the first opportunity.”

“And I am glad he did,” King Robion said, rising and coming forward off the dais.  He extended both hands, and clasped mine.  “Emissary Carruthers has been of immense value to me and to this land.  His previous colleague, Praetor Benjamin, was equally of assistance.  I am pleased that he has been able to fill our need so swiftly.”

“Thank you,” I replied.  “I hope that I am able to discharge  my duties to your satisfaction.”

“I am sure you will,” the King said graciously.  He then turned, and held out a hand to the young woman.  “Allow me to present Princess Estrid, my eldest daughter and heir.”

The Princess rose gracefully from her chair and walked slowly toward them.  She smiled as she drew near, a polite smile, yet one that was full of kindness, compassion, and warmth.  She held out her hands, and I clasped them.  “A true pleasure to meet you, Lady Rebekah,” she said.  “I know you will be an asset to us.” 

“I hope to be, Princess Estrid,” I replied fervently.

I turned back to her father.  “King Robion,” I asked, “I need to ask you about Giles and Ramona Travers.  It is the situation that Mr. Carruthers has requested that I investigate.”

The King nodded, suddenly serious again.  “Yes, let us discuss that for a moment.  Advisor Perrin, you may leave Praetor Rebekah under my care for a moment.  I will send her out when we are done.”

“Very well, your Majesty,” Advisor Perrin said, bowing slightly.  “Lady Rebekah, I shall await you outside.”  He departed, shutting the heavy double doors behind him.

Offline ban sidhe

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #27 on: Sat, Nov 22, 2014, 01:32 PM »
Love your descriptions of the buildings and people.  Certainly sets the mood!

Offline Montgomery Burns 13

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #28 on: Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 09:47 AM »
I second ban sidhe.

I looked up at the television, not having paid close attention to what was playing.  It took me a moment to recognize it as “Thor: The Dark World.”  [...]

I snorted.  Now I knew how that female scientist must have felt, when she discovered the other worlds.  But at least I only had six other planets to keep track of.  She had nine realms.

Love the reference to the movie!

Love your story and can hardly wait for the next chapter. :)

Who needs love when you've got a gun, who needs love to have some fun. Black Flag
Feelings are overrated. Dean Winchester

my fanfics

Offline Rage

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Re: [NaNoWriMo] Grimm's Reaper [PG-13] ONG/WIP
« Reply #29 on: Thu, Nov 27, 2014, 01:03 PM »
Yeah, I figured if you guys wanted Loki, that was the best I could do for you.  *wink wink*

Chapter Thirteen

“Sit down with me,” King Robion said, gesturing to the empty chair on his right.  “And let us discuss the sad situation of Ramona Travers.”
We sat.  The King gestured to Princess Estrid.  “Daughter,” he said.  “Would you relay to Praetor Rebekah all that transpired when the petitioner, Ramona Travers, came before our seat?”

She nodded.  “I will, Father.”  She turned to me.  “A villager of Sixshire, Ramona Travers, requested an audience with the King, regarding abandonment by her husband and the father of her children.  She reported that Giles had departed on business for the village of Dorae nearly two months prior and had not returned.  She had also received no word from him.”

“I see,” I said.  “Did you hear reports from any other villagers?”

Princess Estrid nodded.  “We did.  The Travers’ neighbor, a woman by the name of Lailah, spoke before the King and said that she had seen Giles in his yard just two days prior, and regularly in the weeks previous to that.”

“Contradicting what Ramona had told you,” I added.

“Yes,” Princess Estrid said. 

“And you had not been able to confirm either of their stories?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “No.  The other neighbors could not report on Giles whereabouts.”

“I heard a rumor that Giles is living with a woman in Dorae.  A woman who has a herd of alpacas.”

“Alessandra.  Yes, we have heard that rumor, too.”

I shrugged.  “Is there any truth to it that you know of?”

Both the King and the Princess shook their heads.  “We do not know.”  She cocked her head at me.  “That is what the Emissary and his allies are for.”

I smiled.  “So it is.  I just wanted to hear your perspective.”

The King inclined his head towards me.  “What will be your next step?”

I took a deep breath.  “I plan to journey to Dorae, visit Alessandra, and see for myself.”

The King rose.   It was apparent that our interview was now at an end.  It seemed appropriate; after all, I had asked my questions and declared my intentions.  There was nothing more to be learned here.

Both the King and Princess Estrid escorted me back to the entrance to the throne room.  “How do you plan to travel to Dorae?” King Robion asked. 

I had only vague thoughts of my travel plans.  “I assumed I could hire a coach,” I replied.

“And so you can,” he said.  “But if you intend to do any significant travel in Trucaster, or even on Ionus, I would suggest purchasing a horse of your own.  You will travel swifter, as well.  A coach slows down a horse’s top speed, and you will also stop at every inn and way side between your origin and your destination.”

“I see,” I said.  Indeed the thought had occurred to me, but I did not think I would be making such a major purchase so early on in my time here.  “I had considered it, of course, but not so soon.  How would you suggest I go about securing such an animal?”
It was Princess Estrid who answered. “Julian Staddle stables horses for hire, and also for sale.   He is a fair trader, and keeps good stock.  I would buy from no other in all of Trucaster.”

The King nodded.  “Indeed, Julian would be your best option.  Advisor Perrin can direct you.”  He rapped on the door, and the guards outside opened it.  Outside, Advisor Perrin stood patiently waiting.

“Perrin,” the King said, “please provide Praetor Rebekah with a token of mine, and direct her to Julian Staddle, the Horsemaster.”

“I will, my Lord.”

“Thank you for your time, you Majesty,” I said.  “And you, your Majesty,” I added, turning to Princess Estrid. 

“Good luck on your errand,” the Princess said. 

Advisor Perrin provided me with a small scroll of paper, which he sealed with red wax and affixed to it the Royal Seal.  “Simply present this to Mr. Staddle,” he said, “and he will ensure you are given the best deal.”

He gave me directions to the stables, and ushered me out the door. 

The stables were at the other end of the village from where Ramona lived, so I had a bit of a walk ahead of me.  I glanced at the sky, looking at the position of the sun.  It appeared to be late afternoon, I would have guessed about four o’clock or so.  I estimated I had enough time to meet with Julian, purchase a mount (presumably), and secure a room for the night.

The sun was slightly lower in the sky by the time I noticed the stables in the distance.  It was a low building with a sturdy thatched roof.  Rows of horse boxes stretch out on either side of the main building, and a wooden fence enclosed a paddock area.  Several horses were outside and watched me approach with interest.

I walked up to the fence, where two were standing.  One of them, a lightly built gray mount, whickered and tossed its head.  I reached over and patted its neck.  It responded by nuzzling gently at my shoulder.

“Looking for a horse?”  A voice from off to my left made me turn my head.  A man stood there, with brown curly hair and a short beard.  He was wearing practical leather trousers and a dull colored linen shirt. 

“Perhaps,” I said.  It was a habit ingrained from being a single woman and shopping for cars: never let the salesperson know that they had what you needed.  “Are you Julian Staddle?”

“I am,” he said.  He strode forward, his hand extended.  “Owner and proprietor of Staddle’s Stables.  I breed and offer the finest mounts in all of Trucaster.”

“So I have heard,” I replied.

He looked at me curiously.  “I do not recognize you as a resident of Sixshire, and your accent is strange to me.”

“I have only just arrived,” I admitted. 

“Where did you hear of me, then, if I might inquire?”

I produced the sealed scroll from a pocket and handed it to him.  “Princess Estrid suggested I come to you.  I am considering purchasing a horse, and she said that she herself would frequent no other horse dealer.”

“That is high praise indeed,” the man said.  “I should think less of myself if I were not able to live up to that.”  He nodded toward the horses that were still standing at the fence line; a third had now also drawn near.  “These three here are for sale, plus I have two others inside.  Are you looking for a work horse, to pull a plow or heavy loads?  Or a lighter, faster mount, for riding.”

“Riding,” I said.  “I have some travel ahead of me, and it seemed that my own mount would be faster and easier than hiring a coach.”

“It usually is,” Julian said.  “So.  Riding.  Are you an experienced horsemaster? Or a novice rider?”

“I would say I am a bit of a novice,” I admitted.

Julian reached a hand out and patted the neck of the pretty gray horse I had greeted just minutes before.  “Then I would have to say that this beautiful girl would do well for you.  She is a three year old filly, and a light touch on the reins.  Very willing and easy to handle.  Plus she is built for speed.  Her sire won many races in Edirie five years ago.”

I did like the gray horse. In fact, I had been drawn to her immediately.  She had a pretty face and a spangling of darker speckles on her gray flanks.  But I did not want to give myself away so soon.  And I was used to looking at options before making such a decision.
“She is a beautiful horse,” I said, “and she looks like she would be fleet of foot.  But tell me about these others, and the two you have inside.  I should like to see them as well.”

“Very well,” he said.  “The black horse is a one year old stallion, very lively, and he very much has a mind of his own.”  This was the third horse that had come over while Julian and I had been talking.  “He’s fairly fast, but is more heavily built than Snapdragon – the gray filly – and so cannot hope to match her speed or stamina.  The bay filly is a six year old.  She does not have as impressive a pedigree, but is a solid, trustworthy animal with a good temperament.”

He led me into the shadows of the roofed stables.  He passed by several occupied stalls.  “These are horses I am stabling for their owners, and so are not for sale.”  He stopped by a large loose box which contained a gigantic white horse with feathered feet.  Its head towered over me as it shifted its weight to keep us in its view.

Julian laughed and slapped the wooden door.  “This giant is Snowbolt, and a better work horse you will not find outside of Peremor.  You can see the difference between a horse like this and one like Snapdragon.  He is built for heavy work, not distance travel.”

I nodded.  “But he is indeed beautiful.  A fine specimen indeed.”  I recalled that Peremor was another one of the lands in Ionus. They must be known for breeding horses like this.  “Do you breed him?” I asked.

“I do,” he said, “and he produces excellent offspring.  I would sell him to the right owner, though that owner is not you.” He looked at me.  “I hope you do not take offense to that statement,” he said.

I shook my head.  “No, indeed,” I replied.  “No offense taken at all.  I know my limits, and though he is indeed beautiful, I have no need of such an animal at this time.”

“Good, I am glad you understand,” he said.  “Now come and see this last horse.  He is one that I might consider for your needs, if you were perhaps more experienced with horses.”

The horse he showed me was again another impressive specimen.  Not nearly as tall as the white work horse, nor as powerfully muscled, but it was clear this horse was built for speed.  “This is Quickflame,” Julian said.  “He is another racer, but I have retired him from racing in order to breed his line.  He is sire to Taragon, the black stallion outside.”

Quickflame was deep brown in color, with jet black mane and tail.  He eyed me with a distinctly appraising air.  The massive Snowbolt had looked at me gently, but this was different.  I definitely felt like he was sizing me up, and deciding how best to push the envelope with me.

“He is a bit… intimidating,” I admitted.

“He is that,” Julian agreed.  “A very smart horse, and very difficult to handle at times.  But once you master him, there is none faster, not even Snapdragon.  But you would need to convince me of your horsemanship before I would agree to sell his like to you.”

I shook my head.  “No, for now, I would do better with one that is more willing to work with me, and not against me.  I believe your original assessment is correct: Snapdragon will likely be an excellent choice for my needs.”  I turned to face him.  “How much do you want for her?  And what about saddle and bridle?”

“Eight gold pieces,” he said.  “For an additional gold piece, a finely crafted saddle and bridle, halter, and blanket.”

I had ten gold pieces, and fifteen silver pieces.  I needed to know exactly how much it was going to cost me to keep a horse.  “Let us say that my business in Sixshire runs long.  What is your fee for boarding?”

“One silver piece will purchase boarding for one week,” Julian said.

I did the math in my head.  It was doable.  Especially considering I would receive a weekly stipend in the local currency, in addition to my regular, Earthly pay.

But I was not quite about to give in.  “Might I see the saddle and bridle?” I asked.

The saddle was of English design rather than Western, but it was of sturdy leather, deeply tanned, and had silver buckles and stirrups.  The bridle was thin braided leather, and had silver fastenings, but an iron bit.  Julian also showed me the saddle blanket, woven of thick wool and dyed a brilliant green.  The saddle did come with saddle bags, so carrying things with me was going to be easier.   

I looked over everything, and came to a decision.  I nodded my head.  “Excellent. I accept your terms.  Nine gold pieces for Snapdragon and the equipment you have here.”

Julian smile.  “Wonderful.  I am sure you will be pleased.”

I counted the money out from my coin purse, and placed them into his hand.  He tucked them into his own pocket, then started to gather up the saddle and blanket.  “Come, let us go out to your new friend.  I will show you how to use this saddle, as it has a slightly different design from those more commonly used in Ionus.”

Julian led me into the paddock, and showed me how to affix both saddle and bridle.  Fortunately, my own recent lessons were fresh in my memory, and I was not as helpless as I expected.  Once we had everything settled on her, with the halter and lead stowed in one of the saddle bags, I led her out from the paddock and into the lane.

Julian held out his hand to me, and I shook it gratefully.  “Where are you headed?” he asked. 

“Dorae,” I replied. 

Julian considered the sky. “If you are a visitor here, then I will suggest that you take a room at Solomon’s Slipper, and begin your journey on the morrow.  Solomon’s inn is the best in town.  Your room, food, and boarding for your mount will run just half a silver piece for the night.”

That was definitely reasonable. 

“However…” I turned back to Julian.  He pointed at my skirts.  “You are definitely not accustomed to riding.  Those skirts will not do.”
I looked down, having completely forgotten what I had been wearing.  Then I chuckled.  “You are right,” I said.  “No matter, I do have
other clothing.  We will have to walk to fetch my baggage, but it is not far.”

Julian smiled and nodded.  “That is well.  Good luck on your journey, and whatever business you have here.”

I returned the smile.  “Thank you, Julian.  If I speak to Princess Estrid again, I will definitely thank her for her timely suggestion.  You have indeed lived up to her recommendation.”

I bid Julian farewell, and led a willing and lively Snapdragon down the lane.  I turned toward the main cobbled road, and then up past The High Heel House toward G. R. I. M. M.’s office building.  There was an iron ring set into the side wall, and I tied the lead rope to this ring.  I fished the key ring out of my pocket, unlocked the front door, and slipped inside.  I went to the closet and traded in my long skirt for  what appeared to be a split skirt. They were riding skirts, and would do well for my needs.  I also took a pair of pants.  I was not sure if they were cut correctly for a man or a woman, but they fit when I tried them on, so I decided not to be too worried about the particulars of fashion here. 

I changed quickly, then packed the skirts, pants, and an extra shirt into a small bag.  I left the office, securely locking the door behind me, then went around the building to my new horse.  Snapdragon was feasting happily on the wild irises that lined the foundation of the house, but stopped when she saw me to blow a greeting.  I smiled at her and patted her neck, then went to pack my clothes into her saddle bag.  I unfastened the lead rope and mounted.  Snapdragon was not an overly tall horse – thank goodness she was not as tall as Snowbolt! – and I was able to mount without difficulty or a mounting block.  I nudged her with my heels and moved her out onto the cobbled road.

Julian was right; she moved like a dream, hardly needing a tug on the reins in order to direct her.  It occurred to me belatedly that it was somewhat foolish of me to not ride her about before I purchased her.  But luck had been with me – Julian was an honest man, and Snapdragon was everything he had said she would be. 

I rode her at a gentle walk down the road and waved at Cassandra as I passed her tea shop.  The sun was dipping behind the mountains as I rode up to Solomon’s Slipper. I dismounted and led Snapdragon up toward the building, where rings were set into the posts, for tethering horses of travelers.

A young man emerged from the stables off to the right.  He was dressed, as was Julian, in leather and homespun.  “Good day, my Lady!” he said.  “Do you need stabling for your horse?”

“Yes, I do, and a room for the night,” I replied.   

“Mr. Solomon inside will handle your room and keep,” the lad said.  “But I will take your horse.  Just let him know.”  He reached to take the lead rope from my hands, and Snapdragon lowered her head and rubbed it against his shoulder.  He smiled and patted her fondly.  “A beautiful horse, to be sure,” he said.  “What do you call her?”

“Snapdragon,” I answered.  “I just purchased her from Mr. Staddle.”

“He knows his horses, does Julian,” agreed the stable boy.  “You go ahead inside, and I will take care of Snapdragon.  Your boarding fee will give her a hot mash, hay and alfalfa tonight, fresh water, and grooming.  Tomorrow, or whenever you depart, I will have her saddled and bridled for you, with the leather oiled and the silver polished.”

“Thank you, young man,” I said gratefully. 

“Yes, my Lady,” he replied.  “Do you want anything from your bags before I take her inside?”

“Oh, yes, of course, I nearly forgot.”  I removed the small bag of extra clothing I had packed, then left my pretty girl with the obviously knowledgeable young man, and went inside.

Solomon recognized me immediately.  It was as Julian had said – half a silver piece for a room for myself, care for my horse, and a hot meal tonight and in the morning.  Solomon’s wife showed me to my room, which was on the third floor.  It was charming and homey, with a stone fireplace set into one wall, and a large window that looked out over the fields behind the Inn.   

It felt strange to be in what amounted to a hotel room without a single piece of luggage.  Just the small saddle bags packed with one extra change of clothing.  I looked around for a moment, then chided myself for trying to figure out where I was going to charge my cell phone.  I smiled ruefully.   I did not even have a cell phone with me.   The equivalent here, I presumed, were carrier pigeons.   

I did not have anything to unpack, and there was obviously no television to watch, no internet to goof around on.  And I was getting a bit hungry, so I ventured back down the stairs to the common room, where the food was served.

Solomon’s young son, a lad of about twelve, served me himself.  He brought bread and cheese to start: fresh made bread with smooth, creamy butter, just barely tinged with yellow.  The cheese was white, and hard, and had a bite to it, as if it had been aged longer.   After that, a plate laden with roast meat – it tasted somewhat like pork, but was tender as the best steak I had ever eaten.  Roasted potatoes accompanied it, as did some fresh vegetables, which were of an unfamiliar look and flavor to me.  I had my choice of water, tea, ale, or wine.  I decided to go for broke, since all of this came with the room, and ordered a glass of wine.  It was a deep, dark red, very rich, but very smooth. 

It was easily the best meal I had ever eaten in my entire life.   There were no processed foods here.  No added fats or salt or high fructose corn syrup or monosodium glutamate or polyunsaturated fats.  No GMOs even.  I felt as if I was eating food as it was MEANT to be eaten.  The freshest and purest food available. 

And the environment, while rustic, was charming and pleasant.  There were other people in the room, mostly men on their own, and one couple, and older man and his wife, who looked as if they had stepped out of a Dickens novel.  When I had eaten my fill, Solomon himself came out, bearing a bowl filled with a steaming fruit cobbler.  He placed it in front of me, then sat down on the other side of the table.
“Well, now,” he said to me politely.  “Is everything to your liking, Lady?”

I nodded and took a taste of the cobbler.  Heavenly.  “Everything is wonderful, Solomon.  This is the best food I have had in a long time.”
His face broke into a pleased grin.  “Pleased to hear it, I am,” he said.  “Now, if you do not mind me asking… I spoke to you earlier today, and did not recognize you, nor your accent.  But I see a lot of people, and over the course of the years, I have picked up a bit of a knack for guessing.  I should think you are an associate of Emissary Alistair.”

A good guess, but probably not surprising.  I would have wagered another meal of this quality that not only my predecessor but also Alistair himself had stayed at this very inn on at least one occasion.  Probably more.

“That is correct,” I said, taking another mouthful of the delicious dessert.  “Alistair has sent me to investigate a certain matter that is causing some concern here in Sixshire.”

Solomon frowned.  “It is about the missing people, then?”

People?  I looked at him strangely.  “Missing people?  As in more than one?”

“Aye,” he said.  “It is not common, but not unheard of, either.  And it seems to be becoming more common, if you get my meaning.”
“I do,” I said.  “Though I’m not entirely sure that what I am looking at is necessarily involved with that.  Can you tell me more about the missing people?”

Solomon turned and waved at the counter.  “Solomon!  Son, come here.  I have need of you.”

Young Solomon hurried out from the kitchen area and ran right up to the table.  “You called, Father?”

“I did, lad.” He waved a hand at me.  “Tell the Lady about your missing friend.”

A troubled look came onto the boy’s face.  “A friend of mine from school,” he said quietly.  “We grew up together, I had known Carthey for years.  His folks have a farm outside of town.  One day, he did not show up for school.  We thought he might have been ill, but when classes were dismissed, his Ma was waiting at the school to talk to the Headmistress.  Myself and a few others were in the yard, when another boy ran up and told us to come listen at the window.  We did, and that was when we learned that Carthey was missing, vanished.  The Headmistress told Carthey’s Ma that she had heard of others, in other towns, but never from here.”  He lowered his eyes.  “Carthey has never been found.”

“And two others, since then,” the elder Solomon said in a low voice.  “Older than Carthey, but not by much.  Young men, both of them, strong of limb and body.  We do not know who has taken them, or where, or for what purpose.”

I considered that for a moment.  “Why is it you think that they have been taken?” I asked.  “I does seem a bit of a coincidence, but surely there are other possible explanations.  Wild animal attack?  Or simply run away?  Or…” I paused, wondering if I should even broach the subject.

Solomon cleared his throat and turned to his son.  “Run along, now, lad.  Chores to be done.”

The boy nodded and scampered back off toward the kitchen.  Solomon turned back to me.  “Or killed?” he asked, his words dry.  “Aye, that thought has been put about.  But there was no blood, so signs of struggle, and no clear indication of where they are.  We have had folk go missing in the past, from some of the same things you listed.  Run aways, aye, they are always those who wish to seek their fortune in the wider world, before they realize that unless they travel down to Pyric, the lands are all much the same.”  He frowned.  “And no one goes to Pyric.”

He shrugged.  “And wild animals, it is true, there are wolves and big cats in the wild lands between the cities.  But rarely do they come here, and then only in the harsh winters, when game is scarce and they are hungry enough to brave the weapons of the farmers and herds keepers.  But why take a human, when the fatted calf in the field is a far better target?  And if they did take a human, where is the blood, the remains, the torn scraps of cloth?  And if he ran away, he took nothing with him, not spare clothing or boots or even a horse.”  He shook his head.  “No boy in Sixshire is that stupid.”

“I see,” I said.  This lent a distinctly unsettling air to my current mission.  I wondered if I was in any danger. 

Solomon must have read my thoughts, because he said, “I do not think they would target you.  No women have been taken, just young boys, in adolescence or barely out of it.  It came to my mind that having a woman look into things might give you a bit of an advantage, since you would not be considered a target.  Or so it appears.”

I sighed.  “Well, I do not think I am looking into the same thing as this, but I will definitely keep this situation in mind, and discuss it with Alistair when I see him next.”

Solomon patted the table.  “I thank you, and I know my son does as well.  He has been very upset over Carthey’s disappearance, and I know he fears for his own safety.  As do I.”

“I understand completely,” I replied.  “But perhaps you can help with my current line of investigation as well.  Are you acquainted with Ramona and Giles Travers?”

“Indeed I am,” answered Solomon.  “A pity, that.  Those young ones, not to mention Ramona herself, deserve what he did.”

“So you believe he has left her, abandoned her and his children?”

“Well,” he said, “it is certainly the gossip in the village.  But I have heard many a tale from Dorae that he is alive and well there.”

“Living with Alessandra?” I queried.

“As like as not,” came the reply.  “Alessandra is a beautiful woman, a year or two younger than Ramona, and fabulously wealthy.  She inherited her father’s alpaca herd upon his untimely death a year ago.  That, plus her weaving ability, has boosted her fame and increased her fortune.”

“But you do not have any proof yourself,” I said.  It was not a question.

“Well, I do not know what you mean by proof, if by that you mean I have visited her and seen him there in her company, after he left here.  But he himself has passed through this very inn not but two changes of the moon ago.  He did not think I would recognize him, but I did.  He was ever an easy man to pick out, has a funny scar on the side of his face, along his left jawline.  He likes to claim it was a reminder of an attack by a forest cat, a fight he claims to have won.  But I was a boy when it happened and I was there.  The fool was playing on a plow left standing in an empty field, and fell off, and cut himself upon the blade.”

I smiled to myself.  It sounded like this man was as much trouble as a child as he was as an adult – probably because he had never truly grown up.  “You did not confront him?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “No indeed.  He was keeping unsavory company, a man I would not have allowed to sleep under this roof.  They met
here, had food and ale, and left separately.”

Now that was definitely interesting.  What was Giles up to?

I smiled at Solomon.  “Well, I thank you for the news of the missing children, as well as the gossip about Giles.  I myself am bound for Dorae in the morning, to see what I can find out.  Regardless, Ramona and the children deserve to be taken care of.  And if he has access to a fortune, as you say that Alessandra has, then he can well provide for them, as he promised.”

Solomon smiled broadly.  “As much have I said myself.  It is good to see another taking up responsibility for this.” He rose from the table.  “Enjoy the remainder of your cobbler, and have a pleasant night.  I will have breakfast on the table at first light, and your mount ready for you as you eat.”

I returned the smile.  “Thank you, Solomon.  A pleasant night to you and yours as well.”

By the time I finished the bowl, I felt as full as if I had just finished a Thanksgiving meal.   The food was good, but it would not do to put on one or two dozen pounds during the course of this investigation.  So I declined further wine and cheese – offered by the solicitous younger Solomon – and retired to my room.

But as soon as I had returned there, it occurred to me that I did not have any sleep wear.  I only had the clothes I was wearing, and the extras in the bag.  I was not thrilled with the idea of sleeping in the nude, but sleeping in my clothes was even less appealing.  I made a mental note to be sure to pack a small bag of things from home before I came back here again.  Of course, I had not initially planned to stay here and travel, but that is what happened, so I figured I would make the best of it.

I stripped off my clothes and slid into the bed.  The sheets were soft and the blankets warm.  The bed itself smelled of sweet grasses and pine, but it was soft and yielding.  The food, the wine, and my own exhaustion together contributed to a very restful night.