“A Truly Flawless Plan…”

V’vendy, Rintha, Uuco and Corax found themselves trapped in the House of Salving, their exit block by a crowd of angry physicians who objected to their attempt to levitate a wounded patient out with them.

Uuco the Witness coughed loudly and spoke up. “Now, now; nobody panic!” He said. “We’re professionals!”

The House’s Senior Mother arched an eyebrow. “Professionals?” She echoed. “I thought you were Pilgrims?”

Uuco yanked the green kerchief off his neck and stuffed it in his pouch. “This old rag?” He stammered. “It’s a disguise!” he proclaimed, mind racing. ” We’re actually…healers on a secret mission!”

He pointed at the shaggy-haired man with bandaged feet, who floated nearby on the billowing coils of V’vendy’s wind charm. “This man is sick with the plaque!” Uuco said. “As professional healers with actual training, we must take him away from here!”

“He’s highly contagious!” Corax added, catching on.

One of the young healers frowned. “Wait,” he said. “That’s patient’s a burn victim, not a plague victim!”

Uuco jerked his head up. “Harumph! Why should I listen,” he said, wiggling his fingers at the healer who’d spoken up, “to a person who forgot to wear clean clothes?”

The healer’s pristine white robes darkened and greyed, becoming caked with filth and reddish stains. The young healer looked down at his garb.”Hidden Gods!” He gasped. “This will not do at all!” He turned and ran away.

Uuco snorted. “Unprofessional,” he muttered, turning to face the other physicians. “Anyone else want to question us?”

The Senior Mother glared at Uuco. “If you are healers on a secret mission,” she asked, voice laced with doubt, “then whom do you work for? A Chieftain? A Council? A powerful Royal House?” She arched an eyebrow. “More powerful than the Priesthood of the Infinite Temple?”

“Uh…” Uuco said. He glanced at Corax and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. Help me out, Corax heard whispered in his ear.

Corax shook his tail and spoke up. “We,” he stammered, “are NOT actually healers!” Corax touched a talon to his heart. “We,” he declared with a gravelly rasp, “are actually Inquisitors! Faithbreakers that serve the Hidden Gods!”

The Senior Mother’s face went pale.

“…Yeah!” Uuco said, puffing his chest out, and mimicking Corax’s salute. “We’re Inquisitors, and you don’t want to mess with us!”

Rintha crouched behind V’vendy, drawing a sling stone from his pocket. V’vendy looked back and forth between Uuco and Corax, bewildered. “Um,” she said, “shouldn’t we just–?”

“This human,” Uuco proclaimed, brushing his mustache as he pointed at the Floating Roarer, “Is a heretic and Outcaste, a defiler of the Hidden God’s glory and stuff!”

“Guy,” V’vendy said, growing more concerned, “I think we should–”

“We are taking him to meet justice!” Corax concluded, his head-feathers standing on end. “Stand aside in the name of the Hidden Gods!”

The Senior Mother pressed her lips together and nodded to herself. “No,” she said.

“Huh?” Corax said, blinking in confusion.

She slowly looked down at Uuco, then back up at Corax. Both pilgrims saw fire behind her pupils. “No,” she repeated. “Even if you are Inquisitors, you do not speak for all the gods; our Hidden God has charged us to comfort and heal the sick!”

She pointed a finger at the floating, unconscious, Roarer. “He is our patient, and we will see him healed. We will not be bullied into letting him go!”

Her fellow healers lined up behind her, their expressions grim and wilful. The Senior Mother folded her arms. “To pass with him in tow,” she said, “you’ll have to kill us first.”

Everyone was silent for a hearbeat.

Uuco stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “Nothing for it, then,” he sighed, gathering lightning between his cupped hands.

“Damn,” Corax cursed, wrapping his talons around the hilt of his sickle sword.

V’vendy glanced at Uuco and Corax, huffing out a breath in exasperation. “You guy can’t be serious!” she said.

“Too many lives are at stake, V’vendy,” RIntha said grimly, loading a bullet into his sling.

“Don’t encourage them, Rintha!” V’vendy shouted in frustration. She rushed between Uuco and Corax, shielding the healers with her body. “My friends are spinning tall tales!” V’vendy said to the Senior Mother. “They aren’t healers or Inquisitors, or anything secret.”

Uuco and Corax both flinched.

V’vendy closed her eyes and focused: the sleeping, shaggy-haired figure floated up next to her. “This human,” V’vendy said, “is a Roarer. He caused the explosion that damaged the temple and hurt so many.” V’vendy’s hair-feathers stood on end. “We’re trying to get him away before he wakes and sews more destruction.”

The Senior Mother met V’vendy’s eyes.. “How do we know this isn’t another lie?” She asked.

V’vendy gestured at the slumbering Roarer’s mouth. “Look,” she said. “See for yourself!”

“We should summon the city guard, Senior Mother–” One of the healers said.

The Senior Mother raised her hand, silencing her junior healer. She bent over the Roarer and examined him.

The Roarer twitched and moaned in his sleep. “Buh…” he mumbled. Gleaming Mana spewed from his mouth in a fine vapour that congealed into a flock of fiery butterflies.

The Senior Mother skipped back. “It’s true,” she breathed hoarsely. She raised her voice. “She speaks the truth!” She said to the healers behind her. “Stand aside and let them go!”

V’vendy sighed in relief. Rintha slumped replaced the sling stone in his pocket holster. Corax removed his claw from his sword hilt, his feather crest wilting abashedly.

“Whelp,” Uuco said, tucking his thumbs under his belt. “That was a close one! Time for us to go!” He made to walk past the Senior Mother.

“Wait,” The Senior Mother said, resting her hand on Uuco’s scalp and holding him in place like a child.

“What now?” Uuco cursed, struggling against the Senior Mother’s grip. “Is this about how we nearly attacked you, ma’am? We’re real sorry about that! It was a tense situation–no one was thinking clearly–!”

“Don’t remind me,” the Senior Mother said flatly. She turned to V’vendy. “You’ll have to pass by that idle labor gang to descend the Temple,” she pointed out. “If you just carry this pour soul out floating like that, the laborers will think you’ve kidnapped him.”

“And then may try to ‘rescue’ him,” Rintha cursed.

Uuco snapped his fingers. “Ah-hah!” He chortled. “I’ve got just the thing!” He wiggled his fingers over the floating Roarer: a nimbus of purple light gathered around his nails, and a hazy illusion settled around the shaggy-haired figure. “This should deflect the rabble’s angry eyes…”

Lady Ira barged into the room, white-tipped knuckles clenched around her harp. “What foolishness are you up to now, Uuco the Witness!” She shouted.

“Shhhh!” Everyone whispered, eyes darting frantically toward the glamoured Roarer.

Lady Ira frowned. “Why is there a buffet cart in here?” She asked.

%%%

Uuco, Corax, V’vendy and Rintha slowly walked down the ramps and steps of the Infinite Temple, re-entering the streets of Baruck. Behind them floated the slumbering Roarer, treated with the care usually given to a pot of boiling water.

From the outside, Uuco’s glamour made it look like they were hauling a two-wheeled cart, filled with platters of fine meats, stuffed grape leaves, bowls of fruit, and delicate, fragrant bread.

V’vendy and Rintha flanked Corax, who walked ahead of the illusory cart, bowed under the weigh of an illusory yolk and harness.

“This is demeaning!” Corax complained, pretending to sag under the strain of the phantom yolk. “Why do I have to mimic a beast of burden?”

“It’s all to maintain the illusion, friend!” Uuco chirped, strolling ahead of Corax, feet kicking cheerfully back and forth as he descended the steps. “Even the finest illusion will get pierced if it doesn’t make sense.” He shook his head ruefully. “Why, if folks saw us hauling a heavy food cart down the steps without any effort–poof! The glamour would vanish like morning dew!”

“Is that so?” Corax muttered, narrowing his eyes at Uuco.

Uuco nodded and stroked his thick mustache. “Ayup,” he said. “It’s the illusions you don’t question that linger.”

They wandered down a street crowded with mud-brick buildings and dust-stained labor hauling logs and stone blocks towards the Temple. Rag-clad street urchins flitted from alley to shadow, gazing curiously at the passing-by Pilgrims.

“Where to next?” Rintha asked V’vendy.

“Um,” V’vendy mumbled, hood drawn over her head again, “Lady Ira said to turn left at the street with the cracked, blue-stone well.” She held up a carved stone cylinder in her hand. “Then we go north until we reach her family mansion and hand her seal to the–”

A tiny Saurian Urchin ran out into the street in front of Corax. Corax reared and halted. V’vendy slid to a stop, halting the floating, glamoured Roarer before it bumped into Corax’s tail.

“Please, sir!” The little Urchin said, wagging his brown-feathered tail. “Could you just spare a bit of that lovely food? I’m starving, I am!”

“Food?” Corax stammered taken aback. “Ah yes, that food: I’m sorry, child, but–“

“Scram, kid!’ Uuco shouted, kicking dust at the little Saurian. “This food ain’t for you!”

The Urchin hissed, bared his needle-sharp teeth, and fled into an alley.

“There,” Uuco said with satisfaction. “That settled that!”

A young human Urchin scampered up to Rintha. “Just a little grub, please?” She pleaded, tugging at Rintha’s cloak.

“Few crumbs, is all!” A Nobble Urchin said, tugging at V’vendy’s own cloak. “Honest!”

“C’mon!” A Stout Urchin shouted, running towards the illusion of fresh, juicy food. “Have some hearted, you damned Pilgrims!”

V’vendy shoved the child away with her bow before he could touch the illusion. As if opening a dam’s gate, urchins flooded from the nearby alleys, climbed down from the rooftops and swarmed towards the illusionary cart of delicious food

Rintha waded into the crowd of orphans and foundlings, shoving them away from the glamoured, floating, and extremely hazardous Roarers.

“Sorry!” V’vendy shouted as she kicked an Urchin away. She spun with her bow, tripping a young Scamp before he could pluck a phantom grape. She winced. “Sorry!”

Still the Orphans kept coming, wave after wave of grubby fingers and glowing, apple-cheeked faces.

“We’re being overrun!” Corax shouted, sweeping his tail back and forth to swat the street urchins away. “Uuco! Do something!” He shouted. “Uuco? Uuco!”

Uuco stood back, starring in horror at the melee of hungry, earnest looking orphans mobbing his fellow Pilgrims, begging for food with terrible, squeaking voices.

“What…have I done?” he said.

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