His promotions gone to his head, Clovache muttered. He wouldnt have dared behave so a halfyear ago. The child scampered off once hed gotten his tip, and Batanya and Clovache advanced to the table. One of the senior commanders, Flechette, entered from a side door, and since she had a staff in her hands, she used it to sweep Troviss legs to the side, neatly knocking him out of his chair. Respect for the room, she said harshly, as Trovis scrambled to right himself. The two bodyguards kept their faces absolutely blank, which took a lot of effort. Flechette paid no attention to the lower-ranked Troviss shock and anger, but threw herself into one of the chairs. Despite Flechettes apparent age-she looked at least sixty, which few Britlingens attained-she moved like a much younger woman.
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The guards on duty recognized them and nodded to indicate they could reenter without the usual search. The hall of Contracts was conveniently close to the witches and mechs wing, since witchcraft (enhanced by science) provided the transportation to at least fifty percent of the missions. In fact, batanya couldnt remember the last time shed gone overland to a job. The hall itself didnt look important. It was a just a large room, one wall of which was decorated with some indifferent paintings. This was called the wall of Shame; the art hung there depicted employees of the collective who had screwed up in some notable way. (The Britlingen instruction model was heavily weighted toward learning by the mistakes of ones predecessors.) Aside from the paintings and some benches, there was only essay a table with a few chairs, a large lightsource, and some writing instruments. Trovis was leaning back in one of the wooden chairs, his feet propped on the table. This was inappropriate behavior for the hall of Contracts, for these contracts were the lifeblood of the collective. Signing each contract was an important moment. Not predatory only was this the main source of income for the collective, but each contract might bring about the death of the Britlingens charged with fulfilling.
Why would Trovis send you out again? After the last one, id hoped wed rest longer, batanya said. Getting out of that hotel was no fun, especially carrying a client who would burn up in sunlight. Well, we must go, geit. Have a drink. After hastily finishing their estate baskets of food (a Britlingen never passes up a chance to eat she paid the bar tab and looked away as Clovache gave geit a quick kiss on the cheek. The two women followed the child back up the winding streets to the gate of the collective.
The child interrupted his play to scan the faces at the tables. He spotted them and trotted over. Lady warrior, excuse me, said the child, bowing. Are you senior Batanya? I am, squirt, batanya said. She drained her mug of ale. Commander Trovis has, ah, requested, that you and your junior come up to the fortress immediately, to the hall of Contracts. But you just got back from a job.real
There were a lot of storefronts that advertised repair services, either of armor or of arms. There were magic shops filled with arcane items the witches of the collective might need or want. There were dark-fronted shops filled with bits of machinery that the mechs found intriguing. There were at least a score of bars and restaurants, but pooka palace was Clovaches favorite. Waiting at a fairly clean table was a friend of theirs named geit, a broad-shouldered and genial man who could swing a sword with enough force to take off a head with one lop. He was an assassin; though Clovache and Batanya were in the bodyguard division, they didnt discriminate in their friendships as some did. Geit had already ordered baskets of fried pooka and fish, and theyd just toasted with three tankards of ale when they saw a child from the castle approaching, wearing the red vest of a messenger. Though walking quickly, the boy was also playing with a conjuring ball; it was clearly a cheap one, but the ball was still charged with enough magic to keep it in the air for a few seconds each time he tossed.
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That was the first lesson a novice learned when he or she came to the fortress. There are exceptions, Clovache said stubbornly as she gathered up her armor. And his obsession with you provides one. Not for you to say. Batanya stood, the sheet containing all self her paraphernalia draped over one shoulder. Ill meet you at beverage the gate in a couple of hours? Surely, her junior said.
Later that same afternoon, the two bodyguards strolled down to the pooka palace. Batanya grumbled about the narrow streets and their ancient cobblestones, which made it very impractical to keep a hovercraft at the castle. This was a source of grief to batanya, who loved to drive fast. Pooka palace had opened its outside section in honor of the balmy weather. The place was full of familiar faces from the collective. Though Britlingens had the run of the city, they tended to linger close to the hilltop castle. Naturally, the shops that clustered in the winding old streets around the base of the hill were mostly dedicated to serving the bodyguards and assassins who lived in the ancient castle.
Trovis is making a fool of himself. If hes trying to show you whos boss, he is a fool, she said. And if he keeps it up, i shall go to Flechette and put it to her that Trovis should be removed from his command. That would make trovis crazy, which is a good thing, batanya said. But it would make us look weak.
Clovache looked startled, but after a moment, she nodded. We should be able to eat whatever Trovis puts on the table. She tested the strength of a strap. If worse comes to worst, perhaps hell have an accident. Hush your mouth, batanya said, genuinely shocked. Britlingens dont kill Britlingens, Clovache said dutifully. We leave that to the rest of the world.
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Trovis was not in a good mood, batanya said. And why would that be? Clovache asked, trying to sound innocent. Batanya flushed a little, causing the scar that ran across her right cheek to stand out. Clovache had heard people tease batanya about the scar, father's but they only did it once. He tried to jump me in the bathroom last night. I had to give him an elbow to the gut.
The protocol had been added to prevent the resume armor from being stolen. Before the code had been added, a few Britlingens had been murdered for their armor. It was used in cooler weather. The two women had already cleaned their summer-weight gear. Batanya had turned her suit inside out and was cleaning the inner surface with a pleasant-scented solvent from a large green pot. Clovache was using the all-purpose cleaner on the hardened pieces that could be strapped on over the liquid armor. Clovache threw a finished piece down on the towel shed spread on the ground and picked up another one. Hard drill this morning, she observed.
in the Britlingens huge collection. Liquid armor wasnt really liquid. It resembled a wet suit more than anything, but it was considerably easier to don. There was a keypad the size of a credit card on the chest. It allowed for communication with anyone else wearing a similar suit, and it had a personal sequence programmed into it that allowed only one wearer to use the armor. The material would toughen when the sequence was pressed in, to allow the wearer to be almost invulnerable; without this procedure, the armor was ineffective.
It was a pretty bad imitation. She and Clovache had worked together for five years, and there wasnt much they didnt know about statement each other. They had both done most of their growing up within the collective walls. You are a bit like a pooka, though. Your hair is the same color as the back fur, and you like the night life better than the daylight. But Im sure you wouldnt taste as good deep-fried. Clovache stretched out a foot to kick batanya, very lightly. Well go out to eat later, she said. How about pooka palace?
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Sfs lab studio 950. Collection copyright 2009, the Britlingens go to hell by Charlaine harris. Batanya and Clovache were cleaning their armor in one of the courtyards of the Britlingen Collective, which sits atop a hill in the ancient city of Spauling. It was a fine summer day, and they sat on benches that theyd positioned to catch the sun. Im as pale as a pooka belly, clovache said. Not quite, batanya said, apple after looking at Clovache rather seriously. Batanya was the older of the two; she was twenty-eight to Clovaches twenty-four. Batanya was pale, too, since she spent most of her time in armor of one kind or another, but that didnt bother Batanya. Not quite, clovache said, imitating Batanyas husky voice.