Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Gift Chapter Seventeen

The walk back to their rooms was quiet and subdued. Derek was a longtime friend of Sean and Shandra and a fixture in their household for decades. “Dad,” Derek asked, “You jumped right to where that Nazi wanted you. Why?”
Don nodded tightly and lightly knuckled Dog's forehead, “I don't know. I thought I would just push his buttons a little. Get a sense of where their heads are at. Instead I found myself furious when he went all alpha gorilla -”
“Hey!” Allan interrupted.
Don gave Allan a smile. It was a small one but real enough.
“Alpha Male on Sean.”
“Sean can handle himself,” Derek reminded him. “He was a Marine. Marines can handle Krauts. Now he can throw magic around and kick rears with that flail of his.”
Now it was Derek's turn to become thoughtful, “I've always had a hard time watching my language but not anymore.”
“It comes with being a paladin, Dear,” Michelle told the Atlantean prince. “We're God's hand and voice. Almost an avatar although that would be blasphemous strictly speaking so that's not a perfect analogy. We speak with his authority, we act on his behalf, and unlike those who have to shift through scripture, history, or apostolic tradition, we know inside what is right. We just have to follow that instinct.”

“So why did you lose your cool,” Michelle asked Don.
“I haven't seen you like that since we were kids.”
“It's the Shadow-Lands,” Justin replied excitedly. “I know you weren't looking but the shadow-lands are twisted and knotted near those Nazis. I can't see the paths directly but I can see the effects they have on the mystical energies around them.”
“During my research in the library at the Chapterhouse I came across speculation about Vril energy and the Nazis. The reason for the masks with their uniforms and the great cloaks is that unshielded Vril energy warps users or those near it for too long.”
“Oberstfell is already far down that path. It affects you spiritually and mentally first then physically.”
“How bad does it get?” Derek asked concerned. He had spent a fortnight on the Nazi merchantman.
“Cthulhu bad,” Justin said flatly, “Things Man Was Not Meant to See bad.”
“If the books and my own theories are correct you would not want to see what the senior technomancers look like. It would be a danger to most men's sanity and souls. Being a paladin and having a strong measure of protection from that kind of magic might protect against the same effects due to Vril but I couldn't prove it either way.”
“That's what was bothering you, Dad,” Justin continued. “You could sense the evil and danger inherent in them and much of your abilities involved sifting right from wrong especially on the Shadow-path. Your anger was almost an instinctive reaction to their warping reality.”
They were walking in a group down the monastery's living quarters. It was as beautiful and perfect as when the Atlanteans made it several thousand years ago with the addition of frescoes and mosaics added when the rededicated the cathedral. The craftsmen had neglected none of the original buildings showing pride in their work and religious zeal. Don realized he had stalked distracted past several works of art and architecture that he would have normally stopped to admire.
He paused and took a deep breath looking out across a balcony that overlooked the town, harbor, and ocean beyond. So that's why I was so wound up. He mused letting the view and the fresh ocean air sooth him. He found himself practicing his breathing exercises from both worlds that brought a calm spirit and saying prayers to himself. The others gave him space talking at the other end of the balcony. Soon enough Don felt like himself both refreshed and calmed.
“So we're going to be seeing Oberstfell's second soon,” Justin reminded his father.
“Just remember why they are affecting you and you should be fine. Half of the battle is knowing why you're angry or upset.”
“And do not forget this must be a painful place for them as well,” Justin said, “The Atlanteans put up strong wards against evil of all kinds but especially against those affected by Vril. It is a distinct possibility that simply being here is harmful to Oberstfell and his assistants.”
“Yes!” Derek replied, “I don't know a lot about Vril. No one is encouraged to study such things in Atlantis anymore but I know our own wise men and sages work to shield against Vril and any residual energies it may leave behind.”
“I'm better,” Don stated, “You guys go on ahead. I'm just going to enjoy the view for a few minutes.”
Shandra hugged her father fiercely before joining her husband.
“What was that for?” Don asked with a chuckle, “Not that I'm complaining. You've always been hard to get a hug out of even when you were a baby.”
“You just looked like you needed it,” Shandra replied. “Dad?”
“Don't underestimate Oberstfell and his nasty Nazis. He's not human anymore but he still has a man's pride and ability. Branwen heard that Nazis the party elite especially, have to constantly practice with their weapons. It's like the Three Musketeers or something. They have practice halls everywhere and they like basket-hilted sabers sometimes with a small buckler.”
Don smiled at his daughter, “I'll remember that. It's been years since I've taken a sword to war. Perhaps they'll prefer bows at fifty paces?”
“No,” Shandra replied, “Only their auxiliaries use bows. Nazis are all crossbow guys.”
“Yeah, seems like cheating doesn't it?” Shandra laughed, “Let us do the negotiating with the Nazis. It's tradition anyway.” She patted her father's arm before hurrying to catch up with her husband.
Dog sat at Don's side watching the seagulls and pelicans fly over. The town and harbor was home to a remarkable number of birds. Ravens, eagles, seagulls, terns, and other birds whirled over the docks and fish salting warehouses kettling in great spirals above the shoreline. The town itself was full of everything from stork's nests to tiny sparrows nesting under the eaves of the cedar shake roofs of the houses. The roads in town were laid out in a grid that was broken by the three river valleys that were spanned by the Atlantean bridges the valleys were narrow and steep sided but with broad flat bottom land between. Because the sun was overhead all day they made well sheltered spots for vegetable gardens and even pasture for milch cows. The plateaus above the valleys were flat as well although they sloped gently to the sea with high cliffs. Narrow roads zigzagged up from the shoreline and waterfront where most of the shops and industry was laid out in a long strip between the hillsides and the sea.
Ships clustered in the harbor. Bridgetown had a large merchant fleet as well as attracting ships and merchants from all over the known world. The harbor was encircled by a natural spit that went from the left side as Don looked down at the ocean out to sea for over a mile before making a ninety degree turn to the right and continuing for another two miles. The spit had been reinforced by the Atlanteans and neither time nor tide had dinted it or worn it away. At the far end of the spit was a fortress and lighthouse also thousands of years old. It threw back the sun as if it were made from colored crystals and pure white salt. It looked tiny from where Don was but he knew it was both a major fortification and the lighthouse was tall. Although it did not need to be as it would on Earth. The curve of the earth made it easy to see what was ahead. The danger here was misjudging how far away the horizon was away as it kept rising into eternity.
Don rubbed Dog's ears absently as he thought. He was not a killer. Connor had killed men. Many men. But Don had never killed anyone. Like most retired police officers he had rarely had to even point his gun at a person. Could he kill Oberstfell even knowing that he wasn't really human anymore. Whatever human spirit had resided in Oberstfell wasn't merely suppressed or withered it was gone as if it never existed. He was no more a man than those Hags had been.
No one was threatening his child either. Even if all the hags had simply been old cannibal women and not prehuman evil he would have killed them all because they had stood between him and his son. What did Oberstfell threaten?
The Nazis? They threatened the world but one sailor on a merchantman was nothing in the larger scheme. A younger Don or purely Connor would be more eager than contemplative. Was he endangering himself if he did fight? Was he endangering his family if he didn't?
Could he apologize to the Nazi? No. Not and maintain their cover or their mission. Backing down now would look odd to everyone and would attract the attention of the Nazis as much as killing their sailor. Honor would not be satisfied and that meant far more here especially to the Tuathe De than it did to people back home.

He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders relaxing. His decision was made and he had no other course except apologizing or running and while Don might have to save a human soul or maintain their cover there was no way backing down would do so now. He was relaxed and almost cheerful as he rejoined his family.

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