The Smith Ranch
On the Outskirts of Osaka
A Few Weeks after the First Day of Class
The sun lazily drifted off the edge of the horizon of Jane's ranch, a sanctum wrought of her own hands, a piece of Americana on the opposite end of the Pacific. No Name's stable cast a heavy shadow over a stretch of her hard-worked garden. The evening brought to it a measure of peace that could only be won by settling land and making it yours. Sure, it was Japan, sure it was a horseride to the big-city, but that didn't stop anyone. Especially so when the local Municipality looked up and found that the property had somehow been in the gunslinger's family for generations.
Situated in a prime place for farming, and with room for animals to graze, the land was idyllic and rugged. Unlike a tamed, druid's glade, the area was the scene of a frontier, a ripe fruit for hard-working hands. Most of the locals expected trouble when they saw an American move in, but these folks learned that trouble only had a name when people went looking for it. Jane was friendly to her distant neighbors, if not hard to understand sometimes, and terribly hospitable. Stranger than anything else, she was a quiet tenant, waking the featureless lot up into the fine and cozy residence it was with her own two mitts.
Despite that hospitality, the others who lived near her gave her plenty of space, and never sought to bother her. Even some of the more uncouth high-schoolers wouldn't dare to harass the dead-eyed woman, much more trespass. The clearly marked property line made that evident, for others, and for her own.
Which made it strange when No Name began whinny his discomfort at his stable. Stolid and sure with his rider, the legendary beast was surly to others, and his noise meant that someone had crossed the line.
Jane rose from her kneeling position beside a line of vegetables and smacked dirt off her hands. Her expression was a mixture of caution and curiosity. It was a short walk to the small stable, and the door swung open smoothly on oiled hinges. Her right hand settled on a sandalwood grip and the left reached out toward the lone horse. In curt Japanese she said, "I will count to 3 and you better show yourselves kids, or there will be trouble."
Her eyes caught the whip of lengthy coat in the gloom of the small structure. An illusionary magic misted the intruder, though they were not trying too hard to hide themselves, judging by how light the spell was. From the hard-shadowed corner opened a set of eyes, three eyes, that almost glowed a blue color. The image of a young woman spread from the edges of the eyes until she was completely revealed. Slender, almost as tall as Jane, with a head of wavy black hair that flowed over her shoulders. There was a look in her eyes that reminded her of one of her students.
A mage had snuck into her stable, one that didn't blend well with regular society, judging by the long coat and flowing sleeves. She seemed to stare at Jane with a careful, analyzing look, a slender hand passing over and refusing to hover above a driftwood wand. Instead she brought her hands together, and offered a calculated parley.
She spoke in Mandarin, but in a way that sounded a bit dated, "So sorry, I do not speak Japanese. Mayhaps Chinese?"
The somewhat european looking woman entwined her fingers, resorting to an English that showed a more Welsh accent, "Mayhaps English... ...more likely? I don't know why I tried Chinese, to be up front."
Jane's hand did not relax until the intruder's own had passed over the wand. A frown found it'way into her face and lingered while dirty, bared arms folded over one another. "Just some Cantonese," came the answer, "but English is fine." Back in her native tongue, Miss Smith explained the situation. "I don take kindly to strangers, specially the kind what try n sneak into my property and harass my horse. So yer gon introduce yerself and explain what ye want real good. And I'll either give ye what it is, or tell ye to git. Either way, yer gon leave after that. Ain't no two ways bout it. Clear?" If it wasn't, a hand patted the butt of one weapon as a hint.
Studying the girl, it was immediately clear to Jane that she was dealing with a relative of little miss Drysi. How close she couldn't say, but it didn't matter. It was clear as her third eye, and that ancient instinct inside her was echoing her thoughts, confirming them.
"I humbly ask for your pardon, dear archebusier," the stanger bowed her head, and dipped in a formal curtsy, "I came here to relay something important, but I thought I heard the neigh of a horse-..."
Her three eyes cast a glance to No Name from her supplicating bend of the knee. At that, she stood, stiffening her back, before placing her hand on her chest. The woman was a dainty sort, a much cleaner and prim image of a woman juxtaposed to the steely-eyed rancher.
"Neither here nor there, yes," continued the woman, realizing she wasn't answering the landowner's questions, "I am Eryl Maelgwyn, of Cardiff. Credentials may be provided upon request, but I suppose you've no use for a notary."
She laughed at her own little 'joke', but then cleared her throat immediately. "A jest, you see... Ehm... Yes, mayhaps not the time. I am here to relay assistance, to a certain someone. A dire matter, with delicate, oh-so-delicate moving parts. First, I must inquire, are you, or are you not Jane Smith, the Lock-wielding Preceptress of Safeholme?"
Immediately, Jane came to dislike the girl. She was pompous and liked to speak in circles. "If ye know who I am, then ye know I ain't the kinda gal to play games, and I ain't got much patience for persons tryna pester me. So, I'll say it one last time: make yer request." Steely eyes were boring into Eryl's own, searching for some hint as to just what in the world she could possibly have to do with anything a Maelgwyn might want.
The blunt nature in which Jane responded seemed to strike at her visitor, her composure cracking a bit. On her chest, her hand curled defensively, seeming to show a softness that had been bruised. Maelgwyns were known to be deceptive and proud, this one no less upon the pride part, but it seemed to wither at those burning eyes.
"You are familiar with Mr. Caxton are you not," suddenly spoke Eryl, as if taken, her eyes flashing, "the man who has recently returned to Safeholme? Do you know his condition, his malady?"
Eryl's discomfort relaxed the gunslinger. She wasn't here for a fight. Nevertheless, she had been ready to use that wand. Jane kept her guard up. "I know the prodigal son has returned, but familiar ain't a term I'd use to describe our relations. Acquiantances more like. So if he's got somethin private goin on, I don't know a thing. That's his business, ye should ask him about it."
The Triclops frowned, bring her hands together again, speaking carefully, "He is dying, Lady Smith, and as I've come to learn, he has exhausted many options. It is only now that I have learned of it, and I would like provide assistance... and I would ask for yours as well."
"Look, Mizz Malegwyn, if Mr. Caxton wanted me privy to his condition, he'd a shared. If the man don want my help, he's free to keep his peace in his final days. I ain't gonna tell another soul how to live or die. All of which is beyond the fact that I ain't a doctor or even a deep study on magics. I ain't no help, Mizz Maelgwyn, unless you need a few more souls on the River Styx." Jane was growing tired of this penchant everyone had to overestimate her abilities. She appreciated the votes of confidence, sure, but she was still just a gunslinger and a poor teacher at best. She had no clue where people kept getting the idea that she could help meaningfully beyond those two options.
"I do not come to you asking for your expertise, Lady Smith, I come to you because I can go to no one else," resolved Eryl, seeming to sense the lack of patience building up in the other woman. Her head dipped shamefully, her wavy hair framing her face, gritting her teeth. "I am... My past... Is not pristine in color... I... I wronged the mages of Safeholme many years ago at the expense of Mr. Caxton, and I have feared to approach them ever since."
A bit of romance seemed to creep into the intruder's gaze, as she stared off into a bale of hay, "You are Lady Smith, the Gun of Justice, the Trailblazer, the Lawbringer. You fear nothing and carry with you wands of great power. To accomplish what needs to be done, I need that, and more: Mages of immense strength and power. What stands between Mr. Caxton and his health are insurmountable foes."
Eryl finally dialed everything into focus, like a gunman's sight, and Jane smirked. "That's funny, Mizz Maelgwyn. Ye need the outsider to get ye in. A more spritely me mighta laughed. But..." Her face fell solemn. "I've got a feelin yer right. Yer gon need my help. O course, that's assumin Mr. Caxton wants any." Briefly, Jane pondered her next step. Pruning could wait a day, she supposed. That meant she needed her guns, jacket, and a change of clothes. Hell, she needed a shower.
Jane headed back toward the house. "I have some things t' collect. Walk with me." Once the young woman caught up, the gunslinger continued. "Ye can use this time to gimme some ammo. Ye said ye wronged Safeholme. I got a feelin it's bigger than that, but I ain't gonna press. I do need to know why yer comin back now, and why ye had a change o' heart. I cain't go to bat fer ye without it."
"I have been in intermittent isolation for the last decade," answered Eryl, a little less prim in having to keep up the other woman. Having to keep up with someone else seemed to make it difficult for her to mask herself, so she sounded a bit hastened, "Throughout that time, I have kept a finger upon the pulse of the world, and only until recently have I heard of Mr. Caxton's condition. I swore that I would never interfere in their affairs, but I cannot stand idly by as he dies because of me."
The dainty woman was being very conscious of trying not to get her boots too muddy as she walked, "That is why I came to you, you have no reason to hate me, and you are very close to Mr. Flynn."
"Well, ye ain't an idiot, and that's a good start," Jane responded, "But yer in a habit of overestimatin my relations. Mr. Flynn is an administrator and a friend, but I don't do close." The rest of Eryl's story stood up to her brief, logical analysis. "The next obvious question then, Mizz Maelgwyn, is why did ye go inta hidin?" They were about halfway back to the house and passing by the garden on their left. The house itself was blatantly American, and rustic, due in large part to Jane's preferred method of construction. She had almost opted for a log cabin, but the nearby wood wasn't something she was familiar with, and winters weren't very gentle. "And ye ought to come prepared with an apology."
Eryl began to tremble at that last statement, she seemed ready until that moment. She began to slow her pace, before taking a deep breath, "Lady Smith, you may have noticed, I am not quite like other mages in this world, and I do not mean my eyes. I am... displaced... Almost by two hundred years. All I know has changed, those I knew are long dead, and the Library of Cardiff is a different beast than it was. The story of my attack on Mr. Caxton is long, and variably complex, but the abridged tale is that I tried to take from him something that could have killed him in order to win my freedom. The mages of Safeholme tried to kill me, and very nearly succeeded, and I was released as an act of mercy."
The more lavishly dressed mage, managed to bring herself back to Jane's side, "I have spent these last years in solitude, as I have no one to turn to. As you can see, I do not blend well in this strange, concrete society."
Jane paused on the stoop and turned toward Eryl to scoff. Planting dirty hands on her denim hips, she looked every bit the schoolmarm disciplinarian. "What? Y'all don't apologize two hundred years ago? I'm sure yer story is a real heart-tugger, but ye cain't expect to waltz up onto m' property and find a pity party. Ye said it yerself: ye bout killed 'im, and his posse let ye go. He deserves yer sincerest, heartfelt apologies, and ye damn well better mean it."
She opened the door and stepped in, leaving Eryl out on the step by herself. Jane's venerable pair of belts hung from a peg to the left of the door. Before Eryl could finish processing all the gunslinger had said, Jane drew a single revolver and aimed it at the time traveler's chest. "And let me be crystal clear, Mizz Maelgwyn. If ye came up here thinkin ye could pull a fast one, an ol' rope-a-dope, and get me to deliver yer old foes to ye on a silver platter, understand this: betrayal will be met with a fire and fury what hadn't even been invented two hundred years ago. If ye cross me and live long enough to flee, ye will run the remainder o' yer days until I find ye and put enough lead in ye to sink a battleship."
A bell tolled in the distance, but it was heard clearly by the two women on the steps. Eryl was frozen, staring above the weapon into the more dangerous eyes of Jane Smith. The mage brought her hands together again. Despite the threats, the look on the Welsh woman's face seemed to show she expected it. She hid further expression by turning her head, hiding herself from Jane, or perhaps the gun.
"You have my word, Lady Smith," answered Eryl calmly and carefully. "All I ask is that if I am to deliver myself in person, you be there. As to give them what little faith they could have in my words. The proposition I offer is already... treacherous... to a high degree, but I have great faith that it will save Mr. Caxton. I foresee skepticism, as I foresaw in you, but all I can do is provide the means."
Spinning the revolver around her finger was a beautifully and elegentally executed maneuver that ended with the weapon tucked safely back in its holster. "Well, regardless of what yer word may or may not be worth, I shoot straight -- in both the literal and figurative meanings. I won't be takin my eye off ye, Mizz Maelgwyn, not until I see you undo what ye done, whatever that may be. And I meant every single word I just said." The belts were plucked from their peg as Jane strode into the house. "Now make yerself comfy, I have t' get clean if we're gon see some people."
Jane returned in just under ten minutes, fully garbed in her traditional ensemble: hat, duster, a button-up shirt (plain black this time), jeans, and boots. Oh, and the guns, of course. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. "Alright. Let's go see a man about his health."
The Safeholme Dorms
A traditional mage, through and through, Eryl got around using portals, enchanting doors to make them viable walk-ways. Anything on the Safeholme grounds, however, was terribly warded and forced them both to walk out of an empty bathroom from a convenience store a block down. The walk up the street to the dorms was enough time for Eryl's face to settle down from the embarassment, and slowly chill to white as she approached the place. Likely, were it not for Jane's coaxing at the front gate, the Welsh woman would have abandoned the cause.
Urged on, they went on to the first floor of the facilities, few of the students actually out in about, nor too interested in what they saw as two teachers were doing. The oldest students lived down here, nearest to the RA, so the youngest knew where to go in case of trouble. Percival, being the RA, was set with a door that was a shade different form the others, the runes R.A. on the surface, with his name inscribed just below in a gentle glow. That immenating light reflected off the wary triclops' eyes.
"Ough..." the shorter of the women put her hand to her stomach, appearing faint, "I can't do this."
Eryl turned, as if to exit, her face a blanching white, "I cannot do this, I will die."
As Eryl began to flee, Jane snatched her wrist firmly and knocked on the door. "A little shame never killed anyone, Mizz Maelgwyn. Just their pride."
"I do not have the stomach for this, I'm--," protested Eryl, interuptted by an answer at the door.
Hiss! Clack! Shunk! Percival's door sounded like a safe, and the lettering on the surface faded as the door swung in a bit to a bright orange glow. Out popped the head of what Jane could likely guess was a fire pixie, no taller than from her thumb to her small finger. She blinked her bright orange eyes, and smiled widely for the guests.
"Hello!" said the spirited sprite, "Are you two looking for Mr. Caxton?"
"No," sputtered Eryl.
"Yes," Jane corrected. "Ignore her, she's suffering a furious bout o' cognitive dissonance. Is he in?"
"Yes! He's working on something at the moment, though, so he sent me to get the door for him," the sprite pulled the door open into a room that was much larger than should have been space for inside the dorms. What they saw was a large, open space, filled to the brim with books, beakers, and what could possibly be bomb. A practical alchemist's paradise of different items, allowing for many different sorts of experiments. Dangerous implements hung over a rune-covered anvil, pipes pumped over a work bench, and on shelves throughout were many planters filled with the strangest variety of rare plants and roots.
The lights were dim, shape and color given only by luminescent mushrooms in jars throughout the workshop. Over one counter, near a boiling pot and a few percolating vials stood a one-armed man attending to his esoteric practice.
"Mr. Caxton! You have a couple visitors! A cowboy and a fortune-teller!" giggled the sprite.
"One moment, Jakku," said Percy, looking up at a bubbling concoction from the safety of a set of clamps. Without looking at the two women, he called over his shoulder, "Sorry for the inconvenience, Jane, I'm a bit in the process of something intensive. Who's your friend?"
Jane took a moment to take in the sights. It was a mad scientist's lab, complete with Frankenstein's assistant. She'd never seen anything like it in person. It took a few moments for her to recover and casually place herself between Percival and Eryl.
"We can wait for proper innerductions, Mr. Caxton. I'd hate t' innerupt yer work."
Eryl was quite taken as well, her eyes scanning across all the curiosities throughout the room. The Triclops gave a glance at the door, which Jakku flew to close behind them, sparks trailing her flightpath.
"Thank you, Jane, these things are very hard to get right," Percival continued to work on what concoction seemed to be brewing. "Been hard to concetrate... I've been getting this strange feeling in my left shoulder. Hard to shake it these past couple of days."
He shook the vial within the clamps, and leaned his head over, "Jakku!"
"Yes!" the fire sprite flew over, and hovered under the vial, and began glowing white hot. The solution began to bubble strongly. He made a shaking motion again, which seemed to signal the small faerie to fly away. The vial was placed under a dripping alembic, and when a couple of the drops hit the liquid, it turned black.
"Ah... Shit!" Percival lobbed the vial up into the air, and with a hissing howl, it sparked to life, and collapsed in on itself. With the vial gone, the Alchemist was left to stare at the empty air. Dejected, the man tossed the clamp on to the table, and began to rub his head. "There goes about three hours of work... Grand."
Jane caught a whisper from behind, Eryl's voice, "We should probably go, if he's in a sour mood... perhaps this isn't the best time."
"Nonsense," she answered quietly. "Mr. Caxton, I reckon ye got somewhere more comfy t' talk. We've got a lot to discuss." She did a fair job of maintaining a position between the alchemist and the witch, but it wasn't easy to manage while keeping her casual demeanor.
"Sure, the side room links to the actual room," Percival turned, and then so did Eryl. The Alchemist gained a wary look in his eye, having seen the spin, but not seeming to recognize the triclops. He arched a brow, before looking up at Jakku, who seemed a bit sheepish after the implosion. With a comforting smile, he pat his shoulder, which the faerie quickly jumped to, wiping her eyes. "It must be important, considering how late it is... and how..."
Those discerning green eyes caught how well-equipped Jane was, and the wand at Eryl's hip, "... prepared you are..."
They were led through the side door by a wary Percy, leading into a place that was much more like a private living quarters. A wide dorm room, with a table and chairs for conversation. "Ahem... er... tea, Jane?"
Jane hadn't even thought of the time. When something needed to be handled, she simply did so. "Please," she said with a faint smile. Raised around coffee lovers, she often forgot how much she enjoyed a cup of hot tea. As it was handed to her, she spoke.
"Mr. Caxton, I'm gon ask ye t' do somethin ye've never had to do fore now. I'm gon ask ye t' trust me. Explicitly. I cain't do what I set out to do here if ye don."
The already thinly Caxton became just a bit more gaunt at the prospect offered. Jane was right, Percy had become an insular and fidgety husk that had trouble warming up to people, asking to trust was difficult. A stiff wind blew through the open window, roiling the hair of those in the room, and the moon bounced off their eyes just so to see the true hearts of all involved.
"Rather audacious," commented Percy, taking his own tea to his lips, "but, alright. You wouldn't come here without great purpose. I surmise it has something to do with this other, armed mage you've brought here. Wand at her hip, skittish, dressed for a fight."
Eryl hunched her shoulders, choosing to keep Jane between her and the Alchemist.
"Precisely. I'm deeply sorry fer the whole song n dance, s'not my style, but it felt necessary. Now, ye said ye'll trust me. Trust me now when I say that ye cain't answer what I'm bout t' share with violence." There was a brief pause to let him process that. "This mage is Mizz Eryl Maelgwyn, and she's here cuz she thinks she can help fix yer... Problem. Tryna make amends, like." Jane sipped her tea while gauging his reaction. Chances were it would be her last opportunity to enjoy it hot.
Eryl turned to finally look at the man, which settled in the shock of hearing the woman's name aloud. Percival brought his hand up to his vest, suddenly on the defensive. There was a tense air that filled the room in that moment. The most prevalent of those emotions being confusion and frustration.
"Help me? How does she intend to help me?" Percival asked Jane, his voice becoming raised. "Ten years. I spent three of those in a god damn cave freezing and researching a way to fix my problem. Wha--..."
"Mr. Cax--," Eryl tried to speak, trying to insert herself.
"I was not speaking to you," seared the man, his eyes hot enough to melt ice. The harshness of the words were almost a slap to the face for the triclops, which robbed the voice from her. The Alchemist turned his attention back to Jane to reiterate his point. "If you know she's here to make good, then you know what she did. Why do you trust her? What do you think she can do for me. What do you have to know she won't backstab the whole of us for going along with what she's schemed?"
This was expected, and failed to rile a reaction from the gunslinger. "In fairness, ye could say I got the abridged version, but yes. Yer a cripple cuz of her, and on the brink of death. She ruined yer life. Ye got every right t' take yer pound o flesh. But..."
She paused to drain more of her tea. "But if I got it straight, yer also out of options. And she says she's got one -- a long shot, mind, but better than nil. And now I'm asking ye t' trust m' judgment fer the same reason Mr. Flynn does; fer the same reason he hired me and took me to work on the France project. And I've explained the cost of treachery."
A gun was laid on the table.
The weapon had a burning glint to it, and all eyes in the room were on it in one moment, as if it drew all the light in the room. A heavy, burdensome aura filled the room, putting weight on the backs of all in the room. Percival's load was the lightest, as bitterness and anger were his only weights. Jane carried her fair share, bearing a burden for both of the mages on either side of her: it was her pistol on the table after all.
Yet, none seemed as heavy as was on Eryl's shoulders, the way they slumped. She was cursed with the burden of guilt, and the burden of proof. The pressure upon her was great.
Her hand went for her wand, "I can show you--"
Jane's hands both shot out simultaneously, one landing on the revolver and the other on Eryl's wrist. There was no panic, but rather a wary tension in her eyes. "Mizz Maelgwyn, I don think that's a wise course o action jus now. An anyways, ye said we needed other folks."
A noticeable glow flowed from the spot where Jane's hand gripped the witch's wrist. Eryl's body appeared to be coated in a kind of shield. Pressing hard enough, the American reached skin, and proved to be much stronger than the spindly triclops. Her attempts at drawing away were feeble at best.
"I...! It's only...! I'm not trying anyth--...!" growled Eryl, losing patience with being touched, and also becoming significantly embarassed. Her reddened cheeks only lit up the frustration in her blue eyes, "There's no need to be so... fresh... about it."
The gunner turned to Percival. "We should get th' other Occultus mages involved. Establish a safe workin space, n then see what she has in mind."
The Alchemist leaned upon the table, brow furrowed. Jane's words still bouncing around in his mind, his eyes on the restrained hand. His hand came up to his chin, rubbing a stubble he had yet to shave in the evening's work.
"You're right, on both accounts," he summarized, "Beggars can't be choosers, and in my state... I'm quite beggared..."
Disgruntled, he fished out his phone from his pocket, "I'll ring up the others on the mobile, and see how soon they can arrive."
Jane's grip relaxed, but did not free her. "Mizz Maelgwyn, please. I believe ye, but ye have to unnerstan' why I stopped ye. Yer presence is gonna put people on edge. Ye gotta take these things slow. At our pace." The gun slid into its holster with a soft shuffle of leather.
The story unfolds around Osaka, Japan, with the unlocking of one girl's hidden potential, and a gathering of Young mages whom are destined to change the fate of the Earth.
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