[Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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Straken
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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"Sounds good to me," Ruarc replied as he handed the hammer over to Jane. The moment the tool left his hand, it reverted back to the impenetrably black gemstone from before. Even in the darkness of the undercroft, Jane could see the gem as a black void in the palm of her hand. The gem felt oddly familiar but at the same time entirely eldritch in nature. To her side she could no longer see Ruarc, behind her a tumbleweed rolled across the walkway into a side room; and ahead of her stood a tall gaunt man with a pallid face, a long black duster, a flat brimmed gambler hat, and embossed black leather boots with silver spurs. Jane's trained eyes could also spot a gun belt at his waist beneath the duster.

"Evenin', Miss Smith," the man in black said, his voice sounding rough but quite relaxed. "You can call me... Sam. Was hopin' I'd get to meet you soon. Got a deal you might find amenable. Ya see, I like your style, and think that this could be a good match for you."

From his gun belt, the man withdrew a long barreled black iron Schofield revolver. Holding the gun loosely in his off hand with the barrel pointed towards himself, he held it out for Jane to inspect, and more to the point for Jane to accept. It was an exquisite piece. The metal held the same deep black of the gemstone, engraved with Middle Eastern styled flowing lines inlaid with nickel, a polished walnut grip, and matching nickel trigger and hammer.

"Might I offer you a hammer?" the man's face was placid in the shadow of his hat.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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Jane had a sense of displacement, as if she were at once standing still and running up an incline. The dark metal of the barrel struck a chord that resonated with the violence in her heart. The Jane that was standing still reached out with the gem-filled hand and took up the revolver. It fit perfectly in her left hand. She held it up to examine, but sensed more than saw its many details.

"Ye say welcome, I say thankee," both Janes answered.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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As Jane inspected the proffered firearm, the mysterious stranger struck a match against his duster and lit a cigarette. A long drag illuminated his face in burning hues. His eyes were alien and unnerving with solid black sclera and thin white circles where his irises would be, and his cheeks became gaunt and skeletal. On the exhale, his appearance returned to normal. The jingle of spurs announced his departure as his duster began to billow gently.

"I am the one constant of this world. I am Uncertainty. I am Change. I am Luck. I am Chaos," Sam's words sounded like they were coming from the gun rather than the man as he stepped passed Jane, heading down the tunnel. Should Jane look back, the man would be gone. All that remained of the interaction was the gun. A careful eye and linguistic knowledge could identify in the elegant lines the Arabic word for Chaos.

"Alright, just belt these books here," Ruarc said as he fussed with some belt loops on the back of the belt at his wait. Jerking slightly, he was caught off guard as his outfit suddenly reverted back to normal. Looking back, the Irishman gave Jane an Everything alright? look as he arched an eyebrow. Lingering for a moment, he turned back up the slope and dug out the runes in question. Just below the stairs the duo could hear the clash of metal and gusts of wind as all of the gunfire had fallen silent save for the occasional staccato of a pistol firing quickly.

"You two get back to the security room! We need back up!" called a booming voice in a thick German accent.
"Move it, Clemens!" Inquisitor Toussaint shouted. Another staccato of gunfire sounded as it retreated out of the courtyard.

Looking back to Jane, Ruarc gave an affirmative nod as he gripped the runes. He focused a lot of energy into them, and after a few moments he wound up and threw the runes up and out of the undercroft towards where the fight was taking place. A second passed, and the courtyard above them lit up like the sun and sounded like a bomb went off. Without missing a beat, Ruarc sprinted up the stairs and got his first view of the carnage. Bodies of Swiss guardsmen lay strewn around the courtyard, each with some form of savage gash across their chest or some horrific looking burns. The statues and the shrubberies were similarly sliced, shouldering, and utterly unrecognizable.

Across the courtyard was the brute of a guard that had his hand sliced off at the start of the fight, now swinging his bastard sword with his remaining hand. Valiantly, or rather stubbornly, he squared off with the dark figure opposite him. Ruarc recognized the man immediately. The magical world's most wanted, ex-druid Alexei. The large guard was visibly winded and his arm stump was losing blood quickly, and he seemed to have staggered at the detonation of the runes. Alexei was covering his eyes, but looked to have an amused smirk on face. But Alexei was not their goal tonight, and so Ruarc directed Jane to an adjoining hall to take them out of the courtyard and began to run.

"Thanks for passing the time," Alexei could be heard saying as the two entered the hall. The dying cry of the brute followed.

The path they were on back to their point of entry would take them passed the security room unless the castle had a secondary one, and with Alexei on their heels the shortest route out of the building was preferable. They would probably need to force their way passed the two Inquisitors in all likelihood. Occasionally, Ruarc would slow a step, chant, and then rupture the stone of the hallway to hopefully block it off, or at least slow down their pursuer.

They were making good time, now that they were less worried about detection. Behind them, the occasional sound of one of Ruarc's barricades being broken pressing them forward. As Jane rounded a corner, a gunshot sounded and a pistol round skimmed the brim of Jane's hat before burying itself in the wall. Skidding to a halt before he collided with his partner, Ruarc took the time to chant and throw up another stone barrier behind them.

"Stop defiling this bastion with your vile magic!" Inquisitor Toussaint practically screamed as she fired a couple more shots in anger down the hallway until the clip ran dry. A glimpse around the corner showed Toussaint throw her empty pistol to the side and draw a slim saber from a scabbard; likely obtained from the security room. "My subordinate is calling for reinforcements as we speak. Miss Smith, my offer of clemency stands. All you need to do is apprehend the heretic. This is my last offer."

The woman began to chant.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels...
"Having a laugh?" Ruarc laughed in spite of the situation, while having no real concern of Jane backstabbing him. "Those are lines from Saint Patrick's Breastplate."

As the woman chanted, a shimmer of golden light radiated around her head like a glowing halo. Behind them, another barricade broke.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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As Sam departed, Jane could feel her two selves meld together once more. All of her was standing still once more, near the exit of the undercroft and making eye contact with a concerned druid. Jane nodded reassuringly in silent answer to a silent question.

Then they were off on a mad dash through the castle. Exit stage left - pursued by a bear. Calamity Jane didn't know where the joke had come from, only that it was fitting in that moment.

Any mirth was jostled free as she skidded to a halt and eluded gunfire. That damnable zealot again. But she had Jane's gears turning.

"Oh? N what about this other un what come stampedin through, worse n a bull in a china shop?" Her gesture toward Alexei's approach was muted: it was never wise to make large gestures when wielding firearms. People developed all sorts of ideas.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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In the deeds of righteous men.
Toussaint finished her prayer. A gleaming haze seemed to settle around her in the hallway as her thaumaturgy took full effect.

"You need not worry about him, should you move quickly and cease these delays," her tone was stone edged, but Jane could detect worry in the fringes; a slight shake to her voice. "Reinforcements are in route, and will be here before long. Add your strength to our, as you seem an accomplished mercenary, and we can hold him off; or even defeat him."

A bluff?

Toussaint approached the corner with perhaps fifty feet to go, brandishing her saber as the blade seemed to glow with a white fire. "You have until I reach you, then you will share the man's fate."

Another barrier broke. Ruarc quickly planted his hands onto the barrier and reinforced it. Alexei was speeding up. He must know they were approaching the exit. "I'm right behind you Jane. If we both hit her at once we can press the advantage," Ruarc said over his shoulder as the stone bulwark was reinforced with stone struts. Toussaint's face at the sound of more shifting stone was one of barely contained fury.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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" Trust me," she whispered. Her holster and jacket also whispered as she stowed her weapons. Jane pulled a length of rope from beneath her jacket and rapidly tied Ruarc's hands before he could protest. " Be ready." Then she booted him in the ass hard enough to send him sprawling. If he tested the bonds he would find them easily unraveled.

Jane drew- Lightning in her right and Black Hammer on his left- as she approached the Inquisitor. "I accept! I've bound the druid, now help me with the next one!" Jane slowly edged around the corner so as not to startle the Inquisitor. "He is incredibly powerful. We must deal with this now." She glanced briefly at the prone form of Ruarc then back. "Then we can wrap this up."

Sorry, Ruarc, but this I must do. She raised her weapons and aimed down the hall, at the final barrier between them and the evil Jane had been summoned to quell.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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Ruarc's momentary confusion was born of surprise, but even as he tumbled hard onto his shoulder he felt sure Jane was planning something. In the back of his mind he considered the possibility that she could turn him in, but the thought felt bizarre and unfair. Jane could have easily drifted off and gone her own way years ago; instead she had stuck around and been a great help to him in building up Safeholme, as the other members of the team had gone on to other projects over time. The dummy knot around his wrists confirmed Jane was still on his side. Now his biggest concern was timing. Jane was either putting Ruarc in position to flank, or come into the fight at a point when it would be ludicrous for the Inquisitor to try and fight on so many fronts thus accepting him as an odd bedfellow. Either way, the Druid now needed patience. Which was easier said than done as on one side of him was a man who could be easily described as a nemesis, while on the other was a mage hunter; who had locked eyes on Ruarc and looked ready to run him through right then and there.

"Don't be robbing the hangman, madam," Ruarc said, not needing to try too hard to sound slightly worried about the saber pointing his way.

"Funny, you think you'll hang," Toussaint said in passing. She moved to stand near Jane. Ruarc, and Jane when the Inquisitor drew near, felt like he was covered in warm cotton; although Ruarc felt like the cotton also housed a large amount of energetic bees. The zealot dropped into a low sword fighting stance. "So the second one really isn't associated with that one?"

Time began to drag on and Alexei should have reached the final barrier by now. Could he be going around? What was he doing?

Knock. Knock. Knock.

It was faint, but there was knocking from the other side of the barricade. Attention was drawn to the wall of stone.

"What the...?" Toussaint started to ask. Ruarc's attention was drawn back down the hall. He'd thought he'd heard something. From the gloom of the darkened corridor came a black mass.

"Watch out!" Ruarc called as quickly as he could while starting to work on his knotted wrists. In a blur, the mass was upon the group in a flurry of sharpened claws and jet black feathers. Throwing its full weight and momentum into the assault, Alexei's raven familiar raked at Jane's face before carrying forward and attempting to strike at Toussaint as well. The Inquisitor swung her saber, the blade passing within a foot of Jane's head, and sliced through the raven's body.

As if on cue, the barricade erupted into a shower of dust and splintered stone.

"Knock knock," Alexei called through the echo of destruction as he raise a stout scarred branch. "K’amu atseliner."

Toussaint would recognize this cant as the spell that had eviscerated her guards, feeling the effects personally as the razor thin margin of wind collided with her exposed midsection.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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"No, they're... Rivals." She explained as best she could guess: Jane didn't actually know their relations, other than that they were sour.

The brief lull was unnerving. Then, suddenly she was beset by talons. The damage was minimal thanks to the thick sleeves of her duster. But when the bird fell, blood stained those sleeves and ran tiny rivulets down her arms.

"K'amu atseliner." the words were too calm. Jane was in a dodge roll by the time the wind rolled over her, knocking her askance. She still came up on one knee, skidding a few more inches. The open was no place to be.

She rose, leveled her arms, and fired, covering her own move to concealment. BAM BOOM-

There was a pause after the second shot. It was momentary, so brief it was likely no one else noticed, but in the world of a Gunslinger it was the kind of pause that could forever alter a fight.

The reason was simple. If her Lightning produced Thunder with each shot, the Black Hammer bellowed like Hephaestus's forge as the god smithied Zeus's bolts. But the moment passed and six more shots rang out before Jane made it around the corner.

It was then, of course, she realized she may not have proper ammo for her new tool. She thumbed the break action and peeked into the cylinder to see what she was working with.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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The powerful handguns were deafening in the hallway, and the reverberation of Jane's new piece could be felt almost as strong. A more inexperienced gunslinger might have lost control, but Jane adapted to the recoil as the first round firing practically made her teeth rattle. The gun, or rather the gem, had been sealed away for countless years and was anxious to be unleashed. In the time it took the bullets to fly, Jane could register more than actively see a bright line trace around Alexei and meet the bullet in the air; resulting in the round shattering into glittering dots of molten metal. The same thing happened when the Black Hammer's round approached, only this round made a radiant dome shimmer into view around Alexei as two more lines shot out; once they crossed the first one the second round erupted as well.

Alexei had been focused on the Inquisitor at first, up until he spotted Ruarc hogtied on the ground behind the two women. He was just about to laugh at the scene when Jane opened fire. Once one of the Hammer rounds struck his barrier any humor he may have shown evaporated, and his hunter's eyes locked with hers. The barrage of rounds belched fire and slag, and the dark druid squinted his eyes against the heat as the darting lines flew around in trios now to intercept the cowgirl's attacks. "Seems the little foal found a curious new toy," the man's voice was hard edged as he once again set his eyes on Ruarc. "Irrelevant."

The end of the branch in his hand began to glow like a hot ember as sparks flit off of it occasionally; it was aimed at the prostrate Irishman who in turn had locked a defiant gaze at the man who had haunted him for a decade now. Ruarc for his part was carefully undoing the knot around his wrists. It wasn't difficult, but he wanted to maintain the illusion of helplessness until the right moment; and that meant keeping his arms as still as possible. "Not here for either of you. Give. Me. The books."

Toussaint seemed to have a similar idea, as after Alexei had taken a couple steps closer she snaked upward startlingly fast in a lithe motion that brought her fiery saber around before lunging. Redirecting his blasting rod, Alexei unleashed a blistering gout of fire. The flames dissipated into tendrils of light within the golden haze around the woman, but the residual heat caused her to flinch enough for Alexei to use the rod to deflect the saber.

Around the corner, the break action revolver folded open with well-oiled ease. Inside the break, the nickel inlayed line work continued as it wrapped around the six round cylinder; while still in another flowing language, Jane felt she could read it just fine.
Knock Twice On The Gates of Pandæmonium, It Answers Only Once
Beyond that, the beautiful gun was incredibly simple and straightforward beneath its intricate surface. The cartridges it already held looked to be nickel plated forty-fives, although they were the shorter variant endemic to the Schofield. The only oddity lay in the hammer. It could be cocked twice. An odd sense of anxiety played at the edge of Jane's consciousness, it source she could not place.
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Re: [Prelude] In the Pursuit of Knowledge

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Anxiety was an alien problem to Jane Smith, and she tackled it head-on like she would any other. First things first, she reloaded. Her cartridges along the crisscrossed belts weren't perfectly sized, but they would take. She cocked both hammers. Her left thumb was eager to double-cock the Black Hammer, but she resisted.

Now that she had dialed in on her new weapon's rhythm, Jane cut the corner and rapidly delivered 11 shots down the hall before taking cover again.
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