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fic - the faithful and the brave : 26 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - the faithful and the brave : 26 [novella]
Title:  The Faithful and the Brave
Part:  26

The Faithful and the Brave
Part 26

They looked up when the door to the library opened.  The old scholar was most of the way into the room before he stopped and blinked at them in some confusion.

Quatre smiled brightly at him.  "Magister Pargan.  We didn't expect you to be working so late tonight."

"Hmm, yes, well... I come down here sometimes late at night when sleep eludes me..."  He finished entering the library and shut the door behind him.  "When I saw a light beneath the door, I thought perhaps some acolytes were doing some late-night studying.  Instead, I find you.  This is... most unusual."

"The libraries are open, you said, and I'm afraid that, after bringing back the information we learned from you earlier today, my friend and I," he gestured to Wufei, "got into a little academic dispute over the nature of the demon St. Ajora subdued.  We simply had to settle the matter as soon as possible."

"I... see.  Oh!"  He had taken note of Sylvia and the dragoon off to the side, but he had just walked in far enough to see around a bookcase and find two more of their number hidden there.  "My office!  I keep it locked!"

Heero frowned faintly at him.  "My apologies.  It was not locked when I got here."

Beside him, Duo presented the slightly concerned expression of one that is fairly certain he has done nothing wrong and hopes there will be no trouble.  The door hadn't been locked when Heero got there because Duo had gotten there first and unlocked it, and then presented it to Heero to do the honors for the sake of deniability all around.  But that was a pleasantly minor detail.

"Magister Pargan, since you're here...," Quatre said, drawing the scholar's attention away from his office.  "When we parted, you left us with some advice.  You told us not to confuse religious texts with historical texts.  After looking through many of the books you have here in this library, I think I understand your point.  Most of them seem to be scholarly analysis of what the stories mean -- what virtues each of the Zodiac Braves represented, how the struggle of St. Ajora versus the demon reflects man's daily struggle against the darkness within himself.  I might almost be tempted to believe the story nothing more than a convenient fabrication crafted as a morality tale for the masses."  He studied Pargan's expression carefully behind a harmless smile.

The bold statement gave Pargan pause for but a moment.  "You are right, to a certain extent.  As a scholar, I cannot deny that some of our historical documents seem more... embellished than others.  And yet legends of all kinds often find their basis in fact.  We know for a fact that a great tsunami overtook Murond a mere day after St. Ajora's execution at the hands of the Pharists, wiping out the seat of their power.  Murond today bears signs of it."

"There is certainly no question as to St. Ajora's existence.  You even have records here from the old Holy Ysdoran Empire making mention of Ajora Glabados, and certainly they would have no reason to contribute to the religion that sprang up around a man they executed as a heretic and rebel."

"My, you have been quite thorough in your research in so short a time."

"Trowa there just got lucky, I'm sure," Quatre demurred.

The dragoon shrugged.  "It looked old."  And he had been around Duo long enough to know how to quickly break down a collection of objects into categories of worth.  Duo himself had gravitated almost immediately to the objects behind locked doors.

Beside him, Sylvia made a politely near-silent sound of disdain.  She was present under protest.  She in no way approved of this invasion into Pargan's realm.

"Of the Zodiac Braves, however," Quatre continued.  "Well, we've yet to find the seed of truth within that tale.  But as you said, we ought not to confuse religious texts with historical texts, and these thick tomes of academic debate are certainly the former.  Have you any historical documents on the topic?"

The old man thought it over for a few seconds.  "Not anything like what you seem to be seeking.  I have an excellent collection of children's tales that includes the story of the Zodiac Braves.  But while there are details given in that story, the history has no doubt been fictionalized."

"Another library then, perhaps?  Do you have any insight into where else we might do our research?"

"Orbonne's vast stores have not yet been exhausted.  You are familiar with the Zodiac Stones.  If you desire evidence that the Braves are more than a mere morality tale, then I tell you, the Zodiac Stones exist.  We have one here in our reliquary."

"Here?"  Quatre affected surprise, for he certainly recalled that Sylvia had mentioned this earlier.  "Each Brave carried a Stone, by which Ajora could be certain they were worthy to join his fight.  I had not expected that those Stones might be left behind."

"There are a few sources that suggest that Ajora might have been the one to give them the Stones, as sign that they were worthy.  But regardless.  Yes, the Virgo Stone lies within Orbonne's hallowed vaults."

"That's incredible.  May we see it?"

"The vaults do receive visitors.  Err, now?"

"Oh, well, certainly if it would be more convenient to leave it for tomorrow..."

Pargan sighed.  "Well, since we are all up anyway."

Quatre thanked him with enthusiasm while Duo and Heero slipped quietly out of Pargan's office and shut the door behind them.

They formed a procession down the hall to a staircase leading down to a lower level of the great monastery.  They passed by some areas of storage before finding another staircase dropping farther into the bowels of the building.  The stairs were a bit uneven, but cared for and not overly claustrophobic for a party of seven.  "Orbonne is one of the oldest monasteries of the Church of Glabados, is it not?" Wufei asked.

"It is indeed," Pargan responded.  "Said to have been built upon the site of an ancient palace."

"Not very modest," Duo murmured, pitching his voice well for this space they were in.  He was somewhat practiced in the art of acoustics, especially when it came to not making more noise than he wanted to.

"What more noble purpose than to take that which was once consecrated to mortal power and devote it instead to the gods?  Also, the vaults beneath the palace were ideal to the monastery's purposes, as you will see yourself."

Wufei let his fingers trail over the cool stones that formed these old halls.  "Are there any other holy artefacts housed here?"

"All of the Church's most holy of artefacts are housed at the Grand Cathedral in Murond.  Orbonne is a place of study.  Most of our vaults are filled with documents, historical items.  The bones of some of our High Pontiffs are laid to rest here.  We've just passed the hall where one might find relics from the reign of High Pontiff Marcellus."

"Their names are restored to them after their death?"  Trowa had no problems admitting his ignorance.  Not everyone here cut their literary teeth on religious texts.

"Yes.  Quite fortunately for us scholars.  The Church has seen many High Pontiffs in her twelve hundred year history.  They would be difficult to track if all we had was their pious names."  He gestured to their right as they passed a side hall.  "Records from the Holy Convocation of eight-thirty-one."

Quatre nodded in appreciation.  "It's quite the maze you have down here."

"The upper sublevels are quite accommodating, once you've learnt their layout.  But there are lower sublevels to Orbonne -- or perhaps I should say, of the ancient palace -- that I believe have never been fully explored.  I've heard that some of the structure is no longer stable."

"I remember acolytes daring each other to explore."  Sylvia hung onto Heero's arm since the staircase was wide enough to walk side by side.  She had no need of him to steady her; rather, she felt she could perhaps keep him from engaging in any more unapproved trespass.

"Yes, and every so often, they are foolish enough to take that dare.  Oh, there haven't been any unfortunate incidents for quite some time, but the possibility is always there.  We do not like to encourage it."

Duo would totally have taken that dare.  "Ever find any pre-Cataclysm stuff down there?"

"We have, though not for a while.  We send it along to the appropriate stewards of such relics."

If Wufei had to guess, he probably meant private collectors rather than groups like the Sweepers.  "How well catalogued is this archive?"

"Ah, well, it is by no means complete, and perhaps occasionally inaccurate, but it is generally enough to point a scholar in the right direction.  We update it when we can."

"Have you a specialty?"

"Translation of ancient texts."  He paused before the threshold of a staircase leading down to the next level.  "And all of you?  I do not believe you quite explained your interest in the Zodiac Brave story earlier, Mage Quatre.  It is not idle curiosity that would cause a man and five of his friends to sacrifice sleep for a visit to a dusty old library."

Quatre's opinion of the old scholar had not changed.  Though the man was still holding back, Quatre sensed no ill intentions.  He chose to share a sanitized version of events.  "I wish it was nothing more than idle curiosity, Magister Pargan.  I wish it was.  My friends and I, we travel.  We work.  We hear things.  And recently, we have heard things that disturbed us."

"Regarding the Zodiac Braves?"

"Our... source of information was not so kind as to elaborate.  But what he said implied the possible reappearance of that demon which St. Ajora vanquished alongside the Zodiac Braves.  It seems unlikely, of course, and yet it seemed irresponsible not to at least put some research into the matter."

"Hmmm.  It does seem unlikely."  He sounded skeptical, but not judgmental.

"It was our hope that we might find some accounting here of how thoroughly St. Ajora vanquished that demon, that we might be able to dismiss this as some little bit of foolishness.  But we have not managed to find anything that would sway us in either direction."

"Your concern is praiseworthy indeed.  But I am quite certain that whatever Ajora vanquished, however he might have done it, the demon is not returning to this world."

"You think so?  Why not?"

Pargan was silent for a time.  "The scriptures say that the Zodiac Braves shall come to us again in time of need."

"We certainly mean no disrespect to the scriptures.  But if you mean to suggest that it is our duty as the faithful to merely sit back and wait to be saved, well, I personally believe that the gods help those that help themselves."

"The parable of Ajora and the coeurl," Duo cited helpfully.

"The gods, yes.  There are always the gods," Pargan murmured, rubbing his mustache thoughtfully.  "What makes you think Ajora's demon may rise again?"

"It may have been naught more than the rambling of a madman," Quatre hedged.  "But he made mention of these Zodiac Stones.  It seemed he wished to collect them, and use them somehow to revive this great evil."

"The Stones are holy artefacts."

"Perhaps he meant to destroy them.  Perhaps they stand in the way of his summoning?"

"You speak of 'him' in the past tense.  Is he no longer a threat?"

"He was not alone.  There may yet be others.  Madman or no, he demonstrated a willingness to kill to achieve his ends.  We felt we could all sleep easier at night if we did our due diligence."

"Well, in that case, let us see about getting you back to your beds."  He led the way down the stairs, automatically lecturing..  "There were twelve Zodiac Stones in total.  The Stone we have in residence is the Virgo Stone.  It is said to represent --"  He paused as a low noise came from vibrating up the stairwell.  "Oh dear, what was that?"

"Stone," Duo identified.  "Grinding against stone."

"A cave-in, I wonder?"

Heero shook his head slowly, hand falling automatically to the pommel of the sword on his belt.  "There is spellcasting coming from below."

"Dark spellcasting," Sylvia whispered, tightening her hold on Heero's arm and pressing close.

Quatre glanced at the siblings.  If he concentrated, he could feel a tingling around the edges of his senses, so perhaps it was so.  Magical energies resonated with different sensitivities.  "Magister Pargan.  Can you give us directions to the Virgo Stone?"

"Di-- Directions?"  Pargan wavered uncertainly.  He knew what they believed.  Only a minute ago, he had been skeptical of their story, and one ominous noise was not enough to shift his belief so quickly.  And yet there was a dreadful anxiety creeping its way down his nerves.

"To the Stone.  Please."

"The Stone..."  His convictions firmed for a moment.  "If there is danger to one of our holy artefacts, then I should attend."

"You should let us investigate," Quatre rebutted firmly, calmly.  "Just point us in the right direction, and I'm sure we'll be able to find our way from there.  You should return to library.  You and Sylvia both."

"Heero," Sylvia said in a small voice as she turned uneasy eyes to her brother.  Whatever that spell was, it felt wrong, and she did not like it.

He gave her hand on his arm a reassuring squeeze before gently urging her to release him.  "Go.  Upstairs, with Pargan.  Orbonne is familiar to you.  Find somewhere safe, around other people, perhaps."  He grimaced, remembering what time of night it was.

She frowned worriedly, but could not argue.  She could only kiss him on the cheek and tell him to be careful.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
tanuki02 From: tanuki02 Date: July 24th, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Our heroes may have arrived just in time to (hopefully) interrupt someone's evil plans!
I like the combination of physical action and brainpower as the guys work on trying to figure this thing out before every things goes to hell. They're really starting to pull together as a group,too, taking advantage of each other's talents and knowledge.
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: July 26th, 2016 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)
And where would they be, had Duo not suggested an after-hours visit to the library? ^^

I need more demons to deliver more evil monologues.  Just tell the guys what you're looking for, where you're planning to be, and what you're planning to do, and we could skip all this investigation nonsense already...
lavendarlizard From: lavendarlizard Date: July 28th, 2016 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
When you need to get going, the bad guys monologue all day, but when you want them to spill something helpful... nothing.

Creepiness coming up. I shall wait patiently for more. ^__^

turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 1st, 2016 07:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I've had a couple of bad guys start to monologue before... I think the guys have always just sort of rolled their eyes and shot the baddie before he really got going. ^^
sharona1x2 From: sharona1x2 Date: August 17th, 2016 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm excited for the next part. You set up what's (probably) going to happen in it very nicely. I should have known as soon as they started talking about the Stone being in safe keeping that it wouldn't stay that way. ;-)
turnippatch From: turnippatch Date: August 19th, 2016 06:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, they came all this way.  Surely something has to happen. =)
6 comments or Leave a comment