Hvs.tCF 119:2/Text

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As the perfect warlord said his name, Jack's state of pure observation crumbled apart and collapsed. Bird calls and voices at the edge of his hearing faded out. He no longer saw each leaf on each distant tree as a distinct, fluttering thing. He could prioritize his impressions, assign meanings to things.

In short, he could think again. Which was quite well, because it seemed the time for it.

Parson Gotti was saying that he could not be turned back, and that it pained him. The contract was the obstacle. He might still be Loyal to Gobwin Knob, but his Duty to his once-and-future side would prevent him from turning back and incurring a penalty to the treasury.

"I haven't got any plans," Jack said, feigning a casual shrug. "Haven't got a Chief Warlord to give me any."

Parson Gotti did not laugh at the jest. He folded the arms of the incongruous suit of clothes he was wearing. "Okay, well I have plans. I'm going to Charlescomm. Those are my orders." He indicated the portal at his back. "Are you going to shoot me if I try, Marie?"

"Yes," said the Predictamancer, immediately and with confidence.

From her posture and voice, Jack was certain Marie did not want to shoot, but that she absolutely would. She knew something vital (oh, didn't she always?), but she did not know what to do with the information.

"Okay," said Parson Gotti, glancing around. He looked into the distance, as if scanning for something in particular. His eyes darted. After a moment his head made a slight jerk, then he looked down at the grass and nodded.

"Um. Charlie says he will disband me, rather than allow me to be shot and Decrypted," he said, with a forced smile. "So I guess that's two guns to my head. Anyone else? Wanda? Artemis? Angry bystanders? Everybody form a line."

No-one spoke, including Sister Wanda, who glared up at the big man. Her grip on the Glory suggested that she considered attacking Parson Gotti to be within her range of immediate options.

With the barest gesture of his hand, Jack cast a tiny spell, placing a question in Marie's ear, in his own voice.

"Who is the scroll for, Sister?"

The Predictamancer glanced at him in surprise, then indicated the portal with a tilt of her head. "Your Archon," she mouthed subtly.

It took conscious effort to mask his surprise. Archons could not pass through portals, he was certain. "Here?" he sent. "Soon?"

She nodded.

Jack stroked his chin and sorted through all the impressions of Parson Gotti he'd gathered in his observational reverie. Raiment and livery notwithstanding, this was his friend, a man he well knew. He'd spent many enjoyable hours with the Good Warlord, as they'd amused themselves and one another by supposing this and that absurdity about a battlefield.

And for all his recklessness with Language, Parson Gotti had a way of speaking that was deceptively precise. He only repeated himself when he felt he was not being properly understood.