Eclipse Part 15

Kang stared at the screen, unable to help himself.  All activity in the kitchen ground to a stop.  The screens showed a long, grey marble corridor, illumined by two rows of unblinking cressets, flames that burned without pause or flicker.  A figure could be seen limping away from the camera, whatever the Maze used for cameras, toward an open door.  Who was it?  What was going on? By now the Maze must have killed the challenger, but that was surely the challenger, if barely on her feet.  Kang held his breath. 

The figure crossed the threshold.  Instantly, the room beyond was flooded with sunlight, sunlight visible nowhere else in the world.  The point of view shifted. 

The challenger stood in the Tomb of the Martyr, the final resting place of the man who had brought the Namestone to Earth.  There was the Martyr himself, lying in state atop his sarcophagus, hands crossed, his corpse unchanged over the thousands of years he had waited.  Above his fingers floated a glowing sphere of crystalline sky, the brightest of royal blues.  He held the Namestone, The Artifact That Grants Every Wish, The Key to Paradise. 

 The challenger walked slowly across the polished stone floor.  She was indeed a woman, Kang decided, very slim, but decidedly not boyish in her build.  Her garb was torn and stained with blood.  She’d lost the stocking cap in a fight.  Sweat plastered her hair to her scalp.  When she approached the Martyr, stains and rends in her garb’s fabric disappeared.  Her hair fluffed out, revealing short, perfectly cut golden curls.  Down from the ceiling floated a pale grey cape.  It folded over her shoulders, draping perfectly, its fall extending almost to her ankles.  She reached down and tugged at the cloth.  The cape flared, revealing a sigil, a solid circle overlapping a sun in glory.  Kang had a near-perfect photographic memory.  The challenger’s sigil, indeed any sigil including even a part of Lord of Eternity Solara’s sun-in-glory sigil, he had never seen. 

She reached the Martyr. “I am here,” she announced.  Her voice, Kang thought, was an upper soprano, its tones brilliantly clear. “I have read The Copper Book of Harvest Stars and obeyed its mandates.  I’m here for the Namestone.”

“Are you here to take the Holy Namestone, the Key to Paradise?”  The voice came from everywhere and nowhere. 

“I am here to ask you for the Namestone, if I’m worthy.  So speaks the Copper Book,” she answered. 

“Speak your name,” the voice commanded. 

“Eclipse is my persona.  I am glory herself.”

“Then reach out, Eclipse, and take the Namestone.”

Eclipse cleared her throat.  Someday, Kang thought, her children will cower in terror at that sound.  The restaurant was dead silent.  Every conversation had stopped.  Diners sat, forks paused in mid-air, staring at the video screens. 

“Then reach out, Eclipse, and I will give you the Namestone,” the Martyr announced. 

Eclipse leaned forward.  The Namestone rolled from the space above the Martyr’s hands into Eclipse’s.  The Martyr lay back, his hands now clasped together. 

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Eclipse 14

“Miss Schumacher, you are a woman of iron will,” Kang continued. “There hasn’t been a real challenge since that chess player, 50 years ago.  You aren’t going to watch?”

“Kniaz Kang, whoever it is,” Dorothy said, “she is going to be degraded, hideously wounded, shredded, and in the end beaten to death and blown to pieces.  Unless the solid shadows eat her.  I couldn’t stand to watch.  I’m not afraid of doing something dangerous, if it’s gift-true, but watching someone die—I can’t face that.”

“I can’t, either,” Kang answered. “Which is why I am not facing a video screen, and why there is no sound behind this counter.  The contest will be over this afternoon, if not sooner.  At three o’clock there will be bright sunlight everywhere in the world as the Maze marks its newest prey.  Then I can watch the news again.”

The sports screens now showed the Namestone’s video broadcast of the challenger, someplace in the Maze.  The view was always from behind.  The challenger’s hair hid under a stocking cap, with strands of yellow gold peaking from underneath.  She wore a long-sleeved blouse and long trousers tucked into her boots.  Her garb was an off-white, tight enough to show solid shoulders, a tight waist, and wider hips.  Her face was never seen.  Very briefly, she had passed by a wall whose stone blocks had a historically-known height.  The challenger was close to six feet tall.  Kang was puzzled.  This woman did not look like the challenger Durand’s cameraman had filmed.  She was too tall.  Her hair was too yellow.  Her build was not so boyish.  Were there two challengers? Or had the Maze somehow tricked the cameraman?  The Maze was notorious for doing such things. 

~~~~~

Early afternoon.  Kang stood in his restaurant, intervening as need be to maintain the flow of food and drink to his customers.  He’d opened both kitchens, called in all the cooks and part-timers, but keeping ahead of the take-out and delivery crowd had been a struggle.  All that time, he never looked at a video screen.  Someplace out in the Atlantic, someone was about to die, horribly, pursuing a hopeless quest older than history.  Kang couldn’t hide from his windows, though, windows that were brighter when the defenders of the Maze did well, dimmer when the challenger advanced.  The same was true all around the world. 

Suddenly all went black outside.  He couldn’t resist glancing at the news feed. “Bangkok – sky is pitch black.  Rio de Janeiro – the sun just went out.  Imperial Vienna – only street lights illuminate the Ringstrasse.  This is Vera Durand on Atlantis.  It’s a planetary total eclipse.  Not three minutes ago, the challenger was losing in hand-to-hand combat.  She was grappled and unable to break free.  Suddenly everything went dark.”

“Vera,” Richard Markovian said, “The Maze must have won.  Where is the Sun?”

“Here on Atlantis, even the stars have gone dark.” Durand’s cameraman panned across the terrace. “You see me because my trusty cameraman has his own lamp.  Wait, I’m getting video from the Maze again.”

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Eclipse Part 13

“This is Vera Durand with the Persona News Network.”  Her voice was sharp and clear.  Behind her were jagged rocks and a smooth marble terrace.  Centered on the terrace was a staircase, leading down. “I am now broadcasting from Atlanticea.  The dull roar you hear behind me are breaking waves.  Once again, Atlanticea has been raised from the ocean by the power of the Holy Namestone.  Not one hour ago, a figure appeared above the entrance to the Lesser Maze.  She announced she was challenging for possession of the Namestone.  The island promptly rose to greet her – yes, the Martyr has indicated that the challenger is a ‘person of the female persuasion’.  She has already entered the Maze.  All-band video broadcasting of the contest by the Namestone itself will begin momentarily.”

“Vera, who is the challenger?” ACNN lead announcer Richard Markovian asked. 

“We don’t know, Richard,” Durand answered calmly. “The Martyr only revealed her gender.  I caught a glimpse of her.  We have this very short take.” Across the video screen flashed a figure.  From behind, the figure was pale-haired and pale-skinned, seemingly short, and boyish in her build. “There were rumors that the League of Nations Elite Strike Team was going to try, soon, to recover the Namestone, but the solitary figure who entered the Maze is not a League Operative.  The Namestone translocated me here before she entered.  I had no interview with her.  I don’t know why the Maze deemed her qualified to challenge.”

Kang returned to his chopping, the thump of his cleaver pausing only when he gave instructions to his assistants. “Benito, just keep making pizza shells.  We’re going to have a huge business today.  Nikolai, that cabbage was a bit mature; steam it an extra ten minutes.  Wang, lower the sports video screens.  Almost everyone will want to watch.  Oh, there’s the announcement, Governor Molnar is cancelling public school sessions; ‘After all, the kids will be paying absolutely no attention’.  Schools stay open so children have a place to be if parents are working.  Charles, put that announcement ‘All Public Schools No Classes Today’ up on the Big Sign.”

There was a gentle tap on the counter.  Kang looked over his cash register.  Dorothy Schumacher smiled back at him. 

“You looked distracted,” she said. “Is something wrong? Three takeout giant caramel chip cookies, please?”

“Ah, Miss Schumacher.  The usual breakfast, the usual extra.  You haven’t heard?  Some woman is trying to do the Maze.  You didn’t know in advance?” Kang asked. “Or will you be the next challenger?” She was a fine young woman, he thought, one who uses her gifts well and precisely. 

“Me?” Dorothy giggled. “Challenge the Maze for the Namestone?  Thanks, but I like being alive.  I just have a few gifts.  If I flew to Atlantis, the Martyr wouldn’t give me the time of day.  You want gossip about the challenger, ask the people who take your private classes.” Kang lectured several evenings a week, she knew, on the hidden energies that underlay all gifts.  His large classes appeared on video screens across America.  He also gave entirely private classes to select students, many of whom were on their national persona teams, and some of whom were said to be wanted by members of those persona teams.  Registration lists for private classes were well-kept secrets. “Atomic Tech might have no classes. Then I’m going to Tech’s library to study.  As always, breakfast was excellent.”

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Eclipse Part 12

Silk appeared on the scene.  Only if you looked very carefully, Kang recalled, would you observe that she was now wearing a force field bracer.  Any number of people noticed that she was armed not with her usual Ruggels 0.60 pistol but with a Krell disruptor.  The flame breath had no effect on her.  Her first shot took down the creature, who reverted into the Society’s Occult Master.  Asked why she hadn’t mentioned having the extremely rare and powerful Krell weapon, she said that she hadn’t had it.  The now very ex-boyfriend had lent it to her.  He had it back.  They’d agreed, when they broke up, that they would forget each other.  An unnamed mentalist had ensured that she had no remaining memories of him.  The boyfriend was not the ex who had, for a while, shared breakfast with her.  No one knew who he was. 

The usual third at her table was the seventh-grade boy who, if pressed, announced he was Silk’s heroic side-kick Jim, he who protected her from truly dangerous villains.  Jim had his trusty slingshot for that.  He confessed that he never carried his slingshot.  Someone could get hurt.  Today Jim was missing in action. 

Kang had gone no further in reviewing his customers and what new dishes he could inveigle them into trying when the doors slammed inward.  Running through them at top speed was Kang’s number-two man, Wang the Imperturbable. 

“Lord Kang!  Lord Kang!” Wang shouted in Mandarin. “The Sun!  The Sun!  It rises with a central eclipse!”

Kang tapped the computer screen above his chopping block. ‘Central Eclipse’ had an unfortunate implication, at least if you wished that people did not try that insanely dangerous stunt that always killed them, and sometimes killed large numbers of their minions.  Headlines scrolled across the screen.  There was much news, but the astral omen was not yet reported.  He tapped the screen again.  The All-Continent News Network was usually fast off the start.  There was the ACNN “Special News Bulletin” warning.  The text alternated every few seconds between orange lettering on a blue field and violet lettering on a yellow field, colors reserved for the most serious emergencies. 

A half dozen split-screens came up.  There was the sun, blinding white, a black disc covering its middle.  As Kang watched the disc grew wider and wider.  In a few minutes the central eclipse would block all sight of the sun everywhere on earth.  Voices from different video bands spoke. “First seen ten minutes ago in London…  Observers in Athens heard celestial trumpets…  Moscow reports the sky has turned imperial purple…  We now join PNN reporter Vera Durand.  Where are you, Vera?”

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Eclipse Part 11

Flashback

Kniaz Kang’s Shanghai Marco Polo

North Cosmopolis, Washington

The sign in the parking lot announced:

Kniaz Kang’s Shanghai Marco Polo. 

Featuring the finest in Chinese, Italian, and Russian Cuisines. 

Invented Here — General Tso’s Pizza!

Invented Here — Il Professore’s Dessert Pizza! 

It was 7:30 in the morning.  The sun barely glowed over the North Cosmopolis horizon, even at a restaurant atop a hill.  Inside, Kniaz Kang himself — a man who was not a prince and whose name was not actually Kang — supervised the morning help in readying his restaurant for another day.  The front rooms were filled with his regulars, early risers, and high school students from the Atomic Tech branch across the street, all enjoying his superb breakfasts.  After all, hash, egg rolls, borscht, and pizza are in large part based on chopping many things very finely, a skill that his employees denied was a gift.  Kang turned to considering his customers and their wants. 

In the morning he served high school students, and some of their teachers, though not in the same room.  The isolated corner window was always reserved for the Gang of Three or So.  Teranike did not discuss being what Kang knew she was, namely a Polarian from Otherearth stranded when her Empress closed the WorldGate.  Teranike had taken a room upstairs, did heavy physical work for the restaurant with no complaint or sign of fatigue, and did not emphasize what she had in her suitcases.  She happily ate whatever was set in front of her, but who could fault her love of General Tso’s pizza, not to mention Il Professore’s dessert pizza–double fudge.  After all, those were the house specialties. 

Dorothy Elizabeth Schumacher was North Cosmopolis’s best-known open persona.  She had not planned to be open.  However, when the assassin from the League of Terran Justice walked up to the front entrance of her private high school, screamed “Down with Private Education”, and started shooting up student automobiles, Dorothy had done what any persona should.  She put up her force field, ran directly in front of the agent thus taking some dozens of rounds square in the chest, and flying — literally — tackled the loon into a wall.  Hard.  She was unhurt.  The loon ended in a prison hospital.  Dorothy confessed to being the known public persona Silk, until then most noted for having rescued dogs, small children, and a moose from various not-quite-frozen ponds. 

It was not until last year, early December, that the Greater Cosmopolis Seance and Channeling Society put Dorothy on the national news.  The Society had decided to channel the greatest motion picture actor in the history of Oregon.  They expected to speak to Stanford Smith, who twenty centuries ago had made more than two hundred westerns and gone on to be Grand Tradesmaster of All Sarnath.  The Society’s survivors were not quite clear on what had gone wrong.  They obtained a physical materialization, not the expected disembodied voice.  The materialization was a two hundred yard tall reptile with radioactive flame breath.  It waddled majestically toward the outskirts of North Cosmopolis, incinerating everything in its path.  The first three persona teams that tried to stop it were flattened. 

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Eclipse Part 10

The oven clock said my half past dark was in fact just one hour past sunset.  The oven light was more than enough, especially when I knew exactly where everything was stashed.  Sunset? I must have slept the day around.  No, I’d woken up once and again for a glass of water. 

I’d had the foresight to cook in advance.  Cold chicken fresh off the bone, soda biscuits with unsalted butter, stir-fry curried vegetables warmed in the microwave,  more chicken and soda biscuits, milk, sliced plum tomatoes, and finally rum raisin ice cream with chocolate fudge crumbles did just fine. 

Soon I was going to go back to sleep.  The healing matrix said not-quite-dawn as my drift from slumber moment.  Was there anything I really had to do first? The very slightest bit of telepathy, no matter how dizzy it left me, confirmed ponies and barn-cats were all safe.  I already knew that, but I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to realize I’d checked once that my pets were well.  The ponies would want currycombing tomorrow.  Dishes were rinsed and in the dishwasher.  Counters were bare.  I dragged myself up my stairs. 

My garb? It was in the closet, absolutely clean, not a stitch out of place.  Clean?  After what happened to me? That must have been the Namestone, insisting that the Bearer always looks perfect.  In fact, when I met Valkyria, my garb had been immaculate, down to the flawless drape of my cape.  I’d remembered to flare the cape so the video audience could see my sigil, the moon occulting the sun. 

Namestone?  Safe in its hidey-hole.  Anything else? Rules engines, your opinions? The usual warning is that you can carry one rules engine ‘Marksman on how to shoot’, or if you’re really good a second ‘Medico on how to use your healing matrix’, but if you try carrying four rules engines you go bats.  Mum taught me how to break that limit.  I’m a working demonstration.  I have like fifty of them floating around, actually not inside my head where they’d cause problems, all being called at once.  My rules engines all had something they wanted to tell me, but mostly they cancelled.  The ones on buying and running a house were pretty calm.  The emergency priority flag rose above ‘Psychist – going bats for fun and profit’.  The Lesser Maze was too much for almost anyone.  I was building up pressure again about Mum. 

Everything I now had, I’d earned for myself.  From Mum, the Maze, and aftermath I’d learned the most important lesson there can be: Never trust anyone.  Not ever! Not anyone! For a moment bitter tears overwhelmed me.  I washed my face, noticed I was getting cold from standing in bare feet, and went to bed.  Curled up under my quilt, I drifted off, to sleep, perchance to dream. 

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Eclipse — The Girl Who Saved the World Part 9

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Pursuers who could track my teleports, a truly rare gift, would see I had stopped moving and charge after me.  I hadn’t hurt any of them yet, but if someone followed my jumps they’d learn how good I am at wrecking things.  That’s very good at wrecking things.  Wrecking pursuers, in particular.  I waited until the teleport traces faded away.  There were no pursuers.  Fortunately, teleport traces do not fade by becoming ever fainter, so you don’t have to wonder if someone with really, really good tracking gifts can follow you.  Teleport traces chug along and then stop dead, gone forever.  A few more jumps brought me to the second-floor study in my very own house.  I don’t remember what I did next.  I must have dropped the Namestone into its hiding place, stripped off my garb, and fallen into bed, because here I am, lying under my quilt, looking up at the stars.

One of the times when I woke up, the healing matrix prompted me to ramp down my mind control, so the matrix could tell exactly where I’d been injured.  I overdid it.  I cut the mind control off.  Pain swallowed me.  I burst into sobs and uncontrollable tears.  The healing matrix kept me from going into shock.  After a few minutes I remembered I could ramp control back up.  By then I was soaked in sweat. 

That brought me to the here and now.  I was incredibly thirsty.  Stomach said a solid meal was in order.  I rolled out of bed, every muscle complaining.  The floor was beautifully finished silken-smooth hardwood, chill beneath my bare feet.  I padded to my bathroom for a glass of water.  I was more than a bit cold, but water was definitely the first priority.  I remembered to check the bathroom scale.  I’d lost weight.  A fair piece of weight, remembering that I’m all of five-foot-three and muscular-slim in bare feet. 

A night light threw a feeble shadow up the stairs.  I dropped into my down bathrobe, shoulder and ribs protesting at the motion, and headed to the kitchen.  Down bathrobe?  I’d left the heat pump at low, keeping the house temperature in the mid-50s, enough to keep the pipes from freezing. 

Yes, I have some neat photographs of the Pluto ruins, taken with me and camera inside my body field, but right now my gifts were very definitely turned off.  The robe kept me warm, or I’d be cold indeed.  Climbing down the stairs was painful.  I held firmly to the railing, taking some of the weight off my knees.  Besides hand-to-hand combat, the Maze set other physical and mental challenges, enough to push me to all my limits.  Mum had taught me to be thoughtful and physically vigorous, but endurance and weight training only take you so far. 

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Eclipse Part 8

Snippets from Eclipse — The Girl Who Saved the World
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“Team! The Namestone is indestructible! Kill her!” Valkyria shouted.  Oh, dear, I thought, not to mention several other words Mum would not have approved of my using, Valkyria is even more short-tempered than rumored.  She could readily have drawn out this conversation for some time yet, say until I felt comfortable about teleporting away.  No such luck.  Valkyria tossed her explosive throwing katana.  Her katana’s explosion packs the power density of a starcore weapon.  Her team launched a totally bizarre mixture of high power attacks.  Not one of her team-mates seemed to notice that if they killed me I would drop the Namestone, which would then roll back down the Stairs into the Maze, there to be returned to the Martyr.  Mayhaps Valkyria counted on the explosion from her throwing sword to blast the Namestone free. 

I’d forgotten the Screaming Skull, even though I had just told him off.  Over-focus is very dangerous in combat, but at this point I was outnumbered close to twenty to one.  I’d paid too much attention to Valkyria, and paid no attention to the Skull, even after he threatened me.  He used the moment to launch his most deadly attack, the Shower of Total Death.  Being attacked by the League of Nations Elite Team was bad news, but the Skull is a Lord of Eternity.  His attack? It works on people, it works on a tree, and now I’ll see if it works on me.  I’ve actually never been positive my second level shields do anything.  It’s not as if there are a lot of second level attacks wandering around to test them against. 

My scramble for more and more power levels worked.  Barely.  My shields did everything needed.  Then Valkyria’s katana hit me.  Of course, I’ve seen starcore energy densities before, real ones, and my shields worked just fine that time, too.  It’s just I was very tired, the gifts being used against me were incredibly powerful, and I had to go truly deep to hold my defenses against all of them at the same time.  I didn’t quite fall over, but the world was getting a bit gray.  Medico flashed a warning, blue shading farther into violet.  My reception committee was coming too close to killing me through my own shields, assuming I didn’t kill myself first with the crash drop I had just made.  For half an instant, the Skull looked surprised.  He could tell: I was not drawing on the Namestone.  He’d tried to kill me, and my personal defenses were good enough to stop his (several other words that would not meet with Mum’s approval) attack in its tracks. 

I really wanted to grab Valkyria’s broadsword. Using it to give her a straighter backbone sounded really appealing.  Kicking her face also sounded attractive.  Alas, if I continued to fight, they got to do the same. Besides, she was wearing armor.  Here and now was not a favorable battlefield.  I did not give them a second chance.  I was down through enough levels to hold all my shields, keep slack, shatter the teleport blocks, and teleport.  I flicked my wrist back.  Namestone vanished.  I smashed the blocks and teleported out, far far away, all the way to the Dark Side of the Moon, then a half dozen fast jumps, one triple cycle loop, and finally a pause in case someone was following me.  I’d ended someplace that looks like it could be my base.  It isn’t, but it looks really basey.  Base-like? Basious?  OK, it looks like a high-power persona base. 

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Eclipse Part 7

It’s a very special gesture with hand and wrist.  My palm ends up facing skyward, the Namestone a cerulean flame a few inches above, Namestone’s tuneless tune being heard distantly in every ear.  Yes, I did remember to cue my body aura, not to mention my personal theme music, a bold brass opening folding into the richer tones of the flugelhorn.  No, I can still call on Namestone’s power even if I can’t move.  Nor do I need the music or aura to call on all my gifts.  My aura actually is the same blue as the Namestone’s glow.  My platinum blonde hair and pale gray garb look really well with it. 

“Behold the Holy Namestone.  Come no closer or face my wrath.” Mum taught me how to sound truly pompous.  To my surprise, it worked.  Europalord did not quite fall on his fat face when he tripped over his own feet.  Of course, he is a drain, so personal combat training is not quite the issue it is with his team-mates.  His task is to sit there and suck power out of his opponents, incidentally shoving it all into his personal force field. “The Namestone is mine,” I reminded them. 

“You’re defying the League!” Valkyria shouted. “International law specifies: The League of Nations owns the Namestone.  Hand it over, you stupid girl!” In retrospect, she might have done better if she’d been a bit more tactful.  She could hardly have done worse. 

“You know the Maze Rule: Namestone belongs to he who takes it.  I took it,” I said. 

“No, it belongs to the League!” she screamed. 

“You keep repeating that same wrong statement.  I just told you: I took it.  It’s mine! Are you deaf, or just stupid? Or maybe both; you’re for sure stupid.” I answered.  By now I was in a really sour mood.  I wanted to go home and go to bed.  And, very soon, I would have broadened my call on enough levels of power to do just that.  I could feel teleport blocks in place around me, meaning I was going to need a lot of power to smash them into little pieces.  No, I do not feel guilty about what would happen to the people and machines creating those blocks when I did the smashing.  Meanwhile, Valkyria is said to be short-tempered.  People who are busy losing their tempers for sure aren’t thinking clearly, a positive outcome for me.  Well, a positive outcome, except I was in the process of losing my own temper. 

“The Namestone is too dangerous for mortals,” the Screaming Skull announced. “Give it to me, or it is you who will face my wrath.”

“You’re supposed to be an improvement over her, fatso?” I snapped.  I could have been more polite to the Screaming Skull, but exhaustion makes me impatient.  Besides, the Skull is a (whole bunch of words Mum would not like to hear me use) egomaniac with delusions of adequacy.  Unfortunately, the Skull is also really good at telling people to drop dead, and having it happen.   I did not quite use any of those words Mum did not like, though I was tempted.   Insulting him might cause him to think even less than he usually does, assuming that is possible.

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Eclipse Part 6

“You!”  Valkyria shouted. “Inform the Bearer.  She must hand the Holy Namestone over to League of Nations.  At once!  As fast as possible! Immediately! That is a direct order! From The League of Nations!”  I could hear her Prussian mindset without reading her mind.  Unless something had gone very wrong, the whole world had watched me do the Maze.  Valkyria should have recognized me. 

“I am the Bearer.  If you wanted the Namestone, you should have walked the Maze first and taken it,” I answered.  I called my gifts as fast as possible, reinforcing my shields, but when you start at absolute zero this takes a while.  I confess I was getting a bit nervous that the Screaming Skull was standing there, politely not saying anything.  No, we haven’t met, but when your mother is a persona, you tend to inherit bits of her gift fine structure, enough that he’d eventually figure out whose daughter I am.  That would for sure not be good. 

“Give it to me! Now! The League has decreed: The Namestone is the property of the world,” she demanded.   

“Give it to you? You and which army?” I asked.  I yawned.  That was an act.  I should have been more polite.  In my own defense, I was thoroughly exhausted, not to mention I’d taken major body damage during the hand-to-hand combat segments.  I expected congratulations, not threats.  After all, people have been trying to thread the Lesser Maze for three thousand years, with no success.  I’d done it.  Old English proverb: Battles are events between inadequate opportunities for rest.  I wasn’t resting.  I was powering up my gifts as fast as possible.  It was even money whether I’d power up fast enough to escape, or whether I beat the Maze and lost to my welcoming committee.  Some people my age would have been terrified.  I was too busy, not to mention too tired, to be frightened. 

“This one?” She waved her fingers.  What had to be the whole League of Nations Elite Strike Force teleported in at her back.  There were several dozen of them, not that I counted them carefully.  Mind you, I don’t know who most of them are, other than really tackily dressed, not at all like my highly stylish and tasteful garb, but the Strike Force is respectably powerful.  The Strike Force began to spread, left and right.

“That’s far enough,” I announced.  They kept spreading. 

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