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part one.


“So here's the million-renminbi question,” Tsi sighed. “Are we actually capable of leaving Shaman?”

Haggard was the word which described the Chairman of the Council of Originals best. He looked haggard. His face was drawn, thin and pale, there were dark circles under his eyes like he hadn't slept for weeks. Of the three originals who had been injured by Therait, none looked great, but Tsi looked the worst. Lorraine hadn't dropped any weight and was using make-up to cover any blemishes she may have had, but she didn't sit quite as straight as usual in her chair and hadn't said very much. Mallos, also uncharacteristically quiet, looked tired and vaguely ill, although not as much as Tsi. Of the three, he displayed the most personality, and was lounging back on his chair in a particularly Mallos-esque manner.

The other originals turned to look expectantly to Khasekhemwy, who had become a kind of unofficial magical advisor since he'd reminded everyone that his sorcery kicked ass when Therait had attacked them – and since Aura wasn't around to fill the role anymore. He promptly turned green and swallowed as every eye fell on him.

“Um, well,” he mumbled, wringing his hands anxiously. “Technically yes, but without magic it's exceptionally difficult to leave the planet.”

“Telepotion?” Tsi asked, not looking very hopeful. Khase shook his head.

“Not powerful enough.”

The Chairman sighed again, and the room went thoughtfully quiet. It was the first full-member council meeting since the originals had been stranded on Shaman a few years previous, and it was also the quietest and calmest full-member council meeting since Aura had been Chair. Tsi suspected that was largely down to Lorraine and Mallos' lethargy. Probably mostly Mallos, if he was honest. It was amazing how much quieter the “loud” deities like Lorraine and Allianah were when Mallos wasn't winding them up.

Unfortunately, quiet wasn't good in this case: nobody could offer any ideas. Tsi chewed his lower lip, thinking hard.

“Zed,” he snapped his fingers suddenly. “Don't you have any hop-loops?”

The Intergalactic Ambassador shook his head. “They're all on Earth,” he answered hopelessly.

“What's a hop-loop?” Allianah asked curiously.

“It's in the name,” Zed made a ring with his hands. “Loops about this size which you slip onto your wrist, and key in the space coordinates. Each loop gives you one hop.”

Hopping was slang for travel between planets, and over time had become known as a measurement of distance. A planet or world one hop away could be travelled to with divinity, but it used up all the energy within the travelling deity. A deity could travel to a planet half a hop away and back again before their energy was too depleted to travel; likewise, a planet more than one hop away required as many stops as hops. Earth was about a third of a hop from Shaman, so three one-way trips could be made before the traveller's energy ran out.

Tsi's shoulders dropped in disappointment, but Mallos stirred in his seat.

“Oh,” he muttered. “Is that what those things do?”

From anyone else, it would have been a harmless, throwaway comment – a minor revelation from a person who perhaps saw some hop-loops once. From Mallos, it was practically a confession. Tsi sat bolt upright in his chair, trying to contain the excitement flooding through his veins, while Zed narrowed his eyes at the Spaniard.

“Did you steal some of my hop-loops?” He rumbled suspiciously.

“That,” Mallos answered back cautiously, “depends entirely on the penalty for stealing hop-loops.”

Zed started to growl, but Tsi overrode him quickly.

“Are they on Shaman?” He asked in a swift, fevered tone, already half out of his seat.

“If it's legal,” Mallos was still keeping an eye on Zed. “Then... yeah.”

Tsi was out of the room before the last syllable had left the Spaniard's mouth. Mallos took one look at Zed and decided to follow close on Tsi's heels, with the others trailing after at a somewhat slower pace.

* * *

Fortunately, Charlton intervened before they had left the pantheon. After he pointed out the diplomatic error of the entire council turning up on the castle's doorstep (looking rather pointedly at Lorraine), Tsi decided to just take Mallos and Zed with him. Sure enough, after rootling around in the bottom drawer behind his desk for a few seconds, Mallos extracted a handful of slender, black loops, each sporting a tiny digital screen. Tsi counted them silently.

“Six,” he smiled, and for a moment looked almost like his old self. “Perfect – enough to get three people to Shyllipa Minor and back.”

“Do we really want to send three?” Zed frowned. “Won't one do?”

Tsi leant back against the bare, undecorated wall of Mallos' apartment in the castle and rubbed his temples, thinking hard. The situation on Shyllipa Minor, from the little information they had received that morning, was delicate. Like Shaman, it was one of the few non-Earth planets where the original fairies were worshipped as deities, and the people there had traditionally had good relations with the council... until now. The sentient species on Shyllipa Minor, as with her sister, Shyllipa Major, were nymphs. There was a small population of fairies on Major, but none on Minor, where traditionally anti-fairy feelings ran a little deeper. Most nymphs were peaceful, nature-loving people who couldn't stomach the idea of war – but a minority wanted fairies and fairy influences out of their world. Now the anti-fairy sect had come to power in a significant number of tribes, and were shaking the council's claim on the planet.

It was Tsi's job to protect not just fairies, but anyone who believed in the original fairies as gods. Aura had been clear about that when she established the council and created the role. Now, an entire planet – potentially two planets – of believers were under threat from atheistic zealots.

“Zed, you have to go,” he asserted. “You're the face of the organisation, and it makes a good impression if we're seen to be sending our top diplomat. Mallos is going with you, because he has the best relationship with the nymph tribes.”

Zed didn't look delighted by that news, but he accepted it. Tsi took a deep breath.

“And Lorraine is going with you, too.”

“Now, hang on - ” Zed started, but Tsi shut him down with a wave of his hand.

“There are other species to consider. Having them on our side will give us the upper hand, you know that. And it will make an excellent impression on the nymph leaders if the entire triad goes.” He gave Zed a hard stare, but apparently the Brazilian couldn't argue with that logic.

“Whatever they're giving you,” Mallos muttered under his breath, “I want some.”

“Right, so that's settled,” Tsi continued, ignoring his colleague. “Zed, use the hop-loops and take Lorraine and Mallos with you. Manoeuvre those assholes out of power. Good luck.”

    • part two. -
    • part three. -
    • part four. -
    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -
    • part eight. -

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