IPTSF Text 61
An awkward silence filled the emerald-tinted darkness of the Wizard’s Hall.
Jillian stood to one side and watched the lot of them, keeping her lips clamped shut. She had never won any battles with her mouth, and she wouldn’t win this one. But she trusted Jack Snipe. The Foolamancer looked at Marie for a moment, then finally stepped forward to address his King.
“It must be grand to be a Lookamancer,” said the Jack. He cocked his head at Orwell. “Brother Orwell truly sees. He can see enough to be certain of this course, and I envy him his vantage. It certainly speaks volumes of your, ah...wisdom, Your Wisdom. But forgive me, I lack such insight. I am comparatively blind and ignorant.”
“Then you should trust those who see better, and know better, Jack,” said Banhammer. Standing on the dais, the King was still smiling broadly. But his eyes had lost their twinkle. Jillian could hear a note of warning in his tone.
“Oh, but I do, Your Wisdom!” said the Jack eagerly, turning to Marie. “Sister Marie, for example. Her insight guides us all. Indeed, without her vision, Faq would already have perished!”
“It’s about to,” said Jillian, despite her plan to keep her mouth shut. They ignored her anyway.
“I do see some interesting things,” said Marie hesitantly. “But in truth, Yah Wisdom, things have gone cloudy. Something verray important is about to happen. This is a turning of all turns. But I con’t say what.”
“Well, of course it’s very important!” boomed the King grandly. “Faq’s Court is being reborn, at the heart of an empire!”
“It’s a new dawn for Erfworld,” said Dame Branch, stepping closer to the Banhammer. “You must be seeing that.” Orwell nodded enthusiastically to Marie. Jillian’s stomach clenched and went sour.
“Thot could be the case,” admitted Marie, casting an uncertain glance at Jillian. “But I find it difficult to see how it fits with other Predictions.”
“What I was thinking,” said Jack, “was that we really ought to turn before the Ruler of Haffaton, whoever he might be.”
“It is the Overlady Judy Gale,” said Banhammer, crossing his arms. “And that would only cause a needless delay. She is not here. We would have to travel to her.”
“Is that so?” said Marie, narrowing her eyes at Dame Branch.
The Florist touched the King’s arm tenderly. “Loj, if you’ll recall, what I actually said was that the Overlady was indisposed and unavailable. I told you how she is,” she whispered quietly, though all of them could hear.
She turned to address the group. “Judy’s desires are simple,” said Dame Branch. “She wants to be alone. She’ll have nothing to do with the new Court, believe me. She’s no such visionary as Loj Banhammer of Faq. But she won’t stand in the way of our enlightenment, either.”
“If she is in the city, then we ought to tunn before her,” said Marie. “If only for ceremonial propriety.”
“Agreed,” said Jack Snipe, folding his arms to match the King’s. Jillian was sure that the body gesture meant something in the subtle language of the Court of Faq, maybe that he was making a hard stand. “We ought to meet our new mistress. The one that, ah, you know...that we’ll be pledging to obey.”
Banhammer’s brows furrowed. He turned his head to Dame Branch. “I was certain you indicated she was not in the city.”
“Then I misspoke,” said the Florist. “She’s here, but she’s truly not fit to see you. Or to be seen.”
“But might we at least visit her, to pay our respects?” asked the King. “It does seem minimally proper.”
“I don’t think so,” said Dame Branch. “She wouldn’t like being roused at this hour.”
“Well. We can certainly wait the few minutes until dawn. For the start of your turn,” said Banhammer. At the mention of the start of turn, Jillian noticed the Florist shot a quick glance at her magical instrument, resting in its stand beside her. Oh, if she could grab that thing away, maybe they could get something going when the spell expired. Meanwhile, Banhammer had pulled his arm away from her. Jillian studied his face. Suspicious, maybe. Was he finally catching on to her? “Or the end of it. Or any time she might be better disposed to receiving us.”
Dame Branch shook her head and smiled sadly. “I don’t think such a time would come, I’m afraid. She’s really not right in the mind, you see.”
“She’s not that bad,” said Jillian. All the heads turned her way. “I’ve talked with her plenty of times. She could see you.”
Her father took a step away from the Florist, and looked Jillian in the eye. He said nothing, but she had his full attention.
“I like her,” said Jillian. “She’s a little batty, but she’s nice. She’s one of the few people from Haffaton I don’t wanna croak. But I think that’s what I was brought here to do. That’s what she wants.” She pointed at the Florist. “She put me here to croak Judy. ‘Cause she’s the heir.”
Dame Branch rolled her eyes. “I brought you here to be safe and happy. And to turn, of course. You’d be happiest serving Haffaton, especially with all of your friends and family and comrades here.”
“Minus the ones you slew,” said Jillian. “Minus Bart, and Hedda, and Chip, and the—”
“Lady Firebaugh’s ways are not especially peaceful, no. I’ve tried for hundreds and hundreds of turns to make her see the value of Life. Of peace. She's blind to it, but she is serving faithfully, just where she belongs. She’s a Croakamancer. They are awful. They’re creatures of destruction. But she’s where she is Fated to be,” said the Florist, casting a glance at Sister Marie. Marie’s chin was high. Her face said nothing.
“Yeah?” said Jillian angrily. “That's great. I’m Fated to take Lady Firebaugh to ‘the next phase of her journey.’ And I’m Fated to croak the ruler of Haffaton!” Eyebrows went up all around. She was sure she’d seen a flash of fear in Dame Branch’s eyes. “And probably a whole lot more crap like that, too. And I don’t wanna know about it, I don’t wanna hear about it, and I don’t wanna do anything about it. I don't care. I hate this stuff!”
Banhammer looked to Sister Marie, who nodded to him. Yes, this is Predicted.
“But maybe I’m gonna have to, though,” Jillian continued, finding more and more clarity of mind as she yelled, as she let it all out. “Maybe the only way out of this for me is to march upstairs, hack Judy’s head off, throw Wanda over the back of a gwiffon and just get the flip out of here.”
Her father couldn’t help grimacing at the violence of the verbal image. Titans bless him, he should see her on a battlefield.
“Maybe I have to give you all my friends and my family and my comrades, to escape here at all,” she said directly to the Florist. “And I think that’s what you want. I think you’re counting on me to do that. Well, too bad. I’m not gonna. I’ll take it the hard way! Always!”
Her shout echoed through the hall, fading out to stunned silence. So much for keeping her mouth shut.
Dame Branch folded her hands in front of her. She seemed about to reply, but a feminine voice suddenly spoke over them all, coming down from all directions at once.
“My! Well,” said the voice of Judy, resounding through the hall. “I’m flattered that you like me enough not to want to kill me, Jillian. Batty as I am. Haha! I like you, too, kid.”
The six of them looked around in confusion, but a hand grabbed hold of one of the hanging green curtains at the side of the hall, and pulled it aside. Behind it was a little booth, with metal tools or ornaments of some kind adorning it. Jillian didn’t recognize anything in there.
Inside it stood the Overlady, with Wanda Firebaugh, the scarecrow, and the metal golem. She was carrying her broomstick staff and wearing the blue dress she favored...and something else. Shining red shoes upon her feet.
“Judy!” screamed Dame Branch, losing all composure and rushing off the dais toward the booth. “Why are you wearing them?” she hissed, through clenched teeth. “Why are... How did you get the Arkenshoes?!”