When Catelin awoke, nightfall had already come. Her head pounded, her chest and arms ached. Or was it the other way around? It didn’t help that the moment she tried to get up she was jerked back by the two handkerchiefs tying her to one of the tentpoles. At least someone had put a couple of blankets underneath her. The ground beneath was icy cold. She shifted her eyes to those of a cat, immediately being rewarded with a clearer, brighter vision. The tent was empty, the front flap tied shut from within to maintain privacy. A general hexagonal shape with an opening for air at the top showed the clear night sky. The stars were off though, not those visible from Central Europe at any case.
“Almost like we’re in a different dimension,” she mused out loud, feeling her bruises. That had been thoroughly humiliating. She had fought sorceresses, warlords, demons, but never gotten her ass kicked by a random kid. Though at least she now knew that Ahmed was anything but normal. Her hunch had been right. Right but painful. She shimmied out of her restraints by distributing mass from her arms to the feet. She tried once to turn into a mouse or snake, but the had to maintain her natural mass. Her sister, the sorceress and altogether royal smart person of the group, had once babbled about ‘conservation of mass’ and ‘thermodynamics’. Nonsense words that were probably yiddish or something, Catelin had always figured, but the point stood nonetheless: once you turn yourself so small, the rest of you had to go somewhere. Alberic had carried her pieces around in a bucket for more than three weeks until Guinevere had gathered the energy for a reconstitution spell. Good times.
Once on her feet, she rubbed her worn hands, then took stock. There wasn’t much here. Ahmed wasn’t here either. There was a cut in the fabric of the tent though. Had he snuck out? In one corner she found something altogether strange: a bundle of fabric with straps and metal. She opened the flap and heard the two halves come apart with a rip. She moved it in the other direction, closing it back up. Curious. She opened it once more, finding Ahmed’s robes and beard.
Before she could dig any deeper, the cut in the tent opened and a figure stepped in, dressed in black. Catelin twirled around and, trying a different approach, crossed her arms and cleared her dry throat. “Hello, ‘Ahmed’.”
The figure that was Ahmed turned, bringing up a pistol of thoughts and – brightness! Broad daylight, concentrated into a beam, shone in Catelin’s face. She quickly turned her eyes back normal, raising her hands for good measure to block the agonizing beam. That hurt. “Slow and steady now,” said not-Ahmed. Not in the effeminate, cracking voice of a youth but the actual feminine voice of a woman. The beam of flight was averted and Catelin could now see the real person. Standing there, only a few feet away, was an athletic woman, looking 20 but saying 30 with her posture and eyes. She wore black and green, yes, but it was as strange has her rucksack. Shouldering a robe, she had the same metal strips and noise reattachable sticky fabric on it as the rucksack, while also wearing a vest with a good amount of pickets and strange devices poking out. She rolled her eyes. Not again.
“Time traveler?” Catelin sighed before she even knew the answer, lowering her arms. She sat on the ground, crossing her legs.
Not-Ahmed raised an eyebrow and for the first time Catelin could see him, her, for real: black hair, the same dark skin obviously, grey eyes. Attractive, but too muscular and thin for her customers. “You know about time travel?” She lowered her weapon, but did not holster the strange contraption. That made her smarter than most men who had Catelin on the defensive.
“You’d be surprised,” Catelin said, shrugging her shoulders, “ what we’ve seen before. What century?”
“About five-hundred years into the future. Plus or minus a decade. I think,” she answered. “The late 21st century.”
“The earliest yet,” Catelin mused, remembering the golem – what was the world again? Robot? – from a few years ago that had come to this dimension to become a real human. Why one wanted that when one could crush steel with one hand was anyone’s guess. Maybe the sex. “Let’s try this again: ‘Hello, I’m Catelin and not a backstabbing, manipulative bitch. And you are…’.”
She hesitated for a moment, then holstered her weapon. It retracted and shifted into itself till it was tiny and clicked to her belt without any straps. Magnetic? Marvelous, but Catelin tried to look aloof and not terrified as fuck. It always impressed this lot when the primitives didn’t care. “My name is Soraya. Soraya McTavish.”
Catelin wordlessly asked for her to join her on the ground, holding pallaver. “When did you get here, Soraya?”
The young woman shrugged. “A few months ago. I think. I was in Australia for a UN peacekeeping mission…” She trailed off.
“You’re a soldier?” Catelin had to pull herself together not to ask what ‘Australia’ was.
“Archeologist,” Soraya said, looking down at her gear, then remembering that Catelin didn’t know that word, “You know what a historian is? Basically that but I work for a living.”
“Are they also mercenaries?” Catelin chuckled at Soraya’s gear.
The girl smiled, returning the chuckle. She started to let her guard down. “Austria went down the drain during the Resource Wars. After FIrst Contact, well, point is I went down there with a group from my university to salvage some priceless artifacts before the Australian Evangelical Front blew them up. Long story short: I was caught in one of those dimension portals and ended up here in your dimension. Time. Took me the better part of a year to use my survival gear to get to Africa, from there I went to the Persians, then the Byzantines, then here.”
“Huh,” Catelin said, nodding, “and those Arabs chasing you? That costume?”
Soraya smiled a tired smile. Catelin knew it from her daughter or her girls in the brothel. That heartbroken look that still made them fight on. “You should now how hard it is for women in this time period.”
“True,” Catelin admitted. Then again Catelin was just as comfortable as a man than as a woman, loving both equally as the other or the same during the night. “And the Arabs?”
“I stole their flying carpet back in Damascus,” she admitted, “I hoped to analyze it, trying to find out how magic works, if it is just technology that’s beyond us like good ol’ Asimov always said.”
Catelin hated it when time travelers spoke in their idioms. So irritating to understand. “I don’t know much about how magic works, only that it does. Heck, I’m living proof of it, I suppose. I’ll help you get back to your time, how about that,” she said, with some serious deja vu coming over her. It was surprising how the moment she returned from a hiatus to Pariah Company a lot of adventures became interchangeable or simply repeated. With a twist. At least it was useful here. “Once we’re done with the mission, naturally.”
Soraya paused for a moment. “Done with what? Backstabbing?”
Catelin rolled her eyes. People from the future were always such idealists. Probably not by their standards but certainly by the standards of the ‘not having indoor toilets’ era. Of course that would make people soft. “I didn’t double-cross Charles. We planned this.” When Soraya threw her another suspect look, she quickly added: “You don’t live long in this world, this business, if you don’t plan ahead.”
Soraya still wasn’t convinced, so Catelin rolled her eyes in utter annoyance and produced a slip of paper that she handed carefully to Soraya. Not because Catelin feared a paranoia-fueled reaction but to show her own trustworthiness. She leaned back once Soraya gave it a read. “I don’t know his handwriting,” she said after a beat.
“Yes, that might be an issue,” Catelin admitted. THis was the reason Catlin hated bringing in new people to the team. They were generally rubbish for these triple-cross situations. “Will it be enough to prove my loyalty by freeing him and Philippa, bagging the princess, and generally following through with the mission?”
Soraya thought for a moment, still eying her suspiciously, then nodded. She quickly got onto her feet, pulling Catelin up with her. Catelin tried not to hit on her, so she only brushed her lightly. She had a feeling this one wasn’t into her supposedly questionable morality. Part of the art of seduction was, after all, to sometimes build a bond without any seduction at all. She looked the young woman over again. How had she ever thought her a man, especially in that terrible disguise?
“Alright, let’s get on with this then,” Soraya said and stepped aside for Catelin to pass through the gap.
“Do you have anything better to do?”
Catelin thought of the tournament. It was nighttime now, true, but when would the sun rise in this strange pocket-dimension? Loud noises were still audibly coming from the arena as well. “Will we make it back in time for sunrise?”
“I already put everything into motion. I don’t intent to wait another day and night.”
Catelin couldn’t really argue with that. “Lead on then.”
“Clever,” Soraya rebutted and nodded towards the gap. “Let’s move.”
Catelin obliged her by stepping through first.
And this is where Pariah Company, in its current form of existence ends. Sadly for those of who you liked it maybe, but I think I’m going in a more fun direction with it.
Anyway, here, as promised, the way the story was going to end:
Eventually Soraya and Catelin would have managed to free Alberic and Phillippa. But Achilleos would have been turned to the side of Prince Sigurd and Princess Helene-Sophia and fought for the Round Table. Now the Round Table isn’t evil, they are actually quite idealistic. But with Pariah Company being a mercenary force, they only fight to uphold the status quo. So that’s the motivation of our heroes “if the good guys win we won’t get paid”. So they would have stopped Prince Sigurd before taking over the the Holy Roman Empire – or at least would have thrown it into disarray. That would have then set off a storyline about the people bankrolling Sigurd sending other forces and Pariah Company would have gone on a journey to not only stop them, but also one of self-discovery. This would have concluded in the team being disbanded as they realize that Sigurd and Helene-Sophia were right all along.
But during the creative process my interest wandered more and more towards Voigt, the head bureaucrat who hired the team. And let’s just say that’s where the to-be-published version of Pariah Company will take a lot of inspiration from.
Until then: have a good one.
PS: Maybe check out my other books? Pretty please?