A "Santa Maria" Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria Series
Three times the steward cracked the stone heavily against the ancient wood. The noise thundered through the chamber and all chatter between friends, colleges, and associates ceased.
"Let all present know that the Council Dictum of the Seventh Power calls to order an official Tribunal to investigate violations of the Covenant by the nonaligned citizens Bree Evangeline Montgomery and Rodrigo Arturo Valencia. Let the record show that I, Steward Lawrence Deemer, lead the Council Dictum. Let the record also show that the members of the Council Dictum who are present are Alice Yamane of the Chatu-mu, Brother Jasper Addams of the Chroniclers, Oliver Tünde of the Légion de la Magique Fée, Jack Dandelion of the Gamin, Eleanor Dusan of the Ghost Lords, Martha Trujillo of the New Dawn, and Kazou Endo of the Order of Ri-Riu. Also present is the entire Maven Praesidium of the Seventh Power."
Bree looked around the torch-lit circular room, guessing which name matched which person standing at the podiums that encircled the tiled floor where she and Rodrigo stood.
I'm pretty sure Endo is Diasuke's surname. I know Oliver of course and... is that Lynn?
Her eyes narrowed to focus on one of the women standing at a podium.
Yes. Yes it is. What the hell?
"The charges are as follows: Violation of the first and seventh tenets of the Covenant." Bree's attention snapped back to the steward. "Bree Evangeline Montgomery, how do you plead?" She looked to her new friend Rod, then back to the steward. He was old, perhaps as old as seventy, with long, free flowing silver hair and wore a crimson sash across a plain, tan suit.
Don't panic. Don't flip out. Breathe deep and just remember what Enid said. She stepped forward, shoulders back and her head held high.
"I plead not guilty to both violations," she said, her voice giving emphasis to the words "not guilty".
"Rodrigo Arturo Valencia, how do you plead?" the steward asked her raven-haired companion.
"I plead not guilty to both violations as well, sir," he replied, with a similar strength of voice as Bree had exhibited.
"Very well," Steward Deemer said, "We shall begin. The first charge, violation of the first tenant is that both defendants allowed one Mackenzie Nolan, a member of the World of Verisimilitude, to become aware of the World of Verity; specifically he has become aware of magic and various factions of our world. Do you have a statement prepared?"
"Bree will be speaking for us both, your Stewardship," Rodrigo said.
"Very well. Miss Montgomery?"
"Mac -I mean Mackenzie Nolan- was not informed of anything by us. He witnessed the murder of attorney Adam Brenton by an individual who we believe to be member of the Ghost Lords."
"Objection!" Eleanor called out from her pedestal. Bree and Rodrigo turned to look her.
She certainly looks like Lynn, but what would a homeless women be doing representing the Ghost Lords? And why are so many of the other people here giving her such a dirty look?
"Far be me for me to make accusations of prevarication, but what possible evidence do these... nonaligned have that a member of the Ghost Lords was involved in such action?"
"I believe we can shed some light on that subject, if the Ghost Lords don't object?" asked a tall Japanese man. He was dressed in ceremonial robes of an oriental cut in the colors of crimson, gold, and black.
Well that was clearly a rhetorical question; unless I miss my guess, that look on his face says he couldn't give a damn what the Ghost Lords think.
May the Order of Ri-Riu address the tribunal?" the man asked of the steward.
"You may speak representative Endo" the steward said while giving a nod with his head.
"My brother, Senshi Diasuke Endo, witnessed these events. While the robes worn by the individual were of the type worn by the Ghost Lords, there was no direct evidence that the individual was in fact, a Ghost Lord, however the evidence does support that magic was first shown to Mr. Mackenzie Nolan by this individual, and not Miss Bree Montgomery or Mr. Rodrigo Valencia."
Senshi? What the hell is that? Bree thought to herself.
"May the Chatu-mu address the tribunal?" This request came from a woman who looked as if her heritage was a mix of Anglo and Native American. She was clad in a dress fashioned from dear skin, trimmed in small white seashells.
The steward acknowledged her. "Far be it from the Chatu-mu to wish to assist the Ghost Lords in any way, but if a member of the Order of Ri-Riu was present, and I understand also a member of Légion de la Magique Fée was there, why did neither of them take measures to obfuscate the truth?
Now those are daggers! Lynn -or Eleanor- should be glad looks don't kill. I wonder what the history between the Ghost Lords and the Chatu-mu is?
"Senshi Diasuke Endo did," Mr. Endo replied. "However, the effects of Miss Bree Montgomery's awakening prevented the actions taken from having an effective or lasting effect.
"Then ultimately," Eleanor said, "the burden of responsibility for Mr. Nolan currently being aware of our world does fall to the unaligned."
How dare she look so smug? If I had any idea she was such a bitch I'd never have helped her! This is bullshit and judging by the looks on people's faces, I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"May the Gamin address the tribunal?" spoke a tall, handsome man with a messy mop of blond hair and piercing emerald eyes. Bree had to elbow Rod to stop him from staring lustfully. The steward silently acknowledged the attractive representative dressed in an Indian cut shirt, indigo with intricate silver trim, and faded, tattered blue jeans. "While tradition does support the claim of the Ghost Lords, does not the Council Dictum of the Seventh Power have mercy and understanding? This situation is far from typical; the awakening of Bree Montgomery was an unforeseen event. How could we expert anyone to have been able to act, let alone her. These two know almost nothing of our ways."
"May the Chroniclers answer?" spoke an overweight man in a monk's robes, his cinnamon skin creating a monochromatic effect.
"Yes, certainly Brother Addams," said the silver-haired leader of the meeting.
"Throughout our history their have been many who have come to us confused, with no knowledge, and broke the Covenant and sinned against the World of Verity- and many of them have gone on to become our heroes and heroines: Sister Mary Darling, Ekundayo, Octavio Fuentes, Michael Howling-Wind, and Ferris Storm Master to just name a few. By and large I believe these individuals became who they are in part from their trials and tribulations. It is our struggles that make us strong. That aside, these rules were put in place hundreds of years before us and exceptions make these rules weak and invaluable. If we stand and judge each case without adhering to our laws, we ourselves become guilty of breaking the Covenant. There is no choice; if we find they have violated the Covenant, then they must be punished accordingly."
"That's all very well and nice, 'brother', but this distant so-called 'objectivity' you hide behind is just you avoiding your fear of interacting with the world which, by the way, is an evolving, living entity and you're not going to find the answers to everything in an ancient tomb." Jack Dandelion said, his volume rising.
"I will not be spoken to in such a manner! Especially from someone who traffics with urchins and street trash," Brother Addams retorted.
"This is exactly why we have so many problems today; nobody respects tradition anymore," Eleanor cut in.
"Oh sure, the all blessed sacred and ancient ways," chimed in a new voice.
Now who is that? She's one of the faction leaders... she's only woman left so she must be that 'New Dawn' chick. I like her outfit.
"Tradition is the backbone to survival and we must respect the ancient ways in order to have continued harmony," the Chatu-mu speaker replied. Representative Endo nodded in agreement.
"How'd that harmony and ancient ritual work in dealing with the Ghost Lords?" She spat out, eyes narrowed with spite.
"How very dare you?" The Chatu-mu woman's face flushed red with anger.
"I'm sorry, but I'm tired of being looked down upon because we dare to use the scary new technology! Well it isn't spells that have been putting down vampires," the woman continued.
"How'd that technology work out in Los Angeles?" Brother Addams said, jumping in.
Los Angeles? I'll have to ask Enid about L.A.
"Fuck you fattie!" The conversation dissolved into a cacophony of shouting.
"Maybe we could sneak out during this?" Bree asked Rod.
"Nah, look at those guys, the Maven Pre-whats-it. They aren't saying anything, just sitting over there and watching."
"True, maybe we..." she started to reply, but was cut off. Everyone was instantly silent as the steward hammered the stone down four times. The noise thundered throughout the chamber.
Was that lightning sparking off the stone? Fuck.
"I will have order! You are the Council Dictum and you shall behave as such!" Steward Deemer yelled. "Now, is there any other evidence that you wish to present?" the steward asked the defendants.
"Yes," Rodrigo said.
"Very well then, you may speak Mr. Valencia."
"Bree is not responsible, I am," he said.
"No!" Bree shouted. He turned to her.
"Bree, it is better this way. Trust me," he pleaded. She started to protest, but he placed his index finger to her lips to silence her. "Please." He turned to face the Council Dictum. "I am a Kindler and it was I who awoke Bree Montgomery. The effects of that awakening is my burden and mine alone. She could not have done anything; I fed her too much... power. The violation of the Covenant falls to me."
"No, Rod, please don't!" Bree pleaded back.
"Miss Montgomery, do you have any actual evidence or just emotional outbursts? The Council Dictum will not tolerate the later," Steward Deemer chided. He took her silence to mean she had nothing else of value to add. "Very well, first the tribunal will decide if Miss Bree Evangeline Montgomery is guilty of violating the first tenet of the Covenant." Above and just in front of the steward a blue globes of light appeared, then another. Then a magenta colored one popped into existence followed rapidly by two more blue. Another magenta followed by a blue at which point the steward began to speak again. "This tribunal of the Council Dictum finds Bree Evangeline Montgomery innocent of the first charge brought before her. Now, please vote as to the guilt or innocence of Rodrigo Arturo Valencia for the same charge." This time the lights appeared almost simultaneously; all but one was magenta. "The Council Dictum has spoken. Rodrigo Arturo Valencia you have been found guilty of violating the first tenet of the Covenant and as such will be punished. Despite the severity of this crime, I believe some discretion is entitled to me in meting out your punishment. From now on all shall know you as a Covenant breaker; you shall receive the Mark of the Apostate!" The steward cracked the stone down once with one hand and then flung his other hand forward and once his arm was fully extended he spread his digits wide.
Before the defendants could react there was the loud sound of a whip cracking. Rod screamed louder than Bree had ever heard anyone scream before as he flew backwards about ten feet and landed on the tiled floor. She raced to him and then, in a maneuver that was something between falling and sitting, she was at his side taking his head into her arms. She made an audible noise as she sucked in air, repulsed at what she saw. An intricate pattern, composed primarily of tiny swirls and curves, burned into the flesh of his face, much like acid etching a pattern into steel. The effect was quick and clearly painful. Rod continued to scream and writhed in her arms.
"Monsters!" Bree screamed at all of them. "How can you? You're fucking monsters!" The stone cracked again.
"You shall not address the Council Dictum in such a manner. I realize that this world is new to you, but there are rules. The pain is temporary and the mark only visible to those of the World of Verity. Your disruption is unacceptable and as such, you will not be present for the rest of the tribunal. Mr. Valencia will speak for you."
She started to protest, but a sweeping gesture from the steward seemed to trigger her stomach twisting and then everything went black.
"Now love, I told you don't need to worry 'bout Bree and Rod. They'll be fine, I'm sure," Enid said to Mac, fussing with his hair. "The Council Dictum's a fair lot."
"I don't understand. What could they possible have done wrong?" Mac asked the odd British woman who recently became a fixture in his life.
"Now moppet, if you'd done your readin', you'd know." She followed her statement with a chuckle. The shop bell rang and her face took on a dire look. "Get under the table, that one there with the rust-colored skirting."
"Get under the bloody table, now!" she spat through her teeth, trying to keep her alarm quiet. He complied. Once he was settled he noticed he could see through the cloth as if it had very loose weave.
I could have sworn this was opaque. Is it getting colder? His thoughts were interrupted when he what had entered the shop. A figure in gray robes, adorned with a black ephod, decorated with hematite, obsidian, and small bones. Its pale skin, pulled tight, created a ghastly effect, especially in comparison to the thick neck that supported the frightening head. Its eyes were sunken and the area around them varied in color from the deep purple of a bruise to jet black. Its head was devoid of hair but instead sported lesions. It walked with a strange gait, as if it's frame hidden beneath the robes was twisted. It turned its turgid neck towards Enid and smiled a smile that was missing many teeth; those that survived were blackened and rotted.
Holy shit! What the hell?
"What the bloody 'ell do you want?"
"To thank you," it hissed.
"I don't be needin' your thanks, nor anythin' else you and your lot has to offer. Now get out of my shop, wight."
"Such manners; not very British of you," it said, the smile widening which proved more gruesome than friendly.
Oh God? Do I help? Can I help her? What the fuck is that?
"I'll thank you to not be tellin' me how to behave, especially in my own shop. Now leave before I banish ya!"
"Look witch!" the voice now hostile.
"Ah, you'd be happy if I were just a mere witch. Try anything and we'll see what a little bit of the Flame of Life can do. You want see me let this little light of mine shine?" It hissed at her and retreated, the bell ringing, this time signaling its departure. "Come on out of there, Mac!"
"What the hell was that?"
"But what did it want? It was horrific." Mac was trying desperately to catch his breath.
"Oh love, don't worry 'bout it. Have a fairy cake. You'll soon forget all 'bout this nastiness."
Bree awoke in a dark room. She clutched at her stomach, then her head.
I have no idea which hurts more. Looking around she realized she was lying on a soft bed. Other than the bed, the room seemed to house a toilet, a simple table with a milk white pitcher resting on it. I'm in prison. Damn. She stood up, then sat back down hard on the bed. Okay, too fast; too dizzy. She laid back down. Just a few minutes. I need to let my head clear before I try and get out of here.
"Bree?" She flinched.
What? I didn't hear the door? Who is it? She sat up and saw Rod in the open door. He was backlit, but she could still make out the ornate scar that covered most of his face. "Rod! Are you alright?" He crossed the cell to the bed and sat next to his friend.
"I'm fine. It doesn't hurt now. Are you okay?"
"I'm dizzy, have a headache and stomach is doing flip flops," she replied.
"Yeah, they said you had an unusually bad reaction to teleportation."
"Oh. Wait, what happened with the tribunal?"
"We were found guilty."
"It's not that bad," he said, resting his hand on her shoulder, "all we have to do is make restitution."
"For what? What exactly did we do?"
"Well it seems that when we opened that gate for Aubrey and Oliver, fairies escaped; pixies to be specific, hidden among the butterflies."
"So?" she asked.
"Well, being nonaligned, it is apparently a violation to give one faction an undue advantage. Many arguments broke out between everyone and let me tell you Lynn, or I guess Eleanor, seems none to grateful for us helping her out. That did end up working for us though, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Oliver tried to argue that we were just repaying in kind for harming Aubrey in the first place, but the basic rebuttal to that was even if we had killed her, two fairies were not on the same power level at all. It was so hard for me to keep my tongue, but I thought one of us should be there for our own damn trial."
"So how did helping Lynn help us out?"
"Well, like I said we were found guilty of providing undue influence to one faction and the restitution we were ordered to perform is that we must perform similar acts for the rest of the factions. Well, I didn't want a damn thing to do with the Ghost Lords, so just grasping at straws, I pointed out we had already helped Eleanor. She tried to dismiss it, but the steward himself interrupted saying something to the effect that she had been missing for years and her return was certainly of a comparable value. And seemed to be about her specifically; I got the idea it wouldn't have counted for just any old Ghost Lord, but I fixed it so we don't have to help those bastards."
"Wow, good thinking. Sorry, give me a minute. I have to take this all in."
"More?" she asked, her face the picture of disbelief.
"Yeah, the Council Dictum feels we are too dangerous to be running around, as the steward put it, as nonaligned. We have two weeks to decide which faction we want to join."
"Which faction is Enid part of?"
"She isn't, remember?"
"Yeah, that was my first thought too. We do get an audience with the Maven Praesidium though. We can ask them for advice. But let's not worry about any of that today. Let's get you home and into bed. And you're going to need to have a good story for Duncan. He's starting to get both jealous and suspicious."
"Yeah, he is, but clearly we can't tell him anything. We can't risk another tribunal. I don't know what to do about him. I love him Rod, but how can I be part of his world and this one?"
"I think that's something to not worry about right now." He hugged her and she hugged him back.
"What the hell have we gotten ourselves into, Rod?"
"A big, fat, mess." He hugged her tighter. "Come on, let's get out of here." She nodded. He helped her off the bed and they left the room together.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2007
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2007