Thursday, April 9, 2020
Previous: Ardra plans to make Picard a believer in magic--or else.
Emerging from the wormhole with Ardra, Picard found himself in a busy medieval kitchen. His tricorder proved it was not a hologram, and his comm badge got no response from Enterprise. Still, it didn't prove they had left the planet. "Where is this place?"
Ardra wore a wistful look. "The Andromeda galaxy, a thousand years in your past. You wanted to know my origin; the first clue is in this room. Don't worry about these folks. They can neither hear nor see us."
Always up for a mystery, Picard searched the various faces, unnerved when a fat cook passed though him from behind. At length, he squatted beside a maid tending a firepit. There was no mistaking it.
"That's right," Ardra said. "She's me, a girl who dreams of being on a strike team as a spell caster, but lacks the required brain structure; a certain link by which thought becomes reality. A gout of flame, a flurry of frost balls. You get the idea."
Picard rose. "It would appear she succeeded anyway." Despite his disbelief in magic, he could hardly wait to learn how she did it.
"She found a discarded magic text," Ardra went on, "and studied it at risk of her life. She was already a skilled herbalist. Let's move forward in time to when her resolve reached a boiling point, and she did something really desperate."
They stood in a noisy and crowded tavern, underground by the looks of massive support pillars. A spiked iron fence separated them from an arena where teams outfitted with weapons. A massive iron gate opened to admit a returning team carrying an unconscious member. It set off frantic calls for the camp healer, who apparently wasn't here. Picard had spotted the young Ardra carrying a tray of drinks.
Ardra watched him approvingly. "Very good. Keep a close eye on her."
The maid stood on a table to lively objections from its occupants, and leapt over the fence. She avoided clutching hands on her way to the stricken team. A petite blonde exchanged hurried words with the maid, and prevented others from interfering.
"What's happening?" Picard couldn't take his eyes away.
"That fighter was stung by an insectoid down in the labyrinth, and is having an anaphylactic reaction that has closed his airway. The maid recognizes this, and has some herbs intended for making tea--except there's no time. She decides on a desperate measure."
"Indeed." Picard watched her clamp the pouch over the man's nose and mouth. He jerked to a sitting position, coughing and gagging, to a delirious celebration. The forgotten maid was escorted out by camp security.
Ardra shifted them to the tavern side, where the forlorn maid was getting glad-handed and some amused pats on the head. The kitchen mistress would have her hide for this, if Picard knew his medieval history.
The blonde peered through the iron bars from the arena side. "You deserve better. I'll send for you in the morning." The young Ardra went open-mouthed with euphoria. She wouldn't even feel the blows from her boss's strap.
"The blonde is the sorceress Iris," Ardra said. "She taught me forbidden magic in gratitude, but scoffed at the notion I'd ever be able to use it."
"Yet you did."
Ardra nodded, shifting them once again through time and space. Two girls--the young Ardra, along with Iris, huddled on the floor in predawn gloom. They wore night gowns, sitting between beds, intently discussing highly technical details of spell casting.
"This is Iris' room," Picard surmised. "The maid was found to have the required brain structure after all, and has been accepted by the academy."
"Very astute, Picard! Actually, her brain structure is unorthodox. Was it there all along, or did she grow it by iron force of will? I still don't know."
"I'm prepared to believe the latter," Picard said.
A faint blue glow appeared about the former maids' fingertips, setting off a frenetic bout of celebratory hugging.
"And there you have it," Ardra said. "My first animus, the spell precursor phenomenon."
Picard gazed down at the happy tableau. "I begin to understand. You pursued your newfound abilities with the same zeal by which you brought matters to this moment. There came a point where this galaxy was no longer big enough. I still can't believe in fairytale magic. This is some kind of very advanced telekinesis. Does that satisfy your condition?"
"Call it whatever you like." Ardra shrugged. "As long as you know it's genuine. We'll return to Ventax now. I'll need you to be out of town by sundown."
"Yes." Picard made a wry grin. "Quite so."