“This guy was outside the city when I arrived,” said Britta. “He wanted me to take him in with me, but I refused. This is just his way of getting back at me. I’ve got nothing to do with any rebels, I’m just trying to find a church. This one won’t let me in. You don’t know where I can find another one, do you? One that’s open to the public?”
She had decided to just ignore the accusations. How was she supposed to prove she wasn’t something? You couldn’t prove a negative.
“Which denomination?” asked the soldier.
“See?” said Lavazza. “She’s just making it up. She’s not here for church. This is probably her secret rebel hideout.”
“Where they won’t let me in,” said Britta. “Not much of threat if even the rebels don’t want me, am I? Why are you doing this Lavazza? I gave you the same chance to come as the others.”
Britta already knew the answers. Being fair and not having favourites was enough to upset some people. They wanted you to be unfair and make them your favourite.
“I’m doing this as a loyal member of the Empire,” said Lavazza pompously. “These fine, brave souls are keeping the citizens of Shona safe from the likes of you, and it’s my duty to help them.”
The soldiers all seemed to swell with pride as Lavazza portrayed them as guardians of justice. He was very convincing. Maybe his class was bullshitter. He had to be at least Level 3.
“She’s just trying to save her own skin, you can see that. Take her in for questioning. She’ll tell you the truth after you torture her.”
Convincing and somewhat deranged. He hadn’t seemed quite so unhinged when she first met him. Fairly normal, in fact. Some people only turned nasty after you refused them.
“Are you really going to arrest me without proof?” Britta asked the soldier.
“We take all reports of rebel spies seriously,” said the soldier. “You never know where they’re hiding. Don’t worry, we have a seer on duty. He can tell when people are lying so we can clear this up very quickly.”
That was going to be a problem. If the seer could really detect lies, then there was a good chance Britta would be caught. Even though she had nothing to do with the rebels, she did know Stan. It would be tricky not incriminating herself.
“Can you check him first?” said Britta. “See if his allegation has any merit?”
“I haven’t been accused of anything,” said Lavazza, like this was a loophole.
“I’m accusing you,” said Britta, starting to get annoyed. “I’m accusing you of lying.” She took a few breaths to calm herself. No point sinking to his level. She needed to go lower. “I think his claims would be a lot more convincing if he proved his loyalty to the Empire by joining the army, don’t you?”
The soldier seemed a little surprised by this suggestion, and then nodded to himself, as though the thought made sense. He turned to Lavazza.
“Wait,” said Lavazza before the soldier could say anything. “What about her? She didn’t sign up for the army.”
“I’m not the one who’s claiming allegiance to the Empire.”
“Aha! So you admit it. You don’t stand for the Empire.” His eyes shone with self-congratulations and smug joy at his slippery smartness.
“I’m a mage,” said Britta. “I don’t stand with anyone. The Empire, the rebels, they’re all a waste of time. I travel around studying the magic arts and studying old tomes. The trivial concerns of men are of no interest to me.” She didn’t really know what she was saying, but it sounded good. She turned to the soldier. “That’s how you should know I would never get involved with rebels, no matter who claims otherwise.”
The soldier nodded. “Mages are known to have little interest in civic matters. However, I do think she has a point. Your accusation would carry more weight if you were a member of the Imperial Forces.”
“No, no, I can’t right now,” said Lavazza. “I have things to do first.”
“If you were a true believer, you would sign up right now,” said Britta. “Are you not a true believer?”
Lavazza took a step back. “No, that’s got nothing to do with it. She’s a spy, I tell you. There… there are other witnesses. I… I’ll go find one.” He turned and ran.
“I hope you didn’t promise him entry into the city for this,” said Britta. “You won’t see him again.”
“Get him,” said the soldier. They all chased after Lavazza.
Britta watched them disappear. She should have asked for directions to the nearest church before they left.
“True believer,” she muttered to herself. It reminded her of something. She knocked on the church door again.
“Hello. I’m a true believer.”
“With great power?”
“Excelsior!” said Britta. She wasn’t a true believer but she lived with one. She knew Stan Lee had a catchphrase because it was shouted in her house all the time. It was very irritating.
There was a scraping sound and then the door opened. “Come in, come in.” The man was just a bit taller than her. He’d been standing on a stool.
Britta entered a large room covered in splotches of coloured light. It was a bit trippy. She looked around for an altar but couldn’t see one.
“Hey, you’re here. I knew you’d find it when you saw the name.” Stan walked in from the opposite end.
“This is your rebel base, is it?” said Britta.
“Something like that.” He looked like his old self, tall and smug, like he had everything he wanted and everything you wanted, too.
“Please tell me there’s a save point in here.”
“Of course. This is a fully functioning church to our lord and saviour, Mr Lee.” Stan pointed at the far end of the room where there was a boulder.
As Britta approached, she realised it had been carved into a clenched fist. It was a giant glove covered with large gems. She touched it and saved her progress.
“We have a lot to talk about,” said Stan.
“Great,” said Britta. “Can’t wait.” She logged out.