Written for my ladiesbingo card.
2030, approximately 19 years after the end of the world.
Cya had maps.
She had a lot more than maps, actually, enough that she’d ended up building herself another room to store it all. She had reports and charts, headcounts and vulnerability assessments, crop yields and even religious and linguistic demographics, assessing everything she could of their ruined world.
But most of all, she had one big map, and on that map was a circle labelled Addergoole
and a carefully-shaded area labelled as Addergoole influence.
Outside of that was a rough 50-mile circle that she’d labelled DMZ
That was where her information stopped. She would walk herself right up to that line — and did, both literally and figuratively — find every piece of information she could, and make sure that she left with a positive relationship whenever possible. She fought monsters — rarely — fed people — far more frequently — and cleaned up roads and fallen buildings right up to two inches shy of that line.
The other side of the line was Regine’s territory, and there she would not tread, not now.
Regine had agents.
Some were former students; some were people she or her crew had helped out in the past, who owed her favors, formal or informal. Some were those who didn’t know who or what they were working for, but liked the steady pay of food, shelter, and barter goods, all rare to find in the disaster of their crumbled world.
Her agents went out into the world, looking for people and things, bringing back information and goods. They brought reports of the ruins of civilization: some places had fallen into disarray and barbarism and even two decades later had not settled into peace. Some had formed tiny city-states, boarded up and unwilling to talk to outsiders, even outsiders bearing rare trade goods. Some had turned their city-states into trade hubs, or into despotic mini-empires, or into quiet imitations of Eden, some more successful than others.
And in Wyoming, the group called Boom and the woman called Cynara were doing a little bit of all of that.
Regine sent only her best agents in that direction — the cleverest, the most subtle, the ones with the best escape abilities. She assumed Cynara did the same. She was not ready to go to war with Boom nor with Cynara herself; if her agent was caught on Boom’s territory, the volatile, explosive group might take it in their heads to start that war prematurely. Thus she drew out a three-quarter circle where she was very nearly blatant, and towards Wyoming she stayed subtle, sneaky… surreptitious.
Regine had agents, Cya knew. Every time she found one of them, she marked their position on a map. Some of them were obvious, the sort of people you only sent into territory you were certain of. Some tried to be sneaky. Some… Some Cya found only because she already knew Regine had agents. She was known for her ability to find things and people, after all. Regine should have known better.
When she caught one a mile from the Ranch where her crew lived, Cya decided polite ignoring was no longer the order of the day. She sat down with the woman for a pleasant conversation over scrounged tea and did a series of long and complicated Workings on the woman’s mind, the sort that left nearly no trace and would not be noticed until a specific person — perhaps, the person who had taught Cya Mind magic in the first place — went looking.
Then she sent the woman back to Regine with a very polite note. I found this. I thought you might want it back.
Regine stared at the woman. She stared at the note. She stared back at the woman. “How were you detected?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The woman could no more lie to Regine than she could fly — and flying was not her particular magic skill. “Nobody detected me. I got in, I got out, I came back to report.”
The paper note was proof enough. The fact that the agent was staring at the note with no realization that she had just handed it to Regine was, as the saying went, icing on the cake. Nevertheless, Regine engaged in an invasive search of her agent’s mind.
And there it was. The work was so tidy Regine doubted anyone else could have found it. The girl, she had to admit, was skilled. She’d written in dots and dashes of missing time and changed memories:Stay off my lawn and I’ll stay off yours