Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! But what about that of the Dwarven League?
The knock on the door was something that Colonel Munro had been expecting for the last five or ten minutes, after the telephone on his desk had warned him that the visitors had arrived at the inner security checkpoints. Closing the pair of dossiers and the report that lay on his desk, he looked up and barked a command to enter. His adjutant swung the door open, announcing that the visitors from the Containment Office had arrived.
“Send them in, Cole. And have somebody fetch Dr Magnusson,” Munro ordered, standing up. The lieutenant withdrew and stepped aside, revealing a pair of nuns who were both clad in dark khaki habits. The one on Munro’s right was just about four feet high, with larger eyes and a pair of sun goggles dangling around her neck – clearly a woman of the tunnels. The other one was apparently human and, with far fewer lines on her face, appeared to be younger. Neither bore any obvious sign of a particular order, but they didn’t need to.
“Colonel Munro,” the older one began. Her accent was quite thick, but there was nothing wrong with her English grammar. “I am Siúr Áine. This is my assistant, Síur Bríd.” She briefly gestured towards herself and her taller, younger companion, before folding her arms back into her sleeves.
“Have a seat, Sisters.” He waved towards the chairs in front of his desk, waiting for them to seat themselves. As he sat back down, Sister Bríd opened the satchel that she held in her lap and extracted a letter.
In flowery, formal language, the letter introduced both of the nuns as being from the Office of Containment of the Congregation for Protection of the Faith of the Firtollán League of Ireland, engaged on a matter of some sensitivity. It warned the reader that obstruction of their duties could result in criminal prosecution or jeopardise the ongoing attempts to contain Fomorian incursions out of the Homeland Region…the usual bumf. It looked right. So did the seal of the office’s logo – the leering face of an orc behind a red diagonal cross.
Munro lowered the document and regarded the two of them again. Of particular note was that it had specifically mentioned that they were interested in a pair of children brought into Westport by a British field team, both of whom had apparently been victims of the Fomorians. “In hindsight, I’m not surprised you figured it out.”
“Colonel, Major Nettleson did not make much attempt to hide the fact that he was escorting a pair of infected teenagers. He specifically reported that one of them – a boy, apparently – claimed to be British. However, the girl may be one of ours,” Sister Áine replied. Beside her, Bríd removed a notebook and pencil and began to hurriedly scribble across it. “More importantly, they may have been forcibly…exposed by a rogue unit of Connacht Trading. I think you can understand, how important that might be.”
Munro scratched his chin. “The full details are listed in the dossiers before you. But to summarise: yes, the boy is from Galway and holds British citizenship, and the girl claims to have been born on Achill Island. Biopsy results have confirmed that they’re nearly asymptomatic – all that seems to have happened is that they developed larger muscles from it.”
“That’s all that happened?”
“Physically, that’s all that changed. As for their mental integrity,” he began, only to be interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in! Ah, perfect timing. Sisters, this is Dr Magnusson, our alienist on staff here. Dr, Sisters Áine and Bríd of the Containment Office.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” the alienist smiled as he closed the door behind himself. He slid into the remaining chair to Munro’s left, folding his hands into his lap. “Have I missed anything?”
“Not yet. I was just about to summarise the affect on their minds, but that’s really your field.”
Magnusson briefly paused to gather his words before turning to face the nuns. “Both have been traumatised by the entire affair. However, Mstr O’Flaherty seems to regard it as just another misfortune; the source of his issues seem to be that he was kidnapped and sold rather than being exposed per sé.”
“He does not care that he was turned into a Fomorian?” Bríd interrupted incredulously, lifting her head from her notebook for a moment. Her accent was not quite as thick as her older companion, though neither man could place it anyway. The older nun limited herself to a concerned frown.
“The boy has a very unusual eye colour. Blood-red, in fact. From what he has told me, he has been the subject of…unwelcome attention from the public because of this. In fact, he outright says that he was a ‘freak’ before, and still is. As for Miss Ní Chartaí,” he briefly grimaced, “she nearly broke her hand punching a mirror two days ago. Her explanation for this is that she saw herself in the mirror as a blood-crazed monster, fangs and all.”
“Do you believe this to be an accurate view of herself?”
Magnusson emphatically shook his head. “Not at all! If I may be honest, Sister, I believe that part of her problem is reconciling what has happened to her with the demonisation that the League has poured upon the Fomorians.” Inwardly he braced for the flow of righteous condemnation.
“That does not surprise me,” Áine sighed. “How did they end up in your custody, if I may ask?”
Munro scratched his chin again, starting to worry that the tirade was going to be longer when it finally ocurred. “As far as we know, this…Dr Burke…had paid some nearby orcs to supply him with air samples from under the tunnels. Apparently, he paid them in counterfeit script, so they decided to raid his laboratory – somewhere called…Cruah Island?”
“That fits with what Connacht Trading have told us. He even recorded that he had disposed of the counterfeit money in such a manner on company stationary,” the nun confirmed with a slow nod and a flat look that all-too-clearly told both men what she thought of such an excellentdecision. “What happened next?”
“Major Nettleson isn’t present at the moment, but from his report…” Munro picked it up and scanned it again. “It appears that the O’Rourke clan near Letterfrack took exception to the experimentation and made contact with the garrison on Inishturk. Somehow, they knew that a British detachment was temporarily on the island, and we’re still not sure how.”
Both nuns shot even further upright at this with twin looks of horror on their faces. If Munro had to guess, it was the thought that the Containment Office’s frequent missives and pamphlets on field security – some of it admittedly quite sensible general security precautions such as avoiding careless talk– being rendered moot. And if the orcs could render this moot, then the other threats out in western Connacht could do so as well. Like those damned banshees and their war birds!
“There was another subject that we…that we wish to discuss with them, Colonel,” Sister Áine finally said. “You may be aware that small crates of commonly-available weapons have washed up around the edge of the Homelands, without any identifying information on them. Or any sign of any ships leaving them.”
“I’ve heard some chatter about it, but nothing definite,” the Scotsman allowed. Chatter in the mess hall, reports of some idiot politician in Tuam kicking up a stink about submersibles making deliveries after receiving an anonymous letter from Dublin…and some intercepted wireless signals from the area that the Wiresharks had passed along with a request for a landing party. He glanced quizzically at Magnusson. “I don’t believe either of them said anything about this?”
The alienist shook his head with a brief, weak smile. “Not that I can recall, and it never occurred to me to ask them. Though I suspect O’Flaherty will not be very surprised at such an occurrence; he’s a cynical enough lad to have considered the possibility of another power attempting to supply the Fomorians.”
“He has mentioned this to you?” Sister Áine leaned forward sharply. Beside her, Bríd hurriedly wrote this down.
“Well…he mentioned that there was a large panic two years ago about a French spy ring in Galway. From what he told me, it suddenly stopped three months later with no mention of any arrests, but during those three months there were regular searches of his village, neighbours accusing one another of harbouring Fomorian sympathisers…all manner of mistaken claims. He commented that if it were that easy for a panic to apparently just happen, then it wouldn’t take too much effort to artificially induce one.”
“Has he suggested anyone in particular who would do that?” To Munro, it sounded as though the Inquisitor didn’t expect anything from this. He wouldn’t have either.
Magnusson shrugged. “His first thoughts were Connacht Trading trying to stir up a panic to sell more military equipment, and I suppose I’m not surprised that he would finger them. After that, his grasp of global politics is somewhat lacking, so he thought it would most likely be the French or possibly the Scandinavians.”
“I see. One final question before we speak with them, Colonel. While he probably is not old enough yet, we are well aware that British citizens in Ireland are obliged to serve in the military in one role or another. Have you any plans for O’Flathery to serve among your Fomorians?” And there it was, the disapproval that both men had been expecting. Five years since the department had started enlisting the forcibly exposed, and the dwarves were still treating it like a betrayal.
And so, the dwarves are about to meet Diarmuid and Siobhán to try figuring out how they got turned into (nearly) asymptomatic orcs. I don’t know how I’ll follow up with this yet, but this is going to lead into the Fomorians In Their Own Words (sub-)series; the first entry in that is set after Connacht Trading publicly disclose that Diarmuid and Siobhán were forcibly experimented upon.