Chapter 6:

Minas Táril

Through the Christmas Glass

Let us peek into Laura's dream this time. She dreamed that she was back in the Church. She set up the plan to lure the traitor to a trap and expose him, as planned. However something went wrong. Somehow the traitorous bishop managed to evade her traps and stab Kuro to death while he was sleeping. Their only chance to fix their world was lost, and it was her fault.

Then a voice spoke to her, seemingly out of nowhere:
“You failed little girl. You failed because you are not good enough; in fact you are an abject failure! That's why you gave up your royal status; because you knew you were not worth it! Your blood might be royal but nothing else is royal about you!”

Laura woke up drenched in sweat. Why did the Goddess of Nightmares decide to pay her a visit all of a sudden? Did she not pray to the Goddess of Dreams enough? She checked if Kuro was still breathing, just to make sure, and when she composed herself she went back to sleep. She had time for a couple more hours of sleep. Her magic alarm clock would wake her up when it was time.
This time Kuro woke up without much hassle, and after less than 10 minutes they were at the horse shop. Laura chose a white mare and as the horse seller was preparing for a ride she explained to Kuro horses 101.

“You need to treat her with respect but not too much respect. She needs to understand that we ride her, she does not ride us. I will ride front, handling the reins, but she will feel us both. Do not be nervous or she'll get nervous too. That's all”.
“ I hope she likes me or, at least, she does not dislike me”, Kuro joked.

The mare was quite large and tall; she was no pony. After the horse seller prepared her for two riders Laura rode her and extended her hand to Kuro.
“Come on! Let's get going! We are on the clock!”

Kuro took her hand, stepped on the stirrup as Laura showed him, and tried to place his other leg above her as if he was riding a very high motorcycle. However he did not estimate her height well and fell, landing on his bottom.
“By the gods of Noragami! She is very tall, isn't she?”, he said with one of his eyes closed and grunting from pain.

“You need to give yourself some ‘push’ after you step on the stirrup; or you can do it in one move, quickly, to give your body more momentum. I also had trouble to ride a large horse the first few times", Laura explained.

Kuro managed to ride their mare eventually.. at the seventh time. Laura paid the owner and they were on the road in just a few minutes. Kuro almost fell back when the horse accelerated from full stop but he barely managed to hold himself from... Laura's chest. Laura probably thought he did it on purpose; she hit him with her elbow to the stomach and placed his hands lower, at her waist.

“I didn't touch you... there  on purpose Laura, I was about to fall on my back!”
“Never mind that, let's both calm down and focus on the road, we are making Auli nervous. I think it would be best for both of us if we never talk about this again. Sorry about the elbow hit, it was... instinctive”.

“I'm sorry too. Auli is a good name. Is that what the horse seller called her?”
“No, I just named her. He never told me her name; I don't think he cared enough for her to name her, he just took care of her for the coin she would bring him”, Laura said with a hint of disapproval.
“I... see”.

The two riders rode Auli for three hours straight, with just one short stop to water her. By nightfall they were at Minas Táril, the ‘Black City’. And black it was indeed! Nearly every building was painted a black or very dark shades of blue, purple or brown, and even their roof tiles had had dark color shades. However, apart from the weird color choice, the city was truly magnificent.

Architecturally it was exquisite, with a huge building that looked like a cross between a Cathedral and a palace in the center and concentric circles of towers and other buildings with progressively shorter height around it. Among the circles the city had canals, and multiple bridges crossed them every few tens of meters.

It appeared as if the city was built on a lake. Laura explained that the canals were fed by the tributary of a large river which flowed close to the city. The Goddess of Water helped the city purify the water 24/7, which meant one could drink water directly from the canals. Kuro saw tens of small boats moving in the canals. Most resembled the gondolas of Venice, but some were larger; these were meant for transporting goods.

“Let me guess, is that humongous castle the Church of Diversity's headquarters?”
“Not too low profile of a building is it?”, Laura winked.
“Like we said before, you will not go anywhere alone inside the Church, except when you are in your room. Even when you go to the lavatory I'll keep watch outside. We will secretly go together in your room only the first time, when I set up the magic traps.

Afterwards we will casually mention within listening distance of the three bishops that you do not want anyone in your room, not even me. I will arrange for your room to be next to mine, so if the trap is activated I can be there within seconds”, Laura almost whispered.

“How many seconds?”
“Wh.. what?”
“I'm just wondering, in how many seconds can you hop to my room to save my buttocks?”, Kuro teased.
“More than 1, less than 8. It will be enough. Besides, when the trap activates the attacker will not be able to move for a while; I'll make sure of that”.
“Will he be paralyzed?”
“Temporarily, for up to 20 seconds; I mean that's how long my paralyzing spell could have effect on the bishops. Lesser mages would require much more time to revive”.

Kuro seemed relieved.
“Then I suppose I can sleep with both my eyes closed at night. I place my trust -and life- in your hands Laura, but I know you can do it. We just need to take great care to keep our plan under wraps or we'll lose the element of surprise!”

“I understand bosu. There is a saying in my country that's it's better to ask permission than forgiveness, but I'll have to make do with forgiveness this time. The stakes are too high”.

Kuro, Laura and Auli finally reached the Church's gates. It took them almost an hour to reach the Church since they entered Minas Táril. The city was quite large. Laura secured Auli at the Church's stable and after a while they were greeted by Cardinal Laicolassë and his three closest advisers, Bishop Aatami, Bishop Eemeli and Bishop Jaakkima.

The Cardinal was a tall and rather stout man. He had red hair, the standard blueberry face, a dark red beard and wore light blue vestments. Bishops Aatami and Eemeli were quite younger than the Cardinal, but Jaakkima looked roughly the same age. They were quite ordinary looking, like the other people of this world, and wore simpler white robes.

Kuro wondered whether Jaakkima was the traitor due to his senior age; disgruntled employees who are not promoted and/or do not get a pay raise should be prime traitor material.
“So you are the Otherworlder Kuro Neko. Nice to meet you, I am Cardinal Laicolassë”.

“Likewise, but call me just Kuro please. In my world my name is a subject of ridicule, so I prefer to go by that name. I was just about to change my name when Laura teleported me here”.
“It seems we were lucky then; perhaps the Goddess of Fate intervened. But who's that ‘Laura’?” ‘There is a Goddess of Fate too? Of course there is’, Kuro thought.

“He refers to me your eminence. It was difficult for him to call me by my full name so he... simplified it a bit. I didn't mind”.
“I see”, the Cardinal said. “Laurefindelë my child thank you for bringing him safe to us. Was your trip safe?”
“Let's just say our road was bit... rockier than we would have liked your eminence. But we're finally safe back home!”, Kuro thought that Laura was a good actor.

The mole had a good poker face too though. None of the three bishops looked like they were remotely disappointed to find out Kuro was still alive; either the mole was better than he expected or he was warned in advance that the plan to capture and kill him failed. Kuro thought option B was more likely.

After a while Kuro and Laura had supper at the Church, took a hot bath, and started to put their plan in action. Laura arranged for him the closest room to her own, which was empty. They entered together in secret, making sure no-one noticed them, and Laura started casting the magic traps.

She placed one trap at the door, one right below the window and six traps all around Kuro's bed in case the traitor used teleportation magic to transport to Kuro's room. At the end she was almost exhausted of mana and required a magic potion; the traps needed to be strong enough to hold a mage at the level of the bishops for up to 20 seconds.

She also linked herself mentally to the traps so that the moment one was activated she would be alerted and rush to Kuro's room; this required even more mana. It was unknown when the traitor would attack, though they doubted he would make his move the first night already. Laura could not remain awake 24/7 just to watch Kuro.

So, after everything was ready, Laura sneaked out of Kuro's room as quietly as possible and tiptoed to her room. The Church was a huge building but there were eyes and ears everywhere. Kuro and Laura lay on their bed. They were both quite anxious, although they kept that from each other.

They wondered how long it would take for the killer to take the bait. They finally closed their eyes and slept; with a perturbed heart.