Welcome to year five of the Dresden Files: New Orleans thread!
Much like our beloved city, our previous thread suffered a terrible disaster, but we shall rebuild!
The Google Docs Transcript Index is HERE. (recommended for anyone reading, no paywall!)
We have a friendly Obsidian Portal Page HERE. (Game of the Month May 2017!)
You can still read the original archived thread HERE. (just be aware pg 71 is non-canon due to retconning.)
Book 1: Hurricane Touchdown - When the Warden comes to town, the first thing this misfit group of Lawbreakers does is... adopt him?! (He's just so cute. Oh, and demons.)
Book 2: Missing Persons - The heart-breaking tales of a father's love, and a woman scorned. (It's all Mitsuo's fault.)
Book 3: Both Ends An innocent bit of time travel accidentally leads to the Worst Timeline. (Surpringly not set in 2017.)
Washington DC, Volume 1: How the Red Court Stole Christmas - Self-contained story set in DC in 2009, as part of the beta test for Dresden Accelerated. (A Beloved Holiday Special!)
We are currently running standard Atomic Robo with the spellcasting system lifted from Dresden Accelerated. There are two additional house rules in play.
1: Compel Refusals: Refusing a natural compel (aka “Buying Out”) costs a FP. It grants a free invoke on a relevant aspect, OR creates a situational aspect with a free invoke related to the refusal.
2: Lawbreaker Aspects: All characters have an extra aspect which can be compelled to push them to further lawbreaking. (Or to be a pawn of fate for Cole.)
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 09:40|
|# ? Mar 21, 2018 16:31|
Character Sheet Index
Ada duSang: "On top of the world or buried."
Passionate and driven, Ada is the conscience of the party. Like a fire, her endless passion and enthusiasm warms the hearts of those who meet her, and lights up a path to a better future. She's not all smiles and sunshine, however - there's a darker side to her, who knows what it wants and how to get it. Currently stripped of her magic, the former blood mage hasn't let this slow her down one bit. She still plays games with high stakes...and somehow, still wins, no matter how stacked the deck might be against her.
Richter Cole: “So now I’m here, facing death. Don’t think dignity’s ever been in my cards though.”
Responsible and loyal to a fault, Rick is the one who holds the team together through thick and thin. Some people have described him as a fussy old man, but that's just because he's been through enough that when he gets a quiet moment he wants to enjoy it. He came to New Orleans on assignment as the city's first Warden in decades, and has slowly but surely started to build the locals' trust. As the party's de facto leader he's the one who gets the lion's share of the blame for all the
Rupert Singh: “But this… all of this. It’s a second chance for me. I already screwed up being a father once. I’m trying to do it better this time.”
A battered old former Wizard of the White Council, Rupert Singh drifted into New Orleans without purpose or plan, deep within a pit of his own making, forged from fear and hatred. In less than a year, he has found himself a new family, new reasons to keep going… and a newly shattered arm.
Elbridge Hardley: Congratulations. You're being taken seriously."
Elbridge has seen it all, done it all, and come back for more. Very nearly as old as everyone else put together, he's still scraping by, too stubborn to quit and too busy to die. Elbridge sometimes comes across as cold-blooded in his pragmatism, but he knows the stakes, and his advice is solid. One might think that gambling against a man who can see the future is an unwise proposition...but that hasn't stopped vampires, demons, and far worse from trying.
Marcine Sterling: “Nobody ever saved a life by deciding it was too hard to try.”
A talented violinist and empath, Marcine stands at the center of many crossroads. She's kind and determined, an understanding shoulder to lean on and an unwavering shot with her handguns. She understands people well, knows how to smooth things over and keep the group on track. She acts fast and thinks faster: Trouble won't wait.
(A lot gets commissioned in 5 years.)
mistaya fucked around with this message at Feb 14, 2018 around 05:21
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 09:47|
We are reposting a few of the final posts in order to keep the chapter together. If you've reached THIS post in the old thread, continue reading from here.
Scene: Back In New Orleans
“Do we want to know?” Jenny asked, when Elbridge sat down in the passenger seat.
“We’re protected,” he said without further comment.
“At what price?” Nicky asked worriedly.
“...Charles Langford has to write another book.”
Taapya walked past both vehicles without looking at any of them, in accordance with the deal. Straight along the road he went, one foot in front of the other, and the Outsiders gave way before him. They screeched and howled and buzzed in Marcine’s head like a wasp’s nest, but they did give way. A bubble, or maybe a cocoon, of activity circled around him as he advanced. The road behind him stayed clear.
Jenny nosed the van into the gap. “What do you think would happen if I ran him over?” she asked, only half-joking. The dome was only a few yards away now.
“Let’s not,” Nicky pleaded. “We’re so close.”
“Yes, but to what?” Angelique asked.
“Our best shot at fixing this.” Elbridge reached under his seat and pulled out the cloth parcel from Aurora containing the heavy seedpod. “Without sacrificing anyone else.”
At the very edge of the dome, Taapya stopped. He reached out and touched it, and his hand sank into the odd glowing light. But something in it resisted, and pushed him away, like a rubber band snapping back. He turned and watched the vehicles make their final approach.
“One year,” he called to Elbridge. “Don’t forget!”
Elbridge made a hand gesture that nicely-encapsulated his feelings on the matter.
Jenny drove into the light. The van pressed up against the barrier, and she felt the resistance, but when she gave it a little gas it slipped all the way through.
On the other side…
Was a street. A perfectly ordinary street, on a perfectly ordinary evening, with perfectly ordinary homes, and streetlights, and businesses. The lines on the road were only paint. There were lights on in the houses. Up ahead, a car drove by.
“Holy poo poo,” said Jenny. She rolled the window down. Sprinklers were watering lawns. Cicadas and crickets were chirping.
“We made it…” Nicky whispered, then, louder, “We made it! We’re inside!”
“How enticingly-normal,” Elbridge said. “Stay on guard. We’re still far from safe here.”
“There’s no stars,” Angie said, looking up. “And behind us… nothing. Look.”
The road they’d come in on simply ended in a fine grey mist. No sign of the thousands of Outsiders crawling all over the dome like ants. No sign that anything odd was happening at all. It could have been a fog bank.
Marcine had been expecting some kind of apocalyptic hellscape, judging from what they’d seen of the other Elbridge, and especially after what they’d just gone through. “Not what I thought we’d come in on,” she said.
Rupert stared out the window in amazement, muttering under his breath, “How did all of this survive?”
“Well, we should keep moving,” Hugues said, slowly glancing around. “Mortals may be blind, but I’d doubt the Fae in here are as ignorant.”
“Should I look for them?” Topaz asked Marcine. “Maybe they’ll know something more about Narcissus than the mortals would.” He was still wrapped around her neck loosely. The shaking had calmed down but the way his claws were digging into her shirt clearly said he didn’t want to go anywhere. He would though, if she asked him to.
“Maybe after we’ve gotten our bearings,” she answered, and frowned. “We already know he’s dead here.”
“What does dead even mean here?” Seth asked. “If time’s as unstable as we’ve heard… Don’t take anything for granted.”
“Yeah,” Jenny agreed, warily driving forwards again. “Remember, this isn’t home.”
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 10:09|
Scene: Streets of New Orleans
Driving the rest of the way to the bar was bizarrely normal. There were other cars on the road, here and there. Not a lot of them, but enough to notice that people were still following traffic laws. The people inside the cars just looked like regular people, and though the van got a few funny looks no one appeared to be afraid of them. The streetlights were still lit, and the stoplights still worked, and if it wasn’t so darn quiet it would have looked like any other summer night in New Orleans.
“We need gas,” Jenny said, nodding at the dashboard. “I know we brought a spare can but maybe we should try the pump, since it seems quiet around here.”
“Won’t all the petrol stations have been emptied ages ago?” Nicky asked. “I mean, six years…”
“It doesn’t look like six weeks,” Jenny said. “Even if the Outsiders can’t get in, there’s no way this place didn’t burn itself down by the end of the first year. I mean, it’s New Orleans.”
“There’s too much we don’t know… But we might learn something if we stop,” Angie said. “I’ll fill it, don’t get out of the driver’s seat. And have Marcine follow us.”
Jenny pulled into the next Texaco she passed and parked next to the gas pump.
“It’s not empty,” Angie confirmed, starting the pump. “Neither is the store. There’s food on the shelves. Should we check it out?”
“I think we should just get to the bar before something else tries to bite our heads off,” Marcine said through her open window. She’d filled the tank before they reached the cabin. “But if there’s still stuff stocked here, why did the other El want supplies? This looks...fine.”
“Wouldn’t anything on the shelves be six years old?” Seth asked. “That’s stretching the expiration on even canned goods.”
She pointed to the pumps. “These shouldn’t be functioning, either. Nothing looks like it’s been left to rot for six years.” She’d seen the state of her parents’ house. “I guess there could be more people doing maintenance than it looks, but there are still cars on the road. There’s no way there would still be gas in the tanks by now. And if this place is still stocked, no one vandalized it out of desperation any point… Wizard Minsk said through the book that time was skipping and repeating, if I remember right. So...does that mean this whole place is in some kind of Groundhog Day situation?”
“Would that be worse, or better, than just being trapped in the city with no way out?” Angie wondered.
“Without the comedic stylings of Bill Murray,” Elbridge said, “I would lean toward ‘worse’.” While Angie pumped, he wandered inside (he was fairly sure that pump wasn’t hex-proofed) and rummaged through the assorted convenience store foods. Chips, soda, cheap beer, prepackaged pastries that were more preservative than flour, those ridiculous marshmallow-coconut snowball-things...even the rotisseried hot dogs. They weren’t just fresh, they were still hot. “My other self...he seemed to be running from something,” Elbridge recalled. “Perhaps he has to travel light?”
There was something else that caught his attention. “The dates on the perishables...they’re all 20-22 June. 2012, at that.”
“Eh, potato chips never really go bad,” Hugues, who’d followed him inside, said while freely grabbing a few bags for the road.
“Hugues? Elbridge? We got incoming, get back to the van,” Jenny’s voice came over the pin.
“I’m all of ten metres away!” he said back, grumbling as he walked. ”Worse than kids with their bloody smartphones, you lot…”
Incoming turned out to be a black Suzuki motorcycle, with a very distinctive whine. The rider turned into the gas station’s parking lot and skidded to a halt right in front of the van. “Follow me!” he yelled, through the helmet.
“Isn’t that Cole’s bike?” Jenny asked.
“That’s not Rico,” Angie said, opening the door for everyone to load up. “Too short.”
“Hey!” said the rider. He sounded quite young. “Do you have any idea where you are? This is-”
The dull roar of a lot more motorcycles, of the chunkier, American variety, could suddenly be heard approaching their position. The rider pointed towards the sound. “This is gator territory! Come on! They’ll be here for the reset! Did you touch anything?”
“...gator territory?” Nicky asked.
“Where do you want us to go?” Jenny asked, through the driver’s side window.
“Where you were already going, I’m just your escort,” he said. “There’s a lot of places that aren’t safe. Um, El said to tell Langford ‘ERNSTN’?”
“...of course I did,” Elbridge groaned. “Hello, Turner.”
The rider hung his head. “Look, can we talk about this somewhere that isn’t about to get overrun by pissed off bikers who are looking for beer and twinkies?”
“Interrogate him later.” Marcine pulled out toward the road and waited.
(Hugues Notice ---/ +5 = 2)
Hugues looked at the motorcycle rider in confusion. Elbridge called him Turner but...something wasn’t quite right. “Something’s not right about this, but I don’t need to tell you that,” he said, then hopped in the back of Jenny’s van.
((Rupert, Notice: //+/ +4 = +5))
It took Rupert a moment to place it, but he’d heard the rider’s voice before - back in Winter, during a grue-induced vision. It was Ed, an older Ed - this world’s Ed. But if Ed was out here, doing something this dangerous - where was his counterpart? Quietly, into his pin, he said, “It’s not Hugues, it’s Ed. Just follow him.”
“Just one second,” the rider, who was in fact Edward Evans, hopped off his bike and pulled a few strips of calligraphy paper out of his jacket pocket. He slapped one on each of the large pumps and threw the rest inside the door of the convenience center. “It’d be bad if the gators smelled El all over this place,” he explained.
Ed revved the Suzuki and squealed out of the parking lot in a true display of showing off. Marcine and Jenny followed. They weren’t half a block away when the entire gas station went up in a rather spectacular fireball.
“You sure he’s not Hugues?” Jenny asked.
“What?” Hugues asked, vaguely offended. “I’m not the only person in New Orleans who’s burned down a building.”
“No,” Elbridge said, “but you have made something of a habit of it.”
“What can I say. I learned from the best.”
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 18:48|
Black Cats and Voodoo Dolls
Scene: El’s Gato Negro
The first thing they noticed was the dizziness. It was as if they’d suddenly crossed into high altitude, even though the city was well-below sea level. Or it had been - who even knew if ‘sea level’ was a concept that applied here, wherever ‘here’ was? It came on slowly and subtly, a disconcerting sense of disorientation and unfamiliarity, even though they’d been here before.
“We’re close,” Elbridge said. “This’ll be the spell my double’s used to stay under the radar.” He focused, closing his eyes, and feeling out a thin filament of magic within the disorienting miasma. It was there, sharp and solid, following exactly the path that Edward was taking. And soon enough, they were there.
El Gato Negro, said the flickering neon sign over the entrance. Authentic Mexican Cuisine and Bar. Abandoned cars were parked by the curb, bumper-to-bumper. There were fresh skid marks from the motorcycle, and no others. Nobody else had come this way in a long, long time.
Jenny parked behind a nearly identical copy, (sans the recent roof damage,) of the dragon van, and Marcine pulled in behind her. Edward just drove his bike onto the sidewalk near the door and left it there. He stooped to overturn a loose brick near the doormat. The underside had deep grooves running across it; on closer inspection, they flowed seamlessly into channels in the other bricks, which connected to the asphalt, and went on for who knew how far.
The moment the connection was broken, the tension went out of the air, and the vertigo went away. A ringing in their ears, which had grown from near-silence since they began the drive, abruptly vanished; now that it was gone, they could tell that it had been almost-deafening. When everyone had gone across the line, Ed put the brick back in place. The eerie feeling of disorientation was much weaker on the inside of the ward, but it was still there.
Ed took the motorcycle helmet off, revealing dark blonde curls down to his shoulders. “Man, this is weird.” He gave Rupert a cocky half-smile. “Long time no see, right?”
Rupert smiled back and said, “Not so much from our perspectives, but still too long. Time travel is weird.” After an awkward pause, he added, “You’re looking well, given…” He inclined his head towards the road they’d just driven down.
“The whole apocalypse thing?” He shrugged. “I guess. We get by.”
“Where’s Lucy?” asked Rupert.
“Out scrounging. Needed some extra stuff if we were gonna have guests. She should be back soon.”
Rupert relaxed slightly, relieved. “We brought supplies with us. Van’s full of them.”
Ed brightened up at that. “Sweet! You don’t even know how sick of the usual I am. Let’s go.”
The bar had an antechamber, the kind where customers would step inside, wipe off their shoes on the mat, and then go in to be seated. Now, it functioned as a sort of airlock. The flimsy-looking outer door swung open as weightily as an iron bulkhead. When Angie tried to go inside…
...she just…didn’t. It wasn’t a solid wall, it was like she just sort of…fell away from the entrance, if people could fall sideways.
Topaz looked askance at the entrance and refused to approach it. When Hugues walked in the first door, Murray set up a yowl inside the backpack that would have woken the dead and oozed out into a puddle of slightly smoking purple goo on the mat.
“What the- is that a demon?” Ed kicked the mat out of the foyer and back onto the street. The demonic puddle wobbled like a burned jello mold and moaned pitifully. “What are you waiting for, kill it!”
“Oh trust me I want to,” Hugues said, taking an empty bottle to scoop up Murray’s ectoplasm. “But he’s bound to me, and he won’t cause a whole lot of trouble. Especially not out here.” He set the bottle down next to the wall, happily ignoring the angry vibrating and howling from within.
Ed stared at him. “Maybe you should wait out here too.”
“No,” Hugues said simply. “My best friend is dead, and the fate of far more than just two copies of this city is at stake here. I’m not going to be kept in the dark.”
“If the wards will let you pass, whatever.” The young man didn’t look happy about it.
“And if they don’t?” Angie glared at him.
“Then you’re not human,” Edward said. “Sorry, no exceptions.”
Marcine frowned. It made sense, but… “If Angie can't get in, Rick wouldn't, either.”
Ed looked uncomfortable. “That was… kind of the point. Look, El can explain stuff better than I can, I’m just the delivery boy.”
She glanced back at the motorcycle, then to Angie. She wasn't happy about it, but there wasn't much she could do. “Fine,” she said irritably, and stepped inside.
It took several minutes for the interior door to open, all the while feeling as if something was probing at them. It was an unwelcome, intrusive sensation, like having a dental exam if the dentist was also a part-time ninja. When the door finally did open, it was into a room less like a bar-and-diner and more like a fortress. Several heavy, wooden tables were tipped onto their sides, tops facing the door to form a barricade, as if whoever lived here expected a firefight to break out at any moment.
Sergeant Abel Drouillard of the NOPD went for his shotgun the moment the chime over the door rang. It was purely a reflex for him at this point, an involuntary twitch - and ‘twitch’ was the right word. Drou looked like hell. His salt-and-pepper mustache had gone solid white, and he’d lost thirty pounds since they’d last seen him. Laverne Bellafonte looked like she’d lost sixty. She had a little sprinkler pail that she brandished like a weapon, which it probably was.
“Holy poo poo, you’re real,” Drou said. His voice was a hoarse whisper. “When El said someone was coming through the dome...and you still got those ugly-rear end shirts.” He laughed. “But if you were on the outside, what the hell would make you wanna come in?”
“I’m sentimental,” Elbridge said dryly. “Or senile. One of those words. Where is the other me, at any rate?”
“In the manager’s office,” Maria said. There she was, the bartender, still tending bar and pointing El to his stool as if he’d never left. “He said that you should go in and see him?”
“...across wards that only I can cross, and if I don’t, I’m not really me,” Elbridge guessed. “It’s good to see you all.”
Marcine slumped onto the nearest barstool and shrugged out of her coat, which she draped beside her. “You still stocked?”
“You’re in luck,” Maria said with a thin smile. “Just got a new delivery.”
“Same delivery we’ve had for six years,” Mrs. Bellafonte huffed.
“What’s it to you?” Maria snorted. “Gin and juice is all you ever drink!”
“Anything sounds good to me,” Marcine said tiredly. She shouldn't drink much, but she needed something after chauffeuring Taapya.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” Seth agreed, nearly collapsing onto the stool.
“Coke and rum then,” Maria said, pouring two bottles over a glass of ice. “Wakes you up when you’re tired, calms you down when you can’t sleep.”
“All of the above.” Marcine accepted the glass gratefully. “Perfect.”
Rupert dropped into a padded chair at a table near the bar, slumping down deep into the welcoming padding. “None for me. Just need to rest my eyes a while. I’m not used to throwing something like that magnetism spell around.”
Marcine forced herself to drink slowly, or she’d want more. “That was pretty cool, though.”
Rupert nodded lazily, his eyes half open, “Not often you make a monster crash into a hulk of metal, it’s true.”
“Is Wizard Minsk here?” Nicky asked nervously. He was the only one who hadn’t sat down yet.
“Out with Lu,” Ed said, fetching a bowl of peanuts. He plopped into the chair across from Rupert and waved Nicky over to join them. “So, uh… What’s going on, you know, out there? We haven’t had any news for six years.”
“Let them catch their breath,” Maria said. “And then we can start with some introductions.”
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 18:55|
Elbridge Hardley - Self-Reflection
While the others enjoyed a well-earned moment of respite, Elbridge slipped behind the bar and walked up the stairs to the manager’s office. It was just a single flight, and yet...after all of this, it felt so much longer than that. Here he was, trying to save all of reality from some place far outside of it. Everything they’d fought for, everything Rick had died for. They were at the end of this particular yellow brick road. It was time to meet the wizard.
The wards on the stairwell surely had something to do with it. Anyone other than Elbridge himself would have climbed those stairs to find only more stairs, higher and higher without end, until they gave up, turned around, and found themselves back on the ground floor as if they’d never begun.
The door wasn’t locked. Why would it be? Elbridge simply turned the knob and walked inside to face himself.
“Oh, good,” said El-two hollowly. “Not an Outsider.” He was seated at the desk, nursing a glass of tequila and poring over a stack of typewritten documents. His forearms were burnt and blistered - he’d been awfully-close when the book had gone up in flames, and he’d dressed them with sterile bandages but little else.
Every square inch of the walls was covered in spattered ink and writing. Elbridge couldn’t tell where the annotations ended and the spellwork began. El-two wasn’t doing much to not project the appearance of utter madness. “Not for lack of trying,” Elbridge said. “They seemed a bit testy out there - almost like something had them all riled up.” It had been the book, and they both knew it.
“Got you here, didn’t it?” El-two shrugged and waved, and a chair slid into position across from him. “Make enough of a racket, someone’s bound to take notice.” Grumbling, Elbridge took a seat. “You have a plan,” El-two said, matter-of-factly. “Otherwise you’d never have come.”
“I have this,” Elbridge said, and dropped the envelope with the seedpod on the desk. “The Summer Lady found out what her mother had done. Apparently, they had rather a difference of opinion.”
El-two blinked. “That is…”
“From the world-tree itself.” Elbridge nodded. “Plant it in the right spot, and a new branch will grow to sustain your timeline.”
El-two was silent for a long time after that. “You know,” he said at last, “I was expecting more of an ordeal in getting something like this.”
“Bloody hell,” Elbridge swore, “I didn’t say it was easy!”
“Hrm.” Another long, uncomfortable silence. “...that’s Warden Cole’s sword,” El-two said, glancing at Elbridge’s hip. “Why are you carrying Warden Cole’s sword? Wasn’t he with your group?”
“He didn’t make it,” Elbridge said flatly.
“I see,” El-two said. He stared at the sword with that blank, wide-eyed expression that Elbridge knew to mean he was using the Sight. “Roqueza.”
“He didn’t make it either,” Elbridge said with a note of grim satisfaction.
“One down…” El-two poured a second shot and slid it across the table to Elbridge, and then a third, which he slid to an empty place for the absent Cole.
“...and Lord knows how many thousands to go,” Elbridge finished, taking the toast. “Dresden’s methods may have been gruesome, but they were certainly thorough.”
“Harry Dresden?” El-two arched an eyebrow. “Yours actually got off his arse and cleaned up his mess, then?”
“Bloodline curse,” Elbridge confirmed. “The Red King meant to use it on his family line. Dresden just took their ritual and…” he patted the sword at his hip. “...finished it for them.”
“Ah.” El-two nodded. “So you’re saying there’s little chance of us reproducing it?”
“Not unless you can get a newly-turned vampire to Chichen Itza and cut out its heart on a stone altar,” Elbridge said. El-two was silent again for a while after that. Elbridge could tell that he was considering it. “And you?” Elbridge asked. “Where’s your Warden Cole? Why is the bar so heavily-warded against mere infectees?”
“The Fellowship of St. Giles never had a strong presence here,” El-two said. “You know that as well as I do - Nerissa wouldn’t have it. The only infectees that have tried to get in weren’t here for Happy Hour.”
“And Warden Cole?” Elbridge asked, noting the elision.
“...Nerissa caught him,” El-two said at last.
Elbridge felt the blood in his veins turn to ice. “She made him drink?” he asked. He didn’t want to hear the answer, but he had to know.
“Then the Boleyn Collar killed him?”
“It’s a simple question, Hardley.”
“It really isn’t.” El-two glanced at the third glass he’d poured, placed where Rick would have been sitting. “Death tends not to take here any longer, and since Rick and the parasitic Phage are distinct entities who’ve both been alive and dead at varying points in the cycle...it’s hard to tell which version of him we’ll get at any given moment.”
“So he’s Schrödinger’s Vampire,” Elbridge said, summarising.
“We’re all in Schrödinger’s box here,” El-two replied. “The only question is, what will come out when it’s finally opened?”
“No vampires, I should hope.” Elbridge paused as something else occurred to him. “Nor Denarians. Where’s Yoziel?”
“In the cellar, beneath ten feet of foundation, in the exact centre of a perfect sphere of wardings.”
“Well.” Elbridge took a drink of his tequila. “That must have taken some time. Wouldn’t the coin’s position reset from time to time?”
“No, no.” El-two waved his hand. “Nothing inside the bar. The whole building is enchanted against every malign influence I could think of, and a few that I couldn’t. Anna Beaumont was quite some help there - she and her circle watch over a storeroom full of provisions a short distance from here, which does reset, or else we’d all starve. Speaking of which…?” He arched his eyebrow again.
“We brought the things on your list,” Elbridge confirmed.
“Oh, thank God,” El-two said with a sigh of relief. “I’ll see that they’re taken to the storeroom - after six years on the same menu, we were all going a bit mad. Madder,” he corrected, glancing out the window.
“We’re going to fix this,” Elbridge said pointedly.
“That is our best-case scenario, yes,” El-two said, nodding along.
“Where is Narcissus?” Elbridge asked, pushing past the implied vote of no confidence. “You indicated that he’d died, but that he’s stayed dead…”
“Oh, he doesn’t,” El-two said with a wave of his hand for emphasis. “He comes back like the rest of us, and every time he does, that mob is right there to lynch him again. For the first year or so, you could actually set your clock by it.”
“Charming,” Elbridge said flatly. “So that’s why you need Hugues - for his necromancy. Where’s yours?” he asked.
“Vanished,” El-two said, shaking his head. “Haven’t seen nor heard from him since the Solstice. I can’t even locate him with scrying spells.”
“Ominous, yes,” El-two finished. “As a matter of fact, I was going to ask you to look with your…favour from Mab.”
“Ah, yes. That.” Elbridge pulled out the cloth bundle and delicately unwrapped the faerie mirror. Its surface was crystal-clear despite the summer heat, and it was perfectly-intact despite the rough trip into New Orleans.
“Marvellous,” El-two breathed softly. “You saw me through the mirror on the VFW’s ceiling...it can peer across thresholds, wards, and even dimensions?”
“As long as there’s a suitable mirror nearby and you can make the incantation rhyme, yes,” Elbridge said. “It has its limits, I’m sure - possibly a mind of its own, but under the circumstances…”
“Something about gift horses and mouths, yes.” El-two glanced again at the third shot of tequila, narrowing his eyes with suspicion. “You never answered my question, by the by.”
“Why are you carrying Warden Cole’s sword?”
Elbridge blinked. “I explained-”
“Why are you carrying Warden Cole’s sword?” El-two repeated with more inflection. “Wouldn’t it suit Turner better?”
“That’s...well, he’s already got the one…” Elbridge mumbled, feeling suddenly lightheaded and unsure of himself.
“Hardley…” El-two crossed his arms over the desk. “...why did you drink Cole’s shot?”
Elbridge had a retort about not wasting good tequila, until he realised that he’d drunk it without even noticing. He glanced down and saw that the sword was out of its sheath. He didn’t remember drawing it. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he’d never really looked at it - not properly, not the way he should have as soon as Breenfjell had returned it.
He closed his eyes and looked.
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 19:25|
Scene: El’s Gato Negro
Angie was sitting on the bench outside the bar, watching two women getting out of a small green car. The willowy blonde girl carried a stack of pizzas and a cake. The severe looking brunette had her hands full of balloons and streamers.
“Oh drat, they’re already here,” said Minsk.
“Hello!” Lucy said. “Um, who are you?”
“Angelique,” said Angie. “I’m one of Richter’s friends.”
“Ah, that would be why you’re outside,” said Minsk. She looked at the bottle next to the door. An eyeball inside the purple goo stared back at her. “Is that bottle er… occupied?”
“Demon,” Angie said, then quickly clarified: “Not mine.”
“I can bring you out some cake,” Lucy offered.
“We don’t have much time,” Angie said. “What kind of cake?”
“There’s always time for cake,” Lucy frowned. “Chocolate.”
Angie felt guilty, thinking of Zophiel guarding the entrance while she rested, but if she didn’t rest and eat something she’d collapse before they completed the mission. And it was chocolate. “Maybe there’s a little time,” she mumbled.
Lucy brightened immediately. “Wonderful, I’ll be right back.”
Minsk just sighed as she pushed the door open. “Oh, to be young again.”
“So let me get this straight,” Ed said. “We’re trapped in the great black void because some other Narcissus in a completely different timeline nuked his own New Orleans so the Summer Queen could make a false timeline to bring her murdered daughter back to life. The vampires have almost wiped out the White Council, the government’s declared the whole place a radiation zone, and our whole world shouldn’t even exist?”
“drat,” Drou said.
“It’s hosed everywhere,” Marcine confirmed, staring into the last fifth of her drink and wondering if she was good for a second. Or third. If the other El could explain things better, she wished he would get down here and do it before she decided sobriety was a waste of time.
“How have you been managing things in here?” Hugues said, taking a sip from his juice box. “All the foodstuff should have expired by now.” He was aware the box he was sipping from was already several years out of date but it looked, smelled, and tasted fine.
“Snapbacks, resets, respawns, whatever you want to call it,” Ed said. “Food does expire if it’s out long enough but most places with reliable stashes are owned by someone who comes to pick it up when it comes back. There’s some trading but not much. It’s the only reason we haven’t all starved to death in here.”
“Reliable, right,” Mrs. Bellafonte shook her head. “Not since last year when we lost the ‘burbs.”
Marcine looked up from her drink. “How does the encroachment happen, anyway? Slow creep in or something else?”
“Like watching the ice-caps melt.” The florist leaned on the bar. “Most of the time it’s death by inches, real slow. But once in awhile there’s a big collapse on the edges. We’ve lost whole neighborhoods like that.”
“My house was out past the line,” Drou said nervously. “Luckily I was working late that night, so my reset is at the station.”
(Empathy check for Marcine: -+/++5 = 6)
The rest of the bar went quiet. Marcine focused in on reflex. Drou’s sense of loss was confused, like he knew he should be feeling that but didn’t have a connection for why--that he couldn’t remember something important.
Behind the bar, Maria responded with sharp concern, both inwardly and by watching him more closely. Worried about something. Memory problems from the resets? Marcine would ask later. It didn’t seem like a good idea to bring it up in front of Drou.
Better for now to act like she hadn’t noticed. “Respawn locations and save points,” she muttered. “Guess Outsiders are the gamer type.”
“Probably why wizards aren’t equipped to handle this,” Hugues chuckled.
“Good thing I'm not one.” She finished her drink, set her glass out for a refill, and glared at the staircase. “He better not be hiding more bullshit.”
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 20:24|
Scene: El’s Gato Negro
“A vain hope, I’m afraid.” The second Elbridge walked through the bay doors behind the bar. He was dressed in the same solid-white suit he’d been wearing when Elbridge had scried upon him earlier (one arm now singed and blackened from fire). “Welcome to New Orleans! Why you lot came back, I’ll never know.”
“Where else would we go, El?” Mrs. Bellafonte raised her glass. “A la tienne.”
“Well I know that we’re stuck here,” El-two said. “But the rest of you…” He did a brief double-take as his eyes slid over Marcine. “Hold on. Aren’t you…?”
“Marcine Sterling,” she said. “I take it we’ve met. I wasn't sure.” She paused, frowning. El in white looked even stranger in person. “Why are you dressed like a plantation owner?”
“We needed all of the enchanted fabric we could get for other things, and our only replacement clothing was from looting a thrift store,” he explained. “Ah - you’re that Ms. Sterling.”
“Do you know where my daughter is?” Seth asked bluntly.
“I do,” El-two said just as bluntly.
“I’m taking her home,” Seth said, standing up. “Where is she?”
“That would be unwise,” El-two said ominously. Everyone else present - everyone else who’d been in the city this entire time - squirmed in their seats, visibly-uncomfortable.
“What now?” Marcine sighed.
“Folks who go to Angel Tower…” Mrs. Bellefonte trailed off. “It’s basically a cult.”
“It’s like a roach motel,” Drou said, shaking his head. “Something’s wrong with the place. You check in, you don’t check out. That’s if you can get in at all.”
Seth glanced at Marcine. “So she’s trapped in there? Or joined this cult?”
El-two shook his head. “She leads it,” he said.
“What kind of cult?” Marcine asked warily.
El-two gave her an incredulous look. “...it’s a cult,” he said flatly.
“Kind that’d be on national news and an FBI watchlist if we still had those things,” Drou said. “Ain’t part of the N’awlins charm like Santeria, that’s what you asking.”
“That doesn’t tell me much.” Marcine looked down at her refilled glass. She felt all eyes on her, now that they’d realized who she was, and she didn’t even know what was going on. People turned to cults when they wanted stability and protection...and a lot of cults used brainwashing. Which, she realized, would be very easy for her.
Except she knew better than to do that. But after six years trapped in a city with god-didn’t-even-know-what wandering around…?
She drained half the glass in one go before coming up for air. She’d probably need the other half in a moment. And something stronger. “So how many Laws has she broken?”
“Do you truly want to know?” El-two asked.
“We didn’t drag ourselves in here for sunshine and roses.”
“First, Third, and Fourth,” El-two rattled off. “That I know of.”
“That you know of?” Seth said. “How… how long has this been going on? Why?”
“We worked together, at first,” El-two said morosely. “About a year by my estimate - not that time means much in here. I tried to…” he shook his head. “She couldn’t stand all of the suffering, death, and horror. She said that we weren’t doing enough; weren’t helping enough, especially not after…” he trailed off.
“It was the drat vampires,” Mrs. Bellafonte said. “Everything we built, they started taking away, and the people went with them. First for the food, then because the vamps had them strung out. We were losing ground, and Marcine…” she sighed. “She didn’t see why we had to. If the Reds could put the hoodoo on fools, why couldn’t she?”
So, the slippery slope, just like she’d been afraid of in the camp. When he put it that way, it wasn’t as surprising as she might have hoped. “And the rest of us?”
“Lytle left after that business with Peter Evans-” Ed winced guiltily in his corner “-and Miss Hirsch returned to New York not long after. Neither of them were in town when the stars went out. Wizard Singh has been looking after Skinner and his household since, but mainly works alone since we had some further…disagreements. No-one’s seen Turner in ages, and Warden Cole…” El-two sighed again. “Yours fared better than ours did.”
|# ? Oct 12, 2017 20:25|
The Blame Game
Scene: El’s Gato Negro
Elbridge Prime came out from behind the bar at that point. He was slightly red-faced, and had more-properly affixed the sword at his hip, as if it belonged there. In his other hand was his yellow spiral notepad, the most strategically-relevant details of the briefing scribbled in shorthand on its pages. “Hello again,” he said, not quite meeting the others’ eyes. Briskly, he moved to pour himself a tall glass of seltzer from one of the taps. “Have Wizard Minsk and Lucy Evans returned yet?”
It was precisely then that the door opened, and Lucy and Talia Minsk walked in, carrying cake and balloons. “Welcome to New Orleans!!” Lucy yelled.
From the depths of his padded chair, Rupert chuckled.
Minsk gave El-two her most cheerless glare. “Your airlock still takes too long, and there is a half-melted demon in a bottle on the doormat.”
“That’s Murrazonoth,” Elbridge Prime said. “He’s an obnoxious little shite who invited himself along, and the thought of him in a bottle amuses me to no end.”
“The latter is the point of the former, Talia,” El-two said with an air of extraordinarily-poindextrous sagacity. “Remember what happened when it let Cole in.”
Marcine had fallen silent after his first mention of Rick. “He’s been turned, hasn’t he?” she said quietly, her glance flicking to Drou. “With the resets on death…”
“It’s like that Brad Pitt movie,” Drou said. “Where it turns out Ed Norton was Brad Pitt all along, or Brad Pitt was Ed Norton all along. I don’t fuckin’ remember but it’s like sometime’s Renfaire Rick’s in the driver’s seat and sometime’s it’s Murderous rear end in a top hat Brad Pitt trying to crash the car.”
Marcine noticed the liquid shaking before she realized her hand, clenched around the glass, was causing it. She gritted her teeth. “Hasn’t he loving been through enough?”
“I told him to come,” Lucy said, unboxing the cake and setting it on the bar. “But I don’t know if he will. He’s kinda… distant. But he’s been doing better, lately. We’re trying to figure out if there’s a pattern.” She held a hand out to Marcine. “Nice to, er meet you? I’m Lucy.”
“Lucy here is our last best defense,” Minsk said. “Her magic’s the only magic that works on Outsiders.”
“Really?” Marcine forced herself to let go of the glass and managed to steady herself when she accepted the handshake. Given the rest of the reactions she’d gotten, she didn’t expect much from this, either. “Marcine.”
Peter’s work? wondered Rupert. Shrugging the thought away for now, he leaned forwards and waved to Lucy. “Hey.”
“...Rupert? RUPERT!” She jumped the bar and charged him, pulling him up out of his chair into the most awkward bear hug. “This is so weird, it’s like… like you’re snapped back but…you don’t snap back right so that’s impossible!”
Once he recovered from the sudden hug, Rupert wrapped his arm around her, a look of confusion on his face. Quietly, he asked, “What happened?”
“There’ve been some fights,” she said quietly. “An Outsider’s touch is poison. And if they’ve hurt you… the wounds stay. Even on a reset.”
“If you get eaten, you don’t come back,” Edward added. “But when you’re close to one of them you can hear voices… Like, I don’t think getting eaten is really the same as dying.”
“And my counterpart has been out there fighting them, alone?” muttered Rupert under his breath.
“Danny helps, me, and Ed, and Cole sometimes… Some others.” Lucy bit her lip, and glanced towards Hugues.
“You saw what became of the city outskirts,” Elbridge said darkly. “They assimilate the things that they eat. The one that accosted us...that wasn’t how it always appeared. Its features were a composite of the boys in the dormitory.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” El-two swore. “They know?!”
“It posed as a survivor, then refused to let us into the city unless I’d bargain for passage,” Elbridge said crossly. “We’re rather past the point of secrecy here!”
“You made a deal with it?!” El-two said, aghast.
“More of a wager,” Elbridge said. “A contest to see who can gently caress over whom harder within the terms of the contract. Business as usual, really.”
“You must have a messed up view of 'business as usual’, Elbridge,” said Rupert, glancing over.
“You careless, amateurish imbecile!” El-two spat. “How could you even let that thing find you?!”
“I didn’t exactly place a personal ad!” Elbridge shot back. “I had a slight moment of clinical death, and it was waiting on the other side!”
“Oh?” El-two said archly. “And how did things come to that in the first place?”
“Rick and I were off slaughtering our way through a vampire encampment because someone couldn’t be arsed to kill enough before he dropped off the face of the sodding earth!”
“And whose fault was that? Who let Narcissus twaddle about in the power vacuum instead of moving to secure the city in your blessed absence of vampires?”
“There were two more Armageddons to deal with! Back to back! Those didn’t exactly take a loving number!”
“SHUT UP! BOTH OF YOU!” Nicholas Cantor stood up from where he’d been watching the exchange in the back corner. He threw his glass down at the tile floor and it smashed into a million pieces. “It doesn’t m-matter whose fault any of this is! We just have to fix it! We came all this way, and it’s all been just awful, for everyone, out there and in here and everywhere! So f-for fucks sake, figure out what we have to do next!”
“...Stripe?” Minsk said, utterly dumbfounded.
Nicky straightened. “Y-yes, Talia. I never stopped looking for a way to get you back, so… so here I am, and we’re going home. All of us.” He looked at the pair of Elbridges. “Right?”
“Such as there’s a ‘home’ left to us, yes,” El-two said, utterly-unmoved by Cantor’s outburst.
“And as a matter of fact, it does matter whose fault this is,” Elbridge Prime pointed out, “because we’ll need to go find him in the city park so that Hugues can tear the vital details of his ritual from his corpse.”
“So shut up and do that,” Marcine snapped. She gulped down the remainder of her drink and pulled her coat back on. “Now.”
“Preparations are underway,” El-two said calmly. If Elbridge Prime’s mental defences had been like a wall of ice, El-two’s were like solid granite. There was no emotional openness whatsoever - once his tirade at the other Elbridge had abated, to Marcine’s empathic senses, it was almost as if he didn’t exist. “If there are no further questions regarding the other Ms. Sterling, we can proceed to-”
“We need to retrieve her,” Elbridge Prime said. “I swore an oath upon my power to her father.”
“...unwise,” El-two said without further comment.
“Here, Seth,” Elbridge Prime addressed the man. “I suspect we’ll have better luck talking her down after we’ve saved New Orleans from oblivion.”
“I suspect you can do whatever you drat well please, but I’m going to this ‘Angel Tower’ and I’m getting my daughter back.” He flipped his empty glass over and set it on the bar. “One way or another.”
“Not alone you aren’t,” Marcine said. “We need to at least find out what the drat problem is before we make any further decisions.” She sighed. “More likely to listen if you can give her a plan.” She wasn’t sure why she wouldn’t listen, but this version of herself didn’t sound like they were the same person anymore.
“She’ll listen to me,” Seth said.
((Compel on Marcine’s Lawbreaker- Let your Dad run off into certain death, or just a little nudge?))
Marcine knew her father. He wasn’t going to listen to reason on this--not after six years, this close, feeling more trapped than the rest of them. Maybe he was right; she had no idea what the version of her running a cult was thinking. But what scared her was the idea of him finding an Outsider on the way. Or vampires. Or whatever else all the wards on the bar were meant to keep out. She’d left Rick behind, and he was dead. She couldn’t lose her dad, too. She couldn’t lose anyone.
“Maybe,” she said, and wove her will into her next words. “But I’m not worried about that part. It’s too dangerous to go there alone. We’ll be safer together.” She felt his resistance--he didn’t want to wait. It would only take a little nudge to clear his mind of desperation and make him see reason...so she gave him one.
“...safer?” he repeated. If Elbridge, either of them, had said those words, his defense would have been absolute. But Marcine’s compulsion slipped through, her genuine concern lowering his guard just enough that the idea found purchase in the depths of his psyche. “You’re right, I… I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ll go together.” He looked at El. “The park, then the apartments. Deal?”
“Deal,” Elbridge Prime said, briefly wrong-footed by Seth’s sudden acquiescence.
“Glad that you’re seeing sense here,” El-two concurred, very pointedly not looking at Marcine.
“Er… So what are we waiting for?” Nicky asked.
“You to sweep up that mess,” Maria said, pointing at the broom in the corner.
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 21:09|
A Walk In The Park
Scene: El's Gato Negro
“Put word out,” El-two said, ducking under the bar. He rummaged through an assortment of luggage, searching for the bag with a green tag on the handle. When he found it, he stood up again. “Operation Bellend is go. This is not a drill.”
“El, hon,” Laverne said, “you don’t think maybe you shoulda chosen a different name?”
“Why?” El-two asked. “Does the profanity bother you?”
“No.” She shook her head and gulped down the last of her gin. “I just don’t think you coulda come up with something more obvious for ‘Elbridge Hardley’s gonna go lock down the park and get Narci’s body’.”
“Just tell me you have the gris-gris ready,” he grumbled.
“I’ve had them ready for days, El,” she said. “Y’all just gotta chew some chicory while they’re around your neck. Won’t smell good at all, but you won’t smell like food to them vamps, neither.”
“Good,” El-two said. “Drou, weapons check?”
“We got enough for this,” Drou said, nodding along. He looked somewhat distant, not entirely engaged with the discussion. “Shotguns only, though - can’t hand-load iron in bullets with the tools we got, and it’s gonna be hell on the barrels.”
“At least we’ll have your pipe-bombs if it comes to that,” El-two sighed. “Talia, Edward, and Lucy - ready for your parts?”
“Born ready,” Ed said, kicking his feet up on the table.
Lucy rolled her eyes at her brother. “Give me five minutes to get my bag.”
“I’d like to discuss a few things with Stripe but that can be done in transit,” Minsk said. “But yes, Hardley, we’ve had nothing better to do than get ready ever since the book trick worked. If there’s anything we’ve forgotten it’ll have to be dealt with when it comes up.” She walked behind the bar and picked up the lime-knife. “There is only one thing we all need before we go.” And with that she started cutting the cake.
mistaya fucked around with this message at Oct 13, 2017 around 22:33
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:31|
What We’ve Lost
Scene: El’s Gato Negro
Marcine leaned on the counter and waved Maria over. “What’s up with Drou?” she asked quietly.
Maria quirked an eyebrow in between bites of cake. “What do you mean?” She looked over at the old cop, as he calmly helped Nicholas with the broken glass he was still sweeping up.
Marcine shrugged. “He sounded confused earlier, talking about losing his home. You seemed worried by it.”
“Oh. That. Easier to just show you.” She set her plate down and pulled a drawer out underneath the cash register. There were several wallets inside. She reached for a brown leather one and passed it to Marcine. Drouillard’s license was on the left side, and on the right, a small photo of a woman and a young boy. “He doesn’t remember them,” she said. “That’s all that’s left. We’ve all lost people we can’t remember. That’s why we keep those in here.”
Marcine thought of all the ruins beyond the barrier that they’d passed through, and that destruction in a ring all the way around the city, and how many people must have been lost… And then she remembered removing Rick’s memory: the loss he’d described, and her own empathic experience of it.
She shuddered and handed the wallet back. “Then, you forget things on the resets, or...losing a respawn point?” It felt crude to use a video game term, but she didn’t know how else to put it.
“Anyone lost Outside… they just become gaps. Like they never existed in our memories. Nothing physical is lost, so there’s still evidence. Photos of them, all their things… but you can’t mourn for someone you don’t even know. Drou takes it real hard every time, so we try not to remind him.” Maria put the wallet back in the drawer and closed it. Her eyes flicked towards El-two. “Losing the west side was rough on everyone. Almost broke the group up. Took a long time to recover from that.”
“I can only imagine… Thanks for telling me. I got the impression it would be painful to ask him.” She shook her head, trying to think of something better to say, but came up empty. “I’m sorry.”
Maria scoffed. “For what? We’ve been trapped on this island like Robinson Crusoe for six drat years. A few castaways have shown up to join the party now and then,” she nodded at Talia, “but there’s been no real hope in such a long time… At least… At least now we have a chance to change things, instead of just wait for the end. At least we’ll have tried.”
Marcine smiled grimly. “Better believe we’re gonna try.”
“Good. Not all of us have powers, but we’ve been living here long enough to know that don’t always matter.” She pulled a well-used bat out from under the bar and slipped a bag over her shoulder. “Let’s go.”
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:33|
Scene: City Park
El-two and his team moved rapidly, as if they’d practiced this all before. Which, to be frank, they had. Free time was the one thing they had in abundance. Edward and Lucy took off on the motorbike after loading up with more charms and vanished under a veil that hid them from both sight and sound. Drou, along with Laverne and Talia, piled into a jeep and headed the other direction. Nicky went with them, unwilling to leave his mentor now that he’d found her. Maria stayed put, holding the fort for their return.
Angie sat in the back seat of the dragon van and ate her cake thoughtfully. Rico, HER Rico, was out there somewhere, suffering and alone. It wasn’t something she could ignore, but neither was the problem at hand. And she hadn’t forgotten Zophiel, standing watch for them at the entrance. There simply wasn’t enough time to save everyone. She glanced over at Seth, who was looking anxiously out the window. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“No,” he said. His shoulders slumped. “Your friend… my daughter… What if we can’t save them? What if this place was just...”
Angie put her hand over his. “I’ve lived my whole life on the edge of can’t be saved, Seth. Don’t give up yet.”
“We’re the only ones who have to live with this,” he said, very quietly. “The others can all go home, where everyone they know is just fine.”
“I’m already dead on their side,” she said with a sad smile.
Seth winced. “...oh. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. For anything.” She paused and her fingers went to the cross pendant on her neck. “We can get them back, Seth. Even if they’re lost, we can find them. I believe that.”
“Together,” Seth said, nodding. “We’re safer together.”
Angie frowned, but before she could ask what he meant the others started piling into the van. Jenny and Elbridge up front, Hugues and Rupert in the center seats, and Marcine climbed in back to sit between them.
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:36|
Scene: New Orleans City Park
“Now I know it’s the apocalypse,” Jenny commented, as she pulled out behind the identical copy of the dragon-van. “Elbridge’s double learned how to drive.”
Elbridge gave a long, wheezing laugh that doubled him over and which he promptly disguised as a coughing fit.
“You okay?” Jenny asked, quietly. She gave him the sideways eye. “You’ve been a little distracted… ever since you went and met yourself.”
“It was a distracting experience,” Elbridge grumbled, sober and surly once more. “Is there a normal way to respond after meeting one’s double from an alternate timeline?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Jenny said tersely. “Mine’s not here.”
They left the vehicles a few blocks from the park. It was hardly recognizable. The cement and blacktop on the streets around it had cracked and giant roots spread in all directions. Trees that dwarfed the buildings around them formed a canopy that led into the darkness, making it impossible to see inside. Bushes and flowering plants choked the ground beneath, and soft green moss lined paths that snaked inside. But there was nothing welcoming about the greenery of this place.
It was about to get even worse. Their vehicles had parted ways shortly after crossing vampire territory - Talia Minsk’s veils were potent things, but their sophistication came at a price, and no sooner had they passed the last checkpoint than the spells had expired and the two nondescript clunkers turned back into flamboyant dragon-vans. El-two and the other locals went around the side, parking out of sight in a shaded glen. When they climbed out, they were wearing black ski masks and riot gear.
“There’s a gap in the outer wall, two-hundred metres distant,” El-two said, muffled by his mask. “They haven’t found it yet, and it’s not guarded. Even so, wait for our diversion before you go through.”
Marcine heaved a sigh that lasted several seconds. “Seriously?”
“Less grousing, more sneaking,” El-two chided her.
“Sneaking. Right.” Jenny looked at them all with a raised eyebrow.
“I can cover your exit,” Seth said. He licked a finger and held it up. “No wind, of course, but that’s not too hard to make on my own. If need be I can blow that whole damned forest down. I’ll need some prep time out here.”
“It’s a good idea,” Angie agreed. “Though try not to blow it down until we’re out.”
Seth just smiled… but it faded quickly. “Scratch that, actually. We probably shouldn’t leave anyone behind. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
Marcine bit her lip. The compulsion shouldn’t have stuck, just gotten him to calm down. And this after she’d just learned her other self was a repeat lawbreaker… “Um. It seems like it should be fine as long as no one’s too far away.”
“I can’t just let you walk into that viper’s nest without me,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ll be better off as a group.”
She was going to have to check on that later. When they weren’t surrounded by other people. “Yeah.”
Two hundred metres to the barest fraction, there it was - a patch where the brick curtain wall around the park had crumbled away. A cypress had grown up directly inside, and where the roots had lifted away from the soil, the wall had gone with it. From the inside, it would look only like a dense tangle of roots and undergrowth in front of a solid barrier. After tonight, the Fae would know differently. They’d only have one shot at this.
Figuratively speaking. From the sounds of the diversion going up, Drou and the others had brought rather a lot of actual ammunition. The pop-pop-pop of semi-auto fire and the roar of shotgun blasts gave way to the hue and cry of alarm and the ringing of blades...then the deafening noise of a pipe bomb exploding, which they felt more than heard. The blast and the ringing in their ears drowned out the screams, but even from here, Marcine could feel pain.
“I’d reckon that’s our cue,” Elbridge Prime said grimly.
Jenny stepped forward and cracked her knuckles. With a grunt of effort and a gesture, the tree blocking the way very suddenly wasn’t anymore.
“Watch for thorns,” Angelique said, drawing her handgun. “And follow me.”
Rupert nodded and added, “Just avoid touching the plants as much as possible, really.”
The forest was strange, in more ways than one. It was clearly larger on the inside than on the outside. They passed a playground that had been overrun by strangling vines and bushes, a picnic table that had been uprooted and was hanging from a large tree, and numerous other signs of humanity long gone, but no faeries came to meet them. The sounds of battle were far distant, muffled by the trees.
Angie led them through without pause, in as straight a line as she could for the center. Every few yards she marked one of the trees with her long knife, leaving a trail to lead them out again. But when they passed the same table they’d seen before she stopped and gave it a dark look. “We’ve been here. Look.” The tree was marked.
“Oh, lovely,” Elbridge deadpanned. “It’s one of those forests.” He drew a chalk circle on the tabletop and placed a very gently-curved stick in the centre, such that both ends could pivot like a compass needle. A short incantation for the pathfinding spell, and…
...the dowsing rod spun and just kept spinning. Because they were Outside, and time and space meant nothing here. Right.
He sighed, resting a hand on the hilt of the sword at his hip as he thought on the puzzle. A free-standing spell such as this, ward or illusion or otherwise, must be anchored to something. That anchor couldn’t be far from here, and it would have to be insulated somehow, or the magic would rapidly bleed away. The most-common way to contain and channel a spell was… Elbridge blinked, glancing down at the dowsing rod twirling on the tabletop. A circle.
El flipped the table unceremoniously and there it was - a woven braid of grass cord, leaves, dirt, and twigs, tucked under the lip. The twisting plant fibres looped as endlessly as the path, arranged into a Möbius strip whose outside became the inside became the outside again. He drew the sword and snipped it. Elbridge wasn’t even sure that it was the enchanted silver that broke the spell - a pair of garden shears might have sufficed. “...mystery solved,” he announced.
“One of them, at least.” Angie said. As soon as Elbridge had cut the cord, the forest around them shifted. They were now standing in a clearing with four identical picnic benches and four identical marked trees.
“Oh, come on,” Elbridge groaned.
“Well then,” Hugues cracked his fingers. “Lost Woods, here we go.”
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:44|
Operation Bellend, cont
Scene: New Orleans City Park
Three layers of nested illusions later…
“I think this is it,” Angie said, sniffing the air. The faerie’s forest had become a park again, though a very dark one. No moon or starlight shone down and there were no man-made lights either. There were still trees, but they were no taller than they should be, and no more than had been there when the park was only a park.
One stood out in particular. A single branch jutted from the trunk. A rope hung from the branch. A body swayed gently on the rope.
“It’s a better look for him,” Hugues said dryly, “but we need him to talk. Are the faeries gonna bother us if we take him down?”
“Who knows, who cares,” Marcine said, drawing a gun cautiously as she stepped up beside him. “Gotta do it anyway.”
“Do it before they get back and then we don’t need to find out,” said Rupert, glancing about warily.
“Turner,” Elbridge said. “Make him talk.”
“Right,” Hugues mumbled. “Gonna need a bit help from everyone though. Rupert, I need you to do the chest compression part of CPR. Elbridge, know any good interrogation spells? Marcine, that noose destroyed his neck and I we’re gonna barely get anything out of him. Can you play the role of Echo?”
Marcine blinked. “Uh, relay what he wants to say like with Bellworth, you mean?”
“Yup, you’re best equipped for that.” Hugues nodded, then looked up at the tree. “Now uh...how do we get him down?”
“You don’t,” said a grizzled, old voice, as a tall man with skin as dark as loam stepped out from behind the tree. He wasn’t alone. Wyld-things of every kind peered out at them from the earth, the trees, several sat on the branch that the rope dangled from. Old Man Pontchartrain stood at his full height and loomed over them. “How many times do I have to kill you fools before you stop comin’ back?”
“Give us ten minutes with this corpse, and you’ll never hear from us again,” Elbridge said smoothly.
Pontchartrain laughed. “Oh, aye, and have you bring the rest of this place down around our ears. You must truly think us fools, not to know who you are and what you’ve done, wizard!”
“Fire and iron,” a wretched looking hairy creature said from his side. Bohpoli, without a tree to hide in. “They wield the bane against us, they seek to take the prisoner!”
“I’d rather talk this out,” Elbridge said, “but if you won’t listen to reason then - the rest of this place?” he finished disjointedly. “...just what have I done?”
The faerie lord’s expression hardened. “Don’t claim ignorance now. This barge didn’t start sinking until you started putting holes in it. A prison our city might be, but it was secure until you let the things we don’t name in, all so you could get word out.”
“He took a gamble and it paid off,” Marcine said, “because it’s why we’re here to fix this mess. We’re not the versions of us that you’d know. You should be able to tell.” She holstered her gun and spread her hands, showing her armor: Nobody from here would suddenly have a coat from Winter. “Very long story short, we’re from the timeline this world split off of because of whatever our version of Narcissus did. Queen Mab and Lady Aurora both tasked us to save the World Tree, and gave us the tools to do so. First, we need answers.” She pointed at Narcissus. “We figured he’d be the best source, but if either of you have them, that’s fine by me. I expect we’ll have some for you in turn.”
(Rapport vs diff 6 to be believed: (++++)+5 = 9! Naming SWS boost “To the Point.”)
“Have you any proof of this?” Pontchartrain asked, raising one heavy eyebrow. His folk were silent, waiting.
Marcine took her Winter shard from her pocket. It seemed slightly melted from using it as a focus earlier--or maybe just from all the magical strain during their crossing. “El?”
He pulled out the cloth bundle holding the seed and opened it to show the faeries. “A seed from the tree itself, to grow a new branch to support this splintered timeline.” Elbridge removed the scroll that had been delivered with it and tossed to Pontchartrain to read. “Narcissus wasn’t smart enough to do all this damage on his own. When the Summer Lady found out, she had rather a difference of opinion with her mother.”
The old man caught the scroll and unfurled it, reading quickly. “This is Aurora’s hand,” he muttered. “And I’d recognize the Winter Queen’s stench anywhere. It may be a strange tale, but I cannot ignore these tokens…” He looked up at Marcine. “I know your mother, girl.”
She nodded and smiled faintly. Her mother had been the one to tell her how to show proper respect for elder fae, after all.
“If you are strangers from another time, what can this fool tell you?” Bohpoli asked, pointed a clawed finger towards the corpse.
“We need to know the finer details of how he did this,” Elbridge explained, “so that we can undo it. We only have the one seed, and if it’s not planted exactly when and where he split the timeline, then all of this will have been for nothing.”
“This sad creature is not from your world,” Pontchartrain said. “If he knows anything about such a ritual he never performed it.”
“Then we’ll just have to compare notes,” Elbridge said, “and discover what it was that he sought to change. We’ve some clues as to the general nature of the event, but without knowing the particulars…”
Pontchartrain bowed his head and turned to address his people. “Truth, at last, my friends,” he said. His gruff voice was full of sorrow. “Patience, I urged, for surely the Queens of Faerie hadn’t forgotten us. Surely they would find a way to reach us in time. The lights on the wall still gleam, and they must know we are here.” He raised his eyes to meet theirs. “But I was wrong. There is no rescue coming. We are betrayed by a usurper. Our true queen may even now be imprisoned, in dire need of aid.”
Cries of shock and anger answered him, some almost human but many the hisses and growls and stomps of the elderkin.
Pontchartrain looked to his second. His voice ground like stones rubbing together. “Send word that I personally call for a ceasefire. I want to speak to the wizard.”
“At once, my Lord,” Bohpoli bowed sharply and he and several others bounded off into the night.
“As for you,” the Old Man turned back to the humans. “Take him, and may he do you more good than he ever did us.”
Marcine inclined her head respectfully. “Thank you, Elder.”
Elbridge cracked his knuckles and looked the hanging carcass in its clouded eyes. “Hello, you miserable bellend,” he said. “It’s about time we talked.”
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:45|
Scene: City Park
When Hugues first read the notes of Heinrich Kemmler’s disciple, he was honestly shocked how simple the theory was. Souls and bodies. That’s all they saw it as. What was scary is the way they so casually twisted them to be their playthings. Start the heart, rebuild the flesh, bind a spirit to guide the brain. Luckily for them, parts two and three were already taken care of.
“All we’re going to do is turn him into a zombie. Technically speaking, this is not against the Law,” Hugues glanced at Elbridge, looking somewhat nervously at Rick’s sword. “The Law is only concerned about Human bodies and souls for Necromancy. Harry Dresden gets a dinosaur, we get a Faerie lord.”
Hugues used his own sword to slice open Narcissus’ clothing, to get proper access to the ribcage. “Faeries and Humans are more similar than they like to admit, so all we gotta do is just get his heart moving to wake the spirit trapped in there. Then we just make him talk.” He put his hand over Narcissus’ heart. “100 beats per minute should be enough.”
It’s ritual time! Going off DFAE rules for this.
Step One: Name the effect. Wake up Narcissus from the dead, and force him to speak.
Step Two: Describe the effect. We’ll call a successful Ritual imposing the Aspect “Tale-Telling Heart”
Step Three: Prepare the spell. Lore: Necromancy Overcome, Hugues’ Lawbreaker stunt applies for the +1. GM declares +3 difficulty per effect, so 6 total. (+++-)+3+1 = 6 for a tie, invoke on Self-Made Clone to bring it to a success. This means I get to pick the two costs.
Step Four: Pay the cost. Special Circumstance: Can only be used in a place beyond death, and Drawback: Narcissus can choose his own answers (faerie truth limitations still apply).
”Aufwachen, dummkopf und sprechen,” Hugues growled, as a brief spark flashed from his hand straight to Narcissus’ heart, causing the body to lurch as if from a defibrillator. Then he began the chest compressions. A steady drumbeat usually would have been enough to suffice, but Hugues wanted to keep things simple and leave their subject in place. Plus, Hugues didn’t feel guilty about cracking a few ribs in the process.
It was a good thing he didn’t because a sharp crack answered his first set of compressions. Narcissus was no longer beautiful in death. His alabaster skin was purple and bruised, especially about the neck where the rope had broken it. His head was twisted too far to one side, and his long blonde hair had been cut savagely. Dark green veins were visible under his leathery skin, and they grew and spread as Hugues continued his spell.
His fingers curled and his back arched as his body let out a low moan. White, sightless eyes opened and stared at Hugues. “Oooooohhhh…” His voice was a hideous croak. “What… have you done…. to me?”
“Brought you back,” Hugues grunted, as he continued with the compressions. He lightened a bit of the pressure but the heart wasn’t going to pump itself. “You will speak for your crimes.”
“And because it simply must be said -” Elbridge crossed his arms. “We told you so.”
“My only crime was to lead this court in a time of trouble beyond my ability to prevent.” Narcissus croaked. “Their fury is my sentence.”
Briefly, Elbridge wished that Narcissus were still alive, if only so that he could kill him again.
“Then what’s Echo’s role in all of this?” Hugues asked, staring Narcissus dead in the eyes. “What have you done to her?”
The faerie’s corpse said nothing.
“You have to speak,” Hugues said, slowing his beats for a moment. “Unless...do you even know who I’m talking about?”
“I know her,” he said. “She is the guardian of the grove.”
“rear end,” Hugues grumbled, then looked up at Elbridge. “Murray knows, or just pretends to know, that she’s involved in all of this somehow. Which grove.”
“Van Winkle’s,” Narcissus said.
“Rip Van Winkle’s?” Elbridge said, incredulous. “In the Catskills?”
Narcissus actually laughed. Another rib cracked.
Hugues blinked. “JR’s grave. That grove. She’d be more useful than you right now. Where is she?”
“I already told you.”
“Then where’s the grove?”
“The last place you’d think to look,” his lips cracked in an ugly grin.
Hugues groaned. drat faeries. “Is it at least stuck here in the time Vortex too?”
“Ahhhh…” Narcissus moaned. “You bind me to half-life in my most hideous state and ask the greatest of my secrets. So young, to be so cruel!” His empty eyes fixed on Hugues. “I must answer, but that answer will never take you there. Only I can open the way.”
Marcine had managed to contain her revulsion at the whole situation. Barely. This was just wrong in so many ways. “What do you gain by stalling us right now?”
“A moment without pain,” Narcissus said without looking at her. “My life has become violent, short, and without beauty. It is… unbearable.”
“It’s only going to stay that way if you don’t help us,” she said. “We have a way to fix this. If we know precisely where the timeline split.”
“And where does that leave me?” Narcissus laughed again. “When the timeline is restored, and the world is made whole… when we return to the cycle of life and death… and I am a corpse.”
“If they want this fixed, they won’t make you a corpse. You have things to answer for, but this?” She waved her hand, indicating the city as a whole. “This is not your fault.”
“Not that I wouldn’t like for you to remain a corpse,” Elbridge said, “but under the circumstances I’m willing to settle for letting the other you get his just desserts.”
“I can speak to Pontchartrain,” Marcine continued. “I can’t guarantee he’ll listen. I can’t promise anything after we leave. But I can guarantee that if we fail, you won’t have a hope of ever getting out of this.” She regarded him for a moment, and her tone softened slightly. “I’d rather see you whole again.”
Narcissus hissed softly. “Compassion, as useful as your promises. Better to scream forever in the belly of a worm knowing my torturers are screaming beside me, than to help them escape their prison and die alone.” He twisted his broken neck and his head flopped over to face Marcine at last. “You should learn to tempt with honey, not excrement.”
“Love to, but putting honey on a poo poo sandwich doesn’t make it any more edible,” she said flatly.
“Well, you’ve a point, I suppose,” Elbridge said indifferently. “Not as if you’ve anything else to lose, is it? Not when the whole world already knows you as a self-serving oathbreaker.”
“Slander!” he protested. “I have broken no oaths… I was a just and fair lord.”
“Is that so?” Elbridge asked, arching an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t know it, from all that we’ve heard on the other side of the barrier. You know that most of Faerie thinks that you did this, alone? Nary a mention of the Queen’s hand in things…”
“Didn’t I?” Narcissus asked.
“You’re a thief and a cheat,” Elbridge said flatly. “You swindled the city away from Pontchartrain with stolen time-magicks. Why shouldn’t the world believe that you did this?” He crossed his arms and tapped one foot. “They only just learned of the original timeline, and they can scarcely be expected to forgive you for what your counterpart did. Not when they don’t realise that he was working at Titania’s behest, in order to resurrect her daughter.”
“Ahhhh… that’s why it all went wrong… And still it was I and I alone the Queen turned to in her grief.”
“Because you were the only one amongst her court daft enough to think they could get away with messing with time,” interjected Rupert, “She didn't turn to you, she used you.”
Marcine shot him a sour look. “No. You don’t trust an idiot with a plot this big. The Queen especially.” She stepped closer to Narcissus, away from the others. “She did turn to you. We don’t know what went wrong. That’s part of what we need your help to learn.” She shook her head. “I can’t make promises because there are too many questions, and I don’t want to lie to you. That wouldn’t be fair. You deserve something fair. None of the rest of this is.” She glared at the tree and crouched beside him. “We came here because we need your help. We have the means to fix this, but only you can guide us there.”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Narcissus grinned. It wasn’t a good look. “You don’t even know what you’re looking for, but I do. Yes, I do indeed. And it’s here, not far at all. But you’ll never get there without me.”
She hoped that he was just out of it and not intentionally being a pain, or her sympathy and patience would run out quick. “And when we fix it, it’ll all be thanks to you.”
(Marcine rolls Rapport to flatter Narcissus into helping, difficulty 5: +/+- +5 = 6.)
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Old Man Pontchartrain said grimly, as he strode back into the clearing. “You’ve had your time, wizards. The corpse needs to swing again, before he forgets his place.”
Narcissus shrieked and his body went into spasms at the sight of the river king.
Marcine stood and faced him. “Does that matter more than all of you getting out of here?”
Pontchartrain curled his lip. “I’ve spoken to the honorless dog that called you here. The Queen’s gone mad, girl. What would you have us return to? Nay, the sun sets on us, here or there. What solace we take out on that beast’s hide is no affair of yours.”
She shook her head and forced herself to think her response through. Blurting out what she
wanted to say wouldn't serve anything but to anger him further. “What solace? The fae cut off from their demesnes outside the city don't get to come back to life. It’s no solace for them, or for Lady Aurora, who gave us the way to save her people--thus making it my affair. Is her gift less important than tormenting a corpse?”
“He speaks only to save himself the punishment he’s rightly earned,” Pontchartrain said. “I’ll aid you, for the sake of the Lady. For the sake of those we’ve lost, and those still suffering. But I’ll not let that creature go.”
“Can you find what we need?” she asked.
“He can’t get you in! Only I can!” Narcissus said.
Pontchartrain considered this. “Even dead he cannot lie, but neither does he tell a full truth.” He turned to his people, watching from the fringes. “What say you, faeries of New Orleans? The Lady put her trust in these mortals, shall we do the same? Shall we rekindle the flame of hope from naught but ashes, a hope that can overcome old hatreds, old injustices?”
Silence was his answer.
“Speak all you like of old injustices,” Marcine said, pitching her voice to be heard across the grove. “They’re literally dead, if not gone. Is your old hope dead, as well? I stand here with your answer. It’s within my grasp, and yours. And I did not meet with the Summer Knight, or travel to the Gates, or call on the help of an angel, or--” her voice faltered; she swallowed and forged on “--or lose a good friend, who had no business dying outside of his own world for your sakes, and ours, just to have that pulled away from me!”
She spread her hands. “Bury the ashes. We are your new hope. We’re here because we will set things right. Because you don't deserve to be trapped here. The real sun was shining on us just a few hours ago. It’s that close.” She pointed to the empty sky. “Is this what you’ll cling to? Or do you--[i]any of you--want to feel the sun rise again?”
[i](Rapport vs diff 8: (---/)+5 = 2. Eff that. Invoking “Friend to All Seasons” to reroll: (--++)+5 = 5. Invoking “The World’s a Stage” and tagging her experience from the fae party, Made A Good Impression, to bring that to +9. FP: 5->3)
In the trees, there was a dim red glow. A tiny voice rang out: “I do!”
“I do too!” “Yes!” “The sun!” “For Aurora!” “I do!” “Sunrise! Bring us sunrise!” “Me too!”
The chorus grew from agreements, to shouts. Old Man Pontchartrain bowed his head. “Well, it seems we’re not so defeated as I feared. Hold on to that hope, my friends, and we will see the dawn again. The Lady is with us.”
He turned back to the group of mortals, and Marcine in particular. “My people have spoken, and will place their hopes with you. But your death-spell seems unsuited to the task of carting such a large fool around. Let me make him more… portable.”
From his belt, Pontchartrain pulled a long knife with a wooden blade. Narcissus shrieked.
“Trust me,” Elbridge said, wrinkling his nose in distaste, “you’re getting the better half of this bargain.”
Hugues let out a sigh of relief. “For your comfort, it’ll be like waking from a bad dream. And then the oxygen fills your lungs like the first time.” He gave one last chest compression, then stood back up, massaging his arms. “Well, your phantom lungs, anyway. Pontchartrain, a little below the neck, we can use the noose as a leash.”
“My face! My beautiful face!” the former faerie lord wailed. “Take my hand instead, that will give you passage. Just one!”
Pontchartrain smiled grimly. “I knew he spoke false,” he said, and brought the knife down over one of Narcissus’ wrists. It made a squishing sound as it separated from the rest of him. “Now, where do they take this hand of yours, oh wretch?”
The magic that animated him was already fading, now that the false heartbeat had stopped. “To the center. The very center of it all… Look deep. Deeper still. Below the crowd… At the fairgrounds...”
“Oho!” Ponchartrain’s eyes widened in understanding. “The horse track!”
“Yesss….” and the body went still.
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:47|
One Does Not Just Walk Into The Fairgrounds
Scene: City Park
El-two and his group caught up with them as they left the park. They were singed, with some bruises and bangs, but no serious injuries. There was blood on their riot gear; most of it didn’t look to be theirs. “Get what we needed?” El-two asked before anyone could remark.
“Not what we wanted,” Elbridge said, with a nod to the grisly trophy in Hugues’ hands, “but it’ll do. We know where to go next. The horse track at the fairgrounds.”
The air went out of the conversation. Minsk sucked through her teeth and looked distractedly at the ground. Drou spat and pumped his shotgun. “That’s...unfortunate,” El-two said.
Rupert sighed and asked, “Someone or something nasty has made it a lair, haven't they?”
“The dragon Factorax, yes,” El-two said with a dyspeptic grimace.
“Of course there’s dragons.” Marcine wasn’t even surprised anymore.
“Wait, Tor?” Hugues piped up. “Oh that’s fine, we buds. Plays a good Mario Kart. Nanny still hasn’t learned the controls though.”
It turned out that Marcine could still be surprised, after all.
“...Mario Kart,” El-two echoed, incredulous. “You lot taught your iteration of a dragon to play Mario Kart. I suppose he and Turner help each other with schoolwork as well? Perhaps invite one another to sleepovers?”
“Yeah? Why not?” Hugues asked, suddenly concerned. “What’s your plastic dragon been up to?”
“Oh.” Hugues glanced at Lucy and Ed. “Uh, you two don’t happen to have a Game Boy lying around for tribute, do you?”
Lucy winced. “I think he might ask for something bigger. There’s um… there’s a bottling plant not too far away and… well, he’s kind of…”
“Fat,” Ed said. “He never did figure out how to fly.”
“That isn’t all,” Talia said. “If it were just an obese Wyrm to contend with, I’d say find some spears and go to it, but it’s the very epicenter of the anomaly. Ground Zero, if you will. The time-loop effect is far, far stronger there than it is in the rest of the city. It’s exceptionally dangerous for anyone without a way to snap back to enter that place.”
“Oh, lovely” Elbridge Prime said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I don’t suppose that any of you have something that fits that bill?”
“Not a something,” El-two replied. “Someone.”
“El,” Drou said, tightening his grip on his shotgun, “I don’t like where you’re going with this.”
“Well I do,” Lucy said. “It’s about time we did something more than tread water.”
“How we gonna fight a motherfucking dragon?” Drou asked.
“Very carefully,” El-two said.
“Talia, help me out,” Drou pleaded. “You’re the only one he listens to when he’s like this.”
“Not this time, my friend,” Minsk said, patting him on the shoulder. “This is our chance. We’ve all prepared for it, planned for it, sacrificed for it… and now it is time to act.”
Marcine looked from one to the other. “You’re planning on going in?”
“‘Plan’ might be too strong a word,” El-two told her. “But yes, that is the thrust of it...although we should perhaps take more than just the four of us.”
“Three,” Minsk said. “You’ll need someone to maintain your lifelines, once you get that close to the epicentre.”
“Two,” Laverne Bellafonte said. “Faeries is bad enough. I didn’t sign up to fight no dragon, and I already know the rest of y’all can outrun me.”
“That… doesn’t seem like enough people,” Nicky said sheepishly.
Both Elbridges turned to glower at Nicky simultaneously.
Rupert cleared his throat to get the Elbridges’ attention and asked, “What about the rest of our counterparts? Surely they’d be willing to help?”
There was another awkward silence, punctuated by another unseasonable chill.
“Er...that might…” El-two mumbled.
“They...had some reservations about our methods,” Minsk explained. “Specifically, the book. We haven’t really seen them in...God, what would it be? Fifty cycles, now?”
“Rupert would help,” Lucy said stubbornly. “I know he would.”
“No one’s seen Hugues in forever,” Ed said shrugging. “Cole’s… a maybe. I guess.”
“What about Marcine?” Seth asked. He gave the Elbridges a firm glare. “We went to the park, now it’s time you held up your end.”
“Of course,” Elbridge said. “If there’s anything we should know before we head to Angel Towers?”
“Only that it’s a terrible idea and you should stay far away,” El-two sighed. “But since you won’t...I caution you not to trust your senses, nor your feelings. When in doubt...hmm. Ms. Sterling?” he addressed the Marcine who was present and accounted-for.
“I should be able to figure out whatever she’s doing,” she said, though she didn’t sound entirely confident.
“Yes,” El-two said, nodding in agreement. “More to the point, you may be needed to fix some of what she’s broken,” he added, with a sharp glance in Seth’s direction.
She sighed. “Right.” She wondered just how much of her double’s downfall he’d seen in order to notice this. It shouldn’t have been a problem. She’d never had one of these nudges have aftereffects before. ...That she knew of.
“We should stay together,” Seth said, crossing his arms.
“There isn’t time,” Angie shook her head. “Zophiel can’t hold the door forever.”
“Hugues, Rupert, you come with me and Lu,” Edward said. “We’ll head to Danny’s place and see who we can convince.”
Marcine turned to Elbridge, avoiding the El in white. She had never expected to see the day when she’d prefer a shirt covered in poker chips to any alternative. “Were you coming with me?”
“So I promised Seth,” he said.
“I will find Cole,” Angie said. She turned to El-two. “I have a feeling you know where he is.”
“I have some leads,” El-two admitted. “I’ll go with you to help you look.”
Talia nodded. “The rest of us will get things prepared. Meet back at the Gato when you can.”
“What about me?” Nicky asked. He looked pleadingly at Elbridge. “Shouldn’t I stay with you?”
“You should assist Wizard Minsk with preparation,” Elbridge said. “It’ll be safer for everyone that way.” Because I might kill you myself if you jeopardise the mission again, he tactfully did not say.
“I suppose… But here, at least take this.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the last of his premade golem spells. “Golems can’t get mind controlled,” he said, passing it to Marcine. “Be careful, okay?”
She nodded, not sure how to feel about that. “I will. Thanks.”
|# ? Oct 13, 2017 22:50|
Meanwhile, in the past...
Getting On Board
Scene: Outskirts of New Orleans
The hot New Orleans summer had gone cool after they’d gone past the city limits. Sitting in the back of the Lytles’ family car, Ada wondered if it was an omen. Given the mission that had brought her here, it was something she couldn’t rule out.
“You know how to keep yourselves hidden, right?” She asked, turning her attention back to the family. They’d all come with her for the promised meeting between Ruby and the Rubeansidhe. “I can’t imagine Pontchartrain will like it very much if he thinks I’ve broken the promise to come alone to see him.”
“We’ll stay far enough back,” Mr. Lytle said. “Don’t you fret.”
Ruby knotted the end of her skirt in her hands and kept her eyes on the road ahead of them as the car bounced and jostled. “Be careful,” was all she added.
In spite of all her concerns, Ada smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m gonna go in there, find the Rubeansidhe, and I’m gonna bring her right back out to you all. Promise.”
They’d finally arrived. It was almost midnight, and the waters of Lake Pontchartrain were black as pitch. Ada’s goodbyes to the Lytles were brief as she broke from the road and approached the water’s edge - she’d be back soon, with any luck, and besides, it wasn’t like she was going away...yet, anyway. She found a spot that felt right, stood there, and waited for the arrival of the ship belonging to the Old Man of the Lake.
It didn’t take long for her to notice the distant lights of the Delta Queen, far off on the water… but as the minutes ticked by, no one seemed to be coming for her. Was there something she was missing? She remembered what Pontchartrain had told him last night. “Come to the water’s edge at midnight”. So what was different from the last time she’d…
“Oh.” Of course. She hadn’t made her offering yet. The knife was in one of her dress pockets, but Ada was done donating blood for tonight. This time, she grasped the tips of her gilded hair, and cut off a few locks without a second thought. Kneeling by the water, she dropped them in, and watched them slowly drift away in the direction of the Delta Queen.
Almost as soon as her gift touched the muddy water a lantern flared near the back of the barge, and began its slow approach. The lock of hair was sucked down into the bayou with a soft squelch.
“Why there she is,” Old Man Ponchartrain said as his raft slid up onto the shore. “I was wondering if you’d turned tail on me. I’d have been mighty disappointed.”
Whatever remaining worries Ada might’ve had vanished as soon as the Old Man’s voice reached her. Straightening herself, she looked at him eye to eye and smiled. “The Old Man of the Lake’s promises are worth gold. Mine couldn’t be any less than that.”
“Give me a wild thing, with mud on her toes and leaves in her hair,” he said with a sigh. “Precious metals are worth precious little to me.”
Ada glanced down at herself. She didn’t quite look like hell anymore, but she could see she was a little too clean for the old man’s liking. He sure would’ve loved to meet Rose Red though, she was confident about that. “That’s what I’m looking for too. A little lost fairy who’s been running wild. Did she come to the Queen willingly?”
((Ada spends another Fate Point to downgrade her Moderate Consequence to a Mild, “Frequent Donator”. FP: ⅘ left.))
“She’s coming,” he said, leaning on his pole. “Are you?”
He didn’t have to ask twice.
Transient People fucked around with this message at Oct 14, 2017 around 02:45
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 02:08|
Scene: Delta Queen
“Old Man’s back! Old man’s back!” The cry went up again from the deck as Pontchartrain poled up alongside the Delta Queen and the ropes were thrown down to him, just like the last time.
He climbed up himself first and silenced the cat-calls before they started with a harsh glare and a gnarled finger to his lips. “Courtesy, my friends, courtesy,” he said. That word seemed to carry more meaning than Ada knew, because when he pulled her up onto the ship, not a single faerie met her eyes. They slinked away from her as if she were off-limits.
“Go to the top deck,” Pontchartrain told Ada. “And wait.”
She nodded and began making her way through the ship, all alone. The crowds parted before her, and it didn’t take long for her to reach the top. She’d been a part of the revelry last time, but not today. The knife was still in her hand, held with an iron grip. For a moment, Ada thought about putting it away as she climbed past the dance deck, but decided against it. It made her feel safer, and reminded her of all that reaching this point had cost. It deserved to stay close to her for that, if nothing else.
The top deck was much more quiet than the others. The Old Man’s stump-throne was still there, as was the steering wheel, but there was no sign of the Rubeansidhe, yet. Sighing, she leaned over the railing and stared into the water, counting the minutes as they went by. Something she was starting to learn well was that fairies always moved at their own pace.
The moon was high and full, and it revealed something approaching over the water. At first, Ada couldn’t tell what it was, but as it grew closer she saw it was a winged figure, much larger than a pixie. Human sized, or nearly so. It bobbed and fluttered like an insect, following the lights of the ship. Her eyes narrowed. What kind of creature was this? Fairies took almost any form imaginable, but she hadn’t encountered very many of them who were big and had wings. Leaning a little further forward, she peered at it, trying to make out its features in the moonlight. It was too fast and too low to the water to see properly, but when it approached the paddlewheel on the back of the ship, it banked up, and Ada caught a glimpse of blonde curls before it vanished under the railing of the third deck.
Within her chest, her heartbeats began to quicken. She’s here. She’s finally here. It was only now that Ada realized she’d never hashed out what she wanted to tell her. She’d always felt sure her heart would do the talking when they met, but if so, why was she so anxious? Why was it thumping against her chest like it was about to burst? Her knuckles went bone white as they tightened around the knife. She was here. No more time. No going back to the roadside now, unless it was with the Rubeansidhe in tow.
Light steps echoed on the stairs. Ada’s eyes, glued to the floor moments ago, rose to meet her.
Ruby stood at the top of the stairs, a look of utter shock painted on her cherub face. “...Ada?”
Ada didn’t answer. She just swallowed, hard, and stared at her. She looked just the same...the same white tanktop and black capris she had on the night this all started. The same windblown, messy hair. But she had no wings.
Had Pontchartrain told her anything? No, he couldn’t have, now that she thought about it. Ruby would’ve refused to see her, flat out.
“Hey, Ruby.” At least her voice didn’t crack. It was hesitant, but no more than that. “Long time no see.”
“How long?” Ruby asked, her eyes flicking over Ada as if she expected to see years added to her face.
“Couple days. The friday night show was about to get started when I came in.” Had it really been just a couple days? Felt like it was an entirely different person who’d fallen out of that timewarp.
Ruby breathed a ragged sigh. “I had no idea where you’d gone. When you’d gone. I’m… I… You’re here now. We need to find a way to send you home.”
Shaking her head, Ada raised the knife up to her lips and held it in both hands, as if to kiss the handle. She’d been hoping for something so very different. Hearing those words stung. “Ruby…” Ada’s voice was very soft as she looked back at her, with hurting eyes. “...I saw you watching me during the saturday show. Why are you lying to me?”
The faerie’s eyes fell, her shock twisting into a tense frown. “Why are you here?”
“Because I found out you wanted to kill yourself. And I don’t want to let you go like this.”
((For the first time in...maybe ever, we begin a social Conflict, as Ada tries to talk Ruby out of jumping off the edge. Ada goes first, and she rolls Rapport to try and Create Advantage. ++-- +5 = 5 vs -//- +5 = 3. Succeeds...or it would’ve, if this had been a stuntless roll. The first stunt at Ruby’s disposal is revealed. Instead of a successful Aspect, Ada takes a boost, “Girl On A Mission”.))
Stubborn As Her Grandfather: The Rubeansidhe gains +2 to Will when resisting CA's that would make her doubt herself.
For a fleeting instant, Ada was afraid she would run, but then her face came up, and there was a fire behind her eyes. She stepped onto the deck swiftly, squaring off against Ada as she made her case. “This life is a prison. I would unmake it, and find freedom. Would you keep me behind these bars, like a caged songbird, because you cannot let me go?”
“No.” Ada stared back and did not flinch. “But when she needs me, I won’t let my best friend keep me in the dark.”
((Ruby CA’s with Empathy, trying to feel out why Ada’s really here. +/// +5 = 6. Ada defends with Rapport /-+- +5 = 4. Tags “Girl on a Mission” to bring it to a tie. Ruby gets a boost, “Prison of the Past”))
“You can’t keep lying to me and pushing me away, Ruby.” Reaching forward with her right hand, Ada grasped her wrist. Just talking wouldn’t get her anywhere. The contact had just as much power as words. “I can’t force you to do what I want you to, but if this is how we say goodbye…” For a moment, words failed her. “...Tell me why it has to be this way.”
((It’s Ada’s turn, but no rolls yet. She spends an FP to compel Ruby’s Concept, “Youngest Jewel of Summer”. Once upon a time, Ruby promised to tell her the truth when next they met. The time is now. Ada’s FP: 4>3. Ruby’s FP: 2->3.))
For a few tense seconds, Ruby held her tongue. But the promise of a Sidhe lady could not be broken. As the pain of resisting Summer law forced tears from her eyes, the words began to tumble unwillingly from her lips.
“I can no longer stand the things I’ve seen... done… become. My future was stolen from me. My Choice was no choice.” She yanked her wrist back, breaking contact. “What would you have me do, tell you of each insult, each abuse, each hurt I have suffered over a century? Is it not enough to say that I have borne them all only in the hope that one day I might take back what I lost?”
No. It wasn’t. Ada knew a lot about pain, but her losses had always been sudden, like a bomb exploding or a letter being torn in a fit of rage. All she had to go off of was her own speculation, and it wasn’t enough to understand how Ruby could ever have chosen this path. But saying that would get her nowhere. What she needed was a softer touch. “Every time I started to feel like I’d hit rock bottom, someone was there for me, to listen to what I had to say, to understand how I felt. Pain doesn’t just keep growing, Ruby. When we share it, it lessens.” For a moment, Ada glanced to Alisa for reassurance, looking on from the sidelines with a thoughtful expression on her face. Then her focus shifted back to Ruby and her tear-stained eyes, still reeling from the pain of trying to withhold things from her, and her decision was made. “Tell me about them, Ruby. I promise you it’ll help.”
((Ada rolls Empathy to Create Advantage and reveal one of Ruby’s Aspects by convincing her to share the details of the pains that led her to this decision. -+/- +5 = 4, yuck. Ruby defends with /-// +5 = 4. Tie. She spends Prison of the Past for a +2 bonus, and Ada counters with her “Catching Up To The Past” Experience. Then she raises by another 2 with “I Won’t Look Away”. She reveals the Aspect “Regret Lasts A Lifetime”, and gains one invoke of it. Ada FP: 3>2.))
“I don’t want to lessen it! I want it to be sharp, to drive me forwards so I don’t collapse under the weight of it!” There was real fear in Ruby’s voice, as if sharing might cause her to lose something precious. “Let me keep it, all of it, and give her a life without any of it.” She clasped her hands together in a plea for understanding. “I don’t want to die, Ada, I just want her to live.”
She’s so desperate. This isn’t just some kind of escape for her. It really is all you want, isn’t it Ruby? To make everything right?
Ada knew that feeling - that unmistakable note of resolve in her voice, the resolution to make sure the young Ruby she’d spent the last few days with got a fair shake. It was so compelling, but...
But she wants to ruin herself for it. Just like I almost did once upon a time.
It was one thing to see her best friend lie to her, even to her face, but she couldn’t allow her to cross this line. Once upon a time, a little girl had tried to run away from everything, to bury the past because she couldn’t face it and keep going. Ada remembered Rose Red’s mistakes. She was the one who gave her the strength to ignore Ruby’s pleas.
((Ruby tries to persuade Ada, rolling Rapport CA to hit her soft side. ///+ + 5 = 6. Ada defends with +/-+ +5 = 6. Tie! Ada raises with “Anger Makes Me Stronger” to harden her heart. You can’t allow someone to ruin themselves, no matter how noble their motives might be!))
“What you’re going to do won’t give her a chance to live. It’ll just take away the choice she’ll make,” Ada’s eyes shone brightly now as her knife hand rose to seize Ruby’s shoulder, burning like green flames. “You’re telling me you became a monster and it wasn’t of your own making. What happened, Ruby? I’ve shared a lot with the girl you used to be in the last few days. She’s got hopes, she’s got dreams. Why is she gonna make the choice to throw them all away?”
There was an accusatory edge to her words that she couldn’t hold back anymore. She’d been lied to and deceived, over and over again. Even now, when everything was on the line, Ruby still hadn’t spoken to her openly, like a friend to a friend. Ada was tired of it. It was time for answers.
“You aren’t listening to me!” Ruby tore herself free from Ada again, denying every offer of comfort and support. “I didn’t say she made a bad choice, I said it was no choice. Human or faerie, she will be Narcissus’ slave. Human or faerie, she will lose her family. I won’t let him ruin her life this time, even if it costs me mine.”
((Ada rolls Provoke as an attack, to try and get Ruby to start opening up. -//- +4 = 2. Terrible! Ruby’s defense of +/-+ +5 = 6 smashes Ada’s attack roll and grants her a SwS, “Iron Resolve.”))
She turned her back on Ada and rested her hands on the railing. “Why are you trying to stop me? I’ve been working towards this moment since before you were even born. This is what I want, more than anything.” Confusion and hurt caused her voice to crack as she glanced back over her shoulder. “If you truly call me your friend, if you love me, then forget about me. Forget, and go home, and… and be happier without me.”
It was such a selfless desire on the surface, but Ada knew it was anything but. Once upon a time, she too had thought like a martyr. It wasn’t about saving other people’s lives, ever. It was about performing a grand sacrifice that would allow you to escape yours.
“This is home,” she answered. “And you shouldn’t even have to ask me why I’m here.” Last time, at the gala, it’d been Ruby who’d talked Ada off the edge. This time, it was Ada’s turn to pay her back.
Slowly, she approached the railings and leaned on them. “This is your choice, Ruby,” she said quietly, turning her head to look at her. “But you shouldn’t make it in haste, or alone.”
((This one’s a whopper. Ruby counter-rolls Provoke to attack, -++- +6 = 6. Ada defends with Will and…
<Krysmbot> TransientPeople, +/+++5 = 8
...Succeeds. And she goes ahead and pushes forward with Rapport, trying to create the mood via CA: “I’m Always With You”. /-/+ +5 = 5 vs -//- +5 = 3. Succeeds, and uses “Santa Claus Is Real?!”, reinforcing her belief in Ruby, to make that a Success With Style. But not so fast! Ruby tags Iron Resolve to raise, which forces Ada to counter-raise with On Top Of The World Or Buried’s free invoke. Ruby then raises one more time with a new Aspect, “Come Closer And I’ll Scream”. Ada raises one final time with “I Won’t Look Away” to keep the SwS. Ada FP: 2>1. Ruby FP: 3->2.))
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:11|
“I made my choice a long time ago,” Ruby said quietly. “You must think I’m a hypocrite.”
Ada shook her head, clasping her hands together before her. “No. I just think you never had anyone to give you what you gave me. I’m only here because of you, you know? Not just because I followed you back in time, but because if it hadn’t been for you telling me I could choose another way, I’d never have become the woman I am now.”
Ruby’s slim shoulders drooped.“Then I’ve made a mistake. For years now I’ve kept my touch on the world as light as possible, so that when I left I wouldn’t be missed. I’m sorry.”
Looking at Ruby over her entwined hands, Ada smiled. “Nothing’s a mistake unless you know it’s wrong while doing it. I ran away from everything, hurt myself and scared everyone who knew me half to death, but it was always for a good reason and it made me who I am now.” Looking away for a moment, Ada stared at the water, lost in thought. “Nothing’s set in stone yet, Ruby. If you’re not sure it’s the right thing, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Ruby shook her head. “I won’t let her follow my path and fall into despair.” Her throat tightened as speaking the words bound her to the oath. “Not even you can sway me, dear one.”
“I’m not planning to. This is your choice.” Ada sighed. Now came the hard part. “But it’s also hers.”
“No,” Ruby protested. “It’s my burden, and yours if you would help me. No others.”
“So what’s the plan?” Ada asked. “Get Narcissus out of the way so she never has to make a Choice thanks to him?”
“He must be dissuaded from hunting them, not just once, but for good. But harming him would disrupt the timeline. What I really need is protection for my family.” She sighed in aggravation. “The kind that Pontchartrain could grant.”
“Is that how he got you to come here?” Ada asked, curious. “By promising to discuss an arrangement?”
“I didn’t think he would grant my mother asylum, so I hadn’t approached him. But this morning he called my Name as though he knew me, and told me to come to the Delta Queen tonight so that I could discuss a matter of import…” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “He never said I’d be discussing such a matter with him.”
“You came to the right place though,” Ada said, giving her a sidelong glance and a lopsided grin to go with it. “I talked with Junior and Isabel and Ruby. They’re all here, waiting for you. If you want to protect them, you should talk to them about the danger they’re in. They deserve to know.”
“They’re here?!” Her head whipped around as if she expected them to step out from behind Pontchartrain’s stump throne. “WHERE?!”
Ada shook her head. “Not quite. The Old Man told me to come alone, and I’m not dumb enough to promise that to him and then go back on my word.” Beside her, Alisa nodded, invisible to Ruby’s sight. “They’re by the road, waiting for me. For us.”
Ruby screamed. It was a piercing, painful cry, that tugged at the heart without giving any explanation. She turned on Ada and leapt on her, locking her legs around Ada’s waist and grabbing her cheeks in both hands. “How could you? How could you tell them?! You stupid girl!” Her grip was strong enough to hurt, even though she barely weighed a thing. “What have you done!?”
“Wuby!” Ada cried out, so surprised by her reaction that she stumbled backwards, nearly sending them both tumbling over the railing. Ruby wasn’t very physically imposing, but her fingers seemed glued to Ada’s face. Putting her hands on the banshee’s hips, Ada pushed and pushed until Ruby’s grip finally broke. She was usually the smallest person in the room by a fair margin, but just this time, the miserable pair of inches she had on her friend really counted for keeping her hands away from her face.
“Oww...” she whined, stroking her abused cheeks, already starting to redden from the severe pinching they’d been through. Glaring, she shot Ruby an accusing look. “That hurt! You almost tore my cheeks off.”
But Ruby just sat on the deck of the ship where she’d landed and wailed again. The note carried the weight of decades of grief and self-imposed loneliness. “They weren’t supposed to know!” she cried. “This is my burden, my sacrifice! What good is it if they share in my misery?!”
She looked up at Ada, and her tears fell from black, faceted eyes. The air around her shimmered strangely as her glamour cracked under the strain. “What do I do now?!”
“Ruby, calm down.” There were so many things she could say, but Ada wasn’t sure if any of them could get through to her in this state. She still needed to try, though.
“It’s not misery to know. If your family finds out, then its future can change.” But it wasn’t enough, and Ada knew it. All the work she’d done to try and keep Ruby and her younger self safe had taken her grand gesture away. If she sacrificed herself now, it’d be a quiet thing, stripped of all its noble meaning. It wouldn’t lose its value, but it’d lose its purpose. “You’re changing too. Ruby, your eyes...they’re different.” She hesitated, wondering if she should push, but curiosity got the better of her. “Is this what you really look like?”
Ruby gasped and stared at her hands. The joints of her arms were segmenting, and a thin coat of downy fuzz covered her skin. “Don’t look at me!” she screamed, covering her eyes with both hands. Fat, fluffy antennae poked up through her hair, sweeping back against her skull.
“Is this what you meant earlier?” Ada asked, her voice low. Fascinated by her transformation, she moved a step closer. “You were talking about what you’d become...Ruby, is this why you want to go back and make a different Choice?“
Long, fragile wings extended from her shoulders, pure white with black specks that folded down against her spine. Moth’s wings. “Each to her aspect,” she said between sobs. “The quiet death, warm, asleep, surrounded by loved ones…” Dust glittered in the air, and Ada found herself feeling drowsy. Ruby’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m a monster.”
Ada shook her head, and little moth scales scattered in the air around her. One more step brought her and Ruby face to face. “We’re all monsters.” Her voice was quiet now, too. “But it’s not something to be ashamed about. What you are doesn’t matter. Never has, never will. It’s what you do with it that counts. And I know you’ve never done wrong with it, my Rubeansidhe.”
“I’ve stilled the breath of babes in their cradles, taken the old, the sick, the weak. You don’t know…” she choked on it, unable to meet Ada’s eyes. “You don’t know.”
Calmly, Ada put one hand on Ruby’s shoulder and used the other to bring her face up so she could stare into her eyes. “Do you truly believe I’d think less of you if I did?”
For a moment, they just looked at each other, and the banshee’s thoughts were as opaque as her eyes. But as her tears fell, the corners of her mouth turned up, just barely. Ruby threw herself into Ada’s arms, hugging her around the neck so tightly that she could hardly breathe.
Between the sobs and the flutter of her wings, it was almost impossible to hear her next words. But Ada did, just the same. “I have so badly needed a friend…”
“As long as we’ve got just one person who believes in us, we can stand against the world,” Ada whispered, stroking the back of Rubeansidhe’s wings, letting her hands be covered in moth dust. “And I believe in you, with all my heart. I know you’re scared, afraid there won’t be any meaning to all you’ve done. But it’s gonna be alright. I promise you everything’s gonna be alright. Rubeansidhe, Rubeansidhe, Rubeansidhe…
...Don’t ever leave me.”
((Ada uses her two invokes on “I’m Always With You” as a two-point compel, to persuade Ruby to step down from the edge. She opposes with her two Fate Points, so using her final FP, Ada raises by one, convincing Ruby to abandon her suicide attempt.))
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:16|
Scene: Delta Queen
The party was still going on in the lower decks when Ada and Ruby came down. There was no sleep aboard the Delta Queen. The crowds didn’t part for them this time, as they had before, but nobody paid them any mind either. With their business concluded, they were just another pair of revelers in the eyes of the Old Man’s court, a banshee making no attempts to hide her true nature and the human accompanying her.
Pontchartrain was nowhere to be found, however. Not on the dance floor, leading his guests, nor on the main deck, overseeing their conversations with each other. And until they paid his respects to their host, leaving the boat was out of the question. There was only one place they hadn’t checked out yet: belowdecks, where the passenger’s cabins were. The party didn’t go that far, either. There wasn’t a soul in sight when they descended the stairs. Just the sounds of a music box, playing in the distance. Above board, the Delta Queen mostly resembled a ship of human make, but the similarities ended here. The roots sprouting from the Old Man’s throne in the topmost deck came to an end here, drinking deeply enough from the lake to leave eight inches of water to trudge through. If there were wooden walls underneath them, they’d been hidden well.
“Think it’s him?” Ada whispered. Something about the music demanded silence and respect.
“It must be,” Ruby said, touching the roots gently.
Nodding, Ada stepped into the water, and beckoned Ruby to follow. The music gradually got stronger as they passed by each cabin door, heading towards the end of the hallway, and a voice crooned a song to match, deep and smooth as the river mud. It was melancholic and slow, the kind of song that made the mind think instead of giving the heart wings.
“Tore my heart, left out to bleed
Got no future, got no creed
She won't tell me what she did
Threw those words out to the wind
"Next time we meet, next time we meet…”
They opened the door together, struggling against the water. The Old Man of the Lake was inside, listening to a music box on a nearby shelf, where the lake’s grasp couldn’t reach. He sat with his back to the door on a mossy root that bent out from the wall to form a wide bench.
“Ah, have my pretty guests have come to say farewell?” he asked without facing them.
Ruby tilted her head, listening to the song as her antennae twitched.
Ada’s fingers slipped between Ruby’s, grasping her insectile hand tightly. “You’ve been a very gracious host, Monsieur Pontchartrain,” she said, bowing in respect. “And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me reunite with my dearest friend. If we could stay here and enjoy your party, we wouldn’t leave until dawn, but our duty calls us now.”
“Duty, eh?” His long fingers drummed on the shelf, matching the tinny notes of the music box. “And what duty would that be?”
“We have a duty to our families, both of us. We’ve been on the run for far too long.” A small smile flashed across Ada’s face. “Compared to you, Monsieur Pontchartrain, we’re just children. It’s time for us to go home.”
“Wait...” Ruby said. “What song is that?”
“It’s got no name.” Ada said quietly, shaking her head.
“I think it has,” Pontchartrain disagreed. He gave Ruby a meaningful look. “When I called it out, you came running.”
“This was the price of your aid,” Ruby said, her voice trembling. It wasn’t a question.
“I thought you ought to know, and it’s too pretty to be kept locked away.”
Ada let out a long, deep breath. “It was cruel to tell her about it. I don’t want Ruby to feel like she owes me.” She squeezed her friend’s hand. “But I don’t mind so much. Because you still deserve to know what it cost to get here.”
“Ada…” Ruby squeezed her hand back.
Pontchartrain sighed as the box wound down, and finally closed the lid. He turned to face them, a melancholy look on his old, wrinkled features. “Honesty can be cruel, aye. But it cleanses too. You came to beg a boon of the River King, banshee girl.”
“I did,” Ruby nodded. “Would you hear it?”
“Fiodoirsidhe and her brood have been threatened by Narcissus. If they defected, what would the cost of your protection be?”
The Old Man stroked his beard. “I can’t help you,” he said at length.
The fairies always chose their words carefully. If Pontchartrain said he couldn’t fulfill Ruby’s request, then that meant it truly wasn’t something he could help with, regardless of his own feelings on the matter. “Because your hands are tied?” Ada ventured. “Narcissus is part of your own court, even if he’s not one of your people. If you shielded someone from him without justification, it’d splinter Summer into two factions, wouldn’t it?”
Pontchartrain sighed. “He’s Titania’s pet, and she has little love for me. My Court is wilder, too far from the pretty things, like you, that Summer has become. The peace is tenuous enough when we keep to our own business. Stealing a beloved Sidhe lady out from under him would mean war.”
“One he could win, with the Queen’s blessing,” Ruby added.
The ship groaned as the roots shifted, a deep and terrible anger stirring within them. “Aye,” he said.
“So if they tried to escape him, it’d have to be on their own.” Ada was thinking, trying to see what the Old Man had left unsaid. His words had closed some doors, but others were still open. “Could a different kind of boon be granted, then? One that wasn’t related to their problem with Titania’s right hand man.”
“Perhaps.” His eyes were deep black pools. “What do you suggest?”
Just come up with a solution on the spot, Ada, or Ruby unmakes herself. No pressure. She’d been half-expecting this kind of response, but that didn’t mean she’d had time to prepare an answer. So now, she had to improvise. Simple. It’s gotta be something simple and clean. Something that would put Isabel, Ruby and Junior out of Narcissus’ reach. Easier said than done...he had fingers in every pie, and he’d only get stronger from now to the present. There was no place where they’d be safe, so long as he was still around. Just like in the fairy tales where a princess was stalked by an evil witch or spirit...
...Of course. That was it. “The last few weeks have been trying for the Fiodoirsidhe and her family,” she began. “And it’s left them tired and weary. Could you grant them the gift of peaceful, undisturbed slumber? We’ll wake them up when their time to rest is over.” Sleeping Beauty had given Ada the idea, but she wasn’t the only one who’d done something like it. JR had escaped Merle’s assassination attempt in a similar way...by taking the slow way forward through time, without anyone else noticing.
Pontchartrain laughed softly. “Not me you should be asking for that.”
That wasn’t an answer that Ada was expecting. “Then who?” she asked, confused.
“Sleep is within my power,” Ruby said, flushing scarlet. “But an enchanted sleep is meaningless without a place to hide them.” Her wings scattered scales that floated on the dirty water at their feet.
“But we do have one,” Ada pointed out, quickly. This could work, this could definitely work. “Grave Hill, where this all started. Nobody’ll come looking for them there, and especially not Narcissus.” Turning to face Pontchartrain, Ada took another bow. “Our apologies for taking up your time, Monsieur Pontchartrain. We may not actually need a boon after all.”
He took the music box off the shelf and began winding the key. “Well then, if you happen to think of something, you know how to call for me.”
“Old Man,” Ruby asked timidly. “What would it take to get you to part with such a lovely tune?”
The river-king raised a bushy eyebrow at her. “More than you have now, little lady. But perhaps I’ll tire of it, in time.”
“Then we’ll see each other again,” she promised.
“Oh, heh, I expect so.” He smiled, showing his very white teeth. “One of mine will take you back to shore, if you’re ready. He’s waiting at the raft.”
“Thank you for your patience and grace, Monsieur Pontchartrain,” Ada said, a note of respect present in her voice that had never appeared in her dealings with Midas and Narcissus. “I hope your star shines brightest in the skies of New Orleans, when next we meet.” With any luck, by the time this entire incident was over Narcissus would be ousted, and a better ruler for the Summer Court would have taken his place. And the Old Man of the Lake was far better than any other options.
“I told you once, an Old Man’s what I am, and the only title I’ll ever need,” said the ancient faerie, but his grumbling felt more like a point of pride than anything else. “You girls take care of each other. Now get on outta here.” He opened the now-wound box, and the music began to play, haunting and sad.
Ada waited until they were halfway up the stairs to give Ruby an inquisitive look. “Why so much interest in that song, Ruby?”
“First editions are hard to find,” she said with a small smile.
Ada grinned. “Always so mysterious...you’re just doing it to tease me at this point, aren’t you?”
Ruby’s smile widened. “If anyone’s going to hold onto a piece of your soul, Ada… It’s going to be me.”
Ada couldn’t help but laugh at that. “I can live with that,” she said, as they climbed the stairs back to the main deck, leaving the passengers’ cabins behind, her eyes shining with excitement. We found it. Ruby doesn’t have to sacrifice herself to save her family now. Glancing over her shoulder at her fairy companion, she couldn’t help but beam at her as they approached the edge of the Delta Queen, where the boat (and a familiar boatman) was waiting.
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:20|
Scene: Lake shore
Bohpoli’s monkey-like limbs reached and pulled as he poled the barge back to shore. Looking at him, Ada couldn’t help but wonder how Ruby’s grandfather had ever managed to get along with him. There’s probably more to him than meets the eye, but he looks like the kind of thing JR would shoot on sight.
Ruby’s glare at the hairy boatman was more in line with that sentiment, as she fluttered a few feet above the barge. After seeing who Pontchartrain had sent for them she’d refused to ride along, without a word of explanation. That’s the one thing I’m still missing - the explanation for how this was all supposed to go down.
Once this whole thing was over, she really needed to ask about all the little details that had led to that handoff at their hill. Ada was sure her friend would tell her enough to piece it all together - even if she also hid bits of the truth from her in the process. Unraveling a century’s worth of guardedness and deceptions would take time, but it was something both of them would have, starting today.
She hopped off the barge first, and offered Ruby her hand to help her land more gracefully. Without a word, Bohpoli departed, disappearing into the river mist.
“A moment,” Ruby said, closing her eyes. Her wings shivered as she tucked them against her spine, and began to vanish before Ada’s eyes. Before she could get much further, however, Ada placed her hands on Ruby’s cheeks and shook her head.
“You don’t have to hide yourself any longer, Ruby. It’s OK to show them who you really are.”
“I don’t wish to frighten them,” Ruby said, looking down at her segmented fingers. “If she knows this is the result…”
“Then she’ll have nothing to fear,” Ada said, finishing the sentence for her as she stroked Ruby’s cheek. “You’re not ugly or scary.” Acting on impulse, Ada took a step forward, and pulled Rubeansidhe into a brief, but bonecrushing hug. Raising a hand, she ran it through thin air, feeling the soft touch of the wings she couldn’t see. “She doesn’t know what you gained from choosing, either. I wish I had wings like yours, you know?”
“Y-you do?” Ruby asked, startled both by the hug and the sentiment.
Ada nodded firmly. “Are you kidding? Of course I do. When you’re flying, everything just disappears, and all your problems seem so far away. Even if you’ve gotta land at some point, for a moment, you’re free. It’s just you, the wind, and no one else.”
Ruby started laughing.
“Hey!” Ada said, stung. “It’s not funny!”
“But it’s so exhausting!” Ruby said, through her giggles. “And I get so hungry afterwards! You’re right about how free it feels, but you have to remember who’s doing all that flapping. I’m not an airplane.”
The image of a turbine-winged Ruby, trying to fly with a look of stoic determination on her face was enough to get Ada laughing too. “Yeah, maybe not. I never said it had to last forever, though. Just knowing you can do it is enough.”
Ruby sighed, her smile turning serious. “It was such a shock when the changes began… like being hollowed out inside. I was sick for days, not knowing what I could safely eat or drink. I don’t know if I could have chosen to become this. I don’t know if she can. And if she can’t…”
“Shh,” Ada whispered, putting a finger to Ruby’s lips. “Don’t think about what could happen if she can’t. If you start thinking about everything that could go wrong, even the easiest thing will look impossible. We’ll deal with things as they come up. No expectations.”
“No expectations,” Ruby echoed. Her wings flicked back into visibility and she nodded. “I’m ready.”
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:27|
Scene: Lake shore
Ada had left the Lytles at a crossroads where the lake, the city and the wilderness met, a dirt road surrounded by bushes that in years to come would be covered in asphalt and encircled by pavement. Reaching into her pocket, she drew a lighter that Junior had handed her, and lit its flame. In the night, it shone like a torch, casting shadows that made the lake water look black as pitch. It was the signal they were waiting for.
Junior stepped out of the city side brush alone, and made his way to the center of the crossroads. “Good to see you in one piece,” he said quietly. “We were starting to get worried. Did she come?”
Ada nodded. “She’s scared. Not of you, or Isabel, but of herself. But she’s willing to try. Want me to call her now?”
“Now wait just a minute. How is she? How’d you convince her to come out here? Did you make any promises we need to be aware of?”
Ada shook her head. “Nothing like that. The only promise I made is that I’d be here for her, standing by her side. She wanted to...” she stopped, wondering if she should be the one to tell Ruby’s parents about what she was planning on doing. “...Tell Isabel to come in. She should hear about it too.”
Junior turned around and beckoned towards the bushes. Isabel stepped out, and Ruby, but he waved his daughter back. She gave him a frustrated look, but her father cleared his throat and she ducked back down.
“What’s wrong?” Isabel asked, once the three of them were together. “Where is she?”
“She’s not here yet,” Ada said, raising a hand to forestall her. “There’s something you need to know. Ruby and I talked a lot. At first she was going to hurt herself, but her mind’s changed. She’s been disgusted with herself for years and years, horrified of what she’s become. That’s changed now...but she’s scared your Ruby won’t accept her, and it’ll kill her if she rejects what she’ll become.” Pausing for a moment, Ada stared at each of Ruby’s parents in turn. “She needs you. Whatever you do, please don’t turn her away.”
“Ada, dear, she is my daughter,” Isabel said. “I could never do such a thing.”
Junior nodded. “If there’s a way to save her, we’ll find it. But we need to know everything. Time loops are tricky business, one wrong step...” Isabel took his hand, and they shared a worried look. “Go ahead, call her.”
This was the moment. For the first time in what felt like ages, Ada parted her lips, and intoned the summons that belonged only to her.
“Rubeansidhe, Rubeansidhe, Rubeansidhe...come to me.”
The lighter’s flame drew the Rubeansidhe like the moth she so resembled. Her blonde hair bobbed as she approached, her fuzzy antennae tipped forwards. Her parents watched silently until she reached Ada’s side. No one spoke for a tense second. “...M-mama? Daddy?”
“My baby girl, all grown up,” Isabel said, sniffling. She opened her arms. All eight of them.
Junior stepped towards Ada to give them a bit of room. “Well aren’t they a pair,” he said.
“Like mother, like daughter,” Ada said, watching them with a little smile on her face. “You raised her right, you know. She’s supposed to call people’s deaths, but the first time I met her, she helped me save lives.”
“It’s all about balance,” Junior said seriously. “Being a witness, nudging fate one way or the other, it’s an important responsibility.”
“Leave that to me, Junior,” Fiodoirsidhe scolded. “You’ve got enough to worry about with your time bending.”
Rubeansidhe burst into tears.
“What’s all this fussing?” Junior asked, moving to put a hand on her shoulder.
“I… I haven’t heard you argue in… in… ninety years!” she said.
Isabel and Junior looked to each other, sharing their distress and quickly moving past it as they stood on either side of her. “You must tell us what happens, Rubeansidhe,” her mother said gently. “If you mean to save us, or yourself, we need to know everything.”
“Now who’s poking ‘round things they don’t know,” Junior grumbled, but it was mostly to cover his nervousness. “Ada, can you sit with… with young Ruby a spell? I don’t like leaving her alone for so long.”
“Yeah. Count on me.” Ada found the time to spare a look at Rubeansidhe, to make sure she was OK, but then headed for the bushes without a second thought.
The car was there, disguised (somewhat poorly) by tree branches and leaves. But there was no sign of Ruby.
Ada didn’t worry. Not yet. Ruby couldn’t have gone very far, and she had too much sense to just wander off during such an important moment. Kneeling down besides the car, she held the lighter up and looked for her tracks.
((Surprise! It’s a Notice roll. +-/- +4 = 3. That’s not quite enough for what Ada needs here.))
There were tracks alright. Too many of them. The ground around the car was a mess, and the darkness didn’t help any. This was a no-go. Standing up, Ada looked around and called out, though not loud enough for her parents or Rubeansidhe to hear.
“Ruby...Ruby, where are you? It’s me, Ada.”
There was no response. Shaking her head, Ada leaned against the car, thinking. It probably wasn’t some kind of abduction - no one who knew was strongly enough opposed to Ruby to act against her like that. She must’ve moved on her own. But where had she gone? Looking up, Ada gazed at the moon hanging over Lake Pontchartrain. Wonder what you can see that I don’t.
Actually...maybe that’s it. On the way to her meeting with the Old Man, there was a place that caught her eye, a tall oak, standing by the edge of the lake. Her Ruby had been fond of trees - it’s where she’d left Grace, and where she’d sat after betraying Narcissus, waiting for her. Maybe it was something she and her younger self had in common. And besides, its branches made a perfect spot to observe the meeting from. It was worth a shot. Ada killed the lighter’s flame and headed back to the lake, keeping her eyes open, trusting the moonlight to guide them.
The lakeside was dimly illuminated, the moon’s light giving everything a silver-blue tinge - everything, except the patch underneath the oak, hidden by the shadow of its foliage. But she could see a pair of shoes at the bottom, and Ruby’s feet dangling from one of the branches.
“You’ve gotta stop running off like that,” Ada said as she finished climbing the tree and sat down against its trunk on the branch Ruby had chosen, letting one of her feet dangle underneath. “Got me worrying for a second.”
Ruby gave her a scathing look. “Shhh, I’m trying to spy.”
“Can you really hear them from here? It’s pretty far away.” Still, Ada fell silent and observed the scene with her.
Only Junior’s face was visible, the other two had their backs to the tree. His face looked like a thundercloud but all three were keeping their voices low.
“No,” Ruby said glumly. “I was hoping someone might shout but looks like it’s all hush-hush.” She pulled her legs up and hugged them as she watched. “...so that’s her. Me. Her. Wow.”
“The future came calling, and she’s got bug eyes and wings.” Ada’s tone was humorous, but she quickly got serious after making the quip. “How do you feel about her?” She asked, shooting Ruby a curious glance.
“Anxious,” Ruby said. “I don’t like being left out of whatever’s going on down there. It’s my life they’re talking about, shouldn’t I get a say?”
Ada shook her head. “It’s not just yours. Did you see the way your mother embraced her? It’s her family too - and she hasn’t seen them in years. She came back to this time because she was so lonely and everything had gone so wrong that dying to give you a second chance looked like the best possible choice. She needs them like I need to make sure nothing happens to you.” Leaning forward, Ada reached for Ruby’s arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Either of you.”
Ruby sighed. “So that’s it then. I have to… to choose Faerie. If I don’t, she’s doomed. There’s no way around it. I can’t be Ruby Lytle the singer, or the actress, or the mother. I gotta do all the same things she did. Make all the same mistakes. Give up everyone I love…”
“I don’t like it either,” Ada said, hitting the trunk with the heel of her dangling foot in frustration. “It’s supposed to be your choice, but now it’s anything but. Now it’s going to be everyone cajoling you to choose one way or the other, stacking the deck against the choice they like less by telling you just how awful things are gonna be if you decide to do things that way.” She heaved an angry sigh. “You should both be able to go your own way. I bet that’s what they’re talking about, why your dad’s so mad right now. He doesn’t want you to suffer like her.” She fell silent for some time, thinking, wondering if there was anything else she could, or should, say.
“What would you do, if you were me?” Ruby asked quietly.
“Never an easy question, is it...” Arching her leg up, Ada rested her arms and head on her knee and stared off into the distance. “...I don’t think about what someone else wants in the first place. People have wanted me to be, needed me to be someone else since I was fourteen. If I kept on trying to live my life the way someone else wanted me to live it, I would’ve lost myself a long time ago. I’d be a doll, just like Grace.” She shook her head, back and forth. “If I had to choose, I wouldn’t let fear of the consequences rule me. If something’s truly worth it, then the consequences are a price I’m willing to pay. But if I was going to make a choice like this one, the kind where there’s no going back, I’d want the truth. Full awareness of everything that’d happen if I followed the same road. And regardless of the choice I made...of whatever happened…” Her right hand ran over the scar tissue of her left arm. It made her heart skip a beat, but beyond her body’s instinctive reactions, it was a proof of what she’d done. It was her history, always carried with her wherever she went. “...I’d always keep moving forward. No looking back and wondering what might’ve been. No regrets.”
“No regrets,” Ruby echoed.
As soon as she said that, both banshees turned to look directly up at the tree, as if they’d heard her.
Ruby froze like a deer in headlights. “Uh-oh.”
“I think it’s time we went back,” Ada said, shooting Ruby a meaningful look. “It’s your time to shine, baby.” She didn’t tell her what this meant, didn’t allow herself to worry about it. Banshees could sense death, but it was never certain by the time they saw it. There was always a chance to change course. She should know - that had been the deathstone’s first and most clear lesson.
“Shine, or die,” Ruby said as she grabbed a branch and lowered herself towards the ground.
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:44|
The Future’s Foundations
“What. Did. You. Do?” Junior said, pausing between each word. The woods had gone completely still. Not even the summer cicadas dared interrupt them. His eyes flicked between Ada and his daughter, while the two banshees only had eyes for Ruby.
“Nothing,” she answered, holding his gaze for as long as she could. “Not yet. But she’s got a decision to make now.”
“I need the truth,” Ruby said, stepping out of Ada’s shadow. “All of it.”
“It stands before you,” her counterpart said, raising her wings to reveal their stained white splendor. “I am what you will be, if you choose to. The gentle death, the last breath taken in sleep, the clasped hand that goes limp in another’s. I am Rubeansidhe.”
“She doesn’t mean what she’ll become,” Ada said, quietly, grasping Ruby’s hand. “She wants to know what’ll happen to her. What her future will be like.”
“I want to know what hurt you so badly that you had to come back to save me,” Ruby said, twining her fingers between Ada’s and squeezing, hard.
“Because I was alone,” Rubeansidhe said, closing her eyes as she remembered. “The youngest jewel of Summer, they called me, for jewels are so often set in chains. Narcissus held mine for decades, but no longer.”
Isabel put one hand on her shoulder. “She lost us, and her humanity, in a single night.”
“I know what I want to do,” Ruby looked at her future self, pleading. “But if I stay human, if I don’t follow your path, you’ll die.”
“I would have done so willingly, if it gave you the chance I never had,” Rubeansidhe said, her wings folding down again. “Ruby… I don’t want you to save me. I want you to be free.”
“Do you want to die? Am I just your pretty suicide note to the world?”
“No. I just can’t see another way. If that’s what you want… Then do it. Find love, raise a family, live.”
“I can’t,” Ruby said, a note of desperation creeping into her voice. “I can’t live my life knowing I stole yours… even if it’s what you want. If I could, then I wouldn’t be worth saving.”
It’s like they’re not meant to be happy. Like suffering’s their fate.
Fate. Junior said I was dangerous because not knowing how things were supposed to go let me change history without killing myself. Like when I caught the deathstone’s visions and had just enough time to act. Rick should’ve died at the superdome, one way or another, but he didn’t. He lived. And it wasn’t just the knowledge that did it, it was who did it. Rick couldn’t have saved himself. Even if he knew he’d die, he still would’ve been there, fighting to protect N’awlins. It’s the same thing here. Ruby knows what’s going to happen if she stays mortal, but she can’t save herself anyway, because it’s her fate. It’s the path she’s meant to take.
“That’s the problem with time travel, isn’t it?” Ada interrupted.
“What is?” Ruby asked.
“It’s why it doesn’t work, right? No matter how much you learn about the future, you still have to follow your heart.” Her words were hesitant at first, but quickly gained steam. “And if you don’t, you erase yourself, because it’s the choices you make that determine who you really are. It’s like trying to write over what you already wrote with corrector fluid.”
“The classical time-traveler’s paradox,” Junior said, nodding. “If you change the reason you wanted to go back, then you never go back, which means you take a different path and that’s all she wrote.”
“But when someone else crosses bits out with a different pen, what’s already there still stays. It’s just like with a banshee’s deathstone.” Ada couldn’t help but feel giddy as she continued to speak quickly, like her mouth couldn’t keep up with her brain. This was it! Time traveling had rules, and it could work, you just needed to know what they were! “They’re just two different ways of changing fate! The secret to changing fate is to try and change someone else’s, not your own!”
“It doesn’t matter who changes my fate,” Ruby said, shaking her head. “I know enough to change it myself, now. But I can’t, because that would kill her.”
“No, see, that’s why it matters who does it,” Ada said, shaking her head back and forth. “Ruby, if a banshee sees someone’s going to die but does nothing to change that, they will die. But if she intervenes, or gets someone else to act...”
“They can be saved,” Isabel finished. “But not without cost.”
“It’s not easy breaking fate,” Ada said, very seriously. She couldn’t keep a confident grin off her face for very long. “But if you work together with someone else, it’s not impossible.”
“You sound like you have an idea,” Rubeansidhe said.
Ada nodded. “Some things are just meant to happen. But that doesn’t mean we don’t control how they happen You have to make the Choice. You have to meet me. You have to go back in time,” she said, gesturing alternatively at Ruby, herself, and the direction of Grave Hill. “There’s places you need to be at, but once you’ve reached those places, everything else is up for grabs.” She paused, and looked at Rubeansidhe. “You became a banshee and joined Narci’s court. Couldn’t she stay human while you take her place?”
You could have heard a pin drop.
“Well… I can’t see why not.” Junior said, shaking his head. “Normal folk wouldn’t be able to do something like that because they’d age too much but a faerie…”
“I look the same as I did that night,” Rubeansidhe said quietly, as she considered what it would mean to follow through with Ada’s plan. “I’ll look the same a hundred years from now. I already know all the places that I’m meant to be. It should work.”
“Then… what happens to me?” Ruby asked. “If you steal my fate?”
“There’s no place for you here,” Ada said, nodding. “Someone will notice it doesn’t fit. Narcissus will take action.” She paused for a moment to think about it. There was no place for Ruby in the ‘20s...but that didn’t mean there could never be a place for her, ever. “In the time we’re from, Narcissus won’t be in power for much longer. You can come back with me to 2012 and live out your life there.”
Ruby’s mouth dropped open. “2012? That’s…” She looked to her parents. “Everyone we know will have died...”
“How long do we have to think about this?” Isabel asked. “You didn’t say when it’s going to happen yet, but it can’t be long now.”
Rubeansidhe nodded. “Tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow! That’s not long enough!” said Ruby.
“It’ll have to be,” Junior said. “This is about the craziest dang plan I’ve ever heard, and it goes against every bit of common sense I was born with… But it might work. If we have a way forward. How are you planning to get home Ada?”
“Rubeansidhe’s got power over sleep and slumber,” she said, shooting her a meaningful glance and nod. “She can put us in an enchanted sleep, and wake us up once we’re back in 2012.”
“It’s not without risks, but I’ll watch over you,” Rubeansidhe said, nodding in agreement. “Grandfather slept nearly twice as long there and survived.”
“Is that how you got back here?” Junior asked. “My old man?”
“Yes.” Rubeansidhe said, though she looked worried when she said it.
“Speaking of JR, what happened to him? Did he split up from you like I did?” There was no love lost between Ada and JR, but nobody deserved to be left stranded in a different time, all alone and with no one to count on.
“He should be fine,” she said, folding her hands.
“None of that,” Isabel said sternly. “This is very serious, Ruby. If he’s here he needs to be found before anything else goes wrong.”
“He’s not in this time. We overshot the mark, by a lot. I couldn’t get him off the spell’s circle so I had to leave him.” She looked down, ashamed. “It was still rewinding.”
“Leave him… Why didn’t he just jump off with you?” Junior asked.
“Well… He was unconscious.”
“You shanghai’d your grandfather?”
“JR’s real stubborn when he doesn’t agree with what you’re doing,” Ada chimed in. “I brought him to her, but he didn’t take the time-traveling plan very well, I think.”
“Neither would I, that doesn’t give you the right to knock me over the head and hijack my magic!” Junior looked furious. “And now he’s trapped, God-only-knows-when!”
“I didn’t have a choice, Daddy!” Rubeansidhe stomped one bare foot on the ground. “He was the only way to come back here, and maybe if he hadn’t been such an rear end I wouldn’t have had to do what I did, but he called me a monster and said I weren’t no kin of his, and so I didn’t care where he ended up!”
“Ruby!” Junior yelled.
“Junior!” Isabel yelled, louder, and stepped between them with her hands raised to either side. “It’s clear we got more to talk about and far too much getting ready to do, but I think we’d best do the rest of it at home. Your daddy can keep himself alive for a while until we figure out what to do about him, and the sooner we get someplace safe the sooner we can do something to help.”
“She’s right,” Ada said, nodding. “JR’s as tough as they come. He can handle himself until we can work out how to help him. But we don’t have time to think about him now. We’ve got until tomorrow to prepare. Let’s set our trip into the future up.”
Transient People fucked around with this message at Oct 14, 2017 around 03:47
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:45|
The Big Sleep
Scene: House Lytle
“...And everyone’s connected,” Ada explain, as she struggled to close a particularly overloaded trunk. “You can write a dozen messages with instant delivery if you want to, or talk to someone who’s on the other side of the city face to face. It’s a pretty different world. Faster. Sleeker. More...indus...trial...” A moment before it beat her and spilled its contents everywhere, she jumped on it and pressed it down with her full body weight, causing it to come together with a satisfying click. “Hah! Gotcha!” she yelled, basking in her triumph for a moment as she pumped her fist. “Trunks are still a pain in the rear end to put together, though, don’t worry. Some things just never change.”
“I’ll have to wear pants, I suppose,” Ruby said wistfully, as she touched her bedroom mirror. “One trunk doesn’t seem like enough but I know there’s people out there with less. We can’t clean the place out or they’ll know something’s up.” She picked Grace up off the shelf and set her nicely on the dresser. “And I guess I gotta leave you behind.”
Seeing the way Ruby cared for her dolly put a smile on Ada’s face. “Not exactly. Rubeansidhe will keep her. Don’t worry, she’ll take good care of Grace.” She’d certainly been quite zealous about making sure nothing bad happened to her...maybe a little too zealous. “Good luck taking it back from her, though. She’s kind of attached to her, you know,” she whispered, just in case. There was no telling whether she could hear them from the ground floor or not.
“I’m getting a little old for dolls,” Ruby said, shaking her head. “And she’s the one who has to do the hard part. It’s alright.” She grabbed one end of the trunk. “If we can get this downstairs, all that’s left is setting the stage.”
“Staging the Choice and your parents’ disappearance?” Ada asked. “You got any ideas for that?”
Ruby grinned. “Loads. Leo’s bringing by a bunch of stuff from backstage. We’re gonna sell this like one of those new talkies.”
“I’ve got to see this with my own eyes. How can I help out?” She’d never worked in theatre before. Then again, a week ago she wouldn’t have been able to say she’d done showbiz, either.
“Well… let’s see what Daddy’s got done already.”
They maneuvered the trunk downstairs with only two near-death incidents, and stacked it next to the door with the others. Isabel and Rubeansidhe, both of them in human form, were in the kitchen cooking something that smelled completely awful. Junior was sawing holes in the floor.
“All set?” he asked the girls.
“All set,” Ruby confirmed. “Did you stuff the scarecrows yet?”
“Naw, you two can do that if ya like.”
“Long as we don’t have to eat whatever’s cooking over there, I’m game,” Ada said, wrinkling her nose as she turned to steal a glance at the two banshees. “Hey Rubeansidhe, what are you working on, anyway?” she asked, raising her voice enough for them to hear.
“Gotta smell it to sell it!” Rubeansidhe said cheerfully, holding up a long rope of pig’s intestines for Ada to see. “Leave a pocket in the front when you stuff those bodies.”
“I sewed them up already, and put them on the back porch next to the hay bale,” Isabel added, motioning for them to hurry. “We’ve only got a few more hours, quickly girls, quickly.”
“Tell me you’re not squeamish,” Ada said, biting her lip as she shot Ruby a glance. “I really don’t want to be up to my ears in pig intestines all alone.”
“I helped Daddy slaughter that hog,” Ruby said, laughing. “My only regret is all that wasted sausage.”
Ada couldn’t keep a guilty smile off her face. “Now you’re making me feel like a pampered princess. C’mon, let’s make these scarecrows the most convincing body doubles you’ll ever see.”
“So, are you convinced?” Junior asked Junior, a little while later.
“Almost,” the real one said, tugging on his double’s shirt to get it a little looser around the middle. “There we go.”
“Good,” said Isabel, tugging a few of her invisible strings as she puppeted her husband’s double to sit in his reading chair. The glamours were all in place, and if you didn’t know better you’d swear the two straw-and-sausage filled ‘parents’ were the real thing. “I need to practice my lines, and you three need to get to the hill.”
Ruby hugged her mother close. “Be careful, please… I don’t know what I’d do if…”
“Shhh, none of that,” Junior said, hugging both of his girls together. “We’ll all see each other soon. Alright?” He gave his wife a kiss on the lips.
“Of course we will,” Isabel tsk’d. “Don’t lay on your side dear, you know it gives you a cramp.”
They talked for a little longer, about small things that didn’t matter. Putting the goodbye off as long as they could. But eventually it was time. Junior drove the car in silence, Ruby beside him on the front bench. Ada and Rubeansidhe rode in back.
“It’s gonna be a long time ‘til we see each other again, even if I’m gonna be sleeping through all of it,” Ada whispered so the others could not hear. “Don’t let anyone hurt you, Rubeansidhe. I don’t want to lose you so soon after having found you.”
Ruby took her hands. “I’ll endure it, for the both of us. Even if things get hard, and I want to give up, I’ll know that you’re counting on me. This time, I won’t be talking to an empty grave.”
Ada just smiled. The word of the fey was their bond. Ruby wouldn’t let her down, and she was confident enough of that to bet her life on it. And there’s no risk in this, no matter what anyone else thinks.
“There’s just one thing that’s bugging me now,” she said, her expression becoming curious. “Where are we going to hide ourselves? Are we gonna dig some graves and travel forward through time the same way your grandfather did?”
Rubeansidhe just smiled. “I’ve got something more comfortable in mind.”
The trunk of the great cherry tree that oversaw grave hill groaned when Rubeansidhe touched it, the wood giving way and opening to reveal a hollow inside. It seemed larger than it should be, though still a snug fit. “In you go,” she said, motioning to the opening.
Junior gave a heavy sigh. “Your mother’s right, I’m going to wake up with a cramp.” He gave Rubeansidhe a final hug. “We’ll leave a space for her.”
“Will you really be okay?” Ruby asked her counterpart, as Junior climbed inside. “No one’s ever done anything like this before.”
“I guess we’ll find out,” Rubeansidhe said. “You’ll make it, Ruby. I promise.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” she said, looking down. “Thank you, for doing this for me. Even if I think you shouldn’t have, I… I really am glad you came.”
The faerie nodded. “I know.”
Ruby squared her shoulders and entered the hollow. And then there were only two.
Ada looked up to the tree, amazed. “Fairy magic is really something, isn’t it?” she said, placing a hand of her own upon the tree’s bark. “I’m curious, though. Why a tree, Ruby?”
“Trees are alive,” Rubeansidhe said. “They breathe, they grow, they can warn me if you’re in danger. And I have a great fondness for this one. It will be a sentinel to watch over you as long as you’re asleep.”
“Yeah. Long as we sleep...” Her time in the past was growing short. Slowly, Ada took a deep breath. She wasn’t afraid of the big sleep, not exactly, but...Old New Orleans had changed her life, in more ways than one. Without visiting, she couldn’t have reached her decision, couldn’t have reforged her bond with Alisa. Leaving it all behind wasn’t death, but it was a great transformation nonetheless, and not without cost.
I’m going home. I just wish I could’ve brought back more of the world I saw with me.
“I hope it’s comfortable inside. It’s gonna be a long wait if I can’t find a decent spot to lean up against.” With a nod, her decision was made. Ada stepped inside and turned around to look at Rubeansidhe. “Stay safe. I’ll see you later.”
“Till next we meet,” she said. Her wings fluttered as she stood at the entrance to the hollow, creating a gentle breeze. Her voice took on the lilt of a lullaby. “Sleep, my father, my friend, my other self.” Little white particles of dust fell on Ada’s eyes, like grains of sand, and a feeling of drowsiness overcame her. She slumped back against the tree and let herself go, relaxing as she closed her eyes. “Sleep and do not dream, but let the century pass as though it were a single peaceful night.”
There was no more sight, only distant sensations upon her skin. She was cold. She was hot. She felt full of energy, then almost too tired to do anything. She heard Rubeansidhe’s voice, whispering at her, but only for a few moments, and then she was gone. The pattern repeated itself many times, more than she could count, and through it all, Ada felt the tree’s strength, keeping her safe in its embrace, where neither the ravages of time nor men could reach her. Coming from a distance, the voice of the Rubeansidhe presided over the changing seasons, repeating but a single word.
|# ? Oct 14, 2017 03:57|
The Lone Partisan Hunts
Scene: A Road At The Edge
The street was all but abandoned, the far end of it consumed by the ever encroaching edge of the void beyond the city. Anyone who had once dwelled there had either fled to safer - or the closest one could find to safe in this living hell, at least - ground or had been consumed by the creatures that now plagued the city.
A lone figure watched, crouching, from one of the covered porches, keeping a silent vigil. Clad in torn and dirty clothing, between his gloves, the scarf wrapped around his face and a scratched pair of sunglasses, most of his skin was hidden from view. Over it all, he wore a tattered dark cloak with a deep hood, covering his face in shadow.
He watched, clutching the sawn-off shotgun tightly in fingers made of both flesh and metal, as the creature emerged. Black of hide, it’s six disjointed legs scuttled out of a nearby house, each one of its eighteen talons scraping against the concrete path as it scuttled round the corner, onto the street.
Another day, another hunt. His crusade against the creatures seemed never ending - he couldn't even remember how long he’d been at it - it was hard to keep track without day or night. Day in, day out, he fought, but they never seemed to run out of creatures to plague the city - his city, now. With luck, he’d come out unscathed from this one. Wounds from these creatures were permanent, even if you came back from beyond the grave. He knew that all too well - there was a reason he hid under a deep cloak.
The creature was alone, which was a blessing. These creatures - “crawlers”, he often thought of them as, though he never uttered it aloud, half remembering a warning about naming these foes. Not that he spoke much of anything else, these days, save to call forth what magic he could.
The crawler scuttled forwards, unaware. He waited patiently, waiting for it to cross the line and trigger his carefully crafted magical trap. Minutes before, he’d scraped the earth runes onto the tarmac road surface, empowering them with a drop of blood.
He found it easier to hide, now - ever since the cannery, there was the voice, the bloodlust, the need to cause pain. He’d resisted it at first, trying to build himself a life in this new city with his apprentices - children of the man he’d slain, no less! But in this hell, he’d come to embrace it. At least, out here, on the battlefield, he could be useful, could cause pain to something that deserved it. And the bloodlust, the anger - it helped him, it kept him fighting even when he’d lost his leg.
It was helping him keep people safe.
It was helping him keep Ed and Lucy safe.
The creature scuttled into the concealed circle and the runes glowed faintly in the grey twilight. The ground beneath its talons softened into quicksand, sucking it downwards into a rapidly re-hardening morass of liquid tarmac. Five talons were trapped as the spell ended, the last scraping futilely against the road as the creature’s eerie wails broke the silence.
Ignoring the strange - yet pitiful - wail, he surged out of his hiding spot, raising the sawn-off as he lurched forward with a strange gait, each step of his left leg accompanied by a clunk. Closing, he fired both barrels, unleashing a hail of rock salt and buckshot into the creature’s hide. The cries grew larger as he stowed the sawn-off and walked closer.
Between the makeshift prosthetics, the scarred flesh and the bloodlust, he often wondered if was even human anymore. He wondered if that even mattered - they were stuck in this hell, after all. But then, was it not the most human thing of all, to adapt and fight? To protect?
As he stepped off the pathway of the yard, he reached over his shoulder and, in a single smooth motion, drew his rifle. In place of a bayonet, it ended in a wicked axe blade. Without dawn to diminish spellwork, he’d managed to enchant the steel blade with some wicked spellcraft - with but a word and a spell, the blade would shear through flesh as if it were butter.
He stepped closer, looming above the pathetic, scrambling creature, gripping the rifle-axe in two hands, careful to keep out of reach of the last free claw. He lashed out, over and over, with heavy axe swings, long after the creature ceased moving.
His bloodlust sated, he lowered the viscera coated axe-rifle to the ground, breathing hard.
Human or not, the fight was pure, the fight was where he belonged. If it was going to take thousands of stings to win this one more guerrilla war, he’d sting them, over and over again.
He was going to win this war.
His reverie was interrupted by the sound of howls a few streets over - the lone stray's pack, on the hunt, no doubt. With a final glance down at the gruesome remains of his latest kill, he started a relentless, rolling march away from the void, his mind hard at work, planning his next ambush.
One down, more to go.
|# ? Nov 16, 2017 20:01|
Roll Call 1: Rupert Singh
Scene: Skinner’s House
From the street, the old Skinner mansion looked just like it always had. A round tower and a wide porch with a swing on it, and an empty yard alongside where the owner hadn’t let anything be built, even though the block was otherwise very dense. There was something unnerving about the place, but then there always had been. It was the former home of a world-class demon summoner, and her half-demon children. The windows were dark, and the whole area was quiet enough that it all seemed abandoned.
“If we’re lucky, he’s already here,” Lucy said, but she didn’t sound very hopeful.
“Danny probably knows where he went,” her brother said. Ed had never been much of a believer in luck. He stopped at the edge of the driveway and fished a folded paper object shaped like a key out of his pocket. “Just a second, need to make sure the pass-charm hasn’t changed.”
“You know, I don't think I've ever been here,” Hugues said idly to Rupert. “Was it always this spooky or is it just the weirdness of this reality?”
“Former. From what Daniel told me, his Grandmother was one scary lady,” explained Rupert, looking up at the house. Glancing at Ed, he asked, “Is my counterpart here often?”
“When he needs patching up,” Ed said shrugging. The key went into the mail slot and the sound of wind chimes played. “Sweet, got it! We can go in, just stay on the walkway.”
Lucy smiled and took a step forward, vanishing through the shield. Ed waved the other two onwards. “I gotta lock up after we’re in.”
Inside the shield, the House still looked imposing, but the windows were bright and there was movement and music and the smell of food cooking. Brightly colored tents were set up all over the backyard, and here, for the first time since reaching the Gato, there were people. Lots of people, and they looked, for the most part, happy and normal.
“Hey!” Danny pushed his front door open and waved. He looked as scruffy as ever, leaning on a metal medical cane. “Kids! Who’s that with you?”
Hugues glanced at Rupert for a moment. “Do we start with unwitting time travelers, or jump straight to outside the vortex?” he mumbled, not sure which would make them more suspicious.
Rupert shrugged and replied, “We might as well just explain it all and hope we don’t sound too mad. I think we can trust him, at least.”
“He's your friend, go for it,” Hugues said, slapping Rupert in the back.
Rupert waved to Skinner with his good hand as he walked forwards. Reaching the porch, he explained, “Hello, Daniel.”
“Oh Rupert, I didn’t expect…” Danny narrowed his eyes at Rupert, and Hugues.
“Weird, ain’t it?” Ed said, with an unhelpful grin.
Skinner ignored him and limped down the steps to close the distance. He grabbed Rupert by his good arm, squeezed it as if he couldn’t believe it were actually flesh and blood. His mouth dropped open when he realized it was Hugues standing there too. “Did… did you two find a way to reset, after all this time? How!?”
Rupert shook his head, “This might sound really strange, but we’re not your Hugues and Rupert. We’re from a different timeline.”
“You know that comic where Superman goes back in time, kills Hitler, then comes back to realize that he went into an alternate reality instead?” Hugues said. “Basically that happened. Only instead of killing Hitler, someone else went back in time to stop the Summer Lady from dying and we decided to follow.” Well, at least Hitler was still dead.
Danny raised an eyebrow at Ed and Lucy, who both nodded seriously. “Here I thought nothing could surprise me anymore. Come in, please.”
The inside of the house felt familiar to Rupert, but also different. It took him a moment to realize it looked like it had when he’d first met Daniel, before Shirley had moved in and started taking unused furniture and the more creepy of Grandma Skinner’s trophies up to the attic.
Rupert raised an eyebrow at a feather and stone fetish perched on a nearby shelf for a moment. The thing had always felt a bit off, and he'd been glad when it’d been boxed away. Shrugging, he turned to Skinner and asked, “So, this is one of the safe spots in amongst all the chaos?”
“I’d like to think so,” he said, with more than a little pride. “It’s not as secret as it looks, we’ve had to do some advertising to keep the tents full, but the shields keep us free from anything without tentacles. You… or well, Rupert, keeps us safe from the things with them.”
There was a thin faced man washing dishes when they reached the kitchen. He was only vaguely familiar to Rupert and Hugues. “Dan? Who are you… Oh!”
“Brian, you’re not going to believe-”
Upstairs something fell and the sound of kids arguing filtered through the floor followed by: “Daaaaad! Keisha started the bathroom on fire again!”
“Jesus,” Brian reached for a towel, wiped his hands off, and then grabbed the hand-sized fire-extinguisher that was on top of the fridge. “Sorry, hun. Be right back.”
Danny just laughed. “Take your time. She’ll grow out of it, eventually.”
“Right, until she grows back into it,” Brian said as he ran out of the kitchen and dashed up the stairs.
“Sometimes I’m glad being blue was my only problem,” Skinner said, as Lucy helped him sit down at the table. It took him a bit to settle and he was breathing hard for several seconds. “Well, other than the recurring gunshot wound. That’s always fun. Thanks, Lu.”
Lucy smiled at him. “Did you get an apple-reset in?”
Danny shook his head. “Not recently. Sorry kiddo.”
“drat,” Ed said. “That tree used to pop like clockwork…”
The lights flickered as upstairs, Brian used the fire extinguisher to great effect.
“Well, long story short, we're looking for ‘us’,” Hugues said, plopping down in a chair. “Magic shenanigans, need all hands on deck so maybe we can bring an end to your endless night. We would invite you too but, uh, looks like you have your hands full.”
“I was never much of a fighter, these days I’m more of a casualty. But anything to do with bringing back the stars, you’ve got what I can give.”
Ed and Lucy quickly filled him in on the most pressing details. “So, that’s why we were hoping you’d seen Rupert lately,” Lucy finished.
Danny crossed his arms. “Well, I wish I could be more help but all I can tell you is he hasn’t been here for a while, and the last I heard he was heading towards the fringes. Mother Sula’s old place, I think. There was a lot of wiggly activity over there recently.”
Ed bit his lip. “Yeah, well, Elbridge has been over there with the beacon…”
“Ah. That’s why then.” Skinner narrowed his eyes.
“It worked, Danny,” Lucy said. “We could actually… we could go home…”
The mostly-demon looked like he wanted to argue with her but he just shook his head instead. “Yeah, let’s do what we can to help then. Get me the city map from the desk in the living room.”
Lucy jumped to get it. As soon as she was out of hearing range Danny turned to Hugues. “Now, tracking Rupert down might be dangerous but I know he’s out there. You, on the other hand, went missing a long time ago. No one’s forgotten you exist so you’re probably still out there somewhere. Best bet might be to talk to the teachers over by the school. Hugues spent a lot of time there before he went dark, I remember that much.”
“I used to, well he...uh...the apartment is near the school so that's not surprising.” Hugues nodded, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “Maybe the key will still work. Find a clue, maybe. Thanks for the heads up.”
Danny nodded. “A lot of the schools are set up as safe-zones, but that one’s right on the edge of Nerissa’s territory so it’s always had some problems. If you’re going that way be careful of vampires.”
“The more things change, the more things say the same,” Hugues grumbled.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and these ones won’t have a tank,” replied Rupert.
“Nah, that tank was anti-wizard weaponry. Something they brought in specifically to deal with us.” Hugues shrugged. “And I think civilians would complain if they brought tanks in New Orleans again.”
“You guys fought a tank?” Ed asked. “Like, a real tank? From the army? And the vampires had it?”
“Oh yeah. Stupid vampires gave me a concussion on the concussion,” Hugues grumbled. “Red Court is full of jerks.”
Rupert nodded in agreement to the sentiment, “Jerks with too much money. Still, we survived the drat thing in the end.”
“Jeez,” Ed said. “And I thought we had it rough.”
“Who had what rough?” Lucy asked, as she came back in with the map.
“Nevermind,” Skinner took it and pulled a pen out of his front pocket. He made a marker and drew an arrow. “If you’re looking for Rupert, start on this block, work your way west. If he’s where I think he is you’ll hear him before you see him.” He made a circle over another area. “Hugues lived in this building, but you know that already. The school’s not far, right there. Up to you where you go first.”
Rupert glanced down at Hugues and said, “We might be better off tracking down my counterpart first. If he’s been roaming about, he might have heard something of your counterpart.”
Hugues nodded. “Sounds good to me. You’re taking point on this one though. This one comes down to how well you know yourself.”
mistaya fucked around with this message at Nov 17, 2017 around 01:49
|# ? Nov 16, 2017 20:53|
Roll Call 1: Rupert Singh - Through the Looking Glass
Scene: Close to the VFW Hall
The fringes of town were completely abandoned. All that remained were husks of buildings with holes eaten in them, broken glass and signs of fires. “It doesn’t reset near the edges very often,” Lucy explained, as they saw more and more signs of decay.
“I won't ask what’s been knocking holes in walls,” remarked Rupert, eyeing what looked suspiciously like teeth marks on the edge of a large hole in the wall of what was, once, a warehouse.
Checking various pockets, he eventually retrieved a plain metal disc with a needle attached from inside his jackets - something close to a compass, but without directions. Pricking his finger on the needle, he explained, “While I’m no Elbridge when it comes to divination, I think the other Rupert and I should be similar enough that blood resonance should be able to track him down.”
Whispering a quick incantation to the disc, the needle spun three circuits at high speed before slowing to a lazy erratic away.
Raising an eyebrow, Rupert said, “How odd.”
“Something wrong?” asked Ed. He kept looking behind them, as if he could hear something that no one else did.
“Something odd. The connection is too faint to lead the way, but it’s there, so he’s not just bunkered down behind a ward,” replied Rupert before shrugging and wiping the needle clear. “It’s a bit strange,” he added as he stowed the 'compass’ in an entirely different pocket.
“Unless maybe that is the ward…” Hugues mumbled, looking nervously around.
“Could be some sort of misdirection ward,” conceded Rupert, slipping the talisman around his neck above his shirt. “I can't imagine he’d lose or block this, though.” Whispering another tracking incantation over the St Christopher’s medallion, he felt a slight tug as it was drawn towards its twin.
It pulled him in the direction of the VFW hall, where Elbridge’s mirror had last shown his other half, right before Zophiel reduced the book to ashes.
The ground gave an ominous rumble, and the streetlamps all went dark. With no moon or stars above, they were plunged into pitch blackness.
Hugues sparked his flame gauntlet, and held his hand high like a makeshift torch. His face wasn’t amused. “Alright, nice try Grue. We’re not likely to be eaten today.”
The medallion grew warmer in Rupert’s hand, the target of its tracking spell close. Quietly - even with the flickering gauntlet-light, it didn’t seem safe to speak loudly - he said, “He’s nearby, and this looks like a trap. I just hope that he was the one who set it.”
“Well if it is him, he might be watching. Shout an inside joke to get his attention?” Hugues suggested, looking around the darkness for any movement.
Rupert nodded in agreement and started to whistle a few bars from an old marching song from long ago.
((A spot check. Rupert, Notice: +-++ +4 = +6))
Not far away, a twin to Hugues’ flickering flame appeared in a window. It blinked at them, but not in any recognizable pattern. It went out, then reappeared across the street in a different window. The compass Rupert held stayed steady. He followed the needle with his eyes but there was little to make out in the darkness beyond the reach of the gauntlet’s light. Little… but not nothing. A rustle of cloth, the curve of a hood that vanished behind a building… Someone was definitely out there, following them.
“I don’t like that,” Ed whispered, nodding at the odd candle-light as it bounced to a third window, this one closer to them than the other two. Lucy had vanished from sight underneath one of her veils and remained silent. “What should we do?”
Rupert’s whistling trailed off as he peered into the darkness, spotting the roaming figure. Glancing at Ed, he said quietly, “Can’t tell if the lights are a lure or a signal - and if they are a signal, damned if I can place what the message is.” Shaking his head, he stepped forward, and raising his voice - in the quiet darkness, even speaking normally sounded loud - and asked, “Are you out there, Rupert Singh?”
The window-lights responded by increasing in number.
“They’re behind us,” Ed noticed, standing back to back with Rupert. He had one of his flame-talismans between two fingers.
Something was coming through one of the windows. It was a dark, lumpy shape, the size of a small child. An odd number of boney, flesh covered wings stuck out from the body, and the eyes...
CRASH - the sound of the window smashing into a thousand pieces tore through the stifling silence. The flame flickering in the pane went out and the razor sharp shards of glass sliced into the misshapen thing as it squealed and bled.
“What are you waiting for?” Rupert’s voice shouted from the roof of the next building over. “Help me!” Another window exploded, taking the next bundle of meat and limbs to pieces.
|# ? Nov 16, 2017 21:59|
Roll Call 1: Rupert Singh - Something In the Windows
Combat begins! There are five remaining windows to destroy. Each window will disgorge a window-dweller at the end of the round. The NPC’s will be dealing with off-screened windows so this is up to Rupert and Hugues. Windows have 1 stress box and a static defense of 3.
Current windows remaining: 5/5
“Right, let’s get the hell out of here,” Hugues said, already hustling over to the building the other Rupert shouted from, firing away at the nearest window. The impact heated a chunk of glass, shattering the window as a melted glob soared away.
(Moving to zone 2, Hugues Fire Gauntlet zone 1 window (--b-)+5 = 2… that’s poo poo let’s reroll with an FP (+--+)+5 = 5. much better! Puck to Rupert.)
After a quick glance back to check on Ed and Lucy, Rupert jogged after Hugues, the shattered glass on the ground crunching under his steps. Standing, palm outstretched, he focused on the nearest window, summoning a quick spell with a whispered incantation. The bricks around the window frame began to shudder and shake, the glass window cracking from the outside in until it shattered, a rain of tiny shards falling to the ground.
((Also moving to Zone 2. Earth Attack vs the North-East Zone 2 Window: +++- +6 = +8 & W:2
SwS: “Earth Guardian”.))
Two windows were smashed to pieces, but otherworldly hisses emerged from the remaining three as they disgorged their contents. None of the creatures looked exactly like the other, each a mess of pieces that could have belonged to any number of New Orleans animals. About the size of stray dogs, they advanced on Rupert and Hugues as fast as their appendages allowed them to.
The lights in the three intact windows continued to glow.
(Top of the round, puck to Hugues. Three windows remain, and three creatures. The summoned window-dwellers have 3 stress each and no consequences.)
“Windows first!” Hugues hollered out as he ran further ahead. He wasn’t exactly sure what kind of spell was going on, but maybe it would stop more of these things from appearing. Hugues pulled out his shield, ready to keep the animal-things away so he could get another clean shot.
(Move to Zone 3, Hugues Fire Gauntlet +bb+ +5 = 7!!w2, very much a success with style. We’ll give Hugues “Defensive Stance”, puck to )
The dwellers didn’t seem capable of much thought. They simply wriggled, flopped, and slithered towards anything that was close by and breathing. One of them launched itself at Rupert, the other two at Hugues as he approached the last pair of mirrors.
Rupert’s hand shifted towards the creature seconds after he heard the claws scrape on the ground as it pounced, conjuring a disc of force in the air with a spell woven in his belt to stop the creature mid-pounce, dropping it to the ground in a slump.
((Attack vs Rupert: ---+ +4 = 2 vs Rupert’s Defense: -/-+ +5 = +4. Miss.))
The two abominations on Hugues pounced at him at once. The first one bounced straight into Hugues’ shield, which sparked and made distorted electronic noises on the impact. The second would have gotten a claw on his leg, but missed and rushed past.
(1st Attack vs Hugues Athletics (--bb)+4 = 2… vs = (-b-b)+4 = 2…, that’s a tie. Creature invokes Abyssal Mirror Dwellers, Hugues counter invokes Defensive Stance. Creature has Weapons:2, Hugues takes it on his Mental track due to Nintendium Shield stunt.)
(2nd Attack vs Hugues Athletics (b-bb)+4 = 3… vs (b+bb)+4 = 5!, that’s a miss!)
(Hugues Mental Stress: OX, puck to Rupert)
Stepping back from the scrambling (but momentarily dazed) creature, Rupert shifted his attention back to the wall, shifting and enhancing the remnants of the localized earthquake spell with a flick of his wrist. A large crack tore through the bricks and mortar, towards the remaining window, the window frame bending and crumpling under the rumbling force, the now-loose window pane falling lazily forwards to shatter on the ground.
((Rupert, Earth Combat vs the remaining Zone 2 window: /-/- +6 = +4
End of the Round. One more critter spawns due to the final window still being alive, totalling four.
Puck to Hugues.))
Hugues, on the other hand, prefered a much simpler method. He backed up and pressed his back against the wall, then backhanded the window behind him with fire. “There, no more can come in, let’s clean up!”
(Hugues Fire Gauntlet (-++-)+5 = 5 and that’s the last window! Pass to )
|# ? Nov 17, 2017 00:16|
Roll Call 1: Rupert Singh - Something In the Windows, Rnd 2/3
With Rupert’s momentary distraction, the creature gained the precious seconds necessary to pull itself up and shake away the dazed look on what might have been its face. Surging forwards, it darted sideways as Rupert conjured his shield in the air before lunging for his leg. Its fangs scraped along his leg but he lashed out with a quick kick to drive it back before they dug too deep. Being kicked in the head, however, only served to piss it off and it lashed out with a wild claw in response. Rupert conjured another shield in the claw’s path, but the claw glanced off, adding another gash to his already bitten leg.
“Hugues, watch out. They’re angry little buggers!” shouted Rupert as he stepped back from the snarling creature.
((Gribbly bites Rupert: +//+ +4 = +6
Rupert defends with a shield: +//- +5 = +5
Creature invokes Abyssal Mirror Dwellers
Rupert counter-invokes on Tommy in the Desert (FP: 5->4) to only take third box (OOX). Invoking an aspect triggers their stunt, “Fatal Frenzy” When an aspect in invoked in the presence of an outsider, it gains an extra turn.
Gribbly second attack: +//+ +4 = +6
Rupert shields again: ++/- +5 = +6, takes second box (OXX).))
In hindsight, backing up against the wall was probably a bad idea for Hugues as three of the ugly things started to surround him. “You--”
(Gribbly 1 vs Hugues Athletics (---+)+4 = 2 vs (-+b-)+4 = 3… Miss!)
(Gribbly 2 (bbb+)+4 = 5! vs (+b++)+4 = 7!!! Miss!)
(Gribbly 3 (-+-+)+4 = 4. vs (--b+)+4 = 3... Hit, and GM invokes to upgrade to a SWS but Hugues counter-invokes with the Experience oh right I have those “Not You Again”. 1 stress hit to Physical: XOOOO )
A stray claw nicked Hugues on the arm, but got tangled in his backpack. The zipper came undone and out came a downpour of loose cat hair, along with a very angry feline.
If you have ever heard a seriously angry cat before, Murray sounded like six of them in a wet bucket. He had not appreciated being stuck in that bottle, he did not appreciate being dumped onto the pavement, and he CERTAINLY did not appreciate being put face-to-notface with some horrible Outsider monstrosities. His yellow eyes turned red and his normally spiny fur turned downright spikey.
For just a second, he eyed Hugues, and there was something dangerous in his aura that Hugues had not seen before, but just as quickly he turned that rage on the dwellers. He gave his own personal battle cry and leapt on the one that had hit Hugues. “MRAWOAOAOW-HISSSSS!!!!”
Tentacle bits and purple goo and spikes and feathers flew in all directions.
(Puck to Rupert)
Wondering where Hugues had managed to get a pack of cats from, Rupert continued his measured retreat away from the creature, goading it into another pounce, uttering a whispered incantation under his breath as he waited for the moment. The creature, snarling, leapt as expected. Rupert dropped to one knee, placing his palm on the ground and releasing his spell. A slab of enchanted pavement rose up to meet the creature’s pounce, the creature’s head colliding with a sickening crunch. As it slid to the ground, feebly trying to scramble away as the slam dropped forwards, crushing it with a loud splat
((Rupert, Earth Attack: /-// +6 = +5 & W:2
Vs Creature’s Defense: +--/ +2 = +1 & A:1.
SwS, boost is “Deathcry: Splat”.
Round ends. Puck to Hugues.))
“Nice one!” Hugues said, as he clambered up a nearby trashcan to get away from all the claws and mouths. The sudden squishy sound managed to distract the animal things for a bit, despite not having ears as far as he could tell. He reached up to the frame of one of the empty windows and hoisted himself up to claim the high ground.
(Athletics Advantage (-b++)+4 = 5! to create the aspect The High Ground
Puck to gribblies.)
The three little beasts clawed at the wall for a brief moment, before each jumping up. The first one fell short, sliding down the wall like a cat. The second one managed to nip at his shoe. But the third one jumped on the other two to get up...only to scrape at his other shoe when they bucked it off..
(Gribble 1 attacks -b-- +4 = 1… vs bb+- +4 = 4., that’s a SwS for Hugues, “In The Way”)
(Gribble 2 +b+- +4 = 5! vs +--+ =4 = 4. That’s a 3 stress hit, which I’ll take.)
(Gribble 3 +-++ +4 = 6!! vs -bbb +4 = 3… boost with In The Way, Gribble counters, and boost again with The High Ground. 3 stress hit, rolls up to 4th.)
(Hugues Stress XOXXO)
Turning away from the crushed remains of the last creature in his immediate vicinity, Rupert spared a brief moment to glance down and check that the gashes on his leg weren’t an immediate problem (they weren’t, but he’d need to clean them sooner rather than later - who knew what these things were carrying) before he walked forward, towards the scrambling creatures - distracted for the moment by Hugues - and started muttering a spell.
The shards of glass scattered across the floor rose up, gathering and swarming in the air before Rupert, spinning in a cloud of razor sharp edges. With a flick of his wrist, Rupert released the spell, sending a hail of razor sharp glass at the nearest creature. It turned, just in time to spot Rupert and scramble back into an awkward position, opening itself up for the cloud of shards to punch straight through and clatter a beat against the nearby wall as the creature dropped to the ground, punctured by hundreds of tiny cuts.
((Rupert moves into Zone 3 and Force Attacks: +/+/ +5 = +7.
Gribbly defends: +/-+ +3 = +4
Use “Deathcry: Splat” boost in order to finish it and SwS for a new boost, “Caution: Broken Glass”.
New Round, Puck to Hugues.))
“Thanks for that!” Hugues shouted over, waiting for the next monster thing to try to claw at his shoe again. This time he didn’t shake it off, and put his gauntlet right next to it instead. For how alien these things looked...they smelled just like any other barbeque.
(Fire Gauntlet ++++ +5 = vs -b++ +3 = 4! yeah it’s toast. Gain Boost “Smells like Chicken”, and pass to Rupert to finish the fight)
“Enough of these bloody things!” growled Rupert, flinging his hand out towards the lone remaining creature, ”Poids Soudaine!” The air around the creature shimmered as the effect of gravity rapidly increased upon its frame, rapidly crushing it under its own weight until it wriggled no more.
Rupert leaned against the wall, catching his breath.
((Rupert, Earth Attack: +++/ +6 = +9 & W:2.))
|# ? Jan 8, 2018 00:34|
Roll Call 1: Rupert Singh, Finale
“You guys okay?” It was Lucy, rushing over with Ed just behind her. Looking over, Rupert and Hugues could see a string of broken windows and charred corpses where the kids had been left to handle themselves.
“Fine,” said Rupert, between deep breaths. Glancing down at his torn trouser leg, he added, “Feels like they only managed flesh wounds.”
“Was going to ask the same of you,” Hugues said, nodding at their work. “Did you see where the other Rupert went? Err, the other other one?”
Hugues was soon answered by the clunking sounds of metal upon metal from inside the next building, descending downwards and closer. From a nearby doorway - the door itself missing, no doubt discarded elsewhere - a lone figure emerged, a rifle held at his side, the crude axe-bayonet still wet from his own encounter with the creatures. With a gravelly, strained voice (that almost sounded like Rupert imagined he would if he’d taken up smoking well over thirty years ago and never stopped), he growled, “One less batch to deal with. Thanks for the assist, but you two shouldn’t be out here.”
The man was wrapped in a tattered cloak, his face was hidden behind a scarf, but his battered sunglasses did little to hide the fact that he was staring straight at Hugues and Rupert. “And where did Elbridge dig up a pair of Fetches? Or whatever other bloody face changers this pair are.”
“We aren't shapeshifters, we’re-” replied Rupert, only to be cut off by a growl and a swiftly raised rifle from the cloaked man. Glancing down warily at the rifle, he continued, talking fast, “We’re from a different timeline! Think about it, how would a shapeshifter know your spells and a bloody marching tune from the Great War?”
“He’s telling the truth!” Lucy jumped in between the pair of them and held her hands out protectively. “It was the book! Elbridge’s book finally worked!”
The rifle swung downwards, the axe-blade scraping on the ground. The man growled, “Several chunks of the city and all he got was a version of me with one arm and Hugues before he could reach the top shelf? Not El’s best trade.”
“Hey, chairs exist!” Hugues retorted.
Rupert shook his head and said, “We’re all here, everyone except Ada… and Richter. We think we have a way to fix everything and bring the city back home, but we need help to do it.”
The cloaked man, a far more battered, grizzled and just plain older version of Rupert, took a step back in shock at that one. He glanced around at the others, growling, “Ed? Lucy? This real?”
“Yeah, it’s real.” Ed smirked. “What do you say, old man? Up for a little dragon slaying?”
The older Rupert let out a noise that seemed to be a cross between a cough and a hollow laugh before he replied, “If it’ll get you two a chance at going back home, then point the way and I’ll see how many swings it takes to batter a dragon.”
Rupert glanced down at Hugues, clearly surprised by how well this was going. Looking up his counterpart, he asked, “Do you have any clue where Hugues is? Your Hugues, that is.”
“I was just planning on doing it the old fashioned way.” Hugues shrugged. “Go into my old apartment, and if he’s not there already find something to divine from.”
“No clue,” growled the older Rupert, “Not seen Hugues in drat near three years, not since that business with Cole. Not much time for socialising out here. Elbridge still using that Mexican place as a hideout?”
“El Gato Negro, yeah,” Lucy nodded. “Why, you thinking of going ahead?”
“I’d only slow you down,” came his growled reply, “Besides, if we’re taking on a dragon, I’ve got some stuff I need to rustle up from some stashes. Got a few surprises saved up for if any more of the big creatures tried to sneak in. Best if I just meet you there.”
The kids looked at each other, both seemed a little hesitant.
The older Rupert barked his almost-laugh, “I’m not going to shoot El this time. Probably.”
Rupert mouthed at Hugues, ”This time?”
“That’s uh...good,” Hugues stuttered out, shuffling his feet. “So, we should get moving then?”
“Probably,” Old Rupert growled, “Mind, I'm curious. If there’s two versions of us walking around, I guess that means there are two bloody Elbridges? The horrors of this place, they never end.” With a shrug, he lifted his axe-rifle onto his shoulder and started to walk away with an uneven, rolling stride.
|# ? Jan 8, 2018 00:41|
The Blood Bank
It always seemed like when the world fell apart, money stopped being useful and trading became necessary again. Only the essentials: food, water, medicine... Hugues was lucky that he stepped into one of the few sources of respawning cigarettes in the whole damned city. That's how the economy functioned. Whatever around you that came back you traded away. Larger tribes fought for power and territory, but most souls kept their head low.
It seemed twisted that his new trading partner was a Red Court vamp. Well, infected anyway. The Red Court took over the bloodbanks, trading medical supplies for blood. Or cigarettes, apparently. Hugues didn't know that even the Reds could become addicted to nicotine. But they didn't cause any trouble, so neither did he. Just business.
“You know, you're pretty brave,” the infected soul said as the two of them leaned against the back entrance of the bloodbank. taking a smoke break. “Not just stepping casually into our turf, but coming in to trade?”
“You have what I need, I have what you need.” Hugues said, shrugging.
“IV Bags? What kind of poo poo are you doing with these?”
“I've got a...let's call him an old friend.” Hugues inhaled deeply, choosing his words carefully. “Didn't take the shift well, needs them to stay alive.”
“Aliens get him?” Not everyone knew about the Outsiders. Most mortal souls and lower rank monsters had their own names. Aliens seemed to be a bit popular. Made just as much sense as any.
“Nah, just a coma. Gotta keep him alive, for as long as we're stuck here I guess.”
“Well, just be careful out there. Heard there's some new breed of alien roaming around.”
“New breed?” Hugues asked, raising an eyebrow. “They come in breeds and not amorphous death blobs?”
“Heh, not quite I guess,” the bloodbank worker chuckled. “Nah, this one's sneaky. Been real precise. Doesn't leave any survivors...or anything. Gets it's victims in it's sleep, next thing we know they're just dead. And they don't come back from that one.”
“Well poo poo,” Hugues shifted uncomfortably. “Any idea what it looks like?”
“Nope. No survivors, no trace. But they're the only ones that can do that kind of poo poo...” He glanced back through the window. “Well, my break's over. Gotta collect more donations. Here,” he said tossing a couple of IV bags to Hugues. “Stay safe out there.”
“You too,” Hugues responded, putting out his cigarette, and putting the IV bags in his pocket.
* * *
There was still plenty of more to do on this patrol before Hugues could go home. The last one stop was old and familiar. His old elementary school. When the skies turned black school just stayed canceled, parents not wanting to send their through the dangerous outside. Then the Outsiders started munching away at whatever souls they could find. Permanently dead parents created orphans. A handful of the teachers without local families set up the schools as a makeshift orphanages. There weren't many of them, and the students who had been there the longest grew into adulthood themselves and started taking over.
Well, adulthood tended to be a fleeting idea in New Orleans. Objects, bodies...everything tried to keep reverting to it's natural state. Same with aging too. Randomly flickering between ages, bodies shifting, clothes suddenly contracting to the new shapes. For the adult souls it wasn't as dramatic but for anyone stuck with puberty things became awkward. Fighting back against the monsters didn't help, when suddenly your sword felt different or your jeans constricting your movement. A few deaths and respawns later meant that Hugues had to do something permanent about it.
These days Hugues mostly stayed away from the school and did his own thing, although every now and then he passed by and checked in on them. As he walked by he noticed there was a light at the top of the gymnasium. That's where someone kept watch, and if the light was on that meant there was trouble.
He hustled towards the building, glancing through the windows. Personal belongings left on the floor unattended. From the lights in the building he could tell no one was around. Like everyone had just gotten up and left.That's when he heard the distinct sound of tires screeching. A white windowless van driving out of the parking lot. On the side was written “SAVE A LIFE, DONATE BLOOD TODAY!”
“poo poo,” Hugues grumbled, and reached for his coat pocket to grab the fire gauntlet. Squeezing the sides, the arrow of fire burst out and hit the front tire of the van, searing the rubber and popping it instantly. The driver jumped out to fight, and Hugues recognized him immediately. The infected soul who worked at the bloodbank he traded cigarettes earlier. The infected soul looked in shock as he recognized Hugues as well.
“What the gently caress are you doing here?” Hugues shouted, pointing his gauntlet at the infected soul.
“Me? I'm here picking up donations, what the gently caress is your problem, man?” The soul shouted back, grabbing a pistol stashed on his back.
“Where are the children?”
“What kids? I'm just here to pick up donations, we do this every week!” Nervously the vampire glanced at the sky. “Well, close enough as a week as we can remember.”
”Mr. Hernandez!” screamed a high pitched voice from the van. ”Help! We're in here!”
The infected soul looked back at the van to shout something back, but Hugues didn't give him the chance. He fired the gauntlet again, striking the leg, and closed the distance by drawing his sword and shoving it through the stomach. The infected soul collapsed to the ground, coughing up blood. Hugues took the pistol and fired it to end his misery. At least until he respawned.
Gasps and cries came from the van as the heard the gunshot. “It's alright,” Hugues shouted, “I got him. It's safe.” The cries quieted a little as he opened up the van. Several young souls, ranging from their body's original 9 years to 19 years after aging in the endless night. Each one carrying different levels of injuries, none fatal, but everyone was handcuffed.
The oldest, Hugues recognized her as Stacy the 6th grader who had taken over as a leader for the pack of young souls, was the first to get up. “Mr. Hernandez!” Fear settled into relief.
“Where are the others? Were there any more vampires?” Hugues asked, taking a look back at the building. From here he spotted two more vans in the distance.
“Just two, we're the only ones they found.” Stacy said, smirking a little. “We locked the vampires in the kitchen and cut the gas lines.” As if on cue, a explosion rang out and smoke rose from the other side of the campus. “Looks like they figured how to get out.”
“Well, they won't be bothering you for a while.” Hugues smiled, beaming with pride inside. This wasn't the first time they were attacked, and the gas lines were a defense tactic he taught them when he was still passing as a young soul like the rest of them. He gestured for them all to come out, and broke the handcuffs with his sword. In time, the endless night would make the handcuffs just disappear and back into whatever shelf they originally appeared. No need to bother looking for the keys. Hugues doubted the vampires or the infected soul even bothered to bring them.
“Thank you. Does this mean you're coming back, Mr. Hernandez?” Stacy said, rubbing her wrists.
“No,” Hugues shook his head. “I just happened to pass by.”
“Well, good timing. They've been trying for a while to take us, this was the first time they broke through.”
“And after today, I doubt they'll bother.” Hugues looked at the corpse next to him. None of the young souls were bothered by it. They've seen enough death already to scar them for the rest of their lives. “I'll take care of him. You all stay safe.”
“We will,” Stacy replied, then started organizing the young souls around her back to the school building.
* * *
Hugues lifted the body onto his shoulder, and started walking back to his apartment. When he reached the building, the body started to stir. The endless night had decided the gunshot was the first injury to undo.
“poo poo...” the infected soul said, in between coughs of blood. “They were gonna let me Feed. They said I had to earn my blood.”
“Why the children?” Hugues demanded, opening the door to his apartment.
“You think people came on their own anymore?” Laughs mixed into bloody coughs. “They know who we are, we gotta eat too you know. The kids were close by, nobody would miss them.”
“I thought you were better than this, that's why I traded the cigarettes with you.” Hugues dropped the infected soul in the middle of the room. “In the end you're just another monster like the rest, comrade.”
Nervously the infected soul looked around the room, as Hugues drew a magic circle on the floor with a sharpee – chalk didn't keep as well on carpet. “gently caress, you're it, aren't you? You're the loving alien?”
One by one Hugues lit seven cigarettes. Five points as a pentagram for the magic circle as makeshift candles, one put into the infected soul's mouth, and one for himself. “Breathe deep, and enjoy it. It'll be the last you ever feel.”
The five cigarettes around the circle suddenly burst into blue flames. Then the cigarette in the infected soul's mouth sparked blue. “What the gently caress are you doing?” He spit out the cigarette, which landed on the floor but remained burning. Smoke rose not from the cigarette, but from the infected soul's mouth into the blue flames. “St-stop it! I-I don't want to die!”
“Then you never should have attacked innocent souls.” Hugues exhaled a cloud of smoke from his own perfectly normal cigarette. ”Schlaf, arme Seele,” he chanted, “und bleib hier für immer.”
The blue flames fizzled out, having burned their way through each of the cigarettes. Their smoke jumbled together in form, vaguely trying to take bodily shape. Hugues opened a window. “You'd best run. They can smell you now.” The soul-smoke immediately flew out, and Hugues closed it behind. Only a soulless husk of an infected body laid on the floor, the necromantic ritual to separate the soul from the body complete.
He left the body on the floor, in a few hours it'd fade away to it's original spot like every other inanimate object. The Outsiders would hunt down the disembodied soul like a pack of wild animals. Served the would-be vampire right, doing the same for the young souls. Instead there was one last thing he had to take care of before he could start making dinner.
“Hey kiddo,” Hugues said, patting the familiar soulless husk on his bed. The young body was a little warm, so he took off the top bedsheet. He took out the IV bags from the bloodbank, and hooked it into the young body's wrist. When he glanced back at the body's face, it wasn't so young anymore, and suddenly took up most of the bed.
With the IV bag in place, Hugues' old body would stay alive and relatively healthy for a while longer. For now, there was vampire blood all over his current borrowed body he had to clean up.
|# ? Jan 8, 2018 00:49|
GM NOTE: While Hugues Turner was active in alternate-New Orleans, (as seen above,) the party was not able to find him in time for the battle with Tor, and had to return to the bar without him.
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:27|
Scene: Near Sun Hill Apartments
At first glance, the neighborhoods around Angel Towers existed much like they had before Six-Twenty: neither upscale nor run-down, with neat lines of houses and neat lines of trees along the street. Some of the houses could use some maintenance and some of the trees could use some trimming, but that scarcely mattered anymore; the resets had left it all untouched.
Then they started noticing the holes.
They were small at first, like someone had taken a rifle on a shooting spree. Then they were the size of baseballs, and then cannonballs, the backyards clearly visible straight through any walls or furniture in the way. Then they reached a house that had been smoothly scooped out from roof to back door, straight through a bed’s headboard on the second floor, like someone had taken a hot knife to a chocolate sculpture.
It explained why they hadn’t seen any signs of life. The apartment building itself looked whole, when they reached it, but it was in stark contrast to every other worm-eaten structure around it.
“No Dune references, please,” Elbridge muttered. He didn’t like the place. Even setting aside the Outsider damage (and he wasn’t about to set that aside at all) it felt exposed. The streets were too open, and anyone could be watching from inside those houses.They had no way of approaching the looming high-rise unseen.
“Never got past the second chapter anyway.” Marcine was almost at his elbow. The buzzing in her head grew louder the closer they got to the barrier, and they’d already abandoned the car when the engine started protesting, but there was something else in the air beyond that. Something that made her want to walk back to the empty gym parking lot and get the hell out. Judging by the scenery, though, she couldn’t blame her(self?) for putting up a wall of Go Away.
“There’s lights on in the apartments,” Seth said. He needed to say something to ease his nerves. “But only from the third floor up.”
Wasn’t hard to figure that one out. “With Outsiders and vampires around, I’d want a warded buffer zone between me and them.”
“A house built to hold up against the rising tide.” It sounded like El, but the voice came from too far away, and El just looked perplexed until he saw the house with the door ajar--the only intact one on the street. The light on the porch was out, but even the wan streetlamps were enough to show the blindingly-white sleeve reaching through the doorway. “Sensible, in a place like this - at least, until the tide stops going back out. A word, please?”
“How’d Colonel Sanders get here?” Marcine asked flatly. “What the hell happened here?”
“The Outsiders came,” El-two said, waving them in. “Inside, if you please.” Once they were all safely within, he closed the door and addressed his double. “Again, I must stress that it was a very poor decision for you to come here.”
“I take issue with your calling it a ‘decision’,” Elbridge said dryly. “This crack in reality wouldn’t have stayed contained forever. The Outsiders are already trying to widen it - they’d have battered down the Gates already if Winter wasn’t keeping them in check.”
“Not to the city,” El-two clarified. “Here. Angel Towers. You shouldn’t be here.”
“Is she still alive?” Seth asked.
El-two simply looked incredulous at Seth’s question for a moment before it hit him. “Ah, I forgot. You’re still...death doesn’t take here, remember? She hasn’t been eaten by an Outsider, so yes - she’s still alive.”
“Then I should be here. She’s my daughter.”
“You absolutely should be here,” El-two said. “I was referring to him. Us. If we’re to convince her to help, we should not be present.” His spectacles had begun to slide off of his nose; composing himself, El-two pushed them back up to the bridge. “She said that she never wanted to see me again. I can’t expect that she’d react any better to you.”
“What happened?” Marcine asked again, then motioned to their surroundings. “Or let me guess--was this your fuckup?”
El-two arched an eyebrow. “Why would you even - ah. Pontchartrain. Of course he would have told you.” He sighed. “He blames me for the barrier’s ongoing collapse. The truth of the matter is more complex than that, but I didn’t come here to make excuses. Yes, I had a hand in this.”
“The book,” Elbridge said icily.
“The book,” El-two confirmed. “After I began sending messages, the boundaries began to shrink - shrink faster, I should say. Metres instead of centimetres. Cracks appeared, and larger creatures began to come through.”
“Apparently.” It sounded to Marcine like the people blaming him were right, but blame didn’t matter to the people who’d been eaten already. They couldn’t accomplish anything without losses… “Well. If she hates you, and sees you and herself walking up, I don’t see anything whatsoever going wrong here.”
“You should be more concerned with what happens when her guards see him,” El-two said ominously.
Seth stiffened. “What guards?”
“Thralls,” El-two said. “‘Rehabilitated’ vampires. Oh, and it may be prudent for you to engage the safety on your firearm,” he told Marcine.
“Why--” she started to ask, trying to imagine a vampire turning a gun on her. It seemed extremely impractical. Then she went a bit pale. “She wouldn’t have actually…”
“As I said,” El-two said listlessly. “Death doesn’t take.”
Marcine reexamined the situation. Outsiders had attacked. That was the one way people didn’t come back. If she wanted to protect people from that, and had no hope of escape, and couldn’t just kill herself, and no one else stayed dead… Then why not just mind control a vampire? Although if she had vampire guards and guns, making someone shoot himself seemed excessive. Sun Hill. Cheery name. Sure. She suddenly had no idea what she’d find in there. It might not be her at all.
She’d used that as an example of something she’d never do for bad jokes, for gently caress’s sake.
“Hardley, if I wanted unrelenting defeatism I’d have asked Rupert to come along,” Elbridge snapped. “Do you have any actual advice for us?”
“Don’t go inside,” El-two said simply. “If you’re going to help, it won’t be from speaking with her. This is not about power or skill at magic, although you’ll need those things as well. First and foremost, she’ll need someone to talk her down from her ledge. That cannot be you.”
“Why would you say that?” Elbridge asked, suspicious. “That we will need magic? Not that we might, but that I will?”
“Miss Sterling, were you born on 31 October?” El-two asked, apropos of nothing.
“Then neither was the Marcine Sterling in Angel Towers, which means that she is not star-born. This makes her ability to hold off Outsider incursions - seemingly alone and unaided - a matter of some concern,” El-two explained. “A great many evil magics were set free by the Solstice, and I worry that one of them has found its way into her hands.”
“Such as?” Marcine asked.
“Ghosts, demons, renegade Loa, dread artifacts…”
“Our basement?” Elbridge interrupted.
“Lost early to the encroaching barrier,” El-two said. “I destroyed what I could and moved and secured what I couldn’t. In the chaos after the first Solstice, and again after her departure, I was able to account for…most of the collection.”
“When you see your double,” Elbridge told Marcine, “be very wary of any rings or amulets she’s wearing.”
“She wouldn’t use them!” Seth snapped, unable to listen to El-two’s accusations any longer. “If there is one thing, one single thing that I taught her it’s that all power comes at a cost.” He looked down at Marcine, shaking his head in confusion. “You wouldn’t...” But there was an unspoken question in the air between them. Would you?
“I wouldn’t,” she muttered, in the same tone as he’d said her mother was fine.
Her father turned a stony glare on El-two. “Well then. If we need to face your collection of misfit toys, bringing one of you along seems like our best chance of reaching the upper floors, no matter how much my daughter hates you.”
“This is the worst part of being a seer, you know,” El-two said glibly. “Warning people and knowing in advance that they won’t listen.”
Elbridge gave his double a look of mild disgust. “I’m beginning to see why they don’t.”
“I performed a reading,” El-two said bluntly.
“When?” Elbridge demanded.
“The moment you entered the city,” El-two said. “If you enter Angel Towers, it will end in tears.”
Elbridge crossed his arms. “Show me.”
El-two checked his watch. It was a cheap, knockoff Rolex, and not the golden pocketwatch that Elbridge himself carried; privately, he wondered about that. “Six minutes eleven seconds. Let me borrow your deck, because I don’t have time to repeat myself.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:34|
Reading Is Fundamental
Scene: Somebody’s Empty House
The cards lay on the home’s polished countertop, arranged in the traditional Celtic Cross spread. El-two had taken just enough time to orient them properly before vanishing again, presumably to meet up with Angie. It fell to Elbridge to explain.
“The two in the centre...well, those are simple enough. The Hermit and The World. One of those is myself - was myself, until very recently, and it would seem to still be the card of my double - the other the source of vexation.” He scratched at his chin. “Given our mission, I do suspect that The World is a bit less metaphorical than usual. Now, as for the foretelling…”
He tapped the leftmost card. “The left arm of the cross. It signifies the past, and provides context. The Seven of Coins signifies...well, failure. A particular kind of failure, I should say - frustration at every turn, despite all efforts. However, it also signifies patience and persistence. Its juxtaposition with the right arm - the Six of Staves, or Victory - is an encouragement. Sort of the divinatory equivalent of a ‘Hang In There’ poster.
“The upper and lower arms provide context. They reveal things that colour the querent’s perspective. Here, in the upper position, The Star, a symbol of hope; again, I suspect, not so figurative in its meaning. No-one here has seen the stars in a very long time. Below, the Five of Swords. Another sign of failure - specifically, the failure of logic in the face of an illogical dilemma, and of bitter partings of ways.”
“That seems more about him than anything else,” Marcine observed.
“Of course it is, but the reading must be taken as a whole, or the meaning disappears,” Elbridge said. “The four cards of the staff provide the advice, which means that it’s guidance on his course of action, and why he passed it along to us. Here, the top card - the Two of Cups. Harmony of counterparts. Equivalent actors, but not identical ones. We’re meant to cooperate with our doubles. And your card, Strength, below that, indicates something that the querent cannot control. Yes, I can see his reasoning here...only Marcine Sterling can change Marcine Sterling’s mind. And the last two, the warning-”
He stopped. The final two cards of the Celtic Cross were usually a warning - an inauspicious actor or action, and the most likely outcome if nothing were to change.
They were the Inverted Chariot and the Tower.
“...er. That...does not bode well.”
“The Chariot is my card,” Elbridge said. “Inverted, that means that it’s...crashed. And the Tower spells disaster. The last time I drew these two cards, the actor in question spent several days in a coma before being forced to run for his life. I think the manhunt for him is still on. Rick was still dealing with the fallout from his actions for months afterward.”
“If the goal is to make this sound like a bad idea, you’re both doing great.” Marcine closed her eyes wearily and slumped against the back of the dusty couch. “But seeing as I’m the one no one saw coming, or no one controls, or whatever the hell I am now, this adds up to a ‘be careful,’ which we knew already.”
“Which one of these is my card?” Seth asked. His eyes bounced from one end of the spread to the other like he was missing more than just that piece. “Or am I the only one being left out here?”
“Hmm...you don’t seem to be accounted-for in this reading.” Elbridge opened the lacquered box containing the rest of his deck and offered it to Seth. “Draw one, if you please.”
He took the top card and flipped it over.
“The Magician. Drive and intensity. Single-minded pursuit of a goal, and a certain disregard for procedure where it stands in one’s way.”
“Sounds about right,” Marcine said with a slight smile, while Seth looked unsure how to take that description.
“Take heart,” Elbridge said with as much cheer as he could muster (which really wasn’t much). “This doesn’t mean you have no part in this. It means that your part isn’t pre-ordained.” He looked at that Inverted Chariot gloomily. “Unlike mine.” He took back the Magician and scooped up the cards on the countertop.
One of them fell back down. It had been stuck to the bottom of the Chariot, likewise inverted. The Hanged Man.
“...curious,” El said stiffly, before brusquely returning it to the box as well and latching the lid shut.
Marcine frowned at the box. Knowing El, she wasn’t about to let that slide. “And that one meant...?”
“Sacrifice. Frustration. Giving one’s all and getting little in return,” Elbridge said, and then… “...it was Rick’s card.”
Marcine’s gaze slid down to Rick’s sword, in its duct tape sheath, and then to her hands, folded over her knee. “That sounds about right, too,” she said quietly. One hand curled into a fist. Wasn't fair… “Did it help any? What I said last night.”
“It helped,” he said softly. As much as anything ever can when a friend has died. Except, as he’d seen in the Gato Negro’s upstairs office...no. It was too early to say what that meant, if it meant anything at all.
Marcine relaxed a little. She hadn't wanted to make things worse. “I'm glad it did.” She stood with a sigh. “Forewarned is forearmed, or however that goes.”
“Quite,” Elbridge said, nodding sagely. “And speaking of forewarned, if you see anything from my basement - anything antique-looking or such - do try not to touch it. Or look directly at it for too long. Or speak in rhyme.”
“Business as usual, then.”
Seth looked between his resigned daughter and the man with the reality-breaking basement collection, and dropped his head into his hands with a sigh.
Marcine snorted. “It’s okay, Dad. You taught me enough to usually follow his advice.”
“Let’s go before I decide to write myself a stern letter,” he muttered.
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:36|
Roll Call 2: Tower of Illusion
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
The parking lot and sidewalk in front of Sun Hill were riddled with holes and cracks that definitely hadn’t been there when Marcine left home a world away. She almost walked right past it. There was an aura around the place that at first said ”don’t even look here”, and when that advice was ignored, more firmly insisted ”stay out.”
Had it been a movie scene, Marcine would be the one shouting at the idiot protagonists to stay away from the obviously evil house before they got murdered in the order of their moral failings. Under the circumstances, she clenched her teeth and forced herself to walk up to the doorway.
The holes mostly stopped about a foot from the building. The doorframe itself suggested why. The trim was covered entirely in tiny etched runes; carving them all must have taken hours. Some she recognized from El’s ward knowledge. Most of them were unidentifiable. They all gave her the feeling that if she stared at them too long, they might stare back.
They hadn’t been enough to keep everything out. Something very large had gouged the walls, and strange raised tunnels ran under the siding, but it all stopped around the third floor. If there were more wards up there, they weren’t visible from the ground.
“Do you recognize any of these?” she asked.
Seth had followed her without any sign that he’d noticed the aversion field. He studied them, but shook his head, frowning. “Only a few.” The ones he pointed to, she already knew.
She turned to look for Elbridge, and found him still at the side of the road.
“It’s, er...a work in progress,” Elbridge said, sweating profusely as he took one trudging step at a time toward the doorway at a pace that would have frustrated a tortoise. “Antipathic warding. Nothing I haven’t faced before, of course, but this one seems remarkably-tailored to my tastes...er, distastes.”
And how. El-two must have told Marcine’s double a great many things in confidence (or else she’d simply invaded his mind), because the things that Elbridge saw were far too specific to be the work of a simple veil. He saw the sooty faces and dead-eyed stares of the Imber coal-miners who’d survived the collapse, and felt his stomach churn again because he’d known it would happen, he’d wanted to say something but his mother had insisted he keep quiet about the things he saw that no-one else could. He smelled the hideous, putrid-sawdust stench of Willie Wylbore’s lurching corpse and saw his withered entrails spill like writhing grave-worms; the monster barely seemed to notice as it seized Elbridge and hurled him from the chapel roof.
He saw himself walk into Roqueza’s tent at Rick’s side, then leave without Warden Cole, telling himself that they’d be back in time to save him...
Elbridge had an antidote to that. It was his favourite antidote to bad memories, or vivid nightmares, or the crushing pangs of depressive guilt over the grinding horror of his work. He pulled out a flask and removed the stopper, taking a whiff of the contents’ heady bouquet. One gulp made the coal-diggers go away. Two got rid of the Black Court vampire that had been Willie Wylbore. A third, and he felt ready to take on the world.
Three gulps may have been a bit much, but who cared? It wasn’t as if “five o’ clock” meant anything here.
(Elbridge rolls Physique to Create Advantage in preparation for the challenge: -/+- +3 = 2, a failure. He takes the Advantage of “Liquid Courage” anyway, but also takes the negative Aspect of “Sip, Don’t Gulp”)
Marcine focused on the aura in the air. It felt strange. The magic was definitely hers, but much stronger; and whatever it was doing to him, it was tailor-made for it. Keyed to trigger an emotion, and that emotion seemed to be...regret. The violent kind of regret.
The magic didn’t want to listen to her, but it shifted to her command enough for her to ease off the pressure and put her own shield in its way. It didn’t seem to know what to do with like magic from a different source.
(Marcine’s Will to CA: (+//-)+4 = 4 to place the advantage “Mental Shielding”.)
That little nudge was just enough for El’s well-practised skill at repression to do the rest; resolutely, wearing a broad smile on his face, he marched forward into the tower.
Then, swearing and clutching his bruised nose, he actually walked inside.
(Elbridge rolls Will to Overcome: ///+ +5 = 6. With both tags, that’s a +10, beating the Obstacle Difficulty by 1!)
Marcine wondered if being drunk would be a drawback or a benefit as she followed him through the unlocked door. She felt a moment of disorientation past the threshold, but it was gone before she could figure out where it came from. A second later, she realized that the buzzing was gone and she stood in blessed silence.
It had been the main hallway of the first floor, once. Now it looked like a bomb had gone off here. The wallpaper was shredded, ceiling panels and insulation scattered about, scorch marks on the walls, more gouges in the floor like something had dragged itself through. A path wound through the debris toward the staircase, then out of sight around the corner.
However her counterpart had fought off the attack, it had taken its toll first. Marcine cautiously stepped further in and kicked a pile of debris, just in case. Her foot impacted it solidly and dislodged a panel, which slid to the floor in a puff of dust.
She abruptly had the distinct impression that someone was aware of her. She knew who, and she knew why, but it made her skin crawl all the same. She looked up out of reflex, though all she saw was a broken light. Seth was doing the same thing, so she wasn’t the only one who’d felt it.
“We come in peace?” she said.
The silence was deafening.
Seth walked past her, following the path toward the stairs. “Marcine, it’s me,” he said hoarsely. “I’m here.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:51|
Roll Call 2: Tower of Illusion cont
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
Marcine watched her three uninvited guests move across her illusory map of the first floor. “They woke me up for a repeat,” she said to her empty apartment, then pointed at her duplicate (wearing something she’d never seen before) and Elbridge (back to his awful shirts instead of the white get-up he’d taken to before she kicked him out of her life). “But this is original. I’ll give them that.”
“Lies born of half-remembered dreams,” said her companion, gently. “Bolder than their last attempt.”
“Maybe they’re going for ‘this is too weird to be made up’ and don’t understand how that works any better than they understand anything else. But if they got past the wards... Thralls?” She sighed. She’d been sleeping well a few minutes ago. That hardly ever happened. “Guess I’ll put in the token effort.”
“Even if they are human, they may carry unpleasant passengers. Be wary.”
“All the more reason to figure out how they got in.” No matter how convincing an Outsider looked, they always slipped something up eventually. And here she’d thought they’d finally given up on trying to out-people her. She dragged her finger across the map, between the image of herself and her ‘father.’ “No hitchhikers.”
On the first floor, a deeply unsettling sense of vertigo hit all three trespassers as the sound of grinding stone deafened them. A thick wall slid up from the floor between Marcine and Seth, and neither of them were able to move before it slammed into place, separating them. Dust particles drifted down from the ceiling.
The spectacle froze Marcine in her tracks, until reason caught up to her: There was no possible way she could build a real trap like that. She ran a hand over the wall. It felt solid, roughly textured, but that was to be expected. Tactile illusions didn’t hold up to force, though. So she kicked it.
(Empathy vs Diff 5: (-/++)+5 = 6)
It hurt. It actually hurt, as if she’d kicked a real wall. But something wasn’t quite right. Her leg swung farther than it should have and there was a slight delay, something that only she was sensitive enough to notice. The wall wasn’t real. But she wasn’t getting past it either.
That...shouldn’t be possible, as far as she knew. Must be some kind of mix of the illusion of pain and solidity and...she didn’t even know. What she did know was they couldn’t afford to get separated. She whirled to lunge back to Elbridge.
He wasn’t there. The room was larger than it had been, and cleaner: No broken pillars or piles of rubble where the front desk used to be. It looked like it had when she lived there. Fluorescent lights in the ceiling flickered on. There was a cat poster on the wall next to her that proudly told her to ‘Hang in there, baby!’
“Really?” she asked, staring at it as she mentally searched for El. She had to find him. She had to somehow prove to herself that she wasn’t an Outsider. And convince her that she was from another dimension, and time travel, and world trees... She wouldn’t believe herself if she was in her shoes. Which she was. “I hated that thing.”
“Er...Miss Sterling?” Elbridge said in a stage whisper, mindful enough to remember that they were unwelcome guests here. “Wizard *hic* Sterling?” They’d been at his side a second ago - at least, it felt like no more than a second. That flask of du Sangria at his hip felt awfully light, and so did Elbridge.
He thought that he could hear her somewhere nearby, albeit muffled. Had there been a cave-in? Were she and her father trapped under the rubble? Elbridge could use his magic to free them, if only he knew where they were. A whispered spell of guidance pointed him directly to his right, and he turned and…
...walked directly into another wall. And through the wall. His face emerged through that insipid cat poster, followed by his lurid shirt, like a drunken, technicolour ghost. He hadn’t expected to keep going, and stumbled and fell, and soon discovered that the floor, at least, was real enough.
(Elbridge has a Stunt that lets him use Notice instead of Empathy to counter Deceit! Thanks to “Just the Facts, Ma’am”, he rolls Notice -+++ +5 = 7 vs. difficulty 5 - success! He drunkenly blunders through Marcine-2’s carefully-crafted illusion.)
Marcine eyed her map skeptically. “Can Outsiders get drunk?”
“No, nor would they be able to feign it so convincingly.” A slight hesitation. “We still cannot allow them upstairs.”
“Could have gotten a thrall drunk so they didn't have to fake it.” She leaned back on her couch, thinking. “I don't know what would happen if the guards killed them while possessed…”
“You would probably need to make new guards. That one used magic, a moment ago.”
“Elbridge,” she muttered, like his very name tasted bad. “Maybe his stupidity finally caught up to him. I don’t know what the gently caress is up with the other one. Trying to make the guards think it’s me?” She snorted, showing what she thought of that plan. “What can you tell me?”
“Little from this distance. Shall I go greet our guests?”
“Go ahead.” Marcine scowled at the map. “If he’s not possessed, he might actually have something important to say.”
“I’m sure he thinks so.” Another slight pause, this one longer than the first. “The truth here may be simpler than you think. I’ll be back soon.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:54|
An Unwelcome Reunion
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
Marcine crouched beside Elbridge and put a hand somewhat firmly on his shoulder. Maybe it was best he stayed there for a bit. “I know this is weird,” she said to her unseen double. “It would be easier to explain face-to-face, but the short version is he’s not the El you know, and we have a way to get out of here and we could use your help to do it.”
No response. She frowned, thinking. Something an Outsider couldn't impersonate… She couldn't speak Welsh, but she knew something almost as confusing. She took her violin out of its case and stood as she started to play a soft and gentle melody. Maybe it was cheesy to go straight to video game music, but she loved that soundtrack and Outsiders probably weren't well-versed in conlangs.
...Well. Maybe Klingon.
(Rapport to overcome vs diff 7: (++++)+5 = 9! Hymmnos OP.)
“Beautiful,” said a gentle voice, when she finished. “A song that speaks to the heart.” There was a slim androgynous person standing just in front of her. They were extremely pale, with black hair tied back in a tight bun, and wore an eastern style silk robe in midnight blue, with silver embroidered into the sleeves. They dipped their head slightly in greeting. “Where did you learn to play it?”
Marcine lowered her violin slowly. She hadn’t expected a total stranger. Another illusion, probably--but a weird one. “It was from a game. I just listened to it a lot.”
“I know that game.” They walked in a circle around her, and there was something off about them, as though their movement didn’t quite line up with the steps they were taking. “Are you Marcine Sterling?”
Even with just two words, she felt the uncomfortable tug on her True Name. They knew the whole thing. This must be whatever her double had teamed up with. “One of them,” she said warily. “It turns out parallel universes exist. Who knew?”
They didn’t seem surprised. “Ah, the wizard’s beacon has attracted some would-be heroes at last. You are a long ways from home. But why have you come here? Surely you can do anything that she can.”
Like she was going to tell some possibly-evil Thing, even if they did know her Name. They seemed pleasant enough, but their demeanor put her on edge. Reminded her a bit of that vision from the grue’s cave. She pointed upward with her bow. “That information’s classified.”
They glanced up. “That area is restricted. If you want to speak to yourself, you must satisfy me first.”
“And who are you?”
“The property manager.” They smiled pleasantly.
Elbridge squinted while Marcine spoke to the empty air. It seemed empty, at least - if he looked closely, he could discern a faint distortion in front of her, a sort of fuzziness. But then, everything was a little fuzzy to him at the moment. “Why are you talking to yourself?” he asked. “I’m the one who’s drunk.”
The ‘manager’ glanced down at Elbridge. “Tsk. You could fix that.”
“That’s his problem,” she said flatly. “I don't even know how he managed it.”
“Grapefruit, absinthe, and just a dash of everclear,” Elbridge slurred.
“That’s not a drink, that’s a cleaning agent.”
“Sola dosis facit vomitum*,” El misquoted.
“Yet I’m the one talking to things that aren't there,” she sighed.
The stranger hid a laugh with one overlong sleeve. “For that, I will let him live a moment longer.”
That put Marcine back on guard. “We’re not here for a fight.”
“You shouldn’t be here at all. For the song, and the joke, I’ll grant both of you one opportunity to leave. I advise you to take it, and never return to this place.” They waved one pristine hand dismissively. “You can go die as heroes elsewhere, or here in my lobby, if you prefer. I don’t mind either way.”
She glanced toward the ceiling again. Her double had to still be listening. “We have a way out of here. Thought you might want in on that.”
A needle appeared in the manager’s hand, six inches long and sharp on both ends. “We’ve heard that before.”
Marcine wondered what an illusion was going to do with a needle. Her illusions couldn’t really hurt anyone. She could give the impression of pain, but it wouldn’t do anything. But she couldn’t have made an impenetrable stone wall, either, and she was starting to wonder if this was even the illusion it seemed to be. She didn’t sense anything, but that could be a block. She focused and pushed past it.
The person in front of her was neither a person, nor actually in front of her. It wasn’t an illusion in the usual sense either, any more than the glowing tip of an anglerfish’s lure was an illusion. It was merely a tiny piece of a much larger…
Much, much larger…
The word echoed inside her own skull. It was all around her, like a monstrous beast holding her between its paws. She lost sight of the apartment, of Elbridge, of everything. All she could feel in that singular moment was its overwhelming desire to own her. Like a living doll, that could be taken out and played with and put away when it wasn’t wanted. It was so strong that her empathic sense overloaded and after a brief, horrible burst of pain, blanked out.
The rest of her nearly went with it. The bow slipped from her hand. She staggered on her feet and just barely had the presence of mind not to trip on Elbridge. She knew that presence. She knew that helplessness, watching herself reach for a silver coin.
She nearly bolted. Running would have been the smart thing to do--take him up on his offer to leave and never look back. But Elbridge was here. Her father was here. She clamped a hand over the brooch like a talisman. “I’m sure Zophiel would love to get another crack at you,” she growled.
(Accepting a compel on “Singer to the Soul”; Marcine’s empathic sense is burned out for a while after trying to use it on a Denarian. FP: 5->6)
The image of the robe-wearing person was gone, but the voice in her head wasn’t. Its attention rested firmly on the brooch of feathers that she was clutching.
“Ah, so we’ve met before. I wondered if those were his.”
She crouched to put her violin back in its case, shaking Elbridge as she did so. She tried to add a cantrip to focus his mind, but a sharp twinge of pain in her own head told her that wasn’t going to work. “At least get up.”
“Oh, if you insist,” he grumbled, pulling himself haltingly to his feet. Elbridge clearly had a lot of practice at being drunk, keeping one hand on a solid surface at all times to steady himself. As it turned out, dealing with illusions wasn’t that different from dealing with inebriation.
Marcine slung the case strap over her shoulder and pounded a fist against the wall again. It was probably the Fallen’s work. Or both of them, she supposed, and wondered if her other self was still even her or if this thing had taken her over. Her jaw clenched. Warden swords were supposed to cut through enchantments, right? Elbridge was in no shape to go swinging around a sharp implement. “Borrowing this.” She pulled the sheath off his belt and drew Rick’s sword.
It was somewhat reassuring to have an enchanted weapon in her hand. She held it up and sighed. “Guess I should be glad that you can’t see me make myself a liar.”
She pressed the tip against the wall. It scraped, but didn’t feel right--sort of delayed, not where it should be. Her double probably hadn’t thought very hard on how to make a surface feel through another object. Marcine decided to focus on that, rather than how she shouldn’t have been able to feel it through a sword at all. It wasn’t really there and there would be no resistance. She drew her arm back and stabbed forward.
(Marcine’s Will vs diff 8 to dispel the wall, using the Reforged Warden Sword for a +2 bonus: (-+++)+4+2 = 8)
It passed right through. What little resistance she felt at first dissolved, and when she slashed it back out, so did the rest of the illusion.
There was nothing on the other side. Literally. A white expanse, bright and empty, like a scene from the Matrix. It spread before her eyes, erasing the apartment around and behind them.
Elbridge continued leaning on the empty air.
“A neat trick…but can you cut what’s not there?”
Marcine angled the sword to show what was in front of them in the reflection, but all it showed was more white. “Guess not,” she said aloud, and raised an eyebrow at Elbridge, still propped up on nothing.
Elbridge maintained his slouch against the absent guardrail, only listing to one side once he noticed the change. “Why’d you go and do that?” he grumbled. “T’was real enough for me…”
Marcine did not have the patience for this. “Sober up. This is a loving Denarian.”
Elbridge blinked. Then he blinked again. Then a third time, as if to confirm that yes, this really was happening. “...balls,” he muttered. “I was right. I’ll bet I’m simply insufferable about it, too.”
“I’m sure. Do you have a way to get over it?”
“I delivered my Master’s dissertation on a fifth of vodka,” Elbridge stated, and pulled out the cloth-wrapped bundle that held the faerie mirror. “I’ll manage.” He cleared his throat. ”Mirror, mirror, in my hands / We find ourselves in unmapped lands / Where pathways twist and visions lie / A safe path up, I bid thee scry.”
(Elbridge rolls Lore: Divinations to Create Advantage by letting us see the truth through any intact mirrors left in the apartment complex: /+/+ +5 = 7, nice. Aspect placed: “Not-So-Sober Reflections)
The mirror went opaque for a moment, shadows flitting across the surface like ripples in a pond, before a single clear image appeared. It was strangely distorted, bowed as though the surface was curved instead of flat. Elbridge could see himself from the side in it, and Marcine, and a ruined lobby that resembled what they’d actually walked into when they first entered.
“See?” He held out the mirror for Marcine to observe. “Not to worry.” While they looked, he furrowed his brow, searching the image. “...or perhaps we should. I can’t see Wizard Sterling anywhere.”
“Dad can handle himself.” But against a Denarian who used the same kind of magic she did? Marcine sounded more certain than she felt. She turned until she was facing her own reflection, grabbed El’s arm and started walking, holding the sword angled out in front of her in case something else decided to get in their way.
“A toy for every trick, I see…” But the Denarian didn’t interfere further; its presence simply followed her, like a vulture.
It was like navigating a maze, upside down and backwards. She managed to keep herself oriented but if she hadn’t remembered what the lobby looked like before it was attacked she might have had a lot more trouble. When they reached the stairs she set one foot up, and as it took her weight, the white room dissolved like the other illusions before it, leaving her on the first step of a darkened stairwell. The lobby appeared again behind them, and for a moment it was quiet.
*”Only the dose makes the vomit”, a pun on Paracelsus’ famous adage “Sola dosis facit venenum”, or “the dose alone makes the poison”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:55|
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
“I’m back,” said the Denarian.
“They’re telling the truth,” Marcine observed.
“Hardley is too drunk to appreciate my illusions,” they sounded a bit miffed. “They seem determined to talk to you, even knowing about me.”
“Guess it actually is important.”
“What should we do with him?” they asked, as Seth’s dot remained isolated and motionless in the first floor broom closet. “I’m not sure why he hasn’t come out of there yet. I didn’t do anything to keep him there.”
She frowned at the dot. If they were real, then so was he, and her father was not indecisive. She sent her awareness through the wards that covered every exposed inch of the walls until she sensed his presence and watched. His thought process seemed to be...looping. Trying to get around a concept that kept dragging it back without resolution. A mental compulsion at odds with what he wanted to do.
She hadn’t seen him in years. It might as well have been a lifetime ago. He wouldn’t like what he found. Why had he bothered to come all this way? Because once he knew there was a way in, nothing would keep him out… She lightly reached out to his mind. “What the hell did she do to you?”
His response was a jumble of impressions before he seemed to remember how to answer properly. “Marcine? It’s-- That’s you? Mine?” His mental voice trailed off into another incoherent mess. Mostly, she sensed confusion. This wasn’t how his brain normally worked, and he had no idea why he couldn’t think straight.
“Yeah. It’s me.” Her influence was limited from so far away, but she probed at the mental block as best she could. “Just sit tight, Dad, I’ll be down soon and I can fix it.”
He answered in wordless acknowledgement, and she drew back to her own head. “She put a mental block on him,” she said aloud. “I can’t even tell what it’s for from here.”
“That’s your father?”
“Yeah.” She glared at the dots in the stairwell. “I guess now I can say it’s personal.”
“Should I send the vampires to keep them downstairs? They seem well prepared for our defenses, but we shouldn’t let them disturb the residents.”
“I’d have to get new guards. These were hard enough.” She took her rifle off of its wall-mounted rack beside the door. “Let’s go.”
The second floor was a long hallway with doors on either side leading to individual apartments. The stairs themselves rounded a corner and continued up. There were wards on the floor and the wall of varying sizes, some painted delicately in light blue and some carved directly into the plaster and tile, all intricately woven together into larger patterns.
“Well, that’s not encouraging,” Elbridge mumbled. “We won’t get past those without their keys, and cutting through them all will be a bother…”
(Elbridge rolls Lore: Wardings at the wards: ++-+ +5 = 7, nice. If there’s an aspect or boost he gets out of this, I’m calling it “I’ve Covered Wards, You Know”)
Marcine leaned in for a closer examination. If she’d made them, she ought to be able to figure out how to unmake them, unless they were the Fallen’s handiwork. The bottom of the door frame was peppered with the same kind of small holes they’d seen outside. Now that she looked closer, they were on the floor, too, some boring into the tile and others forming shallow wriggling paths along it. Just how far had the attack reached?
What mattered was that the wards were undisturbed, so her father hadn’t come this way. She looked down the hallway, but the place had an air of long disuse, at odds with how everything else outside the attack zone had barely changed. He might have stayed downstairs. Marcine frowned, debating whether to continue or backtrack to find him first.
The door to the next floor up creaked open and she recognized the sound of her own boots (the fashion ones that weren’t for stomping around the woods) on the stairs. The version of herself that had allied with a fallen angel and started a cult. Marcine swallowed and stood her ground as her double rounded the corner and stopped on the landing.
She was dressed in a black, loose blouse and jeans, carrying a rifle at her hip. Which, in a second, was leveled at her. “What did you do to Dad?” the other Marcine asked coldly.
Marcine blinked. “Where is he?”
Her double descended the second flight slowly, aim unerring, though she held the gun oddly. “Hiding in a closet on the first floor. Because someone hosed up a compulsion so bad that he can’t even respond to me properly.” She stopped at the foot of the stairs and spared a glance at Elbridge that held nothing but contempt. “So what did you do?”
That shouldn’t have happened. It had been barely a nudge. "He wanted to come over here on his own, but it was too dangerous, and I didn't have time to try to convince him. You know how he gets. It was just to keep him safe."
She felt an odd pressure in her head, and the memory she had of the conversation froze, like it had been caught before normal thought processes could slide it away. "You were at the bar,” her double said, and sighed as her thoughts returned to normal. "If you couldn't convince him it was a stupid idea in the ten minutes it takes to get through that drat airlock, I might as well put you out of your misery. Why shouldn't I?"
She’d just read her mind. Granted, they were the same person, so that was probably easy, but that was a lawbreak (or was it?), and she didn’t even care. It took Marcine a moment to find her voice. "Because we don't respawn."
Her counterpart blinked, like that was an alien concept, and turned her cold regard to Elbridge. "If he didn't come back, it would have saved me a lot of trouble."
“Jus’ imagine how I feel,” Elbridge slurred. “Ms. Sterling, I am very disappointed in you. Both you’s. It’s as if I’m talking to myself.”
“You weren’t invited,” she said flatly.
“And you’re a Denarian,” Elbridge said.
Her lip curled. “And you're why. loving congratulations.” She shifted her aim to him.
Marcine quickly stepped between them. “He’s not the one you know.”
“Isn't he? He was loving with Outsiders long before any of this happened. It was deal with Shamsiel or watch everybody die for good. Meanwhile, you made a mess out of Dad’s head because you were impatient. So you can both gently caress right off." She stalked across the wards and past them both.
She paused before she entered the next stairwell and turned back exasperatedly. “Doesn’t explain why you feel the need to bother me.”
“Your father is worried for you. He’s been worried for six years, and for damned good reason,” Elbridge explained. “It was all we could do to stop him from storming the Towers the instant we were through the - ‘made a mess out of his head’?” he finished, almost falling over as he whiplashed toward Marcine. “You...surely you didn’t…”
He thought back to his heated argument with his own double, and the talk of what this city’s Marcine had done in extremis, and of Seth’s surprisingly sudden acquiescence to their plan. “...you broke the Laws in the middle of an argument about your breaking the Laws?!”
“It-- it wasn’t reading his mind or forcing him to do anything. He wasn't rational. It was just a little nudge so he’d see sense. It was supposed to be gone in a few seconds. Was I supposed to let him wander off on his own?” Her own voice sounded weak. “There’s no way this should have been a problem…”
“When you find y’rself saying that, there’sh already a problem,” El slurred. “Stopped meself over a century ago, right after ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’”
Marcine needed a deflection. She addressed her double. “The reason we’re here--”
“Save it,” she interrupted, and pointed down the stairs. “You’re staying in my sight.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:57|
Hold My Flask
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
The weight of the sword in Marcine's hand felt heavier and colder with each step down. When they returned to the ruined hallway, her double went straight for the coat closet, and Shamsiel appeared leaning against the wall, looking amused by the whole situation. She put her back to the opposite wall and pointedly ignored him.
She was an idiot. A basic compulsion should have faded, but her father was hiding in a storage closet. How could she gently caress up something that drat simple? Why had she even thought it was a good idea? She'd promised Rick, and even Bellworth, and here she was, not a day later.
She held the sheathed sword out to Elbridge, glaring at the floor. "I don't deserve to hold this."
“What, and I do?” Elbridge slouched against the wall for support, wiping his ruddy face on his shirtsleeve. “Granted, I’ve had a bit of practise, but that was ages ago...ah! Practise!” He nodded sagely (to disguise his nodding drunkenly). “Control of your magic takes practise. Like surgeons, cutting on dead frogs and then dead people before they move up to live ones. If you’re going to use it in such a fashion...well, first off, don’t, unless the fate of the world hangs in the balance - which it does, at the moment. But yes, you’ll need practise if you don’t want to make scrambled eggs of peoples’ brains.”
“Yes, we’ve been over that.”
“Alright.” Elbridge shrugged and reached out for the sword. “If it bothers you that much, I’ll take it for now. Probably mangle my other leg while I’m at it.” The blade slipped a few inches from its patchwork sheath, and Elbridge glumly eyed his reflection in the polished silver. “...don’t know that he’d be any prouder of me right now.”
The one that Rick thought was the only lawful one in the group. Angie had related what happened in the van. “I’m the one that let an Outsider in the car.”
“And I’m the one who let it into reality itself,” El reminded her. “Some problems...they’re older than us. Mistakes made before we ever had a say in the matter. And it’s bloody exhausting, having to deal with it all, but...there’s no sense in blaming yourself for things that were always out of your hands.”
Marcine snorted in dry amusement. “Sounds familiar.” She pushed away from the wall and started pacing, avoiding the scattered debris and claw marks in the floor. “If they were in my hands, I could do something about them. And this one sure as hell was. So where do I decide when they aren’t?”
“Well, when you find yourself going outside the Laws of Magic and giving causality a lethal hernia, you’ve probably gone too far,” Elbridge told her. “Just look at what happened when Titania looked at her daughter’s death - senseless and awful, and stemming entirely from our Aurora’s own decisions - and decided that she could undo it.”
“One of these things is not like the other.” She kicked a piece of rubble toward the entryway irritably. “Can’t hold to something simple for a drat day.”
“They come from the same place,” Elbridge mumbled. “I believe - for whatever that’s worth - that what matters is a commitment to doing the right thing. Even if you cock it up. ESPECIALLY if you cock it up, because this bloody stupid world is too precious to let die for our innumerable failings.” He rested on the sword like a cane, sheathed point down. “Rick knew that.”
Marcine came to a stop and laughed softly despite herself. “Can’t argue with that.” She touched Ada’s pin and the feathers beside it, and shot Shamsiel a sidelong glare. “Guess if I’ve got an actual angel still in my corner, I can’t be loving up completely yet.”
“And where is he now, your angel?” Shamsiel asked, quirking an eyebrow up. “Leaving you to help yourself, again. Just remember, it’s my power you came looking for, in the end.”
Elbridge glared up at the Fallen through bloodshot eyes. “And just who the gently caress are you again?”
Marcine’s skin crawled at the reminder. He probably knew that his presence unnerved her, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing it. “Just some prick.”
Shamsiel smiled unpleasantly. “Why, I was Marcine’s first teacher. I showed her how to make scrambled eggs. She was quite the eager student.”
Elbridge looked at Shamsiel, sizing them up, recognising the former angel for what it truly was. It took him another moment to parse the scrambled eggs remark through his fading buzz, and a third for Elbridge to make up his mind about him.
“You’re a grasping little parasite who latches onto real talent like a Broadway producer so you can finally feel useful again. Say what you will about your prick of a brother, at least he carried his own loving weight.” Elbridge had the Fallen figured for a certain kind of predator - the kind that looked for a crack in one’s psychological armour, then worked to widen that crack. Give him an inch to work on this Marcine, and he’d take the entire bleeding mile. It was imperative not to give him that inch.
“That’s against the rules,” Shamsiel’s smile never left their face, as they approached Elbridge. “If he’s meddling, then so can I. I can’t wait to see just how much damage I get to cause when I get out of here. When you help me get out of here.”
“B-b-but daaaaa!” Elbridge affected a simpering whine. “Zophi did it first, so I can do it too!” He snorted. “Your brother’s not even here, and you still feel like you need his permission to be an insufferable cretin? Giving yourself too little credit, that. Or perhaps not - shouldn’t be surprised you’re hiding behind your little rules when you’re already hiding behind fortress walls, an army of thralls, and a woman whose smallest finger is more than your sad excuse for a backbone. The world’s coming to an end and we’re all very likely about to die, and this is what’s important to you?” Elbridge spat on the floor. “Go haunt a cathedral or some such. You’d fit right in with all the other monsters frightening children, and your father might actually care for once.”
“HE IS NOT MY BROTHER!” Shamsiel shouted, as if that were the only insult in the entire tirade that had struck a nerve. The darkness in their eyes was terrible and full of promise, but a moment passed and nothing happened. The ground didn’t shake, the lights didn’t flicker, as if they knew that Elbridge would only scoff at such illusions. “You will regret those words, Hardley,” they added, very quietly, and then vanished.
Marcine’s gut unclenched when they were gone and she laughed in nervous disbelief. “Goddamn, remind me not to piss you off.”
“Never humour a monster that pretends at being a god,” Elbridge said, and there was real venom in his tone. “They need people to believe in them to do all of the other awful things they’re too cowardly to do on their own.”
“Plenty of people don’t even know they exist. That doesn’t seem to stop them.”
“No, I meant that they need people to buy into their aura of celebrity, and - oh, never mind.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:58|
|# ? Mar 21, 2018 16:31|
A Welcome Reunion
Scene: Sun Hill Apartments
All Seth knew was that he was alone, and being alone was terrifying.
It had occurred to him that it might be some effect of Marcine’s traps, several times, but each time it was overwritten by a gnawing sense of dread that made his stomach churn. If he moved, something terrible would happen. Safer together. But they weren’t together. Over and over, no matter how he tried to think of something else, like how this was nonsense. Or how he’d been fine until the wall appeared. Or that Marcine wouldn’t hurt him.
He was alone.
He wasn’t sure if he’d heard her reach his mind or if he’d just hallucinated it. She wouldn’t hurt him. Neither of her. He should scry, or track, or do anything but hide in a coat closet from his own daughter, staring into the conjured light in his hand--
Safer together. But he was alone.
The sound of footsteps outside roused him partway from his stupor, but the nagging thought didn’t leave until the door opened and he was looking up at Marcine. His Marcine. A weight of six years that felt like six decades lifted from his shoulders as she shut the door behind her and knelt beside him in the dark.
Marcine opened the closet to find her father sitting on the floor with his hands pressed to his head. He looked up and drew a shaking breath like the weight of the world had just been lifted off his shoulders. The compulsion eased off. She closed the door and let him pull her into a fierce hug.
“Marcine,” he said hoarsely. “Marcine… I’ve been looking for so long. I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, Dad.” He shouldn’t be here. Of all the people to wander in, it couldn’t be him, who’d drilled it into her head that power was never free and that the Laws existed for a drat good reason and all sorts of good, sane principles that had broken along with time, causality and death.
But...here he was. She’d never expected to see him again. Her eyes stung. “What are you doing here?”
“Finding you,” he said, as if that should be obvious, and it was, really. “We had no idea where to look until they arrived.” He loosened his hold but kept an arm around her, sitting beside him on the floor. “Now there’s a story.”
Marcine shot the door a dirty look. “Before you go telling it, I need to figure out what she did.”
“I feel fine now,” he said. “I’m...not even sure why I’m in here.” He looked around the tiny space. “Why am I in a closet?”
She snorted. “Because you haven’t come out of it.”
Seth rolled his eyes. “Of course. I suppose it’s about time I caught up with you and your mother.”
She smiled and leaned against his shoulder, letting her head touch his, and traced the compulsion again. She didn’t have to read his mind, just look for her own handiwork. What she found was a very simple compulsion: Just the impression of We’re safe together. It should have slipped into his mind, calmed the argument, and then faded without him even noticing it.
Except it had an addition, like a little knot in a chain. Marcine unraveled it. The compulsion slipped free like it was supposed to, and she was left with the entangling cluster of memory fragments. One, of leaving a man she cared for bound and at the mercy of an enemy. Ignoring the urge to help. Trusting him. A horrible, frozen moment when she reached for a mind that was no longer there. The impression that she’d already failed once, and how she couldn’t--absolutely could not--let it happen again.
“She was afraid of you coming here alone,” Marcine observed, “because something happened to someone else she cared about. It messed up something that should have been harmless.”
Seth ran a hand over his hair as if that could brush off the remnants of the compulsion. She sensed him going through several different emotional responses as he chose what to address. “The Warden,” he said finally. “It seems they were close. I didn’t meet him.” He sighed. “He used his death curse on the other side. Hasn’t even been a full day since yet.”
“Oh.” The compulsion made more sense now. Marcine watched the crack under the door, but the constant half-light didn’t cast any shadows to indicate where they were outside. “Where the hell did they come from?”
“It’s a long story,” he said tiredly. “The short version is that this is a separate timeline that split off from theirs. The split happened because of their Narcissus, who also caused all this--” he waved at their surroundings and banged his hand on the wall with a wince “--somehow, and they just happened to end up over here...somehow.” He rubbed his forehead like it hurt to think. “I only got there last night.”
“And they think they can fix it,” she said.
“If they can’t, no one can, because they managed to get Winter and part of Summer to work toward a mutual goal, and got the Council to move their asses, and then summoned an angel to top it off. Did I mention the demon in a kid’s backpack? Because they have one of those, too.”
Marcine laughed faintly. “Did they get the Red Court to call a truce while they were at it?”
“No, but that death curse took out one of their top members, and apparently in their timeline, someone wiped them out entirely with another.”
It sounded too ridiculous to be true, but though he said it lightly, he wasn’t joking. “So…”
“None of this was supposed to happen,” Seth said. “There’s a world where it didn’t, and we’re in a time dilation that’s made six years pass in the span of perhaps seconds to theirs, even outside this bubble.” He pressed a hand to his face. “They kept saying you were in the Nevernever, but I knew. I knew they were in the wrong place the whole time, but if they hadn’t shown up…” He sighed heavily and looked at her, squeezing her shoulders, as if to prove to himself that she was really there. “I wouldn’t have found you. Six years, and they solved it all in a week. Whatever they say they can do, believe it.”
“We’ve been trying to find a way out,” Marcine said. “I got nothing. Elbridge made everything worse. The Reds are the ones in power. I’ve had to fight off them, and Outsiders, and gently caress knows what else, and I can’t leave here if I don’t know for damned certain that it’ll mean everyone in this building is safe because they’re all hanging around outside my wards.”
Seth frowned. “The neighborhood was empty when we came through.”
“As far as you saw,” she muttered.
His mood shifted, and she already knew she wasn’t going to like where he was headed before he opened his mouth again. “Your Elbridge spoke to us before we got here.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“Have you broken the Laws?”
She grimaced, her head turned away from him. “I don’t know, does living in a nightmare version of Groundhog Day count if I had nothing to do with it starting?”
She wasn’t going to evade him. She never could hide things from him for long, and he’d find out somehow, if the duplicates in the hall really did have a way to fix things. “What do you want me to say? Laws went out the window with consequences and the sun. Death is just a shortcut home. When dying doesn’t matter, lessons don’t stick.”
“It’s not your job to teach lessons.”
“When people choose to start selling each other to the Reds in exchange for a good loving time, it’s someone’s job.” She laughed bitterly. “But don’t worry. I haven’t left this building in three years. Turns out you can’t save people from themselves.”
Silence for a moment. Then, “But you managed to fight off Outsiders.”
Elbridge had told her about Starborn. Her father would know, too. She didn’t want to tell him. But he’d find out soon enough. Shamsiel would make himself known one way or another. This had never even occurred to her. Meeting her father again had seemed impossible. She felt cold.
She lifted the necklace chain and let the silver coin on the end glint in his light.
He stared. “Is that--?” He reached out on sheer reflex as if to snatch it. “Of everything I taught you--!”
She recoiled and shoved herself to her feet, clapping the coin against her chest, as much to keep it away from his instinctive grab for the dangerous thing as in her own defense.. “What was I supposed to do? You saw it out there! El’s wards didn’t do a goddamn thing to stop them and what the gently caress was I going to do on my own?”
Her reaction made him pause long enough to realize what he’d tried to do. He pulled his hand back. “But if death doesn’t matter--”
“It does with Outsiders.” She slipped the coin back behind her blouse. “Think for a minute. Everything looks perfect out there, right? Except for the damage they caused. Death sticks.” She looked away, haunted. “Or worse. They ate Maksim. Before all this. But sometimes I swear I still feel him...”
Seth drew an unsettled breath, then stood and pulled her back into his embrace. “We’ll sort it out later.”
With those words, some of the weight eased off of her. Marcine’s eyes stung again. This time, she hugged him back tightly, dropping her head against his shoulder. “I’m so glad to see you again, Dad.”
|# ? Feb 9, 2018 21:59|