CAST OF PLAYERS:
Jera Morrison……………….Alseyne Aulaudin…………………Sidhe Changeling
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Alseyne looked over at Casey in concern, “Are you all right? You looked a bit dazed.”
“I’m fine,” Casey murmured distractedly. But a moment later she leaned over to speak quietly into the fae’s ear. “Alseyne…the balefire…does it have any, um, consciousness? Sentience?”
Alseyne gave her an odd look but answered quietly, “Not to the best of my knowledge but you seem to have different abilities than us. It is certainly possible that you might sense something that is beyond the ken of most Kithain.”
Casey thought about that.
Alseyne smiled slightly, “On the other hand, balefire is known to affect some mortals in odd ways so it could also just be that. I’ll be happy to check with some experts on balefire for you, however, to see if we can get a more definitive answer for you.”
“It’s not urgent. I was just wondering.” Casey flicked a brief, yearning glance toward the hearth. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘lovely,'” Alseyne responded slowly, obviously thinking about her words. “I find it comforting and warming to me in a way that’s…like, it’s like the feeling of closing a door on a freezing winter storm and knowing you are snug inside by the fire with no danger to threaten you. In this instance, the ‘cold’ is the mortal world and the ‘warmth’ is the magic that the fire brings to me. But I have never been one to stare into the depths of a fire so I can’t say I find it attractive in that sense.”
“‘The mortal world,'” Casey mused. It stood to reason that the balefire would have a different effect on mortals like herself than on fae. Or maybe it was her power, not her mortality, that was responding to the magic in the flames. Either way, now was not the time to go experimenting; she couldn’t let anything distract her from the job at hand. “Thanks for explaining; I think I have the general idea now.”
“I’m glad to help,” Alseyne smiled before turning her attention back to Tim. She sipped her wine and listened to him while nibbling a few pieces of bread.
With a last hungry look toward the fire, Casey reached instead for the hot bread and whipped cinnamon butter that the serving wench had brought. It had been a while since dinner at the café, and it would probably be a lot longer before her next meal. Might as well fill up while she had the chance.
Tim had been chatting with Wynne while Claws listened, focused more on Wynne than the bear.
“…It was McFarlane!” Wynne snapped.
“He absolutely assisted in refinement,” Tim shook his head calmly, “but he only added a piece to the whole.”
“McFarlane captured his essence!”
“I do not deny his efficacy. It his authorship I question. Michelinie is the creator.”
“At best, he was the co-creator.”
“You are in error.” Tim explained. “Eddie Brock’s backstory was derived from the SIN EATER story arc in SPECTACULAR, pre-dating McFarlane’s assignment to AMAZING. This is all corroborated by Peter David.”
Wynne slammed her fist on the table, “Todd McFarlane created VENOM!”
“He drew a mouth on a design by Mike Zeck and Rick Leonardi.” Tim smiled. “Sure, I could go draw a smiley face on the Mona Lisa, but that doesn’t mean I created the work.”
Wynne scowled at Tim for a long moment, then smiled to Pip and Alseyne. “I like him. He can stay.”
Alseyne arched an eyebrow at this comment. “High praise coming from you, Wynne.” She looks at the were-bear.” So tell me, Tim, exactly how T-ray thinks he …and you…will be able to assist us.”
“Tony is in constant communication with the dead.”
“Not a big fan of Jerry Garcia,” Pip sneered.
“Not the Grateful Dead,” Tim corrected. “Those who have passed on.”
“And what do you bring to the table?” Pip asked. “Besides a puissant knowledge of Spiderman, that is?”
“I make a fine venison chili.”
“You’re in!” Pip said at once.
Casey listened quietly to the flow of conversation while she ate. The balefire called seductively, persistently for her attention, making the question of whether the nice bear man and the childlike musician and his friend the skull would join their cause seem like a distant, rather uncompelling matter.
“When you say constant communication, Tim, does that mean he cannot control it or that he can speak with them any time he wishes to?” Alseyne asked, visions in her mind of them trying to do some covert work and T-ray suddenly beginning to chatter with spirits so that anyone could hear him. She let her free hand on the table move over and rest against Pip’s arm in a light caress.
He covered her hand with his own.
The thought of Tony’s gift or curse momentarily diverted Casey from the fire’s siren song. “He’s in contact with which dead?” she asked thoughtfully. “Everybody who ever died, or just the ones he knew in life, or just the ones who want to talk to him, or what?”
Tim looked to her, his eyes were warm. “He can only speak to those souls that Scraps bring to him.” He explained, “Scraps is his deceased friend.” He gestured toward the piano. “That’s his skull.” To Alseyne he added, “He speaks to them whenever Scraps initiates the conversation.”
“Scraps,” Casey murmured, pleased to have a name for the presence in the skull. “They must have been very close friends in life. I guess it’s nice that they can still, um, hang out together.”
“I may be mistaken here, but I thought they were only recent acquaintances,” Alseyne murmurs. “I wonder if the closeness is more the result of T-ray’s affinity to spirits combined with their association at the time of Scraps’ death?” Frowning, she added, “But Scraps died only a few days ago. How can that be his skull?”
“He was gettin’ a bit gamey,” Tim explained, “so I boiled his head. He’s much easier to be around now.”
As Casey listened to Tim and the others talk, the voice continued to speak to her from the flames of the hearth. “…Don’t step away…” The voice whispered. “…Be my friend? Please? I am so alone…”
*You and Usi,* she thought wryly. She resisted the fire’s plea by reminding herself of all the many varieties and degrees of death that awaited the incautious in Austin. Could be *her* skull sitting on the piano if she wasn’t careful.
But the lonely appeal in the disembodied voice drew an almost involuntary response from her. Without moving from her seat, without looking in the direction of the hearth, she sent a wary reply. **Who are you? I’ve been told balefires don’t talk.**
** I am Mardmor. You are mostly correct. Balefires are not usually heard. We speak all the time. The fair folk cannot hear us… Nor can most humans. But you are different. You hear. Or perhaps it is that you listen. **
**Are you the only balefire around here?**
::In this building, yes.::
**It seems kind of sad…they all get so much pleasure from your presence here, and they don’t even know what a solitary existence you’re stuck with. So, would a second balefire give you someone to talk to then? Maybe I could suggest it to someone.**
:: We are rare, my kind. Two of us in one place? Unheard of. Tell me about you… you are so different. Unlike anyone I have ever known. ::
**My kind are rare too, I guess. I’m a telepath, I can hear the thoughts of others.** It was a half-explanation. She suspected that telepathy alone wouldn’t have been enough to let her communicate with the balefire without the gift of truth-perception Falco had given her, but he probably hadn’t intended for that ability to be public knowledge. **I’m Casey. It’s nice to meet you, Mardmor.**
:: Likewise, Casey. You are a most unexpected delight… ::
**Thank you. I’ve never talked to a fire before, but you seem very nice.** She paused. **Do you…see much of the goings-on in the Fae world? Outside of this tavern, I mean? Are you aware of what happens beyond these walls?**
:: Some. It’s complicated on how, but yes. I do see some. ::
**There’ve been some unexplained disappearances lately among the fair folk. Do you know anything about that?**
:: Their light burns so fast… It is as it has always been. ::
Casey was wondering whether that meant the disappearances were nothing new — weren’t the Fae supposed to be immortal?– when she felt her attention pulled elsewhere. She looked around.
A dog moved over to the far side of the inn, close to the kitchen doors. His attention was rapt upon Casey. He was a mutt, short haired, and brown with dark, soulful eyes. He was very much a hound.
It appeared he had something he wanted to say.
**Excuse me, please,** she said to Mardmor. And to the dog, **Hi.**
He was all business. :: I have word that agents operating under the direction of the Baron are on their way to seize your companions. ::
Casey went motionless, trying to process that. The Baron…she didn’t know who that was. ‘Seize’ didn’t sound very friendly, though. **Thank you,** she said to the dog.
:: You’re welcome. :: The dog padded away.
Casey turned to the others at her table. “Someone’s coming for you. The Baron sent them. I don’t think they mean well.”
Alseyene frowned. “Damn, I was afraid something like that was going to happen. Between not knowing what happened to Ryantane and Thorvald and the dog not making it, I’m sure the Baron isn’t going to be happy with us. And we just don’t have time to deal with anything right now.” She turned to look at Pip, “I think we should take off now rather than wait for our ‘friend’, don’t you?”
Pip made to answer…
“‘Friends,'” Casey said. “Not sure how many.”
Alseyne looked back at her, puzzled for a moment before her face cleared in understanding, “Oh, the friend I was talking about was the one we had planned on meeting here. I definitely would prefer to avoid the ones you were talking about. For the time being, at least. We just don’t have the time to waste in dealing with them.” She glanced back at Pip, “Shall we head out now?”
“Yeah,” He nodded, standing. He motioned a serving wench over as he dropped several bills on the table.
She approached, a pretty woman of hispanic descent. Her almond eyes drank in Pip. She stepped in a bit close.
“Maricela,” he said. “We have a friend, an Asian fellow, who will be along later. Would you tell him that we went ahead on the place we discussed earlier?”
“You’re a peach.” He kissed her on the cheek — and she glowed — then Pip turned his attention to Claws and Wynne. “Get on out to the car and make sure it remains secure.”
Wynne nodded, pulling the Bastet along with her out the door.
“Tim, gather up T-Ray. We need to make tracks.”
Pip regarded Casey, then Alseyne. “So much for a leisurely evening of wine and song. What say we go to an S&M bar instead?”
Casey looked around wistfully. “I like this place. I wish we could come back sometime.” **I’m glad I met you, Mardmor. I hope we have a chance to talk again sometime.**
:: I am sure we will, Casey. ::
**Are all balefires as nice as you?**
He chuckled. :: I don’t know, you’ll have to tell me what you think after you have met some others… ::
She smiled. **I’ll do that.** Rising from the table, she sent a last glance toward the balefire, and followed the others out.
“I’m sure you will always be welcome if you want to come back, Casey,” Alseyne answered as she paced along with them quickly towards the car. “Just be careful of the balefire…damn, balefire. Pip, there’s a balefire at the bar, isn’t there? And isn’t it bigger than this one?”
“Yes, and yes.” Pip frowned as they awaited Tim and T-Ray. “Damn…Casey, this draw that you’re feeling toward the balefire? Do you think you can focus past it? I don’t want to send you in if you’re going to be distracted.”
“I think I can. I’ll be outside, anyway, unless something goes wrong in the bar. I wonder if Mr. Plicare’s found his stuff yet.”
Wynne and Claws stepped out of the alleyway to find Casey’s Malamute pacing back and forth.
Casey followed them out, seaw Pana looking restless and concerned.
When she saw them, she threw a “Woof” their direction.
**Pana, do you know how many the Baron sent?**
:: Yes, twenty well-armed soldiers. ::
Wynne looks about, “Looks safe enough.” No one was hanging about. The driver was in the SUV, reading a book.
“CRAP!!” Casey burst out unexpectedly. She looked around, moved closer to Alseyne and Pip, lowered her voice. “Twenty well-armed soldiers. That’s who the Baron sent.” She was making an effort to sound calm, but an edge of fear had crept into her voice. “They’re on their way here right now.”
“Crap is right,” Pip frowned. “Hustle it up, folks. We’ve no time for the Baron!”
“Come on, Pana!” Casey scurried into the SUV.
The Malamute bounced in beside her, snuffling at Casey’s ear.
Alseyne quickly climbed in as well, moving over to let the others enter behind her. It was a bit crowded with the addition of Tim and T-Ray. “Wynne, I take it you know the address we’ll be going to? Would you please give it to the driver?” she asked.
“I’ve got it, Als.” Pip leans forward, directing the driver and then, “Onward, Jeeves! And don’t spare the horses!”