CAST OF PLAYERS:
Jera Morrison……………….Alseyne Aulaudin…………………Sidhe Changeling
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Casey awoke alone, the floor cold against her cheek. Gooseflesh prickled across her arms. Something — it felt like a metal band — snugly encircled her forehead. Her eyes fluttered to view her surroundings….
…And she was hauled backward!
On her knees, her arms manacled behind her with cold iron, a wolf-man stood on either side of her each with a hand on her shoulder.
She was in a wide hall on a floor of black stones. Illumination was provided by flickering green flames in braziers along the walls. Claws — in human form — was beside her, also on his knees. He was heavily bound in manacles with chains running from his neck, wrists, and ankles. He too was flanked by werewolves. On the other side of Claws were Pip and Alseyne, similarly bound and guarded. The satyr looked to his lover, his eyes flashing concern for her… then, resolve. With only a look he communicated his commitment to get them all out of this.
Casey tugged weakly at her fetters, disoriented at finding herself in a room full of people. In the moments between regaining consciousness and opening her eyes she’d assumed she was alone.
The mental silence was profound, as if her mind had suddenly gone deaf. Try as she might, she could get no sense of anyone else in the room.
“Our guests are awake,” a faintly accented voice intoned. “Excellent.”
Casey’s head jerked up, startled by the new voice. She hadn’t realized how much she’d come to depend on her psionic perceptions to keep her aware of all the comings and goings around her. In a vague, intangible way she suddenly felt blind as well as deaf.
The man they’d seen earlier greeted them with a smile as he descended from a series of steps a dozen feet away. “Please,” he asked, “Make no attempt to escape. My friends here are eager to cause you additional pain.”
“Resist,” The wolf to Claws’ right whispered an encouragement. “Please resist.”
Claws looked toward his antagonist. “Has such an honorable tribe become the wyrm’s lapdog? Let me out of these chains and I’ll resist… and you will fall!”
The two Talons smiled, pleased to see the Khan’s ire stirred.
“Do not taunt the Khan,” A deep, familiar voice chided. “It is rude.” A tall, lean man stepped from behind crimson curtains and stood atop the steps the other man had just descended. His flesh was powder white. A mane of long, silver hair fell down to the middle of his back. He wore a black cloth and leather coat that hung around him much like a cloak. It was adorned with silver studs at the edges. Black pants and boots were also worn. A clacking could be heard as he walked: the sound of hooves dangling from a thong on his belt. No shirt was worn, revealing his muscular, toned chest. The stone he wore about his neck hung low atop his breast. It glowed green, matching the green of his eyes.
He looked meaningfully at Alseyne and Pip, then to the young telepath. “Casey,” he said warmly, “It is so good to see you at last.”
Casey knew his voice from the balefires…and his form seemed vaguely familiar as well. “Mardmor?”
“The same.” He smiled down at her.
“For someone who wanted so badly to see me,” she observed drily, tilting her head to look up at him, “you made it extraordinarily difficult for us to get here.”
He smiled. “Your efforts were most… revealing.”
“Mardmor?” Pip blinked. “That’s an orcish name… means… Elf Eater.”
Mardmor smiled at the Satyr.
“And it’s the name of the last goblin king,” Pip said.
“So it is.”
Casey’s mouth went dry. The goblin king…the Master. The one who’d reputedly been pulling the strings to unite all the darker factions of Austin’s nightlife into one nefarious army. He represented a level of power that made her own look pathetically feeble in comparison…even if she’d had any at the moment.
She suddenly realized why he looked familiar: she’d seen him in Falco’s nightmarish vision of one possible, dreadful future.
It suddenly occurred to Casey that she would rather die on her feet than on her knees. Scowling, she made an effort to stand, but the large, meaty paws of the werewolves on either side of her pressed her back down. “Unf!”
She tried experimentally to push upward telekinetically, though she suspected that that ability, like her telepathy, had been taken from her or suppressed. And sure enough, she was unable to budge.
She returned her attention to Mardmor. “How did you corrupt the balefires?”
Alseyne looked up sharply. “WHAT?”
“The balefires have not been corrupted,” Mardmor explained. “Far from it. They have been… enhanced and utilized to their full potential.”
“You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to,” Casey remarked. Some detached part of her wondered at her own foolhardy insolence, but the iron restraints and forced position of faux supplication had kindled a fire of determined resistance in her. “Are Percyndi and the other Fae dead?”
Pip stiffened at that.
“Ah, the dear, sweet Princess,” Mardmor smiled. “She is unharmed.”
“Take me to her!” Pip demanded.
WHAPT! The man with the staff backhanded Pip. “You do not give orders, goat.”
Alseyne’s head jerked toward Pip and she tensed against her own restraints.
Blood trickling from his mouth, Pip’s eyes were smoldering murder. “Take me to her,” he growled.
Mardmor raised his hand, halting the other gentleman from striking Pip yet again. “There is no point in striking him,” The Goblin King explained. “It is Norfolk’s nature to order others about. This must all be very strange to him. We must be patient. Besides, he will see his darling Princess soon enough.”
“Which brings us to the bonus question,” Casey commented, frowning at the blood on Pip’s mouth and then turning back to glower up at Mardmor. “What is it that you want from us?”
“Well…” He shrugged. “Largely to remove you from the field. I am not interested in having you interfere anymore than you already have with my business.”
“And what business is that?” Pip scowled.
“All in good time, Norfolk. All in good time.” Mardmor stroked an icy finger across Casey’s brow. “But first, our sweet girl has secrets. And I would know them.”
Casey recoiled from his touch, her eyes widening. “What? I don’t have any secrets.” A thin, cold thread of panic trickled through her; her mind groped blindly for powers that it no longer commanded. “I didn’t even know about this war yesterday. I don’t know anything.”
“Lies in such a sweet mouth are bitter to the ear. ” He smiled much as a father to a child. “But do not fear, dear Casey. You and I shall become quite familiar. You will confide in me your secrets. All of them.”
The trickle of panic broadened to a cold, numbing stream. She stared in mute dismay at the Goblin King, unable to move or speak, barely able to breathe.
Alseyne looked up at their captor. “You say the princess is unharmed. But as Casey pointed out, we see things a bit differently from you. When you say ‘unharmed’ do you mean she is in the same physical and mental condition as she was when last her father saw her?”
“No,” he confessed. “For after all we live in a continuum of change. You are not the same as the last time your Duke laid eyes upon you, are you? But if you are asking if she lives and is physically undamaged, I can confirm that she is. I cannot; however, say the same for her young friend.”
“The Baron’s son,” Pip’s voice was flat. “Prince Stephan.”
“Sad bit of business that,” Mardmor tutted. “He failed to comply with simple directions.”
Alseyne bowed her head in grief and did not speak again.
“How….” Casey forced the words past a tight, hoarse throat. “How did you take my power?” The thought of betraying her mentor’s confidences was unendurable, but the strength to withstand Mardmor’s interrogation lay in her lost powers. There must be some way to regain them — if they could be taken, surely they could be restored.
“When you have shared your secrets with me, little one, I will share mine with you.”
“I won’t,” she whispered, but there was more fear than conviction in her voice.
Mardmor smiled knowingly. “You will.”
“Excuse me, sire.” A wiry sidhe in a cool gray business suit stepped in, a black box with silver lid in his hands. “A gift from Prince Bronwen.”
The fellow with the staff took the package and excused the sidhe.
With a gesture, Mardmor indicated that the other should open it.
He pulled back the lid, frowning at the contents. “I don’t think you registered for this.” The man withdrew the disembodied head of Gerard Houseman.
Casey grimaced at the sight. She’d only met Houseman once, and she had no particular love for vampires, but a severed head was a severed head. She turned her face away from the grisly object, her stomach churning.
Alseyne looked equally unsettled.
Mardmor frowned in distaste. “Classless.”
Pip’s eyes flashed to Alseyne, then to Casey. He was deep in thought, wheels turning.
Casey met the satyr’s gaze, longing for the ability to communicate telepathically with her fellow captives. They couldn’t very well hash out a plan with a roomful of guards listening in. She gave Pip an almost imperceptible shrug, indicating that she was out of ideas and open to suggestions.
There was something behind those eyes. A pulse of… surety, of resolve… emanated from him to her. She could almost hear him whisper: It will be alright.
Alseyne smiled encouragingly at her lover, as if agreeing that they would all got out of this somehow.
Casey looked away. She shared neither Pip’s confidence nor Alseyne’s apparent hope that some carelessness or oversight on Mardmor’s part would provide them a chance to strike. The Goblin King had proven himself an eminently capable strategist; he was unlikely to make such an error now. She and her comrades may yet prevail, but not right now, right here in Mardmor’s very grasp. When — if — he handed them off for his subordinates to deal with, that would be the time to start looking for opportunities.
She cleared her throat, turning back to Mardmor. “Excuse me. Do you know what happened to my dog?”
“Your dog?” He considered. “Oh yes, you did have an animal with you, didn’t you? She is likely dead, drowned or burned. One or the other.”
Casey sighed, letting go of the slim hope that Pana had been captured and imprisoned somewhere relatively safe.
Her knees were beginning to ache against the cold, hard pavestones. Since she wasn’t permitted to rise, she settled instead into a crosslegged sitting position.
She’d caused five deaths today, one way and another. If Mardmor dredged Falco’s secrets from her, she might be the cause of thousands more. Possibly millions.
Possibly everyone, eventually.
For the life of her, she couldn’t remember why she hadn’t run home to a nice safe harmless life back in Niblock when she’d had the chance.
Claws growled low in his chest, then spoke to the wolf-men flanking him. “What caused you to forsake Gaia and turn to this demon? What drove you so far from your mother earth?”
“We have not turned against Gaia,” one said. “We have had her truth revealed to us.”
“Do not explain yourself, Brother,” The other said. “He is too deluded to understand the way.”
“What would you have done with them, my liege?” The guy with the staff interjected.
“Feed Norfolk and his Lady Jasmine to the Machine,” Mardmor answered matter-of-factly, “And of course the Khan is yours, but dear Casey…? Take her to the workshop.”
The blood drained from Casey’s face, and turned to ice-water in her veins.
The man nodded, then said to the four of them: “Sleep.”
And they did.