CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Yrinith stopped to hover on the other side of the psionic barrier Casey had created around herself. His eyes met hers, dark and sinister.
A slight shift of her weight, a subtle tightening of her hand on the hilt of Alseyne’s sword —
KRACKT! Blood poured from her nose and she felt her shield begin to buckle. “Gah!” It threw her off for an instant.
But only an instant. Casey took two quick steps forward, swinging mightily from over her right shoulder hewing down towards her left toe.
:: Reeee…! :: Yrinith’s scream was cut short as she hacked him into two slightly unequal portions.
Without waiting to see if he was dead or only … regrouping … Casey flung another bolt of flame at the pieces.
Inky black smoke rose from the consumed portions.
She stared in breathless relief at Yrinith’s remains, then lowered her shield, turned and headed for the door.
Stopped a few steps shy of making her escape.
It was just conceivable that those photos hadn’t been shown around yet. They should be destroyed just in case.
She walked back to the other room and around the wall to the desk, avoiding the colored light as before. Took out the manilla folder, placed it on the slate floor and carefully reduced it and its contents to ashes. They burned quickly, easily.
Moving back into the first room, she glanced over the titles of the books on the coffee table. Three books: Our Time In Hell by David Ardry, Weak Blessings by Heironymous James, and B Is for Burglar by Sue Grafton. She went over and flipped through each of them rapidly, just to reassure herself that they weren’t concealing any cutout pages holding keys or vials or whatever.
They were the books they appeared to be, not holding any secrets other than the ideas the authors placed within them. She moved to the exit, sending her perceptions ahead of her to sweep the corridor. Finding it clear she opened the door and stepped out with a huge sigh of relief.
Standing in the hall, it hit her. Whatever was blocking her before was gone. That meant more than just being able to sweep corridors. It meant … by heaven’s grace, it meant she might be able to reach out into the city at large.
There was a lot more at stake here tonight than her own youthful pride. Closing her eyes she sent as loud as she could along the old connection. **FALCO!**
At once she sensed him. He was close. As in within this building or complex or whatever the hell it was. She sensed a tremendous pulse of relief before his words came.
:: Casey! :: A wave of joy rode along with that single thought. She was warmed and comforted at once. :: I had feared I had lost you! ::
An involuntary smile softened her weary, bloodied face for a moment. In spite of everything, it was pure pleasure to touch his mind again. **So did I, once or twice.** Suddenly all she wanted was to call him to her side and let him be the strong one again for awhile. Protect her, keep her safe and warm like before. She was so tired ….
With a deep sigh she steeled herself against the insidious weakness. That wasn’t why she’d called him.
** Falco, Camille’s in danger. She’s being followed … they plan to grab her and use her to get to you. She needs to be taken somewhere safe right away. **
This drew him up short. She could sense his surprise, yet he didn’t question her. Instead, she could feel him directing his thoughts elsewhere, almost like overhearing a side conversation.
:: Done. :: His attention returned to her.
** Done? ** Casey’s ‘voice’ sounded both hopeful and dubious. ** Are you sure? These guys really mean business. **
:: Casey… :: Another pulse of emotion, and more than a little understanding of what she had gone through in the last several hours. :: …I am proud of you. ::
That gave her pause. She’d lost her companions — lost Pana, with whom Falco had entrusted her — she was directly responsible for the deaths of Korin and Elijah … she still knew next to nothing about the fate of the missing Fae, beyond Mardmor’s assurances that Percyndi was still alive — and Mardmor had told lies upon lies tonight, so his assurances meant little to Casey. Aside from gaining a few crumbs of vague information which may or may not prove useful in the long run, the mission had been a near-total loss. Falco’s grasp of tonight’s events must be rather incomplete at best, or he wouldn’t be so quick to praise her.
She started walking again, spurred by a need to keep moving rather than any knowledge of where she might be headed. ** I … I lost Pana. I’m so sorry — I don’t even know what happened to her. We were fighting some elementals and then she was just gone. **
:: You’ve lost a great deal tonight, Casey… :: He sent a pulse of reassurance. :: …But you are strong. You have survived. And you will emerge from this experience stronger. ::
That was true enough. She’d been thinking the same thing herself, not long ago. ** Where are you? **
:: I am presently wringing the water from my trousers after having exited a ridiculously sodden room … I came after having received your cry for help. Apologies for the tardiness. There were some unforeseen … delays. ::
The room with the elementals. **Okay, I think I know exactly where you are. Unfortunately, I have no idea where *I* am. Can you sense where I am in relation to you?**
:: …Difficult. I am discerning a general direction, but not a clear path. I am coming to you. Can’t say when I will arrive. What’s your situation? ::
Now was the time to give him all the new information she’d gained since they’d parted ways earlier. She started to put it all together in her head so she could give him a nice concise report … but along with her recollections of the night’s events, new doubts came creeping in.
She’d jumped through too many of the Goblin King’s hoops tonight to take ANYTHING for granted in this place. A disembodied voice claiming to be her mentor would be one of the surest baits Mardmor could dangle before her, without a doubt. He could have intercepted her call, plucked Falco’s mental voice from her memory and be using it now to lure her back to him.
** Forgive my paranoia, but its been a rather disorienting night for me. I need to know that you’re really you before this goes any further. ** She thought for a moment … something only she and Falco could know… **Tell me the name of the Scottish Terrier we saw earlier today.** She was careful not to let the word form in her own thoughts.
:: Alastair. ::
The strength of her relief surprised her; she must be even more tired than she’d thought. The momentary fear that she might be running straight back to Mardmor had just about finished off the last of her confidence…and stamina.
Casey’s steps slowed, then stopped. She really didn’t know where she was running to, or from; she could be putting more distance between herself and Falco with every step for all she knew. Common sense told her to stop moving and let him find her.
She turned and plodded wearily over to one side of the corridor, sending a wordless pulse of assent to Falco. She leaned against the cold wall, then slid down it to sit upon the floor, knees drawn to her chest. **I’m glad you came.**
:: I will always come for you, Casey. :: A beat of tender warmth flowed across the expanse between them. :: Always. ::
The assurance, the warm mental caress, was wonderfully soothing against the soul-blighting chill of this dismal place. Casey soaked it in, not caring at the moment how dangerously seductive the pull of Falco’s infinitely-stronger mind could be. Right now it was that strength, his immense power and vast experience, that drew her so hungrily to him. She hadn’t forgotten his deception, but over the course of the night a more compelling truth had come to her. ** Hopefully you won’t have to keep coming to my rescue, ** she smiled tiredly. ** You know, this night’s been tremendously educational for me. I’ve learned a lot about what I’m capable of. And about the whole secret bizarro version of Austin, and the vampires and weres and Fae and elementals and … squidguys … and ….** She was rambling now. Frowning, she dragged her fatigue-muddled thoughts back to the point. ** …And the more I learn, the more I realize how badly I really do need a mentor. I don’t want to do this by myself. I need to work on developing these abilities *before* my life depends on it, instead of in the heat of desperation. I’ve had so many nosebleeds tonight I should be woozy by now. ** She grimaced, rubbing the back of one hand over newly-drying blood on her mouth and chin, a memento of her clash with Yrinith. ** What I’m getting at is that if I survive this expedition, I would be honored and extremely appreciative if you’d let me resume my apprenticeship with you. I can’t promise that I’ll always be a docile and compliant student … I like to think for myself and make my own choices, and I know I can be downright difficult at times. But I do promise to learn whatever you want to teach me, and to protect whatever secrets you entrust to me. I’m beginning to understand what’s at stake in this war, and I want the chance to put up a halfway competent fight for our side. So … I’m yours if you still want me. What do you say? **
:: Casey… I never considered you gone. You may choose to follow a path different than my own and it may take you far away. No matter. I will remain your mentor and … friend. Whatever guidance you seek or assistance you need, I will strive to meet the need. ::
Casey absorbed that with mixed emotions. When she’d parted ways with Falco last night, she’d fully intended to make a clean break of it. Her introduction to his world had largely consisted of one shock after another, and she’d spent most of their time together feeling helpless, frightened, and overly dependent upon him. Leaving him behind had been a determined effort to regain her sense of self-reliance and some control over her own life; she hadn’t ever expected to see him again other than to retrieve her belongings from his residence.
Maybe a 2100-year lifespan lent a certain amount of perspective to these matters. No doubt it was the voice of long experience that told him she’d soon be running back to him for guidance. Still, to hear him say it so bluntly like that — ‘I never considered you gone’ — was mildly irksome. Without even trying he made her feel like a wayward child playing at being a grownup.
Or maybe when you’d been around as long as he had, *everyone* started to look like children.
Or maybe she was just tired and cranky and ungrateful when she should have been thanking heaven for Falco’s patience and willingness to help her.
** Thank you, ** she finally managed with reasonable sincerity. **That means a lot to me.** Carefully setting Alseyne’s sword on the pavestones beside her, she hugged her legs for warmth and rested her forehead on her knees, closing her eyes. ** As for my situation… ** she addressed his earlier question, ** Let’s see. We found out who the mastermind is behind all the recent weirdness; it’s Mardmor, the Goblin King. He plans to, um…’restore the trods and throw wide the gates of Arcadia.’ His words. And he plans to do it sometime tonight. I’m not really clear on what he needs Kilarothes for, or what the vampires and Talons hope to gain by helping him, but at least now we know who our real enemy is.
** He’s got something he calls the ‘Machine’ that he’s fueling in some way with Fae … power … or souls … I don’t know enough to really understand half of what I hear lately, but the Fae apparently don’t survive the experience. Anyway, I gather that this Machine is in some way necessary to Mardmor’s schemes, so we need to destroy it if we can. **
Falco patiently drank it all in, asking no questions, hanging on her every word.
A sudden realization struck her. **Wait…If you’re where I think you are, you should be coming up a stairway, ending in an iron-barred gate with two doors beyond it. That’s where we got captured. The sconces … I think Mardmor uses them as monitoring devices. Be really really careful in there.**
:: I… ::
ARN-ARM! A siren wailed.
Casey’s head jerked up, her eyes flew open.
And then a voice: “Five minutes! Five minutes!”
** Yikes. That’s new. **
:: Casey, can you find this Machine? ::
** I don’t … um … I’m not sure. I can try … just a sec …. ** Closing the connection to Falco, Casey cast her perceptions broadly into the surrounding areas. Without knowing exactly what she was looking for she couldn’t search for any one specific feature, but she did try to seek out any concentrations of Fae, or Fae magic, preferably near any sort of machinery or large device.
She had a sense that the stairs she was on earlier led down toward a swirling storm of magic.
She turned her thoughts back to Falco. ** I’ve found something — a big mass of magic not far from here. I don’t know if it’s the Machine or not, but it’s worth checking out anyway. Can you sense it from where you are? **
:: No, but I can sense you. Casey … This Mardmor? Does he have green eyes? ::
She stiffened. **Yes. Evil glowy green eyes. Why?**
:: I’ve seen him. In my visions. He’s the one. The one who brings about the end. He destroys us and mankind’s future. In one of the visions… it’s a possible future, I should say. We can stop it, but we must hurry, Casey. Run! Find the machine! I am coming! ::
** On it. ** She lurched stiffly to her feet, pulling her crystalline weapon from its sheath in the same motion. She slid the elfsword through one of the leather loops of her own weapon’s sheath; it hung awkwardly behind her, but she wanted her own sword now.
She set off at a run, picking up speed as her tired muscles warmed to the task. Past Yrinith’s door, down the stairs, toward the storm of magic below. She wound down the stairs, the same path the Redcaps had taken. Rushing along, she arrived on a landing. Several feet away stood a closed, heavy steel door. The stairs also continued down.
She cast about for the source of the magic, and sensed it both beyond the door and down the stairs. Whatever it was, it was big. At least two levels big. She was tempted to go down and search for a less formidable entry, but she hadn’t liked the sound of that “five-minute warning”. Besides, if that was the Machine in there, there probably weren’t any easy ways to get at it.
Donning the invisibility illusion, she attempted to open the door by hand.
It wasn’t locked, but it was heavy … and noisy. It creaked as she pulled only slightly upon it. It budged just a bit.
She grimaced at the noise, but continued to pull until the gap was wide enough to slip through. She maintained the cloak, but kept her sword at the ready.
And then she was on the other side.