CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Casey hovered in slightly dazed silence, blinking around at the dark ruins. “What…what was…” Her mind felt like it was revving in park, trying to process the images, sensations and transitions that had just flooded through it.
Falco hooked an eyebrow at her.
Her gaze settled on the inert amulet, focused there with an effort. “Good. We’ll keep it somewhere safe.” She looked around the dusty, settling ruins and a shudder rippled though her. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Agreed.” He slipped the amulet into his pocket and exited the chamber.
Casey followed more slowly, the lingering images of things and people and places she’d never known still teasing her curiosity. Were those scenes from Falco’s long life? For an instant she’d seemed to be a part of him, sharing his experiences and memories. It had been marvelous while it was happening, but now she felt rather awkward, as if she’d snuck in and read the diary of someone she barely knew. It was a level of personal intimacy completely out of synch with the usual mentor/student nature of their relationship.
And Casey instinctively shied away from the thought of letting their relationship become personal. Having a mentor with a penchant for manipulation and deception…she could handle that, now that she knew to be aware of it. But to think of him as a friend, and to always wonder what deceptions her friend may be practicing upon her at any given moment? That would be soul-withering.
Besides, Falco exuded an aura of perpetual solitude that was hard to crack. He always gave the impression of being alone, no matter how many people were standing next to him; somewhere down the long centuries he’d apparently lost the knack of connecting with others. Like the way he’d just turned and left the chamber as though he were the only one present. Or earlier, when he’d watched her stumbling around searching for a way out of that air pocket they were trapped in and never thought to tell her that he could sense the People digging through to them. That sort of thing was perfectly acceptable mentor behavior, but there was no way to think of it as friendly.
And there it was in a nutshell. Falco might possess superhuman power and the knowledge of the ages, but he simply wasn’t a friendly man, and she’d be foolish to try and think of him as a friend.
Casey worked her way up toward the stairwell, the fleeting images in her head slowly giving way to fresh eagerness at the thought of being out in the morning sunshine again.
She reached the stairwell and found Falco caught in a fit of several successive sneezes.
Her nose tickled, too. She sneezed.
The stairwell was thick with it. Like gas, it surrounded them.
Casey looked around in sudden apprehension. ** What is it? Is there someone else still down here? ** But a moment later she realized where it was coming from. The hundreds of pipes that criss crossed the walls of the Machine Room…many of them entered from the stairwell. She could see breaches in all of them. Between the Machine’s destruction and the tremors caused by the amulet, they must have been torn apart. Whatever they transported — magical gas? — was flooding the stairwell.
:: We’ve got to get out of here. :: Falco reached for Casey. :: COME! ::
Casey didn’t have to be told twice. She bolted up to Falco.
He pulled her to his side and looped an arm about her waist.
Her breath caught at the unexpectedness of finding herself pressed suddenly against Falco. Hadn’t seen that coming…
:: No time for subtlety! ::
And with that, the two of them rocketed straight up into the air fly in the vacant spaces of the stairwell. Looking below she saw a spark… followed by an explosive green fire ball…
…while above the concrete ceiling grew closer and closer as emerald flames licked their heels.
Her fingers found a convulsive grip on Falco’s ragged shirt as she flinched in two directions at once. ** We’re going to hit — ! **
The concrete ceiling peeled away, rebar dissolved, and the soil above parted like the Red Sea allowing their escape into the clear blue sky.
Below, the flames geysered forth into an enormous plume, the fireball roiling high above the city of Austin as Falco veered them away in a tight barrel-roll.
Casey clung to her mentor like a cat in a windswept tree, unable to tear her gaze from the spectacular destruction of Sanctuary Austin. Looked like Wynne would have to find a new hangout.
Wynne. Had she made it out in time? The little Sluagh gave her the wiggins, but Casey hoped she’d gotted out undamaged.
Gradually it sank in that she was in no danger of falling to her death, and she loosened her deathgrip on Falco a little. The morning sun felt wonderful after what felt like an eternity underground. ** Nice morning, ** she observed with a trace of recovering good humor. ** The fireballs are especially lovely today. **
She sensed amusement from Falco. The wind whipped through her hair as he guided them down to a rooftop. After a moment, she realized that they had arrived at Falco’s home.
His feet touched down and then hers. With a gesture the roof’s door swung open. :: I plan to sleep for a week. ::
Casey stepped out onto the roof, running fingers through grimy, wind-tangled hair. “Mind if I raid the fridge? My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut, as my grandpa used to say. I need a shower and some food, and then if I’m still awake I’m heading straight to bed.”
He nodded. “My home is your home, Casey. Make yourself comfortable.”
In the harsh light of day, she saw how weary he was. He’d been restored a great deal, but had a lot more healing to do.
Her own fatigued expression softened a bit in sympathy and appreciation for all he’d gone through to reach her. “Have I said thank you yet for coming to my rescue again?” Her smile was tired but sincere.
There was a hint of pain in the smile he returned “I regret that I was unable to reach you sooner. You’ve suffered much on my behalf. I owe you a great deal.”
She considered that; it was a new perspective. “Well,” she said slowly, “I won’t pretend that I haven’t suffered, but I’m not really clear on how you owe me anything. I wouldn’t have survived an hour in Sanctuary if it weren’t for the gifts you gave me yesterday. I’m only alive because of you. Again.”
“You were endangered due to the knowledge I shared, the skills I taught.”
She shook her head, frowning. “I would have gone there anyway. You know I would have. And without the things you taught me I wouldn’t even have made it through the first attack. There were these…evil black shadowy things with glowy red eyes and icy claws….” A chill shivered through her at the memory.
He was quiet, letting her tell it.
“If you hadn’t given me the Adamas blade and the skill to use it, that would have been the end of my contribution to the war right there. And the telekinetic shield — I don’t even know how many times *that’s* save my life tonight. It’s completely ridiculous for you to feel guilty about empowering me. You didn’t put me in harm’s way, you only made it possible for me to live through it. Everything would have been lost if you hadn’t.”
A weak smile graced his face. “I haven’t the strength to argue the point. I surrender to the mightier view.”
Casey smiled crookedly at her own vehemence. Funny how it always got her back up to be perceived as a hapless victim of events. “Will you be able to restore yourself once you’ve rested?”
He nodded “I’ll be right as rain by tomorrow.”
“Good.” Her gaze ran ruefully over the scars that cover most his exposed flesh. “Does it still hurt?”
A small nod, “A little.”
His manner indicates otherwise.
She hesitated, then sighed. Tired as she was, she wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that Falco’s ordeal hadn’t yet ended. “Yggthor restored my psionics back in the stairwell when he helped me heal. Let me get cleaned up and get something to eat, and then hopefully I can do the same for you. You’ll sleep better if you’re not in pain.”
“Stop by if you like. I’ll be fine though, truly,” he assured her, then added, “Cerberus and Pana are arriving now.”
She was pleased to know that they’d both gotten away in time. “I’m glad they made it. So many didn’t.”
As Casey and Falco came through the door and down the stairs, Pana in biped form rushed to greet them.
“Are you well, ma’am?” she asked.
“Still in sound working order,” Casey smiled. “Starving and desperately in need of a shower, but otherwise fit. I’m glad you made it out, Pana. And *please* just call me Casey.”
“Yes,” again awkward, “…Casey. If you’d like, I can prepare a meal while you bathe.”
Cerberus looked to Falco. Falco shook his head. “Not hungry.”
Casey had never been hungrier in her life; she suspected it had something to do with all the psionic energy she’d burned through the past night and morning. “You don’t have to do that, Pana,” she smiled. “You must be exhausted too. But…if you want to, it would be hugely appreciated.”
Pana nodded, “Coming right up.”
Falco tilted his head in Casey’s direction, then excused himself to his room.
She returned the nod with a tired smile, then headed to her own room.
The bloodsoaked leather garments got peeled off as soon as her bedroom door closed behind her. The pungent musk of her own body odor assaulted her nose. Back in the day after returning from the pasture similarly filthy, her father would have hosed her off before letting her back in the house.
She set her weapon and sheath carefully, lovingly atop the chest of drawers. She really did need to think of a good name for the sword. It had earned one.
Moving into her bathroom, she turned the shower on near-scalding hot and stepped gratefully into the spray. It took three shampooings in a row before she was satisfied that she’d gotten all the filth out of her hair; then the rest of her got a similarly thorough scrubbing. Washed-away blood and grime swirled at her feet.
Once the water running down the drain was clean and clear rather than murky pinkish-grey, she filled the tub with hot water and fragrant bubbles and settled down into it with a deep sigh.
And it all came crowding back into her head. Everything she’d been trying not to think about. Vicious, icy red-eyed phantoms…the ogre’s eyes exploding under the merciless pressure of her mind…jets of flame licking cruelly at her skin as she’d struggled her way up to the door of the elemental room…Gerard Houseman’s horrible reanimated head…the way her severed fingers had plopped limply onto the workshop floor in a seemingly endless profusion of blood and agony…all the lives taken in gory violence by her own hand in the Machine chamber…stepping into that roaring, roiling green hell to pit her own fledgeling power against Mardmor’s ancient might….
Despite the steaming heat of the bathwater, she was trembling.
She couldn’t think about any of it yet. Maybe later, after she’d had some food and sleep, the night’s ordeal wouldn’t feel so overwhelming. For now she needed to stay busy, keep moving.
She stepped out of the tub and wrapped up in a thick towel. Back in the bedroom she searched through her clothes, quickly settling on a comfortable pair of lounge pants and a tee shirt. Her stomach growled hungrily while she towel-dried her hair and dressed, demanding fuel for her depleted system. As soon as she was clothed she headed to the kitchen, hoping Pana had chosen something nice and quick to prepare.