CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Casey blinked, squinting at the deep shades of red and orange washing across her room. Her eyes flicked to the window. Dusk.
A long, deeply luxurious stretch revealed a few sore muscles here and there, but all in all she felt pleasantly rested.
What was that…?
Peering down over the edge of her bed, she saw Pana curled into a tight ball, sound asleep. Smiling, Casey slipped off the other side of the bed so as not to disturb the dog’s well-earned rest.
A pang of regret twinged faintly as she moved to the window and looked out on the darkening (or brightening, depending on one’s point of view) cityscape. She’d slept straight through the friendly sunlit day; Austin belonged to the night creatures again until another dawn.
She wondered almost idly how many more sunrises she’d live to see. The Vampire Prince — Bronwen, she recalled the name after a moment’s thought — wasn’t going to be an easy kill. He’d be angry now, and gathering his defenses even while he plotted retaliatory strikes.
Getting to him might not be that difficult though. He might even want to see her by now. Just reaching Bronwen might not be nearly as much of a challenge as actually taking him down and then getting herself out in one piece.
She reached over to the dresser and picked up her weapon, liking the solid heft of it in her hand. Extending the crystalline blade, smiling at the way it caught the twilight, purifying it, gleaming as bright and as potentially deadly to Bronwen as an unexpected sunrise.
Her smile widened slowly; the analogy pleased her. Turning the sword in the last fading light she murmured the word softly aloud: “Sunrise.”
Still smiling, she set the sword — Sunrise — back on the dresser, then quietly dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, grimacing slightly as she pulled on boots still faintly stained with the rank blood of goblins.
Trying not to awaken Pana, she slipped out of the room to see what she could scrounge up for breakfast.
Opening the door, she was greeted by the scent of something wonderful.
She stepped into the kitchen to find Falco working at a wok.
He smiled at her from over the steam rising from the pan, “Sleep well? I know I did.”
He was wearing black trousers and a pullover. Barefooted. He looked good.
“Slept like the dead.” Casey cozied up to her regular spot at the bar. “Probably sounder than a lot of the dead in Austin, come to think of it. That smells amazing, what are you making?”
“I woke up with a taste for Japanese,” he shared, “so I thought I’d whip up a little pepper steak. I hope you like?”
“I do,” she smiled, reaching down the counter to snag an orange from the fruit bowl. “So, what’s on today’s agenda?” Her tone was light, but she peeled the orange with an intensity of focused concentration not normally given to such a simple task. Casually she offered, “I was thinking we could go take down Prince Bronwen, and then maybe drop my truck off at a good body shop if there’s time afterward?”
“Bronwen?” He looked up from the wok, steam curling upward. “We may not need to do anything on that front. Already, powers are at work against him. Honeywell for sure. Viktor Rukin is on his way to town. Perhaps even this Murphy character may make a bid. I don’t think we should act in this matter… just yet.”
The first two names meant nothing to Casey, but…”Ronan Murphy? I thought he was working for Bronwen?”
“He was.” Falco plated up the steak, peppers, and onions and slid them steaming over to her. “But Murphy is an opportunist, I understand. My sources tell me that he’s mulling things over, considering his options.”
She took a bite of steak — succulent, fork tender, savory and fantastic — mentally reviewing everything she knew about the traveling hired killer. “Why would someone like Murphy have any interest in taking over as Prince of Austin, though? If he is looking at taking out Bronwen it seems more likely that he has someone else in mind to set in place there.”
A proud smile crossed Falco’s face. “I was thinking much the same.”
She chuckled wryly. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of this court intrigue stuff. I don’t know whether to be pleased or alarmed by that.”
“Probably a bit of both,” he conceded. “The People are watching. We’ll know how things are developing before Bronwen does.”
“Good…but I meant…” She let it go. “Never mind. Who are Honeywell and Viktor Rukin?”
“Oscar Honeywell. Local business man. Huge investor in the Austin economy. The Honeywell tower? Same fellow. He’s also a huge mover in organized crime. He owns an army of gangs.”
Casey frowned. “Ouch.”
“And a supporter of the arts. He has amazing taste. I am told that he has the ‘Storm on the Sea of Galilee.’ Shame that.” He poured himself a glass of red wine, eyebrows raised in an unspoken question: Want a glass?
She declined. “Do you have any juice? This is really good, by the way. Thank you.”
He nodded, “I do. Cranberry alright?”
“Rukin is another matter,” he continued. “Viktor Rukin is a boss up in Massachusetts with several business interests here in Austin. He sent his brother Grigor down here to monitor some strange business which we now know to be Bronwen’s work for Mardmor. Grigor disappeared, so Rukin sent his man Damien. Bronwen had him killed as well. Rukin’s coming to settle business.”
Casey mulled that over in silence for a minute or two, then sighed. “You’re right, it doesn’t sound like something I want to get in the middle of. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll all kill each other and save us the trouble.”
“I would consider that a nice turn indeed.”
“So what is on the agenda for today, then? We should call the Pendleton and make sure Alseyne and the others made it back safe and sound.”
“They did. Cerberus checked on them while we slept. Alseyne, Pip, and the others made it back to the hotel. There were losses, we’ve learned. The girl… named Janneth. And the FBI agent as well, Samantha Reese. The were-tiger, Claws-of-Honor as well.”
Casey nodded; she’d known about all of those. “No sign of Andali or Marlboro after the explosion either?”
“None of the The People have reported seeing them either.”
The two ate their dinner. “I was thinking that we might take a trip over to the remnants of Houseman’s Archive. The upper levels burned, but the lower levels were reinforced and may have survived. Houseman stored a number of records down there. It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure they do not fall into the vampires’ hands. Interested?”
“Sure, I’m all about protecting the info from the baddies. Sometime this evening I still want to touch base with Alseyne though; I told her I would.”
“Certainly,” he nodded. “The phones are at your disposal. If you need a cell phone, Pana can help you with that.”
Really, Casey decided, it was far too soon to be back underground.
She and Falco had been moving through dark, earthen tunnels for more than fifteen minutes. They’d come through a drain pipe that led to a secret passage, leading to these caves.
It was all too similar to being in Mardmor’s dungeons.
:: There are so many tunnels beneath this city it is amazing that Austin doesn’t cave-in, :: Falco observed.
** Who made them? ** Casey wondered. ** Vampires? **
:: These were crafted by Houseman. ::
** All of them? Under the whole city? **
:: No. I think Houseman was only responsible for these. That I’m aware of, anyway. ::
The image of Austin resting precariously on a swiss-cheese labyrinth of tunnels was faintly humorous. Casey wondered if the nocturnal creatures who created it gave any particular thought to structural soundness, or if the whole city might one day utter a vast groan and settle down to crush its infestation of darkness-dwellers like so many cockroaches.
They approached a large steel door. Falco placed his hand on it, deeply concentrating. Casey heard tumblers and gears cranking.
The door opened. Cool blue light from ceiling fixtures sprayed from beyond the door.
:: Here we are. :: Falco disappeared within. :: Stay close. ::
She followed him quickly. ** We’re under where Houseman’s place used to be? This is part of his Archive? **
:: It is. He maintained several surface levels, but the truly valuable artifacts were retained in these lower levels. This place could survive a nuclear strike. ::
** Hopefully it won’t come to that. **
They moved into the corridor, sealing the door behind them.
:: The place is running on backup generators. I wonder how long they’ll hold out? ::
Casey’s ear popped.
:: Uh-oh. ::
She blinked. **’Uh oh??’ ** Alarm tightened in her stomach. ** What just
:: I believe the air is being pumped out of the corridor. :: He frowned. :: I do not sense anyone… it must be an automated security measure. ::
Casey realized she could feel a faint breeze of air moving past her.
Falco’s expression turned inward. Standing next to him, she felt his intellect moving out, sensing. She sent out her own perceptions, but her feet were already taking her in the direction the draft was moving. Wherever the air was going, that’s where she wanted to be; maybe there was a door or window there that hadn’t closed yet.
She followed the breeze. Spaced in ten foot intervals, she found small vents along the wall. The air was being sucked through those.
Underground as they were, there were no windows. All the doors in the corridor were closed. Claustrophobic apprehension gripped her throat, making her feel like the air was already gone. Freaking vampires! She wondered if the system was designed to create a total vacuum, or just make it impossible for breathers to survive down here. Probably the latter — it made sense that Houseman would have designed it to be lethal to intruders but not to himself.
Not that it really mattered; she’d be just as dead either way.
** Were you serious about being able to teleport? ** She sent back to Falco. ** Because I think I’d like to learn that one now. **
:: No worries. ::
She heard a groan of metal on metal.
:: Took a moment, but I found the machinery pumping the air out. :: He took a deep breath. :: We should be okay on air, but beware. I doubt that’s the only danger facing us here. ::
Casey looked around, halfway between relief and vexation. The blue lighting was starting to feel a little oppressive, as if she were underwater: swimming through dangerous waters and the next shark might appear from anywhere. She considered floating to avoid stepping on any booby-trapped tiles, but then reflected that Houseman probably wouldn’t have set the sort of Indiana-Jones-esque traps that would send wooden bolts darting out to impale the unwary. That would be like a human leaving a loaded revolver on his coffee table.
Besides, she should probably conserve her psionics for the inevitable life-and-death emergency that was bound to confront her before the night was over. She hadn’t liked last night’s burned-out sensation one little bit. ** So where are these artifacts we’re looking for? **
:: Deeper down. ::
She didn’t notice at first — because they were blue in the blue light — but more than a dozen softball-sized spheres were rolling silently their way.
Oh good, the sharks had begun to arrive. ** Freaking vampires. ** Experimentally she raised a curved shield in front of one of the balls to block its approach. The shield was shaped to deflect the blast away if the ball exploded on contact, but not so large that it touched more than one ball.
The ball exploded into a puff of white smoke, rapidly expanding.