CAST OF PLAYERS:
Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin…………………………Human Psionic
Aron Head……………….Story/Setting/Everything Else…….Game Master
Casey considered attempting to seal the smoke and as many spheres as possible behind a flat shield that would fill the corridor from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, but that seemed like a rather short-term solution if they planned on continuing farther down. Besides, it would only make things worse should the remaining balls roll into the barrier on her side.
Instinctively holding her breath as she levitated up off the floor, she sent, ** Maybe they’re only dangerous if we touch them. Think we can hop past and then get a door closed between us and them somewhere farther on? **
Falco had been scrutinizing them. :: I agree. :: He joined her, rising.
As they moved off, eight panels slid away on the walls — four on each side.
Eight ghastly figures stepped out, the mouths full of sparkling white and beastly pointed teeth. Each was nude, but the gender almost unidentifiable due to the advanced state of… decay? Their flesh was mottled and gray. A hideous reek emanated from them.
:: Welcoming committee? ::
** Somehow I don’t feel all that welcome. ** Casey eyed the creatures uncertainly, wondering if they had a taste for brains or hearts or some other human organ that Houseman and his freaking vampire buddies couldn’t supply. She gestured toward one of the undead figures, sending a wave of heat to ignite it, prepared to quickly raise a protective shield if her effort should spark off a conflagration.
“Huuurrr!” It growled at the force of heat tunneled into its chest and flames erupted across it. “Haaaaaaaaar!”
It charged forward!
As did the rest!
:: They’re not undead. :: Falco scowled at another running up the side of the wall and hurling itself at them. The creature was crushed against a suddenly tangible invisible wall. :: They’re alive. I think they’re ghouls. ::
Casey blinked, surprised and then slowly horrified as she remembered what she’d been told the day before. ** Are these … Houseman’s men?? ** She searched among the rotting faces for Trevor, suddenly hoping intensely that she wouldn’t see him here. This might be the handsome ghoul’s inevitable fate, but she had no desire to witness it firsthand.
:: I don’t think so… Having looked into their minds, an experience I do not recommend, I believe these to be the ghouls of fallen enemies, re-tasked by Houseman for home security. ::
Casey’s mouth twisted in distaste at the inherent cruelty of such an act, but she was relieved that at least these weren’t anyone she knew. Either way, though, it would be a mercy to end them. She sent a stronger bolt of fire at at another of the dying ghouls, and then another.
Falco was at it, too. :: Keep one alive. ::
Casey nodded, looking around for a likely target.
Damn it was fast! Casey didn’t see it move behind her, but she instinctively rolled her shoulder allowing it to spin past her, earning her a scrape along her side. Grimacing, she makes a sharp encompassing gesture toward the ghoul, capturing it within a closed shield.
In short order, she and Falco made quick work of the remaining ghouls.
:: Nice catch. ::
Casey smiled, unexpectedly gratified by the praise. She realized suddenly that this was the first time she and Falco have fought side by side that she hadn’t been half out of her mind with terror or rage or crippling exhaustion. It felt good to be able to hold up her side of things with relative confidence for a change, to feel like an actual warrior-in-training instead of a helpless B-grade movie bimbo. ** Thanks. ** She drew her captive in for a closer look.
Falco regarded the captured ghoul, his gaze becoming intense. :: This one was called… Yaqub Nabil, a ghoul in the service of the vampire Sa’d Mu’tasim. He was twenty-three when he was drawn into the service of Mu’tasim as his father was before him. The Desert Demon, Mu’tasim was called, and Yaqub here proudly served. Yaqub was sent on an errand here in Austin. That’s when he encountered Houseman. You’ve seen how that turned out. ::
Casey studied the unfortunate creature with conflicting emotions. The whole concept of vampires and their ghouls was distasteful to her; it reeked of spiritual unhealth and volitionless servitude. She wondered if Yaquub chose his path or if it was inflicted upon him by his father and the demon he served. Either way, he must have known, as surely all ghouls must know, that it would come down to this eventually.
The fact that Houseman would deliberately bring a man to such a fate — not just Yaqub and the others here, but Trevor and heaven only knew how many other ghouls that had served him until his final death — disturbed her beyond all the other disturbing things she’d learned about vampires in the past two days.
Falco frowned. :: He knows nothing of the Archive. ::
Drawn from her thoughts, Casey shivered slightly. ** Do we still need him then, or can we put him out of his misery? **
:: He has nothing left to offer, but… I wonder. Is death the best option. I sense that he attacked us out of rage. He’s been held here in that cell for… a long time. This Sa’d Mu’tasim, this Desert Demon… There may perhaps be value in returning a lost, valued servant to him. :: He looked to Casey for her thoughts.
She took a moment to process the idea. It was one thing to pity a dying ghoul and want to end his suffering. It was another thing entirely to return a deadly tool to the hand of its master. Wouldn’t that make her and Falco in some part responsible for whatever future harm Yaqub might commit at the Demon’s bidding?
** Do you know anything about Sa’d Mu’tasim other then what you’ve seen in Yaqub’s mind? Like why he’s called the Desert Demon, for instance? I don’t want to further the cause of some vicious tyrant. **
:: I’ve no knowledge of Mu’tasim beyond what I have pulled from our ghoulish friend. :: He regarded Yaqub. :: He doesn’t see himself a monster… of course, monsters rarely do. Still… Houseman starved him, bringing him to his current state. He wasn’t always the hideous thing before us. ::
Casey mulled, searching for the decision that felt right. ** What was Yaqub’s assignment here in Austin? ** Maybe knowing that would shed some light on the nature of his service.
:: He was sent to retrieve an artifact from Dr. Chadwick Turner. Houseman’s sire… and as I gathered from Houseman himself, a rather dear figure to our fallen vampire friend. ::
Casey shifted restlessly. Falco had implied that dipping into the ghoul’s mind would be an unpleasant experience for her, but his efforts at interpreting weren’t telling her what she needed to know.
Steeling herself as best she could, she reached into the thoughts of the once-human ruin before her, cautiously evaluating the mental weather there.
A storm of hatred, fear, and pain!
The walls… pressing in… silence!
Not even the sound of his own cries…
…is this death?
The storm swirled, whipping about her, threatening to suck her into the center of Yaqub’s madness. Casey reeled, swept headlong into the squalling maelstrom of rage and fear. It threatened to overwhelm her, filled her mind with such howling bedlam that it almost drowned out her own presence of mind.
It was unpleasant alright, Falco was right about that. But compared to standing unshielded in the raging belly of Mardmor’s glamour-powered Machine, it seemed like a rather manageable sort of storm.
She drew her self-awareness carefully around herself like a warm cloak in a wild gale. Then, gently, she made her presence felt in Yaqub’s mind, radiating as much serenity and reassurance as she was capable of.
There was an abeyance… the waters stilled. “… Bint helwa…” She heard a quiet thought. She understood the words: Beautiful girl.
Encouraged by her ability to reach him, and pleased that the mind-touch could apparently overcome the language barrier, she continued in the same calming tone. ** Yaqub. The vampire who held you here is destroyed; your imprisonment is over. ** One way or the other.
A bubbling joy welled up within him, threatening to send him into hysterics. The storm wasn’t far away.
** Would you answer a question for me? **
She was more cautious now, unsure of his reaction. ** What was the artifact you came to Austin to retrieve? **
“The Shahpurian Fragment… a lost piece of the Chaldean Oracles.”
Searching his mind, the storm whipping up — it would break upon them soon — she learned that the Oracles was a mystic text written in the second century of the current era that existed today only in fragments.
Her window was closing; any second now Yaqub was going to come apart at the seams. Not wanting to push him any harder than she had to, she redirected her next question quickly to Falco. ** What was the purpose of the Chaldean Oracles text? Have you ever heard of it before? **
:: Yes. :: He nodded. :: They are the writings of several oracular figures out of the mists of time. Chaldea was a city in ancient Babylon. The text addresses astronomy and philosophy. It informed the teachings of many of the great western philosophers. Proclus, Porphyry, and Psellus. All the P-guys wrote commentaries on them. The Oracles also… serve as a theurgical tome. A book of sacred magic. ::
Casey frowned. ** Sacred magic involving astronomy and philosophy — sounds like it’d be right up Mardmor’s alley, doesn’t it? **
:: It does, but I doubt that Mardmor is our concern anymore. ::
** Really? You’re more of an optimist than I am; I’d be very surprised if we’ve actually seen the last of old Glowy-Eyes. **
:: Perhaps I am wrong… But I believe him to be dead. ::
** Wish I could. ** Casey’s hands twitched unconsciously at her sides in remembered fire and mutilation. ** By all rights he should be dead, we threw everything we had at him.** The thought felt more wishful than reassured, though. ** I hope you’re right. **
:: You suffered much at his hands and know him better than I. Perhaps… I should put certain parties on notice. Just in case. ::
**Pana said she’d warn the People. I’m not sure what harm Mardmor could do now even if he is alive, but at the very least he’d probably be looking for some revenge. **
Falco studied her for a long moment… as if trying to sense something. He wasn’t in her head, but she suspected his antennae were up.
She shrugged uncomfortably. ** I mean, we did bring his whole life’s work to ruins. He’s got nothing left. Even if his followers still believe in him, their window of opportunity to achieve the dream is closed now. Seems reasonable to think he might be somewhat pissed of about all that, if he’s still alive. I just think it’s probably too much to ask that he’d feel very forgiving about the whole thing. ** She trailed off, knowing there was more to it than that, and wondering if Falco had sensed the emotional power Mardmor still held over her. Her mentor’s eyes were warm, understanding, but Casey didn’t want to go into it here. The absolute helplessness, the terror and agony, all the mind games…Mardmor had beaten her on every level, more thoroughly than she’d ever been beaten in her life before. The fact that she’d eventually found the strength to resist him didn’t erase the memory of how completely he’d overpowered her during those first harrowing hours. The experience had left a malefic shadow on her soul. Sooner or later she’d likely need to talk about it…but not now, not yet.
She sent Falco a wordless pulse of acknowledgement, a concession to his perceptiveness, mingled with a gentle plea to let the matter drop for now.
He answered her with a simple nod and let the issue pass.
She wavered indecisively for another moment, then added, **It’s okay with me if we let Yaqub go back to his Desert Demon, but I think we should get to that Shahpurian Fragment thingie before he does. **
:: Agreed. ::
** I take it Dr. Turner lives here in Austin? **
:: In the area, yes. ::
She glanced over at the swiftly-unravelling ghoul. ** Do you think he was searching for the Fragment here in the Archive when he was captured? Maybe Turner gave it to Houseman for safekeeping? **
:: The memory I glimpsed had him in Turner’s home. Apparently, Houseman took a particular offense at that. ::
Casey nodded thoughtfully. ** Once Yaqub leaves here, I wonder if he’ll go straight back to his master for healing or try to finish his task first. **
:: It would not be prudent to release him as is. His current mental state… he’s a monster. But I believe he can be reclaimed. We can notify his master. Perhaps he will send someone? Or perhaps we can deliver him? ::
Casey lifted a brow, intrigued by that notion. ** Do we know which desert the Demon calls home? **
:: I do not. But it should not be difficult to determine. ::
** Okay. Good. I wouldn’t mind getting out of Austin for a while. **