CAST OF PLAYERS:

Debora Silkotch…………..Casey Gavin……………………………Human Psionic

Jera Morrison…………..….Alseyne Aulaudin……………………Sidhe Changeling

Kendall Nye…………………Joseph McAdoo………………………Ronin Garou
Aaron Murphy……………..Claws-of-Honor……………………….Were-Tiger
Jeremy Whitener………….Korin Alabaster…………………………Were-Mongoose
Rachelle Phifer…………….Amaya………………………………….Ghoul

Aron Head………………….Story/Setting/Everything Else………Game Master

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The group moved through the trees toward the house, and soon it came into view: three stories of rotted wood, flaking paint and broken glass.

“I…we believe the house is trapped,” the Stonewolf rumbled. “Those inside know we prepare to attack.”

Alseyne looked speculatively at the structure. “I wonder if we could perhaps spring the trap: drive them out to meet us rather than go in there? Perhaps causing a small localized earthquake or setting the house ablaze? Even if they leave the hostage behind when they come out, an extraction team would likely have a better chance going in after her, even with the added danger caused by whatever our distraction is. It could work out even better if they bring her out with them — no need to divide our forces then.”

Pip and Yggthor both thought on that.

“An excellent thought,” BranAdoo agreed. “However, the house sits on a node, Lady. Will that effect your castings?”

“A Node?” Claws frowned. “Is that like a Caern?”

“I think so,” the Stonewolf responded. “My knowledge of magic is inadequate to say for sure. “

“That house is rotting away,” Casey said dubiously. “It would be a total inferno within minutes if we set it on fire, and the girl’s in no shape to help herself if for whatever reason we can’t reach her fast enough. Same problem with an earthquake — what if part of the structure collapsed on her?”

“Why not just charge through the wall, grab the girl, and keep going right out the other side?” Claws made it sound like child’s play.

“What of the flying turtle shell of Oakenshield…to come crashing down,” BranAdoo suggested. “He may have anticipated land assaults, magical attacks…but what of force from above?” He snuffled, impatient. “General, you’ve been quiet. Thoughts to share? “

“It is most certainly a trap.” the General rumbled. “This sorcerer is bold. He makes his lair upon a seat of power, and is no doubt aware of our presence. He also knows that we must come to him. I doubt fire will burn the structure of his dwelling. He will have seen to his defenses.”

“Then a frontal assault would have been a sacrifice to fools,” BranAdoo snorted, irked. “What strengths has he that we could turn against him?” He raised his head and sniffed. “Casey,” he tapped the center of his forehead. *Convey to Alysene and Pip. Perhaps the foe listens to us and scries our plan. Concealment and stealth to whose advantage?*

“He can see into our minds,” she sighed aloud. “Sorry, I forgot to mention that before. When I ‘looked’ at him, he was looking right back at me. Words or thoughts, it makes no difference. Our only hope is that we can fight better than he expects.”

“Well that stinks,” Pip frowned.

Casey rubbed her cheek thoughtfully. “This does feel like a trap, and I think the necromancer’s a way bigger problem than the baboon at this point. I seriously doubt we could drive him out with fire or an earthquake anyway — hell, I could protect *myself* from those things without being driven out, and his kung fu’s probably a lot stronger than mine.

The Stonewolf growled, not at Casey in particular, just expressing general frustration.

“The divide-and-conquer plan isn’t a bad one,” she continued. “Two of them, plus the girl, and eighteen of us if Ulek’s group wants to join the fight….” Casey trailed off, then turned to the boy. “Forgive us, Ulek, we haven’t thought to ask what *your* intentions are here.”

Ulek’s response was somber. “We cannot approach the house. Our orders do not permit us to leave the Land of Rocks and Canyons.”

“Then we will wish you farewell,” Claws rumbled.

Casey looked around, baffled. “*This* is the Land Of Rocks And Canyons? Where we’re standing right now?” Somehow she’d pictured it…well…rockier and more canyony. And harder to get to. “So you are…the Swordmaster of the Brotherhood of Doon?” She tried to remember everything Myrle and Andali had said about the Brotherhood…something about a Shadow Realm…and a missing liege. Bits and pieces, nothing very helpful. “The necromancer in the house…is he an enemy of your people?”

“Ulek, who gave you these orders…and when? ” McAdoo interjected.

“My Lord Commander,” Ulek answered. “Riley Oakenshield.”

Pip’s head snapped around at that, “What? When?”

“It is hard to say,” Ulek said. “It… is confusing.”

Claws narrowed his eyes at the youth and growled, “Confusing…think *real* hard…”

“It was … some time ago.”

Pip chewed his lip and muttered, “I bet it was a looong time ago.”

Alseyne shot a glance at Claws before turning back to the boy. “Based on what I’ve been told about your people, Ulek, I can understand that the awareness of the passage of time may be somewhat vague and disjointed, but can you remember anything about when or where you received your orders that may help us narrow it down? Something memorable that would have been passed down to our time — like seeing a new star, a volcanic eruption or some other natural occurrence?”

“This is important how, Lady?” Branadoo asked, not disrespectfully. “Had we a signet ring that showed we spoke with Oakenshield’s voice…” his voice trailed off.

“It might be. For one thing, no one has yet asked why Ulek and his people are watching this house. If there is a connection to Oakenshield it is important to know it NOW because we know Mardmor was or is somehow connected with Oakenshield’s enemies.” Alseyne turned back to Ulek. “If you would be willing, please, sir — could you share with us why your people are watching this house in addition to trying to recall when your instructions were given to you?”

“One of my men is in that house.” Ulek answered gravely. “He had been watching the house to ensure that its inhabitants did not venture into our domain. The ape returned, skirting our territory. My man fought to defend the girl and fell before we could render aid. The ape…took my man with them.” He paused. “Forgive me, milady. I do not recall when we were so ordered. It was long ago.”

Alseyne nodded, then turns to the others. “Alright — I know we came here to rescue the girl, but I think we need to make Ulek’s man our top priority to get out, especially since his people cannot enter the house themselves.”

McAdoo growled again, at no one in particular.

Alseyne looked over to Casey, “When you scanned the house earlier, did you sense him as well or just the girl?”

“I was only looking for the girl. Hold on, I’ll take a longer look.” Her eyes unfocused, as if she were seeing through the Sidhe. “I only sense three minds in the house,” she murmured after a moment. “The ghoul…she’s barely conscious. The second mind…indistinct…could be Ulek’s man or the baboon, I can’t really tell much about it. The third mind is more of a general presence in the house, like a… a haunting. Evil, malevolent. Watching us. If there are four people in there, one of them is closed to me.”

“There’s always the stealth approach,” Korin commented. “Can Casey shield some or all of our minds from being seen? If so maybe Casey and another person or two could enter and find this girl without attracting much attention. The rest of the group, however large it is, could do things to…oh I don’t know, attract their attention elsewhere.”

Casey considered that.  “Well…I can conceal my presence from most normal minds, and I might be able to broaden the field of concealment to include one or two other people if they stayed close.  But I’ve never had any luck fooling the more disciplined minds, like vampires and other psionics and such.  We can try it — it fits in nicely with the divide-and-conquer plan — as long as we don’t hang all our hopes on the idea that it’ll work for sure.”

Pip considered. Nodded. “You up for that, Casey?”

“Sure. But I want to emphasize that the chances of my ‘cloak’ actually working on this Necromancer guy are ridiculously slim.”

“From my personal experience, magic and your abilities are antagonistic, yes?” BranAdoo asked Casey.

“Depends on the application. Pip cast Oakenshield on me down in the dungeon and it worked fine. And later after a bad fight with some elementals he gave me a couple of magical aspirin that healed me right up. That was before I learned how to heal myself. I think it would be more accurate to say that I have a hard time countering magic with my psionics. And of course I can’t utilize magical power myself, we found that out the hard way.”

McAdoo nodded. “Here’s a thought. Can you see from the hostage’s eyes? I’m wondering if you could use your abilities using her eyes. Their defenses may be warding attacks from theoutside…what about force from within? “

“I can try. Maybe not her eyes so much; I got the impression that she’s barely conscious, much less alert and looking around. But we might be able to learn something from what she’s hearing, or from her tactile sensations. At the very least maybe I can offer her some comfort.” Casey instinctively moved closer into the protection of the group, then closed her eyes
and reached back into the house. This time she was seeking a connection with one mind in particular, the ghoul she’d touched earlier, attempting to immerse herself deeply enough into her perceptions to see and hear and feel through the captive’s senses.

She couldn’t see…the girl’s eyes were apparently closed. She felt a lot of pain coming from her, though. She was bound to a straight backed chair by arms and ankles. Her arms were tightly knotted behind her, threatening to tear from the sockets.

Her cheek throbbed.

The tang of “ghoulishness” in the girl’s mind was different from the mad, thwarted blood-bond in Yaqub’s tormented mental presence…but Casey could taste the similarities as well. Was this one of Murphy’s people? Houseman’s? Bronwen’s? Some other player in the game that Casey wasn’t yet aware of? There might be more to learn here.

Gently she dipped a little deeper into the captive’s head…and found that in the ghoul’s semi-conscious state information was easily plucked from her mind. Her name was Amaya, and she operated in the service of the recently-deceased Gerard Houseman. Until tonight, she’d been out-of-town on an errand for him.

“The girl’s one of Houseman’s,” Casey murmured aloud. “She’s been out of town on an errand for him; she just got back into Austin tonight. Her name’s Amaya.”

She made an attempt to communicate with the ghoul, shielding the connection as best she could to prevent other minds from listening in. ** Hello? We’ve come to help you. Are you okay? ** She tried to sound as soothing and reassuring as possible.

The girl’s mind roused at this, flickering back to consciousness. She was confused at first by the voice in her head, but then nodded and thought the word: Yes.

** Good, **  Casey sent, relieved.  ** We’re going to get you out of there; be ready to move quickly as soon as the chance comes. ** Aloud she said, “She’s awake now. The….” She trailed off, her expression suddenly watchful and expectant as Amaya raised her head.

Claws looked at her, waiting for the rest of the sentence. Realizing that it wasn’t forthcoming, he looked closer, tilting his head this way and that, as if he expected to see the images reflected in her eyes. He even sniffed once or twice for good measure.

McAdoo crouched down near the psionic, intent as the Khan. “Casey, can you use your power using her eyes…pin or blast anyone away from her and give us a go. “

“I don’t attack with my eyes,” Casey smiled absently. “I can deal with whoever’s with her directly, mind to mind…but let’s see who this mystery person is first before we get all antisocial on them. Might be Ulek’s man.”

McAdoo tried again. “Perhaps I am unclear. You can see through her eyes, yes? Can you use your power on what you see, knowing it’s location? “

“I don’t need to see it to attack it. Normally I wouldn’t need to see it at all, but its mind is mostly shielded from me. I can tell it’s there, but not whether it’s male or female, adult or child, human or beast, friend or enemy. I need to see it so I can get a better idea of whether we should attack it. Or I could just ask it if it’s friendly. But if it’s evil it might, you know, lie.”

“We already know both of their intentions are foul. ” McAdoo closed his eyes and sighed, obviously frustrated. “… “

Casey didn’t even know how to respond to that. She fell silent, waiting to see if the ghoul’s searching eyes would show her a baboon or a captured child.