Monday, September 22, 2014

After the Rain ep14 : Houses of the Blooded

08/04/2014
After the Rain

Episode Fourteen
"Wine and Cookies"

In the Wilderness.
The Airship created by Haroun sails over the vast landscape. Nia Jalan and Jaric Thayl whisper in private about how many had fallen from the airship during the journey back before the others were finally permitted to climb onboard.   Those who had been allowed on board hide any signs or hints of ill will towards the ones formerly called the Ork Ven. By the end of the first Season of traveling, the Airship reaches familiar land:  the home estate of Nia Jalan's parents.    The ven scream in panic upon seeing the orks in the sky, unaccustomed to the presence of orks in the vicinity.  Jaric is surprised to overhear Haroun Q'n muttering about how the City ven had been raised in the city for too long that they panic at the first sight of orks.  Nia is stunned to realize how much Haroun has changed.  They discuss on what they are to tell the Senate about the newcomers and of how to inform Althea  Thorne of Seran and Galeo's disappearance.  Jaric recalls the visions the red-haired demon had shown him, and he has shared them with Nia, but he does not believe he can trust them.  Haron talks about how he pledged to keep Seran safe, and that he will have to report to the Senate to report that he had broken his word.  Jaric tries to stress the need to deal with the lost ven, as well as the Demon that is now free.  Nia supports the need to prioritize the matter, however Haroun admits he does not grasp the concept of demons.  Haroun admits he knew of a group that was fascinated with demons: Colora Mwrr, a man who slipped into Solace a few years ago whom obsessed over demons.  The Senate deemed the tomes Colora wrote as Sorcery and had them destroyed.   His daughters, however, might be willing to share information.  The daughters however stand in opposing poles on how demons should be dealt with.  Isla believes that Demonology is a lore best left buried.  Viverra thinks demons are just tools.  Zruda laughs at both for having such fascinations with what she considers to be fiction.  Zsanos Yvarai had Romances with each of them, it seems.  The three sisters have the same face, and all of them are Serpents.  Haroun discusses more about his concern regarding "his word" and he may need to revoke his request to have the husband Blooded.  Having failed to keep Seran safe, he may have to attempt damage control to allow the others to keep their own lands as well.  Haroun considers reclaiming the land of Seran's, to hold under his shadow until Althea Thorne bears another child.

Down below, the roadmen stare nervously at the airship.  The group lands the airship with Nia Jalan taking lead to introduce their presence to his family. The land below, after all, is familial grounds.  Orion Steiner is happy to see Nia return, and curious to notice the many accompanying her.  She introduces them as Ork Ven of another Shan'ri from far away.  He asks if they are of the House Ork, and this question bothers the gathered.  Nia quickly whispers an explanation of how they were addressed as Orks in the season prior, but the father merely finalizes then that the visitors are not of House Ork.   Haroun addresses the Lord Protector and asks for an explanation.  Orion narrates how the Senate House was struck by a tremor, and what spared it from destruction was the rising of a massive hand built of deceased ven bodies.  The hand rose to support the Senate House from falling. He mentions they are lead by the Duchess of the Ruins Beneath: Dranna Ru.  Haroun is happy to learn his sister is alive.  Nia, less so, to the point she calls Dranna Ru a harlot!   Haroun reminds Nia Dranna Ru is his sister and Nia is aghast to realize that makes them cousins!  Orion shares the House Ork was recognized as of a Season ago, and Jaric relates the timetable to match when the other Shan'ri fell.  Jaric asks what did happen to Dranna Ru and Nia just reminds him that she fell into a hole and died.  Haroun asks to speak with Orion and tells the rest that they leave in the morrow.  Dalvinosh Steele, the former Earl of the Elk, asks to see Nia and Jaric and discusses with them the coming future given they are now all landless ven.  Nia considers having him meet her father, thinking it would be interesting for her father to meet an outsider.  Dalvinosh also asks about the nearby temple and Nia shares that it is the temple of her mother who had achieved Suavenhood.  Another ven asks if the two control the Orks in the air.  When Dalvinosh tries to shush her, she reminds him that he is no Earl anymore.  Nia tells them the Orks do what they want.  Another asks if there is danger and Jaric affirms there is some element of danger, hence the roadmen standing ready to protect them.  The concept boggles the mind of many of the Ork ven.  One even asks what a Roadman is, and the two remember how limited the scope of understanding the Ork ven have of living beyond a city.  Szaz Ashken calls for Jaric and pushes through the crowd to get to him.  She understands more how huge the lands are for the two, and how the City ven truly were living in such a tiny place.  When the voices arise with all the questions, Jaric reminds them to mind their manners and wait their turn to speak.
Dalvinosh Steele, Former Earl of the Elk

At the Althua.
Dranna Ru and Seran Thorne share a moment in the party.  Seran speaks of her joy to see Dranna Ru alive, a statement Dranna Ru asks if it is sincere.  The Duchess still feels slighted that her "friend" had abandoned her to her death.  Seran asks how she lived and Dranna Ru simply says it was an event beyond reason.  Seran tries to rekindle ties but Dranna Ru seems to be defensive in her statements.  When Seran mentions she is leaving soon to search for the others, Dranna Ru takes that moment to say, "Searching for the others?  Another group you abandoned."  Thankfully, Seran ignores the insult and merely admits it was not an act of choice.  Dranna Ru does eventually admit she is grateful to see Seran, because they had a moment in the winding passageways that were pleasant times.  The clothes (made of living Orks) seem to reflect an anger held within.  Seran shares only she and Galeo Silja have returned, but that it is still possible that the others are alive.  Dranna Ru shares she spent a year trying to regain her strength, and most of that time was also spent wondering if those she considered dear to her were coming to her rescue.  She asks about Lukas and Seran firmly asks her not to ask about him.  "He is dead."  Dranna Ru admits that changes her plans, and insists that will have to wait for another day.  Seran directly asks if Dranna Ru is planning a Revenge, and Dranna Ru simply answers, "We are Ven."  She asks to see Galeo and Seran at another Althua, to be held in the Castle of Sorio Ruso.  It will be a larger event than the one they were attending, but she assures them there will not be a need to bring Gifts.

Count Kether converses with Galeo Silja in the other side of the room.  He asks Galeo if the other man in the room is Lukas, and Galeo tries to deflect answering his questions.  She tries to use her Sardonic Wit to her advantage.  The truth of the discussion would not, after all, forward any of his plans.  Kether tells Galeo that he has been in touch with Hero, and he referred to himself as the Painter.  The last time Hero did so, people were not certain if Galeo was a woman.  Kether admits he already knows that Galeo is a woman, but has no idea on the sex of their child.  "Male, female, it doesn't matter to me now.  What matters to me more now is the Art."  Kether admits those are wise words, almost sounding like something Cherno has spoken of.  When Galeo looks confused, Kether tells her about an elusive figure who has been causing waves in the Art field.  The artist rose into prominence in Galeo's absence.  "Cherno is Art. And all have relished the chance to bear witness to his work."  Galeo finds it unthinkable that someone has achieved this in two seasons.  She was once the benchmark, and now in barely three Seasons, she has become passe.  "True, he does good work, but the reason he is popular is because his first works reminded people of my work.  Derivative."   Galeo, however, sensed deep inside this Cherno was a True Competitor.

"But then he transformed himself by the Second Season.  He created Living Opera."  Kether admits he cannot explain it further... how it is Opera yet not.  How the stories keep changing.  Galeo questions if he has abandoned form.  Kether, however admits it is not about abandoning form, but instead was finding a way to tell more than one at the same time.   "He has met the Challenge against the Ridicule.. well assuming he is a man.  We are not certain if he is a man, or what House he is from.  He just appears.  No Gallery.  No Opera House.  And when it appears, word spreads about it and everyone rushes to see it."

"He makes Art into a snack?" Galeo gasps.

"Many see it more as he makes Art into a Moment.  Like when a Comet passes over the sky.  It is like you see it, or you do not."  He tells her how many have been selling their Art because they never change.  And the Merchants have been celebrating it.  Kether admits to have seen one of Cherno's work.  It was like making love.  "It was the most intimate experience I had ever had."  Others overhear the conversation and start to join the conversation, speaking about other works that they had seen.  One mentions a work by the waterfall.  How the most recent one had five veth, or perhaps Ruk.  The performers know nothing of Cherno, or of the next work.   Kether admits laughing about it at first, but things totally changed for him upon witnessing it.   He even confesses that he doesn't think he will ever love again.

Seran tells Galeo about her talk with Dranna Ru.  Galeo, however is lost in her thoughts on the matter regarding Cherno.  What holds her tongue is seeing Seran dressed in mourning clothes.  When Seran overhears and asks about Cherno's work, they see how the speakers all talk of his work as if it were... a Romance.  Seran actually asks Galeo if she is Cherno and Galeo cannot help but find that a borderline insult.

Maja Thayl, Jaric's mother, discusses with Galeo the matter of Cherno but quickly diverts the discussion to whether or not Galeo is willing to be a voice for the Uv'shanadir.  Galeo is uncertain if she should be involved in politics, especially given she has friends to mourn.  Maja reminds Galeo they are in an Althua, and they should NOT speak of mourning unless they were dressed in such.  Galeo shows her dress is meant to show mourning.  But Maja questions why she would wear such a thing given Hero still lives.  Not even Galeo's explanation of having witnessed so much death fazes her. Galeo admits she was thinking of having Cassalanter become Maja's ward, and she admits she has need for a Court Scholar.  Galeo finds it interesting considering Jaric's connection to the past.  Maja then shares that was because Jaric had Blessings when he was young.   He had an Uncle who was a Serpent who promised him that he would grow up to resemble him in many ways.  "Funny, I can't quite remember his name. I normally never forget a face.  All I could remember was that he was a Serpent in his Winter years.  He had a ring that he left with Jaric..."  When asked if that was Ato, Maja admits it wasn't him.  If not a Court Scholar, Maja offers to have the Cassalanter be a Mason.  Galeo does request that Cassalanter is to be unknown while in her service.  Maja however cautiously tells Galeo that many are starting to find that more like a "cliche" now than a true mystery.

Kether asks Seran about her colors and she tells him she mourns her husband. He asks if he suffered, and she simply tells him the point is he is gone.  Kether shares his condolences and hopes he did not suffer.  "I am not known for my Kindness.  I am known for my Honesty and my Ruthlessness.  But I also realize now that one must learn to feel."  When Seran asks if this is from Cherno's art, he admits he is.  He questions if she will rise to his challenge.  Seran believes she will in time.

"I truly believe he did not suffer," Kether adds, "In fact, if he was by some chance here right now, the only true suffering he feels is seeing you unhappy."

Seran tries to ask of his wife and Kether shares that she had grown tired of him and committed suicide.  Her last act of defiance was not to leave her. Instead it was to show she could not change even as he did.   Seran wonders how great Cherno's work is to have changed people so much, and wonders more how to get a chance to see the work.  Kether leans close and whispers to her that there is a group that shares word of any sighting of Cherno's work.  He invites her to join but warns that Galeo would probably not be welcome.

Back at the fringes.
Down from the ship, Nia makes her way straight to the castle and smells the roasting meats and hears the laughter.  Haroun and Orion are enjoying a meal.  Nia shares that there is a group that wishes to see mother's temple and Orion thinks it would be good to allow them in that she would gain more followers.  An extra table is set up by the staff.  Nia proudly shares that Haroun is no longer afraid of Orks, and he admits she helped him learn to handle the fear.  Orion finds the Ork Ven fascinating, given their claim to have a Senate within a single City and more.  Nia joins them.

Szaz and Jaric are still on the ship and feel the others may have forgotten they are still on the vessel.  They muse this is Haroun "forgetting" intentionally as another act of reminding people what they did to him.  They discuss how vast Shan'ri truly is  and Szaz questions how one can even control such large expanses of territory.  Jaric talks about the roles vassals play and suggests to Szaz that perhaps the Spiders would like to.. work for him in some form.  Szaz admits they helped not out of altruism, but it was of Cunning and Patience.  Jaric Blesses Szaz with Moving the Pawn to "Spread your Shadow across the lands, and in that way, mine as well." Having agreed to trust one another, the spiders begin to disembark from the ship.
Orion Steiner, Marquis

Back in the castle.
The former Earl arrives, and Orion turns to Nia to follow her lead on approaching the man.  Nia identifies him as the former Earl and does note that he is landless.  Haroun just shrugs that the man is Ruk.  The guests are welcomed, and Dalvinosh Steele is presented as "the former Earl".  Haroun however still raises a question if that is how a Ruk is supposed to be addressed.  Nia defers to his wisdom as Duke.  Orion calls is a matter of entertainment, and addresses the Ruk as having been "once an Earl."  Dalvinosh drops to one knee and declares they have come as having been summoned.  Haroun laughs, tells them to join them at the table, and tells them they are all guests of Orion Steiner.  Haroun pulls a chair for Dalvinosh and insists he sits and even offers to go get the wine for the former Earl himself.  Orion throws Nia a glance and asks what is going on, not wanting to be involved in these things.  "There is a reason your father picked a Province far from everyone else!"

"There is also a reason your Daughter picked a Province from the other side."

"You realize that made you furthest away from me!"

A moment as the two realize what they both have just come to realize.    The two however are worried that Haroun might be planning a Revenge and they wonder if they should send word on the matter to the Senate.  There is even concern that Althea Thorne would rain down upon them acts of cruelty.  Orion shares that Haroun did mention he laments the deaths of Seran Thorne and Galeo Silja.   He also realizes he may have triggered this as the Ruk are not covered by the Unblooded laws that the Senate now respects, at least not until they are formally registered in the Senate.  Nia realizes this may be the reason Haroun is on a warpath.

At the kitchen, Jaric wanders into the chamber to find Haroun currently looking at a few bottles of wine. Haroun rises with a bottle of wine in his hands and he recorks it.  Jaric asks about the wine and Haroun tells him flatly, "Not for you.  The Lord's Protector has many other fine vintages available, but this bottle is not for you."  They open another bottle and take a drink.  Jaric asks if he has told Haroun about the Demoness and he shares the visions he had seen in the forest.  The demoness was supposedly a wish-giver and she could only do so and her wishes were delivered with unforeseen consequences or terrible prices to pay.  He shares how the demoness was offering to bring him home, but he refused.  Jaric wonders if the visions had any truth in them, but they seemed to suggest that Seran and Galeo and the veth were possibly tempted with such wishes as well to escape the storm.    At the thought that they may have survived, Haroun uncorks the bottle he held back and suddenly drinks a third of it.  He offers it to Jaric as well and as he tastes it, the flavors catch him off-guard.  "It was supposed to be a wedding present.  A wedding which I thought would never happen. I was planning to serve it as a reminder that it would never happen."  Haroun feels a surge of hope. Galeo would likely agitate the demoness enough to make the bargain.  Seran would find a way to keep the others safe.  "The probably are already home!"   Haroun is too excited at the thought the others are possibly alive, that he totally ignores Jaric's warnings that the demoness is the biggest threat they may be facing.
Maja Thayl,
Voice of the U'vshanadir

Back in the Althua.
A servant comes up to Seran.   She was lost in her thoughts of the previous days.  Seran had attempted a few flights in the Glider but clearly the vehicle is unable to take long journeys.  She begins preparing supplies for a new expedition.    The servant hands her a bottle of wine and motions to the far table.  The man is dark-skinned with wavy hair.  He wears green and lavender with a touch of white, clearly here to enjoy the Althua.   The man is Rajid Reinhold, and Galeo shares with Seran that the man is shrewd dealer of airships.   Maja clinks the glass to call for everyone's attention and tells them there is only time for one event: either an Opera or a journey into a Puzzle House for everyone to explore.  While the ven first applauded at the mention of an Opera, the silence that follows the moment a Puzzle House is mentioned is unmistakable.  Galeo tells Hero she feels musical, while Hero admits he does not feel too well.  When Galeo asks since when did ven get sick, he admits it might be something  to do with cookies he had.  Galeo recognizes the cookies and throws a glance at Dranna Ru.  Galeo whispers to Hero that he probably is poisoned and stands and rushes off to try to purge it out of his system, especially given they have no apothecary to have provided them an antidote.  Galeo holds Casselanter closer.  The ribbons are held up for voting.

Maja announces that the Opera wins as the chosen activity.  A servant comes up to her and whispers something to her ear.  Maja suddenly heads off the stage without a word.  Many start to throw glances at each other.  Some begin to stand up look around.  Count Kether suddenly stands up and throws Seran and Galeo a glance, then hurries off towards a door.  As Galeo stands and carries Casselanter in her arms, a servant comes up to Seran and places a plate of cookies down to the table in front of her.  Galeo uses her Blessing to speak without words to warn her to leave.  Seran feels a man grab her arm and she looks up to see Rajid.  The man tells her that he has heard news that she had been attempting to breach his lands via air, and she realizes Rajid was merely the Ven who cast a shadow on the neighboring Province.  He offers to loan her an airship and she asks him to discuss things come Spring instead.   Galeo and Casselanter hurries to the exit, and keeps an eye out for Maja, Kether and Seran.  Seeing the two leave the same door, Galeo motions at Seran to hurry out that same door.

They find Hero outside, telling them that a woman came up to him and handed him an antidote.  He feels better now.  They see the woman he is speaking of and discover is a Ork woman.. one of the Ork's Dranna Ru wore.  The three hurry out of the corridor to leave. They exit and find Maja and Kether gasping for air outside in the courtyard.    Kether looks up and notices their numbers.  "He...  is still.."

Galeo realizes she had left Lukas inside.

Kether knocks on the door, demanding it be opened to get "his vassal" inside.  Galeo is starting to wonder, however, why Kether seems so concerned for Lukas, given everyone else supposedly knows him to be Errol, Landless Lord of the Forgiving Hands.  Seran is asking for an explanation to what is going on.  Seran is starting to think that the man Kether is worried about is the Cherno guy.  Maja thanks the Suaven that the others are outside and asks them who else was permitted to leave.  The word permitted makes Galeo wonder.  Kether mentions it was the Cookies that was the sign.   Maja tells Galeo the poisoned cookies was meant to deliver a message that they should get out.  Galeo asked what does Dranna Ru want and Maja tells them she wanted the Province.  She is claiming it.

"It is over," Maja turns to the door, "It is too quiet.  My Althuas are never this quiet."

Kether is worried.  He couldn't get the door open. And blood is now oozing out from under the door.  Galeo shakes her head.  This can't be how it ends.  The Demoness could not have let Lukas die.

The door opens.
Dranna Ru emerges.  She tells them she is happy they all saw and understood the message.  She knows some ate them rather than understood it, so she hopes they received the antidote as well.  She tells them she now has lands, and all she asks in return is that they respect that.  She tells them they were invited to see her, still forever one of the Ven.  The others?  She is a Serpent who has conquered the Orks.  She asks them to stand by her as she conquers the rest.

Galeo speaks up, stating she still has a Vassal left inside.  Dranna Ru is surprised, and turns to Seran, to ask, "And you consent to this?"  Kether speaks up telling Dranna Ru that it is a matter best not discussed in detail.  Seran barks at Kether that the question was directed to her, not him.  She asks what is the question about.  Errol is brought out by the Orks.  There are arrows that have pierced all through his clothes but not his skin.  Seran recognizes him instantly as Galeo's vassal.  Galeo steps forward and tells Dranna Ru that is she would like to discuss this matter further, they can meet to discuss things in a future date.  Galeo, however, realizes that Dranna Ru no longer has the Earring.  Dranna Ru bids them a safe journey but does tell them if any of them wish to ally with her, she would be grateful.  She reminds them that she still remembers Isolde.

Kether pulls Seran away as she tries to talk to Errol and Galeo about how he was able to avoid all the arrows.  Galeo pulls Errol away, and he mumbles to her about how the arrows somehow just all happened to miss her.  Maja comes up to Seran and asks if she had been to the Citadel.  Seran admits she has yet to see Jaric's wife.  Maja admits she had heard about their return already and given the Season that had passed without his return, she had assumed the worst.  Maja admits she should.  She tells him that Jaric's wife has pushed forward her place, reminding her that Jalani is the most protective mother she knows - and she has friends among the Senate.

Back at the Frontier.
The door opens to reveal Jaric with a bottle of wine.  All the others sigh in relief that it isn't Haroun.  They ask if Haroun has a sword, or something, but Jaric tells them he saw the Duke recorking the bottle of wine he is now drinking, how they talked about demons.  Orion suggests to Nia that she head off with Jaric to somewhere else safe, so when Haroun returns, they need not worry about a possible act of Murder.   Nia suggests Jaric see the library, but Jaric reminds her he has already seen it before.  Nia suggests he might want to read about her grandfather who created airships.  Orion presses and asks where the Duke is and Jaric finally remembers to tell them that they need alternate arrangements to get home.  Nia breaks into a run to try to catch him.

Nia gets to the airship which is already moving.  Many of the Ven are rappelling down as quickly as possible.  Yelling, Nia tells Haroun not to dare leave.  He explains he has to go to her, and she tells him she knows his sister is alive but there is no need to run to her.  Haroun stares at her, confused, and throws an anchor down.  He leaps down to talk to her and tells her he was talking about Seran and Galeo.  Nia however is wondering if he had too much wine.  Haroun explains that Dranna Ru, the awful woman, is alive and he doesn't seem to recall this despite being what they discussed just minutes ago.  Haroun suddenly begins to break down, choking on his own tears as he mumbles about how Seran and Galeo have to be alive or he would have really failed them, about how Dranna Ru was someone he had failed, and now she is alive and she will never forgive him, and now he fears Seran and Galeo are really alive and fears they will never forgive him.  Nia simply states this is all the more reason not to rush off alone and that he best wait for Jaric and her to join him.  She tells him to stop crying and calm down.  Szaz watches from the ship and realizes that this is a chapter in the book she read... leading to the last time the Duke will be seen as far as the story goes.


Orion shares the Ork House is a Ven House with a small number of members, with ven who claim to have mastered the Orks.  The house only has four members, with Dranna Ru being one and the remaining three being Serpent sisters.  Jaric finds it fascinating and admits he is uncertain if there is anything he can do to help.  He admits Dalvinosh Steele's treatment of them back in the City was absolutely neutral, as Cunning a move as it was.  Dalvinosh admits those who are still loyal who have been permitted to stay on the ship are hoping to offer a proposition: one which only the one interested be permitted to hear.  Jaric jokes that he does not suppose there are only four of them.

Back in Shan'ri,
Seran is on the Glider, on her way to the Citadel to visit Jalani, Jaric's wife.  Her thoughts race back to a conversation with Galeo before they parted ways.  Galeo tells Seran to prepare for the arrival of the others.  Seran is confused how Galeo would know this.  Galeo suggests that she suspects the Demoness would relish the suffering brought about by small moments of hope.  All Galeo is certain is that they should know that they are all alive.  Seran wonders if there is a chance even Lukas is alive, but Galeo does not respond to that.

Jalani Ballan, Baroness of the Citadel
A trebuchet flies at her!  Seran dodges it skillfully and allows her pennant to unfurl.  The Baroness of the Citadel calls for the roadmen to hold their fire and allows them to land.  She then directs Level 7, her spy network, to come up to her and confirm her identity.  Finally, she walks up to them and asks Jeeves to identify them.  Jeeves admits she is as he recalls him.  The Baroness Jalani then calls for one who hands her a small place cube of black glass.  Jalani stares through the Obsidian and asks Seran to state her name.  It is only after all that when she steps to Seran, takes her hand, and tells her,"I know of the Demon.  And I know her name."  They head indoors as Jalani admits the Demon may be watching.

As they talk about a dress for mourning, Jalani leads them to a sealed room where James and Jessie are waiting.  Seran is guided to the center of the room where a small square table with two chairs awaits.  As they sit, the two kids head off to leave them at the table.  Jalani sprinkles rose petals on the surface.  "First things first, my husband is never to know of this."  Seran is shocked that she is already Blooded.  Jalani admits she was even before Jaric married him. She offered to Blood Lukas but he refused and wanted Seran to be the one to Blood him.  Seran shares her plan to attempt to return in Spring to search for them.  Jalani admits she knows he is alive because she has met someone and shows her a broken pearl she has in possession.  She admits she knows better than to wait for her husband to make decisions.   Seran shares that Jaric was acting like a Serpent in the entire time they were out there.  Jalani tells her about Demons, about how there are only six demons in Shan'ri, and how five of them have been imprisoned if not destroyed.  Jalani identifies the Demon as the Seductress.  A deceiver.  She knows that in Demonology the best way to dismiss a Demon is to find whoever made the End Pact, the original deal that brought the Demon out.  She asks Seran to bear in mind that when a Demon chooses a target, they tend to stick to it until they've destroyed it enough to move on.  Seran thinks the target was the other Shan'ri.  Jalani is afraid Seran is the new target and this is but the beginning of what she has planned.

"You could try," the red-haired woman has appeared in the room.  "You could try to keep things from me.  And I might not hear what you two are discussing, but not all of you are always safe, are you?"

Jalani tells Seran quickly to avert her gaze.  To ignore the Demon.  To give it attention allows her to try to sink in her lies to make you act in her desired way.  She forces you to make deals.  Jalani admits she thinks Seran's servants gave in where her children will not.   Jalani reminds Seran that while the Demon cannot hear a single thing they are staying, it can still see what they are doing.  "Look worried," Jalani tells Seran as she explains that Sorcery is the same power that the Demons respect.  The Demon will attempt to convince them she knows what they are discussing.  She can only read minds of those who give her permission to do so.  Jalani even admits that the Demons probably used to be Ven.  Seran wonders if the process can be reversed.

"Children, your mother is not paying me any attention.  Would you like to go out and play?"

Jalani ignores the taunt.  Seran feels worried.  But Jalani tells Seran, "Watch."  The children turn to face the Demon with a smile.  They excitedly say they can play and reveal the black glass cubes in their hands!   The Demon recoils in fear.  She vanishes.

"Obsidian, isn't it?" Seran realizes.  She draws out the Compact in her things and shows it to Jalani, asking if it would help.  Jalani offers to demonstrate.  She takes the Compact, pricks Seran's finger, then clasps it closed with an audible click.  Seran stares blankly, not remembering.  Jalani smiles, and explains the Compact can steal away a moment of memory.  But it requires something of the target.  She admits a friend of her's used that kind of an artifact once to forget his own plans.  They will discuss more in the time to come.

Quan Wei, Former Dara
Galeo, on the other hand, finds another archway waiting for her at her home.  She steps through and finds herself back in the distant temple - the temple she always thought to be the temple of Thalia Yvarai.  Galeo walks past the white stone horse, and quietly goes to the woman she always thought was Thalia.  They lock gazes.  Thalia looks away and admits she wishes she had not lied to the Artist.  Thalia admits she had hoped to escape the tragedy.  Galeo asks her to confess what role she intended Galeo to play.  Thalia admits she wanted Galeo to find the real Thalia Yvarai.

"Then who am I speaking to?"

"A memory.  One formerly called Quan Wei."

Galeo begins to realize Quan Wei sent her in her place: One Dara after the other.  Quan Wei admits she had hoped that by staying away from them all, the old balance would be retained.  Quan Wei promises to tell no more lies.  She tells Galeo that she will lift away the veil.  Galeo's eyes shimmer with light.  Quan Wei is suspended in white silken threads at the center of the temple.

"Do you still hear me even in my sleep?  You see now how I truly am."

A Suaven.  She shares how when the Senate fell, all save Thalia Yvarai were brought away. Galeo asks what the Dara is and Quan Wei admits the Dara was meant to be the balance of the Demon: All the Dara had, the demon had.  Galeo shares the Demon has become the Storm.  And that its name is with Madelyn Yvarai.   Quan Wei shares when they last fought, the Storm was upon them but the Storm was on neither side.   Galeo asks if the Red-Haired Demon is not the Storm.  Quan Wei admits she is not, even if she laid waste to a part of Shan'ri as one.  Quan Wei now admits that Galeo is not the Dara.  She was only someone she had hoped would complete was Quan Wei failed to do.

She warns Galeo that he has been with her:  The Grinning Man is with the Woman with Red Hair.  She asks Galeo to forgive her for not being the Thalia she wished for.

At the Fringes,
Haroun tells Orion everything he has learned in his discussions with Jaric and Nia.  Dalvinosh is happy to leave the meal with his life.  Haroun tells them he wants to still leave tonight, to know the truth.  Nia agrees to accompany him.  Jaric agrees to go as well as asks to be dropped off first.  Jaric does tell them that Szaz and the Spiders will take residence in his City.  Nia asks if Haroun has plans as she has claimed some.  Haroun shares the remainder he will bring to the Senate.  Nia admits (hesitantly) that sounds fair.  Haroun asks about Dranna Ru and Orion admits she has no land.  The Senate has, however, agreed that she "owns" all the Ruins beneath the Ruins and Regions.    Orion admits the Senate is probably buying itself time to decide how to deal with the Ork House.  As Jaric babbles about the historical events showcasing the Senate using delaying tactics before, the group begin to pack up what they can.

Haroun teases Orion that he didn't really think the Duke would Murder someone in his own room.  Jaric feels sad that he may have "missed" a Revenge.  Haroun admits that if anything that can be said of the House, it would be that Foxes don't easily vote.

The airship soon takes to the air.  It is time to head home.

And at Seran's land,
she catches sight of four men tied together with clothes in their mouths.  There are a lot of wood around her feet.  The man who tied them up is now emptying a wineskin on the food at their feet.  She calls out, asking what they are doing but they don't seem to hear her voice.  She flies past them and lands at Galeo's castle.  She quickly tells them of what she had seen and Galeo still cannot grasp the concept of Living Opera.  Hero admits to have seen one, and tries to reassure Galeo that she is better than Cherno.   Hero and Galeo engage in another artistic moment of passion, with Hero whispering that if he had a wish, he would have wished for their child to have survived.

But if anything, the groups - separate as they are - realize they feel hope.

The reunions come as each one finally finds their way home.  Some are sweet, some are painful, some are calm and some.. revelatory.  On Jalani's finger, a wolf ring adorns it.  On Janine face, tears as she tells Nia that she saw it all happen, somehow she did.  On Haroun, a joy of knowing Seran is alive.  And as Hero and Galeo kiss deeply, Lukas sits in the other room, wishing somehow he can return back to Seran's arms.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cat's Eyes : Doctor Who

07/20/2014

Cat's Eyes

Doctor Who : Adventures in Time and Space

This was to be our second Doctor Who adventure with Rocky being the Game Master.  For this game, I decided to reprise my role as Dame Judi and this time our adventure through time would be accompanied by a new Companions: Rose Tyler whose feistiness frustrated Dame Judi, Catherine Tate whose calm focus annoyed Dame Judi, and a scientist named Emmett Brown IV who was good with gadgets and had resourceful pockets.   We had emerged from the T.A.R.D.I.S. expecting something exciting given the Doctor having gathered the group without really explaining why.  "So what I really want to show all of you is this fantastic.."

The doors open to show an old hotel.

"...Hotel."

Dame Judi sighs, "This always happens with the Doctor.  You wouldn't know," she sneers at Rose.  The Doctor admits they are where they.. should be... but not where he wanted them to be.  Rose slowly looks around and notes they are in the reception lobby of some old hotel which had fallen to disrepair.  Yellowing wallpaper.  Mold.  Water falling from the ceiling.  No lights.  Dame Judi notes she fails to detect any technology active in the area.  She does not find the place familiar.  The art deco style however seems to possibly suggest Earth period of the 80s.  Catherine Tate jokingly walks straight up to the counter and rings the bell as she calls out for service.

There is a blur of motion, and something jumps out from behind the reception desk.  It stares at the group then saunters off.  Judi searches for the nearest light switch, cracks it open, and tries to reroute energy to light up the area but realizes she will need some kind of power supply.  "Here," the scientist comes up to Judi and draws out a futuristic power cell from his pocket, "Use this."  With a bit of tinkering, some lights engage and offer a bit more light.  All see now better a sign that reads, "The Majestic Hotel."  Judi rolls her eyes, "We are not amused."

"Well, it could have been called the Meow-Meow hotel," Donna jokes.  Without waiting for the others, Rose heads off to explore upstairs.  The Doctor asks Judi to go with her given she's the only one he "trusts."  Judi is more excited than anything to do what the Doctor suggests.  Judi asks Rose for the cellphone in her pocket and tweaks it to make it a decent flashlight.  The two start looking through the rooms for anything interesting.  The two discuss a bit about how the T.A.R.D.I.S. has been taking them to strange places lately and how they both feel the T.A.R.D.I.S. seems to be jealous of them.  Judi's annoying tendency to compare herself to Rose starts frustrating her.  As they pop open one of the doors, a bunch of feral cats rush out.  They stare at the two for a moment, then leave.  The two continue looking around and find a room with breaks in the ceiling exposing it to the elements.  And then, a flash of blonde hair in the corner of a room they just opened.  Judi is startled and trips on her own legs and falls down, clumsy as usual.  Rose pulls her to her feet and the two approach, calling out for the person to show herself.

"You're making a lot of noise," the voice responds.  Judi leaps behind Rose in fear and allows the two to talk.  The young teenager steps into view as she replies, "Well of course I am blonde."  The girl is not unattractive, with rather roughly cut hair.  She is wearing an oversized coat and fingerless gloves to keep warm.  Rose asks if she is alone, and she returns the question to them and asks if they are looking for a place to stay.  Judi suggests they should return to the doctor.  Rose mentions they are here by accident and its probably because there is someone who needs help.  The girl mentions the two should probably talk to Peter and Judi asks if Peter is a cat.  "He sort of runs things here, but he should know what to do with you."  She asks if any of them are doctors, and Judi grabs the young woman's hand to drag her back.  The girl reminds the two to be quiet, given people are sleeping, and she drags Judi back downstairs.

Downstairs, the Doctor finds strange readings on his sonic screwdriver.  The three look around, seeing a restaurant area, a pool, and other rooms.  Donna looks around, wondering if there's a basement area or a furnace with the power supply to the building.  Emmett looks around and realizes the place smells very old - but feels very out of place for him.  They find the main dining room with the kitchens and other places.  The Doctor wonders if it would be a good time to swim, which Donna finds obnoxious.  Donna stars to worry about how many cats are in the place.. and worse, what they had been eating.  As they approach the pool, a figure emerges from the shadows towering above them.  Emmett rushes behind the group, worried given his lack of fighting skills.  Donna steps forward, confronting the figure, "Okay, so... introduce yourself please."

The figure is in a long coat and towers at over six feet.  He gives no response.  The man looks confused on what to do with them.  Donna starts miming "Do-You-Understand-English?  We-Are-Strangers. We-Don't-Know-What-Is-Going-On-Here?"  The man seems to understand and motions towards the pool area.

From another door, Rose, Judi and the young girl emerge from a door and see the others.  Rose introduces them to Kate.  When they ask who the man is, Donna admits he has not introduced himself yet.  Kate tells them he's Chad.  When Emmett introduces himself, Kate looks curious, "You the Doctor?"  Judi directs her to the Doctor instead and explains, "He's the Doctor."   They share that there are a lot living here and that Peter is the one in charge of the place.  "Hopefully you can help," Kate muses.

They make their way to the physical center and there find the man named Peter.   Kate tells him that the strangers had come to help.  Rose introduces them all, referring to Judi as "the annoying old lady."  She then asks how they can help, but Peter challenges them and asks how they can be trusted.  The Doctor explains they were passing through, but couldn't help stop by the establishment.  The room has more of the people who stare at the group with worried eyes.  Judi asks if they can be bothered for some tea.  Donna calls out to the people and asks them to ignore the old woman. "We are just here to help."

A man calls out and "apologizes" for not having accommodations to their liking.  When Donna tries to explain that they want to help, the man still expresses how none of them trust the group yet.  Judi tries to explain that they are here to help and that they have helped a lot of people in many places... and times.  Much to Rose's regret she vocally admits this is one time she does agree with Judi.    The people gather closer, uncertain what will happen next.  Donna notices the group defensively around Peter, and how they seem to also be gathered towards the door in the rear.  "Why is everyone huddled in this room here when there are so many other rooms in the hotel?  What are you hiding from?  There seems to be a door there that you are all not.."  Rose hears the mention of the door and heads straight for it, but the people stand up and block her.

Judi uses her Voice of Authority and tells them all that the point of the matter is they are trying to help them and they won't be able to if they don't tell them what is going on.  "The least you CAN do is tell us what you are afraid of so we can help you."  Peter finally asks, "Which one is the doctor?"  The group all point at the Doctor.  Peter leads the Doctor to the side room and the rest follow.  Chad keeps the others from being as close.  At the side room, there are two makeshift cots.  There are some over-the-counter painkillers, some jugs of water, and signs of sickness on the two patients within.  Emmett sits down beside them to check what is wrong with them.  The two had been feeling unwell  for two days now.  Typical signs are responsive and well, but beyond the reflexive reactions, the two have been unresponsive to words, touch, and the like.  Peter admits they've been force feeding the two soup to feed them.  Peter shows them the only time the two react however, and this is when he splashes the two with water on the face.  The two seem to respond for a moment, then return to the odd state.  Donna wonders aloud if splashing on their face works, why not try dipping them in the pool?  Rose rolls her eyes and wonders why not start with something simple, like a basin.  Judi rolls her eyes and wonders why to not bring them out into the rain, since it is currently raining and that seems to be the more obvious solution.  The Doctor admits all the ideas sound good, and he feels he is in a good experimenting mood.   Judi's suggestion wins.

The group carries the bodies out to the courtyard.  As the two get more and more wet, they start to be responsive.  One asks what had happened and Donna admits they were all hoping the two could explain what happened to them.  "What was the last thing you remember?"  The man admits it was dark, he was off the bed and there was a cat or something.  Emmett wonders if it is something contagious.  Judi asks for the key to get something in the T.A.R.D.I.S.  but the Doctor ignores her and turns back to the rest.    More cats seem to gather in the area.  Emmett suggests everyone stay away from the cats, but Peter tells him there are more cats in the building than people.   He admits the cats were already here before they took residence in the place.  Rose tries to prod and ask for more information but the man admits that is all he can remember.

The Doctor mumbles about this being familiar.  As if he was trying to remember something about cats.  Water as a cure.  Emmett calls everyone's attention to tell them there are more cats in the area now, watching them.   The Doctor asks if there are others similarly afflicted and Peter suggests they head upstairs to check.  He warns them, however, of Eddings - someone who is a bit territorial and unliked by most.   Kate guides them back upstairs.  The group now can't help but notice more and more cats in the area, watching them from higher vantage points and the shadows.  Judi considers rigging something to the rain water to generate electricity, but Kate points out the floor of the carpet is soaked in water.  The group nearly falls victim to a trip line laid down the corridor.  Kate reminds them that Eddings is a tad territorial.  As they disable the trap, a man emerges at the doorway with a knife in his hands.  Rose moves to intercept.  He raises the flashlight at the man and he stops.  "Thought you were cats.."

After a quick series of explanations on who they are and why they are here again and Emmett explains that there is something going around and people are getting ill. Rose feels he's being defensive and the two argue about things.  Donna however agrees that his arrival coincides with these incidents.  Rose asks Emmett to check if he's infected, but the man refuses to let them touch him.  Judi tries to convince him to submit, but he shoves her attempt to the ground.  "Just because I slipped through the cracks does not make me a horrible person."  Rose asks why he hasn't taken a shower and he counters that the pool is brown and he rather not catch pneumonia.  As the group argues with him, Rose slips away to his room at the far end of the corridor.  The bed is made of newspapers, with many pages stuck on the walls with tape.  All the clippings are about fires in different places.  The man starts telling the others to get out of his personal space.  Donna tries to call out to the hallway if anyone wants to help out.  But in response a cat leaps into view.

Rose opts to follow the cat.  Judi turns to Donna, asking if she's heading off to follow Rose.  The Doctor opts to follow as well, and seeing that Donna and the rest opt to follow as well.  They enter another room and fail to see the cat.  It probably has slipped out of the window, deftly darting to the other room.   The group follows and notice things on the walls.  The terribly graffiti reads:  The Are Coming!  The Earth Shall Be Taken In Fire And Flame And Only the Dark Shall Remain, The Burning Is In the Mind But Shows In the Eyes.  The Doctor admits that line is odd.  Suspicious even.  When asked who wrote these things, Kate talks about Roger who supposedly always talked about strange things like aliens, eyes in the dark, and the like.  They eventually find an old danish tin usually with cookies.  Inside, however, they find a rock.  It looks glassy with a purple stain on one side.  The purple part of the rock appears to be some sort of gel that was super-heated.  A meteorite of some sort?  The Doctor admits he likes a good mystery.  They joke around about how Judi liked it more back when they took a journey to Rome and the Doctor had to become a gladiator.  Rose asks if anyone knows more about the rock.  As they wonder about finding more info on the meteor, Emmett suggests they check the room with newspapers on the wall.  The Doctor peers through a door and all the others see another one of the homeless lying on his back, staring at the cat's eyes.  Rose asks Emmett to grab some water.  Judi suggests they watch and see what happens first, though.  "We know the cure, but we don't know the cause.  And if it doesn't work, we can test it on Rose.  She's young, she can handle it!"

The guy and the cat neither move, locked in their hypnotic gaze.  Rose images the cat telling the man "Feed me."  Donna and Judi, however, don't grasp the idea, being indomitable.  The man's eyes start to cloud over.  Rose starts to worry, asking if they should do something to stop it, but the Doctor admits it might be best to keep watching.  As they all lean in to watch, another cat appears, emerges from the darkness and makes eye contact with Judi.  The old companion stares deeply into the cat's eyes, even as she tries to remind herself the whole time to not make eye contact.  There is a presence in her mind, but Judi feels it crawling into her head but she resists.  The cat runs off, slipping past everyone as it flees.  

Judi stares at them all, asking if they felt what she felt.  She tells them how it made eye contact with her and tried to reach into her mind.  The doctor struggles to try and remember which alien race has cat forms and telepathic powers.  The Doctor admits cats aren't that common unless they are nurses.  The wood of the building creaks loudly, then suddenly the ceiling breaks and rain pours into the room!  Everyone grabs something to hold on to, but Judi is pulled by the torrents and finds herself washed away.  She slams into some walls and furniture, knocking her out.  Rose inwardly admits a feeling of joy that Judi's finally shut up.  The man on the matress awakes, the water breaking the cat's spell upon him.  Emmett rushes to Judi to try and revive her.  He succeeds, and though dazed, she opens her eyes.  "Emmett, I know I could trust you... Rose gloated didn't she."

The Doctor admits the cat thing still confuses him.  Emmett notices the cats are gone from the room.  Rose peers out to see where the cats have gone and finds one cat drenched and pressed against the wall.   Donna wonders if they should catch the cat, but the Doctor thinks the cat is fine.  The group decides to head back to Peter.  They make their way quickly to the leisure room where the others are.  They find Peter stressed out and two other homeless people have been brought inside also in a state of unconsciousness.  Peter admits if they should do the rain thing on the two.  Judi admits she thinks it would be better if all left the premises thinking of it collapsing due to the water damage.  The Doctor however feels they best leave for a different reason entirely.  Kate admits there's something wrong and she knows the cats are involved.  Donna asks if there's a way to capture a cat and analyze them.  The Doctor jokes that is a lot of cats.  Emmett wonders how they will interrogate the cats.  Three cats suddenly enter the room in an arrowhead formation and walk up to the two homeless unconscious men to sit beside them.  The two men suddenly sit up and strart to speak in unison: "This place now belongs to the Pock unity.  Our many bodies dwell here.  If you stay, you too will belong to us and never be along.  We will hunt here and take what we need to bolster our numbers.  While one remains here, we will survive.  While one of us carries the seed in their mind, we will continue."  As they are talking, more and more cats enter the room, catching the gazes of more and more of the homeless people in the room.   Emmett asks aloud, "Is it time to run?"

"Pock entity," the Doctor mumbles aloud, "That explains the water.  They're sort of like a meme, if you get my drift.  Like how you have a song you can't get out of your head?  What if the song could think? And could spread around?  The cat's were just temporary bodies..."

"So they were transferring to human bodies," Donna gasps.

"Not just transferring," the Doctor admits, "More of.. multiplying?"

"Are they turning.." Rose gasps and turns to Judi, who realizes an alien thing just tried to "do her" in her brain!  Rose laughs it out and admits, "I think you would have enjoyed that."

"They're taking over," the Doctor realizes.    Peters asks them if they mean all cats and Chad emerges from a doorway with a kitten in his hands.  "Not a good thing..." the Doctor admits.  "So.. suggestions everyone.  Room. Group of people being dominated by an alien presence.."

All reply in unison: "Water.  The pool."

They all break into a run, heading straight for the swimming pool with the murky brown water.  Donna sticks her tongue out upon seeing the horrible water.  Rose does not even hesitate and leaps into the dirty water.  Donna wants to jump in but can't.  Emmett hesitates and to everyone's surprise Judi tries to stare down a cat.  The Doctor scratches his head. "What if we tried it the other way around and threw them into the pool?"

Judi stares at the cat and tries to telepathically tries to tell the cats, "Go after Rose!" hoping to trick the cats into leaping into the water after Rose.  Judi resists the compulsion but before she could do anything, the Doctor swats the cat from her hand.  Donna calls out, asking if anyone has ideas on how to make everyone jump into the pool.   Emmett calls out, asking why the water breaks the effect and the Doctor admits it sort of short circuits their communication.  Rose calls out from the waters, "Can we build something to..."

The Doctor pulls out a water gun.

Emmett and Judi look up.  They both have the same idea: The Fire Alarms.  They tell the others to buy them time and they hurry off.  Rose and Donna grab the nearest buckets and begin splashing those that get too close.  More possessed homeless people emerge, taking chase after Judi and Emmett.   Emmett turns a corner and escapes the cats, but Judi falls to evade them and the crowd chases after her down the corridors.

Reaching a maintenance shed, Emmett sees the sprinkler system and realizes he can probably get it running, but the piping and tubes will be a challenge to get working again.  Not even the Engineer's Mate he has with him will help.  He gets it working with a bit of jiggery-pokery while Rose, Donna and the Doctor continue to splash people with their buckets of water.  They work as efficiently as possible as they splash any who get too close to the pool area.  Donna tries to splash one homeless man who gets too close, but she drops the bucket and the man starts grappling her.  Donna shakes him off with a good twist to the side.

As Donna grabs the closest basin to start splashing again any more possessed who get too close.  Rose splashes others too, but clearly all they are doing is daze the victims.  The water doesn't keep them drenched long enough to break free completely from the alien control.  Another grabs Rose's arm but the grapple fails.  Peter drenches Chad with a bucket of water and the group pull Chad into the pool as well.  But they all them tumble into the pool, much to Donna's disgust.

More cats, but more parts of the hotel begin to break.  Emmett unleashes the sprinklers and water begins to drip down from above.  Judi runs and runs, and to her surprise, she runs straight into the possessed homeless.  Panicked, she raises her hand and declares to them that they should surrender as they acting against the grounds of the Shadow Proclamation.  The people turn to look at her, wet but normal.

The group regathers at the reception even as the water drains away finally at the floor.  Rose wishes she could bring buckets.  Donna wonders if there's a way to toss a the possessed into a hole into the pool below. Most of the cats clear off, running away.  The group eventually learns that the alien unity has been dealt with, save for one last member of the unity.  Eddie is possessed and the question of killing an entire race is acceptable.  As they consider how to deal with the last member of the unity, Judi offers to stay and watch over the last member.  She asks for Rose's phone and promises to call the Doctor if she ever needs help.  And as they consider whether or not Judi's call is the decision, the Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to blind Eddie, keeping him from allowing the Unity to "spread" even more to others.  A tiny sacrifice in exchange for living on.

"You better behave yourself," the Doctor tells it then tells Judi she doesn't have to stay.  Judi tells them to pick her up after a year.  "Its enough time to make this place more decent."  She teases the people to be followers and they remind her this is America.  They ask if they really have to leave her?  Judi grins.

"Sees like she has a plan," Donna laughs.

"This problem wouldn't even exist if they understood hygiene," Judi sighs.   She grabs clothes from the T.A.R.D.I.S. and asks about the wedding dress among them.  The Doctor shakes his head and reminds her they are not hers.  She laughs and asks for a sonic screwdriver.  The Doctor teases that she will probably pick up one of those he left behind.  She hands back Rose's phone and gets back her Engineer's Mate.

The group wave their final goodbyes and the T.A.R.D.I.S. dematerializes.

"Rule number one," Judi turns to the homeless, "Bathing."










Mark it down : APRIL 11, 2015


What games will you be playing?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Century Club ep04 : Spirit of the Century

08/13/2014

The Century Club
Spirit of the Century

Episode Four
"The Plan"

The Silver Line was the first intercontinental train that was to cut through all of Europe and the neighboring countries.  It was capable of immense speeds and was affordable only by the rich, the popular and the influential.  It had just opened its doors to the public after a few weeks of testing and monitored travels and had a passenger capacity of 150.

The train had been taken over by the Normalists.  Faceless and dangerous, these vile agents of terror had taken over the technological marvel.  And the Century Club learned only of this when Whilemina Wheeler, Fearless Reporter Extraordinaire happened to call them using the strange futuristic portable telephone that she was able to filch from one of the enemy agents.  Wheeler warns them that faceless soldiers have commandeered the vessel.  Knowing they should best try to go help in secrecy, Walter Le' Frogge is able to contact an old friend, a human-animal hybrid like himself who had also escaped the clutches of the Brotherhood.  The ally is part of a travelling circus, and he knows someone who has a plane.  The ally flies them to the next upcoming bridge that the Silver Line was to pass and on the right moment, the three leap to land on the car's roof and get there stealthily.  There is golden light surrounding the front of the train's engine as it approaches.  Kenji Katana wishes Cosmo was still with them.  Victor Knightfellow wished Svetlana Sol was with them but she quit the group after getting tired of hearing them repeatedly lamenting the loss of a member of the group which she had no recollection of:  Cosmo.  True enough, as Percy warned them, only they recalled Cosmo's existence in the team, and after his disappearance, Svetlana felt the three were teasing her about an imaginary member, to the point she felt they were insulting her for being part of the Soviet Union.  Victor had the added issue of no longer being in touch with his Spirit Companion.

They land, but Kenji's metal body slams against the roof too hard and the train's Shifting Directions does not make it easier.  Victor Jumps At the Call and gently lands on the roof.  Kenji bounces off the roof and begins to roll down its length!  Walter laments all these attempts to do stealth with the man of steel.  A crash!  Kenji crashes through a sky roof in one of the cabins and hits the carpeted floor.  The people dressed in their wonderful clothes and rich garments stare at Kenji realizes he had just landed on the food tray.  As Victor and Walter make their way to see what happened, Kenji finds Wheeler holding a young sixteen year old girl behind her.  She mouths, Get Out Of There, and Kenji rolls to the side with the table cloth wrapped around him to cover him.  The door slams open.

A soldier steps into the caboose, and he demands an explanation for the noise.  The man is dressed in a military uniform, with no insignia or political markings on his clothing.  There is a thin wire extending from his ear to his mouth.  He demands for an explanation and Wheeler misdirects and explains that the food cart smashed into the sunroof when the train hit a bump.  Walter laments how she is not a good liar.  The soldier asks if she is trying to make a stupid joke.  Walter watches from the roof, balanced perfectly with his sticky feet as being the First Human Frog.  Victor notices Walter does not see the incoming tree with a low hanging branch!  Unable to call out to warn him, he uses the Talisman of the Wylde to attempt to usurp control of Le'Frogge.  It works!  But that split second, Victor's unconscious body nearly slides off the roof from the moving train.  Dropping control, Victor leaps back into his own body and Walter reaches out to grab the Man of Mystery before he falls off the edge.   Thankfully, Victor's coat snags on to something on the train.  Back in the train, Wheeler insists that is what really happened and Kenji realizes she is motioning him to throw him OUT of the train.  "Well you never know if it will happen again."  Kenji grabs the soldier's leg and with his incredible might from his New Metallic Body, he flings the soldier out of the caboose and the man slams into another low hanging branch.

With the three gathered together, Wheeler quickly updates them on what is going on.  She tells them it seems to be the same people who attacked the welcoming party.  Victor wonders if the Normalists had this kind of masks.  The other captives ask the group to help, citing their daughters and family members in trouble.  Wheeler reminds them there isn't much time.  The faceless soldiers are working with a group calling itself EGO or Earth's Guardian Order.  And they are lead by a talking dog.  Victor mutters that the day has finally come.. a day which they worried about how they would fix given the mistakes of the past.  Kenji cites they are more or less the in middle of the train, and that whoever is controlling the train is possibly at the front.  Wheeler admits most of the best and Europe's finest are in the train.  Today was the first public opening.  The train doesn't have any special cargo.  Five of the trains contain first class guests.  The rest was wine, caviar, and other wonderful things for the guests.  The security had been forced to sleep and locked into the rear of the car.  Walter admits that would be something Cosmo would do, but even Wheeler does not know who Cosmo is.  One bystander adds that one of the members is a Mister ID, who uses strange lights.  Another shares the frightening tale of a dog that talks.  It calls itself Sputnik.  Victor mumbles about Sputnik sounding like a Russian name.  There is mention of one last member, a woman who is always in the shadows. She appears as an afterimage after Mister ID used his abilities.

That moment, one of the Normalist soldiers asks if all is well.  Wheeler pushes the three to head down to the next train.  Victor trusts the Devil's Luck, mumbles to somewhat supposedly match the voice, and says some glass broke when the cart hit the sky roof window.  "This might take a while.  I'm still here cleaning it up."  The soldier counters that they were supposed to work in pairs.  The sixteen year old girl pulls at Walter to hide.  Walter confirms only one soldier is approaching.  Victor stands in front of the door, at eye level, ready to entrance the man.  The girl tells Walter, "I'm very scared. I wish my papa was still here but he is dead."  Walter turns to Kenji but the man of steel is ready to grab the soldier in the distance.  Wheeler calls out, "Are you really letting your friend join us?" as she mutters aloud in a french accent.   The man opts to wait outside.   Quietly, they all make their way to the back.  Walter hands the young girl back to Wheeler.  He notices Wheeler's expression though of panic upon seeing her with Walter.  He muses there is something special about the girl.  Victor searches his mental map of who would be important at that age and possibly on the train.  As a Scion of Merlin, Victor finds himself remembering the tale of the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.  Could it be her?

As they move through the next two cars, the group considers their next move.  Walter feels unsure about things.  The doors to the other trains seem to be unlocked.  Kenji considers that given the two guards are roving, there probably are not that many guards to deal with.  Kenji does wonder if there is something in the rear of the train given Wheeler's insistence to head to the back.  Walter asks who the girl is and Wheeler claims she is no one important.  Victor counters, asking if Royalty is really not important.  Wheeler admits she might be someone of import, and she is safer so long as no one knows who she is.  Wheeler shares there was supposed to be a contingent of sixteen staff on the train, but none of them have seen any of the staff since the hostage situation.  Victor muses they are all in front.  Kenji and Walter however consider that the staff are actually the enemy.  Wheeler hands them the device she used to call them, and tells them it supposedly is a telephone though it has no wires.  She demonstrates to them as the phone glows and responds to her touch.   The three realize the lit up parts resemble some parts of Cosmo's uniform.  Victor starts pressing the buttons, watching what happens.  Suddenly, a very loud alarm breaks out from the phone.  In panic, Victor flings it out the window!  Walter grabs it before it flies out and as they all get frantic Kenji asks for it and smashes it under his foot.  From the opposite car, the soldiers call out asking if there is anything wrong.  Wheeler ducks behind a seat.  Walter has slid out of a window to hang in concealment.  Victor ducks to the opposite side to Walter.  The door slams open with Kenji right behind the door.  As the two soldiers step in, they notice the open window.  As one steps forward, the other reaches into his pocket and speaks into the wire, "Something is wrong here in the rear.  Check the other cars."  One approaches the window.  The other waits.  Victor figures the device allows the soldiers to keep in touch.  Kenji takes that moment to act and he grabs the first one and slams him against the second guy.  The two hit the ground.  Victor quickly tells Kenji that the soldier has one of those telephone things.   Victor scans to see if there are any other soldiers.

Walter crawls up to the roof and moves further down to the car the soldiers came from.  Through the window, he sees the clothes folded in neat piles on the floor which confirms their suspicions that the staff are the Normalists!  From the window, a blur of motion shatters the glass.  Walter spins to the window beside the one he is looking through to barge in and slam into his attacker.  The attacker turns out to be a woman!  Walter pulls back at the last second, and he pins her against the opposite wall instead of hurting her.  The woman turns out to be a deadly Asian woman with dragon markings.  She recognizes Walter by name and declares herself to be the Lady Shi.  She admits she has heard of him many times before and has always wanted to meet him!  She tells him that Sputnik has said so much about him, and that as the member of the Sisterhood, she was vowed to someday kill him!

Victor checks the door and hears nothing.  Wheeler complains about how the team does not seem to have a leader.  Kenji pulls out the phone and notices wires sticking out of it, like dynamite or something. Victor takes it from Kenji and fiddles with it, making sure not to press the earlier combination that caused the alarm.  Kenji asks Wheeler to use the phone to contact the other guards and to tell them that everything is fine in this car.  Victor watches intently as she manipulates the phone.  She locates a list in the phone and shows there are sixteen numbers listed. Victor checks the soldier's clothes and there are numbers marked on their sleeves.  They quickly identify the soldiers they've already dispatched but before they could do more, there is a gold spark on Wheeler's forehead.  Victor and Kenji turns to each other and they realize they too have gold sparks on their foreheads as well!  "If Cosmo can read our thoughts, we are screwed," Victor mutters.  The light flares from gold to red.  They all hear telepathically:  *Comrades.  I have found the interlopers.*

Metal locks into place as Walter Le'Frogge activates his signature weapon, Spitze.  Lady Shi unleashes her Dragon Talons.  The two enter a deadly dance as they parry each others strikes amidst banter and quips.

"How is your Brotherhood?  I heard they are dead?"

"Not yet.  I still live!  Where is Sputnik?!"

"Sputnik is everywhere!"

She swings but he dodges and pins her against the wall.  He hears a click, and he pushes her away as she throws a bladed knee at him.  It misses.  She leaps but he keeps a hand clamped around her wrist.

"Did Sputnik tell you to do all this?  Is he your leader?"

"We are the EGO.  We exist to serve the ID!"

"You will know soon enough."

As the footfalls close in, Wheeler turns to the rear door and runs for it knowing Walter should be there.  Victor runs to join her, but Kenji Kanata focuses on the door.  As it slams open, Kenji moves gracefully  as he tackles them backwards both back out into the earlier car.    As Victor gets into the car, he notices two new guards running into the car.  He tells Walter to handle the guards and barks at Shi, "Hey Lady!"  The martial arts mistress, however, flings a dagger at him.  Used to Playing With The Big Boys, Victor catches it at the last second and locks eyes with her.  Walter jumps forward past Lady Shi and closes in at the guards by the door.   With two blades drawn, Walter stabs the Normalists in a swift motion.  The two scream in pain as they drop to their knees with bleeding stomachs.  Victor's eyes lock with Lady Shi's.  "I am a Daughter... The Daughter of the Seven Warlords of Japan. You will not-" but her words are cut off as Victor mesmerizes her to fall asleep.  But crimson light flares that moment in her eyes as Sputnik takes over!

As Kenji slams to the earlier car, the soldiers are knocked down.  But more hostages scream for cover as two more soliders emerge at the other end.  The two open fire with their semi-automatic weapons.  The bullets fail to penetrate Kenji's New Mettalic Body.  The two stop firing, realizing its not wise to keep shooting.

A bladed knee is swung at Victor as Sputnik-controlling-Lady Shi moves in to strike.  Victor reaches out with the Talisman of the Wylde once again to usurp Walter to protect him, but even with the Devil's Luck, the edge finds flesh.  Victor drops to the ground with blood gushing from his ripped leg.  The crimson glow swirls upon Victor again as Sputnik attempts to reach into his mind.  Using Walter, Victor  flings the weapon to help himself, but Lady Shi easily catches it.  Victor takes that moment to sucker punch her in the groin. Even as a Martial Arts Mistress, Lady Shi is unable to resist the pain completely.  But given Sputnik is in charge, the woman remains standing.

Shimmering silver and rainbow hues.  Kenji Katana watches as the two soldiers fall back and a man dressed in shifting silver comes into view.  He proclaims himself as Mister ID, the ideas man, and as Kenji draws his sword to intimidate the man with his Iron Determination, he discovers the enemy is not easily intimidated. He uses his powers to dazzle Kenji with his mirrored clothing like a strobe-light, as he talks about how a warrior is useless if he cannot see.  Kenji turns away, and throws his blade into the air.  Mister ID is confused by Kenji's actions, unaware of Kenji's plan. Kenji charges forward at Mister ID attempts to tackle the man instead, making full use of the Narrow Passageways to his advantage.  Even as the lights flare, Kenji crashes into the opponent.

Victor rolls away from the Lady Shi, bleeding from his leg.  Walter regains control of himself and sees Lady Shi snarling about needing only one hit to kill her targets.  Walter rushes at her, drawing the garrote string to choke her as he was Trained by the Brotherhood.  She howls about bringing honor to her family, but cannot break free.  Victor realizes Shi is possessed by Sputnik still, and wonders if he can mesmerize him using his gaze.  He stares into her eyes and tries to possess him but instead he discovers Sputnik was never in control:  Instead, she was being psychically boosted by the canine.  Lady Shi runs up the wall in an attempt to leap over Walter and break free.  But Walter does the same that moment and the two land, still locked in the entangled state.

Crippled from the tackle, Mister ID attempts to use what he calls science to bring Kenji Katana down.  Kenji Katana unleashes steam out, being a Man of All Seasons, but Mister ID releases a low frequency throb that forces Kenji down as he feels what would be his bowels rebelling against him.   Kenji still tries to use his martial arts training to defeat the man.  His metal fist smashes into Mister ID's chest, forcing him to the ground.  Mister ID feels too Winded to fight.

While the two are entangled by the garrote wire, Victor quickly rushes through his thoughts for an idea to use.  He wonders where Wheeler has gone and wonders if there are knives and forks to use in the kitchen side of the restaurant.  Lady Shi and Walter, on the other hand, bark at each other about their historical training under their specific secret sects.  Walter however has been holding back from hurting Lady Shi, given his unwillingness to hurt a woman.  But seeing how injured Victor is, Walter jumps over Lady Shi's head and twists to try and entangle her despite her training.  In the last moment, Shi attempts to cut the wire to free herself but fails! "It doesn't have to end this way," Walter snarls at her as she is choking.  Victor grabs a nearby saucepan and smacks it on her head to knock her out, but she suddenly shifts to have Walter be in the way instead.  Walter attempts to kick her foot at the last second with his Ninja Skills to force her forward, but fails.  As the pan smacks Walter's head, Walter tumbles backwards slightly stunned.  Victor drops to the ground, and attempts to tie her shoes together.

Kenji looks up and sees the nozzles of guns trained at him.  However, the bigger danger is the pair of nozzles trained at everyone else.  He realizes the soldiers are threatening to open fire at everyone else.  A crimson glow then fills the room as Sputnik enters the area.  "Cosmo," Kenji gasps, "What are you doing?!"  Sputnik declares "Fire" and all the soldiers open fire.  Sputnik however freezes the bullets in mid-air.  He warns Kenjit that if he is injured in any way, the bullets get released.  When asked why he is doing this, a figure steps through the doorway, "He is doing it for me."

The Count Baron von Duke.

The Count speaks about being happy about waking up and realizing the world is a little bit different.  Somehow, he too remembers that the world is a little bit different.  "Comes with being a Millennial," he admits, "As there are people like you who are Spirits of the Century, there are beings like me who are not too happy that there are Centurions like you who are meddling with the world."  He talks about how the world is leading to a self-destruction and that the Centurions have a too-narrow-point of view to see how their actions are supporting thing.  He warns how the events in Hiroshima would pale in comparison to the acts of terror that are to happen daily, to the diseases and other injustices happen all over the world.  He even relates how more violence is to happen to animals like Sputnik as more are used for experimentation and the like in an arms race to reach the moon.  Kenji tries to say how he can try to stop such things, but the Count warns him that again he does not see the bigger picture.  He fiddles with one of Mister ID's arms and a projection is cast on the wall of a Monarch Butterfly.  He asks if they heard of the story of how a butterfly's wings can cause weather to change miles away - and relates how the same thing happens when Centurions try to change history.  "A small nudge here and a whole Millennium is affected:  Climate Change, Global Cataclysms, Chronal Disruptions, Quantum Fluctuations.  All of these are threats non-existent now but will threaten things in the future."  Kenji counters that like all rivers, it can be stopped.  To his surprise, the Count stresses that is true.  He stresses that is why he is here.  He talks about the Faceless Army needing a figurehead, and he cannot do much as merely a Count.  He was focused merely on the Century Club as a threat, but when he bore witness to how much the world has changed due to a single man's final wish, he knew the world needs more than a Count.  "The world needs an Emperor Duke."

When Kenji asked again why are they here this very moment, that's when the Count admits, "We came to lure YOU."  He stresses how they were supposed to be allies.  "Now, that will come to pass."  He reminds Kenji that if he does not surrender, Sputnik will release the bullets to kill the people in the car.  Sputnik growls at how he was left to burn in space vessel had it not been for the Count's actions that saved him.  He even stresses how his loved one, Laika, was the first to burn and how the humans still did not stop their experiments to throw animals to space.     "Fight and they die.  And you will probably defeat us but live the rest of your life knowing all these people died because of your decision.  Or you can submit, and who knows, perhaps your friends can someday rescue you.  You get to fight another day!"

Kenji surrenders.   Sputnik tells him to swear.  The Count tells Kenji to swear on his sword.  "Mitsurugi, to let these people live - I swear on the sword," Kenji declares.  The Count pulls out a screwdriver and walks up to Kenji to unclasp the soul gem once again.

"Wait, take me instead!" the young girl Wheeler was protecting calls out.  When the Count questions why she would be of any import, she reveals she has some kind of ability.  She claims to carry the essence of the last true Wizard, Rasputin.  She reveals she is the missing Grand Duchess and that she fled from her family's massacre to hide the last remaining Bloodline within her.  When the Count asks her to prove it, Sputnik reminds him he cannot do much while he holds the bullets.

Back at the car, Lady Shi finally drops unconscious.  Victor excitedly things he finally was able to disable her.  But as he confers with Walter what to do next, they realize the Cosmo they know could only do Telepathy and Telekinesis one at a time.  If Lady Shi was no longer telepathically boosted, that suggested that Sputnik was using his telekinesis for something else.  As they consider going after Kenji, they realize the next cab is currently empty.  Victor turns to Wheeler as asks her if they can use the mobile phones to contact him.  In response, she throws the second phone to Walter and suggests they try something.  As they both press the buttons on the phone at the same time as she suggested, they both suddenly hear the sound of a gunshot.  Victor slams against the side of the train as a bullet slams into his chest.  Walter turns and sees Wheeler with a drawn pistol.  "Sorry boys, but the Count offered me a position.  And I think I like the word Empress."  When Victor insults her for liking the Count, she admits she actually prefers frogs.  But luck is against the heroes as Wheeler's second shot nearly hits Walter.  Walter ducks behind cover.  "Do anything, Walter, and your Man of Mystery will have a new Mystery to solve: How does a man without a head think?"

As Victor tries to lean forward to grab her leg, she pulls it away at the last second.  That's when she admits Victor's own reflection told her to watch out for his grab! Victor discovers that his spirit companion, the Demon, had just betrayed him!  Victor growls and forces a conversation with the Demon while Walter sneaks out of the car, being a Friend of the Shadows as he tries to maneuver into an advantageous position.   Victor demands the Demon explain what is going on given the Demon broke the original deal with him already.  The Demon asks Victor remembers the day they watched that play called Aladdin and the story of the wish-giver and the lamp, and how Victor never made a wish to free the Demon.  The Demon did not change the terms to be completely free.  He just gave himself the chance to have one free wish: that Victor would have such a hard time and will need him.  Victor counters he does not see the need to ever made a deal with the Demon again, but the Demon asks him if he doesn't feel the urge to learn the things that Percy knew how to do.  The Demon does remind Victor that he doesn't know any other demons and that Victor only really learned to do things that Crowley did.  "You  simply became a Master of all these things that don't exist anymore.  All the demons Crowley commanded are now free.  They probably aren't even demons anymore."  Victor admits he finds the bargain interesting - but questions how he can trust someone who is working for the enemy.  The Demon corrects him, explaining he is not working for them.   He just was silently with Victor all this time, and waited for him to feel what it was like when he was not helping.  The Demon offers a new set of terms:  Quid Pro Quo.  A favor for a favor.  The terms are changing.  Victor will have to do something first before the Demon does something.  The first exchange is offered; if Victor makes his wound worse, the Demon will help him.  As their conversation ends, natural time flows again.

Wheeler trains the gun at Victor, who then yells at her and goads her to hurt him.  She turns, and fires a shot at the Man of Mystery.  The bullet takes out one of Victor's eyes!  Walter then witnesses from his hiding place as Wheeler's own eye explodes as well.  Victor sees his own reflection do a dance of joy.  Walter swings back into the car and kicks Wheeler's gun hand.  He does not notice Victor grunt in pain as his own arm feels the impact as well! "Oooh I'm gonna love this one!" the Demon exalts and only Victor hears his joy.  As Wheeler drops to the ground, Victor slams a bloody hand against the glass and curses the Demon for this trade off.  Walter kicks Wheeler from behind one last time to knock her out and only then realizes Victor is down as well.

"Oh," Walter gasps, "The Demon.  Right.  That's what you get for doing stuff on me with your Talisman," he huffs.

"I guess it is time to go," The Count tells Kenji.  Anastasia  asks them to wait and she shows a glowing orb that swirls from her chest.  The Count glances at it, unfazed, then has Sputnik knock her out with a telekinetic shove.  As she hits the ground, the Count merely mutters how people nowadays don't realize that the Count is a man of science.  "I don't believe in Magic.  Are you ready?" he asks Kenji.  Kenji asks them to take care of the people as part of the deal.  As the gem is pulled away from its socket, Walter and Victor in the distance hear Kenji's body slam to the ground.

The Count, Sputnik, and  his Faceless men are lifted off the ground with Crimson light.  For a brief moment, Sputnik stares at Kenji's body - as if there was a recollection.. a memory... but then its gone.  They leave and Walter arrives at the car with Kenji's body and discovers he has gone completely lifeless.

"Not quite the ending I was hoping," the Demon admits, "I was kind of hoping this would be some kind of last hurray before you died..."  Victor drifts to unconsciousness but just before he does completely so, a glowing woman leans over him and whispers, "You can serve me instead... you know my name... just save my name..."

Glorianna Sheeda smiles.







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