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Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend

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3 years 7 months ago #39892 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 16

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Along Route 160
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
4:54 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

From my hiding spot under the semi's airfoil I did my best to keep an eye on the road ahead, while the maps I had gotten my claws on showed that Route 160 would go right through Durango before taking a noticeable turn south before it made its way east again (something that I would definitely notice) I needed to be careful. Not too far from where I had jumped on the big rig was a turn off to Colorado State Highway 140 that morphed into New Mexico State Highway 170, which was to the extent that I had paid attention to the maps that Kelsey had left around the cave.

I know- I know, I should have paid more attention, but I was going stir-crazy. The fact of the matter was I was a party girl from Seattle, the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Grunge Rock; partying was as much a part of me as my Chinese-American heritage it was the cultural yin to my heretical yang. I longed for the dance-floor, the lights, the beats, the energy it had been too long; for crying out loud my friends and I had just left the tween hang-outs of our youths behind us to begin to immerse ourselves in the high-school clubs a few months ago. That was a lifetime ago though, before I left what the old me had become behind.

Sunday October 8, 2006
Seattle Children's Hospital - Isolation Wing
Seattle, Washington
3:24 PM PST
POV: Zhen-yu Chen

To my shock I was awake again, what in the world- I was sure I had just died so what was going on. Maybe this part of what comes next, was I approaching my next place on the wheel of samsara, I wonder what I was being reborn as in the life that laid ahead of me.

As I began to become more and more aware of the darkness around me I came to realize two things: one for being dead I could still feel a sensation of touch, and two I desperately needed to breath. Out of instinct and desperation I lashed out struggling to find a way out, that's when I discovered I was inside of...something. Even more desperate to escape my recently discovered confinement I began to hit the wall with everything that I had and felt something give.

My virgin effort appeared to have cracked the walls of this...whatever it was and a tiny piece of the wall fell outside; as I could breathe again I suddenly I felt slimy as if I was covered in some kind of goop also I felt like I was naked. These newfound revelations were secondary though whatever my state of dress, I wanted out of this prison. I began to strike the area near the tiny hole and the cracks continued to spread as the wall began to give way. Soon I felt confident enough that my efforts had given me a way out and began the throw the entire weight of my body against the damaged wall- until I broke through and I feel out of my prison onto the ground outside.

My chest heaving with the taste of fresh-air I knew that I laid sprawled out on my belly on the floor of where ever this was. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the brightness around me but what I saw was surprising. "What?!?" I croaked out my throat somehow raw from the ordeal, "I thought I was being reincarnated, why am I still in the room where I died?!?"

Still confused at just what was going on I was growing more and more panicked by the moment, not to mention this weird sensation like someone kept touching my butt with something as chilly as the hospital floor. My eyes finally almost adjusted I craned my neck behind me and caught sight of the waving green tube near my butt, I began to turn towards the tube to get a better look but no matter what it kept eluding me.

As my eyes finally adjusted I could see that this tube was scaly and covered along the top with thick reddish fur, what in the world was this?

I did my best to keep trying to find out just what the hell was behind me when I heard, laughing. I turned and looked at the source which was coming from a nurse standing halfway outside the door. "Just what's so funny?"

"I-I'm sorry Miss Chen," the nurse snickered as she tried to stop laughing, "but a lot of us were scared of just what would come out that egg that you turned into. The last thing I would have ever expected to see when something came out was a lizard girl chasing her own tail like a dog. That is you in there right Miss Chen?"

"I think so," I replied as I looked at my scale-covered body as best as I could, "to be honest I was certain that I had died and was being reborn."

"I'll go and get you a patient's gown Miss Chen," the Nurse whose name I finally read as Tabitha Simmons laughed as she made her way out the room, "I imagine you want a little modesty to go with your rebirthday suit."

"Can you see about getting me a mirror too," I called out, "I kind of had asked for all the ones in here to be taken out when I was... whatever the hell it was that happened to me."

"To tell you the truth they weren't removed just covered up," the nurse laughed as she gestured to several surfaces in the room that I could see had been covered with butcher paper and masking tape, "it was just more convenient that way."

"By the way," I asked trying to grab her attention before she left the room, "why am I still in the same room... I would think that hospital space would be at a premium."

"The truth is other than how heavy that egg that you turned into ended up being," the nurse continued to explain, "when we measured its width was wider than the straps that we had available. That plus how top-heavy it would have made the gurney meant that it was too much of a risk to move."

Since I knew that her reasoning should have been sound, I let the nurse go to retrieve some fresh linens and patient gowns for my room as I went about uncovering the mirrors in the room starting with the one above the sink. Absent-mindedly I tried to tear at the paper like I normally would with my fingernails, much to my shock my new claws not only easily cut the paper but also could hear as these reptilian talons scratched both the mirror and the metal frame that surrounded it before I could stop.

Now far more gently I went about tearing off the remaining paper from the mirror too see not only an almost alien looking reptilian muzzle staring back but also that I had deeply scraped into the mirror itself. "That is not going to buff out!" I grimaced knowing that if my folks were billed for the damages and it would not be cheap.

For the moment, I pushed my families growing medical depth to the corner of my mind, and focused on observing just how much my body had changed since the old me had turned into an egg. I stared at the unfamiliar being in the mirror that I had somehow transformed into before I hatched, still finding the situation more than a little surreal.

Much to my chagrin the formerly roundish face which I had called my own before this ordeal began had given way to a muzzle that had grown outward and absorbed my pert nose until all that remained of it was two slit-like nostrils along to top front. Meanwhile inside said muzzle was a collection of rather sharp teeth that were uniform although towards the back I did see some molars.

Thankfully my mouth along the muzzle still had some form of lips allowing me to shut my mouth without giving me the smile of a crocodile, the last thing that I wanted would be to give people another reason to be afraid. Although I'm sure that my smile now would likely give me a rather effective tool to get that holy-roller Mary Dinh to leave me alone... nah knowing her she'd come after me armed with holy water.

My formerly fine black-hair was now a muddy reddish hue and far more course- not to mention thick. What was also weird is that it was bracketed on both sides by these felt-covered branching nobs, "I wonder what these things are supposed to be?"

I decided to leave that question for later as I looked for something that wasn't there, "Where the heck did my ears go?" Although it took a few moments before I found a hole on the right-side of my head on the same level as my eye, albeit covered by a thin-webbing and nearly obscured by my hair; a quick inspection of the opposite side confirmed that it had a twin. "At least they match," I muttered to myself as I went back to inspecting my altered anatomy.

Much like the rest of me, my eyes had also changed, not only in color but also structure. Unlike the familiar brown hue that I had always known to greet me in the mirror, these were an almost golden color with hints of orange to it, also the more I focused on those eyes the more my pupils narrowed. I know that it is normal for eyes to narrow when you are focusing on something, but unlike the familiar sight of those tiny black circles narrowing as they focused- mine were becoming vertically slit more like the eyes of a housecat than those of a human being.

Becoming more and more weirded out by how my face had changed within that brick-red egg that I could still see in the corner of my reflection, I instead decided to turn my attention to the rest of my body as if that would weird me out even less. As I had noticed earlier my body was now covered in green scales although there was an exception along my front, from my collar-bone all the way down there was a pair of steel gray plates- much like a lizard. Although unlike a lizard they were bracketed by my breasts which despite now being topped by dark-green nipples hadn't grown an inch; figures the one change that I would have welcomed and I got gipped. Well at least I still had the girls because overall, I looked very reptilian, so thank the heavens for small blessings I guess.

While my plumbing appeared to be in the same place as it had before, I wasn't tempted to inspect it, the nurse had only left to go to the linens closet (and likely fetch the doctor on call) and I didn't want to get started on anything that I would have an unwanted audience. That also worked out because I still wanted to inspect the rest of the package before I got any unwelcomed visitors, namely the tail that the nurse pointed out that I was chasing earlier.

Turning around and glancing over my shoulder I took in the sight of the limb in question, to no surprise it was the same shade of green as the rest of me with the same gray belly scales as the rest of me on the underside. What did surprise me about my brand-new tail was just how hairy it was, apparently I didn't only have the same rust-colored hair on my head but it began a mane that went from the top of my head down the middle of my back and all the way to the tip of my brand-spanking-new tail where it terminated with a tuft of hair at the tip.

This whole arrangement of my anatomy began to seem more and more familiar as I recalled stories that my grandparents told me when I was younger along with the accompanying artwork, still there was one final thing that would seal the deal of that theory. Steeling myself I looked down at my feet, while my hands themselves were little changed in structure (despite how clawed they were) now my feet were another story.

Contrary to my hands my feet barely resembled something that you would normally see at the end of a girl's leg, no correction- these weren't feet, these were talons. The talons that were at the end of my legs had three toes terminating with much thicker claws then those at the end of my fingers, they were also covered with flexible plates the number of which varied by the toe, also they were only webbed about half-way up the foot, as it to let me grasp with them.

Also, to show the difference between human feet and my talons were the heel claws at the back of my feet, it was about the length of an index finger and about half as thick as a big-toe but it was growing out of my heel and had a claw about as thick as the three on the front. Out of curiosity I sat down in the chair in the room careful to thread my tail to the side of the seat-rest, once seated I raised my legs off the ground and tried to curl my toes like I was digging into sand at the beach. I stared at my talons as they curled more like that of a bird that was using a branch as a perch, or like I knew for certain that I was now.

"I'm a dragon," I numbly stated as my talons dropped to the floor with a series of clicks as my claws tapped the tile, wondering just where life would go from here.

End Flashback

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Along Route 160
La Plata Mountains, Colorado
5:07 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

I was jolted out of my sense of nostalgia when I felt the semi beneath me begin to turn well I guess the good news was this bad boy wasn't headed towards New Mexico at least not by Colorado State Highway 180 and I didn't care to wager which way along Route 550 this trucker would take his rig. As my current ride turned southward I took a flying leap off the cab and into the river beside the road, as things stood I wasn't too concerned with getting wet given that my pyrokinetic abilities could dry me off in no time.

Thankfully I did land in the river and the current wasn't too fast for this Seattle girl to deal with, once I was under the bridge that my ride had just passed over I surfaced and hauled myself onto the riverbank. After blowing one of my claws dry I swiped it against the nearby concrete to for a couple of sparks, once these bits of heat danced off the masonry I caught them with my powers and then nurtured those into some decent fireballs.

Carefully I had these balls of flame slowly orbit me as their heat dried the clothes against my body as well as anything that I brought with me. Thankfully this didn't require my whole concentration because nearby I spotted some discarded soda and beer cans lining the river bank. "Jackpot," I all but purred as I got to work.

The fact was that while I did want to get of the cave for some fun I didn't have any real intentions of bolting, besides where would I go- if I went home that damned cult would just kidnap me and take my family hostage again. Still I needed some spending money both for new clothes and cover charges; thankfully a mountain town like this had to have plenty of amateur prospectors, meaning there was likely to be a place where I could unload some nice uncut gems with zero suspicion. It was a fun fact that I had learned back home- when it comes to gemstones if they were clearly cut and polished that is always a warning sign that they are stolen, however uncut gemstones are easy to sell because it's hard to really prove where they come from without some expensive equipment.

Feeling nice and dry I put a stop to the fireballs orbit around each other and let them hover in the distance while I collected the recyclables to process them, time for some spending money. For the first time in a long time I exercised one of the subtler displays of my abilities, the same subtlety that caused that damned cult to seek me out and lock me away in a hole in their lair deep in the ruins of pre-quake San Francisco.

Picking up a Mt. Dew can I got to work, most people when they see gemstones they only see the jewel as a permanent thing of beauty, some bauble meant to highlight their own prestige- nothing more. Few understand that precious gemstones are merely crystals formed of certain elements or compounds, which when heated in the right conditions become the much sought-after gemstones. Take sapphires for example most people are entirely unaware that all they were when you came down to it was Aluminum oxide, for that matter they also didn't know that rubies and sapphires were essentially the same type of stone corundum- just with different impurities. For example, when it comes to what most people think of as sapphires the blue comes from copper, rubies on the other hand have chromium present in them; although when it comes to jewelers everything corundum that doesn't have just that right shade of red is just declared a sapphire for the sake of convenience.

Now for me I had no problem finding aluminum to work my powers on to shape into rough corundum stones, all it was a matter of finding some old soda cans and getting to work. All most of the time what I got was declared a sapphire in some form or another, apparently the jewelry industry is ridiculously anal about what they call a ruby- that and it wasn't easy to find chromium oxide just laying around, you had to buy it to get the real thing.

Even when I was enslaved by the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn I rarely made true rubies because they didn't want to waste the money on chromium oxide powder for me- well unless I was making something for the reigning Xuè-jīn Mùshī. Not that it was surprising that bastard considered enchantable true rubies worthy only for the Priest of Blood-stained Gold and none other, how ironic that the last time that his men ordered me to make one was also the last gem that they ever forced me to make shortly before Kelsey liberated me from his grasp...

February 20, 2007
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - San Francisco Chapter House
Old San Francisco, California
9:47 AM PST

Today was already beginning to be a day exactly like the one before it; I was still yáo xīyì slave of the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn who were known to others as the Merchants of Suffering. Every day from I labored for them, using my powers to turn raw materials into rough gemstones for them to either use or sell. When I succeeded I was told to make another until it was either time to be feed or take care of my needs, when I failed I felt the biting lash of a freezing whip strike my back for my failure.

I had already produced dozens of stones for my masters today but I knew that I was to face the lash of my handler of the day, I didn't bother to learn their names mostly because if I ever addressed them by anything but Gāoshǒu (Master) the guards would then beat me with the studded metal poles that they carried until I could barely move. The last time that I dared they also threw me back inside my cell and didn't feed me until the next day, that wasn't an experience I dared to try and repeat.

How long have I been down here for- weeks, months, given how far underground we are I haven't seen the sun ever since they kidnapped me, not that this was surprising given that I've rarely been anywhere but my cell, the work area, the...relief room, and on rare occasions into the throne room of the Xuè-jīn Mùshī- the Priest of Blood-stained Gold. Those days were the worst, being dragged out and treated like a trophy chained a place along the wall all to impress some distinguished visiting member of the Grand Hall, black market, Triad or some other underground organization.

"Get up and get back to work you lazy lizard!" the handler barked as his whip struck to the side, driving his point home. That's all that I was to these bastards, a gem-making kiln shaped in the form of a lizard girl, here to slave away crafting enchantable gemstones for them until the day I finally keeled over dead. At least this inhumane treatment hadn't taken everything from me, I still remembered my parents' names and faces, I still remembered my old life; however because of the actions of the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī the day that I was brought here I couldn't even remember my own name, and every time I tried it was nothing but a source of pain, like someone was trying to shove a red-hot poker into my brain.

"Now xīyì," my handler stared at me with dark glee in his face, "the master desires another ruby from you."

My blood almost froze with fear, while I could make sapphires with little difficulty- provided they gave me the proper time to guide the crystallization, rubies were far more difficult. So far three out of every four times has met with failure followed by a beating from the guard's poles rather than the handlers whip, so I could feel my heart pounding in fear as the man poured a measure of chromium oxide powder into the empty soda can, I wouldn't have been surprised if he skimped on the dust so that I failed, just made a pink sapphire and was beaten anyway...the bastard.

No, I was not going to give this sadistic, self-important bag of shit the pleasure of watching me fall into despair, those dark moments belonged in the cell that they threw me into when they let me sleep. I was not going to give my handler the satisfaction of breaking me, even if it took me a hundred years these monsters were going to learn that they might have caged this dragon but they would NEVER break her, and if that meant making the decrepit demon-worshipper who stripped me of my name- a ruby that his hell-borne master might fight him for then I was going to do it.

The moment my handler turned over the can I got to work, I had to do my best to ignore him and his guards as I took the can in my right hand and gathered fire from a welding torch held by one of my guards with my left. This was the tricky part about making rubies was two-fold: While only a small amount of chromium was needed compared to aluminum to create rubies- chromium oxide has melting point more than twice than that of aluminum. Now this might not be a problem if not for the fact that while heating the soup of aluminum up enough to also melt the chromium dust properly in the flux that I was also vaporizing the impurities out of the aluminum.

Now most people aren't aware that the aluminum they encounter on a daily basis is purposefully impure, the reason for this was that if it reacted with heat and oxygen in the wrong way it would catch on fire; an aluminum metal fires also had the distinction of burning so hot that very little could extinguish them- they burned so hot that water would dissolve becoming oxygen and hydrogen again both of which would only fuel the resulting blaze. While I might be tempted to use such a thing to escape, I wasn't the only slave down here, besides unless I got my name back from the Xuè-jīn Mùshī he could force me to return- no matter how far I ran he would order me back.

While the metal wasn't on fire the temperatures necessary for chromium oxide to properly melt are close thirty-five hundred degrees Fahrenheit and even with my powers containing most of that the heat still bled into the room. While the large vents that they had installed after my first guards and handler almost roasted from the radiant heat of my first day took care of most of the heat, the guards still felt uncomfortable a fact that only made them more and more irritable as the day dragged on.

While my own hide could easily handle this heat and more, I remember the elderly ahrat who examined me telling that fucanglong made their homes far underground and often swam in magma, normal people are far more fragile. I could feel that the thick metallic soup, which the can and powder had become, was now like rice flour dough in my hands, I began to use my powers to shape the flux- as I began to work it like clay.

This was one of the rare pleasures that I had these days, shaping molten metal much like I used to shape wet clay in art class, although there was no potter's wheel sturdy enough for me to try to work this- no I had to settle for using my powers to hand sculpt this material, much like I did back in elementary school. But this rare freedom still had its shackles, I was limited with my material and I had a patron who wanted workable gems not a work of art. If I had time and was in the outside world maybe I could get my work in a gallery someday, but no they just wanted tiny enchantable jewels- and to think that these cultists called westerners barbarians... philistines.

I continued to work the metallic flux when something drew the attention of the guards, while I was curious I knew better than to stop given that my keeper was always eager to administer a beating. However, none of this mattered for the heavy door soon blew clear off its hinges as it embedded the two guards on the other side into the wall with the force of a battering ram; my handler readied his freezing whip fully intending to make the intruder regret their choice.

I desperately tried to hold stability on the ruby-to-be while craning my head to the door, curious to see just who was causing all this commotion. To her surprise it was a brunette just a few years older than me, dressed in a ragged set of robes and holding an ornate wooden staff in her right hand.

My handler barked out, {You shall regret this intrusion outsider!} in mandarin as he motioned to last the girl with his freezing whip.

Time seemed to slow as the girl pointed her staff at my handler and simply uttered one word, "Lacero! To my shock my handlers dreaded freezing whip split and tore into scraps followed soon after by his clothing, leaving him unarmed and bare to the world while faced with someone who was clearly a skilled practitioner of the mystic arts.

The former bane of my existence withdrew into a corner stammering out treats in mandarin about how he was going to have the girl's own ancestors rise and tear her apart for this affront to which the girl giggled as she knelt down to offer me a hand,
Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to expand ]
if you would allow me I will take you to a place where you may heal and practice your art on your own behalf."

Although I couldn't understand what she said at the beginning, meaning she had just said my real name, but there in lay the real problem, "Thank you for trying to rescue me, but I can't leave. Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī took my name from me when I was brought here, as long as he has it I can never truly escape, for with a single command I would be forced to return to my enslavement."

"A problem easily solved," the lady replied with a smile, "The Priest of Blood-stained Gold revels in the sin of greed, and I have something in my hand that he would be unable to resist taking for himself. When he tries to do so I can easily solve your problem while making our exit far easier."

Daring to hope that she knew what she was doing I let the molten and unfinished ruby fall to the floor where it melted a hole in the concrete before beginning to cool- if they wanted they could dig the damned thing out themselves. With my former task now a smoking hole in the floor I took the girl's hand and she guided me towards what I hoped was the exit; the entire way we passed battered and unconscious guards many of whom I recognized had been given the task to guard my handler while I worked in the past- clearly, she had taken care of them on her way to my cell.

I wish that I could say that I'd recognized the way out of this sunless labyrinth, but the only times that I'd ever been removed from my cell I'd had a bag over my head and when I was brought here in the first place I was unconscious. Still she had made her way inside and I knew that she wasn't a part of the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn, not only were they misogynistic they were also beyond racist- there was no way in the nine-hundred and ninety-nine hells that she was a member.

Sadly, our escape came to a major roadblock; sure enough my rescuer was correct in here earlier prediction, the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī was here to block our way. "I do not know how you entered our sanctum little gnat, however you will find that you will not live long enough to enjoy the spoils of your folly."

The Priest of Blood-stained Gold thrust his ring-laden talons our way and barked {"Eviscerate the Intruder, tear her apart slowly and let her feel it until the very end!"} in at us in mandarin. Immediately a toxic-looking spell materialized and writhed towards my rescuer, I knew that if it hit it would be messy but since this spell was cast targeting her specifically there was nothing that I could do to save her from its effects.

The young woman remained calm, and with a minor motion of her staff calmly said, "Hoc retexere!" causing the Priest's dark spell to unravel.

Rather than looking perturbed or frazzled at his spells failure the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī looked- hungry. For the first time I saw the decrepit priest look at something with an almost ravenous expression, "The Staff of Undertone! Child, you have brought me a great prize indeed!"

Overflowing with desire for my rescuer's staff the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī with a wordless spell sent two golden hands from his palms that dripped in crimson energy out to ensnare the object in a desperate attempt to use his sorcery to tear it from the girl's grasp.

While at first it looked like the young lady was holding onto the staff with both hands in a desperate attempt to keep my owner from claiming it a sudden, pleased smile on her face told me that she had the old man dancing to her tune.

"I see, you have a latent spell within you sir," my rescuer stated evoking a look of terror from the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī.

"No, you cannot possibly be able to cast that spell!" The ancient dark priest all but shouted in disbelief, "That is the spell reserved for the Demon Lord of the Golden Hell, no mortal may cast it!"

"I am the Wayfarer, the one chosen by Fate itself to wield the Staff of Undertone," the lady stated in a tone that seemed to grow heavier the more she talked, "and there is no spell that has ever been used that together we are unable to cast as well!"

Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī seemed to take this threat as genuine because it seemed that he was trying to get his spell to let go of the staff but couldn't. His fear for what must have been for his life grew greater by the second as my rescuer began to chant a spell in han-chinese in a voice that definitely wasn't her own, {"By the pact from which you were chosen, thou shalt know the penalty of HIS power's absence!"}

At first other than the Zhǔ Xuè-jīn Mùshī's spell vanishing it didn't look like anything happened, at least until his skin began to shrivel up. To my shock it looked like the dark priest was mummifying right before my eyes, this kept up until his body collapsed on the floor. While his clean skull rolled clear of his gown I could see something else spilling from the robe...gold dust.

Much to my amazement a series of white motes emerged from the pile of cloth, baubles, bones and gold dust one of which came right for me. Although I recoiled in fear to my surprise I felt no pain when the orb made contact, but suddenly I could remember for the first time in a long time I could remember my name Zhen-yu Chen my slaver was dead and now my final shackle had been broken.

The self-titled Wayfarer patted me on the shoulder and explained, "There you go, you have your name again and now that they have no leader the Merchants of Suffering shouldn't be too much of a threat, at least until the next one is chosen. Now in the mean time I have to take you to a place that you need to visit."

"Home," I suggested wanting to go back to a little normalcy or as normal as I had being half dragon and all.

"In time," the Wayfarer sighed as if acknowledging my need, "but for now you need to heal, I know of a place where your slavers will never be able to find you and a place that is essential to your destiny."

End Flashback

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Beneath Route 160 Animas River Bridge
Durango, Colorado
5:31 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

As I came out of my memories I found that once again my work was done, it may seem odd to others but when I was sculpting it always helped when I allowed my mind to drift. Back when I was a slave they seemed to know when I seemed to lose focus and would object violently, no that they were aware but for me at least sculpting was akin to meditation- it worked best when you didn't focus on the task at hand and just let nature take its course. All around me I could see that rewards of my craft rough-uncut sapphires of various hues, ready for the market- well that is after I slipped into something a little more...normal.

After taking out some more clothes, to make myself less of an eyesore, I assumed the stance that I had been training with from Sha Wujing, I closed my eyes and focused, "Gēnggǎi!"

With a slight pop, I felt my form change shape into something all too familiar. I briefly glanced into the mountain stream calmly flowing by all to please to see my old self staring back- albeit a little more rugged than I would have been back at home. "Perfect," I admitted in my old voice as I hurried to finish getting dressed. "Now I just need to find a jeweler or a pawn shop to appraise these stones and get some spending money. Although come to think of it I imagine that it would look odd to have an Asian teenager just stroll in with a few hundred dollars in rough stones."

Once again I assumed my earlier stance but this time I focused on a different outcome, "Gēnggǎi!"

With another pop, I took a little time to focus on a form that much different to what I was used to seeing at least in a reflection. Now rather than my old base-line human self looking back at me in the river, there was instead the harsh face of Kan Fei, an old lady who ran a convenience store around the corner from my house back home. A wicked smile crossed my face as I snapped at the river in her familiar voice, "Stop reading my magazines you brats, this is a store not a library, buy something or leave!"

Yep my tone matched the old bat too perfectly, for good measure I attempted her much-practiced glare of death just in case I needed it, only to have the end result staring back far too close to be comfortable, "Yikes! Yeah, I've got that one down pat. Better remember never to do that in a mirror ever again, I might wind up with seven years bad luck...or worse my face could stick that way- ugh."

Confident that my current disguise would serve the task at hand, I scooped my freshly made gem stones into a burlap and twine bag that I'd made in my free time while at the cave and set out into town. While I was clearly not a local, I doubt that anyone would bother a homely old Chinese lady walking down the street. After ten minutes, I was sure that I made the right choice, sure enough nobody gave me more than a second look- then again Kan Fei herself was rather hard to look at for too long.

It took me all of five blocks to find a promising place, called Little Cate's Silver Shop. Once inside it felt sort of kitschy like they were trying to convey a friendly atmosphere than that of a mountain town pawn shop, not that I could blame them the ones around here probably were just places the local hunters hocked their rifles in-between seasons.

Yeah, this place screamed grown up hippie to me, especially when one of the clerks walked up to me. "Hello ma'am, can I help you with anything today?"

"Yes," I replied in a dry tone as I looked at her with a sour tone on my face, "I was camping out in the mountains and stumbled across somethings as I was gathering stones to surround my camp fire. I assume that you know enough to properly appraise them- I'd hate to have to go looking for another shop." I stated brusquely as I poured my work out of the pouch and onto the counter.

"Why I am certain that we can find some money for your pretty rocks ma'am," the sales woman responded barely taking a glance at the raw gems on the counter that sat between us.

"I'm old child, not daft," I stated as I turned on Kan Fei's patented evil eye with an extra side of elderly grump for good measure, "I have been around long enough to have seen uncut gemstones and I know from cleaning these off that they are likely sapphires. Now can you actually bring me someone who can appraise them or can you at least prove to not be a complete waste of my time and point me out to where I should have gone in the first place?"

"Beverly what is going on here," an older woman than the one at the counter who just screamed manager came to the desk from the floor.

"I'll tell you what is going on here," I huffed keeping my grump on, "I was trying to sell some uncut gemstones that I found in the mountains and this child has been wasting what precious little time I have left."

"Ma'am there is no need to get nasty," the manager replied as she tried to mollify me, "I can appraise your findings, and just give me a minute."

Once she found that they were the real deal, we spent some time haggling and by the time I walked out of the store I was twelve-hundred dollars richer in green-backed Jacksons. While it might have put a dent in the lady's register she likely had the connections to haul in ten-times the amount that I sold those stones for once they were professionally appraised, cut, polished and facetted.

After ducking around on the other side of a car, I transformed back to my preferred human form albeit looking about five-years-older and set out with three goals in my immediate future: a shoe store for something to hoof a beat, a thrift store for some decent threads and the bus station to rent a locker. As my stomach growled I added a fourth item on my agenda grab a quick dinner, because the last thing I needed was my appetite blowing my cover in what was likely to be a very mutant unfriendly town.

Sunday, April 22, 2007
Weixiao Group's Headquarters
Sai Kung District, Hong Kong
8:45 AM HKT

Tann Li-hong tried his best to huddle his massive form behind the desk his office, an AK-105 pointed at the door, he knew that the end was near. All week someone had been interfering with his operations, an attack here, a little sabotage there; it was obvious one of the rival triads had been testing his defenses planning an attack. To prepare for any further attacks Tann had called his lieutenants in to compare notes and information, to see if they could figure out which of the dozen rival triads was behind the attacks and how to retaliate appropriately; it soon became clear that their unknown foe had counted on the meeting.

An hour into his organization's meeting of the minds and the screaming had begun, and by then it had already been too late. While his lieutenants had been exchanging ideas with him someone or several someone's had been working their way through the apartment building that served as their headquarters, and they had been silently killing their guards as they went. At first several of his younger officers and their body guards were determined to hunt down the intruder to curry favor with him to elevate themselves above their seniors, the screams, gunfire and silence that followed soon elevated the folly of their choice.

Seeing the writing on the wall he and his remaining officers had determined that their best hope for survival was to flee and regroup later, this too proved to be a trap as their unknown assailant had booby-trapped the exits. Those their attacker didn't hunt down on the way out of the building were cut down gruesomely as they made their way down the hallways to freedom, then it had become not a question of the triads survival but that of their own lives. Tann Li-hong had determined that his best chance for survival lay not in escaping the building but in barricading himself in the most heavily defended place in the building, his personal office.

He was confident that he would survive this attack in here, although this had once been yet another cookie-cutter apartment within the structure over the years he had modified it to serve as a make shift bunker; the walls had been bullet proofed and lined with traps that could be set from his office, the windows had been taken out and bricked-over, the doors had been heavily reinforced and the locks were sturdy and could be secured with hatch-locks from the inside. After a few moments Tann had begun to calm down sure that his security would safeguard his own life, even though he knew his organization had fallen.

This sense of safety had begun to fail when he heard the traps in his hallway begin to go off, whoever had taken out his men had made it through the front door and from the sounds of things was making it through his traps- whoever this was must have been here in force because they were taking everything that he could dish out. Desperate he switched the safety off his AK-105, braced himself and took aim, although he might die today he was determined that whoever had taken down his men was going to suffer heavily for their victory.

A few moments had passed and Tann Li-hong was growing more and more panicked by the moment, which was when to his horror the metal door separating his office from the rest of the apartment began to glow. Soon enough I reptilian hand melt its way through the door causing the hatch wheel to clatter to the ground, his attacker had powers now it was no wonder how they had taken his men down with ease.

In desperation Tann Li-hong unloaded his AK-105 as soon as the door flung open to no avail, although the bullets tore through his attackers clothing the now visible dragon lady showed no signs of injury as if the bullets had flattened rather than penetrating her hide. With a fang-filled smile she stalked towards him and despite his panicked attempt to run caught Tann by the collar and threw him upon his reinforced desk, "I wish that I could say that this was nothing personal Tann Li-hong, however I enjoy my work far too much to degrade it in such a way."

"Please don't kill me," Tann Li-hong pleaded in the dragon lady's grasp, "you have already destroyed my organization, I doubt that I could ever rebuild. Whoever you serve they have won, I will never be able to stop them from taking over my businesses and territory."

"I know," the dragon lady all but sang as she replied, "however I am a professional and I never leave a job half-finished."

"Say did you know that candles used to be made using fat," the dragon lady explained as her right claw began to glow with heat, "that means if you carefully ignite a corpulent individual such as yourself you will melt just as if you were made of wax."

The dragon lady slowly patted Tann Li-hong stomach with her glowing palm and the man screamed as his body caught fire just as she described, soon Tann's screams were no more as his body began to burn like a candle. Satisfied with her work Lady Zhi Chen known to the Tiewan Triad as Furen Yilong all but sashayed out of the room, another rival triad taken down and more notoriety for herself, in all not a bad was to start the morning.

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Dunn Deal Resale
Durango, Colorado
7:01 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

With a new pair of shoes in my bag, a key to a bus locker large enough to hold the rucksack and a full stomach of halfway decent Thai cuisine, I began inspecting the racks to see how I could best assemble an appropriate ensemble for tonight. I was lucky so far in that I'd already found a purse to match my new shoes as well as a billfold to hold the still sizable amount of cash I had left. While it was true that I had plenty to cover tonight's expenses, and more than enough left over to play around with, old habits die hard, plus I didn't want to attract too much attention by throwing a lot of cash around- this was a small town and I was still an unfamiliar face.

As my hand reached for an outfit that looked both like it would fit, and go well with my new shoes and purse, it made contact with someone else; out of reflex I turned to meet the gaze of a freckled brunette who was about the same age as my current disguise. "Oops- sorry," the girl said retracting her hand in embarrassment, "I was just rifling through the rack and didn't notice you."

"It's okay," I smiled in reply, "Guan Shu-ting, I just hopped over from Silverton for the weekend and thought that I'd check out the scene at Fort Lewis."

"Kelly Windkloppel, yeah you've come on a great time, a lot of us are going to party over at Animas Hall later," Kelly explained as she met my hand and accepting the alias as truth, "I mean it's not Snowdown but it should be the last big bash before everyone starts to really hit the books for finals. Thinking of coming here next fall?"

"Maybe, I mean I can find scholarship money well enough, but I need to set aside enough for books and expenses since I graduated." I explained as I began to weave more layers to her false-identity's cover story, while I doubted the Merchants of Suffering had any direct ears in this town, the last thing that I needed was for my real name to migrate back to them and give them an idea of where to start looking.

"I'm going to go try this on," I explained as I took the blouse and added it to the skirt that was already in my hands, "I'll see you later tonight."

Unbeknownst to Zhen-yu Chen after she made her way into the dressing room in the back of the store, Kelly pulled her cellphone out of her purse. "I've made contact; I'll try and keep an eye on her until later- over and out."

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3 years 7 months ago #39893 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 16 Notes


Hoc retexere!
Unravel this!


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3 years 6 months ago - 3 years 6 months ago #41466 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 17

Union Oyster House
Boston, Massachusetts
7:21 PM EDT

Rex Hallenbeck was quickly leaving his earlier feeling of fear behind and quickly becoming annoyed, it had been over two hours and his generous host had still yet to say anything about what he was offering or why. He had just continued to watch the news and sip hot tea in between slurping down oysters, just what was Professor Id really up to here- it was almost like...

Rex's train of thought was interrupted by an odd buzzing coming from behind the draft-menu, "Pardon me a moment," the super-villain stated in his disturbingly polite tone; "however I have been waiting for this call. Yes, this is Mister Black."

He paused to listen into the other end of the line and replied as an unnerving smile crossed his face, "Continue to observe and report back, oh and if any of those undead hooligans give trouble you, feel free to flatten them."

"Sorry, your errant sibling, the young girl who inherited the spirit of the Crommyonian Sow was just keeping me abreast of a game of cat and mouse between two factions of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom. Apparently two of your school-mates are the cheese that both factions are interested in- for different reasons naturally, I take it you have questions about that information."

"Sure, I've got questions," Rex barked back. "How is the sow's host working for you? I mean our current patron looked all over for some medium to guide her spirit for reincarnation and she wasn't able to find anything- how come you were?"

"Child there are several parties in the wide world seeking to weaponized super-powers, myself among them as you are no doubt aware from New York and the variety of stories about me stretching back to Victorian Europe." Professor Id began to explain setting aside yet another empty tray of oyster shells. "Naturally many means of trying to create empowered individuals such as dynomorphs and origins are quite frankly too random to be considered a valid means, even targeted attempts to force the Mutant Gene Complex to awaken in those who carry it result a process with too many variables to control even in laboratory conditions."

"That is when a few decades ago I began to hear of a type of mutant referred to as avatars- individuals who like shaman's bond with a spiritual being as a source of their abilities, finally something that I could control," Professor Id unveiled his plan in vivid clarity. "As you are no doubt aware an entity or spirit who forms a bond with a mutant with this trait can gain access to their powers, naturally baring the subject's imaginations of physiological differences, finally a version of empowerment that can be guided all one needs is the proper knowledge to draw in and contain a spirit as well as the experience to alter the host's body to minimize rejection."

"But how can anyone force someone else to be an avatar?" Rex asked in a morbidly numb fashion, "It's still a trait, and you have said that you can't guide how someone will manifest."

"Who said anything about the host needing to be a mutant," the mad genius stated with a monstrous grin, "all that I need is a precise combination of magic and science, and I have someone close to me with more than enough experience in the former to assist me with the latter half of the equation. Now as for the other matter at hand as well as the one that I called you here for in the first place-"

Opening his briefcase, Professor Id withdrew a small shipment pouch from the case and then shut it again, leaving the mystery of what else might be in there once again unsolved. Then in a nonchalant manner the disguised super-villain tossed the packet to Rex who quickly opened the parcel to find nothing inside but two phone cards: one was silver with a motif like it was in three pieces, while the other was orange and bore the decal of a heart broken into pieces "Just what is this?"

"That is a choice between one of two possible favors that I could assist you in return for helping me with something at a later date," Id began to explain with an unnerving smile across his vestige. "Call me with the pink card and I will use my resources to help bring Candace Reynard's poor departed mother back to the land of the living, a favor that would endear her to you like no one else. On the other hand, should you call me using the silver card, then I shall use my decades of experience in healing the fragmented mind of poor Meradee Baker. You may not be aware of this but the Nemean Lion and the Spynx were not the children of Typhon and Echidna, rather they were the offspring of Orthus and the Chimera; still much like the children of Zeus they too were lumped in with their parents as children of the father and mother of monsters."

"So, you see young Mister Hallenbeck you have three choices before you: help mend the heart of your love from this life, help to mend the broken mind of the love of your last life, or simply do nothing and let fate unfurl as it is want to do. Now you do not have to decide anything on the spot, give it time and thought before you call on me- or do not the choice is up do you."

Professor Id then asked the waiter for the check for the meal before laying down a nice, crisp hundred-dollar bill as the tip. "Now I must be off, oh and I suggest that you do not dally in rejoining your compatriots. I believe that your other half is currently assisting doctors at Massachusetts General, if you are careful you can slip in and rejoin him with no one being the wiser."

As the super-villain and black marketer slipped out the front door, Rex simply stared at the two phone cards in his hand- completely unsure of what to do and just what favor he would owe if he accepted either offer that they represented. At least Professor Id was correct about two things; Rex needed to rejoin his other self at the hospital as well as give this matter some thought.

East Boston Expressway
7:35 PM EDT
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East

As the four of us sat in the back of an ambulance headed for the location of the next bomb scenes near Logan International Airport, I could feel the tension in the air it was so thick that it was suffocating. I could tell that Saladin had more than a little apprehensive, even from within my prison inside of Victoria Godwin's shadow I had noticed the treatment Middle-Easterners received at airports after the 9/11 Terror Attacks, and we were headed towards one where a bombing had just happened inside the Terminals, as well as two of the nearby hotels.

I looked over at Faolan and could tell she was in the middle of a conversation with Jane over their shared link; I'll confess part of me was jealous, despite being my friend Randi was never truly alone- a feeling that I had a deeper knowledge of than anyone on the planet. I know I shouldn't feel this way- Randi was my friend and the only one of the Four Maidens that I had met (heck she and her sister Heather were two of the first few people that I had ever met in person), but I couldn't help feeling this way. Maybe I should look into finding a familiar of my own, ugh who am I kidding there's no way that I'll be able to find a creature that is as at home on land and in the depths of the sea as I am- at least to my knowledge... maybe I should look into that when I return to the Hall of Echoes tonight.

"We're almost at the airport so listen," Saladin finally decided to speak up, "the fire fighters are too busy dealing with the fires close to the jets and the fuel storage depots and haven't had the man-power to deal with sweeping the terminals for survivors because if one of those planes, or Allah help us the depot, catches fire then we'll be dealing with a series of explosions that would render any rescue effort pointless. We will also need to guard the paramedics in the triage station, as well as provide crowd control near the entrances and exits, understand no matter what this is vital to the rescue efforts."

"There is also another threat to deal with, a number of non-public areas in airports don't exactly have the best lighting so we could be rescuing survivors from both the fire and the Necromancer's undead horde." Saladin looked directly at us before continuing, "I know that the two of you both have your own supply of the elixir on you which is why we are headed for the airport and not the hotels, however I need you to keep that in reserve for both survivors and any rescuers who might have been exposed. If you happen to run out send a message over the head-pieces that I gave you earlier and have a reflective surface handy, we are using Apparitia to courier elixir to outlying areas so that the speedsters can keep aiding the police."

"Good, at least that keeps her out of the fighting," Faolan slightly deflated with a sigh as a fraction of the tension left her body, "what about Nightingale and Animalia?"

"They already finished helping out the firefighters with Gloriana at the other side of town and have just arrived at the Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor," Saladin explained, "we need all of the healers that we've got and Nightingale has both her powers and a full course in first-aid training thanks to her parents. As for Animalia, she's surprisingly tough for someone her age, apparently the doctors in the Power's Lab have been giving her access to the best animals they can and the beasts of the world have been in an arm's race all their own long before we were ever around."

For some reason Faolan started laughing and clutching her sides, looking over in concern Saladin asked, "Was something I said that funny?"

"Sorry," Faolan brought her hand up as she struggled to catch her breath, "it's just that you have to understand, I'm from the Bible Belt- there are people back home that think of evolution as blasphemy. At the same time, they go on and on about how barbaric the Middle Easterners are, and here I am sharing a ride with a devout Muslim born and raised in one of these barbaric regions who not only believes in evolution but considers Young Earth Theory hooey."

"I believe that it is arrogant beyond belief for one to believe that one of man's years is equal to one of Allah's," Saladin began to explain, "as for evolution given that Allah created the natural world and evolution is life adapting to survive as a part of that world who is to say that evolution itself is not merely another of the signs of how he has acted in the past to shape his creation. Besides the world is an imperfect work of art in motion, it needs a little maintenance every once in a while, to keep on track. Still these are my own personal beliefs, Muslims are as diverse in what they believe as any other group of religions, plus it is difficult to follow Young Earth Theory when you've met honest beings who predate the rise of modern human civilization by centuries."

"Do not look at me good sir," Jane spoke up, "I will have you know that I am only in my seventies. Although I do know several individuals who would qualify, many of who were worshipped as deities by civilizations as far back as the Bronze Ages."

"So Aletheia, how was your first real taste of action?" Saladin asked while looking straight at me, "Was it everything that you hoped it would be?"

"Truthfully no," I admitted, "I was hoping to be a bit more mobile but when your two options are either seated or airborne it does kind of limit your experience. How about you Faolan? How did this compare to your first bit of action?"

"Before or after I manifested?" Faolan asked with a somewhat bitter tone, "My first bit of action was trying to rescue a kid when a fight between Plainswalker and Slaughterhaus spilled over into the Six Flags Amusement in the very area where I was working, I was tagged with one of Slaughterhaus's devices and was knocked unconscious for hours while Carcharoth took my body for a joyride. When I woke up I was in the custody of the MCO, who tried to coerce me through means of torture into confessing that I was in league with the madman that attacked the park. After I manifested my first bit of action in the real world was finishing a fight that Valkyrian picked with a Fomor giant, I had to cut my arm off to get away from an inhibitor manacle that he slapped on us and fight him one-handed with the help of Jane's mother; the real treat was reattaching my arm by myself without anesthesia."

The thought of what Randi went through in either experience left me more than a little green-at-the-gills; Slaughterhaus while not that well known in this part of the country had a reputation that could only be described as a gruesome sociopath and a divisor who Jobe would call demented, and from what little I had learned around the campus about Carcharoth made me glad that I had accepted Randi's offer of protection against him. I turned to look at Saladin wondering just what experiences the Iraqi member of the Future Superheroes of America would have to say, apparently knowing just what I was about to ask Saladin shook his head and related, "I am sorry unlike your mystic friend, I do not like to talk about my earlier experiences, please keep in mind that my homeland is a warzone."

"I know," I replied as I grew morose from the apprehension, "I'll need to visit it this summer- I just hope I'll be fully mobile by then."

"Are you certain," Saladin asked with concern in his voice, "my homeland can be a very dangerous place for visitors, especially now with Al-Qaeda and other groups having gained access since the fall of the Hussein regime."

"Believe me the rewards outweigh the risks to myself for why I have to go over there for this mission," I replied, "and the longer I delay fulfilling this task that I have ahead of me the more people will suffer from the delay- and believe me those people right now live under a fate worse than death and most of them don't even know."

MBTB Airport Station - Roof
7:37 PM

Jabberwock spied the ambulance speeding towards the airport with sirens blaring, a quick check on his handheld confirmed that it was the ambulance that he tagged earlier at The Necromancer's request, and the check on the police emergency band confirmed their intended destination. That same ambulance which contained both targets that all of this chaos was instituted to draw out in the first place, still the entire affair left him with a sour taste in his mouth; all of this insanity just to get two teens out into the open- he was a mercenary and even this felt excessive to him.

The currently indentured mercenary heaved a sigh, the dark fact of the matter was that he owed Darrow bigtime for busting him out of Roxbury C and he didn't dare split before he paid off that debt. A merc was only as good as his reputation both in terms of assignments and in terms of leaving having fulfilled the terms of his contract. Like Matterhorn, Jabberwock's reputation took a big hit in the fight to get Arch-Fiend out of police custody being on the losing side of a fight with a group of teenagers with only one major fight under their belt, the only difference was that Matterhorn managed slip away to avoid getting caught and thrown in prison.

Jabberwock knew that if he cut and run before this latest operation was complete it would take him years to repair the blow to his credibility as a soldier of fortune. This meant that for better or worse he had to stick with this operation to its bitter conclusion and hope to avoid the blowback that would happen from it; he just hoped that this operation would square his accounts with Darrow because after Nightgaunt's imprisonment and Vamp's departure the Children of the Night were hurting for new blood, he knew from Arcane-Knight's own involuntary enlistment that Darrow was looking to refill their ranks- and he wouldn't exactly take no for an answer.

Jabberwock slapped himself briefly; the future could wait focus on the here and now. He switched on his radio to the direct channel, "Jabberwock here, radio chatter confirms both targets are enroute to the detonation sight at Boston Logan International; standing by for further instructions- over."

"Roger Jabberwock," Arcane-Knight replied in a bitter mechanical tone over the communicator, "Our dictator commands that you are to move our assets into position and wait until the targets are in motion and on the scene until engaging. Understood first wait until they are in the airport before we strike- over.

"Understood, I’m moving on to courier assets into position- over and out." Jabberwock steadied himself for a moment before beginning his task conveying the Children of the Night to the airport to wait for the ambush.

Once again after Jabberwock teleported out his stalker Ekdikeo materialized, and this time used her communicator rather than her natural link with her lilim sisters, "This is Ekdikeo, the foxes are preparing to circle the henhouse I repeat the foxes are preparing to circle the henhouse. All assets rally within striking distance of Logan International but maintain cover, Operation Death-Spank is a go I repeat Operation Death-Spank is a go!- over!"

"Why did I let you ladies codename the operation again?" Greygus inquired over the radio before adding in, Over!

"Because Miseo won the dice roll!" Skleeros replied to the djinn agent's inquiry, "Just grin and bear it, before you know it all of this will be behind you and then you'll be back in Vegas getting ready for your new sister- over!"

"I know, I just find it so hard that the other three maidens materialized so far ahead of a possible southern maiden." Miseo responded, "And from what I hear there are no possible candidates anywhere not even among King Inti's court or in Ibilis's hidden City of Brass and both of those ."

"That is because the Southern Maiden is supposed to be born of my father's lineage, but we can worry about the identity of the Southern Maiden later Miseo," Greygus stated over the communicator, "For now we focus on the task at hand and that's the safety of the Eastern and Western Maiden's, so everyone needs to rally in an Andrew's Cross formation around the airport. Then you ladies can help me give the Children of the Night a spanking before Carcharoth sweeps in for clean-up- over and out!"

Ekdikeo hung up the communicator before crafting a portal to carry her to her surveillance point West-northwest of the airport, still she hoped that the faerie and mermaid they were here to protect would withstand The Necromancer's intended trap long enough for her own group to spring their own surprise on the Children of the Night.

Hyatt Regency Boston Harbor Hotel
7:43 PM

The front doors of the burning hotel, opened and Gloriana (in fire gear) emerged leading seven people out the door to safety while lugging an eighth over her shoulder. Having guided the group over to paramedics a fireman then approached her, "That accounts for all but twenty-five of the guests but given that those were on the top floor the chances that they survived the roof collapsing are slim at best."

Gloriana furrowed her brow and cracked the concrete with a punch at that assessment, "Damnit, we should have been faster. I'm going back in!"

The fireman took the chance to hold her back before relaying another piece of information, "Also your young friend is still inside- you might need to go and get her out."

"This day keeps going from bad to worse," the cape observed just before another group appearing to have ten members total emerged from the burning hotel with two young children sharing a fireman's jacket that had been draped over them trailing the initial group revealing that the count was up to eleven.

Recognizing the jacket as the one that was given to Animalia when she went into the building Gloriana rushed over to the pair, "You two- please tell me how you got that jacket."

A young girl looked up her eyes shining through her soot-stained face, "A nice lady gave it to us and told us to follow the people down the stairs."

Feeling as if her veins were filled with ice-water Gloriana made a dash for the lobby doors when Animalia (sans fire-gear except for her oxygen tank) emerged from the entrance leading three more people, one of whom was helping her to carry a fourth in her arms. After they delivered the injured man to a nearby gurney where Nightingale was waiting to have a look at her Animalia reported to Gloriana, "That should be the last of them from the hotel the rest of the hallways are blocked by burning debris."

"Animalia giving those two your jacket like that was reckless what were you thinking," the cape began to lecture the middle-schooler, "for that matter how are you alright? Even I was feeling the heat from all that and I'm an exemplar."

"Tuesday in power lab they had me handle a tiny bug they called a water bear," Animalia began to explain to the cape after ditching her oxygen mask, "they told me those little suckers can survive almost anywhere even in the boiling temperatures of underwater lava tubes and volcanic vents, I knew that I should have been able to take the fire with them, but if you're concerned I can switch over to an axolotl and heal up anything that I took."

Gloriana then gave Animalia a harsh look, "Listen to the words coming out of my mouth kid, you are still learning about your powers and your limits, don't push it too fast too soon or you might find that one of the checks that you just cashed might be your last."

Logan International Airport - Main Entrance
Boston, Massachusetts
7:48 PM
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

In no time at all the three of us had arrived at the airport, due in no small part to being in an emergency vehicle and the fact that the police had closed the roads to keep gridlock from getting in the way of fire and paramedics. One look and I could see that the terminals had clearly felt the brunt end of The Necromancer's attack, and there was no telling if the TSA and airport security had properly dealt with any zombies that might have shown up before the explosives were detonated, at least at the apartment building the zombies were neutralized by the heat of the fire.

Already the first teams of paramedics had arrived alongside Wild Pack, most of the Cape Squad and a few of Quickvix's friends were already coordinating with an airport security officer. I helped wheel Aletheia over to the triage area to help the medics and healers on scene, meanwhile I asked Jane to give the airport a brief fly-over to see if she could use her abilities to hunt for survivors and hostiles.

"Now we need to deal out assignments," I heard Stormwolf explain when I got close enough, "All available Capes and Wild Pack will help to sweep the airport for survivors, operate in teams of two in case of zombies. Palleon, we'll need you to handle crowd control along the Northern perimeter, send them this way so that they can get looked over; that aura shield of yours should handle anything that might come your way. Draconis and Heartbreaker, you two have crowd control along the Southern Perimeter, stay together in case of trouble."

"Faolan," Stormwolf stated as he looked my way, "You have one of the most important tasks, remain here and guard the paramedics and healers, understood- your position here is vital."

"I understand sir but I also have something else that I could bring to the table," I began to explain, "Jane can observe the electro-magnetic signatures of people, if you tell me your com's frequency she could help and direct the search and rescue teams to the general area where the survivors are likely to find anyone who survived the explosion and the fire."

"How accurate is your familiar's detection Faolan?" Pendragon inquired as was well within his right.

"Accounting for the distortion from the heat," Jane began to explain through our link, "Within five feet on the top floor and five more feet every floor beneath that."

"She says there is some distortion from the heat but on the top floor of the terminals her accuracy should be within a five-foot radius, and five feet off every floor down." I stated as I conveyed Jane's estimates, "I mean I know that it's not perfect but it should help you narrow down your search and get to any survivors faster than with a standard grid search."

"Good then I'll put you on over watch in addition to guard detail," Stormwolf stated but at the same time glared at me, "but not on the actual Search and Rescue detail inside. Understand over watch is a major responsibility, you are not to leave this station except in case of emergency understood!"

"I'm clear, besides this is about getting people to safety not showboating." I retorted part of me wanting to snarl back at Ironknife's insinuation, "You lot have more training and experience than I do, I'm not so proud to let my ego get in the way of my better judgement."

"Good," Stormwolf responded with a smug smile, "I'm glad to see that there are fresh Posies that actually have common sense."

As the Search and Rescue crews made their way inside the burning terminals I couldn't help but remark, "Common sense, these day's that's so rare it might as well be an MID category."

Still enough with the comedy routine, I put on the radio headset, spread out the terminal map that the TSA agent had given Stormwolf when I arrived, and began to focus on guiding the rescuers. Over watch might not be the most thrilling part of an operation but it was a vital one where it could be used, here every minute Jane and I gained for the teams inside was one more that they had to save someone inside.

Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - Boston Chapter
7:53 PM

Cecil Tiddle, the lanky and sallow man who was all that passed for a concierge at Boston's Chapter of the Grand Hall did what he always did while not hiring mercenary talent for local members (which these days was almost exclusively the Children of the Night) or acting as their fence for the groups stolen goods- the crosswords. While Boston was one of the oldest chapters in the Grand Hall's decades of existence its better days had come and gone with the Tommy Gun, the room about him had been in need of a serious renovation long before even the days of his predecessor's predecessor.

There was a time not long ago when they still took comfort in the fact that even with the dilapidated state of their chapter that they still were in better shape than Chicago, however recently Chicago had experienced a hostile takeover by Erzebet Scratch's faction and was currently in the middle of serious renovations; leaving Boston to suffer the title of the worst chapter of the Grand Hall in North America. More than one time Cecil had wanted to quit this position and get a real job; however this was a familial responsibility. There was also the fact that the last person to try and quit, his poor uncle Wilton had gotten turned inside-out by Arch-Fiend, not killed just turned inside-out; what killed poor Wilton was the infections that he later suffered from his state of being.

Suddenly the suffocating, haunted silence of the chapter was interrupted by a series of scraping sounds. Wondering just what was causing this Cecil got up and flashlight in hand made his way down the cobweb choked and dusty halls to where the only standard feature of any Grand Hall chapter, a statue of Atum Kharis had broken into pieces and was beginning to form into a stone archway. Staring down the suffocating darkness of the tunnel, Cecil began to see figures slowly making their way towards him.

Not wanting to be present when these mysterious strangers made their way into the house proper Cecil dashed to his desk and pulled out his only defense, a loaded P-29 that he kept with him either for defense or to take himself out before one of the Children of the Night did something to him to make him wish he was dead.

Unfortunately, before he could bring the gun off of the table another hand, this one made of metal reached down and kept him from raising the firearm. Cecil turned his head to get a look at the intruder and found that the man in question had his face swathed in bandages, and what wasn't bandaged was exposed as naked cybernetics of a with no clear sign of manufacture wearing what appeared to have originally been an RAF uniform.

"Wh-who are you?" Cecil quivered at the sight of the cyborg who had entered the chapter house using a passage that he, the concierge, had never even heard of before.

"I am Sureshot," the man replied in a tone that was colored by the presence of a partially cybernetic voice box, "an ace ranked member of Shuffle's Sweepers here at the behest of the Obsidian Circle. Apparently, your normal employer saw fit to try and rob one of their storage rooms at the New York chapter house, now I am here to escort a few members of the Circle here- with a few of our operatives to secure Mister Darrow's ill-gotten gains and the thief he employed into custody."

Cecil's blood began to run cold the Obsidian Circle were legends that according to rumors that were circulating around the underworld were coming back out of the shadows- not quite as dead as they were assumed to be. Moreover, Shuffle's Sweepers was a mercenary organization within the Grand Hall that was reported to answer directly to Erzebet Scratch also rumored to have recently joined the aforementioned Obsidian Circle. A quick glance showed that Sureshot was indeed not alone in his visit while the man in the containment suit and a young man in the costume decorated with a multitude of symbols didn't look familiar two figures were all to recognizable.

Standing in his signature black and white suit was Mister Domino, a member of the Circle said to have died hundreds of times over the centuries yet eluding death itself every time. Next to the double-masked man in the suit was another member of the Circle, Mistress Nyx, her robes doing little to secure the mannequin that she called her body or hide the crystal ball that passed for her head.

As soon as he caught sight of those two his body refused to move, Cecil couldn't even will himself to blink.

"I am sorry sir," Mister Domino explained in his odd echoing tone, "but we simply cannot risk you warning your most valuable customer about our presence in this city. Do not worry though you are simply going to be taking an early nap, and awaken to so many interesting tidbits of information."

Obviously, the double-faced warlock spoke the truth because Cecil Tiddle could feel himself losing consciousness as his vision blurred not long before the sandman took him.

Logan International Airport - Main Entrance
8:27 PM
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

Okay a lot of other people back at Whateley may consider Stormwolf to be a stick in the mud, but I had to give him this he really knew how to properly conduct a Search and Rescue Operation- especially a Search and Rescue Operation that had Jane and I helping to coordinate the search for civilians who had been caught in the blast. I did receive the occasional report of zombie encounters inside of the terminals but thankfully Wild Pack and the Capes were more than up to dispatching the odd shambling worm-farm, before helping any escort any survivors to the triage and aid station that Fire and Rescue had set-up outside the Massport.

A quick look to the station itself showed me that Crux, Asklepian and Aletheia were in their element as they made use of their assorted abilities to heal any burn and lung damage that fire had given those caught up in the blast. I hated to admit it but it looked like we just might consider today a major victory for the Whateley Student body for this year, a trip to Boston without a super fight on the national news; then again Gerald Poffenberg on GNN would probably accuse us of starting the fires and zombie outbreak as an Evolution Rocks publicity stunt.

Still if we could pull today off without anything major happening Boston would still be accessible for the student body for the foreseeable future; because once the school's board banned Boston for student travel during the school year, the ban would likely not be lifted until all current high school students graduated.

Still despite this being the obvious handiwork of The Necromancer there had been no sign of the Children of the Night all day, I hoped that they were keeping a low-profile planning to ambush Team Kimba again- something that would be an exercise in futility given that entire team along with their usual entourage were banned from coming to Boston by Headmistress Carson for the foreseeable future. Thankfully there was no way that The Necromancer and his crew could know about that little tidbit unless they had ears inside of Poe or the Whateley Administration office, and it's not like he had any reason to target anybody that actually was in Boston today.

Boston Logan International Airport - Massport Roof
8:32 PM

Arcane-Knight looked down at the sight bellow and felt sick, granted it was a phantom-pain, but a pain none-the-less. Bellow him the next generation of heroes were doing their best working alongside Boston's finest to work at turning this horror into a distant nightmare, and here he was forced by Charles Darrow's dark magics into sewing further seeds of tragedy- it was enough to make him wish that he could still vomit.

Sadly such visible signs of disgust were now buried along with his real body all due to the Knights of Eternal Presence's severance package, the only reason he was even in America was to confront the being known as Tennyo who was responsible for ending their threat. Instead his inquiries to the maid's location lead him right into enslavement to The Necromancer who saw him as an ideal piece to fill the gap left by Vamp as the Children of the Night's unwitting pawn-slave.

"Arcane-Knight," Darrow's voice barked over his internal radio, "What is the status of the targets?-over!

Arcane-Knight felt Darrow's influence upon him like a vise squeezing upon his soul and knew that silence was not an option, given that his own existence was the only thing that he truly had left. "The pair are bellow me but not together," Arcane-Knight reluctantly growled back at the warlock holding his soul on a leash, "Target Beta appears to be operating a radio while pouring over some maps of the airport's four terminals, Target Alpha is in the middle of the treatment area and is surrounded by other healers and the wounded. All other masks present to not conform to any known info, they possibly either lack training or have support based abilities-over."

"Good, Darrow replied, This will hinder any possibility of retreat for those two. Maintain position and wait for the rest of the team to arrive understand, you are only to leave your post in case the targets leave the strike-zone; this should be like shooting fish in a barrel. Over and out."

Arcane-Knight took another look at the young heroes down below, completely oblivious to the treat that they were about to face. Just like The Necromancer said it would be like shooting fish in a barrel but part of him prayed that this time at least Darrow and his ilk would take a few rounds in the cross-fire. "I wish that Darrow and his underlings actually get what's coming to them!"

"Your wish is granted," an unfamiliar woman responded in a coquettish tone as she materialized near him followed by two others in similar attire.

The unfamiliar trio was soon joined by a cloud of dust which consolidated and assumed a form all too familiar to Arcane-Knight, "Greygus, I honestly wish that we were meeting under better circumstances."

In one fluid motion, Arcane-Knight drew his blade and struck at the operative of the Obsidian Circle; however, in a move far more graceful Greygus dodged with a nimble backflip and drew his club, which with a flick of the djinn's wrist telescoped to the length of a staff in ample time to meet the techno-knight's naked blade.

"Why are you doing this Fabian? I know your reputation- your honor." Greygus pleaded trying to get through to the haunted suit of techno-armor who with furious vigor tried connecting with the djinn with via his blade, "You left the Knights of Eternal Presence for less than this- why do you serve a monster like The Necromancer?"

"I have no choice," Arcane-Knight replied as he tried in vain to slip his blade past Greygus's defenses, "Darrow's vile necromancy has bound my very soul into servitude, I cannot disobey his commands no matter how I detest them; understand- I am bound to serve against my will."

"Not a problem," one of the women responded as she slipped behind him and suddenly Fabian Kopke felt the bindings that Charles Darrow placed upon his soul disappear and their influence on his actions vanish in turn.

"I am free," Arcane-Knight observed almost in shock, "how is this possible?"

"I slipped your soul free of the bindings as I placed them around a surrogate," Ekdikeo bragged as she displayed a doll in the form of a knight which she had crafted on the spot with her sorcery. "You are now free and Darrow is none the wiser, at least for the moment."

"Sadly, I fear my current liberation is temporary at best," Arcane-Knight deflated the mood by bringing reality into the equation. "The Children of the Night will be here momentarily and the vile Necromancer can replace his dark shackles upon my being with little effort."

"That is true but only if you are still here!" Greygus pointed out and after collapsing the handle on his mace, gave it a spin before it connected with the haunted suit of techno-armor sending him flying out of sight faster than the eye could follow.

"So how far did you send him flying?" Miseo inquired as she hovered in a reclined position.

"Over two-hundred miles south of here;" Greygus explained as he returned his mace to his belt, "he should touch down right outside of the Grand Hall Storage Entrance in New York in a few minutes no worse for wear, however we had best hide- there is no sense wasting a perfectly good ambush."

As one the trio of lilin again faded from sight while Greygus turned himself back to dust leaving only Ekdikeo's doll as a mute witness of what had just transpired.

Artames Holdings Warehouse - Southside Shipping District
8:39 PM

Carcharoth sat fuming as he drummed his claws crate where he rested his arm, his patience was being worn thin by his boredom and that was as volatile an equation as a bottle of Nitroglycerin in a paint-shaker. Sooner or later the wrong jostle would trigger a violent explosion, and clear in the path of that violent explosion was Greg Paulson who had been sweating bullets for so long that he was in desperate need of water.

Still no mater his current discomfort Greg didn't dare to move a single muscle; his captor made it more than abundantly clear that while he needed the thief alive, unharmed was a condition that he considered arbitrary. Greg may have been greedy and overly ambitious, both of which landed him in this mess, but one thing that he valued above all else was his own well-being. Right now, Greg's continued health depended on not pissing-off his captor any more than he already was- as well as making certain that he didn't give the monster an excuse to begin treating him like a sparing dummy.

Should Carcharoth so desire to alleviate his boredom by using Greg as a ragdoll there was nobody here that would lift a finger to stop him, that reason being because all the workers at the warehouse were enthralled to the beast; hell, they would tear Greg apart for Carcharoth's amusement- all their master had to do was give the word.

The tension was so thick that the only thing present that would cut it was that nasty battle-axe that Hanna Ring was polishing to a deadly sheen at her master's bequest while the rest of the pack continued to triple-check Greg's ill-gotten gains as if looking for something missing beyond that silver key and that weird staff, something to give Carcharoth an excuse to extract his pound of flesh from his guest.

The silence was so deafening that when the door to the warehouse opened it echoed like a cannon, the entire pack sprang into action giving Greg the chance to relax that he had been waiting for since this entire ordeal began. Still he was curious who the unlucky souls were that had stumbled upon this den of monsters, granted it was a morbid curiosity but better them then him.

"Alright," Carcharoth barked as he took back his axe from Hanna's outstretched arms, "who's tired of breathing?"

"Your relief shift," A bandaged cyborg at the door explained as he made his way inside followed by an eclectic band of what had to be fellow super-villains connected with Erzebet Scratch. "I am Sureshot and we are here to take custody of your items and begin their transport to our warehouse, your new storage area is being cleared as we speak, we are also here to ensure that your prisoner is to delivered to Erzebet Scratch as ordered."

For a moment nothing happened, that was until Carcharoth began laughing. It started as a dark chuckle then began to build until the monster tossed his head back to the ceiling as that chuckle graduated into a maniacal howling laughter. "Finally," the host of the penultimate beast of Ragnarok howled, "I've been waiting all day for this, no- even longer it's been so fucking long since I've been told to cut loose, I don't even care if that stick in the mud Greygus is holding my leash this time- I'm going to enjoy this so damned much."

"I take it you will be needing transport to where Greygus and the Erinyas are Sureshot," wagered catching the beast's attention, "if you wish we can get you there in a matter of moments."

"No," Carcharoth replied as his ebon maw bared his fangs in a malicious smile from ear to ear as he literally salivated with anticipation at what was to come, "I can get there faster than you mortals could ever conceive!" With a swipe of his right arm the beast tore a hole in the barrier between worlds and casually tossed his beloved axe Vrede inside before the weight of reality resealed the tear.

"I mean it," Carcharoth smiled as his form began to lose cohesion, "I am practically there already..." The monster's words seemed to echo in the air as the borrowed ectoplasm dissipated as it made its long journey back to the jar of forms which Carcharoth used to give his projected consciousness form. Meanwhile his real body safe within his den in the Fel Woods of Svartelfeim shifted his attention to another Jar of Forms one that he had ordered a thrall which he had made of an American Airlines stewardess to keep in her trunk, which was currently in long term parking at Boston Logan International Airport.

For the sake of momentary convenience Carcharoth manifested in a slighter, more human form, one that would give him ample room to maneuver in the trunk. Taking a moment to reorient him Carcharoth spotted a glowing yellow handle right next to him; with a smile, he pulled the object (the emergency release handle that was as required by law in every vehicle) and popped the trunk open.

Springing forth from the car's trunk, Carcharoth closed his eyes as he took in the sounds and smells of this stretch of the city, from the sound of things the battle had already been started. Still he continued to sift through the smells and he came across several that were familiar to him, that brat Faolan was clearly here but as per the results of the Fehde she was off limits to him...for now. But there was another smell that was just as familiar, and the brief moment of displeasure at that mix-breed bitch being here was behind him as a malicious fang-filled smile once again filled his ebon maw.

"Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum," the monster chuckled, "I smell the blood of an Innsmouth Man." Taking only a moment to retrieve his axe from his den, Carcaroth began to make his way towards the source of the scent, body barely visible despite the illumination of the raised parking garage. A different type of terror was about to grip Boston- Carcharoth was on the hunt- and this would be a day that his quarry would never forget.

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3 years 6 months ago #42839 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 18

En-route to South Middle School
Arlington Heights, Illinois
6:47 PM CDT
POV: Chandra Defrank

Traffic coming back from Moline, I'll admit even if my Granny Myrtle would wash my mouth out with soap for saying it, was a heaping slice of Hell on Earth. Even our enthusiasm from our victory over Woodrow Wilson moving us into the finals and the impromptu party that we had earlier with the potential third place team in the state, provided they won their game next week against Rolling Acres's Lady Cougars, had began to wash away.

We had another week to go until our match with Springfield Calvary's Lady Saints, I was anxious beyond belief- although the sugar in that banana split might have played a role a few hours ago the rush and the crash had both run their course during the drive back. To tell the truth the fact that we were now in the state finals was only now beginning to hit me, I mean yeah the excitement and disbelief was there hours ago back in Moline but now the nervous pressure was beginning to hit. Yeah this was the state finals, this time next week would be an all or nothing drive to determine whose school trophy case would have new tall and shiny golden occupant.

At least there wasn't any national tourney following next weeks games to decide both the state champion and third place, not that there was for the guy's teams either. Yeah for those who don't follow high school or junior high school athletics it was a surprise to hear but there is no National Basketball Championship prior to College, not for the girls or the boys, middle school, junior varsity or varsity once the state championship was awarded that was it for the season. Maybe that was for the best though, it was April and with May came class wrap-ups and exams- and our principal was big on no pass- no play...even for the football team.

Overall though I didn't see too much of a problem when it came to studying, my team mates and I usually pulled together for group study sessions. When it came to math we could alway's count on Alice for a tutoring session to fill in our weaknesses, especially given that she insisted on adding a clothespin to the ears of anyone who began nodding off or let their attention wander (for each time it happened); it was harsh but it worked.

I usually never had any problems in science class and history while dull given given Coach Hillard's borderline coma inducing delivery, was almost always passable. English and Literature were rarely problems for anyone...okay granted the sentence diagramming gave Deb issues but it was nothing that about ten minutes of study after practice couldn't put a patch over.

A jarring couple of turns shook me out of my introspection, our cross-state road trip had come full circle and once again we were in front of South Middle School's front driveway with a few cars waiting for us with anxious parents, or in Marcy and Erica's case a frustrated older sibling, behind the wheel. Knowing the situation Marlina and I lived in, as well as the rotation of duties back at Casa de Morrison it was Marlina's dad and the Morrison's groundskeeper, Ramiro who was picking us up.

After Coach Mulholland cut the engine the lot of us began to pile out of the van- slowly in Deb and Marcy's case as they had fallen asleep on the way back from Moline. Grabbing my bag, as well as Marlina's to be polite, the two of us headed for the same van that Ramiro shared use of with Eliot Greer as we both prepared for the experience in riding inside the Morrison's general use vehicle which smelled so much of organic fertilizer that no amount of effort on anyone's part got rid of the stench.

Upon reaching the van we found to our surprise that it was Eliot behind the wheel rather than Marlina's father, "Hey Mister Greer, I thought that Mister Soto was picking us up."

"Sorry birthday girl," Eliot replied with a weary smile, "Ramiro and Ruth are back at home getting ready for the party, they went a bit long going over those samples for the new counter-tops with Mrs. Morrison after she came back from meeting with her client."

"That must have been a lot of samples," I sheepishly remarked given how Waukegan was only an hour away along Route 43 less by the freeway (even with all the toll roads).

"Nope her meeting was just that long," Eliot remarked as the two of us strapped into the seats along the panels in the back of the van, which was for the best, somehow the passenger seat up front smelled worse than the interior of the van.

"Yeah, the talk around the house is that it has something to do with a corporate merger," Marlina chimed in with what I knew mom was guessing was the truth that confidentiality agreements prevented Misses Morrison for talking about.

"No, it was a four-point talk between two conglomerates and the city of Chicago, Mrs. Morrison's law firm was acting as a neutral party to help Chi-town guide the negotiations." Eliot clarified as he turned over the engine in his car. "I don't know the names of the companies but evidently one has an exclusive contract with the city that the other company was trying to negotiate to give their company the right to compete. And I only learned that much because Mrs. Morrison was complaining about the whole thing being a waste of time after the negotiations fell through after a six-hour meeting."

"Six hours straight!" I numbly observed, "No, break for lunch or anything?!?"

"Nope," Eliot remarked after we pulled onto the street, "she told me that if it wasn't for the snack tray that she would have lost it when the negotiations fell apart. She actually busted three stress balls in her office, say Chandra- I know it's your birthday and all but you might want to offer Ruth have the first piece of cake."

"I still can't believe that you can even think about cake after that banana split this afternoon," Marlina deadpanned as she looked my way, "just where do you put it all."

"In another dimension full of odd creatures that are all around us, yet we never see because our minds are too small to perceive them." I teased in a spooky tone as I wiggled my fingers at her in a menacing manner. "Or it was just that we played our butts off and all that sugar just made up for me burning off my breakfast, plus I've always had fast metabolism."

"Don't count on that to last past your teens kid," Eliot remarked as we made our way down the comparatively sleepy streets of Arlington Heights, "one day the growth spurts are over and adult stresses pile on and before you know it your unhealthy adolescent diet gives way to the beginnings of a middle-aged gut."

"I shoot hoops and I free-run Eliot, I am more than aware of my needs." I retorted not wanting a lecture from outside the family, "Besides I can always run laps around the fence to burn off my indulgences, after all some of the best things to ever happen to me came when I was running."

March 5th, 2004
Washington Park - South of Brynum Island
Chicago, Illinois
9:07 AM CDT

I looked at Natroya Coleman trying my best to hide my scorn, I had spent most of my days in grammar school loathing her and her elder sister Darisha as the embodiment of the urban decay that soaked into our neighborhood. The crime- the gangs -the drugs- a blight that festered around me every day, once upon a time I thought that I could find some way- any way to keep from getting dragged into the darkness that they thrived in and maybe find someway to bring back the Chicago that I heard about in my grandmother's stories.

Unfortunately I found out the truth as I got older, as grammar school life I saw the life for others began to descend into a den of jackals- either you found a pack to run with or you fell victim to a pack who saw you as nothing more than another stray to feed upon. As much as I spent years loathing Natroya- I didn't fancy my prospects on my own; even my former friends, girls who I spent years laughing and hanging out with had begun to find their place in the city either by embracing their own darkness or learning how to blend into the shadows to avoid notice. No, as much as I hated to admit it, Natroya's gang the Ally Vipers were my only chance to survive to adulthood, or at least the only chance that I could stomach.

Every gang had their initiation, some it was shop-lifting, others swiping car-radios, the nastiest made their prospects send someone who pissed the crew head off to the hospital (sometimes the morgue). No the Ally Vipers had a much less gruesome initiation, the boss in this case Darisha picked someone out and you had to lift their wallet or bill-fold without getting ID'd, meaning that maybe the mark would know that they got robbed but they didn't get a good enough look at you to point you out afterwards.

I felt sick as I waited on Darisha to point out my mark a fact that I could see was giving Natroya no end of pleasure, "See C-dra no matter how you always considered yourself better than us in the end you came crawling to me begging to be in our crew. How does it feel to be a groveling mutt?"

"Can it Nat," Darisha barked at my tormentor in a hushed tone, "if you draw attention to us you're gonna get us all caught! Remember what I thought you!"

"Ally Vipers blend in until it's time to strike," Natroya grumbled over being told off by her big sister, "not that this matters this little oreo doesn't have what it takes. Goody two-shoes might be quick but she's too soft to run with this crew!"

"That's for me to decide Nat not you-" Darisha growled at her upstart little sister, "unless she blows her shot we give her a shake, now just let me pick a sucker. Ah- here we go!"

"Listen scrub- your mark is the carrot top in the jogging suit," Darisha pointed out my would-be victim. She was a girl about my age- maybe a little older dressed in gym shorts, a reddish-brown sleeveless jersey, white cross-trainers, and a fanny-pack the same color as the jersey. She was dressed the same as some college kids nearby like her doing stretches to limber up, since they weren't sweaty yet they were probably about to go for a run. I wanted to glare at Darisha for picking someone who was going to be in a group- meaning it was more likely for me to get caught later but I didn't have a choice in the mater.

I looked over my mark as I casually strolled over towards the group, and stooped over to half-pretend to straighten my shoe-laces- which I was doing since I wanted them nice and tight for the dark task at hand. However the real reason was more to spot the snap on my mark's fanny-pack; I determined that it was in an easy enough to reach place- I wouldn't even need the box-cutter that I'd been given, so I laid it down and motioned with my head to signal for one of the others to pick something up after I left.

Just as I came within arms-reach of my target one of the men in the group shouted, "GO!" Right away the entire group took off running, my target included; part of me screamed to let her get away but the other part of me knew that if I wanted to survive until graduation I couldn't do it alone...I needed to be a part of a group. My conscious aside this was about survival of the fittest, and I wasn't going to let myself become another statistic. While I had been inside my head my instincts took over and I was already running with the pack of college and high school students, including the red head that I needed to pick-pocket.

Although the group started along the normal jogging path the group soon both broke up and left the concrete concourse; with two of them (my target included vaulting a part bench. 'What the hell is going on?' I asked myself as I followed suit clearing the bench, granted with somewhat less finesse than either of my predecessors whom I was in hot pursuit of as they made their odd way through the park- far off the beaten path.

I continued my pursuit towards my target as we were making our way toward the eastern edge of the park when the pair hooked a nearby tree in order to change direction without sacrificing momentum. Not to be outdone nor slowdown I followed suit and was immediately grateful for the callus on my hands not getting scraped by the tree bark as I continued to chase down my quarry.

I drew closer until I could catch the red head if I really put the pedal to the metal when something equally new and crazy happened the pair vaulted a guard rail along the jogging path like an Olympic hurdle and then after clearing its twin moved into a shoulder roll before unfolding and continuing in a direction diverging from the jogging path.

"Oh, what the hell?" I swore under my breath as I followed suit copying the shoulder-roll as best as I could while growing increasingly curious over what the hell was this all about. Did they know that I thief was after them? Part of me doubted it that they did as I continued my pursuit of the duo. A hundred more feet passed before we came to another metal rail along the path, that was where matters began to get odd the two hopped the rail continued a few feet then hopped it again and repeated until the metal railing ended.

Not to be outdone, not to mention blend in in-case someone thought it was suspicious that a black girl was chasing after two people. I continued to copy their earlier routine although I think along the way I must have over-extended my right-wrist; man, was that going to hurt later. Never the less I didn't let the partial sprain deter me as I continued after the two, granted with my wrist sprained I doubted that I could snatch the red head's fanny back, but part of me ceased to really care about the initiation.

I don't know where it happened but somewhere along my pursuit of the pair this had ceased to be about getting into the Ally Vipers- no I was determined not to let these two outdo me I had always been an athlete in grade-school granted only my Granny Myrtle ever came to Field Day but I was in the zone. The logic of grabbing the fanny back to ensure my survival had been drummed out by an overwhelming need to prove myself. I didn't know what their run was about but I didn't want to get shown up by the red head, even if I failed the Ally Vipers initiation at least I would prove to myself that I kept up pace and didn't lose sight of my target.

No matter what the pair in my metaphorical cross-hairs did I made sure to do the same, pushing past even the pain in my wrist as I did so. No- no matter what I was going to see this race through to the bitter end even if I'd have to run another one later when they demanded to know why I was following them. No right now there was only me and my goal, a red-headed girl about my own age, I was going to keep up with her no matter the pain. No I would not lose this race, even if the only person that I would save face with was myself.

Soon the three of us spotted the rest of the pack and began to converge, my muscles ached as I mindlessly joined the rest of the runners- not even caring if it might mean I would spend a little stint in juvie. All around the group was either toweling the perspiration from the faces and arms or refueling with an assortment of sports drinks or water (bottled or otherwise) while they caught their breath.

"Well Candace," a young man who was apparently the leader of the group and was built like a college-age track and field star, approached the red head who I had been originally after. "I was originally a little hesitant about letting a middle schooler try-out for the Maroon Maniacs but hell if you didn't show that you have what it takes!"

"Thanks for giving me a shot Mister McGilles," Candace replied with a towel covering her head like one of the hijabs I occasionally see around the neighborhood.

"Now none of this Mister McGilles non-sense," the man replied as he ruffled Candace's hair through the towel, "call me Heath and speaking of young joiners- it looks like you inspired a fangirl."

Immediately all eyes were on me as my heart began to skip a beat- hesitantly I looked to the bushes where Darisha, Natroya and the rest of the Ally Vipers had been hiding earlier. Surprise- surprise, they were no-where in sight, the lot of them had left me hung out to dry; guess I was better off though with friends like that I was better off facing the music solo.

"Well come on Miss, I know that I didn't get your request to join, so speak up." I turned back to look at the group that I was with, a motley assortment of mostly college-age men and women with a few high-school students thrown in the mix. I knew that there was no use hiding it- I was a terrible liar so I might as well come clean.

Swallowing a lump in my throat that felt like the size of a golf ball I stared at my feet not willing to make eye-contact- I was growing more and more sick with my earlier decisions by the minute knowing just how disappointed my mother and grandmother would be when it came time to pick me up from juvie.

"My name is Chandra Defranks," I steeled myself determined to face the music with a little dignity, "I was here to pass a gang initiation, they told me to rob the red head if I wanted in but I sprained my wrist following her so I couldn't go through with it. Anyway, the gang split so you have me where you want me- go ahead call the fuzz- I don't care anymore!"

"Well Chandra is it," Heath McGilles spoke up as he walked up to me, "I don't really think that we could say that it was attempted robbery since you didn't even lay a finger on Candace...am I right Candace?"

"You are, plus go easy on her, I think she's kind of cute." That last remark made me stare at her in disbelief.

"Well given that, plus the fact that I don't want to have our newest member mad at me all I have to say is..." Heath continued as he got down on one knee to look me in the eye, "welcome to the Maroon Maniacs Chandra!"

End Flashback

Saturday April 21th, 2007
Arlington Heights, Illinois
6:58 PM

It was hard to believe that the wrong turn I took that day opened an opportunity not only for myself but my mom too. If Natroya hadn't gotten under my skin with threats of dangers that would be waiting for me in middle and high school if I didn't have a crew to back me up I would have never met Candace, and if I had never met Candace her Aunt Pauline Reynard and mom would never have met, meaning mom would likely still be working on a will-call basis for the SpiffyJiffy™ home cleaning service and we would mainly be depending on dad's income from the Army living from paycheck to paycheck supplemented by the cleaning services glorified temp work.

No- now we were living in Arlington Heights in a wing of a nice big house, that set aside for live-in employees; granted it was a little annoying after their son Albert started to notice girls and began to peek on Marlina and I when we were changing- or taking a shower- or well- okay Albert was on the fast-track to being a horn dog but that was just my opinion.

Whereas before most of my friends growing up deserted me either out of fear over Natroya and her dangling threats or wanting to look for those who they thought could keep them safe, now I had real friends people who I was making memories with that we would all be looking back on for a good while. I made a mistake, but I owned up to that mistake when it came time- and as I saw the Morrison Family Home now in sight I don't regret a damned thing.

The Green Door Tavern
Chicago, Illinois
7:04 PM

Nobody looked odd or even concerned as a young blond lady in a tattered cloak and carrying an innately carved wooden stave strolled into one of the Windy Cities oldest restaurants- the host at the entrance didn't even bat an eye at her.

"Miss Willow party of two," Kelsey spoke up to the man without even a touch of nervousness over the entire incident. "I believe that she is waiting for Kelsey Wayfare!"

"Right this way ma'am," the host whose name tag said Morris escorted the bearer of the Staff of Undertone through the former Speakeasy to a table set for two with a Sidhe patiently waiting for her dinner companion. As Kelsey sat down the host stated, "your waiter will be along shortly, however I can take your drink order if you don't wish to peruse our selection first."

"Arnold Palmer, made with unsweet good sir," Kelsey stated, "I have some traveling that I need to do after dinner, not to mention I am under-age and would not like to get you in trouble."

"Very well, please feel free to peruse our menu, your waiter will be along shortly with your drink." Morris stated as he left to return to his post by the entrance.

"I assume that you didn't ask me here simply for dinner," the sidhe looked at Kelsey with mild annoyance, "I may not be the most prominent member of the Wild Council but I am seated upon it, also I do not like leaving my sister alone in her condition."

"Yes, systemic iron-poisoning, quite brutal on its recipient even centuries after that treacherous maiden's act." Kelsey observed as she continued to consider her menu, "Sadly Lady Thasarimil, even the most precise magnetic spells in my arsenal risk doing far too much damage, especially for someone in as fragile condition as Lady Ulelesse. Maybe human technology is the answer instead, I understand strides in Nano-machine technology are being made every day."

"While holding out hope for the advances of mankind to heal the ancient injuries inflicted by one of their own is good and all; I suspect that we are here for much different reasons than a cure for my younger sister's malady." Lady Thasarimil stated as she met Kelsey's gaze, "The Wayfarer seldom meets with a seated member of the Western Council for trivial matters- as men are want to say: "Can you stop dancing around the issue and just get down to brass tacks." I really hope I did not mangle that saying."

"Far from it," Kelsey sighed, "I would say you had the saying down pat, but you are correct- I didn't simply invite you here to talk shop. The time to make use of what my predecessors have been having the denizens of the Wild Lands gather is nearly at hand, the Phantom Queen and who-so-ever she chooses are to bring all that you have gathered to Summer Island in Lake Michigan on July the 16th. You shall not be alone for there is another who has business there that day and she will become your ally, you and this outsider shall aide each other for your purposes are mutually beneficial and in helping her you will help all who call the Wild Court home."

"Are you serious? You know that we need to be in Iraq then to help the Eastern Maiden," Lady Thasarimil retorted losing her patience and her temper, "the Eastern Maiden will need all the help that she can that day, while Fae Folk may not be that effective in the desert we will help as much as we can against whatever allies Dagon will be throwing our way."

"I did not say that you would be leaving her defenseless, indeed in aiding this outsider you shall be delivering greater aide than the Wild Court can provide for the Eastern Maiden outside the ruins of Babylon. Also, the wheels are in motion as we speak for the arrangement will soon be made by one whose name carries weight throughout your kind, and once you learn of the arrangement you shall come to agree that it was all for the best."

"If I didn't know that you were the host and servant of the power that you wield I would show you first-hand the folly of your flippant disrespect of the fae folk." Lady Thasarimil fumed over the indignity of the situation.

"Not to mention the fact that you are also constrained by your oath to the True Western Court," Kelsey elaborated surprising the Sidhe with her intrinsic knowledge on how their book of oath operated. "I am all too aware that you also feel how your present displeasure is justified, however come this time tomorrow you will realize the full truth of what we speak of tonight."

Then with a wave of her hand Kelsey manipulated the veil that Lady Thasarimil had placed over their table drawing the attention of a waiter instantly. "I apologize for the wait, are you ladies ready to order?"

"Yes, I have," Kelsey chimed in giving Lady Thasarimil time to regain her faculties, "I shall have your Black & Bleu Burger and a refill on my Arnold Palmer."

"Very well Madame," the waiter commented while taking down her order, "will you also be interested in our desert menu?"

"No thank you," Kelsey replied, "I have an appointment later and something tells me that I'll be needing to pick up desert along the way."

"Very well," the waiter replied taking the mater in stride as he turned to Lady Thasarimil, "and for yourself Madame?"

"I shall be having the Waldorf Salad and a bowl of the Vegetable Minestrone," the Sidhe woman replied before holding up her now empty glass. "and I think that I shall sample the Wizen from the imported tap menu."

"Very well," the waiter took down the rest of the order, "I shall leave our desert menu with you incase either of you ladies change your minds, and do you want a single or a split check."

"Split," Lady Thasarimil explained, "this is a business meeting not a date."

"Touchy," Kelsey commented as the waiter left them, "that story about the young lord who refused to let you seek shelter from that storm is becoming much clearer."

"Oh hush," Lady Thasarimil scoffed, "the child needed to learn some manners, besides everything turned out all right in the end. I'd say those years as a monster did wonders for his disposition, not to mention lead to him crossing paths with a maiden who brought out the best in him so all's-well-that-ends-well."

"It didn't turn out so well for her would-be paramour though," Kelsey muttered under her breath as she sipped her Arnold Palmer.

The Morrison Family Home
Arlington Heights, Illinois
7:17 PM
POV: Chandra Defrank

It took some time to clean up, post-game shower in Moline Middle School's locker room notwithstanding the long ride home still made one need to freshen up afterwards, especially when it was for my real birthday party. Granted after today I didn't expect the others on the team to show up, it would have been nice and all but we had that ice cream party in Moline as a mini-party since I didn't want to monopolize what was left of their weekend.

No, the only friend from school that I could really count on being here tonight was Marlina, since she lived a few doors down in the Staff's Wing of the house. No I had a good idea what everyone else would be doing tonight, Erica would be practicing with her older sister Monica on the hoop that their family had set up behind their back porch trying to absorb everything that the Team Captain who taught Candace and I everything she knew had to teach.

Marcy would be at home working on her outfit for the end of the year award's ceremony- again, it was a good thing that Candice and I got her to keep the whole second-guessing perfectionist streak out of her ball game otherwise we would have never made it to the finals- let alone the semi-finals last year.

Nita told me that she planned to decompress with some cheesy old movies, honestly, I never understood why someone would waste their money renting Attack of the Sun Beast or The Beast with Two Brains. Then again everyone has their weird hobbies, she probably thinks the same thing about my parkour runs.

Deb usually spent her free time combing celebrity gossip site, granted the lot of us were glad that she got the hint that most of us didn't want to hear the latest scoop about the dating woes of the power-couples of Hollywood whose names for some reason were smushed together like their relationship turned them into some kind of grotesque hybrid. On second thought, why didn't someone make a monster movie where something like that happened, it would actually sound like an awesome popcorn flick.

Alice was probably spending time putting together study guides for everyone to use to power through finals while I was taking my third shower of the day, she was a godsend while the season was going on. Sometimes it was still hard to believe, an honors student would be interested in athletics (and no Matheletes doesn't count) not that anyone on our team was complaining what with no-pass no-play being what it was.

The only true enigma on our team was Deb, nobody knew just what the girl did in her spare time even her home life was a mystery to everybody. Yeah team player or not Deb was really the odd duck out- what with the way that she'd just stop and stare at people when she wasn't occupied with anything. There was also the fact that nobody really knew anything about her home life either, I don't think that anyone had even met her parents either; then again, I guess that it really does take all kinds to make the world go round.

Now that I was cleaned up I tossed my gear on the bed, reminding myself to take care of the laundry before going to Chicago to meet the Maroon Maniacs for tomorrow's run.

After I got dressed I walked down to the dining room to find the entire household waiting for me with a birthday cake complete with fourteen lit candles, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHANDRA!"

I took a minute to take in the surroundings, "You guys didn't really have to go to all this trouble."

"Now, now, in a way everyone here is a part of the same extended family." Mister Morrison stated much the same as he did when Marlina's birthday rolled around last November, "besides what's the point of having a main dining room this big if we only use it when we're wining and dining clients. Now please make a wish and blow out the candles!"

I laughed and shook my head at Mister Morrison's antics but I still complied before making the same wish that I had for the last three years.

I wish that the next year will be amazing!

The Rust-tic
Chicago, Illinois
8:49 PM

VT was having a blast- he and his crew were finally in their element, and short fifty bucks a piece that it cost them to get past the neckless wall of flesh watching the door: away from all the fakers, sell-outs, co-opers, and oreos this was their people. The music was bumping, the honeys were real and here he was in the hood where he had always belonged- no matter what his parents and that sell-out Chandra said, plus he was sure that this one honey just a few paces away was into him what with the way he was eye-balling him between the DJ's tracks.

Sure, enough as soon as the track would down VT made his way over to the lady in question a fellow sista just his age, but also some (who unlike VT) fit in this setting organically. Sadly, what a boy who was born and raised in the suburbs of Arlington Heights would never truly understand, the true culture of the inner city was full of its own nuances and rules- neither of which the records industry or the gangsta rap culture that it perpetuated ever could truly convey to the masses.

"Hey," VT spoke up as he got up next to the honey in question, "I noticed you checking me out from across the room."

"Natroya," the girl replied in a hushed tone and flashed him a sly smile as she moved intimately close to VT, "I couldn't help but notice a certain somethin'-somethin' about you from across the room."

VT's heart raced as Natroya's right hand creeped down past his abs and below his sagging boxers past the waistband to grab onto something down there and whip it out- namely his P30S the muzzle of which now rested between his throat and chin. "I made you for a wanna-be an hour ago," Natroya's tone shifted from her earlier husky tone to something that cut VT like a knife, "nobody around here is stupid enough to sneak a piece into Leroy Sikes's club if they’re not one of his."

A large hand clamped down on VT's right-shoulder, slowly with the P30S still aimed at his noodle he turned and looked to see an even bigger wall of muscle than the one watching the door had a hold of him. "The boss wants to have a word with you scrub."

With Natroya (who thankfully no longer had the gun to his neck) and the wall of muscle VT was marched away from the party and up the cat-walks of the abandoned steel mill to what used to be the foreman's office. Once inside VT took note of the man whose office was decked out much like his old man's leather, wood paneling, and rather than shelf of books one of top shelf liquor bottles. VT knew through his fear that this was Leroy Sikes- the man Natroya mentioned, dressed more like a man of business than some gangsta or pimp, this man was the real deal and Natroya laid the P30S right in front of him.

To Leroy's side was a woman who bore a resemblance to Natroya, likely a cousin or older sister but this lady wasn't just dressed like she was Leroy's woman- no this lady was dressed to draw respect. Once the door was shut Leroy made a palms up gesture and immediately Natroya turned his pockets inside-out taking his keys, cash and his wallet giving the later to Mister Sikes, VT had to fight his urge to speak up as the club's owner opened the billfold.

Mister Sikes mused over what he saw inside for a moment and briefly showed the contents to the woman by his side, that was when he finally spoke up, "So Victor, what's a boy from the burbs think he's doing inside my club packing heat?"

VT has stunned into silence, "What's the matter you certainly could talk when you had the grapes to hit on Darisha's baby-sister, and I know Natroya didn't lay your balls on my desk with the rest of your shit!"

"I didn't bring the piece in here to start shit," VT finally gathered his bravo, "I brought it in case shit hit the fan. All I was doing was bringing protection, nothing more- nothing less."

Mister Sikes then picked up the gun and proclaimed, "Boy the only protection this place needs is me and my crew!" Then punctuated the statement by ejecting the P30S's clip onto the floor, "Now what we have here is a problem, an insult like this cannot stand, if word got out to the other locals that I let some snot-nosed little punk bring his piece into my club they'd all think it was okay and that would hurt my bottom line. On the other hand, if I dispose of you like you were another local POS you rich 'rents would get the fuzz poking around in my grill turning over rocks and that won't do either."

"So, Victor I'm thinking of doing is making you an offer, but first I need to know a couple of things-" Leroy Sikes paused for effect, "do you know Chandra Defranks?"

"Of course, I know that cracker-loving oreo!" VT shot back, "I offered her an invite here a few days ago, and she turned me down flat!"

"Good," Mister Sikes stated as a smile crossed his face as not only did he know Chandra but also disliked her. Then Leroy when to the office phone on his desk and pressed a number.

"Hey boss, what do you need?"

"Ohan, I need you to send over one of the Mosin 3-lines from this month's shipment to my office along with some ammo."

"Right away boss!"

"Now Victor, I need to know something else from you do you know how to use a rifle?" Leroy inquired this time in a far less grave tone.

"Yeah, my old man's taking me deer hunting plenty of times to try and get me to make me a sell out like him," VT replied wondering where this was going.

"Good," Mister Sikes smiled, "you see Miss Defranks made the foolish decision to diss my lady Darisha's baby sister Natroya a few years back, now it has long been a sore subject among my circle especially given how her star has been rising as of late- this reflects rather... poorly on me."

"Unfortunately, as Miss Defranks currently lives beyond my sphere of influence there is very little that I can do myself that wouldn't be traced back to me, fortunately you are an outside party." Leroy Sikes explained, "So I'm going to let you help yourself, tomorrow a group that Miss Defranks hangs out with is going on a run over in Washington Park, I want you to wait there for her and teach her how actions have consequences."

"You mean that you want me to cap her?!?" VT asked stunned that the man was all but ordering him to kill someone that he knew.

"No, I'm asking you to extinguish her star," Mister Sikes explained, "a dead body in the park attracts attention, but a sister taking a round in Chi-town- that barely makes the pages. She's an athlete squeeze off a round into one of her legs and not only is her star snuffed out but the message of not dissing my crew is heard loud and clear. Also, Victor if you pull this off right I might even consider giving you an in on my crew."

The Morrison Family Home
Arlington Heights, Illinois
9:21 PM
POV: Chandra Defrank

I all but collapsed when I got to my room, most people would never understand it but there were times that being exhausted felt great because today was a blast and a half. Yeah there was no getting around it we were going to the Illinois State Finals and win or lose we were psyched regardless. Yeah this was the furthest that South Middle Schools Lady Cardinals ever had gone in our school's history, we broke the record set during Monica Hope's tenure as captain who took us to the semi-finals for the first time ever then afterwards earned us Third Place two years ago.

Last year Candace helped us match that record while building the foundation for the team that I inherited, an inheritance that I invested in and built even bigger. Yeah- win or lose our work didn't end with the game next week, no afterwards we'd be holding tryouts among the current crop of sixth and seventh graders for next year's team- it was a shame that we didn't have a chance to scout the fifth graders who would become sixth graders in a few short weeks, but rules are rules.

I checked my email wanting to get Candace's take on what was going on, sadly it looks like all there was from her was a rushed response time-stamped this morning and nothing about the game just yet. Knowing that I couldn't put it off any more I began to gather my clothes from both the game and the trip, knowing that it would reflect poorly on my mother if the room of the housekeeper's daughter smelled like a locker room. Oddly enough that was when I noticed an odd parcel on my bed that I had overlooked earlier, granted I had gotten a decent number of gifts including an autographed Venus Williams poster from Mrs. Morrison that I didn't have the heart to refuse.

My curiosity getting the better of me after confirming that it was indeed addressed to me, albeit the giver simply addressed themselves as a friend, I opened the package and found to my surprise that inside there was a maroon helmet. I took a minute to look the object over, it bore a slight resemblance to a bicyclist helmet, but not as bulky. I looked inside but while the piece of protective ware was padded it didn't look like a kind that I had seen before.

"I wonder what this was made for?" I briefly mused to myself before relented, "Oh well- a gift's a gift, I might as well try it on!"

Although the helmet felt a little staticy at first the thing fit like a glove, and to tell the truth I barely felt any difference in weight. I had to wonder just what was this thing made out of? My next question though was how the heck was this thing supposed to stay on because I didn't see a chin-strap of anything of the sort.

I was about to give up and just set the thing aside to figure out later, that's when I noticed something odd along the sides of the helmet, two pieces framing my face that seemed a little...odd. Curious at this discovery I pulled at the protrusion on the right-side and it came out some; wanting to see what it was kept pulling and by the time I stopped my mouth and nose were covered on the right-side.

I did the same to the left and sure enough my face and mouth were now covered, that's when I noticed small discrete latches along the mouth guard, I locked them and sure enough the helmet felt secure. Soon I noticed an even more minor protrusion along the surprisingly unobstructed eye area, I pulled down and there was a slightly tinted visor covering my eyes.

I took a minute to get a further feel for my newest gift, I barely felt the weight on my neck from the helmet what-so-ever and even with the visor lowered my vision wasn't obstructed in the least, Odd enough was even with the mouth guard in place my breathing didn't fog up the visor or for that matter make the helmet seem stuffy, whoever made this thing was probably well on their way to being a millionaire.

Still as neat as this thing was I still had chores to get done before bedtime; I took the helmet off and went around gathering clothes of the same colors from the baskets in the other employee quarters, 'Might as well make a full load or two,' I thought to myself, 'after all there's no need to be selfish.' With a basket, full of darks and whites I headed down to the laundry room confident that I'd at least get one full load done before bedtime, maybe in the meantime Candace would reply to me about the game.

Leroy's Office - The Rust-tic
Chicago, Illinois
9:37 PM

"So, Leroy," Darisha Coleman all but curled around Leroy Sikes, "we're finally getting the brat who dissed my sis all those years ago. That's good and all but are we really letting that poser into the organization?"

"Hell no!" Sikes replied with a laugh, "That kid has born chump written all over his face, he's the perfect tool for us to use. He's at that stupid rebel age where he wants to embrace what he thinks is our way and is blinded enough to be lead around by the nose, if he gets caught then so what- he winds up going away to get corn-holed while our hands are clean. Hell, even that piece we're giving him can't be traced, Russian guns can come from anywhere and the law know it."

"If he gets caught it's just another case of a stupid kid falling for the gangsta rap image and taking it out on someone who dissed him, it won't even make the news. Plus even if he misses the message is still sent, and Chandra stops coming to town- chasing her away will only boost my cred. And if by some miracle that POS does the deed without getting nailed by the fuzz, we just string him along- milk him for some do-re-mi until we need someone to take the fall again; he's not the first little wanna-be we've thrown under the bus and he won't be the last. Either way this whole operation will be coming up aces- and nobody around here will think of fucking with our crew for a good long while!"

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3 years 6 months ago #43987 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 19

Logan International Airport - Main Entrance
Boston, Massachusetts
8:51 PM EDT
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

I hated to admit it but by far things were going rather well, Wild Pack and the FSA were making record time while sweeping the four airport terminals for survivors and so far had barely needed to dish out any elixir for zombie contamination. Heartbreaker and Palleon were doing great guiding evacuees to the triage area, and Jane's special perception from a bird's-eye view was helping me coordinate the search teams without a hitch.

"Stonebear," I bark out over the radio to relay the latest information from Jane, "I have seven sightings in the Eastern side of Terminal B, they should be around three-hundred feet from your location; just hang a left at the next hallway if you can- over."

"That's an affirmative Little Wolf," Stonebear replied over the coms, "I think that I can hear them- over and out!"

"Okay- Pendragon, I see a cluster of four or five individuals," I close my eyes to get a better sense of what Jane was seeing through our link, "The good news is they are only one-hundred feet ahead of you, the bad news is that they are on the floor below you- over."

"Drat, the fire's made the building too unstable to go through the floor; I'm going to need to search for a stairwell-over." The current leader of the Future Superheroes of America responded.

"Understood, keep an eye out for emergency exit signs, if it leads out than it leads down- oh and zombies just in case of ambush- over and out." I stated as I kept to the task at hand, according to Jane's vision there were still about three dozen people trapped by the fire in Logan International Airport spread between the four terminals. As things stood that meant that the evacuations had been mostly successful, I guess that the TSA here was actually earning their paychecks because this was the busiest airport in New England; I was just thankful that the Necromancer's goons didn't sabotage the Air-Traffic Control Tower too because the last thing that everyone needed was chaos on the runways in addition to the fires, plus this way they could redirect any incoming flights to Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and Worchester along with the smaller municipal airports.

"Stormwolf here," the leader of Wild Pack and defacto leader of this operation (at least until Pendragon put his foot down), "Group has been escorted safely from Terminal C and have rendezvoused with Firecat, please direct to next group- over."

"Roger Stormwolf, there are three clusters of civilians in the southern fork of Terminal C." I replied again closing my eyes to try and better interpret what Jane saw of the situation at the eastern-most terminal. "There are six on the second level and seven on the first; two groups are at the opposite ends of the first level, four on the northern end of that fork and three on the south- over."

"Understood- I'll take the first floor, Firecat you handle the groups on the upper level-over."

"Roger Stormwolf," the pyrokinetic of the team replied, "just be careful down there boss- over and out."

I took another swig of water from my canteen, one of many that I had in my bag for emergencies. While working with Jane to continue to monitor the rescue efforts one thing continued to nag at the back of my mind, all of this destruction, all of this chaos, and still there hadn't been a single confirmed sighting of a single super-villain. Even on the police band was only full of emergency crews and zombie mop up operations; there wasn't a single report of the Children of the Night, no looters, heck there hadn't even been a report of Death Ghost and from what Chou told me that mook was a straight up opportunistic scavenger.

I mean there was a lot of noise on the coms from Emergency Response Crews and the like, but when it came to the type that lit this damned powder keg in the first place the silence was deafening... and that was scary. This could mean that the Children of the Night were still waiting on the Kimbas to show, which made me afraid that group of psychos would try and up the ante even more, or else they were after something else. I don't know which possibility left me more terrified; I tried to stave off my paranoia, but the possibilities just continued to pile on and fester even worse the more I tried to suppress them with reason. I just knew in my gut that the shit had still yet to hit the fan, and when it did the local flavor of psycho would be there flinging it at the blades like a troop of pissed off chimpanzees.

"Overwatch come in," I heard Boudacia call in and from Jane's perspective she was with the three people that I had sent her to guide out from Terminal E but they were still stuck in the same spot, "I need back-up asap, this is an emergency- over!"

"This is overwatch, please state the situation Boudacia- over." I replied dreading the response that was coming my way.

"I have a partially collapsed ceiling and a young girl pinned under some rebar," Boudacia explained chilling me to the core, "She's pierced in at least one place that I can see, and I don't dare move her especially since I'm all that's holding up the ceiling. I need a healer and either a blade user or a precision blaster asap- over."

I ran the scenario through my head as fast as I was able, while we did have healers here assisting the paramedics most were spell-casters and for something like this we needed nascent precision, the problem was that the only two legitimate healers that we had were Asklepian and Aletheia. From what I knew of Asklepian (as well as the myth of the Hydra's fight with Hercules) I knew that her and fire of any sort could be a potentially lethal combination, and Aletheia being a mermaid made her vulnerable to heat-stroke. Although my cloak would be an ideal solution to either problem; given the length of Asklepian's tail that meant it wouldn't protect the lower half of her body, Aletheia on the other hand was about my size and if she stayed human that meant the cloak would protect her.

The other issue was that Pendragon was busy at the other end of the airport and I was the only blade-user available, (given that every blaster we had was occupied) that meant both Aletheia and I were the best choice available to come to Boudica's aid. Spotting an empty fireman's suit nearby I knew what I needed to do, "Roger Boudica, Aletheia and I will be there soon- over and out."

I turned to the fireman's gear and after shucking my cloak (although for good measure I drew Sydan as well), then put the gear on as best I could, even if it means that I needed to take off the Mask of Occlusion in favor for my backup cloth mask. After haphazardly stowing Sydan in the loop normally reserved for a fire-man's axe (since it was blunt while inert there was no problem with it hanging loose) I knew that I was ready. "Strato," I shouted out to Quickvix's teammate who was acting as an extra pair of hands of the paramedics, "I need to respond to an emergency in Terminal E, and I need you to cover for me, I'll try and relay what Jane sees to you over my com."

"I'm on it Faolan," Arnold stated as he jogged over to the make-shift com center, "but there's no need to play telephone, I've been working on something at Quickvix's request." My roommate's teammate remarked as he plugged something into the console. "It should let Jane transmit to our com frequency- just tell her to try matching the frequency on the label."

'Can you give it a try Jane,' I asked my familiar over our link and letting her in on the radio frequency.

"Testing- testing, are you receiving me?" Jane inquired over the com setup.

"Loud and clear Jane," Strato replied with a grin across his face, "we are ready to go!"

"That you are," I remarked briefly taking the headset away from Strato to relay the situation to the others first. After a flip of the stitch on Wild Pack's console I sent out an all call over the transmitter, "To all rescuers I need to step away from the radio to assist Boudacia with an emergency rescue, please be advised that I will be stepping away from overwatch duty- seven individuals remain. I am turning over the coms to Strato and Jane will be relaying all information that she can gather to him- over and out."

Now fully garbed in fireman's gear I went over to where Aletheia was assisting with the evacuees. I took a deep breath and knew that after this Headmistress Carson would probably give me detention until I graduated but I needed to do this, "Aletheia, Boudica's in trouble and she needs a healer in Terminal E ASAP."

"Not a problem," Aletheia stated before she brought out her mermaid form and took to the air with the strips of her cloak became like fins, "I'll be there in a flash."

"Sorry but not like that," I elaborated as I presented my cloak, "that place is hotter than an oven and dangerously unstable, we have to be careful if we want to avoid triggering a backdraft or any further collapses. That means I'm going to be carrying you up there, and you're going to need heat protection."

Understanding my proposal, the eastern maiden took my cloak and draped it over herself before pulling up the hood. "You're also going to need an oxygen tank." I explained as I began to retrieve my scuba gear, I know I'm loaning scuba gear to a mermaid- who would have ever seen the day.

"There's no need for that," Aletheia explained as she took off her glove, showing me her purification ring. "This filters out more than just water, it turns out it does a the exact same thing in open air too."

"At least one of us doesn't have to worry about red ozone days," I grumbled as I returned my scuba gear to the Reticle of the Fields; I wonder if I could negotiate with one of the mermaids for one of those things, it would certainly be less cumbersome than a gas mask. Given that I was going to be using standard fireman's gear, including the mask, I couldn't be using any of my shape-shifting forms- just as well, burnt fur reeked something nasty. "Oh, by the way you can air-swim just not inside of the building."

"I just wished I could walk so you wouldn't have to carry me once we got inside." Aletheia huffed.

"Hey practice makes perfect," I explained as the mermaid again took to the air, "don't fret- it'll happen eventually; now let's not keep Boudacia waiting any longer. Believe me one super-power that she doesn't have is the patience of a saint."

Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom Storage Facility - Outside
New York City, New York
8:59 PM

Arcane-Knight landed not with the force of a meteorite, but more like that of a water balloon as the spell of Greygus's mace dispelled with a burst of pressure. Overall the trip left the former unwilling member of the Children of the Night unharmed, yet more than a little disoriented as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. This feeling of disorientation was more than natural even with the fact that he was nothing more than a possessed mech suit, but given the fact that he had been sent hurtling through the air by his opponent's blow so far and fast that he had no idea where he was even a shade such as he would be confused even his GPS had yet to calibrate.

Taking a moment to case the vicinity of his landing with the full range of his sensor suit Arcane-Knight could immediately tell that he was no longer in Boston, the skyline made this more than clear. No, despite the fact that it was dark he could tell that the skyline pointed to a far larger city- and judging by the direction that he had been sent flying in the best possible choice was, "I must have landed in New York."

"Indeed, you have," a man stated as he made his way out of the nearby warehouse. Arcane-Knight could see that he had left the presence of one legend of his industry only to land in the presence of another, exiting the building before him was none other than Shuffle leader of the company known in the business as Shuffle's Sweepers being followed by several costumes that were likely mercs that were skilled enough to work directly under the boss himself. "Now at present your moniker eludes me but I doubt that it will for long."

Without an ounce of fear on his face Shuffle calmly strolled over to the haunted suit of mech armor, and calmly leaned forward to look his guest right in the optics that were a part of Arcane-Knight's helmet visor- stating in a voice that was so matter-of-fact that if the now liberated mercenary experienced this situation while he still had a body that he might have lost bowel control. "Now as I see it you have two options: You can either explain who you are and why you are here now while I am asking politely, or you can wait for us to find out on our own while we hold you in a detention cell. I know that the prospect is unpleasant, however as you are clearly no ordinary civilian please be aware that your treatment under our stewardship will only reflect your own level of cooperation from here on out."

Arcane-Knight quickly weighed his options, he had just left the employment of the Children of the Night's leader Charles Darrow only to land in the custody of another, who despite being another black hat known to be in league with a faction of the Grand Hall, was not known for being nearly as much of a monster infact Shuffle was regarded as quite the opposite and was not above showing mercy when the opportunity presented itself. Also, he was being offered a choice this time. While his situation at present was far from ideal Arcane-Knight decided that it was best to cooperate...for now.

"I am known as Arcane-Knight and if this building is what I presume it is then I have some information that you may be interested in..."

Boston Logan International Airport - Massport Roof
9:05 PM

Lycanthros had finally arrived at the strike zone, the first of the veteran Children of the Night to do so, and yet there was one question on his mind. "Where the hell is that whiny tin can?"

The second-in-command of the Darrow's crew surveyed the surrounding area and given that he didn't spot a single sign of their current indentured servant decided to forgo sight for another sense.

Assuming his own lupine form the mysterious werewolf began to pick apart the scene by scent, "Let's see- yeah the scrap-heap was here I can smell the cheap auto wax we give him for maintenance; hold on he wasn't alone." Lycantros took another deep whiff wanting to get the whole story before he bothered his boss, something about tonight's job had Darrow frothing so it was not the time for half-assing a snag in the plan, "Yep, four others were here, three scents vaguely like Wilbur's flipside- can't tell what flavor of demon though, but it seems familiar."

"Let's see who guest number four was," Lycanthros took another series of deep sniffs, "no this one wasn't a demon, though definitely not human either. Wait a minute this smells familiar... oh crap its Greyg-"

Lycanthros's investigation of the roof top was put on hiatus when the source of the fourth scent materialized and sent him flying northward with a strike of his mace to the ribs. "Game on you SOB," Greygus stated before following the lycantropoid of unknown origins via the Odinson travel method substituting his mace for mjolnir.

Lycanthros unlike his now former teammate Arcane-Knight received a less than gentle landing in the middle of Constitution Beach Park's southern athletics field, raking up a good amount of turf in the process. His side now throbbing, the werewolf quickly took in his surroundings which were nothing but an open field
in between two baseball fields. Still there were some trees to his west that would make for excellent cover to ambush his attacker, his decision now made for him the jewel-eyed werewolf made for cover wincing at the pain that blossomed from his ribs as he did so.

Unfortunately for the fleeing felon he made it all of ten feet towards the trees when he heard an odd whistling, knowing who his opponent was the werewolf stopped in his tracks just before an arrow landed right in front of his path. As he spun on this heel towards the source of the projectile a series of similar arrows to the first, in the blink of an eye Lycanthros found himself surrounded in a ring of spend arrows of an odd color.

A quick glance to the sky gave the second in command of the Children of the Night a better view of his assailant, overhead using his mace like the blades of a helicopter to hold himself aloft was Greygus who with the crossbow hidden in his still free left arm's gauntlet drew a bead on Lycanthros.

Taking a moment to take in the two concentric circles of arrows that now surrounded him, Lycanthros feel to his knees in laughter, "Really you come all the to Boston and send me flying part-way across town only to try and stop me with a something so childish. I honestly don't know why anyone would be so afraid of you, it's not like you even go for the kill!"

"I wouldn't cross that line if I were you," Greygus stated while ignoring his adversary's taunt while he slowly lowered to the ground.

"Yeah right," the werewolf tried to cross the first circle of arrows only to recoil in pain, "What the hell?!?"

"The inner circle is a series of interconnected monofilament karone wire." the disguised djinn elaborated as he touched down, "Not lethal, but certainly painful." With the werewolf's attention drawn Greygus press a switch on his left gauntlet causing the arrows of both circles to seemingly split down the middle (except for a peg in the middle which slabbed into the ground like a spike) before releasing more monofilament strands to intertwine and connect with those which had already been deployed. Before long it looked like the werewolf was contained under a semi-transparent lavender canopy with a grey net draped over that, just before a series of whirring was heard from the arrowheads as both the canopy and the net above it began to slowly retract drawing the faux dome closer to the ground.

"So what if the net's karone," Lycanthros snarled at his smug captor, "I can handle a little pain!"

"True but the little secret to your above average lycanthropic strength won't," Greygus retorted, "A werewolf using skinshifter magic using the pelts of other werewolves to augment his own abilities, kind of like a perverse form of athletic juicing if you ask me. Plus, only the inner circle is karone, the outer net is an over-under weave titanium cable with a core of granulated mithril; so, before you think about breaking free understand that you will be out for a little while due to the pain, and should that happen you run the risk of breathing in a dangerous amount of powdered mithril. Now from that sparkler I know you are aware of what mithril does to lycanthropes with just a surface application, do you want to risk getting it into your lungs."

As the nets drew him closer to the ground Lycanthros glared with his one remaining eye at his captor filled with murderous intent, before finally trying to signal the rest of the Children of the Night yet only hearing static through the receiver.

"You didn't think that the first thing that I'd do when I saw you arrive wouldn't be to jam your coms did you?" Greygus smirked under his helmet, "Looks like this hound outfoxed a wolf."

"You are going to pay for this," Lycanthros all but roared as he now laid pressed against the ground, "the other Children of the Night-"

"Will soon be busy with playmates of their own," Greygus interrupted his quarry, "I didn't come here alone, the Erinyas are here too- along with the operative whose storage room your boss had looted."

That tidbit had Lycanthros's eyes wide with terror, not only was Lycaon alive but he was here and on the hunt, despite Greygus's reputation for zero-fatality operations blood was going to be spilled tonight- and for once Lycanthros doubted that it would be the Children of the Night's doing when it happened.

Logan International Airport - Terminal E
9:08 PM
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East

As annoying as it was to be carried around- again, I had to admit Faolan clearly knew what she was doing. "Wow I heard that Morrigan put you through all kinds of training but who would have thought that she trained you for this!"

"Yeah, a rescue scenario involving a burning building not yet from her, I'll remember to ask her when we get back to the Academy to aid it onto my training regimen." My fellow maiden nervously laughed as we steadily made our way through the burning terminal.

"What?!? I shot back more than a little panicked but I tried to real that back in...for now, "but you do know what you're doing right?"

"A little baseline fireman's training, practice and some very recent experience," Randi admitted sheepishly, "I received some fireman's training from Pero del Fuego back home while I was getting my new body in shape along with some just-in-case-pointers. Mostly how to move through a burning building and how to navigate uneven and unstable terrain, of course with these boots of mine I could make a mountain goat jealous but better safe than sorry."

"You wouldn't happen to know where I could score me a pair of those boots would you?" I inquired as sing-song as I could to butter her up.

"Learn how to walk in high heels and then we'll talk about magic boots," Faolan dead-panned in reply, "Really I know how much you want to walk on your own but those boots won't help one bit unless you can stand while using them."

"Crud," I sulked, it was taking too damned long to get and stay on my own two feet, and really, I wanted to kiss that flipping wheel-chair good-bye already.

"Hey, you'll get there," Faolan patted me on the back while we made our way towards the other side of the building, "from what I've heard you're already far enough along to switch to loft-stand crutches and leg-braces. The medical staff is just being overly cautious, give it a few more days and you'll be walking around, just with some aid while you build up those your calves, quads and core."

"So they keep telling me," I sighed safe from the heat beneath the folds of Faolan's cloak, "you're certain that this will protect me from the fire?"

"It's heat tolerance is up to that of molten lava, unless there is any jet fuel inside the main terminal than we're golden." My friend and current mode of transportation within this inferno replied as we made our way to the closest stairwell from where we entered.

Unfortunately, the stairwell had seen better days, as debris from the second floor was now clogging the stairs with rubble, "Well so much for that direction."

"Not necessarily," Faolan replied as she began to use her boots to skywalk to the second floor like she was climbing a ladder. The process took all of a couple of minutes before we were finally on the second floor; thankfully while the stairwell was a mess at least the exit wasn't obstructed, although once we opened the door it was clear that the path to Boudacia and the two that she was trying to keep alive was anything but a cakewalk.

From beneath the cloak I looked around to see burning debris, and fallen pieces of the terminals ceiling it was more reminiscent of a warzone than a major airport that served one of the country's oldest cities. Talk about a dark irony, my first time going to an airport and the place looked like a warzone, and in a few months' time my first time arriving by an airplane would be in a country that was torn apart by war- Iraq. Granted my fellow maiden Faolan wasn't in for a pleasant summer either- she'd be living like an animal in a land known for trigger-happy ranchers.

Carefully the two of us made our way through the rubble guided by the eyes of Randi's familiar Jane through the link that the pair shared with each other, much the same as Jane's mother Babd shared with Mrs. Redstag- I still had so much to learn about magic.

"Mommy," my heart sank as I heard something that no one should ever want to hear a child gasping in pain, "it hurts."

"My baby's dying and you're doing nothing!" I heard a woman scream nearby.

"Not true ma'am," I heard a voice that I recognized as Boudacia nearby, "I'm keeping this piece of ceiling stable while we wait for backup to arrive."

"Stop waiting Boudica," Faolan cried out in reply as we approached the sound of their voices, "I'm here and I've got Aletheia with me, keep calm ma'am we'll have you two out of this before you know it."

When we got there, it was as bad as we heard; a piece of the ceiling had come down on a mother and her daughter as they were trying to evacuate, while they hadn't been crushed by the debris it had done something worse- a piece of rebar had skewered the ten-year old in the abdomen and debris weight was slowly forcing its way downward by the time Boudacia arrived to keep it from flattening the trapped child.

"Please we need to get my baby off there," the woman grabbed Randi in her hysteria almost causing her to drop me as she shook the both of us, "you can do that right?!?"

"Yes, but I need to have a look at your daughter first," I explained as I gestured for Randi to set me down near the girl to examine her. It took a moment with the limited experience that I had, but using the ribs of the trembling girl as a guide to compare her anatomy with that of the transparencies that I had seen at the library told me all that I needed. "I have good news and bad news; the good news is that the rebar missed her spine however it did puncture her liver."

"Oh my God," the woman sank to the ground in horror, "I'm going to lose my baby girl."

"Calm down ma'am," Faolan did her best to reassure the woman, "the liver is an odd ball when it comes to organs; you can even live with part of it removed. Fortunately, Aletheia here is a healer, if we work carefully the worst that your girl will need is a tetanus series, a blood transfusion, and a prescription for some broad-spectrum anti-biotics."

"Now madam," I began to explain in as calm a voice as I could, "before I begin I'm going to need to give her a local anesthetic. I'm going to need you to help Faolan cut away the clothes around the wound and clean the area before I begin, afterward I am going to need you to follow every instruction that I give to the letter. Understand your daughter needs you to help us, you need to be strong for her."

"I- I will," the woman tried her best to steady her nerves; I hoped that she would be ready because this would be scary.

"Faolan I need you to get out some scissors, some towels and antiseptic- a lot of it." I told Randi steeling myself for what was to come, "After the two of you cut away her dress from around the wound I need you to sterilize the area around the wound. Madam I'm going to need you to pack the towels as best are you can around the rebar while Faolan sanitizes at least three feet of the rebar that is protruding out."

"My name is Beverly and her name is Julie," the mother interrupted as she almost mechanically follow my instructions while Randi now done with her prep work prepared for what she knew that she needed to do. Once Beverly was done preparing her daughter I drew out the two things that I knew that I needed from my own bag of holding, a syringe containing a local anesthetic and my scepter. It took all of a moment to find what I knew that I needed from our library's medical texts that I had perused in my free time in-between writing assignments, just where to properly administer the local.

When I was done Randi sprang into action cleaving through the top of the length of rebar with a swipe of her saber, the cut was fast and clean not even causing the metal bar to rock as it passed through then blunted before it could hit Boudica. "Hey Faolan, be careful with that thing!" Still then Faolan switched her grip to make one final cut about a foot away from Julie, before placing her free hand on the child before she returned her blade to the axe holster with the other.

It was a good thing that she did because if keep Beverly from lifting Julie off of the rebar embedded in the floor "Move your hands, why you are holding her down," Beverly asked bewildered at Faolan's actions, "my daughter is almost free- why are you keeping me from rescuing her?!?"

"Because if you lifted her up before Aletheia began to heal her she would bleed out," Faolan replied refusing to sugar coat the facts. "While Julie is bleeding if we pulled her off too fast without Aletheia to heal her as we did so it would be fatal."

"Please you need to trust us," I explained while I placed my hand of Beverly's shoulder, "we will save Julie but remember- you need to stay calm and follow my instructions."

Numb over the fact that her maternal instincts to rescue her daughter almost killed the girl, Beverly replied with a simple nod of her head.

"Now I am going to begin to heal her," I explained as I readied my scepter for the first real trial I had given it so far, "you need to help Faolan lift your daughter off of the rebar that is still inside her- slowly and gently together as I heal her. There will be some blood but if we do this properly then the risk of complications should be negligible."

I placed my right hand on Julie with my scepter grasped firmly in my left I began to focus on healing the injured child before me, as I did so the child's mother Beverly followed Randi's pace as they slowly lifted the poor girl off the metal bar. While they did their best to free Julie, I did the same putting my powers to the test for the first time in the admittedly short time that I had been since leaving Cytherea's shadow and being properly born. Still I focused like I never had before to heal Julie's wounds and repair as much of the damage that had been done to her liver as I could, so much so that everything around me feel outside my perceptions all that mattered was the task at hand- making sure that this girl lived a long and healthy life.

I was so obliviously to what was going on that when someone shook my shoulder to draw my attention was surprised that I had been moved. I was so focused on the task at hand I didn't even notice that Boudacia had finally stopped playing Atlas to move me as I had continued my work, which as I felt the last of Julie's liver regenerate through the connection I had to her was finally done, although I could still feel something odd about the girl it was clear that my powers had done their job.

It was done, Julie was out of immediate danger although now that she was out of shock from the adrenaline she had passed out from the blood loss. I turned to Beverly who cradling her now sleeping five-year-old daughter looked at me with pleading eyes desperate for answers. "She's out of immediate danger," I explained as calmly as I could to the worried mother, "although she is still very weak. Julie lost a lot of blood, so she needs to get to the hospital for a transfusion; although if you know her blood-type maybe one of the aid workers in the triage area outside is a match. Still it is safe to move her now so let's get the two of you out of here."

Boston Logan International Airport - Massport Roof
9:12 PM

One by one the remaining members of the Children of the Night arrived on the roof of the structure centered around the four terminals of Logan International Airport, with the exception being their illustrious leader Charles "The Necromancer" Darrow himself every member of their group had arrived at the ambush position. Still being the sharpest tack on scene Lady Darke instantly noticed two anomalies; Arcane-Knight who had been ordered by Darrow himself to secure the scene was nowhere in sight nor was Lycanthros who should have been the second of the group to arrive, and also neither of their targets were in the strike zone below.

Yes, a good number of capes and masks were down in the triage area yet none were their targets, "What is going on?!?" Lady Darke demanded to her cohorts, "Where are targets? For that matter where is the rest of our team? Come on, if either of you know a change in the operation clue me in because if we screwed this up then the boss is going to be pissed!"

"Oh I am ever so sorry Lady Darke," a lilting and bemused voice replied a nearby voice whose owner soon materialized, a vaguely demonic figure grabbed in an outfit that seemed a token nod to bronze age philistine, "however your comrades are currently occupied and your targets appear to be busy elsewhere; mayhap my sisters and I can entertain you in the interim."

"I heard rumors that the last hangers on of the Obsidian Circle were trying to convince fools they were still around and making a comeback," Lady Darke arrogantly laughed at the now visible Erinyes, "but you three are soon to find out that you have bitten off more than you can chew here."

Skleeros who had yet to speak began to laugh, starting with a mild giggle until it graduated into maniacal abandon, "She has no idea, the third-rate psychic really doesn't have a clue, oh this is rich!"

"I'm glad that you find the situation so humorous," Lady Darke shot back more than a little insulted at the woman's insulting view of her, "because although we are numerically even I assure you we can still handle you three."

"I doubt it Miss Darden," a bemused man spoke from behind their position, "besides you might want to check your arithmetic."

Lady Darke and Jabberwock turned towards the source of the voice, leaving only Arch-Fiend to still face the Erinyes. Once Lady Darke was faced with the source of the voice Sandra came to regret her earlier assessment, the Erinyes were indeed not alone for the trio had her two companions caught between them and who appeared to be Mister Domino and Mistress Nyx.

"This can't be," Jabberwock spoke up in shock, "everyone knows that you two have been dead for decades!"

"I can assure you Jabberwock the news of our deaths was grossly exaggerated," Mistress Nyx elaborated in her eerie echoing tone from inside of the crystal hall that served as the head for the marionette that she controlled from her place in Hell. "We merely had a few plans in the works; we just let the world believe us deceased so we could lay the groundwork unencumbered by external interference, what is the matter of a few decades for those of us who have seen kingdoms rise and fall."

"But your orb was shattered by the Justice Brigade and Reverend Englund cut off Mister Domino's head!" Lady Darke all but sheiked in horror, "How does anyone come back from that!"

"There are ways- rituals that can be done ahead of time," Mister Domino replied in his own odd manner of speaking, "not that this matters to the situation that you found yourselves at this very moment. You see not only has your employer had the blatant audacity to steal from the Obsidian Circle, he has had the unmitigated gall to dare and interfere with plans that had been set in motion since long before this city was built. Neither can be allowed to pass so this leaves you with two options, stand aside or stand in our way. Now which do you choose?"

Unfortunately for Jabberwock and Lady Darke the first of their group to choose was Arch-Fiend- and he chose to attack, or more specifically he chose to attack Mistress Nyx. What followed was a macabre event with all the captivating perversity of a train wreck; every savage swipe of Arch-Fiend's claws was either brush-blocked or dodged with minimal effort, every lunging bite of his fang-filled maw was met with a simple slap, and every concrete shattering kick of his cloven hooves was blocked- until the last when Mistress Nyx caught him.

With Arch-Fiend's left-hoof now in hand Mistress Nyx then smacked him around the roof like a rag-doll until he laid partially embedded in the roof. Yet as much of a sight as seeing the demon getting his butt handed to him by a being a third his size was, what happened next sent chills down Jabberwock and Lady Darke's spines. Now on his back and at her mercy Mistress Nyx began to speak German in an ominous tone, "Ketherech, zweiundzwanzigsten Soldat in der fünften Legion von Duke Berith, die in den inneren Ring des Siebten Kreis auf der Wildnis des Krieges Schlachten; unter dem Blick von Silent tausend Augen Dumah ich werfe dich aus diesem sterblichen Schiff, im Namen von Abbadon ich dich verbannen, um den Rang und Datei Ihrer cohort- Dies trage ich zurück!"

Jabberwock and Lady Darke could only look on terrified as the teammate was surrounded by a sigil of blue-fire that grew brighter with each word that the echoing voice emanating from the scarlet smoke seen from the crystal ball that served as Mistress Nyx head. When the final words were spoken the blue fire flared to the point of blinding as they heard Arch-Fiend's deafening inhuman scream, which faded with the fire leaving Wilbur laying naked and unconscious at the feet of the sorceress of the Obsidian Circle whose identity was no longer in any doubt after this feat.

Deciding that for once discretion was the better part of valor Jabberwock and Lady Darke each tried to flee as fast as they could. Jabberwock vanished using his warper abilities to teleport, something that he preferred not to do during combat, while Lady Darke threw up a field of psychic-darkness to try and sneak away from the Obsidian Circle warlocks.

Rolling their eyes almost as one the Erinyes got to work: With a simple gesture and the phrase, "Profugus ad ostium aperi!" Miseo opened a portal in mid-air. With a simple flick of her wrist and the cantrip, "Maximos fructus suos vagus et adducite eum ad me!" Ekdikeo sent out a twisting rope of scarlet energy that entered the portal and hauled a struggling Jabberwock back when it returned. Now back on the scene of his teammate's defeat an amused Skleeros held her left pawl towards the scrambling Jabberwock and uttered her own spell, "Tumultus profugus sub oculis meis!" causing a length of scarlet chains to pour from her hand and bind the struggling mercenary.

Meanwhile the last member of the Children of the Night standing suddenly found herself stopping in her tracking, bewildered Lady Darke found herself walking back towards the Obsidian Circle or more specifically towards Mister Domino's outstretched hand which to her befuddlement...she took. "I'm sorry my dear, however I have taken partial control over your body from the neck down." Mister Domino explained as he led her in a casual stroll over to her captured teammates, "I could go further and extend my current control and order your thoracic diaphragm to stop contracting and suffocate you, or I could expand it to your brain and order your adrenal medulla to stop telling your heart to beat. However, this is Greygus's operation not mine and he prefers to keep the body-count as low as possible; in other words it is indeed your lucky day."

"But you said we had a choice to just leave," Lady Darke all but begged as she thrashed her head in vain trying to get her body to struggle against her captor's control, "that's what we were doing- leaving."

"I am so sorry child," Mister Domino explained the terrified psychic, "that offer was to the three of you as a group; when your teammate Arch-Fiend attacked Mistress Nyx it expired, do not worry further harm will come to you three we are just going to take you to the Boston Chapter House's holding room to wait for your employer."

"Poor Darrow," Mistress Nyx uttered with a tone of pity in her voice, "he really had no idea of the hornet's nest that he kicked. The storage room that he had looted was Charcaroth's and he is about the least gentle of our agents."

"Yeah no kidding," Miseo shuddered in midair, "just because he wasn't order the kill doesn't mean that he won't use your boss like a chew rag."

"Ugh, I know," Ekdikeo retched, "I wonder how long he'll be in traction?"

"Traction," Skeeros huffed, "I wager that it'll at least warrant an extended stay in the Intensive Care Unit."

Lady Darke and Jabberwock, while cursing the indignity of their current predicament, were glad that they weren't in their boss's shoes given the hunter on his scent.

American Airlines International Arrivals - Roof
9:27 PM

While the members of the Obsidian Circle and Erinyes were busy dealing with the rest of the rank and file of the Children of the Night, another group lay in wait hidden. This trio of individuals had been observing the building that Faolan and Aletheia had just entered with baited breath, "They have been in there too long, I need to go in and help them!" A woman proclaimed as she moved to leave the spells concealing the group's presence from prying eyes.

"No Hedgewitch," a man whose voice all but bleed the years and events that he had experienced, "Darrow and Carcharoth are also nearby and Greygus will be rejoining his comrades in the Obsidian Circle any moment, we need to stay hidden as long as possible!"

"Fray is right dear," another man explained desperate to reassure Hedgewitch, "until the final player in the game has revealed himself we don't dare do the same, besides those two need what experience this will afford them. Faolan will need to understand her current limits and Aletheia needs to encounter someone who hates her, this encounter will teach them both lessons that they will need to survive their trials and tribulations this summer."

"It doesn't mean that I have to like it Jaegarsman," Hedgewitch snapped back at her husband, "and the fact that my uncle and grandfather are here makes me enjoy this matter less and less. I can't believe what they tried to do to Faolan, I just wish that you'd let me give them a piece of my mind."

"I know that what they did was despicable," Jaegarsman replied as he put his arm around his wife, "but if they didn't do what they did she would have never become the Western Maiden. Moreover, Don Astio would have never received a vessel that could contain his power, and we need him for the battles to come- that and to keep Drakaina in check, you remember how she gets when her temper gets the better of her."

"Just remember Hedgewitch, the maidens are needed in order for the wounds of The Sundering to finally heal," Fray explained, "without them millions nay billions will suffer in the future and the survival of all life on Earth currently free of the Old Ones would be in jeopardy."

Hedgewitch continued to fume as she did her best to fight her instincts to prematurely come to the aid of the Maidens of East and West when Fray's communicator began to beep, desperate for a diversion to derail the current argument the former god of both the Teutonic and Norse pantheons answered, "Yes, Fray here."

"Fray this is Dagda," the former deity of the Gaelic Pantheon called out over the communicator, "I'm calling to let you know that I'm about five minutes away."

"Dagda you were supposed to be here hours ago," Fray inquired of his comrades husband, "just what's been keeping you?"

"The Massachusetts National Guard has been diverting all traffic to Boston to surrounding cities because of the current State of Emergency," Dagda explained, "I had to leave my car in a garage over in Revere and make my way by foot, because of all the road blocks and media choppers I can't show off and take the more direct route."

"I understand," Fray responded to the inbound ex-deity, "just get here as soon as you can, I have a feeling that we're about to need all the help that we can get."

Meanwhile ignoring Fray's orders Hedgewitch prepared a passive spell, something to give the children a fighting chance at survival, she just hoped against all odds that they wouldn't need her to use it.

Logan International Airport - Terminal E Parking
9:32 PM
POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally escorted Beverly and Julie out of the damaged airport terminal, I carried Bea who was winded from the first true test of her powers limit's both physically and emotionally while Boudacia had Julie now resting in her arms and for the moment stable.

"I'll get Julie and her mother over the Triage Area so that the paramedics can have a look at her," Boudacia explained briefly before she ran off with Beverly in tow, as we watched the trio race back towards where Bea and I were hard at work earlier.

As the Cape and her charges left Jane returned to her usual perch on my shoulder as I placed Bea on the nearby curb while shucking off the firefighter gear and the mermaid returned my cloak. "All of the stragglers have been evacuated from the terminals," I explained to my current companion as I came to rest at her side, taking the brief moment as a reprieve from the day's chaos.

"The radio chatter also indicates that the fires elsewhere in the city are out, and there has not been a single zombie sighting in hours," Jane began to explain. "The was sounds of combat in a park to the north of here and whoever it was that fought there seems to have actually captured Lycanthros."

"I was wondering when the Children of the Night would finally surface," I contributed to the conversation, "at least somebody took down their second in command."

I had just finished putting my normal mask back on when Jane exclaimed, "Faolan, we are not alone, I perceive at least five active concealment spells in our vicinity, three of which are approaching this location!"

Acting on instinct I took Aletheia back into my arms and opened my ears to our surroundings, when I heard a scrap on the concrete about ten-feet behind me I transformed into my ravewolf form and jumped narrowly avoiding a blast of arcane magic that would have likely the death of all three of us had it connected. I spun around in mid-air thanks to my boots in time to see the second blast that hit us- or would have if the shield generated by Bea's armor hadn't took the brunt of the spell.

Taking a moment to see what was happening I finally caught sight of our attacker- it was The Necromancer, the leader of the Children of the Night and bane of Team Kimba's excursions to Boston was here and trying to kill us. As the Grand Hall warlock sent another dark spell our way, the three of us scattered; Aletheia took her mermaid form and used the enchantment on her armor to swim to the right, Jane took off skyward, and I dashed to the right finally activating my nutrient pump so that I wouldn't risk passing out.

With his previous spell apparently exhausted Darrow switched to another as he desperately tried to hit Aletheia with the results of his arcane sorcery, while occasionally taking shots at Jane and me. Now the events of the day were starting to become clear- Bea was the target of today's chaos the entire time; it was openly suspected around Whateley that the Necromancer had a mole on the campus who had fed him intel on Phase's Birthday party last month in Boston, evidently the suspicion was real and whoever it was had also fed him intel on Aletheia.

While he obviously had known about her and her trip to Boston today, every group had made certain to keep their itinerary to themselves to lower the possibility of any further ambushes. However, The Necromancer's mole must have leaked the fact that Altheia was a healer because he created a series of disasters that would draw her out into the open, from what I knew of mutants with Healer-traits it was in their very nature to help others who needed them. As for the why Aletheia, that was obvious Darrow was an Innsmouther- everyone in Poe knew this from Carmilla; he had probably made a bargain with the Cult of Dagon to kill in exchange for power, maybe even assistance in his next attempt on Fey's life.

The Necromancer continued his relentless barrage of spells, growing more and more desperate to slow us down with even a glancing blow- especially Bea who was the hardest to hit of the three of us. Say what you will about a fish out of water but when it came to swimming merfolk were as swift as they were agile, and with her armor's ability Aletheia could not only swim through the air like it was water she could also do it even faster. This whole time Aletheia was swimming through the air with grace and speed dodging Darrow's attacks in a manner that the warlock had difficulty predicting stopping only to take cursory shots at me which I dodged as best I could.

Unfortunately, we could not keep this up forever, although I knew from Fey that The Necromancer due to his finite pool of mana relied more on prepared spells and the weapons hidden in his armor and would eventually run out of ammo, we only had so much steam ourselves and I wasn't willing to gamble that our stamina could outlast Darrow's preparations. We needed to go on the offensive if we wanted to make it out of this alive, but given that Aletheia needed time to aim to attack with her voice, something that she couldn't easily do given that it would have left her wide open to one of Darrow's attacks, that meant that it was up to Jane and I to fight back for her.

Sensing my intent Jane harnessed her nascent abilities as a storm crow and began to attack the Necromancer with lightning and hail to push him on the defensive, but at best all it was doing was throwing off his aim and slowing down his attacks. As for my own attacks with my rifle, my shock spell just rolled off of his own armor, my magnetic spell was ineffective, and my frost shot melted almost immediately; no matter what my spellshells were too low grade to work and the few spells that I had memorized wouldn't help in this situation. I was no Fey, this meant that if I wanted to attack Darrow I would have to get in close and use my blades, something that would put me too close to dodge if he tried to employ his lethal payload of Mi-go darts.

Still my options were limited, I drew Sydan out and asked Jane via our link to do her best to keep Darrow distracted; this would be risky and quite frankly was the stupidest thing that I had done in a while. With Jane doing her hardest to split the Necromancer's focus between Aletheia and herself, I moved into position to attack him directly with my dwarven-forged sabre; this would be the first time I had ever tried to attack anyone with the very real possibility that it might kill them but this was a straight up battle for survival, Darrow wouldn't really give us the option.

In desperation, I launched into a silent diving strike hoping to at least injure Darrow enough to force him to retreat and lick his wounds; unfortunately, the Necromancer wasn't as distracted as I thought. About halfway to my target Darrow spun around on his heel and launched a spell at me that would likely kill me when it hit, I knew that even with my ability to use air at any angle as a surface this spell was too big and too close for me to dodge; desperate to do anything to keep from dying I swung Sydan and all but prayed for a miracle.

That was when to the shock of everyone- especially Darrow, Sydan not only cut through his spell- it dispersed it so that all that hit me was brute force. Granted the remaining force of the spell hurt like a landing a belly-buster off a 10-meter-tall high dive, but the lethal effects of the spell had been completely negated.

"What in the world!" The Necromancer recoiled in shock at the failure of a spell that should have been lethal, sure that the event had been a fluke he ignored Aletheia and Jane as he began unload a barrage of spells in my direction. Bolstered by Sydan's newly discovered ability I met each spell with a swing of the sabre and although I continued to feel the brute-force of the pressure behind the arcane attacks the intended effects of the spells themselves were negated by the blade.

Fortunately Darrow was so focused on me that he had completely ignored Aletheia; an action that the Necromancer soon came to regret as a blast of concussive sonic force knocked him back ten feet. Desperate to keep the wall of sound emanating from the mermaid's vocal chords from flattening him- Darrow thrust his hand towards Aletheia and threw what had to be every ounce of essence he could muster to shield himself from her harmonic onslaught.

Once again another event surprised us as my worst nightmare Carcharoth, yes the projected incarnation of the freaking Fenris Wolf charged in and severed Darrow's fore-arms with the nastiest looking battle axe that I had ever seen in my life. The monster all hovered over his victim raw malice burning in his eyes, "Now Darrow, don't tell me that you actually thought that you would get away with stealing from me."

Noticing the look of disbelief on the warlock's face that weapon had actually cut through his armor Carcharoth began to gloat, "Oh don't be so surprised Charles, I have fought armored opponents before, some with far sturdier shells. This blade always cuts through any defense no matter how tough, it was made by the fire giant Surtr with Odin himself in mind. Not only does the front blade cut through armor like a hot knife through butter, the rear blade also curses any wound it passes to resist magic, and given the malice Surtr had in his molten heart when he forged it with his own sweat and blood if the wielder pumps enough hatred into the blade it glows with the heat of Muspellheim searing the flesh."

"Don't kill him Carcharoth," another voice called out as a figure I only recognized from my lessons with Morrigan, Greygus, landed, "this is still my operation and all hostiles have been neutralized."

One by one others materialized all of whom I recognized on Morrigan's lessons on the Obsidian Circle, aside from Greygus and Carcharoth along with Carcharoth's master (and father) Mister Domino, there was also the Erinyes trio of Skleeros, Miseo and Ekdikeo as well as their own employer Mistress Nyx (the nature of all four of whom was still a mystery).

The three of us kept our guard up although they had rescued us from the Necromancer's threat, and judging by Greygus's own admission kept the rest of the Children of the Night from attacking us they were clearly here as our enemy's enemy not as friends.

"I apologize for the abrupt nature of our request children," Mistress Nyx began to explain in her disturbingly lilted tone, "however I must insist that you come with us for the moment."

"Like we would go anywhere alone voluntarily with members of the most infamous faction in the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom," I barked out with Aletheia and Jane hovering beside me intent on fighting if we had to do so.

"Fortunately child you won't be alone," I heard an all to familiar friendly voice state, as I saw Dagda Redstag standing side-by-side with Fray (a comrade of Morrigan's from the Gray Barrow) as well as two others who evoked the impression of a huntsman and a deep woods wiccan.

"Indeed, we will be with you three to keep you safe," Fray spoke up somehow pissing off Carcharoth more and more with every word, "but now that the last of the Cardinal Maidens has been revealed it is time that for you four to meet and together learn of your destinies and how they will affect the entire world."

Fagin's Pub
Berlin, New Hampshire
10:39 PM

Morrigan looked up from her stool at the bar as she saw Headmistress Elizabeth Carson enter the pub, worry clearly etched across her face, something that Morrigan knew all too well from personal experience- it was a mother's concern for her child. Silently Morrigan removed her purse from the seat to her right, the very seat that she had been saving for the woman as she motioned to the privacy crystal between the two stools.

Elizabeth sat down laid her purse between their respective stools and after touching the crystal the woman unloaded at Morrigan, "I don't know why you insisted that we still meet here tonight, there was a major attack in Boston while my daughter and dozens of my students were there and you still insist of meeting me at a damned bar like nothing is wrong."

"I needed to meet with you because it is time that you learned a few things," Morrigan began to explain sighing as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. "As for the students, I have word that they're fine. Your daughter and her fellow students were helping paramedics and emergency crews all over Boston and saved hundreds of lives in the process, they're going to be headed back to Berlin on the next train and Mister Lodgeman already arranged for a couple of buses to bring them back to campus once they arrive at the depot. As for Bea and Randi my husband and some close friends of mine are keeping them safe; they will be back sometime tomorrow the fact is that they are going to be learning about their destinies from both involved parties, both the Gray Barrow and the Obsidian Circle."

"Are you saying that my baby is with the Obsidian Circle," Elizabeth recoiled in shock and anger, "how could she be safe with those warlocks- for that matter how could Randi be safe this them, they tried to kill her. I mean Faolan is your student for crying out loud don't you care about her at all?"

"Of course I care about her!" Morrigan snapped back clearly outraged by Elizabeth's accusation, "Randi may not be my daughter but my blood flows in her veins just like your's does through Beatrice!"

Elizabeth Carson recoiled both at the force of Morrigan's anger but also at the revelation that the ancient sidhe general and Randi Bridges were somehow related, one thing was for certain this would be a very enlightening conversation in more ways than she first thought.

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3 years 6 months ago #43988 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 19 Notes

"Ketherech, zweiundzwanzigsten Soldat in der fünften Legion von Duke Berith, die in den inneren Ring des Siebten Kreis auf der Wildnis des Krieges Schlachten; unter dem Blick von Silent tausend Augen Dumah ich werfe dich aus diesem sterblichen Schiff, im Namen von Abbadon ich dich verbannen, um den Rang und Datei Ihrer cohort- Dies trage ich zurück!"
Ketherech, twenty-second soldier in the Fifth Legion of Duke Berith who battles upon the Wilderness of War in the Inner Ring of the Seventh Circle; under the gaze of Silent Thousand-eyed Dumah I cast you out of this mortal vessel, in the name of Abbadon I banish you to back to the rank and file of your cohort- This I command!

Profugus ad ostium aperi!
Open portal to the fugitive!

Maximos fructus suos vagus et adducite eum ad me!
Ensnare the fugitive and bring him to me!

Tumultus profugus sub oculis meis!
Bind the fugitive beneath my gaze!

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3 years 5 months ago - 3 years 4 months ago #44957 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 20

Durango, Colorado
7:47 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Well so far so good, I was dressed to the nines and ready to party, plus anything that I didn't need was stowed in a bus locker a couple of blocks away. I admit a college town in the middle of the Rocky Mountains wasn't my first port of call but the closest big city was further from the mountain cave than I could make it there and back in a day.

Yeah, I know- what a surprise! I mean all of the effort I went to over the week to make this excursion possible and I was still going back, total shocker and if I was anyone else I would be on the first bus to anywhere. Still the real fact of the matter was simple; right now, I had no place else safe to go- or at least no place that I knew of off the top of my head.

The sad fact was that Kelsey's little cave was the safest place for me to stay at the moment and anywhere that I already would consider was currently off limits. I mean if I tried to go home then the damned Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn would send their goons to kidnap me and toss me back in that damned hole again, not to mention that knowing that cult of money-grubbing demon worshippers they would likely make an example of someone I loved to impress upon me just what the true price of my temporary freedom.

Yeah, I know that it was a dark and morbid thought but that didn't mean that the threat was any less true, for now the best thing that I could do for my family and my friends was to stay away and keep them in the dark about just where I really was. Call it naive but the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn hated to waste time as much as they hated to waste money, and I had no doubt that their spies were screening the post-cards that I asked Kelsey to send whenever she went for supplies. If I gave them no indication that my loved ones knew anything about my current whereabouts then there was little reason that they'd go after them.

Also, if I headed to a big city other than Seattle there was no guarantee that I'd be safe either, I would be alone and sooner or later the gemstones that I'd make to support myself might wind up in the hands of someone connected to the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn and they'd send their goons to hunt me down again. Plus, even if the Zhāoshāng de Yōuhuàn didn't find me there might always be somebody else, maybe Lady Jettatura or Hexmaster or any of a hundred others, no this was no true escape for freedom this was but a taste of what I had left behind.

Besides I was sure that Sha Wujing still had boatloads more of cool stuff to teach me, I mean I had come pretty far in changing form from my regular unnervingly hawt dragon girl form to that of a normal human much like my old self, but from the stories about him I had only began to scratch the surface of his techniques. While it was said that Sha Wujing was physically the weakest of the three Hsuan-tsang's disciples and constantly being thought of as a kappa by the Japanese for some screwy reason; he was also one of the smartest and had a ton of techniques during that groups journey to retrieve the original sutras- and that was over a millennium ago. I mean he might be an arate now and was always known for his humility but I seriously doubt that he would just allow himself to stagnate.

Also, there was a good chance that if I kept learning from Sha Wujing that I might be able to meet his fellow disciples... okay I was mainly interested in meeting Sun Wukong. I mean come on there was no-way that I would pass up on the chance to meet the Victorious Fighting Buddha himself, and maybe ask him if he knew where I could score a pair of Ǒusībùyúnlǚ (cloud-hopping boots)- I mean that would make travel a breeze.

Although it was nice to think about something other than those days; I could see that I had arrived at the first stop on the way to Animas Hall, the campus perimeter of Fort Lewis College- now all I had to do was find a map to orient just where Animas Hall was and then I'd be on my way. Yep, before long I'd be moving to the beat and setting the dance floor on fire- well figuratively I mean, just because I was a pyrokinetic dragon girl didn't mean I was some flame-happy pyro-maniac. No for me fire was just a tool and maybe the occasional weapon of last-resort, plus I was here to have a good time by taking part in the fun- not ruining it for everyone else coming to the party.

As I made my way further into the campus I did my best to carry myself like a visiting prospective student checking out the college, not that I would actually consider going here- my dad would freak out and ground me until I was thirty if I said anything like that. I could almost hear him now, 'Why would you want to go to college in the middle of nowhere, I am paying for my daughter to have an education not to vacation, and what would you do with a degree from there everyone would treat it like a joke.'

Yeah- he'd flip his lid just like that I almost miss those moments, man and I thought that he was he in rare form the first time that he saw me wearing a mini-skirt, I remember the ride back from the hospital wondering just how he'd wig out after seeing the new me.

Monday October 10, 2006
Seattle, Washington
5:03 PM PST
POV: Zhen-yu Chen

It had been a day and a half since I...hatched and finally the hospital had decided that they had poked and prodded me enough to be able to conclusively tell that they had no freaking clue why I was now halfway between the old me and some type of Chinese-dragon.

Yes type, there are roughly a dozen basic varieties of dragons in the folklore and religion that go back throughout china since before the days of the first emperor and I still had no clue right now where I fit among any of them, somehow though I doubted I had the fortune of being reborn a tianlong (celestial dragon), somehow, I doubt that I possessed that kind of natural serenity. Although I probably had the grace of one before I change; something that a couple of dozen teens my own age can attest to when I'd danced circles around them on the gym floor during the eighth-grade lock-in.

While the hospital was still conducting tests of the sampled that they took from me, which wasn't easy since my new hide was so thick that trying to do things the normal way just caused their needles to break; those tests would still take a few days and given that they saw no reason to keep holding me I was finally on my way home. While my mom was with me in the back seat of the cab, something that was a bit of a necessity given that we didn't own a car, given that we didn't really have any space to park one in front of our shop- well no space that we didn't need free for customers.

This really isn't all that uncommon for districts like ours, but my family works out of our home; it's a small shop that takes up a little over half of the ground floor of our family's two-story brown stone in the Asian International District and it's been in our family since my great-grandfather Peng Chen opened up shop here a few years after arriving on this side of the Pacific. It's also always been the same type of business too, my family have always been tailors; we have always been the place that locals come to for repair and alterations.

Sometimes we even get orders for custom suits to be made- although those come less and less all the time, I know that mom tried her best to hide it but business was tight. On top of that father's constant refusal to take me under his wing and let me help out meant that unless he took on an apprentice the family business would end with his generation, and it's not like I didn't know how to sew most of my party outfits are homemade- although that is probably something of the past too.

I stared at my new clawed hands, although there was something of a wicked and potentially dangerous grace to them, I knew that they would likely be too unwieldy to handle the intricate precision that was needed to guide a needle through fabric in order to make seems as tight and sturdy as they truly needed to be. Well at least I wouldn't have to give up on my sculpting quite yet, while it likely would take some practice, I knew that with some work that I'd be about to work my art on the potter's wheel in the school art room once again. Although dad was reluctant to acknowledge the skill that I used to have with a needle and thread, at least I knew that he never failed to acknowledge my skill at molding clay.

The lurching of the taxi told me that we had finally arrived, sure enough right outside I could see the sign for Chen's Tailor Shop which was more importantly for me the Chen Family Residence. Still I wondered just how father would respond to the new me, I hadn't seen him since I was admitted to the hospital with the rash in the first place. I know that it might seem callous that he hadn't visited his daughter in all that time that for all anyone knew had been dying, but father was a workaholic; whenever he was really worried about anything he threw himself full tilt into his work to cope. Plus, I imagine that my hospital bills weren't bound to be cheap and given that our insurance wasn't the best I hope that I didn't but us too far into the red for the year.

I nervously exited the cab that idled in front of our home as mom followed paying the cabbie as she did so, yet another expense to add to on to my becoming a creature of legend. As I approached my home I could see that not a soul was in front to welcome me home, although I did ask mom not to tell my friends just what happened to me; I guess that it was a good thing that I expressly forbid anyone to see inside the quarantine room at the hospital. I mean I didn't want to put anyone outside the family on a rollercoaster of finding out that I didn't die, the old me just swelled into a brick-red egg, that the new me hatched out of was a bit of a mind boggler.

Then again, I was now a creature out of the legends of my ancestral homeland, and remembering some of the stories of those ancient legends that didn't sound so far-fetched. I mean Sun Wukong was born from of a meteorite and survived being pinned in place by a mountain for a few centuries, Bai Suzhen was a snake who turned into a woman after falling in love with a boy, Kui was a one-legged demon who was said to have invented dancing, and those were just a few examples off the top of my head.

As I walked inside I saw that my earlier guess was right on the money, dad was working on a double-breasted suit that was suspended on a dress dummy, and really letting out the seams in the trousers from what I saw. 'Something tells me that the guy who owned these things is in desperate need of a gym routine.' I mean I doubt dad could let out those seems anymore without adding more fabric, plus unless I'm mistaken there was the pattern for a gusset nearby on the table.

"Finally, home at last my little trembling Zhèn," my father spoke up the moment I entered the room still clearly focused on his work, "I thought that the hospital might become your new home given how much effort they invested in you. You couldn't even bother to call us yourself; you had to have your nurse call us for your mother to come pick you up."

"I couldn't help it," I shot back as my dad was in pile on the guilt mode (personally my third least favorite), "I broke the phone every time I tried to use it. I guess I don't know my own strength anymore."

"It figures, first you break an antique urn that predates porcelain then you become something that breaks something that people use every day." Dad grumbled as he continued to work, "Then once you became too much of a handful for them they send you home so you can break more things."

"From the looks of it I'm not the only one who breaks things," I commented as I looked over the suit, "how many seams did this guy tear anyway."

"Too many," dad chuckled, I knew it he was only giving me a hard to get me to go on the defensive and get out of my funk, he knows me so well, "this suit belongs to Raymond Marchenti."

"The food critic for The Seattle Times!" I stated in surprise, "Man I guess that he loves the former more than giving the later."

"You have no idea," I could almost see my old man rolling his eyes at that comment; "I wouldn't take it the first time because I insisted he have it dry cleaned first."

"Only makes sense," I nodded in agreement, "I mean getting a dirty suit altered is trouble waiting to happen, too much of a chance something that could go away the next time it's cleaned would wind up in the stitching."

"It's so glad to see that you do listen to me after all," dad remarked as he kept working.

"Only time I don't is when you comment on my choice in music," I replied before adding, "I'm just surprised that you haven't stopped to comment on the new me."

"I doubt that you'll be going out tonight so I will have a better look at you later," dad replied as he continued working, "as you children would say, 'I'm in the zone.'"

"I'm not a kid dad I'm fifteen," I shot back.

"You still are to your mother and I," dad retorted as he continued his labor on the suit, "no matter how old you get you will still be our child."

End Flashback

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
8:09 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Yeah, father was a bit of an odd person on the surface he was always distant stern and some would say cold (even to his own daughter), but that was just the surface father cared in his own way he just rarely expressed it on the surface. According to mom I was a lot like dad in his youth, vibrant and full of energy, but as he grew up and was expected to run the family business he had to wear a mask to gain respect- he had to present himself as a proper businessman of our community.

I just wished that he would have taken that mask off around mom and I so that I could get to know the real him, but maybe deep down he was afraid that once he let his hair down he would never want to go back. The responsibilities of adulthood, I wish that I could say that I never wanted to take them up but unfortunately my transformation made that a non-possibility, according to Kelsey I was something called the Northern Maiden and I had a destiny that would be revealed in greater detail once the final Maiden emerged.

I already knew a little about the Maidens of East and West thanks to some insight from Kelsey; apparently the Western Maiden was a fairy who transformed sometime while I was imprisoned and the Eastern Maiden was a mermaid who was born from a pearl just a few months ago. From what she told me both were at a school in New England training, and I was supposed to go there sometime this summer after training with the freaking Handmaiden of the Tao.

How scary was that not only were demon's real but so was the left-hand of destiny, the sharp blade of the Tao itself; it figures of all the things in the world that had to be real it had to be an actually bogyman.

I quickly shook myself, 'Stop it Zhen-yu,' I told myself trying to shake myself out of my melancholy, 'enough with the fear of what's to come tonight is the time to party. Forget magic and oriental gods and demons, you are here to snap out of that funk and find your groove.'

I took a look ahead down the path, sure enough I was almost to Animas Hall, already I could see college students several years past my actual age making their way into the hall. Okay so they might be way older than me but dammit this was my best chance to stop just existing and feel alive again, I needed to feel the beat, the music, the pulse and the energy- enough with demons from the Nine-hundred and ninety-nine hells the only demon I was concerned with was the one who was about to light up the dance floor inside that place...me.

The Bloody Bastard
Animas City Mountain
8:03 PM

Within the poorly maintained mortified former Syndicate drop-ship rechristened (by a thrown bottle of Budweiser) known as The Bloody Bastard the mercenary team known by the technically incorrect moniker as the Masterson Brothers were readying themselves for the pending hunt.

"Dammit Lloyd," Rod griped at the brains of their team, "how much longer till that tracker's up and working?"

"It's working now I'm just fine-tuning it so that it'll narrow everything down to a few feet and not a few miles, and this'll go a lot faster if you quit breathing down my neck and let me work," Lloyd snapped back at the elder (and defacto leader) of the three. "Soldering circuit boards from scratch with what we have ain't easy, and the more you keep pestering me the more likely that I'll have to start from scratch. Need I remind you that we need this damned thing working to find our target in the first place, if we don't have the tracker than we can kiss the five-mill good-bye and take the costs of this job out of our own money?"

"Like hell I'm going to pay for this out of my booze money," Bufford shouted at the smallest of the trio, "who cares about some stupid gizmo, let's just head to town and start blasting till that lizard bitch shows up and tries to stop us!"

Rod respond to Bufford's outburst by giving him a sock to the jaw and knocking the man to the floor of their ship, "First of all Bufford thinking ain't your strong suit, second, I'm in charge 'round here, third we're looking for someone who's laying low not a damned cape she likely wouldn't pop up to fight us she'd high-tail it out of town, and finally- IF WE DID DO THAT THE ONLY THING THAT WE'D ATTRACT WOULD BE HEAVEN'S THUNDER GUNNIN' FOR OUR ASSES!"

"So, what you're saying is that you've gone yellow-belly on us," Bufford began to say as he pulled himself off the floor while massaging his jaw, "is the big-bad-bro Rod who had the stones to turn his back on the Sabertooths and screw over The Syndicate, is too much of a wimp to risk pissing off a bunch of spandex-jockies. Hell, we fight those all the damned time, sure we take our lumps but so do they and we still manage to get what we're after most of the time!"

"Four in ten ain't most times," Lloyd observed as he kept working on the tracker, "and Rod's right Heaven's Thunder ain't a joke like the others anymore. The Knights of Presence found that one out the hard way last winter- and they had had that people-eating freak Manbot on their side; still no word that any of them are still around, fact word is their ash in the wind."

"So, since they clobbered some prancy Eurotrash Ren-Fair rejects and their retarded pet freak so hard they're too scared to pop back up you two are too chicken to put your necks out there for some easy money," Bufford began winding himself up before heading for the door, "whatever you wimps, I'm hitting the town for some liquid courage and if I run into that lizard bitch first I'm not sharing the reward when I take her down!"

After Bufford stormed out of the room Lloyd turned to Rod and stated, "I told you brother that it was a mistake to give the other piece of armor that you boosted to our lame-brain of a cousin."

"Because you egg-head we needed the extra-muscle," Rod shot back, "now keep working on that tracker and radio when you get it working. I'm going to do my best to make sure Bufford doesn't blow this job for us like he did that one in Miami."

"Although the look on his face when he found out that he'd just felt up a cape wearing her civvies was priceless;" Lloyd tried his best to keep his amusement over that fiasco from leaking out, "almost as much as her tossing him through the wall and across the street, I just wish that you hadn't trashed the video I took of that happening."

"Lloyd, you know that if I let you keep that and Bufford saw it he'd put you in traction." Rod replied as he left the room on his way to catch up with Bufford, leaving Lloyd to continue his work.

In Front of Animas Hall - Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
8:16 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Although I really doubted that this was an officially university sanctioned event; the party that Kelly Winden-something lady told me about back in town was hardly secret. Then again Spring Finals should be in a few weeks, and from what I remember hearing around school back home from classmates with siblings or cousins in college the last couple of weeks before finals were all work and no play- because the closer things got to finals the more everyone decided to buckle down and hit the books.

Yeah, this was probably the last big party for the students of Fort Lewis College until finals were over, lucky me this was probably going to be the biggest on campus bash for a while and I was going to be right in the thick of it. That is if I could make it past the bouncers, yeah bouncers two big guys were right in front of the main entrance and they were checking for one thing and one thing only- student IDs of which I had nada.

Man, this blows the one thing that I wasn't prepared for was that the students running the party insisting that only college students were getting in- they probably didn't want to risk any of the local high school students getting in and accidentally getting drunk on spiked punch or worse and raising a stink between the local sheriff and the college officials. That settled it I was going to have to find some way to crash this party and avoid getting kicked out while having fun, I mean it blows but I was going to have to balance having fun and blowing off steam with avoiding getting caught and either getting thrown out or escorted down to the campus security office and having my cover blown.

Yeah there was no doubt in my mind, this was going to be like walking on the edge of a damned razor, and while some may live for that kind of high- I wasn't one of them. I mean if it meant clueing that cult of demon-worshipping sadists into just where I'd run off to it was a colossal risk, but damn-it I needed this- I needed a chance to feel normal again- to feel like the girl that I used to be back home in Seattle. While it was true that I was alone in this town and I really wouldn't know anyone at this party, I needed to feel this kind of energy- this kind of atmosphere again- it was part of who I was.

Still how was I going to get inside without risking revealing that I had powers, ugh this was frustrating- I continued to watch the students trickle in one after another as my mind scrambled to figure out a solution.

"Hey Guan- over here!"

I was pulled from my frantic act of figuring out how to break in when a familiar voice called out the fake name that I made up for this outing, to my surprise I saw Kelly roughly twelve feet away and trying to get my attention. Talk about a surprise the lady who I met once in town recognized me, not to be rude I walked over to say hi.

"Hey Kelly," I said as I walked up to the lady, "I didn't expect to run into you so soon. As you can see I found the place that you were talking about, but as you can see-"

"Yeah, I know, students only," Kelly remarked as she rolled her eyes, "in their defense though last time a couple of high school kids were caught coming here to buy blotters from one of the campus dealers. Yeah, I know that the college folks are supposed to frown on that type of stuff but as long as we don't cause any trouble and keep our grades they are pretty lax about enforcing that sort thing. So, we have to enforce it so admin and the local fuzz don't have to intervene- fortunately I know a way around your...problem."

To my surprise Kelly grabbed my left arm and coaxed me towards the line, which gave me a clear view of a weird piece of body jewelry of hers. Kelly had some sort of rod on the back of her right-ear, it was kind of odd considering that it was only one ear but maybe it was some kind of statement or fad from wherever she was originally from before she got here.

"Trust me I know what I'm doing," Kelly stated as she dragged me to the line I was wondering just what the lady had up her sleeve, did she have some major connections or something- heck for all I knew she was one of the major movers and shakers here on campus. Whatever the case I decided to play it cool and stay quiet, as it stood I had nothing to lose by going along with whatever her plan was but a little time.

Before long the two of us were together at the front of the line face to face with someone who screamed football team defensive tackle, granted I could take him easy but if I did that it would cause a panic and attract attention. I decided to try and keep playing it cool- not that it was easy given my internal temperature causes a thermometer to pop like something out of Looney Toons.

It was nerve-wracking person by person the line grew shorter as Kelly and I moved closer and closer to the two bouncers at the head of the line, as we got closer and closer to the door I observed the bouncers putting yellow or green slap bracelets on the wrists of everyone they let through on their way inside the building. Sure enough our time at the head of the line finally came- it was now or never, time to see just what Kelly was up to and if she would really be able to get me inside to the party. Ugh! Suddenly I felt dirty, I mean I didn't want to use her for this but she was the one who insisted on helping me.

"Student ID please," one of the pair of students up front next to a laptop with a credit card scanner attached spoke up.

"Here you go," Kelly presented her student ID and the man swiped it through the reader. After a moment or two a picture of Kelly pulled up on the screen, ohh that's right, her name is Windkloppel.

"Alright, your clear to go inside," the man explained before asking me. "Student ID please?"

Great, it figures that Kelly was all talk, just what had she planned to do to get me inside. Come to think of it, just why did I expect a complete stranger that I had just met a few hours ago to go out of her way to help me, I was a fool to go along with this anyway.

I began to make my way out of the line to go and figure out my own way inside when Kelly spoke up, "It's okay Reg," she explained as she got the man's attention, "she's with me."

"Really Kelly?" the student security guard she dubbed 'Reg' asked the student that he already let inside as the other one had gotten out a green slap bracelet, "you're vouching for her?"

"Yeah, I met her in town when I was looking to revamp my party dress," Kelly began to explain, "she says she's a senior from Silverton and thinking about coming here in the fall."

"Well if you want to make her your plus-one for tonight fine by me," Reg replied back as he pulled out a pocket notepad. After jotting something down Reg turned and presented me with the pad and a pen, "please print and sign your name under Kelly's and remember no funny business- your behavior reflects on her tonight."

I was shocked, Kelly not only pulled through as she said she would but she actually went to bat for me- me someone that not only just met her but had been lying to her the entire time. "Sure," I replied to Reg as I took the pad and wrote down not only my fake name of Guan Shu-ting but also made certain to sign in Hanyu Pinyin (關蜀婷), since I know there was no way that I could sign it smoothly in traditional western cursive on the first try, fortunately my parents insisting I learn how to read and write traditional Chinese calligraphy paid off in times like this.

"Wait," Reg responded somewhat confused, "just what is this?"

"That's how I sign my name," I replied giving the man a withering glare, "or are you saying that there is something wrong with a Chinese-American girl signing her name in her ancestral language as she was taught by her parents?" I stated only halfway lying given that my parents did teach me how to write my real name granted I wrote it (陳振宇) and also signed in cursive like normal when I needed to do so.

Obviously, my ploy was working began the crowd was grumbling both because the argument was holding up the line and at Reg's accidental venture into appearing to be a racist- well there's another blow to the karma, maybe I'll bring him a drink from inside to balance it out- for all I knew he had to stay here all night.

"Fine, that's enough!" Reg relented throwing up his hands in defeat, "Willie- she's number fourteen in the book, you know what to do."

"Got it Reg," the other bouncer dubbed Willie replied as he produced a red slap bracelet and a fine-tip black marker from the box with the other slap bracelet.

I presented my hand for the bracelet and right after Willie slapped the red bracelet on he wrote 14 on it and then did the same thing to Kelly's.

"Alright, this red bracelet means that everyone inside should know that you're off-limits to any funny-business and that the bouncer by the refreshment table will stop you from drinking anything from the table but soft-drinks or bottled water." Willie laid down the law while Reg attended to the next student in line. "Is that understood?"

"Yeah, I hear ya'," I replied somewhat annoyed by the life-guard routine that he was giving me, "I'm just here to party and unwind not to get blitzed, call me weird but I kind of want to remember tonight."

"Yeah, I know I sound like a buzz kill but I have to read you the rules anyway," Willie remarked as I followed Kelly inside the building.

"See- I told you that I'd get you in," Kelly stated with a smile, "I bet you thought that I was going to leave you high and dry."

"Well the thought did cross my mind," I responded as we made our way inside, "but I'm glad that I was wrong there."

"Okay just don't try any funny stuff," Kelly explained as she held up her own bracelet, "this means that I'm responsible for you tonight, and if I screw up I'm bared from any on-campus fun for the rest of the semester- capiche.

"Got it," I replied as we continued towards the festivities.

After a few moments, we came to the foyer which had a decent number of students dancing to remixes of what was bound to be the hits of the year, although it was yet another thing that I was behind the curve on I decided to set that bit of unimportance on the back burner- it was time to boogie.

In Front of Animas Hall - Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
8:42 PM

As Zhen-yu and Kelly were making their way to the student organized party inside Animas Hall, another individual with plans to crash the party going on inside was planning her own entrance. Ingrid Olson, formerly known as the tweenage villain sidekick Permafrost to her father Soren Olson (prior to his forced retirement) radioed her father over the com-link that was built into her earrings, "Toby you need to hack this college's mainframe and quick if you want me to get inside for this harebrained scheme of yours, this fake student ID you whipped up might pass visual inspection but their scanning the card of everyone who wants to come inside."

"I'm on it big sis," Tobias Olson the latest in a long line to hold claim to the codename of Blizzard Wizard replied to his older sister as he got to work. Granted that when it came to hacking his skills were far from master-level especially in a world with Exemplar, Gadgeteer and Devisor trait mutants running around wearing every shade of hat under the sun (or not given the reputation of most hackers), however he was more than confident that he had what it took to infiltrate the system of a minor small-town college and enter a fake student ID.

Fortunately, Tobias already had the template that he used to create the fake ID in the first place, including the code that he entered onto the magnetic strip on the card just in case his sister needed it- better safe than sorry when there was so much riding on this mission.

From their room at the Adobe Inn, which thankfully was both close to the college and didn't strain their budget as long as they didn't mind the roaches in the bathroom, Tobias got to work infiltrating the student information database of Fort Lewis College. His task should have been no problem infiltrating the student information server and plant his sister's information in the system, however the hiccup in the plan to arise here wasn't his own mediocre hacking abilities, but instead the border-line obsolete servers of the college coupled with the motel's spotty internet connection- what the hell was this 56K dial-up.

"Are you certain that this dragon-lady is here, I mean why would a creature of legend come to a party out in the middle of nowhere?" Ingrid asked as she took her spot in line.

"The tracker that they posted the instructions for points her to be in this town, plus I thought that the story that the Merchants of Suffering spun about her being a creature of myth that they captured sounded totally bogus. Toby explained has he worked on the hack, "So I did a little digging and apparently there was a Chinese-American girl up in Seattle who manifested into an anthropomorphic Chinese dragon, the picture of her matched the description the Merchants of Suffering posted. I just put two and two together and solved that they kidnapped her and were using her for something."

"So are you sure about your plan anyway," Ingrid asked her brother of the coms, "you said that you didn't plan on doing business with the Merchants, but are you certain that she's any better I mean know that the word's out that her organization has really been expanding her operations lately."

"I'm certain, Erzebet Scratch is our best bet," Toby explained as he continued to work, "she hates the Merchants of Suffering with a passion and wouldn't hesitate at a chance to piss them off. Plus, this dragon girl is a hell of a lot better off with her given that almost no one is stupid enough to attack her except the global heavy-hitters and they probably aren't interested in this matter anyway."

"Yeah, but are you sure that you want to go down this path," Ingrid asked out of concern, "our family might have been forced to turn our backs on tradition but is that so bad- maybe it's just past time that we do this."

"I have to at least give this a shot Ingrid," Toby explained as he put the finishing touches on the fake profile of Ingrid in the Fort Lewis College's student database, "so for the next several minutes you are Tipper Langdstein in the general studies program, just tell me when you are inside so that I can delete the profile and cover our tracks."

"At least you picked something that I could fake," Ingrid muttered under her breath as she came within three spots of the bouncers, thankfully her updated costume didn't look like it would be out of place on the dance floor. Yeah all that she had to do was slip on her mask and she'd be ready to go, still there was the matter of finding this dragon girl in the club and something told her that she would not be wearing scales still maybe she would get lucky and there wouldn't be too many students of Asian descent inside.

Eventually it was her turn at the head of the line, "Student ID please?" Reg ordered Ingrid who handed over the phony ID that Toby whipped up for her, as the bouncer swiped her card it was time for the moment of truth.

"Okay, you're good to go," Reg replied as he handed the fake ID back to Ingrid who breathed an internal sigh of relief as she made her way inside.

"Hold it!" The other bouncer called out making Ingrid's heart skip a beat and contemplate if she needed to use the cryo-tech in her costume already. Her hand inches away from the trigger in her glove Ingrid turned to face the other bouncer- ready for anything.

"You forgot your band," Willie said as he slapped a yellow band onto her wrist, "you didn't think that we'd let you sneak off to the hard bar if you were underage, did you?"

"Dammit," Ingrid began to fake her frustration over being caught, "I thought that I'd at least have something tonight, that term paper's brutal."

"Ah Mister Funnichello's composition course I take it," Willie observed, "yeah those are brutal but trust me after the bruisers that he throws at you the papers that you'll get from the professors in the focus courses will be a breeze!"

"If you say so," I huffed and sagged my shoulders to really sell my disappointment, and muttered, "up tight- know-it-all NARCO," as I made my way inside.

Once past the doors I squirreled myself away in one of the darker corners of the room before reactivating the coms, "Alright I'm in and I'll start looking for our mark."

"Understood I'll be headed over with the rent-a-van after I cover our digital tracks," Toby explained as he began to delete the fake profile of Tipper Langdstein from the database and overwrite that sector with junk data, "Just remember call me if you need back-up or a distraction."

"I will baby bro," Ingrid replied before adjusting her dress as she headed out onto the floor, both to search for their target as well as to have a little fun after all she was an actual college student just not of this institution and she had her own finals to study for soon.

The Bloody Bastard
Animas City Mountain
8:47 PM

Within the cramped closet of the stolen Syndicate airship Lloyd soldered the last pieces into place to the modified tracker, taking a moment to wipe the sweat and grime off him with a nearby towel, the tech man of the Masterson Brothers took a few moments to kick-back and polish off a bottle of Gator-aide.

Taking a moment to reassemble the tracker's casing, Lloyd Masterson decided that now was time for the moment of truth. Crossing his fingers (and his eyes for good measure) Lloyd flipped the switch and with a couple of sparks the tracker turned back on...it worked he'd won the battle now to move on to the next stage of the operation.

Taking note of the screen on the tracker, Lloyd took the tracker down to the nav room and after finding the proper cord plugged the tracker into the airship then overlaid with a local map from a travel guide (which he got from a torrent), and he and not only was a location pointed out it was specific enough that he doubted that they'd have much trouble rooting out the target.

With an air of smug satisfaction Lloyd Masterson hit the coms to radio Rod and Bufford with the news, "Hey Rod, good news the modified tracker is working like a charm. According to it and our maps the lizard lady should be at Animas Hall over at the College by the edge of town. Also judging by the lack of radio chatter on the police bands out that way we should be the first out there."

"Good you couldn't have called sooner," Rod replied over the com channel, "Bufford's pissed that I've been restricting his drink orders to piss-water with extra water. So, he's been giving some local bikers the stink-eye, I better grab him before he starts a bar-brawl."

"Good, I'll take the ship over to Chapman Hill," Lloyd laid out the plan, "I'll have the armor prepped and ready for you two, all you'll need to do is stow your hogs and suit up."

"Alright, but remember," Rod's voice turned grave, "don't get used to giving orders, I'm the one in charge here!"

"Got it bro," Lloyd replied as he cut the connected and went to the pilot-chair, "the sooner they got done and paid the sooner he could get back to his side projects at the dirt farm.

Animas Hall - Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
9:41 PM
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Finally, for the first time in a long time I was back in my element, out on the dance floor I let the beat take over almost everything else fell away, there was just me and the music. I could feel the pulse pounding beat of the bass the heavy force of the percussion and I loved it, nothing else mattered at the moment, not the fact that I was hiding in a form that was a few years older than I was not to mention far less scaly. Prophecy's and destiny could wait as my legs moved to the sound of the guitars within the melody. Even the cult who sought me out to chain me didn't matter the only hands that controlled me at the moment were those of the DJ who was working the controls and channels of the turn tables.

As the latest in a long line of songs that I was unfamiliar with, given that they'd probably released before Kelsey released me came to an end my euphoria was far from over. Still I decided to take a short break as the DJ was between sets as I maneuvered off the dance floor to the refreshment tables, once again the goon that they had guarding the beer took notice of my red slap band; a sign marking not only the fact that I was below the legal drinking age but also that I was below the age for certain other things too.

Not that any of that mattered to me tonight, I wasn't here to get wasted or here to get stoned; come to think of it could I really get either of those things since I was half dragon- my naturally higher body heat would probably power through booze a lot faster than a normal person's liver. Oh well, that was a question for another day when I was older, no today I was here to party and feel alive. I grabbed a bottle of water from a nearby cooler and tossed a buck in the jar after taking notice of the sign.

Taking a moment to drink up and appear to catch my breath, not that I really need to, I spotted Kelly across the room talking to someone who was heavy-set and clearly dressing to impress. Oh well, she was legal; let a girl make her own choices it's not like I was anyone to judge given the fact that I tended to moon over the baby-faces of the bands back home, a fact that my friends like to rib me about.

I actually was debating sitting the next set out to chat with the students on the sidelines; I mean it felt good to feel normal again- to feel like me again. Soon the DJ plopped down the next slab of vinyl and got to work and I began to feel the music take me away, that beat to take me to Nirvana, how's that for meditation Master Fong Wei-quo? I began to make my way out to the dance floor instinct guiding me through the throngs who were dancing together, while I was moving to the music and not seeking another to share my euphoria.

That was when the wall exploded, while some ran screaming others milled about in the smoke and dust disoriented. I could feel people running into the smoke seeking to pull whoever they could to safety, everything was happening so fast but given that I was still on my feet I decided to flee- something told me that shit was really about to hit the fan.

As I was making my way out someone grabbed my ankle, I paused only to hear someone croak out, "help me- please."

Against my better judgement I stooped down to pick the boy up and help move him to safety, no sooner did I have him on my shoulder to make my way away from the dance floor than someone barked over a bullhorn from the direction of the explosion that blew in the wall.

"All right listen up," a man who sounded like he thought of himself as large and in charge barked, "we're the Masterson Brothers and we're here for one reason and one reason only. Hiding among you frat brats is someone who belongs to some folks in San Fran; they're paying a lot of green to have her back. So I'll make this simple for you folks, you have five minutes to find her and turn her over to us or we'll come looking, and it won't be pleasant."

As the smoke and debris began to settle everyone saw that these were three men in power armor who looked as mean as they did ugly, all three were also packing some nasty looking artillery- meaning that when things got unpleasant it would likely result in a body count. Dammit why did this have to happen, I only wanted to have some fun like a normal teenager- why did I have to keep winding up in situations like this?

While everyone who were considering their offer looked around in confusion for just who they could throw at these brutes' feet in a desperate attempt to appease them, the leader of these power-suit wearing thugs barked out, "Times up, alright boys, time to find out who's can take the small guns and who deserves the big guns!"

The brutes began to make their way into the building and towards the cowering co-eds like panther's stalking their prey, to my dread I could see Kelly, who had sneaked around the room's perimeter and was right behind the thugs- dammit she was going to get herself killed. I was relieved and confused when my prediction proved false because surprise number two for the evening made itself known, Kelly pulled that weird rod earring out and suddenly it expanded into a full-sized staff that she used to smack one of bullhorn's sidekicks through his helmet and to the ground.

That was when the two standing thugs turned to point their weapons and fire at Kelly who miraculously dodged and weaved past every shot, before back-flipping and in the process knocking the helmet off bullhorn's other side-kick. As she landed with a pose that's when I saw it, Kelly had a long tail covered with thick fur emerging from her back-side, smiling with oddly over-pronounced canines Kelly commented, "Well boy's you came all this way, do you still want to party?"

Last Edit: 3 years 4 months ago by Insane Hiker.

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3 years 5 months ago #45795 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 21

Las Vegas, Nevada?
7:14 PM PDT
POV: Paul Ledoux?

I finally began to come to when I felt something soft, wet and a little on the cold side brush against my right arm, wait a minute what the heck was going on the last thing that I remembered we'd been ambushed by a couple of freaks after leaving the arena. Walt discovered that his bag had been switched for some bag with a couple of power bands in it and we were figuring out how to use them to protect ourselves, that's when my skin broke to pieces after the big one slugged me.

Then this thin guy showed up and sucked Walt into a shadow before telling his friend to 'Take care of us' that's when I panicked and began throwing blasts of wind at him. A brief moment of distraction let the bruiser grab me but before he could eat me (yeah that's what he said he was going to do), a guy dressed like an Egyptian dog knocked him out cold and made the lot of us disappear in a sand storm.

When I opened my eyes, it took them a minute to refocus but when they finally did I was glad that they hadn't taken a second longer. That guy who had showed up after that bruiser said he was going to eat me what was his name- oh yeah, Dirge was approaching me holding a bronze weapon that looked more like a skewer than a knife, just a sharp pointy painful looking tip- no blade. Oh crap, he was going to stick me like you do a roast before you shove the garlic cloves in- yeah, I cook, it was a matter of survival since my mother rarely ever bothered.

I tried desperately to move away only to find out that my body was strapped to the table and my wrists were bound, still restrained or not I wasn't going to go down without a fight. I thrashed about as best as I could hope to loosen the bonds enough to escape but it was useless.

"Hold still child," Dirge said as he grabbed my right arm with a grip like steel, "this will be over before you know it."

"Like hell I'm going to let you kill me!" I shouted back- hold on is that my voice- I sound like a girl.

"I am not trying to kill you child," Dirge replied in a firm tone, "I am trying to take a blood sample to use in our Genealogical Analyzer, and this is a drinking needle akin to your modern ancient syringes albeit designed for this specific purpose. Now hold still, I just need to prick a vein."

Still wary I did as he told- not that I had too much of a choice, but true to his word Dirge pricked my arm and held the drinking needle there for a second or two, when he pulled it away a strip of thin cloth that smelled like medicine coiled around my arm and stopped the bleeding almost instantly. Dirge walked with the drinking needle over to a nearby ornate box with a symbol on the front, sort of like a blunted oval standing on a surface, and inserted the drinking needle into the top.

After a few moments went by a symbol appeared at the top of the oval, sort of like a circle within a circle. "Ah I see, you are of our principality." Dirge said as the restraints came undone.

"Wait a minute why did you need to find that out before you undid the straps?" I asked as I massaged my now liberated arms- were my hands really that small? Moreover, what's up with my voice? "For that matter, just where am I?"

"You and your friends are at an exclusive area of Scarlet Sands Resort and in the company of family child. Likely distant family but family nonetheless" Dirge began to explain, "As for why I did not turn you lose earlier, well I had to make certain that you were not of a rival principality."

"Principality- what do you mean principality? Just what is this all about?" I demanded desperate for answers.

"A Principality of the Ancient Southern Court, a Principality within the of the land of Daemons and Djinn," Dirge began to elaborate.

"Hold the phone," I shouted somewhat perturbed as I could feel wind began to move around my feet, "I am not a demon!"

"I said daemon child not demon, daemon is the inclusive term for denizens of the Southern Court," Dirge explained as his helmet retracted showing his head to be like an all-black cross between a greyhound and a Doberman- much like his helmet. "From what I learned from before you awoke- you are a half-blooded djinni, who is descended from the Principality of Aten, the Blazing Disc, the same land as the rest of us here; the Genealogical Analyzer has already revealed that much from your blood sample. All that remains now is for it to reveal the house of your birth and your parentage, although your friend has been most helpful in that already."

"My friends," I parroted as I overcame the shock of finding out that I wasn't entirely human- hold on...friend Walt may have been taken but there were still four of us, "wait where are they- are they alright- you haven't done anything to them have you?"

"Relax child," Dirge said urging me to calm down, "your friend Daniel is in another room enjoying our hospitality as a welcomed guest, as for your friends Mathew and Stephen they are still unconscious although they are expected to make a full recovery thanks to our tending to their wounds. As for your assailant- he is enjoying hospitality of a far... different nature."

"I don't know how I should feel about that- especially since he said he was about to eat me." I mused for a moment before asking, "He wouldn't have really eaten me, would he?"

"Yes, he would have, his kind do not have the most discriminating palates." Dirge responded as he began to dismiss the rest of his instruments while letting the Gene Analyzer do its thing. "Now if you would follow me I am certain that you would like to clean all the grime off yourself as soon as possible, I have told the ladies in the spa to take good care of you."

Secret Detention Room - Scarlet Sands Resort
7:30 PM

"You wankers had best let me go," Shakedown shouted as he banged against the walls trying his best to make a dent that he could work over to secure his release, "you have no idea who you're messing with!"

"Oh I assure you Shakedown I know exactly who and what I am messing with, you however are clearly ignorant to the gravity of your current situation." A heavy voice sounded over the speakers hidden in his cell, "Now tell me what I wish to know and I might consider returning you to your mistress alive and intact."

"Shove it where the sun don't shine you greasy, little-spotty bottomed, toffee-nosed git!" Shakedown cried out in defiance, as he shot his captor the bird- with both hands.

"Very well I was trying to be civil about this, however you are obviously choosing to be obstinate, just remember you brought this on yourself." The voice then called out to another in the room, "Brainstain, do me a favor and entertain our guest until he's willing to be more cooperative."

"Can I use the prop room?" Another voice likely this Brainstain inquired.

"Against my better judgment yes," The heavy voice resigned, "Just make sure that you turn off the cameras, I don't want any of the security guards to get hysterical blindness- or try to claw their eyes out like they did in the old days."

"Hey would I come up with something that would make folks look at me like that? Brainstain inquired.

"Yes and for that matter you are to replace any apparel that you wear," the heavy voice chided him, "I doubt that anyone else will ever want to put on anything that you ever wore anyhow."

Several minutes passed after the banter ceased as the door to the room opened, although a wall of iron bars still lay between Shakedown and an escape attempt. Still Shakedown was sure the moment that this Brainstain came entered the cage to begin his torture he would easily be able to overpower him and escape. However soon after Shakedown's interrogator entered the room the brute's screaming began to echo down the hallway.


SVIP Spa - Scarlet Sands Resort
7:49 PM
POV: Paul Ledoux?

"AHHHHHHH!" I all but melted into the chair as a man with a head like a monkey (sort of reminded me of Marcel from Friends) began to work over the muscles on my back. Granted I don't know too much about djinn spell-casting yet but this guy definitely has magic fingers.

Dirge wasn't kidding when he said that this place was a luxury spa. I had already been cleaned up by a pair of twins with flamingo heads using pails of warm water that smelled and felt like it had something in it and natural sponges and now I was getting a rub down from a male masseuse with a monkey head.

Granted part of me hated myself for living it up while Walt was in no telling how much danger but a naughty little part of me was enjoying the attention. l I admit though that it is weird I lived all my life as a guy, but suddenly everything just felt so- right. Well aside from my best friend being in mortal danger- gaah, why does life have to be so confusing?

Speaking of confusing ever since I had woken up this morning everything just had seemed to be getting clearer and clearer in my head, almost as if I had been living my life half asleep. I wonder if this had something to do with that shell that had been around my body cracking.

"Alright," the masseuse commented as he stepped back to let me get off the table, "Please wait a moment and one of the ladies should be around with a guest robe in your size."

"I wonder just what my size is." I pondered for a moment as I looked down at my hands. For that matter what about the rest of me, I mean I was a girl now and from what I could see from my body I was probably Hispanic. Great and not only was I full of questions that I still didn't know the answer to- I could possibly get deported because I didn't match any of the official documents that I had on file.

Oh well I might as well enjoy the luxury of djinn society, because it looks like any possibility that I had of making a living in human society was looking slim at the moment.

Entertainment Room - The Solstice Lounge
7:54 PM

"Tell me Dirac, how is my prize at the moment?" Miss Bliss asked her dark and bony henchman as she sipped from a martini while staring at the prostate form of Walter Forrester.

"Unfortunately, the child beyond your ministrations at the moment my lady," Dirac explained, "when I brought him into my shadow the child deactivated every gem except one- obviously its power is invulnerability. Apparently not only does the blasted thing protect his body but his mind as well, for the time being he is beyond our reach."

"For the time being not forever," Miss Bliss mused as she paused to take another sip of her martini, "from what I can perceive of the gems energies the one bearing the mark of Cancer will only last until sunrise. By tomorrow morning the gems will be ours to do with as we wish- although items of power like this are usually more trouble than they are worth."

"Then what is your will my lady?" Dirac inquired with genuine respect for his employer.

"Have everyone spread the word that our usual auction will be moved up from the first to the Witching Hour," Miss Bliss stated as she gazed at Walter with a look of bemusement in her eyes, "the gauntlets shall be the centerpiece of the auction."

"And the whelp milady?" Dirac asked as he gave the boy a gravid look.

"He failed to escape your morass before he was pulled under; whoever purchases the gauntlets shall decide the child's fate." Miss Bliss explained to her minion just make certain that he remains unconscious the last thing that we need is him making an escape during the auction and harming one of the guests."

"Understood milady," Dirac bowed. "Will there be anything else milady?"

"Yes, please be a dear and find what is keeping Shakedown," Miss Bliss ordered as she drained her glass. "He should have returned by now, I would hate to have one of the locals call to tell me that they had to clean up after him again."

Velvet Lounge - Scarlet Sands Resort
8:21 PM
POV: Paul Ledoux?

"Hey Paul about time you joined us," Danny observed as I made my way into the room after my trip through the spa. Like Dirge, the ladies that had been attending to me in there were djinn and likewise had heads of animals. I mean I saw a gazelle, a camel and even an ostrich, but ironic enough I out of everyone I looked the most human. "Or is it Paula now?" Danny asked as he sipped his drink and took a peek at my body now attired in an oddly comfortable robe."

"I guess," I said nervously as my rather large ears drooped in embarrassment, "I still can't believe I'm a girl now- and believe me back in the spa I checked."

"So, are you a mutant now too or something?" Danny asked as he made sure to set his drink on a nearby coaster, I didn't blame him the furniture her looked expensive and considering that we were guests I would have wanted to stay on the good side of our mysterious hosts. "I mean I've heard rumors that some really change when their powers go online, and I don't mean just making them look like stuff at a landscaping store."

"I can assure you that the young miss has always been a lady," Dirge said as he came back in with his helm back in place. "Although we did find traces of blood in the ceramic shards that came off her; the blood does not match her type."

"Yeah plus after Jeff jumped me the other day I'd been having these- visions whenever I touched where I was hurt." I admitted with more than an ounce of reluctance. I saw one pretty clearly when I caught my old face after it came off, it was this cult putting the clay on me while a woman screamed."

"I doubt that it would be your mother Paula," Danny remarked as he stared at me in the eyes, "No offense but I always thought that something wasn't quite right with her, I mean I was surprised any woman would treat her son like she has you."

"You might be onto something Danny, because whoever the woman was it wasn't the one that I've been calling mother these last several years." I admitted with a bitter taste in my mouth because it made so much sense it made me want to kick myself, I wonder why I never suspected this years ago.

"Interesting- this sounds like psychometry, a gift most unheard of among our people." Dirge mused under his breath about the matter before inquiring. "Tell me do you remember seeing any symbols in this vision?"

"Yeah but I wouldn't be able to describe them too well." I explained to the self-proclaimed djinn who was apparently our host. "I'd need to see the vision again because I wasn't looking too closely at them they were also pretty odd looking. I don't think that I've ever seen them before."

"Very well, I shall get that face-piece out for you to take another look." Dirge stated drawing our attention on why he had it, "We had gathered everything at the scene for examination, and we also sent someone to examine at your house for more information- just in case you were not one of us mind you."

After he left Danny asked, "So does that mean that he looks like you under that lid?"

"Maybe," I walked over to a mirror next behind the lounge's small bar and got a better look at myself then I had in the spa. The face that I saw reflecting back looked only vaguely human, granted this was the first time I had seen myself in a mirror ever since I broke out of the old me like a cocoon.

It was odd from the waist down I had the complexion and body of an attractive Hispanic girl my own age but as for my face- well-

"No, he looks more like a dog." I replied while staring at the face in the mirror, still analyzing what I saw. I didn't look human- well at least not completely human but I my face didn't look completely like an animal either- it was like my head was halfway between that of a human being and a horse. Still I could see that I resembled the girl who was taken away from that dog-headed lady in my memories.

"That is because our heads reflect our connection to our element young maiden of House of the Shimmering Oasis." Dirge stated as he came into the room now relaxing in a linen robe of his own, "Eventually you shall learn to properly channel those energies so that you my take on a more human continence should you choose to do so, even a more animalistic or elemental form. In the meantime, you can wear a special amulet to help you channel these energies so that you can appear normal. I also bring good news, our analyzer has revealed that you are a child of this house, also given your power-level and apparent age not to mention certain other circumstances that I am aware of the identity of your father can easily be deduced with roughly seventy percent certainty."

"Okay but before the big reveal, I know that I was using wind early how is a horse a wind sign- shouldn't that be a bird?" I asked desperate for information.

"Actually, most birds are either fire or water signs," Dirge replied, "Due to the fact that most birds spend a great deal of their time sharing the sharing the heights with the sun they are considered creatures of fire, like vultures, hawks or falcons, lions are also part of this list given their hot-blooded aggression. The exception to this are those who spend most of their time around water such as geese, ibis and flamingos. As for the wind- those are mainly creatures of the ground who are swift of feet, well you are no doubt familiar of the phrase run like the wind, does a horse not fit this description."

"Okay- okay- I get it now!" I conceded to Dirge's explanation still there was a fly in the ointment that stuck with me, "you said that you are only partially sure who my dad is- why?"

"There are only three men in the House of Nephthys who could account for such power in a demi-djinn such as yourself. I am one of those three however I have been celibate for ages. My father, until recently, was sterile due to an…injury; it is a long story and the details would likely make your friend rather uncomfortable." I could tell that there was a lot more to that story than just it not being for those who are squeamish. "The third is my brother- the individual who is known to the world as the super-villain Greygus."

My blood ran cold for a minute, I was the daughter of a super-villain, images flashed through my head of men in black suits coming to keep me under surveillance twenty-four seven for a crack at my dad. Then after they caught him they'd keep me under watch for the for the rest of my life afterwards to throw the book at me and lock me away too.

"Hold the phone, I've heard of that guy." Danny interjected drawing me out of my moment of melancholy, "He's sort of known as this honorable rogue type, sort of well-known for taking his time to save civilians that get caught in the cross-fire between him and the heroes while still getting away."

Okay so at least he's not someone like Doctor Diablo or Deathlist, but he's still a bad guy. Still this tidbit leads me to an unfortunate conclusion, "Let me guess where we are now is a place connected to the man that you think is my dad?"

"Yes actually, your father and grandfather," Dirge replied as a sat down with a waitress with the head of a duck came in and delivered some drinks that I could smell the spice wafting up from the vapors. "They contributed a great deal of revenue to the American government over the years and more recently helped many of the old families who ran the casinos and resorts in Vegas transition into the corporate world to maintain the status quo while adapting with the times. They needed a firm base of operations to free our kingdom from the dark entity that had been controlling most of our people for the last several thousand years."

Okay dad was a bad guy, but I guess that even some bad guys have their reasons. "Please tell me more."

"Very well I shall do so the analyzer shall be done soon, anyway and then we shall have a house amulet ready for you soon after." Dirge replied before leaving the room.

I looked back at the horse-like girl in the mirror, and part of me wondered just what the face that would be staring back at me once I had the amulet would look like.

Ops Center - Syndicate Auxiliary Base #542
8:40 PM

Powerbroker was starting to get nervous, he already had three potential buyers lined up for the Zodiac Gems and he had yet to hear back from Miss Bliss, which made him even more nervous. Miss Bliss was like a barracuda who knew how to swim with the sharks and not be eaten, she did it as if she had been raised in this type of environment and dealing with her was often an unpleasant necessity.

The most unpleasant thing was that the woman's price would likely cut into deep into his profit margins. Powerbroker did the math, after the fee for paying the Slyde Courier Service and Professor Id for both the use of Slither and his replacements for Captain Cosmos's original power bands to mount the Zodiac Gems. He had already had seven million sunk into this operation already before the mix-up happened with the tote bags, if Miss Bliss charged him any more than twelve million for retrieving the bands he would be looking at a profit margin lower than the chance of a host of the Champion Force living to retirement.

When he was in the middle of sulking one of the Tiger Guards providing security came up to him, "Sir, you have a phone call from Miss Bliss."

Taking a moment to collect himself as the Tiger Guard left the office, Power Broker cued up the transferred call. "Well- Miss Bliss, I presume that you have acquired my misplaced package, so shall we talk about the matter of your fee now?"

"I am afraid that a simple fee is no longer optional Power Broker my dear," Miss Bliss retorted in her lilting tone. "You see over the course of my employees reacquiring your package, a member of the items' accidental recipient's entourage actually put them on and used them against my men. Now as the item's current wielder is now bonded to the item in question, not to mention the fact that my employee Shakedown who was left behind to take care of any witnesses has yet to return, per my usual contract I am opting to enter the package and their wielder in my next underground auction as the star item."

"You are invited to attend and bid on the lot that they are featured in off course, just do keep in mind that you are not the only fish in the sea that will be doing so. Now ta-ta Power Broker and remember the bidding begins at Twelve O'clock sharp, and etiquette dictates that only the bids of those seated at the beginning of the auction will be recognized."

"Very well, fax me over a catalog- just remember Miss Bliss I shall not forget this!" Power Broker stated with as much weight to his words as he could bring.

"Power Broker, there is no need for idle threats, where I grew up words had teeth that were willing to draw blood if need be." Miss Bliss retorted as she hung up, that left Power Broker to ponder the implication of her words as the catalog for the auction began to print out in the fax machine in the next room.

Xuè-jīn Mùshī's Inner Sanctum
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - San Francisco Chapter House
San Francisco, California
7:46 PM PDT

"Why do you disturb my evening meditations sycophant?" The latest in a long line of those to hold the title of Xue-jin Mushi said as he looked up from arcane gold and eberial brazier situated before his throne. "I warn you, if it is not news of our mercenaries returning XiYi to us then you had best give a good reason if you wish to keep your life."

"Your eminence I bring news," the nameless sycophant of the Merchants of Suffering proclaimed as he prostrated so low against the floor it was as if he was trying to laminate himself against it. "The black-marketer of Las Vegas- Miss Bliss has an item for sale in her latest auction that you would be most interested in- the Zodiac Gemstones."

"I see," the Xue-jin Mushi replied as he took interest in the man’s report, "very well your life shall be spared for your sudden intrusion- that is unless you would like to wager it in return for your own advancement within our order. What is your name?"

"Qian Khai, your eminence and I would gladly wager my life if it would please you." Qian Khai replied not daring to bother to raise his eyes from the floor.

"Very well Qian Khai, you are to see the Holder of the Purse for an expense account and then take one of our planes to Vegas immediately." Xue-jin Mushi explained as he rose from his throne and strolled over to the prostrated Qian Khai, "Should you return with the Zodiac Gemstones then you shall be rewarded with a position of great trust, and when the XiYi is returned to us you shall be made its keeper."

Then the Xue-jin Mushi placed his right foot on the head of Qian Khai and began to apply weight, "However should you fail to do so then your organs, blood, skin and marrow shall be harvested for sale on the black market. As for what shall remain that will be turned to stone, ground into powder, mixed with mortar and used to repair any cracks that the Wayfarer left in our great temple during her recent visit."

Taking a moment to stroll back to his throne the Xue-jin Mushi waiting until he was comfortable to bark out in a harsh tone, "Well what are you waiting for you simpleton go to Vegas and retrieve <B>my Gemstones</B>!"

The Leader of the Merchants of Suffering took immense pleasure in seeing Qian Khai crawling out on his hand and knees, trying to leave the room backwards with his head still bowed to show his deference to the Xue-jin Mushi’s station. After the sycophant had left the leader smiled, it was good to be the king and he intended to stay in the Demon Lord of Blood-soaked Gold’s favor for as long as he could.

Branch Director's Office
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - San Antonio Chapter House
San Antonio, Texas
9:53 PM

Kampe looked over the evening reports and poured herself a glass of Scotch, today was a nightmare aside from what had gone down in Boston tonight, Atropos and Gremlin’s daughter had been shot and been converted into a demi-succubus to save the poor girl’s life just hours after she had manifested as a mutant. The girl was in the Hospital for now, but the local hive of Humanity First had gotten wind of her mutant status and their brood of Klan lawyers were poised to launch a local discrimination campaign against mutants with her as their scapegoat.

Almost as if answering her unasked question of what else could possibly go wrong the phone rang. "Yes, this is Kampe, what is it Mabel?"

"I am sorry to bother you Kampe but an auction catalog from Miss Bliss was just printed out over the fax and it had the Zodiac Gems listed."

"What?" Kampe recoiled in shock, "Those things are supposed to be under lock and key at Area 51 until the Justice Brigade takes custody of them next week."

"Our mole in the Syndicate said that Power Broker had them smuggled off the base, unfortunately the operation went fubar and Miss Bliss has them now. What are your orders?"

"Unfortunately, Vegas is really outside of our territory, we'll have to play Miss Bliss's game to get them back." Kampe sighed in frustration, "Dustbowl's the closest to Vegas, relay the details and the catalog to her branch, and then pass the word along to one of Greygus’s people and see about cooperating on the matter."

"Very well ma'am. After Mabel hung up the phone Kampe ended the call and threw back the glass of Scotch, part of her hoping that the final other shoe had dropped for the day.

Velvet Lounge - Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
8:13 PM PDT
POV: Paula Ledoux?

As Dirge returned to the lounge he did so accompanying two others who approached arm in arm. The man’s head looked like a cross between a donkey and some type of canine with crimson fur, despite his business suit something told me that fighting this guy would be a mistake to the tenth power. The lady who was dressed in a white silk gown had a far different demeanor to her, her head that of a smoky-blue heron with black-markings framing her eyes and a crest of two long elegant feathers that trailed her head like a head-dress. The man I noticed was carrying a golden necklace with a round medal on the chain perched atop a pillow.

Dirge soon moved to the side and with a bow of presentation announced the pair, "I present Lady Nephthys the head of this house and her chosen consort known in this mortal age as Lord Khamsin."

"May you please rise child and come hear me?" Lady Nephthys asked in a voice that felt comforting to my ears. "My husband has been informed of the name your real mother intended for you by his colleague Bishop Brimstone who told us as much of your true history as he could learn."

"According to Bishop Brimstone your birth name was to be Iris Maria Seguin; your mother Angela Luisa Seguin was a waitress at a cantina in Mexico City known as El Coyote de Feliz who had frequent relations with my son Greygus for many years, a relations that as you may guess eventually resulted in your birth." Lady Nephthys paused a moment to sigh I could almost guess just where this story was going to turn, "Sadly before your mother could give your father the happy news of your pending birth her situation had come to the attention of his enemies, a group known as the Cult of the Black Pharaoh. They kidnapped your mother and dragged her to a location that unfortunately is still unknown to us until you were born."

"Once you were brought into the world the Cult of the Black Pharoah sealed you in a shell guised as a boy, which would grow as you did to keep you contained and gave you into the custody of a mercenary working under the name Melanie Ledoux which I have discovered is an alias." Lord Khamsin stated as he took over for Lady Nephthys, "Evidently the woman was to raise you as close to my territory as possible but not enter it to maintain your shell, when she found out that you had left home to visit Vegas for the day she opted to flee. Have no fear though when we apprehend her we shall make her divulge the true location of your real mother."

"In the meantime, there is another important matter," Lady Nephthys stated as she took the chain of the necklace in her hands. "Now young Daniel if you would please give us the honor as our guest to bear witness, to this happy occasion?"

"Hey, it would be rude not to be there for a friend on a happy occasion like this, "Danny said as he got to his feet.

"Thank you child!" Lady Nephthys seemed to smile in acknowledgement, and as if responding to some unheard cue I got on my knees as Lady Nephthys placed the amulet around my neck with the medallion resting firmly against my collarbone. "Now as Matron of the House of the Shining Oasis and Lady of the Principality of the Blazing Disk, I proudly welcome our newest member Ain Ophois."

'Ain Ophois but they just said my real name was Iris Maria Seguin.' I wondered as I wracked my brain for a moment. 'Oh- it's probably a pseudonym to use in public,
my dad is a super-villain after all.'

Still there is something a bit more important than that, "Pardon me Lady Nephthys," I said speaking up, "but can someone please tell me how to turn this on- I'm a little worried that I'll start craving oats."

Lady Nephthys, Dirge and Lord Khamsin began to laugh for a moment with Danny joining, after a few moments Lady Nephthys steadied herself and with a voice still filled with mirth responded, "Simply place one of your hands over the amulet and say I'mun."

Almost trembling with anticipation, I walked over to that same bar mirror from earlier, I took one last look at the slightly cute horse-girl that I saw in front of me. I placed my right-hand over the medallion which looked like it had some kind of dog sitting on a sled, taking a slow breath I shut my eyes and repeated Lady Nephthys words, "I'mun!"

The sensation that passed over my head was brief but not painful- it felt a lot like what happens when my foot falls asleep although instead of it being my foot it was my face. Still it was over in an instant but part of me was hesitant to look, at least I was until I heard Danny whistle and say, "Damn, good thing poor Walt isn't here he'd be confused as hell."

Wondering what Danny meant I opened my eyes, soon I saw staring back at me in that looking glass a lovely young Hispanic girl with warm sienna eyes, and long brown hair. Almost immediately that girl had a mischievous smile on her face, "Angela Garcia- eat your heart out!"

Soon the moment was ruined when someone rushed in the door proclaiming, "Hey guys, I got the mook to spill!"

I almost turned to look, before Danny cried out above the cries of disgust and alarm, "Don't look, Iris for the love of all that's sacred don't look!"

"Ugh, dammit Bes, go put some normal clothes on!" Lord Khamsin cried out as I heard the distinct sound of vomiting nearby.

"Sorry, just wanted you to know asap." The voice who I presumed was Bes replied.

I was still too scared to turn around out of risk that I might see something that could never be unseen. Only when I heard the door close shut did I finally dare to turn back around. The sight that greeted me now was a moment to remember: Dirge was huddled over a trash can heaving, Danny was gently rocking himself in the fetal position and white as a sheet, Lady Nephthys out cold in Lord Khamsin's arms whose red hide was looking so pale it was like a sickly pink.

"Count yourself lucky Iris, some things can never be unseen, no matter how much we were never meant to see them." Danny muttered to himself as he kept rocking in place.

"Old man," Dirge shakily shouted now that he had finished spilling his guts, "never let that vile dwarf near the prop costume closet ever again!"

"Agreed," Lord Khamsin shuddered, "I can face Great Old Ones in combat without flinching but the sight of- that is just too horrible. I'm tossing that outfit in a blast furnace, and if that Brainstain is lucky I'll make sure that he's taken it off first."

As I surveyed the damage, I couldn't help but comment, "Boy am I glad I wasn't curious enough to look!"

Detention Observation Room - Scarlet Sands Resort
8:29 PM

I stared through the glass at the man that I only knew as Shakedown he was in very similar state to Danny but even more out of it. "Man, if he hadn't threatened to eat me I'd almost feel sorry for him." I commented as I looked down at him from the Observation booth flanked by Lord Khamsin and Dirge, "Still for that matter who hires someone who makes cannibalistic threats?"

"It wouldn't exactly be cannibalism for him," Lord Khamsin said as he waved his hand and suddenly Strongarm was replaced with a large hairy wart-covered, monster with yellowish-green skin. "You see granddaughter he's not a human being he's an ogre, a type of faerie usually found in the realm of the Winter Court."

"This ogre, who you say calls himself Shakedown, and his partner a slaugh from your description work for a fallen noblewoman formerly of the Winter Court known colloquially as Miss Bliss. She turned up a few years ago and set up shop nearby with the few dozen retainers she had left, her family likely lost their station and lands after a few too many sour hell tithes, and she had to leave for the mortal world it happens every decade or two."

"Well why does a fairy want my friend Walt?" I asked growing more concerned with every detail.

"Her minions were not after you and your friends, they were hired by a super-villain known as Power Broker to retrieve Captain Cosmos's gems, and you were just in the way." Grandpa Khamsin elaborated, "Miss Bliss usually acts as a local fence for esoteric and exotic items and Black-Market auctioneer; however, she occasionally loans out her men to act as muscle for a little side profit. Still Miss Bliss knows that she just operates in my territory because I tolerate her presence, it should be a simple matter to get your friend back as she has no true claim to him even by her people's own laws."

"Sir," a woman with a head like a fox with some of the largest ears that I've ever seen said as she came in with a stapled printout, "I think that you need to see this."

Grandpa, man was it weird to start thinking that all of a sudden, took a brief look through the packet and frowned.

"Matters just became a lot more complicated," Grandpa Khamsin explained as he handed me the packet opened to a certain page. It said Zodiac Gemstones and current host, opening bid $50,000,000. "Your friend just became part of a package deal along with those gemstone encrusted gauntlets. Matters just became a lot more complicated, given that members of the underworld other than the Power Broker and Miss Bliss are going to be involved, my own leverage will not be enough to simply gain your friend his freedom."

"But I can't just leave Walt to whatever those people would do to him!" I cried out in desperation, "He's been a true friend to me ever since I was little, and if it wasn't for him I wouldn't even have been here to learn the truth about myself."

"Then it is clear that we owe your friend Walter a great deal more than I realized," Grandpa Khamsin stated as he turned to the fox-faced woman. "Ms. Reiner, please inform Sharon that she needs to wait in the Gallery of Effort and be prepared for a workout, then get your formal attire ready I believe that my granddaughter and I have an auction to attend at midnight."

"At once Lord Khamsin, "Ms Reiner said with a bow as she left the room.

"Iris I believe that it is time for you to learn to fight in your real body," Lord Khamsin stated as he made his way out of the room leaving me with Dirge.

"Wait this auction is at midnight we don't have enough time to do this." I cried out before grandpa left the room.

"Then we shall make time child." Grandpa said with his back still turned as he left.

"He didn't even tell me his real name," I said in a low voice as I realized something simple, "I don't think any of my family has."

"Your grandmother Lady Nephthys told you up front," Dirge admitted as he leaned back against the wall. "As for the rest of us we didn't want to say anything around your friend. Your father's real name is Wepwawet, your grandfather's is Set and I mine is Anubis."

Recognizing the last name from the Egyptian exhibit that I just saw I honestly had to sit down, I had heard of people having famous relative but this was ridiculous.

"Are you okay niece?" Uncle Anubis asked out of concern.

"Just a little shocked," I admitted before asking, "Does this mean that I'll have to dress like Liz Taylor in Cleopatra?"

"Maybe for formal occasions but not every day, times have changed after all." Anubis replied as he offered me a hand likely to guide me to this Gallery of Effort- obviously, this day wasn't over yet.

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3 years 4 months ago #46575 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 22

Holding Cell 2 - Round Rock Police Department
Round Rock, Texas
9:25 PM CDT

From within his cell in the basement of the Round Rock Police Department, Faux-05 could see the minutes tick by on the nearby clock which the digital one that he saw display in the corner of his right-eye confirmed to be fairly accurate- albeit 26 seconds slow. Never-the-less as much as he hated to admit it his handler had now arrived at the dead-drop and the external hard drive he had filled with the contents of Walter Drucker's lab computer was likely sitting in the police evidence locker; he had failed his mission and soon the police would be returning having discovered that his life was a lie.

Faux-05 knew only too well how once that happened they would begin to take dental and fingerprints in an effort to learn his true identity, only to find that he lacked any finger or toe-prints while his dental records would return with no match. Once the police discovered that Joel Gibson did not exist except through a web of deception and forged documentation, then they would get the Federal Bureau of Investigation involved and they would begin to uncover the secrets about his body. While Faux-05 did possess implants that could help him escape this cell quite easily in fact, his failed efforts to remotely hack the camera trained on the cells meant that doing so might give away secrets of The Grand Masquerade, as it stood there was only one option available to him.

Silently Faux-05 was disappointed in himself, all the time and effort that The Grand Masquerade invested in training him and the money they invested in cultivating the nanotechnology for his implants was going to be wasted. In truth, he had only given them thirty completed missions since he received his predecessor's designation, in all a fairly average life-span for the service of a Faux-Number operative but he knew now that he only had one final mission; he was to ensure that his handler knew of his failure and make certain that the secrets of the Grand Masquerade remained such...a secret.

Once the clock struck nine-thirty (his internal one and not the one on the wall) Faux-05 knew that he was out of time and orders were orders, now out of options the spy known to the locals under the alias Joel Gibson, bit down on his teeth in an odd series of cross-bites unbeknownst to the officer monitoring the cell cameras triggering something within his body. Soon the painful feeling of swelling in his chest told Faux-05 that the process to send an encrypted message containing all pertinent mission data as well as activating his replacement- the next Faux-05. The process also had a secondary purpose- disposing of compromised operatives, a process the now former Faux-05 aided in by curling into a fetal position on the cell's bunk.

Soon the former spy's skin began to lose features; his limbs began to retract into his torso which in turn began to swell. Noticing what was going a Julio Sanchez, a young man in the neighboring cell who was being held for joy-riding and possession of narcotics (fifteen ounces of marijuana), began to scream in Spanish about the work of the devil in the next cell. By the time the on-duty officer came back to inspect the reason for the commotion, Joel Gibson's county issued clothing began to rip and tear as his body briefly swelled into a large flesh-colored ball.

As shocked as Julio, Officer David Meza briefly stared at the former suspect who now began to compress as the object that had been booked as Joel Gibson took on a more grayish tone. Soon everything was over and all that was left of the teenager brought in for kidnapping and attempted murder was turning gray and condensing.

Life Storage Unit 204
Round Rock, Texas
10:31 PM

Inside of a five by ten unit at a local self-storage facility a capsule opened, the figure inside a tweenage, average-looking Caucasian male roughly five-foot two and weighing around a hundred pounds removed himself from the receptacle. All that he knew was that the previous Faux-05 had been decommissioned and his first mission was to complete that which his predecessor failed to do so. After a few minutes to retrieve a set of clothing from one of several nearby duffle bags, the new Faux-05 went over the information that had been sent prior to his predecessor's decommissioning.

He was to retrieve a portable hard drive from Round Rock Police Headquarters evidence room, stealth for the operation was recommended however he was advised to leave no witnesses to the retrieval operation then rendezvous with his handler. His objectives now set, the new Faux-05 sent a signal to have his handler retrieve the pod for future use and clean-up any evidence. Coming to the gate door in front of him Faux-05 sent a signal through his nanite-suite to unlock the special padlock to the storage unit. Hearing the lock clatter to the ground, Faux-05 placed his left-hand on the door and activating his magnetic protocol he motioned to slide the lock to open before simply opening the door from the inside. Now outside of the storage unit Faux-05 closed the door and reaffixed the lock, taking a little extra time to clean the smudge that the rubber lined bolt-lock left when it hit the concrete, after he was done there was no sign that anyone had tampered with the unit.

Still he carefully made his way out of the facility, taking time to avoid the security cameras as he made his way to the roof. Once above the view of any cameras Faux-05 assessed his surroundings, and then took a running leap, clearing both the fence and the razor-wire before landing with a roll. Taking a moment to dust himself off, Faux-05 set about making his way to the police station, after all the night was only getting darker and the sun was hours away.

Room 209 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center
Round Rock, Texas
10:23 PM
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness

"-ews still continues to come in from Boston, a city once again struck by the terror of this violent modern breed of powered-criminals. A city which was still recovering after the destruction of the Massachusetts State Ultra-Max Holding Facility which freed a number of dangerous powered criminals including half of the New England based occult-themed powered-criminal organization colloquially known as the Children of the Night and infamous power-mimic Mimeo."

I began to stir to the sound of CBS Boston affiliate's Mary Blake accounting something horrible that had happened earlier that night. From what I could see I was in a hospital bed and Elinore was transfixed on the television.

"While there have been several reports of numerous unknown powered individuals in Boston, they appear to be assisting paramedics, emergency and rescue services rather than involved in any immediate conflicts. While no parties have come forward claiming responsibility for the fire-bombings that have caused what some officials are estimating to be several billion in damage, so far reports are promising for the number of survivors accounted for by rescue services in the wake of this tragedy. We will bring you more news as this story develops. This is Mary Blake, CBS News Boston."

"So, tell me was it all a nightmare," I asked my throat feeling raw, like it had been scoured with cotton.

"You mean the part about you receiving a fatal gunshot wound or the part about how your no longer entirely human," Elinore asked as she turned off the television.

"Both... and more," I fired back before adding, "And how did you become a succubus, why would someone as young as young and well off as you are not only throw part of their life away but also take one."

Elinore began to quietly laugh as if I'd said something funny, then as the wings, tail and horns appeared Elinore began to- mature. Suddenly the queen bee of the popular girl cliques around my school had metamorphosed into a mature woman in her late-twenties or early-thirties, now I know that succubae can easily manipulate their appearance (Erzebet Scratch was rumored to do it every couple of decades to create a new cover identity), but this woman turned into carried herself in a way that clearly showed she was as comfortable at this age as she was as a teenager- possibly even more so.

"Sorry, I had just thought that I'd slip into something far closer to my real age," Elinore stated before adding, "not that a lady such as myself would like to let just what that is slip, however let's just say that Kampe only has a couple of years on me."

"Whoa," I stated somewhat flabbergasted, "you mean that you've been with Erzebet Scratch since the beginning!?!"

"Yes, my real name is Myra Haddix this whole situation has to do with my granddaughter Leanne's decision to marry her good-for-little son-of-a good-old-boy business school boyfriend back in college." The know unveiled Myra sighed as she recounted her tale, "The poor girl was a little too focused to know that all he wanted was a trophy wife not a family-yet, the problem was once she got into her late-twenties it was obvious that Reginald Jaffe was looking to upgrade as he climbed the ladder at Maypole Credit Union and was groomed for his father's seat on the town council."

"Let me guess she came to Nana Myra for a way to stay young," I guessed somewhat sick to my stomach at how I had been forced to make the very same choice- albeit I did so to cheat death to not hold back the ravages of time.

"True," Myra rolled her eyes, "I did try to warn her of the consequences but she was so co-dependent on the weasel that she wouldn't take no for an answer. She was happy for a time up until it came time for Reginald to need to have a family to show off to the higher-ups."

"Because succubae and demi-succubae can't have children," I echoed a grim reality, one that I knew currently applied to myself.

"Correct, and since adoption wasn't something that Reginald had in mind (given that his type thinks of adopted children as more akin to pets than people), I gave her a solution." Myra smiled slyly at the memory, "I would help Leanne fake her pregnancy with a mix of magic and illusion, then at the very end become my own great-granddaughter."

"Hey, come to think of it just who are Maypole Credit Union?" I asked unfamiliar with the name.

"That was because back when you were still learning to walk I told Leanne that my becoming Elinore had a price-tag," Myra's smile widened, "Leanne had to help me gather intelligence to leak and sabotage Maypole's stock prices, once they were down to ten dollars a share Axcel bought them out and Maypole Credit Union became a part of Axcel Incorporated Financials' Credit division. Member of the town council or not, daddy is not old enough to retire and live on his civic salary- besides its so much fun to push his buttons."

"That explains why you seem to go out of your way to embarrass your old man," I remarked as the aches and pains of my body were beginning to subside.

"That and to encourage you kids to have fun," Myra sighed as she began to metamorphose back into Elinore, "I understand that schools are pressure-cookers these days, but you children are only young once, enjoy it while you can- before you have to step into the dark world of adulthood."

"Somehow, I suspect there is more to you telling me all this than just a simple explanation," I said feeling like there was a knot in my gut as I spoke. "I mean there was no need to tell me all that, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"Unfortunately, you won't need to wait long," Elinore explained, "you see Joan while Mother Scratch would have never had a problem sending you to Whateley free of obligations after you manifested, your current state makes matters...complicated."

"Complicated, what's so complicated," I shot back raising my voice at the elderly succubus who was passing as her own Great-granddaughter, "I'm still the same person that I've always been- so I'm halfway to being a succubus how does that change things?"

"That is the change, while being the daughter of even one face card (not to mention two) meant after you were properly vetted you were privy to knowledge of our existence within Mother Scratch's organization, something that outside of we sisters and face cards such as your parents is known only to upper members of the Grand Hall's staff within our faction and the Obsidian Circle themselves provided a geass was placed upon you. The problem is that geass no longer exists, meaning you would need to keep the fact that you are more than a mutant your apparent age secret."

"Understand- no one outside those the Board of Directors choose may know of the existence of our kind with geass to keep our secret, our existence is vital to mother's faction within the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom. Because should that secret come to light not only will your life be in jeopardy; so, will the lives of every chapter director, countless members of the Sweepers, employees of Axcel and all who live in our territory and depend upon the fragile stability that we maintain." Elinore began to lay down what I somehow knew would be a heavy topic of conversation.

"Right now, in the Operating Room 7 my daughter and Nicole Snyder are weaving illusions as a surgical team operates to save the life of a cultivated changeling that is holding your place under the knife. What you need to decide over the next few hours is whether to take its place in the recovery room or let it be buried in your stead, know this before you decide that Joan Drucker lives to see tomorrow."

"Officially Joan would need to go somewhere like Whateley to learn how to properly use her abilities to their fullest, however that path is no-longer as free of obligation as it once was; being a member of the sisterhood not only is the geass that was once upon you impossible to replace, but you may accidentally let your nature slip. You need to understand that in order for Joan's future to be yours to decide a contract must be negotiated, you must hammer out a binding contract with the Mother of Our Sisterhood- you must negotiate a contract with Erzebet Scratch!"

St. David's Round Rock Medical Center Lobby
10:46 PM

Nurse Agnes Harper was increasingly annoyed with the man looking across from her, here she was in the middle of the late shift on a Saturday night; visiting hours were over and in steps this man who radiates an aura of sleaze bag attorney with two men who looked like they were trying too hard to resemble Federal Agents.

"Lady I don't think that you understand your position," the individual whose name card read Kenneth Christiansen, reiterated as he once again tried to press his position. "you have a dangerous individual in your building and it is imperative that we take her into custody for the safety of the general public."

"Sir I am afraid this is a public hospital and any patients under our care remain as such unless we are required by law to remand them to the custody of others. Now so far you have made no effort to produce any manner of legal document to your show the truth behind your demands, so unless you can show something to that effect I am afraid that I am going to have to ask you to leave."

"I assure you that will only be a matter of time, we have men delivering working with the police to analyze the sound system that this girl altered," Kenneth elaborated as he tried to puff out his non-existence chest. "We will be receiving a warrant soon- so I suggest you co-operate with us for the best of everyone."

"And as I keep telling you sir," Nurse Harper fumed at how she wished that she could call the police and have them evicted. "Until you present me with any proper legal documentation I am not at liberty to even discus a patient's status let alone release a patient of ours into your care."

A few moments later another pair of individuals in suits much like those bracketing Kenneth Christiansen walked through the front entrance. "That went sooner than expected," Kenneth smiled as he turned to race the two men, "I trust that you men have the warrant so that we can take the mutant into custody."

"Um Mister Chistiansen," one of the two MCO agents with the attorney on retainer with the Austin Office tried to get tried to get the man's attention, "I don't recognize those two."

The pair stopped in front of the desk and after a quick inspection of the nurse's name tag the pair spoke, "Hello Nurse Harper my name Agent Marcus Todd, this Agent Richard Fontaine, we are here regarding a young lady in your care one Joan Drucker."

"Ah I see you are here to help us take the mutant into custody," Kenneth stated as he strolled over to Agent Todd with his hand extended.

Rather than meeting the attorney's offered hand Agent Todd just glared at it in disbelief, "I am sorry, but I do not recall my superiors telling me to meet with anyone here."

"Oh, how rude of me," the attorney back-peddled, "My name is Kenneth Christiansen, and these men are Agents Marsha and Weston here representing the Mutant Commission Office, I assumed you were here to help us take this dangerous individual into custody."

"Mister Christiansen despite how your agency likes to present itself to the general public, you know full well that the MCO has no legal jurisdiction in this country what-so-ever beyond their arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Agency for screening individuals with an active mutant-gene complex who travel across state and international lines by way of air-travel." Agent Todd elaborated as he glared at the attorney.

"The reason we are here is to provide Miss Drucker with security until such time as she is healthy enough to answer a few questions for us regarding the incident of a few hours ago," Agent Fontaine spoke up, "she is a potentially vital witness in an ongoing investigation, and as such any agreements that your organization may or may not have made at the state level are moot, this pertains to an ongoing international investigation at the federal level. Now I suggest that you and your men leave right now, before I charge you with obstructing a federal investigation."

"This is not over," Mister Christiansen snapped back at the two FBI agents, as he turned to leave.

"Yes, Mister Christiansen it most certainly is, and if you try to press matters on this just remember- the MCO already had their Dallas facility shuttered; I am certain that your higher-ups would be interested in knowing who cost them their Austin facility leaving them with only their Houston facility to handle matters in this state." Agent Todd stated to illustrate the dangers of crossing this particular line.

Morgue - Round Rock Police Department
Round Rock, Texas
10:58 PM

"I don't know what to tell you gentlemen," Doctor Trevor Foss the coroner on shift with the Round Rock police department related to the pair of FBI agents who had arrived from the resident agency in Austin, "one moment the kid was curled up in his bunk after refusing to speak to anyone about the guns or the hard drive and the next..."

Trevor opened the cooler and slowly slid out the slab, only rather than a body inside was a gray sphere about the size of a beach ball, we had to roll it in here since it weighs well over a hundred pounds. About the same as-"

"The boy who was arrested for attempting to abduct one Mallory Trombly, a local teenager, and shot Joan Drucker when she moved to stop him," A man who identified himself earlier as Agent Felix Forsythe along with his partner Agent Marcos Levine (who was upstairs reading the evidence files) said as he completed the coroner's sentence. "It's just like two months ago in Zurich."

"You've seen this before!" Trevor all but recoiled in shock, "What kind of thing does this to a kid?!?"

"First off, I haven't seen this personally, however similar cases have occurred state-side in New York and Chicago." Agent Forsythe began to examine the sphere. "There is also a case on file with the Japanese Public Security Bureau from last year in Tokyo, an incident six months ago in London on file with Scotland Yard, and (including Zurich) five incidents on file with Interpol all within the last four years. I only hope we obtain Axcel Incorporated's permission to inspect the portable hard drive that Joel Gibson had on his person to determine what he was after, because it might prove to be a part of the same operation as the other incidents."

"Sir," Agent Levine drew everyone's eyes away from the sphere that was once known as Joel Gibson, "I just received a phone call from Axcel Incorporated, they said that we do not have permission to look on the contents of the hard drive without the presence of both one of their R&D tech department as well as an Axcel Incorporated retained attorney. However, they did confirm Walter Drucker's position within the company; Walter is one of the key engineers within the Robotics division of their Research and Development department, that hard drive is bound to be full of unreleased Axcel Incorporated inventions awaiting patents and potentially worth hundreds of millions on the open market."

"It's just as we thought, this boy is connected to those other incidents directly." Agent Forsythe surmised, "Every previous incident was linked to an act of industrial or financial espionage, we have ten incidents with similar motive and method of avoiding examination and those are just the one's where the perpetrator has been captured alive, whoever this boy was he was likely part of an industrial spy ring."

Room 209 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center
Round Rock, Texas
11:03 PM
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness

Now that Elinore, Myra or whatever the hell she wanted to call herself had left the room, I was alone just stewing in what she had just told me. I had always wanted to be a hero like my parents never really had the choice to be, but it seems like my desperate attempt to save my life after my first attempt at heroics torpedoed my plans before they really started.

I mean I had always wanted to go to Whateley, even being the child of super-villains never seemed to hold anyone back too much when it came to reach for that brass-ring but it seemed that now that I was no-longer merely a mutant my choice was being made for me. On top of all of this if I did want to attend Whateley I was going to need to make my case to Erzebet Scratch herself, telling her why she needs to risk one of the vital cornerstones of her entire operation on my need to go to Whateley- I know that she has a soft spot for kids but I was probably asking for waaaay more than she'd ever be willing to risk.

While I was in the middle of wondering how I could salvage my future a figure wrapped in a ragged cloak and carrying an ornate walking stick came in and sat down right where the succubus that saved my life had. I continued to look at what appeared to be a young lady just a few years older than me (who appeared to also fail to acknowledge my presence); as she situated herself scooting the chair closer to the bed before she leaned her staff against her chair. Once she was finished she beginning to root through her ruck-sack for oddly enough- a pint of ice-cream and a plastic bag with a couple of flatware table spoons.

"Sorry if I'm bothering you with my intrusions," the young lady apologized as she fished one of the spoons out of the baggie and handed it to me, "but today the winds of fate and destiny seem to be blowing around like a hurricane- I just needed a place that felt relatively calm to take a breather. I have brought compensation for disturbing you though," the woman held up a couple of single-pint ice-cream cartons of something called Mr. Whirl's Dusty Trails.

Granted I didn't know this girl or even recognize the brand or flavor, but I was in the middle of an emotional roller-coaster at the moment so I decided to say what the hell (ironic given my current status but still the point stands) and accept the spoon and her offered confection. "Alright, but if you're looking for some kind of calm point then you came to the wrong place."

"I doubt it," the unnamed girl clinked my spoon with her own and popped the top on her ice-cream carton which was looked like it was at just the right temperature for scooping out to eat despite the fact that she pulled them out of a rucksack that didn't appear insulated. "I'm rather aware of these things, it's part of my job."

As the girl took a spoonful and ate it, I began to wonder what she meant...and if she knew. "I mean- I am aware of the trauma and change that you have gone through, the winds of fate have told me that much already. However, despite your current dilemma the forces of destiny have no sway on you at the moment; you are at a great cross-roads but every path is available to you to walk down should you so choose."

That she said I still had options open to me barely registered, the woman who made me what I am warned me about the vital nature of Erzebet's secret sorority of succubae and somehow, I doubt that this girl was in the loop. I knew first-hand of all Sweepers with face-card status from my parents, somehow my being a demi-succubus made me aware of my siblings and this girl wasn't one, and given her vagabond appearance she really didn't strike me as the sort to be affiliated with the Obsidian Circle. "Who are you and what do you know about what happened to me?"

"Well my name is Kelsey but I doubt you meant who in that sense- I am the latest in an extensive line of individuals to be chosen to bear the title of The Wayfarer, we have served as an acting hand for the forces of Destiny since long before the Bronze Age of Classical Antiquity."

"My office affords me many things, the ability to perceive things as they truly are, or to hear the distant echoes of the past anywhere I find myself..." this Kelsey lady began to rattle off her repertoire, "but that is neither here nor there; just know that I am no threat to you or your kin unless you chose to confront me in such a manner."

Call it weird but for some reason I believed what she was saying, deciding to cast aside the oddness of this encounter I opened the carton and found concealed inside to be a take on old Rocky Road- how did she know my favorite flavor of ice cream therapy (a little term mom liked to use). Okay I admit I was curious and more than a little hungry (evidently nearly dying and plunging partway into the supernatural can really work up an appetite), I took the spoon that Kelsey had given me earlier and scooped up a bite.

Okay I know that it is ironic considering that I am now a demi-succubus but this ice cream is sinful, it was like whoever this Mister Whirl was took the original Rocky Road recipe and decided to go Bobby Flay on it. Yeah there was the traditional chocolate, marshmallows and walnut pieces in here, but that wasn't where this guy stopped. On top of the three required ingredients he added mint chips, brownie bits, and malted milk powder to the mix; it was odd but damned if it didn't work.

"Whoa, where the hell did you get this stuff?" I remarked having a bit of a flavor-gasm, "Something tells me that it should be illegal to carry this stuff across state lines."

"Tricoma," Kelsey remarked as she kept diving into her own pint, "it's this city about sixteen miles southeast of Amarillo and made at this local old-fashioned creamery called Xanadu."

"It's named Xanadu and it's old-fashioned," I raised an eyebrow in disbelief, "that sounds more like something opened in the sixties."

"The owners are Chinese-American so the name is a part of their culture to begin with," Kelsey elaborated. "As for your dilemma, surely there is a way to prove to the mother of your kind's lineage that you can be trusted to keep your secret, some test or trial that you could go through- a rite of passage as it were."

The mention of trial or rite got me thinking about everything that my parents and gone through around my age including one experience in particular, "You know what- I believe that I might know a way to convince her to make a deal. Thank you Miss Kelsey, I believe that you helped me solve my little dilemma. Although I suppose that this means that I owe you something or a favor of some sort; that is how these things usually work out right, a mystic being does you a favor and you owe them something back in kind?"

"Maybe for some but not for me," Kelsey explained as she briefly paused from her ice cream, "I am a servant of Destiny, what I do I don't do seeking material gain. In fact for me the typical accumulation of material goods and possessions are rather pointless, especially given the necessities and perks of my job; besides when it comes right down to it all you really need are the little things and a little creativity."

"You and my dad would get along great," I remarked with a smile on my face.

"I wouldn't doubt it," Kelsey replied with an oddly serene smile, "I usually get along with everybody; well unless they aggressively try to keep me from doing performing my duty as an agent of Destiny, because then things can get rather...unpleasant."

"Heh-heh-heh- right," I nervously laughed at the implication of those words, something told me that I really didn't want her to elaborate just what she meant by unpleasant.

Sunday, April 22, 2007
Ante Chamber - Mister Domino's Private Lounge
Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom New York Chapter House
New York City, New York
12:13 AM EDT

"Dammit we should be back at the base already," Atropos fumed as she impatiently tapped her foot, "someone had the balls to shot my little girl, I want to be there to tear them off and shove them down his throat before I hang him upside down and use his head as a speed bag!"

"Dear I'm afraid the monster that shot our daughter is out of our hands," Gremlin replied as he hugged his wife from behind, "he's already in police custody and if the intel from back home is anything to go by the FBI are actually involved. Let's be patient, we can always arrange a little incident in prison, there are plenty in lock up who would gladly shank someone for Lady Scratch's gratitude."

"I know but I just feel so helpless," Atropos admitted as she was wracked with sobs, "we were so careful to keep our civilian identities completely separate from our real selves. How did someone found out, and if they did, why did they go after her? The only thing that our baby is guilty of is being our baby, why punish her?!?"

"From what I gather it had nothing to do with Gremlin and Atropos," Agony spoke up as he got the couple's attention, "I went over your cover, the only way that could have been blown would be from inside the Sweepers and only at face card status. No, believe me when I say that nobody who's worked hard enough to get where we are would risk throwing everything away by giving that intel out, plus nobody who has been would be stupid enough to do something that would risk Lady Scratch's retaliation when they did- they would know that once she became aware of where they were it would only be a matter of time till the Reverents got to them and after that it would be game over."

"Agony's right you two," Catalyst remarked as she looked over from her notebook of chemical formulas. "Still I wonder what's taking boss and Lady Scratch so long, it's been over an hour since we took Arcane-Knight into custody and their still in there with him. You don't think that she's lost her patience during the interrogation and went to torture, do you?"

"Since you're still new I'll ignore that Catalyst," Perses commented as he glared at the chemist turned super-villain, "besides even if Mother Scratch loses her temper that is why she has Shuffle in there with her to keep everything nice and professional."

"And Atropos I wouldn't worry, one of mother's children attended to your daughter right after she was shot," Perses explained to the distraught mother as the doors opened to the meeting room as Erzebet Scratch, Shuffle and Arcane-Knight emerged, "she will have to sit down with mother for a long talk though to go over her options."

"I am afraid that Kampe will have to attend that meeting in my stead my dears," Erzebet sighed, "business regarding a mutual meeting between all available members of both the Obsidian Circle and a Grey Barrow at their headquarters I'm afraid. Apparently, much has been going on tonight and what happened in Boston is a part of that; I'm to be meeting with the Eastern and Western Maidens in a scant few hours- and I can say that it is a meeting that I am not looking forward to attending. Not to mention that afterwards I'll likely be needed at Chateau Noir in Vermont to run damage control with Whateley's Administration department regarding tonight's events."

Catalyst looked at Shuffle as if seeking some clarity there which he provided, "The Eastern Maiden is Lady Astarte's daughter and the Western Maiden has some…unpleasant history with the Obsidian Circle."

"Hold on one moment," Arcane-Knight spoke up, "when you offered me employment within the Sweepers you said nothing about compliance with kidnapping, which is something of which I want no part."

"Nor would I," Erzebet Scratch responded to the haunted mech-suit, "they saved them from that attack by your previous employer and plan to transport deliver them home tomorrow morning. However, in the interim we and the Grey Barrow are going to reveal to them a matter of prophecy; today the Southern Maiden has revealed herself and that means that it is time the four the full truth of the prophecy in which they are entangled is explained to them."

"May I be a part of their escort back to Whately?" Arcane-Knight inquired, "I have business with the student there known as Tennyo, I cannot possibly apologize enough for the injustice that my failure brought upon her family."

"I will see to arranging that," Shuffle responded before adding, "however you had best remember that afterwards you are to report directly to Dead-Zone's Training Camp, you might have been accepted into the Sweepers however your equipment is far too advanced for what we allow a four to make use of out in the field. Ideally you wouldn't be allowed to make use of your current gear out in the field unless you were an eight, this means that if you do not wish to have your armor downgraded you need not only to pass Dead-Zone's Training Camp you must do so with honors."

"Understood sir," Arcane-Knight replied in true Medieval tradition, at attention with his right arm across his chest resting in a clenched fist over where a normal person's heart would be, "I shall endeavor to do so both to the very best of my abilities and beyond."

"Lady Scratch," Gremlin spoke up to get their ultimate employer's attention, "if I may be so bold as to ask, have you heard anything about our daughter's situation? My wife and are worried about just why she was shot, was it one of our enemy's taking it out on her?"

"No," Erzebet Scratch responded, "it was nothing of the sort. Someone used the party that was being thrown at your house this weekend to gain access to your personal lab in your basement and copied files off the computer down there onto a flash drive. When they were caught the intruder took one of the party-gooers hostage and your daughter intervened and was shot in the process."

"Dammit," Gremlin all but snarled dropping his calm and pounding the floor looking all the more monstrous given his vestige, "if he hadn't taken that hostage my little girl would have been fine and we wouldn't be going through this mess."

"Huh," Agony spoke-up and stared at Gremlin like he had grown a second-head, "what's that supposed to mean, I mean if your daughter knew that somebody stole stuff off of your lab computer then if she was willing to put her neck out to save a hostage then she would have done the same to keep your work from being stolen right."

Gremlin looked at Agony with an odd look on his face and replied, "Funny thing when you bring up my lab computer...

Round Rock Police Department
Round Rock, Texas
11:15 PM CDT

As the midnight hour began to approach fewer people began to populate the police precinct as the Graveyard Shift took over. Despite the odd occurrences of the day, few of the officers involved in the case at hand thought that matters could be solved fueled by coffee and determination.

Although a number of the FBI agents assigned to the case in question decided to stick around to work a little later, most of them were pouring over reports and initial findings into the identity of the individual known as Joel Gibson; they hoped that there was some clue some loose thread that they could discover in the cover story surrounding the criminal whose present status as an inert gray sphere made questioning impossible.

However, all the answers to their questions lay across the street on the roof of the Ferguson Plumbing supply company staring at them through a pair of high-powered binoculars; the new Faux-05 was active and he had acquired the target for his inaugural mission, retrieve the USB flash drive left behind by his predecessor from the police evidence room.

While the new Faux-05 like all Faux-Number agents within the Grand Masquerade had shape-shifting capabilities thanks to their nanotechnology, they were unable to change size and mass, thus without prosthetics and a stolen police uniform there was no way for the nameless agent to just walk right in the front door. Also given that the FBI agents who had arrived to investigate his predecessor would be bound to follow procedure and send all evidence related to the case back to Washington in a locked briefcase cuffed to an armed agent that meant that his window for success was small and shrinking by the hour.

That meant that the only possibility was for stealth infiltration; he would have to enter the station via an alternative means and recover the objective from the station without being spotted, a difficult proposition but not an impossible one. Taking care to repel down the side of the building with no cars in sight, Faux-05 carefully made his way to the southern fence while keeping low taking a moment to check and see that it wasn't electrified (an unlikely scenario given that mainly suburban nature of the town), Faux-05 wrapped himself with a tarp from his bag and climbed the links of the short fence given that he couldn't detect guards or cameras. Using the tarp once at the top he swung over the razor-wire to the inside of the fence, carefully making his way across the narrow back lot to the back of the police station and stowing the tarp in the bag for later.

Now came the fun part, using the special gloves on his suit Faux-05 scaled the side of the Police building just as he had the Ferguson Company earlier, given that it was only a single story building this time went a lot faster. Once on the roof Faux-05 made his way to the east side of the building and firmly affixed a grapple hook to the edge of the roof to expedite his escape. Satisfied that his preparations were complete the spy of the Grand Masquerade accessed the specification of the Police Building from his predecessor's memories to determine the most likely location for the drive, locating the evidence room for active investigations he cross referenced the building's ventilation system.

Unfortunately, the vent for the room lay outside the evidence locker's cage, apparently the city had some common sense in its construction after all. Still it was his best stop for his initial search, entering the heat exhaust vent on the roof, Faux-05 made his way as slowly and silently through the ducts to his first target. With his nanites projecting a map directly to the side of his field of vision in his right eye to guide him he made his way to the vent nearest to the evidence room, Faux-05 deployed a dual-purpose probe from his pack, making use of the probes primary purpose he could see that the room was empty, after employing a bar to the sides of the vent in order to make his way back up to escape, Faux-05 jumped out of the vent and into the evidence room.

Taking a quick moment to survey the room the spy spotted the nearby clipboard which chronicled all evidence submissions and when it was brought into the room. Memorizing the seven most likely suspects Faux-05 came to the final obstacle here, the lock to the cage, a matter that was easily overcome with the scanning pneumatic bump keys in his arsenal. Once inside he went through the boxes one by one until on the fifth try out of a possible seven, he located the one containing his predecessor's effects, carefully Faux-05 went through them careful to note the order and manner they had been placed inside until he found it- the flash drive.

Taking great care, Faux-05 swapped the drive inside for an identical (albeit empty) substitute, and made his way out of the room and back to the roof- taking great care to remove every sign of his intrusion as he went. By the time he repelled down the roof the newest of the latest in a line of Faux-05's could see that his debut mission had been pulled off without a hitch. Once retrieving his grapple and line the agent made his way past the eastern fence as easily as he had the south-side and towards his chosen exit point Soil Conservation Service Site 11's Reservoir.

It had taken a few moments but after some repellent scent to keep the wild alligators that called the reservoir home which wasn't difficult to do at night. He activated a beacon to call for his extraction, it took half an hour but he could see the headlights of his ride- mission complete. "For the glory of the Grand Masquerade," Faux-05 whispered in satisfaction with none to hear him but a few insects and the night air.

Room 209 - St. David's Round Rock Medical Center
Round Rock, Texas
11:51 PM
POV: Joan Drucker, Rose of Darkness

After The Wayfarer or as she called herself Kelsey left my room I just waited, sooner or later one of the elders of Erzebet Scratch's Sisterhood of Succubae would be along for my answer. There were parts that I was unsure about, did I want to keep being Joan Drucker, did I really want to go through with my proposal and would they accept my proposal. Ugh, there were just so many variables to this problem it was making my head spin.

One thing was for certain, all this time waiting was driving me up the wall; I just wish that whoever it was that was going to weigh my options with me would just get here already- if there was one thing that I hated it was empty time. I mean since it was all there was to do right now was Elinore I mean Myra's spell keeping me concealed in this empty room I didn't dare leave because for all I knew that would undo her spell and get me in trouble with the very people that I was about to negotiate with.

I would have turned on the television to try and get my mind off my problems for a little while but everything was either about the pandemonium that just went down in Boston or an attack on this college in a small town in Colorado named Durango. In all it was too depressing to think about especially given that the young unknown heroes mentioned in the report on Boston were likely to be people that I would have gotten to know if I could work out going to Whateley like I wanted, while I still might the odds against it were fairly long- but it was the only card that I had which might work.

Finally, someone came through my door that I knew was with Erzebet's faction; at first I thought that she had sent a Reverant to escort me to the place where I was supposed to meet the chosen elder, that was until her wings, tail and horns appeared and I knew that this was the meeting. "Hello Lady Kampe," I spoke up noting that the first of Erzebet's succubus children, and the source of the Reverants, was here to take my answer to Myra's question.

"Very well Joan, I certainly hope that you thought matters over in regard to your situation," Kampe began to explain, "because you are expected out of surgery soon. Now understand that if Joan Drucker is to make a complete recovery you must decide here and now what you want to do with your life. I know that this is a tall order and that people your age need a lot of time to figure this out, but right now I'm afraid that time is a luxury that you cannot afford."

"However, Myra probably explained this to you but the secret of Mother Scratch's Sisterhood must remain a secret exclusive to a select chosen outside of the Sisterhood itself; while I know that you wish to attend Whateley to learn how to be a hero, but there are many of the faculty who given the time might be able to figure out your secret. You see Reverend Englund and Totem are both on the school's Board of Directors, you would have to maintain your cover as a demi-succubus constantly- with every slip-up you risk not only exposing yourself but the entire Sisterhood as well. With all that being said I am now prepared to hear your counter argument, just remember if I do not accept it, just how much is at stake."

"I propose that on the public face that Axcel relocates me both out of protection," I began laying out my proposal, "and so as not to disrupt the community with Humanity First activity, protests and the like."

"Very good so far," Kampe stated as she took my proposal into account, "but I can tell that you have a part two to your proposal- so by all means enlighten me."

"The second part to my proposal is to prove that I can keep my status secret," I explained and took a deep breath to steady myself, "I attend Dead-Zone's Training Camp."

Kampe's eyes widened with shock over the implications of my words, "Do you understand what you are saying? Dead-Zone's camp is brutal even for adults, even if they do have a full grasp on their abilities. Some of those who attend give up after a few days and that camp goes on for twelve weeks, you manifested as a mutant less than a day ago and know less than that about being a demi-succubus and you want us to put you through something that can break people years older than you!"

"Yes," I replied as I steadied my resolve, "if I can make it through Dead-Zone's Training Camp with at least a pass while keeping my secret intact can I attend Whateley?"

Kampe seemed to mull the matter over in silence before she gave her decision. "The full magnitude of this is beyond even a decision I could make myself- Mother will need to consider it. However, before I draw up your proposal to submit to Mother; Joan- I am just curious about the matter that started this whole mess, I would have thought that your father had better security on his lab." Kampe spoke up about the one matter that I wasn't prepared to come up, just as well because this was a simple answer.

"Anyone who knows us well enough can get into our work lab," I smiled wickedly, "but gaining access to his actual Lab PC is another story. While the keypad can get you into the lab, unless the passive biometric scanners in the hallway recognize you the real Lab PC stays hidden by a revolving panel inside the wall. If anyone tries to download anything off of the other computer without first imputing the unprompted fifteen-digit alpha-numeric password, it installs some triple-encrypted junk data and a virus that completely nukes the next hard drive that tries to access the downloaded files; the only reason I acted was because Joel or whoever he was tried to kidnap my friend Mallory."

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3 years 4 months ago #47249 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 23

Animas Hall - Fort Lewis College
Durango, Colorado
10:28 PM MDT
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Alright- the stuff had officially hit the fan, I just wanted one night to feel normal- one night to feel like Zhen-yu Chen a budding club-hopper from Seattle again not Zhen-yu Chen half-dragon Maiden of Destiny- is that too much to ask- is that being too selfish? Instead what did I have to show for it after leaving that cave I found that I was invited to a party by a local college student who I met at a thrift store, only to have it be attacked by a trio of rednecks in power armor, and the girl who invited me sprouted a tail and start wailing on them. Yeah, I was now about eighty percent sure Kelsey is Sun Wukong (the Monkey King and former traveling companion to my teacher Sha Wujing), not that I was too shocked transformation was part of his wide repertoire of skills- even in the stories.

But all of this didn't change the fact that we were getting shot at by freaking rednecks in power armor- it's official I must have spent every waking moment punching babies or drowning puppies or something in my last life because that would be the only explanation for the butt load of crazy that's landed in my lap within the last year. I mean I get bitten by a rat, break a millennia old vase, swell into an egg, hatch as some mutant dragon-lady, get kidnapped and enslaved by a cult, squirreled away in a cave, taught by beings of legend, and now after trekking over a hundred miles to try and find a little oasis of normalcy I was being shot at by redneck mercs in power armor.

Meanwhile the Masstearsome Brothers, I think that's what they called themselves, were reeling after Kelly's initial attack and were holding their ground while the now helmetless member of their crew helped the one that Kelly had knocked to the ground to his feet. While all of this was happening, the man who I assumed was the leader of this not so merry band of mercenaries was trying his best to hit Kelly whose dodging was venturing into the absurd as everyone in the room (myself included) lay prone to avoid getting hit by stray shots.

While watching the festivities the portly guy that Kelly was chatting with earlier, grabbed my arm which for a moment caused me to recoil and try to kick the guy's ass as best I could, when he commented, "Quick- while their distracted, I need to get you to safety."

"Give my one reason that I shouldn't roast your ass!" I whispered trying to avoid attention from the other party-goers and the mercs while I lit a series of small fire on my finger-tips by striking a few stray sparks.

"Because Mister Personality asked the two of us here to keep an eye on you," the gentleman stated through his teeth. "What do I have to break out my jiuchidingpa for you to get it? I'm Zhu Bajie, Kelly is an identity that The Protector of the Horse created a few years ago using his hair-clone technique on Guanyin's request but all of that doesn't matter if you don't move your scaly backside to safety."

"No," I turned back to look at the guised Monkey King's fight with the armored mercenaries, growing angrier and angrier with each passing moment.

"Okay, now if you follow me we can... what the hell did you just say?!?" Zhu Bajie goggled at my sudden declaration, "What is the matter with you kid? This is no game and these yahoos were hired to ship you back west back into your cell deep in dungeons of the Merchants of Suffering's stronghold."

"I know perfectly well what this is about," I grit my teeth and glared at my enemy's chosen pawns, "but I am fed up with hiding and I am through having other people fight my battles for me; these jokers came to try and capture a dragon, well I'm going I'm going to show them that they just volunteered for more than could handle."

Throwing off Zhu Bajie's grasp I entered the stance of transformation once again, this time though it wasn't for a disguise. Sure, enough I felt myself slip into my normal abnormal self, as my sudden appearance both frightened those party goers who were already afraid for their lives.

One girl, near my feet looked up and pleaded, "Please- don't eat me!"

I just rolled my eyes, "Lady I was just here for the same reason you are, to have a little fun and feel like a human-being again- no there are only three people here that I want to hurt," I looked up to stare at my self-proclaimed abductors, "and something tells me that you won't care if I kick their sorry back-sides from here to the tip of Pike's Peak."

After looking at just where I was and coming to a realization over what I had just said she smiled with mischief in her eyes and proclaimed in a hushed tone, "Go kick their asses Dragon Lady!"

"Not so sure about the name," I remarked sure that I had a sour look on my draconian visage- before pulling Mudi from out of its hiding place and with was bound to be a wicked smile on my maw concluded, "but I'll still do my best to follow your request."

I felt a sting on my side; I looked down to see the flattened slug of an eight-millimeter round against my hide. Okay, these assholes thought that they had what it took to bring me in while they had the kid gloves on, unfortunately for them I wasn't some delicate Chinese flower that would wilt under their heated gazes- Monkey King or not I was going to kick some ass tonight.

With Mudi firmly clutched in my talons I crept along the floor, staying as low as I could while I approached Sun Wukong's skirmish with the armored mercenaries... what the they call themselves again- the Massharesome Brothers I was about sixty-percent sure that was what they said their name was- yeah, the Massharesome Brothers were just about to realize that their prey was out of their weight-class.

A better look showed that approaching the fight on ground-level was going to be a fool's errand, while my sturdy draconic-hide would probably keep me safe from most anything these armored knuckle-heads could throw at me the others around me would likely get turned into hamburger. No- I did not want that on my conscious or on my karma; they just came here to have a good time, not to get maimed and killed. That was when something Sha Wujing taught me came back to the forefront of my mind, 'never think of conflict as others would consider conventional, because then you dismiss the unconventional.'

Taking his words to heart I stayed low but looked up, sure enough the ceiling actually looked a bit on the sturdy side, made for sound ambience and thus not the usual drywall slabs that make up most ceilings, but would it hold my weight? Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained; I kept low as I made my way along the ground level making sure to keep my eye on the mercs to make sure they wouldn't spot me as they tried to do the impossible and kill Su Wukong. I only paused once as it left like my tail's tuft got caught on something, a brief tug freed it but it felt like I lost some hair in the process, oh well at least I kept quiet.

Eventually I made my way to a wall and then decided to try my gamble, after biting down on the handle of Mudi to keep it secure I began my trek first with my right claw then my left I tried to climb the wall, mildly damaging the veneer as I went. Thankfully the material of the wall itself was sturdy enough to hold, satisfied for the time being I made my climb up the wall now making use of my talons while I made my way towards the ceiling.

It was tough but I made it, then with a brief swing I made my way to surface of the ceiling as I began an upside-down crab walk. Looking down as I made my way along the ceiling I was glad that I was just afraid of the cold not heights, otherwise this would be terrifying in addition to mildly-disorienting. After what seemed like forever I found myself right above my chosen target, the bucket-head that Sun Wukong knocked to the ground; the leader was still unharmed while the one who lost his helmet was actually bright-enough to hang towards the back- just outside of the building and my possible strike zone.

"Oh well," I muttered after taking Mudi out of my mouth, "they came here to party too-" I dropped from the ceiling with a double-handed grip on my hammer, "- let's see how they slam dance!" I punctuated my sentence with Mudi hitting its make right on the merc's helmet.

The man fell, stumbling forwards as his helmet crumpled and his visor broke while I back-flipped between him and helmetless, who was looking at me in shock. "What's the matter?" I asked with an edge to my voice, "Did you honestly come looking to capture a dragon and not expect to get beaten and burned?"

That was when helmetless punched at me with his armored left-fist and sent some foul-smelled smoke flying at me. As I recoiled in shock I could hear him call out,
"The operation has gone side-ways, fall back and regroup!" I could hear hissing around me and before I knew it all three mercs were gone, they even had stopped to pick up the helmet Sun Wukong had knocked off the one who sprayed me.

The monkey king was surveying the scene as Zhu Bajie approached us, "I checked and everyone's fine but you know that the cops are going to be here soon, followed by the National Guard and maybe even Heaven's Thunder or Denver Gold. If we don't want to have some explaining to do I had suggest we make ourselves scarce.

"Might as well," I huffed as I looked around at the damages, "it's not like I couldn't pay for the repairs with a little time and effort but something tells me that those three are going to be back and a lot better armed- these folks have been through enough already."

"Wise words," Zhu Bajie remarked, "besides I'm starving, and dinner's on me."

"Don't you mean dinner's on Gautama Buddha you alter-cleaning glutton?" Sun Wukong remarked as she stowed her staff back behind her ear, "Being charitable with offerings to the Buddha is one thing but using them to fake generosity of another kind is definitely not kosher."

"Oh hardy- har-har," Zhu snorted at the monkey girl, whose now visible hand-feet further revealed the truth of her nature. "You're always a real comedian aren't you stable-boy?"

"At least I am stable," Sun remarked with a toothy grin before leading the way- hopefully to a decent hiding place where I could get some answers out of her.

Inside the Bloody Bastard
10:52 PM

"What the hell happened out there?!?" Bufford screamed at Lloyd now that he had finally pulled the broken helmet free from where Zhen-yu's hammer had lodged it in his armor. "No way was that dragon chick was some timid slave, and who the hell was that monkey bitch! Damn'it Lloyd you're supposed to be our egg-head where were your brains going into this crap shot? Oh, let me guess shoved right up that smug asshole of yours!"

"Shut it Bufford!" Lloyd shot back without looking up from the equipment he was tinkering with, "I worked with the intel I was given, if you want to yell at someone yell at our fine leader. I had a feeling there was something off about the info we were given, it had to be either spotty or off, by the shape that you're in I'd wager it was off."

"You know exactly who we're working for Lloyd," Rod finished removing his worn armor and went on to the artillery locker, "Those finger waggling chinks are a cult, that dragon bitch they want back was probably kidnaped in the first place and looks like we might have run into whoever helped her escape- those chinks in San Fran may be a lot of things but pushovers ain't one of them."

"If that bitch escaped then why'd we find her only two-states West of San Fran?" Bufford demanded as he threw his broken helmet on the floor, "They lost her months ago, why's she in Colorado and not on the East Coast?!?"

"Because she escaped the Grand Hall you idiot," Rod snapped at his alcoholic half-wit of a cousin, "she may not know it but whoever got her out had to have had at least a little info on the Grand Hall, if she crossed over the border to Kansas or Oklahoma then she'd be in Scratch's territory and that bitch has eyes and ears all over the middle part of the country! As for the east coast if she hit the Atlantic then she'd really be in for it, every warlock in New York would be after her like a staving dog on a ribeye, not to mention that group of psychos in Boston. Plus staying here meant that the chinks wouldn't come after her directly if they were smart, that would mean that they'd have had to pass Nevada and those folks at the Vegas House wouldn't like that one bit- not to mention that they'd risk Heaven's Thunder, who'll likely be here soon because of the noise we made for nothing."

"The ship's camoed and it weren't for nothing," Lloyd shot back, "now we have a lot better intel then we did going in and thanks to my quick thinking we'll find her a lot faster."

"Do tell brainiac," Rod looked up from the gun lockers, "what's your plan for take two?"

"Yeah and why did you blow some useless smoke in her face," Bufford interrupted, "if you were going to use something on her why not a flamethrower?"

"Bufford what use would a f*cking flamethrower be on a dragon?" Lloyd looked and asked as he paused from his work to rub his temples over his cousin's considerable stupidity.

"Don't bother Lloyd," Rod huffed as he kept pouring over their arsenal for options on take-two, "he won't get it and you know it!"

"What I sprayed her with was a mixture of animal repellant and a radio-isotope marker," Lloyd explained as he ignored Bufford's stupid question, "even if she finds a way to hide from my heat scanner my isotopic tracker won't just lead us to her- she can't shake it, no matter where she goes we'll find her- even if she hides this will let us track her down like a blood hound does a treed coon until it wears off!"

"Good Lloyd," Rod remarked with an air of smug satisfaction, "you do that while I check the merc boards for some clue on the monkey bitch who was with the dragon lady, I hate going in blind twice in a row!"

John F. Reed Library
10:56 PM

Ingrid Olson wandered around the library satisfied that she had successfully slipped away from the scene before police and emergency crews had arrived. Ingrid knew that she had to hand it to her brother, he had chosen somewhere inconspicuous to rendezvous given that at a college, students come go from a library at all hours of the day, who was going to look twice at a couple of kids here.

Sure, enough after a few minutes of searching she found him in a private study room along the wall that was little more than a closet with a desk, making use of his laptop and the Ethernet port along the wall. As the door was open she took that as an invitation and entered closing the door behind them, "I hope this room is well ventilated because if some prune walks by and the window on the door is fogged up I don't think I'll ever live it down."

"Chill sis," Tobias replied as he pointed up to the metal vent in the ceiling, "this room's ventilated...barely. The real question is just what the hell happened out there? I lost contact with you a while ago and I've just been hearing sirens and radio-chatter- something about a mutant attack; don't tell me that you decided to fight our target, and you say that I'm being reckless."

"It wasn't me!" Ingrid replied in a hushed tone, "I had our target narrowed down to three possible girls when three muscle-heads in Syndicate power-armor blew out a wall and started shooting. Everything went side-ways from then on, some girl with a monkey tail started wailing on the meat-heads then our target revealed herself- scaled the walls and nailed one of those power-armor jockeys before they decided to make tracks. Soon after our target, the monkey girl and some heavy-set guy from the party left too- I was lucky enough to get out of there without being shot or rounded up by the police."

"I doubt that they were Syndicate, the Merchants of Suffering might do business with the Syndicate but not enough for Dominus to justify letting them use a Tiger Squad." Tobias mused for a moment, "They were probably former Syndicate who took the gear as severance pay- and with how much money the Merchants are offering it was bound to attract at least one group like that."

"At least I was able acquire what you sent me in there for," Ingrid stated as she fished a tuft of thick rust-colored hair from her pocket, "let me guess, we're going to purform an old fashioned thaumaturgical tracking spell?"

"Eventually dear sister," Tobias looked at the hair and smiled, "first we need to make a phone call, because if I'm right about that monkey girl and the over-weight guy then something tells me that this job is way outside our weight class. I guess that it's a good thing that we're thinking outside the box on this one."

"I hope that you are sure this Tobi," Ingrid clinched her teeth in concern, "because this is a very dangerous game you decided to play here- and if it blows up in our faces then something tells me that we're going to wind up worse off than dad did."

Valle De Merced Apartments
10:59 PM
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

Now once more in the same form that I wore at the party- something that was as necessary to avoid suspicion as Sun Wukong hiding his tail, or is that her tail- one thing was for certain advanced shape-shifting made picking the right pronoun a nightmare. Come to think of it who in their right mind would use it to cross the gender gap, for some reason I had a stray thought of me using my own growing shape-shifting talents to try being as a guy. As soon as I realized just what I was thinking I promptly took that stray thought marched it at gunpoint somewhere isolated and shot it for good measure, I had enough odd and disturbing experiences rattling around in my memories, I didn't need the temptation to try and experience the other side of the gender divide to add to the oddness.

"Alright," Sun Wukong stated as she shut the door, "we should be fine, fortunately I was able to swing a single- a few centuries of squirreling away money here or there was enough to afford this among a few other things."

"And you were the one of us who became a Buddha," Zhu commented as he began rummaging around in the fridge, "this is hardly a vow of poverty."

"Hello, I'm the Buddha of youthful vitality, so I sew a few copies of myself here or there to experience living as a youth in various aspects." The Monkey King confessed, "A teenager here, a child there, and here a college student. To tell the truth the only reason I chose this college was because Guanyin suggested that if I did I would be in the right place to help when something major occurred."

"Yeah right," Zhu snorted as he removed a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the fridge, "that's your excuse whenever I find you somewhere weird; it was all at Guanyin's request- honestly if I had a yuan every time I heard that I could buy a private island in the Pacific."

"Whether or not you believe it you lazy porker is up to you," Son stated as 'she' parked it, "I just hope that my cover with the school wasn't completely blown, I put a good deal of effort into Kelly Windkloppel so I would rather her story doesn't end tonight."

"So, you're saying that you've been here waiting for me because Guanyin, the Lady of Mercy, asked you to?" I inquired finally wanting to get to the bottom of just what was going on tonight. "I mean I've heard that I'm something called the Northern Maiden, and that the others are a genie, a mermaid and a fairy, but that's it- nothing about what that means or what we're supposed to do just that I am. Why won't anybody give me a straight answer about this, not even Kelsey would tell me about this and she's supposed to be some neigh all-knowing mystic heavyweight."

"Who's this Kelsey she's talking about?" Zhu Bajie inquired after downing half the beer, "And do you have any descent booze around here, American beer barely does anything."

"Those are mostly for guests," Sun responded, "I'm only a social drinker, besides "A little alcohol is not wrong when seeking to quiet the ego," also I rarely indulge and choose to down a bottle, quality over quantity after all. Besides I would think that you would have access to all the booze you wanted, people do donate offerings of alcohol to temples- right heavenly alter cleaner?"

"Yeah but not any of the good stuff," Zhu huffed, "I've had enough rot-gut donated over the years that I can smell the cheap stuff though the glass. I mostly use that nasty stuff as lamp fuel, I mean most of that stuff can be nasty on the tract."

"TMI pig man-" I wretched at the mental image that description conjured shortly before transforming back into my normal form, "-TMI, a lady does not need to know these things!"

"As for your earlier question Zhu- Kelsey is the current Wayfarer," Sun replied as she parked it on the sleeper sofa in the living area. "And for you oh Maiden of the North you're going to find that one out later tonight, I don't know the specifics but someone arranged for you and the other three to be able to gather in some way no matter where you lot are and the first time that you four are supposed to find out about your prophesized destiny. All any of the groups I move in will admit about the prophecy either are keeping quiet on the details or are aware of is bits and pieces- well Lord Khamsim and Valkyrian may no more than any of us but that would only be because they were probably there to hear the original prophecy when it was first spoken tens of thousands of years ago."

"All that I know is that the four of you are supposed to help bridge the gap between humanity and what became of each of the courts," Sun shrugged, "what exactly that implies and how that explains your destiny- well... honestly... I don't have a clue. Oh well, whatever it is at least you're going to have help achieving it, trust me going it alone might seem like a good idea but there are consequences to doing it."

"You're just saying that because when you split from us you got your ass handed to you by Hai-er Hong and needed Guanyin to bail you out- again!" Zhu laughed as he went back to rummaging through Sun's fridge. "And to think of the three of us you were supposed to be the big bad ass, and you got your tail handed to you by a kid. Come to think of it you had a ton of trouble with his mother Princess Tie Shan too- not to mention how his dad King Niu Mo fooled you into thinking he was me."

"This from the man who has the head of a pig for eternity for making drunken pass at Chang'e," Sun retorted with a wry smile on her face after a brief flash from her fridge transformed Zhu Bajie back into his true form, "not to mention fell into every trap that involved a pretty face along our journey- a journey that would have gone much faster if you hadn't insisted to Master Xuanzang that we take the full hospitality of the locals almost every time that we entered the next province."

"Come on Sun," Zhu groaned, "you couldn't let me be mildly suave around a lady for once- dragon or not. Plus, those accommodations were a lot safer than roughing it out in the wild and you know it!"

"What I know is that you insisted on indulging on your trinity of vices broadcasted our presence to every demon and brigand in the provinces and caused a good deal of our problems to begin with!"

"Pardon me," I spoke up trying to get the pair's attention- as well as breaking up one of their infamous arguments, "but aren't we one-member shy of your famous trio. I would have thought that Sha Wujing would have been here waiting for us."

"Hey why bring up that boring stiff when you can hang out with yours truly?" Zhu commented as he tried to puff up his chest but given his pot-belly failed miserably.

"Well for one thing I've known him for a lot longer than I have either of you two," I huffed as a puff of steam escaped my nose (something that now tends to happen when I get a little hot under the collar. "There is also the fact that he is my Xiansheng and was probably the one who called the both of you about me in the first place, so color me worried that he isn't here yet especially given that those three armored mercs where likely just the first ones here after me. Trust me with all the money that I made the Zhaoshang de Youhuan they were bound to put a bounty for my return, who knows how many knuckle-heads there are out here, hell I wouldn't be shocked if a few of the Merchants were here themselves just so that they didn't have to pay anybody; I mean that would fit those who literally worship greed- right?"

Oxbow Park and Preserve
11:07 PM

"Who would have thought that the first group of muscle-brained buffoons to arrive would actually manage to flush her out?" Au Jai-guo mused from his chair as a blank-eyed servant girl poured him another cup of whole-leaf Darjeeling oolong. "If Xiyi is not more careful we might have to sully our blades with their blood when it comes time to reward them."

"I appreciate that you find this situation humorous Yaoshi Daishi," Kao Tak-keung observed as he uselessly swatted at a fly which had been pestering him for the better part of an hour, "because we are not supposed to even be here- if the Xue-jin Mushi finds out that we defied his edict he would place a price on our heads."

"Wong Kuan is new to his throne and is still wearing the robes of the one who came before him," Au remarked to his subordinate, "he rose from being one of my Jiemao de Yonghu too fast. In fact, I would not be surprised if he bribed the Bone Reader to name him over someone more qualified, as Yao Xiyi's primary keeper he was bound to have pocketed a small fortune in gemstones meant for our coffers."

"Whether that is true or not is irrelevant- he is the Xue-jin Mushi until Lord Huangjin Jian-xue decides that he is worthless." Kao retorted, "You know as well as I that the life of the Xue-jin Mushi is governed by Lord Huangjin Jian-xue's whims, should Wong Kuan displease him he will wind up just like his predecessors- as another hundred-pound bag of gold dust in our coffers and a pile of bones for our diviner to read for the name of his replacement."

"True- however Wong Kuan has yet to fully cement his favor with Lord Huangjin Jian-xue, should another from within our ranks through actions and guile gains our Lord's favor before the Xue-jin Mushi it will make for a very short reign." Au remarked as he turned to regard the semi-trailer that was finally arriving from the San Francisco Chapter House's storage pens at the Blythe Annex.

While it was true that Yao Xiyi for all her benefit was potentially dangerous while they had her captive, both her lack of a true name (which the previous Xue-jin Mushi had stripped her of until his death) as well as her human origin made her somewhat controllable. Still the Merchants of Suffering had many assets that were not so easily managed- and the last thing that they wanted to do was keep them within their stronghold inside of an area as earthquake prone as San Francisco.

The problem though was just about all of California was an Earthquake risk, but some areas were more seismically stable than others; this was what lead to the creation of the Blythe Annex back during the Sixties and kept all but their most precious creatures there; the Blythe Annex was also directly under the purview of the Yaoshi Daishi baring the rare inspections by the Xue-jin Mushi or his proxies.

"The only reason that I am here is that you are my immediate superior," Kao Tak-keung remarked as he glared at Au Jai-guo, "besides you know the way of our order."

"Yes, if I succeed you ride my coat-tails if I fail you reap the rewards of my folly," Au chuckled, "I know I have done the same myself many times over the years, besides if your reasons were not self-serving then I would have no reason to have you here with me. Still I am not foolish enough to leave myself open for back-stabbing should you wish to tip your hand with sabotage."

"That is why I am here," a man dressed in a Taoist gown explained as he climbed out of the passenger side of the semi's cab.

"Wait a moment," Kao was taken aback at the sight of the newest member of their gathering, "why is Pao Shu-yen here? Why could you possibly have need of a daoshi?"

Chewing over the matter briefly Kao's eyes widened in terror as the reason came to him, "You are going to use those things to hunt down Yao Xiyi, are you insane?!?"

"Thanks to that western witch we lack anything physical enough to perform a proper dousing ritual, and using a luopan can only get us so far in such a mountainous region," Au stated as the truck's driver went with Pao to the back of the truck as the later held dozens of fuli strips at the ready knowing that he would soon need every one of them.

Kao could all but feel his heart beating with terror as Pao held the fuli in front of him and began to quietly chant, the truck driver stood ready to open the door to the trailer the moment the daoshi finished and not a moment sooner. Sure, enough the moment Pao finished chanting the driver through open the door and jumped back as the inscribed rice paper talismans flew from Pao's hand and into the interior of the trailer with great haste and precision.

Kao held his breath out of fear that the occupants of the trailer may have not been properly tamed, and as such holding his breath was the only option that he had to stay alive should the daoshi's spell-casting fail. He remembered the old stories that his grandmother told him, they could not see as their eyes had been closed however they could still smell, and as they felt no pain despite their awkward movements they were dangerous if they got within arm's reach.

"Come forward my servants," Pao called out after he sealed the spell of command- however that would only work on those who had been properly tagged by his fuli, "your master commands it!"

Kao's heart skipped a beat as the entire trailer lurched, as if one giant mass moved inside the container, then it lurched again and again and again until the occupants began to emerge from the depths of the trailer and out onto the road under the cool Colorado air. Sure, enough Kao's earlier suspicions proved correct as dozens of Jiangshi, known in the west as hopping Chinese vampires, bounded in rows of three out of the trailer and onto the tarmac. Thankfully all the ashen gray reanimated cadavers had a fuli properly affixed to their foreheads, which meant that at least for the time being he was safe from the undead horde as they were under Pao's control.

As they began to file out Kao began to tally the rigormortis bound corpses in an effort to calm himself down, the exercise probed useless once he realized that Au had ordered thirty-nine of the monsters shipped from the annex that they were all under control was a great testament to Pao's skills as a daoshi, because otherwise they would have stood little chance as the Jiangshi pilled on them and drained their qi dry.

"I hope you know what you are doing Au," Kao turned to regard his superior, "bringing just a handful of those monsters here is one thing but over three-dozen- it is borderline madness."

"We need to track down Yao Xiyi before any of the mercenaries lured in by the reward do," Au responded with a smug expression across his face, "while the Wayfarer's intrusion destroyed any physical samples that we had of our property we still have her work."

Au then produced a bag full of sapphires, all of them imperfect and ill-suited for any real purposes other than for supplying chips for jewelry, "But anything created by the hands of one carries a hint of their qi within it, and few things exist that can hunt down a source of qi better than Jiangshi; they will find Xiyi before daybreak."

"Hey boss," the driver called out to get Kao and Au's attention, "do you want us to open the three cages in the back of the trailer?"

"No, leave them for now," Au explained as he walked over to where the Jiangshi stood as patient as the corpses that they were, "those are for later if we need them- we don't need to open them now and risk them testing the lengths of their leashes before the Jiangshi have tracked down their quarry."

Confidently the Keeper of Keys took the opened bag of gemstones and circled the Jiangshi.

"Breath deep of the refined and concentrated qi whose vessel is not here my servants," Pao spoke up as Au rounded the pack of undead slaves, "this is your prey- you must find and subdue the source of this qi but not consume her completely- this I command!"

With his terror over the Jiangshi fading, Kao's curiosity drew him into the semi-trailer to inspect the three cages still in the back, followed by the fly which despite the presence of magically reanimated corpses continued to harass him and no one else.

Once inside Kao experienced new kinds of terror, once he saw what was inside two of those three cages Kao no longer questioned Au Jai-guo's sanity- now he was certain that the man's jealousy of the current Xue-jin Mushi had caused him to take leave of his senses. What mystified Kao the most was the third cage, for unlike the other two its occupant appeared to be nothing more than a young man of Chinese origin in traditional garb. What was there about the young man other than the spear next to him could warrant his inclusion alongside the two deadly occupants of the other cages? Although the young man's glare was...unsettling as it was the glare was none-the-less expected as the man was a prisoner of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan enslaved to serve their whims.

Still the fly must have seen something that Kao Tak-keung did not as it finally left for greener pastures- or maybe something that the wildlife left behind in those pastures. None-the-less Kao was thankful because right now he was determined to find somewhere safe to wait this out- like a bunker mad of reinforced concrete because he knew that should those cages have opened that despite Au's confidence in the matter their chances of survival were slim should they slip their leashes.

Valle De Merced Apartments
11:41 PM
POV: Zhen-yu Chen, Rose of the North

I was in the middle of channel surfing pausing briefly as another live report aired from Boston, whatever happened there tonight appeared to have made tonight's brief skirmish pale in comparison, with fires, explosions, and actual zombie attacks it made the whole thing look like less of a news report and more like a trailer from a horror-style disaster movie like that book I heard about back in homeroom- what was it called... oh yeah World War Z. Maybe I should ask Kelsey to pick that up for me when I get back to the cave- come to think of it why weren't we headed back now; I'm certain that with Sun Wukong's cloud hopping skills that the three of us would be back there in no time, after all this is the warrior who traveled to the end of the universe on the bet that he could escape Buddha's grasp.

"Pardon me you two but shouldn't I be heading back to the cave," I broke the silence of the pair, "I mean the entire reason that I left was to go to my first party in months and unwind but the party's over so there's no reason to stick around here."

"Not until we take care of those mercenaries," Zhu Bajie remarked as he opened up another beer, "from what I heard what makes that cave special is that it is hard to find your way into it. But that just deters the casual observer; we need to find some way to get you back there without them having some way of tracking you there. Remember no matter how sturdy the fortress they all fall if you have enough firepower and if they follow you there is nothing to stop them from blasting or tunneling their way into the mountain to come after you."

"Yeah, besides you need to keep that cave secret until after you get your training done with the Handmaiden of the Tao." Sun Wukong explained as she got back to cooking in the kitchen. "Trust me you'll need that training, otherwise your skills will plateau way too soon and you'll never reach your true potential."

"Yeah but what is so special about the Handmaiden of the Tao?" I asked before mental slapping myself and elaborating, "I mean besides the obvious, is what I'm meant to do so important to the cosmic balance of reality that it warrants her training me personally?"

"It's because her office owes a life debt to your lineage," Sun Wukong began to explain, "you see the urn full of ashes that fell on you as well as the blade that serves as the symbol of the Handmaiden's office share the same origin- both were once a part of the fucanglong Qianbei Zunyan, your ancestor."

"Shut the front door, you mean that the thing the ashes that damned rat knocked on me was in my family tree?!?" I all but recoiled at that revelation, "How does that even work?"

"You're fifteen years old Zhen-yu if your parents haven't had that talk with you by now then you've certainly picked up on the mechanics by now on your own." Sun Wukong replied with a deadpan delivery, "That urn is one of dozens that were made from Zunyan's bones after he died and contained his own ashes, other than those urns only two other pieces of him were left behind his dragon pearl and his heart."

"Wait- I thought that you said he was a fucanglong, I know from the teachings that only tianlong have pearls why would Zunyan have one?" I inquired desperate to find answers to the whole matter.

"It's a long story," Sun took a stray hair from her head and with a gentle breath created a copy of herself before she returned to cooking.

The copy sat down in the living room while Sun Wukong continued her work in the kitchen, "Well as the real me was saying, it's a long story-"

Before she could continue a fly buzzed into the window and before transforming into a form that I knew quite well, "Master Sha Wujing, your friends were worried about you- I know that I shouldn't have snuck out of the cave but I was getting stir-crazy."

"You were a guest of the Wayfarer Lady Zhen-yu not a prisoner, you were free to leave as soon as you decided that you were ready." Sha explained although I could tell that something had him rattled, "That is not the reason why I am harried though, the mercenaries that you fought are not alone; a faction of the Merchants of Suffering themselves is here with a force intent on capturing you personally."

"So- I mean between the four of us we could take them if they actually find us here," I confessed hoping to put my teacher's mind at ease. "Besides they can't use tracking spells to find me- Kelsey destroyed all of the samples that she took when she sprung me from that hole in the ground."

"They still had the gemstones that you made while you were their prisoner, and those carried the scent of your qi upon them." Sha Wujing explained as he centered himself, "They used those to find out that you were in the area, and in addition to the mercenaries that you fought earlier, the faction present brought a great many Jiangshi with them to make use of that qi to seek you out- and a Jiangshi can detect your qi from even your breath thanks to those gemstones, they will find us even through these wards."

"So, what," Zhu snorted as he finished his latest beer, "we can lay those hoppers down for a dirt nap no problem."

"If it was only the Jiangshi then I would not be worried," Sha continued his explanation, "the Merchants of Suffering also brought along three more prisoners to fight their battle for them. A kuro-oni..."

"That couldn't have been easy for them get a hold of," Sun's copy interrupted, "those lugs are so brutal that Enma-Daioh keeps them all in the deeper Hells."

"an asura..."

"Those guys are still around," Zhu dropped his beer bottle which thankfully landed on the rug and didn't break, "I thought the devas took them all out during their war!"

"And our old friend Hai-er Hong," Sha Wujing finished as he locked eyes with Sun Wukong's real self in the kitchen.

"Sorry Zhen-yu," Sun Wukong said as she stared at her work, "it looks like the person that Guanyin sent me here to save wasn't you after all, it was her errant disciple. I know that I have no right to ask you this, but can I count on your help to rescue my sworn brother's son?"

"Let me get this straight," I paused to take it all in, "you are asking me to go out and risk myself going after the bastards who kidnapped me- threatened my friends and family- enslaved me- and routinely beat me all to rescue someone who kicked your ass while throwing myself in the line of fire of two monsters who are just as dangerous both of whom would try and kill me if freed."

"So, you won't do it," Sun Wukong observed disappointed in my reasoning.

"Of course, I want to do it," I retorted while a sadistic smile crossed my face, "I get to put the hurt on the bastards who made my life a living hell and liberate someone else all the while fighting alongside Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing- how could I say no. Hell, this is going to be something that I plan on bragging about later when I meet the other three maidens- no way they'll have a story anywhere near this interesting to tell."

"You may be surprised on that front kid," Sun Wukong commented as she cancelled out her copy, "but you wanted to party- please join the three of us for some slam-dancing."

The Bloody Bastard
11:54 PM

Within the bowels of their stolen Syndicate jump ship Lloyd looked up from his work bench as he finished soldering the final circuits on a board next to two similar panels. "Alright, this should do it!" The mechanic of the three-man team explained as he walked over to a heavier set of armor compared to the suits that they had used during their failed attempt nearly two hours ago and swapped out the current panel for one of the modified ones.

"This should give the shields in our rumble suits a minor kinetic absorption capacity without compromising the inherent heat resistance." Lloyd explained to Rod without bothering to explain it to Bufford.

"Good-," Rod replied as he got dressed in the now modified suit, "let's go out and nab us a lizard bitch and ain't any monkey girl or mumbo-jumbo go'in ta stand between the Masterson Brothers and our payday!"

"Good, lets fry us some critters!" Bufford shot from his seat as he went for the incendiary rocket launchers.

"Capture gear only Bufford," Rod glared down at his cousin, "that cult of rice-munchers wants the lizard bitch alive- we fry her then we get nothing but the price of repairs and ammo coming out of your beer money."

"You never let me have fun Rod!" Bufford grumped as he backed away from the nastier toys in their arsenal.

Room 205 - Days Inn Durango
11:55 PM

Within their cheap motel room Ingrid and Tobias Olson awaited the arrival of their intended employers, Ingrid with trepidation and Tobias with anticipation whether or not this would work was still up for debate. But the answer to that debate would be arriving soon.

"Are you sure that they'll go along with this bro-" Ingrid observed nervously as she watched the clock, "our family doesn't exactly have the best relationship with these people."

"That was through our dad sis, they have nothing against us personally; besides the Merchants of Suffering are their enemy." Tobias explained to his nervous sister, "You know the old saying, "The enemy of my enemy..."

"...is my enemy's enemy- no more no less." Ingrid stated as she heard heavy foot steeps outside, "Not that this matters- your guests are here, we will just have to play it by ear from here on out."

A knock on the room's door confirmed her suspicion...time was up- they were now here. Tobias went over and after checking through the peep-hole to confirm the knocker's identity opened the door to find a cadaverous individual on the other side wearing a decidedly out of date suit and top hat both of which had seen better days.

"Greet'ens young man," the undead individual cheerfully related as he looked at Tobias through lid-less eyes, "I ahm Papa 'ouma, ahn Ace wit' Shuffle's Sweepaas; I ahm 'ere because you said tha' you might 'ave a job tha' interests mah boss- Erzebet Scratch. I 'ope t'is was wort' t'e trip because I was never a real fan of cold weadar."

"Believe me Papa Houma sir," Tobias responded as he began his sales pitch, "your boss would kick herself if she had this opportunity slip through her fingers."

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