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Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend

  • Insane Hiker
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2 years 11 months ago #47832 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 24

Gallery of Effort - Scarlet Sands Resort
Las Vegas, Nevada
8:52? PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South

I let my newly revealed uncle Anubis guide me to one of the many rooms hidden beneath the resort that my real family called home. I had to admit that I was still amazed at just how much my life had changed over a few scant hours: I just found out that I was a girl who had literally been trapped in a boy's body my whole life (not metaphorically either the old me was a shell made of clay and magic that contained my real body). I also found out that my mother, if you could ever call someone who treated her son as she did a mother, Melanie Ledoux was actually complicit in the abduction of my real mother Angela Seguin before I was born. I also learned that my dad was a djinn with deep connections to the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom and that not only did I have an entire extended family of djinn but one which had been worshipped as gods by the Ancient Egyptians.

On top of all of this I was about to get in some combat training with my uncle Anubis- although, "Um, I'm sorry for asking Uncle Anubis but... weren't you pretty much considered the God of Funerals in Egypt?"

"As much as I would enjoy arguing otherwise... you are correct," Anubis sighed with a shrug, "granted in the mindset of the Ancient Egyptians I had other duties but we tried as hard as we could to resist the roles that religion confined us to, although you could almost say that our roles became akin to the lamps for our principality."

Granted that I am far from an ideal opponent to challenge you and aide you to grow along the path of combat, however I do know more than enough to help you get a feel for your new powers and abilities. "In the future however, you will have your father and grandfather to train with and the two of them are especially fluent in the ways of combat." The earth elemental djinn elaborated as he removed two staves from the wall, "your grandfather especially- the school of combat he invented went on to inspire the Med'jai who later came to serve the Pharaoh and Egypt as a whole."

"Granted he is a little old-fashioned in combat, a long time ago a great many in our kingdom succumbed to a form of mind control; however, father's mental discipline and experience fighting the Old Ones allowed him to resist, unlike myself." Anubis sighed as I could tell that this was a painful story but one that he needed to tell, I guess the old saying was true confession must be good for the soul. "While I was under the control of an Old One known as the Black Pharaoh who had turned our late monarch into a puppet I used a dark spell on him, one that he only recently overcame. After attacking him, he was thrown from the Royal Solar Barge and your father was sent to finish him off, it was during this hunt that father was able to trap and free him from the Black Pharaoh's control."

"That was a few thousand years ago, ever since they have worked to undo the damage that my curse inflicted while searching for a way to liberate our people from the influence of the Black Pharaoh. A scant few months ago they succeeded in doing both, and now we are further blessed with your return to our house."

"That's another thing- how come I'm so welcome here?" I asked wondering if this was all too good to be true, "I mean it's not like I'm not grateful, I mean I am, but blood relation or not I'm a complete stranger how do you know that I wasn't raised to be an assassin or something?"

"From what father's intelligence network has uncovered your 'mother' was a mercenary hired by the Cult of the Black Pharaoh, from what we have discovered she was hired to raise you to feel isolated and afraid to leave. From the golem they had woven around you it was likely they wanted you around until you came of age, once that happened then they would either sacrifice you to the Black Pharaoh for his favor or use you as the groundwork to lay another curse upon the Principality of the Blazing Disc. The latter is very possible, Dagon the High Priest in the Cult of Cthulhu did something similar to the merfolk- albeit on a much larger scale and far more horrifically permanent."

"Whoa- whoa- whoa!" I stammered out at that revelation, "You mean to say that not only are djinn which we both are real, but so are mermaids!"

"Correct," Anubis replied with his stoic expression, "granted your chance of meeting a real mermaid at this moment are about as likely as finding a stray handful of gold dust in the Sahara. Merfolk, humanity and djinn were each were a part of the three of the Five-Fold Courts that predated the modern age of man, with dragon-kind and faerie comprising the remaining two. In one manner of speaking those two courts are also both in a far more stable position than us; at the very least the modern factions of those courts have diplomatic relationships. Many of the surviving principalities of the djinn either fail to maintain diplomatic ties of any sort or we actually refuse to acknowledge each other's existence."

"And out of idle curiosity, just what are those surviving principalities?" I asked somewhat regretting my curiosity.

"The Principality of the Golden Firmament which was worshipped across the Incan Empire and is ruled by Prince Inti son of Viracocha is actually far better off than ourselves at the moment," Anubis began to explain the current status of the djinn people and the daemons as a whole, "we have recently been trying to open a channel of diplomacy with them, however they have adopted an isolationist stance over the years as some of their principality suffered persecution under the Spanish a great many being attacked as if they were devils."

"The Principality of the Shining Mirror was worshipped across Central America prior to the arrival of the Spaniards; however, unlike their neighbors to the south, they were prone to tumultuous infighting- they actually went through four princes after the Sundering mainly through royal coups." my uncle shook his head at that group, "I think that the reigning prince of that lot is Prince Nanahuatzin however I could very well be wrong so do not quote me on that."

"The Principality of the Shimmering Rays which is still well thought of across the myriad of cultures of the Polynesian peoples is ruled by Prince Rangi although given the range of the territory his people associate with they are very difficult to get into contact with, particularly because Prince Rangi himself tends to be known by a different name by each culture."

"Those along with our own principality that of the Blazing Disc are the only survivors of the Twelve Principalities of the ancient Southern Court, however there is a fifth whose claim to any Principality is questionable at best." Anubis shook his head as he gripped his staff, "They call themselves the Principality of the Brass City- although they have no claim to that title and they are ruled by a foul ifrit known as Iblis. This is the bunch who gives djinn the bad name that we have across most of the world, which is hardly surprising given that they hold partial dominion over the hell dimension that is known as the Inferno and Iblis himself is synonymous with the devil to the point that millions consider us creatures of chaos and evil. This group has existed in the middle east in one form or another since ancient times with dark consequences for their neighbors as they aided Dagon against the merfolk and the less that is said about what they visited upon the local humans during the reign of Iblis's predecessor Utu the better."

"So, are you saying that one of our race is the devil?" I recoiled in shock from that revelation- granted the woman who led me to believe that she was my mother was hardly a religious person but still this was a lot to process.

"Yes and no, human belief is a powerful thing it can even create beings based on their collective belief known as tulpas, or even accidentally entrap beings such as djinn in a role based on collective belief if there are enough people behind said belief. Perception is a powerful thing, and that is one tool which I will be teaching you to use as we train," my uncle explained as he tossed me a quarter-staff.

"Now we might have a very liberal amount of time in here, this place can take a toll on us the longer we are in here, djinn must be cautious around things of great age- especially that which is in poor condition. Your friend Daniel has informed us that you are practiced in the form of pugilism known as Western Boxing and have some informal training in the grappling form known as freestyle wrestling. While these can be useful foundations for combat training they espouse heavier forms of combat, that rely too much on holding your ground, you need to learn some techniques that focus on agility- let us start with something that would build a good foundation for that Maasai staff-fighting."

I nodded as I mirrored my uncle's stance with the staff, no matter what I was going to help rescue Walt.

Executive Suite - Scarlet Sands Resort
8:53 PM

Lord Khamsin looked through the monitor as his son and granddaughter stumbled looking haggard and exhausted from the Gallery of Effort, well aware of how the pair were suffering from the weakness of our kind. "I hope that they used their time well, it will be some time before either of them can use the Gallery again; maybe once Iris gets to Whateley then Morrigan and I will finally have an excuse to pool fae spellcraft and djinn construction to make one more like those from back in the old days."

"Granted we would still need someone from the Northern Court to provide the proper materials and Eastern Court to aide in enchanting them, they literally don't make them like they used to anymore." Lord Khamsin sighed as he looked back on his childhood memories of the Five-Fold Court however brief it was before the War with the Great Old Ones which lead to The Sundering.

"Thinking back to older times," Lord Khamsin recognized the source of the voice as his dear wife Lady Nephthys, "the two of us are probably among the few dozen beings who are old enough to actually remember what life in the Five-Fold Courts was like, even if it was right before the war began."

"And that number has already shrunk by two this year alone," Set sighed as he thought back to just how short that list really was, "Queen Aunghadheil's final shreds of conscious were snuffed out by a cultist's spell a couple of months ago and a few months before that Old Greyback left our plain of existence entirely for the Dreamlands. Even among the Circle few actually want to truly mend relations between the courts into a new form- some actually care little for those who we are trying to save with our mission."

"I can't even imagine the burdens you have taken upon yourself during our separation my dear," Lady Nephthys did her best to coax her husband out of his nostalgic melancholy, "all I can do is lend you my support for those burdens in the days to come."

"That is more than enough my dear," Lord Khamsin smiled at his beloved as he gazed at her avian visage over his shoulder, "also know that with the awakening of our granddaughter the Prophecy of the Four Maidens has begun to unfold- which will give our world some much needed hope for all our kinds against the stirring darkness."

"True but remember although the Four Maidens are awake none of them have undergone the trials meant to unlock their abilities to their fullest." Lady Nephthys reminded her husband of the way of their people, "Our own Ain hasn't undergone her trial of fire before presenting herself of the Throne of Prince Horus as a proper djinni of the principality. Also, we have yet to speak to Thoth about the matter and he is the one who assigns the trails of fire to the youth."

"I dread to hear his response," Lord Khamsin actually shivered over the possibilities, "The Maiden of the West will have to live as an animal in the wilderness for a season by her wits alone, the Southern Maiden will be having to save the life of her uncle Qingu and aide him in breaking Dagon's Curse, and the Northern Maiden will be needing the assistance of the Handmaiden of the Tao to commune with the father of her line before traveling across the country to Whateley. Given their trials as precedent I loath to anticipate what our granddaughter's own trial of awakening will be, and that doesn't even account for the danger she and the other three will face when it comes their time to fulfill their roles as the Four Maidens."

"You have never spoken to me about what you know of the second half of the Prophecy of the Four Maidens," Lady Nephthys inquired out of concern, "just what is the final task that our granddaughter and the other three have to accomplish that makes it such a tightly guarded secret?"

"I am sorry my dear, but those of us who know that information swore on our true names to remain silent on it until it comes time to inform the Four Maidens of their destiny," Lord Khamsin replied to his beloved wife's inquiry. "However, I can tell you that I do not envy the tasks that lay ahead of them, even though their final trials must be done for the future of the world, I still do not envy them for what lay in their future."

Lady Nephthys inquired no further on the matter as the two of them watched while servant djinn of their House collected Anubis and Ain to take them to a room where the pair could recover from their workout in the Gallery of Effort.

"Dear, I have some calls to make for us to attend Miss Bliss's underground auction tonight so that we can hope to save our granddaughter's friend." Lord Khamsin explained to his wife, "please see to it that one of your madeen craft her something suitable to wear to the event. I already laid something out for her should tonight's festivities go south but please ask the seamstress to keep their inactive forms in mind when designing her ensemble."

"I will see to it beloved," Lady Nephthys replied with a touch of sadness in her voice as her husband departed to attend to the coming affairs, despite their reunion there was still so much distance between the two of them and one day she hoped they would fully bridge the rift the Black Pharaoh created between them. Still a part of her prayed for her newly revealed granddaughter because as much as her husband had yet to reveal to her about the Prophecy of the Four Maidens she knew him well enough to know that Ain Ophios or as the human world would know her Iris Seguin had a difficult road ahead of her.

The Black Solstice Lounge - Miss Bliss's Personal Suite
10:17 PM

Miss Bliss glared as the door to her private room opened, promising in a loud silent moment that the intruder had best come baring good news to warrant disturbing her preparations for tonight's auction, or the end result for them would be...unpleasant. Soon the intruder was revealed to be Drisune one of Bliss's many servants from House Blackshore in the Realm of Winter with the Fae Lands, one of many servants who Miss Bliss then Lady Denitasa Blackshore the last heir standing had indentured to her prior to that final unfortunate Hell Tithe that saw the fall of her house.

"Yes Drisune," Miss Bliss acknowledged her servant, "I presume that you come baring tonight's guest list for our Witching Hour Auction."

"Yes milady," Drisune replied as she knelt and bowed her head in further deference, "the list of tonight's interested parties are quite extensive."

"You can spare me the usual attendees of our event," Miss Bliss explained as she went back to her wardrobe to assemble the ensemble for the auction, "instead tell me about any faces who I do not normally see- it spices things up."

"Very well milady," Drisune replied as she looked over her folder once again without daring to raise her head should Miss Bliss take it as a challenge to her authority (a reflex shared by many servants to the nobility of the Winter Court). "I hope to sate milady's curiosity. First off we have Qian Khai of the Merchants of Suffering who is attending with the authority of the reigning Xue-jin Mushi."

"Better keep a sluagh on him," Miss Bliss observed interrupting her servant, "as he is here on the current Xue-jin Mishi's orders that means that Mister Khai has likely been ordered to obtain our star item with the consequences of failure likely meaning a painful and highly symbolic death. The problem is that given how the Merchants worship a demon of avarice it also means that they are notorious tight-wads, meaning Mister Khai's spending will be capped. The moment the bidding gets too high he'll likely panic and I do so hate it when they have to clean our guest's out of the carpet and decor."

"Very well milady, I will alert security to keep a close yet discrete eye on him." Drisune observed as she penned her lady's orders in a conveniently prepared note section next to Qian Khai's name. "We also have a representative from Erzebet Scratch's Organization arriving, Dustbowl I believe the head of their El Paso Chapter House, they notified us that she is bringing a bodyguard- although the guard's identity is still unknown."

"Curious," Miss Bliss raised an eyebrow at that tidbit of information, "granted it is scarcely uncommon for guests to announce their plus-one when replying to an invitation. You are correct though, it is unusual for Erzebet Scratch to send a representative to one of our auctions; usually her organization prefers to do business directly with the Goblin Markets. Although as peculiar as this is we should not expect any hassle from that corner; Erzebet Scratch and those under have proper business etiquette down to a fine art-form, also their...relationship with the Merchants of Suffering might make Qian Khai hesitant about misbehaving."

"Understood milady," Drisune acknowledged before adding, "I shall also forward Dustbowl the wine list ahead of time as a measure of added hospitality to help foster relations with their organization."

"Someone back home might see that as ambition," Miss Bliss commented in a mildly threatening tone, "it is good that I know it is merely a practiced servant anticipating her Lady's desires. Who else might I look forward to making the acquaintance of this night?"

"Don Kulmatz will be flying in from Cholula milady; I know that he has attended before however I thought that you would at least desire to know given how he is an infrequent attendee." Drisune explained her voice in the same deferent tone as before.

"Still it is thoughtful of you to let me know my dear," Miss Bliss replied in a lilting tone, "keep this up and I might let you attend to me in the Jacuzzi after this evening's festivities are concluded."

"A lowly servant such as myself is unworthy of such a privilege milady," Drisune almost recoiled in shock, "I would sully the waters with my unworthy body."

"Oh, think nothing of it my dear," Miss Bliss laughed in response, "provided you wash yourself toughly beforehand of course. Now what other surprises does your list hold?"

"Professor Id has informed us that he will be attending tonight milady," Drisune continued doing her best to steady herself after Miss Bliss's earlier hint of a promise. "As for whether it will be truly Id himself in attendance or one of his many self-generated copies that remains to be seen."

"Hmm," Miss Bliss pondered this tidbit for a moment, "I find it unlikely that he is here for the Zodiac Gems or anything else that is up for auction tonight. It is far more likely that Professor Id will be here to watch the chaos that might erupt during the bidding war- not to mention learn the identity of the party who will gain possession of tonight's star attraction. Now I already know that Power Broker will be sending some proxy here to try and regain the gemstones, but please do not spoil that surprise- I want to see if I could pick out his little worm from out of our guests."

"Very well milady I shall not reveal that guest's identity, however there is one guest who I do not think that you will be too pleased to see tonight." Drisune hesitantly began to explain the presence of the one guest who Miss Bliss would likely not wish to see at the auction tonight. "Lord Khamsin has informed us that he will be in attendance this evening."

"Lord Khamsin- Lord Khamsin-" Miss Bliss chewed that name over in her mouth not finding any familiarity with it at the moment, "I cannot recall anyone by that name, Drisune my dear please refresh my memory- just who is this Lord Khamsin?"

"Lord Khamsin is the new title chosen by our regional patron... Lord Ataxia." Drisune squeaked out before her bow devolved into a clear example of duck and cover.

"Lord Ataxia- Lord Ataxia, what does that musty mummified djinn want now." Miss Bliss all but snarled with anger, "The smell of his desecrated form alone will make our guests so sick to their stomachs that it will put a serious dent in any money from them for drinks and hors d'oeuvres."

"I apologize on behalf of whoever failed to keep milady abreast about the current state of local affairs," Drisune pleaded as she laid trembling on the ground, "however Lord Ataxia has somehow managed to restore his form; he is no longer mummified and as such has taken the new title of Lord Khamsin. Apparently, he is also no longer vulnerable to sunlight, he has been seen in unfiltered daylight and our local informants have confirmed that this is not a replacement, somehow Lord Ataxia now has the body of a djinn in his prime along with his known range of magic."

"Well at least he will not be affecting our secondary profits tonight, still that raises a serious question- Just why is Lord Ata- I mean Lord Khamsin going to be here tonight?" Miss Bliss asked as for the first time since establishing herself in Las Vegas over a decade ago following her exile from the Winter Court she was unsettled. "He has never attended any of our auctions before, not even by proxy. What interests him this evening, is it the Zodiac Gems?"

"I do not know milady," Drisune replied as she remained in her earlier position, "however his reply indicated a plus one, and it cannot be Greygus I have heard tale that he is over on the Northern part of the East Coast at the moment likely either New York City or Boston, of which I am uncertain."

"Then just who would Lord Khamsin trust enough to accompany him to the auction?" Miss Bliss asked herself once again before shaking her head, "There are still too many unknowns with our benefactor, and so much we do not know about him- and unknowns can be dangerous. Drisune tell security to keep their eye on Lord Khamsin and his guest- just in case."

"Very well milady," Drisune replied as she got to her feet yet remained bowed, "I shall carry out your desires at once."

Miss Bliss looked on as her servant left the room, she knew deep down that tonight was going to be anything but routine now all that she had left was to wait and hope that this wasn't going to ruin tonight.

Sunday April 22nd, 2007
O'Hare International Airport - Terminal 3, Concourse L
Chicago, Illinois
12:20 AM CDT

After over four hours in transit Melanie Ledoux was brimming with a potent cauldron of anticipation mixed with frustration, she had spent over fifteen years of her life on her previous assignment only for her assignment "Paul" to suddenly decide to develop an independent streak and go to the one city that she had expressly forbade him from ever visiting- Las Vegas.

Somehow over the last week the spells that had been woven into the brat's very flesh had become damaged during a simple lunchroom brawl, endangering her employers plans as well as threatening to turn a decade and a half of her life into wasted time. She had been forced to make emergency plans to take him to her employer's secondary base in St. Augustine to have his body and wards repaired- or at least patched long enough to keep the brat complacent until the ceremony this summer.

Unfortunately, the damage that thug did to the brat's wards must have been greater than she had imagined, and for the first time in forever he had been able to muster the will-power to sneak out of the house and run off to Las Vegas with his punch-drunk friends for the day. Melanie had no illusions about what must have happened in the hours since she had seen her assignment, the brat's wards were already damaged and in the heart territory of its grandfather's (who she had been warned was now more powerful than he had been in centuries) territory it was only a matter of time until the wards failed and the brat wormed it's way out of its prison.

Once the brat was free his grandfather's people would find it in no-time and then waste no time in attempting to track Melanie herself down for interrogation and likely execution. Fortunately, she had been prepared to leave already and never come back, and took an added precaution to toss bleach on anything that might contain a sample of herself big enough for them to use to track her down. Although she had covered her tracks well enough to evade the brat's real family there was still a matter of her employers; they needed someone of that brat's bloodline that wasn't of age yet for their curse, and since the brat was MIA that meant she was SOL.

Thankfully it appeared Lady Luck had decided to cut Melanie a break, as it turned out the brat's grandpa decided to celebrate having his balls back by bumping uglies with his servants, resulting in a happy accident on the way and Melanie's way to recover from a nasty fumble. Her employers didn't only know the target's name but also her location, and were more than happy to let Melanie do the heavy lifting.

Granted that Melanie was more than equipped for the abduction that they had assigned her, given that she had plenty of proper equipment laying around in case she had been made long ago. It had actually been a simple mission, as there was only one real guardian of any consequence nearby, and in no time at all Melanie had her target secured and sedated in a crate that was prepared to sneak her past the TSA's laughable security and in a crate into the hold of her flight to Chicago.

Now there was just waiting for her employer's emissary to make contact so that she could put this job behind her and receive her long overdue reward, after that all that she had left was to enjoy the fruits of her labor somewhere out of the way and out of the country. Seven minutes went by before an individual matching her usual contacts with the Order of the Black Pharaoh came by to sit directly behind her, cautiously Melanie gave her code phrase, "Even the sun has its darkness."

A tense moment followed before he responded, "That may be but the darkness of the sun is still too much for mortals. I trust that you have the substitute package that we sent you for after you lost the prior one."

"To be fair I never would have lost the original if your Order's wards hadn't fallen," Melanie replied with a tick of annoyance in her voice, "but yes she's in a crate in the cargo-claims area. I trust that you have my payment, once I receive it the claim's slip and the cargo is yours to do with as you please."

"Very well," the contact set a tote bag underneath his chair and with a nudge from his right leg kicked it over to Melanie's side.

Like a professional Melanie retrieved the bag and inspected the contents: Inside was a prepaid credit card (with a note promising a $5000 load more than enough for a first), twenty stacks of 500€ bills (2,000,000€), and a notarized envelope containing account information for a Swiss Bank account with an 8 million Euro balance. Aside from the money there was also a passport and papers that didn't exactly match Melanie Ledoux along with a strange corked vial of some glowing green liquid secured in a Styrofoam brick.

Melanie took a moment to thumb through the bills until she was certain that they were the real thing before digging a manila envelope out of her own luggage and slipped it to her contact between the seats. "I'll trust that the potion works as promised if not the amount will still make a nice nest egg to retire on. One question though what good is the package going to be if it isn't even ready yet, I thought that you needed it this summer?"

"We have a few ways to properly prepare the package despite it not being either ready or ripe," the contact replied in a vague manner. "Not that such a matter is any of your concern as your business with our order is now concluded."

"It was just a minor curiosity," Melanie commented as she stood, "honestly I could care less one way or another what you do with the package."

Her work now at an end Melanie Ledoux zipped the tote bag back up and casually made her way out of the Terminal and towards the entrance of the airport, however rather than exiting she took a quick note of the staff currently working the graveyard shift. Satisfied that they were more interested in busy work and staying awake, Melanie instead took a detour into the ladies' room.

Once inside Melanie took note that she couldn't see any peeking out from under the stall doors, which meant that she was alone- good as she didn't want to risk drawing any attention and thus unwanted questions. Satisfied that she was alone, having not noticing anything other than a weird ornamental air-freshener, Melanie ducked into the middle stall just in case and after lowering the changing table set her newly acquired tote bag down. Immediately the mercenary went for the glowing vial determined that she would lick off the icing before partaking in the cake. Carefully extracting the container from its Styrofoam prison Melanie looked at the verdant contents all but trembling in anticipation, not being able to wait a moment longer she uncorked the vial and downed its contents in a series of gulps.

For a moment nothing appeared to happen- then she felt the potion overtake her, her body appeared to tighten and ripple as her past middle-aged figure began to firm and wrinkles and gray-hairs vanished. Rather than screaming from the experience Melanie began to moan as the sensations coursing through her body as the ravages of age began to reverse them were anything but unpleasant. Eventually the sensations subsided although Melanie felt as if her bones and turned into jelly- in a good way.

Taking a moment to steady herself Melanie looked herself over for a moment before scrambling to get her compact out of her purse, once she had succeeded the mercenary used the tiny mirror to exam the results of her elixir-fueled metamorphosis. Sure enough it was just as the Order of the Black Pharaoh had promised her over a decade and a half ago when she agreed to do this job for them, they had given her back the years that she had spent working for them- with compound interest. 'Melanie' looked as young as she did when she graduated from the DeVille Academy nearly thirty years ago, granted that back then she didn't look this good- the potion hadn't just returned her squandered youth it idealized her as well.

"It is true," Melanie stated in a voice that she hadn't heard in decades, "youth really is wasted on the young."

"Not as much as it is on the condemned," Melanie felt like ice shot up her spine as she heard woman say right behind her. Out of shock she turned to see a woman's face right on the wall. Knowing from both her years of experience and training that she was in danger Melanie Ledoux tried to turn around to grab her duffle bag and flee when two pairs of arms emerged from the tile beneath her feet to grab onto her legs. Her momentum involuntarily halted, Melanie fell to the floor and found to her horror that more sets of arms emerged from the floor to latch on to her.

"What do you want?!?" Melanie demanded as she began to panic, "If it's money I have plenty in the bag!"

"What we want is you Melanie Ledoux, or is it Lilian DuPree," the mystery woman explained as she walked out of the wall, "Lord Khamsin has sent out a mission calling for your capture to any and all operatives of the Obsidian Circle, you will be interrogated to determine all that you know and once Lord Khamsin is satisfied whatever is left of you belongs to our mistress Erzebet Scratch."

Melanie was about to begin pleading for her life all over again when another pair of arms emerged near her face, one of them holding an ether-soaked handkerchief which was shoved in her face while the other hand held her head still until she succumbed to the anesthetic. Satisfied that 'Melanie' was out that pair of hands let go as did all the others, satisfied that she and her sisters had done their job the now emerged Revenant took out a changeling bauble and with a quick swing of the pendent shoved her prisoner inside. Satisfied that her work was done the Revenant then inspected the tote bag, much to her pleasant surprise all of the accounts were arranged so that anyone with the information inside the folder could access them.

"Mother will be most pleased with this tiddy bonus," the Revenant smiled as she threw the pendent with their prisoner inside the bag, and zipped it back up- right before sinking into the floor to journey with her siblings back to the Chicago Chapter House once again pleased that another mission had gone so smoothly.

Saturday April 21st, 2007
Velvet Floor - Ladies' Wardrobe Room
10:37 PM PDT
POV: Iris Seguin, Rose of the South

I was still a little winded from my training session with Anubis but at least I was cleaned off, while part of me wanted to hit the hay Walt was depending on me. This meant that now was time for training of a different sort...how to act in a formal setting as taught by my grandmother Nephthys.

"Now remember my dear in a setting like this, silent grace is the key, you need to stay poised in order to present the aura of refinement- think of a duck upon a pond how they elegantly appear to glide across the surface of the water."

"Honestly how could anyone appear to move without moving?" I asked wondering about her reasoning behind the metaphor.

"Because grace is as much a discipline as the techniques of combat," grandmother Nephthys continued to explain, "much like the duck upon the pond effort is hidden- minimalized so that casual observation cannot witness the effort. The shoulders for example should be kept square but not tight, the back should be straight but not rigid and the head should be kept up but not stiff- I know that it seems like a lot but the key to decorum is to present an elegant veneer. This is so that reading you becomes like reading a pond with your eyes, it is almost impossible to discern what is concealed within its depths this way your intent remains hidden, this will be vital given how Miss Bliss is a fallen Sidhe noblewoman such practices come to her as easy as breathing.

"So in other words I need to hide my emotions," I remarked, "I guess that my captor taught me something useful after all- to how to remain subdued and keep my emotions bottled."

"Yes and no," my grandmother responded, "keeping your emotions bottled can be counter-productive in the long run, the key is to control them not constrain them- you are the master of your feelings not the other way around. Like any art or skill, decorum will take time to master; you just need to keep your intent hidden until the time is right, your grandfather will handle the details until it is time to save your friend."

"He can really handle everything?" I asked hoping that he could handle a plan to rescue my... best friend.

"Your grandfather has spent centuries in the human underworld during his unfortunate exile from the court of the Burning Disc, he is as much in his element as a bull hippopotamus is in the Nile," grandmother Nephthys explained with a smile, "he appears to be a calm part of the landscape from a distance but those who share the water with him know that he is to be respected and feared. Now that is enough lessons for tonight, we still need to get you dressed and ready to attend- you are you grandfather's plus one for tonight."

As grandmother finished her explanation we another djinni came in this one with the head of some kind of horn-billed bird, "I am Rehema milady," the woman explained with a brief cross-armed bow, "I will be crafting and fitting your outfit for your and Lord Set's excursion."

"Um the auction starts in a little over an hour," I observed out of concern, "will there really be time to create sew an outfit the quickly?"

"For a djinni trained in the craft it will take mere moment," Rehema explained as numerous spoils of thread emerged from behind hidden panels in the wall, "I am only disappointed that I will not get to design your ensemble entirely from scratch, however I think an outfit from the mimicking that of Ptolemaic Dynasty will suffice for your outing."

With a wave of her arms Rehema's arms became a fog that drifted past me and over to the spools of thread which then began to unwind and drift into the fogbank and then before my eyes thread began to weave into cloth that appeared to be a cream-colored pleated one-piece dress with a single strap and sleeve for my left arm, meaning my right arm and shoulder were going to be bare. As soon as the dress was finished a shawl and some manner of tube-like skirt were crafted as well. Soon a mannequin emerged from the wall as well and the outfit was fitting over it, "It is done milady," Rehema explained with another cross-armed bow, "as for your accessories Lord Set picked those out for you himself."

A box that had been sitting of to the side in the room floated over and the items in question floated out after it opened; at first was a three-coiled necklace which met in the middle to share one clasp to a barren disc of metal on both sides; this was obviously a place holder for my amulet. Next were a pair of ornate bracelets that would cover my wrists and a pair of signet rings, finally a pair of simple but well-designed sandals were laid that the mannequin's feet to complete the ensemble somehow, I knew that I would look good in the outfit.

"These accessories are more than mere jewelry child," grandmother began to explain; "the bracelets and necklace are dormant armor that you can active by crossing your arms over your chest and touching the bracelets to the necklace. As for the rings they are an ancient weapon known as a cestus, touch the signets together to use them, with your skill in boxing you should find them useful. Now while Rehema helps you get dressed I shall work on your makeup, I do want my granddaughter to look beautiful for her first outing into society."

"Of course Nana Nephy," I replied shocking Rehema and eliciting the strangest look on grandmother Nephthys's face.

At first she looked stunned and then I could see a grin so wide that would have been on display even without the illusion of a human head masking her true avian vestige.

"Oh, if you only knew how many millennia I have waited to hear something like that child," my grandmother tearfully beamed with joy, "even after your father and grandfather were exiled I pestered your uncle Anubis constantly to find some nice djinni to settle down with so I could hear those words. If only we were together for you to say them as a child at my knee," she sighed with a touch of regret, "but such is the fickle ways of fate."

"Do not worry Nana Nephy," I smiled as I hugged the ancient djinn, "maybe fate will be kind enough to let you hear them from your great-grandchildren in a decade or two."

"Maybe however do not rush it on my account," grandma Nephy explained with a wry grin on her elegant face, "I doubt that the father would survive the wrath of your father let alone your grandfather." Somehow, we couldn't help it but that remark filled the room with laughter- elevating much of the prior tension as they helped me get ready for the auction.

The Black Solstice Lounge - Public Main Hall
11:41 PM

Miss Bliss looked on at the guests both usual and unusual who are making their way through the public lobby and to the VIP elevators that concealed the true source of her income- her Black-Market Auction House. Through it the former Sidhe noblewoman enjoyed a status as close as she could to her prior luxury within the Winter Court. Sometimes she sold goods manufactured by her servants in a local sweat shop granted that if one knew where to look on the Goblin Markets the same goods could likely be found for much cheaper- but then again, her auction house was also far safer.

Sure, enough heavyweights of the criminal underworld and practitioners of the dark arts alike began to trickle in through the door, illustrious individuals such as Friar Rush, Lady Jettatura, Strega, Devilmaster, and Mr. Magic. Granted there were several faces who were now absent Plagiat and Harrow were both now dead, victims of Erzebet Scratch's vengeance and expansion, such was the ways of the dark arts. Troll Bride was absent as well after a fiasco where she tried to use forged documentation to claim ownership of an auction item last year resulted on her being black-listed, leaving Hexmaster without a plus one as his wife would never allow him to bring an escort other than herself. Nimbus was also another no show granted he was now on the run from his superiors in The Syndicate after he and Deathlist violated the Whateley Academy truce.

Don Kulmatz arriving was always a welcome surprise, while the ins and outs of his organization which mainly operated in Mexico and Guatemala, were ambiguous to say the least their money which Don Kulmatz would often spend on Mesoamerican artifacts was more than welcome. It was always odd however that he instantly knew which artifacts were of true importance and which were merely looted cultural treasures, however if there was one thing that Miss Bliss always appreciated it was a good mystery that didn't relate to her personally- it kept life interesting and gave her something to fill empty time in the off hours.

Professor Id however who just entered however was most assuredly not a welcome sight, the self-described head of the global black market and criminal with a whole filing cabinet of charges on file with the Hague War Crimes Tribunal dating back to the organization's original foundation rarely bid on anything and many participants hated him on a personal level. If anything, he considered her action house to be a dinner theater and the bidding war was the main attraction, she actually wondered if he had something to do with the fights that had broken out between super-villains in the auction house over certain items was his doing.

Well- well- well Apis, likely this was who Power Broker hand sent to bid on his behalf and he had one of his Hathorides with him as a plus one, why any intelligent woman (human or otherwise) would have such low self-esteem to willingly have herself turned into a slavishly loyal harem member in exchange for becoming a faux-exemplar was beyond her comprehension. Puck was indeed correct- 'what fools these mortals be' indeed.

Miss Bliss spotted Qian Khai the moment he came in the door, the man had all the signs of being one of the walking wounded. Not that she could blame the Xue-jin Mushi, the head of the Merchants of Suffering was one for orders not excuses and the sad fact of the matter was when it came to an auction there was always the risk of someone having deeper pockets then you did, especially when your pockets belonged to a cult of greedy human, drug and arms traffickers. When it came write down to it she was glad that she put a sluagh on duty to monitor him during the auction, because he looked like the kind who might panic given that his life was literally on the line to take home his prize.

Dust Bowl was a far more interesting sight, the terrakinetic sorceress representing Erzebet Scratch was a fascinating contradiction to the eyes- a mix of glamorous sophistication with a touch of rustic flare marked her as one who knew what it took to move in any social circle. Part of the woman conjured up her Miss Bliss's days in the Winter Court and the ladies of rival houses that she routinely came into contact with- one thing was for certain if this was one of Erzebet Scratch's lieutenants she never wanted to run afoul of the lady herself.

As for her escort Miss Bliss had to look twice at the man, he looked like he was built rather than born- every fiber of her being screamed that the man was dangerous and more in the manner of an unexploded bomb than some mere bodyguard. It went without saying that, at least in her eyes, Dust Bowl's plus one was likely going to be one of the most potentially terrifying unknowns in the room; if things went south Miss Bliss wasn't certain that she could deal with that man given that Shakedown was MIA.

Finally, Miss Bliss beheld the individual who she had been dreading, now she knew what Drisune meant by Lord Ataxia reborn. Indeed, Lord Khamsin was nothing like the wizened and faded being that he once was, this individual didn't just look like he could hold his own in a fight- he looked like he could hold his own in a dozen fights simultaneously. If this meant that Lord Khamsin was now as strong a fighter as a djinn of his supposed age should be while keeping Lord Ataxia's feared mystic abilities then he was trouble beyond a mere capital T.

Part of her hoped that whatever the djinn was here for it was just to flex his rejuvenated muscles in front of a crowd- but also who was the girl on his arm. Miss Bliss looked as hard as she could but just could not place her- who was this girl and what was she doing accompanying Lord Khamsin- while she may have liked mysteries that didn't count when they were accompanying a potential threat.

Briefly Miss Bliss shook herself as she stared at the clock- taking a moment to straighten her dress and steel herself the sidhe took up a microphone and strode out onto the stage overlooking the dinner theater style gallery for her guests. As the synchronized antique grandfather clocks to the sides of the stage chimed she knew that it was time to get the show on the road. "Welcome once again to the Solstice Lounge my distinguished guests to another night of excitement beneath the City of Sin as we begin our monthly Witching Hour Auction."

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2 years 11 months ago #48424 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 25

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Valle De Merced Apartments - Roof Top
Durango, Colorado
12:07 AM MDT
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

To be honest I was equal parts excited and terrified right now; on the one hand here I was working alongside three of the most celebrated heroes in Chinese folklore, on the other hand I was about to go into battle against a cult who had enslaved me and had a small army of Jiangshi as well as three powerful beings waiting to be unleashed. In all we had to play this smart as if we were caught fighting in the open for too long it risked innocent civilians not only getting hurt but also being killed and used by the Merchants of Suffering to create more Jiangshi to add to their forces.

While fighting the Jiangshi would be problematic given that they were single-minded, felt no pain, and could slowly drain your qi if they got too close; they did have their weaknesses- one's that we did use to arm ourselves. Fire by far was the most readily available weapon against the Jiangshi; Zhu Bajie was well known for a technique that let him breath out a stream of fire like a flame-thrower with a spell that he kept to himself, not that I would need magic as a pyrokinetic I could transform the smallest spark into a fierce flame and manipulate it with a slight amount of concentration.

Sha Wujing and Sun Wukong however had chosen to arm themselves with other known weaknesses of the Jiangshi. While mirrors by far were the best-known defense against the hopping horde of vampirical cadavers, they were too brittle and wouldn't last long in a fight; just as well the sight of too many of their undead horde retreating would rapidly draw the attention of the Merchants and ruin our strategy. Fortunately, they had more obscure weaknesses than just fire and mirrors- namely peach wood and jujube seeds.

Sha Wujing had come prepared with hefty sacksful of the seeds and a blowgun, both of which could be used to take out the Jiangshi from a distance. Sun Wukong however had opted for a weapon with far shorter rang, peach wood short-staves while not as study as his (for now her) signature weapon the Ryuji Jingu Bang (compliant golden-hooped rod), she did have extras and every hit would weaken the Jiangshi until they were unable to move. Zhu Bajie was also given a sturdy peach wood club to use instead of his own signature Jiuchi-dingpa (nine-tooth iron muck-rake)

No, what we needed right now was to use stealth, guerilla tactics, and rapid mobility; tactics which Sha Wujing expressed as necessary but Zhu Bajie clearly found grating. "For crying out loud they're just a bunch of corpses, they don't move that fast, the four of us can take them out easy!"

"As I keep explaining to you, the moment we do so the Zhaoshang de Youhuan will send in Hai-er Hong," Sha Wujing once again explained our current dilemma to his stubborn compatriot, "as well as the asura and kuro-oni none of whom we want to face in a populated area. If we do not neutralize and dispatch the bulk of the Jiangshi they will become a threat when we fight those three, also we need to capture Hai-er Hong so that we can free him from whatever means the Zhaoshang de Youhuan is using to control him."

"Not to mention that we will still have to deal with those mercenaries from earlier," Son Wukong interjected, "I looked them up, the Masterson Brothers are a trio of heavily armed thugs-for-hire who will do any dirty job for the right price. Believe me from what I've read about them they are going to be back soon and more heavily armed and armored, Zhen-yu is their payday and they are not going to pass up the reward the Merchants are offering; also, while they are only the mortals who we are aware of that took the job given that it's an open bounty there are bound to be other interested parties."

"We also have to worry about getting this taken care of before Heaven's Thunder or Denver Gold gets here," I added in my own two cents to the discussion, "while they might be able to handle the Jiangshi, the Masterson Brothers and any other bounty-hunters that would show up after the reward for my capture, I really doubt that they could handle all three of the Merchant's trump cards."

"So, do you understand Bajie, the tactics for the moment are stealth, hit and run, and sniping; no direct confrontation until we thin out the heard of Jiangshi and make our way to more remote locations for the larger conflict ahead. The first step to victory is to not let your enemy dictate the terms of the confrontation, we must steer the path of the coming storm not let it follow its chosen course."

"Okay- fine- I get it," the pig-headed warrior fumed finally relenting (although who knows for how long) to Sha Wujing's cooler strategic mind. "We'll do it your way for now but even you know that a well-laid plan is always the first casualty of any battle."

"As I am well-aware," Sha Wujing admitted, "which is why we are going with a simple strategy rather than a well-laid plan, for which we need to split into two teams to maximize mobility. Wukong I need you to stick with Zhen-yu, you are our most experienced fighter and she will need you to cover her in case you need to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Zhen-yu I know that you have been practicing using your fire from a distance, how well is your aim?"

"So far good enough to hit a slow and predictable target," I sheepishly admitted to my laoshi, "fortunately Jiangshi qualify on both counts."

"That may be however you need to be careful, it is your qi that they are hunting for if get too close they will try to swarm you." Sha Wujing explained as he put a firm hand on my shoulder. "If that happens leave the close-fighting to Wukong, and support him with your fire from a distance."

"Don't be afraid of setting me on fire either, I doubt that you can make yours hot enough to hurt me." Sun Wukong explained as she began to fish around in a pack that she brought with her producing a pair of googles and two pairs of radio headsets. After strapping the googles on and fitting the radio headset to them she handed the other one to Sha Wujing, "this will help us keep in touch, I got them from a friend and he insisted that they are almost impossible to tap or listen in on their transmissions, just hold down on the button over the right earphone when you want to broadcast."

"I understand old friend, keep her safe," Sha Wujing stated as he took the headset and put it on as best as he could, "I swear that we will do all that we can to rescue Hai-er Hong."

"I know that you will old friend," Sun Wukong replied with a warm smile before she turned to me, "Come on Zhen-yu- we need to move the longer we stay still the more likely the Jiangshi are to find us before we're ready."

"I understand," I replied before adding in a word of my own, "but just in case those radios aren't as secure as you think they are- from now on refer to me as Duanzaolong."

"Forging Dragon huh," Sun Wukong mulled over my choice, "nice to see that you already picked out a codename- granted its a bit of a mouthful, but you will probably fit in well at the Academy."

As she hopped to another rooftop, I followed suit putting Sha Wujing's training into practice all the while mulling over the Monkey King's words. 'So, she's been to the place that the Handmaiden of the Tao is supposed to take me to- I really need to grill her for some more info when I have the time.' I thought to myself as I did my best to match her pace, she might be able to tell me more about the Eastern and Western Maidens.

Days Inn Durango- Roof Top
12:19 AM

"Yep, the Merchants of Suffering are here alright," an individual with cybernetic gear over a US Army Surplus Combat Uniform explained, "they're the only group that have the means and the logistics to make and deploy this many genuine Chinese hopping vampires at once while properly controlling them all."

"T'ak yo' for da' aceisment Corprahl Ahnaloog," Papa Houma replied from the corner of the roof that he was resting against, "looks like you 'ntel be right ohn da' monay, we be taking et from 'ere!"

"No," Tobias Olson the current Blizzard Wizard shot back to the undead Sweeper Ace, "this is about more than just a little pat on the back for us. I did some research on the asset that the Merchants are looking for it's a mutant girl with the ability to create enchantable gems, I'm hoping that if we keep her safe from the Merchants she can fix the focus gem in my late grandfather's staff."

"This is a Sweeper operation now kid," Corporal Analog interrupted as he all but glared at Tobias through his cybernetics.

"He's right," Ingrid in her newly modified Permafrost outfit did her best to talk down her little brother, "we called them, this is their show right now and they're the pros; face facts baby bro' this is out of our hands and out of our league."

"Now- now, de'ah be no reason dat averboday can't be 'appy," Papa Houma interjected trying to mollify the situation, "ah'll we be 'ere to do es make sure deh Mahchants don't geat de'ah way. We secure deh guhl then deh boy an' 'es sistah can ahsk 'er de'ah fahvah, don't mean she 'as to graant 'et!"

"All that I'm asking for is a chance to restore my family's legacy," Tobias stated trying to lay out his reasoning, "who knows I may even seek to join up with your crew."

"Wouldn't be the first time something like this happened," the tattoo laden member of the group chuckled as he was sitting nearby, "so Analog, when do we move out?"

"As soon as Reverent gets back Wicked Ink," the cyborg explained as he continued to survey the hunting troops of Jiangshi on the streets bellow. "We don't know where the Merchant's target is and according to radio chatter we already have reports of one conflict over at the College between her and a trio of mercs in power armor. Plus, we don't know if there are any more mercenaries out there or if the Merchants have more to throw at us than those hopping stiffs, not to mention that we also need to identify the mercenaries who've already shown up- the more we know the better we can handle the situation."

"Then what are we going to do about the hopping vampires?" The only lady with the group at the moment stated while tapping her foot, "I don't need my powers to know those things are dangerous. No offense boss but when it comes to the undead you and Rot are the exception NOT the rule."

"We do nothing Interspector," Corporal Analog replied as he continued to survey the area, "right now the Merchants of Suffering have no idea that we're even in the area, and I for one want to hold onto the element of surprise as long as we can."

"Yeah, besides the Boss Lady would love it if she heard that we caught those bastards with their pants down," Wicked Ink smiled, "it would really make her day when we hand them to her on a silver platter. I wonder if she'll give them to The Hangman?"

To amuse himself for the moment Papa Houma took a Magic 8-Ball™ (not really magic) out of his satchel and after a brief shake looked at the outcome: IT IS DECIDEDLY SO! Whether it was a part of a private joke, or him taking this as some sign that the universe was playing along with him, this simple act elicited a smile on the face of the undead bokour; one way or another tonight was going to be a memorable one.

Bloody Bastard - cockpit
12:20 AM

With repairs now complete and weapons reloaded, the Masterson Brothers focused on their next objective, finding their target to reengage and capture her. "Well Lloyd did you find that lizard bitch yet?" Rod inquired of his little brother as his patience continued to dissipate by the moment, "Every minute that you dick around with your gizmos and googas is more time for our score to skedaddle and leave us with nothing more than a fat stack of losses."

"Don't remind me fixing our suits ain't gonna be cheap, as is if our gear gets banged up again we're going to be lucky to break even on this job." Lloyd grumbled as he kept checking the thermal spikes on his surveillance drones, hoping that their quarry hadn't clued into half of the way they found her the last time, with the rest owing to the simple question where would a teenage girl on the run go to both hide and feel safe. So, last time he just hacked the city's police records on noise complaints and cross-referenced them with heat spikes- with the best match being at the college.

This time things would be far different, namely their mark knew that someone as hunting her so she'd stay away from areas that were too public, not only that she had help that could hold their own in a fight even managing to damage Syndicate-level power armor. No- matters would be far from easy, hell there was a chance that their earlier stunt would draw Heaven's Thunder to the area making their already difficult bounty hunting gig down-right impossible.

Knowing that the same trick wouldn't work twice Lloyd, toggled the motion-tracker feature on his drones and tightened their sweeping formations given that having two scanning features active at once decreased his drones scanning range due to the increase in RAM strain. Eventually Lloyd got a ping on the heat sensor from the group of drones at the northern edge of the city, after switching to the standard low-light camera what he saw made him sweat bullets.

"Hey," Bufford shuffled over to the surveillance console, "did you finally find where that scaly pain in the butt is hunkered down?" Taking a moment to stare at the screen something puzzled the brut, "Hey so you found some chinks in weird clothes...so what? Stop wasting time and find the lizard lady so we can catch her and get paid."

"Bufford, leave Lloyd alone so he can get some work done," Rod came stomping in to reprimand his cousin when he immediately took notice of the screen, "wait a minute, who called our clients before we completed our main objective?"

"I didn't and Bufford hasn't been able to use the communications equipment since I set up the isometric scanner." Lloyd explained, "I got a large heat signature ping in that area and switched on the camera and there they were- think they canceled the contract and decided to do the job in-house."

Concerned that their luck officially switched from lousy to SOL, Rod fired up their internet computer and looked for the bounty on the merc job board, after a couple of minutes Rod had his answer, "Nope the bounty is still up on the networks, so either they are waiting for someone to capture the target or it's just a splinter group of our clients who are trying to make a quick buck. Either way the job is still good so no matter what we need, meaning we can still beat them to the punch and get paid- provided someone quits playing with his toys and finds where that scaly skank is hiding!"

"For the last time I'm not dicking around here!" Lloyd Masterson shouted at the top of his lungs having finally lost his temper at his older brother, "I'll let you know when I find her but only when I'm certain that it is her! I know that you're feeling antsy Rod, but the last thing that we need is to go off half-cocked twice in a row; as is we're f*cking lucky that Heaven's Thunder haven't decided to poke around in their under-roos for us after our last try."

"As is we're only equipped to handle that lizard lady and maybe her monkey girl side-kick, we still have no clue what that group from the Merchants brought to play other than a shit load of those weird hoping zombies that they like to use!" Lloyd pulled up a shot from one of his other drone groups clearly showing a group of Jiangshi out on the hunt, "A few flamethrowers should take care of those things but they're also using them to flush out our scaly payday, so I plan on using both them and my drones to track the lizard lady down. This is just like going rabbit hunting with dad, let the hounds find our prey and run it ragged, then we catch it and cash in on a nice fat payday."

"Fine," Rod fumed not being able to dismiss his little brother's reasoning but not being happy about the whole situation either, "I'll be busy keeping Bufford out of his beer fridge. We need to be ready to go when you find her!"

"As soon as I spot hair or scale of that dragon lady I'll let you know," Lloyd responded while directing his drone near the Merchants of Suffering's camp to fire off their micro-surveillance drones, even if their likely destruction would drive up the cost of this operation even higher the last thing that he wanted was to get bush wacked by whatever nasty surprises the Merchants had up their sleeves.

Soon one of the drones, miniature robot the size of an ant, made its way inside the trailer with the heat signature; once it began broadcasting from inside the trailer Lloyd almost pissed himself in fear at the sight of the black-skinned red-eyed horned demon in one of the three heavily warded cages inside. Equally scary was what was next to it, the creature had red-skin, six-beefy arms, and three fang-filled faces mounted on one head. The only cage that was left simply held a Chinese man in decorative armor with a spear laying at his side, this alone wouldn't have set his nerves on end if not for two details: one- the man's cage was just as heavily warded as the ones with the other two monsters, and two- he was clearly the source of the earlier heat-signature.

Lloyd winced at the situation that had presented itself to him, we really need to find that lizard lady before the Merchants let these three loose otherwise I have a feeling that we might just lose a lot more than the money on this bounty."

Lloyd paused briefly to massage his temples with his hands over the potential hornet's nest that he was about to kick over, too bad that he literally had chosen the worst time to do so as for half a minute a fourth figure was visible inside the trailer. Lloyd had no way of knowing it at the time, but he just missed a warning sign that might have forced Rod to scrub the mission and return home; because for one moment his drones spotted on of Erzabet Scratch's Reverants performing her own reconnaissance of the Merchant's trump cards.

Cooper Hall - Roof Top
12:37 AM
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

I took aim at yet another Jiangshi hopping off in the distance, another pitiful slave of the Merchants twisted into an abomination to serve their ends, and let loose a ball of fire about the size of a marble right at its back. A moment later the undead slave burst into flames, attracting the attention of two of its fellows who were likewise drawn to attack it and thus caught fire as well.

"Nice shot," Sun Wukong commented observing the entire event threw a pair of mini-binoculars, "and some good splash damage to boot. If we keep this up we should have performed a nice sweep of this part of the city in no time; though we should move to a new sniper's nest after one or two more shots, if we don't the daoshi working for the Zhaoshang de Youhuan will wise up and send all the jiangshi down on our heads."

I took the Monkey King's (although at the moment he resembled more of a Monkey Princess) advice and took aim at another close-knit group. This time I backed the fire with a little more density and managed to glance one jiangshi's robe on his right side while hitting the abdomen of another just behind him. The fire spread on the first jiangshi's robes as it failed to extinguish the blaze with its rigormortis stiffened limbs only fanning the flames in its futile efforts. Meanwhile the stiff who I hit square on flailed about as well attracting the attention of other nearby members of its kind who as earlier attacked their compatriot likewise sealing their own fate.

"I would say that your technique is improving but now is not the time for show boating." Wukong scolded as she he gathered our gear. "Now we need to find a new spot, one of my clones scouted out a nice free spot with a good clean view six blocks west-southwest of where we're at, it should be a good place to pull off a few more attacks before we move to the next location."

As we were on our way and surprisingly running into few hopping vampires as we went that Wukong couldn't keep off us either with a hard blow from his staves or by throwing one from a distance (then dispatching a copy of herself to bring it back to her). Don't get me wrong, I was glad given that maintaining a human form made utilizing my pyrokineses downright impossible, but I wished that I could have been more help as we went along.

"Hey how come you don't just dispatch your clones to take these bastards out while we make a break for it?" I inquired of my current traveling companion, even though I was also second-guessing my laoshi's plan in the process; what can I say I'm a teenager, second-guessing authority figures is par the course. "I mean you have enough peach wood staves to supply a small army and according to the stories you could make enough copies of yourself to serve as your own army."

"There are four very good reasons for that," Wukong responded with a mildly annoyed tone. "Reason one, making too many at once makes my tail cold. Reason two, the Zhaoshang de Youhuan would then either get desperate and sic their last resort on us before we trimmed their ranks enough or got to an isolated area where we could minimize the collateral damage. Reason three, doing this is good warm up for the fight ahead of us which knowing what we're going to be up against is bound to be rather brutal."

"What about the fourth reason?" I asked curious about the final omission.

"The fourth reason is that I'm already using several copies transformed into random locals to run a panicked attack and retreat campaign in various places around the city. Well those who aren't scouting ahead for us or running around the city with some of your sapphires that I borrowed from the safe at Little Cate's Silver Shop to help herd the jiangshi towards areas our strike zones while keeping the Zhaoshang de Youhuan confused about where you are as much as possible."

The last part made me glare at her to which she picked up on and explained,
"I'll put them back after we're done, the shop keeper won't even notice- besides it beats the damage that the jiangshi would do tearing his store apart because they smell your qi from the gems."

This information kept me silent until we got to our next destination, the roof of the Mason Center as I didn't see any jiangshi insight I decided to bring up the second topic that had been on my mind. "Say Kelly," I spoke up bringing up the alias that Sun Wukong had used when we met and invited me to that college party in the first place, "do you mind if you finish that story you were telling before Sha Wujing got to the apartment- you know the one about I was related to the dragon whose ashes changed me into what I am now. I remember you said it had something to do with ashes, bone vases, the Handmaiden of the Tao, a pearl and a heart."

"Again, it's a long story," Wukong sighed as she settled onto our perch, creating another copy to keep a look out, "you see this began a few thousand years ago, Zunyan Qianbei was a fucanglong who had long drawn the attention of the great Jade Emperor due to both his diligence and surprising humility, as a reward for his centuries of dignified service the Jade Emperor offered to elevate him to the status of a Tianlong."

"Initially Zunyan tuned down the offer, he explained that that he lacked the inherent grace of the Tianlong and worried that his presence would frighten the mermaids who dwelled in the four seas of the Jade Heavens whose singing that he greatly enjoyed. A full century passed and again Zunyan Qianbei was offered ascendancy by the Jade Emperor, he even threw in a job as a curtain-raising general within his palace- Zunyan again declined worrying that he would be too unwieldy and destructive in the palace itself."

"Another century passed and once again Zunyan Qianbei was summoned to the Jade Emperor's court this time his daughter in tow; however, before he could hear the Jade Emperor's offer there was a petitioner ahead of him. That individual was Ying Lan then the reigning Handmaiden of the Tao, the force that Lan served wished to commission a blade to serve as the Handmaiden's proof of office as well as a means to more efficiently pass on her title of the Handmaiden of the Tao. Feeling that none would know a better source of the material for her blade Zunyan spoke out offering his expertise at locating a material suitable for the blade."

"Although the Jade Emperor had long favored Zunyan Qianbei for his diligence and humility, he was concerned that such a task would ultimately be beyond the fucanglong; moreover, his failure to accomplish this task would cause the Jade Emperor himself to lose face before his own court. To balance the weight of this decision the Jade Emperor gave Zunyan a single year to procure the material necessary to craft the Handmaiden's sword of office, if in such time Zunyan could not follow through on his promise not only would Zunyan be stripped of his title and position but his entire family would be exiled beyond reach of the Jade Heavens and left to their fate."

"For the next year Qianbei Zunyan scoured the four corners of the earth from the loftiest heights to the deepest depths searching for a material worthy of being forged into the Handmaiden's blade. He discovered numerous materials each incredible in their own right- including faerie metals such as orichalcum and mithril, however each time he knew deep down that while such materials would make great creations that they still had their limits. With one month to go Zunyan returned to his lair filled with despair over his failure, certain that his moment of generosity had doomed his entire family."

"His daughter Enhui who was currently with child by her husband, a mortal man, did her best to console her father telling him that no matter where they had to roam that she would never lose her love and respect for her father. Then she said the words that made Zunyan realize where to look, she told him that his heart was pure and unbreakable and that even the despair of what lay ahead would only make it stronger."

"Inspired by Enhui's words Zunyan briefly left to see a fortune teller followed by a craftsman of the Jade Heavens and when he returned he told his daughter that he was to be left along as he had some work to do and that everything would work out. Qianbei Zunyan labored for three weeks in isolation on something which no one knew about, not even his own daughter. With three days to go until his deadline Zunyan summoned his daughter to his chambers, she found him in bed and looking terribly weak and not far away from him was a sturdy chest which she had never seen in his chambers."

"Zunyan Qianbei explained that procuring the material necessary for the Handmaiden's sword left him too weak to travel, so Enhui would have to take the chest as well as a sealed scroll and present them both to the Jade Emperor in his name. Following her father's wishes Enhui and her husband delivered the chest to the court of the Jade Emperor along with the sealed scroll, however when the chest was opened before the emperor Enhui found to her horror that it contained a still-beating heart."

"Once the shock of this died down in the court, the Jade Emperor's minister opened the scroll and read it to those who were still willing to listen. Upon the scroll Enhui read how Zunyan Qianbei explained that no mere alloy or ore would ever be enough to properly embody the power of the Tao, as it was a living force only a living material would do for the blade. He surmised that the heart of a tianlong would be the best choice to craft the blade from, and as Zunyan did not feel right condemning another to death he explained that after the Jade Emperor raised him to his new station that his own heart would be sufficient."

"Zunyan also explained that he crafted a replacement that would keep him alive for the time being, and then instructed his daughter where to find his will. The Jade Emperor finding that the offered material was indeed up to the task elevated Zunyan from a fucanglong to a tianlong and sent his heart to the great smith, a being known in this age as the Artificer who as well as the soul of a recently deceased Taoist sage who offered himself willingly on his death bed."

"Together the materials touched the forge and at that moment Zunyan turned to a pile of bone and ash, as per his instructions his ashes were to be collected in urns made from his own bones as they would one day find one of his blood who was worthy of a great destiny. As for his pearl, it was gifted to the mermaids of the Four Heavenly Seas, I understand that they use it to increase production of a magic relic called a Ring of Yin one of which is owned by the Eastern Maiden. As for Zunyan's heart it was crafted into the blade now known as Mingyun-bo or Destiny's Wave which has been wielded by every Handmaiden of the Tao ever since including the one who will be training you this summer."

"Whatever happened to Enhui?" I inquired more than a little shaken by the engrossing story of the dragon whose ashes I was accidentally bathed in, "I mean her father sacrificed himself to make a sword, whatever happened to her?"

"She's still around," Wukong Sun explained with a melancholy expression, "the Jade Emperor offered to elevate her along with her father to repay his great sacrifice; Enhui though asked that he wait until her husband passed and made his way through the Wheel of Samsara to his next life. The Jade Emperor followed her request several years later and Enhui was seen off by her children and grandchildren as she ascended into the Jade Heavens as a tianlong, one of those children by the way was your ancestor."

"And if he wasn't?" I asked somewhat dreading the answer.

"Then you would have just needed a shower and a dust-buster after getting ancient cremated tianlong all over you followed by an anti-biotic series for the rat bite. Chances were good that you would have manifested as a mutant later though, your ancestry had nothing to do with that happening- fate and destiny just sped things along."

"And turned me into a scaly chick who pops thermometers when the doc tries to take her temperature," I huffed, "Good thing that I'm lactose intolerant, because ice-cream would evaporate before it would touch my tongue. So seriously, my ancestor was a dragon who let his heart get turned into a sword even if it killed him, all so his he and his daughter wouldn't get banished from China."

"Her beloved Min was a minor official and thus bound in service to his sovereign," Sun Wukong explained, "as a man of duty he would not have deserted his post- not that his sovereign would have let him. Zunyan was too much of a loving father to leave his daughter broken-hearted by the duty that his brief outburst of pride trapped his family inside. I know that it seems odd but this was the way things were back then, at least his family was distant enough from the Chen Imperial family to be safe when that the Chen Dynasty fell to the Sui Dynasty."

"Still why would the Handmaiden of the Tao, servant of Destiny itself, care about training me just because I transformed after getting covered in my ancestor's ashes." I kept reaching for something to make sense of the directions that my life had taken over the last year, "Wait does this have something to do with me being the Northern Maiden?"

"Yes and no," Sun Wukong huffed before her attention shifted and her double vanished with the hair returning to her tail, "okay story time is over we have jiangshi to put down!"

"But what about..." I began to protest wanting to get more answers given how the Monkey King was a lot less tight-lipped than the Sand Priest.

"Later," Wukong shut me down as she pointed out towards the street, "Less talky more toasty."

I briefly fumed both given how frustrated I was over how a source of the answers I had been craving for months was literally standing a few feet away, and because that she was right in that now was not the time for idle chatter. Once again, I created with my claws to grow into a small ball of flame, at least breaking the Merchant's toy army was a form of therapy to mollify me- because I had some pent-up frustration to vent and if that meant burning a few dozen jiangshi like a duraflame log then so be it.

First Church of Christ, Scientist - Roof
1:04 AM

Meanwhile about a block away from the Monkey King and the Northern Maiden's chosen sniper's nest was another pair on the prowl albeit this pair looked identical except for a few aesthetic differences. Although their outfits were clearly crafted around the same basic design, and their facial features were eerily similar most would look at the pair and just say they were just related to each other. To anyone from upper reaches of either Erzebet Scratch's faction of the Grand Hall or the upper-tier of Shuffle's Sweepers though there was no question that they were a pair of Reverants, artificial mutants made through arcane means based around the template of the woman who was now known as Kampe.

One of the pair was wearing a pair of thermal imaging googles while the other was holding up a parabolic microphone, clearly the microphone wasn't the usual model as it had a pair of audio ports built into the headphones. One of the jacks in the headphones was hooked up to a digital audio recorder being held in the listening Reverant’s free left hand, while the other jack went to an ear bud of her sister with the thermal goggles.

"Well that was an interesting story 76," the Reverent with the goggles stated as she unplugged her ear bud and stowed it back in her outfit's empty pocket, "and it looks like Mother's deduction was right on the money. The girl who escaped the Merchants of Suffering, that those monsters are so desperate to recapture is none other than the Northern Maiden, with Greygus's daughter in Vegas that makes all four accounted for and awake."

"Not only that 34 but that means that thwarting the Merchants of Suffering tonight will be mixing business and pleasure," the Reverent designated as 76 responded, "not only does Mother get to have her cake with this operation but eat it too. Soon all four cardinal maidens will be in the hands of the Obsidian Circle- just as Bishop Brimstone foresaw."

"Not exactly in the Circles' hands 76, besides we're just keeping the Eastern and Western Maidens safe until they can meet the Northern and Southern Maidens." 34 contradicted her sibling, "Besides while the Cardinal Maidens are of vital importance to the Circle's long-term goals, they are still free agents. It's one of those mystically symbolic things, they can't be too firmly connected to any establishment if they are to fulfill their destiny."

"How can they not be connected?" 76 asked of her elder sister, "The Western Maiden is the student of the Phantom Queen of the Wild Fae, the Southern Maiden is Greygus's daughter, and the Eastern Maiden is the niece of Qingu the uncrowned Triton King of the Eastern Court; just how could they be entirely free agents?"

"The Morrigan is only the Symbolic Regent of the Wild Fae and really only hold a seat on their High Council, plus someone can be the student of another without their teacher holding fealty over them." 34 sighed wishing that her younger sister had worked on developing her deductive reasoning skills so as better to draw conclusions from their weekly intelligence briefings, "As for the Eastern and Southern Maidens, just because they share blood ties does not mean they are their family's proxies."

"If you say so big sis-" 76 replied while taking in activity on the roof, "Oh! Get ready, they're going to move again!"

"Roger, stow the gear and re-engage adaptive camoflague,"34 ordered her younger sibling, "I'll phone in confirmation of target sighting into Papa Houma."

As 76 retracted the parabolic mic to store it and the digital recorder back on her person 34 called over their coms network. "Mayday- Mayday, this is Agent R-34 reporting confirmed sighting of target asset, asset is still in play- I repeat asset is still in play. Proceeding to shadow asset to next location- over."

"Roger R-34," Corporal Analog's voice came in over the coms, "Maintain visual contact but do not engage. Continue to report changes in asset status ASAP- over!"

"Roger command- over and out." 34 replied before she and 76 activated the stealth technology built into their suits and again began to shadow Duanzaolong and Sun Wukong from a respectable distance.

The Bloody Bastard - cockpit
1:27 AM

Lloyd Masterson looked at his thermographic sensor map of Durango and saw another thermal spike in the southern corner of the city- something way over 500°F. So far there had been similar temperature spikes coming along two paths from the college over the last hour, but the sources had been gone long before his drone flights could come into visual range. One of the sources would always come in two or three short bursts that moved rapidly before lingering in at a lower temperature, the other used source was less frequent and used a longer flaring burst like a flamethrower; Lloyd was sure though that one of the two was their bounty head- and each incident helped his drone flights pin-point the source.

This time however was different, one of his flights was only two-minutes from the source of the two to three shot patterns, and if the source followed its usual behavior pattern the nearest flight would be in visual range by the time the third shot fired. Lloyd licked his lips in anticipation as the drone flight drew closer and closer to the origin of the first heat signature, he knew in his bones that this time he would get a visual of the source- any moment now...

His drone flight was finally in range half-a-minute after the second thermal spike registered, he could already see the endpoint of the heat from the currently burning hopping vampire of the Merchants. He crossed his fingers that this was going to be one of the triple-spike incidents rather than a double-spike and all but held his breath in anticipation.

Sure, enough there was a third thermal spike, he instructed the hovering drones to immediately zoom in on the source. He saw the low-light image pull up on his monitor; there she was the lizard bitch, the dragon lady, he had found her at last. Letting his glee run its course Lloyd then saw that the dragon girl wasn't alone the monkey girl was with her sharing a roof, "shit."

Lloyd shoved his brief moment of glee turned to frustration aside, knowing that if the pair followed their pattern they'd change locations soon he programmed the drones to tail the pair before hitting the internal com-switch. "Rod- Bufford get ready to move- I found the lizard lady and the monkey girl, my drones are on their tails. They're as good as ours!"

"Good but remember we need the lizard lady alive!" Rod replied over the com-channel, "The monkey girl though we don't so feel free to skin and mount her, or do whatever the hell you want!"

"I say if we kill her stuff her, if we take her alive see if the chinks'll buy her!" Bufford belted out over the coms, "Either way I'm happy!"

Lloyd smiled at his cousin's remarks- every once in a while, what little brains he had rattling around in his skull came up with a good idea. "Guess the saying is true, even a broken clock is right twice a day."

Zhaoshang de Youhuan Camp - Oxbow Park and Preserve
1:34 AM

Kao Tak-keung grew more and more nervous by the minute, every few minutes Pao Shu-yen would report to Au Jai-guo that another few Jiangshi had been neutralized, and every time Au Jai-guo would grow more and more agitated. Kao Tak-keung knew well of the man's temperament it was only a matter of time before he decided to make use of the three trump cards that they brought with them regardless of the consequences of that turn of events.

"Oh, great Yaoshi daishi," Pao shu-yen again approached the high-quality director's chair that Au Jai-guo had chosen attended to by various nameless (literally) slaves of his office. "I regret to inform you that another trio of my Jiangshi have fallen."

"How many?" Au Jai-guo immediately replied in a tone so even that it was chilling.

"Pardon me great Yaoshi daishi," the daoshi responded with respect, "but of what do you mean?"

"How many Jiangshi have we lost in this futility?" Au Jai-guo vented at the Pao shu-yen clearly up agitated that the daoshi had either failed or not even bothered to pick up on the implied question. "How many Jiangshi do we have left? And for that matter, where have they fallen?"

"I apologies for my lack of insight in recognizing your will, oh great Yaoshi daishi," Pao shu-yen apologized as he fell to his knees in deference to the man and began to bow and scrape to appease his increasingly volatile temper. "We began with thirty-nine Jiangshi, and of that original number twenty-seven have fallen leaving us with only twelve Jiangshi to search for Yao Xiyi. As for where the locations vary; although the majority of the Jiangshi have fallen along the center of the city and the western edges of the city, with a few falling separate from the others towards the center of the city. In all the bulk of the interference has come from the center going from east towards the southwest and the western edge going from south to north."

"With both originating from the area of the college where the mercenaries found and lost Yao Xiyi," Au Jai-gao deduced as we leaned forwards in his chair resting his chin on his interlaced fingers. "This is no coincidence, one of those neutralizing our Jiangshi is none other than Yao Xiyi and the others must be some local adolescent interlopers whom she has persuaded to aide her in her fight for freedom against their natural instincts of self-preservation."

"As you say oh great Yaoshi-daishi it must be so," Pao shu-yen replied from his position of prostration, having remained in his earlier position. "However, I regret to inform you that in the time since we have been conversing two more of our Jiangshi have fallen leaving us with only ten in total, this mean that in all roughly three-quarter of the Jiangshi which we brought with us have been dispatched."

"Then the time for discretion has fled!" Au Jai-gao stated as he placed his teacup in the saucer held by the slave to his right. "No matter the interference that we have placed on communication to the outside of the city, soon authorities will show up to investigate and immediately afterwards the costumed jackanapes that these western barbarians foolishly call heroes will follow suit. We no longer have any time to spare with these soft tactics, it is time to bring our full force to bear."

"Understood oh venerable Yaoshi-daishi," Pao shu-yen replied as he rose from the ground and turned to the side to look at three nearby individuals whose attire designated them likewise as daoshi although they were dressed in much simpler attire designating them as his subordinates. "Students it is time to show what you have learned of our ways, take up the Rod of Zhengfu which you have been assigned and meet me at the trailer, it is time that you prove your worth to the Zhaoshang de Youhuan!"

Immediately the trio set down their worn and chipped tea cups and rose from where they had a travel kettle suspended over a make-shift campfire. Rising to their feet and ignoring the fact that more than one of them had legs that had fallen asleep during their vigil, the trio complied each taking with them a scepter that was lacking visual flare or ornamentation showing that it was intended for a utilitarian function rather than a simply ceremonial one.

Each of Pao shu-yen's subordinates took their pre-assigned place next to the trailer which held the expedition's three final assets, facing their master who stood one the opposite side. Pao shu-yen made sure not to weaken his hold on the remaining Jiangshi (of whom another two had fallen leaving eight in total) as he cast the spell to deactivate the wards on the cages within the trailer, "Tuichu!"

The three student's Rods of Zhengfu each began to glow as their master was casting his spell bringing the three prisoners within the trailer under their control. With well-rehearsed precision, the daoshi apprentice furthest from the trailer raised his glowing rod, soon the trailer began to violently bounce as the kuro-oni Assaku exited. With his eyes glowing a malevolent red, horns twisted like those of a blackbuck antelope and a fang-filled mouth he roared against the spell of his bonds. Nevertheless, that act of aggression was all that Assaku could manage against the spell cast by the Rod of Zhengfu, so with his massive spike-studded kanabo clutched firmly in his clawed right-hand the kuro-oni stomped over to where he was instructed.

Next the middle of the three the raised his glowing rod, soon the trailer began to shake again, this time out trod the asura Nidar Rosh. Although Nidar Rosh was far more heavily armed than his fellow prisoner Assaku (wielding a vajra, a trident, round shield, khanda sword, and a coil of rope with a weight on one end leaving only one of his six hands open); his three faces did not speak of the same naked violence. While no doubt they did speak of his hostility towards his captors, Nidar Rosh's anger was far more subdued making him a less apparent threat...for the moment. Without any sign of struggle Nidar Rosh took his place next to the snarling and growling kuro-oni Assaku.

Now it was the time for the last of the three apprentice daoshi to raise his glowing Rod of Zhengfu, and while he was the senior of the three- he was still the most nervous given his current charge. Never-the-less the apprentice followed his cue and raised his glowing rod, this time unlike the last two the trailer did not shake; although an echo of calm foot-steps could be heard from within its cavernous depths. Eventually the final of the three assets the Merchants had brought with them exited the trailer, looking like nothing more than a young-man in period armor and wielding a well-crafted spear this individual was as dangerous as the other two if not more so.

This was Hai-er Hong, an opponent of Sun Wukong who was so powerful that he actually needed the assistance of the Bodhisattva Guanyin to subdue him. Unlike Assaku and Nidar Rosh there was no outward appearance of anger on Hai-er Hong's face only a sign of disappointment and shame, the sources of these emotions however were known only to himself and none in the camp would even care to ask him. Without any sign of aggression Hai-er Hong followed his controller's unspoken command to stand in line next to his two fellow prisoners.

Soon the daoshi fell into a procession before their trio of supernatural captive with the apprentices standing three paces behind Pao shu-yen, soon the leader of the daoshi was joined Au Jai-gao who began to address the trio. "You three have been let out of your cages because one of your fellows has forgotten her place beneath the heel of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan; you are to capture and return her to our camp alive and intact, however any who have aided her in this foolish endeavor or try to prevent her capture are to be eliminated."

Au Jai-gao then turned to the trio of apprentice daoshi while their master watched his back, the oni and the asura are to be sent to hunt for the source of interference along the western edge of town, red boy is to be sent south he should be enough to meet whatever resistance the is by himself."

"Understood great Yaoshi daishi," the trio bowed and headed nearby where a trio of masked individuals in biker-attire waited on motor-cycles with attached sidecars each of the daoshi apprentices entered the sidecars while before their riders took off to follow the directions that Pao shu-yen would provide. Not long after the trio of supernatural beings followed suit as they obeyed the commands of the apprentice daoshi.

As Au Jai-gao smiled with the confidence that his glory and the title of Xue-jin Mushi was soon to be his, Kao Tak-keung looked on with apprehension hoping that he could salvage this debacle when it proved to go south- not if but when. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone (or at least everyone who was allowed to speak at the moment) the spy hidden in their midst, 48 or Reverant-48 to be more specific, sent out a low band transmission to Papa Houma and Corporal Analog's team. The transmission was a text message related to her earlier intel gathering trip inside the camp, and was short- sweet- and to the point... "The monsters are coming!"

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2 years 11 months ago #48425 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 25 Notes

Yaoshi daishi - Master of Keys, the man in charge of all the Merchants of Suffering's facilities away from the San Francisco Branch of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom.
Qianbao de shouhu zhe - Keeper of the Purse, the man responsible for Merchants of Suffering's accounts and maintaining their treasury stores.
laoshi - Chinese for teacher or sensei
Rod of Zhengfu - A rod or scepter that is used in conjunction with one to five Manacles Nuyi to control a powerful supernatural entity against their will without needing to resort to taking their name which diminished the being's power.  Each rod or scepter has a range of five kilometers, thus letting its wielder control the enslaved entity from a safe distance.
Tuichu! - Release!

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2 years 10 months ago - 2 years 10 months ago #49013 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 26

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall Booth 13
Las Vegas, Nevada
12:02 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

My heart hammered away inside of my chest as grandfather and I settled into our seats as he set a sealed box on the floor at his feet which he told me earlier was 'part of my backup plan just in case the original didn't work.'

Much to my surprise the auction hall wasn't a hall, instead it was a series of semi-circular booths with a crescent-shaped table fixtured before each- I wonder if this was what a dinner theater looked like. In front of us were two menus, a copy of the auction catalog, a wine list, and a button to call our server. Another prominent feature of the table was a long paddle with the number 13 on it, obviously, Miss Bliss did not want to make us feel too welcome here in her den.

The woman on the stage, whom my grandfather informed me was a fallen sidhe noblewoman (a type of fairy) formerly of the Winter Court, continued to bask in the lime light of the underground auction's stage. "Now while you take the time to inform your servers of your drink and hors d'oeuvre selections for tonight, I do have a small announcement for tonight which amends the preliminary auction catalog which you all received earlier."

The sidhe known as Miss Bliss paused to take a breath before she continued, "A third party approached me with an outside offer for one of tonight's lots over an hour ago- I will explain further after your orders are placed. I need to give my chefs and bartenders time to work their magic tonight as well."

An obvious sign of dissatisfaction began to spread amongst the auction goers: 'What was going on? Was Walt safe? Was he still here?'

Meanwhile my grandfather placed an order with a waitress, "Matbucha and a Sazerac, make sure to substitute the absinthe rinse with ouzo though, I dislike after-tones of wormwood. How about you my dear?"

Realizing that he was asking for my order I took a quick peak and picked something that I had made before on my own, given that the woman who claimed to be my mother for fourteen plus years never really cooked. "Clams casino substitute the bacon for pancetta and an Arnold Palmer made with unsweetened iced tea please." Noticing the odd look the waitress was giving her she added, "I am underage, there are some laws that I believe we owe a modicum of lip-service."

"Very well madam," the waitress took my menu with lowered eyes, "I meant no disrespect."

"If you are done embarrassing poor Greygus's daughter I also have a message for you to give your employer during intermission." Grandfather Set stated as he produced a sealed (as in with wax and his signet stamp) envelope to the waitress, and leaned forward with a whisper, "I expect you to give this to Miss Denistasa Morrast as soon as the curtain falls."

"At once sir," the waitress to the envelop along with our menus, looking positively shell-shocked over the name my grandfather casually dropped, one thing was certain he knew how to make his point heard with minimal effort- I guess I need to ask him for a few pointers. With our peace said and our orders taken the waitress scampered off to either the kitchen or back-stage...maybe one after the other."

"That envelope explained the current state of affairs as well as the gravitas of the situation that Miss Bliss is in-" Grandpa Set explained, "you see this might be her operation however she only operates with my permission- explaining the situation might help get the ball rolling in our favor."

"But what about everyone else in the room-" I said with some concern, "these are some scary customers."

"Don't worry too much my dear," grandpa explained with a smile from beneath his partial head dress, "I have a few friends in the room to help should things get dicey."

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Stage
12:17 AM

Miss Bliss looked at the anger and discontent spreading among the auction goers, hoping that the replacements in the catalog mollified them, but for the moment she wondered why she agreed to that Summer Court tart's proposal.


Saturday, April 21st, 2007
The Black Solstice Lounge - Miss Bliss's Personal Suite
10:35 PM

Denistasa Morrast born Denistasa of House Blackshore and now known in certain circles of the mortal world's less than desirable element as Miss Bliss was in her dressing room trying not to let her current situation get to her. On the one hand, she was about to auction of one of her more lucrative windfalls in years the power gems of one of the founders of the Justice Brigade- the late Captain Cosmos, dubbed by those of his day as his Zodiac Gems, also a name that was seized on by his killers the Zodiac Cartel. On the other hand, her landlord Lord Ataxia had not only become a lot more dangerous without her becoming aware of that fact and for the first time ever had opted to attend one of her auctions; this turn of events was either very good or extremely bad.

Although judging by that fact that one of the pair of goons who she sent to retrieve the Zodiac Gems in the first place, the ogre operating under the name Shakedown, had yet to either return from his cleanup mission or check-in with her she was guessing that it may be the former. "Setbacks like these are not what I need right now, this is one of the largest windfalls that I have come across since my exile- maybe even before that, I do not need anything to interfere tonight!"

Denistasa was doing her best to regain her composure, the criminal underworld of the mortals was in many ways the same as the Winter Court in which she grew up; however certain aspects of the criminal underworld were far worse than back home, this was because this world combined the surface dangers of the Winter Court with the hidden dangers of the Summer Court. Here a blade or spell flying at your head or a direct attack from another faction wasn't all that you had to worry about, the mortal underworld relied upon an intricate balance of reputation and alliances; being eliminated was far from the only treat that she had to deal with- there was also her operation being taken over and herself either being kicked to the curb or outright subordinated.

No, Denistasa needed to maintain a facade of poise and dignity, as such were the only ways to maintain her autonomy. While the loss of her status and nobility with the fall of her house and the execution of her parents and older sister via gladiatorial combat with ogres was horrific, in time she had come to appreciate the freedom of being out from under the authority of Queen Mab and the Royal Court of House Ellinra.

Alright, technically she wasn't entirely autonomous, Denistasa and the servitors of House Blackshore which she had managed to personally suborn to herself prior to the final unlucky Hell Tithe had been without of place to call home prior to receiving the patronage of a withered djinn known as Lord Ataxia here in the desert to get back on her feet. To be honest for the most part her local 'Lord' had left her alone merely collecting a small monetary tribute at the first of every calendar month through his surprisingly cordial son Greygus, now though matters had changed Lord Ataxia was now Lord Khamsin filled with renewed vitality and coming to her most vital venture for the first time- ever. There were just too many unknowns for her to be truly comfortable, so for the first time in a while she was going to have to...fake it.

At present, she had decided to make liberal use of her chair's special back massage feature, although part of her wished that she could make liberal use of aspirin as well rather than need to depend on draught of willow leaf. "I really need to begin building up a tolerance to manufactured consumable goods, brewing our own in-house spirits for self-consumption alone is a pain and a half."

Eventually she heard a hesitant knocking at the door, "Drisune I thought that I explained that I did not wish to be disturbed while I am preparing myself for tonight's auction."

"Actually, milady we have a guest here from the Fairlands who wishes to discuss purchasing one of the items featured in tonight's auction catalog."

Denistasa smiled at the sadistic possibilities: if the noble truly had a brain in their head they might be willing to make an in-kind trade for the treasure. Granted given however that Faefolk from either of the two Kingdoms had a far different concept on payment, if their payment didn't meet her standards though she could always have them tortured for her own personal amusement. Still there was one variable which she still had to account for... "Drisune is our guest from the Winter Court or the Summer Court?"

"Summer Court Milady," Drisune replied, "she is Lady Aenara of House Shining-Lily."

"Yes, and if you would receive me I have need of an item which you currently have in your possession," the Lady of the Summer Court explained while preparing to further cement her chance to obtain what she was after. "So perhaps we could meet face-to-face to commence negotiations."

"I will have to decline," Denistasa replied as heavily as she could, "I do not know if you are aware or not however I am only a first-generation exile of the Winter Court. This means that I am fully aware of Summer Court's tactics of bending a negotiation in their favor. Also as the auction's catalog has already been sent out to all interested parties I am afraid a direct purchase for basic capitol is quite problematic, and moreover the purchase of certain items within it outside of the auction itself is out of the question."

"Also, while I am aware of the Sidhe price of balance when it comes to the price of goods you are asking me to break my word and sully my reputation, not to mention risk the ire of individuals whose danger is far greater than you could dare to imagine. Ergo the Sidhe price for such goods themselves would be woefully insufficient. But before I tell you my price, what item do you wish me to place my neck on the chopping block over?"

"The two Bak-ba," Lady Aenara Shining-Lily replied shortly, "I am aware that you are offering them together in the same lot in your auction- Lot 3 I believe."

"However, you are offering to purchase them directly; ergo you shall purchase them separately. Should you wish to acquire the objects which you are after you must then pay me in a way to make it worth the considerable risk that you are making me take. I would say that one unique mystic item from human antiquity for each ring should be sufficient to counter the collateral damage to my reputation- oh and you only have an hour to present them and have my house scrier authenticate them before the auction, so I would try not to dally unless of course you wish to sully your own reputation by attending an auction in the mortal realm with many individuals of notoriously ill reputations."

End Flashback

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Stage
12:18 AM

Coming back into the present Miss Bliss saw how emotions were running high, and a fair number of individuals were visibly upset- she knew that it was time to quench this fire before it turned into a blaze, "Now- now everyone, I understand that you are upset, you came for what you were originally offered after all."

"However, my wonderful guests you need not be so agitated the star item of the auction is still up for bidding; the individual, whose name I reserve to withhold for the sake of their anonymity, was interested in Lot Number 3: two Ancient-Egyptian Bak-ba broaches."

After this revelation passed over the audience although for some reason Lady Jettatura and Hexmaster both looked mildly perturbed- she thought that might be good information to file-away for later after all chances were good that her followers for reclaim the Bak-ba for later sale after Lady Aenara's scheme blew up it her face. "Moreover, I insisted that the buyer pay in goods for tonight's auction rather than common currency and they delivered, this will be reflected in the new items offered for both Lot Number 3 as well as Lot Number 12 so who knows you might find something that is very attractive in either new offering, so before we begin I will give you a few moments to peruse these new possibilities."

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall Booth 8
12:25 AM

Qian Khai sighed with relief as his heart-rate and blood pressure began to fall back to normal levels. It wasn't too late he could still fulfill his mission although as he looked around part of him doubted his chances for success given those who would likely be bidding against him. Already walking into the auction hall, he recognized old foes of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan whose adversity long predated even the reign of even the Xue-jin Mushi's predecessor's predecessor.

Although he did not know her name or identity; Qian recognized one of Erzebet Scratch's lieutenants from a picture that he had seen skimming through files when he gained this job during the organizational reshuffling weeks past. However, a long foe of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan that he did recognize by name had been a thorn in their order's side ever since they moved to expand into the West...Professor Id; although technically Id was their enemy the sad truth was the sheer size of his overarching organization dwarfed their's considerably, which was even more terrifying that he had been at this himself for only a hundred and twenty odd years.

Either of those two alone had more money to throw into buying the Zodiac Gems than the Xue-jin Mushi had ever authorized for his use in the auction. Knowing that his situation felt bleak Qian Khai took the moment to search the catalog for the new items in the auction catalog, because all the prior lots that while interesting in their own merits would not spare his life from his master's...disappointment.

The new Lot 3 was the Circlet of Tiresias, an Ancient Grecian silver crown fashioned in the style of a laurel and permanently bestowed the wearer with the prophetic gifts of the ancient seer himself with increasing control the longer one wore it. However, it was also noted that the Circlet also bestowed upon the wearer the curse inflicted upon Tiresias by the Olympian deities; if someone wore the crown for twenty-four cumulative hours then they would be transformed into the opposite gender. Moreover, to gain full control of the gift of prophecy would take wearing the circlet for a week which would curse the wearer with changing gender every day. This sounded more like a potential torture device than something of true benefit- pass.

The next entry however caused Qian Khai's heart to jump with joy- the item listed was none-other than the Taiping Yaoshu, it had been lost for over twenty-two hundred years but somehow Miss Bliss's mysterious client had found it and used it to pay for one of the Bak-ba. Let the others throw their money into a dozen power gems that would only be lost or stolen later, this text was not only worth the Xue-jin Mushi sparing his life it would likely earn him a promotion.

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Stage
12:30 AM

Now that her guests were calm, and their drinks had started to arrive it was time to begin, "Our first item up for bid tonight is also the one with the most modern history, the Rosary of Isobel Caprera." Illustrated as a case containing the eponymous item resting upon a jewelry store display raised up through a trap door in the stage. "This item belonged to a parishioner of the now Famous Saint Gregory's Church named Isobel Caprera, a grandmother in her mid-sixties Isobel suffered from chronic if not crippling arthritis in her hands. This affliction was healed for a time when one of the cherubs of the individual famously known as The Angel of Hell's Kitchen entered the woman's rosary on November 16th of last year, as a side note this act also reignited the faith of the woman's granddaughter Gina."

"This item is also unique because it came here through properly legal channels, as Isobel Caprera sold this rosary to pay for the education of her family, to an elderly man of means. This man of means, who has asked not to be name, decided that after being targeted by several burglars and minor dark magic users that living with his affliction of chronic recurring gout was a proper price to pay for a good night's sleep; ergo this anonymous individual willingly consigned the Rosary to our auction through one of my agents- meaning that who-so-ever wins this item will be its legal owner under international law!"

"Now while the power to suppress the pain and swelling of a condition as serious as rheumatoid arthritis would indeed make this object useful, the fact that it was an object that was enchanted early on with the Macluic Energies of the eponymous Angel is no doubt more interesting as is likely the essence of a matron's genuine familial love that it absorbed from its original owner. Now I will start the bidding at a modest $300,000, do I hear $300,000 for this unique artifact and even more unique opportunity?"

"$300,000," Hexmaster raised his paddle surprising no one given that his son Nephandus had been spotted several times at Saint Gregory trying to capture one of the Angel's cherubs.

What was surprising was when Don Kulmatz raised his paddle to challenge the bid, "$310,000!"

Hexmaster shot the Central American cartel leader a hate-filled glare and responded with a bid of $320,000!"

Don Kulmatz nonchalantly ignored the mystic practitioner's malice and raised his paddle again, "$330,000."

"340,000," Hexmaster raised his paddle clearly beginning to lose his temper as if the bidding went too high it would hurt him when the bidding for the Zodiac Gems began.

"350,000," a new paddle was raised this one being held by fellow dark mystic practitioner Devilmaster who sought to insert himself in the bidding war likely to help keep the peace lest Hexmaster foolishly try to attack Don Kulmatz.

"360,000," another voice chimed in this time belonging to Mr. Magic the gentleman mystical thief of some small acclaim, also an individual who due to his low overhead the true depth of his pockets being an unknown.

"370,000," Hexmaster raised the bidding once again as he grew more desperate to acquire the Rosary and almost forgot about the Zodiac Gems.

Professor Id although not taking part in the bidding war over the Rosary had a mirthful smile on his face, as he clearly enjoyed the chaos that was erupting over the mysteriously blessed holy artifact.

"600,000," Don Kulmatz drew the attention of the room drawing the attention of the room even causing Professor Id to drop his smile as he raised his eye-brows.

Everyone in the room was stunned at how high the enigmatic Central-American raised the bidding that no one paid attention to Miss Bliss when she announced, "600 thousand going once, 600 thousand going twice," everyone however heard the gavel being lowered as Miss Bliss proclaimed, "The Rosary of Isobel Caprera is sold to Don Kulmatz for six-hundred thousand US dollars, and the amount is now logged and is being withdrawn from your over-seas bank that you listed during registration."

Miss Bliss then continued as the case containing the Rosary was lowered from the stage to be readied for transport, "As always all items won in our auctions are then sent by my private couriers to the location that you listed in your auction registration when you RSVP'd."

"Next up we have an item that also speaks of a mother's love but more-so of her fury, the Tomahawk of Hannah Duston." The covert fallen Winter Noblewoman began as the item in question rose to the stage displayed via a microphone stand with in a Lucite case with the head at the bottom facing the audience. "A figure whose name is controversial by today's standards, Hannah Duston was a puritan mother of nine in Colonial Massachusetts who with her infant daughter Martha and eleven other colonists were taken captive by members of the Abenaki Tribe during the Raid on Havenhill which took place on March 15th, 1697. Sadly, during their march to the Abenaki's camp one of her captors decided to silence six-day-old Martha, igniting the fire of her mother's rage in the process."

"That rage simmered for six weeks as Hannah waited for her opportunity with her nurse Mary Neff and during that time recruited Samuel Lennardson a 14-year-old who had been held prisoner at the same camp for a year. Finally, Hannah lead the three in a revolt against their captors killing ten, the first of whom with this tomahawk, and then scalped them for proof of the incident- I suppose the bounty that they also claimed afterwards didn't hurt either."

"So here you have it ladies and gentlemen, a weapon soaked in the bloody revenge of a filled by a mother's loss of her newborn daughter. I will start the bidding of this weapon at $350,000- do I hear $350,000 for this dark artifact of history?"

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall Booth 13
12:42 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

I looked on in shock as Professor Id, Lady Jettatura and Friar Rush fought over the Native American hatchet connected to such a dark moment in American history, "Shouldn't something like that be in a museum?" I asked to no one in a whisper.

"Most likely it was at one point," Grandpa Set, sorry Lord Khamsin stated as he stirred his Sazerac while taking in the three-way bidding war, "but keep in mind child that this is an underground auction; do not be so surprised at many of the objects here being stolen. One of Miss Bliss's main functions in the criminal community is to either provide those in the underworld with items either considered too hot or too esoteric with a way to profit from their larcenous endeavors. In this case the item in question would be a desirable fount to leech dark essence from for use in many dark arcane spells."

"Sold to Professor Id for $470,000!" Miss Bliss brought down her gavel on stage as the tomahawk disappeared.

"However, it looks like it won't be the case," grandpa explained, "Id is mainly a scientist and prominent figure of the black market- especially when it comes to weapons of war. He is also a proponent of the darker side of human nature, the tomahawk is probably bound for the private museum that he is rumored to have of Isla del Monstro."

"Our next item is a mystic artifact of a far more neutral nature," Miss Bliss stated as she began her sales pitch once more, "the Circlet of Tiresias. One of the better-known prophets of the Age of Myths in Greece, Tiresias gifts were of a more inherent nature later augmented by a gift from Athena, this artifact crafted from a few baubles owned by the seer has accumulated a history of its own having somehow gained the power to bestow gradually bestow Tiresias's gift upon the wearer."

"However, be warned lest you try to reap too much of the circlet's power of prophecy; for you see not only did the crown gain the power to bestow Tiresias gifts of clairvoyance but also the curse inflicted upon him by the Olympian Queen Hera. You see while on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Hermes on Mount Cyllene Tiresias came across of pair of snakes and out of fear struck them with his walking stick; as these serpents were in the middle of mating and no true threat to the man, this drew the displeasure of Hera who turned Tiresias into a woman for the offense- a condition that he remained in for seven years."

"So, buyer be warned, though this crown does bestow the wearer with the gift of prophecy the gift is bestowed gradually and after being worn for a total of twenty-four hours the wearer will find themselves transformed into the opposite gender and after a week they will be cursed to transform back and forth daily. Still what you would do with such an item is up to you, risk the curse for power of prophecy, give one who wishes to cross the gender divide the opportunity to do so while gaining a bonus, transform an enemy into a useful servant- the choice is all up to the winner. Now I will start the bidding for this unique item at $450,000- do I hear $450,000?"

"$450,000!" A woman was the first to raise her paddle.

"Strega," grandpa chimed in sensing my curiosity as the bidding erupted between her and a classy lady with a really scary looking bodyguard, "her son recently manifested as a mutant and crossed the gender gap; although in his case it a literal change and not his real self-casting off a false shell. She may be wanting to give the child the option to change back without risking the possibility of burn-out that her own magic might bring. As for the other bidder, her name is Dustbowl, she's the subordinate of a colleague of mine within the Obsidian Circle- although I cannot place her bodyguard."

In the time that we were talking Professor Id entered the bidding bringing it up to $600,000, meanwhile I just sat back with grandfather watching the mayhem. Eventually at $780,000 Id backed off and before too long, "Going once, going twice, sold to Dustbowl for $810,000. As the display case left the stage, Dustbowl called out to Strega, "Do not worry Dame Valocco, I'll leave word with our people that you are allowed access to the artifact- just remember to ask instead of going the whole drama queen route, nobody wants a repeat of what happened in Paris."

"I don't know," Strega mused, "I think one lucky girl wouldn't mind an encore of a certain part of it."

"Strega, I am sorry for interrupting you tales of debauchery past but we still have an auction to move forward with and I'm informed that we have a minor in the audience."

That little tidbit drew of roll of laughter from Mr. Magic (whom grandpa informed me was a self-styled mystic thief) as Miss Bliss continued with the auction, "The next item on our list is a lost piece of art from the Golden Age of Hollywood The Magnificent Ambersons, the second film by cinema legend Orson Welles and adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Booth Tarkington of the same name. While a version of the film does exist, and is available for purchase, this is Welles's rough cut, untainted by the meddling of RKO Films' executive ordered editing. Included with the film is also the original score by Composer Bernard Herrmann, who insisted that his name be removed from the credits after it too suffered heavy editing by RKO Films; also included are Orson Welles notes on how he wished the film to be edited, which were taken from his estate and substituted for a replacement to complete this lot."

"Know this whoever wins this lot can easily profit from their win by use of a proxy on a more legitimate forum, especially given how the edited version is within the film vault of the Library of Congress. I will start the bidding for this lot at $550,000, do I hear $550,000?"

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall
12:58 AM

"$550,000," Mr. Magic's voice called out while a figure in the shadows (literally)observed the auction hall; the sluagh known as Dirac lay in each of the shadows under the table trying to gather as much intel as he could for his mistress. While it was true that his main concern was Qian Khai, at least per his mistress's orders, he still had other concerns. Something didn't feel right to him Booth 13, and while the newly rejuvenated Lord Ataxia was still cause for concern- the young girl who was with him bothered him.

Dirac didn't know how to explain it but somewhere in the core of his being he knew that he had come across her- and recently at that. He didn't know where considering that the only women that he had encountered tonight were either fae or some shade of human, and being with their land lord clearly mean that the child was a djinn or at least djinn-blooded. The matter quite frankly was driving him bonkers, so Dirac moved through the shadows to back stage to clear his head.

Once Dirac rose from the shadows back stage he found Drisune, his mistress's personal assistant white as a sheet, holding a few sheets of paper in her trembling hands and looking at it like it was her own death warrant with the incriminating envelope on the floor.

"Drisune, what's going on?" Dirac spoke up as he approached the fetch, "You look like the late Lady Blackshore found out that you had filched food meant for the dining table."

"I might as well have- for my fate might be the same," Drisune looked at him as if she was bound for a date with the iron maiden. "One of my main duties for Mistress Denistasa is to open her correspondence and to praise it in a way that would not upset her, but this- there's no possible way to sugar-coat it for the mistress- she will shoot the messenger this time!"

"Come now Drisune you are exaggerating," Dirac stated with confidence, "there is no possible way that you could possibly have news that bad- tonight the Mistress is auctioning off one of her biggest items to date, moreover it was a total windfall, given that it cost us nothing to obtain."

"This wind fall might cost us more than you think," Drisune glared at me as if I was a complete fool for saying what I just did. "As it turns out one of our guests tonight has a prior claim on the Zodiac Gemstones, and claims that we stole it from them."

"Sold to Professor Id for $870,000!" the pair heard their employer cry out from the other side of the curtain.

"Oh, we did nothing of the sort and The Syndicate knows that," Dirac shot back insulted by the accusation, "we took the gemstones and the vambraces they're set in from a group of run-aways, and you know the old laws of our people as well as I do. Run-aways can claim nothing as they ultimately own nothing of their own. Besides the kid who put them on didn't own the bag they were in either. Plus, the last time that I saw of the bag's real owner he was about to get eaten by Shakedown- so there is no way anyone who is out there would have a claim to the star item in our auction tonight."

"It explains that one of the group was Greygus's daughter and therefore Lord Khamsin's granddaughter," Drisune stated as she locked Dirac with a hopeless look while on the other side of the curtain Miss Bliss announced the next item, "the zodiac gemstones might have fallen into her hands by accident when the Slyde courier gave them to her, but they did so in the territory of her family meaning that we effectively assaulted her on her own family's land. Aside from which Lord Khamsin only wants the boy wearing the vambraces released alive and unharmed to his care, as far as he's concerned the zodiac gemstones are a separate matter entirely."

"Wait a moment that group was all male, even I know how to tell the difference between a male and a female and according to Shakedown they all smelled perfectly human." Dirac stated as his mind moved back to their encounter hours ago, everything that he remembered supported his claim. Then he remembered the odd moment that it looked like the owner of the bag had his face fall off after a strong blow from Shakedown. While it was coated in dirt the face looked off like it wasn't human, more animalistic- like the face of a djinn.

Realizing for a moment that Lord Khamsin's claims could be valid Dirac asked Drisune, "How have the efforts gone to remove the vambraces from the boy?"

"Every mundane and mystic means at our disposal have proven ineffective," Drisune explained with her voice dripping with her mounting frustration, "it is as if they are bonded to the very skin of his forearms- there is no way for us to remove them without harming the wearer and there is also no way for us to remove the zodiac gemstones from their settings as they are mounted from the inside out."

"I wish Shakedown would get back here already, he could tell us if Lord Khamsin's claims were valid or not," Dirac stated as he grew more and more frustrated with the ogre's absence, "What is keeping that slovenly lummox- doesn't he realize how much we need him here tonight more than ever?"

"That's the other part of the note, Lord Khamsin stated that he has another son known as Dirge who defeated and captured Shakedown," Drisune explained laying out their massing problems, "apparently, his release is conditional based upon the boy's return and that part is not up for negotiation."

"Dammit all to the permafrost," Dirac stomped his foot in frustration, "Something like this is above my paygrade. We need to tell the mistress and let her make the call during intermission, she is definitely not going to happy about this though because one way or another this will end in violence."

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall Booth 13
1:12 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

"Sold to Apis for $800,000!" Miss Bliss went on as the second Fiend Smasher's only remaining Holy Hand Grenade, left the stage bound for wherever the man-bull and his cow-friend decided to rest their hooves here in Sin City.

"I know what you are thinking child, but no they are not our kind." Grandpa began to explain, "They are scientifically augmented humans or at least the variety of human known colloquially as mutants. Apis is a mid-level member of the criminal conglomerate known as The Syndicate, he is also definitely here for the Gemstones, and would certainly not concern himself too highly with young Walter's wellbeing."

"We will now be taking a half-hour intermission," our host explained, as she began to walk off stage, "afterwards we will be coming back for the heavy-bidder portion of the auction with all lot's having an opening bid in excess of one-million American dollars. However, in the meantime feel free to order another round, get up, stretch your legs, mingle if you wish to do so; just remember though to be on your best behavior- that is if you ever want to be allowed back inside."

When our host disappeared behind the curtain grandpa followed her advice and got up, and given that I didn't want to be sitting alone in a room full of career criminals of varying degrees of infamy I followed in his path trying to keep within arm's reach. Surprisingly he was making his way over to Dustbowl and her own plus-one, although I guess that it made sense given how they were all a part of the same organization, note to self: Find out more about the family business so that you don't get caught with your pants down at the wrong time.

"Hello Dustbowl my dear," grandpa Khamsin extended his hand to the woman dressed in desert gear with a scarf covering her face, "nice to see you here I trust Dame Scratch is doing well after that- incident in New York."

"That incident actually turned into a windfall for us Lord Khamsin," Dustbowl explained as she shook grandfather's hand. "It brought us a fine recruit for the Sweepers and gave us the excuse that we needed to show Darrow and his lackey's their place on the food chain which gained us yet another fine recruit as one of the Children of the Night decided to jump ship, although granted your son Greygus did a fair bit of the heavy lifting; with some assistance from the Erinyes and *ugh* Carcharoth."

"Yes, speaking of my oldest I thought that now would be an appropriate time to introduce his daughter and my granddaughter Mistral." Grandpa stated before stepping aside and leaving me with an unobstructed view of the woman.

"He-hello," I spoke before shakily extending my hand to the woman who took it in a while her left hand settled across the back.

"Don't worry child, everyone is nervous their first time in a place like this," Dustbowl explained as she looked at me with a reassuring glance and a gentle couple of pats on the shoulder. "Especially with someone like Id in the room, don't worry though our organization has a longstanding positive relationship with your family's through your father- a great many think well of him and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in our Sweeper Squads who do not hold him in the highest respect. Tell me how old are you Mistral?"

"Fourteen, but I turn Fifteen in July," I replied although part of me wondered if I should let that information out.

"Wonderful, from the look of your skin-tone I'd wager that you have some Hispanic heritage on your mother's side," Dustbowl deduced from me in just a matter of moments, "I'll have to get in touch with mother to see if we could help organize a Quinquennia for you- that is if your family would allow us to help."

"I will talk it over with my wife and son," Grandpa explained, "but speaking of plus-one's I don't believe that yours and I have ever met- what's wrong- is H0RD3 alright?"

"H0RD3 is...as fine as he can be given the circumstances," Dustbowl stated with a melancholy tone in her voice, "sometimes I worry about him showing more and more signs of Manhattan Syndrome- if only that day never happened."

"Trust me changing the past is more difficult than you think," grandpa explained with a deep amount of pain in his own voice, "the only thing that you can do is press on and hope someday to find a solution."

"Well so Greygus joined the parents club after all," Devilmaster stated as he walked over to us, "then again given all the globe-hopping that he had to do I'm more surprised that it didn't happen sooner."

"Pot calling the kettle black Devilmaster," Mr. Magic injected himself into the conversation, "the question still remains of who your own daughter's mother is after all. By the way I was right so it's time to pay up."

"Come on now- so I guessed that she was Lord Khamsin's daughter, I was only off by a generation." Devilmaster plead to the mystic thief, "I was still closer to the truth than Strega! Besides I just wish to keep my wife out of our world."

"Close only counts with splash damage and proximity effects my dear Devilmaster," Strega stated as she sauntered over nearby plucking a rolled bundle from out of her cleavage, and peeling off five bills to deposit within Mr. Magic's waiting hand before returning the roll to the cavern of her bosom. "So, a bet's a bet, five-hundred dollars- be a man because it's time to pay up fair and square, and if you can't be one I can correct that here and now."

"If you even try it I'll leave your gastro-intestinal tract possessed with a bile worm from the Third Circle," Devilmaster glared at Strega while he gave Mr. Magic his promised five Benjamin Franklin's. "Though Strega, your guess to the lady's identity was just perverse; you really need to lay of the tantric magic for a while, it's starting to affect your train of thought."

"Oh, don't be a prude Fellows," Strega scoffed, "who are we to judge another's inclinations."

"Do not lump me in with your own perversions Valocco," grandfather glared at the woman, "I prefer intelligent women with some class to them, after all I would not want to insult my wife by chasing after anything that has two legs and breathes."

"TMI Grandpa," I stated slapping my hands over my ears, "TMI, it's embarrassing enough to hear that people are placing bets on my dad's dating life, but yours's too ewwwww!"

That seemed to draw some laughter from the small group, just before Strega moved closer to the pair we were talking to earlier, "Dustbowl did you really mean what you said?" The lascivious woman asked my grandfather's acquaintance, "Will you really make sure that I can gain access to the Circlet of Tiresias if I ask to see it?"

"Our faction of the Grand Hall heard what happened to your son Strega," Dustbowl explained, "both his transition to the opposite gender after his powers manifested as well as his abduction by Robur the Conqueror and the Bloodline. To be honest they have made a few attempts to abduct charges from Dame Scratch in the past, they seemed to give up after the last time though."

"I can see why," Devilmaster visibly shuddered in revulsion, "what she turned those five men into was enough to make that group think twice about ever risking pissing her off ever again."

"She felt that it was time to give them a blatantly obvious reason to never trespass upon her territory or threaten her charges again," the man who even I had assumed was Dustbowl's bodyguard, "simply making them disappear off the face of the Earth clearly wasn't getting the message across. To be honest she was tempted to revive The Hangman then and there to give those five a public execution by his noose, at least she was before Slaughterhaus's inspired her to do something much worse than simply kill them for their continued transgressions."

"And just who are you again?" Strega looked at the seven-foot-tall tank of a man, "You seem to be awfully well-informed for being a simple bodyguard."

"Dead-Zone." The man replied in a hushed tone causing everyone within earshot (with the sole exceptions being myself and Dustbowl to recoil in fear as color left their face, my grandfather included.

Meanwhile it appeared that our intermission was finally over as wait-staff came out to distribute drinks cluing everyone to return to their seats. Finally, Miss Bliss sashayed back on stage with a far more serious expression compared to earlier, "Ladies and gentlemen, it has come to my attention that someone within the audience has disputed my ownership of the Zodiac Gemstones. They claim that the youth who was unfortunate enough to acquire the Gem's new vambraces was actually a part of their own family, moreover they also claim that the youth who now wears them did so in defense of that family member."

"Now both are very serious accusations as the youths who were in possession of the gems were without adult escort and therefore unsupervised, while I do not dispute that they managed to stumble upon the gems and their new setting I doubt that anyone here would back the claims of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds to own such items of power. Also, I retrieved them under contract with The Syndicate, who I might add failed to add into the contract that I was to turn over the gem's wielder to them as well- resulting on them being the centerpiece of this auction."

With that Walt rose to the stage, blind-folded and gagged while strapped to something resembling a giant letter X. "Now to be fair they only said that they wanted the gem's current wielder returned alive and unharmed, they even explained that I could keep the Zodiac Gemstones to auction off as I pleased without argument should I release the youth to them."

"However there appears to be a problem; I have made a great many attempts to separate the vambraces from this youth, all of them unsuccessful." The auctioneer explained as she continued her show, "For all appearances the braces' metal has completely bonded with the young man's arms, this makes it impossible for me to recover the Zodiac Gemstones without serious surgery which afterwards would require skin-grafts for the entirety of his fore-arms."

"Indeed, those vambraces are now as much a part of the boy's arms as his own epidermis," the man my grandfather named Professor Id proclaimed loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "the inner portion of the bracers is made of a special proprietary malleable alloy that I make rather extensive use of for several applications within my own operation. Those vambraces are bonded to that young man's skin at the cellular level, this makes it so that they will not only always fit and never interfere with muscle or bone growth but are also unable to be taken off."

"I'm afraid that they will never come off without the potential thief inflicting serious harm upon the young man," Professor Id stated with maniacal grin upon his face, "why the trauma of the attempted removal might actually cause the boy to die of shock- in fact I would lay the odds at being a decent 62% of his demise given the current data at my disposal."

"Given all that has come to light, and how my own opinion in the matter would be highly biased," Miss Bliss explained from the stage not dropping her show-woman's flare, "Before we move forward with the auction, I submit the choice to the audience should I surrender the boy with the gemstones included to Lord Khamsin's care given how he used them to allegedly protect his granddaughter or should I continue with the auction as is?"

"I submit a counter-proposal," grandpa interrupted the pending vote while standing from his seat, "rather than let the boy's future be decided by the whims of others why not leave it to a contest of skill. Should my chosen representative lose then not only will I abide by the auction's result, but I will also bestow upon the winner of his lot with this..."

That was when grandpa reached into the space between his wrist and his armor's sleeve to retrieve a gemstone of the exact size and cut as the Zodiac Gemstones that were on Walt's vambraces. "What a great many fail to acknowledge is at present there are thirteen signs in the ecliptic zone assigned to the signs of the Zodiac rather than the accepted twelve, however due to superstitions surrounding the number thirteen this sign is usually ignored."

"However, the being who created the Zodiac Gems in the first place does recognize this fact and crafted a stone for the sign which now takes its place with a toe-hold amongst the twelve; this is the Ophiuchus gem." Grandfather raised the stone in question clutched between his right-thumb and pointer. "While this stone has no power unique to itself, it does serve a rather important function in relation to its twelve predecessors, it shortens their recharge time down to a matter of seconds from their previous matter of minutes, as well as taking the brunt of the Libra gem's possibility of temporarily off-lining the other eleven by going dark itself."

"If my chosen representative wins however the boy and the gemstones are surrendered to my custody and taking their place will be an item of my own submission," Grandpa now took the locked box from the floor and placed it on the table then unlocked and opened the top latch between the two handles. That left the box to open to both sides like a pair of resting wings.

Within the box were seven scrolls with two stacks of two bookending a center stack of three and all three stacks were held in place with two dowel rods cut to the necessary lengths, "These are introductory scrolls for Initiates to the Temple of Isis at Behbeit El-Hagar from their House of Life- or what we call today their library. Within these papyrus scrolls are the very foundations of the magic used in Ancient Egypt, how to perform it as well as craft the tools needed for its practice. Now how many find my offer acceptable enough to risk losing your chance at the Zodiac Gems?"

Last Edit: 2 years 10 months ago by Insane Hiker. Reason: typos
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2 years 10 months ago - 2 years 10 months ago #49016 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 26 Notes

Lot 01: Isobel Caprera's Rosary
Lot 02: The Tomahawk of Hannah Duston
Lot 03: The Circlet of Tiresias
Lot 04: A rough cut of The Magnificent Ambersons with the lost reels and the Orson Welles' instructions on how to properly restore them.
Lot 05: Sheet Music for the true version of Giuseppe Taratini's Violin Sonata in G minor, Bg.5
Lot 06: Fiend Smasher's last remaining Holy Hand Grenade (adapted from a suggestion by Valentine for The Holy Handgrenade of Antioch

Holy Hand Grenade (suggested by Valentine )
Created by the Second person to take up the ill-fated codename of Fiend Slayer, Joe Mather who claimed to be the modern descendant of Cotton Mather (a Puritan Minister infamous for his support of the Salem Witch Trials as well as the author of Wonders of the Invisible World among other works) whether this was true or not is up for debate as Joe Mather was a devisor with Diedrick's Syndrome and an obsession with the supernatural.  One thing that was known was that Joe Mather's inventions were of moderate success against lower and mid-range arcane entities, however much like his predecessor Joe met his terrible end fighting a demon far beyond his capabilities with no back-up.

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2 years 10 months ago #49428 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 27

West Hall - Roof Top
Durango, Colorado
1:57 AM MDT
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

I grinned at the sight of the Jiangshi down in the streets bellow bursting into flames as my shot struck home, "Well Kelly that should be the last of them," I boasted as the mystically-reanimated cadaver was steadily cremated on the streets bellow us, "I hope that your copies cleared that park east of us of any bystanders because that is our best shot at facing whichever of those three the merchants send after us without starting a forest fire."

The still disguised Monkey King looked on into the distance before turning to me and saying, "No- now the last one of them is down. Bajie just took down the Jiangshi with a bodyshot. But yeah, I cleared the park, this time of night all there are around here are vagrants setting up camp or high schooler’s making out in the bushes. You'd be surprised how a random cop with a flashlight or a big pervy-looking biker sends either running. Hopefully we still have time to get setup before-"


"Or not," I deadpanned, "was that Guanyin's disciple- the one who we're supposed to save?"

"Nope, I've met him a few times after he grew up," the metamorphosed monkey replied as she turned towards the source of the voice, "and something tells me that an asura isn't that stupid- which just leaves the kuro-oni. I have a few of my copies keeping a lookout as owls so please give me a moment to check up on them."

I watched as Sun Wukong, who was still playing the role of a Caucasian college girl, albeit one with a rather prominent tail, closed her eyes and sat in seiza- although only for a moment. "It's not heading our way it's headed for Wujing and Bajie- so is the asura- that means."

"Pardon me ladies," the two of us turned to see the source of the voice standing in the air before our eye. Sure, enough our guess was right on the money; The Merchants of Suffering had sent Hai-er Hong, the infamous Red Boy and son of both the Niu Mowang (the Bull Demon King) and Princess Tie Shan (Iron Fan). Okay granted the Red Boy moniker was something of ages past because damn this man was hot, and I don't just mean the balls of near iridescent flames that he was standing on. If this was who we were supposed to rescue then forget doing Wukong and Guanyin a favor, liberating this guy from the Merchants was both business and fun.

I felt a firm pull on the back of my outfit and suddenly the hunk in crimson robes was much further away as I found myself laying on a beanbag-sized cloud as Sun Wukong finally pulled her trademark staff from behind her ear and expanded it to a respectable size before tossing aside her earlier outfit leaving her standing dressed like she was pulled from the depths of a Hong Kong period film.

"Uncle, I did not expect to find you here, I truly wished that our reunion had not come to match our first meeting, however it appears that we are once again fated to clash. My masters have ordered me to return your current companion to them while eliminating all who stand the way." Brandishing his spear at Sun Wukong, Hong Hai-er continued, "so it looks like I am to finish the battle that we began those many centuries ago."

"I'm hardly the opponent that I was the first time that we fought," Sun Wukong explained as she formed another cloud beneath herself, "ascetics aside you forget that now you wish to tangle with a Buddha- much like the one who you pledged yourself to serve all those centuries ago."

"Unfortunately, uncle for the time being my decisions are not my own," Hai-er Hong stated brandishing his spear at my current traveling companion, "the Zhaoshang de Youhuan have me their disposal, exactly how I am forbidden to reveal; so now I hope that you are indeed as immortal as the stories proclaim you to be."

Hai-er Hong charged towards Sun Wukong like a rocked with his spear set to counter the still feminine Monkey King who diverted the spear's path with the butt of her staff guiding in towards the ground as she twisted the shaft rapidly bringing the other to bare as in bludgeoned Hai-er Hong in the side of the head while her tail regained follicles as her earlier clones returned home en-mass.

Once again, I saw that I was pulling away from the action and turned around to see Sun Wukong or another one of her copies driving the cloud away from the growing battle behind us, "So you left a decoy to distract Hai-er while we find a better place to fight him?" I asked trying to get a grasp on the situation.

"Nope- that's the real me going to blows with Red Boy, I'm the copy- but you can still call me Kelly to avoid confusion with the real monkey deal." Kelly proclaimed as we put in our distance to the battle, "Hai-er's too much an opponent for a copy to deal with especially when he takes of the kiddie gloves and starts showing what he can really do. No, we need to keep back, and preferably figure out how the Merchants are pulling the strings of an immortal sage sworn to the Buddha of Compassion."

"Trust me, I spent months as the Merchant's unwilling slave," I all but spat as I struggled to avoid remembering those seemingly endless days of torment, pain and toil, "and if there's one thing that they know how to do its force others to bow to their commands. I doubt that they could force him to surrender his true name to them like they did me though, so they must be using another method to command him- probably the same way that they're commanding the black oni and the asura."

"Just how did they get you to surrender your true name to them in the first place," Kelly asked as the cloud that we were on settled a fair distance from Wukong Sun's latest match with Hai-er Hong. "I mean you seem way too determined to just do that considering all that you went through to get to town in the first place."

"How else do scum like that always get their way," I growled as I remembered that horrible day...

November 5th, 2006
Chen Family Home
Seattle, Washington
1:09 AM PST
POV: Zhen-yu Chen

I got up from my makeshift bed in the basement of our home, it felt kind of bad for a while that I couldn't sleep in my own bed but given how my abilities are fire-based I didn't want to risk burning the house down in the middle of the night. This still meant that we needed to get a little creative with my choice of bedding so that I didn't catch it on fire either; at present my mattress is flattened and packed mound of fifty-five pounds of landscaping soil so that it would help if I accidentally made sparks or flames in the middle of the night.

My pillow was just five more pounds of soil shaped like a lump at one end of the mound to slightly elevate my head, course I slept mainly on my side or my front due to my massive tail. As for my blanket, I know talk about irony I needed to have my temperature taken with a meat thermometer because I popped the normal kind, but I still felt cold around me, that was taken care of by a used fire blanket that was donated to us by the neighborhood fire department.

Of course, it didn't help that I was pretty much a prisoner in my own home, before I had even left the hospital Humanity First began posting fliers around my school and the hospital about the dangers of mutants with demonic caricatures of me as the illustration. It apparently didn't take them long to narrow down where I lived either because the next day two suits claiming to be from the Mutant Commission Office showed up at my home to talk my parents into letting them take me into protective custody.

After one of them put his hand on me and got burned because of my higher than normal body temperature they claimed that I assaulted him and trying to take me in as a danger to the public our neighbor Ping Chou, a proud member of the Seattle Police Department showed up and threatened to take them down town for assaulting a minor and impersonating an officer.

Though that caused the pair to retreat H1 and lawyers from the Goodkind Foundation showed up two days later trying to get me labeled a danger to the public, thankfully Master Fong Wei-quo and the leaders of the Chinatown-International District showed up to throw their own considerable legal weight around. Given how I manifested after being bathed in the ashes from an urn housed in the local Buddhist Temple and emerged hatching from an egg resembling a Chinese-dragon they argued that my appearance could be viewed as a sign from the Jade Heavens.

The District leaders also threatened both the Goodkind Foundation and H1 with lawsuits of cultural discrimination and religious intolerance even going so far to place a restraining order barring them from the District- what can I say, considering all the discrimination that was heaped our way for decades we had more than a few neighborhood attorneys who knew their way around the legal system.

While that kept me safe at home and theoretically within the district itself I still couldn't risk going out in plain sight. Yeah, I knew all too well that if some member of their organization didn't try to grab me in broad-daylight then one of the more hardcore psychos that drank their Kool-Aide might try to snipe me from a distance, one already did try to take me out that way; fortunately, that time I was lucky it was just some redneck with a deer rifle rather than a paramilitary type with a custom sniper rifle and armor-piercing rounds.

Yep, this growing sense of paranoia had led me to jump awake more than once from a sudden noise in the middle of the night, while right now I didn't hear a noise per-se there was something in the pit of my gut that didn't feel right. I carefully made my way up the stairs to the house proper, but while everything was quiet it was still too quiet- the kind of quiet that just isn't natural.

I made my way to the living room and still nothing looked off, but still there was that lingering feeling, hell I felt like a damned bit character in a slasher movie. No matter where I looked everything was just too damned still, I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck- and considering that I had a mane of rust-colored hair from the top of my head all the way down my back to the tip of my tail that means something.

I moved as quietly as I could (which was no small feat considering that my now taloned feet had the annoying habit of clicking on tile and laminate) across the first floor living room and through the bead door to our family tailor shop that took up the front of the house. I made my way cautiously through dad's work space and to the store front proper, that's where I knew my earlier fears became nightmarish reality in I way that I never thought possible.

To my surprise for once what I found waiting for me wasn't an armed mob of Humanity First goons, or Mutant Commission Office faux-government agents- not these men were suits of a different sort. Outsiders who couldn't tell one oriental ethnicity from another would mistake these men, two of whom had my parents at with naked-blades against their throats, for Japanese Yakuza, but they were clearly of Chinese Ancestry- maybe even not ancestry.

While part of me wanted to lump these men in with some Triad faction even I could tell that was wrong, the signs were subtle but clear- their suits were too upscale for one and Triads would never wear something that nice to a job like this given that there was too much of a chance that evidence would remain despite the best dry-cleaning money could buy. Besides all three of the Triad groups in Seattle were on good relations with my family, most of their officers wore suits that my father tailored for them, hell he had good standing for life with the Shining Bridge family for life thanks to the stellar job that he had done with the current head's wedding tuxedo back when he was around my age.

No, these men were too well-dressed for a potentially messy job like this, almost as if they could replace a ten-thousand-dollar suit like it was a big-box store undershirt. I tried to keep my cool, but I couldn't help it- "MOM!!! DAD!!!" I started to run for them when the goon holding my dad dug his blade in enough to draw blood and thus stopping me in my tracks.

{"I take it that we now have your attention, child of rumor."} The clear leader of the group spoke to us in mandarin with some manner of accent that I couldn't place but I understood on a personal level. {"Whatever fleeting fame you have achieved in this tiny corner of the world means nothing- you need to understand the reality of the world as a whole."}

{"Whatever life you once knew is no more! Whatever future you once considered for yourself is now revealed as nothing more than a peasant's fantasy! From this moment, onwards you are now the property of the most venerated Priest of Blood-soaked Gold, Master of the Merchants of Suffering!"} The man stated in a tone that told me that this was not up for discussion, {"From now until you are dust you will create works such as these of any quality which the most esteemed Priest of Blood-soaked Gold desires!"} he proclaimed as he held up something I recognized instantly, a rough seventy carat green sapphire that I made from a coke can a couple of weeks ago.

While I was staring at the stone which set these psychos eyes upon me one who must have been hiding in my father's work are came up behind me and slapped a thick metal collar around my neck, {"That is to ensure that you do not destroy your bindings or our transportation to your new stable. Understand from now on, the future well-being of those who populated your old life depends upon the quality of your co-operation and your future labors. Should you resist your parents and acquaintances will die cursing your birth, moreover every time you displease the Priest of Blood-soaked Gold we will ensure one of your loved ones suffers an equal degree. Now come along lizard!"}

That was when whoever it was behind me, who clearly wasn't alone slapped a pair of thick old cuffs around my wrists while the other pulled a thick-black draw-string bag over my head. Obviously, these Merchants of Suffering didn't do anything by half measure as they also cuffed my legs then threw another sack over me- as they began to drag me off I heard to heavy *thunks* indicating that they likely knocked out my folks to keep them from running for help until we were a long way away. The next thing I knew after I had been clearly dragged outside, I was picked up by three sets of hands and thrown (literally into either a trunk or some manner of cargo space just before I heard the trunk close.

End Flashback

Durango, Colorado
2:13 AM MDT
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

"Hey, you zoned out for a minute there," Kelly explained as she shook my shoulders with a concerned look on her face, "just what was up with you there, I know that we're airborne but why did you just go all spacy?"

"Let's just say I was reliving the worst day of my life," I growled as I looked about as best I could for someone anyone from the merchants, while I did spend most of my slavery in either my workspace or my cell occasionally they drug me out for some reason or another, that was when I noticed another way that the Merchants controlled their unrulier slaves, with some kind of magic rod.

Since Hai-er Hong was definitely himself and not lessened in any form I knew that he was likely being manipulated by one of those rods, as were the oni and the asura- but my knowledge about how those blasted things worked was definitely lacking. "I remember them using some kind of rod on their ore powerful prisoners when I was with them. I should have asked Kelsey about those things while I had the chance, I mean we were roommates for over a month for crying out loud."

"Yeah everybody has those moments," Kelly laughed as she maneuvered the cloud, "could'a- would'a- should'a- didn't. Take it from me- or well my memories of the real me, be careful of leaving too many regrets; no matter how long you live others won't so-"

Kelly's next words were cut off as an explosion blew apart the cloud below our feet and sent the two of us plummeting- at least for the moment. I guess that I was fortunate what with having claws and all, my earlier neophyte's vice-like grip on the cloud had granted me large handfuls of the ride and slowed my descent enough that I was confident that I'd walk away from this with nothing worse than a few deep-bruises...what was that word from HOUSE- oh yeah- sub-dermal.

Kelly on the other hand wasn't so lucky, I looked on trying not to let the horror of the situation get to me, but her body was literally being consumed by fire. I know that she was only a clone that Wukong Sun had created from a tail hair using her famous multiplication technique, but to watch helpless as someone who you had been having a heart-to-heart with just moments ago, burn into a strand of hair- forget talking with Kelsey, after today I was probably needing to sit down with an actual shrink.

Still given how the real Monkey King was currently occupied fending off a considerably grown-up Red Boy, meanwhile Sha Wujing and Bajie Zhu were elsewhere doing the same to an asura and a black oni. While on the upside this meant that the chances of dealing with any one of those three was lessened, that still meant for the time being I was alone to deal with the Merchants and whatever took out Kelly and our cloud.

"I really hope that was just one of Hai-er Hong's stray fireballs that sent me-" I was interrupted as I felt something the size of a softball hit me and explode ending my careful cloud-fragment aided descent and from the feeling before I hit the ground through a tree-top.

"Ugh," I did my best to peel myself off the small crater I left in the asphalt, "momentarily trembling in shock as I inspected my chest- thankfully while stained with ash and a little scratched from the blast, my scute-scales had held up to the brunt of the attack. Still this was no time to be laying around thanking the fact that I was still alive, whoever sent me plummeting wasn't going to be kind enough to wait for me to recover- I had to find some way to hide.

As I peeled myself out of the crater my body began to protest the sudden movement, but I bit back the aches and pains, a few minor bumps and bruises were nothing next to what I'd have coming my way if I was caught- plus my comrades were depending on me to find a way to disable the Merchant's control over their three heavy-hitters, and there was no way I'd ever want to be known as the girl who disappointed a Buddha.

Still first-thing's first, I had to hide before whoever it was that shot me out of the sky got here. Knowing that the tree that a crashed through was a wash I spotted a hedge bordering a nearby building, given that there was no way that I could scale the building without leaving a trail I knew that the shrubs were my only bet.

"Should have practiced this more." I muttered as I used the form change techniques that Sha Wujing had been teaching me, however this time rather than taking a human form I opted for something much more...compact. I concentrated as best as I could and tried to turn into a cat- nobody would think twice about seeing a stray fur ball roaming around in the middle of the night- at worst I might get kicked but at least it would let me escape. "Gēnggǎi"

With a brief puff of smoke suddenly I was on all fours and far closer to the ground, not wanting to either waste a second or risk the next arrival to my impact sight and risk getting caught I four-footed it over to the bushes and hid pushed my way between the twigs and foliage to gain a hiding vantage point to observe whoever was going to be first on the scene.

After a minute, I finally got into a good position curling up into a characteristic feline-ball to sell the image even more to the casual observer, and all the while keeping an eye out on my disturbing impact zone. It took all of five minutes for my assailants to show up and I couldn't have been more embarrassed- it was those power-suit wearing red-necks the Mass-Share Some Brothers or whatever the hell their name was.

Really- I spent all night sniping Jiangshi with fireballs from a hundred feet away, running away from a rematch centuries in the making between Wukong Sun and Hai-er Hong, blown out of the sky while on a mission to take out a crew of the Merchants of Suffering's beast-handlers, only to run into the mercenaries who ruined my first real fun since I manifesting into a mutant fucanglong; oh they had better hope they don't find me because I swear if they coming poking around this bush I'm going to take my good sweet time kicking their tin-plated cans from here to Canada.

As they came in I could hear them clearly, and thanks to my currently feline-eyes, I could see them even better. "Well Lloyd," one of them who clearly sounded like he definitely wasn't the brains of their operation spoke up, "you sure you hit her square on- because that lizard bitch ain't here! And I thought that you were supposed to be the smart one, so where is she nerd boy?"

"For the last time Bufford, the idea was to bring her down to ground level not capture her outright," the one of the three who I presumed was Lloyd spoke up, "Besides at that height I couldn't risk a more powerful yield on my heat-seekers, remember this is a capture and return job not a flat out hit. Also, she only landed a few minutes ago, with her ambient heat signature we should be able to follow her trail easily. Besides I had a chemical additive mixed in with the lower yield on those missiles, even if she can hide from our thermal-trackers my surprise in the missiles will lead us to her no matter where she tries to hide like a hound dog to a treed coon."

'Dammit,' the hackles rose of my fur, I tried as best I could not to let this revelation blow my cover, they were looking for a human-sized target either someone who was clearly of Chinese descent or my normal half-dragon physique; there was no way these three knuckle-heads would know that I could transform myself like this. They'd just assume that I'd gotten the trace on me some other- way. Yeah, there was no way three red-necks would suspect a cat of being their target...would they?!?

"Okay the thermal trail starts to grow colder around here, but we might be dealing with a shape-shifter," Lloyd explains as he started to guide his brothers over to where I transformed earlier.

'They had to only be guessing right,' I began to panic as the thoughts began to cross my mind, 'there's no way they could be cer-'

"That explains it," the third unnamed member of the trio spoke up, "we didn't see that lizard bitch until sometime after the fight broke out. She must have been hiding with the rest of the crowd until she knew there was no other way out without dealing with us back there."

'Crap,' I panicked to the point that I would began sweating beads if I was in human form, but as is I could feel the fur along my back began to rise to mirror my growing agitation, 'they know, and there's no way out of here.' I knew then and there I was stuck, they said there was chemical mixed in with the rocket that knocked me to the ground that they could track, which meant there was only a matter of time before they found me.

Unfortunately for me was that my current hiding place had just become a major liability and severely limited my options, if I transformed here in the bushes my feet would probably be tangled making me stuck in place long enough for the mercs to hit me with something nasty. On the other hand, if I moved, either to try and sneak away or transform to fight them in close-quarters, the bush's leaves would rustle and draw attention to me and let them hit me with something nasty when they could really hurt me. Damned if I do- damned if I don't, oh what the hell I'd right the landscaper an apology later- I readied myself both to change back to my normal self as well as fight like my life depended on it- which may or may not be the case but I'm not about to risk it.

That was when the weirdest thing happens, a shadow of a snake seemed to crawl into Bufford's shadow then he turned to strike Lloyd knocking the missile-launcher that he had been carrying out of his hands and onto the ground.

"Bufford, what the hell was that for!" Lloyd shouted at his teammate, "Have you been drinking right before a mission, you know that you're not supposed to operate these things drunk!"

"I'm not drunk!" Bufford screamed as he kicked Lloyd sending him sprawling, "something's wrong with my suit, it's moving on its own. And whatever's goin' on I can't fi-OWW that almost broke my damn arm!"

"There's nothing wrong with your armor you lummox," Lloyd shot back as he tried to block Bufford's seemingly involuntary attacks while flat on his power-armored back as the third of their group tried to restrain Bufford. "I already looked over your suit when we got back, it was fine unless you did something to break it afterwards!"

As suddenly as Bufford began attacking Lloyd, he then began to thrash and attack himself that's when Bufford's earlier claims proved to have a lot more substance to them. While Lloyd was no longer under attack and trying to get up a new figure landed on top of him and began to attack him in earnest, while solid black whatever it was resembled a massive stylized version of a monkey which began to attack Lloyd in Bufford's place while a pair of arms emerged from the ground to restrain his legs.

"What the hell is going on here?" the third member of their group asked while still trying to restrain Bufford just before something metallic impacted the back of his armor. Suddenly the one who I assumed was Bufford and Lloyd's leader froze as sparks flew from the object causing him to spasm before falling right over.

"Rod! Lloyd! What the hell is going on?!?" Bufford shouted as he continued to move now with his back to where I was hiding.

While Bufford's back was turned, a group walked around the building, and judging by their outfits they were part of the powered group and judging by the fact that one of them has clearly undead. One of the two women, separated from the group and walked over to the Mass-share-some Brothers, "What has happened is that you have overstayed your welcome." With that sentence, Bufford fell quiet and his armor stopped fighting him as the shadow snake left him for the undead man in the dressed like an undertaker from a western.

Soon Lloyd joined Bufford in falling immobile as the weird monkey thing jumped at the member of the group covered in tattoos and shrank before becoming a part of the man's artwork, so it was a tattoo I guess that explained it, followed by the pair of arms which belonged to a feminine figure wearing a ghost mask.

"I recognize the armor," the woman stated, "isn't this Syndicate Sabretooth variety, I wonder if this means Deathlist is after the Merchant's reward?"

"It's an older model Reverant," a man with what looked like cybernetic implants explained, "the real Sabretooth Squads stopped using this design four years ago, so the truth is who knows?"

"They're the Masterson Brothers," the woman who approached the three mercenaries earlier stated just as she turned to face my hiding spot, with eyes that were currently all black. "They had just shot the Northern Maiden out of the sky and were looking to collect her for the bounty, also they aren't Syndicate- Rod was a Sabretooth but he stole a drop ship and a few suits of power armor a few years back with the help of his brother and cousin (both of whom were in the Tiger Guards)."

"Speaking of their target, Northern Maiden I know that you are hiding in the bushes, we are here to escort you to a meeting with your three comrades so please come with us." The woman's steely-eyed gaze glared right at me through all the foliage and twigs, she knew exactly where I was hiding, "don't think that furry form fools me one bit, I know a sapient mind when I feel one. Now come out and show your real self, don't make me reach into your mind and force you to do so- we are under orders to escort you to meet your fellow maidens before sunrise."

'Crap she's a psychic, that's one thing I don't need,' I began to make my way out of the bushes, 'maybe if I go along I can work this to my advantage, Sha Wujing and the others still need me to take out those control rods to rescue Hai-er Hong.'

Following her demands I made my way out of the bushes, and transformed back not to my human form but my real one. With my fangs bared in a vicious smile I glared at the woman, "Very well, you may call me Duanzaolong, but be aware I have something that I need to accomplish before I go anywhere with you."

"Really," the tattooed man stated as he approached me, "you'd think that you would be in a bigger hurry to get out of here- I mean the Merchants are here and given how they consider you to be their property I thought that you'd want to split asap!"

"One of the Merchant's other prisoners was sent out to bring me back, an acolyte of the Lady of Mercy Guanyin, a friend of my teacher was sent here to rescue him, and I promised that I'd do my best to help. Understand this when I make promises I intend to keep them, if you wish to help me feel free to do so, but I refuse to leave until I help my friends." With a snap of my claws I kindled two fireballs the size of volleyballs to emphasize my determination, "Also should you try to force the issue I won't make it easy, and in you'd also risk drawing my companions into this and only a fool seeks to fight the Monkey King when the Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing are also in the area."

"Oh, come now," the cyborg spoke up, "do you honestly expect us to believe that the three warriors of the Saiyuki are here!?! We are a top group of Shuffle's Sweepers not some mere novices- we are not just another group of novice westerners."

"She's telling the truth about the whole thing Wicked Ink," the psychic replied given me the first name that I'd heard for anyone in the group. "When she said Sha Wujing I all but heard the Chinese word for sensei in her mind, meaning he's been teaching her how to fight."

"Tru der mon-cher," the undead man and shadow-user spoke up, "an' I 'ear word thad da' Monkay be chill'en 'round de' Acadamei des days, so 'em show'on up be likelay. We be 'ere ta' smack 'round da' Mahchants anywei so ah say leits double the'ah pain!"

"Well you all heard Papa Houma, and he's in charge," the woman who emerged from the ground explained, "so it looks like we're going to be fighting the Merchants of Suffering's Beast Handlers. I saw what they looked like on the way here and I know the whole situation from spying on the Merchant's camp, they are controlling their last three heavy-hitters with enchanted devices known as Rods of Zhengfu. There is one rod for each of the three, I looked them up in our database and the method to counter them is simple; destroy the rod and their prisoner is free. Each of the wielders is riding in a sidecar attached to a Navy-Blue Kawasaki Ninja 600 and from what I read about the rods they need to be within a kilometer-and-a-half of their victim, so all we have to do is look for motorcycles with sidecars within half-a-kilometer of each fight."

"Very well, the sooner we help free this acolyte the sooner we complete this mission and report to the Circle," the cyborg sighed in clear frustration, suddenly employed a weird antenna from his pack to slowly spun as if it was looking for something, "I've detected three roughly identical mystic energy signatures which I'm transmitting to your coms equipment- we'll split into three teams to take out each of them as fast as possible."

"Interspector you're with Papa Houma, that way the two of you can spot and take your target out from a distance. Wicked Ink you're with me for the same reason that way we can coordinate our attacks to take two assets of the Merchants off the board. Reverant, I hate to phrase it this way but you're essentially on baby-sitting detail, since Flipside couldn't come we need you to escort and assist Blizzard Wizard, Permafrost and the Dragon Lady to the third target."

"That's Duanzaolong not Dragon Lady!" I shouted at the cyborg who barely acknowledged me.

"If you want people to get your codename right then you might want to pick one that's a lot less of a mouthful," the cyborg whose name I had yet to learn explained much to my chagrin. "Now the other two groups will try to coordinate our attacks to go with yours that way we can take out all three control rods at essentially the same time while giving the Merchants next to no time to either react, or go on either the defensive or the offensive."

"You 'eard de mon," Papa Houma spoke up after the cyborg who I presumed was the second in command finished dolling out assignments, "Okay Sweepas le's geat dis doan!"

As the group diverged I saw that I was being stuck with the ghost lady from the ground and two individuals with winter-themed attire who hung back earlier so that I didn't notice them with the rest of the group.

"Alright- we can talk along the way," Reverant explained as we took off in the direction towards where Wukong Sun was fighting Hai-er Hong. "I presume that the oriental man in armor is the one that we are supposed to rescue, unfortunately that means also freeing the oni and the asura. While the asura are known to be wild cards, the oni will be a problem no matter what we do. By the way just who is the man who was confined with those two, I never really got the sense of just who he was?"

"Hai-er Hong, son of those who you'd likely know Ox Demon King and Princess Iron Fan and is likewise known over here as Red Boy in most versions of Journey to the West," I began to explain as we went to our target, "he is a great fire-user and warrior even from a young age, he is also a sworn acolyte of Guanyin the Lady of Mercy. Should we free him he will also be a powerful ally against the other two- I only hope that Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing are doing well against the other two."

Northeast of the Durango Reservoir
Durango, Colorado
3:01 AM

"If I knew those humans were going to send me after a pig I wish that they'd let me bring along a tasty marinade!" The kuro-oni Assaku licked his fanged chops as he slashed as Bajie Zhu before swinging again at the heavenly alter cleaner again with his massive kanabo leaving his opponent to block it again with his jiuchi-dingpa while blowing fire in the oni's face in a desperate attempt to get the demon to retreat- which only served to amuse the beast. "After all you bring your own fire and there is plenty of spits and kindling for the barbecue."

"Sha, I need some help here," Bajie shouted to his companion, "this monster likes being on the receiving end of my attacks!"

"Sadly, I am unable to assist my old friend," Sha Wujing explained as he rapidly spun his yueyachaun to ward off another attack from the Asura known as Nidar Rosh who constantly alternated between attacking and defending with each of the four weapons held in his six-arms. Meanwhile the six-eyes on the divinity's three-faces left him no blind spot for the sand priest to exploit. "My hands are rather full at the moment, even though my opponent seems to have those to spare."

"Know this great arhat that I take no pleasure in this battle," Nidar Rosh spoke as he once again tried and failed to entrap one of Sha Wujing's arms with his weighted rope. "However, I resign myself to the fate which the universe has bestowed upon me; so, I in turn will carry that task that fate thrust upon me to its completion!"

"And I shall- uff, pray that the universe delivers a better choice for your future," Sha Wujing replied to his opponent as he brushed aside the asura's trident while countering his sword as fast as he could.

Approaching Durango Regulatory Reservoir
3:29 AM

"Awfully nice of the boss to let us go along with the girl's request," Wicked Ink remarked, "I knew that there were a few scraps of humanity left in that cadaver!"

"Maybe- maybe not," Corporal Analog explained as he scanned the area for the quarry as the sounds of a heated battle echoed in the distance. "The fact was those fireballs that girl kindled to threaten us with were 1600° each, hot enough to make even a near miss fatal. Plus, if she is here with the Saiyuki then if we take her by force we'd have to deal with those three eventually and that isn't something that I look forward to experiencing."

"Fair enough," the tattooed super-criminal observed, "foreign deities or not I don't want to fight any if I don't have need to."

"Amen to that, hold on-" Corporal Analog stopped as his artificial left-eye's lens began to dilate and switch vision modes, "I think that I found target one. Yes, target confirmed." The cyborg paused to activate his radio, "Bravo Team reporting in, the first beast handler has been located. Bravo-one now taking aim and waiting for further instructions while Bravo-two moves into position."

Taking his unspoken queue Wicked Ink after pausing for a moment to confirm with the night-vision googles in his own back the beast handler's location, the tattooed mystic began to slowly make his way towards the Beast Handler and his Driver. Wicked Ink knew his mission well, in the unlikely event Corporal Analog missed he was to finish the job, however if Analog hit his target he was supposed to take the pair out before they could radio for help. Regardless of either outcome two members of the Merchants of Suffering were bound to have a very bad day...provided they lived to see the sun come up.

LH Technologies - Rooftop
3:34 AM

"Damn," Interspector commented as she looked on at the fight between Sha Wujing, Zhu Bajie and their respective opponents, "What are in those rods that let them control creatures like that?"

"Hair float'n en a poshan en a bloan glass balb." Papa Houma explained as he looked on at the pair of targets by the southern bank of the reservoir. "De rod's 'able 'as all de spells on et, but witout de glass bulb on top 'ets jest a fauncy steik."

"Understood sir," Interspector took in her boss's information, "I'll prepare to disable the driver, I don't have enough control to make the Beast Handler break his staff."

"Doan worry mon cher'," the undead bokour skilled as he began to work his voodoo, "I been do'n dis trick fo ye-ahs."

The mutant psychic looked on as like before a piece of undead bokour's shadow broke off in the form of a snake and made its way in the direction of the two Merchants. The pair had already got the message that Bravo Team was in position now all they had to do was wait for Charlie Team to take out their target and both remaining teams would spring their own traps.

"Alpha Team in-position, Alpha-1 has delivered package and Alpha-2 is ready, waiting on Charlie Team...over!" Interspector relayed over their communication lines. Now everything hinged on Reverent and a trio of amateurs- "Now all we have to do is hope that everything doesn't go to pot on their end."

Stadium Lot - Fort Lewis College
3:41 AM
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

Thankfully it didn't take long to reach where the Merchants’ southern-most Beast Handler, unfortunately he was situated in the sidecar of a motorcycle with a driver who was fully prepared to relocate if he needed to either to stay in range of Hai-er Hong who he was likely controlling or just bolting in case of attack. This situation made it even more problematic for us, the pair had chosen the College's Stadium Parking Lot to operate out of and with it being the middle of the damn night they were the lot was empty giving no cover to sneak up on them, and even though the lot's lights were off given how it was after hours the pair was smart enough to set up glow sticks to illuminate the place.

So, to sum it up they were hard to see in a big, open area with plenty of directions to flee in and no way for us to sneak up on them without them seeing us coming. And here I was with two fellow non-professionals and a lady who could dive into the ground who turned to ask, "Before I offer suggestions what say we count this as a educational experience, how would you take care of this?"

"I'll just freeze those glow sticks then they won't see us coming," Blizzard Wizard spoke up as he took aim with his freeze-caster gauntlets and prepared to fire- right before Permafrost smacked him in the back of the head.

"Even if that did work it would let our targets know right away and they'd bolt faster than we could chase them, plus it would ruin the element of surprise because next time they'd know for sure that there were others after them." Permafrost chided her sidekick, "Besides not only are glow sticks freeze-proof, it actually extends their shelf life- they'd just last even longer."

"Who needs to deal with the glow sticks, I say that we just take out the control rod and be done with it," I snapped my fingers and nurtured another fireball from our cover, "I can nail that thing from here easy, heck I've been practicing shooting targets with guided fireballs all night. Plus, I only need a glancing hit, enough heat and the ball with the hair in it either pops from the heat or boils and ruins the potion inside the ball."

"Better I'd but the issue here is that those glow sticks light is affecting your night-vision," Reverent elaborated as she pointed at the target and then made me aware of just how much of a problem I had with seeing the end of the staff. Yeah that would have made a real problem, if I missed I could fail to hit the target entirely or I could wind up blowing up the bike and killing the Beast Handler and his driver. I mean yeah, I hated the Merchants of Suffering with a burning passion, but did I really have it in me to kill someone- no matter how much I knew deep down that they deserved no mercy what-so-ever, did I really have what it took to cross that line?

"I could take out the rod's head without the light-pollution being a problem," Permafrost explained, "My mask has a sonar mode for light-free situations and my own freezer gauntlets have a setting for hail stones, I could shatter that thing like easier than a hail stone breaks a windshield."

"Good- a solid Plan A but we need a backup plan in case that doesn't work." Reverent stated oddly enough in no hurry.

"Do we have anything to jam the wheel spokes," I added in my own two cents, "a motorcycle is fast and maneuverable, but it can't go anywhere if it's wheel's locked."

"Would this do?" Blizzard Wizard asked as he pulled out a combination-lock bike chain with one of those red plastic coatings over it, "You never know when you might need to temporarily secure something."

"Yes, that will do," Reverent stated as she took the chain from Blizzard Wizard, and dove into the ground only to return a few moments later, "well they shouldn't be going anywhere, so Permafrost if you would be so kind- please feel free to break their toy's remote control!"

With a smile, Permafrost engaged her mask and took aim with her left arm, a moment later her gauntlet fired with a pop followed by the sound of breaking glass from the parking lot. As the distant sounds of combat died down the four of us approached as we heard the sound an engine revving, with the bikes two occupants desperate to discover what was wrong with their ride, as soon as I spotted them however I decided not to give them the chance to flee.

Falling to all fours I charged the driver and tacked him off the bike and onto the ground while smacking the Beast Handler with a swipe of my tail as I dove past. While the driver struggled against me shouting Chinese swearwords so obscure that I only recognized a third of them, although after he told me to 'F- my ancestors to the 17th generation' I decided to smack him around which given my thick scales and claws which made him to knocking him out.

Eventually my next slap was stopped by a hand and a familiar voice, "Hey that's enough kid, mission accomplished!" I turned back around to see Wukong Sun standing behind me with a noticeably tattered Hai-er Hong standing nearby leaning on his spear.

I decided to concede to Wukong's point this time besides there was still the matter of the others, plus there was no way on earth that oni was just going to go peacefully- those things were walking natural disasters. "Just as well, we need to go and help the others."

"Already taken care of," Reverent explained, "They should be here as soon as they wrap up their own fights- just remember your promise Northern Maiden."

Northeast of the Durango Reservoir
4:01 PM

"Team Charlie reporting, mission accomplished- over!"

With that simple statement, Corporal Analog fired his modified sniper rifle which he had kept trained on the Beast Handler's control rod this entire time, the special sonic suppressor on the weapon cancelled out the noise via counter-wave rather than the method of a more mundane silencer which meant the bullet's speed wasn't affected in the least.

Aided by the cyborg's built-in sensor-suit the sniper round struck true and shattered the head of the Rod of Zhengfu held by the Beast Handler knocking the shocked Merchant of Suffering over as the round entered his shoulder. The injured magic-user spurred his driver to try fleeing back to their base camp which a shadowy figure resembling a stylized depiction of a bear appeared and flipped over their motorcycle dumping the two of them to the ground. While the Beast Handler's pain over both the bullet-wound and the fall had caused him to black-out the driver had opted to flee on foot, he made it ten feet when a second sniper-round tore through the calf of his left leg sending him sprawling to the ground as the bear-like creature loomed over him bearing its stylized fangs.

While Wicked Ink's bear tattoo had its way with the injured driver, Corporal Analog radioed in, "Bravo Team reporting, mission accomplished will proceed to rendezvous location at Charlie Team location after collecting secondary objectives- over and out!"

Durango Reservoir - South Shore
4:01 PM

"Team Charlie reporting, mission accomplished- over!"

The message echoed through Interspector's radio implant which vibrated her jawbone so she could hear without it either exposing her location or alerting anyone else to her presence, this was vital as she needed to be within visual range of her target to best use her psychic abilities. It was a bit annoying at times however the effect once she sneaked close enough far out-weighed the cost. She had moved in position moments ago, staying as silent as possible now it was almost time to act all that she had to do was wait for her team-leader Papa Houma to strike.

Interspector didn't have to wait long as the shadow serpent crawled out from beneath the idling motorcycle and into the sidecar where the Beast Handler's shadow awaited. As soon as the shadow serpent found it's nest the Beast Handler's body was no longer his own as he unwittingly broke his Rod of Zhengfu against his driver's helmet sparking a fight between the two that brought them to the ground as the possessed Beast Handler struggled with his driver trying to strangle his own guard against his will while said guard repeatedly punched him in the head.

Eventually the driver succeeded in knocking his charge out although the process left him exhausted and gasping from breath on the ground through his now bruised throat, Interspector knew through her own initial passive-scan of the driver's mind that he was about to stuff the unconscious beast-handler back into the bike's sidecar- at least he was until she brought her own abilities to bear full-force on his mind. As she glared at him the man, whose name she now knew as Tien Pang, spasmed for several moments as she mined his brain for everything that he knew of the Merchants caring little as she saw how he was just another willing follower of their tenets.

Knowing that her victim was now a drooling and unresponsive vegetable, Interspector activated her radio, "Alpha Team reporting, mission accomplished proceeding to rendezvous point with secondary objectives at Charlie Team's current coordinates- over and out!"

Northeast of the Durango Reservoir

Suddenly while he was in mid-attack the asura who was currently engaged in a pitched battle with Sha Wujing simply ceased his attack and backed off. "It appears that fate has decided to intervene in this conflict on your behalf arhat." The asura stated as he returned his many weapons to their designated holsters and sheathes, "I am now released from my servitude, and free to go on my way. Understand this arhat I was only battling you due to the orders of those who had enslaved me- as I bear you no ill-will I shall take my leave."

With his peace said the asura Nidar Rosh took to the skies as he sought to leave both this place and the conflict that he had been forced to engage in with the Sand Friar behind him as he set out for other lands afforded to him by his newfound freedom.

As for his fellow slave, though...well let us just say that Assaku had different priorities on his mind. "Looks like those bakayaro dropped my leash, too bad for them, once I finish with you and your buddy I'm going to tear them to shreds and then just to wrap up this shitty night hammer this town like mochi!"

"So not going after your old bosses first?!?" Zhu Bajie asked as he strained to block the strikes of the oni's spiked kanabo with his muck rake, which was far more difficult as the brute was now using both hands in his relentless attacks as his fanged smile grew even wider in anticipation of the pending carnage.

Suddenly a fierce tornado caught the both of them pulling them towards who knows what, out of sheer desperation Zhu struck the ground with his rake as hard as he could and held onto the handle for dear-life. Assaku however was far less fortunate as he was drawn into the source of the vortex- a gourd being held by Sha Wujing. Once the kuro-oni had passed the entrance of the gourd Sha Wujing then reapplied the plug ending the vortex and causing his companion to crash into the ground.

"Really Sandy!" Zhu glared at his companion who walked over to offer him a hand, "You had the Zijin hong Gourd this whole time and didn't use it! Why?!?

"I had to give them a chance once they gained their freedom, the asura chose to abandon a fight that he had no true interest in while the kuro-oni followed his base instincts." Sha Wujing explained as he returned the gourd to his belt, "I only acted once they made their choice not earlier, now after we are done I shall deliver our prisoner back to his master Enma Daioh before returning the gourd to Taishang Laojun."

"You know you could always keep it," Zhu mentioned as he got back to his feet and dusted himself off, "it is a very useful tool to have on hand."

"While that may be true, however it would be dishonest." Sha Wujing replied, "Now I suggest we return to Duanzaolong and Sun Wukong post-haste, although I have no doubt that they succeeded freeing Hai-er Hong something tells me that there is another issue at hand."

As Sha Wujing departed with a great leap Zhu Bajie looked at his retreating form and sighed, "As if this night has been anything but a series of issues."

Stadium Lot - Fort Lewis College
4:23 AM
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

The wait for Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie to return was honestly nerve-wracking especially given how Corporal Analog and Wicked Ink returned to our group with a severely injured and unconscious Beast Handler who was clearly suffering from a bullet-wound. Although Interspector and Papa Houma had yet to return, given how one was a psychic and the other was an undead magic-user; given how both gave me the creeps I wasn't holding my breath waiting for the pair to return.

Still I was sticking close to Wukong Sun and Hai-er Hong, just for the sake of safety not for any other reason mind you, especially given how Blizzard Wizard kept making excuses to try and talk to me. At least his partner Permafrost was leaving me alone she had already talked Reverent into letting her keep the motorcycle that we seized from the ko'ed Merchants, I suppose that it was only fair seeing as how it was her who came up with the first step of the plan to take them out. In the meantime, the rest of Wukong Sun's clones returned, baring Kelly who was incinerated by the Masterson Brothers' rocket attack, now that they had returned my sapphires to the safe at the jewelers and returned to their proper home nestled into the now former bald spot on the Monkey King's tail.

While I was interested in asking Hai-er Hong about his story, especially given how nothing was ever written of him after Guanyin set out to teach him humility and hold him to his earlier offer of becoming her disciple (especially given how the name she gave him was shared with another disciple of hers), for some reason I was completely unable to speak a single word.

"Hey Hai-er, can I ask you a favor?" Wukong Sun asked as casually as possible considering how they were both ancient adversaries as well as fighting a pitched battle less than an our ago.

"Of course, uncle Wukong," Hong replied with a relaxed smile, "it's the least I could do for my old laoshi."

Holy crap, wait a minute Hai-er Hong gave Wukong Sun a real run for his money back when he was only a child, I mean granted that the Monkey King did rise to the rank of Buddha after their quintet returned from India with the ancient sutras (most people completely forgot about Yulong Santaizi who spent most of the pilgrimage as Xuanzang's steed), but just what could the Monkey King teach a kid who he needed Guanyin to beat?

"Hey, considering how long it took me to kick my own bad habits and learn manners the least I could do was help teach my bond-brother's kid the ropes." Wukong snickered, "besides at least they didn't make you their stable master when you got up to the Jade Heavens- Zhu still likes to jab me with that little fact. Anyway, what I was asking you is this, the demi-fucanglong next to you is the Northern Maiden, I'd like you to assist the Hand Maiden of the Tao with the second-half of her training this summer."

"Certainly uncle," Hai-er Hong replied with a bow, "I would be honored to do so once I am summoned."

Okay, suddenly this summer wasn't looking so awful; granted I was going to have to share Hai-er Hong's attention with the Handmaiden of the Tao, but with any luck she wasn't going to be interested in him. I really hoped that this was really the case, the way my life was going part of me felt that the universe owed me one...oh who am I kidding given how famous he was Hai-er Hong was probably married centuries ago to some noble lady of the Jade Heavens.

"Hey while everyone's talking favors I have one!" Blizzard Wizard spoke up as he came over to our group.

Thankfully that was also the time Zhu Bajie and Sha Wujing finally returned, "Well nice to see that you two came through on your part of the plan, but who are these guys?" Zhu asked as he looked at the motley crew occupying the lot.

"Old enemies of the Merchants of Suffering who are also interested in Duanzaolong," Sun Wukong explained as he continued to eyeball Corporal Analog, Wicked Ink and Reverent, "They were also a big help in freeing Hai-er Hong, the asura and the oni from the Merchants, the only problem is there was a catch Duanzaolong has to come with them to meet her fellow maidens."

"Speaking of prices," Blizzard Wizard spoke up again trying to get our attention again, "I have one and it's far less steep. You see I was the one who notified the Sweepers to the Merchants of Suffering's interests in you, so if not for me they wouldn't likely have been here to help you this night."

Before Zhu or I could speak up to object Sha Wujing stepped in to settle the matter, "Very well child- name your price and if it is reasonable I am certain that we will have no problem meeting it."

"I want to see if the Lady of the North here can repair this," the Blizzard Wizard the produced a pouch the contents of which he let tumble into his right hand, "it's called the Tear of Ymir. This jewel was the foci of a staff that has been in my family for centuries, it was broken during my grandfather's time and my family hasn't been the same since. I heard through the grapevine that you have a way with enchantable gemstones, so I would like you to make it whole again."

While I was still a little wary of him especially given how he admitted that he was trying to restore a magic staff, I knew in my gut that this was the right thing to do. Walking towards Blizzard Wizard I offered my cupped hands to accept the shattered gemstone so that I could get to work. After dragging the claws of my left foot across pavement to create some sparks for kindling I seized the tiny points of heat and drew them up with my power to get to work. I stoked the sparks into a single incandescent flame by the time it hovered in front of me and thrust my hands inside to get to work, although something was odd; I waited several minutes (far longer than it normally took but the crystalline fragments just wouldn't soak in the heat).

After waiting far longer than I would normally I let the fire dissipate and lowered my hands in defeat, "I'm sorry, I can't do it, something about these shards they're resisting my powers; it's like their impervious to my flames."

"Your fires are not yet what they could be child," a voice that I had yet to hear before spoke up and everyone turned to look to its source, there in the center of the lot there was a cloaked figure wearing a mask whose origins I couldn't guess and judging by everyone's reactions none of us saw arrive. "You have yet to complete your training and awaken your inner fire, once you do that with the Handmaiden's assistance you will definitely be able to repair Ymir's Tear!"

Something about this man told me that he was trouble, that he was dangerous, that if I tried to do anything that it would be the end of me- it was then that Corporal Analog spoke up, "Baron Impié when I understood that the Obsidian Circle would be sending someone to escort the Northern Maiden to the meeting I had no idea that it would be one of the founders of the Grand Hall itself."

"My past notoriety is unimportant, I am simply here to invite the Northern Maiden and her companions to Fortuna Noctis," the man I presume named Baron Impié explained, "it is time for the half-blooded maidens of the Five-fold Courts to gather and together learn of their destiny."

As he finished the ground behind him shifted and created and archway, and as the two halves of the archway connected symbols along it began to flare gold right before a hallway appeared inside of the arch. Something told me that I wasn't going to be able to fight my way out of this, besides I was curious of just what I was going to learn where I was going.

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2 years 9 months ago #49815 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 28

POV: Faolan, Rose of the West

Bea, Jane (who barely had time to join us before we left), and I had no choice in the matter- we were currently enjoying the safety and the hospitality afforded to us by the Obsidian Circle, at least Dagda and his three friends were here to help keep us safe because to be frank there was no way that I'd trust any of the five individuals who were with us with our safety.

Alright to be fair I only had experience with one member of this motley crew, but for me any minute that I got to spend while not around Carcharoth was like a dream-filled wonderland out of a freaking Miyazaki move. Yeah, I hated the god-eating monster with every fiber of my being and wished that he'd go take a quick trip down the mouth of an active volcano, and I knew from the looks that he'd occasionally send my way that the feeling was mutual.

Yep, long before I accepted my fae-folk fate as well as being female forever I humiliated the monster in an astral duel kicking him out of my body and in the process gaining the power to keep him from ever hurting others and their families provided they accepted my protection. Granted that right after that shining moment of victory a warlock named Plagiat killed my original body forcing me to abandon ship into a body in the making that Morrigan, Greyback and I prepared out of the precaution of our attempted exorcism failing.

I'll admit that it was a little vindictive of me but ever since my new body emerged from the chrysalis that grew it, I had been as liberal as I could be in spreading my gift of protection to others- a fact that no doubt pissed off the wolf of ragnarok royally. Although to be fair on my part after having that monster inside my mind for most of my life, I am more than a little biased when it comes to Carcharoth; however, my experience with him means that I know him very well and the more people that I can protect from his malice the better.

Strangely enough though I wasn't the only one in the hallway who Carcharoth was giving the stink eye, Dagda's friend Fray drew more than a few dark looks from the one destined to eat Odin. I don't let it get around too much but ever since I lost my body and learned of the Obsidian Circle I began to make it a hobby of piecing together their real identity's, and I'd like to think that I had made some real progress in that regard. I'd already picked out Set, Hecate (the original not the ex-Bitch Queen of the Alphas), Hel and of course Loki, that also meant that I knew how my ex-tormentor was none other than the Fenris Wolf aka the beast who was destined to nosh on most of the Norse pantheon.

I knew that for the longest Fenrir had been trussed up on a dark island that liked to float around the nine realms of Yggdrasil the world tree, but somehow recently someone had freed him in full. Granted that could mean that Ragnarok had just started there was a major technicality, he had been untied not cut or broken free, I could even see that he had taken to using his old fetter Glepnir as a weapon. Now stories differed on how Fenrir was supposed to get free, some claimed that he would simply break the rope when the time came while others stated that Surtr the King of the Fire Giants was to use Freyr’s magic sword to cut him loose as he marched his armies to the world tree.

Regardless of which ancient prophecy was the truth the detail that stayed true in all of them was clear, Glepnir was destroyed so that meant that someone was crazy enough to untie the rope that Tyr the Norse God of War gave his hand to capture the beast. Why all of this journey into Ancient Norse Religion, well obviously, Carcharoth hated this Fray just as much as he hated me, and given how I know that for Fenrir hate is a very personal thing that means Fray had done something to him in the past to earn Carcharoth's wrath.

Now given how I saw that Fray had a cybernetic hand which extended halfway up his arm, and given how Fray is a word that refers to battle I knew the man's identity- Tyr the Norse God of War, known as the second craftiest mind in Asgard right after Loki. I mean a lot of people might scoff- 'how can he be crafty is he stuck his hand inside a wolf's mouth and let it get bitten off,' the thing is though he was able to trick Fenris into letting him chain him twice earlier which might have coined the phrase: Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!

It might be, Jane mused from her usual perch on my right shoulder, when we return safely home I assure you that I shall ask mother.

'Yeah, we have a lot to ask about when we get home,' I replied over our link while I looked down at Aletheia who sat silent in her borrowed wheelchair as Dagda's comrade Hedgewitch wheeled her down the corridor.

Knowing that I wouldn't get any information out of Carcharoth I instead opted to ask one of our other hosts, namely Greygus, judging by his reputation I at least hoped for a little courtosey. "Say, Greygus is it!" I spoke up to get his attention, "I know that you can't reveal a whole lot but just, where are we? Call me paranoid but the last time I was taken somewhere not entirely of my own freewill I kind of...well- bit the big one."

"You look rather well for someone who's dead girl," one of the demoness trio remarked, "then again teenagers do tend towards the dramatic!"

"Plagiat being the sore loser that he was, had tagged me with a spell that caused my original body to cook from the inside out," I glared at the woman, "fortunately Valkyrian, Greyback and I cooked up a contingency plan if our attempt to evict your axe-happy werewolf friend. I had to use a spell to grow a new body from samples of the original, and let's just say that regrowing my entire body was not pleasant. Especially when I found out that you resurrected the original and handed it off to one of your own, oh and don't try to play coy I know enough of the ends and outs of magic now to recognize my original body even through the alterations."

"Oh, and let me guess? You want your old body back," Carcharoth laughed as he turned to smile at me with his fanged maw as an obviously empty threat. "Oh, poor little bitch wants to have something between her legs again, well tough the only way that would happen is if you buckle down and decide to have some welp make you a woman for real."

"Figures that you'd only have that on your mind Fido," I smiled right back at the monster who made most of my life a living hell as he tried to take over my body for as long as I could recall prior to manifesting, "after all you spend so long tied to your little spot that you must have really been hard up when you got set free last winter; that is if your two-faced old man lets you roam a little."

Carcharoth's mocking smile turned into a growling snarl as he glared at me with murder in his eyes before the secondary implications of my words finally hit home. "Wait you know, how- oh let me guess Valkyrian told you- well in that case all bets are off!"

Carcahaoth reared up to attack Fray before I got between the two with my fehde-won inhibition on his behavior stopping his attack before it could connect. "Nobody told me, I figured it out on my own!" I smiled wide at my former tormentor who soaked in those implications, "So I know exactly who you really are oh famous wolf; you'd think that you would be more aware of how I love to piece together details, after all you were stomping around inside my mind for how long exactly?"

"Obviously not long enough to teach a brat like you some manners," Carcharoth continued to glare at me in hatred.

This situation lasted until Greygus got between the two of us, "now- there will be none of that you two. Faolan, I understand that is what you go by, you are not a prisoner here and you and your familiar as well as your fellow Maiden..."

"Aletheia," Bea chose that moment to speak up as Hedgewitch turned to give her a better view, "I prefer Aletheia as my code name because the truth sets us free and I intend to do that for a great many people soon!"

"And an admirable cause if there ever was one," Greygus stated in a manner that unlike Carcharoth's spoke not of hostility but of understanding, "my father and I recently had the opportunity to do the same for our own people of the Principality of the Blazing Disc of what used to be the Southern Court."

"So, you mean that you're a djinn," I surmised by his obvious implication, "and as I know that the Northern Maiden actually awoke a long time before I did that means that the final maiden who awoke was one of your people or at least a half-breed- that does seem to be the case with we Maidens of the Cardinal Points of the Five-Fold Court of Atlantis."

"All of that will be explained once the other two maidens get here, that's when it'll be time to put all of the cards on the table." Greygus explained things before adding in, "and speaking of cards feel free to ask if you need any there is no telling exactly when the Northern and Southern Maidens will arrive. And to answer your earlier question this is Fortuna Noctis, the Midnight Fortress, so named because every time the clock is about to turn one this place relocates to wherever it just turned midnight."

"So, if it was ten or so when you took us then we're either in Greenland, Bermuda or Brazil right now." I replied as Jane and I rapidly coordinated our collective knowledge.

"Oooo, so close," Greygus remarked, "although it's perfectly understandable but this place doesn't operate on Daylight Savings Time, besides can you imagine the strain of jumping two time zones instead of one in case we pop up in a county that doesn't recognize that little innovation of Franklin's. More than likely right now we are somewhere around either Trinidad or the South Sandwich Islands."

"Actually, Franklin only tossed out that possibility as a joke," I corrected the mercenary hoping that it would be taken in good humor, "Can't recall off the top of my head who made it policy but Ben mentioned it in the same letter as proposals for taxing shutters and rationing candles, but the man was a real character from what I've read."

"Trust me the writers had him spot on," one of the demoness trio spoke up, "I met him on several occasions in France, the man was always one for witty banter, or a fun time with the ladies. Sadly, that I never took him up on his offers in Paris, I liked him too much to let him suffer the consequences of a night with me."

'Probably a succubus or lilim,' I responded to Jane before something dawned on me, 'Wait Jane do you remember these three from anywhere?'

Hold on a moment I remember mom telling me about these three back when Morrigan went as Lady Ravenheart, collectively they are known as the Erinyes their codenames are Skleeros, Miseo and Ekdikeo, I believe that they all work for Mistress Nyx.

'Three ladies who are either succubi or lilim and work for someone who either won't ever show herself...or can't.' I pondered as the pieces fell into place, 'There is only one woman that either of those types of devils would stay loyal to, and it explains why nobody's ever seen Mistress Nyx in the flesh, she can't leave her home because she's a prisoner in her own domain. All current signs point to Mistress Nyx being none other than Lilith herself!'

Loki, Set, Hel, Hecate and now Lilith not to mention that we don't know whether Astio or as Imperious and his fellow reborn Olympians know him as Typhon is also a part of their little circle too, Jane examined the current evidence on the table, quite the dragon's den that you've crawled into young Miss Bridges.

'The dragon is either here or will be along shortly Jane,' I replied over our link, 'but I'm just referring to the Northern Maiden aka my senior in this little debacle of destiny.'

"Communing with your familiar young Faolan?" One of the Erinyes remarked in a way that sent ice down my spine all the way to my tail which immediately went in-between my legs. "Not a very polite thing to do when in the room with company, especially when you are an honored guest."

"Oh, take the stick out Miseo," another of the demonic trio stated before she floated in the air after a one-hundred and twenty degree pirouette while hovering along at our pace. "It's not like she has any real reason to trust us to begin with, a member of the Grand Hall who was hired by proxy did nearly kill her and one of our fellow operatives did torment her for most of her life while trying to take possession of her body."

"It is still a lack of common courtesy Skeerlos," Miseo shot back at her fellow devil, "you would think that The Phantom Queen of the Fae would teach her better etiquette and protocol!"

I just couldn't help it but when that phrase came out I just started cracking up, and Dagda and Jane followed suit, I thought that I even heard Carcharoth of all creatures snickering. One thing was clear- the Erinyes might have some knowledge of Morrigan and have encountered her a few times in the past outside of a professional capacity, but they clearly didn't know what the regent of the Wild Fae was like at all.

Saturday, April 21st, 2007
Fagins Pub
Berlin, New Hampshire
11:01 PM EDT

"Wait- how could that be possible," Elizabeth Carson inquired somewhat wondering just what Morrigan Redstag meant by that remark, "I have met Miss Bridges parents when they dropped young Heather off just last month and know that their current address is in Tricoma after their home was ransacked by that mob."

"I admit- I am not her mother, her grandmother or even her great-grandmother, no my relation to Randi and Heather both goes back centuries to my youngest child's second incarnation." Morrigan explained as she took another slug of her home-brewed liquid courage, "You see I have had a few children of my own over the course of my long life, even before I met and wed Dagda that fateful Samhain eve. You must understand that due to my sworn duty to the late Queen Venraniel, Daughter of the Silent Willow, I have sadly outlived a fair number of them. Some of my children such as poor Lupa even died cursing my existence. That was why when I wed Dagda I tried as much as I could to do right by my children, and that was why it hurt so much when Brigid took her own life after her husband Bres was deposed so that he couldn't use her as a hostage against the Tuarth de during Bres's campaigns to reclaim his crown following Nuanda's restoration."

"I remember hearing from Anu how you actually brought your daughter back," Elizabeth commented as she nursed her own drink thankfully something with a far lower alcohol content than what Morrigan was currently nursing. "I presume something along the lines of the ritual that you used to save young Randi's life last January after Plagiat's attack?"

"Actually, that was a spell that I developed based on the one that I used to bring Brigid back," Morrigan explained as she continued to nurse her own home-brewed ale. "At the time, I finally thought that I could settle somewhere for a while, carve out my own little slice of happiness and have the chance to raise a few children who felt that they could actually call me mom...that actually worked until the squabbles between the Tuatha de Danann's and the Fomor lead to my daughter's political marriage to Bres."

"Which ended in suicide after he lost the throne," Elizabeth postulated receiving Morrigan's nod in affirmation.

"We had been so close I just couldn't let go so I used my magic and ensured her rebirth," Morrigan confessed, "a deed that cost me as I was then forbidden to use that exact spell ever again or teach it to anyone afterwards. Brigid's second life was far happier she even went on to wed Caílte mac Rónáin of the Fianna, they had five children together and honestly, I had never seen such happiness. At least until Nemain's son Cromm attacked them in revenge for our negotiation with the Nazareen since he was in line for the crown, only her eldest son Cathasach survived the attack since he was out hunting with his father."

"I assume that wasn't Brigid's final life?" Elizabeth inquired wanting further details about that story.

"It was her final life as my daughter, as an act of kindness the Nazareen ensured her rebirth as a mortal girl in the town of Faughart in the Fifth Century," Morrigan explained with a heavy heart, "but the part explaining Randi lays in Cathasach. Cathasach decided to live as a mortal rather than join his kin in Tir na Nog and had family of his own, in time that family spread to the new world fleeing from the religious persecution in Ireland (as well as the Potato Famine) some even helped lay track for Union Pacific Railroad as they looked for some place to call home. One family, the Casey's, actually took what little they made with their fellow Irishmen and helped a few Freedmen that they worked with as well as some Chinese immigrants from the Central Pacific Railroad and founded a little city called Tricoma in Texas."

"Whom Randi's family are descended from, making you Randi's maternal grandmother several times over," Elizabeth stated as she stirred her next drink freshly poured from the tap. "At least that explains your relationship to your protege other than your earlier residence in her spiritual self, still the real question remains what can you tell me about the four maidens- more importantly my daughter Bea?"

"I'm glad that I brewed something that I actually find to be on the stiff side for this occasion because this is a heavy matter," Morrigan tossed her latest in a line of home-brewed libations back. "Matters of destiny are seldom pleasant more often than not they come with a great deal of adversity attached and for Beatrice, Randi and their fellow maidens that is no exception. As you are no doubt aware during The Sundering the Old Ones did a great deal of damage to the world, in fact the world itself is but a fraction of what it once was if you actually knew all that was lost you'd wonder how any civilization managed to build upon the ashes of the Five-Fold Court."

"Yes, everyone knows that Atlantis is at the bottom of the sea Morrigan," Elizabeth Carson began to strum her fingers against the bar in front of her, "we see at least one attack by Atlantean Terrorists a year these days."

"Not Atlantean- Neo Atlantean, what people have known of Atlantis since before the time of Plato actually emerged as a colony of survivors of the destruction of the Original Kingdom of Atlantis," Morrigan emphasized as best as she could, "that bunch were sunk by Poseidon when they refused to allow Mycenean Priests to build temples in their territory which at the time included much of the Mediterranean Sea. No, the Atlantis during the time of the Five-Fold Court didn't just sink below the waves...it sank between dimensions. You see there is a reason that the Fae Lands and the Jade Heavens exist in other dimensions that is where they settled after The Sundering- the final battle of the Old Ones shook the fabric of reality itself and much of the world was knocked partially out of phase with the rest."

"So, when folks refer to The Sundering they mean a sundering of reality itself on a global scale." Elizabeth was a little shaken by the implications of that even with her long and storied career as a cape. "And the Fae Lands that you are part of the regency council of as well as the Jade Heavens that annoying Monkey King call home were once as much a part of the planet as any continent?"

"Exactly, and it is this transdimensional drift that is a problem, because it has also left the planet wounded." Morrigan continued, "Mana and essence don't flow as much as they used to, moreover the world isn't as strong as it once was either. Even human scientists have begun to notice the growing vulnerabilities in the biosphere, also the amount of mana the world can currently generate is equally strained. The fact is that if the world and all who dwell on it are to have a potential future then the flows of mana from the Four Courts of North, East, South and West must be reestablished."

"And let me guess that is where the Four Maidens come in and their prophecy." Elizabeth interrupted as she looked at Morrigan much to lack of surprise her newest teacher's silence spoke volumes.

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Blue Salon - Fortuna Noctis
12:23 AM UTC−03:00
POV: Aletheia, Rose of the East

I stared at the odd clock in the room, but the fact was still a bit of a shock we had shifted time zones and our current abode had actually jumped across the earth when another corner of the globe had struck midnight. As if to emphasize this the clock's hour hand was stuck at twelve while the unique fourth-hand followed a set of twenty-four roman numerals that no doubt corresponded to an hour past Greenwich Meantime of which we were now three time zones past. I had even seen the scenery change in a blur as the fortress had mad its last jump.

Don't get me wrong I wanted to travel the world someday but to me that meant actually getting out and traveling the world not sitting in a time-zone hoping fortress as an unwilling guest. One look over at Randi and I could already see that she was just as happy to be here as I was...okay she was a whole lot less happy to be here than I was but she was hiding it like a champ. Not that I could blame her- I knew even before that conversation in the hallway how she loathed Carcharoth and felt about the Obsidian Circle in turn, but that moment only illustrated that fact as clear as day.

Still this silence was deafening it thought that it was time that I really needed to break the ice, at least the only one operative of the Circle itself was present and all in all I didn't feel that Greygus was near as bad as his compatriots. "So, Mister Greygus sir, I understand that we're going to meet the northern and southern maiden's tonight. Can you tell us anything about them?"

Drawing the attention of everyone in the room Greygus replied, "Well to be honest I don't know too much about the Southern Maiden- even though prophecy stated that she was supposed to be born from my house, given that she just awoke today. All I know is what my colleague Dirge filled me in on a few hours back, which is that they rescued her and two of her friends from an attack by the Dark Court."

"Dark Court?" I asked unfamiliar of the term.

"It's the collective term for the underworld created by Summer and Winter exiles who opt not to join the Wild Court," Faolan spoke up in what I could see was a mixture of embarrassment (probably for not telling me sooner) and disgust (likely for those of the Dark Court). "It's really just a collective term for various branches of the criminal underworld populated by fallen faerie nobility and whatever servants and unaligned fae that they persuade into following them or loosely align with them. I've told you about the Goblin Markets before- those are part of the Dark Court, never try to deal with them unless you have no other options because if you drop your guard with them you could find yourself in a situation worse than death."

"A little bit of hyperbole eh Western Maiden," Greygus scoffed at Faolan's tirade, "most of the folk in the Dark Court are just trying to scrape by and just don't trust the Wild Court any more than they do those of Summer and Winter- or they're just too set in their ways to change the way they were brought up and adapt to the rest of the world."

"Considering that those ways include child abduction, slavery and corrupting mortals into barely sapient beings I think that I will stick to my opinions thank you very much," Faolan huffed in response.

"Touché," Greygus replied before continuing, "as I said I don't know too much at present about the Southern Maiden considering that I haven't received a response from my home base of operations since before we left to take care of the Children of the Night's attempted attack on yourselves. Now the Northern Maiden on the other hand, she I have a great deal of intelligence on, not surprising given how she was the first of you four to awaken."

"If I remember the Northern Court is supposed to be populated by creatures of the sky correct, and that the strongest among them are dragons." I spouted off what I had already learned of the subject, "So she should be one of the strongest among us."

"Yeah, faefolk and merfolk are no slouches in the magic department but pound for pound when it comes to physical abilities northern-court dragons and southern-court djinn are way above our weight-class." Faolan interjected.

"Don't sell yourself short kid, fae-folk may not have the raw power of djinn or dragons, but you can be deadly given the right training. As for merfolk nothing is faster in the water than them moreover with your natural sonic abilities your magic and sound attacks are brutal to those who could cross you." Greygus explained in reply, "As for the Northern Maiden she like the both of you is a hybrid of human-mutant and a member of one of the four peripheral lands of the Five-Fold Court, in her case she is part Fucanglong, an Asian dragon who embodies the nature of a volcano."

"Out of curiosity does that make her an earth elemental or a fire elemental?" Faolan again interrupted- I know that she was inquisitive, but she really needs to learn not to interrupt other people when they are speaking.

"Hmm, wish that I knew the answer to that one kid, but that question is something that you're going to have to learn on your own- as will I for that matter." Greygus did his best to answer, "Actually Faolan was it, like you the Northern Maiden was born human only to have her own powers awaken latter, in her case they awoke after her old body swelling into an egg that her new body hatched from last fall over in Seattle."

"I wonder why she isn't at Whateley then?" I asked myself although I made the mistake of doing so outloud, "I thought that H1 raise a fuss whenever they find out that some mutant manifests in an area?"

"Oh, they did, fortunately the Northern Maiden's family lives in the Asian International District of Seattle, or their version of China Town. Every time that they tried to pressure the neighborhood to allow the MCO to take her into custody, the folks who call the shots in the International District through a legal road block in their way. Say what you will about the nastiness of the Cold War, but a lot of the China Towns in America gained a lot of legal autonomy from the crap that Hoover and his successors put them through, the MCO couldn't make a move legally and H1 couldn't touch the Northern Maiden without walking through a cultural PR nightmare."

"Sadly, the real threat to the Northern Maiden turned out to be from a nasty faction in the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom, a group called the Merchants of Suffering. You see one aspect of the Northern Maiden's powers is that she can turn certain materials into raw gemstone, gemstones that also happen to soak up enchantment like a dry cactus would water. They invaded her home, kidnapped her and drug her down to their main base of operations state-side, the San Francisco Chapter House where they used her as a living gem-making factory. This went on for months until she was liberated by the spell-caster known as The Wayfarer."

That name sparked a bunch of memories within me from my time in the shadow of Cytherea or as she was known back in those days Aphrodite and Venus. "I know that name, the face is a little fuzzy, but the Olympians had a number of encounters with The Wayfarer going all the way back to the beginning of the Pantheon. They also did everything they could to suppress those stories from being distributed, because everything they tried either eliminate or subjugate The Wayfarer and every time they tried it blew up in their faces. I especially remember one-time Aphrodite tried to seduce The Wayfarer into surrendering his staff to her as a token of his affection, not only did she fail to seduce the man but when she tried to steal the staff out of spite it gave her a Bad Hair Decade- it was a great time for me."

"I always wondered what that phase of her's was about," Greygus remarked through his laughter, "anyway sometime today the Northern Maiden left the safety of the hiding place where The Wayfarer has been keeping her safe and popped up some place in Colorado, naturally the Merchants are there in force to retrieve their property but Erzebet Scratch's people were also given the intel and they have a Sweeper Squad in the area to deal with the Merchants and escort the Northern Maiden here as soon as they can."

"What about the Southern Maiden," I inquired curious about the final of the four maidens, "she's supposed to be a djinni right?"

"As I explained earlier I don't know anything more than the fact that my compatriot Dirge rescued someone Bishop Brimstone insists is her from two members of the Dark Court." Greygus responded somewhat flummoxed by the whole event, "I was kind of busy at the time, you see the attack on you two wasn't the only thing that the Children of the Night were up to tonight. To be honest the reason I was on the East Coast today was because I was assisting a Sweeper Squad with transporting some old assets from the New York Chapter House's Storage Annex to a newer more secure location in the heart of Erzebet Scratch's territory."

"While this happened someone, who was affiliated with the Necromancer's faction opted to pull a fast one to open up and clean out another vault then swipe two of the Atlantean Royal Diadems on the way out." I could almost see Greygus roll his eyes under his helmet, "His choice in vaults was obviously under orders because the one that he picked belonged to Carcharoth-"

"Poor Bastard," Faolan interrupted with a dark chuckle, "I wonder how long it took him to get torn limb from limb?"

"That point was kind of moot, Carcharoth was ordered to only detain him; Erzebet Scratch's people are going to handle the interrogation." Greygus explained, "Unfortunately one item from Carcharoth's Vault was not retrieved, the Staff of Dagon!"

I almost made my wheelchair fall backwards when he said that name- Dagon the merman who betrayed not only his kingdom but his entire race out of lust for both power as well as my poor uncle's betrothed. I clenched my teeth at the thought of the countless lives that bloated fanatic ruined with the power that he gained from both that slumbering corpse in R'lyeh and from my grandfather's murder.

"I'm sorry for having to mention that treasonous bottom-feeder to you Aletheia, being that you are both of merfolk blood as well as your relation to his first victims hearing the name of the ruler of the Deep Ones is bound to be a sore point for you." Greygus apologized although I was shocked to know just how much he knew about me personally, "The fact is though that this is vital intelligence related to your liberation of Qingu, you see the Esoteric Order of Dagon is aware of your existence and your mission."

This little tidbit filled me with a great deal of fear, the Esoteric Order was a cult who dedicated themselves to spreading Dagon's influence as far and wide as they could. Most of those I was planning on helping my uncle save when Dagon's curse was broken were the children and illegitimate children that those of the Esoteric Order sired and leave to their dark fate as their free-will and their very soul are stolen by a curse that they would likewise leave for their children. Randi even told me that her brother's girlfriend Vanessa suffered the affliction from her birth-mother who went into the water years ago as did Carmilla's mother.

"So, let me get this straight- a cult that operates almost entirely in the shadows of the world, who actively are trying to destroy both humanity and the world, not only know that the greatest threat to their plans is alive but are also aware of her plans to strip them of their greatest tool for their plans." Faolan interjected again as she marched up to Greygus, "And the Obsidian Circle let this intelligence leak, because don't tell me that that your masters aren't that powerful because I now for a fact that they are- such as your own master Set!"

All eyes in the room again turned to Greygus as he began laughing his head off, "Oh man, you mean that my old man lost his cover after all this time- okay fill me in...just who spilled the beans- was it Badb?"

"Nope, already had my first clue from being Fenris's unwilling host for all these years." Faolan remarked as she glared down Greygus, "After that I just began to piece together the puzzle one-by-one, granted that I don't know who everyone is just yet, but I think that I am making decent headway. You for example are still a mystery to me Greygus, because you don't strike me as Anubis- although you have mentioned someone named Dirge several times who seems like a likely fit for the Egyptian patron of morticians."

"I doubt that you would either, I'm somewhat obscure among those of us whom the Ancient Egyptians worshiped- some people actually got the two of us mixed up and thought that I was an aspect of Anubis during the opening of the mouth ceremony." The mercenary and apparent Egyptian deity scoffed, "I'll give you this one for free since my dad's faction is actually one of the more ardent supporters of the Maidens and your mission within the Circle. I'm Wepwawet, an earth djinn who was worshiped as a war-deity by the Ancient Egyptians of the Upper Kingdom; I was considered the patron of archers and scouts- those whose lot in war was to expose or create weaknesses in the enemy's ranks to open the way for the main force to claim victory."

"So, let me get this straight," I interjected, "the Egyptian Pantheon like the Mesopotamian Pantheon were djinn! Wait a moment, I remember reading that Grandmother Tiamat went to collect allies including a tribe of Djinn from the Court of the Burning Disc- that was your group!"

"Yup," Greygus remarked as he removed his helmet showing everyone the head of a maned-wolf that lay beneath. "Like we weren't going to come to the aide of another group of survivors from the Five-Fold Court. Too bad that we were already too late to save Qingu from Marduk and the rest of Enki's spawn, ironic how they all followed the whims of an Earth djinn rather than his son who was a true Dashemsa Ifrit. They had the beginnings of creating a proper court and everything fell apart for them when they made the mistake of trusting Dagon, before they knew it they were ripe for conquest by the Dark One. Granted we were next when we accepted Osiris into our court."

"Whoa, I thought that Osiris was one of the five children of Geb and Nut!?!" Faolan interrupted the conversation, "Or am I wrong?"

"Only three children I'm afraid, Set and Osiris were not Geb and Nut's children although Set did marry into the royal family through my mother Lady Nephrys. You also need to understand something about djinn, only a Dashemsa Ifrit may rule a court so there is no hereditary line of succession. Horus the reigning prince of the Court of the Burning Disc received the crown from Amun, father of Konshu, as Horus was the next eldest Dashemsa Ifrit or djinn of solar fire."

"But that is neither here nor there, what you do need to know is that father and I recently liberated the court from the Black Pharaoh's avatar and took the lives of his servants in the process." Greygus got back to the point of the conversation, "That means that when you free your uncle Qingu this summer and together free the blood of the Eastern Court you shall have the djinn of the Court of the Blazing Disc guarding your efforts. Which is a good thing too, that Staff the Esoteric Order stole will let them summon and command Deep Ones to fight for them."

"Just as well," Faolan commented, "the Wild Fae can fight like devils in the right environment but the Arabian Desert in the middle of Summer- yeah, not the best idea."

"Not that I would be much help in the desert either even if I'm walking by then," grimaced over the facts, "merfolk and the hot desert sand is not a great combination."

"Aletheia, if you want you can borrow my cloak this summer given how I won't be using it anyway," I explained, "just make sure to give it back to me afterwards- otherwise I will have to seek compensation for it and I'd hate to ever have to do that to a friend."

"Ugh, no problem," I screwed my face at the awful image of the possibilities that situation would conjure, "I'd hate to lose the sight in an eye or have my hair go white because you took its color."

"You wish that the price for my cloak is that cheap," Faolan remarked, "keep in mind an elf paid it in return for her freedom as well as her gratitude over her liberation from Plagiat- no that wasn't a cheap price and neither would be an equal price to that."

"The girl is wise beyond her years," Greygus or is it Wepwawet, "although I suppose having to serve as Horfen's unwitting host for thirteen-almost-fourteen long years would give anyone a profound appreciation for the importance of freedom."

"No, I can understand more than anyone just how important freedom is," I sighed recalling the long centuries of my existence prior to being born in mother's office, "after nearly three lifetimes trapped in the shadow of one of the most catty and selfish beings in the world I know better than anyone the importance of freedom."

"She is not joking about that piece of information," Faolan remarked sheepishly-heh a wolf faeire being sheepish I'll have to remember that one... "near as anyone knows the pearl that she hatched out of was swept up in the seafoam that birthed Aphrodite and she sank into that Olympian diva's astral shadow- until about a month ago when she emerged and had to be surgically removed."

"She still gives me a death-glare whenever she sees me on campus, I mean the girl's powers let her heal without a scar and she still looks at me like I 'marred her perfection,'" I rolled my eyes over Cytherea's antics, "I mean I'd just as soon have nothing to do with her but from what I gather she sees me as the one who cast a flaw upon her perfection- not that there weren't more than a few flaws on the inside when it came to that lady."

"The granddaughter of Tiamat verses the reincarnation of Aphrodite," Dagda chuckled, "now that would be a catfight for the ages."

"Well it'll be one that you'll have to leave to your imagination you Tuatha-de horndog," Hedgewitch remarked as she nudged Dagda in the ribs, "honestly you'd think that Morrigan would be enough for you considering the fact that you can't even sleep around without her approval." That remark drew an odd look from Greygus and Miseo...and maybe myself.

"Morrigan cursed his wedding ring," Faolan began to explain, "she'd deities like Zeus over the years to be wary of a deity's fidelity- so not only can't he take his ring off but it caused his manhood to grow almost as long and thick as one of his legs."

"She's not exaggerating," Dagda remarked with an odd look on his face.

"Remind me never to do anything to piss Morrigan off- ever." Greygus remarked to Miseo who was staring at Dagda like a proverbial deer in headlights over that little fact.

"Oh, it's not so bad," the former king of the Tuatha-de shot back at the djinn warrior, "Zeusie needed to sneak around behind his wife's back, me all I need to do is get permission and if she's in the mood I can score a three-some- nope no Herakles situations for this guy- Gha-ha-ha-ha."

"TMI Dagda," Greygus shook his head trying to clear that though from his mind, "TMI."

"Pardon me," I spoke up desperate to change the conversation while equally curious about something else. "I know that we're supposed to wait for the Northern and Southern Maidens to get here before we here about our destiny and what it entails but I was curious about something else- just how were the maidens chosen? I mean I understand that I was chosen because I'm the only mermaid to be born on Earth unaffected by Dagon's Curse but what about Faolan and the others? Just why were they chosen?"

"That is a simple enough question to answer," Greygus remarked, "As you already know all four of the maidens, yourself included, are half-breeds of Center-Court and one of respective Peripheral Four Courts. Each of the Four Maidens who awakens will have an ability unique to them which sets them apart from the others of their respective people, in your case healing, in the case of Faolan it was an Avatar trait variant that she could use to absorb abilities into herself- provided they came to a bundle of energy that approximated a spirit, this lead to her awakening as a fae."

"Morrigan stated at the time that was the Beta's spirit but I suppose that given the true Beta was Mister Domino I suppose that the spirit was just a spirit that belonged to him or that he acquired at some point." Faolan pondered aloud.

"As I recall it belonged to a late-Victorian Era occultist who wagered on the fortitude his own soul with Mister Domino for power and substituted the stolen soul of an innocent in lieu of his own." Miseo explained, "Mister Domino found out very fast and was not please, as I recall he gave the man to Carcharoth to use as a plaything- by the time you received it into yourself it was likely nothing more than mystic essence and Mister Domino's chosen gift of power surrounding a vacant soul."

"Which also made you candidate when your fae nature awakened," Greygus continued, "Half of the maidens were foretold to be born half-breeds such as yourself Aletheia and the other half are supposed to be individuals with ancestry within one of the Courts other than that of the Center such as the Northern Maiden and yourself Faolan."

"Hold the phone- I have fae ancestry, I thought that this was just because of Morrigan!?!" Faolan all but barked aloud, "I wasn't truly of the fae, half or otherwise, until I accepted her gift!"

"Well not entirely Morrigan's fault my dear," Dagda chuckled, "you see you represent the convergence of the bloodlines created by the three beings Queen Venraniel created from the damaged soul of her late intended General Armeluien, as well as the bloodline of Venraniel herself through Lady Ulelesse her daughter by Armeluien's sword-brother Tordrais the Mournful; each of your grandparents was descended from one of them. In fact, you are related to three people in this room."

"Wait- I know that you are Morrigan's husband so that means that you're related to Faolan several generations back, but I know that it isn't Greygus since he's a djinn and would bring another court into the mix but who else is there?"

"He means us," the woman's whose name I learned was Hedgewitch spoke up as she squeezed Jaegarman's arm for emotional support, "Mister Domino or as I knew him Loki is my grandfather, my name is Auda Narfisdotir and through my son Knud- Faolan is descended from Loki."

"If that makes you feel a little apprehensive then don't worry," Jaegarsman spoke up before talking to Faolan, "you also have my family line but first let me introduce myself- I'm Vali Odinson the Aesir who avenged the death of Balder."

The way Faolan looked at the pair I could tell that she already knew a lot more about their story then the pair shared, but unfortunately, I wasn't as familiar with Norse Religion as I was with that of the Greeks and the Romans. I could tell by her expression though that she was a little overwhelmed, after all she just found out that her current mentor was her several times great-grandmother...come to think of it that also means that she's also descended from Master Greyback- guess that I'd better ask him about that when I get back to the Hall of Echoes. "Wait- you said that the Northern Maiden is also distantly related to the Northern Court, presumably also of a royal or noble line, are you going to tell us how?"

"She's the descendant of Qianbei Zhunyan, a fucanglong who served the Jade Heavens who in turn was a descendant of Huanlong the Yellow Dragon." Greygus explained, "She actually awakened as the Northern Maiden months ago because an urn with Qianbei's ashes fell on her, but you could probably learn more about that from her when she gets here."

Suddenly a phone on a nearby desk began to ring, it looked odd given that it was made in the style of a rotary phone but was actually a touch tone. Clearly not wanting to contribute any more to the discussion Miseo went to answer it, "Miseo here, yes he's here why?"

After a moment during which time all conversation had ceased everyone's eyes went to Miseo, "Understood- I'll be sure to tell him the good news."

After hanging the phone up Miseo turned to Greygus, "Hey Greygus great news- the demi-djinn is confirmed to be the Southern Maiden is with your father."

"That's good," Greygus laughed, "still I thought that my sister-to-be was still a few months down the line. Wait don't tell me that my brother actually had the nerves to make something more than idol conversation with a young lady other than his wife Anput or did my niece Kebechet have a kid with some nice man and just fail to mention it to anyone."

"Neither, do you remember that waitress from that cantina in Mexico City that you were seeing, you remember the place- I think that it was called La Puesta de Sol Rosada?" Miseo remarked with a grin like a shark.

"You mean Angela Luisa Seguin," Greygus responded with a hint of fear in his voice- "You don't mean!?!"

"Yep, congratulations daddy," Miseo all but sang, "your daughter with her is the Southern Maiden."

When he heard this Greygus literally collapsed on the floor with his tongue flopping out of the corner of his lupine mouth, "What do you know, he took it better than I thought he would."

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2 years 9 months ago #50303 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 29

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Hall
Las Vegas, Nevada
1:38 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

After grandfather made his proposal it got everyone in the auction house talking. The thing about being the object of ridicule and scorn for so long in a place like the public-school system as I did was that you learned how to read people rather than just try to listen in on their words, and for the most part that told the truth about how they felt a lot more than they ever would tell anyone.

Yeah, I may not have super-human hearing, but I definitely knew how to read people; some were clearly displeased at our offer if not the fact that we were after the star item of the auction (despite the fact that said star item was very much attached to somebody). Some though were disturbed when they found out that the zodiac gems had a host moreover someone whose first heroic act (emphasis- heroic) included defending the life of the daughter of a respected black hat, granted not very many but some were clearly displeased by this bit of information.

The three oddities in the room, outside of ourselves, were the auctioneer Miss Bliss herself, Professor Id and the rather intimidating individual known as Dead-Zone. Each of these three seemed to be taking in events far differently than everyone else in the auction house- these were the three wild cards in the deck tonight.

Miss Bliss for the most part was exuding a sense of smug satisfaction, from what I had gathered recently she only operated here in Vegas with my grandfather's approval and she was determined to milk this opportunity as much as she could. She probably thought that if she played her cards right tonight that she could raise her standing in the criminal underworld as well as gain some level of immunity from grandfather's influence over local matters.

Professor Id on the other hand was taking in everything around us with an air of amusement, it appeared that despite his earlier winnings this man wasn't here tonight for the auction at all. No, from what I could tell the real reason that Professor Id was here for was for something like what was happening right this moment to occur, he was here to watch the carnage that would result from everyone trying to claim the Zodiac Gems- and grandfather's offer was far from an upset, it made for a twist that only served to please the man even more.

Last but not least was Dead-Zone unlike Miss Bliss, and to a lesser extent Professor Id, I just couldn't read the man he exuded no hint of emotions and his eyes were hidden behind a set of shades. I had met countless guys my own age who fancied themselves to be cool customers, but whoever this Dead-Zone guy was he was next to impossible for me to read anything into; moreover, given everyone's reactions to him when they learned his identity that made him more than intimidating to me- it made him a terrifying unknown in a night that made me more and more nervous as the seconds ticked away.

"Well I for one recognize Lord Khamsin's claim," Strega was the first to break the silence of the hall, "Greygus is someone I count as a respected colleague and while I would like a chance to examine the Zodiac Gems- as a mother I would call myself a hypocrite if I would reward the man who saved the life of one of our own with certain death."

"Well I say that the boy deserves whatever fate that he has in store for him," Apis retorted as he stood up, "whether that brat knew it or not he stole from The Syndicate, and rather than doing the smart thing and turning the gems over when he was ordered too he had to play the hero and try to use them. Well he's about to find out the real fate of a hero early and we all know what that is!"

"That may be, but we do need heroes to keep the worst of us in check," Mr. Magic shot back throwing his hat or well turban in the ring, "only a few months ago I helped liberate dozens of children who had been turned into monsters against their will by Dr. Macabre. While they might have been restored to normal one girl who was caught long before then is going to be in therapy for the rest of her life, that monster transformed her into a ghoul who needed to subsist on human flesh to survive. So, I say give the kid his freedom and let the future decide what's to come, moreover a touch of mercy today might shape a true hero rather than a lethal vigilante such as Witch Hunter."

"While I for one am none too fond of heroes and their foolish efforts baring the odd entertaining diversion, they may offer," Professor Id chimed in, "however I am a supporter of free will, so I chose to hold my vote until a third option crosses my mind."

"Well I for one did not come all this way to leave empty-handed," Friar Rush slammed his hands on the table in front of him. "And I'll be damned all over again if I'm going to let some pretender to Lord Ataxia's legacy cheat me of my chance at the Zodiac Gems!"

"You would do well to remember your manners Rush," Dead-Zone interrupted the man, "regardless of the outcome of tonight's events you would not wish to make another enemy tonight. In our world, heated words can have dire consequences, for many of those here have very long lives and their retribution can be very long in the waiting."

"Well I for one would appreciate for the auction to continue so I would offer a third option for those assembled to participate in," Don Kulmatz spoke up garnering the attention of those who were assembled, "I would propose that we decide the fate of the Zodiac Gems with a manner befitting both tradition as well as our current locale."

"And just what would you propose that would satisfy all parties concerned?" Miss Bliss inquired from her place upon the podium.

"Why the ancient practice of trial by combat my lovely hostess," the enigmatic Mexican arbiter explained, "surely all here would appreciate the diversion after this unsettling revelation over the goods in question. Now as for the form of said manner of combat all who know yourself are aware that your chosen method would be fencing in the fashion of the schools of Heidelberg, while this young maid being Greygus's daughter means that archery and wrestling are both off the table as those would offer her the advantage. That is why I suggest that we chose a method of combat of which the City of Second Chances is world renowned for hosting- that of the sweet science of pugilism or as the layman would refer to it- boxing."

"I would agree with Don Kulmatz in this instance," Professor Id explained with a wide smile broadcasting his intent for all to see, "I find this debate to be growing most dull and I would welcome the entertainment as apology. Not to mention if this maid would like to gain her comrade's freedom let her earn it by deed and effort not word and debate, it would be a good lesson for her as she enters the real world- more so if she happens to fail."

"Very well I shall put it to a vote of all participants in this auction tonight," Miss Bliss stated as she surveyed the gallery, "all who wish that this matter be settled in the squared circle raise your paddles all opposed keep your paddles lowered."

One-by-one nine paddles raised in the auction house gallery with the only ones opposing the proposal being Qian Kai, Apis, Lady Jettatura and Friar Rush. "The Ayes have it the fate of the Zodiac Gemstones and their current wielder shall be settled by a boxing match to be held after the auction. We will also hold a symbolic auction whose item shall be decided by the match; should Greygus's daughter fail in this bout the winner of the auction shall gain the Zodiac Gems and their wielder to do with as they wish, however should the girl succeed in besting myself in the ring the winner will gain Lord Ataxia's offered replacement of the Scrolls from the House of Life of the Temple of Isis. My employees shall assemble the ring in question in our auxiliary auction room while we conclude the auction, and I nominate Dead-Zone from the gallery to serve as the event's referee."

It took a minute or two, but it seemed that everyone accepted the ruling as they settled in for the second half of the auction.

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Stage
2:01 AM MDT

From her place atop the stage Miss Bliss desperately tried to hide her uncertainty, her attempt to make use of the peer pressure of the Criminal Underground to make Lord Khamsin relinquish his claim on the Zodiac Gems and their current wielder had not only failed but it resulted in a stalemate that was going to be broken in combat. While Miss Bliss knew her own skills well mortal fisticuffs were certainly not in her wheelhouse, while she was certain that she could count on her decades of experience in reading her opponent- the fact that she had absolutely no intelligence regarding her opponent outside of the fact that she was Greygus's daughter meant that she would have to stay on her toes in the coming bout.

But Miss Bliss knew that confrontation, while a part of her near future, was not in her immediate future and as that eternal saying went 'The show must go on!' After taking a deep breath to regain her seemingly flawless sidhe composure, Miss Bliss began the auction anew. "Our next item up for bid is a work of the late Baroque Master Caravaggio, considered by the rest of the world to have been lost in the fires of the Battle of Berlin I give you San Matteo e angelo or as it is known to the English-speaking world Saint Matthew and the Angel."

Miss Bliss motioned with flourish as the oil painting formerly housed in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum was raised to the stage. "As always whatever the winner decides to do with this work is up to them, as this painting has been considered destroyed for over half a century none would even notice its absence should you desire it for yourself or if you return it to its former home in Germany it would doubtlessly earn you a sizeable debt from one of the greater powers of the European Union that is all up to the winner to decide. Now I open the bidding for this work of art at ten million- do I hear ten million?"

"Ten million!" Lady Jettatura's paddle flew up so fast that she almost lost her hold on it, Miss Bliss knew immediately that the deceptively young sorceress was out to claim another relic of the Imperia Romana Septum, how like one of the many members of the late Thule Occult Society who actually knew true power.

"Eleven million," Strega was next to quickly counter Jettatura's bid drawing a dark look from Nimbus's secret partner, which rolled off the great enchantress's visage without taking any effect.

This culminated into a bidding war that went up to $28 million before Professor Id idly raised his paddle and called out, "$60 million."

This action actually stunned the pair for so long that they didn't hear Miss Bliss's gavel come down. "Sold to Professor Id for sixty million dollars!"

"Good, I was getting a little bored with the current painting in my master bedroom back at Chalet Noir on Isla del Monstroso," the master criminal explained with a wicked smile, "it shall be so good to have a new witness once my dear wife returns from her...sabbatical."

That little slip of the tongue shocked everyone present in the room, Professor Id's deeds and deprivations were a matter of international infamy- indeed the only form of depravity that there was no confirmation of him engaging in was cannibalism, and granted that was only because there was no proof. The thought that in spite of all his past misdeeds that there was someone out there that would not only marry him (granted that it probably wasn't a willing act) but he would actually have called his dear wife was chilling- just who was this woman?

"Thank you for sharing that piece of...information," Miss Bliss observed as she stared at the alleged human who reminded her so much of the more terrifying members of the Winter Court which she called home- the Erlking in particular.

While Miss Bliss was trying to excise those disturbing thoughts from her mind, the lost masterpiece of Caravaggio left the stage headed for Professor Id's chosen drop-off location.

"Our next item up for bid is something that is bound to be a hot commodity," Miss Bliss stated as a display case containing what appeared to be an empty test tube. "Contained within this phial is approximately two-hundred nanites stolen from Dr. Amos Messing's hotel safe during a conference at Bern, Switzerland back in March. While there are only two-hundred nanites, which apparently were designed clean-up of biohazardous materials, they do contain Dr. Amazing's proprietary Operating System. While I know that not everyone here is much for scientific endeavors surely this item could be used to garner favors from any number of entities in the underworld and a few less scrupulous individuals in the public sphere as well."

"I will start the bidding at fifteen million- do I hear fifteen million?"

The Underground Auction Hall Solstice Lounge - Booth 13
2:17 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

I watched as a bidding war erupted between the Bull Man Apis, Hexmaster and Devilmaster over the seemingly empty vial all the while laughter could be heard coming from Professor Id's booth. Oddly enough though nobody else appeared to be interested in the vial, although on second thought that probably wasn't unexpected from what little I knew Dr. Amazing was a scientist who specialized in bleeding edge technology and just about everyone here was part of the mystic community.

"Amazing how people are finally stumbling across this approach," grandfather muttered under his breath.

"What do you mean?" I asked curious about his statement.

"Much of the natural ability of our kind falls in line with the theoretical effect of a nanite swarm," grandfather began to explain in a way that I heard as if by telepathy, "the seeming reality-warping effect of wishes are mainly just applications of manipulating our bodies in a particulate state to effect matter on either the molecular-level or the atomic-level depending on the elemental affinity of the djinn in question. Dashemsa Ifrit like Prince Horus when properly trained can even effect manipulate matter on the subatomic-level, seeing a power like his in action- that is frightening."

"Is that why they're bidding like that?" I asked whispering as softly as I could, "Do they want to unlock that secret?"

"No," Grandpa explained, "more than likely they want to pirate Dr. Amazing's OS so that they could try and turn it into a backdoor software key in order to gain access and steal from him whenever the Amazing Three are out of the country."

"Sold to Devilmaster for thirty-five million!" Miss Bliss exclaimed as she brought down her gavel.

I looked on as the test tube was lowered beneath the stage to be replaced by a large box containing a velvet bag, the contents of which were partially spilled inside of the case in what looked like rather large teeth. "The next item up for bid is something that needs little introduction to anyone who has a modicum of education," Miss Bliss explained with a flourish, "this bag contains a full set of dragon's teeth. Anyone who is either familiar with the legend of Cadmus or has seen the Ray Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts knows that if you sew these in a fertile field in the same manner as seed corn you will soon reap an army of vicious warriors who will attack anything in sight."

"Although the myth says that these warriors are uncontrollable; I am certain that anyone here can find a means either scientific or mystical to do just that. Now I open the bidding for this army of warriors to be at twenty million do I hear twenty million?"

"Twenty million," grandpa to my surprise raised his paddle, okay why would grandpa want an army like...that, then I remembered family or not grandpa was a super-villain so there would be a number of reasons that he'd want something like this available to him.

"Twenty-one million," Hexmaster was the next to raise his paddle.

"Twenty-two million," Dust Bowl raised her paddle to join the bidding fray.

"Twenty-tree," Friar Rush responded with paddle raised eager to collect his potential prize.

"Twenty-four million," Lady Jettatura chimed into the bidding war.

"Twenty-five million," Don Kulmatz joined the fray.

"Twenty-six million," grandpa raised his paddle to stay in the bidding.

"Twenty-seven million," Lady Jettatura jumped clearly wanting those teeth.

"Twenty-eight million," Dust Bowl raised her paddle all but glaring at Lady Jettatura, there was something there I just couldn't see it yet but she clearly felt some level of animosity for the woman.

"Forty-five million," grandpa raised his paddle stunning the room by the raise long enough for the gable to drop.

"Sold to Lord Khamsin for thirty-seven million," Miss Bliss proclaimed as the bag left the stage.

"I have an operation in a few months that will require extra-manpower," grandpa told me through his method, something that I clearly needed to learn how to do myself. "You'll find out about it in a few hours."

The case containing the dragon's teeth lowered from the stage but what it was replaced with was...unusual to say the least. It looked like a framed display with a green felt backdrop upon which five playing cards were mounted enough for a hand in draw poker. They were the ace of spades, the ace of clubs, the eight of spades, the eight of clubs, and the queen of hearts- I just couldn't realize what they were doing in the second half of the auction- was there something particular about these cards that made them valuable that I didn't know?

I looked over at my grandfather and even through his helmet I could tell that he was nervous about the cards. "You see before you the last hand ever dealt by the infamous Death Dealer a criminal and gambler who was infamous for taking not only the money and possessions of those he sat at a table with but far more intangible things such as years, health and even souls."

"Yes, the Death Dealer continued his enigmatic reign of terror for a decade and a half until he drew this hand. No one knows the real circumstances of that final game, and my psychometrist and only tell me that these were the cards played by the Death Dealer himself, all that we do know is that anyone who witnessed that fateful game met their end for all that the police found afterwards were sets of clothing containing piles of ash that forensics identified as organic. Now the opening bid for this lot is thirty million, do I hear thirty million?"

"Thirty million," Friar Rush's paddle flew up so fast that he almost lost his grip upon it.

"Thirty-one million," Strega joined the bidding, I could almost hear the smile in her voice- something about the cards fascinated her.

"Thirty-two million," Hexmaster spouted- he sounded desperate like he needed to walk away with something in this half of the auction.

"Thirty-three million," Friar Rush all but snarled, he was quickly losing his temper- either he knew something about the cards or he felt like he needed a win.

"Thirty-four million," Hexmaster replied all but dripping with animosity as he did so.

"Thirty-six million," Strega took the lead again as the bidding drove higher but the confidence in her voice told me that she knew the victory in this little battle was her's."

The room fell silent, Hexmaster and Friar Rush both were clearly near the limited of what they wanted to spend on this lot, they didn't want to risk not being able to afford the star item whether that was the gems all but fused to Walt's arms or the scrolls of magic that my grandfather offered as their replacement.

Sure, enough the gavel fell, "Sold to Strega for Thirty-six million!" The framed felt-covered square and its five infamous cards disappeared from view to be replaced by something just as peculiar. It was a blue sheet of paper pressed between two sheets of glass one of which had frost glass embedded in it to make part of the papers contents illegible, maybe the blue prints to something but I couldn't tell just what they were from this distance.

"What you see before you are the source of something of value and infamy throughout the world, the blue prints for Cataclysm's underwater bombs. Yes, these blue prints contain the plans for the explosives that the notorious Cataclysm used to wreak devastating tsunamis across the globe before his defeat by the Justice Brigade, never the less the plans survived the destruction of his old lair and are available for the winner to do with as they wish. Do I hear forty million of the potential to sew global devastation?"

"Forty million," Apis chimed in I could almost hear him salivating at the chance to get his hands on them.

"Forty-one million," Professor Id joined with an almost flippant amount of laziness.

"Forty-two million," Apis shot back with a level of mounting aggression- clearly, he wanted those plans almost to an obsessive degree.

"Forty-three million," Professor Id all but yawned out.

"Forty-four million," Apis barked out as I heard him bang his table in a desperate need to restrain himself.

"Forty-five million," Id replied in a tone as calm as a lake on a still day.

"FIFTY MILLION!" Apis shouted I could tell that he was about to snap, just what was going on here?

"Sold to Apis for Fifty Million dollars," Miss Bliss stated after bringing down the gavel, "now you won the lot sir, please behave yourself or I will ask security to escort you out of the building."

"Understood madam," Apis huffed as he struggled to reign his temper back in- that was almost scary, if I didn't know that grandpa likely could take him down if went on a rampage I would have been terrified...at least I think so I'm still learning the ins and outs of the super-villain community not to mention my powers.

Soon the blue prints left the stage to be replaced with what looked like an old book in leather with a strange series of letters on the cover.

"The final item before the contested star item of tonight's auction is more an item of historical curiosity than one of power." Miss Bliss began to explain the oddity before us, "Like the Circlet of Tiresias this was an item offered for the Rings of Bak-Ba. What you see before you now is known as the Taiping Yaoshu or The Crucial Keys to the Way of Peace a text that the followers of Zhang Jue along with his siblings Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang stated to be a gift from a Huang Lao the mythical Yellow Emperor.

The group went on to found the Taoist Sect the Way of Supreme Peace and through their actions began what is historically known as the Yellow Turban Rebellion a conflict with the Han Dynasty that lasted twenty-one years and left an estimated three to seven million dead. While those working for me have yet to determine whether the text in question is an artifact of true power or even a previously unclaimed grimoire, the book itself is still an item of historical significance given that it not only served as the end of the Han Dynasty but also kicked off the series of events that came to be recorded in Luo Guanzhong's classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

"So here you have it a piece of history that created the back drop for one of the oldest novels known to the world, I believe that I will start the bidding for this work at twenty-five million- do I hear twenty-five million?"

The Underground Auction Hall Solstice Lounge - Booth 8
3:04 AM PDT

"Twenty-five million," Qian Kai raised his paddle all but salivating, he knew now that there was a chance that the Zodiac Gems wouldn't even be the final prize of tonight's auction- indeed the prize that the winner of the next lot took home was conditional based on who would win the boxing match that was about to occur. As it stood the Taiping Yaoshu was the only prize that was up for auction tonight that would appease his master and let him live- hell if the Xue-jin Mushi was pleased enough it might actually earn him a promotion. But none of that would matter if he didn't win this lot, fortunately Qian Kai doubted that any of these self-absorbed western barbarians actually had any real appreciation for the prize that had fallen within their reach.

"Twenty-six million," Qian Kai looked around to see the source of the voice, to his displeasure it was none other than Dust Bowl. Crap just his luck, his eagerness had caught the attention of the servant of a spell-caster who had ordered her followers to take the life of any members of the Zhaoshang de Youhuan who strayed inside of her rather sizeable territory. Granted at the moment he was inside the territory claimed by Lord Khamsin and thus protected from assault by the strumpet and her thug, but clearly, she was out to spite him.

"Twenty-seven million," Qian Kai raised the current bid desperate to win the lot and thus ensure his continued survival after he returned home.

"Twenty-eight million," the woman raised the price of the current bid once again, silently Qian Kai cursed the individuals who chose to breed the wench into this world as well as the pit that her master had deigned to crawl out of in the first place.

"Twenty-nine million," Qian Kai raised the maximum bid once again desperate to ensure that he won the book and thus a chance at a longer continued existence.

"Thirty million," Dust Bowl raised her bid over his once again, Qian Kai almost swore that he could hear her laughing as she did so- mocking the fate that would befall him should he fail.

Qian Kai knew that his back was against the wall, there was nothing that he could do to escape his terrible fate other than throw everything that he had into this. "Sixty Million!" He knew that there was no coming back now, he had reached the maximum amount allotted to him by the Xue-jin Mushi should that wench or anyone else enter a higher bid he was doomed.

"Sold to Qian Kai for Sixty Million," Miss Bliss called out causing the man to go numb as she did so, on the one hand he (and thus the Zhaoshang de Youhuan) had lost any chance at acquiring the Zodiac Gemstones- for now at least, but on the other hand he had netted the Xue-jin Mushi a great prize this evening- one that was sure to mollify his master's wrath enough to ensure his continued survival. A low chuckle from Dust Bowl told him that the woman was aware that he had just exhausted his finances though- evidently the witch had read his emotions to tell just when he had spent everything available to him all so that she could take him out of contention to bid for the star item of tonight's auction which might not even be what the winner was given.

Still he thought that the joke was on her and everyone else in the room tonight, these Western conjurors and fools had no idea the prize that they had just passed over- a prize that Qian Kai knew that the secret of unlocking its true power might have been lost to the outside world but not to the Zhaoshang de Youhuan. Oh, what fools these barbarians are- they have no idea what they just gave up.

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Auction Stage
3:10 AM MDT

"Now with that out of the way ladies and gentlemen," Miss Bliss took a breath as The Crucial Keys to the Way of Peace left the stage on its way to the Merchants of Suffering's chosen pick-up location, "pardon me one moment while I check upon the status of the preparations to decide the contents tonight's final lot. Remember no matter the outcome of the match to follow the bidding that all sales are final- once you place your bet then you have shaken hands with the one-armed bandit, for once the wheels have begun to turn there is no going back."

Once again Denistasa stepped behind the stage granted that this time it was only for a brief reprieve. Catching the sight of her personal assistant Drisune holding a tray with a glass of ice and a bottle of Ozarka, taking a moment to pour half of the bottle into the glass, the former Winter Noblewoman inquired, "Is the ring fully prepared for the match?"

"Yes milady," Drisune replied with perfect manners as usual, "we have your outfit, robe and equipment awaiting you in your dressing room. Conversely one of Lord Khamsin's underlings named Dirge arrived with everything for this Mistral. We have escorted him to the Powder Room and ordered that he not be disturbed."

"Good, we don't want our land lord to accuse of trying to cheat him out of a fair fight." Denistasa remarked, "and speaking of fair- Dead-Zone is in the audience I would like a message passed on to him that I would appreciate him being the referee for the match, he could ensure that no one uses their powers and abilities to ensure the fight is ugh- fair."

"I know that this is unpleasant milady but surely you have the advantage," Drisune stated brimming with confidence, "even if this is mortal fisticuffs surely there is no way that a lady of winter would fall to some half-breed jinni- why that child looks like she hasn't even walked the Path of the Sun yet."

"I know but I still know better than to think that it will be too easy," Denistasa observed as she poured herself a second glass emptying the bottle, "even though she is an underage half-breed, djinni are tough it will still take me a while to take her down and in the mean time she might actually get lucky. Besides although we can't cheat that doesn't mean that the audience can't help me cheat."

Taking a moment to quaff her drink, Denistasa set the glass back on the table and steeled herself for the final lot of the auction and the match that lay ahead. "Alright it's showtime!"

The Underground Auction Hall - Solstice Lounge - Booth 13
3:19 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

My stomach began to tie in knots this was it, should I fail in the boxing match to come, whoever won this would take home either my grandfather's magic scrolls or Walt and the vambraces he was wearing.

Underground Auction Hall - Solstice Lounge
3:21 AM PDT

"Our final item this evening is a conditional auction," Miss Bliss began as she took the stage once again, "should I win the winner of this lot will take home the Zodiac Gemstones, their current wielder, and a thirteenth stone which has been offered up by Lord Khamsin to do with as they wish; however should I lose the following ten round experience the winner will take home a set of scrolls which will allow them to learn the fundamentals of Ancient Egyptian Sorcery up to the intermediate level."

"Such a dilemma the chance of either power for a few or knowledge for many, and unfortunately the only choice that is up to you this fine evening is do you take that risk. I open the bidding for this conditional auction at fifty million- do I hear fifty million?"

"Fifty million," Apis opened the bidding sure that there was no way that Miss Bliss could lose to a child who had no reputation what-so-ever, besides he was here on orders from his higher-ups in The Syndicate to reobtain the Zodiac Gemstones, and money appeared not to an object right now since they said they'd be backing him for the lot.

"Fifty-one million," Dust Bowl countered immediately outbidding the representative of The Syndicate.

"Fifty-two million," Lady Jettatura spoke-up raising her own paddle knowing that this auction was a win-win situation for her because either prize was a good one as far as she was concerned.

"Fifty-three million," Friar Rush raised his paddle for like Lady Jettatura this was a situation where either outcome was preferable, with the chance of either empowering a small group of loyal followers into his own akin to Bishop Brimstone's Savage Six.

"Fifty-four million," Hexmaster joined the bidding determined not to let a chance at the Zodiac Gemstones slip through his fingers.

"Fifty-five million," Strega countered knowing that either she would be doing a favor to her friend and colleague Greygus or else have a chance to study those scrolls with her daughter and add to their mystic arsenal.

Mr. Magic and Qian Kai looked on, neither having the funds to enter the heights to which the auction was soaring but wanting to wait for the outcome nonetheless each for their own reasons. Professor Id meanwhile was just enjoying the show, he had already taken an ample opportunity to examine the Zodiac Gemstones in the past after he had assisted the Zodiac Cartel following their murder of Captain Cosmos. Don Kulmatz was also staying out of the auction for reasons known only to him, then again, he was usually just interested in art or religious relics.

"Fifty-six million," Devilmaster joined the bidding likely interested in either potential prize like many of his fellow bidders.

"Fifty-seven million," Apis countered knowing that failure in this endeavor could potentially hurt his standing among the upper echelons of The Syndicate, besides he was already thinking of ways that he could tamper with the boxing match that would decide the prize.

"Fifty-eight million," Lady Jettatura continued her anticipation of victory mounting with every second.

"Fifty-nine million," Friar Rush raised the bar once again determined to throw every free dollar that he had into the fray.

"Sixty million," Dust Bowl chipped in again knowing that a loss was not something that she could risk, besides a win here would be a win for the Obsidian Circle of which both Mother Scratch and Lord Khamsin were a part.

"Sixty-one million," Hexmaster proclaimed wanting to stay in the running for the grand prize.

"Sixty-two million," Strega countered for the sake of her own personal honor.

"Sixty-three million," Apis raised the bidding again wanting those gems and the prestige that they would bring him for this victory.

"Sixty-four million," proclaimed Devilmaster as the bidding continued up to the point where a voice who had been silent the whole time stated, "Ninety-five million."

Everyone turned to look it was none-other than Don Kulmatz, their surprise had been enough to ignore the auctioneer until her gavel descended. "The final lot of the auction is sold to Don Kulmatz for Ninety-five million, this concludes this month's Midnight Auction. Now we will take a short break while the Lord Khamsin's representative and I ready ourselves for the match, please follow your servers to the arena."

The Solstice Lounge - Underground Arena
4:09 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

Dressed in the robes and gear that my uncle Anubis had waiting for me I made my way to the ring, while I was well experienced in this from a couple of years in the Silver Gloves this was my first time fighting in the lady's division. Wearing anything above the belt other than my head-gear felt...odd, and a sports-bra counted in those regards- the domino mask too (although this part just felt like a ridiculous necessity).

Ahead in the ring I could see Dead-Zone with a sizeable black-and-white striped referee shirt draped over his gear, despite his penultimate-master being a colleague of my grandfather's something told me that this man would not play favorites on this occasion. I could see that Anubis Dirge and of all people Danny, who I recognized despite the hood he was wearing (what can I say I've seen him from the back plenty of times) were waiting for me in my corner. Danny took my robe and Anubis handed me a mouth-guard, I knew the routine deep in my soul. As I made my way up the steps and inserted my mouth guard, I could see Miss Bliss do the same from across the ring.

We approached the center of the ring when we heard Dead-Zone begin to explain, "Alright this is going to be a fair-fight, ladies amateur boxing rules apply. Ten rounds, two-minute limit each when you hear the bell either return to your corner or come out- but I reserve the right to stop the match at any time- ready break!"

The two of us did as we were told, neither taking our eyes off one another. In the distance, I could finally see Walt, awake and unharmed but held by an odd-looking neck-collar attached to four-polls each held by a rather sturdy-looking man. No don't focus on Walt- remember what the coach always said never take your eyes off your opponent, right now there was just her and me no one else mattered.

As the bell rang we made our way to the center of the ring, briefly gauging each other the two of us danced in a counter-clockwise circle each of us daring one another to throw the first punch. Knowing that this couldn't go on for the entire round, I probed her defenses with a quick left-jab which Bliss quickly dodged and moved in for a left-cross that I only half-dodged. Quickly recovering I got out of the way when she followed up with a right-hook that was bound to ruin my day if it had connected.

Wanting to keep from risking an eventual TKO and finish determining her style I focused on blocking and switching up my stance to keep her guessing. Eventually the bell rang and using the location of that sound alone the two of us made our way back to our corners.

Danny and Dirge were there waiting with the standard rinse and spit a towel-off and Danny advice, "Good don't let her get to you too early on, remember what the Coach always told us "Make theme reveal their style and then use what you know to take them down."

The bell rang and Bliss and I returned to the center of the ring, while it was clear that she was also trying to gauge me at the same time that I was her- it was also clear that she was not an experienced boxer. This was not her preferred manner of fighting and though she knew how to throw a punch and keep her guard up it was also clear that she was having to go against her better honed fighting instincts.

While my training was also slightly working against me- what with my new body and everything- I was growing more and more used to how I moved in familiar territory with every second. As Bliss kept throwing punches at me and trying to get closer and closer as she did so it became increasingly obvious just what she was- she's a scrambler.

A few moments more on the defense and the bell ended round two, so once again Bliss and I retreated to our corners. As Dirge and Danny attended to me, I stated bad news guys- she's a scrambler.

"Drat, now Pa- I mean Mistral, I know that Boxers are usually at a disadvantage against scramblers but remember you have the experience she doesn't." Danny did his best to egg me on, "Just use what you remember from fighting with me and take her to town."

As the bell rang, I met Miss Bliss face to face for the third time and heeded Danny's advice. While boxers were normally at a disadvantage again scramblers, scramblers had a major problem against sluggers. Now I knew from training with Dirge that one brief session that I was a lot stronger than I used to be now that I was fighting in my real body and it was time to put that strength to good use.

I did my best to keep on the defensive while I waited for Bliss to accidentally leave an unintended gap in her own guard, using every trick and technique I dodged and blocked her until I spotted a gap that I could exploit.

'Her right-hook's over-extended,' I thought to myself, 'she accidentally leaves an opening on her right-side when she throws one.'

I was determined to take advantage of this when the bell rang, round three was over. "I know what I need to do." I whispered as best I could after Danny rinsed my mouth out. Offering no words and trusting my judgement I went to face Miss Bliss once again.

As with the last round I kept on the defensive, but this time I was just waiting for the right moment- then it came she fell for a feint that left me open for a right-hook. It worked like a charm I dodged Bliss's right-hook to my head and nailed her with one of my own- to her floating ribs.

When she staggered in pain, I followed up with a left-cross to her jaw; although was her head was protected by the head-gear she still felt the shock and surprise of the blow. I kept her reeling with a serious of random jabs until her blocking left a new opening for a hard- right-uppercut. As she staggered I kept up the pressure until the bell rung, while I made my way back to my corner just fine Miss Bliss was staggering about on the mat until she fell against the ropes. I just watched and waited while I rinsed and spit, for the bell to ring again.

Bliss was still waiting to get her feet to stay under her after that salvo that I gave her when the bell gave a quintuple ring, Dead-Zone had called the match on account of a TKO- I won. Dead-Zone once again hopped into the ring to raise my right-hand in victory. "On account of a TKO, I call the match on behalf of Mistral; the Zodiac Gems and their host go to Lord Khamsin and Don Kulmatz shall take custody of the Egyptian Magic Scrolls."

By the time, Danny and Dirge had me toweled off and with my robe on and my gloves and mouth-guard stored in oddly enough the same tote bag that started with whole mess, grandfather was guiding Walt towards us struggling as he pulled him towards where we were, "Let go of me, I'm not property and I'm not going to roll over and-"

"Come on big guy stop making an ass out of yourself," Danny spoke up, "we're here to rescue you- ya dork, now stop fighting while we get you to the others."

Hearing Danny's voice took the fight out of Walt, who was clearly exhausted from the whole ordeal. Meanwhile grandpa spoke up, "Dirge get these two back to their friends, I'm going to take Mistral to the Chapter House- it's time for the gathering of the Four Maidens."

"Understood Lord Khamsin," Dirge replied with a single crossed are as a storm of dust surrounded the both of us and I could felt myself moving much as I had when Dirge rescued us from Miss Bliss's men hours ago.

Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom - Las Vegas Chapter
4:48 AM PDT
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

I paused to reflexively dust myself off when grandfather and I appeared at our destination only to find that, despite the dust devil that I was just inside of, I didn't have a spec of dirt or sand on me.

"Give your grandfather some credit my dear," he laughed as he made a courtesy divider appear in the room, "I've had millennia to hone my control over my respective elements. Now that your friend is safe the two of us need to go on a little business trip, your grandmother saw fit to take your measurements and create a little something for you to use with input from your friends after they woke up; although feel free to keep it if you wish to do so, you might actually find it very handy in the future.

I paused to take in my surroundings, it felt like I was inside of the office of a CEO although the place clearly had a very Egyptian vide going for it. "Let me guess, this is your office?"

"Correct," grandfather stated as he sat down at his desk, "you are inside my office at the heart of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom's Las Vegas Chapter House. I hope you like the decor- I just had the place remodeled after I was revitalized, the old place just felt to musty; like it was the inside of a sorcerer's tomb, although I suppose that the analogy was an apt one at the time."

"By the way gramps," I continued as I stepped behind the privacy screen that he had thoughtfully materialized, "just where are we going?"

"Fortuna Noctis, the main citadel of the Obsidian Circle," grandpa continued as I could hear him opening what sounded like a refrigerator and pouring himself a drink, "you see my dear Iris, you are more than simply my granddaughter. Long ago, before the modern age of mankind there existed the True Kingdom of Atlantis. In this ancient land, the ancestors and cousins of modern man lived alongside faeries, merfolk, dragons and djinn in a loosely unified kingdom known as the Five-Fold Court."

I continued to listen as I got undressed, adding my boxing trunks, underwear, sports bra, socks and athletic shoes to the same bag as my gloves and hanging up my robe on a now empty mannequin. That was when I spotted the outfit on the other mannequin, yeah Danny and the gang had definitely helped grandma Nephy make this; the entire outfit looked like someone had chosen to assemble a luchadora outfit with and Egyptian theme. Even the mask, which was themed to resemble a horse, looked like an intermarriage of a luchadora's mask and the head of an ancient Egyptian deity. In all I couldn't get the thing on fast enough- I was stoked.

"The courts had aligned themselves in the first place to launch a united effort against races of Demons from beyond the reaches of our solar system, Demons who had invaded our reality who sought to conquer and infect this world as they had so many others." Grandpa Set continued as I got dressed behind the privacy screen, "While we did win and secure prosperity for our peoples for a multitude of generations that victory was not without its costs nor was it final. Those soldiers of our enemies fel armies that we did not defeat or imprison, hid themselves well in the dark places on the periphery of our world and bided their time."

"Eventually the darkness that our peoples had fought faded out of history into legend and from legend to myth, when this happened divisions began to occur among the Five-Fold Court as our races grew more concerned with their own affairs until such a time as fractures began to appear within each of the Courts rather than just between them- this was a time that those hidden demons had been waiting to come."

"You doubtlessly see it in the world around you every day, when society begins focusing on sides and divisions that gives rise to malcontents those of the lower rung who feel powerless- just the sort of people who those who dwell in the darkness prey upon. Those Demons hiding in the shadows of the world came seeking those malcontents to offer them power, wealth and prestige, a baited hook that some of those who were greedy or foolish enough bit. It was these grasping fools that began to form cults worshiping those Demons using the power that they had gained to draw in the desperate. In time a minor gathering of malcontent had become armies large enough to help their Demonic patrons' gain power and summon armies of their kind."

"By the time that the courts were aware of the threat to the point that they could no longer deny it the time for preventative measures and actions had passed, war was inevitable, but they were ill-prepared. Demons the likes of which you would never dare to see in your darkest nightmares were leading armies of treasonous cultists and twisted abominations. It was during this calamity that the event called the Sundering occurred, an abomination of faerie origin lead a collective of other twisted beings in an effort to destroy all of those who could dare oppose them with one final spell- just what happened afterwards was unknown but the end result shattered the world in such a way that nothing was ever the same."

"Eventually the peoples of the Five Courts began to pick ourselves up from the ashes, but something had changed- the world was damaged and had become a shell of its former self. Fortunately, one of the late faerie queens had learned of what was to occur and with a prophecy learned of four children who would be born in the future, each would be a girl born of mixed origin, half a member of the Center Court and half a member of one of the other Courts with one for each court. Those children when they were at the cusp of coming of age would gather at the midnight hour and it is then that they will learn of the full scope of their destiny. So, my dear Iris, are you dressed yet?"

"Yeah grandpa," I replied as I stepped out from behind the blind, fully-garbed, "so the other three and I are going to meet and learn what we need to do."

"Correct my dear, you and the other three maidens are about to meet for the first time," Grandpa Set explained as he got up from his desk, "now follow me."

As we made our way down the halls of this Grand Hall I had to pause and admire the architecture, that was when my grandfather paused at a clearly Ancient Egyptian statue that fractured and reformed into a long stone corridor. "Come my dear it is time that you meet your fellow Cardinal Maidens- as well as long past time for you to meet your father."

"What?!?" I exclaimed as I followed grandfather inside as the entrance shut behind us.

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2 years 9 months ago - 2 years 9 months ago #50304 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 29 Notes

The following auction items are credited to DanZilla : Dr. Amos Messing's nanites, the Dragon's Teeth, the Death Dealer's Last Hand, and the Plans for Cataclysm's Underwater Bombs. Thanks for all your help with this chapter.
Last Edit: 2 years 9 months ago by Insane Hiker.
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2 years 8 months ago #50719 by Insane Hiker
Insane Hiker replied the topic: Songs of the Compass Roses - One Wild Weekend
Part 30

Fortuna Noctis
12:07 HADT
POV: Duanzaolong, Rose of the North

I walked with the three great heroes of Xuanzang's pilgrimage as well as one of their most powerful opponents turned disciple of Guanyin, Hai-er Hong, who marched with me at the center of a bar-cross formation. I don't think that any of us were willing to take our eyes off Baron Impié, the man who lead us down this hallway that he had literally summoned out of the ground.

"So, does anyone know anything about this guy?" I asked my group of escorts/body-guards in standard mandarin trying to keep our conversation secret, "I mean I was liberated from one faction of the Grand Hall a while back, I don't want to be enslaved to another."

"Do not worry maiden of the earth's hearths," Hai-er Hong spoke up as he tapped his spear against the path as we walked along, "as a fellow former slave to that lot I will die before I see anyone in bondage to them again, and make those who try to do so regret their course of action." Were my power's acting up because it was feeling a little warmer in here- no it must just be these stuffy corridors- yes that's all it is- nothing but stuffy corridors.

"Keep it in your pants Red," Wukong Sun remarked as we kept pace, "I've heard about this guy, and attacking him is a big mistake. He's marked, I don't know the particulars, but he must have pissed off someone very powerful because they marked Baron Impié off limits to anyone else. That means that anyone who attacks him will regret it... not live to regret it mind you- just regret it."

"The gender-bent simian is correct you know," Baron Impié replied in flawless mandarin as he turned to smile at us from beneath his opera mask, "although I welcome you to try, three unexpected guests are much easier to accommodate than four."

"So, you know how to speak Mandarin," Bajie observed.

"Actually, I am fluent in a great many languages from that region including Jin, Huizhou, Gan, Min, Xiang, Ping, Amoy, Fuzhou, Hakka, Cantonese, Taihu, Taizhou, and Xuanzhou." Baron Impié bragged with a wry smile, "I know that isn't all of them, but I make it a point to try and broaden my horizons, when you've been alive as long as I have it pays to make use of empty time."

"Then I guess trying to keep our conversations secret around you is useless," I shot back.

"Unfortunately, even telepathy wouldn't allow you to have secret conversation in this place. If you possessed that gift you'd soon learn that the broadcast thoughts of guests just echo off the walls of this citadel for all to hear. So far the only conversations that can be kept secret inside these walls are those through the link between a master and their familiar." The warlock explained as he resumed guiding us to our destination.

"Out of concern for my student just where is this Fortuna Noctis?" Sha Wujing asked our gracious host, "I would be less concerned if you would at least share that much with us."

"I'm afraid that with the Fortuna Noctis our location is more a matter of when than where." Baron Impié explained, "the location of this citadel changes every hour to a new location across the globe, but there is always one constant no matter what. For you see wherever we are it is always between the stroke of midnight and one in the morning, and the split second before the clock strikes one the entire citadel hops to a new location."

"Where the clock has just struck midnight," Wukong observed from Baron Impié's explanation, "yeah that fits from what I've heard about the Obsidian Circle over the years. You lot love to work in the dark and in the shadows, even convinced most of the world that almost all of you bought the farm."

"A necessary ruse I'm afraid," the Baron sighed as if in annoyance, "while we had to come out of the shadows for the purpose of helping found the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom in the first place to suit one of the many items on our agenda, staying public in such a manner for too long was counter-productive at the time. So, one by one we fell to the heroes of the age and thus could once again operate in secret- until we needed to emerge again when another item in our agenda was about to bear fruit."

"The maidens of the courts you mentioned," I interrupted, "I know that I'm one from The Wayfarer that the others are a fairy, a mermaid, and a genie but why do you need us? Just what is all this about?"

Despite the brief flash of fear that I saw when I mentioned Kelsey's job title this Baron Impié's demeanor returned as if he was unfazed by that nugget of information. "I'm afraid that the answer to that question will have to wait for the arrival of the Southern Maiden, as for the Eastern and Western Maidens- although they have arrived their room is rather crowded. So, I'm afraid that you and your...entourage shall have to await the arrival of the Southern Maiden in the Salon Enchanteresse."

Soon our host reached for the wall when a fancy pair of doors appeared whose crystal knobs he was already griping. With flourish Baron Impié opened the pair of doors to a finely decorated room that looked like it was out of a period film set in a European Mansion. All around us I could see works of art that I could tell from several willing school field trips to the Seattle Art Museum (and a few extracurricular ones) reflected every period of western art since the fall of the Roman Empire, there were even a few Chinese and Korean works whose styles were went back centuries. "I wonder how many places you had to rob to line these walls?" I muttered to myself.

"None I am proud to say," Baron Impié remarked with a wry smile as he guided us inside the expensively furnished gallery, "all of these works were purchased legally over the centuries and are preserved and maintained by the magic of our citadel, some were even commissioned from artists who later came to be famous in their own right. We even have a few Van Gogh's that are completely unknown to the outside world, those an attaché of mine actually purchased from poor Vincent for the price of enough food to fill his cupboards- truly a master who was unappreciated in his own time."

The warlock actually looked like he felt sad over the thought of the depressed and impoverished Dutch Impressionist, "Please feel free to relax and enjoy the accommodations, someone shall be along shortly to see to your needs."

As our host stepped outside the double doors and shut them behind him as he did so, the entrance to the room vanished only to be replaced by a full-figured portrait, something told me that smashing our way out of here was a non-option.

"This sorcerer clearly underestimates who he has in this room," Hai-er stated as his eyes and mouth began to glow white.

"Whoa, hold your horses," I shouted as I leaped in front of Hai-er, "I doubt that would actually work and even if it did we don't know anything about this place or even where we are. Plus, it's an outright crime in my eyes to deface a Botticelli in a botched escape attempt."

"Duanzaolong has a point," Sha Wujing explained as he carefully set his yueyachan in the slots of a free-standing weapon's rack that had appeared in the room. "Also, judging by our host's explanation of this fortress's mechanics of place, we are currently somewhere in the Pacific at the moment, and may not even be on dry land at present. To attempt to escape with such limited information would be foolish. In any likelihood we’re not his only 'guests' and if we needed to escape chances are weed need to rescue the other three maidens. So, let's first see just how this gathering of the Four Maidens turns out while we learn as much as we can. After that we shall contemplate escape, that is should we find that such an action is truly necessary."

12:24 AM IDLW
POV: Mistral, Rose of the South

As grandfather and I walked into the hallway I took in the architecture around me, so this was the Fortuna Noctis the fortress that my grandfather and countless others of the Obsidian Circle created over the course of centuries. According to uncle Anubis this was where the Circle routinely met to plan and decide how best to defend the world and fight back against the greatest threat that the world ever knew, the Great Old Ones a collective term that many used to describe numerous warped abominations from beyond the stars, as well as from beyond reality itself.

I didn't know exactly how I was going to do it but apparently, my destiny as the Southern Maiden had something to do with these unfathomable demons, and I was soon going to find out. "Well grandpa, I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be to meet the others and learn everything."

"That can wait for a little bit my dear," grandfather responded as he guided me to a door that appeared in the side of the wall. "First there is someone who has been waiting too long to meet you."

As we stepped inside I saw a garden with a man and a woman arguing by a bench, "-what if we have nothing in common, I mean she's grown up raised by a monster who treated her like scum. What is she blames me for not coming to save her?"

"Greygus, you had no idea that she had even existed, nor could you have known. The Cult of the Black Pharaoh abducted her mother and made it look like the woman had died in another act of Drug Cartel violence." The woman whose face I saw was hidden behind a porcelain mask which looked like she had shed a tear chided the man whose name identified him as my father, so this is who my grandfather meant. "Besides something tells me that she's far more eager to meet you than you would care to admit."

"Daddy," I all but squeaked out as I unmasked showing the man my face as he turned to meet my eyes, I could see the similarities is his attire to what Anubis was when he came to rescue me from that ogre, granted there were differences. Unlike Uncle Anubis dad's armor was clearly meant more for direct combat, there was less style and more substance which spoke more of a practical need than embellished details. Another key difference was the head while the both had a helm that was canine in appearance dads was broader and less pointy, clearly based off a predator rather than a scavenger, granted I knew that the design wasn't a cosmetic one.

My father just stood there for a moment as if in shock, then in the blink of an eye he had swapped me up in his arms in a powerful hug, almost like he was afraid that if he let go I would fade away and cease to be. "I'm sorry- I'm so sorry," Dad sobbed as tears cascaded down his muzzle, "I didn't know what really happened. I thought that your mother died in one of the pointless skirmishes between the Cartels. If I had known..."

"There still would have been nothing you could have done," I did my best to reassure him, "I didn't even notice the truth about who I was for years until that shell I was stuffed inside got a crack in it big enough for me to use my powers to see the truth."

After wiggling out of his firm paternal hug, not that I minded it felt nice having a parent who really cared, but now wasn't the time- later maybe but not now. "Uncle Dirge said that I'm what's called a psychometrist, I can read the past from objects, that's how I started to learn the truth the shell around my hands must have touched my real skin on my face allowing me to see the truth."

"The vision didn't happen to show you where your mother is did it?" Father asked clearly desperate for answers.

"Unfortunately, all I learned was be being born and then sealed inside that- I guess that it was a golem," I sadly told him the truth, "the only thing that I have of her is a memory of her face and her voice, but I can probably learn more using the shards and my powers later."

"Fine but just know that I'll do my best to help you piece this together and find her," dad promised as he patted me on the shoulder before giving it a firm squeeze, "I can't promise that I'll ever be able to make up for all of the time that we missed together as a family but the least that I can do is help us come to together as one."

"Are you sure?" I asked hopeful that it was the case, "I mean if that memory was right after I was born than it happened fifteen years ago. Are you sure that the people who arranged all of this would keep her alive all this time?"

"If this is the group that I think it is than your father is correct," grandpa began to explain doing his best to reassure me, "magic has rules- especially certain varieties of magic. To help ensure that shell they trapped you would grow with you they needed her alive to maintain the spell. As for now she is either being used as a hostage or as bait, but don't worry we shall find them and then they will learn the folly of their ways."

"If you would pardon me I think it would be best that I get ready for the ceremony," the woman who had been consoling my dad began to make her way out of the room clearly wanting to let us have a family moment.

"Pardon me miss," I called out wanting to get the masked woman's attention, "I just wanted to thank you for trying to console my dad."

"Actually my dear it's misses, but I am more commonly known as Madam Eventide," the masked woman replied as she looked me over, "I gather you are the Southern Maiden, something tells me you're going to be beating the boys off with a stick when you get to the Academy. I shall leave you to get caught up with your family my dear."

After she left one thing crossed both my mind and my lips, "Academy?"

"The Whateley Academy my dear," Grandpa explained as he took a seat on the now vacant bench, "an academic boarding school for mutants as well as occasional empowered teenagers. Actually, the Eastern and Western Maiden both attend that school, and the Eastern Maiden's mother is the Headmistress."

"So, let me guess," I slightly deflated as a bitter conclusion crossed my mind, "I'll be going there too." I knew that this was too good to be true, I finally met my real family only to be thrust away from them soon after."

"Maybe when the next school year rolls around," Grandfather replied, "you do need some time to get to know the real you as well as learn more about our culture. There is also your coming of age ceremony in a few months that we shall have to prepare for, besides we won't be too far- Erzebet Scratch has a private villa a couple of counties over so one of us can always drop in to visit on the weekends or whenever you need us."

"No joke," Greygus chuckled as a smile crossed his muzzle, "knowing mom I wouldn't be surprised if she stops by to visit her new granddaughter every few days and embarrass the hell out of you in the process."

"Besides, while I know that your friend Daniel is the real deal and Walter was obviously cared enough for you to risk his life, the fact of the matter is your false life as Paul Ledoux is over." Grandpa explained with a sigh, "You can hardly return to your old school as you are now, the fact that you are counted among the sub-group of humanity known as mutants now means that you have a different target on your back- one with far more people willing to attack you then for your former self's romantic-preference. That coupled with the fact that you will already be monitored or targeted by a number of other groups for your parentage means that you need a more secure location to learn how to use your abilities, and we don't want the Scarlet Sands to come to feel like a home to you not some manner of prison akin to an ivory tower."

I wanted to open my mouth to object to what grandpa was saying but I knew he was right, even if my new home was actually feeling like a home there would still be times that you'd want to get out of the house and see the world. The problem with getting out of that house was knowing just who my family was that meant that leaving the house could be a dangerous affair, especially since that house was in a city that was a Mecca for vacationers cut from many clothes, my family's enemies could literally hide in a crowd and I'd never see them coming.

"And the other maidens are there already?" I asked as my perspective began to clear. "Won't that mean that I'll be behind them?"

"Iris Maria Seguin, you need to understand that just because they are a little older than you and have a little more experience than you- does not mean that you are any less important." Dad looked at me and I could swear that as he did it was as if he not only looked at me but into me as well. "If anything, it means that you have girls a year older than you to help show you the ropes around school, if you besides if you get to know them you might actually make a couple of new friends in the bargain."

I smiled at that thought, I couldn't help it, almost every kid I knew dreaded the thought of being forced to pick up and move to a new place whoever knows how far away, torn away from the people who they care about. Thankfully I only had a handful of people who fit that bill, for the most part my home in Boulder City was a collection of bad memories; the woman who raised me turned out to be nothing more than a mercenary who worked for the monsters that kidnapped my mother- monsters who still had her...somewhere. Probably the same pit where I was born and trapped in that shell, I know that I still didn't know where she was, but I knew that as soon as I could that I would help dad rescue her.

I just wanted this moment to last a little longer that was why the sound to the door opening behind us made my heart turn heavy, I turned to face the entrance to find a feminine marionette with a crystal ball for a head standing in the door-way. "I hate to interrupt this family moment Greygus, you know that no one values spending time with their children like I do, but the Western and Eastern Maidens are now awake and ready- it is time that the four learn of their coming trials as well as their destinies."

"I know Mistress Nyx," dad deflated with a deep sigh, "I just wish that we had more time together before...you know she finds this all out."

"I know Greygus," Mistress Nyx sighed in her hauntingly echoed voice, "however if there is one thing that I know it's that we can't keep children from growing up, it is just unfair how you were never allowed to watch her grow up."

"If the universe was fair we would never have to worry about extra-dimensional demons like the Old Ones wreaking havoc upon reality." Grandpa growled, "That is why it is up to beings of free agency such as ourselves to make the universe fair one battle at a time."

"It still doesn't make this any easier dad," dad grit his teeth while he punched a column whose cracks healed as soon as he withdrew his fist, "can I at least be there with her when she learns of her destiny?"

"Son, you know the rule that we agreed upon so long ago," Grandfather sighed as he steeled himself against my father's pleas, "Other than the seated members of the Obsidian Circle and the Four Maidens, the only one allowed to be here during the ceremony is a single representative of the Grey Barrow, and that is Fray."

"It still doesn't make this any easier," Greygus deflated almost as if what was about to happen knocked the wind right out of him.

"If any of this were easy the Circle would be bigger than it is," Mistress Nyx stated, "Lord Khamsin, if you would accompany the Southern Maiden and I to the Chamber of Clarity, it is time for the destinies of the Four Cardinal Maidens to be revealed to them."

I knew that there would be no arguing to get out of this, something told me that some of the other members of the Obsidian Circle might be far less...accommodating to me than grandpa, Madam Eventide and Mistress Nyx had been. Besides this would be my first meeting with my fellow maidens I didn't want to make a bad first impression, that and the fact that I was about to meet a fairy, a mermaid and a dragon all at once was enough to stoke the fires of curiosity within me.

I continued to follow grandfather and Mistress Nyx down the corridors of the Obsidian Circles with butterflies in my stomach becoming increasingly better at making themselves known. Eventually, far sooner than I had hoped, we found our way at the end of a hallway where a foreboding metal double-door appeared. I balked for a moment before reapplying my mask, "Alright Mistral- time to meet your fellow maidens."

No longer willing to let my fear hold me back I pushed upon the door, which pushed inward, and stepped through- it was time for me to meet the others and learn my *GULP* destiny.

Chamber of Clarity - Fortuna Noctis
12:00 AM MAGT

The Chamber of Clarity was an oddly designed room and just as oddly furnished, it was a rotunda with four doors equidistant from each other that faced an odd set of tables with three pivoting chairs in the center of the room. The chairs (with the exception of one vacant spot) were seated around a single round-table in the exact center of the room each with a curved table behind them that looked like they would form a ring if they were fit from end to end. Meanwhile in the alcove between the doors there was another set of tables and chairs many of which were currently occupied.

All around the room most of the Obsidian Circle waited patiently for the moment to come Mister Domino, Dame Hollefeuer, Conté Enigma, Bishop Brimstone, Madam Eventide and Don Astio waited for their remaining colleagues as well as their five guests. At once the four doors of the room flew open through each stepped the last member of their order Erzebet Scratch, Lord Khamsin, Mistress Nyx and Baron Impié as well as the chosen representative of the Grey Barrow Fray, and accompanying those five were the true guests of the evening the four Cardinal Maidens.

The Northern and Southern Maidens carefully sized up the Eastern and Western Maidens, as well as each other and everyone else in the room. While the Eastern and Western Maidens did size up their Northern and Southern counterparts they were far better at maintaining their composure over the current situation as they did so. Nevertheless, comfort or not all made their way down to the vacant chairs in the center of the room, baring the Eastern Maiden who simply rolled her borrowed wheel-chair into the vacant place between the Northern and Southern Maidens with the Western Maiden there to give her support (an act that she reciprocated).

The composures of the four could not have been any different from one another:

Zhen-yu Chen, the Northern Maiden who chose the moniker of Duanzaolong could not have been wound any tighter, here she was the unwilling guest of a faction of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom for the second time in her life, and while they had done nothing to earn her enmity they had yet to truly do anything to earn her trust either. There was also the matter of the other three maidens, they were still too much of an unknown to Duanzaolong and she still resented the fact that the Western Maiden had been allowed to escape the torment of captivity that she had to experience as a slave of the Merchants of Suffering.

Randi Bridges, the Western Maiden who had gone by the identity of Faolan even before she learned of her place among the other three was keeping her emotions in check. Faolan did not trust any of the Obsidian Circle given her unpleasant experience where she technically died from her second encounter with their machinations and the first had left her with mental scars that remained even after she was exorcised prior to the death of her original body. The Circle hadn't even let her bring Jane to this gathering insisting that she was not allowed.

Beatrice Carson, the Eastern Maiden also known as Aletheia had yet to have any direct encounters with the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom before today either in her admittingly short life of autonomy or through Cytheria. Tonight, however she had experience both evil and ambivalence from the Grand Hall, the evil of the Children of the Night who had unleashed wanton destruction in the forms of both a horde of the undead as well as havoc from a series of incendiary explosives around the city that least who knew how many dead and injured not to mention homeless as they had their lives destroyed all so that they could lure herself and Faolan out in to the open to kill them. To counter-balance the wanton destruction of the Children of the Night had been their rescue by the operatives of the Obsidian Circle who while equally brutal from what she had seen, had yet to demonstrate any direct harm to them and even sought to accommodate their visit; she also had to admit that Greygus and Miseo as hosts went were made every effort to be amicable, or as far as they could given their order's.

Iris Seguin the newly revealed Southern Maiden, who had chosen the codename Mistral on a whim, was intimidated and overwhelmed but not by the Obsidian Circle or even by her surroundings. No, Mistral was overwhelmed by how much her life had changed over the simple course of a day. She had learned that her mom was actually an accessory to kidnapping both her and her biological mom, that she was a girl literally trapped in a guy's body (a situation that was now rectified), that her father and grandfather were not only supervillains but also djinn that had been worshiped as gods by the Ancient Egyptians, but on top of all of that she had some sort of grand destiny that involved the three girls across the table from her who were just as much dragon, fairy or mermaid as she was djinn- the entire thing was just so unbelievable that she was still coming to terms with how incredible her life had turned out to be.

The four girls simply say in silence waiting for one of them to say something- anything about what all this was about, to their shock the one to speak up wasn't any of them...it was Fray. "I know that the four of you are wondering why you are here and what all this is about, unfortunately that is a long story- a long story without a happy ending. Now then I would please ask for the four of you save questions and comments for the end."

"Eons before the current age of man," Fray began his tale as an image projected from the table between the four. "The world was divided not between simply countries, but between races as well. Countless groups in loosely organized nations fought each other for territory and resources much like they do today either through conflict, subterfuge, alliance or diplomacy, but underneath it all were races of people simply trying to do what they could to ensure their legacies and the future of their children."

"Records of this time were spotty because much was lost in the events to follow; what was recorded was that one day there was a series of violent tremors, not simple earthquakes mind you but a feeling like the very fabric of reality was damaged, For a time people tried to shrug it off as nothing but not much time had passed before the consequences of those tremors made themselves known, that was the day something had made their way into our dimension beings that we know today as the Great Old Ones."

"These beings were so alien, that not only were they abhorrent to behold but they also held little regard for the lives and well-being's of any creature they came across. These invaders saw as much value in the inhabitants of this world as you would a colony of ants, and some were just as amused to break out the insecticide and the magnifying glass. We have no real record of just how long this terror went on for, however what we do know is that Gaea a powerful denizen of the group that humanity was a part of rose up, rallied and united all of the peoples of that ancient planet and wagged a war the likes of which this world has not seen before or since."

"After the conflicts died down the Old Ones that didn't flee for their lives were either dead or imprisoned, this was the beginning of the time known as the Five-Fold Courts of with the first incarnation of Atlantis at its center. Unfortunately, this undertaking was not without its prices, many were lost in the fight, so peoples were even wiped out of existence. Still in spite of the loss, peace was won and for a time a golden age descended upon the Earth, life was fruitful, and trade-routes were opened to the denizens of distant worlds."

The four looked on as the images of daily life in ancient cities inhabited by each of the Five-Courts played out before them, Faolan saw the ancient version of what she had experienced on her sojourns to the Goblin Market (albeit with less darkness and more vibrancy), while Aletheia marveled at more scenes akin to those she observed in the Hall of Echoes. Mistral studied intently at the daily life of the djinn, her people as they went about their daily lives even with children playing some manner of ball game making use of elemental manipulation. Duanzaolong initially tried to ignore the images that played out before her yet grew intrigued as she began to see things that bared a distant resemblance to the various customs she recognized from her home in the Seattle International District.

"Sadly, such prosperity is never meant to last, for eventually the memory of the great battles fought against the Old Ones faded- into half-forgotten legend. When the memory of Demonic Horrors who shook the very fabric of reality became reduced to mere boogey men, eventually people also began to forget reason for the comradery and similarities that bonded them together and they once again began to see the differences. It was around this time that the unthinkable happened, Queen Gaea who united the world and saved all those who dwelled upon it from an unspeakably ghastly fate fell into a deep-slumber from which none could awaken her."

"This was evidentially all it took, the news that Gaea, the great queen who had united all was no longer in power, was no longer present for the peace to begin to deteriorate. Despite the best efforts of her seven powerful daughters who did their best to rule in her stead, the Five-Fold Court began a gradual descent into Civil War. The Four Kingdoms on the periphery saw no need to so closely ally themselves with the seemingly vacant throne of Atlantis and became more insular, first figuratively and then literally. The monarchs of the four lands saw no need to remain as united as they had been a began to split their lands from the super-continent of Pangaea." The four maidens looked on as disagreements sparks riots, and then uprisings until the land itself began to break apart, yet despite being about as normal as such a thing could be it looked like something more was happening.

"What the monarchs of these lands, many of whom were beginning to further divide the territories of these Courts among themselves, did not realize was that by destabilizing the structure of the continent as they had also destabilized the prisons of the long captive Old Ones. While these cracks were not yet wide enough for these demons to free themselves, it was more than enough for the most devious among them to begin sowing seeds that would see their eventual liberation."

"The Old Ones most effective tool then as now was reaching out with whispered promises of power, wealth and prestige to those who were ambitious and avaricious enough to listen. Eventually those who could be lured into serving them by founding cults and attracting those desperate enough to cast aside common sense for easy answers or purpose. Eventually these cults grew in power enough to widen the cracks in those prisons allowing their masters to return, as if this was not bad enough many of the leaders of those cults had been so warped and changed by their master's that they began to cast aside who they once were to become abominations themselves."

Faolan and Aletheia both steeled their thoughts, each of them knew of two individuals who served as perfect examples to what Fray was referring to namely The Bastard and Dagon. Meanwhile Mistral began to wonder if the Black Pharaoh that her grandfather had mentioned was one of these warped cult leaders.

"At first the leaders of the now factionalized courts considered these cults a nuisance and tried to stamp them out, often to little effect, sadly by the time the leaders of the Five Courts recognized the true magnitude of the threat they were under it was too late. Never the less as in times long past those of the Courts pulled together to fight the now reemerging Old Ones, yet without Gaea all they could manage was a stalemate."

"That was when a corrupted fae lycanthrope cult leader came up with a spell, a vile work of arcane devilry that would kill most of the leadership while further fracturing reality to allow further Old Ones to gain access to our world. Fortunately, the spell that he cast that dark day was interrupted, for the corrupt one did not know that Queen Aunghadheil of the fae was aware of his plans and sought to stop him no matter the cost. Leading her fellow fae queens in secret far behind the lines of the Old Ones armies, Queen Aunghadheil proceeded to interrupt the spell and cause it to violently disperse."

The Maidens looked on in awe at the nine magnificent fae who fought The Bastard with all they had, Faolan and Aletheia were in shock at just how much Fey back at Whateley had grown to resemble a far younger Aunghadheil. Mistral was actually in awe of what she saw unfolding, as well as the fierce and magnificent beauty of the fae queens. Duanzaolong meanwhile had her face screwed in conflict, just what was racing through her mind.

"While the dark spell did not work as intended there were far reaching consequences when it failed; the entire earth shattered with entire continents falling into newly formed dimensional rifts, the ancient artifacts and wonders that the people of the Courts depended on were lost or broken, indeed the Earth as it had been for countless ages was no more."

As if to illustrate this fact the Maidens observed as large swaths of land broke off and drifted away from the planet. Eventually though everything began to stabilize, that was when Faolan and Duanzaolong both noticed patterns to these broken away swaths of land, thankfully though they kept this to themselves...for the moment.

"In time the dust settled, and people began to start over. Some did their best to recreate what had been lost," images flashed of the dragons and Tianshin crafting new homes in the Jade Heavens and several djinn and daemons getting to work shaping new homelands, even groups of merfolk sought to create new kingdoms some even with the Earth's seas. As well as bands of Fae trying to make the wildlands a new home.

"Some simply forgot and tried to move on and start over from scratch choosing to forget the horrors that they had witnessed unfold," the maidens watched at the modern age of man arise from hunter gatherers, to city states and modern nations.

"Some however chose to recreate the past in their own image seeking out power and dominance rather than the obligation that a ruler would have to their people." Faolan and Mistral winced as they saw the rise of the Courts of Summer and Winter as well as the followers of Iblis who had to be sealed by the followers of Solomon.

"If only things had stayed this way there would be little need for either the Obsidian Circle or the Grey Barrow, however the Old Ones were only thwarted not defeated many were simply thrown back inside their damaged cages by this Sundering. No all the Old Ones needed was time, time to rebuild their cults and lick their wounds. Some still had sufficient power to cause considerable mayhem through their followers though, one merman named Dagon, a priest in the Cult of Cthulhu, showed this in spades. He actually cursed the entire world with the spilled blood of a triton king to twist all merfolk not of royal blood over time into violent soulless monsters."

Faolan, Mistral and Duanzaolong blanched as they saw a beautiful mermaid violently transform into a feral deep one, while Aletheia wept at the sight of the unfortunate woman who had her mind, future and even her soul torn away by Dagon's terrible curse.

"Indeed, the Old Ones continue to work such vile acts through their followers until this very day and there is only so much that anyone can do at present to stop them." That was when a series of odd images appeared on the map of the shattered world, "You see as I mentioned when The Sundering Shattered the world, leaving pieces of it stuck between dimensions it also damaged the ancient natural wonders and miraculous artifacts that helped mystical essence properly gather and flow into the world, artifacts which connected the Four Peripheral Courts to the Center and to the Center through each other. While there are a number of stop gaps in place throughout the world to serve for the time being, they are limited by a number of factors and far less efficient."

"The problem with repairing and healing these great objects of power though is that in many cases the very measures that were put into place to protect them from being tampered with or destroyed have made them hard to get to, in other cases it was that no one had the skills needed to do the job. Finally, the one to repair each of the relics had to have something else in their job requirement, as these artifacts and wonders job was to connect the courts to the Center, so to must those who would heal and repair them be a bridge between those two lands."

"That is right each of you, your status as a hybrid between the Court of the Center and one of the peripheral courts, and the powers that you wield which sets you apart from what is considered normal from full breeds of your other court. Both of these will aid you in repairing these connections and helping the world heal, now none of these tasks are easy and each could very likely get you killed, that is why we need to help you learn every skill and master every ability so that you can not only complete the task assigned to you by destiny but also return alive."

"Duanzaolong, Maiden of the North, doubtlessly you are aware of your ability to manufacture gemstones using pyrokinesis and the appropriate raw material. There is a reason this is important for your destiny. You must ascend the phantasmal Mount Sang hua xie to repair the Talisman of Hengxing, replacing broken and shattered gems and crystals with new ones so that the stellar winds may be harnessed properly once again by the Tianshen of the Northern Court. Sadly, you cannot do so with your skills at what they are now as well as with such mundane flames, to that end you must train with the Handmaiden of the Tao and harmonize with the soul of your ancestor Qianbei Zunyan whose heart became the Handmaiden's sword. You must also be careful to never linger on the mountain until for too long because should you remain upon it when the sun sets you would risk joining the lost souls wandering that Mount San hua xie."

"Faolan, Maiden of the West, you are unique amongst the fae possessing both innate mystic ability as well as true shapeshifting, needing neither gift to harness the abilities of the other. You must use these powers to enter the Forest of Díthreabh which no being of civilization must tread upon and repair the damaged root of the world tree Yggdrasil with a graft so that the magic of nature will naturally flow through the Earth once more. However, at present you have yet to truly embrace the soul of the wild within you; moreover, you lack the versatility of glamour that would allow you to suppress the touch of civilization. To suit both ends you must take part in a walkabout to find the soul of the wolf within you and achieve the balance that you lack in yourself, because if you fail to be seen as a being who is a part of nature then the protectors of the Forest will strike you down without hesitation. Moreover you must also take care not to anger the serpent Nidhogg, the beast draws nourishment from the sap of the World Tree that it laps from an exposed root in the same pool as the damaged root."

"Aletheia, Maiden of the East, you are unique among the merfolk even of royal blood with your gift of healing. You must travel to the hidden part of the seas that lay at the edge of reality not meant for mortals to enter colloquially known as Davey Jones's Locker. It is at the center of this for place that you shall find the Chalice of Selána a vast and mysterious coral reef that distills the power of the moon for all the Eínain of the Eastern Court to thrive and fill the seas with abundance. Sadly, your healing gift is not yet developed to what it needs to be for such an undertaking, that is why saving the life of Qingu the last of the Tritons is so vital for it shall be the first step in unlocking the full potential of your powers for until you do so then healing the Chalice will be beyond your capabilities."

"Last but not least Mistral, Maiden of the South, your gift of psychometry is in many ways a curse. You have to power to observe the past simply by coming into contact with an object and focusing; though given the nascent weakness of the djinn to objects that are broken or destroyed this can be a risky ability. However, this ability will be essential to your own task. The penultimate solar ship of the djinn, the Sword of Shu crashed and broke into pieces in the Desert of Eloache Belhanach and broke into pieces, thankfully djinn construction is such that if those pieces can be reassembled with enough effort. The issue is that the plans to do so were destroyed during the Sundering so you must excavate the pieces of the vessel and reassemble it properly using your powers. The fact that you are a wind djinn will also work in your favor because the Desert of Eloache Belhanach is not composed of sand, but instead formed by the crumbled ruins of the first civilization of the Earth a place whose name was considered even a myth during the reign of Gaea, were you an earth djinn this would task would prove fatal, and an ifrit would find it impossible."

"Each of your task is dangerous; fortunately, your time to face your destiny's as the Cardinal Maidens, this gives you adequate time to prepare for each of these tasks, it also gives adequate chances for those who would seek to prevent each of you from achieving those destinies to do everything in their power to stop any or all of you including ending your lives. Make no mistake there are those who will seek to prevent the future that your various successes would bring for any number of reasons, from the perceived threat to the sovereignty of their people to the servants of the Great Old Ones who would seek to end your lives on principal to earn their master's favor. So not only must you hone your powers and skills to succeed in your destined task, you must do so to stay alive both until then and afterwards."

"Now that all of that is said and you understand the sheer scope of the task that lay ahead of each of you in the future that is to come, do you have any questions?" For the time being however none of the Cardinal Maidens said a thing, each of them was stunned over the sheer magnitude of their true destinies the four teenage girls were literally stunned into silence.

Seeing that he was not going to get a single question of the four demi-mutants for the moment, much to the amusement of the members of the Obsidian Circle who looked on from around the room. "Well I see that the four of you are likely far too exhausted from the events of the day for a question and answer session, I shall leave you to one of your hosts to escort you to the guest chambers which have been specially prepared for you so that you may rest."

Taking a que Erzebet Scratch stood from her seat and made his way towards the center of the room where the four maidens awaited, "As Fray has no doubt surmised the four of you are likely exhausted and need some place private both to introduce yourself to each other, as well as get some much-deserved rest. So please follow me and I shall escort you to the Chamber of Somnus." Numbly the four followed their host to their room with Faolan pushing Aletheia's wheelchair as they exited the rotunda, to be joined by Jane once more as they went each mulling over the magnitude of what had been unveiled to them just now.

Rather sooner than most of them would have liked the mystic mafia Dona touch the side of the corridor and pulled on a brass handle that appeared as with so many others the five of them had observed this evening, once inside the four saw a room that had been lavishly furnished for each of them, right down to some rather unique sleeping accommodations.

In one corner was a pit of black volcanic sand surrounded by artistically crafted granite, placed in such a way as that Duanzaolong of stretch out as much as she wanted. Moreover, the entire thing was made of igneous material so that her own innate heat would not be an issue with her accidentally starting a fire.

Next to the Northern Maiden's sand pit was another pit but this was lined with pillows and blankets with suspended perch that hung nearby from the ceiling, as if someone had built a round sofa into a recess in the floor. The accommodations were clearly made for Faolan and Jane's needs, not that either of them needed special accommodations for them to get comfortable in front of the gently crackling fireplace next to them.

Across from the place clearly suited for Faolan lay oddly enough an ornate marble pool that flowed and circulated so gently that those in the room could barely hear it, had areas shallow enough that Aletheia could recline within its waters and deep enough in others that she could slip below the surface and sleep submerged if she chose to do so.

The final sleeping place was a round queen-sized bed with frame of solid brass and an assortment of pillows, there was even a double canopy that the occupant could close if they so desired with one sheer for minimal privacy and the second more solid with an ornate mural woven into its threads. This was clearly Mistral's bed by process of elimination.

The rest of the room was carefully laid out so that none of the styles represented or clashed there was even a modest-sized kitchen with an oven and stove as well as a large refrigerator in the corner next to what looked like a breakfast nook just past Mistral's bed. While Mistral took in everything with wonder at the sheer opulence- Faolan, Duanzaolong and Aletheia all eyed it with suspicion. That was when Jane chose to break the ice as she flew from her perch on Faolan's shoulder to the one overlooking the recessed couch. "Well what do you say we girls get to know each other before we turn in, because this place looks like it was made for the ultimate slumber party."

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