Barsoom Tales II: Romance, Revolution and BLOODY REVENGE!!! -- COMPLETE


So Kani's gone? Pity. I was quite enjoying the visual of Arrafin moving around with the mannequin from hell in tow. I'm tempted to throw something like that into my game, but the PCs already have a plethora of gifts/benefits that have all sorts of ick associated with them, so it would be more of the usual.

By the way, how much of Arrafin's reaction to Kani was actually from the player and how much was artistic license? I find that many players are happy to suck it up and accept a 'gift', however horrible, as long as it leads to increased power.

On that note, how many of the funny quips are actually delivered at the table?

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Unattainable Ideal
shilsen said:
So Kani's gone? Pity.
Hers is a sad story.

shilsen said:
How much of Arrafin's reaction to Kani was actually from the player and how much was artistic license?
Oh, there was a great deal of "Ew!!!!" from the players. They were really good at freaking themselves out.

It was a really great moment when Arrafin took the last bit of Shadow from Kani and killed her. I guess they thought she was an inexhaustible resource, and when she just poofed out of existence they were quite shocked.

When the "Ah Love" card was played, it notes that the love can be either a physical infatuation or a full-blown life-changing true love thingie. Obviously I decided life would be most interesting if an insane, all-powerful vampire fell deeply and truly in love with one of the PCs. Deciding on ways in which Madame Yuek would express her love was a lot of fun.

She means well. Sort of. She just doesn't have a lot of practice at this. And she's completely insane.

shilsen said:
On that note, how many of the funny quips are actually delivered at the table?
Well, it's been quite a few years, so I'm taking a fair amount of license. But they ARE funny people, my old gang.


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 5

"I have received some distressing news. I hope it is not true."

Etienne cleared his throat, looking worriedly between Zuleika and Blood Sister Torokan.

"If this is about..."

"It is not."

"Oh. Okay."

Torokan gestured.

"Please, have a seat."

It did not occur to Arrafin that being invited to sit in her own home was strange. She sat on the edge of the sofa.

All of them were still recovering from the battle so recently fought, panting and covered in dust, sweat and blood. Isaac sank to the floor, leaning back with a groan to prop himself against the wall.

Torokan remained standing. Her severe crimson robe made her look perfectly cylindrical. It looked very uncomfortable to Elena, but she had to admit there was a certain grace to the ensemble. She leaned back on the sofa next to Arrafin and sniffed.

"So, what's this news?"

Torokan looked around at them all.

"I have a report from Tellal that you people were seen talking with a certain vampire. One that appears to be a tall Tianese woman."

Isaac frowned.

"Tianese? What's that? Only vampire we know looks Lohanese."

Arrafin shook her head.

"And that Kishak one. Don't forget her."

"Right, Mara. And is Shang a vampire?"

Etienne leaned against the doorframe, cocky and smug.

"Nah. Shang's just some old guy. That Madame Yuek bitch is a vampire. She's all... hard. And stuff."

Torokan rolled her eyes.

"Please. I refer to... did you say Madame Yuek?"

"Yeah. That's the name she gave us, anyway."

"I see. We haven't heard of her name before. You people are the first to meet her and tell the tale. And she does not give her name to her victims."

Arrafin frowned.

"Waitaminute. If nobody's ever lived, how do you even know she exists?"

"First, there are ways to get answers from those who no longer live. Second, well, there are stories."



Arrafin crossed her arms and looked skeptical.

"Okay, tell us a story."

Torokan bowed.

"Sixty years ago, the Nahanese court began to hear rumours of a ghost haunting a forest in a distant province. The tales said it appeared as a woman, pale and feral, that ran from anyone who approached it. Corpses of wild animals were found, terribly disembowelled and their hearts taken. Trappers complained that their livelihood was imperiled.

"It was not until farm animals began dying that the governor of the province acted. He sent a message to the Silk Court informing the Emperor that a detachment of soldiers had been dispatched to find and deal with the ghost, or whatever it was.

"No further word came. No traffic descended from the mountain passes. A year passed without word. The Emperor sent an army up to see what had happened.

"They found desolation. A vast wasteland. What had once been a thriving forest valley with farms and towns was now a desert of ash, as though a great fire had consumed the entire district. Hundreds of square miles were devastated. There was not a single living thing in the province."

Torokan turned to Arrafin.

"You are familiar with the effect of Shadow's touch on living things, yes? How it turns them to ash? Imagine an entity capable of summouning enough Shadow to exterminate everything for leagues upon leagues."

Arrafin, eyes wide with horror, nodded. Torokan sighed.

"It can only have been one thing: the Demon Goddess."

"Oh, that's encouraging."

Torokan paid no attention to Isaac's snarl.

"The Demon Goddess ruled the nation of Tianguo for a hundred years, subjecting the people of that once-proud nation to such horrors that if I describe them you will not believe me. Her reign was literally hell on earth.

"My order believed she had been destroyed. It cost us greatly to do so. But if this is she, risen..."

Elena stretched out.

"Great. So what, we have to choose between she and Matai Shang? Some choice."

"Shang is a sorcerer and a very powerful one. But the Demon Goddess is the most potent entity upon Barsoom. Her power eclipses that of the god-sorcerers of long ago."

Torokan swallowed, shaking.

"You must understand. She possesses the power to destroy all life on Barsoom. She can reduce the entire world to a cinder, merely by wishing it to be so. She must be destroyed."

The Blood Sister recovered her poise. She smiled.

"Now. You folks have a sword, I believe, that has proven efficacious against vampires?"

There was an uncomfortable silence. Elena lowered her face to her hands and groaned.

"Oh, I knew we'd regret that move."


Kishak soldiers in the street. Ranks of them, kicking down doors and dragging hapless civilians into the streets.

An uncharacteristic anger darkened Arrafin's delicate face. She'd hidden with her friends in a cellar and the soldiers, after destroying nearly everything in her house, had moved on.

Outside, still screaming and angry shouting. The seven (now that Kaley had re-appeared) friends gathered in a room full of shattered furniture and considered each other.

Elena shrugged.

"I still think we should go get that Farouk guy. Can we figure out how to find him?"

Nevid coughed and replied.

"I think I know which block it is. In the fountain. Arrafin, do you think you could use that spell of yours to break the block open? I think he's inside the block, somehow."

"Sure. Sure."

Zuleika put a hand on Arrafin's shoulder.

"Arrafin. You can't do anything for your father right now. I know how you feel, but you can't help him."

"I know that!"

Arrafin shook off Zuleika's touch and stomped across the room. Just ahead of the Kishak soldiers had come the news, shouted by panic-stricken citizens.

The Khadisan's army annihilated a few miles south of Al-Tizim. Kishak legions triumphant, backed up with gunpowder and sorcery. And now Al-Tizim bled in a massive purge as Kishak soldiers took out months of frustration and anger.

No word of Arrafin's father, who had ridden with the Khadisan.

"I know. I just. Maybe I can see him. Wait. Wait here. I want to see him."

She rushed out of the room, down the hall to the springhouse. She'd grown up here. In this house. Her father. Her brother.

Arrafin reached out and Shadow's darkness swirled into being around her, but she couldn't focus and lost the spell, only just able to release the deadly energy without killing herself. Heedless of the risk, she tried again, and then again, each time a wider circle of black tendrils growing around her. The circle expanded beyond the edges of the room she knelt in.

Next door, two children stopped breathing. A man collapsed, half his body turned to ash.

Arrafin cast her spell. The water in the springhouse shivered, then cleared. The Naridic girl gasped and ran from the room.

Isaac caught her before she could throw herself into the street.

"Arrafin, no. What happened? What is it?"

Zuleika cursed and turned away. Elena spared her an angry glance and joined Isaac with Arrafin.

The slender girl couldn't speak. She shook her head, sobbing.

"Oh, no."

Zuleika slammed a fist into the wall, then jumped back as a woman screamed from just next door. She and Etienne looked at each other, nodded and ran out the back of the house.

Isaac and Elena guided Arrafin to what remained of the sofa.

"It's okay, sweetie. It'll be okay."

Nevid remained standing where he was, trying to ignore everything. Especially Kaley, who stood staring at him.

"Do you want some water? It'll be okay, Arrafin."

"No, it damn well won't."

Isaac looked up at Zuleika's angry tone. She and Etienne had returned and glared down at Arrafin.

"You did that, didn't you?"

The younger girl frowned, confused.

"Did what? What do you mean?"

"It was that sorcery of yours."

Zuleika pointed next door as she shouted.

"You killed them! Children! You killed them with that stupid spell of yours."


Everyone turned to Arrafin, horrified.

"No. What are you talking about? I didn't kill anyone. I wouldn't."

"That black stuff you use for those spells of yours. I've seen what it does to people. It went right through the wall of the house."

"What? No."

Arrafin shook her head.

"There were children hiding there, Arrafin. You killed them."

"Oh, god. No. No."

Then Elena was grabbing Arrafin and shaking her.

"What did you do? What did you do?"

The Naridic girl tore herself free.

"Nothing! I didn't do anything. I just. I wanted to see my father. And he's dead. They stuck him up on a tree. Nailed him up there. He. No. Leave me alone!"

She rushed from the room and they could hear her footsteps racing upstairs. Elena started to follow but Isaac grabbed her.

"Let her go. Give her some time."

"She killed those children."

"It was an accident, Zuleika. You think she doesn't feel terrible about it?"

"She killed them."


Arrafin threw herself down on the fragments of her old bed. The door to her bedroom had been knocked to pieces. She sobbed and cursed and beat her fist against the wall.

The strain of the last few days collapsed upon her and she fell asleep.

What woke her up she couldn't say. Nothing stirred in the house. She was alone in her room but she could hear Isaac snoring below.

Arrafin sat up.

Standing in the doorway she saw a tall figure in a simple black gown. Long dark hair falling to the floor in an gleaming ebony cascade. Black eyes staring at her. White white skin.



Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 6

Arrafin stared into the flames, her big eyes swimming with tears. Skin and flesh blackened and peeled away from her father's body in the heart of the pyre, rising up into the night sky. Her owl, perched on her thin shoulder, watched along with her.

The light from the city was only a glow on the horizon, out here beyond the irrigated orchards, at the edge of the desert. Stars twinkled overhead, unmoved by the funerary bonfire below.

She watched in silence as the fire consumed her father. Her thin body swayed with exhaustion and grief, but only once the flames had begun to lower did she turn to face the statuesque figure behind her.

"The Blood Council are afraid of you."

"They should be."

Arrafin stared. Madame Yuek stood perfectly still, dressed in a simple black robe and with her long shiny hair hanging down to the ground in a straight black cascade. Even without her usual finery, she was beautiful. She stood in perfect stillness. Arrafin wondered at her refusal to defend herself, or explain anything. Not for the first time, Arrafin felt the desire to ask more, to try and see the woman that existed within the monster. If indeed one did.

"Teach me. Teach me sorcery."

Madame Yuek regarded the young girl seriously.

"Are you sure you want this, Arrafin? There is no turning back from this path."

"Somebody has to fight the people who do this. The Tyrant's Shade. Matai Shang. I don't care. Somebody has to fight them."

The tall vampire bowed her head without taking her gaze away from Arrafin's.

"I will teach you."

Arrafin burst into tears then. As she fell to her knees, she barely noticed strong arms coming to support her.


"You must have missed her, Etienne. Arrafin couldn't have climbed out the window."

"I didn't miss her. Nobody came downstairs, I'm telling you. I was on the job. I was right here the whole time."

Elena crossed her arms and glowered at the half-Kishak.

"Well, you explain it then. Where is she?"

"She's back."

Everyone turned at the low, amused voice from within Arrafin's room. They started at the sight of Madame Yuek standing there with Arrafin limp in her arms. Isaac's eyes widened and he pushed forward, nearly drawing his sword.

Madame Yuek smiled.

"She has just cremated her father. She is exhausted."

Stunned, the others could only watch as the unearthly vampire turned to set Arrafin on her bed and stopped, noticing the demolished furniture. She tilted her head slightly and the bed re-assembled itself, sheets drawing into perfect arrangements.

Arrafin murmured something incomprehensible as Madame Yuek laid her down on the restored mattress.

Everyone stared as the vampire knelt beside the bed and pressed her lips to Arrafin's forehead.

Isaac found his voice.

"Get away from her."

He managed to remain where he was as Madame Yuek stood to face him. Death rolled off her undead presence. For a second she glared at the Saijadani with unrestrained fury, but her gaze turned to regard Arrafin once more, and she seemed to calm down. She was smiling when she looked back at Isaac.

"I understand you've spoken to the Blood Council about me. Don't think they aren't pursuing their own agenda. Don't think they aren't trying to use you."

"At least they don't eat people."

"Yes. Well."

Nevid took a breath and stepped up beside Isaac.

"Madame Yuek. What does Matai Shang want with me? Does it have to do with what you mentioned before? My soul?"

The vampire frowned.

"Shang came after you? Interesting. I advise you to stay close to her."

She pointed at Elena.

"My dear, you wear some item that makes you hard to locate, don't you? Its protection extends to those near you, as well. Although it does not prevent me from finding you, as you see."

With a mocking smile, the Lohanese beauty bowed.

"Good evening to you all."

In a swirl of darkness, she was gone.

Everyone inhaled. And then looked over to where Arrafin lay curled up on her restored bed. Her little owl sat on a bedpost, watching them all balefully.

"I don't really love how all this is going."


Arrafin awoke to sounds of conversation downstairs. For long moments she lay still, recalling the flames that consumed her father's body.

Her father.

Her brother.

The Tyrant's Shade had done this.

Arrafin's mouth set in a grim line as she rose from bed and shuffled downstairs. Gral circled over her head.

Conversation came to a halt as she entered the front parlour. Her friends sat on assorted pieces of broken furniture, sharing some food Zuleika had brought from the market. Cautious stares watched Arrafin walk forward.

Isaac stood up and took the young girl's hand.

"Arrafin, before anything else, I'm sorry about your father. We all are."

She looked up at him, pain erupting within those wide round eyes of hers.

"I lost my father, too, years ago. I know how you feel."

Arrafin managed to nod. She turned to Zuleika.

"I didn't mean to hurt anyone, Zuleika. It was an accident."

"You have to think things through, Arrafin. This isn't a game. People are dying."

Arrafin replied in a hollow voice Elena had never heard her friend use before.

"People die no matter what I do."

The ensuing silence was broken by Etienne's cough.

"Well? It's obvious we should try and get this Farouk spirit-thing. Once we have that, we can... whatever."


"Well, whatever we're going to do next."

Another silence settled over the room as they all looked at each other.

Outside, a child called out. Arrafin flinched.

At last Elena spoke up.

"Well, do we want to... fight somebody? Stop somebody? There doesn't seem to be a shortage of bad guys around."

"Well, yeah, but..."

Isaac looked for the right words.

"Aren't we a little outmatched? What are we supposed to do against guys like Shang or the Shade or Madame Yuek? They can squish our heads any time."

Nevid drew in a breath.

"I'd like to find out why Shang is after me. And -- "

He glanced over at Kaley, who smiled brightly.

"-- I'd like to know what's going on with her. Why is she here?"

"I like ye."

"I know."

Zuleika shrugged.

"Whatever. Yeah, maybe Farouk ibn Zaoud the legendary warrior of Naridic epics can help you with your girlfriend."

"You know, Zuleika, sometimes your attitude could maybe be a little nicer."

"Yeah, you're a real ray of sunshine, Elena."

"That's enough, you two. Arrafin."

Isaac turned to address the Naridic girl.

"What's going on with Madame Yuek and you?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do you mean, what do I mean? You disappear in the middle of the night without a word and then she brings you back and tucks you all into bed like some kind of freaky undead nanny. Don't you remember what the Blood Council told us? She's dangerous. You shouldn't be hanging around with her."

Arrafin shot to her feet, eyes blazing.

"I wasn't hanging around with her. She found my father's body and helped me. She helped me. She's not."

She looked around at the others.

"You all think. Just what that Blood Council bitch said. Maybe SHE'S lying, did you think of that? Why should we trust her?"

"Well, for one, she's not a vampire."

Elena had gotten to her feet as well and she stomped over to Arrafin.

"Arrafin, you need to think about things. You killed some innocent people yesterday. Now you're, what? Defending a vampire against us? Whose side are you on?"

"Side? What are you talking about? What sides?"

Zuleika sneered from where she sat.

"For one, there's side of people who don't kill innocents."

"F**k you, Zuleika. Who saved your life back in the desert?"

Everyone stood and the shouting rose up. Arrafin's owl dive-bombed Zuleika. Etienne tried to grab Elena and got an elbow in the gut. Elena shook Arrafin.

"Arrafin, get a hold of yourself! This. Look. We're just. Damn it."

The Naridic girl was crying. Everyone stared away from everyone else. Elena wiped furiously at tears on her cheeks. She turned to face the group.

"Let's get this Farouk guy. We can worry about the rest later. Arrafin, will you help?"

"Of course. Of course I'll help."

"Alright. Let's try not to kill anybody."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 7

The hardest part, for Arrafin, was convincing herself that what they were doing was worth destroying an ancient remnant of a vanished civilization.

The Fountain of Kings had stood in Al-Tizim for millenia. It was ancient in the time Suelekar Ben Azan, the king who had commanded the spirit they were trying to awaken. The Fountain pre-dated Naridic civilization, and while no one could say for certain, it was thought to be a relic of the barely-known Karidish kingdom that once ruled these lands.

Arrafin thought of what little she knew of the Karidish people while she waited for Nevid to give her the signal to proceed. Darker-skinned than the Naridic people, they had left behind great monuments across the desert and only a few names to mark their presence. Their great king, Tushan Kal Kabbar.

Her brow furrowed as she considered that strange black warrior who had crossed their path twice previously. Laughter of Stones. 34th of the Scar'ith Tushan.

"Once we were men. We loved our king, Tushan Kal Kabbar. The sacrifice was his, and still we fight our ancient war. We are the Scar'ith Tushan, the Three Hundred Forsaken. Through the centuries we have hunted the great enemy. The Keyad'ar. We are the darkness that carries through to light. We are glory out of death."

She had sought further references to his strange pronouncement, but information was scarce and poorly-understood. Arrafin tsk-ed to herself when she recalled the state of literature on the subject, and resolved to put together a paper on Karidish kings as soon as she had a chance.

Rummaging around in her bag for a scrap of paper to note her new resolution, Arrafin entirely missed Nevid's signal.

Nevid stood as nonchanlantly as he could near the great stone circle that marked the Fountain. Uncertain what to do now that Arrafin wasn't watching, he shrugged. Kaley smiled at him. Across the square from Arrafin Elena leaned against an oak tree, trying not to look ready to run. She rolled her eyes at Nevid's hesitancy, and signalled to Isaac, Etienne and Zuleika, all positioned around the square to watch for trouble, that they should hold position.

Elena sighed. She drew in a breath and yelled out at the top of her lungs.

"Arrafin! Now!"

Arrafin dropped her bag, suddenly remembering where she was and what she was doing. She sucked in and blackness erupted all around her, swirling up in wild tendrils and bizarre sprays as she bent that dark power to her will, her mind cold and utterly rational.


The spell cracked the flagstones at her feet, stone chips and dust flying everywhere, and sent a roaring explosion speeding away from her straight at the Fountain, at the particular stone she and Nevid had agreed most likely contained the resting place of Farouk Ibn Zaoud, fairytale hero of Arrafin's childhood.

The immense slab of rock that formed one portion of the Fountain shuddered and split with an explosive crack. Water shot into the air.

Elena was already running. They didn't know how Kishak authorities would react but it was safe to assume that sorcerous property damage in one of the largest public spaces in Al-Tizim would be noticed and acted upon.

She vaulted one stone wall and jumped down beside the newly formed fissure in the rock. Isaac meanwhile ran and grabbed Arrafin and dragged the girl into the crowd.

Looking down, Elena saw a glint of crystal and reached in. Something small came away in her hand and she clutched it tight and ran for it with all her strength.

Guards yelled and something thundered, but distantly. Elena ran, streets opening before her as her feet pounded on the cobblestones. Merchants and robed women scrambled from her path and now she heard the sound of pursuit, voices calling for her to stop. She ran on.

Around a corner, awnings fluttering, one fat man twisting aside as she careened by. The street narrowed suddenly and she vaulted a low railing, pelting through crowded tables and crashing past a waiter in a sidewalk cafe, a woman yelling angry behind her as she hurtled around another corner, wrong way wrong way, too late now, noise behind her still of yelling soldiers in pursuit.

Her breath tore at her chest, sharp and hard but she couldn't slow down, even as she flew out into a busy street and bounced off a wagon, spun and kept her momentum forward, knocked aside a couple of young kids and tore down a dark alley.

She lurched, reaching out to grab the nearby wall and maintain her balance as she had to stop, reeling backwards, at the sight of red-skinned soldiers ahead of her. One pointed.

"Oh, no."


"She went left. She was supposed to go right. Why did she go left?"

Etienne and Zuleika, torn with indecision, trotted along a main thoroughfare, hoping for a sight of their friend. Nevid had confirmed there was nothing in the broken stone after Elena ran, so they presumed she'd gotten it. Whatever it was.

But she was supposed to go right, and they'd lost her.

"Wait. That's Kishak I hear."

Etienne listened, and nodded.

"This way."

He and Zuleika crossed the street and turned into a lane, the foreign shouting louder here and easier to follow.

Somebody screamed. Etienne started running.

"She was supposed to go right."


"Arrafin, are you sure you know what you're doing?"

The Naridic girl looked a question at Isaac. He sighed and put a cigar in his mouth.

"With. With her. Madame Yuek."

"I. I think so."

"I don't mean to. You know, I'm not trying to say anything. But you have to be careful. She scares me. A lot."


They sat side-by-side at a neighborhood well, waiting for their friends to arrive. Arrafin tried to explain, gesticulating as she spoke.

"She says she'll help me learn sorcery. It's dangerous. But. But, Isaac, I'm good at it. And I can help."

They sat in silence for a little while, the sounds of Naridic conversation and neighborhood life all around them. Arrafin turned to her Saijadani friend.

"She scares me, too. But if she wanted me dead, I'd be dead already, right? I don't know. But, just trust me, okay?"

"You're not a child, Arrafin. I know we treat you like you were one. And I guess maybe we think of you as one. It's only because we care."

"I know."

Arrafin looked back down at the stones at her feet.

"I know."


The soldiers approached. Elena was spent, leaning against the wall, just watching them come.

She remembered what this was all about and looked down at her hand. Clutched there lay an amber ball set in tarnished silver, a little smaller than her palm.

Nothing worth dying for.

Elena looked up at the soldiers and shrugged.

"What the hell. Farouk ibn Zaoud, if you're around, kill these bastards for me."

She stared at the unbelievably handsome man in front of her. He was a little taller than her, with powerful arms folded across his bare chest. His eyes shone gold and his thick dark hair fell across his forehead in an unruly tangle of curls.

Her mouth watered.


He bowed.

"As my mistress commands."

The soldiers had stopped in some confusion and stood, staring just like Elena at the sudden apparition.

The apparition drew an immense scimitar and started towards them. Two were dead before the rest thought to try and flee. It was a futile effort.

Etienne and Zuleika came around the corner and blinked at the carnage before them. Elena waved and pointed to the beautiful Naridic man beside her.

"Look what I have."

So? Where is it then?


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 8

"Let's just say we'd like to avoid any Imperial entanglements."

The goatee-d proprietor of the dingy tavern regarded Nevid with a grin.

"Well, that's no trick at all."


"Yeah, we do it all the time. How many of you?"

Nevid peered through the smoke and haze of the interior of the Diamond Spider. Isaac sat at the next table with Arrafin, Kaley, and Etienne. Elena and Zuleika had gone back down to the main floor, ostensibly to procure drinks, but he could see them down there, lounging against the bar and talking, making no apparent effort to complete their mission.

Isaac and Arrafin sat with their heads close together, talking quietly. Both Kaley and Etienne ignored their conversation, both of them staring -- Kaley at Nevid, and Etienne over the railing and at the young woman dancing on stage. Nevid sighed.

At least his del Maraviez connections were paying off, if what this greasy man was telling him turned out to be true.

"There's seven of us. To Cadençia."

"Give me a few hours to see who's in harbour and has room for you. We'll stuff you lot in crates and sway you aboard, but it shouldn't be a big deal."

He nodded and grinned again.

"Always happy to help a friend of Isabella's. You folks just sit tight and I'll get back to you. Have a drink. Enjoy the floor show."


"Some show."

Elena shrugged at Zuleika's sour comment.

"At least she can dance. It's when you're in these places and the girl can't even dance that it really sucks."

She followed the Naridic woman's gaze to the upper balcony where Etienne smirked at the dancer on stage.

"Look. Maybe it's none of my business but, uh."

"What am I doing with a kid like Etienne?"


Zuleika sighed and finished her drink, signaled the bartender for another.

"Don't get me wrong, I like Etienne, pretty much, but..."

"I know. I just."

A faint smile pasted itself onto Zuleika's face.

"Back when you... found me? With my sister and her husband and their kids?"

Memories of shrieking and blood made Elena swallow.

"You missed the earlier. Those bandits, they came to our farm. My. It wasn't just my sister and her husband. I."

Another toss of a glass poured another shot of liquor into Zuleika's mouth. She swallowed and took a deep breath.

"My husband died there so we could get away. We'd been married six months."

"Oh, Zuleika."

"So I guess I'm. You know. Hiding."

"You don't have to explain."

The two women stared at each other. Elena's serious face broke into a sudden grin.

"Well, except for your taste. Seriously. Etienne?"

Both burst into laughter. Zuleika shrugged.

"Well, who else? Nevid? No Saijadani pretty-boys for me, thank you."

"Fair enough."

"And I thought Isaac was with you."

Elena's laughter died in a sudden choking frenzy.


"Well, I know now, but you guys are pretty close."

"I guess. We've been through some s**t."

Elena looked consideringly up at her friend who sat talking with Arrafin.

"I had two older brothers, growing up. I guess I think of him the same way I do them."

"So no guy for you?"

"Not these days."

Zuleika smirked.

"But then there is Mr. Farouk Ibn Zaoud. Holy hubba."

Elena blushed.

"I know. Wow. I could eat him with a spoon."

"He'll do whatever you tell him to, won't he?"

"I think so."


Upstairs, Isaac and Arrafin both turned at the sudden eruption of high-pitched hilarity down at the bar, to see Elena and Zuleika leaning against each other, crying with laughter.

Arrafin smiled.

"I'm glad they're getting along. Zuleika can sure be a sour one, can't she?"


Isaac had another sip, wincing against the sourness of the wine. He was very glad they were returning to Saijadan.

"Do you have any thoughts about our new genie friend, Arrafin?"

"I've been wondering about what. Kani. Said about spirits as opposed to ghosts. I wonder if there isn't two kinds of these things, sort of like there's two kinds of magic; sorcery and then the stuff Elena can do with her brain."

"So you think this genie is something like that? Something... brain-related?"

"Well, you see, sorcery is essentially a way of isolating certain resonant frequencies between one elevation and another. When those align and are combined with the right sort of recursive process, a self-reinforcing cycle develops that..."


Isaac kept his listening face on and considered the first drink he was going to have when he got back to civilization. He looked up as a hand descended on Nevid's shoulder.

A mustachioed fellow with his blond hair pulled back in a braid grinned at them all.

"I understand you are a group of del Maraviez patsies."

Isaac noted the red and gold badge on the bravo's cloak and shoved backwards, knocking Arrafin around the far end of the table as his chair slid across greasy floorboards. He stood up, well clear of the stranger.

"And you are a del Orofin lapdog."

The blond man sneered.

"At least I don't buy the loyalty of the first whore who comes past. If you care to trust that de Maynard bitch, that's your business, but we at least have standards."

Nevid, Arrafin and Isaac all frowned. Isaac was the first to be able to put their thoughts into words.


"Collette de Maynard. Everyone's talking about how she actually works for Isabella del Maraviez."

Isaac glowered at Nevid.

"We're going to have to have a little talk with your boss when we get back to Saijadan."


Zuleika looked up at a sudden crashing and banging from the balcony above.

"What's that?"

"Isaac, killing someone. Come on, let's have another drink. That big guy down the other end of the bar is checking you out."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 9

The Inner Sea sparkled as the sun rose above the eastern horizon. Isaac shielded his eyes. Somewhere past that horizon lay the ancient land of Lohan-El, where creatures like Matai Shang and Madame Yuek came from. Were they somehow searching for he and his friends? Would they return yet again with their weird pronouncements and superhuman powers?

Isaac hoped not.

Their ship travelled almost due north, so off the other side he could see the early stars twinkling in the growing gloom. Elena came up beside him. They leaned against the stern rail in silence for a while, listening to the masts and cables creak overhead.


Elena turned to her old friend.

"Old Collette's on the payroll, huh? You know what they say about office romances."

Isaac growled. His hand tightened on the hilt of his father's sword.

Collette de Maynard had manipulated him more than once, made a fool of him and nearly gotten him killed. He thought about her mocking, sharp-featured face nearly every day.

"That's not funny."

"What do you think it means? I warned you we shouldn't trust those del Maraviez bastards."

"Well, now we know."

Isaac watched Nevid sitting with Etienne and Zuleika nearer the bow of the ship. Getting aboard had been as straightforward as the del Maraviez youth's contact had promised, and they were now half-way into their two-week voyage north across the Inner Sea to Saijadan.

Saijadan. Home to him and Elena and Nevid. At last. But also home to the del Maraviez family, at whose bidding they had first travelled to the Narid.

He sighed.

"There must be an explanation. Or else it was a mistake."

"Didn't sound like a mistake."

"Yeah, well, at least we don't have to worry about it for another week. Nothing much can happen out here, right? It's kind of nice, actually. A couple of weeks without prison breaks or armies or sorcery or vampires all over the place."

The deck erupted in a sudden fountain of black shadowy tendrils and Madame Yuek seemed to rise up from the planks themselves. Tall and forbidding and seemingly amused by the panic her appearance caused in the crew.

"Well, one week at least."


Madame Yuek's new spells had engrossed Arrafin during the trip. She spent almost all her time in her tiny cabin, reading and reviewing the documents she'd received from the vampire sorceress.

Certain principles of sorcery were becoming clearer to her, but it was still mostly memorization and repetition. The girl's quick brain understood that there were broader truths behind these examples, though, and she longed for more knowledge.

At times she collapsed, snoring in the midst of papers and notes, only to thrash awake in strange dreams. She grabbed brief meals on deck, retreating to her cabin with only the barest conversations with her comrades. Days flew by.

Gral sat on a lantern hook in her room and watched, going out at night to search for mice and other tiny vermin on board the ship. She could speak with him now, actual sentences, and she understood how his presence made her abilities safer, more predictable. They worked together to hold on to Shadow's dark power and to shape it to Arrafin's will.

The girl lay sprawled on her cot, scroll tube clutched to her thin chest, twitching faintly in her sleep.

Her big eyes popped open and she shot up, scattering papers on the floor. Gral flapped and leapt from his perch, zooming tight circles around the room.

Sorcery. Here.

She ran from the room onto the main deck of the ship, nearly colliding with Isaac and he and Elena descended the companionway from the stern.

In front of them Madame Yuek stood, looking freakish and crazy and very pleased with herself. Her hair stood up in an elaborate tower of arches and gold bands, laden with tiny gold bells that rang in a constant shimmering drone. White as purest marble, her smiling face topped a gown of crimson and gold that glowed in the dawn.

"I hope I didn't wake anyone."

Isaac pushed Arrafin behind him. The Naridic girl frowned and strained to see around her burly friend.

"What do you want? Madame."

The towering vampire gestured and a low table appeared, strewn with cups and bowls and plates. Sizzling sounds and warm smells reached everyone.

"I wish only to talk. I brought breakfast."

To everyone's amazement, Madame Yuek gracefully lowered herself and knelt beside the table. She gestured for them to join her.

Nobody moved.

Madame Yuek grinned at Arrafin. She held up a gold carafe.


"Ooh. Coffee."

Slowly, the group converged on the table and seated themselves around it. Cushions appeared beneath them as they sat.

Isaac prevented Arrafin from moving past him and made sure to sit between her and Madame Yuek. To his discomfort, this put him right next to the bizarre creature.

The food did smell good, though. Zuleika shrugged and filled a plate. She held out a cup and Madame Yuek, with a smirk, poured coffee. The others followed suit, trying to act as though being served by an insane vampire goddess was normal.

Arrafin appeared unperturbed, at least. She sipped at her coffee and smiled at their hostess.

"So. You wanted to talk?"

The answering smile raised hairs on the backs of many necks around the table.

"Yes, my dear. I have been investigating Matai Shang's interest in your friend, and I think there are some things you should know."

Madame Yuek lifted a hand in Nevid's direction.

"Your friend carries within him a fragment of the soul of Tsing Kwan, the last Blood Mother."

Confused looks passed around the table.

"I will explain for you some history. First, you must understand that there is always a Blood Mother. At least, there was until a century ago. Until Matai Shang figured out how to remove her without spawning a new one."

Isaac frowned, intrigued despite himself.

"What do you mean, 'a new one'?"

"When the Blood Mother dies, a new one always emerges. Shang realised it had to do with the soul of the Blood Mother. When the Blood Mother dies, her soul passes to the new Blood Mother, and the tradition is passed on."

"So... he kept her alive?"

"No. He destroyed her soul. Shang is an expert in working with the human soul. He understands it as well as anyone alive or dead. He was able to blast the Blood Mother's soul into pieces."

Silence greeted this information. Arrafin had grabbed a napkin and was making hurried notes.

"Magic designed to work upon a complete soul has... unpredictable effects on partial souls. A new Blood Mother did not emerge. The Blood Council has been without guidance for a hundred years now."

Zuleika sniffed. She took a pastry and scowled.

"So what does that have to do with Nevid? This Shaeric girl says he has a spike in his head."

Madame Yuek studied Kaley. The Shaeric girl seemed unaware of the scrutiny.

"That is not a girl. I'll warn you not to treat spirit creatures as though they were human. They are not."

Her gaze turned to Nevid.

"A partial soul must find a complete soul to act as its... host, if you will. It cannot maintain itself and so is drawn to a complete soul. Perhaps you have dreams you don't recognize?"

Nevid nodded. The vampire stared at him.

"Yes. Those are Tsing Kwan's memories."

Arrafin put up her hand, realised she wasn't in a classroom, and cleared her throat.

"Um. Madame. Yuek."

The vampire smiled warmly.

"You may call us Man Chong, my dear. Our full name is Yuek Man Chong."

"Okay. Oh. So. Uh. Madame. Man Chong. Does this mean there must be more people like Nevid? With, uh, chunks of this woman's soul in their heads?"

"Exactly, Arrafin. How clever of you."

"Oh, it just. I thought."

Arrafin busied herself with her notes. Elena came to her friend's rescue.

"What does Shang care, though? He's destroyed the Blood Mother, and now she's gone. Why's he chasing after Nevid?"

"This I do not know. Not yet. It confuses me, and that frightens me. Shang only exposes himself to risk when the need is very great."

"Why's he so paranoid? Isn't he, like, head-crushingly powerful?"

Madame Yuek smiled at Etienne's scorn.

"You don't understand what the power of sorcery means. No matter how much power one holds, one can always overlook something. Something vital. Only the most paranoid, the most suspicious, the most fiendishly devious ever survive."

Isaac scowled.

"Except you, of course. You're a paragon."

The smile disappeared.

"I crack open ribcages and eat people's hearts while they still beat.

"But I will not ignore something Shang has been willing to risk himself so greatly for. He must be trying to save the world."


The smile returned.

"Of course. What else could convince him to go up against me directly? He knows better than anyone what I am. He must think the world is at stake."

"But... if he's trying to save the world, what are you doing? What are we doing?"

Madame Yuek sighed and gestured airily.

"Everyone is trying to save the world. I. Shang. The Tyrant's Shade. The Blood Council. We're all trying to save the world from each other."


"Now, you folks were really quite reckless in Al-Tizim, weren't you? Don't you know the Tyrant's Shade has been tearing apart the city looking for you? You realise that if he finds somebody who knows who you are, or even who met or spoke with you, he can track you down?"

Worried glances hadn't even begun to go around the table when Madame Yuek spoke again.

"But not too worry. I killed everyone you spoke to in the city and made sure no sorcerer can question them."

Her smile was bright and charming.

"But honestly, you people just don't think these things through. I won't always be able to clean up after you, you know. Now I hope you enjoyed breakfast. I know I greatly enjoyed our little chat. Arrafin, my dear, I hope you've been studying. Another time."

Blackness yawned up all around them and she, and the table, were gone.

And the cushions. Etienne rubbed at his tailbone.


The others looked around at each other. Elena shrugged.

"Great. So I guess we're saving the world, then."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 10

"Isabella del Maraviez will see you now."

Isaac tried to look unimpressed with the del Maraviez offices in Cadençia. Arched halls of marble and pink sandstone, golden and bejewelled treasures from around the world displayed in niches along the corridors, uniformed guards everywhere in the family's blue and silver, everything combining to make him feel decidedly inadequate. Or at least, unkempt.

The city itself had soothed his need for familiarity, at least. Cadencia rose up around a steep promontory, stone-paved streets criss-crossing the slopes and everywhere the comforting accents of home. The colours of Las Familias toughs, swaggering in front of each other, always itching for an excuse to fight. Markets full of goods from all around the Inner Sea, junior merchants trying to convince passers-by to stop and compare the workmanship, the price, the quality. Guitars and the clack of castanets from a saloon, dark-eyed women with their challenging smoulders, immense wagons pulled by braying trikes, their graceful horns festooned with ribbons and blossoms, all of it breathed of Saijadan.


He and his friends had sat waiting in a parlour for a few minutes. Kaley remained close to Nevid, as she always did, looking around uncertainly. Isaac studied the strange woman as they all rose in response to the page's summouns.

She spoke only to Nevid, even when directly addressed by others. At times she'd just not be around, even though no one had seen her leave, and then they'd turn around and she'd be back, with no explanation as to her absence. Isaac recalled Madame Yuek's words.

"I'll warn you not to treat spirit creatures as though they were human. They are not."

That thought led him to Elena, who strode ahead of him into Isabella's office. They'd investigated her new "friend" a bit on the voyage, though not enough to satisfy Isaac's suspicion. He seemed perfectly willing to do whatever Elena asked him to do, and disappeared on command. But if there were any limits to his abilities or their control over him, they hadn't discovered.

"My friends. I am so glad to see you all again."

Isabella del Maraviez was no beauty. She stood tall and rail-thin, her face pinched and almost craggy in its features. With her hair pulled back severely she seemed permanently squinting. She gestured them to the chairs arranged around her desk.

"I am so thrilled by your safe return to Saijadan. Please, tell me of your trip. I have had some news but there is no substitute for first-hand accounts."

Nevid started in with a cursory accounting of their efforts to smuggle guns to Naridic rebels, but within a few sentences Arrafin had jumped in to correct him, and then Etienne contradicted Arrafin, and the telling got substantially confused.

Isabella didn't seem to have much trouble following the threads of the story, Isaac noticed, and with perceptive questions and summations she kept the recitation rolling forwards. She nodded as they described their encounter with the Nevakada agent Kan Koshar, and noted calmly that the Kishak agent had expired under interrogation. Isaac was surprised to see how casually Isabella took the tale of their trip to Madame Yuek's castle and the revelations of sorcery, vampires and so on involved in that.

"She's clearly a force of great evil. But I don't know how we're going to be able to fight her."

Arrafin turned on Nevid's comment.

"Why should we fight her? She's on our side."

Zuleika scoffed.

"Our side? What side is our side? We don't even know what we're doing."

Isabella held up her hands to forestall more angry outbursts.

"My friends. Perhaps you could just carry on with the story and we'll talk about what needs to be done afterwards?"

The Naridic women subsided and Elena picked up the thread of the narrative.

"So then we ended up in Tallal."

Isaac had to speak up then, and explain his part in the trap laid for the Kishak soldiers. Isabella's questions were precise and penetrating, and he had to admit she was one sharp customer. She didn't seem to be taking any notes but she referred easily to things they'd mentioned earlier. Isaac had the sense that she already knew most of what they were telling her, and was confirming what she knew rather than learning new facts.

This was clearly not a woman to underestimate.

Their story moved on to Al-Tizim, and another confused session of conflicting memories as they tried to reconstruct the rescue of Nevid, the battle with Shang and their various encounters with Madame Yuek.

"And then she said she'd killed everyone. In Al-Tizim."


Arrafin frowned.

"Well. Everyone we'd talked to. In case, you know, the Shade and."

She wiggled her fingers. Isabella took her turn frowning.



"Ah. Well, yes, I have heard that there was a sudden series of deaths in the city. Library workers and a number of people at a tavern."

The friends all looked at each other, then all looked at Arrafin.

"What? I didn't tell her to do anything. I didn't do this."

"No, your girlfriend did."

Arrafin's glare at Zuleika was even more incendiary than usual. Etienne broke in.

"Whatever. Now we know what kind of. Uh. Person. She is."

When Arrafin snapped her glare over to him, the half-Kishak put up his hands.

"The kind who kills innocent people, that's what kind. Arrafin, she's a bad guy. She's evil. Come on, you heard the Blood Mother's story."

"Everyone's got a story. It's what people do that counts, not what others say about them."

"I'm cool with that criteria. According to her actions, she's a murdering immortal psychopath."

Isabella smiled.

"Well. Fascinating. Now. We've arranged accomodations for you folks at a nearby hotel. Why don't you get yourselves settled and we can reconvene later? Perhaps dinner? There's a very fine restaurant here; the Furnace Club. The hotel clerks will be able to direct you. At sundown? Excellent."

And they were ushered out of her office, back out through a maze of corridors and into the street. Cadencia rose up all around them, noisy and outrageous and frenetic.

Isaac sighed.

"I need a drink."


"I'll no leave ye. I can't."

"That's not what I'm asking, Kaley. I mean, where do you go when you disappear?"

"I'll no leave ye."

Nevid sighed in frustration. Elena came over and smiled at the Shaeric girl.

"Hi Kaley."

Kaley managed a quick smile before burying her face in Nevid's neck. This made walking awkward for the Saijadani youth, but he managed not to stumble.

"Listen, sweetie, it's just that sometimes you're not around. We just wonder where you go."

The Shaeric girl's voice dropped to a whisper so low Elena had lean in to hear her.

"The King takes me."

"The... King? The King of where now?"

"The King of the Tuthean Tarn."

A sudden look of horror flashed across Kaley's face, and she disappeared in a shower of colour and light. Elena reeled.

"Way to go, Elena. You sure have a great touch with people."

"Shut up, Zuleika. Anyone got any notion what she was talking about?"

Shrugs and headshakes greeted Elena's question. Isaac pointed up ahead.

"There's the place. The Furnace Club."

Along the street, storefronts and awnings gave way to a high, carefully-trimmed hedge, with a single narrow opening. Two broad-shouldered men in dark uniforms stood at the entrance, watching the street traffic carefully.

They turned their attention back inside the establishment as screams and crashes erupted from within.

Isaac's face set in a grim expression.

"I have a feeling I'm not going to have that simple, quiet drink I was hoping to have."

Guns went off and the two doormen rushed inside. The friends looked at each other.

"Yeah, yeah, alright."

The Furnace Room was obviously a dignified, expensive sort of place for business dinners and fancy occasions, which made it a spectacular sort of setting for a massive brawl.

Silver place setting tumbled across the tiles, ringing and clattering, as beautiful dishes fell and exploded amidst the chaos. Steel clashed, screams, and another gun went off as Isaac and Elena led the way into the dining room.

Half-a-dozen red-skinned warriors stood against the assembled flower of Saijadani wealth and privilege, sabres red with blood as they fought for their lives. Enraged at the sight of Kishak swordsmen, Isaac scarcely noticed anyone else in the room as he leapt over a banquet table straight into their midst.

His heavy sword beat down a surprised parry and he cut his man high on the shoulder. Etienne flashed by, rolling under a table and coming up with his knives out, followed by Zuleika, shrieking a Naridic oath as she cannoned into another Kishak. Elena stretched out a hand and one of the swordsmen convulsed, limbs jerked outwards by some unseen force.

Only Arrafin saw Isabella.

Face-down in a booth. Head caved in by numerous sword-blows.

"Nevakada vengeance."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 11

"Sorry, ma'am. Only those on del Maraviez business. Move along."

Elena growled.

"But we ARE on del Maraviez business. We were here just earlier, with Isabella del Maraviez. We need to see somebody."

"I'm sorry. I can take your name and see if anyone will meet with you."

"Marques knows us. Ask him."

"I'll be happy to send him a message with our next courier to Pavairelle, ma'am."

Etienne scoffed.

"Yeah, that'll take weeks. The Nevakada are after us right now."

"I'm sorry to hear that, sir. Please, move along."

Defeated by the guard's unflappable demeanour, the uneasy group moved along. Since Isabella's murder at the Furnace Club (and the deaths of the Kishak assassins responsible), they'd come straight back to the del Maraviez offices to see what their next steps should be.

Only nobody seemed to know who they were. Or care. Obviously Isabella hadn't told anyone to look out for a crew of weather-beaten mercenary-looking trouble-makers. Nevid spoke up.

"Well, let's head back to our hotel and make some plans there."


"Sorry, ma'am. Your group has been checked out. We no longer have any rooms for you."

"But. What? We didn't check out. We're. We haven't even stayed one night yet."

"I'm very sorry ma'am. The reservation has been cancelled. Perhaps I can recommend another establishment?"

Elena turned back to her friends in disbelief.

"They've cut us off. They've cut us off."

She grabbed Nevid and slammed him against a pillar. Hotel guests passing through the lobby pretended not to notice.

"What is going on, Nevid? What's happening?"

For once the Saijadani youth seemed shaken and uncertain.

"I don't know. It doesn't make any sense."

Isaac took Elena's arm and the woman calmed down. She checked her purse.

"Unless somebody here's been holding out, I think our lifestyle just got a little less fancy."

"What are we going to do? If the Nevakada are after us, and the del Maraviez aren't going to protect us, then..."

Etienne shrugged at Arrafin's question. He spoke as they all moved outside into the evening darkness. The street rumbled around them, full of activity.

"They didn't do such a great job of protecting Isabella, now did they? I say we turn this game around and track down the Nevakada sources ourselves. Somebody brought those assassins into town and pointed them at Isabella. Let's find that somebody and get some answers."

Isaac nodded.

"That sounds like a good plan. There's a much cheaper hotel down at the bottom of this hill, the Bayview. We can stay there at least tonight. Tomorrow let's start asking around and see who might have been able to bring those Kishaks into town. What is it, Arrafin?"

"I want to talk to the Blood Council. I've got some questions for them."

"Great idea. Great."


"Terrible idea. Terrible."

Isaac shook his head as Arrafin pounded on the door of the Blood Council Sanctuary. The others stayed behind at the hotel, where they nearly disappeared in the crush of drunken soldiers. Evidently the Bayview was housing an entire mercenary company, all of whom seemed determined to consume the establishment's entire supply of liquor.

Both Elena and Zuleika had seemed happy enough to join the celebration. For a second Isaac wondered if something had happened between Zuleika and Etienne, but he looked up as the door finally opened.

A dark-eyed girl in a crimson robe stared out dispassionately at them. Arrafin drew herself up.

"I am Arrafin al-"

"Yes. High Blood Sister Torokan will see you. Come in."


Inside, the Sanctuary looked exactly like the one in Pavairelle; wide gravel yards separating low buildings half-hidden behind hedges and groves. The sounds of the city seemed to recede, and only the quiet drip and burble of water disturbed the tranquility of the setting.

The girl led them across the courtyard to the largest of the buildings. Inside a bare room, kneeling on the floor, they found Kimiko Torokan, looking as severe and formal as ever. She nodded.

Excited, Arrafin scrambled forward, rummaging in her notes.

"Blood Sister. I need you to explain something. Look. Our friend, Nevid? He's got, in his head, a part of, of a soul."

One eyebrow rose.

"The soul of the Blood Mother. It was destroyed, right? Bits of it all over the world. Shang destroyed it, we know. She told us. Madame Yuek. But what does it mean? What's the purpose of the Blood Mother and why would Shang be trying to get her soul back?"

Torokan looked over at Isaac, studied him briefly, then returned her gaze to Arrafin.

"Shang didn't destroy the Blood Mother, Arrafin. That was the Demon Goddess."

"What? But she said--"

"Arrafin. She is a monster. She is evil. She destroyed the Blood Mother in a cataclysm so horrifying that a million people died in a heartbeat, in such agonizing pain that their souls were torn from their bodies and still now, even today, hover over the site of their torture and blight the landscape for leagues around. A million people, Arrafin. Extinguished. Like nothing."


"She exists to kill and to terrify. If she is acting kindly towards you now, it is only so that her betrayal of you will be all the more savage when it happens.

"Tsing Kwan was not the first Blood Mother she killed, you know. She hates us. She always has."

To Isaac's astonishment, the Blood Sister was breathing heavily, her teeth gritted. She struggled with intense emotion.

"I have warned you. Do not trust her."

Isaac watched as the two women stared at each other. Arrafin, normally so diffident and reserved, returned Torokan's angry gaze steadily and with the same intensity as the Blood Sister. The Naridic girl spoke quietly.

"Would it be good to restore the Blood Mother's soul, if it is possible?"

"It is not."

"If it is, should we do it?"

They stared some more. Arrafin reached into her bag, without looking down, and heaved the mammoth volume she'd been studying from onto the floor between them.

"You gave this to me. You started this."

Her voice rose, angry and tense.

"You didn't tell me what it would do to me. You didn't care. So tell me this: should we try to restore the soul of the Blood Mother?"

The Blood Sister relented.

"Yes. If you can. Barsoom needs her. Now, more than ever."

Isaac leaned forward. When Torokan turned to him, he narrowed his eyes.

"What do you do? What's the point of you ladies?"

"We slay gods. That is the purpose of the Blood Council. We identify and destroy those who attain godhood. There must be no gods on Barsoom. Religion consumes and enslaves."


Her composure back, Torokan drove Isaac back with a glare.

"Always. No being that desires worship can be allowed to exist. No being that seeks dominion over the will of others can be tolerated.

"Barsoom is a more fragile place than you know. A power like the Demon Goddess threatens the existence of all mankind."

"You're wrong about her. You'll see. She isn't evil."

"It doesn't matter, Arrafin. She possesses power no mortal may possess. We will destroy her, eventually. There can be no truce, no stalemate. Only survival or destruction."

Isaac shrugged.

"You ladies must be lots of fun to party with."


Elena howled with laughter as Zuleika made her unsteady way up the stairs, leaning drunkenly against the Saijadani soldier who'd first caught her eye earlier in the evening. The laughing woman nearly fell off her bench, and only the steadying hand of the burly, mustachioed fellow beside her prevented a sudden disaster.

"Whoa, there, senorita. Your friend seems to have left you alone."

Elena grinned full-bore into the man's eyes. She noticed he was pretty handsome. She recalled that she was very drunk, and that maybe her judgement as to handsomeness wasn't to be trusted.

As she was recalling that, she found herself kissing the man with abandon, still laughing as their lips pressed together.

Etienne sat with Nevid and Kaley, avoiding the crush of revelry elsewhere in the tavern. He watched Zuleika leaving, moodily scowling into his drink. Nevid looked back and forth between his surly drinking companion and the Naridic woman making her unsteady way up the stairs, but said nothing. Kaley just stared at Nevid.

All three looked up as a serious young woman sat down at their table. Her blonde hair pulled back tight gave an angry cast to her broad features, and her rough-tanned leather cloak told of a lower-class background. Or at least, mused Etienne, the appearance of one.

"Where is your companion, Dominic?"

Nevid recalled that Isaac was supposed to be using that name these days.

"He's not around. Why?"

"Tell him the del Maraviez may have had ulterior motives in keeping him under cover. Tell him to look this over and see what he thinks."

She pulled an envelope, straining with a thick sheaf of paper, from her purse and dropped it on the table.

"Don't follow me."

They watched her leave. Nevid pulled the papers free and squinted at the careful writing within.

[center]IN THE



Court of Appeals Nos. 57-35220; 57- 35221


RODRIG & ISABELLA DEL MARAVIEZ, in their official capacities as



AUGUSTIN DEL OROFIN, in his official capacity as


On Appeal from the The Court of Petrahegna

Nevid read further. He looked over at Etienne, confused.

"I think somebody's trying to swindle Isaac. Only, I don't know if it's the del Maraviez or the del Orofin."

"Or whoever brought us that document."


Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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