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


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 12

"'..without exception the factual matters which appellants belatedly claims require development, are either irrelevant or are matters regarding which appellants...'"

Arrafin shook her head and passed the document back to Nevid.

"I can't figure it out. It's a bunch of legal gobbledegook."

Nevid flipped through the document, frowning. He and Arrafin and Isaac and Etienne sat alone in the hotel's restaurant, which last night had been so crowded. There was no sign of Elena or Zuleika.

Etienne sighed and helped himself to a pear.

"Where's your girlfriend, Nevid? Disappear again? So what, is somebody trying to take Isaac's rightful property or something?"

"I don't have any rightful property. It was all confiscated when -- "

Arrafin and Nevid both looked up.

"Yes? When...?"

"I don't want to talk -- "

"Treason? Was your father accused of treason?"

"Watch it."

Isaac's hand went to his swordhilt as anger flashed in his eyes. For a second the fury in his face blazed out, but the moment his friends shrank back, the burly warrior relaxed and bowed his head.

"I'm sorry. It still... Yes. Why?"

Nevid flipped pages.

"'Security and treason laws which prevent release of del Valençia holdings, capital, lands and chattels do not supersede del Maraviez property rights.' And this: 'The Appellants' argument that granting del Maraviez an exemption from the relevant requirements of the local security and treason laws violates the Establishment Clause, is substantially incorrect.' Blah, blah, blah, and then: 'For all of the above reasons this Court should reverse the judgment of the Court of Petrahegna.'"

Isaac blinked.


"Your father, and you yourself, it seems, were found guilty of treason. Apparently, the Court of Petrahegna decided that the property of traitors does not pass to the Familias that the traitors were working for. This document is an appeal of that judgement by the del Maraviez, arguing that they should be given all of the traitors' possessions."

"Maybe you shouldn't call me a traitor quite so much."

"Sorry. But I think that's what this is. They're saying that you ARE guilty, but that your guilt shouldn't interfere with their right to your property."

"But Isabella said..."

Isaac's face darkened.

"Her name's on that document, isn't it?"

"She signed it. And her father, Rodrig."

"And now she's dead, so we can't ask her."

"And we'll never get in to see Rodrig. Nobody sees Rodrig del Maraviez."



"Fine. It's over. They can have the property if they want it so bad. It didn't do my father any good. Or my mother. Both of them are dead now because of their wealth. I'd rather live in some kind of peace and quiet than try and fight all that, anyway."

A woman screamed upstairs. Etienne leapt to his feet and hurtled up the stairway.



"Murderess! She killed him! She killed Alejandro! Kill her!"

Etienne pushed through the crowd, elbowing and kicking his way through the thronging mercenaries to the hotel room door. Once he saw what lay within the room, however, he recoiled back so strongly the heavy-set mercenaries yelling behind him nearly toppled backward.

Zuleika sat, no longer screaming but staring, wrapped in a bedsheet, at a gory display across the other side of the room. What had once been a man had been dismembered and strewn like banners and decorations across the walls, his face peeled and grinning horribly from the window-sill.

Etienne recovered and ran to Zuleika. Usually so sarcastic and confident, the Naridic woman collapsed against Etienne, weeping uncontrollably and begging him to help.

"Kill her!"

One of the mercenaries stepped into the room, and stopped dead, with the point of Etienne's long-knife under his jaw.

"Think carefully about what you do with the rest of your life. There might not be very much of it."

As the soldier stepped back, Etienne brandished his knife at the rest of them.

"No more warnings. If you want in here, I'm waiting."

He addressed Zuleika over his shoulder.

"You didn't kill the guy, did you?"

At her glower he shrugged and turned back to the angry mob.

"I guess you're feeling a little better."

Elena shoved through the crowd into the room.

"What the hell? Z, what happened here? Who did this?"

Zuleika shuddered and drew the blanket more tightly around her.

"Kaley. It was Kaley."


Isaac returned from the huddle around the watch captain. Convincing him not to just drag Zuleika off had not been easy.

"I think we need to move to a different hotel. Those mercenaries aren't happy with us."

"Kind of tough to blame them. What the hell happened in there?"

Elena and Isaac both sighed at the same time, studying their friends across the restaurant. Kaley had not re-appeared yet, but Zuleika was still watching Nevid with an slow-burning anger. Arrafin detached herself from the group and came over to where Isaac and Elena leaned against the bar.

"So... Kaley."

"Yeah. That's weird."

"Yeah. Um. Do you think your. Um. Friend? Would know anything about it?"

Elena stared at Arrafin. Fixedly.

"My friend?"

"You know. Farouk ibn Zaoud. He's a spirit. Like her, right? So maybe he'd know something."

Isaac nodded.

"I'm worried by how much sense that makes."

With another sigh, Elena led the others past Zuleika, Nevid and Etienne, and the whole group trudged up the stairs to the room the women shared. Elena closed the door behind them and raised a hand to the amulet at her throat.

She blinked. In a shower of spraying colour, he appeared. Farouk ibn Zaoud, dressed in a few scraps of silk, his broad chest gleaming with manly appeal. Elena swallowed.


He bowed.

"Mistress. I am yours to command."

"Cool. I have a question for you. Can you answer questions?"

"All my knowledge is at my mistress' feet."

"Okay. So, you remember Kaley? The spirit girl? She killed somebody. Cut them all up and stuff. Why would a spirit do that?"

"Mistress, may I correct you?"

"Okay. Sure."

"The woman you call Kaley is not a spirit. She is a mortal whose soul has been stripped from her and who has been made a servant of the Tuthean Tarn."

"Who are they?"

"Great spirits who dwell among the islands of Shaer. Their court is a mighty one and their bindings are among the oldest of all spirits in Barsoom."

"So they made her do it?"

"She has no soul. No will of her own. All her actions are at the will of the Tuthean Tarn. But I cannot guess at their motives. If you wish to know why they have done this, you must journey to Shaer and ask them. It is possible they will answer."

Zuleika stepped forward.

"They'll answer."

She looked around at the others.

"So Kaley was a spy all along. These Tarn guys sent her to us. I knew we shouldn't have trusted her."

Nevid stared down at the floor, frustration darkening his face.

Arrafin shook her head.

"She seemed like such a confused girl."

"She's not a girl! Don't you remember your precious Madame Lick My Thong telling us that? She's not a girl. She's not even human."

Elena snickered at Zuleika's crassness, but her amusement died at Arrafin's earnest concern.

"She used to be. Think of what it must be like. A slave..."

Arrafin's voice trailed off as she looked over at Farouk ibn Zaoud.

"Do you mind being a slave?"

Farouk made no answer. Elena drew a breath in, studying the amulet in her hand.

Nevid raised his head. He spoke with uncharacteristic certainty.

"We have to free her. Kaley. I don't know why they sent her to us or what they want, but I don't think it's right to leave her enslaved like that. I want to go to Shaer and make them release her."

Zuleika snorted.

"You want to help HER? She tore a man to shreds. I watched."

"You heard him. They made her do it. She must be suffering, Zuleika. And how many more times will they make her do something like this? We have to free her. Somehow."

Isaac nodded.

"I like it. Seems doable. As long as we're not, you know, wanted for murder and likely to be arrested at any moment. Oh, darn."

Elena joined in.

"Or as long as the most powerful families in Saijadan aren't after us. Oops."

Arrafin chuckled.

"Yeah, and as long as the Kishak Empire isn't hunting us down. Oh, dear."

"As long as no insane vampire goddess freaks aren't sniffing after Arrafin's virginity. Damn."

Etienne shook his head at his friends' merriment.

"At least we're all agreeing on something."

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First Post
Okay, I finally caught up.

I can empathize with what it feels like to have pretty much every major power in the world, including the nasty supernatural ones, out to get you. What next, the Tyrant's Shade shows up and threatens the player personally?

This is a fun story hour, if a bit gloomy and gory...


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 13

"I guess those mercenaries are better at bribing officials than we are."

Arrafin shook her head at Saijadani corruption.

"Is everything in this country about money?"

"It's a more predictable motivator than crazy desert religion."

"Or icky vampire lust."


Chuckling at the Naridic girl's suddenly red face, Elena leaned out around the corner to peer again at the wharf.

The soldiers they'd shared the hotel with last night had gathered here, joined by a detachment of city guardsmen, all of them looking alert and angry. She sighed.

"It's not going to be easy to get a ship out of here. And we're sure not walking to Shaer."

The group retreated back down the street and ducked into a small shop. Ignoring the merchant's greeting, they crowded around the window, staring out into the street.

Etienne had a suggestion.

"We could wait for nightfall and try to steal a boat."

"And until then?"

"Weren't we going to try and figure out how those Nevakada guys got into town? Why not carry on with that plan?"

Isaac nodded thoughtfully.

"Killing a basketful of Kishaks would really improve my mood, actually."


"Well, Isaac, there's your basketful, right there."

"Maybe a bigger basket than I had in mind."

Isaac and Etienne perched on a rooftop, looking down through broken tiles into the office below. Beneath them lounged at least a dozen red-skinned warriors, obviously killing time without much enthusiasm.

The office belonged to del Corazor Shipping, and a variety of clues had brought the Saijadani pair here, most notably the drunken ramblings of a recently-dismissed warehouse guard. Elena, Zuleika, Arrafin and Nevid waited in the alley behind the office building.

"They do seem pretty calm, considering they're in the midst of an enemy city."

"Calm. Stupid. It's hard to tell with Kishaks."


"I like ye, lad."

"Oh, no."

Zuleika recoiled as Kaley suddenly appeared on Nevid's arm, smiling at the Saijadani youth. Nevid's reaction was nearly as violent, but the dreamy Shaeric woman drifted along with him as he tried to retreat.

Elena tried a smile.

"Hi, Kaley. How are you?"

The girl kept staring at Nevid's face. She showed no sign of having heard Elena.

"Where have you been? Nevid, ask her where she's been."

Nevid's terrified gaze rolled over to Elena, then back to the smiling young girl clutching at his arm.

"Uh. Ka. Kaley. Kaley."

"I like ye, lad."

"Yes. Yes. That's good. I. I like you, too."

She sighed and gripped him tighter.

"Listen. Kaley. Where did you go? Where have you been?"

"Been? I've been with ye, lad. I've no hope to go elsewhere, have I?"


Nevid ran out of conversational steam. Arrafin tried a smile and tapped the girl on her shoulder.

"Hi, Kaley."

Without losing her dreamy smile, the girl turned to look at Arrafin.

"Ye're a nice lass. Ye'll no make me go, will ye?"

"No, Kaley. We don't want you to go. But we're wondering if you've seen. Um. The King. Recently."

Panic erupted in the girl's face and Arrafin put up her hands to try and reassure her.

"No, no, sweetie, it's okay. Nobody's going to hurt you."

Zuleika snorted but did not challenge the assertion.

"Does he make you do things? The King? Are you afraid of him?"

Kaley's nod was that of an unhappy child.

"He hurts me. But he can no find me here, ye see. Not with me lad by me side."

"He can't?"

"Only sometimes."

Nevid got some of his aplomb back and put an arm around the girl's slender shoulders. She smiled up at him with sudden joy.

"It'll be okay, Kaley. We'll help you."

"I know ye will."

Crashing, swearing and the sudden clang of steel exploded from inside. Zuleika swore.

"Those bastards started without us."

Charging inside, they found Isaac holding off most of the Kishak soldiers, swearing at the top of his lungs at Etienne, who was nowhere to be seen, although a few soldiers were aiming heavy blows at a desk nearby.

Overhead, a broken beam and a gaping hole in the roof told of what must have been a precipitate entrance.

The Kishaks turned as Zuleika waded into their midst, her sword flashing. Elena stretched out a hand and purple light flared as two soldiers convulsed, shuddering with unseen vibrations that seemed to nearly tear them to pieces.

Arrafin stepped away from her friends and drew on her dark power. Shadowy tendrils rose up around her, but suddenly collapsed back into the ground. The Naridic girl stamped her foot and tried to compose herself, her little owl fluttering over her wild curls.

Again her sorcerous skills failed her and she reeled, nearly overcome by the cold fury of Shadow she'd called upon.

Most of the soldiers were down, clutching at wounds or lying still, when the last pair dropped their swords and fell to their knees, pleading in their harsh tongues for mercy.

"To hell with every last f**king one of you."

Zuleika thrust her sword into the first one's abdomen, and as he keeled forward, she whirled the blade over her head and decapitated the other. Still in her battle fury, she kicked at the one she'd stabbed, shrieking with hideous laughter as he scrabbled for his entrails.

Elena grabbed the Naridic woman and shoved her back.

"That's enough, Z. That's enough."

They stared at each other, and Zuleika burst into tears.

Etienne crawled out from under the desk.

"Are any of them left alive?"

Isaac looked around with a grim look.

"Not 'alive', as such. Not as could answer a few questions, anyway."

Arrafin came forward. She bent down and heaved up the severed head of the last soldier.

"The one doesn't necessarily mean the other."

Everyone watched in a horrified daze as Arrafin settled the head on top of the desk Etienne had been under. She had to twist it a bit to get it to sit upright, but once the grisly task was done, she stepped back.

"Uh. Arrafin?"

"Just a minute."

The Naridic girl closed her eyes and the others pulled away as dark shadows swirled up around her. One of the gasping Kishak soldiers stopped gasping as the tendrils drifted over him.

The shadowy whorls and streams gathered in front of Arrafin and then surged into the severed head on the desk, which heaved and twitched.

"It worked. Great. Now we can ask it questions. Let's think carefully about this."

Arrafin turned with a happy smile to her friends, pleased with herself. Her smile faded at the varying looks of discomfort on the others' faces.



"Well, that was a waste of time."

"If you hadn't asked the same question twice..."

"I didn't know we had a time limit, Zuleika. Arrafin never said--"

"Don't you blame me, Etienne. I told you to think carefully."

"Thinking. Not exactly his strong suit."

"Well, at least we know the Tyrant's Shade doesn't know where we are. That's good."

The bickering party carried on down the dark street, making their way back towards the wharfs. As they neared where earlier in the day they'd seen the mercenaries and the guardsmen, they slowed.

"Etienne, go and look. See if they're still there."

The half-Kishak slipped into the shadows and disappeared. Elena shrugged.

"He is light on his feet."

Isaac's growl was an unhappy one.

"Not always."

The burly Saijadani still favoured his left arm after the battle in the office building. He started as Etienne re-emerged.

"No good. The wharfs are crawling with soldiers. We'll never get out of here."

Another figure detached from the shadows beyond Etienne. The entire group stepped back and readied their weapons. The voice was a woman's, but low and husky.

"Relax. I'm a friend. I can get you out of here."

Isaac's eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"I don't think you're my friend."

"Oh, Isaac, I'm especially your friend."

Collette de Maynard stepped forward, smirking just a little.

"In fact, I just might be your only friend right now."

Her smirk disappeared.

"I know where they took your mother, Isaac. She's not dead. The del Orofin are holding her prisoner in Salejo. Do you want to see her?"

Isaac sheathed his sword.

"None of your tricks, b***h. And keep your hands where we can see them."

"I'll consider that a 'yes,' shall I?"


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 14

Isaac squinted in the sunshine.

"You know, this is all just a little weird."

"I agree," said Elena. "And I say with the caveat that for us, 'a little weird' is a lot weirder than it is for most people."


The two sat on the deck of the Wavereaver, the ship Collette had brought them to a couple of nights ago, and on which they'd managed to escape Cadençia. They watched as their captain, a roguish-looking fellow named Mateo, strode past, calling out an order of some kind to his first mate, Natacha.

"How does he remember the battle for Pavairelle? I mean, that was thirty years ago."

"He looks like he's thirty himself."


"And I don't like how they just laugh whenever we mention sorcery, like they know all about it."

"And I especially don't like that Collette put us on this boat. She's up to something, I know it."

"Maybe she just wants to help. Maybe she wants you."

"That's not funny."

Arrafin came over, unsteady against the motion of the boat, and lowered herself to the deck beside her friends.

"So, this boat is kind of weird."

"We were just discussing that. What's got your weird alert notioning?"

The Naridic girl looked around, then leaned towards Elena.

"Can you do your thing?"

"Which thing? I have such a plethora of options."

"The thing with your brain."

"Oh. That thing. No."

"You can't?"

"No. My brain doesn't work."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I just found out right now, when I tried."

"Oh. Well, my thing doesn't work either."

Isaac stared at the two women. Etienne walked up just as the Saijadani burst out, "What is wrong with your things?"

Etienne blinked.

"Whoa. This conversation is more interesting than I thought."

Arrafin looked up as Zuleika and Nevid joined them.

"Neither sorcery nor psionics seem to work on this boat. I can't grasp any Shadow at all. And Elena's brain doesn't work."

"How can you tell? Ouch. Sorry."

Isaac saw Mateo watching them from the other side of the main mast and waved the man over.

"Look, enough with the knowing smirks. Why doesn't sorcery work on this ship?"

"Oh, that. Well, sir, I gotta tell you, I don't really know."

The steady gaze of the assembled friends didn't seem to faze him at all.

"What I can tell you, sir, is that at the battle of Pavairelle we were caught in a blast of flame hundreds of feet high. Wiped out our entire squadron. Except us. Ever since then, we've had the feeling that maybe there's something weird about this ship."

"Excuse me, are you saying there was sorcery at the battle of Pavairelle? I've read seven different eye-witness accounts of that battle and nobody ever mentioned sorcery."

"Oh well, then, I must be mistaken, missie. Pay no mind."

"Wait. Are you saying this ship is impervious to sorcery?"

"Yep. Even had the Blood Council check the whole thing out. They confirmed it. There is no power on Barsoom capable of using sorcery against this ship in any way whatsoever. We are invulnerable."

With a quiet rushing sound, dark shadowy tendrils erupted from the deck behind Mateo, and coalesced into the stately, smiling form of the Demon Goddess, Yuek Man Chong. She bowed, her immense headdress toppling forward and then teetering back upright as she did so. Her eyes were only for Arrafin.

"Hello, darling. Did you think I wouldn't find you? You're not playing hard to get, now, are you?"

Isaac was sufficiently startled that he failed to prevent Arrafin scurrying forward to address her.

"Madame Yuek. But. How did you come here? I thought--"

Dark eyes darkened further.

"You mean you WERE avoiding me? Arrafin."

"No! Well. No. It's just. We. Um."

Arrafin retreated with a worried headshake, then stopped as curiousity overcame her fear.

"Try to do something. Something. Sorcerous."

She waved her hands in front of her face to demonstrate.

Madame Yuek frowned, then shrugged.

"Whatever will please you, dar--"

An expression none of them had ever witnessed took hold of the undead sorceress' face, and with hideous snarl she slapped Arrafin backhanded across the face, sending the girl sprawling backwards. Madame Yuek shrieked.

"What have you done!?"

Her hand reached out in a savage claw, fingernails stretching outwards into long talons, when she froze in place. Again her expression transformed in a heartbeat, into that terrible sadness Elena had witnessed long ago, in her castle in Shaer.

"Oh, Arrafin. Arrafin. Forgive me."

The Naridic girl got to her feet, sobbing, and ran to the rear of the ship and through a cabin door. Madame Yuek set after her, only to come up short as Isaac stepped in front of her.

"If you think I'll let you harm her, you're not so smart after all."

The vampire stared at him, her face now expressionless.

"Your concern for your friend is noted. I swear to you, if I intend to harm her, I will tear you to pieces first. Now step aside."

"What are you going to do?"

"Something I don't do very often, and something I don't chose to share with you."

One long-fingered, elegant hand gripped his shoulder. Isaac had just enough time to be surprised at the warmth and softness of that hand when he found himself lifted in to the air and placed to the side.

She'd lifted him off the ground. By the shoulder. With one hand. Isaac watched her pass him and go to the door Arrafin had fled through.

And kneel. She began speaking quietly.

The others looked each other over. Isaac glowered.

"She hit Arrafin."

Zuleika shrugged.

"I bet she's grovelling about that right now. Maybe Arrafin can get something out of her."

"Arrafin's not going let that bitch get away with something like that. She hit Arrafin. Hard."

Just as Isaac spoke, the door opened, and Arrafin, wiping at her nose and eyes, came out to look down at Madame Yuek. They stared at each other and the vampire bowed. Arrafin nodded.

The pair returned to where the others stood. The crew of the Wavereaver stood around staring. Arrafin drew in a shaky breath and spoke.

"Madame Yuek has a theory. About Shang and Nevid's head."

Elena crossed her arms.

"Does she? How nice for her."

"Elena. She said she was sorry. It's okay now."

"Sure. Everything's fine."

"Anyway. She thinks Shang wants to collect the fragment of the Blood Mother's soul so that nobody can restore it. There's a way to put her back together. To restore the Blood Council."

The others looked back and forth between Arrafin's intense face and the tall vampire standing beside her, staring off across the waves as though none of this had anything to do with her.

"Great. So how do we put her back together?"

Madame Yuek turned from her study of the sea to regard Elena with a cold gaze.

"You don't. I do. You help."

"Why would we help you? You're evil."

"I've never lied to you."

Etienne coughed.

"That's not exactly true, now, is it?"

A large number of eyes turned to him.

"You told us Shang destroyed the Blood Mother. But the Blood Council say you did it."

"That's right. So. Now what do you have to say for yourself, evil undead evil bad... person."

Madame Yuek smiled with what appeared to be actual good humour.

"Careful who you trust. But it's true, I may not have been completely forthcoming. Still, what I said was true. Shang did it.

"To understand my involvement, you have to understand my origin. Matai Shang made me."

She gestured to the deck and seated herself in a graceful motion. The others followed suit, with varying degrees less of grace, and arranged themselves in a sort of half-circle, facing where Madame Yuek knelt.

"I am perhaps his greatest achievement. He unlocked the secrets that had been hidden since the days of ancient horrors, and rediscovered the sorceries that created the vampires of old. And he saw me as a mortal woman, and he turned me into this."

With a sweeping gesture she indicated herself. Elena studied the white marble of what was once flesh and now seemed like a sort of liquid stone, and the horror of it struck her again.

"But why?"

"Why? Why would he turn a beautiful young woman into an indestructible engine of terror and death?"

She laughed and clapped her hands together as though relating a saucy joke.

"He did it so that I would stay pretty, no matter what he did to me."

Open-mouthed stares greeted this announcement, and the vampire laughed even harder.

"You see, when he created me, I was his slave. I was bound through his sorcery to do whatever he wished. Which was mostly suffer horrible tortures and be torn to pieces, screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming AND SCREAMING--"

Her laughter sank beneath a fiery glare and one of her hands punched through the decking beside her. With evident effort, Madame Yuek regained her composure.

"He sent me to gather the Blood Mother. Against the ancient might of the entire Blood Council, the most powerful cabal of sorcery the world has ever seen, he sent his favourite plaything. And I consumed them. I destroyed the entire city Zuyang in one breath. A million souls ravaged. And I took the Blood Mother to him.

"And then I played a little trick on him. As he was absorbed in the rituals required to perform his spell on the Blood Mother's soul, I performed a spell of my own. One I'd been preparing for over a century. I freed myself from his control in a sorcerous explosion so violent I was sure, for many years, that I'd killed him."

Her gaze settled, unseeing, on the deck before her. Arrafin coughed.

"But now you want to fix it, right? Fix the Blood Mother? Put her soul back together? Make things better?"

"I don't think I'd put it quite so strongly. But anything Shang doesn't want to happen strikes me as a good thing to do."

Her dark eyes drifted to Nevid.

"You have Tsing Kwan's memories, yes? What do you recall?"

"Destruction. Torture. You, killing people."

"Hm. Well, we all have our skills. Now, we need to bring this ship to the shore, so that I can disembark. If Shang realizes I'm here, and without sorcery..."

The deck tilted, timbers splintered and creaked, and the whole ship shook.

Giant figures stood fore and aft, glittering in the sunshine, translucent and deep ruby red, carved with facets as though formed from enormous gemstones.

"'s possible he'll take the opportunity to cause trouble. This should be interesting."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 15

The ruby giant punched Madame Yuek in the face hard enough to blast her backwards right through the mainmast of the Wavereaver. The thick timber splintered with a deafening thunder, and sails began to topple all across the deck.

Isaac could only stare, openmouthed.

"Holy crap."

Zuleika wasted less time. The ship pitching and wallowing under the sudden weight of the two bizarre crystalline figures standing fore and aft, she scrambled along the heaving deck and launched herself at the after creature, standing astride the tiller.

Her scimitar clanged off the ruby facets of its body without leaving so much as a scratch.

More gemstone-like fists punched. A crew member flew screaming into the waves.

Isaac saw Madame Yuek get to her feet, a simmering fury burning on her face that made him glad she couldn't use any sorcery just then.

She stalked out of torn timbers towards the bow, hissing in savage anger.

Elena grabbed Arrafin and yanked on Isaac's collar.

"We have to get out of here! This whole ship is going to go down!"

The deck was awash, the ship unable to maintain herself as the enormous figures staggered towards their very angry target. A massive faceted foot stomped down near Elena and she, Isaac and Arrafin all scrambled aside, nearly pitching over the gunwales as the Wavereaver tilted again.

Arrafin struggled to free herself.

"We have to help! She'll die!"

"You've got no sorcery, I've got no powers. Weapons look useless. We can't help."

Etienne was busy tying off a stay for the forward mast.

"Speak for yourself. There's always room for us bold and dashing types."

Zuleika came stumbling to where they huddled.

"What are you going to do, kid? Charm them to death?"

"I don't think we want to be in the middle of this. Look at that."

Isaac pointed just as one of the fifteen-foot-tall crystal figures aimed another punch at the opulently-dressed Madame Yuek. This time she saw the attack coming, and met it with both fists.

It cracked.

Not completely, and Madame Yuek still plunged backwards, plowing a hole in the deck, but the immense fist showed clear fractures all the way up to the elbow.

"These things can be hurt."

A gun carriage creaked beside him. Isaac grinned.

"I want to blow something up."

"Make it snappy. Those things are going to punch her right through the hull one of these times."

Another walloping punch descended on Madame Yuek. She stepped aside and delivered one of her own, knocking one of the creatures backwards.

Elena stared. It was a bizarre spectacle, this opulently dressed lady spinning and lashing out with her long sleeves, versus immense automatons that should have been able to pulverise her with one blow. And yet she showed no signs of injury, and her blows rocked creatures that must have weighed several tons.

More deck timbers splintered. Mateo came scrambling past, clutching for balance.

"The longboat! Lower the boat!"

Isaac grabbed him.

"Look, get your crew and help me with these cannon. If we can point them at those bastards..."

Mateo shook himself free and kept on scrambling. Isaac swore in frustration.

Zuleika and Etienne had been comparing thoughts and turned to the others.

"The kid's got a good idea. Those things don't look too stable. Maybe we can get a couple of lines around one, yank it overboard. Etienne's taking the high road, I'm taking the low road."

Her dark eyes flashed at Arrafin.

"Pray to the Wind for us, sister."

She took off across the deck, dragging one of the cables that had come down with the mast. Elena looked back and forth between her and Etienne, who was now clambering up the forward stays, likewise dragging a cable.

"This is madness."

Madame Yuek screamed. They saw her lift off the ground, one hand clutched in the fist of one creature, the other hand held tight in the fist of the other. The creatures stepped back and her right arm came tearing free of her shoulder.

"Oh, we're dead."

Arrafin shrieked and ran forward.

Zuleika had reached the far side of the deck. She rushed along the gunwales there, snugging her cable up behind the nearest creature's heels. Etienne saw her and leapt straight out past the forward mast. He sailed upwards until his cable paid out, at which point it tightened against the mast and yanked him backwards.

"That kid's going to get himself killed one of these days."

Elena watched as the half-Kishak youth executed a perfect mid-air sumersault and slammed feet-first into the creature's face. It tried to step back and found its foot tangled in Zuleika's cable.

Fifteen feet of faceted ruby giant fell backwards, thumping down onto the deck and off into the water. It sank as though sucked downwards, and the cable entangled in its feet began uncoiling in a wild frenzy as tons of animate gemstone plunged towards the sea floor.

Zuleika looked to the other end of the cable. It was lashed around the stump of the main mast.

"Oh, God."

Arrafin scarcely noticed the toppling giant. She pushed through splintered timbers and flapping canvas to find the remains of Madame Yuek, strewn with blood, laying limp amid the ruins of the forward cabin.

Her dark eyes opened and she grinned with manic energy.

"Wow. It's been ages since anyone pulled my arm off. Help me up."

"What? Are you okay?"

"It'll be a while before I'm signing autographs, but otherwise, I'm fine."

A huge ruby fist plunged down beside them in an explosion of wood and sea spray. Arrafin tugged a timber off Madame Yuek's left arm and the vampire lifted her up and then they leapt free of the ruins.

Isaac had gotten Elena to help him, but they were unable to shift the Wavereaver's cannon. Madame Yuek took in the situation.

"Not bad. Is it loaded?"

Isaac nodded.

"That much, I've done. But we'll never get it turned around in--"

Madame Yuek lifted the gun, hoisted it on her left hip and turned to face the remaining gigantic figure.

"Light it."

Zuleika ran to the mast stump, raising her scimitar to chop at the cable as it thrashed and writhed like a live thing. The deck pitched as she prepared her strike, and she set her foot in a loop of the rapidly-disappearing cable.

Etienne got to his feet, triumphant and smug, only to see Zuleika suddenly vanish overboard, yanked into the water.

"What the?"

He ran to the edge of the deck where the cable sawed wildly at the rail, and just caught a glimpse of her bright jerkin as she was hauled downward into the gloom.


Etienne dove overboard, swimming straight down alongside the still-rushing cable.

Isaac scrabbled in his pouch for a flint. The ruby giant saw them and stomped across the deck.

"You do know how to make fire, right? That secret hasn't been lost with the ages, even among you barbarians, has it? Or is it a mystery only to you?"

"You're not helping!"

"'You're not helping, Demon Goddess,' I think you mean."

The creature raised one foot, ready to stomp them all through the deck, but then the ship tilted sharply, beams groaning as if with sudden agony.

The cable had run out. The rail snapped, and the whole ship began to heave up on the side where Arrafin, Elena, Isaac and Madame Yuek stood.

"We're going down."

Etienne kicked and clawed at the water. The cable alongside him thrummed to a sudden halt, and he could hear the ship overhead groaning with strain. Zuleika was just below him, staring up at him in terror. She was too far down.

Steel flashed and he saw her scimitar in her hand.

She hung vertical along the rope, her foot extended down beneath her. He saw her flail, trying to cut the rope beneath her, but she couldn't reach. Her face turned up to him.


Her scimitar flashed once more; then she was gone, yanked downward faster than he could see.

The ship righted itself just as Isaac produced the flint from his pouch. The giant regained its balance and stepped towards them again.

"Arrafin, can you show the barbarian how to use it?"

"Shut up, Demon Goddess."

"Perhaps you'd like to take a turn holding this f**ker?"

Isaac gritted his teeth and remained silent as he struck a spark at the touchhole.

The creature was in mid-step when the cannonball caught it in its left shoulder, shattering half its torso and knocking it back right off the ship.

Madame Yuek was hurled backwards by the recoil, embedding herself in the deck with a groan.

"There's nothing like a peaceful cruise, is there?"

Some planking shifted and Nevid's head appeared.

"Are we sinking?"


Gravel crunched under the longboat's hull as they rowed ashore. Madame Yuek stood amidships, her right arm still just a bloody stump. She watched with interest as the crew scrambled out and ran them up, then turned to Isaac.

"Help me out."

"You can't walk?"

"It will be undignified. Lift me out and set me on the beach."

She smiled. It was a very beautiful smile.

"Don't make me insist."

Isaac scowled but bent to lift the Tianese beauty. She laid her left arm along his shoulders, and Isaac was startled to find her warm and light in his arms. He lurched awkwardly out of the longboat and set her on the gravel.

She curtseyed.

"Well, I should leave before Shang gets all reckless again. And I need to heal and that's... well, you don't want to be around for that."

Shadow's dark tendrils rose up around her. She turned her smile once more on all of them.

"I am sorry for your friend. She was very brave. I promise you Shang will pay for her death."

She was gone.

Nearly everyone sighed. They turned to look at the hulk of the Wavereaver, wallowing in the shallows a hundred yards off shore. Elena grunted and suddenly Farouk ibn Zaoud was there.

"What is my mistress' command?"

"Can you fix our ship?"

"Of course, if my mistress wills it."

"I will it. Fix our ship."

"Have you any tools?"

"Tools? Oh. No."

"It may take quite a while, mistress."

"I'll watch."

Arrafin crossed to where Etienne had thumped down on the beach. He stared out at the dark water.

"I'm sorry about--"

"Don't. Don't say anything. Don't say anything at all."


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 16

"That was anticlimactic."

Isaac looked over at Elena. The two Saijadani stood in the entry hall of a large country mansion, ready to fight whatever defenders the del Orofin family might have placed here, only to find the place empty.

Isaac stuffed one of his pistols back into his belt, still looking around cautiously.

"Let's just see what we find."

They edged forward, their boots silent in the thick carpet of the hall. Isaac stopped as something squished beneath his tread. He looked down.

"I think that's blood."

"Yeah, there's a couple of bodies over here. del Orofin soldiers, it looks like. I don't know what got to them, but these don't look like sword cuts."

Isaac joined Elena and they poked at the dead men.

"Holy. Those look like. Claw marks. Or bites. Or something."

"Something big."

Above a great chandelier and curving staircase told of wealth and elegance.

Elena gestured to the staircase.

"Upstairs? Think maybe they kept her in some locked guest room?"

Isaac shrugged.

"If that de Maynard bitch was even telling the truth about this place."

They made their way up the wide stairs. The house was silent around them, only the wind outside telling them that anything was moving in the world.

At the second floor they halted, peering down gloomy corridors. Many doors provided nothing but mute opportunity.

"I guess we start opening doors."

Twenty minutes they were back at the stairs, the hallways behind them full of open doors.

"Okay, so maybe the basement."

"Maybe we're being made fools of."

Isaac glowered further and the pair made their way downstairs, passing through several salons and the kitchen before finding a servant's hall from which a narrow stairway descended. They paused.

"That's quite a stink. I hope that's not, you know. Your mom."

"Thanks, Elena. Very sensitive."

They peered into darkness. Elena left her friend standing there for a few minutes, and returned with a lamp. Together they descended, stairs creaking beneath them.

The basement beneath the house seemed a single large room, supported by many pillars with ancient stone arches crossing between them. The air hung dank and thick with the stench of rot and decay. Piles of misshapen forms lay heaped up around many of the pillars. Elena leaned towards the nearest one and jerked back.

"Those are bones. Human bones. And. Flesh, too."

"What the hell? What happened here?"

Isaac peered into the shadows beyond where their lamp cast its glow. A regular set of lines and shapes hinted at some structure.

"Is that a cage?"

Picking their way carefully among the bodies and the noisome pools of fluid, they approached the six-foot-high object. It was indeed a cage, big enough for a man, with its door hanging open and twisted, the hinges nearly torn off.

Another body lay here with one arm reaching in through the bars of the cage. That arm was torn and flayed, and the man's head had been torn completely off.

"This door. It looks like..."

"Yeah. From the inside."

"Do you think one of these bodies is maybe..?"

Isaac stood very still. He drew a breath and looked around at the scattered bones and rotting entrails.

"I don't know what to think. But. It seems likely."

He took his cigar out of his mouth and flung it to the floor.

"Fine. I thought she was dead for the last year, now I know she's dead. Fine. Let's go."

"But, what happened here? Should we investigate maybe? Some kind of creature must have escaped, or something."

"Hell with that. Let the del Orofin clean up their own f**king mess."

Isaac stomped back to the stairs. Elena watched her friend, his agony so plain in his stiff posture, and she followed him in silence.


The Blood Council Sanctuary in Salejo sat in the middle of the city's busy commercial district, an unassuming walled compound with a a single gate.

Inside, graceful buildings arranged across a gravel yard sat in a quiet that seemed miles away from the bustling streets outside.

Etienne sat uncomfortable on the floor of a small, featureless room. Sunlight slanted in through narrow latticework. He looked up as the door slid open and Kimiko Torokan entered.


She knelt before him and bowed.

"Blood Sister. It's, uh, good to see you."

Her enigmatic face warmed with an enigmatic smile.

"There's no need to be anxious, Etienne. Please. I'm not jealous about Zuleika."

"You knew?"

The smile broadened.

"I assume you have something to discuss other than your romantic infidelities?"


The smile disappeared. Torokan raised her eyebrows. Etienne stared down at the floor.

"That is, I don't really have anything to discuss. I just wanted to see you, Kimiko."

"You... I see."

Torokan sat in stillness for a few heartbeats. She reached out and touched Etienne's arm.

"Are we still on the same side, Etienne? Are you still with us?"

"What side is our side?"

"She is dangerous. She is not to be trusted."

"Are you?"

They stared at each other. Distant rumbles and voices came through the lattice windows. At last Torokan spoke.

"You didn't come here for this conversation, did you?"


"Come here."


Arrafin and Nevid sat side-by-side, frowning intently at a faded page of crabbed handwriting. Arrafin pointed.

"That's 'Dannockshire', right?"

"I think so. That's where Madame Yuek's castle was."

"That's where we found Kaley."

"I think we have to go back. Whoever these Tuthean Tarn are, that seems to be where they hold their court."

"Do you want to ask her or should I?"

Nevid turned around in his chair to address Kaley. The Shaeric girl brightened at the attention.

"Hello, lad. I like ye."

"Thank you, Kaley. I like you, too. Can I ask you a question?"

She nodded.

"What do you think about going back to Castle Dannockshire? Do you remember that place?"

"It was long ago I went up to the castle, it was. So long ago I went up there."

"Is that where you met the King?"

"Aye. And her. His Queen. Rhiaellian. She did no like me."

"Okay, thanks. We were thinking of going back there and asking them to free you. What do you think about that?"

Kaley stared at Nevid, motionless for long breaths. Then she smiled.

"I like ye."

Arrafin grinned.

"She is consistent, I have to give her that."


Unattainable Ideal
Two weeks in a row without an update, sorry. Life has just bludgeoned me into the soft, sproingy turf.

Also, nobody posts nice compliments about how much they love my writing.

William Ager

First Post
barsoomcore said:
Two weeks in a row without an update, sorry. Life has just bludgeoned me into the soft, sproingy turf.

Also, nobody posts nice compliments about how much they love my writing.

Perhaps, upon reading it, we are left unable to contrive any compliments that could sufficiently describe the excellence and originality of such writing?

We are, after all, your loyal readers; yours is the only story hour I continue to read regularly.


Unattainable Ideal
Frying Pan, Fire: 17

"It's quiet. I like that."

Isaac grimaced sourly at Elena's comment and poked a stick in the fire. Embers brightened and heat swirled back at him.

Etienne inspected the cuts of meat sizzling over the flames, shaking his fingers as hot fat dripped.

"Ouch. These are almost ready."

Arrafin sat turning pages in a massive black volume, its covers detailed with eldritch sigils. She had to turn a little to let the light from the fire fall more directly on the pages as the sun reached the western horizon, off down at the end of the beach. The sky blazed with its last glory.

Elena studied the girl for a moment, then frowned at the book.

"What is that, Arrafin?"

"My spellbook."

"Since when do you have a spellbook?"

"Um. Since I got it. Um. I needed one. For my spells. So I got one."

Arrafin flashed a quick grin at Etienne as she stuffed the book into her knapsack.

"Yum. That smells good. Yum, food. Don't you like food, Elena?"

"Yeah, food is--"

Elena wasn't the only one of the group to turn as a figure came walking down the beach towards them. A slim figure in dark expensive silk, with a mocking smile on her sardonic face.


Elena spoke before Isaac could say anything.

"We went to the del Orofin house. Everyone's dead."

"Did you set us up, bitch? Are the del Orofin after us now?"

The young woman chuckled.

"The del Orofin were already after you, Isaac. If they weren't before, you killing Pilar's son back in Bayonne certainly made sure of that. And no, I didn't set you up. But I gather she wasn't there?"

"There were a lot of corpses. We didn't search too carefully."

"Well, I did. And she wasn't among them."

Isaac frowned and watched Etienne begin snatching the now-cooked strips of meat off the skewers and onto a platter. He turned to Collette, anger fading away.

"What do you care? What do you want from me?"

Arrafin and Elena both put a lot of energy into looking like they weren't interested. Nevid and Etienne put much less effort in, but looked much less interested anyway.

Collette watched the waves rolling up the beach.

"I think something terrible was done to your mother. Did you know she's from Avernay? Same as me. Anyway, I just want to find out what happened. It was Isabella asked me to track her down. Now I'm obsessed, I guess. I just want to know what happened."

She turned and she and Isaac stared at each other for a long time. Nobody else spoke.

"Maybe I think I owe you one. Or at least her. I helped set up your father, you know."

"I know."

"He WAS a traitor. He sold slaves to Caedmonish traders. You never knew. Your mother never knew. But it was true."

Etienne growled.

"Why does everyone try to convince us that their version of what happened is what REALLY happened?"

Everyone studied the half-Kishak with grease dripping down his chin. He shrugged.

"It's true. The Demon Goddess says Shang killed the Blood Mother, and the Blood Council say the Demon Goddess killed the Blood Mother, and the Demon Goddess says she's going to fix that and we should trust her and the Blood Council say don't trust her and Sharina says Kaley's an abomination and Farouk says Kaley's just a girl and the Tyrant's Shade... well, he's bad."

Elena laughed at Etienne's faltering finish.

"You know, we can't even agree on what happened last week. Why should these people be any more consistent than us?"

"Exactly. And some of them are plenty crazy."

Collette put up a hand.

"What's a Demon Goddess?"


Arrafin upended the bottle and held it above her mouth, waiting for the last drops of wine. Just as the drop hung from the bottle's lip, ready to fall, Elena gave the Naridic girl a shove and it fell on her robes.

Elena snickered. She'd had a couple of bottles herself already.

Etienne had passed out and lay flat on his back in the sand, snoring peacefully. Isaac sat gloomily staring into the fire, incommunicative since Collette's departure, and Nevid and Kaley had wandered off.

"So... heard from your girlfriend lately?"

"My what? Heard from who? What do you mean? I don't have a girlfriend. What would I? A girlfriend? No. No."

"You know. Madame You-Ack. She lurvs you. She does. She thinks you're neat."

Elena pushed her finger into Arrafin's cheek. Arrafin pushed back, suddenly irritable.

"Stop it. I. I don't know what you're talking about. Elena. She's not li-- She's not liking me like that. I don't think. Not that I would know. I wouldn't. But she doesn't. I'm sure."

Arrafin swallowed.

"Wow, it sure gets warm at night around here, doesn't it? What's wrong with Isaac?"

"I think he just had his world turned inside-out."

"Yeah. What?"

"He's been hating Collette all this time and now she's doing him a favour."

"Why doesn't he go look for his mom himself? He's weird."

"Yeah. Hey, Isaac, Arrafin thinks you're weird."

"Is that so?"

Over Arrafin's jumbled protestations, Isaac turned to face his friend.

"Well, at least I'm not making time with some vampire goddess insane-o chick."

"Yeah, that's what I said. Madame You-Ack."

"Remember what Zuleika called her? Madame Lick My Thong."


The three sat staring at the dwindling coals. Overhead stars rolled in slow brilliant circles.

"So, uh, Isaac. Why aren't you? How come you didn't go with Collette? To find your mother."

"She's probably just setting me up for something even worse."

"Your mother?"

"No, Arrafin. Collette."

"Oh. I don't think so. I think she likes you."

Isaac barked a harsh laugh.

"That's a good one. The cold-blooded del Orofin bitch with a heart of gold. Right."

"Do you think she likes him, Elena?"

"Enough. I don't want to talk about that bitch any more. Hey, Elena, get Farouk out here. Let's see what he can do."

Elena and Isaac got into an argument over the proper use of ancient warrior spirits, and Arrafin shuffled back to where her knapsack lay. A half-empty bottle sat in the sand beside it. The Naridic girl looked up and down the beach, the long white lines of the incoming rollers stretching out as far as the eye could see, glowing under the starlight.

She looked back over her shoulder at her friends. Farouk now stood in front of them, answering their questions in his grave voice.

Arrafin chewed her lower lip. She snatched up her knapsack and looked again to see if Elena or Isaac were paying any attention. They weren't.

She set off along the beach, soon lost in the darkness as she strode away from her friends and the light.


Unattainable Ideal
Interlude II

Everything here cried out for release. Even the paving stones seemed to shriek in endless, hopeless agony. The crumbled walls of palaces and towers shuddered under the unrelenting wail of the wind. This place shook with despair.

Overhead, the sky twisted in a dark cyclone, but not of cloud or rain. The dark streaks wound around each other, falling and rising in tumultous discord, and here and there revealing faces, or at least half-visioned features, torn away before they could register any expressions beyond terror and pain.

Corpses shook in the wind, bones held together with horrid bits of sinew and dried flesh. So many corpses. So many had died here.

And none of them had died well.

A dark archway led down into a dark, dank basement. Oiled steel surfaces gleamed with unsavoury cleanliness. The wind was not so loud down here, where heavy stone arches thick with dust and soot hung over the cracked floor. Not so loud to drown out the stuttering rhythm of the young girl gasping once every twenty heartbeats, her thin body twitching on the steel slab. Pipes and tubes ran from needles driven into her limbs. A dial registered some flow of current or fluid.

She stared up at the ceiling, not dying well at all.


"Why should we trust you? You're responsible for this situation in the first place."

Metallic limbs clicked and cables wound in steady, quiet whines. Matai Shang drew nearer. Kimiko Torokan tried very hard not to look frightened.

"You have no need of trust. Logic demands this course. My own self-interest requires it. What more surety can you find?"

Torokan swallowed and looked around at the ice-streaked walls. They stood in a great towering chamber, light dropping from high above, reflecting brilliantly all down the immense frozen cascade that hung, as though struck to ice in the midst of plunging down to where they stood, Matai Shang and the Blood Mother.

Between them an obsidian staff stood in a curious harness, its upper end tipped with the largest emerald Torokan had ever seen.

"We'll need some evidence that this thing actually works."

"Oh, but of course, Kimiko Torokan. I have arranged a demonstration. Please, take up the weapon."

Torokan stared. The greatest enemy the Blood Council had ever faced. The man who had destroyed the last true Blood Mother. She had killed her own friends for associating with this foul creature.

She picked up the staff.

Shang gestured with a bony hand and cringing minions unsnapped the latches on a huge iron box, far taller than a man. A door on the side flew open and a wild-eyed figure leapt out, skin as white as the ice on all sides.

It shrieked and lunged for one of the minions. Blood exploded across the snowy floor.

"After it kills the second one it will come after us, Kimiko Torokan. Move quickly, I beg you."

Torokan, startled out of her sudden terror, grasped hold of the staff more firmly, and the darkness of Shadow rose up all around her, the inky tendrils writhing and seeping into the staff as though drawn against their will.

The creature turned towards her and she thrust the staff in its direction. A vivid green line burst from the emerald, striking the blood-covered monster in the chest.

It shrieked again, but this time in terror. It clawed at itself, tearing skin in great flaps. Jerking and convulsing, it fell to its knees, begging for mercy.

Torokan held on, grimly controlling a rush of sorcery more intense than she'd ever felt. The staff helped her maintain her focus but it was a desperate effort to hang on as she felt the device tearing at the vampire's soul.

A sudden blast of Shadow erupted from the creature, exploding away in a dizzying explosion of sorcerous power, and there was nothing. It was gone.

Torokan stared. Where the vampire had once been, knelt a man. Weeping. Bleeding from the terrible wounds he'd inflicted on himself. Looking about himself in new amazement.

A mortal man.

"It worked."


Shang gestured again and his surviving minion thrust a sword into the man's back. He collapsed with a groan.

"Of course, he was just formed. The Demon Goddess will require considerably more time. I shall endeavour to keep her busy."

"You promised me the Blood Mother."

"Indeed. And she shall be restored, Kimiko Torokan. The Demon Goddess is the key."

"Will she come? Are you sure she will come?"

"Did I not create her myself? Of course she will come, Kimiko Torokan. Her pride alone will compel her. And she will be ours."


Everywhere, the same face. Beautiful.

Carved into every surface.

Painted across every wall.

Her perfect face.

Madame Yuek's knees cracked as she collapsed on the mirror-smooth marble tiles of her castle's entry hall. Girl's voices rose high and excited as two young women came tearing down the wide staircase to greet her. She shuddered, and looked down to see dark flesh still gripped in her hand. Something bestial happened inside her eyes and she stuffed the chunk of meat into her mouth, grunting as she bolted it down.

"Goddess, Goddess, Goddess, You're back. We love You so much, Goddess, we love You so much. Thank You. Thank You. We love You."

Madame Yuek raised her head to regard the girls bowing and praying before her.

"Stand up, Yuri-chan."

The girl addressed leapt to her feet, her eyes fixed on the floor in front of her. Yuek ran a hand through the girl's long hair and then seized her by the throat. Yuri's gaze never wavered.

"Answer this question: Are you afraid?"

"No, Goddess."

Yuek released her.


Yuri collapsed to her knees and folded her upper body down to again press her face against the polished black marble. Yuek studied her, thoughtful.

"You are not afraid that I will kill you, Yuri-chan?"

Without looking up the girl answered.

"It is my most fervent desire that you will kill me, Goddess."

Yuek nodded.

"I will, Yuri-chan. I promise. I."

The vampire shook, released the girl and then threw herself down, slamming her face into the marble tiles beneath. Bones snapped and skin tore. Teeth clattered across the floor.


She did it again. And again. And again.


Something like a great cat passed through the field. Black gleaming pelt and a sinuous padding stride, yellow flash of burning eyes.

Perez was dead the same moment he realised what he saw. The beast tore him in two with a casual sweep of its talons. Diego had a second to run, but not enough time to scream. He felt a weight on his back; then he felt no more.

It was much later and some distance away that Emmanuelle del Valenzia awoke. She found herself naked in a sunny cornfield, a middle-aged woman with deep lines of worry and suffering in her face, but clearly not a woman who'd lived a life of hard labour. She scrambled to her feet, trying instinctively to cover herself. Dust rose up and clung to her bare skin.

She looked down at herself and saw blood. Her gaze lifted and she saw the torn bodies.

"Not again."


Unattainable Ideal
Two updates in one week!

Who loves ya, baby?

This brings to a close Act Two, "Frying Pan, Fire" of Barsoom Tales Season II. We move into the final act of this breathless drama, "What A Woman's Got To Do", and let me tell you, bad as things have gotten, they are about to get much, much worse.

And much, much weirder.
Last edited:


First Post
Feeling the luv

The epic scope of this story never ceases to amaze me.

Poor little players in a big, evil, gotta-be-kiddin'-me world....

At least they know when to run...which is most of the time!

Good form!


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 1

"Is that what it looks like?"

"What do you think it looks like?"

"Half-a-dozen flying demon-things attacking an ironclad steamship. A few hundred feet above the surface of the Inner Sea."

"Then yes, that is exactly what it looks like. Any other questions?"

Elena glared at Isaac, who was obviously enjoying teasing his old friend.

"I don't really know where to start."

"You could ask, 'Isaac, what are those flying demon-things?' Or, 'Isaac, why are those demon things attacking that ship?' Or... well, there's a lot of options."

"And yet, you left out maybe the biggest one of all."

Isaac's raised eyebrow and smirk drew an explosion out of Elena.

"The ship is FLYING. Look at it. It's in the air. It's a flying ship. This is new to me."

Nevid joined his fellow Saijadani.

"Shaer has had flying ships for a while now. They were first revealed on the mainland during the siege of Fort Burnoll. Mostly they're owned by mercenary companies, which are sort of government bodies in Shaer. Judging from the insignia on the stern, that's one of the Dark Horse Regiment's ships. Probably the Indomitable, Cutter-class. Twenty-four guns."

"Uh-huh. It FLIES."

"Yes, I can see that, Elena."

"Your problem, Nevid, is that you have no sense of wonder. And you're weird."

Nevid just stared at Elena for a few heartbeats, then turned to consider the distant battle.

Smoke erupted from the side of the vessel and moments later they heard the rumbling of cannon fire.

"Somebody's still fighting."

"On the FLYING ship."

"We get it, Elena. It flies."

"How close do we want to get to this battle? Because we appear to be sailing directly towards it."

Another rumbling drew their attention. Dark shapes fell from the airborne craft, tumbling down to the waves below. Elena gasped upon realising some of the shapes were people, figures twisting desperately in their deadly plunge.

"We have to help them!"

Isaac shrugged.

"We don't even know who the good guys are."

"I'm willing to take a chance on the ones who aren't flying demons."

"I don't see how we can help anyone up there."

Their ship continued to plow through the gentle seas, eastward with the late afternoon sun behind their right shoulders. The entire crew of the ship had forgotten their duties, absorbed in the drama taking place high above.

"They may not be up there too long. That ship looks like she's starting to descend."

Isaac was right. The great smoke-belching vehicle tilted and began to sink downwards, lurching as more debris fell from its decks. They were close enough now that small-arms fire could be heard, and voice rising in battle-frenzied shrieks.

"All right. Let's get in this."

Isaac strung his hunting bow and strode up to the prow of their ship, bracing himself against the light swell. As he took aim, Arrafin came out of her cabin and gasped at the sight now looming a hundred feet above them. The flying contraption was half the size of their merchant ship, hanging in mid-air at a steep angle, wreathed now in smoke and dangling cables.

"That ship is FLYING."

"Never mind, Arrafin. These guys have no sense of wonder."

"That's very true."

Isaac let fly. His arrow arced upwards, spiralling tightly as it sailed onto a perfect collision with a white-skinned creature clinging to a railing on the beleaguered ship.

The arrow bounced off. The creature, twice the size of a man and with a long armoured tail that they could see ended in a terrible stinger, turned and snarled at them with a skull face. It let go of its perch and spread leathery wings to charge down at them.

"What's funny," said Isaac, "Is that this is just all too predictable."

Arrafin stretched out a hand and shut her eyes. Her owl huddled down on her shoulder as dark radiance billowed around her and then gathered up into a solid mass and leapt at the oncoming beast like a black fist.

The demon screeched and fell back from the blow, dazed and furious.

Elena took a pose similar to her friend's, one hand outstretched, and she snarled as a low roar rumbled through the air. The injured demon convulsed like a rag doll in an angry child's grip, skin tearing and alien ichor spewing from its sudden wounds.

As that beast crashed into the sea to flail and shriek, its five fellows turned from savaging the crew of the flying ironclad and swooped down towards the ship below.

Arrafin spread her arms and again the dark tendrils rose up around her. This time, however, her owl leapt into the air in confusion as she lost control of the energy. The slender girl shrieked and swayed where she stood, darkness clawing at her. She crashed down to her knees, strain knotted on her wide-eyed face as she fought the soul-devouring power of Shadow.

Elena saw Arrafin's distress and gritted her teeth as she again unleashed the strange power of her mind. This time, while one of the creatures lashed and shrieked, none were disabled by her effort. All five plunged into the rigging and in moments the entire deck was caught up in a wild melee.

Isaac's heavy sword did a little better than his arrow had, and he had one of the demons retreating from his furious blows. Elena switched to another power and sent one creature crashing backwards, breaking its spine on the mainmast.

A crew member screamed and gurgled as talons sank into his throat. Guns went off with a quick drumroll of bangs. Etienne came up from below decks and rolled, drawing his knives and sinking them hilt-deep into a demon's side.

Blood and vile fluids sprayed across the deck. Elena, drained of psychic energy, staggered to where Arrafin got wearily to her feet. The thin Naridic girl pointed at one of the demons, her big round eyes dark with Shadow's power.


Again the darkness swirled up around her, and for a second Elena thought she'd succeeded, but Arrafin cried out again and collapsed, twitching and screaming in agony as she fought for her life.

Elena ran to where her friend lay on the deck.


Trying to hold the girl still, Elena looked up at a sudden shadow.

A demon stood over them both, sneering and drooling. It opened its mouth like a snake's, its jaws unhinging and fangs lengthening as she watched in horror.

Isaac swore and fought more furiously, as did Etienne, but they were too far away. Nevid had disappeared entirely. Elena closed her eyes.


Arrafin's voice shook her out of her fear. The two women grinned at each other and even as the demon raised its gleaming talons to strike, Elena called up the ancient servant of Suleikar ben Azan.

"Destroy this demon."

The snarling creature somehow gaped in shock. Farouk ibn Zaoud bowed.

"As my mistress commands."

The imposing Naridic warrior hefted his immense scimitar and laid into the startled demon. Blood flew and screams rose. Elena turned to Arrafin.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. This sorcery is stupid. It never works when we really need it."

"Maybe you just need to lay off a little bit."

Arrafin's eyes flashed with anger and a hint of the darkness that consumed them when she used her sorcery.

"I'm fine! I can do this, I just need to practice. You all think I'm so useless, stupid Arrafin with her stupid books."

Stunned, Elena shook her head.

"Arrafin. I don't know what you're talking about."

Farouk bowed.

"The demon is destroyed, mistress."

"Yeah, yeah. Go get the rest of them."

"As my mistress commands."

Elena turned back to Arrafin but the girl had gotten to her feet and was storming angrily back to her cabin, her little owl swooping about her tangled curls.

The last of the demons, caught between Isaac and Farouk, died noisily. Their ship lurched suddenly and they saw the ironclad, now drifting just above the water, bumping against their hull. A weary but cheerful face appeared at a hatch.

"Ahoy, me friend. Timely yer arrival was, and no mistake. Could we trouble ye kind folks for a tow?"

Etienne stared in wonder.

"Is that ship flying?"


"Phelan O'Breen, first lieutenant o' tha Cloud Bandit, just a day out o' Farroway."

"Your captain?"

The blue-haired young man twinkled a sad grin at Elena.

"'Twas a better death than some, lass."

The Saijadani woman watched his gaze turn to Arrafin and his grin widen. She kept her smirk from showing.

The Shaeric crew of the stricken airship crowded their deck, their ship uninhabitable without repairs. Its ironclad bulk dragged along behind them, lashed to their ship's stern with a complex assembly of cables.

Phelan explained to a curious Arrafin how the lifting force operated that allowed the ship to fly. He was a charming little fellow with electric blue hair. Bright coloured hair seemed an affectation amongst Shaeric airship crew, as these fellows had wild colours and cuts amongst them all, making the deck feel like a festive occasion, or a strange collection of exotically crested birds.

They sang like birds, too, constantly and with melodic voices. A group were dancing up at the prow, cheered on by their comrades.

Elena had to admit these Shaeric fellows were changing her opinion of their country. She remembered the cruel mercenaries in the desert with their leers and their casual butchery. But this airship crew were charming and polite with a constant hint of amused teasing all through their jokes and laughter.

Phelan leaned closer to Arrafin and Elena listened in, curious to hear his pitch.

"Yon owl's a lovely little thing, is he not? Yer pet, is he?"

"He's not a pet. He's a familiar."

Arrafin resettled herself uncomfortably. Elena grinned to see her studious friend beseiged.

"Oh, aye. And what's a lovely lass like yerself on her way to our beautiful country for? Chasing after your man, are ye?"

"What? No. I don't have a man. I'm not--"

"Oh, ye've not? Ye've no special one in yer heart, then? Ah, that's a shame, a pretty lass like yerself. Is it true? You've no love to call yer own?"

Screams overwhelmed the music and laughter and sudden commotion of folks scrambling over each other. Backing away in terror and amazement at the tall figure standing in the center of the deck, her gold and crimson gown towering up above her alabaster face, her great hairdo rising up like some mad architect's tower, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

Madame Yuek bowed to the assembly. She saw Arrafin and a wide smile brightened her countenance.



Unattainable Ideal
Sorry about the delay, folks. Updates will likely be a little more sporadic than usual. Only another 20 or so episodes until we're wrapped up!


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 2

"I have learned many things since we last saw each other."

"Feel free to keep them to yourself."

Madame Yuek ignored Isaac's mumbled comment as she swept her unearthly gaze across the staring audience upon the Wavereaver's deck.

The Shaeric sailors sheltering there gaped. Those that had been nearest the towering vampire when she appeared threw themselves backwards, creating an empty circle around her. She smiled when she saw Arrafin hovering near the stern with Elena, but recovered a bit of enigmatic poise and gestured the length of the ship.

"I have learned the secret of this vessel and I will not be trapped here again."

Mateo, the captain, coughed and managed to squeak out a question.

"What is that secret?"

He sat down abruptly as she turned to him.

"This vessel is Shaeric in make. It is sacred to a race of creatures who make their home in those islands."

Phelan, the Shaeric sailor who'd been so taken with Arrafin, spoke up.

"Oh, aye. Ye must be meanin' the Tuthean Tarn."

"Indeed. And they are tied to many of our interests just now. I fear we will be forced to confront these creatures."

"Our interests?"

Once again the vampire ignored Isaac's outburst.

"Matai Shang is cooperating with these things. They must be providing him with assistance in his efforts to locate the shards of the Blood Mother's soul. Should he find so much as one, our efforts will become much more difficult."

"Our efforts?"

Madame Yuek's calm assurance cracked and she whirled on Isaac.

"This thing must be done. Barsoom needs the Blood Council and there is only us to do it. If you do not wish to help, say so but until then I will tell you how you may be useful."

Unfazed, Isaac sneered.

"You're a vampire. You eat people, right? You're evil. Why would we believe anything you say?"

Arrafin stepped between the two.

"We're going to Shaer to talk to these Tarn folks, anyway, aren't we? To try and help Kaley? Why don't we listen to what Man -- Madame Yuek has to say?"

"Thank you, darling. Now. Shang has acquired an entity known as the Sleeping King. My investigation has revealed that he will be able to use this creature to find the remaining shards of the Blood Mother's soul. Perhaps when you meet with these Tuthean Tarn, they can give you some information regarding this Sleeping King."

Isaac shrugged.

"Why don't you go talk to them yourself?"

"They are not helpful towards me."

"Not helpful."


Elena, Etienne and Isaac all shared a look. Elena pursed her lips and spoke carefully.

"What does that mean, exactly?"

Madame Yuek's expression darkened ever so slightly. Those nearest her drew back in alarm.

"Your spirit creature. Bring it forth."

Elena put a hand to the amulet at her throat.

"Why? What are you going to do to him?"

"Nothing. Much. Don't worry, it won't hurt him any."

Elena glowered. Madame Yuek sighed in exasperation.

"Look, it's not a man. I know you think it's a man, and maybe you want to believe it's a man, but it's not. It's a bundle of will and impulses bound up to look like a man. I've told you people this before; if you insist on treating these creatures as though they were human, you only make it harder for yourselves."

"I'm not going to treat anyone as though they were an animal. Farouk deserves respect, just like anyone. He's not a slave."

"Oh, for f**k's sake, will you just bring him out? I'm not going to ask again."

Making no attempt to hide her suspicion, Elena clutched the amulet. In a swirling flash of multi-coloured light so brief that most folks failed to even notice it, he appeared before her, tall and stern and ridiculously good-looking.

"What is my mistress' command?"


Farouk ibn Zaoud turned around to face Madame Yuek, and stopped, motionless, staring at her.

To Elena's great horror, he sank to his knees.

"What are you doing?"

"I am looking."

Elena fumed with jealous rage. She pointed at Madame Yuek.

"What are you doing to him? Stop it!"

"I told you, I'm not doing anything to him. But do you see what I mean? Not helpful. Now. Put him away, please."

Farouk vanished. Elena's rage did not subside. Madame Yuek shrugged.

"Spirits like me. I don't really know why. But I salute their impeccable taste."

She drew herself up with a sprightly smile.

"Well, that concludes our business, I think. When you confront the Tuthean Tarn, ask them about the Sleeping King and if there is any way to prevent Shang from using it. We will decide what to do then."

She waved daintily and disappeared in a cloud of black vapours.

Isaac walked over to Elena and Arrafin.

"Get Farouk back out. Let's see what he thinks about that."

Arrafin scowled.

"Who cares what some dumb spirit thinks?"

"He's not a dumb spirit."

"Sure, Elena. You just like him cause he's all... manly."

"Ladies. Please. Can we just see what happened to him?"


Farouk appeared again. He bowed.

"What is my mistress' command?"

"What just happened here?"

"My mistress asked me to look upon the Beauteous One. I did, and I knew desire for the first time."

"You what?"

"I love her."

"What? You love a vampire?"

"She is no vampire."

Arrafin frowned.

"What is she, then? What did you see?"

"I saw a gate. A great pillar of Shadow, a raging wind of darkness, a hollow hunger wide enough to swallow all of Barsoom."

"Yeah, I can see how that would spark true love."

"She is Shadow. I am Dream. She is, literally, everything I am not. And everything I am not is everything I desire."


Farouk disappeared.

Elena turned to Arrafin.

"I hate her."

Phelan O'Breen, the young Shaeric fellow, came over.

"Ye folk keep strange company, and no mistake. Did I hear yon magical queen speak of the Tuthean Tarn? Ye'll not be having dealings with the likes of them, will ye?"

"Magical queen? Never mind. What are they? The Tuthean Tarn?"

Phelan's green eyes went wide.

"Why, they're the dark court of the highlands. Of the forest and the valleys. Some say as they're no so malicious as others tell, but all dealings wi'them are perilious, and no mistake. Take me advice and no seek them out. They'll twist ye all around and leave ye no room for escape."

"Well. This should be a piece of cake."


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 3

Viewed from the outside, the castle was even more forbidding than it had been on the inside.

Perched on a high narrow span of rock that jutted out into the wind-whipped straight between the two islands of Shaer, Castle Dannockshire stood high, proud and arrogant, unfazed by the damage of time and sorcery. Even the collapse of one of the outer wings did nothing to diminish the impact of the castle's decaying splendour.

The Wavereaver swung wild at anchor, white-capped waves slapping her again and again where she waited. The longboat rolled through the swells to a half-collapsed jetty that clung to the foot of the cliff. A narrow path wound up from the jetty towards the castle high above.

It was raining.

"Bad weather. Everything bad happens during bad weather, ever notice that? Remember Chimney? Rained the whole time in Chimney."

Isaac grumbled as the longboat pulled gingerly in towards the jetty. He timed the rise and fall and leapt adroitly onto the wave-washed stone.

"And it was raining at Hudra Keffil, remember? I hate the rain."

Elena, Nevid and Etienne joined him. Kaley seemed to materialize next to Nevid and the couple watched as the others applied themselves to the problem of getting Arrafin from the boat to the jetty.

Arrafin's negligible weight made the operation easier than it might have been, and with the thin Naridic girl clinging to Isaac, the little group made their way to the path and began climbing.

And climbing.

The path lay slick and treacherous in the rain, constant rivulets brimming over the steps and rushing down the slope, slippery and disguising cracks and loose stones. After a few near-misses even Etienne crept cautiously upwards, one hand gripping the cliff face beside him and the other stretched out to catch himself before a fatal slip took him over the edge and down the dizzying fall into the storm-churned waters far below.

Isaac caught Arrafin for the third time. He sighed.

"You know, I could just carry you."

"No, no. I'm fine. Just. Tired."

"Tired? You've been in your cabin since yesterday afternoon."

"Studying. Spells. I've been studying -- whoops -- thanks -- spells."

"Well, try getting some sleep from time to time, girl."

"Yes. I'll try."

They continued scrambling upwards.

Elena watched Kaley drifting along with Nevid, showing no signs of discomfort or unease at their awkward climb. She barely seemed wet. Nor had she shown any sign of understanding where they were or that this entire effort was being undertaken for her benefit.

The Saijadani woman gritted her teeth and continued to climb, cursing under her breath.

Etienne was in the lead and so first to reach the courtyard of Castle Dannockshire. The gatehouse had long ago collapsed and so the group picked their way through rubble and piles of overgrown blocks, following their half-Kishak friend into the open flagstone expanse. To either side the curtain walls held back the worst of the storm's fury, and before them the shattered keep rose up, its windows blank and dead.

"Okay, we're here. Now what? Kaley?"

The Shaeric girl shook her head, her eyes locked on the keep's craggy battlements.

"No. Oh, no. He'll see me here. I've nowhere ta hide. He'll see me, he will. No."

Elena looked around at her friends.

"I missed the planning session, right? I mean, we didn't just climb three hundred miles straight up without a plan, did we?"

"We thought it a shame to waste such a nice day sitting inside, planning."

Elena cast a sour look over at Isaac.

"And we never actually follow through on any of the plans we do come up with, so why bother? Let's cut straight to the chaos, panic and death."

"I like it."

Elena was still nodding as she saw her friends' faces suddenly gape in astonishment. She turned and stepped back in alarm.

The courtyard, which only a second ago had been so empty, windswept, and cold, now whirled with colour and sunshine as dancing figures leapt and capered about, wild costumes festooned with feathers and plumes and high headdresses. Elena gaped at the hundreds of dancers and musicians, many so strangely proportioned she wondered if they were even human. Their shrill voices rang and echoed from the stones on all sides, and as their front ranks pushed forwards, the friends slowly withdrew.

"Holy crap," said Etienne, "These must be those Tarn folks. I hadn't thought there'd be so many of them."

"Now what do we do?"

Elena turned to Kaley, who was hiding behind Nevid. Nevid looked like he'd rather be hiding behind her.

"Nevid. Ask her what to do."


"Kaley. Ask her what we need to do."

"Oh. Right."

The youth turned to Kaley and tried a smile. It didn't come out very well, but the Shaeric girl smiled back.


"Yes, lad?"

"What do we do now? Do we talk to that King? You said there was King here?"

"Aye. Ugwyrdin. Ye may call for him, and he'll come."


Elena, Arrafin, Isaac and Etienne all retreated from the massive figure that stepped forward. His shoulders were level with the top of Isaac's head, but his actual height was considerably more than this implied, for from the top of his head extended a breath-taking array of antlers, rising up another four or five feet above the giant's head.

He wore nothing at all, and as he smiled at Kaley, Elena was alarmed to see that his sudden arousal was as obvious as it was large.

"Arrafin, don't look."

"Oh, my God."

"What did I just say?"

A prancing creature came up in front of the great antlered man and bowed. It had taloned feet like a raptor, but was human from the waist up.

"Welcome, travellers, all of you remembered and one of you never released. Welcome to the Court of the King of the Tuthean Tarn, Lord of the Hyvar Peaks and Environs, Bound of Tugh Mac Kebar, Protector of the Rocks and the Waves, His Majesty King Ugwrydin. Please him, travellers and know his gracious generosity."

The King's rampant state had rendered both Elena and Arrafin speechless. Isaac tried to speak in a level tone.

"Is there any way he could put some royal pants on?"

The prancing creature laughed and bowed again.

"Come and dance. Dance with us."

Etienne broke in before Isaac could reply.

"We don't dance."

Isaac nodded emphatically.

"We never dance. So anyway, we want to, uh, do something with this girl here. Free her."

The King snorted and turned away, striding back into the midst of his wild followers. Elena exhaled at last.

The half-raptor fellow sneered at them.

"You have no manners, mortal fools. Why should we release yon child? She belongs to us, now and forever."

"Well, maybe we could do a deal or something. There must be something you want."

The creature smiled.

"You offer us a service? Let me bring our Queen forth."

And a woman joined them. Every bit as naked as Ugwyrdin, but rather than antlers she had the curled horns of a ram. She was slightly shorter than Isaac and walked with a torrid sway to her hips.

It was Isaac and Etienne's turn to be rendered speechless.

"A service? You will promise to undertake a service for us? We are the Tuthean Tarn and we adhere to all bargains made, all promises affirmed."

"Wait a minute."

Arrafin turned to her friends, saw Isaac and Etienne staring, and sighed. Nevid hadn't even so much as looked at their hosts yet. Arrafin turned back to the Queen.

"Could you people please put some pants on?"

Elena sniffed.

"I don't think pants are going to do the trick here."

The Queen chuckled and suddenly a fantastic gown erupted around her, flowers and feathers and jewels sparkling all around her. She gestured and a table appeared, set with overflowing dishes and brim-full goblets.

Nevid shook his head.

"Don't eat their food. Don't drink their wine. Nobody touch anything."

Cautiously, the group sat. The Queen turned her little-girl smile on Arrafin.


"What? What?"

"You are she. Beloved of the Beauteous One. Will she come to us? Will she return?"

"Uh. I don't know. If she did, would you... help us?"

Alien eyes lit up with incandescent desire.

"We would do anything to bring her back. She is the Beauteous One."


Arrafin and her friends leaned together.

"What did that vampire bitch tell us to ask about? The Sleeping King?"

"She's not a bitch."

"Arrafin, focus. Yeah, Sleeping King. Okay. Is that a plan? Do we have a plan now?"

Elena straightened up.

"Uh. Queen. Your Majesty. Can you tell us about the Sleeping King?"

"Will you bring the Beauteous One back to us?"

"Sure, sure. What about this King guy? Why's he sleeping?"

"Agreed. I will tell you. The Sleeping King was betrayed by his daughter, Magreb, and is kept asleep by the singing of Barselid Hyvar."

"How long has this Barselid guy been singing?"

"Four thousand years."

"Huh." Elena considered. "How would we stop somebody from, uh, using the Sleeping King?"

For the first time, the Queen showed a trace of concern.

"Who? Who does this?"

"A sorcerer named Matai Shang."

The entire party shut down at that name, and the group found their table suddenly surrounded with angry faces.


"Hey, we don't like him, either."

"He hurt HER."


The Queen studied them all, and then stood. The table disappeared.

"Go to Hyvar. He still waits within his castle near Farroway. Find the daughter, Magreb. Only she may finish her betrayal and slay her father."

"Okay. Find this Magreb girl, and bring her to the Sleeping King, and problem solved. Got it."

Isaac raised a hand.

"Where is the Sleeping King?"

"We have not seen him in four thousand years. He is in Shaer, but his location is no longer something we may know. It is against the rules."

The mention of rules attracted Arrafin's interest.

"The rules?"

"When Tugh Mac Kebar bound us to his oath, he laid down the rules by which we must operate."

Before Arrafin could launch into a detailed exploration of this tidbit, Elena gestured to Kaley.

"Uh, Your Majesty, we were hoping we could, uh, free this child. From you."

The Queen smiled. She laughed and danced in place for a while. Isaac and Etienne went back to gaping.

"Of course you may have her. But you must fulfill your promise to us. You must bring the Beauteous One here."

Before Arrafin could object, Elena nodded.

"No problem. You got it. And is that it? Is she free now?"

The Queen gestured and Kaley fell to her knees, shrieking and clutching at her head.

"One of you must be willing to sacrifice. One of you mortals must give up a portion of your soul for her sake. The balance must be restored."

The storm returned, wind and rain washing down on top of them all. Nevid knelt beside Kaley and looked up at the beautiful, hysterical Queen. He shouted through the howling storm.

"Me! I will sacrifice! I will do it!"

The Queen shrugged, and in that moment she and her entire court disappeared.

As did Kaley. Nevid pitched face-forward onto the flagstones. The others rushed to help. The young Saijadani got to his feet, dazed and reeling. He stared around at the others.

"She's inside me. Kaley. F**k, she's inside me. Like that damn Blood Mother."

Nevid twitched, groaned, and then seemed to collect himself. Without another word he turned back to the gatehouse and began picking his way back down the cliffside path.

Isaac sighed.

"I do not understand any of this."

He looked over at Arrafin, simmering with anger at Elena, and Elena, determinedly ignoring her friend's fury, and Etienne, who seemed lost, staring at the abandoned keep. The burly Saijadani stood next to his half-Kishak friend.

"It's a strange world, isn't it? All this suffering and anger."

"Huh? Oh, I was just thinking about that Queen. That was a great set on her, wasn't it?"


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 4

"Isn't there anything to do in this town besides drink and get into fights?"

"Ye're a strange one, Isaac me lad."

Isaac growled and clutched at his beer as yet another scuffle broke out in their corner of the crowded public house, rocking their table with yells and cheers.

Shaeric folk appeared even more boisterous and quick-tempered when assembled in numbers, he noted. Phelan had led them down streets that seemed lined with nothing but more public houses identical to this one, brawls spilling out in the cobblestone streets and toasts sung or chanted from tabletops.

Farroway clung to the coast of a barren spit of land, with just enough of a breakwater to reduce the constant pounding of the ocean sufficiently to allow anchorage. Thatch roofs climbed up steep rocky hillsides, huddled together along winding roadways, and ringing much larger structures from which black smoke and an endless ringing came, as of a thousand tireless blacksmiths.

All Isaac had managed to glean was that these factories produced the many araments that Shaer was noted for, and he had to admit that the locals carried firearms of a quality to even rival his cherished double-barred flintlocks. But for all the loquaciousness of his hosts, nobody would say a word about what went on in those factories.

The big Saijadani grunted as one of the brawlers fell against him. He shrugged one shoulder and slammed an elbow backwards. His sour expression warmed only slightly at the solid sound of contact.

Elena watched the drunken Shaeric fellow reel from Isaac blow, and collapse to the floor. The stunned fellow's friend watched and laughed, one of them clapping Isaac on the shoulder and waving for another drink for their new hero.

She leaned across the table to get Phelan's interest, nudging Arrafin beside her as she did so.

"So, Phelan, Arrafin was wondering what you'd found out about that Hyvar guy?"

"I was?"

"You were?"

Phelan brightened up as he smiled at the confused Naridic girl. Elena nodded encouragingly.

"Sure you were. So, anyway, Phelan, you got anything for us?"

"Oh, aye. Barselid Hyvar, he's your lad. His castle's up yonder, near Sword-daughter Mountain. Are ye enjoying yerself, Arrafin? Nice spot of Shaeric hospitality, aye?"

"Oh. Yes. Uh. Oh!"

Arrafin's eyes lit up and she leaned forward, suddenly animated. Phelan matched her enthusiasm with his own.

"I hear that Shaeric guns are really good. I wonder if you could help me get one? Because sometimes my spells don't work so good. And I can't really handle big ones like Isaac's."

Elena snickered, but waved for the conversation to carry on. Phelan nodded at Arrafin's request.

"Say no more, sweet lass. Phelan O'Breen will see it done, and no mistake. But-- "

His eyes flicked from side to side.

"Take care ye no tell anyone. The Laird of Farroway, he's ever so particular about the distribution of his resources, if ye take me meaning. I'm no supposed to be handing them off to ye foreign types, is what I'm saying."

"We'll no say a word. Not. Not say a word."

Elena rejoined the conversation.

"So the castle's not far? Could we walk there?"

"Oh, aye. 'Tis no so far. Come daylight, ye'll ken the path right quick. No more than a day, I hear. And stout folks as ye are, ye'll take no care for the tales the castle be haunted, now will ye?"

"A castle's got to be pretty darn haunted before it'll give us the willies."


The eastern horizon blushed with a hint of pink as they stumbled from the public house. Etienne swayed up ahead, certain of the direction back to the docks and their boat, while the others followed without paying much attention. Elena had an arm around Isaac's waist and the two Saijadani leaned on each other companionably. Nevid had disappeared entirely and so Arrafin brought up the rear, talking to herself and digging in her knapsack for notes.

The uneven cobblestones of the street interfered with their passage, however, and Etienne sprawled face-first with a sharp crack.

"Ow. That sounded like it hurt."

"Yeah. That sounded like a gunshot."

Arrafin grunted and papers flew in all directions as she collapsed just as Etienne had.


Elena ignored Isaac's command and threw her friend to the ground, rolling in the opposite direction, cursing loudly. Another gun went off and then she heard shouts and running feet.

Her head was spinning. Or possibly the street.

Arrafin's voice, crying out in pain, came up over other shouting, and Elena recognized Isaac's angry battle yell. She grabbed a nearby wall and staggered to her feet.

Two Kishak soldiers, sabres out and cold looks on their faces, approached her. Elena swayed, then leaned to one side and vomited. Unsteadily she turned back to the implacable swordsmen.

"All right then. Let's do this."


Etienne groaned, but drunk as he was, his instincts remained well-honed and he rolled sideways into a dark alley and had a couple of breaths to figure out what was going on.

Red-skinned figures came charging down the street. Etienne checked the wound in his shoulder and shrugged. That should have been a lot worse.

"Kishak marksmen."

The soldiers rushed past him, intent on where Isaac was getting to his feet. Etienne smirked and stepped from the alley, drawing his knives.

He tripped on a cobblestone and fell, again, flat on his face. Looking up, he saw three soldiers turn to him. He realised he'd dropped his knives.

Etienne took stock of his options. It didn't take long.

Unsure if he'd even be able to stand, Etienne log-rolled away. And right into a pair of red legs.


Isaac waved his sword and yelled, knowing he was outmatched but hoping a wild display would allow his friends a chance to do something.

Maybe even something that would save him, but he tried not to get his hopes up. A step or two backwards got him next to Arrafin, who was making enough noise that he felt hopeful she wasn't in mortal danger. Four Kishak soldiers flanked him, keeping clear of his flourishing blade but ready for his guard to slip.

"Arrafin, some sorcery right now would be great."

"Are you f**king kidding me?"

"You're drunk."

"F**king right."


The Kishak closed in. Isaac switched tactics and brought his blade in close, ready to slash outwards at the first opportunity. But the Kishaks maneuvered around him and he couldn't keep them all in view.

One slipped behind him and yelled. Isaac whirled to face him, but frowned at the sight of an unarmed Lohanese man with a fist at the Kishak's throat. The red-skinned soldier dropped to the cobblestones.

Eyes wide, Isaac turned back to the other soldiers.

One was already dead, with a massive wound in his shoulder and neck. Another stood stock-still, eyes bulging, clutching at his throat for no reason. The third dueled for only a couple of passes with another Lohanese man before dying with a gaping wound at the latter's strangely curved greatsword.

The Lohanese killers paid no attention to Isaac, instead rushing across the street. To the Saijadani's amazement, they cut down the soldiers closing in on Elena. He turned to check on Etienne just in time to see the three soldiers in front of his friend suddenly fly backwards as though hurled by a giant -- and beyond them he saw a slender Lohanese woman in a grey robe with one hand outstretched.

"What the f**k?"

"Arrafin, maybe you shouldn't do the talking here."

The three Lohanese people gathered in the middle of the street and faced Isaac. Elena and Etienne joined him and the four friends faced their mysterious benefactors.

The mysterious benefactors bowed.

"Yeah. Hi. Thanks for that. We're. Not at our best."

"We are the Eighty-Third Dagger of the Seven Orders. We have sought you, Isaac, Elena, Arrafin and Etienne. Also we seek your companion, Nevid."

"Yeah, so do we. Have you seen him?"

Isaac gestured in what he hoped was a dismissive way at Elena's question. He tried a bow.

"Well. You have found us. Here we are. How can we help you?"

"We are the Eighty-Third Dagger."

"Mm. Gonna need more to work on."

"Eighty-two times before us, the Seven Orders have sent forth a Dagger such as us. We are the Eighty-Third, and we have found you."

"I drunk I'm thinker than I drunk I am."

The big unarmed guy smiled just a little bit, but neither of his companions showed any emotion other than faint frustration at dealing with Isaac's efforts at communication. The woman scowled and stepped forward.

"We are the Dagger of the Seven Orders! We kill you! You help us!"


The big guy smiled again. Without losing his serene expression, he snarled at the woman and she slunk back to the others. He bowed.

"Apologies. Zhing is eager to fulfill our mission. But we do not seek to harm you."

"Okay. Neither do we. Great."

Elena snorted.

"What's your mission?"

"We have been sent to slay the Demon Goddess."

The street lay silent until Arrafin laughed.

"F**k me."

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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