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

frostrune

First Post
I don't pay much attention to story hours but this one has got me hooked. The various countries seem well defined and I love the inter-party banter.

Is this purely fiction or representative of an actual game you are running?

Good stuff barsoomcore. Please keep up the good work.
 

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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
frostrune said:
Is this purely fiction or representative of an actual game you are running?
This is a part of a campaign I ran from 1999-2005ish. The opening post in this thread has a lot of details -- unfortunately the original campaign website has now disappeared (darn Linux upgrades) but yeah, this was a homebrew d20 campaign. But as I say in the original post, the story you're reading is sort of "based upon" rather than a faithful representation of what happened.

Good times.
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Hobo said:
:fist: When did that website disappear? I used to still browse over there on occasion just for fun.
It's never a good day when your hosting provider calls and asks, "Do you have a backup of your website anywhere?"
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 5

"I think you're going to have to start again from the beginning."

Kho smiled, his eyes crinkling up like a friendly grandfather's. Elena couldn't help but smile back at him, despite the queasiness in her stomach and the pounding in her head. Arrafin lay sprawled beside her on a bench, groaning in Naridic.

"The Seven Orders have sent us to find and destroy the Demon Goddess of our homeland."

Etienne scoffed.

"And what makes them think you're up to the job?"

"It matters not. She must be slain or our lands will never again be green."

Arrafin forced herself upright.

"What are you talking about?"

Elena was watching carefully, and she saw the faintest hint of sadness on Kho's face, quickly hidden behind another grandfatherly smile. He bowed to Arrafin.

"She is queen of all evil. Our people suffer, our children are born deformed, and our crops barely grow, because of her. Unless we slay her, our country is doomed."

"I'm not listening to this. You people are nuts. Kill her? With what, that big sharp sword of yours? You don't know what you're talking about."

Kho drew in a slow breath and exhaled.

"You have not seen what has become of Tianguo in her wake. Our land groans under her madness. She has corrupted everything that we rely on. She must die, or our people will perish."

Arrafin stared, angry at first, but something in Kho's quiet expression melted her and she leaned forward, her big eyes blinking back sympathy.

"But you know she didn't have a choice. She didn't ask to be... that. Shang did it to her."

Kho shook his head.

"She must die. We will slay her. And you will bring us to her."

"That won't be a good day for you, I promise."

Elena grabbed at her friend before Arrafin could rush off.

"I think we need to talk. Just us."

The two women locked gazes for a moment, and Arrafin nodded.

"But not these guys. They creep me out."

*****

Isaac looked up from his cot as the inn room door opened and Nevid came in, pushed by Elena and Arrafin. Etienne sauntered in after them, closing the door behind him.

"Well."

Elena sat on the floor across from Isaac and wrapped her arms around her knees.

"I think we have a problem."

Isaac sighed.

"That's understating the situation considerably."

"Okay, but in specific, I'm worried we're on the wrong side."

"What?"

"I'm sorry, Arrafin, but you heard Kho. I don't think he's lying. I'm worried that Madame Yuek's the bad guy in all this. Maybe we should be helping Shang, not her."

Etienne put up a hand.

"Hasn't Shang pretty much tried to kill us everytime we've seen him?"

"Has he? We've only got Madame Yuek's word for what he's up to."

Arrafin crossed her arms over her chest.

"What are you suggesting? We go work for him?"

"No, Arrafin. I'm suggesting we go talk to him. I've been, uh, talking to Farouk, and he can travel across distances. Sort of like that Shadow walking trick that Kani did. If you know where somebody is, he can take us there."

"But we don't know where Shang is. And seriously? Talk to Matai Shang, the insane sorcerer who wants Nevid's head? How is this a good idea?"

"Shang's at the Sleeping King. And Farouk can find the Sleeping King."

Everyone considered the news.

Etienne put his hand up again.

"So we show up in front of him. Then what?"

"Then we ask him what he wants."

"Oh, great idea, Elena. Why don't we just cut our own throats and save him the cleaning bill?"

"Arrafin, we don't know what he wants."

"Yes, we do. He wants to destroy the Blood Council forever."

"That's what your girlfriend wants us to believe, you mean."

"Would you drop it, Elena? That's not funny. Shang is dangerous. We can't stop him if he tries to take Nevid's head."

"Let's ask Nevid."

"Sure. Nevid?"

The entire room turned to the young Saijadani fellow. Nevid swallowed.

I need your brain.

"I think it's a good idea. We should see what he wants."

Isaac looked around at his friends. He got to his feet.

"Sure. Why not? What could possibly go wrong?"

*****

Farouk's impossible handsomeness and regal bearing helped calm Elena down. Despite her determination in the Isaac's cabin, she harboured deep reservations about this plan.

Matai Shang scared her. If he decided to take action against him, they'd have only Farouk to help them escape. Their plan hinged on the notion that he wouldn't be expecting them, and that he wouldn't have any way of dealing with Farouk.

But Madame Yuek scared her, too. Whereas Shang seemed almost like some kind of monster, Yuek acted like a person at times. Which made her savagery and bizarre conduct all the more terrifying.

Yuek and Shang. Elena felt that she and her friends had become caught in what would just be a petty game of rivalry, were it not for the unthinkable power of the rivals in question.

She looked over where Arrafin stood, asking Farouk questions about his role in historical events. The Naridic girl was changing, all of them could see it. Secretive and so quick to anger whenever Madame Yuek's agenda was questioned. Elena's reservations grew as she considered her friend.

It would be the two of them who would go, along with Etienne. Isaac would stay here to bodyguard Nevid, just in case Shang was suddenly able to track the young man down. What exactly Isaac would be able to do if Shang showed up nobody thought too much about.

"Do we need to hold hands?"

Farouk shook his head to Elena's question.

"No, mistress. Simply stand near me."

"Okay."

The rough furnishings of Isaac's room faded around them in a swirl of wild colour and starbursts. And they passed through the Dream Worlds.

Faces, laughing or shrieking or crying. Hands clutching at her, melting away even as she pulled herself free. It was like slipping through a crowd that wavered, a mirage that pressed against her on all sides, only to give way whenever she tried to focus on it.

There was no sensation of time passing, but Elena felt her equilibrium slipping from her. Her heart accelerated and she felt as though she were trembling, and just as she was about to cry out, the colours and figures retreated on all sides, like water racing off a hot pan, and she stood with Farouk and her friends in a dark cavern, a high arched ceiling overhead held up by heavy pillars.

A spear's cast or so away, in the middle of the hall, stood a tall table upon which lay a massive figure, hands clutched on its chest, motionless even as the familiar and frightening shape of Matai Shang bent over it.

Mechanical legs skittered and scattered as the ancient sorcerer turned to face them, astonished.

He smiled suddenly and waved a hand.

Farouk disappeared.

"Oh, great."

Shang rushed towards them, shrieking like some wild beast.

Etienne threw Arrafin behind him and drew his knives.

"Elena, hit him with something."

Purple light flared and something inhuman roared, but Shang continued towards them, now snarling with fury. Etienne backed up as quickly as he could.

"Fools! I will gut you all and leave you for ravens to pick over!"

"Well, I think this answers our questions."

"Oh."

"What is it, Arrafin?"

"It's. Never mind."

"Now is no time to--"

Etienne broke off as he turned around and found himself facing a wall of crimson silk. He looked up.

Madame Yuek smiled down at him. She winked.

"Oh, I'm going to enjoy this."

Shang screeched to a sudden halt. He stared in horror. His mechanical carriage lurched, and legs splintered. The remaining limbs scurried backwards.

Madame Yuek began laughing at the same moment Shang began screaming. The tall vampire walked forward, past Arrafin and her friends.

"You run along home now. I'm going to play for a while."

The room shook with a sudden explosion. Farouk appeared and bowed to Elena.

"Mistress, I am able to return now. I am at your service."

"Get us out of here!"

"Yes, mistress."
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 6

Nevid was dancing. With the handsomest man he'd ever seen.

Tall and dark-haired with glittering green eyes. Stern but how he warmed when he smiled. Nevid's heart pounded as strong arms came around him and they stepped across the dance floor, all the court clapping and beaming with delight.

Kaley. This was Kaley.

Nevid tried to keep it all straight. But everything got mixed up in his head.

He lay, bound in tight ropes, listening to the screams outside. The walls shook with a sudden explosion. The door slid open. The most beautiful face in history smiled at him.

"Hello, darling. I'm so sorry about this."

Nevid shook, struggling to keep his mind clear.

The handsome man leered and antlers sprang from his forehead and the court all around turned into gibbering, capering creatures and he screamed and screamed and screamed.

"Somebody pick up Nevid. This is going to be a problem, I think."

Elena leaned on her walking-stick and watched as Etienne and Isaac bent to lift their unconscious companion and began dragging him along the path.

The highlands of Shaer had little to recommend them. Isaac scowled and chewed more ferociously on his cigar as he leant into the wind. Just up ahead a moss-covered outcropping of grey stone promised some relief from the howling gale, and he led his friends that way, stepping carefully over the loose shale that covered the hillside.

The castle they sought lay upon a hilltop just ahead, a winding path still visible through the shale up to its dark gate. Much less impressive a pile than Dannockshire, this castle looked considerably more weather-beaten. The walls lay half-covered in creepers and tufted shrubs clung to the battlements, betraying the place's abandonment.

"Let's go. It'll be nicer in there than anywhere else."

"Except for the being haunted bit. Does anyone hear singing?"

"That's just the wind, Elena."

"I don't think that's the wind."

As they crossed the last valley and began heading up the path, Etienne nodded.

"I can hear it, too."

Arrafin scowled impatiently.

"I don't hear a thing. What are you-- Oh. Singing."

They stopped for a second and listened.

"Fame has its fosterlings, free of the limits

Boxing all others, and Barselid was one of them."


The words grew clearer as they continued to scramble up the path; a bloody tale of vengeance and slaughter. The voice sounded distinctly Shearic and carried the same self-amused smirk that Elena had always heard in the Shaeric men they'd been drinking with last night. They arrived at the gate and the wind seemed to fade away, the voice growing ever-stronger.

"Ten lives for one was the tariff for entry;

And no man got credit. Crushed and split skulls,

Blasted off limbs and lathers of blood

Were the money they soughted and minted themselves --

Worth every ounce of the weregild they asked."


The friends looked at each other and shrugged. Isaac began to call out, but stopped at Arrafin's hand on his arm.

"Wait. That's Barselid Hyvar, right? Singing to keep the Sleeping King asleep, right?"

"Right."

"How's he going to talk to us? If he stops singing then the Sleeping King awakes. Isn't that bad?"

"Maybe he can, you know, sing his side of the conversation. He's been going for four thousand years, you gotta imagine he's looking for some material."

"Right."

Arrafin shrugged and released Isaac's arm. The burly Saijadani called out, "Barselid Hyvar! We have come to find Magreb and bring her to her father!"

The singing stopped in mid-sentence. The wind stopped at the same moment. The sudden silence shocked them all, and lent a sinister air to the crumbling walls all around them.

"Barselid Hyvar! We mean no harm; we just want to take Magreb to her father. The Sleeping King."

At first Elena thought it was the wind starting up again but she realised the thin whispering was a voice, speaking with a Shaeric accent.

"Yon lass' no so able to make such a trip, I tell ye."

They all spun around, but there was no sign of anyone to speak the words they all heard, faintly but with perfect clarity.

"Mr. Hyvar? May we enter your home? Sir?"

"Aye, and be welcome."

Shuffling, pressing close together, the five friends made their way across the dirt-packed courtyard and into the keep's great hall, where a pair of long tables and overturned chairs lay under a thick pelt of dust. Cobwebs rose up like tents around the candelabra on the tables. As the five walked, their footsteps lifted clouds of dust into the still air.

"Isn't he supposed to be singing? What happens if he stops singing? I told you not to talk to him, Isaac."

"I am singing, lass. Fear not. That ye can no hear it, dinna mean there's no singing to be heard now."

He sat in a throne at the far end of the hall, covered in just as much dust as everything else. His lips did not move as he spoke, but somehow they all knew that this shrouded figure, lifeless and still, was their host. They drew nearer, staring.

He sat in a casual pose, hands on the armrests of his chair, head erect, eyes still open and still gleaming with life. As they approached, Elena saw the eyes flick from one side to the other.

"What are you? Are you a spirit?"

"Aye. As ye call me, mortal lass. So I am."

"Are you one of the Tuthean Tarn?"

"I was, I was. But they no remember as they should. The Oath weakens with time, ye see. And as it weakens, so do they."

"Will they be set free when it breaks?"

"Set free?"

Strange psychic laughter danced in their brains.

"No lass, there is no freedom for such as we. Our bindings are our definition, ye see. Wi'out ta binding, we've no rock to cling to. We slip away. But those of the Tuthean Tarn don't think about such matters. They rush towards a fate they no can imagine.

"But ye've no come to talk to me about them. Ye speak of dear Magreb. Me love. Me true lassie. What do you offer in exchange for her?"

The friends looked from one to the other.

"What do we have that you might want?"

"I've no idea, lass. I know not what ye are."

Nevid shook his head.

"You can speak inside my head. Can you see my memories, too? If I let you?"

"Aye."

"Look."

Nevid concentrated on the memories he carried within him of the Blood Mother. Her memories of facing Yuek Man Chong.

"Oh, aye. Isn't she something."

To the others, it seemed that Nevid shook again, and nearly collapsed, and then the figure on the throne did likewise. Dust flew from its ancient body. The head bowed, thick slabs of congealed detrius sliding from its black hair.

"Ne'er ha I seen such a beauty. Aye, for her I'd grant ye more than ye ask for. But ye'll find Magreb where she lies, at the top of yon tower. Seek her and bring her to her father, if ye be so lucky."

He pointed, raising his head. An intensely handsome face looked up at them, craggy and weathered but with a calm assurance that immediately soothed them.

"Perhaps and she can convince t'old man to go back where he come from. Perhaps me days o' singing are coming to an end."

"Thank you. Sir."

*****

The tower steps wound up and up. As they climbed, the wind rose up again and magnified within the confines of the tower, seemed strong enough to rip the castle down around them. At last they emerged on what was left of the roof.

"I don't see anyone. I think maybe the Singing Fairy has led us astray."

Isaac turned as Etienne pointed.

"Is that a sword over there?"

The big Saijadani stepped over to the rusted blade and inspected it.

"Yeah, that's a sword. Well-made, too."

He hefted it and blinked, startled at the weapon's uncommonly good balance and light weight. It was a nimble and deft weapon, but seemed to carry the same sort of heft that his father's sword did. Certainly it wasn't a modern smallsword.

He held it up and then swept it down, clanging it against the stones of the tower battlements. Rust flew from the blade, revealing gleaming steel beneath. He noticed some engraving and peered closer.

Magreb

"Hm. This may not be as simple as we thought."
 
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barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
I just have to give props to Nevid's player. He did a great job with a character who was basically an MBA student thrown into horror/fantasy, and then assaulted with freaky memories and dreams that were not his own.

I was sending him emails semi-regularly, dumping bizarre visions into Nevid's head, and he totally rolled with it and created this very memorable character who was, by any normal assessment of a character's effectiveness, completely useless. Nevid sucked at combat, had no magic skills, and was basically incapable of doing anything. And yet he turned into one of the core members of the party, and I couldn't imagine the story without him.

It's hard finding ways to give all the characters enough "screen time". I hope something of their very distinct personalities is coming through.
 


barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 7

"What are you doing with that child?"

Elena stormed up to the Lohanese trio who held a sniffling Shaeric boy between them. Kho held up his gnarled old hands in a placating gesture.

The others crowded behind Elena, pushing into the Saijadani woman's room. Kho and his two compatriots stood there, impassive, with a red-haired boy who seemed unaware of anything happening around him.

"What have you done to him? What is this?"

Kho stepped forward.

"We have done nothing. But you must hear him. You must hear from his mouth what he has seen."

"What has he seen?"

Isaac knelt down in front of the child.

"Here, son. It's okay. You're safe with us. You're safe here."

The little boy shook his head sadly.

"Not safe. Not safe anywhere."

"What happened?"

His eyes rose and met Isaac's and the Saijadani drew in a sharp breath at the horror so plain in those blue eyes. The boy swallowed, trembling.

"It were dark. Late. Father. We never heard the like, I tell ye."

Kho interrupted in his gentle fashion.

"This boy comes from a tiny village up in the mountains. He came into town last night. Hsiao found him and we have kept him here to speak with you."

"What is this about?"

"Listen."

All eyes turned back to the boy. He gathered his courage and continued.

"Father. I follows him, y'see, down to town. I hide near to the tanner's. I dinna see anything like to that before.

"Like a queen. A queen. And the blood everywhere. Everyone, everyone dead. Just a-lying there. Dead. Everyone."

The boy began to shake. One of the Lohanese women put a hand on his shoulder, and he calmed down enough to continue.

"She seen me father, and quick as anything she. And father. He no even. She. And up to the house. I just hides. I just hides. Little Siobhan. I hear her scream. I run."

The boy burst into shrieking sobs.

Elena stared. She turned to Arrafin.

"You know what this is."

"We don't know anything."

Sneering at her friend, Elena knelt in front of the boy.

"This woman, was she wearing red and gold? Tall, white skin, black hair?"

"Aye, that were her."

Elena stood and grabbed Arrafin, hurled the slender girl against a wall.

"Now do you see? You see? She's a killer, Arrafin. She is a monster."

"It's not her fault! She didn't ask to be this. Shang did it to her. She was his prisoner."

"No."

The two women turned at Kho's quiet denial.

"No, she was not his prisoner. She was his lover."

"That's not true! That's a lie!"

"What, are you jealous? Maybe she doesn't love you like she says she does?"

Elena recoiled back when she saw the dark tendrils rise up around where Arrafin stood. Her friend's eyes glazed over with inky blackness and Elena wondered if she'd really done it, really pushed the Naridic girl past the point of no return.

Arrafin's owl flapped around the girl's mass of unkempt curls, and the three Lohanese warriors pushed the boy behind them, facing Arrafin with determined expressions.

But darkness receded. As Elena watched, the dark masses of Shadow sank back where they'd come from, and the black fury that had transformed Arrafin's face trickled away, leaving a thin, unsteady girl who looked ready to cry. Miserably Arrafin turned to the Lohanese.

"Tell me what you know. Tell me your stories."

*****

In the end, Isaac reflected, the more they learned, the less certain they became of anything. Everyone except Yuek Man Chong agreed that she was the epitome of evil. She killed, she tortured, she destroyed.

But these Lohanese people claimed that Matai Shang was a source of good. That he'd helped them, driven back the influence of the Demon Goddess, and fought her wherever she stood.

Isaac couldn't reconcile that with their experiences of the ancient sorcerer, who seemed so sinister and blood-thirsty. And he knew he didn't trust the Blood Council, whatever they were up to.

He and his friends had no business meddling in these kinds of things. And yet, here they were, with half the Blood Mother's soul in Nevid's head, or something, and all-powerful sorcerers breathing down their necks.

Especially Arrafin's neck. Isaac didn't like to think about what Yuek Man Chong wanted from the innocent, coltish Naridic girl, but it turned his stomach. Arrafin was still a nice girl, a little addled at times but a good girl. Sweet and guileless.

And possessed of truly frightening powers. And so very determined that this Yuek Man Chong everyone else was so afraid of was in fact the only hero in all this mess.

Even after talking with Kho and the others, she refused to consider the idea that perhaps the statuesque vampire might be manipulating them, using them. She never quite got angry enough to storm out, and always calmed down to listen again, but it was obviously hard for her to hear their stories.

Their stories were hard for anyone. The empire of Tianguo had suffered a thousand years of torment under the Demon Goddess' rule. Human sacrifice on a tremendous scale; entire cities depopulated to feed her lusts. Murderous orgies and terrifying magics that tore apart the land. The very fabric of nature rent and twisted into cruel mockeries. Children born deformed, monstrous. Great expanses of land where nothing would grow. And everywhere the souls of those she'd butchered clung to the land, haunting the living with their dire need for revenge.

With every word they told of suffering and desperation. And the boy they'd found, his halting tale of how Yuek Man Chong had slaughtered his entire village only days ago, made their versions of events impossible to dismiss.

At last it was just them. Elena and Arrafin sat side-by-side on the bed, while Isaac and Etienne sprawled on the floor and Nevid leaned against the door.

"What are we supposed to do with all this?"

Etienne gestured as he spoke.

"I mean, why are we even involved here? This has nothing to do with us."

Elena grimaced and looked pointedly over at Nevid. The Saijadani youth sighed.

"It's in Nevid's head. What are we supposed to do, let Shang have him? We have to do something."

Arrafin nodded and joined in.

"That's right. And the best thing to do is to find the rest of the Blood Mother's soul and try to restore her. Like Madame Yuek wants to do."

"So she says."

"Has she ever led us the wrong way before? Has she ever tried to force us to do anything? No. She's not the one telling us scary stories. She just helps us. She's the only one helping Nevid. Everyone else either wants him dead or doesn't care."

"But you know what she's done. Everyone says so."

"People say this, people say that. It's what you do that matters, not what people say."

The room was silent. Isaac stretched.

"I wonder what people say about us."
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 8

"I say ye're a pack o' thieving villains."

"Well, yes. Isn't that the whole point, here?"

Isaac sighed. Shaeric ideas of negotiation frustrated him, and this pirate captain with guns for sale seemed determined to waste every possible second with pointless insults. Isaac decided to remain peaceable and teach this half-witted foreigner how civilized people handled business deals.

He looked over at the captain's surly, snarling crew of hard-bitten warriors and allowed to himself that there might be other motivations for remaining peaceable.

"So! Ye admit it, ye no-good miscreant!"

Isaac groaned.

"Yes. I'm a thief. I'm a pirate. I'm a criminal. Untrustworthy and short-tempered and violent and cruel. That's me."

"Well, why did ye no say so afore? Welcome aboard!"

"I hate this country."

Although Isaac had muttered the last quietly, Elena heard and stepped forward quickly to distract the pirate captain with one of her rare smiles.

"How kind, sir. Our mutual friend Phelan O'Breen has told us you may have some guns that would be suitable for our ship."

"Aye, I may, I may, lassie. Aye."

The captain, with a lecherous grin, wrapped a wiry arm around Elena's waist and guided the Saijadani woman across his deck. The rest of the visiting group, Isaac, Nevid and Etienne, followed warily, surrounded by the pirate crew.

Arrafin sat on the deck of the Wavereaver alongside, reviewing notes in her spellbook, tapping idly at pages as the sea breeze tugged at their corners. Gral sat on her shoulder, looking around in wide-eyed curiousity as the crew carried on with their duties.

The Naridic girl looked up as Hsiao, the Lohanese woman who had joined them in Farroway, sat on the deck beside her, arranging grey robes carefully. Hsiao bowed.

"Arrafin. May I ask what you are reading?"

"It's my book. Spellbook. I'm just checking some formulas and things."

"It's beautiful. Where did you get it?"

"It was a. A gift."

"You taught yourself sorcery, I understand. That must have been very difficult."

"Well. A little. I've made some. Mistakes."

"Of course. Sorcery is very dangerous."

Arrafin forgot about her journal and leaned forward.

"You do sorcery? But I never see any Shadow around you."

Hsiao bowed again.

"There is a technique. It is not fool-proof, and it is very dangerous, but it allows one to reduce the spread of Shadow when drawing energy for a spell."

"Really? Show me."

Hsiao smiled as she bowed yet again.

*****

"Well, ye've got money enough, I can tell ye that. And O'Breen speaks for ye, and he's an old mate of my own. So let's close this deal, d'ye no think?"

Captain Hollirihan's syntax confused Isaac but Nevid just nodded calmly.

"Yes, sir. Will your crew assist in swaying the guns aboard? My associates and I will ensure the coin is delivered to your stateroom."

"Aye, the lads will see to it."

The captain waved to one of his mates and the crew erupted in activity around their table on the stern deck. Elena looked over where Arrafin and Hsiao seemed to be intense conversation, and considered if she had enough of a run to make the jump over to the other ship.

She looked up as Hollirihan's hand took hold of her arm again.

"Now lass, d'ye sing? Or is it dancing for ye?"

Elena looked over at Isaac, horrified.

"Save me."

*****

In the hold of the Wavereaver, darkness vomited forth yet more darkness, black tendrils spilling outwards. From the shadows emerged three figures swathed entirely in black, only their hard eyes glinting with any sort of colour. The figures gripped tiny vials in their hands and without any sign to each other, all three split up and headed for different companionways to the decks above.

*****

"See? You store the value here, and then to retrieve it you call this..."

"Oh, my God. You could use this in so many other ways."

Arrafin stared at the notes Hsiao had made in her journal, mind racing. The Lohanese woman blinked.

"Well. I suppose. In any event, for our purposes, you can use this to restrict the Gudhalajaray Field Expansion."

"Of course! You just pass that value in each time, and the Gudhalajaray Field Expansion becomes arithmetic rather than logarithmic. That's amazing!"

Arrafin snatched the pencil from Hsiao's hand and started making notes.

"But look, couldn't you iterate HERE instead? The Chuon Limit won't change with each pass, so why not drop it from the loop? Look, look. That's easier."

Hsiao stared.

"What?"

"What are you doing?"

"Just. Some ideas. Notes. That would work, wouldn't it?"

"You can't just invent the rules of magic, Arrafin."

"I'm not inventing anything. This is according to the rules. Look at it."

"No. This is heresy."

"Heresy? Huh?"

Hsiao stood and stalked away. Arrafin frowned, chewing on her pencil as she watched the woman leave. Then she shrugged and looked back down at the equations in her journal. Her curls fell around her as she leaned forward to make an adjustment.

Gral gave every sign of reading along with her.

*****

"Oi. Who's that?"

Mercado called out, then gurgled and pitched forward down the steep stairs, clutching at the gaping wound across his throat.

Before his body had reached the steps below, the blackclad figure responsible for his sudden death leapt out of the hatchway and huddled on the deck.

Another figure popped out of a sternward hatchway, and then another appeared up by the bow. They glanced at each other, then nodded and hurled their vials to the deck. The glass shattered, and ill-looking smoke began immediately to boil up from the shards.

"What the hell?"

Everyone on both ships turned in confusion as smoke billowed up from the deck of the Wavereaver. Only Phelan, chatting with Natacha at the bow of the ship, understood what the smoke meant. He leapt to his feet, hollering.

"Demons! Demons! Grab yer weapons and make ready to fight!"

An entire pirate crew drew their swords, pistols, axes and whatever assorted weaponry they preferred. Those that doubted Phelan's sudden cry were convinced as towering, skeletal figures leered out of the smoke and launched into their midst.

Talons lashed and spat blood. Men died.

"Elena," shouted Isaac as he fired both his pistols at the nearest monster, "Get Farouk on the job!"

Even before he'd finished his sentence the handsome Naridic warrior had appeared and leapt gracefully towards the same demon Isaac had just shot. Claws met blade and mortals scattered out of the way.

Elena stared.

"What the hell is going on? What are those things?"

One of the creatures leapt onto the pirate ship and tore wildly into the crew. Men screamed and scrambled away.

Isaac dropped his pistols and drew his sword. He saw Etienne high up in the rigging already.

"How does he do that? He's like a little pink monkey."

The third demon came straight for them. Elena sent powerful blasts at it, shaking apart planks beneath its feet, staggering it but not stopping it. The thing came on.

"I don't know but they obviously don't like us."

Isaac shoved Elena behind him, but froze as a slight, curly-haired figure scrambled up behind the monster.

"Arrafin, get out of here! Don't!"

The Naridic girl threw both hands at the demon and darkness swirled up around her. The creature lurched, turned and then convulsed as its chest exploded outwards in a gory spray. Its heart (or some nondescript chunk of flesh, Isaac mused, uncertain if these things even had hearts) sailed through the air like a ruby comet, slapping into Arrafin's hands.

"Holy crap."

Arrafin swayed, nearly collapsing to the deck of the Wavereaver. The beast she'd just killed pitched over the side and collided with the surface of the sea in a flat smacking splash.

Then Isaac noticed the three dark figures back on the other ship, where Arrafin was. Drawing knives and closing in on the Naridic girl.

"No!"

He sprang forward, only to find himself confronted with the angry pirate crew. In the confusion, they'd started attacking anyone unfamiliar, and he had defend himself against multiple opponents.

"Arrafin! Nevid, help Arrafin!"

The half-Kishak heard Isaac's cry, took in the situation, and nodded. He leapt from the rigging of the pirate ship across to a hanging rope on the Wavereaver, swinging down towards where Arrafin staggered backwards from the dark assassins. He landed nearly on top of one, rolled and drew his knives.

Etienne was used to surprise and sneak attacks, and mainly to fighting people who weren't. He immediately realised that wasn't the case here, and his knives flashed in quick patterns as the assassin struck at him with blinding speed. Etienne had to retreat, fending off one deadly blow after another.

Arrafin reached the edge of the Wavereaver's deck, still half-dazed from the powerful spell she'd just cast. All around the world seemed full of shrieks and violence. Blades clashed, creatures roared and wooden timbers thundered at sudden impacts.

The two figures closing in on her moved in silence, however, knives held out. She frowned, realising something.

"You're Kishaks. What do you want with us?"

She had nowhere to go. The assassins came forward. She could hear Isaac and Elena yelling, and beyond these killers she could see Etienne fighting for his life against a third. Her back to the rail, she risked a look over the side.

The water looked like a long way down. And she couldn't swim.

Looking back up, she saw Hsiao, Kho and the third Lohanese warrior, the one with the big sword, standing and watching. Watching her last moments with great interest, though making no move to defend her.

Maybe Nevid would help her? Arrafin snorted at the idea. Wherever Nevid was, he was no hero.

She tried to draw on Shadow but she had nothing left. She'd prepared so little and was already exhausting from slaying the first creature.

"Alright."

She'd have to jump. They were closing in but still too far to be able to stop her. Arrafin hefted her bag on her shoulder, then realised that if she jumped with the bag, her notes and books would be ruined.

"Oh, crap."

She dropped the bag, closed her eyes and turned to leap over the deck. And found something tall and utterly unyeilding in her way. Arrafin opened her eyes and found Yuek Man Chong standing beside her.

"Darling. Just a moment."

An elegant hand gestured and both assassins blew apart, spraying blood and flesh everywhere. Madame Yuek took Arrafin's hands.

"Darling, I'm so sorry. I came as soon as I realised you were in danger."

"You. What?"

Arrafin pointed.

"You killed them."

"Yes, darling."

"My friends are still fighting. We have to help."

"I see. Which ones are your friends?"

"The ones that aren't eight feet tall and looking like vulture skeletons with claws and stingers."

"Very well."

The other demons died as messily as the assassins had. Madame Yuek smiled brightly.

"There we are. All better."

The last assassin, the one dueling with Etienne, suddenly realised he was alone and broke for the deck rail. Etienne tackled him.

The pirate crew gave up fighting altogether in the wake of the sudden sorcery. Isaac and Elena scrambled for their ship.

"Get away from her."

Madame Yuek's smile transformed into a glowering scowl.

"I saved your lives. I don't expect gratitude but let's have a little less of the idiotic attempts to order me around, shall we? We both know how that power struggle will end."

Arrafin saw the sudden intention on their faces, but the 83rd Dagger was faster than she could speak. All three of the Lohanese warriors were leaping at Madame Yuek before Arrafin could form a single syllable.

They died exactly as the other assassins had. Gore spattered over all the Wavereaver and its passengers.

Arrafin turned on the tall vampire.

"What are you doing?"

Madame Yuek frowned, rearing back in confusion.

"Saving your life."

"They weren't after me, they were after you. Because they think you're a murdering monster who slaughters entire villages. Who kills children that never hurt a soul. Who tortures and terrorizes an entire country so that nothing grows and nobody can live their anymore."

"Darling -- "

"Don't call me that! Just don't."

Arrafin stomped away and down the deck. Madame Yuek stood watching her go, then turned to the others. Elena held her sneer in check, but only just barely.

"You're very welcome. All of you."

Shadow erupted around her and Madame Yuek disappeared. Isaac and Elena studied the spot where she'd vanished for a few seconds, and then Isaac turned to his friend.

"What do you call that? Killing one bird with a couple dozen stones?"
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Hey folks

Sorry for the long silence. I'm working on an update now, but my life got very interesting over the past month. Hopefully some tedium lies in store for me now...
 

Avarice

First Post
Glad to know you haven't given up on the story hour, barsoomcore. I just recently got caught up after a bit of a hiatus, and I really, really want to know how this all ends up. My guess is that our heroes will all be vampire chow sooner or later, but I'm still holding out hope that one or two might survive long enough to become an evil minion in a future campaign. Which leads me to wonder, are you still running games set in Barsoom, or have you moved on to something new?
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
My guess is that our heroes will all be vampire chow sooner or later
Where the term "chow" has a couple of possible interpretations, of course...

Avarice said:
Are you still running games set in Barsoom, or have you moved on to something new?
Barsoom carried on for another two seasons after this one, but for reasons that will become apparent, it was never the same again.

I am planning a "reunion" game to bring this crew back together -- set thousands of years in the future, our heroes are summouned from the paths of the dead to save the world again... But they return as über-powered Exalted-style characters.

Since we are now spread across two continents, there are some logistical challenges to overcome...
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 9

"We could torture him."

Etienne, Elena, Arrafin and Isaac considered the Kishak assassin Etienne had captured. He lay unmoving, bound enthusiastically if not efficiently in masses of rope.

"Have you ever tortured anyone before?"

Etienne shrugged at Elena's sour question.

"How hard could it be? Break a finger or something, ask a few questions."

"Somehow I don't love the idea of just breaking a helpless man's fingers."

They all stared down at the assassin. He didn't offer to break his own fingers for them.

Arrafin squatted down and studied the man more closely.

"Hi. My name's Arrafin. Why were you trying to kill me?"

He made no response.

Everyone started when Arrafin drew a knife. She turned the blade over in her hand, watching the light of the lantern flash around the dark hold.

"I don't really know how to use this. But I'm pretty sure I can cut your throat with it. Are you sure you don't want to talk to me?"

The assassin remained mute, staring into the darkness.

Arrafin shrugged.

"Fine."

She drew the blade across his throat and stepped back as he thrashed and convulsed, breath hissing out of the terrible crimson slash.

"Arrafin! What the hell? Arrafin?"

The Naridic girl watched her victim die then wiped her knife clean on a bit of sacking in the hold. She pointed at the body.

"Cut his head off and bring it up on the deck."

She left, her little owl riding carefully on her shoulder. The others looked at each other.

"Great," said Etienne, "Now we've got our own insane sorceress."

*****

"Nevakada..."

"We probably could have figured that out on our own. Kishak assassins? Probably Nevakada."

"You're so smart, Etienne, you ask the next question."

"Guys, we need to focus."

"Shut up, Arrafin. This is all your fault, anyway. What were you thinking?"

"Look, they're trying to kill me, so I get to ask. Also it's my spell. Now hang on."

"Ask him why they're trying to kill you."

"He'll just say because he was told to. Severed heads are very literal."

At last Arrafin stepped over to the deck rail where Isaac had affixed the Kishak's decapitated head. Captain Mateo and his crew tried not to notice the gruesome scene.

"Why does the Nevakada want me dead?"

"All unauthorized sorcerers must die."

"They must have picked you up in Al-Tizim."

"Great. So not only is the entire Kishak empire is after us, they can somehow send assassins after us in the middle of the frigging ocean. Fantastic."

"I take it back, Arrafin. It's all Nevid's fault."

Arrafin only rolled her eyes at Elena and addressed the head once more.

"What were those demon creatures?"

"Spirits bound to whoever cracks the vial."

"Spirits?"

"Yes."

"Wait, that wasn't a question. Oh, damn..."

Arrafin slumped as the head lost all animation and keeled over. She swore emphatically enough to raise Isaac's eyebrows.

"I'm always doing that."

Elena got a thoughtful look on her face, and then Farouk appeared next to her.

"What does my mistress command?"

"Do you recall the beasts you fought here earlier today?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Were they spirits like you?"

"Less powerful, but yes, mistress. They are the same form of sentience."

Arrafin came forward.

"Why less powerful?"

Farouk bowed to her.

"To bind a spirit requires a great will. Great wisdom, to not be fooled or distracted. Great focus. Great strength. The greater the mortal will, the more powerful the spirit that can be bound."

"You were bound by Suelekar ben Azan, right?"

"He was very powerful, and so he was able to bind me. A lesser man would have failed and I would have consumed him."

Elena and Arrafin exchanged a look.

"Is the Sleeping King more powerful than you?"

"In a sense, yes, mistress. But the Sleeping King is not entity of himself. He is part of a larger entity, that collection you refer to as the Tarn. Their binding is the most powerful I have ever seen. Truly, I cannot imagine the mortal soul great enough to bind them to the rocks of this land."

"The Tarn are a single entity? But there's thousands of them."

"Mistress, the statement is irrelevant."

"What?"

"I cannot explain it any further to you, mistress. I have no gift to explain. But what you experience as a multitude is in fact a single entity, yes."

Isaac shook his head.

"Has anyone noticed that the more powerful anyone is, the crazier they are?"

Farouk bowed to the Saijadani.

"The correlation is not coincidental. As an entity's power grows, its relationship with the world around it changes. A sufficient power disparity between entities renders their worldviews so different no common basis for understanding exists, and the decision-making of one becomes opaque to the other."

"Huh."

Elena interrupted Isaac's thoughtful response.

"Speaking of which, we need to visit those guys. We've got their Magreb now, weren't they going to tell us how to get her to the Sleeping King? Farouk, can you take us to the Tarn?"

"My assistance is unnecessary, mistress. They have arrived."

"Oh, look at them. They brought pants this time, at least."

"You should hide me, mistress. They will find me interesting."

"Yeah."

Alongside the ship a strange island rose from the dark waves. No broader than their ship was long, it was neatly covered in perfect lawn of close-cropped grass, with a single oak tree rising in the middle. All across the island capered strange creatures of all size, some no bigger than infants, others towering twice the height of a man. They were either bestial and misshapen, or unearthly in alluring slender forms, and all of them seemed very happy to see the ship arriving.

Isaac turned to Captain Mateo.

"What is this island?"

The captain shook his head.

"You folks are the ones who handle the weird stuff. I just sail."

"I think we need to go ashore."

"Better you than me."

*****

"Welcome. Welcome. You are most welcome, Beloved."

Arrafin stepped sideways to avoid what appeared to be a number of child-size insects dancing on their hind legs. She frowned at her hostess, a young woman who would have been lovelier if she were not apparently formed out of the bark of cedar tress.

"Why do you call me that? Beloved?"

"Because you are the Beloved of the Beauteous One. We honour--"

The bark-woman stopped speaking when Arrafin gestured violently. The Naridic girl attempted to laugh.

"Ha. Ha ha. Well. Isn't that amusing. Yes. Let's not mention that anymore, okay? Bad idea. Just don't bring it up."

"As you wish."

"Thank you."

"Beloved."

Arrafin ground her teeth and marched over to where her friends were being seated. The island appeared a great deal bigger once you were on it, she noted. They now found themselves in a sort of great cathedral formed of living trees, their boughs high over head forming thick arches between which spreads of green leaves filtered the sunlight dappling through.

Horns sounded. Excited weird folks began scattering as through their capering midst came the tall figures of Ugwyrdin, the antlered king, and his horned-but-somehow-still-gorgeous queen. The pair strode arm-in-arm up to the table. Isaac stood and bowed, doing his best to feel not at all ridiculous. He couldn't look at the woman.

"You have not brought HER. Will you not fulfill your part of the bargain?"

Elena managed to speak first. At least they were wearing clothes this time.

"Oh no, we'll bring her. We just. Well. We've got Magreb, but she's not what we were expecting."

She gestured to Isaac, who stared for a second then yanked out the sword that hung at his belt.

The creatures all around burst into song, waving happily as if to an old friend reunited. The Queen smiled.

"That is she. Now you may bring her to her father, and deliver them both to peace. He is seeking her always, but once he has found her, his will to seek shall ebb."

"Oh. Great. That makes perfect sense. So we need to take this sword to the Sleeping King?"

"And plunge it into his breast."

Etienne continued gaping at the Queen as he sniffed.

"Remember the days when we sold guns to back-stabbing traitors? I miss those days."

The Queen's smile faded.

"Now. Where is SHE? You must bring her to us."

"Well, we..."

Elena trailed off as Arrafin gestured urgently. The mortal friends put their heads together and the Naridic girl hissed.

"Should we bring her? I think she can handle them."

"Handle them? What are you talking about?"

"In case this is a trap. I think she'll be okay, don't you? She's more powerful than them."

"Oh yeah, that's what we're really worried about here, Arrafin. Whether or not the ten-thousand-year-old vampire who slaughters innocents for fun will be okay."

"Isaac..."

Elena broke in.

"Arrafin, how would we bring her here, anyway? We don't have any more of those crystal rods like the one Kani gave us."

"Yeah, I have a couple. But do we think we should?"

"Where did you--"

"Do you think we should?"

Elena smiled over at the Queen. The entire court was watching them carefully, and it seemed that some of the good will they'd arrived with had maybe begun to evaporate. The Queen spoke.

"Bring HER."

"Yes. Do it."

Arrafin rummaged in her bag and withdrew a slim rod about a handspan in length of transparent crystal.

"This will bring the Beauteous One to you. Shall I bring her now?"

"Yes. Yes. Bring HER. Bring HER to us. Let us see HER again."

Arrafin snapped the rod. Dark shadows whirled out of the broken ends, and with a dramatic flourish, the towering figure of Yuek Man Chong appeared.

The bizarre horde on all sides gasped and fell to their names, crying out in rapture.

The Queen and King bowed.

Arrafin cried out. At first Elena didn't understand what had startled her friend but then Madame Yuek gave a similar cry, one of shock and disbelief and Elena looked up to see her clutching at her own face.

A face of warm skin the colour of almonds, that gave softly to the pressure of her fingers. Madame Yuek fell to her knees.

Alive.
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 10

"Alive?"

Madame Yuek looked up at Arrafin's astonished cry.

"Darling, look at me."

She stared at her hands and shrieked.

"I'm human!"

The mortal friends exchanged confused glances. Elena kept an eye on the advancing hordes of the Tarn, who seemed far more pleased with the sudden turn of events that she was comfortable with.

"So... about Magreb? We just take her to the Sleeping King and stick him with her? Yeah? So we can go now?"

"You have brought HER to us. You are blessed. Eat with us. Dance with us."

Nevid shot to his feet, his head shaking violently.

"No. Never eat. Never dance. We should go. We should go now."

Isaac nodded, very carefully not looking at the Tarn Queen. He grabbed Etienne's shoulder and, catching Elena's eye, began moving the whole group back towards the lane of arcing rowan trees they'd entered by.

Arrafin, paying no attention to her friends, rushed to where Madame Yuek knelt in stunned stillness. The suddenly-former vampire raised her eyes, and then her face contorted in a terrible expression of fury. She rose and faced the approaching Tarn, pulling Arrafin up beside her. The lacy tendrils of her elaborate costume waved around them both.

"What have you done? What have you done to me?"

They smiled and laughed, dancing ever closer.

Nearly at the rowan trees, Isaac looked back and saw Arrafin's slight figure standing beside the statuesque form of Madame Yuek. He groaned, pushed a still-dazed Etienne into Elena's hands and rushed back into the grove.

"Come. Come dance with us."

Madame Yuek took in her surroundings for the first time.

"There's no connection to Shadow here. We must be in the Dream Worlds. We have to leave."

"No, no. You must stay. You shall stay with us."

The King laughed.

Isaac tried to sidle inconspicuously up to his friend, brushing at various ribbons and silks of Madame Yuek's outfit.

"You are bereft of sorcery and all the invulnerability it brings you. You are powerless here, Beauteous One, and you shall remain among us."

"Powerless? Me? Oh dear me, no. Allow me to illustrate how mistaken you are."

Isaac had just reached out to clasp Arrafin's shoulder when Madame Yuek raised her arms. Her gown's uncountable tendrils shot outwards in all directions, tearing creatures apart. The sorceress laughed in a wild frenzy as the Tarn fled into the trees, and she gestured to where the King and Queen stood. Rippling hungry tentacles shot towards them.

"Arrafin, let's go."

Isaac paid no attention to the skinny girl's protests as the royal couple began to shriek and thunderous blasts of prismatic energy hurtled across the grove. He threw her over his shoulder and ran for it. Etienne had stopped staring at the Queen and he and Elena waited only for Isaac to get clear of the sudden explosions of mystical violence before turning and fleeing themselves. Nevid of course was already far up the lane and emerging into the sunlight back on the island.

"We have to help her!"

"Arrafin, there is nobody back there who needs our help."

"No!"

Unable to actually wrench herself free, Arrafin at least managed to put up enough of a fight that Isaac had to stop. He found himself at the edge of the forest, looking across the green sward of the island at the Wavereaver swaying at its anchor. Elena and Etienne and Nevid all stood a short distance away, eyes wide.

Behind him, the dreadful noise of sorcery seemed to have stopped. He hung on to Arrafin to prevent her from dashing back into the grove.

"Arrafin -- "

"No, look. She's coming."

Dread in his heart, Isaac turned and saw the tall figure of Madame Yuek emerging from the darkness of the grove. She moved without her usual stately elegance, obviously struggling with the weight of her outrageous gown and hairdo. To his dismay, she appeared uninjured.

"It's okay, darling. I'm. I'm alright."

The former vampire stopped just inside the last ring of trees, facing Isaac and Arrafin. Isaac was startled to realise she was a young woman, younger than him, not much older than Arrafin. Her skin had a similar warm cast to it as the Blood Sisters they'd met, though her face seemed less exotic to his eyes. She was stunningly beautiful.

Arrafin found her voice.

"What's happened? I thought you couldn't..."

Madame Yuek drew a breath.

"I believe this grove exists in the Dream Worlds, where there is no connection to Shadow. All my sorcery is gone, everything that holds me to Shadow's power. I. I'm human. Again."

A terrible sadness clouded her eyes.

"But only as long as I stay here, I suspect. If I step to join you, Shang's work will once again take hold of me. And I don't believe I can stay here without ending up as a slave to those creatures. I've driven them off, but this is their world and they will eventually have their way."

"What are the Dream Worlds, Madame Yuek?"

"They are where your spirit, and your powers, come from, Elena. They are a riot of creation, all possibilities expressed simultaneously. The opposite of Shadow, which is the denial of all possibility. Both are equally fatal to mortals."

She drew herself up.

"Well, you have your sword and your instructions. We have work to do."

Arrafin rushed forward as the tall woman began to step from the grove.

"No, don't. You're human. You're free. You can't go back to being... that thing. It's wrong."

Isaac tensed as Madame Yuek lifted a hand to touch Arrafin's cheek.

"Yes. But there is no one else. And I will not be a slave to those things. Besides, my hair is getting heavy."

She pushed Arrafin aside and stepped across the threshold.

The change was immediate, and Isaac nearly leapt backwards in terror as the dark whispers of sorcery immediately erupted in the vampire's presence. Once again, Madame Yuek was the alabaster figure they'd known her as, still and perfect and beyond human.

Elena recalled the young girl she'd just seen and though she watched carefully, she saw no sign of emotion on that perfect face as the transformation took hold.

"You will take the sword to the Sleeping King. I will distract Matai Shang. With luck, I'll kill him, but don't bet on it. He's got more ways to cheat death than anyone can imagine."

"And you don't?"

She laughed at Etienne's brash question.

"Cheat death? I've been dead for centuries. There doesn't exist any force on Barsoom that can kill me. Get going, mortals."

"Yes, ma'am."

*****

The immense hall was empty this time. Whatever Madame Yuek was doing to distract Matai Shang, it appeared to be working.

"Let's get this over with."

The five rushed across the stone floor, feeling very insignificant beneath the immense arches of the ceiling high above, and gathered around the prone body of the Sleeping King.

"Well, he definitely looks like he's sleeping."

"And a king. Crown, see? On his head."

Elena groaned.

"Farouk brought us here, we KNOW that's the Sleeping King. Isaac, do your thing."

The big Saijadani drew the sword Magreb from his belt. He reversed the heavy weapon in his hand and held it over the Sleeping King's chest.

"Wait."

Everyone turned at Nevid's quiet interruption and found the young man pointing at a young woman standing next to him. Her shining blonde hair glittered in the glow of the lanterns all around and as she smiled, it seemed that all the lanterns suddenly burned a little brighter.

Nevid shook.

"I think that's Magreb."

"Aye, and the lad speaks truth. Me name is Magreb and yon's me father. What are ye about, then?"

Isaac looked at the sword in his hand.

"You're Magreb?"

"Aye."

He pointed at the sword.

"I thought this was Magreb."

"Aye, I've said so."

"I don't like spirits."

Elena picked up the conversational thread from where Isaac had left it.

"Miss, do you know what we're here to do?"

"It seems plain enough. Ye wish me ta kill me father. I've no doubt ye're righteous folk and all, but it's a lot to ask. He is me father."

Arrafin pointed, angry in a sudden rush that startled her friends.

"He is NOT your father. You're a spirit; you don't have fathers. Farouk told us you were all one thing anyway, so what difference does it make? Isaac, kill him. Do it."

Elena turned.

"Arrafin, what's with the blood lust? This girl is asking us to spare her father."

"Haven't you listened to anything Man Chong says? That's not a girl. This isn't a father. They're just--"

"What makes her the damn expert on everything?"

"Isaac, kill him."

"No, don't."

Isaac growled.

"For crying out loud, you two. I thought we came here to kill him. Look, Magreb, answer me this: what is Matai Shang doing with your... with the Sleeping King?"

"Oh, he's been looking for those folks as is carrying around similar to yon lad. The spike, you see. He's got ever so much interest in the spike."

"The spike."

Etienne brightened up and jumped into the conversation.

"Nevid. The spike in Nevid's head. Spirits can see it. Shang's looking for other people with spikes in their heads. The old Blood Mother's soul, or whatever."

The others all stared at Etienne for a long series of breaths. Isaac squinted, looked up at the ceiling, and then shook his head.

"I don't understand. That actually made sense."

"Kill him, Isaac. If Shang does find another shard of her soul, we can never restore her."

"I think Arrafin's right."

Elena waved her hands and turned back to Magreb.

"What happens to you, Magreb, if we kill him?"

"Oh, it's the end for me. Nowt but yon sword to carry me name."

Isaac closed his eyes.

"She's not a girl. She's not a girl. She's not a girl."

"Isaac, she IS a girl. Or at least, she's a person. Of some kind. This is murder. This is wrong."

Shoulders tensed as Isaac raised the blade and then slammed it down, plunging the blade deep into the Sleeping King's chest. The girl let out a terrible shriek that echoed all through the high vault, but the Sleeping King himself never awoke. His body trembled, and then suddenly collapsed in a swirl of colour, just as the girl did. The five friends stood arrayed around an empty stone bier.

Isaac looked at the sword still in his hand. His eyes met Elena's and the two stared at each other a long while until he turned away and slammed the weapon back into its sheath.

"We're done. Call up Farouk and get us out of here."
 

barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
Just a note: in the campaign journals I made at the time (which are basically incomprehensible to anyone who wasn't there, being mostly me making snarky comments about the PC's decisions and screw-ups), I started tagging any mention of Madame Yuek with some sort of kooky title. Reading them in order is kind of instructive in watching the character evolve:

The Groove-Tastic Madame Yuek
The Funky-As-Your-Bad-Self Madame Yuek
The Give-Me-A-Taste-Of-THAT Madame Yuek
The Whoa-Baby-Get-A-Load-Of-THAT Madame Yuek
The Hotter-Than-Thou Madame Yuek
The Smokin' Madame Yuek
The Droolworthy Madame Yuek
The Sleek and Slinky Madame Yuek
The Damn-She-Got-It-Going-On Madame Yuek
The Good-Lord-She's-Fine Madame Yuek
The Don't-Look-Or-You'll-Go-Blind Madame Yuek
The If-She-Were-Any-Hotter-She'd-Burn-Right-Through-The-Deck Madame Yuek
The Ai-Carumba! Madame Yuek
The Boy-Howdy! Madame Yuek
The I've-Been-Down-With-My-Bad-Self-For-Centuries Madame Yuek
The Look-Out-Here-She-Comes Madame Yuek
The Hit-Ya-Like-A-Ton-Of-Bricks Madame Yuek
The Born-Born-Born-Born-Born-Born-To-Be-Alive Madame Yuek
The Take-It-Like-A-Man Madame Yuek
The Tempting-And-Tasty Madame Yuek
The All-This-And-Brains-Too Madame Yuek
The I-Can-See-Clearly-Now Madame Yuek
The Just-Wanna-Touch-Her Madame Yuek
The Hey-You-Get-Offa-My-Cloud Madame Yuek
The Searchin-Fer-A-Heart-Of-Gold Madame Yuek

For reference, the previous episode featured the Born-Born-Born-Born-Born-Born-To-Be-Alive Madame Yuek. Next up is the Take-It-Like-A-Man Madame Yuek.
 



barsoomcore

Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 11

"He's got her! He's got her!"

Arrafin burst from her cabin and, shrieking, charged across the deck to where the others sat enjoying the sunshine.

The Wavereaver plowed through gentle swells, heading north between the mountain-topped islands of Shaer. Other sails dotted the grey seas, and smoke rising from the shore off to the west revealed a settlement of some kind.

Moments previously, Isaac had been defending his decision to not pursue the clues about his mother.

"What about the monster? Or the beast, or whatever? Just what WAS caged up down there? And where is it now?"

"Who knows? This is all coming from Collette, you guys. When has that bitch ever been straight with us?"

"But, Isaac, your mother..."

"Is almost certainly dead. And Collette is more likely trying to tie up a loose end -- that's me -- than suddenly suffering a change of heart and turning all noble."

"Nah. She's into you."

"That's not funny, Elena."

Elena was chuckling and preparing a retort when Arrafin's cabin door banged open and their Naridic friend, looking even more disheveled than usual, her owl flapping about her head agitatedly, came lurching across the deck at them, gesticulating madly.

"He's got her! He's f**king her up! We have to help, Elena, get Farouk, we have to help!"

Isaac stood up and tried to calm the young girl down.

"What are you talking about, Arrafin? Who's got... Oh, no."

"No. No way are we saving the Demon Goddess. Arrafin, you have got to be kidding."

Arrafin whirled on Elena, and the Saijadan woman drew back from her friend's ire.

"She saved us! All of us! She is the only person who's never lied to us about anything, who's been at all straight with us. We owe her."

"A terrible monster has been chained up, Arrafin, by the guy who created it. She's his problem, now, and I say all the better. Yay less dead innocent people."

"I believe Arrafin is right. If Madame Yuek is in trouble, we should help if we can."

Nevid weathered Elena's glare without apparent concern. She snorted.

"Oh, sure. Anything to loose a heart-eating monster on the world. Are you people unclear on what she is?"

"What she is, I believe, is the only power capable of protecting us from Matai Shang. Who, if you recall, wants my brain."

"Whereas she wants Arrafin's--"

"Thank you, Nevid, yes. Exactly. Elena, it's in our interest to help her. He's. He's doing terrible things to her. He wants to control her and use her. Elena. Please."

Etienne and Isaac watched in silence as Arrafin pleaded with the surly Saijadani woman. At last Elena sighed.

"I don't care about her. Understand? I think she should be destroyed. But I guess Nevid's right."

Arrafin sagged in relief, nearly bursting into tears. Her frenzied explanations only redoubled, however.

"Oh thank you, thank you. She's in so much pain. He's hurting her. We have to go. We have to go now. He's hurting her."

Isaac stepped in and put a hand on Arrafin's thin shoulder.

"It'll be alright, Arrafin. She claims to be impossible to kill so I'm sure she'll be there. We need to make sure we have a plan before we head in."

"Farouk."

Elena flopped backward on the deck.

"Of course. Of course you want him."

"Elena. He's the only way. He can take us to her, no matter where she is. And he can get us out again."

"So the all-powerful Demon Goddess needs my help. Isn't that just grand?"

Isaac, sensing that perhaps the decision had been made, stepped in.

"So, Arrafin, I assume you have a plan?"

"Huh?"

"Ah, excellent."

***

Dangling amidst rusted and gore-streaked chains high above Matai Shang and his horribly misshapen servants, Isaac dared a whisper.

"I still think we should have had a plan."

Arrafin hadn't spoken since she, Isaac and Etienne had arrived along with Farouk. All four of them clung to the chains in which were suspended the torn remains of Madame Yuek.

The statuesque beauty had been dismembered and hung in bloody gobbets, each moving with a terrible animation that turned Isaac's stomach.

This immortality he did not envy the vampire. He watched in disbelief as Arrafin began gathering the stumps and pieces, plucking them from the chains and cradling them in her slim arms. Blood stained the front of her robes.

Etienne watched below them as Shang bellowed at his servants in some incomprehensible tongue. He hissed at the others as the foul sorcerer reached for a lever surrounded by heavy gears.

"We have to go."

"Not yet."

Arrafin plucked a length of long midnight hair from a chain. Her breath came in short sobs as she wept. She whispered to the trembling remains in her arms.

Shang grasped the lever and pulled. The gears began turning. The chains shook, and began to descend with a deafening clatter.

"We have to go now."

"Wait, wait."

A portion of Madame Yuek's skull lay just out of Arrafin's reach.

"Wait."

"Arrafin. Now."

They continued to descend. Shang was going to look up at any second.

"Arrafin."

"Just a second."

Etienne saw the girl still reaching and swore. He reached into Isaac's ammunition pouch and flipped out a lead bullet. With a quick motion, he hurled the projectile straight into the gears turning alongside the lever. They halted and terrible grinding sounds attracted Shang's attention. He and his minions turned to investigate the mechanism.

The sudden stop of the chains set them all swinging, and Arrafin was able to snatch free the last strip of Madame Yuek's undead flesh. A crushed face looked up at her from the crook of her elbow, and Arrafin smiled down at it.

"It's okay."

Isaac saw further motion in Arrafin's gory bundle, and realised the vampire's body was knitting itself back together.

"Farouk, we're going."

"As my master commands. Where?"

Arrafin grabbed the spirit's shoulder.

"Remember those Kishak sorcerers? The Nevakada? With the demons?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Take us where they came from."

Isaac frowned.

"Arrafin, what are you--"

"She's going to have to feed. Let's take her somewhere we don't care who she kills."

The minions had wrenched free the jammed gear and the chains rattled again. Etienne turned to his friends.

"Now. Go."

"Go."

"As my mistress commands."

The riot of the Dream Worlds swallowed them up and Etienne saw Matai Shang just turning his face upwards as the room dissolved around them.

Colours, deafening shrieks, laughter, music, dazzling brilliance and inky blackness. Buffeting winds and sweet perfumes and the burning sear of acid. Chaos.

Receding.

Well-polished wood. Small windows and an open-beamed ceiling. Dust in the air, dancing in the shafts of angled light.

Arrafin collapsed, dropping a ghastly mess on the floor. Distantly, a bell began ringing.

"You guys should go."

"Us guys?"

Arrafin turned, her expression serene and certain.

"Yes. She'll kill you before she knows who you are. And besides -- "

The bell continued. Now voices could be heard, shouting in alarm. Getting closer.

" -- the Nevakada are coming."

Isaac spluttered.

"But what about you?"

"She won't hurt me."

Both men watched in disbelief as the Naridic girl traced a hand along a shattered jaw. The stark white body was pulling itself together, and one eye rolled drunkenly over to where Arrafin knelt. Legs twitched. Wounds began to close, and a dark radiance began to spill from the alabaster body.

"Uh..."

"Go. We'll be alright."

"Uh..."

"We'll be alright."

Etienne tugged at Isaac. The voices were getting louder. It sounded like dozens of people approaching.

"Farouk, take us out of here."

"As my master commands."

The spirit and the two men disappeared in an eruption of colour. Arrafin smiled as the body on the floor became whole again. Dark liquid eyes regained their focus.

"Darling..."

Arrafin gestured as the doors flew open and dozens of Kishak soldiers charged into the room.

"Here they are. You'll be better soon."

***

"What happened? Where the hell is Arrafin?"

"She's. Uh. She's in Kish."

Elena stood perfectly still, mouth hanging open.

"Is she okay?"

"I think so. Yeah. She's fine. Right, Isaac?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Etienne's right. She's fine. No problem. I need a drink."
 


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