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


First Post
Hey, they even rang the dinner bell for her! That was thoughtful. Once again, we see that it just doesn't pay to be a soldier in the military of Kish.


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Unattainable Ideal
Once again, we see that it just doesn't pay to be a soldier in the military of Kish.
Yeah, no kidding.

This was one of those moments where I realised my PCs were capable of exerting an immense influence on the world.

That's Nevakada headquarters they're in the middle of, the heart of the Kishak effort to take over the world. It's about to be annihilated. This is like the Symbionese Liberation Army (or any random tiny group of uncontrolled malcontents) setting off a nuclear bomb inside the Colorado Springs NORAD headquarters.

The bit with bullet, by the way, was actually Etienne's player using the "Gremlins" swashbuckling card (a mechanical device fails to operate) to cause Shang's torture device to malfunction, thus giving them all time to get away. One of the best-played cards of all time.


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 12

The great city of Luc'Davarionne rose above the headlands like an great mountain of buildings, hanging in mid-air without any sign of support.

It was the most outrageous thing Elena had ever seen.

A cone miles across at its base, rising hundreds of feet into the air, composed of nothing but thousands of buildings, from great palaces to rickety tenements, connected by rope bridges, cables, ladders and in some place stone arches, all of it forming an immense web of overwhelming size.

The Wavereaver was still miles away, but the enormity of the city stunned all aboard. Elena stood at the prow with Isaac and Etienne to gape at the sight. Beneath the fantastic structure they could see the tiny lines of breakers unrolling against the cliffs. The city just hung there, only connected to the land by a thin bridge extending out from its base.

"What's holding it up?"

Mateo joined them with a chuckle.

"The whole thing is built on a huge spiral. It starts right there, where that bridge is, and winds up and up and inwards and inwards until it reaches the top. The whole city is built on or hung off that spiral."

"But what holds that spiral up? What is it?"

"Nobody knows. I heard that it goes right up the Emperor's palace, and even inside, and that right at the very top sits the Peacock Throne itself."

Etienne pointed.

"Looks like it's raining underneath."

"That's not exactly rain."

"Oh. Ew."

Arrafin stepped up to the rail beside Isaac and smiled brightly.

"Hey guys! Wow, look at that."

All three of her companions shouted at the same time.


Elena recovered first and pushed past Isaac to grab her friend's shoulder.

"Where the hell have you been? You've been gone two days, Arrafin. What happened to you?"

"Nothing. Nothing much. So, that's Luc'Davarionne, huh? Wow."

"Don't give me that, Arrafin. What happened?"

The Naridic girl tried to pull away but Elena's grip was far too strong. She struggled angrily.

"Let go of me!"

"What did she do to you? Where have you been?"

"We were-- I was in Kish. They know."

Arrafin pointed at Isaac and Etienne. She quailed a little under the concentrated study of all three of her friends.

"She had to. She had to get better. She. She killed them. The Kishaks. She's better now."

Sudden anger flared up again.

"It was just a bunch of Kishak bastards, anyway. What do you care? They're all trying to kill us. Now they're dead. Whatever. I'm fine. It's over. I'm here."

Mateo spat over the rail.

"Sounds like you folks could use a party."

He nodded at the great city rising up in mid-air before them.

"The Luc's the best place on Barsoom for a party, let me tell you."

Elena sighed.

"I could sure use a drink."


The Wavereaver swung at anchor, sheltered from the ocean gales by the high cliffs of the harbour at Luc'Davarionne. Nearly directly overhead, the immensity of the bizarre city covered half the sky.

Clambering down into the tender that had come to take the passengers ashore, Isaac looked around in sudden surprise.

"Anyone seen Nevid? Isn't he coming?"

Etienne shrugged.

"He said he wasn't feeling well."

Isaac settled back into his seat and as the little boat pushed away from their ship, chuckled.

"Last time Nevid had a few drinks he still had a ghost for a girlfriend, didn't he?"

Elena forced a hearty smile at Arrafin.

"Now, Arrafin, I've decided we're going to ditch these guys and have our own kind of fun tonight. Natacha filled me in on all the places in Luc'Davarionne where a couple of girls can have a good time..."

"A couple of girls? I mean, uh, great."

Arrafin stared at the approaching wharf with a set expression. Her owl huddled in amongst the thick curls spilling over her shoulder.

"That sounds great."


The door to Arrafin's cabin opened slowly, spreading a lengthening finger of light across the floor.

Nevid peered in. He looked carefully around the room without entering. Still standing at the doorway, he turned and scanned the deck of the Wavereaver, empty and lit only by a few lanterns. With a swift motion, he slipped into the narrow cabin and closed the door behind him.

Inside, he lit a candle and crossed to the unsteady trestle Arrafin used as a desk. Her massive spellbook sat amidst scattered papers. Nevid sat on the three-legged stool and studied the black-covered volume.

It was gorgeously detailed, the leather cover tooled and polished and inlaid with silver traceries. Its manufacture was unfamiliar to the young man, but he assumed it was Lohanese in origin.

Opening it, he found assured brushwork in an unfamiliar hand. He ignored the personal declarations and flipped to the meat of the book.

Grasping Shadow:

It is necessary to open one's soul through the practice of meditation in order to take hold of the power that enables sorcery. This practice is known as "grasping Shadow" and it is the first step in learning sorcery. The novice must be extremely cautious as it is dangerous..

Nevid set the candle carefully on the desk and began reading in earnest.


"You haven't been drinking at all!"

Arrafin protested, indicating the wineglass before her as evidence. Elena was unimpressed.

"You're not drunk even a little bit. Not even a little, little bit."

Music thundered around them, and the heat and the smell and the noise was making the Naridic girl feel ill. Elena had brought them to the most ridiculous place Arrafin had ever heard of, with dancing boys and outrageous costumes, but she took a healthy swallow of her wine to try and placate her friend.

Elena sulked.

"I brought you here. This nize place. And you're. You won't have fun. Just sitting there."


"Don't! Tell me what's going on with you. I thought we were friends. Everything we've been through. But now you don't tell me anything."

"I... It's hard."

"Is it her?"


Arrafin reached out and took her friend's hand. Startled, Elena sobered up for a second and lost her pout.

"Look, I know I've been... not so friendly. I wish I could explain. Sorcery is scary. It's changing me inside. I can feel it."

"Then stop. You don't have to."

"Yes, I do. Who else is going to stand up to the Tyrant's Shade? Elena, my brother is dead. My father is dead. I have to do something."

"I know, sweetie. I just wish it wasn't like this."

"Me, too."

The two women stared at each other for long seconds, and then Arrafin snatched up her glass and drained it.

"Alright, you win. Get me drunk -- if you think you can, Saijadani."

"Was that a challenge?"

The waiter heard the shrieks of laughter and headed that way.


"I don't think I've ever seen a woman do that."

Isaac was a quiet drunk, Etienne had realised. That made it his responsibility to ensure a fun night, and he felt he'd done a good job. Isaac was chuckling and watching the dancing girls with more interest than he'd shown in anything since they'd spent an afternoon seeing how much Farouk ibn Zaoud could lift.

The bar was noisy and crowded but expensive enough to retain a sense of class. And the girls were beautiful. Etienne had heard Hinsuan woman were lovely, and certainly the Scarlet Belt was doing nothing to refute that rumour.

He grinned as a dark-skinned beauty slid into Isaac's lap, much to the Saijadani's startlement.

"You're not from around here, are you?"


Etienne's grin vanished as a second girl slipped herself onto his lap, reaching up to stroke his cheek.

"Uh. Uh."


"What now? No, not you. Oh, never mind."

Is now a bad time?

Etienne sighed, watching the confused Hinsuan girl sway off through the crowd.

"It's fine. What?"

I've lost contact with the Blood Council Sanctuary in Luc'Davarionne. Sister Morikage was supposed to give you some information about the Blood Mother but I can't get a hold of her. I need you and the others to go to the Sanctuary and find out what's happened.

Etienne looked over at his drunk friend, who was happily fondling the half-naked woman in his lap.

"How about tomorrow?"


"I'll see what I can do. But don't expect too much."


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 13

"Listen, guys, just try to hold it together. Please? We need to check this out. It could be important."

Arrafin and Elena burst out laughing at the pleading look on Etienne's face. Arrafin was particularly unstable and stood slumped against her friend, shaking with laughter.

Elena tried to compose herself. She twisted her neck to look over where Etienne was pointing.

At the gate of the Blood Council sanctuary, two armed Lohanese men stood watchful and alert.

"There're guards. Guards. There."

"Right. Look, there are never guards at a Blood Council sanctuary. Not men, that's for sure."


Isaac blinked a few times, trying to keep up with the conversation.

"What's going on?"


"But I want to know why we left that place with the girls. What the hell?"

Etienne gritted his teeth and pulled his drunk friends further back into the alley.

"Look, there's something wrong here. We have to find out what's happening inside that place."

Elena giggled and gave Etienne a friendly shove.

"You're into Lohanese chicks, aren't you?"

"Elena. Guys. We need to get inside there. Well, I need to get inside there. Stop laughing, Elena. Once I'm in, I can assess the situation and stop laughing, Elena, and if I need help I'll let you know. But I need someone to distract those guards."

Arrafin pushed past everyone else and staggered towards the sanctuary.

"No problem. I mem'ized a spell. Stand back."

"Uh, Arrafin, maybe that's not such a--"

Etienne jumped back in alarm as Shadow erupted around the Naridic girl, licking outwards in hungry curves before settling back into her slender body.

"It's a dancing spell. Cause 'lena said we were dancing n' I don' know how. To dance. So dancing spell. Watch this."

Arrafin's walk lost all its stumbly gawkiness and with a fluid, sensuous sway, she strode across the street towards the guards.

They stared as she began gyrating and writhing before them, her hips rolling and her back arching as she rode the rhythms of the music coming from distant streets.

Her friends stared in just as much astonishment. Especially when she dropped her outer robes and began to undulate in nothing more than a linen shift.

Elena smacked Etienne.

"Yes, Arrafin's a girl. You wanted a distraction, half-breed, get to work."

"Right. Right."

Etienne shook his head and slipped through the shadows towards the gate. Elena looked over at Isaac who was still staring, mouth agape, as Arrafin continued to writhe and twirl in the street.

"Yeah. She's a girl."


Breaking into a Blood Council sanctuary, even on the instructions of a Blood Council sister, was not the sort of thing Etienne really felt confident about. If there was one thing every thief he'd ever met agreed on, it was don't break into Blood Council sanctuaries. Nobody who did so was ever seen again.

Etienne huddled inside the gate, listening carefully and scanning the darkness for any signs of movement.


He whispered to himself, "Blood Sister, I could use a little help right now."

Still nothing. Etienne rolled his eyes and pressed further into the compound. The low buildings and thick gardens revealed no sign of trouble, but the very lack of activity kept the half-Kishak alert. On his previous visits to such places, there were always servants bustling about, tending the gardens or cleaning or some such servant-like occupation, but here... nothing. Silence.

He reached the main building and crept up onto the wide verandah that stretched around its exterior. The wall panel before him slid aside at his touch and he slipped inside, waiting for a moment to let his eyes adjust.

"Meat. Meat."

"Oh, no."


"Should we do something?"

"Huh? Hey. Elena. Hi."

"Stop staring at Arrafin for a second. We could take those guards now. You take the one on the left, and I'll take the one on the other left. Okay?"


"I said stop staring. On the left, okay? Get him."

Arrafin threw her hands up in the air and shimmied as best as her physique would allow. She was having a blast, dancing like this and feeling so lovely and hilarious and...

Then there was screaming and blood and Isaac and Elena were grinning at her and she felt very very self-conscious and grabbed at her robes, blushing furiously.

"Let's go."

"Lemme get dressed first."

"It's okay. Isaac doesn't mind."

Still protesting, but too drunk to efficiently clothe herself, Arrafin stumbled after her friends, who pushed open the gate and looked around the empty courtyard beyond.

"The screaming, I guess. That sounds like Etienne."


The misshapen, lurching figures could only have come from Shang. Their hissing cries and slashing talons surrounded Etienne in a knot of horror, but they fell apart when Isaac and Elena blundered into the room, laying about them with heavy swords.

One creature staggered backwards, right through a paper wall, furniture crashing aside as the twitching figure clawed at the floor mats. In the room beyond they saw a middle-aged Lohanese woman, bound and gagged.

"Sister Morikage? We're here to help. Sister Torokan sent us."

"She did?"


"A magic teacup."

Elena tried not to groan. Her drunk had worn off and her head was beginning to pound. Arrafin had passed out and lay sprawled behind them, snoring quietly.

They sat in a pristine reception hall with Blood Sister Morikage, who had turned out to be a quavery woman without any of the stern uprightness of character Sister Torokan always displayed. The Lohanese woman smiled encouragingly and nodded at Elena's disbelieving comment.

"Exactly. To restore the Sancuary of the Mother, you must pour out white tea on the ground from this cup. It originally belonged to the first Blood Mother, Hsia Lin. Until the First Sanctuary is restored, the Blood Mother cannot be brought back."

Isaac had one hand pressing at his forehead, and scowled at the floor as though it were responsible for his present discomfort. He winced and looked up at the older woman.

"Where is the First Sanctuary?"

"In the midst of the ruins of Zuyang, the city destroyed and cursed to eternal damnation by the Demon Goddess. The souls that died there still hover over the ruins and tear the spirits of any who enter."

"Oh, great. So let me get this straight. We take this... magic teacup... into a ruin haunted by thousands of angry homicidal ghosts, find the one patch of ruins that's your precious First Sanctuary, and then make a cup of tea."


"I guess we look like suckers."

Arrafin sat up.

"The spikes. Farouk."

"Bad dream, Arrafin? Maybe you should lie down again."

"No, no," the Naridic girl pressed forward, suddenly animated. "Don't you see? Farouk can find the people with the spikes. Spirits can do that. Remember the Tarn? And Kaley? Farouk can find all the other people who have bits of the Blood Mother's soul. So we can bring them all together."

"Yeah, in this First Sanctuary. Then what?"

"Man Chon -- I mean, Madame Yuek -- can do the spell that will bring her back. Her soul."

"That sounds like a plan. At least, I assume it does. I don't think I've ever heard a plan before."

Sister Morikage's face darkened.

"You must not speak of the Demon Goddess so lightly. She has struck again, we know."

"Struck? Again?"

"Thousands are dead in Kish after she destroyed a massive portion of the city. Smouldering ruins and tortured souls are all she leaves in her wake."

Elena looked over at Arrafin as she spoke.

"Thousands, you said? She killed thousands of people? Were they all evil Nevakada agents, by any chance?"

"Of course not. She levelled entire city blocks in her rage. Half the city is still burning."

Elena's eyes drew narrow in anger.

"Interesting we didn't hear anything about this before now."

Arrafin swallowed and forced a yawn.

"Boy, I sure am tired again. I'll be lying down over here."

"You do that, Arrafin. Blood Sister, can you tell us anything about Isaac's mother?"

"What? Hey, Elena, stick your nose in other people's business much?"

"Shut up, Isaac. Blood Sister, we found a room with a cage and carpet of bodies. What the hell is going on with his mother? Is she dead?"

The Blood Sister sighed and bowed her head.

"I am not in possession of all the facts about your family's history, Senor del Valençia, but I can tell you this: your mother is not dead. You will know the moment she dies."

"Great. Thanks. Elena, shut up."


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 14

"So, this is the home of a crazed vampire goddess. It's, uh, the creepiest place I've ever been."

Isaac, Elena, Nevid and Etienne stood with Farouk and a dozen or so strangers, all of whom stared around themselves in varied mixtures of shock and awe. And terror.

Around them rose an immense hall, tiled in brilliantly polished marble and dominated by a wide curving staircase that rose to a balcony high above.

But even the height of the balcony was dwarfed by the hall itself, a vast cavern of black pillars arching so high overhead they were lost in darkness. Each pillar writhed with detail, exquisite carvings in such profusion they made the stone appear to shift and twist in the candlelight.

Elena inspected the pillar nearest her and drew back.

The same woman, repeated over and over and over again. The same face, the same figure.

The Demon Goddess. Yuek Man Chong.

This great fortress was a temple to her glory. It was the creepiest place Elena had ever been.

"And that's saying something."

She turned back to the crew of strangers huddled together in confusion.

"Look, people, it's going to be okay. Just a few days, and we'll return you to your homes. I promise."

One of them, a heavyset Hinsuan man pulling at his beard, stepped forward belligerently.

"No! Take me home immediately. I don't know who you people are, or what makes you think you can--"

Elena sighed and smiled at the man, pushing a little with her mind. She remembered when this seemed like a difficult thing, a miracle. Now it was just the easiest path.

The man shook his head and subsided, and with him the willingness of the group to speak up.

"I've told you all. You'll be fine, but we need you for just a short period. We wouldn't do this if it wasn't very important. Now, we need to do a few things first, so... uh..."

"I have prepared guest rooms. Junko and Ryo will show them."

Elena and everyone else turned at the rich, amused contralto with the Lohanese accent.

Partway up the staircase stood Madame Yuek in one of her trademark gowns, rippling lace and rich brocade, sparkling with gems and gold and a crimson so intense Elena felt the need to squint as she looked at it. The vampire's hair towered up above her head in an architectural wonder of gold hoops and braids.

By her side stood Arrafin, slight and nondescript in her brown travel robes, her thick curls exploding out from her head in all directions.

"Our new guests will be fine. You, Arrafin's friends, come with us. We have much to discuss."

The statuesque creature turned and made her stately way up the stairs, one hand on Arrafin's arm. The Naridic girl quietly went along with her hostess.


The girl looked back at Elena's question.

"It's okay, Elena. Come on."

The four friends at the base of the stairs looked around them in confusion. Two Lohanese women had appeared and were leading the other folks down a hall.

"What choice do we have, Elena?"

"Yeah, but Arrafin's..."

"Yeah. Looks that way."

Elena could only stare at Etienne for a second, then she blew out a noisy breath and stormed up the stairs after Arrafin and Madame Yuek.

The vampire led them into a high-ceilinged library framing immense windows that opened onto a breath-taking view down a glacial crevasse. Mountain peaks marched off into the distance, trailing icy plumes.

Madame Yuek settled herself on a divan and smiled as Arrafin sat beside her. She gestured to a semi-circle of chairs.

"Please. We have much to discuss."

Nevid stopped half-way into his chair, rivetted by some sudden understanding of the books lining the walls to a height of a ship's mast.

"Are those-- Forgive me, Madame Yuek, but are all those spellbooks?"

"Of course not! Only this side of the room. The other side is mathematical treatises, mostly, on sorcery."

Each side of the room held thousands of volumes. Nevid completed his sitting action, staring up at the ranks of books in awe.

"Now. First, I thank you for finding all the pieces of Tsin Kwan's soul and bringing them here. Well done. But now I'm afraid the real work begins."

"Just a minute."

Elena pointed at Arrafin.

"First, what the hell is going on with you two?"

"I thought it was obvious. We are lovers. What business is it of yours?"

All four stared in slack-jawed shock. Arrafin looked down at her feet, blushing, but she raised her head and shook her curls back, addressing her friends.

"I love her. You don't understand what she's doing, what she's going thro--"

"Hush, darling. It's okay."

"It's not!"

Indignant, Arrafin jumped to her feet.

"She never asked for this! Shang did this to her and she's just trying to, to, control it. To do as little harm--"

"Oh yeah, like those thousands of people in Kish. Or that village in Shaer. Yeah, no harm done there. Arrafin, listen to yourself. I don't know what she's done to you--"

Etienne snickered, but Elena steam-rollered on.

"-- but she is a monster! A killer! She says so herself."

Isaac stood and stepped between his angry friends.

"Guys. This isn't helpful."

He bowed to their hostess.

"Madame Yuek. Can I ask you a question?"

"I am not in the habit of explaining myself to peasants."

Isaac began to protest, but stopped as Arrafin tugged on Yuek's hand, and the two women exchanged pointed glances. Madame Yuek sighed, and then turned back to Isaac with a warm smile.

"Please, ask anything. We have no secrets."

"Uh. Okay. Look. You're obviously very, uh, powerful."

"You figured this out all by your-- Yes, indeed. I am."

Another scolding look from Arrafin quieted down the haughter in the vampire's countenance. She managed another smile, and Isaac continued.

"Why don't you... Go after bad guys? You know, take out the baddies, and leave the innocents? You have to admit, it's hard to... trust someone who seems content to kill folks who never did anything wrong."

"You have never had absolute power of others. I... "

Terrible sadness filled dark liquid eyes.

"I have learned that I am not capable of sitting in judgement on strangers without corrupting myself and all around me.

"I'm not sane, by any definition of that term. I feed on pain and terror and death, and when I lose control of myself, as I did in Kish recently, thousands pay for my error."

Her smile had faded and Isaac stepped back at the glower that emerged.

"I will not judge. I will not claim power that has not been granted me. I kill because I must, else I lose control of myself. I leave no witnesses, so that nobody knows I exist.

"And I am done explaining. Sit. Down."

Isaac sat.

"Now. Tomorrow we begin our attempt to restore the soul of Tsin Kwan, the last Blood Mother. I expect Matai Shang will attempt to stop us. He may be aware that you folks have gathered up a group of random individuals, and that will probably let him know what you're up to. However, he will not be able to find them here in my home."

Etienne nodded and broke in.

"Right, but we have to perform the ritual in the Blood Council Sanctuary in Zuyang. We have to--"

"I am familiar with the plan. Be silent. Shang will notice when I arrive in Zuyang and he will strike then, so we must wait until all the preparations have been made. Therefore, you will enter Zuyang, find the Sanctuary and consecrate it as the Blood Council instructed.

"At that time I will bring the holders of Tsin Kwan's soul and begin the ritual. Shang will most likely attack at this time so I will require your assistance in holding his forces off until I have completed the ritual."

Elena coughed and shifted in her chair.

"Maybe it's a little late in the game, but honestly, I get confused every time I try to work this all out. Why are we doing this again?"

Arrafin jumped in to answer.

"Shang shattered the soul of the Blood Mother and now the Blood Council has no leader. He's corrupted the Council to his own purposes."

Everyone spoke at once.

"But they say Madame Yuek killed the Blood Mother, don't they?"

"I thought Shang wanted to restore the Blood Mother. Isn't he after Nevid's brain?"

"The Blood Council don't know what's going on."

"I sure don't like that Shang guy. He's creepy."

The babble stopped as Arrafin got to her feet and waved for silence.

"Look. Matai Shang is a horrible monster. He turned a young woman into that for no reason other than it made it easier for him to torture her. He's tried to kill us a couple of times, and he clearly doesn't care who gets killed in his plans. He wants to prevent us from restoring the Blood Mother and honestly, that seems like a pretty good argument for doing it right there."

Elena scoffed.

"And you think if your new girlfriend brings back the Blood Mother, those women will be so grateful they'll let her go?"

Madame Yuek chuckled.

"Oh no. They want me dead, and once the Blood Mother is returned, they'll be much more able to do it."

"But that's crazy! Why would you--"


Isaac was watching Arrafin when Madame Yuek howled out her agonizing declaration, and he saw such a look of anguish on the Naridic girl's face that he reached across to take her hand. She paid no attention, utterly engrossed in her lover's pain.

"Don't you understand? I have been trying to kill myself for a hundred years. NOTHING stops this nightmare."

Madame Yuek shook, clenching her teeth and growling as she stared at the floor, fury radiating off her. After a heartbeat, she leapt to her feet and dashed from the room, her robes trailing behind her.


Elena strode over to Arrafin and yanked the girl up.

"What the f**k is going on, Arrafin? How long have you and-- "

"Over a month. Let go of me."

"You didn't tell us? How could you do this to us? We trust you, Arrafin. I thought we were friends."

"It was-- It just-- How could I tell you? I didn't mean--"

Isaac tried to step between them again. Elena threw Arrafin back and snarled.

"That's the last time I trust you, Arrafin. The last time. I'll do this Blood Mother thing, but then we're finished. You understand? I never want to see you again."


"F**k you, Arrafin. Go play with your murdering vampire girlfriend."

Isaac grabbed Elena's shoulders as Arrafin ran from the room.

"Let her go, Elena. It's done. We--"

"You're okay with this?"

"I'm not! But what can we do at this point? We have to go along with them now."

"I know that! I'm just angry."

"No, really? Hey Nevid, maybe you shouldn't be reading Madame Yuek's books."


Unattainable Ideal
Note that I've uploaded the first two parts of the story (Another Fine Mess and Frying Pan Fire) along with the Interludes as RTF files to the original post in this thread.

This was the moment that nearly broke the game. I'd been carrying on extensive extra-game activity with most of the players, with email conversations between sessions. So things like Etienne's connections with the Blood Council, some of the story around Isaac's mother, and other things, happened outside the game session and without the knowledge of all the players.

When people found out that Arrafin was having an affair with the Demon Goddess, they kind of freaked out. This is leading into the grand finale of the season, and the emotion levels were running really high. And as you'll see, there's more emotional shocks in store...

I'm wondering if it was over-telegraphed in this telling. I tried to include signs that something was going on, but I hope there was still a sense of surprise when the truth came out. I'd like to hear what people thought.


First Post
Was I surprised by the revelation of the affair? Somewhat, but not too much. Arrafin has shown herself to be nothing if not morally flexible. I was a bit surprised at the strength of the others' reaction, though. They really didn't see this coming? Given some of the other horrible things that Arrafin has had a hand in, a little freaky vampire sex seems pretty tame by comparison. That naive young scholar we met way back in Chimney seems to be long gone.

Great stuff as always, barsoomcore. Thanks for sharing it with us!


Unattainable Ideal
They really didn't see this coming? Given some of the other horrible things that Arrafin has had a hand in, a little freaky vampire sex seems pretty tame by comparison.
It's interesting to see how different one's frame of reference is for a game than for a story (or for real life). Killing innocent people, destroying property, risking one's soul -- all those things that in real life would be far far worse, are understood within the context of the game as acceptable, whereas leaving fellow gamers out of part of the story was very disruptive.

But it made for a helluva a great story. Even if I'm not telling it as such, you gotta believe me, it was gripping.


It's interesting to see how different one's frame of reference is for a game than for a story (or for real life). Killing innocent people, destroying property, risking one's soul -- all those things that in real life would be far far worse, are understood within the context of the game as acceptable, whereas leaving fellow gamers out of part of the story was very disruptive.
Yeah, well, those aren't real people. Their sacrifice doesn't have the emotional resonance of stuff that happens with more immediacy directly around the PCs.

Oddly enough, this kind of PC skullduggery is not unusual at all in games I'm in. The game I recently ran had a PC who snuck off in the middle of the night to buy a slave to sacrifice so he could get some divination done, for instance. Another one tried to steal his spellbook later so he could rip out the page with the ritual for summoning Dagon. He was too afraid that he'd actually do it sometime. Two PC's who decided that the Duskblade was a pompous ass stole most of his flasks of Holy Water and replaced them with Regular Water, hoping they'd get a chance to watch him throw them at undead in the future and laugh as he got ripped to shreds.

I agree; it does make for extremely fun sessions, though.


First Post
I can't say that I was shocked by the revelation but I commend you and your players for allowing that situation to develop. I would expect it takes a very mature group.

I am however curious as to what this does to the party dynamic. Elena has said very clearly that she doesn't trust Arrafin and never wants to see her again. It would seem the party is headed for a split which, from a metagame perspective, means someone will be rolling up a new character.

Any hard feeling among your players?

This was certainly cool for the story but I wonder if it had a RL effects on your game.


Unattainable Ideal
No enduring hard feelings. We were all going through some kind of crazy times -- this was the fall of 2001, so if you recall, a few things were going on then and we'd all lost our jobs (except for Etienne's player) so we were basically camping at each others' houses and playing Barsoom twice a week. It got kind of intense, I think partly just because everyone was really stressed out and needing some serious escapage.


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 15

A great dark tower rose over the ruins of Zuyang, a whirling column of blackness miles across and reaching up into the sky, far out of sight. The city lay spread around the blackened remains of what must have once been a pleasant river valley. Trees grew on the hillside where Elena, Arrafin, Nevid, Isaac and Etienne stood, but they were withered, stunted things twisted and gnarled with sickness.

What grass grew here was yellow and thin, and cobwebs hung from every branch, as though no animals ever passed beneath. The whole place stank of decay and disuse. Down below, along the cracked and smoking ravine that had once been the bed of a great river, stones lay jumbled upon each other, only occasionally arranged in any sort of order that might suggest actual construction.

"I saw this..."

"What? Nevid? You saw this? Where?"

The slight Saijadani youth turned to Elena.

"In my dreams. Tsin Kwan's memories. I saw... her. The Demon Goddess. She did this."

He staggered to his feet and peered back at where a vast, smoking crater told of the enormity of the explosion they'd just witnessed. Vast sprays of earth disappeared beyond the hills, launched upwards hundreds if not thousands of feet into the air. Faintly he heard the impacts as boulders the size of houses plunged into the city.

At first he thought the wave of twisting smoke radiating out from the crater's edge was flame. He realised, without knowing how he realised it, that he was watching the souls of the people of Zuyang, torn from their bodies by the pure rage of unchecked Shadow. A great dark cloud began to form overhead.

"You haven't destroyed her."

Thousands died as he spoke. The wave of death expanded outwards. Behind it, buildings exploded into dust, paving stones blasted up hundreds of feet into the air, walls blew apart, and behind it all, the terrible terrible screaming of a young girl's tantrum.

"You've just made her angry."

Nevid looked up at that freakish tower of darkness.

"Those are... souls. Souls torn from their bodies by the Demon Goddess, and never able to pass on to the Shadow Realm. They're stuck here forever."

The group stood silently, staring down at the scene of long-ago horror and death. Over the groaning wind, another fainter, more unsettling sound became audible, as of millions of distant voices moaning and crying out, indistinct, but agonizing in need.

"And they're hungry."

"Oh, good," muttered Isaac, "That's exactly what I was hoping you'd say."


Within the ruins it was much, much worse. The whirling vortex of dead souls howled in a continuous painful screech that dragged at their eardrums, making it almost impossible to communicate. The group staggered down ruined streets, clambering over ripped-up paving stones and collapsed walls, trying to ignore the terror and anxiety that built up as they pressed further into the devastated city.

"What was that? What was that?"

"What, Elena? What did you see?"

"No. Nothing. Never mind."

Isaac chewed ferociously at his cigar as he followed his friends. The undead voices moaning all around them set his nerves on edge, and he himself was seeing odd shapes in the shadows, menacing apparitions that disappeared when he looked at them, movement just out of the corner of his eye.

They moved on, finding themselves on a long boulevard that stretched straight into the heart of the ruins, deeper into the darkness beneath the great towering whirlwind of horror above them. Further in, the devastation was not as complete, and here and there walls still stood, mute witnesses to a century of suffering.

Etienne kept his focus on the next unsteady paving stone, refusing to look anywhere around him, no matter how many bizarre shadows tugged at his attention. Arrafin staggered on with her eyes closed, clinging to Isaac's belt and fighting to maintain her feet in the raging gale.

Voices muttered and groaned. Shapes danced and threatened.

Elena tried to keep her wits in order, but distractions bore down on her. Every time she turned to see what was hovering off to one side, cackling or shivering, it vanished. Only to reappear on the other side of her vision. She was sweating heavily, despite the shrieking wind.

Nevid recited recently-learned formulae in his head, clinging to sanity through the cold rationality of mathematics.

"Let's make for that building! The big one on the right!"

Isaac grabbed Elena's shoulder and pointed towards a low complex of buildings that seemed less damaged than others and might provide some shelter from the ever-increasing winds. They staggered in that direction, passing through a crumbling gateway and on into a high hall that still had most of its ceiling intact. The sudden decrease in noise from the wind and the voices startled them all so much that for a second they didn't realise what surrounded them.

"I guess this is your girlfriend's old place."

Skulls. Thousands upon thousands of skulls lay arranged in tidy piles, their empty grinning faces speaking of slaughter. Slaughter on a scale so vast as to be unimaginable. The pyramids of skulls stretched across the immense hall, seeming to shrink as they receded into the distance.

But they didn't recede that far. The smaller skulls were... smaller.

"Oh, :):):):) me. Those are children's skulls. Little babies. Oh, you're kidding me. This... this..."

Elena broke off as her attention was drawn upwards, up the far wall, to where the group of them realised a massive fresco was just visible beneath decades of dust and decay.

Looking down on them all was an immense portrait of Madame Yuek, a seductive smile touching her perfect lips.

Elena pointed, turning to Arrafin.

"Is that what you like? Huh? LOOK at this place! This is her palace, or whatever. LOOK at what she is!"

Arrafin glowered, but made no response. Elena rushed over and grabbed her.

"What's wrong with you, Arrafin? What the hell are you thinking?"

"Whoa, whoa, Elena, calm down. Not now."

Isaac took a smack across the jaw for his efforts. Elena glared at him, and then swayed, putting a hand to her head.

"Guys. I'm not... I don't feel so good. I think we need to... hurry up."

"Yeah, okay. Come on."

Isaac kept a close eye on Elena as they went back outside, once again braving the voices and wind as they made their way deeper in towards where their maps told them the Sanctuary would be.

All of them struggled as they made their way up the ruined boulevard. Isaac found his hand straying again and again to his swordhilt, and only by shaking himself mentally could he restrain the desire to draw it and attack the endless shapes around him.

"There it is!"

Etienne saw it first; a cluster of collapsed buildings just beyond a stretch of rubble and deep yawning pits. They had to work their way around the worst of the destruction before they could approach the ancient compound.

"Careful, Etienne, don't-- oh, there he goes."

The normally nimble half-Kishak had been making his way over an unsteady block the size of a house when it tilted and he slid from sight. Isaac sighed.

"Here we go again."

The others scrambled over to where their friend had disappeared, to find a inclined block leading down into darkness, where Etienne could just be seen, waving at them.

"Guys, come down here! I found something weird!"

"That's tempting."

They struggled down the slope and into the space beyond. It turned out to be a dank chamber, lined with strange machines hissing and bubbling. Wires and tubes ran in confused patterns all over, fluids pumping and dripping as unseen vents hissed and sighed. The noise from outside faded away.

"There's no dust here. This hasn't. This is new."

Arrafin studied one of the great banks of dials, coils and switches.

"Shang. This is Matai Shang's work. It's all bound up in sorcery."

Etienne called from around a corner.

"Uh, guys? It gets worse over here."

The others joined him, and drew back in horror at the sight: a young pre-pubescent girl lay on a steel slab, unmoving and rigid, with dozens of tubes and hoses emerging from her body. Her forehead, arms, thighs and sex all dripped blood and other fluids where these mechanical insertions had been made. Unidentifiable fluids pumped in and out of the girl's body.

"She's alive. What the hell is he doing?"

Arrafin pointed at a nearby rack, where a number of identically-shaped crystals sat. The first was dark, but the others were clear, like massive diamonds. Arrafin approached them more closely, but jumped back in alarm.

"It moved. It's..."

Both she and Nevid peered at the darker crystal.

"There's something inside..."

"A soul. A human soul."

Isaac nodded, chewing on his cigar.

"Alright. Let's get out of here. We've still got to get to that Sanctuary, no matter what Shang is up to in here. Somebody help Elena."

The Saijadani woman had started weeping uncontrollably. At Etienne's urging she roused herself and followed the others unsteadily back out into Zuyang's hideous streets.

"I can't. I can't."

"Come on, Elena, we're almost there. Just a little further. You can do it."

"Please. I."

Etienne put an arm around his friend and helped her over the last pile of rubble. They caught up with others on the edge of the courtyard that had once been a Blood Council Sanctuary. Not much was left, but there was enough to indicate the typical outline of buildings in a Sanctuary.

"Okay, so. Tea."

Isaac looked around expectantly. Etienne shook his head.

"I don't think we need tea, actually."

"The Blood Sister said tea."

"Any liquid will do."

"No, we need tea."

"Look, just give me the cup and I'll show you."


"Give it here!"


The argument between Isaac and Etienne ended at the gunshot. They turned in shock to see Arrafin and Nevid turning likewise, all of them facing Elena.

Who collapsed to the ground, pistol falling from her hand.

And half her head blown off.


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 16

Collette stared long and hard at the dead woman in the cage.

"Are you sure she's dead?"

The enormous man beside her shrugged.

"She ain't moved in more'n a day, boss. She ain't breathing, far as we can tell."

"Give her a couple more days. We'll know when she starts to decompose."

The slender, dark-haired woman turned and walked down the stone hallway. She climbed the steps and stood for a second in the half-ruined dining hall of some grand house. One side of the room had been taken up with a sort of camp: cots and trestle tables arranged, around which sat or leaned a near-dozen heavily armed mercenaries.

"So? Is she dead?"

Collette strode to a table on which was spread a detailed map of the Barony of Lasseux. Various arrows and lines denoted what appeared to be troop movements or battle sites. She studied the map for a second, then slammed her hand down.

"Very close. Starvation seems to be working. Once we're sure she's gone, we'll put her in the ground."

"Cut her head off first. Cut the heart out and burn it."

"Yeah, good ideas, Matthias. We should do that."

"Seemed like a nice lady. It's a shame."

With a sigh, Collette turned around and leaned back against the table. She was an incongruous sight, a slight figure amongst these burly fighting men, but she obviously commanded their respect.

"Yeah, it's a real shame. But it had to be done."

"Is she the last?"


"She had a kid?"

"A son."

Matthias' face darkened considerably at the news, as though a sudden sadness had struck him.

"Damn. We got to find him."

Collette shook her head.

"I don't think so. Isaac will find us. Let's make sure the cages are good and strong. He's no old woman."


The Tarn mourned. Of course, in the bizarre world they formed and inhabited, mourning required dance and song and capering insanity.

Usually they danced around their beloved King and his beautiful Queen, but today they danced around a new, unfamiliar figure, dark and somber and very, very handsome.

Farouk ibn Zaoud stood unsmiling in the midst of frivolity. He did not smile as the Queen of the Tarn approached him, the very picture of seductive glamour and fey passion.

"You... come on your mistress' behalf?"

The stoic warrior shook his head.

"No. I come on no cause but my own. I have no mistress now."

The Queen's green eyes widened. They widened still further when Farouk held up his right hand, in which he clutched the amulet that Elena had once used to control him.

"I am free."


Voices on all sides erupted in thunderous fascination. Farouk nodded.

"I hold my binding. None holds me. And I wish a boon of the Tarn."

"Indeed? What do you offer? What do you seek?"

"I seek the wisdom of transforming my binding, to render myself safe from mortal control forever. You have such wisdom. No mortal control you, despite your binding. Give me that knowledge."

He paused and studied the Queen before him.

"As for what I offer... I shall bring to you... HER."

The Queen laughed.

"To this we agree. The Tarn will share its wisdom with you, free one. Once you have brought HER to us."

There was more dancing.


"I'm not doing this, Torokan. This is wrong."

"It's the Demon Goddess, Morisawa. Are we ever going to get another shot at her like this?"

The two Nahanese women, nearly identical with their pinned-up hair and crimson kimono, sat staring angrily at each other. The younger one shook her head.

"No. Not with Shang. He will betray us, Torokan. You are putting the whole order at risk."

"Order? What order? There's nothing left, Kari. You're practically the only one left I can trust."

"Because Shang has corrupted the rest! And now you're giving him the perfect opportunity to clean up and take over completely. The Blood Council will cease to exist."

"I am decided, Morisawa. And I need you there."

Morisawa sighed and looked down at her knees, the kimono tucked carefully around them. The room was lit through paper panels on one wall. Outside, cicadas buzzed and the steady crop-crop-crop of a gardener's shears told of quiet labour. It was all very steady and soothing.

"F**k, Kimiko, I can't. He's going to betray you. All of us."

They locked eyes.

"Is it mutiny if I don't go?"

Torokan shook her head.

"No, Kari-chan. No. I won't do that. I'll take Morikage."

They were young women. Perhaps twenty years old. Morisawa wiped at tears on her cheeks.

"I will kill the Demon Goddess, Kari. She must be destroyed."


Water tumbled from a tiny laquered teacup. It spiralled down, breaking up into droplets and dancing tendrils, and splashed into the dusty earth.

Etienne sobbed as he poured the water. Arrafin was still screaming, clutching at Elena's body. Isaac stood dazed, his cigar fallen from his mouth. Nevid stared hard and angry at the ground.

The ground where suddenly green verdant grass bloomed. Stately walls rose up around them, a well-tended courtyard, low elegant buildings and beyond, a high open pagoda with a raised flagstone floor.

Black tendrils drifted past them all and they turned. There stood Yuek Man Chong, the Demon Goddess, in all her unholy glory, and the confused civilians who bore the soul of Tsin Kwan, the last Blood Mother.

"So. The b***h didn't make it. We don't have time to grieve, people. Shang is coming."


Unattainable Ideal
So we are about to begin the third-last game session of the season. What follows is a two-session long combat that has to rank as my greatest achievement as a GM. I am trying to give a sense of what those sessions were like: the party was INSANELY engrossed at this point. Elena's player will be handling the Blood Council for these two sessions, and that turned out AWESOME. These two sessions will be spread over three episodes (assuming my planning turns into actual writing as I expect it to).

There are five more episodes in this Story Hour (I think), and then my telling of the Barsoom Tales is done. Really, everything I have written about this campaign is in order to write this next bit. THIS is the bit that made me want to share this story. I literally needed 120,000 words to get all the necessary pieces into place. I sure hope it's worth it.


First Post
WHOA!:eek: Didn't see that one coming. I guess my earlier comment about the party breaking up and someone rolling up a new character were taken care of in-game.

Great story hour Barsoomcore. Can't wait to see how it ends.


Unattainable Ideal
What A Woman's Got To Do: 17

"What's going to happen?"

Isaac spoke with a degree of nervousness he was unable to conceal. Madame Yuek's offhand response did little to comfort him.

"I'm not sure, actually. I've never tried this before."

The Saijadani and Etienne stood before the statuesque vampire beneath the great open pagoda of the Blood Council sanctuary. The polished marble floor stretched away on all sides, forming a great square a spearcast or more across, raised up a man's height from the lawn of the Sanctuary. Two opposite sides of the square were open, vast arches that gave on to the rest of the grounds and the ruined city beyond. The other two sides were long arched porticos between rows of sturdy oak pillars. Overhead, the pagoda rose up as a hollow tower, open on the sides and echoing with the moans of the great cloud of souls that whirled over the ruins of Zuyang.

Arrafin, her hands drenched in Elena's blood, her face numb with shock, stood next to her lover, barely visible against the Lohanese vampire's outrageous garb. Nevid stood in the shadows of the pillars, still staring down at the ground.

Madame Yuek smiled at the two men before her.

"But we can assume Shang will come equipped to annhiliate you, so that he will have a clear shot at me."

"Do we have to assume that?"

"Silence. I'm intoning your doom melodramatically. Now. Hold still."

She appeared to do nothing at all, just stand very still. Her hands rose slightly at her sides, and then a nimbus of black energy surged out from her body and slammed into Etienne. It looked to Isaac as though Etienne had suddenly drawn a cloud of black steam into his body. The half-Kishak reeled, fell to his knees and vomited on the marble.

"Uh, maybe I don't--"

Isaac choked as a black radiance surrounded him and then penetrated his body, sending violent convulsions through him and he found himself on his kness as well, shaking and retching.

Energy surged through his limbs. His heart thundered in his chest.

"Oh f**k. What have you done to us?"

"Interesting. You're not dead. Well, it should still work. I have transferred a portion of my power into your bodies. That should tie your souls more tightly to your bodies, making you harder to kill. There may be some other side effects, as well."

"You were willing to kill us?"

Madame Yuek laughed, clapping her hands together in girlish delight.

"Of course I'm willing to kill you. I'd enjoy killing you. Enough with such foolish questions. You are not invulnerable, but you should be able to withstand a great deal of punishment. Arrafin, darling. We must begin the ritual."

Staggering, Isaac and Etienne stepped away from the two women as they joined hands. From behind them the dozen individuals (the "civilians" as Isaac thought of them) who carried the Blood Mother's soul came forward and, together with Nevid, formed a circle around Madame Yuek and Arrafin.

After a few steps, Etienne stopped and stared at himself.

"I feel good suddenly. Kind of..."


"Yeah. I think I can see better. Or react faster. Everything seems to be happening more slowly."

"Yeah. I feel..."



"Cool. What are we supposed to do?"

Isaac shrugged in response to Etienne's question, and turned in a circle, looking for evidence of Shang's impending wrath, almost hoping for something to fight with this new-found power. At first he saw nothing, then stopped.

"Maybe you should ask your girlfriend."

"Which-- oh. Hi, Sister Torokan."

The Blood Sister stood among the pillars alongside the elderly Sister they'd rescued in Luc'Davarionne. Isaac kept his mouth shut as Kimiko and Etienne stared at each other.

She spoke first.

"You're really going through with this."

"Well, yeah. You want the Blood Mother back, right?"

Isaac let Etienne and Kimiko talk as his eye was caught by a curious staff in the hands of the older Sister, Morikage. It was an ornate ebony artifact tipped with an enormous emerald.

Something about that staff twigged at his memory. Isaac shook his head, unable to place it.

"Etienne. Whatever happens, please, stay out of the way. There's nothing you can do here. This is too big."

"Boy am I getting tired of hearing that. You know, Matai Shang shows up, I'm going to kick his ass just because everyone's told me how I can't possibly hurt him."

"I'm sure your bravado will render you immune to searing flame and acid. Not to mention a vampire's hunger."

Etienne snapped just a little.

"At least she's trying to do something. As long as I've known you you've skulked around in the shadows. Now this person, who has every reason in the world to be hopeless and insane and just destroy everything, and SHE'S trying to help. Maybe you should stay out of the way, Kimiko. It seems to be all you're good at."

The Lohanese woman stared long and hard at Etienne.

"I asked you to stay out of the way, Etienne, because of what we once had. But this is bigger than any of us, and what must be done must be done. If you get in the way, I'll cut you down as surely as anyone else."

"What the hell does that mean?"

The Blood Sisters strode back to the pillars, watching the ritual taking place in the middle of the pagoda floor.

Long tendrils of shadowy essence drifted around the circle, filaments reaching into the heads of the assembled civilians. Arrafin and Madame Yuek stared at each other, the still center around which a burgeoning wheel of Shadow began to revolve. At times Isaac thought he could see patterns forming in the inky traceries, but the organizational structures evaporated before he could fully grasp them.

Something tremendous was taking place. His body began to shiver, and all his hair rose up from his skin as the Shadow began to concentrate, take form. Now from within Madame Yuek a great black flower opened up, complex petals scintillating with dark radiance, intersecting with the spinning wheel and writhing, twisting, undulating in some unfathomable rhythm Isaac couldn't begin to comprehend.

The civilians all stood, shaking, their eyes rolled back in their heads, seemingly supported by shadowy tendrils slipping up and down their bodies and drawing now from their heads a glitter of colour, sapphire gleams in the midst of blackness. Like thousands of gems the sparkling blue nuggets whirled inwards with the motion of the still-spinning wheel, aligning themselves with the flower that now become as sort of web hovering above Madame Yuek.

"What. The."

Isaac looked on the vampire's face and saw total focus, utter concentration, and he realised she was doing this consciously, manipulating the tremendous network of Shadow and whatever those blue things were, the connections to each of the civilians and the slowly-contracting web of shimmering blue above her.

He'd never seen her work hard before, he mused. He wondered how often she ever had to.

Slowly the sapphires came together and their brilliance grew as the Shadow began to recede. There was a flash, and suddenly an elderly Lohanese woman was standing beside Madame Yuek and Arrafin.

She reached up with a gnarled old hand and stroked the vampire's cheek. She whispered something in Lohanese and Madame Yuek smiled sadly, fondly.

And then all hell broke loose.

From within the pillars a savage blast of green energy tore across the pagoda, blasting two of the civilians to bloody pieces and slamming into Madame Yuek's chest. The vampire screamed as she was hurled backwards, knocking aside the heavy Hinsuan man who'd tried to stand up to Elena the other night. He crashed face-first into the marble and lay still in a sudden pool of blood. Madame Yuek flew back across the pagoda and slammed into a pillar on the far side, splintering the heavy oak.

Like a hose with too much water, the green arc of energy stayed pinned to her torso, writhing and snapping across the breadth of the pagoda to where Kimiko Torokan stood, both feet braced, holding the emerald-tipped staff in front of her. The magic gave off a hideous shrieking, almost drowning out the screams of everyone else in the place.

At the same time, at the very moment the strange green power struck the vampire, Isaac reeled as suddenly all the sorcerous power he'd been filled with evaporated, drawn out from him faster than an exhaled breath. His sudden return to his normal state left him feeling weakened, vulnerable. Afraid.

And also at the same moment, even as Madame Yuek's invulnerable body pulverised three feet of solid oak, even as that Hinsuan guy whose name only Elena had known died in some foreign place he'd never heard of, even as Arrafin began screaming for the second time in twenty minutes, over all the noise and chaos and terror, Isaac heard laughter.

Mocking, savage laughter.

Right behind him.

He spun to find himself staring up through the arachnid limbs of a mechanical nightmare. In the midst of which sat a hideous laughing madman.

Matai Shang had arrived.
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