Between the Shadow and the Light (Updated February 26, 2023)

Pete came back to awareness within his own body. Nuada's hand was still inside his chest, but there was no longer any pain. He took hold of the fey's forearm and pulled it out - the silver hand was white-hot, but it registered only as pleasantly warm on his nerves.

Nuada's eyes widened, and it struggled against Pete's grip - to no avail. With something approaching fear, it asked, "What are you?!"

Pete replied mildly, "No clue, actually. I feel as human as ever. But I'm guessing I might be a somewhat bigger fish than before?"

(Inwardly, Pete was a little concerned that he wasn't more concerned: I've seemingly turned into a comic-book wish-fulfillment and I'm just taking it in stride? What's my Kryptonite? But that mild concern was only foreground to a deeper calm assurance. His situation felt fundamentally... right, somehow.)

The fey's face made a feral expression no human could match. "If this was all a trap to siphon my power, I will find a way to make you pay."

Pete shook his head. "No trap on my part. I honestly have no idea what's going on. Best guess is a weird interaction with the wards?"

Nuada pondered that, then said, "Peter?" "Yes?" "Would you please let go of my arm?" The silver hand was no longer hot. "Oh, sure. Sorry." He did so.

The silver fist then crashed with blinding speed toward Pete's face, but he caught it easily. "Now, that's just not very nice, is it?"

Nuada grimaced. "Sorry. Just checking." "Do me a favor and don't check any more?" "Yes. I swear it by Danu."

Pete let it go. "Is the darkhound gone?" "You don't know?!" "Oh, it definitely isn't in me any more. But the others?" "It expired just before you... changed."

"Good. Speaking of... Am I a fey now?" Nuada snorted. "Not hardly. You still look like a mortal human to me, that's the weird part."

"Okay. So. I believe I was asking a boon, and it seems to have been mostly granted, if not in the way either of us expected. Now I just need to get outside. If you would be so kind, your Majesty?"

"Why are you being so nice about this?" "My mother taught me that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." "Remind me to thank her someday." "I will - so long as you do it in words only."

Nuada scowled. "What do you take me for?" Its diction became more courtly, more formal: "An' I seek revenge, I shall sate it with the blood of my enemy, not that of women and babes. I am not such a craven as that."

Pete nodded respectfully. "I crave your pardon, Majesty. My words were ill-chosen." Nuada waved it off. "In fairness, I did just try to sucker-punch you. We'll call it even?" "Even Steven, your Majesty."

"Okay then." Nuada gestured to the bare stone wall and a large keyhole appeared there. Nuada took a golden key from a chain about its neck. "I do have to warn you, Pete... This passageway was meant for my people, not for humans. In fact, I would have said that it was impossible for a human to get through it at all unless conducted by one of my standing. But... I think maybe you can manage."

Pete frowned. "How was this supposed to work before?" Nuada shrugged. "If you'd impressed me enough, I'd have brought you out, despite the insane risk of leaving this place unattended. I told you I have a soft spot for audacity."

"Hmm. And now the insane risk isn't nearly as worth running." "Sure isn't. But you may still run into trouble... Keep straight on. Turn neither to the right nor the left. Don't worry about the time it seems to take, you know what time's like in Faerie."

Pete smiled and quoted, "Why are you being so nice about this?" "Your mom is rubbing off on me? Seriously, though, you're both audacious and annoying. And, well... Azazel could use a thorough come-uppance."

"I shall try to oblige, your Majesty." He offered his hand and they shook on it. Nuada inserted the key, turned it, and a cavernous, roughly-circular passage appeared where the wall had been. "Good luck, kid."

Pete stepped into the passage and the wall reasserted itself behind him. "Here goes nothing."


Pete walked for what seemed like hours. Occasionally passages would branch off to the left or right, but he ignored them and pressed on. But then he stopped, puzzled, at a T-intersection.

"Hmm. Keep straight on. Turn neither to the right nor the left." He felt the wall, it seemed solid. He drew Invictus and thrust it into the rock, carving out a large chunk. Sure enough, there was a passageway beyond. "Sneaky."

The space beyond looked more like a hallway in an elegantly-appointed palace than a cavern. Pete advanced down it cautiously, Invictus still in hand. Every so often, there would be an alcove to the left or right, in which rare and glorious treasures sparkled. He ignored them.

Then, off to his right in an upcoming intersection, Mark's voice, "Pete!! Oh thank God, help, the pack is back!" The sound of baying darkhounds came to his ears. The bedrock calm Pete had been feeling for the last while began to develop cracks.

He couldn't help seeing his baby brother's form in his peripheral vision as he came up to the intersection. He was dressed as he had been in Azazel's dream world, tank top and shorts, and his terrified expression would break a heart of stone.

Pete closed his eyes and pressed on. It was so damn real! "Pete!! Why won't you help me?! Oh God!" Screams and the sounds of noisy feeding dogged his steps, and he shuddered hard.

He panted heavily as he pressed on, his equilibrium definitely set akilter. Why had Nuada thought his change, whatever it was, would protect him? Sure, he seemed to be a lot stronger and more durable than he had been, but who was to say he was any mentally tougher?

"That's right, Pete!" Nuada's scornful voice came from an alcove to his left. "I tricked you to wander here forever. For all your strength, you'll never trouble me again. A suitable revenge, don't you think?"

Pete didn't stop, but he did say, "When did you become a mind reader?" "I've been reading you like a book since I first set eyes on you, fool! Did you think you could set yourself against a being older than the human race and win? You think you're so clever!"

"I... haven't wandered forever yet." "Yes, that's right, 'keep straight on'! I lied to you, idiot. There's no way out of here!" "And I suppose you want me to come over there and knock the stuffing out of you?" "As if you could!"

Pete wavered, but pressed on. Speaking to the thing had been a mistake. He sheathed Invictus, as it clearly wasn't going to do him any good.

He walked on and on. And then a familar voice stopped him in his tracks from a passage just behind him and to his right. "Pete." Jamie's voice.

"You killed me, Pete." Pete squeezed his eyes shut and said nothing, shaking uncontrollably. "You killed me. I thought we were friends. Surely you could have found some way to save me?"

Pete's voice cracked. "Jamie, I... you..." "People have been cured of vampirism before. Sure and it's not easy, but it's been done. Why didn't you even try?"

"You asked me to!! I was defending myself!" "I was controlled like a puppet, Pete! You don't really think I wanted to die, do you? Suicide is a sin."

Pete dropped to his knees and started sobbing helplessly. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" The voice took on an infinitely understanding tone. "Of course I forgive you, brother. Come here and take my hand and all shall be well."

"I... I can't. I'm supposed to..." "So you really don't care after all. You're that heartless. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, given you're the sort of person to murder a friend in cold blood."

Pete simply couldn't take any more. He collapsed forward in a heap... Only to be caught by a man's strong arms. He heard a whisper in his ear, "Sure and there's nothing between us needs forgiving, brother." Only that, and nothing more.

It was enough. Despite the accusations of the voice at his back, Pete managed to struggle to his feet with the help of a familiar hand, which gave him a gentle push along the hallway. He didn't dare to open his eyes during any of this, but he did manage to say, "Godspeed, Jamie."

There came an easy chuckle and the whispered words, "Our Lady's looking after us!"

Pete stumbled on in a daze. Finally he came to an imposing bronze door, which opened at the merest touch, revealing blank darkness beyond. Pete hesitated only a moment, then stepped through.

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Azazel, Thomas, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Jamie's memory, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Sir Reginald, Nuada.

Thread List:

Either rescue Tom, or find out he doesn't need it.

Chaos Factor: 8 -> 9

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New Scene: Back in the Game! Interrupt!

[Back to using Mythic. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish inside the wards, but not of what precisely happens after.]

Random Event: Divide/Death. [Well, that's certainly ominous.]

Q(Unsure): Is a sudden suspicion of mine correct? YES.

Pete emerged back onto the blasted Shadow-plain in front of Azazel's twisted Shadow Keep... and beheld a horrifying sight.

The remains of his brothers in arms were scattered about him. Hezekiah and Sir Robert had been so thoroughly dismembered they were hardly recognizable. Jake's slack face was fixed in a silent scream of horror. Jon's and Ryan's mutilated forms lay twitching to either side of him, not quite dead yet. It was just barely possible that healing magic could bring them back from the brink, but he would have to choose between them.

A tall shadowy form that had to be Azazel was bending over Jon, its head coming up in surprise to see him. It hissed, "I did not think you fool enough to return, des Marches! Perhaps this day may be salvaged after all... I will grant you the life of this one if you will break the wards!" Jon's eyes mutely begged him to do something, anything. Meanwhile, Ryan made an animal sound of suffering, clearly at the limit of human endurance and life.

Pete's heart cracked within him, and he drew Invictus. He began to step forward, then stopped. He looked over the tableau again. Paddy was either unaccountably missing, or there wasn't enough left of him to notice. Panting, he repeated, "Keep straight on. Turn neither to the right nor the left." And he stepped forward, between Ryan and Jon. If I'm wrong, Pete thought, at least I'll know quickly.

Azazel emitted an unearthly screech. "Do you dare to ignore me, human worm?!" Pete managed to spit out, "Yep, I dare, all right." Azazel advanced on him, shadowy hands extending into the sort of claws seen only in nightmare. It leaped at him, but Pete kept walking forward.

And when Azazel's dark form enveloped him, Pete knew he was right. His vision cleared...

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Azazel, Thomas, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Jamie's memory, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Sir Reginald, Nuada.

Thread List:

Either rescue Tom, or find out he doesn't need it.

Chaos Factor: 9 -> 9

New Scene: Back in the Game, take 2!

ComplexQ: What am I walking into? Agree/Bureaucracy.

[I've been making it kind of a point of honor not to give up on interpreting weird prompts, but this one takes the cake! Hmm.]

ComplexQ: What kind of shape are my comrades in? Attainment/Separate.

[I did that as a complex question because the odds of yes/no questions are so skewed at maximum Chaos Factor. Everything would hinge on whether I phrased it as 'Is everyone okay?' or 'Is anyone wounded or dead?' and I didn't want to deal with temptation in either direction.]

This time, Pete emerged into a tense standoff. A shadowy dark form held a struggling Ryan by the throat. Paddy was on the ground a few yards in front of them, clearly badly wounded. He was grimly dragging himself toward them, a faintly glowing knife in his hand.

Jake, Jon, Sir Robert, and Hezekiah faced the Shadow, weapons at the ready... and with them were several tall slim forms of the Daoine Sidhe, their cloaks, swords, and bows blazing with pure Light. (The cloaks, Pete knew, would sustain them in Shadow for a short while.)

Their leader was speaking: "The rules of the game require us to permit you to attempt the wards, Shadow, even at the risk of our liege lord. They do not require us to tolerate your presence after you have lost the round."

Azazel sneered, "Since when do you archfey care about the lives of a few mortals?" "I care naught for them. I am acting on the orders of King Nuada Silverhand." Pete abruptly grinned. Nuada hadn't been quite as heartless as he'd been letting on after all!

He coughed discreetly. "Not to interrupt or anything..."

Everyone whirled toward him, and Pete had the unique experience of seeing one of the Sidhe actually startled for a second. (That one was a keeper.) All was pandemonium for a moment, with cries of "Peter!", "Bro!", "Demarche!" But they were drowned out by Azazel's screech of mingled joy and hate, "DES MARCHES!"

Azazel grew several sizes larger, Ryan dangling desperately from its grip. "The round is not yet complete! I claim my lawful prey!" Pete snorted. "Yeah, here's the deal, Azzie. I can go right back in the wards and stay there, or you can let my friends go. I'll fight you in single combat if you agree."

The Shadow paused, then said scornfully, "And when I kill you, who will wield Invictus to break the wards?" "You're not going to kill me. But for the sake of argument, Jake will. He's next in line after me."

Jake shouted, "Like Hell I will!" Hezekiah added, "You've addled your brains, boy!" Jon just said quietly, as he had before, "I trust you, Peter." Pete locked eyes with his brother. "My way gets us all out of here alive. The alternative is that I'm trapped in there forever," he hooked a thumb at the Keep. "You'll get to be the Count, but Invictus will be lost to us for all time. This is your show, Jake. Make the call."

Jake glared at him. "If you think I'd let our greatest treasure and my own brother be entombed forever, you really have lost it, you moron." Pete gave him his most winning smile. "I love you too, bro."

Jake turned to Azazel. "Fine. If Pete loses, I'll swear to break the wards... IF you grant us AND my father safe-conduct out of here." The tall Sidhe affirmed, "We must permit this combat, but we will not permit you to harm the mortals any further."

Azazel gloated, "Very well, I accept!" Pete held up a finger. "Release Ryan and let me heal Paddy. And I want to see my dad here before we begin." "They are nothing to me now, so be it." He dropped Ryan to the ground, none too gently. The young man struggled to his feet and immediately went to Paddy, who tried ineffectually to shake him off. Sir Robert went to help.

When Pete came up to heal him, Paddy turned his head and spat. "You don't bargain with Shadows, Demarche. You kill them." "That's the plan, actually." "You're dead to me, no matter what happens." "I met Jamie." Paddy froze. "What. Did. You. Say?" "I met Jamie. I'll tell you about it later."

"...You absolute cockshite bastard." "I know. But please don't insult my parents, okay? They don't have it coming." "...You absolute fecking cockshite pox bottle!" "There, that's better."

The healing magic was much easier than usual. It definitely took a bit out of him, but nothing like it had. Pete wondered once again what had happened to him, but without any real anxiety.

ComplexQ: What shape is Tom in? Persecute/Emotions.

The Sidhe followed Azazel's directions to find Thomas. He proved to be unconscious and badly battered... and to have distinctive puncture wounds in his neck. Pete whirled on Azazel in a deadly cold fury. "This wasn't part of the deal!"

The dark form shrugged. "If my minion was hungry it was no concern of mine." "If he turns, the deal is off!" "Oh? Then you will concede the round?" "I never consented to the game." "Then your companions will not receive their safe-conduct, and the fey will be unable to protect you. Is it not so?"

The Sidhe nodded grimly. "It is so."

Peter Demarche said just as grimly, "Fine. You'll have the distinction of being the first thing I've actively enjoyed killing, then." Paddy laughed weakly. "That's more like it, you gobshite!"

After all the preparations were done, the two of them faced off, with the shining leader of the Sidhe between them. Pete seeming tiny beside the towering Azazel. Pete drew Invictus, which burst into pure white flames. He raised a brow. That was new.

"By the way," he added with a feral grin, "I'm supposed to tell you that you'd better lay down and die, because an enraged mother bear is next in line!" Jake barked out mirthless laughter at that. "That sounds like Mom, all right!" Jon just knelt in earnest prayer for his friend, and soon the others joined him.

Azazel replied disdainfully, "After I have utterly destroyed you, I shall suck the Earth dry of life. No mortal will be able to oppose me." "Oh, trust me, she'll find a way!"

The Sidhe asked them if they were ready, and received two assents. It said, "Begin!" and stepped back.

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Azazel, Thomas, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Jamie's memory, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Sir Reginald, Nuada, Sidhe contingent.

Thread List:

Defeat Azazel and get home in one piece.

Chaos Factor: 9 -> 9

Azazel towered over Peter in a shapeless form reminiscent of a thunderhead, then abruptly stooped to bury him in a rush of feral darkness. As the amorphous cloud of malice descended toward him, Pete just raised a hand and shouted, "Et resplenduit facies ejus sicut sol!"

The primordial Light of Manifest Glory poured forth with abandon from his hand, brighter and more awe-inspiring than he had ever seen it before, and it clove the rushing darkness in two.

Azazel regrouped, pouring itself back into a roughly humanoid form opposite Pete. "You can cast such a spell HERE?!" Pete grinned without amusement. "Surprise."

"Then sterner measures are called for." Several new limbs flowed out of its form, tipped with nightmare claws like those Pete had seen in the final vision of the fey passageway. It rushed him, and Pete leaped impossibly high into the air, coming down leading with the flaming blade of Invictus.

Azazel's scream of pain seemed to echo off the Shadow-plane's ever-dark firmament... but then they were at close quarters, the thing of living darkness' extra limbs giving it a terrifying advantage.

Its claws could not gain purchase on his skin, but then they didn't entirely need to - their attack was as spiritual as it was physical. Pete's soul was assaulted with fear, despair, anguish, anger, hate, threatening to be washed away in a floodtide of emotion. Pete's new strength could rend Azazel's limbs, and when he got a chance to swing Invictus' flaming blade, that too had an effect. But there seemed to be always three more limbs for each one he destroyed.

But he had endured worse within the wards, his soul hardened to shock, loss, and pain. He finally said, "You know what, Azzie? I was wrong about one thing."

Azazel's cruel laughter echoed as it strove to pin his arms. "That you, a mortal, could kill me?" "No. That I'd enjoy killing you. You aren't worth my hate. I kind of pity you. You're trapped into this by Black, aren't you?"

"You know nothing. Take your pity with you to your grave!" "Oh, I will. You'll be in my prayers from now on."

They fought on grimly now in silence. Pete was briefly pinned, but managed to get free with Subtlety and bring Invictus to bear.

ComplexQ: How does this end with a twist? Activity/Allies. [Hm. That's about as suggestive as it could possibly be, but how to not make it dishonorably interfere with the duel?]

Which allies? Thomas. [Twice in a row when I tried to generate two, even!]

Thomas must have regained consciousness, as Peter heard him call, "Va avec Dieu, son!"

Go with God. The des Marches family had greeted and blessed one another with those words for as far back as their traditions reached.

Pete thought as he fought on, I didn't pray before beginning this fight! Fr. Leo is right, I do struggle with pride. I can't save the world by myself. And it's clear enough that Azazel can't physically hurt me, so...

Abruptly he knelt and held Invictus' blazing hilt before him as a cross, composing himself for prayer. Azazel seized the opportunity to attack... But just as its claws had torn at Pete's soul, so now they recoiled from his form as Pete began to reach a place of inner peace. Its mistlike form of darkness began to distinctly shrink.

When Pete finally stood up, he said quietly, "I'm not going to play your game, Azazel. I've got a job to do and I intend to do it, by the grace of God."

Azazel rushed him once more with a cry of rage and hate, and Pete thrust through its heart with his family's blazing blade. After a final piteous wail, the thing was done.

He bowed his head for a moment, then turned to the others. "Let's go."

ComplexQ: How does Thomas' vampire bite turn out? Inform/Failure. [Ouch!]

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Azazel, Thomas, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Jamie's memory, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Sir Reginald, Nuada, Sidhe contingent.

Thread List:

Get home in one piece.

Chaos Factor: 9 -> 8

New Scene: Joy and Sorrow. Altered Scene!

ComplexQ: What's the alteration? Propose/Pleasures. [HUH?! Oh.]

His brothers rushed around him, cheering with abandon. Even the gloom of the Shadow could not overcome the overwhelming tide of joy. They had many questions for him, but Pete protested he'd answer them all once they were safely home.

But abruptly, one by one, they noticed that Thomas was not with them. That in fact he was collapsed where they had left him. Pete rushed to him at once. "Dad!!"

Thomas chuckled weakly. "I'm sorry, son... I guess this old heart of mine... couldn't take losing... so much blood." Pete tried healing magic, tears streaming down his eyes, but his vitality could find no purchase. His father reached a shaking hand to touch his cheek and told him, "I know there will be grief, Peter... but do not grieve as the nations do. I go with God. Va avec..." And he was gone.

Pete closed his eyes in pain. "Va avec Dieu, father."

When he was able to look up, he saw his younger brother, that loved and hated second self, kneeling before him, head bowed. With a throat choked with tears, Jake said humbly, "À votre service, seigneur des Marches."

Pete, still kneeling, pulled him into a tight embrace. Any hatred he'd ever had for Jake was thoroughly burned out. After they'd wept together a time, Pete composed himself, and said quietly, "Rise, Squire."

Sir Robert said firmly, "Squires no longer, either of you." And he dubbed them both, and Paddy, Knights of Saint Michael there on the field of battle.

The tall Sidhe looked on them dispassionately. Their leader stated, "We are to escort you to the Shadow Keep. And the sooner the better?" Their cloaks were indeed noticeably less bright. Sir Peter, Comte des Marches, nodded, climbing to his feet. "We will not detain you, sir. And your help and courtesy have been a light amidst the Shadow." (He knew better than to thank one of the fey, of course.)

They paused only to fill Thomas' mouth with garlic just in case, and began the journey back. Along the way, Paddy told Pete quietly, "We'll give him a proper wake together, I promise you that." Pete replied, "So I'm not dead to you, then?" Paddy shook his head. "There's been enough death for one day."

Jon just walked at Peter's side, not offering any useless words, but providing the comforting presence of a friend. They seldom needed words to affirm their friendship.

Ryan didn't say much on the way back, but he walked with his head held high. He'd passed through the fire and come out again.

Hezekiah said quietly as they approached the Keep. "I've never in my life called a Papist 'friend'. But so I call each of you." Each of them in turn affirmed the same of him; no more needed to be said.

They composed themselves to carry Thomas' body in state into the gates. As they did so, the Sidhe leader handed Pete an envelope. "Our king requests you not open this until you reach your home." Pete just nodded. "It is welcome." The fey joined hands, trilled a brief song, and vanished. They had their own ways of coming and going.

The Keep received them and their burden solemnly. Peter energized the Shadow Door to bring them home.

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Azazel, Thomas, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Jamie's memory, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Sir Reginald, Nuada, Sidhe contingent.

Chaos Factor: 8 -> 7

New Scene: Debriefing. Interrupt!

Random Event: Malice/Prison. [What the heck, in the denouement?! That's just mean!]

[Hmmm. I can see two different ways this can go. Rolling a die...]

Emerging back in the basement of the chapterhouse, the brothers in arms were shocked to be met by masked soldiers pointing guns in their direction, led by a smiling man in a suit and sunglasses. He held up a badge. "Good day, good day! I'm Agent Jones of, well, let's just say an agency that specializes in Esoteric Affairs. You're all under arrest for domestic terrorism, para-terrestrial espionage, and probably a few other things. We going to do this the easy way or the hard way?"

Pete said quietly, "Agent Jones, my father has just died. I'm having a really bad day and a really bad week. You really do not want to piss me off right now, is what I'm saying. So I suggest we all lower our weapons and discuss this like reasonable people."

Jones grinned. "Hard way it is, eh? Fine by me." So Pete, thoroughly annoyed, rapidly energized Manifest Glory in his mind.

Q(Likely): Does it get enough of them to make this easy? YES.

The hardened soldiers cried out and cowered back from the Glory, many of them dropping their weapons. Jones paled and went for a piece of his own, but Peter blurred forward and seized his wrist before he could draw it. Meanwhile, his comrades grimly started disarming and binding the soldiers. Pete suggested, "How about we have that nice peaceful discussion?"

Jones gave him a twisted smile. "Discussion is good."

[And here I thought this had changed from a campaign into a one-shot that tied up all of Pete's outstanding issues with a bow! Fickle dice! ;) Since this is effectively a new adventure, I'm dropping some NPCs from the lists. By standard Mythic rules, I should drop everybody who isn't in this room, but I've felt from day one that that gives too little continuity.]

NPC List: Mark, Ryan, Goat, Billy, Fr. Leo, Jake, vampire, Teresa, Paddy, Jon, Kate, Brother Hezekiah, Sir Athanasius, Sir Malcolm, Agent Jones, agency soldiers.

Thread List:

Figure out what's going on!
Make contact with family and other allies.

Chaos Factor: 7 -> 8

Epic Threats

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