A World Without End (Inactive)

Game Master pinvendor

Free-form RP in Alternate Earth.


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Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida sits entranced as Meows builds the musical tapestry. This is like the great pipe organ in the concert hall, only so much better! she thinks, amazed that one person could control all the devices so perfectly in a single, unified performance.

Then the helmetcat's natural voice penetrates through the mechanical music, and it all falls away...

Spoiler:

The stone is cool and sandy beneath her feet as the bronze man leads her into a chamber deep within her family's complex. A narrow gurney stands jutting out from a wall filled with dials and lights and gears and sparks and wires, all centering around a helmet lying at the head of the gurney.

"It's fine, my dear. You won't feel a thing during the actual recording, then you can be on your way back to Siwa, if that's where you'd like to go. Your family will be happy to see you, I'm certain." The man smiles reassuringly, sun-touched skin creasing into many fine wrinkles around his green eyes, stunningly set off by his white cotton headdress.

What am I doing here again? This is done already, decades ago. She raises her hand in confusion, seeing her short, stubby fingers with their bitten nails and ink splotches from long hours of study and note-taking.

"Manetho? Is that you?"

He looks at her, slightly startled. "Of course it is I, Rashida. Now, shall we start?" The helmet gleamed at the end of the gurney, as did the row of instruments on the nearby tray, all neatly laid out on white linen.

What am I doing here?


Alyce realizes she never released Ralph's hand but makes no move to do so once the theater goes dark. Distracted by the warm and somewhat sweaty grip, she pays little attention to the music until the helmetcat appears. She unconsciously tightens her grip as she realizes the full extent of the Duchess's control of the ship and the instruments.

Then the pure strains of the noble helmetcat's voice vibrate her ears oddly, making her brain buzz with excitement until suddenly...

Spoiler:

Alyce leans out the window of her parent's home, gazing dreamily at the gaily-dressed crowds passing by. You're too young, her mother had told her, so here she was watching the masquers glide through the streets, some dancing, most laughing, all with a glass in hand toasting the end of one year and the coming of the new. A carriage pushes through slowly, even the matched white horses masked below their gorgeous head-plumes of ostrich feathers. Her attention is suddenly riveted by the mane of flaming red-gold hair borne by the female occupant of the carriage. Could it be...? The gold domino and lace fan could not hide the delicacy of the woman and the grace of her movements. Surely that must be Lady DuSollier! The man seated next to her bent to whisper in her ear, and she laughed daintily even as she swatted him gently with the closed fan. The carriage pushed slowly through the crowd in the direction of the Mayor's Palace, and Alyce sighed at the wonders that must be awaiting the famous dancer.

Straightening, Alyce gazed at herself in the mirror. Her hair was paler than Lady DuSollier's, but their face and build were much alike. Alyce could think of no reason she should not have the glamorous life of a wealthy debutante instead of being stuck in a very prim and proper house.

She opened the drawer of her white and gold-leaf dresser and pressed a hidden stud inside. The back of the drawer released, spilling the contents of the hidden compartment there. Alyce unrolled the kit of lockpicking tools and fondled the black silk hood and mask. Should she or shouldn't she? Lady DuSollier was a cat burglar, she was certain of it. Always in the place where the gem or artifact disappeared, or at least within a short day's travel. That's how she got her money, surely, and won her freedom. Alyce's heart beat fast at the thought of stealing out that night, sneaking through houses whose occupants were out at parties, filching valuables and disappearing like a ghost in the night. It wouldn't take long to gather enough to leave this town and strike out on her own. But should she? What if she were caught and brought shame to her parents -- her dull, loving, sweet parents? She hesitated in thought, fingertips stroking the soft, pebbled leather of the burglar tool case.


Feeling Alyce's soft hand in his, the young street urchin can't help but feel a bit of nerves,and that his hands are maybe a bit sweatier than they should be. He may talk a bit big, but truthfully he's only have a couple of dates before girls tended to sneer and give him and make disgusted remarks. Of course for most of his life he was caked in an inch thick layer of grime, it was hard to blame them.

The pleasant voice of the helmet cat pulls his focus away from the pretty girl next to him...

Spoiler:

Ralph finds himself sitting by a small pond staring at the colourful fish swimming around without really seeing them, he's holding a small apron.

"Ralphie?" A soft feminine voice calls out, and a beautiful, elegantly dressed woman comes down the path. She sighs softly when she spots Ralph by the pond and hikes up her dress a bit to keep from stepping on it. "There you are... You had me worried. Come to dinner."

The young boy didn't look up at her "I don't want to... I'm not hungry"

"Ralph... I know you're upset, but you have to eat. Starving yourself won't help anything."

"Where is she mother?"

"Ralphy, she was a servant girl... You don't have to worry about her anymore."

The boy turns quickly towards the elegant woman, his teary eyes glaring up towards her "She's a person mom, she's my friend!"

Ralph's mother frowns and crosses her arms "Now Ralph, stop this, she was a servant, and if you had treated her as such we wouldn't be in this mess." she shakes her head and her voice softens "Sweetie I know it's hard right now... but your father is right. You're a Tyranis, you can't be associating with the lower class like her." She takes the young Ralph's hand pulling him to his feet. "Come now, he is angry enough best not to keep him waiting for dinner."

The wondrous and perfectly cooked meal was tasteless in the young boy's mouth, he may as well have been eating ash. A conversation went on between his father and mother, but he didn't participate despite that it was about him. They took his silence as consent to whatever they were saying, and it wasn't until he realized that the conversation had shifted, away from the servant girl they'd sent away to a marriage of some sort, that he really heard what they were saying.

"We can't have this sort of thing happening again, this is the best way to assure that." This from Ralph's father, no doubt referring to the horrible scandalous act of being interested in a servant girl.

Ralph's mother wasn't sure she agreed with her husband's plan. "I'm sure she's a lovely girl Theodore, but he's so young, should he really be married?"

"Well obviously he's old enough to be fraternizing with the help, and the best way I know how to put a stop to that is to get him a wife, one that will set him straight." Theodore Tyranis waves his hand dismissively "Yes yes, she's a fine girl, but more importantly this will solidify our relationship, and open up trade with the Montiquette family."

"A... are you trying to marry me off?" Ralph tried to keep the note of fear from his voice.

"Not trying son, the preparations are already being made, by this time next week it should be a done deal." His father assured him, leave it to Theodore Tyranis to turn a wedding into a business deal.

Ralph tried to swallow his nerves "To who?" it was the only thing he could think to ask. What do you say when you're nine and you find out your parents have arranged for you to be married?

"Who?" His father allows a pause for a moments thought "To Montiquette, Catherine? Cassandra? Kathleen?... Blast, Elenna what in the blazes was that Montiquette girl's name?"

"Katalina" Mrs. Tyranis offers.

He didn't know this girl, Ralph's parents were going to marry him to some girl he'd never met the young boy felt like he might be sick. He stands up from the table abruptly.

Ralph's father frowns "Rathfelldar Tyranis, you will remain seated until you are excused."

Ralph knew if his father used that name it meant trouble, but if he stayed he might very well be sick, or pass out, he wasn't sure which. "P...please sir can I be excused... I am not feeling well."

His father seemed about to say something to scold Ralph, but stops at the touch of Elenna's hand on his arm "Let him go Theo, it is too much to accept all at once."

Looking into his wife's eyes Theodore sighs "I'm not trying to punish the boy I..." He nodded conceding "Very well, up to your room Ralph."

His mind reeling young Ralph somehow manages to make his way up to his room where he sits trying to make sense of what to do.


Female Helmet Cat

While her mother sings, Mittens has been scurrying about, but her ears rise up when she hears her mother's actual voice. It's a voice that she knows well.

And yet, she has not heard her mother sing for a long time. It takes her back...

Spoiler:
The record player played one of the last performances she played. Kittington von Meowselsworth was dead, helmetspace had confirmed it. Mittens had studied the files thoroughly, what went wrong? Cassie surely would not have fired on the Duchess, why would she? What happened? Still, the Duchess was dead. There was nothing to be done about it.

Kittingsley was the heir to the title, becoming the new Duchess Kittingsley von Meowselsworth, and also the cat to give the eulogy at their little funeral. The Duchess's body was properly disposed of, but still her three kittens had to respect some of the ceremony. After clearing her throat, a formality as she would be using her helmet to give the speech, High Magus Duchess Kittingsley von Meowselsworth spoke to the others present, "My first memory of my mom was her lullaby. She had a voice like an angel, with just the right amount of purr in it. In my mind, that outdid any of the operatic performances she ever did, however theatrical they might have been. It was only after we were born that she got her big break. Why, I have to credit O'Malley for getting our hoity toity mom to actually sing to the crowds, but we always knew that she could."

As Kittingsley kept speaking, Mittens leaned in towards Boots, whispering, "She's never going to stop talking. I bet that this eulogy takes us to our deaths as well. Mom's dead, that's all there is to it. We all have memories, at least us three, and we're the only important ones here. Mom's dead, Boots. Why did that happen? It happened wrong. That's not how she should have died. She should have died a hero, not as a meaningless casualty. She was amazing and now she's just-" Mittens's voice was rising with grief not usually seen expressed by the young cat. Kittingsley turned a critical eye towards her sister for talking during her own mother's eulogy.

"Mm. Hypocrite. Always talking," mumbled Boots, for once keeping his head up and not doing all he could to get back to sleep.

"Oh shut up. I just wish there was something I could do." Mittens turned her eyes back towards the podium that Kittingsley sat upon.

Boots fell silent for a time, also listening to the eulogy, "... One could correct history. That takes hubris. Thinking you know what history meant to do."

"I've got oodles of hubris, Boots, I've got hubris coming out of my nose. What are you saying? Helmetspace is not possible to alter, we all learned that. But if it's possible to bring mom back, I'll do what it takes. She wasn't meant to die at the party." Mittens looked over towards Boots, "I know you know it too. You saw it in your dreams. Everything went wrong. This funeral feels wrong."

"Mm. Yeah. I don't have the resources. And you don't have the resources. You'd need lots. Check my notes though. I'm not talking about helmetspace. Maybe you can engineer something from the theory." Boots seemed ready to nod off, but continued to diligently listen to the speech, a rare expression of willpower for the cat.

Mittens stood up on her chair. "Then I will build an empire. I'll use it to build. I'll do it for her."

Eyes turned towards Mittens, as she had spoken at full volume, some faces shocked at the interruption, Kittingsley among them. It didn't matter to Mittens. She was already headed out the door, there was no time to lose and she was not about to waste more time at a funeral that shouldn't have happened.


Gentleman Adventurer

He wished he could say something to put her mind at ease, but he could think of no words that would not sound hollow. Perhaps it is a blessing then that the Duchess takes the stage, suddenly filling the air with the oddest, yet most beautiful sound he had ever heard. Further thoughts of consoling Cassandra vacate his mind.

Entranced by the helmetcat’s voice, for a moment the sensation of being watched escapes him…

Spoiler:

Dark and empty… just like the Vaults back home… but I could not be farther from them.

There was no telling how far he had strayed from Hansel and the others. After his fall, he had lost all sense of direction. His discovery of the hidden chamber had excited him at first, but after hours of wandering through the cool, open void, his enthusiasm slowly given way to fear. It was cold and dark, and the air was filled with ancient dust. He was lost.

But he was not alone.

So you are the one who broke the seal.

Out of sheer impulse, Vorian twists around to look behind him, his eyes wide with shock. In the hours he had been trapped here, he had heard naught but the sound of his own footsteps.

“Who is there!?” he calls out into the darkness, his voice still firm and confident. He was an adventurer – this was hardly something to get spooked over.

You tread on forbidden ground, human. You do not understand what you have done, do you?

Saved the world…?

Now scowling, Vorian looks about, searching for the one speaking to him. Someone must be hiding in the shadows, playing a trick on him. Could this whole thing have been a trap all along, set by a competitor? One of his rivals, perhaps? Or an assassin? People had gone through odd lengths to try to kill him before, after all.

I have been waiting for something like this to happen… But you are not who I was expecting.

“Enough of this nonsense! Show yourself, cur!”

A low chuckle reverberates throughout the vast chamber. Only now does Vorian realize that sound comes from everywhere.

Perhaps you can be of use to me… very well then. Look before yourself, human.

Vorian casts his eyes forward, looking to the patch of ground a few feet before him. It was just barely illuminated by the dim, azure glow of the spirit lamp hanging at his hip. Much to his surprise, something starts to rise from the smooth stone floor. Long, spindly shapes that he quickly identifies as arms emerge first, smoothly emerging from the stone surface as though it were water. What he assumes to be the head comes next, followed by a head, abdomen, and finally, its legs. The nobleman takes a single step back.

Its shape was certainly humanoid, but it was far from human. Asides from the impropriety of its body’s proportions, its body appeared to be in some state of decay. Strangely enough, he could imagine the smell of rot in the air. Stranger still, the shape was plainly insubstantial, like a dark fog. Its face in particular is all but nonexistent, a bizarre, twisting mass of blackness.

Already, a deep-seated terror grips Vorian. He had read the stories, the legends of the ghosts that haunted these tombs. Naturally, he had passed them off as nonsense - the likes of curses and demons had no place among his beliefs. But unless he has gone insane, the thing standing before him most definitely exists. A monument to everything he had ever cast doubt upon.

But you have seen much stranger things since then – haven’t you?

“What are you?” he asks the apparition, taking another step back as he does so. He manages to keep his tone steady, unwilling to show fear.

I lost my Name a long, long time ago. But I know of yours, Vorian Ritter. Perhaps you and I can come to an accord…

How the hell does it know my name…? is the first question that comes to his mind. What does it mean that it lost its name? is the second. The third question is the one he asks.

I was such a fool.

“What kind of accord?” he asks, furrowing his brow. What did this creature want of him?

The doorway is now open… but I cannot pass through it as I am now. You can do so… but you would never find it. Not before you starve and waste away in this hell. No… the two of us must leave this place together.

“Leave? You mean… What exactly are you proposing?” Vorian asks, the prospect of an escape getting the better of him.

The apparition slowly raises its hand, pointing a long, bony finger at the noble. I will show you the way… but I require something of you. Something that you carry with you always… Your proof of existence.

Vorian rests his hand against his chest, frowning. “My… soul?” Ironically enough, spiritual as it was, it was something he knew to exist. It had been proven with science years ago, after all. He was no fool. Or at least, he did not believe himself to be one. “What in blazes do you need that for?”

It is as I said. As I am now, I cannot leave this place. This void is all that gives me substance… Where we stand is the boundary between your world and the next. I require something that will tether me to this plane, as it has done for you all your life. It is but a piece of your soul… your Shadow.

Vorian’s eyes dart to his feet, at the dark, flickering shape attached to their soles. Proof of existence? He had never thought of it as such a thing. It was something that he was sure all humans took for granted. Having it as their constant companion, how could they not? If what the apparition said was true, then losing it was akin to ceasing to exist. The very thought was absolutely absurd.

You are right, you know. Of what use is it to you? Such is the domain of gods and dead kings. You do not need to prove your existence to anyone, do you? Humans are materialistic creatures. You possess flesh and blood, after all – what more do you really need?

He considers this.

All I need is your word.

“…and if I refuse?”

Then you will die here, and the two of us would spend the next millennia together, awaiting the arrival of another hapless fool. All you have strived to achieve will have been for naught, and your noble obligation will cease to exist. No one will ever find you here. And in time, you will be forgotten, just as I have.

Vorian grimaced. He could not afford to die. It had taken him years to amass his fortune, to build his collection of wondrous relics. Decades to earn a title of nobility; his House would need perhaps a decade or two still to grow powerful enough for his purposes. And above all, the years spent training his successor would all be wasted if he died here. He was not yet ready, and the appropriate measures had not yet been taken. No, he could not spend another day here, let alone an eternity. He had a future to prepare.

“I…”


Male Human

That voice filled any voids within Drake's soul and made him giddy within the enchantment. What strange beauty these sounds could create within one's mind.

The sensations took him away from the moment almost instantly as the doctor-actor was sensitive to such charms as the helmet cat employed but only due to his own shame.

Show:
The demure woman sat upon a comfortable seat with one foot upon the ground, the other touching the colorful carpet by toes only as her leg folded under the chair. She was concentrating with both elbows upon the table so her hands could stay held over the globe set within the round table. The globe suddenly filled with flashes of blue and orange lightening which sizzled audibly.

"Drake dear," The woman said calmly with a lilting voice tinged with concern, "You always know when I am in need of you."

A form moved slowly away from the shadows where the licks of lightening within the globe had indicated. Drake moved quietly yet calmly towards the woman with a sigh, "Will you ever not sense me mother?"

The woman turned her head and kissed her son's cheek as he knelt beside her, "Darling, you are my only child. I would sense you wherever you are."

"Hmm." He murmured as he looked directly into the globe with a smile, "What is going on?"

She sighed just as her son had then laid her head upon his shoulder. He was a strong lad, if she could even call him a lad anymore. No he was an adult who was now a doctor. Even as he knelt beside her she felt the strength of his resolve, "I know you wish to start work as soon as you can but ..."

"Uncle is in trouble?" He suddenly sputtered as his eyes widened at something he saw within the globe, "Is that what you ... who is that?" Drake held his breath as another figure entered his field of vision within the sphere.

"That is Vorian." The woman smiled as she lifted her head and put a hand under her son's chin. She looked into his eyes as she spoke, "You know what to do and how to help. They will need you. You will see."

Drake took his mother's hand and stood, "Mother, I always see. It is part of your legacy. Will I see you ..."

His mother stood with him and started to walk with him towards a door, "It is yet to be defined whether you will find out or not or whether we ... son, this is your time. You must go."

The doctor pulled his mother into his arms and gave her a long hug, tears being fought back at the same time. He only hoped that he could make his mother proud.


Dance-oholic Minx

Pale light upon the stage announces the Duchesses arrival, interrupting the dancers reverie and playing upon her raw emotions. As the first strains of the melancholic melody slip into her thoughts, like a knife through the ribs. The soaring voice tugs upon Cassies heart.

Gently tears slide down her face, unnoticed and unbidden. Her head falls forward, auburn tresses slip across her visage to create a masque. Upon the varnished walnut table crystal droplets of innocence explode, shattered into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

Spoiler:

About the austere room there are hints of family, or warmth and compassion, though the dust upon the corners show it's too big for circumstance. Old wealth is evident upon the walls, a faded wealth that has seen better days but resolute not to prove it so. In the grate a fire struggles against the cavernous surroundings to provide some heat, however no comfort is supplied to the rooms' occupants.

Dominating the room and drawing the eye is a large bed and the figure upon it. The pale sheets drawn up to the chest and marked with blood. Ragged breathing comes from his blanched body, a carefully cropped beard dominates his hard-worn face. The woodland hair stark against his exsanguinated skin, face turned upon it's side he looks to the figure knelt beside him.

Mussed auburn hair, a tangle thick and lustrous crowns the downcast girl. Heaving sniffles uncontrollably wrack her slight frame, the weeping deafening in the spacious chamber. Made worse as she tries to gain some control against the hurricane; "Papa..." her voice small and thready, raw and emotional.

"It's not your fault..." he gasps from cracked lips, the adoration evident in his voice.

'I'm a big girl, I need to be brave.' She looks at him through red eyes, opening her mouth into a gap-toothed smile of courage and hope. Her father is invincible, is amazing, is everything. A trail of slick upon her upper lip. With a heavy snort; "I won't go swimming in the pond again. Please, don't..." she cannot even finish the thought, the pain in her chest is unbearable.

Father reaches out with an unsteady hand and pushes her hair from her eyes; "Don't let anyone take that smile away." then slumps back into his bed, still. Legs collapsing, she falls to the edge of the bed grasping his cooling hand.

She weeps uncontrollably.

From the cool corridor the girls mother turns to the Paternal Grandmother; "It's her choice, whether she accepts her heritage. Her lineage ...the curse." her voice raw with emotion for her beloved. The older woman looks on silently, grimly.


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Spoiler:

Am I here again, truly? Is this a dream? Or can I... can I change things?

"I am... curious, Manetho. I've studied so much, but not about... this..." Rashida waves her hand vaguely at the instruments and lab, doing her best to ape the unconscious carriage of innate and unquestionable authority she had seen in the god-bodied of her family, "If I understand, I'll go to sleep, you'll take a... recording?... of my, uh, my mind? Then I'll wake up, but so will somebody else, with my mind in their body. Won't they be me? Won't they want to, say, go see my family?"

Get it together. You're not this inarticulate. And if you're dreaming, you can't really learn anything you don't already know. Idiot.

Oh, shut up.

Manetho smiled briefly, like a light switched on and off, his impatience evident. "You have not thought this through, my dear. Every child knows our self has five parts: ib - heart, sheut - shadow, ren - name, ba - personality, ka - essence. They reside within the khat - body, and the ba and ka animate the akh - intellect. What we will record today - onto this - " The scientist held up a transparent, blood-red disk which sparkled and glittered in the lab's harsh light - "Is your ba and ka, to make up an akh. Thus, the body into which we plant your recording will have your knowledge of the world. After all, it would not do to treat a goddess as a puling infant. She will awaken with your knowledge, but her body will attract its own sheut, and ren. Thus, she will not be you, but herself. We will modify this recording, too, and not provide your younger years. She will not remember a family, not even hazily."

Warming to his subject, he switched to a professorial lecture mode without realizing it. "The body of the goddess, having been reconstituted - or, more precisely, regrown - will have its own 'memories', coded into its very flesh, though perhaps not complete. It depends upon the condition of the body and the information that remains within. The better preserved it is, the more of her old ib she will retain. These things are a matter of chance and art as much as science. But it does not concern you. Not anymore. Your part is done."

Interesting. They can change the recordings, or at least edit them.

That is, if this isn't just a dream.

Shut. Up.

Manetho smiled again around his hawk nose, dark eyes gleaming. "Now, I must remind you before we start - when you wake up, you will be safe. You may be in a new body, but you will be safe with us. It will take some time for you to gain control of the body, as the pieces of your soul attach to the newly awakened form. Do not panic. All will be well. We honor the goddess." The man spoke slowly and emphatically, as if trying to drive the point into her brain.

Honor the goddess. But what about me? And pieces of the soul will attach to the new body? But... what if the body is not human? What of who I once was? Does she live now in Siwa?

Manetho waved a long hand at the table. "If you will, Rashida." The guards in the doorway shifted subtly, as if impatient, their motion bringing them together to block the opening. "It is time to fulfill your end of this agreement."

Agreement. I never agreed to anything. My parents did. And now... do I have a choice?

Warm, strong hands were on her arms, guiding her unresisting to the table, laying her down, fastening straps. Manetho flicked a syringe, then brought the point near to her arm.

Wait! What can I do? She thought frantically. There is a traitor among the scientists. There is a traitor. Remember this. Your mind has gone to more than one body. Remember. And the syringe plunger depressed as the devices around the table whined into hissing life.


Dance-oholic Minx

Shadows of the Past:

Overlooking the vale the church stood, pastures unfurl like a lawn whilst the edifice stands shepherd-like watching upon the hillside. However all colour seems drained from the scenery, as if the spirit of the land is in mourning over the Lords death.

Covered in long shadows, the parish files out from the church. Rumours said it stood during the Romanic's time; that even the Gauls worshipped at this site. The service had gone without a hitch, the elderly priests' monotone floating into the rafters.

Few city-folk had turned up and even fewer nobles, the trip being too far and their time too precious. But to those that knew Cassies' father this mattered little for his death had hit them all hard, his aura seemed eternal and inspiring. The locals peasants had deferentially left straight after the ceremony, clearly uncomfortable in the presence of the Lord. Though they'd soon be back to the village and drinking to his memory, for he'd been a decent land-owner.

Thus the long afternoon draws to a close, even the vicar had left to make arrangements with the grave-digger. Whilst the guests had left back to the manor-house.

Surprisingly still, the tiny form of the auburn haired Cassie stares off into the distance towards the alter where the coffin once sat. Scoured of any emotions, hollowed out she looks straight-forward unable to cry anyone. Eyes, unblinking and uncomprehending. The last vestiges of her childhood, hang as cobwebs on the breeze.

Near the nave, her mother talks with the silver-haired grandmother. They're voices low and in the haunting stillness assured of privacy.

With a voice holding the tired tone of an elderly singer, the older woman asks; "Are you sure? Whether it was the Orleans or the Republicans - whomever assassinated him, won't necessarily try for your daughter"
"She deserves to be able to defend herself, to know the truth. Not to blame herself." her mother looks across to the pale child.
"It'll be quite expensive, both her education and enabling her to claim her birth-right." the secretive reply.
Taking a reedy breath, her mother replies; "I'll pay the cost." It's clear she isn't just talking financially.
"I'll contact him. He won't do it unless she's willing. Whilst I'll help with her spiritual training." the older woman adds and from one light it appears she's a touch of the pagan upon her countenance.


Agent of the League of Aristocracy's Internal Review Committee

Elsewhere...

Clousuk stared at the smoking remnants of his office. He had stepped out to yell at one of the serv-bots regarding the current temperature on his floor when he was knocked flat by the concussive wave of an explosion. He had been only a short ways down the stairs at the time.

Looking from side to side, he saw that the damage seemed to be contained mostly on his section of the floor. It occurred to him that this could have been a targeted attack.

With a short but audible squawk, Clousuk quickly hurried to the end of the hall towards the maintenance dumb waiter. Crawling inside, he heard the first sounds of men and women shouting and crying. Clousuk scrambled down the shaft to the basement level where he knew a passage into the sewers he was small enough through which to squeeze.

He peered out the opening. No one was in the maintenance room. Good. He would hopefully be unnoticed as he left. His scaly tail swished across the floor as he hurried to find the right crate. Clousuk was finally hip to something which had been true for a while.

Someone was trying to kill him!


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

A final chord is still ringing through the theater when Rashida starts from her long reverie... daydream? vision? Whatever it was, her mind was left tinged with nightmare unease and strange discomfort.

The helmetcat still sits on her perch above the stage, looking like a statue but for the a tiny flick of her tailtip, regular as a metronome, which gradually stills as the music ends. Her spotlight slowly fades as the house lights gradually rise, swapping the performers and audience for the moment.

Rashida looks to her fellows as they become visible. All bear a stunned, bemused, or tearful visage. Pressing a stud on the arm of her seat, Rashida is able to croak 'brandy' into the tiny horn nearby which would carry her voice to the attending staff.

Before long, wait-sailors are circulating with small snifters, offering refreshments to the still-recovering listeners. Rashida swigs hers once with very little decorum, then lets the burning liquid reunite her senses with her frame. She turns to Cassie, noting the hair fallen over the woman's pale face. "So... what did you think of the performance?"


Gentleman Adventurer

Vorian recoils at the very thought of what had happened next, nearly dropping his glass. Instead a little bit of red wine spills out, splashing onto the ground. The noble does not seem to notice, settling back into his chair with a grimace.

He recalled the nightmare-filled months that he had spent bedridden, shaking from in pain and terror. The countless concoctions he had consumed in an attempt to abate his agonizing affliction. The gamble he took when he drank the blood of Talos. And of course, how he had foolishly fallen for Von Ryuko’s promise of a cure.

All for the sake of staying alive; his fear of death was what had gotten him here.

A full minute passes before the noble realizes that the Duchess’ performance has already ended.

“Bravo!” he calls out, applauding with forced enthusiasm. The timing was awkward, perhaps even grossly inappropriate, but it seemed like the polite thing to do. Gods know if he had actually heard the song.

More or less back on track with reality, Vorian has a waiter top off his glass. Nothing lost, nothing gained.


Lord of Serv-Bots

Elsewhere...

It's the evening before the night of his dream.

Taraz sits across from Mimi vonSollier, a replicant of Cassie DuSollier. Just as beautiful as the original but with golden tresses and a slight shimmer to her skin. Taraz believes this to be a side effect of being artificially made, but still, there was no denying her attractiveness and flirty attitude. Especially with her clear enjoyment of the wine Taraz had ordered.

Mimi slowly twirled the red liquid in her glass and watched Taraz with come hither eyes. She bit her lip slightly, and Taraz reminded himself of the sweet taste of Rashida's skin to anchor the mitochondria's rising interest. He tossed back a healthy swallow of his own wine and gestured for the waiter to bring them another bottle. Taraz saw a servbot being sent to the cellar to get the vintage required. Glancing back to his date, Taraz could see the desire in her eyes. Yes, more wine to keep the mitos pacified was definitely going to be needed.

Clearing his throat slightly, Taraz addresses the blond woman clearly making good on her promise to make sure anyone watching saw them as exactly how they were trying to appear.

"Mimi, my dear, I am not going to lie to you. You will be in some slight danger if you choose to accompany me to see my sister."

He watches her expression cautiously. The waiter approaches, displays the bottle, Taraz nods his assent, and the man opens the wine. After inspecting the cork and tasting the newly liberated wine, Taraz gives his approval, and the waiter pours another glass for Mimi and then Taraz. Her eyes give away nothing but the continuing lustful glance. Damn. She certainly has that much of Cassie, Taraz thinks referring to the French woman's ability to keep her emotions solidly in check when she wished.

Taraz begins again once they are as alone as they can be at their table, "Seriously. While I will do my best to predict the path the situation may take, Ulrikke is a Rorenson. And brilliant. Did I mention she invented the servbots? That's right. Which is why someone of your...background will interest her greatly. We need to be careful and take some precautions...if you're willing."

Taraz sips his new pour and waits for Mimi's response.


The memory of the last encounter with his parents is very vivid in Ralph's mind. It was as if he were back once more brooding in the dark after the fight with his parents, despite the sound from the concert he can clearly hear his mother softly knocking on his bedroom door, and entering to talk to him one last time. She'd attempted to smooth things over as she had many times in the past when the boy had had a spat with his father, but it was different this time, the effort was futile, and she probably knew it. After a short time Elenna Tyranis gave up on the talk, and stood to leave she paused in the doorway and looked back at her son to say goodnight.

His mother made it more difficult, the sadness in her voice, and the way she said 'Goodnight' that made it sound to Ralph like she really meant 'Goodbye' might have swayed him normally but he had made up his mind this time, there was no turning back. That night Ralph climbed out window on the second floor of the family mansion and into the gutter, hiding behind a mask of filth in an area his father would never stoop to going himself. By the time his parents could arrange to hire someone willing to search through the filth Ralph would be long gone.

The young street urchin starts to come out of his reverie, the vision of his mother's last goodnight lingering in his mind "Always wondered if she knew..." he said in a barely audible murmur. Back in reality he finds that the performance is over, the spotlight already fading away and the hand of the young girl sitting next to him was still lightly squeezed in his own; it may well have been a very nice and possibly even romantic date had he actually been present. Releasing the hand in order to give well deserved, although somewhat late, applause to the performance he leans towards Alyce to whisper "So'ry Kit off in ma own wurld fur a bit."


Dance-oholic Minx

Rubbing her eyes with a swift single motion, incidentally smudging her mascara, the emotions of the situation had overcome her. [i]'Ditzy, they've called me before. But it seems like I slipped away from here into some strange dreamscape. Maybe I need to practise my yoga more, like the master told me.'/[i]

She looks across over her shoulder, pushing the strap of her dress back into place from where it's slid down the muscled curves, towards Rashida little noticing the other womans' similar reverie. "It was exquisite, everything it's promised. I seemed to slip into a hypnotic gaze, almost as if my visions had returned. A warm sun beat upon me and there was the smell of spices and a exotic markets. The call to pray from the east rung out across the minarets, mingling with a town bursting into life. Yet over it all there was a shadow of a forthcoming storm."


RepliCassie

Despite keeping her emotions and thoughts in check she bites her lip slightly, an involuntary reflex at the thought of danger. "I...I think that is a good idea. I'm in your hands and will be guided by them." she adds with a touch a breathy nervousness that draws an upturned eyebrow from a passing waiter. Her fingers trace a line up the stem of her glass and manicured nails tap lightly onto the side.


Alyce returns to the present as Ralph withdraws his hand from her grasp. Looking around the aerial theater, she takes in the glittering nobility in the audience, the seldom-seen helmetcat performer, the ornate gilded scrollwork of the steampipe covers, the young woman realizes that this is exactly what she had dreamed of while whiling away the weary hours in her sedate household. A burst of delighted laughter escapes involuntarily while she applauds the aria with the enthusiasm of youth and innocence.


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Yes. Indeed," Rashida murmurs to Cassie, "Most... intriguing. I would like to understand exactly what happened." Seeing the hand holding the brandy shaking, she swiftly sets the snifter and oins the applause, hoping the other woman has not noticed the trembling.

"I saw... the past. Somebody's past, anyway." She clamps her lips shut when her voice proves as shaky as her hands.


Dance-oholic Minx

Cassies' eyes open wide, guiltily, she then snaps her fan open to hide her visage as she hopes that it isn't her past that Rashida was watching. "I think a good drink is in order, the Duchesses singing talks it out of one...such a powerful performance." she tries to modulate her voice softly.


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida waves the steward with the brandy over to Cassie. "This might be a good time to call it a night. I believe this performance has given us all much to think about." Her face is a calm mask, but she keeps her hands folded together so they do not reveal any inner tension.

Alyce laughs. "Bed? How can you think of it, when there's so much to see, so much to do!?" She rises and spreads her arms wide, still laughing. "I'm off to the deck to look over the world. Our world!" Holding out a hand to Ralph, she gifts the urchin with a radiant smile. "What about you, Squirrel?"

"Ah, the misplaced confidence of youth," Rashida murmurs too low for any but Cassie and Vorian to hear, "Were we ever like that?"


Gentleman Adventurer

“Oh, yes. Gods yes,” Vorian answers, a genuine smile touching his features. Memories of adventures long past surface, times when he was without the trappings of nobility. To think I once believed that there were none.

“Things were much simpler then. No less exciting, though.”


After the trip to the past the name Squirrel sounds somewhat foreign these were the only people that called him that "Uh me?" it was somewhat out of character for Ralph to not be paying attention, if it weren't for Alyce's outstretched hand he might not have even noticed she was talking to him; it was pretty obvious the performance has affected him as well.

The young urchin however doesn't take long to recover, he decides to leave the past in the past, and smiles back at Alyce "Kit darlin when ya gimme a smile like dat I ain't tink I could possibly say no ta ya." He reaches out to take her hand "We betta stay clear'a Jack dough, he finds me wandrin 'round 's likely ta put me back ta work wit da cap'in learnin."


Dance-oholic Minx

"Well I for one am certainly ready for bed. This day has taken alot out of me." Cassie sighs softly, looking about the hall. "Maybe on the morrow we will be near the coast of Africa, or still but a speck over the Mediterranean." She languidly rises, placing a hand upon the small of her back stretches gracefully.


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A petite, brown-haired woman sits in a room surrounded by hard, resolute stone. Her metallic chair is utilitarian and not made for comfort. Nonetheless, she sits with perfect posture and does not appear the least bit uncomfortable. Images projected through various crystals by light sources generated by the unusually large serv-bots sharing the room with her cover one wall. Some are engineering diagrams that seem to rotate in three dimensional imagery. Others are recorded images of recent events in a lake town. Of particular note are the actions seen inside of the opera house there.

The woman frowns with displeasure when the opera house recording ends as gunfire erupts and apparently ends that recording inside of a glass tube under the lake. The serv-bot that had been following that group of people had apparently been damaged at that point. The woman brushes some hair from her face and tsks loudly. Before the irritation can begin to assert in her focus too much, a small tapping sound is heard behind her.

Her attention is immediate as her head swivels and the brown hair bounces under the delicate hood neatly placed on it. A small serv-bot peeks in the open door as one of her own larger ones watches it with a weapon hand trained on it in case of funny business. It timidly waits holding a small piece of folded paper.

She recognizes the make immediately. This serv-bot should have a serial number etched somewhere showing it was made by a serv-bot unit assigned to an embassy in Spain. Its design was smaller...and she noticed how the tooling showed signs of ever increasing smoothness, something not in the original's design. Fascinating, she thought. The smoothness would make the unit less likely to catch on fabrics when hiding among drapes, rugs, and clothing...

The woman shook herself and detached part of her consciousness to ruminate over the implications and refocused the new section of her attention on the paper.

It was made of fibers consistent of a thicker page, but was not colored or designed, so it was not stationary for writing. A memo pad then, unruled so either a sketch book or pad made available for writing. She gestured for the bot to approach her. Without any further shyness, the small unit rushed forward and affectionately began to rub itself against her leg.

The woman's face went very still as she took the slip of paper and checked its contents. Such emotionally displays could only mean one thing. The serv-bot had been in contact with the only person who had an even greater control over the small devices than she herself. Whenever they encountered him...somehow they became more self aware. She had yet to discover the exact why of it, but she knew it was due to her use of his very biology to give them life. And no other means that she tried had ever succeeded in activating them aside from it. In every cycle they were just too useful not to re-invent, so she had long ago given up trying to find another way.

Unfolding the paper, she read words which caused her other consciousnesses to all snap together. Now her incredible focus and attention could only see one thing. A very dangerous and potentially terrible thing. Safeguards would have to be made. Her mind re-splintered and began making plans. One such piece looked down at the affectionate serv-bot and in a terse voice full of exasperation (and a little excitement if we're honest) spoke echoing around the stone chamber...


"You may tell my brother Taraz he has permission to visit me. I will examine this Mimi playtoy."

Rising to her feet, Ulrikke strode to the door of the room and beyond, the serv-bot still clinging lovingly to the incredible mind which had led to its creation. The passage beyond was just as austere as the room.

"You will warn him, little one, I will not be without my precautionary measures and that every minute he spends here may be his last. Our last encounter was not without repercussions. Now go, and good day. Your visit has given me much to think about."

Ulrikke stopped at a small tube which descended from the ceiling. Only large enough for a creature sized as the small unit, she stooped to pick up the serv-bot and held it up to the opening. The small clockwork hugged her finger one last time then disappeared as the vacuum of the tube took hold and sucked it out of sight.

"We have much to discuss, brother, " Ulrikke said unaware she spoke aloud. "And this time you will be accountable for all of it."


Dance-oholic Minx

Languidly stretching, like a feline after a long hibernation, Cassie looks at herself in the staterooms' full length mirror and smiles. 'To think we'd got the sarcophagus out of there - must be the most outrageous heist of my career! Even more so than at the Viennese Opernball and the Counts prize flute.' she remembers fondly.

Slipping the pale Egyptian linen shirt over her lithe bronzed arms, the warming desert sun having provided her with a rich tan. With a certain calm that she hasn't felt in a while, the young noble prepares for the arrival in Rome. Eventually she finds herself at the bridge of the airship as the city comes into sight.


Dance-oholic Minx

Soft golden dawn's light trips across her skin, the light breeze brings up the fine hairs on her arms. Cassie basks in the radiant glow, barely believing that it was only a couple of weeks ago they were travelling south across the Mediterranean to Morocco, so much having happened in the time.


A few hundred miles south and east of Bavaria, the land ruled by the Rorensons, the Castle of Spiš squatted on a fairly steep hill, an especially dour warrior made of stone waiting for a trespass. The castle had once been a part of the Kingdom of Hungary built in response to the devastation that country had seen at the hands of crazed Mongol hordes imbued with powers of madness given to them by the god-possessed conqueror simply remembered as Genghis. The lands now belonged to a loose confederation of Slavs who tried to guard themselves as best they could against the cast-off inventions and experiments by those acolytes elevated by the so-called advanced sciences of the Rorenson family and the lackeys of Baron Eichorn von Ryuko. The twisted minds of these groups had transformed the once budding political country into a dangerous and ruined backcountry riddled with strange creatures and mindless automatons. A place filled with more advancements of technology than most modern countries, but all out-of-control and now anathema to mankind.

The dusky light of the just-set sun twisted the shadows below, and made each small hillock and depression ominous. It was the time when evil things stirred in Slovakia...

Lady Kimefe the Lovely, a moniker of her own selection, stood at the top of Spiš' single squat tower looking down at the shadows. The many torches and campfires on this side of the fortress banished some of the evil, but not so much that there was no fear of the dark things roaming the countryside. She smiled as she looked upon her subjects, every man, woman, and child below devoted to her on a scale few monarchs may have known. Hundreds, soon to swell to thousands, of souls waiting on her every desire, her every whim. And her desire was revenge. If conquest came as part of it, if the world soon knelt at her feet to achieve it; who was she to stand in the way of destiny? The Masons, the Assassin families...death to all of them! The twist of her lips would have been a smile in normal light. In the dusk of the evil hour, it was a crazed rictus associated with madness in most places. The Dolcedet Circlet gleamed beautifully on her brow. Its comforting presence of cool metal eased her mind. Tomorrow, yes, we shall see just how powerful you are.

She heard movement coming up the stone stair that lead to her position. Without turning she could feel the strangely flickering psychic presence of Andrezi Denikov. His mind was easy enough to touch, but trying to reach into it or grasp his thoughts was extremely difficult. She could have caught eels barehanded easier. Not like General Gorski. His mind was a mental fortress of pure reason and logic. A puzzle nearly impossible to see around in its complexity as it imposed more and more on the intruder's own thoughts swiftly making thoughts hard to separate and become hopelessly tangled despite the unblemished order of every single thread. Kimefe was determined to crack it one day, and then assure herself of the General's devotion. It just wouldn't do to have such a formidable force in a place so close to her without certainty of her control. Andrezi...he seemed to be hers and hers alone. As far as the simple touches she made on his mind before his thoughts flickered out of reach again were able to determine, there was a deep and ever present love for her. Ever since those kisses in the cloak room of the von Ryuko Mystery Ball...

Andrezi slipped from her mind as the memory of that debacle came back to her. Never before had she encountered a more dangerous collection of people. Everyone one of them had been immune to her powers in their own way. Duke Leto's mind had been so full of filthy magic that touching it with her own had made her body almost vomit. She had not been sorry to see him outed and executed just for that nevermind the aid he attempted to give the assassins during the "game of death." Baron Gigus von Zombie and his thoughts had not been a problem to infiltrate per se other than they seemed to be full of memories only, no surface thoughts or consciousness was located despite his elegant composure. Kimefe had found it fascinating that everyone had taken his undead status in stride. Yes, it was true there were a few others in the world who could lay claim to such a state, but they were still rare enough. Yes, those nobles had been like no one she had ever encountered before.

Wowbagger the alien had been exactly that. Entering his mind had also been easy, but...alien. His mind had been endless amount of insults, put downs, sneers, and haughty disdain for all living things. After a while, Kimefe had begun to feel as if the insults were directed at her, as if Wowbagger knew she was there, and leading her down an endless path of denigration designed to drive her mad. She had quickly fled chased by the most contemptuous amusement she had ever come across.

Ingilstadt, another mystery he had turned out to be. At first it had seemed exactly as she expected. She entered his mind, found his thoughts and a few memories and begun to try and sway him towards her favor when it occurred to her that the memories she saw were ones she had seen from the servant who had taken her coat. She exited and reentered Ingilstadt's consciousness. This time it was the waitress who was pouring the wine. Time and again, the man's thoughts only reflected those of another's as if somehow he had assimilated them completely and they were now his own.

The Fireshadow Bors Zadaa had been simpler to understand why her powers had failed. Shamanistic magic protected him, whether his own or another's was still undetermined. Cassie DuSollier seemed to possess something similar as well. Spirit energy seemed to swirl about her though not woven into spells or wards, but nonetheless it shielded her, obfuscating the woman's mind as completely as constructed magic.

Of course, Duchess von Kittington had also been easy to explain, and Kimefe had only made a token attempt. Whatever it was about those oddly sparking and junky looking helmets, they seemed to protect helmet cats from psychic intrusion almost completely. Though Kimefe had heard mention of some helmet cats who used their helmets' abilities to actually travel the psychic plane thus removing the safeguards from those with natural abilities like her.

Vorian Ritter's mind was a blazing beacon surrounded by a black void of death...an abyss she had ran from as soon as she realized the danger. Something else other than the man had been there. Whether guarding him or preying on his soul, Kimefe felt as if the single light she had seen had been like the lure of the angler, terrific and horrible fangs just waiting for her to approach.

Then Taraz Rorenson. What a man he had turned out to be. Such arrogance! She could understand why he infuriated her enemy so. He had tried to woo her all the while gaining the upper hand in von Ryuko's game. When she had tried to enter his mind, she simply...couldn't. She could sense its existence, she could feel his psychic impression, but there was absolutely no way she could reach it. Like standing on the shore and watching a ship anchored out past the safe currents. Straining to reach it would only cause death as the muscles succumbed to fatigue and were no longer enough to stop the powerful pull of the undertow.

She had made the mistake of moving onto their host while dancing with Taraz. Realizing her attempts with the Lord of Serv-Bot's mind were fruitless, she had flicked her consciousness towards Eichorn von Ryuko. There had been no resistance. In fact, a mental grin seemed to fill the intervening psionic space between their minds. She realized her error and began to pull away only to discover that the lack of resistance was actually a mental magnetism sucking her towards the depths of his mind. The grin had become larger and larger, and she had initiated her best defense and put herself to sleep. Taraz had been less than pleased, and had treated her with disdain for the remainder of the night. She would never admit it to Andrezi, but there was something about that which stung a little though she knew she had no desire for the man. he had just been...impressive. Everything she'd ever heard said about him, and possibly more.

He had not been the worst however. That title belonged to Rashida Massri. She had not ever been close to a Massri before in her young life, but they were allegedly descended from the deities of Ancient Egypt. She would never have believed it until she had begun attempting to approach Rashida's mind. A presence more awesome than anything she had ever experienced simply batted her away. It had been absolutely terrifying. Humbling. Kimefe had nearly fallen off her feet and collapsed to her knees. Rashida had not shown any sign of having noticed, or else Kimefe probably would have started gibbering apologies like a fool. Kimefe no longer doubted the rumors of the Massri lineage, but she would never admit that to anyone lest there be some repercussion for daring to peek into the mind of one protected by gods.

Inevitably Kimefe's thoughts of her failure at the party led her to the two she considered her enemies. Alessandra and Jin. Dame Devries the Mason and her Shadow Assassin lover. Trying to infiltrate the lady's mind was dangerous. Another whose mind was a trap. Somehow traveling there had opened some primal instincts within her. She only remembered flashes, but Andrezi told Kimefe that she had essentially attacked him and made wild, animalistic love to him. She saw the scratches and bites he had given him. She, on the hand, had lost that time. Hours of apparent "pleasure" yet the only memories she had taken from Alessandra's mind were of being some kind of beast and chasing down prey and gorging herself on it. Kimefe wasn't even certain they were real, but they had definitely caused real actions. Kimefe had been incredibly sore down there for close to a week. Sitting had been a delicate matter. Jin on the other hand was easier to describe if no less infuriating. Unlike Taraz who had been there in the psychic world but seemingly impossible to approach, Jin simply didn't exist. He literally wasn't there. It was the most disconcerting feeling Kimefe had every had with another human. Jin made Taraz's mind seem possible as at least his was there for which to try and find a solution. Absolutely exasperating!

All this, and Andrezi was behind her. Turning so she could admire his tousled blond hair and lean muscular physique, the young lady said...


"Andrezi, my love. How are the preparations? Will we be seeing the monsters of the Slovakian wilds?"


Andrezi gave Kimefe that lopsided smile which made him look like he was making a joke no one else understood.

"Ah...Kiki, my sweet little dove. Everything should be as we desire. Mmm...Some of the baba yagas of this land will be sure to come with such a mass of peoples before the castle. The Dolcedet will no doubt allow you to dominate at least a few, huh, and we will find the shrine the Masons hide which allow you to fully bond the circlet to your psyche. Of this I am certain."

He approached and wrapped his arms around Kimefe's waist. Looking into her eyes his lids drooped and his broken smile fell into a softer tones which now included her in the joke.

"While the League and von Ryuko battle over Europe, we shall be building your empire to the East. Aw...From Mother Russia to the lands of the Chinamen, we shall see your ambition through to the conclusion it is destined."

His loving gaze made no doubt the conclusion was certain to be favorable.


Wrapping her own arms around the young Russian, Kimefe returned his smile and loving look. The brief flashes of Andrezi's thoughts radiated love, the warm pulses of heat from the cast iron stove when the humming baker cooked Kimefe's favorite pastries. It seemed so hard not to associate the way Andrezi made her feel with her most cherished childhood memories. She couldn't believe how lucky she had been to gain him from the Mystery Ball and the ensuing chaos.

"I will crush that b%*+% Devries and all the other Masons. I know even now our agents are colluding with whomever necessary in Europe to root out the Masons and acquire their artifacts. If any more are like this," she touches the golden circlet full of amber colored gemstones, "none shall be able to oppose us. I look forward to the day when every one of those at the party of von Ryuko kneel before me. Then I will know clearly no one will be left to oppose us."

The shape of Andrezi's mouth changed, and Kimefe took the liberty of kissing it, his perfectly imperfect lips. And as she did so, the world faded away, and nothing but the flashes of warm solace filled her mind. And when the roars started below and the yells and screaming came from the masses, the pair of young nobles on the tower paid no heed.


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Gentleman Adventurer

The murk in the room shifted and stirred. A lone shadow on the wall twisted and turned, contorting into a myriad of shapes, none of them at all analogous to its caster. At times it would grow impossibly large, defying what little light the spirit lamp in the room provided. It could feel him watching it struggle, squirming within its prison. The divine power that entrapped it was not so different from what had been used to seal it within the tomb. Except now, it was trapped within the darkness of a mortal. Somehow, the witless mortal had turned their pact against it. He would never have been able to, if it were not for that damned cat. And so silently the shadow struggled, holding within it a hatred blacker than hell itself. Hatred for the one called Vorian Ritter.

---------------------

Vorian sat on his bed, watching his shadow writhing on the wall with an unperturbed expression. There was once a time when such a thing might have frightened or worried him, but after everything he and his comrades had been through, this development just did not seem all that disturbing. When Ma’at had told him that that his soul had been torn, he had not been so keen on divulging the fact that he had given his shadow up willingly. Unless she already knew. It was a part of himself that he had been certain he would never see again. Perhaps that is why he had been so shocked when at the time he had needed it the most, his shadow had returned to him… with something else in tow. As he gazes at his shadow, it occurs to the nobleman that perhaps, it had never been far from his reach after all.

It was you that called out to me at the opera house, he states inwardly, directing his thoughts toward his prisoner, and in Frau Stuptsmann’s office. To no real surprise, his shadow did not respond. He was not entirely sure whether he even could communicate with it, or whether it merely ignored him out of spite. He was inclined to believe the latter. Vorian could, however, sense the hatred that it bore for him. It was an uncomfortable sensation, very much akin to self-loathing; disturbing as it was, he did not pay it much mind. In all honesty, he still did not fully understand exactly what had transpired on Virago. He had left the ship angry, sad and confused. He had not expected his men to survive being trapped with Ailuros and Gahiji, but to actually see what they had done to them… it had only been then that the shadow had made itself known to him. But that tragedy aside, their mission on the ship had been a success.

There had been a certain cosmic irony in their theft of the sarcophagus. Before, Rashida had told him that years ago, he had “saved the world’ by stealing the sarcophagi. But he had not originally taken them with any such noble intentions. It was after all, only at Von Ryuko’s behest that he had known where to find them to begin with. And the Massri had said nothing of the sort in regards to the scepter - had he done the world a service by taking that as well? “It was only greed that had possessed me,” Vorian muses aloud, “Perhaps our meeting was my punishment. Perhaps I deserved the suffering you wrought on me. Perhaps that is why I cannot hate you in turn.” The shadow most certainly did not share this sentiment, but it did not matter. At least, not to their present situation.

Now that he was no longer in immediate danger of dying a horrendous death, there was no reason not to pursue other, more pressing matters. With a sigh, Vorian extended his will over the unruly shadow, putting an end to its sporadic movements. The thing’s hatred only intensified as the dark shape shrank down, until it was once again a silhouette. Nodding in satisfaction, Vorian stands from where he is seated and pulls on his coat. He moves to leave the room, only to be given pause. The nobleman glances at his cane, and after a moment’s thought, takes it in hand. It never hurt to be cautious. With grim determination, Vorian exits his cabin - his shadow with him.


Lord of Serv-Bots

Memory refresher:
Mimi Von Sollier wrote:
Despite keeping her emotions and thoughts in check she bites her lip slightly, an involuntary reflex at the thought of danger. "I...I think that is a good idea. I'm in your hands and will be guided by them." she adds with a touch a breathy nervousness that draws an upturned eyebrow from a passing waiter. Her fingers trace a line up the stem of her glass and manicured nails tap lightly onto the side.

"My sister Ulrikke is a brilliant scientist. Her knowledge of engineering is nearly unparalleled. Clockwork and robots are her passion. She also understands some principles of biochemistry and mechanics. Genetic manipulation was more our late uncle's pursuit than hers, but she could definitely hold a discussion about it that would still be above simple passing knowledge. Naturally, you will be of some interest to her." Taraz watches Mimi over the top of his wine goblet.

"There will be many serv-bots and other robotic devices in her laboratory. But make no mistake, while I know I will be able to impose my will on many of them, they will resist, and we cannot count on any serv-bot in her presence to be an ally. Thus there is some danger to you. I may not be able to guarantee I will be able to stop her if she were to decide she wanted to acquire you.

"But...we may be able to play to her desire for knowledge. And ironically, it is her lack in regards to you that may provide that avenue.

Taraz drains the glass of wine. Dammit, Mimi was a pretty thing. The mitos sensed the attraction and were trying to become agitated. The alcohol was helping, but Taraz needed more. It certainly didn't help that Mimi made him recall the first time he had met Cassie... Gods, that was going to be an interesting discussion to have with Rashida. Both Cassie and he had been successfully discreet regarding their prior acquaintance at von Ryuko's party. It had seemed safer that way. After all, they had both arrived on the island in order to protect the others.

Taraz refills his glass and offers Mimi more as well.

Softly, barely more than a whisper, he says to the replicant, "Tell me, Mimi...what about your anatomy is different than what anyone would expect? Anything you know of yourself or your origins will be more useful now than ever. Don't be shy."

Taraz gives her the killer smile the onlookers and spies have been expecting to see from him now that dancing and dinner have been consumed. Oh, he definitely needed more wine. The hardest part for his control of the mitos would be coming up. He would need to kiss Mimi for the act to be complete. He felt terribly guilty...but strangely anxious to let it happen. Damn the mitochondria. Sometimes it was like living with a second person in his head. He empathized with Rashida's situation greatly at this moment.


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The great airship's engines change pitch, making Rashida aware of their constant thrum for the first time in hours. Her cabin, though ornate and luxurious, is tiny, and she finds the enclosed space suddenly stifling. A peek out the cracked door shows the passageway empty, so she slips out and up the ladder to the deck. The glow of the rising sun reflects bright gold from the rooftops and domes of the city on the horizon. Ruby lips curve in a smile at the glorious vista. Would that I could paint a view like this. I could make my way alone in the world with such talent.

A glance around the ship's deck shows crewmen on duty and -- oh, dear -- the slender, auburn-haired Frenchwoman on the bridge, doubtless admiring the sunrise as well. Rashida frowns. She had avoided Cassie as much as possible, right up until the fiasco in Morocco, when the fearless adventuress had gone haring after the fleeing figure of Gahiji. Rashida knew in her heart that the monster was luring the dancer away from the support of the party, and, filled with terror of what Lord Rorenson might do if any harm came to a friend, Rashida had followed, intent on protecting Cassie from one of the more monstrous of her family.

When she had caught up and come upon the scene of the... struggle?... pure animal instinct had kicked in, and she threw herself upon the man-lion, wrapped in mortal combat... or something... with the dancer. Ignorant of martial arts, unschooled in battle, her body had nonetheless responded with lightning-quick, fearsome blows, momentarily forcing Gahiji back. But she was no match for a hardened warrior with the heart of a predator. A quick feint and whistling slash of claws laid open her side from waist to knee, revealing to all of them the bright metal of her skeleton, the pistons and pulleys, miracles of clockwork engineering, that motivated that frame, and the leaking of fluids and air from her power systems. Horrified, she had looked to Cassie, only to see the delicate features of the dancer's face harden into an expression of, perhaps, revulsion.

Rashida's mind was unprepared for the sight and her body's systems were thrown out of balance by the sudden need to close off leaking hydraulics and begin repairing the oversheath of flesh. The world faded to blackness as Gahiji's laugh rang in her ears.

She awoke back at the ship, nearly healed, uncertain of how she had gotten back there or who was aware of who -- what -- she was. Nobody had inquired as to her health, and everyone seemed publically polite, but somehow, she never found herself alone with anyone to hold a probing conversation. Shutting herself up in her cabin, she fumed, not needing to sleep or eat, gears turning both figuratively and literally.

I did not ask for this. I was human until put into this... shell. I was a pawn as a human and am one now. Who made me, and why? What did they expect me to do? What I told Lord Rorenson... it was true. I was Rashida, then. I know the difference now. She has the body of a goddess, I have one of steel and springs. Leaning against the rail and looking out over the ancient city, Rashida felt hope dawning like the new day. But I have harmed nobody. I am not needed, as I cannot be the conduit to the goddess. I have done my duty and protected Rashida's friends. Why should I continue this farce in shame and misery? Perhaps here, I can strike out on my own. I have the best education Massri money can buy. Mayhap Gahiji thinks me destroyed and the Massris will not seek me out. Maybe here, I can make a life for myself, alone if need be, but free of the machinations of the great houses and the gods. A thread of pity for the Rashida-of-flesh crept into her thoughts, but she shrugged it off. Her fate is hers. Mine is mine. A few more hours, and I can be free. Another smile curled her perfect blood-red lips, and she dared another glance up at the Frenchwoman on the bridge. Free!


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The clack of her heels echoed through the great stone room beneath the Dome of St. Peters in the heart of Rome. Fashion-conscious Romans stared at the Egyptian, clothed in traditional pleated linen garb, gold jewelry, and heavy, stylized makeup. I'm not supposed to be here! Rashida thought, looking around the imposing edifice with great curiousity and some little panic. All will be well, child, said the other voice in her head, the one that had been with her ever since that night on the train.

On the Alpine Express wrote:

Rashida closed her cabin door and leaned against it with relief. After all the turmoil in the city and the crowds on the vehicle, solitude was most welcome. Her sloe-eyed gaze drifted to the window, where the slightest band of pale rose lingered along the horizon, seen in a glimpse through a broad mountain pass, and she wondered if Cassie were watching this sunset as well. She trusted she had left her friends in good hands, at least, and their huge group would be an event in tiny Siwa. No, if she wanted to get to the heart of the Massri mystery, she needed to visit Siwa alone. Siwa, where she had been born, so long ago. Siwa, where she was recruited by the Massris and the Massri rebels. Siwa, where she had left her parents and siblings behind, and where the mechanical Rashida thought the key to the rebellion and its betrayal lay.

She took her time disrobing and performing evening ablutions. This body, human though it looked, was something more. Her long training had taught her to respect it as an actual temple, and the habit remained, shaped long ago in this world but a short few months ago in her mind and memories. Stripping off her clothing, she moved gracefully through a series of cat-like stretches that ensured her body remained limber while helping her mind calm and center. After a brief shower, she began her daily grooming routine. Without her servants, the process took a good two hours as she shaped and repolished nails, painstakingly removed any stray hairs that marred the golden-bronze expanse of her skin, buffed off any roughened spots on feet or hands, and glazed her body with a coating of expensive oil. Her scrutiny in the mirror contained nothing of pride, but more the careful examination of a craftsman checking her work.

Next, she washed her hair, dried the gleaming tresses, anointed those while damp with a different exotic oil, and plaited them carefully into a close yet elaborate hairdo suitable for sleeping. She ignored the ache in shoulders and arms as she plaited, bound, and pinned hair into place. Finally, she smoothed the makeup from her face, carefully removing every trace before washing with clear soap and dabbing on yet another expensive cream. A last look brought a smile to the image in the mirror as she paused to run her hands down her body in wonder. I knew I would inhabit a goddess, but never expected this! Chuckling slightly at her own light-mindedness, she shrugged a gauzy shift on over her head, draping a matching robe about her shoulders and securing it all with a broad satin sash.

She sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, testing the mattress and disliking the idea that she had to sleep where others had slept before, the unyielding mattress increasing her discomfort. Stars stood bright in the blackness outside the window. Perhaps I should wait, she thought as she rose and opened a travel case, lifting out a tray to expose the vials nestled in soft satin below. Her long, brown fingers caressed the glass as she calculated the time to arrival at her destination. I should start now, though, in case the timing is not exact with these new extracts. Satisfied with that excuse, she began the preparation, mixing, sniffing, and drawing the resulting product into a syringe. Recalling the discomfort of the mattress, she piled pillows, clothes, bedcovers - anything soft - onto the bed before reclining and using the syringe.

The drugs took hold, drawing her under harshly and abruptly. She tried to relax into the experience, holding the face of a dark, laughing-eyed man in her mind, but something was not right. This mixture was not the accustomed dose. Almost, she felt his presence. Almost, she was able to nestle close to her beloved, bodies separated by miles, but minds touching, closer than any two ordinary people could be. Almost...

But a golden glow grew brighter, washing out the man's face, blinding her mind's eye. Ah, child, you reach out, but not to me. Were you not taught better? I indulged your preferences once. But matters more serious than your dalliance are pressing. You have avoided me long enough. Now you will show me what you know. Now you will do my bidding. And her will was swept away easily, as a flood sweeps a feather, carried on the current of an alien mind and will. Her mental cry, Taraz!, fell into the vast emptiness of the universe, and she was swallowed up.

This is a mistake, Rashida declared mentally, trying to make the alien goddess understand, They cannot help you here. But Ma'at did not deign to answer. Rashida felt the heat as her skin began to glow, feeling like molten metal sheathing her body, eyes burning as they, too, took on an otherworldly light. The tremendous pressure of the goddess' presence burst forth, filling the dome with golden light, casting a tall, black shadow of a winged woman stretching back towards the doors. Rashida could see people turning to stare but was helpless to control anything about her body as the goddess exerted her will.

"I am Ma'at, seeker of truth, bringer of justice. This world is in peril. I would speak to the God of this place, ruler of this world. Hidden One, come forth! For we must ally to protect your world, else it be destroyed, and the universe with it. Come forth! I, Ma'at, demand an audience!"


Lord of Serv-Bots

For Mimi:
So you can remember where the dinner conversation ends up:

After dinner


Dance-oholic Minx

'Whom are we? But a collection of memories and impulses. Or are we our deeds, all the efforts we've put into our previous existence - the moments leading upto now. The light breeze slips though her tresses, whipping the damp auburn strands across her face as she sightlessly looks at the clouds.

'So how do we seem to others and judge them, that'd imply that our existence isn't momentary lest we take the self-centred position that we're the only ones who matter. Our actions define our external appearance, internally....internally...' She throws up one hand in disgust, memories of Morrocco come flooding back. "This line of reasoning is futile." she mutters to herself; "I never did get that distinction from the philosophy master." Cassie shrugs, reaching into her clutch for a small mint.


RepliCassie

“If he wants to find out if I’m anatomically realistic he had plenty of opportunity on the way over here.” Mimi thinks to herself, looking thoughtfully at Taraz’s pretty eyes and biting into a strawberry she’d deftly retrieved from her champagne flute.

A dribble of crimson juice rolls down her chin, she brushes it away with a subconscious gesture. Her thoughts spiral at the lovely meal, barely thinking about the forthcoming meeting with Ulrikke.

“Well…” she pauses, “it’s like this…”

“My memories and mind is a perfect copy of DuSolliers…” She leans forward across the table, her dress trying it’s hardest to maintain structural stability despite the strain. “Upto the point that is, the point they were made. So I share her intellect, her wit, her peccadilloes, some of her memories….”

Running a varnished nail across the table is a light and serpentine touch, as if following the contours of a lover’s body. “These memories cannot be altered by machines, nor my thoughts. Milord Von Ryuko was most displeased about that, but I was formed to be a perfect copy of Cassandra.” She adds almost purring, answering his earlier question about her anatomy. “That did lead to another interesting quirk, my mind is immune to psychic tampering too.”

Then a chill goes down her spine as the full repercussions of the Rorensons powers fall upon her. “My mind is safe, my body…..” She reaches out a trembling hand and knocks her glass of water over.


Lord of Serv-Bots

Taraz reaches out to stop the glass from spilling but moving at normal un-enhanced speed, he isn't quite fast enough and only manages to catch the glass after most of its contents have poured onto the edge of the table and the floor.

"Ah, at least it was only the water and not the wine," Taraz says loudly for their onlookers' benefit and smiles at Mimi with the look of someone confident things are going his way. Surely this was the Taraz everyone expected, ready to pounce on his pretty socialite companion since clearly the wine was affecting her.

More quietly, he responds to her statements about the state of her mind. "An unmodifiable memory? That is useful to know. I am not sure if I asked my question correctly however."

Looking thoughtful, Taraz watches a couple of serv-bots who have rushed over to dry the water. "My line of inquiry was more about if you know if your internal construction has any deviations from standard human anatomy."

Eyeing her up and down in the crimson cocktail dress Mimi is wearing, he can't help but notice her external anatomy is pretty much perfect. From what Taraz could tell, every inch of Mimi was exactly copied from Cassie's own frame. But how could she be that accurate? By her own admission, Mimi had been created well in advance of all the others, before the party...how could she have been exactly as Cassie was at the party? It was a conundrum only von Ryuko could have created. Or my uncle...! The thought made Taraz's stomach churn, and the mitochondria began to respond to his concern and anger.

Taraz realized his smile may be slipping, so reached for his own water glass and drained it before taking another healthy sip of his wine. As he once again looked (and admired) Mimi's proportions he couldn't shake the feeling he was missing something.

"Mimi...There's something about your form that troubles me. Being a replicant, your shape should be static, but you mirror Cassie almost completely...I can't put my finger on it yet though."

Taraz sighs. "That is part of the reason we need to speak with Ulrikke."

He pours the remainder of their newest bottle into each of their goblets until it is empty. Gesturing for Mimi to approach, Taraz indicates she should sit in his lap. Smiling he says loudly, "Why are you so far away pretty lady? Come here."


RepliCassie

Mimi stands and brushes down her dress making sure none of the liquid is upon her, showing off the lines of her lead leg. She looks at Taraz's invitation to sit down; "You don't look that troubled at my form." she quirks an eyebrow. Before sitting back down upon the edge of her chair and looking around the posh dining room; "Lets not get too inappropriate in such a formal situation."

Leaning slightly upon the table, replying softly to his other queries. "I'm not too sure of my internal make-up, and I've not will to try and dissect or test it's capabilities. I know I'm significantly tougher than normal people, I could take small arms fire... faster, stronger and such.... but I don't believe I'm immortal." Her tone is very worried and hoping that she won't have cause to test these assumptions.


The clouds drifted over the celestial entity that had become the ruler of Alessandra's life. It looked as if the moon exhaled cool breath into the sky. A small surge of resentment surfaced followed quickly by an equally small pocket of surprise. Hmm, I haven't thought about this in a long while. But then...it hadn't been nearly as intrusive before the party, before Jin...

As he enters her thoughts, Alessandra cannot help but turn to gaze at the man she loves more deeply than she ever expected to feel about anyone. His dark hair was pulled back and tied up to be inconspicuous under the assassin's gear he had been wearing for the last several nights. His deep brown eyes peered out over the cloth covering his mouth to prevent his breath misting in the cool night air. The moonlight gleamed on the leaves of the bushes from where he peered out at the fort castle of Spiš, but nowhere did the light touch him. The skills of the Shadow Assassins allowed them to bend light and hide their presence on almost every level. Who would have thought their attraction on the airship would lead to this...all she had ever wanted was to help the unfortunates of the world. That desire, it had touched something in the man raised and trained to be nothing more than a heartless killer. But Alessandra had discovered that deep down, Ju-Long Suanko had never believed the path his clan had forced on him was correct. It was this astoundingly ironic similarity between them that had sealed their love. Before she had returned to herself, Alessandra had tasted the blood of innocents in her life...so much death...

The Dame shakes her head to reorient herself, honey-blood curls bouncing lightly under the hood of her dark midnight blue cloak. Now was not the time to get distracted. No, she must remain focused. Eldon had left clues as to what Kimefe "the Lovely" had planned. Alessandra was still not sure about the General's intentions. When he had used the Mason Coin to advise her he would be joining Kimefe, it was simply stated as fact without any indication it was a plan or a ruse, just this is what is happening. As he had continued to communicate, Alessandra had found that her and Jin's actions were often influenced by what intel Eldon was doling out. She had yet to determine if Eldon was assisting them or using it to position her and Jin where he needed them for whatever grand design he had for Kimefe and her singular goal of Masonic destruction. Again the irony of it all. Kimefe had Eldon as her military advisor and Andrezi as her lover. Both Masons by creed, traitors now if one believed it.

Andrezi...Alessandra had been startled to see him at von Ryuko's party. Having met only a handful of times, it was difficult to explain him at all. There had never been any value to having him as a member of the Lodge that Alessandra had ever determined. Yet the man had seemed to float in and out of whatever social circle he desired, as easy and as lazy as one would say of Taraz. But where Taraz was obnoxious and gloating, Andrezi was unassuming and capitulatory. His sudden attachment to Kimefe had been unexpected and disastrous. He had very quickly and obviously betrayed Alessandra, Jin, and Eldon when the Mason safehouse they arrived at also turned out to hold the Dolcet Circlet which amplified the already powerful psionic abilities Lady Kimefe had turned out to possess. But then...

Alessandra had examined it from every angle, but there was no mistaking it: Andrezi had let them escape. In the moment, he'd had the opportunity to kill them (well the seeming appearance—it would be a lot harder to put her down than she suspected many people realized), but instead Andrezi had accepted Eldon to join Kimefe's army and allowed Alessandra and Jin to go free...all without Kimefe knowing a thing. And the part that was still bending her mind was the whole thing felt...not staged (a small snarl of frustration escaped her lips), but definitely known. As if Andrezi had already been here. As if the choices everyone made were not unexpected. The only thing that made sense was that Andrezi could somehow see the future—a prospect that was terrifying. Especially knowing that General Eldon and he were collaborating.

And yet...here they were. She and Jin, Mason marked for death and a renegade Shadow Assassin. She had mustered up contacts and alerted all the Masons to the danger. Now...now they did what they had to do. But it was that last moment before they had escaped Andrezi which drove her. The one that pushed her forward and gave her doubts as to Andrezi being Kimefe's plaything whole cloth. That moment...

Andrezi Denikov, Foreseer wrote:

As she gave a final look of shock at General Eldon who returned her accusatory gaze like a true soldier who knows pure commitment to the decisions made in war time, Andrezi reached a hand toward Alessandra. The hiss of Jin's steel split the air a hairsbreadth from Andrezi's hand, but the blonde man stopped his movement at that spot as if he had never intended anything else.

"Dame Devries...I know what you must think of me, but you must not forget what I say now. You will face many hard choices in the times to come. You have quite the reputation as a champion for the less fortunate, and if this is your true being then you must never stop fighting. You go now to do what you have always done, protect the innocent and be their champion. Without you, without Jin...many will die. For my part I can promise you this, your battle is here, with me. With Lady Kimefe.

"Right now, von Ryuko is not your problem. On that you must do something you will struggle against...trust the others. They are not with us, but they will still fight. No one left that island without scars. You will have your chance for any revenge you desire, we all will, but whether we can succeed depends on what you do now, on where you go, and in whom you trust. I don't ask you to trust me, just don't forget."

Alessandra stared at Andrezi for a moment as the young noble dropped his hand, his eyes burning with intensity. She glanced at Eldon whose expression was unreadable as always but he no longer regarded her, but instead at Andrezi and she swore she saw a glint of approval in the depths of the man's gaze.

"I won't promise that I will give you the same courtesy you are extending here, Andrezi," a smiling Jin whispered as the sounds of Kimefe's psychically dominated minions grew closer. "It's just not something I was trained to do. I hope you understand."

Andrezi spread his hands in acceptance and returned the smile, one side of his mouth not quite reaching the height of the other, Jin and he shared the same joke no one else understood.

"You'll be accountable one day, Andrezi, for unleashing this terror on us," Alessandra had heard herself saying, a little more feral than she intended. Andrezi had simply nodded as if he knew she spoke the truth and there was no hint of patronization in the motion. For a moment, Alessandra felt she could understand how he had managed to always be accepted by everyone. Because he accepted however he was seen. No mean feat, she knew that intimately. With a swirl of what had become of her skirts, Dame Alessandra Devries turned and left the Masonic safehouse into the night, Jin on her heels.

Jin turned to her and nodded. Her eyesight in the dim light the only thing that let her see the assassin in his element. Eyesight very superior to that of a normal human. Alessandra took a breath and touched the pendant she wore, a gift from someone unknown. The magic of the pendant activated and the clothes and all belongings she wore were absorbed into the simple design on the metal. Naked in the cool night, Alessandra then chose to look upon the face of her tormentor, her benefactor, her patron.

And soon the lunar change was upon her. And the feral rush of power roared through her head. She howled, oh how she howled. She felt her lover grab the fur of her scruff. His weight was nothing. And into battle she charged. The camp at the base of the fort was being attacked by some of the monstrosities of this country, all for the whim of the fort's mistress. But Alessandra wasn't going to allow these innocents to die. Even if she hadn't said it to him, in her heart she made the promise Andrezi asked of her.

She would never stop fighting.


Lord of Serv-Bots

Taraz chuckles. "If I don't get inappropriate in a formal setting, people will start to wonder if it's really me."

Taking a large gulp of his wine, Taraz looks at Mimi seriusly, "And I also desire not have you dissected or otherwise injured. Part of the reason for my questions. And this is all part of our act, my dear."

Taraz winks and holds out his hand to the beautiful woman. "If you come over here, I will kiss your mouth. Your own memory, not shared with anyone else."


Agent of the League of Aristocracy's Internal Review Committee

The car shook as the the spirit gas engine took the train around what was probably a wicked curve (actually a small hill). Clousuk could not bring himself to look through the slats of the horribly rickety (actually solidly made) wooden storage car. His clever ship-himself-to-Rome plan was seeming to have become more and more the horrible-train-engine-death-his-enemies-had-planned-all-along plan. His scales were most likely to be permanently green going forward.

Clousuk tried to remember the good ol' days when it had only been assassins and a crazy Clockwork Theater trying to kill him instead of this infernal hell machine racing at meteoric speeds breaking the sound barrier (actually a mild 100/kps). Would there be any familiar faces to mourn his passing when his lifeless body was discovered in the wooden crate in the back? Surely not. The world's greatest detective would be die an ignominious death here in the back of this spirit train...

This woebegone thought was once again interrupted as the lunch Clousuk had eaten a week ago tried to come up. It had to be a week ago since he had already lost today's and yesterday's and the day before that...


RepliCassie

Mimi's rueful smile at Taraz's flirtatious ways, for she had heard some outrageous stories, changes slightly at the kind final words. "I....I haven't really...." the innocent look on her face seems to reverse the clock, then resolves itself into the usual cheeky smile as she draws upon 'past' memories.

Sliding from her seat she takes Taraz's hand; "Promises, promises..."


The captain is responsible for just too many different things Ralph was not used to this, he wasn't used to be responsible for much of anything let alone a big ship and full crew. The young street urchin had never really intended to take up any sort of position of importance on the ship he was just giving Ysillith a hard time because he thought it was ridiculous that she insisted on being called captain when she had no ship. The helmet cat who seemed to own the ship, or was at least in charge, came upon their argument, and put official titles on them both naming Ysillith captain, and Ralph first mate and high chieftain, titles which, at least in Ralph's case, had been in name only. However with the newly appointed captain AWOL before the ship even left the dock, and expected to never return, captaincy fell to the first mate. Of course they could simply have chosen someone else, but that would require Mittens admitting she'd been wrong to pick Ralph as first mate, something Ralph was pretty sure the helmet cat was incapable of doing.

Being thrust into the captain's chair meant there was no nice relaxing cruise for the boy. Instead Ralph's days in the voyage to Morocco were crammed full of learning all the things he needed to know about the ship and about being captain, every crew member seemed to have something they needed to teach him. The little vagabond actually found most of what he learned quite interesting Despite his complaints on all the learning, and his attempts to sneak off to find Alyce, Cassie, even Drake, as an excuse to take a break.

Morocco was a mess, how many were injured in the incident? How many were due to him not being up to snuff as a captain? Ralph didn't think he wanted to know the answer. No one seemed to blame him, some among the crew had even sung his praises attributing the victory directly to his actions in one way or another, in his mind it didn't feel much like a victory at all. From the Captain's point of view it seemed more like the savage lion monster found something more interesting to do than massacre his crew it didn't really feel like they forced him to retreat. If nothing else Ralph at least got aid out to the injured efficiently.

A report came from the field that one of the group was down with severe injuries, but that their insides were made up with cogs and springs, not the usual goo one would expect. Ralph very politely replied "I ain't care if d'ey're made o' sunshine an' good inte'tions, if d'ey're one 'o ours get 'em a'board an' get em da care d'ey need. Ah.. an' Jack? maybe keep dis baloney 'bout cogs 'n springs unda yer hat." They'd already set off again for their next destination before Ralph found out that the mechanical person in question was Rashida.

Now well on their way Ralph had snuck away from his captainly duties again, and emerged out of some sort of ventilation shaft covered in dust and soot, he'd had to get more creative about his escape routes, and they weren't always the cleanest. Speak of the devil, there was Rashida leaning against the rail, since her door was closed every time he snuck off to try to visit now seemed like a good time to see how she was doing. "Cleo! How ya holdin up Dollface?"


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

An involuntary smile flickers across Rashida's normally placid face as the apellation "Cleo" registers. Turning from the rising sun and the gilded rooftops and domes of the Eternal City, she surveys the young man, still somehow scruffy and unkempt even in uniform.

"Captain," she drawls ironically, then pauses a moment, remembering.

The Chase Ends wrote:


Lord Ritter's face had paled even as they approached their quarry, now turning as if an animal at bay. From her spot on deck, watching the pursuit, Rashida could hear a loud hissing and clang from the ship ahead, then a rising whine of electronics powering up. Vorian whirled to face the command deck.

"Squirrel!" the nobleman shouted to the young man on the bridge, "Don't let Virago get a bead on us, or we're done for! The firing port is in the bow, there!" His outstretched finger indicated a strange opening just below the figurehead of the lead ship, just now coming hard about to line up with Phantom.

The street rat had hesitated only a moment, rapidly sizing up the turning Virago. "A'ight, hard to starboard, props to full. Keep us out of line of dat ting! Squirrel turned to give rapid-fire orders to two of the bridge crew, who immediately hustled up the rope ladder into the giant gasbag keeping Phantom aloft. The ship turned with agonizing slowness, barely staying ahead of Virago's aim for the minute or so it took the crewmen to enter the ship's main balloon compartment and disappear. "ALL STOP!" yelled their scruffy captain, and Phantom drifted on the wind, slowing now that the propellors were idle. Virago's gun port swung inexorably on target until it pointed at Phantom's midships, propellors whirring hard to hold its aim on the pursuing ship.

"What are you doing!? She's lining up a shot, I tell you!" Rashida had panicked at the alarm evident in Vorians' voice, but Squirrel had only skewered Lord Ritter with an icy glare, standing firm on the bridge until the audible whine from Virago scaled up into painful frequencies. "God, she's going to..."

Phantom's first mate cut off Vorian's cry of despair with a ringing shout of "FIRE!". Twin reports from inside Virago's bag were immediately succeeded by two louder POPs and the whistling of gas venting from the bag's outer shell. Virago, deprived of a tenth of its buoyancy, immediately plummeted twenty feet, as if a giant had swatted it downward, jarring nobles and crew alike from their feet, except for the nimble helmetcat. Almost simultaneously, there was an enormous BOOM! from Virago, and something roared between Phantom and her gas bag faster than anyone could possibly see, heating the air to oven-like temperatures and snapping some of the suspension cables, but missing both the ship and its gigantic balloon.

Virago immediately (for an airship) began moving straight toward Phantom, descending as she came on, as if to ram Phantom broadside, propellors whirring furiously to impel the gigantic lighter-than-air ship into motion. Another hiss/clunk was audible, and Vorian's knuckles tightened on his cane as he and the rest of the people on deck struggled to their feet. Do it, ignorant savages. Destroy my ship, if you must, but destroy yourselves, too, he muttered within Rashida's enhanced hearing.

The nobleman knew what the ship's horrid captain and first mate did not, what none of the impressed Moroccans knew, and what the few remaining Virago crewmen would never tell their hijackers - that a second firing of the great railgun would destroy it, and possibly the ship. As Virago came on, lining up the killing shot, the electronics whined up the scale into the ultrasonic. "Ritter! What now?" the young captain had called, but Vorian had given him a relaxed wave of reassurance, more relaxed than he doubtless truly felt. The next tremendous report from Virago was truly explosive, tearing apart the entire midships, a few screaming bodies plummeting gracefully to the sand far below. The cabin bobbed and rocked in the aftermath, but it held together, as did its suspension cables. Crippled but maintaining buoyancy and momentum, the great ship continued on its course towards Phantom, intent on ramming, despite the steam hissing from its gaping midships, bundles of pipes and wires dangling like horrid viscera from a fatal wound.

"My mother. Oh no..." The noble helmetcat's fur suddenly puffed in alarm and she dashed up the ladder to the bridge, helmet's vocal apparatus at full volume to be heard over the cacophany of the two ships' stresses. "Captain! My mother lives in the 'brains' of that ship. Should it touch ours, she can move to control this one. This is something we definitely do not want. It must not happen, or we all die. Unless I can control her. Which I'm not certain I can."

The young first mate blinked for a moment, then roared to his crew, "All a' ya, listen up! Deploy oars! Row us outta da way o' dat ting! Spring, ya sheep-head, spring! Spring, muttonchops! Spring and break yer backs. Ya nobles - spring, too! Take an oar! Spring, all of ya, spring yer eyes out!"

At the first shout of Deploy oars!, crewmen dashed along Phantom's sides, unfastening the cleverly stowed wind-oars from their place along the rail, while the pilot pulled a great lever that deployed other banks of oars from the hull. Once out, tremendous steamwork mechanisms within the ship began sweeping the shafts forward, then back, the oars automatically unfolding on the fore-stroke to catch the hot desert wind and use it to propel the ship forward, the entire ship shuddering with the stress of the mechanism.

Interesting. He's got a good grounding in the classics, Rashida thought, curious. But when an oar was deployed near her, she instinctively jumped to obey the young man's orders and pulled at it with a good will, enjoying the unaccustomed feeling of strength rippling through her frame. Perhaps being partly mechanical - what is that called, anyway? - is a good thing after all. I'm certainly stronger than my human body ever was.

She'd watched in awe as this young man had transformed as if by magic from a street urchin to a figure of power and command, voice ringing across the decks as if he were born to be a leader of many men. He had certainly saved the ship that day, even if they had not been able to move Phantom fast enough to be out of range of the leap of the great cat waiting hunched at Virago's rail for the point of closest approach. He did not deserve the ironic title 'Captain'. He deserved the real thing.

She straightens and gives him a solemn nod and serious greeting. "Captain Squirrel. I am well, thanks to you. We haven't spoken since... you saved us from that horrid cannon and from that mad helmetcat's spirit." Placing one manicured hand at her throat, she bows slightly at the waist. "My thanks. It was well done. You truly are Phantom's captain now."


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.
Two weeks ago wrote:


The Swiss Guard, resplendant in their gaudy red uniforms, had cleared the Basilica of tourists and clergy alike. Still Rashida stood stock-still under the dome near the altar, her illumination turning the gilt artwork to fire. It had been two hours since Ma'at had revealed herself, and the only response had been to clear the hall. Rashida's legs shook from standing motionless for so long, and she worried that she might faint, yet Ma'at retained control and kept her there, motionless.

You worry too much, child. This is not your old human body, remember. It is partly mine and can endure much more than you suspect. Forget your frailties. You will find what you need to know when the time comes. Ma'at's internal voice felt amused. Were you not protected with your brother's manikin attempted your life? You would not have known that power had you continued to hide behind the human you are so fond of. A rill of laughter flowed through her head. 'White knight' indeed. It amuses me that you, of all people, sought a protector in the Baron's games. Had you allowed our communion earlier, the game would have ended sooner, with all guests safe... unless they brought evil with them.

A wave of comfort answered Rashida's sudden despair. It is not your fault. This thing that has been done to you should never have happened. You, of all people, are blameless in this situation.

I could have reached you sooner, goddess.

Ma'at sighed. This was difficult for you because you are a complete person. When this body was made for me, it was mine to inhabit with nobody to displace. I do appreciate the knowledge that you bear, but the cost for it was high... and will go higher still, I fear. For this body, dear child, is mine, and has been for many centuries. Your time may be, shall we say, limited. At least, as you are now.

Rashida's confusion at this statement was evident to the goddess. You will not die, of course. But the longer I use this body as a conduit, the more you and I will... merge? It is not the best word. I would leave you to your life if I could, but the fate of the world is at stake. I must be present here to try to safeguard this place, and my own home. If the balance tips in this place, it will spread.

Merge? What do you mean? Rashida knew her response was alarmed, nearly panicky, but could hide nothing of her heart and mind from the goddess. She felt a trickle of sweat slide lazily from between her shoulder blades along the curve of her spine, down to the small of her back, but Ma'at prevented her from reacting to the discomfort.

The goddess was a long time in replying, and Rashida could sense a complex mingling of sadness, regret, and resignation before the answer. As the neural pathways of this body align to my presence, you will become more... me. Less the person you once were. You will learn what I know and how to function, and will take on more of my personality than your own. It is inevitable.

Wait. My thoughts will change... my feelings? What about...? Images flashed through Rashida's mind faster than conscious thought - her old confederacy to undermine the Massris, the new friends she had made among the nobles, the ones who had become very dear to her, especially...

Your lover, Taraz... I see your fear. Yes, I have no more regard for him than for any other being here. I care for you all, but fairly, evenly. I am here to bring balance, reward virtue, and punish evil. I am not here to be a friend or a lover. Neither shall you be.

At Rashida's fresh wash of despair and grief, Ma'at continued, as though to comfort her. It is better this way, child. Your body is not human, as I said. This man you love... you cannot give him the kind of home or family one of your kind seeks or deserves in their natural course of life. You can, of course, take lovers and serve their and your own desires, but you cannot give any mere human a family. Only with one of our own can you reproduce, and that is forbidden. It is not fair to this man to be saddled with such a life when another could give him everything he needs.

A pause.

I see you are not comforted. I am truly sorry. This should never have happened, but what is done is done. I will shut you away from this body for while lest it leave my control and grieve openly. Such a thing would not do here. Go then, and try to find peace. I will return you here when something happens. Rashida, I would be your partner here on Earth, to work with you to set things right. Sometimes, higher callings interfere with our wants. Sometimes, we hurt. Now go.

And the darkness swallowed both Rashida and her grief.


Female Helmet Cat

The Phantom is still undergoing repairs, the Duchess Kittington von Meowselsworth being sure to oversee all the changes and adjustments being made. She and Mittens had pooled resources in order to give the ship some needed upgrades. The Phantom had never been any kind of warship, just a vessel for rich nobles to enjoy operatic performances and other lovely accommodations. Now, however, with the recent attack, both the helmetcats realized the importance of outfitting the ship with proper shielding and some kinds of weapons. The threats they have faced have simply been too great.

The Duchess watches from above as some of the crew works on the installations, hopping from rail to rail in order to skip those long corridors and get where she is going in faster order, to go check on her kitten.

Aboard the Phantom wrote:

The Duchess von Meowselsworth spoke her warning on the subject of her mother emphatically, glad that the first mate become captain heeded her warning. Nobody wanted a repeat of what happened with the Virago less than she did. She looked down from the ladder that she had climbed up on, carefully stepping down from step to step, conscious of ever groan and shudder of her precious ship under the stresses of combat.

"Mother..." she whispered as she looked back towards the Virago. Once the mad spirit that chased them was a noble creature who she looked up to, and now it frightened the Duchess to even consider accessing her memories for fear of corruption. This monster was her responsibility though. She dashed back towards the aft of the ship, to try and do what she could to stop the assault on the ship. She was a helmetcat after all, so was not entirely defenceless when it came to these kinds of mindgames. She braced herself to do mental combat with her mother, with the sole intention of distracting the elder cat and hampering her aim. But she herself was distracted...

A brightly coloured hot air balloon lazily floated up alongside of The Phantom, with some kind of dreadful music playing loud on the speakers, and the theme music from Deathmatch started to play. "Buckle your seatbelts, cats and kittens, and you humanfolk too, because the rides getting bumpy and the stakes are getting high!" The Montgolfier balloon continued to rise, and seemed to have a few extra attachments to provide power. Mittens herself stood on the edge of the basket, wearing her goggles of judgment, last used in her final episode of Deathmatch. Some critics had criticized the special effects for being too over the top and goofy. The glint of red from Mittens's eyes was anything but goofy, but perhaps with all of the power attachments hanging heavily from the balloon, they were still a bit over the top.

"Mittens! Get down from there this instant! You're going to get yourself hurt!" called the Duchess, pleadingly. Her daughter might have been highly intelligent, but for all her cleverness, she always lacked the wisdom to know when and when not to speak or act.

Mittens's announcer voice boomed in return. "No can do, mumseroo. 'cause it's time for everyone's favourite part of the show! DODGE THE LASERS!"

It would not be in time to prevent Gahiji from jumping the ship, but the red hot lasers focused upon one of the engines would slow the Virago down enough that, after Ralph's quick thinking, the more sluggish Phantom would be able to once again create a gap between them and prevent a ramming for certain.

"INSOLENT KITTEN! YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO SHARE A NAME WITH ME!" screeched the Captain of the pursuing ship, taking aim upon the little air balloon.

"I sure don't. But that's a burden I've just gotta bear," laughed Mittens, still firing her lasers, all the while Ailuros found the mechanical systems to lob a fireball formed from the superheated explosion of the railgun back at the balloon. The brightly coloured balloon went up in flames while Mittens leapt off, knocking off her laser goggles and leaving behind an exploding balloon, the force rocketing the little tuxedo cat back towards the Phantom, slamming against one of the masts with a heavy WHUD, falling motionless at the impact.

The Duchess stops as she walked the length of one particular rail. "Oh. Greetings, friends. I was just on my way to check the medical bay."


...in a future never to occur, a tabby cat with what many folks would say was a smile (it was just his normal face however) licked an injured paw atop a ruined wall while a terrible scene unfolded below.

Next to him, Duchess Kittington hissed at the monstrous thing which called itself Baron Eichorn von Ryuko. Her helmet was damaged, and it no longer sparked or appeared operable. This made the tabby wince in empathy for the Duchess' plight. He could smell her fear and distress.

The evil entity bringing about the catastrophic end of Earth stood over the still and bloody form of Rashida Massri, and it laughed soundlessly yet was heard by all as the psionic transmission of the maniacal amusement rent its way into everyone's thoughts. The awful psychic waves paralyzed the brains of most beings. It was a horrible sound the tabby wished it would never have to hear again. One day, he dreamed wistfully. One day they will finally find the way to defeat it, and I will not have to go back...back to the beginning...again. Some kind of appendage poured blood and gore ripped from Rashida's body into what must be a mouth orifice.

"Ra-Rashida..." a weak voice called out in pain and concern. Taraz Rorenson was down on one knee clutching his side and struggling to rise. Blood poured from the wound in his torso and more blood, his or possibly another's, was splattered across his face. Cassie du Sollier, the last of them who was not grievously wounded, chanced a glance back at Taraz while she tried to interpose herself between von Ryuko and the injured heroes. Briefly, the tabby wondered if any of them had ever thought of themselves as heroes before now or ever.

As the barest movement of her head removed him as the focus of her attention, von Ryuko lashed out at Cassie, the appendage splitting and exposing razor sharp bone surrounded by poisonous grappling fingers (which resembled tentacles if the tabby had to label them). Warned by the spirit energy surrounding her, Cassie jerked away but not quickly enough. A long, jagged laceration appeared on her thigh and began to bleed much more profusely than it should have as the grabber fingers tried to latch onto her. She cried out, and Vorian pulled her away with his one good arm, the other having been torn off by the Baron earlier. Only the power of his shadow kept him conscious and moving now.

The tabby did not need to see anymore. "My dear," he said to the Duchess, "I believe a song is in order."

Wearily, the Duchess nodded and cleared her throat from the hissing. The song came out slightly off key at first (she had suffered quite the blow to her head) nonetheless it was still beautiful. As the soundwaves washed over everyone, even von Ryuko faltered and became transfixed lost in memories and dreams, echoes of futures and pasts which may or may not have ever happened.

The tabby lifted a paw and began to turn the memories filling everyone's mind like the pages of a book until he found the thread he needed. Ah, yes, Roma, he thought. This will definitely be the right place for an introduction.

Moving forward, he traveled back, back to a place where a goddess waited and a woman slept.

The tabby cat approached the being in the human shell, its ever present kitty grin on its face and favoring one paw slightly. He stopped before her and inclined his head. Upon it, a sleek and simple helmet adorned with nothing but the Greek letter 'α'. No unidentifiable gizmos buzzed, no strange attachments clicked, just smooth metal and the slightly embossed character.

"Greetings, goddess, I would like a moment to speak with your host if I may. They will be keeping you waiting for a while yet. Of that, I can assure you. If you don't mind, there is some information of great importance that I need to impart to the Rashida-soul with whom you currently coexist."

The tabby sat on his haunches and waited. His eyes were seemingly closed to slits, and his mouth in its perpetual grin, smiling as pleasant a ever.


Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The thread of consciousness connecting Rashida's person to Ma'at proper twinged, alerting Ma'at that something was happening on that fragment of Geb the natives now called "Earth". Satisfied that her other selves were functioning properly, she opened her real eyes to survey the room and study the great figures enthroned there. All sat quietly, some with eyes closed, some with eyes glinting as their consciousness focused momentarily upon their primary body. Ma'at's eyes closed once more as she turned her attention to Earth.

A surprise awaited there, where no delegation of bright-clad cardinals or solemn bishops approached. Instead, seated near her feet, a helmeted tabby cat smiled with eyes nearly slitted closed. Ma'at nearly smiled herself at the emissary of one she considered an ally and inclined her head slightly in greeting as she used the brain of this body to replay the words of the helmetcat so she could formulate a reply to his request.

"Child of Bast," she said softly, "It is good to see you here again. I'm certain it has been a long time since we last met, considering that my kind has been kept from this place for centuries. You are well come. But you say your message is for Rashida, more properly named my guest than my host? I am surprised. Does Bast have no word for me here?"

The goddess tilted her head curiously and regarded the smiling helmetcat. "I can awaken the child Rashida. She has had some... ill news lately and has been distraught. Perhaps your message will distract her, whether good or bad. You do realize that whatever you tell her, I will know?"

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