A World Without End (Inactive)

Game Master pinvendor

Free-form RP in Alternate Earth.

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Ephemeral GameMaster

The tabby smiles gratefully at the goddess' acknowledgement.

"Ah yes, the lovely Bast! What a fine head she keeps on her shoulders if you'll excuse the impertinence. I regret that I, myself, have not had a meeting with her in quite a while. But one could say I was...not in the country for some time."

"Regarding your guest, I am certain my news will certainly distract her. Of that, there is little doubt."

For a brief moment the tabby's eyes open slightly wider but they return to their natural relaxed slitted position quickly enough. The goddess catches a glimpse of an ice age past within the depths for that moment.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Never fear, it is natural for cats to be impertinent. Their disorder is part of the order of things, if that makes sense to you. But I digress, perhaps to delay the inevitable. Bide a moment." The beautiful woman's eyes unfocused from the helmetcat and stared into unfathomable distances.

Rashida roused reluctantly from a dream of warmth and love. The goddess wanted her. Was it the clergy at last? But no. "A messenger for you, Rashida. One of Bast's helmeted servants." Rashida found herself surprisingly refreshed after the enforced nap, though a base of grief ran through her mind which would not be banished for a long time, if ever.

Rashida returned to her body with the joyous thought "The Duchess! Surely it is she!" But her eyes registered a different feline, helmeted entirely (to her) oddly. Still, its presence here was interesting, exciting. A message...?

"Greetings. I am Rashida. I fear I do not know you, Sir Cat. Are you a relative of my friend, the Duchess Kittington?" Though nothing had blatantly changed about the golden woman standing before him, the helmetcat could see the change when the one called Rashida spoke. The eyes... it was the eyes. They had become human, both in look and expression, and lost that vast dispassion that the goddess necessarily carried. Yes, this was Rashida, as she said. Of that, there could be no doubt. Just as there was no doubt that Ma'at still remained, quiescent but present.

Alpha Helmetcat

"Salutations, my lady Rashida. I am a simple helmetcat as you can see. You may call me Sam if it pleases you," the tabby says cheerfully, his smile big and happy. "I am happy to make your actual acquaintance. I have come to you today to inform that as of now, the helmetcats are aware of you and the other."

Sam looks extremely pleased with himself and approaches closer to Rashida, limping slightly.

"To commemorate the first non-Rorenson addition to the helmetcats' oversight, I offer this chance to pet me."

Without further preamble, Sam leaps at Rashida's chest without concern for whether she will catch him. And why wouldn't she? He's an adorable helmetcat.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Wha---? Rashida barely catches the helmetcat, firms up her support of the feline, and caresses his back, stunned.

"Wha---? Ma'at simultaneously said, as both came to understand the import of the helmetcat's words at the identical moment.

"But... that's impossible!" they said/thought in unison.

Alpha Helmetcat

Sam begins to purr almost immediately. He rubs his chin and helmeted cheek on Rashida's upper arm.

At the shocked reply, Sam says,"Impossible? Yes, indeed. Until I saw the need for it with my own eyes, I would never have suspected it could happen. Yet herewhen we are. Normally, we wouldn't allow such a thing, but all the non-futures suggest that interfering with the addition of you and the other will lead only to certain destruction of everything. And I prefer my everything to the Thing's nothing thank you."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida continues to stroke Sam, oddly comforted by the helmetcat's rumbling purr, almost as if she were in the company of the Duchess again. In the meantime, her thoughs and the goddess' war within her head.

Through her own melange of fear, hope, and joy, Rashida clearly sensed Ma'at's astonishment and even outrage. This cannot be! It cannot be allowed! the divine being clearly thought, before suddenly disappearing. Apparently, the goddess had the means to cloister her thoughts. Or had she withdrawn? Rashida could not be certain, but she felt more alone now than she had for the past week.

"Sam... you mean that Taraz and I... we're, uh... I'm... uh...?" Rashida timidly and inarticulately asked the helmetcat, feeling certain this was the meaning yet not sure she was properly understanding.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida watched the graceful helmetcat approach along the deck rail, heedless of the long, long drop to the ground. "Oh. Greetings, friends. I was just on my way to check the medical bay," the feline vocalized through her helmet.

The Duchess had been in sick bay when Rashida had awakened there, fully restored to proper function. The helmetcat sat on the bunk of a similarly helmeted tuxedo cat, gently licking the unconscious cat's face and purring softly to her. Nobody had been by Rashida's bedside, she felt sure. She was not the person Lady DuSollier had intended to save. She was not the person Lord Rorenson had been seeking in the horrid lab below Von Ryuko's island. She was not the one the goddess Ma'at wished to commune with, having tried to touch the goddess throughout the trip to Morocco. She was... nothing.

With a gracious nod to the helmetcat, Rashida said, "I hope all is well with your loved one, Duchess. I would accompany you, but I have other things to do. If you will excuse me Duchess, Captain." She withdrew and descended to her cabin, there to extract a long cylinder from its hidden stowage. Slinging the leather tube over one shoulder, she marched determinedly up the ladders to the top deck, where Lady DuSollier leaned on the rail, gazing out across the hills and rooftops of romantic Roma.

Unslinging the tube, she joined Cassie at the rail and thrust the container at her abruptly. "Here. This is not mine. I have tried to use it, but cannot. All it does is vibrate and swivel to face a direction. I think it is pointing to Rashida. The real Rashida. She did not go where I expected, where I told her to go. I can't blame her for not trusting me, though perhaps the goddess rules now." She didn't try to hide the bitterness in her voice. "She trusts you, so I can also trust you to return this to her. I am done here. Tell her... tell her I kept our bargain. Tell her I decoyed Gahiji successfully, but only until he struck me. He knows, as do our enemies, that she is not with you. I tried to protect you, too. It was what she wanted. But I am useless as a decoy any more. And you do not need protection in Rome, back in civilization. Also, I have no wish to meet Lord Rorenson now that I know what I am. Here. Give this to Rashida." Rashida thrust the tube into Cassie's hands.

Alpha Helmetcat

As Rashida fumbles with her question, the tabby twists to look at her with slitted eyes.

"Yes, your contact with the youngest son of Roren has indeed precipitated this extraordinary measure on our part. But as you are already well acquainted with the lovely Duchess Kittington who has grown quite fond of you, it wasn't as hard a decision to make as you would imagine."

The smiling face of Sam is reassuring and calming.

"It will be a bit of adjustment however. At a more opportune time, we will reacquaint you with all your former memories. That, I admit, will definitely be trying for you as a human. Not everyone can be born a helmetcat." Sam pats a paw on Rashida's hand consolingly.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Unfortunately, this is true." Rashida strokes the tabby a bit more, then, thinking back upon what was said, ventures a question. "Do you mean Kittington was with us to... to protect Taraz?"

Alpha Helmetcat

Sam chucklepurrs, and Rashida feels his tail curl around her arm and brush along the golden serpent armlet there.

"Now, now, my lady. It would never do for me to be so presumptuous as to provide an explanation for any of the Duchess' reasons for attending the Baron's fête. That is just bad manners among helmetcats."

If his eyes weren't already closed, Rashida would probably have imagined the tabby winked at her.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida falls silent, somewhat confused and unwilling to admit it before a helmetcat. Helmetcats always seemed to know what was going on, making even the host of a goddess feel rather stupid at times. Maybe she misunderstood everything. Oversight was not the same as protection. She stands silent, scratching under Sam's chin and waiting for the goddess to return or for the inhabitants of the basilica to come forth.

Ralph waved his hand at Rashida's bow "C'mon Cleo friends ain't bow ta each udder. 'sides I ain't do nuttin special wit'out Ringo's a'vise dat cannon wudda ah'blitr'ated us."

The young captain smiles towards the Duchess when she arrives "Good ta see ya Rani."

Looking back to Rashida when she announces she has things to do an nods "A'right, come see me latuh Cleo I 'ppreciate da break from bein' cap'in."

"I'll come wit ya darlin'" the soot covered youth says to the Duchess "I wanna see how da Chief's doin' 'fore Jack finds me 'gain."

Female Helmet Cat

Mittens lays in the medical area, unmoving except for the shallow drawing of breath. She's not awake, and hasn't been since the encounter with Ailuros and Gahiji. Her helmet occasionally sparks, some connection was knocked loose and nobody has been able to repair it.

"Perhaps Taraz will know how to give this a repair. If Boots were here, he would have already been able to fix it. I don't think you've met Taraz, and you've certainly not met boots," says Kittington, hopping up onto the bed that the tiny Mittens looks extra tiny occupying. She nuzzles her sleeping daughter and then looks back to Ralph. "She's still stable though, it seems. If she wakes up, her mental capacity will be the same, but it will be harder for her to concentrate, based on the location. Hopefully we can find someone who can repair her helmet soon, though."

Gentleman Adventurer

If the sun did not blind Vorian, then the resplendent city down below certainly would. The squinting nobleman raises an arm to block the troublesome sunbeams, the long hours spent in his dark cabin having clearly taken their toll. A minute or so passes before his eyes adjust, allowing him to find his way to the railing without unceremoniously spilling over the side of the ship. Only then is he able to take in the magnificent sight that is Rome. It was hardly his first visit, but a considerable amount of time had passed since his last. It had always been a pleasure to do business with the Vatican, back in the day.

”Back in the day,” he muses somberly, his free hand gripping the railing. It was not even a decade ago. The Roman Catholic Church had been instrumental to his ascent to nobility; he suspected that the prize he retrieved for them had been worth more than that. Some of the cardinals then had remarked that he was worthy of sainthood. But then, his relations with the church took a dive when they realized what he had decided to keep for himself. That realization came only after they had voiced their support to the League, of course. By then it had been too late. All of that over a wooden cup, he thinks to himself with amusement, I wonder if it survived...

With a sigh, he turns away from the rail and starts to walk along the deck. It felt odd to him that he could stand around and be nostalgic, so soon after what had happened. Ailuros had turned his ship - the very symbol of his power - into an augur of death. The ship’s crewmen, some of whom he had known for years, were gone. Centuries’ worth of priceless art, all but utterly destroyed. And all they had to show for it was a heavy stone box. But perhaps it was for the best then that they had left Virago on the glassed sands, a smoldering wreck. He would return one day to reclaim what was left, but for now there were more important matters for him to attend to.

As it so happened, the person he most urgently needed to speak was not even on the ship, nor had she been for quite some time, he had learned. It was a disturbing development, but he felt confident that he could ignore. Now that he was not in immediate peril, he did not feel as inclined to address his own concerns. Instead he heads to the medbay, where the injured members of their party recuperated. It was a miracle that they had gotten off as well as they had, but there had been casualties regardless.

”Hello Captain, Duchess,” he says to the two as he steps into the room. He looks for a moment at the unconscious Mittens, wearing a frown. He had hoped that she would be awake by now.

Ralph nodded to the Duchess "We gots sum Joes dat're purdy good wit 'lectronics but dey ain't f'milia wit kitty helmits. Seein as she's stable, ain't wort da risk be'er ta wait fur sumone ' knows wut dey're doin."

The young captain turns his head towards Vorian as he appears "Hey Ringo, good ta see ya. Tanks fur yer help back den, we'd'a ne'er made it outta dere witout 'cha" He shook his head "Dis cap'in ting's still weird, ain't 'xactly used ta havin no 'sponsibility."

Another Side

Far away in northern Germany, on the summit of the mountain called Brocken sat a modest estate, suitable for an individual of lesser nobility. The small, gray castle was wholly unremarkable, lacking any of the typical flair or extravagance expected of aristocracy. Its only truly distinguishing feature was a tall signal tower that stood within its walls; it was something of a necessity, though many considered it tasteless. The Lord of the mountain had gone through a great deal of trouble to establish himself here, making many wonder why he had not aspired to erect a more dramatic hold. Few knew what lied within the mountain itself. Vorian Ritter had always felt that true extravagance had to be well hidden.

In a small, dusty office within the castle, a well-dressed young man donning spectacles stares down a small mountain of paperwork. With the Earl’s absence, all matters of importance had fallen into his hands. Capable as he felt, the role had been more forced upon him anything.

“Hans, my boy, I have total faith in you,” he had said, ”I will be back in no time, you’ll see.”

That had been well over a week ago. Still, Hansel had not complained once since his argument with Vorian. He took his duties very seriously, even when it seemed his best friend and mentor did not. Unfortunately for him, when it came to aristocrats, “matters of importance” could be anything from party invitations to letters of adoration. Taking a page out of Vorian’s book, he kept the fire stoked, just in case. With a sigh, he stares at the pile of envelopes on his desk - the day’s mail.

The first is an elaborately crafted envelope, sealed shut with red wax emblazoned with the unmistakable coat of arms of the esteemed House Montresor. Hansel gazes upon it in amazement. Could it be the news that Vor has long hoped for? After a moment’s hesitation he hastily tears open the envelope, only to be assaulted by the stench of an overabundance of perfume. The young man starts to cough violently, his eyes watering as he nearly drops the envelope. Whatever scent it was supposed to be was utterly indiscernible. If he did not know any better, he might have thought it to be poison. Only after wafting the envelope several times is he finally able to access the letter within.

Hansel’s eyes scan the letter, reading through line after line of flowery drivel. The handwriting is atrocious, the gold-plated script laid out in insanely elaborate cursive nearly mistakable as an alien language; he has had an easier time translating ancient Sumerian than this. Ten agonizing minutes later, he sets the letter down, his face pale. In short, it was an official marriage proposal from the Dowager Duchess. The true underlying message however, was that in doing so, the Earl could join the League - in exchange for his name, of course. Nodding to himself, Hansel knew that there was only one right thing to do. With a gentle flick of the wrist, he tosses it right into the fireplace. The letter practically explodes, filling the office with a smoky yet flowery fragrance.

The next few letters prove more bearable, if not nearly as interesting. A few royalty cheques for the novels based on Vorian’s exploits, ghostwritten by a reclusive gentleman that had no interest in fame; fortune on the other hand, he invited with open arms. A handful of party invitations arrived, some formal, and some less scrupulous. Using one of several templates, Hansel quickly authored several polite refusals simultaneously, taking care to adjust any minor details. Your Royal Highness, Hansel’s autopen wrote with lightning speed, perfectly replicating his script, Unfortunately, my Lord Ritter will be unable to attend your son’s bachelor party on account of his poor health… Not a complete lie, though he had certainly been well enough to attend Baron Von Ryuko’s party…

He sighs, pulling off his reading glasses and leaning back in his chair. There were still a few more bills to be paid and letters to be addressed, but even the busywork could not keep his mind off Vorian’s plight completely. Technically speaking, Hubert would have been perfectly suited for this work, and would likely have completed it already, with nary a complaint. But the last he had heard from his Lord had been through Hubert’s meeting with him in Friedrichshafen. Vorian had insisted that he stay within Halbschattenbereich, to ‘hold down the fort’ while he was gone, robbing him of the chance to meet with him face to face again. His efforts to contact Lord Haigh had also been in vain - evidently, the jeweller had cleared shop. Had he gone into hiding? Just what had gone on in that city?

These thoughts are interrupted by sound of someone clearing their throat. Hansel spins around in the chair to see the familiar face of Hubert Schiffer, eliciting a sigh of relief.

”I know, I know, I shouldn’t be sitting with my back to an open door, “ Hansel says with a small smile, anticipating the man’s chiding. As though he had not gotten enough of that from Vor - at least Hubert had the common decency not to jab the back of his head with a cane. His smile vanishes however when he sees something unusual. Hubert shifts uncomfortably, chewing on his thick mustache and clutching a small, cloth-covered object. The seeming restlessness was not typical of him. ”What is the matter, Hubert?”

”My grandson arrived just minutes ago,” the older gentleman starts, his voice sullen. Hansel frowns, confused by why such good news was being delivered with such a grave tone. Only when he remembers that the younger Hubert is was an engineer on Virago do his eyes widen in realization. Before he can stammer out a question, Hubert continues. ”He is a little worse for wear from the journey, but he will be all right. He… was sent to us to deliver a message. It is for you.” He steps forward, holding the clothed object out to Hansel.

Hansel swallows his spit before reaching for the item, suddenly nabbed by a foreboding feeling. Carefully, he unwraps the grease-stained cloth, unveiling a rather familiar object. A battered, bronze flask, one that Vorian had almost always kept at his side. Pulling out the ornate stopper, he turns the flask over. Empty, but he had already known. Feeling his stomach sinking, he leans back in the chair once more and takes a deep breath. Only he and the man before him knew the the meaning of this. Something had gone terribly wrong, more so than before. Hansel sits in quiet contemplation for several long minutes before unseating himself and moving to the large window in the office. Peering through the thick glass, he looks down to the fog below. As always, shadows danced in the white blanket. The phenomenon had always fascinated him.

“Master Algora…?” Hubert tries gently, his tone carrying concern.

He is a fool, my father, Hansel thinks sorrowfully, looking back down at the bronze flask. Without his ichor and separated from Virago, it was obvious what “Vor” intended to do. For all he knew, he had already done it - Hansel just hoped that he was all right. He can leave me everything if he pleases, but not yet. Not like this. I’ll have him tell me everything first, and then… we can decide together whether it is House Algora or Ritter that rises to the top.

“Hubert, can you handle the rest of these?” he asks suddenly, gesturing toward the remainder of the mail. The unexpected news had put him into an unusually sentimental mood.

”I… am going to pay mother a visit.”

Gentleman Adventurer
Ralph Tyranis wrote:
The young captain turns his head towards Vorian as he appears "Hey Ringo, good ta see ya. Tanks fur yer help back den, we'd'a ne'er made it outta dere witout 'cha" He shook his head "Dis cap'in ting's still weird, ain't 'xactly used ta havin no 'sponsibility."

"On the contrary, I do believe it is to you that we all owe our lives," Vorian replies sincerely, "Though I must confess, it feels strange that I still know you our captain only as 'Squirrel'. Might I trouble you for your name?"

Female Helmet Cat

"Ah, yes, that's right. What is your actual name? I doubt it is Squirrel, that's not even a proper name for a helmetcat, and normally we are the ones who get these kinds of names," remarks Kittington, looking up towards Ralph. "Also, I agree. So long as she is stable, she will be fine. I can't connect to her through helmetspace, though, so she must feel quite alone. I'm sure she will like hearing voices around her if she can. I appreciate you being here."

The young man known only as Squirrel shrugs his shoulders "Seemed a' good a name 's any. 'spose ya could use ma full name if ya like Squirrelonious Van Reddenbaucker da fort... seems kin'a formal dough"

He nods towards Kittington "Well if ya tink it'll help I'll try ta come visit 'er when I can... Jack keeps a purdy tight leash dough 's gettin hard ta 'scape."

Gentleman Adventurer

"Fair enough, Captain Reddenbaucker," Vorian replies with a grin, not at all intent on pushing the issue. "But I do suppose we threw formality to the wind some time ago. So 'Squirrel' will have to do."

His expression shifts as he turns to regard Mittens once more. "I am sure we will find Lord Rorenson soon enough... or he will find us."

Female Helmet Cat

Duchess Kittington von Meowselsworth II also decides not to press the issue, mostly because calling out that name as sounding fake would be the pot calling the kettle black. "Yes, I hope that we will all reunite soon enough, and not just for my daughter's sake. I worry for everyone who we've lost track of, there are plenty of threats out there that we have to face. I prefer to face them together."

Eleanor, Duchess of Montresor, snorted at a young girl and waved her back a pace or two with disgust, holding a lacy square to her nose. "Heavens, child, are you ill? What do you mean, coming here and coughing at me like that?"

The girl, who had never done anything more unfortunate in her life than be more naturally comely than Eleanor had ever been in her days of best beauty, and poor enough to be willing to take a well-paying job even if it made her miserable, backed away obediently with another slight curtsey. "Please, ma'am, I thought you would want to know. The Vatican was closed and all the tourists expelled. They say... they say there is a woman there ... some say she is of the Massri family... claiming to be a goddess and calling for God to appear." She knew the early notice would be enough to avoid a beating for not bringing her the lastest gossip instantly, but only hoped it would be enough for an extra coin or two in her pay, if her mistress remembered. Her family was entirely dependent upon her salary, so anything she could do for the cantankerous and capricious Duchess might help them immeasurably.

Eleanor's plucked-chicken eyebrows raised nearly to the edge of her wig, causing layers of caked-on makeup to crack and flake off, sliding down the slopes of her nose and cheeks and drifting gently onto the vast front of her dress. "Well... that IS interesting." Her jowls jiggled as she chewed at nothing while ruminating on this news, an unconscious habit the girl thought made her look like a gigantic, ugly sheep. Once she made a decision, though, the Duchess of Montresor was lightening-fast, thrusting a bundle of correspondence at the girl with an impatient wave. "Here! Take these and post them immediately. Dab a bit of perfume on that top one.Now go! Instantly! And tell Jakob I am not to be disturbed until dinner." She turned back to her writing desk and began inking a new missive so furiously the nib of her pen bent and she hurled the unreliable instrument across the room.

The girl took the packet with another genuflection and exited quietly, closing the door behind her and passing along the warning to the expressionless doorman. She stopped at Eleanor's dressing table for the ordered perfume, and, smiling slyly, quickly dabbed a generous amount of each of the dozen or so perfumes onto the letter. Her work would not be checked and she hoped to save another poor soul from the grasping talons of the Duchess' machinations. Nodding to the butler, she slipped out onto the street and set a course for the nearest post office.


A weary, middle-aged woman nursing a glass of harsh red in a Roman taproom was telling the harrowing story of her journey on the seaside road between Nice and Sanremo when she heard the rumors of a Massri appearing in the Vatican. Blinking with surprise, she recalled the directive to deliver her message to Rashida Massri, in Rome. Well, the Vatican is in Rome, so technically... Tossing a few lire on the table, she drained her wine and headed to her motorbike, wanting this commission over and done so she could return to her family. It was good to get away from their squabbling from time to time, but this had been a long trip, and she longed for their company again.


As the buzz circulated around Rome, the faithful flocked to St. Peter's Square, armed with rosary beads and faith, there to pray for their Pope, His Holiness Peter II, to be strong against the heathen. Watching closely for signs of unrest, the Swiss Guard ringed the perimeter, ready to control or protect the crowd should... whatever... happen.


Sam's fur was warm under her hand, but his purring presence only made Rashida miss the Duchess Kittington even more: the thought of her warmth, kindness, and wisdom, more fully revealed by the time they had shared within the helmetcat's body, was a comfort to the neo-avatar. With Ma'at's absence came a keen awareness of the absence of others, too, friends all. They have become very dear to me. I hope... the 'other' is taking good care of them. Maybe someday I'll see them again.

The clear sounds of an opening door and pacing tread echoed through the cavernous space, approaching slowly. Rashida remained immobile, head high, despite the lack of Ma'at's presence. An elderly man dressed entirely in scarlet entered her vision, flanked by two Swiss guards looking moderately nervous through their determined attempts at poker faces. The man stopped before her and nodded courteously, dark eyes bright with intelligence beneath thick, snowy brows.

"I am Cardinal Mancini, Vicar General of Rome. These gentlemen insisted upon accompanying me, though I would prefer they did not. I welcome you to the Holy See, madam." He fell silent and looked at Rashida meaningfully. She noticed he had not addressed her as either "Lady" nor "Massri". No assumptions, I see.

"Greetings, Cardinal Mancini. I am known as Rashida Massri in this place. I bring warning and counsel regarding a grave threat to this world and others." She didn't know precisely what Ma'at would say, but that seemed a politic enough thing to begin with.

"Indeed? I was informed that you insisted upon speaking to God." The man was polite, but taciturn. Rashida could not blame him. This was as much a game as the poker she used to play in college, but with much higher stakes.

"There are forces in play that will require all the gods of this world and their adherents to work together to save Earth, Cardinal."

"Excellency," growled one of the guards, "You will address the Vicar General of the Holy See as Excellency."

Startled, Rashida paused for a moment, barely able to wrap her mind around the concerns of formalities when all of reality could hang in the balance. The Cardinal waved one heavily-veined hand slightly, almost dismissively. "Peace, Heinrich. The Lady Massri may not be familiar with our customs."

A smile curled the very edges of Rashida's lips. "Indeed, Excellency, I meant no disrespect. You may address me as..." She paused, letting the silence grow to uncomfortable length, then completed her smile. "Rashida. The matters I would take up with the Church are far too important to stand on formality. You know my family and its reputation. I am one of the... newer members and am not here lightly. You must hear me."

"Do you speak for your family then, young lady?" the Cardinal asked warily, trying to find his political footing.

Golden light grew around Rashida and the voice that issued from her echoed strangely. "Young? I was ancient before your kind walked on two legs, Cardinal. Convene your high council, quickly, and summon your God. We have no time to waste with formalities and games."

The guards knuckles whitened as they held their halberds ready.

Ma'at had returned.

Ralph matches Vorian's grin "Well ta tell ya a secret Ringo, I ain't ne'er been one fer formalities ta begin wit."

He taps his chin smudging the soot with his finger. Noticing the black smear on his finger he produces a handkerchief from his pocket, which up until now was probably the cleanest thing on his person, and proceeded to wipe his hands clean, more or less clean anyway. "Come ta tink o' it you Joes ain't so hoitey-toitey 's I'd 'spect wit all yer fancy titles, ya put alotta fait in some gu'ersnipe witout a penny ta his name. Ain'tcha wurry I'd letcha down?"

Dance-oholic Minx

Leaning over the railing of the airship with a trifle more abandon than is prudent, her auburn locks whip across her face. Eyes shining as the wind gusts about, she turns to Rashida.

Never one for over-much introspection, Cassies' mind had been in a whirl ever-since Gahiji's claw swung down towards Rashida's midriff. However as she's confronted by the mechanised guise of the Goddess and her words, Cassandra's reply builds up inside - so many questions and queries. Though these would do nothing to reassure the troubled lady beside her, pulling a lock of wind-blown hair from pert full lips - the protector trepidatiously reply.

As she starts to speak she feels the tension slip from her, never one to be tongue-tied her thoughts coalesce into a flow of conciousness. To the others aboard the ship the pair of women converse, the words lost amongst the rising Mediterranean wind. For a warm front is promised to dispel the cold winter that holds firm.

Gentleman Adventurer

"Well, I do confess there was a moment when I thought you were going to get us all killed," Vorian replies, recalling that tense moment when the Phantom had faced Virago's main gun head-on. "But you handled the entire situation splendidly!"

The noble's expression then hardens slightly, his tone becoming more serious. "It was only fair that we give you a chance. That is how this little group of ours started... we all gave each other another chance. There... really was not much of a reason to trust one another to start with." In a more jovial tone, he adds, "Besides. There was a time when I was not so 'noble' myself. But then, I do not think I would have trusted me..."

Female Helmet Cat

"I agree with Vorian. As I see it, we are playing a game every bit as dangerous as the party game we played with Von Ryuko. I thought the best of people until I had any reason to doubt," says the Duchess. "And I have no reason to doubt you. You've helped us where we could. Your actions are far more important than noble blood, so I have not given any thought to worrying about whether you would let us down."

A great mist begins to form across the surface of Lake Constance. A wind begins to ripple the water of the lake sending it towards the shores where Friedrichshafen waits. Electrical activity sparks in the deepest part of the mist, never visible unless one is much too close to the center. And at its heart one of the lake's three islands...an island returning from places unknown.

A thunderous roar sounds across the lake pushing the mist before it like a vanguard before the main host. The citizens of Friedrichshafen weathered the army of storm and sound as they always did. These sudden freak microbursts of fog and thunder were a common enough occurrence only the tourists and other visitors were caught off guard. Street-smart hawkers swooped in to take advantage of such innocents immediately offering water-proof gear in advance of the evident "rain" the mists announced while the residents and those in the know merely protected their tea and food with the covers always handy at the outside tables then resumed conversation and eating once the mist dispersed.

Adamo Mancini, Dottore di Ricerca checked the gauges on the shift panel before giving the nod to release the airlocks and reconnect with the glass tube which led under the lake. Without any preamble, the intercom produced the sound filled with static of a female's voice repeating "Hail, Docktor Mancini," with a sultry yet bored tone.

"Ah! Eccellente! He is here," the Laboratory's chief scientist says with a wicked smile. Pointing to one of his many experimental minions, he barks an order.

"You! Vai! Open the airlock and see our benefactor to a waiting room. And take a route to avoid il passaggio filled with distruzione!" The minion wobbles quickly out of the room, its misshapen legs carrying it much faster than one would expect, its arms gangly and swinging almost as if keeping them controlled was more difficult or simply forgotten.

Dottore Mancini sniffs angrily at what the interlopers had done to his beautiful facility. But not to let that deter him, he checked his impeccable grooming in the mirror polished shine of a bulkhead in the control room. Then gathering his files and papers for presenting, he quickly exits the room.

He moves past the various research areas on his way, the wondrous beauty of the information being learned as beings from other places and locations are being dissected and in some cases reassembled making him want to pause and get involved. But not today! The Benefactor could not be kept waiting. He was not a man to tolerate delay.

Breathlessly, Dottore Mancini stopped himself just outside the door and took a few breaths to regain his usual calm. Fixing a delighted smile on his face, he entered the visitation room. His first sight was one of a voluptuous female with dancer's legs so very exposed as the slit of her skirts had fallen open from the almost feline pose she held on the chaise where she lay almost prone. Her languid smile and the half-lidded appearance of her sultry eyes made her seem as one high on any number of drugs, but the dottore knew better. Trois-C Sollier always looked this way because the benefactor desired it so. And whatever he desired...

"Il mio magnifico patron! I have so much to tell you about our resear-" the dottore burst out, but stopped as the man in the red coat before him raised his hand. And the benefactor smiled that maddening smile and said...

"We will get to that. First, il mio dottore brillante, tell me about the jack of war the Satyxis showed you."

And the Baron's smile deepened and brought only madness.

Ephemeral GameMaster

Two months have passed since the conversation between Ma'at and Pope Peter II...

Our heroes have arrived in Rome, Great City of the Arts, and location of the powerful Roman Catholic Church. Rome had much to offer the nobles and their newest companions in the way of allies, information, and resources. Yet, dark and sinister plots and the agents of their enemies also lurk here. The time had not passed without incident, and the band of would-be heroes had gotten little respite in the Great City of Arts.

Today, they had agreed to gather once again, the swirl of fate around them; history shaping itself after a pattern for those keen enough to see it. But does the pattern drive them, or do they hold the key to its design?

As the next chapter in A World Without End begins, much has changed. And so enter, our heroes...

It is a gloomy day in Rome following the Easter celebration. Rumor has it, the Pope had ordered a special heavy amount of additional fêting after some kind of disturbance that occurred a month or so back. Despite all the joy and the copious amounts of wine that flowed following the more solemn religious ceremonies observing the Christ's return to life, a strange pall seemed to pervade the city. It was a place on edge for all the pageantry displayed and happiness the holiday would normally bring. Behind the smiles and drunken behavior is an unease and distrust, and already some less than savory incidents have happened for those who are marginalized or already seen as different.

A serv-bot is seen leaving a small hotel in located in the Monti district a short walk from the now residential district close to the Tiber's banks. Definitely not an uncommon sight, yet perhaps this little cog has secrets to keep...perhaps not.

Female Helmet Cat

"None of you can understand how it is to be plunged into some kind of boring coma. I want to have a party with plenty of drugs and alcohol," says Mittens, feeling particularly talkative since she had awaken from her helmet's sleep. "I couldn't even form catbrain thoughts before, and I intend not to be able to tonight. But this time on my own terms! Who knows, maybe I'll dig my claws in a little piece of history and just... wreck it!" The tuxedo cat kneads into the boards of The Phantom in anticipation. "Actually, can I get drunk, or does my helmet somehow filter out my blood with the flimsy excuse of purging 'toxins'. Well, perhaps I'll need to get my claws into a little bit of-"

"No. No, you will stop this chain of thought," says Kittington, "You are not old enough, the helmet will filter your thoughts at least, so all that will happen is that your senses will dull, your movements will slow and you will not enjoy yourself. No sense in that, is there? Besides... last time you smelled wine you sneezed it all over the place." She adds an admonishing tut, like any judgmental mother might. She hops up to the edge of the landed ship to look out at the celebrating city, tail flicking slowly back and forth. You have MeowMail! The Duchess quickly dismisses the notification, neither reading nor deleting the message that she had been storing since shortly after their meeting with Ailuros and Gahiji. All these enemies that we've made, and still little sign who is working with whom. I'll have to remember to review my notes so that we do not get caught by surprise here, at least.

"I c'n git ya Chief... well n'a so much wit da catbrain n da drugs, but I feel yer bor'dom. Jack managed ta find an' block of mosta my 'scape routes meanin' I gotta stay put an' lissen ta da book learnin' all day. Ain't da most 'citin time, a shindig oughta do sum good. I needs a 'scuse ta spend sum time wit sum dolls, 'fore all i c'n tink of is nav'gation an ship functions... I ain't even seen Kit in prolly 2 weeks."

Ralph shrugs his shoulders hearing Kittington's admonition "Well momma says no on da self-induced coma, but I ain't her her say no party. Maybe good time ta unwind. I ain't re'lly tink da coma was such a good idea anyway."

Female Helmet Cat

"Well, I'll avoid comas. For you, mother! See what I have to put up with?" says Mittens, pretending to be exasperated. "That particular coma was worse, since I couldn't access helmetspace during that time due to the damage. Imagine if I had died in that moment! Chilling."

"Truly," says Kittington.

"Anyways, party time. Carry me, Ralph!" demands Mittens, standing up tall to make it easier.

"Bored? I don't know who could be bored in La Bella Roma, the eternal city, capital of the world," Rashida enthuses, dark eyes shining as she peers over the rail to survey the immense city spread out before them, "I've always wanted to visit. Sure, it's greatly under the control of the Catholic church now, but its history is much, much longer. Imagine! Caesar, Nero, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra all set their feet on these streets! And there's so much to see and do. I want to explore the catacombs! And the Pantheon! And Trajan's Column! Oh, and of course the Colosseum!" Her unmanicured hands are clasped together in an effort to avoid clapping with delight, though she can't suppress her excitement, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet like a small child.

Day by day, as she relaxes around her new acquaintances, this "Rashida" grows more and more different from the vessel of the goddess who attended the Baron's party. Though the image of their old friend, she acts more like a college student on a tour of Europe, delighted with the idea of visiting Rome unfettered by ties to Ma'at or the Massri family. Where Rashida is always immaculately groomed, this other Rashida is more casual, dressing down and rarely bothering with nails, makeup, or jewelry. Uncannily, she knows almost everything their friend does and tells the same stories in the first person. "When I was in school in Friedrichshafen..." "This one time, my bodyguard..." "One of the priests who raised and trained me..." Yet she has no memories of the Baron's party and is, if anything, rather frightened when the name "Taraz" is mentioned. It can be... unsettling.

Ralph looks down at the order giving cat briefly wondering what she'd do if he didn't pick her up, though not having any reason to refuse other than curiosity he leans down to get her holding the small fuzzy being in his arms. "Ok Chief, where we goin? fer dis party."

The young man cracks a grin at Rashibot "Well not so 'citin when yer inna coma, or stuck book lernin. Glad ta see yer in good spi'its Cleo, also likin yer new relaxed look. Not dat ya ain't look good 'fore jus' more hoity toity 'n I'm really used ta. I know ya wanna run out an' see stuff, but yer gonna come ta Chief's party right?" Ralph really didn't have that much trouble getting comfortable with Rashibot, it might have helped that he never knew Rashida, didn't know Taraz, and hadn't been part of the crazy death party that pushed them all together. Also apparently the fact that she was made up of gears and springs didn't seem to matter to him. On the other hand it could just be that Ralph didn't have trouble acting comfortable around anyone, any formality was pretty much lost to him.

"New look?" Rashida looks puzzled. "Oh. Right. Well, to me... me, you understand, it's only a month or two since I graduated from the University. So it's not really a new look. I tried to look like most of the other kids, as long as they were decently dressed. I was never a snob," she sniffs.

"But nobody here is in a coma or stuck 'book learning', so I hope you all will come see the sights with me! I'll go to whatever party, whenever." She grins at the recovering helmetcat. "Always up for a good time!"

Turning back to the rail, she again surveys the Eternal City which glows in the sunlight below them, the brisk breeze ruffling her ebon hair and setting it swinging as it plasters her dress against her body. Suddenly, one hand shoots out, pointing at something below.

"Look, the Pantheon! You can see the oculus from here!" she squeals, like any common tourist, heedless of expected Massri dignity.

Alyce leans on the rail nearby, likewise gawking at the architecture below. She has placed herself near Cassie, as usual, occasionally peeking at the graceful, daring socialite to catch her reactions to events and conversation.

"I would like to see the city, too, and go to parties. I'd particularly like to see the sights at night." She leans heavily on the last two words, eyes flicking to Cassie's face to see the reaction. As the others chat and point out sights below, she finally scoots closer to the (in?)famous dancer to tug on her sleeve and whisper in her ear.


"Um, Mme. DuSollier? I mean, Cassie? Are you... you know... planning any work in Rome? Because I sure would like to go along and help out with... whatever you need done. If, uh, if you need help. I mean, it's not like you need help. I know that. But if you would take me along, I could maybe help and maybe learn some things from you. Please?"

The girl's fair face flushes bright pink and she ostentatiously stares over the rail, not looking at the lovely cat burglar beside her.

Dance-oholic Minx

She looks out across the spires of the city for few moments in quiet contemplation. 'Was I like her when I was young, so enthusiastic and innocent?'

Raising her chin and inclining her head slightly, so that her profile is silhouetted towards the youthful Alyce, she replies softly with a note of caution; "Certainly, I can show you some of the most fabulous sights. However follow my lead for we wouldn't want to get in any trouble...." Her lips quirk softly as she turns to her companion as they share a look.

The girl's eyes fly open wide. "Realllly?" she breathes softly, "That would be amazing!" She resumes her watch over the rail with a huge grin.

"Well, I need to start dressing for our 'tour'," Rashida sighs, turning from the rail to head belowdecks. "Part of our bargain was that I'd play the decoy and keep the family's attention on me. So it's back to fancy nails and a load of greasepaint for me. I think it'll be pretty safe today, at least, if anybody else wants to go with me to sightsee. I'm not sure how mad the family is about what happened to the Ament, but that could make things nasty once I make a lot of noise in town about being a Massri."

An unusually thoughtful look flickers across the lovely face. "Maybe I should simply check in at the family compound, like nothing is wrong. She made us look like she was fleeing for her life. But besides Gahiji trying to kill me, the family has done nothing to me. They always have deniability with Gahiji, his temper is so awful." She worries a ruby lip with perfect white teeth, eyes distant as she thinks hard about the situation. "If one of us doesn't check in, they're liable to freeze the family accounts that we're familiar with. I don't know about you guys, but I like having a lot of money." Her nose wrinkles at the thought of poverty and despair.

"I need to think about this. After all, they didn't plan for me to find out about my, er, condition. Lord Taraz..." she shivers at the name "... pretty much clued me in. But if Gahiji went back home, he would have told them that I was in Morocco and now know about my construction, and that I'm with you. The family will know who I am. I need to figure out what to do to re-establish myself as the weak Rashida."

She looks around at those gathered on deck. "I may need some help with this."

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