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14 posts. Alias of pinvendor.


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 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... 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.

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 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...

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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...

Ophelia's tail lashed as she stood on a parapet looking down from the floating fortress of Neuschwanstein. Roren was busy dining some of the Assassin clan heads who were of course all there to make an attempt on either each other's or Roren's life. That's just how it is with assassins. Even as she watched, various agents were trying to sneak around the various towers, arches, and belfries. Ophelia had never understood why Roren tolerated this nonsense. He had made it well known that he did not hold grudges for assassination attempts. He rightly boasted that if anyone could ever actually assassinate a Rorenson they deserved to do it. An assassin could actually walk up and announce themselves and be let in the gate. Of course, they would probably be killed immediately. Neuschwanstein didn't take kindly to attempts on the Rorensons' lives. As long as there was some attempt at subtlety, would-be-assassins might even get a meal before they died.

The figures below her looked mouse sized. She resisted an urge to swat at the distant images as they were currently the right size for her to play. Assuming that distance was not relative. But then being a helmetcat, it was indeed relative. Small could mean far or close and long and sideways or even diagonal. She could see which vector she could slide along in order to catch that particularly mousey looking fellow near the Nightmare Garden. She felt her claws flex out and a feeling of murder came to her.

Suddenly, what would have seemed a giant Vlad appeared over the edge of one of the arches and pounced on one of the random agents. The man's screams were satisfying to Ophelia's ears. Vlad's claws made short work of the man leaving wounds of claymore caliber rent into his soft flesh. Vlad began to tear strips away for fun, blood splattering all over his fur and on his centurion style helmet. As always, Vlad took it too far.

Ophelia cuffed him with her paw and bent the corner of size bringing Vlad back to standard acceptable helmetcat dimensions. This had the disorienting effect on any who witnessed as Vlad simultaneously was the same size but in a new location relative to the viewer's perception or shrank in size but was in the same place. Either way once everyone's sense of time, space, and distance was suddenly restabilized leaving sanity crippling questions about the nature of reality, Vlad was hopping to his feet just below where Ophelia sat.

He hissed at her angrily. A tremor of irritation sent a small surge of energy through the "veil" of her helmet.

"Do not test my patience, Vlad. We have no time for foolishness. The timestream has suddenly begun displaying the Doctor's emotions. Blast that Mittens! It's confounding how she consistently finds ways to muddy up the stream and distort the frequencies."

Vlad chuckled and began cleaning the blood off of one paw. "You only say that because it keeps you from being able to control more helmet code than you have a right to, Princess Ophelia."

Ophelia's eyes narrowed at this. The Meowselsworth brood had long been a thorn in her paw. She was certain that butler was somehow the key to the Duchess' undoing. "That may be, but we are certainly no closer to permanently solving the von Ryuko problem. Roren is certain that if he lets this situation with his son and the Massri girl play out, von Ryuko will make a mistake...I have strong doubts of this."

Vlad pauses mid lick and gives Ophelia a sly grin. "Oh? Didn't I tell you? Taraz was spotted several hundred miles away from the last sighting of the Massri. He's in Spain...with the prototype."

Ophelia mrowred. "He must be going to see...! No! She wouldn't actually help him would she?"

Vlad flicked his tail in answer and continued to clean himself. His attitude suggested he could very well believe it. Ophelia whirled in a huff and was gone, leaping back several minutes to a previous moment of her own in order to have those narcissistic conversations she had as she really only trusted herself to argue with herself. Vlad placed the lightest whisker touch on the timestream to wait until Ophelia had crossed the seconds just before the agents had begun crawling on the castle. Again, Vlad saw himself as he leaped to pounce on the fool assassin. He abruptly stopped cleaning himself as he now knew no one was watching him. He stretched and released his claws mightily. Then with what would transmute into a roar like angry turbine, Vlad traveled back into a size and time and proceeded to slaughter the fools thinking they could actually assassinate a Rorenson...

...Richard had gone further down into the Clockwork Theater's workings. The chaos around him had aided him as he skulked through its innards. He had not located Investigator Clousuk anywhere, but instead...

What he had found below had had some terrifying implications and needed to be reported immediately. He thought he had seen his contact Alyce serving up in that box housing the Princess Alexia Veritas. He hoped he could find her and get her out of here. Richard knew he was too close to Clousuk to risk a report directly, but if he couldn't find Alyce...there might not be anyone else who could tell the Lodge this dire news...

...Frau Gretel Stuptmann sighed in a huff as she sat down at her desk, frustration showing plainly.

Damn that infernal woman! Rashida Massri was asking for the kobold to be "found". For all Gretel knew the kobold was dead already. And if the Massris were to become displeased, that could be a serious hiccup. She had known this was going to be a problem.

Suddenly a listening tube behind her stopped playing music. And a deep almost musical bass voice began to say words in a snide tone. And then screaming started.

The opera had been interrupted...

"By the!" Gretel's voice came out in a whisper.

There came a great groaning sound deep within the theater. It sounded like metal grating and steam hissing in discordant counterpoint. The sound echoed through the vents and crawlspaces. The hallways of the Clockwork Theater boomed with the distress of metal and colored steam leaked from places unexpected.

Gretel stood and looked around her office, her eyes wild.

"Stay calm, Viktor! I will get the opera on track! Please!" Gretal raised her hands. "J-just give me a little time."

There was a strange metallic rumble that seemed to be only right in the office.

"Let me find out what's happening. I will get them singing again, I promise!"

Inwardly Gretel was thankful she had already initiated the power-up procedure. Jamming a button on the console she said trembling, "Gretel authorization code D5 Gamma 7!"

She moves from behind the desk and moves to a painting situation above a chaise.

"Fredrick!! she shouts. A ginger haired man pokes his head in the room. Gretel frantically waves at him. Her assistant quickly rushes over to help her move the heavy frame. Gretel opens a panel with several toggle switches.

Frederick's eyes go wide. "Are you sure, Frau Stuptsmann?"

"Ja," the theater owner says simply and begins to flip the switches.

...the current owner of the opera house frets over the reports of readings from the steam room. Some of the spirit integrations were still erratic without any reasonable explanation. Gretel Stuptsmann shook here head. Whatever was planned for their elimination better not prevent the procurement process. She needed the emotional energy from the audience to be collected without incident.

She glanced up at the pair of technicians and the eerie construct next to them. Their simple overalls and belts of tools belied the fact that they were not just simple engineers or empathizers. The man and woman showed little emotion visibly, but Gretel could see the sweat trickling down their faces. They were worried she might send a unfavorable response back with them. It was a long walk through the tunnel under the lake to reach the research facility, and an unfavorable response would probably see them both killed at the end of it. Running would be pointless. The strange construct next to them made sure of it. It was their bodyguard of course, as well as de facto jailor.

It was humanoid in shape, nothing more than a brass skeletal structure. Except instead of organs, the construct housed several deadly looking weapons tucked inside the "ribcage" or grafted to the limbs. It was rumored they could even self-detonate, though no one had lived to confirm the truth of it if so. The constructs went by a rather uncharacteristic name: ViSpers. Gretel had never found a technician who was willing to explain its significance.

Gretel wished she had a few of the facility's constructs here. That would keep those unruly singers and actors in line. She chuckled at the notion. The male technician before her desk swallowed nervously.

She raised an eyebrow. "What happens at the facility, hmm? You technicians allows look like Death is standing over you." There was a moment where no one in the room looked at the ViSper so pointedly, it was the obvious elephant. Delicious. Gretel so enjoyed that discomfort.

After another minute, she could tell the technicians were starting to wonder how they could answer. The woman parted her lips, "F-Frau Gre-..."

Gretel waved a hand. "Forget it. This report doesn't look too different than I expect even if it is disappointing." She signed her name to the psychotropic page and then kissed it. The paper's contents vanished. The ink would only resurface once the correct reemergence gas was applied. She slid it into the message tube and held it out to the pair.

"Make sure you advise Herr Doktor Mancini I want him to find out what is upsetting the theater's engines. If he can't solve it, his ability to open those rifts he's so fond of will fail disastrously." Gretel smiled sweetly. "And we wouldn't want my next report to say that my wishes were being ignored, would we?" Gretel knew full well if she suggested such a thing, Luciano Mancini would merely blame the couriers for not providing him the correct documents which would result in the couriers...disposal.

The man took the tube carefully, and said, "I will convey the message myself, Frau Stuptsman." Quickly the pair left. With a small puff of soundless steam and spirit gas, the ViSper followed them. Its joints somehow quiet even if its footsteps were not.

Watching them depart, Frau Gretel frowned. There was an odd feel in the air, and despite the steamfire she shivered. Something was going to happen, and she feared it would disturb the performance. Gretel eyed a button on a panel of her desk. After a moment of hesitation, she pressed it and began to speak.

"Gretel Stuptsman. Code Beta Drei Einz. Initiate..."

...a young man in a military dress uniform approaches Master Reginald Ichorven, Officer of His Majesty's Service, Department of Otherwordly Citizens. Reginald stands talking to some important citizens and minor nobility making small talk as the soldier patiently waits to be acknowledged. After a moment of smiles displaying perfect teeth, Reginald extricates himself from the conversation and moves to the side of the soldier.

"Lt. Kurtz?" Reginald said.

The young lieutenant nods. "The otherworlder did not emerge from the box. Only the actor Drake Khoth was seen coming out. Should I deploy the sniffer teams, sir? The Jelar hounds will find her for sure."

Sighing, Reginald takes a moment to consider this. He taps one well manicured finger on his chin. "No. Frau Stuptsman would never forgive me if people fled the theater at seeing the Jelar prowling the halls." Not to mention the need to not interfere with the Grimveldt's wetworkers. "We will wait to bring in the Jelar teams until after the opera has let out. We'll track her down in the night away from the theater.

At that moment a small Serv-Bot darts out from amongst the many people and approaches Lt. Kurtz with a sealed note. The soldier accepts it and reads it, an eyebrow raised. Wordlessly, he passes it to Reginald.

Reginald scans it and then lets out a delicate huff of irritation. "It would seem my liaison with Master Ingervan's new bride will have to wait for another night. I must return to the Registry." Looking at the lieutenant, Reginald said, "Go then. Track the devil woman down. But only deploy the Jelar hounds after the opera lets out. Dismissed."

Lt. Kurtz snaps his heels and salutes. Striding away into the crowd, he's already formulating orders for the soldiers and civil servants in the opera house.

Reginald received his coat and signaled for his coach. It was looking to be a long night at the Registry. So many things needed to be seen to. So many things.

...Heimel Vaughn der Justicia was the last to arrive in Frau Gretel Stuptsmann's study. He harrumphed at seeing that Eleanor, Dowager Duchess of Montresor was already there. He supposed that bit of time wasted with that coarse trollop had affected his time table. He grumbled as he sat down in the chair near the door. Eleanor had taken the one by the steamfire in which he had planned to sit. Heimel liked that chair best as it was large and the arms didn't press up against his girth.

"By the sound of that agitation, I would say that our dear der Justicia has finally arrived. How fortunate are we," a thin voice in a chair facing the steamfire said. The contempt was dripping, and Heimel felt his blood rise. However, he knew better than to respond and kept his snarling reply under his breath. The voice continued, "We may begin."

Colored waves of heat emanated from the steamfire as the nippy chill from the lake had already begun to attempt its nightly invasion of the theater. The room was warm thanks to the colors, but Heimel had never really become comfortable with the strange manipulation of steam that stripped it's natural white to make rainbows.

Heimel could see Count Jeter Grimveldt and his wife Countess Natasha seated on the piano bench to the speaker's left. Both were expressionless as always. That annoying habit they had of blinking at the same time unnerved him. Eleanor cooed from her warm and spacious chair. Good gracious was she a rhino! Frau Gretel Stuptsmann sat in a large thronelike chair behind the desk from which she ran the theater. And on the right of the speaker was Master Reginald Ichorven, Officer of His Majesty's Service, Department of Otherwordly Citizens sat partially sprawled on a divan. That ever present smirk on his face really galled Heimel. A commoner who had only been able to get into this circle because he was at the right place to be bribed. He's insufferable good looks always turned heads, and many whispered his smooth tongue would win him the selection as Prefect of Friedrichshafen soon.

"Many of you are aware of why we are here, but for the sake of der Justicia, I will say it plain." Heimel ground his teeth.

"We are threatened. Someone has arrived unexpectedly. And we must act. Tonight."

Eleanor cried out in distress and held a meaty hand to her head. "Must there be unpleasantness tonight? I planned to allow a handsome gentleman to woo me. Perhaps you saw him when I entered? If action must be taken here, I may be too flustered to allow his pursuit."

Frau Gretel said, "Was it that well-suited gentleman with the silvery hair? I must say, if he is taken with you, you definitely shouldn't play hard to get, Eleanor." Frau covered her mouth as she let out a lady-like chuckle. The Dowager Duchess' chortle had absolutely nothing in common with "lady-like".

"Ladies, please. This is serious talk," the thin-voiced man said with impatience. "If this is handled badly..." The sound of swishing indicated fine hair moving probably as the speaker shook his head against a silk collar. "We must consider how to proceed."

"Ahem," Reginald coughed slightly. With a dazzlingly smile he said, "I have it on good authority that a certain unregistered Otherwordly Citizen is at the opera. My man remembers the giant gold walking staff the Devil Amazon was wielding. It's been sighted on the premises in the hands of a striking and tall woman. Considering the Devil Amazon came in off of the rift that opened, she may be part of that pirate rabble that always disrupts the research on the other end. Tell yourselves her appearance here is just a coincidence when we know they have arrived the same night. It just seems too...perfect."

Heimel didn't like the sound of that. He seemed to recall a woman holding a large metallic staff near that trollop and her mute date. He was warm and starting to sweat. He pulled a handkerchief from a tight pocket and began mopping his face.

"This performance of Don Giovanni cannot be disrupted! Frau Gretel said vehemently. "There are critical things at stake with the theater. The show will go on, so you're actions best not stop it all together."

The Count and Countess blinked in unison. Heimel jumped. Blustering, he blurted, "And what about the rumors of the Massri attending? You attempt to assassinate anyone, and if the Massri is harmed you could bring a lot of heat on us! My family is positioned! It wouldn't do for the Massris to know what has been happening at the facility! Let alone if the League finds out."

"Dear der Justicia, please calm yourself," the unseen speaker said. "I assure you the Massri will not be harmed. The Grimveldts have offered their best for this. And after all, how hard can it really be to eliminate them?" A slender hand is seen in a green velvet sleeve with a lace cuff at the wrist. It waves a dismissal. "Go now. Enjoy Don Giovanni. I doubt you will even notice the death of our...irritations."

Heimel didn't waste any time. He heaved his bulk from the chair and began to waddle from the room. Cold sweat dripped from his forehead. Twice now he had encountered that trollop and now this. He couldn't help but feel she was connected. Yes, yes, she must be. She was watching him. Von Ryuko's? No, probably a Mason. That wasn't good. Best to see that perhaps another elimination finished the night.

He wiped his face once more, his chest heaving from the effort of walking. And the sense of foreboding followed him through the halls.

Inside the Castle of Dream:
...some well armored guards assist the bedraggled Edgar from the presence of the Rorenson patriarch. Roren strokes his chin in contemplation. When the door to the grand study closes with a boom, he turns and looks out of the window. The ground is far below the beautiful wooded foothills spread out below him.

"Well?" he says. "Were his words truthful?"

Vlad spit. His helmet's bristle seemed to match the puffed up fur of his tail. It was shaped like that of a Roman Centurion's headpiece and with his mad eyes, made the helmetcat look very much imposing.

"If his words are true, he should be killed immediately! I volunteer."

Ophelia shook her head. Her helmet had been crafted to look like the headdress of a Persian princess, that long forgotten nation slaughtered in the Rydonxis Conflict of 1834. The strange neuromesh that made up the portion that would be the veil swished back and forth with a whisper of sound. Her eyes flared golden again as she looked at her mate.

"No, he must live for now. His hatred of Kittington will serve us well in the end. But if Kittington really has captured the ability of song..." Her eyes flicked to Roren narrowing dangerously.

"Yes, that would be a problem," Roren said. "But if I can extrapolate from other things of his tale, Kittington has either not realized the power she has uncovered or she has somehow blocked herself from knowing it. And wisely so. If the memory had been there, we would have had it long ago in the chronon dataspace."

Roren fell silent and watched the battle spread out on the plains below. The Romans were defeating the barbarian tribes. Their orderly ranks easily repelling the disorganized and wasteful attacks of the undisciplined horde.

"I want her!" Ophelia hissed. "Kittington has long been a thorn in my side even if indirectly. I will make her rue the day she meddled in my affairs."

"Aye," Vlad chuckled. "And I have long wished to try my claws against O'Malley. I have no doubt of my victory, but I would quell the whispers that he is my better in battle. His death would be sure to bring Kittington in line."

Roren contemplated the helmetcats' anger. Vlad was ever the sparkplug quick to deal bloody death, but Ophelia's venom was not so easily won. Far below, a murder of velociraptors circled a young triceratops intent on their meal. He could almost hear the tail lashing as the helmetcats waited for his response. Roren turned and looked at Ophelia. She sat still as a statue, golden eyes intent on him.

"I give you leave to investigate her. Now that she has taken up with my son and that young Massri girl, we must move carefully. Somehow I suspect that what happened at Enigma Perfetto was part of a larger design. And the von Ryukos have ever been...troublesome to us. We will proceed cautiously." Vlad hissed at this. "Now now, Vlad. I will give you some leeway. If you perceive a threat, you have my permission to eliminate it."

Vlad gives a mrowring chuckle. Roren glances down at the valley below as the army of replicants marches on Neuschwanstein.

"Is it tea time already?" Roren checks his pocketwatch. "Well then, let us go and make ready for our visitors. It would never do to keep the Assassin Clan Family Heads waiting, would it?"

Cassie DuSollier:
...a spindly nervous looking man stands before an office door that has frosted glass with some simple official letters on them stating the occupant was an agent of the League of Aristocracy's Internal Review Committee. It was a testament to the League's desire to show that their intent was to be one for the good of all. The Committee was designed to police the internal actions of the League's members so that any redress for "un-noble" activities could be swiftly dealt. It was also a testament to exactly what the League thought of such a notion as the occupant of the rundown office was in fact the only agent of the League of Aristocracy's Internal Review Committee.

The spindly man looked at the telegram in his hand with much trepidation, sighed in reluctant acceptance, and walked through the door. He was unprepared for the sight behind the frosted glass. A small creature with a lizard-like tail sticking out from under what was arguably a too large raincoat was standing on the room's desk reaching up high to place a wiggling squeaking mouse on the top of a large pile of carefully balanced objects. Shocked, the spindly man gasped which startled the unusual creature causing it to drop the mouse. The creature fell from the desk, and the carefully balanced knick-knacks tumbled to the floor around it.

"Clousuk! Agent Clousuk! Oh my goodness!" The man rushed over to the creature in the coat whose clawed limbs were now flailing amidst the large pile of items which had fallen on it. As he reached out his hand, the creature called Agent Clousuk popped up out of the mess. A mop seemed to be on its head. "Agent Clousuk! Are you alright?"

The odd creature opened its elongated muzzle and some sharp teeth were revealed. "But ov coors Ay am," Clousuk said with a terrible fake French accent. "Ay was meaning to do zat."

Clousuk surged to its little feet brushing off items from its coat. A banana peel, a rolodex, a part of what must have been a dollhouse, an empty bottle of whiskey, a pokeball, and most of a deck of cards fell to the floor. Other items lay at its feet, and the spindly man suddenly found himself trying to understand how these things had been balanced on the desk. Before he could come to any conclusions, Clousuk let out an "Ah-ha!" and promptly scooped up a peeled banana from the pile and popped it in his mouth. Then with quite a nonchalance about it, Clousuk puffed himself up and said, "What newz do tu have pour moi, Richard?" It didn't realize the mop end was still on its head.

Richard held out the telegram slowly. Clousuk's clawed hand snatched it quickly. Its eyes widened and two sets of eyelids blinked rapidly. It was a picture that our heroes would recognize as a headshot of Cassie DuSollier in her party wear, mask included. To anyone else such as Clousuk, it was a woman in a mask. A note attached indicated the woman in the picture had stolen an ornithopter from one Baron Eichorn von Ryuko. And that the last place this ornithopter had been seen was in the possession of Taraz Rorenson. The message went on to indicate it was believed Taraz must have purchased the ornithopter unaware of its stolen status.

"Ah-ha-ha! Zpirit Girl Zief! Ay haves you now!"

Richard groaned at this pronouncement.

"Richard we must take ze airsheep to Barcelona tout de suite! We must interrogot dis Ta-raz Roren-sun. Ay noh zis man will lead me to ze Zpirit Girl Zief, zis time!"

Richard sputtered. "Taraz..Taraz R-Rorenson? But-But..." Richard searched his mind rapidly for any excuse. "But what about the opera tonight? What about Don Giovanni? We can't leave Friedrichshafen until after the opera certainly?" Richard prayed Clousuk would give him more time before making such a rash move.

"Ah, yes. Ze opera," Clousuk scratched the scales on its nose in contemplation. "D'accord. We will leave tomorrow. Apres ze opera. But I make zis promees. I, Agent Clousuk of ze Internal Review Committee will capchoor zis female cat burglur. I must on behalf ov all kobold investigators everywhere!"

Sweeping up a nice fedora off the cluttered desk, Clousuk says, "Now come. Don Giovanni startz soon!" He has quite forgotten the mop end on his head and places the hat right on top of it. He takes a step towards the door and ends up stepping right on the banana peel he brushed off earlier. With a squawk, Clousuk crashes back into the pile of random things, clawed limbs and tail flailing wildly.

Richard covers his face with his hand and sighs.

...a middle-aged woman adjusts her goggles and drops some more crystal coal in her M-tek bike's spirit engine. She looks at her son once again.

"You're sure that wanton French hussy really said Massri?" Chasta asked. A small growl escapes her throat. "Gods, I wish I could avoid delivering this message."

The young man nodded, a blush suffusing his features as his memories of the 'hussy' betrayed him. "She said that the note was to be hand-delivered to no one other than a Rashida Massri. She gave enough gil for thirty times the delivery cost." He looked sheepish. Fool boy, she chuckled. A pair of pretty eyes and a shapely form had had him tripping all over his words.

Chasta looked around the humble messenger outpost where she and her family lived at the outskirts of the H'rel'kr Wastes between France, Spain and the Protectorate of Shusti. She had a feeling it would be a while before she returned...but 120,000 gil was enough to keep her family fed and the crystal coal bin full for more than a year. Grumbling she seated herself on the bike and whispered to the spirit. The engine roared to life.

"Be good my boy. And no sassing your father or your Papa. Help your sister with her studies. That money is going to allow you both a chance to get better learnin'. You best be ready. So study." She leaned over and kissed the young man barely old enough to be called that despite his protests. Then Chasta put up the kickstand, and began the long journey to where she was told Rashida Massri would be found.

It was a very long Rome.


The "hussy" stands on a cliff overhang high above the outpost. She glances over at the dark haired man next to her. She opens her mouth to speak, but hesitates. She finds herself shy even now. Ever since he had whirled her through the air and pinned her to that bed...she found herself a little in awe of him.

Eventually as the bike's dust trail goes off into the distance, she asks, "Do you really think Rashida will go to Rome? Do you think Cassie, Vorian and the Duchess, too?"

The man simply smiles and watches Chasta and her bike fade from view. A serv-bot runs amongst the rocks chasing a golden serpent slithering around the man's feet. He glances over at the pretty visage of a woman with whom he once shared a mutual...fondness. What a wonderfully awful temptation she is. Once, he may not have withheld his interest, but now...since the Lady Rashida...

"There is something you will learn about life in Neuropa. Rome is the center of the Cultural Arts. And in Neuropa...all roads lead to Rome."

A man sits in a very upright position at the edge of a rather antique chair in a lavish waiting lounge. He has the bearing of one used to genteel society, but he himself seems to almost overcompensate with his airs in the need to be taken as one. If one looks closely, the clothes are just a tad worn, perhaps slightly out of date...maybe even the clothes tailored for *gasp*, a servant.

Across the room sits an unmoving helmetcat. An observer may not even notice it or assume it is actually of the taxidermied variety. This would be belied if one listened to the occasional low hiss or the subtle display of claws that occurred almost reflexively for the briefest of moments. Its pattern of extremely dark blue almost black fur is very unusual especially as there is an almost cream color fur in a very thin line that seems to run down the edges of the helmetcat's defining lines almost like an outline. It watches the man intently, as if waiting for the man to make one wrong move.

The man for his part is thankful for his training, thankful for his years of servitude as a butler to allow him to be accustomed to be stoic in the face of...well, nobility. Nevertheless the tension in him mounted. Every minute he endured that helmetcat's stare - accursed creatures! - the more he felt the sweat bead on his brow. The silence and time stretched. He could hear the ticking of the grand clock on the mantle above the unlit fireplace. The sweat beaded up and became too heavy. A thin line of moisture ran down his temple.

The door to the room suddenly creaks open causing the man to jump. The helmetcat almost leaps up, haunches lifted ready to pounce. Its hissing is very noticeable now. The tail lashing is almost audible. The man arrests his reactionary jerk as his heart begins to pound. A very old wrinkled woman with much too serious eyes enters. Despite her apparent extreme age, she moves without hindrance and seems to have no infirmity.

"The Archduke will see you now." She says crisply. The man notices the lack of courtesy or appellation though it's almost as if he can hear what she wanted to say by the appalling hissing filled silence following that statement. Dog.

With a struggle, he maintains his composure though his face is somewhat ashen and his hands tremble. "Very well, I am ready. Lead on Miss Haversheim."

Miss Haversheim arches an eyebrow as the man "commands" her causing him to swallow hard, but she then turns briskly on her heel without a word and takes him through many labyrinthine halls. The sheer amount of wealth he sees is staggering, and he realizes how petty his own unfulfilled ambitions really were in the service of his Duchess. Nevertheless, he was here to get what was rightfully his....what should have been his! Revenge would be had.

She leads him to what appears to be a large library. Books and scrolls and data slates are all carefully placed in some cataloged order of precision that makes the man gasp in admiration. At the far back of the immense room stands an imposing figure of a man. Dark hair long and pulled back into a braid draped over a deep emerald green coat with a trim of gold thread is all the man can see of his host. Only the slightest touch of gray seems to wing the temples of the figure. The coat has a large crest of the figure's house embroidered across the back.

"The...butler...Your Grace," Miss Haversheim announced, her voice dripping with disdain.

With lightning speed, a black streak whips past the man's face and a slight sting scores his left cheek. He cries slightly in alarm only to see the devil helmetcat perch on a cushioned stand to the figure's right. So blue it seems black streak, the man's mind corrected. The helmetcat stared at the man, its tailing swishing in a self-satisfied way. He touched his face, and the shallow scratch burned. Suddenly he realized that he was also watched by a white helmetcat with a pattern of gold fur that resembled a decorative women's jewelry chain that ran along the top of its legs, back and tail. It peered at him inquisitively, it's large golden eyes seemed to look inside him. It tilted its head, and the man found himself mesmerized by its fascination with him. His hand began rubbing the scratch despite the burning sensation. The eyes of the helmetcat almost seemed to become alight with a fire, an internal sunburst that coursed its way through him. The pain in his cheek seemed to intensify, but the man couldn't figure out why. The helmetcat's head tilted further, and the man felt himself want to turn in response. He began to feel he needed to keep the helmetcat's eyes level, and not allow it to give him such an increasingly alarming stare. Yes, yes he needed to...

"Enough Ophelia. Let him be," said a rich baritone.

Suddenly the world came crashing back. The man found himself on his knees, his right cheek pressed to the floor. His own hand was furiously scrubbing at what had been a slight scratch, but now seemed furrowed by his own nails. The white and gold helmetcat eyes seemed a normal size and color now, and it watched him impassively from its perch on the figure's left, its fur pristine and beautiful. The man's mind now free and aware of the intrusion it suffered screamed at him to flee, to run screaming from the presence of these terrible helmetcats. Trembling, he managed to to swallow it by reminding himself that this was just further proof that all helmetcats were a blight, an abomination allowed to fester throughout history. He hated them. He hated all helmetcats! They had brought him to this most desperate act. He raised his head from the floor with a snarl marring his lips.

"There we are," the warm, inviting voice said again. "Now I can feel the anger, the need to redress the wrongs done you. Now you are ready to tell me everything. Aren't you Edgar?"

The figure raised a hand. A serv-bot in the form of an imperial soldier Edgar hadn't seen deposited a crystal wine glass into the outstretched hand. The figure took a sip and turned. His visage was stern, the eyes almost black were cruel and lips twisted sardonically. Edgar couldn't put an age to the man if his life was at stake. Lineless he could have been in the prime of youth, but the maturity, intelligence, and bearing all spoke of age. The figure had an aura demanding...respect was too light. Obedience was more appropriate.

Edgar's voice failed him. His inner voice however was not silent, praying to every deity he could think of, even the Massris avatars of whatever they might be.

The figure's eyes grew more inviting, a warmer smile played on the youthful seeming lips. "Edgar, dear man, tell me everything you know about the Duchess Kittington von Meowselsworth II and her kittens, Tell me of your fight over the late Duchess' estate. Tell me everything, complete with musical numbers. Yes, I even know of that. Tell me now, or I will loose Vlad upon you." The blue-black helmetcat to his left smiled in that creepy Cheshire way with much much too many sharp pointed teeth.

A floodgate of words began to poor out of Edgar the Butler. As he spoke, Vlad began to hiss angrily and Ophelia's golden eyes glowed gold once more. But Edgar found he couldn't stop his story. And as he spoke, the eyes of the figure before him grew crueler, darker. And Edgar prayed. For very few live who have seen the anger of Archduke Roren of Austria, Baronet of Bavaria, Viceroy of Crustavia, Supreme Lord of Neuschwanstein, the Floating Fortress of Dreams.