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Magna Mater

 
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Peacemaker
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 22, 2016 8:59 am    Post subject: Magna Mater Reply with quote

The Old Temple Lodge’s new knight-sergeant made Seamus uneasy.

She makes everyone uneasy, he reasoned, as his brown mare whickered and danced away from Kria Abdruin, crowding Malcolm Parr as he rode alongside. The ex-assassin made a displeased noise, and Seamus rolled his eyes at Malcolm as he urged his horse back to the center of the cobblestone street. The faint light of dawn filtered through a gray sky as the three knights wound their way through the old, narrow streets of the city’s southern neighborhoods, past bakers, a handful of vendors readying their wares, and few others.

If Kria noticed Seamus’ attention -- or his mare’s -- she showed no outward sign. Her head never turned to either side, poised carefully in her saddle, letting her eyes alone move over their surroundings. Her two black pupils, jagged like a pair of nine-pointed stars, were hard to make out in her speckled pink eyes, but in the dim light Seamus saw them ticking side to side, taking in movement in windows, doors, and under the eaves of the buildings they passed.

She was dressed in oiled black leather armor, with a line of filigreed silver buttons and clasps running up either side of her torso. Like Malcolm and Seamus, Kria wore both a knife and a pistol on her belt, a breech-loading affair that used the thumb-sized bullets slotted into the strap of her holster; unlike them, she wore two hook-ended swords on her back, one short, the other middle-length but with enough room for two hands on the hilt. Her black hair was short and fluffy, like down, and the mane of it and the silver-lined hood she had drawn up obscured the series of horns along her brow.

Their pale to navy blue skin, pink or red eyes, and horns along the hairline had people like Kria called “blue devils,” but they referred to themselves as Xinvai. Their arrival on RhyDin’s horizon on the eve of the Architect’s death turned heads and aroused suspicion -- including Lord DeMuer’s -- but most had found sanctuary within the realm of Drasill, and Kria had tirelessly served the Holy Order of Saint Aldwin in the four years since…

“Knight-Captain.” Seamus found the pointed pupils had slid over to him; her pointed teeth were bared in an uncertain smile.

He didn’t answer the unspoken question, instead asking, “D’you like beignets, sergeant? Our new governor makes the best in the city. Mal here’s over the moon for ‘em. Or is it for her?”

Malcolm snorted, not even sparing his superior a look, and Kria’s lips curled with a little more confidence. “An early march or ride before breakfast, it is good for discipline, yes? Pestries,” she paused, briefly, on the mispronunciation, “and powdered sugar can wait for holy work.”

Beyond a crumbling old city wall from a border long forgotten, the bells of Our Lady of Perpetual Misery tolled twenty-six o’clock. Seamus watched as Kria mouthed the numbers, counting up to twenty-six with a deepening frown, and he could feel laughter fighting its way out behind his tight-lipped grin.

Malcolm clicked his tongue. Opposite the wall was a bazaar with a well in the center, and something was drawing a crowd: two human figures, now hammering the third of a set of posters to the front wall of an old French tavern. A mostly human crowd -- only a couple of gnomish vendors among them -- looked on with open curiosity. A man and a woman approached to read the address of a local abbey along the bottom of the first poster, in small print below STAND TOGETHER and a clenched fist. When Seamus looked back at the crowd, they were staring at the three of them.

No, not the three; her. He could see Kria watching them out of the corner of her eye, but she did not dare turn her head. Staring back at them would be an offense, could start something, so she kept her face turned to the street ahead while they scrutinized her, and two of the men pressed a knuckle just underneath the eye, then to their palm as they each held out a hand. Protection against the evil eye.

Malcolm was the first to speak up, nearly a block after they had passed the bazaar. “Breakfast would do us some good,” he said as he turned his head to look after Kria, concern written across his usually illegible features.

“Yeah… and it’s on me, alright? You always make me pay, might as well cut out the middleman… yeah?” Seamus cut a grin over to Kria, whose eyes ticked his way… then ahead. She slowly nodded her assent as they turned their horses around a corner, back towards the sanctuary of the Lodge.

((Written in connection with The Temple SL, with thanks to Jewell.))
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Alain DeMuer
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2016 2:37 pm    Post subject: The Last Drop Reply with quote

The tiny scrawl of coordinates and a time left on Alain's last note to Jewell led to one of RhyDin's more coveted side streets: a ten foot wide cobblestone way, lined with cramped and crooked little rowhouses and apartments, a tiki-adorned bodega closed for renovations, and a coffee shop called the Last Drop. Two old human ladies and a minotaur stood on a stoop, smoking pipes of tobacco and gossiping happily. Three of the goblins who were supposed to be painting the bodega were in the middle of a spraypaint fight, while their coworker berated them, blue painters’ tape trailing behind him as he waved his little arms around. A few tables stood out front of the Last Drop, cluttering the narrow sidewalk, and three pixies fluttered out an open kitchen window to start grabbing teacups and saucers twice their size, but only from one table; the other two tables were left untouched.

There was a preciseness to the click of Jewell's high heels on the cobblestone street as she approached the Last Drop, a confidence and command to her posture. It masked the internal struggle to affect the composure she so effortlessly exuded. She was disquieted by the fact that around any corner a member of a hellish cult could be waiting for her. Although it was unlikely that Alain was working with the Temple, she did not entirely rule out the possibility. The timing of his congratulations was just a touch too coincidental. She could be walking into a trap.

When she reached the door of the coffee shop, the glance over her shoulder (which yielded a glimpse of Ishmerai) was ever so natural before she stepped inside. The Empress smiled warmly to the barista before taking a seat at a corner table to the right, her back to the wall. She shrugged out of her jacket, unwound her scarf, and pulled off her gloves. She would want her hands free for this.

A few minutes passed before any strangers appeared on the street: two young women, an elf and an Aurk, dressed in similar long coats and scarves. They smiled at each other as they approached the cafe, sharing a quiet word before they claimed the recently cleaned table. One of two short blue humanoids stepping out of the cafe's kitchen went out to help them, and they took in the street around them as they ordered their drinks, as casually as if sizing up a neighborhood for a future move. The other of the two servers lingered by the barista at the counter, picking idly at one slender gray fingernail.

The Empress had picked up a magazine off a nearby table while she waited for her date, but that didn't mean she wasn't paying attention to the comings and goings inside and out of the cafe. The large window on her left wasn't just to let the early afternoon sun warm her skin, and there were benefits to having the full range of her magic back that had nothing to do with fiddling around with water.

Then Alain stepped out of a door marked 'Office - Employees Only,' his voice audible before his back was visible in the doorway. "There's more where that came from -- more of the Vrasheen blends will have to wait for spring, but believe me, they're worth it." The manager, a middle-aged dwarven woman, shook his hand and said something in French, and Alain smiled as he turned away from her, towards Jewell's table. The server at the counter followed five feet after.

He was older since the last time Jewell had seen him: not by much, but by enough in RhyDin, and now leading a country outside of it, for it to begin to show in his features. Gray hair peppered his beard and his temples, and signs of the lines on his brow lingered after his frowns. Little remained of the boyishness that was one of the few possessions to his name upon his arrival in RhyDin ten years ago. And there was a hitch to his movement, a slight break in the rhythm for every right step, either from a single serious wound or the accumulation of many of them over time. But his expression and bearing were much the same, and he curled a grin and extended a hand to Jewell as he drew near: scarred on the palm, tattooed on the back. "Jewell... it's good to see you again."

She looked up a moment before Alain stepped out of the office, her smile coming unbidden to her lips. A friend was a friend until that friend tried to kill her. She couldn't fail to notice how he differed from the young man she had once hired when he was new to RhyDin, although the years that had left their mark upon him had not touched her the same. At least not outwardly.

She left the magazine open on the table, turned to a two-page article about her Overlord win, and stood. There was a warmth in her grey eyes that could not be glamoured when she took his hand and leaned closer to kiss his cheek. "And you, as handsome as ever!"

He clutched her hand as he kissed her cheek in turn and mocked her, affectionately: "Flirt. But I'd be worried if you weren't," he added as he released her, gesturing for her to sit before following suit.

She laughed sweetly like the coquette she was and would always be. "No worries there, darling. Some things never change." But they did. Just in more subtle ways. Like how she couldn't help fidgeting with her skirt, smoothing it out more than once after sitting back down. And the hint of strain to her smile.

His blue eyes studied her, warm but curious, taking her in and refreshing his memories, while also taking in the signs of her worried mind. "You've been very busy. And alive, that's been a big change, too."

“Very much alive,” she laughed. “I forgot we have not seen each other, have we? It's been far too long."

Alain’s expression stilled for a moment. "Years. There's my family, there's my country..." He smiled slightly as he trailed off. "This city's a little more dangerous than the people around me like. But you," he leaned forward in his chair, folding his hands, "have been making a big name for yourself. Well. Bigger than usual," he grinned, and paused when the server finally closed the distance to their table. "Cappuccino."

"Same." Jewell smiled at the server, glad for the momentary interruption. The events of the past weekend had unnerved her too much. She did not like feeling like she was grasping for composure here. Alain was leaning forward, but Jewell was forcing herself to relax back in her seat as the server departed. "Gives me something to do with my time," she shrugged at his observation. "Being a socialite gets a little boring after a while."

"And brokering alliances and busting heads rarely does," he added, nodding his agreement. "Whatever else you can say about it, at least it keeps you on your toes. Looking over your shoulder too, though," and he smiled a little as he checked the door to the dumpster out in the alley, almost reflexively. The two women out front were holding hands on top of the table, but they rarely looked at each other: instead their gaze covered most of the street. "But, it's safe here. No assassins. No spies." He unfolded his hands, leaning back as his drink arrived, and took his time enjoying his first sip.

Jewell was certainly on her toes these days, and checking over both shoulders constantly as he could probably tell. Her eyes always returned to his, but they scanned the cafe often enough. "No assassins or spies," she repeated with the hint of a smile. "Except you?" she asked with an arch of her brow. Her playful tone took most of the challenge out of that question, and it was softened even further when she turned her attention to her drink as well. She managed to get a bit of the foam on the tip of her nose, and quickly used a napkin to wipe it away.

He snorted, as much at the question as the sight of foam on her nose. Never mind how much he had to suck from his whiskers. "I haven't killed anyone in a few years. Maureen Rae was the last one and, to be fair, she nearly repaid the favor." If that did not signal how comfortable he felt information could be in this place, he didn't know what else would. "Of course, death is what turned my eyes back to RhyDin. Election violence... and a few other political killings besides," he added, setting his cup down on its saucer.

She heard the signal loud and clear. It undid some of the tension curling in her chest and relaxed her shoulders. She did not go as far to admit that it had been a lot more recently that she had bloodied her own hands! Not yet. She wrapped her hands around her cup, leeching the warmth from it. "Things are becoming more tense in the city, and there are more players involved than I originally thought."

"I've been in the dark for a little while," Alain quietly replied, and tickled a finger along the burn-scarred palm of his right hand. Time and therapy had restored much of the sensation, but sometimes the pins and needles flared up.

It felt a little like she was taking a leap of faith, her heart in her throat, but she made herself say it anyway. She had decided before even meeting him that she wanted to. Needed to. "I was so sure that I had left my enemies in Faerie, but as you said before... I have made quite a name for myself here." She licked her lips, getting that bit of cinnamon that had been sprinkled on the cappuccino. "There's a group. I think they've been using Humanity First as a shield for their activities."

He frowned, ring clinking against the spoon in his drink as he settled the edge of his hand there. "Who are they?"

"They call themselves the Temple of the Divine Mother." Just saying it aloud made goosebumps crop up along her bare forearms. "I, uh.. may have pissed them off last year."

"They're new to me." She was taking a leap of faith; the least he could do was to be honest with her. "They used Humanity First, somehow... but you think they're here for revenge?"

Jewell took a very deep breath. In some ways, it felt good to unburden this on someone she thought she could possibly trust. Or at least someone with a rather cunning mind. "I thought I had.. removed them from RhyDin last year. Apparently, that is not the case. They seem to be pro-human, and have been using the Humanity First platform to reestablish themselves in the city."

Behind his eyes, now ticking to and fro in little motions, something clicked. "'Stand Together.' My knights have been stepping up patrols across the city since the election... We've seen a lot of those posters." He set his hands on the edge of the table, tipping them towards her. "Is there anything else you know about them?"

She nodded when he mentioned the posters. Ishmerai had brought one to her just the other day. She had ignored them at first, assuming they were related to Humanity First. "I don't have a lot more on them. Yet. When I first encountered them, I thought they were just some local cult. I think there's something bigger than that here, though. How else could they have reestablished themselves so strongly so quickly?"

"We could just ask them. Hang on." Alain slid something out of his pocket, what appeared to be a small slate-gray tablet, and tapped repeatedly on the screen, entering a very long series of censored characters. When it finished, he swiped through a few more screens -- what looked like apps, a list of documents, and then one document in particular. The first page was a scan of one of the posters, but the next was information: the points of contact for the group, listed at various businesses and houses of worship. He slid it over to her. "Recruiters for this Temple, I assume. We could try to get someone inside."

She handled the tablet carefully, not completely ignorant of technology (not nearly as much as she pretended) but not entirely comfortable with it, either. She scrolled through the list, nodding. When she looked back up at Alain, her smile was eager. This was exactly what she needed. "Let's do it. I don't trust them not to have anti-magic and glamour wards in place, or I would have done it myself." She slid the tablet back over to him. "And I'm afraid they must know all my employees already."

"But they don't know mine," and Alain winked at her eager smile as he took the tablet back. "I have a knight in mind... former assassin, military experience, strong silent type... Just the kind of person a radical faction would love to recruit." He slid the tablet back into his pocket. "Like old times, right?"

"It will be once I get the Scathachians on board." The confident grin seemed just as fitting now as her unease had when they had first sat down. "Your wife won't be coming after me for this, will she?"

"Returning to RhyDin was a conversation we had together," he said as he dipped his head; then he added, "As long as you don't **** me, I think you're safe." He sipped his cappuccino again, mostly hiding the grin behind it.

Jewell sighed. "Well, there goes my plans for the afternoon."

Alain snorted. "I'll keep you appraised, and vice versa? What's the best way to reach you? A quiet way."

"Absolutely," she smiled. "I've got a few gnomes that I work with. Not exactly on the payroll, but they're very reliable."

"Not on the payroll is good," he nodded, and pushed aside his cup, scooted his chair back. "If we're lucky, maybe we can blackmail them out of this city. If not... we know other ways to make ourselves terrifying." He stood from his seat, leaning past the table for a quick embrace, a peck on the cheek. "It was, really, good to see you again, Jewell. Stay alive," releasing her with a smile.

Her grey eyes shined with such a pleasant mix of danger and delight. They certainly knew how to be terrifying, and for the first time all week, Jewell was actually looking forward to it. She landed a kiss on his other cheek before he got away. "Happy hunting, Alain."

There was only a moment to smile in reply; then he swept out the door, touching what appeared to be a revolver holstered under his jacket, checking its presence reflexively as he stepped out into the open. As one, the two women sitting out front moved to flank him, loosening the swords they'd tucked under their coats and tying them at their hips. They marched to the edge of the neighborhood and around the corner, towards the sound of an approaching engine, and Alain swept one last look across the street behind him before he disappeared.

((Adapted from live play; written in connection with The Temple SL, with thanks to Jewell.))
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2016 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the basement of Harvest Bakery, there were towers of large bags containing flour everywhere. Pastry and bread. Wheat and barley. Flecks of it filtered through the warm air, kept toasty by the ovens up above. Tonight, the basement was also filled with people. After the meeting, they mingled together, sipping flat orange soda and nibbling on yesterday's leftover cookies.

Ryder Makela held back, only talking to attendees when they approached her. She smiled politely to everyone else. Most of the people in attendance tonight were regulars: familiar faces from the neighborhood who were concerned about the diversification of their little part of the world. They were afraid. They didn't know what it meant for themselves, for their businesses, for their children.

It was Ryder's job to assuage those fears at the same time as she fed them. It wasn't difficult. They should be afraid!

"Ms. Makela," an elderly man came up to her, taking her hand between both of his own. "Thank you so much for the suggestion... about the nails in the doorframe?" Even here, it wasn't always safe to speak freely.

The pretty blonde, her hair braided back, smiled at him. "Did it work?"

"Like a charm!"

She nodded. "Good." Ryder glanced around as the crowd thinned, spotting the man that had lingered in the back during her brief presentation. As far as she could remember, she hadn't seen him before.

The man had muttered "Ian" when asked, but had otherwise kept to himself since slinking in a few minutes after the meeting started. He seemed careful, gun-shy, but had listened raptly to the proceedings from his seat (two chairs away from the next nearest person). He had close-cropped gray hair with the look of a weeks-old buzzcut he'd given himself, a few days of whiskers on his face, and ratty clothes. The frayed wool turtleneck and filthy rubber-lined boots suggested a dock worker, though his chipped wristwatch and his patched cargo pants looked military-issue.

Veterans fell through the cracks of many societies, and RhyDin was little different; worse, even, given its status as a refugee haven. The losing side rarely fared well, and the quiet man didn't look like he had, either.

The crowd was sparse. Sharp, wary eyes ducked a look around the room as he finally braved the snack table. A brochure about cambions, one of a few he'd shyly pilfered, stuck out of his back pocket.

The Temple trained all of its people for very specific tasks. Ryder -- young, a little plain, but friendly and warm -- always worked with the public. She had seen the trauma that the oppression of humans had caused first hand as a child. She had dedicated her life as soon as she was old enough to supporting the downtrodden.

When she saw Ian, her heart went out to him. Forcing herself from the corner, she headed towards him. Sharp green eyes noticed the brochure he had picked up. It was her job to notice such things. "I'd grab the sugar cookies, if I were you," she offered conspiratorially to the man. "They taste the best, even if they've gone stale."

His gaze was off to one side already, hers, when she spoke up. He'd heard her coming, and paused in the middle of packing ring cookies into a napkin crumpled in his palm. "I'll bear that in mind," he croaked, and took two of the sugar cookies. One went with the others, tucked into a pants pocket with a flannel patch. The other he nibbled on while he rolled loose sugar granules under his fingers, and he studied her with his dark eyes for a long moment before he said, "Thanks."

His voice was raspy, and he scratched at his turtleneck's unraveling collar as he looked anxiously over his shoulder. "You, uh, done this long?"

Her smile was sweet, reassuring. "A few years," she admitted. Attempting to take some of the pressure and attention off him, she reached over and chose a paper cup of the flat orange soda. In doing so, her sleeve brushed a cup closer to him, knocking it perilously close to the edge of the table. It teetered before starting to fall.

His clothes flapped with a snap as his hand shot out like a viper to catch it. "Careful," he said, locking eyes with her as he righted the drink, pushing it behind the safety of a rose-painted punchbowl. Then he smiled. It was awkward and a little forced, but a little like he was beginning to relax, too. "I'm new to this... the meetings, not the idea. I've thought, I've known, for a while, that -- " He wetted his lips thoughtfully, and looked her in the eye again. "Life's always a little worse, because of them. Born better than us at we have to work for, in most things... Not everything. But enough to be dangerous."

He looked down, ran his tongue along the back of his teeth as he broke a bit off of the sugar cookie. "I'm tired of always having to watch my back. Prove, time and again, that they need to... respect me." The word 'fear' hung over 'respect' like a waiting knife, and he chanced a look at her again, curious if she perceived it.

Her eyebrows lifted ever so slightly, but Ryder's main appeal was empathy. The warmth of her eyes, the sympathetic turn of her smile, the reassuring tone of her voice. "It doesn't always have to be that way. I..." She hesitated, eyes darting away a moment and her smile faltering. "I thought it did. But it doesn't."

When she looked back up at Ian, there was something fierce in her eyes. A passion that could not be faked. "There are friends. And together? We're stronger than they could ever be. But only if we work together. Alone, we don't stand a chance."

The man bowed his head, placed the cookie on top of a discarded napkin on the table, and splayed his hand out over it. Steadying himself. "It's always just been... me. There's been... a couple union invites, but... they didn't seem strong. Even our army broke. But you're... whoever you are... you all are stronger than that?" His eyes moved side to side, counting the stains on the floor. He wanted to believe in something.

A glance around showed that the crowd was just about gone now. Only Angel, who was the baker's son, was still lingering around, but he had his earbuds in and was listening to music. Satisfied, Ryder felt safe enough to offer her hand out to Ian. In her palm was a small piece of paper. "Why don't you test us out?"

He followed her gaze to Angel... then covered her hand in his own, engulfing it for a shake. "Ian Kendal," he relented, finally offering an introduction. He drew the paper away before releasing her hand, and dipped his head forward to breathe, "Thank you."

"Please to meet you, Ian. I'm Ryder." She hesitated again. If it was an affectation, she was very good. Maybe better than any faerie and their glamour. Even though Angel was the only other person present, she practically whispered to him: "Our army won't ever break. We break them." Then she lifted her cup for a sip, blanching at the soda. "Ugh. This stuff is truly awful."

"I'll bear that in mind," he said, a smile flickering at the corners of his mouth, stretching a pale white scar across his upper lip. "I'll see you, Ryder. Thanks... for the cookies." He took another bite out of his crumbling sugar cookie, saluted her with it as he stepped away from her... then walked out, head down and shoulders hunched, eager to be out of the public eye again.

* * *

Ten blocks and two hours later, through the front door of a flophouse and out the back window after a change of clothes plus glasses and a knit cap, enough to look a little less like Ian Kendal, the knight Malcolm Parr relieved himself noisily next to a rain barrel. He spared a last look at the screen on his battered old mobile -- drops @ 3rd loc.; last u'll hear from us; go w/ God -- then dropped it into the water. The faded green light flickered twice, then faded out as it sank into the darkness.

((Adapted from live play with the mastermind of the Temple SL, with thanks!))
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JewellRavenlock
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2016 3:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There was a certain swagger to her steps when Jewell was in Dockside. She managed it even in gold high heels on the cobblestone streets. Ishmerai was at her side until they approached the head of the dock where she was supposed to meet Alain. With a slight tilt of her head, the knight peeled off, finding some place to lean and look menacing. The Empress continued down the wooden planks, winking at the sailor who whistled at her as she easily navigated the stacks of boxes and coils of rope on her way to Lord DeMeur.

The Moon's Livery had been the pride of the Barony's shipyards for years, but Alain had a soft spot for the Red Jack: a smaller, sleeker, two-masted sailing vessel that could take to the air, ride the leylines when the wind was lacking, and put two broadsides into an enemy vessel and slip away in the night before they knew what hit them. It had also been involved in a number of smuggling operations, undocumented military missions, and other ill-advised adventures throughout its eight-year service. As Alain's nation swelled to nearly a hundred thousand souls, as the centralization of political power required ever greater oversight, he faced pressure to make a show of pivoting away from his troubled past and more recent reckless impulses, if he would not renounce them outright. Mothballing the Red Jack was a significant symbolic step, or at least a red herring while he refocused on his lapsed RhyDinian holdings...

The Lord Sovereign stood at the very end of the dock, past the night crew going up and down the gangplanks, busy at work disarming the vessel, dispelling its enchantments, and breaking down its (numerous) hidden compartments. He was in a long wool coat with an upturned collar, huddled into it as he puffed on a cigarillo and watched the dismantling progress. He did not turn as Jewell approached, lost in his own thoughts about this piece of nostalgia and other, more pressing concerns.

She paused partway down the dock, admiring the vessel. She had been a pirate's wife once, and she had never lost her love for the feel of a ship beneath her feet. Earlier in the year, she'd had a little taste of that life again with Issy. Unfortunately, with everything going on, she'd have to content herself with the sea breeze. She turned into it, continuing to the end of the dock as it whipped at her long jacket and tugged relentlessly at her hair, making it a bit wild. "Permission to approach," she called out to Alain without actually slowing her pace. Her tone was affectedly cheerful despite the terribly bad news contained in the large file folder she had tucked under her arm.

"Always," he called back, recognizing her voice before he turned to see her. There was a knight between the two of them all the same, a man in his late twenties with a cocksure grin and a battered bastard sword on his back; he took all of a second to size her up, dip his head in greeting, and secret a wink to her as he stepped out of the way.

Jewell paused for that momentary size up. Actually it was more of a pose paired with an impish, challenging look in her eyes which was more delightfully wicked than threatening. She turned her head to watch the knight walk away, shaking her head. "If only I was younger." As if that would really stop her.

"Call the house, Knight-Captain. I'll need a car back soon." There was another bow from the knight now behind Jewell, and he marched away down the boards of the dock, leaving at least twenty feet between the two old friends and the next-nearest eavesdropper. "How are you holding up?" Alain said, pitching his cigarillo into the briny water and stepping a few feet closer. It was late enough in the day, or cold enough at night, or both, that his limp was obvious the first three steps.

The devilish grin faded as she turned back to her friend, his limp just a reminder that they really weren't so young anymore. She shifted the thick folder out from under her arm, holding it out to Alain. "I’ve been better."

"Hm," and he gave her a grim smile as he took the folder, looking down at the contents by the lantern-light swinging at the end of the dock. "Same. But, for every winter, there's a... spring..." He trailed off, frowning as he flipped through the pages rapidly now. This was too familiar. "Christ. ****ing Christ in Heaven, this is the same playbook as the bastards who ran me through. But the Temple did it. They pulled it off," he said with a disbelieving frown, looking up from the collected reports at Jewell. "That was a very bloody day, Jewell... and this promises to be worse."

There had been a little hope inside her that said maybe she was overreacting. Maybe Ishmerai was overreacting. But Alain's response just confirmed her initial reaction: They were in really deep ****. She'd never had the urge to smoke, but mother of nature she wanted something in her hand right now. Something to do other than shove them in her pockets, which is what she ended up doing. "I know. It's bad. Like.. ****ing really really bad." From her toes back to her heels she rocked. "We have figure out how this is gonna go down. There are so many options." So many ways they could use me went unsaid.

"Tell me you will go where they cannot reach you -- tell me it will be enough," he said, clapping the folder shut and taking two brisk steps forward, looking her in the eye, pleading with her with his worried frown. "Will it? Or do they speak your name to the darkness, and you come?"

Her eyes fell to her the toes golden high heels. "If they call me, I will come." It was a shameful, whispered admission. Her grey eyes darted up at him. Beneath the bold and beautiful Empress, she was scared. Terrified. Sick with fear. "And I will destroy everything."

Alain could feel pins and needles start in his neck as a chill ran down his spine, but he fought through the dread with the same brash defiance that had carried him, limping and broken but alive, through so many years in this bloody city. He grabbed her by the shoulder, ducked his head to be at eye level with her. "Then I'm calling our inside man. With the operations they run?" audibly flapping the folder he clutched. "They must keep names under very tight control. They'll have one namekeeper, or three, a triumvirate for a ritual. We find them, we tear your name out of their mouths, and we feed them their own tongues before any of this madness can start. Okay?"

She took a deep breath in through her nose, nodding. There was even a hint of a grin. Making enemies eat their own tongues was certainly a thought to cheer her. "Yeah. That'll be good. Let's do that." When she exhaled again, it took some of the weight off her chest. "What do you need from me?" Taking action, having something to do, was important. It kept her calm and focused. It kept her from freaking out about the evil cult that had her name and could turn her into a puppet that tore people in two with her manicured nails.

He looked at her a beat longer, nodded, and dropped his hand to pace back to the end of the dock. "Anything about reverse-scrying, how named beings find their summoners -- maybe we can get that knowledge preemptively. Is knowledge or intent enough to build a thread? And prepare for worst-case scenarios. Is there any way you could give your knight, or anyone else you trust, something to bind you or slow you down? I need help with all the arcane questions I can't answer, or even think to ask… and I'll focus on turning the screws." A crate thudded heavily on the end of the gangplank, a small piece of naval artillery bouncing in the straw inside, and Alain looked at it thoughtfully. "Any weapons you can stockpile, any vehicles or means of teleportation you can put on standby, couldn't hurt; I'll do the same."

Her mind raced to keep up, but the heavy thud from the crate startled her. She turned halfway around to face the threat. Quite suddenly, there was a glimmer of energy around her right hand and a knife in the left. When she saw what it was, she returned the weapon to her jacket smoothly and the energy dissipated. She didn't look at all abashed at being startled, just picked up the conversation. "I've got someone who can do the scrying. The rest... I'm gonna need to work on it." She ran her hand through her hair, "Might need to make a trip into Faerie for some of this, honestly." She really did not want to do that but whatever it took. "We'll be ready for them. Whatever they're going to do. We have to be."

"We're going to be moving a lot of men and materiel, and things could get bloody." He looked down at the black water off the dock, frowning. "Do we have to worry about this governor?"

She chewed at the inside of her cheek. "Katt? I hope not." And without missing a beat, she laid it out as plain as she saw it, "If we do? We make her a not-problem immediately. We don't have time for some figurehead getting in the way."

"Make the governor a 'not-problem'?" It was bold as hell. It got Alain to laugh incredulously. "Mother of God, Jewell, I've missed having you around. We'll probably be moving too fast for her to gum up the works, it's the aftermath that concerns me there." Another thought occurred to him, and he frowned at the water... then smiled back at Jewell. "I need to finish up here. We'll get through this thing. It'll be bloody... but their blood, not ours."

She shrugged but she couldn't hide her grin. She had meant every word of it! "Gotta do what we gotta do. And if she is a problem after? Well, we'll handle it then." She glanced back to the men working on the ship and past them to Ishmerai. "I should get going anyway. Can't have people whispering about what we've been doing down by the docks at night, can we?" She winked at him at that.

"Turning tricks and corrupting pure-hearted knights of God. It'll be all over the papers come morning,” and he waved at her with the folder as he began stepping up the gangplank for a final look at the deck of the Red Jack. Something to bury his darker thoughts.

((Thanks to the awesome Alain for playing this out with me.))
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Knight-Sergeant Malcolm Parr had never been good at making friends in the Holy Order of Saint Aldwin. At first there had been only eight of them, who had felt moved to swear the first oath of fealty to Lord DeMuer, swearing to protect him and the future he was building for the refugees from their homeland. There had been little effort required to learn eight names and to learn to trust and even love them, as they had felt moved to the same deeds and suffered the same cruelties.

There had been Pierre Emmanuel, a thin, bespectacled man with a soft voice, a prayerful manner, and a scholar's hands that were as steady as any on a rifle; Oishi Kosai, eager with a smile and an incredible grappler with foes twice his weight; Karl Aden, a hunter and trapper and the best of them at chess; Lucas Saint-John, a curly-haired young man with reckless tactics, a way with the ladies, and an anxious fear of catastrophe; Roland Gravois, the quiet cavalier who had wasted his youth on the legends of Arthur and Charlemagne; Seamus Morvan, whose irrepressible humor disguised his fear of further loss; and Zakharias Loe, a wounded old soldier whose patience and discipline were only equaled by his kindness.

But now there were three, counting himself and the two Knight-Captains, Seamus and Roland. Lucas had fallen to a demonic lawyer's trigger-happy mercenaries in the streets of RhyDin, their first large engagement as knights; Pierre, to bounty hunters, defending escaped slaves on their way across the border; Karl, to an artillery ambush, killed when the ship bearing Seamus and Lady DeMuer was struck; Oishi, to Indra, an abyssal creation who had taken on the shape of one of Lord DeMuer's trusted spies; and Zakharias joined twenty-one of their knightly brothers and sisters at once, sacrificing themselves to safe a refugee column from an army of demons clawing out of Hell.

New names meant new friends to lose, and so Malcolm learned only as much as necessary about the forty-seven knights (excepting Roland and Seamus) whom he shared an oath with.

But he hadn't infiltrated the Temple of the Divine Mother to make genuine friends. He didn't need to like or trust these people. He needed their motives, their abilities, and their agendas, so he fell into the old social habits that had helped such a reserved man as himself survive military service nearly two decades ago.

"Is this speech canned? Think they gave it last time," he muttered aside to the man next to him: Raul, about forty, built like a Marine but gone to seed. Their folding chairs were angled together in the back of another church basement, behind three other rows filled with an assortment of young to middle-aged people with good aim, bad luck, and more than enough misplaced anger to go around. "What'd you say about canned food, Raul?" Malcolm croaked, and gave the man beside him an encouraging smile.

Raul chuckled that 'Ian' remembered, and leaned forward to retell it to his friend: "That I seen too many bugs peel open tanks and pull out Marines to ever look at tuna the same."

A young man, messy red hair peeking out from a black beanie, twisted around in his chair to shush them loudly. His eyes were wide and furious. Malcolm's scoffing laugh was partly genuine. "I say we recommend that ***hole for OCS," he said, slapping Raul's bicep with the back of his hand, "and leave the canned food to roaches like him. We already know damn well who the enemy is."

"Hell yeah," Raul said, thumping him back and looking him in the eye. "Hell yeah, we do," he echoed, nodding emphatically as he scooted out of his chair.

Malcolm could hear an abortive noise of protest from the preacher up front, and held up a hand for five minutes as he patted the cigarette pack in his stitched-on sweater pocket with his other. They weren't being graded. As long as 'Ian Kendal' and the other military-trained malcontents showed up to meetings, shouted in unison at the slides of elves and dwarves and goblins, and had proven themselves capable killers in previous service, the Temple of the Divine Mother was happy to retain them on 'standby.'

There were close to thirty of them that Malcolm knew of, mostly snipers and engineers, with a few regular infantrymen that had passed muster. Everything Lord DeMuer had dug up so far indicated the Temple was planning for one big event, and everything Malcolm had learned from the Temple's vetting played into the same narrative. They were being held in reserve, and told repeatedly, and emphatically, not to escalate or engage. They were stoking and fanning the flames of racial violence with great care, and did not need an errant ex-soldier jeopardizing the timetable for the big purge.

Of course, that didn't mean that everyone listened. They had rooms filled with violent people like himself, warned repeatedly of the enmity of elves, coached repeatedly in the necessity of violent resistance, and always, always encouraged in their anger. Sometimes, something had to give.

"Ian -- did you hear?"

'Ian' looked up from lighting Raul's cigarette, took a few puffs of his own and shook his head. "Enlighten me, sergeant."

"Lisowski, from the Second Chapter? All pissed that we gotta sit out these protests?"

"We're called to higher work," Malcolm muttered, but let him continue.

"Well, he's not. That smug ****ing orc that runs the shipyards? With the fancy new ships? We're gonna christen them a little early."

"Molotovs. Nice," Malcolm huffed a laugh; his heart skipped a beat.

"And if those stupid goblins got a problem with it?" Raul looked over his shoulder at the church door, then pulled up his windbreaker. A Beretta and two clips sat in a holster. Malcolm gave an approving noise, and Raul continued: "I'm glad you got us outta there early, man. We're gonna miss the main event, but we should still see some fireworks. C'mon."

As Raul forged ahead down the way, away from the church, Malcolm lingered, casting a look down at the city from the high end of the hilly street. The protests had grown, a few swollen seas of twinkling torchlight visible from this vantage point, putting the scattered ocean of Christmas candles flickering on windowsills to shame. He imagined that, off beyond all the little orange halos, he could see the dark shape of the Red Jack silhouetted against the foggy waters offshore, bobbing quietly in harbor, waiting for a new voyage it would never see.

Another name remembered and lost.

"Hey Kendal, hurry it up! He says they'll be there in five!"

"Work," Malcolm called ahead to Raul, flashing his phone at him, and finished sending off a message:

20+ armed, exmil, headed to docks w/ molotovs. eta 5 min.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A holographic image flickered above Kria Abdruin's desk at Cambini manor, showing a ghostly bluish-white image of a human mass, prickling with picket signs. 'KNIFE-EARS GO HOME.' 'HORNS AND HELLIONS OUT.' 'UPRIGHT, ROUND-EARED AND PROUD.' 'ALIENS - STOP KILLING US.' Many of these were accompanied by ghoulish caricatures of elves, tieflings, orcs, and any other race that caught the ire of the growing protests and riots. They were clustered nearly up to the door of a homely house with a steepled roof. One woman was violently kicking a sign detailing the sanctuary's offer of shelter to 'all people in need.' Three knights stood side by side at the front door, quarterstaffs extended in front of them to hold the masses back.

She felt her pointed black nails digging into the tabletop as she said, carefully, "Tell me about the Garhaikhan Sanctuary."

The squire before her snapped back to attention. "There are forty people in all, and most of them blocking the front entrance. They seem to be unarmed -- "

"But last night, we saw men passing out clubs to peaceful crowds minutes before violence erupted. This could change very quickly," she said, and waved him on to continue.

"Yes, Knight-Sergeant. There are six of them across the street from the back door. They're chanting at another vendor, but I saw them watching Garhaikhan. They're bigger than the others. They had black eyes, bruises and cuts on their faces..."

"They've been involved in the other scuffles," Kria murmured as she stood from her desk, spreading her arms over it, frowning at its cracked surface. "So if we evacuate the families that way, there will be a fight. How many can we spare -- ?" she began.

A heavy thump from down the hall stopped her short. A heavy clang followed, resounding from the outside of the Lodge, echoing off the iron bars they had fitted over the dormitory windows.

"Elisha," she said, but the young man needed no further instruction; by the time she finished wrenching her jagged black dagger out of a deep gouge in the desk, Elisha had buckled two belts and straps around her torso, the weight of her sheathed weapons settling over her body like the comforting weight of a blanket. She ran out of her study, arriving in time to see and hear a brick make it through the slats and through the glass window of the nearest dormitory, as a father and two children hurried out.

The chanting and shouting of a mob rang out through the broken window, and Kria could see their rage-twisted faces as she passed between the bunk beds to look out into the street. The mob was only ten feet deep so far, but growing. A younger man at the corner of an unfinished building across the way was hefting another brick from a pile, but dropped it and ran at the sound of approaching hooves: a mounted Watch officer, blowing a whistle and twirling his cub as he galloped after the fleeing man. Once the crowd grew, the Watch would not be nearly so daring.

Kria's heart raced as a rush of adrenaline told her flee; fight your way out! She ignored the impulses and looked out into the hallway at the huddled family, gave them a nod, and looked Elisha in the eye: "Find Squire Yannis, take the families to the cellar. You should have enough supplies for them, and a shovel for a latrine; bring two swords and two of the scatterguns; leave your quarterstaffs for us."

"Ma'am," he said, grabbed the father by the arm, and steered him and his children downstairs.

Outside, a horse whinneyed and reared up in fear after a rock struck its flank, and the constable riding it struggled to keep the reins away from a surging mass of people. One grabbed at his leg, pulling him out of one stirrup, and the officer kicked him in the face with a booted face before snapping his reins and galloping away, nearly trampling the trio before him that darted out of the way.

They were alone, only four knights and two squires barricaded in a Lodge, surrounded by a sea of people who despised her and the people they sheltered. "Sir Gregor!" she shouted as she raced downstairs to the main floor. "Post up at the back door, and post Chelara to the windows. And call that bloody bastard Morvan!" she snarled.

They were pounding, hammering away at the front door, and she heard it knocking into the dresser another knight had dragged in front of it. She let out a growl of frustration as she threw her weight up against it, and started to pray.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Seamus had been out in the field all morning, conducting patrols, escorting the harassed or injured, and coordinating with the dozen or so Watch officers he'd forged relationships with since he'd been put in charge of the New Haven Lodge. He'd stopped a few beatings and broken up a few fights, and had a bruise on his cheek, a bloody nose, and a couple of sore ribs for his trouble; but no one had tried to pull him off his horse yet, so, "silver linings, eh, Maribeth?" he leaned forward to murmur in his mare's ear.

She didn't seem too impressed by his optimism, nor by the chanting crowd in front of a bank down the street. The doors were locked, the building vacated, and the protest and counter-protest were separated by three Watch officers keeping the peace. There hadn't been many counter-protests - many of the protests this week seemed to erupt out of nowhere, gathering around a business for as little as a couple of hours and melting away; it was only later on Tuesday that activists started showing up to demonstrate against the day-long and longer protests. "This is Morvan, peaceful crowd at 4th and Merchant's," he said while touching the tiny brass orb tucked into his ear. "Over."

Maribeth trotted lazily down a side street, giving her rider eyes on the back of the bank. Someone who wasn't a security guard had stacked a couple of discarded crates to peer through the narrow window of the bank's english basement. Seamus whistled sharply, and at the sight of the knight, the young woman bolted. He didn't have his sword or gun today, only a quarterstaff, but any attention was bad attention when checking out a bank. "This is Morvan. Come in, Cambini. Sitrep. Over."

Ambling back to the street facing the bank, Seamus spotted three kids on the corner. One had a glossy black square up in front of their left eye, flashing as they focused it on the crowd of protesters and saying something, but not to his two friends. Streaming it to the 'net. Kids today, Seamus thought as he guided Maribeth a little closer. One of them had something in her palm, transmitting a 3D image that rose out of its surface. A flatbed truck, a man climbing onto the cab, and... fireworks? "Copy that. Over and out," Seamus said, and angled his head for a better look at the seven-second image loop. By this time the kids had taken notice of the knight, one taking an instinctive step back. "Sorry -- big wrestlin' fan," he said with a nod to the frozen frame of Kruger Allen in front of a stunned crowd.

"He's a duelist," a boy corrected him coolly, as the three huddled away from him, and one resumed streaming video of the crowd. Seamus saluted with two fingers and urged Maribeth away. He touched his ear:

"This is Morvan, calling all N.H. units. Call Watch Company K and rally north of Cambini -- and bring your dancing shoes. Over and out."

* * *

The crowd in front of the Lodge in Old Temple (formerly Cambini Manor) had swollen to over a hundred people since this morning. "De-vil! De-vil! De-vil!" "Let those poor kids go, blood-witch!" "Demon! You'll pay for all those gates!" "Murderer!" "Bring out the cambions! Face us!"

It wasn't clear whether the majority felt that Kria Abdruin was a devil or demon (there was a difference), or whether she kidnapped children, had a helf-devil brood of younglings she kept here, or both. What was clear was that, unless diverted or dispersed, this crowd was going to break into the Lodge and sort out the answers for themselves. By battering down the front door.

Around the time a man in a Coca-Cola t-shirt popped off a doorknob with an iron crowbar, a very large boombox with very large speakers began playing the karaoke track for the seminal bubblegum pop hit, "Mickey." A dozen knights, men and women, humans and elves and Aurks and a dwarf, stood in a line behind it: they were dressed in similarly cut long coats, wielded quarterstaffs, and all wore stoic expressions and identical black sunglasses with neon pink and green plastic frames. The song started, and so did the knights, clapping and stomping like a cheerleading squad:

"U. G. L. Y., you ain't got no alibi! You ugly! Hey, hey! You ugly!" They pointed at a handful of figures in the crowd, those hammering on the doors or wielding weapons, took two steps back and repeated, shaking their hips as they repeated the chorus.

"U. G. L. Y., you ain't got no alibi! You ugly! Hey, hey! You ugly!" A handful of people laughed. More of them jeered and gestured. More, still, tried to remain focused on maintaining their protest as more than a dozen of their number broke rank to investigate or confront the taunting knights.

"U. G. L. Y., you ain't got no alibi! You ugly! Hey, hey! You ugly!" By this point more than thirty of the protesters had backed away from the crowd or fanned out to observe; more than a dozen began marching (or running) towards the knights. The first one to arrive made a swing, and found himself pushed back with a quarterstaff. The knights retreated into the alley behind them.

"U. G. L. Y., you ain't got no alibi! You ugly! Hey, hey! You ugly!" Twenty people armed with improvised weapons went charging into the alley after the knights, jeering and yelling in anger, and the knights scattered. Some hopped onto dumpsters, grabbed windowsills and ledges, and scurried onto rooftops. Others went scrambling down the alleyway, snaking through the Watch offers advancing in green tunics and copper helmets, clubs and manacles at the ready.

Seamus sprinted out the other end of the alley, taking several slowing, bounding steps before he stopped, out of breath. His sunglasses were askew, and he handed them off to the squire that had been holding the reins of his horse. He thumped the side of his head against her saddle, touched his earpiece and said:

"This is Morvan. Merry Christmas, Kria. Over and out."
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 7:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Overwatch. Of all the tasks Malcolm had been assigned since falling in with the Temple's "security instructors," he relished the few that required him to be solitary. There was no pretense, and better still, no people. He'd spent the last hour alone on the roof of a three-level cluster of shanties, one of many amalgamations of scrap wood and corrugated metal that crowded the muddy streets near RhyDin's souterhn gate. Below him were miserable souls that shared his former lot in life, outcasts and refugees clinging to the outer orbit of the center of the Multiverse.

Freezing rain pelted the ragged blue tarp that served as his cover; there were a few other lean-tos nearby, covering rooftop supply caches and providing scant shelter to those who could find nothing better. A plume of black woodsmoke came through the wide gaps in the roof below him, and he tightened his scarf over his mouth and silently readjusted for a clearer line of sight.

Down the rifle scope was one of the southern gates, a low, thick brick wall with a broad iron door only just large enough to admit a truck; it was manned by four sentries, Watch officers with parka hoods drawn over their helmets and their muskets wrapped in oiled leather. One of them pointed, and another unbarred the gate and pushed it open as the headlights of an approaching truck flooded their little camp with bright white light.

"They took you offworld for assignment, Nadir?" "Don't sound too jealous, Ian. They smuggled us in on a tugboat, just to babysit one of these morale officers." "Like the padre up front?" "Uh-uh. Wilder than that. Stringy white hair, beard like a mad prospector, but he was gagged." "Captive?" "No, he had his hands free, and guards and monks left and right dropping to their knees like they'd seen the Messiah."

Malcolm saw a flash of silver light atop an old lime kiln across the muddy track, and signaled back. No hostiles. Temple security at the southern gate was free to go. He made to disassemble his rifle, like the shadowed figure across the way from him, but when he had his scope, he angled a look outside his lean-to, into the back of the passing truck.

There were two women, in black leathers and well-armed; a young acolyte in red robes; then a glimpse of long white hair, and a face gagged with biege silk, before the truck bounced and turned left, and Malcolm lost sight of them.

Not for long. The man across the road was already gone, and a quick glance at the gate verified no eyes were on him. He snapped up his rifle case, strapped it over his shoulder, and made a running leap to the next rickety rooftop, bounding through the darkness after the truck, following it to its destination...

* * *

One hour later, the man known to the Temple as Ian Kendal slipped out the back window of his flophouse, and wound his way through frigid, ice-slick streets to a rusty trashcan in a public courtyard with an overgrown fountain. He dropped in the newspaper he'd been using as cover from the freezing rain, and hurried through the cold to the next-nearest bar without looking back.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 5:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monday January 9th, 1:15 a.m.

On most of his visits to the RhyDin Branch, Alain liked to linger in the small lobby past the elevator bank, pay his respects to the names etched into the marble walls and immortalized in bronze. MacRae. Desmarais. Prescott. Ygabe. But there were no moments to spare for tenderness tonight, and Alain could feel the heavy gaze of the dead on the back of his neck as he turned the other way, toward the sound of clicking keyboards, the hum of servers and the buzz of conversation.

When he stepped into the command center, the assembled team quickly fell silent: seven analysts, advisers, and communications officers at their careful craft, reviewing everything from surveillance feeds, transmissions and personnel files, to ancient ley line charts and grimoires. Their discussions stopped, a few calls placed on hold, and the head of operations stood abruptly from her desk, steadying herself with the help of a cane. Michelle Ross. A chunk of concrete and rebar sat on the corner of his desk, a piece of the building that had fallen on her. She lifted her chin, sensing Lord DeMuer’s distraction and forcing him to see her determined gaze, her gray eyes fixed on his.

“We’re waiting on you, sir,” she said, and Alain accepted her gift: a sleek black headset, with an earphone and mic on one side, and controls slightly recessed in the other side of the headband. He clipped it into place, found their channel within two clicks, and looked past the expectant faces of the analysts, at the grainy surveillance still of the gagged man projected on the far wall. There were no guarantees that he held Jewell’s true name, but the Namekeeper had been brought into RhyDin -- now, as the metaphorical powder keg looked ready to blow -- for a reason.

Let’s make tonight his last.

“Alright, people,” he heard himself say to the room, and clicked his headset again. “Away Team, ingress is clear for thirty seconds. Proceed to target, over.”

* * *

1:18 a.m.

Quincy stayed at the fence while the rest of her team hurried quietly through the gap: Thimble, Snapper, and Quarrel, their heads low, their faces concealed by black balaclavas. She preferred black face paint and a half-mask that kept her long, slender ears free and unrestrained, twitching subtly at other sounds than dead grass cracking under her comrades’ feet. The distant crash and roar of the sea behind her; the wind moving through the trees inside the estate grounds; oyster shells and gravel crunching underfoot as a guard ground out his cigarette.

Ten seconds.

She leapt lightly through the gap, pulled the loose wooden slats back into place behind her, and followed her teammates through the overgrown garden. The moonlight was faint enough for cover, but enough to see by: the estate grounds were small and crowded by Seaside standards, easier for the Temple of the Divine Mother to defend. She watched the guard through the fence slats as she crouched behind a thorn-choked hedge, her back to a mossy brick wall.

The guard was young, but old enough to be a veteran, and carried himself like a soldier. The rifle at his side was a mini thirty that had seen some wear, and the pistol something small caliber that she didn’t recognize.

This operation had been rushed, but at least the intelligence seemed reliable: older equipment, semi-automatics, no tactical gear. The Temple seemed to run on a thin budget, whether by necessity or design.

The sound of an older car drew closer at the same time a warning came over their comms from HQ. As one the team flattened to the ground, closer to the hedge, as headlights washed over the brick wall behind them. Gravel crunched as the guard beyond the fence stepped away to check out the new arrival, and Thimble clicked their comm channel twice: Quincy caught a glimpse of the halfling’s eyes in the darkness, alert and afraid.

Snapper crept ahead to a narrow cellar window, and his preternaturally bright elven eyes peered through the glass, checking every angle. He signaled HQ: Second supply room, empty, door shut. In three seconds he received the go-ahead, and waved a gloved hand over the window with a faint shimmer. Unwarded. It was another moment’s work to break the lock and push the window open, and he signaled his comrades on.

They moved out.

* * *

1:20 a.m.

Michelle Ross hummed to herself as she watched the four bodies move, eerily silver-white in one of the greyscale cameras hovering over the compound as they moved through the cellar window. “Vitals?”

An analyst leaned out of their chair to tap the halfling’s heartrate on a touch screen; their brow furrowed into a deep frown, and they gave a quick headshake.

Alain touched his headset: “Team-wide reminder that Taco Tuesday attendance is mandatory. Looking at you, Thimble.”

On a monitor mounted in the corner of the room, Thimble flipped her facecam the bird.

* * *

1:21 a.m.

Quarrel leaned into the hallway, staring straight down it as he quietly laid a bulging, moving silk cloth at his feet. As soon as it was unfolded, three tiny mechanical spiders went skittering out, the gripping spikes on their feet silenced by tiny rubber cushions as they climbed either wall, racing away, glossy black optics swiveling around and transmitting video back to the team. The lens in his left eye glowed a faint silver, projecting the feeds before his gaze. He raised a finger, and Thimble stepped out in front of him, creeping ahead of the team.

They followed one corner behind Thimble, who kept an ear tuned to Quarrel as he saw through the eyes of his clockwork spies. He hissed a warning when he saw the face of a robed man in fish-eyed grayscale, hurrying down the hallway on their left and closely followed by two guards with pistols and clubs.

“Who in Heaven’s name turned off all the lights down here?” they heard his voice echo around the corner, just as they pulled shut the door to an empty mess hall.

* * *

1:22 a.m.

“Who is that?”

Michelle Ross’ question earned her a couple of bewildered looks from her analysts, and Lord DeMuer’s frown deepened.

“He doesn’t look like a Namekeeper… Grab that symbol, forward it to the Summer Archive.”

“It looks arcane,” Alain muttered, agreeing with Michelle’s concern, and rubbed his fingers through his gray-flecked beard.

“Quarrel, we’re sending the spider after that priest. Over.”

* * *

1:24 a.m.

Quincy could feel the tension in Quarrel’s aura, and squeezed his arm as she slipped past him in the kitchen, trailing Thimble by ten feet. The halfling stopped at the bottom of what had once been a servant’s staircase, listening to the echo of voices traveling down from the upper levels.

“Quin,” Quarrel hissed, and the elf turned her head. “Ever heard of the Golden Circle?”

It was a strange question, and hard for the healer to think of the answer in a time and place like this. “Old world faith… something about the flow of power to the center… Why?” Quincy asked, but her eyes widened just past Quarrel’s shoulder as an exterior door began to open.

By the time her combat knife was out, the guard in the doorway found his breath flowing into a long, silvery trail into Snapper’s clenched fist; it prevented him from screaming when Quincy cut his throat, and pressed her gloved hand to the wound to keep it dripping onto the floor.

As Snapper and Quincy dragged the heavy body backwards into the pantry, Quarrel kept his eyes on his spiders. The priest had disappeared behind a steel door, and his little clockwork spy had lost track of him by the time it crept through; but up the stairwell and down the hall, he recognized a face, kneeling in a nearly plain stone room, with a few steps leading up to a stained glass window on one end. This had once been a family chapel, its altar, pulpit and pews long since stripped out, but it saw communion once more, the man in the center parting his lips but not yet speaking, as half a dozen armed guards looked on.

“Namekeeper spotted.”

* * *

1:26 a.m.

“Snapper, scry the air. Is he casting? Over.” The arcane analyst kept one hand to his headset as he listened to the reply, then looked back at Michelle: “Not yet, ma’am.”

“We have a report on the Golden Circle…”

Alain stepped up to the analyst’s monitor, squinting at the words, trying his best to speed through them. Illustrations of warding circles or something similar, robed men, elves and fauns and devils writhing in fire and agony outside the circles… He skimmed through the words as fast as he could.

“Ma’am?” Another analyst looked back from an aerial feed of the compound grounds: guards were turning on flashlights and spreading out, two of them headed for the exterior door to the kitchen.

Michelle looked to Alain, who nodded. She touched her headset: “Take him out.”

* * *

1:27 a.m.

Quincy pressed her shoulder to the wall outside the doorway, listening to the beginning of a mutter, the whiff of magic beginning, but not yet resolving. Not yet, but soon. She listened as Thimble darted across the open doorway, but there was no change in the voices. Neither of them had been spotted, and they readied their weapons as Snapper prepared a spell of his own.

A door creaked in the vestibule. Quincy saw the beginning of a hand sign from Quarrel down the hall, eyes wide behind his surveillance lens, but the sight of him was obscured by the flash that erupted from Snapper’s hand.

It hissed and slithered rapidly through the air, reaching the middle of the sanctuary where it burst harmlessly into red sparks, illuminating three bald men in golden robes hurrying towards the kneeling Namekeeper, lips moving, arms raised as they bent the threads of magic to protect them.

The guards made eye contact with Thimble and Quincy as they angled their weapons into the doorway. They’d been made.

The flickering red sparks were washed away by a flash of golden light that sucked the breath from Quincy’s lungs, and the warm tickle of healing power grew cold and lifeless on her shaky fingertips. Snapper gasped, leaning his weight against her as something dark and gaseous was drawn out from his lips. She squeezed the trigger.

Gunfire erupted. Thimble screamed.

* * *

“The elves!” Alain said, staring up from the report as the first sound of gunfire erupted into his headset. “Get our casters out of there!”

“Thimble’s going into shock; we’re losing Quincy, Snapper…!”

* * *

1:28 a.m.

The blood streaming down Quincy’s arm and bubbling out of her thigh felt cold against her skin; she tensed around her gun and fired another burst into the moonlit room, thudding into a guard that stood between her and her targets: the Namekeeper, and the three strange priests that even now drew a little more life and power out of her body. She fell back against the wall behind her, watching as golden light flowed away into the room…

I’m going to die. I’m going to die here, tonight.

Snapper tugged at her arm, his own hands as clammy as she felt, but she didn’t have the strength to rise. She barely raised her weapon when gunfire broke out again, this time at the end of the hall:

Snapper was racing up to Quarrel’s side, when two more compound guards rounded the corner. In a hail of bullets, all four of them fell.

She saw Thimble crumpled in the doorway, and fell forward onto her chest, pressing her hands over her bloody wounds. She called upon the blessings of her ancestors, eyes screwed shut, shaking with desperation, but nothing came. Her hands were cold, and Thimble’s body remained lifeless and broken.

This is it. This is the last thing I do.

She raised her head to the chapel, saw the remnants of Snapper’s shadowy magic, and her own golden power, swirling above the center of the room, illuminating the runic symbols of a massive summoning circle, centered on where the Namekeeper once knelt. Now he was being ushered out a side door, flanked by the priests and the single remaining guard.

She unclipped her sidearm shakily from her belt, and steadied it atop Thimble’s lifeless body. Three shots, one wide, one hit the guard center mass, dropping him, and another tore through some part of the last priest as he stumbled out of the bloody chapel.

”Baralheth!” she heard the Namekeeper cry.

The stolen power in the room coalesced around a form emerging from the circle, seeping into every inch of its red skin.

“I hope you’re seeing this,” Quincy breathed, and steadied her pistol as the massive, horned form stalked towards her.

* * *

1:29 a.m.

Michelle stood from her chair, hand tensed around the top of her cane: “Quincy, get the **** out of there!”

But Quincy watched the devil approach, her video feed showing the summoning circle, the glyphs that stole her power, all glimmering behind her approaching doom. Seven shots struck its torso as it loomed larger before her, and Alain saw a flash of horn, teeth and claws before her feed went black.

He stood there, seething, for the space of ten seconds. He tore his headset loose violently, but feeling every eye in the room on him, stopped himself short of flinging it against the wall.

“Keep monitoring the compound, and all Temple communications. Warn Malcolm. I’ll let Jewell know what happened.”
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 11:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Monday February 13th, 7:05 a.m.

Alain awoke to the pressurized hiss of a security door opening. He straightened in his chair as a trio of analysts stepped in, the last one jogging to catch up and tapping their badge against a scanner.

The rooster beeping at him in his half-remembered dream made a little more sense, now. He checked his watch. Five after seven; someone had seen him in here and had -- too generously -- let him sleep past the scheduled update.

“Mireille,” he croaked, and coughed into his fist as he reached for his water bottle.

“We can move up the timetable on the aftermath, for the backlash has already started,” she said, her words proceeding carefully through a heavy Newbreton-French accent; she pressed a button on a panel in the conference room table. Black-and-white stills of clashing protesters as well as blockades impeding traffic. “I must stress, it is hard to delineate a trend at this point -- ”

“We won’t be confident about the numbers until it’s long over,” Alain waved a hand. “What do you think?”

“It is small,” she began, slowly. “But it is growing. However organized the Temple’s uprising is… the organic response from targeted communities will follow much sooner than we predicted. The night of, I think.”

Alain splayed his fingers in front of his mouth as he thought. This was very bad news, but he resolved not to let it show. “We should still prepare for our response on the fifteenth, but move our resources into place sooner. The knights?” he said, looking across the room at Ahmed, who was already getting up.

“I’ll tell them, sir.”

“I don’t like splitting our forces, but we don’t have a choice.” Alain sighed, drumming one ringed finger against the conference table. “Rotate Morvan and the rest of New Haven to Cambini, now, and replace him with Bertand and a complement of Rangers -- no uniforms. Then move the rest of the Teodin Lodge into the streets. Mireille, I want you to find out where this backlash is happening, revise last week’s analysis, and CC Bertand -- we’ll need knights pulling double duty on protection and containment.”

Ahmed lingered by the door. “What if we took over the barricades? Used them to control access?”

“How do we decide who comes and goes?” Alain shook his head, and paused to think for a moment. “If they see anyone being detained, then approach, assess, and remove them if necessary -- and turn control of it over to the local Watch a.s.a.p.”

As Ahmed and Mireille exited, Andi leaned forward in their seat, watching Alain expectantly while he buried his face in his hands. “Sir?”

“Go ahead, Andi,” his reply muffled. He rubbed his face and looked at them.

“Malcolm Parr received your request. He’s asked to stay in the field instead.”

Alain’s lips drew into a long, thin line as his gaze drifted to the middle of the table. S.P.I.’s ill-fated attempt on the Namekeeper’s life had put Malcolm’s cover at risk; sharing information on his fellow military recruits with Mesteno, the Scathachians and others only increased the danger. Withdrawing him at this point was the safe play…

But now the Temple has Jewell.

“Did he say anything else?”

Andi nodded: “He did verify that he’s back on the Namekeeper’s transport detail.”

“Then ready a sniper team, a car, and doctors. We’ll put a plan into play as soon as the two targets are in the same place.”

“Just to confirm,” the analyst began, but Alain cut them off:

“Jewell, too. The doctors will do what they can for her… but at this point, she needs to die.”
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 14, 2017 7:22 pm    Post subject: Kilo Delta Reply with quote

Tuesday February 14th, 5:12 p.m.

Malcolm Parr had killed forty-four assassination targets in his storied career in the secret police, an anarchist cell, and more recently as a knight. Tonight's targets would make forty-six, but these two -- like only a few others -- made his blood pound in his ears and his fingers sweat.

Killing these two would save lives.

The car was waiting out front of the old condemned apartments. He repeated the steps in his head to calm his nerves as he stood in the apartment lobby with the rest of his team, waiting to take over custody of his targets. Step 1: Follow them into the car. He made a show of checking the windows for movement, a haze of dust hanging in the air in front of the last of the daylight. Step 2: Spot the SPI car at the intersection of Third and Market. He heard footsteps coming from down the hall, and joined the rest of his team in looking that way. Step Three: One bullet in the Namekeeper's head; one in Jewell's heart.

The two guards emerged into the lobby first, scanning the room for possible threats, guns crossed over their chests. Seeing everything as it should be, the one on the right turned his head, signalling to the two remaining people in the hall.

The man known as the Namekeeper stepped out into the dusty lobby next. His hands were folded together inside the long sleeves of his priest robes, but the cowl was thrown back. He was a short man, stocky, with a beaky nose, a bald head, and sharp eyes. A few steps behind him was Jewell.

The Empress had seen better days. The dress she had been wearing when she had been summoned, a short, cotton thing, was soiled and torn. Her arms, legs, and throat were marked by deep iron burns and the left side of her face was dark with bruises. Unlike the guards and the priest, she did not look around. The faerie simply followed behind the Namekeeper and stopped when he did, the pupil of her grey eyes dilated as she stared straight ahead.

The Namekeeper seemed to pay the lurking presence of the woman at his back no mind, looking instead to the two guards escorting him. "Gentlemen," he said with a nod and they both stepped aside. It wasn’t until Malcolm had already stepped forward as one of their two replacements, that he realized the Namekeeper was looking him in the eye.

A smile formed on the Namekeeper’s thin lips as he completed his brief study. "You're Malcolm Parr."

The knight’s breath hitched. His fingers ached for their weapons.

Then the Namekeeper turned to look back at Jewell and simply uttered: "Kill him."

There was no moment of surprise that the knight had been made, that the guise of Ian Kendal had finally cracked after a string of betrayals, because there was simply no time for it. There was only time to move. To kill before more could die.

Reactions happened in seconds. He counted them as he fought.

One. The large man that moved between Malcolm and the Namekeeper barely registered the pressure of the gun barrel in his ribs before it tore a hole through him. Stars burst in front of his eyes as something heavy dropped on his head, another guard's elbow. Two. Someone seized his arm, pinning his gun to the dusty floor. His right hand was still free, and he used it to drive a thin black knife into his grappler's gut. Three. Raul got over his shock, and the first of his two shots tore through Malcolm's thigh. Malcolm ripped the knife out and flung it into Raul's throat.

Four. His vision cleared, and he saw a spray of red mist from Raul's throat in front of him. He swung his arm until it drew a straight line between himself, his gun, and the Namekeeper's head.

It took approximately two seconds for the Namekeeper's order to process before Jewell started to move. It took two more seconds, and three fallen guards, to give her enough liquid to work with.The faerie called the blood up off the ground, stepping up alongside the Namekeeper as she formed it effortlessly into an icicle.

Five. Without hesitation, she hurled it through the air at Malcolm, and he lurched backwards as his world was flooded with pain, and every other sense receded. He stared down at the crimson spear protruding from his torso, brought his darkening gaze up to the Namekeeper, and tried to draw another straight line. His arm wanted to fall limp. His fingers shuddered as he lost the strength to pull the trigger.

He fell to his knees, and saw Jewell’s bare feet as she moved forward to finish the job, but the Namekeeper stopped her. "No. He's done. We have to go. Now. Follow me." He heard the boots of the remaining guards join the Namekeeper’s as they headed quickly for the door. The faerie obeyed this new order unquestioningly, not even giving the knight a passing glance as he turned his head to watch them pass, but his vision was fading.

The last thing he heard was the rattle of broken glass as the door swung shut in the abandoned lobby.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wednesday February 15th, 2:13 p.m.

Seamus looked like he hadn't slept in days, and felt worse. He leaned his arm against the window and his brow against his arm, out into the busy Old Temple street outside of Cambini Manor. A Watch patrol, ranks swollen with deputized citizens, jogged down the street to one emergency or another. A crowd trailed out the manor's front door, and volunteers tended to the walking wounded and a few on stretchers, providing what they could and relaying information back to the overworked healers inside the Lodge. A large woman with a mace at her belt carried a small humanoid form covered in a blanket, either seeking last rites or resurrection. He grimly hoped it was last rites: the Order could not deliver miracles, however much he wished they could today.

Can't you give us a bit, Lord? At least Malcolm, and Arish. Haven't we earned that?

The Lodge itself was as much a field hospital as a shelter, the moans and murmurs of the injured and their loved ones periodically giving way to a chorus of pained cries and panicked voices at a new medical emergency. The small dining room Seamus was in served as a command center, but not all officers present were healthy and whole. Jamie's head was still bandaged over her reattached ear; she looked angry and miserable. Behind him, Knight-Sergeant Abdruin strangled her own screams with a string of abyssal curses as a healer mended her shattered arm with a draining flood of divine power.

"Knight-Captain."

Long gone were the days when the boy called him 'Shay,' sharing Sophie's familiarity; Saleh had grown into a man, and as a knight, he'd learned deference to his old comrade and leader of his Lodge. He had bandages wrapped around his left hand and bruises blooming across his face, but he'd fared a night of combat better than some. He lingered in the doorway, anxious and uncertain.

"Sir Saleh." Seamus mustered a grin. His brothers and sisters needed to believe -- for now -- that he still held his good humor. There would be time for grief later. "Gonna stand in the door quakin' like you're askin' me to dance, or show me what you brought me?"

Signs of Saleh's nerves disappeared with a twinge of irritation, and he crossed to slap a flip phone into Seamus' outstretched hand. "Recovered from the cellar in Sanctuary. It belonged to the witch."

"Belongs," Seamus corrected absently, then added, "I think." She'd been in awful shape when he and Issy had left her at a healing house affiliated with the Court of Summer. Sylvan Springs, he recalled, with effort.

"Ready a horse," he said, lifting his gaze to Saleh as he began responding to the stream of panicked messages on the witch's phone. "I'll figure out where her family wants to meet..." He frowned as he hit send. "...then you bring them to see her at Sylvan Springs. Go, make ready. I'll have an address for you soon."
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:59 pm    Post subject: Contact Reply with quote

March 20th, 1:15 p.m.

The last five weeks had been a considerable strain on Speaker Athai Qunelion; the same could be said for her fellow Councilors, and the Lord Sovereign himself. Enough damage had been done that the potential for further unrest in RhyDin remained very high. People had died, and the fallen knights and agents over the last two months had been Drasill’s first casualties in RhyDin since the assassination of Maureen Rae.

The situation could have turned out worse, but such faint praise was damning when there was no way of knowing how much worse it would have been. How could such a thing even be measured?

“...as indicated by the ethnic cleansings on Tarsus V and Belárth in 2011. In both cases, we saw portal-anchored quasi-states with a long multicultural history fall to protracted paramilitary campaigns, claiming tens of thousands of lives and displacing as many as four hundred thousand people. Both of these scenarios began with a massive redistribution of arcane power among the populace, and mass summoning of named entities, orchestrated by the Temple of the Divine Mother.”

Lord DeMuer looked restless, eager to be out of the chair at the end of the Council table. The Speaker paused, took a breath, and followed up with a prepared question: “How does the number of projected casualties, in a scenario where we had not sent our people out on what proved to be deadly missions in RhyDin, compare to the number we can anticipate based on what the Temple accomplished on the fourteenth?”

DeMuer’s restlessness quickly gave way to anger; he pressed his hands flat to the table and leaned forward to his microphone, the earnest lift of his eyebrows betrayed by the dark frown that preceded it: “I didn’t waste my time on any projections, because what possible purpose could they serve other than covering my ass?” The Speaker struck her gavel. Alain leaned back slightly, chided and more careful, but the tension was evident: he was coiled up like a serpent, eager to strike back. “The aftermath of Valentine’s Day in RhyDin, and the cleansings in Tarsus V and Belárth, are incomparable in spite of the many similar factors at play when each crisis began. RhyDin is more than capable of creating a refugee crisis, as we saw with the Vanderhorst scandal in 2012, and so far we have seen no signs of one.” He jabbed the report he had read to the Council over an hour ago, halfway through this hearing: “The uptick in asylum-seekers, while sustained, sits within the margin of error. No camps at any of the gates to leave RhyDin, including our own gates, and only three new ones near the city walls since the violence started, and no sustained growth at existing camps. Only one of the new camps now remains, as of last Friday.”

Lord DeMuer’s lean receded further; the Speaker cleared her throat and said, “To clarify, you attribute these developments to our intervention?”

“Our intervention, as well as those of the allies I have already named; I encouraged the current Overlady of RhyDin to seek them out, and I appraised them of the situation with the Temple, and provided them with the same intelligence,” and he cast a few looks to either side of the table, “that was approved by our Council.”

A few murmurs rose from the table, and Speaker Qunelion struck her gavel again. Then she folded her hands over it, giving the Lord Sovereign an appraising look from across the table. “One final question, before I call a recess. Have you been in contact with this Overlady, with Jewell Ravenlock, since her involvement in the deaths of Knight-Sergeant Parr and Knight-Lancer Jordain?”

Alain shook his head, answering without hesitation: “No. Not a single word.”
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