Whateley Academy, 21 December 2006
A cavern, a place of ancient and potent magic that even Elder Gods treat with caution. A stone altar constructed long ago by those who presumed to appeal to that magic...
Harmless enough, if left alone.
Disturbed by a trap left by a sorceress for one of her rivals in beauty and magic?
Empowered by the raw and barely trained essence and ki of young masters in the arts of wielding such?
All the ingredients were in place... or perhaps more precisely a key had been turned in the lock. All it awaited was a hand to touch the door.
Had no one been there, had no one touched it, then nothing might have followed. Weather would have swept away the circle drawn on the altar, essence and ki would have trickled away through what channels they found.
Of course, Don Sebastiano was never one to leave well enough alone. Even - especially - when he didn't know well enough to know better. Knowing only that the plan, laid out by Hekate, to lay a critical division between Chaka and Fey had failed to leave them easy prey for a 'rescuer' to sweep in...
The young psychic spread his senses in search of anyone who might have meddled in the trap, allowing the insolent pair to slip free of it.
Normally safe enough.
Behind the locked door, out of his view, a ripple deposited a limp female form on the cold stone.
New York, 21 December 2006
The Anti-Paladin changed course as he heard the manager of the New York Chapter of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom call his name. Randall Pierce was holding onto the frame of a doorway - a doorway that, unlike the rest of the chapter house lobby wasn't tearing itself apart as a result of the super-battle that had engulfed it.
With space distorting itself into an Escher nightmare, running to the door turned into a stagger across floor, stair and in two places a wall before Randall reached out his hand and managed to yank his errant 'security staff' through the door.
Having salvaged all he reasonably could from the debacle, the manager slammed the door firmly on the chaos beyond. On this side of the door... was the lobby of the New York Chapter, unaffected by the chaos and the cleaning staff hard at work.
"What?" the mercenary asked, looking around himself and then back at the door.
"May I take that as a sign my ploy was entirely successful?"
Kurtz removed his helmet and rubbed his face. "How?"
“My dear Kurtz, have you ever wondered how the Grand Hall can afford to maintain a Chapter House of this scale and quality in NEW YORK CITY? The ‘house’ is actually 36 large separate and distinct spaces, and over a hundred smaller spaces, spread out through the five boroughs, Long Island, and Hoboken, They are connected in what the Trekkies might call ‘hyperspace’. This allows me to shuffle the interior of the Chapter House around to suit the -"
Both men turned sharply and looked at the closed door.
"You don't think...?"
Randall fished a key out of his pocket and locked the door. "Yes, well. Among the many advantages of this arrangement, is that when Korrupt and Pater Tempus violated the security prohibition against teleportation within and without the Chapter House it became my positive duty to prevent our being compromised. And the bylaws clearly state that members guilty of compromising Chapter House security are expendable so..."
"So you created an unstable bubble in hyperspace, slipped in a spare lobby and let things go smash somewhere containable?"
There was another knock on the locked door.
Both men ignored it.
"But what if they hadn't fatally compromised the security of the lobby?"
Randall grinned ferally. "With Pater Tempus, Korrupt and Bête Noir all involved? My dear Kurtz, I only wager on sure things. Bête Noir opening the door right in front of one of those tracking mandalas the Esoteric Chapter was planting around Manhattan made certain."
"And as manager, you'd know all about that."
The manager spread his hands. "I sent her a memo. It's not my responsibility to make sure the Executive Committee read the memo's I send them."
There was another sound from the door, but it wasn't another knock. The key was turning in the keyhole.
Kurtz crammed his helmet back on as the door opened a crack. Rather than an attack though, what came through was much worse.
"Interesting conversation you were having," a voice murmured from behind the door. “Hypothetically, what do the bylaws say about staff who set out to hinder member's plans?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Randall bluffed. "Who are you?"
"I'm the man planning on blackmailing you with a recording. Even if you avoid formal sanction, there are all sorts of informal problems that might arise to someone with the wrong reputation."
Kurtz and Randall exchanged looks, imagining for a moment the likely consequences if someone like Lady Jettatura were to deem them a threat to her security - and therefore expendable. "Not that I'm admitting to your laughable accusations -" the manager gestured for Kurtz to ready himself for an immediate attack, reaching for the door knob. "But what are you after?"
There was a sardonic opportunism in the "What have you got?" that was flung back.
Randall yanked on the door, revealing a serpentine figure - half-dragon and half-man, lurking on the opposite side. Dark demonic power hissing around his sword, the Anti-Paladin charged -
- directly into a kick that dented his armour below the ribs, forcing all the breath out of his lungs. Although he retained the presence of mind to bring his sword down, somehow one of the wings flicked it aside and then his helmeted head bounced off the door-frame.
New York, 21 December 2006
When the pretty lights were no longer clogging his vision, Kurtz found himself sprawled in one of the lobby armchairs, helmet and sword on the coffee table.
"Please hold still, Mister Anti-Paladin," one of the maids asked politely. "I'm still bandaging your head."
"It's quite alright, Kurtz." Randall moved into Kurtz' field of view. "Mr Abere and I have come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement and the chef is preparing a wonderful roast quail with mushrooms, a suitable dinner to welcome the Grand Hall's newest member."
"Of course. We do have vacancies now that the Ghastly Trio have... moved on. Young Mr Abere was quite amenable to being introduced to a charming and complaisant pair of young ladies of Bête Noir's acquaintance, who she'd thought might endear her to me."
"So you're sacrificing them to the dragon?"
Randall looked smug. "Judging by his more human guise, Mr Abere is perhaps sixteen. We'll get our stories straight over dinner - the debacle this afternoon, how you valiantly defended the Chapter House and my rather brilliant ploy to cut our losses - and then pack him off to Whateley Academy before any of the other members can interrogate the lad."
"And you think you can trust him?" asked Kurtz uneasily. Dragons, in his experience, were never good news. Plus he'd just gotten his ass kicked by a teenager, which wouldn't look good on his resume.
"Trust?" Randall shook his head. "He might be a young opportunist right now, but he's got the makings of a proper professional. Better get in his good books now... and if all else fails, Lady Jettatura would probably be interested in a source of half-dragon blood and bone." He grinned coldly. "And we don't have to discuss how he handled you... wouldn't do to have that on your resume, would it?"
Up the stairs, behind two doors - and halfway across New York City, depending on your perspective, Khrel Abere grinned toothily and looked out the window of the apartment previously assigned to Korrupt. It sounded as if Randall and Kurtz were going to be co-operative, at least for now.
"So," he suggested to the women flanking him - one arm around each of their waists. "Tell me more about this New York place..."
Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006
In the small hours of the morning, long after a frustrated Sebastiano had stalked away from the cave, the female form inside stirred and awoke.
Long blonde hair, mint-green eyes, long and pointed ears...
Sarasa Sybaern rolled to place her back against the iron-clad door, eyes wide and concerned. No enemies in sight or hearing... but no allies either. Those same senses told her the cavern was entirely empty.
Other senses told her that that emptiness was nothing to trifle with.
Without looking back, she ran her fingers across the door until she found the lock. With that established, breathing shallowly, Sarasa produced tools from her pockets and went to work.
Sooner than those who'd fitted the lock would have been happier to learn, it snapped open under the elf's ministrations and she pushed against the door.
Mouth dry, Sarasa tapped the door. Bolts, top and bottom. And something else - not a lock but something similar securing another device, intended to alert someone if the door was opened. It was tempting to risk a spell to throw the bolts and let whatever alarm it was sound...
But that might be hopping from frying pan to fire...
It took what felt like an eternity for careful probing with wires to work the bolts and secure the pins for the lock keeping the alarm for sounding.
The door swung open, just wide enough for Sarasa to slip through it. She closed the door behind her and restored the bolts before looking around.
Another door, one with just enough room for this one to open. Lightless to most eyes, the chamber gave up its secrets to her eyes and she gave the runes decorating the door she'd come through a respectful look. It would have been a very bad idea to try to open the door with magic.
Touching the handles, Sarasa frowned. The proportions were... off, slightly. Too large, too high? Something like that. With a shake of her head she reconnected the alarm and went to work on the single lock securing the next door.
This, at least, was easier.
Minutes later and this door too yielded to her efforts. Outside, she found not another door - as she'd half-feared - but on starlit snow. Looking up at the sky, Sarasa could see but the barest sliver of the moon above.
"Now where are..." Scanning the sky for constellations to orientate herself upon, the elf was increasingly baffled.
No Belnimbra's Belt and no Jester in the sky. Seeking the Brow Star to at least identify north, Sarasa thought she'd found it but the stars around it didn't form the Crown of the North.
Searching for that, she missed the formation of stars below it until she'd almost given up.
"The Big Dipper? But that would mean..."
Sarasa hugged herself, uncertain if she was happy or horrified.
"I'm... on Earth?"
Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006
While Sarasa would hesitate to call herself a tracker, it wasn't hard to guess that the glow over the hills was a settlement of some kind. And it didn't take an expert ranger to recognise footprints in snow. She could even make out three distinct sets of them.
"Hopefully the footprints I've already made aren't too much of a give-away." The snow was also getting her leather boots soggy but that, alas, was hardly the first time.
Reaching the heights of the hills, the elf took cover below a tree and scanned the newly revealed horizons...
"A crystal dome, an industrial something or other, brick apartment buildings... What is this place?"
Red-brick buildings were scattered around a hilly grove, probably the original complex. At a guess, some kind of ivy-league school or college, but it had been expanded with buildings out of the 1960s, 1980s, 16th century and mid-distance future.
That was on the surface but below the surface... the entire area was dotted with mystic sites, some not so different from the one she'd just walked away from, others more organised. "If this is Earth, there are a lot of things I didn't know about. Maybe I was wrong about that."
And maybe, she thought, leaving tracks as she had was more of a potential problem than she'd considered. The elf murmured a spell, lifting off from the ground and moving into the shelter of the tree branches above. Screened from at least casual view she started to circle the area. She needed information and while going right in didn't sound wise there was probably an access road.
Her expectations were fulfilled when she encountered a substantial stone wall - although one she doubted circled the entire campus - and followed it to where it was pierced by an ornamental double-gate with a well-maintained driveway leading through it. Gargoyles leered down from the top of the gate posts and the placement was entirely too obvious an opportunity for concealed observation or perhaps even defenders for Sarasa to approach closely.
She could see well enough though, to pick out the brass plaque that read 'Whateley Academy'.
A school then. A school that concealed and perhaps even taught magic.
"And if - if - this is Earth as I recall it, then it doesn't advertise that fact." Sarasa glanced up past the gates at the school again. Even at this hour there were lights - from up in the trees she could still look over the hills that would have masked the school from anyone entering the gate at ground level. "And those are electric lights so..."
With a nod she turned away from the school and started following the driveway. Sooner or later it would lead her to a road and a road would lead her to a town and then...
And then, Sarasa mused, we shall see what we shall see.
Dunwich, 22 December 2006
Several hours later, the small town of Dunwich, New Hampshire was more bustling than usual for winter. The scenic Miskatonic Valley brought in a steady stream of tourists at most times of year but colder and wetter months were a slower season. Today the streets - particularly around the small train station - seemed to be full of high school students and their luggage.
No sooner were their numbers depleted by a train departing than another coachload would be on their way down from the nearby boarding school. Only a relative handful of the six hundred-strong student body were collected by family and although a fraction would for one reason or another remain resident over the holiday season this was more than made up for by various members of staff who were also departing.
The Kenner twins, having a half-hour to go before their train left, were leaning against a corner, watching for amusement or something that could be made into amusement.
Bradley was the first of the two blonds to spot an opportunity. "Incoming nerdette," he whispered, eyes assessing the bespectacled blonde scurrying through the snow towards him, an arm-full of papers.
His brother glanced casually in the right direction. "Don't recognise her. Local girl?"
"Could be. Shame if she fell and those papers got soaked."
James grinned. "But some good Samaritans might help her up," he proposed. "And who know what might fall out of her pockets?"
They hardly needed to rehearse the calculated one-two. James - Hamper - needed no effort at all to induce a moment of dizziness in the pigtailed blonde as she straightened up after weaving between a pair of local men. One booted foot came down on the curb rather than an inch to the left and with a panicked "Waaah!" the girl forgot all about her papers - a stack of newspapers it seemed - to pinwheel her arms wildly in an entirely inadequate attempt to stay upright.
Bradley, who'd always had the better poker face of the two, darted forwards - carefully just too late to keep the girl from face-planting. The newspapers scattered into the mess of melted snow and dirt that covered the roads.
"Are you alright?" he asked, offering the girl a winning smile and his hand. Both had, by his calculation, a good chance of distracting a girl from his wandering eyes.
In this case they weren't wandering on areas that might get a slap - after the glorious sights of Whateley's sizeable population of Exemplar girls, plain jane here might as well be part of the scenery. No, he was looking for something like... ah, some sort of purse or wallet, already half-way out an unsecured pocket.
"I... I think so." The girl had lost her glasses in the fall, staring up at him with bleary eyes as she tried to focus. "Can you see my glasses?"
"James," Bradley called, "Help me look for the lady's glasses." He nodded in the direction of them, trusting his twin to be creative.
Once he had a secure hold on the girl's hand, he helped her up, his free hand plucking away the purse and slipping it into the pocket of his overcoat. "Easy does it, can you stand okay."
"Thank you." The girl didn't seem inclined to let go immediately.
James cleared his throat. "Miss, I'm afraid your glasses..." The lenses were fine but as an Exemplar-2 he'd been more than able to twist the frame between his fingers without being obvious about it. The result left the lenses at 90 degrees to each other and the spectacles were unwearable without twisting then back - which might well be the final blow to the nose-bridge.
"Awwww..." the girl moaned. "All this and I dropped all my research too!" She squinted fiercely to look at the newspapers scattered and soggy on the road. As if on cue, a van zoomed past, scattering the papers that weren't ground into the slush by its tires.
Bradley shook his head. "Sorry, think they're gone. Have a Merry Christmas!"
Turning their back on the girl was its own form of fun. Show her what she was missing out on.
James glanced at the reflection in the shop window once they'd gone a block. The girl had turned away towards another corner, not looking back. One of the businessmen from earlier had turned around and was walking back their way, head lowered. "So?"
Bradley produced the wallet. Plastic faux-leather, holding the usual bank cards, a few coins and a driver's license. "Huh, didn't think she was old enough to drive."
His twin looked more closely. "That's not her picture on the license. That's -"
"That's my wallet!" the businessman called out in relief. "Thank god you boys picked it up."
The twins exchanged glances. "Glad to help. Uh, just to be safe..." Bradley held up the driver’s license. "Okay, can I have your name please? Can't be too careful these days."
"Sad but true. I'm Jim Buckley."
With a nod, Bradley handed wallet over to Buckley, who checked the contents. "Just to be... uh. Boys. There were two Jacksons and a Hamilton in here when I lost it. You wouldn't know where fifty bucks walked off to, now would you."
The Kenners exchanged looks, less about innocence and more about what they'd do to the girl if they saw her again. "News to us," James assured the man. "Looks like you didn't just drop it. Better call a cop. If there's a pickpocket going about."
"Yeah." Bradley patted his breast pocket. "Shouldn't carry cash these days, sir." Then he patted his pocket again and opened it. "Crap! My wallet."
James groaned. "Oh man! Get your phone and have the cards cancelled."
"The cards?" His brother grimaced. "I had the train tickets there too!"
Dunwich, 22 December 2006
Around two corners and wearing a face just as false as the one of the nerdy girl she'd worn a moment ago, Sarasa dumped her second wallet of the day in a trash can. Sixty-four dollars and seventeen cents wouldn't get her far, but it was better than nothing and two train tickets to Boston was well over a hundred miles if she chanced using one.
Right now she was more interested in getting a hot chocolate from one of the diners and figuring out where the nearest public library was. Dunwich didn't even have a McDonalds or a Burger King, so either this world had an economy drastically different from what Sarasa expected or the village depended on a larger town for services like libraries.
Right now she was betting on the latter.
The mug of hot chocolate and a muffin in front of her, Sarasa pulled out a leaflet she'd found racked at the station. Listing all the stations along the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle's route, she wasn't spoiled for choice. It looked like the nearest city or perhaps major town was called Berlin.
She'd never heard of the place but the tourist information that filled out the otherwise quite short leaflet suggested it was quite rural - historic paper industry, oldest ski club in the USA, French-speaking traditions...
Tilting the mug back to drain the last of the hot chocolate, Sarasa lowered her head and was surprised to see an elderly woman had sat down in front of her while she was distracted.
"Millie does make excellent hot chocolate."
Sarasa nodded pleasantly. "So I've discovered."
Her new companion leant forwards and spoke quietly. "If you hadn't lifted Jim Buckley's wallet, he'd have been in just the wrong place when an eighteen-wheeler slips out of lane due to ice. Unintentional as it might be, I think he'd agree that's worth the fifty dollars. On behalf of the Town Council, please leave it at that."
"I really don't know what you mean." But a shiver went down her spine nonetheless.
"Yes you do, dear." The woman lifted her own mug and sipped it appreciatively. "I wouldn't advise you rely on those tickets all the way to Boston, it'll occur to the young men that they ought to report them as stolen a few minutes before the next train to leave reaches Berlin. You'll have time to leave the station there before word trickles down."
Face slipping into that of a teenager confronted by an unwelcome non-sequitor from a geriatric or insane elder, Sarasa slipped out of her chair. "Gosh, is that the time? I've got to go catch my train..."
"Good girl." The old woman folded over her napkin and dabbed at her lips. "But do be sure to be back here before the New Year. You wouldn't want to miss your friends at school." There might have been nothing significant in how the woman nodded then - although she did so at a slight angle that meant she was nodding in the direction of Whateley Academy.
The elf left the diner briskly, mind whirling. Should she ignore the tickets and look for transportation other than the train? It was tempting but little that was good ever came of ignoring an oracle. Of course, few stories suggested that fixating on one helped either.
One way or another that old woman was a seer, diviner or oracle. Trustworthy was another matter.
Sarasa's feet took her to the train station while she was still wrestling with the decision. Crunch time...
She decided to take the train. Halfway to Berlin, she'd ditch and continue on foot. That way if an ambush was waiting for her there... let it close on air. If her 'friends' really were going to gather at Whateley Academy then she could get back there easily now. And it wouldn't be hard to tell.
The explosions, riots and other hallmarks of their presence would probably be obvious.
Whateley Academy, 22 December 2006
"The tracks go as far as the nearest hill overlooking the school," Reverend Darren Englund reported with unusual terseness. He was on touchy ground since Halloween, even if his removal for the Board had been blocked. "After that... nothing."
Elizabeth Carson nodded from her place at the head of the table. "Quite possibly whatever it was didn't anticipate needing stealth until then. Did Residue find anything?"
"I didn't take her further than the outer door. From what she says it was opened from the inside but by purely mundane means."
"Ordinary lockpicks? That isn't supposed to be possible." The headmistress didn't need to take physical notes but she did make a mental one to have the workshop look into a new lock - and perhaps an entirely new door to the cave. "So we don't have any information on what came out?"
"Judging by the footprints, humanoid. Unless it's a shapeshifter of course."
The Dean of Students shifted in her seat. "Oh happy thought. If it replaced one of the students..."
"We'd be unlikely to recognise if someone's been replaced. That's the worst case scenario. Best case, whatever it was got scared off when it saw got a look at Whateley. Chances are we're almost entirely alien to it."
"Not so alien that it couldn't cope with our locks."
"Quite right, Liz." Dean Shugendo leant forwards. "Have any of our neighbours reported trouble?"
"The tribes have their own concerns, but given how on edge they are I can't see anyone passing through their territory unnoticed. As for Dunwich -" Carson cut off as her cell phone rang. She raised one eyebrow as she put it to her ear. "Can I help you, Mrs Potter?"
She paused, frowned and then leant back in her chair.
"Hmm. I see. I suppose you know we had an unexpected visitor last night?"
The rest of the available members of the Board watched her with bated breath.
"I see. It's like that, is it?" Her eyes flicked from one to another of the Board. "No, I've not heard anything. One moment please." Carson looked to Franklin Delarose, covering the phone with one hand. "Is there any more news regarding Tennyo?"
The head of security shook his head. "Not since Tom Manning let me know she'd gone into the mountain. The CIA are still sitting on that information."
The headmistress nodded and put the cell phone back to her ear. "No, nothing new."
Another moment and then, "Yes and Merry Christmas to you." She closed the phone.
Englund was the first to speak. "Did she know anything?"
"Knowing something isn't the same as being ready to share it, Reverend." She folded her arms. "We're all bid a Merry Christmas - one we shouldn't waste worrying about this matter, she says."
"It appears we should expect more students than usual to arrive after the vacation. More difficult students."
Dean Shugendo shook her head. "Difficult students? It's not as if we don't have plenty of those."
"She's meddling again," Englund grumbled.
"That seems to be a perquisite of the Board of Trustees."
The Reverend subsided at the reminder of the strings he'd pulled to arrange for Residue's scholarship at Whateley.
"In any case, we may have already heard of one or more difficult students already. I had a call from New York."
"Yes. I need to get back there. Our young angel there will need the protection of Whateley until she can..."
"Perhaps so. However, the call wasn't about her. It seems the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom have a protégé they feel would benefit from a Whateley education."
"They haven't involved themselves for quite a while. I wonder which of their members is behind this."
Carson shook her head. "That, they didn't tell me. Just a name: Khrel Abere."
New York, 22 December 2006
Having politely shed the companionship of Courtney and Ashley, the pair of young ladies set to see to his needs by Pierce Randall, Khrel was busy seeing to needs he didn't particularly feel inclined with the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom.
For one thing, right now Randall and the Anti-Paladin thought he was financially dependent upon them, something they probably thought would let them tie strings to him. They'd hardly have arranged a loan from the Grand Hall's petty cash if they didn't expect him to someday replenish those offers – and with interest.
Even his sponsorship to the apparently not too distant Whateley Academy was expected to ultimately rebound to the favour of the Grand Hall. Since the school was - according to what he'd been told - located in a mountain range miles from the nearest city, going there couldn't really happen too soon. Khrel was getting itchy, surrounded by so many people.
His instincts for where to find a dodgy part of town and shops that did business that would mysteriously be unreported to the local authorities - for taxation purposes or otherwise - didn't seem to have dulled though. When a pawnshop owner offered him fifty dollars for a gold coin, Khrel knew he'd found the right man - or one of them, anyway. Grinning toothily the whole time he produced a dozen more and suggested there should be another number in front of the fifty.
When Khrel walked out of the shop twenty minutes later, there were twelve not especially crisp one hundred dollar bills taking the place of the coins in his pocket. It probably wouldn't have taken so long if he'd been closer in appearance to his actual age.
Heading down the street, eyes open for another suitable shop - or for trouble - he recalculated. He'd only have time for one more shop before returning to the Grand Hall's 'supervision'. It wouldn't do to leave them too suspicious. He'd been sure to 'carelessly' jingle additional coins in his pocket, but the man had been so oblivious he could have missed hearing them.
A jeweller had a sign in the window saying it bought gold. From the look of the displays, Khrel thought that buying gold cheap and selling it on was more likely to pay the rent than the jewellery was. Exactly the sort of place he was looking for.
The clerk was a rat-faced man who might be dressed respectably but couldn't disguise sharp eyes and ears. The former widened when Khrel produced yet more gold coins and narrowed speculatively when the tall teenager took a rather gaudy ring that had somehow ended up among the coins and put it back into his pocket.
This time, with only eight coins on offer, Khrel bargained more sharply and added a thousand dollars to his stake. He also walked out with the clerk's eyes fixed on his back and his hands hidden behind the counter, working on something. Reflected in the glass of the shop across the way he saw the rat-faced man move a phone into view and turned right so the camera caught his good side.
It took only four blocks for a group of teenagers - or slightly older men who'd not matured out of the mind-set - to catch up with him. "Hey, kid, you got a lighter?"
"Nope." And amusing as it might be to light whatever you're smoking with a fireball... that's not what I'm after.
The one who'd asked nodded and pointed towards a shop on the corner. Oh look, an obvious distraction. And right as we pass an alley... "Spare a buck so I can get a lighter than?"
"I don't actually have a dollar bill on me," Khrel admitted and then snagged the wrist of the man who reached out to yank him into the alley. One twist, two quick paces and... WHANG! ...Khrel was standing inside of the mouth of the alley, his assailant having collided face-first with the side of a dumpster. "Why don't you boys ask the nice man bleeding there," he added.
They followed him of course. Two of them produced switchblades and a third seemed to have - although he had the sense not to produce it - a pistol under his jacket.
Khrel never laid a hand on them.
His feet, yes.
And he hardly had to 'help' at all, for one of those with knives to place that knife's blade into the arm of one of the others.
"The quality of modern youth is on the decline," he observed sadly. "Now then boys, why don't you spare yourselves some more bother and tell me who I need to talk to to get connected around here."
Khrel sighed and applied the tip of his shoe to an unbloodied part of the person making unproductive noises. "Don't just repeat what I say," he chided. "I know you're barely grease between very little cogs but you certainly know someone more prominent than yourselves or the jeweller’s clerk in the field of arranging matters outside the arm of the law. You'd better know such a name, at least."
It would be immensely frustrating if he had to keep doing this in order to catch someone with half a clue.
Something of the intensity in his eyes crumbled bravado. "Turrin. Leo Turrin. He's running a string of call girls over in Jersey. I don't got his number."
"I don't need his number." Khrel stepped over them, shooting a derisive look at the one who'd been carrying. The youth in question gulped and stopped trying to wriggle to get the gun out of his pants - a holster might have kept it from slipping through the waistband and rendering it inaccessible.
Two minutes later and the apparent teenager slipped into the crowded subway, just another anonymous commuter buried in a heavy winter coat, face half-hidden by a muffler.
Berlin, 22 December 2006
A long walk through the woods to Berlin gave Sarasa time to think, always a valuable commodity. Other than tire marks on the logging trails she crossed, she might almost have been back in Faerun.
She wasn't though, so when she entered the town it was in another guise.
The young girl in the slightly faded red winter coat and the woollen cap didn't draw much attention as she tramped up the main street, noting shows where she could assemble a local wardrobe that was more than illusion.
On the right she spotted what she'd been looking for: a red-brick building with a sort of Renaissance Roman arch forming a porch. Outside a tablet in the shape of an open book allowed even the illiterate to know this was the Berlin Public Library. Presumably to allow said illiterates to avoid it.
Sarasa, now Mary-Alice Bellouin (in her own mind and soon to others), stamped her way up the stairs and stared big-eyed up at the woman behind the desk - and the shelves that fill the library. It had been a long, long time since she'd seen so many books in one place.
"Can I help you, sweetie?" the librarian asks, bringing Mary-Alice back to herself.
"I have a project," she explains. "I don't know where to start."
The woman practically melts. A cute young girl and a desire for knowledge, how couldn't she? "Then you've come to the right place. What are you looking for?"
"It's about pary... p-perry-normal..." She sighed and shook her head as if frustrated by her inability to remember the word.
"Un!" Mary-Alice nodded her head vigorously, glad the hat would keep her ears from being revealed. Now as long as she wasn't directed off to a shelf full of nonsense...
"Right over this way." The librarian took a chance and left her desk to guide little Mary-Alice to a set of shelves packed with formidably sized book. The first she took down had a great many pictures, including one of a man in a blue and white spandex suit with a large red C on the chest.
Almost before Mary-Alice could blink she had a half-dozen books in her hands. None of them looked like the sort of heavy reading necessary to give her an in-depth knowledge, but with titles like 'An Illustrated Paranormal History of the Twentieth Century' and 'Superheroes And Their World', she could at least get a reasonable overview. "Thank you!"
"It's no bother dear. If you want to get anything else, you know where the shelf is now. There's a stool at the end - please be sure to use that if you want to get something else from the top shelf." She leant down conspiratorially. "Some of the boys think that they can climb up the shelves like monkeys but it's really not a good idea."
They shared a laugh at that.
"Just put the books on that trolley, behind my desk, when you're done with them."
Mary-Alice nodded her head and said "Un," again. Disarmed by the cuteness, the librarian ruffled her hair before heading back to her desk.
Stacking the books on a table, the blonde girl sat with her back to the librarian to hide the fact she wasn't taking notes - and that she was reading every page at a glance.
Magic, at least, had been around for a long time she gathered. However it hadn't been too prominent until the rise of other paranormals created a niche for the practitioners outside of reclusive study. Superheroes dated back to the 1930s with super soldiers fighting for all sides during World War Two. The predominant issue - aside from the not precisely trivial possibility of nuclear annihilation - since then had been the issue of mutants.
Tracing the broader term of metahuman down in the glossary of 'Who's Who: 100 Superheroes and Supervillains', Mary-Alice found the other broad categories as Imbued (roughly, people who'd found a magic ring or the like), Origin (people who'd been changed, such as a werewolf bite), Baseline (otherwise ordinary people distinguished by especial knowledge of magic or science - or just possession of power armour). Mutants, however, were genetically different and in a consistent fashion - despite being consistent in very little else.
Setting the book down, Mary-Alice frowned. She was fairly sure that anyone seeing her ears would assume she was a mutant. Unless there was a tradition of 'were-elfs' which was a pretty ridiculous idea when you came down to it. There would be queues forming to get bitten.
The girl rested her chin on her hands. Particularly at her apparent age, mutant simply made the most sense. Fortunately a talent for magic wasn't uncommon among mutants it seemed. So... she'd emerged as a mutant, gained a talent for magic and run away from home.
Plausible, she judged. There was obviously some prejudice against mutants...
So where should she go to...?
There wasn't any mention of the school she'd seen, which was obviously aimed at metahumans rather than just arcanists, given what Mary-Alice now knew.
She drummed her fingers on the table and checked a sidebar in 'Superheroes And Their World'. Apparently mutants were legally required to carry an identification card, issued by an agency called the Mutant Commission Office. That would be the best place to start.
New York, 22 December 2006
There were any number of things to do in New York, particularly in the company of two pretty young women. Some of them weren’t legal at Khrel’s apparent age but since Courtney and Ashley didn’t seem bothered about that, he wasn’t going to fret either. Among the list of legal entertainments was shopping and since he wasn’t having to pay the bill Khrel was happy to splurge on the ladies while he was at it.
There was a slight reversal of roles – wearing new dresses Courtney and Ashley were sitting waiting from the back of the store when Khrel emerged with the in-house tailor. “I’m rather pleased with the way this displays your shoulders,” the man said. “Not quite the fashion today, but you really carry it off.”
“I’ve nothing against following fashion as long as fashion isn’t stupid.” Khrel adjusted the cuffs slightly and worked his shoulders. “Some things are classic for a reason.”
“It looks good on you.” Courtney left her chair and walked over to stand next to Khrel, wrapping one arm around his shoulders. “But not everyone can pull it off.”
The boy placed one hand around her waist. “That’s not a problem I’ve generally had.” He looked over at Ashley, sitting over the bags. “So did you lose the coin-toss or something?”
“Actually I won.” She smiled smugly. “Courtney gets to take the bags back to the apartment, so my time will come.”
Khrel gave the tailor a ‘women, what can you do?’ look. “Well you’ve got the credit card, Ashley. How about you settle up the bill for this while Courtney and I get my clothes together. You don’t mind me wearing this out of here, do you?”
“Not at all, sir.” The tailor produced a business card. “And if you want anything else… or if you ever want to turn your hand to working professionally, please give me a call. It’s nice to see another man interested in fashion without acting like a mincing fool.”
“Stereotypes are harsh,” Khrel agreed amiably.
One misdemeanour back in the changing rooms later – Khrel was more or less indifferent to the law and wouldn’t have gone out of his way for the act but Courtney was enthusiastic – he left the shop arm in arm with Ashley. If it encouraged the Grand Hall to think he could be led around then so much the better. Possibly Ossip or Lissa was rubbing off on him. He hoped not, that would be damn embarrassing.
“She has that flush.” Ashley waved down a taxi. “You’re a beast, you know that?”
The woman laughed at the joke, not a flicker of concern to suggest she thought he might be serious.
Which he was, of course.
“So we’ve done my shopping for clothes. What do you suggest next?”
“How about a movie? Dreamgirls premiered at Ziegfield, they’re still running that there.”
“What’s it about?”
“Sixties and seventies R&B. So it’s historical, and they’ve got music.”
“Maybe if we eat first.”
“Hey… there’s a place down in Brooklyn that serves food while you’re watching the film. I’ve never been there but it sounds good.”
“Convenient at least. Are they showing the same film?”
Ashley squeezed his hand lightly. “I don’t know. We can find out when we get there. Wanna call a taxi?”
Spotting a flash of yellow in the traffic, Khrel stepped out a little and waved it down, using a little spell to encourage the taxi driver to be helpful and pull over. “We’re going to Brooklyn,” he advised. “The…”
“I know the place.”
“I don’t suppose you know what’s showing?”
The cabbie grunted and then fished around in his glove compartment, producing a newspaper. “Might say in here,” he offered, passing it back.
Ashley leafed through it, eventually finding a listing. “Aw, they don’t have Dreamgirls.”
Khrel took the paper and ran one finger down the listings. It came to rest on Rocky Balboa. “What’s this?”
“Oh, didn’t you hear about that? Sylvester Stallone’s made another Rocky movie. You like boxing?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Ashley leant over and rested her head against his shoulder. “You’re sure built for it.”
The boy sighed and put one arm around her. What I’m not built for is this city. Another day or two and I’ll go crazy with all the crowds here. At least this school they’re taking about is out in the sticks.
Last edited by drakensis on 2014-08-24 02:52am, edited 1 time in total.