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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Monsters' Paradise

Before breakfast, Chloe the Infernal goes for a run, and after circuiting the playing fields she goes into the woods. She spots a flash of skin running across the trail, and after a brief moment of surprise, follows. She doesn't sprint, she just trusts that she'll catch up eventually. After a few minutes she catches up to find Emily scrambling to a hidden rucksack and hurriedly dressing herself.


Emily doesn't want to talk, but she wonders if she can trust Chloe with her secret. Of course she can says Chloe.
-Don't waste time on this dirty mongrel
scowls her Dark Power inside her head.

But Chloe tells Emily they'll talk later, maybe at breakfast.

***

Emily
At breakfast, Chloe is about the last one to arrive in the dining hall. She sits down opposite Emily, and along come Maria and Madison the Witch. Maria knows that Chloe is crushing on Emily, and can sense her nervous excitement, but Madison doesn't even recognise her.
Chloe quips that Madison has been siting behind her in Spanish for months; how could she miss that red hair!

Conversation turns to why Maria isn't sitting by Jimmy like she usually does. Chloe muses that she can't have dumped him already; but there's an awkward silence as Maria concedes that it's true. Maria assures Chloe that in the end he was a real douche anyway. But Chloe doesn't let up; when Maria says that she's bored (of this conversation), Chloe stings back with
-of Jimmy?

Madison approves of this stronger strain of bitchiness from Chloe.

Victor the Ghoul is conspiring with Cameron, who's noticed that the there's an undercurrent of awkwardness at the teachers' table. Something is wrong between Mr. Armstrong and his wife, Miss Carter-Armstrong...

As the breakfast finishes and Emily gets up to leave for class, Chloe grabs her hand and wonders if they can talk about what happened earlier in the woods, maybe at lunchtime. Emily is embarrassed, but suggests a picnic outside on the grounds.

***

There's an announcement from Ms. Wells about tonight's Fall Formal (blah blah blah, help setup, dress code, restricted to male and female couples...)

Miss Carter-Armstrong
While that's going on, Victor cuts out to talk to Miss Carter-Armstrong. He's been wondering about her differences with Mr. Armstrong. She dissembles, but thinks that Victor is so sweet for thinking of her. She gives him a quick hug, but quickly backs off as it lingers too long. She writes a note to excuse him for being tardy, making sure that there's no touching as she passes it over to him.
As he walks out the door, he turns back to observe
-I don't see Mr. Armstrong around school late anymore

Maria and Chloe talk about who they're going to bring to the formal. Maria reckons that Chloe should ask Emily, but Chloe isn't so sure, plus she really doesn't think that's what Ms Wells meant when she laid down the law on male and female couples. Maria laughs
-never follow their rules!
Maria
Chloe is thinking of bringing Javi; such a vanilla choice which obviously bores Maria, but she doesn't say anything.

Chloe thinks Madison would get along / suit Maria, half in jest, but later on Maria asks her. Madison plays hard to get, it'll cost Maria, and she wants her to get Emily's notebook for her.
Maria misunderstands, and wonders
-why, are you into Chloe?
But the utter confusion on Madison's face gives her the chance to dissemble and the moment is lost. But Madison catches herself smiling as she wanders away to class with a date for the night.

***

Ms Wells
At Chemistry, Miss Wells oversees an experiment. Cameron is sitting with Victor, they go right off-curriculum, pulling out the Anarchist Cookbook and scheming to get someone in trouble with some explosions/fire. Maria and Madison are paired up, and somehow Maria's gotten her hands on Emily's notebook already. Javi is picked out with some regret by Chloe, who bites the bullet to line him up for the dance tonight.

Maria and Madison are talking about Chloe, but pretty quickly it goes off the rail with rising jealousy. Maria's nascent bitchiness comes out and Madison gets really defensive. In swoops Victor, who seeks to distract them as Cameron swaps out their solution and sets them up for the pyrotechnics.

Cameron
Chloe struggles to get Javi to complete the chemistry lab, he's just not
getting it (maybe chemistry just isn't his thing, but he does seem like a bit of a dummy). She coaches him to read the instructions carefully. When they reach a lull, Chloe wonders if he's got anything planned for tonight. He thinks for a moment, and then it hits him; maybe they can go together! Absolutely. Chloe can't wait for lunch.

Victor notices that Madison is wearing his shirt, but oh-so snarky, she muses that she doesn't even remember where she got it. Suddenly Maria's long hair is on fire, and Victor ripostes
-Your girlfriend sucks at chemistry

***

At lunchtime, Chloe meets Emily in the hall after picking up a basket of fruit. Instead of just going to the playing fields, they head out to a clearing near the edge of the woods for their picnic. It takes a bit of encouragement to get Emily ready to talk. She asks Chloe if she'll promise not to tell or run screaming. Chloe tries not to joke, but tells Emily that she's pretty good at keeping peoples' secrets; but when Emily wonders what these could be, obviously Chloe can't tell her.

-I'm a werewolf
-Really, or are you just messing with me cause you don't want to tell me the real secret?
-I'm serious. I change into a wolf, and I can't really control it. I don't hurt people though
The Dark Power sighs and Chloe can feel him rolling his eyes inside her head.

Chloe tells Emily that sometimes she feels like there's a part of her that's darker than she can handle. Telling her to do things that she shouldn't do. She starts by thinking this is the best way to tell Emily that she understands, but then she realises that she's ashamed and can't tell her the whole truth. Emily has no choice in what she is, but Chloe does. She goes quiet.

Emily reaches over and leans in to kiss her.
-I suppose I can't stop you being stupid
mutters the Dark Power inside
-Will you just leave me alone!
Chloe struggles to keep her face still as she shouts at Oberon inside her own head and relaxes as he fades away.

She kisses Emily back.

***

Madison and Maria are planning payback in Madison's sanctuary. At high noon, they burn Victor's shirt in a ritual to bind Victor in a Ring of Lies. The ritual has a weird spillover effect on Madison. But one way or another, Maria is turned on in the afterglow of the ritual.

Victor and Cameron are plotting how they're going to ensnare Armstrong and Carter in their plans.

Meanwhile, Chloe and Emily have spent their whole lunch break making out, and when it's time to head back to class, Emily wonders what Chloe is doing for the Fall Formal. Chloe sighs,and explains that she's already asked Javi, but nothing's going to happen there. Crushing Emily's hopes makes Chloe feel terrible, but they agree to meet up tomorrow night instead for something.

Sidney walks in on Madison and Maria having sex in the room they share. She grabs her other bag and leaves, shaking her head, and is not impressed by Madison's invitation for her to join them.
Maria gets up to leave, while Madison secrets Maria's top for later use.
-I have drama
-Don't we all
But Madison wasn't following. Maria has drama class now, they're doing 12 Angry Women.

***

Mr. Armstrong
Chloe makes her way to Mr. Armstrong's room after last class. Peter Armstrong is surprised to see her, at least like he was expecting someone else.
-I know
declares Chloe resolutely. Continuing despite the confused look on Mr. Armstrong's face.
-I know about you and Ms. Wells.
The door behind her opens and in saunters Ms. Wells. Armstrong tells her that he'll be with her in a few minutes and she leaves again.
-Dump her or I'll tell Miss Carter

The Dark Power angrily shouts inside her head
-Come on! This much leverage and you've got to get something out of it! Straight A's at least!

Chloe grimaces and starts again
-and maybe you can start giving me A's. I'm continually getting B's from you and I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt where my essays are concerned.
Mr. Armstrong grows in confidence and insists that Chloe can hardly expect both things out of this. She'll have to pick one.

Chloe reaches back inside her mind, drawing on the Dark Power's vast reservoir. She looks Armstrong in the eyes and insists, with hypnotic certainty, that he will do both. But he just shakes his head, and counters that he'll take a closer look at her grades in future. Maybe she can expect a few more A's.

Chloe says ok and walks out, storming past Ms Wells
-He's all yours now!

And she gets ready to go for a run, incredibly frustrated with her and the Dark Power
-It's hardly my fault if you can't leverage my extraordinary gifts

***

Sidney
Victor meets Sidney in the hall. They quickly bond over Madison. She's being a bit of a bitch at the moment. Sidney's surprised to find Victor on the same page as her where Madison's concerned.
-She likes playing games with people are I don't like that
-I don't either
but Victor's response is punctuated by him doubling over in pain, like he's just been punched in the stomach.

As he recovers, Sidney says that she thought that he was being very jealous earlier at Chemistry, and Victor denies it out of hand and falls to his knees.

He helps himself up, using Sidney as support and when she suggest that they head to the nurse's office, he grabs a sharpie out of her bag and writes the name and address of a club on her arm
-After the dance we're going to head here, so I'd love it if you came along.

When they get to the nurse's office he seems a little bit better, but then, between one lie and another he dies in agony on the bed. Sidney's there, but the nurse had left to call for help. She's crying over him as he returns.
-Very exciting news
he drawls, as good as new.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Nest of Monsters

In the middle of the City, is the St. Amand High School, a high-end Catholic boarding school. With a Middle School attached and 22 acres of forest, it's a marvel this has survived the modern age. 


Whether it is unscathed by the harsh erosion of city life for normal political patronage or darker reasons, who knows...


Victor, the Ghoul

Victor is gaunt and has hungry eyes. Despite his best efforts, Victor is always denied the peace of death. Victor's a keen musician and is part of a quasi-band, a group of kindred-spirits with no plan and no organisation.

Madison reminds him what love was, when he thought that death had stolen it away from him forever.

Once Chloe found him fallen over a gate with a broken neck and saw him come back alive. She accepted it without comment, and that tacit understanding of the crazy world they live in now formed a bond between them.

**

Jordan got into a fight with Victor and accidentally killed him. He's mystified how Victor is unhurt.

Emma (Ms. Carter/English) believes in Victor, and she sees real promise in his intense writing.

Cameron is a real piece of work, stretches Victor into the most cruel of activities. He's a manipulative sociopath who is the brain to Victor's brawn.

Ian really annoys Victor - he's constantly stealing Victor's style choices (and not even doing it particularly well).

*

Recently, Victor broke up with Brie; she went crazy with religion, seeing visions and he can't handle that Joan of Arc stuff, especially with her conversion attempts.

Madison, the Witch

Madison has guarded, calculating eyes and practices Shamanistic magic. Madison is trying to set up a school newspaper.

She took Victor's black polo shirt from him after they made out a while back.

After having lent Chloe a book on magic she took a old and tattered goofy bookmark from Chloe's bedside locked. Chloe pretended it wasn't important.

Chloe caught her rummaging through one of her friend's (Maria) stuff, but kept quiet when Madison took a lighter from her (it was a cutesy artsy one with skulls and roses). Chloe casually wondered whether she dumped it with the rest of her stash.

**

Madison hexed Brie because she thought she was so much cooler than Madison. She gave Brie demonic visions and is now the most religious girl at the school.

Madison's life is made so much worse by the fact that her (adoptive) mother, Charlotte Abbington works in the school office.

Madison recently fell out with her long-time friend, Sidney. Sidney had a crush on Victor and was really angry with Madison when she made out with him.

Ash is a friend of Madison and Sidney but has chosen Sidney since she and Madison are no longer friends. She's into the occult with Madison as well.

*

Cameron made her cry when he attacked her family vulnerability after manoeuvring her into opening up to him. "Whey'd they give you up?"

Chloe, the Infernal


Chloe looks anxious, and has piercing eyes. She's a bartered soul [she doesn't know that it was her father who sold her to the Dark Power!] to Oberon, the Fallen.
Chloe's dad (Francis) is always away on business & her mom (Miranda) is busy doing lunch and such. Her younger brother (Luke) is in the Middle School attached. Chloe is a keen long-distance runner with the track team.

She already owes the Dark Power - after her room-mate Maria started dating Jimmy (who she knew Chloe fancied!) she realised one of Maria's secrets - the location of her stash of weed. But Chloe couldn't go through with it and rather than rat her out, she warned Maria that the prefect knew where her stash was and was going to confiscate it.

She owes Victor - one day when she and Maria were sneaking outside (to shop for Maria's favourite uncle) the open fire-door they left ajar was spotted by one of the teachers, but Victor took the blame for  it.

She owes Madison - for borrowing that occult book (festooned with despairing real-world critiques on post-it notes from Madison). What Madison doesn't know is that Oberon pointed her at the Witch, having identified her as the soul of an ancient priestess of his.

Madison does know that Chloe is entwined with this wonderful power which occupied the dark pool in the woods behind the school. But she thinks she can save Chloe by toughening her up, otherwise it'll consume the Infernal.

**

The Dark Power has a jonesing for Javi. He's a nice guy, the fastest guy on the football team and he and Chloe engage in light banter while they're doing their circuits of the field.

Chloe knows that Ms. Wells (Chemistry) is having an affair with Mr. Armstrong (History), who just happens to be married to Miss Emma Carter (English).

Emily, who's Maria's pot dealer, wasn't deemed pure enough for the Dark Power to accept for some reason, Her father is the groundskeeper, so she's on a scholarship here. More importantly, Chloe has a crush on her.

*

Chloe looks up to Miss Carter, she's her favourite teacher and it's the only class that Chloe really enjoys.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Doomed to Die

They wonder if they can somehow subvert Shirat's plan - before they connect with the Emperor's mind they can betray the acolytes' intentions so that he can protect himself in the month's time is will probably take them to connect fully with him.

As they consider the practicalities, mystical and political, they see an approaching column of cavalry coming across the desert. It's Juk and his fifty-strong warband.


They array themselves in a broad crescent around the eastern part of the Temple (where the holding is) and they bring a dozen of the villagers out of the houses as hostage. They kneel in front of Juk and swords are placed at their necks.

Sun and Cinder go out to parlay with Juk - and as she approaches the line, Cinder spots her parents kneeling right in front of him. She plays it cool, and wonders what Juk wants.

It's very simple, he replies - bring out Malerre and he will release all of the hostages immediately.
Sun appraises the situation; the best reason for them to betray Malerre is Shirat - Malerre is truly the only one committed to pursuing the Emperor's interests here. But they should be on the lookout for a small band of Juk's warband around the back (they could've easily snuck around as the column of horses with flying banners trotted up to the hold). Inside, Sun knows that Malerre is at Shirat's mercy (he'll have dispatched his warriors to the wall's defence, but Shirat always retains two of her bodyguards).

Juk yells out to the men he recognises around the walls of the Temple. He calls on their common sense to turn on Malerre and join his growing warband.

****

Jasner, poking his head above the parapet at the sound of Juk's familiar voice, is startled. He didn't expect to see his old commander again. Juk deserves to die, but Jasner reins in his thirst for vengeance though and bides his time.

Malerre organises the defence. He notices that Juk's offer has affected a few of his warriors, and splits them up to avoid any dissent from gaining momentum. He's suddenly wary of Shirat, she reckons that he is surplus to requirements, and he's very vulnerable to her bodyguards. Malerre kneels before her and is inducted into the Temple; he must kill the Emperor to prove his loyalty.

Outside, despite his misgivings, Juk allows Cinder to bless the villagers. She steps slowly along the line, anointing each of them with a sweet-smelling salve - the crown of peace, uttering a holy benediction to them individually. She steps back and with Juk looking on impatiently, she pulls out a small statue of a screaming woman - she brushes her lips across the head of the object of radiant misery and whispers her cruel incantation. The statue comes to life, rising up into the air above her head and exploding in a ruthless psychic assault.

Horses up and down the line collapse in screaming agony, and their riders are similarly afflicted. Some survive but are grievously wounded. Those at either end of the line recoil in horror. A few of Malerre's warriors on the wall (including Jasner) are also slain, as are a handful of villagers who were hiding in their houses.

Sun however is mysteriously affected, keeling over unconscious and bleeding.

***

Cinder stands triumphant, but a couple of Juk's surviving riders charge at her. She flees into the village, turning a corner and pressing herself against the rough wall in an attempt to hide. One turns the corner and as he lurches back to swing his axe at her, she clasps his face with her violation glove and forces him to attack the other one. As he refuses, she crushes his mind and tries to intimidate the other into fleeing - but he simply runs her through with his spear and leaves her bleeding in the dust.

Jasner climbs down from the gatehouse and slowly walks over to Juk, where he struggles to free himself from his dead mount. Obviously in pain and probably with a broken leg, the grizzled commander starts to reason with Jasner, but doesn't even get to finish his offer as a crossbow bolt thunks into his head.

Malerre calls out to the surviving men, reversing Juk's recent offer - if they join him and swear allegiance, he will bring them glory and fortune. Of course, they accept!

**

After the battle, a recovering Cinder grasps outward and forces herself to turn towards the Mountain. She sees the dawnlight slowly light up the land, showing grass and streams and fruit groves everywhere. But then she regards the Mountain and it spews forth liquid ash, which covers the land and turns it into the desert she knows.

This horrifies her and she sits down to convince Jasner to follow her lead - the evils of this Temple must be expunged, Shirat's sway must be destroyed and she will take over and help the Emperor defeat the Mountain.

When they are all ready to leave on their trek across the mountains back into the Empire, they strike. Jasner cut down Shirat, as Sun and Malerre battle the Temple guards. It is over very quickly and Cinder takes control of the surviving acolytes.

*

In the Empire, Cinder helps the Emperor to survive the acolytes assault as they become new Oracles, and she is central to his power. As chief mystic, wife and mother to the next ruler.

Jasner becomes a marshall, prosecuting a long war against a new foe to the south.

Back in the desert, Malerre and Sun slowly carve out a new duchy, re-establishing the old empire (though under another's aegis).

FIN


Friday, 24 June 2016

A Thorny Path

With the Eels wiped out, the Orphans take over their boat house, with its gear and a single undamaged gondola - should come in handy.


With Gap missing, Fancy Frank and Ghostblade off working a different line, Monger wonders if Quess will help them out and take on a greater role in the Orphans than just leading the gang of stone-cold killers.

Quess Salkara, aka 'Dogbreath' is a SPIDER. The Tycherosi is adept at weaving the web, and is Venomous (secreting the poison Standstill through her hands at will). She comes from a family of Tycherosi fishers, but used to dive for artefacts in the void ocean to sell them on. She's made her way to Doskvol and left that life; but drops into local fisher families who've lost their boats to keep their heads above (literal and metaphorical) water. Quess' demon mark is the gills on her throat that allow her to breathe underwater for a while. She wears a sharkskin bodysuit.

Quess' closest shrewd friend outside of the Orphans is Salia, an information broker. A regular in the same pub as Quess chose. Salia treated her well (despite the common prejudice against Tycherosi) and started trading information to her in return for fencing the best of recovered gear from Quess' diving.

Augus, a master architect hired Quess for her first assassination; it was to kill his son-in-law, a feckless dilettante. But for one reason of another, the job was bungled and the wife (Augus' daughter) ended up dying as well. Quess killed the second guy (responsible for bungling the kill) but it was never going to repair the trust.

****

Strangford relays a message (take through the monthly augury) from the Wicked Mother, that she wishes them to acquire a cult artefact from one of the Forgotten Gods - The Hand of Sorrow. The cult renact a mock ritual from their long history every few months across the bridge from their temple in Barrowcleft, and the Orphans must use that opportunity to steal the Tree of Woe, while the hour-long procession takes place. They will make a sacrifice, a healthy adult coiled in thorns, which springs from the blasted and eradicated stump.

They quickly find a telling vulnerability All of the cult members go to this important ritual, so the only people left behind at the Temple are a few hired thugs. They go to the bar for a few days in a row where those thugs frequently have a couple of rounds, and quickly get hired on as extra muscle.

The day of the procession, they head to the Temple, and they're made to drop their weapons (their obvious ones at least) into a strongbox at the gate - only wooden weapons are allowed inside the courtyard. They climb into roughly made black robes, and the gate is opened.

***

As they enter the high-walled courtyard, they are impressed by the main building. As decrepit as it is, once this was a grand merchanters mansion. The wings of the house almost encircle the courtyard, with grand staircases rising up to a high veranda. In front of them though come a few dozen grey-robed cult members, climbing out of a long staircase which descends below the main house.

They are chanting in some eerie and lost language, and incense is wafted around. As the cult pass the four guardians (two genuine, two scoundrel) they notice that most of the left hands look freshly burnt.

In the centre of the group is the sacrifice - a naked man and they are horrified to see bloody thorns coiled around his body, and in some places growing out of it. The briars are dark red and they sense hunger from the man (or maybe the thorns).

**

The cult leaves, and they close the gates behind them. Quess smiles at the other two and goes into full charming mode. They're used to her touching their arms and back from their time in the pub, so it doesn't seem odd when she does it now. The Standstill knocks them out quicker than they realise something's wrong.

They slowly descend the stairs, and this room feels dank. By the time they've reached the bottom, the floor is covered in moss and they hear trickling water. Low-hanging branches touch their hair and they go deeper into the room - they avoid those after they notice the razor-sharp thorns.

It's cavernous, and way too big. But in the centre, they see the Tree of Woe. It's an ancient war-spear, and out of the shaft comes a briar. Black and dangerous it coils around the spear until it rests on the lugs just below the spearhead.

They gingerly poke at it, and the briar reacts by growing towards them, seeking them out with some primeval sense.

They take out the strong leather gloves and cloak they'd packed away and wrap up the spear. As soon as it leaves the ground, the sense of the cavernous expanse goes and they suddenly feel claustrophobic.

On the way out, Monger stabs the guards, and they flee back to their lair.

*

After things calm down a little, the Cult's reputation has risen significantly, and they begin to get more recruits - the ranks of Strangford's adepts and Quess' killers swell.

However, there is a downside - Adkin, an occultist who was happy to work with them on some more esoteric projects, starts working for the Hand of Sorrow - one of the two guards they just killed was his brother.

In order to reduce the heat they're feeling, they put out a rumour, that the Lady of Thorns (another cult of a Forgotten God) was responsible for stealing the Tree of Woe.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Crisis of Faith

Crossing the mountains is much easier the second time; maybe it is that they know what they walk into this time or the fact that they have been well-provisioned and provided with study pack mules by the Emperor's quartermaster.

On the summit, the desert's stark and barren nature is shocking after their months in the Empire. But still, it is home.

Cinder wonders if the Mountain only acts through the Temple's acolytes, or does it have other servants abroad. She wrestles with her conscience and wonders if she can make the trip to seek an audience with Ahassunu. She needs to convince the Temple (but mostly Shirat) that the Mountain is evil - though she knows that some of what the Emperor does is evil too.


Sun has no such crisis in deciding on his righteous course. Picking a side is easy: the desert is their home, and giving up four acolytes will prevent the terrible destruction the Empire will inflict if they refuse.

**

They tell Shirat the truth! That the acolytes are conduits for the Emperor and that he needs the Temple to continue to supply him with Oracles. Cinder tries to convince Shirat that they can undo and perhaps subvert the Emperor's plans and bring peace to the Desert if they move the entire Temple across the mountains - but she refuses; she cannot make the trip and insists that this is the Temple's home.

Indeed, she urges them to strike against the abomination that is the Emperor. Any good that the Emperor appears to do across the mountains is only as temptation from the true path. They are soft and blind to the truth. They, as servants of the Temple/the Mountain must destroy the Emperor now that they are aware - she believes that (willing or not) Cinder betrayed the Temple while in the Emperor's presence .

They cannot bring her around to any kind of compromise - she cannot see that the Emperor is necessary or a part of the Mountain's plan.

In the chaos after the Emperor's death, they will be able to spread the Mountain's message throughout the land. In a moment of cunning and mystical insight, Shirat suggests that they can send four chosen acolytes back, and when they are open to the Emperor's mind they will destroy him, either by breaking his sanity or dying themselves - which will surely induce a more calamitous outcome for him than when two Oracles were murdered previously...

*

Shirat is very compelling.
But afterwards, lying alongside Sun in the dark, Cinder wonders with sudden clarity - what if the next Emperor had the Temple's gift (any progeny from her union with him would surely produce a child with both their talents).