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[00:01:30 - 20 Jun 2072 Aztec Pyramid, Regeneration Room]

Bewildered by the stream of lights flooding his field of vision, Boris takes a small step forward. “Chto eto za?!” He screams, shaking his head frantically.

Perhaps it is another dream, he muses to himself. Even so, his previous experiences with the Horror’s mind tricks have taught him that the gang of spirits floating around the room may still be mortally dangerous. Instinctively, he reaches down to draw his weapon focus. Normally, it would have been sheathed at his side. But this time, it is nowhere to be found. “Blat!!”, he whispers as he gropes around for the hilt, only to feel the cold, wet and artificial texture of what’s supposed to be his hip. Surprised, he looks down at his naked, glistening, oversized, polymer-coated… cyberlegs?! Nuts, bolts, steel plates, mechanical hydraulic joints—the whole deltaware shebang. Glancing at his arms and belly, the rest of his body looks similarly unnatural.

Must be another dream. It must be!

He squints his eyes, summoning forth his astral senses, and breathes a small sigh of relief as the dazzling glare of what is--unbeknownst to him--his cybereyes’ image link is replaced by the somewhat-familiar astral auras of the spirit hoard advancing upon him. His own aura, however, appears to be extremely unfamiliar: deathly black, and covered with thin, dark tendrils of astral pollution that writhe about his silhouette.

Drek!!! What type of trickery is this?!

Realizing that there are more pressing things for him to worry about now, he narrows his eyes and takes quick look around the room to assess the situation. He is unarmed, in a room full of angry spirits; this doesn't look too good. But wait! There is someone else there, and it doesn’t seem as if these spirits are too friendly with him, either.
[00:01:28 Jun 2070 - Room 12 - Aztec Pyramid]

Just as Angel finishes trading blows with the IC, expertly avoiding its attacks while delivering a punishing series of blows that finally collapse its form into so much digital chaff, the spirits in Room 12 finally cause enough damage to the support systems to cause the safety protocols to kick in. A flood of drugs and disconnecting equipment forcibly drag her from her world into one filled with light and sounds. Fortunately the systems and her own mental resilience protect her from the bulk of the shock. It's still enough of a shock that the first thing the waiting Mandala hears out of the tank is a tirade of barely coherent Aztlaner.

As the drone lifts her out, Angel blinks several times attempting to adjust to the world that she has only seen through cameras and sensors before. Finally she stares at the oddly out-of-place Mandala, tentatively reaching out to poke him in the chest, as if to reassure herself that it's not all some kind of strange dream. Satisfied that at least her eyes weren't deceiving her, she quietly responds to his greeting, "Who are you?"

Wincing a bit she carefully swivels her head to get a look at the surroundings, eyes widening as she takes in the chaotic destruction that the spirits caused before dropping her head back to rest on the chair provided by the drone. "Ugh. My head hurts. What happened here?"

As she waits for the strange man's response, she tries to take stock of her situation. Her body feels shaky and weird, but aside from the splitting headache it seems generally fine. The drone currently holding her seems to be a better transport than unsure legs though, so she attempts to log in and see if she can get status and any other information out of it, staying in AR so that she can easily converse with her new companion.
[00:01:31 Jun 2070 - Inside Room 12, Angel's room - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4; Force: 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

"My name is Mandala. I and my friends broke into this Aztlan pyramid as an advance team for a full scale assault on the pyramid by our superiors. We became aware of your presence here, and the nature of your restraints and the behaviour of the pyramid staff suggested you were in deadly danger, so I stayed here to protect you while trying to rouse you from your drug-induced coma.

"A teammate of mine discovered a weapon here that dealt with the immediate threat to you, but it released a horde of spirits that have been attacking everything and anything they can destroy. I have cleared this room of the enraged spirits, but they proliferate elsewhere in the pyramid. I believe I have found a way to make myself unattractive for their rage, but I don't know how they will perceive you, even if in my presence.

"We need to remove the outer magical ward on the pyramid to permit entry for the main force, but have encountered difficulty removing it. If the ward does not come down in less than fifteen minutes, our mission will fail and a great evil here will overcome us all. The ward is fed by blood pumps elsewhere in the pyramid. I neutralized one, I think, but we need to get to at least one more before the system will fail and remove the ward. Our team is attempting to regroup in order to do so. If you can move, it would be good to come with me. There is an aura around you which weakens my magic, but it also impedes the defenders and the enraged spirits, so it would actually be beneficial if my teammates could assemble in your presence.

"If you happen to know something about the pumps, or any weakness they have, I would be grateful if you would share the information."
[00:01:31 - 20 Jun 2072 Aztec Pyramid, Regeneration Room]

Immortal Li landed heavily and righted himself, slowly letting the gears in his cybernetic leg adjust to his weight. He quickly took stock of his situation.

Looks like I'm in some sort of corp facility. I'm surrounded by angry spirits (weak though) and all my equipment has been taken. The only other person here is some cybernetic monstrosity who at least hasn't proven hostile yet. And worst of all, I'm naked and wet from this...machine. This will not do at all.

For a moment the memories of the Horror, the madness, and the burning need to know threatened to overwhelm him. No, there are practical matters to attend to.

With a thought, the commlink implanted in his leg activated and his agent, a little panda named XiaoMei, sprang into existence. Apparently we're here for a meeting XiaoMei. Why don't you slip into the local grid and see if our guests have arrived yet.

With that taken care of, his mind turned to weaving a construct to digest the local mana. Piquant

As his mystical construct churned the local mana into something more digestible, he turned to the strange cybered-man.

Greetings. I am Li. Forgive an old man his failing memory but I feel as if I should know you.
[00:01:28 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Angel's Room]
Background count: Aztech 4

Angel begins to slice through the Evo-Orderly's systems when she is greeted:

"HURRAH YOU ARE OUT. I TOLD MR CHIPS WE COULD DO IT! I HOPE ZERO'S PLAN WORKS The icon of GREMLIN rushes toward's you and gives you a hug. MR CHIPS in his school teacher's gown and mortar board gives you a smile. "WELL DONE CHILD. THE MAJOR IS DISABLED, AND YOU ARE ALIVE. SETTLE DOWN AND I WILL GIVE YOU A ONCE OVER."


The Evo-Orderly kicks to life. The twin robot arms grab metal posts, which it whirls with the deadly promise of death and the Orderly begins to move at some serious speed toward's the stair's down.

As the Evo-Orderly passes one of the rooms, GREMLIN stops. In that room there are two naked individuals, one heavily cybered, one a very skillful martial artist. Both were under attack from rage spirits, although most of the rage spirits were busy attacking other inanimate objects.
[00:01:28 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Outside room 27a]
Background count: None

Marduk stops examining the knife for a moment. The rage spirit's progress is being tracked by the huge codex, and they have just arrived outside his door. With a snarl, the door forms a mouth, and tendrils fly from it grabbing a spirit. The spirit screams, and is dragged into the maw of the door. Marduk has heard a lot of screams in his long life, but few were as unpleasant as this. The spirit's astral body is shredded and consumed.

Filled with rage, half a dozen rage spirits at once charge the door. The carnage and screaming is terrible but short. No further spirits approach the door. Marduk takes his hands away from his ears, breathing heavily. That was...unpleasant...

[00:01:28 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Basement Store room]
Background count: None

Alyena, Fearghas and Ryl regroup. Following Marduk's advise, they were all masking as Rage spirits. The Rage spirits flood into the room and begin to destroy things, but somewhat to their reassurance not themselves.

Suddenly there is a horrible sound. A sound that chills them. It is the sound of multiple souls being rent assunder. The rage spirits hear the sound, and flee.

There is an oasis of silence. A temporary cessation in the combat.
[00:01:28 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Outside room 27a]
Background count: None

Bjeorn masks as a Rage spirit. For him it is easy as he is often angry anyway, and the other rage spirits give him a wide berth.

Grabbing Jonathan's Valkyrie Cocoon, he shoves it out the room. There is a faint snap of cables that Bjeorn hardly notices. The Cocoon is heavy, but on wheels, and although Bjeorn bangs it a couple of times into the concrete walls, he manages to get it up to a fair lick of speed.

Then there are the stairs down.

Bjeorn doesn't stop pushing and the Cocoon bounces down the stairs in what must be a terrible experience for the inhabitant. The cocoon rolls to its side and scrapes along the concrete floor until it comes to a rest outside the basement door.

Faintly Bjeorn can hear the screams from the end of the corridor. He shrugs, he's heard worst.

There is a faint moan from inside the Cocoon
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]
Background Count: Cyberzombie 4 (Just realized that Boris is emanated background count as well).

Boris glances sideways at the small, Chinese looking elf and nods. Glaring back at the 5 nasty looking spectres closing in on him, he crouches into a defensive position and clenches his fists. Unwittingly, this triggers the pneumatic mechanism in his left cyberhand, which pops out a small, nasty looking serrated cyberblade.


Barely having time to register his surprise, the spirit assailants descend upon Boris and his menacing aura. The tall elf launches himself into a flurry of parries and blocs, moving with the lightning speed afforded to him by his brand new Aztechnology synaptic booster. A glancing blow by one of the spirits sends him veering off to the side, but he quickly recovers and retaliates with a series of quick thrusts and jabs that seem to have no effect against the spirit's materialized form.

Drek!! Realizing that he is more or less doomed unless he can get his hands back on his sword, he glances towards the door again, and then back at Li. “The door! Get to the door! We need to get the frag out of here!”
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]

Ah drek!. At one time the rage spirits would have been no threat but it had been too long since Li had fought in close combat, without his magic or allies. He was too complacent, too old, too..

Ahh! One of the spirits had left a deep gash across his pot belly. Need to lay off the American food

Another one leapt onto his chest, ready to tear his face off and it was only dumb luck that caused him to trip backwards, throwing the spirit off with only a scratch on Li's cheek for it's trouble.

Frag this! Li sprints for the door. Hey, an orderly! I could sure use, Oh!

Li pauses.

I don't mean to bother you lady and...elder but you seem remarkably unperturbed about the rampaging army of mad spirits. May we accompany you?
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]

Warily eyeing the spirit horde as it suddenly disappears from whence it came, Boris waits a few seconds more before lowering his guard. Ignoring the other three individuals in the room, he closes his eyes, dismisses his astral perception, and take a deep breath in preparation of that intense lights show which now seems to accompany his regular vision. Exhaling slowly, he opens his eyes to receive an update from his newly implanted image-link.













>>> CURRENT TIME: 00:01:34... 35... 36...

Flabbergasted, he raises his left cyberhand close to his face to have a better look. Chrome... pretty top-notch, the sort of implants the Black Dagger razorboys got. To make sure, he gently taps it against the metal chassis one of the remaining regeneration tanks. *CLUNK CLUNK*. Yep... that's chrome alright.

What the...

Becoming suddenly reminded of Li, Mandala and Angel's, presence, Boris spins around to face them. Standing just a little short of 2m tall, it does not seem as if this red-haired elf has a natural bone left in his body, save for his skull and face. Both of his arms, legs, and torso have all been cybernetically replaced and coated with some weird polymer (which Li may recognize as Ruthenium). They are all disproportionally large compared to Boris' head, leading you to assume that in all likelihood, there are probably some more cyber goodies packed into these cutting edge implants. His eyes and ears are also pretty obvious cyber-implants. All in all, he looks pretty much like a freak. And that's before you've had a glance at his astral aura.

"WHO are YOU, WHERE are WE, and just WHAT the FRAG is going on here?!"
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]




[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Inside Room 12, Angel's room - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4; Force: 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

Mandala walks with Angel and her supporting drone out into the corridor, Angel's aura overriding the pyramid's own background count. They pass a door through which a battle between rage spirits and others who seem to have been captured.

"This way. Come with us. We go to a place of relative safety from these spirits." He indicates the way down to the basement.

He prepares to blast any spirits that block the way.
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - En Route to the Basement - Aztec Pyramid]

Boris frowns. He doesn't appreciate being ignored. Then again, this is hardly the time for being argumentative. Besides, maybe Mr. Voice In My Head can give him some answers; he does know about the Horror. What the hell is going on here? The last thing he could remember was that blood shaman chanting in Aztec and slitting one of his foot-soldier's throat to power up that nasty fireball spell. Then came the flames. Then nothing.

<< [To Mr. Chips] Alright, comrade. Let's start with your name. Then, I'd appreciate if you tell me where I am, and who exactly these people with me are. Also, if you could please elaborate on what all of this chrome is doing in my body, that would also be nice>>
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Room 27A - Aztec Pyramid]
Background count: 0/+2

Marduk extends his senses through the book out to Mandala. "Mandala, my Friend. We need to reestablish the mind link again. I have figured out how to link us to the Magical TacNet inside this building." He seems rather happy with himself, even if he IS holding a Skull and a Dagger in his hands.

[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]

<<[MR CHIPS to Immortal Li and Boris]

ALLOW ME TO MODIFY YOUR MAPPING SOFTWARE [3.6Mps of data transfered to both Boris and Immortal Li] YOU HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED BY A HORROR, WE THINK THE ONE CALLED YSRTHGATHE. YOU ARE AT <Map reference showing you to be somewhere in S. America>. INSIDE <Map reference showing you the building you are in, and your location in it, and a route to the basement>. THE TOP TWO FLOORS ARE OCCUPIED BY THE HORROR.

OUTSIDE IS <Tactical map shown with the outside area controlled by blue forces. Three dragons are shown on the map. Several parachute deployed small tanks are there. There are over 2,000 troops scattered around. Several very large craters are in evidence>





Somewhat disturbingly the icon of Mr Chips was wandering around inside Boris's and Mr Li's commlinks with an admin account

[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - Inside Room 12, Angel's room - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4; Force: 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

Alright Marduk. I'll see what I can do. Under the current conditions the spell will be horrendously difficult and potentially more damaging to me than anything the enemy has done so far. But it will have to wait till we are all together so I can touch you all as I cast it.
[00:01:36 Jun 2070 - Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]

Ah, Barsaivian nonsense. Why can't they ever keep their problems to themselves? Still, I had hoped not to become involved with Ysrthgathe again.
A slight shiver runs over him.

Yes please, Mr. Chips. You're quite skilled, however did you come to be here? I don't suppose you could also provide a more detailed map of the pipes for this blood ward? And perhaps a general map of the plumbing for this building? Thank you.

As he walks down the hall, following Mandala
I am known as Immortal Li, although I suspect that is no great distinction in this company. Suffice to say I am involved in eastern affairs and had hoped that my troubles would not be this serious.
Turning to Boris
It is your history, Mr Boris, that is of the most importance right now. Servant, I am guessing, to Queen Alachia and trusted enough to be carrying some information Ysrthgatha found so valuable he stitched you back together. My condolences of your current condition, by the by. Can you remember what information he sought from you? Anything having to do with a box, perhaps?
[00:01:34 Jun 2070 - En Route to the Basement - Aztec Pyramid]

With the spirits temporarily neutralised by their masking efforts Ryl shook herself...scales tinkling like chimes as they rubbed together...and prepared to follow the others back to the basement. Absently she touched the ring hanging from a chain around her neck and ensured her commlinks were secure.

Snagging the slightly damaged armour jacket from the floor - it wouldn't do to be naked when she resumed her human form and theprison fatigues were shredded - she tucked in her wings and proceeded cautiously, the flames still licking her jaws the only sign of her tension...
[00:01:40 Jun 2070 -Room 27A - Projecting into Temple - Aztec Pyramid]
Background Count: ??? -2 Aztech from Dagger

Marduk projects himself into the temple, leaving Mandala behind with the others. He arrives at the Western most part of the pyramid.

The temple is a strange Juxtaposition of order and chaos.

In the centre is a mini Ziggurat, with priests sacrificing at full rate. As he watches the one known as Snake Head rips the beating heart out of a captive and raises it high in triumph. The body tumbles down the Ziggurat where a conveyor belt takes it away. Two guard's are already positioning a young girl in a white robe, with flowers in her hair in position. You can see two other pairs of guards moving docile (drugged perhaps) captives. The captives are stored in the two South parts of the pyramid.

Chto za huy

At the top of the pyramid a line in spaceis begining to form. A vertical line that is perhaps 2m tall. It radiates a sickly purple aura. With the death of the last captive, he sees the aura pulse.

In the NE corner is a hooded man who is screaming invectitude at a minion that he has gripped by a claw. The minion is turning black, and ichor is pouring out of him onto the floor. The hooded man doesn't seem to notice that he has killed the minion, and carries on shouting at him. There is a lot of high tech equipment, near the hooded man, with around 20 minions working feverishly hard, although they seem the scenary.

The doorway down below is closed with a block of concrete 2 metres thick sitting across it.

There are two guards near the blood pump, but they are looking very nervously towards the hooded man, and in Marduk's opinion not operating at 100%.

There is a hole in the roof directly above the ziggurat. It is dark up there.

Taking all this in Marduk's reaction is to concentrate on the TacNet and see if he can open up a channel to Alyena without leaving the Temple Area.

Boris stops for a moment and turns both palms of his hands up. Stares at them, he shakes his head in disbelief.

Pizdetz... polniy pizdetz.

Looking up at Li, he sneers. Maybe. I suggest we wait for the the rest of these guys' friends to sort out exactly what is going on here.

You, Buddha man, he calls towards Mandala's back. I think I remember you. You are the one with the little golden statue, are you not? Who else has the Queen sent here with you?
[00:01:36 Jun 2070 - Hallway outside Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]
Background Count: Golden Beauty 4; Force 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

When Immortal Li identifies himself, Mandala does a double take. "So... Immortal Li. You have changed over the centuries. When last I saw you, at the opening of the Pear Garden by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, you had considerably less metal in you. I am Mandala. I too was different then, but more by choice then than you now, I should think."

Boris' interjection breaks Mandala's moment of reverie of better times. He turns to the elf. "Your mistress is a 'need to know' kind of woman. Perhaps you were kept ignorant for a reason. 'Loose lips sink ships', perhaps?

"Here. Down these stairs. The others wait there and you can see for yourself."
He leads the way down.
[00:01:37 Jun 2070 - Hallway outside Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]
No, I'm afraid these modern times have not been kind to me. One must be philosophical about one's losses, of course. You, however, look as glorious as always. I look forward to our future conversations, in more pleasant circumstances of course.
Immortal Li follows Mandala down the stairs, eager to meet the other intruders.

[00:01:38 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]

Fearghas turned his head to face Alyena and Aria as he went through the room's stores, pocketing the more interesting weaponry and equipment and working on assembling the weapons and equipment too large to carry, such as the missiles. "So, about that blood ward... it might be a good idea to bring that down soon. Just a thought. Don't mind me, I'm just minding my own business stealing things and making bombs. I'm not cut out for this hero business anyw-"

He was interrupted by Mandala approaching down the hall, deep in conversation with two unfamiliar faces. Or perhaps not. One of them looked massive, distorted, warped by machinery and ware, and looking at him gave Fearghas an inexplicable feeling of discomfort and anxiety in the Awakened parts of his mind... but something felt oddly familiar about that face and that walk, like a memory hovering just outside of recall. He spoke to Mandala in Mandarin, "Nǐ queshí yǒu qíguài de kǒuwei chǒngwù metahumans, jīngshén (You have a strange taste in pet metahumans, spirit). And I thought that human who loved eating drywall was bad, you weirdo. Who are they? And what's this I hear about the Blood slitch?" The latter he said with a hint more seriousness, but it was subtle.
[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4; Force: 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

Mandala smiles at Fearghas' jibe. He responds in Mandarin, pointing to his Chinese friend, "This is an old acquaintance of mine, a very old acquaintance, from my days in Imperial China, who is now known as Immortal Li. The other," he indicates Boris, "is a servant of Queen Alachia. One of her personal guard, I believe. I met him when I was recently summoned to her presence. As yet I don't know how either got here." He switches to English. "We, Angel the Matrix magician and I, have swept them up in her personal background count to come here through the enraged spirits to the safety of the basement. You may very well feel her unique aura affecting your magic. We need to deal with the ward soon, as I heard you say, and now that Angel is in our communal company, I feel free to do what I can to bring down the ward.

"Li and I have been discussing on our way down. He has a handy spell he and I could use, one that shapes metal. With that spell one could warp the pumps until they disfunction. This is an option to discuss with the team as a whole. The rest are in Room 27A, are they?"
[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4

"I think I will miss this TacNet once we leave here. Perhaps I shall keep the book if I can and study it. It is, quite convenient." Marduk says as his ghostly image walks through the wall. "Mandala, Fearghas, I see you have found friends." His astral image is one of a Dwarf wearing simple robes, though he does appear to be holding a skull in one hand, and a wicked looking sacrificial dagger in the other. "We need to get those wards down fast. The Horror is currently frustrated and killing his own minions, but that will not last. They are creating a Rift in Astral Space. I worry that they are attempting to open a Portal back to the Home of the Horrors. Let us regroup in room 27A, I shall open the door for you, so the construct will not eat you, and we should reestablish the mind net for everyone." He eyes the giant cyberzombie, "Well, almost everyone?"

He looks around, "Where are Ryl, Bjeorn, and Alyena?"

[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4

~We are here Marduk, I think that is all of us?~

Ryl and the others approached from the storeroom where they had climbed down once more through Bjeorn’s impromptu access tunnel. She shook her wings to dislodge the scattering of dust and debris and briefly arched her back like a cat, the black and silver scales once more gleaming iridescent in the weak emergency lighting of the pyramid.

She looked at the others beyond, immediately noticing the glowing aura surrounding who she could only suppose was Angel. Although it obscured her own magic she revelled in the feel of her aura. Then she saw beyond to the portly gentleman talking to Mandala and another elf...

...she hissed and a gust of fire wreathed her head...his aura was tainted, contaminated by ware to the point he should be dead...another bloody ‘zombie

She addressed Marduk alone, the sibilant tones of dragonspeech tinged with her disgust

~Who is this one? Clearly not one of our foes...are we to now allow such as these to aid us? I feel I should recognise him but...~
[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4

"Mandala has said he is one of the Thorny Bitch's Personal Guards." Marduk keeps away from him, "To have been immortal, and turned into such. It is a Uzas... " He stops himself and just shakes his ghostly head, . "Should we all convene in room 27A? The aura there is quite lovely. And I have much to tell you about the layout of the Temple floor. I was just there." Marduk is clearly enjoying his new found ability to astrally project.
[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Basement Storeroom - Aztec Pyramid]
Background: Golden Beauty 4; Force: 6 -- dropped Psychokinesis, Accident and Movement powers

"This one is a member of Queen Alachia's personal retinue. His story will be interesting, I'm sure, when we can hear how he got here in the state he is.

"Yes, let's convene there. That room is the one Alachia specifically said must be defended at any cost,"
Mandala glances pointedly at her minion, "so we should base our operations there. From there, we can send a team out to deal with the ward."

Mandala heads that way quickly, enjoying the momentary surge of his energies as he steps out of Angel's aura.
[00:01:41 Jun 2070 - Hallway outside Regeneration Room - Aztec Pyramid]

While following Mandala to room 27A,

While Mandala has kindly introduced us, I'm afraid I don't recognize most of you. I'm familiar with Mandala and I believe I recognize Ryl and Fearghas from their associations with a certain...disreputable character. I am embarrassed to admit I do not recognize you Marduk, however, or Bejorn or Aleyna. Would you do me the honor of introducing yourselves?
[00:02:06 Jun 2070 - Outside of Room 27A - Aztec Pyramid]

Marduk stood, this time in the flesh inside the frame of the doorway. He still held the skull in one hand, and the dagger in the other and waited patiently for the others to make the last few feet to the room. "Please don't mind the horrible horror construct door." He said with a smile that bellied just how worried he was. He stepped aside as the others shuffled into the overwhelming aura of peace and hope that was inside Room 27A. "I am Marduk the Mad. Loyal subject to a King long Dead, and sometime agent for your Mistress. Usually when I can't get out of it."

"Bistro my friends, Bistro. I wish to close this door before something unpleasant arrives."
[00:02:10 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Room 27a]
Background count: Divine Beauty 4

Finally everyone gathers in room 27a. Outside the sounds of destruction from the Rage spirits can be faintly heard, but none are coming near that horrific door.

Inside the room is a feeling of harmony, also bliss. A feeling that most haven't felt for over a hundred years when the last heard the bird of hope.

It is clear that Ysrthgarthe's defences will hold against the current assault long enough for him to complete the ritual that will summon his brother Horrors. In his dream with Boris he was fearful that in the past you saw his box long enough to learn his true name. Well, with that in mind perhaps it is time to remember the past, to remember the last time you saw that box.

Marduk leads the ritual. You holds hands in the center of the room, and begin the familiar chant. Bjeorn and Ol'Scratch stay back to guard the room, while GREMLIN gathers another set of droids from the store room. The sound of the chant rises, and gradually the room begins to swirl, and fade out...
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Casting your spell, the world swirls. Everything is dark and brooding and it is with some effort that you break into the past.

The swirling slows and stops. It is a scene familiar yet strange. A planning meeting only an hour before the Embassy Ball at which you start a quest whose outcome will shake the world. If you succeed the Fourth Age will end, but it will end gently. If you fail, at some point in the future there will be a cataclysm that makes the visitation of the Horrors look like a church picnic.

The fabled White Rose, head of the Theran resistance, is giving the briefing. An individual so wanted by the Theran that information leading to her capture will result in a King's Ransom. Yet she is still at large. Her powers are unique to her. Should she will it, all magic will stop. When she was a child, magic would cease where she touched. Now she is an adult, her aura has a range of miles. The Therans desire her dead, but should she be captured alive, there is no limit to the power and money they would give.

A scroll of parchment is unrolled on the wooden table showing a map of the palace, another shows a painting. Her finger stabs.

"Here is the Throne Room, where the Ball will be held. Here and here are their most powerful air defences. Our plan is not so simple, as many things must be coordinated to make it happen. Here are some time sticks" she hands out simple wooden sticks. "When you pulse them with mana, they will start to glow at one end, and the glow will move along the stick. There are five marks."

"When you hear the cryers calling the tenth hour you are to pulse the sticks. Fearghas and Dannrhil you are to disable this first air defence. It must be disabled by the time the second marker is illuminated. Boris and Immortal Li, you are to disable the second air defence. It too must be disabled by the time the second marker is illuminated. Marduk, Alyena and Mandala, you are to make your way to the roof above the Hall of Two Axes where the Labrys of Metis is held. When the air defences are disabled, you four are to join the others on the roof above the Hall of Two Axes."

"The Resistance will launch an attack on the first mark. It will be violent, be prepared for it. This should distract the guards, and divert their strength to the west of the palace."

"Ryl you and I will wait in your ship. When the first mark illuminates we sail for the palace, at the third mark we will rendezvous with the others above the Hall of the Two Axes. When we meet, we shall endeavour to shatter the magical ward that guards the Labrys, and deal with any mundane guards. By the fifth mark we must be away, or we will probably be captured...and this is an unpleasant eventuality."

"I implore upon all of you to give your best. This is a time that will define the future. A time of Heros. I want you to be those Heros"

With that the White Rose stops and indicates that questions could be asked.
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Mandala takes the offer to ask. "It would appear that Marduk, Alyena and I are to merely go to the roof and wait, while the others deal with air defenses. That seems simple. What am I missing? Will there be those who bar the way?"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"Yes" says the White Rose "There will be those that bar your way. Both physically and magically. Hopefully the Resistance distraction will work, and it may be that you can talk your way past guards that you meet. I hope so. It is important however that you ensure that the roof is safe for us to land upon"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"I see. I understand now."
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"The Storm Swift sails at your pleasure. Neither she nor her crew will let you down!"

Alyena glances up from the map of the palace. To those who know her well she looks a little uncomfortable in the full skirts of formal court dress. Her hair is a far cry from her usual, practical style. It is piled high on her head, held in place with jeweled pins and takes coiffure to a higher art form. The only concession to her normal attire can be seen when she moves, the toe of a boot appears briefly, rather than the delicate sandal one would expect.
"This 'diversion' will we be able to recognise your people? I do not want to waste either our time or their lives in any misunderstanding as to whose side they may be on"

[00:02:10 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Room 27a]
Background count: Divine Beauty 4

The White Rose pauses, it is clear that she is measuring her words carefully.

"Against a magically powerful foe like the Therans, we have to be careful with revealing identity. I think it is safe to say however that you will recognise the main element of the diversion. Our main ally is the Therans themselves. The existence of the Great Shield has made them complacent, and they are extremely decadent"

"Unless I misjudge you the guards will only be a minor threat. There are obviously a significant number of adepts in the Palace, not as guards but doing jobs or courting power but I have some confidence that they will be discommoded by my diversion. The War College is only a mile away, and its occupants are intelligent and quick thinking. I suspect that within a short span of time, they will deploy troops"

"I anticipate that the biggest problem will be getting away. We are in the heart of Great Thera, and while the theft part of the operation is likely to succeed we will have to escape back to Blood Woods for your Queen" she nods at Boris " to fulfill her part of the arrangement. The Storm Swift will need to live up to its name"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Fearghas sits quietly off to the side, staring blankly at the wall and absentmindedly stirring his mug of alcohol with a spoon as if it were tea. He does not seem to notice or be bothered by this fact. There are dark circles under his eyes, and one or two stress lines across his cheeks. He has been in such a state since the razing of his home city of Iopos and the near-obliteration of his extended family by the Passion's Champions many years ago. He himself has escaped three different assassination attempts in the last year by agents of the Passion's Champions. As if they think I'd still be interested in helping to take over Barsaive. Peh. Narrow-minded idiots.

"Good, I'd rather take the drake over the Blood Traitor's poster boy anyday," he mutters softly without glancing up as the White Rose declares the assigned teams. When she is finished, Fearghas raises the mug to his lips and downs the alcoholic drink in one go, puts the glass down, and rises (somewhat unsteadily) to his feet. "Your plan is a good one, Rosey. But there's a little too much being left to chance in this plan. You're assuming that we'll be able to bring down the air defenses in time, which requires the assumption that there will be no nasty surprises waiting for us. Unless you've made sure to do all your homework for this plan, like a good plotter should. You're assuming that nothing will get in the way to prevent us four from reaching the others at the Hall of Two Axes in time. You're assuming that the Therans won't have any nasties to attack the Storm Swift to prevent or delay its arrival. Most of all, there seems to be an awful lot of risk that we won't be able to get away in time. These sorts of things always take more time than we plan for, after all. We will need more deception, more misdirection, if we are to stand a good chance at succeeding."
[00:02:10 Jun 2070 - Pyramid - Room 27a]
Background count: Divine Beauty 4

White Rose pursed her lips. It wasn't so much that she minded being called Rosey, it was the fact that Fearghas was nearly drunk.

"One of the problems of a magical powerful enemy like the Therans is the danger of mind reading. It is critical that if any of you are captured the plan is not negated, and thus there is the need to hide from you many aspects of how the mission will be fulfilled."

"You are right this is a high threat operation. But should we try more misdirection and trickery we would be playing into their hands. They are fat and lazy, but one thing they are good at is politicking and sneaking. They are well equipped to deal with a stealth operation, as we have learnt to our cost before."

"Our plan is attacking them where they are weak. They have not had a serious assault on the Invisible Castle for hundreds of years. They have had uncountably many sneak attacks and deceptions pulled against them. They are extremely well equipped under normal circumstances for detecting small groups of assassins no matter how well concealed or how much trickery involved. "

"Our plan involves a great deal of violence, and will put them into a position that they are not practiced in dealing with. I am very confident...I might even say I will guarantee...that most of the guards will be very very busy"

"Many of the Council of Princes felt the same way as you did at first, but after reflection they concurred that the direct approach has a higher chance of success than a stealth mission."

"Now may I suggest that visit Mr Thackery downstairs before you go, he has an excellent No-Drink potion"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Don't worry, these Therans are cowards. Should they attempt some trickery, we need merely unleash our righteous fury and they will scatter like the curs they are. Tell me, Miss Rose, will the Therans even have any notable warriors in attendance?

[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"Fearghas, you blithering idiot. Go get sober." Marduk scowled at him, and then getting up from his seat, sighed. "This is basically a suicide mission, but it is one worth dying for. You are convinced that this operation will put an end to the Theran's mockery of the Passion's Will? If you can look me in the eyes and tell me so, we shall be there and do what we do best. Cause Mayhem and destruction upon the enemies of this 4th World." Marduk's eyes took on a swirling pattern as he spoke, the clip of his tongue making a hypnotic sound. "This Fourth Age must end, so that the Horrors are finally gone. The next age will bring new wonders, and I am ready to see this one end. Even should it kill us all."

Well, it's always been said Marduk hadn't been right since that encounter a few decades ago, and he'd been earning his monicker more and more frequently of late.

[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Mandala laughs. "Unlike Marduk, I do not seek destruction, but a good cause is worth a great risk. The twisted magic of this realm tastes wrong to me. Let's put an end to it. We shall hold the high ground, come what may."
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

White Rose stands.

"Your question is good one Mr Li."

"Each of the air defenses is guarded by a group headed by an adept and a lesser adept. The group will be 20 strong composed of 8 gunners, 8 reloaders and 4 guards. The gunners and reloaders have had basic training but are not serious threats to yourselves. "

"The first air defense (to be assaulted by Feargash and Dannrhil) is lead by Argbod Delaram. As you are aware Argbod is a title usually reserved for the commander of a castle, but this is a ceremonial post after all. The Argbod has a good reputation: he is harsh but fair, and his men love him. He is a swordmaster who is thought to be the twelfth best duelist in the city. I recommend that you do not duel him! His second in command is Tirbodh (commander of archers) Jamshid. The Tirbodh is not a woman with many redeeming features, other than her skill with throwing daggers. There are rumors that she dabbles in Nethermancy. Those rumors are true. Personally I believe that she has been posted here as a punishment detail, and there is no love lost between her and the Argbod."

"The second air defence (to be assaulted by Boris and Immortal Li) is lead by Argbod Liu Yin. She has traveled the Silk Road, and has strange unarmed combat powers. We feel Immortal Li, that you were best tasked to this... Her second in command is Tirbodh Orang. Like many windlings, the Tirbodh has chosen the path of the thief. "

"We are 'fortunate' that the usual guard for The Hall of the Two Axes, where the Labrys of Metis is to be found, was disgraced today and is currently under guard in his room. He is a serious opponent. His replacement, while still formidable is a beaurocrat and this will be their first tour of duty. The eunuch Elementalist Mohsen will lead 20 guards. There are significant intrinsic defenses in the Hall, most of them magical. There is a good chance that most of them will be negated by my presence."

"A decade of planning has gone into tonight's mission, and whatever the outcome it marks the beginning of the fall of the Therran Empire. This time tomorrow the city will be in ruins, and the First Governor's palace will be rubble. Worse than that: battles like this are won and lost in the hearts of the common folk, and (as will become clear) the ruling elite will lose any moral credibility in the hearts of these people"

With these cryptic words, White Rose sits and begins to study the map again.
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Mandala studies the White Rose for a moment, astrally as well, based on her cryptic comment about the effect of her presence.

"Your presence will negate most of the magical defenses in the Hall of the Two Axes, you say. I understand the need for secrecy in sharing tactics, but can you tell us whether this negation will affect our powers as well?

And, I assume the distraction you will create elsewhere will draw guards to it. Those holding the regular defender of the Hall may also go, freeing him to return to his post, one to which I assume it will be vital in his mind to return. Can you tell us something about him?"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

White Rose nods to Mandala. "My control is growing, and I am able to make more complex shapes...think a torus or a doughnut. It is likely that at times your powers will be at full effectiveness, and at others damped. I am confident that you at least will not be disrupted. "

"Your thoughts on Thousand Claws Ali are valid. I do not know what his response will be. It may well be to flee and escape inevitable torture and death at the hands of the First Governors torturers. However he may well deduce that his absence was orchestrated and thus there will be an attack which will be his chance to clear his name. Thousand Claws Ali is a powerful high circle beastmaster who has also walked the paths of the illusions. I do not know of Ali is male or female, short or tall, white skinned or from the ivory coast. Ali can be any of those. Still if we are quick he or she will have no chance to delay us."

"It is my believe that the defenders of the hall, ceremonial or not, will not leave. There are plans in place to delay reinforcements. I can say no more."
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"I am quite fine without it, thank you very much. You have neglected to mention what kind of air defenses these things are, Rosey. I hope you're not honestly expecting two people to take down anything like a behemoth all on their lonesome. And I sure as the netherworlds am not going to be flying through anything made of True Air or True Fire." A thin slit appeared on one side of his neck, almost like a cut, and gradually made its way around to the other side as he spoke. "We all know what happens to people who try those sorts of stunts. It invariably involves heads rolling," he said. Almost as an emphasis of his point, the cut now completely encircled his neck, at which point his head was promptly separated from his shoulders by gravity and fell onto the table with a roll and a heavy thud, rather like the sound of a dead body falling to the ground.

There was a pause. Then the disembodied head of Fearghas looked up again at the White Rose, a bit more serious but still characterized somewhat by his current phase of bitterness. "So I suppose we'll have to surprise and kill the Nethermancer woman before we do much else, correct? I'd prefer not to have my bones turned to pudding for very long if I can help it."
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

"The First Governor does not allow airships to operated within the Great Shield. The air defenses are stationary emplacements on the roof of the building. They are mostly ceremonial, but are tested twice a year. They are designed to work against incoming airships and while they would be very effective against individuals, they have safety features added that makes that unlikely. The target of the air defenses has to be outside a 100m radius, and cannot be deployed at an angle of less than 0 degrees. The First Governor doesn't want some resistance people getting hold of them, and using them against the Invisible Palace."

"The first air defense (to be assaulted by Feargash and Dannrhil) is a Battle Orrery. It is a replica of the sun and the major planets that rotate the earth in their epicyclic route. It is an example of the principle that the map is the territory, and gather and stores lightning energy from the motions of the planets. This energy is stored underneath the defenses in large vats of acid. There is a primary controller with a large spike that is pointed towards the enemy vessel, and pulsed with mana. This causes a large lightning ball to be projected at an incoming ship."

"The second air defense (to be assaulted by Boris and Immortal Li) also gather energy from the manasphere, but it does it by means of large poles arranged in careful geometric patterns. The poles are about 6 inches wide at the top, and are separated by an average of 3 feet. From a distance the poles look like a hemisphere. When there is a battle, flaming oil is lit underneath the poles, and an adept moves carefully to the center. The oil is specially prepared to be smokeless, and burns at a coolish temperature: although it can be very hot at the top. By pulsing the poles with mana, and performing a kata, the adept is able to project large balls of fire at incoming vessels."

"I strongly recommend attacking the defenses by tactical stealth. The resistance and I will give you strategic surprise, but any tactical surprise will be up to you. I am confident"
she points at the disembodied head "that you have the skills and magic to pull this off"
[The eighth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Rat and Harlot Inn]

Ryl frowned at Fearghas' antics but otherwise ignored the display

"Whislt I do not relish the thought of facing such defenses the Storm Swift has done so before and if needs must will do so again"
[The ninth hour, Day of the Bull, Month of the Dragon, 1700 TH - The Invisible Castle]
As the Circle of Oroborus, accompanied by Boris, head up the hill towards the invisible castle, they pause to admire the sunset. The transport to the castle is in a magnificent coach and four, and as the Circle get out, they admire the view. As expected the view as from the castle entrance is superb. The weather has been glorious all day, and in many cities that would translate to a powerful stench, but not in Great Thera. The magical waste disposal facilites were operating well, and the fresh on shore breeze was refreshing.

It is with mild interest that two separate banks of cloud are noticed. Great Thera leaks magic into the atmosphere, and weather that would be unusual elsewhere is not that uncommon. From the South, (Immortal Li notes this is the traditional eastern direction of death), a huge bank of black thundery clouds can be seen. These clouds will be here within the hour. In that "it looks like a dog, no a whale" kind of way, the cloud looks remarkably like a warrior with the legs of snake. At the same time coming out of the sunset, with many multi-coloured clouds some white, some dark, making a checkerboard effect of oranges, white and deep purple, another cloud approaches. Again this has a mild anthorpomorphic look, and it appears to be the head and shoulders of a man wearing a full face mask. As the Circle watch, they change shape a bit and now look like banks of cloud.

"Looks like the Storm Swift will have to live up to its name" Ryl mutter. Those clouds are approaching at high speed, and with them the promise a storm. Already the temperature is beginning to drop.

There is a bustle of activity at the entrance. The ceremonial guard's at the entrance to the Invisible Castle look resplendent with the fading light of the sun glinting off their Crystal Plate armour. Large feathers stick proudly up from their helmets adding 3 feet to their height. There are Eunuchs accompanying visitors, issuing them with Talismens and escorting them inside.

The Circle and Boris are met by a Eunuch. "A Blessing upon our meeting, may the Passions smile upon it" an oily smooth individual by the name of Naveed greets you. "We will have to hurry through security..." he frowns a little "you are a little late. Still it is only a formality and " he smiles in the knowledge that he has cut through some red tape successfully "the guards are aware that the First Governor doesn't like to be kept waiting"

The talismans you are given are golden medallions with the head of the First Governor on one side, smiling in a beautiful but benevolent way, and a picture of the Sphinx on the other. From here you can see the Sphinx in it's full resplendent glory. It looks bigger than you imagined, and appears to be poised ready to pounce. The eyes shine with the reflected light of the sunset, and appear to be watching you. For a moment the view flickers and the guards appear to be wearing multi-colored masks and laughing.

"This way please honoured guest" and Naveed takes you through the cordon of guards who all glower at you as you pass.

As you step through the Great Shield, you all pause. From the outside the Castle was impressive, a large solid sandstone structure. From the inside it appears to be 10 times as large: you are sure that this must violate some of the limits of magic. Ostentatious wealth is everywhere. Fountains made of gold, marble statues, gem encrusted walls. Even the floor is unusual, made of glass with embedded trophies of war: enemy standards and magical trinkets.

Naveed smiles in an obsequiease way. "Come we must hurry: The First Governor will appear soon, and you must be there". Again the view flickers and for a moment his head darkens as though hooded and in shadows.

The group are bustled towards the throne room. The Antechamber to the throne room is large as well, with two impressive looking Obsidimen guardians, unarmed, but looking no less dangerous for that opening the door for you. Inside the throne room is huge. It stretches back for a two hundred metres, and is a hundred metres wide. Miraculously there are no columns holding the impressive looking roof decorated with beautiful images of different parts of the empire. You see that officials and their bodyguards from different parts of the empire appear to gather underneath "their section" of roof, and you observe people you recognise from the Blood Woods, and Throal carefully not talking to each other.

"Ladies and Gentlefolk. The Circle of Oroborous" The master of Ceremonies ploclaims as you enter the room. There is a silence for a few moments as those inside glance to check you over, then the hubbub continues. Clearly there are a lot of politics occuring tonight. "Ladies and Gentlemen. Boris, Seneschal of the Blood Woods".

Boris hears a voice "The Queen wishes to speak with you" and heads towards the Blood Elf delegation.

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