I’d planned to write a catchup post today, about my week and my Thanksgiving. But this morning my wireless connection is down, and uploading images on the excruciatingly slow backup dialup connection is an ordeal that doesn’t bear thinking about.
So instead, here’s another bit from AAD, and I’ll do the other thing tomorrow or whenever my high-ish-speed is back up.
This is a continuing excerpt from the play-by-email game Austin After Dark.
The beginning can be found here:
“Sire?” The wiry sidhe in the gray business suit that Casey had seen earlier poked his head into the room.
“What?!” Mardmor snapped in irritation.
“There’s been a development, my king. I thought you’d want to be made aware of it soonest.”
“Sir Norfolk is dead, sir.”
Casey’s head came up sharply as her heart plummeted into her stomach. “No…” she whispered, shocked.
Mardmor turned, facing his servant for the first time. A long, chilly silence fell across the room and the sidhe gentleman shrank a bit under the Goblin King’s scrutiny.
“That is unfortunate,” he said at last. “How did it occur?”
“The Lady Jasmine attempted escape. The satyr threw himself into the fight and was struck down.”
Mardmor nodded, “That will leave us one short. Who struck the fatal blow?”
“Then he will take Norfolk’s place.” Mardmor considered, “Still, accommodations must be made. I must see to them.”
Setting the skull-screwing device down on the cart, Mardmor said to Casey: “Do not worry, dear. I will return soonest.”
She barely heard him.
Mardmor turned to the sidhe as he exited, “Stay and watch the girl. But do not touch. Do what you want to the head.”
And the Goblin King was gone.
Casey sat in stunned silence, deeply shaken. Tears burned behind her eyes, threatening to flow. She’d known the satyr so briefly, but after everything they’d been through tonight she’d begun to think of him as a friend. He was so full of life and courage and cleverness and humor….
Alseyne would be devastated.
The slow burn of anger rekindled hotly in her. Pip could not have given his life for a failed cause. It was up to the rest of them now to make sure his death had meaning: that he had played his own vital part in a successful mission.
It eventually sank in that Mardmor had left her more-or-less alone with some henchman. Casey looked over at the Fae, covertly sizing him up. This could well be the best chance she’d ever get at escaping this room. She sifted quickly through ideas, weighing risks against desired outcomes. The most promising tactic she could think of was also the riskiest, but now didn’t seem like the time for playing it safe.
None of this showed in her face. As soon as she had settled on a plan, she made a conscious effort to appear as small and helpless and vulnerable as possible. Giving the Sidhe the full benefit of her wide-eyed blue gaze as a single tear trickled down one cheek, she asked, “Were you there when it happened?” She deliberately played up the raw huskiness in her throat, keeping her voice low and soft. “Did Pip…did Sir Norfolk…die bravely?”
The sidhe looked over to Casey, “No, I was not there. But I understand that he died defending Aulaudin. It was stupid. Really, a waste. No reason for it.”
Her eyes dropped, wet with unfeigned grief. “A waste….” There was a long, brooding pause, then she frowned faintly. “But I heard…I thought…that he was going to be killed anyway?”
“There is a significant difference between a meaningless death,” he answered, “And a meaningful sacrifice.”
Casey looked back up at the Sidhe, swiftly revising her plan in mid-stride. Plainly this was no slow-witted toady; the ‘fragile waif’ act was probably going to be wasted on him.
Fair enough. She straightened in her chair, pushed her emotions aside for now. She could mourn the dead later, after they’d been well-avenged. “What would have made his sacrifice so meaningful?” Pause. “I’m Casey, by the way.”
“Burton,” He nodded, by way of introduction.
“I’d like to say it’s nice to meet you, but to be honest I’ve had nicer nights.” She indicated the metal restraints with a wry shrug.
“I can see that.” He looked to her, “Without going into too much detail, his sacrifice would have laid the way for the opening of the gates.”
Casey absorbed that, connecting the dots. This ‘Machine’ Pip and Alseyne were to be fed to was somehow crucial to Mardmor’s scheme — stopping the whole thing might be as simple as finding and destroying it. “I see.”
His tone was earnest, “I know you don’t understand… but Arcadia! Our time is nigh. This time tomorrow? We will be reunited with cousins long forgotten. Once again, we will be whole. No longer forced to wear two faces.” A smile of eager anticipation, “It will be so grand!”
It was hard not to smile at his enthusiasm, even if he was talking about the end of the world as Casey knew it. “I really don’t,” she commented in a bemused tone. “Understand, I mean. I’m not all that knowledgeable about the Fae, I’m sorry to say. I get the ‘two faces’ thing, but the rest of it’s mostly over my head. Could you tell me about Arcadia?”
“It is our home,” He said simply. “The mother land. It is a place of surpassing beauty. The air is sweet, the waters cool. Or so I have heard. I’ve not ever been there. But I yearn for it… as all my folk do.”
“And once these gates are opened you’ll able to pass freely between this world and that one?”
“Yes,” his head bobbed, “As easily as you go to the grocery store.”
She was quiet for a moment, deep in thought. Then she said wistfully, “It does sound wonderful. Makes me wish I were going to be around to see it.”
“Why do you say that? There’s no reason to suspect you won’t witness the return.”
She shook her head. “I know Mardmor’s going to kill me as soon as I tell him what he wants to know — that’s why I haven’t talked. I’ve got nothing against Fae going home, but as soon as I give up my information I’ll be of no further use to him.”
“You misunderstand the King,” He shook his head. “Truly, he has no desire to harm you, though make no mistake. He will if such is required. No, he’d much rather you surrender your secrets and join him. But even if you fail to join him, you will be released after the gates are opened. Once they are open, you and your friends will pose no threat to his plans.”
Casey quirked a crooked smile at the Sidhe. “Yeah…that’s what he keeps saying. I wish I could believe it were true.” She shrugged skeptically, but then gives Burton a long, searching look. “You really think I can trust him?”
“I do. I have never known him to lie. Ever.”
Casey sharply stifled a snort at that, thinking of the lies Mardmor had told her just in their very brief acquaintance. She was careful not to let the thought show though; she seemed to be giving Burton’s statement earnest consideration. “He’s so…scary.”
“Power is often frightening.”
Hope and doubt warred transparently on Casey’s face. “You don’t know how much I want to believe you. But…well, let’s be honest, you’ve got a pretty strong motivation to say anything that might convince me. You want the gates opened as much as Mardmor does, and I can only imagine how well he’d likely reward you if you persuaded me to talk.”
“True enough,” he nodded.
She paused for a moment to let the image of the King’s appreciation sink in, then looked up swiftly as if an idea had just occurred to her. It seemed to hover on the tip of her tongue for a long minute before she ventured slowly, “You know…there might be a way for all of us to get what we want.”
“I don’t….” She stopped, biting her lip indecisively, then plunged ahead. “Did you know I can read minds? I’m not very good at it yet, but I can pick up surface thoughts and stuff. Mardmor put this silver thing on my head to block me, so I wouldn’t be able to read him during the interrogation.” She studied the Sidhe intently.
He was listening with intense attention.
“If I could be sure–truly sure–that you’re not trying to trick me, I would tell you everything I know right now. We’d all win: Mardmor would get his information, you’d get tons of brownie points for being the one who convinced me to talk, and I’d finally get out of this cursed chair and maybe be given some useful task to do. Just take this thing off my head so I can ‘hear’ whether or not this is some kind of ploy. If you’re telling the truth it’s a win/win/win solution. If I can see that you’re lying….” She shrugged philosophically. “Well, then I won’t talk, and you’re no better or worse off than you were before.”
Burton scrutinized her, ruminating over what she had said. Clearly, he was on the fence. “The King said ‘do not touch…'” he muttered.
“He meant not to hurt her,” Houseman clarified. “Besides, if you lift real careful, you won’t actually have to touch her.”
Casey felt a rush of gratitude for the help, but she only commented, “That’s true, you wouldn’t have to touch me at all.”
The Sidhe looked hard at the talking vampire head.
Brow furrowing, he looked back to Casey.
She tried to appear suitably hopeful, without actually looking as desperate as she felt.
He looked back to the door.
“You could put it back on me before he gets back,” she pointed out helpfully. “I don’t need to tell him how you convinced me.”
Sighed, “I suppose you have a point.” He crossed to Casey and placing his hands carefully on either side of her head, he gently lifted the band off.
She sat motionless for the removal, careful not to make any worrisome movements.
It was like someone just flipped a switch. The light went on within her dark mind… Her powers returned…
Keeping her hands and body reassuringly still, she lifted her gaze to meet Burton’s. “Go to sleep.”
She put a fairly hefty push behind the words.
“Wha…?” And didn’t finish the word before he crumpled to the floor.