Saturday, November 21, 2009


((57 - Wall of Breath))




Just the color, at first.

Then a sense of motion.

Throbbing. A pulse.

It hurts.

It doesn't make sense.

There's so much, so much of it, all of it, too much of it.

What is it? Does it matter?

It doesn't make sense.

Make it make sense.

Make it work.

Fix it.

Make it make sense.

Make it make sense.


The color is sunlight.

Filtered down through... water?

With a start, Jaz realized she was lying on her back, looking up at... water? She blinked. Felt herself out, trying to find what hurt, what was broken, what worked, what didn't. She was fully intact, to her surprise. Naked, but physically unharmed. In perfect physical condition, even--her scars were gone.

She twitched her fingers, and her shoulders, and then she was rolling to her feet, battle-ready, her fingers twitching now not because she wanted them to but because they should be gripping swords. She stared around, stared up, regulating her breath, trying to get herself oriented.

She was in... something. A tunnel. A tunnel of air, deep underneath far too much water. The ground beneath was... soft, and made of something tannish-brown. It almost felt like a mountain of grainy dust underfoot. In the water lurked shadowy forms, moving about silently. They flowed through it, shifting in and out of focus.

The liquid around her began to boil slightly, turning suddenly grayish-green. The red light still filtered down from above, but was now considerably muted.

Jaz relaxed her stance a bit, brushing the dust off of her back, her eyes glued upwards as she realized there was nothing holding the water away from her face, not glass, not plastic, just... air. She raised a fascinated hand, wanting to touch it, but pulled away as it began to change before her eyes.

She looked both ways down the tunnel, trying to find a way out. All she saw was it stretching off, curving away, fading into indistinctness in both directions. She shrugged to and tried to mutter something, but found her voice strangled from disuse. She coughed and chose a direction, walking briskly, almost jogging. The ground underfoot had a bit of give to it, and felt weird between her toes. She took a moment to curse her lack of boots, and her voice worked fine this time. It brought comfort, even, gave reality to the surreality around her.

As she ran, the liquid around her continued to shift, changing colors and textures several times. Always that dappled light, though, and always... always those shadows. They lurked just at the edge of vision, swimming through whatever it was.

After a time, she saw something more. Out a ways from the tunnel, there was an immense fissure in the ground. It belched great clouds of black smoke, glowing an even deeper red than the light from above. Something stood beside it, considerably more solid than the other shadows. It was a vaguely humanoid form, legs rooted in the waving tendrils of some sort of glowing vegatation. It was wearing a cowl and shawl, but rather clearly had more than two arm-limbs, which it waved meditatively. ((Michael Joseph Grant V))

Jaz frowned, and slowed down. "Hey!" She shouted, and found the louder she was, the more things seemed to make sense. Maybe you're just egotistical, one part of her brain whispered at her, but she ignored it.

The figure's hood jerked against the current as whoever was inside turned its head to look.

"Hey! You! Can you tell me what's going on?" She walked to the edge of the tunnel and raised a fist as if to knock on the glass of a window. She realized halfway through that it probably wouldn't work the same way, but knocked anyhow, banging her fist on the wall of water. Where she did, the wall of the tunnel bubbled outwards, appearing to boil the water away in front of it.

The figured gestured obscurely, as though speaking, then beckoned. It still wasn't clear how many arms it had. Certainly upwards of three. The boiling away of the water began to extend towards it, clearing a path.

Jaz stumbled a bit, as she was about to thrust her face through the wall to see if she could hear the figure better. She recovered and cursed at herself, shaking off her fog-headedness, and followed the new path.

The shadows in the liquid, seeming to notice this, swam towards the edges of the tunnel. The remained every bit as indistinct, though, even as they came closer.

The tunnel of air extended to include the figure, passing just alongside the fissure. The vegetation around the bottom of the cloaked form faded away as the tunnel of air bubbled past it, as if it had never been there. The figure settled gently to the ground with a faint, echoing clicking and clattering. Now it had but two arms, and seemed to be regarding Jaz, looking at her feet.

Jaz approached, cautions, not sure she could trust her head. "Excuse me?"

"Yes." The voice was edgy, placing emphasis in all the wrong places, even within a single syllable.

"Hello." Jaz's hands hung loosely at her side, and she kept her own voice as neutral as possible. "Where am I?"

"No, black-smith, not where. Who are you?" It steepled its hands, and bony finger-claws poked out of its sleeves. Far too many fingers! Or perhaps not enough, depending on the mindset. Say, a dozen digits on each limb.

Jaz frowned. "Black-smith? What..." She shook her head, and stood to attention. "Jazrill Quinn, Captain of--" She stopped. "Former Captain of the Oliver, now Co-Captain of the..."

She stopped again, thinking. "We never got around to naming it..." She looked back up at the thing, and noticed the fingers. She took a half-step back, her feet sliding into a fighting stance automatically. "Sir," she ended, and then then thought again. "Ma'am? Sir."

The thing seemed unconcerned or perhaps even uncomprehending of the gender issue. "You are so sure?"

Jaz stood straight. "I am sure that I am Jazrill Quinn, sir," she said, deciding. "And I'll be damned if I'm not a Captain."

It shook its head. "Good. This is good. How straaaaaange."

"Oh, it's good, is it? What the hell is good about it?"

"It is good you are sure. Strange-good." It took a step to one side, not towards her, its cowl rustling, face still fully concealed. "What is your powyr, Blacks Mith? Why can your kind come and go as they please? I see them but they have no such powyr. Only metal."

"Okay, listen, I have no idea what a 'blacksmith' is, firstly, and secondly, I certainly didn't come as I PLEASED, if I remember correctly I was fucking EATEN." She paused for breath, and continued more quietly, though with no less frustration. "And I don't even have any metal because my WEAPONS are missing, and no crystal because my SWORDS are gone too."

The fingers began to pick at each other nervously, then stopped. "You are not blecksmith?"

"I am Jazrill Quinn, we've been over this." She crossed her arms over her bare chest. "You haven't told me YOUR name, that's not exactly polite."

The creature ignored the implied question. "But if you are not of... of Blaskmith, what is the name of what you are?"

"Well, I'm a Captain, if I ever find Kasby and the ship. I'm a warrior, I guess you could say." She looked down at herself, still naked, though that didn't seem to be bothering her as much as she thought it should. "I'm, um, a woman? Human? That might help."

It shrank back, overwhelmed. The fingers rose into the draped hood and flickered, presumably worrying at an unseen brow. "You have many names. Not so many as I. But many still."

"Can you please tell me what's going on? And I'd like my swords." She blinked a moment, then muttered, "I guess some clothes would be nice, too." It was obvious the figure wasn't listening, so she paid attention to its words rather than her own.

"You have no clothes?" It questioned.

Jaz's usual piloting clothes were in fact on her. Her loose shirt, brown pants, thick belt, leather jacket and all.

She reexamined herself. "Well, that was fucking weird. Fits with the rest, anyway." She raised her voice slightly. "And the swords?"


The creature looked from side to side. "What?"

Jaz scowled. "Goddammit, of course not, nothing's that easy." She crossed her arms again. "So why do you need to know what I am?"

"I was told you are blacksmifth. I do not have you. Or do I? Unknown. But, it is important, I must be told what is called what you are." The creature waved a few limbs. It wasn't quite clear how many it had just then. "Jasrel? Capting? Wareer? Wuh-min? Hyumin?"

"So do you need me to choose?" Jaz raised an eyebrow. "Do I have too many names?"

"... No. But there are kinds of names. Names tell. Some names tell type, some tell quality, some tell manyness..." It paused, apparently thinking. "What is the name of the thing that you are, that others are also?"

"Well... the most general name, you mean? That would be human, I guess."

"Hueman. Yes. This is good. You are eaten? But you have your clothes. And skin and meat and bones and scales and hair and leaves." As it listed things, its forelimbs unfolded out of its sleeves into more, fingers disappearing back up into the folds of the sleeves again.

"I don't think I have scales. Or leaves." She looked down at herself, just to be sure. Yup, still human. "So... I guess I wasn't eaten? Listen, I really don't have time for this. What if the others didn't get away in time? I should find them. And even if they did... what will they think? Fuck, poor Kasby..." She frowned, and shifted her weight slightly. "So if you could just... let me know how to get out of this place, maybe hook me up with a ship..."

It nodded sagely. "No way out. Only in."

"Yeah, well, you also thought I was a blacksmith, whatever the hell that is, and that I had scales. Sorry, sir, but fuck you. Anyone else I could talk to around here?"

It nodded.

Jaz's face became more sarcastically frustrated, and she pulled back. "There is? Oh, great. He any more helpful than you?"

It nodded again.

Jaz raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "Really? Will I think so?"

It nodded a third time. "What are you speaking of?"

She sighed explosively. "Nevermind. Talking is not the way I get things done anyway. I don't know why I've been doing it so pointlessly for so long. Least I have clothes... so you can only get IN, huh?"

"Yes, and no. Most do not get in, like blacksm... huemins have."

"Well, how'd I get in? Most doors go both ways... they may not be designed to, but with enough persuasion, sure." Her mouth was set, now, her arms on her hips. She'd remembered that she was needed, somewhere.

"So I wonder, how is this powyr?" The creature was mostly muttering to itself, now. "How to go? Zebera left. Maybe not so."

Jaz stared at the thing. "Zebra? Zebra was HERE?"

The limbs all paused, mid-motion. "How do you know the Zebra? The one who is named Zebra but who is Blecksmythe? Why I cannot see your brains? So many questions!" It brought its arms around in a circle, this time displaying tendrils, not hands of any sort.

"She's a friend of mine, but... how was she HERE? Were they all here? Spider and Owl and Skunk, and a man named Kasby, were they here? Did I just miss them?" Jaz's eyes were boring into the thing, now. Her hand flashed out, exasperated with its questions, its constant movement, and caught one of the tendrils. "Was Kasby here? Tell me!"

Everything froze.

The liquid around them crystallized instantly, forming not ice but something much more solid. The ground around Jaz's feet turned flat gray, a blank matte panel. The gray shot off to her left, boring through the not-ice, cutting a hole, a pathway, a fading.

The thing let out a weird, animalistic squeal-howl. "WHAT DID YOU DID!?" Around it, the shadows could be seen frozen stock-still, locked in their positions, but still indistinct.

Jaz released it, bewildered. "I didn't--this wasn't me! How I could have done this? If anything, I should be asking-- Oh, I see, clever." She darted forward again, this time catching the thing approximately where the throat should be and slamming it against the now-solid wall of the tunnel.

The wall cracked a little bit, shards of the not-ice flying into the air. Jaz's crystal sword was rather abruptly in her other hand, with its matching twin at her belt. She spared a moment to grin, though it was a wondering grin, and then sobered. "Listen, you. I don't know what you're trying to do or how the HELL you did it but I am not happy."

About two dozen spurs and barbs and arms and talons and pincers rose to cover the creature's exposed face. Still, three bright red eyes shone through all that, somehow more substantial than the rest of the body.

She drew back a bit from the face, but didn't let go. "Tell me where they went, and that's it. We're through. Otherwise... I seem to have acquired a nicely pointed piece of crystal, here, one that I am rather fond of. Fare more fond of it than you... and it needs a new sheath."

After a pause, it began to yell, its voiced backed by half a dozen others, some clicks, some far from human-sounding. "Where to go? ME? YOU! You are ruining EVERYTHING!" It was frothing with anger, and fear, and then suddenly its voice went pathetic, reverting back to a single pitch. "Now I am cut off, off from the pool! Stuck! No shadows, but I am dying! DYING!"

For a moment, Jaz trembled on the edge of her anger. Both her hands tightened, and she drew in a sharp breath through her nose--and let it go. She opened her hand, and dropped the thing. "God... fucking... DAMMIT."

The creature fell further than it should have before rising on its semi-ethereal limbs. It let out a strangled cry of... well, it was hard to tell. Frustration? Sorrow?

She kicked the wall, hoping to shatter something, if only because it would make her feel better. The not-ice did crack a bit, and some flakes flew off.

The creature perked up. "Wait. Do again!"

Jaz rolled her eyes, turning towards the thing. "Do. What. Again."

"Nevermind," it said coldly, collecting itself, examining the wall.

"Almost kill you? Gladly! If you're going to keep crying like that, maybe I'll finish the--oh." She kicked the wall again, harder, this time. A larger crack ran up it, and a fist-sized chunk of not-ice fell off. It touched the matte gray surface around Jaz's feet, and was promptly absorbed into it.

"Kill me and you will surely die. But who cares? If I do who will care for you? Not one. I am all." It was mostly muttering to itself again. It bent down to examine the gray surface. 'Bending down,' of course, was more complicated than one might expect. The walkway underfoot was almost metal. Almost.

"Care for me?" She kicked the wall, again, again. "Oh, there are people who care for me. And I'll get out of here, with you or without you, and I'll get back to them, and you would have died alone and--" She stopped, looking at the thing. "Sorry, I don't mean that. You're obviously... well, you're not obviously anything, but this isn't your fault. None of it." She resumed kicking.

It rose as she spoke, gazing down the gray pathway to nowhere, then to the fissure, still frozen off in the ice in the direction Jaz was kicking, then back at her. "Oh. I see. I see."

"I would still like to know how you know about Zebra, though. In fact, I'd LOVE to know." She frowned, and took a few steps back. "And why we're kicking our way through this when there's a pathway right there."

"Get out of my world."

"Show me how, and I'll be glad to."

"Yes." It raised three closely-bound arms, which swirled in the air. "Like this."

"I have to turn around?" From her right came a great wrenching cracking, and she spun to see what it was, both swords out now.

The not-ice wall shattered at roughly knee-leve as the fissure in the ground cracked open wider, splitting the still-visible sand, shooting towards her. It hit the edge of her little walkway of gray metal, and a plume of red fire shot out of it, straight towards Jaz.

She tried to leap backwards, stumbled, fell--and then stood, entirely confused, as the fire washed past her harmlessly. "I..."


"That's not what you meant, then, this isn't... me, leaving? This is not how you leave?"

"WHAT!" Suddenly the creature was a dancing tangle of limbs, invoking every offensive spell it could think of. Lightning, tornadoes, runes, a whirlwind barrage of attacks flew out of every orifice of the world, all aimed straight at Jaz.

Every one shifted past her, flowing around her, leaving her completely unscathed in their wake. She was moving, now, dodging and un-dodging and standing still and jumping and half-trying to avoid everything but half just entirely and utterly puzzled. "What the fuck is happening?"



Cracks appeared in the tunnel's not-ice, and a thousand tiny bugs poured of them, almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the ones Jaz had fought in the Corkscrew. Then the ceiling above her melted into not-rain, which fell, striking the insects and... searing them away, boiling them. The creature stopped whirling and threw an alien hissy fit, actually hissing and spitting and frothing a little before starting to calm down.

She glanced around, and darted down the pathway. It was better than being screamed at and covered in bugs. Again. The pathway seemed to stretch away into infinity before her, fading into a distant gray haze.

Jaz cast a glance back over her shoulder at the thing, but it was probably better off without her. She kept her swords ready and stalked forward. She was still angry, so angry at all this wasted time and nonsense. Who knew where Kasby and the others could be...

She kept walking, dead-set in the knowledge that she would her way out, one way or another. "I'll find you, Kasby. I promise."

Friday, November 20, 2009


((55 - Mezame))

June 1st, 802 AT. 10:38 AM.

The chaos was controlled, industrial. No screams, only a mass of engines. Ships were dropping out of the myriad docking bays scattered throughout the Roost, and families scrambled to assemble their belongings. Quite a few had already evacuated, but the majority of the people of the Roost were still on it. Now, they desperately raced to their ships, trying to seek refuge.

The Quinn was as Kasby had left it--fueled up and ready to go. As promised, Ammon had removed the locking clamps, in expectation of the Quinn's imminent departure. There was only one problem. The doors of the docking bay, directly above the ship, were still sealed tight, and Kasby knew there was no way he was going to get a radio line to a docking coordinator now. He stared up at the sealed doors for a moment, and swallowed. "...Giraffe, go get in the gun turret."

"Yay guns!" The overeager woman said, climbing up the ladder to the top deck as fast as she could.

"Goat, Zebra, help me prep for a takeoff," Kasby ordered, climbing the ladder to the Quinn. "We're leaving, NOW." He settled down into the cockpit and pulled down on a lever. He picked up the intercom, busily hitting some switches with his other hand. "Giraffe, target those doors above us and make us an exit." Goat and Zebra flitted out, helping warm up the engines.

Giraffe aimed the HAVOC upwards and clenched down on both triggers. She hadn't trained on the gun as long as Skunk had, but over the previous month they'd all learned the basics of operating it. The doors above them rang, dented, and then ripped open outwards, as the metal flew off in chunks under Giraffe's onslaught of bullets.

"YEAH!" Goat cried enthusiastically, resisting the urge to leap around the cockpit.

With a flare of boosters, the Quinn shot up through the shredded doors, out into the Void. Overhead, the fog was a solid mass of red. The demons were so thick the fog of the Void itself glowed with their sickening red hue. They were in all shapes and sizes, all glowing that same red. None of the actual larvae, though, just their possessed demons...

"Oh, fun," Giraffe said, sarcasm dripping off of every word.

"Less sarcasm, more bullets!" Kasby shouted vehemently into the radio. He launched the Quinn into a spin, keeping the wings tucked in, heading up into the cloud of demons. Around them, half a dozen other ships were leaving the Roost through the top docking bays, riding out to battle in defense of their home.

"That's a lot of targets," Goat said, fumbling for his spear. He found it after a moment, leapt to the back deck.

A trio of winged demons, all vaguely scaly, came flying in towards them, shrieking. The demons were maybe half a meter wide. Giraffe hadn't let up the stream of metal for a moment, and her bullets tore through the first one in a shower of dark blood.

"Deploying Goat-Cannon!" Goat said, and leaped. He shot towards the demons like a dart with legs. He hit the second one full on, and his spear pierced its throat. It hacked up black blood onto his chest, then fell away dying. As fast as he had hit it, he pushed off, using its body as a launching pad to get bak to the ship.

With a cold expression, Kasby slammed on the throttle of the ship and wrenched a lever back. Ahead, the third of the demons swirled down, out of the area of Giraffe's fire. The Quinn leapt forward, engines roaring. The boosters kicked up and blasted the ship forward into the last demon. It smashed full on into the creature, which made a sicking splick as the ship smashed it to a pulp.

Around them, hundreds more demons swirled out of the mist past them. Many landed on the surface of the Roost, and screams started to fill the air. Kasby threw the Quinn into a roll, dodging past the flaming wreckage of a ship that had been run through by a small demon. Below them, it impacted against the Roost with a brutal crash.

Another demon, this one looking like a cloud of dark smoke with horns, came swirling in towards them.

"Where... do I aim?" Wondered Goat.

"Shit!" Giraffe bit her lip, and shot at various parts of the demon, though her fingers were starting to go numb from the constant vibration of the cannon.

The bullets flew through the cloud harmlessly as it flew down towards them. It extended its horns, the spikes shooting through the air.

Kasby angled the Quinn down, the engines roaring as it swept down towards the underside of the Roost. "Giraffe, switch the ammo cartridge!" The spikes cracked through the airspace the Quinn had vacated moments earlier, whipping past Goat and Giraffe.

"Doing so!" Next to the gun were several large canisters of various types of ammunition. She grabbed a cartridge and slotted it in, clicking the feed to the base of the HAVOC.

The cloud shot its horns at them again, this time aiming for Goat. He dodged it and leapt onto one, but it snapped back into the cloud faster than he could hold on.

Giraffe stood up, and went back to firing madly at the demon. The new rounds she had swapped in were not bullets, but rather the magic-draining crystal shards. They shredded through the cloud, dissipating it in a whiff of colored light. The horns crumbled into dust. She smiled. "Well, that works too."

((56 - Salva Nos))

The ship fell down at high speed, almost level now with the Roost. They could see, below it, dozens of ships falling out of the bottom of the base, out into the Void. Kasby pulled back the controls, leveling out the ship as they cruised along the underside of the Roost.

"Hey, look!" Goat pointed down and ahead. A ways below, five demons hung in a circle. All lacked the telltale red glow. As they watched, though, the demons dropped away into the fog at high speed. "They weren't red!" Goat said.

"I noticed," said Kasby. "We don't have time to deal with them anyway. Just make sure all these people get out."

A cracking noise rent the air, followed by another. The Roost was shaken by several large explosions from above it.

Suddenly, something large and red slipped out of one of the docking bays. It fell towards the ship that had just vacated that bay. It was pod-like, with seven twirling appendages. It spread them wide, and wrapped them around the falling ship. A series of runes and diagrams glowed across its tentacles, and the ship exploded in a shower of metal and debris. The creature flipped away from it, swimming through the air towards another falling ship.

"Giraffe, take it out NOW!" yelled Kasby, steering the ship parallel to the beast. "NOW!

"With pleasure!" She spun the HAVOC to face the creature, and opened up with the crystal shards, aiming at the main body.

The creature whirled to face them, and its tentacles traced a series of hexagons in the air. Where the tips of its tentacles trailed, the lines stayed glowing in the air. The crystals smashed into the hexagons and shattered. Its attention now fully on the Quinn, the creature turned around and swam towards them.

"Well, at least we got its attention," remarked Kasby gruffly. He yanked the controls to the side, tilting the ship horizontally, and flared the boosters just as they passed the Octo-Demon. The creature shrieked as the backwash from the engines played over it, leaving a dark burn across its back.

"Grr!" Goat held his spear tight in his hands, and launched himself off the deck at the demon. It snapped out of one of its tentacles, and caught Goat deftly, wrapped around him several times. "Gurgle!" He exclaimed in surprise.

"Noo!" Giraffe yelled, and stopped firing, out of fear of hitting Goat.

"Giraffe, use the grappling hook!" Kasby barked over the radio. "Hit the tentacle near Goat and he should be able to grab it!"

Now close-up, Goat could see the runes were etched into its skin, deep gray scar tissue. The runes near him started to glow, and he could feel the tentacles heating up. He struggled, but couldn't do much with his legs bound. Fortunately, his arms were free, and he began stabbing violently at the tentacle that held him with his spear.

Five of its other tentacles had begun tracing a more complex pattern in the air, but at this new attack, it shrieked even louder than before, and rather dramatically let go of Goat. In fact, the entire tentacle fell away with him, still wrapped around him, ripped off from where he had stabbed it.


Finally finding the right switch, Giraffe clicked the gun over to the grappling hook, mounted below the barrels. She swiveled it down, and fired at the falling tenta-Goat.

The hook went flying a good ways past the tentacle, but Goat managed to push off the tentacle with enough force that he could grab the rope as it went past.

Giraffe clicked another button, and the rope began to retract in, pulling Goat in with it. Zebra ran to the back deck and helped Goat aboard.

The creature's other tentacles finished their runic drawing, coalescing into a crescent moon shape. The shape swirled around the creature, healing the burn marks across its core, and smoothing over the stump of the lost tentacle.

"Well, aren't you full of tricks," Kasby muttered under his breath. "Let's see you do that again. C'mon, heat up!" said Kasby, swerving by the Octopus and trying the same trick.

This time it was ready, and swirled its tentacles into an array of pentagons. The fire harmlessly splashed over the magic shield.

"Okay, that isn't working, what now?" Asked Giraffe.

"Needs more crystal-bullets!" Goat said, nodding vigorously.

The creature roared, and traced out another runic symbol in the air.

"This," said Kasby, flicking a switch on the controls. The first of the Quinn's heat seeking rockets roared out towards the Octopus Demon.

Lances of light streaked out of the new rune, towards the ship--

Three of the lances swirled towards and smashed into the rocket, meeting and exploding in the air. The fourth kept going, and hit Zebra solidly in the head. She went flying back, skidding across the deck, unconscious instantly.

Goat leapt to her, catching her, as Giraffe watched, aghast. She was fine, just unconscious. He quickly ran to the ladder, carrying Zebra, and ducked down into her room, laying her out on her bed.

Kasby picked up the intercom again. "This thing knows who and what we are. Those lances of light weren't random: there were four, one meant for each of us." He paused, unsure of what to say next. "...Be careful."

The world was one of swirling red light.

Zebra stood on a platform, a simple hexagon. The air around her was full of lines, shapes, swirls of colors of all sorts. A pathway of light slowly fell into place in front of her. She went up it, seeing that there was nothing much else to do--and if it was a dream, no point delaying.

The pathway curved, bringing her to a massive diagram of the creature, covered with runes. It floated in the air, highly stylized. The central circular head, with seven lines extending out from it. One of the lines was crossed out, scribbled over.

The creature hissed, and began to swim through the air towards the ship.

Kasby pulled down a lever, and the Quinn rocketed backwards, engines choking as they ate their own backwash. "GOAT, GET UP HERE!" yelled Kasby, not even bothering with the intercom.

He shot back up to the deck, in time to see the creature pulsing towards them, gaining quickly as the Quinn flew backwards. It flew lopsidedly, almost limping on the side that had lost a tentacle to Goat.

Kasby kept his eyes fixed on the creature in front of him as he spoke to the leaper. "Take your spear to Giraffe. Have her light it up, and then plant it on the Octopus thing. Fast."

"Got it!"

He barely turned to Goat. "THEN GO!"

Goat leaped to Giraffe, who quite obliging put her hands on the metal tip, concentrating as much heat as she could muster into it. After a few seconds, it glowed white hot.

The creature paused in the air, beginning to trace again.

"Goat, do it now!" Kasby yelled from the cockpit.

Goat nodded, and leaped at the demon, wielding his fiery harpoon of justice.

The demon traced a circle with one tentacle, then flitted through it--and didn't come out the other side.

Goat sailed again through thin air, out towards nothingness. "Whaa!" He exclaimed.

"....DAMN!" swore Kasby, blaring the boosters and zooming towards the falling Goat.

--the creature wrapped around the Quinn from behind, already on top of them, tentacles smacking against the top deck, sending the ship bucking off to one side, horribly out of control. A cracking came from the left as a tentacle crunched one of the wings against the side of the ship.

Zebra walked forward, examining the lines. As she did, she noticed that her fingertips were trailing white lines behind them, glowing in contrast to the red around her. She moved her hands in front of her for a moment, creating patterns.

She stopped, eventually, and reached down to touch one of the lines with the shiny white. The dot she left overwrote the red line. She slowly scribbled out that entire line, then paused.

Kasby managed to get the Quinn under control, and Goat landed deftly on the deck. The ship bucked sideways as the creature twisted, trying to bring its tentacles to bear on the crew.

Giraffe was desperately swinging the HAVOC around, trying to point it down at the tentacles. One of them smacked down in front of her, forcing her to dodge back and away from her gun.

Suddenly, though, the creature shrieked, and that tentacle lost its red glow, falling limp.

Zebra slowly began to trace over the entire drawing with her finger, line by line. Bit by bit, the white light spread outwards from the image she had traced, driving back the red, fighting it away. She stepped back, trying to stay away from the lines, especially where they touched. The red lines now swirled furiously, fighting back against the growing white.

Zebra retraced her lines, trying to help the white. With her help, the last of the red flitted off into the edges of the space, vanishing entirely. She smiled to herself, as the world faded into a calm white.

A second tentacle lost its glow. Then another. Then another, and another, and another. The last of the tentacles ceased to glow, and then finally the pod. It let go without warning, drifting away from them.

Kasby spun the Quinn away from it, speaking into the radio as he did. "...Giraffe, I don't know what just happened, but would you mind blasting that thing to hell?"

"No problem," Giraffe said happily, extending her hands and letting loose with as much fire as she could.

A wave of peace and calm settled through the world. It almost felt like it was smiling around her, and Zebra couldn't help but relax.

Then fire cut through the world in a horrible nightmare apocalypse of pain and agony and torment and--

--she woke up in her own bed. Aboard the Quinn. She... didn't scream. She lay there, calming herself. She could hear the scream, though, echoing in her mind, and from--from above deck, too. A sound of sorrow and shock. She ran upstairs as quickly as possible.

Giraffe was standing, staring at the blackened corpse of the creature, floating out into the Void away from them. "That was beautiful," she said triumphantly.

Kasby paused. "That... did not sound normal. It sounded... sad."

"Maybe we should stop killing the non-red ones so fast?" Goat suggested.

Kasby turned back towards the fleet of falling ships. "But who are we to decipher the thoughts of demons...."

"Non-red?" Zebra asked in confusion, prompting the others to notice her return to the deck. "What happened? What color was it?"

"Lost its glow, didn't it?" Goat said.

Kasby nodded. "It stopped glowing... But even before the devourers showed up, I was killing plenty of demons, years ago. None of them sounded like that."

Zebra took a step towards Kasby, frowning.

He didn't turn to face her. "Have another dream?" He said, a little more coldly than was necessary.

Giraffe stepped up and slapped Kasby hard across the face. He didn't react.

Zebra smiled at her, and looked coldly at Kasby, then dismissed him, speaking to the others more than him. "Not the dream of any human, at least."

Suddenly, a new noise filled the air, much louder than the roar of the refugee engines around them. One they were all too familiar with. It came, echoing out of the docking bays above... the sound of shattering crystal.

And suddenly, the Roost itself was falling towards them. Almost ponderously slowly, it began to twist, tumbling as it fell.

"...the core. The core broke." Kasby's eyes shot open. "GET SOMEWHERE SAFE!" he shouted to everybody around him.

"Make the ship leap!" Goat yelled.

With a blaze of the boosters, Kasby shot the Quinn forward, trying to make it out from underneath the Roost.

"Well, that can't be good," Giraffe said to herself as she held for dear life to one of the consoles, Goat and Zebra next to her.

They streaked towards the edge, the metal rending and twisting and falling towards them, darkening the sky--

--they slipped out from under it by a hair, as the Roost fell past. They could see it, then, falling away into the Void, tearing itself apart as it fell.

Kasby slumped back in his seat and breathed a sigh of relief. "That was too close."

Something enormous came out of the heart of the falling mass of debris below them. It swirled upwards and outwards, and threw its four massive arms out wide, throwing off dozens of smaller demons clinging to it. The creature was gigantic, easily as large as the Roost itself had been, hundreds of meters tall.

It was humanoid, with yellow skin, and nine glowing yellow eyes on its face. It stretched its arms, flexing them experimentally, and looked down at itself. The bottom of the creature faded into obscurity, into the Void. The Void around its bottom took on a yellow hue much like its eyes, and then swirled up to envelop it. There was a sound like the wind screaming through too tight a hole--

--and the yellow mist dissipated, leaving empty Void in its wake. The creature was gone.

There was a long silence, as the last of the remaining red-glowing demons flitted off, vanishing into he Void, their work apparently finished.

"Let's... let's get going," said Kasby quietly.

Giraffe nodded slowly in agreement. Goat and Zebra said nothing.

Below them, the last escaping survivors had vanished, falling away towards Sector One. Without another word, Kasby brought the Quinn around in a wide arc, pointing them down towards Sector One, and triggered the long range engines.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


((53 - Revolver Ocelot))

June 1st, 802 AT. 10:27 AM.

The five teens stood groggily about the room. Their heads were still slightly fuzzy from the anesthetic, and more than a little headachey. They had each had one of the small purple crystals implanted in their brain stems, a rather delicate procedure, and would probably have thoroughly badass scars on the backs of their necks forever.

The purple crystals were full of magic drained from the largest demon, the centipede-like one in the big cage. It was a psychic demon, which Devrah and Chun had found controlling lesser demons. In theory, with the magic implanted in them and implanted in the demons...

Chun stood in front of her demon, looking like shit, goggles around her neck. She was attempting to make Black lift a wing.

Reno sat on her knees, head resting against the wall, muttering to herself.

Devrah looked at Chun and laughed. "Dear, the link isn't turned on yet."

"Oh, right. I forgot."

Devrah let out a long breath. "Now, you all deserve fair warning. This link isn't one-way. The crystals and control magic are split evenly in two. You're all strong-willed. The demons aren't even sentient. But don't ever let your guard down. If you mess up, if you even flinch..."

Seth grinned. This would be interesting. He lit a fresh cigarette to clear his mind.

The older scientist shrugged. "I don't even know what would happen. This will probably be most important when I first turn it on."

"Un..." Spider mumbled something, but it wasn't coherent. Her feet didn't quite touch the floor. Slowly, she stepped down onto the metal floor, and wobbled over to the cage with her demon in it.

Devrah looked at the Talons, still recovering, but clearly eager. "Any questions?"

Kiara smiled. "When can we start?"

Devrah laughed. "Fair enough, child." She walked over to the wall, and put her hand on a large pull-switch. "Well, dear." She looked pointedly at Chun. "Time to test your theory."

She threw the switch.

Spider let out a yelp. Her back arched, and she was thrust a few feet into the air. The scorpion demon in her cage began to screech and claw at the cage. Spider landed on the wall above and lay there, convulsing. A stream of dirty curses flew from her lips.

Chun looked Torrential Black in the face, and stood steady. At first Black began to lift its right wing set, but when it was halfway up Chun's face contorted into a horrid grimace of pain. She let out a muffled scream.

Distracted, Kiara cursed suddenly and wobbled and almost fell as the shadow-gryphon stopped fighting against the cave, instead glaring at her. After a moment, Kiara tensed up, raising her head with an effort, deadly focused, staring at Umbra.

Seth had strolled calmly to the cage holding his demon, the floating crystal face. The creature's eyes opened slowly, swirling pale green. Seth's teeth clenched tightly around the cigarette, breaking it in two. The two locked gazes with manic intensity.

Reno, facing down her own demon, suddenly burst out with a sharp shriek of pain. Inside its cage, Caf let out the same shriek, only more bone-chilling and unnatural.

Spider fell from the ceiling to the left, and against the wall. She crashed with a loud thud. The creature in the cage began to fly to each wall, scritching madly at the restraints. Clinging to the wall like her namesake, Spider's head snapped up. Her eyes were burning with red sparks, as were the demon's.

Chun doubled over, and then slowly fought her way into being straight again. Torrential Black was flapping furiously, attempting to fly around his cage, but couldn't get off the ground. His wings were generating heavy wind, though, swirling wildly around Chun.

Amidst the screaming, some of which was her own, Reno slowly twisted her head in Caf's direction. She started to bring her volume down as the initial shock started to lessen. Reno and her demon, slowly but surely, made eye contact.

Seth's fists were tight at his waist. Blood leaked from the points where his nails met the flesh of his palms. The mist from the cage began to leak out and encircle Seth. It was fucking cold, but he kept his teeth clenched, and didn't break eye contact with the creature.

"Oh, no you don't," Spider hissed, her teeth clenching over each syllable like a fist. Her gravitational field flickered around her, swaying in every direction, threatening to knock her against the floor.

Chun looked Black in the eye. "Torrential. STOP IT." Chun narrowed her eyes, though she still looked in pain. Black continued to create a wind flow, blowing papers off of nearby desks. Torrential's red-black eye rolled for a moment, and then the air was still.

Devrah, watching, began to laugh madly with glee. It was working. It was working.

Kiara slowly walked towards her demon, hands clenching into fists, her face a mask of concentration. It slowly crouched down within its cage, backing away, shrinking slightly.

Spider let out another cry and threw herself towards the other wall, landing with both feet on the outside of the cage. She stood on all fours, sticking off the cage wall. All of her clothes and hair had finally settled down to this new gravity. She glared the huge beast in the eyes, focusing that dark red demon energy inside of her to obey, concentrate, concentrate...

Seth's eyes blazed black. The creature still floated eerily, unmoving. Seth began to smile, his mouth curling upwards at the edges. His face was covered in sweat, and he could feel the droplets beginning to freeze to his face as the air grew colder. He spit out his cigarette stub, running his tongue along his lips.

Torrential screeched, obviously upset at the cold flowing from the cage next to his. Small pulses of electricity arced off of Black--not powerful ones, but enough to set Chun's hair standing on end. Chun took a step towards Torrential's cage. "Woah..." She looked intrigued. The pain had subsided, and she was quite interested in the electrical flow.

Spider's eyes were still red, but they focused on the demon before her with new life. They stood, opposite each other on the wall. She stood up with a smirk, still sticking out sideways with conflicting gravity. "Hah. Take that. Demon girl." Her voice sounded terse, unreal. The scorpion flashed black and red, seemingly calm.

Reno slowly rose to her feet, seemingly oblivious to everything else but Caf. Her mouth began to contort...but not in pain. Her whole face was locking into a wicked grimace to match Caf's. Reno emitted a low growling sound. Caf followed suit. Or was it the other way around?

Kiara narrowed her eyes at her demon angrily, and it let out a little whimper, backing up against the wall, shrinking more. It seemed extremely subservient, and Kiara smiled, almost sneering with pleasure and power.

Chun lifted a hand and Torrential lifted a set of wings. A small crackling sound came from him, as electricity sparked into the air around him. He crowed a bit, softly.

Slowly, Seth unclenched his fists, but the tension remained. His breathing was heavy and ragged. The icy mist receded from around him, beginning to gather around the demon in the cage once more.

Devrah smiled, watching the five take control. "Good, good, this is--"

She was cut off by an alarm, blaring through the apartment and down into the lab.

((54 - RAY Escapes))

Caf snapped into an offensive pose, which Reno's motor system adapted to fit her physiology. "Hhhhhhhcccccccchhhhhhhh..." they both breathed.

Kiara slowly smiled, lowering her hands to her sides. The demon cocked its head, stepping forward and growing a bit. At the alarm Kiara whirled, and the demon looked around frantically.

A voice came through speakers, echoing down through the stairs from above. "Emergency. Emergency. Evacuate immediately. Repeat: immediately. The swarm has arrived. Evacuate immediately. Emergency. Emergency..."

Devrah whirled, looking at the speakers. "The swarm!? They're not supposed to be..." She scowled. "You... you kids have to get out of here."

Chun looked up. "Well, Torrential. Time to FLY!" Torrential let out a call and clawed at his cage.

Reno suddenly threw her head back, straightening her back ridgedly. Caf assumed a similar, officious pose. She tilted her head down, stared her demon straight in the eyes and cried "HAH!"

Kiara smirked. "Time, is it?"

"Shit, mother fucking godamnitsunova--" Spider growled from the wall of the cage. "Kasby said it would be a week!"

Seth closed his eyes slowly, still smiling. "Fuck Kasby."

Devrah bit her lip. "I'll depower the cages. The creatures should be able to break through them then, if you tell them to." She ran over to another switch, and flipped it. The low humming that had been filling the room powered down, and the slight glow coursing through the crystal bars faded.

Spider gave Seth a glance, but quickly looked down below her to the cage. The demon cluttered against the crystal. Spider hopped off, and to normal gravity, and as she did the large scorpion burst from the cage. It stared around the room with its pincers and red, beady eyes. It twitched with Spider's building energy.

Seth raised his right hand, and opened his palm, creating a flat surface. The being in the cage opposite him did the same--its crystal chunk that resembled a hand flattened and became a razor thin blade. He swung his hand to the side, and the demon did the same. It flashed in a circle. A moment later, the bars slipped at their midpoints, and the cage fell in two.

Kiara looked at her demon, growing focused for a moment. It looked back, seemingly curious, and then stepped to the edge of the cage and oozed through the bars.

Torrential burst out of his cage almost instantly, and stood with his beak inches from Chun's face. The girl turned to her mother. "Mom, how are you going to leave?"

Devrah smiled, and laughed again at her daughter. "Don't worry about me, dear."

Chun looked suprised. "What?"

Devrah tapped the back of her neck and winked. Her eyes drifted pointedly to the sixth cage, the one draped with a cloth over it.

Chun grinned. "Ha, Alright." Chun then looked at Torrential again, and focused. Black bent down, and waited. Chun grabbed a backpack that was next to a table, that had been waiting for this. She put the backpack on, them climbed onto Torrential. Conveniently, the bone formed a seat-like shape above Torrential's second wing set.

Reno reached out to Caf with open arms, her eyes a sort of false welcoming. "C'mere, you." Caf stepped back and, with his foreclaws outstreched, charged for the bars.

"Everyone stand back, at the edge of the room!" Devrah yelled. "I'm going to open the floor, so you can get out! It's how I get them in!" Devrah ran to a set of controls near the stairs, and began fiddling with them. Slowly, the floor began to hiss, and slowly to open, massive metal panels sliding apart. Wind howled into the room as the pressure equalized.

Seth jumped onto one of his demon's hands, and sat on it. It was contoured to his body. It wasn't quite comfortable, but it was ergonomic. There they hovered, watching the room morph. He nodded to Spider, who stood on the wall next to him.

Reno and Caf lept for each other as the crystal caging shattered under the weight of demon talons. She slung her arms around the creature's neck and hung above the Void, gazing instead into her steed's eyes. Caf's wings beat steadily as Reno breathed "Wow...we're real pieces of work, aren't we?" The demon flipped his head up to launch his new master into a sitting position on the back of his neck, in front of his wings.

Outside, the Void Nebula hung empty and cold, blank gray foggy nothingness. Spider gazed out over it, her hair rippling back with the wind. She grinned wildly. The scorpion's strange, dark wings elongated beside her. They oozed out to twice the size of the body. "No time to waste!" Spider cried, and fell downward into the mist.

Seth's smiled broadened. His creature placed him on the center of its head. He floated down, following Spider outside, with Reno and Caf darting after.

Umbra grew, letting Kiara climb onto her back. She cursed for a moment, shifting her trenchcoat and the things in her pockets around, revealing a crystalline sword at her hip, and, following the others, leapt out of the Roost.

Devrah stood on the bottom stair, looking across the widening gap to her daughter. "Go well, Red. Remember me."

Chun looked to her mom. "I will. I hope your demon works!" Chun concentrated, putting her goggles over her eyes, as Torrential spread his wings. "Bye mom." Chun looked sad for a split second. She glanced around the lab and sighed. Then Torrential launched out through the hole in the floor, down into the fog.

From below, the Roost looked different--a hodge-podge of mismatched shapes, boxes, docking bays, and dangling wires and cables. All across it, holes were opening, and ships were dropping out of them. The evacuation was in full swing. An explosion rocked the Roost, shuddering through it.

Spider scanned the underside for any sign of her old ship, but didn't dwell on it for too long. "Where are those demons, eh?" She called loudly into the mist. A dark excitement grew like the red in her eyes.

As they fell, the five teens came out from under the shadow of the Roost... Above it, the entire Void glowed red. Thousands of demons filled the sky above their home, too numerous to count. They came in all shapes and sizes, unified only in that they all glowed that same horrific bloody red.

Chun glanced back and shuddered. "Jeez." Torrential bucked slightly in the air, and then flew steadier, wings pulsing with Chun's heartbeat.

"Daaaaayum," said Reno, under her breath.

"I see..." Spider stared up at the demons above her, but she didn't lose her cool.

"Shit," Kiara said, eyes widening, speaking, actually sounding worried for once. "What do you say we get out of here?"

"What are you talking about?" Spider snapped. "I'm ready to kick some demon ass!"

"Not yet, Spider." Seth's voice was calm, steady. "I like your enthusiasm--but we've still got a job to do." He floated to the middle of the strange group of demons and teenagers, all holding position beneath the Roost.

Torrential and Chun both nodded. "We should go, there are WAY too many of them, and we don't know how to control our demons that well yet, do we?"

Kiara rolled her eyes at Spider. "Yeah... Spider... numbers. Can you count?"

"What do you mean, count?"

Kiara sighed. "You know, one demon, two demon, three demon?"

"Fuck numbers..." She stared into each of the faces of the Talons, looking for someone who agreed with her. She found no one. Her heart sank.

Seth spoke up again, picking up his role as leader. "For now... we hit Cyclops' old hideout. It's on the way to Sector One. First things first. Sorry I didn't tell you about that one, Spider."

"It's not like I ever know what's going on..." She hovered next to her demon, the only one moving on her own power.

"We've got an old man to bail out of jail," Seth continued. "Then we can kick the shit out of these motherfuckers. All in due time."

"Hey, I'm up for anything new now that I've got mind-control powers," shrugged Reno. "I wonder what kinda magic these puppies got, anyway?"

Seth broke out into his wicked smile once more. "We'll find out soon, I'm sure. Now, everyone... this way." His demon dropped out of the air, falling in the direction of Sector One, his gang following after.


((52 - Nazo ga Nazo wo Yobu))

June 1st, 802 AT. 10:30 AM.

The lock clicked, and Kasby walked in the door.

"Kasby!" Goat exclaimed, landing in front of him. "You won't believe what happened!"

"Goat," said Kasby, giving the teen a nod. "Something happened?"

"We woke up in cages, and Giraffe burned them, and, then we went back here, and there was a ghost!"

Kasby blinked. "....What?"

"Yeah, I know," Goat said.

Giraffe nodded. "That basically sums it all up."

"I investigated the apartment," Goat continued. "The couch needs cleaning."

"And we need to make our beds," added Giraffe. "But that is not the point."

"...Goat, it doesn't matter. We're leaving. Pack your stuff, you guys," said Kasby, turning back towards the open door. He turned his head back around, briefly. "Wait, what's this about a ghost?"

Goat leapt to his doorway, past where Zebra sat quietly. "A red-haired ghost, injecting the air around Zebra's bed with something."

"More like..." Giraffe's eyes wandered, looking for the right words. "More like a projected image of how they got us into the cage without our knowledge."

"It's still pretty unclear," said Goat. "But hey, at least I have scalpels!"

Kasby frowned. "Who put you in cages?"

Goat shrugged. "No idea. The room was below an apartment, but it was empty."

Kasby opened his mouth, as if to say something, but shut it before a sound could escape. "...Get your things. We're leaving, now." He took a few steps outside the apartment and waited for the others.

Zebra ran off and got her things, then came back outside the apartment. She turned to Kasby. "He was really weird... long red hair, thick glasses... and he had this injector-thing. He kept doing the same thing over and over, like he was on loop."

"Red hair? Thick glasses?" Kasby frowned from outside the door frame. "I ran into that guy in the elevator. Think I pissed him off."

Giraffe and Goat joined them in the elevator, both wearing light backpacks. Most of their things were still on the Quinn.

Kasby frowned at them. "Where are the others?"

Zebra perked up. "Oh, right!" She ran back inside, and grabbed the book off the table. "We found this." She handed it to Kasby.

He read Seth's hastily scrawled note, and swore. "Well, I guess Spider can take care of herself... I wish I knew who she was with, though. What about--"

Without warning, alarms started blaring, and a voice came through speakers in the hallway. "Emergency. Emergency. Evacuate immediately. Repeat: immediately. The swarm has arrived. Evacuate immediately. Emergency. Emergency..."

Kasby bit his lip. "Where are Skunk and Owl? We have to find them, fast."

The other three looked at each other, then turned to Kasby and shrugged. Giraffe spoke up. "There were six cages, where we were. The other three were empty, though."

The pilot swallowed. "You think they weren't captured, then? Like Spider?"

Goat nodded. "I guess so. They were in a different apartment, right? Maybe that guy couldn't find them."

Kasby shook his head. "I dropped by their apartment to collect them on the way here. It was empty. Door open, sheets messed up... I figured they were here with you." He reached down to his belt, and took out his radio transmitter. "I'll try calling them."

"Oh!" Giraffe exclaimed. "That won't work... their radios were sitting on the table in the apartment where we woke up..."

"Damn!" Kasby started to pace, putting a hand to his temple. The alarms continued to blare in the background. "Can you take me back there? We've got to--"

A massive explosion sounded from somewhere overhead, and the entire Roost shook, sending all four stumbling against a wall.

"Kasby!" Giraffe yelled. "We have to go! Owl and Skunk can take care of themselves."

"Yeah," Goat agreed. "Skunk can kick anyone's butt!"

Kasby glared at them. "I'm not leaving without them."

"We have to." Giraffe took a step closer to him. "We have to trust that they'll be alright, and save ourselves for now."

"I'm not leaving without them."

"We don't have a--"

Kasby pounded his fist against the metal bulkhead, cutting her off. His eyes locked onto hers, burning with intensity. "I am not abandoning HALF of my crew. I... I already lost one crew member too many."

Giraffe sighed, and walked right up close to her captain. "Kasby. Either we four escape right now, and meet up with the other three later, or we all die here."

"That's not..." Kasby looked for words, but none came.

Giraffe's voice hardened. "What's it going to be, Kasby? Four lives, or none?"

He let out a quiet sigh. "We'll find them. I swear to you. We'll find them."

"Good. But we'll do it once we escape."

Kasby nodded, swallowed, and stood to his full height. "Come on. The Quinn is fueled and ready, escort be damned." He turned and led the way towards the docking bay.


Illustrated by Quinn Milton.


((50 - Stutter))

June 1st, 802 AT. 8:03 AM.

The Talons (minus Seth) sat in the Quinn apartment, their usual hangout space, waiting for Seth to come back from an errand. They occupied their normal positions about the room--Kiara was copying things from one notebook to another, Reno was in a fight with a wall, and Chun was dozing on a couch. It was a bit early for all of them, especially given how late they'd been up the night before, but what had to be done...

The door burst open. Seth stood in the newly-formed empty space, waved a hand elegantly, and announced, "The Talons."

Spider stood next to him, staring at the Talons. She cocked her eyebrow.

Kiara finished writing, then turned curiously. "Oh, hello Seth," she remarked absently.

Chun jolted upright in surprise, and looked groggily towards Seth.

Seth stepped inside, walking to the center of the room, Spider following close behind. "We got a new recruit, yo."

"Who is she?" Kiara asked.

"Yo," Spider said, eyeing the strangers. "Spider." She nodded at them.

Chun was silent and then in a wary but oddly welcoming tone said: "Chun."

Reno flipped a hand up in an unceremonious but deliberate gesture. "Reno," she introduced. She leaned against the wall she'd been engaging in brutal combat with, cracking her slightly bruised knuckles. "Reno Corbonov."

"Kiara." She regarded Spider appraisingly for a moment longer, before returning her attention to Seth.

"Sooo," Seth said, rocking back slightly on his heels. "I figured it couldn't hurt to add one more to our numbers. A new face is nice every once in a while. Any complaints?"

Reno shrugged. "I've got nuttin'."

Kiara shook her head. "Not really here either. But why does she care?"

Spider scratched her head. In a half-joking tone, she replied, "Demons killed everyone I ever knew or cared about."

Chun had lowered her goggles over her eyes and put her hands in her black sweat-shirt pocket, but now cocked her head towards Spider, obviously intrigued.

Seeing that everyone was waiting for a further explanation, Spider muttered some more. "I dunno. I guess I didn't really fit in where I was, or where I was going..." She pouted at the wall, a bit.

Kiara nodded, and looked to Seth again. "So what did you tell her?"

"I didn't tell her too much. Just about mind controlling demons and the like."

Chun almost laughed, nervously, but quickly put a straight face on.

"Fucking sweet idea," Spider added with a quirky smile.

Kiara smirked. "Well all right then."

Chun leaned back on the couch, frowning slightly. "Do we really want someone we barely know controlling a demon? I mean, I have no problem with her, yet, but still."

Spider glanced at Seth, eyes blazing a deep red. "I might be able to help. I've... dealt with demons before."

He smiled back at her. "Excellent." The Talons' leader turned to Chun. "I'm not worried. And I see no more reason to dally. Shall we pay your mother a visit?" His smile took a sinister twist.

Reno clapped her hands together and threw on her usual non-grin. "Yeah! Let's go get our brains stabbed with shiny mind-rocks!"

Kiara laughed and stood. "Sounds like a fun day."

Chun nodded and got up, obviously still tired. She walked to the door with a slight slouch, goggles still hiding her eyes.

Spider glanced around in mild confusion. "Eh? Someone's mom?"

Chun paused in the doorway. "My mom. She and I are the reason we can control demons. Mostly her though."

"Ohhhhkay..." Spider watched Chun suspiciously.

Chun pushed her goggles back onto her forehead and looked back at the girl as if to say, 'What? Have a problem with me?'

Spider just looked back curiously, lips pursed. She didn't seem to get the negative glare that Chun was shooting her.

Seth stepped between the two girls. "Now... as hot as a cat fight would be right now, we're kind of pressed for time here. Let's hit your apartment, Chun."

"Cat fight?" Spider gave him a confused look.

Chun said nothing, just turning her head to look out the door. She pulled out a pen and small notebook and began taking notes. As she wrote, she started walking off towards her home.

Reno placed her fingers on the side of her mouth like whiskers and flatly breathed "Meow."

"... nothing. Nothing at all, Spider. Let's get moving." Seth walked out the door, following behind Chun.

Spider rubbed her neck, and followed with a look of I-have-no-idea-what-you-weirdos-are-talking-about.

Kiara closed her notebooks and slipped them into a pocket of her trenchcoat, then rose and followed them out the door silently.

((51 - Wounder))

After a few minutes of walking, they arrived at the Marash apartment. Chun put her notebook and pen away and then opened the apartment door, not hesitating at all, though she seemed to be thinking about something. The apartment was as messy as the last time they were in it--scattered pages and books full of notes were piled everywhere. Chun entered and shoved a backpack out of the entrance way, leaning it against a nearby chair. She then went towards the stairs leading towards the lab. She could hear her mother humming from downstairs, and called out to her. "Hey Mom, I'm home! I brought some people!"

"We, the crazy, back again!" Echoed Reno, as she and the others followed Chun inside.

Devrah's voice came from below. "People? Here? Again?"

Chun cracked a grin. "Yeah, they're here to be part of the trial."

"The... Now hold on just a minute." They could hear the sounds of bustling activity came from below, followed by footsteps on the stairs.

"Remember? I talked to you about it yesterday afternoon!"

A moment later, a forty-ish woman with wild curly hair and thick glasses poked her head up the stairwell, surveying the five teenagers. She sighed and scratched her head. "Chun... I thought you were being hypothetical about human trials. Besides, I'm not going to operate on children."

"I'm not a child!" Spider said loudly.

Chun faced her mother, trying to look as mature as she could. "They're serious, and I am too. This can work if we try it. We're all willing to go through with it." She shot a glare at Spider.

"I'm not that freakin' short," Spider mumbled to herself.

"Yeah," agreed Reno. "Do we LOOK like we're still wearing dipers and sucking our thumbs?"

Devrah glanced around the room, and crossed her arms. "No," she said flatly. "I absolutely refuse. You're all perfectly likely to die."

Chun looked frustrated. "Mom..."

Seth stared directly at Devrah, taking a step towards her, hands still in his coat pockets. "No, I'm pretty sure you are going to operate on us."

She snorted. "And why, young man, are you so sure of that?"

A hand inside his coat shifted. "Now, I don't want to do this. However..." He pulled out a small hand pistol and pointed it at Devrah's face. "We don't got much time here, honey."

Devrah just stared at him, eyebrows raised.

Chun had a poker face. "They're serious, like I said."

Spider looked at Seth, and at the gun. She rolled her eyes, and let out a heavy sigh. "Just like him..."

With his free hand, Seth flipped a cigarette out of his coat and put it in his mouth while he waited for an answer.

After a long moment, she laughed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Fine! If you kids are that intent on it..." Her eyes took on a wicked gleam, and she smiled broadly. "... who am I to refuse?"

"That's the spirit," Seth said, putting his gun up.

Reno raised an eyebrow. "Hey, sarcasm is supposed to be my job," she muttered under her breath.

Seth returned the gun to his coat, and took out his zippo instead. He lit up, and followed both Marashes down the stairs, the rest of the Talons close on his heels.

The lab was as they had seen it before--six cages along one wall, with a seventh larger one nearby, and the control crystals on a panel on the neighboring wall.

Devrah hurriedly bustled around the room, gathering various surgical implements. "Chun, please unhook the control crystals from their circuits."

Chun did as she was told. The moment she did, the demons in the cages went wild. They hissed, scowled, snarled, and tore at the bars of their cages. The cages, being made of crystal and wiring interwoven, held sturdy.

Spider wandered from the group, eyeing the creatures in the cages. She stopped in front of one of them, and her eyes blazed scarlet. It was a strange, opaque white creature with flaming red eyes. Two large, blackened pincers hung out before its head. It scuttled about the cage, crawling on the walls madly. A pair of black paper-like wings protruded from its back, and two large stingers were erected above its beetle-like body. Its form was constantly shifting with reds and blacks.

Reno strode over to Caf's cage and placed a daring hand on some of the wiring. "Hello pretty. Did ya miss me?"

Chun brought the crystals to a relatively cleared table. Then she looked the crow demon in the eye, grinning.

Devrah finished her preparations, laying down a long white cloth on the table by the crystals. She pulled on a surgical glove, and looked over at the teenagers. "Now then... " She let the glove snap against her wrist. "...who's first?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


((49 - Sealed Hyrule Castle))

June 1st, 802 AT. 8:02 AM.


Cold metal, underneath.

... definitely not a bed.

Goat, Giraffe, and Zebra slowly blinked away to find themselves in... large steel cages. Each cage was just big enough to stand up in, but too small to stretch out fully in. Three more cages were there, all empty. Three a side, with Goat and Zebra on one side, facing Giraffe's cage. The space between the cages formed a hallway, with a closed metal door at one end, and a blank wall at the other. The bars were spread wide enough apart to get an arm out, just. The doors looked thoroughly padlocked shut.

Goat looked around wildly. "Wait... what?" He said. "How did we get here?"

Zebra began to examine the bars of her cage. "Good question. This doesn't usually happen when I sleep."

Goat pinched himself. "Ow," he said. "Probably not a dream. I might've imagined that, though..."

Giraffe raised an eyebrow. "Not a dream of yours, at least." She walked to the bars of her cage, and put her hands against them, starting to heat them slowly.

Goat punched himself in the forehead. "Definitely not a dream." He glanced at Giraffe in her cage. "How's the heat coming along?"

She shrugged noncommittally. "It's not doing much, but I haven't put much energy into it, either." The metal was focusing on was turning vaguely reddish, bit by bit.

Satisfied she could do nothing, Zebra sat back in her cage, mentally comparing this to her other dreams. Admittedly, the lack of explanation for weird things was like her other dreams, and the cages could be taken as symbolic... but to be fair, weird things happened with no explanation when she was awake, too.

Giraffe grasped the metal, trying to bend it to make the gap bigger. It didn't budge, so she went back to trying to heat it.

"Try your hardest, Giraffe," Goat said. "I don't think I like being in a cage."

"Really? 'Cause I quite enjoy it," she said wryly. The metal was starting to heat up, beginning to glow orange, yellow, and finally white hot. This time, when she pulled, the metal slowly bent outwards. "Sweet!"

Goat began to jump around his cage a little, as much as he could. He didn't get very far, but it seemed to keep him entertained for the moment.

Finally, the bars were melted and bent enough that Giraffe could slip out. She did so quite eagerly, throwing her hands up triumphantly. "Ha ha! FREEDOM! And now for your guyses cages!"

"Hooray!" Goat said, jumping up. "Ouch!" He concluded, hitting his head.

As Giraffe walked up to her cage, Zebra moved to the back, trying to avoid getting burned. Once the gap was more than wide enough, she calmly exited the cage, taking care to avoid touching the still-glowing bars.

"Two down, one to go," Giraffe muttered to herself, moving to Goat's cage and getting to work.

Goat waited until the hole was big enough, then leapt through and hugged Giraffe before his feet had even hit the ground.

She stiffened at the hug, not being use to physical contact. "Well, uh, you're welcome." She wriggled out of the lanky boy's arms and turned to Zebra. "See any way out?"

Zebra tugged at the door a few times, but it didn't budge. "I think it's locked from the other side. Maybe you need to melt this, too."

Giraffe sighed, dodged Goat as he flew past, exercising his newfound freedom, and began to focus her heat on the door near the handle. She melted a hole solidly through the door, and it swung outwards.

Goat leapt through it without looking beyond, grinning. On the other side was a large room, full of strange equipment and tools. Various bladed implements were on a rack on one wall, and tubes of chemicals lined another. Much of the third wall was dominated by jars full of... what appeared to be organs. But certainly not human ones. A ladder in the middle of the room went up to a higher floor, and down through a hole to somewhere beneath.

Giraffe wandered around, picking up a vial of some chemical and holding it up to the light. "Okay, what next, and where are we?"

Goat had been looking for the closest thing to a spear, and settled on a pair of scalpels. Most of the implements were quite small--more like surgical tools than weapons. "I guess these are close enough."

Zebra went to the ladder, and peered up and down. She had just decided on up when Goat shot past her, casually jumping up to the next level.

The top floor was an apartment living room, much like the one they were staying in. It was dark, but not overly so. Light seemed to be coming from the bottom floor, lighting up the lab, and trickling up to this room. A kitchen nook could be just made out in one corner, and some couches in another--the same layout as their apartment. This probably meant the lightswitch would be in the same place by the door.

Giraffe arrived up the ladder behind them, winded. "Damn your lungs!"

Goat leapt at where he figured the lightswitch was, extending a foot to hit it. The lights clicked obligingly on, revealing a room in general chaos. Papers were strewn everywhere, covered with scrawling notes. There were stacks of books on the tables, and piles of paper on the floor. One door went out of the room, presumably into a bedroom, and the front door was near where Goat stood, by the light switch. Goat picked up one of the pieces of paper, and quietly wished he'd had the attention span to learn to read, back on the Quinn.

Giraffe wandered the apartment, looking for something that could give her a clue as to why she was in a cage. A pile of five of their radio transmitters sat on one of the tables. "Bingo."

Zebra had cleared off a spot on the couch next to that table, and sat on it. The couch was quite comfy. Zebra smiled, then reached over and grabbed one of the transmitters off the table.

Goat dropped the paper, grabbed one of the radios, and leapt to the door. He readied himself for the lock, and pulled hard. It was unlocked, though, so he instead just staggered clumsily back into the room as the door swung open.

Giraffe snickered at his antics as she pocketed a transmitter herself, then headed out into the corridor. "Fun."

Zebra sighed imperceptibly and got up to follow the two.

Outside, the corridor was empty of other people. A large number on the wall read '4.19.' They knew by now that the first number meant which ring-corridor they were in, and the second what section. Their apartment was at '1.5' Goat began to leap along the corridor, heading off towards home at high speed. Giraffe trotted after, grumbling about leapers.

The corridor wound along, past 4.18, 4.17, 4.16... Eventually it branched out, with halls to corridors three and five. The whole place was empty, quiet. Distant sounds could still be heard, the sounds of evacuation in progress. As they started to head down the third corridor, someone walked briskly past, heading outwards. Goat grabbed him by the shirt as he did.

"Huh!?" The boy, a little older than Goat, skidded to a stop. He spun to face the taller teen. "Hey, man, what's your problem?"

Zebra stared at him, saying nothing, probably being accidentally intimidating. She took a step closer, standing right behind Goat.

"Know anything about why we were in cages?" Goat asked, ignoring the boy's question.

The boy looked at the three. "... the fuck? I don't know who the fuck you are. I'm just on my way to help my sister pack, and get the fuck out of here."

"Oh great," Giraffe muttered. "We find the nice guy."

There was a moment of glaring silence. "Kay," Goat said, releasing the boy and leaping back.

The disgruntled teen brushed himself off, and ran off, throwing one fist into the air as he did, with the middle finger raised up. "Whatever!"

Zebra watched him go, and concluded that it was much less likely to be a dream, now that a random boy had shown up.

Giraffe turned to her and smiled. "And onward we go?" At her companions' nods, she turned and lead the way further inwards.

After a good fifteen minutes of walking (during which Giraffe had to repeatedly remind Goat not to leap too far in front of strangers), they came to their own apartment. The door hung open.

Giraffe frowned. "Well that's not good." She peeked around the door, as Goat once more leapt in headfirst. The living room was rather empty, save for a cloud of dissipating smoke in the middle of the room, and the smell of cigarettes.

"This mystery needs solving," Goat said.

Watching Giraffe cough, Zebra resolved to find some way of quickly getting rid of smoke. She then turned to Goat, waiting.

Goat grinned. "Let's look around, see if we can find any clues." He looked behind the couch. There was a lot of dust behind it. Clearly it had not been cleaned in a while. "I've got my eye on you, dust," he said suspiciously. He leaped away from it and proceeded to his own room. The door hung open, and the sheets were mussed up and hung half-off the bed. "Well, the bed looks the same," he said. "But I'm pretty sure I locked the door last time I was here."

Zebra took this as an excuse to retire to her own room, expecting it to be just as she left it. Zebra's room was very different. Zebra was not happy about this.

A large man in a long white coat stood with his back to her. He had long red hair, tied back in a thin pony tail. He walked over towards her bed, and held up some sort of device. It looked rather like a gun, with a long needle instead of a barrel. He fiddled with it briefly, before reaching down and doing something to someone on the bed.

Zebra crossed her arms, about to clear her throat, then thought better of it. Giraffe stumbled over to her, but Zebra held up a hand, motioning for silence.

Then the man faded quietly out of existence.

A moment later, he reappeared back in the doorway, still with his back to her. He walked over towards the bed.

This time, Zebra walked up to him and attempted to grab him, unwilling to let him get away again. Her arms went right through him, as he held up the device again. "Shit."

Giraffe stared wide-eyed. "What the fuck!!!" Her own room had been much like Goat's--nothing missing, but the bed mussed up.

"Maybe it is a dream," Zebra mumbled, as she circled around in front of the man, trying to get a look at his face. He vanished again, and repeated the cycle. He had glasses on, and seemed completely oblivious to anything around him. From the front, he could be seen taking a small vial of green liquid out of his coat pocket and loading it into the needle-gun.

"I see you have company, Zebra," Goat said from the doorway, which only drew an unamused look. He shrugged to Giraffe, who stood next to him, leaning on the wall, watching the man.

He bent over the bed, and injected the liquid into thin air. He smiled, reached down, and seemed to check the pulse of nothing in particlar. Then he faded, reappeared in the doorway, and repeated the cycle. The whole thing was conducted entirely without sound. He didn't look particularly familiar.

Slowly, realization dawned on Giraffe, as she remembered various things Kasby had told her earlier. "Holy shit, they drugged us! The fuckers!"

Zebra had gotten over her shock, and was now hoping he wouldn't keep doing this indefinitely; it would make it difficult to sleep. As the thought crossed her mind, he faded away mid-sequence, and didn't reappear. She smiled, glad she wouldn't have to deal with ghosts injecting things while she tried to sleep.

Deciding there was nothing more to see in Zebra's room, Goat went back to investigating, checking the other rooms. They were empty, but all had their covers dragged off--except for Spider's bed, which had the covers pushed down, and Kasby's bed, which was neatly made.

In bored frustration, Goat picked up Kasby's pillow and lacerated it with this scalpel, investigating its insides. It was full of fluffy white cotton.

Goat beat the ever-loving hell out of it.


((48 - Rutten))

June 1st, 802 AT. 7:35 AM.

Spider stood in front of the door, looking into the empty room, uncharacteristically still. She'd been unable to sleep, and had gone exploring in the early hours of the morning, floating about the Roost while most people slept. She had come across some thoroughly interesting things in her wanderings, foremost among those being the method by which the Roost kept itself afloat.

The Corkscrew had had massive engines beneath it, powered by several extremely large charged crystal shards. The Roost had no such mechanism. At its core was an unbroken crystal, presumably with demon still intact within it. Kasby had told them earlier that unless broken, crystals never moved. As such, the entire Roost was perched atop this one crystal. It certainly explained the strange architectural design.

People were starting to wake up, though, so she'd returned to her apartment to hide from them. As she arrived at her room, though, she saw the door to the apartment the rest of the crew shared hanging open, and poked her head in. The doors to the bedrooms hung open, and the place seemed quite abandoned. She cocked her head to one side. "Where did everyone go?" She asked the empty walls.

"Who knows?" Seth replied. He'd shown up rather quietly, while Spider was staring into space.

She glanced at him, not reacting significantly. "Do you? Did they just... take off?"

Seth shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I haven't been back here since the last time we spoke."

She scratched her head, a baffled look crossing her face. Did she even care if they left without her? She would've liked the chance to punch Kasby, at least once. "Well, what are you doing here anyway?" She asked Seth, a bit tersely.

"We're running low on time, yo. It's now or never." He leaned against her door, across the hall from where she stood. "You gonna come with us? Or stay with them?"

She sighed heavily. "I wanted a chance to let them know, say goodbye, I guess." She reached into one of her many pockets, and drew out a cigarette. "Got a light?" She asked, her eyes dancing over to his.

"Always." Out of his jacket came a beaten steel zippo. He handed it to her. "Glad to see you're enjoying them." He grinned.

She snatched it from him, and lit up with a fwwshhh, and sucked in deeply. "Yeah, they're alright," she said with a thick exhale of smoke. She tossed the lighter back at Seth.

He plucked it casually out of the air, and slid it inside his coat. "Can't you leave a note for Kasby and the others?"

Spider thought about it for a second. "Yeah, I could, but I can't write. What would I say, anyway?"

Seth looked at her strangely. "You can't write? Really?"

She shrugged, clearly slightly uncomfortable.

"Whatever, I'll write the note for you." He grinned wryly, and pushed past her into the apartment, grabbing a notebook off a shelf on one wall. He tossed it down on the table, flipped it open, and scrawled a quick note with a pen he pulled from a pocket.

Spider leaned over his shoulder, watching him write. "Wossit say?"

"Ahem." Seth stood upright and read in an overly dramatic voice. "See ya later, fuckers. I went to go hang out with cooler people. See you someday. Love, Spider." He pocketed the pen and turned to her. "Sound good?"

She nodded, laughing. "Alright, now bring me up to speed. What do we do? Lasso a demon? Stick a crystal up its ass?" She laughed smugly.

"The latter, more or less." He glanced around the room. "Any more reason to dally here? I can take you to the rest of the Talons, then we'll brief you in full."

Spider shrugged. She didn't look too keen, either way, but maybe that was just the way her face looked.

Seth began to walk out the door. "Follow?"

She nodded, and trailed after him.

"So. This whole demon-wrangling thing," Seth said as they traversed the streets. "We've sorta got a handle on it. Step one: capture demon, insert crystal. That's been done for us." The pair stepped to either side of the walkway to allow a cart loaded with scrap metal to pass by. "Step two: take ourselves, insert crystals. Not quite there yet. And finally, step three: make the link. That should be... interesting, to say the least."

"Mm," Spider hummed. "Can I take a look at the crystals?"

Out of his seemingly endless storage space called a jacket, Seth pulled a small purple crystal. "Careful with it now," he said, handing it to her. "We don't quite have spares.

She took it from him, and examined it for any signs, any... anything. It looked just like all the other crystal shards she had seen, clearly charged with some sort of purple demon mojo."I wonder if my demon juice will affect this... connection," she muttered, twirling the crystal in her fingers.

"Only one way to find out," Seth replied, grinning wickedly.

Spider smirked. "I used to live on one of these, you know," she mumbled, tossing the crystal back to Seth.

He caught the crystal, pausing in his stride to open a metal door to a closer-in section of the Roost. "Don't we all..."

"I guess so." She turned her head to fully look at him. Her eyes flared. "So. You already have these demons captured?"

"Shit yeah. And there's even a spare for you... You'll get to meet it soon enough." He stopped, in front of a door with '2259--Quinn' etched on it. "But for now... you get to meet the crew. Spider, I present to you..." Seth walked to the door, and kicked it in. "The Talons."

Monday, November 16, 2009


June 1st, 802 AT. 5:47 AM.

Kasby's foot tapped rapidly on the floor of the elevator, and his arms were crossed tightly in irritation. He gritted his teeth as he watched the floor numbers slowly go up.

After far too long, the elevator hissed to a stop, and the doors slid open onto the antechamber in front of Ammon's office. The two guards stood sleepily near the entrance. The door to the office closed quietly as a man walked out of it. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with thick glasses and long red hair tied back in a pony tail. He was smiling to himself, and had his hands buried deep in the pockets of his white lab coat.

Kasby stepped out of the elevator, walking hurriedly towards Ammon's door. His shoulder, significantly lower down than the taller man's, collided briefly with the other man's, but Kasby was too focused and too frustrated to apologize.

The man snorted, and kept walking to the elevator.

"I'm going in again," Kasby said, almost dismissively, to the guards without paying either of them much mind.

They nodded, not really paying much attention. Clearly they had been on duty for a very long time.

With great force, Kasby threw the metal doors wide open. The door smashed into the wall behind the frame, echoing throughout the floor.

((45 - Never No Lament))

"Ammon, I want my goddamn ship unlocked... sir."

Ammon, bleary-eyed, looked up from his desk. His hands didn't stop moving as they whizzed furiously across forms. "Oh. It's you."

Kasby's brow furrowed. He spoke again, this time slower, though obviously restraining a louder tone. "Coordinator, why did you landlock the Quinn?"

"First of all, the Quinn's long-range engines, I'm told, were dispatched along with Captain Quinn. They belong to us, and they're our only set. Still, we have enough to worry about that I would have let you fly away, buuut... As my colleague, Consiliate Emerson pointed out, we're literally dropping an entire station of refugees into Sector One, unanounced, with nothing to offer them in return." Ammon leveled his gaze at Kasby across the desk. "Nothing but information... and the frankly curious group that brought it."

Kasby raised an eyebrow. "What are you suggesting, Coordinator?"

"I'm saying, for better or worse, I'm turning you over to the authorities at Sector One."

Kasby's tensed up, the effect visible in his stance. "What? Why me?"

"Not just you. Your whole... crew, I suppose you'd call them?"

"Yes. Let me repeat: why us?"

"Captain Bellwood. Where are you from?"

Kasby clenched his jaw. "Sector Seven, sir."

"And your friends?"

"... the same."

"Tell me, Captain," the Coordinator said slowly. "Can everyone in Sector Seven fly?"

Kasby narrowed his eyes. "Everyone in Sector Seven is dead. Sir."

Ammon raised his eyebrows and found a particular report to jot something down on. "So there is no way to confirm that that is where you are from. How inconvenient."

Kasby gritted his teeth, trying to choke down the fire he felt burning up his throat. "Think about this carefully, Ammon. Are you really accusing me of killing a scientist, stealing a ship and then bringing you valuable information?"

"Not at all. I'm only pointing out that we have no way of confirming your story. Which would be less of a problem if your friends seemed capable of keeping their feet on the ground."

"...Valid point." Kasby sighed, and made a mental note to reprimand Spider soon. "I honestly don't understand what she can do any more than you do. If there was more TIME we'd run tests..."

"And then there was the young man who vaulted the twenty feet from my door to my desk."

((46 - Caravan))

Kasby pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ammon, I would love to humor you with a long and in-depth explanation. And maybe I will, someday. But right now, I don't have time to waste proving my own identity! I need to get to the Center, Ammon."

Putting down his pen and adopting a signature politician smile, Ammon looked up at Kasby, making eye contact for the first time. "I don't want you to think I'm unsympathetic to your personal situation. And I'm sure you believe that, if you reach the Center, you can stop whatever storm is coming. But I don't think one ship is going to make the great a difference, even assuming you make it."

The Coordinator paused. "Tell me, Captain. Do you know what this is?" He gestured to the brown box that sat on his desk. Atop it spun a black disk, and the strange music was continuing to emanate from the brass horn.

Kasby shook his head. "I don't see the--"

"It's a phonograph," Ammon interrupted. "A technology dating back to 19th century Old Earth. These 'records' have been passed down in my family since long before the Templar."

The Captain glared impatiently at the Coordinator. "Is this going somewhere?"

Ammon ignored him and continued. "When my son was young, he got curious as to what was on them. He went digging in the archives and somehow found the schematics for this machine. He built it for me as a birthday present." The Coordinator put his pen down, resting his hands on the desk. "My son was killed two weeks later by demons."

Kasby swallowed, eyes not softening. "I'm sorry."

"Do not mistake me, Kasby. I hate the demons every bit as much as you do. As such, I have a responsibility to the eight hundred souls living in my sector, who have entrusted me with their lives. And that means bringing you and your crew with us to Sector One, whether I like imposing on your freedoms or not. So that's how it is. Are we going to have a problem?"

"I think we are, Ammon," Kasby said, deadpan and fixing his gaze on the other man's stare. "Jazrill Quinn didn't die so that I could be thrown in a jail cell without a chance."

"No, she did not. First of all, Captain Jazrill Quinn died responding to a distress signal, in service to humanity as a whole. Secondly, I think you misunderstand. I don't think Sector One is going to throw you into a prison cell. On the contrary, I think... I hope that they will want to hear what you have to say."

"Then free my ship now, and let me speak with them-- now. There is no time to sit around waiting for a full evacuation, and with those long-range engines we can reach them faster."

((47 - Mood Indigo))

Ammon paused. "I hadn't thought of that." He dug through paperwork. "There'll be opposition from the Consilium, but you should let me worry about that..." His mind was clearly ticking over rapidly. It was fast becoming apparent that he hadn't been fully in favor of the argument he'd been espousing up until this point.

"I planned on it."

The Coordinator found whatever form he was looking for, and clicked his pen. "Would you submit to an escort? A small group of our people, as insurance?"

"Sounds like a liability," Kasby intoned.

"You're not making this easy for me, you know, and I have a thousand other things to do. This evacuation needs coordinating, and I am, after all, the Coordinator."

"Fine, fine. An escort works, if you really need it."

"It'll cram a sock in a few mouths, at least. I don't mean to offend you, but some of the residents here believe your crew is a group of human-seeming demons."

Kasby shrugged. "I don't blame them for thinking as much."

"Well, I blame them for you. I don't care what you are. You probably saved every man, woman and child in this sector. Assuming we pull this evacuation off."

"Just doing my mission." Kasby sighed, letting out some of the tension he'd been holding. "Who's this escort going to be, anyway?"

"I'll discuss it with the Consilium. We need to figure out who we can spare with short-staffing the evacuation process. In any case, I suggest you start getting ready. I'll send the lucky soldiers down with your release orders." Ammon stood from his chair and leaned over his desk to shake hands.

"...Yes, sir." Kasby somewhat awkwardly offered his hand to the man, clasping it tightly. It was the first human contact he had had in months--since they left Sector Seven.

"Now, shut the door more quietly on your way out, will you? I've got a headache that'd split this room in half." The Coordinator smiled bitterly. "I haven't slept more than six hours in the last three days."

"Yes, sir. I'll see you at Sector One."

"I sure as hell hope so, Captain."

Kasby shut the steel door behind him... quite a bit more gently, this time.