Arania

Dramatis Personae

Ace Sedai
Annona Quinn
Bade Ignatius Guy
Caius Germanicus
Nero Faxon

PART I: And Now For Something Completely Different

Sopping wet and quite confused, Bade found himself standing in the middle of what he recognized vaguely as one of Sarcophagus Trinity’s various sepulchral ritual chambers. Archaeologists as Sarcophagus mages were, interested in nothing more than digging up ancient Aranian artifacts, any space they called theirs was usually littered with primitive finds and relics from bygone eras. This was no exception – in fact, the ritual room seemed even more so, associated as they were the Sarcophagus magical attunements and the old stuff they found by digging and spelunking. Bade never thought much of those types of studies (after all, he wasn’t ever officially a mage of the Sarcophagus Trinity anyway) and dismissed it as unnecessary clutter. It was all probably considered trash by its previous owners anyway.

But all that was a fairly moot observation given the current situation at hand. One moment Bade stood anticipating quite a violent encounter with a quite fearsome walrus-man who had both a much bigger ship and much more ability to command and operate it on the furious oceans on which they sailed, in the middle of a tempest (which Bade swore had angry eyes), surrounded by a mutinous band of brigands he and his own had hired the previous day to track down and help them against said walrus-man; the next he was being zapped by a supercharged miniature white nova into an entirely different part of Reality. Bade’s hair stood on end, even sopping wet as it was. He swiftly tried to blow a small waterfall off the tip of his nose, to little avail.

“Pardon the interruption,” a slender figure in cloak and cowl supplied from just beyond Bade’s mending scope of vision. The white flash had momentarily not permitted him to see much farther than his eyelids, and even then all he could notice was the junk mucking up the place. The woman in front of him was wearing, he could see now, robes of the mustard and midnight hues of a Level X wizard and the insignia of the Sarcophagus Order. Unless there was recently a murder and usurping that took place, there was only one person this could possibly be: Annona Quinn, one of the trio of oligarchs whom he was required to obey. This one was his favorite. He liked her much better than Lorimer.

But even a bloodthirsty were-gorilla would be an improvement on Lorimer.

She removed her hood gingerly, as she did all things, and continued with a hint of concern in her voice. “I require your assistance,” she stated flatly. Bade was surprised by her straightforwardness. He much preferred this to the typical mage dancing around the subject and deception.

It was notable, however, as she stepped forward to close the space between them, that she was not talking to Bade. She was talking to Bade’s colleague, Nero, whom apparently had also been summoned alongside him. The phasmabotomized body of Ace Sedai was there as well, and unsurprisingly the spirit of Caius Germanicus hovered nearby. He wondered if transporting Caius was Annona’s intention, or if he was just sucked here along with the crown Ace wore to which he was anchored. He had little interest in attempting to understand the workings or side-effects of unholy vampiric technology. It was probably of little consequence anyway.

No Guardian, though. Bade wasn’t sure he cared about that, either. His companions probably felt similarly. The abomination bestowed upon them a certain air of… unease. It was difficult to treat the Guardian with any sort of mutual respect.

Probably something to do with the fact that he was comprised of an amalgam of discarded, reanimated body parts.

Caius filled the silence by stepping a ghostly pace forward and extending his hand for pleasantries. “Hi,” he cheerily greeted her, “Caius Germanicus, airship pilot extraordinaire, at your service.”

Much to Bade’s surprise, she somewhat absent-mindedly returned the handshake. Even other Magi had trouble seeing Caius in all his bodiless splendor. He supposed, however, that she was a Level X.

Nero didn’t flinch at his oligarch’s request. Annona stood there silently beseeching, apprehensive of his response. She was met with cold silence.

“What is it you need?” Bade conceded. He wasn’t sure if Nero was purposefully unresponsive or if he was simply trying to work his mind around the explosion of unlikely events that swirled around them in the last two or so minutes. And it wasn’t wise to keep a Level X waiting, even if it was a seemingly good-natured one such as Annona. “Hopefully it’s local, because we very recently lost our airship.”

“Time is of the essence,” Annona said wearily. With a wave of her hand she dismissed the other Level VIs or so helping her perform her ritual to summon the crew here. Bade admittedly didn’t even notice them until they simultaneously whisked away from their shadowy positions around the room. It was nigh impossible to tell if he recognized any of them under their thick black ceremonial robes. She continued, demanding he return his attention to her, “So I won’t dance around the issue. And, just to be clear, I care not for whatever political web of Lorimer in which you’re caught. This is of greater importance – or else I wouldn’t have summoned you here with all haste.”

Annona spun ethereally on her heel and kept talking. She handed Bade some sort of worn-out satchel, and Bade and Nero both fell into step behind her. Caius, momentarily forgetting himself, began to walk with them. But after quite literally walking through the soulless husk to which he was anchored he frowned and sighed – as much as a phantom can sigh, anyway. Maybe a bit of ectoplasm spewed forth from his mouth hole. Or maybe it was more like a bilabial fricative. Regardless, he jumped into possession of Ace’s body and plodded along behind the three Magi.

By the time he caught up and rounded the corner (overhearing something about a drug and how it was supposed to cure lycanthropy but really just made them have psychotic breakdowns, which all sounded very terrible), he was met with the reactionary hissing of a lithe and very attractive Vampire duchess. Her fangs sprung out, but quickly she licked them away and regained her composure.

Annona continued with concern and a furrowed brow. “This… is Sola Tiris of the Eyrie,” she said, explaining more quickly as Ace-Caius stopped fidgeting. “She’s already done some investigating herself on the matter. We’re working closely with the Vampire Prince to head this problem off before it becomes widespread.”

“Rampant lycanthropes are good for nobody,” Sola commented with just a hint of venom. “We’ve met before,” she added, regarding Bade and Nero," Not sure I’ve had the pleasure with this one, though."

Ace-Caius gulped. He saw her fangs flash back out for the momentest of moments.

“So where are we headed?” he changed the subject desperately.

Annona replied flatly, “Downtown,” as she continued on, probably to attend to important wizardy business.

“Wayyyyy downtown,” Sola added sinisterly.

PART II: You Can Always Go Downtown

The four ragtag individuals – five? – stood shadowed in a particular nasty alleyway where particularly nasty individuals like themselves liked to shadow just off a street uncharacteristically called Nice Boulevard. Across the street and down a block from where they stood was a gathering of homeless individuals – they wore ragged clothing and were covered in what must have been months’ worth of filth. It made Nero yearn for a bath, but then again bathtime was quite enjoyable to the Shadow Mage. There was something about full immersion in one of the elements that—No, it didn’t show a lack of maturity. Shut up.

The problem with these “homeless” gentlemen was that, besides the general lack of hygiene and style awareness, they didn’t actually appear destitute at all. All three of them were in all manners of speaking very fit, with immaculately groomed hair and (he had decided to do a bit of dental scrying for scientific purposes to find this out) very well brushed teeth.

All signs obviously pointed to an unfortunate pattern of lycanthropy.

Their mammal-types were usually pretty obvious, Nero recalled from his time upon the Ursidae, by their mannerisms and body types. The biggest of the three, a real barrel-chested guy, had his black hair slicked back and leaned forward on his haunches so his powerful arms dangled underneath his chest. He was clearly an ape. The second, with whom the apish fellow conversed quietly, leaned up against the wall and nibbled on something ravenously. Rodent of some sort. She had the quickness of one, for sure. The third was a smaller man, actually on all fours and pacing in a tight circle between his companions and the mouth of the alley in which they stood. He had ragged hair and waddled like a dope.

“Is that one a terrier?” Nero whispered of any one of his crew who might have an answer. “He looks kind of like a Lemmer terrier.”

PAHBABLY,” Ace-Caius shouted unexpectedly. The trio of lycanthropes all looked over and tensed. The ape-man tilted his head to try to get a better angle. The tension was high; already the crew was found out because Caius just had to open Ace’s mouth.

Ratlady scurried forward to close the distance between them and from where they had heard the sound. The ape-man pivoted to follow her but with a much more methodical gait. Nero’s fingers twitched unconsciously, tapping into his magical essence. He steeled himself to start altering Reality. He could tell without looking that Bade was doing the same with his Causal abilities.

Just then, Dog lurched forward and vomited at the ape-man’s feet. The ape-man stopped and turned to his companion and looked as if he was fighting the urge to backhand him. Ratlady turned around and sniffed the air in the vomit’s direction. She immediately recoiled and walked slowly back over to her spot on the alley wall, shaking her head. Dog looked up at the ape-man, momentarily ashamed, but when ape-man lost interest Dog turned his face to the cobblestone and gobbled up the meal he was determined to digest fully.

Nero stared at Caius in a panic, as did Bade. Sola furrowed her brow angrily.

Caius’s ghostly form retreated from Ace’s body. “Sorry,” he grimaced. “I forgot I was controlling his body.”

They all turned to look back at their targets together. Only Dog, sitting patiently on his haunches, remained.

“Goddess’s wrath,” Nero spat. Caius gaped defensively.

“That was me,” Bade said quietly. Nero’s reply was simply a look that unequivocally demanded further explanation.

“They have other matters to attend to now. Now we can just talk to one of them alone.”

Caius began to float between Nero and Bade as they were talking. Nero gave him a look that was a mixture between confusion and frustration but which ultimately just looked like he was having a particularly bad bout of indigestion.

And then across Nice Boulevard, heading right for Dog from the shadows of abandoned shops’ awnings, was what Nero noted to be an extremely stealthy Vampire Lady. Sola Tiris was rapidly closing the distance between them and their target.

Sola Tiris was under strict instruction by the Vampire Prince, His Illustriousness, Lord of Blood and All Things Red (and Other Closely Hued Colors), known to his long-deceased mother, wherever she may lay, as Lucky. Any who called him by this name which he forsook centuries ago was met with a swift pike through the bottom of the neck and up past the top of the skull. He owned many pets, all of which were subjected lycanthopes of the classic werewolf variety. His butler was a domesticated werebear who looked quite funny in a two-piece suit (they never could find pants that would remain unripped when he walked). The legitimate swaths of subservient lycanthropes that escaped from their various owners were usually subjects of His Illustriousness’s hunting parties and suffered a similar fate as those who called him a name beginning with L- and ending with -ucky.

Suffice it to say he had no special love for lycanthropes. In fact his instructions included but were not limited to eliminating every one of them she encountered along the way. She was not unhappy to oblige. Rabid animals deserved a swift kick in the life-force. A fatal one. So that they died. …Yes.

The bitter thoughts of every other task the Vampire Prince demanded of her over the past several decades for once took a back seat as Sola Tiris relished the anticipation of tearing these lycans literally limb-from-furry-limb.

The mage known as Bade – one of the collection of Men she had freed from the trappings of the Heretic Archimetl back in Tattersaw Lower months ago – crept forward while those murderous thoughts consumed her. She hadn’t noticed him manipulating his vanilla magic and targeting the crouching weredog on which she was about to pounce. But something smelled… off, she noticed suddenly, with this lycan.

She looked up at the sky. Yes, the Moon was clear and vibrant against the inky darkness around it. Its beams shone down brilliantly upon them all, including the weredog, who definitely should be automatically changed into full man-beast form right now…

That’s when a werewolf emerged from an abandoned shop window and stabbed Caius right in the ghost kidney.

“Aghhbbppppplblblbl,” Caius groaned. He was learning the hard way that his phantom brain apparently processed pain the same way his physical body once had. Wolf Man here (who, by the way, had decided it was high time to transform himself into full man-beast horror form), with a sinister smirk upon his canine face, licked the blade of his knife. As his beastly tongue ran down the length of the blade, it slathered off the ectoplasm it grabbed from Caius’s midsection. The blade glowed with an ethereal translucence. Caius had never encountered a lycanthrope as a phantom before, and apparently they could not only see him but harm him as well. Even in his vantage point within Ace’s slack-jawed dummy body.

“Shit,” he uttered, and for the first time ever tried something daring: with all the willpower he could muster, he took full control of Ace’s athletic body, drew out his own ghostly rapier, and slashed at Wolf Man. He sliced clean across his chest, drawing with him a warm, thick spray of blood and tufts of fur. Ace-Caius grinned.

He stole a glance over at his companions. Vampire Lady, whomever she was, was chasing an especially feral-looking canine down the alley from whence they had come. But he only was able to see this briefly as a boulder of building rubble, promising at least a handful of broken bones to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught underneath, crashed to the ground behind them. Bade and Nero were both face-down on the cobblestone street in front of it. And up on the rooftop, having surely been the culprit of dropping the boulder (though he was unsure as to how exactly she accomplished it), was… a bandicoot lady?

(He wasn’t sure how he knew what a bandicoot was, but he sure seemed to think he’d had experience with them at some point along the way.)

The entire top story of the building adjacent to her own rooftop was now mostly in pieces on the ground in the alleyway, so it had to have been her. But Ace-Caius hadn’t the time to dwell on the matter and remembered a much more pressing issue: Wolf Man, who was still right in front of him and certainly not dead. In fact, as Caius turned back to his crisis at hand, he saw the deep wound he had inflicted upon Gorilla Man’s chest was actually rapidly closing up. He scratched at his chest and howled a giant wolf howl. Caius excreted a little liquid ectoplasm.

Bade was thoroughly disappointed with how this scuffle was turning out. He had, in fact, been trying very vehemently to make it not end up a scuffle at all, but Fate can never be trusted when It is asked to do anything important. Even so, we relied on his mastery Causality magic all the same as he imbued himself with a much friendlier aura about his face. Hopefully it would help.

Nero and Sola Tiris didn’t seem to want to follow his lead, however. Nero had apparently had quite enough apartment levels dropped on his head for one evening and was in the process of tearing open a signature portal underneath the werebandicoot on the roof above with the opposite end high enough above the street to definitely break a couple legs or so. Sola Tiris and the wereterrier were having a snarling contest but neither seemed quite able to claw at anything except the air around the other.

The weregorilla, finally making his debut, bounded straight for Bade.

Oh, good. Causality magic had completely failed him this time.

The weregorilla stopped just short of barreling over him and most likely crushing every last bone in his body. He snorted powerfully, if one can snort in such a manner, and raised himself even higher on his legs.

“Give me the bag,” he growled.

Bade had entirely forgot about the satchel. Annona had given it to him and explained that they needed to locate the source of a very potent lycanthropy-blocker drug, take this satchel to the location (“Discreetly, I might add”), and introduce its powdery contents to the manufactory of the drug, wherever that may be. The drug had been allowing lycanthropy-afflicted individuals to appear as normal at night (even in direct moonlight – no glowing yellow eyes or anything) for a period of time, depending on the dosage. But presumably due to its less-than-legal nature, it had also been causing intense bouts of bloodthirsty schizophrenia in all but very few of them. This was all according to top-notch magical practitioners at the Academiae, according to Annona. This was why they had come out to track down some lycanthropes in the first place.

And Bade still had the satchel slung over his shoulder. Intrepidly he handed the bag over. The weregorilla sniffed it with his oversized nostrils.

Bade watched the werebandicoot crash to the ground behind the weregorilla. The beast was visibly startled to say the least, and whipped around to see the crumpled mess of limbs that had become of his female companion. He turned back to Bade and growled and hooted, scooped up her body, and bounded off the opposite direction down Nice Boulevard. The werewolf ran off with him, apparently having taken some lashings from Ace-Caius since Bade last looked over.

But Ace-Caius was nowhere to be seen. And come to think of it, neither was Nero. Or the wereterrier. He decided he didn’t care and headed back to his own sanctum, abandoning Sola Tiris to the streets where everything had gone awry.

PART III: Going Out With a Bang

Sola Tiris’s skin began to itch an incredible amount. She had run off after the weregorilla, but even he had proven too fast. Admittedly, he probably knew the city better than she. By the time she had caught up with the trail of the lycanthropes, it was nearly daybreak, and all that was to be seen was a giant hole in the stone wall at the perimeter of the southeast edge of Plink. Chasing them down in daylight would be fatal. She needed to find a place in which to rest as soon as possible. So she started knocking on doors.

She wasn’t looking for just any place to stay; she didn’t trust mortal Men to put her up for the day, as most mortal Men would take one look at a sleeping Vampire and stab her right through the undead heart. So she started asking around for a Man she could only describe as “nondescript.”

It wasn’t getting her very far, as one could imagine, and her skin was starting to itch with the impending amount of utter inferno about to be released upon her corpus. So she went to the nearest apartment as a last ditch effort and asked if there were any vacant apartments not for rent. It was just like a wizard of Bade’s type to remain that kind of inconspicuous.

Minutes later she stood at the threshold to what she guessed correctly to be Bade’s sanctum. She had knocked; he had answered. So now here they stood, Bade very surprised and confused and Sola Tiris looking very haggard and skin-crumbling-aparty.

“Can I come in?” she rasped. “I need a place to sleep.” For all their pride, Vampires were still unable to enter a home without express permission. This made for some unfortunate prostrating before others. Especially unfortunate when asking a non-Vampire. Usually Sola Tiris banked on the presumption that not many Men, mortal or otherwise, knew this weakness. This was not one of those times. She employed no guile, no womanly deception, and stared at him with a bit of honest fear in her eyes.

Also a lot of played-up, not-so-honest fear. Okay, maybe she was being a little deceptive. But this was an emergency. She could feel the rays from the Silver Sun slowly creeping down the hallway to her like a boogeyman.

“Um,” he said, and then conceding, “Sure. Come on in.” He beckoned her past him as he held the door ajar. She walked in briskly, ready to get out of the Sunlight, and by great fortune Bade’s tiny abode allowed none in. Sanctums, she supposed, didn’t exactly inhabit a place in which the Silver Sun rose and set in any normal fashion. If at all. At any rate she could sense his unease and his desire to be left alone as she passed by.

Almost as if he were waiting for the cue of her arrival (and maybe he actually was, she mused), Nero ripped open a magical portal and both he and the ghost-possessed-brainless one stepped through.

Hereby ensued what will henceforth be known as the infamous blood orgy. Details shan’t be shared, but for this basic outline: the Vampire was fiending for blood, and the shambling phasmabotomy victim was the perfect subject. The ghost started to feel the euphoric effects of the fangs, as he was anchored to the headband the victim wore, and decided to possess him. Rigor mortis of a certain part of the victim’s male anatomy kicked in, questionably due to interference by the ghost, and from there it can be left up to one’s imagination what transpired. The two Magi were not present or supportive of this encounter.

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