Sometimes it’s comforting to have a plan. Even if the plan is a bit horrific knowing what you intend to do, how you intend for it to all unfold can settle the mind. There’s a lot to be afraid of on Rifts Earth but nothing quite so much as the unknown…
And sometimes it’s not comforting at all to have a plan. This is likely where Slaine is at right now. She’s recently been in a meeting with a captain of the Armsmen, formulating a plan to deal with the present upsurge in Horune piracy. To say that the plan involves some risk ot her is… a bit of an understatement.
“Say that again, Slaine. The plan is for you to //what// now?” That’s Ghost who turned up as he often does on one of the roads outside Vesper subsequent to a Horune attack late last night. Fortunately the nearby farms and villages didn’t suffer too badly from the raid and that is largely thanks to Slaine.
“The plan …” Slaine answers slowly, chewing her bottom lip in consternation “… is for a small group of us to let the Horune take us and for Captain Sanka’a to track us.” To say that the small redhead is not comfortable with that plan would be an understatement. “I don’ like it, Ghost, too many things can go wrong. But honestly, I don’ see many other options.”
She’s sitting with her back against the Dragon Cat, resting. The fight with the Horune last night certainly took it out of her.There are certain advantages inherent to being a preternaturally unobtrusive and fast-moving entity, and among those are the combined ease of both hearing news and setting off to investigate something of interest. Though demonic hordes have rather distracted her, of late, there’s a major burst of guilt associated with word of another Horune raid. And it’s not as if Ghost makes for anything but an easily-identifiable presence, both physically and mentally. Consequently, she drops her own subtle defences just around a corner, then steps into view and approaches the duo quite openly – raising a hand and offering a somewhat sheepish smile in greeting.
The dragon cat is indeed rather distinctive and there aren’t many minds out there like his. He’s also huge. And Slaine is leaning against him so it’s an interesting tableaux.
The big feline’s head ducks in greeting as Wraith appears. “Hello Catriona. It’s been a while.” He’s still not talking with anything but his mind, so the words simply… happen. It’s jarring to some, even off putting. But in Vesper people have often seen stranger so it’s not usually a problem here.
“I was just wondering what had become of you.” Wondering aloud, even.
“Heya Catriona…” Slaine raises a hand in greeting to the woman “… been a while since I saw ye. Is everythin’ alright?” She hadn’t worried overly about the other woman, but she had wondered herself. It appears she’s quite used to Ghost’s way of speaking and it doesn’t phase her, not in the least.
The small redhead looks tired and if Wraith looks closely enough, there’s tension lines around her eyes. “We were just discussin’ how the Captain of the Armsmen wants to end this Horune threat. It’s … a gutsy plan.”“Demons. Demons galore,” Catriona says – sounding apologetic. “I, ah… got sidetracked. Ran into a demon incursion up on the Dogwood border. Sort of got volunteered to try to chase them down… which since they’d quite possibly got captives seemed like a good idea. Turns out that there’re hordes of them, and they’re organised in a way that no one thinks they ought to be. So I’ve been up in the Appalachians, and have been utterly failing to help you. I’m truly sorry. But if I can help to end one of the area’s major problems, count me in.”
Ghost glances away westward, toward the mountains. Everyone lives in their shadow. The D-Shifting and constant rift activity makes them difficult to negotiate and that’s of course before you consider the fact that they’re swarming with monsters and psi-stalkers.
“Vesper was visited by a delegation from the Hakkari psi-stalker tribe recently. They’ve reported that a number of the tribes appear to be on the brink of forming a confederation or alliance of some sort. Could be related, if there’s something big going on up there.” It could equally bode very ill for the lowlands. The last time that happened the psi-stalkers came out of the mountains in numbers.
“Well at present, it sounds like Slaine has managed to volunteer to get taken as a prisoner so that the Horune can be tracked back to their base or meeting point.” The dry tone says everything Wraith may need to know about what Ghost thinks of that. “Slaine and one or two others. It’s possible they could use some help with that, mmm Slaine?”
“That’s a good thing to be doin'” Slaine answers Wraith “We’ve been seein’ some of that down near Clearwater.” Which is to the South of Vesper. The demon threat seems to be reaching all the way along the Dogwood and Vesper borders … and is becoming a concern.
“The psi-stalkers uniting could be as a result of that, I s’pose. Spoke to one of their warriors the other day. Interestin’ person.” And somehow she’d ended up doing the speaking for the group //again//.
Ghost’s dry tone has the small mystic glancing up, a look of resignation on her face before she looks back to Cat with a shrug. “He’s right. Captain Sanka’a of the Armsmen wants us to be taken as prisoners, to be sold as slaves … she’s assured us that they’ll rescue us before that can happen.” there’s a sigh as she shakes her head, said aloud the plan sounds //terrible// “… It’s not that I don’ trust her but too many things can wrong. If ye’re around, I’d certainly like the help.”“Who’s ‘us’?”, Catriona asks, head cocking – expression clearly one of concern, in spite of the scarring holding part of her face rigid. “As you know, I can generally get through – and out of – most things. Could take a very limited number of people with me, if need be. So… in some ways, I’d be a good choice for this. But it sounds like we really need to sort this out, if we possibly can, before any of the other problems become worse.”
Who is us? Well Ghost and Slaine hadn’t quite gotten that far. All he knows is some other poor saps got roped into this as well. To be fair it’s a plan that has a decent chance of working provided the tracking beacons go undetected. It just also has a decent chance of seriously injuring or killing some of the participants.
“Why don’t you give us a rundown of what’s going on and who’s involved, Slaine.”
“Yaren and Bridge… ye might know Bridge, not sure about Yaren.” Slaine looks over to the woman “He and ye though, might be able to slip the containment. I’m just concerned they’ll be sending us on to Splynn before any of us get a chance to do something.”
She looks up to Ghost then “Ye don’ sound convinced about the plan, either. But I don’ really see another way. I’m concerned that the trackers Sanka’a wants to use will be taken or jus’ no’ work with my magic…”
“Oh, right. It’s a simple enough plan, really. We’re to book passage on one of Falsteads ships. We know that her second in charge is feedin’ information to the Horune, so the ship will be attacked. We’ll taken, hopefully to the Horune base of operations and then Sanka’a and her armsmen will arrive.”
Sounds … simple, right?“Her second?” Catriona’s surprised, then sighs and offers Slaine a rueful smile. “You’ve made a great deal more progress than I ever managed to. I really *am* sorry. But… hrrrm. Yeah. Would you rather have me captured, or skulking along unseen with you, or behind you? I don’t know either of the others, I admit, so I can’t speak to their talents, or how mine might compliment theirs. But… it’s brave, but I could see it working, yes.”
“The biggest problem with the plan that I can see is you three getting separated.” Ghost points out. “In which case it might be best to have someone along who can slip through most barriers.”
The dragon cat doesn’t know the full extent of Catriona’s abilities but he doesn’t really have to. She’s good at getting into places she’s not supposed to be. That might be needed.
“You hardly need apologise, though. Sounds like you’ve been busy enough.” There’s never any shortage of people who need or want help and those who help them whether for coin or just because always have to prioritize.
“Mmmhmm…” Slaine considers Ghosts words and just shakes her head. With her own track record, that’s a high possibility. She’s as much as accident prone as she is a trouble magnet and getting seperated from her group has a high likelihood.
“I think skulkin’ abou’.” That’s to Cat, with a small smile. “At the very least ye can join up with Sanka’a if things get bad. No need for four of us to be in captivity. Though I doubt Yaren would stay there for long.” beat “No’ that I think he’d leave us behind.” The … entity, whatever he is, has proven quite loyal and caring in the short time that Slaine has known him.
“No need to be sorry, Catriona. I’ve not focussed on this as much as I could either. There’s a lot goin’ on and really, that threat from the mountains is just as important.” Letting out a long slow breath, Half Pint continues “So what do ye think? Care to skulk?”Catriona looks bashfully grateful, for both their responses. “I… yes, I can certainly skulk. I’m not much of a telepath or a, umm, mystical tracker. I can sense minds, and their likely power. But that’s about it. So if you get out of range… I might lose you. And I can’t send messages, or really do much to identify individuals unless they’re *very* unusual.” She manages to resist the urge to look directly at Ghost after that comment. “In many ways, I’d be one of the best candidates to be caught and taken as a captive, so long as they don’t identify how, ahh, odd I am. I can cope with damage few people can, fight unarmed, and slip virtually any restraints. Except for magical ones… which doesn’t seem the Horune style, but they’re clearly not just operating to their own designs.”
Ghost chuckles a little bit. She doesn’t have to look at him. He knows he’s strange. His kind aren’t common on this side of the mountains after all.
“The Horune don’t use much magic. I don’t think they have any casters at all except for their sleepers. While you two are here, though, I think there’s something you should see. Something that brought me out here, actually.”
There’s a sense of power, for those who can sense it, and a weapon floats over from the trees. It’s a blade, one that was left behind by one of the Horune and not picked up by the Armsmen when they came to clean up. It //appears// to be made of some kind of… coral. Smooth and hard and dense, but coral all the same.
“Mmmmm….” Slaine clearly doesn’t like the idea of Wraith being taken but she’s not sure there’s another option. “Maybe ye can cloak ye’self when it all goes down and come with us. We can work on the details with the others…” She hopes. If not, she’ll just have to make some decisions.
“Sleepers…” Ghosts comment has Half Pint shuddering “Met one of them recently. It managed to knock out an entire barracks when the armsmen tried to probe its mind.” Powerful. That’s what they are. Anything more she would say is cut short and her head turns in the direction of the sword, before it’s visible “What the hell is that, Ghost?” She’s already rising, being drawn towards it.
“It’s … beautiful.”Catriona’s brows lift at mention of ‘Sleepers’… then still farther when the sword makes its appearance. “That *is* lovely. And… doesn’t look too immediately reminiscent of their heavy-metal technology, at least to my uneducated eye. Umm. What’s a Sleeper, to add to Slaine’s query?”
“Horune magi seem to live in a trance. They never come out of them, but somehow they produce everything the Horune have from weapons to ships. Pulled out of a dream somehow.” The Dragon Cat stretches a bit. How //does// he know all of this? “That’s why, it’s said, all of their stuff looks the same. It’s magically mass produced by a group of people in a common dream.”
He shakes his head, thinking about that for a moment. There are many wonderous things in the multiverse but… that’s pretty unique. “Anyway, you’re right Catriona. This isn’t Horune technology. It’s Naut’yll. I doubt either of you have met them, I’ve never heard of them near here. They’re another race of aquatic peoples. This coral is their signature technology. It’s possible the Horune stole this… but it looks too new. Not often used. And that has some… disturbing implications.”
Slaine nods as Ghost explains “The Horune the Armsmen had wasn’ awake but it still managed to get into the head of Cyber-Knight I know. Ser Mercier said he saw numbers…” She looks at Ghost though as he explains “That’s actually pretty amazin’, Ghost.” She’s impressed. Not just by the Dragon-Cats knowledge but by the story itself.
Moving closer to the sword, putting a hand to touch it, she glances back to check that it’s safe to do so “Naut’yll? Anythin’ to do with Atlantis or the slave markets? Could be they’re aligned, or they’ve taken slaves from the race.” Either way, it’s not good.“Naut’yll? Akin to Nautilus?”, Catriona ventures. “And… what can you tell us about them? Or their technology, and why it’s unlikely that the Horune could have stolen it?”
“Not pre se. The Naut’yll are incredibly warlike and xenophobic. They’re also distributed throughout the oceans, but mostly they stay in deeper waters, away from land.” Much of their conflict is against other underwater nations of which there is scant knowledge even from the unusually knowledgeable dragon cat.
“They’re kind of… squid faced…” He answers to Cat’s question. “Their technology is very advanced but they don’t have much of a metallurgical science. It’s all magically grown coral like this. And to answer your other question, I don’t think it was stolen because if it hardly looks used. Naut’yll don’t make decorative weapons. If it had been taken from one, it would have been used and used hard. This looks almost new. So it was made for the Horune who had it.”
“Magically grown coral…” For the moment, Slaines other worries are pushed from her mind as she studies the sword. “That’s amazing. It looks new, Catriona… I would have thought, made for the Horune that wielded it….” she glances at Ghost once more “… They stay mostly in the water, but can come on land if they want?”
The fact that they might be Xenophobic has her frowning “So, the question is really … how did the Horune get hold of this. If they’re in cahoots with the Horune, what would drive them to that. In my experience, races that don’t like others don’t usually trade with them – not unless there’s something worthwhile in it for them.” Which begs the question … what?
“I can try and scry it … see what it tells me.”Catriona nods slowly, frowning worriedly. “The Horune aren’t exactly famously charming, themselves. But this lot… they’re following a plan, cooperating with a human – at a guess, as the traitorous second? And receiving at least one weapon from magical deep-sea xenophobes. Or one magical deep-sea xenophobe. Could the Naut’yll perhaps be the one behind this? Is stirring up strife their kind of ‘thing’, or are they generally more reclusive?”
“I suspect there’s another hand in this. The Naut’yll are conquerors. Warlike. Aggressive. Not generally known for their… tact.” They don’t like humans, of course but they don’t like many other people either truth be told. Ghost looks down at the blade and up at Catriona.
“It does indicate that this is more than a simple piracy cats-paw though. And from what Slaine was saying earlier, this entire enterprise is actually directed at the Nighthand. Which is the local underworld syndicate… well, one of them. The most powerful of them.”
Ghost shifts slightly and his tail flicks in a fashion that might be either thoughtful or irritated. “Why don’t you scry it, Slaine, see what you can get.”
“Yeah, at least that’s what it seems like.” Slaine murmurs distractedly to Ghost and Wraith as she takes the sword and sits cross legged on the ground, getting as comfortable as she may. “Um, aimed at the Nighthand that is…” As her eyes glow, blue energy forms at her hands in mystic symbols that she lays over the blade … and she begins to chant.
Then she’s silent … for a very long time … the blue energy connecting her to the blade, her eyes focussing, in a squint, on something the other two can’t see. Finally, she starts to speak, her voice slightly hollow “There’s a table in a circle of light. It’s hard to see, so dim. Three Horune and … I guess that’s a Naut’yll. No, two of them and third D-Bee I don’ recognise. Gangly, with a helmet that has a large … eye … floatin’ in it. It’s armour seems to be alive…” Swallowing, squinting some more at seemingly nothing, she continues “The gangly one, it’s talkin’ to the others. There’s a blade. This blade … The Horune and the others are nodding.” If it’s sounds disjointed, it likely is … she’s reciting what she’s ‘seeing’. “The Naut’yll are handin’ over this blade … ”
Silent again for a moment longer, the glow infusing the blade slowly fades and Slaine slumps, taking a deep breath before blinking and looking back to Cat and Ghost. “That’s all I could see…”“Aimed *at* the Nighthand? That’d explain the interest of a couple of unusual people we met,” Catriona murmurs… before listening intently to Slaine’s strange description. She looks to Ghost, arching a brow again. “Helmet with an eye floating in it, and living armour…? Does that mean anything to you, or sound at all familiar?”
Ghost lets out a long sigh. Yes, clearly it does. “What you’re seeing is an Atlantean Highlord. Favored servants of the Splugorth. And if Atlantis is involved then it is //imperitive// that these pirates be taken out of play. Whatever their intention here, it’s not good for anyone. Not good for anyone at all.”
Exactly how Ghost knows that will be left for some other time. The big cat rises. “And it means that I need to speak to someone. You two should work out the details of your plan and execute it as soon as you are able. I’ll be in touch.”
He leaves the blade. One of the others can take it.
“Who d’you need to speak with, Ghost…” Slaine asks, in vain because the Dragon Cat has left already. “Atlantis involvement is //not// good, Cat.” she says as she rises, holding the blade and looking concerned.
“Do ye want this?” She gestures to the blade and starts walking herself, expecting that Cat will at least follow for a bit. They can discuss what needs to be done and make plans.Catriona sighs, shaking her head – both at the departed Ghost, and in response to Slaine’s comment. She is, however, clearly quite willing to tag along. “I can’t claim to know much at all of the details… but I know that the current rulers took it from others… and are actively hunting anyone they suspect of either surviving it, or being descended from survivors. The Splugorth don’t sound at all nice. And… ahh. Sure. I think. Do you have any idea what it *does*?” Warily, she peers at the sword… having a quick check with her own senses, lest it either smell like prey or possess a discernible mental presence.
Mopping up after the Horune incursion, Ghost shares some information and Slaine ... scrys.
January 16, 2410