The party spends a few moments scavenging for clothing while Cole recovers then proceeds to the next level up to more laboratories. They begin to notice signs of a recent evacuation, likely starting when Emily’s bot unlocked all the doors.
While searching some administrative offices and storage areas, the party finds several things. Daphne finds a bottle of bourbon and a strange-looking dagger. Jamie and Emily actually find their clothes in a storage locker. Mike discovers an administrator’s office and finds paper files for most of the party. Over the course of the next several hours, everyone gets the opportunity to read their own and they find:
- Everyone in the party was subject to invasive medical examination during their time in a coma – though in no case except Cole’s was there anything notable discovered.
- Seamus’s file contains little more than a note from Jones stating that “this guy went up against a pair of Shadows and should be dead, for some reason he’s not. Bringing him in.”
- Mike’s file similarly contained little more than a note from Jones stating that “Pinkie smelled something so we went to take a look. Subject shows signs of telepathy and suggestion.”
- Hugo’s file had some background research from his life of piracy and notes about an investigation into how he knew about Cole’s transport. Jones’ note speaks of Hugo’s incredible speed in getting free of the boat and what appeared to be a “warping of everything” around him.
- Emma’s file was brief, mostly the report of how they suspect she “interacted” with the corpse of a dragon somehow and deserves further study.
- Margaret’s file had a little background, but contained mostly information about Ezra. She was brought in as “collateral damage to be used as a control subject”.
- Cole’s file had significantly more medical tests and a copy of his medical background. After the botched operation Jones’ note stated that “perhaps he’s a suitable replacement for Henry”.
- Emily’s file wasn’t about her as much as the daemon she unleashed into the cyberspace of Silicon Valley, a brief background, and a capture order for Jones.
- Jamie had been tracked and monitored for several months while he was publishing his hotel series of photographs. Finally ending with a note that “something spooked him, let’s go ahead and bring him in”. There’s a subsequent note about his “ability to teleport” warranting upgraded security measures.
- Daphne’s medical work-up was more than twice as extensive as Cole’s, nearly every experiment known to man and some that aren’t were conducted on her during her coma. Daphne had been monitored for over a year and most of her movements traced (they also documented the contact with Jamie). She’s often referred to as one of “them” in the paperwork.
The party moves on and discovers the scene of a battle outside a lab that looked more like a torture chamber than laboratory. A number of people in lab coats and nearly twenty soldiers had been cut down by a blade, and amongst the bodies lies a small man with nearly white skin and sharp, elven features (like the girl Seamus and Mike encountered outside the grocer). He’s barely alive, but gestures for Daphne to come closer and speaks in a broken Gaelic that Margaret has difficulty understanding. He notes that “the fools let you gather all three” and makes mention to a “warden, a voice, and a walker”. He then, in English, hisses “we will have it back…we will have it all back,” before expiring.
The party moves up another level and begins to get the hint of fresh, dry air moving through the halls. They come around a corner near the facility exit. Cutscene:
As you’ve climbed higher in the facility and gotten closer and closer to the exit, you’ve become increasingly anxious to be rid of this madhouse and barely noticed that you started edging towards the front of the party. When you come around this last corner, you barely have a moment to register the dozen men with machine guns before Hugo grabs you and tugs you back behind cover.
Then the hallway is filled with lead. It’s an utter kill-box, designed from the get-go to keep dangerous creatures like all your cell-mates here from getting loose into the world. Heavy, armored cover, overlapping fields of fire. You may as well go back to your cells.
And at the back…at the back of them all there’s a huge slab of meat. This guy is maybe seven feet tall, four hundred pounds, no neck, crammed into his SWAT gear like a wicked step-mother’s cankle in a glass slipper five sizes too small. He’s holding a sledgehammer that probably weighs more than you do, and he thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever seen.
(For those of you who encountered Jones’ partner Pinky in your preludes, this is not Pinkie, but it could be his cousin.)
His presence seems to fill the other green-stripes with fear – Mike and Seamus and Jamie seem more terrified of him than the guys with guns – but you, you just feel revulsion. Abomination.
You feel something in you…snap.
You smell cinnamon. And loam. A forest. There’s the sound of cicadas. The wind through dry leaves, or perhaps through fields of golden grain.
You look up. Those closest to you are looking at you curiously, especially at your eyes. The world looks different. It looks…more. You see the flows of energy trace through the room like multicolored streamers. Seamus and Mike and Jamie glow with the same green energy that is streaming from your skin like a river. You see John and Margaret, dead things, animated by a candle. Cole, such an integral part of the Land he could be a tree, or a stone, or, perhaps, a tornado. Hugo shifts uncomfortably next to you and you see him shift not only in space but in time. Emily sits in the center of a dizzying web of numbers and symbols. And Emma…Emma glows gold with the blood of the Old Fathers.
At the end of the hall in the thug’s place lurks a massive troll holding a spiked club with a wicked grin full of foul and broken teeth.
You look down to find yourself armored in shimmering green scale, an ornate shield on your left arm and a wicked, curved sword in your right hand. Your skin seems paler than it did, and as smooth as porcelain. At your side, a small goblin crouches. He has a curved dagger at his belt, and his smile is wry, and warm and knowing.
“Eyes open, soldier,” he drawls.
Your friends, if you can call them that, are staring at you. This is just another incomprehensible shock added to the list for them. All but John. John is looking at you like he suddenly realized he was crouching next to a hungry panther. His cool suave demeanor completely gone and replaced by caution and not a small amount of fear.
“Well,” he says, nearly stuttering,”this is unexpected…”. He stands up straight and bows. Not a smart-ass ironic twentieth-century bow, but a medieval courtly in-the-presence-of-royalty bow. “Daughter of Autumn,” he intones, before rising.
And suddenly, you know what to do.
You reach out and touch Mike’s shoulder, and he opens his mouth and speaks The Word and a thousand voices bellow as if to rend the world. You look to Seamus and he charges around the corner toward the stunned soldiers. You turn and grab Jamie by the shoulders and he nods knowingly and with a shove sends you skipping through the dark places between life and death.
You emerge a split second later next to the Troll, and take its right hand off at the wrist with your sword before it realizes that you’re there. It bellows and brings its huge fist down on your shield, but you’re in The Dance now and barely notice. You take a swipe at the Troll’s knee and dance away, sparing a look to the hall behind you.
Seamus has gotten hold of a broken broomstick from somewhere, and with your other sight you see the Warden of the Wood wielding a flint-tipped spear, and he is spinning through the ranks of soldiers, flushing them from cover to be gunned down by Hugo and Cole. He’s been shot a dozen times, and blood is streaming from him in rivulets – then one of the soldiers screams and you see the man’s very life-force ripped free and flow into Seamus, closing his wounds.
You turn back to the Troll and drive your sword up through its chin and hold it there while the brute sputters and dies, along with the last of the gunfire.
And then there’s a moment of stillness. The scent of cordite and blood and death fills your senses, and you feel the rush of The Word and The Dance flooding through you. Then, from the heavy door at the end of the hallway, Emily-bot’s cheery voice pierces your reverie.
“Okay then!” And the heavy door unlocks and opens.
With a pop, your sword and armor evaporate into a cloud of mist and chirping cicadas. Your memories of primordial woods and ancient empires of jade and Words that open Ways slip from your mind like a dream.
There’s a few moments of shock, but the party tries to keep moving, as John is repeatedly stressing that these people will not be willing to lose control of the facility.
Outside, they find themselves in a small motor pool carved from a stone outcrop quite literally in the middle of a desert. The vehicles, several keeps and one personnel van, all have Dubai, UAE plates. The party rapidly scavenges several gear bags from the jeeps and pile into the van and drive off down a trail. About ten minutes later, there’s a massive explosion behind them, as the facility is destroyed, likely by a cruise missile.
John is extremely drained and exhausted, and, informs the party that while Dubai isn’t as bad as a secret prison, it’s not much netter for people of their ilk, as it is run by a group referred to as the “technocracy”, who are very likely behind the kidnappings to begin with. He believes the facility was operated by a group called the Division, who were likely once a legitimate branch of the US Department of Defense but has long since grown an identity of its own. He also provides the party with a number to call with a code once they get their hands on a phone.
The party finds an extended-stay motel for expat workers in the massive track housing construction to the south of the city and uses what few UAE dirhams they scrounged from the lockers and bags to rent a room. They then leave the van parked a mile or two away. Margaret and Mike go to find a convenience store to pick up a phone card or a pre-paid phone while the rest of the party cleans up.
*Written in competent shorthand on a tiny sticky note pack taken from the motel. Even converted, it contains only jotted phrases and thoughts to fit in the limited space.*
Date: June 15
Free. Finally, free. Not sure how long, but a start.
Not time or space to record much. Too many others, too little time. So focus on me.
Used my “gift” ?? on purpose during last fight. Still not sure how. Been seeing life/energy/field from people since escaping cell. Pulled it from guard in one fight, did same in this one. Told did same but from cellmates (no damage/harm?) when shot. Don’t remember. But pulled from guard and healed Seamus. Natural. No effort. How?
File had crap. Mentioned me and dragon. Did something to it? To me? Not sure.
Felt rush of energy/life when pulled from guard first time. Obvious healing capability. Need to learn control, direction.
Need consider others in this party/group/?? but no time. Need better paper too.
Hang in there, Alice. Looking glass not done with me yet.
Shortly after they got back to the others, Cole changed back to human. A naked human, of course. Under other circumstances, Margaret would have found it entertaining, how much that seemed to bother the Americans. They did not seem to mind guns and violence, but show a little bit of bare skin in the wrong place, not to mention genitals or a tit, and they freaked out.
She drily commented that Cole had nothing that any of them had never seen before; Daphne followed up by commenting on the size, or lack thereof. Margaret had to turn away to hide her smile. Then John took of his bathrobe and handed it to Cole. At least this time, she managed to bite back any comments; while Cole, in human shape at least, was safe enough to make a bit of fun of, she was not going to to the same with John.
Looking around, she realised that her first estimate had been wrong; there were almost a dozen bodies strewn around in the room, in various stages of dismantling. Cole headed around a corner and came back a few minutes later, dressed in clothing he had clearly taken from one of the guards, one who had not been torn apart or had blood and guts splashed all over his clothes.
Margaret carefully made her way over, trying not to step in anything; that was difficult, but she managed to only step on some blood spatter a couple of times. The room around the corner was one she had seen before; there had been a glass wall, or plexiglass wall, between this room and one of the rooms they had run through. Between then and now, someone had shattered the plexiglass wall, and there were two dead men on the floor. They looked like they had had their necks broken, but unlike the others, they were not drenched in blood and gore.
Cole had clearly taken the clothes off one of the men, and as none of the others seemed interested, Margaret took the other set of clothing. A part of her wondered if this counted as stealing from the dead, but considering these men had helped keep her and the others imprisoned here, as test subjects and worse, it really did not make her feel bad about it. She did, however, feel like she was drowning in them, but it was better than what she had been wearing.
John repeated, again, that they had to get out. He knew of a place they could go to, a place where they would be safe. Emily looked at him, and asked, hesitantly, if that would be New York. John confirmed it, and Margaret had wanted to ask if it was 220W, 48th Street, the address Emily had mumbled back in the cellblock. Bad idea, though; there was no knowing who might be listening, so she kept her mouth closed.
Eventually, they headed up the set of stairs. The next level looked a lot like the one where they had been held prisoners, except there was a staircase here rather than an elevator, obviously. They continued upwards; if there were prisoners here, the doors were open, according to Emily, so chances were they had gotten out already. At least Margaret hoped they had gotten out.
The next level was different. It was clearly a medical floor with labs, the kind that seemed to call out for a mad scienist to work in them. Or that belonged in a nightmare. Or both. Also, it had been abandoned, hastily. It looked like people had dropped what they had and run off. As they searched, Jamie and Emily found their own clothes. Margaret would be content if she could just find something more her size, but no luck.
Further on, there were more bodies. Four guys in lab coats and at least fifteen soldiers. All of them looked like they had been killed with something big and sharp, like a sword. And there, by the wall, there was a person. Clearly not human. Pale, slightly pointed ears, he screamed elven. Depending on which books or mythology you picked. It was definitely not a Tolkien elf, nor a Daoine Sidhe; they were not nearly that pale, and they were usually taller than humans. Maybe Charlie Stross’ elves, which would not be a good thing.
Also, he was alive. He beckons for Daphne to come closer. Margaret had a suspicion that he was not going to speak English; she would have bet something, if she actually had had anything to bet, that he would speak Irish Gaelic. As she suspected she was the only one to understand that particular language, she decided to stay close enough to Daphne to hear, and, if needed, act as a translator.
‘Come, come’. She had been right about the language, but his words were difficult to understand, partly because, she thought, he was dying, and partly because languages change over time, and his might not be the most modern speech. ‘The fools have made a mistake, yes? You have all three of your’, the next word she could not quite figure out. ‘The Warden, the Voice, the Runner? Death Runner? You are ready now. your’, another word she was unable to recognise, ‘is near’. Oh, the implications of what he said were stunning, even if there were two fairly important, she thought, words she did not understand.
The elf closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at them, hissing, this time in English: ‘We will have it back. We will have it all back!’ Those would be his last words; after a few moments he exhaled and did not draw another breath.
They looked around briefly. There was the cell from which he had clearly broken free; though, cell, it looked more like a torture chamber. Curiously, there were cicadas on the wall. Margaret found that odd; cicadas had, to her knowledge, no place in Irish, or Celtic in general, mythology. Greek and Roman, yes, but they did not have Gaelic-speaking elves that she knew of. There were the Fir Bolgs, supposedly a group of people who at one point fled Ireland, and went to Greece, and later returned and ruled Ireland for a while, before being overthrown by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Children of Dana.
‘Cruise missiles. The people who captured us have cruise missiles. We need to go’. That was John. Cruise missiles? This just got better and better. Her need to get out of here grew stronger by the minute.
As they kept moving, up a few stairs, down a few corridors, they could feel the air changing. It was dryer, warmer, but fresher too. It felt less like the recycled air you get on airplanes, and more like the air you might get inside a building that actually would let some fresh air in from time to time.
Daphne was the first to round a corner, but Hugo reached out and yanked her back. Clearly, there were people waiting for them. And then, something happened.
Daphne looked at the rest of them, and her eyes were strange. The rest of her became strange too; suddenly she was wearing an armour, but armour unlike anything Margaret had ever seen in a museum. It did, however, look like armour right out of a fantasy novel; it was shimmering green, and she wore a shield that looked like it was stolen from the Lord of the Rings movies, along with a curved sword. Her skin was pale, just like the dying elf’s skin.
John spoke again. He almost stuttered, so different from the cool, suave manners he had shown so far. Not just that, but he looked worried, almost, not scared, that would not be entirely fair, but perhaps intimidated.
‘Well. This is unexpected’. He straightened and bowed. The bow was fluid, and seemed natural, as if he had done it a thousand times before. The kind that most likely had pretty much died out centuries ago, and had probably never been practied much in the US, at least not outside Hollywood. It was the bow of a courtier of old, the kind she would have expected to see in the courts of Queen Elizabeth; the first, not the second; or perhaps king Louis XIII of France and the time of the musketeers.
‘Daughter of Autumn’.
Now that he was clearly somewhat unbalanced, she could hear more than a trace of accent. She had not noticed it before, although she should have. He was, most of the time, speaking British rather than American. Now, however, she would have been willing to bet quite a lot on him being originally German or Austrian. Or at least originally German-speaking.
She wanted to ask him if he had been a member of the Camarilla. More specifically, that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Considering his reaction to her reference to the Doctor, however, chances were he had even less knowledge of other contemporary science fiction and fantasy, so she very much doubted he would see the joke. She might be mistaken, of course; he might just not have seen that particular episode. Still. Considering the original meaning of the word, however, he might well take it as an insult. Better to not ask.
As for the title, ‘Daughter of Autumn’. That was a weird one, and not from conventional legends or fantasy. She had only come across that name once or twice that she could remember; some obscure faery myth, where the daughters of autumn were warrior princesses, children of the queen. Not Titania, not Maeve, but also not tied to the Daoine Sidhe through Oonagh, wife of High King Finvarra who was supposedly the current ruler of the Daoine Sidhe, not directly, anyway. At least not in the text she had read.
Daphne reached out, touching Mike’s shoulder. He opened his mouth and Spoke. It was impossible to describe; most likely she did not even hear it properly. ‘The Voice’ the dying fae had said. There was little doubt that Mike had been the one he was thinking of.
Seamus, armed with a broomstick, charged around the corner. ‘The Warden’. That was less of a surprise; he and Mike were the two who had seen one of the fae before, after all. In fact, she would have been somewhat disappointed if Seamus had not had a role in this.
The last one came as more of a surprise. ‘The Runner’ or ‘the Walker’. Jamie. He seemed to push Daphne, who disappeared, but as Margaret peered around the corner, she saw the fae woman, facing a giant figure. She wondered if he might be a Fomhóraigh, one of the Fomhóire, or Fomori. Big, ugly, and usually considered an enemy of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Of course, the Tuatha Dé Danann had many enemies.
Could Daphne be a changeling, she thought? The woman had seemed as bewildered as the rest of them when it came to why they were imprisoned. Had their captors been aware of her identity, they would have probably have taken a lot more precautions. And had Daphne been aware of it, most likely, their captors would have know more than they clearly did.
Daphne and Seamus, mostly, tore through the men waiting around the corner; it felt like just a few seconds, it felt like a lifetime, before the sounds of fighting ended, and the panicked screams fell silent. A voice chirped ‘Okay then!’, and the heavy doors behind the dead soldiers slid open, letting in daylight and a breath of hot, dry air.
It seemed there was a trick to not catching fire, but an easy one. Just concentrate on not going up in flames. It took her a couple of seconds, and there there was some smoke rising from her clothes; at least she was going to pretend and convince herself it was her clothes. It took her a few moments to figure it out, but she did, and the smoke stopped.
Just for fun, she groaned. ‘I’m burning! Aaah! The pain! It buuuuurns!’
Everyone stared at her. Nobody laughed. So much for that. She sighed, shook her head. Brandon would have found it hilarious. She was not entirely sure what Ezra would have said; she liked to think he too would have found it amusing.
There were cars here, most likely belonging to the people that Daphne and Seamus killed, with some help from Hugo and Cole. They were in a desert, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but that, at least, meant that the soldiers had not bothered to secure the cars. Vehicles that had license plates from Dubai. Of course. Arabic was not one of the languages she had studied; had it been too much to ask for to put them in a country where someone actually spoke the language? Speaking the local language might have made things easier.
They quickly found a van with room for all of them, grabbed several bags, chosen pretty much at random from the other vehicles, and drove off. Behind them, the site was growing smaller and smaller, leaving, she hoped, one ugly chapter of her life behind.
Shortly after, there was the sound of a big explosion. She wonderd if anyone else had gotten out, and if their captors had killed any of their own employees as well; the facility had been large, and if there were guards on each level, it was unlikely that everyone had gotten out. Some of them, the guards, might still have been alive, though. Not that Margaret cared about them, but she found the possibility that their captors had little regard for their employees lives interesting. Also, the facility had been large, deep. Would a single missile take the entire facility out completely, or simply ensure that nothing would ever get out, sealing people inside, still alive? That thought was an ugly one, and she pushed it away.
As they were driving towards Dubai, John was clearly tired, but he did tell them what he knew. Or at least some of what he knew. The facility they had just escaped from had probably been run by a group called ‘the Division’, once a US government-run organisation, but they had gone rogue a long time ago. Had their agenda always been to capture, experiment on, and kill non-humans? There were so many questions she wanted to ask, but John was exhausted, so questions would have to wait.
As for Dubai, it seemed it was controlled by a group called ‘The Technocracy’. Most likely, they were the ones behind the kidnappings in the first place. She supposed that meant the Division was be working for them. Not that it really mattered; Dubai was controlled by the enemy, that was all she needed to know right now. In other words, they had to be careful, and not attract much attention. Right, because that would be easy with this lot. It also meant they had to stay away from the embassies and consulates. Not that she thought they would have had much luck getting help anyway, considering they had no papers and no paper trail placing them in Dubai in the first place.
Before he fell asleep or passed out or died or whatever vampires did, John gave them a phone number and a code to use as soon as they got to a phone. Margaret did her best to memorise both the number and the code, just in case they for some reason lost or needed to destroy the note.
They found a motel meant for workers and long-term rent, and there had been enough money, barely, for them to rent one room. At least they could shower and clean up a bit; some of them were pretty much drenched in blood and gore.
Margaret decided to get the call done as fast as possible; she hoped that the Division assumed that they were dead, along with everyone else. If not, though, the faster their group could get some help the better. Heading off to find a store where they could get a phone card or a phone. True, her clothes were ill-fitting and would attract attention; if someone asked, she could always claim to be an artist of some kind. Or a writer. That, she should actually be able to get away with. Hopefully, those stereotypes of artists and writers existed here as well. She took Mike with her; she was not stupid enough to head off alone here. She might have, in another place, in another life.
She was wondering, then, if there was anything left of her old life at all. What had happened to all her books, not to mention all the papers, files, photographs, documents, she had? It was not much, not really, but it was all she had left. Photos of her parents and grandparents. All her photos of her and Brandon were there, now most likely lost. And the one single photo she had of Ezra. The one with him and her grandfather. Everything was most likely gone. All the memories lost; no, she refused to make the tears reference, even in her own head, so, like grains of golden sand… how did that one go again? Oh, yes.
‘And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?’