The battle is drawing rapidly to a close. Both the activation of the ritual and the arrival of reinforcements from the Barony seat have torn into the ragtag army of monsters which lay siege to the outpost. To further cause chaos for the enemies, their 'leader' lays dead outside the main gate. Once he fell, any semblance of order and control in the Bosch creatures evaporated. They attack each other as often as they attack the soldiers now. It hasn't been without cost, though. Outside lays the baron himself, critically wounded from the claws of the creature. His son Bannan is at his side. Hurrying away from them inside the outpost is none other than Olivia. She heads straight into the outpost chapel, where the two mages have been working tirelessly on the ritual.
The inside of this small building that was long ago converted to a church for the outpost residents is rather worn and dingy; soot from myriad candles coats the upper walls and ceiling. In the center of the back wall is an ornately carved symbol of a Gear. Rows of makeshift pews constructed from crates and rough-hewn timbers line a center aisle that leads up to a podium from which the clerics perform services for those who have passed on.
Olivia pushes open the door to the chapel and heads straight for Natasha and Qing, although she takes care not to walk on any of the chalk marks on the floor, just in case they are still needed to work any remains of the ritual. Coming as close to the mages as she dares, she hurriedly describes what has just occurred outside the outpost's walls. She also tells them of the arrival of the Baron, who is undoubtedly Bravil, and the sacrifice he made to save his son. Then she sums up by saying in a low voice, "I don't know if there is anything either of you can do for him, but maybe it would be a comfort to Bannan if you would try. Also, I'd feel safer about treating him outside the walls, because Amelia told me that he may have taken some of the Boschian leaders' blood into his own wounds. And considering what we know about Bravil in our own time… " She leaves that sentence unfinished, believing that the mages will take her point.
Throughout Olivia's explanation, Natasha sits quietly in her gear, chanting softly to keep pushing power out into the spectral warriors defending the outpost. For a moment, it may be that Natasha isn't even hearing any of it. That thought is quickly dispelled, though, as her chanting ends and her eyes open. Slowly, she gets to her feet. "I do not know what we could do," she admits, "Unless it is an infection of the spirit as well as the body. I intend to try whatever I can, though. I owe him that much, and more." She then looks to the other mage to see if he will come.
The serpentine mage begins lowering his arms, leaving one to rub at the bridge of his nose. He looks weary, but still quite alert. "The ritual's purpose has been served. Let us see to the Baron, then. It's all we can do now."
Olivia's eyes are serious and sad, but she smiles at the mages gratefully and beckons for them to follow her from the chapel. She then begins leading them to where the Baron lies in his son's arms on the battlefield.
Outside the battlefield is littered with the remains of both soldiers and monsters. The spectral warriors can still be seen hunting down any remaining attackers. Near the gates lies the Baron. Bannan sits nearby and is working furiously on the straps that hold his armor in place. Now and then, bits of armor get tossed aside.
Next to the Jupani, Amelia paces back and forth, glancing towards the fallen monster every so often to make sure it's still dead.
Natasha tries to hold her expression neutral as she goes to the fallen Jupani's side. She drops down to her knees, then goes about helping Bannan remove the armor covering his wounds.
The monster isn't moving currently. The hilt of the Baron's sword juts out from where it slammed through the cracked section of its chitinous hide. Unfortunately for Amelia, the dead creatures eyes seem to be following her, though it's probably just a trick of the light.
Qing stands impassively nearby, his face its usual hard mask. Every so often he turns his head to survey the grisly handiwork of both living and spectral warriors, and the monsters they fought.
It's enough to unnerve the Kadie, so she goes over to the beast and raises the cudgel of her weapon, intent on bashing those eyes to paste.
The heavy stone comes down, and the red orbs finally stop taunting Amelia, who mutters and curses under her breath the whole time.
Olivia comes up behind her friend and puts a gentle hand on her arm, hoping to calm her down a little so that she'll stop bashing things out of sheer nervousness. Then she asks quietly, "How is the Baron? Just as important, how are you? That creature didn't hurt you, did it?"
"It didn't break my skin," Amelia says, calming down a little. "It's good you brought the mages, maybe they can tell if the contamination is a blood curse or a spirit curse."
"Dagh take it all," Bannan growls angrily, throwing a chuck of the bent and torn armor several feet away. "Why did you come? You shouldn't be here. The land needs you. We knew the risks coming out here; we swore the oaths. It was our duty."
Olivia smiles wearily. "Good, I'm glad nothing bad happened to you. You scared me quite a bit with that fall you took, you know." Then she nods over at Natasha. "Yes, I think she said she wanted to check for an infection of the spirit, or something like that."
The pallid Rokuga seems to agree with the idea, a warped lens being taken from a pocket in his mantle. He drapes it with a filmy wisp of cobweb, and peers through it at the fallen Baron, muttering to himself as he does so, one of his ruby eyes magnified freakishly.
Amy's tail lashes as she watches the father and son. "If we know what it is, maybe we can fix it," she says quietly to Olivia. "Morgan and Isolde were able to separate out part of Liliana's spirit, so maybe they could do it for Bravil long enough for Qing and Natasha to… ward him or something so it can't get back inside."
"My … duty," the fallen Jupani rasps, "What does my duty matter, if the future is lost? You are my future. You were my life. If the cost for your life is mine, then … I pay it willingly." Slowly, his head rolls, tired eyes looking at Bannan, who is both shaking with anger and with fear. It's then he also notices the feline leaning over him. His glazed and tired eyes try to focus on her, lids blinking slowly. "You … " he whispers, "I have seen you before. In a dream. Or was it a nightmare? So hard to remember."
Through the glass, the Rokuga can see tendrils of darkness spreading slowly throughout the wolf's body. The darkest points are the deep punctures in his chest which slowly ooze dark blood.
"If it's a curse of the blood, then maybe Dr. Pike or Buffy can do something," Amy notes to the Skeek. "But if we can just get him to wake up from all of this, maybe that will be good enough."
Bannan's head jerks up and he glares at Natasha. "Is this who you were seeking? Does the college wish my father's life? Are you responsible for this attack, for them?" he growls threateningly. "For all these deaths?"
"We're here to try and save him," Amy snaps at Bannan.
Bannan's head swings around, eyes locking on the Kadie. "Then you knew this would happen. You knew and didn't tell us," he growls, eyes narrowing.
"Sssss… " Qing lowers the lens. "Calm yourself, Commander. We had nothing to do with the attack on your fortress, and much to do with its survival. You would do well to remember that. Now is not the time to lash out… your father still needs aid. Natasha, you should see this."
"No," Natasha says firmly and forcefully. She reaches up and grabs Bannan's chin, then pulls it so the wolf is looking at her. "We are here to help him. We knew someone was in danger, our magic told us that much, but who we did not know. We acted with what information we had, and we are still acting to try and save him. If you cannot control yourself, then go inside and leave him to us." She then releases his chin and gets to her feet. The Khatta heads over to Qing and takes a moment to look through his crystal.
The witchdoctor holds the lens out, murmuring again, a hand held in front of him flattened with fingers pointing up.
The fallen Jupani's eyes have closed again, consciousness fading away once again. "Bosch's poisons must act on the spirit first," Natasha says after looking through the lens. "Otherwise, we would not be seeing this. It's as if that land itself has an acting spirit which tries to warp everything it touches. That also means … we may be able to undo it. We have to separate the infection from the original spirit, but at the rate it's fusing with him… " She looks away from the crystal, brow furrowed in through. "Mage Qing," she says, "Have done much work in separating aspects of a person's spirit?"
"I've had some dealings with with pattern transference and remote link manipulation," murmurs the Rokuga thoughtfully, pocketing his lens again. "I have specialized in sculpting spirits… dividing and isolating portions of them should not be so very different, I would think."
"Isolde and Morgan have done it, but it wasn't permanent," Amelia adds. "The separated parts always merged back within a day."
While the others discuss Bravil's condition, Olivia carefully approaches the angry Jupani. After some hesitation, she lightly touches his hand and says, "They're right, you know. We aren't here to harm anyone, least of all your father. Wouldn't it be better to calm yourself, so that you'll be here if he wakes and needs you?"
"Mmm, no, it shouldn't be and with your experience in sculpting, the nuances could be managed. But," Natasha says, then stops to look over at Amelia thoughtfully. "They also transplanted it, not kept it in its abstract form. But, if it could be extracted and kept isolated, then a focused dispel should erase it from existence. The difficult part would be to isolate just the infection and nothing more."
"You still do not understand," Bannan says, his head hung low as he looks at his father. "My duty now … is to kill him. All those infected must be destroyed. Your friends speak of trying to isolate it … but never in history has that ever been done."
"That would restore his mind, right?" Amelia asks the two mages. "You just use warding magic in Chronotopia though," the Kadie says to Bannan.
Qing flicks his tongue. "Dividing willful portions within a single pattern is difficult if the spirit is mutable, changing. I could see how these disparate elements, in conflict, would eventually meld again, or even destroy one or the other if they are forced to stem from the same source. If they are effectively made into two self-contained entities housed in different hosts, the corrupt spirit may stop trying to change the pattern, and ultimately the body and mind it is resting in. We will have to act quickly."
"Does that mean you need a disposable host for the corrupting spirit to be put into?" Amy asks.
"Yes, we do need to act quickly," Natasha says wearily, "We are already drained from that ritual, but I am willing to push to exhaustion if need be." She then nods to Amelia, adding, "We need something to attach the spirit to, yes. All spirits generally have an anchor; there are few roaming ones."
Amelia looks around the battlefield, then asks, "Does it need to be a living host?"
Olivia looks back at the Captain with clear eyes. "Oh no, I understand exactly what your duty is. Captain Ulbrecht made that quite plain when we first spoke with him. Still, I believe we should let the mages try to help him before you are forced to do anything else," she replies quietly.
"Unliving hosts are the works of necromancers," Natasha says with a frown. "That is reanimating the dead."
"So we need a live monster then?" the Kadie asks.
"Do you think I want to kill him? I … I will have him moved inside the walls. You have until sundown. After that, what must be done, will be done," Bannan says quietly, but firmly. The commander then heads inside the gates and starts shouting orders.
"I would prefer living, yes. But if none can be found, then retrieve one of the corpses," Natasha says, then shakes her head. "I will not allow him to die, even if it means crossing into territory that I had sworn away from."
"Well, one of us could be the host," Amy says, glancing to Olivia. "You said that if we're killed in here, we wouldn't die in the real world. So can the spirit be put into one of us, then be destroyed when we're 'killed' here?"
Surprisingly, Olivia doesn't look either horrified or taken aback by this suggestion. "I would only say that this should be our option of last resort, if Amelia and I can't find a creature that we can manage to bring back to you," is all she adds.
Natasha frowns even further at that. "Yes, it would be possible, but it is possible that a direct infusion into one of you could leak back to the real world since we will be acting on you and we are all part of this ritual. It would be extremely risky for the host," she says, "I could not ask any of you to do that."
Qing furrows his scaly brow, nodding with Natasha. "I cannot predict what that would do to your mind," he murmurs, low so only the group can hear him. "You do not exist here physically, it is true… but you are experiencing things here, your mind is collecting memories, you are feeling, hearing, and shaping your consciousness to these events."
"Okay, just wanted to know all of our options," Amy says. "Liv, can you go get some rope?"
Olivia nods to this request and trots back through the gate to find some. In a few moments, she returns with a lengthy coil of it.
"Alright! We'll go get a host. Are you going to do the ritual out here or bring Bravil back inside?" Amy asks.
Qing hisses, "Let us bring him inside, as the Commander wished."
"Inside," Natasha answers. She then looks over to the Rokuga. "What we are doing could be frowned upon, Mage Qing," Natasha notes quietly to the other mage. "Are you certain you wish to participate?"
Olivia doesn't look entirely happy with this, but she doesn't contradict the mages.
Some of the soldiers from the outpost are already coming out and going over to the fallen Baron. Carefully, they pick him up in a makeshift stretcher and start a slow walk back inside.
"We'll need to be swift, Olivia," Amy suggests. "Any live ones are going to be on the run," she says, pointing to the retreating host of horrors.
The witchdoctor pauses where he has been streaming toward the fortress' inner stronghold, looking over his shoulder. "It is the realm of the theoretical, my colleague. I would be wary were we attempting to excise a virulent portion of a living spirit in our reality… but here, Collegia Nagai always was one of the more 'progressive' branches."
Not every monster of Bosch is a fast, vicious killing machine. The chaotic nature of the realm means that some creatures will fall at the opposite end of the effectiveness scale. The monster that Amy and Olivia recover is a good example of this: an armored snail's shell with vermite-headed octopus inside. It was still heading towards the keep, even, moving so slowly that it hadn't realized the battle was over and the others had retreated. Muzzled with rope and mostly stuffed back into its shell, the Skeek and Kadie were able to literally roll it back to the gate.
"Then let us prepare for another ritual. This one, at least, should be less time consuming," Natasha says and walks after the Rokuga. "And … thank you, Mage Qing. I never realized how good it would feel to be able to act fully again. I have been in hiding for so long, I forgot how it felt to be able to work spells of real power."
The monster that Amelia and Olivia captured gets a rather loud round of laughter from the guards as they cart it through the gates. It hisses through its rope bindings and now and then puffs up and waves its tentacles at them … which just gets it even more laughter. In the end, the poor creature actually goes limp and looks at Amelia with sad octopus-eyes. Its 'lip' quivers.
"Don't look for pity from me," Amelia tells the critter. "If I had a big enough boot I'd have stomped on you."
Again the chapel is used as the ritual center. 'Bravil' is laid out on the floor, his breathing shallow and weak. Nearby stands Bannan, expression hard and cold. The other soldiers lead Qing and Natasha inside, then followed by Olivia, Amelia, and Mr. Suction. Bannan barks an order to the soldiers and they quickly depart, leaving just the dream-travelers and the commander with the fallen Baron.
"Where do you want the monster?" Amelia asks, then asides to Olivia, "Does this thing remind you of anyone?"
The 'thing' seems to manage to get one of its suckers stuck on Amelia's backside. It waggles its eyebrows at her, too.
The circles that were used earlier are pressed into service again, with minor alteration. Qing is muttering incomprehensibly again, but a free arm arches to indicate an empty circle near the center of the pattern. The oil lamps have been freshly filled and re-lit.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Olivia glares at her friend in mock-indignation and pokes her in the arm with a finger. "You can be quiet anytime, you know!" she mutters.
"Cheeky bugger," Amy says, and tries to stuff the monster deeper into it's shell with the cudgel of her halberd.
Natasha has gone to Bravil's side and crouched beside him. Carefully, she's tracing some patters around each of the puncture wounds using some chalk. "I assume that we will establish a ward around the two, separating the Baron and the monster from us? We do not want the infection deciding it likes one of us better," she comments to Qing.
After getting the octo-snail-mite to the indicated circle, Amy happily retreats to a safe distance.
The snail-thing pursues Amelia with a ferocity not seen but in the worst nightmares. It's a pity that at the speed its moving, it will take it a week to cross the room. Well, at least it's determined, one could suppose.
"Agreed," hisses the reptile in a natural pause point for his incantation. "If you will do so, I will attempt the excision."
Natasha nods at this. She uses the already crafted gears as the basis for the ward-circle. With precise and quick movements, she shifts and adjusts the sands into a new pattern. The re-crafting of the circle takes a few minutes … in which the snail has moved perhaps … one foot. Satisfied, Natasha goes and sits down near the circle's edge. She raises her hands and extends them as if touching the surface of an invisible wall, then starts to chant quietly to herself.
In fairly short order, the circle around the baron and the creature ripples with a pale blue light. It thrums softly to each word spoken by the feline, as if echoing her. Her arms then snap quickly outward, down, then up. As her arms draw up, the pale blue follows, creating a translucent and shimmering blue curtain between the subjects of the spell and the observers.
Amy whispers to Olivia, "Do you think the transfer will make the monster bigger?"
"That is, at least, the proper use of magic," Bannan observes to no-one in particular. "Containment, not manipulation."
Meanwhile, the witchdoctor picks up his muttering again, filmy crystal lens held out to the side as if in afterthought. A wisp coalesces near his head, playfully bobbing around the brim of his hat. He doesn't seem finished; the dim blue luminescence spreading through the circles and replacing the warm yellow flames from the oil lamps.
Olivia whispers back, "Let's hope not. I'd rather it not get any faster, either, or you might be in trouble!"
"Be ready to destroy it once the transfer completes," Natasha says in a pause in her chanting. Her fingertips keep tracing over the translucent 'wall', leaving a trail in their wake. The patterns are not random, but specific ritual patterns and shapes.
The prep work seems to be done, the glow surrounding the Baron's helpless form. It leaves Qing free to speak as he gets his tools into place. "Manipulation is a necessity in all spheres of magic, Commander. Life manipulates flesh, fire manipulates heat. It is the way of things," he explains. A bony claw reaches toward Bravil's body, seeming to grasp something in the air and tug. Strange pale tendrils pull away from him, like fibers being tugged out of a sheet. "It would seem Bosch takes advantage of this. Spirits are normally an echo, but it seems these have found a way to take hold of other spirits, to make the pattern change its anchor rather than the other way around. How these twisted, virulent forms begin… I could not begin to guess."
Amelia holds up her basher at the ready, and eyes the snail.
The snail blows a raspberry at Amelia. An oddly squishy sounding raspberry, but a raspberry.
Olivia takes out two of her larger throwing knives and readies them to throw, too, just in case.
"The manner in which it happens is fascinating," drones Qing in his level voice, seeming to peer closely at the emerging pattern. "It is a separate thing that attaches and reweaves as it goes. To snuff the spirit out of something leaves the anchor behind, the pattern intact to refill again with Sinai's latent energies, but… ah… hm. Where was I… ah." The pattern seems to have stranger darker tendrils on it, cancerous bulges that pulse and seem to gnaw at the ghostly strands. Another bony claw joins the first, gripping the air and hooking fingers at nothingness. Tendrils pull away, picked free, portions of spectral white reweaving itself. A fat umbilical is separated, and begins snaking its way over to the beast in the circle.
"Fascinating or not, that is upsetting my stomach," Amy says quietly to Olivia.
Olivia looks at the dark lumps moving on the odd strands that seem to form out of nothingness and shudders, nodding her agreement.
The snail hisses and burbles at the umbilical chord as it snakes across the ground. And in a sudden and uncharacteristic burst of energy, the snail's eight arms all pull together and it launches itself up into the air! Down ti comes, arms spread and jaws wide as it pounces on the infection. It growls and shakes its head wildly … and that's right about when chaos breaks loose. There's a wet snapping sound, like the sound of breaking bones. Except in this case it's breaking snail shell. The formerly small snail is getting larger and larger … and not looking so silly anymore. Spikes start to burst from its bulbous and fleshy back, claws rip forth from the ends of its tentacles. One claw lashes out, slamming into the ward enclosing it. Natasha grunts as of she feels the impact directly. The Khatta winces and starts chanting faster now, trying to maintain the ward as the monster thrashes and attacks it wildly. Each slash on the ward leaves a thick trail of slime oozing down the glowing barrier. On the good side, at least, darkness is gone from the fallen Baron … on the bad side … he's inside … with that.
"Too late to throw salt on it now!" Amelia shouts, and runs to the side of the ward opposite the Baron, so that the monster is between him and her. "Hey hey! Remember me!" the Kadie taunts, turning around and waggling her rear end at the monster. Maybe that will keep it distracted from the helpless Jupani.
Bannan isn't about to let the creature harm his father, either. Sword drawn and growling, he heads straight towards the ward. He grits his teeth, then actually pushes though the ward; it apparently not completely solid to anything not contaminated by Bosch spirit. Once through, he shakes his head, orienting himself. At least the antics of Amelia have brought some good in all this. The creature hasn't noticed the third resident inside the ward.
Qing falters, gritting his teeth. "Wh-… venom and bile, how could I have not seen… tssssss… " He keeps his eyes locked on the proceedings, releasing Bravil's spirit to retire once more to the fallen wolf's body.
Olivia curses as she watches Bannan push through the ward and go to protect his father… now realizing that the younger Jupani has no one to help him if the creature tries to rush at him. And she doesn't think that he can take the thing by himself. Her heart beating wildly, she grips her knives more tightly and attempts to join him within the ward.
The feeling of walking through the ward is rather like walking through a vat of warm lard. It's thick and somewhat sticky. But in the end, she makes it through and finds herself alongside Bannan, staring at the backside of one ugly monster.
"Don't get cut!" Amy shouts to the others, and continues her dance of monster-taunting.
Olivia looks into Bannan's surprised face and cuts him off as he tries to order her to leave. "You have one hell of a reckless streak, do you know that?" she asks him through gritted teeth. "And I must be the bigger fool for following you in here, but you're going to need all the help you can get if that thing attacks!"
The Rokuga weaves from side to side, looking agitated. "Sss… it's no good, Natasha. We must drop the ward to deal with this thing. There is no sense in containing it now. We'll simply throw it into the Great Serpent's belly." He raises his guild-ringed hand and closes his fist around the wisp by his hat.
"Agreed," Natasha hisses, eyes narrowed and ears flat back. She shifts her feet a bit under herself, then shouts something and snaps her arms downward. Abruptly, the translucent wall drops. This, of course, leaves one nasty and angry creature staring right at Amelia's butt. So … it decides to try and take a large bite out of it!
The Kadie dodges to one side, using her tail like a toreador's red cape to try and keep the critter's sights on her.
Bannan arches his brow at the mouse next to him that just called him reckless, never mind he's a trained fighter and she isn't. He brings his sword up, then crouches down, fingers flexing around the hilt. He then launches forward towards the beast!
Natasha jumps to her feet, then brings one hand over the other and starts chanting quickly. A burst of blue light forms between her hands. Once formed, her eyes then focus on the creature.
Qing's clenched fist is thrown forward at the creature, palm opening. The thrust is shaky and a bit off the mark, but the distortion seems to more or less pass through the monster, the energy of the witchdoctor's exorcism tearing at the corrupt spirit beneath.
Olivia takes aim at one of the spiked tentacles that seems to be coming the closest to Amelia… but doesn't see the translucent trail of goo being left behind in the wake of the creature's passage. She slips and falls to her hands and knees, losing one of her knives in the process as it skitters across the floor. She curses again as she struggles to rise and get out of the path of the slime.
Natasha follows up with another attack of spectral energy; this one quicker prepared and therefore of lower power than Qing's. It too rips through the creature, leaving a ghostly echo in its wake. And, at that moment, Bannan's strike lands too with a wet and disgusting spray of goo. And then things really get odd…
The world around the group shatters like a glass mirror. The walls and world that they were standing in falls away in fragments. Bannan vanishes. The Baron vanishes. And then … even the floor vanishes. The group falls into a white and featureless void. Fragments of 'reality' fly past them. Fragments of conversations flow and swirl around them. Those that they can make out are an odd mix of mundane life events, and then shouts and screams of 'kill that monster!' It's hard to say how long the group falls. But, at some point they seem to slow and stop. All around them is nothing, save for the occasional bursts of images and moments. For a fleeting second they see Ulbrecht again alive and well. Then they see images of a river. Images of a ragtag caravan of gypsies.
"Are we falling forward through Bravil's memories?" Amy tries to call out.
Natasha sits up slowly and rubs over her eyelids. "I believe so," she answers Amelia. From the Kadie's perspective, her voice and the movements of her lips are out of sync.
Olivia gasps and blinks furiously, trying to orient herself after the rapid changes in scenery. "So… are we going to end up in another memory, or will we come back to reality soon?"
"Maybe we changed something after all!" Amy says. "And we're being carried along as it… uh… ripples… ?"
In the featureless white, Qing is all but invisible save for a pair of crimson eyes and the symbol of spirit, hovering and indistinct, merely suggested much like his presence. "Things must be reordering themselves… " he says, his voice hollow and far away.
The white nothingness parts before the small group. They see Bannan again, standing near a river at sunset. "I hope some day you will forgive me. But … I couldn't do it," he says, each word out of sync with the movements of his jaw. "I know I am breaking the law of the land, but … I cannot kill you. You are my father; you were always stronger than I was." He kneels down. Resting before him on a raft is the Baron. His wounds have been bound and he seems to be sleeping peacefully. Some supplies have also been placed on the raft. "Goodbye," Bannan says, then pushes the raft out onto the water.
The scene fades back to white.
"I remember," comes a voice from behind the gathering. "I remember everything."
Amy turns to look behind her for the source of the voice.
Olivia looks around, as well, to see who the owner of the new voice is…
Behind them stands the Baron Viktor Von Ril, or Bravil, as some know him. He looks … tired, worn. "I remember you, Olivia. And you, Amelia," he says, then looks to Natasha who is watching him, looking as if she's having trouble speaking. "And of course you, Natasha," he says with a small smile. "It's funny, how things turn back on themselves. It doesn't seem very long ago that I was at your bedside after I found you in the river, dying. And now … well, I guess you're all dreams, really. All this is a dream. A dream of a monster."
"Are you going to wake up now?" Amy asks the Baron.
Qing's hazy form wavers, becoming more solid, the suggestion of a tangle of arms attached to a milky swirl. "You do not know me, Von Ril."
"No, I do not," the Jupani agrees, now noticing the hazy Qing.
"I do not wish to wake up," the Baron admits, looking upward as if searching for a sky. "I do not want to be that monster. Not with knowing what I was once. I suppose I should thank that … creature. Axel was it? For waking my mind, for making me remember."
"People depend on you, though," Amy argues. "You can't just give up and leave them defenseless."
The Rokuga's form sharpens as he asserts himself, his outline becoming more real. "They do. These people you know, they are not dreams. They came for you, and they brought me with them."
"Bravil, Viktor, whatever you wish to be called," Natasha says as she walks towards him now. "We are not dreams, as Mage Qing says. We came in after you. Your friends came for you. You … call what you became a monster?" She asks then motions towards Amelia. "Forgive me, but that is complete nonsense. Bosch may have been able to warp your body; make you forget," she says with a rather hard poke square into his chest, "But it never changed who you were inside. Would a monster have become a defender of those who were lost and fighting for survival? Would a monster have sat beside the bed of a broken woman who had constant nightmares, who struck out at anything that came near and never once became angry, or would turn away? You say your son should have killed you? Well, I am glad he didn't. If he had, I would be dead. Many would be dead. His act of compassion made it possible that others lived too."
Olivia smiles as she watches Natasha poke and prod Bravil into seeing reason, then approaches the Jupani, too. Very shyly, to puts her small hand into his much larger one and says, "You know, it occurs to me that if your son could act with compassion towards you, as Natasha points out, then why can't you give yourself the same courtesy? You're not some horrible thing, so don't treat yourself too harshly. Please wake up and come back to us. If you left, I think the heart of the tribe would be gone, somehow."
"And maybe now you can be awake and keep your memories," Amy suggests.
"I know that losing you would wound many of the tribe," Natasha says, adding to what Olivia said. "I know I haven't always shown it, but you mean a great deal to me. You have been my strength when I needed it. You gave me hope when I had none." And in an uncharacteristic behavior for the Khatta, she digs her hand into his shirt and pulls him so that their faces are mere inches apart. "You didn't give up on me when I wanted to just die, so Dagh take me if I let you die. I love you too much to just turn away and let you give up on yourself," she says in a rather threatening hiss. "And remember, I am a spirit mage. If you die, I'll summon your spirit back and kick it so hard they'll hear you on the other side of the world."
Olivia tries to smother another grin. Figuring that Bravil can either hit Natasha or kiss her now, she releases his hand and backs up a few paces, watching for his reaction.
"We might be able to fix the physical part too," Amy says quietly, since she really isn't sure. Her only likely 'expert' on the subject is a vampire, after all.
The Jupani looks … well, shocked doesn't quite describe it. He stares at Natasha for a bit, then looks down at Olivia, then over to Amelia. And then … he actually smiles slightly. "I think you allowed that Kadie to rub off on you," he says and motions towards Amelia. "All right. I'll try to wake up," he says, then stops when Natasha jerks his shirt. "Will wake up," he corrects himself. "I … thank you for coming for me. Thank you for caring about an old Chronotopian soldier."
"We cared before we knew you were an old Chronotopian soldier," Amy points out, but smiles proudly anyway. Even if she isn't sure what the 'rubbed off' bit is all about.
"All is in place," hisses Qing, his form becoming indistinct again. "I was not sure what we could expect, but I would warrant you all have managed better than we could have anticipated. It is time to return to the other side."
"You're welcome," Olivia says softly. "Trying to bring you back was the least we could do."
Qing seems to speak again. His mouth moves as if speaking a normal sentence, but all he says is, "Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock… "
Natasha releases his shirt and folds her hands together. "Good," she says. "I'll be by your side as soon as I can." The feline then steps away and says to those gathered. Before she can say anything, though, the sound of the clock does indeed return. Everyone slowly dissipates as if their bodies were made of fog. The white nothingness fades to black … and then to the soft glow of candle and crystals as the ritual room comes into focus.
Amy blinks, then checks the color of her fur. "We made it!" she shouts, startling Dr. Pike, who was sleeping on the floor outside of the room.
Olivia smiles at the Kadie's shouting, but does not jump at the noise. Instead, she feels so bone-weary that she wants to lie down where she is and go right to sleep. After giving a jaw-cracking yawn, she murmurs, "Thank goodness, a happy ending at last. I like it when things end well… "
"And barely in time," Natasha says. She reaches out and picks up the crystal she had enchanted earlier to act as the ritual anchor. Its surface is covered in a spiderweb of cracks and spots on it have gone black. "Now, if you will forgive me, I have someone I need to go see."
A neatly rounded mound of scaly white is stacked in a ritual circle, featureless except for the cap of black in the center. Eventually it unfolds, the black cap lifting up to reveal Qing's head, the mage unraveling himself and unfolding his arms with a series of cracks and pops. "Mm. A most interesting experience." He nods curtly at Natasha. "Till next we meet."