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[5e IC] Mirror Dance [2076 Game Thread]

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Aria

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« on: (08:07:59/04-12-17) »
[spoiler]This thread is a capture of a post by email experiment between myself, Adamu and Mercy Merchant[/spoiler]

[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK]

The full moon bathed the circle in a nacreous gleam that cast stark shadows across the sward.  Twelve hooded figures waited inside the circle like the Ringwraiths of fiction…some were there in the flesh, but others were projected there in holo and AR form from discrete devices placed on the ground for that purpose.  Finally their thirteenth and newest member joined them, as was only proper, her cloaked form merging with the circle, her unreality betrayed by the fronds of grass swaying through the projection’s feet.

Dream felt the familiar thrill as in unison the Choir spoke their ritual greeting “The Song endures” as he moved around to each of the protagonists in turn touching fingertips, or simulacrum of finger tips as may be.  Now that their number was complete he turned to the standing stones and ignited the magic in them with a touch, the runes carved in to their weathered forms igniting to his other sight, locking them away from the outside world.

Despite the viciously cold winter wind sweeping across the heath, inside the circle it was comfortably warm…what was the point in magic anyway if it couldn’t make life a little more comfortable?  Turning to their First he bowed “We are ready, the runners should be here shortly, as is seen”

The Old One bowed in turn, the voice from his astral projection echoing in their minds ~Very good!  It is time that we all viewed these creatures that will be so central to our futures~

***

Dream mentally paced around the circle…everything was so close now, his visions nearly at fruition.  It would all be complete by the winter solstice, one way or the other, a mere ten days from now… He reached out to his ally and Petal appeared beside him dressed in sensible hiking gear, the hood pulled over her face in a brash imitation of the cloaked figures around them

~Petal, can you go out and guide our guest here please?  They may have some difficulties in this fog~

~You could just make the fog go away you know!~ she retorted

~Of course, but that would spoil the mystery~ and he could feel her mirth in the back of his mind as she disappeared to look for the two runners…

#01

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Al cursed in frustration behind the wheel of his new Tata Hotspur. They not only had the coordinates, but he was an excellent navigator. Hell, he knew exactly where the damned meet was. But the bogs that dotted the moor, including its roads, were constantly shifting and, invisible to satellite, not charted on any map. For the third time now he’d had to backtrack and find another way toward a spot he knew was only a lousy klick-and-a-half distant. He’d even had to use the winch once, tying it to a rotten tree stump to haul the bright purple truck out of the mud.

And the damned fog wasn’t helping any.

Beside him sat Alyce. And behind him on the gun rack were his Remingtons - a 990 and a 950 - each for its own purpose, nestled safely in reach but out of sight of the world behind darkly tinted windows.

Alyce had offered to send one of her cute little drones ahead, but Al had disdained such a cheat. Now, however, he was getting frustrated.

Hell, he was supposed to be chilling and smoking and drinking at Alyce’s new house, but he’d barely wiped his feet on the mat when they’d gotten a call about a job from Silk. What the hell? had basically been their conclusion, and here they were - late.

“Ya want a crack at ‘er?” Al asked, indicating the wheel. In this fog, blind didn’t mean much.

#01

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Alyce smiles and laughs as Al stops the truck once more.  "Sure, let the blind girl drive the car.  That way it's my fault when we end up in a bog.  Only, I think I will cheat a bit."  As she steps out of the vehicle, Alyce keeps a hand on the side of it to walk around to the driver's side.  At the same time, she sends two of her small Fly-Spy drones out a few feet in advance of the truck to help give her an idea of the track they are following.

She loves the moors and has been hiking on them ever since she moved down to the old manor house she had bought back in August.  The fog was usually not something to worry about, as long as one is careful and can cheat like Alyce can.  Her ultrasound sensors and her drones have been able to keep her and her Hell Hound guide dog safe on their walks and she is confident that she can drive the vehicle along the narrow road, or what passed for a road out here.  Getting in, she smiles grimly and turns to face her companion.  "OK, this is going to be slow.  Kiss me before we start, just in case."

#01

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Always one excuse or another. But Al didn’t mind too much. He leaned over and found her mouth with a kiss that told her how deeply he cared about her - however complicated things were or whatever hijinks she got up to - it was an easier way to express his feelings than a bunch of woman talk aimed at an impenetrable wall of female illogic.

Then he settled back into the passenger seat, lit a smoke, and said, “And that’s the last o’ that. We’s workin’ now. Drive on, Jeeves.”

#02

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Alyce laughs.  "Yessir, Cap'n Al.  Last kiss until we're done.  I do hope that the kind Cap'n will as allow the first mate to repeat the action if she happens to drive off into a bog and we're going to die."

Alyce puts the truck in gear and heads off slowly.  She trusts the sensors on the small drones out in front of her, but trusts her ultrasound more in this fog and that makes the going slow.  And a bit stressful.  Still, it is progress and she closes in on the GPS coordinates that Al had programmed into the dash and her 'link.  Without turning from her task, she asks, "Light me one of those, will you, please?"

#02

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Al used the tip of his smoke to light one for Alyce, reached over, and put it in her mouth. She was a pretty good driver. A few false starts and she started making good, if circuitous progress toward the coordinates. Not really knowing what they’d find there, Al unlimbered the shotgun hanging behind him. They were only about three hundred meters away, with visibility less than a tenth that, when Alyce’s drone marked boggy ground dead ahead. Cursing, she was about to send the drone to look for the best way around, when a cute young woman in hiking gear appeared in front of the Hotspur waving them down. “Pull up so she’s on my side,” Al directed. The girl looked harmless, but…he put down the window as they came alongside her. She said, “Hi, I’m Petal. Steer to your two o’clock - the bog’s shallow there and you’ll be through. Then just follow me a short distance and we’re there.” And without waiting for a reply, she started walking away from them in the direction indicated.

#03

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Alyce had already seen the girl as she approached the truck and was reaching over to alert Al when he sees her.  She does as he requests and listens to the girl talk.  After she is gone, Alyce faces, Al.  "Trust her, Al?  I have scanned that part of the way ahead and there is solid ground just below the surface where she indicates it ought to be.  Unless you stop me, I will go that direction."

She gets the truck back in gear and turns the wheel, giving Al a chance to say something first.  "Hmmm.  Drones and sensors are picking up something solid in the near distance in that direction."

#03

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“Well, wouldn’t say I trust ‘er trust ‘er, but I trust ‘er ta git us ta this spot we’d goin’, since whoever we’s meetin’ likely wants us there. After that…” Alyce guided the car forward carefully behind the walking girl. A few minutes later, ghostly vertical forms began to emerge from the fog, and momentarily they found themselves at what appeared to be an ancient stone circle.

#04

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Alyce stops the truck and lets her sensors get an idea of what is going on here.  "A bit of matrix activity here, Al.  Several specific locations, almost like project.........yes, holos.  We got some holo projectors in the area of those stones.  A couple of AR things as well."  She opens the door on her side and climbs out, lighting another fag as she does.  "Well, I guess we need to go see what is up, eh?"

#04

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Petal gestures impatiently for the two runners to hurry up…to Alyce’s hyper senses there is something just a little off about the girl, although nothing that’s easy to get a handle on…she certainly isn’t armed, but in these days of mages and adepts that’s hardly something to be reassured about.

With a grin the girl waves Al and Alyce in to the circle and immediately the damp cloying fog is gone, held back by an invisible will.  The stars shine overhead, only dimmed by the fitful moonlight sweeping across the stones that leave deep shadows of the stones to mask the hooded figures.

There are thirteen forms, all hooded bar one, their faces invisible in the depths of their cowls.  The unmasked one is an elf, with just a tinge of age around his eyes and he nods to the girl before opening his arms in welcome…

The whole place prickles with magic, not just the obvious holding back of the mist but other signs subtle and not so subtle.  Curious sprites flit about, peering and poking at the newcomers until Petal shoos them away with a clap of her hands and a bright laugh “Don’t let them bother you, they are just excited”

The elf then speaks, his voice cool but still musical “Welcome, thank you for joining us.  Silk said that she knew of some reliable runners in the area who might be able to assist me…” and one of the holo projections reaches up and lowers its hood to reveal Silk’s smiling face “and as our newest member it is a test of her foresight as much as it is your skills.”

#02

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Alyce steps into the circle and gathers her drones to give her a 360 view as feeds to her 'link.  She nods to the Elf, recognizing that he must be old as she has never seen age effects on one of her kind before.  The conclusion is that this one must be pre-UGE.  She remembers stories of Elves that have existed well into the past, called Watchers by those that know little about them.  Alyce also nods to Silk.  "Good evening, Mistress Silk.  It seems that what we did with you had a good effect, then."

She turns back to the elder Elf and nods again.  "My name is Robyn Lysander or Alyce Krait, depending on which circles you travel in.  I suppose that there are a number of people who use different names for me, most of them not repeatable in pleasant company."

At that moment, she feels a familiar itch on her face and back as the various hydras on her body begin to move more than they usually do.  She turns her face to the cowled figure that must represent someone very high in the Duke's House.  Whoever it is must desire to remain unknown so she does not indicate that she is aware and brings her face back to the Keeb's.

#05

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Al laid his shotgun lazily back across his shoulder at the sight of someone he actually trusted. “Well met, Silky baby. Real nice ta see ya here, since apparently ever’one else here is hippies. So what’s the rumpus?”

#05

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Silk’s holographic image projection bowed towards the elf that had greeted the runners

“Dream will outline what this is all about, suffice it to say that the Pattern is weaving around you once again Master Guthrie and your unique talents are requested to be employed to further the  goals of these hippies…” and she gestured for Dream to continue, smilingly indicating with a raised eyebrow an ‘I told you so’ for Al’s nature…

“Al, Alyce, as I said, thank you for joining us.  It is unusual for the Choir to meet employees but I think you understand that you have become far more than that, first with your assistance in Seattle, then on Silk’s jaunt in Tonga… you are valuable to us and I do not doubt that your fee will reflect that value.  That is assuming you consent to assist me?”

He carried on before either of the runners could get a word in … “there is an artefact in the possession of another, one I would like your help to acquire.  This member is a powerful member of the Ordo Maximus and we believe that the artefact, a mirror, is in their London residence…”

#03

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Al shrugged. “Well, we was jist settlin’ in fer some quiet time out here. But what the hell. Sure, pervided it ain’t got no weird diseases on it, an’ long as this one’s got no objections,” he said, nodding to Robyn.  “Tell us what she looks like, give us the address, be back with it tomorrow. What’s an Ordo Maximus? Some kinda club fer Roman buffs. Wear togas, put leaves in they hair? Puke theyselves after they eat too much?”

#06

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Alyce smiles.  "I am in, if he is, although I am a bit familiar with the term and have some questions.  Isn't Ordo Maximus some sort of mage club, primarily made up of Europeans?  If that is so are we going to have some mojo support or are we the entire team?"

#06

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“Satanists? Shee-it. An’ Euro-Satanists, ya say? Double-shit. Worst kind. But course we got the mojo covered, cuz less’n I miss my guess, Dream here” - he said the name as if he was repeating some sort of inside joke - “He’s comin’ ‘long fer the ride. Am I wrong, Dreamy baby?”

#07

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“No Master Guthrie, you are not wrong… I may not be a runner like yourselves but Petal and I will cover the mojo side of things.  I have seen more than my share of conflict over the last sixty years and I promise not to faint or run away at the first sign of trouble.  The four of us should be able to slip in to London…a bigger group may draw more attention to us.

There are all sorts of rumours about the Ordo, not least of which is that they are a cabal of vampires.  Lord Bressington has not been seen out and about in daylight for some years so it is entirely possible that he is one of their kind… or there may be another reason entirely.  Either way I hope to approach his property when he is far from home…”

#04

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"Alrighty then,  Satanist couple on board: check. Load more wooden slugs: check. Add garlic an' holy water ta shoppin' list: check.  Wait fer Bressy baby ta go out: check. When ya reckon that'll be anyhoo, cuz I got trid ta catch up on.  Speakin' o' which,  don't even answer that till we's onna road. Like she says inna Good Book, time's money. Ya got yer own wheels, or ya gon' bounce around inna back of my fancy new truck here? "

#08

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“I assure you Master Guthrie, my gods are far older than Satan!  But that’s not relevant to our current expedition so I don’t think we’ll dwell on it.  Petal will make her own way to our destination but I would be happy to ride in your truck, despite the colour…” with a smile to take away any sting…

“I have discrete lodgings nearby where we could discuss our approach strategy, or we could go to a place of your choosing…?”

#05

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Older than...!?!? Al shook his head and let the blasphemy pass. He reckoned he knew the sort he was dealing with now.

Alyce's place was nearby and doubtless more comfortable,  but he didn't know if she wanted work brought home. He said, "Your place. Jist the one o' ya, you can squeeze inna cab 'longside this one."

He figured Alyce would let them know if she disagreed with either the destination or the seating arrangements.

#09

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Alyce shrugs.  "My home is not too far away, but I do not mind going to yours as long as I can have access to the matrix from there.  And Al is right about the cab.  Riding up front is much better than in the bed of the truck.  I think that you and I are both skinny enough that we can fit and still allow Al to drive.  Do we have aught else to do here?"

#08
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Aria

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« Reply #1 on: (08:09:31/04-12-17) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bodmin Jail, Bodmin, Cornwall, UK]

The hesitation on the runner’s faces had been clear when Dream had asked them to make for Bodmin Jail of all places…but it had long since ceased to be anything but a tourist attraction for the few aristos that could afford such things.  Movement around the UK was heavily restricted unless you could broadcast the right SIN and it looked like all three of them had sufficient clearance, despite Al’s appearance to the contrary.  If there was anyone that belonged to the great unwashed it was Al.

Dream instructed Al to pull in to the courtyard behind the restaurant kitchen and assured him that the truck would be more inconspicuous off the road and behind the high stone walls of the prison.  At this time of night the tourists were gone and the kitchens were winding down so there was nobody to see them slip in to one of the fire escape doors that Petal held open for them

“Don’t worry, I have an understanding with the establishment, nobody will see us coming or going…”

Dream led them to the top floor and to an apartment almost as Spartan as the prison cells might once have been.

“It’s not exactly comfortable but it will do for this evening…so, we have much to discuss…”

#06

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Alyce shrugs and chuckles.  “It is palatial compared to some of the places I have had to work from or sleep in.  I have already assigned my agent the task of digging up any information about this organization that it can find.  I can take what I get back and dig deeper into what seems to be important to us.  I have also sent out information requests on this Lord Bressington.  I can go into VR to dig deeper on anything you would like me to.  Do you have a place to start?”

#09

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Listening to the other two talk, Al cursed under his breath as he realized he'd let himself be lured into a trap. He'd relaxed his guard, and now found himself in the most dangerous, excruciating, and pointless part of these sorts of jobs: the planning session.

And no Isaint here to do it all for him.

Sweat of the brow, just like in the Good Book. He lit a cigarette and braced himself for the ordeal ahead.  His two companions were both keebs, one a hippie anti-Satanist and the other a woman - he couldn't exactly leave it to them.

"Alrighty, tell us ever'thin' ya can."

#10

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While waiting for Dream to answer their questions or give some instruction, Alyce fishes a cigarette from a pack she pulls from a pocket.  She brings out her lighter then looks at it in her hand before putting it away and leaning over to light her cigarette from Al's.  After a good couple of smoke rings, she, too, looks at Dream in anticipation of words of wisdom.

#10

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“Well I’m hoping you will be able to tell me the information you need to achieve a successful heist…this is a little outside my normal scope of expertise.  I can tell you a few things of course… Silk has provided me from floor plans from the last time the property was sold at the turn of the century, it’s in Grosvenor Gardens, within spitting distance of the Palace.  I have a report from a security firm that did some upgrades in the late sixties, although no doubt there will be improvements since then.  A cursory astral sweep has confirmed that the place is warded and I didn’t want to test those until nearer the time.  Silk hasn’t been able to secure an itinerary for Lord Bressington unfortunately but perhaps you will have better luck with contacts closer to home?”

#07

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Alyce looks thoughtful for a moment then says, "Families like that are often in the market for a rare book or three to fill out a collection.  I can search the matrix and see if Lord Bressington is and then see if I can procure it.  I have a lot of contacts that can get me books.  That could get me an invite.   Is it well known that he is involved with the Ordo Maximus?  I can do some looking to see if there are any books out there that might be rare enough to be interesting to the organization and procure it.  I could then either approach him if his involvement is public knowledge or simply advertise that I have the tome and see if that gets me an invite.  I will also take your report from the security company and try to find out if there have been any security upgrades although may I ask why you assume that there have been upgrades to the security system?  Most people I know are hesitant to go through the expense and labour involved in getting upgrades and it has been less than ten years since the last one.  He might fall into the category of once done is well enough done.  It pays to assume the worst, of course, but we may get lucky."

She looks about and nods at one corner of the room.  "If I relax over there, can you watch out for my body?  I can do so much better in Hot VR."

#11

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"Sure, toots, I'll watch yer body all right," Al teased. " Hell, reckon that's one o' the many things ol' Al's best at."

He grinned lustily, ignoring the presence of the hippie.

"But riddle me this, afore ya slip off ta la-la land - we shootin' fer tree-keeb's  plan o' waitin' fer Count Hum-Vee ta be away from the crypt? Or we usin' a book ta git inna door? The one's likely quieter, I'll allow, but then we wouldn’t git ta kill it. Ol' Al ain't never burned no Dracula afore. ...or is that off limits?" he asked,  turning to Dream.

#11

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Alyce smiles at the innuendo and strikes a particularly sensuous pose for Al.  "You can look all you want, Al, and it's not like you haven't seen all I have to offer.  But about the book?  I don't know, but it could be another approach, especially if we find out that he is not planning on leaving his palace soon.  We're just looking at options, now, right?"  She walks to the corner and sits down, resting her back against the wall.  Turning to Dream, she says, "Unless you do not want me to pursue that path?"

#12

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Dream responded to Alyce first, “The Ordo is a secretive organisation…there are plenty of rumours swirling about of course, but little that would point directly to individual members.  You are welcome to try the book angle if you think it might help but this all needs to be resolved by the Solstice or our efforts could be for nought.  Ten days ought to be sufficient time shouldn’t it?  If you are going to be some time in VR I will ask Petal to make something more comfortable for you to recline on…” and at his nod Petal begins to work her mojo…the weathered timber flooring suddenly humping upwards with a mildly alarming creak as the boards shift and warp, almost growing, in to a contoured seat of burnished wood

“Thank you my dear.  Now, Al, I didn’t say Bressington was a vampire, only that he might be…and that we should be prepared.  There are bound to be ramifications for confronting him directly, politically as well as physically but it certainly isn’t off limits if he really is one of those benighted souls…”

#08

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“Ten days, huh. What say we try fer three, or I’ll never git caught up on my trid? An’ when it comes ta bloodsuckers, reckon I’ll jist assume infected till proven otherwise. Anyhoo, nothin’ ta plan till we see what that one digs up. She moves pretty fast in there, less’n she runs across a virtual shagfest or some such nonsense, so we should hear back from ‘er quick. S’pose I’ll jist busy myself with these here out-o’-date plans ya rustled up for us.”

#12

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Alyce smiles as she sits on the comfortable recliner.  "Always knew mojo was good for something.  I am not sure what I can do, but the book angle is just another chance to do our thing.  I will also look into the security company and see if there has been an additional upgrade on the property in the past decade.  Anyway, I will be out on the matrix so if you need to contact me, send a text to my 'link."  With that, Alyce settles back and is off into another world, a world of different dimensions and she travels the distance from Cornwall to London at the speed of thought.  She tasks her agent to research the security company while she goes first to research her own list of "special" clients to see if Lord Bressington or the Oro Maximus has put in for any special book.  If nothing there, she will go out to the lists from other rare book providers for the same information.

#13

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While the runners did their thing…or at least Alyce did something, Al didn’t appear particularly busy, Dream began his own preparations, sketching out a circle in the front half of the room.  It had been years since he’d bothered to learn a spell, but he was painfully aware that his limited repertoire could be a problem in the coming days if he didn’t do something about it…

“Al, in your dealings with fellow Satanists is there anything, any spell, that seemed to be especially useful in your line of work?  We have a little time to spare while Alyce does her own research and I would put it to good use…besides, the brain gets flabby as the muscles if it isn’t challenged once in a while…”

He placed a small carved pebble at the final cardinal point and then rose to fling open the large windows at the end of the room to let in the night air…Petal joined him at the window, her natural curiosity piqued by the workings that she hadn’t often witnessed.  The circle was subtly different from the divinatory ones he usually used…in fact he preferred working those out on the heath…

“It’s like standing next to a radiator” she whispered to him, nodding in the direction of Al, “and he doesn’t even seem to realise it…?”

“Hush my dear, Silk highly recommends him, how he deals with his gifts is immaterial…”

“It just seems a shame…no, ok, I promise I won’t say anything…” she replied to Dream’s frown

“We each have our own path, Master Guthrie will walk alongside us for a while but it is still his path to walk”

“Saunter more like” she responded with a giggle…

#09

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Al hadn’t been exactly idle. He’d glanced briefly at the schematics Silk had provided, and though he didn’t have Alyce’s freakish memory, neither did he need to keep the plans right in front of him to turn them over in his mind a bit. He’d already thought of two holes in the physical security system he might be able to exploit, but he’d need some time with the product specs to confirm his initial gut feeling, and he wasn’t inclined to waste that sort of time until after Alyce confirmed whether the system had been upgraded in the past decade.

Dream spoke to him, and the first response Al made was, “Fellow Satanists? Ya best say somethin’ like that with a smile on yer kisser, bub, or this here association’s goin’ nowhere fast. But ta answer yer query, sure, occasions I paid any heed ta such nonsense, I’ll allow I seen some more or less useful witcheries. They was this one feller in Miami, Cuban-Chinese if’n I recollect his lineage correctly, that boy could make a body fart like the day is long. Clear a place out, he wanted to. An’ we had this guy on the Olamiposi, Nigerian-registered tramper I worked fer a couple years inna fifties. Called hisself Ebenezer, this cat did. Yoruba tribesman. Now he did a spell kept the ship from sinkin’. Din’t put much stock in it at first, but I’ll be damned it that vessel ever did go down, leastways not while ol’ Al was on it. So now that’s a damn useful spell, as you yerself might allow, ya’d ever been onna sinkin’ ship. Trick is, don’t sound like we’s doin’ much seafarin’ on this here job, so if yer lookin’ fer counsel on some sorta hex might come in handy, criminy kemo sabe, not as if ol’ Al exactly stays abreast o’ the latest trends in sorcery.” He contemplated the problem for a moment, puffing on his cigarette in the large, moonlit chamber. “Ha! Got it. How ‘bout Vampire Sneeze? Ya could learn ta make any bloodsucker start sneezin’ uncontrollably - help us suss the Dracs out, an’ immobilize ‘em some ta boot. Hell, ya could do a whole range o’ dweomers - Vampire Fall Down an’ Break His Nose, Vampire Do a Tap Dance, Vampire Shit Hisself, list goes on amigo. Hell, yer gon’ be busy, bud. Best hop to it.”

Al congratulated himself on his natural creativity and uncanny ability to dispense useful advice even in those rare fields he knew nothing about.

#13

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Petal laughed good naturedly “I like him, can we keep him?”

“Petal” Dream reproved, “My apologies Al, I meant to say my fellow Satanists!  I would not dream of impugning your good character with such a suggestion.  Thank you for your advice, I will consider it…now, Petal, can you pop home please and fetch the last of the things we might need?”

And with a mock pout Petal disappeared, although without any theatrical puff of smoke…

“Now, vampire sneeze, I don’t believe I’ve heard of such a spell, although that’s not to say it doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t exactly fit into my paradigm but we’ll see.  If Alyce is busy on her side perhaps I will ask Silk to look into it for me…”

#10

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Aria

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« Reply #2 on: (08:10:33/04-12-17) »
Alyce leaves her meat body and slips into the real world of the matrix.  At the speed of light she is in her office, accessing her file on special clients.  She looks first for Lord Bressington but finds no mention of him in the file.  Ordo Maximus is a different matter, however.  The sixth world has allowed mages to come into the open and there is more that one such group with some degree of visibility.  It seems that there is a market for books and tomes relating to the theory and use of magic and the older and more obscure the better.  Her shop has apparently procured several books for the group over the years and there is a list of books that they have an interest in that is updated on a semi-annual basis to indicate current interests.  She makes a note of several of the older titles and goes hunting.

Robyn’s next stop is her favourite Data Haven, where she scans the lists of older books to see if anyone has written anything about the ones on her short list.  Finding nothing but vague references that do not lead her anywhere, she flits to various mainstream sites that offer books for sale.  After much perusing, she is again disappointed, but her solace is that if it was easy, not only could anyone do it but it would already have been done.  Over the years, she has collected the names of hundreds of small, off the map book stores and collectors all around the world and now goes to those.  It is painstaking work and but no altogether fruitless.  She finds several books that are on her main “must have” list for other customers and sends orders to buy them, but her short list of books that Ordo Maximus is interested in seems………………….bingo.  A collector in Johannesburg, S.A. claims to have a copy of “The collected Works of Sh’in Lao Mung, Vol 3” available.  The write up indicates that he picked this up from an estate sale of a recluse that died in a mysterious fire.  The listing says there is a bit of charring on the outer covers but that the inner pages are intact.  The asking price is 250000 Nuyen.  It is a thought and Robyn is in the host of the seller and putting the money in escrow based on receipt of the book in the described condition.  As she is digitally signing the necessary import documents, three other buyers zip in behind her.  Many times dealings such as this are determined by mere seconds and this is no exception and the disappointed buyers quickly leave, continuing their own searches elsewhere.  Robyn makes arrangements to have the book delivered to her shop in London, where she can examine it.  She will have two days to look it over and authorize the transfer of funds or the tome will be returned.  Delivery will be by courier, who should arrive in London in two days time.

Her agent has had some luck looking into the security company and its open records include testimonials from various clients as a means of indicating the effectiveness of their service and, sure enough, there is one from Bressington House that touts the system upgrades that had just been installed.  A check on the date of the testimonial indicates the upgrades were put in place four years ago.  Having accomplished what it came to do, the agent leaves the public host and reports its findings to Robyn.

The body on the wooden bench stirs as Robyn carefully returns to it and wakes up.  She sits on the edge of the bench and lights a cigarette as she gets her thoughts in order then says, “Alright, I do have progress to report.  It seems that the security system was upgraded four years ago.  I recommend that I try to get into the host for the security company and try to ferret out what the upgrades mean for us.  Secondly, I have found a book that the Ordo Maximus will be interested in.  The tome is on its way to my shop in London and will there in two days.  I have another two days after that to appraise it and authorize final transfer of the agreed-on price.  This tome is volume three of a six volume set and has been on their wanted list for some time.  I think we can use it to get an interview with Lord Bressington or at least into the house.”

“Comments or ideas?”

#14

---------------

Al sighed. “Sure, I’ll chime in.”

Where was Isaint when he needed him?

“Yes, git the latest sec specs. As fer the book thing, good idear, but let’s not make it a two-step process. Meanin’ don’t put yerself on his radar an’ then give ‘im any time ta look any closer at ya afore we make our move. Ya meet ‘im, then that’s the moment we do the heist. Trick there is, yer inna door but yer also guaranteein’ he’s home. Howsabout settin’ the viewin’ up off site, git ‘im outta the house, lift the dingus while he’s gone? But then that exposes you, he gits wind an’ then gits pissed. Reckon however ya slice it, better if like Dreamy says we wait till he’s outta town. But since Dreamy’s onna deadline, we might not have the luxury ta wait fer that, so then we use the book. One way or t’other.

“An’ shiftin’ gears, Dreamy baby, afore we can git any more nuts an’ boltsy, ya still ain’t told us squat ‘bout what yer wantin’ ta liberate. Ol’ Al’s experience, these sorts o’ gewgaws come with they own hazards an’ pitfalls. So start talkin’ ‘bout yer prize, an’ don’t spare the particulars.”

#14

----------

“The artefact in question is a mirror, although whether it is glass or polished metal is unclear from accounts. It is approximately half a meter in diameter and likely to be heavy whatever its construction. We should anticipate magical, physical and technological protections to counter our larcenous intents. As an absolute last resort we should be prepared to deny its use to our target, but obviously it would be preferable to abscond with it undamaged…”

#11

----------

Al and Robyn returned to their respective researches and Dream scrutinised the circle once more…it would do for what he had in mind…now the really hard bit, accessing the matrix for long enough to download some useful spell formulae…it wasn’t that he was a technophobe, in fact he quite liked the endless panoramas of the matrix, it was that in his case he was plagued by gremlins, very real ones, who were as fascinated by it all as he was, but without the capabilities to understand what it was all about. 

The hobs and pixies and other minor spirits were always there, wherever he went, drawn to him like moths to the moon, but when, sighing, he reached for his ‘link they manifested around him in a small chattering horde

“Sorry about this, I could shoo them away but it would probably cause more upset in the long run…”

The AR interface stuttered as it struggled to cope with the multitude of small hands fluttering over it, but eventually Dream was able to access the relevant sites…now, what spell?  Vampire sneeze notwithstanding the choice was a little overwhelming… but given their goal he finaly settled on levitation, and paying the requisite fee downloaded the formulae…

#12
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Aria

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« Reply #3 on: (08:37:34/05-04-17) »
Alyce leaves her meat body and slips into the real world of the matrix.  At the speed of light she is in her office, accessing her file on special clients.  She looks first for Lord Bressington but finds no mention of him in the file.  Ordo Maximus is a different matter, however.  The sixth world has allowed mages to come into the open and there is more that one such group with some degree of visibility.  It seems that there is a market for books and tomes relating to the theory and use of magic and the older and more obscure the better.  Her shop has apparently procured several books for the group over the years and there is a list of books that they have an interest in that is updated on a semi-annual basis to indicate current interests.  She makes a note of several of the older titles and goes hunting.

Robyn’s next stop is her favourite Data Haven, where she scans the lists of older books to see if anyone has written anything about the ones on her short list.  Finding nothing but vague references that do not lead her anywhere, she flits to various mainstream sites that offer books for sale.  After much perusing, she is again disappointed, but her solace is that if it was easy, not only could anyone do it but it would already have been done.  Over the years, she has collected the names of hundreds of small, off the map book stores and collectors all around the world and now goes to those.  It is painstaking work and but no altogether fruitless.  She finds several books that are on her main “must have” list for other customers and sends orders to buy them, but her short list of books that Ordo Maximus is interested in seems………………….bingo.  A collector in Johannesburg, S.A. claims to have a copy of “The collected Works of Sh’in Lao Mung, Vol 3” available.  The write up indicates that he picked this up from an estate sale of a recluse that died in a mysterious fire.  The listing says there is a bit of charring on the outer covers but that the inner pages are intact.  The asking price is 250000 Nuyen.  It is a thought and Robyn is in the host of the seller and putting the money in escrow based on receipt of the book in the described condition.  As she is digitally signing the necessary import documents, three other buyers zip in behind her.  Many times dealings such as this are determined by mere seconds and this is no exception and the disappointed buyers quickly leave, continuing their own searches elsewhere.  Robyn makes arrangements to have the book delivered to her shop in London, where she can examine it.  She will have two days to look it over and authorize the transfer of funds or the tome will be returned.  Delivery will be by courier, who should arrive in London in two days time.

Her agent has had some luck looking into the security company and its open records include testimonials from various clients as a means of indicating the effectiveness of their service and, sure enough, there is one from Bressington House that touts the system upgrades that had just been installed.  A check on the date of the testimonial indicates the upgrades were put in place four years ago.  Having accomplished what it came to do, the agent leaves the public host and reports its findings to Robyn.

The body on the wooden bench stirs as Robyn carefully returns to it and wakes up.  She sits on the edge of the bench and lights a cigarette as she gets her thoughts in order then says, “Alright, I do have progress to report.  It seems that the security system was upgraded four years ago.  I recommend that I try to get into the host for the security company and try to ferret out what the upgrades mean for us.  Secondly, I have found a book that the Ordo Maximus will be interested in.  The tome is on its way to my shop in London and will there in two days.  I have another two days after that to appraise it and authorize final transfer of the agreed-on price.  This tome is volume three of a six volume set and has been on their wanted list for some time.  I think we can use it to get an interview with Lord Bressington or at least into the house.”

“Comments or ideas?”

#14

---------------

Al sighed. “Sure, I’ll chime in.”

Where was Isaint when he needed him?

“Yes, git the latest sec specs. As fer the book thing, good idear, but let’s not make it a two-step process. Meanin’ don’t put yerself on his radar an’ then give ‘im any time ta look any closer at ya afore we make our move. Ya meet ‘im, then that’s the moment we do the heist. Trick there is, yer inna door but yer also guaranteein’ he’s home. Howsabout settin’ the viewin’ up off site, git ‘im outta the house, lift the dingus while he’s gone? But then that exposes you, he gits wind an’ then gits pissed. Reckon however ya slice it, better if like Dreamy says we wait till he’s outta town. But since Dreamy’s onna deadline, we might not have the luxury ta wait fer that, so then we use the book. One way or t’other.

“An’ shiftin’ gears, Dreamy baby, afore we can git any more nuts an’ boltsy, ya still ain’t told us squat ‘bout what yer wantin’ ta liberate. Ol’ Al’s experience, these sorts o’ gewgaws come with they own hazards an’ pitfalls. So start talkin’ ‘bout yer prize, an’ don’t spare the particulars.”

#14

----------

“The artefact in question is a mirror, although whether it is glass or polished metal is unclear from accounts. It is approximately half a meter in diameter and likely to be heavy whatever its construction. We should anticipate magical, physical and technological protections to counter our larcenous intents. As an absolute last resort we should be prepared to deny its use to our target, but obviously it would be preferable to abscond with it undamaged…”

#11

----------

Al and Robyn returned to their respective researches and Dream scrutinised the circle once more…it would do for what he had in mind…now the really hard bit, accessing the matrix for long enough to download some useful spell formulae…it wasn’t that he was a technophobe, in fact he quite liked the endless panoramas of the matrix, it was that in his case he was plagued by gremlins, very real ones, who were as fascinated by it all as he was, but without the capabilities to understand what it was all about. 

The hobs and pixies and other minor spirits were always there, wherever he went, drawn to him like moths to the moon, but when, sighing, he reached for his ‘link they manifested around him in a small chattering horde

“Sorry about this, I could shoo them away but it would probably cause more upset in the long run…”

The AR interface stuttered as it struggled to cope with the multitude of small hands fluttering over it, but eventually Dream was able to access the relevant sites…now, what spell?  Vampire sneeze notwithstanding the choice was a little overwhelming… but given their goal he finally settled on levitation, and paying the requisite fee downloaded the formulae…

#12

----------
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Aria

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« Reply #4 on: (08:38:42/05-04-17) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bodmin Jail, Bodmin, Cornwall, UK]
 
Al watched the druid work his ‘link with a tremendous sense of self-satisfaction not atypical to himself. He had long surmised that, given a few hundred years of natural selection, the hippies of the world would quickly devolve into small, mindless creatures of mischief, adopting ridiculous physical traits to match their degenerate behavior. And here before his eyes he saw that his prophecy had already come true, their hippy sponsor swarmed with tiny creatures that gave new meaning to the term ‘flower child’.
 
Shaking his head, he returned to his own efforts. Finding out that the security measures had been upgraded meant the seed of a plan that had germinated in his mind was likely stillborn - he wouldn’t know until Alyce came back with the specs - but he’d likely have to come up with something else after he saw them. And he needed to think not only of ways in, but also a handy exit or two, useful whether they broke or talked their way in. Without the internal specs to hand, he busied himself searching out details of the infrastructural elements of the posh neighbourhood surrounding the target….
 
#15
 
----------------
 
Alyce slips back into Hot SIM VR to go look at the security arrangements for the building.  She uses her agent to give her an assist as she slides through the layers of security, picking apart one layer at a time to finally break into the base file storage.  Knowing that time is not her friend, Alyce quickly locates the file that she is looking for, removes the data bomb on it, and copies the entire file, diagrams and comments included.  She notes a couple of interesting side facts and takes a short time to look for two additional files, finding them next to the first one and copies them as well.  Satisfied, she cleans up as best she can and pulls away, going back to her body.
 
Looking around the room, she sees both Al and Dream doing something on their ‘links and smiles at them.  “You ready for the download, Al?  I can send it to your ‘link or I can create a holo image of the setup here for you.  I have everything that was done in the last upgrade and a bonus.  The good news is that the security company managed to convince the neighbors to have the same system installed in their mansions and I copied those files as well.  The better news is that the tenant in the house to the east of our target died four months ago and his relatives were too cheap to want to pay the exorbitant fees for the system maintenance and monitoring and the system has been shut off, pending a court settlement for back fees owed.  The best news is that the house is vacant because the owner’s heirs decided to take a year’s holiday cruise around the world on the inheritance they received.”
 
#15
 
----------------
 
 
“Now that is some eminently righteous info, toots.” Al walked slowly around the 3D projection she’d provided. “Course these limey row houses - even the posh ones - share common walls from gables ta gutters. So we make the vacant one ours, we can use it ta watch an’ eavesdrop on Chez Bressington. We do the book thing, we could have charges on the other side o’ the wall in a spot or three - ready-made exits. We go in quiet, well, pretty hard ta cut through a brick wall without wakin’ the neighbors, but it’d sure make a rooftop or maybe window-ta-window route easier. All good ta chew on. Here’s something’ else - these latest specs show a sub-basement addition, below the original basement. This new one’s reinforced cement an’ lead lined. Whatcha guess she’s warded, too. Builders an’ sec company prob’ly assumed she’s a vault or some sorta safe room. My guess is the latter - as in, a nice place ta while the day away undisturbed by the sun. Even if we can’t git ol’ Bressy ta leave within the next ten days, we go in durin’ the day, he’ll likely be holed up down there. Good fer us…less’n the mirror’s down there with ‘im. We got any idea where exactly inna house it’s kept?”
 
#16
 
----------------
 
Alyce "looks" at the 3D image she has created and nods.  "I see where you are referring to about the walls.  I think it is eminently possible for us to use the vacant building.  As long as we go in quiet and are careful, no on should even know we are there.  There is a new laser cutting torch that the hospital uses for surgeries.  I am sending you the specs, so look at it and see if you think it could help us cut into the wall between the buildings and if you do, I could see about picking one up for us.  I am sure that one of my Below contacts can help me with that.  I did note the extra room and I agree with you on its probable purpose.  My gut tells me that this mirror may be down there as well if it is so fragging bloody valuable."
 
She looks up at Dream, waiting to hear what his answer to Al's question is.
 
#16
 
----------------
 
Dream started to answer but was distracted by a small creature with wings and claws jumping on his head and trying to tickle his ear.
 
Al took advantage of the pause to talk to Alyce. “Yeah, this thing’ll cut the brick. Made fer flesh, but I could tweak ‘er. The cuttin’d be good an’ quiet too. Trick is, yer goin’ through two layers o’ high-end masonry - that’s a couple hunnerd kilos o’ wall ain’t gon’ shift itself. Ya make the cuts, it’s jist gon’ sit there till someone comes along an’ beats it down. High-end tricks ain’t gon’ make a brick wall disappear nice an’ discreet - that’s jist physics. Other hand, this here laser doohickey’d come in real handy we find ourselves needin’ ta crack that basement room, so git ‘er if ya can - long as it’s not on ol’ Al’s budget.”
 
“Fer gittin’ in I’m thinkin’ balcony ta balcony.” He pointed at the model. They got real nice doors an’ locks onna first two floors, but as is typical they scrimped onna upper floors. I can crack this top floor balcony door an’ spoof the contact sensor faster’n ya can say Lilliputian lumberjack.”
 
Dream seemed to have extricated himself from the affections of the fae critter that had accosted him, and Al hoped he had good news on the exact location of the mirror.
 
#17
 
----------------
 
“Sadly, no, I don’t know precisely where the artefact is, although no doubt your guesses are good.  I am hoping that once we are inside Petal and I will be able to do an astral reconnaissance to determine where there are additional internal wards as it is likely to be separately concealed.  I am reluctant to alert his lordship by testing his defences ahead of time.
 
I agree with Al that the balcony may be our best way in.  Since a spate of terrorist actions there are seismic sensors dotted around some of the more affluent parts of London that would sniff out any major explosive force disturbingly quickly and we do not want to be on the receiving end of an SO19 breaching unit if we kick the beehive too hard!  So, what more do we need to do or is it time to relocate to London?”
 
#13
 
————————
“Hell, no time like the present, kemo sabe. Ain’t doin’ nothin’ in this here hidey hole but smellin’ the food downstairs an’ gittin’ wood lookin’ at this one. All o’ this damn borin’ stuff can jist as easily be done on the drive back ta the Smoke. Reckon we hit the road, decide the next move onna way. Whaddaya say, toots?”

#18

Alyce gives Al a grin, "You always know the sweetest things to say, Al.  One of these days you are going to have make good on all this wood you keep talking about.  I am all for leaving for London.  Are we stopping at the cottage to get some things or driving straight in?  In any case, I have dibs on shotgun."  As they are all getting ready to leave, Alyce says, "I got the part about the balcony thing, but I was wondering a bit more about the laser.  Maybe there is some sort of winch device to pull the blocks of stone from the wall..............perhaps a drone of some kind?"

#17
--------------

As they headed down the the Tata, Al said, “Sure, toots, yer married to it, reckon it can be done. Jist however ya slice it she’ll make more noise than jist poppin’ the balcony lock, an’ won’t have ta schlep a shitload o’ gear in with us, brace it ta the floor, an’ so forth. An’ if they really got seismics scattered ‘round like Dreamy here says, then that’s another extra somethin’ ta worry ‘bout. But hey, I’m jist here ta have fun. Ya wanna go through a double brick wall instead of a door, hell, we make it a project. All good ta me, an’ I like bein’ able ta say yes to ya once in a while.” He popped the locks on the bright purple Hotspur and turned to the druid. “Cold ride all the way back ta London, an’ even a hippy won’t wanna ride bitch inna cab. Reckon we stop by this one’s ‘cottage’ an’ grab a ride with more seats. Ya got anything good inna garage there, toots?"

#19

-------------

On the way down to the vehicle, Alyce gives Al a grin.  "No, I am not tied to it.  Just playing out the options.  You have some good reasons for not using the torch and I will admit they make sense.  So let's focus on the balconies and try to make it work.  Are you planning on doing this thing mechanically or can I assist you in any way by slipping into the security system via the matrix?"

Once in the truck, Alyce smiles broadly.  "Got two you might like, but only one that would really suit our purposes.  Have you ever heard of an old, old Triumph TR6?  I found one in an old garage near here.  Poor thing was gathering dust but it seems to be well cared for.  There is a sort of ping noise, though, that I was hoping you might have time to look at, which is why I asked you down in the first place.  The other is the new bird in the shed.  Took delivery just a week ago.  The thing seats eight in luxury and will get us to London by air and avoiding all that bloody traffic.  I have been learning to pilot the thing, but I am willing to sit co-pilot if you want to do the honors.  I can tie into the sensor suite and sort of become the helicopter.  Sort of neat for a blind girl, eh?"

#18
--------------

“Woman, near as I can tell from long experience an’ association, yer ‘bout as blind as I am. Ya wanna fly, fly. I ain’t gon’ stop ya. Now let’s go git the ping outta this sweet-soundin’ ride o’ yours, refresh the beer stores, and git ourselves back ta civ'lization.”  The three of them found semi-comfortable spots in the cab of the Hotspur and Al floored it all the way to Alyce’s place.

#20
-------------

Alyce jumps into the cab of the truck and straps in.  "I got the route back memorized so will call the course changes.  Get us home, Al."  She calls up her internal map of the way in and calls out the changes Al has to make as he drives, giddily screaming in joy as Al risks all of their lives with his insane driving.  By the time the truck hits truly solid ground, it is splattered in mud and the adrenaline level is high all around.  Al floors the vehicle and heads down the road to Alyce's house while she calls ahead to have refreshments ready and the lights on in the garage so Al can look at the Triumph TR6 when they arrive. 

Al follows the road to an imposing edifice of stone that rises up from the ground near the moor.  The house is a very large manor and a number of the windows are lit up as people wait for them to arrive.  Al parks the truck in the large paved parking area and the three leave the vehicle to go to the open doorway where they are met by a couple of women and a man.  Alyce motions to an oriental woman as she says, "Dream, this is Mae.  She will show you to where you can rest for a bit while Al looks at my auto.  Mae, can we have someone pack some food in a bin to put in the helicopter?  I am taking these gentlemen to London and I they will need to eat on the way.  Oh, and don't forget some of Al's fav beer."  She turns to one end of the manor and motions for the others at the door to come with her.  "Stephanie, dear, I will be heading to London as soon as Al gets an idea about what he can do to fix my auto.  Please pack me some clothes for a few days.  I may stop in at the shop to see how things are going there.  Let me know if you need to go to London for anything and you can hitch a ride in with us."

The pretty PA nods without saying anything and turns to return to the house.  Alyce and Al continue on to where a garage door is open to the night air and Al gets his first glance at the car Alyce has mentioned.  A low-slung roadster in a dark forest green colour sits in one of the bays of the garage.  It is sparkling clean, as if it has just been washed.  A quick look lets Al know that the tyres are new, as is the leather and wood interior and that the dash has some indicators that he is not completely used to.  Alyce waves her hand at the auto and her voice cannot hide her excitement.  "I have had her out a few times and she is a dream on the road.  Except for that annoying bloody ping that seems to hit when I get her up to over 80.  I have had some special sensors added to allow me to drive and I can jack into the frame to allow me to see as I drive.  I have been told that the motor seems to be old but is probably not original, but I could not guarantee that for myself.  It has standard 4-speed with overdrive and the optional electric radiator fan.  The papers on this indicate it is a 1969 TR6."

Alyce turns her face to Al.  "Do we have time for you to take her for a spin down to the village and back so you can at least hear the noise?  If we do, the keys are in the ignition and the unlock code is the six digit number of the date I first saw you."

#19
——————

Al suppressed a wisecrack as his mind clicked on the possibility of a riddle. He would never forget the day in Cambodia nearly a decade earlier when he had first met her, but he hadn’t even known the date then, and if he had he wouldn’t remember it. But she knew him well enough to know that. So he punched in the date of their recent visit to Hippie Island - the day she’d first seen him with (the metaplanar illusion of) regular sight. Sure enough, the doors popped. He already knew what was wrong with her car, but he couldn’t resist taking it for a spin, nor the prospect of a quiet evening drive with her. The flower child could take care of himself for a few hours.

Remembering his manners, he opened the passenger door for her.

#21
------------------

Alyce smiles to herself when the door locks pop.  She feels a need to tightly grip the doorframe as he leans past her and opens her door and it takes a tremendous effort to not move into him.  The scent of the man still drives her crazy and her heart is pounding so loudly in her chest that he must hear it.  She had sat next to him in his truck and that had been bad enough, but being this close to him is almost enough to drive her mad.  He steps aside and touches her elbow to guide her into the auto and she feels an electric pulse move through her body, causing her to gasp slightly as her body reacts in a predictable manner.  God, she loves this man so much and being so close to him without being able to say anything is some of the worst torture she has ever been through, much worse than any time she has to spend away from him.  She is so fucked and she knows it, because it is fairly apparent that he will never want to settle down with her or even allow her to traipse the world at his side.

Shaking her head, she lets Al shut her door and move around the auto to the driver's seat as she melts into the plush interior and straps in.  "Most of the dials and instruments on the dash were added so that I can use the various sensors I had added.  Now, the village is only a few miles down the road.  It is mostly straight so you should be able to get some speed out of her if you want.  It is not quite last call at the local if you want to stop in for a pint.  Up to you."

***

As for Dream, he is being treated well back at the manor.  The wide, broad stone stairs rise several feet to the main entrance and he enters the Great Hall.  Polished wood floors reflect the light from candelabra hanging from the ceiling two floors above.  A wide staircase rises from the center of the Hall to give access to the floors above.  The elegance of the furnishings is understated but clearly evident to people who have an eye for such things.  Dream is escorted through the front door by the oriental woman he had been introduced to as Mae, where he is met by a servant drone who says his name is Wilfred and offers to take his hat and coat.  Mae tells the drone to escort Mister Dream into the lounge and to see to his comfort.  She tells the Elf that she will have some food sent in, but that Wilfred can see to any drinks he may want.  The lounge is uncluttered, but the furnishings and artwork here are as nice as what he saw in the Great Hall.  Wilfred joins him soon after he enters the room and asks how he may be of service.

#20
---------------
Al had already been accelerating even as she spoke. It made the ping louder, which was annoying, but at this speed they’d be there in a minute or so anyway. “Hell, yer offerin’ ol’ Al a pint, ya reckon they’s any question in it? Course we’s gittin’ a pint.” The countryside whizzed by and before the conversation could go further the restored Triumph as crunching into the lot surrounding the old public house. Before going inside, he popped the hood. Pointed to a couple of spots on the engine. “Ya got carbon buildup in yer engine an’ the fuel intake. We git back, I’ll disassemble yer engine jist enough ta find an’ pull out the offendin’ components, leave ‘em ta soak in a solvent. By the time we git back from our little vampire hunt, won’t take but a few minutes ta git ‘em all cleaned up an’ put back together.” He closed the hood. “Now all that talkin’s done made me thirsty.”

#22
---------------




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Aria

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« Reply #5 on: (07:53:43/05-18-17) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Alyce’s Manor, Cornwall, UK]
 
Dream enjoyed Robyn’s hospitality very much, settling in to an comfortable armchair by the fire with a book and a hefty slug of apple brandy.  Petal perched near him, gazing at the flames
 
“These runners live better than we do!” she observed wryly
 
“Money certainly buys all this, but is it worth so very much?  Although the book is nice and doesn’t seem to draw those pesky imps like me ‘link would do!  It’s comfortable no doubt for an evening, but I would rather be out on the moors I think”
 
Petal snorted, easily seeing the lie, and Dream smiled as he had known she would
 
“So, you like Al, and what do you think of Miss Robyn?”
 
“Well she’s infatuated with him, for all the good it seems to be doing.  She has too much cyber to make me comfortable and she has a distressing liking for those foul cigarettes they both smoke, not to mention the drink and other things that I see swirling in her aura.  But her heart is a good one and she is true to her word… I’m looking forward to a helicopter ride, I don’t think you’ve ever taken me in one?”
 
“They are loud and overrated but I’m sure you will enjoy it” he replied with a smile…
 
#14
 
---------------
 
Alyce waits for Al to shut the hood and slips an arm through one of his so that he can escort her to the pub.  Due to the hour, it is a bit quiet inside, although there are still a number of patrons present.  The waitress comes over to the pair as they enter.  "Good evening, Miss Lysander.  A special occasion?"
 
Alyce laughs and pats Al's hand.  "Good evening, Sandra.  I know it's not my normal night, but any time I get to spend with this bloke is a special occasion.  I thought I would bring him down to the local and show him off."
 
Sandra leads them to a small table and a pack of Lucky Strikes shows up as if by magic.  Alyce thanks her as she takes a seat and places her order for a pint then Sandra turns to Al to get his order.  Alyce opens the pack of fags and pulls two out for Al to light.  She barely gets two of her smoke rings off when the drinks appear on the table, along with a tin of Jammie Dodgers.  Alyce smiles as she removes the lid from the tin and digs a few of the biscuits out.  "You have to promise not to tell Stephanie.  She is always worried that I eat too many of these."  After creating a small pile in front of her, she offers the tin to Al and raises her glass.  "To adventures, Al."  After a sip or two, she puts the glass on the table and starts on her pile of biscuits.  "Thank you for agreeing to look at the auto.  I know she is not one of your hot models, but what do you think of her?"
 
#21
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“What do I think? Reckon she’s a peach, o’ course,” answered Al, wiping lager foam from his lips. It wasn’t American, and it didn’t come in a can, but it would do. “Righteous ride. Real pleasure ta drive. Hell, only reason I go fer the posh spaghetti jobs is performance - only way those sweet wheels can hold they own against one o’ my babies, well, hafta not only replace the engine, but you’d need to mod the chassis, shocks, what have ya. Hell, only thing left’d be the exterior panels, an’ that jist’d seem like cheatin’, not ta mention an affront ta the artistes done designed ‘er. Don’t git me wrong, they did brilliantly back then with what they had, jist a matter o’ tolerances - materials tech’s come a helluva long way, last hunnerd years or so.”
 
They talked like that for an hour or so. It was hard for him. Not in a loud sort of way that would get his heart rate up or anything - he was careful with that, knowing how nosy she was with all of her sensors, not to mention her tendency to jump to crazy conclusions whenever his vitals did spike for whatever reason. But it was hard in a quiet way. Hard keeping things simple, when parts of him wanted so much more. And hard knowing he wasn’t giving her what she wanted. Which was all why he should never have come down here. Better for him and for her if he just saw a lot less of her. Selfish indulgence was what this visit was.
 
But then Al was a master at selfish indulgences. 
 
Well, most of them anyway.
 
#23
 
---------------
Alyce is really enjoying the time spent with Al and does not feel that she needs to bring up anything that might just reinforce to him how silly she is.  She has learned a bit about the auto while in the process of purchasing it and talks the specifics with Al while they sit and just enjoy each other's company and the atmosphere of the pub.  A number of people come up to say hello to the lady of the manor and it seems that Alyce knows most of the people in the village by now.  Of course, never forgetting a name is a big help in that.  After an hour of just talk, she knows that it is time to move on and she puts the lid on the biscuit tin before calling the waitress over.  "Sandra, I guess I have had enough of these for tonight.  Thank you for stocking them.  You may ring the bell as I leave, please."
 
The waitress nods and gives Alyce a smile she knows the woman cannot see.  Many of the local patrons actually seem glad to know Alyce and those present wish her and Al a good night as they depart.  As the two cross the threshold, Al can hear the ringing of the bell that signifies that someone is buying a round for those still inside.  Al escorts Alyce back to the auto and puts it in gear after helping her in and climbing in himself.  He competently guides the auto back to the manor, noting that some bright lights have been turned on off to the side of the large house, illuminating a rather big helicopter on its pad.  Alyce turns her face to the man next to her.  "Now THAT is my real baby right now.  It has been modified from the original specs and I think it will do us proud as a transport and utility left machine.  And I don't mean just getting us to London tonight.  Our experience with the plane brought me to thinking that we can support ourselves on some of our missions.  Go ahead and rip the engine of the Triumph apart then come and look the bird over."
 
#22
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“Missions. Makes it sound like we’s savin’ the world or somethin’. Reckon some of us jist earnin’ our daily bread. An’ don’t reckon we’ll ever git paid enough ta make any profit buyin’ toys like that. And yet…I do like the ol’ Snakehandler. Jist goes ta show what I’ve always said - no rhyme nor reason ta anythin’ anyone does in this so-called business. Guess I’ll go see ta yer wheels.”
Al did just that, making short work of identifying and removing the offending components. Once they were soaking in the solvent, he thought of washing up before going to check out the helicopter but decided it would be boring. He did, however, take the time to hunt out the hippie. Found him in front of a fire with his familiar or whatever she was. Easy to look at, he had to admit. Made him wonder…but he pushed that thought aside…too damned many unnatural notions came into his head on these sorts of jobs. “Lookin’ mighty comfy there, kemo sabe,” he said, speaking directly to the human and paying no further more mind to that spirit than had it been a lamp. “Gon’ go check out the lady’s whirlybird, ya got a mind ta come with.”
#24
---------------
 
The men find Alyce outside at the helipad, looking over her Hughes Stallion WK-4 helicopter.  She and a man are walking around the outside of the large rotary aircraft, doing some sort of pre-flight inspection.  Alyce turns to face Al as he comes up, excitement on her face.  "Hey there, boys.  Come to see my new baby?  She's a beaut, isn't she?"  She motions to the man standing next to her.  Al has met him before at the restaurant next door to Alyce's book shop in London, but then he was the maitre d' there.  Alyce nods at Dream and Al as she says, "Al, you remember Richard?  He is Stephanie's fiancee and I brought him out to be my estate manager and general odds body.  Dream, meet Richard.  Al, Richard is my usual co-pilot but tonight he is giving that slot to you if you want it.  He will come along with Stephanie so they can do some errands in London.  You guys want to look around?  I can give you the five nuyen tour if you like."
 
Alyce leads the men onto the aircraft and motions with an arm.  The pilot and co-pilot seats are visible through an open door to the flight deck, while the main cabin can seat six in contoured leather seats that swivel from front to any direction and there is enough separation between seats to allow them to tip back nearly horizontal.  The loo and a small food preparation area are forward between the main cabin and the flight deck.  A bulkhead door is aft and is currently slid aside to reveal a cargo space.  Alyce points out some of the features.  "Posh seating for all of us.  This seat is set for an Elf and I have one that can convert to fit an Ork.  Plenty of entertainment options at your fingertips.  The fridge up front has cooled beverages. Al, you will find a case of your fav canned UCAS beers ready to drink and there are two more cases from which to swap out warm ones for cold.  Dream, I prefer wines and vodka so that is what else is available, but I can swap out for anything you prefer as I will be piloting this thing and not drinking.  Snacks, coffee, tea, and even some roast duck are available for the low low fee of a smile.  And don't worry about the blind girl flying.  I have been taking lessons and have my license already.  The sensor suite upgrades make it easy for me to get us to London all safe and secure.  If the worst happens and we lose rotor power, the glider feature will auto-rotate us safely to the ground.  So, I guess the big question is whether we are flying out tonight or getting some rest and leaving sometime after we wake up in the morning?  If we are staying, I can show Al the work I am having done on the boat house and sea dock."
 
23
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“Reckon I’m as firm a believer inna mañana principle as anyone,” Al answered, “but this bein’ a payin’ gig, well, Good Book says a man lives by the sweat of his brow. It also says ta kill vampires. Reckon my vote’s fer leavin’ post haste. Dreamy here’s the boss, though….”
#25
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Alyce nods at Al's comments and turns to Dream and Petal.  "I pretty much know what Al likes to eat and I have a couple of steaks thawing and a roast duck, but do either of you have any special likes or dislikes for food and drink that I should be aware of?  There is still time to lay in something if I do not already have it aboard, especially if we are not leaving right away.  Try out one of the seats, Petal, and let me know if it is comfortable enough for you."
 
#24
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Petal bounced up into the seat like a little kid with a delighted grin on her face, whilst Dream followed at a more sedate pace with a wry smile on his features
 
“Thank you, but I follow our kind’s leanings towards vegetarianism.  I’m sure I will survive the short hop to London…”
 
“I’ll have a beer” Petal piped up and Dream laughed, “I’m not sure you’ll like it much more than the cider you tried last week but you are welcome to try.” And turning back to Robyn “We haven’t had much excitement in the last few years, please excuse my companion’s exuberance, I assure you that when it comes down to it she will be a valuable part of the team…”
 
To which Petal stuck out her tongue at him and broke into a peal of little girl giggles and a look of disgust at the beer as she took a swig…
 
#15
 
---------------
 
Alyce laughs and nods her head in sympathy with Petal.  "Yeah, I don't much like the stuff, either.  Like I said, I am more a wine and vodka girl."  She turns to Dream with a smile.  "I never really was a vegetarian.  Too much meat in my diet as I grew up, I guess.  I was one of the first UGE kids and my parents were completely unsure how to treat me.  In the end, they decided to treat me like any other kid.  Well, taking the fact that I lived in an EVO compound and was guarded 24/7 by Vory soldiers, I guess my life wasn't exactly typical.  Still, I don't think I turned out too bad?  I do have some nice salads in the fridge here so help yourself if you get hungry."
 
She walks to the door and looks over her shoulder.  "As it appears we are leaving tonight, I have some additional last minute checks to make.  I will be back in a few minutes so please make yourselves comfortable.  Alyce disappears out the door but is indeed back inside the helicopter within ten minutes, accompanied by Stephanie, Richard, and a huge black hound.  Alyce puts a hand on the hound's head.  "This is Alfie.  He takes care of me sometimes.  I usually just let him wander the estate but I thought that I would bring him along to London.  I think the plan is that he will go around to the shop and stay there until we are ready to come back home.  Please allow him to sniff you as I tell him that you are friends."  She faces Dream and Petal.  "I am sure that you can tell by his dual nature that Alfie is not just a normal service animal.  Nor is he just a pet.  I advise caution around him."
 
After having the Hell Hound sniff the hands and auras of both of the strangers, Alyce makes some clicking sounds and the hound goes to a vacant spot on the floor and lies down.  Alyce turns and walks to the flight deck of the helicopter and takes a seat in the pilot's chair.  Richard motions to Al.  "Would you care to sit co-pilot?"
 
#25
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“Heh. Reckon I always figured co-pilots was fer pussies. But I’m happy ta set up here with ya. An’ you,” Al scolded, swivelling his seat around to face Petal, “Ya ain’t gon’ finish that, give ‘er here. Ya don’t wanna eat meat, that’s on you, but one thing ol’ Al can’t abide, it’s a beer-waster.”
#26
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Richard steps aside as Al grabs the beer from Petal, who is still making an odd face over the taste of the beer.  She hands it off to Al with a smile.  "Sure, here you go.  Thank you for taking it."
 
Al walks up to the cockpit and takes the seat next to Alyce, who is strapping into the safety harness.  As he sits, she turns to face him and smiles broadly.  When she speaks, her words come over the intercom.  Please try to have your seat belts fastened while we are moving, just in case we hit unexpected turbulence.  We will be departing in a couple of minutes.  I will be out in the cabin in about an hour but if you need to speak to me before that, please use the matrix as I will not be able to respond otherwise.  There is no stewardess on this flight so the kitchen and bar are self service.  Anyone who wants to give Alfie a treat may do so; there is a bag of beef bones in the kitchen.  He loves them and it is a good way to make friends."
 
She points to the advanced control panel screens, dials, and gauges as she explains their purpose to Al "just in case".  Stephanie brings a briefcase into the cockpit and snaps it into a bracket on the floor and returns to the main cabin to take her seat.  Alyce reaches down and quickly types some sort of code on a number pad in the top of the case before placing her hand on a green plate that swings out from the case's side.  As the plate retracts, Alyce takes a cord from the side of the case and plugs it into a receptacle in the control panel.  She blows Al a kiss and says, "See you in a bit, Al.  I am off to lala land."  Reaching up to her neck, she slides a piece of skin open and grabs the lead of a long cable that she plugs into the case, immediately collapsing in her seat, the safety harness keeping her from falling out of her seat.  The timbre of the engines changes as the rotors begin spinning faster, eventually lifting the helicopter off the pad and into the air. 
 
Al gets a message on his 'link.  >>God, I love this, Al.  I am really living as part of the machine.  Better, I can jump to any of my drones or anything else tied into my network from here.  it is almost as much fun as roaming the matrix.  I am still a bit new at it, though, so no laughing unless I am laughing, too.<<
 
The large helicopter turns over the manor, flying above the village and heading off towards London.
 
#26
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Al voice-texted back <<Well, like she says inna Good Book, ta each his own. Better you than me, toots.>> He had pretended to listen politely as she explained the console, amused that she trusted him to be her co-pilot but didn’t think he knew how to use the instruments. Well, at least she was courteous enough to even have manual controls, since she clearly wasn’t going to use them herself. For all polite listening, however, he seemed to have missed the part about strapping in.
 
So he looked out the windows for a while, glad to be up front with the most beautiful woman in the world instead of in the cabin where the ghost-girl was tittering and giggling over the creature Alyce called a companion. To each his own.
 
As they got nearer London, he asked, <<You rent a helipad somewhere? Or maybe ya jist bought Buckingham Palace one day in between brain surgeries? Hear they got a nice lawn.>>
 
#27
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Aria

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« Reply #6 on: (07:56:33/05-18-17) »
>>Yes, I rent a pad at Heathrow.  I was not aware that Buckingham Palace is for sale; do you know what they are asking for that pile of rock?  Two cars will be waiting at the heliport when we get there; one will take Stephanie, Richard, and Alfie into London and the other is a rental for us to use.  I think I will let you do the driving, if you don't mind.  Say, how are my readouts doing?  You know, those monitors and gauges I was showing you on the left of your console?  Remember, those monitor me to make sure that I am doing OK in here and not in some sort of difficulty.  Take a quickie look and see what they say.  In extremis, you would need to take over the controls and those monitors will be your first hint that I am in trouble so I would dearly appreciate it if you paid at least some attention to those screens, just in case I have a heart attack or something.  OK, putting this thing on autopilot for a bit and coming out now.<<
 
Alyce's body moves slightly and she takes a deep breath before reaching down to disconnect the cable linking her neck to the case at her side.  She shakes her head a bit and faces Al.  "Wow!  What a rush.  Are you hungry or thirsty?"
 
She stands and stretches.  "I think I need to work on the ergonomics of that seat.  I get a bit stiff after being plugged in for a while.  I was going to fix you a steak and potato if you want.  Come talk to me while I prepare the food, if you want.  Oh, wait, let me deploy the babies."  She bends over to touch the console and seems to take a long time to push two lousy buttons.  The slight scent of her jasmine perfume wafts up to Al and she is close enough that he would only need to move a hand slightly to touch her, to feel her skin beneath his hands.  Even he can tell the difference in her breathing as she leans in next to him.  A slight noise from in front of him drags his attention to a row of small monitors that have been dark until now.  The top two are marked as BB1 and BB2 and he can see feeds from what must be a couple of drones flying outside the craft.  "Those are my two Bumblebees.  These have some non-standard mods on them, but nothing that decreases their lethality.  I have them jived up to where I only need to run the big girl at just under max normal speed and the babies can keep up."  She shifts a bit to point to the six monitors below the BBs and her body position puts her almost across Al's lap, such that he can feel the soft weight of her breasts on his thighs as she continues.  "Those are for the eye drones that I can deploy to give my sensors some additional coverage by tying them into the net."  She points to another monitor just to the side of those for the drones.  "That one is currently disengaged, but I have a bloody neat autocannon that mounts under the fuselage and is controlled from here if we ever need to use this girl on a mission.  Even ISaint might like that one."
 
Alyce stands and reaches out to touch Al very gently on the shoulder.  "I am glad that you came out to see me, Al.  Thank you very much." 
 
She turns and goes off into the kitchen area and announces that she is taking orders for breakfast as there is still over two hours before the helicopter arrives in London.  She takes a tray of thawed steaks out of a small fridge and tosses one down the aisle to where Alfie grabs it out of the air and starts in on it.  "Well, that is one satisfied customer.  Orders?"
 
Stephanie and Richard come forward to assist her with passing out beverages and salads as Alyce turns to Al.  "Are you the grilling sort, Al, or should I do the honors?"
 
#27
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“I’m more the sittin’ type,” Al replied matter-of-factly as he reclined with a beer. “Honor’s all yours, toots. Ol’ Al never dream o’ standin’ betwixt a womern an’ ‘er duties.”
 
With steak on its way, Al passed on the variety of colorful gourmet salads. His mind was on the job at hand. Vampires. He hoped it was true. Damned leeches spreading their unholy rot. He’d need some things. He pulled out his commlink and directed the Porsche to the short-term parking at Heathrow.
 
#28
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A silence descends on the cabin at Al's words.  Alyce holds up her spatula and Stephanie nods and comes to take her place in the kitchen while Alyce walks back into the cockpit and sits down with Al.  She talks calmly and in a soft voice so that the conversation stays between the two of them.  "Al. I am going to say some things that might hurt or they might not, but please listen to me.  I love you like no woman has ever loved a man and for that I am willing to put up with everything you do or don't say and do to me.  But there are times when what you say is very demeaning, belittling, or even quite insulting to me and to women in general.  You say these things as if they were nature's or God's laws and maybe you were brought up to believe that.  I will hope that you at least try to be more tolerant and think about how your words might affect someone before you say them.  I seriously request that you change how you refer to women in general and my friends in specific."
 
#28
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Al’s usual wolfish grin widened, teeth clamped onto his cigarette, and both hands came up in peace symbols. He gave Alyce a broad wink with the eye that faced away from the others, then said in a voice just loud enough for all to overhear, “Guilty as charged, toots. Ol’ Al’s been out amongst the heathen for nigh on three decades now, so reckon I’m well ‘nuff acquainted with they post-modernized sensitivities.” Then he gave her another private wink and pitched his voice so that only her enhanced hearing could pick it up. “Gotcha. Ain’t never had no mind ta keep maidservants myself, much less o’ the frog persuasion, so I’ll allow I warn’t thinkin’ on yer predicament, but I sure as hell ain’t here ta queer things for ye with the help. Reckon I can play along.”
 
#29
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Alyce's face takes on a determined look and she sits back in her seat to gather her thoughts before sliding forward.  Her words are spoken so that no one but Al can hear them.  "No, Al. You are not getting it.  I really think that your tone of voice and the words you say are demeaning and sometimes insulting to me as well as others.  What you just said is a good example of that.  You may not even realize how you are coming off to others and I do not know how to let you know other than to tell you.  Stephanie and Richard, and a number of other people work for me, but I do not consider them my servants.  To me, they are my extended family and I try to treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  Please try to remember that when you talk to or about them, otherwise you just come off as rude and insensitive.  I love you, Al, and sometimes you frustrate me but that is the price of being in love, I guess."
 
Alyce stands and puts out a hand to the seat to balance her, but misses the first time.  She stumbles a bit then regains her footing, laughing.  "Must be some of that turbulence.  I will let you know when your dinner is ready."  She moves back to the kitchen and takes over from Stephanie
 
#29
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The steak was really good. Al was glad Alyce had broken off the discussion before he could reply, since at the rate he was going he might have talked himself right out of this meal. Which was at least twice, maybe even three times as good as a lamb tikka soyrito. The steak made him think of stakes. And then the seasoning made him think of garlic.  It was clear his mind had been turned to bloodsuckers. And how best to slay them. He’d heard they weren’t to be taken lightly. A quick search turned up dozens of “authoritative” texts on them. Like so many things, the problem  these days wasn’t a lack of info, but a surfeit. Not a problem - a quick mail to his friend Daniel and he had a manageable list of references. Downloaded them (and some were not cheap), ran them through his favorite manga conversion, and got to work.

#30
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Alyce finishes the meals to order and takes hers and Al's into the cockpit area, handing him his, along with a cold can of beer.  She sits in her chair and pops out the table from the armrest, placing her meal tray on it and begins to eat.  Flicking some mental buttons, she has some of the more recent psychobilly tracks play softly from hidden speakers in Al's chair and some concert cello music from hers.  Her sensors show that Al seems to be working something out and not much in a mood for talking so she decides to just sit in silence as she eats.  Her internal scanners are flipping through the feeds from the helicopter sensors as well as those from the two deployed drones.  She also checks the flight time and fuel consumption and smiles at the savings she is seeing in the new and apparently more efficient multi-fuel engine she had installed. 
 
When both are finished eating, Alyce takes the trays back to the kitchen and stores them in the appropriate racks before returning to the cockpit with another beer for Al.  Sitting in the pilot's seat, she straps into her harness and accesses the intercom.  "I hope everyone enjoyed their meal.  I am going to take the helicopter off autopilot now and finish taking her into London.  At current speed and outside winds, I estimate about 103.275 minutes to touchdown.  Give or take."  Alyce again pulls the cable from the side of her neck and slots it into the case at her side.  Her body goes limp as she jumps into the machine and takes control of it.  Al notes that the monitors labeled BB1 and BB2 begin to flash and their sensors show they are closing in on the helicopter.  The process to bring the drones back on board is simple and takes little time.  As soon as the monitors go blank, the helicopter picks up speed as it dashes through the night towards London.
 
#30
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Petal chuckled quietly to herself over the byplay between Al and Alyce, so much confusion and certainty wrapped up in one place!
 
“He’s a naughty man” she whispered to Dream
 
“He is what he is.  We do not know why he or his kind have the effect that they do on events around them but the warping effect should keep the Guild from realising what we are doing until it is too late…at least that is the hope”
 
“Would you like me to go on ahead and check on the lodge?  I’m bored with this helicopter business now…”
 
“Yes please my dear, that would be helpful…we will see you soon”
 
And with a faint waft of apple blossom she was gone…
 
#16
 
---------------
On approach to her rented pad, Alyce ties into the sensors and cameras she had installed there and on the access drive and is happy to see that the autos she had ordered are present in the car park just outside the gate to the pad.  She calls out on the intercom to have everyone strap in for the landing and brings the large helicopter in smoothly.  Glad of her newly trained skillset, she returns to her body and disconnects the cable from the case, letting it retract into her neck, then disconnecting the case from the console.  Richard already has the door open and is assisting the others onto the pad and collecting any suitcases from the cargo area.  He walks over to a waiting fuel truck and talks to the two men there then returns to the helicopter to carry Stephanie's bags to the car.  The Hellhound bounds out of the machine and immediately goes off to sniff at the grass on the edge of the pad before settling on a spot to mark as his.  When all are ready, Alyce sends a command to the gate blocking the access drive and it opens to allow the group to approach the waiting autos. 

Alyce stores a small suitcase in the boot of the rental car but places her RCC in the front on the passenger side.  She exchanges embraces with Stephanie, Richard, and Alfie as they get in their auto then looks at Dream and Al.  "I assume that Petal will be meeting us somewhere so where are we going, and who is driving?"

#31
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Aria

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« Reply #7 on: (08:16:12/02-06-18) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Private Helipad, Heathrow, UK]
 
Doing his best to ignore the lady’s not so internal dilemma, Dream responded quietly “Yes, Petal has gone on ahead to our place near the Heath to check that it is undisturbed.  The proximity to the Heath will make it a little more comfortable for myself and Petal and I would rather go there than to somewhere nearer our target.
 
And I am more than happy for you to drive, I am surprised that you need to ask after you just flew us here from Cornwall!  London traffic may be bad but at least it notionally has Grid Guide to keep the worst of its demons at bay, not so this London air…” and he took a deep breath on a rebreather before continuing… “I always forget just how polluted it is here.  Please, lead the way…”
 
#17
 
---------------
 
Alyce laughs as she bends into the auto to move her case to the rear seat.  She leaves the door open as she walks around the front of the car and slides into the driver's seat.  "It is not that I doubt my ability to drive, but I thought it polite to ask if you preferred to.  Do you want to stop anywhere along the way?" 
 
Once in the auto, she closes her door and straps into the seat then reaches out into the matrix to familiarizes herself with the various dials and monitors available on the console.  She sets the address Dream gives her into theonboard GPS and draws a cable from the side of her neck, slipping it into the rigger slot on the dash.  Alyce settles back into her seat.  "Alright.  I will be away from my body for a bit, so you will have to contact me through the matrix if you need to talk to me.  And we are off."  Her body goes limp as she jumps into the car and feels around in it.  She is a bit disappointed at the quality of the sensors, but is overall satisfied and puts the car in motion, heading out of the car park and off to the address she was given.
 
#32
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Shirlock Road, London, UK]
 
The terrace house was a slightly crumbling, unassuming example of countless others scattered across the outer streets of London. Parking some distance from the actual address, Dream led Alyce there, rather unnecessarily pointing out cracked pavements or puddles of the incessant London mizzle.
 
“Don’t worry, the curtains may be twitching but these aren’t the sort of people to upload images on their MeFeeds.  Even if they are I have taken the liberty of having Petal change our appearances so we are the most boring couple in London right now.  She will meet us inside, she’s rather keen to get going with this so please excuse her enthusiasms”
 
#18
 
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Alyce parks the auto where directed and unplugs from the dash after emerging back into her meat world body.  After securing the car, she slips an arm through one of Dreams and lets him escort her down the road to the address he had indicated was their destination.  The row of nearly decrepit structures on either side of the street tell a story of long years of abuse and little maintenance.  Once a proud example of the hopes and dreams of a nation trying to support its urban middle class, the area has deteriorated to the point that it would be hard to find any urban middle class still living here.  Now these homes are the living areas for old pensioners, prostitutes, drug dealers, and petty criminals of all stripes.  Still, it is a neighborhoodand is certainly in better condition than some of the places Alyce has lived in.  She has four eyes flying about her, allowing her to have warning if anything in the "not nice" category is waiting for them.  Otherwise, her ultrasound and radar sensors allow her to see the cracks in the pavement and the water puddles, but she is careful to thank Dream for his kindness.
 
She does, indeed, notice the fluttering of some of the curtains, but her eyes let he know that she has little to fear from the people peering at her and Dream as they walk.  Her agent is actively making continuous sweeps for silent icons and anything that looks like a wireless weapon.  Of course, that does not protect her from throwbacks or weapons with the wireless turned off, but there seems to be little interest in them other than mere curiosity, and that for only as long as it takes them to pass the houses with the people watching them.
 
She turns to Dream and moves closer against him, much as a prostitute might move against a client, and chuckles.  "I was unaware of the change, but thank you for letting me know.  Am I pretty or do I appear to be well used and lucky to have scored you for the night?" 
 
As they approach the house, she nods.  "I, too, am keen to get going on this.  Al has a pretty basic plan that needs to be fluffed out a bit, but I think that we are on the right track.  And Petal's enthusiasm will not bother me, although it does seem that her enthusiasm is a variable quality and she quickly loses interest in things.  She had appeared to be quite excited by the helicopter as were boarding it but her excitement paled before we arrived in London.  Is that to be expected in this case as well?"
 
#33
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Dream laughed, “Well in fairness to Petal, when you can fly through the glories of the astral a noisy vibrating helicopter is likely to lose its appeal after an hour or so!  When it is important she will be as focused as is needed, fear not.  Now, we must get ourselves off the street and await Al.  I must confess that Petal’s spell isn’t the most flattering, it will be better looking on your natural visage I assure you…”
 
#19
 
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Alyce chuckles as she walks to the door with Dream.  "Unflattering doesn't bother me.  I was just curious if I was supposed to be a skag.  There was a time when I did not need a disguise to play that role.  It was back over forty years ago and I was living in the 'Zone."
 
She leans against Dream as he unlocks and opens the door and accompanies him inside.  She straightens up and looks around after he closes the door.  "You keep the room looking as it should be, eh?  Or is this an illusion as well?"
 
#34
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The asphalt was cracked on the one-lane road that ran along the south bank of the Thames between Oxford and Walton-on-Thames, a virtual ghost town, a once-rustic village that never recovered from a ghoul rampage in ’43. To Al’s left were brown fields, newly planted with winter wheat. On his right were heavy brambles alternating with seas of weeds taller than a man. The dirt track that ventured into one such sea was barely visible from the road, its entrance overgrown, the resilient growth still standing but frayed by the regular trampling by Al’s various cars. Once he was well into the ocean of green the dirt track was less overgrown, as Al had used some crap that made Agent Orange look like Weed-Off.
 
Pulling into the rocky clearing between his rusting Caravan and the boathouse that hosted his workshops (and housed his boat), he got out of the car and spotted Spike under the Caravan, night black coat almost invisible in the shadows, the lazy mutt too comfortable to bother coming out for a real greeting. He barked twice by way of hello. He was not alone. Near him under Al’s house was the snow white Akita. If she weren’t a bitch she’d have had big brass ones.
 
He walked up to the two. He could have squatted down to their level to be more sociable, but didn’t. Spike barked again, tongue hanging out of his mouth and drooling unselfconsciously. “Shut it, yatraitorous turncoat. An’ you…bad ‘nuff gittin’ all up in my dreams, ya gotta show up at my house?….” The Akita merely panted up at Al innocently. “The Chukchi Peninsula? Sure, wherever the livin’ fuck that is, put it on my to-do list.” Spike began chewing at a spot between his legs. The Akita, of course, was far too dignified for that. “No, ain’t goin’ now, doin’ somethin’. I’ll go after. An’ ya best make worth my while, cuz the voodoo god’s’re uppin’ they game, now they got competition. Now git.” He aimed a scuffed Doc Marten at the fluffy canine but it was too quick. Took off out from under the other side of the trailer. Spike whined.
 
“An’ you, you best watch yerself. Have yer soul, She will. Tell ya things best not heard.”
 
He went back to the car, pulled it into the big boathouse next to the Ferrari and the GMC, and unloaded a big plastic Home Warehouse bag onto a work table. He’d come here to work, but now he felt tired. He went into the Caravan, grabbed some beers, and drank himself to sleep in his clothes.
 
#32
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Aria

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« Reply #8 on: (08:16:39/02-06-18) »
Al woke from troubled dreams, and contemplated them as he pissed out the door of the Caravaner. Damned Eater of Worlds or whatever it had been. Did something that happened in a place that wasn’t even real really happen? Well, some frog had said cogito ergo es. Al figured that rememberus ergohappenedus made just as much sense. Congratulating himself on his philosophical breakthrough, he buttoned his fly, grabbed some beers and soyritos, and went out to his workshop. Nuked the ‘ritos and cracked the first beer. Midday or so, by the look of the sun. He’d had a mind to get back to London by evening in case hiscoworkers wanted to go right away, but then realized he had it all turned around. Going against a drac, you naturally went in by day. Whatever, he’d go in the evening, then they could spend the night on prep if they wanted. While he watched trid.
 
He laid out the three handivacs he’d bought and charged them up. By the end of a couple of hours he’d figured a way to reverse the servos so that he could toggle between sucking and blowing (heh heh) and souped up the power supply to increase the power for both functions. Did it for all three. Might be too techy for the hippie. And Alyce, she had a sensor array put the damned USS Enterprise to shame, but he was damned if he could figure how she could pick up a mist. But he’d learned not to underestimate her. So he’d have handivacs for them if they wanted them.
 
Checked his ammo cabinet. Ten wood pulp capsules. He downloaded a how-to tutorial and watched it while he swapped out the loads to give them a bit of extra oomph. Then made ten more with the same extra charge. He rarely fired ten rounds in any fight, rarely half that. But what the hell - if he found he liked killing vampires - and he had no doubt he would - then they’d be useful later. Loaded two clips and pocketed the extras.
 
He loaded everything into the Bulldog, tossed the soyritos he’d forgotten about at Spike, and got the beast on the road for London. Punched the number. “Where y’all at?”
 
#33
 
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Dream shows Alyce to one of the bedrooms and she strips down and gets into the bed.  Part of her mutated brain is working on the problems at hand and searching for more information, assisted by a very good agent.  The other part was wondering what Al is doing.  She smiles as she considers that he is probably zonked out in a chair with a can of beer in his hand and the trid playing.  She wonders briefly if he ever spares any thoughts for her then sends notes to Gem and Grace to let her know that she has arrived in London safely.
 
Waking in the morning, she makes use of the loo and goes to the kitchen to see what she can do about some breakfast.  Her sensors pick out that this place has certainly not been well used lately, illusion or not.  She sets to cleaning the kitchen and sorting some food for breakfast.  By the time Dream is up and puts in an appearance, she has some bacon, eggs, and toast ready.  "Petal going to join us?  I was not sure so made enough to include her for breakfast as well.  I hope that you like your eggs with a bit of a kick and the bacon cooked hard.  I really don't much care for bacon fat so tend to cook it a bit beyond what some people like.  You are allowed to complain, but then you will be responsible for cooking your own food from here on."
 
Dream looks at the food and sniffs.  "Smells lovely.  Petal will be joining us shortly and she would love to try everything, but I am not sure that she will eat much.  She is not completely certain which foods she likes."
 
Alyce serves the food onto newly cleaned plates and brings them to the table that she has set for three.  "Eat up."  After a few bites, she says, "Not bad, actually.  So do you support our plan to go into the neighboring building then cross over to the target building and go get this mirror?  Or do you have a different idea.  If you accept the plan, what sort of support can you and Petal bring to the table?  I would think some sort of mojo slinging, but I do not know you well enough to guess."
 
#35
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“Much as I would like to impress you and Al with my vast array of mojo that may lead to an unsafe reliance on my skills.  I don’t doubt you have worked with many more versed in spells and power than I.  My gift is principally detection and divination, and so essentially what I bring to the table for this misadventure is Petal, her gifts far outweigh my own for any confrontation.  Both of us are able to provide a measure of astral scouting and once we are inside the mansion’s wards we will hopefully be able to find the location of the mirror quite quickly.  That should be worth more than combat spells.  Now that I have learnt the levitation spell I am less concerned about playing at being a monkey and clambering around outside buildings many stories in the air…I’m not as young as I once” he replied with a grin
 
“So will Al be joining us soon?”
 
#20
 
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Alyce laughs easily.  "I am impressed by anyone who can use mojo.  Can you use that levitation on others or do Al and I take our chances the old fashioned way?"  She turns her face to the window, even though she cannot see through the glass and responds in a soft voice.  "I do not know when Al will be joining us as he rarely confides in me on such matters and this time is no exception.  I do know that he is a professional and is off looking into ways to help us complete the mission.  I have learned to not bother him in situations like this, so I think our best bet is to be patient."
 
After breakfast, Alyce does the wash up and starts a pot of hot water for her Earl Grey.  She slips into her room and returns to the kitchen with a tin of biscuits and small container of lemon wedges.  At the table, Alyce removes several Jammie Dodgers from the tin, stacking them in a pile in front of her before closing it back up and pushing it off to the side while she waits for the water to boil.  That she makes it all the way to filling the cup and adding a bit of lemon to her tea before she picks up one of the biscuits can be considered a near miracle ofself control.
 
After tea and biscuits, Alyce gets comfortable in the chair and sends her consciousness out to the matrix, her real world.  She had seen............something...........out there when she was looking into how to infiltrate the mansion.  That something had actually scared her just a bit and she wants to know what it is.  Something about it had seemed a bit familiar...............
 
Walking the matrix is not like walking anywhere else and Alyce's avatar travels the globe several times while she is away from her meat body.  Her agent detects nothing, yet Alyce is sure that there is something.  That she cannot see more of it than a shadow that moves as she approaches is frustrating and nothing she does helps solidify whatever it is or allows her to get close enough to see anything more definitive.  Finally, she devises a method to send a copy of herself in front of the shadow which causes it to turn aside for just a fraction of a second, but a fraction of a second at the speed of light and thought is a very long time and Alyce catches a glimpse of what she has been following and the image is her own face.  The other her grins malevolently at her avatar and for the first time since she began going to the matrix as a teenager, Alyce is frightened.  The shadow moves a bit closer then races off in a different direction asAlyce recalls her agent and slips back into her body, trembling.  She stands up, reaching out for the edge of the table that has inexplicably moved and her hand comes down on air, causing her to lose her balance and fall to the floor.
 
Pulling her knees to her chest, Alyce sits on the floor as she gathers her breathing and her wits.  While there, she runs a diagnostic of her ultrasound sensor to see why it had led her to think the table edge was in a different position than it really was.  When the diagnostic comes back with a clean bill of health for the scanner, she shrugs, concluding  that perhaps what she has seen on the matrix has unnerved her more than she had thought it had.
 
#36
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Alyce felt a hand on her shoulder and she realised with a start that she hadn’t even registered anyone approaching.  Petal’s voice comes gently and soothingly…
 
“Are you well?  Your aura is troubled…please, will you allow me to cast some healing on you?”
 
#21
 
---------------
 
Alyce tries to get herself back in order.  She must really be out of sorts if she did not detect Petal walking up to her.  Of course, she might have just materialized, which makes Alyce feel a bit better.  In a way, she feels lonely and pretty much alone.  She had grown attached to Al....Alfie....over the past couple of years and for more than his ability to detect astral beings.  Al does not like the Hell Hound so she has left it at home rather than create more issues with him than she already has, but that hound could sure come in handy at times.  She shakes her head as if to clear it.  "Thanks.  I think I may need to lay down for a bit and I would not mind at all if you can try some healing.  I am troubled, yes, and maybe that is showing in my aura.  I am seeing something odd on the matrix but I do not know what it is or why it is odd.  Maybe I have been pushing myself too hard.  Perhaps I will take  a nice holiday after this is over.  I have been approached by someone about an expedition into the Amazon and it sounds like fun."
 
Alyce stands without any trouble, her sensors working perfectly now.  She smiles at Petal and walks with her to the bedroom she was assigned and lays down on the bed.  "OK.  Work your magic on me.........and thanks."
 
#37
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“Ok, don’t be alarmed, I’m going to change forms, it is easier for some magics…just the way Dream envisaged me when he sought me out I suppose.  Or not, the metaphysics are something that I haven’t worried too much about, am I me because that is how he made me?  Or am I me because that…” and as she gently prattled on Robyn realised she was no longer talking to a twenty something young women but to a far younger girl, perhaps fourteen…the sweet lilt of apple blossoms was strong as Petal wove healing magic in to Robyn’s aura
“There, done what I can.  I’m not sure there was an injury but your aura is much calmer anyway so I managed something” and she grinned down at Robyn and in a mischievous tone asked
“So what is it about Al?  I know you can’t see how powerful he is, and perhaps you can see what an ugly bastard he is, his manners are atrocious and his cleanliness is a little hit or miss, well more miss really…so why does the beautiful elven maiden swoon whenever he’s near?”
#21
 
---------------
 
Alyce actually does feel a bit better after the healing spell and says so.  "Thank you very much for that, Petal."
She does not pause one moment when Petal asks about Al.  "The answer to that question is that I love him.  I love him with all my heart and soul.  You are certainly not the only person who has questioned what I see in him and I will tell you what I tell them.  Al is the kindest, bravest, most honest man I know.  He has flaws, as do all of us.  He has accepted my blindness and my stubbornness and I have accepted everything he is.  I would go anywhere and do anything to be with him.....................if he would let me.  I know that he loves me, but there is something holding him back from jumping in.  He will not talk about it and I am afraid that I do not make that easier for him.  I am a skilled professional woman and I am very good at what I do, but my brain seems to go to mush whenever I am near him.  I say the dumbest things and display so much emotion that he runs away."
She sighs.  "I really wish that someday he will want to sit me down and tell me to stay quiet while he talks and then tells me what the problem is.  Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that the problem is me.  Despite my mind and my abilities, I am an emotional train wreck and I am sure that is why he won't stay with me.  And I am equally sure that I am not capable of being anything but what I am, and he sees that better than I do and so chooses to stay away from me.  This is a case of true irony, right?  I am so terribly in love with a man that loves me but cannot stand to be with me for more than a short while before I drive him away.  My heart has broken and I really do not know how to put it back together because that requires his help and he is not interested enough in me to do that.  I guess you could say that the real issue, once you peel what I think are the various layers away, is that I love him with a searing, soul-burning desire and passion, enough to be the stuff of legend and be retold to generations to follow as an example of how a woman can love a man.  To me, whatever faults he has are cosmetic and I can accept anything he is or wants to be, even if that is not with me.  Al, on the other hand, though he does love me, it is not with the same passion and fire.  I have faults that he chooses not to overlook, or perhaps simply cannot overlook.  Whatever the reason, he does not love me with the same intensity and passion."
She sighs again.  "Pretty bloody sad, really, when you think about it.  However, no matter how sad it is, it is what I have and what I am.  He cannot accept me and my flaws and I do not know how to change to be acceptable.  He has said a couple of times that he does not want me to change anything, but then he runs away when I am me.  I am sorry for blasting all of this.  You did ask and I guess I am hoping for a miracle of advice that will open my eyes to the solution.  Bloody fragging crazy, is what I am, and I suppose there is no cure for it.  I live every day with the fear, no, the abject terror that he will die some day and I will never have heard him say that he truly, truly loves me and accepts me entirely for what I am, just as I feel about him.  I am so fragging bloody lost, Petal, and so afraid."  Tears are flowing from sightless eyes by now.  "See?  What did I say.  Too emotional.  Thank you for staying and listening."
#38
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Aria

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« Reply #9 on: (08:17:03/02-06-18) »
Al’s fingers were tapping the steering wheel to Hillbilly Moon Explosion’s rendition of Jackson with Mark Philips as the lights of The Smoke hove into view. Traffic was heavy, and as usual he’d disdained the GridGuide. Compared to the fluidity of the Aguilar’s handling, the Bulldog drove like a real pig. Still, reflected Al with pride, after the work he’d done on her, she’d outperform most upscale cars on the road. Not to mention that she was a tank. Not that she looked it - same boring utility white as thousands of other builders’ vans in England, this one with Junk & Disorderly written in cursive on both sides and the rear, with a commcode and matching AROs pledging to haul away old furniture, garden waste, electric appliances, rubble, and unwanted mothers-in-law.                                                                                                                                                   
#34
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Whatever Petal had done brings a restful sleep to Alyce, something she has been missing for some time and it is already getting onto evening by the time she wakes.  Stretching, Alyce slides out of the bed and goes to the kitchen to make some tea.  While putting the pot on, she gets Al's message and smiles.  Damn, she just cannot keep from smiling every time she hears his voice.  Carrying the pot to the table she sends him a reply.  "Hey there.  Missed you.  Address is attached.  I hope that you are not driving that fancy auto as there is no garage and you would need an armed tactical response unit guarding it to keep it in one piece out here.  See you soon." 
#39
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Knowing he already had the nondescript base covered, Al simply kept driving, reaching Belsize Park in twenty minutes. The area around Royal Free Hospital was still incredibly upscale, and he’d been surprised to hear Alyce’s estimate of Shirlock Road. But he found it as so many other urban maelstroms - where a single street can demarcate economic night and day, depending on myriad social, demographic, and infrastructural factors. The terraced homes a stone’s throw from the Heath’s southern reaches should still have been commanding millions….who knew what had happened, but it was a slum now. Probably the Council had started using it for housing a few decades back and there’d been no reversing - only containing - the inevitable rot. At least the corps had had the good sense to put the welfare state out of its misery. He parked in front of the address and stepped out of the van. The anti-theft system activated automatically as he approached the house. He knocked on the door and looked up at the moon. Crescent. Dammit. Full would have set the tone for a Drac-hunt so nicely. But this was real life, not the trid. His life was so incredibly cool, sometimes he had to remind himself.
#35
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After she gets Al's message, she lets Dream and Petal know that Al is on the way and puts on more water for tea for the others and makes sure that there are some beers in the fridge for Al.
 
One of Alyce's drones lets her know that a van has entered the street the safe house is on and she focuses her attention on it as it approaches.  She smiles to herself when the vehicle stops and Al steps out of it.  Her heart gives a short skip when the drone sensor catches his face but she puts a mask on by the time he knocks on the door and she opens it.  "Hey there.  Nice to see you.  Got everything you need?  Catchy sign for the van, by the way."
 
#40
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 Al gave Alyce’s ass a smack as he blew past her for the kitchen. Beers were there as expected. Opening one, he answered her. “Can’t take credit. Real outfit. Jist lifted they sign. Reckon they’s gittin’ free advertisin’ out of it. Where’s the hippie an’ his otherearthly companion? Hey, lookee what I conjured up.” He shook the three handivacs out onto the table. Picked one up. Poked around until he found some flour and tossed a handful into the air, then sucked swathes of the powdery cloud into the device. “Some folks say that won’t work on a mistificated bloodsucker, but ol’ Al reckons physics is physics.” He thumbed a switch and blew what was left of the flour-cloud into nothing. Grinned. “Works both ways. Complete with handy hooks onna handle, clip it ta yer belt or what have ya.”
#36
 
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Alyce stands in the doorway savoring Al's touch.  She casts her memory back and cannot think of another time when he has swatted her arse, or even done much more than help her into or out of a car.  He did carry her back to the train when she had her breakdown, but that was certainly not the same thing.  No, this was different.  This was way different.  And it had felt good.  In fact it had felt really nice.  Shaking her head, she walks into the kitchen after him and hears him get and pop open one of the UCAS beers she had brought with her.  Her sensors see the handivac but they have a very hard time focusing on the flour as it drifts through the air.  She holds the one Al gives her and faces him.  "Oh, they are about someplace.  I think Dream went shopping and you never know where Petal is.  Nice girl, that Petal, by the way."  She shakes the handivac.  "Now, I am going to need some help with this, Al.  I cannot really see the powder and I am pretty sure it will be the same with the mystified vampire.  How about we work together on this?  Toss some powder in the air and give me a number to face so I can suck it in?"
 
For the next thirty minutes, Al tosses flour in the air and Alyce tries to catch it but it turns out to be harder than it looks and she sometimes mixes up which direction to face.  By the end of the experiment, they have it down and she is only missing a small bit.  Unfortunately, the flour supply has suffered considerably and both of them look a lot like ghosts, with white powder all over their hair, their faces, and their clothes.  There is a mess of flour on the table near Alyce and on the floor around her.  She is laughing out loud and clearly having a good time.  Stopping, she pants a bit then walks to within a few inches of Al and holds her handivac up between them.  "I think we are a bit.....floury, if that is a word.  Is it a word, Al?  If not, it should be.  We are floury.  Now, would you like a suck or a blow to try to clean you up?"
 
#41
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“Reckon a shower’ll do. Y’all can cook somethin’ while I’m in there. Or find find that she-demon, have her do it. Or jist order a curry, if’n yer feelin’ liberated. Whatever suits ya. See ya in a bit.” He wandered off to the bathroom and showered cold then hot. He didn’t figure Her plan was about anything but what She wanted, but in this case whatever She had in store for him would suit just fine. He’d said he’d get the mirror, and if they wasted a vamp, so much the better. Then he’d get about Her business. He towelled off, got dressed, found a bedroom that nobody seemed to be using, and went and lay down.
 #37
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The smile stays on her face until Al leaves the room then she turns to face opposite the door in case he comes back right away for another beer or something because she does not want him to see the tears rolling down her face.  She had allowed herself to believe things might have changed with the way he had touched her, but he was so very quickly back to the other Al again, almost as if he had lowered some sort of barrier.  Without thinking, she quickly hacks the handivac in her hand and gets it going on its lowest level before running it through her hair, then her face, then over her clothing.  She will worry about a shower after she is sure Al is finished and doing something else.  Once her clothes are at least as free of loose flour as she can get them in this fashion, she runs the vac along the table to pick up all of it there as well.  Done, she carefully kneels on the floor and begins cleaning.  Her sensors cannot adequately show her the flour unless it is in a pile, so she feels along the floor, letting her heightened sense of touch tell her where the flour is and moves the vac to pick it up.  The process takes over an hour on her hands and knees, but she can smile at the job well done.
 
Standing, she puts two of the three handivacs on the counter but plugs hers in to recharge it and begins cooking a dinner.  First is a pot of water for a much needed cuppa, but she gets other food from the refrigerator as the water is boiling.  She gets the steaks broiling and begins on the salad, tossing it rather plainly because she does not know what sort of spices Dream and Petal like, if any.  Done with that, she finds her tin of Jammy Dodgers and piles up a small stack to go with her tea and sits down to enjoy it.  In her mind, she replays the moment when Al had come through the door and patted her arse, trying like hell to make sense of it.  He had not said any of his usual banter; had not called her toots, or any of the usual things, so she had assumed, mistakenly it seems, that he had meant it in some sort of intimate way.  What had she missed?????  Shaking her head, she decides that he must have had something on his mind and the pat had been completely nothing.  She smiles as she remembers how nice it had felt to just have him touch her like that.  Tea done, she gets up to finish her dinner preparations and sets the table for four. 
 
When all is ready, Alyce places the servings of steak, veggies, and potatoes at two of the chairs and the large salad bowl in the center for anyone to self-serve from.  A last check of her scanners shows that all is ready and she goes to her room, where she carefully removes her clothes so as to minimalize the spread of any flour that might be hidden in the folds and creases.  She wraps herself in a towel and leaves the room, stopping off at Al's and knocking on the door, her voice completely neutral.  "Your dinner is on the table, Al, and your seat is against the wall and facing the door.  There are a few cold beers in the fridge.  Don't let your steak get too cold.  I am off to shower."
 
In the shower, she does as thorough a job as she can with a minimal amount of hot water.  She had noticed the ARO of the sign that indicated the local hot water ration for the house and wanted to save some for the others, so a good portion of her shower is in cold water, but as the number of cold water showers in her life probably comes close to outnumbering the hot water showers, this is no real hardship for her.  Toweling dry, she wraps the towel around herself and goes back to her room to change into clean clothing before heading out to the dining room.
 
#42
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Al woke at the sound of Alyce’s call. He’d dozed off, having forgotten he’d told her to cook. A rare dreamless slumber, now broken after eight minutes. Well, no one’s fault but his stomach’s. Followed the smell of steak past the open door of the bathroom where the elf woman was showering, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. There was his meal right where she’d said it would be. Plenty of rabbit food for the hippies, too. But finding no one else in the room Al picked it up and found a sofa with an older-model trid in front to it. It didn’t get as many channels as it should have, but he found some professional wrestling and tucked in.
 #38
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Alyce dresses and walks out to find that Al has taken his dinner to the living room and is sitting on the couch watching the old trid device there.  She moves to the kitchen/dining room and takes up her dinner things before moving out to the living room to join him.  She sits on the couch that is more a love seat in length, but it does give enough room that two people can sit on it without crowding each other.  She hacks into the trid feed so that she can "watch" what Al is and finds the wrestling interesting.  Al seems content to eat and watch in silence, so she follows suit, simply being companionable without interrupting his attention. 
 
Alyce finishes eating and rises, bending over to pick up Al's empty plate from the floor at his feet where he had put it when he finished.  She moves around the rear of the couch so as not to disturb him and walks to the kitchen where she puts the kettle on for another cuppa and puts a large pot of water on to boil for the cleaning.  While waiting, she pulls another beer from the fridge and takes it out to Al, who instinctively reaches for it.  Returning to the kitchen, Alyce washes up the dishes, as well as what she had used in cooking the meal, and dries them before putting everything away.  Moving to the table, she sits down to enjoy her cup of tea.
 
#43
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Once more a young woman rather than girl, Petal joined Alyce.  After a brief pause she said in mock exasperation
 
Humans! You are so wrapped up in your own heads that you can’t see…and I don’t mean with your eyes,” she added with a gentle touch to Alyce’s shoulder “I’ve been told it’s all very complicated and that when I’m a bit older I might understand you, eventually perhaps.  But I do understand emotion and the feelings you have for each other, probably better than yourselves.”
 
She settled down next to Alyce at the table “I know that Dream will chide me for interfering so if you want me to shut up then please say so…but don’t be so sure that the reason you aren’t as close to Al as you both seem to want is a fault of yours.  I’m not going to tell you what I see in Al, I’m not sure that would be fair without his permission, and I don’t doubt your professionalism, but we need you to be focused on retrieving the mirror… sorry, I don’t want to offend…”
 
#22
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Alyce sips from her tea and nods to let Petal know that she can continue.  When the girl is done, she puts her cup down and smiles.  "Thank you.  In my experience there is always a value in getting a second opinion and I am sure that you understand more about us mortals than you let on.  I do feel that there is something in Al's past that won't let him love me like he could and I have tried to get him to talk about it but he won't.  However, I also know that I am far too emotional when he is around and that has a tendency to send him away from me.  I am trying hard to work on that by remaining calm and just trying to accept him for what he is.  I do think I am better at that than I used to be."
 
"As to the mission, Al and I are professionals and will not allow our personal feelings to affect the mission.  Wait and see, if you doubt, and no offense taken.  Now, do you like some spices in your salad, or can I add anything to it?"
 
#44
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 Al chuckled softly to himself as he listened to the exchange - relationship counselling from a demon! After things quieted and he’d eaten a bit more, he said, “Folks that’s serious ‘bout keepin’ secrets don’t go ‘round sayin’ how they got a secret ta keep. So ya got some mystical insight into ol’ Al, you jist go right on ahead an’ git yer fifteen minutes. No skin off my nose, cuz you can read yer tea leaves an’ auras all day long, but ain’t no one know what’s in here - “ and he tapped his head “ - but me an’ the Good Lord…An’ even the two of us don’t know what lies ahead for me, cuz only one makes my fate is me, an’ I ain’t done made it yet."
 
#39
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Petal laughed “There are those that would disagree with you about Fate, but then again one of the reasons you’re here is the rather unique effect you have on Fate, so perhaps you are right…”
 
“Petal…” Dream interrupted, “Al and Alyce must resolve their relationships at another time, and without your help!”
 
“Yes boss,” she replied with a clearly unrepentant grin.
 
With an exasperated sigh Dream asked “So, are we waiting for dark?  Is there anything else we need to tackle before we leave?  Beyond a pair of gloves is there anything special I need to do to hide any forensic evidence?  I apologise for being new at this but no doubt you both started here once too and I am grateful for the experience you bring to bear on this matter…”
 
#23
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Alyce looks over at Al then back to Dream and says, "It might be good to go to the adjoining mansion in the dark, but would it not be best to try to skin a vampire in the daylight?"  She pauses and chuckles before adding, "And I am as new to this sort of B&E as you are, I suppose.  I am more used to breaking into hidden tombs where it does not really matter if any forensic is left behind.  I will have to defer to Al on this area." 

She turns to look at Al, a slight grin on her face.

#45
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“Well shee-it, why y’all lookin’ at ol’ Al? Ain’t no thief. Work fer a livin’, though I’ll allow misguided associations been somethin’ of a corruptin’ influence these last few moons. But though I can’t claim no experience with larceny, that don’t mean I ain’t an expert. First off, yeah, the courts’ll convict on a fingerprint match, though remind me sometime ta tell ya how that’s jist another gummint ploy ta keep the workin’ man onna leash. I mean, think about it, ya got what, eleven, twelve trillion folks inna world, I ain’t buyin’ they ain’t a one but what’s got the same fingerprints as another. But it’ll still git ya inna slam, so yeah, gloves. But me,” and Al held up his burnt hands, “mine done melted off when I was yay high. Ya want, I can burn yours off, or cut ‘em off, guarantee ya don’t git caught thataway. Then, ain’t no Guthrie been fingerprinted or biometricized in any other way in goin’ on five generations. Fingerprints nor dee-en-ay nor hairs nor spit gon’ burn ya if’n ya ain’t on file nowhere. But if’n ya are worried about that shit, well, ya can’t stop with gloves. Hell, these forensic guys they got now, ya need a damned spacesuit to not leave nothin’ behind. They even got what they call a temporal spectrometer - senses any dee-en-ay ya might’ve left had ya been there without a spacesuit. Theoretical forensic quantum metaphysicalities. So that’s why I say, jist don’t bother. We go in - by day like this one done said - an’ we have fun. Don’t worry so much."

#40
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Aria

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« Reply #10 on: (08:18:01/02-06-18) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Shirlock Road, London, UK]
 
Dream shook his head at Al’s blasé attitude
 
“Some of us are burdened with system identification numbers with linked biometric information so I can’t afford to be quite so cavalier.  But I am honestly more concerned by leaving astral finger prints so Petal and I will need to be careful in that respect.  Lord Bressingtonis an establishment figure and might be expected to resort to the authorities if wronged but his detachment from society and the nature of the artefact suggests that he might be keen to undergo their scrutiny.  In that instance we will need to be worried about what other resources he might bring to bear…so our best bet is not to get caught!  So, when do we leave?”
 
#24
 
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“Well hell, amigo, we done et, an’ the van’s parked right out front. But first lemme show ya my invention.” Al showed the hippie his handivacs, and then explained that if he was serious about not leaving trace behind, some sterile scrubs, hairnet, surgical mask, and footieswere a simple, “pretty good” option. “As fer what yaleave behind in the witch realm, well, no one said Satanism din’t come with a price. Now let’s load up an’ go kill us a vampire!”
 
#41
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Alyce looks at the things Al brings out and nods.  "Very nice, Al.  It looks like you have thought of everything.  You have any nitrile gloves in that pile somewhere?  If not, we should be able to pick some up at almost any Stuffer Shack or similar location.  I am glad that you are on our side."  She stands up.  "Are we coming back here or should I get my things?"
 
#46
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“Couple hours from now, drac’s gon’ be mortalized, mirror’s gon’ be inna hippy’s hands. Since it’s gon’ go off without a hitch, can’t see what y’all gon’ need this place for.” Al shrugged. “Bring it, it’s with ya wherever yadecide ta decamp to. Me…” Al started to explain that he had someplace to be the moment he finished this errand, but thought again, continuing “…reckon I’ll becatchin’ up on some sleep.”
#42
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Alyce nods and walks to the sink, where she reaches into the cabinet below it for a plastic trash bag, then it is off to her room to pack the few things she has removed from her case.  She puts the flour-speckled clothing into the plastic bag to keep flour from coating anything else and makes the bed she had slept in before returning to the kitchen area with her case.  While the others are gathering their things, Alyce does a quick wash up and puts everything away after drying it.  Once she is satisfied that she is leaving the place as neat as it was when she arrived, she allows herself to relax a bit and walks outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for the others.
 
#47
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Al was impatient waiting for the others; he was painfully aware of how early the sun fell at this latitude in December. They had precious little daylight left. But waiting a day would not have made Her happy, and he sensed his little game of playing Her off against the voodoo gods was soon going to pay some meaningful dividends. Still, annoyed as he was by the wait, it was nice that some women still knew their role. Finally, though, he could wait no longer. “Van’ll seat all of us, even the demon. So less’n y’all got some other wheels stashed nearby ol’ Al din’t see, what say we mount up?” And without waiting he scooped up what little gear he’d brought inside the house and then went out to sit at the wheel, engine started.
#43
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Alyce nods as she bends over to pick up her case and the handivacs she had brought from the kitchen.  I used a hire car.  It is in a car park a bit away but I can send it back to the dealer and we can ride with you.  She lets Dream claim shotgun as she stores her case and the vacs in the back before taking on of the rear seats.  After buckling in, she leans forward.  "I would buckle up, Dream, Al like to drive fast."  She settles back into her seat and waits for Al to take off.
 
#48
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“Oh indeed!  Not too fast I trust, we want to get there without too many traffic violations, save those for our no doubt hasty exit.  I believe I have everything I need…” and he patted absently at the various pockets of his coat “so no more reason to delay.  The sun is fading fast with this smog alert…but then it’s so rare to see the sun in London at all these days, particularly in the winter…”
 
#25
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“Cast aspersions if’n ya will, but ol’ Al is the very picture o’ motorin’ courtesy. Only got so many vehicle iDs I can cycle through, an’ gotta save ‘em fer the exit scene.” So Al stayed legal, but still managed to weave his way expeditiously through London traffic, mindful of the sun’s early winter departure. By two pm his van was parked smack in a one-hour loading zone smack in front of the multi-story terrace home adjacent to the vampire’s.
 
Turning in his seat, he addressed his coworkers. “Reckon I can jist go up an pop the front door. Might take a few ticks, though, even if the alarm’s ain’tmonitored they gotta be disabled less’n we want an unholy racket. An’ seein’ as how some o’ y’allmilquetoasts is all worried about gittin’ caught, reckon we need this one ta deal with the eight million sec cams, an’ the she-demon here needs ta do somethin’ ta distract any local looky-loos.”
 
Al congratulated himself inwardly on suggesting non-diabolical measures to conceal their approach. It wouldn’t be on his eternal soul if the others ignored him and suggested some dark sorcery aimed at hiding them from prying eyes.
#44
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Alyce has her drones following the van so she can have a good feed of its progress and she has to admit to herself that Al is a very good driver.  She does laugh.  "Let's hope there aren't eight million sec cams, Al.  That would be a stretch for me.  But give me a few minutes here.  The security system is the same as the one next door but without any recent upgrades.  I am going in."
 
Alyce relaxes and slips into VR, looking for the weakness she had detected earlier in the security system.  The new owners had not been really interested in the house so they were comfortable with an outdated system that was at least three generations older than the latest model.  In short order she finds and enters the system after taking the time to find the local master unit that acted much like a local host for the house.  That way, the security company could not be breached if one of its older and weaker systems was compromised.  The local host would send out a signal if it detected a breach, but Alyce easily gets her three marks and slips into the local host.  Looking around, she finds the nodes to the front door security locks as well as the interior and exterior sensors.  She sends a message to her partners.  >>OK.  I am in and have control over the sensors for the inside and outside of the house.  They are able to see us, but the host will ignore the feeds as if we are authorized technicians.  I can come out and monitor the situation by AR but any questions before I do that?<<
 
#49
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Robyn had asked for a few seconds, but Al clocked her hot sim time at under twenty seconds. He figured it must have been an easy job or else she’d probably have  been quicker. Pocketing his lock picks and microtronicskit, he clipped his handivac to his belt and said, “Jistone, toots. I’m assumin’ what you jist did won’t be so easy on the Transylvanian Consulate next door….? Schematics said mechanical locks in addition ta the mag-jobs. But any alarms an’ sensors, ya gon’ be able ta do those all easy-like, or am I gon’ hafta git my hands dirty? Or both?”
#45
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>>As long as the data I got from the security company is up to date, I will be able to handle the matrix-based locks and alarms, but we already know that there are also mechanical locks not tied to the matrix that will require you to work your own magic on them.  OK, we have access to the house and can go inside.  Coming back now.<< 
 
Alyce's body shudders a bit as she reenters it then she grabs her own handivac and clips it to her side.  "I had an idea in there, Al.  The schematics show that a bunch of the wiring to the houses runs through conduits in the shared walls.  If you can get me a small hole in the wall, I can make a direct connection and should then be able to access the local security host of the building next door.  That will give me the best chance of spoofing the security system and keeping it ignorant of our presence.  Is that doable or do you see an issue with the idea?"
 
#50
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“Eminently doable, toots,” Al replied, patting the heavy bag slung over his shoulder. “Capital idear. But will that render ya immobile, that direct connection. Cuz ain’tgon’ be no splittin’ up, an’ that’s all she wrote on that topic.”
 
He already had the door open and was out of the van. Once the others were out, he strolled leisurely across the street, knocked on the front door, waited as if he expected it to be answered, and then walked in.
#46
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Alyce chuckles as she leaves the van and walks up the stairs with Al.  I will want to go into VR for a few minutes, yes, but only long enough to make contact and get in then set my own programs.  It would be advantageous if I were to remain there while you go inside, in case I need to react to something, but we are a small group and it is a lot to ask to leave someone back to watch over my body.  So, my plan is to set things up and slip back to the meat world to accompany you into the next building.  Any problems with that plan?"
 
#51
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“Don’t see how I could have a problem with it, since it’s also my plan. Let’s get to work.” They ascended to the top floor, stopping in the kitchen on the way where Al was disappointed to find no beer. The shared wall on the topmost finished floor was a bedroom, dusty. It appeared to have been disused even before the latest occupant passed away. A glance at the schematics showed Al the placements of several shared conduits, and Alyce showed him which one she wanted quicker than he could have figured it out for himself. Once located, it took him about thirty seconds to make the hole. He didn’t have any ground-penetrating-radar that would ensure he didn’t drill the wires, but he did have a vibration drill - only cut hard, unyielding surfaces - the same sort of thing doctors used to cut casts off. “Et voila.”
#47
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Alyce smiles.  "I love it when you speak French to me.  It makes me feel all so sophisticated. Now let me at this thing."  She reaches in and gently pulls a tiny pair of wire cutters from a small pouch at her belt and gently peels some of the coating away from the wires before unreeling her cable from her neck and attaching it to the wires.  She grins as she quietly says, "OK, going in.  Back in a tic."
 
She sits with her back to the wall and slides into the matrix.  She takes the time to sleaze herself three marks on the local host and wanders about inside the security system, taking note of where the cameras and sensors are located.  She slides in her commands to accepts the four of them as authorized to be present and clears the need for the host to alert the security company of their presence at all.  Once done with this, she sends her avatar wandering about, noting the locations of the various sensors in the house and jotting them down on a virtual tablet that she sends to herself.  Something odd catches her eye and she descends to the ground floor to check it out.  A void is definitely not normal and that it is separated from the local host of the security system is even more odd.  There is no record of this void in the system plans so it must be a completely different system.  She looks carefully for anything that might be important and sees a small access port that is opening and closing at regular intervals to accept data of some kind.  She focuses on matrix perception and spies four sources of the data flowing into the port.  Two are on the floor and two on the walls opposite the entrance to the room covered by the void.  Bingo.  Pressure plates on the floor in two locations and some sort of heat and motion sensor on the walls.
 
The floor sensors seem to be basic and of high quality, but the wall mounts are at least corp grade stuff, no, wait, there is a serial number on the wall sensor mount.  KHD-43568-TT-2W3.  Smiling to herself, she sends a request at the speed of thought to her data haven and the answer comes back just as quickly.  The mount is a third gen military grade system that was used extensively in the UCAS beginning twenty years ago and up to five years ago, when it was discontinued and replaced with newer, more effective systems.  She reads through the specs of the system and notes an asterisk at the end of the document.  Her grin gets wider as she recognizes the mark, which is used by the haven to denote files for which one or another of the matrix freedom organizations has submitted additional information.  She requests the information and would whoop if that were possible when she reads it.
 
Alyce's body quivers a bit as she slips back into it.  She disconnects from the host and turns to her companions with a smile on her face.  "OK, I think we are ready to move on.  I slipped a program into the local host of the security system that will tell it to ignore us as completely authorized to be present and to erase any indication that we were ever there when we leave.  If the security company has a hot shot matrix monitor, they might pick up that some lapsed time is missing, but we should be long gone by then and no trace left inside.  I did find out that there is a space in the house that is not on the security system.  It acts as a void in the matrix.  There are some rather generic pressure sensors in front of the door and some very good wall mounted heat and motion sensors on the walls to the side of the door.  The good news at that whoever put this stuff in did not do his homework well enough.  They used military grade sensors, but did not apparently take the time to wonder why the UCAS military was really selling them on the market.  One of the groups of people that strongly believe in freedom of information on the matrix had busted the codes on this system several years ago and stored the data in the haven I use.  Et Voila, I have the codes needed to disable the system.  Still, I also will need to access a small data port after disabling the sensors so will need to go to VR to look at the system beyond the door before we go in.  Questions?"
 
#52
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“Jist one: If all yer gon’ be doin’ is inputtin’ some codes an’ takin’ a peak beyond a door, why ya gotta go all hot-sim/limp-rag on us fer that? Nothin’ you can do cold simya can’t do full-VR, right, ‘ceptin’ it’s a mite slower? Reckon yer hot enough in there ta compensate for a bit o’ signal drag, an’ Count Chocula’s Inner Sanctum ain’texactly what ol’ Al’d call a safe space. Believe it or not, it’d genuinely suck for ya ta git yerself fanged. Or, more likely, fer poor Dreamy here ta git his blood sucked cuz I was busy keepin’ yer sleepin’ carotid intact. I mean,shee-it, he don’t even got the Vampire Sneeze spell. So what say we all try an’ stay on our feet from here on out?"
#48
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Alyce nods as she stands up.  "I might be able to do that, yes, but it is certainly not the same.  I mean, you can drink a Brit beer but it is not quite the same as one of those from the UCAS, right?  There is just something about the taste, smell, texture that is different?  Well, that is sort of what it is for me in the matrix.  I can do a lot in either AR or cold sim, but there are subtle differences between those and hot sim VR that just get me feeling so much more a part of what I am seeing.  I can do it without needing to leave my body, but I do give up some advantages.  Still, I do see your point and will try it that way.  By the way, I am sending each of you a file of the locations of all the sensors next door."
 
#53
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“Sure toots. Listen, don’t wanna tell ya yer job. Ya think hot sim’s best, go for it, we’ll back yer play. Jistunnerstand, droppin’ right an’ left inna midst of the shit, that ain’t without costs. So these sensors yer showin’ us, ya said yer gon’ take care o’ these, right? Good. Glad ta know ‘bout ‘em jist in case. What’s got me more worried, though, is if Nosferatu’s got these on an isolated host, what’s tat say he also ain’t got throwback sensors, ain’t spoutin’ no signal whatsoever? Reckon once I crack that balcony door, I lead the way as far as this place yer gon’ break into the secondary host, try an’ sniff out any low-tech sec.”
 
#49
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Alyce shakes her head.  "No, I see your point, Al.  I would not be going hot sim during combat unless that was the only way.  I was just using to make my life easier in the opening steps."  She carefully considers his other words and runs the schematics of the house through her mind again.  "Throwbacks are a real concern, Al.  If he has any, they are not listed on the logs at the company that installed the system, but he could have just added some on his own and they would not be seen on the host.  I agree that this would fall into your area of expertise if the devices are wireless off or not wireless at all.  We will follow your lead."
 
#54
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Dream followed the other two in the precarious jump across the two balconies, confident in the skills of the two ahead and buoyed up with his newfound knowledge of flight and the fact that Petal was actively turning aside anyone’s gaze that happened to stray in their direction.
 
Once on the balcony he almost gagged but was careful not to make undue noise until they were inside… Petal’s distress was even more evident…
 
“Phaw, this place stinks on the astral, I would say at least a level four on the Oxford scale.  And if it’s this bad here we should be prepared for it to get worse as we progress further.  Petal has to go while we enter the wards so keep your heads down as she won’t be shielding us from view.  I expected this given what we believe we are walking in to but that pales against the reality!  Ok, let’s get inside and hope that it doesn’t get bad too quickly or I’ll be losing my lunch and forensics be damned!”
 
#26


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Aria

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« Reply #11 on: (08:18:55/02-06-18) »
Al listened to the hippy’s whining as he deftly checked the door for contact sensors then easily picked the lock. In fact, he was glad for that Dreamy said, since it erased the niggling fear in the back of his mind that their mark might not indeed be an undead abomination, and that he would not, in fact, get to kill his first vampire today.
 
Estimating the weight of the door with a practiced builder’s eye, Al opened it at a pace rather slower than the big hand on a clock, sensitive to any undue pressure on the swing. Nothing. No, the surprise came after he scanned the floor for pressure pads and stepped inside - blamed hippy had been right (and it was with no small degree of chagrin that Al realized the implications of being sensitive to this phenomenon, and shunted them to the darkest recesses of his denial). Al’s first reaction was simply to step back out, but he wouldn’t do that. So he took a step through to let the others pass and just stood there for a bit, steadying himself with deep breaths.
 
#50
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Alyce notes Al's discomfort and is concerned.  For just about the first time since they had met, Al seemed unsure of himself or what to do.  He steps aside and she walks past him into the room, expecting to feel something but feeling nothing.  She takes only a couple of steps, waiting for Al to resume the lead, but taking the opportunity to make sure that the sensors she does control are still ignoring them.  So far, there is no indication that she has made an error in her program.
 
#55
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“This is a bad place,” Al said. Whether to himself or his companions it was impossible to tell. “Voodoo gods won’t come here. They’s left me alone. She’s still here though, so points fer Her. This ain’t the home o’ somedrac goes feedin’ on some poor soul now an’ then when the hunger gits on him. This ain’t the lair o’ no simple predator. No. No no no. They’s some bona fide hate-filled sadistic mother fuckin’ evil dwellin’ within these posh walls….An’ its days’re numbered.”
 
 
#51
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Alyce agrees that the place is bad.  Now that she is inside, her enhanced olfactory sense tells her that this is a place of dust and a bit of mildew and she kneels to run her fingers along the floor, finding a buildup of dust that must have begun years ago.  She holds up her fingers so that the others can see.
 
When Al mentions the voodoo gods have abandoned them, her hand instinctively goes to the hand-carved idol at her neck and she gives an involuntary shudder at the thought.  Her fingers brush the orthodox cross next to the idol and she is immediately comforted.  God will never desert those that believe.  She stretches her sensors out to look about the room they are in and her ultrasound paints her an image of a large bedroom of the sort found in old mansions and goodness knows that she has been in many of those.  But nothing she has been in before has given her the same sort of creepy feeling. 
 
Her scan builds up the picture and she sees the furniture; the large triple dresser against one wall, a vanity table against another, along with several night tables and some stuffed chairs.  The bed is a large one, with posts at the corners and.....................frag, a somebody in the center.  The room is dark and she does not know if the others have seen it yet.  As she puts a hand on Al's shoulder to turn him in that direction, the detailed picture of the person is completed and she relaxes a bit.  The person on the bed is dead and has been that way for a very long time.  The desiccated flesh is sunken in on the bones and the wispy hair is barely attached to the skull.  The arms are laid across the chest of what was certainly once a young woman, as if in repose.
 
#56
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Dammit, so busy looking for traps he’d missed the obvious. The form was clear to his enhancedcybereyes. “Place like this, jist cuz it looks dead, don’t mean it is.” Picking up an old-fashioned, wooden-handled feather duster and reversing it in his grip, he cautiously approached the form….
 
 
#52
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Alyce is holding her breath despite herself as Al approaches the bed and she brings one of the old wooden spoons she had found in the cabinet at the safe house from out of a pouch at her side.  She had sharpened it at the handle with one of the kitchen carving knives, just in case.  After all, everyone knows that vampires hate wood and this is a perfect fit for her hand.
 
There is nothing about the corpse on the bed that indicates that it has any sort of life to it, but what little bitAlyce was able to find on the matrix about vampires does not instill her with any certainty on this issue.  Al reaches the bed and uses the handle of the duster to poke at it and Alyce feels a bit silly as the head falls off to the side, completely separated from the rest of the torso. 
 
#57
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The sight of the dead body didn’t bother Dream so much as the manner of her death.  Even after the evident amount of time that she has lain here there are still traces of the violence in the ether.  Reluctantly he allowed his senses to see the astral and blanched, turning away to commiserate with Petal and her unfiltered view of the murder
 
“In case it isn’t obvious this woman was murdered.  A knife to the throat I suspect.  What is worse is that her death was used to power something.  Whatever LordBressington may be, vampire or not, I strongly suspect he, or one of his staff perhaps, is something worse than we had feared and there is a blood mage here!
 
We are inside the wards here, Petal and I will sweep the building and see if we can narrow down our target.  I suspect it will be in the area you’ve identified, and probably separately warded so I doubt we will find it in the next bedroom but luck has seen stranger things happen, and you are with us after all…” this last directed at Al…
 
#27
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“So…what? Yer gon’ do that ghost thing?” Al sighed in resignation. Always a choice between rudeness and dalliance with the diabolical. And of course he’d never be rude. “Alrighty, then, hippy kemo sabe, reckon we’ll watch her carcass. An’ right after I got this one to agree not ta go all comatose on us once we got in here. Okay okay, off with the both o’ ya - figure out where we’sheaded so we can bleed the blood mage, stake the vamp, an’ git the hell outta Dodge….oh, yeah, an’ git this mirror yer after.”
#53
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Alyce looks away and smiles at Al's predicament.  "It is OK, Al.  It gives me some extra time to double check my program.  Given what we are seeing and sensing here, though, my guess is that the greatest threat is not going to be technology, but mojo."  She sends her AR fingers out and checks every sensor she can find, noting that all are behaving as they should according to the program she had slipped into the local host.  Once done, she kneels on the floor and sends her enhanced senses out to check for inconsistencies in the area around them and.....................bingo.  She looks up and grins.  "Al, over by the door leading out of the room.  There is something a bit odd with the floor there.  It is a four inch square located dead center on the door about six inches back.  There is a very minute difference in the floor there.  It might be just age, but it is a bit regular in size, which would be abnormal for natural warping so it could be a manual pressure plate of some kind.  It is not showing up on the security system list, so it could be one of the throwback sensors you were warning us about.  Good intuition, Al."
 
#58
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“Good intuition an’ a nuyen’ll git me a NerpsBar. Credit goes ta you an’ yer mad sensors,” Al conceded, down on all fours checking out her find. He couldn’t see anything. He pulled a card from the deck in his pocket - nine of hearts, Kitty Nong - and gingerly slid the edge along the polished wood floor - sure enough, the edge caught right were Alyce had said it would. “Alrighty, that there’s a win. Now we know what ta look for, next’ll be easier ta spot.”  He glanced out the balcony doors at the swiftly falling sun. “Trouble is, havin’ ta watch fer these contraptions gon’ slow us down considerable - ain’tlikely ta call ‘er a day while the sun’s still up. Oh well, life hands ya lemons, ya squirt the juice in its eye steal its wallet.”
#54
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Alyce laughs.  "I like that."  She pauses, then adds, "You know, by the amount of dust on the floor, this room has not been used a very long time, Al.  Now that we are in, we could just rest here and wait for tomorrow morningand go get the vampire."
 
#59
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Al glanced meaningfully at the desiccated and now headless corpse on the antique four-poster bed. “Appealing as the prospect of a haunted house camporee sounds….we din’t bring enough beer ta git us through an hour, say nothin’ of all night. Ghost kids git back, we gon’ make this happen.” He pulled his big knife and began turning the feather duster into a sturdy wood stake. “But yer itchin’ fer some shut eye, yer welcome ta snuggle up with our hostess there. I’ll keep watch.”
 
#55
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Abby chuckles softly.  "You charmer, Al.  But you don't know that I have slept in many tombs in the company of dead bodies, so the prospect of snuggling up to the dead girl in the bed is not without merit.  However, I am rested a bit and do not feel all that tired just now, so I will stay up and just catnap over here against the wall."
 
#60
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Al nearly swallowed his cigarette. Dead people? He said nothing, not wanting to know more. “Catnap away. Ol’ Al can hold the fort.”
 
She was a gem, no question, unnatural proclivities notwithstanding. He’d known a lot of questionable characters over the years, but also been blessed to meet some truly remarkable folk. Many, surprisingly, in this crazy urban merc business. He even caught himself worrying about Dreamy, and more with each passing second. This was a bad place, and everything they’d discovered here in the first damned room told them it was worse. Blood mages and vampires - sounded like a force multiplier for evil if ever he’d heard of one. And, as far as he cared to understand such things, people going ghost were vulnerable all sorts of ways.
 
So he kept his back against the wall opposite Alyce’sand watched the whole room, wary of any diabolical mist that might try to materialize and bushwhack him. But mostly he was watching Dreamy’s inert form, determined nothing ill befall the misguided hippy while his corpus was uninhabited.
 
And he prayed that they’d be okay. Never should have let them split up.
#56
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Alyce sits down with her back to the wall and tell he is concerned about something and assumes it has to do with their current companions.  She keeps her voice so low it can barely be picked up by the throat mike of her transceiver.  "So, Al, what have you been up to lately?"
 
#61
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Al knew he didn’t need a micro transceiver or even more than a wisp of a breath to be heard by Alyce. Which in a way was a relaxing way to talk. “Been on a beach in Okinawa. Never been ta Japan afore that. An’ still haven’t, near as I can tell. Whole different place, but that colonialism for ya. The good an’ the bad. Beaches is nice, though, if’n yer into that sorta thing. Tried a littlebeerchemy, but couldn’t find the parts I needed. Was jistfixin’ ta pull out when the damned comm started chirpin’.”
#57
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"Japan?  I have been to Japan once.  Hokkaido, to be exact, so I have not done more than pass through Okinawa at a refueling stop, but I have heard that the home island Japanese do indeed consider the Okinawan's as poor relations, just as you say.  The beaches might have been nice, but I don't really get much chance to go lay in the sun.  Did you have a nice time there?"
 
#62
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bressington’sMansion, Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London, UK]
 
Dream returned to his body somewhat breathless, mentally trying to slough off the rancid feeling of the astral here…he pitied Petal and her continued exposure to it but couldn’t risk sending her away just yet, and she understood his dilemma and would have refused to leave them in any case.
 
“Sorry to interrupt…we’ve swept the house, as expected the mirror is in the warded safe room below, if it is here at all.  But the mansion isn’t empty, there are staff and so we will need to be cautious.  They appear to be drugged or otherwise slow of mind judging by their auras, perhaps just numbed by the continued exposure to the taint here so they don’t pose a risk by themselves unless we are careless.  Come, let us get this done…!”
 
#28
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Alyce nods as Dream finishes and stands up.  "It is not so simple as all that, Dream.  While you were gone, we detected a pressure plate switch in the floor near the door.  It is a throwback so I cannot detect it in the matrix.  My analysis is that depressing the switch makes a connection to the matrix and sets off an alarm.  We will need to be careful where we walk."
 
#63
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 Al didn’t expect any throwback alarms in the hallway. He knew a little about security, how the tighter it was, the less functional the site became. You put dumb sensors in heavy traffic areas, you were going to slow down the day-to-day and have to deal with the many-layered hassles of numerous false alarms. Covering disused rooms, sure. But the way they needed to go to get downstairs would probably be clear now that Alycehad disabled all the smart sensors.
 
Still, he proceeded with more than a little caution, wary not only of mechanical hazards, but of the zombie staff Dreamy had warned them of.
 
They had come in on the third floor, which was Brit for the fourth. So they when they headed north down the corridor and found the staircase, it wound both up and down through its square shaft. In a perfect world, Al would have liked to have the floors above secured before descending, but this world hadn’t been perfect since Eve had gotten Adam kicked out of the Garden. Anyway, Dreamy and Flower had swept the upper floors and they were clear of hostiles. And the target was down, he reckoned. And the Mirror, too. So down they went.
 
The passageway toward the stairs was dusty and dank. Mildew stained oils on the walls - mostly portraits, a few seascapes - and there was grime crusting the china arrayed on sideboards. Maybe this wasn’t actually a high-traffic area after all - Al redoubled his care with the floor, watching also for wires or simple electric eyes crossing intersections. Nothing, though, and then they were in the stairs. it was quiet. Real quiet. Except for the baby crying. What? Al shook his head. Only a stair creaking. Down past the second floor landing. There was definitely a baby crying. A low, pitiful, plaintive whine. He looked at the others, but they weren’t reacting. It wasn’t a baby wanting attention, wanting picked up. It wasn’t a hungry baby. It was a baby in pain, but had been crying for so long there wasn’t much cry left in her. At first it had faded in and out, but it was stronger now, though with the echoes in the stairwell, he couldn’t tell if it was coming from up or down. His eyes scanned in every direction. He couldn’t believe his coworkers weren’t looking for the source of the sound as well.
 
“Y’all hear that? Where ya reckon it’s comin’ from?”
 
 
#58
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Alyce holds up a finger at Al's question.  She has been trying to focus on the noise even before they had reached the stairs.  Her first thought was that it must be the child of one of the staff here and she has shook her head in wonder at who would want to raise a child in a place like this.  Once in the stairwell, though, the noise was clearly not that of a normal child.  Alyce has been using her ears as her primary means of perceiving the outside world for a long time and she is in the process of winnowing out the chaff so she can focus on the crying.  Downstairs.  The baby is downstairs from where they are. She calls up the floor plans of the building and isolates the possible locations and nods.  She points her finger down the stairs.  "She is down there, one floor down.  Off to the left."
 
#64
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Without hesitation Al headed down the stairs, picking up the pace. If he hit a trap, it would be him and not the others. To the left of the next landing was a long, dimly lit corridor lined with paintings and small antique tables holding expensive-looking vases and wilting flowers. A door latch clicked and Al melted into the shadows in the lee of a polished mahogany chifforobe. A petite woman in a barely decent maid’s uniform emerged, jet black hair in a tight bun. The infant’s cries, fainter now, escaped through the open portal, and as the maid turned to shut the door tight, Al could see two lines of blood running down her chin, one from each corner of her mouth. She turned to go further down the passage, one finger wiping at the spillage as she went. Al’s Docs were silent in her wake on the piled Persian carpets. He closed the distance rapidly and raised the hardwood feather duster handle he’d whittled to a point, then brought it down swiftly toward the sweet spot between her shoulder blades, a hair to the left of the spine. 
#59
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Alyce follows Al down the stairs, her sensors and enhances natural senses giving her a better picture of the path than normal eyes could.  She is just a couple of feet behind Al when the woman comes out of the room and she slips into a niche in the wall next to a suit of armor.  Al is quick, but she has seen him in action before and is ready.  He is silent, but there is noise from somewhere close by that is neither the woman ahead of him or the infant.  She stretches out with her sensors and isolates the noise even as she follows Al down the corridor. 
 
The maid doesn't have a chance, collapsing without even screaming, and Alyce reasons that the improvised stake has penetrated whatever passes for a heart in these monsters.  While Al is kneeling at the body, she comes up to him, holding out one of her sharpened wooden spoons.  "Here, Al.  I am not sure, but all thetrids I have been watching about vampires suggests that it is a bad idea to remove the stake after you kill them unless you can cut off their heads.  I can use my whip to do that if you like, while you stand guard.  Also, I think there may be another of them in this room just to the right.  It sounds like someone sucking a drink through a straw, if that makes any sense."
 
#65
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Before Al or anyone else can think to reply, much less check, there is a strange sound from the room and a muffled shriek.
 
“Petal…”  Dream exclaimed and made for the room before Al deterred him from entering first
 
From Al’s limited view into the room there is indeed a sight to make anyone exclaim… rising out of the bare floorboards there is what at first looks like a silver birch tree, but as Al appears in the doorway it turns and Al can see the limp infant cradled in its arms, leaves whispering in an unseen wind and a powerful scent of blossom filling the room.  Hidden under it all is the acrid metallic scent of blood which is sprayed across the bed and back wall from the man impaled on thorny vines that have erupted from nowhere.  He is gasping like a fish around the tendril that enters his mouth and apparently exits through one ear…his eyes slowly glazing in death
 
“Be careful” a lilting voice says “the blood is tainted…”
 
#29
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Aria

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« Reply #12 on: (08:19:19/02-06-18) »
Alyce sees the infant in Petal's arms and makes a move toward the first room before stopping and whispering.  "Al, I would like to go into that room to see to the child we hear there.  Is that alright with you or do you need to go in first?"
 
She looks at the horrific scene through the open door and asks another question.  "Are the children infected as well?  I was under the impression that they would not be infected unless drained dry, at which point they are no longer of use as a food source.  If that is true, we will need to see how many more of these poor children are up here.  I want to save them if we can.  Let me check the other rooms from here."
 
Alyce stands in the hallway and sends her enhanced senses out, isolating the sounds from each room in turn, her face going quite pale at what she is hearing.  She staggers against the wall, putting out a hand to give her balance.  "Al, Dream, All four of the other rooms on this hall have an infant like this one in them.  There is one other person.........thing.........in the second room on the left, but the other three rooms are empty of anyone but the infant.  Hey, the creature is stirring.  He may have finished his feeding or he might have heard the noise when Petal killed this one.  He will be at the door in about 2 seconds."
 
While Al goes off to kill the vampire about to emerge from the room ahead, Alyce kneels and spools her whip from her finger before wrapping it about the female vampire's neck and tugging on it.  By the time she is done, there is yet another dead vampire in the hall.  As she moves to behead it, she whispers, "You do nice work, Al.  Let me finish this one then go back and take the head of Petal's kill.  But we have six children here...............what do we do?"
 
#66
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Looking into the second room, Al shivered. Not at the carnage - that he was used to - but at the deeply unnatural transformation the hippy-girl spirit had effected. But with the devilish parasite bleeding out and the babe cradled in her arms, he remembered there were more forces than one in the universe. “Hell,” he rasped under his breath, “Blasphemy ta call her an angel, but injustice ta say devil. Gon’ put you inna good-guy category, plant-lady.”
 
He turned to Alyce and Dream. “Sorry boss, kids is more important’n mirrors. We can’t leave this.”
 
He removed his feather duster handle from the now headless form on the floor and moved to the door whereAlyce indicated a hostile. With Alyce in the other room finishing off Petal’s kill, he gave Dream a moment to stack up behind him, waited for the door handle to move, then kicked the door right below the latch, splintering the doorjamb, and rushed in, shouldering the door to smother and blitz whatever was behind it….
 
 
#60
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Al's maneuver catches the creature on the other side of the door by surprise, flinging it several feet away.  As Al rushes in to finish the thing off, he notices two things; first, that the vampire appears to be no more than a child herself, perhaps no older than twelve or thirteen.  Second, that this is no average twelve year old girl.  She may have been tossed aside when Al slammed the door into her, but she has amazing reflexes and spins around on the floor.  Her mouth opens to reveal extended canines already bloody from feeding on the infant on the bed in the room and her eyes seem to pierce Al to the soul.
 
The vampire makes a lightning quick roll to the side, avoiding the wooden duster, but still catching one of Al's boots on its side, causing it to waver.  Dream motions and a bolt of mana springs from his hand to strike the vampire, sending it sprawling.  Al is upon her before she can recover and the sharpened handle of the duster pierces the chest and heart of the girl, who opens her mouth in a soundless scream.  At the last moment, there is a look in the little girl's eyes that will stay with Al for the rest of his life.  As she is dying, the eyes seem to thank him for releasing her from something.
 
#67
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Any misgivings Al may have harbored about killing a child were swept away the moment he realized that, since these freaks didn’t age, the freak could have been two hundred years old. They quickly secured all the rooms on the corridor. As Alyce had said, they found six babies. Some sort of sustainable food bank…this was more than one old Drac with a fancy mirror. It was a damned coven. Well, he’d come here to try on vampire hunting, and he’d already notched up two. “Dreamy, jig may be up now; we should hustle fer yer prize. Can Petal git these babies outta here?”
 
 
#61
 
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"Al, let me see what I can hear of the house."  Alyce has been standing still in the hallway, reaching out with senses that have been honed by natural abilities and aided by implants to the point that most normal people cannot comprehend.  She has rarely had to stretch her abilities before as she does now and the only observable difference between her right now and when she goes into VR is that she is still standing as she carefully and exactingly roams through the hallways and rooms of the house.  She starts with those near her, identifying the sounds of the six children for reference then moves outward.  She draws up the floor plans and filters through the noise of the house, one room at a time.  Soon, a loud noise near her would be ignored as not important to her search.  She smiles inwardly as she ticks off the locations of several other members of the household then pauses, frowning.  Carefully, she checks and double checks the data coming to her.
 
Alyce slowly retraces her sensory steps and rouses herself.  Her look is serious as she scans about at her friends.  "It is worse even than I had thought.  There are no more infants on this floor in this wing, but I have found what I think are four others being held, but there is a difference.  "I think they are older, or at least one is and I am making an assumption about the others.  There are six rooms very like these on the other side of the stairway, down the other wing.  I could only detect breathing in four of them, and only one had more than one person in it.  I could hear the same slurping sounds as I heard from inside these rooms, so I believe that one of the people there is being sucked on.  The important thing is that I heard her ask where her baby is, that it is time to feed her.  Another voice, presumably that of the vampire with her, gave a short laugh and told her she would be able to feed her daughter shortly.  I think that it is quite possible that she is the mother of one of these infants."
 
Alyce looks around.  "The vampire there was finishing up his feeding and what I heard leads me to believe that he is making ready to leave the room.  Beyond that, I have the locations of several of the other residents here.  That they seem to have mobility would lead me to think they are other vampires or trusted servants.  No one else is on this floor, yet, and no one seems to have been alerted to our presence as yet."
 
#68
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“Miracle that, but it won’t be long now. An’ pickin’ these freaks off one by one by ambush is one thing - holdin’ our ground against a bum rush by the whole coven, that’ll be quite another ball o’ wax.”
 
As he spoke, Al was glad to see tree-Petal gathering up infants. “Dreamy, can yer witch-sight tell at a glance which is infected an’ which ain’t. Cuz mother or not, they got the disease, they goin’ down. If not, then hopefully we can bring ‘em outta here….”
 
#62
 
Dream shook his head “It’s not as simple as that, the vampiric virus is notoriously good at hiding itself in the initial subjugation of the host.  Petal will do a better job of detecting it but after that last statement I wouldn’t hold out much hope of her telling you which ones are infected.  She has a kinder heart that you or I…
 
…There are foes approaching, and they must know we are here or my spell wouldn’t react to their presence, this will have to wait for another time, things are about to get interesting…”
 
Although with the background count rendering the power focus useless Dream nevertheless gripped the twisted willow braided wand in his hand as he prepared to unleash what was left of his arsenal.  In his right hand he reached for the precious reagents that would help him combat the sapping effect of the negative aura of this place and, not for the first time, he regretted ever coming here…
 
#30
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 Alyce smiles grimly.  "But they do not know that you have me as a secret weapon.  I can hear them approach.  Why don't we each take a separate room so we can catch them from in front and behind when they come at us.  Remember that they might not all be vampires.  I will take this room and keep you advised by throat mic, unless that plan is no good?"

#69
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“Less talkin’, more doin’,” Al said as he assigned himself a room and ducked inside. He was never a big fan of splitting up, but he could see the tactical sense in Alyce’s idea, knew she had the big picture view of the situation, and in any case was keenly aware they didn’t have time to spare for a debate. Not with an enemy that could materialize literally out of mist anytime and anywhere.

Inside the room, he put his back against the wall opposite the door. The jig well up, he stuffed his feather duster handle into his belt and unslung his shotgun, pumping a wood pulp capsule into the chamber.
#69
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Alyce unspools her whip from her finger and puts the spoon in her belt, drawing the handivac and readying it.  The monofilament of the whip might not be wood, but she is pretty sure that the vampires will be somewhat allergic to its effects, too.  Her senses are alive, the walls of the old house providing no real barrier to her ability to detect the three enemy approaching.  The thick carpet muffles the sound for the enemy, just as it did for Al as he had surprised the first vampire, but it is no match for Alyce's enhanced hearing or the ultrasound sensor implanted in her.  She is aware when they spy the beheaded corpse of the first dead vampire and her sensors allow her to see when one moves forward to kneel at the side of the dead vampire and motions for his companions to begin checking the rooms out.  "Al, the one approaching your door is armed with a shotgun.  He is reaching for the knob now."

Her door opens at the same time as the attackers coordinate their movements.  Unlike Al, Alyce is standing off to the side as the man enters the room leading with his weapon.  Suddenly all hell breaks loose as she hears the blasts from a shotgun across the hall.  Her hand flicks out and the nearly invisible whip snakes out to wrap around the arms of the man entering her room.  A not so gentle tug has the shotgun and both forearms falling to the floor and two stumps spurting blood as the man falls back, screaming in anguish.

#70
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With Alyce’s warning, the usual thing to do would be to fire through the door. Problem was, the wood pulp capsules Al was using had the penetrating power of peanut butter.

But the Drac didn’t know that.

Picking up a heavy standing lamp in his left hand, Al fired at the door and stepped off to the side. The wood pulp splattered on the door, but hit it hard enough to let the freak on the other side know he’d been shot at. The return fire punched two neat small holes through the wood as if it were paper - Al had figured guys this rich would be rocking APDS. With buckshot, Fangs would easily have been able to see through their hole. But this way he couldn’t, and the moment he fired, Al tossed the heavy lamp onto the floor where he’d been standing across from the door. It landed with a heavy thump.

The vampire was through the door in a flash, shotgun held loosely in one hand, pouncing for where he’d heard his prey fall. That split second of unthinking blood lust was all the edge Al needed - these things were fast, but then so was he, and when the monster turned to spot him, his face was met by Al’s next capsule. The hypersonic projectile hit the thing’s face like a locomotive, and thousands of nifty allergen splinters spread out across and into its cheeks, eyes, oral and nasal cavities. Without the punch to reach the brain, the thing yet lived, but its visage was a bloody, featureless ruin of once immortal flesh that now would never heal. Fast as lightning it pounced, but its blind rush was easy to sidestep. Al brought his shotgun butt down hard on the back of its head as it passed, and when it fell he placed the weapon’s muzzle flush with the line of the spine on back of its neck and pulled the trigger before it could get up. And now it never would.
#70
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Alyce is through the door, whip at the ready and she catches the kneeling vampire in a moment of confusion.  The man, if you can still call him that, has been startled, first by his armless companion, who is still screaming on the floor, and now by the shotgun blasts from the room to his right.  In his mind, things are not going well and he feels the need to go report to his Master and he makes the decision to go to his vapor form, only to experience the single greatest pain he has ever felt as the woman antagonist sticks some sort of device into his mist form and flicks a button.

Caught part way inside the handivac and out side, the vampire cannot resume his solid form without ripping part of his body apart.  The pain would cause him to shriek if he could in this form.  Alyce grins.  Her sensors have already told her who is still standing in the other room.  Reasoning that the several shotgun blasts have removed any doubt that the house is being invaded, Alyce calls out.  "Al, this handivac is working great.  Bring yours out and we can tear this thing to pieces."

#71
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“Heh heh,” Al chuckled as he whipped his handivac off his belt and completed the fluid dismemberment of the third vampire. “All too easy,” he snorted. And as if on cue, all the lights went out. And then back on as magical flames rushed in at the small group from both ends of the hall, the billowing orange and black conflagration filling the space from floor to ceiling in either direction, nearly drowning out the chorus of maniacal cackles erupting from all directions….
#71
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That the lights go out does not phase Alyce.  The flames coming down the hallway DO phase Alyce, but she has little time to worry about it before Al shoves her through the open door to the room she has just left, following her in and kicking the door closed behind him.  The two fall on the floor and Alyce lets out a "humph" as Al's solid weight pushes against her.  Even through the wood of the door, she can feel the heat of the flames as she turns her face up to his.  "Thanks, Al.  You sure know how to show a girl a hot date.  I might never get a chance to do this again."  She lifts her face to his and kisses him just before he rolls off of her and stands up.  He reaches a hand down to help her to her feet and Alyce smiles grimly.  "Well, so much for the pansies, eh?  I think they have a couple of big guns out there now.  I really don't want to stay in the room and wait for them to figure out how to deal with us, but I have a plan.  Sort of.  Sort of a plan.  Here goes.  I am going to fire up some of my drones and lead with them in both directions.  One drone on each side will be a Noizquito and it will go a bit closer then go off.  The noise and light will be blinding, so you might want to turn your eyes off  I can use the feed from the other drones I am sending to guide you to the target.  You go right and I go left and we take them both out.  Speaking of noise..........................."  The loud ringing of a fire alarm suddenly shuts off.  "There, much better if we don't get too many of the locals involved.   You ready?"  She smiles as six small drones take off from the area of her collar.  " Just like Cambodia, Al.  Trust me to talk you to the target from my own feeds."  She takes a step closer, her chest heaving a bit from the excitement and adrenaline pumping her up, and places a hand on Al's cheek.  "I do love you.  Take care."  A final smile and she moves to open the door so Al can go out first.

#72
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It was a balls out plan, but the way Alyce’s touch sent Al’s nerves screeching to DefCon4 reminded him that charging a vampire wizard blind was not nearly so dangerous as staying there in the room with her. He tore through the door the moment she opened it, trusting her drones to get out ahead of him, and after a quick mental eeny-meeny broke left. The carpets and ruined furniture were ablaze, the wallpaper smoldering, the place was filled with smoke. His eyes had good flare compensators, but turning the eyes off altogether for a moment was better just the way not getting shot in the first place was better then trusting your jacket to stop the round. Once he was blind, Alyce’s voice was right there in his earbud guiding him toward the target she’d identified, and a good thing, too…..he hadn’t figured he’d really need her, because the voodoo gods always guided him through moments like this. But just as he’d realized when they’d first entered this hell hole, the loa would not come here, not even Ghede or Baron Samedi himself.

The drones lit up just as planned, and the noise was like being boxed in the ears by a troll on Jazz, but his dampers did their job. He brought his eyes back on line and there was one of the assholes that had tried to fry them. He saw Al’s shotgun and darted away. Real fast. But Al was faster. Or not. Even as he squeezed the trigger he realized that the guy had skipped off of the weapon’s line. Dammit, he wasn’t that fast…no….Al was slow. Without his voodoo gifts, everything was off, skewampus. He could feel the power in him, but it was straining to respond to his wishes, smothered in the black molasses of this place’s curse.

He tracked the mage’s movement and was bringing the weapon to bear again when the guy told him to put it down. Just like that, pretty as you please. Even as Al thought about it - it did make perfect sense, after all…hadn’t the Master taught to turn the other cheek - he could see long claws extending from the other guy’s fingertips. Well, Al didn’t need the voodoo gods to blow off this sort of parlor trick…but the Drac didn’t know that. So he let his face go slack and let the shotgun fall, shrugging the strap off his shoulder. “Now kneel, and bow your head.” The freak’s voice was like scarabs swarming a sarcophagus. Al knelt. “Your throat.” Still kneeling, Al lifted his chin obediently, hands at his belt now. The guy drew in, fangs bared. Al waited, the picture of docility. Hot breath on his neck, the tiniest scrape of incisor. And he plunged the feather duster’s handle in and up, hitting the top of the abdominal cavity below the sternum, aiming straight up for the heart. The freak gasped. Al used his free hand to pat its cheek, then pulled it to the floor and stabbed it again and again in the face, the wood piercing to its brain. Finally a shoved a burning table leg into the open cavity where its face had been.

It had been six seconds since he’d left the room he’d sheltered in with Alyce. He stood and looked to see how his companions had fared.
#72
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Aria

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« Reply #13 on: (08:19:51/02-06-18) »
Alyce charges out of the room just after Al leaves, breaking to the right as he goes left.  The drones give her a good picture of each end of the hallway, as do the ultrasound and her normally augmented senses.  She can feel the heat from the burning carpet and wall hangings and the stench of the burning vampire corpse is nearly overwhelming.  The vampire blood mage at her end of the hallway is half blinded and more than half deafened by the drone going off close to him, but he is still able to concentrate enough to send a bolt of destructive power at her.  The badly aimed bolt catches her on the right side of her chest, tossing her against the wall, where she falls to her knees, shaking her head to keep the pain from driving her unconscious.  Alyce's armored clothing protects her from all but a minimal amount of damage and she quickly comes to her feet as the mage lurches forward. 

The really good thing about a monofilament whip is that the damn thing is practically invisible as it kills you, and vampires, even powerful vampire blood mages, are just as susceptible to the razor sharp strand of molecules as anyone else.  Alyce leaps forward towards the vampire, slinging her arm sideways as the whip races out.  The only warning the vampire has are a few sparks as the whip slashes across the wall, and that warning is not enough.  What IS almost enough is the picture fed to Alyce of Al sinking to his knees in front of the vampire at his end of the hall.  In an instant, Alyce considers and rejects the thought that Al's will is crumbling to that of the vampire.  Hell, if he can resist her charms, he can resist those of a creepy vampire, right?  In any case, she has to trust him in this.  The vampire ahead of Alyce keeps walking forward, not even aware that its torso has separated from its legs and that its long life is over.  She scrambles up to the top half of the creature and removes its head with her whip.  Leaving a drone to watch this end of the hall, she turns the Noizquitoes off and walks back to Al, her clothes covered in vampire blood and patting out small embers trying to burn holes in her clothes.  "See, just like Cambodia, Al."

#73
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“Sure toots, sure. Jist like Cambodia.” He wished it were true. But that wasn’t how it worked. You never really got to go back to where you’d been. Or if you did, it was different by the time you got there. But why ruin the moment? “Okay Dreamy, kids sorted, first an’ second waves down. Where’s this damn lookin’ glass?”
#73
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Alyce shakes her head.  "Not sure the kids are sorted, Al.  Remember those people I saw in the other rooms?  They could be more like these kids or even their mothers.  I think we should go see and release them as well if they are.  Maybe Petal can get all of them to safety while we finish getting the mirror."

#74
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“Dammit,” Al said, lighting a cigarette on a burning patch of wallpaper, “Thought hippy-girl was already takin’ care o’ that. Anyhoo, a few ticks ago when this was about maybe goin’ in fer the mirror an’ gittin’ out, the kids was most important. But now the jig’s up, we ain’t gittin’ that mirror without killin’ ever’ danged Drac in this place, after which the rest is jist logistics. So we press the attack now, rather’n let ‘em regroup while we’s babysittin’ who knows how many folks, some of whom are likely infected theyselves. Only reason I wanna know where the mirror is is cuz we go after it, that’ll attract the rest of ‘em, makin’ it easier ta be sure we cack ‘em all, ever’ last one. Ergo, immediate problem solved fer said babies. So which way, Dreamy baby?”
#74
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Alyce nods.  After all, Al's logic is flawless.  "Let's be about it, then.  The drone I left at the other end of the hallway tell me that there is nothing on the stairs there but the one I sent down is feeding me pictures of four people gathering in one of the rooms below us.  I am sending the data to your 'links now."  Before going anywhere, Alyce kneels down near the vampire Al had killed and beheads it.  Standing, she nods that she is ready.

#75
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bressington’s Mansion, Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London, UK]
 
Dream was struggling with forming any sort of coherent thought under the barrage of noise and hostile magic.  Petal was faring somewhat better but he was under no illusions about the state they’d be in without the two runners to cover their own inadequacies in a confrontation.  Desperately trying to shake off the malaise caused by the background count he vaguely gestured onwards at Al’s request for some kind of direction
 
“Down…” he croaked, throat horse from the smoke laden air, “Petal and I will keep their spells off you but do not count on us being much more assistance than that.  Gods protect us if they send a blood spirit!  Alyce…can you cut a way through the floor?  Being confined on the stairs is only going to make matters worse…just don’t snag a gas line…”
 
#31
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Alyce nods and uses her sensors to try to find a weak spot on the floor to cut through, but is stymied by the construction materials used in the building.  She frowns and shakes her head.  "The floors under the carpet are made of the same fire resistant materials as the walls.  I could cut a hole in it, yes, but it would take time.  Right now, my drones are showing no activity on the stairwell and I think that we should be moving."  She looks over to Al for his opinion.
 
#76
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Half nauseous from the oppressive spirit of this fell place, Al leaned against a bit of wall that wasn’t smouldering. “If this one can’t cut it, it can’t be cut. An’ if this one says the stairwell’s clear, then that’s the best we’s gon’ git.” He pushed himself away from the wall and headed through the flames toward the stairs, wondering what a blood spirit was and if it was bad that he hoped they’d meet one.
#75
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Alyce keeps her drones and senses tuned for anything amiss in the stairwell, primed to alert Al at the slightest hint that something is wrong.  She breathes a slight sigh as they pass out of the main smoke area and are at the bottom of the stairs.  She taps Al on the shoulder and points off to the right.  "There are four of them through that room and in the next beyond it, which leads to the stairway down to the blank space in the house.  I do not see any others on this floor, but I am still looking.  I expect that the worst of them may be down the next level protecting their master."
 
#77
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So if they were all holed up in those rooms, the way on down the stairs was clear. Tempting to just bypass them, but also stupid. They were clearly positioned to come in on their rear, catch them in a pincer if they proceeded toward the mirror. They’d have to be taken out. “Can you git eyes in there, see if they’s vamps or what?” he asked his companions, knowing that both Alyce and Dreamy had various ways of gathering intel.
#76
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Alyce nods.  "On it, Al.  Sending the feed to your 'link.........now."  The drone feed shows three men and a woman off in a side room.  The men are all armed with shotguns while the woman seems not to be armed.  They are positioned so that a casual observer would miss them as he headed for the stairway down, allowing them to come in from behind.  As always, Alyce does not rely on just one source when she can have more and she uses her senses to do some "looking" as well.  "Al, the three men have breathing patterns as if they are frightened, but the woman does not.  My guess is that we have three mundane male human guards and a female vampire leading them.  You see any fault in that analysis?  How do you want to deal with them?"
 
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“We do ta them what they was fixin’ ta do ta us. Dreamy an’ I’ll head on down, then stop short here,” and Al indicated an ambush spot on the feed offered by Alyce’s advance drones. “They won’t wait long cuz they want ta be able to hit us when we’s bein’ met in front down at the bottom. So they come, an’ we’s waitin’….with you havin’ followed right behind ‘em.”
#77
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Alyce nods and smiles then steps aside into a different room while the men go on down towards the stairway leading to the cellar and the hidden room.  She keeps the drone feed from linked to Al's and Dream's 'links as she waits.  Her hearing picks up the cries of the babies left in the rooms on the floor above her, but she filters them to a back spot in her brain as she focuses on the people in front of her.
 
Sure enough, Al has been right again and the four enemy leave their hiding spot to go after what they think is the prime target.  The vampire and one of the men are side by side in the front and the other two men are just behind them.  Alyce waits a few seconds and slips from her own hiding spot and follows them, her whip unspooled and ready.  She does not have to vocalize any sort of warning because Al is seeing everything on the screen of his 'link, courtesy of Alyce's drone.  Not wanting to alert the vampire and its minions, Alyce stays back where she can still approach the group from behind as Al and Dream engage them from the front.
 
#79
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bressington’s Mansion, Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London, UK]
 
Dream turned to face back towards the foe with a knowing grin and his hands raised in mock surrender…although his magic was seriously impaired by the background count he wasn’t really a combatant anyway, he would leave that to his more effective counterparts.  What he could do, at least briefly, was contain the vampire behind a mana barrier…with luck the mundanes might even be stalled if there was some kind of mental manipulation going on…and then Petal…she materialised beside the vamp in a glorious spray of colour and scent and proceeded to demonstrate why vampires are so averse to wood…
 
#32
 
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With the lead vamp lady spasming in agony on the multiple branches impaling her, Al shot the first familiar as he raised his weapon. But then the other two had their weapons up. Al knew the voodoo gods wouldn't let him get shot - but then they weren't here. And he wasn't as fast as he usually was. He knew he couldn't get both before they fired, but then he wouldn't have to - he fired a split second quicker than the second, even as Alyce loomed up behind the third....
 
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Alyce smiles grimly as what must be Petal seems to materialize next to the vampire and pierce her body in several places with her various wooden appendages.  The choking scream of the undead woman is cut off prematurely by a branch that seems to grow from her mouth and another that stabs up through her brain, coming out the top of her head.  The man next to the vampire is blown back into the pair behind him by Al's first blast and his second roars out even as the two thugs try to bring their own weapons to bear on him.  Still, their aim had been thrown off long enough that they would never get a shot off, as Al's second round took off the top of his target's head and Alyce's whip nestled around the upper torso of the last man.  A pull of her hand later and the man's upper body completely separates from his lower body at about the waist, sending blood and entrails all over the section of stairs he had been standing on.
 
Alyce steps gently past the still quivering bodies on the stairs and joins her companions.  "Well done, you three, maybe we should go into the vampire hunting business.  I think that is the last of them on this level.  There are four at the bottom of the stairs leading to the hidden room, so I would expect these to be the worst we will meet until we get into that room.  Two seem to be thugs and the other two should be vampires.  Here, I am sending you a picture of the room and its occupants now.  How do we want to proceed with this?"
 
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A plan is quickly made and Alyce follows behind Al and Dream as they approach the stairway leading down to the hidden lair.  Her drones give her a view of the four individuals waiting for them and she updates the feed going to her partners.  All four of their opponents seem to be alert and ready, still, there seems to be no way to get to the mirror other than going through these defenders.  Halfway down the stairs, Alyce receives unwelcome information from one of the drones she had left up on the main level to monitor the area.  "We have some company behind us.  Looks like another vampire and three minions are approaching the stairs from somewhere in the rear of the building.  We will be cut off and surrounded in less about fifteen seconds.  Ideas?"
 
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[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bressington’s Mansion, Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London, UK]
 
“And now it gets tight” Dream mused “the area up ahead is the most strongly warded part of the building so I’m reasonably sure we’ll find our prize there…but it also means that Petal can’t lead the way until I am through, I don’t want to waste the time it would take to batter down the ward.  Bloody vampires, I had no idea that covens of this size still existed in London, aren’t we lucky!?  There’s no surprise left to us, we can only find hope in speed now.  Either way if we turn to engage one group the other will drop on us from behind.  I will summon another to assist Petal and have them both watch our rear while Al leads us through that door…”
 
And he began to mutter under his breath, drawing on the mana, even in this tainted place, to bring another spirit to their aide…
 
#33
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Once Dream had summoned his second demon, Al led the way down to the door that lay between them and four final guards. Knowing there was a fresh force closing in behind them, he wanted to hurry but didn't want to be stupid - hopefully Petal and the new devil would be enough to slow down the enemy pincer long enough for them to take care of business on this end and avoid a two-front battle.
 
Outside the door, Al took a few moments to point Dream and Alyce to where he wanted them, well to the side of the door in either direction. Once he was sure they were positioned behind load-bearing sections of the wall, he knelt and picked the lock as quietly as he could. Then, latch loosed, he stood well to the side and used his shotgun barrel to push the door open before dodging further away. As expected, the movement of the door was met with a withering barrage of gunfire from within the chamber.
 
The people seemed scared - they fired until they were empty. There was a pause as Al assumed they were reloading, and Al shouted "in! In! In!" rushing into the room behind his weapon, scanning for vampires to shoot first. Dream and Alyce were on his heels.
 
But the room was empty, and there was a solid click as the steel door on the other side was audibly locked. Whirling, they saw the bullet-ridden door they'd come through disappear as another steel plate dropped down from the ceiling, blocking the aperture of their exit.
 
And then the hiss of gas....
 
#79
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Alyce rushes into the room right behind Al, looking for any sort of target to try to take out only to be completely surprised at the lack of targets.......any targets.  The enormity of the situation comes in on her as the metal doors seal them in and her truly exceptional hearing and smell picks up the telltale sound and odor of gas.  She has little time to wonder at how ALL of her amazing sensors, both implanted and natural, had been fooled so completely before the effects of the gas begin to be felt.  She slips the custom ballistic mask from her hip and slips it on, activating the air supply and checking on her companions.
 
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Al calmly switched to his internal air supply, deeply annoyed at having to once again stop smoking. Looking at his companions, he saw that Alyce had come prepared with a mask, but the druid did not appear to be so well equipped. It occurred to Al that he could share air with his companion, but he didn't kiss guys and that was that. "See if ya can hold yer breath fer a tick there, Dreamy baby," he offered, looking around for the sources of the gas - he could hear at least four - or any way out of the room.
 
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Aria

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« Reply #14 on: (08:20:14/02-06-18) »
[Thursday December 10th, 2076; Bressington’s Mansion, Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia, London, UK]
 
Dream began to feel light headed and he suspected it wasn’t due to holding his breath, giving that up as a bad job he said “I think it’s a contact toxin… got one last trick…” and extending his will fourth he summoned his big gun from its home on the astral.  The bound spirit chafed at its bondage, even from such a lenient master as Dream, especially because of its power which dwarfed that of Petal.  It materialised in the small box room as a giant oak tree, cramming the frail metahuman occupants to one side, skin scraped by the rough bark
 
“Please aid us in escaping this room great one and I will release your bonds in acknowledgement of your great service…”
 
The branches slammed in to the steel doors with the force of countless ages behind them and the metal began to buckle as if time was accelerated and the oak roots undermined the structure… unfortunately Dream passed out before he could see them free, or not…
 
#34
 
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Dammit, Dreamy was right. Al felt his head going light. It was contact vector, like neurostun or something. Al's power of fuck-you to drugs would buy him a few seconds, but not forever. Alyce was reaching in a cargo pocket for something....Then the tree appeared. Well, Petal had done right by them, so maybe....hell yes, damned thing was treating steel doors like plywood....almost there...and then dreamy lost it.
 
Which was exactly when fucking treebeard went on strike. Turned an angry eye on the prone form of its erstwhile master....Al had heard about vengeful demons going postal on incapacitated summoners and staggered between the thing and Dreamy, but the last thing he saw was a baleful sneer slashed across the trunk of a derezzing spirit before everything went black....
 
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Alyce has already identified that this is a contact poison by its symptoms just before Dream said anything and is reaching into one of her pockets for something to counter its effects when a huge oak tree manifests into the room, thrusting her against the wall like so much paper and crushing the vial she has in her hand.  The rough bark of the tree holds her in place, not even allowing her any range of motion to get her whip into play.  Her head is pressed against the wall so that she can see Al stumble.  Knowing that she may have finally met something she cannot walk away from, she triggers her omega code, sending pre-programmed messages to her daughters and her lover that she loves them very much.  Then, still barely conscious, she sends a final message to the man she loves more than anyone else.  >>Al, Alyce.  I have never been able to properly tell you that I love you and it looks like I may not ever have the chance.  I guess I only get to say a simple I love you and that will have to do.<<
 
Al goes to the floor and she is not certain that he has even received the message and her heart despairs that she never ever found the way to tell him how important to her he is.  Suddenly the huge tree begins to vanish, releasing her from her confinement and she stumbles to get closer to Al, only to fail at the end and fall unconscious to the floor just two feet from her goal.
 
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Alyce wakes to a pounding headache and a throbbing pain in her right hand.  She shakes her head a bit, which only serves to make things worse so she stops doing it.  She reaches out with her sensors as well as her natural senses and finds that she is chained to a wall.  Al seems to be still unconscious on her left with Dream on her right in a similar condition.  A quick check of the locks on the chains reveals that someone really likes throwbacks and the locks are the simple sort that open with a key............completely immune to Alyce's ability to open them in the matrix.  The room is perhaps twenty feet to a side, unadorned by any windows although there are two doors; one on the wall directly opposite where she and the others are chained and one on the wall to her left.  A sharp jab of pain in her right hand reminds her that something is wrong and she focuses her ultrasound on her hand, taking in a sharp breath as she realizes that the finger that had held her whip has been roughly cut off and the wound just as roughly bandaged.
 
There are two other men in the room at the moment, neither one talking, although one perks up as Alyce moves.  He walks to the wall to Alyce's left and pushes a button next tot he door.  "Master, they are waking. Do you wish me to................."
 
He is interrupted by a voice coming through the speaker.  "No!  I do not want you to do anything.  I will be out."
 
The intercom goes dead and the man returns to the position he had been standing in.  Within seconds, the door opens and a distinguished looking man walks out, accompanied by a beautiful woman.  The man steps first to Dream and slaps him hard enough to wake the man before walking down the line of prisoners and slapping the other two as well but failing to rouse Al.  He slaps Al a second time with the same affect then shrugs his shoulders before moving to stand in front of the others.  Alyce can tell by his breathing that Al was awakened but his voodoo gods must be with him to allow him to continue to play unconscious.  Her attention is brought to the man who had slapped her as he begins to speak. 
 
"First, let me say how impressed I am that there were only three of you, and one a fucking blind woman.  This place should have been impregnable to people like you, but not only did you manage to get in, you have killed most of my servants.  And I am not even sure why the hell you are here or if you have any backup."  He waves his hand.  "It is all so very distressing and leaves me with a shortage of minions, a shortfall I intend to fix rather quickly.  I am sure that all three of you are quite brave and would refuse to answer my questions so I will not waste my time or yours.  I have a fool proof plan that will help satisfy my minion issues and get willing answers to my questions."
 
He had begun pacing in the room but stops in front of Alyce.  I would take the woman first, but I think she will be a bit more fun for me when I have sated myself on the essence of her friend here.  Indeed, my dear, whoever the fuck you are, your essence is somewhat pitiful so I would not get much nourishment from you.  Instead, I will sate my physical lust in you and share you about with my remaining minions before emptying your husk of its essence.  Once all of you are mine, you will give me all the answers I need."  Dream struggles against the chains and the man walks up to him.  "Oh, poor fairy creature.  What bothers you the most, hmmm?  Knowing that you will spend the rest of eternity as my slave, chained to the darkness and obeying my every command or knowing that your friend here will be ravished by me and the rest of my people?  Or is it that you want her for yourself?  Don't worry, I will give you a chance to use her before I turn her, but by that time you will not mind anymore.  In fact, I think I will start with you as it is depressing to empty an unconscious person."
 
He turns to the woman with him and nods without saying more, disappearing back through the door.  The woman nods to the two men in the room, one of whom moves to Dream and unlocks the chains that hold his arms to the wall.  Dream tries to resist, but he is too newly awake and his feeble attempts only draw laughter from the two men.  As they grab him, the woman moves to where Alyce is standing and raises a hand to touch her face, extending a finger and drawing a sharp nail down the blind woman's cheek.  She wipes at the blood dripping from the shallow wound and put her finger in her mouth, sucking at the blood on it.  "I will be the second one to taste your body and use it.  you will not enjoy it."
 
Alyce smiles.  "I have been dominated by professionals, you amateur.  You....................."
 
Alyce is interrupted by the woman pulling her head back, exposing her neck.  The woman's open mouth closes on Alyce's neck and she feels the sharp pain of a pair of elongated incisors as they pierce her flesh, drawing an involuntary gasp from her.  The woman's effort is interrupted by a sharp command from the door.  "Ilsa, no!  I have said what I wish to have happen to her.  Leave her."
 
The woman slowly withdraws her fangs from Alyce's neck and glowers at her.  "Yes, master."  She turns her attention back to Alyce and says, "I will enjoy breaking you."  She takes a finger and drags it along Alyce's neck, scooping up some of the blood still seeping from the wound and sucking it up as she turns to join her master.  One of the thugs in the room takes Dream and walks him through the door.  The distinguished man standing there nods at Alyce and the unconscious Al.  "I will leave the intercom open so you can hear him scream and know that this will be your fate as well."  Alyce's hope that only the one man remaining will be left to watch them is short-lived as the second man returns shortly, closing the door behind him.
 
True to the vampire's word, Alyce only has to wait a short time before Dream's screams come through the intercom, shaking her to her core.  Realizing that things have never really been more serious for her, she sets her mind to work on a plan.  Her scanner has already shown her where her whip sits on a small table, still attached to her bloody finger.  If she can get to the whip, she might be able to kill these minions, free Al, and rescue Dream.  There is very scant chance of this plan working, but then is was scant chance that she would survive a gunshot to her head and yet here she is.
 
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The screams from the other room slow and taper off to a soft mewling then stop altogether.  Al has given no indication yet that he is awake, a true testament to the acting ability he had always bragged about, but Alyce knows that he has heard every one of their friend's screams of pain.  Her sensors have picked up minute movements of Al's hands in the chains and has come to the conclusion that he may be nearly able to free himself.  She has covered the small sounds he might make by trying to engage the jailers in conversation and, when that completely fails, singing the lyrics to some of the songs, some of them from Al's favorite groups.  Still, it seems that Al's time runs out when the door opens to revel the woman vampire, who nods at the two goons.  "The Master wants the woman next.  Get her."
 
The two men nod and move to free Alyce from the chains, one opening the lock and the other holding one of Alyce's arms.  As the first man release her arms from the chain and turns to assist his companion, Alyce strikes.  The decorative metal bracelets on her arms uncoil at her mental command and the Medusa drones strike, sending doses of Narcoject into the arms of both humans.  One does not even understand what is happening and stares stupidly at the thing poised to strike again, even as the potent drug courses through his veins.  The other man gives a strangled yell and drops Alyce's arms to clutch his own where the drone has struck.  Seeing her chance, Alyce shrugs off the now relaxing grasp of the man still trying to hold her and leaps for the table and her whip.
 
Sadly, although a great plan in concept, it failed to realistically account for the speed of the woman vampire, who dashes over and smashes Alyce and the table to the floor, sending the whip off several feet from Alyce's prone figure.  The woman snarls again as she picks up Alyce's form and throws it against the far wall.  Alyce lets out a grunt of pain as she slides to the floor, not truly being able to recover her breath before the vampire is on her again.  However, the voodoo idol hand crafted years ago by Al exerts what influence it can and one of the wooden spoons that had been put on the table has fallen to the floor under Alyce, whose hand picks it up just as the woman reaches her.  Alyce feels herself lifted into the air against the wall, the breath of the other woman in her face, and strikes.  Alyce's blow is shunted aside by her position and the sharpened kitchen implement strikes the vampire in the shoulder instead of the neck, eliciting a scream of pain and rage from the woman as she immediately drops Alyce.
 
#84
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The vampire yanked the spoon unceremoniously from her shoulder, instantly dropping it as the allergen burned the palm of her hand. It cost her just shy of a second, almost enough time for Alyce to reach her whip.
 
Almost.
 
The blind woman was once again snatched up like a rag doll and pinned high against the wall, feet dangling. Close up, she could see the wound in the vampire's shoulder already starting to heal. The monster held her head in both hands like a vise, and started to squeeze. Almost immediately Alyce's sound and other senses started to distort and fade as the pressure in her brain increased. But she had already sensed enough, and even as the world started to drift away she had to suppress a smile. The sharp cracking sound surprised only the vampire, who maintained her grip but turned to her head to see what had caused the noise.
 
It had been Al Guthrie breaking a leg off the table.
 
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Al had come slowly back to consciousness, taking inventory of his senses one by one. So he knew enough from his tactile data that he was well and truly fucked in the mobility department. Crashing headache aside, he realized right away that he was trussed up good. The manacles holding his hands to the walls above his head would be the work of seconds thanks to the mixed-rigidity smart materials he'd accidentally had the bones in his hands replaced with. But his ankles were likewise clamped directly to the stone wall, and he'd need his hands to get those off. 
 
Piece of cake if he was unobserved, but his hearing quickly let him know that he was not. He could hear two guards, and if he made a break for it with them watching, he'd be dead sometime between slipping his hands free and getting the ankle clamps off.
 
So he waited for his chance. At first it was easy. Uncomfortable to the point of torture, but he could handle that. Been in worse spots and for longer. Then the king-shit vamps came in and he was sorely tempted to just settle for freeing his hands and throttling one the moment they came into reach. But there were Alyce and Dreamy to think about. It was clear they were here with him.
 
Then when they started talking about who to take first, he was going to wake up and be obnoxious enough they'd take him. But that'd be him against four, and they'd be ready for that. He'd be dead and no good to anyone. Still, he wasn't sure the smart play would be his to make if they tried to take Alyce first.
 
Turned out it was Dreamy. Still was all he could do to let it happen, wait for the best play. He told himself the elf had known the job was dangerous when he took it. But when the screams started, it got hard. Three or four times Al morphed his hands to slip the cuffs, only to stop himself. He figured Alyce with her fancy ears heard him, because she always talked to the guards louder when he did it. But there was no way he could see to get both guards while his legs were locked to the wall. As the screams got louder he tried to think if he was strong enough to just yank his leg loose, leaving the foot behind, and he forced himself to regulate his breathing, shut such desperate craziness down. He almost laughed - the thought of fighting a bunch of vamps on a pair of bloody stumps was morbidly comical in a Pythonesque sort of way. It distracted him from the screams for a bit.
 
And through it all he had to admit to himself that he was glad it was Dreamy and not Alyce.
 
By the time the queen asshole came back, he figured it was too late for Dreamy. But he wouldn't accept it. Bressington had talked about doing the vampirey-turney thing, but they had no idea of how long that really took. Maybe if they could get him out, get a blood transfusion or something...
 
They were going for Alyce next. He got ready. He was sure she'd try something.....If she could just get their eyes off of him....
 
As with Dreamy, he heard only the wrist cuffs coming off of her. So he was the only one that rated the ankle restraints. He silently congratulated himself on being recognized as the greater threat.
 
When Alyce made her play his hands were already through the cuffs. Shaking them out, it took a precious half second for them to reform into a functional shape. Holding himself upright supported only by his ankles fixed to the wall at a spot six inches off the floor was a hell of a trick, and the pressure was excruciating on his already-bleeding limbs. But he needed to stay up just long enough to retrieve the handcuff key he kept sewn into the fabric of his trousers at the small of his back. It was for standard handcuffs and wouldn't fit whatever was holding his feet, but it was the only tool he had.
 
Once it was in his fingers, he flopped forward at the waist, quickly grabbing his shins. Now to keep his balance this way - a misplaced ounce or two of weight to one side or the other and he'd topple, likely snapping both his tibias.
 
The two goons were already down by Alyce's hand, but now he could hear the she-vamp kicking her ass. He couldn't even spare the scene a glance. He had split seconds before something in his crazy contortionist position gave way. Hah, first lucky break, a single padlock holding a double clamp. The handcuff key made a piss poor pick, but of course he was better than some rusty medieval lock. It took some maneuvering, but he worked his key's single tooth deep into the archaic padlock's single-pin tumbler, and...it stuck. He twisted harder and felt his bent-over body tip to the left. He tried to compensate but there was nothing, no leverage whatsoever. He had as much time as it would take him to fall over...one final twist of the key, hard but not too hard...and the lock opened and he yanked it from the hasp and the double-clamp opened just as his falling body weight cut the flesh of his shin against it. He'd saved the bones, and that was all that mattered right now.
 
Up in a flash, he saw Alyce's sightless eyes bulging as the vampire squeezed her head like a grape. He snapped the leg off the table, asking himself in what world were vampires so stupid as to have so much damned wood in their dungeon. He made sure to break the leg loudly enough to get the bitch's attention.
 
"Yo Vampirella, all this girl-on-girl action done give ol' Al some wicked wood..."
 
Trick was, the voodoo gods were even farther away down here than they had been upstairs, and even setting aside the drugs and loss of circulation in his limbs, Al was far from his usual self. Bitch thought she was fast enough - normally she'd have been wrong, but today she was right. She ripped the fragment of furniture from the little man's hand. "Hey. Ouch. Splinter," he said before her open-handed slap knocked him across the room.
 
Well, Alyce had done her job pulling the bitch's eyes. And now he'd done his, he thought, as the vampire closed in on him and, behind her, he watched Alyce pick up her severed finger....
 
#82
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