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Old 11-14-2018, 02:42 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Join Date: Sep 2010
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Darkmoon Card: Maelstrom Dispatch #44

I probably owe yet another apology to all you reading this. Dispatch #44 was supposed to be out before BlizzCon; and here we are, almost two weeks later, before it's finally released. However, the scene did end up being over twice as long as expected -- and events this important demanded a laser focus on quality. I'd like to think the delay was justified, but that's up to you.

* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
I have 151 hours on the clock, and the situation’s changed again. First, the good news: The Luxorian military no longer has orders to kill me on sight, the leadership has accepted me as a potential asset, and Tybi is back to herself. The bad news: The leader I was trying to get in with is dead, the kingdom is in even greater peril than before, and we’re probably all gonna die in the next few hours. Oh, and I have a sunburn on my neck. It’s itching and burning like hell, which really sucks when your skinsuit has a collar. You can’t so much as turn your head without—nevermind.

The point is, Xul was right. Everything he said was true. He just left out a few important details. Take my rifle. It was sitting right where he said it was: on the big desk in the office at the top of the stairs. He didn’t mention how suspiciously convenient that was. I HAD to have my gun back if I was going to survive here—and here it was, out in the open, completely unrestrained and unguarded. I expected to set off an alarm when I picked it up, but…nothing. No, the trap he’d laid was bigger. Much bigger.

Once armed, I did recon on my new surroundings. I was in a walled complex of large buildings, all of them grandiose. The painted columns, the murals and statues—not to mention the manicured gardens—meant this had to be the seat of the Luxorian government. The sheer number of guards supported the idea too. They were posted everywhere—everywhere except the apparent security office where I’d been held. It was like somebody wanted me to escape, which I guess they did. Even without the help, getting around was no problem for me. I had the place mapped out in thirty minutes. The one thing that slowed me down was the Anubet. There weren’t as many as I’d feared, but still too many for comfort. Hell, one is too many. I didn’t risk getting too close. Not yet.

That changed when I heard a scream from one of the buildings—and not just one. It was constant: the sound of torture. The subject was female, not a child, but not old either. It instantly pushed my emotional discipline to the limit—for good reason. I was hearing a younger version of my own voice. And that meant Xul was right again, his timing and selective information impeccable. If he worked for the Dominion, he’d probably get a medal for excellence in psych ops. He was the one who arranged my escape. I’d go toward the sound and take revenge on the one hurting Tybi. It was all very neat. Too bad I wasn’t stupid enough to go along.

No, anything I did had to be planned very carefully. He’d already framed me whether I did the job or not, so I had to avoid playing his game. I needed expose him, to gain the king’s trust. And I wouldn’t be able to do that until the panic surrounding my escape had subsided. In the meantime, I needed to learn everything I possibly could about the pharaoh and his court. Of course, the pharaoh was in the room with the screaming—exactly where Xul wanted me to go. What he didn’t know was that Ghosts are trained to maintain detachment in all situations. Just going there wouldn’t force me to act as he assumed.

That’s…not to say it was easy. I more or less had to force total apathy on myself, something I don’t think I could’ve done without the danger. Maybe it’s a good thing the shrine only had one entrance. It forced me to focus on stealth to slip between the guards—and then came the real challenge. The room contained no less than four Anubet, each of whom could kill me with a thought. They were standing in a square around a table in the middle. Or rather an altar. A huge cobra statue looked down on them as they channeled energy into an equally oversized jewel in its mouth. From there, a beam went down into the subject: Tybi, shackled in place and writhing in agony.

I looked away. I had to. I settled on the jewel. It was some kind of glimmering icosahedron with swirls of sparkling light inside a shell. Perched in the serpent’s jaws, it looked like the snake was eating a whole universe as it would an egg. The effect was mesmerizing—and that made it dangerous. I couldn’t afford distractions. Not now.

I forced myself to look at the Anubet instead. They were forming a pyramid with their energy beams, one each going up to the jewel and four more around the base. Their concentration was intense. I didn’t need to feel anything to see the balancing act at work. One of them, though, stood out. He was decked out in finery, with an embroidered stole, impractically broad shoulderguards, and a set of purple crystals. The others were watching him too, taking their cues. He had to be the king—or at least the one Xul wanted me to think was the king.

I guess it’s appropriate that Xul himself cleared up any doubt. He burst into the room and threw himself down before the leader. “Mighty one! Mighty one! I most humbly beg your indulgence!”

For a moment, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. The Anubet had to keep their balance as the beams faded away. Tybi’s screams became whimpers, then sobs. When the beams were completely gone, the pharaoh turned to Xul, his own actions as melodramatic as Snake-head’s. “You have an audience before Ta-sadar,” he declared. “Speak.”

“Mighty one, the creature from the Battleground—she, she has escaped!” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

At least he got his boss to drop the pretense. “What?! When? How?”
“I know not, my lord. I know only that the containment field has failed.”

“Xul,” he said dangerously, “am I to understand that a deadly—and invisible—assassin is now freely roaming the palace?”

“It is the logical conclusion, my lord.”
The pharaoh turned to his assistants. “You, take every guard—on duty or not—and search every inch of this palace and its grounds. Do not rest until she is found. And if she isn’t found by sundown,” he added, “I will crush Atenhotep myself.”

The Anubet bowed and left, followed by the regular guards. Xul rose to a kneeling position. “A suggestion, great one. This creature has shown a disturbing ability to conceal herself from the Anubet. However, if she is a part of the Nexus, the Singularity may be better able to detect her.”

Ta-sadar smiled. “Your quick wit dazzles me as ever, serpent lord. The Singularity is indeed a good idea.” He floated closer to the table and levitated the glowing object into his arms—but he couldn’t see his supposed adviser getting up, drawing a dagger, and raising it over his back. If I didn’t do something now, Xul’s coup would be over in seconds.

I brought my rifle up. One round, and he’d be dead before his stroke landed. It was quick, clean—and wrong. True, my doing nothing had forced Snake-head into a riskier backup plan, but it wouldn’t work if the pharaoh didn’t know I’d saved him. There was only one thing I could do to stop this now and get my in—and that was to take an even bigger risk. I let my cloak drop. “If you’re looking for me,” I said loudly, “I’m right here.”

Both of them whirled, but the look on Xul’s face was priceless. He hadn’t planned for this at all. “There—there she is! We must destroy her!”

“Are you sure you don’t want to know how I escaped?” I asked. “Dead girls don’t tell tales.”

“Do not listen, my lord!” Xul pleaded. “She will twist your mind with lies!”
“Or, you could kill me and ask him—but you might not live long enough.”

The pharaoh glanced at Snake-head. He was smart enough to see what I was implying. “Do not be absurd. Xul has served as my vizier for twenty years. His loyalty to me is absolute.”

“For your information, he was just about to stab you in the back. I’m the only loyal one here.”

“If you are loyal to me, I command you to lay down your weapon.”
“Fine,” I told him. “He puts down his weapons, I’ll put down mine.”

In retrospect, I should’ve complied with the order—for two reasons. First, I’d made myself not an enemy by not resisting. Second, Ta-sadar had a PI to match the most powerful protoss elders. He broke through my mental defenses like they weren’t even there and completely took me over—and I do mean completely. My arms tossed my rifle away against my will. Memories tore through my head faster than I could perceive them. I think the screaming I heard was my own this time, but my senses were so distorted I can’t be sure of anything.

What I do know is it stopped as suddenly as it started. I was on the floor, holding my head, my rifle five meters away. Ta-sadar was gagging and coughing, and a sickly green mist was creeping through the room, centered on Xul. I immediately lunged for my weapon. No matter how groggy or upset I was, I had a job to do. I just wasn’t quick enough. As soon as Snake-head saw me move, a cage closed around me out of nothing. No matter how hard I strained and stretched, the gun was just beyond my fingertips.

On the plus side, the distraction of dealing with me bought the pharaoh time to recover. He shifted into some kind of spectral form and shot to the far side of the room, taking the Singularity with him. A force-barrier between the wall and the table held Xul at bay physically—but not magically. He conjured a ghostly scythe that tore through Ta-sadar and returned to his hand.

I was trying so hard to get my rifle that I fell on top of it when the cage collapsed under me. It was just as well. I rolled, bringing it up and around to finish Snake-head once and for all. Unfortunately, the force-wall dropped just as I was about to pull the trigger. Xul surged forward, and my shot went through empty air. My next round would’ve led him, but I never got it off because the guards chose that moment to storm the room—and they were heading straight for me. Wonderful. I had just enough time to shoulder my rifle and execute a backwards vault, cloaking to make sure they didn’t see where I landed.

It turned out I didn’t need to. The pharaoh had apparently been planning to drop a psi-storm on Snake-head while he was caught behind the wall—but he was too slow. Instead, it was his own minions who got ripped. Those lucky enough not to get caught in the death zone figured out who the real threat was real quick. But they were already too late.

While the guards and I were busy with each other, Xul ended things. He conjured some kind of shadow power around his dagger and plunged it into the pharaoh’s chest. Ta-sadar convulsed, dropped the Singularity—and then dissolved like a Battleground hero. Just like my Spectre self had done a few days earlier. That…was unexpected—but I had a job to do. I took aim, and I fired.

Unfortunately, my luck still hadn’t turned. Snake-head chose that exact moment to bend down and take the Singularity for himself. It wasn’t without some satisfaction, though. The close call finally put a crack in that smug facade of his. He ducked, looking genuinely afraid before fixing me with a death-glare. I’d just fired a shot, so I was fully visible. He pointed at me and shouted, “Beware the creature!”

The guards hesitated. Maybe they weren’t total idiots, but it was enough to turn their heads for a moment—and a moment was all he needed. Xul opened a portal—a rectangular doorway in the air—beside himself and stepped through it, taking the Singularity with him. I, meanwhile, had to hold off on firing again, just in case the minions fell for it and switched targets. By the time they looked back, he was gone. Something about “repaying a debt.”

Naturally, that was the moment Atenhotep entered the room. “Who dares threaten the mighty Ta-sadar?!” he demanded—and just as naturally, he looked at me.

“It was Xul,” I told him. “He betrayed the pharaoh and killed him.”
I wasn’t expecting Dog-breath to believe me, and he didn’t. He was probably moments away from killing me on the spot when something else I wasn’t expecting happened: one of the guards spoke in my defense. “It’s true! I saw it with my own eyes!”

His skepticism slackened. I could feel him pushing on my mind again, but not very hard. From the guards’ expressions, he was scanning the whole room for confirmation. He got it. “Very well,” he admitted, “you are innocent of this crime. You may remain in the court—for as long as it lasts.” He turned to the niche that held the big jewel. “Without the Singularity, it will not last long.”

I thought a moment. “An invisible infiltrator might be able to help with that. I could slip in, steal it back. It’s a mission profile—”

“Nova! Is that you?” The voice came from the table. Tybi.
I nodded in her direction. “May I?”

“You may as well. Completing the ritual is impossible without the Singularity.” Atenhotep turned to the guards. “Release her.”

One of them found the key and began unlocking the shackles, but Tybi didn’t move. I guess she was too exhausted from the ordeal to get up. That made sense. It was my actions that didn’t. Without asking, everybody stood back to open a path for me. I climbed onto the table. I slid my arms under her. I hugged her tight. She had soiled herself—but I didn’t care. Somehow, she was mine. I mean, of course she was. She’s me. But in that moment, it was more than that. She was mine. I…can’t explain it. I could only wince as Tybi pressed her face into my burning neck and soaked it with her tears, whimpering over and over, “You came back. You came back.” I still didn’t care.

“I will arrange a meeting of the pharaoh’s other advisers to consider your offer,” Atenhotep said behind me. “And you will remain visible until then.”

“Thank you,” I told him. It was all I could say.

Why do I keep doing this to myself? Every time I get emotionally involved, I get hurt. Every. Damn. Time. But I keep coming back. I feel something in moments like this—something I…need. I’d give everything I have to keep this feeling—even if all I have is a high-risk mission for strange commanders in a strange world and an emotional, clingy teenager. And a sunburn. Nova out.

* * * * * * *

I kind of had to break Nova's character in that one spot there. There's no way she'd hold herself back from pulling the trigger when an opportunity like that presented itself. In any case, I'm hoping to get one more entry on the books before concluding November in November for the year.
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Every ending is but a new beginning.

Last edited by DarkAngel; 11-15-2018 at 07:35 PM.. Reason: Thought of better word
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