Lonely Divide

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Chapter 38

Chapter 17


You are Jake, for it started with you, it should end with you.

"Nice job rescuing everyone without getting hurt," Sargent Draughon says to everyone at the meeting the next day. "All the abducted family members are back without harm, and each one had a storage drive of some kind that the techs are working on now, to see what's on them. It seems you all had an easier time going after someone unrelated to you then you otherwise would have. As per your requests we've moved the rest of your families here as well, so they can be behind our barriers and not get teleported away again. Once this invisible person is in custody they can all go home, so let's hope it's soon. Well done, all of you."

Everyone looks around, Jaden is smiling widest of all, though she insists she can't tell you anything about her mission. And what was that proposal after she got back that caused Rose to faint dead away? You wonder if she ever got an answer. Oh well, none of your business.

"Whatever resources, personnel, weapons, imbued items, armor, if you think you'll need it to find this person and bring them in, it's yours. Go in hard, fast, and bring them out alive. I want to know why this person has been taking people, seemingly for years, and making them disappear. Polish your skills while the techs work on getting you that address, we're close now, I can feel it. I wish you all luck!"

After he leaves, Rose says she's going to start working on learning a spell called Planer Hold, that will keep O.I.F from teleporting away, should they believe they're going to lose. Which, of course, they are. She'll be maintaining that and the anti-invisibility sphere, so she won't be of much use otherwise, but she'll try her best. Jaden wonders if they can get some handcuffs with that spell on it, NPC-PS must deal with wizards who can teleport, after all. Rose says she'll go ask.

Clayton says he's going to get used to moving around in a bulletproof vest, raise his armor wearing skill a bit. Apparently wearing that light bending suit he checked out really slowed him down, and he might want to wear it in the future. That, and shooting stuff. Can't forget the shooting stuff.

Jaden says she's going to work on her gadgets some more, making sure they work, not that they've been much use so far, so they probably won't be this time either. Everyone reassures her they sound really interesting, and you never know what you're going to need in the field, so go for it.

As far as you're concerned, you'll probably get your Cryokinesis, Barrier, Rend, Combust, Magnetokinesis skill group up to a three, if you can manage it. It's all about changing things- by thinking about it.

All too soon the day comes, and the address is revealed: It's a regular house in a regular town, part of a regular neighborhood.

"That can't be right," says Jaden, as you all crowd around the computer screen, looking at the street view map generated by a big search engine who's name is a big number but is in no way important to the story. "It's just a house."

"What did you expect, the castle of Dracul, deep in the shrouded heart the old country?" asks Clayton.

"A police box, bigger on the inside then the outside?" you ask.

"A van, down by the river?" asks Rose.

"No- I don't know, just not a regular old house in suburbia, with rose bushes in front and a brightly colored mailbox."

"If this isn't another dead end," says Jaden.

"I'll tell you what," you say. "Jaden, decide in your mind that there is nothing on earth that's going to stop you from going there. With a full team, us, guns blazing, whatever. Can you do that for me?"

"I guess?" she answers. She concentrates.

"Now, let's see what we can see about your future," you say, touching her on the arm.

You get a fourteen on your Premonition check, and get a flash of a feeling of satisfaction from Jaden.

"If you go there, it seems you'll be satisfied," you tell you.

"With what?"

"The outcome of going there, presumably."

"Okay," she says, "I guess even if we don't find O.I.F, as long as I'm satisfied I went, let's go!"

You tell Sargent Draughon that the team has decided on a full insertion force to come in with you, after enough wizards cast Planar Deflection on the place to prevent O.I.F from leaving. This was suggested to Rose when she went after handcuffs with Planer Hold on them, which she got, so she didn't bother learning that spell. She learned Thrust and Thaw instead, just in case someone gets iced. He again says whatever you need, and the plans are laid to bust into the house and finally put an end to O.I.F once and for all.

Your friends decide to go in at 2:00 PM the next day, because people expect midnight for that sort of thing, right? The plan is for a group of wizards to teleport another group of wizards to the four corners of the house. Those wizards will be holding the Planer Deflection spell, and let it go at the house, creating an instantaneous, overlapping area of "you can't get away". This is in case they have some sort of "I just noticed someone teleporting in, I'm going to teleport away" magic just like whatever took O.I.F away when Clayton shot them. You four will go in, followed closely by SWAT members, both cyborgs and wizards. They'll hold off anything that comes out of the woodwork to eat you up, while you press on to finding O.I.F and taking them in. Rose will have the anti-invisibility spell going so you'll be able turn O.I.F into "The Person Formally Known as O.I.F", grab them, and slap the cuffs on. A van will be waiting to take them into custody, and wizards will begin questioning them and using magic to make sure it's the right person. Mission complete!

Everyone gears up, makes sure they have maximum energy, and has turned in whatever cards they don't think are useful (Clayton keeps all his, and keeps rubbing his hands together and laughing, which you're a little concerned about) and everyone stands ready at the four portals, wizards in front, ready to take the place by storm. They cast Teleportal, and the battle is joined!

You appear in the back yard, on a deck that leads behind you into a pool. Your team has decided to go in through the back doors that connect to the patio, while other teams break in through the garage and the front door. Five SWAT members in full gear and carrying rifles are behind you. Your Premonition is quiet, so you believe that you are not in immediate danger. Rose looks around and announces six people are in the house that are enemies, and she points down and to the right. The doors in front of you are glass, and closed, so Clayton raises his gun and puts several shots into them, shattering them. An alarm goes off inside the house, making you wince with how loud it is.

"Nice job telling them we're here," Rose mutters.

"They'll know soon enough, let's go."

You step past the shattered glass and into a rather sparsely decorated room, the main feature of which is the fireplace to the right. Clayton, in the lead, warily steps into the room, guns sweeping left and right, but nothing happens, so he moves forward, just as you and Rose both shout "Watch out!"

You raise your arms and start concentrating on creating a barrier around the group but Jaden is already in motion, hauling him back as a firewall erupts from the fireplace. It fades out, and you put your arms down.

"Thanks," says Clayton. "This house is going to be fun to navigate, isn't it?"

"Is it still there?" you ask Rose, who carefully edges towards it from the side. She shakes her head.

"Spell trap, one time use only, it's safe."

"Can we get this alarm turned off?" shouts Jaden.

Before anyone can answer you hear a scream from further in the house, and gunfire, which sounds close, and Clayton takes off to the right, then leans around the corner to the left, raising his guns. You all rush after him, and the hallway here is a little narrow, but you can see one of the SWAT team members is being pulled by two other guys from one end and a green tentacle from the other. Another SWAT guy is firing over their heads as more tentacles are reaching up from the floor towards them. Clayton starts shooting out of his right gun, the one with the unlimited ammo, and Rose darts forward, swinging her wand. Fire shoots out and hits the tentacle, burning it while bullets slam into it from Clayton. It releases and the guy gets pulled up, then they all start firing at the creature that must be somewhere underneath an illusionary floor.

"We'll hold this thing off, you guys go!" shouts one of them, and Clayton nods, but then notices the security system box on the wall, and grabs his data cable, jacking into it. You guess he's trying to hack it to turn off, which he does in about fifteen seconds, and the alarm goes off, restoring blissful silence. As blissful a silence can be that's punctuated by stouts and gunfire as the guys at the door try to hold off the tentacle monster. He unplugs and puts his cable away, picking up his guns and moving down the hallway away from the front door. You get a weird feeling, as you look right, it leads into the kitchen, and grab Clayton's shoulder.

"Better let Jaden go first," you say.

"Sure, whatever," he replies, making room. She cautiously steps forward and into the kitchen area. In front of her, on the back wall is the sink, though there is a stove and bar like setup with stools slightly to the left between the sink and her. To the right is the refrigerator, and a cabinet, then some shelves further on. As she steps into the room, the knife block by the sink suddenly disgorges all its knives, which whip around and fly straight at her, across the room. She steps forward to meet them, knocking most of them out of the air with a series of fast strikes you almost can't follow, and letting some of them hit her. You realize the ones she hit would have probably gone past her and been a problem for the others, that's why she took care of them. As soon as they strike her or she swats them they fall to the ground, unmoving.

"I guess O.I.F doesn't have company over," says Rose, peaking out from behind you.

"Not more then once," you reply.

Suddenly, the knobs on the stove turn on full blast, and fire shoots out, straight up into the air, and starts twisting around, forming into a column of fire.

"You're not immune to that if it's magical fire," Rose shouts to Jaden, "Be careful!"

The fire curves down and touches the ground, becoming a creature of some sort, taking on a person like form with long arms. You can see the fire shooting out of the grills and maintaining it, going right into the creature's back. It seems to soundlessly roar at you and take a step forward, and Rose starts another spell, which she casts instantly. Bands of force wrap around the creature, which doesn't even seem to notice them, as it just flows right around them.

"Crap," she says, "Uh, new spell, new spell..." The bands disappear.

Clayton fires at it, but the bullets pass right through and start tearing up the other side of the room. The creature takes another step.

"Uh, any time," says Jaden, taking a step back.

Rose casts again, and water splashes down on the creature, making it flicker and soundlessly scream, but a second later it's back to full strength again, and takes another step. You all take a step back, what the heck is going to stop this thing?

"Wait a second," you say, "We're going about this all wrong."

You look over at the stove, and you can see the knobs, so you target them with telekinesis, getting a seventeen. There's four of them, that means your difficulty increases by four, but they're just knobs, and you easily give them a twist all at once, cutting the gas off to the creature and making him instantly fade out.

"Oh yeah," says Rose. "I could have done that. That was a new one on me, by the way. Elemental Creature, maybe? Weird."

"Help me!" a voice down the hallway to the left shouts, "I'm tied up over here, they're going to kill me!"

"Come on," says Clayton, "But stay on your toes."

You all carefully make your way down the hallway to the left, the SWAT guys covering behind you, and you pass a door that's closed on your right, an open archway leading to the dining room, and a window all on your left. To your right is a laundry room which is open, and another door to the right that's closed. Ahead it looks like a bedroom, and the voice shouts again, "In here, please hurry, I don't want to die!"

You all move into the bedroom, where against the far wall is a chained up woman, disheveled and beautiful. There's a large Jacuzzi tub here, and a bathroom off to the left.

"Oh thank goodness you've come to save me," the figure says. "Please hurry!"

"Rose?" asks Clayton.

"There's magic coming from her, she may be under some kind of spell. There don't seem to be any traps in the room though."

"Shall we just leave her for now?" asks Jaden, her tone implying that she does not actually want an affirmative answer to this question.

"We can't just ignore her!" Rose pleads, making you think, doesn't she have Easily Infatuated?

"All right, but carefully. Cover us," he says to the SWAT guys, who nod and take up positions around the room.

He carefully goes over to her, and she wiggles provocatively in her bonds, making you wonder... You do an ESP check, getting an eight, so you fail. Sadly, in this case, failure means you actually register her as a person, which she isn't, as you are about to learn in just a second. You suppose she's real then, and think, "Eh, what the heck?" and then "I declare, card 19." You're not going to get another chance to use it on this adventure, after all, right? Immediately, you fall in love with this helpless, voluptuous lady, and you can't help but wrap your arms around her to comfort her in this, her hour of greatest need.

Oh, but your heart sings a glorious song for the new love you have found, in this, the most unlikely of places. How can you ever express the deep emotion stirred in you by the plight of this poor, innocent woman? Perhaps a song, or a poem might begin to describe her delicate features, that cute button nose, those sparkling eyes that even now, look at you with something akin to revulsion and loathing as you-



Of course, she's been through so much, it will take time for her to trust again! It's only natural for her to be suspicious, you must reassure her you mean no harm.

"We'll have you out of those bonds in just a moment," you say, looking into her bright, lovely eyes. "Then we will take you away from here and keep you safe, and never again will you be subjected to this kind of treatment!"

"Oh, uh, thanks," says the woman. Oh, but her voice is like that of the angels, coming from a surround sound system fitted with Silver Rock Signature hand carved wooden volume control knobs at only $500 a piece, and using a $7,000 AudioQuest NRG Wel Signature Series 6 ft power cable, and connected with only the finest $9,000 AudioQuest K2 Terminated Speaker Cables. Of course the speakers are housed in only the finest, most expensive wood, and all the wood grain has been matched up to minimize jitter and unwanted resonances.

Sorry, you got distracted again, what was going on? Oh right, your new love!

You roll Rend on the chain link holding her hands together and use maximum energy to impress her with your ESPer skills, so that one day she might love you as much as you now love her. You finally get a chance to use your Energy Siphon background, and spend twelve energy, getting a... four damage on the attempt.

You hate yourself and your life. How could you have gotten such a low result at this, the most critical of times? Does the universe hate you? Does it want to see you fail? Wait, there's still one chance!

You hastily spend an XP to make the check again, and this time you get an 18, and the chain shatters, freeing her. You help her stand up, and she shakes her arms out.

At least you got one XP total for playing the card, you think. Oh well.

"Thanks," the woman says, her velvet voice setting your heart a flutter. "Now die!"

Again, what?

She changes before your very eyes, and takes a swipe at you with the hideous claws that now sprout from her fingers. You're so shocked you don't even dodge, meaning you take nine damage to the body and stagger back, the betrayal cutting you far, far more deeply then any physical attack she could conceive ever could. You stagger backwards, and Jaden casts a spell, slamming the now transformed creature into the wall behind her. She hisses, and raises her arms.

Bullets slam into it from all sides, but don't seem to be hurting it, and you look down at your tattered and ruined flesh, which even now is beginning to knit itself back together thanks to the ring of regeneration you bought awhile ago.

"Cease fire!" yells Clayton, "It's immune to weapons fire! Jaden, you're up! Rose, heal Jake!"

"No," you weakly cry, "Don't hurt her, she must be under some kind of curse. Fight it my love, come back to me!"

"My love?" says Clayton, unbelieving. "Oh my- you used card 19, didn't you? Idiot!" He puts his guns into his inventory and they vanish, and he and Jaden step up and start taking swings at the creature, who has now grown to be twice as tall as a person and is bristling with razor edges and points, making it difficult to get in a good hit. Rose flutters down to you.

"I'll cast regeneration on you," you says, just stay still.

"Don't bother, I have regeneration, remember?" you say, holding your ring up. "Go help them!"

"If you say so," she says, uncertain, and starts flinging fire at the creature.

You use one of the lesser known facets of Sending, putting a random jumble of thoughts into the creature's head and distracting it, allowing the others to finally finish it off, which it does, disappearing in a puff of smoke and shattered dreams. Ah love, what a many fickle thing you are, and how cruel your fate to lose your blossoming love like this.

The others stand and recover a moment, and you finish healing, though of course your broken heart will never be the same. While the grievous injury to your chest may heal without even a scar, your heart is a different matter- how will you ever trust again?

"I thought you had some kind of plan," says Clayton, coming over to you. "Grabbing her like that, and then just standing there while she cut you up. What were you thinking, using that card on her? Are you all right?"

You show him your wound has already healed, and stand up. "I did an ESP check on her and I must have failed it, I thought she was a real person. Honest. What was it, anyway?"

"Probably Magical Ally: Major," says Rose. "I thought she was under a spell, turned out she literally was a spell."

"That's why you didn't whine about us killing it," Clayton says thoughtfully.

"I don't whine about it, I suggest killing stuff is a bad idea!"

"Can we talk about this later? There's still an invisible person to catch, yes?" says Jaden.

"Right, sorry. Everyone all right? Let's check these other doors and get on with this," says Clayton, taking his guns out again.

The second door you passed just seem to be an office, there's a desk and computers and shelves and things, and nothing leaps out to kill you, so you move back into the kitchen. The other door is a set of stairs going down, and Clayton flips the light on and looks down.

"No magic on the stairs," says Rose.

"Wait for my signal," says Clayton to the SWAT guys.

You all descend, and immediately to your right is an open door that seems to go into an office, a closed door ahead of you, and around the stairs is another door. There's a big open area to the left, and four people are standing there, waiting expectantly. Apart from some beams holding the house up, the room is empty, but there are two doors beyond them on the far wall.

Rose gives a little laugh. "So you survived those skeletons after all," she shouts over to them. The most normal one answers back. "That was you who did that? Figures."

"I thought you were asleep, so I didn't want to bother you about the ice. And those skeletons looked so bored, I figured they wanted to play with someone. You were the only person around, so..."

The others look at him. "You got messed up by a fairy?" says the burly guy with the cyber... everything, and holding a very, very large gun.

"We all got messed up by them," says the guy in the wizards robe. "And they took out the house defenses too."

"Well duh," says the guy in the martial arts uniform. "They're here, aren't they?"

"So, what, we have to beat you to get by and find the person we came for?" you ask.

"That's right," answers the cyborg, leveling his gun. "And we're going to capture you now so you stop getting in the boss' way. Not you, Clayton, the boss wants to kill you personally for that time you escaped."

"Well, they're welcome to try," says Clayton, bringing up his own guns. "Switch it out just like before?" he asks.

The others, including you, nod, and you focus on the martial artist. Time to end this, once and for all.

Initiative is rolled.

The cyborg raises his huge gun to fire, and as his finger squeezes on the trigger you can't help but think, didn't they just say they were going to capture us? Bullets streak out of the barrel, which starts rotating, and you don't have time to react, but Jaden does. She blurs past you all and into the line of fire, bullets bouncing off her left and right. The cyborg seems a bit surprised, and you are too, she must have put energy into speed to cover the distance like that. She slams the gun into the ground, and bullets start scuffing up the carpet, causing Clayton to say "plastic bullets" for your benefit. You guess they aren't seriously trying to killing you, after all.

Next to you, Rose shouts something as she waves her ward about, and all four of them are shoved back, but only enough to stun them for a second, they didn't travel enough distance to really get hurt. The ESPer must have gone on the same initiative, because as Rose casts the spell that shoves him back, he looks over at Jaden who goes flying to her right towards the wall. Rather then fighting it, Jaden makes a Martial Arts check and does a flip, palming one of her electro-toys as her feet touch the wall. She tenses, and it's her action, along with Clayton who does a called shot to the ESPer's leg.

Jaden pushes off the wall and makes an attack on the cyborg, making a called shot to the body, that's made of metal just like the rest of him. She slaps the device down on his chest as she lands in front of him, and it goes off as she pulls her hand back. There's a spark, and the cyborg yells, but doesn't go down.

"Shielded?" she shouts. "That figures."

Meanwhile, Clayton shoots the ESPer in the right leg for four damage, which was hardly worth it, but he doesn't want to kill the guy, especially in front of Rose.

The wizard starts casting, and a circle appears around Rose, who mutters "Oh no you don't." and starts casting herself as a reactive action.

Jaden magnetically hooks another taser bomb onto her glove and smashes it into the cyborg, who is of course totally outmatched. There's a smaller zot and the cyborg yells "Would you stop that? It tickles!"

The martial artist for the other side leaps over and takes a swipe at Jaden as she's attacking the cyborg, so she uses her off hand action to knock his attack away. Man she's fast, you think.

You finally get to act, and you take a split second to look over your opponents, to see where you can do the most damage. The ESPer, having just been shot in the leg, seems more worried about blood loss at the moment then fighting. The martial artist is going to have his hands full when Jaden turns her attention to him, so he's already dead, even if he doesn't know it. The cyborg, after being shocked twice, has taken one of his massive, metal hands off his gun, which has possibilities as standing right next to him is the wizard, about to cast a spell someplace. You spend maximum energy and haul the cyborg's metallic fist towards the wizard, who was certainly not expecting an attack from that direction! You're now down to 30 energy, but you are rewarded with a thirty one on your check, meaning the cyborg can't possibly resist your efforts, even with his bonus for being a cyborg, nor can the wizard escape by dodging.

What this means for the wizard is that a fist smashes into his right leg as the cyborg fights for control of his own limb, pretty much pulping it and causing him to lose the spell he was casting at Rose. And Rose will tell you, backlash isn't pretty, and the wizard screams as ice envelops him, cutting him off and letting him know exactly what he was going to do Rose. After all, he could freeze people with magic, but he had never been frozen with magic. That didn't seem fair to you. His absolute look of horror is now frozen in place, which mirrors the look the cyborg gives you as he tries to get his hand away from your telekinesis.

As if you would let go with a roll like that?

Rose stops casting, of course, and thanks you as she looks for something to do instead.

Jaden throws a punch at the martial artist, who, surprised she can move so fast, tries to dodge, but gets a fist full of hurting for his troubles as she does 12 damage to his left arm.

The cyborg, still trying to get control of his hand back, tries to raise his gun but Jaden is still right there and takes a reactive action to stomp it back down to the ground. With him being off balance from your hold on his other hand, the gun clatters to the ground, and the cyborg curses.

The ESPer looks at you, and you feel a weird power coming from him, trying to make you lose your hold on the cyborg's hand. You make a RESolve check, which seems to be the thing to do, and you succeed, the ESPer now looking daggers at you. You give him a little grin, there's too much anger in the world, don't you think?

Jaden, Rose and Clayton all go at the same time, with Clayton again targeting the ESPer, but this time doing a called shot to the right leg, after all, why not? He gets a seventeen and again nicks the leg, doing even less damage this time, a three. So he rolls his eyes and goes ahead and makes an off hand attack, same called shot, realizing this more then doubles his current delay. He hits again and does six damage, but the ESPer is still up. You hear him muttering something about Rose and not killing.

Rose casts immobilize on the martial artist, with that damaged arm he doesn't have much chance to resist, but he tries anyway. Jaden, attacking simultaneously with all this going on, gets a two on her hit location again, so by shear chance she totally shatters the martial artist's arm, making him scream in pain.

Jaden is up again, but she looks a little hesitant, given that she didn't mean to cause that much damage to his arm again, it was just random chance, and looks to the two still (somewhat) standing. "Do you want to continue," she asks, kicking the cyborg's gun away.

"Enough!" says a loud voice throughout the room. "I should have figured you wouldn't even slow them down. Let them through."

"But boss-" starts the cyborg.

"Fool!" says the voice. "You must see you can't win!"

"Oh, all right," he says, relaxing his arm. "It's this door, go on through."

You and the others move to the other side of the room, Clayton covering them with his guns. The martial artist is rocking, trying to hold his shattered arm, but the spell won't let him move his other arm enough, and Rose goes over to him. She points at the other side of the room.

"You, move," she says, looking at the cyborg. "I'll heal you all, but only if you promise to give yourselves up to the SWAT team at the top of the stairs."

"I don't care about them, I'm out of here," he says, opening the other door and making a run for it, slamming the door behind him.

"Do we go after him?" you ask.

"Leave him, the place is surrounded, he'll get caught," replies Clayton. "Are you serious about healing them?"

"Yes I am. I won't have them dying from their wounds here, as you well know."

"Fine, get on with it."

Rose casts Regeneration on them, all at once to conserve energy, after they are surrounded by the SWAT team that Clayton calls down the stairs.

"What were you casting?" Jaden asks her, referring to the spell she was casting at the wizard.

"Thaw. I knew he was trying to freeze me like Belquis, it seems to be a popular spell for these guys. Good job distracting him," she says to you.

"I aim to please."

Rose casts again. "Okay, the anti-invisibility spell is up, let's go get O.I.F at long last."

You couldn't agree more.

Opening the door you see it's a kind of workshop hallway leading into another room, and you glance around. Surgical tools of all kinds are neatly put away on shelves while magically active substances and items in the process of being imbued lay scattered about. Moving to the end of the hall you see it opens into a converted garage... converted into a grizzly parody of a surgical theater. Looking like a cross between a torture chamber and hospital room, computer equipment and magical symbols line the walls. Your ESP tells you there has been pain here- pain, hatred, suffering and death. This place has a true darkness about it, and you resist the urge to just set the whole place and fire and be done with it.

Across the room is a table with straps bolted onto it, that's obviously been pushed from the center of the room to make a space for the inevitable fight to come. On the table, a figure shimmers into existence and looks at her hands as though seeing them for the first time in many years.

"Oh bugger," she says, "You would have to know that spell, wouldn't you?"

Wait- O.I.F is a woman?

"Congratulations," she says, hopping down from the table and leaning on it. The skirt of her brightly colored sun dress flairs out about her legs, possibly a calculated move on her part to distract you. It worked. "You're the first people to see me in..." the thinks a moment. "Two hundred years or so, I guess?"

You stare at her, is it possible she's that old? She doesn't look it, in fact if she had a LOOks lower then nine you would be surprised. Her face and body are perfect, toned, radiant, and her long black hair shimmers in the harsh overhead lights. Her perfect proportions draw the eye downward, and you catch both Rose and Jaden gaping at her as well, and realize maybe you should concentrate on catching her now, staring later? You can always take a picture, but if what she says is true, it might not last longer.

"Yes, yes," she continues. "I know what you're thinking. When I was fifty years old I made myself immortal with magic, and ever since then I've been slowly increasing my stats with magic as well, until I reached the perfection you see before you."

"You're under arrest on suspicion of murder, human trafficking, destruction of public property, misuse of magic, the whole nine yards," says Clayton seriously. "Turn around and get on your knees, hands on your head."

She laughs, and it's almost like the room gets a little dimmer while she gets a little brighter. Oh, if only you could make her laugh like that!

"Is that all? Goodness, in two hundred years you would hardly think I tried with that short a list."

"Turn around. I will shoot you, and I have the same card I used before so don't think it won't hurt."

She sighs. "Yes, those cards are a problem. One can never be sure what a PC will have, or if the Narrator will use some against you or not. They're something not even I can plan for. I still owe you for that, Clayton, and you'll pay for it, don't you worry."

"Why did you do it?" demands Rose. "A person as... as... pretty and smart and cunning as you could have saved people! You could have done so much good in the world!"

"Why Rose, who says my actions are not doing good in the world? And you haven't proven that I had anything to do with Clayton's big, bad list of crimes, have you? He said I'm being arrested on the suspicion of those things, not the certainty. In any case, even if I did those things, and I admit to nothing, number seven on the Overload List says I should refuse your offer, and shoot you immediately when you ask that."

"The what?" asks Rose, as the woman clenches her fists and two blades, seemingly made of fire, appear in each hand.

"Accelerate," she says, and literally blurs towards the Clayton, swinging.

Clayton barely dodges out of the way as first one blade, then the other goes slicing through the air with the intent on slicing him. Rose whips her wand forward and says something, but the woman says the same thing, and you feel two pulses of magic smash into each other and dissipate between them.

Jaden comes at her from the side, and she whirls, fending off Jaden's blows with her blades, putting Jaden at a huge disadvantage. She manages to catch Jaden's fist on the flat of her blade, and Jaden yanks back, her fingers burned.

She tries again, but this time the woman slashes her arm as Jaden goes to hit, and she cries out and leaps back, badly cut.

It's your action, and you know you have to separate them or at least distract this mad woman as it looks like she's going to cut Jaden again, so you raise your hand and grab a heavy looking piece of medical equipment with telekinesis and fling it at her. She hardly hesitates, spinning and chopping it in half with one smooth motion, and the pieces go flying. Well, that's two energy and another eight delay for you, and you dejectedly sink back into spectator mode. People with a delay of two just should not be allowed to fight, you know?

Jaden tries to sweep the woman's legs, figuring it would be harder to parry that action with a sword, which is correct, and she tries to jump over it. You would swear she doesn't, but then somehow she does, and you can't help but think that maybe the Narrator is spending XP on her behalf? Crap, he does want to give your team a run for the money, doesn't he?

"Armor!" shouts Rose, causing Jaden to hold her action, so they no longer go at the same time.

Rose casts Armor Of Magic on Jaden, putting energy into it to get it instantly, and magical armor forms around her. Jaden lashes two kicks at the woman, one right after the other. One very nearly hits, the other goes wide, but she's still unharmed and holding her own. In fact you have the distinct impression she's toying with Jaden, letting her almost hit like she's not even putting her full effort into it.

Clayton means to change that.

"I declare, card 7. I declare, card 10," he says in rapid succession. Two cards appear and disappear, and once again Clayton can not fail at any action he now decides to make. He makes a called shot to her leg, hoping to take her down, and uses five bullets because he's not messing around any more.

The bullets rip through any defenses she has due to card 10, and hit because of card 7, and smash into her leg, shattering it with 21 points of owwie-ow, no holds barred, "I've just been shot" damage. She starts to crumple, and Clayton grins, thinking he's won yet again, no magic can carry her away this time, thanks to the wizards outside. His grin fades as she shimmers and straightens up again, seemingly whole all at once.

"Nice try," she says, smirking.

"Spell trigger!" Rose says, disgusted. "She must have changed it!"

It's your action again, and so far keeping her in a defensive mode has proved rather successful, so you figure to keep it up. She's moving fast, way faster then you would have thought possible against four people, maybe it's time to turn her own weapons against her with the trick you used on the cyborg a minute ago? You make a grab for her hand with telekinesis, getting an fifteen with your minus three penalty for the called shot. However her STRength must be incredible, as she just glances at you while her hand twitches a little bit and doesn't move, and your hold is broken. Crap, not only did you fail, she knows exactly what you tried to do. How humiliating!

Jaden's up, and again tries kicking her, but again she dodges. Jaden is starting to look a little upset, apparently no one has ever dodged her this many times before. Rose casts something on Jaden again, but apparently it isn't enough, and throws you something, saying "Use this, quick!"

It's card 34, and you declare it, adding your INSight to her roll, which is a seven, the highest of the party because you're the ESPer. The spell goes off, and Jaden nods seriously to Rose in thanks, and turns back to the woman. Her defensive action delay has finally cleared, and she and Clayton go again, and though it's clear she'd like to deal with Clayton first, with Jaden in her face that won't be possible, so she takes a couple of swings at Jaden, who instead of dodging, tries catching her fists. With her new martial arts skill of seventeen, she easily does so, and the woman is distracted by Clayton shooting at her, so she can't make an effective STRength check to break free just yet. Of course the bullets bounce right off, making Clayton think he's now useless, which is probably true.

Now gripping her hands, Jaden jumps and smashes both feet into the woman, who now makes a STRength check to break free and an active dodge to get out of the way. Jaden gets a 28 on her martial arts check, but the woman spends 10 energy on her first check and gets a 32, easily breaking free and allowing her to try and roll with the damage. She's already spent energy on STRength though, so she fails, and Jaden gets her in the body for eleven damage. She grunts, but doesn't go down, instead bringing her swords up like nothing happened.

"Well, at least I finally hit her!" Jaden says brightly.

You're up again, and you have an idea- let's get rid of those swords! There's a hose coiled up in the corner, probably for washing up blood, so you grab it while you use telekinesis to twist the handle, making water start pouring out. Let's see if those swords can stay around if you douce them with this!

"Shoot!" says the woman, realizing your plan. She looks over at you and gestures, only two fingers on her sword, and says something magical. The water coming out of the hose instantly freezes, traveling up the hose and blocking it totally. Oh well, it was a good plan, right?

Rose flies over to you and starts casting, taking extra time, probably because of all the magic she's currently maintaining. You figure she's probably casting thaw, and hold the hose out to her.

"Oh no you don't little fairy!" shouts the woman, and casts again, a circle appearing around Rose. She has a look of horror, she's already casting thaw once, she doesn't want to lose it right now, when Clayton mans up like the true hero he is.

"I declare card 26," he says, and puts his hand down over the magical circle on the floor underneath Rose. The card, with glasses guy waving goodbye over his shoulder appears and disappears, and the spell is redirected to Clayton, encasing him in ice instead.

"Well that worked out," says the woman with a snort. Obviously trying not to laugh, probably some other no-no on her so called "overlord list".

"Unfreeze him you female dog!" says Jaden, coming in for another attack. The woman easily dodges, apparently no longer wanting to toy with her, but Jaden looks confused for a second and says "I declare, card 33. Thanks Clayton."

Apparently now that he's frozen in ice, Clayton willed his cards to Jaden, and so she took advantage.

Reality seems to twist around as the woman dodges Jaden's kicks, and an open bracelet flies off her upper arm and she stops blurring like she was. "Oh crap!" she says, reaching for it and losing one of her swords, but the card guides it into Jaden's waiting hand, who spends one of her two XP for an extra action, slipping it on and saying "Accelerate!" just like the woman did. Her eyes light up as she gets all blurry, realizing she's now under the effects of a very strong acceleration spell.

"Give that back!" the woman shouts, going to grab for it.

Rose finishes casting, as the water from the hose starts flowing again, and she looks over at Clayton, so she'll probably thaw him out next.

Jaden is winding up to finish this fight, because acceleration magic, as she is about to discover, makes anything you do with REFlexes better. Specially, she gets a bonus equal to the Mercury rating of the caster, and guess what stat her chosen martial art, Kung Fu, depends on? That's right, REFlexes! She now adds 25 to her roll to hit, thanks to both Rose's magic and her now stolen magical item, and her opponent no longer gets that bonus to dodging. Jaden attacks, hitting both times and staggering her just a little.

"Go down!" Jaden shouts, obviously wondering how this woman is still up.

"Haven't figured it out yet, have you?"

"Figured out what?"

"Sorry, number 6 on the list, no gloating until you're dead."

"Gloat this," you say, telekinetically directing the water from the hose towards the woman's remaining sword. You get a thirteen, almost minimum, and declare the use of card 25, rolling again. You get a seventeen that time, but she still dodges it. Even without her acceleration, she's a slippery customer, apparently.

Jaden and the woman attack each other simultaneously, with the woman getting a fifteen, and Jaden gets a 39, her maximum. The blade bounces off the magical armor around Jaden, while she kicks the woman in the head, not that it seems to do much good.

Jaden attacks again, this time making a called shot to the body and using her other leg as well, doing fourteen damage, for an astonishing 44 total damage, but still the woman remains standing, but she now looks like she's at least feeling it a little more.

Rose starts thawing out Clayton, again taking all the time she can to get the spell off.

"Oh, you are magnificent, aren't you?" says the woman to Jaden. "If I could study you, the things I would learn! But I think this has gone on long enough."

She swirls her hands dramatically, and power flickers all around her as she speaks the words of the spell and the magical circle appears under her feet. Flames erupt around the circle, obscuring her, and as they vanish, standing in place of the woman is a figure in gleaming armor, twice as tall as she was before, and her sword, still made of fire, is now sheathed in flame as well.

"Come at me now, little martial arts user!" taunts the figure.

It's your turn again, but what can you do against something like that? Still, you're not one to give up, so you throw something else in the room at her, which she takes a swing at but somehow misses, and it bounces off the armor, clattering to the ground. Well, at least you learned it wasn't an illusion?

Rose finishes casting, and Clayton thaws out, leaving him shivering with cold with otherwise unharmed. He looks at the figure now before him and mutters that he should have brought a bigger gun.

"Hold her off, I'm almost out of energy," says Rose, "So this last spell will be it for me!"

"You can't beat me," the armored figure shouts, bringing her sword to bear on Jaden, who swats the sword away, making the armor around her glow and deflect the fire.

She then counter attacks, but now the two are evenly matched, both have magical armor so neither one can hurt the other.

They trade blows, and Rose starts casting again, a circle appearing under the woman, and she seems to be really concentrating and taking her time on the spell. Clayton opens up with his guns, knowing that even if he somehow bypasses that armor, she's still probably invulnerable, so he really can't contribute.

You try Cryokineses at the same time, but you're not sure if it does anything, and finally Rose finishes casting.

"Whatever you're casting, I declare card 1," Clayton shouts over his guns.

"If it's a mental stat I declare card 36," you shout over Clayton's guns.

"I got nothing!" Jaden shouts over Clayton's guns.

Rose gets a twenty five, but the woman spends max energy and beats her with a 37. "Oh no you don't," she mutters, "Not after all that," and spends three of her 4 XP for a success, and the imposing figure before you turns into a tiny version of itself, shrinking down several size modifiers until she's smaller then Rose.

"I love that spell," says Rose, panting.

"Oh no!" says the tiny figure, looking up at you all. She turns to scamper away, but even with her amazing stats, she's still about the size of a mouse, and you easily grab her with telekinesis and haul her off her feet.

"I can still do magic!" she shouts, but you hear the door opening behind you, and she stares at the figure that's come in. You all turn to look, and it's Sargent Drauhon coming in!

"So, it looks like you've won!" he says cheerfully. "Nice work everyone."

"Help me," says the woman. "You have to get me out of here, my love, so my work can continue!"

"My love?" everyone says, looking between the Sargent and her.

"What are you talking about?" he replies. "Have you mistaken me for someone else?"

This of course is unseen by the others, but if you can become the Observer for a moment, you can see it; a card shimmering into existence in front of him. It's the dark haired girl with the halo about to stab Glasses Guy with the knife she has behind her back, card 21. It disappears, and you know Draughon is about to betray someone. The Narrator has the card, he's going to use it, just to make it more interesting.

"I see I was a fool to trust you!" she says, her voice hard. "With your promises of diverting anyone who got too close. Your words of devotion to me, how we would change the world. All lies!"

Draughon shrugs. "I think she's gone mad. We need to get her into one of the warded cells that cancels magic out, then we can get the story out of her. Can you handle that from here, guys?"

"I've got six energy left, enough to open a portal at least," replies Rose.

"Good. Nicely done everyone, I'll see about some leave time for you after this. See you back at the base!"

He turns to leave. "Traitor!" the woman shouts after him. "Pig! I'll see you burn for this!"

He waves without stopping to look back, and disappears around the corner, going back upstairs.

You all look at each other- what's going on here?

"Okay, now I want some answers," says Rose, fluttering over to where the woman is now hanging in space.

"Fine, I may as well tell you. Obviously my funding has dried up, so I'm done."

"Done with what? Why abduct all these PCs? What did you do with them? Oh, and what do we call you?"

"My name is Mary," says Mary, finally becoming a named character in the narrative. "I've lived the last two hundred years trying to improve myself though any means possible. But no matter what I did, I couldn't get my skills above a five, because I wasn't a PC." She says the PC part dripping with sarcasm. I wish you could hear it, she has a ten in speaking words with sarcasm. "Because I wasn't part of a narrated story I could only be average. That's what I was told, anyway. But I could do magic, so I started studying. Improving myself through spells. I made permanent so many spells, each one to raise a single stat to human perfection. Making imbued items I could wear to make me more "PC" like. One day I thought to myself, it isn't fair that a chosen few get to become extraordinary. Why should they get all the glory, the money, the skills? Why should only a few become so well known they become household names and be remembered forever? We call people like that "Player Characters" and we think there's some big "Narrator" in the sky directing our actions while an "Observer" watches us. Rubbish, I say! So I started searching- what separates so called "PCs" from so called "NPS" the average man and woman on the street? Isn't every person the main character in their own story? Shouldn't they be more then average? Think- if I could find that switch, that key I could share it with others, make every person on Earth extraordinary! Think what we could achieve with a million Einsteins. The art, the music, the science we could achieve if everyone was a genius in their field. That was my plan, my goal, my path to Hell.

"It started innocently enough, but I got nowhere. I tried looking at corpses of PCs, but I didn't find anything. I dug deeper, finally deciding to dissect a living person to see what made them different. I didn't really find anything, but I became obsessed. There must be something that makes you better then everyone else, right? Can it just be luck? The situation you find yourself in that drives you to become experts at something? Is it genetic? Environment? What?

"So I started searching in earnest, keeping tabs on those who became especially gifted, thinking whatever it was that made them so might show up better. I took old people, young people, it didn't matter. I had to find it. That spark- that line that separates the chosen few from the masses of the world.

"And now I've failed. Those people that followed me, that I promised I would turn into PCs when I figured out how, will abandon me. Even the man I thought who loved me has turned away, so now I have nothing. Two hundred years of trying to bring mankind to the next level, and for what? Nothing, that's what. The world will plod on as it has, with only the chosen few able to achieve greatness in their lives. I know my methods were wrong, but I heart was in the right place. You have to believe me, please, you have to understand that! Say you understand! Please!"

"Okay, that's enough. Take her through and come back here, I want to make sure the house is secure before we leave for good," says Clayton.

"Wait," says Jaden. "How come you took so much damage from me without going down?"

"I'm DTR 2 young one, because of my 10 CONstitution. Your attacks were non-lethal damage as far as I was concerned."

"I should have realized. Okay, take her away."

"No, please, you understand, right? It had to be done, to make the world better!"

Rose opens a portal over her screaming to be understood, and you can't help but feel sorry for her, poor, lost soul. Is she mad, you ask yourself? Deluded? Or just... ahead of her time? Is there something that divides the world, that can be switched on and off in a person making them ordinary or extraordinary? Probably best not to dwell on it, you think. Look what it did to that poor woman.

You follow Rose through the portal and deposit the woman into a magic denying cell, and all her trinkets are taken away from her. She looks so small and helpless now, your heart goes out to her. Maybe if she gets the help she needs, she can put that drive of hers to good use. If she ever gets out of prison, that is.

"One more thing," she says as you're about to leave. "You beat me, but I was the one they chose to do the work, and they let me do it my way. The ones that come after me will be much, much, worse." She starts laughing, and when questioned, doesn't say more. You come out feeling very weird.

You go back through the portal and Rose closes it, then Clayton makes sure no one is around.

"Is anyone else weirded out by what Mary said, both just now and to Draughon?"

"She was raving, I think she's lived too long," says Rose. "Poor, beautiful person."

"I don't think she was. Recall, Rose, that you said there were six enemies in this house, all in the direction we went to find Mary. We fought off four to get into this room, and Mary makes five. Where is number six? It wasn't that spell we fought, is it?"

Everyone looks around, realizing he's right.

"No, that was just magical energy in the shape of a person for awhile, it wouldn't have registered as an enemy to my Detect Enemies spell."

"Was it Draughon then, and when it looked like she was going to lose, he turned on her? Or was the sixth person this mysterious one who will "come after" Mary and be "much, much worse"?"

"I think we're going to have to keep a very close eye on Sargent Draughon," says Jaden.

You have a funny feeling as well, be it Precognition or ESP or what, you're not sure, but you chime in. "I thought maybe finding Mary would be the end of our story, but now... maybe it's actually just the beginning."

Everyone looks at you seriously, nodding at your prophetic words.

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