Mana of Mayhem
Double, Double (Toil and Trouble)
September 3, 2013
Our journey to Castle Sepperin has been undertaken, completed, and now we’ve returned to Whitespace to rest; nothing went as anticipated. In some ways that is a blessing, but other aspects of how this has turned out have been most… disheartening.
Disheartening. That is a good word, I think. I do not say that we have failed in what we set out to accomplish—to the contrary. It is only…
Ugh. Once again, I get ahead of myself. Half the point of this writing is to untangle my thoughts; it is best, therefore, to begin with the beginning.
Justica departed early to pay her visit to Father; for my part, I undertook what preparations I could for the battle that I felt would certainly play out upon our arrival.
Alyssa provided us with a nice meal, at least, over which we devised our plan of attack. Fiora advocated an aerial entrance, but that plan was shot down (pun intended)—flight is not, per se, one of my particular aptitudes, but it is by no means an uncommon talent among magi, and any sanctum worthy of the name will have a countermeasure in place for aerial assault. (I note, happily, that Whitespace does not have skies save those we choose to put in place, and the skies over my own portion of it can be made most unpleasant for any who dare them without my approval.)
The plan we settled upon was a simple one—Marisa would teleport the two of us to a suitable location, then use the shadowphones to relay an image back to Fiora… which would apparently be enough for her to open a more lasting connection from Attu Island—one of her favored teleport stopovers, for its tremendous desolation. From there, I would guide the group through the Shadow Forest on foot, weave a path over the moat, and we would slip into the Castle proper through a poorly warded door in the old servants’ quarters.
It was a good plan… so good, in fact, that someone else had the same idea. Upon opening the door, we found footprints in the dust—one set of which corresponded precisely to Shina Karma’s shoe size. It seemed that we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of Justica’s visit as a distraction—apparently Nami had already let Shina Bellemon and Noriko in.
I led the way to my rooms… where, contrary to my fears, we did not find my duplicate bound and stuffed in a closet, nor were we ambushed. We did find signs of the Guardians’ presence, though—a sharp-edged circle of flame-red metal that Shina and Hotaru identified as Noriko’s weapon of choice. A bit more prodding revealed the Guardians’ likely destination—apparently Nami had excavated into a sealed-off passageway that had once been accessible from my room, opening up a rough-hewn spiral staircase leading downward.
So, of course, we descended. Hotaru and Shina took positions at my sides, forming a spearhead without so much as a word between them, as if it were the most natural thing in the world… and I suppose it was, really. After all, they’d been fighting alongside an Iris for years now.
Given what I suspected of Nami (much of which has now been proven true)… it is surprising, even now, that those instincts still remained. Maybe it’s a bit sad, as well.
We proceeded down the stairway and found ourselves in the caverns below, where Nami, Shina Bellemon, and Noriko were engaged in a conversation with a projection of a tall, slender man, with straight black hair and pale skin—almost certainly Bellemon himself.
The Guardians’ preoccupation with their conversation gave us a chance to observe them while we ourselves remained unobserved. Nami was, as predicted, free of malign psychomancy, while Noriko bore a level roughly on par with what Shina Karma had had when first we met. Shina Bellemon, on the other hand…
Whatever might have been left of the person she once was—whatever didn’t escape with Shina Karma, anyway—is gone from Shina Bellemon’s mind now. The malign psychomancy nesting in her brain had incubated to maturity, and had simply devoured every function of her mind, like a parasite devouring its victim from within. It’s all I can do not to be sick thinking about it; mere words cannot describe how utterly revolting it was to have to bear witness to such a grotesquerie. Comparing her to a walking corpse would not be inappropriate; in every respect that matters, she is dead, a corpse driven by the arcane horror that has infested her brain… the true horror lies in that she hasn’t figured it out yet. Even the Light could not save her—the horror within her has burrowed so deep that burning away would leave nothing behind but a drooling vegetable, if that. The thing called Shina Bellemon will continue to go through the motions of living; it will breathe and eat and drink and speak and will not realize that it has no will of its own, only the sickening magic of its puppeteer pulling its strings until it breaks. She’s not even a person anymore…
Ugh. There are few things that can affect me that profoundly, but… even compared to many of the things I have witnessed, it is sickening. I could write for pages about it and feel no better… so instead I’ll simply say this:
Again, I could go into much greater depth on this—I think I have a sufficient grasp on Hotaru’s language to construct some truly interesting bits of invective in it—but I refuse to waste any more of my time on that jumped-up syphilitic peasant whoreson.
The three Guardians were not alone. Behind them, I saw a number of figures imprisoned in cages of brass and steel—essentially using them as cores for arcane energy generators. A trio of robed figures that we would later learn to be Thana’s minions (most likely, anyway—they were close-mouthed on the subject, saying only that they had been retained to serve as security for the manor), as well as a pair of student archaeologists from Oxford University, of all places. There was even a Filth creature in one of the cages, though how it got there—and what that implies—I cannot guess.
My double, too, was imprisoned, bound in what looked to be a rather cleverly constructed arcane circle—I hadn’t time to work out the specifics, other than that it was some manner of spell designed to trigger if she moved beyond the circle’s confines, and a rather complex one at that. Alyssa thinks it’s a dispelling—perhaps some version of the Light.
A sprite with shadowed wings was imprisoned in an adjacent cage—a contracted minion of Father’s, apparently, intended to serve as a guardian or observer for my double. Unfortunately, Nami had already replaced my double, and the presence of such an onlooker proved to be a burden—hence her imprisonment.
Nami’s move against the sprite has worrisome implications—having moved against her observer, she likely would not have been able to maintain her masquerade any longer. There is no telling what we would have found had we arrived even an hour later.
In any case, Nami spotted us and ended her conversation with Bellemon, and then made the fatal mistake of presuming to monologue at us. At me. I can understand why she would do such a thing, but in her case it was a poor maneuver, given the terrible weakness of her hand… though I have to say, even I was not expecting her situation to deteriorate as badly as it did.
Ugh, was that a trace of pity for Nami? How disturbing. Pity is a luxury I can afford, I suppose, given that my place in this world has been established, while she is currently zip-tied to a chair with a truly ridiculous amount of warding designed to reduce her to an ice-encrusted skeleton should she breathe too deeply. Given that I am surrounded by friends who are willing to do something utterly ridiculous like stage a raid on Father’s castle (why, I cannot comprehend), while she has not even a single friend left to her name… save, possibly, what is left of Shina Bellemon (ugh) who is currently similarly constrained.
In any case, Shina Bellemon was unmoved by our words—unsurprising, given her wretched state; Noriko, though… Noriko needed surprisingly little in the way of speeches to persuade her that she’d been psychomancied. To be fair, the psychomancy holding her was considerably weaker than that which had been binding Shina Karma—a testament to her strength of will. Of course, it is also possible that on some level she had been planning to feign a split with her group, and then attack from behind once we’d shown her our backs; such would fit what I’ve been told of her modus operandum… that, however, came to null once I had burned away the psychomancy affecting her. Or maybe Nami’s comment, asking why Shina and Hotaru would have joined me if I hadn’t psychomancied them, was the last straw in an already strained relationship.
To be honest, that comment rather took me aback, as well. Not the question—raising the question of psychomancy against the question of psychomancy is probably one of the better defenses against charges of being a psychomancer—but the way it was delivered. It seemed almost… self-loathing, of all things…
In any case, with Noriko choosing to sit out, Nami was losing her will to fight… then Marisa clandestinely did something to the shadows, making them grow bold as Father’s presence does. My heart nearly stopped, but I managed to hide it well; Nami, for her part, was already so far out of her comfort zone that she made to flee on the spot. Against my better judgement, I was prepared to allow the two to escape… Fiora, however, had other ideas, catching them in what looked to be a zone of frozen time. I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen light stop that way; it was a curious sight. It also made my skin crawl a bit.
Fiora, Fiora, Fiora. I will say that your preparedness has done you credit, but at the same time it has placed me in a difficult position. Had I engaged Nami in battle, I could have killed her without a moment’s hesitation—what she has allowed to happen to her comrades, her wrongful imprisoning of my duplicate, her impersonation of me, all of these are insults upon my House that I would be quite justified in repaying with death in combat. But against someone rendered completely helpless… death would still be a justifiable punishment, but it becomes more repellent a prospect.
Fiora bound them with zip-ties and I bound them with Bright Crests, and we set about inventorying the caverns… and Alyssa, for her part, set to work on Shina Bellemon.
Alyssa is a psychomancer. Gott in himmel. I suppose I can’t blame her for not advertising it, and she did come with me into Castle Sepperin at great personal risk, but at the same time it rather stretches credulity to believe that one can have developed the kind of ability she evidently has without a great deal of practice. Aggh, there’s a reason I made it a point not to study psychomancy, aptitude or no aptitude, and this is exactly it. Ugh.
I was not afforded much time to dwell on that particular detail, though, as there were a great many other matters competing for my attention—such as my duplicate, whom Marisa was busily freeing from her prison.
She was in a state—upon seeing me, her first question was to ask whether it was really me or whether I was ‘the witch’ again. When I pointed out that that would be a terribly impolitic question to ask if I actually was the witch, she very nearly hugged the life out of me and was halfway to tears of relief.
I was taken aback—if she’d actually intended to kill me, that would have been an ideal time. Just what had Nami done to her? I had no time to dwell on that, either, as the shadows started moving again—and this time it wasn’t Marisa. It seems Marisa’s little stunt had drawn Father’s attention.
Elizabeth—or, I should say, her Other, for she had… transformed? ceded control?… when we were preparing to do battle—found this tremendously amusing and laughed quite a bit. I showed restraint and merely counseled her not to choke on whatever was causing her to make that gargling noise.
I think it was shortly after this that Elizabeth slipped away from us. I have to applaud her sense of timing—given how preoccupied all of us were at that point, it was a perfect opportunity. I cannot particularly fault her for it; she’d stayed for the most difficult part, at least. More, I’m actually a bit gratified—it seems my assessment of her was correct. She does have a sensible head on her shoulders.
So, we found ourselves climbing the stairs, captives in tow, in one great long train. Noriko’s psychomantic bonds, though twisted by the strength of her fury, hadn’t entirely faded, so at this point I took a moment to dispel them. I had little time to consider it then, but Justica and Nami both looked odd, almost transparent, while I was shining… hm. Perhaps I should inquire with Justica later; she may know things about the Light that I do not.
Father seemed… pleased, all told, as he led us to the Great Hall… where we found out that Fiora’s cat has apparently been haunting Castle Sepperin in his free time, for months now.
The conversation that followed was rather disenchanting. Father was polite, played the gracious host, and intimated that he wasn’t as scary as I had been making him out to be—ha—and revealed that he’d known about my excursion plans for some time, right up to the escape in the cargo truck. That was a bit galling… he did not, however, know I was in Ravensglass. Vindication~
Further discussion ensued, of the schoolgrounds imploding and the Guardians’ arrival—I managed to cover the basics of that without mentioning that Hotaru was one of them, I’m pleased to say, though Father might have guessed it anyway. He did not press the matter, though.
He… did not seem upset. I wasn’t grounded, thank God. Apparently he and Justica had undertaken some similar shennanigans when they were younger—slipping out to see the christening of the Titanic was one such incident.
I am pleased to know that my excursion to Ravensglass is not the only unapproved trip in the family to end in large-scale disaster.
In any case, after some refreshments and idle conversation, Father took his leave—off to go find and seal the servants’ entrance, no doubt—and we conversed a bit further. We had retrieved the artifact Nami used to travel to this dimension, unharmed—the Guardians could return home to change their world.
Initially, I was delighted. The world from which the Guardians hailed was in miserable shape, and rebuilding it was a greater opportunity than any House Sepperin has seen in fifty years… however, as it turned out, things were not as I had imagined. The ‘good’ news was that they could not be replaced without dying first; the bad news was that while the Guardians were well known, their identities were not… meaning their ability to effect change without exposing themselves was extremely limited, and if they exposed themselves it would be far too easy to replace them with someone less liberal.
Hotaru seemed progressively less and less pleased with the thought of going home… to the point that she actually designated Shina Bellemon as her successor. It was actually a rather clever exploit of the rules, as far as I can tell. The designation of Guardian requires that one be linked to something called a ‘spark’—the energies contained within the talismans they use—but Shina’s split had duplicated that, making her a Guardian who technically didn’t represent one of the four schools. While ordinarily the authority to acknowledge a Guardian would fall to something called the ‘Council of Elders’ at the school in question, the obliteration of the Academy of the First Star left Hotaru as the only student… and therefore, she was the Council of Elders by default.
I would admire the cleverness of it IF IT HADN’T BEEN SHINA BELLEMON!!!
I don’t regret Hotaru staying—far from it. I’m rather sad Shina’s departing, for that matter. But how can she possibly think trusting Shina Bellemon is a good idea?!
In any case, the aid that I—and House Sepperin—will be able to supply will be minimal. The artifact is capable of opening doors, but it typically requires months of charging… and, more to the point, even if I was willing to go on year-long voyages to nightmarishly backwards dimensions of despotism, the Guardians seem determined to deal with Bellemon and work towards repairing their world on their own. I cannot blame them, I suppose. Maybe they know Nami well enough not to trust me. Maybe they know me well enough to know that most often I have ulterior motives for doing almost anything I do—and it’s true, I was hoping to profit from rebuilding their world, although not at their expense. Or maybe it’s a matter of pride—they fell into the mess with Bellemon, and they’ve been helping to support the mess with the state of their world, so perhaps they feel it’s their responsibility to solve both of those messes. I cannot fault them for their reasons in any case… but whatever their reasons might be, it seems almost certain that soon the Guardians—Noriko, both Shinas, and Nami—will be leaving this world behind. Most likely forever.
Yes, Nami is going with them; I can’t say I’m not happy to see her go, but I worry about letting her out of strangling reach. Noriko seems confident she can ‘keep her in line’; I fervently hope she is correct. Nami is another me, after all, and as such is as dangerous as they come; by her own admission, she already accounted for her own universe’s incarnations of Fiora and Marisa. But, as the Guardians have been too polite to say outright… it isn’t my problem.
As for Shina Bellemon… all I can do is hope that whatever mindhorror Alyssa has infected her with will be enough to keep her in line, as well. I suppose that in this I can say my debt to her is paid, at least.
My duplicate indicated that she is amenable to staying in place for a time, but she wants to pursue an independent existence at some point. That seems workable; I’ll have to see what I can set up for her (assuming she isn’t already doing something along those lines). With that decided, we set course back for Ravensglass. Justica will apparently be accompanying us, which rather surprised me—I had halfway expected her to remain at Castle Sepperin.
One final thing troubles me… a question raised by Nami and again by Father. Why did these people follow me into the jaws of Castle Sepperin, knowing how dangerous it could be? Father, at least, seemed to be trying to make some kind of point… but what point it might be, I cannot imagine. ‘Otherwise intelligent people can do really idiotic things at times’? I’m already quite aware of that—I’ve undertaken more than a few such idiotic things myself since I arrived in Ravensglass…
In any case, it has been a long day. I think I shall sleep… and when I wake, I have many things before me, many tasks to attend to. I need no longer restrain myself in using family resources, either, though obviously I will still need to try to maintain some level of discretion—life without assassination attempts suits me well for the moment.