Anima: Allette

“Did you find anything?” Catherine asked, calling down from the top of the cliff as they made their way out of the ship.
“Not sure,” Tebryn called back before anyone else could answer. “Tell you when we get up there.”
Keith was first up the rope, scrambling up the rocks to the grassy top in what seemed the blink of an eye to Max. Tebryn was a bit slower, but finished his ascent with a showly flip, leaving Max to struggle up behind them in chainmail, after he refused an offer to haul him up on the rope.
“…know where that is, yes,” Catherine was saying when he reached the top, red faced and sweating. “It’s in the middle of the island though, closer to the Marque’s manor than the village really.”
“So we go tomorrow then,” Tebryn said, looking up into the grey sky. “It’s about mid afternoon now and I don’t fancy running around a ruin in the black of night.”
Catherine nodded. “All right. I’ll see you at my place after breakfast then.”
“After an early breakfast,” Max said, coiling the rope up.
“Agreed.”

The sun was low on the horizon and the fields of cabbages, turnips and potatoes were visible in the distance when Keith held up a hand.
“What’s wr—”
“Shh!” Keith’s reply was both soft and sharp and cut Max off mid query.
The big man drew his blades and turned just as the first darkling attacked.
They were human—or had once been. They moved with a swift economy of motion that was human in form but inhumane in the way it completely disregarded the safety of the mover. The first one crashed out of a thorny gorse thicket, covered in scratches from the needle sharp thorns, some deep enough to bleed painfully. Or should have been deep enough to cause painful bleeding. Only the darkling didn’t bleed blood at all. Ichor the colour of midnight dripped from their wounds, dissolving into the air in trailing streams of darkness. Still, Max was sure that these had once been people, sunken eyesockets, jet black eyes and hollow cheeks included. They moved forward deliberately and without vocalisation, the only noise of their approach their footfalls and the whip slap of springy gorse branches being pushed out of their way. Their long, blackened fingernails were more akin to talons than fingernails, and they closed in with hands raised, ready to strike.
Keith dodged the first attack, spinning out of the way and sending the darkling crashing off the road with a well placed kick to its behind, and struck out at the a second, but it pulled away, only a tiny line of of dark ichor on its torso any indication that it had been hit at all.
Damn, these things were fast.
In the background, he heard Catherine scream and saw Tebryn hesitate a second before drawing out a large, oriental fan. A fan. Thinking back, he hadn’t actually seen the man use any blade larger than a belt knife, or pick up anything resembling a weapon. Gritting his teeth, Max drew his shortsword from his belt, his shield from where it rested on his back, and squared off against the third darkling. This one had been a woman once, if her tattered garb was anything to go by. Now her lank black hair hung in thick matted snarls, most of them plastered to her face and neck. She stared at him without any trace of recognition or acknowledgement as another human being. It wasn’t a look he’d really seen before. Well, maybe once when his patrol had come up against a den of mushroom juicers, the brain fogging combination of blackcap mushroom powder and strong spirits had turned a normally placid, drugged out juicer den into a cave of blood thirsty maniacs.
Two of his squad had died that night.
The first blow came from his left and Max barely got the shield up in time. The force of the blow was as hard as his captain’s back home, and was being delivered by a five foot something, wiry darkling that had once been an inoffensive peasant woman. His own over shield blow missed its mark, and it seemed that Keith wasn’t faring much better. The normally nimble warrior was having to fend of too of the creatures, and his blades were being turned toward defence and misdirection of attacks rather than landing killing blows themselves.
Suddenly, a small rock hit the side of the woman’s head, and it turned to glare balefully in Tebryn’s direction, only to be hit up the side of the head with the butt of the trickster’s fan. The thud of metal on flesh mixed with the crack of bone and Max took advantage of the distraction to run the woman through, his blade slipping between her ribs to her heart. Black mist bubbled out of ther mouth and blew away in the sea breeze as her body collapsed to the ground, nearly yanking Max’s blade from his grip. Stepping over the corpse, he thrust at the second of the darklings attacking Keith. Drawing its attention allowed the Kushistani to go on the offence, cutting down the third creature in a hail of blows that left its head detached from the rest of its body. Max himself wasn’t as fortunate, trading fruitless attacks with his opponent when a twisted root caused him to stumble backwards, his guard dropping momentarily as he was pushed backwards into the prickly gorse.
Tensing in anticipation the guardsman prayed his armour would prevent any serious damage, but instead of an opportunistic blow there was a slick grating sound and a burst of cold air blasted past his face. Looking up he saw a lithe young woman, dressed in leather leggings and a jerkin covered by a sunshine yellow dress. She was holding two heavy daggers, which were currently jammed to the hilt into the eye sockets of the final darkling, the once stocky man’s body now lying twitching in the grass. Wrenching her weapons free the girl cleaned her blades on the rags the darkling still wore, and then sheathed them in a harness on her back.
“Hi,” the girl said, pushing her hair back from her face. “I’m Allette. Are you the new people I’ve been told about?”
Max blinked and hauled himself to his feet. “I’m Max, that’s Tebryn and the big guy’s Keith. And you could say we’re new around these parts.”
“And…” Allette looked over to where Catherine was kneeling by one of the fallen darklings.
“That’s Catherine,” Tebryn said softly, ushering Allette away from the woman. “She’s a local. How’d you get here?”
“I woke up in a tree,” Allette said. “With a note pinned to my dress saying ‘Sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m running out of time’. You?”
“Went so sleep in Archangel, woke up here,” Max said. “Keith and Tebryn were on a crashing airship—”
“You crashed here?” Allette asked, turning to Tebryn.
“No,” the trickster said. “There was a sorcerer, everything went dark and we were here.”
“That was…kind of him,” Allette said.
“How do you figure that?” Tebryn asked.
“You didn’t crash and die?” Allette suggested.
Tebryn sniffed. “I suppose. But given that I think he was the cause of the crash, I’m not sure how much of a mercy that was.”
Over by the bodies, Keith was squatting down beside Catharine. “Are you all right?”
“I knew him,” Catherine said, one slender hand resting on the shoulder of the darkling Allette had stabbed in the eyes. “Edward was a farmer. He was the first one who vanished and everyone thought he’d gone…lost at sea.”
“Come. We should leave,” Keith said, offering her his hand.
Catherine accepted his hand and rose gracefully to her feet. “Yes. And I need to get you all to the ruins of the old cathedral. Cavalcanti won’t get away with this any longer.”
“You didn’t really just say that, did you?” Tebryn asked. “Nothing good ever happens after someone says that.”
“Um…who’s Cavalwhatsit?” Allette asked raising her hand.
“The Marque of the island,” Max said.
“A demon,” Catherine replied. “He feeds on your fears and turns you into…those,” she added, turning away from the darkling corpses.
“Well, in that case, maybe you shouldn’t be telling people that he feeds on fear, because—”
“He gets into your nightmares,” Tebryn said. “Or gives them to you. Or if not him something. He’s just our best suspect right now.”
“That sounds a bit…supernatural.”
“Very,” Tebryn agreed. “But don’t take our word for it—see how you feel after you get a bad night’s sleep tonight.”
“Also, if you don’t defeat him, you’ll never get off the island,” Catherine said. “We’ll never get off the island.”
Allette paused. “But Goodie Wallace said that a merchant ship is due in port any day?”
“That ship’s been due any day for several years,” Catharine said.
A rumble startled them all and Allette blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t eat lunch. Fill me in over dinner?”

~*~

“That’s her story?” Captain Melville asked, looking over to where the youth sat on the deck, wrapped in a thick blanket and leaning back against the mast.
“Appeared out of nowhere, saved my life and nearly got killed in the process,” Tebryn said. “Truth be told, she threw her lot in with us without so much as a second thought, and not a lot of evidence to go by.”
“Lucky for us,” Max said. “Not so much for her.”
“Perhaps,” Tebryn said. “But she’s alive, and that’s more than we all might have been if we hadn’t confronted the Marque.”

~*~

The Cathedral was in a coniferous forest in the central area of the island, deeper into the forest than the villagers ventured with their axes. It stood tall and mostly intact—the last building remaining from what must have been a much older settlement of thick hewn stone—far older than the brick and thatch cottages of the town.
“Erabus,” Tebryn said, running his fingers over the faded chisel marks on a stone marker. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” Catherine said. “Father Scott didn’t know who built it or how old it is.”
“It’s massive,” Tebryn said quietly.
And indeed it was. It was easily three stories high with a belltower that must have held a bell taller than Max himself, one which surely had been claimed by rust. It had a familiar cross shape, or near cross shape, with a still standing stone wall that enclosed what must have once been a graveyard or garden of some nature. The yellow-grey stones were covered in green mosses and lichen, and vines had grown up about a third of the way up the walls. The doors were easily nine feet tall and held together with black, wrought iron bands.
“You’d think there’d be rust,” Tebryn said, from where he was inspecting the hinges. “I don’t even think this will squeak when you push it open.”
“We push it open?” Allette asked.
“Well, mostly Keith,” Tebryn said with a shrug.
Allette rolled her eyes. “Come on big guy,” she said, striding forward.
The doors did indeed slide forward noiselessly on smooth hinges, revealing a scene of remarkable preservation. Max wasn’t sure if the place had always been this austere, or if the people who abandoned the dwellings had managed to take all their soft furnishings with them, but the two lines of stone pews were still intact, an aisle between them leading up to a large round column that reached up into the stone dome that was visible from the outside, and curiously devoid of ornamentation. There was no pulpit, and only the stone altar remained at the far end, only empty wall where Max would have expected a wooden cross. Where he would have expected seats for the choir on the left was an archway, a blue-white light shining steadily out from it. To the right was empty space, with just a small, plain door in the corner. Piles of rubble from a partially collapsed wall rose some eight feet high along the right hand side of the cathedral, and the grey light of the sun still cast colourful patterns through the stained glass windows which showed scenes from the War of the Cross.
The central column was…odd. It looked far too big to be there, and as Max stared up into the vaulted ceiling above, it looked like it wasn’t supporting anything. At the front of the columns were three vertical lines of tiles. Or tumblers, as Max found upon closer inspection, each tile rotating around through a series of letters and numbers, although at the moment they were all blank.
“Three names, huh?” Tebryn said, twiddling with the tiles. “Seems straightforward enough—just have to find them.”
“Okay,” Allette said. “Where do we start?”
“Ah,” Tebryn said. “The not straightforward part.”
The glowing light turned out to be coming from a granite sphere that scintillated with a white glow, despite not appearing to be cut with facets. It lit the walls with hundreds of bright white dots, that danced in random patterns and swirls. Max paused in the doorway, only to have Tebryn push past him, reaching out to lay his hand on the rock.
It was hard to explain, but it almost seemed like the lights were drawn to Tebryn’s skin, causing the palm of his hands to light up, fleshy and red, while the top of his hand remained dark in the shadows. Tebryn looked up at Max, his eyes wide.
“Yeah,” Max said. “I know.”
“What? It’s just a rock,” Allette said.
“A glowy rock,” Tebryn said, picking it up. It was about as large as the man’s chest and he needed two hands to carry it. “Do you think we can take it?”
“You can try,” Keith said with a shrug.
Grinning at Max, Tebryn carefully carried the rock over to the door, but once he stepped over the threshold, the lights that had lit its surface faded, and the feeling of power faded. Frowning, he stepped back into the alcove, and the stone lit up again, or at least, one half did. The side outside of the room remained dark and dead.
“Can’t take it out of the room,” Max said.
“Yeah,” Tebryn agreed. “Oh well, we know it’s here if we need it,” he said and carried it back to the plinth and set it down gingerly. “Pity,” he added.
“You can get another pet rock somewhere else,” Allette said as they headed towards the door on the other side of the room.
“But it won’t be as good as that one,” Tebryn said with a sigh. “Never mind.”
It was nice to know he wasn’t the only magically gifted person around, but he hadn’t seen the juggler do anything remotely magical so far. To be fair, he’d done nothing magical since meeting Tebryn and Keith, so perhaps the other man was just being cautious.

The far door led out into a cloister, or what would once have been a cloister, if the forest hadn’t reclaimed the grassy garden. Most of the covered walkways had collapsed under the ministration of the elements, but the stone paths were still there, and the group trekked right around the trees, hugging the cathedral wall. Through another door they found a long corridor that seemed to run alongside the inner wall, although it seemed superfluous from Max’s perspective. Maybe it was a storage area. It certainly seemed like the equivalent of a cathedral shed, although it didn’t hold much bar a few moth-eaten scraps of fabric and sacking and the rusted remains of of gardening tools. At the end there was a number of carved busts, although of who exactly Max didn’t know.
“These have been moved,” Tebryn said. “Look at the discolouration on the stone.”
Looking down Max saw the square print on the stone that was lighter than dirty discoloured areas around it. “They were blocking the end of the room.”
“Let’s see what’s behind it, shall we?” Tebryn asked, raising his lantern as he led the way between the statues.
“Marble,” Keith muttered as he followed after the juggler. “Heavy.”
“And empty,” Tebryn said. “Well, except for this.”
Following the others between the heavy statues of religious icons long forgotten, Max found Tebryn looking up at an engraving in the wall. “A puzzle,” he said flatly. “I hate puzzles.”
“One puzzle, three names.” Tebryn said.
“And numbers around the outside of the letter square,” Max said. “Wonderful.”
“Keith?”
The big man shrugged and leaned up against the wall. “You’re the thinker, you figure it out.”
“Hey look, Erebus. Isn’t that what was on the sign out front of the cathedral?” Allette asked.
“Aye,” Tebryn agreed. “And it was on the documents we found at the shipwreck.”
“There was a shipwreck?” Allette asked.
“Didn’t we cover that over dinner?”
“Mostly you talked about potatoes. And how much you never want to eat one again.”
“Oh, right.” Reaching into his backpack, Tebryn drew out the oilskin wrapped parcel of documents out of his backpack and handed it to her as he stared at the numbers. “Here you go.”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Could it be the numbers pointing towards letters?” Tebryn muttered, half to himself. “Each set of numbers provides a letter?”
“That doesn’t provide anything resembling names and doesn’t give us Erebus at all.”
“And how would the zero come into things?” Allette asked.
“Hey look, Abaddon,” Max said. “Would that be one of the names?”
“If we’re just picking names, there’s Julia, Jedah and Maria if you go backwards,” Allette pointed out.
“Erebus, Jedah and Meseguis,” Tebryn said.
“Meseguis? That’s not a name!” Max objected.
“Maybe not, but it’s all eight letters in that column,” Tebryn said.
Max stared at the square of letters for a moment longer. “Oh,” he said.
Keith straighted up from where he had slouched against the wall. “All right. Let’s go do this then.”

Tebryn – New Art!

Tebryn

So after several months of gaming in the Anima world, I finally have an idea of what Tebryn looks like in the flesh. And the fantastic Annah Lang (no relation, sadly), and player of Arkara has created this amazing piece of artwork for me! She’s already taken on the all the art for the Mass Effect Collision serial that I’m writing at the moment, and as you can see, she can do fantasy (or I suppose renaissance art) as easily and as superbly as science fiction. This is the low res web version–click the image above for the high res version.

Annah is currently crazy busy doing cosplay, more Mass Effect art and possibly another Tebryn piece eventually, but she does take commissions, and I suggest you get in now before her to draw list gets too massive. You can find her online at eevia.net.

Drimi (Mass Effect Collision, Chapter 10)

Gunnedah Hospital was a private hospital in Zakera Ward that had been little more than a human clinic before the war, and had been the recipient of a good portion of charity money raised for the fight against the reapers at that time. Much of the money that had come in after the attack on earth had never been deliverable given the war situation, and worthy, war supporting causes had been sought closer to home. Gunnedah had been one such recipient, and while the Cerberus coup attempt and the destruction of much of the station following the deployment of the Catalyst had meant it too needed rebuilding almost from the ground up, the staff retained a reputation for being their friendly, no-nonsense approach to their patients. Or at least, that’s what the extranet said after a quick search. Walking in the reception foyer was light and spacious, and the air carried just a hint of disinfectant. As Sync went up to the information desk to ask after his shipmate, Elias leaned against a pillar and glanced upwards at the TV, where a reporter was talking about the likelihood of the quarian race surviving. Apparently even with cloning techniques the future looked bleak here. Sighing, he dragged his eyes from the screen, and then hurried to catch up as the rest hurried off after Sync and one of the nurses.
“You arrived sooner than expected, Darl,” the human nurse, who’s name tag read ‘Doreen’ said. “We were considering keeping your friend for a longer convalescence, but they’re doing amazing things with nanosurgery these days. Even what would once have been a rather large invasive procedure can be done relatively quickly—not to mention all the synthskin and muscle-knitting drugs that we’ve refined in the last few years. I think he’ll be up on his feet again in no time.”
“She,” Sync corrected absently.
Doreen paused. “Of course,” she said after just a fraction of a second past what would have been considered polite. “Now they’re off most of the painkillers, but might still be a bit drowsy,” she said as she opened a door for them. “You’ve got visitors, dear,” she said to the blue skinned man in the bed.
He was wearing a hospital gown, and apparently little else beneath the sheets, the front open enough to show the bandages across his chest. There was some puffiness around the face that made Elias think the asari had some minor surgery there.
“I’m sorry,” Sync said to Doreen. “I don’t think this is the right room.”
The man’s eyes fluttered opened. “So you ditch me and then show up before I’m back on my feet and prepared for this conversation? Not cool bro.”
“Mree?” Sync’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Is that really you?”
Catching flies, the memory of Corbin’s voice rang in his head.
“Uh, yeah boss—I mean, Sync. Surprise!” he said as he hit the button on the bed to raise it into a sitting position.
Sync walked over to help his friend sit up. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
The asari looked away. “It’s…complicated. You seemed to be busy with, you know, problems of your own. There wasn’t any reason for me to burden you with…my own issues. I hope you’re not…freaked out.”
Sync shrugged. “Well, I’ve changed myself in some ways, and now you’ve changed yourself in another.”
“I’m still the same person though. I just…now I feel that…I’m the way I should be.”
“Definitely,” Sync said, and wrapped his arms around his friend.
“Careful, fresh sutures,” the asari said, although he made no attempt to pull away. “I’m assuming you have a lot of questions—the doctors said I should be able to head back to the ship today. They wanted to keep me here for longer but well…I don’t have funds to cover the extra night and I’d rather be somewhere familiar. I mean the staff have been mostly great but…”
“But?”
“Nothing. I just want to go back home.”
“Well, okay. We’ll need all the help we can get anyways, Mree,” Sync said.
“Um, would you mind, could you call me Drimi now?” the asari asked. “A-although Ree would work too…”
Sync paused. “How about Dree?” he asked.
The other man smiled. “I think I can live with that.”
“Good,” Sync said. “And I know you’ve got a ton of questions for me, so how about we catch up later when you’re back on your feet. Just you and me?”
“Sure,” Drimi said, and glanced around the room, taking in the others for the first time. “You…brought friends?”
Sync looked back at the others, standing just inside the door. “Acquaintances, at least for now,” he said.
“They must be some acquaintances if they’re willing to come spring me from this joint,” Drimi said. “You don’t owe them money do you?”
“No, it’s a little complicated,” Sync said. “Doreen do you mind giving us some privacy here?”
The nurse smiled. “Not at all Mr. Sync.” She checked the IV line that was still connected to Drimi’s right hand. “Now if you need anything, dear, you just push that call button. And if your friends are taking you home, I can get you a wheelchair but I still think you’re rushing out too soon.” With a look that was both stern and compassionate at the same time, she left the room, shutting the door behind her with a soft click. Then Sync regaled his friend with the story of their meeting so far, helped by the others where necessary, although before too long, Drimi held up his hand.
“Whoa, whoa. You’re telling me that all these people are from a different dimension?”
“Yes I am,” Sync said. “Actually she knows you in her universe. Or the you in her universe,” he said, pointing towards Arkara.
The asari on the bed blinked. “If I didn’t know that you don’t joke, boss, I wouldn’t believe you. You don’t have the brains to think up something this crazy.”
“Thanks,” Sync said flatly. “Do you guys need to do some catching up?” Sync asked. “I don’t really get how this universe stuff things works exactly.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever met here,” Drimi said, eyeing Arkara curiously.
“I doubt it,” Arkara said. “But it would be nice to compare notes.”
“It might help me wrap my head around all this,” Drimi agreed. “So…are all these people staying on the Endurance?” he asked, turning to Sync.
“Ah…yeah,” Sync said. “I—”
“As long as none of them touch my stuff in the cargo hold, we’re fine,” Drimi said, narrowing his eyes.
A dopplered whistle drew Elias’ gaze over to where Anar was staring out the window, all six of his tentacles bundled up under him.
“Really?” Arkara asked.
“This one is going to get a soda. Would anyone else like one? No? This one will see you back on the ship if not before,” Anar said, floating just a little too quickly out of the room.
“What was that all about?” Drimi asked.
“I have no idea,” Sync said.
“Interesting,” Pi murmured inside of Elias’ helmet.
“What makes you say that?” Elias asked.
“I know for a fact that Captain Sync knows exactly why Anar left the room quickly, but there’s almost no inflection an organic would sense to show that he was lying just then.”
“So you’re saying he’s good at poker.”
“Evidence for that hypothesis is inconclusive, but he would probably be very good at poker if he had the mathematical expertise to handle the probabilities involved and…ah. Yes. He is indeed ‘good at poker’,” Pi said after a moment’s pause. “I suspect the fact that seventy one point zero zero six percent of his body is synthetic may have something to do with it.”
“…I do have a surprise for you when we get back onto the ship though,” Sync was saying. “You’ll have to figure it out yourself, but.”
Drimi sighed. “This is payback for me not telling you about my surgery, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely,” Sync grinned. “I’m not going soft on you just because you’re a boy, you know.”
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
“Ms…Mr Peshasi, it’s against medical advice, but if you’re certain you want to leave now, we can discharge you,” Nurse Doreen said.
“I’ll go,” Drimi said. “I’ve got my own personal doctor right here.”
Doreen smiled and went over to a nearby wardrobe, bringing out a pair of pants and an earth style leather jacket.
“You just want to wear that, don’t you,” Sync asked. “Without a bra.”
Drimi shrugged. “Like I wore them before.”
“Binder?” Elias asked, speaking aloud for the first time since leaving the ship.
“Yes,” Drimi said. “How’d you know?”
“I’ve heard humans talking about it,” Elias said.
“I see. What’s your name again, sir?” Drimi asked. “I think I met everyone except for you and the hanar.”
“I’m Elias.”
Drimi blinked. “Elias? Really? Wait…wait…no, never mind.”
“We’ll give you some privacy,” Elias said, stepping into the hallway.

The reactions to Drimi’s transformation ranged from smiles and curious stares to silences, frowns and pointed avoidance. Mostly from other Asari.
After the second conversation hushed and turned into whispers and furtive glances, Drimi lifted his chin and strode past the blue aliens, and Arkara loomed over them, a subtle shift in her muscles promising a very krogan response to any ongoing commentary, and the group very quickly moved off.
“Don’t pay any attention to those punks, man,” Sync muttered. Drimi nodded, but his shoulders grew more and more tense with every Asari they passed.
“What are you looking at?” Sync snapped at a purple scalped woman, dressed in flowing robes and clutching a datapad.
The woman squeaked and hurried away.
Drimi sighed. “They don’t understand. We…they… Asari don’t have a gender. I think the term is ‘monomorphic’, although most people say ‘monogendered’. I’ve never felt right in my own skin and they don’t understand that.”
Sync shrugged. “I can relate in some ways.”
“You’re taking this better than I thought you would, Sync. I wish I’d told you sooner.”
“There’s some stuff I haven’t told you either,” Sync said. “Maybe we can catch up properly later. After I pick up some beer.”
“None of that North American crap,” Drimi said firmly. “I know you like your earth beers, Sync, but those ones are frankly piss.”
Sync rolled his eyes. “So add ryncol.”
“I’m thirsty not suicidal, boss.”
“Then get your own damn beer.”

Cicepia came out of the kitchen when they boarded and her eyes went immediately to the new face.
“So this is your friend?”
The asari walked carefully over to her, and Elias could tell the man was willing his body not to show any sign of his recent surgery. “Drimi,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Cicepia,” she said, taking his hand, her eyes glancing down at his torso, where the white bandages were clearly visible. A shirt had apparently been a bit much.
“I know,” he said. “It’s new to me too.”
“So…what skills do you have?” Cicepia asked.
“I…run this ship,” Drimi said, a little non-plussed by the sudden change in conversation topic. “I’m the official unofficial engineer.”
“And how long have you been officially unofficially on board?”
“About a year. Is there a problem…officer?”
“No, I just like to know who I’m working with. Especially on a mission as big as this one.”
“What exactly is the mission?” Drimi asked. “No-one’s told me anything yet.”
“We’ll fill you in a bit at a time,” Elias said, walking over. “It’s a lot to take in and you’ve had a rough day. Why don’t you meet me in the conference room once you’ve had a chance to settle back in. I’d like your thoughts on the proposed upgrades I’m wanting to give this girl.”
“Upgrades?” Drimi held his left hand up to his torso and his omni tool flickered. “Forget bed rest, I want details.”
“How much painkiller did you just give yourself?” Elias ask.
“It’s non-drowsy,” Drimi said, leading the way into the conference room. “No-one messes with my ship without me knowing about it.”
“So I’ve heard,” Elias said, following him in. “Just give me a moment to put in the new schematics, all right? And I’d appreciate it if you’d reserve judgment until I’ve got them all in.”
Drimi laughed. “All right Elias. It is Elias, right?”
“Yep,” Elias said, sitting in one of the chairs and pulling up a holo of the ship.
“Did you watch Citadel’s Got Talent?”
“I followed the show in my universe, yes.”
“Oh. Right. Universes. Did you have the famous lounge singer Elias in your universe too?”
“Yep,” Elias said, adding in the upgraded LADAR system and increasing the forward capacitor size for the Thanix Cannon.
“That must be wild, having the same name as the guy who won the whole thing.”
“You have no idea.”
“So…have you picked out your room?”
“Yep. I was going to go for the one with the most power outlets, but they were all standard so I just grabbed the last one I checked. Okay, now I don’t have full specs on all of this, but I know where I can get them. Do you think the Endurance will handle this amount of power draw? I mean, the LADAR should be okay, but the GARDIAN anti-ship missiles are a bit of draw unless we can get a new drive core running. Not to mention the space needed for the heat sinks.”
Drimi’s mouth fell open as he stared at the holo that flickered into existence when Elias hit the ‘apply’ button. “These…are very expensive parts. Where are we getting the funding for all of these?”
“Um…contacts?”
“You must have some amazing contacts to be able to get access to these schematics. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this sort of firepower since we got the old girl but, you know. Sync and I don’t have the finances for the bells and whistles.”
“I may have just sold the idea of turning this mission into a reality extranet show,” Elias said. “You know, epic inter-universe quest to stop the reapers for a second time?”
“You do have some interesting connections,” Drimi said with a grin. “I mean, military spec tech? Entertainment producers…wait…by the Goddess, no way. No Effing Way! You…you can’t…are you? Are you?”
“Alternate universe analogue,” Elias said.
“SYNC!! Get in here!” Drimi shouted.
Sync showed up sooner than he should have carrying two beers and a tumbler of turian brandy. At least, sooner than he should have if he hadn’t been loitering by the door.
“Do you know who he is?” Drimi demanded, pointing at Elias.
“Sure, he’s Elias. He’s a quarian. Really good with tech stuff.”
“No, no, he’s not just Elias. He’s the quarian Elias. The singer!”
“Yeah, the synthesised universe version apparently.”
“Um…uh…even so,” Drimi said. “I don’t think I’d have said half of what I’ve said if I…ah…I’m just glad I voted for you and not the other one. Ah…so…it’s an honour to have you on our ship. Are you sure your quarters are big enough? I’m sure we can bust down a wall or something…the bedroom walls aren’t structural, right boss?”
Elias raised his hands, “Oh no, I’m fine with the rooms, Drimi, really. You forget, I grew up on the Migrant Fleet. Your rooms are massive compared to what I’m used to.”
“But surely while you’ve been touring…”
“I’m still not used the apartment suites,” Elias said.
“Okay, okay, so…I just need to…”
“Breathe?” Elias suggested.
“It’s the surgery,” Drimi said. “Maybe you’re right and I shouldn’t be overdoing it even with medication. Let me go lie down. I’ll just, ah…yeah…”
Elias watched the asari leave with some bemusement. “So what are your thoughts on the upgrades?” he asked Sync.
“I’m wondering if he’s wishing he’d waited now you’re on board,” the human said, looking with some bemusement after the retreating asari.
“What?”
“Oh, you mean the ship upgrades? They’re great. You really think we can do this?”
“Absolutely,” Elias said. “What upgrades did you think I was referring to?”
“Drimi’s, I believe,” Pi said, as Sync stammered, trying to find an answer. “I thought they were more compatible with you given your history.”
“Pi…”
“That was merely an observation, Creator Elias.”
“Uh huh.”
From Pi there was innocent silence.

“Why the stealth drive?” Sync asked finally. “That is a stealth drive right?”
“You think we’re going to jump unannounced into the airspace of the Citadel in any universe and not be shot at without one?” Elias asked.
“Right. That’s a point. Where did you get the design? I only know of two ships that ever had that, and neither the Alliance nor the turian Hierarchy like sharing.”
Elias shrugged. “Admiral Zorah brought the designs to many of our ships. I acquired a copy of the plans when the Ashru was retrofitted before the battle of Rannoch.”
“Well, if you’re not too busy, I have a favour to ask.”
“What’s that?” Elias asked.
“I need some of your DNA.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I need a sample of your DNA. I was thinking a swab from the inside of your cheek?”
Elias crossed his arms and stared at the android. A million snappy comebacks swirled through his head and caught at the back of his throat, and he eventually settled on a simple, “Why?”
Sync tilted his head and led Elias into the med bay, bringing up a number of visual reports on an impressive number of screens. “My life’s work,” he said simply. “Chasing what already exists in your universe: the perfect melding or organic and synthetic. And the answer to that is locked up in your DNA.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but you can’t have it,” Elias said. “Aside from the fact that it’s mine and worth a fortune in all of our universes, you don’t need it. We’re heading back to my universe to retrofit the Endurance anyway. It’s in every living thing. Go pick a leaf from a plant, buy a fish or space hamster from the gift shop and you’ll have samples. Or you could go to nightclub and get saliva samples from finished drinks or visit a health club and snatch a few used towels…”
“You know, I never thought of that.”
“Just thinking up ways to get into my suit?”
“What? No, I didn’t mean anything by—”
“That was a joke.”
Sync flushed. “I’m sorry, I guess that was a bit personal.”
“A bit?” Elias said, a smile in his voice. “I understand your drive, Sync. But aside from Drimi, you haven’t really spent much time with people recently, have you?”
“Ah…”
Elias clapped the man on the shoulder. “Welcome back to society, Captain.”
“I’m not Captain—”
“Yes you are,” Elias said seriously. “This is your ship. You fly her, you command her and you set her course. If there is an emergency you instruct your crew how to handle it. That makes you Captain.”
“But you’re the one with the mission and the money.”
Elias shrugged. “That gives me a say in the mission at best, not how you fly the ship when you come right down to it.”
“What makes you think I’m cut out for this?” Sync asked.
“What makes any of us?”

The Endurance (Mass Effect Collision, Chapter 9)

The Endurance. I've been unable to discover the original artist of this work. If you know, please tell me!

The Endurance. I’ve been unable to discover the original artist of this work. If you know, please tell me!

The ship was…new. And kind of shiny, with a sleek, dark finish that bore no notable markings. It was modern. Ultra-modern, even…
“She’s a prototype,” Sync said as he ushered them up the central ramp and into the fairly impersonal central area. “Bedrooms aft, pick one just…stay out of the locked one please. Captains quarters on the port side, as well as Chief Engineer’s. Mess on the starboard. Also bathroom block. Conference room to the fore on this level, elevator’s just over there down to the cargo hold. You can either use that or these stairs to get up to the cockpit.”
“Which I’m assuming is where you’ll be flying the ship?” Elias asked.
“Unless you can?” Sync asked.
“Let’s save my piloting for emergencies,” Elias said. “At least until I get more used to your ship. If you don’t mind, I’d like to see what systems you have and what sorts of upgrades would be possible though.”
“Be my guest,” Sync said, indicating the ramp up to the starship’s controls. “Oh, Elias?”
“Yeah?”
“The medbay’s over here,” Sync said, knocking on the window looking into the area just next to the captain’s quarters. “It’s a clean room facility with decontamination protocols on entry so…if you ever need to get out of your suit…”
“Are you volunteering to help me, Captain?”
“Um…er…just…Sync.”
“Well thank you, I appreciate the offer,” Elias said, before he headed up the ramp, and Cicepia was almost certain he was smirking.

“So, um, you and Sync, huh?” Cicepia said later after dropping her few belongings in one of the port side cabins and climbing up to the cockpit, where the quarian was already using four of the screens on the side wall.
“What?”
Cicepia leant against the wall and folder her arms across her chest. “You, him, the med bay?”
“Oh, no I’m sure he was just trying to be considerate,” Elias said, gazing up at a scan of the ships exterior. “Oh good, cyclonic barrier technology is already built in.”
“So…you weren’t flirting with him?”
“Sure I was,” Elias said. “In a ‘you didn’t actually just say that’ way, but sure. Do you think the GARDIAN ladar module just got left off prototypes because the war is over? I mean really?”
“You flirted with him just to make him blush uncomfortably?”
For the first time since she came up Elias turned away from the screens and looked at her. “Of course not. You saw Pi down there right?”
“Pi?”
“My drone.”
“You named your drone Pi?”
“He’s spherical,” Elias said with a shrug. “Anyway not the point. Pi’s recording video footage for Jamak for the next round of negotiations for our little reality show. That one line and Sync’s blush just added a few zeros to the value of the licensing rights for Sync toys and action figures. It’ll probably shift a few billion units if it goes to air as well.”
“So…you flirted with him for profit?”
“For funding,” Elias said simply. “You think outfitting this gal properly is going to be cheap? But you didn’t come up here to quiz me about my love life unless you’re dabbling in tabloid journalism, Officer Altus.”
“No,” she said, pushing herself away from the wall. “I wanted to ask if you’d be able to do some sleuthing for me?”
“Sleuthing?”
“I’m going to have to spend some time smoothing things over with my boss given my disappearance in the last twenty four hours. Are you able to jump over to the Krogan and Hanar’s universe and do some background checks? I don’t know much about them.”
“Are you asking me to spy on them?”
“Just background information. I don’t…look I’ve tried talking to this Thek Akara, but she’s not saying anything. All I know is that she was a sniper at your concert and had a mission to take out someone. Now either she was after you on behest of a rival or she was after one of your fans. And then she happens to have the things we need to control this ‘mimic’ that allows us passage through the dimensions? That’s a hell of a set of coincidences. I haven’t spoken properly to Anar yet but he seems sketchy. A concertgoer just happens to bring in a mechsuit that transforms into a suitcase and doesn’t trip off our alarms? Not to mention his reaper tech. I imagine with your tech skills you should be able to do some digging.”
“I’ll see what I can find out, but I’m stuck here just like you. Our little jaunt appears to have depleted the power in the reality collider. I’m monitoring it, but at current rates it’ll take at least twenty four hours to recharge. We’re not getting over to their universe on the sly—and I doubt we’ll be able to do it without everyone’s cooperation. I don’t see Arkara giving up custody of her seeds anytime soon and Anar is very attached to that disc.”
“You may be right,” Cicepia said. “Oh well, I guess I’ll see what I can come up with when I’m there and they’re busy with their own lives. Maybe Arkara has a criminal background. That said, if she’s as good a mercenary as I think she is, she won’t have a criminal background.”
“Perhaps,” Elias said. “Although if you want to be ruthless about this we don’t actually need her. Just the seeds.”
“Do you actually intend to go one on one against a Krogan?”
“Of course not,” Elias said. “I just pointed out we need her seeds for this mission. That’s a statement of fact, I don’t currently see any need to take her out.”
“I just want to know what cards people are holding in their hands,” Cicepia said. “If we’re all truly going to cooperate and get along it would help to not have anything causing trust issues hanging over our heads.”
“Alternatively, you can just try to get all the Aces,” Elias said jovially. “And hope we’re not playing Hearts.”
“Hearts?”
“Human game, you want low cards, and Aces are high.”
There was a squishy knock at the cockpit door and a soft, dopplered “Ow.”
“Hi Anar,” Elias said, looking up. It still fascinated Cicepia that Elias was somehow able to give the hanar a friendly smile despite his facial features being masked. The quarian’s head and upper torso all turned towards the hanar, and there was a subtle relaxation in his biceps and forearms that all worked together to say ‘friendly smile’.
“Sync asked this one to ask you if you would accompany him to the hospital. It appears his crewmate is there for surgery and he does not know why.”
“His crewmate as in he only has one?” Cicepia asked.
“Yes,” Anar said. “Apparently she and Akara are friends. Or are in our universe.”
Elias cocked his head. “You mean your universe.”
“Yes, that’s what this one said.”
“You go,” Cicepia said, looking at Elias. “I need to speak with my Captain. I’ve been gone for a while.”
Elias nodded and passed her a small datadisc. “Evidence,” he said. “If you think you need it.”

This precinct was exactly as she remembered it, which made sense given that it was ‘her’ universe. Cicepia wondered if that sort of thinking would ever come naturally to her. ‘Her’ universe. Elias seemed to have the whole thing down pat, but as she walked up to the front desk, it struck her that Laura, the human who normally manned the front desk for the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon shift hadn’t been present in the synthesised universe. She didn’t remember seeing her anywhere around the precinct either. Currently she was talking to two quarians—a rather familiar young man and his sister. Grinning, Laura waved her over and both quarians started a bit when they saw her, the young man quickly striding forward.
“It seems our timing is impeccable, Officer Altus,” he said. “I don’t know if you remember us, but you saved my sister from the man at the bank.”
“The turian,” his sister piped up. “He had a pistol and-and…”
“I was just doing my job,” Cicepia said. “I’m glad you both made it out of there.”
“Still, I—we—thank you,” the young man said. “My sister Niloo and I both feel that if you had not been there, we might not be here now.”
“You’re both very welcome,” Cicepia said. “I’m just glad that neither of you were hurt.”
“We are too,” the young man said. “Thank you for speaking with us, officer. We won’t take up any more of your time,” and with that the two left.
With a nod to Laura, Cicepia went straight to find Captain Damien, her immediate superior at the forty fifth Zakera. She found him in his office, for once, the man had a reputation for believing paperwork happened to other people, and once a month he dictated his reports using the perfect recall drell were renown for. Or at least, they were renown for perfect recall within C-Sec. Even during the reaper war, most of the drell specialists had remained elusive shadows on secret missions. Few had ever seen them on the front lines.
“Officer Altus. We were wondering where you’d got to,” he said when she had entered.
“I was following a lead, sir,” Cicepia said. “During the concert I came across someone I thought might be connected to the shooting at the bank.”
“And?”
“Nothing conclusive, I’m afraid. I’m sorry I had to leave the way I did.”
“We were worried,” Captain Damien said bluntly. “You were there one moment and gone the next. It was…unlike you.”
“I’m sorry sir, but there wasn’t time to call it in,” Cicepia said, focusing her gaze at an invisible point just to the left of the Captain’s head.
He stared at her unblinkingly as only a drell could, but she’d long ago mastered the art of talking to superior officers. “If you find any other leads in the future, I do expect you to tell at least one of us. Me specifically if possible.”
“Yessir.”
“That was your ‘talking to annoying superior officers’ voice, Altus.”
“Sorry, Sir,” Cicepia said, forcing herself to relax. “Old habits and all.”
“I’ll let it slide this once, Altus,” Captain Damien said. “Just once.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Cicepia said. “I ah, do need to request some time off, Sir. Personal reasons.”
He almost blinked. Almost. If he had, Cicepia would have been a few thousand credits richer. The pool had started two years ago, and had only grown since its inception.
“You haven’t taken any personal time since…”
“Yessir.”
“Are you sure want to leave this investigation at this point?”
“No,” Cicepia said immediately. “But I have to.”
She watched as the opportunity to reduce the leave balance on the books warred with a hole in his investigative unit.
“It’s very short notice,” he said finally. “Normally we ask for a month’s notice, Altus.”
“I know, Sir. I wouldn’t normally ask but it’s important.”
“And you can’t say what this is about?”
Cicepia hesitated. “Not just yet, sir, it’s too…I will though. Soon. If I find anything of note on any current investigations, I’ll send word.”
“No illegal digging, Altus,” Captain Damien said with a smile.
“Of course not, sir,” Cicepia said blandly. “Just leads passed to the the appropriate people.”
“On that note, we found something you might be interested in,” Captain Damien said. “We were reviewing surveillance footage of Tameus, the turian at the bank.”
“Yes, I remember him,” Cicepia said. I remember his brains being blown out as he was surrendering.
“We spotted him at the casino the night before the heist, talking to an unknown person. We don’t know it’s connected, but we don’t know it’s not either.”
“We didn’t get enough footage to identify this person?”
“They wore a hood and managed to move to avoid all the cameras at the Silver Sun. Best we can do is humanoid, presenting as female with five fingers on each hand.”
“Asari or human then. Not much to go on.”
“And normally not cause for concern,” Captain Damien said. “But she went to great lengths to conceal her identity and knew where the security cameras were.”
“So she either organised the hit or is the next target.”
“That’s what we thought.”
“If I find anything on her I’ll pass it on.”
“Good,” Captain Damien said. “Now I expect you to let me know how long this vacation of yours is going to take and while I’m not asking questions now, you can bet your ass there’ll be lots of questions later and I expect a full and honest report on anything you find out that relates in any way to police matters. In any way.”
“Yessir.”
“Altus?”
“Sir?”
He stared at her again, but she avoided that by not meeting his gaze, staring firmly out the window behind him instead.
“Dismissed.”

Before she left the precinct, Cicepia did some background digging to see if Thek Arkara had an analogue in her universe. There wasn’t one. That’s what Cicepia called a solid alibi.

Continue to Chapter 10

Vivace: Restaurant Review

Vivace Ribs

Where: Level 1, 50 High Street, Auckland City
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Food: 5
Service: 4
Ambiance: 4
Value for Money: 4
Overall score: 4.25/5

When the word ‘honeycomb’ is written onto a menu, I instinctively think of the confectionary—take some sugar, heat it to a caramel, add sodium bicarb and watch it chunk up into a hard, golden, airy sugar lump that you find in the middle of Crunchie or Violet Crumble bars. When it’s put on the menu of Vivace (with gorgonzola and figs) I wondered how it would work. So I ordered it.

And then I got a square of fresh honeycomb in a small dish with a generous slab of soft, salty gorgonzola and two chunky sweet dried figs. Even with bread, there is no dainty way to eat honeycomb. The wax gently resists attempts to cut into it my compressing and sticking together, causing the thick viscous honey to ooze around the plate, and even when you get it onto the bread it oozes through to coat your fingers as you try to cut one handed into a dried fig. Then, when you finally pop it into your mouth you’re hit with a salty cheesy taste from the soft gorgonzola and then have to resist the urge to lick your fingers.

Or you could just lick your fingers. I highly recommend it.

Situated on High Street in the CBD, just behind the main road of Queens Street, Vivace is a large, first floor restaurant with a cosy atmosphere featuring wood, candles and simple open shelving and metalwork. I went on a Thursday night and the place was surprisingly quiet, although it’s higher price point relative to some of the surrounding restaurants might explain that. In any case, it’s worth a trip. In addition to the gorgonzola tapas, I ordered slow cooked beef ribs on risotto because beef ribs are one of my favourite foods of all time. There’s something beautifully excessive about the size of a beef rib bone, Vivace cooked the ribs perfectly, the meat falling off the bone and pulling apart with just enough give on the fork and in your mouth. It matches excellently with the risotto underneath and there’s a generous serve of gravy that provides both extra peppery flavour and thick sticky, oozy goodness to smear over the beef.

Basically, I loved Vivace. The staff were attentive, but not overly so, and more importantly the food was excellent. Sure, it wasn’t taking huge strides in combining cuisines and non-standard flavours, and its plating is more honest than ‘cheffy’, but sometimes that’s better than a six course degustation. If you go, expect to pay around $30-$40 for a main, and tapas range from about $10 to $20. I kind of want to go back there, but I feel that I should go check out other restaurants around Auckland while I’m here. But maybe I’ll go back. There’s a fair bit left on the menu to try.

Check out Vivace at http://www.vivacerestaurant.co.nz/

Vivace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Anima: The Ship that Came In

Dead Cathedral - Art by Metadragonart

The Church was abandoned—that was really the only way to describe it. The doors were shut tight and only a track from the road to the belltower through the waist-high grass showed the place to be visited at all—and probably by Catherine if Max was reading the situation correctly. The small graveyard was around the back, in a stretch of grass between the church and the low shrubs that marked the beginning of the beach dunes. There were two mausoleums, one so old and weathered that they couldn’t make out the inscription on the lintel, and the other now overgrown but clearly stated the name of the occupants within.
“Quintus,” Tebryn said. “The one place on the island the Marque wouldn’t look is his own family tomb?”
“Well, no one’s cared for this place in a while,” Max said. “You don’t need to be a gardener to see that.”
The book was exactly where Catherine said it would be, although at first—and even second—glance the bricks at the back of the room looked identical to each other.
“Why wouldn’t they? A good secret hidey hole isn’t good if it stands out,” Tebryn asked when he counted the rows, and bricks and then tapped several bricks in sharp succession.
“What, you didn’t know which one it was?”
“She didn’t say which brick to start counting at and whether the corners count,” Tebryn said. “I think it’s the middle one though, just let me…”
There was the scrape of brick against crumbling mortar and Tebryn shone his lantern into the little cavity. “Got it, he said, pulling out a battered, leatherbound journal. “Come on, let’s walk slowly out of here and back to the Small Castle,” he said, shoving the book inside his jacket and snuffing out the lantern.
“Walk slowly?”
“Rule one after a heist. Look inconspicuous. Walk. Slowly. Talk. Laugh. If you’re really wanting to be inconspicuous in a crowd, hold hands with a lover, hug, whisper intimate nothings. Or just pretend to, nothing screams innocent bystander like two lovers smooching.”
“Are you saying we should make out?” Max asked. “Cause no offence, but—”
“No one would buy it,” Tebryn said without turning a hair. “Everyone watches the new people and notes who stands close to who and who shares secret, lovey dovey glances. So let’s just do the slow touristy walk, aye?”

Back at the sign of the Small Castle, the men retreated upstairs to pore over the journal, or at least, the latter entries of it as most of it was fairly generic entries around tending to an isolated island parish.

26th of January
That night, I really felt it. For three years I lied to myself, convincing myself that it had been nothing more than a bad dream. But as they say, dreams area a reflection of reality. I write the lines to process through my ideas and in case I fail, hoping that in the hands these notes fall into, they are of use.

9th of March
Today I visited the remains of the boat. It was not just a simple freighter, nor a military ship. It was a floating prison. They were carrying something…something that was freed when it became shipwrecked. The ship’s log has disappeared, but I found some texts in which they talked about two captives and of an artifact used to contain one of them . The more dangerous one. There were also a few notations on its operation, but I heard a strange sound and…panicked. I hid them under some loose planks below the commander’s cabin and left, running.

18th of March
The Marque walks like a man, but is not. It feeds off of our fears and our desperation, which make it strong and powerful. It is trying to drag us to someplace, neither hell nor purgatory, but wherever it is, it is full of the darkness. The entire island is sinking slowly into that nightmare and sooner or later, there will be no possible escape for anyone.

3rd of April
I have suspected it for a long time, but I have confirmed my fears. It enters people’s dreams, and it swallows them in the darkness, turning them into its servants, into ‘Darklings’ as it calls them. It waits and watches and bides its time but it seeks to take control of the strongest of us, and Catherine and I have become its new prey. I do not know the reason why, but she does not seem to be affected, although it is costing me more and more to sleep in peace. I do not know how much longer I can stand it.
I must hurry.

8th of April
I do not believe that it can die by conventional means, but I know that there must be some way to completely destroy it. I have not yet discovered how, but if it is still possible to avoid the fate it intends I need to find the way.

12th of April
Its secret is in the old Cathedral. I know it. Somehow, I have always known it hid something that is of extreme importance to it there, but that it is also afraid of. I have have surreptitiously observed it with my telescope as it entered the ruins on more than one night, although it always goes alone and carries a strange clock in its hands. The clock looks slightly like the device that appeared in the schematics that I found on the boat, but now that I am being watched, I cannot return there to gather them.
My time is running out.

15th of April
I cannot wait any longer. Marque Cavalcanti—if that is truly what that thing is called—has realised what I am doing and has sent its Darklings after me. I have spent several days studying the notes that the Inquisition made of the Cathedral; I must enter it to discover how to end our danger. If I have understood the notes correctly, the numbers on the panel of the central room indicate which are the correct letters needed to find out what the three names are that open the entrance to the inner sanctuary. I have decided to leave these notes for Catherine in case I fail.
If you are the one who reads this, little one, always remember that I loved you like a daughter. May God guide my hand.
Scott Johannson

The sudden snap of pages slapping together roused Max from a fitful doze. “Did you find anything?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Tebryn said. “There’s a shipwreck, and some documents on it that might tell us how to defeat whatever it is we’re up against. Also something about ruins and a Cathedral. We have to go there after.”
“Cathedral? That’s a bit grand for a church that has it’s belltower as a separate building,” Max said, clambering to his feet with a yawn.
“I think Father Scott meant a different building. He calls it the ‘old’ cathedral where something’s hidden. I doubt he meant his own church.”
“We should give the book to Catherine,” Keith said, who had been reading over Tebryn’s shoulder.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” Tebryn said after a moment’s pause.
“He wanted her to have the book,” Keith pressed.
“And she might know where the shipwreck is.”
“Do you do anything that isn’t out of self interest?” Max asked.
“Not if I can help it,” Tebryn said, flashing Max a smile. “A man’s got to eat, you know.”

Not only did Catherine know where the shipwreck was, the insisted on coming with them.
“I’m in this now,” she said. “And I can’t hide anymore. But what happens to me when you’ve defeated the Marque?”
“Whatever you want,” Tebryn said. “It’s your life and you’ll be safe once the Marque is gone.”
Catherine looked around her small cottage, and at the small, worn book in her hands. “I don’t know. There’s so many memories here. And not good ones.”
“Then you can come with us,” Keith said.
Putting the book down on a small table, Catherine nodded thoughtfully. “Let me get my cloak.”
The stretch of rocky beach that Catherine led them two was several hours away to the northeast, taking them through farms, grassland and then along an overgrown trail through the woods to a cliff of dark rocks, the high tide line demarcated by red and green seaweed that hung in hairy bundles and limp strands in the cracks and crevices of the seabed.
“Good timing,” Catherine said as she stood just shy of the clifftop, the wind tugging at the hem of her undyed woollen dress. “I’d suggest tying your rope around one of the rocks over there,” she added, pointing to a pair of rocks that jutted out from the cliff like a pair of horns. “I’ll wait for you here.”
Looking over, Max could see what would be a rough path leading down the cliff and through the wet rocks and rockpools to where the ship sat. Or part of it. It had broken into two main parts, and the bow was almost completely rotted through, leaving only the blacked, barnacle clad ribs giving any indication that it had even existed. The length of the mainsail was mostly intact, and jammed at each end into protruding rocks. Waves crashed against the artifical barrier, thundering against it with a force that dissipated by the time it reached the ship, and probably had prevented them from knocking the ship itself more than they had. The stern thrust up into the air, perched so that the rudder swung freely some ten feet above the waterline.
“I think we can get in through the hole in the side,” Tebryn said. “It must have smashed in on the rocks.”
Max shook his head. “No, something smashed its way out. Look at the way the boards are broken.”
“Something?” Keith asked as he finished tying off the rope and threw it down the cliffside, tugging on it before starting his way down.
“Someone,” Tebryn said.
“Are we actually saying a mild mannered cigar loving old man bashed his way out of the side of a ship?”
“Are you actually saying you appeared on the beach this morning after falling asleep in his barracks in Archangel and are now searching for a red book?”
“Not just any red book,” Max objected.
“Uh huh, family heirloom miraculously lost somewhere in your dream teleportation,” Tebryn said with a grin as he started down the rope. “You sure you’re going to be okay with all that chainmail?
“I’m used to it,” Max said. “Besides we might need it.”
Tebryn shook his head. “If you fall and drown, I’m telling.”
Max grinned. “I’d better not drown then.”

The interior of the ship was dank, and smelt strongly of salt and rot, but not nearly as much as Max had expected. Two grooves were scored into the floor leading to the hole, running parallel to each other and up along the tilting walkway towards the stern of the ship. Ahead of them was a stairway leading upwards, covered in the white and black of seagull crap, about the only thing remaining on this level of the deck. There were also closed doors off to the right at the end of the ship, which, in Max’s experience, wasn’t normal for ships. Of course, most ships weren’t this large or squat. It almost looked fortified, even in its broken down state.
“Something was dragged out,” Max said, staring at the grooves in the floor that ran up to the closed doors. “I wonder what it was.”
“We should check the Captain’s cabin first,” Tebryn said. “That’s where Father Scott was.”
“Normally that would be on the main deck, right under the quarter deck.”
Tebryn nodded. “Let’s go up there, then.”
“And the doors?” Keith asked quietly.
“Later,” Tebryn said. “We know there’s something to find in the Captain’s cabin, so let’s make sure we get those before the tide comes in.”
The deck above was fairly dry, despite the salt spray and lack of strong sunlight. The wood creaked alarmingly under Max’s feet though, and he hoped the extra weight of his armour wouldn’t send him crashing down into the hold below. The cabin door was shut, but opened easily under Tebryn’s touch. Inside the cabin, most of the soft furnishings had been eaten away by moths of the tiny armoured beetles that seemed to live everywhere there was drying seaweed on any form of beach. Even so, there was enough of the heavy cloth banner on the wall that the double beaked, winged cross of the Tol Rauko was still visible, and Max saw Tebryn blanch.
“It makes sense,” Max said evenly.
“I take it you—”
“Aye,” Tebryn said simply. “But it may just be that hiding’s no longer and option.”
Max nodded. “Loose planks?”
“Aye. And anything else of use while we’re at it.”
They didn’t find much, and most of the trinkets were rusted by salt and worthless, but they did find a package of documents, wrapped in oilskin.
“Looks about right,” Tebryn said. “Definitely plans for something clocklike.”
“Do we have to make one, do you think?” Max asked.
“I don’t know,” Tebryn said, refolding the documents into their oilskin protector. “I hope not, as it seems to require magic that I doubt we can find here. Shall we check the rest of the ship?”
“You mean the doors in the hold?” Max asked.
“Aye. Perhaps there’s something in there that might answer our questions.”

The doors at the stern of the hold opened smoothly on hinges that should have rusted, but hadn’t. Glancing in they saw nothing but darkness, and that didn’t change even when Tebryn lit his lantern and held it up to cast its glow into the room. Stepping in they found the light from the lantern dimmed noticeably when it crossed the threshold, almost as if the flame was dying. What little light the lantern did cast showed that the walls, floor and ceiling were lined with sheets of a strange black metal that danced the dim light with swirling patterns of purple and green.
“Do you need more oil?” Keith asked as Tebryn checked his lantern.
“No,” the redhead said. “It has enough oil, the wick’s fine and the flame’s burning normally. It’s just…less bright.”
“Well, if this was a Tol Rauko ship—and a prison ship at that—then this is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect,” Max said, running his fingers over a circular indentation on a low pedestal that sat in the centre of the dark room. “I wonder what they were transporting?”
“Not what,” Tebryn said, staring at the twisted metal remains of a large cage. “Who.”
“Someone called Galeal?” Max suggested, running his fingers over a bent but still intact plaque on the cage.
All three men looked up at the collection of iron bars, each one easily the thickness of Max’s biceps. The ones at the front of the cage had been forced outward and bent at strange angles to provide enough room for a large person to slip out. The cage itself could have held a proverbial ogre and heavy bolts secured it to the walls and floor.
“All right then,” Tebryn said. “Next question: what was in the second cage?”
Looking along the wall, Max saw cage brackets hanging loose from the wall and holes where bolts had been ripped from the floor. This cage had been smaller, and two parallel grooves the width of the cage were etched into the floor, leading to the door and out towards the side of the ship.
“And where on the island is it?” Max asked.
“Locked up in the cathedral according to Father Scott’s notes,” Tebryn said.
“And where’s that?”
“No clue,” Tebryn said cheerfully. “Let’s ask Catherine, shall we?”
The lantern flickered and Max could swear the darkness was pressing in on the light—and on him—and the chill was putting his teeth on edge. “You want us to go find it? That’s very…brave of you.”
Tebryn waved a hand. “Enemy of my enemy, and all that rot, aye? Father Scott seemed to think the Marque is afraid of whatever’s in the cathedral. Hopefully it will help us—or want to help us.”
“What about the clock thing?” Max asked walking almost too quickly to the doorway out of the metal room.
“He needs it,” Tebryn said. “Let’s hope we don’t.”

~*~

This post was written by Matthew Lang, with additional text from Eike Germann

Anima Interlude: Shadows Within Dreams

An Interlude

Dieter Helsm entered the dark hall and looked across to the tall man at the far side, staring out the window over the dark courtyard beyond. At the man’s feet a black panther stretched languidly, raising his head to observe the intruder. It’s master, however, stayed as still as a statue.
“Welcome, number thirty and seven. How has your trip gone?”
The voice low was low, measured and hypnotic and it seeped down Dieter’s spine and sent cold shivers down his back. His eyes dropped to the ground of their own accord, they way they always did when looking at the man in black.
“Very well, Sir. Everything has happened as you predicted. I have left the the apparatus where you asked and you’ll see in my report that—”
The man’s right hand rose a fingerswidth into the air and Dieter’s voice died in his thraot.
“I was not referring to something as simple as that. I had no doubts that would turn out well. What I was asking was if you enjoyed your first trip on the zeppelin.”
“Yes, Sir. It was…interesting.” Sweat pricked at Dieter’s brow and he could feel it trickling down the back of his neck. It was a cold sweat that turned his hands clammy and dulled his mind in what he called nerves, but was more accurately terror. Not for the first time he wondered what went on in the other man’s mind. Neither the principality of Gabriel nor the Empire knew anything about his master, and even an entity like the Lord of Nightmares, Malekith was more a marionette when compared to the schemings of the man in black.
“I am glad to hear it,” his master said, the words slipping through Dieter’s brain like a rake. He wondered what that meant. Or what exactly his master was glad of. How far down did the labyrinth go exactly? Did he even want to know?
“Now we can proceed to the second phase of our preparations. It will be very…interesting to see how events will unfold.” The panther rose from the ground and rubbed itself against his master’s legs, and the man in black tapped its nose in annoyance, causing it to settle back down at his feed. Then Dieter heard the man turn and footsteps approached him.
He kept his eyes down but when the other man passed him he looked up for just a moment, and stared into his master’s eyes.
The wave of cold that washed over him had nothing to do with the terror that threatened to buckle him at the knees. Or maybe it did. It was hard to tell.

~*~

This post was written by Matthew Lang and Eike Germann

Anima: The Island of Corvinus

beach-M

Maxwell DuPont woke up—if that is even the correct phrase—on a beach. At least, he thought it was a beach. There was sand, which his face was currently stuck to, and the smell of salt, and a piles of drying seaweed at what was probably the high tide mark. There was also a small crab trying to crawl into his nose, and he sat up, blinking. Brushing the sand off his face, he pushed his long hair back from his face, cursing at the snags and snarls that the salt water would doubtless have wrought.
Exactly how he got from the barracks in Archangel to this place was…well. He was here now. He was still dressed in his nightclothes, but off to one side he could see his breeches and shirt, and further down the beach he thought he could see a pile of misshapen metal that was probably his armour. Getting to his feet, he found the sand was cool underfoot, and he hurriedly dressed himself in what clothes he could reach, shaking out the sand and jamming first one, then the other foot through the legs of his pants.
“Hey!” he shouted, waving at a shorter man in workman’s garb. “Have you seen a red book around?”
The man paused, picking a fan off the ground and, snapping it open and brushing sand off the cloth fabric that made up the fan itself. “Um, no, I can’t say I have…um…” the redhead raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I’m Maxwell DuPont, but people call me Max,” Max said, pulling his shirt on.
“I’m Tebryn,” the redhead said. “People call me Tebryn. And the big guy behind you is Keith.”
Max whirled around and looked up into the face of a large, dark-skinned man, dressed in leathers, a short sword held loosely in his hand. His features were that of a Khushistani, his skin weatherbeaten and his frame lean with muscle.
“Hi,” he said, the word ‘friend’ flashing across his mind.
“Were you on the ship too?” Keith rumbled.
“Ship? What ship.”
“Airship,” Tebryn said, from somewhere further down the beach, and Maxwell stepped carefully back from Keith until he felt comfortable glancing over towards Tebryn, who was picking up a backpack and a second fan. “Flying ship in the sky, it was crashing and we showed up here.”
“No, I was asleep in the bar- in Archangel.”
“You’re a guard from Archangel?” Tebryn asked.
“What? I didn’t say—”
Tebryn held Max’s surcoat. “I’m assuming this is yours.”
“Fine, yes, I’m a guard. You?”
“Tebryn the Magnificent of Bellafonte,” Tebryn said with a bow, casting off his hardhat and replacing it with a top hat. Shedding his coveralls, Maxwell was surprised to see Tebryn in an almost skintight bodysuit that looked more like the garb of a circus performer than anything else he could imagine. Then the man pulled a travelling coat over his clothing and buttoned the front.
“Aren’t you going to put on your armour?” he asked.
Max looked down at the heap of metal links, half buried in the sand. Oh well, armour wasn’t supposed to be comfortable.
“You said you were on an airship?” Max asked.
“Yes,” Tebryn said, looking around the beach with a frown on his face.
“And it was crashing?”
“Well, it was going down towards the water, yes.”
“And you ended up here?”
“That’s right.”
“Where’s the wreckage?”
“Don’t know,” Tebryn said. “I was wondering that myself.”
“And where’s Conan?”
“Who?”
“Big burly guy. He was with us on the ship,” Tebryn said.
“And Kane.”
Tebryn shrugged. “He’s probably off assassinating someone.”
Keith stared at the smaller man and raised an eyebrow.
The redhead rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on big man. Like I told Dieter: black cloak, two concealed weapons. Assassin.”
“You feel very strongly about that profession, don’t you?” Maxwell said.
Maxwell watched as the freckles on Tebryn’s face danced as the man grimaced. “It’s a job, I guess. I just…don’t like the idea of people doing other people’s dirty work. Hey does anyone hear bells?”
Maxwell cocked his head listened, and indeed, ringing out through the cool gray air was indeed the familiar sound of church-bells. “Yes, I do.”
They looked up and stared out over the grassy dunes and scraggy trees and the shimmer in the air that looked like it could be chimney-smoke. “Why is the sky grey?” Maxwell asked.
“Clouds?” Tebryn suggested.
Maxwell looked up into the cloudless sky. “Nope. No clouds.”
Tebryn paused and looked up, and Max wondered if it was the first time this morning—if it was indeed morning—that the man had looked up.
“Oh,” he said.
From horizon to horizon, the entire sky was a cloudless grey. The sun was shining somewhere overhead, in the direction Maxwell thought was east, but even its light was wan and lacklustre.
“Where the bloody hell are we?” Tebryn asked.

The three men followed the sound over the dunes, scrub, and eventual fields planted with various crops that Maxwell didn’t recognise. It couldn’t have been more than an hour before the low, whitewashed buildings appeared, along with the bell tower of a modest church. Following the sounds of activity and the smells of cooking food, they found their way to the town square, where a group of youths were busy erecting a maypole. Looking around the square, Maxwell could see a blacksmith’s forge, a shingle with a castle on it, and one with a carved wooden potato that was either laughing or screaming in terror. He also noticed that the three of them had attracted the attention of the locals. Sort of. Most of the people looked at them with disinterest, glancing up and then glancing away, but some of the children ran after them curiously, and several were pointing and giggling as Tebryn absently rolled a copper coin across his knuckles and then tossed it into the air, sometimes making it jump from one hand to the other without warning. Although by ‘jump’, Maxwell meant ‘seem to disappear from one hand and reappear in the other apparently without passing through the air between them’.
“Ho! Travelers!” a large, red faced man waddled with surprising speed towards them. He had a beard that was mostly sideburns and the bottom of his large nose disappeared into a bristle brush of a moustache. It almost looked as though the hair from the top of his head was migrating down his cheek. He wore a long quilted tunic that had seen better days, and a chain of office that Maxwell suspected was merely gold-ish. “Has the ship come in?”
The men looked at each other. “No, I don’t think has,” Tebryn ventured after a brief pause.
“Then how did you get onto our island?”
“Don’t know,” Keith rumbled.
“You don’t know?”
Tebryn grinned. “Well, I could tell you that we were on board an airship that was crashing into the ocean and woke up on the beach this morning, but you wouldn’t believe me if I said that, would you?”
“What’s an airship?”
“A flying ship. A ship that flies through the clouds,” Tebryn said solemnly.
“And did you?”
“Did we what?”
“Fly through the clouds?”
“Oh yes,” Tebryn said with a smile. “You should have seen it. The Pride of Miniginti, she was called and she cut through the air like a golden arrow. She was headed to archangel before a dastardly coup from the nation of Minzantos. The guards rose up and started to butcher the passengers but even they didn’t know why the ship was sent crashing into the ocean.” By this point some of the villagers had gathered closer to listen, and some had swept in to pull their children away from the mad man in a top hat.
“Why was it crashing?” a woman in the crowd asked.
“I have no idea, my good woman,” Tebryn said solemnly. “My friend…s and I were just about to enter the engine room to investigate when we found ourselves on yonder beach.”
For a moment the crowd stopped, uncertain how to take this sudden end to what had promised to be an epic narrative. Then Tebryn smiled and said “See? I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
They laughed then, and the robed man with the gold-ish chain stepped forward and offered them his hand. “A fantastic story indeed. I’m Raymond and I’m the mayor of this town.”
“I’m Tebryn, the big guy’s Max and the bigger guy’s called Keith. Um… could you tell me exactly where ‘here’ is exactly?”
“You’re on the island of Corvinus,” Raymond said slowly as if he was still a bit concerned for Maxwell’s sanity. “You’re just about in time for our annual festival!”
“Festival of…” Tebryn asked.
“Corvinus,” Raymond said, in the same ‘I can’t believe you’re asking me that’ tone.
“Well, yes,” Tebryn said. “But what’s it in celebration of?”
“Corvinus,” Raymond said again.
Tebryn’s face broke into a warm, friendly smile. Maxwell was beginning to know that smile. It was the man’s default expression when faced with something confusing and he wasn’t sure whether to push harder or hug everyone into submission. “Of course,” Tebryn said, “That makes perfect sense. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Oh, we all have our moments,” Raymond said, although his smile dimmed slightly when he finished.
“When we first came here, you asked if we were from ‘the’ ship,” Tebryn asked. “What ship were you talking about?”
“The trading ship,” Raymond said. “It comes by once a year to trade with us—every autumn just after harvest time. It’s due any day now, and when you three came along.”
Maxwell shared a glance with Tebryn and Keith and the mayor noticed it. “I imagine you’ll be asking the captain for passage off Corvinus,” the mayor said. “I can’t blame you-it’s not like much happens on Corvinus.”
“Oh, I’m sure there’s lots to see on the island,” Tebryn protested. “Your beach, your fields…I think I saw a church?”
“We don’t have a priest though,” Raymond said. “Not since Father Scott passed on.”
A young woman with long brown hair walked up, her curls swept back from her face by a woven headband, and a basket of freshly picket flowers in her hands. “Oh, hello, new people! Did you come with the ship?”
“Sally! Leave the people alone,” Raymond said, flapping his hands as the woman pulled up a seat next to Tebryn.
“Oh shush, Raymond,” Sally said. “I run the general store. Well, the only store on Corvinus that isn’t the blacksmith’s forge. If you need anything, you should drop by.”
Tebryn turned his perfect smile on the shopkeeper. “Why thank you Sally, I’ll probably drop by tomorrow if that’s all right with you?”
“Oh, any time…”
“Tebryn,” Tebryn said, doffing his hat. “My friends are Keith and Max, but I’ve got the best name. And smile.”
Sally giggled. “Do you have any place to stay tonight.”
Maxwell grinned privately and thought he might have been the only one who saw the redhead’s smile freeze on his face and his eyes blink in incomprehension. The other man recovered quickly though.
“No, I can’t say we have. Is there an inn around here? There must be an inn?”
If the girl was disappointed she didn’t let it show. “Of course there is. Miriam’s place at the sign of the castle. Hey Miriam!” she yelled into the crowd.

Miriam was a middle aged woman who was heavily pregnant, and owned the inn at the sign of the castle across the square, and she beamed as they entered the small, warm kitchen through the front door. Sally had already told them that her husband had passed away under mysteriously circumstances partway through her pregnancy.
“He woke up early one morning before dawn and heard something on the roof,” she’d said, her voice hushed and conspiratorial. “Then the next thing anyone knew he was lying on the street and…” Sally paused. “I woke to her screaming,” she said sadly.
In any case, the rooms were plain, but dry, and the beds were firm and the linens old but well cared for. After finding out that Miriam’s room rates included breakfast, the men paid for two days’ rent, and settled in for the night. Max lay alone in his tiny room, and found himself drifting off to sleep in short order.
There are dreams that seem real. There are dreams that when you wake up you’re certain they’re memories until they start conflicting with your other memories. Then there are dreams that you’re certain are dreams. Sometimes you can influence them. Sometimes you have to watch and scream as things happen that you’d rather didn’t. In this case, Max knew he was dreaming. He wasn’t expecting to dream, and this one was different to the ‘normal’ dreams he’d become accustomed to since finding the book, but he knew it was a dream. He was in a stone corridor, facing an ornate wooden door, it’s panels carved with eldritch runes that glowed with power but swirled away when he attempted to focus on them or discern their meaning. Without willing it consciously he felt himself approach the door, his feet silent on a hard stone floor. Even bare feet should have made a sound. So should the hinges on the door as it opened before him.
The room beyond was both large and restrictive, and filled with the unwavering light of hundreds of candles. Looking around, Max couldn’t see the side walls, the edges of the room vanishing into blackness at either extreme to the left or right. The ceiling however, was strangely low and it almost felt as though it would fall and crush him at any moment. The far wall however, was close—so close that he was certain he’d reach it in a few steps.
Wan daylight filtered into the room through a large arched window, the panes that remained in its leaded frame darkened with dirt. The wind blowing in through the holes was cool and smelled of forest leaves and rich loam. The breeze billowed through the long black hair of the young girl sitting calmly on a rich red cushion before the window. Her skin was pale, her brown eyes wide and her smile was both cheerful and strangely knowing. Max guessed her to be no more than twelve.
“What took you so long?” She asked. “You should have come to visit ages ago.”
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am. This isn’t a good place to speak though. Too many ears. Come and see me before you run out of time.”
“But where—”
“I’ll be waiting.”
Max awoke to the crow of the cockerel at dawn—

“There was no cockerel in the centre of the village. And the ones that were around didn’t crow at dawn,” Tebryn objected.
“Artistic license, Teb, come on, it’s not like you don’t embellish every story you tell.”
“Only the unimportant ones,” Tebryn said with a grin.
“What, like your past?”
“My past is boring,” Tebryn said, flicking his curling fringe out of his eyes. “It’s always more exciting if you come from somewhere a long way away. No one wants to the see the not so famous card prestidigitator from the next town over.”
“So, is one of you actually going to tell me what did happen?” Captain Melville asked.
They were standing on the deck of the Sea Sprite, salt spray leaving little white flecks on the dark hair of Max’s forearms as some of the traders dickered over food and a the few tradegoods that Corvinus needed. The sun was out and warm in the blue sky. Max had got so used to the grey that he’d forgotten how cheering a blue sky was, white clouds scurrying across on the fresh winds that had breathed life into everyone. Well, maybe it wasn’t just the wind.

“What’s the oldest building on the island?” Max asked over a simple breakfast of bread, butter and a sticky strawberry jam.
Miriam poured him some weak ale and sat down in her padded armchair by the fireplace.
“Probably the Marque’s manor—or the Church,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“If we’re stuck here waiting for this merchant ship to arrive, we might as well do some sightseeing. You’re both coming right?” he asked, looking pointedly at Tebryn and Keith.
“Well, I don’t have nothing better to do, so I don’t see why not,” Tebryn said. “Although if you’re wanting to see the Marque’s place you might want to get his blessing first, you know.”
And that was how they found themselves in a carriage on the way across the island to the Marque’s fortified Manor.

“Wait that was a bit of a jump,” the Captain said. “How exactly did that happen?”
“He invited us on account of our novel charms,” Tebryn said, and Max wondered—not for the first time—how the redhead managed to avoid getting sunburnt. Admittedly the man’s pale skin was a patchwork of freckles, but from what Max knew of northerners, the man should have been burnt to a crisp ages ago. Maybe it was magic.
“He invited you?” The captain said with a smile.
“Well, he sent his the Captain of his guard to invite us for dinner.”
“To dinner,” Max corrected. “I don’t think he actually ate people.”
“He may as well have,” Tebryn muttered darkly.
“But you didn’t suspect anything?” the Captain asked, toying with the end of the long braid of her hair.
“Other than him being urbane, having humourless guards and Keith thinking the man had good taste in cigars?” Max asked. “No, we didn’t have any reason to.”
“Well, the shopkeeper Sally said he was a vampire,” Tebryn said.
“Was he?” Captain Melville asked.
“Sort of,” Max said, just as Tebryn said “Technically, no.”
“All right, someone take it from the top?”
“We had a nice meal,” Max said. “A bit plain and simple for a nob, but there was pork and it was good. Then Tebryn did some tricks and the guards barely smiled.”
“Toughest crowd I’ve ever played,” Tebryn muttered.
“Now, I’ll be the first to say Tebryn just might not be as good as he thinks he is—”
“Thanks.”
“Welcome,” Max said absently. “But he was on fire that night and deserved more than polite applause.”
“That’s a metaphor,” Tebryn said helpfully. “I wasn’t actually on fire.” It was a lame line, but somehow it came out charming.
“Good to know,” Captain Melville said with a laugh.
From across the deck, the aged Bosun’s scowl deepened, and Max wondered if he should remind Tebryn that the giant, muscular man was the Captain’s father. Then he decided that not telling the rogue might be more amusing.
“So the next day went out into the fields to talk and found her,” Tebryn said, nodding towards teh blonde woman in a simple peasant dress who was sitting at the prow of the ship with Keith.
“She has an amazing voice,” Captain Melville said.
“That’s what we noticed first,” Max agreed. “She wouldn’t talk to us at first though. She was too scared.”
“How’d you get her to come around?”
Tebryn paused and smiled as the rippling notes from Keith’s lute played counterpoint to Catherine’s soaring soprano. “More or less that,” he said.

“You’re not affected, are you?” Catherine said as they sat around the hearth of her small house, Catherine seated on her bed, Keith on a chair and Max on a small footstool. Tebryn was sitting cross legged on the sweet rushes and appearing perfectly at ease.
“Affected by what?” Tebryn asked as Keith set his lute to one side, flexing his fingers with a smile.
“You must have noticed it,” Catherine said. “Everyone’s so wooden, so expressionless. They don’t laugh or smile anymore or…”
“We thought people might just be wary of outsiders.”
Catherine shook her head. “No, it’s the Marque. This all started when he got here, everyone started having the most terrible dreams. They say it’s like being smothered in a big, black blanket of nothingness leaving you empty and wanting to scream but with nothing to scream with.” She looked around the room. “You’ve had those dreams.”
“Can’t say I have,” Max said.
“Then you’re the odd one out,” Catherine said with a small smile. “Like me, or Father Scott before he…before he…”
“Before he what?” Tebryn asked.
“He went to confront the Marque. Said he had to before he ran out of time…and never returned. And then people started vanishing. First it was one of the fishermen, then a farmer’s boy and then the blacksmith’s apprentice—”
“Miriam’s husband,” Tebryn murmured.
“We found his body,” Catherine said. “The others just…vanished. Lost fishing, everyone says. Thomas Zamperoni had never set foot in a boat, he was scared of water.”
“So we hold out until the ship gets here and we leave,” Tebryn suggested.
“What ship?” Catherine asked.
“The Merchant ship that comes around festival time each year. The mayor told us about it.”
Catherine shook her head. “That ship never comes. They just think it will. The festival never happens either. They’re just planning for it, every day. Over and over again.”
“Ah,” Max said.
“And if you’re having the dreams you’ll become just like the rest of everyone. Empty.”
“Are you sure it’s the Marque?” Tebryn asked. “I mean, you’re basically suggesting the only way to get out of here with our minds intact is to go up against him and I’d like to be sure that’s the right play if we only have so much time.”
“Father Scott had a book but…”
“But what?”
“It’s not safe. If you all…and then you don’t… and then he knows it’s me and…”
Tebryn stared up at the thatched ceiling. “And when he’s gone, what do you want to do.”
“If you can—”
“When,” Tebryn corrected firmly. “Rebuild the town? Some one will have to help people adjust.”
Catherine shook her head. “I can’t stay. There’s too much…and with Father Scott gone…”
“So you come with us,” Tebryn said. “I’m sure the Marque has a way to get his cigars imported. Probably a ship holed up somewhere in a secret harbour.”
“You know how to sail a ship?” Keith asked.
Tebryn grinned, “One thing at a time, mate. First we have a nob to defenestrate.”
“To what?” Max asked.
“Toss out a window.”
“Well why didn’t you just say that?”
Tebryn shrugged. “I like fancy words. Now where’s this book you mentioned, Catherine?”
Catherine’s smile was both scared and triumphant. “He said it was the one place Marque Quintus wouldn’t look.”

Momo: Restaurant Review

Momo

Beef Tatoyaki with salad. Same salad base as the crab salad. The only difference is the protein on top.

Where: 115-117 Lt Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Cuisine: Japanese Hot Pot / Sukiyaki
Food: 3
Service: 4
Ambience: 5
Value for Money: 2
Overall Score: 3.5/5

Walk into Momo on Little Bourke Street on the weekend and you’ll find yourself waiting for a table. And to be honest, I’m not sure why. The food isn’t bad, although some indulgences such as a ‘black truffle infused broth’ taste more gimmicky than truffley, but you can get Shabu Shabu, or Japanese Hot Pot, at a lot of other places without spending over $50 a head and it’s just as good.

The Momo set menu gave us the choice of two soup bases, with the option to pay extra for some specials, and gives you some starters: salmon sashimi, pickles and a soft shell crab salad and then the hotpot itself came with two cuts of wagyu beef, one premium and one a bit more fatty (shank), scallops and prawns that could be put into the hotpot or eaten as sashimi, and offered you the choice of a third meat dish—I opted for an organic lamb with saltbush rub.

For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, you can either have a soup (Shabu Shabu) or more of a soy sauce wet fry which turns into glaze when you cook with it (Sukiyaki). You add meat and/or vegetables a bit at a time and once cooked, you pick it out with chopsticks ladle or sieve and drop it into an appropriate sauce, such as a sesame paste or a raw egg. Raw egg as a dressing for meat is something you find in east Asian cuisine, and oddly enough I’ve encountered it in Tibetian food as well. If you’re not used to the concept you may find it strange, but think of it as the extreme in oozy yolks and you’ll do fine. The staff at Momo will also explain the entire process to you if you need it, and will add to the dining theatre by starting your soup bases cooking, putting in the first vegetables and cracking your fresh eggs and mixing them into your dipping sauce.

If you go, I do recommend getting a soup base and a sukiyaki sauce, because the leaner cuts and seafood lend themselves well to being cooked quickly in a hot pot, while the fattier meats benefit from the sweet sukiyaki glaze, and the food will be tasty and beautifully presented, if fairly standard Japanese fare.

And that’s sort of the issue—Japanese food at its best is simple, beautifully presented and delicate. It’s not always big on punch in the mouth flavour—Sukiyaki aside—and the problem is that if you’re using a standard set of ingredients and letting their flavours speak traditionally for themselves, it gets increasingly hard to justify exhorbitant prices for them. Sure, you can talk up the service and the ambience and overall dining experience, but then, I can also talk about places that have exhorbitant prices, amazing service, fantastic ambiance, a unique dining experience and offer changing menus and experimental flavours. It’s possible I’m just biased against high priced Japanese food, and if you’re after a posh place for a date, you could do worse than go to Momo—just book first and be aware that you’re paying for the privilege of having someone start your hot pot off for you, rather than the food.

Momo Sukiyaki & Shabu Shabu on Urbanspoon

The Officer (Mass Effect Collision Chapter 8)

Original Art by Annah Lang (http://eevia.net/)

Original Art by Annah Lang, player of Arkara. Check her out! (http://eevia.net/)

Cicepia Altus half led, half followed the nondescript group of C-sec officers that slipped quietly out of the side door of the building. With Elias’ agent out front all of the reporters had scrambled to get the latest scoop, leaving them with a clear path out of the building. Elias had sent his bodyguards with his agent, and the quarian had done something to his suit that had resulted in the glossy colour draining away, being replaced by a nondescript dull blue that she remembered seeing on some of Elias’ staff. So that’s how he did it, the sneaky man. She wasn’t sure if anyone else had really paid attention to what they’d seen, but she filed that away for later. You never knew when a little knowledge would come in handy. So far, none of the other officers had questioned her orders, although whether that was out of deference to the her that existed here or simply the unprecedented circumstances was unclear. As it was, she slipped into the passenger seat of one of the squad cars, the krogan bundled into the back. Thankfully, it was a short drive to the precinct, and it was exactly where she remembered it being—exactly where it was in her universe.
Once there, she took a deep breath and stepped out of the car, straight into the throng of curious and confused law enforcement officials. First things first—take control.
“All right, get the Krogan and the Human processed and into a holding cell. Take a statement from the hanar and the quarian’s with me. I want patrol cops taking statements from every concertgoer we can find and a portable—shielded—containment unit on my desk in the next five minutes. Crime scene’s been roped off, but I need a rotating guard on it to make sure no duct rats sneak in on a dare.”
The nearest C-sec officer saluted. “Yes Lieutenant!” and strode off, barking commands and carving some order out of the impending chaos. Lieutenant, huh? She could get get used to that.
Her desk, when she found it, was…neat. The papers were squared away in precise piles, there was a vase of flowers on the desk, deep red blooms with a rich fragrance. There was also a card.

My love,
I hope you have a chance to enjoy these flowers before our big trip. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you.
Yours always,
Octavius.

Cicepia sat down. “You’re alive…” she mumbled, mostly to herself.
“Ma’am?” a human officer nearby turned to her.
“Just thinking aloud.”
“Yes ma’am. I thought—”
“Yes and I’m back,” Cicepia said hurriedly, closing the card. “It’s been that sort of a day though. You have something to report?”
“Ah, yes ma’am. According to our records, the man who calls himself ‘Sync’ died over five years ago.”
“That’s clearly an error.”
“Yes Ma’am, we’ll fix it,” the officer said. “And we don’t have any record of the krogran Thek Akara. None. It’s like she doesn’t exist.”
Cicepia waved the officer away. “Well sort it out. I’ll want to question her afterward to find out what she was doing with a rifle in the employee only area of the Silver Sun Theatre.”
She was halfway through her second report of the Theatre Incident, and seriously considering setting up a template, when Commander Druin strode in. “Lieutenant Altus! I heard you were back unexpectedly early. Couldn’t stay away, eh?”
He looked the same as in her world. Well, apart from his black eyes now glowing green. She knew that drell eyes actually had an iris and pupil underneath the inky black inner eyelid. The inner lid was just wasn’t typically opened unless the drell was slipping into past memories, but now they looked green. Much like everything else in this universe. Perhaps here he looked less stern, but he was the same lean, fast thinking man she knew from her universe. Her universe. That was an odd phrase to think. She always wondered at his reflexes, which were faster than she’d ever thought possible. Maybe he’d been one of those hanar operatives she’d heard about, but she’d never worked up the courage to ask him. Plastering a smile on her face she answered jovially, “Well, it’s been that sort of a day.”
“What day isn’t around here?” Commander Druin said, clapping her on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re back though. Now I know it’s only been a short time since your promotion, but you need to clear your desk.”
“Sir?”
“Altus, you need to pick up all your crap and move it into your new office. It’s over there.”
Cicepia looked up. A corner office. With a view out over the ward. They’d given her—or her analogue—a fucking corner office. It was pretty sweet actually, and certainly something she could get used to. Picking up a nearby box, she started picked up her datapads, holopicture frame and the vase of flowers and headed into her new office. Sort of her new office. Setting her things down, she turned to find the quarian singer standing at one of the windows, looking out over the ward.
“You should move your desk against the inside wall,” he said. “That way your back isn’t up against a window.”
“Do you really think I’ll be attacked at the precinct?” Cicepia asked.
Elias shrugged. “Old habits die hard,” he said. “Sometimes I still find myself looking for cover the moment I enter a new environment.”
“You served with the Quarian Marines, didn’t you?” she asked.
He tilted his head towards her in amusement. “I wouldn’t know what the Elias in your universe did. I’m assuming so far that he fought in the Battle of Rannoch and won Citadel’s Got Talent, but I don’t know past that.”
“Right, of course. Come on, I’ll get you set up at a remote monitoring station while I go and question the krogan,” she glanced down at her datapad. Apparently the her in this universe used the same passwords as she did. That was…creepy.
“What do you think she did?” Elias asked.
“Probably nothing in this universe,” Cicepia said. “But a sniper rifle in the rafters at a concert? I’d like to know who she was sent there to take out.”
She saw Elias blink—the light from his eyes vanishing momentarily. “You think she was targeting me?”
“I can’t rule anything out at this point,” she said. “Although if she was, she’d be targeting the you in her universe.”
“That’s…not really comforting.”
“Sorry. I deal in facts, not comfort.”
“You must be fun to have around when talking to families dead people.”
Cicepia shrugged. “Turians understand sacrifice for society. Humans are the ones who go all mushy.”
“What about quarians?”
“I don’t know actually,” Cicepia said after a slightly too long pause. “There aren’t many of you where I’m from.”
“How come?”
Leading the way over to a monitoring station, Cicepia started bringing up screens to allow viewing of the interrogation rooms and cells, thankful that she had an excuse not to look the quarian in the face. “Commander Shepard sided with the geth. Their fleet effectively wiped out the quarian people. Just about every soul who was on the flotilla.”
“But not me?”
“The Ashru made it to the system relay and jumped to safety,” Cicepia said. “Only a dozen or so crews survived and even they took casualties. Everyone just knows about the Ashru because you were on board.”
The quarian took the news more calmly than she would have expected. Genocide tended to have a negative affect on people.
“Here, Shepard and Admiral Zorah convinced the Migrant Fleet to cease firing upon the geth before they attained true self awareness,” Elias said. “Turns out we could have avoided three hundred years of vagrancy if we’d just let them be. You want to know the stupid thing?” he asked, taking a seat at the console and reconfiguring the displays with a deftness Cicepia had only even seen in those who had been using the software for years.
“Sure,” she said.
“We could have gone back to Rannoch at any time if we’d just asked nicely,” he said. “How’s that for hubris?”
“I’ll be back later,” Cicepia said, after a pause that was lengthy enough to be awkward. If she was reading the man correctly, he’d just implied that the quarians in her universe had died for insurmountable pride. It wasn’t something she wanted to think about really. She thought about the data packet she had received this morning from Shias Lazeen, the information broker and Shadow Broker agent she had used to get that list of names. It seemed so long ago—was it even really the same day in this place that both fitted like a glove and felt strangely alien? She’d had to force herself to relax when she’d seen a Destroyer parked at a funfair, its green eye scanning the crowd as children climbed up its legs and squealed with joy when it took delicate steps forward and back. She wasn’t a bad cop, although the version of her here seemed like she might be better. She just had…debts to repay. It was both the most turian and not turian thing she’d ever done.
“You can keep an eye on our cyborg here,” she said, pressing a button.
As she left the station one of the other officers stopped her. “Um, Lieutenant, who’s the quarian?”
“VI expert and a tech consultant on the case,” Cicepia said. “Also a witness and potential target, so as long as he’s happy to stay of his own free will we want to keep him around.”
The officer glanced up at a screen, which was still running footage of the impromptu press conference outside the Silversun Theatre. “Oh,” he said, his eyes widening.
“You saw nothing and, no, you may not ask for an autograph,” Cicepia said. “Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” the man said, saluting smartly. “I have to say he doesn’t look like what I expected.”
“He’s wearing an envirosuit, Officer Meeks,” Cicepia said. “What did you expect exactly?”
She walked off before he could answer, and headed into the interrogation room she had the Krogan put into.
“Thek Akara,” she said, walking into the room and sitting down at the table opposite.
“That’s me,” the Krogan said, looming over her. Krogan were good at looming. It came with the size.
“First things first, what were you doing at the concert? You were spotted on the catwalks in the restricted areas.”
Akara folded her arms before her and leaned back into her own seat. “Let’s just say I had a mission from someone important that I was trying to fulfil.”
“No names?”
“No names.”
“And that mission had something to do with the sniper rifle you were carrying?”
“Yeah. I was being paid to take out some of the…seedier elements of the galaxy’s scummy underbelly.”
“Why pick your target off in the middle of a concert?”
“It’s good cover—lights, sound. If you’re going to take one shot and one shot only you’ll be sweet.”
Cicepia sighed. “Listen, you’re obviously a fine upstanding galactic citizen, helping us clean house like that. Don’t you think you can help me help you? We’re both strangers here, and I know both our…universes are different to this one, so I think it’s important that we help each other under the circumstances, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I can agree to that—within reason,” Akara said, uncrossing her arms.
“Good. So why were you at the theatre? You had one target in mind?”
“Yes.”
“You want to give me a name?”
“Sorry, client confidentiality,” Akara said. “I’d never get another job if I welched, now would I?”
“All right, can you give me the name of the person who hired the hit?”
“I was hired by the Shadow Broker—or one of his agents, at least,” the krogan said, leaning forward with soft smile. “If you want his name you’ll have to find someone further up the chain than me.”
For a moment, Cicepia wondered if she should reveal her own information source, then thought better of it. Even on the off chance that Elias hadn’t worked out how to bring up the camera in this room, there was no guarantee that Shias Lazeen was even alive in this universe—or in the same line of work if she was. “All right,” she said. “Play it your way, I think it’ll be safer if I hold you for the forty eight hours the law allows while I get to the bottom of this anyway.”
Standing up, she left the room without a backwards glance. “Put her in with the human,” she said to the officers outside. “Let’s see what they have to say to each other.”
“Are you charging her with anything, ma’am?”
“Not yet,” Cicepia said. “She might not be guilty of anything, but let’s hang on to her just to be safe.”

Back at the monitoring station, she found Elias had indeed tuned into the hallway cameras, and was watching Akara being taken into the human’s cell.
“Any sign of the reaper key?” Cicepia asked quietly.
“Not yet,” Elias said. “Hmm…” he said, flicking the sound on.
“…question you already?” the human was asking the krogan.
“Yeah,” the krogan said, stamping to the other side of the cell and sitting down on the floor.
“I don’t know how much we can trust her. In my universe I saw her kill a man after talking him down. Sure,he had taken a bunch of folk hostage, but he surrendered and then, Bam! Brains all over the floor.”
“Interesting,” Akara said. “Let’s just say that in my universe she’s different according to my sources. Never met her personally, but it’s certainly interesting.”
“Just watch your back. What were you doing up there anyway?”
“I’m a gun for hire,” Akara said with a grin. “I had a hit on a target who was meant to be at the concert.”
“Then I hope you met your mark,” the man her records indicated went by the name ‘Sync’.
“Sadly I didn’t,” Akara said. “Depending on how this turns out, I might get another chance though.”

The two didn’t talk much, and after food was delivered they soon found the bunk—and the human took the top one. “Well that was…less than enlightening,” Elias said, standing. The quarian stretched and she though she heard a crack as he swivelled his head to loosen his neck muscles. “I might head back to…well, my apartment and get some sleep. What are you planning on doing?”
“I’ll stay here,” Cicepia said. “I’m not sure if I…if she lives where I do.”
“You’re sure?” Elias asked.
“I’ll sleep in my—her office,” Cicepia said. “Everyone does it. I’ll be fine.”
For a moment, it looked like Elias might say something, and then he nodded. “It would be less conspicuous than the alternatives.”
“Are all quarians as sneaky as you?” Cicepia asked.
“Only the ones who went through a reality tv show,”
“Ah.”
Nodding, Elias turned and walked out of the monitoring cubicle. “Anar,” he said on the way out.
The hanar drifted over to her. “Officer Altus, this one would like to know if the disc has yielded any results. It would like to see it returned but…is it definitely reaper technology?”
“As near as we can tell, yes,” Cicepia said. “We have it contained but without the second part of the key, Elias says he can’t get anything further.”
“The key—the human’s mimic has not appeared?”
“Not yet.”
“This one would like to request it be allowed to spend the night in your hanger? This one can stay comfortably inside it’s mech suit.”
“Are you sure? I can probably arrange a better bed for the night.”
“This one feels more at home in its suit than anywhere else.”
“Take a left at the next junction and follow the signs,” Cicepia said. “Stay in the main area though. If you try going into the restricted zones you’ll be shot on sight.”
The hanar stared at her, or at least, its front end stayed pointing in her direction.
“That was a joke,” she said. “Mostly.”
“If you need this one, it will be where your ships stay,” Anar said. “This one thanks you, Officer Altus.”

The next morning, after a cup of coffee that was in every respect just as bad as the swill she had in her universe, Cicepia strolled into the interrogation room to face Sync again.
“Ah, I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Round two,” Cicepia said brightly.
“It’s so nice meeting you again,” Sync said, his smile fixed. “And in such similar circumstances.”
“I don’t know, I can feel a headache coming on,” Cicepia said. “It’s my very special talking to irritating, lying, and gun thieving cyborgs headache.”
“You’re welcome,” Sync said.
Smiling, Cicepia sat down into the spare chair and crossed one leg over the other. “So it appears that we’re from the same universe.”
“Yeah. Seems like.”
“Well, there doesn’t seem to have been a sniper incident at a bank in this universe. Nor the krogan’s. You were there?”
“Saw the vid,” Sync said, his tone sullen.
“Then you’d have seen me with a pistol on the ground,” Cicepia said. “Taemaus was on roof fifty stories up. There’s no way I could have shot him.”
“You didn’t have to,” Sync said. “Everyone knows you’d have a SWAT team covering the roof.”
“None of whom fired,” Cicepia said. “We checked all their weapons. I don’t know if you’ll believe that but…we believe someone else out there knew Taemaus was going to pull that heist—and wanted to be sure he didn’t get a chance to talk.”
“Time will tell, I guess,” Sync said guardedly.
“Hopefully,” Cicepia agreed. “It’ll be one hell of a cold case if not.”
Sync cracked a smile then, the craggy features of his face almost seeming to shift from one expression to the other without passing through any in-between stages. “You lost someone didn’t you?” he said. “All that honeymoon business.”
“Didn’t happen,” Cicepia said shortly. “Not where…we’re from.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Sync said. “I lost someone too.”
“I know, I read your file. Your new file,” Cicepia said. “Your wife Beatrice. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“How many times do you have to say that to people?”
“Too many, these past few years. I suppose under the circumstances we shouldn’t be arguing with each other so much.”
“Suppose not,” Sync said. “Sorry for…assuming the worst.”
Cicepia sighed. “And I’m sorry for coming down more harshly on you than I perhaps needed to when we first met, but well…you lied to me. I couldn’t be sure you weren’t a threat.”
“I’m used to being thought of one without going rounds of twenty questions with cops,” Sync said. “Everyone seems to want me to not exist.”
“I’ve noticed.”
“So how long do I need to stay here anyway?” Sync asked.
“Let me offer you a deal,” Cicepia said. “You help us get the rest of this device together and I’ll try to help you get back to your universe.”
“Our universe.”
“That’s what I meant,” Cicepia said, pushing all thoughts of bouquets and corner offices out of her mind.
“And what about my good friend, Akara? I think we might need her.”
“Maybe,” Cicepia said, taking a sip of her nearly cold coffee. “But there’s a lot she isn’t telling us.”
“There’s a lot I’m not telling you,” Sync pointed out.
“You bought a ticket and didn’t bring a sniper rifle into an employee only section of the theatre.”
“Which she used to shoot husks,” Sync said. “Look, you called my bluffs, I’m sure you can work out hers.”
“Probably,” Cicepia said. “Or maybe just send her home and let her be someone else’s problem.”
“Or that.”
Sync suddenly stopped and looked past Cicepia’s head. “Where’s that quarian?” he asked.
“Elias, get in here,” Cicepia said, turning to the camera in the corner of the room.
A familiar, if drab, envirosuited alien came into the room at an almost run a few moments later. “Is it here?”
“Sync?” Cicepia asked.
The human was staring at her chest. “Yes, it’s here. Never been able to catch him though.”
“Uh, eyes up here,” Cicepia said, trying to pull the human’s attention away from her torso.
“No, he’s right…inside… You might want to take a step back.”
Frowning, Cicepia took several and Sync lunged at the empty air, an orange net-like projection coming from his omni tool. “Dammit!” he swore and his gaze swept around the room, as if following something, ending up at the open doorway where Elias stood, his own omni-tool at the ready. “He’s going out—”
“Got it,” Elias said, turning and running off down the corridor, Sync in hot pursuit.
Cicepia followed after them, faring the worse out of the three. By the time both Elias and Sync had rushed past the confused staff of the precinct were usually moving just a tad too unpredictably for her to push past easily. Still, she managed to keep up as they headed towards the holding cells, picking up the hanar on the way who emerged from the bathroom and floated along beside her.
“Has something happened?” Anar asked.
“It’s in there,” Elias said, pointing at the security door. “Can you get us in Offi—Lieutenant?”
“Of course,” Cicepia said, looking into the retina scanner.
The krogan looked up from where she was sat on the floor, a small collection of strangely shaped seeds in her hands. “So…are we having a party in here or something?” she asked.
“Akara, don’t move,” Sync said.
“What’s going on?” the Krogan asked.
“Universe fixing stuff, I think,” Sync said.
“Oh, so the thing is here?”
“Right in front of you.”
“Hang on, hang on,” Elias said, tapping out a sequence on his omni-tool and a small red drone zoomed over, and suddenly there was a holographic projection of what appeared to be a spherical, reptilian harvester, about the size of Cicepia’s head. It floated backwards and forwards as if entranced, nuzzling against Akara’s hands. “It’s incorporeal,” the quarian said. “But I think that’s what it looks like.”
To her credit the Krogan barely blinked. “Ugly thing.”
“Where’d you get those seeds?” Elias asked.
Akara looked down at her hands. “Here and there,” she said. “Really, I just pick them up wherever I go. There’s nothing special about any of them.”
“So that’s the thing that’s caused all this trouble?” Cicepia asked.
“No, that’s a projected image of the thing that’s caused all the trouble. I think you’d have to be synthetic or cybernetically enhanced to actually see it.”
“This one thinks it looks harmless,” Anar said. “Or would if one didn’t know what it is.”
“I’m not sure if it just likes Akara or her seeds,” Elias said.
“Akara, could you pass me a few of those?” Sync asked, edging closer.
The krogan’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, but I want them back,” she said, and handed a few over, including one large red one that looked like it had wings.
Sync backed away, “Look mimic, I’ve got some seeds! Here boy!”
Mimic appeared to look at the seeds in Sync’s hands, and then back to the greater number of seeds in Akara’s and nuzzled back against the krogan.
“We need the disc,” Cicepia said.
“This one gave the disc to you, it is still in your possession,” Anar said.
“No, no, we don’t need the disc!” Elias said quickly.
“Yes, let’s not open a portal to a reaper invasion,” Akara agreed.
“Just keep Mimic here long enough for me to complete my analysis,” Elias said.
The five waited while the red drone pulsed gently. “Analysis complete,” Pi said, and this time Cicepia could see the flash of text scrolling up inside Elias’ helmet.
“Well?” she asked.
“We can close them,” Elias said. “With the reality collider and Mimic around we can close the breaches in the universes. Possibly open them too.”
“Why would we want to open them?” Cicepia asked.
“To go home?” Elias suggested. “Also there’s other holes—this isn’t the only one.”
“Where?”
“One is in your universe—on a planet called Invictus, wherever that is. There’s also one on Tuchanka in yours, Akara and Anar,” Elias said. “There’s probably more but those are the most recent ones Mimic made.”
“That is some very powerful diagnostic programming you have, Elias,” Anar said. “This one is very impressed.”
“I’m just accessing Mimic’s memory,” Elias said with a shrug. “It’ll take more time to piece together the others. More time and more study, which means we need those seeds too. Anyway, before we start signing autographs, field trip to see if I can actually close the breach in the Silver Sun Theatre?”
“Worth a shot,” Sync said.
“Then we’re going to be stuck here?” Akara asked.
“No,” Elias said. “We should be able to open a portal again. Only one we control. One universe to one universe, not all four together. But we need to stick those seeds somewhere safe. Without them, we don’t have Mimic and without both Mimic and the disc we don’t have control of the portals.”
“This one thinks the quarian needs better explanations,” Anar said.
“There’s a space in the theatre that’s like a wall dividing the dimensions. Mimic turns the wall into a door. The disc is the key that lets us open the door. With the right programming, we should be able to pick the right wall, open the right door, step through and lock the door behind us.”
“Just us? Against a reaper horde?”
“We’ll need guns,” Akara said.
“How do we know you’re not going to go all trigger happy on us?” Cicepia asked.
“I’m not that kind of Krogan,” Akara said blandly. “I can actually use my head for more than headbutting.”
“How many people do you think you could get through in one go?” Sync asked Elias.
“In theory we could move a small ship through the portal,” Elias replied, his eyes darting across the information screens in his helmet. “We’d just need to be within a few hundred metres of the portal itself.
“If the other portals are in Invictus and Tuchanka, we will need a ship,” Anar said.
“I have one of those,” Sync said. “Or at least I did.”
“On the Citadel?” Elias asked.
“Yes, in my universe at least.”
“First, we make sure that you can do what you think you can,” Cicepia said firmly. “Otherwise we’re just speculating aimlessly while we wait for more husks—or a small reaper ship or two—to slip through into one of our universes.”
Elias nodded. “Then we’ll need to get Mimic and the reaper object back to the theatre.”

The concert hall was still lit by the house lights, and even without the white outlines where the bodies had fell, Cicepia could see enough blood spatter to know where they had lain. The guards at the police line had given them some glances when they had stepped into the building, and she wondered what would happen if they didn’t actually come back for a few days. She’d read enough of the eyewitness accounts to see that many of them had similar motifs—there was an electric light show that hung in midair above the audience and then people were falling into a hole in the air. All up seven people were unaccounted for. The youngest had been thirteen, just old enough, Cicepia thought, to sit through a concert rated PG. At least, it had been rated PG in Cicepia’s universe. She wasn’t sure if both Eliases had the same musical repertoire.
“Did Mimic follow the seeds?”
Elias punched a few commands into his omni tool and the holographic projection of the strange metal dragon coalesced in the air near Arkara, flitting above her head. “I’d say yes,” he said. The red drone flickered into existence, and floated over to the middle of the room.
“Officer, would you be so kind as to approach the centre of the disturbance?” Elias asked.
As Cicepia approached she felt a tug from the disk, and even with the portable containment device she thought she could feel it pulling like a magnet towards the centre of the room. Willing her fingers not to tremble, she flipped open the door of the container and the crackle of energy started almost immediately. Up close and without the distraction of civilians, husks and gunfire, the purplish energy radiated out from a central point, some ten feet in the air. It looked for all the world like an electrical storm, but it passed through the air around her in silence, never touching the plates of her face.
“Akara would you please hold the seeds up towards the portal?” Elias asked.
“You’d better be right about this, singer,” Akara grumbled, although she did as she was asked. Out of the corner of her eye, Cicepia saw the holo-form of Mimic still hovering just above the seeds.
“I’m right,” Elias said smugly as purple lines shot through the air in a crisscross pattern, almost as if space were being stitched together by a giant needle. “That was the easy part. Next question, can we open a portal to just Akara and Anar’s universe.”
“You don’t know?”
“Never tried it before,” Elias said brightly, and Cicepia thought she heard a tinge of worry and uncertainty in the q

uarian’s tone. “All right Lieutenant are you ready? Portal opening in three…two…one…”
The crackling stopped and the energy flashed blue and then and burst open like an eye showing clear space beyond. It opened around them and then…nothing. Suddenly there were crisscrossing lines of red that looked similar to when Elias had run a program to sew up the portal only…yesterday.
“We’re here?”
“Yeah,” Elias said looking around. “Look, there’s no body outlines. Looks like the attack was only in my universe.”
“So where to now?” Anar asked.
“Ship first,” Cicepia said. “Once we have that we can work out what clearance we need to get out of here. Thankfully I really am C-sec over here.”
“We might need a way to ensure we’re not blasted away by C-Sec when we jump the ship through from here,” Elias said. “I might have something for that on file, but I’m more a programmer than a mechanic.”
“I have one of those,” Sync said. “I’ll get her as soon as we get back to the ship.”
“Well then,” Cicepia said. “Let’s go. What’s the name of the ship anyway?”
Sync smiled—the first smile Cicepia had seen on his face, although it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I call her the Endurance.”

Continue to Chapter 9