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[Actual Play] The House Always Wins Chronicle

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  • #16
    It’s time to deal with some of the active plots in Vegas as the Spa opens. They decided to deal with the Slasher, the Clowns, and the Sandworm. Let’s see how it went.

    The start of session 15 is a handout to Avril’s player.
    Session XV

    Kayleigh has welcomed some company from Avril but has been far from pushy. She has moved to an apartment in Hendersonville, which is maybe 10 minutes from the main entrance to the spa. If allowed, she has spent a bit of time sketching Avril’s face.

    Her family has remained away, though her childhood friend Maeve has arrived at least temporarily to help Kayleigh out. Like Kayleigh, she is a bit less than fifty, not at all old in fey terms and certainly not as jaded as some. Kayleigh describes Baobhan Sith as vampiric fey who guard places humans should not visit…fey realms in the world, sacred forests, treasures etc. Many enjoy hunting humans, but Kayleigh says they do not have to do so. Maeve does not, at least so far as Kayleigh knows. At least not beyond her duties, which she admittedly enjoys. She will be on vacation in Vegas, which is human territory, so not a hunting ground. There are rules.

    Maeve is friendly to Avril. She clearly has a flirtatious nature but tries to not flirt with Avril. Avril knows she has gotten somewhat comfortable with her as she lets the clops of her hooves be seen, which Avril has not seen but sounds similar to Darius’, though Maeve is a smaller creature. She is clearly stronger than she looks, which is helpful when one is moving.

    A certain degree of awkwardness has been avoided as Maeve at first is crashing with Kayleigh, something she expects to be very temporary. She does give you folks your space as needed and mostly avoids being a Gooseberry. She has not spent much time in Vegas proper, as ironically while she has been to magic castles in the fey realm, the sheer…busyness of Vegas intimidates her.

    In other news Chiaki does occasionally follow Avril around in the spa, but this seems mostly because she perceives Avril as most like her. Avril can be quiet sometimes, and Chiaki is quiet a lot. There is a sort of nonverbal safety she feels since Avril does not try to make smalltalk just because she is present.

    --

    Imke Scheit stepped away from the reproduction of the statue of liberty into the bright sunlight of a Vegas afternoon. The square was full of people coming and going, but Imke did not fail to notice the woman in red coat and wide brimmed hat watching her.

    “Welcome back, Lioness.” The Hesper looked over her Sunglasses at the blonde woman in the suit.

    “Evie. Nice to see you. Here for day one?”

    Evelyn Eventide pushed off the wall she was leaning against. “Not at all. How was your trip?”

    Imke walked beside her without glancing over. “My jaw and neck hurts, but I think I feel better than I have ever felt in my entire seventy-seven years. Is that a problem?”

    “You feeling good is never a problem of course. You are the hero and I, your ardent admirer.”

    Imke smirked at her. “Cut she shit Evie. What’s on your mind?”

    “You are still cynical, Imke.” Evelyn signed. “I want to make sure Chloe is not too much of a distraction, is all.”

    “Chloe is not a distraction; she is my partner. More spaces open by the way. After my jaw heals.” Imke looked Evelyn over from behind her peek-a-boo As much as she hated to admit it, Evelyn moved her as few women did. Beautiful as the sunset she represented, and no doubt tasted sweet as the fruit she picked. With her heightened senses, Imke could tell Evelyn smelled faintly of apples.

    “Down now Lioness. Eyes on the prize. I am going to speak to Chloe. I do not want that to be a surprise to you. It will not be to tell her to back off. But your mother hand-picked you for the job, and there is more to it than seducing nubile young Nymphs. You have a legitimate task and a cover. Use it.”

    Imke sighed. “Jaja are you actually here lecturing me for spending a week with my girlfriend?”

    “No because you fell in love.”

    Imke stopped dead in her tracks. Evelyn tilted her head looking at her, slowing to a stop with more grace. “Chloe is harmless. They won’t all be. Some will be ready to use you. You should be prepared to use them first.”

    “I wasn’t even sure I still could.” Imke had not started moving again yet. Rivers of people moved around the pair.

    “Of course you can.” The Hesper’s tone became gentler. “If you lacked passion you would not be useful to us. You are not a sociopath Imke. The Theoi have enough of them, and sociopaths make mistakes. Listen, I am here in part because I understand you, I was swooning over women like you while my sisters lusted after muscular men.” Evelyn removed her sunglasses. “Trust me, Imke.”

    Imke looked down at the shorter woman. “I will try, Evelyn. That is the best I can say. It’s hard to trust Chloe, much less a woman with a scheme I figure into.’
    “All I ask.” Evelyn put her sunglasses back on, getting the desert sun out of her eyes. “I have work to do behind the scenes. But if I have time, I will be around soon to show you why I am not worried about Chloe.”

    Imke gives a weak laugh. “Okay. Be careful Evelyn.”

    The Hesper squeezed Imke’s hand and smiled, then disappeared into the crowd. Imke watched her go, before she tuned and continued on her way, the two islands invisible in the sea of people.

    --

    NOTEBOOK: #769 Lima Echo Echo Uniform Whisky India November

    ENTRY: CHARLIE ONE

    Las Vegas, USA

    We have rather hit the ground running. I don’t think the others really took any time off, though Avril in part was helping her girlfriend move. I need to catch up with her on that. Xanthias spent time learning Japanese. I would say “Ah to be young again” but I am young again. So awkward, as Chloe says.

    Also apparently his mother dresses him. Men. I bet Alisa does usually.

    We have our first five guests. One is “Divis Julius” aka Julius Caesar. He was polite and friendly. And manipulative. Next was Circe, who I admit wanting to get to know better, in a non euphemistic sense. Mostly because she is goddamn terrifying. Speaking of which, Echo was back with Oiwa, a grudge ghost with severe scarring. The entire conversation was in Japanese so I did not catch any of it. Maybe that is why Xan learned it. Finally, Hotei, the Smiling Happy Buddha. He was adorable and kind. I would be suspicious but he is a fucking Buddha. If you can’t trust a Buddha who can you trust?

    Xanthias has his mind set on that slasher, so it was best to get that sorted since it was not a human problem. We met up with Aoibheann, who continues to tempt me to shoot her. We also met up with first the Set Scion Maggie Dalton then the Horus Scion Bruce Haas. I don’t think anyone will want a blow by blow of the conversations, so to summarize.

    Alfa: The Slasher is building up some sort of huge Fertility effect. We don’t know what that is. Crom Cruach traditionally is linked to Fertility and Drought, fed by blood, so it tracks. It likes blood sacrifices a lot.

    Bravo: The area where the energy is gathering is guarded by a giant dune-esque sandworm, which we have taken to calling “The Mojave Rattler.” We can only fear what is bigger under the sand.

    Charlie: Milos Grozny, Scion of Chernobog is involved somehow. He seems intent on making people hate him, which builds power over them. Maggie wants to get “The boss” to give her a green light to deal with him. We do not think he is in league with the Slasher, but we are not sure. He has some master plan that seems to involve the Slasher though.

    Delta: The Rattler is intelligent enough to know that chasing a jeep is fruitless and gives up, and it will retreat if badly injured.

    Echo: It sings. Terrifying.

    Foxtrot: The sacrifices are south of Vegas, but not where the Sandworm is, rather closer to town. This may be because…

    Golf: There is a clown motel and cemetery with a doll museum. It is inhabited by zombie clowns who fight with lawn implements. These zombie clowns can turn corpses into more zombie clowns. They can reanimate corpses not destroyed enough even if put down once.

    Hotel: There is a museum of killer dolls next to the motel who attack the living. I am leaving that alone.

    India: The Clowns are trying to move south where…sigh…Bruce’s monster hunter Elvis impersonators hunt them. The zombie clowns are only so intelligent but have a leader who Bruce believes to be a Scion.

    Juliette: I just had a drink.

    Kilo: Éimhín, who I will continue calling Big Ian as I have permission is murdering the…zombie clowns…and the monster hunting Elvis impersonators are wisely leaving the walking nightmare alone to do this.

    Lima: Speaking of nightmares, some dark relic is inside either the motel or museum, which has a necrotic effect and beyond that a fear effect. Bruce says it is corrupting, and he has not told his superiors about it as he is afraid Merneith will want it and get corrupted.

    Mike: Bruce is investigating with a drone. Ranged combat is not the zombie clowns strong suit, which may be the only thing that makes sense here.

    November: It seems possible the intent of the relic is to corrupt whatever the slasher has going on down south. The zombie clowns have not reached it because the monster hunter Elvis impersonators keep destroying them.

    Oscar: I just had another drink.

    Papa: Our plan is to regroup, and possibly try to get Merneith, Bruce, and Maggie to actually work together. Maggie will watch for the Slasher, Bruce scout with the drone. Also pick up Big Ian.

    Quebec: Maggie really, really wants to sleep with me. As does Merneith. I must use this only for awesome, as Chloe says.

    Romeo: I think that is everything. One more drink and I go find my half-sister.

    EINDE


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    • #17
      Then everything started happening very rapidly. Note Jimmy and Johnny’s players could not make; Johnny’s player stepped up with a fic written with Xan’s player. Also Avril’s writing one with Imke and one with Xan.

      Session XVI

      NOTEBOOK: #769 Lima Echo Echo Uniform Whisky India November

      ENTRY: CHARLIE TWO

      Las Vegas, USA

      We have successfully eliminated two of out three targets, via one carefully planned tactical strike and one bit of blind luck.

      At 1000Z we got a message from Avril. She had a friend of her girlfriend named Maeve who is a Baobhan Sith (spelling from Chloe) who spotted our Slasher. Truthfully from the clip clop of her hooves under her long skirt (having gotten used to Lykos and Darius) I assumed she was a female Satyr (which I had admittedly not seen) but her lack of horns and blatantly vampiric powers showed her to be another fey. Anyway. She spotted the Slasher, who was up to no good, while up to no good, and followed her. The Slasher lead her down an alley Maeve was too wise to go down. Instead, she waited while we assembled. Maggie said she was coming but lagged behind.

      The Slasher was well hidden, so the only way to lure her out was with a canary, so I sent my Doppelganger in while removing myself from sight. She did indeed fall violently on my Doppelganger, surprised when she fell apart. She moved like lightning, seeing Avril’s rifle, and striking her down with a brutal slash before we could react. She evaded most of the gunfire, though Alisa managed to graze her, before Maeve, apparently horrified to see her best friend’s squeeze go down under her watch, grabbed the killer, crushing her with apparently prodigious strength, and bringing both to the ground. She got a dagger in the chest for her trouble, though the Slasher’s disorientation left her open to gunfire and a furious Xanthias’s death ray.

      Credit where it is due, Xanthias really brought Avril and Maeve from the brink. Possibly beyond it. Xan really is a skilled healer to match his ego.

      Curiously we found the Slasher, who was apparently an Irish woman named Ciara, according to her ID, had not died, even after I shot her in the head. It was speculated she was being kept alive by her tormentor, Milos Grozny, because of his strength from hatred abilities. Speaking of Mr. The Terrible, on my way back I discovered why Maggie never arrived to assist us; he physically assaulted her via throwing her car around like a toy. Now he was fighting Rashawn, who apparently just burst from the skin of a random motorist like a Xenomorph and attacked him in Crocodile hybrid form. Alisa (also unlucky enough to also be caught in the traffic jam from the Scions fighting) and I met up with Maggie, who we agreed to take to Xan. Apparently, Rashawn was only keeping Milos busy until Merneith, who appeared as an actual damn storm cloud with a face, sucked him into the sky.

      Thankfully Maggie’s injuries were minor compared to Avril or Maeve, the latter of whom returned to Kayleigh to give her a less worrying breakdown of events. Bruce radioed in with footage, and we began to plan how to get the…

      Elvis Impersonating Monster Hunters
      Egyptian Scions
      Greek Scions
      Fomorians
      Julius Fucking Caesar

      To fight

      Zombie Psycho Clowns
      Murderous Dolls
      Some sort of weird Clown Scion.

      This would require a second bath. Just to keep things ridiculous, Caesar laid out a battle plan, to approach the Clown Hotel from the back. It was the graveyard side but we would avoid being on the graveyard itself. Big Ian would throw boulders he collected at the building, and the clowns would split to come after us. We commandeered a jeep, with Maggie driving, while the Elvis Impersonators and Caesar were on the other side. They prepared Molotov Cocktails, Avril acquired a flamethrower, and the plan was to stay mobile. We met at 1500Z and rendezvoused with the Elivises (?).

      It worked pretty well. I doubt combat driving was a Set Scion thing but Maggie was pretty decent at it. We mostly stayed ahead of the Clowns throwing cocktails at them while I unleashed the flamethrower. It was all so bizarre, honestly. I believe Johnny would say “That’s Vegas Baby!”

      Eventually, the evil Scion came out, duel wielding a machete and chainsaw. Avril pinned him in place with an expert shot, and Big Ian made short work of him. Eventually, the zombie clowns and homicidal dolls were dealt with, at least outside our nightmares.

      We left the Netjer to secure the scenes, and we went back with Caesar. We deserved some rest, and I wanted to talk to Avril about what happened tonight.

      EINDE

      --

      It's been a while since Avril made anything in an actual kitchen. But after a night so surreal in so many ways, she barely registers this difference. Her mind is far away, her body moving on auto-pilot. She catches herself right before she starts making way more pancakes than any one person could eat. She sighs, adjusts her measurements, and tries to focus on the present.

      Imke walks into the kitchen, her heels audible, but waits by the door, leaning against it. She watches Avril a moment, her entire face visible for once nothing hidden behind her hair showing mismatched eyes. Her demeanor is neither of her usual ones, seductive and confidant or an absolute enigma. Instead, she shows a concerned side which is familiar to very few, though Avril is one. "How are you managing, Duckling?"

      Avril looks up and half-smiles. "We all survived. That's what counts."

      "Ve did." Imke watches her. She can't quite seem to conceal when studying people, but she knows concealing anything from Avril is likely to erode trust, not to mention being very unlikely to work. She mentally kicks herself for making calculations like that for someone like a friend. "But perhaps not unscathed. I spent a lot of time just surviving. Now I vant to see if you need to talk about anything."

      Avril goes back to measuring ingredients. It's obvious that she's trying to keep her hands busy, or to avoid eye contact, or both. "...Wanting to talk and being able to are different for me sometimes."

      She corrects herself. "Most of the time.”

      "I know. I have been there. International Security and the Secrets Act, concealing my homosexuality at all costs, but often it just comes down to not vanting to be wulnerable. The other two became excuses not to talk to anyone." Imke gestures slightly, still trying to decide what to do with her hands without a cigarette. "I will never push, my dear, but I worry you are not okay."

      "I'm..." She's visibly struggling to push the words out. "Not okay." She puts the ingredients down, so as not to spill them. "I haven't lost a fight like that... since before Artemis chose me."

      "You didn't lose. The objective was achieved, and you survived." Imke frowns inwardly at sounding like Command. "That is to say, some fights are bigger than any one of us." A bit more gently. Imke could talk an oligarch out of his fortune, but she struggled to comfort a girl she loved like a sister, and she was annoyed by it.

      Avril gestures emptily for a moment, trying to figure out how to transform the tightness in her chest into words that would ease it. "I used to protect the smaller kids. We weren't friends, or siblings, but they knew if they were scared, I would hurt what scared them. Then I was alone, in the woods, and I only had to protect me. And nature. Now I'm getting protected."

      "You are a good person by nature. I admire that about you. I am... glad to have you as a role model." The Belgian glances at her feet. "And you are our first line of defense. Drawing ire on yourself, taking that hit, meant Xanthias didn't. Which meant ve all valked away. I was invisible." She looks back up. "Vithout you there, Xanthias vould have been the first target, and ve would be planning at least two funerals." She catches herself, her accent returning more to her flat English one. "It's a calculation I have had to make before."

      "How do you deal with..." she gestures emptily again. "All of it?"

      "Well, if I am being honest, for me it was chain smoking, anonymous gay sex, and codeine with bourbon. Sometimes Demerol." That was even worse than it sounded in her head. "That's...not what I recommend for you. Trying to use my second chance better. We can talk. We can support each other. I care about you."

      "I care about you too," Avril says sincerely. "Those are hard habits to kick! You're strong."

      "The physical side Mother removed when I shed fifty-five years. The mental...yes it has been hard. Johnny has helped. Because I am not alone." She steps forward, putting a hand on the more petite woman's shoulder. "Neither are you."

      Avril turns the contact into a hug.

      Imke kisses the top of her head. "We love you, Duckling. Kayleigh clearly does too. Ve...we are here for you.” She smiles gently at her, it meets her eyes. “And... you may not finish dealing with this tonight. But we will get you through it. I respect you. I do. We will get me through it too."

      Avril wipes one of her eyes, trying to be subtle about it. "Having a family is nice. New"

      "Trust me, I know." She hugs her close. "Now...speaking of which, if I would not be a gooseberry, I'd like to watch you cook this. I'm...trying to learn"

      Avril grins. "Thank you pancakes, for Xan. I can show you!"

      "Wunderbar." Another genuine smile she releases to walk with her to the stove. "I'll cook Chloe breakfast yet!"

      --

      Monday Night during the interlude between the slasher fight and the clown hotel assault

      ***

      Sapphira paused within her mountain. Her attention was focused on Johnny's room. She was less concerned about him being asleep than being occupied. Hearing only soft breathing she leaned out of his wall and called out, "Johnny?" And then a moment later she repeated louder. "Johnny!"

      "I don't wanna..." Johnny waved off the first gentle call, curling into a tighter ball in bed and tucking the blankets over his head. Then, the second call out made its way through his mind and he blinked, yawning. "What is it?" He didn't look towards Sapphira yet, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

      "Sorry to wake you but... Alesia is up on the roof with a bucket of meatballs feeding Lucky and talking to him. I don't speak snake but I'm pretty sure she could use someone capable of forming compete sentences to talk to." (edited)

      Johnny stands up and stretches, his own nudity not a worry for him as he yawns. "Yeah, that doesn't sound so good. Thanks for the heads up." He smiles at Sapphira and nods, moving about the room and getting dressed in a pair of silk pajamas keeping with the time of night. He checks his hair, grabs a tin of gummies from his drawer and a bottle of whisky, then heads up to the roof.

      The oread nodded back and lingered perhaps a moment or too longer than absolutely necessary as Johnny rose and dressed before sinking back into the stone wall. Up on the roof, Alesia was indeed sitting and leaning against the side of the sky blue Lindwyrm that had become the spa's namesake and mascot. In her lap was a bucket of frozen meatballs from the walk in freezer and she was hissing to the massive creature and occasionally feeding him from the bucket. As Sapphira had told him, even without understanding what she was saying, there was a definite air of melancholy to her tone and posture.

      "Nice night." Johnny's tone was soft and steady as he climbed out onto the roof, eyes lifting up to acknowledge Lucky with a nod before looking back towards Alesia. He knew better than to look into her eyes but he still seemed to be looking towards her face as he smiled and approached.

      The gorgon turned her head but only enough for him to see her face in profile and show him she'd removed her usual red lensed glasses. However, a number of her snakes turned to face him as a small smile curled the edge of her lips unconsciously. "You are not waiting for Elvis to finish his recon so you can join Caesar in assaulting a hotel full of zombie clowns and creepy dolls. You should be sleeping."

      Johnny couldn't help blinking a few times at the absurdity of that statement, regardless of where their lives had taken them as of late. He was, after all, having a casual conversation with a gorgon. Normal was long behind him. He chuckled softly and shook his head, plopping down within arms reach of Alesia, pulling the bottle of whisky from his coat pocket. "Perhaps, but then I wouldn't be up here finding someone to help me drink this bottle."

      Her gaze drifted to the bottle and she bit the edge of her lower lip a moment. "I shouldn't," she said. But after a short pause she reached over to take the bottle, "But friends do help each other out... and we are friends, aren't we?"

      He lifted the bottle to her hand and smiled. "We are, and we do. Plus, this is the good stuff. Glenfarclas 25 year old."

      She lifted the bottle gingerly and took a sip, closing her eyes and leaning back a bit as she savored it. "Oh that is good," she replied as she handed him back the bottle, "Keep this up and you'll spoil me."

      He chuckled softly and found a spot to lean against, hearing Lucky grumbling about something, but unfortunately Johnny had no idea what. "You two have a good conversation up here?" He nodded towards the giant wyrm and then looked back at her as he took a swig from the bottle, savoring the surprisingly smooth scotch.

      She glanced up at Lucky as well and nodded. "Haven't forgotten about you." She rose and then hissed something to him before lifting up the half full bucket. The Lindwyrm plucked it from her grasp surprisingly gracefully before slithering down the tower. "Lucky's a good listener but he doesn't really offer much in the way of advice. I'm guessing that's what you're here to do."

      "If that's what you need. A little oread told me you were up here, the rest was on me." He smiled and popped open the tin from another pocket, offering her an assortment of THC gummies. "Pre-dosed, and nothing too wild just enough to help one relax if needed. Feel free to take one, or not. Won't bother me either way."

      She nodded. "Still not used to her being everywhere at once," she told him as she moved closer to lean against the wall beside him. "I would, but I really need to be alert and I'm already overdue for some sleep." Then she shifted slightly closer and let her shoulder brush his arm. "This is going to sound like a weird question but... do you feel like the same person you were before your calling?"

      As she shifted in closer he wrapped an arm around her comfortably and held her close. "Not that weird a question. I grew up knowing I was something special, but never really knowing what that meant. And I spent a long time without direction or meaning in my life. I guess my answer is that I do feel mostly like the same person, but... more." He made hand gestures trying to accentuate the word 'more', a little awkward with his arm around her shoulder. "Why do you ask?"

      She relaxed against his side and nodded as she listened, her face downturned but her snakes turned intently toward him. "I've known Xan... well as long as I've known things. We grew up together. Same nice houses and highly qualified caretakers. It was part of the deal my mother struck with Hades, I got the same upbringing his son did. We've known who his parents were all along. But... but knowing is not the same as living it. You weren't there but tonight I watched Xanthias smite that woman with the literal wrath of an angry death god." She paused and then softly added, "But it was when he lost Maeve. I've been there when he's lost patients. He stabilized Avril and then he was working on her and he... he lost her Johnny. And he just hardened his expression and he said no. Not in despair or anger or denial. He just told her she wasn't allowed to die and then his power surged and she was whole."

      "Wow. That must have been...wow, yeah that's something. I've seen that determination in his eyes, but not like that. Being in that kind of presence is honestly terrifying. The most I've seen is Dad when he is in his element. The whole world feels like a party, like nothing else could matter more. But, that's not the same. Not even close."

      She nodded. "It's like you said. He's... more." She fell silent a moment as the thought followed in her head. After a moment more she glanced over, looking toward Johnny's chest but not meeting his gaze directly. "And I'm not."

      He curled her in against his chest, so she could look down towards his lap or the roof of the spa as he petted her back. His eyes lifted to the horizon, enjoying the serene feeling of it all. "You are what you are meant to be. And he is what he is meant to be. He is learning and growing, which we all have the capacity for. You are no different in that regard. I promise." He smiled warmly, looking down towards the top of her head as he did and reaching up, then pausing. "Can I touch the snakes or like, is that taboo... or dangerous, even?"

      She let him pull her into the embrace and closed her eyes as she felt his touch on her back. It was nice, soothing. She relaxed into him and nodded along with his words. When he paused and asked about the snakes she couldn't help but smile a little. "It is dangerous," she admitted, "But I promise I won't bite you. Just... be gentle. They... I... am sensitive."

      He smiled and gently petted one of the snakes on the head with a single finger, brushing up between its eyes and down to the back of its neck in gentle strokes. "Thanks." He felt a little silly saying that but shrugged it off, just enjoying the moment. "Sorry I wasn't there. I know, I know, someone has to hold down the fort sometimes but I hate that it got that bad and I wasn't there to do... something."

      She shivered a little and murmured at the touch. "It's. This is nice." The snake nuzzled into his touch as the others shifted and leaned closer as well, some lightly brushing his hand. "I'm kinda glad you weren't there," she admitted, "I saw how she gutted Avril and Maeve. I'm glad I didn't see that happen to you... or Xan." She shivered a little and added, "Not that I'm okay with them being hurt. But... um... Avril's tough and clearly used to fighting and well, I hadn't seen Maeve before tonight. And. Well. I like you. Johnny."

      Johnny felt a little warmth pass through him at those words. "I like you too Alessia. I wouldn't want that happening to me, either. Or you. But maybe if I'd been there, there'd be enough targets to... I don't know. I'm rambling."

      She slipped her arms around him to hug him. "You'd have done something," she agreed, "Something brave and most likely foolish. And most certainly awesome." She squeezed him tighter. "You're a good man Johnny Miravino."

      He wrapped around her tight, holding her close as he smiled at her words. "Not 'power over life and death' awesome, though. That's hard to top." He chuckled softly, turning it into a little bit of a joke as he continued to hold her.

      She bit her lip and just relaxed into the embrace. "Maybe not. But you came up here to talk to me and... and I needed that. It's been... too long since anyone held me like this. I'm dangerous and that scares people. Or worse, it excites them and... and then it's not really about who I am but what I am and that's just... just not what I want. And... and now I'm the one rambling."

      "I could get used to this. The quiet, the alone except for who you want to be with. I'm always surrounded. Always wanted, always sought after but... I can't tell if it's for me, or because of what I am. So, I guess in some way... I get it. And I'll always be here, if you need to talk. Any time, any place." He smiled and almost went to kiss the top of her head then decided against that, the snakes not scaring him but he didn't want to push it either.

      "Yeah. I think you do get it." Then she nodded and reluctantly relaxed her hold on him, easing back gently until there was a little space but not so far as to pull out of his arms or to remove her hands from his sides completely. She closed her eyes and lifted her face. "And I'm here for you too. Thank you. I really needed... all of this."

      "I'm really glad I could give you this, then." He smiled as she lifted her face, leaning in and closing his eyes as he kissed her forehead. "This is usually the point where I'd invite you down to my room, but..." He let it hang, licking his lips and relaxing back, looking out towards the distance again. (edited)

      Her smile widened at the soft kiss and he could feel her eyes, even behind her lids, move down from his own. "Elvis. Zombie Clowns. Caesar." she reminded him. It was neither rejection nor acceptance. She started to move back. But then, she abruptly moved back in and lifted herself up on her toes to brush his lips with a quick kiss before actually stepping back and turning so she could open her eyes safely.

      "Well, when you put it like tha..." He was cut off as she lifted up, a soft moan of surprise leaving his lips as he kissed her back. His lips were slightly open but he didn't press, didn't push for more as she pulled back to leave his arms. He let her go and stood, straightening his pajama top. "You going to be okay up here, or can I at least walk you back inside?"

      She moved closer and took his hand. The nervousness in her was visible as she nodded and took a slow breath. She let him guide her quietly, her mind racing back and forth. "I should go hunt and or gather something to eat before it's time to roll out and that really could be any minute now." Reaching to take his other hand in her own and squeeze them both gently, she wet her lips. "I... You should also... maybe pick up some protection. A proper blindfold." She blushed, her pale skin turning bright. "And maybe... um... never mind." Suddenly her blush lit up more and she released his hands to look away.

      He took her hands calmly and walked towards the door to head back inside. "I'll be ready, this time. And as for the other... give it time, and if you still want to you know where my room is." He let her slip away but walked beside her, leading her down back into the spa proper.

      --

      Monday Night during the interlude between the slasher fight and the clown hotel assault

      ***

      Avril hesitated at the door of Xan's office. She'd never actually been in it, and wondered belatedly if he's one of those people who's very specific about when and where they eat. Would pancakes at his desk be a problem? Should she have made enough for Alesia? Those two are rarely apart.

      Avril knocked before she could overthink things further.

      Xanthias looked up from his computer at the sound. "Enter," he called out and turned his chair to face the door and the seats between his desk and it. he'd made sure the computer was on the side of the L shaped desk to avoid having it between him and anyone he was meeting with, though it did mean the screen was visible if one wanted to look, though presently it was nothing more incriminating than a page of reviews for local Japanese restaurants.

      Avril entered, bringing the smell of breakfast with her. She carried a tall stack of pancakes, decorated with chocolate chips and red icing spelling out "Thank you"

      Xan looked from her to the pancakes, the smell reminding him acutely of how long since he'd eaten. "Oh, you didn't have to bring those all the way here..." He stopped as he took in the chips and icing and realized the significance. His demeanor relaxed, letting the accumulated fatigue show but also the genuine smile that came to both his lips and his eyes at the gesture as he rose. "You didn't have to do anything," he repeated in a softer tone, "But I certainly appreciate it. They smell delicious."

      Avril smiled and placed them on his desk. "You saved my life. And Maeve's. Pancakes are the least I could do"

      He nodded. "I'm a doctor and a healer. I'm just glad I found the strength to mend you both."

      "I also heard about a death ray?"

      "Ah, yes." He shifted and nodded. "I called upon my connection to death to strike the slasher down after she proved to be so dangerous and seemed to be shrugging off all but Imke's likewise death aspected attacks."

      Avril nods in approval. "You saved lives and kicked ass."

      Xan chuckled. "Not quite how I'd put it but yes, I suppose I did. I've not really reached out to that particular aspect of that connection before. The anger and fear seemed to help motivate me." he chuckled.

      A flash of something soft crossed Avril's face. She glanced back to the door she entered through. "Me and Imke were talking about... talking more. About fear and anger and the rest. It's hard but... we all should try, when we need to. I hope you know if you ever need to... you can." She wondered if that made sense.

      Xan's smile widened and he nodded. "I'm not sure most of us are used to having allies..." He stopped and shook his head. "No, Kin." He looked away for a moment then back to her with a more somber expression. "I know that I should feel more conflicted about what I did to that woman. It should feel... wrong to cause such grievous harm. But I have no regrets for striking down someone who harmed one of mine."

      "Kin," she repeated to herself. To Xan she said, "Some people think if you kill a killer, you're as bad as them. Not true. Stopping the Slasher stops her from killing anyone again."

      Xan nodded. "That it does. And we know that she would have. Perhaps there was some means to bring her around without violence, but it was not within my grasp in that alley. And in a hour or so we'll be fighting another scion responsible for perpetuating vile acts and I do not expect that he shall survive either. And I am not overly upset about that. I fear my ethics professor would be sorely disappointed in me right now."

      She shruged. "Your ethics professor could try our job, if they wanted."

      Xan laughed. "I doubt that would end well at all. But your point is well made. the real world is never as black and white and absolute as the ideal one in our minds."

      "I guess ideals are nice. Gives us something to aim for."

      He nodded. "Indeed they do." He sighed and moved back to his chair. "But we live in this imperfect world and we simply must do our best." He looked to the stack of pancakes. "Please tell me you made enough for at least yourself as well?"

      Avril was about to decline, but her stomach rumbled. It is a big pancake stack... "Can I steal one back?"

      Xan grinned and gestured toward the plate. "Sharing is what kin is all about, yes?"


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      • #18
        The battle with the Sandworm and some romances advance. Stay turned for the mysterious letter at the end.
        Session XVII


        NOTEBOOK: #769 Lima Echo Echo Uniform Whisky India November

        ENTRY: CHARLIE THREE

        Las Vegas, USA

        A short report this time. The team, minus Alisa, assembled in the Southern Mojave to fight the rattler. It was indeed huge, but we were ready. It managed to grab Xanthias but was killed before it could do more. It was indeed a huge worm, with tentacles around a toothy maw.

        Then a Second Rattler began to rise. The first was bigger than a bus. The second would dwarf it. However, it was addled by some force as soon as it began to rise. We managed to kill that one too, slowed as it was, then we noticed the clouds gathered in a swirl, and Chernobog appeared.

        He was not pleased with us. Apparently the reason Milos was protecting the Ciara was so Chernobog could seize control. Before he could threaten too much, however, Caesar appeared, gladius drawn. Hades, Hecate, Hermes, Artemis, and Dionysus. The Black God chose to leave. Caesar quipped he was wise.

        With that, we have defeated two enormous creatures, two evil Scions, and a hoard of zombie clowns in the past 24 hours. I am going to sleep, then I am going to dance.

        --

        Xanthias has asked Kuro out on a date. Kuro knew this was a bad idea and told me (and Alisa) what was going on. I went to tell Johnny and Jimmy. Johnny said “Malaka.” I could not agree more. But I am letting the boys sort this one.

        EINDE

        --

        “Is this not amazing? Who would have thought it would ever happen.”

        The Piranha club was a Queer club. Two beautiful and elegant women watched the room, one in black, one in red.

        “I have spent most of my time in a garden. This many people is disorienting.” The lady in red scanned the room. “It’s…not the same for me. Yes, I am used to women more interested in men than us, but…that is no stranger to me than everything else. The garden is not a place people freely come from and go to.”

        The woman in black watched with her visible eye, scanning the bodies of some of the women dancing. “A difference, I suppose, between us. I saw people beaten to death for this. People hang themselves if anyone caught them. I lost a lot of personal friends to that. But look at this. Doesn’t it make you happy, Evelyn?” She patted her companion’s hand.

        “I am here to be with you. The backdrop matters much less.” The Hesper gave a winning smile to the other woman. “Still, tis a lively place.”

        “How did the meeting with Chloe go, by the way.” Imke gave a quick glance.

        “Better than Chloe expected it to. She’s pretty, and I like her. She is no ditz. Her music could do with some work but she is a natural at clothing design. I respect her.”

        “Good. That makes things easier.” Imke half smiles. “You know, I am not going to be distracted by a big rack or great pair of legs. For long.”

        “Oh no, what chance do I have?” Evelyn chuckled. Imke rose and pulled her up into a dance Evelyn smelled like apples. Imke was starting to like apples.

        “You’re a schemer, Evelyn. Like me. You have been biding your time, until now, until me.”

        Evelyn Eventide allowed herself to be pulled against Imke’s chest. “The men of the Theoi run everything. The women compete for their attention. Even Hera is distracted by an apple that proves she is best. Everyone suspects Artemis is gay but she is coy. Your mother does not play their game but she remains aloof. You Imke, you’re a dyke.” She breathes on her neck. “I want you to change things. I want to be close to you when it happens. At your side, or your feet if I must.”

        Imke looked into the shining eyes of the lady in red. “Glady. I am going to take you to bed tonight, Evelyn. I want you like I have no one else.”

        Evelyn caressed the blonde’s face. “I am not your strumpet, Imke. I am your partner. A lot of Nymphs are watching you. Especially those like me, some of whom don’t come out when heroes come by, some of whom cower behind Artemis. Protect. Us.”

        Imke pulled her into a kiss. She had craved this since she laid eyes on Evelyn. Now the Hesper melted into her arms.

        “I will. I am not a shield. But your knife? That I can be.”

        Evelyn ran her hand through Imke’s long hair. She had finally found a hero. Now she had to be sure she succeeded.

        --

        Wednesday

        ***

        Alesia sat up slowly and rubbed her eyes. To Johnny’s credit, whatever he’d given her had given her a relaxing night and a sound slumber without leaving her feeling anything more than a little dehydrated and that was likely more that she simply hadn’t bothered to eat or drink anything. She filled the glass in the bathroom and downed it to get the dryness out of her mouth.

        “What are you looking at?” she asked her reflection. Thankfully, it chose not to answer.

        Xan had wanted to talk last night and had only agreed to follow through with his ill fated date and do it today at her insistence. She wasn’t sure what time it was but she had no doubt he was awake, dressed, and waiting for her already. But he was going to have to wait a little longer, no way she was heading home without a shower and dressing. And, you know, maybe a little makeup.

        ***

        It didn’t really surprise Alesia to find the mustang parked at the way-station for her. Leaving it and finding another way home after he’d brought Kuro back was the sort of thing Xan did. A little while later, she pulled into the drive of their house and grabbed the breakfast she’d picked up along the way. One last glance in the side mirror to check her makeup and then she headed inside.

        The scent of cooking hit her as she stepped inside. Xanthias emerged from kitchen, the pinstriped apron she’d bought him somewhat jokingly last Christmas over his black turtleneck and jeans. He looked at the bags in her hands and then to the plates he was carrying. “Great minds,” he said with a forced tone of levity.

        She moved to the table and started to unpack the food she’d brought as he moved to set the plates down and rearrange the food to make room on them. For the first time she could recall, the silence felt awkward.

        It was Xanthias that broke the quiet. “You know that moment when you’re watching something and the twist reveal happens and suddenly you think back over all the foreshadowing that you missed and it feels like it should have been obvious and you feel like an idiot…”

        “You’re not an idiot.”

        He shook his head. “A fool then?” She frowned. “I just… I knew there was something bothering you. I kept trying to figure out what it was and how I could help and the whole time I was the problem. I was blind and I am so sorry.”

        “You’re not a mind reader Xan. And even if you were, you wouldn’t do it to me. I should have said something. It’s my fault.”

        It was Xan’s turn to frown as he looked down at his plate. They ate in silence for a few moments, neither quite sure how to proceed.

        “So how did your date go?” She asked suddenly.

        “The restaurant was excellent. Kuro found both the cuisine and decor to be pleasantly authentic and they had made sure that the private dining room was completely free of any open flame as I’d requested. We should go there sometime.”

        Alesia shook her head. “Xan. I asked how the date went, not for a review of the where it took place.”

        “While I confess that I did have romantic intentions, Kuro made it clear that she… does not. She prefers her sex without any emotional elements to complicate it. Not that she does not have quite a bit of experience with such and she did make a point of sharing some of it with me, clearly feeling that I needed some education in such matters.”

        “I can think of worse ways to spend the evening than being coached on relationships by sex on eight legs.” Alesia remarked before she caught herself and looked up.

        But Xan was smiling. “But you can also think of much better ways to spend an evening with her, yes?”

        “Xan!”

        “We were both thinking it. And she did make it clear to me that she has every intention of bedding us both. Just that she prefers silken entanglements to emotional ones.”

        Alesia bit her lower lip and nodded. “She.. uh… did say something along those lines to me last night.”

        Xan reached to place his hand on her own and squeeze it gently. “Then we clearly have quite an adventure to look forward to at some point… together.”

        She turned her hand to lace her fingers into his and squeeze back. “Together forever,” she said softly, “Not that this was what you had in mind back then.”

        He held her hand and rubbed his thumb across the back of it. “I knew I loved you.”

        “Like a sister.”

        “But you are not. And you are a beautiful and intelligent woman.”

        She blushed and looked down, though her snakes continued to watch him closely. “Xan…”

        “What if I told you I have desired you for quite some time?”

        She snapped her head up but then turned to look past his shoulder. “What? Xanthias Plutonides, if you are about to tell me that we have been living some bullshit romantic ironic…”

        He leaned in and interrupted her and the conversation with a kiss that she quickly responded to and deepened. The silence lasted several minutes, though it was anything but awkward this time.

        “I was afraid you didn’t feel the same way and that if I told you it would ruin what we had,” he said when they did finally draw apart.

        She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his. “Please tell me this isn’t why you kept breaking up with those hot nurses and doctors.”

        “Not exactly,” he offered, “I wanted more than just sex but there wasn’t time for real relationships between the long hours and the constant relocation. I’m not sure when I realized that what I really wanted was what I had with you… just more.”

        She wrapped her arms around him and pulled herself in tightly against him, resting her head on his shoulder. “That sounds familiar.”

        “I think perhaps the reason I didn’t see what you needed was that I convinced myself that I was projecting what I wanted.”

        “Xan,” she sighed, “I love you but you overthink everything.” She turned and nipped at his earlobe before whispering. “But I’m pretty sure I can make you stop thinking for a little while at least.”

        --

        ________,

        Your modern Argonauts are, as anticipated, doing well with their appointed tasks. Yesterday’s overwhelming successes were no aberration. The Lucky Lindworm Spa has been established without any significant issue, down to, as you know, the adoption of a Lindworm.

        The staff are an interesting blend. The Spa has a patron Oread, Sapphira. Sapphira is young, a bit naive, but very reliable. There is also a Naiad, Lenore, who has a similar role with regard to the Spa. She is less malleable, being originally connected to a drowning pool drained due to the severity of its reputation. Lenore was saved in her move and has not caused any problem at all. She and she is very reverent toward the group, especially Xanthias and Johnny. Bar is handled by Darius the Vintner, a longtime follower of Dionysus, and he manages kitchen staff. Darius is reliable as Satyrs go and has taken a personal interest in the Argonauts and his coworkers. Handling more physical issues are Lemures named Sulla and Donum, a Lar they named Alexis, and a Maenad named Evangeline and her troop of mean girls who hang out with the Satyrs. They all seem to like the Argonauts.

        Xanthias is doing well with Alisa and Leski who are often at his side. Alisa seems a bit lovesick but I don’t think the relationship seems too unstable. I admit, I am not the best one to judge on relationships.

        There are a number of Kami present, for reasons I will get to. Hikaru is a Karakasa-Kozō, a sort of Kami called a Tsukumo-Gami, sort of animate mischievous object. Hikaru keeps things clean. The sex trade is handled by Kuro, a large spider that transforms into a woman called a Jorōgumo. Despite some initial wrinkles she fit in well. There is also a Kami named Chiaki, a Kuchisake-Onna which is a…sort of ghost whose face has been disfigured.

        The Argonauts have a number of influences. Xanthias is, as you are aware, watched over by Medusa, who thus far has kept her distance. Her long-term plans are unclear. I should say, again, her returning to the world could become an issue. She is very angry and releasing her would be deeply unwise, however long life continues. Anyway, Lykos the Satyr looks out for Johnny and gets in trouble with Darius, Daedalus is involved but thus far only seems to come in and take Jimmy’s car apart from time to time. Imke is being…influenced…by a Hesper who is going by “Evelyn Eventide” and concealing her identity. ________, if she is in your employ, it would be good of you to tell me. Imke is also in a relationship with a younger Oread named Chloe. The Hind Watches over Avril, and she is in a relationship with a Fae called Kayleigh. Kayleigh is a potential problem, she is a Leanhaun Shee, a Fae who consumes the creativity and life of their victim. At this time, Kayleigh does not seem to be feeding on Avril but an intervention may become necessary.

        Speaking of intervention, the Oread Echo, who’s background requires no reminding, is influencing the group. Nudging them along a path. Her long-term goals are uncertain, but she has grudges. _______, I would ask about how she was recommended to influence the Argonauts, why she has a physical form, and how she broke her curse.

        All this aside, they have established the spa, ingratiated themselves to the Netjer who function as the local peacekeepers. They met with several “Influencers” and got some hype, and the initial visitors to the spa have arrived, including Circe and Divis Julius.

        Xanthias was a concern that his ego would become a problem with regard to the others in the group. I know the matter was discussed before his selection. This has not occurred. Instead, the group is very loyal to him, and the staff is as well. He is a talented planner and leader. He seems to be figurehead of the spa, and the one keeping the Argonauts on task.

        Xanthias has something of a fixation on Monsters. This may be because of his close association with Alisa. Part of the reason for the more unusual members of the crew, from Lucky the Lindworm to Chiaki, are his tendency to assist Monsters where possible. What may be a problem for you is his lack of concern for where they stand on the Titanomachy. He would, I suspect assist one trying to free the Titans as well as a loyal ally of Zeus. Granted, all the Titans, like all life, is finite and will return to the void from which it came, but it may be concerning to you thus I am duty bound to report.

        I cannot contest that he does not know how to use the advantages he has gained. He is the only one in the group to begin founding a Cult, and he has a Ghost called Sam working as an Apprentice. In a decade he will have an army of monsters. Underestimate him at all peril.

        The other talkative member of the group is Johnny. I am not exaggerating when I say nearly everyone who has met him likes Johnny. He usually has a group of humans around him and works closely with Darius and Evangeline. Yes, even a Maenad likes him. Xanthias may be the figurehead, but Johnny is the one everyone comes to.

        I am given to understand he is seen a rather good hearted by his fellows. Never unleashing Blight or Madness on the undeserving. He definitely uses typical 21st Century values to determine who is deserving, but this endears him to many. If people have a deep respect for Xanthias after meeting him, they like Johnny and want to meet him again.

        Johnny is using the Spa to distribute some of his inebriating plants. His talents give him an advantage with finding customers. I would anticipate his product appearing in various Midrealms anytime, possibly beyond before too long.

        Imke is as charismatic as either of her fellows but is much quieter. She has, it seems, a similar job to myself, watching everything. How far these activities go, and her ultimate loyalties, I am uncertain of. She meets agents of her Mother, the suspicious Hesper Evelyn, and her partner Chloe. She also conceals a certain amount of her activities from me and takes exception to me paying attention to them. She has never threatened me, but she has made sure I could see her pistol.

        Imke is the sort of woman who is aware of her appeal to others and is more than willing to use it. In addition to the women above, she has seduced an Unseelie Noble, local Scions, some of the Influencers, and has made it clear she intends to do so with me. While I normally lack a particular desire to do anything similar to the creation of life, I find Imke creeping into my thoughts and dreams. I also may fall under her influence, at least to a degree. Interestingly she only seems to flirt with men she is hostile to. I can only offer that in general she has a taste for Nymphs. Which I suppose puts her in large company. If outsiders respect Xanthias and like Johnny, they desire Imke.

        On the negative side, Imke is…violent. She has drawn weapon on more people than the rest of the Argonauts combined. I believe she has a plan to kill every person I mention in this letter if necessary. I think she needs to be watched. I confess, some of this may come from my disquiet from her influence on me.

        Speaking of Secrets, those are Jimmy’s stock and trade. Perhaps appropriately given this, I have less information on him. I originally figured he would be a typical Scion of his Father, with a turbocharged car and a power over Journeys. He has proven deeper than that.

        What precisely has been involving himself with I am unsure. The others busy themselves with Tasks but Jimmy seems to largely be watching, providing assistance where necessary. He has a good friendship with Imke, and often works with Xanthias on Occult matters. Perhaps he is building some laboratory somewhere beneath the Spa. Or perhaps he does not know what to do with himself yet.

        While Imke, Avril, and Alisa keep firearms ready for when trouble starts, Jimmy is the one who is skilled with hand-to-hand combat. He seems to be one of those most physical of the group, even competing with a Giantess on physical challenges. I suppose he has a way of getting along with people who the others don’t gravitate too.

        Still waters run deep, and Avril is no exception. Like Imke and Jimmy, Avril is quiet, and let their actions speak for them. Like Imke, Avril has a certain draw to a certain group of people. A lot of women specifically seem to be attracted to her. The Nymphs spend at least as much time talking about her as anyone else. Unlike Imke, however, she is no seductress. She is a talented and earnest woman with a variety of skills, not least of those with camera and rifle.

        It does her a disservice to talk about her appearance when she is so capable, however, Avril approaches a hero of the classical era more than any of the men. A deadly shot, skilled survivalist, stealthy hunter, I would put my bets on her above any others to join your numbers. Or perhaps I have the same addling so many other Nymphs have.

        Avril has become involved in the politics of the Unseelie Court, because of her partner Kayleigh. Kayleigh is not, herself, interested in such, as far as I can tell, but her Mother is, and this will ultimately drag her into it. As her Mother, whose name I am not privy to, tries to achieve a higher status, I fear Avril will be dragged into it. Admittedly, they do not, I think, know the danger they court. Avril will not, I suspect, tolerate mistreatment.

        Your team is doing well. The choices are solid. I have concerns about Medusa, Echo, Evelyn and a couple others, but none are certain enemies. I am pleased to be here. Keep an eye on the Lucky Lindworm.

        I remain,

        O Προάγγελος

        --

        A pre-reader I had for the letter at the end gave it back with a “If you were a main campaign villain you would tell me right?” which is one of the best bits of feedback I have gotten.

        This story was wild. And possibly confusing. If you have comments or questions they are welcome.






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