Friday, July 27, 2018

Fiction Friday: Who Wants You? (OIA #7)

Who Wants You?

In the recreation room of the YWCA, Lamb Hutton asked, "Who wants to play Parcheesi?">
Trisha said, "Uh, no." She was the girl nearest Hutton's age. "I have a date."
"So does everyone. Except me," said Hutton.
"Even Katrina?" Katrina had only one eye and one tooth. Hutton nodded. "Damn. You have got to find a boyfriend. Or girlfriend."
"I like boys! You know, a man even wanted to marry me."
Trisha looked at her. "And what'd you do?"
"Ran away." Hutton shrugged sadly. "That's why I'm here."
They saw Katrina cruise through, her moles clean and wet-shiny. "What about guys at your work?" asked Trisha.
"I— I don't know."
"I have to go or I'll miss my bus." She kissed Hutton on the cheek and scurried out. "Think about it. You could ask them out. It's the modern age."
Hutton sighed, put away the game board and started dealing out solitaire.
* * *
"We can't wait for LaCroix any longer. Something must have detained him." Seth Markur looked at the others around him: Toomey, Hutton, and Cabot. "Cabot, because you're such a never-mind, you go first."
Cabot looked at him and then sighed. "All right. My propane barbecue exploded. I was lighting it on my balcony and boom. Gas backed up."
"You could have died!" Hutton said.
"I dove for cover. Besides, my gift cut in so the fireball went around me." Lamb smiled at him.
"Aye," Toomey said darkly. He looked around. "I was in a restaurant havin' a bottle of a nice Merlot, rich and full-bodied, when the waitress offered me a glass of water to cleanse the palate. I told her I stay away from water, but she insisted. The water kept flowing from the glass like a river, and I had to throw it against the wall to save myself. The glass broke."
"You're all right now, though?" asked Hutton.
"Aye, I am."
Markur said, "Mine is a bit different. During that heat wave, I bought a fan—haggled the saleswoman down for a decent deal because the box was clumsily resealed, so it had obviously been sold and returned. Turned it on and it ran the wrong way: nearly sucked the air from my lungs before I got it off."
Cabot said, "And Hutton?"
She shrugged. "Nothing."
"The pattern," said Markur, "is clear. Fire, water, and air. Either you or LaCroix are facing a threat from earth of some kind."
"Oh, for—" said Cabot. "How did you know, Markur? Toomey has the excuse of being a drunk and a member of faery, so he has an excuse—"
"I am not a drunk—"
"But if the air was being sucked out of your lungs, how did you know?"
Markur said reluctantly, "I was told."
"By who? Your landlady."
"No. My— My sword."
Cabot swore. "Look. My barbecue was old. It was the first time I had used it since moving to Freedom City. Markur, you say you spent the last six hundred years in Hell, so you got the directions on the fan wrong. And Toomey, you were probably drunk. I don't see a threat here."
"I'm a fae! I know magic, and the glass was—"
LaCroix entered, muttering imprecations.
"You're late," said Cabot.
"Had to take a cab."
"Car not working?" Markur said.
"Captain Thunder fighting a giant golem by my house. Golem stepped on it and nearly killed me. Car's totaled."
Markur looked at Cabot. Cabot looked at LaCroix, then at Markur. "I'll consider the theory." He stood up. "If you'll excuse me, I have real work to do." He left the board room.
Markur looked at those remaining. "The pattern is clear enough. Meant to eliminate everyone but Lamb."
"Would Lamb be protected or the real target, then?" asked Toomey.
"I don't know," said Markur. "But knowing more about her can't hurt. What about this group that kicked you out?"
"Because I was a heretic?" asked Lamb. "I wasn't really. I just didn't want to marry the pastor."
"And why?"
"He takes several wives. I'm not...I'm not pretty, like Purity is, or good at housework, like Charity is. I think it's because I was blessed by God and the prophet with powers."
"Not everyone can do what you do?"
"It's quite rare, really. Me, Faith, and Cotton are the only three alive right now."
"And is he married to the other two?"
Hutton nodded. "But it's not required."
Toomey said, "Right. Sure it isn't. What's this pastor's name?"
"The Right Reverend Hickory Wright."
Markur made a face.
"But why would they want you back after kicking you out?" Toomey asked.
"Children," LaCroix suggested. "Did the other women have children?"
"Faith is barren, poor dear," said Hutton. LaCroix nodded sagely. "But Cotton had four children by the time I left, and she had only just turned thirty."
LaCroix frowned. "Then I have nothing. Sorry."
* * *
LaCroix cleared his throat. Cabot purposely didn't look up as LaCroix cleared his throat again, and then finally said, "Cabot?"
"If it's about Markur's supposed death threats—"
"It isn't. Cabot..." LaCroix closed his eyes. Grandfather, give me strength, he asked.
You can do it, came the voice from his fetch stick.
LaCroix said, "Cabot, can you give me a drive to work until I have a new car?"
"Maybe. Where are you?"
"North side. Almost by Lantern Hill."
"Being a professor must pay well. I'm way south, nearly at Lincoln." Cabot shook his head. "Isn't there a subway stop near you? The monorail stops near here."
"That's not an issue. I can't—my insurance opts out of supervillain attacks, and I can't afford to come here by cab every day until I have a new car."
"Like I said, take the subway. It's kind of nice to have public transport—Las Vegas didn't."
"I can't. There are...there are women on the subway." Cabot just looked at him. "Some of them will be menstruating." Cabot kept looking at him. "You can't control who you touch!"
"I can't afford the time or gas. My salary isn't even as generous as yours—you still have your sabbatical pay. I don't even have that." He smiled at LaCroix. "It's not that bad. I was married, and I touched a menstruating woman. Frequently. Or keep them afraid of you. You'll get by." He turned back to his work.
LaCroix stood there for a moment. He doesn't understand, Grandfather.
Not everyone does, grandson.
* * *
That evening, Toomey was wandering through a wine store, randomly improving wines: taking the bottle, holding it, then putting it back.
"Hi," said a woman. "You look like you know wines." She had an odd accent, like Lamb's. Of course, Toomey thought, everyone has an accent here. And they looked nothing alike, besides age, height, and sex.
"I do," said Toomey.
"I'm looking for a good wine and someone to share it with. Someone to teach me about wines."
Toomey decided to cut off that line of thought. "I've been recently married...I want nothing physical, if you please, though I appreciate the thought."
"No," said the woman, and she seemed shocked by the idea. "Nothing like that."
"Ah," he said. "Tasting I can do."
"I have some time right now—"
Toomey thought about it. There was no one back at the office but the brownie, and he was a poor drinking partner. It was going to be a long night. "I'd be glad to."
* * *
When Cabot came in, Daya asked him, "Have you seen Toomey today?"
Cabot shook his head as he looked through the mail.
"He's usually in before I am. He's not here."
But no one had seen him.
In the boardroom, Markur said, "He's been killed or kidnapped."
"It is concerning he hasn't shown up," admitted Cabot.
"We should go in pairs," said Markur. "The foe is obviously powerful and skilled in elemental magics."
Cabot said, "I don't even admit there is a foe, let alone powerful and skilled et cetera. Toomey's probably sleeping off a drunk."
"He's a clurichaun. Drinking is an occupational hazard," said Hutton.
LaCroix came in. "I hope you're satisfied," he snarled at Cabot.
"What did I do?"
"You suggested I go on the subway. Well, today I tried it. And a menstruating woman brushed against me. I'm powerless! Powerless!"
"Oh, dear," said Hutton.
"Did you try being fearsome?" asked Markur.
"I— no," said LaCroix. "It was crowded. But still." He spat on the floor at Cabot's feet.
"And did you tell me you'd be powerless if a menstruating woman touched you?" Cabot asked.
"Of course. I—" LaCroix thought about it. "No. You were gone at that point. But would you have believed me if I had?"
Ignoring Cabot, Markur asked, "Is it permanent? Because Toomey's missing."
"No. No, it's a week of a special diet and meditation. A week without my grandfather to intercede with the spirits on my behalf. I'm worse than the lowest houngan right now. Because of him."
Markur held up a hand. "We have to work together right now, regardless of our feelings."
Cabot said sourly, "I'm going to my desk."
"Go ahead, power-killer."
Hutton looked back and forth and finally said, "I'm going to stay here and help find Toomey."
"Go ahead," said Cabot as he left.
How dare they? Did they realize how much he had been carrying them on the investigative side of the business? The name of the company was Occult Investigations, not Occult Incantations.
He couldn't work. He would take a walk.
Largely, he thought, it was because they were magical and he wasn't. The doctor at the hospital had said his gift was psionics, and told him it wasn't magic. Not reliable enough to be a superpower, not rare enough to be ignored, he had been saddled with it. And this job had looked like a clean break, a chance to start fresh.
Maybe somewhere else in Freedom City— He sighed. And then what?
He was near a wine store. He thought, It's near the office, Toomey protected wines when he wasn't drinking them. Maybe they saw him.
And they had. Cabot called Talithe Daya with the license plate of the cab, and headed back for his car.
A woman stopped him just before he got back to the office. She had a map in one hand and her other hand in her large purse. Cell phone, probably, he thought. "Excuse me, sir?" she said. "I need directions."
He paused. "Where do you need to go?"
"Heaven," the woman said, just before she knocked him unconscious.
* * *
Markur waited motionlessly for Cabot to come back. It was a skill he had developed waiting for campaigns to start: never let the men see you worry or fidget.
But Hutton wasn't one of his men. "I can't stand waiting." Markur didn't say anything. "I'm going to go look for him," she said.
Markur thought about the possibility that Hutton herself was doing this, that she had snapped—and then realized that she controlled only earth, not the other elements, so she was unlikely to have made Cabot's barbecue explode, and couldn't have created the magical drinking glass and the vampiric fan. No: the threat was someone else. "No," he said. "Here is safer."
"I can't sit here and do nothing!."
"Waiting is something."
"It's not enough."
"You will not leave. The pattern is clear: the adversary is eliminating people one by one so that you are unprotected. I think that people are unhurt, because then they can be used as levers to move you."
She stopped. "As long as I stay."
"Until you are threatened directly, this is the safest place for you and for them."
"What about you?"
"LaCroix and I are going to stay here and protect you. You're clearly the target."
"Thanks. I guess. You're sure they're okay?"
"I think they are, up to the point that he threatens them."
"You think it's a man?" she asked.
Markur shrugged. "Women do so many things here and now that I can't be sure. Usually I like it, but it does take some of the certainty from life."
"So what do we do?"
"We wait." He looked at the clock. "And, if Cabot doesn't answer his cell phone soon, we prepare a trap."
* * *
"I feel like I should be helping." Hutton sat on a chair on the table of the board room. The room looked like a jungle: all of the potted plants had been moved there.
"You're the goal," Markur said. "Putting you up front just makes you more of a target. Staying here with that pan of milk between your feet does just what we need." He looked out the window. "How old were you when your magic manifested?"
Hutton said, "Twelve, maybe thirteen."
Markur nodded as he threaded around the potted plants to look out the other window. "How old would Cotton's children be now?"
She frowned in thought. "The oldest would be fourteen, then twelve and two eleven, one January, one December."
"In, uh, puberty yet?"
"Oh, yes. Cotton was an early developer."
"What if they don't have magic?"
"Cotton could have more children."
"True," said Markur. "If she's alive." Hutton looked at him. "Farming's dangerous. Not as dangerous as mercenary work, but dangerous." The Newton's cradle that signaled magic started clacking. "Showtime."
"'Showtime'? That doesn't even sound like you."
"I used to say, 'To their deaths' but I haven't killed anyone since I came out of Hell." He smiled at Hutton. Then he slipped out the door of the board room to make the final arrangements.
LaCroix came in at the same time. He said, "No luck finding the brownie," to Markur. "Hey, child." He looked sweaty. "I called the police. They can't do anything until there's an altercation. I set up my cell phone to call 911 at the press of a button. If we need them, that'll get the police here. How are you doing?"
She shrugged.
"I'm going to prepare a protective vevre around you. The ritual's kind of long so I don't know if I'll get done, but I'll try." He took a bag of corn meal from his pocket and started to pour.
* * *
Markur found Daya slumped over her desk, a phone cord wrapped around her neck. He checked her breathing—still alive. He unwrapped the phone cord and left her; better that she didn't get involved in this. Back to the board room, he thought, because a three on one fight is just sensible. He put the pen-knife in his hand, ready to shake it into a sword.
The demon of the knife fell silent. Akazizel? asked Markur and got no answer. A dark-haired woman with a big shoulder bag walked in. "Oh," she said. "I was looking for the detective agency."
Markur edged out from behind Daya's desk. "We're busy right now. Can you come back later?" He thought she might have been in her thirties. Slim, fit, in slacks and a loose top, big sunglasses, memorable hat.
"Sure," she said, and opened her big bag. "I'll just give you my card—" She pulled out a saber, shook off the sheath.
Markur said, "Now the pretense is over. I'm relieved." He flicked his wrist so his pen-knife would grow into a sword.
Nothing happened.
The woman said, "Magic doesn't work around me." She lunged with the saber.
Markur batted the thrust away with the knife; metal scraped against metal. He managed barely to deflect the next cut while backing up. Then the door was against his back and he couldn't back up any more. She said, "Nothing personal. You'll get better after I leave. I've watched you that long to know about the healing." She lunged once more: the saber bit deeply into Markur's side. Adrenaline kept the pain from him, but he knew it would hurt later.
He got the door open, fell backwards, and tried to shut it on her. He failed, scuttled towards the board room. If he had a weapon with a decent length, the hallway was a good spot to fight: it was too narrow for a sideways slash. He shouted, "She's here!" then rolled into the bathroom.
The plunger! He grabbed it and stood—and the woman entered.
She shrugged and stood en garde. He knew about her; he had to be silenced.
Markur nodded and lifted the plunger. It was all he had. He held it ready.
The saber bit into the handle of the plunger, and he corkscrewed it around, trying to disarm her—but the round rubber head was too broad for him to flick the sword away. She slashed again, sending chips of wood flying, and then again. Markur pulled to disarm her.
The head of the plunger fell off.
He grinned. With one swift movement he got under her arm and flicked her wrist so the saber fell free. She was not as good as he was, for all that he was out of practice. He thrust once with the stick, knocking the air out of her, then stepped forward and thrust again. She was pinned against the door to the bathroom. She whacked at the stick with her hand.
Which is when the stick broke.
Markur swore and leaned in close, intending to keep pressuring her.
Markur felt the burning pain before he saw the darkness stroll in at the edge of his vision. He fell to the ground. "Main gauche," she said. "But you're good. And your best bet is for me to leave the building so you can heal." She nudged him with her toe. He didn't move. "Which I will. As soon as I am done.
* * *
LaCroix finished the chant.
Hutton waited until there was silence. They had heard nothing from outside after Markur's yell. "LaCroix," she said. "Gideon. Why don't men like me?"
"They like you."
"I mean like me. Toomey's got that woman in Faery, I get that, and Markur is dating Melody, but Cabot stays away from me and you stay away from me too."
"Ah," LaCroix said. "This isn't really the time—"
"We might die soon."
He watched the door while talking to her. "As long as you're ready to throw the potted plants." She nodded. "You're young. And most of us have an aversion to dating young women." Leaves poked over his shoulder. He brushed them away.
"That one girl you dated was young."
"She was an immortal cultist who looked young. There's a difference." He adjusted the branches on the plants to they wouldn't touch his head.
Hutton frowned. "How young is young?"
"Twenty-one at least. The kids say you can only date some half your age plus seven." Hutton closed her eyes to keep the tears in. LaCroix went on. "That's twenty-five for me," he said gently.
A leaf brushed against his mouth, and stayed there. He pulled on it, and his eyes got wide. He tried yelling but his cry was muffled by the plant.
LaCroix started to walk to her and couldn't without dragging the plant: it was restraining him. He couldn't get his cell phone. He forced himself to be calm, found the plant's pot, and carried it over to Hutton, stepping over the cornmeal patterns on the carpet. "Mmmmmm!" he said to Hutton while pulling at the leaves—for more had grabbed his face.
She opened her eyes and gasped. She clawed at the leaves, then tried throwing the plant against the far wall—but the stems of the leaves broke as the pot flew, so LaCroix was still covered. LaCroix sank to the floor, his hands trying to get his phone out—and she followed him, pulling at the leaves. Soon LaCroix lay there, limp and unconscious. The leaves fell off.
Hutton did not notice that LaCroix's heel had erased a part of the protective pattern.
She tried to float the earth in the pot nearest the door, and she couldn't—and then she heard a voice from outside. "I have a dying man here, Lamb. He'll get better if I leave, so save him. Come with me."
She knew that voice, and she knew why she couldn't control the dirt near the door. "Where do you want me to go, Faith?"
"Home, Lamb. It's time to get married. There was a fire, and Cotton and her children are in the arms of the Lord."
Lamb reached into LaCroix's pockets and found his cell phone. She opened it—and immediately wondered which button to push.
"I left because I didn't want to marry him," she called. She picked a button. The screen lit up but didn't place a call.
Faith pushed open the door, saber ready. She saw LaCroix lying there. "Huh. Having that girl touch him on the bus really did do something to him."
"You did that!"
She nodded, but the tip of the saber did not waver. "Guilty. Thy sins, unlike mine, are forgiven," she said formally. "Come thee with me."
"No." Hutton shook her head.
"Then he dies," Faith said. She stepped closer.
"This is a cell phone, Faith. Have you seen one yet?"
Faith nodded. "I've been watching for some time. You talk to it." She took another step forward.
"Well, when I press this button, this will call the police, and they will come. This is not magic, Faith. You can't stop it. They'll save his life and they'll put you in jail."
"You're bluffing."
"Not a lot," said Hutton.
Faith took another step. "I don't know what that means, but if you could summon them, you would have done so."
Hutton pressed another button while hoping for the right one. "I don't want to go back, Faith. I'd rather have my heart broken by a man I chose than have children by a man I rejected."
"My job isn't about what you want, Lamb. It's about our immortal souls."
"No," said Lamb. "It's about your immortal soul. I'm only a means to an end. I'm...I'm a breeding cow for him and a token of redemption for you. I'd rather die." She threw up the window and dove outside.
* * *
When Faith came down the stairs and outside, Hutton was leaning against a tree to favor her swelling ankle.
"You're just delaying the inevitable, you know," said Faith.
"So are you, Faith." Hutton sent a chunk of earth flying at her. It hit her on the leg. "Physics, Faith. After I throw them, they keep moving and it's not magic at all." Another chunk of dirt shattered against Faith's head. Faith marched ahead.
Hutton said, "See, I'm outside your range now, but you're not outside mine." Earth erupted all around Faith and met three dozen feet above her head, forming a giant of soil over Faith.
"What are you going to do, have me march around it? My power will cancel your power once I get close."
"I know." Faith marched forward, and when she came closer, clods of earth started to fall.
Hundreds of pounds of soil fell on Faith's head before she could dodge. It buried her so that only her head was left exposed.
"That was the idea." Hutton left to check her friends.
* * *
"How'd you find us?" Cabot rubbed his wrists where the duct tape had been. The warehouse was empty except for them: Toomey was out in the cab.
"Faith left a note. She didn't want to kill anyone but me, and me only if necessary. Bad for her immortal soul."
"But she's gone now?"
Hutton nodded. "She dug her way out and escaped, and I was more concerned about finding you. You folk, I mean." She smiled, and dimples appeared.
"Well... Thank you." He smiled too. "It's always instructional to be locked up with Toomey."
There was a silence. Then Hutton blurted, "I was wondering if you want to go on a date on Saturday?"
Cabot said, "I don't normally date co-workers."
"Oh." Hutton looked away and started to turn.
"But you rescued me. What time would you like to pick me up?"

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I'm absent

My father died early this morning so please forgive my absence. We have things to do.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Fiction Friday: The Faery Tale (OIA #6)


Jedediah Cabot stood in the aisle of the office at the Occult Investigations Agency, his fists on his hips, accusing both LaCroix and Markur. "Okay, who has them?"
"Who has what?" asked Gideon LaCroix. He sipped his tea.
"I had DVDs of some Bogart movies, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I was going to have Susan over to watch them."
Markur and LaCroix laughed. "Yeah. Right. Waaaaatch them," said Seth Markur.
"Listen, just because you're both...earthy...doesn't mean I'm going to—to—leap on Susan."
Lamb Hutton came over. "Susan is the woman in the city hall?"
"Yes," said Cabot. "We were going to watch movies." He whirled on the other two men. "And that's all! At least I've certainly never slept with an immortal companion of a demon or...or a history grad student."
"Don't knock it until you've tried it," said Markur, and both men laughed again.
"I think it's good that you weren't going to force yourself on Susan," said Hutton.
Cabot turned back to her. "It wouldn't be force! I mean, I just felt that I know...move on."
"Of course," said Lamb Hutton. She left the men, one fuming and two snickering, and returned to her desk. Once there, her hand strayed to the hiding spot for the DVDs.
They were gone.
* * *
I deal in things hidden, things occult. They call me Toomey. I'm a private eye.
He breezed into the office, ten pounds of sex appeal in a five pound sack, almost literally. He was my height, maybe a little smaller. If the tall ones could have seen him, Lamb and Talithe would have swooned, the men would have wanted to be his friend. He has that effect on people.
He can't help it; it's the way he was made.
I kicked a chair over to him and said, "Rest your wings a while and talk." He was no friend of mine. In fact, he was the reason I was here.
So it had to be bad if he had come to me. Or he didn't think I cared. We fey are funny that way; we can hold grudges for the longest time, but sometimes we're surprised that anyone was offended.
He perched on the edge of the chair. It was too large for him, but so was everything. I'm used to that—back in Faery things were sized differently, but here they're made for the Tall Ones. His wings brushed the back of the chair. His rapier knocked against the wood.
"Thank you," he said. "My bride has gone missing."
I raised an eyebrow. "Gloriana?"
He ignored my tone. A good thing; his rapier wasn't just for show. "You've been away. My beloved Mab."
"Dumped Gloriana?"
"Our time was up." Faery voluntary marriages last 7 years, 49 years, or 343 years. Though I had been in the mortal world only three hundred years, time in world of Man doesn't correspond to the world of Faery.
"So you had Queen Mab?"
"We were to be married."
"Tell me about it."
"Believe not the calumny that she is the midwife, for she is—"
"I meant about the disappearance." After he had Gloriana banish me here, I wasn't going to cut him slack.
"It was our wedding day. We were going to jump the sword at noon, and we had a large tree available. I went to collect her shortly before the jump, and something that looked like a black-haired man grabbed her and disappeared into a mirror."
"There was a doctor in attendance; he said it was the Elegant Enchantment." Which led here: the world of Man. Gloriana had used the Winding Coil to send me, and a long trip it had been.
"So you want me..."
"To find her. I must be married, I simply must be." Sculpted that way before being given the Breath of Life, probably of petals and earth. "Otherwise I shall have to marry Gloriana again."
That didn't sound awful to me, but then, I had been in love with her.
"I'll take the job," I said. "Describe the man."
* * *
Lamb Hutton looked at the bare floor under the desk. No DVDs. Then she looked at the black boots that had appeared beside her, attached to work pants, and the tattered hems of several skirts that covered them.
A homeless woman gazed down, her hair wild and brown. "Pull out five items," she said to Hutton and thrust forward a grimy velvet Crown Royal bag. Hutton pulled out a blue cat's-eye marble, a ball of tinfoil, a Lincoln penny, a brown marble, and a small photograph torn from a magazine, of a naked woman with enormous breasts. The woman placed the items in a cross on the receptionist's desk. "Hmm. You'll do. The heir of the Fairies has been kidnapped. You need to recover the Tiara of Tir Na Nog. It will be part of the ransom." She swept the items back into the bag. "I'd rather you were Toomey."
Hutton opened her mouth to respond as the hall doorknob clicked. Hutton turned—and found she was alone with Talithe, who had been collating.
"Thanks for watching— What is that smell?" Talithe picked up a label from the desk. "Who do you know on Miller Drive?"
"I'll take that," said Hutton. "Where's Toomey?"
I figured the man to talk to was the one who couldn't stop stealing brides—Koschei the Undying. I didn't know where he was, but I knew somebody who had once employed him: Baba Yaga.
Since she got rid of the hut with the chicken legs, she's been living in a condo by the shore. Secure access isn't a problem; all I had to do was find a nearby winecellar—and sneak out of that condo. Soon I knocked on her door.
A meek young woman let me in. I didn't recognize her. I cooled my heels in the living room.
When Baba Yaga came in, I almost didn't recognize her. Nose bob, dye job, and breast implants. She was still old, but didn't look much like she had before.
"How do I know it's you?" I asked.
She tapped a fingernail against one smooth white tooth. "Ceramic coating, but still iron underneath." She fetched a fridge magnet in the shape of a pineapple from the kitchen. When she put it on her tooth, it hung. She plucked it off. "None of us are what we appear to be, dearie." She looked me over. "Not even you. Leprechaun?"
"Clurichaun," I said. "Not one of the cobbling bastards."
She sank into a chair. "What can I do for you? A clurichaun isn't my usual clientele."
"Just a moment. Maiden or slave?" I asked, and jerked my thumb to the girl.
"Personal assistant," said the witch. "Maiden's having fun in Florida this time of year, and you can't eat slaves the way you used to."
"Times have changed," I agreed. "I'm looking for Koschei the Undying."
"He prefers Faery," said Baba Yaga.
"Where did he hang out when he was in this realm?"
"He had a place in Little Russia." She wrote down the address and gave it to me. "Drink? I have a Reisling you might like."
I should have said no; I was on the job. But instead I said, "Well, if it's already open..."
* * *
Lamb Hutton looked at the bar, which looked seedy, even to her. "The Russian Beer Room" matched the address she had. The address had no phone number, no name. If she had known the name, she could have done this by phone. Cabot could probably figure out the phone number just from the address.
Or he would just ask Susan's help.
She stalked into the bar.
"Can I help, miss?" The bartender continued wiping the bar; his voice mingled Russian and British accents. Beside Hutton and the bartender, four men watched a soccer game on a television at the back of the bar.
"I'm looking for someone. I'm a detective."
"Could I see some identification?" She handed over her passport. "It says here you're sixteen."
"Sixteen year olds aren't allowed in bars."
"But I've been in bars before."
"We get searched on a regular basis," he explained. "So we try not to break the rules. You'll have to leave. It's the law."
"Oh," said Hutton. She turned and left, then took out her cell phone.
"Russian Beer Room," said the bartender into the bar phone.
"Hi," said Hutton from outside the big window. She waved to him.
The bartender sighed. "Who are you looking for?"
"I don't know his name. He kidnaped the Heir of Faery."
"The Aero Aerie?"
"Heir of Faery."
"I'll check." The bartender hung up.
Hutton called back. Through the window she could see the bartender ignoring the phone.
She paced. Finally a man left the bar. She stepped in front of him. "I need your help."
"No speak English," said the man.
"Sure you do."
"No, I don't."
Defeated, she let him go, and called the office. Dr. LaCroix and Markur arrived half hour later.
"Why not go in?" asked Markur.
"I'm not old enough."
LaCroix nodded. "Being twenty in a twenty-one state is a bitch."
"No, I'm sixteen."
"Really? You look—"
"Does Cabot know?" asked Markur.
"No," said Hutton. Markur snickered nastily. "What is this age thing? I can plough a field. I'm good with children. Someone—he was ready to marry me. Why should it matter that I'm sixteen?"
"It's complicated," said LaCroix. "To the point. Seth?" He walked into the bar.
Hutton watched their progress. Three men approached them. Markur gestured with his penknife, which became a sword. The men ran to the back of the room. Markur and LaCroix talked briefly to the bartender, then LaCroix raised his walking stick.
Her cell phone rang.
"Bozhemoi. Make it stop," whimpered the bartender.
"Do you know the man I want?"
"Da. I think so. Regular customer. He has a room over the bar. I know him as Grigor."
"When's the last time he was in?"
"I don't know! I haven't seen him in a week."
Markur took the phone from him. "We're looking upstairs."
"Is that legal?"
"Who cares?" said Markur. They left the bartender, still whimpering. At the doorway to the stairwell, LaCroix raised his stick again.
* * *
When I awoke, I was hanging upside down in the bathroom, hung from a handrail over the tub. Baba Yaga came in. "I haven't had clurichaun in a long, long time—and there's no messy paperwork because you're a denizen of Faery."
"Your personal assistant..." I croaked. Funny how hanging upside down does things to your voice.
"...wants to be a serial killer. I said she could stay to learn at the cost of being my personal assistant." She turned and said, "Beata!"
Beata sashayed in. She had dropped the meekness. "Yes, boss?" The way Beata said it made me wonder when she was going to be shoved into an oven.
"I have a recipe in the other house. In the meanwhile, get him ready." She left. Beata produced a pair of kitchen shears and started cutting off my clothes. I swore then, because I have trouble finding clothes my size that aren't kid clothes.
"Quiet." She kept cutting. Presumably she wasn't going to untie me. When she got to my underwear, she said, "Let's find out if a leprechaun is built like a man."
I was about to retort when I thought better of it. "It's a shame conditions aren't right to give you my pot of gold."
"Why?" she asked.
"Well, you didn't catch me. She caught me. If you had caught me..." I shrugged as best as I could, hanging upside down.
"It's a trick to escape," she said.
"If you lock the bathroom door, I can't get away from you, and you can catch me. After all, my hands and feet don't work so well after being tied up."
She thought about it. "A pot of gold?"
"Enough for independence. All she wants to do is eat me. She can still do that."
She turned and pushed in the button on the bathroom door.
She laid me in the tub, then untied all the knots.
"You'll have to untie me all the way. I have to be free before I can be recaptured." I tried to shrug; chains clinked. "Law of Faery."
Carefully keeping herself between me and the door, she helped me stand up and then unwound the chains. Baba Yaga knows I'm strong, but leprechauns...well, they're not so strong as clurichauns.
"You're free," Beata said.
I grabbed her, turned her around. She twisted and stabbed me once with the kitchen shears, but it was only a glancing blow, and I turned her so she couldn't do it again.
"I'm not a leprechaun. I'm a clurichaun." She had to bend a lot on our way to the kitchen because I was holding her so low. I am still short.
There wasn't enough wine in the kitchen.
So I choked her until she fell limp. I wasn't sure I had done it right—she could have been faking—so I left her on the kitchen floor and ran for the hall.
As I found the elevator, I saw Beata come out of the condo with a butcher knife in her hand. I hustled down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator there in my undershorts.
She never found me. We Faery folk can hide in plain sight when we want to—and I wanted to.
* * *
The car parked near the bar. Cabot got out, followed by Toomey. Hutton noticed Toomey had changed clothes—though why he wore a Spongebob Squarepants shirt puzzled her.
"Didn't expect to see you," said Cabot. "Another case?"
"Tiara of Tir Na Nog."
Toomey whistled. "We're looking for Queen Mab of Faery. Sounds connected."
She nodded. "Seth and Gideon are examining a room over the bar."
"Dear God, they'll burn it down or something," said Cabot. "Demons will show up. Why aren't you with them?"
She fought not to blush and lost. "I'm not old enough to go into the bar."
"Being twenty sucks sometimes," he said kindly. "Place like this has to have a back entrance—otherwise the tenants couldn't get in when the bar's closed." He headed down the alley beside the building. Toomey and Hutton followed.
They found LaCroix and Markur outside a locked door. "Nobody inside," said LaCroix.
"You knocked?" asked Cabot.
"No," said LaCroix. "I had someone look."
"Oh," said Toomey. The little man took the doorknob and turned it. The doorknob stopped, then creaked in his hand. Toomey turned harder, sinews standing out in his neck and arms. "It came off." He held up the doorknob and smiled. "Oops."
Cabot pulled out a pocketnife and stuck the blade in the hole, then twisted. "Looks open to me."
Markur looked at him. "You do have redeeming qualities."
Cabot shooed them all in. The small apartment stank of old borscht and cabbage. An unmade king-size bed, a big birdcage, and a floor-length mirror dominated the room. Litter filled every flat surface.
"How big is this Tiara anyway?" asked Hutton.
Toomey held his hands apart to show the size.
"Great," said Cabot. "We're looking for a bracelet."
"Some of the Fey do have small heads," Toomey agreed.
"What Tiara?" asked LaCroix. Hutton told him. "It's a real object? I thought it was a metaphor."
"You know about this thing?" asked Cabot while looking at the empty birdcage.
"John Dee and Paracelsus both wrote about it, but received wisdom says it's a fanciful name for an alchemical stage."
"What did it do?" asked Hutton. Cabot called Toomey over.
"Gave the wielder power over animate things without souls," said LaCroix.
"Like Fae," added Toomey.
"Or demons," said Markur.
"Or assembly-line robots," said Cabot. "I think we're too late. The birdcage would have held Mab. The fact that it's here and empty means he doesn't have her now."
"Did he act on his own?" asked Markur. "Or was he hired?"
Cabot said, "Good question. You do have redeeming qualities." Markur stuck his tongue out.
"She's already gone," Toomey mused. "So he had two birdcages, one for travelling."
"Shh!" said LaCroix. Footsteps were coming up the hall. They paused outside the door, then a man rushed in and dove for the mirror.
But Toomey had been waiting, and he spun the mirror so the silvered side faced the wall. The man hit the mirror, the mirror hit the wall, and the man fell down, staggered.
* * *
As the only one strong enough, I stuck to Koschei like the label of a winebottle and grabbed his wrists. "Listen, sweetheart," I told him, "you may be Koschei the Undying but I can make you Koschei the Unpainless if you don't cooperate."
"You took my movies!" said Cabot.
"Later, sweetheart. Well?" I jerked Koschei's arm up.
"I'll talk."
"Do you give your bond to tell us the truth?"
"Da. I don't know much."
"Do you further swear not to hurt us?"
"Yes, and I swear not to hurt or steal those close to you. Enough?"
"Enough." I let him up. He dusted himself off but the dirt still marked his shirt and pants. "Tell us what happened from your point of view."
"A man contacted me. He wanted someone in Faery kidnaped on her wedding day. I couldn't resist, and he offered to pay me. So I did it. I just got back from giving the ransom to him."
"Mab is safe?" I asked. He nodded.
"We still have to get the ransom back," said Lamb.
"Who is this guy?"
"A man. He lives in his mother's basement; I could hear her voice sometimes. His name is Macauley Marlowe."
"He told you his name?" Cabot seemed incredulous.
"He used a spell on me later to make me forget, but that spell is meant for demons. I'm not a demon; I still remember."
I said, "So he's a sorceror."
He gave me the address they exchanged princesses and ransom. I tossed him the doorknob. "Thanks," I said.
Cabot stared at me. "After all that, you're leaving him?"
I said, "It's Koschei the Undying." He still didn't move. "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Koschei's gotta take the brides till he dies. Come on."
* * *
The address was the student life building on the FCU campus. "Pretty clever," admitted Cabot. "Someone overhears something, you can explain it away as roleplaying or improv."
"And the forensics suck, because the rooms get reused," said LaCroix. "But you have to give them your student card to get a room."
Markur said, "Let me. I've been here before." When Toomey looked at him, he said, "Dates. With Melody."
"He has no money," explained Cabot. "This place is cheap."
"I have money," said Markur. "I just spend it. Melody is a student here."
"Go," said LaCroix. "Or I will. I still have professor privileges here."
Between Markur and LaCroix they discovered the name on the card, and that it had been borrowed—but the turnkey at the desk knew Marlowe by sight, and he had rented the room. Marlowe failed out of arts some years before but never left the university. Cabot got his address from the administration building—and Marlowe lived nearby.
* * *
An elderly lady answered the door, and I saw she was wearing a seeming. I didn't know what she was, or why she was there, but I was ready. Cabot did the talking.
"Macauley?" asked his mother. "Oh, he's in his room. I'll call him."
When she left, I whispered to Cabot, "She's not what she appears to be."
"I know," whispered Cabot. "See how the floor bends under her weight?"
She hollered down the stairs. "Macauley!"
* * *
She returned. "You can go right down." She smiled at Hutton. "All of you."
They trooped down the stairs, with Cabot and LaCroix ducking to get under a heating vent. They entered a room out of Wonderland: grass grew there, and vines went up the walls, twining around the small windows to the backyard. A bead curtain hung by one wall, and they could see a plateau in the next room—or rather, where the next room would be. A throne stood in the center of the room, and a pear-shaped bearded man squatted on it. He wore a loose purple-and-gold robe over a T-shirt and grimy jeans; a bracelet hung off one wrist. A crown sat askew on his head. His feet were bare.
Cabot said, "Macauley Marlowe? We've come to ask you some questions about your part in a kidnapping."
"Koschei talked? How sad." The young man seemed to have his mind elsewhere. He chewed at one of his nails.
"You don't seem worried," said LaCroix. Cabot and Markur each moved farther away from the group.
"I know something you don't know."
"Oh?" asked Hutton.
"That was a quote. From The Princess Bride. Don't you know anything?"
"I haven't seen very many movies," mumbled Hutton.
"You have iocaine powder?" asked Cabot.
"I have something better. They will be noisy eating you, but I'll get over it." He snapped his fingers. "Destroy them!"
Around him, things appeared: A wispy woman with a beautiful body and a decayed face; a handsome little man, armed with a sword and dressed like an Elizabethan dandy, except for the wings that grew from his back; a woman, her hair twined with leaves and her body covered in bark; and a short, bestial man with pointed ears and a bow and quiver.
Markur said, "Fey. Turning your coat inside out won't work with these."
"It has been too long since I have had sport with mortals," said the hobgoblin. "Robin Goodfellow has missed this." He raised his bow and suddenly Cabot was elfshot. He had been looking at Hutton, and his features softened. He smiled and reached for her.
The winged man, Oberon, flew across the room, but Markur wore his jacket loose and it took the first stab from the fairy. The ghostly woman screamed, but there was no obvious response. The bark-woman also hit Cabot with an arrow, but the results were slightly bloodier, opening a line across his arm.
"I don't think I ever realized how lovely you are, Lamb," said Cabot. An arrow whizzed past him.
Markur parried a thrust from Oberon, clanging metal against metal. His pocketknife had grown to a sword. "Great. Cabot's elfshot."
The ghostly woman screamed at LaCroix again, and he ran, horrified, up the stairs. Toomey tried to grab him, missed, and ran after him.
What if Toomey's under the influence of the Tiara? Hutton thought, and groaned. She said, "Prove your love by—uh, by defeating them!" Hutton lifted her arm, chanting, and dirt broke the basement windows and poured into the room, assembling itself into a wall between the two groups.
Markur had dodged another thrust by the flying man, and pulled out his pocketknife. With a flick of his wrist it was a sword. His first thrust was tentative, just meant to engage.
"For you!" said Cabot, "I'll get the Tiara." He saw the other side clearly in his mind: The hobgoblin and woman were waiting until the wall fell, and Marlowe looked at them with annoyance. Behind Cabot, the swordplay continued. The winged man dashed forward to a weak spot in Markur's defenses, but Markur parried.
The rotting woman strode through the wall, ghost-like, and keened at Markur, who grunted. "Banshee," he said, "I'm busy. I have no time to die now." His sword went through her and hit the winged man's blade. My blade is longer, this should be easier, he thought; but the little man is fast. And good.
Flowers popped out of the earth wall and bloomed within seconds.
Hutton grimaced and used a clot of the earth to bind the flying man's wings—but he shook it off, rising higher as he flapped faster, then back into the battle. But re-entry is difficult, and Markur pierced him. The blade bit into his torso, and the little man smiled widely. "A touch," he said. He took to the air again. "But I was on the ground, then."
Cabot concentrated on the metal ring he had seen on Marlowe's wrist, on easing it, and just it, off Marlowe's wrist. He did it, and the Tiara sped through the air across the room—
—and into the dirt wall Hutton had erected.
There was madness then, as the hobgoblin, the woman, and Marlowe all grabbed for the Tiara; Cabot whirled it around to prevent them. "A hole! Make a hole," he said.
The Tiara thumped into the wall and then rolled down and under a bookcase.
There was a creak on the stairs, and LaCroix reappeared. He looked for the ghostly woman and avoided her. "Marlowe's mother was a redcap;" he announced. "She's upstairs and Toomey's gone nuts. He tried to hit me."
"He's under the compulsion of the Tiara," Hutton explained.
With a feint, Markur drew the small man out and got past his defenses—but the small man managed to turn aside at the last moment.
LaCroix nodded. While looking for a bottle or jar, he noticed that the scratches on Markur's face and hands had gone away. LaCroix spotted a nearly empty two litre Mountain Dew bottle in a laundry room and headed for it.
The ghostly woman reached out an arm for Cabot, but he saw her in time and dodged her touch. The second shot from the hobgoblin came through the hole and narrowly missed Hutton.
Pollen puffed out of the flowers—seeing it, Hutton held her breath. Cabot and Markur didn't, and their movements immediately slowed. Markur struggled to keep the winged dandy at bay.
Hutton looked through the hole and saw the hobgoblin. More dirt came through the window and pummeled him, hard, until he was invisible in the rain of soil. When it stopped, he was unconscious.
Cabot bent to look through the hole. "I can't see the Tiara. But you smell nice, Lamb."
Marlowe stood, and when he turned, Hutton saw the Tiara gripped in his fist; he was taking no chances on dropping it. Marlowe said some words, and light flew from his fingertips: the wall vanished.
The bark-woman sighed, and fired another arrow. She missed.
In the laundry room, LaCroix had emptied the Mountain Dew bottle (he suspected the contents were not Mountain Dew), and spoke the words of an enchantment over it.
The winged man and Markur had settled into a clanging impasse. Neither could get through the other's defenses, but both had sacrificed their attacks.
The spirit-woman reached for Hutton but Cabot pushed her out of the way, avoiding her touch as well.
Cabot mentally tugged on the Tiara, but couldn't quite pull it from Marlowe's grasp.
"I'll summon a troll! That will beat you!" Marlowe called, "I summon a troll!" The troll appeared, bent over by the short ceiling. It roared once—
—and the sunlight from the broken windows hit it. The gray color of stone sped from the sunlight through the entire troll, leaving a troll-shaped statue.
Markur had moved backward, forward, backward, to one side and another, all as the battle seemed to be turning, but he had been stopped at almost every opportunity. The little man was fighting defensively, hoping to get through Markur's defenses; Markur was fighting defensively, because that small flitting man could be where Markur didn't expect him.
Hutton looked at Marlowe's hand. He was holding the Tiara as if it were a ring. If she tried hard, she could shoot a column of hardened earth up through the Tiara—a stalagmite, as it were. She did, though it took all of her attention to do so.
Toomey appeared at the doorway to the basement. "I'm sorry, lass," he said, and knocked her over with a heavy thump. "If ye get hold of the Tiara, don't claim it as ye're own. Do you hear me? Mr. Marlowe wouldna like that." His brogue was thicker than usual.
LaCroix chanted again, words of power—
—and the spirit-woman vanished inside the bottle. LaCroix twisted shut the cap. "That's another one," he said.
Cabot leapt on Toomey. "If you've hurt her—" He grabbed the clurichaun and carried him to the ground, but Toomey shrugged him off.
"Ah!" said Markur, taking advantage of the distraction to sink his sword into the winged man's rapier shoulder.
The bark-woman said, "Come here," to LaCroix, and he did, walking slowly toward her.
"Are you—do you menstruate?" he said.
Lying on the floor, Hutton pulled the stalagmite to herself, and Marlowe gasped as the Tiara ripped from his hands. "I claim this Tiara as my own," she said, "and I declare the Fey will not fight us any more."
The Fey stopped and stood still. "Good fighting," said the little man.
LaCroix was nearest to Marlowe, and punched him. Marlowe had a glass jaw or LaCroix hit him on the button, because Marlowe folded next.
"Good work, lass," said Toomey. "Oberon," he said, nodding to the little man.
The clurichaun grinned. "That's Clarisant in the bottle, LaCroix, and Eigyr over there you're looking all mooney at."
"Sorry," she said and closed her hand. LaCroix straightened, as though an enchantment had been lifted.
"The hobgoblin sleeping in the pile of dirt is Robin Goodfellow," Toomey continued. "There's a redcap named Throttlegush upstairs, too. Good thing no one was really fighting against you."
Hutton refrained from mentioning that Cabot had been elfshot. "I give the Tiara back to its rightful owner, the Queen of Faery." She handed it to Oberon.
He took it with his non-sword-holding hand and rubbed his shoulder. "We have to try that again some time," he said to Markur. "And you," he said to Toomey, "didn't get Mab back in time, so I owe you nothing."
"But we did get the Tiara back, which should be worth something."
"I grant you each a boon. Toomey, you can return to Faery for some period of time."
And Toomey was gone.
* * *
My name is Toomey, and Gloriana hadn't remarried yet. She married me, and for seven years I was happy. Then the time was over, and the boon was done. I came back. Only an hour had passed since I left.
Time—and love—is funny that way.

You got stones, kid

Here's an idea that you could translate to any system that uses hit points, whether it calls them hit points or stamina.
  1. Give the players a number of stones or chits or bennies or whatever (I'll call them stones right now) equal to their number of hit points.
  2. Instead of marking hits off the character sheet, they hand over stones.
  3. When you're out of stones, you're out of hit points.
If you need a different in-game explanation, they're luck. Every attack is fatal; you're just buying off the lethality of the attack. When your character runs out of luck, he or she dies.

In fact, if you call the stones "luck" then you open up different areas of resource management: they can succeed at the roll but at the risk of being less healthy, at least until they regain a bit of it through resting, healing, prayer, or whatever is appropriate to your game.

You can make it more complicated:
  • Maybe there's BODY and STUN or Wounds and Shock, so there are two different kinds of stones. When you're out of the non-lethal ones, you have to start spending the lethal ones.
  • Or maybe you have hit stones and bennies. You can spend bennies on anything, but hit stones can only be spent on surviving attacks.
  • Maybe you set up some stones that reflect armor, so you have, oh, three in front of you. If the attack does more than three, you spend the excess. If the attack does more than twice the number of stones you have as armor, you lose some armor. Or a critical means they ignore the armor. Or a critical means extra damage, whether you have armor or not.

Since the idea is that it makes things physical instead of abstract, you probably don't want to complicate it too much: it might be best for systems with a maximum number of hit points (less than, what, thirty?). Your seventeenth-level fighter might not be right for it. Or for systems where the amount of damage is constant, such as ICONS or CORPS: a Ruger Blackhawk always does the same amount of damage.

You may not wnat to use this idea for a system that tracks the stun for hit locations (like the afore-mentioned CORPS). The idea is to make this simpler not to make it more complicated by each hit location having 10 stun and 10 lethal stones.

Anyway, the idea of a pool of markers in front of you getting smaller and smaller seemed to me like an interesting visual way of representing declining hit points.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Some themed topic proposals

My real reason for themed days is to make it easier to think of topics for the days and therefore make content more regular. A creative laxative, if you will. Any ideas for topics or areas to cover?

My current ideas:

  • Minion Monday: some low-level character or variant who occus in numbers (at least until I run dry for a while)
  • Hideout Hump Day: a place (often a hideout) but maybe a vehicle
  • “Every Other” Tuesday: Some other game system or something else entirely than ICONS
  • What-If Wednesday: Seeds or nuggets or ideas that might spark adventures
  • Throwback Thursday: the past, man: an old comics age or a recollection from my boring past
  • Fiction Friday: Once the stock of stories is used up, these will be posts about fixtion: consuming it or producing it or converting it to roleplaying

There will also occasionally be reviews or thoughts about structure or questions—my brain won’t stop producing those, even if only rarely.

Currently binging: iZombie

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday Fiction: The Eschaton Dance (OIA #5)

The Eschaton Dance

Toomey said to Dr. Gideon LaCroix, "A van broke down outside." Toomey was perched on a chair, his feet dangling.

LaCroix looked around. "And no one knows anything about vans but me?"

Toomey smiled. "Cabot's away. Talithe does, but—"

LaCroix sighed. "I know. She can't leave. She's the receptionist."

LaCroix approached the van. Two teenage women and a man (boy, really, thought LaCroix, feeling each of this forty-one years) stood around while the fourth, a blond man, kicked the front grill. "Like, try it again, Teddy," said the boy-man watching. Teddy tried it again. He was built like a football player—eighteen, maybe.

"Hi," said the prettier of the two girls—women, LaCroix reminded himself. "Our van broke down. Can you give us a hand?" A redhead, she wore a purple minidress. Purple used to be the colour of royalty.

"Does this count as a beginning? Because if it is, he's the bad guy," said the other girl. She was not unattractive, either. "No? Let me check my notes."

"It's the second person, Wilma," said Teddy.

"But it's never anyone we haven't seen," she said.

"No," said Teddy, and he gritted his teeth and kicked the van again.

"You have to kick it harder than that," said the sloppily-dressed boy.

"You try it then."

"Let me look at it," said LaCroix. He lifted the hood and said, "How far have you driven?"

"Jinkies, I don't know," said the not-as-pretty girl. "We travel all over the country looking for secrets to unearth and mysteries to solve."

"And nothing...happens?"

"Oh, sure, we find mysteries," said Teddy, using his neckerchief to wipe his forehead.

I'd do both of you in the first week, LaCroix thought. And together the second week. And then he was glad his grandfather wasn't here to hear that; LaCroix was supposed to be controlling himself.

"But they're always guys in suits," said the purple dress, wistfully. "What I wouldn't give for real supernatural stuff."

"How did you get this far?" LaCroix said, "The engine's a wreck, you have no distributor cap, the head gasket's blown. And it's old." He sighed. "You'd better come upstairs and use our phone."

And then he heard, "Ris Seth there?" At least, he thought heard it, because the man had a terrible speech impediment. And a Great Dane jumped out of the back of the car.

For a moment, LaCroix thought, A talking dog! How odd, and then that thought went away. He knew his emotions were being played with, but he didn't care. "No. He's getting ready for his first date in centuries. He took the afternoon off."

"Ruh-roh," said the dog, and looked beyond LaCroix.

A burning angel hung there, his arms flung wide and carrying a spear: a flaming cross suspended in the air, carrying a spear.

"Jinkies!" cried out one of the girls, and "Jeepers!" said the other one, and LaCroix was dimly aware of pictures being taken. There was the sound of running feet, and LaCroix stepped in front of the women, careful not to touch them.

"You are damned," said the angel. "You will burn forever!" And he pointed his spear and a ball of fire flew straight at the lineup of LaCroix, the women, and the dog.

LaCroix spun to grab the women and drag them away, but they had already dived for cover, and the ball of fire caught him, though he ducked. His suit was singed, not on fire yet, and LaCroix pointed his fetch stick at the angel. "May the darkness consume you!"

A ball of darkness eighty feet wide hung in the sky, where there had been a man. "Run!" LaCroix pointed to the building. "That won't hold long."

The angel rose out of the darkness, its white wings beating strongly. "Not long at all," said the angel. It aimed a bolt of fire at LaCroix, but LaCroix dodged it.

"Know fear," said LaCroix, and pointed the stick again. Wisps of things that might have been ghosts shot from it and wreathed the angel.

"Foolish mortal," said the angel. "I have no fear." This bolt of fire was closer and smoke rose from LaCroix's jacket. Thank goodness I have my gris-gris bag, thought LaCroix.

LaCroix redoubled his efforts. "That's...not...true." The wisps were thicker now; you could almost see them. LaCroix felt the sweat popping from his skin, though he looked as though he was only standing, holding a stick.

Suddenly the angel clutched at his eyes. "I have failed. Forgive me, Father!" he wailed and he dashed away, through the air. LaCroix noted absently he was faster than the cars on the street.

Then LaCroix buckled. "Help me," he said to the teenagers.

* * *

The van had been towed away before the angel got back, and at Markur's boarding house the lady said he was out. "Like, I hope they're eating." Hairy cast a longing glance at the bar fridge that sat in the common room—the only room without a window. The dog went near it. "It's empty," said Hairy. "I already checked."

"Does the angel count as the second person?" asked Wilma.

"I think the towtruck driver does," replied Taffy. "I got his name."

"He barely spoke to us," said Ted. "I think we have to wait."

"What do you want with Seth, anyway?" asked LaCroix. He had forbidden Toomey and Daya from coming in here for fear of making them the second person Wilma was looking for.

"He knows about angels, right?" Teddy said.

"He knows about demons."

"Demons were just fallen angels," said Wilma. "In the myths."

"It's more complicated than that," said LaCroix. "From what he's told me."

"Dr. Severn says that angels are just a manifestation of our desire to believe."

"He would."

"He's my hero," said Wilma.

"He's a professor at my school." He said pointedly, "I'm on sabbatical."

"I think you're great," said Taffy. She smiled at him.

He murmured his thanks.

"So you don't think that angel was supernatural?"

"It'll turn out to be a hologram or a guy in a suit," said Wilma.

"But... there are powers."

"I've rarely seen them." He shook his head. It was like arguing with Cabot, but worse. She went on: "Even the Raven is just a highly-trained man. We had an adventure with him, so I know."

The Raven as a man had been retired since the early seventies. These kids were older than they looked if they had an adventure with him.

"Right," said LaCroix. He excused himself for a moment and got the toy from Daya's desk. It jostled a bit and then started rocking as soon as he brought it in the room. It clacked faster as he brought it toward Ringading. He didn't tell the kids: first, because there was no point in arguing with them; and second, because some secrets should be kept, at least until he knew the lay of the land.

"What's that?" said the pretty girl, Taffy.

"Executive toy. I bumped it—I was going to bring it in for Hairy to play with, but it's delicate."

Hairy ignored the toy. "Like, can we order out for pizza?"

LaCroix shrugged. "I would think so. The angel will come back, but we sometimes order out for pizza here. Toomey loves pizza."


"A co-worker."

"Will we meet Toomey?" asked Taffy.

"Will the pizza guy count as the second person?"

"Not if the tow truck driver doesn't," said Wilma.

"Then not yet."

* * *

The pizza guy had been and gone, and there were six empty boxes next to Hairy and Ringading. Everyone else was sharing one pizza when Cabot walked in. "Good day. The 'angel' hasn't returned yet."

Toomey and Hutton, who had been waiting in the doorway, burst in. "Oh, you should have seen it," Toomey said. "A burning angel it was, all lit up with fire. Fine work, LaCroix."

"You," said Wilma as she pointed at Cabot, "are the second one."

"I'm Jedediah Cabot. I'm one of the investigators here."

"Doesn't matter," she said darkly. "You're second."

"Terrific." To LaCroix he said, "Does that mean anything?"

"You're going to be the fall guy. Do you know where Markur is?"

"Probably shopping. I loaned him money for better clothes."

"You'll never get it back; mercenaries are notorious about that," said Toomey.

"I'll live." To LaCroix, Cabot said, "What do you mean, I'm going to be the fall guy?"

"The second person they meet is always guilty."

"But I'm part of a group they've already met."

"Good point," said LaCroix. "Wilma?"

"I withhold judgement for now," she said.

Teddy stretched. "We'll need a place to stay."

"Well, this house is protected, so you're probably best off to stay here," said Hutton. "I'd offer you my place, but I don't have one. I stay at the YWCA," she explained.

"I can take someone," said LaCroix. "My house is protected, but my couch is short." Cabot rolled his eyes. LaCroix looked at Ted and Hairy.

"Oh, I'll try it," said Taffy quickly. She was using him, but so what? If they both used each other, that was fine with him. He just had to find out her status before they touched.

"I'll take the guys," said Cabot. "Toomey— Where do you live, Toomey?"

"At home," Toomey replied, with a wave of his hand. Cabot nodded with understanding.

"No," said Wilma. "Someone's got to keep an eye on you. I'll stay at your place."

"I thought you were withholding judgement?"

"Just making sure. The boys will be fine here."

"Riiiight," said Cabot. "Toomey, stay with them."

"I will," Toomey said, and looked grateful.

"Like, guys? The angel's back. And he's brought friends."

"We might not get to our homes tonight," said LaCroix. He looked at Taffy. "Pity."

* * *

Cabot got up and looked out the window. Two black SUVs had pulled up and men in black got out. The Angel hung above them, his wings beating fast to hold him there.

"Talithe will keep them out. They don't want to create a scene."

"Will she do that?" asked Ted.

"If we ask her to."

"Like, you better hurry. They're coming up the walk," said Hairy.

Cabot headed out the conference room door—and Talithe said, "Great. I really need to use the bathroom. Can you watch the front?"

Cabot opened his mouth to say something, and then said, "Okay."

"Great!" She scurried off. Cabot sat down in the warm seat.

Two men in black suits walked in. They wore sunglasses and carried Bibles. The older one, in his fifties, was slightly winded from walking up the stairs. Presumably they saw that the bookstore had a female owner and the Sweet and Low Down wasn't open yet; LaCroix had to have come from here.

"May I help you?" asked Cabot politely. He hadn't been a combatant, so he wasn't worried about being recognized.

"Yes. We're looking for a man," said the older one. He gave a reasonable description of LaCroix.

"I don't think I know him," lied Cabot.

"We believe that he might have committed a crime," added the younger one.

"Might we see your staff?"

"No," said Cabot. "Most of our staff are in the interview process with clients right now. I can certainly take your number and ask them if they want to call you back, Mister—?"

"Talbot," said the older man. "Larry Talbot." Cabot gave no sign he recognized the name. He wrote down the number the man gave him.

The younger man said, "You should repent now. The end is nearer than you think."

"Thank you," said Cabot. "I'll keep that in mind."

They left. A minute later, Talithe returned. "Who was that?"

"Missionaries," said Cabot. "Don't let them in, okay? Tell them nothing."

She nodded and when Cabot went back into the conference room he found everyone hiding from the window and Wilma whispering, "He phoned the angel's people."

"I didn't," said Cabot. "Why are the blinds shut?" He pulled back the edge of the blind to see the angel's wing brush the glass as the angel looked into the conference room. "Ah."

"We need a plan, gang," said Ted. "A trap?"

"Of course," said Wilma.

"I thought you were avoiding the angel. Now you want a trap?" asked Cabot.

"With a trap, like, we're in control," said Hairy.

"And we like being in control," said Taffy, with a raise of her eyebrow meant for LaCroix. Cabot noticed but said nothing.

"Ringading, you'll be the bait."


"Would you do it for a Ringading-Dong?" Said Taffy, holding up a snack.

"Ro way!" Ringading shook his head.

"Two Ringading-Dongs?"

"Like, I'd do it for two."

"Nope, we'll need you to swing the molasses can," said Ted. "It's gotta be Ringading."


"All right, you tyrant. Three Ringading-Dongs."

"Raw right." Ringading happily ate the three sticks in Wilma's hand. Cabot thought they looked like dried human fingers.

"We're going to hang a net under one of the trees near the front of the property. Wilma, you and I will drop the net on the angel when he swoops down to grab Ringading. Hairy, you're the best thrower of us, so you'll swing the molasses can to get rid of that spear. Taffy, I'll need you to give the signal when the angel is under a tree. Ringading will be the bait."

"Do you want help?" asked Hutton. "I could make a wall..."

"No offense, but we're experienced in this sort of thing. You aren't."

LaCroix expected Cabot to be offended, but all he said was, "Hey, go with it. Best not let me see it; Wilma is worried I'm the enemy as it is."

LaCroix drew Cabot outside the room and asked his reasons.

"Look," said Cabot. "It doesn't work or it does. If it doesn't, I haven't lost anything. If it does work, we find out who's employing the angel."

"What if it doesn't, and it makes the employer angry?"

"Not our lookout," said Cabot. "We haven't even seen from the Toon Gang. It's a gang of kids and their dog."

"Potentially immortal kids and their dog." He filled in Cabot on the comment about Raven. "Who knows what kind of enemies they've collected in their time?"

* * *

Ringading moved back and forth on the sidewalk, waiting to be spotted by the angel. "Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm," he hummed. "Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm." The detectives watched from a second-storey window. Suddenly the angel detached himself from a house across the street, snatched up the dog, evaded the net, and flew away.

"Well, crap," said Ted. "That's never happened before."

"We'll save you, Ringading!" cried Hairy. "Though, like, I don't know how."

* * *

Cabot was already looking up the phone number in the reverse directory. "Please let it not be a cell phone," he said. "Here it is. The Wolfram Group. Hold on while we see who owns them." He popped a CD in the computer. Hutton peered over his shoulder.

"They're a wholly owned subsidiary of Rapture Industries."

"I know that name," said LaCroix. "Reverend Fate?"

"Yup," said Cabot. "Immanentizing the Eschaton since 1995. He opened a church in Las Vegas about six years ago."

"Wait," said Toomey. "What's immanentizing the whatsit?"

"Reverend Fate thinks we should embrace the Rapture and the second coming of Christ. He's working to bring about armageddon."

"No thought for those of us without souls," said Toomey.

"What does he want with Ringading?" asked Hutton.

"Good question," said Cabot.

"Well, he talks," said LaCroix. The others looked at him, not comprehending. "He's a talking dog."

"Yeah, so?"

LaCroix looked at them. "Of course. It is Freedom City."

They could hear the heavy tread on the stairs: the gang was returning without Ringading. Cabot let Hutton do the talking. "Got a lead on him," she said. "Easy-peasy. He's being held by people who are employed by Reverend Fate."

"Who?" asked Ted.

"We'll explain on the way." Somehow only Hairy and Taffy were with LaCroix while the rest rode with Cabot.

"Like, I hope the ol' Ringster's okay," said Hairy.

"It will be fine," said Taffy as she patted his arm.

"I can't stand being away from him too long."

An awful thought hit LaCroix. He said, "He means that literally, doesn't he?"

"We all get nauseated after a couple of days, but it hits Hairy the worst." She wrinkled her nose. "He starts vomiting. Disgusting."

"And you've been with Ringading for thirty years?"

In the back seat, Hairy moaned. "I don’t think it's a good idea to tell our secrets."

"Forty," she said to LaCroix. "Does that make me less interesting to you?"

LaCroix smiled. "Actually, it makes you more interesting."

* * *

"We have to assume Reverend Fate got what he wants," said Cabot.

"But why would he want Ringading?" Hutton asked. "Wilma? Ted?" They were quiet.

"The obvious answer is that he's not a dog," said Toomey.

"Obvious to you," Cabot said.

"It’s Freedom City."

"Right." Cabot nodded.

"Reverend Fate is a brand of Christian—"

"We're not all like that," said Hutton.

"I said a brand of Christian," said Toomey. "So whether it’s true or not—" Toomey looked at Wilma "—he thinks Ringading is a demon. He wouldn't kidnap an angel."

"Okay," said Cabot. "I buy it. So what do we do?"

"Well, if he wants to immanentize the whatsit, he'll be forcing Ringading to give up the shape of a dog. To reveal he's a demon."

"Oh," said Ted. "Then it won't work."

"No, it will just kill the dog."

Ted and Wilma groaned.

* * *

They burst through the door at Wolfram, expecting to overwhelm a secretary. Instead, there were six missionaries waiting for them.

Cabot said a rude word. The missionaries stepped behind office furniture, opened their Bibles, and began to read.

"Spells!" yelled Toomey, and he, Hutton, and LaCroix dived to the sides, LaCroix dragging Taffy with him. Bolts of lightning arced from the ceiling to where the first six had stood, hitting Cabot and Ted. Cabot was wearing enough metal to carry the current to the floor, but Ted wasn't, and the force of the bolt knocked him down.

Toomey rolled and tackled the nearest missionary at the knees; he went down, Bible and sunglasses flying. Hutton gestured, and the earth in a potted plant rose and re-formed itself as a dark globe around another missionary's head. He clawed at it. LaCroix gestured with his staff and a third one stood, motionless, sweat breaking out as he fought the fear.

Cabot pulled his pistol for a fourth missionary, but the lightning bolt had fused metal parts of his pistol, rendering it useless. He swore again and dodged to the side.

The three remaining missionaries read aloud. This time the lightning bolts hit Hutton, LaCroix, and Toomey. Hutton fell against a desk and was unconscious; LaCroix put fear into another missionary; and the missionary against Toomey held him off by holding his head. Cabot charged forward to hit the man. The man fell, and didn't get up again.

Hairy clamped his hand over another missionary's mouth. "Like, you don't get to talk here." Toomey hit the missionary in the belly, and he fell down. Toomey hit him again and he stayed down. Then Toomey hit the man Hutton had englobed. He didn't move again.

LaCroix and Cabot each hit the last missionary, and he fell down. Then Cabot went to check on Hutton. She soon stirred.

"Take it easy. Scalp wounds are nasty."

"We have to get Ringading," she said.

"No, now we let the authorities do it. He's just a dog."

LaCroix said, "Um. He's not. Whatever he is, he's not just a dog."

Wilma was going through the wastepaper baskets. "Here," she said. She held up a long grey-white feather. "The angel has been here. Which means Ringading was here!"

They looked at the unconscious bodies. "None of these is 'Talbot,'" said Cabot. "So more will be waiting with the Reverend."

"How do we find out where they are?"

"We wake one of them up or..." Cabot looked at the secretary's desk, the same desk near the feather. There was a notepad on it. He took a pencil from the desk drawer and lightly stroked it. "Or we bring up the last thing written on this pad. It might help." He used the Internet browser on his cell phone to check the address he got. "It's an abandoned hangar."

"Lots of room for occult shenanigans," said LaCroix. Taffy was looking at one of the Bibles. "The spells are written in Enochian. I recognize the alphabet, but I can't read it."

"I know Enochian," said Wilma. "But it was a fraud."

"It was," agreed LaCroix, "but all the angels know it now." He shook his head. "Stuck up lot, angels."

In the mean time, Cabot had peeled the shirt off a missionary. "Nakedness is a great talk-inducer, and it helps wake him up. Hairy, can you fill this jug with water? Bathroom appears to be over there."

"Where did you learn this stuff?" asked Wilma.

"News stories about Abu Ghraib," said Cabot.

* * *

Half a block from the hangar, Cabot stopped. "We need a plan."

"If we had a wheelbarrow, a flashlight, and a blanket—" began Ted.

"A real plan, not one of your ideas, Ted. I wouldn't be surprised if you've coasted on the powers of this dog-who-is-not-a-dog. Lamb, the glove compartment has binoculars. See who's in the parking lot."

Cabot's phone rang. It was LaCroix. "There's a guy watching the parking lot, main entrance at the side. Four other men in black. In the middle, two dozen cultists, the angel, and the Reverend."


"Bound in the center of a big pentacle."

"How do you know these things?"

"That's my gift." He didn't tell Cabot about his grandfather's spirit. "He's doing the reveal now, and the gate at midnight."

"Can he do that?"

"I don't know. If it's what I think, all we have to do is break the circle and Ringading can come out. Markur would know, but he doesn't have a cell phone, and his landlady is tired of answering the phone for me."

"Great." Cabot relayed the information to the others in his car. Then, to the phone he said, "We have eight people. Run it like a football play? Four of us take the missionaries in black, two the angel, and one destroys the circle while the other takes the Reverend?"

"No," said LaCroix. "All of us take the missionaries as silently as we can, and designate some to get to the Reverend if possible."

Cabot chewed his thumb. "Are they close enough together for us to do that?"

A pause. Then: "Yes. If we move now."

Cabot filled the others in. "If you find yourself without an opponent, move on. The main objective is to stop the Reverend and free Ringading. LaCroix tells me we can do it by breaking the circle."

"If you believe him," said Wilma. "He is part of your team."

"I think it's safe to say they're good guys, Wilma," said Ted. "They're helping us."

Tney got out of the car. "Just a moment," said Hutton. She went to the grassy boulevard and chanted. A blocky figure made of earth rose up, seven feet tall. Stones projected here and there from the dirt. "Now I'm ready."

GM's Note: She made the golem with Create Objects, then she paid a hero point to have Animate Objects on her earth control, at Rank 4.

The rocky figure strode to the side door and tore it off its hinges. The missionaries inside were startled to see it—they had expected to see the eight people who followed.

"Attack the men in black suits!" ordered Lamb.

Two of them put away their Bibles and drew their pistols; surely a lightning bolt would have no effect on dirt, but a pistol—

The other three read their spells, in voices that struggled to keep calm.

Cabot and Ted caught one as he pulled out his pistol, Cabot low, Ted high. Cabot missed, but Ted hit him, and the man went down. LaCroix hit another with a pistol, and he went down. Toomey took one of the ones reading; the man fell to the ground almost instantly.

The creature of earth took the two remaining lightning bolts. They fused it into a solid mass, and it moved no more.

GM's Note: That's what happens when your minion fails its Toughness save.

Wilma, Taffy and Hairy tackled one of the reading missionaries, but Wilma swung so vigorously she lost her glasses. "I can't see!" she cried. Taffy and Hairy both missed. "Like, we're coming, Ring!"

Toomey finished him off.

* * *

Deeper inside the abandoned hangar, the Reverend Fate lifted an eyebrow at the sound of the door being ripped off its hinges, but kept reading. Ringading whimpered, as arcane forces ripped at his body.

* * *

"Crap," said Cabot. He pulled himself off the floor and dove at the missionary who had no one near him, the one near the inside entrance. The man kept his Bible as he fell, and Cabot took him to the ground, unharmed. The man read, and there was no lightning bolt. Cabot thought, "Different spell." The man stood and kicked at Cabot, but with the strength of five men. Cabot grunted.

Lamb gestured, and the entire creature flew at the man. He went down, and the statue shattered with a loud crash, leaving behind only earth and shells where it had been fused.

Cabot pulled himself out of the dirt and said, "So much for subtle." He grinned.

Ted said, "Let's rescue Ringading!"

Cabot said, "Then you go first."

Ted, Hairy, Wilma, and Taffy stepped through the door.

The fireball from the angel took all four of them down.

* * *

Crouching beside the door, LaCroix said, "Lamb, can you make a wall to shield us?"

"Sure." She used the dirt from the creature, and it lifted and formed into a rectangle.

LaCroix said, "When we get through, scatter. The angel can't hit all of us."

Toomey said, "And the objective is the dog?"

"Right. Destroy the circle, carry the dog out."

Cabot took out his pistol. "In case."

LaCroix said, "Run!"

They scattered into the hangar, Toomey heading straight for the circle.

From his spot, Cabot aimed for the Reverend. He grazed the Reverend in the leg, but didn't break the tall man's concentration. Around the circle, members of the church kept invoking the ritual. "Blast!" thought Cabot. "Not enough bullets for all of them."

Lamb threw the wall at the angel. She missed, and the wall fell apart when it fell on the other side of the circle, leaving a mound of dirt.

Toomey scraped the circle with his foot, but to no avail. He realized it was painted on, so he ran to the center of the circle, intent on bringing out Ringading. Fortunately the circle was not attuned to Fey, only creatures of Hell.

The angel found himself in a globe of darkness that nearly touched the floor.

A moment's flight brought him out of the chill darkness, near the wall of the hangar.

Cabot ran forward and shot at the Reverend again, but missed this time.

Lamb hit him with the dirt, but he still kept on reading.

Toomey tried to take the dog out of the circle...and found he couldn't. It was as though the dog were held in place by a wall.

LaCroix tried to put fear into the angel again, but couldn't.

The angel fired at LaCroix...and a bolt of fire hit him, and even through his protective juju hurting him, frying the arm with the fetch stick.

A bolt of fire shot past Lamb's ear, and she made the mass of dirt rise again, this time as a clip to pin his wings. He was moving too fast for her.

Toomey left the circle, running as fast as he could, and he knocked the Reverend down.

"It's too late," said the Reverend. "Do you see what you've been cavorting with?"

In the circle, clouds of smoke obscured Ringading. They could make out little except a huge pair of bat wings and a man-like figure, over twelve feet tall.

"Forget about breaking the circle," said Cabot. He pointed the pistol at the Reverend's head. "Call off your angel."

"I've won," said the Reverend. At Cabot's push, he said, "Stop attacking these people."

"Louder." The chanting of the churchmembers broke off. They looked at each other, confused.

"Stop attacking these people!" The angel backed off, wings beating faster to hover.

"No portal tonight," said LaCroix as he walked over. He was favouring his burned arm.

"But I've still proven the dog is a demon!"

"They didn't see a thing," said LaCroix, inclining his head to the teenagers.

"And all I see is a winged humanoid," said Cabot. "Could be any of six or seven superheroes, for all I know."

"He's in a circle!" said the Reverend.

"No, he's not," said Hutton, and dirt erupted all through the circle as it rose into the air from beneath the floor. The floor cracked and crumbled as the dirt rose higher into the air, making clouds that billowed. The churchmembers moved back, away from the dirt and dust, and then they all fled, leaving only the Reverend and the angel.

"You fool! You've destroyed the circle! Now he'll eat us all!"

"No," came a deep voice. "Just you."

A tentacle lashed out of the clouds and seized the Reverend, drew him in. There was a scream and then silence.

"Golly," said Lamb quietly.

Out of the clouds trotted a Great Dane.

Toomey said, "I thought you were a demon."

"I rike being a dog. It's fun." He paused a moment. "And demons never say Rank Rou." He laughed, a wheezing giggle, then went over and began to lick Hairy's face.

* * *

"I hope I was up to your expectations," said Taffy.

"I hope I was up to your needs," said LaCroix.

They were standing in the sunshine, waiting for the Enigma Engine to return from the shop.

"Did they—?" Lamb whispered to Toomey.

Toomey nodded. "I'd say yes."

LaCroix held up three fingers behind his back.

"I'm sorry I suspected you," said Wilma. "But it's always the second person we meet. Always. And who knew that the Reverend had built an elaborate switching mechanism under the floor of the hangar?"

"I'm sure you could have guessed."

Just then the Enigma Engine pulled up, with Ted at the wheel.

"Like, I'm sorry the Reverend skipped the country before he could be brought to trial."

Toomey said, "I don't think you'll have to worry about the Reverend."

"Rat's right!" said Ringading, and he burped. LaCroix caught and hid the button that flew out.

The four teenagers laughed, then said their good-byes and left.

Cabot waved as they left. "Listening to Wilma was...instructive," he said to Hutton.


The other two stopped to listen.

"Listening to her twist things around...well. There might actually be something to this magic business. It's at least as plausible as superpowers."

"Cabot, there might be some hope for you yet," said LaCroix.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

ICONS Examples: The Fight...


ICONS: A Sample Combat

Here are the two characters I rolled up over the last two days:
StrobeVacuum Flux
Prowess2 (Poor)Prowess3 (Average)
Coordination7 (Incredible)Coordination5 (Good)
Strength4 (Fair)Strength6 (Great)
Intellect4 (Fair)Intellect5 (Good)
Awareness5 (Great)Awareness4 (Fair)
Willpower5 (Great)Willpower5 (Good)
SpecialtiesPower (Stunning) (+1), Technology (+1)SpecialtiesPower (Gravity Control) (+1), Science (+1)
  • Incredible (7) Reflection
    • Extra: Alternate form (Light)
    • Extra: Stunning Limit: Not vs machines or through machines
  • Incredible (7) Density
    • Extra: Gravity Control (Affliction)
    • Extra: Telekinesis
    • Extra: Flight
  • Lady of Light
  • Scarred by the service
  • Has to help
  • Something to prove
  • "I'm the event, meet the horizon!"
  • "Nah, not weird yet."
And we set up with one of those classic Superheroes Have A Misunderstanding On Meeting things...
What has gone before: A new villain called Egomaniac appeared and Strobe got into a fight with him; he eventually led her to a science center and trapped her between mirrors in a laser exhibit, then escaped. Young North Reiss, secretly Vacuum Flux saw the chance to beat up on Strobe, whom he assumed was causing the problem. (Hey, Egomaniac waved before leaving.) So Strobe got out by the expedient of turning physical, and a densitized Vacuum Flux is there to hit her....

The (Anticlimactic) Fight

Page 1

PanelDescriptionVacuum FluxStrobe
Vacuum Flux He gets in the first shot. Dense, he's strength 7 (6+1), and she's not expecting anything, so treat her as Prowess 0. He rolls a 1 for a total of 4 (Prowess of 3 plus 1).
  • Sta 11
  • Det 2
  • Prowess 3 + roll 1=4
  • Sta 9
  • Det 2
Strobe's Prowess is 2, but we're treating it as 0. She rolls a 3, for a total of 3 (0+3) 4>3; Moderate success (no slam) Prowess 0 + roll 3=3
Dense, his Strength is 7, so subtract 7 from Strobe's Stamina.
  • Sta 9-7=2
  • Det 2
Strobe She switches to light form; her strength is pitiful so she decides to try Stunning. She rolls a 5, and that gets added to her Coordination of 7. Coordination 7 + roll 5=12
His Coordination is 5, and though he rolls a 5, she hits. 12>10 Moderate success (no slam) Coordination 5 + roll 5=10
Test to see how well the Stunning worked: Test Incredible Stunning against Incredible Strength, and both roll a 4. Stunning level 7 + roll 4=11 Strength 7 + roll 4=11
No effect.

Page 2

Panel Description Vacuum Flux Strobe
Vacuum Flux He flies over to punch her again: He swings and rolls a 3. Prowess 3+ roll 3=6
She dodges even though he can't touch her; she rolls a 4, and he thinks he grazed her or missed. Prowess 2+ roll 4=6; Moderate success (no slam) Marginal success (no effect)
Strobe Now that she knows he's not Egomaniac, her concern is to take this away from bystanders. She can fly through closed windows (she's light), so she does, and tags her "Lady of Light" quality, so she can spend a Determination point for a recover. She gets 5 back (the higher of her Strength or Willpower).
  • Sta 2+5=7
  • Det 2-1=1

Page 3

Panel Description Vacuum Flux Strobe
Vacuum Flux He follows, but he can't travel through glass except by breaking it...which he does. Shards of glass fall down on the crowd, which are mostly kids and teenagers.
Strobe The GM compels Strobe to return and obey the "Has to help" quality. Strobe gets a Determination point for this. (If Strobe had refused, it would have cost her player a Determination point.)
  • Sta 7
  • Det 1+1=2

Page 4

Panel Description Vacuum Flux Strobe
Vacuum Flux Turn occupied by turning around, which is a little harder for him, being as he's solid and all.
Strobe A teenage boy (North's friend Connor) was badly hurt by the falling glass. Strobe can't turn solid to help (some guy keeps punching her) so instead he settles around and surrounds the injured teen and tries to be a healing light. That is, she's going to stunt Healing.
She's going to activate the "Has to Help" quality and stunt the Healing power off her Alternate Form: 7 Stamina will bring Connor back to full health.
  • Sta 7
  • Det 2-1=1

Page 5

Panel Description Vacuum Flux Strobe
Vacuum Flux In the tradition of this sort of thing, he totally misunderstands and yanks Connor out of her embrace before she can heal him. (I don't think a roll is necessary.)
Strobe She says, "Wait." She says, "I'm trying to help, because the ambulance won't get here on time.
Persuasion: it's rolled with Willpower. Neither has relevant skills. She wants to increase her effort, so she activates her "Lady of Light" quality and spends her last Determination point for a +2 to the roll. 5+3=8 5+6+2=13 (massive success!)
Really, that looks like the end of the fight.

How long does a stunt last?

It's not in ICONS Assembled but in Great Power it says on page 22 that a stunt lasts until the end of combat or the end of the chapter, whichever comes first.
You could rule that the Healing stunt went away in this example, but I would probably allow it to stay: the intent was to help the injured boy, not to lay a smackdown on VF, so it seems in keeping with the intent (and comic books) that it be useful.
On the other hand, if she had stunted, oh, Energy Drain with the intent of really whacking him, I'd rule that stunt is over because the fight's over.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A few up ahead...

At least Fiction Friday is populated until the end of the month. I can see they're not the most popular posts, but they're there, and I have been meaning to put them somewhere else in case the Green Ronin boards shut down.

 Now, a Round Robin, where there are N players, and each one takes a turn GMing a session, so there are N sessions. Easy on the GM who is first, a little hard on the last GM, but we used to have fun with them. Same game system throughout.

If Alan, Barb, and Carl are playing, everybody makes characters. Alan runs the first session, Barb the second, and Carl the third. They don’t plot it out beforehand. It’s about screwing your successor and being screwed by those before you. :)

My question is, in these modern hectic times, what's the ideal number of people for one? I think two is probably out; three might be do-able, though you might want to cycle through twice. You probably want at least four, but if the sessions are weekly, that's more than a month's commitment.

 So what do number do you think is best?

(Variant: each GM rewrites the characters in the system of his or choice.  Alan runs Champions, Barb runs ICONS and Carl runs M&M. Much more work, but people get to try other systems.)