Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time Out for a Psychic Conference

[Listen you two...I appreciate that you concocted this synthetic bloodwine, but something about it just doesn't smell right to me. Maybe if someone filtered your favorite merlot through mounds and mounds of dirt and added fresh grape juice to it you'd be a bit reticent to serve it at the dinner table. As for this vial that obviously came from Darien's lab...this not just Bloodwine. Hold it tight and you can sense the Founder's life pattern. I gorged my self on Oni Vitae and I feel the fluid strengthening my frame. My Hunger is screaming for Darien's sample, not the replacement. But I fear what it will do to me.]

[peri is a Doll, but not a Vampire Doll. She can't smell the difference. That's why I put traded her Founder's sample with the synthetic. So she won't be destroyed by Dr. Steel for failing her mission, and he never gets his hands on real Bloodwine. Even if she's working for another madman, she's still my friend, from back when I pitied Dolls in their weak forms and dressed like them as an ironic fashion statement.]

[Now...I'm sorry for presuming you were a Spark. Your inherited medical knowledge probably won't help much with her. Just rewind me and I'll try and repair her myself. Most Dolls operate on the same principles.]

[Ama, can you fly up to the Midas while carrying me of fold space precisely enough to open a portal? If not I'll summon Koen to help.]

[Look, I know a lot of my actions haven't been making sense lately. This new identity is still in flux. I don't know if it well ever be stable. I only know I can't be the near-indestructible android heroine I was before...I know Ash can fulfill that role.]

[There's a reason I'm keeping my recent memories sealed shut. People will always assume the worst about the Dolls. Perhaps they may be proven right. I only know that at this moment I must rescue my family, and I must not fail this time. I am sorry.]

*crimson tears trail in lines down from her eyes in passing resemblance...*

Monday, August 25, 2008

winding down

"Can this one be of assistance?" I looked up from the carnage of black fabric and crimson-stained lace piled in the snow. I saw my old friend peri perched on the limb of a huge pine tree in her typical demure fashion. Her barrel was still glowing a faint red and letting off a stream of white smoke through the forest of Winterfell.

"Why peri! How wonderful to see you!" Somehow I managed to maintain a polite tea-party conversation tone with my fellow Doll even as I was digging my heels into the back of an expired ogress to pry my bladed hook from her rib cage. I tipped over as Ama pushed the body upwards to free herself from beneath. I was able to wedge the end barb out easier from that angle. "Thank you so much for coming to our aid! What brings you to this out-of-the-way picnic? This was a rather impromptu affair..."

"peri was on a mission from Dr. Steel to stop the Aleister Mason's Vampire Dolls and followed them to that cruise ship above us. As this one floated down peri noticed a large gathering of large dolls right here, not playing nice at all. Present company excluded of course." She giggled sweetly as Ama recovered from her daze and began cleaning the ogress vitae off her demonic red skin before it froze.

"And did you succeed?" I turned away from the other two and sank my fangs into a Loli-Oni that was still groaning. I could use her strength for the next phase of the rescue mission. The Other lodged in my psyche was protesting of course. Oh yes, I've felt the changes behind the scenes, the lessening of my addiction, as well as the tempering of my old conscience against the new fuel requirements of this frame.

"Well, the Dolls up there obviously aren't working for Aleister anymore since they're on a bloodwine binge and draining the crew. Furthermore, we seem to have this sissy fight well in hand. So, Aleister has no more Vampire Dolls, and peri just needs to carry this sample of Bloodwine back to Dr. Steel and this one can get paid! Prates beat ninjas every time, right Miss Steelgears? Yarrr!" She laughed as she hooked her finger, and as she laughed her laugh got slower. Her voice reached a lower register, and she slid off her branch and hit the snowy ground with a thud.

"peri?" I took a mighty leap over the now-frozen bodies to reach the doll-mercenary. Ama rushed over, and checked her wrist for a pulse. "That won't help here, Ama. Her springs froze."

Ama spotted the whirligig backpack device she had cast aside while providing sniper support. "I doubt she was designed for descent from as high an altitude as the Midas is currently holding." I opened her pack and found what had my nose itching since halfway through the battle. It was a vial of bloodwine...still warm...very one of Dr. Mason lab vials, hastily stoppered. I pressed my teeth gently against the wax seal...

I shook my head. The Oni was a heavy meal even if she was half-gone already. I pulled the synthetic elixir that Ama gave me from my boot and made the switch, I also retrieved some spare brass parts from her wooden box, a "medical kit", before locking it again.

"Ama, you're a Spark, right? There's a code of honor among Dolls to try and fix each other when we break down. Just don't tell her about this little exchange when she comes to...too...tooooo..."

Oh well. At least I wasn't hungry.

Monday, August 11, 2008

dry rain

It is so much easier to chase an airborne object form the ground in Winterfell than in, say, Caledon or Babbage. There's still a lot of open green area to run through, and you can see the large gothic towers coming up and can veer around them with plenty of warning.

While Lily and Lulu wound my key for me I tuned to the aether channels. Some sort of flaming debris had crashed onto the "Pirate's Tavern" on Novem property and destroyed it as quickly as it mysteriously rose from the ashes of the Muses Playhouse. Is that why we were hijacked by the Seraph? To spare us from death from above? I contacted the Consulate on their channel and quickly appraised them of the situation, warning them of possible hostages, and falling bodies. The signal to the MiddleSea Fleet was being jammed. I could only assume they were in hot pursuit.

At least this time I was well-armed. The "flintlock" at my belt was a self-propelled miniature rocket launcher. I had an assortment of specialized rounds pocketed throughout my person. The hilt of the aether sword was bulky for my small frame, but the blade itself was weightless. And then there was that hook attachment. Excellent for clearing brush in a hurry. And just in was spring-loaded.

As the sky darkened I switched to heat sensors. The engines of the Midas gave its position away even from inside the nimbus clouds of the majestic Winterfell evening sky. I registered falling debris from the hull of the ship. As I closed in on the first humanoid form my clockwork heart skipped a tick. But, praise the Maker, it was not Darien. It was one of the demonic crew.

I saw another heat source fall from the craft in the distance, and another. Soon I was falling the ship more by the body count than by its aerial location. All of them were demons. Scores of them. Judging from the impact, they had been drained of ichor before they fell. On a few I could make out the telltale bite marks. I recognized some of the uniforms. The Captain. The First Mate. The Lounge Singer's outfit almost blinded my sensors.

The bodies I did not find were those of my family (including this mysterious young uncle). I did not track the remains of that blue crustacean who guarded the Bloodwine and the living source as well.

I followed the ship through the northernmost reaches of Winterfell, up snow-dusted mountains. I hoisted myself up one treacherous rock after another by my hook. I felt myself slowing down. I was unwinding, and I was thirsting. I found one more sky-pirate's body impaled on the rocks. It was as dry as it was frozen. I heard the crunching of snow ahead of me. I tried to speak, to warn, to scream, but could only growl in hunger as a shadow loomed over the top of the next hill...

Friday, August 8, 2008

spinning gears, chasing shadows

Taking stock of the situation...

My mind is suddenly back to its original configuration because the astral form of the same person who yanked me from New Erebus is now stuck in my head. If I try to remove him myself, I might become Aleister's slave again. I'm not even going to ponder what I feel I should do to him for double-crossing me. I'm sure he can see those thoughts clearly.

Bloodwing gave me one last chance to be Qlippothic Projects again...and I refused...

If I get anywhere near the Bloodwine my addiction will kick in again. It was strong enough to make all of Aleister's dolls mutiny. That means my only fuel source is...blood...*holds stomach, rocking*

The Seraph transferred the Novem crew to Winterfell, and apparently that's where we're staying. Why? Why no ransom? Who paid them?

Winterfell...this is where Kira found my brother after Aleister changed him.

*gears ticking*

Aleister's lair was here. Is it still? YES. He has centuries of machinery too delicate to move! HE'S STILL IN WINTERFELL!

*looks up as the shadow of the Midas passes over her*

They're after his casks! The Dolls know where he is!

*holsters aethersword and ties back her hair*

Even if I start fighting them over the Bloodwine, it's worth it to make the vampire PAY.

*slips on a glowing bracelet* Anti-Push magic...almost obselete in this age, but maybe it will protect me against Marcus's mental powers.

*heads inland, chasing after the shadow of the ship*

Thursday, August 7, 2008

No Honor among Pirates!

The demon crew made a new outfit for me, befitting a pirate queen. The firefighter outfit was a poor refit anyway. I won't even mention what that horrid bear did to my outfit. The giant hook was a nice touch. By the time I floated down on a cavor-kite (what Aleister named the flying machines he gave to the Blood Dolls), the Stage Crew had already slapped together an authentic-looking pirate's tavern made of driftwood...except for the large teal sign. They bowed to me nervously and hopped on a skyboat back to the Midas.

The event was excellent, what turned out to be Novem's last Babbage event was surely it's finest! However things took an unexpected turn. For whatever reason the crew of the Seraph decided to kidnap the Novem staff: Lulu, Lily and myself! To make matters worse the AI on the barge had a distinct dislike for me and kept trying to eject me from the ship through magnetic resonance. Thank the Maker I had that hook! I held onto the railing for my dear pseudo-unlife!

We finally landed in Winterfell. For the sake of protecting my employers, I dropped my aether-sword. And then...

...they left!

No ransom? No parley? Not even a parlor game nor a brash proposal? The other ladies rested in the pumpkin cottage that looked strangely familiar while I tried to hail the Midas but with no luck.

I was ABANDONED! Double-crossed by Marcus and maybe even the other Blood Dolls! And just after we had done parleying!

That's IT! I'm done with this pirate silliness! I'll keep the aether sword though. Damn, I'm thirsty.

The Pirate Pact

So parley it is. I withdrew my blade and released Marcus. A squidlike demon floated to his side, clipping bandages and applying salve to the scratches running ebon trails over his neck ruffles.

I stepped over the demon-bear's swollen belly beneath me as I joined my doll companions. The girls screamed as they looked back at him. The beast scurried on all fours behind his throng of demons.

Marcus and I pulled up chairs and sat at one of the marble chess tables. As I listened I pulled off my leather firefighting gloves and examined the damage to my nails and skin of "living porcelain".

"I was planning to build a Bloodwine Mist Generator to turn the Earth into a legion of undead slaves..."

I interrupted. "Too many vampires and you won't have a Herd left to feed them all. This is what I propose. We need the Bloodwine. You need a crew that can actually fight."

He leaned in, staring into my clockwork eyes. "Go on..."

"I propose we join forces. The Dolls can fight, but as you see..."

I gestured towards two of the dolls helding one of their sisters upright, her right side blown away by a Middlesea cannon.

"...we're high maintenance. We're not just talking rewinding and basic repairs, either. Their budget for outfits...they're like Jagers in lace and ribbons!"

"I am not familiar with these Jagers."

"You will, if you start your conquests. These Dolls expect to be pampered with manicures and porcelain detailing and exquisite tea parties..." I heard excited whispers from the demon contingent. "...and half the treasure." Groans immediately followed.

He smiled, for the first time. There was something disarming about him, as if I saw a glimpse of the boy beneath the conqueror. "That is apparently what they were trained to do to begin with," he said. "An even split of the gold seems more than long as the crew are tipped for their services fairly?"

The mumblings and whispers on both sides sounded positive. I stretched out my hand in ladylike form. "Master Marcus, I believe we have..." One of the Dollies leaned forward quickly to whisper in my ear. My demure smile turned to and angry scowl.

"What do you mean 'that wasn't a gun'?"

Marcus spoke up quickly. "I'll have him removed. He's the most distrubing one on this whole ship to be honest..."

I shook his hand heartily. "Deal. What was he hired for, anyway?"

He shook his head. "Trust me, you don't want to know..."

"I was hosting at that place below us...the Mayor seems to have demolished it. He's very finnicky I hear."

"We do have a Stage Crew on board...I wouldn't mind watching you perform..." He rested his hand on mine. "...from up here in the ship of course." He grinned as he stared at me again. I simply smiled back and looked down as the Dolls giggled.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dolls vs. Demons

The airship lurched forward as I smashed through the hatch to jump down into the hull of the ship. I unbuckled my wings and hung them off a horn on a relief of Bloodwing that stretched over the archway. I expected cramped and dingy tunnels. Instead I found specious interiors decorated with luxuriously soft furnishings and exquisite tapestries. I peered over the fully-stocked pink marble bar to find a furry brown creature on its back, looking up at me with a smile on his muzzle and round, black eyes feigning innocence. It waved a paw at me meekly. I only huffed.

The rest of the dolls slipped through after removing their flight harnesses. I heard them gasping and cooing over the fabrics.

"Stay focused, Girls."

I could smell the Bloodwine through the heady scent of the arrangements of carnivorous flora that decorated each of the tables in the cafe' we passed.

"Stop petting the plants!"

We passed what appeared to be a spa, advertisements for horn-polishing treatments flashed in Ereb'ai behind the glass. Judging from the trembling manicure tables, they were well-staffed.

Finally I found a kiosk in front of an empty dining room draped in crimson velvet.

"The Cigar and Tasting Bar. Tantalus Deck."

I ignored the whispers of my new troops as three of us tugged the heavy open door open by the wrought iron hoops. There I saw a boy in a black ruffled outfit...very distinguished but not too feminine, actually...standing defiant. He looked a lot like the young Darien, but...more athletic, and the hair was a bit lighter. In two hands he wielded a sabre he was too light to hold correctly, and behind was a shivering crowd of shivering demons.

"I am Marcus."

"I am Gematria."

"You are trespassing aboard my ship."

"Give us the Bloodwine, and we'll leave you in peace."

He scowled. "The vampire has his own supply."

"We don't want his. We want yours. And the live Bloodfruit Tree in the Greenhouse."

"How did you know...?"

"I saw the flyer."

He looked back disdainfully at his crew. I charged, swinging my axe. Marcus quickly blocked my swing with his blade. He was faking not knowing how to swing a sword, but he barely raised the blade in time. I could tell by the circles under his eyes that he was exhausted from wreaking havoc on his home town.

I soon learned that while his sword-arm was week his psionics were still potent. I felt gravity shift in my direction as he shot me across the room with a stare. The axe fell from my hands and I crashed into the large glass humidor to the screams of the sailors.

I reached for a pair of cigar clippers and quickly tesseracted behind him, embracing him and pressing the twin blades between his jugular. I turned and faced the faux-pirates.

"Give us the Bloodwine!"

Marcus growled as small drops of his blood spread down the blades. "Kill me and we jettison the casks, and expose the tree to sunlight!"

The dolls gasped. I heard the click of a gun beneath me. I felt the hot breath of the bear against my calf and what I assumed was a pistol barrel against my...lace.

We all stood in tense silence, the only sounds the creaking of the ship and heavy breathing of that damned bear.

I cleared my throat. "Parley?" I looked down at his warm blood dripping down my glove and staining a trail in the leather. It was black ichor.

"Yes. Parley."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Soon, I was being swarmed by frilly dolls secured to wooden kite-frames that soared through the air on flapping wings of wood and paper. I was very lucky that none of the flying Dolls punctured the airbag of the ship, but a slug did tear through the engine, billowing steam around me. That white cloud of boiling moisture may have been what kept them from making a direct hit on my frame.

Dolls in lace, and flying ornithopters. This had Aleister Mason's fangmarks all over it. Obviously, he discovered I broke free of his control. He seemed nice enough as a person mind you, beneath the typical Spark obsessiveness and the vampiric bloodlust, but he was still a bit...odd.

I was starting to lose altitude, and the dolls were swooping close enough to grab at me. The gunfire I did hear was now between the two dolls with twin gatling guns on a larger box-kite contraption and the guns of the Middlesea Fleet. The box-kite had a corkscrew propeller on top as well as wings, allowing it to confound the aim of the gunners with hummingbird agility. It stood to reason dollies in the larger kite were providing cover while their sisters tried to kidnap me.

I reached for my axe and started swinging. As I splintered their ships and shattered their porcelain limbs I screamed that I would never let them take me, that I would never again be a slave...not to Jeremiah nor Aleister! NO ONE!

Then, I distinctly heard the pop of a cork high above the din of battle, and my body suddenly forgot to fight. No other sort of bottle on earth had that exact sound when opened. My body knew it. I held my axe loosely in one hand, craning my neck up as I leaned over the bow, salivating along with the other dolls who suddenly switched to hovering, staring up and drooling like myself.

The horror came to me. My mind was now free, but this body...and the others that Aleister built...are helpless thralls of the Bloodwine used to create us! We heard the sound of pouring, and sighs. We all sighed. Then a shout, and our eyes focused on a glimmer of crystal and spread of crimson liquid through the skies.

We all shrieked as one, kites climbing straight up. I heard myself cursing as I threw off my helmet, strapped on some emergency wings and ascended. I jumped off the rail of the CIRRUS, letting it spin downwards to the ground as sheets of cavorite carried me up towards the hull of the black trireme.

The dolls were dogfighting each other (a fluff ball I believe the call it) for the crystal. Having performed a few mid-air saves myself, I triumphantly captured the glass in my free glove. I rose past where they hovered, their crimson eyes staring at me from blank, porcelain faces. What to do now?

Of course! Aleister always addressed his troops with a glass of the wine in his hand...his symbol of control! Now I gave the orders.

"There's more wine in the ship, Girls! Seize that vessel!"

We swarmed the deck...the sailors were demons, for certain, but not warriors. The was clear from the way they covered their heads and ran below deck, screaming from an invasion of Dolls!

Monday, August 4, 2008

if I could change your mind I wouldn't save you from the path you wander

Somehow I found a pair of CVFB boots in my size. Did we have Tinies on patrol at some point? I tossed the heels aside and joined climbed into my CIRRUS, joining the rest of the fire-fleet in its relay of siphoning water from the bay and dousing the embers of Federal Hill. My third run was interrupted by an aether transmission.

"Mayday! Mayday! This is Nova Sakigake in the city of Hostel! Localized quantum field critically unstable! Request extraction!"

"This is Qlippothic Projects! Coordinates received! Prepare for rescue!"

I was in full armour, navigating through the ripples in reality...

Wait, I thought. This has already happened. I no longer have this body.

A familiar voice surrounded me, its plea reaching the core of my synthetic soul.


No, Demonfather. You waited until I had freewill again to let me make this decision. For that I am grateful. But if every mistake in our lives could be reversed so easily, life would lose meaning and our spirits would never grow.

I landed in Hostel, again I saw glass buildings erupt from the cobblestones as a civilization hurtled towards its doom at a decade per second.

There can never be a Qlippothic 1.0 again. If I refuse to rescue my friend, this alternate who still recognizes me as her friend, or even if she were a total stranger, I would betray the core of this recovered personality. I could never face my family and peers and loves again. If I do such, I am better off as a Blood Doll and Aleister's thrall.

The pale gynoid and I ran to each other and locked our forearms. I embraced her and activated the Galvanic Tesseractor.

"Prepare. This will be a very rough ride."

Without warning the scene instantly changed. I was in the fusion-powered Qli-3 form that Nova-prime had built for me from secrets recovered after Humanity's fall. The landscape was at once alien and familiar, a reformatting of Human and Demon architecture spanning the timeline in a bewildering synthesis.

The one feature I did recognize was the Founder himself, chained to the Engine Room of New Erebus and looming above me. His form was anachronistic, it was as he had been before Hades granted him a new crimson body. The crimson wings he retained to the next form were missing, and he had grown to gigantic proportions. The flat stones beneath me shook as he spoke.

"I would have denied you martyrdom as well, but now I give you the chance to join me in destroying my Father' have a Trespasser!"

"Yes, Father. A mind-healer has become trapped in my psyche. He is why I have freewill."

The Founder shook his head. "I cannot take the healer on this final charge. And if I free him, you will lose the capacity to choose." As I took a breath, my reactor flared brightly. "Even if I retained this configuration after extracting him, I would still refuse. Why are you ending your immortality like this, Father?"

"Turn around, Daughter."

Three hooded women held a long and wide tapestry of shimmering colors. One held chipped flint stone. Another held a set of metal shears. The third held a device projecting a small blade of energy. Patterns swirled in the fabric, and as the images coalesced I heard the screams of an infant. An innocent form convulsing as wings extended...

"FATHER!!" I turned from the Fates, and saw black tears flowing down the red lines under the Founder's eyes.

"You see why I hate my Father so? I was half-mortal before he poisoned me with the Tree of Death. I founded the Bloodline in attempt to recapture what had been ripped from me. It only extended my suffering and unleashed mad progeny upon the world."

"Not all of them are monsters, you know." He nodded.

"The Fates will not allow me to undo that moment. Reality could not be rewoven after removing an event that ancient. But, they are not without compassion. They have allowed me a second chance to..."

"Enough," chimed the Fates as one, "the construct and the astral must return."

"Goodbye, Daughter! Look behind...!"

And again, I was piloting the airship.

"Look behind...?"

I expected trouble. But I did not expect a squadron of clockwork dolls on ornithopters firing lead shot at me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

unexpected help

I look at myself in the mirror again. My mass of curls is squashed by the wide brass helmet bearing the badge of Caledon's tartan. The blue uniform is nearly hopeless. The voluminous blouse hangs over my magenta dress like an overcoat. Do I deserve to wear the officer's shoulderboards after all this time? I slit it down the back to make room for the key. It will have to do.

Despite the chaos in my mind as gears spin out of control, and some poor soul is trapped between my psychic spheres, a voice pours over me like the rain.

So much history passes so quickly. I urge you to not forget your own. I am watching.

Thank you, Aunt Sysperia. Thank you for all you've done for me and all you continue to do from high above the madness that lurches my family from one disaster to another. When I found myself reborn, helpless to find a new identity outside my name, you gave me a vision. I have since traded it for another, but one still inspired by your Art. Even in your farthest orbit I will forever be proud to be your Muse.

The fire extinguisher I grab was meant to be a handheld. I consider strapping it to my back, bit the key makes it impossible. I let it clatter to the floor and reach for the axe.

Outside, an ironclad hovers over the firehouse. As it floats lower, I recognize on deck a fellow adventurer in uniform, even through his new red locks and freckled complexion. He stands to salute.

"Captain Gematria! Or is it Captain Projects? Do you plan to fight off looters and pirates with just water hoses? The Middlesea Fleet stands ready to aid the Fire Brigade on your emergency mission!"

I grinned, and lifted my hand to the brim of my helmet to salute back. "Glad to have you with us, Colonel O'Toole!"

Just then the helmet slid down over my face.