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"Mecha Cowboys" has less than a thousand hits on Google. I've never been more upset.
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RP Concept: "Screw just the plans, we're stealing the Death Star and taking that baby for a joyride!"
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The VeggieTales theme song has been stuck in my head for at least three days now. Can't decide if it a good or bad thing yet.
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Writer of schlock dressed up in some decent clothes.

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Solange

Dead plants can become fertilizer.



It wasn’t quite relief that Solange felt as she watched Skarsat, Maréngo, and Y’Vanna scramble onboard, the lifeless body of Neh’miah hanging from the Tork’s arms. Solange had experienced her fair share of death while shadowing her mother, but this was different—violent, sudden, unexpected. Did the foolish thief even have a moment to realize the end was nigh as the bolt punctured his skull or had he left the world in the same ignorant bliss that’d gotten him in trouble in the first place? A slow drip of blood fell from the crossbow bolt and splashed onto the freshly swabbed deck. A man that rivaled Skarsat in stature lifted the body from his arms and gave it to the crew to take care of, mentioning a ceremony. It was only at that did Solange finally feel any sense of relief.

She followed Ba’ku below deck with the others, the pilfered bag still tight to her chest. A familiar scent hit her nose as they made their way to their rooms. At first it was hard to recognize with it being separated from more floral perfumes, but Solange eventually recognized the smell of the sage oil or, as the girls in her line of work often called it, the smell of gold. The memory drew a thin smile to her face that wavered ever so slightly as she saw the two closets they had been given as quarters. Her eyebrow arched ever so slightly as she stared at the large hempen nets hanging from the walls and tried to figure out where their beds were.

As Ba’ku explained everything and parted, a dumbfounded Solange sat down on their generously provided crate. That cheap bastard Vargas was such a bit biter that he couldn’t even get her a private cabin with a real bed? As Skarsat struck out to find his own space, Solange watched as Y’vanna cracked open a bottle of rum despite it not even being noon. To Solange’s surprise, Maréngo stopped himself from taking a swig of the drink.

As Y’vanna turned the bottle to her, Solange stared at it with some strong consideration. Everything had fallen apart so fast. It was funny. The thought of never going back to Gullian always had been part of her personal plan, yet now that the option had been removed from the table it suddenly was the only one Solange wanted to pick. The city had proved her with so many opportunities, yet now she only had this one chance. Her knuckles lightly rapped on the wood of the crate, knowing that like their fight with the law the chance of her future being as bright as she’d hoped for it also had shit odds—and having a drunk around only diminished her chances.

“Thank you, love,” said Solange, standing to take the bottle from Y’Vanna. She swirled the contents, lifted the bottle to her lips, paused, and chuckled softly before lowering the drink with a shake of her head.“Sorry, darling, this just reminds me of a story my sister once told me. It’s about Fontaine’s longest working whore. Her name was Sarey, but behind her back the girls called her Soresy Sarey—you can imagine why, love. Although she was well-experienced, she no longer could entertain the guests behind closed doors, so Fontaine had her work the floor.”

“Soresy would entice men into buying themselves and her drinks, which she put away better than any sailor. The story goes that the bar would run dry most nights Soresy Sarey worked, netting Fontaine quite a pretty profit. Yet Soresy stopped limiting her drinking to when she was on the clock, imbibing whenever she could and buying herself bottles from the bar on a daily basis. She couldn’t leave her bed without a drink in the morning, and soon she was so taken by the booze that she couldn’t leave her bed if she tried. She became a fiscal problem for Fontaine. Soresy couldn’t pay for her room, she couldn’t pay for her tab, and she couldn’t bring in customers. She was Fontaine’s longest working girl, but she was a detriment.”


Solange ran her hand across the bottle of rum as she recounted the tale, her eyes down as she continued on, a playful smile on her face.

“Now Fontaine wanted Soresy gone but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything to someone she considered to be her friend. Fortunately for her, she’d just hired a new enforcer from a spice island who’d survived an attack from some privateers. Her name was Prudence. A young woman then, probably about your age now,” said Solange, her eyes flicking up to cut Y’Vanna like a razor. “But she was mean. Nasty. Practically a wild animal. Prudence didn’t like seeing her new master so upset, so she took matters into her own hand. Soresy was dragged from her bed by her hair to the alley out back, screaming the whole time and so covered in bedsores that she’d truly earned her nickname.”

“The girls, of course, followed. Once on the stone ground outside, Prudence produced a bottle of alcohol and asked Soresy if she wanted a drink. Soresy at this point couldn’t even really speak, but she nodded. Without a word, Prudence uncorked the bottle and held it high,”
said Solange, taking the bottle of spiced rum and holding it out. Then, she turned it, pouring the liquid onto the planks below. “She emptied out the entire bottle on Soresy and then, as Fontaine and the other girls watched, she struck a match. Prudence then turned to Fontaine, and when Fontaine did nothing she dropped it.” Solange righted the bottle, empty all but for one single sip. “They say Soresy had drank so much alcohol the night before that she burned for hours. The scorch marks are still in the alley behind the Red Sail.”

“I’ve seen them myself,”
said Solange, tossing the nearly empty bottle back to Y’Vanna. “Anyway, enjoy your drink, love. If either of you need me, I’ll be above deck. It smells like someone is trying to cover up a drunken orgy down here, and I for one don’t want to risk getting any more stains on my dress.”

East Aaraminta - Construction Site



Tansy lifted her chin and smiled ever so slightly as Trisha told her to shut up, turning her head so the finger Trisha flipped at her was deflected by the high collar of her coat. She joined the others at Shane’s suggestion that they scope out the grounds, unhappy to be back out in the cold especially after how quickly Trisha had heated up the trailer. The snow crunched as they trudged through the construction site towards the side most likely to be hit by the Wiccans. Shane and Tuyen bounced ideas back and forth, determining that funneling the Wiccans into a narrow spot would be the best idea.

“Any place you think will work?” asked Tuyen directly to Tansy.

“I’m afraid that I’m better at planning banquets than battlefields,” said Tansy with a shrug.

It was unfortunate then that this side was going to be the extension for the parking lot. Barren and flat, there weren’t any locations for ambushes out here unless they constructed one themselves—and Tansy didn’t need any knowledge of construction to assume that would be highly difficult and timely. She sighed and turned, looking at the partially built rehab center. Blue plastic sheets had been tied to post and pinned to the ground to protect the construction from the winter weather. As the others planned, Tansy wordlessly slipped in past the curtain and disappeared from sight.

Moments later, a tearing noise ripped through the quiet night as a boxcutter horizontally cut through the middle of the plastic tarp, the bottom half collapsing to the ground. Tansy slid the razor back into the boxcutter and slipped it into her cut pocket before she stepped under the curtain and folded her arms, nodding her head towards the inner guts of the under construction building. Beyond her was a maze of pipes and load-bearing beams, the unfinished walls allowing everyone to see through the entire floor of the building. At first glance it didn’t appear to fit the bill, yet Tansy was already smiling as if in success.

“We could take some of the extra tarps in storage and those hanging around outside to create a narrow passage in here and limit line of sight. They won’t prevent anyone from breaking through them, but neither did the walls of our house so I feel like that point is moot,” said Tansy. “So unless anyone has a better idea, I say we start tearing down tarps and setting up our stage. Then once the Wiccans arrive Shane will take the skull and funnel—”

Her eyes darted around the site and did a quick head count. Tansy’s expression shifted into one of dumbfounded realization as her mouth fell agape. Where was Georgie? How could they set a trap for the Wiccans if the one holding their bait wasn’t even here? She turned quickly to look over her shoulder, as if the little brat would somehow have already been inside of the construction site. She whipped her head back towards the other, her eyes widening and her face setting not into the look of concern that should be there but one of angry accusation. She stomped one foot down as she flailed her arms out towards the others.

“Where is that little psychopath!?” barked Tansy, her control crumbling. “Did none of you idiots check if she was actually coming? Areyouallthatfuckingstupid!?”

She turned and began to furiously pace, snatching her phone out of her pocket and making a call. The robotic voice of a lady asking for her to please leave a message could be momentarily heard alongside a ding of a bell before being cut short as Tansy’s phone shattered, spiked like a football onto the concrete flooring of the construction site. She inhaled deeply, looking at the dozen of pieces that made up her phone, and turned back to the others, the red on her cheeks now more from embarrassment than anger. The leather of her gloves could be heard groaning as she held her hand at her side in tight fists. She inhaled again and gave a sheepish smile.

“Ezra’s not answering. Could one of you call Georgie and find out what’s happening?” asked Tansy, the calm in her voice as chilling as the night’s air. “I would just…” Her fist tightened. “...hate for something to have happened.”


Outside the Sunrise Resort



Ezra stayed crouched with the others as Justin went forward to peak in through the window. He could feel his heartbeat slow and steady but knew if it wasn’t for his abstraction it would’ve been racing still from the hellhounds crashing by them. His eyebrows arched as Justin floated above the ground. The kid was young, but he had an impressive skill set. Ezra just hoped that didn’t lead to their supernatural expert being too overconfident. Justin had been the one to suggest that they just raid the place. With their leader gone maybe he’d get the stupid idea to just start blasting.

Ezra untensioned as Justin returned. "Morgana is heading towards the manor... does anyone have any idea if Sabrina and Georgie are out of there yet?"

“Georgie was shaken by today’s events but she’s smart, and Sabrina knows what she’s doing. I’m sure they’re with Tuyen’s group by now,” said Ezra, wishing to believe his siblings could band together when things matter. Yet that sentiment didn’t stop him from pulling his phone out and turning his back to the resort to block the light from the screen. “I’ll let the others know to get ready. Once Morgana doesn’t find the skull there she’ll probably hunt them down.”

A text warning Georgie, Sabrina, and Tuyen’s group that Morgana was headed to the manor was quickly composed and sent. Ezra quietly put his phone back in his pocket, the dim screen of the silenced phone lighting up the moment it slipped into the fabric. He wasn’t going to dress up in this ridiculous hunting outfit only to make some dumb mistake like having his ringtone go off while sneaking into the lair of their enemy. He assumed the others were also smart enough to have silenced their devices.

“I warned them, just in case,” said Ezra, looking up at the others. “With Morgana gone this is our best time to find their healer, assuming she’s in there, but if the rest of them are in there I doubt they’d be willing to hear us out. We need to find a way to isolate her. Anyone got a way we can get her attention or secretly send her a message to meet us out back?”

Solange

Run!



Her dress was hiked up to her knees, the billowing skirt bunched together like the petals of a bouquet, as Solange focused on putting one foot in front of the other and praying to whichever gods were watching that she didn’t stumble over the excessive amounts of fabric. She had not run like this since she had come to Gullian. Behind her she could feel the presence of a ghost . The woman with black and silver hair screamed for the constables, her hand that was dried with blood wetting itself yet again as it pressed against the base of her neck. Ahead of her Solange saw the uncertain future as the white sails of the Pinned Seal unfurled as shouts from aboard drowned out her own call to the captain and mixed with the cacophony of reality and memory coming from behind her. She did not turn back to hazard a glance.

Solange kept running. Orders from the Sheriff to halt were ignored without a second of reconsideration—perhaps next time order a halt before pinning the skull of one of their companions to the inside of his rudimentary coffin. Her breathing grew heavy. The gangplank was almost right in front of her. She had nearly reached it when the cannon fired overhead, the blast so deafening that Solange’s hands instinctively let go of her dress and covered her ears. The long, bundled up fabric fell loose as she pressed on, her foot stepping on the hem of the dress. Her already racing heart nearly exploded as she felt herself begin to trip. Her hands reacted faster than her brain, snatching up her dress yet again as the explosion still rang in her ears. She felt some fabric tear as she did an awkward sidestep, but she kept her balance and kept going.

She only stopped once she made it to the top of the gangplank, two sailors hoisting her aboard as the ship began to shift forward. She stepped clear to allow room for the others to jump on as she finally took a moment to catch her breath and look at the pandemonium left behind. Black smoke swirled on the wind as a small fire burned on the street and began to engulf the cart, a man laid dead in the street with an arrow punched so deep in him that he looked like he’d been stabbed by a quill, and the top of a church stood smoking where the belltower once had been. Solange’s mouth gaped at the nameless bystanders, who seemed so small from the deck of the ship, trapped beneath the rubble from the tower. Some were squirming, others weren’t. Laughter echoed in her ears as she watched ants scrambled to lift the bell off of a person, a sailor pulling her back away from the firing line of the Sheriff’s men .

The captain was busy hollering orders. Once they were out of the bay and actually safe she would seek out a proper introduction, but for now Solange found herself an out of the way place to stand as the sailors set to work. In her hands she clutched the burlap sack she’d snatched from the streets and pressed it against her chest, pulling it away as she felt herself prodded by something sharp. She did not inspect further, her eyes too busy darting to and fro as they watched the men aboard the Pinned Seal work. As the adrenaline faded she was struck with the realization that she was only comfortable around sailors when they were too drunk to stand and being watched by oversized bouncers and hidden blades in the shadow. She craned her neck and looked for the others, trying her best not to appear shaken.

The Vanburen Estate



“Thanks, Blu. I appreciate the offer. Sorry you had to be involved in our family’s mess,” said Ezra as James’s ward proposed falling on the sword that was dealing with Georgie.

Sabrina suggested she do it alone. Ezra felt a weight push down on his shoulder as she asked him to believe in her. Even though he had been the one to approach Sabrina, he doubted anyone in his family would be a surefire way to get Georgie out of the house. An outside perspective might be what was really needed to snap some sense into Georgie. Yet he had a history of questioning Sabrina’s confidence, and the last thing he needed was another family member storming away. He nodded in approval and Sabrina jogged away. It was only when she was out of earshot that he leaned over to Blu to whisper.

“Go with her but hang back and let Sabrina do the talking. If Georgie doesn’t respond to her, maybe you can work your magic,” said Ezra, his focus shifting over towards Arabelle as she began to explain her plan. “Sabrina’s going to take Georgie to the construction site with the others to help setup a trap. If Justin’s right about them being able to track the skull then Georgie’s going to be at the center of any conflict no matter what. It’d be safer to have a spot where we have an upperhand. Although you are right that once they arrive Georgie should be as far away as possible…”

Ezra snapped his fingers. “I got it. Justin, give me five minutes.”


The Vanburen Estate - Foyer



What were the rumors being spread about Shane? So many swirled through Tansy’s mind, but it was hard to parse the ones that could be true from the ones that she had started as excuses to explain his absence. She wiped her eyes and caught his cold, narrow stare as he said they could be right. She stepped back as he stepped forward and looked to the ground as his expression softened. Shane maybe didn’t care what others thought about him, but Tansy cared. Why was it so difficult for him to realize that maybe some of the people in his “stupid” family actually wanted him to have a good, successful life?

The silence was chillier than the wind blowing through the shattered windows. Tansy studied the carpet, burnt black and slashed to pieces. Shane asked her to trust him, yet he didn’t trust telling her the truth. She sat down on the arm of the sofa, her face knotted in disgust as she glared at her brother. All Tansy needed was for him to look at her, but he just stared forward, looking at something that wasn’t even there. Her manicured fingernails dug into her coat. Look at me. Her lips quivered as she shivered from something that wasn’t the wind. Look at me. Just at the edge of Shane’s peripheries a soft, golden glow began to emerge.

“Look at me—”“Shane!”

Tansy closed her eyes and the golden light disappeared as Ezra staggered into the room holding something a few feet large wrapped up inside of a blanket. “A hand!”

“What is that?” asked Tansy, stiffly standing from the sofa as she ignored the sick feeling in her stomach.

“Heavier than it looks. Help me carry it to the car. I’ll explain in a minute.”


East Aaraminta - Construction Site



Two cars pulled up in front of the construction site in East Araminta for what would become the Vanburen Memorial Rehabilitation Center. That was at least according to the massive, moonlit coming soon sign that had James’s smiling face on it, the shadow of the billboard falling on the derelict structures in the neighboring lots. A twelve-foot tall barred fence surrounded the construction site which was peppered with bulldozers, some cranes, one crane with a wrecking ball, and forklifts as well as a number of shipment containers and mobile trailers doubling as offices. The rehabilitation center itself was still little more than a skeleton, three stories of steel, stone, wood that rivaled most large department stores in length.

Tansy stepped out of the backseat of one of the cars, looking as pale as the fresh layer of snow that draped all of the construction equipment, as she stepped towards the gate. She punched a code into a keypad and the gate parted in the middle. She waved the cars forward and followed behind them on foot, closing the gate on the other side, thankful to be out of those death machines. The cool air calmed her nerves as she moved with pride towards her baby, the snow crunching beneath her boots. It would be a shame if it got wrecked by the Wiccans, but the airtight insurance policy and the certainty that charitable, goodhearted folks would come out in droves to donate to the next fundraiser eased her worries.

She pulled a little key out of pocket and opened the door to the foreman’s office as the others pulled Ezra’s package from the top of a car. The space inside was cramped but tidy, blueprints pinned on the wall showing plans for an olympic size swimming pool and tennis courts to be constructed eventually in the lots nearby. Two desks and a couch were crammed into the office. One of the desks clearly belonged to the foreman, while the second one was decorated with familial memorabilia. There was a photo of Trisha in a graduation cap smiling with her friends, an article about Oscar winning a science fair, a photo of Sabrina and Tansy at a fashion show, some of Georgie’s favorite flowers pressed in a frame, a photo of Ezra and his (now ex) wife on their wedding day, and a family portrait from a Christmas several years ago that upon closer inspection appeared to have been folded to fit the frame.

“Place it down there,” said Tansy, shaking her jitters from the car ride. After the others placed the wrapped item against the wall, Tansy stepped forward and pulled the blanket from it. Her reflection stared back at her in the full length mirror. She pulled out her phone, stepped back to get some of the foreman’s office in frame, and took a picture and sent it to Ezra. “There. Ezra said if the Wiccans show up or if something goes wrong to give him or Arabelle a call. Supposedly she can use the mirrors to open a gateway if we need reinforcements or to retreat.

“But in the meantime, let’s begin setting things. All the keys to the fun stuff are in there,”
said Tansy, nodding to a lockbox on the wall that contained the equipment keys to the construction vehicles. “But it’s locked and, I’d imagine, quite sturdy. I doubt any of us know how to drive those things anyway, so we might be limited to our hands. Anyway, Tuyen, I don’t know why I’m talking since you are the expert. What should we do to set up an ambush for the Wiccans? We are yours to command.”

“Alright,” Tuyen cleared her throat.“For this trap to work, I need to know what you can all do. Abstraction or mundane skills, anything that can help and any ideas.”

Tansy rotated to the office's couch and took a seat as Tuyen explained her abstraction. It was nice to know that there was someone there that could take down a few of the cult's monstrosities. Although, Tansy did not know if she wanted to be explicitly candid with her abstraction yet. She had mentioned to her family that she had come in contact with an Apparition that knew their father, but had neglected to mention that the Apparition was still hanging around. She certainly couldn't tell them all it was capable of doing. Not yet, anyway. Didn't need to give any of them another reason to treat her like she was some kind of invasive parasite.

”I won’t be fighting,” said Trisha.

"I'd hope not," said Tansy sweetly, her hand on her heart as her words dripped with a suffocating level of sincerity. "We would all just be mortified if you were badly hurt or, worse, disfigured. Don't worry, Tuyen, I'm sure that Trisha's little imaginary friends that she makes will be so helpful that we wouldn't even miss her not being there! Anyway, I will of course help in anyway I can, although I do not know how strong of an abstraction I have. I can create a blinding light, but can only really focus on one person at a time. Otherwise I know the site here like the back of my hand so I can probably help with determining what's the best spot to, ahem, welcome the cultists at."

“I don’t know this area very well, what direction is where we think the cultists are? If we know where they’ll come from we can figure out where’s best to set up,” asked Tuyen.

"If they come from their resort then they would be coming from the woods east of here," said Tansy, getting up from the couch to point at the treeline through the front window of the office. "The only way inside is through the front gate, although judging by our house they could just crash through the fence over there. We can walk the grounds in a moment after everyone—what was it your friends say, Trisha? Sips the tea?"


Outside the Sunrise Resort



This had been the longest day ever and ending it with a hike through the woods just felt miserable. Ezra already knew his body would be kicking his ass for the next week once morning came and the adrenaline wore off, but for now he’d push through it. A hand mirror was wrapped carefully up inside of his jacket that he could Configure large enough to allow Arabelle to crouch through, giving them a way to link the two groups if things went south. The jacket was a camo one used for hunting. It had belonged to James and Ezra felt like an asshole wearing it, as he’d never gotten the appeal of creeping around in the woods while masking his smell with animal piss at five in the morning. Still, some testing had shown that it could serve as a catalyst for his spells.

Although Ezra did not need to become a hunting prodigy to know that Justin was moving through the forest like a thundering herd of bison. Each crunch of snow and sticks was like a sharp knife being jabbed into Ezra’s ears. If any of the Wiccans were at the resort then hopefully they were all inside, because anyone would hear their group stepping through the winter wonderland. Justin had seemed to get a little heated early with Georgie’s little stunt. Ezra couldn’t blame him, but there was an impatience to the kid that rubbed Ezra the wrong way. Rushing was a surefire way to screw something up.

Mystical lightning crashing and a girl screaming only reinforced Ezra’s doubt as the bracelet on his hand glowed orange and he cast a prodigy spell on himself. He felt his muscles stiffen as his focus tightened. His vision didn’t improve and his hearing didn’t sharpen, but he began recognizing the difference between everyone’s footfalls as they stopped. He glanced over at Arabelle and made sure she was close by in case they needed to make a hot exit. He’d already shown her the image Tansy had sent him of the mirror at the construction site just in case.

"Before we get a move on, what do you all think?" asked Justin, Oscar replying that they keep going.

“Wait.” Ezra held a finger up to his mouth and signaled for everyone to crouch down. He heard what sounded like shifting earth and the large thundering mitts. Something was headed their way, although it may not be on their direct path. He continued in a hushed whisper, “Those dogs are on the move. But remember, we’re here for the healer. Let’s try to hide and let them pass first.”

It was possible that the hellhounds had their scent and could find them. Fortunately, their group had Oscar and all the snow he’d need to give those dogs an unending bath. He just hoped Oscar wouldn’t turn out to be totally gungho and try to get the drop on them. Ezra locked eyes with his brother and mouthed: only if they find us.

Solange

Run.



Solange grabbed hold of the railing as Skarsat shoved the cart forward, surprised and a bit horrified that he was actually able to help move it faster than the mule. She began cackling madly and cheering for Skarsat, daintely waving her fingers at the Sheriff in a taunt as the cart began to cruise, but the jeers cut short as a bolt buried into the barrel that had served as her backrest. She heard a gurgling noise as she dove to the floor of the cart, dragging her supplies into her chest and burying her head down to protect her vitals. She heard two bolts whizz overhead and two howls.

Solange barely had time to lift her head as the cart veered to the right and crashed into a stack of crates. She was bucked upwards and kicked her foot out and luckily caught it under the railing as her hand braced under the opposite side, preventing her from being tossed. Aside from a stubbed toe and a splinter or two on her finger she was fine. Amazingly, she’d avoid being tossed. She laughed nervously as she climbed out of her cart, her supply pack cradle to her chest like a newborn babe. Solange crouched low to make herself a smaller target.

For a moment, time slowed to a crawl. A mule was braying madly, caught in a limbo between life and death. A broken barrel leaked red, an unmoving limb draped out through a hole. Nora was snatched away, a happy moment in any other situation that was rained upon by the halberds being leveled towards Solange. Y’vanna fired a pistol, the sound of a man shrieking was like music. Gerranti red face hollered, two men cranking at their crossbows. Skarsat and Maréngo might be able to dance with a few deputies, but Solange had literally danced with some of these deputies at the Red Sail because she couldn’t even manage to slay a defenseless, unsuspecting woman without mucking the whole thing up. Drawing her dagger might as well be followed by falling on it.

She slung her pack over her back in hopes that it was dense enough to catch bolts for her and scrambled around the cart. She paused for a moment, scanning the wreckage for anything useful amongst the scattered and abandoned gear that belonged to Nora and Neh’miah. There was too much rubbish to dig through, so she snatched up the first bag she saw and began to flee towards the ship. She ran with her head ducked down, fearing the Sheriff’s men saw the back of her head like it was the red center of a practice target. Solange was determined to get to the docks.

Once she was in shouting distance she’d call out for Captain Griffin, barking what limited sailing terms she knew to get the old salt to get ready for a hot exit. Perhaps she could rouse some reinforcements from his crew. Perhaps the others would fall and she could stowaway instead. Perhaps she’d change her name, dye her hair, and live life out of Gnok. Perhaps she should focus on the immediate present instead of an uncertain future. The docks weren’t too far now. She just had to keep running.



The Vanburen Estate



“Georgie, wai—” Tansy motioned for Georgie to stop as she hideaway the skull and stepped towards the sliding door, but barely managed to take one step towards her before the door was already slid shut. Tansy covered her mouth with her fist and bit down on a knuckle, a frustrated sigh streaming out past her hand that sounded like a locomotive coming to rest at a station. She regretted what she said but knew there would be no point in apologizing. When it came to talking with Georgie it felt like any move Tansy made was the wrong move.

She wrapped her arms around herself as the family divided themselves into two groups. Her abstraction could allow her to snatch some information about the Wiccans that any townies knew, but being present at the construction site would solve a number of headaches for the rest of them going. “I’ll go to the construction site in case any overzealous beat cop tries to bust anyone for trespassing. In the meantime, I think I’m going to go warm up,” said Tansy as she headed towards the door, stopping next to Ezra to whisper, “Perhaps you should convince Georgie that it’d be safer for her to sulk in the foreman’s office than in her own room? Your house, your rules, right?”

Ezra's forehead wrinkled at the suggestion. Georgie would do whatever she wanted, regardless of what he said. Besides, he wasn’t the woman’s guardian. Ezra suppressed a chuckle that hopefully sounded like a cough when Oscar suggested he was the easiest to talk to in the family. It wasn’t a high bar. After Oscar, LeBeau was maybe the only one in the family who having a conversation didn't feel like navigating a minefield and that included the days where the ocelot was feeling particularly bitey. Ezra would even admit he was difficult to speak with sometimes, preferring the few moments of silence he ever got these days over any other sound in the world. Although not necessarily the case for him, Ezra realized there was one other Vanburen who could qualify as actually being easy to talk to: Sabrina. He sidled over to Sabrina as Tansy disappeared after Shane to pass along the request.

“I’d appreciate it if you could check on Georgie in a moment. Convince her that holding the football in a room by herself when we’re going up against a cult who can track ram skulls, open portals, and shapeshift might qualify as a fucking awful idea,” hissed Ezra quietly, letting a rare moment of emotion slip by unfiltered. He didn’t need more destruction done to his house and a dead sibling would raise a lot of questions he couldn’t possibly answer. He ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes, continuing, “She’s clever and probably has some kind of contingency plan, but she’d be safer with family. Take her with whichever group you’re joining. Wrap her up in blankets and drag her if you have to.”

Ezra turned towards Justin and raised his voice so the others could hear, “I’ll help find the healer. I don’t know if anyone here has anything that makes them stealthy,” said Ezra, rubbing his chin. He knew by now the basic abstractions most of his siblings had thanks to the attack or from previous conversations. Blu was a mystery, he could be Blind for all Ezra knew. Tansy had been vague, something about being in touch with a celestial being. From what he knew about Arabelle’s abstraction she was probably the only one who could do any sort of espionage, but he wasn’t about to volunteer an injured person. “My ability is extremely versatile but can be finicky. I could potentially find a way to make myself stealthy with the right item. At the very least, I know that I can get us quietly through just about any locked door.”


The Vanburen Estate - Foyer



Warming up turned out to be an impossibility thanks in part to the decorating, but it was the sight of the open front door that sent a chill through Tansy’s spine. She’d hurried inside to catch a moment alone with Shane to see if she could melt some of the glacier that’d slid between them. Growing up she’d always felt close to Shane and she’d been truly hurt when he began to bail on their hangout nights in New York, so hurt in fact when she’d caught Shane attempting to sneak out last Christmas she’d drowned him in a tidal wave of honest concern polluted with harsh insults and unfiltered thoughts. Seeing each other since then was a rare occasion, while speaking was even rarer. Now he’d run out again. Tansy was turning red in the face when Shane walked back in.

“And for a moment there I thought you’d run off on us again. Not like there’s a precedent,” said Tansy with a sweet smile, as if she wasn’t twisting the knife. She swigged the rest of her tea, flinching at the burn of the alcohol. Her drink hadn’t been so much weaker than his. She looked around the room. “Our house is ruined. All of this is just so terrible, I mean, thank god nobody important got hurt but this? This won’t be fixed in time for Christmas. And this curse! Ugh! I just hope this is all figured out by New Year’s Eve, I mean, over a hundred people have already RSVPed and it’d just be awful to cancel on them. ”

Tansy fidgeted with her teacup. Shane would know her well enough to realize this was the typical Tansy smalltalk salvo, the nervous flood of words she spilled when she needed to buy herself time to work up the courage needed to ask someone about something they wouldn’t want to talk about or make a demand she knew wouldn’t be liked.

“But it’s not all bad, I suppose. It’d be kind of fun to have us all under one roof again. Give us all plenty of time to catch up. You know what I was thinking about the other day?” A rhetorical question. From her smile slipping down to just one raised corner and the way she squinted one of her eyes it was clear she was going to spring it on Shane. The melody went out of her voice. “I was thinking about how you never told me why you quit the NYPD. We need to—I deserve to know, Shane.” Her voice became hushed. “There are rumors. I don’t believe any of them and even if you did something awful I wouldn't care. We just need to take care of it before word spreads further. I need—I can protect you, and we can protect the family, but I need you to talk to me. Otherwise…”

Otherwise? She closed her eyes and exhaled. The thought of using her abstraction on Shane should’ve made her feel more sick. She opened her eyes, seemingly having conjured up tears. “Otherwise I don’t know. Please, Shane, I know you already used your monthly quota of words but just talk to me.”


The Vanburen Estate



Ezra gave Arabelle an apologetic frown as Tansy swooped in and began to pack her mind full of enough emotional baggage to properly supply Arabelle for an extended guilt trip. He massaged his temple as he broke from the pack and leaned against the patio railing, staring like a shell shocked soldier at the snow covered trees past the hedges. Tansy was correct about one thing: their family enjoyed disagreeing with one another and arguing in circles. They were so eager to put in their own two cents that they didn’t give anyone a chance to expand on what could be a million dollar idea.

You’re the experts! Ezra had caught the look Tansy had thrown his way. It was the same look she gave when she sided with James when Ezra argued business with him. He knew she didn’t have any idea of what she was agreeing to, he just knew that she enjoyed undermining him. He snorted out a silent laugh as Georgie told Tansy to shut up, thankful that his back was turned to the family so they couldn’t witness his amusement. He wiped his expression blank and spun back around to enjoy the theatrics.

"And you are a whore after James's own heart. At least you know what condoms are for," said Georgie.

“Well this family already has one mistake,” said Tansy after recovering from the initial shock with a smile so full of shit it was clear she meant Georgie. Was the “academic” so sheltered by her puritanical school life that she thought slutshaming would set Tansy to tears, as if she hadn’t spent her whole adult life dealing with hushed whispers about her proclivities? Did she really think calling her a pretty decoration would cut her down? Why would someone as accomplished as Tansy even care what an emotionless, useless little bitch thought about her anyway? Yet as she spoke her eyes watered, her face flushed, and her hands began to shake. Even her fake smile faltered as she spat out the rest of her thought, “I wouldn’t want to make another.”

Ezra watched with a look of disinterest as Tansy turned and briskly made her way towards the tea set, her hands trembling and spilling a bit of the kettle as she topped off her mug. Some were clearly done. Some of the others were still attempting to do a brainstorm—Ezra grimaced when Blu’s attempt to offer assistance was quickly shut down. A part of him worried about what the ward would say of his dysfunctional family to the townies once this was all over. A part of him felt sorry for Blu having to deal with everyone’s ego. Ezra rolled his neck and rubbed his shoulder. He felt a migraine coming on, enhanced by Oscar’s joke about a family picnic. Had he even eaten today? He needed a cigarette.

“Perfect weather for it. After that we can invite the Wiccans out for ice cream,” said Ezra with a sniff. It was a rare joke accompanied by an even rarer smile from their oldest brother. He looked tired. “It sounds like we might’ve actually formed a plan. So in summary, we attempt to contact the turncoat and bring her to a secluded location. Potentially we can get some info from her, but considering how on edge the Wiccans might be it’s more likely they’ll follow her. So we spring an ambush, capture one of them, send the rest fleeing, find out where this Triple Goddess is, and hit her before the Wiccans can regroup.”

It wasn’t a perfect plan. Ezra wouldn’t even call it a good plan. Still, it was a better plan than spending another moment freezing his ass off outside while watching his siblings continue to trade barbs and propose more asinine ideas.

“So where’s the meeting taking place? It’s gotta be somewhere private in case the Wiccans come in full force.”

“Daddy’s clinic,” said Tansy into her tea. She rubbed her cheek, straightened her spine, and turned around to face the others as she elaborated, directing her attention to Ezra and Justin. “I own a lot near the woods in East Araminta. It’s for a rehab clinic but it’s little more than a construction site now. The area around it is all abandoned buildings and empty lots.”

“I’m surprised you’d offer up your pet project. You’ve seen what happened to the house.”

“It’s insured,” said Tansy.

Ezra didn’t like how pleased she sounded. He turned to Justin, “Does that work?”

Solange - To the Docks

Cut away the vines or they'll suffocate your own growth.



While the others finished their shopping and returned to the cart, Solange busied herself by prepping a potion to ease the fire burning in Maréngo’s stomach caused by last night’s carousing and nothing more. She leaned forward from the barrel in which Neh’miah was pickling and set down her handwritten journal in front of her. Detailed diagrams of stems and leaves painted the pages between the fine, flowing script of her notes and recipes. Shorthand and jargon popped up like weeds throughout the paragraphs, making the writing almost nonsensical to anyone but the author. It was intentionally obtuse by design. Solange didn’t want any prying eyes to suss the nature of some of her more sinister serums.

She paused on a page and pulled roots and leaves out of her pouch. A vial was produced next, knocking against the one filled with the true culprit as she removed it from her bag, followed by a flask of clean water. Her hand disappeared up her sleeve to retrieve a foldable pocket knife. The well-maintained blade shaved off a slice of ginger root. She chewed the ginger vigorously, breaking it down to a pulp, and spat it into the vial. A pinch of salt followed, joined with a few crushed, dried leaves milled between Solange’s fingers that left the tips a deep crimson. She filled the vial with some distilled water, so focused she didn’t even spill a drop as Skarsat loudly cracked Neh’miah’s barrel right behind her so the poor thief wouldn’t suffocate, and put her thumb over top of it to give it a shake.

Her eyes paused on the tainted coffee vial secured in her pouch. There was still room in the potion for a little more liquid. She glanced over at Maréngo. The sailor wasn’t without his sharpness, but he was distracted with his new pet and the kindly gesture of making him a stomach soother was all Solange really needed. Yet her cheek still stung from Skarsat’s slap, prodding her towards the sensible choice. She passed the vial to Maréngo and clocked one of the Sheriff’s men behind his shoulder as Y’vanna set some crates on the cart.

“Here you are, my love. Drink all of it now. It may not outright absolve you from revelry’s revenge, but it shall stymie some of the more severe symptoms. Avoid alcohol—I know, darling,” said Solange, feigning a pained expression and clasping a hand to her heart, “—and drink plenty of water. As well, as adorable as Pyka is, save the rest of those plantains for yourself. They’ll help amplify the elixir.”

A protective hand shut down to her satchel as Nora jerked the reins, setting the cart in motion. A dark cloud of frustration stormed past Solange’s face as she quickly gathered her gear before it could slip off and sat back against the barrel with a huff, knocking poor Neh’miah yet again. She let her legs dangle from the back of the cart, kicking them as they slowly progressed through the market. The cries of the gulls from the nearby dock stirred up a feeling of excitement. This was actually happening. The moment the boat set sail she would be free from both her obligations to Fontaine and her false promises to Vargas. She put a hand up to her mouth, disguising a chuckle as a clearing of her throat. What was the split Vargas had offered? Sixty-forty, minus the deductions she owed? It was fortunate he never spoke with her sister. Perhaps then he’d know that she wasn’t good at sharing.

The sun felt nice on her skin and the future looked bright. Nora and Y’vanna proceeded onward with all the seriousness of a funeral procession as Pyka whined on Maréngo’s shoulder, but Solange felt like playing. She turned towards Skarsat with mischief on her mind, but the thought was suddenly shaken by the sight of another of the Sheriff’s men. No, this was the same one. A strange coincidence? He was looking their way, but was he actually watching? Solange stared directly at the guard, raised a closed fist up next to her chin, and pumped it twice as she puffed out her cheek. The raised eyebrows and turn of the head confirmed her suspicion.

Solange’s brow furrowed as she straightened her back and stretched, using the moment to scan the crowd. She recognized a few other of the Sheriff’s men, some from this morning and some from nights at the Red Sail Brothel. They were positioning themselves apart, posting up at crowded intersections or in front of alleyways. Solange looked over her shoulder past Nora. It was becoming clearer that they were being funneled. She turned back and the first guard she had vanished into the crowd. In his place she saw Gerranti on the move with a look of determination on his face. I would advise none of you to be around when I find this Neh’miah. Gerranti’s warning echoed in her head. Son of a bitch, they’d been ratted out!

“Don't look behind you, sweeties, but we've been outplayed by the Sheriff. It appears like his whole constabulary is here to charge us for the crime of smuggling absolutely fucking stupid cargo,” said Solange, venom dripping from her voice as she eyed the crate of alchemist fire. She turned her head towards Nora. “Darling, can this thing move faster?"

Solange's Misfortune


The Vanburen Estate



Tansy stepped carefully to avoid the debris scattered through the halls of her childhood home as she assessed the destruction done by the Wiccans. The estate appeared alien with its scorched walls that had been broken through and flooded floors had been unearthed, winter’s chill drifting through the shattered windows of the dining room. She had not been home at the time of the attack, having opted out of Oscar’s little meeting to wrap up some business of her own, but Ezra had filled her in on the details after he picked her up after dropping off Arabelle. She’d maintained a sense of composure in the car, more focused on her breathing than what he’d been saying.

However, now walking through the Wiccan’s wake she felt her lips tremble in a suppressed rage. Supposedly Shane and Sabrina had tracked them down. It was likely the people who’d assaulted their house and attacked her family were the same kind of people that she and James had dedicated themselves to helping. No, calling them people was too considerate—they were a pack of wild dogs. Tansy rubbed her hand to sooth the perceived bite as she glared at the chair James used to sit in, an empty throne shattered and ruined by rabid upstarts. It was decided then and there that those dogs would learn a lesson. She just had to find somebody to hold them down while she rolled up the newspaper.

It was time for the meeting. She dawned a long double-breasted wool coat, wrapped a scarf Sabrina had given her from a previous Christmas, and made a quick pit stop before heading outside. She stopped before exiting, eying the mug in Arabelle’s hand but noticing the distinct lack of warm beverages for everyone else. Ezra had dismissed the staff for an indeterminate amount of time except for the girl, but just because she was injured suddenly she had the right to only help herself? In a huff Tansy turned and stamped towards the kitchen, grabbing the kettle, a stack of mugs, and a silver serving tray. If she’d been given more time she would’ve prepared some hor d'oeuvres. By the time she joined the others on the patio her head had cooled significantly, although she still bristled at the evening chill. There were plenty of rooms untouched by the raid. Why the need to risk all of them getting pneumonia?

Tansy set the tray down on a table and began pouring drinks for everyone. She listened intently, secretly pleased to hear the majority of the family favoring a direct confrontation. The Wiccans wouldn’t expect an immediate retaliation. A quick little show of force could send them scattering like rats. Raze the resort to get back at them from destroying their house. Follow it up with a few appearances at their home or place of employment. Make them realize that no place is safe for them in Araminta. She lifted the tray back up and began to serve tea to the group, first to the guests and then to the family. Only Arabelle and Georgie remained unserved, and only because they had helped themselves. She was careful not to interrupt the proceedings, smiling kindly and retreating quickly as she dropped off a mug. She tried to hide her wince as the conversation switched from aggression to negotiation.

Ezra considered the proposition that Georgie hid the skull in the Garden. It was better than anything he could come up with off the fly. He withdrew his hand from Arabelle and motioned towards Georgie, nonverbally relinquishing the ownership of the skull to his little sister. He made a face at her suggestion that they bunker down. It wasn’t much of a face, a lowering of the eyebrows, a tightening of the lips, and it faded the moment a chorus of voices rose up against the idea. He dipped into his mug, a wave of steam cascading over the top as he let a sigh of relief escape into the tea. Turning into stone wasn’t the only thing that cursed his family—they were all blissfully unaware of the cost of anything. Preventing further damage to the household was one of the higher priorities.

He glanced back up at Arabelle. She did have a way to contact the healer, right? He felt himself grow antsy and took a sip of the tea. Ezra did not swallow. Something tasted off. He took his tea straight, but this mug had been fixed up with honey and milk. It was the way James took his tea. Ezra frowned and looked at Tansy. Was she trying to mess with him? He doubted someone like her, who fretted over everything and always demanded to be involved, would make someone the wrong cup. He forced the liquid down and set the mug on a patio table.

Tansy served Shane last, slipping up beside him as he finished. Tansy handed him a mug and directed his attention with her eyes to the flask hiding in her coat pocket, careful to angle it so that only he would see. Perhaps it was a small gesture at a peace offering to quell the awkwardness between the two who hadn’t spoken much since last Christmas. Perhaps he’d just think that she was only trying to poison him, but they both knew that he didn’t need her help with that. She held her hand in front of the mouth to prevent any would-be eavesdroppers and leaned in.

“It’s good to see you’re alive. I made ours extra special,” she said softly before taking a sip of her own mug, the burn from the whiskey warming her better than any herbal tea would.

The corner of her lip twisted as her eyes narrowed, a cruel barb forming on the tip of her tongue. She pressed it against her cheek and frowned, a chill coming off of her shoulder as she turned from him. Once one of her favorite siblings, she’d yet to forgive him for dropping off the face of the world when they were in New York. Tansy shifted her focus to Arabelle, whom everyone wanted to hear from regarding if she got the healer’s digits or not. Tansy bit her inner lip and hid her contemplation behind the steaming mug. Then, her face brightened. Tansy stepped forward to wedge herself between Ezra and Arabelle, butting in before they could dominate the decision making.

“Arabelle, honey, your hesitation makes it all too clear. It’s fine. We won’t be upset if you don’t have a way to reach her,” said Tansy. Her voice was saturated in sweetness. “Perhaps it’s for the best? Just imagine how bad you’d feel if that woman had been trying to set us up and someone got hurt. How horrible it’d be knowing that it was your fault, worrying that the family might accuse you of being in league with the Wiccans, thinking what if I’d only kept my mouth shut?” Tansy's tone fell flat, her eyes stared down at Arabelle without blinking. Then the sweetness returned with a smile and head tilt, “You must be relieved and there’s nothing wrong with that! You’ve already done so much for this family. If you need help with anything while you’re out of commission, let me know.”

“Speaking of helping,”
Tansy turned towards Tuyen, giving Arabelle room to finally breathe. “My family might seem like they enjoy disagreeing with one another and arguing in circles, but we were all raised to do the right thing. This is our cross to bear and it’d be wrong to shove all of the weight on to someone else. We’ll all help you two deal with the Triple Goddess. I mean, you’re the experts!" She laughed sharply, shooting a dismissive look towards Ezra. "You tell us what to do.”

The Vanburen Estate



Wrapped in a warm cashmere coat, Ezra remained quiet as the family started discussing what to do with the Wiccans. He almost appeared bored, watching the others with a neutral expression that hid the fact that his mind was going a million miles per hour trying to figure out a good argument against confronting the cult. Ezra didn’t buy Justin’s theory that his family would be subjugated to many more of these types of encounters, or maybe instead of not buying it he just didn’t like it. Going against the cult as if it were some kind of training exercise seemed like the equivalent of going to jail and stabbing a guy so other people didn’t mess with you. Maybe it’d make people think twice about jumping you for a pack of smokes, but you’ve just guaranteed more time in prison when you should’ve really been focused on finding a way to get parole.

There had to be some kind of alternative. His first thought was that they should pass on this information to the authorities and leave them up to the law instead of some brazen, old school style of frontier justice. He quickly dismissed it. Either they’d look like lunatics trying to explain to the sheriff how magic is real, or they’d have to omit the cult's powers and be culpable for the severe injury or death of a handful of policemen who got thrown around like chew toys. Trisha’s suggestion that their experts handle it made Ezra think that perhaps they could reach out and hire a few more people like Justin or Tuyen, but he threw that idea out even faster than the cop one. If James had something that the Wiccans wanted, it stood to reason that other so-called experts might covert things in his collection as well. The tighter all of this was kept the better. Oscar bringing in Blu was already compromising, but he understood his half-brother’s logic.

Shane spoke up, stepping one foot into Camp Confrontation that the experts had set up and Oscar had so eagerly plopped down his sleeping bag. Even Trisha, who made it clear that she didn’t want to sit around the campfire and sing kumbaya, still wanted the Wiccans dealt with. At this rate the whole family would be sharpening sticks before Ezra could come up with a compelling argument to convince them to cool their heads. Shane was right about one thing—the cult was likely to do something stupid the moment they felt cornered and Ezra didn’t want Araminta being synonymous with Waco or Jamestown.

He felt his shoulders relax as Arabelle spoke up. Her words confirmed a suspicion he had about how unorganized the Wiccans were. They’d used their names, shown their faces, and left tracks so obvious the amateur sleuths and a drunk could follow. This healer could be their ticket to avoiding a direct confrontation. At the very least they could get a sense of what kind of people the Wiccans really were. Perhaps some of them could become resourceful once given some proper guidance. If Justin’s crackpot idea that his family would face greater threats became true, it’d be nice to have a few more pawns on the chessboard. Ezra stepped forward.

“I agree with Arabelle. We’re missing a lot of pieces to this puzzle and if that healer can illuminate things for us then we’ll better know how to deal with the Wiccans and their Goddess. We could end things without even lifting a finger. Cults work because they create an us versus them atmosphere. If we confront them then it’s just like Shane said—they’ll feel cornered and desperate, and desperate people do dangerous things. But we offer them a way out? We may earn some gratitude. I say we meet with her and let her know that we’ll forgive and forget those members who agree to abandon their cause. Best case scenario she could help us unravel their little cult and win over a few allies. Worst case we know that negotiating is no longer an option and can plan accordingly,” he said.

Ezra hoped that his reasoning would convince his family from grabbing the torches and pitchforks, at least until they talked to Arabelle’s contact. He withheld the idea that isolating their healer would make things easier for them if things once again came to blows. He glanced at the ram skull in Arabelle’s hand. She’d kept it safe, but she’d been injured in the process. He’d read enough of James’s ramblings to know that they couldn’t just destroy it, and the uncertainty of the Wiccan’s powers made him uncomfortable with the idea of leaving it unsupervised, even if it was inside of a vaulet. He furrowed his brow and looked at the others. One of them should hold on to it, only…

Ezra sighed. It wouldn’t be right to volunteer anyone else as bait. He gave Arabelle a tight-lipped smile and held out his hand, “In the meantime I’ll hold on to the thing until we figure out what to do with it. Maybe we could seal it in cement. I’m going to be getting quotes for construction work all day tomorrow anyway.” He didn’t ask if anyone else agreed with him. It was better to act as if this was already the decision. He was right, but just because he was right didn't mean they'd listen. If they were committed to confrontation he'd have to help them. He just hoped that none of them realized that, giving them pause before doing something ruinous. “So, do you have a way to get in touch with this woman?”
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