27: Breaking the Chains

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When It Happened (Campaign Time): October 2003 - May, 2004

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris), Bruce (Matt), Robert Gilmore (Bob)

What It Was

Jeff is dead. George, Mark, Bruce, and Cassandra are prisoners in a dungeon deep beneath the earth. But Ken, Kaori, and Robert storm the hill, and the others stage a breakout. Reunited, they find Tessa, and then the throne room of the Queen, where Ken must face his nemesis to win the Fang of the Jade Serpent. Then comes a meeting at Urquhart Castle the Aces will long remember.

The Full Horror

Jeff is dead, the Aces are prisoners, and disease continues to rip through the people of Inverness.

Ken has been at the clinic, working nonstop ever since the others left for Tomnahurich Hill. He can feel Jennie next to him, and the frustration she feels because there is no way for her to help. Storm clouds fill the sky, and strange rumbles move under the earth. The disease is swift, but fear spreads even faster.

Ken is so exhausted, he starts to have visions of Kaori. He's examining a patient, and suddenly she's there in the corner of his eye. But when he looks up, nothing.

Ken keeps trying to call George and Mark, but their cellphones have been offline for hours. He finally takes a break when Robert Gilmore turns up and asks if there is anything he can do to help..

Storming the Hill

That night is Samhain, and when Ken collapses into a spare gurney for a short nap, his spirit travels to Tir Na Nog. This time the trees are battered and the river is muddied and frothy. Brigit is worried. Ken turns to share a look with Jennie, and he's surprised to see Kaori is there too.

Brigit smiles at her. "Welcome, Kaori. You bear the touch of your Queen." Kaori nods, and Brigit turns back to Ken. "Things have gone so very wrong in Inverness. But I will let Kaori explain."

Kaori looks tired but determined. "The Queen of Mannahatta gave me, she taught me--I think I can stop the Queen of Tomnahurich, Ken, at least for a while. It's something 'our' Queen was able to pass on to me. But you have to go into the Hill because she was only able to send me as far as the Faerie realms. There's something pressing down on the Faerie here, something our Queen has never seen before. So you have to meet me there, in the Hill."

Ken awakes at twilight, and sees Jennie standing by the gurney, dressed in her gi, her face set for battle. They get Robert and leave for the hill, passing through the neon-colored mist and the yew trees while they avoid the ghouls in the cemetery.

When they reach the door to the realm, though, the stone is gone. Ken thinks for a moment, and then unleashes a mighty chi punch that shatters the stone door and sends a shock wave right through the hill. As the echoes die away, he sees stairs heading down.

Jail Break

Meanwhile, Mark, George, Bruce, and Cassandra are still in the dungeon. Jeff's head lies in a pool of blood on the floor. Several times it breaks into peals of hysterical laughter, then goes silent again.

Fortunately, this isn't the first time George and Bruce have been in chains. The two men manage to free themselves, and then the others. Two obsidian guards are right outside the door, but the Aces and shatter them. Mark and Bruce grab dagger-shaped pieces of obsidian to use as weapons. Meanwhile, George puts Jeff's head into a bag and takes it with him so the Queen won't be able to do further damage to his body.

The Aces have gone only a short distance down a passage when they hear a terrible scream. Looking around a corner, they find a small room where another, larger obsidian monster is turning the wheel of a rack one too many times. There is a sickening crack from a man stretched out on it as his back breaks and he dies with a sickening gurgle.

From another rack on the opposite side of the room, a man begins to shriek. The creature moves toward him, but he continues to shout, "What will you do, demon? Do you not know the Queen saves me for herself? That I am her special plaything?" His laugh holds a sadness that knows no depth. The creature grunts and turns back to the dead man as if it was disappointed.

The Aces manage to kill it, but during the struggle, Bruce shows off his remarkable ability to overcome gravity and run across walls and ceilings.

The man they have almost rescued is Thomas the Rhymer, the great Scottish prophet of the 13th century. As the legends said, he returned here to be with his Queen, and they were blissfully happy for hundreds of years. But then the Queen changed. Thomas doesn't know who or what twisted her spirit, but whoever they are, they destroyed his life and that of the woman he loves. Now this room, that had once been their beautiful and private parlor, lies covered in blood and gore.

All Thomas can cling to now is the conviction that this was not her choice. Something has made her this way. But even if true, it doesn't matter now. His body is finished. Minutes later, he dies.

A Spirited Prisoner

Ken, Kaori, and Robert head down the stairs. The weather is worse. As they walk down a stone hall, they hear a horrific scream from up ahead, mixed with a strange sound like something ripping. As they reach the open doorway, they see a kind of dungeon. There are two cells with heavy steel doors, standing open and empty. But there is also a magic circle on one side of the room. The spirits of two men stand inside it, demanding to be released.

"We are of the family Douglas, damn you, you cannot keep us here!! This is monstrous!!

The spirits of the men named Douglas are yelling at an indescribably beautiful woman who walks slowly around the magic circle. She seems very amused, and there is a savage cruelty in her expression.

One of the spirits says, "Well, I'll not tell you a damned thing, Queen or no Queen, and that's the end of it." "It's the end of something, I grant you," the Queen replies, and she makes a gesture. The spirit stiffens, and screams. Jennie gasps. The man is shaking and trembling now, and the other man is screaming, "No! Not him too. Stop it, stop it, you goddamned monster!"

Jennie clutches Ken's arm hard, and whispers, "No, no, no." She's trembling in fear, her eyes tightly shut. Meanwhile, the man is literally coming apart, his spirit unraveling right before your eyes. His screams are even worse now than the ones you heard before. And then it's over, and an awful silence returns.

"Now then, Gerald Douglas," the Queen continues. "Since your kinsman would not tell me where the crystal skull is, perhaps you might." "I'll tell you noth--" he begins, but she interrupts.

"You might as well confess it. That Templar bitch your family hates so much is now in my realm. She was traveling with some greens when my allies found her and turned her over to me. Of course, she's still too powerful to restrain, but a week or so without food or water should weaken even her. Then I'll turn her over to your kind for stretching. Stretching, and other delights.

"I'm sure she will have any number of Templar secrets to share, and where better to store them than the crystal skull your family stole from them during their hour of greatest defeat? Oh, yes, I know what you harbor in Glamis.

"I'm certain she will tell a marvelous story. I look forward to her sharing it with me after I've broken her." The Queen raises her hand as if to make the unraveling gesture, but then passes out of the room through a small gate. Left behind, the man screams with rage.

Ken and Robert rush into the room, and manage to defeat the obsidian demon. Douglas tells them he and his kinsman were attacked by a tremendous whirlwind that appeared from nowhere and threw their bodies about like dolls. The next thing they knew, they were here. They've been tortured for days. Freed from the Queen's grasp, Douglas can now Pass On.

Come Together

They go back to the passages, and before long, they manage to run into George, Mark, Bruce, and Cassandra. Reunited, George suggests Ken try to concentrate on the blade, and when Ken does, he can feel a pull in one direction. The group tightens up and makes their way toward it.

Mark is looking around a corner when he finds two gun barrels right in his face. He hears a quick gasp, then sees the gun barrel fall back as Tessa comes into view. She looks hard at them for a moment, then apparently satisfied it's really them, she asks, "Where is this? Where in hell are we?" When the Aces reply, "Tomnahurich," Tessa is quiet for a moment, then shakes her head in disgust. "Oh. Faeries."

Tessa is in a foul mood. Her clothes are in disarray, even as she starts furiously putting herself back together, rearranging her hair and sweater. Then she takes off her white leather boots and puts them back on again. "I'm having a bad day. I was *trying* to find my way out of this place, but then I haven't had any luck since I came here, so why should that change. But at least now I know why."

At this point, the guys notice Cassandra. She's glowering at Tessa, and she finally says: "So this is who we came all this way for. What a wonderful . . . . blonde."

"You should talk. Glenda," Tessa grumbles, pulling on her boot.

Tessa tells them she had reached Inverness with the green serpents, when they were ambushed by a group of black serpents. They were outnumbered, and losing fast when a flash of light hit her. Next thing she knew, she was here.

She has learned one potentially crucial piece of intel: she is now certain that Andrew Ben-Nevis is a serpent.

And there is something else. "They told me they had been here for a century. Which would mean they came here in 1903. Which sounds like it might put this into your camp. I mean, 1903, right?"

The Aces and friends regroup and continue down the hall until they reach two large and imposing doors. There hardly seems any point in trying to sneak in.

Kentaro Kombat

They pass through the doors and into the throne room of Queen of Tomnahurich, but she herself stands to one side of the chamber, her arms moving in a regular and complex pattern. In the center of this place, a huge man who seems carved from obsidian, stares at the Aces in triumph. The sword in his hand, is the opposite of the Fang of the Jade Serpent, and a glittering violet aura encircles him. the emperor, still a n the center, staring at the Aces in triumph, is an enormous man surrounded by an aura of glittering violet.

On the far side of the chamber, on a raised dais, rests a block of clear crystal. Set within it is a beautiful sword of jade and obsidian. Much like the sword the man holds in his hand, a blade of jet-black obsidian and a pommel of jade.

Standing on both sides of the chamber are the six larger obsidian demons who brought down the Aces. The Fang of the Jade Serpent is held within the hard crystal case on a dais at the far side of the chamber. Standing before it are three obsidian demons, flanked by two black serpents.

Kaori tugs Ken's arm and says, "Hey, bro. It's my time." She steps forward and calls out, "I bear a message from Maori, Queen of Mannahatta," and chants in a loud defiant voice.

The Dark Queen shouts in rage, but a brilliant neon glow bursts round Kaori and the Queen stops whatever spell she was going to cast. She just looks on in impotent fury as Kaori's voice rises and rises, until at a crescendo, the violet glow around the Champion shatters.

A strange look comes over the Queen's face. Still enraged, but confused and dazed as well. She staggers back against the bare stone wall.

But the Champion sneers, "I have no need of your aid, child. But I will take extra pleasure in violating you once your brother and his spectral whore are dead and gone." Kaori, defiant and standing firm, keeps her arms up and out as she maintains the effect. But Ken can already see the power of her spell begin to slip. He doesn't have much time.

Then Jennie does a brave thing, offering to fend the Champion off while Ken runs for the blade. As they both move straight into the room, the Aces and Tessa rush the obsidian demons, while Mark takes out the serpents.

Bruce leaps to the wall and begins running along it while George heads straight for the low dais on which the Queen is slumped.

Ken leaps and spins through two lines of demons, dodges the last of the serpents, and suddenly stands before the crystal case. Jennie meanwhile is finding it all she can manage just to defend herself against the Champion. The sifu trained her well, but the Champion cuts a slash across her front, and Jennie gasps as the obsidian blade cuts deep-her spirit is completely vulnerable. Desperately she tries to fend him off, but a solid punch brings her down, and Jennie lies sprawled on the ground as the Champion raises his blade above her head. Kaori screams her name.

With a mighty punch, Ken shatters the crystal, and his hand closes around the pommel of the sword. A flash of green light fills the chamber, and the entire hill rumbles with thunder. In a flash, Ken is on Champion, parrying every attack while he makes his own: The Silent Swipe of the Silver Sword. The Sheet Lightning Sundering Slash. The Twilight Heron Snatches an Emerald.

Silence descends on the Dark Queen's throne room. Or rather, a near silence, because there is the sound of sobbing in the corner as the Queen relives memories of torturing her beloved Thomas.

George leaps unto the balcony, and grabs the Queen as he summons a Gate. The two fall into it and George concentrates on reaching Mannahatta. But Queen Maori stops them before they can reach it. "No, George Phillapoussis. I will not permit her in my realm. She must remain in her own if she is to heal." The Queen looks at her long rival with sadness. "I never dreamed you subdue her alive. Or that it was a spell that had driven her actions. Return her to her home, George. It's time for Tomnahurich to sleep. And time for you to journey to Urquhart Castle."

The Queen of Tomnahurich is barely conscious when they return to the throne room. She mumbles, "He is gone. Thomas is gone." And then, in a moment of clarity, she looks at the invaders in her realm. "I was not strong enough to resist, and now he is dead. You have freed my realm, but I cannot be grateful to you, for the cup I must now drink is too bitter for thanks. I must now rest, and my realm with me."

The Aces depart, though not with Kaori, who returns to Mannahatta as part of the projection that brought her there. She hugs Ken, and says she'll see them whenever they get back. But first, she says, they should go to the Urquhart Castle. On the shores of Loch Ness.

But by the time the Aces emerge, time has skipped because the Queen has lost her bearings. Instead of November 1, it's now May 1 and a beautiful spring day. When the Aces come down from the Hill, there is no sign of the clinic. Inverness has returned to normal.

Ness Unleashed

The drive to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle is uneventful and under a perfect spring sky. By the time they reach the castle, twilight has come, casting a lovely velvet night over a gently warm evening.

The castle stands open to the sky except for the Tower House, where they discover an underground storage area. From there two ladders lead down, ending finally at a cave that opens out onto the loch.

The monster waits just below the lapping waves, but they can make out its awesome form nonetheless-a mighty dragon blazing with Essence like nothing they have ever seen before. Suddenly a grand and ancient voice sounds in their heads.

"You are welcome in this place, children. I am in your debt as I have not been in mortals' debt for centuries."

The dragon then notices Tessa: "Ha. Templar. I thought you all long dead." Tessa is so shocked, she just stands thunderstruck, her mouth open.

"The chains that bound me were not physical but something other. You have bested the champions of those who control this land, and have gone some way to breaking their hold over it.

"But the good you have done this day need not be entirely altruistic. I sense you have questions, questions about the year 1913. You may find answers to your questions in this land, and others if you choose your questions well.

"The defenders of this land and others fell in the year 1913, in a battle many miles from here. Their loss allowed others to step into their place, and the result was disastrous. The Queen of Tomnahurich tried to restore the old order, but her methods were poorly chosen, and her intentions were twisted beyond recognition. I thought the matter serious then, but I did not realize how far things had gone. When I finally took action, it was already too late.

"And so the matter remained, until you children came. And now perhaps I can begin to set things right again. Though, to you first, Templar, I will turn. It is time for your brothers and sisters to rouse themselves, to take up the labor that has long awaited them. Your ancient alliance must be reborn, for there is much work to do. The Skull has come to Glamis."

Tessa shakes her head and says that cannot be true. The Skull is a myth. Besides, she has been within Glamis herself and never found evidence of the Skull there.

"Glamis is old and dark. It is used today but by mortals who do not understand its true significance. You must look again with different eyes. But before then, Templar, I would speak with the one your heart calls Father." Tessa looks down and nods silently.

Ness continues: "The Great Enemy. I faced them in the year of captivity, but they defeated me in bitter struggle. You may not be able to perceive them--even I have difficulty doing so. But I can sense them better than most other things, and I know them to be profoundly and absolutely alien to this realm, this place some of you call Malkuth.

"Are they evil? Or rather indifferent to human hopes and suffering? And which would be the greater horror, I wonder? These are troubling matters, children, even for one such as myself. And I have no answers to them today."

The dragon wishes them well once again, and then sinks into the dark depths of the loch.

George kisses Tessa before she disappears around an outcropping of the castle.

As the Aces leave, Mark looks in the rear-view mirror of the van and sees two red lights in the distance, the eyes of an enormous black dog, staring at them, and then slipping into the night.

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