32: The Homecoming Game

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): November-December, 2005

Who Was There: Yukio (Bob), Bruce (Matt)

What It Was

As more mystic expatriates return to New York, Bruce and Yukio encounter the spirit of Lesek Czernin. Czernin admits that the Sleepers and TNI could not have killed the young pyromancer, Miranda, because he arranged her passage into the Dreamlands. But to get her there, Czernin made a pact with Bruce's nemesis, Lle-Khor, the Rending Shadow. That grim truth sends Bruce and Yukio back to the Dreamlands, only to find the Dweller in Darkness lying in wait.

The Full Horror

The return of Everett Rolston and Lord Alistair Jameson has brought Stuyvesant Lodge back in a big way. Within a fortnight, construction crews are busy restoring the building, and at least a dozen members have already responded to the mages' announcement that the Lodge is back. Meanwhile, Daria Zannakis is renewing her friendships in the City, and there are rumors that Ariadne Kyrios has decided to stay as well.

Construction on the Marble Arch and its youth hostel and grounds is finally complete. All that remains is a protective Ward around the Arch and possibly the rest of the grounds, but there are still preparations to complete before that can happen. As for an official party, Yukio decides to wait until the following spring, when everyone can appreciate Ishida's landscaping artistry.

When he hears Yukio's account of the airplane disappearance, Bruce wonders if the Daria who returned might be an imposter. A simple request from Yukio gets them both invited by Daria to her apartment for a casual lunch, and the three enjoy small talk about recent events in the City. Daria says she would like to meet the Queen of Mannahatta, but Yukio, having no intention of introducing them, changes the subject. Daria has no explanation why she would have been the target of an attack, unless it had something to do with her connection to Katsoulakis. After they leave, Yukio wonders if Ben-Nevis might have been responsible, given that he would have both the power and incentive to strike out at one of Katsoulakis' own.

Fragments of Lesek

A few nights later, both Yukio and Bruce share a dream which begins in Lesek Czernin's old apartment, back before the Saints' attack. His spirit, or rather a fragment of it, appears before them and, in a halting voice, tells the full story of what happened to Miranda Kale.

She was the daughter of two prominent New York mages, Gareth Kale and Clarissa Bart. The Kales had been 'making trouble' in the Lodge ever since 1976, when they demanded a full and open accounting of what exactly took place in the Renaissance Casino in 1976. The Lodge members unanimously refused, ostensibly because of the sensitivity of the occasion, but really because they were not about to waste their time with an 'Uptown concern.' The disagreement left bad blood, which became a serious problem in the early 1990s, when the Kales urged the Lodge to stand up to the aggressive actions of The New Inquisition.

Had Rolston and Jameson given them their support, the Kales might have actually been Alex Abel's undoing. TNI was not ready yet to take on the combined forces of Stuyvesant Lodge and the Occult Underground. But the Lodge decided instead to let Abel have his way and the Kales were left on their own. Not long after that, Abel sent word to the Sleepers that it would be either the Kales or him. The Sleepers made the pragmatic move, and in 1992, the Kales disappeared.

Except Miranda, who was an undergraduate at Berkeley and honing her pyrotechnic Gift with the help and support of the Bay Area mystical community. When the Sleepers made their move, the Bay Area mystics helped Miranda escape, but instead of going to Asia as planned, she returned to New York, determined to see justice done.

Surprisingly, her first act was to contact Abel and ask to join TNI. Abel did not believe her, but after months of persistence, agreed to give her a chance. Miranda proved to be a model TNI agent, and despite himself, Abel promoted her. She finally made her move in 1996, and while Abel was prepared for it, Miranda dealt a serious blow to TNI anyway. Czernin, who felt guilty for doing nothing on behalf of her parents, gave Miranda shelter during her crusade against Abel, just as he had told the Aces years before.

What he had left out, however, was that Miranda could not have died out on Long Island because he had already made a deal with Lle-Khor, the Rending Shadow, which allowed Miranda to travel physically to the Dreamlands, beyond the reach of TNI and the Sleepers. But, as Bruce points out, he only delivered her into the hands of Lle-Khor instead. Yukio tries to question the spirit about Rolston and Jameson, but being only a fragment that has now done what it was programmed to do, it fades and Unravels. Yukio and Bruce wake up to find it the following morning.

A Path into Dream

They will need something more than the Dreaming Stone and Silver Key to find Miranda, but a check of the items the Aces brought back from Czernin's apartment turns up a photograph of her and a distinctive red scarf, which she must have left with Czernin as a memento.

Bruce and Yukio consider whether Rolston and Jameson knew, but given that they believed she died, they would have had no reason to look for Miranda in the Dreamlands. As for what use Lle-Khor might have had for her, any possibilities are grim. Before the leave, Yukio asks the Faerie guards, Pwyll and Oison, to contact the Queen and let her know he and Bruce will be entering the Dreamlands. If they need to escape, they may need her help.

With the Stone and Key, Bruce and Yukio find themselves in the Cavern of Flame. Nasht and Kaman-Thah ask where they wish to go. While Yukio explains, Bruce opens a jar he has been carrying and with a cry of, "Go, moth!", releases a moth, which he believes will help them to track the bright light that is Miranda. Unfortunately, Bruce apparently has forgotten the gigantic pillar of purple and white flame that dominates the Cavern, and has to watch as the moth makes a straight line for the flame. So much for that idea.

The two gatekeepers direct Bruce and Yukio to the passage they took before to Celephais, but instead of emerging in that city, the two men find themselves in a very different one: Inquanok, set far in the north on the other side of the great sea of the Dreamlands. A vast temple dominates this city, and when Bruce and Yukio take a closer look, they find beautiful gardens and shrines to local deities. When they offer candy to a god that reminds them of Ganesh, the patron of travelers, one of the monks in attendance comes over to talk with them.

After explaining where they are, the monk grows worried, telling them, "Leng is upon you," and that they had best make their way to the port and sail back to the south as soon as they can. They follow his advice, but sure enough, on their way to the docks, they are attacked by four Men from the Plateau of Leng. They deal with the attack readily, but as they do, several crewmen arrive, led by First Mate Karrak of the White Ship, a vessel famed in the Dreamlands and sent to their aid.

The crewmen take Bruce and Yukio back to their ship, where the Captain greets them and has the crew weigh anchor at once. The voyage to Celephais takes three weeks, as the White Ship skirts the many dangerous of the sea. On the way, Bruce and Yukio share many dinners with the Captain, who tells tales of the Dreamlands, and explains that it was Nyrass, the great sorcerer of far-off Theelys, who sensed that the "Dweller in Darkness" was moving against them and reached out to intervene as best he could. Perhaps that was why they ended up in Inquanok, and not the dread city of Sarkomand, or worse, in the pits beneath the Dark Tower of Leng itself.

But the captain also shares happier tales, and the strange stories about alien Dreamlands, such as Nhhngr, Sarrub, and Yundu. Meanwhile, Yukio entertains the crew with limericks, and while they find Bruce odd, the crew find him amusing as well. At last the White Ship passes the island of Serannian and puts in at Celaphais. The Captain and crew bid them safe journey and luck in their quest, and then set sail again, this time west to far-off Kadatheron in the land of Mnar.

In the Great Library, Bruce and Yukio meet with the sorcerer Malenkamon, who suggests they use a ritual to track Miranda. Bruce takes a gourd and draws a face on it with various dyes, then wraps the scarf around it. With Malenkamon's cautious aid, Bruce casts a location spell and finds Miranda somewhere near the great port city of Dylath-Leen. Malenkamon warns them to be cautious of the many slave traders in that city but says they are fortunate, because the Great Library has an access point there.

Taking their leave of Malenkamon, Bruce and Yukio leave the Great Library, and then pass through Dylath-Leen, heading for the vast Forest of Parg that lies due west of it. Yukio Death Projects to scout the area and soon finds a young woman stirring a cooking pot outside a forbidding small house. Yukio returns to his body, and the two men move ahead quickly.

Coming to the clearing, they walk up to Miranda, but the young woman is slow to respond. As Yukio prepares a Cleansing invocation to help her, Bruce goes to check the house, only to be attacked by a Miranda's tormentor, an evil wizard who has Devolved herself into the horrific visage of Lle-Khor, the Rending Shadow itself. Faced with an avatar of his nemesis, Bruce immediately attacks, even as a command from the creature leads Miranda to attack Yukio.

Bruce and Yukio manage to defeat the creature, and as it falls, Miranda collapses, free at last after two years of brutal abuse, but now Tainted. The men take her back to the Great Library, where Bruce—badly shaken and delirious himself after the fight—guides her through her first Catharsis.

The ordeal helps a little, and when Miranda regains consciousness, Bruce comes into the room, and says, "Lilly, I saved you." Miranda, looking confused, but believing him, asks "What happens now?" Bruce replies, "We can start over. This is our chance."

With the help of the Stone and Key, Bruce and Yukio bring Miranda back with them, where they find that the same time has passed in the Waking World as it had in the Dreamlands. Bruce finds space for Miranda in the carriage house, and promises Yukio and Cassandra that he will help guide Miranda back to health. But he says nothing to suggest he has convinced himself that Miranda is his Lilly, returned to him at last.

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