Arcadian Masque

Written by: Tanith

Credits also go to Mg_knt and Jaffa, who contributed ideas and research to this work.




Let There Be Light


Somewhere... Somewhen... Nowhere... Nowhen...


It began, as always, in darkness. With the steady thrumming of blood and the pulsing of each heart beat. With the warm safety of oblivion. Of pre-thought; and pre-existence.

Then, a sensation.

A light touch of mind to unformed mind. A rousing of formlessness to form. With it came a presence, and the understanding of self and other.

A spark stirred in the darkness. Awareness dawned.

The touch of the other deepened. Alien concepts now poured in. Each scarcely acknowledged and assimilated by the newly awakened self, before another vied for attention. Faster and faster came the onslaught of information. And with it a sense of haste.

Faster, faster... mother, father, child... not enough time... anger, hate, vengeance... an unexpected hope... devotion, Loyalty, Love... so much to teach... ambition, deceit, manipulation... must be ready... power, knowledge, control... they will pay...

A seeming eternity. An unborn lifetime spent in learning. A prenatal awareness moulded into a tool, a weapon, a crown. Now the thoughts became more complex. Concepts became words, memories became images, and sounds, and sensations.

A world newborn into Power... people bent willingly to Beauty's will... worlds upon worlds into the infinite... a Realm of utter darkness and no escape... a hated foe with a familiar face... and shadows, always the Shadows...

Abruptly, the focus shifted inwards. Sensations were no longer directed from the other, but from and unto the self. There was a power there. a spark that burned brighter in the half-formed darkness than the warmth around it.

Your power. Your heritage. The mingling of blood and fire, shadow and mist... Wield it. Guard it. Embrace it... So to shield... so to control... so to seek... so to consume... Study it. Remember it. Use it...

The sense of urgency intensified. There was no time left. The time of separation was at hand.

Remember, remember... Survive! Learn! Release! Avenge!... Survivelearnreleaseavenge... suvivelearnre--

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Pain.

Light.


Eyes that had never seen opened. Lungs that had never felt air inhaled. Yet the mind that lay behind the infant shape was not new to the world. There was no infant wail. No fearful whimper. Silence. Instincts led the eyes to turn aside. Irises and pupils focused for the first time, and saw.

A round sphere. Half white and half red. Wrapped in thin silver strands of metal that shone in the dimness of evening. Each fully formed thought flittered across the infant's mind. There was no sense of surprise, or incomprehension, or irrelevance. No mere unformed mind observed this.

A flash... a shimmer... and it was gone. Finally, for the first time since the Light came, the mind percieved something new.

But that significance faded quickly as a new sensation made itself known: hunger. The need for sustenance. Newborn lips pursed in frustration. There would be nothing to quench the thirst there. Clumsily, but not without unfamiliarity, other senses opened. A new dimension to the world, unseen by normal human eyes, appeared.

And there was Power. Power and energy all around. The air and earth was saturated with it, laden to the point of overflow. Eagerly, the infant seized upon that energy, ate of it, drank of it, and absorbed it with the relish of a First Meal. Prisms of light flowed toward the small form. Red and blue with hints of green and white and black... fire and ice and more sensations than the babe cared to name...

Then, sounds. A presence. Many.

Shimmering creatures burst into the small clearing -- creatures of air and fire, of water and earth. A trio of pale blue djinn madly circled around their large red 'cousin', screetching and weaving a deadly antagonizing dance. In this evening of magic, the world was theirs. But suddenly... they stopped. As one, they turned upon sensing the presence of an intruder. One that did not belong. A mortal infant girl that suckled upon the thrumming overabundance of mana as if upon milk. Smoky, grotesque faces twisted into malevolence. Together, the group advanced upon the hapless babe.

The infant, however, simply regarded their advance with an unconcerned calm. She was far more interested in observing the the sheer power that dwelt in each an everyone of the creatures. Steely eyes observed as the largest of the blue djinn reached down to grab the small form.

Contact. An electrifying sense of power coursed through the newborn form. An unquenchable taste of sweetness and pain. Immediately, she latched onto this new source of sustenance, not hearing the scream of indignation and pain that issued forth from the creature. The djinn tried to withdraw, but found itself being pulled back by the force that was draining its magic, its energy. It gathered its will and struck at the infant mind, only to be thwarted by a nigh-impenetrable barrier overlaid there. Meanwhile, the infant had lost herself in the sensation of power that poured forth from the djinn -- it tasted of wind and ice, of control and deceit, of pain for gains greater yet. Not only did the child feast upon the power of the being, but grew hundred-fold from the glimpses into this transcendent creature's mind.

Finally, with an desperate surge of power, the blue djinn wrenched itself from the infant, gliding back to its astonished companions. It gave a cry of anger and indignation, and glared hatefully at the strange child. The child merely looked back with an expression of anticipation and hunger. With one laste frustrated screetch, the blue djinn vanished, followed by the other two blue djinns. It would return later to deal with the strange child, after it had replenished its lost power.

The large red djinn remained, sneering first at the departing blues, then at the small human responsible. It, too, came forward, and brought its upraised arm down upon the infant as if to crush it. It, too, was surprised, as an unseen force seemed to oppose it's might, slowing the blow until... contact. The djinn howled in anger as it also fell to the fate of its erstwhile companions, its power leeched by the strange child. To the infant, this creature's energy was sweeter yet -- it tasted of fire and tempest, of rage and chaos, of an untamed freedom down to the very soul itself. Here too, did the child grow from the glimpse of the creature's mind.

With a cry of rage, the red djinn finally wrenched itself back too. It glared at the infant as a faintly glowing ball of fire appeared in its hands. Before it could launch another attack, though, it whirled around as another presence came upon the scene. One of the smaller blues that had just departed with its half-drained companion had returned, and was now regarding the red djinn with malevonent eyes. With a grunt of disgust, the red djinn departed.

The remaining blue djinn regarded the child with a thoughtful stare. One which the infant returned with icy eyes. Suddenly, the creature lunged forward and placed its palm on the infant's forehead. Power flared. The child felt as though the energies she had just absorbed suddenly lit up from within with the force and brilliance of a nova. As light danced across her eyes, the infant couldn't help but give off a small sharp cry. When the flare of energy finally died down, and the child's vision returned, the blue had moved back to its original position. It shuddered from the energies it had just lost in the encounter, but appeared to be satisfied with what had been done. Suddenly, it tilted its head as if listening to some far-off voice. Then it turned and disappeared into the foilage behind it.

Silence. Silence and the prismatic play of light that resumed course to gather upon the strange infant child.



Wishes Fulfilled


Alexandria, Rabiah. Circa 4142 A.R. Circa 1001 Cairo Time


Sunset on the outskirts of illustrious Alexandria, on the 42nd planar reflection of sandy Rabiah. The last blood-red rays of the burning sun reflected off of the roofs of the golden city, casting a crimson aura over this shining star of intellectualism of all the Rabiahian planes. Soon darkness would engulf the desert and the delta, and with it city as well.

But the life of the city did not stop with the darkness. Before the onset of the chilled midnight winds, evening was merely a time of activity, and a far more preferred time at that to the blistering heat of noon. It was in these activities that a group of elderly men and women gathered near the delta on the outskirts of the city. They were each dressed in the long blue-grey silk robes that marked them as blue magic scholars of the Great Library. Tonight, they had gathered to observe and study a rare astro-planar occurence, where portions of several Rabiahs were to overlay momentarily, centered upon the river delta just beyond Alexandria.

Slowly, as darkness descended on the land, quiet excitement grew in the hearts of the scholars. By the time the gleaming full moon cleared the far away mountain range, the last grain of sand slithered out of the time-glass in one of the scholars' hands. The world around them seemed to flicker, as phantasmal features that were and yet were not there appeared over the fabric of reality. Immediately, the scholars set to work, each moving in a different direction to study this rare phenomenon.

One of them, a gaunt middle-aged man with a solemn expression, choose to head toward the brush grove near one of the delta inlets. The light of the moon and stars were quite enough for him to see by, and cast an odd sheen onto his darkly tanned skin. As he walked on, he opened his senses to the shifting world around him. The first thing he noticed was the drastic increase in the mana levels of the area, no doubt caused by the presence of several deltas in the same area at once. There was also some inhuman activity just beyond his physical sense. No doubt the efreets and djinn that dwelt in the area were also taking advantage of the incident for their own amusements.

Idly, the scholar's mind wandered to his own former servant djinn, an lesser one certainly, who he had freed from service but a day previous in exchange for one last wish. The scholar knew he was getting on in age, and his wife was older than he, and unlikely to bear any children to the family. For a long time, the scholar had put his hopes on the students under his tutelage. But of late, he had felt that none of his wayward pupils will ever be a true successor to his (only somewhat self-exaggerated) brilliance. He wanted a successor to match his own formidable skills; and an lesser djinn was certainly no sacrifice for that goal. Yet... the cursed creature had not yet returned. For a moment, he pondered the possibility of recapturing the creature again and teach it obedience...

A sudden flash of red light on the edge of his eyesight startled the scholar out of his thoughts. He stopped and blinked, shaking the last errant thoughts from his head. A quick check of his own mind showed that he had been unconsciously recording all of his impressions on his path so far, regardless of his momentary inattention. With a satisfied nod to himself, the scholar headed in the direction the light had came from. As he drew closer, his other-senses detected something curious. Something was seemingly... draining... ambient mana from the surrounding lands. It was definitely not the deep, controlled tapping that a sorceror used to draw mana from the land, but something much more subtle and uncontrolled.

Just as he neared the delta-bank grove, he was startled again by the sudden appearance of his former servant djinn. The creatured had an odd grimace of a smile on its grotesque face, and the scholar's senses told him the creature was oddly drained and haggard for some reason.

Before the scholar could react to the creature's appearance, the djinn spoke in a harsh, scratchy voice. "You'll find your part of the bargain in yonder bushes, Dabir. We are even now." Without waiting for a reply, the creature disappeared.

A different sense of trepidation and excitement appeared in the scholar's heart. Could this fortune of planar alignment have also brought fortune unto himself too? Cautiously, he stepped forward into the part of the grove the djinn had indicated. With trembling hands, he pulled back the fronds of the bushes. Under the light of the twilight moon and stars, Dabir's piercing eyes met a calm gaze of icy blue.



Nightfall


Alexandria, Rabiah. Circa 4145 A.R. Circa 1008 Cairo Time


In any city, no matter how "civilized" its deizens would like to proclaim it, there always persisted a class of people knows as "rabbles". Despite its purely intellectual roots and mainstay of economy, Alexandria fared no less. Every morning, every evening, groups of ruffians can be found in the dark alleys and shadows of the city. They were harmless for the most part, expect for the rare occassions where some ignorant street rat managed to make off with an untested piece of magical experiment.

This particular evening, a group of rabbles consisting of the younger crowd of the lawless lurked in the shadows of the scholar residences near the Great Library. The group ranged from the eldest of about 17 all the way to perhaps 10 year olds. One of them, though, was even younger than that, though she did not look the part. Perhaps it was due to a quirk of her genetics, or perhaps due to influences she never spoke of, but the strange quiet girl with the alabaster skin (as opposed to the thickly tanned features of the rest of Rabiah's human population) and sky-blue eyes was nevertheless an accepted, though not quite regular, part of the gang. For some reason, any doubts the other street urchins might have had of the girl never made it to their conscious thoughts. After all, she was about as tall as the shortest of the 10 year olds, and could hold her own in any daredevil heists the gang might perpetrate, and was nimble enough to evade capture by the half-hearted civil authorities of the city. That was enough, wasn't it?

Besides, the girl was never stingy with sharing her part of the ill-gotten gains of each day. (In fact, if any one of the other members ever really sat down and thought about it, it seemed that she was never around to collect her share anyways.) All she really did was give out the odd bit of advice (and such good and sound advice it always was, too, nevermind the few rare unsuccessful ones in the early days). But that really didn't matter, since she was a part of the group (despite the fact that no one knew where she ate or slept, since she never did any of that with the gang, but that little detail was ignored as well).

As the small gang counted up their accomplishments for that day, with the occasional scuffle breaking out over some small disagreement over the "loot", no one noticed (as always) when the odd girl edged her way to the edge of the huddle. Without a sound, she seemingly melted into the dark shadows of the alley, soon to re-emerge inside the main gate of one of the scholarly residences. The front door was spell-locked for the night, but that was nothing she had not gotten around before. With quiet and nimble movements, she re-locked the door and hurried to her room.

As she enter the small firelit room, a large tome of basic lorecraft seemed to magically appear in her hands. With practiced familiarity, she flipped it to the bookmarked page just as heavy footsteps sounded outside her door. A quick smirk graced the young girl's lips before being suppressed under a mask of aloofness.

With a *thump*, the wooden door to her room flew open, as an aged man in blue-grey robes stood at the doorway. Steely eyes swept the room before settling onto its sole occupant.

"Where have you been?" demanded the man sternly, a frown settling across his brows. He could have sworn that the girl had not been inside her room earlier.

He received no verbal reply, but a simply inclination of her head toward the heavy tome, obviously a book taken from the scholar's personal study. Long ebony tresses fell across the pages with her moment, shining with a bluish aura under the fire-light.

With a non-commital grunt to cover up his puzzlement, the man turned and swept from the room, the door closing behind him with an audible thump. A few moments after his departure, the girl stood, closing her book with a snap. As she did so, the air elemental that she had bound to her service swirled out from the book, seeping around the room before escaping through the cracks in the windows. Quietly, the girl left the room and crept down the darkened halls, stopping outside of the master bedroom. From behind the closed doors, she could hear the conversation between the couple that had raised her (she refused to consider them her parents in anything but lip-service).

"...such potential in her. If only she would stay still to listen!" That was the man's voice.

"Oh, stop badgering the poor child, Dabir. I certainly haven't seen her lax in her studies," scolded his wife. "In fact, she's much better at it than any of my students after studing the same things for the same amount of time."

"That's what I meant!" Dabir sounded exceedingly frustrated. "She has so much potential to be above these common wizard pupils we see. If she can accomplish such right now, just think how much she can achieve if she only tried."

"How do you know she isn't?" mused the woman. "You know, I could have sworn at times that she could understand every word I spoke to my students when I'd taken her to my lessons when she was but a mere infant. And she is certainly very... intense... whenever she attends one of your private tutoring sessions with your advances students."

"You're reaching," commented Dabir. "You probably just saw her potential there." He sighed. "If only that damnable mind of hers isn't so resistant to mind magics. It would make evaluating her knowledge and potential much easier."

"Your own daughter?!" The woman seemed aghast. "There is absolutely no reason to resort to that. She's got more than enough time to study the craft to even your satisfaction."

Dabir grunted. "Perhaps. But I've made up my mind. From now on, I'm going to hire a private tutor to keep an eye on her every moment of the day. There will be no more of her little tricks, whatever she's been doing behind my back." A quaver of an undefinable emotion crept into his voice. "I don't just want her to succeed me. I want her to exceed me. Now that would be an glorious accomplishment to set my declining days."

"But..." The woman's voice trailed off into silence as the eavesdropper at the door slipped away.

Returning to her room, the girl mechanically readied herself for bed. Her thoughts, though, were churning. She had already felt chafed by the stricted by the methocial and highly intellectual ways of her adoptive father. This new development certainly required much deliberation. As she fell asleep, her last thought was to wonder if she might need to finally set one of her secret contingencies into motion.



Shifting Sands


Early morning, the next day...


The inky blackness of predawn covered the desert landscape. A chill wind whispered through the air and ruffled the ebony hair of the still form that sat near the gates of the city. Despite the pearly luminescence of the wane starlight reflected off of the young girl's pale skin, she seemed to melt into the dark shadows of the city walls nonetheless. Silent as the landscape around her, the girl seemed to be immersed within her thoughts.

So it has finally come to this. Do I feel regret from leaving this couple that have raised me?

No. I have known this since first Dabir laid eyes on me, that night when my eyes first opened to the world. They were but a convenience. Nothing more. I needed their knowledge and skills in order to survive... to thrive. And that I have achieved.

A smug smirk made its way to the young girl's lips. Her eyes turned to regard the stars, their icy blueness seemingly flickering under the dim lights above.

To think that Dabir feared that I was not aiming for my highest potential. If he only knew. Weak and useless as my coporeal form was in those early days, my mind had entered this world fully aware.

Mother made sure of that.

Speech and motion came to me within time. But my mind had been watching, observing, learning... ever since I was born to this desert world. Every single spell they performed before me in the house... every magical creature they summoned or brought home... I knew them all.

Dabir may be still beyond me in the higher intricacies and in experience. But I have far from neglected my studies. Not that he would know, of course.

Almost of their own volition, the icy blue eyes turned back toward the city, then quickly turned away.

No. I will not think of returning. My destiny is not on this world.

No matter that there is still much I could learn besides those few stealthy peaks into the Great Library.

No matter that Dabir's wife has always seen me as her d...

No.

My calling is elsewhere. Elsewhere among the stars. Among the far-off planes beyond this cluster of shifting sands.

And NOTHING will stop me from answering that call. Nothing.

Dim sounds interrupted the mental soliloquy of the brooding child. The first signs of life began to stir in the city with the coming of dawn.

And hoofbeats. Getting closer.

Ah. Right on time.

In the darkness, the girl's form seemed to blur for a moment. Pale, luminescent skin darkened to the ordinary tanned highlights of the desert people. Icy blue eyes now shone a deep amber in the first lights of dawn. Moments later, she felt a presence near her. Slowly, she raised her head to find herself looking at the curious face of a middle aged gypsy woman. A slight mind-touch showed that this gypsy had neither mage-powers nor mental protections.

"Hello, little one," the gypsy began. "Did you get lost from the city?"

The girl merely gazed back at him, her eyes taking on a pleading and lost look. Sadly, she shook her head.

"Don't you have a home to return to?" The question came from an old man who had come up behind the woman. This man was apparently a red mage, and a minor efreet hovered behind him. His expression was concerned as he looked at the wretched-looking waif.

Again, the child shook her head. Tears seemed to form at the corner of her eyes.

"Oh you poor thing," fussed the woman sypathetically. "Why don't you come with me and I'll get you something to eat. You look like a bundle of skin and bones."

The old man, who had temporarily been distracted by his efreet trying to communicate something to him, looked back at the child and smiled a kind smile. "And get her a new set of clothes too, Dima. She'll be coming along with us."

The woman looked surprised. "What? But she's..."

"She has a great amount of potential in her," he told her. "It would be a waste to simply let that languish."

"Very well," the woman didn't look too unhappy with the prospect of a new member into their band. Children, especially gifted ones, was a commodity the band always valued.

As the sun rose into the sky from the far away mountains of Rabiah, the small gypsy band left the outskirts of Alexandria. At the back of the train, a young girl rode quietly double-back with the gypsy woman. When the band passed through the limits of the city, the air around them shimmered and distorted, as if they went through an opaque forcefield that bordered the city.

Dark Amber eyes narrowed as they focused on the distortions. It was the edge of a massive temporal bubble, which surrounded the city, keeping the city itself at a constant timeflow rate of three times the outside norm. The girl remembers from her lessons how the early Time Mages of this Rabiah had bit off more than they could chew in their reckless experiments, thus leaving shards of differing timeflows floating around the plane. The temporal bubbles later erected over the major cities of Rabiah, all set to a slightly thrice the rate of the plane itelf, served to protect the centers of civilization from these rogue bubbles.

As the shimmering stopped, the old gypsy man pulled up alongside the two. His sharp eyes peered at the young girl. "So, little one. What shall we call you by?"

Amber eyes gazed back at him as the one he addressed the question to paused in thought. She did not want to use the name that Dabir had tacked onto her. That one felt as alien and false as the "family" that she had just left behind without a second glance. From the darkness of prenatal memory, another name appeared. One that had often reverberated through the halls of thoughts and dreams in the depths of night.

Dainty red lips curved in perhaps their first true smile. "My name... is Arcadia."



A Thief in the Night


Wildfire. Circa 4145 A.R.


Night. The gleaming full moon of Wildfire cast silvery shafts of light onto the city below, filling the crooks and crannies of every street with shadows. As thin strands of clouds glided along the night breeze, their shadows seemed to dance and quiver as if alive.

Or perhaps they were.

In one narrow stone-wrought street, a small form moved through the shadows, unseen to all but the most powerful of mage-sight. A small slip of a girl, with pale skin and eyes that shone with amber fire, moved quietly inside the very shadows themselves. Her path was not a straightforward one, but weaved in and out among the buildings, the rooftops, and alleyways. Indeed, it was as if she was following something, a trail unseen by human perception.

As it happened, Arcadia was following an unseen trail. One of the powers she had inherited from her mother was the ability to follow any path traveled before her. It mattered not that the trail was almost a day old, nor that exclusively traveling type powers had not been used. Her senses knew clearly where the treaded path led.

In but moments, Arcadia found herself inside an old abandoned building in the squallor filled part of the city. Slowly, staying merged in the protective embrace of the shaodws, she slipped inside, bypassing the dilapidated walls and doorway altogether. A quick look around the room told her that no one was there--that she could see. Patiently, she nestled deeper into the shadows. To wait.

As she waited, her mind went over the circumstances that had brought her here. Tales had been floating around the city for quite a while now. Tales of a master thief that nothing was safe from. One that no guards or protections, magical or mundane, had been able to even glimpse. Rumors had flown aplenty in the city regarding this new master thief, especially after the palace itself had been raided. Some said the thief was a creature of black magic. Others claimed it was a blue magic sorceror who'd found a way to perfect the Steal Artifact spell...

But Arcadia suspected something different. After sensing the ethereal trails of the culprit from the scene of his last crime, she was more certain than ever that whoever this thief was, he was not native this world anymore than she was.

Movement.

Glowing amber eyes, unseen in the depths of the shadow realms, immediately fixed on the slight ripple in the darkness of the room. Suddenly, it seemed as if the air itself blurred, and then resolved into the shadowed form of a middle-aged man. As the aura of invisibility faded from around him, Arcadia could see a small artifact held in his hands.

But the artifact was not her concern. The man was. Slowly, imperceptibly, she moved closer to him in the shadows. Stealthily, a dainty hand moved forward and made contact with his shadow as it stretched behind him under the pale glow of the moon.

With a lightning fast move, the man had spun around, a bright sword of light in his hands. His eyes searched the room for the intrusion that had tickled the edge of his consciousness.

Arcadia, who had frozen in place at the sudden movement, raised an eyebrow at the dark green lightsaber. The weapon posed no danger to her, ensconced in the safety of the shadow-space as she was, but it did confirm her suspicions. Memories of a life unlived burned through her mind as she recognized the lightsaber for what it was.

Undaunted, she closed her hands around the fabric of the man's shadow and pulled it to herself. Her othersenses touched it lightly, taking in it's pungent and darkly spicy "taste", before opening up completely to drain this new source of Power.

The man gasped as he felt his powers being drained from his body, a thick sheet of fatigue dropping across his spirit and mind. He struggled to escape, but found himself locked into place by some unknown anchor. Vainly, he attempted to call forth some mana for an area effect spell, but a sharp mental intrusion destroyed his fumbling attempts. Gathering his own mental powers, he tried to fight the intruder off, but found his very efforts being drained to aid the opponent instead. Finally, with a choked gasp, he surrendered to the oblivion of unconsciousness.

After a few moments more of draining, Arcadia pulled back and regarded her nigh-comatose victim. It was time to find out a few things from this visitor. Placing a hand onto his forehead, she plunged into his unresisting mind...



A Step Toward Home


Bassorah, Rabiah. Circa 4148 A.R. Circa 1018 Cairo Time


The path had come full circle.

Ten-year-old Arcadia stood before the Great Bazaar of Bassorah and mused at the events that had brought her back here again. Has it only been 6 years by the Argivian Reckoning since she was first "borne" onto this world? It had certainly felt longer. But that mattered little. Patience only yields greater successes.

But first, it was time to get off this multiverse. As interesting as the planes that she had traveled to with the gypsy band -- Wildfire, Dominaria, and many other Rabiahs -- it was time to begin seeking her roots. As it had turned out, her stay with the gypsies had been more beneficial to her plans than just the lessons she had sought. In fact, it was a twist of fate that the key to getting off this multiverse had been handed to her less than a year into her role as a gypsy girl, that moonlit night in the spendor-filled captial of Wildfire.

Memories of that event, where she had first tasted of another native of her parents' homeworlds (or thereabouts), flashed across her mind. Arcadia took a quick inventory of the powers she had gained from that thief, the explanations and how-to's of which she had lifted from the man's own mind. Black magic was useful, certainly, though she took care not to display it before her new gypsy "family". Not that she could do half the things the previous holder of the power could have done with it. The Force powers were handy at times too, though the main applications of that could easily be duplicated by the Sorcerous powers her mother had bequeathed upon her. But the last power, that of complete invisibility, to all senses physical of metaphysical... that was much more useful. Especially during the day, when her shadow-powers were diminished.

All of these thoughts were pushed to the back of her mind, though, when Arcadia spotted her prey. A small quartet of people, with the pale skin of outsiders and the garb of far-away travellers, perused the stalls at the bazaar. Two of them she immediately recognized from the memories of the thief on Wildfire. They were chaperones, here with a duo of tourists from a world near where her roots began. At the moment, they were also her ticket to take a greap leap closer to her true origins.

But first... She would see what they were capable of.

As she drew closer, her mind reached out to touch theirs, cautiously. The first mind, that of one of the chaperone teleporters, bore an aura of blue--a blue mage, evidently, and not one to be easily probed. The two tourists, likewise, proved resistant to her probes, though none noticed her efforts. A psiblocker? she wondered, or perhaps a mind shield.

Finally, she touched the last mind, that of the second teleporter. Her probe sank in unblocked, and she immediated delved into his mind. After gleaming all the knowledge that she could from him, this man named Halfdane, she pulled back. A calculating look appeared in her eyes. The group would be staying in the city for a week or so. It should be more than enough time for her to gain more than just a way of passage from them.

That evening, a dark shadow slithered through the inn the four visitors were staying in. It paused for a moment outside Halfdane's door, then moved on to the next room, which held his fellow teleporter. Before the sun dawned in the eastern skies, the form slipped out of the room, sated from the powers she had gained from the teleporter, and the knowledge from his mind. The blue magic she already had aplenty. His teleporting powers were something she didn't care to try out recklessly any time soon. But the man's clairsentience was certainly something that would become quite useful in future days.

The next night, the same scene was repeated with one of the tourists, the only female of the group. Her mind shield was of little use to Arcadia's already impressive natural defenses, but the draining did allow her to penetrate the woman's usually well-sealed mind. The woman's white magic, just like the black magic from the thief from long ago, was useful as a footnote in Arcadia's mind, nothing more. The third power, that of intangibility, had much more uses, again complimenting her own shadow and later gained invisibility abilities.

On the third night, the other tourist was visited in his sleep. A small touch of red magic destroyed the mediocre psi-blocker that protected his mind. His red magic, just like the teleporter's blue magic, was of little help to Arcadia. But both of his other powers were welcome additions indeed. It was just like a red mage to manifest Aberrant RPG style megadexterity and photographic reflexes. Of course, gaining the powers by second-hand without rendering the source comatose did dilute their potency, but Arcadia had not been planning to personally fight any battles anytime soon. Rather, to her, those two abilities were to be useful in... other ways.

Finally on the fourth night, Arcadia visited Halfdane. His planeswalking ability was certainly useful, but also required as much caution before using as his co-worker's interdimensional teleportation powers. His flight ability was useful, but nothing that Arcadia couldn't have duplicated using magic. His third power, that of dopplegangering might have some merits to it... though Arcadia decided that she would try and integrate it to her other powers first before ever using it. She didn't like the prospects of temporarily giving up all of her other powers just to gain a new form and powerset for a time.

For the next few days that the tourist group stayed in the city, Arcadia visited one of them each night, stealing as much power as possible without raising any suspicions (as well as planting suggestions in their minds to rationalize away their fatigue in the morning). Each time, she also teased away a small portion of their shadow. She might not have the resources her mother did to create the crystal-borne shadow minions... but she just might find a use for these shadow-slivers in time.

After a little more than a week of this, the tourist group returned to their homeworld. A day later, their teleportation trail was followed by a slip of a young girl, who, for the first time in her life set foot on the soils of Earth.

Earth. The land of her parents. Though not perhaps the exact same Earth as this one. But it was close enough to bring her one step closer to the calling of her blood. The calling of faint but clear memories from the womb.


Two days later, a new face appeared inside a prosperous eclectic bookstore near the Seattle HQ of Magical Travels Ltd. Curious customers were told by the elderly owner of the store that the quiet and darkly adorable girl was a distant niece, even though his two long-time workers there had never heard him mention any such relatives before.

And so, life went on.



Life and Times


Seattle, Earth 3.0. Circa Year 11


About a year had passed for her on Alternate Earth. A year which she had used to the utmost, taking advantage of her newly gained skills in both multitasking (megadexterity)and learning (photo reflexes), as well as her own innate intelligence and quick mind, to learn as much as possible. Fantasy and sci-fi, history and science, anime and movies... no subject escaped her intense scrutiny. There was not enough time in it all to find out about everything, of course, but she did make sure that she was adequately prepared for what surprises the multiverse could bring.

Of course, she also had help. The owner of the store she had gotten herself forcibly adopted into had a few useful powers, such as omni-linguistic comprehension and inhuman stamina to stay up at all hours of the day. His clairvoyance was redundant with her previously stolen clairsentience, but her long term exposure to the former did aid in her overall mastery over that power.

Aside from the owner, two of the regular workers in the store also had powers as well. One, a young man obssessed with computers, provided not only useful technical know-how, but also the benefits of cyberkinesis (as well as the more redundant telekinesis and multitasking abilities). The other employee, a high school girl, had provided exposure to an entirely new powerset, including illusion (which operated by different mechanics than Arcadia's previous telepathy and magic based illusory abilities), Highlander style immortality (which served to be an virtually inexhaustible source of power for Arcadia), and spatial manipulation.

One final source of help, though, came from a different source. Ever since she had "met" Halfdane, a half-remember memory had flittered in the back of Arcadia's mind. One night, she had drawn up a summoning circle in the back lot of the store, and using drops of her own blood as a focus, she called for the remaining creations of her mother's power. After a few moments of tense anticipation, two reflective shadowy forms appeared before her. They were whispy, almost immaterial, both due to the fact that their creation process had been interrupted, and because they were the only creatures to have survived the later razing of Alt-Ravenloft by the MunchKING.

With a twist of her hand, Arcadia had pulled out the significant slice of shadow she had taken from Halfdane. The crystal-borne before her had not been based on the same person, but certainly a different version of him. With her other hand, which still held one of her two enchanted daggers that was currently doubling as an athame, she carefully sliced off a hair-thin sliver of her own shadow and added it to that of Halfdane's.

Pushing forward, Arcadia inserted her hand holding the two shadow-shards into the crystal-borne creation of Halfdane's alternate self. As she used her powers to meld the two together, she rebound the creature to herself. It was not difficult, as her mother's blood flowed through her veins too, after all. When she was done, a more complete crystal-borne shadow creature stood before her. One now totally loyal to her, with the powers of basic fire magic, dopplegangering, and empathic manipulation. An excellent combination indeed.

To the other creature (based off of Mirror Cheeks), she inserted shadow-shards of the blue mage from the tourist group, mixed with another sliver of her own shadow. It was not as seamless a match as the first, but it was good enough.

Standing back to appreciate her own work, Arcadia nodded, satisfied with the results. To the first creature, she sent out her thoughts.

I hereby name thee Magedane.

Then to the other.

I name thee Fareye.


That was months ago. Now, Arcadia felt ready with the knowledge she had gained from Earth.

...But that wasn't all the knowledge she needed. No. There was more she needed to know, and those bits of knowledge would not be found here on Earth.

It was time to leave, again.


A Few Days Later...

Local police and firefighters were called to the scene of a fire at a bookstore near Magic Travels, Ltd. The authorities had been able to recover just about all of the employees and customers inside the building due to the efforts of metahuman healer-paramedics, though three of them--the owner and two others--remained in a comatose state that defied the best efforts of the medics. After the fire had been put out, the authorities had found the clothing remains of perhaps a ten-year-old girl in the rubble of the building. Efforts to identify who it belonged to came to naught.

After further investigation by forensic postcognitives, it was revealed that the fire had been caused by two reasons. One was a faulty connection in the old style security systems of the building, evidently the result of a careless blunder by a technician who had been called in to fix a bug in the wiring systems a month earlier. The other was the result of improper usage of several outlets by the young man, who had chosen that evening to try out some new piece of computing technology cobbled together from extradimensional blueprints. As his choice was (seemingly) done on a whim, the precognitives in the police and fire departments had not picked up on the possibility of the fire until too late.

Such little details... surely the tragedy could not have been engineered...

Could it?



The Price of Knowledge


Sethanon, Midkemia


A small shadow flittered among the abandoned rubble of Sethanon, unheeded in the empty city. No guards were set there, no protections magical or mundane, even though it held the fate of a multiverse. Secrecy was enough to keep the relic buried deep beneath the city safe... for now.

With perfect knowledge of where to go, Arcadia stopped at the entrance to the keep in the center of the city. There, before her, was a great fissue that ran jaggedly deep into the earth. Down she went, into the darkness of the crack in the ground, until she reached the basement chamber below the keep's entrance. As her eyes, long used to be able to see in the darkness of the shadow-realms, automatically adjusted to the gloom, the movement of robes caught her attention. She paused, as a group of monks stood as if on guard, or perhaps as servants, around a large female dragon, whose scales shone like miniature stars, wrought from gold and other precious jewels. Far behind the great dragon, she could see a large green stone set on top of a pedestal. A sword stuck out of the center of it.

Boldly, Arcadia stepped before the great dragon and inclined her head in greeting.

"Arcadia of the Shadows," the Oracle greeted in the rumbling purr of dragonic speech. "You come seeking knowledge of your origins and your future."

Arcadia did not reply, but merely returned the dragonic gaze steadily.

"You want to find your father. You want to release your mother from her prison. " The Oracle rumbled. "And you want to know of your enemies and rivals."

Again, Arcadia remained silent.

One of the few robed elderly men around the Oracle spoke up. "It is the way of the Oracle to first name a price for the knowledge you seek, before granting her words." He paused and regarded the slight form of the girl before him.

Arcadia gave him a sharp nod. She already knew this from the books she had read of this multiverse on Earth. Patiently, she waited for the Oracle to name her price.

Finally, the lazy draconic eyes, which had appeared unfocused and unreasoned before, suddenly focused into sharp clarity.

"Here is my price, one for each answer you seek. First, a god-forged Sword that would defend all innocents from harm. Second, a scale freely-given by a dragon god. And third, a Labyrinth, wrought of the essence of earth."

Arcadia pondered the demands for a moment, weighing them in her mind. Then, she spoke her first word since entering the room.

"Agreed."


The Oracle stared at Arcadia for a moment, the draconic eyes seemed to peer into the girl's soul... or perhaps beyond her. Abruptly, they cleared and shifted back into clarity. The Oracle nodded, as if to herself.

"Very well. Here then is the answer to the first question. Your father left the dark domains of Ravenloft within a vessel of the stars, as the vessel was returned to its plane of origin, one of many possiblities of that which you know of as 'Star Wars'. Ever since, his shadow has been roaming that galaxy, always taking care to stay hidden from the watchful eyes of the new Emperor of that Empire. If he has not left that starry realm, you would find him there still."

The Oracle stopped, and a brief silence filled the chamber. "A price for each question. I have answered the first. You must pay its price."

With a satisfied nod, Arcadia turned on her heels and began to leave. "I will return with the Sword." Her words echoed dimly from the dark fissure that led to the surface.


Solemnly, the Oracle waited until her latest supplicant departed from Sethanon. Then, she turned aside and peered into the gloom of the chamber, as if addressing someone unseen.

"You play a dangerous game, Toltiir. I foresee many possiblities in that girl's future. But little of them will shape her into the powerful champions of good that you seem to be fond of."

As she spoke, something moved in the darkness. A huge black cat with eyes dotted with the sparkles of a thousand stars moved to stand next to the bejeweled dragon. A deep rumbling voice came from it.

"Champions of good? Where did you get that idea, my dear Oracle? My interest in The Bet concerning that boy Ranma was purely for the sheer chaos that followed him in every timeline. T'was but a quirk of his individual that the boy lent himself more to heroism for all the small deviations we made." Slitted eyes that seemed to contain entire galaxies turned to focus on the fissure leading out of the chamber. "That girl, on the other hand... her nature lends itself to something much different." A lazy feline smile graced Toltiir's face.

The Oracle still appeared concerned. "So you seek to control her as a pawn of Chaos? Such attempts have often been known to backfire."

"Control?" Toltiir sounded offended at the accusation. "If she was controlled, she wouldn't be a child of Chaos anymore, now would she?" His long black tail flickered back and forth hypnotically. "While I have arranged for a few of the... circumstances... that involved her, I have never directly touched the child. It is far more interesting to see what she can do on her own, rather than what I can do for her, now isn't it?"

The Oracle did not answer. Her disapproving frown was still present on her face as Toltiir lazily turned and left the chamber with a feline smirk on his face. The ancient chamber beneath Sethanon fell into silence once more.



The First Quest: Seeker of Swords


Argonia, Saberhaben-altverse


Stealthily, a dark shadow crept into Argonhall, the keep of King Nigel of Argonia. Unseen and unheard, Arcadia's small form flittered through the rooms of the keep, searching for her goal. Tendrils of subtle mind probes skimmed through the consciousness of many a guard or courtier.

Finally, she reached the treasury of the keep. Skillfully, she evaded the protections, magical and mundane, that surrounded the room and three certain boxes. In each was a long, sheathed sword, wrapped loosely in samite silk. Moving forward, Arcadia drew back the silk from the hilt of the first blade. Two white cubes were depicted on the pommel, along with many runes that were etched into the Sword itself.

Coinspinner. Arcadia shook her head as if to herself. Useful. But untrustworthy. It operates only on its own terms.

Moving onto the next, she pulled back the silk to find a Sword with an bullseye etched into the pommel.

Farslayer. Its appliations are limited, but if used intelligently... After a moment's pause, Arcadia picked up the sword and dropped it into her own shadow. The blade seemed to disappear into nothingness. It's not what I seek, but it may become useful in the future. And now...

The third Sword bore the arrow mark of Wayfinder, the blade that she came for. It too followed the way of Farslayer into her shadow pocket. After making sure that everything was returned to their proper positions, and so to delay discovery, Arcadia stealthily left the keep.

It was just outide of Argonhall, though, when trouble reared its head. A 'man' whose aura reeked of inky blackness accosted her as she came out of the shadows to prepare to retrace her entrance into this plane.

"What are you out so late for, little one?" the man hissed at her. "What secrets do you have?"

Arcadia gave him a look of annoyance. "Away, demon!"

"Oh no, I shant leave yet," hissed the creature as it gave up the illusion of human form. "You have a new taste of magic about you, one I've never smelt before. I've followed your trail for a long way now, and you've just left Argonhall. What have you to do there? The only things of worth there... are the Swords." With that, it gave her a grotesque toothy smile.

Arcadia frowned, though the dissatisfaction was directed at herself. While she had gained powers from draining several metahumans and other sources of power, her control over her stolen abilities were only as thorough as the instructions she had plumbed from their minds. And even then, she lacked practice to be able to use some of them reliably. Her mind raced. This can't continue. I need to do something about this. Perhaps...

But first, there was the matter of the demon to deal with. Arcadia sent out a silent summons to her minions even as she readied herself for the demon's attack.

Sure enough, the creature suddenly lunged at her, its claws outstretched as if to tear her into tiny pieces. As agile as a cat, Arcadia slipped around its grasp. Her hand struck out like a cobra, and the demon found itself stumbling back in agony as an enchanted dagger protruded from its chest. It tried to pull the thing out, only to have the dagger seemingly dissolve into shadows, and then reform in Arcadia's hands once more.

Before the demon could recover, it was further struck point blank by two incinerate spells from front and back. With a howl of pain, it fled.

With a nod of acknowledgement to Magedane, Arcadia drew Wayfinder from her shadow. Pulling the sword from the sheath, she ask it "where is Townsaver?" Immediately, the Sword swung to indicate the direction of the blade in question. With a motion for Magedane to follow her, Arcadia began moving in the indicated direction. She couldn't wait to leave this wretched world.


A few days later, in Sethanon...

Arcadia handed Townsaver, the Sword of Fury, to the robed servant of the Oracle of Aal. As the man shuffled off into the gloom, she returned her attention to the dragon-Oracle.

The Oracle, in turn, gazed at her solemnly, before speaking.

"The second knowledge that you seek is that of your mother's fate..."

(OOC Note: This information will be filled in later, when I think of an appropriate way of phrasing it to limit other folks from trying to play with this particular plot.)

When the Oracle finished her pronouncement, Arcadia slowly nodded. She had not like what she heard, but there was no help for the truth. This dilemma would bear much pondering.

Turning, she made her way back to the surface of Sethanon, where Magedane and Fareye were waiting patiently for her. Regardless of what she had learned, first there was the Price to pay for it. But first...

Pausing at the mouth of the fissure leading to the underground chamber of Sethanon, Arcadia drew forth a third Sword that she had kept with her. This one had a plain white circle gracing the hilt.

...but first, I have a pit stop to make on Cephiro. I'm sure Master Smith Prescea could be persuaded for a small bit of work in exchange for a unique weapon of magic.

With a slight bounce in her step, Arcadia and her two minions set out from Sethanon again.



The Second Quest: Seiryuu No Miko


Kutou, Universe of the Four Gods


Arcadia wandered the deserted streets of Kutou, trying not to pull at the uncomfortable Japanese school uniform that she was wearing as the short blond hair that she had shifted her raven locks into ruffled in the wind. It had been child's play to deceive the ditzy Miaka Yuuki, with just a small mental push on top of the disguise, that she was her classmate, Yui Hongo. The real Yui, of course, had been ambushed while searching for Miaka, and was being kept at a secure place by Magedane.

She still despised the diguise despite its neccessity. Her pose as Yui had allowed her to recite the incantation to enter the Book of Suzaku, and then to return to it after Miaka, after accepting the position as Suzaku no Miko, sought to return to the "real world". Of course, she also had to deal with the minor annoyances of suffering the same injuries that Miaka recieved in the book world, something that she had been prepared to deal with (though her disdain for the Japanese girl had only grown upon witnessing her two near brushes of death due to na´vetÚ and stupidity).

But still, there were two more reasons to keep the disguise on just a bit longer. One was to showcase the fact that she was definitely not from around there, and the twentieth century school uniform certainly did a good job of that in this ancient Orient environment. The other was to attract the attention of a certain shogun cum seishi, who would be much more inclined to indulge his curiousity over a girl of the blond haired minority that were much discriminated against in Kutou.

"Well, well. Look what we have here."

Arcadia stopped in her aimless wandering and looked up. Before her was a group of uncouth thugs who peered at her with leering eyes. For a split moment, Arcadia's icy blue eys narrowed in anger, before fading away to a feigned look of polite confusion.

"Got lost, little girl?" one of the thugs sneered.

"I think she'll fetch a pretty penny on the market," agreed the man next to him, cracking his knuckles.

Arcadia slowly backed up, her hands reaching for the daggers just inside her sleeves. She had felt her powers being smothered as she entered the book world, and didn't want to rely on any of then while she was there. Of course, if that gullible ditz Miaka can survive this world, I should have no problems. Eyes narrowing once more, Arcadia spun into motion as the thugs suddenly rushed her.

The slavers had the advantage of size and number, of course, but they found themselve nontheless competently matched by the lithe young girl that darted in and out of their fumbling grasps. Although Arcadia had not spent any excessive time learning more than the basics of Earth-norm martial arts with her stolen photo reflexes, what little she did know was supplemented by her experience on the streets of Rabiah and among the emberwilde gypsies. With well placed kicks and nicks in sensitive places, she easily kept the slavers away from her.

As she successfully downed the second of four ruffians attacking her, a flash of blond hair at the edge of her perceptions caught Arcadia's attention. A moment more and she easily identified the shogun of Kutou approaching the fight. As soon as she was sure she had the blond shogun's attention, Arcadia slipped her daggers back into her sleeves and allowed the slaver attacking her just then a glancing blow upon her.

Stumbling back in half-feigned pain, Arcadia allowed the remaining two thugs a few more glancing hits before throwing herself onto the dusty ground, as if unconscious. Lying bonelessly on the ground, she forced herself not to react as the two slavers laid their hands on her. Fortunately, their triumph did not last long, as the hand upon her back suddenly pulled back and sounds of more fighting reached her ears. Daring a quick peek from her position on the ground, Arcadia was satisfied to see the shogun finish off the remaining two slavers. Then, he turned and approached the her still form.

As soon as Arcadia felt his hands upon her shoulders, she gave off a feigned weak groan of returning consciousness. Schooling her features into that of confused innocence and fear, she slowly lifted her head to look into the eyes of the shogun.

"Who are you?" There was just the right amount of fear and awe in that question.

The shogun raised an eyebrow. "I am Nakago, the shogun of Kutou." He scrutinized the girl in the strange garb before him. "And who are you, little girl? Your garb is not from around here."

With guilless eyes, Arcadia spun him the story she had already prepared, subtly emphasizing the fact that this world was not her native land. When she was done, Nakago looked thoughtful for a moment, before regarding her once more.

"You wish to return home?" He waited for her to nod. "The only way to do that would be if you were to become the miko of the dragon god Seiryuu, the patron of Kutou. By summoning Seiryuu, you would be allowed three wishes, which you can use to wish yourself home."

"Well, if that is the only way, then I'll do it!" Arcadia agreed enthusiastically. Under the fascade she had put up, she smirked in triumph.

Nakago nodded as he helped Arcadia to her feet. "Of course, since I have just save you from a fate worse than death here, I want for repayment one of your wishes to Seiryuu when the time comes."

Arcadia shrugged. "That would only be fair." Inward, another smirk of triumph appeared as Nakago did not press her for a promise.

"Very well then. Come with me and I shall present you to the emperor of Kutou." With that, Nakago walked toward the center of the city.


Three months later in the book world...

Miaka, miko of the pheonix god Suzaku, cried out in dismay as a huge sapphire dragon appeared in the skies. She and her seishi were too late to stop the Seiryuu seishi and their miko from raising the dragon god. Before her, Nakago threw his head back in triumphant laughter at the shock on his enemy seishis' faces.

Before the Suzaku seishi could attack him again, the Seiryuu no Miko herself suddenly appeared on on the scene. She, too, wore a triumphant smile, though no one noticed the sinister smirk that lay beneath it. Slowly, she walked up to Nakago.

"You said you wanted one of the wishes, Nakago-kun?" she asked sweetly... perhaps a shade too sweetly.

Nakago gave the Suzaku seishi one last triumphant look before turning to his miko. "I want the powers of a god! So that I can leave this false world and conquer this so-called 'real world' where you and the Suzaku no Miko come from!"

Miaka gasped. "NO! Don't do it! Please!"

Arcadia merely blinked innocently at the shogun. "Well, that's somewhat more than just one wish, and there is still Kutou itself to think about, but let's see what we can do." So saying, she lifted her head to the blue dragon flying high in the skies. "Seiryuu!" she called, "my first wish is that both I and the Suzaku no Miko be returned to the Real World, and never allowed to return again!"

This time, more than one cry of protest was heard as a blue light shot down from the heavens and engulfed Arcadia and Miaka. Ignoring Miaka's desperate cries of "Tamahome!", Arcadia let her own triumph express on her features as she felt herself being moved and pulled into another plane. As she half expected, she also felt a large hand grabbing ahold of her arm as she was transported through the boundary between worlds.

As the light faded, Arcadia absently noted that only a day had passed in the real world while she had been in the book world. The rest of her attention was focused on Nakago, who had grabbed her upon transport. The blond shogun was glaring at her with a look of anger. Similarly, Tamahome had grabbed ahold of Miaka as had been transported as well. More importantly, though, she could feel the full access to her powers returning to her.

"What do you think you're doing!" Nakago raged at his miko. He was surprised when, instead of meekly subsiding to his commands, Arcadia gave him a icy look of uncaring coldness. He was even more surprised when an unseen force threw him back from the small girl into a cement wall behind him.

Meanwhile, a blue dragon appeared in the sky of mundane Tokyo.

Levitating herself onto a convenient rooftop, Arcadia addressed Seiryuu once more. "For my second wish, I wish for permanent access and mastery to any and every power that I gain, past, present, and future."

Again, Seiryuu granted the wish with a bolt of blue energy. Arcadia grinned as she caught the sight of confusion from the two seishi and one miko on the ground. Nakago leapt into the air toward her once again, only to be frozen midair by a stasis spell.

Turning one last time to the blue dragon god, Arcadia made her final wish. "For my last wish, I wish for three of your scales, oh dragon god!" There was a pause this time, as if the god himself considered the request. Quickly, Arcadia added an addendum to her request. "I give my word not to use them in any connection to my draining powers."

Three beams of blue light rained down from the sky to land on Arcadia's outstretched hands. Three glimmering blue scales lay in her hands. And then, Seiryuu descended on the miko who had spent her wishes, intent on consuming the girl altogether.

Arcadia, of course, had been expecting this. But she remained confident that if two lovestruck mortals as the departed Byakko no Miko, and the Suzako no Miko of the unaltered timeline, could fend off their respective gods by sheer willpower, then she should have no problems doing the same. Indeed, after battering against its erstwhile miko's adamantine defenses for an eternal moment, Seiryuu suddenly departed, soaring once more into the sky before disappearing back into the Universe of the Four Gods once more.

Arcadia basked in her triumph momentarily, before turning her attention to the other three involved in the mess. Ignoring the flabbergasted Miaka and Tamahome, she flew forward and grabbed Nakago just as the stasis spell died out. With one last smirk at the other two on the ground, she disappeared with her prey.


In the shadow-realm...

Magedane bowed as his young mistress appeared with a disoriented blond man in her grasp. An unconscious Yui Hongo floated in the darkness behind him.

What should I do with the girl, Princess? the crystalline shadow asked.

Arcadia shot a quick glance at the other girl. Do whatever you wish with her, then drop her back to her own world. We don't need extra luggage around.

With a bow, Magedane dragged Yui into the gloom, leaving Arcadia to turn her attention to the shogun once more.

Groggily, Nakago shook off the spell that had struck him. Before he could get a bearing on what was happening, he felt his power and strength drain from him. Weakened, he could do naught as a mind intruded upon his own. His last memory before oblivion was of a single thought that was not of his own.

Powers and world domination, huh? Your wish may just come true...



The Third Quest: Changeling Child


The Chaos Lands in Underhill. Time variable.


Arcadia sat silently in behind the Unseleigh as the dark-elven steed they rode upon cantered forth in the desolation of the Chaos Lands. From the stiffeness of the dark elf before her, she could tell he did not welcome this duty, even though the hunting party had been successful in capturing a minor noble of the Seleigh court.

Her current disguise was in the form of a even younger child of perhaps 7 years of age, with large innocent eyes and a unquestioning nature. A light skim of her mind's surface would have yeilded a simple and easily controlled child who had the misfortune of stumbling across a portal to Underhill.

The disguise, just like all of her disguises in the past, was calculated to derive the greatest advantage for her in her surroundings. Just as she expected, none of the Unseleigh, not even the Dark Lord Aerune, suspected any deceit from her, nor tried to look deeper into her disguise. The elven arrogance immediately discounted the notion that any mortal, much less a mere infant, could or would be able to deceive them. Likewise, the manipulative Aerune had immediately seized on the idea of using such an innocent and controllable child for his shadow war against the Seleigh Courts, as a most tempting bait for any Light Elf to stumble across.

Arcadia cared little for the politics of the Elven Courts, though. For the moment, her feigned submission to the Dark Lord Aerune served her own purposes. And that was all she needed to care about. Carefully guarding her thoughts from both unwelcome intrusions and from accidental interaction with the Chaos Lands itself, Arcadia thought back to the last answer the Oracle had given her.


*** Flashback ***

The Oracle's servants graciously accepted one of the three scales Arcadia had received from Seiryuu. The Oracle herself nodded in satisfaction as she examined the blue scale. Looking back at Arcadia, she spoke.

"Two of three Prices you have paid. Two Answers I have given. Here is the third on my part of the bargain.

"You would know of your enemies and rivals. I can tell you that while many were there who raised arms against the Black Tower of Ravenloft, those that lead it, and those that you will need to have care in confronting, are few indeed.

"The one that you know of led the final triumph over that dark domain. She who bears a face quite familiar to you. Have care if you would seek vengeance upon her for the fall of the Black Tower, for her allies are legion and rank widely in station and power, from lowly to beings of the Cosmos. Her vessel and crew find comparisons in demigods. And many yet would avenge any wrong done upon her and her kin.

"Another is the Emperor of the realm you plan to go to seek your roots. He has long held many realms in the palm of his hands. A puppeteer that holds even beings of power in unwitting thrall. Not even the ranks of the divine are safe from his pursuits. His reach is long and his perception keen. And always, he plays his pawns from a behind a curtain of darkness and deceit.

"The third was among the suitors that flocked to the Black Tower in it's time of glory. His power remains great, as does his anger. He is perhaps the only pawn among these that you can hope to play, the only one that might share one of your goals. But beware. His loyalty is unclear, and this pawn may do more damage than aid.

(OOC Note: more descriptions may be added here, depending on how things go.)"


There are many more pieces you may encounter on this varied board. But these few are, for now, the movers and shakers of the game. And thus, the third answer I have given you. My part of this bargain is done."

*** End Flashback ***


As Arcadia came out of her thoughts, the small group had already reached the keep of Dark Lord Aerune. Slipping off the black elven-steed with the grace of a cat, she summarily slipped off into the keep. Whatever the fate awaited the captured Seleigh elf, it was not of her concern.

Just as she reached the edge of the keep proper, though, a shifting shadow caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. With a quick scan to make sure no one noticed her (and the Unseleigh rarely did, unless commanded to seek the puny mortal out for some duty by their Lord), she slipped out of the keep once more, to a relatively secluded spot in the swirling chaos outside.

With a gesture, she summoned the shadow creature before her. It was a much lesser creature than those she can converted from her mother's service. But it was only that low level of presence that she needed for a minion so close to the sanctum of an Unseleigh Lord. Pausing again to make sure that they were indeed alone, she regarded the shadow being with a questioning look.

The creature responded to her command with an airy thought. They come. The Bards and the Half-elf and the Guardians and the Healer. They travel the Chaos Lands in search of the Unseleigh Lord.

Arcadia smiled. It was finally time. With a quick command to the shadow creature, she slipped back into the keep. According to what she knew of this timeline, Aerune's time was near an end. But just because she was not here for anything of his, did not mean that she could not take advantage of this event, as she had planned to from the first.

After making sure her contingencies were ready, Arcadia followed her bond to her servant and met the group of adventurers that moved determinedly toward Aerune's keep. Fareye was waiting for her there, having already swapped the Labyrinth Seedling from the unsuspecting Eric Banyon with an illusion stone on her orders.

Staying hidden in the shadows, she followed the ragtag bunch as they challenged the Dark Elflord and fought against him in mind and body. As Areune weaved the dream spell to entrap the heroes, Arcadia took the chance of his divided attention to begin to siphon he Unseleigh Lord's powers as well, slowly so as not to cause any undue attention. This, of course, also had the side effect of her absorbing portions of the power of both the two bards and the young healer as they pored their powers onto Aerune to break his spell - as she had known they would.

As soon as the dark elf seemed on the verge of loosing, and Eric began to 'plant' the false seedling into the grounds of the Chaos Lands, Arcadia activated her preset contingencies. To all other eyes, it seemed that the Labyrinth spell had activated perfectly, sealing Aerune into its depths for hopefully the rest of eternity. To her own eyes, though, Arcadia could perceive the truth, that Aerune was held up inside a time-stasis bubble, freezing him there until she was ready to deal with him on her own terms.

As the wearied group of ragtag champions left the Chaos Lands, Arcadia slipped out of the shadows. She smirked at the frozen form of the dark elf as the illusion she crafted vanished. Her power and skill had grown much indeed if she could fool four Guardians and two Bards. Not to mention holding an elf lord unknowingly prisoner.

And with Aerune, this part of the Chaos Lands are now mine. Her smile increased. With a blur, she returned to her natural age, that of a twelve-year-old girl. It may no longer be her chronological age, for measuring the passage of time was an useless task Underhill, but it was the age she preferred. One hand slipped into her shadow-pocket and withdrew the seedling for the Labyrinth she had stolen from Eric Banyon. And now, the balance is even.



Foundations of Power

In many places, many times, a shadow crept through the worlds. As always, it slipped in and out quickly, accomplishing its task in the mere moments of practiced motion, before disappearing from that world without a trace, leaving only the ripples of its tampering in its wake.


Gundam Wing universe. 195 A.C. (During the "Battle of the Pacifists")

Victor Gaintz led his fleet of ships toward the secret OZ mobile doll plant known as Vulkanus. He cackled softly to himself as visions of glory danced in his mind's eye. But as his little army of brainwashed zealots, otherwise known as the Perfect Peace People, a sense of unease settled upon him.

Something was wrong. There were no sign of the Gundam pilots, despite the fact that his people had reported a fight amongst them earlier, between the young Arab he had brainwashed and his comrades. For another, he seemed to have lost contact with his spy on board withe OZ's #4 Flying Space Squadron. While he doubted that optimistic fool Captain Broden had discovered Lt. Klementz's true allegiance, the silence didn't bode well.

And more than that...

"Where's Scorpio?" he wondered aloud as the fleet managed to reach Vulkanus unmolested. The guardian mech of the plant should have been there to stop any intruders. While Victor himself didn't have worries about the thing - he had the release code - he did find its absence unnerving.

Shaking his head, Victor dismissed his worries. He was on the eve of victory here anyhow. Time enough to worry about problems later. As he gave the order to land, Victor made sure that he was among the first to set foot upon the base that would become the Perfect Peace Movement's banner in returning peace to Earth and the colonies - through the iron fist of force.

Suddenly, movement in the shadows of the corridor caught his attention. The soldiers around him raised their arms, as they looked nervously into the gloom. As someone turned on the lights, they were met with the odd sight of a young pale skinned girl standing before them in the corridor, an odd amused smile on her face.

That was the last sight they saw, before they joined the Gundam pilots and the OZ squadron before them... under the sway of the shadow.


Tokyo, Earth Anime-2760 (Weis Kreuz)

Crawford cursed under his breath as he hurried down the alley way. He knew it wasn't professional to leave the rest of the Schwartz team to hold their own against Weiss, but it mattered little to him right now. He knew their fates were irrevocably sealed, by a force beyond what either team could handle. In fact, he wasn't sure if he could escape this new development himself. His precognitive visions had offered him no solution before... nor was it offering him much hope right now.

As he turned a corner, he was met by the unwavering aim of a young boy with a futuristic (MiiB type) blaster pointed straight at him. Resigned, he could do little but surrender. As he was lead away by the stony eyed youth, he mused ironically at the sad fate that had come to the bitter enemies of Weiss and Schwartz - to be forced into an unknown service together side by side.


Abode, after the first eight graphic novels

After another grueling session before the Scrolls of Memory, Rayek left the inner sanctums of the Palace of the High Ones to check up on the catatonic form of Winnowill. As he reached the outer room where she had been sealed, though, he immediately noticed something out of place.

A young girl - a human girl - was standing before Winnowill's prison. Moreover, he could sense tendrils of... something... magic?... that stretched forth from the girl to Winnowill. Hurriedly, he flew toward the girl, yelling something in what little he knew of the human speech.

On hearing his yells, the girl turned to face him, though her eyes flickered dismissively over his form before focusing on something behind him. Sensing some trick, Rayek spun around in midair - but too late as a blast of some sort caught him full in the face, rendering him unconscious.

Satisfied that the dark skinned elf was no longer a threat, Arcadia made a gesture to her shadow-enhanced servants to take care of him, while a few others went in search of the few other elven members of this world that she wanted for their powers. Then, she turned back to Winnowill. The black hearted immortal had a strong will and stronger mental powers of her own. Bending this one to her will would take more than just her own mental sorcery... Fortunately, Arcadia had more options available to her than just pure psionic powers. Besides, Winnowill's skill in the molding of flesh and spirit would be an invaluable tool for her, alongside the already recruited Dr. Sevarius, late of the Gargoyles universe.


Parapsychics universe (by Anne McCaffrey), around the time of "Lyon's Pride"

Rojer curled in upon himself in the abandoned depths of the Hiver Sphere. All he could think about were his fallen friends, his Mrdini who he had grown up with right from the cradle. In his mind, the image of their sudden deaths repeated again and again, the horror burning into his soul.

I should have been able to stop him. I should have save them. I froze. I should have 'ported out at the first sign of trouble. Oh Gil. Oh Kat. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry...

So immersed was he in his despair and grief, that his normally acute mental senses did not detect a new presence appearing from nowhere behind him. Nor the slim hand that raised to brush lightly against the back of his head. And then... he knew no more.


On the outskirts of the Federation, a month before "Descent".

Lore looked on approvingly as his small army of indiviudal borg drones accepted their orders and went on their way. Turning, he entered his own private office. It was time to plan for his... 'reunion'... with his brother.

As he entered the room, though, he came to a sudden stop at the sight that greeted him. A young girl sat in his chair, her legs propped up on his table and a sardonic smile graced her face. Two young men with steely eyes and an aura of shadowy darkness around them stood at attention beside her.

"Who are you," Lore demanded of the girl. "How did you get in here?"

The girl merely smirked at him. She opened her mouth, but the words she spoke were nothing that he had ever encountered before. That was before he suddenly felt himself losing control of his own systems, his body growing rigid as if a puppet on a string.

Arcadia smiled at the helpless android before her. "Me? Your new mistress." Two more figures suddenly appeared in the room also, both female. "And these are your new field commanders. Ms. Une and Ms. Nabiki Tendou."

Helpless in the grip of some unfathomable power, Lore could only mechanically follow the orders that were given to him by the women before him. And watch helplessly as his own army of cyborgs were entirely subdued to the will of another...




Good? Evil? ...Chaotic Neutral


Sailor Moon Manga-Altverse-#27, circa Black Moon Family saga


At the Gates of Time, Setsuna Meiou, aka Sailor Pluto, was worried. It was not just because of the dangerous plight that faced her queen-to-be and Small Lady. Something was disturbing the time stream, a disturbance that she could not pinpoint. In her mind, Setsuna cursed the dark Moon Family again for their massive temporal incursions to this time period. The excessive chronal energies from their activities made it difficult to spot any stable details from the Gates.

Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her. Without a pause, she spun around, her Time Key at the ready. As she did, she saw a large shadowy form lunging at her. Responding reflexively, Pluto raised the Time Key with a deadly hiss of "Dead Scream."

But just as the blast left her staff, the shadow suddenly scattered before it, revealing the slight form of a young girl with brightly glowing eyes. Almost lazily, Arcadia swiped forward at the blast with a darkly runed dagger held in her left hand.

To Pluto's shock, not only did the dagger slice her blast into two, which split off harmlessly around the girl, but the deflected blasts suddenly turned and raced toward herself. She tried to dodge the blast, but found them turning and anticipating her movements. With a pained cry, Pluto fell back as her own attack impacted. That cry was echoed when a thin cut-wire sliced across her hands, forcing her to drop her time staff.

Immediately, a blurry form of red hair and violet eyes swept out and snagged the Time Key before it hit the misty ground. With a glide to the side, the cold eyed young man presented the Time Key to Arcadia. Meanwhile, powerful blasts slammed into Sailor Pluto from several directions before she could regain her bearings. Then, she felt a sharp intrusion into her mind... and knew no more.

Gesturing, Arcadia commanded her minions to cease their fire. With a calculating half smile, she sauntered up to the fallen form of the Guardian of Time, absently fingering the garnet orb atop the Time Key. With Pluto removed, her plans were free to proceed. For that matter, this little 'test' had just shown just how well her newly 'recruited' minions and 'acquired' equipment would work out. And now, it was time to 'acquire' something else.

Later...

After making sure that her new-gained chronal powers were under control, Arcadia sidestepped from the Gates of Time to the shadows that lay near the physical world. She was followed by a new wraith-like form, having dismissed the Weiss Kreutz assassins back to the Chaos Lands with Magedane. Her new shadow servanted wore a dark fuku, and was only held solid via a chunk of the Garnet Orb. But she will do.

Inclining her head, Arcadia sent the shadow-Pluto off to do her assigned job. Just as the flickering shadow bowed and left, her second group of minions appeared before her with their mission objective. A pink-haird girl was deposited at Arcadia's feet, unnaturally unconscious. With a nod of appreciation at her espionage team, especially Crawford for his foresight and timing, Arcadia immediately turned to the time tossed Chibi-Usa and began to drain her.

As the power of the Moon and of the slumbering Ginzuisho channelled through Chibi-Usa's form, Arcadia also carefully examined the peculiarities of the bloodline that allowed them to directly wield the Silver Crystal. With practiced ease from observing the Unseleigh working their twisted magic of biological and metaphysical change, Arcadia recreated those details within herself.

When she did so, the relative trickle of powre that she had been draining became a deluge. Power, pure and uncontrolled, poured into its new receptacle, railing at the darkness of the mind and soul there. The intricate Unseleigh-taught spell protections that kept Arcadia herself from the purifying power buckled under the strain, and slowly began to fail. But they bought her enough time. With a strained grimace, Arcadia remained still as the Ginzuisho itself was eventually torn out of Chibi Usa's body and absorbed by her own. Then, slightly trembling from keeping the all-purifying influence of the Moon Crystal at bay, Arcadia plunged out of the shadow-realm like a falling comet of silver light, zooming straight toward the place she knew another conflict was taking place - one she had not started, but which she was certainly going to use.

Meanwhile, at the base of the Black Moon Invasion, Sailor Moon watched helplessly as her friends vainly tried to rescue her. The dark aura of the Black Crystal smothered her powers, much to the gloating glee of the robed madman - the Wiseman - that hovered above the conflict.

Suddenly, another trail of light lanced through the gathering gloom. It sputtered out as it too came near the nullifying influence of the Black Crystal. Before Wiseman or anyone else could move, Arcadia swept forth and seized the Black Crystal.

With a cry of rage, the Wiseman moved forward to stop the interloper as he felt the power within the Black Crystal being drained. He was thrown back before he even got close by a backlash of Silver and Black Crystal Power from the girl.

Sailor Moon, in the meantime, had hurried to reunite with her fellow senshi. Before she could leave the range of the Black Crystal's influence, however, she felt something blast into her and a sharp pain in her head. Her last conscious memories were of the cries of her friends and a red-headed man dragging her back into the shadows.

Wiseman, after a few more tries, decided it was time to cut his losses. The Black Crystal was nearly empty now, and the dark conflicting look in the girl's eyes did not bode well for him. Recalling the Dark Moon Family forces, the darkness around the Tokyo Tower faded away just as Arcadia finished draining the Black Crystal. Sweat and strain showed on her face as she bent her Will onto balancing the massive influxes of Light and Dark energy into her body. Dimly, she was aware that the other senshi were approaching her.

"What have you done with Sailor Moon?" Demanded an angry Mars. Upon receiving but a raging snarl, the senshi began to attck this newcomer who had just absorbed so much evil into herself.

With a cry of rage, compounded by the conflicting powers within her, Arcadia lashed out at the assembled senshi. By the time she brought herself under control, the other senshi were lying unconscious around her, drained of all but the last dregs of their power.

Taking a deep breath, Arcaida almost started as one of her own servants, Schuldich, suddenly reappeared from where-ever he had just taken Sailor Moon. With a bow, the German telepath mindspoke her. The preparations are finished, Milady. There will be no temporal paradox to complicate this win, or our next planned target. He smiled slyly. 'Setsuna' has seen to that.

With an absent-minded nod, Arcadia moved into the shadows for her next target, leaving the bodies of the fallen senshi for her minions to pick up.


Sailor Moon Manga-Altverse-#18, circa Galaxia saga


Tired and weary, Sailor Moon faced the avatar of Chaos, Sailor Galaxia. Her friends and allies had already failed before her, also becoming the glimmering free floating starseeds in Galaxia's hold. Usagi was not sure if she had the strength to win this confrontation.

Suddenly, a movement caught her attention. She scarcely had time to register the interloper that had suddenly appeared and seized both Chibi Chibi and the equally startled Galaxia, before she was hit by a MtG phasing spell, shunting her a short span into the future. When she regained footing into reality once more, Usagi was puzzled to see her unconscious friends and boyfriend strewn haphazardly on the ground. The starnge girl and Galaxia were nowhere to be seen.

In the shadow realm, Arcadia spared nary a backwards glance. Chaos was much more suited to her native temperament, and she did not have to fight nearly as hard against this influx of power. In fact, it helped bridge the conflicting struggles of the Black and Silver Crystal energies within her, as she had suspected it would.

Back to her old self again... well, perhaps not exactly her old self, Arcadia had left the unconscious senshi from her earlier expedition (her minions had easily retrieved the yet unpowered outers as well), along with rose boy. She had no room for liabilities, and the senshi whose starseeds she had just 'inherited' were much more powerful anyways. It was time to make some more minions.

Absently, Arcadia fingered the Amulet of Quoz that she had created from the raw chaos energies earlier. She had one more stop to make.


Sailor Moon Manga-Altverse-#50, circa end-Silver Millenium


Arcadia stood silently on the bridge of the Heart's Traquility, now renamed Heart's Turmoil, one of the most powerful vessels of the Moon Kingdom. Her ice-blue eyes stared out at the magnified image of the desperate battle between Beryl and Queen Serenity near the Moon... and at the waning light of the Ginzuisho that ended the war.

A dark shadowy figure stepped into the room - a dark blond woman with glasses and long hair. Arcadia inclined her head to signify her acknowledgement of the presence. With a sharp nod to the other's replection on the moniter, Arcadia commanded the woman to report.

The woman, who was Commander Une late of the Gundam Wing universe, began to recite her report. "The Silver Millenium has fallen, and the Dark Kingdom trapped. No surviving forces know of our intereference here." She pause for a moment, then continued on. "Through the senshi on our side, we were able to gain control of several high level vessels from the Silver Millenium fleets. Sailor Mercury reports that she will begin installing the required changes and updates as soon as we return to base. She is currently leading the scavenger teams to retrieve any surviving planetary information or technology left from the war."

Arcadia nodded, then inquired, "what of the Dark Kingdom generals?"

"Captured," Une confirmed. "Metallia's influence has already severed their loyalty to Earth. It would not take much for you to switch their alligiance to yourself now, Princess."

Something flashed in Arcadia's ice blue eyes at that particular title. That small deception had been a part of what had been needed to turn Une's mind (as well as the minds of others from her homeworld) permanently to loyalty towards Arcadia. Keeping her composure, Arcadia dismissed Une with a gesture. When she was alone again, Arcadia turned from the viewscreen and sank down on one of the command seats. She didn't really need all of the resources she had gathered, personally... but something drove her to gather this power. Something that whispered to her in the depths of her mind, dreams, memories... a voice from before her eyes had beheld the light of day.

With a soundless sign, Arcadia leaned back into the seat. At least, this one task that her mother had set her was fairly easy to accomplish. But now...

...Now, 'tis time to start seeking, I think.






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