Prey: A Character Driven RP [FINISHED]

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Dr. Strauss continued to stare at the ground far below them.

"I've been trying to forget. Its why I got addicted to all of those damned narcotics... only way I could sleep without dreaming. Seems my subconscious doesn't want me to forget, and delights in torturing me. I miss my family so much... I close my eyes and I can see them so vividly... its like they're still with me," Strauss closed his eyes for a moment then opened them again, "Then I open them, and they're gone again. Its my fault they're dead. I should have figured out sooner there was something wrong with me. So many of my patients had died that day... from diseases I couldn't have possibly been expected to check for. Who checks a bullet-wound patient for Small Pox? I should've known that [/i]I[/i] was the cause of it all. I've spent everyday of the past four years trying to find a cure for my condition. If I do though... what then?"

Dr. Strauss got his wallet out, and got out a photo of wife and daughters walking across Abbey Square. For the first time in years, he let himself laugh a little.

Goch nodded approvingly in response in Zetta.

"I'm glad you trust me, since I'd only heard what Rin had said about you guys I wasn't sure what you'd all say about this. She talked quite a lot about y'all, you know, even before you bumped off her favourite wizard. Thinks that you're destined to bring down her plans, the Ark as she calls it which my folk are forced to build, rock by rock. Course it's not like she's gonna tell some reptile what she wants to do with it all."

The dragon spread his wings and started to lift off the ground.

"I'd quite like to put my talons up myself too, I've just flown half-way round the world and it'll be a long flight back, so when you're ready come to this building again and I'll be waiting around here."

~

The tall mountain in the distance was now a lot closer, the dots flying around it were revealed to be several dragons of various sizes, most a little smaller than the one giving them a ride. Rin looked sternly at Dr. Strauss and Alec.

"This argument is absolutely pointless, once we reach the Ark Strauss you will have full access to the lab there to work on a solution to your problem, anyway I wouldn't be surprised if you're scaring Maya with all your talk of death and destruction. Oh and Alec I'm gratified to hear that you have chosen the right side, as for your question dragons can't technically speak like we would but they can project their words into your head so you can understand them whatever language you speak, I prefer them to be silent but ask it something if you want."

She then turned to the little girl who had been quiet during the outburst.

"Now Maya, if you want me to take you to your mummy soon you have to be a good girl and do what I say when I ask you. Can you do that?"

Maya nodded obediently, she hadn't be able to follow exactly what the dispute between the two men was about but what she had been able to understand had unnerved her even more. Though the danger of being thrown off the dragon seemed to have passed, she didn't want the woman to change her mind about her promise.

"Excellent" Rin smiled "Can I trust you other two when we land inside my dwelling not to do anything rash?"

"Does getting drunk silly count as rash because I kind of have a curse. Every time I sober up stupid things start to happen like me riding a dragon to a giant mountain that I never knew existed by a strange time-traveling lady."

"Hey uhh, Mister/Misses giant flying magical lizard, are there any places around the Ark which serve a good helping of alcohol for a low price?"

Alec almost fell off of the dragon after saying this. It appeared that the water bottle in his backpack had somehow spilled.

Dr. Strauss brought a hand to his forehead as he heard Alec bring up booze. He glared at Alec for doing so after taking his hand away.

"Hey," he said, "Alec, we have a kid on board, don't mention alcohol around her. And damn it, what's wrong with you? Have you been drinking this whole time?" he sighed, "You should know better than to drink in front of Maya."

Dr. Strauss tried to think of something he could say to reassure Maya about his condition, but he couldn't... he was too distracted by his sudden recollection of everything that had happened in the past... what? Day and a half? He laughed at himself because of all the things he could be doing right now - working out a cure for his condition, trying to work out how to reassure Maya or help her find her Mother, or convincing Alec to speak to his family for him - here he was, sitting on a dragon lecturing Alec about alcohol use in front of a child.

Goch looked from Zetta to Blackrose, Lily and Gabriel with a perturbed look.

"Well are you going to rest for a while or not? One of you've gotta make a decision sometime, after almost seven years my folk can survive another day in captivity but I can't say the same for humans she's taken. Course you've gotta be ready for any fighting that might be there so take a break if you need one but we're wasting time here doing nothing."

~

Just after Dr. Strauss had chided Alec for mentioning alcohol, the four riders heard a gruff voice which didn't seem to come from any direction in particular.

"Us dragon folk don't drink that sort of liquor ourselves, at-least not anything you could survive, but the mistress Rin will have some left over from when Merlin was staying here."

Rin nodded in agreement and then hurriedly added to this.

"You can have all the alcohol you can drink Alec, once you've helped me. My grand plan is almost complete and although my enemies are on the other side of the world they are still alive so there is no time to be lost. Time for rest will come later. Also Strauss, I'm sure young Maya has seen far worse than someone drinking recently, have you found out what happened to her friend Takeda earlier today yet?"

The dragon reached the top of the mountain, where at closer inspection there was what appeared to be a large cave in the south-facing side. It flew in and after a brief spell of darkness landed in a brightly lit chamber with a cold rock walls and floor and several doorways leading in different directions. Rin slid gracefully off the dragon's back and helped Maya down, the two men followed more carefully.

"Now, Alec, you come with me into the control area where I'll brief you on your very important task. It's also where the locked cupboard containing the alcohol is. Strauss, I'm in no mood for baby-sitting right now so please take Maya to the lab with you and do whatever supposedly urgent research it is you say you need to do. "

She pointed to a door marked simply as "Lab", before turning around briskly and beckoning to Alec to follow her through an exit on the opposite side.

"There's someone who I'd like you to meet, can you guess who? Here's a clue: I've already mentioned him." she asked the American as they both left the chamber leaving Dr. Strauss and Maya alone.

Dr. Strauss squatted down so that he and Maya were more or less at eye level with each other. He tried to think of something to say to reassure the small child, but he wasn't sure. After a few moments, he decided to take a gamble.

"Maya," he said softly, "I'm sorry for what I did. I didn't realize I was taking you away from a friend." He waited for her response. Maya simply stared at him, tired and confused, she wasn't sure what to make of him at this point. "I want to help you... so if Rin doesn't follow through on her promise to help you find your mother... I'll do whatever I can to help you find her. For now though... you look a little tired, let's go into that room and you can get some sleep while I get some work done." Maya nodded, sleep sounded good to her.

With that, Dr. Strauss led Maya into the lab and found her a cot for her to sleep on. He carefully helped her into it and got a blanket for her. He got up as she tucked herself in, and he turned to get to work when...

"Jared... could you read me a story?" she asked.

"Umm..." Dr. Strauss looked around the room for a children's book, but didn't find anything. Remembering Rin mention Merlin earlier, Dr. Strauss got an idea. He knelt down in front of Maya's cot, making sure he didn't get too close, and started telling her a story he knew well.

"Well Maya..." he said, "have you ever heard the story of King Arthur and his knights?"

Maya shook her head.

"Well... a long time ago in my homeland, England, there was a boy who was about your age when our story began. His name was..."

"Arthur!" Maya cooed.

"Yes, Arthur. He was just a boy, raised by a simple, but kind enough family. To all the world, he seemed to be nothing other than an ordinary little boy, and everyone thought he'd just be a shepard like the man who raised him. But then, a stranger came into town. He wore a long robe with strange symbols on it, he leaned heavily on a long walking stick, he wore a pointy hat, and his white beard seemed long enough for him to trip over."

Maya giggled at the mental image of an old man in a bathrobe tripping on his own beard. Dr. Strauss smiled at her.

"This man introduced himself to the boy's family as Merlin. He was a wizard... wise, and he knew much about the ways of the world and of magic." Maya gave this story her full attention at the mention of magic; Dr. Strauss found himself breaking into a smile for the first time in years, "Merlin told the family that Arthur was really the son of a dead king, and that Arthur could grow up to be a great king himself one day. However, Merlin also warned him that there were dark forces lurking that would try to hurt the boy, to prevent him from ever becoming king. Fearing for his family's safety, Arthur volunteered to leave the village and never come back. After a short argument, Arthur said goodbye to his family and the life he knew; and set off on his journey. Merlin went with Arthur, to teach him the things he would need to be a truly great king: a good sense of what was fair, how to inspire men for battle when needed, and most importantly of all, Merlin taught Arthur to hold onto his compassion - his kindness." Dr. Strauss paused for a moment, remembering...

"What happened next?" Maya asked. Dr. Strauss snapped himself back to attention and looked at Maya as he continued.

"Well, after a while, Arthur began to think he shouldn't be king. That he was not worthy. So, Merlin took him to the resting place of the sword Excalibur. Which, legend has it, could only be taken from the stone it was resting in by someone who was the true ruler of England. Someone unfailingly kind... someone brave enough to stare dragons in the face without flinching, but wise enough to avoid war whenever possible. Only such a person could ever hope to pull Excalibur from the stone."

"So Arthur pulled the sword from the stone?"

"Yes, but even then... he didn't think he was the right person."

"When did he?"

"Well.. many lords of the realm felt that Arthur was their rightful king because he wielded Excalibur, and so they joined up with him. Other lords though..."

"Didn't want to?" Maya asked while letting out a little yawn.

"Yes, they didn't believe it really was Excalibur. And those that did... thought Arthur had somehow cheated. After a while... it became apparent that neither side would back down... the lords on both sides started planning for war. On the field of battle, Arthur's and the lords' armies met, but before the battle began, Arthur rode out to meet with the leader of the other side."

"Wouldn't they just kill him?" Maya asked, somewhat concerned, but her exhaustion was starting to get the better of her again.

"Well... Arthur drew Excalibur when he met with the lord, and handed it to him. He told the lord that if he truly felt Arthur was unworthy, that he should kill Arthur himself and leave the men they had brought out of it. The lord looked at the sword and some people say it sang to him as he did. The lord's fury suddenly calmed, and he saw that by this act alone... that Arthur was willing to sacrifice himself to save the lives of his men... something most kings would never do... the lord finally saw that Arthur was the rightful king of England. And the battle ended before it began."

Dr. Strauss looked at Maya and saw that she was already asleep. He watched her sleep for a moment, smiling; he had missed telling stories. He quietly got up and moved to inspect the equipment in the lab. It looked like Rin had thought of everything for it. Hazmat suits, medicines of (apparently) every variety, a computer with access to a worldwide medical database, scalpels, pliers, tweezers, scissors, sewing needles, threads, stitches, bandages, gauze, syringes, bottles for containing samples of all shapes and sizes, a digital microscope, a box of empty slides, an operating table, an I.V., a small cage, and even equipment needed for an EEG.

To begin, Dr. Strauss took five blood samples from himself, sealed the new opening in his left arm, set them in slides, and put them into the digital microscope (which turned out to be connected to a projector that cast the images on a nearby empty space on the wall, which in turn had been coated with just the right kind of paint to display the images on); he checked his findings against all of the knowledge in the database... at first he wasn't sure what to make of his findings. Dr. Strauss was feeling weary and just a bit woozy... so he decided to get some rest. He quietly climbed into a spare cot next to Maya's and went to sleep.

At first Maya slept peacefully whilst Dr. Strauss worked and then went to sleep himself, after such a long day she was entirely worn out. Several hours passed and though the night came outside, it made no difference in the already dimmed lights of the lab. After a time the small girl began twitching and murmuring in her sleep, evidently in the grips of a bad dream. These became more violent and loud, until suddenly she woke up screaming at the top of her voice in Chinese, tears streaming down her face.

"No Takeda! Don't die... no please help they're coming to get me again! Takeda!"

~

Sometime earlier, Rin led Alec through the door in the rock chamber into a smaller room, this one filled with computers and other electronic devices, some of which were hard to identify. She went up to a large wooden cupboard and took out a polished brass key.

"You can choose one drink from here before we set out on our task but first it's time for you to meet my new associate, especially as you were the first to tell me of his existance. Chojun!""

Out from the other side of the room which had been concealed by the piled up electronic equiqment slid the tall thin Japanese man in a wheelchair, he looked tired and ill but gave Alec a smile, who recognised him as Mr. Kimura.

"Alec... how nice to see you again. So you work for Rin now too?"

Rezetta had been waiting for the others to voice their own opinions concerning her idea, but they'd said nothing yet. As Goch spoke again, she shrugged and said, "Sorry, I think maybe... this is all a bit much, I guess. I mean, it's been a long, crazy day. All the better that we get something in our stomachs, then."

Zetta dug around in her pockets and came up with her wallet, which she peered into. She had enough for herself, but that was it. It didn't worry her, though; if she remembered right, Gabriel had quite a bit of money. Plus, with all the cereal he'd eaten at her uncle's house, he probably wouldn't have to spend so much on himself. Too bad the cereal I ate didn't keep me filled up for too long, she thought with an inward sigh. One of the cons about being part demon was her big appetite.

"We might as well stop in that diner the others were in earlier," she said, beginning to walk in the direction of the place as well. Hopefully, the commotion caused by Rin's faux cops wasn't enough to have dragged everyone outside and shut things down.

Dr. Strauss woke with a start when he heard Maya screaming. He resisted the urge to put a hand on her shoulder; in spite of the fact that he had just put on new layers of gloves, he didn't want to risk it. He had already rashly carried her away, he didn't want to tempt fate. Instead, he spoke softly to her.

"Maya? he said as calmly as he could, "What's the matter?"

"Its my fault Takeda's dead!" she sobbed.

"Why do you think that?" suddenly finding it harder to resist his parental instincts to give her a hug.

"I was scared... I made him come with me... and he got killed in... in..." Maya couldn't finish that sentence, instead, she started crying again.

"Shhhhh-shhh," he said as he very carefully hugged her, keeping his head a safe distance from hers, "Its not your fault. You had no way of knowing what would happen. Its okay."

Maya slowly started to calm down. Dr. Strauss felt his own eyes starting to water.

"Jared?" Maya said eventually.

"Hmm?" he responded.

"Do kitsunes go to heaven?"

"I... I can't see any reason why they wouldn't."

"Okay. That's good." Maya hugged onto Dr. Strauss a little more tightly. He felt like a horrible person at this moment. Sure, he had managed to comfort this little girl but... he kept feeling as though he was trying to use Maya to replace his daughters. Then he had an idea; he remembered that Alec could talk to the dead. Dr. Strauss decided to have a little chat with Alec later. For now, he kept hugging Maya while a machine chimed in with the results he had been waiting for.

"With everything happening right now, food would definitely be a comfort to me." Blackrose responded, looking at the diner they had just been in. "But uh, I'm not to sure how'd they react to a giant red dragon." She said, looking at the large creature. She noticed Zetta looking into a wallet, with a slightly disappointed look on her face.

"What, no money? I can always take care of that, but I'm not to sure how much we'd need. The money here is a little funny from what I can tell." She stated to the group.

"Goch made himself invisible once; I'm sure he can do it again while he waits for us," Zetta replied. "Oh, and I've got enough money for myself. You guys would have to pay for yourselves, though. Wait." She paused, giving Blackrose a questioning look. "You're not from around here, are you? We use Euros here in France. If you've got something else, I'm not so sure if the diner takes it. Couldn't hurt to try if that's all you have, though."

Alec saw Mr. Kimura smile and couldn't help doing it himself.

"Actually I'm still trying to get my hands on that sword, but I've been sidetracked so many times. Are you feeling any better? You look like you lost a little too much weight."

...

"Wait a minute, why are you working for Rin now? Did she brainwash you or something?"

Srry double post.

Gabriel snapped out of the daze he'd been in for what seemed like a month. He heard the two women talk about money and whatnot, and pulled out the few bills he'd duplicated what looked like an age ago.

"Yeah, I've got cash here. Might not be the most legal of currency but I'd reckon it'll do. My appetite vanished when the giant effing dragon appeared though."

Goch seemed to huff at this comment.

Well, you're not exactly Prince Charming yourself. But can we actually do something here rather than jus' talk about it?

~

"Yes, Alec. I've lost some weight. Being confined to a weelchair somewhat robs you of proper exercise."

He manouvered himself through the room right in front of Alec and reached out to shake his hand.

"Rin hasn't brainwashed me, though I suspect she could have were I less compliant. No, me being employed by Rin was ust the result of me thinking rationally."

"Well, money wasn't my main concern." Blackrose said, looking at the large figure the dragon held. "It's more like, where are we going to get enough food for a creature this giant?" She asked, looking at the large creature as it stood several feet above her.

"I'm sure the giant lizard with a mouth full of fire can take care of himself just fine," Zetta said. "Besides, he hasn't exactly expressed hunger; he's just giving us time to rest up. Speaking of time, we're wasting it by standing around here and talking."

Zetta tucked her wallet back away and strode towards the diner, beckoning the others to follow. "The sooner we get something, the quicker we can leave. I'm... worried about Maya. A girl that young shouldn't have to, well... Let's just hurry, alright?"

Eventually of course, Dr. Strauss had to break the hug to check the results. He grew very pale as he looked over them. Maya hopped out of the cot and snuck up on him, tugging at his coat to get his attention.

"What's wrong?" she said, "Are you okay?"

"I..." he paused, then tried to shrug it all off, "Nothing to worry about. I just need to run some more tests. Everything will be all right."

"Okay." Maya smiled, "That's good!" She hugged him. After a moment, Dr. Strauss broke away from the hug so that he could take a few more samples from himself to run the tests again. This time, he also entered a sample into several different machines, and set each of them to run a long-term simulation. On one machine, he noticed a switch labeled "Excalibur", he flipped that one on as well, to see what that would bring out. An image of the legendary sword flickered onto the screen for several moments while the machine processed the new variable. Dr. Strauss turned back to Maya.

"Are you hungry?"

Maya nodded. Dr. Strauss carefully lifted her onto his shoulder, "Let's see if we can find the cafeteria then." With that, Dr. Strauss tried to smile at her through his two surgical masks, Maya giggled at the sight as Dr. Strauss started heading out of the lab.

Maya enjoyed the view from Dr. Strauss's shoulders, her concerns about Takeda forgotten for now. Her mother hadn't been willing to lift her since she could remember so this was a novel and fun experience seeing the world from a grown-up's height. Though she didn't realise it; her rapidly changing moods, occasional forgetting of her friend's demise and her infantile behaviour shown by her willingness for physical contact with the doctor were all well-known psychological symptoms of a young child who had recently experienced the death of someone they knew well.

They were met by a dull-looking man dressed in grey robes down the corridor, who once Dr. Strauss had asked about a cafeteria lead the two to an empty hall filled with school-style dinner tables and chairs, then left without a word. There was a lone woman standing behind a counter, large but wearing similar clothes to the man. Maya climbed down from the doctor and ran over to see what food lay behind the glass.

"I want that one!" She pointed to a small cake containing lumps of chocolate.

~

Lily followed Zetta quickly, silently turning over in her mind what she had just learnt from the dragon.

Assuming they do keep their word, having those creatures as my allies could be highly advantageous, and hit Rin right where it hurts. That'll teach her for trying to kill me.

The four entered the diner and all sat at a table, feeling tense and out of place in such a normal surrounding after the previous events. The waiter gave them an odd look but took their orders without question. As they were waiting for their food Lily felt she had to air a couple of thoughts that had been on her mind.

"So Blackrose, you've spent some time with Rin right? Do you have any idea why she might want to kill us, or take Excalibur and Maya, or this whole thing with the dragons? She's never bothered to fill us in on why we're supposedly so important to her. I know she wants revenge now that I killed Merlin, but she was after us before we had even met!"

~

As Mr. Kimura spoke to Alec, despite his calm tone he raised his eyebrows slightly and tilted his head towards Rin, who was studying something at her desk. He seemed to be trying to convey a message, but before he could get any further the woman abruptly came over to the two men.

"Chojun here is helping me find the remaining special people I missed with my powers, a very important task indeed. Anyhow, if you look behind you will see a place for you to rest a few hours so you can get up your strength for contacting Merlin, I'll wake you when we're ready to begin. Don't delay, you're lucky even to be getting this considering the schedule we're on!"

She gestured to a small room which contained some food and a bed, then hurriedly wheeled away Mr. Kimura away to the other side of the room so he was facing away from Alec.

Dr. Strauss caught up with Maya to see what she was pointing at. He looked at the other items behind the glass; he picked out a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, some sweet potato chips, and a small box of milk for Maya. For himself, he picked up a tray of fish and chips, a slice of watermelon, and a bottle of water. He also got a plate with two slices of the cake on it.

He carried the food to a nearby table and sat down. He motioned for Maya to join him.

"You can have a slice of cake after you eat your..." Dr. Strauss checked his watch, it was about midday, "lunch."

"She never really said much as to why, more so, 'Get the sword and kill them and I'll give you a shit ton of cash.' I was skeptical from the beginning and tried to take it slow, to find out what was so wrong about you guys that she would want you dead. Then Alec kicked down the door and we kinda ended up here." Blackrose explained, thinking more and more about Goch. It was the strangest thing she'd seen in her life, and she should have been frightened of it. But she was more curious about what sort of thoughts it had.

While most of the other people around her had loud thoughts, hard enough to shut out, but Goch had quiet thoughts, easy to shut out, but hard to reach out and listen in on. While they sat around, resting and regaining their energy, Blackrose's curiosity got the best of her. She reached out to the thoughts in its mind, trying to keep the attempt hidden.

"This whole thing is weird, isn't it?" Zetta said, more to herself than to the others. She'd pulled off the gloves she had put on her hands sometime earlier and was staring at the exposed skin of her hands. Faint scars crisscrossed the pads of her fingers and her palms, remnants of the times she'd touched crosses or other holy symbols when she was younger. They got fainter with each passing year, but Zetta doubted they'd ever go away.

There was an angry red welt in the shape of a cross on the top of her left wrist, thanks to one of Rin's lackeys back at the warehouse. Zetta pulled her gloves back on, sighing in exasperation. As if I didn't have enough scars already. Damn, and this one looks like it'll take a while to heal itself.

Zetta looked back up then and blinked in surprise. While Blackrose sat with a far-away look in her eyes, Lily and Gabriel were looking expectantly at herself. Belatedly, Zetta remembered that she'd said something aloud and they were waiting for her to finish. "Well, I mean... We know what Rin's doing--sort of--and of course her plan involves her coming into contact with other, ah, people with powers. Or whatever."

Zetta paused to cast a wary glance around the diner, and she continued when she was satisfied nobody else was listening in. "It just seems like we're all being drawn together in a way. Before today, the only non-normal people I'd ever known personally was the gang I used to run with several years back. Then, Lily and I met--completely coincidental, too--crazy stuff started happening, we had our first meeting with Rin, and it seems like we just keep meeting more and more of you guys." She stopped talking, feeling awkward about babbling on about it. With a tiny shrug to end her point, Zetta dropped her gaze back down to her hands and drummed her fingers lightly on the table.

Alec ran to the wooden cupboard, took the strongest looking drink from it and soon fell happily asleep in his small bed.

A female voice was heard in Alec's dream.

"Should we do this? I know he's been a troubled child but this seems a bit extreme. This is illegal for a reason!"

A male voice was heard.

"It's our only hope. He's too hyper, and he's just completely off. At least this will help him cope with life better. I don't think that complete loss of someone is going to help his condition either. Hand me my tools. We need to slow him down."

An icepick like tool was stuck into Alec's young and unconscious body's eye socket. After that the tool was jabbed lightly breaking through a thin bone reaching directly into the brain. The semi-lobotomy continued for 15 minutes until: "Let's hope this worked. I can't stand our little Alec going insane. If only this did him more good than bad."

To begin charging please insert ethanol

Maya climbed onto the seat opposite Dr. Strauss and began inspecting the food he had picked for her. Most of the packages had their contents written in English so she couldn't read what they contained.

"I wanted the cake first" she whined as she stuck a straw into the milk carton and took a sip. The small girl made a face of disgust and quickly put it back down. "I haven't been able to drink milk since I was five, it makes me sick. And what is this?" She held out the cheese that she had found in her sandwiches.

~

Whilst Zetta spoke, Blackrose could hear a faint reprimanding voice in head.

I felt that one human, don't do that again will you? There's stuff in this mind here that that wouldn't be too good for someone like you to see, old things that don't matter no more. Don't waste your energy.

Goch's voice promptly disappeared and about the same time Zetta also fell silent. A news channel on a television behind where the four were sitting caught their attention, unusually it was being broadcast in English.

"...the police have appealed to the public for any information on the whereabouts of Gabriel De Vink, shown to your left, a 23 year old handyman who has been identified in CCTV footage collected near a building where five men were found murdered yesterday. There have been rumours that the case may be connected to two other incidents that happened today in other parts of Paris but the police have declined to comment on the speculation. Coming up next, real magic or hoax? We report on the Chinese television clip which has gone viral online over the last couple of days...

~

Rin watched Alec sleep with satisfaction from the door of the room he was resting in. His coming to her had been almost unbelievably lucky after the tragedy that had befallen Merlin, the final piece of the puzzle that she needed to complete her plan which just a short time ago had seemed impossible. She had almost given up, now there was no turning back. He seemed to be murmuring something and was quite clearly dreaming.

The woman walked carefully up to Alec and shook him on the shoulder gently until he awoke. She bent down and whispered in his ear.

"Come now, it is time for you to speak Merlin for me! Been having an interesting dream?"

"Oh... sorry," Dr. Strauss said as his eyes bulged in worry, "Here, let's find something else then."

Dr. Strauss carefully took the sandwich and milk from Maya, threw them away, and walked back to the cafeteria's oddly varied mini-buffet. He looked at the food more closely this time, and found a few items that might work. All he managed to find for her was a box a grape juice which, after reading the nutritional information very carefully, seemed like it wouldn't cause any problems.

"Umm... how about spa-ghet-ti," He asked, his mouth twitching at the odd mix of syllables passed his lips... he never seemed to pronounce it right, "Or a peanut butter and jam sandwich?" he pointed to the suggestions as he went on, "Or uh... see anything you like?"

Dr. Strauss hoped some kind of comfort food was there for her; it had been years since he had dealt with lactose intolerance, he had forgotten much of what was safe for it. And searching his memory for what his daughters had liked wasn't helping either, most of it wouldn't be safe for Maya.

Blackrose began to panic as she saw the picture of Gabriel appear on-screen. She didn't like the fact that it was connected to the murder of five men, and when she saw some of the waitresses staring at the screen, she almost dropped dead.

"Guys, I think we either need to leave now or do something about the witnesses." She said, rising from her seat. "And just in case it's option two, I've still got that belt from the police officer from earlier." She reinforced this by rummaging through the bag and grabbing the belt, removing the gun from the belt and flashing it to the rest of the group. "I'm fairly certain Goch is ready." She said, getting by the door waiting for the rest of the group.

"I want that one." Maya pointed to the spaghetti, she couldn't remember it's English name and Dr. Strauss hadn't pronounced it clearly enough for her to copy. She sucked noisily on the grape juice while the doctor got it out and then after a quizzical glance at the knife and fork he had picked out for her began to eat the plain spaghetti gingerly strand by strand with her fingers.

"What is it like in the place which you were telling me the story about last night?" she asked Dr. Strauss through a mouthful of food. "Is it somewhere in America?"

"Hmm?" Dr. Strauss finished chewing on a bit of fish and swallowed it, "Sorry. Umm... no. The Legend of the Boy-King Arthur took place in my homeland, England... a small island nation north of France and Spain. I could tell you the rest of the story later if you like."

He checked his watch, it had stopped, its battery had died. He looked at Maya, or he tried to; he just couldn't stop seeing so much of his middle daughter in her.

A waitress had brought the group their food right as the TV announcer was speaking about Gabriel. Zetta froze with her roasted ham sandwich halfway to her mouth, her eyes on the screen. It definitely was the same Gabriel sitting at the table now. Could he really have had anything to do with the warehouse murders, or was it just a coincidence? Considering her small speech earlier, she doubted very much it was the latter. Still...

"I've got this covered," Zetta told Blackrose through a mouthful of sandwich. She took a swig of coffee to wash it down and closed her eyes, imagining Gabriel's face. If any of the waitresses realized that the man on the screen was the same as the man in their restaurant, it wouldn't be long before somebody called the police. Zetta concentrated on changing the image in her mind; she changed Gabriel's hair to a different length and shade, changed his eye color, and molded his features until they were subtly different than before. All together, he looked like another man, but it wasn't a huge change. Too much and the waitresses would know his new appearance wasn't right.

Zetta opened her eyes again and looked over at Gabriel, giving him a tiny nod as she downed more of her coffee. Her illusion would stay in place for anybody not in their group. Some of the waitresses were peering over at them, but they went right back to work when they dismissed their initial thought of the man on the TV being in their restaurant. "Well, it probably would be best to go now at any rate, just in case. I don't suppose we can bring this stuff with us...?"

Alec was scared shitless when he woke up with Rin's face looking down at his.

"How long were you staring at me like that!?

Alec shook his head.

Just what I need after I have a lobotomy nightmare. The worst part is that it felt like a memory."

Suddenly he felt the urge for booze get stronger. He tried to calm it down with what was left in the bottle he took to bed with him, but it didn't help enough.

"Rin, I know this sounds crazy but where do the dragons pick their poison?"

Maya nodded silently in response to Dr. Strauss's answer, she didn't know where those places were either except that she remembered that France was the place Rin had taken her and Takeda. Presently one of the followers in grey robes came up to the table where the pair were sitting.

"Excuse me, the mistress asked for both of you to attend a ceremony happening right now in the Southern chamber. Please follow me."

The follower looked expectantly at them both. Maya gave Dr. Strauss a worried look, though she didn't say anything her thoughts were clearly written on her face.

Please don't let Rin hurt me...

~

Meanwhile, Rin smiled and shook her head.

"I'm not that stupid Alec, I know why you're asking that. Here's the deal, you help me talk to Merlin now and afterwards you can drink as much dragon alcohol as you like. Hey, it's not my brain which is going to get liquidized!"

She took the man by the shoulder and firmly lead him back into the control room, then down a flight of rocky steps until they reached a poorly-lit stone chamber. It was mostly empty except for Mr. Kimura who gave Alec a nod, a large stone slab on which lay Excalibur and a curtained-off area on the right side of the room.

"Do you need the... remains... to contact someone who's passed?" Rin asked Alec tentatively.

~

In the diner, the increasingly familiar voice of Goch reached the four specials sitting there.

Uh... not to rush you guys or anything... but... I'm out here and ready to leave. Trust me it's going to take a long time to get to China without Rin's tricks.

Dr. Strauss got up and looked at Maya in what he hoped would be in a reassuring way. Then he glared at the robed figure.

"Ceremony? What the hell is this about?" Dr. Strauss said as he stepped in front of Maya, "We're not going anywhere near Rin without knowing what to expect."

"Whoa, wait. We're going to China on Goch?" Blackrose accidentally blurted out, with Goch speaking in their minds catching her off guard. "Sorry. So, why do you guys think we have to go back to China? And what do you think Rin is doing there?"

Maya pushed her remaining food away and took Dr. Strauss's hand, avoiding the gaze of the follower who was looking down at her. He smiled unconvincingly at her, then shrugged at her lack of response and turned back to the doctor, bending forwards to speak in a lower tone.

"She's going to use the American to speak to the old master, Merlin" he whispered "She told me to tell you that neither you nor the child will be harmed or even involved, she just wants you to watch and she wants to know the results of your tests, whatever they are... "

Alec stopped walking and sat on the floor.

"I can't think straight when I'm sober. I don't think I could talk to any dead Merlin if all I could think about is drinking! When I get sober I sometimes begin seeing creepy and random images about zombies and corpses. I can't go on like this, I won't!"

Dr. Strauss gently squeezed Maya's hand in an attempt to reassure both her and himself. He eyed the cultist warily.

"Right," he paused, "I just ran another test to confirm my previous results, it should be finished by now... if you'll excuse us, we'll just stop by the lab for a moment." As he said this, Dr. Strauss started getting up from the table, still holding onto Maya's hand. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to do with this brief stall if it worked, but he tried to keep his emotions in check so as not to give anything away.

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