|Penn Central Station, Detroit, makes a great substitute (from Wikipedia)|
"It's been empty for more than a decade," said Lucky, defensively. "We're lucky that it still has power."
"It was majestic once though." Keys said.
"I think it's still majestic." Topaz smiled.
They stood in the grand reception, a room that rose three stories up the interior of the hotel. Previous occupants, ironically a demon-worshiping cult, had used it as a place for their rituals until The August had stopped them and their world-ending plot.
Now it was the scene of a photo-shoot. Belladonna looked like Athena stepped down from Mount Olympus, dressed in gleaming armour, a bow over her shoulder, a quiver of arrows at her hip, stood upon the infernal altar. A dozen models of all genders, and including Aditi as the thirteenth, gathered around her dressed in diaphanous gowns that left little to the imagination. At least half of them had already developed the dazed look of adoration that Lucky had begun to recognise as the effect of Belladonna's power. All she had said was "Join me."
That had mostly been for the benefit of Fern, Wei Ruzhu. Or was that Ruzhu Wei? She was Aditi's agent. They'd used her to organise the shoot, but she scared Lucky. He'd recognised her as one of the Ruzhu Wu, a tong that ran several successful businesses in Little Hong Kong, and had connections to a triad of the same name over in actual Hong Kong. Lucky didn't want Belladonna to abduct her and start a turf war with the triads.
But Belladonna had been looking daggers at the strangely metallic skinned Chinese woman ever since she'd declined the command. Possibly the self proclaimed goddess was annoyed she'd been told "No". Or possibly it was because of the two of them the Chinese born woman was the more attractive.
Lucky was distracted from his musings when Essa elbowed him in the ribs.
"You're staring," she said, returning his scowl.
"I was wondering how she makes her skin look like that."
"You're interested in beauty tips? We can always go over and ask."
"Maybe she's a mutant?" Keys suggested.
"Tammie!" scolded Topaz, "You can't go throwing around the M-word like that! Just because someone looks weird it doesn't mean that they're mutated. I mean look at me."
"I know that you're not babe, you had the test, but yeah weirdness usually goes hand in hand with being a mutant."
"I bet you a tenner," Topaz glared at her friend, "She's not a mutant."
"I'm a mutant," Wei replied in her heavily accented English. Topaz silently handed Keys a ten pound note. Wei held out her hand and thin splinters bloodlessly pierced through the skin of her palm, extruding out from within. They quickly merged and grew together until she held a chess pawn her hand. She passed it over to Lucky who examined it. It had the same metallic glint and colour as Wei's skin, had a texture like wood and was, in many ways, similar to bamboo in weight and density, even though it was solid.
"That's an impressive ability," Lucky said.
"So what's your friend's intentions towards my si-mui?"
"Si-mui. It means little sister. We have the same sifu; martial arts teacher. Aditi is like a sister to me."
"They're in love." Lucky said.
"Are they? Because I felt that whatever your friend tried on me and I know about that bank job last week."
"The mistress's divinity binds the weak willed." Lucky spoke without inflection, as if repeating something verbatim. Which wasn't too far off the truth. He was paraphrasing something Belladonna had said earlier regarding why Aditi now followed her around like a puppy. Wei's eyes narrowed to slits.
"Aditi isn't weak willed. I know for a fact she can easily resist this sort of influence. It's part of our training."
"People can be trained to resist mind control?" asked Topaz.
"Yes. You would be surprised how many would subvert the free will of our sisters for their own gratifications."
"It is a shame we did not meet when you were younger. You could have learned much." Wei then stuck two fingers between her lips and whistled loudly. As people's eyes turned towards her she took a step forward, raising a hand to circle above her head. "That's a wrap!" she declared. "I'm not sure on the safety of the site. Everyone get your things. Come on! Let's go people!" She clapped her hands together for emphasis.
Slightly less than half the models had moved away from the altar, the rest gathering around Belladonna. Wei counted seven, and Aditi.
<Little sister, come over, we need to talk,> Wei said in her native Cantonese.
<We can talk in English, big sister,> Aditi replied. <My love understands all languages with ease.>
<You cannot love her.>
<I can't? Why not?>
<You've never shown any interest in women before. I would have noticed. She is controlling you.>
<Perhaps. To begin with. But I have chosen to accept these feelings she has gifted me with. Not be driven mad by them.>
"You are jealous," Belladonna said. "You want my pet for your own. Join in worship of me and she will warm your bed whenever she does not occupy mine." Aditi's eyes hardened for a brief moment before a warm smile spread across her face.
"A good offer," she said. Then in Cantonese, <You should leave now, while you can, or join us in worship.>
"No," said Wei, reverting to English. "Please, last chance Aditi; come with me now. Before I have to make you."Aditi shook her head. Wei winced against the savage earworm that had suddenly afflicted her.
A length of wood sprouted from Wei's hand and she grasped it before glancing back at Topaz. "I'm sorry."
"You will b..." Topaz began, raising her huge fists, before grunting as something like a hard finger poked her in the back of her right knee. Her whole leg went numb. A second poke at the base of her spine was followed by a third where her skull met her neck. "...eeeeee..." she sighed as she went cross-eyed, her mouth dropping open to drool, and she slowly folded to the dusty floor like a poorly erected deckchair. Lowered gently into the recovery position by four finger thick, wood patterned, glittering tentacles.
Aditi continued to smile as she picked up a length of wood and stepped forward to meet her friend. The last of the models not under Belladonna's sway fleeing the former hotel as the photographer stood by the door and began to shoot the unfolding scene.
|Hey look at me. I'm a badass mighty female and I'm about to kick all your arses.|
The six seduced subjects gather around their new goddess and link arms. Forming a human wall around her. Aditi stands between them and Wei. About 20 feet away from each. Topaz is essentially out cold for 6 minutes. She's conscious, but not able to move. The remaining three members of the gang are all standing within reach of Wei. Poor them.
Round 1, Initiative: Belladonna 23, Wei 16 (22 within 16'), Keys 16, Essa 13, Models 9, Aditi 8 (14 within 6'), Lucky 6.
Belladonna doesn't bother reaching for the quiver on her hip. Instead she just draws the bow and a bolt of lightning arcs between string and arrow rest. She looses the bolt and it flies the short distance between her and Wei. Wei sees it coming and dances aside, the lightning splashing on the ground. She lances out with one of her tentacles and strikes Lucky just below the left knee. He cries out in surprise as he's hit by one of Wei's tentacles. Even though his knee and lower leg is numb he remains standing, on his right leg. Keys and Essa both swing at Wei with their baseball bats. Keys swings wide as Wei's staff intercepts Essa's bat. One of the models starts singing "We will not be moved" but nobody else wants to take them up on it. Aditi moves forward, twirling her staff. Wei parries her blow too. Lucky is rooting inside Topaz's jacket for something.
Belladonna shoulders her bow and draws her bullwhip. Wei tries to tentacle poke Essa, but she parries easily. Keys swings her bat but Wei parries once more. Same with Essa and Aditi. Looks like she can do this all day. But it's only been a few seconds. Lucky is still rooting.
Belladonna rushes from the stage to close to whipping range, her cadre of mind-controlled models following along like startled goslings. (She's something like two to three times faster than most of them). Wei smiles as all her major opponents are within her zone of perception. She tentacle pokes Belladonna (having rolled a 19 on her save versus Awe), causing her to drop her whip and lose the use of that hand for what should be the next 6 minutes. But since she recovers three times faster than any mortal I rule that it's only going to be 2. Keys miraculously catches Wei with the end of her bat as the other woman is twisting away. It's barely even a glancing blow. But it's still a hit. Essa and Aditi both miss again. Lucky has finally found what he's looking for, pulling a revolver from Topaz's jacket and aiming it at Wei.
Belladonna takes a few steps back, out of the range of Wei's tentacles, and fires of a one-handed energy bolt spell at Wei. It arcs around Aditi and strikes Wei from an unexpected angle (dealing 21 damage, as The Sanctum sits on one of the three main Ley Nexi on the island). Wei responds by tucking her staff under one arm and raising the thus freed hand past Aditi's ear and launching a volley of arrows from her fingertips. All four strike Belladonna, all but one bypassing her armour (She takes 17 damage and the armour takes 4). She then returns to her dance with Keys, Essa and Aditi, parrying all their attacks. Lucky spoils it when he shoots her. Thankfully she's again turning and it does minimal damage (7 points) as it creases across her left arm.
Belladonna starts pulling arrows from her flesh. One at a time. Wei uses her neural atemi to disable Lucky's right hand (for 9 minutes) and he drops the gun. Aditi strikes at Wei, who parries her attack.
Belladonna removes the remaining two arrows while Wei uses her tentacle strikes to disable Lucky and remove him from play (for 6 minutes).
Round 2, Initiative: Wei 23, Belladonna 17, Essa 11, Aditi 7, Keys 5. Wei loses 1 hit point from her bullet wound, and Belladonna loses 3 from her arrow wounds.
Realising that she can't let Belladonna get off another energy blast Wei surges around Aditi and closes on the demi-goddess, striking at her other hand with her tentacles. Belladonna tries to evade but fails to do so(, losing the use of her off-hand for the next 10 rounds). Belladonna, who was about to cast Heal Self because bleeding is ungodly, instead performs an acrobatic kick. Wei tries to raise her staff to block the kick but fails to do so. (Belladonna rolls nat. 20; a critical strike. Despite rolling minimal damage she does 34 points of it. 22 points of it are soaked by Wei's remaining S.D.C. and the remaining 12 blow through to hit points. This is more than 10% of her hit points; actually 20%. Rolling on the Minor Wounds table I get a sprained shoulder; heavy dice. Wei takes a 3 point penalty to prowess, nixing her inherent strike and parry bonuses, and a further -2 to parry. It's going to take her 8 days to recover). Essa follows in with her bat but Wei parries with a tentacle (I'm not sure the penalty should apply, but even with it she'd successfully parry). Aditi goes for her friend and agent but swings wide. Keys also winds up and is also parried by a tentacle. The models finally catch up and surround Belladonna again.
Wei spends a few moments armouring up. Belladonna (having read the rules and found that there's nothing about needing to gesture to cast spells I decide that being unable to gesture halves the amount of P.P.E. she can channel) decides to get back to that healing spell (It'll take 2 actions to complete). Essa takes another swing and is parried, Aditi swings and misses, but Keys hits (and crits. 7 damage doubled bypasses armour and drops Wei past 50% hit points. She gets a head wound; -5% to all skills and -2 speed for the next... it doesn't say. I'm going to guess until it's healed), clocking Wei on the head just before her helm fully forms.
Head ringing Wei tentacle-pokes Belladonna in the face. She collapses (for 10 rounds again), her unfinished spell fizzing. Essa misses. Aditi hits. She narrowly bypasses both Wei's parry and armour, giving her a nasty bruise to the ribs. (Wei takes 5 damage after a successful roll with impact. That's still enough hit point damage to cause a minor wound. She's penalised another 3 points of speed, 1 point of prowess and 3 of strength.) Keys is deflected.
Wei then tentacle-pokes Keys, causing her to lose the use of her dominant hand (for 8 minutes). Essa and Aditi are both deflected. Keys, who tried to dodge Wei's tentacles, lost their last action in the process.
Wei turns her tentacles to Essa and disables her dominant hand (for 9 minutes) too. She also parries Aditi.
Now unchallenged for a few seconds Wei disarms Aditi and then grapples her while attempting to order the mesmerised models out of the hotel. I'll save you her indellicate language but due to her skill she is unchallenged and all 6 models start moving for the doors.
Round 3, Initiative: Wei & Aditi 13, Essa & Keys 1.
Wei, carrying Aditi in two tentacles, rises up on four and springs away, leaping over everyone's heads. She lands ninety feet away, near the door. Aditi tries to break free of the pseudopods binding her but passes out from her efforts (Wei rolled high enough in the contest to get a KO/Stun result). Essa and Keys are powerless to stop her. Combat ends.
Wei retracts her tentacles, puts Aditi into a fireman's lift over her good shoulder, and staggers over to the photographer. She puts out her hand for his camera.
"You work for me." she reminds him, "I see any recognisable pictures of me online or in the press? You never work in this town again!" He reluctantly turns the camera over to her and they all leave.
An hour later, at the Ruzhu Wu compound
|Something like this|
<Mother! They were controlling her mind. They made her think she was in love with this Belladonna woman. I couldn't leave her!> Wei sits at the kitchen table, her head bandaged, her left arm in a sling. She winces as she turns to look at the third woman in the kitchen. <Deny it. Prove you've abandoned everything you've built for a life of crime out of your own free will!> Aditi lowers her cup of tea to the table and sighs.
"Okay, yeah," she says, switching to English. "At first I was, I don't know, ensorcelled or something. But then I got angry. Belladonna is an actual goddess. Stripped of her power and exiled here. Imagine that! It'd be like us being turned into ants. And then the first person she meets is Lucky Strickland! He's using her! They all are. They can use her powers and then get off scot-free by claiming she made them do it. They'll do the crime and she'll do the time! Imagine what would have happened if she'd met you first, Fern" Aditi said, using Wei's English forename. Wei hesitates; thinking.
<With her presence and voice? I'd give her a job of course. With the right skills she could be a singer, an actress, even a diplomat. She'd be a millionaire inside five years, just from the money she could make from modelling.>
"Exactly. That's why I need to go back. I can gather evidence from the inside and blow the whole scheme when the time comes."
<I don't like it, you don't have the skillset for undercover work.> This last speaker was Hope, Wei's sister-in-law, and detective in Guardian City Metropolitan Police Force. Aditi laughed.
"I'm an actor, detective, and I can take care of myself." She nodded at Wei who winced again and rubbed her bruised ribs.
<She can do it,> Wei confirmed, <I'm still not sure she should.> She sighed again. <You've twelve weeks then we're coming for you again. That should give you enough time to recover from the thrashing I'm going to give you, before your next big project.>
Aditi stood, bowed and gave the school's traditional salute.
<Big sisters,> she said, <Training Mother. I'll see you soon> With that she climbed out the nearest window. Behind her she heard Hope begin to chastise Wei.
<Can you not threaten...!>