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Thread: Timelines: What if Spain Failed to Control the World?

  1. #221
    Spectre of Battle grayghost's Avatar

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    Got the "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Wargames" references, but somebody beat me to it. Chopin is a nasty little character. All diabolical evil and menacing villian. Need those from time to time, their fun. Another great interview. Glad you started that.
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  2. #222
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grayghost
    Got the "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Wargames" references, but somebody beat me to it. Chopin is a nasty little character. All diabolical evil and menacing villian. Need those from time to time, their fun. Another great interview. Glad you started that.
    Yes , I'm going to enjoy having a truly evil man to work with this time around . Let's see how it unfolds ! And thanks for reading the interview , it's been a pleasure doing it . Myth will be a fun interview as well for next week and then Rensslaer promised to catch up on reading so that we could have a jolly talk the week after . it's been fairly successful so far !
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  3. #223
    Spectre of Battle grayghost's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by canonized
    Yes , I'm going to enjoy having a truly evil man to work with this time around . Let's see how it unfolds ! And thanks for reading the interview , it's been a pleasure doing it . Myth will be a fun interview as well for next week and then Rensslaer promised to catch up on reading so that we could have a jolly talk the week after . it's been fairly successful so far !
    Myth & Rens huh? I'll look foward to those two.
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  4. #224
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grayghost
    Myth & Rens huh? I'll look foward to those two.
    Excellent ! I'm hoping that I can expand on the interview sections' success in the future . It's definitely been a wonderful chit chat with each one and each has something interesting to bring to the table as far as authorship , what they think of Timelines , and also their AARs as you well know !
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  5. #225
    Hahaha, "Big Trouble in Little China" is one of the most amazingly hilarious films ever.

    The LORDS OF DEATH!! Amazing.

    Story is really good so far - I am impressed.

  6. #226
    Strategy Cognoscenti Demi Moderator Myth's Avatar
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    I have a couple observations to share. first, it seems that Carman and Renault are indeed growing somewhat closer...
    secondly (and perhaps more importantly, story-wise), it seems that whatever happens in (")history(") has parallel events (thematically) that Tom and Rodrigo must also survive themselves, at times they even seem to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors (and even more so if you take into account others besides those two). I have the feeling that, even though Father whatshisname (sorry, forgot ) is deliberately searching for the answer to the puzzle that has been set before him, it will be T&R who end up finding the timepiece...

    ...and that Lara, I'm willing to bet that she lives in (what used to be) Little China!
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    Lotus-6: Haha yes thank you ! Aside from being a fun reference Chinatown is going to be a great setting !

    Myth: Now now Myth , here you go again looking into your crystal ball ! But yes I'm glad you're seeing the pattern between the old and the new . There's going to be quite a reason for that in the future haha . As for who finds the timepiece .. good speculation but i'm afraid you'll only be --- er i shouldn't give away anything !

    I will tell you one secret though . The fact is that I don't write these chapters in advance so whenever I get such cool comments such as yours , it helps me formulate the next chapter . I hope everyone who has any ideas or speculation will also step forward and help the creative process out so once again thank you !
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    Happy Passion Sunday Everyone , I hope you all have a good Holy Week and my special intentions go out to our Jewish friends celebrating Passover ! An update is coming tonight (late in the night/early morning) as usual so I hope to see you all wonderful readers there !
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    Chapter XXI: Chinatown


    March 28, 1582

    Matsujun clung onto the edge of the windowsill and struggled to peer through the slightly dirtied crosshatch glass that separated the main deck of the San Martin from Dr. DeWitt’s room. The young boy could only make out the gentile figures of Antonio and Isabella as they leaned over the table with Jakob in the middle. All of their eyes were on objects doubly concealed from Matsujun by another layer of glass—perhaps jars. What he found odd was how those three were holding handkerchiefs onto their mouths and noses.

    The interior of that room within the rocking ship of the San Martin was usually well lit with various candles and lamps hanging about the room. Despite it being Jakob’s, he seldom slept in that chamber despite the various beds pooled out along the edges of the room. Dedicated to his cause, he had converted that spacious abode designated for him into a makeshift operating room and lab—in case they would need such expertise in a fight. Jakob was a proven chemist—even a dangerous one, but his first passion was to heal and this room reflected that premise.

    Although the beds dominated two of the four walls of the room, the greater portion of the middle and bottom and right sides of the chamber were dotted with various tables and stools—all wooden and all sporting various leather scrolls no doubt filled with Jakob’s myriad instruments, a fresh bowl of water and cloth, as well as jars of herbs chemicals medicines and the like. Thanks to Dr. Ginzo, fresh dried animals with potent pharmaceutological importance were hanged in different areas giving the whole chamber a kind of gingery smell.

    “What do you suppose is going on in there, Sweet-san?” Matsujun had asked curiously to that Korean born, Chinese trained spy next to him. As usual, Sweet gave no response to him but simply stared through the glass similarly. Matsujun may have looked up towards his companion for an answer but instead he leaned in further against the glass hoping that he could detect some faint noises within.

    “Dr. Ginzo and I have been running tests for the past few hours on the dried samples first,” Jakob began explaining to the other two as he pointed to different jars on the table.

    “We found the powder we extracted from the dangerous samples killed these three specimens,” Jakob added pointing to the three dead rats in each jar.

    The rats contained within those jars greeted the other two observers with morbid farewells; their legs and tail were contorted in such a way that it was like they were waving from beyond the animal grave.

    “As far as I can tell, at least in these doses, the substance in that body was extremely toxic even when inhaled,” was further explanation from the muffled mouth of the good doctor.

    “And its effects on the human body?” Isabella asked similarly from behind her cloth protection.

    “It wasn’t a coincidence that I asked Dr. Ginzo to comment on it,” Jakob said to his companions as he turned around to a separate table near the rear, “I’ve seen this kind of poison before and I’m sure he had more expertise on it than I.”

    As the two followed him, they came upon the rear table with various flasks and vessels ringed and held in place by metal loops which were in turn nailed or bolted to the very wood of the table to avoid spillage during those rancorous and sometimes stormy trips across sea. Jakob pointed to two containers in particular near the center of the table.

    “We believe the poison came from that.”

    For a moment, all three paused as Antonio and Isabella gazed liberally at the closed aqueous container and to the culprit within. The lamplight gave the surrounding water a strange glow neither sparkling nor shimmering but a diffused yellow coating that made it seem more akin to waste water.

    “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Isabella remarked as she watched the object suspended in that liquid.

    “It’s only found around here I believe,” Antonio chimed while Jakob rounded the table to the opposite side.

    “There’s more,” Jakob continued as he brought out from a drawer an object atop a platter. “I weighed the powdery substance we found in the sample pieces and then studied the proportion of the substance against the weight of the samples; I came up with a dosage that would be as large to a rat as a regular dosage might be to a human.”

    On the silver platter lay a decrepit and sad creature formerly a cousin of those similarly dead ones found in the jars earlier. This particular rodent was, however, pinned down to the platter and spliced open down the middle.

    “Before I dissected the animal, he did not die like the others, but he might as well have been dead,” Jakob said mysteriously.

    “What are you talking about?” Antonio asked breaking his glance from the gutted animal to Jakob’s eyes.

    “From what I can tell, its movements were severely hindered and it failed to respond to most feeling. Its eyesight was relatively poor but its sense of smell remained in tact. When I inspected the skull I found massive deterioration in the brain just like the other rats, but this one remained alive for a good long while before its internal organs finally gave way three hours later.”

    There was a small silence again and the creaks of the swaying ship took over. Looking down at the precisely sliced animal, Isabella pressed her handkerchief tighter against her mouth and ruffled her brow disgustingly. Antonio mimicked her actions.

    “From what I can tell, this would probably happen to a human as well which led me to believe there was another ingredient,” Jakob said taking another plate from underneath the table. This time it held strange green bulbs formed which resembled much like organic eyeballs with one side having a circular opening.

    “I recognize those,” Antonio said suddenly, “From our trips to New Spain and Fars.”

    “Apparently they also grow in the area of Champa and Dai Viet,” Jakob added as he put the plant next to the glowing gelatin like watery substance and said, “From what Dr. Ginzo has told me, the symptoms we would see if this plant is refined combined with the poison is what was inside the sample.”

    Antonio gave a grim expression as he heard this news and looked first at the platter of the bulbous pods and then towards that object inside the water. It didn’t make sense to him, he thought. Naturally the plants could have come from the fields of Colombia and Peru via the markets of Mexico easily enough… but this deadly thing from the waters. How did it get all the way to California?

    ---


    After a week of patrolling, inspecting, and conversing within Chinatown, Renault finally was able to get his audience with the elusive and illustrious David Chopin. Despite his objections, both Amin and Carmen insisted on accompanying him to the meeting.

    On that crisp afternoon, the sun waved a masterful hand and dispelled the morning mists a few hours earlier. It was in that subtle warmness that the palace of Little China greeted the three guests with a resplendent array of red wooden balconies and gold studded doorways. Statues of lions and Buddhas eagerly awaited them at the portals and the shingles of the rooftops crowned the structure with a scale like appearance making the front resemble the gaping maw of a pointy eye-browed dragon.

    As the carriage that had brought them there slowly galloped away, Renault de Fronsac, Carmen, and Amin casually approached the structure’s main entryway.

    “Please come in!” an attendant called out to them as he gave a simple bow to each one.

    With guarded postures, the three guests entered the magnificent entryway and followed that servant down a main hallway which was only interrupted by several life sized statues of Buddhas both with jovial and angry faces. At the very end of that hall was another studded doorway which opened slowly upon their arrival.

    The room it led into was a curious example of the finest porcelains from the East as well as marble or jade statues of everything from serpentine dragons to noble phoenixes. The servant had motioned for them to sit onto the beautifully carved chairs presented to them near the center of the room facing what seemed like a triptych painting on the far end.

    The servant also brought along a teapot with porcelain cups in a flower like arrangement and placed it on a table in front of them before beginning to pour.

    “The master will be with you shortly,” the man said jumbling his Spanish just a little bit. “The master wishes that you refresh yourselves with the specialty of the East, some green tea.”

    At that Carmen seemed to perk at the notion—it had always been her dream to try some of that elixir from the East and she received the cup with much anticipation. Renault and Amin both looked at her curiously as they held their handle-less cups and watched Carmen eagerly taste the soothing hot mix. They too similarly tasted that specialty.

    Giving their thanks to the joyous attendant, that man quickly exited from whence he arrived and shut the doors behind them. Aside from the statues atop varnished wooden tops, the walls themselves seemed to contain images of tigers and other creatures painting the strangely angled room into what reminded Renault as a twelve sided Zodiac gallery. All three had been looking around as soon as they entered the impressive chamber.

    “Hello Mr. De Fronsac and company,” said a voice from behind the triptych painting in front of them. The ominous greeting was accompanied by a shadow sliding into the center of that painting from behind it before growing smaller and smaller as it approached the fabric of the wall.

    Renault refused the impulse to stand. The voice that had caught their attention spoke Spanish with an intonation of a giddy old man. In between the high pitched accentuations of that welcome, he could hear the rasping deterioration of age in the voice.

    “Good afternoon,” Renault responded as coolly as possible, “We’ve come to see Mr. Chopin.”

    “And you have succeeded, Mr. De Fronsac,” replied the voice. At that point the shadow seemed to stop at the periphery of the taught paper wall ahead of them.

    “Please show yourself, sir,” Carmen enjoined.

    Before she could continue with her plea she saw the shadow’s top quickly jolt to the direction of her voice through the paper as if suddenly stabbing her with that obstructing view.

    “Ahh, Madame Carmen,” came the jittery voice again, “It’s good of you to have come along with Mr. De Fronsac. And I sense the manservant is here as well,” he said quickly jolting that shadow-head once more to the other side of Renault casting a sudden heaviness onto the sitting Amin.

    “We’ve come to talk to you about your business and some missing Mexican workers,” Renault said a bit loudly as if to cast the deleterious gaze from the shadow off of his companion. It worked in so far as that hidden silhouette straightened its look back towards the central Renault.

    “So you have, Mr. De Fronsac,” was the slippery answer. “I’m sure you already spoke to my secretary earlier in the week, as you can see our records are quite… accounted for.”

    The voice rose up and down as it talked but always with a forceful bitterness behind it.

    “All the same we’d like to inspect your premises here, Mr. Chopin.”

    There was a short silence as that man behind the wall seemed to burn a stare right across the paper barrier to meet the determined gaze of Renault.

    “If you insist, Mr. De Fronsac then I’m afraid I have no other choice…”

    At that, the triptych wall slowly slid apart revealing that wrinkling old man complete with a long flowing white beard. The sudden departure of the barrier seemed to shock the three of them as they were greeted by a grin sporting sticklike teeth intermittently cursed by bloody red gums. Their host had no hair on his crown with the exception of the trailing ghostly tendrils of once long hair along the edges of his head and around it.

    Renault couldn’t help but stand up; Carmen and Amin similarly stood to the sudden entrance. The man they faced was clothed in the gregarious attire of an Eastern mandarin but none of the colourful embroideries could have distracted their eyes from the chaos of discolouration and veins on the man’s pasty skin.

    “It is good to finally see you, Mr. De Fronsac,” came the raspy voice with a menacing edge.

    “Forgive my surprise Mr. Chopin,” Renault started, “I wasn’t expecting you to be—”

    “Chinese?” came the giddy almost exuberant voice before letting out a laugh between his teeth. “When I came to this country, Mr. De Fronsac, I had my name transliterated from Sio-pan to Chopin… to make business easier.”

    “So you’re not really French…” was Carmen’s surprised remark.

    “No, Madame Carmen… just like that wasn’t really tea.”

    Renault’s eyelids rose quickly as he gazed down at the now drying vessels of which they had drunk that complimentary drink. He looked back towards their deceptive host and almost drew his espada when the mere action drove him to sudden nausea. He managed a glimpse to his comrades who were now leaning against the table and tumbling forward in their own plight. Before his eyes receded to darkness he could see a shadowy figure behind their host, a taller man accompanied by a shadow of what seemed like a shorter, younger individual.

    “Ahh! Master Ming, Master Ginji,” Renault heard as if the voice of Sio-pan was being muffled behind a pillow. “Thank you for the recent delivery of fugu it will definitely help the powder stock!”

    Renault was struggling to inch forward onto the triptych hallway that lead to those figures. His movements were already dumbing away and his hearing cut off the rest of the conversation of those three foreigners. As Mori Ranmaru and the shadowy diplomat from the empire of the Ming looked on to the pitiful sight, Renault’s eyes closed and he felt his heart breaking in his chest.



    Interlude


    “Do we know where they’re going?” was the ambiguous voice coming from the central speaker platform at the end of that long desk.

    “As far as we can tell, the jet they’re using registered first at Kansas City and then again in Denver,” someone responded from the table.

    In that darkened room, the usually large windows around this chamber were covered almost hermetically by the thickest of blinds. The only light came from a single fluorescent strip hanging above the table behind a diffusing plastic barrier.

    On that table was an array of papers and photos neatly segmented across the varnished surface before terminating at one end with the speakerphone.

    “We’ll know when they signal for a landing where their final destination will be,” another voice intoned.

    “I already know where they’re going,” came the neutral voice on the speakerphone, “and what about Father Francis and the Duke?”

    “Still in Madrid after their trip from Mecca,” was a reply from another person down the long line of shadow veiled men. “We have an itinerary of their next trip but it looks like they won’t be leaving for another week.”

    “And the Timepiece? Have you secured it?”

    “As you requested,” the person at the other end of the table boomed out authoritatively, “the Timepiece we extracted from the Osaka lab is now safely in one of our facilities in Afghanistan. We will wait until it’s opportune to move the location but for now the local extremist activity in that region will provide enough cover for the base there to go unnoticed.”

    “Excellent. Know this, gentlemen that your work is almost finished,” iterated the voice from the speaker. It was not static or anything strange that gave that authoritative voice its unfamiliar tone. There was something else odd about it.

    “The Wolves stand with you, Master Councilman,” came the sturdy reply from the other end of the table.

    “And remember, gentlemen, everything in this Room must remain Silent,” was the voice again.

    At that, those around the table quickly folded their dossiers closed and stood up to exit the chamber. Only one man remained, the one sitting behind the speakerphone with his hand on the machine.

    “Everything seems to be going our way, Marcus,” was the man’s voice into the speakerphone as soon as everyone left.

    “Yes, and now Tom is being brought to us by Janus,” was the almost giddy response.

    “I’ll be flying back to San Francisco tomorrow so I’ll be able to see you again,” the man by the phone said with a strange smile.

    “I’ll be waiting for you,” was the response with almost a giggle before it clicked close.

    With that, the strangeness of the voice was made clear. Despite the male name, it was a woman that had just received the briefing from the Wolves.

    From her office in the pyramid like building of Schwarzschild Industries in San Francisco, Marcus Councilman had shut off the speakerphone with a tap of her finger against the machine. She was a pale woman, perhaps only five feet and a half tall at that and sported the latest suit and tie to come off the line of the various fashion studios she owned. She was formerly styled as Lillian Councilman, the daughter of a Seattle hippie who had protested the Great War with other like minded individuals regularly in the desert of Arizona. They even burned an image of a man every year to solidify their anarchic aims.

    Unlike her delusional mother, Marcus Councilman did not content herself to seek chaos and ‘freedom’ simply through romps in the desert with other nude anarchists. No, she sought to bring chaos through order. That is to say, that she plans on using the very mechanisms of order to bring chaos to this world.

    No, not even that, she thought. Through the course of her studies and success as a businesswoman, she had come to the conclusion that outright chaos would demand order. Yes, too much disorder would force people to band together, to form societies, to create laws.

    No, this was unacceptable. Instead, she would settle for a more devious way of creating chaos. No more centralized government, no more world order, no more harmonious One True Faith. Indeed, chaos will reign in the veneer of order: a world where hundreds of independent sovereignties exist! Multitudes of religion and especially of Non-religion! She had learned well from other Anarchists that a frog slowly boiled will never feel his impending doom. So it will be with the world she wishes to create. No more progress that hindered the true freedoms of the body, of the mind, and—well she didn’t believe in a soul.

    Looking out from her office, it was a clear day in San Francisco. This was to be her headquarters, she said. Half a world away from Madrid, this was the weakest point in the entire Empire and the most liberal city. From here, she would pull the strings of change—of reform—of a progress not of order and science, but of society. Nothing will be sacred anymore, nothing held absolute. Her chaos was philosophical.

    Perhaps that’s why she needed Tom; that beautiful child of a genius historian. His vision of the alternate present was uncanny. His idea of a destitute Spain failing to reign in the progressive overturn of religion, social values, and order made her squirm at night ever since she heard the report from the assassins she sent to kill the journalist in Osaka. Tom was a kindred spirit, and he needed to be saved from his Catholic captors. Yes, she thought vividly as she grinned against the glass pane, she needed someone progressive like him to go with her. He was the only other person with the vision. Imagine, she commanded the window panes. Imagine a world where she and Tom could dictate freedom for all! Freedom to murder your children, freedom to marry who you wish… oh yes… she would marry Tom too even though she was a man—or at least that’s what she was convinced she was.

    She giggled to herself as she creased her finger against the transparent surface of her office window. It was shaped into a broken heart and through the center of that broken organ, she could see through the glass the far off building of what was once the palace of Little China.

    Chapter XXII: Curse of the Broken Heart (coming soon)
    Last edited by canonized; 02-04-2007 at 18:05.
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  10. #230
    Your Friendly Dictator Grubnessul's Avatar
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    briljant as allways.

    The tea trick was kinda cheap tho, I'd expected Renault would have know that one
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  11. #231
    Heartbreaker canonized's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grubnessul
    briljant as allways.

    The tea trick was kinda cheap tho, I'd expected Renault would have know that one
    Thanks ! Don't worry , I promise the tea won't be as cheap as you initially think . Unless silly Myth tries to figure it out first again !
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  12. #232
    Field Marshal Flooper X's Avatar
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    very well written, but you're updating too fast

    keep it up

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    Excellent update as always and also quite interesting!

    I think that in my mind now there are so many different theories created about this story that it's actually starting to give me a headache.

    'Chaos by design' - that is one of my favourite expressions (not sure exactly why yet), but it seems that this Marcus Counsilman person would like this expression as well.

    Anyway, I've enjoyed this update and I'm eagerly anticipating the next one to see if some of my suspicions come true.
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    eeeeexcellent uppppdate
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    Emperor of my own little world kleomenes's Avatar
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    *claps*

    *claps*

    *claps, claps. claps*

    I am without words, breathless at the masterpiece that is this AAR. Or maybe I am just tired for clapping so much, either way, outstanding update!

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    Flooper X: Thank you for your patronage ! Haha , updating too fast ? Some would say I was updating too slow but point well taken . I try my best to update only once every two days so that the readers can take it easy in between posts ! If there's any other way I can help out just let me know !

    Petros: Thanks again ! Yes , the mystery continues to build but hopefully by the end everything will start falling in place with you as I have planned and you will gasp in terror at the very thing you have been reading all along ! Mwahahah ! XD

    rcduggan: Thanks ! This one was a particularly fun one to write especially working with such dark characters this time around !

    kleomenes: Thanks and thank you very much for your continued read ! And good luck on your new AAR also !

    Thank you all for your comments and I hope to hear from you all more . The better I can gauge what's working or what's not working gives me great ideas for future updates ! Think of it as helping in the creative process indirectly ! thanks for everything so far !
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    Bonus Time ! As you all know from time to time I like to give out bonuses to help further the enjoyment of the story . This time it'll be a focus on one of the new characters joining the scene ; the devious and devilish Marcus !



    And that's a little snippet on the young and chaotic chairman of Schwarzschild ! I hope you all enjoy this and tell me what you think !
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  18. #238
    Strategy Cognoscenti Demi Moderator Myth's Avatar
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    I had a bad feeling about that "tea" from the onset! I didn't expect Chopin to be Chinese, though.

    as for the Silent Room...it seems to have turned slightly away from what I understood its role to be, aiding in the governance of the realm, in the 450-500 years since the beginning of the Spanish bid for world dominance...slightly disturbing. I do wonder, though, how accurate Marcus' appraisal of Tom is. given the opportunity, would Tom take the opportunity she undoubtedly wishes to offer him, and reform the world into that of his own creation?
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  19. #239
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    Quote Originally Posted by Myth
    I had a bad feeling about that "tea" from the onset! I didn't expect Chopin to be Chinese, though.

    as for the Silent Room...it seems to have turned slightly away from what I understood its role to be, aiding in the governance of the realm, in the 450-500 years since the beginning of the Spanish bid for world dominance...slightly disturbing. I do wonder, though, how accurate Marcus' appraisal of Tom is. given the opportunity, would Tom take the opportunity she undoubtedly wishes to offer him, and reform the world into that of his own creation?
    Yes , the tea is certainly suspect . Poor Renault ... As for the Silent Room , remember that there were more than one Silent Room . Aside from the one in Madrid we know that the English at least also used a similar room with a similar person referred to by a diplomatic name . As for Tom and Marcus , we'll have to see ... XD
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    Chapter XXII: Curse of the Broken Heart


    March 29, 1582

    Matsujun wasn’t at all distracted by the earthy and pungent smell of Doctor DeWitt’s laboratory. He held no handkerchief against his face despite Isabella forcing him to carry one. That cloth was rarely used whenever that growing thirteen year old wanted to gaze at a particular dried specimen. Antonio and Isabella had been nice enough to accede to his request to visit the usually off limits chamber. Jakob had also been nice enough to clean up the place of dangerous chemicals before admitting his young charge.

    Antonio and Isabella stayed at one end of the chamber conversing to themselves as they allowed the boy to wander the mini-maze of tables and chairs. Despite their attention to matters of state, Isabella kept a watchful eye on the young one. Jakob was still working on a few medicines he had been wishing to put together at a nearby desk. That was where the young Matsujun decided to focus his attention.

    “What’s this?” he asked cautiously as he approached Jakob from the side. He was looking at the various fragrant pots in front of him. It was just then that he realized how wonderful this part of the room smelled in comparison to the rest of the chamber. Matsujun had become used to the stench of ship life through the past month they’ve been patrolling the Neutral Zone with the Ming and especially now that Antonio had told him that they were on their way to San Francisco, but this was the first time aside from the capricious sea water and the embrace of Isabella that he had smelled a pleasant aroma on the ship.

    “These are just some medicinal herbs I’m working on,” Jakob replied pausing a moment from his work to give the boy a validating smile.

    Matsujun returned a smile also but his was more sedated. In that moment of kindness to the boy, Jakob realized that Matsujun was watching him with an intensity greater than mere curiosity.

    “My... late father, he was actually an herbalist and chemist,” Matsujun softly said as he put his hands carefully on the edge of the table to the right of where that young doctor was working. Intrigued by the strange openness, Jakob couldn’t help but put his instruments down for a moment to look at the boy.

    “Is that so?” Jakob asked attempting to smooth his Germanic Spanish into a more pleasing conciliatory tone.

    Matsujun had dropped his gaze from the young doctor and onto the myriad bowls on the table before giving a nod still with that strange smile on his face. His small pride of his former life mingled with the pleasant memories of spices and herbs coalescing into that sweet curvature across his cheeks.

    “He was an expert at it,” the boy continued, “and we had a successful business selling the herbs to sick people. We even had enough money to give some of the poor people in the town a little extra and I’d follow him around on his deliveries…”

    Matsujun seemed to look forward now and towards the other tables across from the one the two were currently occupying. He scanned the glasses and jars and his eyes seemed to droop downwards just a little while still maintaining the smile.

    “At least until the men took us—” Matsujun nearly squealed out and became instantly ashamed at his emotions. He turned away pretending to look at the jars on the right side of the room. Jakob noticed that those once casual hands the boy put on the table were now rolled into subtle fists.

    Matsujun looked towards the far off jars of slimy toads suspended in liquid with a burning look as if the fire in his eyes could evaporate the soft film of tears building up on top of his pupils. The scents, he thought, they were just like father’s shop.

    “When my father said,” the boy continued with more composure but still with a slightly higher pitch, “that we couldn’t give the men anymore money otherwise we wouldn’t have enough to get the medicine for some of the poor people—”

    That was when Jakob’s hands enveloped the boy’s drooping shoulders and warmly pressed a comforting squeeze against those bony arches. Matsujun simply looked down as if even more ashamed. Jakob was at a loss for words. In between the licks of the lamplight and the swishing of the boat, even the voices of Isabella and Antonio had stopped interrupting the sharp whimpers Matsujun attempted to hide.

    After a few moments of warm solidarity with the boy, Jakob carefully squatted down and brought himself to the left of the young one and looked under the umbrella of hair that tried to hide that tearful face.

    “You father was a good man,” Jakob gently told the boy. His accent gave an unintended strength to his voice despite its consoling tenor. It calmed the boy enough to relegate the sharp whimpers to intermittent sniffles. Matsujun managed a nod in response before bringing his head up to release another smile, albeit weak, at the doctor.

    The doctor smiled back and once again gave the boy a friendly squeeze on the shoulder.

    “Maybe you can show me a few things about how your father practiced his medicine,” Jakob said with a kind of alacrity, “as you know I enjoy learning new things about medicine.”

    Matsujun carefully wiped his face with the handkerchief Isabella gave him before giving another nod. The boy looked around the table as Jakob once again took his seat.

    “I think you’ve already got most of the herbs he used here already, I can smell them,” was the first thing Matsujun said with a bit more confidence in his voice.

    “Oh yes, Dr. Ginzo has been quite the help in his insights on Eastern medicine,” replied Jakob almost proudly as he looked down at the various pots and grinding tools.

    “I’m going to get some rest,” Antonio suddenly announced from behind them as he nodded a farewell, “We’ll be arriving in San Francisco in a few days and I want to get used to the time difference.”

    “Oh, and father was particularly good at dealing with those,” the young Matsujun added looking at the further end of the room caught up in the proud moment too much to notice one of his guardians exiting.

    Jakob gave him an approving smile at the young boy as he got back down to his work. If Jakob had not also looked back to nod to Antonio goodbye, he may have noticed that the jar Matsujun was indicating was the same one that he had shown to his friends earlier when dealing with the tissue samples; the same one that had the eerie yellow glow and the figures of the Japanese blowfish hanging in suspension.

    ---


    Carmen awoke from the hollow darkness with a start and a twitch. Her whole body convulsed in a spark of adrenaline cascading through her system. She was greeted with the strong arms of Renault on her wrists and that man’s eyes veiled in the dark atmosphere of the world she awoke to. Despite the dimness of the room, those eyes told her to keep the silence with an intensity that also lacked any hostility.

    Quickly darting her head from one side of her view to the other, she discerned the slowly focusing images of Amin and of the attendant who had brought them into the Little China palace earlier. She nearly started again but Renault held her against the makeshift bed of hay with a gentle restraint.

    “It’s alright, Carmen, just relax he’s here to help us,” Renault explained in a whisper.

    “Help us?!” Carmen hissed in the darkness as she pulled her arms away but allowing her body to relax only a little to warrant such freedom. “He tried to poison us!”

    “I’m sorry, Madame Carmen,” the man quickly interjected giving a low bow to her as he held a hidden lamp underneath one of the folds of his embroidered clothes, “but this was part of Master Renault’s plan.”

    At that, Carmen looked back towards Renault with both an angry and a confused expression. Renault painstakingly nodded his head in a way to convey his understanding of her confusion. “It was the only way,” the man explained, “to get past the guards. Now Sio-Pan thinks we’re dead and disposed of while we can look around the bowels of this palace of a place. I needed the surprise of the knockout poison to be convincing so I didn’t tell you—”

    That was when the damp stone walls of the dungeon like chamber echoed the sound of a firm slap across Renault’s face. Before the man could say any further, Carmen brought herself to her feet and dusted herself off almost aristocratically.

    “And shame on you too,” she castigated the servant who bowed profusely.

    Renault got up and rubbed his cheek, Amin nearly laughed but Carmen shot him a look so fierce he couldn’t help but look down and away like a chastised dog.

    “Let’s get on with it then,” Renault said grudgingly as he moved past them to the doorway of that chamber. Carmen kept a heated expression but already her pride was no match for the intense duty she now felt welling up inside of her. Despite the silly tactics of the man, at least he got them inside the dungeon; it was now time to find the missing workers.

    As they traced outward into the hall, the servant stayed at the front checking the various entryways before motioning for them to follow through the winding paths. These stone walls were a great contrast to the gold and crimson array they had seen upstairs. The homely touch of parchment like walls gave way to gangrene infested masonry. Jewels of every colour were now replaced by the static gray and black of each column along the walls and the singular torch placed on each. The smell of incense was replaced by the steady wafting upward of a nauseating stench not unlike one would find at a piggery.

    “So who is this man?” Carmen was able to ask as she looked over Renault’s shoulder at one of the four way intersections in that underground maze.

    “He’s one of the new immigrants from the East,” Renault slowly explained as they slithered against the wall following the quickly moving servant. “I met him when we first arrived here in San Francisco… well I take that back, he was the one who met me after he had heard from his master that we were coming. Apparently Sio-Pan’s henchmen had murdered his wife and kid a few months back and he was nearly killed himself but took some of his own drugs to fake being dead. He’s been following the trail of those responsible ever since without them knowing who he really is. He managed to get into Sio-Pan’s service because he’s apparently an excellent alchemist.”

    “And the poisoning?” Amin asked from the rear of the three.

    “Sio-Pan has been wanting to test his loyalty for a while now so that he could get to work on the main ‘projects.’ He proposed to poison us to show his loyalty and so we got our way in while he got access to the deeper secrets in one swoop,” Renault replied with a beam of pride.

    “Genius, Maestro!” Amin whispered jubilantly.

    “Not so genius, how do you know he can be trusted,” was the rational voice coming from Carmen.

    Renault grinned a little to himself as he moved down the halls. “Simple,” he began, “he’s the only one amongst us who’s been poisoned. I gave it to him the other day and he volunteered. If he doesn’t get the antidote from me by tomorrow night he’ll be dead.”

    “Why would a man do that?” Amin asked both in surprise and admiration taking a quick look at the relentless man ahead of them navigating them through the halls.

    “His heart has been broken ever since his family was killed, and ever since then he’s cursed all those who’ve had a part in the murders even leaving his homeland of Japan after he heard news that the original kidnappers were killed in a fire. Now he’s going after their employers. We just happen to be an opportunity for him to seek justice from Sio-Pan. He said with nothing else to live for, he’ll stop Sio-Pan even if it costs him his life.” Renault replied a bit more seriously; his grin exchanged for the tight lipped expression of a man who would be so easily trapped beneath that massive mansion.

    “What a pity,” Renault added rounding another corner swiftly, “his young boy would have been thirteen if he was still alive.”

    “And he probably wouldn’t want his father to kill himself over revenge,” added Carmen almost cynically.

    The chatter behind Akanishi Suzuhara did not bother him. He was determined to first foil whatever perfidious plot Sio-Pan was concocting and that meant releasing the Mexican prisoners he had had seen earlier after his fake poisoning earn him the trust of that mad Mandarin. And more importantly, he thought, he would finally end Sio-Pan’s miserable existence for the sake of his family; even if he were to die trying.

    Sio-Pan, that terrible and elusive figure who, from what he had learned from stray yakuza he caught up with, had worked with the Ming and the Shogunate to use his family as a pawn against the Spanish. He would now pay.

    He would see Kaorin soon, he thought, and little Jun too, he would be with them in heaven very soon and finally the curse he had been administering would finally come to a close when his broken heart stopped beating.



    Interlude


    “Thank you again gentlemen,” came the once more ambiguous voice of Marcus Councilman from the speakerphone. “Your cooperation with the Wolves in taking the Timepiece from Osaka was excellently well played. Despite the speculation on the media, they will not suspect anything more.”

    “Dispense with the formalities, Mr. Councilman,” a voice around that speakerphone boomed out. This table was not so similar to the previous one that Marcus had spoken to. No, it was a round affair and what seemed like a blue dragon racing across its varnished surface. The voice continued saying, “The Ming Clique does not like to waste valuable time.”

    As if to justify his position, that ambiguous voice of one of the richest people in the world gave a haughty pause before saying, “Time, gentlemen. Time is all we have, yet we fail to understand it.” It was Marcus’s attempt at sounding philosophical. “I simply called to remind you all that Janus and Tom will be in San Francisco. Since this would be better worked under your jurisdiction, I would like you to arrange to extract them.”

    There was a short murmur in the room. Unlike the previous room of the Wolves, this one hid a polygonal structure in the shadow recesses of its walls. Like twelve sides, it was like a small planetarium in its size.

    “We will commit to this idea,” finally came the voice speaking for the rest in that group. There was no need for further discussion. The line went dead quite efficiently.

    ---


    Rodrigo hung up the phone once again. In their new apartment in one of those high rise buildings of San Francisco, the boys weren’t treated with the luxury of a view like the homely beach house did near Norfolk. Instead, their apartment accommodations were continually veiled by opaque blinds. Tom suspected they could also block Superman’s x-ray vision they were that dark.

    Rodrigo’s mother had already flown off separately to Madrid to meet up with his father the Duke and left Rodrigo with his own room adjacent to the room where the Royce family stayed. Tom frequently left his parents to fret amongst themselves while he visited his de facto best friend from across the partition.

    “Who were you talking to?” Tom asked curiously as entered the chamber and closing the partition behind him. He tried to hide his suspicion through his jovial smile.

    “Carlos,” was the simple response as Rodrigo walked up to the blinds as if he could see the sunset through it.

    “Carlos?!” Tom called approaching Rodrigo. He immediately recognized the name of their friend, “how is he doing? And was he with Lara?”

    “They’re alright,” was the absent response from Rodrigo.

    Tom paused as he stood slightly confused at the strange demeanor of his friend.

    “Why did you need to talk to him?” Tom finally asked.

    “Because,” Rodrigo started but nearly stopped himself as he thought about what he was about to say to the other. “I wanted to tell him that we’ll be able to make it.”

    “Make it to what?”

    “Lara’s costume party in Little China.”

    ---


    Marcus Councilman closed her eyes as she quickly tightened the specially designed corset around her body. The tight winding rope tugged against her frame with amazing force. No, it was not because of the pain that she kept her eyes closed. In fact she had come to enjoy that sensation. Having inflicted it onto others with so much enjoyment she thought she might as well begin to enjoy it as well. But indeed, her eyes were closed for the simple reason that she had not wanted to see her breasts as she put on her underclothes. Yes, a reminder of her true identity. If she believed in God, she would have cursed Him anyway for making such a mistake as putting her in a female’s body.

    No matter, she plucked the buttons on her coat studiously now that her chest had been flattened by that special device around her body. As she donned her crimson gloves she finally let her eyes open and she found herself becoming more and more androgynous—perfect. It was when a man came through her bedroom door that she began to grin.

    “Right on time, Andrew,” she said as that boy entered the room. “You can help me put those on.”

    Andrew did not say a word of hello but simply obliged. He walked over to the bed they often shared and took up the strange article and approached Marcus with it.

    “Where are you going in this costume?” Andrew asked as he fastened the ebony wings to the back of that military-like suit.

    “Oh me? I have a little date,” she teased, “at a little house party downtown…”

    Marcus did not even care to look back at the man as she talked but simply grinned to herself as she looked at the mirror. Her pale face curved diabolically as strands of dark hair fluttered around. Her military style cap hugged her crown completing the ensemble. Tom would finally be hers soon.

    Chapter XXIII: Confrontation at Little China (coming soon)
    DANGEROUS LIAISONS
    The New Short AAR about Seduction , Manipulation , Intrigue , Mystery , and Revolution .
    -~= =~-
    T I M E L I N E S : What if Spain Failed to Control the World?
    Seventeen AARLand Choice Awards: Favourite Overall New WritAAR Q1 2007.
    Favourite Overall EU3 AAR: Q1 2007; Q2 2007; Q3 2007; Q4 2007; Q1 2008; Q2 2008; Q3 2008; Q4 2008
    Favourite Narrative EU3 AAR: Q1 2007; Q2 2007; Q3 2007; Q4 2007; Q1 2008; Q2 2008; Q3 2008; Q4 2008

    Three Times WritAAR of the Week: 4 March 2007 13 May 2007 & 28 March 2008;
    Twice AAR Showcase: 9 Dec 2007, 14 Jun 2009; Twice Best Character Writer: 9 Dec 2007, 13 Sep 2008

    Editor in Chief of The AARlander

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