"Now, let's fire this puppy up, shall we?" Gwen asked, rubbing her hands expectantly and looking up at her companions.
Robyn nodded. "Just be sure to read it aloud," she said. "I still can't see."
This came as a bit of a surprise to Gwen. "I must've missed quite a bit in my various absences, and our time at the Safe wasn't particularly conducive to catch-up chit-chat."
"Not much to say, except I got a water bottle in a train station back east. One minute I could see, the next I couldn't."
"And where's Dark gotten to?" A muffled thud accompanied by a deep shout came in response.
Kai sighed. "I don't know what's going on between Dark and Dru, but they have to settle whatever score's between them," he said simply. Gwen nodded in understanding; nobody knew much about Dark's past, but it was apparent there had been something haunting him, something involving Dru. He never went into detail when the painful topic arose, and nobody, not even curious Gwen, dared to pry.
The redhead bit her lip and shook her head as she opened the EveryBook and scrolled through some of the pages. To her great annoyance, the page display kept flickering. "Oh for Dante's sake!" she cried, giving the thing a healthy whack. The screen fuzzed over completely, and a message box appeared: PLEASE WAIT... INCOMING MESSAGE...
"Message?" Kai repeated as he glanced over Gwen's shoulder, clearly suspicious. "I didn't think it could receive outside communication."
"I'm no techie comparable to present company, but I don't think it's s'posed t'do this," replied the pianist.
A larger box appeared on the display, showing what appeared to be a poem.
"Well, does it say anything?" asked Robyn. Gwen, having just read it to herself, handed the book to Archi, clearly too stunned to speak.
Archi read it aloud:
Prithee, Protagonists, recognize me,
I am one of your fraternity.
I was long on the enemy’s side,
Ashamed of the road I tried.
But now I learn of great portents,
And post-haste I will dispense,
A warning of the future events
To keep you on the best defense.
There is an Antagonist plot,
To destroy or capture our lot.
They call it a Cataclysm,
Which will drive further the schism.
A dreaded disease which only affects,
The creative and productive intellects,
And renders them deaf and blind,
Bereft of windows to the mind.
In a fortnight, this disaster will befall
And darkness will prevail over all.
Released into the water pipes, it’ll be
So that it can spread fast and completely,
Unless, there is dispatched a cure,
To fight this malaise so obscure.
This cure I do possess.
My credibility you may assess.
But an audience I beg.
Of beer I’ll get a keg.
No one said anything for a moment. "Well, at least we have a pretty good theory as to why I went blind," Robyn offered meekly.
"You probably got part of a test batch," Kai surmised. "Only reason you didn't get caught is because you had people to cover you."
Gwen began pacing furiously. "But when this thing goes prime time, a duck sitting on snailback's got a better chance of escape. And it's not like we can all go camel and avoid water; I hate to admit it, but it's almost a foolproof scheme." She stopped and faced the others. "I think we've gotta investigate that Bard option. I'm still suspicious, but what if most of us did the upfront poking around, and one did a bit of backstage work?"
"You mean like we go to this Dark and Stormy Night, and you take a back way in?" Archi asked quietly.
"You know me all too well, Archi."
Kai was reluctant to buy it. "We've only just found you again, how could you possibly suggest going out alone again?"
She shrugged. "The way I see it, for all we know it could be a trap, considering the source. We can't let them nab all of us in one fell swoop. And, let's face it: as much as I'm for collaboration, I'm a pianist at heart. In other words, we have t'be willing and able to do the solitary stuff.
"Besides," she added, "there's always vital strings holding up a performance that only the actors and crew know about. We need some eyes back there, don't we?"
Crossing his arms, Kai shook his head. "You're not going to let me argue with that logic, are you?"
"I flatly forbid you to argue with it."
He rolled his eyes. "Stubborn Irish..."
"You guys get ready," Gwen suggested, slipping into a spare room. "I've a costume change to make."
Shortly after this disappearance, the Irish Pianist reemerged from the room, almost completely transformed. In an unbelievably short amount of time she'd gone from frazzled, flame-headed creature to a composed, mostly-crowd-blending member of society. Hidden were the dusty coat of pockets, the dark jeans, the whimsical sprinkling of freckles, and indeed the fiery tint to her hair. Instead she'd traded them in for a bland sweatshirt, faded jeans, grey low-top Converse, and a muted rose-copper tint to her hair, now well-contained between the neat, tight braid.
"Being the daughter of hairdressers has its advantages," she commented nonchalantly, tossing her wrangled hair behind her and adjusting the black bag on her shoulder. "As to every other change: do no asking of the questions, and I'll not do the telling of the lies."
Everyone else had prepared for departure, and Dark and Dru had reappeared by this time; it was clear there was still quite a bit of reconstruction to do, but it was equally clear that they were joyous to have found each other again. All instinctively looked to Dark for instruction. He nodded authoritatively. "Right. Let's ship out."
- - - - -
Night fell rapidly on Vancouver. Gwen peered around the alley corner and watched the others slip through the threshold of the Dark and Stormy Night. She sighed and scurried off to find her point of entry. About halfway along the building, a noise halted her progress as she instinctively ducked behind a dumpster, her back to the rest of the alley. After a few tense moments without incident, her shoulders relaxed. But the moment her muscles eased, out of nowhere a thick rough strip of cloth came over her head and caught her across the mouth.
Gwen squawked against the crude gag as her unseen assailant jerked her back.
"Well, and a well! Here what have we?" a male voice hissed with sinister delight. "Methinks it's a spy... a spy do you be? Perhaps for the Protags, that makes the most sense, as they just came on by to talk collective defence..."
She growled at him, struggling furiously. He gave a shout of glee as he jerked her back again. "Ooh, what a fighter! I think he'll be pleased, my boss, the top Ripper, 'cause new blood we need. You know who he is? Remember Scheherazade tell 'bout the Dark and Stormy Night? She spoke of the Bard, and the Rippers us too. But here's a quick bit that's probably new: _The two men they are one in the same. Oh yeah, true stuff! I don't play no games! We Rippers, we know it, but the others know not. I don't think they'd like it, the violence in spots.
"Now stop all your squirming, you must come inside! Your Protag friends'll see you, but for now time's up-tied."
Scheduling's not the only thing getting tied up here, Gwen thought with a scowl, flinching against rough cord tightening around her wrists.