Tuesday, February 26, 2013

For The Greatest Good -- Part XV (Penny)

Part XV – Account by Penny Kearney

  Our feet pounded against the stone floor. Puddles and mice scattered alike in our flight, but I heeded neither. My heart raced with the excitement of escape as I pushed myself as fast as I needed to in order to keep up with Dana swift pace. Not once did I think to question his course.
  Through the confusing angled labyrinth, turn after turn, given light by ever decreasing number of torches, then…
  Dana checked his pace, halting. Easing my momentum, I stopped near him at an intersection.  To our right the hall gaped into dimness, the occasional torch lighting the way, but not near as dark as the pitch black passage that lurked to the left. I watched as Dana flicked his gaze down one passageway, then the next, then back..
  Over our heavy breathing, the echoes of our pursuers pricked my ears, drawing my glance back for an instant. Undoubtedly Dana heard it, too. I looked to him.
  Urgency showed clear on his expression, but also did caution. “Maybe…” He took a hesitant step forward, then paused.
  Was Set throwing him off?
  The sounds grew louder.
  Come on, Dana…
  “Oh, hang it all…” Caution fled his demeanor.
  Reaching back, he grasped my hand, catching my gaze even as the footfalls rang out from around the bend behind us. “You trust me?”
  The flicker of hesitation that rose within me died in a heartbeat. “Yes.”
  “Then do not let go, whatever you do.”
  With that, he plunged full kelter into the black tunnel on the left, pulling me with along with him. Darkness swallowed us. I tightened my grip as bade, not loosening for a single moment in spite of the fact that Dana surged forward with seemingly no thought as to where the tunnel led. The light faded behind us in an ever shrinking point until it disappeared all together. For several minutes, the only sounds were our panted breaths and rapid footsteps. The guards chasing us must have assumed we’d gone down the lighted passage. Whatever the case was, I was grateful for it, and prayed it would remain as such long enough for us to reach the end of whatever trail Dana had picked up.
  “Nearly….there,” He said between breaths.
  The faint rumble of rushing water reached my ears, growing more and more distinct with every footfall. The air cooled, and suddenly Dana skid to a dead halt. I jerked to a stop to keep from running into him. I would have questioned him, but at that moment I could barely breathe, let alone talk. I heaved, throat constricted a little.
  “Hold on,” Dana said, releasing my hand. “Give me a moment to focus.”
  I strained to see his shadowed form in the darkness. His footfalls barely registered above the growl of water echoing from…..somewhere, as he paced carefully about the narrow passageway. I considered asking him what he was looking for, but I doubted even he knew at this point.
  “Somewhere around here….” He muttered. “Maybe the wall to… “
  A gasp and then a cry. His yell vanished downwards before ending with a resounding splash, somewhere below. And then, nothing, save the endless roar of water.
  I darted forward. “Dana!”
  The narrow passage came to an end in a gaping hole that jutted downwards into darkness even starker than that which surrounded me.
  No response.
  My thoughts tripped over themselves. Was this the way, or…
  This is it.
  It made no sense whatever. With a glance behind me, I put sanity from my mind, straightened, and stepped over the edge before I could dismiss my instinct with rational thought.
  I regretted it instantly. The falling sensation jarred through me like a snap of cold wind. A cry rose in my throat as I plummeted downwards, and landed with a splash into the inescapable embrace of a dark current. The waves engulfed me, filling my mouth with water, dragging and throwing me downwards and away. I held my breath instinctively, flailing for something – anything – to grab onto. My fingers grasped only the surging liquid tendrils. My lungs began to ache. Panic welled up inside me.
  The current suddenly hurled me helpless over a precipice. I gasped in a breath in the moment the momentum flung me into the open air, landing with another splash into a pool below. This time, however, I clawed my way to the surface as the course of the river slowed, though in my fatigued state it still kept me trapped in its clutches. I floated downstream like a bit of driftwood. By the time I forced myself to begin stroking for either side of the river, light up ahead began to illuminate the jagged tunnel walls. It shone from around a bend, and the current sped up again, whisking me around the turn and into fresh air, where I once again tumbled over a drop off.
  I landed with a wet thump in a sandy bottomed pool only about knee deep. Spluttering, I pushed myself to my knees, crawling towards the shore. All around me grew a thick copse of pine trees. Sunlight streamed down through the pointed tops, sparkling off the ripples I created with each movement, but I couldn’t see Dana.
  He had to have made it.
  Coughing, I hauled myself onto the grass. It took me several moments to regain my breath.
  There. Dana lay on his back, half out of the water a dozen yards away. Motionless.
  “Blast it….”
  I pushed myself to my feet, stumbling over to his position with water still dripping into my eyes. Dropping to my knees beside him, I yanked the straps holding his leather breastplate in place, shoved it out of the way, and pressed my ear to his chest.
  Only a faint heartbeat. No breathing.
  I slammed my fist against his chest. “Blast it, Dana! This is a stupid way to die!”
  A gurgling cough rattled from his throat, and he pitched to the side, coughing and gasping for breath.
  I nearly went limp with relief. I closed my eyes, and sat back on my heels with hands trembling as Dana regained his breath.
  Thank you, my King….
  Opening my eyes, I managed a slight smirk, too drained for anything else. “Thank you for not dying. That would have been a real downer.”
  “You..” He coughed again, rasping, “You followed?”
  “You asked me if I trusted you.”
  “That was before I fell into a dark hole.”
  I didn’t see how that mattered.
  “Wait…” He frowned. “Died? How did you find me?”
  “We both washed up here.”
  For a long moment he just stared at me. I stared back.
  “Thank you.” He said at last. “I am in your debt.”
  I blanked. He didn’t wait for a response, planting his hands and pushing himself to his feet with a groan. This I was thankful for. I didn’t even know what response I would give to anything right now. Conflict raged in my heart like the current that had brought me here, and  overwhelmed any potentially logical thought I might have been able to muster had I any energy left to do so.
  “Now,” Dana said, obviously not suffering the same affliction as myself. Which I was also thankful for. “First thing’s first.”
  I watched him stagger to the pool and stoop. He tasted the water before nodding. “Underground spring. It’s fresh.”
  “Is that significant?”
  He knelt and took several long draughts of the water before answering, “Yes. It’s drinkable. Don’t move from there, though; rest a moment.”
  “That will not be a problem.” I said. “I had more than enough to drink on the way here.”
  “Aye, but we’ll be wanting it later on more than not.” Taking a small canteen from his belt, which had somehow remained attached through the rage of the journey here, he dipped it beneath the surface to fill it with water. His hands moved with lingering clumsiness, but otherwise he didn’t appear any worse for wear from our unorthodox escape route. “Supplies especially, if we’re to be out here for much longer.”
  I scooted back a few feet to rest against the trunk of one of the pine trees. “How long before they think to search for us?”
  Returning to the bank, he sat down with a sigh a few feet away and shrugged. “I’ve no idea. That side passage was abandoned from castle use due to cave-ins many years ago.” He said. “I know for certain Set didn’t trick me; I had no idea what was down that way.”
  That at least was comforting.
  Silence began to settle, but suddenly he slapped his forehead. “Of course! That’s brilliant.”
  I frowned, glancing in his direction, and found him to be peering up at the sheer cliff face at the base of which sat the little pool with the river pouring into it from a dark, gaping cavern.
  “Campbell’s fortress; it’s back face is built out of a solitary mountain.” He motioned with his hand. “We’re on the other side. The watercourse must have shot us right through.”
  “Oh.” I attempted to visualize this in my head, but my mind rebelled, too tired to make it make sense.
  It must have showed, for Dana continued, “Meaning, unless they come the way we came, it would take any pursuers nearly an entire day to find us here. Even if they knew where we were.”
  I raised my brows. “Oh…” While still unable to fully visualize, the amount of time it would take any of Ross’s men to reach us eased some of my tension.
  “Even still, I don’t feel entirely like running anywhere at the moment.” He shifted with a wince, glancing about the area again. “This place looks well sheltered. My vote, we find a clump of bushes and rest for a few hours.”
  I just nodded.
  Wearily, he stumbled to his feet. “Hold on, I’ll find someplace and come back for you.”
  I didn’t even think to protest. “All right.”
  His gait grew stronger as he walked away and vanished amidst the trees.
  The moment he was out of sight, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. All I could think of was my brothers. Percy and Seph. One of them would die unless a miracle occurred. And I could do nothing. Nothing. It made me numb. Tears welled up in my heart though my eyes remained dry.
  Well. As dry as they could considering the events of the past quarter of an hour.
  I couldn’t help but wonder…. If they died…. Then what would I do?
  “Pen?” Dana’s voice broke my thoughts.
  I opened my eyes to see him walking towards me again. “There’s a dip in a clump of bushes a few yards in. Should work well enough.”
  With a nod, I pushed myself to my feet, using the tree for support. “You sure they won’t be able to find us?”
  “No.” He said frankly. A look of concern drew his brows downward, and he stepped closer. “You need help getting up?”
  “I’m okay.” To prove it, I straightened, slipping my hand off the tree. “Where’s the spot?”
  Turning, he led the way into the trees. I forced my uncooperative footsteps to remain steady to avoid worrying him any further as I followed him.
  “Once you get in, the cover is thick enough to hide you” He said, pointing to a small clump of bushes that lied within the confines of three trees. “I’ll cover any damage to it when you’re in to mask your trail.”
  I frowned sidelong at him, observing the lingering weariness in his demeanor, despite his efforts. “Are you keeping watch?”
  “I’ll do my best to, but…. I don’t think either of us are in any condition to be doing much of anything. It feels….safe here, somehow. Like…. Moving would be worse than staying, if that makes any sense.”
  “Well, wake me in an hour, and I’ll spell you.”
  “I will. If I remember to…” He nodded towards the underbrush. “Go on, in you go. You’re hardly in a state fit to stand, from all appearances.”
  “I’m not the one who almost died.” I mumbled.
  Crouching, I ducked down into the makeshift den. The earthy scent of damp pine needles filled my nostrils and sunlight dappled down from above me into my secret little hiding place. I heard Dana re-arranging the brush to make my entry undetectable as I curled into a damp heap against the ground and let myself descend rapidly into the oblivion of slumber.

Friday, February 22, 2013

For The Greatest Good -- Season Two Banner

Given the ridiculously long gap between the last section I posted, and the one I'm going to post soon, I've decided to split FtGG into two 'seasons'. As you can see, I watch a lot of TV shows. Yeah.

So, Season Two of For The Greatest Good is now premiering!

See? I even made an official-ish looking banner. I ought to make one for season 1, but I'll do that later.

Dia duit,

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine's Day Post

Often on Valentine's Day, I've found, many forget that there are other kinds of love besides romantic. In all my life I've never had a single romantic valentine. Never once, however, have I engaged in the "Singleness Awareness Day" concept. Love is not just romantic, and I have so very many wonderful, un-romantic relationships in my life that are far more worth celebrating, and indeed ought to be celebrated. So here I am going to take the time and space to wish a very happy day to all those who have touched my heart in their own, many different ways. I'm blessed to know you all.

Happy Valentine's Day to....

.....my Dad, who has been my valentine every single year from the day I was born. I love you so much, Dad.
.....my Mother, who has always shared her V-Day chocolate with me. And that's no small sacrifice. Thanks, Mom.
.....Percy and Seph, seriously the awesomest (and most handsome) brothers any sister could ever ask for. Ever.
.....Rosie and Pippin. You two are the most adorable sisters in the world. <3
....my Grandparents, whose smiles brighten my days. Thank you for every hug, kiss, and cookie you're even now still giving me.
.....Ani, my wonderful best friend, who has put up with my craziness for her whole life, and still loves me anyway. You mean more to me than you'll ever imagine.
.....Wynni, my ENFP twin, who told me she knows I'll never leave her. Day = made. You are a bright sparkly jewel and I love you to bits.
.....taking an enormous risk here, I shall say to Dana, also, whose steady, insightful, and above all fully trustworthy friendship I value greatly.
.....the Orchard Family. You know who you are. *HUG*
.....all the friends I've made and lost over the years. I still think about you sometimes.
.....Trinity! Your enthusiastic interest in my blog has been encouraging and inspirational in its own little way. ^.^
.....my writer friends -- R.G. Nairam, Katana Kain, Hannah Mills -- who have given me more blessings and encouragement than I could possibly count.
.....everyone at King's Avenue Baptist Church, Brandon, FL. <3

Dia duit,

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crossfire -- Why It Worked

A completely impromptu IG that culminated in a neat storyline, endless action, and all around inclusion of everyone involved. How'd we manage that?

1. We play together a lot. One of the factors is that we all know each other's play styles pretty well, and thus any clashes we may have had in the past have been worked out to where they don't come up anymore.

2. Good sportsmanship. Honestly, this is the key to avoiding conflict between players that would otherwise distract and disrupt the flow of the storyline. Have clear rules, if needed, and use them to justify the other person's shots more often than you use them to justify your own. No "I hit you!" "No you didn't!" Arguments. If they said they hit you, just fall over, whether you think they did or not. Let them win, and roll with it. The more storyline conflict the better.

3. Staying in character. The characters drove the entire story of Crossfire. Secrets, turncoats, and double agents. One important factor was that we all remained in character during the game. That doesn't sound too difficult, until you take into account the fact that there were times when we would pause the game to talk to each other as ourselves or do something for Mother. At one point, the boys planned an infiltration into my bedroom, but like proper gentlemen, knocked on the door first to ensure this course of action had the go ahead. With the game paused, we assured them it would be fine, and then we had to go back to our oblivious characters without taking up defensive positions because techinically, in game, our characters would not have known about the imminent threat. This is what I mean by staying in character. Don't use out of game knowledge to influence your in game character's decisions. 'Cause technically that's cheating.

4. Inclusive teams. We played this game with myself, all the way down to my six year old little brother. If you haven't played with littler kids before -- all kids ages eleven and under count as littler, comparitively -- you know that advanced plots and characters don't work very well when they have to try and maintain a major role. So the key is to be creative and accomodating, while not making them feel relegated or insignificant. Often this can be achieved through creating a Wildcard Team. In the instance of Crossfire, it was the Russian Mob. While not what one might consider main characters in the game, they were certainly major players, and had real effect on the course of the story. Being on their own team also allowed them the freedom to do as they wished, not having to follow the orders of the older kids' teams. As a result, they added a much welcome element of unpredictability that gave the game a three dimensional feel to it.

5. Storytelling to suit. Last but not least, this game was completely unplanned. In some cases I think it's better to not plan IGs, because then the story takes shape around whatever material happens to be on hand, and continues on with a sort of flexibility that sometimes can't be found in planned IGs. When the basic plotline of an IG is already established, there is a certain ammount of pressure to remain within those parameters. Now, I don't think unplanned is better than planned in every case -- planned IGs allow much more depth of detail -- but if flexibility is desired, unplanned is the way to go. Just jump in and go with the flow.

6. Guns over swords. Seriously, this really helped. There's just something about a good ol' invisible bullet firefight. It's much faster, much less unwieldy, and much less dangerous (I cracked my knuckle PVC pipe sword dueling Seph, once). Plus we did this inside, so swords were already out of the question.

That's pretty much all I can think of at the moment. Hopefully it's a little bit helpful to those other big families that like to still play shoot 'em up in the house every now and then.

Dia duit,

Friday, February 8, 2013

Crossfire -- Spies and Secrets Impromptu IG

American agents, rogue British black ops, and, of course, Russians. One top secret document, two decoys, and a whole lot of gunfire.

That's how my siblings and I spent our Friday evening. It began with Pippin stuffing one of my old purses full of spy gear -- 'fake' ID, driver's lisence, credit card, a gun, and some 'cash' -- and giving it to Rosie along with a top secret document for her to keep safe. All through the day, between the rest of daily life, the satchel was stolen and re-stolen by Rosie and Pippin, and Percy and Seph, who quickly joined in on the little game.

But this evening, it all came to a grand climax. I can't even remember how the game started, but all of the sudden, ammo-less nerf and airsoft guns were firing, and it came time for everyone to choose a side.

"How many sides are there?" I whispered to Percy while we hid together in a hallway, our guns ready. "Two sides...... or three?"

I had to know whether or not I was going to team up with him, or if in the end we would have to be enemies. Pippin had entrusted me with the satchel earlier that day. I'd seen the top secret document. Not only that, but I was responsible for more secretly hiding the actual document within its yellow envelope. No one else but Pippin and I knew of this arrangement, so it would be a cinch to give Percy this info, stage an ambush, and make sure he got the right file. Then we'd both split and sell it to the highest bidder.

So two sides, or three?

As the game continued, the sides became more and more distinct. Amidst the crossfire, alliances had to be formed, or there would be no chance of survival or success for any of us. Pippin and Rosie, government agents, the real owners of the document. Percy and Seph, rogue British black ops. The younger children of the group played the very convenient -- or inconvenient at times -- role of a Russian Mob. This they enjoyed quite a bit, as it meant they could shoot any or all of us and throw grenades and bombs. Wildcards, if you will.

In the end, I declared my final loyalty to my sisters, the American government. Though of course, this meant betrayal to Percy. Not that he had to know right away..... I allowed Percy and Seph to believe I was still on their side, with the idea of tricking them into believing one of the decoy documents was the real document, and thus ensuring the actual real document ended up in the right hands.

This was far trickier than I imagined. Several slip ups, and many complications in maintaining my cover, ended up in the document constantly swapping hands. A third document was created to cause further confusion, but the documents weren't the only things changing sides. In one confrontation in the kitchen, Seph revealed himself as a mole. American CIA. Which left Percy alone in his villainous task.

Or did it?

Losing trust with both sides, suffering guilt for my betrayal to Percy, and beginning to doubt Seph's own story about being a mole, I became more and more desperate. I took heart in the knowledge that Pippin had, she said, hidden the document somewhere safe.

Bullets flew, almost as fast as the accusations. Seph captured Percy and turned him over to Pippin and Rosie. Was he really a mole afterall? In an epic escape that involved shooting his captors with his guard's own gun, Percy escaped. When I returned to his hideout, I discovered Seph, who had apparently helped engineer the entire mission. Not a mole?

Neither side trusted me. I was held at gunpoint and shot by both sides so many times, neither of them could tell for sure whether I was working for them or playing them.

At last came the showdown. After a dizzying firefight, Percy, Seph, and I ended up back upstairs in the hideout. Percy drew his gun on both of us.

"Tell me which one of you is the mole."

Seph accused me. I accused him. Even though I was certain by now that his whole mole gig was just an act to get on Pippin and Rosie's good side.

Percy made us drop our weapons, at which point Seph quite willingly produced one.....then two......then three yellow envelopes, all marked top secret. I panicked. Pippin said she'd hidden the document somewhere safe! I couldn't fathom how Seph had gotten his hands on it. And I was out of plans for how to get it back, except cling to the fact that Percy still thought one of the decoys was the real deal.

"Verify it." He ordered, still holding us at gunpoint.

I did so. On the decoy. I insisted it was the real thing. Seph decried my efforts, saying I was a mole, so how could I be trusted? I flipped the same accusation on him. After all, he was in the same spot as I was, looking just as suspicious because of his infiltration attempts.

The argument grew heated. Percy finally ordered us both to back away. A silence ensued, then at last, he shot us both, and took off with all three of the documents.

We called a halt to the game there, as it was getting late. We all sat down and revealed our secrets. Mostly who was working with who, for it had become quite difficult to ascertain loyalties in the end. As I'd suspected, Seph wasn't really a mole; his loyalties remained with Percy. Percy was shocked to discover my betrayal and trickery, which I informed him I still felt bad about. Pippin told me she'd always trusted me, even though Rosie admitted she had grown exceedingly suspicious of my actions several times.

And then the bomb. I sighed about the villains having gotten the document. Until Pippin reached into her pocket, and pulled the real top secret document out of her pocket. We all gasped. I couldn't believe it.

"I took it out of the envelope just before the last fight," She explained with a grin. "and I hid it under the piano. Only Rosie knew about it."

So Percy had escaped with two decoys, and an empty envelope! I had been panicking that he'd gotten it, when Pippin had had it all along! Seph had stolen worthless information, and he hadn't even known it.

And this is why we still play Imagination Games. Completely impromptu, completely unscripted, completely awesome. And what's more, we played this entirely inside, with no more costuming than a few fedoras, a red trench coat, and some plastic guns.

I love my family.

Dia duit,