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GM

 

July 30th, 2017, 12.12PM

Nolan Airfields, Emerald City

 

@olopi

@Sailor

 

Nolan Aerospace's proud and elite cadre of pilots, trained in the rigors of modern search, rescue and survival techniques, were assembled on the airfield for a very abrupt mission.

 

Also in attendance was a smaller team of marginally less-fit people, almost all with glasses and pale skin from a decade or so indoors.

 

"Okay, team, this is the situation!" Carrie Ping had to yell to be heard over the spectral howling that rang in the air. With one hand busy holding her coat's neon orange hood down, she used the one with the tablet to point at the scene right above their heads.

 

An enormous, pulsating cloud of neon green, violet and orange swam and writhed a hundred thousand feet in the air, wrapped and skulming over the chassis of an immobile passenger jet. Sometimes the forms that burst from the cloud, or coalesced within its depths, looked almost human. Like people screaming and struggling to escape. But they always collapsed back into the great morass. The shadows it cast across the Emerald Cities Valley weaved with colour to create some truly unsettling sights.

 

"We have no idea what that is, or what it's doing! ASTRO Labs and Archetech claim it's some kind of partial tear in our dimensional fabric, but even that much isn't for sure! All we know is it burst out of nowhere, grabbed the plane and started screaming!"

 

"J-C Base dispatched some recon craft, but they couldn't even get into the cloud! Archetech has called Citizen, but he won't be here for hours, something's going on over in 'Jersey! Your job is to try and get to the plane, free it if possible!"

 

The screams rose to a howling shriek, like the inner wall of a cyclone. For a moment everyone there had to cover their ears and wait for the rattling in their skulls to stop.

 

"If not-! Sweet Sidda, my ears...if not, evacuate everyone you can! Techs, WestRock probably already told you, but you're needed in case the plane's systems are damaged, and all of it runs on WestRock software!"

 

With a semi-free hand, Carrie pointed to Anne, Jaime and Hakim.

 

"You three! You get to take point! The rest will follow your lead! Jaime, is the Peregrine prepped and ready?"

 

"'Course she is, boss! No thanks to the pilot!" The red-haired woman who'd answered grinned easily and looked thoroughly relaxed, despite the bizarre situation. Putting an arm around Anne's shoulder she squeezed against her "Just my luck I love a sleepyhead!"

 

"That's great!" Carrie gave a thoroughly unenthusiastic thumbs-up "Go with peace, people! We'll be praying for your safe return! Please, please, please do not do anything stupid to try and be heroes!" She gave a sharp wave to encompass the group as a whole "Dismissed! Everyone to your stations! Good luck!"

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Levity

 

Anne quirked an eyebrow at Jaime as the blue suits of the flight support team got the intake covers and other protective covers off of the Peregrine as Anne started her pre-flight inspection. She stood out even among the teams combination of blue and safety yellow, as her flight suit looked more like what a starfighter pilot would have on, not someone stepping into one of the more advanced fighter aircraft developed by Nolan... at least one of the more advanced that didn't win a contract. The prototype was one-of-a-kind... it's sister went down in the incident where Anne got her powers.

 

"So, what do they got you doing, Jaime, while I'm flying around that light show telling the scientists it won't grow them a third eye?"

 

"On standby, gotta head to the cockpit of that NA-90 over there." Jaime said, pointing to A Orange and Blue helicopter over at a Helicopter pad near the taxiway. "NEAR wants all hands on deck. Apparently that aircraft that's being stuck in up there isn't empty..."

 

Anne sighed as she walked over to her egress ladder to the cockpit of her craft. "Well, can't leave ya waitin' if I have to hit the silk I'd like you to be the first face I see. Jusqu'à ce que je retourne." ["Until I return" - From French]

 

Jaime winked as she pulled up the cowl of her anti-exposure flightsuit, and got her helmet in place. "Hopefully that's not in the script... Would rather you came back with that bird. La soie ne te rend pas justice." ["Silk doesn't do you Justice" - From French]

 

Anne sighed as she put on her helmet, getting herself into her seat, buckling the seat restraints to her flight harness, and plugging in the plane's own air supply into her life support pack. She adjusted her suit a bit, as the plane's flight systems came online... she closed the visor on her helmet, the plane's HUD came online on it, as the engines hum to life once the ladder is cleared from the airframe and the workers scurry away.

 

"Levity, Flight NX-42099-B Requesting clearance to enter controlled airspace."

 

"Granted... this is NAX Air Traffic Control, you're cleared for take-off, use primary runway, Pure VTOL is not recommended for take-off."

 

"Noted."

 

She hesitates on getting the engines fully running as she looks around, keeping her windscreen up... "Hey, Hakim... any gameplan here?"

 

She also made sure she said that over the channel allocated to the team through NEAR... in case he had a communications method. She looked in the empty backseat and the large scanner pod on her right wing. "Seems you're a passenger today."

Edited by Sailor

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This certainly counted as Hakim’s strangest assignment with WestRock so far. And the most high-risk one too. The fact he was on it was a bit surprising too, and would probably create some issues further down the line. He’d actually never worked on this specific software, as he’d been dealing with a serious but low-priority issue in WestRock’s Geotracking system at the time. So he, by any means, was not qualified to deal with whatever was happening.

 

 

Except that he could call on more than his personal knowledge. He was the person at WestRock most suited to the job, simply because he was able to do things all of them weren’t. He wasn’t nearly as likely to die when faced with something going wrong. And if it had taken him a minor mind-control spell to be the person leading the entire thing, then he was okay with that. Nobody had to know. That was the nice thing about Thorgen’s Suggestions.  

 

 

Holding a tablet, and carrying his signature notebook, Hakim got in. He’d decided to go with a fancy aviator jacket, which he’d clearly not just summoned into his bag moments before arriving. He adjusted his scarf over it, booted up the tablet, and responded.

 

 

“Get me close. Signal’s not strong enough from down here, but if we can manage to stay close to it, I might be able to get in and troubleshoot. That’s step one. From there … no idea, we’ll see. Hope one of the heroes shows up, I suppose. “

 

 

It was true. Perhaps, with the uplink and the various antennas he had available, he could get the signal strong enough to get through whatever it was. But that was unlikely. With a few minor adjustments on a different plane, however … And there was always the digi-scape. It had worked before, maybe it would again.

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GM

 

For Hakim there was a horrible rush and feeling like his stomach was being left far, far behind, and then they were soaring high above the Emerald Cities, racing pell-mell for the screaming cloud.

 

It was worse in the air, a little painful, even. Like the air was trying to rattle their skulls to bits.

 

For Anne, it glorious. The Peregrine obeyed the slightest whim like an extension of the self, skimming and gliding with an elegance and grace akin to a living creature. The world expanded and unfolded, its imperfections softening in the democratizing distance.

 

But this wasn't a pleasure flight and their target all-too quickly came into range.

 

Range of what was discovered at the same time.

 

Hakim's tablet suddenly flashed, its screen turning into a gaping window to the void. Two green eyes opened in the darkness, slitted like cats.

 

A spectral claw snarled out of the screen and seized Hakim by the throat, a deep, groaning voice hissing "Make. Me. Live." In the depths there was a flash, and for the barest instant, Hakim saw the head and furious snarl of a dragon.

 

Meanwhile, the great cloud seemed to sense the approaching the Peregrine. Tendrils or fingers began to stretch out, trying to catch the aircraft!

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Levity

 

Levity was impressed... the simulators at base she sometime requested to go up against known aircraft operated by science-based terrorists, mercenaries, and supervillains, and there was one she loved fighting every time... most of the time though she'd get shot down and killed but...

 

"Hakim... I hope ya liked breakfast you might be tastin' it again."

 

She remembered that certain aircraft would send a cluster of separating missiles screaming at her. Backing it by a bullet-storm that would make a bullet-hell video game look tame. But there was a hole she knew she could possibly thread through with the right plane... the reflexes needed though to thread the gap was... possibly behind her. But this time this... whatever it was... gave her some lead time. That and she spotted an opportunity...

"Or... maybe not. But if needed, that handle between your legs pull that if I say so... or all that's left of me is chunky salsa... shoulda gave you a full safety briefing but..."

 

She did something no one would expect, she hit her airbrakes, deploying emergency drogue chutes used to quickly slow the aircraft in a short-runway emergency, cutting her total airspeed to the threat of a stall, pushing her engines using vector thrust to allow the grasping tendrils to overshoot the aircraft for a moment, supported only by it's engines whining as they send thrust into the VTOL systems. Then in a well rehearsed motion cut away the airbrake chutes, closing her physical airbrakes at the same time and pushed the engines into full vectored afterburner to get clear of the "storm" and to the last known "safe" distance from whatever THAT was...

No other pilot would calmly consider their options when something clearly paranormal was trying to grab them from the sky. But Levity's reaction was... surprising. She switched her helmet mic so Hakim could hear her... but temporarily the base wouldn't be able to hear what they were saying.

 

"We need a plan, Hakim... whatever almost got us has that passenger plane... That isn't good. Particularly if someone manages to close whatever is causing that anomaly. That plane's at Zero airspeed and if it lets go that plane might not have enough time to recover..." She says, keeping the plane orbiting around the storm, but further than where it was when it tried to grab her... "...Should we return to base and regroup?"

 

There wasn't any fear in her voice, but there was concern as to what the next step would be. She wasn't going to put a civilian at risk, even if she went in there alone, Hakim would be left in the jet, helpless to whatever that thing's whims were... even if the aircraft was on auto pilot. This wasn't a test flight with an engineered trained in how to handle a flight emergency. "I'm NOT putting a civilian's life at risk."

Edited by Sailor

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So much for something Hakim Naifeh could deal with. This was as good a time as any for Sha’ir the Spellsmith. But of course, he was currently occupied. So Hakim, with a bit of assistance, would have to do.  He turned on his radio, giving a quick update, before getting to work.

 

“Yeah, we’ll need some capes up here. I’ll see what I can do ‘till then. “

 

A dragon then. How did one fight a dragon? Preferably in a way that didn’t –

And then, more sudden airplane movements. These were times Hakim was glad personal flight was a lot less severe on the turbulence. His laptop scattered around a bit, but thanks to some incredibly quick reflexes (and/or a minor telekinesis spell), he could hold onto it. He got towards establishing a link to the plane’s software immediately, replying while waiting for the computer to work it’s magic.

 

“Regroup if we can, doubt we have the time. Trying to access it now, but this is above our paygrade.”

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Levity

 

She sighed. Looking at the aircraft trapped in the sky... "Your pay grade... mine's to take the risks. But not with you in back."

 

She turned on the standard radio. "Base this is Levity... returning Hakim to the airfield, these skys are HOSTILE, I repeat... HOSTILE."

 

She turned back to the airfield. "Do we have any more metahuman assets in route?" she said over the radio.

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GM

 

~"Receiving you, Levity, we saw what's happening. Get down here soon as you can, there's-"~

 

"NO!"

That was right in her and Hakim's ears at once, and then the fingers closed. 

 

They had missed the plane, but the seething cloud burst out like a flood to engulf fifty thousand feet in every direction, just managing to enshroud the Peregrine in its roiling, screaming haze.

 

Inside it was like the depths of Hell, the agonized shrieking and flashing, psychedelic glare of the cloud making attempting to focus on almost anything torturous. The rescue plane, trapped with the people it was intended to save, moved like it was driving through pudding. But gravity didn't seem to matter, and neither did momentum.

 

Meanwhile, the dragon kept one ethereal claw around Hakim's neck, whispering savagely "Harken, mortal. I can help. I too am trapped here, with this scum, but you...you have the Gift." The emerald eyes seemed to sink into Hakim's heart.

 

"Vow to free even one claw from this pit, and I will stop the screams. Your magic will not suffice against these shades, not alone..."

 

Already, the howling and wailing was starting to make the pair's heads pound.

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Levity clutched her controls... This definitely wasn't no storm she'd ever expected, and hearing the screaming.

 

"Okay... this has escalated drastically." She said... the engines strained in the new environment. The only thing Levity needed to keep her focus in this mess was the aircraft itself... then again the aircraft thought it's airspeed was too low, even though with the molasses of the new environment was causing a high-performance aircraft at full afterburner to move in such a manner.

 

"You still with me, Hakim? Seems we're in the mother of all jello now." She said, using the sole IFF in the area, that of the rescue aircraft as a landmark to fly to. She put her aircraft into a synced speed once it pulled up. "Okay... something tells me the laws of physics and aerodynamics don't mean anything here." She said turning to Hakim. "We're flying as fast as we could walk, yet keeping aloft..."

 

"We could probably safely open the windscreen at this point... I'll pull up to the wing of the plane and put the Peregrine into auto-pilot, to orbit the rescue aircraft at a safe distance once we've disembarked on to that plane's wing."

 

"We can enter through that emergency exit hatch there on the starboard side." She said, pointing to a panel with a red square framing it. One of the evacuation hatches over it's wings. "Judging from the ghostly crowd we might wanna close up that hatch behind us ASAP."

 

"At this point... if you got any answers... would love to hear them... that and any ideas."

Edited by Sailor

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Well, this had gone different than he’d expected. This was a position he wouldn’t really get out of either way, which was just awesome, considering he was still just Hakim Naifeh. And that didn’t even mentioned just where the two of them now where. Whatever this …place was, it was full of magic. Interesting. It had an effect, attacking his mind. Which never meant anything good.

 

He did his best to ignore the actual dragon trying to … whatever he was doing. Trying to convince him to do something. Helping him? That seemed like a deal with the devil. Dragons, from what he’d gathered, weren’t exactly to be trusted in most situations. But it was a path that he could keep open for now, perhaps it would come in handy. He just had to not panic. Somehow that was a lot easier than he’d expected. With all of this going on, everything he had to consider, panicking felt like a bad idea. At least internally.

 

He did his best to put on a bit of a show. Looking a bit panicked, fast breathing, clutching his PC. Meanwhile, he worked on an illusion spell by drawing the necessary runes into his arm with his pen. On the Peregrine’s wing  a portal appeared, and Sha’ir the Spellsmith stepped through, barely moving, just raising his arm.

 

“I’ll help you get out, this one is mine. “

 

“####. No idea. I’m staying in here, I’m not moving … out there, whatever that is. Even if there’s a cape around.”

 

It all worked pretty well, and while Sha’ir was still talking, Hakim continued to freak out.

 

“I’m an IT, not a cape! Hey, why do I fe- what’s happ-“

 

He simply faded out, quickly becoming invisible. Or so it would look, at least. It was a teleportation spell, one used for situations where some degree of stealth was necessary. And (hopefully) without Levity realizing it, the fake Sha’ir was replaced by the real deal.

 

“I’ve teleported him to a safe location, do you want to stay?”

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Levity quirked an eyebrow as she opened the windscreen... "Actually I think my business is catching this flight over here..." She said, pointing a thumb to the plane she was flying next to. "I'll get us in, the Peregrine will hold course next to us."

 

Something about this seemed convenient, but considering the situation having this mysterious newcomer get a civilian out of harm's way who looked like he might know a few things about this... was welcome. "I'll watch your back, but with the weirdness about, not sure if I'd be effective." She said, standing on the wing on the side the rescue plane was. "Not sure at all what's happening... I'll get the emergency hatch open, get you in, and close up behind us." She gestured to the rescue plane's wing. "After you? And if you got any ideas would be a good time to hear 'em."

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GM

 

The screaming steadily increased in pitch and volume as the Peregrine made its slow, steady way towards Flight 286, which in the kaleidescopic haze resolved only reluctantly into a solid grey-white mass.

 

Flight 286 was unhurt and the duo could see the passengers pressing their faces against the windows, pointing and wondering about the bizarre sight of a sleek, futuristic jet crawling awkwardly towards them.

 

"Do not be decieved" the dragon's breath was...muggy, like a waft from a swamp. Eerie in its stark contrast from the bloodless lightshow, the dragon's voice gurgled and rustled "You know the power of false appearances. There are no barriers here."

 

Suddenly, the Peregrine's radio crackled unsteadily to life "2-6, w---door---open u-?" From the windows, the flight attendants could be seen beckoning and signalling to the doors placed along the plane's hull. The markings on the aircraft were in English, but the company and logo on the tailfin weren't anything even Anne had ever seen, something that might be a small or select outfit. 

 

An especially piercing wail sent tingles through the two heroes' bones, making Sha'ir's filling burn.

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Levity scratched her head... well more her helmet at the change of things...

 

"Nice of them to open a door..."

 

She unbuckles her restraints, making sure everything was in place before setting her aircraft to autopilot and hovering out, closing the windscreen. She sets her remote control to have the Peregrine shadow the larger plane to it's starboard side.

 

"Sha'ir... I got a feeling this matter is something more in your expertise, but I can handle issues with this aircraft." She says, landing on the wing and walking to the emergency door over it. If there was an in-flight emergency, she could handle it. Hopefully. Using her personal radio she responds. "Levity here, I'm from Nolan Emergency Aid and Response. With a +1." She said, gesturing to Sha'ir. "I'll give a once-over to your flight capabilities and assist your pilots. Everything seems flightworthy but considering the situation..."

 

"Permission to board?"

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The entire situation was confusing. More so than things involving magic. Those usually had something that he could work with. In this case, all he had was some cluster####, and a dragon. And pain. But that one seemed to go with applications of magic on the field.

 

Hakim didn’t have a clue what to do now. He couldn’t recognize the magic, so picking it apart wasn’t an option. And it made countering way too risky, especially with the amount of people around. So really, there was only one option. One Hakim didn’t like at all. He didn’t trust dragons. Probably thanks to pop culture, but he felt like there was something that that just made him incredibly suspicious of whatever a dragon may try.

 

Still, it was his best option, and so, he responded. “Let me know what forces restrain you, and I will weaken them.” At the same time, he opened his spellbook. It was time to get to work properly.  

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GM

 

"...ishion...gran..ome aboar..." With a final squeal the transmission cut out, the door nearest the Peregrine sliding open with none of the force you'd expect in different pressures colliding. Three attendants helped keep a corridor open for the two heroes to get aboard, the passengers crowding the edges trying to get a closer look at the strange duo come to rescue them from this bizarre enclosure.

 

"'Scuse me, coming through!" a short, stocky man with a thick head of hair and a pointed beard pushed through to the hatchway, pulling a gold-brimmed hat back onto his head with slightly excessive force "I'm the pilot, Xin Liu, you're the people here to fix the plane?" he looked askance at Hakim "...And do something about this cloud, I suppose? I'll take you to this thing's guts, Levity. Co-pilot's up front, if you need more info," he added to Sha'ir before shouldering on through the press of peering, whispering people in economy, heading for the back of the plane with a wave to Levity.

 

Unbound souls. My lawful subjects, rebels against the ancient order. This slough is their body and mine, a prison of my own invincible flesh. This contradiction cannot stand against itself, prove its impossibility and this mirror will shatter. The dragon sounded a little more relaxed now that it had Sha'ir's attention and cooperation, retreating its ephemeral claw back into the abyss lurking behind Hakim's inner eye.

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Oh, you ju-

 

Hakim was about to think about what he felt of the current situation, when he caught himself at the last moment. With all that was going on, any active thinking probably wasn’t a good idea, all he knew the dragon could read his mind. And if that was the case, the dragon now was aware that Hakim was aware. And so on.

 

But something had to be done, no matter what allegiances lay where. Even if Hakim still didn’t have any real idea of what was happening. Some presumptions, but that was it. Still, there had to be some sort of source to all of this. Some point the magic was concentrated on. Some sort of point he could attack, whether literally or not, to get into the magical structure of it all and unravel it.

 

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He let his Scarf’s magic do the work, as it altered his vision to point out any source of magic. Which, on this place, probably would be just about everything.  Then, slowly, he opened them again, ready for a wave of magic to roll over him.

 

All the while, he commanded his book to pull up the section he had on Chinese mythological creatures. Perhaps it would know something.

 

Of course, to the outside observer he was just floating around without doing anything.

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Levity looked around at the aircraft thinking their situation would be beyond her... but then she looked at the engine... or what should be an engine... but evidence from even a cursory view from inside the aircraft told her it was a prop. In fact more and more of what she's looking around at the more fake it was. Even the radio on the Pilot's hip... which in general shouldn't be something to have been expected was nothing more than a high-grade child's toy.

 

She quirked her eyes as she leaned on a seat, gesturing for Sha'ir to come over to her at ear shot...

 

Anyone else would be shaken to the core about this strange turn of events, but her... well she'd better tell him one on one everything here's a fake... nothing more than Hollywood props and set pieces. At least to her. How the heck this was airborne was beyond her, but everything has gone full gonzo weird, so this was expected to be more strangeness.

Edited by Sailor

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GM

 

The book was quite helpful. It had seemingly anticipated Sha'ir's wishes and flipped itself neatly to the page on those powers who judged and ruled over the dead. Among them was a green dragon, formed from the forests of both land and sea named Ao Guang. The majority of the text was about how spirits, once departed from their physical shells, were warped by their pasts sins or fixations into parodies of themselves, with a great deal of stress on the necessity of a balanced and healthy lifestyle to avoid some horrible fate. 

 

It was, frankly, a little too pointed in talking about the sins of gluttony.

 

What it had to say about whispering ghosts and twisting ghosts was particularly interesting. Able to become any person(whispers) or anything(twists), they were the ghosts of people who tried to abuse the legal system to serve their own ends or had grown obsessed with material goods and wealth. Somehow, that had led to their downfall and death.

 

But there was a caveat: some of these ghosts were the victims of people so afflicted, who had lost everything to the courts or who had been ruined by greedy relatives.

 

They had no friend in Ao Guang. The green dragon had always been opposed to and hated humanity and was always looking for ways to trick or corrupt them. Once they died and fell into his claws, they suffered. Sometimes a great hero had risen up and rescued the souls from his fastnesses in the dark forests and swamps, but sooner or later he would steer more of the miserable dead through his gates. 

 

Of course the legends stemmed from centuries ago, nobody having claimed to see giant green dragons lurking in the woodland castles or owning undersea palaces in the age of satellite photography or deep-sea exploration. The most 'recent' thing Hakim could find was him serving as the villain in stories about the hero-god Nezha, metaphors for humanity's conquest of the natural world and its systems supplanting the chaos of nature. 

 

-----------------------------------------

 

"What do you make of all this, uh...Levity?" the pilot Liu gestured expansively to the flapless wings and bogglingly-unsecured windows "I've been all over this thing and nothing's like what it's supposed to be, you know? But it wasn't like this when we were coming over the Emeralds, couldn't stay in the air if it was." He wiped sweat from his face with one sleeve "If we get out of this, my plane just crashes. There's a weird singing in the air and nothing works, except the onboard radio, but we have food and water enough to last us a few days. That long enough to get us all out of here?"

 

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Me: One. Dragons: Zero.

 

As it had turned out, being a bit wary of dragons probably was a good thing in this case. The book was helpful, this meant that at least Hakim had an idea what the entire thing was about. Some sort of purgatory, with a big boss at the top. One who was apparently renowned for trickery.

 

There wasn’t much to go on about this exact situation, but maybe the Nezha tale was something he could rely on. For now, he had a different plan. He’d only need to create some sort of mental connection with Levity first. There were a few spells he could use for that, and he just went for the most foolproof one.

 

“Hello, hello? This is Sha’ir, please nod with your head if you can hear me. Quick update, we’re in some sort of trickster purgatory, don’t trust anything. I’m gonna figure out who in here is real. I might have an idea, but it’d take a while to explain.”

 

With that said, he now concentrated on something different. By taking a spell which summoned the resident ghosts of an area and switching a few things over to his enchanted scarf, he could create a sort of ghost-vision, which would hopefully highlight just who was a recently departed soul in this entire mess.

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Levity nodded. "Yep, you got a clear signal. Everything in this darned plane is 100% fake... I got a feeling the people in here are too." she thought.

 

She leaned against an empty seat and pulled out a foil-like pack that should contain a life vest, but once she opened it it turned to dust. "The Captain is of the thinking he's been plopped into this situation, but until it's clear he's an unfortunate person caught up in this and not something else I'm thinking this whole thing is nothing but some paranormal facsimile. And a rather Fischer Price one at that... Your assessment only seals the deal."

 

"What flicks my nosecone is we have to be sure we're the only two people here... and I got a feeling if we rattle that cage we're going to be in a world of hurt... or at least me. You're the one who handles this stuff on it's level."

 

"Might be wise if I follow your lead and be your wingman."

 

She looked at the captain, then back to Sha'ir. She wasn't scared... she always seemed to people that she was never afraid at all. But she did have that knot in her stomach... but she processed that differently. She fought through. There was something her mom always told her before she died... "Being brave isn't not being afraid, it's being afraid and doing what ya gotta do anyways."

The expression on her face was determination... even if the whole world was getting stranger and more dangerous around her. But she wasn't smiling.

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GM

 

Sha'ir's deepened understanding translated into a new perspective for comprehending the unseen. Before his eyes, the entire plane melted away into inchoate vapor, and the cloud took on an unsettlingly scaled, muscular and...contracting aspect.

 

The passengers and crew were real, including Captain Liu standing dumbfounded in front of Anne, but the plane was about as real as a focus-tested love story and the seemingly-ephemeral mist was hiding something significantly more threatening than even some metaphysical hole into Hell screaming in anguish.

 

"How the Hell did you do that?!" Liu said, eyes wide and staring "You just...that amulet was made of solid jade! Nobody could-" suddenly, comprehension dawned and he began to back away.

 

"No, no! You're one of his. You're from the Dragon, he brought you here to help him escape!" Darting nimbly aside, Liu seized a flare gun from the wall-

 

-and for one brief, stomach-twisting second the entire plane shifted to reveal a much more archaic, traditional ancient Mandarin design, like some great flying boat, the flare gun turning to a flaming sword in Liu's hand as he rounded on Levity, his own square face as set and fierce as her own. Then, with all the grace of a snapping elastic band, the thing jerked back into a commercial airliner, and the burning blade into a signalling gun, the passengers nearby hurriedly trying to get away from the Captain as he threatened Anne.

 

"Depart, traitor!" he snarled, finger edging to the trigger "We'll get out of your trap and back to the land of the living, even if we have to send you to face your master ahead of schedule!" 

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