Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chapter 15: This Changes Everything

As Altin fought his way through the brambles and briars of the Unicorn's field, his mind was on other things. Particularly, he was promising the Watcher over and over again that he was never drinking again. EVER. Bad things happen when he drinks.

It's a pity he didn't have that revelation before he splurged for a new bar, though. Oh well. He certain wasn't about to stock it now.

The pinks and blues of sunset still shone in the sky as the Diamond's equine pedestal appeared through the mist. The fog played over the bronze, creating shifting shadows that made the statue almost look as if it were breathing. Creepy.

Time to finish this. He lightly set the stone on the pedestal, immediately yanking his hand back and backing away as if he expected it to explode, and...

...absolutely nothing happened.

Except for the arrival of the Unicorn, that is. 

Altin made a note to himself. Unicorns can teleport. Must remember that.

 /That's just a display, not a mystical artifact./ Huh. It was possible to sound patronizing in telepathy. Who knew? /It needs some help to make it work./

"What sort of help?"

/The magical kind./ The Unicorn pushed past him to reach the Diamond and bowed its head before it until its horn was nearly touching the bronze stand.

And then things got weird.

The Unicorn's horn began to glow. Then its eyes, and coat, and the Diamond, everything. Even the air around them danced with power. It flowed between the Unicorn and the Diamond in a loose beam before a thin tendril broke off to encircle him, too. Altin was almost too entranced to notice when he began to float. Almost.


/Please stay still. Your flailing is making it difficult for me to insulate you, and the feedback from the bonding process can be quite...uncomfortable. So I've heard./


/If you insist./

Then everything went black.

When Altin came to, his phone was shrilly ringing in his ears, the Unicorn was gone and the grove had changed completely. Life had returned, in a hundred different colors. As he groaned and sat up to grab for his phone, something rolled off his chest with a slight clink and fell to the ground. Altin caught a flash of the glittering pink, and retrieved the Celestial Diamond from the lush grass. The pulsing energy he had felt this morning was gone, returned to the Unicorn, and all that remained was the gem itself. 

Oh right, his phone. Checking his voicemail, Altin found three messages. Elsie's was nearly incoherent with glee over the real life unicorn that had showed up in their yard and could they please keep it please please please? The phone beeped over to the next message and Altin grumbled absentmindedly to himself as Agent Ryans' deep baritone came on, extolled his talents as an undercover informant and assured them that following that morning's successful arrest of one Erika Kanzler, wanted for conspiracy to commit grand theft, his record had been purged and he was a free man. Altin sighed as Ryans invited him over to some safehouse of the SCIA's for some "minor details" remaining, then blinked in surprise at the third caller.

Sage Oxendine? He hadn't heard from her since he fled Appaloosa Plains. She wanted to know what in the name of the Watcher he was getting himself into over here and suggested in no uncertain terms that the next time he decided to singlehandedly remove the most powerful member of the Organization, it would be nice if he could give his dear friend Oxy a little warning so she could prepare! Old age hadn't changed the old crook one bit.

Come to think of it, she might be able to help him with something. But he'd need to multi-task, there was another outstanding issue he needed to take care of. Altin consulted with Oxy all the way to City Hall, pausing only to sign the paperwork necessary to transfer ownership of the grove into his name. If there really was some sort of magical wormhole boundary whatchamacallit -- and after the incredible change surrounding him when he woke up, he believed it -- then the responsible thing to do was to see it safeguarded from those who would abuse it. And Altin was responsible. Sort of. Maybe. Okay, not really, but he bought the land anyway.

Maybe now he could go back to being a normal fugitive ex-con zebra owner.


Okay, progress report. As of this play session Altin's technically completed the Real Estate Powerhouse requirement for Generation 1, but because it was so cheap and because the storyline requires that he not open it to the public (and therefore won't actually make income off of it) I'm going to try for a second. 

And yes, as you might have noticed from the screengrabs, he successfully adopted the unicorn today, too. So now I have four horses and two stalls. Spot is not very pleased with me right now...

Chapter 14: More Trouble Than It's Worth

When Altin left the Organization HQ a few nights later, he had yet another unwelcome surprise waiting for him.

At least he didn't get handcuffed this time.

The officer said little as she drove, but a few miles from Altin's workplace, she unhooked the cruiser's radio handheld and reported to whoever was at the other end, "He's here."

The radio crackled. "Ahh, Mr. Snickerson, how good of you to join us."

Damn it. "Agent Ryans. Did you change your mind about arresting me?"

"Of course not. We just needed to make a few preparations. For instance, Officer Tomsin there will be decking you out with a recording device and transmitter. I suggest you be cooperative."

Altin sighed. He had realized there was no good way out of this that night at the farmhouse, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable.

"Now listen up, Snickerson. The Empress of Evil has been very careful, so we can't get any of our usual tricks to stick. You know, tax evasion, broken taillight, that kind of thing. It hasn't worked. And you'd know better than we would that she doesn't actually need to do her own robberies and heists with all of you lot working for her."

"Just tell me what I'm doing."

"What you're doing is getting Kanzler to admit she hired you for the diamond job. You get her to say that while wearing the microphone, it gets transmitted back to us, she goes down for grand conspiracy, we convince some judge that poor innocent little you were just following orders, you go home a free man. You don't get her to say that, and we have no one else to go after but you. Clear?"

Altin threw the door open as the cruiser pulled up in front of his house. "Clear."

Altin was supposed to have the next day off, but that lasted all of ten minutes after he led the fourlegged family members to the horse ranch for some exercise. 

His phone buzzed. Email. Great: the boss had heard about his ride last night and believed, reasonably enough, that he had been arrested. Presuming he wasn't currently in prison, she wanted him to report in for an explanation. 

She didn't say as much, of course. If he was in jail, the police would have his phone. Instead she invited him to meet her for drinks that evening at a local bar, which happened to owe the Organization quite a bit of protection money and wouldn't mind looking the other way as they handled business.

This was his chance. But he wasn't particularly thrilled.

When Altin arrived at the Brick House, a particularly disreputable local establishment, he found Erika staring thoughtfully into a surprisingly pink drink. He caught her eye and she gestured him over.

"Well?" she asked, getting to the point immediately.

He improvised. "It was nothing. Noise violation complaint from my neighbors. I have a lot of horses."

The boss frowned, but seemed to accept the excuse. After a moment of sipping her drink -- really, how could she stand to drink something that frilly? -- she asked out of the blue, "You grew up in the system, correct?"

Altin blinked. "That's in my file?" he wondered. "I'm impressed." 

"I'll take that as a yes." She paused, long enough that he thought she had dropped the subject, and he jumped when she started again. "So did I, actually." Oh man, since when did she have sharing moods? How strong was that drink? "Not a particularly nice family. Do they make nice foster homes? I've never come across any. " Altin decided remaining silent was probably his best option. "Mine was particularly irritating, though. Constant fighting. It was very...crass. Yes. Crass. That's why I asked him to take me away with him."

Wait, what? Altin had been distracted by the site of Agent Jenning slipping into the bar. He must have missed something.

"They talk inside your head, you know." Erika sampled the pink concoction again. "I thought I had lost my mind, but no, there he was, horn and all. I must have been twelve or so. He refused, something about mortal beings and our proper place in the world. I wasn't having any of that though. That's why I called you in for the diamond grab--" Oh. That was easy. "--because I never did take rejection well. So really, that's why I knew the legend had to be real, and that it had to be possible to use the stone to control that glorified mule. I've already met a unicorn. I knew it was true."

Huh. Altin muttered something noncommittal when Erika glanced over at him. She waved her glass at the bartender. "You're going to blow my cover, Snickerson. We're supposed to be drinking." 

The bartender came back with two of the pink drinks. Ewwww. But a familiar SCIA agent shifted in his peripheral vision, and he decided maybe he was done with being serious for the evening. 

"Eh, why not?"

The rest of the night would be nothing but a blurred memory for years. He could only remember bits and pieces where he felt particularly warm and fuzzy, and he didn't think it was the special effects machine. All he knew was that he was pretty sure his last drink of the night and his first drink of the night had about a million drinks in between them.

As this floated through his mind the next morning, Altin pondered the unexpected discovery that the walls around him were not purple with western accents.  He was pretty sure he had seen them before, but in his dazed state, he couldn't immediately place them.

....Oh. That's where he knew them from.

"Seriously, Altin? Seriously? Seriously?" he berated himself quietly, as he veeeery slowly slipped out of the bed. Why were his clothes in the shower? Did he really want to know? He paused, considering. No, he really didn't. He just wanted to get out of the cottage without waking the sleeping dragon.

A horrible thought occurred to him. After a momentary minute of sheer panic, though, he was relieved to discover he had somehow misplaced the SCIA microphone at the bar. That could have been awkward on so many levels.

As he tiptoed his way out of the house, he happened to glance in an open doorway as he passed, then backtracked and took a closer look.

Aha. The famous Snickerson luck strikes again.

He knew instantly it was the Celestial Pink Diamond. Maybe it was the booze still coursing through his system, maybe it was his recent proximity to the unicorn, but he thought he could even almost feel it pulsing through the display at it. 

Two birds with one stone, then. He could get both the SCIA and the unicorn off his back today. He carefully slipped the glass case off the stand, watching for alarm wires -- he might be drunk, but damn it, no one around could do this better than he could -- and set it on the floor beside him. Then he glanced around nervously, grabbed the gem, and bolted from the house. 

Mission accomplished.