This is an in-character game thread from Nobilis: Where Only Lilies Grow. (This page is written by a number of people, and is not Creative Commons licenced.)
“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” Benton said, reflexively. He took in the surroundings, deducing from the presence of the Vase of Warka in one glass display case that he had somehow been transported to the Iraq Museum, and turned his attention to his host and fellow guests. The woman on the throne was of Persian descent, in a curious mix of Achaemenid and Seleucid dress, and wore a mask of tranquility which almost hid her distress. The man facing him appeared to be impersonating Alan Turing, for reasons best known only to himself. The remaining woman was a stranger, but looked somewhat unimpressed to be here. And… yes, that Lamassu was, apparently, moving under its own power. A rapidly-shifting web of possibilities began to form in Benton’s mind, but until he had more information on which to act he was reluctant to embrace the most likely solution, being that he had gone utterly mad. Ergo, questions were required.
Benton cleared his throat discretely, and addressed the woman who had called herself Scheherazade. “My apologies ma’am, but judging from your position in our current situation you seem as if you might be in possession of some kind of authority here. If that is in fact the case, would you be so kind as to perhaps shed some light on what that situation is?”
Assessing situation: danger negative. Attempting ID verification: 2 matches.
“Good morning Professor Turing, Mr Gross and ladies.” Ioun said in a neutral tone adding her findings at the end, it ran through its language chips idly as it wondered whether it would need to address either of the women in a different language and hoped that it’d have the correct language installed if that were the case. Deciding that it would be more prudent to observe the rest of the group and compile data, Ioun ran a quick database update to gather data on Alan Turing and Paul Gross(, actor) that might be relevant.
Leilah breathed deeply, trying to orient herself through the haze caused by the pain of death and the pain of rebirth. What could she remember? Well, there was the burning, and the jumping, and the dying, and the glorious light that had filled her, and she obviously hadn’t landed in Dubai. She took in her opulent surroundings with a slight raised eyebrow which she was aware no one could see under the scarf that swathed her head. Then she considered her situation, surmised that nothing worse than dying – again – could come of it, and ripped off the headscarf. Wait, was that a lammasu?
“I’m going to hazard a guess,” she offered, her voice starting out soft through sheer habit and then much louder and sharper as she angrily admonished herself that she didn’t need to be afraid any more, seeing as the worst had already come to pass, “that nobody aside from our gracious host knows what’s going on or is quite where they expected to be.”
“How curious that you should consider yourselves out of place,” said Scheherazade, “when I am given to believe that I myself am perfectly in place but am far from where I expected to be in time.”
“Regardless, before we pursue our situation more concertedly, it would be remiss of me as a host not to offer you refreshment.”
Scheherazade turned and nodded at the door to her side, and a quiet pattering of feet suggested that servants were being sent about their business. True to form, within a few seconds, doors opened and a bustle of servants laid carpets and cushions at the visitors’ feet, while others carried a steaming pot and offered glasses of pale tea to them as they sat. The serving staff seemed wholly oblivious to the nature of their guests – Ioun and Nabu were offered tea just like the rest, despite Ioun not being able to drink and Nabu being largely incapable of holding a glass.
Scheherazade left her throne and stepped off the dais, coming to sit beside, though slightly apart from, her visitors. She propped herself up on one elbow, and after a few moments, spoke again.
“Well then,” she said, “if this truly is a year thousands of years hence since I lived my life, some new age where Lamassu and women with metal skin walk the Earth alongside their human kin, I suppose I should introduce myself fully. My name is Scheherazade, wife of Shahryar, Shah of what I suppose is now the long-gone Persian Empire. And you, good travelers, would be…?”
“I am Ioun, serial number 001-A.” Ioun said, adding a new note in its files for the strange woman before it. It bowed stiffly, as an alert popped up in its HUD telling it this was appropriate behaviour in front of royalty even as an error popped up telling it that there was no such Shah and denying Sheherazade’s existence. Ioun suppressed the errors, after all if such anomalies as Alan Turing’s presence were occurring a supposedly fictional queen was the least of its worries.
“Salaamu alaykum,” Leilah offered in turn with a slight bow from the waist before accepting the tea with a slight nod and smile to the servant and a great deal of inner gratitude. “I am Leilah al-Sefeya. Most recently deceased, so my presence here isn’t exactly any less improbable than yours. As far as I was aware you were a legend, my lady.”Oh, dear God, she thought ot herself, I’m in the Thousand and One Nights. Wait, I don’t have to believe in God any more, do I? Do you have to believe it if you’re living in it? This certainly fits the theological description of the sumptuous palaces of the afterlife. Let’s wait on the virgin whores before concluding…
“Greetings to you, Scheherazade, teller-of-tales, and my fellow existential misfits. I am he who was Nabu, son of Marduk. I am also, apparently something altogether more…ridiculous seems to be the most fitting word.’ He glanced over his form disparagingly. How in the name of all that is Holy is one supposed to function without THUMBS?
“Ladies, gentlemen.” A brief pause, a glance at Nabu. “Mythological beings. My name is Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP.” Something about his stance said he did this a lot. “I first came to Baghdad on the trail of Inspector Meg Thatcher, once of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but lately transferred to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, where she was instrumental in the destabilisation and overthrow of certain dictators, and for reasons which aren’t important at this juncture I…”
Benton blinked, as if thrown out of a familiar rhythm. “Well, actually, I’m still looking for Inspector Thatcher. Although judging by my current circumstances I think I may have wandered somewhat off the trail. Perhaps one of you fine people could steer me back towards… well, towards reality?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ioun said, looking slightly embarrassed. “According to my databases you don’t actually exist… your name doesn’t appear on any of the censuses nor does it come up when searching the staff databases of the RCMP. As such, a logical conclusion would be that you are suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome and we ought to seek medical advice… as soon as we reach a juncture at which that is possible, of course…”
“I see.” Benton nodded crisply, a faint hint of a frown creasing his brow. “Although I’m not aware of any cases of Munchausen syndrome wherein the patient misidentified themselves rather displaying symptons of an illness they are not, in fact, suffering. Still, if that were the case it would seem I’m in good company. I believe the gentleman to my left is approximating the deceased British mathematician Alan Turing, while other members of our party have already identified themselves as figures of mythological import. While you, ma’am, seem to be performing a rather convincing approximation of some kind of android.”
He licked one finger and held it in the air near Ioun. Walked around her slowly, moving his hand closer and further away. “Hmm. Although the dramatic gradient in electrostatic potential would support significant electrical activity nearby. Interesting.”
Ioun reassessed the situation, processors whirring frenetically as she opened and closed each database currently stored on her internal memory and tried to make the situation she was in seem plausible.
“Well, the situation is illogical, nothing in my databases quite matches it.” she said eventually, looking almost upset (as upset as an android can look).
Leilah found herself slightly amused at the discomfort of the others. “Don’t look at me. I was perfectly normal until I somehow missed my appointment with the Reaper and landed here instead. It makes all this a bit less of a shock, mind you.”
“So,” said Scheherazade, “an incarnation of the great Nabu, a woman made of metal and another human, yet deceased, a policeman, and…” She left the thought hanging as she turned to the fifth member of the party. “I believe you were just referred to as ‘Alan Turing’?”
“At your service my lady.” Alan politely inclined his head. Apparently, the cyanide had induced some kind of profoundly realistic hallucination – he was sure a moment ago the world had slipped into darkness, and now here he was with some kind of Babylonian deity, an American with a hat, a oriental lady, a mechanical facsimile and Scheherazade. He sipped at his tea, unsure quite where this was going. He decided it would be best to wait it out, see what his dying unconscious had in store and smiled encouragingly at the others.
“Well,” said Scheherazade, “I feel I must confess that we are spiralling about the same thoughts. The notion that I have been transported thousands of years into the future does not sit well with the alternatives, such as that I am dead and the afterlife is a very personal and realistic experience, or perhaps some evil djinni has had his revenge and trapped me in one of my own stories. But still, this – and yourselves, and Shahryar as I spoke to him barely half an hour ago – all seem very real.
“Thus I would surmise that if it is a possibility that we are experiencing the truth of the world, we should treat it as such, as the penalty for treating it otherwise could be–“
The double doors at the back of the chamber snapped back on their hinges and a man in desert camouflage burst in, out of breath.
“Sir! We have a wall breach, Northwest section–” He stopped, eyes flicking from one occupant of the room to the next, then to the thrones and the murals on the walls.
“Who are you?” he asked, glare returning to the group. His right hand inched very slightly closer to his sidearm. “And where is Colonel Richards?”
“Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Fraser said, reflexively. Then the man’s words sank in, as did his air of battlefield stress. “I was just looking for the Colonel myself. He doesn’t appear to be here, although,” he glanced at the others in the room, “right now appearances might not be all they, well, all they appear. What seems to be the problem with your Northwest wall, son?”
“Hold on, requesting information…” Ioun closed its eyes, a little green status light winked out and it inwardly cursed. “It appears Colonel Richards cannot be located on PGLDS. This is unprecedented, perhaps he has taken off his watch…” Ioun closed her eyes and re-checked feeling a slight sinking feeling in her servos as she realised it was mostly due to her GPS database being completely knocked out. Adding a note to her already extensive list, she reminded herself to get an engineer to look at it at the first opportunity.
“Royal Canadian…” the soldier started. “Okay, whatever, I won’t ask. Let’s try this question another way, if you don’t know where Colonel Richards is, where is Colonel Richards’ office? Why has this room apparently been redecorated, enlarged to five times its former size, and used to house – whoever the rest of you are? And is that an NSA logo on your robot?”
“Rooms don’t just grow bigger and redecorate overnight, that’s patently impossible,” Leilah offered, still restraining the urge to laugh, and placing her faith in the human brain’s tendency to reject the absurd. “I think you probably took a wrong turn somewhere. Are you sure your Colonel isn’t on his way to this wall already?”
“On the contrary, Leilah, enlarging rooms are a fairly common narrative device, and since the narrative -“ Nabu waved a dusty forepaw towards Scheherazade – “clearly exist outside of their written confines, at least in this area, the architecture likely follows suit. That, or the local dimensions and fauna are being deliberately muddled by some nefarious power, for an equally nefarious purpose. Tiamat, for one, often used such tricks to confound and mislead Her foes, and Her presence would explain my confinement in this body. Though the nature of your slights against Her elude me.”
“Well, I was hoping to convince the military gentleman who seems even more confused than we, to try and return from wherever he came, but if you put it that way I suspect the god I’ve offended is Allah. Not that I particularly mind, given he never exactly went out of his way to do anything for me,” Leilah retorted derisively. “Snide imprecations on the nature of divinity aside, are you suggesting that we’ve been dropped into the middle of some kind of living story? I was wondering much the same myself, and it certainly seems to fit what…‘evidence’…we have.”
“Let us not be too hasty. Perhaps the military looking gentlemen has seen something, or knows something that may be of assistance.” Alan addressed the twitchy soldier. “Now son, there’s nothing here to be afraid of. We know as little as your good self. Perhaps you’d be so good as to tell us what happened to this North Wall, and whether anything else peculiar has happened of late?”
“Nothing peculiar has happened apart from the surprising absence of Colonel Richards’ office,” said the soldier. “Unless you count the breaching of the Green Zone wall and the murder of one of our men by terrorists as peculiar, which frankly I do not! Now–”
But at that, someone – or something – else burst into the room in a mode that was fast becoming fashionable. It had the body of a lion, standing four feet tall and impossibly muscled, but the face of a man sat upon its shoulders and two great golden wings arched from its back.
The soldier jumped back, wide-eyed, and levelled his pistol at the creature. It gave the soldier a quick and dismissive glance, before turning back to the group.
“Your Majesty,” it said, in a booming voice more befitting a much larger creature. It bowed to Scheherazade, its head between its front paws. “I regret to inform you that a section of the Palace’s north wall has been breached. Fear not, however, for any enemy incursion will be faced and swiftly defeated.”
Benton cast a swift glance from the latest arrival to the statue which had identified itself as Nabu. And back. “Are you perhaps related?” he began, but a thread of unconscious reasoning cut him off mid-stream. The psychological landscape his apparently addled brain had constructed, whatever the reason, had presented the same conundrum twice in different forms. Clearly this was something important, something which required a solution, before he could proceed. Whatever the north wall – or was it the northwest? – no matter. Whatever the failure of that barrier represented, it was something he needed to deal with.
“Perhaps we can help,” he said, stepping forward smartly to a place equidistant between the two newcomers and nodding towards the various symbolic companions his mind had seen fit to create. “If there has been some kind of incursion, let us know what we can do to be of service.”
The creature looked back and forth across the group. “You do have some spark about you,” it said. “All of you. I know not whether from the Divine it comes, but something I do sense. Very well, then know this.
The walls of this great Palace hold back the great forces of chaos that dwell Outside, spirits sent by Ahriman to destroy civilisation. If the wall is not repaired and these beasts driven back, all will surely be lost. Thus we must act quickly and decisively. Any of you foreigners willing to come to our aid will be bounteously rewarded.”
“What a load of crap,” said the soldier, still pointing his handgun. “I don’t know who or what you are, or what you think is going on here, but what I do know is that the defence perimeter of the Green Zone has been breached by hostile forces and an outright attack on our men may be imminent. This is not a place for civilians, be they police officers or otherwise. You will all remain here for your safety. That includes you.” He waved the gun in the vague direction of the sphinx.
“I will dispatch a unit to guard this room until the threat is dispersed. Do. Not. Move.” And with that, he holstered his pistol and dashed off down the corridor.
The sphinx looked, disbelieving, at the patch of ground which the soldier had just occupied. Then he turned back to the others and almost… smiled.
“So, do any of you choose to come to this Palace’s defence?”
“While ordinarily I am reticent to disobey orders, I believe this course of action to be the best. Any assistance I can give will be given.” Ioun said, suppressing the error message that told her not to disobey. Besides, I’m not a civilian
“I refuse to be locked up here, however politely our imprisonment is worded. I’m not a civilian of any nationality he has jurisdiction over, and I’d like to see him try,” Leilah’s eyes gleamed. This might be confusing, but it was certainly entertaining! “Personally I can’t imagine how I could assist against invading forces besides trying to shock them to death, but I’m willing to give it a go nonetheless.”
“However ridiculous it may appear, this body does seem rather more militant than what I’m used to, and I believe it would be a shame to put it waste! Besides, if Tiamat has risen and Marduk is … unavailable, someone must take up the fight. There are after all, a whole host of precedents for this sort of action. Presumably we will be outnumbered, but emerge victorious, perhaps dramatically losing one of our number in glorious battle, or some such.” Nabu droned, pacing back and forth.
“Excellent!” Benton said, with a sharp nod and a sunny smile. “It would appear that with the possible exception of the silent Mr Turing over there, we are ready to leap to the defence of the palace. Or Green Zone, if you prefer. Kindly lead the way!” he told the sphinx.
Alan nodded back ponderously. “To clarify, what do you plan here? Bar perhaps the statuesque … gentleman? and the lady of metal, none of us seem of the physically capable sort who might aim to swiftly rebuild walls, leaving well alone the idea of engaging in vigorous combat with one or more monsters? Strange though the setting may be, it should not rob us of sense.”
“A plan? I have absolutely nothing of the sort,” Leilah smiled at the mathematician. “But I have a feeling that we might be able to help somehow. I can’t stress this enough – I was dead, and I think you were too, Professor Turing, at least according to the history books that I know to be current, and, well, we’re both here, with a statue and a robot and a man who apparently isn’t real. And in between, there was something else, and whatever it was, it was something wonderful,” she moved to stand behind the sphinx. “I don’t think I’m helpless any more, and I’ll be more damned than I am already before I let other people become that way.” She squared her shoulders towards the door.
Alan looked bemused. “Not real? He looks no less real than you or I.” In the pursuit of science he gave Benton an inquisitive poke with his finger, to which the Mountie responded with a polite nod.
“Don’t ask me, ask…Ioun,” Leilah gestured towards the robot. “It appears one thing is as unlikely as the next. Now, how about this fool’s errand of ours?”
“While I was not initially designated for fighting, my programmer installed a basic self-defense module and I’m certain that any gaps in my knowledge can be covered by a quick search of my databases.” Ioun quickly ran through her databases to check. “Besides, the sphinx said we needed to rebuild its defences and I calculate that I’ll be rather useful for that.”
“If I may…” Benton paused for any objections, then continued. “I’d suggest discussion of our existential relativity, fascinating as it would doubtless be, might be best put off until another time. It would appear there’s some kind of incursion occurring, after all, and the sandstone gentleman-“ Benton again paused, assuring himself that the sphinx at least appeared to be male – “…the sandstone gentleman does seem to be getting a little restive.” With that he moved to the entrance, removed his hat, and held the door open for Leilah and the sphinx – and whoever else happened to be passing through.
“Well then,” said the sphinx, “those of you who are with me, we are going now. Those others, enjoy your tea. Be assured that Ahriman himself could not interrupt you if he tried!”
Alan acquired for himself some tea and, with little intention of dying a second time – apparently – settled himself onto the floor.
“Are you sure we cannot tempt you to join us, Professor? This battle could be the very reason we were brought together! The very world could be at stake, tea and all!” With this, Nabu lumbered over to the Sphinx.
“Brought together? Surely any being magnificent enough to raise the dead, bring the fictional to the real world and summon forth your good self would understand how little use I would be on the front line of any conflict and would have expected me to avoid the possibility of a violent return to the legion of the dead.
Have a good fight?”