Campaign of the Month: May 2017
Dresden Files: Nawlins
Chapter 1- The Law Comes To Town
It’s just after 6:00pm and the House of the Rising Sun blues hall is already busy when you arrive. The Red Court of Vampires ceased to exist one week ago and the supernatural community is still in shock. Nothing like this has happened since the days of the Inquisition. It has all the inhuman powers on edge. The war is over, that much is obvious, but the White Council has been completely silent so far. Everyone is desperate for news. There’s some kind of announcement planned for tonight. The Rising Sun is accorded neutral ground, and no mortals are present.
There are three booths in the back of the club. The northmost is occupied by a group of five people, dressed in dirty brown leather. The largest man in the group has a brown hat in the Australian style, one side of the brim bent up and the crown ringed with teeth. Another seats only a single person, a tall woman sipping a martini. Something about her sets you on edge.
The bar is full and you can see the proprietor, Ben Grace, leaning against it and talking to two men with a glass of whiskey in one hand. They are pale and too pretty to be humans, but you don’t recognize them. One is dark haired and keeps his eyes glued to the carpet. The other is blonde and confident and carries most of the conversation.
There are five tables arranged around the stage where Miss Magnolia sings. The music from the stage is haunting. One has a group of women ranging in age from twenty to seventy. They are holding hands and look to be praying quietly. Another is a mixed group of men and women talking heatedly. One table near the bar is still empty.
You can head to the free booth or the empty table. The big announcement is supposed to take place in an hour.
J.R. slid into the booth in the corner of the club, setting his whiskey on the table. He preferred to sit somewhere where he could see the whole room – it had kept him alive in the past, and he wasn’t about to change anything that worked.
After scanning the bar and not seeing anyone she knows, Jenny walks over to the bar to try and get the attention of the bartender. “I’ll take an Appletini, and… hm. Do you have a juice box? Great.”
Jenny turns back to the stage where Miss Magnolia is singing and waits for her order. Hughes should be here soon, and hopefully this announcement would clear up what’s been going on.
Hugues grumbled as he got out of the taxi. Since the sun was going down now, and who knew when the “announcement” was going to end, Hugues couldn’t take his bicycle or else he’d probably but noticed by police for “avoiding curfew” on his way back home. It’s not that he minded taking the taxi, it’s just he had to bribe the driver to ignore his age and not ask questions. Looks like he’d have to pester Jenny for a ride home.
Fortunately the people at the House of the Rising Sun knew enough about Hugues by now that they just let him pass without worry. Fairly quickly he spotted his apprentice.
“Oh good, you’re here already. Did you get me anything-” Hugues began, as the bartender slid over Jenny’s drink, and an apple juice box. “Cute.” He looked around the building to see if he recognized anyone else there.
Well, at the very least there were lots of people crowded together and being lower to the ground made it harder to see their faces. “Well, looks like the booths are already taken. You see a good place to sit?” He reached for his juice box and started sipping it like a grumpy child.
As soon as Ada entered the blues hall, the leaden atmosphere within descended upon her like a hundred-ton weight. Some people seemed to be at ease, but she knew better: they just knew how to hide their unease better than the ones who didn’t.
Not like she was in a position to judge anyone. She hadn’t slept much since the last week. The dreams she’d had had been troubling on the best of days. On the others, she’d run on brief catnaps instead, better than going through the painful experience of a whole night’s sleep.
Making her way towards the bar, Ada requested the bartender’s attention and ordered a glass of champagne. “Evening.” She said, to nobody in particular, before giving Jenny and Hugues a nod of acknowledgement. Each of them had pulled her out of a fire, and she was glad to know that they had dropped by the House too, to listen to the announcement. “Quite a crowd today, isn’t it?” She asked, sipping her glass as she looked at the people assembled at the blues hall once more.
It is dark and smokey near the bar, blocking most of the patrons’ faces. But Hugues does notice the woman with the martini in the corner booth. He does a double take. What the hell is Laura Bellworth doing here?! Laura was captain of Hugues’ Warden squad in WWII during the fight against Kemmler, and she was a hardass even back then. He can see the hilt of her silver sword poking out from under the table.
Laura turns towards the bar. Her eyes narrow when she notices Hugues looking at her. A waitress carrying a second martini distracts her though and she doesn’t look up again.
When Laura turned away, so did Hugues as he tried to not choke on his own juice box. What the hell is Laura Bellworth doing here?! Part of him wanted to just find a friendly corner of the club and throw up the most powerful veil he could, but that would quite likely break the Accords…which was probably all that was keeping him alive right now if she did recognize him. Did she recognize him? No, that wasn’t likely, he never met her before he joined the White Council. Then again, he still wasn’t fully sure how much the White Council knew about his Death Curse, so it probably wasn’t good to be risky about this. Of which staying in her sight was clearly.
Hugues calmed himself for a second, noticing Ada here too. That wasn’t good either. He smiled weakly to greet her, and then started tugging on Jenny’s sleeve. “Auntie, can we please sit down already,” he said in his whiniest child voice that he used to blend in with the rest of the immature children at his school, “I’m hungry.” Hugues hated talking like this, and hopefully Jenny and Ada would catch on.
Jenny glances down at Hugues in surprise, about halfway through her Appletini and still listening to the song. “What? Oh. Sure. Let’s go grab a seat at the b- not the booth?” Something was clearly not right. Maybe someone from the school was here, and he didn’t want to blow his cover? Either way, his face alternated between looking like he was about to either cry or throw a temper tantrum. “Okay, okay. Let’s go sit at that table over there, alright? You’re more than welcome to join us, Ada.”
Finishing her glass with one gulp, Ada nodded and smirked. “I’d be delighted.” Her study of the crowd finished, she followed Jenny and Hugues to their table. “‘Auntie’?” She said, arching an eyebrow as she sat down. “I didn’t know the two of you had a blood relation. Guess you learn something new every day.”
The atmosphere reminds Jenny of the week after 9-11. People are worried and nurse their drinks with shaking hands. The club is [Tense With Anticipation.] Well, everyone except for the wild bunch over in the booth who just look like they’re having a grand old time.
Ada looks around and notices a few faces. Anna Beaumont, the local Hoodoo circle leader, is a tall olive skinned woman in her mid thirties with intricately braided hair. She is arguing in low tones with her practitioners one table over. She looks furious. The words “White Council” “bunch of hacks” “think they’re better than…” “keeping everybody scared” are audible.
Mother Sula the voodoo priestess, a small black woman in her sixties, is sitting at another, praying with a group of her faithful. They are probably the calmest bunch in the place. There is no alcohol being served at thier table. They are chanting but it is too quiet to overhear.
Miss Magnolia steps offstage for a moment and Lenny Mack, the man on the piano leads the house band in The World’s In a Tangle. The lyrics are so appropriate that it’s kinda spooky.
J.R. sat in the corner booth, slowly drinking his whiskey. Something was supposed to be happening tonight, but nothing so far. He looked around the room, assessing the magical situation.
One step inside. Scan the room… four doors, five windows. Two good exits. Patrons. Usual crowd. Mostly non-issues. Handful of serious mojos. Two- no, three military trained. Some familiar faces on the floor. J.R.’s in the corner, smart man.
Forsaking the bar, Mitsuo strides across the room, sliding onto the bench across from J.R. They exchange curt nods. Both heads swivel back to take in the room. Similar in action, the two are perfect opposites in countenance. J.R.‘s stare is almost vacant, Mitsuo’s very present. J.R.’s faded clothes and neat whiskey fade into the background. Asiatic features, silk jackets, and empty hands pop right out.
Mitsuo leans over the table. “Any news, cowboy?”
There’s more unique kinds of magical energy in the room than JR has ever felt in one place before. The owner and the talent have Wyldfae blood. The prayer circle has that warm tingle of true faith magic. The big group in the booth are obviously shapeshifters, but not all the same kind. It’s unusual for a pack of shifters to not share an animal, what could have brought that about? The woman one booth over fairly hums with power and JR recognizes the hilt of one of the famous Warden Swords. It’s peacebonded with a silver ribbon, at least for now. There are plenty of other practitioners around of varying degrees of power.
It takes JR a full minute to guess that the too-pretty men by the bar must be White Court Vampires, as he’s never seen one before.
The last few people are straggling in. A young man dressed in black with the stiff collar of a Catholic priest makes a beeline for Mother Sula’s table. He looks uncomfortable.
A tall figure in a dark cloak and hood saunters in, flanked by a fat man with beady eyes and a nasty smile. The group in the booth goes quiet at the sight (or scent?) of them. Dark and Chubby pay them no attention and stand along the wall near the stage instead of sitting down. After a tense minute of staring the chatter starts up in the booth again.
Finally a man in a grey cloak with a thin sabre at his hip walks in, closing the door behind him. The room is now sealed and will remain so until the announcement ends. It is too dark to see his face under the hood but he must be a Warden. The sword is wrapped in silver ribbon, a peace binding. He sits down at the booth across from the woman. She seems very glad to see him.
When Jenny, Ada and Hugues finally sat down at the empty table, Hugues abandoned the whininess, but he was still obviously nervous. Probably more nervous than the rest of the people here. “It’s a useful cover when I need an adult,” Hugues explained to Ada, “or just to make myself seem even more like a child when convenient.” Of course he wasn’t going to admit to Jenny that he was actually relieved the juice box helped his cover.
He kept his eyes focused on the door, watching as the people came in. When he spoke, Hugues kept his voice down. “That woman sitting there all alone is a Warden, and I recognize her. She was the captain of my squad back during World War II, when we fought against the worst necromancer Nazis this world has probably ever seen. You know General George S. Patton? They never met, but they would have been fast friends.” When the man walked in and closed the door behind him, Hugues could feel himself shrinking down in his chair. “That man’s a Warden too. Don’t recognize him with that cloak up. Once he drops the hood I might recognize him. Oh what I would give for a good Veil right now…”
J.R. nods at Mitsuo as he sits down. The mercenary was probably the closest thing to a friend that J.R. had in this time – he was reliable and knew how to get a job done. “Lots of strange folk here tonight – if someone kicks up a row it’ll be trouble.”
“Got it.” Ada said, as Hugues explained both his cover and his jitteriness. “So that means she favors action and quick, violent responses, doesn’t she?” She sighed, and anyone who looked at her carefully might have noticed her tense up, slightly. “That’s just great. Good to know we can probably expect them to go with Standard Warden Procedure, in that case. Means that if they start barking orders and acting like they own the place, we won’t have any reason to be surprised.” Leaning back on her chair, Ada looked at Hugues. “Think you can make an educated guess ‘bout what they’re planning to do? Besides maybe making a show of force, I can’t even begin to guess what they might have come prepared for.”
Mitsuo spots Ada, Hugues, and Jenny at their table. He manages to catch Hugues saying: “That man’s a Warden” and Ada’s comment about “Standard Warden Procedure”, but that’s all. Hugues looks miserable as only a small child can and Jenny seems to be comforting him. Ada just looks annoyed.
“Sorry I’m late. Anything happen I should know about?” Cole asks Laura.
She shrugs. “Not particularly. There’s a few unsavories around but we invited them so we can hardly complain.”
Cole grunts and lowers his hood. He looks around the bar quickly, trying to see if he can guess who the ‘unsavories’ might be. Laura is a bit harsher than he is, and he wants to make his own judgements. After all, she’s leaving after tonight. He’s going to have to live with these people.
Cole frowns at the figure in the black hood with his ugly fat friend near the stage. They’re up to no good for certain. He also notes the White Court vampires by the bar. One is a Raith and the other’s a Skavis. They don’t like each other at all, from what Laura’s told him. It’s dark in the room and no one else stands out as obviously evil, but he has to wonder what a small child is doing at one table. Maybe it’s a faerie of some kind?
Ben Grace heads for the stage, leaving the vampires near the bar. He taps once on the mic. “Attention everyone, as you know there is an announcement planned for tonight. Now, you know I’m not one to keep a crowd waiting so I present to you Laura Bellworth, Regional Commander of the White Council Wardens.”
The woman at the booth is already standing, now wearing a plain grey cloak with a broadsword slung across her back. She steps onto the stage as Ben grabs the mic stand and hurries offstage with it. The crowd goes absolutely silent.
“Good evening.” Laura says, in a voice loud enough to be heard in every corner of the room. “I come bearing a message, one which is being repeated on neutral grounds across the world tonight. The war between the Red Court and the White Council is ended. As a signatory of the Unseelie Accords the White Council is calling for a Summit of Powers to redress any grievances committed during the war, and to forestall any future enmity from the former allies of the Red Court.”
“Any enmity at all?” The hooded man near the stage calls. Laura glares at the interrupter, who pulls his hood down. He looks like a corpse, his flesh is pockmarked and his eyes are milky white. “Even that of the other Vampire Courts?”
“Especially that of the other Vampire Court.” Laura replies, notably leaving the ‘s’ off. The Black Court vampire laughs. Laura clears her throat. “To that end we are assigning diplomatic emissaries to all the major cities. Please bring any issues you may have to them before the next solstice.”
“You mean you’re putting a pet Warden on every block.” The man with the Aussie hat yells over the heads of the crowd.
Laura merely smiles. It is not a friendly smile. “There has been a lack of White Council oversight for the past several years. That time is now ended. Order will be restored.” She finishes with a slight bow and steps off the stage.
“So, the sherrif’s come to town,” J.R. says to Mitsuo. “And it looks like he’ll be on the shoot. Not sure how I feel ’bout that.” J.R. had dealt with lawmen before – both working for and against them. As long as this Cole didn’t step into J.R.‘s business, he could certainly be useful in getting rid of some of the scum in town. On the other hand … "Say, you think we should offer our services to this Warden? Always good to have the law owin’ you a favor."
When Captain—no, Commander? When did she get the promotion?—Bellworth announced the end of the Vampire Wars, Hugues couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. He turned around and saw the second Warden looking at him for a second. Richter Cole…so he finally got out of the White Council Bureaucracy? Good for him.
But Bellworth’s response to the loud Australian man at the booth had him bothered somewhat. More Wardens in the area? Hugues wasn’t too worried for himself, as long as the Wardens were other Wizards Hugues didn’t really have much contact with before his death. But he was concerned for the others. Although he was fairly confident none of them had broken any of the Laws since he met them, some of the other Wardens might think differently.
Jenny raises her hand in the air, catching the warden’s eye. “So, you’re here to help us, right? Protect practitioners from, uh… other things?” Seeing heads turn towards her, some amused and others hostile, Jenny blushes. “Uh. No offense meant.”
Ada gave Jenny an incredulous look for a moment, before lifting a finger to her lips in a pensive expression. “That is…” She started, hesitantly, giving Hugues a look. “…Not entirely a bad idea. Might as well go ahead and test the waters, see what kind of guy this new warden is.”. She gave Jenny an encouraging smile and nodded. “Go right ahead. If anyone I know can make a good first impression on people, that’s you, Jen.”
Moments after Jenny stood up and left the table, Ada leaned forward a little and gave her a sideways look. “Wanna bet on how well that attempt at friendliness is received?” She asked Hugues.
Laura gives the young woman a genuine smile this time. “That is one of our duties, yes. If any ‘things’ are causing trouble, please tell Warden Cole. He will be the one in charge of this area.” Laura points Cole out at the booth.
Several people are starting to leave now that the announcement is over. The Black Court vampire and his friend were the first out the door, followed shortly by the religious group. Others are settling in and ordering dinner and drinks and the house band plays some low key music with no vocals to set the mood.
Cole watches the door, frowning. Laura had basically ordered him to mingle tonight, get to know the people he’d be in charge of, but that was before a gods damned Black Court vampire had showed up and thumbed its rotten nose at them. He would have followed it and ended it’s unlife right then if he had any say in the matter but Laura would be furious. You can’t declare truce and then go on a killing spree the same night, it looks bad.
He’s more than a little angry about that as he walks over to his boss.
“Commander…” he starts but she interrupts him.
“I need to speak with our friends in the White Court before they vanish on me. Take over here?”
“Yes, Commander.” Cole tries to look professional instead of annoyed. He turns to the young woman his boss just abandoned. “Can I help you with something?”
With brows furrowed, Mitsuo says to JR, “Assistance, I am not sure. At the least, though, we should make conversation with him and hopefully discern his attitude towards us. If that means offering help, so be it.”
He glances down at his cuffed hand on the table, then back up to JR. “Shikashi… perhaps you should take the lead. I will back you up. Okay?”
Jenny moves to try and shake the warden’s hand, breezing past his slightly put-out look. "Hi! I’m Jenny Hirsch. It’s great to meet you! So you’re going to be our new Warden? Cole, right? It’ll be great having someone around to help us simple practitioners out down here, some of the stuff going on has been kind of messed up. If we run into any trouble with, er, one of the bad guys we should call you, right? I mean, we try and look after ourselves mostly, but it’s not like we’ve had much choice either. It’s just been terrible, terrible, but now that you’re here we should all be okay, yeah? Great!
Jenny knows she’s rambling… a lot, really, but he seems to take it more or less in stride. That might even be a bit of a smile on the edge of his face. Still pretty faint, but who knows? It’d be nice to be on his good side.
“Oh! I can’t believe I forgot to tell you! If you run into any injured animals let me know, I’m a vet so I can patch them up pretty good. People too, so you know, if you get injured or anything protecting us I can patch you up. No questions asked. Okay? Great!”
J.R. scrawls something on a piece of paper from a notepad in his pocket, then leads Mitsuo over to the new warden. “Howdy, Warden. Town could use a good lawman – there’s plenty of those in town who need someone to clean their plow. If you end up needin’ a posse, give me a call or get ahold of Mitsuo here – we’d be willing to do ya a favor or two,” J.R. says as he hands the warden his number.
At first Cole isn’t quite sure what to think of Jenny, nervous chatter like that is usually a sign that a person is hiding something. But she’s so genuine about it that he can’t help smiling a little. It also helps that she’s pretty cute.
“It’s nice to meet you too. Not everyone is so… enthusiastic about this. I’m not here to step on toes. But I will protect people who need it.” It’s pretty clear he’s talking for all the other people listening, and not just Jenny at this point. “My office is two blocks east of here. I’ll keep your offer in mind.”
J.R. hands the warden his number.
“Thank you sir.” Cole says. He’s a little surprised at the positive reception, after Laura’s speech. “I like your hat.” He gives Mitsuo a glance when J.R. gestures back to him. He isn’t sure about Mitsuo, something seems a little too clean about him, but both men look extremely competent.
Cole is in quite a good mood at this point.
Ben announces that the club will be closing early and people make their way out.
The parking lot of the Rising Sun is one zone bordered by the building, a hedge on two sides and a chain link fence on one.
The shapeshifter clan get on their motorcycles with a yell and motor off. Most people head straight for their cars and soon the parking lot is almost empty.
There is something dark and lumpy poking out from under the south hedge.
Hugues was rather relieved to be getting out of there. He felt like he had already drawn too much attention today and didn’t want to cause any problems. Besides…he still really didn’t know anything on Cole. But first, more important things. “Oh, Jenny, Dad said you had to give me a ride home.” Dad, of course, being Hugues.
As he looked around the parking lot for Jenny’s car, he couldn’t help but notice something in the hedges there. Something a bit unusual. Of course he had to take a closer look.
Hugues can’t help himself and investigates the bush. What he finds there is… gruesome.
The lumpy shape was a pair of shoes, and they are connected to a pair of legs and not much else. Crouched over well, about half of the body, slurping up intestines with glee, is the fattest ghoul Hugues has ever seen. It is clearly the fat man with the beady eyes that was with the Black Court vamp in the club.
The ghoul looks up and bares his teeth.
Hugues slows his pace as he creeps close, hearing the sounds of…something eating? The moment the ghoul looked up, Hugues raised his right arm, and activated the gauntlet to send out an arrow of flame straight at the ghoul, while letting out a shout to alert the others behind him.
Being up close and personal with a surprised Ghoul and half a corpse is enough to make anyone miss, and Hugues’ shot goes over its shoulder and vanishes into the night. The Fat Ghoul doesn’t even notice the shot. It opens its maw and licks its bloody lips.
“Desssssert?” it hisses.
It takes a swipe at Hugues with its claws, almost playfully.
Jenny hears Hughes shout as his gout of flame goes spiraling off into the air. Breaking into a run she gets near him just in time to see the enormous ghoul throw a lazy swipe in the kid’s direction.
Jenny throws herself at Hughes in a flying tackle, pushing him out of the way of the blow but catching the swipe on her shoulder. The force of the attack sends her flying back a few feet, but she manages to pull herself to her feet with the aid of a parked car
J.R.’s pistol appears in his hand, and he fires at the ghoul point blank.
J.R.’s bullet takes the ghoul in the gut and it squeals in pain.
“Misssstake, cowboy.” it hisses, glaring. “Eat your heart.”
The damn freak was faster than Hugues anticipated. His spell was too hastily cast, and it didn’t help this thing moved with unexpected speed for a creature of it’s obesity. It would have hit it, but Jenny shoved him aside at the last second and took the hit for him, the foolish girl! She didn’t have the same amount of experience he had.
“Jenny! Get back!” Hugues shouted, drawing his sword, pointing it at the ghoul to draw it’s attention but the ghoul seems more focused on J.R. than him.
Still a little wobbly from the impact, Jenny starts cautiously backing up from the creature at Hughes command. Still, even from here…
She’d been practicing that one, but it still didn’t manage to do more than gently nudge the ghoul. Still, for whatever reason, the spell was… leaky. There was something in it like the way she kept people alive, but whatever it was it threw people off a bit. Hopefully it’d be enough – she didn’t want to disobey Hughes, but if they didn’t put this down quick she didn’t intend for anyone else to get hurt if she could help it…
“Goddammit.” Ada hissed, as the ghoul emerged from the hedge and launched itself towards them. “Looks like that Black Court idiot’s pet is on the loose.” She glared at the ghoul, as her right hand began to glow a dark crimson. “Even a Black Court freak like your master should know better than letting a monster like you run wild.”
She raised her hand. “Time to teach you a lesson. Cosmigonón!”
Above the ghoul, the air stirred and acquired a crimson tint. Moments later, it came crashing down on the monster’s head like a sledgehammer.
The Ghoul pauses and glares at Jenny, shaken for a moment though it doesn’t seem to know why. Then Ada’s spell hits it over the head like a ton of bricks. It covers it’s head with both hands and glares.
“Who ssssaid that was my massster, bitch?”
“Is that so? Hmm.” Ada said, glaring at the wounded ghoul with supreme contempt. “So that means we have to stop at beating the crap out of you instead of leaving a bloodstain on the ground, to get something out of you.”
She looked at the other four people in the parking lot. “Well. That’s the plan, at least. I don’t think you’ll be so lucky.”
There’s far too much banter going on here for Mitsuo’s taste. Taking advantage of the distractions, he slips a long knife out from inside of his jacket and flanks out to the left of the group. He glides past his friends and attempts to plant the blade in a sensitive spot.
Breathing softly, he pulls the knife out and settles into a practiced half-crouch. “You should probably stop playing around, ugly man.”
The knife slides into the flesh of the monster’s back and it shrieks. This was not what it wanted at all. It just wanted a quick meal and to get back to Master. The ghoul is faced with the very real possibility that these people can kill it, maybe for good.
“No more playing! Stop, stop! Master! Help!” it screams as it runs.
Cole steps out of the club and looks over just in time to see a very fat and bloody ghoul hop the chain link fence and trip over itself as it attempts to flee. “Laura?” he calls over his shoulder. “I think you should see this.”
J.R. moves faster than any human the others have ever seen. He is over the fence in a flash, and tackles the ghoul to the ground before it gets more than a dozen yards away. The dazed ghoul is quickly restrained with J.R.‘s knee in its back, and its arms pulled behind it. “Not such a curly wolf now, eh?” He hauls the ghoul to it’s feet and marches it over to the others. “So, you had a few questions for him?” If J.R. had his druthers he’d just put a bullet in the ghoul’s head, but the others probably wanted to know a few things first.
The ghoul has given itself up for lost and begs for its miserable life. “Pleasssse, pleasse, no kill! Hungry, only hungry, ssssorry!”
“Laura?” Cole is more than a little impressed with J.R.’s quick capture. But what the hell is keeping his boss? He turns around and peers back into the club.
Ugh. Ghouls were always just so… disgusting. She knew she hadn’t been that useful in the fight, and by the look in his eye Hughes was going to have something to say about something like ‘reckless endangerment of a situation he had well under control’ later, but… well, she still thought of him as a little kid. Even though he was a little kid who could have, and had, taken on monsters that would have chomped down on her without a second thought.
Sometimes this whole magic thing sucks.
J.R. and that Cole seemed to have the ghoul pretty well under control. The cowboy had made a tremendous flying tackle to bring him down, moving faster than any athlete she’d ever seen. Definitely someone to watch. Still, the ghoul had definitely been doing something in the bushes when Hughes had spotted him. Something like… gnawing on a half-eaten body.
This probably wasn’t something that the cops were going to know how to deal with, and if she’d been nearby she might have been a fellow practicioner on her way to the meeting. Either way, trying to figure out who she was and what’d been done to her outside of the obvious.
Again, ew. Still, trying to contact her last of kin was the least Jenny could do…
Looks like things are settled down here, but no sense getting comfortable. Too much going on for this to be just a coincidence. Mitsuo kneels and cleans the blade in the grass. He glances over the body – or what’s left of it. Really, it looks like the ghoul’s done a good number on whoever this used to be. Still… there’s always something to see.
Mitsuo puts the knife away and steps up behind Jenny. While she focuses on the specifics of the corpse, he runs through a quick mental exercise, clearing his mind of pre-conceptions, and looks at the scene with a new pair of eyes. He scans back and forth, taking in as much information as possible. Watching quietly. Letting the important things jump out at him.
The body is mostly missing from the neck to the waist, it seems the ghoul prefers internal organs for dinner. The head is missing altogether. It smells awful. The woman is (or was) wearing what’s left of a grey pantsuit and Jenny remembers it from one of the women sitting at the prayer circle. Her purse is still clutched in one hand and contains the usual things: a few containers of makeup, credit cards, a driver’s license with the name Pamela Nazarene on it. She was 55 years old.
There are no other bodies but Mitsuo does find what’s left of the woman’s head further under the bush. The… well the brain is missing and most of the skull. Ick. The ghoul must have snatched her from the hedge, there is a beige Camry still in the lot nearby, it seems likely that it belonged to her. On inspection is seems like one of the woman’s eyes is missing, scooped out. Would the ghoul have done that?
“Ah… Mister Cole?” Mitsuo snaps back to reality, raising his voice to carry across the lot. “You may want to look at this.”
Cole gives up on Laura for the moment. She must still be busy talking politics with the White Court pair.
He takes a second to look at the ghoul. It’s hurt and J.R. has it well under control. “Nice job on that. Try not to kill it yet.” he says, and heads over to the bush where Mitsuo is pointing. He’s pretty sure he knows what he’s going to find there.
“Wonderful. My first goddamn night.” He pulls a small quartz crystal on a chain out of his pocket and puts it in the woman’s palm then closes her hand over it for a second. When he removes it, it glows a soft white. “Tell me who killed you ma’am.” He whispers softly at the stone. “Umoya.” He turns in the direction of the ghoul and the light intensifies… then flickers. Cole frowns.
“He’s not the only one.”
Time to ask the ghoul some questions.
Hopping over the fence, Ada strode over to where J. R. had pinned the ghoul down. She gave him an icy glare and kneeled down. “Not so brave now, huh?” Her tone was dangerously sweet, like sugar of lead. “Now let’s set the record straight. You’re going to tell us what went down in here and why your Master let you roam free like this and we’re going to hand you over to the new warden over there. Maybe, if he’s feeling kind, he’ll let you walk away.”
Adat’s tone lowered as she stared at the terrified ghoul’s face – close enough to his eyes, at least. “Or,” she continued, her voice cold and hard, “You can refuse. And then, we take matters into our own hands. It’s your choice…and your life.”
“I talk! I talk! I wasss only waiting, just waiting for Massster! Warm blood smell comesss from bushesss, I find dead woman. Wassssteful! I take care of woman, already dead! I ssswear on mother’ss bonesss!” He licks his hands nervously, smearing blood around in a fairly disgusting display. “Then this one attacks me!” He waves a claw at Hugues.
“Masster left me, left me with-” he growls low “Reginald. Hatesss him. Ssstupid, showing off to Lady Warden. Masster will be furiouss. I do not ssserve Reginald.”
Mitsuo leans over to whisper in Warden Cole’s ear.
“Mister Cole, I am not sure if you saw the head in the bushes over there. The cortex and one eye have been removed, the eye, at least, more cleanly than this fellow would likely have done. My comrades are looking into Madam Nazarene’s possessions, namely her car in the next lot. Do you need any other assistance?”
He stands up. Cole’s eyes flick down the hedge, then back up to Mitsuo, who stands ramrod-straight with hands clasped behind his back.
Hugues kept his on Jenny as she dug through the woman’s purse, also noting what was in there. Typical stuff, ID, credit cards—-wait, credit cards? A (fully grown) wizard couldn’t use those!
“Jenny, I’m going to need to borrow this. I can’t have you hexing the evidence.” Hugues took the purse from his apprentice’s hand. He looked through it one more time and found a set of car keys, likely belonging to the car still sitting in the parking lot. The others could probably search the car without destroying it, but if it had a cell-phone or a laptop or anything made in the 21st century, he’d need to get it isolated before the others accidentally hexed it.
Cole takes a closer look at the skull. “Good catch.” He sighs and looks the body over one more time. It’s impossible to tell through the trauma if she’d been strangled or even stabbed beforehand. They’ll have to ask the ghoul.
“No one is going to want to hear this, but it’s probably not lying about finding her dead. Body disposal by ghoul isn’t unusual.” He dangles the crystal on its chain and it moves in a lazy circle. The light flashes when its on the left side of its arc- pointing towards the ghoul, but also straight ahead. A much dimmer flash.
“Well, whatever took the eye went thataway. I’ve got limited time on this, let’s see what it has to say for itself.”
Hugues digs through the car. It’s very clean, the glove box contains only normal things like registration and the manual. There are a number of items hanging from the rear view mirror, an air freshener, a pair of fuzzy dice (which seem oddly out of place but probably don’t mean anything) a breast cancer awareness ribbon, and a medallion with Saint Jude on it.
Most people keep Saint Christopher in their cars, and indeed there is his medallion, pinned to the driver’s sun visor. But what is the patron Saint of the impossible doing in here? Besides that the medallion is shaped oddly, it isn’t a circle or an oval, but some kind of oblong with grooves cut into the sides.
There’s also a cell phone in the console. Hugues turns it off so the ambient magic doesn’t fry it.
“This Master of yours got a name?” J.R. asks the ghoul, keeping a firm grip on its arms.
The ghoul says nothing until J.R. gives it a swift kick. “Clovisss.” it says, quietly, as if afraid to speak the name out loud.
“You said the woman was dead when you found her, what killed her?”
“Broken neck, Warden. Head like thisss… no pulsssse.” It tilts it’s head nearly sideways. “Ssmell sssulfur.”
“Can I borrow that knife?” Cole calls back to Mitsuo. He hands it over and Cole cuts a fistful of greasy disgusting hair off the ghoul’s head and pockets it. The ghoul’s eyes go wide but it remains still. “Thanks.” he hands the knife back. He would have used his sword but it’s still peacebound and will be until morning. Laura is the one who bound it and he doesn’t have the power to undo one of her spells.
There is a commotion from inside the club. “By the Mothers, this is NEUTRAL GROUND, Bellworth!” Ben Grace’s voice is furious. “Take it outside, or I will report this breach of the Accords!”
Laura stomps out of the club, dragging a screeching young woman by her hair. the ribbon that used to be binding her sword is binding the woman’s wrists instead and the five foot long silver blade is naked in her hand. The two White Court Vampires and an older man with a blank smile on his face follow as far as the doorway.
“Laura, what’s this about?” Cole has only seen his boss like this once before, when they’d run into a nest of warlocks working for the Reds, during the war.
“This girl has broken the Fourth Law of magic. She has destroyed the mind of her father and many others.” Laura points her sword at the man with the empty smile, staring blankly at his sobbing daughter. He doesn’t even see her.
“I didn’t mean to hurt no one! I just made them happy, that’s all, just took their pain away! I didn’t know, I’m sorry!” Polly pleads.
“There has to be a better way, Laura.” Cole says.
“Look in her eyes and tell me if she can be saved.” Laura says.
Cole meets Polly’s eyes and the soulgaze begins.
A little girl sits on the beach in the sunlight. She has a shovel and water pail. Before her are a number of sandcastles, all perfectly shaped like human heads. As he watches she digs into the back of each head, pouring water into the hole. Sand rushes out, replaced by water. The water evaporates and the faces change, gaining twisted unnatural smiles. He can see memories in the sand she discards. Flickers of what made these people whole. Disgusted he looks back at the girl. Her father stands before her with open, loving arms. The child rushes into them and he scoops her up and tosses her into the air. When he turns around and carries her away, Cole sees the back of his head. There is a hole, round and smooth, and he can see out of the man’s eyes from the back, as if he was made of hollowed out plastic.
Cole looks at the row of heads, counting. There are dozens.
The soulgaze ends and Cole covers his face with his hands.
“Do you see?” Laura Bellworth demands. “That is the soul of a Lawbreaker, Richter. She will do it again, and again. She cannot help herself.”
“How could she? So many people…” He sits down on a parking block, stunned. “I’ve fought monsters but this…”
“I won’t ma’am honest! I’m real sorry! Please, please let me go home. Let me take papa home. He doesn’t have no one but me.” Polly begs. Laura forces the young woman to her knees. She screams. Then her head comes up high enough to look straight at Cole.
“I saw you, Warden. I saw into you just like you saw into me. You’re a scarecrow, a stuffed straw man dressed in a fancy cloak with a fancy sword. No one believes in you.”
Laura speaks softly. “We have failed you, child. As we failed so many, thanks to that thrice damned war. You should have been taught, guided. Now all we can do to atone is stop you from causing further damage. I am sorry.” Laura raises her silver sword.
“Fail. Fail to save someone, like you failed to save me.” Polly rasps. There is depth to the words, permanence. A death curse.
Cole cries out and clutches his chest as the sword comes down, cleanly severing Polly’s head from her shoulders.
The parking lot is completely silent for a moment. Laura wipes her blade off with the edge of her cloak and sheathes it. She touches Cole on the shoulder. “You all right?”
Laura turns to the White Court pair. “And what does it take to buy your silence in this matter?”
The blonde one smiles. “Give this one to us, and we won’t say a word about your man’s new… limitation.” He runs his hand across Polly’s father’s shoulder. “He’s dead inside anyway, all the girl left him is the ability to feel pleasure. He’ll be better cared for at House Raith than some mortal nursing home.”
Laura considers this for a moment. “Take him and go.”
Once the vampires are gone Laura turns to the ghoul. Cole tells her everything they found in a few short sentences. “I have heard of a Black Court vampire named Clovis. I’ll get you the file. Ghoul!” she calls to it. “Swear on Grakka’s bones you will tell nothing of this night, and I will let you live.”
“I ssswear! On Grakka’sss broken bonesss!”
“Release it.” She says to J.R. “Ghoul, I want you to dispose of that corpse. Leave the other alone. We’ll have what’s left returned to her church.”
The ghoul breaks into a wide toothy smile. Cole looks like he disagrees with absolutely all of this but does not argue. “I have to find that eye before dawn, captain.”
“And I must return to Edinburgh. Our White Court friends had some disturbing news. Are you sure you are well?”
Laura nods and leaves the parking lot on foot. Cole pauses in front of the group. He looks haggard. “Thank you for your help. I’m sorry anyone had to see all that.”
J.R. releases the ghoul, kicking it away from him. “Best stay away, ghoul. If I see you again you won’t be this lucky.” J.R. reholsters his pistol, confident that the ghoul won’t attempt to attack him again – at least, not now.
J.R. had seen executions before, and this one seemed like it was necessary. Poking around and changing things inside someone’s mind wasn’t anything he’d’ve stood for, either.
The cell phone would have to wait until he returned to his lab, so it went in her purse for now. The screaming and shouting from the House of the Rising Sun forced Hugues to get out of the car and figure out what the commotion was about.
And all he could do was stand in stunned silence at the execution. As a Warden before, he had executed a few warlocks himself, but this one felt different. Probably because he knew Polly and had tried to keep an eye on her to make sure she didn’t destroy more minds.
For now though, he steeled his heart. Work had to be done.
“Warden.” Hugues announced as he stepped closer to Cole. “I found the victim’s cell phone and she,” gesturing to Jenny, “found her purse. There’s some items in there that are technologically delicate and would be ruined with prolonged exposure to practitioners, like yourselves. If you’d like, I’ll safely record all information in them for your use in your investigation as to who killed this woman. I get along well with technology.”
Jenny waited until Hughes had spoken to the warden and departed, fidgeting slightly and shivering. How could someone – anyone – do stuff like that? She hadn’t looked like a monster, but the way she’d spoken at the end…
“Uhm. Hi. Mister Cole? We met earlier. I’m not… I mean, I don’t know a whole lot about some of this stuff, but the way she shouted at you at the end wasn’t right. It wasn’t your fault what happened to her, what she’d done to those people, and it wasn’t right that she blamed you for it. Um. I know she tried to do something to you, at the end, right before… before she died.”
Jenny looks away for a moment, glancing up at the sky before turning back to Cole. “I’m not even entirely sure what that was, but I’m going to spend some time researching to try and fix it. You don’t deserve… stuff like that. It wasn’t even like you were the one who killed her!”
Cole wonders if this is the worst first night on a job anyone’s ever had. And it isn’t even over yet.
“I found the victim’s cell phone… I get along with technology.” That strange little kid, who doesn’t sound remotely like a little kid and is offering to compile evidence of all things, says.
Cole stops himself from demanding to know what the hell the kid is. He just doesn’t have time for that conversation right now. Besides it would be rude when the kid’s offering to help. “If you could get the printouts to my office, it’s just down the road from here, I’d appreciate it.” he says instead. Maybe they can have that conversation then.
Jenny’s heartfelt little speech is enough to make him shake his head and give a small, sad smile. He sets his hand on her shoulder and looks at the tip of her nose, which is about as close as a wizard can come to looking someone in the eyes. “She didn’t blame me for it, Jenny. She was just lashing out at anyone in her line of sight at the end. I let my guard down. It was my mistake. The important thing is she can’t hurt anyone else ever again. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it, but I’d appreciate it if word of what happened doesn’t leave this parking lot.”
He steps back and looks over at the ghoul, who has already made short work of most of Polly’s body. Yuck.
“Sulfur, huh. Don’t rightly like the sound of that,” J.R. says, thinking aloud. “Reckon I’ll ask around, see if Miss Nazarene had some issues with devils. I don’t cotton to such as them being in my city.”
“Neither do I.” Cole agrees. “If you find it, let me know. And be careful. I don’t want any more deaths.” He holds up his crystal again. The light is already dimmer than before. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have an eye to find.”
He hops the fence, leaving the group behind. It’s going to be a long night.