It’s a warm, damp evening in Vancouver in the summer of 2012, and the four of you, as recent arrivals to the Awakened community, have been asked to meet someone answering to the name “Montesquieu” at a bar in the trendy, kind of yuppie Gastown district.
Elithora is driving in an unassuming basic black late model Volkswagen Jetta. It would look utterly unremarkable in traffic. She’s wearing a black skirt and a muted green sweater. She’s 38, with wild curls of black hair and a striking face. She looks somewhat distracted as she rolls from one stop light to the next.
Easier is, of course, only relative. The strands of fate tie together both those who do and do not use turn signals or merge properly. Elithora peeks glances at her phone as she drives, periodically checking her work email for some bureaucratic update.
Traffic tonight is balls. Lots of people with long commutes choking up the narrow streets at this hour. As an Acanthus, though, Elithora is probably having an easier time than most.
Blackjack drove in a metallic blue 1968 MGC roadster with the top down. Has a look like he rather enjoyed his drive. As if he made every light. He’s wearing a dark blue sport jacket, with a white polo and black slacks. He has an acdemic air about him, as if he is studing everything around him for a paper. Blackjack is in his late 20’s. Dark hair is neatly styled, and he has a habit of tapping the ring on his left hand.
Aurelia is taking the skytrain. She’s younger, in her early-mid twenties, and wearing a frumpy gray wool skirt and a navy light raincoat. Her black hair is pulled up in a messy bun/ponytail/thing. Her big black docs may or may not betray something of her past.
Sinon is walking downtown. He appears as a man in his late 20s dressed in an immaculately pressed black suit.
One by one, you arrive – first Blackjack, then Elithora, then Aurelia, and finally Sinon. The Gastown neighborhood is one of those vintage areas that’s been carefully and very commercially “restored” to a hip nighttime destination. Its most famous feature is a steam-powered vintage clock that isn’t vintage at all – it was installed in the 1970s.
The place you’re meeting at is called Chemical Wedding. Getting there involves parking some distance away, crossing the street, and going down a cobblestone alleyway between two squat brick buildings, then down a set of stairs to a heavy, riveted door – a bit like a speakeasy, really.
How dreadfully hip.
Exactly. The streets are thronging with upwardly-mobile account managers and graphic designers moving between gallerias and bistros – but nobody seems to pay much attention to Chemical Wedding.
As each mage enters, they feel a sensation washing over them – a bit more alert, as if they’ve downed a coffee, accompanied by a light smoky aroma, like leaves burning in the distance.
Elithora is sitting at an open booth, sipping a dark beer and sniffing for mages.
Aurelia walks in and spots her, pulling off her coat to reveal a sky-blue sleeveless top that is a bit too small for her. She keeps talking about needing to get some more exercise but… “Hey”
Elithora touches the coat as Aurelia sits. “Oh, I like your jacket.” She makes chit-chat about mage politics while trying to get a waiter’s attention.
Sinon walks in. He surveys the room quickly, sits down at the bar and orders a drink for himself.
The bar resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned London club – the sort of place people meet to play Backgammon. Overstuffed leather seats, hardwoods, Tiffany lights – the entire atmosphere is subdued and smoky. The bartender is a balding, middle-aged man who moves quietly and efficiently between the very sparse scattering of patrons.
Blackjack moves to the bar, ordering a whiskey and then sitting by the ladies. “Are you two perhaps waiting to meet someone?”
The bartender pours Blackjack’s whiskey and then steps over to the group with a pad to take your orders.
Elithora is mid-gripe with Aurelia. “So I told him, they didn’t even email the spell schematics until 4:30 on Friday and …” She pauses and is not overly subtle about magically pinging the room while looking at BJ. “Oh, perhaps.”
Sinon sits down with the group.
This is clearly someone’s Demesne – Elithora has heard it had a reputation as a gathering place for the Awakened, but this is the first time she has been in. The resonance here is murky, as you’d expect from a place where mages gather in groups for extended periods, but there’s clearly a glamour woven to keep Sleepers ignoring the place.
(Elithora: I had always wondered why it had so few Yelp reviews for this neighborhood.)
“It seems our mysterious benefactor is a popular fellow. Do you guys know this ‘Montesquie’?”
Blackjack nods to Sinon. Sitting back in the chair and crossing his legs. “It was suggested that I meet him here. But that is all I know.”
Sinon raises his glass in response to Blackjack’s nod. “I have not heard of him either.”
While he was making his circuit of the room, Sinon noticed a mage he’s met before – a woman called Jones, a Guardian of the Shadowman Legacy and Provost to the Guardian Councilor. She tends to look like a female G-man with an intimidating mien, but she’s apparently here under a Masque, sitting in the corner, watching.
Aurelia shrugs. “I don’t know anyone really…”
(Elithora:) “Curious. Didn’t ring any bells at work. One can’t pass up a promising mystery, can one?”
Elithora takes a final swig of her beer and squints at the bottle as she plops it onto the table. “He must be around. You know how they are.” Elithora glances at the bartender first, then peeks around the room and shrugs.
Aurelia smiles broadly. “Have you looked around? I think everyone in this place is wide awake.”
Blackjack: “Building up the proper aura of mystery,” (In a slightly nasal Boston Brahman accent.)
(Elithora:) “Ha. Exactly.”
After a few minutes of chitchat, the door opens, admitting the sound of rain and a sharply-dressed blonde man in his mid-thirties. His expensive-looking jacket is completely dry. He scans the room briefly and his eyes light on the group. “Aha!” He hustles over.
Aurelia grins. “The popular kid arrives fashionably late. You’d think we’d grow out of this stuff but if anything I think we grow into it.”
Elithora smirks but can’t hide a genuine curiosity.
Sinon signals to the bartender for another round. “And whatever our friend here would like.”
Aurelia has barely started on hers. “Hey, I’m on a diet here!”
Pulling over a nearby chair, he sits down and offers each of you a hand, giving no indication that he heard Aurelia’s comment. “Pleasure to meet you all! I’m called Montesquieu, as you’ve, uh, probably guessed.” He looks up at the bartender. “Cuba Libre, Blake.”
The bartender nods and starts mixing drinks.
(Elithora:) “So, what do you have for us, Monty?”
Montesquieu claps his hands together. “Okay! Excellent. Four of you, that’s pretty good, that’s pretty good. Better than I expected, frankly.” He looks at Elithora.
“Well, I’m the new Provost to our Hierarch, Rattenbury, and since the next Consilium-wide meeting isn’t for another couple of weeks, he’s asked me to kind of…take the measure of some of our new arrivals. I don’t know how much you’ve heard about the situation here in Vancouver…”
Elithora glances around the table. “I’m a recent transfer from down south…”
The bartender, Blake, drops off the new round of drinks. Montesquieu takes his Cuba Libre and drains half of it at one go, then smacks his lips contentedly. "God, I needed that. Okay. So. What it boils down to is, Vancouver’s getting flooded with Awakened. People coming because of jobs, because of troubles elsewhere – and immigration.
“We’re kind of up to our ears in people we don’t know and whose motives nobody has spoken for. It’s made things…tense, right? You can imagine. So Rattenbury, my boss – he’s decided that newcomers are to be immediately registered with the Consilium and formed into temporary cabals so we can keep track of you. And so you guys can stay safe, too.
Sinon drops any pretense of social nicety. “So you either need help controlling this situation or you need us to prove our usefulness.”
(Blackjack:) “Well one does speak towards the other.”
Montesquieu points two index fingers at Sinon. “Bingo. It’s not the way we’d prefer to do things – we used to really roll out the red carpet – but Awakened society still thinks card files are dangerous, untested new technology.”
Aurelia frowns. “So… how many people were supposed to show up here?”
He looks at Aurelia. “We’ve gotten word of ten new arrivals in the past month. Who knows who they could be? Seers, Banishers…”
“Bottom line is, we’re behind the times. I’m trying to do my part, but…yeah.”
Elithora leans back and folds her arms. “I thought everyone seemed a bit cagey when I was transferred. I suppose we haven’t yet been vetted.”
“Well, the fact that you’ve shown up here is a big step forward, honestly,” he shrugs. “But this guy – Sinon, right? – he’s right. As long as we’ve got you here, we may as well have you run some errands. Just till everyone’s comfortable.”
Aurelia is fretting a little. “Were they all supposed to show up here? Because Deilung Sifu is not a banisher or anything like that.”
He pulls out an iPhone and says a name to Siri in High Speech.
“It looks like one of the heralds has spoken to him. He’s fine for now.”
Aurelia looks somewhat relieved.
(Blackjack:) “My First Talon spoke of things being…tense here with other ‘things’.” (With a degree of disain towards those ‘things’. )
Elithora raises an eyebrow and nurses her new beer. She touches Aurelia’s arm as if about to say something, but then pauses and listens to BJ with some curiosity.
Montesquieu shrugs. “It is what it is. I imagine it’s got to be a temporary state of affairs.”
Montesquieu glances at his phone again, frowns, finishes his drink and stands up. “Talking of service, are you all available for the next hour or so?”
Elithora shrugs. “Of course.”
Sinon nods. “We can play this game. What do you need?”
(Blackjack:) “Nothing better to do.”
(Aurelia:) “I guess. I mean, may as well, right?”
“Alright, if you’ll follow me…” He pulls out the phone and says something else in High Speech, then, “Meet us outside.”
He leads the group out onto the damp cobbles outside the bar – the rain has turned to a light, warm mist – then to the street, where a sleek, dark limousine idles. He opens the door and waves them in.
Those looking notice that nobody is driving.
Elithora slides into a seat. “Clearly you were Fated to be a politician in some time-displaced life.”
Sinon enters the limousine.
Aurelia slides in next to Elithora, any familiarity a comfort right now.
Blackjack waits for the rest to enter before sliding in. Carefully adjusting an unseen object on his hip.
Montesquieu smiles. “I’m a transplant myself. This is all circa 1990s dot-com money, or what’s left of it.” He squeezes in next to the party.
“The Richmond meeting,” he says to no-one in particular, and the car shifts into gear and moves forward smoothly.
Elithora does a double-take at the nonexistent driver, only now noticing.
(Aurelia:) “You get bought out?”
“Right before the bubble. I was a retiree in his twenties. That’s actually how I Awakened, I think – you get a lot of time to think about how pointless everything seems after a year or two of that…”
(Aurelia:) “At least you got a big payday.”
His eyes refocus.
“But on to tonight’s business. My second appointment of the evening. I need you four to watch my back at an exchange.”
(Sinon:) “Any details?”
“Well, I’ve told you about our…population problem. That extends to Demesnes and Hallows as well. Put bluntly, there isn’t enough Mana in Vancouver to go around. You can imagine how that exacerbates things.”
“There’s a fellow – a Mastigos Libertine by the name of Pitch – who makes a business out of supplying us with Tass. He’s got a good setup; he finds clients in other cities or out in the boondocks, guys who live in forest glades swimming in Mana, and gives them things they need in exchange for Tass to sell to us.”
Elithora mutters, “Always with the real estate,” to no one in particular and listens.
“It’s not normally the sort of business the Guardians would tolerate, but they reluctantly have allowed him to operate here because keeping the Consilium in Mana helps keep tempers manageable.”
(Aurelia:) “What does he charge?”
(Blackjack:) “I assume an arm and a leg.”
“Quid pro quo. Whatever his other clients need that they can’t make for themselves. Some mountain man who maybe can’t forge a magic knife for himself or whatever.”
“That’s what we have to trade – the expertise of dozens of Mages in a world-class city.”
“We’ve done this before, but…it’s always good to bring backup. And to vary your pattern. He’s met with our Heralds before, or individual Mages, but sending a Provost reminds him that he operates at the sufferance of the Consilium.”
Elithora looks somewhat nervous but nods grudgingly to Montesquieu. “Smart.”
After about twenty minutes the limo crosses a bridge to Richmond, a bustling borough north of downtown and home to a lot of recent Asian immigration. The tight skyscrapers have given way to wide boulevards and big-box stores, a lot of which sell discount electronics.
(Aurelia:) “Well if you’re worried we should prepare suitable defenses.”
Imagine your favorite soulless suburb, except the Best Buys are made up to look like pagodas.
That’s so Mulan. /margaretcho
(Blackjack:) “Who travels without them?”
“Good call, miss. We’ve got a couple minutes – make your preparations now.”
Aurelia nods. “Mental defenses, Mr. Blackjack?”
(Blackjack:) “Physical and magical. Mind isn’t my forte.”
Aurelia casts Mind Shield on everyone in the car. Blackjack casts a shield against magic on each of you, one at a time.
Something in the air gives Elithora a feeling that this meeting may go awry.
You pull into the back lot of a closed wholesaler, out by the loading docks. Montesquieu looks out the window and shrugs. “Not here yet, but it’ll be soon.” He opens the door and steps outside.
Elithora’s mouth twists into an “S” but she doesn’t say anything specific beyond, “Let’s be careful” to the car at large.
There’s a pleasingly cool breeze coming in from the east, down from the mountains. It carries the smells of local cooking and the sound of distant traffic, but aside from yourselves this parking lot is empty.
Suddenly a Portal opens up! It reminds the more pop-culturally-literate of you of the Delorean appearing in Back to the Future – this glowing tear in the fabric of the Fallen World yawns open with sparks and electricity arcing everywhere, and then a magenta VW bus barrels into the lot, screeching to a halt.
“There he is.”
Aurelia puts her eyes on.
Blackjack closes his eyes and then opens them as he opens up his mage sight.
Sinon attempts to do the same, but blinded by the blazing shade of magenta. (Well nothing magical going on here!)
Those using Supernal vision see a pair of men inside the bus – one clearly Awakened, one not. And yes, the bus looks like something from the Magical Mystery Tour in this vision.
The doors open and the men step out. The mage is a slightly built man in his early thirties – he’s clean cut, with small earrings, and wearing skinny jeans and a baggy hoodie over an Atari t-shirt. The other – who must be a Sleepwalker – is tall, older, bald, and bulky. Something about him says “biker” although he’s dressed modestly.
The younger man steps forward. “Dolph, if you could get the stuff from out back.” He rubs his hands together. “Is there a problem, Mister Monta…Monty…whatever?”
Eyeing the four of you.
Sinon eyes them back.
Blackjack holds his hands at his sides as he looks around the area, somewhat ignoring the men since the others are watching, but is watching the enviroment.
Sinon thinks Pitch is pretty at ease here – he’s not a drug dealer and he’s dealing with local officials, so it’s not like he’s going to get in trouble. He seems mainly curious. Dolph is clearly a professional at this sort of thing and there is a pretty obvious revolver-shaped bulge under his sweatshirt.
This is more or less the read Aurelia gets as well. Pitch is a bit annoyed at constantly dealing with new people but he doesn’t look like he’s going to freak out or anything.
Aurelia shrugs. “We’re just new in town, getting the grand tour”
“Montesquieu,” your companion says, proffering a hand. “These are apprentices, here by the request of the Hierarch. There’s nothing to worry about. The Consilium appreciates the service you provide. And on that note…” he removes a manila envelope from his jacket. “I’m told Forge spent a month on that trinket. I hope it satisfies.”
Pitch takes it, opens the envelope, and nods. “It’s good, man. Just what my client asked for.” He calls back over his shoulder. “Dolph, you wanna bring those cases up?”
Elithora is clearly more used to typing purchase orders for magical needs and is watching pensively.
Sinon notices that he can’t see Dolph’s feet behind the VW bus.
You saw him all of thirty seconds ago, and heard him rummaging around, but now..?
Pitch notices your attention and turns around. “Dolph,…? Yo!”
Sinon was raising his finger to his lips to signal for quiet… “Damn it!”
Pitch runs around the side of the bus. “What the fuck…?! What’s going on here?!” He looks at Montesquieu and you accusingly. “It’s all gone! All of it!”