At the Edge of All Things

Session 7

Bleakscale, part III

The still-unnamed cabal has been investigating the abyssal infection that has been moving through Vancouver’s homeless and indigent population.  With the help of Jude, a researcher from the Mysterium, they conducted an extended scrying ritual that yielded up the location of Gerard, Minerva’s ex-husband and the organizer of Arrowsmith’s cabal. Gerard is on a boat in the river south of downtown Vancouver.  He used the apostate cabal to gather information that may help unravel its source.  And the four mages are at a locked marina gate on a weeknight. 

There is a small selection of boats at the marina – a hot pink cigarette boat, a covered pontoon boat, and a pair of aluminum canoes.

“The Canoes?” Blackjack grimaces—he is going to ruin his pants in those.

Elithora glances over her shoulder in precisely the manner you don’t if you’re experienced at looking like a not-thief and then eyes the boats. “A motorboat might give away our approach. I doubt he’s expecting company to cruise in.”

Aurelia shrugs. “I don’t know the first thing about boats.”

Elithora: “How hard can it be? You sit in it and … paddle? Right?”

“I guess” Aurelia looks around at the others, hoping to see some sign of competence in this area

Looks at Sinon, “I will take one, you take one?”

Sinon nods and heads towards the nearest canoe.  “It’s been awhile since I’ve been in one of these things.”

The arrow steps carefully into the lead slot in the first one, holding it steady against the dock. Very carefully placing the shotgun and remembering where.

Jude steps across to Aurelia.  “One moment.”  He puts his hands around her upper arms and scrutinizes her deeply for a moment.  There.  Mental link established.  I’ll stay on shore.  Think to me for help if something goes wrong.

Then he steps back.  “Rank hath its privileges, and tonight mine is to not be caught canoeing across False Creek.  I’ll be there in spirit, you know.”

Sinon smirks a bit at that statement .  He then steps into the rear seat of the canoe.

Aurelia smiles. Useful… it usually takes me a lot of fumbling about with hair samples and mudras to get that done… if I even can. You’ll have to teach me.

BJ has a moment where he tries paddling with the handle.

Aurelia steps into the canoe with BJ. “Watch it… don’t rock the boat.”

Success!  The two canoes glide into the dark still waters of False Creek, which, despite the name, looks very much like a river.  The night is clear and warm, and light is all around – straight ahead the party can see in the distance the seawall on the other side, lined with streetlamps, and behind that, the starry bulk of nighttime Vancouver.

Loud sounds carry up and down the river from left and right – cars, boat horns, the distant cries of gulls.  The water carries it so well it sounds like it’s all happening right next to the cabal instead of a mile in either direction.  The mages don’t think stealth will be a problem.

Aurelia’s sense of Gerard’s direction has held true, and as you round a small islet you can see the silhouette of a houseboat against the light coming from the seawall.  Aside from some red running lights, the deck is dark.

It’s about forty feet long, and as the canoes get closer the cabal can see little slivers of light escaping from inside.  It looks like the windows have largely been papered over.

Elithora peers at the boat. “Looks quiet.”

Blackjack uses mage sight to see if there are any wards.

The deck is definitely warded. The wards are set up with basic prohibitions against spirits and supernatural creatures and to send a Mind message to someone (presumably Gerard) if a Mage sets foot on the deck.

In the strands of fate Elithora sees the group stepping onto the boat and a loud bang as a sweaty, balding man bursts out the door, eyes wide with suspicion.

Blackjack casts a Controlled Dispellation on the wards to let the four mages in without triggering the mind message.

In his supernal vision, the talon sees the blue light of the wards gutter and dim, like a flame when the gas has been turned almost off.

Elithora: “How gently are we going in? I can tell you he’s going to be tense when he realizes we’re onboard.”

Blackjack Speaks in a low voice. “I am thinking harder rather then softer.”

Aurelia: “We need him, and we need his cooperation.”

Blackjack carefully pulls up to the houseboat, gesturing for Aurelia to get off first. Sinon and Elithora follow.

The party pulls up and ties off the canoes, stepping gingerly from them to the deck of the houseboat.

The deck is a mess.  You have to watch your step because crushed beer cans are everywhere, along with what looks to be a half-empty bag of milk.  A gull squawks at your group then flies off.

From behind the door, you can hear music – you think there’s a stereo on. Some of you might recognize the tune as King Crimson.

21st Century Schizoid Man

Sinon looks at the mess.  “He and Loki must get along.”

Blackjack makes sure he still has the shotgun. Shrugs, figures he has point. Pounds on the door. Bracing himself.

Sinon steps to one side of the door, somewhat out of sight.

Aurelia stands fearlessly before the door, composing herself and tapping the rhythm out on her thigh

The door opens half a crack.  A balding, bearded man with a round face glares out for a moment.  “We don’t want any!”  It shuts again.

It opens again, wider.  “Wait!  I live on a boat!”

“Yes. Clearly. Now invite us in.” Blackjack places his hands behind his back.

Elithora: “Is… is that Ye?”

The figure before you is very “ish.”  Shortish, roundish, baldish, but not entirely committed to any of those things.  His beard is trimmed and a bit devilish, but the ring of hair around the back of his head is lanky and unkempt.  His sleeveless t-shirt and shorts betray a figure gone somewhat to fat, but with broad and surprisingly muscled shoulders.

His expression is one of utter bafflement for a long moment. “I…”  Meanwhile, an awful stench wafts out from inside.  Something that speaks of worse than the stacks of pizza boxes you see.

Aurelia immediately tries to place it. Rolling smell skill

it is the stench of death.  Something’s dead inside.

Aurelia: God he has let himself go

Jude: That presumes he was much better to begin with, dear heart.

Blackjack turns up the imperial tone in his voice. “Are you going to continue being rude or are you going to invite us in. We have much to discuss.”

Gerard looks Blackjack up and down.  “I….well, it’s kind of awful in here, to be honest…I should come out.  Yes.  I should come out.  Fresh air.”

Aurelia: There’s death here. Don’t need to send an adept to tell. It stinks of it Aurelia wrinkles her nose. “I agree. You got a rat problem or something?”

“No.  I mean, I do.  But that’s not…what’s going on?  You didn’t kick down my door with shotguns, so not Seers or Banishers, so that’s good, I guess, maybe….”

Aurelia: That smell… it’s getting to me. Something is wrong here. Very wrong Aurelia coughs slightly and nods. “Yes, I’m hoping our visit will be a pleasant one. We’re given to understand that you have some information on an… epidemic in the city. Bleakscale.”

Elithora: “Oh, we’re neither. We’re here on what you might call medical research business.”

Jude: Better you than me.  Bear in mind that dead bodies in the basement is just another day at the office for some Awakened.

Aurelia: Houseboats don’t have basements. Call me naive, but I am uncomfortable with dead bodies in close proximity

He looks around him, hand on temple.  “I…yes!  That makes sense.  You’ve been conducting your own inquiries, your own…reassuring, I guess, to see that you still care…!  I pursued my own lines for a while, but my deputies got…” he looks up.  “Oh, I see.  You caught…yes, well, I guess that was going to happen.  So what is it, then?  Comparing notes?”

Aurelia nods. “Your notes would be very useful for the council in dealing with this matter. Please trust that the… details of our encounter will remain private, however. Assuming good faith cooperation, of course.”

Sinon places his hands in his pockets and leans back against the wall, content for now to wait and see if the mystagogues can negotiate with the crazed apostate.

Blackjack suspects this guy is on some AA watch list. Is planning on reporting his current whereabouts.

He taps the side of his head.  “Private details?  Doubt it, doubt it, doubt it…nothing’s private very long in this….anyway, come in, all of you.  Sorry about the stench.  It’s a dead…person.  Not from me!  The infection.”  He waves you in.

Blackjack steps in first, grimacing at the smell.

He steps forward and pulls a canvas tarpaulin from atop a table in the center of the room.  Sure enough,there’s a dead black man in his mid-forties underneath.  His shirt has been removed and the skin underneath is cracked and pitted, a spiderweb of lines across his chest in actual jet-black.

Aurelia grimaces. “Is that safe? shouldn’t we follow quarantine procedures… whatever they may be?”

Sinon waits for the rest of the group to enter before following.

Elithora walks in, keeping her composure despite the corpse.

“If it were that kind of sickness, any Disciple of Life could cure it.”  Sinon muses as he looks at the corpse.

“Oh, it only…Sleepers.  Infection isn’t really the right word, it’s more like….poisoning.”  He bends down, pulling up a heavy leather-bound book.  “Borrowed this from some friends in Seattle.  Records of previous…anyway.  I’m sorry if I don’t make much…I split my trains of thought, only way to collate that much…that much…you know?”

Aurelia nods. She’s tried that once before herself.

Elithora good cops it. “It must be a lot of work to juggle the research. What have you found? Any theories?”

Gerard looks confusedly at her for a second.  “Who are….?”  His eyes narrow with suspicion momentarily, then relax.  “Oh, it’s you.  Elithora.  WE’ve met, haven’t we?”  He produces a stuffed manila folder.  “I had the boy take notes.  He didn’t know what to…what to look for.  Neither do I, but…I may now.”  He holds his hands up.  “Help me.”

Sinon quickly looks at Gerard and then at Elithora, this exchange having piqued his interest for a reason he cannot pin down.

He points at the body.  “This man.  I need…his life.  Everything we can think of about him.  Age, height, favorite color if we can….you see, Mind is no good when they’re….well, and he very much is, as you can smell.  Indulge me.  Tell me about him.”

Elithora looks confused for a split second and then smiles calmly without missing another beat. “The best thing when the research is giving you a headache is fresh eyes.” She leans down to peer at the body. “I wish I had more of a background in Death to be direct, but … Hmm.”

Aurelia has taken to covering her nose and mouth with a handkerchief “This is not in my wheelhouse at all. Have at it, Eli.”

Elithora straightens back up. “What do you have on him? Do we know his name, any information?”

Gerard tilts his head.  “I know…he died of…” he waves his hand.  “That’s about it.  Just got him here not too…anyway, and now you’re here, so.”

Blackjack finds that Gerard had not found the man’s wallet. He checks it for ID and other clues.

There’s a five-dollar Canadian bill and a provincial assistance photo ID card.  Ronald Brown, DOB 12/17/63, 176 cm, 87 kg, brown eyes, black hair.  Vancouver public library card.  And a paper business card with a doctor’s appointment date scribbled on it for three weeks from now.

Blackjack hands it over to Eli.

Gerard’s eyes widen as Blackjack flicks through the contents of the wallet.  “I’m…collating…comparing…give me a fact. Give me something that you think might be relevant…”

Elithora flips through everything with interest and pauses at the library card, then the business card. She passes the business card to Gerard. “How about this?”

She holds up the library card to her associates. “We have no idea what we’re looking for to trigger the disease, but I wonder if his reading history has anything?”

Gerard’s eyes close for a second. A hum rises in the back of his throat.  “No doctor’s cards….sick people all have appointments…discard, discard….did you say reading history?”

Elithora reads off the name of the library and repeats “Ronald Brown” before holding the library card to Gerard. “What do you think?”

Gerard’s eyes roll up.  “I….that’s…it’s….”  His eyelids flutter.  “Sixty percent.  Eighty….that’s…”  Suddenly he draws a deep breath, like someone bursting out of the water after a long immersion.  “That’s it.  That’s…that’s it.  Most of the victims had passed through the Vancouver Public Library.”

Sinon: “Open to the entire public.  A place relatively welcoming to the population afflicted.  It makes sense.”

Gerard sinks into a nearby chair, eyes closed.  “They spend hours there, some of them.  Hiding out from the rain, from the cold….but now we know where to look.”

Elithora stares at the library card as if expecting it to say something to her. “But not everyone who walks in there gets it, so … there must be some specific trigger.”

Blackjack: “A cursed book perhaps.”

Sinon: “I thought cursed tomes were more likely to destroy a sleeper’s sanity or summon an abyssal creature from a non-euclidean dimension rather than take on a physical manifestation.”

Blackjack: “Given current company does it really seem that strange?”

Elithora: “The text itself might be indirect. Something cryptic causing the abyssal leak in, rather than an obvious rupture.”

Aurelia: “Or we may run into cthulhu in the library.”

Sinon: “If Cthulhu shows up, I’ll requisition a tug-boat to ram into him.”

Blackjack: “Great. That means you get to write up the paperwork.”

Sinon: “The great part about being a Guardian of the Veil is that paperwork is forbidden—too vulnerable to theft.”

Blackjack: “Excellent. I will keep that in mind.” Ignoring the crazy guy.

From his chair, Gerard mutters.  “Field work. I was going to have the children do it, when we knew what was going on….but now you’re here, so…”

Elithora smirks and sets the library card down next to the corpse. “Well, then we can ask him for an explanation directly. In the meantime, I guess we know our next stop?”

Gerard stirs.  “You’re leaving, just like that?  Without partaking of my legendary…” he looks around the wreckage of his living room, the stacked boxes and reek of dead body and stale beer.  “Of my legendary…on second thought, I’ll take a rain check.”

Aurelia: “Your legendary indeed.”

Elithora pauses and then nods. “You understand the urgency of investigating this condition. Your … insights into this were precisely what we were missing.”

Gerard harrumphs.  “You’re much more polite than your companion, young lady.  What was the name again?  I think I’ve forgotten it.”

Elithora smiles patiently. “Just call me Eli. Thanks for putting us on the right track.” Elithora raises an eyebrow to her companions, because another minute in this room with this smell will be her undoing.

Aurelia: We have a connection. The public library. Is there anything else we need of this man?

Jude:-I’m impressed you got that much.  This went about as well as it could possibly have, I wager.  Leave him be for now.-

And don’t head to the library just yet.  That’s Sentinel business.  You’ve found what you needed.

Elithora: “We’ve taken up enough of your time. Here, in case you think of anything else regarding the abyssal condition.”

Aurelia: “Thank you, Gerard. You’ve been most helpful to our investigation. Shall we go then?”

Elithora pawns off one of her several handy business cards with an email address that would be difficult to trace anywhere.

“Thank you for the assistance, Mr. Gerard.” Sinon heads outside and pulls out his phone.

Elithora raps her knuckle on the table as she passes towards the door. “Mr. Brown …”

Gerard takes it, nods at it, and stuffs it into a shorts pocket.  Fifty/fifty it gets lost in the wash.  As you guys move to leave, he suddenly says “Wait.” to the two young women.

Blackjack pauses for a moment, ready to shift between them.

Elithora raises an eyebrow, half-turned back.

Sinon comes back in and bends down to tie his shoe as the apostate speaks.

Gerard leans against the doorframe, looking very tired.  “You’re mystagogues, right?  I can sort of see…well, anyway.  If you see my wife, tell her….tell her I….well, she probably knows.  Forget it.”

Elithora glances to Aurelia without meaning to.

Aurelia stops and continues to look at him. “No, please.”

Gerard meets Aurelia’s gaze.  “Tell her I…I’m not trying to, you know.  Rekindle.  I just want to help.  Tell her that.”

He turns around and goes back inside, shutting the door behind him.

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MrAnthropy

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