Colin Jenks might be going mad.
Not only is a giant coyote approaching him, but it is talking to him as well. As it approaches, this coyote seems to melt and shift, transforming from a giant canine to a very tall humanoid in an expensive-looking suit … with a coyote’s head. The creature tells Jenks that it would be well within his rights to eat thieves, but Colin has the smell of the Nunnehi upon him. Are they kinsmen then? If so, then it would be very poor manners of the coyote to eat a kinsman. Seeing a loophole, Colin is very eager to claim distant kinship so the coyote instead decides to send him on a “journey outside of the boundaries of earth, along the spine of the dreams of Man and through the nightmares of the Fade.” Unless Colin would prefer to be eaten instead, of course. Wisely, Mister Jenks opts for the ‘less painful’ option and then is at least mildly concerned when the coyote-man is unclear on which one is the less painful.
Regardless, the creatures charges Colin thus: “Via the Black Road, you shall enter the City Below and go to the Lake of Shadows. Cross it and proceed on to the King’s Gate. As there is no King sitting in his throne at this time, pay homage to the Regent at his circle and prove your worth in whatever manner he decides. Succeed at this and ask for the Key, which you must then take along the Gray Road to the great Stone Bridge. This should allow you access to the Nickle Hill where you must find the West Gate and open it with the Key…”
Colin’s blank-eyed response: “Go down a road. Get a key. Got it.” This causes Mister Coyote to query as to whether Jenk truly understands what he has been tasked with and then, upon discovering that his distant kinsman is either very young or very dumb, Mister Coyote muses upon how to best describe the City Below to younglings and fools. He settles on “the City Below is a tiny piece of the Never-Was, carved upon footprints of the Could-Have-Been with foundations wrought from the memories of tomorrow. It is the place where the echoes of the Maybe become solid and that which is Lost may yet be Found.”
This is not really that helpful but Mister Coyote seems to think it explained everything and takes the bucket of poker chips away from Colin before replacing it with a large, heavy gold coin that is covered with strange symbols and glyphs upon it. These symbols seem to shift and change when looked upon, and Colin’s head hurts when he looks at them. This Coin, according to Mister Coyote, will be necessary for the boatman to carry him across the lake.
Mister Coyote then ushers Colin to a set of stairs leading down – they weren’t there before and are in exactly the same spot he remembers the elevator having been. The stairs seem to glow from within subtly which makes Jenks think (wildly) that they’re wrought of congealed starlight or something. After wishing him a terse good luck, Mister Coyote sets him upon the stairs.
Colin goes down … down … down … down … seemingly for an eternity. Around him, there appears to be … nothing at all – no substance or light or wind, just a hollow nothingness that is disturbing. Equally worrisome to him is the fact that the stairs back up seem to vanish exactly two steps up, regardless of how far down he goes. So much for retracing his steps!
He isn’t sure how long he walks – his legs ache, but it is a dull, distant pain, like he exerted himself the day before instead of now – but eventually, they come to an end right in front of a very dark road that stretches out in either direction. The landscape is weird-looking to him as well, like something out of a particularly strange (or drug-induced) dream. He barely has time to get his bearings before a trio of immense and stunningly ugly monsters appear. They react to his presence with surprise, then malicious glee as they roar wildly and start charging toward him!
In the stairwell of City Place Tower, the situation has just turned violent. OSBI Agent Jack Carter is one landing above the two masked and armed assailants that he sent tumbling down the stairs, while Agent Wufei Qing has burst through the door outside the stairs below them. Accompanying Woo are ATF Agent Kara Moretti and two OKC police officers, Davis and Sullivan.
Woo is the first to shoot, although this will definitely be justified since he’s facing down two men wearing body armor, one of which is holding a Colt M4 while the other has a Glock. Agent Qing is concerned about his boss, Carter, who has apparently dropped completely out of contact. Immediately, the stairwell is crisscrossed with gunfire – which is loud in the enclosed space – and Officer Sullivan is struck squarely in the torso by automatic fire; his vest absorbs is not strong enough to hold against the assault rifle rounds and he staggers to covers, bleeding profusely, before finally passing out.
Thanks to well-placed fire from Agent Moretti’s shotgun, the two shooters are knocked off their feet, but their body armor holds and they continue to exchange fire with the LEOs they can see … and the one they can’t. Hidden by his magic cloak, Jack unloads with his M4, and soon, the hostile rifleman is taken out.
The pistol-wielding hostile – who is also handcuffed thanks to Carter’s earlier actions – empties half a magazine in Jack’s general direction but is unable to pierce the glamour surrounding the man so his shots are wide. Recognizing that the shooter is distracted, Woo charges up the stairs and lashes out, disarming the handcuffed man. The man is not yet done, though, and lunges toward Woo with a growl, clearly intending on trying to take him over the railing; Qing expertly evades the strike but the shooter’s handcuffed hands throws the man off. With a startled cry, he goes over the side of the stairwell landing.
Realizing that everyone seems to be ignoring him while the cloak’s glamour is active, Jack removes it, momentarily startling Woo when he seems to spring into existence. Carter orders Officer Davis to remain here with Sullivan before issuing an “Officer down” call over his radio. Taking Qing and Moretti with him, he then starts up the stairs, intent on getting to the penthouse under siege before the hostages are killed.
From the sounds of gunfire above them, though, they may already be too late.
Arriving at Neutral Grounds on her bike, Sofía Torres is greeted by Lei and notes that there are five people present tonight. Auric arrives soon after and addresses Lei politely in Chinese before joining Sofía. He immediately thanks her for at least listening to her and reveals that the Red Court have seized his master, Wizard Montjoy!
According to Auric, Wizard Montjoy has been researching a long-storied grimoire known as the Nocte Eternæ and had tracked it here. Sofía is surprised at this because this grimoire has long been frankly thought of as a myth – it is a treatise on necromancy written by some unnamed warlock from centuries past on the lines of the equally mythical “Word of Kemmler.” That a wizard of such prestige as Montjoy would even believe in such a thing is strange enough, but for him to have been interested in at all … well, that’s equally troubling.
As to how they tracked it here, Auric reveals that he overheard his master speaking to a woman he addressed as “Ms. Raith,” which Craft guessed was the White Court vampire that lives here, and soon after, Montjoy sent Auric to research a family that lives in the city. And then, the Reds seized his master and the Council did not believe his story … so he came to her, knowing that she possesses Guardian tendencies at the very least and might even lean toward the Crusaders.
This causes Sofía to briefly muse upon the strange internal politics of the White Council and how there are six major factions within the wizards. These are similar to political parties in parliamentary systems of government, but are mostly unofficial alliances, not firm groups. The Centrists are the largest group but least political viable and, as their name indicates, are moderates who want to go along to get along; the Directors want to guide and control normal society for various reasons – the Merlin is generally considered the unofficial leader of this faction; Guardians want the Council to actively oppose supernatural threats and it is from them that most Wardens are drawn; related to them are the Crusaders who want the same thing but also want the Council to act proactively against warlocks – they do not consider themselves a separate faction, just really aggressive Guardians, but everyone else (including most Guardians) consider this minority faction to be extremist nutjobs; Isolationists are a minority group who want to avoid dealing with the mundane world entirely; and finally, the Weissians are a tiny group who adhere to the teachings of a Wizard who died in the 1700s and taught that magic is the next step in human potential so the entire race needs to embrace it. After some consideration, Sofía realizes that yeah, she probably is of the Guardian mindset.
When asked about the family that Montjoy had him researching, Auric reveals that they’re a wealthy family named Howell and their house is very powerfully warded. He produces a small silver bowl, dips some water in it and summons up an image of that house…
Ironically, Howard Lee is already observing this house, having been staking it out for nearly a week. In that time, he has learned that the Howells are a thoroughly creepy lot, with the patriarch – David – being from Old Money but working at a generic-sounding investment firm, and the matriarch – Melissa – being a model, failed actor and general trophy wife. Their daughter, Kimberly, is an Instagram celebrity who is basically famous for being famous … and for her sex tape.
Over the week, Lee has observed the family’s routine: David Howell leaves every day for work at seven, then around 9 a UPS guy (who isn’t driving a UPS truck) arrives to deliver a package to Melissa Howell who then … “thanks” him for his service very explicitly. Lee suspects that he’s stumbled upon a drug delivery system for they wealthy and makes a note to investigate further when he’s not creeped out by seeing daughter Kimberly watching her mother sex up the UPS guy … and offering tips! For pretty much the rest of the day, the daughter hangs out at the pool or works out, usually naked, and then entertains guests in a manner similar to her mother. Dad comes home around 6 and both parents are disturbingly comfortable with talking to their entirely too naked daughter.
This family, Lee has decided, is thoroughly screwed up.
Around 10 p.m. every day, a man arrives who the family fawn over. The entire lot disappear downstairs for two hours before reappearing and then, the guy briefly feeds on someone – one of the Howells, or one of the staff, or even one of the ubiquitous guards who patrol the house grounds. Seeing the Red Court vampire’s flesh mask waver makes this entire setup a little less strange to Lee … and that probably disturbs him more than he would like.
Tonight, Lee has decided he’s going to try and follow the vampire. He’s currently posing as an Oklahoma Gas & Electric tech working on testing the power lines; this puts him high up enough to see over the trees that conceal the house. When he hears the sound of wings, he’s only slightly surprised to find Aoibheal perched on the power line beside him. She inquires as to why he is watching this ‘den of iniquity’ since she tasked him to ‘liberate the kinslayer girl’ and Lee reveals that his investigation has brought him here. When he briefly glances at Aoibheal’s feet – a normal person wouldn’t be able to balance on a power line like this! – he discovers that she currently has the feet of bird … which causes Lee to shake his head and try to not break his brain.
A new car arrives and Aoibheal goes thoroughly rigid at the sight of the woman who climbs out. This stranger has a brief conversation with Mister Howell and then offers a card before returning to her car. Aoibheal informs Lee flatly that they need to follow this woman before demanding to know where his “chariot” is. When he points toward his car, Aoibheal stands and starts walking along the power line in that direction. Unfortunately, it takes him a little longer to get down and he finds the Fae Lady waiting at his car for him to open the door for her.
Which he does.
It takes a little doing, but Lee manages to shadow the woman to what appears to be an empty park within visual of the Capitol building. Aoibheal murmurs something that Lee does not understand: “So this is where the Wolf, the Ram and Hart hide themselves,” she says.
He quickly realizes that his efforts at shadowing the woman were for naught as she angles toward them and Aoibheal gives him an impatient look, prompting him to exit the car and open her door. This woman greets ‘Lady Aoibheal’ like an old associate and the Fae responds in kind, identifying her as ‘Miss Morgan’ before introducing Lee as ‘my Knight.’ After a bit of diplomatic speak, Morgan and Aoibheal head toward the ‘empty field’ with Lee following. They pass through … something and suddenly, Lee finds a very large building looming before them.
With a sigh, he continues to follow.
Upon reaching the floor of the penthouse, the three law enforcement agents hear a few gunshots and a scream or two. Jack dons his cape again after telling Woo and Moretti that he’ll scout forward, but they don’t bother listening to him, not with the sounds of violence inside. Instead, Woo surges forward and power blows the door leading inside. To Jack’s strange supernatural senses, it seems as though lightning briefly centers in Woo’s hands, then courses through his body and erupts from his foot as he kicks in the door.
Instantly, a gunfight erupts. The first visible hostile barely has time to react before both Moretti and Woo open up with their shotguns and send him sliding back onto the ground; his armor holds, but he scrambles into cover and closes a door connecting them. The gunfire and shouts of alarm immediately draw the man’s allies and within seconds, the narrow foyer of the penthouse is crisscrossed with bullets.
Jack, unseen thanks to his cloak’s glamour, skirts around the hostiles, kicking one out of cover and into range of Woo who surges forward and drops the man with a flurry of kicks and punches. Carter takes out another with a burst of fire from his reloaded M4; the bullets tear through the man’s leg and send him to the ground. Not to be outdone, Moretti empties her shotgun, then draws her pistol; she takes several rounds to the chest, but her high-end body armor protects her and she retaliates with a well-placed head shot that kills her target instantly.
As Carter wrestles with the last upright man – apart from the first one who dove for the bathroom – his cloak is knocked askew so he can be seen and Woo promptly springs forward to assist with the takedown. Moretti, satisfied that the two can handle that man, kicks open the door to the bathroom where the first man fled. She is momentarily startled to realize that he has broken through the thin wall on the other side but then her eyes widen in alarm when he reappears and throws a backpack toward her. Crying out a warning, she dives for cover.
And then, there’s a flash …
Again, fairly satisfied with this, although there were some issues. My use of Fantasy Ground helps sometimes (the combat tracker, especially) and hinders others (mostly because I’m running it off of my work desktop, then using Join.Me on my laptop so I can control said desktop while joining the session on the television/computer for the players to see), so I need to find a happy medium. As is all too often, I got some tunnel vision with regards to it – hey, the program’s available so I have to use all features instead of not – so I’m hoping next week will go smoother.
Because of the twin fights in the session, I knew that the Colin, Sofia and Lee bits would be slightly shorter than I would have liked, but I’m planning on having at least two of them (Colin & Sofia) be the central elements for next session.
Also, totally stole the “factions” bit for the Council from the Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka. I may have also borrowed some elements from that series for Jack’s cloak…