Arcanum

8. The Crow and the Rose

Sunday, the 29th of April and Monday, the 30th of April 1888

“And so you, like the others, would play your brains against mine. You would help these men to hunt me and frustrate me in my designs! You know now, and they know in part already, and will know in full before long, what it is to cross my path. They should have kept their energies for use closer to home. Whilst they played wits against me – against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born – I was countermining them. "


[Lisa, 3. 09. 2016]

The group’s investigations into the box with a rose and Henry Smith bear fruit; it appears that Henry is a young Toreador who hasn’t been in London for long, yet already has a reputation of being a troublemaker and a coterie of his own that is called “Club S”. Marcus meets with him in person to discuss the matter of the box, and Henry gives him a more detailed description of it, but takes his leave rather hastily at Marcus’ not-so-subtle hints at wanting to probe his mind for a picture of the box.
Marcus then spends the remainder of his night trying to figure out the sender of a note he received, using his clan’s particular gift for interpreting patterns which results in a slew of images that range from fascinating, such as a web of silvery threads all interconnecting with each other, or the sight of the city of London from above with fascinating patterns in its dancing lights, to outright disturbing, as is the case with a vision of a darkened labyrinth he is being chased through by shadows.

Meanwhile, Emma meets up with Norton, who appears pale and stressed, to receive a report she commissioned. While Norton does his best to put up a neutral facade, she prods and entrances him, to which he reacts by becoming furious for a moment. She manages to calm him down, and under the guise of fetching him some water, peeks around his office and notices that he has cleaned the place up considerably and removed all personal items and most of his files. Before she can hand him the water she spiked with her blood, he asks her what she is and audibly readies a gun. Emma manages to get the jump on him and disarm him of both the gun and a knife he held in his other hand, though not without using her supernatural powers. When he realizes that he has no way to flee, Norton slumps in her grip and reveals that he planned to close his office this very night and retire to a plot of land outside Brighton with his fiancee. Emma presents him the mixture of blood and water regardless, and he drinks, completing his bond to her. Before she leaves him for the day, she tries as best she can to pull him back from a potential abyss he might be standing on by assuring him that he needn’t worry so long as he doesn’t mention the night’s events to anybody and doesn’t do anything stupid; she gives him several ways to contact her, urging him to come to her should he need to, before helping him destroy the last of his records.

In a different part of town, Sinéad arranged a meeting with the Nosferatu antiquarian Gregory Hemmings, which took place in a library she could spend days or even weeks in just browsing its treasures. Greg, however, led her on a tour through the building’s basement, which contained interesting weapons dating from a variety of time periods, and told her some of the stories associated with them. The two of them make smalltalk about London, with the sewer system and the Nosferatu’s involvement in its inception a focus of their conversation, before they switch to his position of antiquarian and his interest for collecting objects and artifacts in particular. While they continue their tour, Sinéad notices a copy of Dracula in a section with books, which Greg lends her while pointing out that it is an entertaining read, commissioned by Lady Anne herself, which allegedly caused Montgomery’s move out of the city proper due to certain “gifts” he received from the Tzimisce for the book.

During the following night, Marcus ventures into the city to feed and pass some time before a meeting with Sinéad. He notices a very oppressive atmosphere in the city itself, coupled with a foreboding feeling about this particular night and the sensation that there is a film of darkness layered above everything he sees. After he returns home quickly, the feeling fades for a while only to worsen considerably at the stroke of midnight before dissipating completely. Before he can wonder what caused this, he hears a scream of terror and rushes towards his front door, where he finds a young servant of Stepano’s, incredibly pale and still in her nightgown, with a wound that coats her left leg crimson in blood. He sends for a doctor and brings the girl inside to patch her up. She tells him that she was attacked by monsters and that Stepano’s ghoul told her to run and get help from Marcus, which he confirms by peering into her mind. Marcus leaves a message for Christopher, telling him to be careful, before riding off for Stepano’s mansion as fast as he can.

Emma and Sinéad spend the first part of the night in an abandoned and carefully prepared building, littered with traps, where they attempt unsuccessfully to summon the Kindred that Aaron was beating on the night that Sinéad first met him. As nobody shows up even after several hours of waiting, both leave for the second Elysium where Sinéad had arranged to meet Marcus. In there, both of them notice that everybody present seems to be slightly depressed, and even Sinéad’s attempts to lift their spirits last only so long as she keeps their attention. When Marcus neither arrives himself nor sends word an hour after the agreed-upon time, Sinéad starts to worry, and both of them leave on horseback to go look for him at his mansion. While they don’t find him, they do gain information from his ghoul, who points them in the direction of Stepano’s mansion, to which they immediately leave with all haste.

The mansion itself turns out to be eerily quiet, with no animals present for miles around. All of the windows have been shattered, as if by a blast from within, peppering the surrounding area with tiny shards of glass. Marcus enters the building unseen and immediately finds a body within that has been partially splattered across a wall, though the face has been left intact – while he makes his way through the labyrinthine corridors, this sight repeats many more times, with a total of 30 corpses that appear to be leading somewhere. The victims were Stepano’s servants plus additional strangers Marcus doesn’t recognize, and they appear to have been killed slowly, painfully, after being rendered immobile. In the central room of the house, he finds what appears to be a body hanging from a chandelier; on closer inspection, it turns out to be Stepano’s ghoul … or rather, merely his skin. All across the walls, in Stepano’s handwriting and scribbled in blood, Marcus finds the words “they are coming”, which were written in a hurry, with a mixture of panic and confusion as well as a certainty about what was going to happen embedded in their emotional resonance. Marcus is overwhelmed by a feeling of wrongness, after which his mind is flooded by memories of Wales, lost for decades and finally returning.

When they finally arrive at the mension, Sinéad notices her ring warming up; she yells for Marcus as she jumps off her horse and races inside, while Emma stays with the horses and keeps an eye on the premise in case anybody else approaches. Marcus doesn’t respond to her calls and continues to make his way upstairs, where the rooms are untouched except for the smell of smoke in one of the corridors which leads him to a hidden door, behind which he descends a flight of stairs leading deep below the house. In these rooms, every single item of furniture that may have been here has been burned into ash, which strikes him as odd since there could never have been enough air to cause such total destruction. He, too, starts calling out now, but for Stepano, to which he receives no reply. Walking through the underground rooms, he only finds ash and scorched walls – until he steps on something metallic, which turns out to be a pendant that has had its chain burned off completely and which is charred black. Sinéad finally catches up to him and recognizes one of the two symbols on the pendant as belong to a caste of clan Assamite, as well as their motto written in Arabic around it.

With nothing else to be found here, the two of them return to the ground floor of the house, hotly debating their course of action when they are finally joined by Emma, who is disgusted by the sight she finds in the house. Marcus wants to barricade the place, though they don’t have the materials necessary for it and need to return to London soon ere the sun rises, and while Emma runs around frantically closing curtains in an attempt to obfuscate the carnage in the house, Marcus realizes that since Stepano bought land for miles around his mansion and thus has no neighbours, nobody is likely to find out what happened during the day, giving them another night to investigate themselves before it becomes public knowledge. Still, with pen and paper from Emma, he pens a several notes: One to Lady Anne, requesting a personal meeting with the Prince as soon as possible, one to Christopher detailing the events of the night and informing him that he won’t return home for the day, and a third to the Tremere primogen that a massacre happened suspectedly at the hands of Assamites. Emma rides ahead back to London to deliver the first two notes, and the three of them spend the day in one of Marcus’ safe havens.

At the beginning of the next night, Marcus and Sinéad meet with Lady Anne in the first Elysium while Emma waits outside in an attempt to avoid meeting the Tremere primogen. Lady Anne informs Marcus that Mithras is unfortunately not in the city at the moment, but she offers to help in his stead. Marcus calls the matter at hand of metropolitan security, since Stepano is missing, his servants are slaughtered and his house demolished; he mentions that he suspects involvement of Assamites and asks her to delay informing the Tremere for a while so he may investigate the matter first, to which Lady Anne agrees.
While waiting for the others, Emma is approached by the Ventrue with whom she went hunting for the Banshee the night she met Aaron again; he wonders about her appearance, as an armed, pant-clad woman in front of a gentleman’s club, and keeps her company with smalltalk until the other two return and the trio leaves for Stepano’s mansion, though not without sending a message to Marcus’ own manor, to check if Chris has come back to it yet.

Upon further investigation of the house, they find that some servants have dirty feet; since Marcus already pointed out that they were more servants than Stepano had, it seemed that they were summoned to the mansion, which is corroborated by the large amount of tracks they find outside the house which all lead towards it directly from the city itself, with the exception of the servant who escaped, whose tracks lead straight to Marcus’ home. The tracks leading towards the house contain impressions of bewilderment and an overwhelming need to run, as if the people had been summoned here. Sinéad also notices that her ring isn’t warm anymore, but when she points out that something about the place feels wrong, she hears a familiar voice laughing in her mind. The group is interrupted in their search by a message from Marcus’, stating that the servant who escaped died during the day and that Christopher hasn’t returned home during the night. Worried for his safety, Marcus asks Emma and Sinéad to summon him right on the spot, which they do with the result that an extremely unhappy but unharmed Christopher shows up a while afterward, much to the relief of Marcus. Christopher’s displeasure at being summoned lessens somewhat when he learns of what happened during the last night, and he takes a look around the mansion as well, doing his best to put on a mask and hide his thoughts about the affair.

Comments

Emma: These events certainly kept me on my feet and in a rush of some sort, just not in a good way. Is creating a ghoul always such an arduous and painful process? I can’t even imagine what it is like to sire a childe, if ghouling is this intense already. Admittedly, Norton put up quite some resistance, and I’m not sure whether to be proud or wary of that … time will tell, I presume. He certainly appeared quite broken when I saw him off, and I feel horribly guilty for snatching him away from his loved one like I did – but there is no going back now. He forced my hand that night, I stretched the Masquerade a little too thin, and that’s that. I hope he will adjust, and if he struggles further, I hope I can ease those struggles somewhat. For now, I want him to recover from the pain he went through, and when he is back on his feet, I will figure out the rest. Sometimes, you just have to keep moving, keep your momentum and chin up, barrel through to the other side and then see where to go next from there.

Well, the tension I felt before about a blow coming, and soon? That certainly has dissipated for now, though I’m sure the feeling will be back soon enough. Still, what happened at Stepano’s mansion was terrible, but it doesn’t seem to be the end of the matter. I think the other two know more about this affair than they’re letting on, which doesn’t surprise me since I didn’t know Stepano personally and they surely have their own secrets – and his – to keep safe. I don’t want to pry if it’s merely personal information, but I hope they do something with their knowledge to find and deal with whatever killed all these poor people. Those words, “they are coming”, smeared across the walls? I’m inclined to believe the man, despite never having met him. Someone or something is waiting to pounce on the city … or maybe somebody within it. Good grief, I hope it’s not me, though by virtue of association I just might get dragged in kicking and screaming anyway. I’ll be damned if I don’t make those kicks count, though, should it come to that.

8. The Crow and the Rose
 

Sinéad: That night I have realised I may never be free. Seeing as this… thing, monster, it’s taking too much pleasure from just torturing other beings. I have never been saint, but I abhore senseless cruelty. It have shaken me to the core. I understand using of terror as means of war, but even during the Thirty Years’ War I punished my men for commiting atrocities. Yet here we’ve met with a power so alien, so inhumane… I hope souls of these poor people are free. I’ll make damn sure to help Marcus with any rites that may ensure it.

Everything suddenly became less important. I want to make people sure. First Julian and Blanche, Emma, Chris, Marcus, Miranda… starting from the ones that are weak, close and dear to me to ones I don’t care about. It’s no longer about me. I know I will take a fall for it, but I have declared to become sheriff. I am the only one that knows what is really going on… I am the only one that can push people out of harm’s way, because I don’t think I can stop this. I don’t think anyone can.

But damn me if I stop trying. I wouldn’t be myself.

As for Greg, I think it was a nice – even if a bit boring – meeting. He will definitely be helpful in my endeavours, be it of private or public kind. I hope he will be able to procure the box Henry Smith was talking about.

8. The Crow and the Rose
thelibrarycat

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