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Thursday, 27th December, 2007, 12:06 AM #11
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 2b – Sebastian’s Story
KHARTOUM, SUDAN -- A few international airlines served Khartoum, but none directly from America to Sudan. Sebastian connected through London.
Khartoum was a large city with a downtown center designed in a curious mixture of "Soviet nouveau" and commonwealth colonial. However, the streets along the Nile had wide sidewalks and large shady trees, and were actually peaceful places for a morning stroll. There were many mosques with large, spiraling minarets from which the call to prayer was broadcast five times a day, starting at four in the morning and ending at eight at night. Sebastian was staying at the Safa Hotel, which was similar to the national hotels only dirtier, with less service and more bugs and lice. Each morning, he would visit the major hotels, as well as the American and British embassies. He posted the same announcement everywhere: "Attention! Missing Persons Alert! Michael Creed of the American Associated Press was last seen on Northern Desert Road. Reward offered leading to the whereabouts and safe return of Mr. Creed. Please contact the American Consulate in Khartoum.”
Sebastian continued on his way to his next lead: the Sudanese National Newspaper Office. There was a slim chance that a freelance journalist like Michael would be in contact with the local newspaper.
The SNNO was located in a large, drab-looking concrete building near downtown Khartoum. Sebastian entered and was immediately greeted with suspicious glances.
"Hello. I'm looking for someone...” he said in Arabic. Sebastian was a little rusty, but he had a knack for languages. He flashed a picture. "Do you recognize this man? Has he come by here?”
The demeanor of the staff softened immediately when they heard him speak Arabic. The man at the front shook his head.
"He was journeying to Napata. Do you have anything on that area?”
More shaking of heads. Sebastian flashed American currencies and the head shaking stopped.
"Speak to Mona," said the man in clipped English, a way of letting him know that his American currency had changed their opinion of him yet again. He indicated Mona's direction with a nod of his head.
Sebastian made his way through the stacks, the maze of offices, to a secluded part of the building. The name on the door indicated Mona Yassin.
An older woman greeted him with a copy of the Sudanese Gazette in her hand. "Hello, are you Mona?" he began in Arabic, "I was directed to you by...”
"Oh, you can use English." Mona flashed him a smile. "I'm afraid your Arabic isn't very good.”
Sebastian chuckled in spite of the seriousness of his mission. "I'm looking for this man." He showed her a picture. "Or any information you might have on the city he was investigating, Napata.”
"No, I don't remember your friend, but I may have something about Napata..." She led Sebastian back into her office, which were actually rows upon rows of file cabinets. If there was a place that Mona sat, Sebastian couldn't see it. "Your brother, I'm guessing?”
Sebastian tried to conceal his surprise. "How did you know?”
Mona flashed a sly smile. "There is a resemblance." Her fingers expertly flipped through file after file of newspaper clippings. "The reason I remember this article at all is that it was written by my dearly departed friend, Rashid Gulsham...ah, here it is!”
Mona pulled the article and scanned it. "This was published on April 8, 1968. Four members of a visiting archaeological team were found dead, with one survivor. They were exploring Tell El-Napata." She tutted. "Another man died about three kilometers east of Karima. He got lost, apparently. A shame.”
"May I have a copy of that article?”
"Certainly," said Mona. Sebastian reached into his pockets but she waved him off. "Please, take it with my blessing. I hope you find your brother. No one ever found my poor Rashid.”
Sebastian hesitated at the door. "What happened to him?”
"He was...killed." The corner of her lips pulled tightly as she carefully avoided implying that the same fate might have happened to Sebastian's brother. "During a rebel uprising while covering a story in southern Sudan.”
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Friday, 28th December, 2007, 02:36 PM #12
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 2c – Sebastian’s Story
Napata lay some two hundred miles to the north across the Bayuda Desert from Khartoum. It was an all-day drive in the heat and dust, following tracks in the sand through open desert and brush, black boulders and termite mounds.
It was hellishly hot. Sebastian hired a Toyota Hilux pick-up, known to the locals as boksi. It cost a little more than lorries or buses and was not a great deal more comfortable. Nobody wanted to go to Napata.
The car swerved to avoid something in the road. Sebastian leaned out of the pick-up to get a better look.
It was a corpse.
It was clear they were driving through the site of some sort of battle. From the looks of it, the man had been killed by a single gunshot to the head.
The driver kept driving, oblivious or uncaring about the state of a dead man on the road. The conflict in Darfur had brought out the best and worst survival instincts in the Sudanese.
About seventy-five yards from the road was the bloated body of a camel. A short distance away from the camel was a scattered pile of dark blue, tattered rags. The camel was saddled with a very ornately worked leather riding saddle, with faded tassels and silver trim.
"Shame," said the driver in Arabic. "Perfectly good camel.”
Sunday, 30th December, 2007, 01:18 PM #13
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 2d – Sebastian’s Story
They came upon a small convoy of four large army trucks and a jeep. The soldiers worked on, argued about, and gestured toward the lead truck, which appeared to have broken down. As the boksi came closer, one of the soldiers got a good look at Sebastian.
"Yel'la...Agnebbie!" they shouted, grabbing for weapons, shirts, and hats.
The driver pulled to a stop.
"Out of the car!" shouted one of the men in Arabic, presumably the leader. "Out!”
Sebastian and the driver stepped out of the car. Weapons were pointed at them. "Papers?" snarled the leader.
Sebastian nodded. "I have a travel permit..." He reached for his pocket. The truth was that his permit was for the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. Sebastian had to pull some strings with the defense contractor he worked for, Severn Aerospace, to even get into the country. He handed the permit to the leader.
The leader looked it over, then threw it back at Sebastian. "Why are you here?”
"I am looking for this man." He pulled out a picture. "Have you seen him?”
"You're a journalist? Where are your papers?”
"I'm not a reporter," said Sebastian. It was difficult to remain calm with weapons pointed him. "Please, if you look at the picture.”
The leader snatched it out of his hand. His brow furrowed as he scanned Michael's picture.
"Creed was traveling with us. He was taken by the group that ambushed us.”
Sebastian's heart leapt. "He's alive, then?”
The leader laughed. "Oh, I don't think so. I saw him shot and killed. I think the Christians only took his body in order to get international news coverage.”
"He was killed?" Sebastian almost broke down in tears, but he knew that would be fatal. "Are you sure?”
"Quite sure. They shot him five times through the chest.”
Sebastian nearly lost his footing. He looked around, desperately clinging to some hope. The other men looked away and shuffled their feet.
His gaze landed on a bag in the back of one of the trucks. It had the initials MJC. Michael Jonathan Creed. Sebastian had given it to his brother for Christmas.
"That bag. That's my brother's bag. I will pay you for it.”
The leader sneered. "What do you have that I can not take from you?”
"I have money. I will pay." Sebastian started speaking quickly and his Arabic broke down. He switched to English. "I am an American. My death would bring unwanted attention...”
The leader cuffed him across the face. When Sebastian went down, he could feel the man's spit in his hair. "You're right. We will not kill you."
He ordered one of his men over and they rifled through his pockets, found his wallet, and took it. Sebastian was on his knees. He couldn't see anything but sand. A moment later Michael's bag landed next to him.
"Tell your journalist friends that the Wafik Khalifa and his men single-handedly fought off one hundred SLM rebels and won. Now go back to the place you came, coward, or I will shoot you in the head.”
Sebastian crawled back into the truck and the driver did the same. He turned the vehicle around as the men pointed and laughed, waving their weapons.
"That was very unwise," said the driver in Arabic. Sebastian ignored him as he rummaged through his brother's satchel. It contained Michael's passport, clothes, a medicine kit, a bathroom kit, papers, notes and recorded interviews, an English-Arabic dictionary, a lighter...
"You are very lucky. They could have killed both of us.”
Sebastian found what he was looking for. He took off his watch and dangled it before the driver. "This is an expensive watch. You can sell it for good money. I will give it to you if you turn around.”
"Turn around? Are you insane? If Wafik finds us...”
"Take another road. But I'm going to find my brother." He paused. "Or at least his body.”
"What hope do you have of finding him?" asked the driver.
Sebastian held up a pocket recorder, rewound it, and then clicked play with his thumb.
"I believe a great ritual will be performed on Jebel Barkal," came Michael's whispered voice in English, English the soldiers did not understand. "It is said that there are things that move beneath the dunes and walk with the blowing sand, things that lead animals astray and murder souls. Wafik's men are nervous; they think they saw the Twar-edge or Tuareg, who live in Jebel Tezma, a mystic evil mountain of power. They keep threatening to abandon me to the Tuareg, who will take me as a sacrifice to their mountain. I’m not sure what to believe, but…”
There was a strange, hissing laughter and the tape cut off.
Tuesday, 1st January, 2008, 03:01 PM #14
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 2e – Sebastian’s Story
Seventy-five miles west-northwest of Karima laid a low range of shattered, black-basalt hills. Toward the western edge of the four-mile long ridge lay the tallest peak. It stood over eight hundred feet off the dunes below, two hundred feet higher than its neighbors. It was Jebel Tezma.
Sebastian plodded along alone. The driver had abandoned him. There was no going back.
Unlike its neighbors, Jebel Tezma was riddled with fissures and caverns. Inside, it was stiflingly hot. Sudden gusts of oven-hot air blasted from unseen cracks and crevices, sending black sand into Sebastian's eyes.
"Michael?" shouted Sebastian. "Are you there?”
The noise carried strangely through the shattered mountain. Sebastian's voice continued to rise and shift and came back at him from a different fissure. "Are you there?" it asked again.
"Sebastian?" came back Michael's incredulous voice. "Is that you?”
"Is that you?" asked the mountains.
"It's me!" shouted Sebastian. "Where are you?”
"Where are you!" shouted the mountain.
"Get out of--" Michael's response was cut off. "Get out!" was all the mountain said.
A humanoid form slithered out of the darkness behind him.
Sebastian whirled just as a razor sword sliced where his head had been. It was a Tuareg warrior dressed in an indigo cloak, his face wrapped in a tagelmust. A grave hissing emanated from the warrior; its laughter sounded like sand ground against glass.
Sebastian ran. For once he was glad he trained in all those marathons.
The Tuareg sheathed his blade and dropped to one knee, hefting a long antique rifle from across his back.
The stone near Sebastian's head exploded. The subsequent crack of the gunshot echoed throughout the mountain. If Sebastian hadn't been running for his life, he would have covered his ears.
"Sebastian!" shouted his brother. Was he nearer now? The place was a maze of cracks and crevices. "They use old fashioned black powder for their rifles. Use that to your advantage!”
Sebastian skidded to a halt and tore through Michael's satchel. He found the lighter.
"Your advantage!" shouted the mountain.
The Tuareg was rounded the corner, its sword out once more. It thrust the blade at him.
Sebastian dodged to the side and slammed into the nearby wall to avoid the attack. As he spun away from his assailant, Sebastian was rewarded with the powder horn used by the Tuareg.
Sebastian stumbled to the ground, cowering so the Tuareg could not see what he was doing. The Tuareg straightened and sheathed his blade.
Sebastian fumbled with the lighter. In the hot desert wind, it was difficult to get a light.
The Tuareg slowly withdrew a curved knife from its belt.
"Come on, come on!" Finally, the lighter ignited. The Tuareg advanced on him, step by step...
Sebastian uncorked the powder horn and threw it in the face of the Tuareg.
The pitch-black eyes widened in surprise as the lighter followed a moment after.
Adrenaline-fueled steps sprung Sebastian into action. He ran headlong, shouting for his brother. Behind him, the shrieks of the Tuareg, shrieks no human being would ever make, echoed and rebounded throughout the caverns.
"Here!" shouted Michael. "Here!”
Sebastian stumbled into a rough chamber. Michael was tied up on a small, wide offering alter made of a black alabaster-like stone. He ran over to his brother, half-sobbing in relief. "I knew you weren't dead!”
"Untie me!" whispered Michael. "And be quiet! What the hell are you doing out here?”
Sebastian didn't have the emotional reserves to be puzzled by his brother's anger. "Rescuing you, remember?" He untied Michael's bonds. "I have no idea how to get out of here.”
"You screwed everything up, you realize that?" Michael got to his feet, a disgusted look on his face. "We almost had him!”
"What the hell are you talking about?" Sebastian couldn't believe his ears. "Had who?”
"Labib!" Michael grabbed the satchel from Sebastian. "I lied to you about my humanitarian work to protect you! I was doing something much more dangerous. But it doesn't matter now, the mission's a wash. Now they'll go into hiding...”
"No they won't." Sebastian stared over Michael's shoulder. "Because they're right here.”
A looming Tuareg held two old-fashioned dueling pistols, one in each hand. Behind him were more obsidian orbs glared from their tagelmusts.
"Run!" Michael shoved Sebastian and then turned and ran.
Two more cracking shots tore through the chamber. Michael stumbled. Blood spurted from his leg.
"Go!" shouted Michael. "Go!”
Sebastian grabbed his brother by the arm. "I'm not leaving you here!”
They limped onwards. Behind them, the hissing laughter and looming shadows dogged their every step.
They suddenly burst into the open desert. And the hopelessness of their situation engulfed them.
The unforgiving noontime sun blazed overhead. There was no civilization visible for miles around, not even a camel. And the Tuareg from the mountains slowly filed out behind them. In unison, they reached for their rifles.
Sebastian fell to his knees. "I'm sorry. I didn't have a plan to get out...”
Michael, bleeding from his left thigh, collapsed next to him. "It's okay. It's amazing you made it this far. We can talk about it later.”
Sebastian smiled at his older brother. They were covered in dust from head to toe. Was he being sarcastic? "It's my fault. I wanted you to be alive so badly, and now that I've found you, we're going to die anyway."“
The leader gave an order. The rifles were cocked behind them.
Michael nodded upwards at the sky. "Don't be so sure.”
There was the sound of gunfire, but not of ancient muskets. It was the steady metallic ring of two belt-fed chain guns from the pitch-black AH-6C Little Bird helicopter overhead. The Tuareg scattered, despite several hits that should have torn them in half.
"How did they find us?" shouted Sebastian, laughing into the wind as the helicopter churned up the desert sand.
"Don't ask how, ask who!" Michael shouted back. "Who?" mouthed Sebastian. He couldn't hear his brother anymore. Michael motioned for him to lean over.
Michael grabbed Sebastian's hand and shook it. "Congratulations!" he yelled in Sebastian's ear. "You've just been drafted into Majestic-12!”
Thursday, 3rd January, 2008, 12:55 PM #15
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 3a – Jake’s Story
SAMSON, CA -- Despite its name, the Pit wasn't too hellish. The club was nestled in The Grand, and The Grand festered in Samson, California. The Grand was a shabby structure that backed onto a busy set of elevated train tracks. The Pit itself was the largish back room, featuring alternative bands Wednesday through Sunday nights.
From outside, the hotel was a dreary, seedy-looking building of red brick. Torn, outdated posters advertising past gigs flapped in the wind while trains rattled by late into the night.
Jake Blade stood outside, tattooed arms folded over his huge biceps. He watched with a disinterested gaze over the Pit's customers. They were a motley collection of retros, sub-cultures, stereotypes, her-beasts, and individuals. Punks, skinheads, and goths were typical, as were the occasional slumming fashion victims. Some people did not attract a single glance--ordinary people who liked good music. Others accumulated stares wherever they went.
"Hey Blade," waved a particularly sleazy specimen of a man. With his slicked back hair, gold tooth, and ready smile, Graeme Norbert looked pleasant enough. But Jake knew better.
Jake nodded at the drug dealer. "Hey, Fix." "The Fix" is what Norbert insisted everyone call him.
"Good crowd tonight?" asked Fix.
"Think so," said Jake. "Looks like the usual."
"You get a new tattoo? That one's a name..." he squinted at Jake's left bicep. "Who's Alex?"
"None of your business," said Jake. The tattoo club had monthly meetings, and Jake had dedicated it to his son, Alex, on his ninth birthday. His visitation rights didn't let him see Alex anymore, his ex-wife saw to that.
Fix grinned as he leered at the crowd gathering outside. "Listen, I wanted to thank you for pulling that guy off of me last night. He would have pasted me."
Jake frowned. "He was disrupting the show."
Fix nodded. "Yeah, the show must go on and all that." He laughed, with a horrible, "heh, heh. But still, I feel like I owe you one. I got some good stash..."
Jake shook his head. "Not on the job, Fix. You know that."
"Yah, you're a drinking man, I know." Fix nodded. "Well don't you worry. There's a new drug on the street coming up from South America. They call it Blink. You drop it into your eyes and BLAM!" he spread his fingers, eyes wide at the thought of all that money he could roll in like a maggot in dead flesh. "It's heaven."
"Keep the sales pitch for your customers," said Jake. "And keep it out of The Pit." That was a bluff and they both knew it. Everyone got high at The Pit.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, I know." Fix shrugged. "Keep an eye on me, I'm sure somebody'll get jumpy."
"You shouldn't be here if you can't stand people getting jumpy," said Jake.
Fix heh-hehed his way into the crowd.
"Hey, big guy, give us a hand?" asked a man with a shaved head, except for a single lock of green-dyed hair. He sported a pierced nose and heavily pierced left ear, with a light chain connecting the two. He wore heavy boots, tattered leather trousers held together with safety pins, a leather waistcoat, and no shirt.
Jake fixed his gaze on him. "You're with the band, right?"
"Yah," he said with an odd tilt of his head. "Karl." He shook Jake's hand. "I'm the drummer of The Rising. We got some heavy equipment out back and we could use some muscle. We're a bit behind and it'd be a real help."
Jake looked around. At seven o'clock, The Pit hadn't opened yet.
"Sure." He followed the smaller man around through The Pit to the back.
"Ah, here we are." A Jamaican man busied himself carrying guitar cases in. Jake reached for one of the drums. "Nah-ah!" said Karl. "Nobody but me touches my drums." He paused and squinted up at Jake. "Wait a minute. You're that guy from Ultimate Fighter, right?"
"No taste for the glamorous life, eh?" asked Karl. "What's a big star like you bouncing for The Pit?"
Jake gave him a look. "Don't ask me about my personal life and I won't touch your drums."
Karl got the hint. "Nice to have a big bastard like you keeping the crowd quiet, in any case. We could use your help with the speakers..."
Jake saw what he meant. The speakers were massive. He lifted one in each hand.
"Damn, he's a strong blighter!" said the lead guitarist. He had bleached blond spiked hair and a padlocked dog collar around his neck.
Jake carried the speakers in with some effort. The interior decor of the Pit was designer Grunge: walls were painted a deep red and scrawled with graffiti; the threadbare carpets were pockmarked with cigarette burns. Lighting was subdued, mainly reflected from the spotlights focused on the stage. The stage itself was fenced off with wire mesh and flanked by huge speakers.
"Thanks, mate," said Karl. "If things get hairy, you give 'em a shave, right?"
Jake smirked. "Sure."
"Great." Karl laughed maniacally. "Cause it's about to get f**king nuts!"
God’s Lost Children was the first act up. The show began with a darkened stage. As the drummer slowly pounded the huge bronze gong mounted behind him, the lead singer spoke the opening words from “The Dark Ones Rise,” their most popular album. The bass and drums crescendoed and the audience rose to its feet as the stage was hit with lights and the band broke into its first tune. A thousand laser effects, smoke bombs, and decibels later, and The Pit was a madhouse.
At midnight, The Rising made their way onto the stage, accompanied by a wail of feedback. The lead singer, named Spider, sported a flaming red Mohawk as well as black eyeliner. He was dressed head to toe in tattered black, relieved only by the silver of his earrings and studded belt.
The sound was rapidly amplified and distorted, soon accompanied by the introductory notes of the bass guitar, loud enough to resonate in Jake's chest. The pounding drums began next, then the shivering notes of the lead guitar. The beat grew faster, the crowd before the stage began to sway, fists flailing in the air while heads nodded in time to the thundering beat. As the shrieked and desperate vocals began, the crowd went wild. Two hundred people slam danced in front of the stage, hurling and bouncing their bodies about in the crush.
It took exactly three minutes before trouble started.
Jake made his way over, parting the crowd like water. He had done this so many times that faces and names became meaningless. There was no time for explanations, nor was there the ability to actually hear any complaints. The assailant lunged out of the pit towards Spider, the lead singer, who had strayed dangerously close to the edge of the stage.
Spider stumbled backwards, looking as much like a slam-dancer as the victim of a knife attack as blood flashed outwards from his left calf. Jake mentally cursed. It must have been one of the new knives that got past the metal detectors. That, or one of the hot girls hid it in her bra. Security rarely bothered to grope the girls, since they were the bait that hooked men like Fix.
Jake switched into his Tuskahoma stance, the Native American style he used to win the Real Ultimate Fighting competition.
As the man thrust his knife with his right hand, Jake zoned to his left into a strong stance—a solid base—parallel to and outside of his opponent's line of thrust. Simultaneously, Jake used his left hand to contact and then intercept the knife hand at the wrist/hand juncture, with his left elbow anchored at his side.
Jake rotated the man’s wrist counterclockwise to destroy his grip strength. His opponent's grip was weak enough for Jake to strip away the knife, but he knew the man would try his only avenue of escape—swinging the knife across his body and breaking Jake's grip on the weak side.
Jake stepped forward and stripped the knife with his right hand. Then Jake circle under his arm to affect a lock and dropped to the slasher's left knee, pulling him down. He flipped the man to the ground, leaving him gasping and prone.
"You're done," said Jake.
With the smaller man still in his grip, Jake shoved him towards the exit. The slasher was an older, balder man, more appropriate for a library or a porn shop than a dance club. The man wailed all the way to the exit. Nobody could hear him over the din of The Rising, who never stopped playing.
The man shrieked and kicked. Yep, Jake decided, he was high.
Jake changed his grip and simply manhandled the smaller guy, grabbing him by the ribcage with both hands. The man's shirt tore in his grip. On his forearm was a stylized coyote-head in the Native American style.
The man lost his hold on the doorframe and, for the briefest of seconds, it looked as if he smiled at Jake with a full-on grin. It made Jake angry.
Jake hurled him down the steps. He didn't even look back to see if the man was still alive. But he could hear him: the man howled like a dog.
For all the noise, the lights, the crowds, the junkies...Jake couldn't get the coyote symbol and the strange man out of his head.
Saturday, 5th January, 2008, 12:49 PM #16
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 3b – Jake’s Story
Jake's next job was the Katakomb on the other side of the U.S. in NYC. The Rising was so impressed with his performance that they hired him as security.
It was a seedy downtown Gothic nightclub in the Soho district, at the northwest corner of Prince and Mercer streets. Unlike The Pit, the converted warehouse was open seven days a week. It was a two-floor building done in Gothic fashion, with prominent references to dynastic Egypt's cat goddess.
Ducking through the entrance flanked by carved sarcophagi, Jake entered a twilight grotto that combined the decor of a mausoleum and a bar from hell.
The red lighting was extremely dim--practically non-existent. It came from Gothic black metal sconces holding crimson light bulbs. Papier-mâché props lined the walls, depicting Egyptian architecture of the tombs.
The ceiling was painted as an obscene Sistine Chapel, with skeletal demons as angels and God portrayed by a vampiric devil, reaching out to clutch the throat of a man reclining on a cloud. Several more sarcophagi, upright and bolted to the floor, were scattered amongst the tables flanking a small dance floor.
Music boomed. The Rising was playing in front of a Sphinx that filled most of the north wall, sitting under the head and flanked by the two paws that projected toward the dance floor.
The people inhabiting the labyrinth of darkness wore black flowing clothes. Their faces were white as death, and their eyes shone from dark pits of black eye makeup. Some had fangs. Many were drinking, dancing, and doing drugs while leaning against statues of the cat goddess Bast.
Up close, most of them seemed to be adolescents. Some anorexic females cavorted by, dressed in nothing but thin leather strips and thigh-high boots. One winked and smiled at Jake, showing a fanged mouth.
"Are you an Indian?" she lisped around her fangs.
Jake looked down at the little wisp of a thing. "Native American, you mean?"
He was feeling charitable. "I'm Tohono O'odham."
The waif blinked. "Is that a band?"
"No," said Jake. "It's a tribe. My family is from the Tohono O'odham Reservation. It's on Arizona's border with Mexico."
"Oh," said the girl, eyes wide. "That's soooo interesting. I believe Native Americans are so spiritual..."
The Rising finished their set and dispersed to the bar. Charnel Dreams, the next band, stepped up to the platform.
Jake muttered something and pushed past the girl to the bar. He had to protect his clients.
"Cor, can you believe that guy?" said Karl.
"Who?" asked Jake.
Karl ordered a beer and nodded in the direction of the lead singer of Charnel Dreams. He was a handsome, with dark blond hair parted in the middle; his forelocks hung down over eye very slightly.
"Anton Merriweather," said Karl. "Charnel Dreams’ first album, True Orders, went to number seven on the College Music Journal's rankings."
"And their single Come Again got airplay on college radio for weeks last summer," said Spider.
"Wasted on these people," said a pale, thin man with a closely trimmed goatee beard. He wore a strange Indonesian cap and was dressed in a dark black leather coat.
Jake moved to insert himself between the stranger and the band.
"Naw, it's all right Jake," said Karl. "Lookit, you're Simon Magnus, right?"
Simon toasted his glass in affirmation. "In the flesh, you might say."
Karl slapped Jake's shoulder with the back of his hand. "Magnus here, he's got a movie..."
"A documentary," said Simon, enjoying the reaction.
"That's right! I think it was...The Nosferatu! Loved that!" Karl slithered past Jake and patted Simon on the back. "Good stuff! Buy the man a drink!"
Simon chuckled. "Unnecessary." He swished the red liquid in his glass. "And no, this isn't blood. I am partial to red wine, can't stomach beer."
"Whatcha doin' here, then, Magnus?" asked Karl. "Hunting vampires?"
Simon chuckled again. "It'd be a perfect cover for the real thing, don't you think? I'm doing a documentary on the hemophages who drink blood. The closest thing you'll get to a 'real' vampire in here is Master Palmer." He indicated his target with a nod of his head.
Palmer was tall, dark and skinny, with dark black hair, a thin beard, and a mustache. Like everyone else in the club, he was dressed all in black. He was chatting with a man in a brown overcoat with a fedora on his head.
"He sucks blood then?" asked Karl, fascinated.
"Quite! He has three brides he feeds on, actually," said Simon. "He was most famous on Mad, Mad House, if you've seen that show."
"I loved that show!" shouted Spider. "That was the one with all the freaks living in one house, right? Crazy stuff. The witch was hot."
Jake rubbed his forehead. "When do you guys get a chance to watch television?"
"Tivo!" Karl and Spider shouted together, clinking their glasses.
Jake froze as he saw the stranger duck a swing from Palmer. "Excuse me."
The Rising parted as Jake strode towards the two combatants.
The man in the brown overcoat raised one hand. Something sparkled in the dark red light as it was lifted overhead.
Jake snatched the wrist, stopping the motion. But instead of the smooth flesh of an arm, he felt fur. He twisted the wrist, but no knife fell from it. It looked like...claws.
The figure grinned up at him with white jaws beneath its fedora. Jake yanked hard and the figure whirled, leaving him only holding the overcoat. Whatever it was ducked into the crowd.
"Bloody cyanthropes," muttered Palmer around his fangs. "No business being here."
"Cyanthrope?" asked Jake.
"Guy thought he was a coyote. Wanted to show me that dogs beat vampires every time."
Monday, 7th January, 2008, 12:46 PM #17
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 3c – Jake’s Story
Jake was standing naked under the night sky in the chill desert mountains. He heard a coyote howl and turned to see a large coyote staring down at him from a nearby boulder.
The coyote tossed its head, turned away, and led Jake towards a cave. Somehow, he knew it was a sacred cave.
The pair wended their way down fissures in the mesas and rock hills until they arrived in a cave mouth, from which ran a shallow stream.
Jake's nostrils were suddenly assaulted by the smell of blood--the stream was running red.
The coyote howled mournfully. Jake got the sense that something dark and malevolent was stirring in the cave.
Wind, with the stench of an abattoir, rushed from the cave mouth as a flailing shadow began to emerge.
Jake woke up in a cold sweat. The experience made it official. It was time to call his shaman.
"Hello?" asked Palmer Valor over the phone.
"Hi Palmer. It's..." he almost said Jake. "Jacob. Jacob Ironshirt. I know it's...what time is it there?"
"Eleven o'clock. Jacob Ironshirt? It's been ages! How have you been?"
"And your brother, Thomas?"
"I haven't spoken to him in a long time," said Jake with a hint of regret.
"That's too bad." Palmer's voice was sympathetic.
"Listen, Palmer, I wanted to speak to you about something."
"This sounds serious. Is everything all right with your family?"
"You had a son, didn't you? Why don't you ever bring him by the reservation?"
"Christine isn't very interested in our culture." Jake avoided talking to Palmer for precisely this reason. He left out the part about having lost visitation rights. "But that's not why I called."
"Okay, I'm listening."
"I've been having...visions. Visions of an animal."
"Of Coyote, your totem," said Palmer with a note of clarity.
"How did you know?"
"Coyote has always been your family's totem. But like Coyote himself, your family has a penchant for trouble."
"Tell me about it," muttered Jake. He explained the visions he had seen: the tattoo, the strange cloaked figure, and the dream.
"Your father is not doing well since the accident," interrupted Palmer. "You should visit him."
Jake's father, Robert, still lived on the reservation. His mother died in a drunk-driving crash five years earlier. Robert was the driver.
"You're a kind man," said Jake, "I know how bad it is. He doesn't want to see me."
"That does not mean he doesn't need you. Or your brother."
"So you've heard from him too?"
"He's left a long string of pregnancies in his wake," said Palmer. "Vandalism. Public brawls. Last I heard, he had become a petty thief."
Jake sighed. "He's moving up in the world."
"He does have a girlfriend at least."
"I know, I know. You called because you are looking for an answer to your visions. But I am telling you the answer."
"And that is?"
"I've told you already. You are not adhering to our ways. Coyote has gone far to see you, deep in the city, which he doesn't normally like. But there is a part of the city Coyote does like. He likes its trash. And if you are having waking visions, it is because you are dealing with trash."
Jake huffed. "That's not very--"
"Listen to me, Jacob. You learned the way of the Red Warrior, but you used it to make money. You have a brother, a father, a son, but you do not see any of them. These are not the way of our people. Do you know why Coyote has come to you? Because you would not come to him. Coyote is giving you a warning. Something will call you back soon, something terrible. Come back of your own volition or come because of tragedy."
Jake sighed. "Thanks. That's helpful. I'll try to book a flight out soon."
"Until we meet again, may the Great Spirit make sunrise in your heart, and may your moccasins make tracks of many snows yet to come." Palmer hung up.
The mournful cry of a hound howled in the distance.
Monday, 7th January, 2008, 01:24 PM #18
I like this story very much!
Mirror Image Spray Consultant
Road scholar for half-orcs
Tuesday, 8th January, 2008, 12:41 AM #19
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Thanks! This is just the beginning. As a sneak peek, you can expect the following scenarios:
- The End of Paradise from Call of Cthulhu d20
- Lethal Legacy from Last Rites (Call of Cthulhu)
- Puppet Shows and Shadow Plays from Delta Green d20
- Faint Transmission from WOTC's free d20 Modern scenarios
- Dire Wavelengths from WOTC's free d20 Modern scenarios
- Love's Lonely Children from The Stars Are Right (Call of Cthulhu)
- Thin Jack from Chaosium's freebies section
- Skinwalker from Dwellers in Shadow (Call of Cthulhu)
- Darkest Calling from The Stars Are Right (Call of Cthulhu)
Even posting every other day, it's going to take a bit to catch up. You can expect an agent to die between now and then.
Wednesday, 9th January, 2008, 12:52 PM #20
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 3d – Jake’s Story
On the Upper East Side, at the end of a strip of yuppie shops, beneath the Teese Plaza, past a walk-down of thirty-one steps, was Club Apocalypse. The Rising was invited to play there on Wednesday night.
On the wall leading to the entrance to the dance floor, bar, and back rooms were more than forty black-and-white photographs.
Spider snorted, toting some equipment in. "That's Hubert. Robert Hubert."
"The manager?" asked Jake. He hefted a speaker in each hand.
"Yah," said Karl. "The owner. Lookit the pictures close though."
Each photo portrayed Hubert--his plain, still face giving no expression--shaking hands with a famous star: Elvis, John Lennon, Harry Nillson, Sid Vicious, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and so on. Each had a personal inscription and a date written on it. In each photo, however, Hubert appeared in exactly the same clothes and pose, and with the same expression, as if each photo was taken in rapid succession instead of years apart.
"Weird s**t, yah?" asked Dave, the Jamaican. He passed by with his bass guitar slung over his shoulder.
"Yeah," said Jake uneasily. "Weird."
"This is the big time, right?" asked Baz, the lead guitarist. He had his own guitar slung over his shoulder.
Spider ushered them in as they set up. "Damn straight. If we get invited to come back to play at Club Apocalypse a second time, a record contract isn't far behind. This is where we make it or break it. It's how Charnel Dreams did it."
"Speak of the devil," whispered Karl. "Here's the man himself."
A gaunt-looking man with distinctly Aryan features strode towards them. He looked twenty-five at most, but his skin had a somewhat plastic complexion to kit. He had prominent, high cheekbones, a narrow chin, a long face, and a heavy brow.
Spider extended one hand, but Robert just looked at it. "Hello," he said. "I'm afraid there was some misunderstanding. You're not playing here tonight."
Spider glanced over his shoulder to reassure himself that Jake was nearby. "No? But our contact said..."
"No," said Robert mechanically. "You're our special guests. You're playing at the real Club Apocalypse. Follow me please."
Well away from the club proper, through a pair of unmarked but well-worn doors, lay the lower rooms. A stairwell slowly descended down three floors, each floor offering unmarked doors. The stairs spiraled in a lazy loop, in which the cheap plasterboard gave way to old stone. It looked like the stairs went much lower than three floors, but after the third a silken rope blocked the way.
Robert stopped at the second level down and walked to the middle door. It opened into an entire secondary dance floor with a bar.
"This place doesn't look like it could contain more than four dozen people at most," said Karl.
Robert nodded. "You're playing for a very special audience." He pointed a pasty finger. "Please set up."
Then he left the room and closed the door behind him.
The Rising had barely finished setting up and performing a sound check when people began filtering into the room. All were dressed to the nines, though the attire varied. Some came in suits, others in dress reminiscent of Victorian England. Still others looked like doctors, bankers, rap stars, and gang members. They all gathered around tables, each with their own posse, which made for a crowded room. Nobody was dancing.
The Rising started to play, timidly at first. The men looked on, whispering amongst themselves. Spider wisely switched gears to songs you could talk around, although they still involved a lot of screaming. It just took longer for him to reach the screaming part.
"Oh good, you're here," said a smooth voice.
Jake turned around to see a thin, fine-looking Arab staring up at him from a nearby table. He was dressed impeccably in a white suit. He indicated the only other chair at the small table. "Please, have a seat."
Jake hesitated, looking back at the band he was responsible for.
"Oh, don't worry, they're quite safe. While at Club Apocalypse, they're under my protection. Please." The man smiled again, but it was the smile of a shark. "Sit."
Jake nodded and slowly lowered himself to the table. There was a drink waiting for him.
"Having something to drink?”
Jake shook his head.
“Oh that's right, no more alcohol for you. A Coke then, hmm?"
Jake looked down. He took an experimental sip. Yep, it was a Coke.
"My name is Stephen. Stephen Alzis. I own the Apocalypse Club."
"Nice to meet you, Mister Alzis. I'm..."
"I know who you are, Jacob." Stephen smiled. "Please, call me Stephen." He took a sip of his drink. It was a bright green concoction with a little colorful umbrella sticking out of it. "How are you enjoying my Club?"
"It's nice," said Jake. He got the impression he was in the presence of an important person, but he didn't feel flattered.
Stephen chuckled. "A man of few words. That's good." He took another sip. "I'll get right to the point. Have you seen your son lately?"
Jake straightened. "Excuse me?"
"Don't be offended. I have very extensive contacts all over the world." Stephen chuckled good-naturedly. "You don't get to live as long as I have without those kinds of connections."
Jake took a sip of his coke. He wasn't sure how to respond to this man.
"Alex is a very special child, Jacob. But you haven't been a very good father, have you? His mother doesn't let you see him."
Jake's eyes narrowed. "Did you get that from one of Christine's lawyers?"
Stephen waved him off. "Connections, remember?" He sighed. "I said I'd get right to the point but I didn't. You've made a liar out of me, Jacob, and that never happens. This whole business, it's really very upsetting to me. And I haven't been upset in a few centuries."
Jake laughed nervously. Stephen wasn't laughing.
"Take care of your boy, Jacob." He leaned forward. "That's not a threat. That's fatherly advice. Alex and I...we have a lot in common. And I think you can tell by the company I keep that you don't want your boy growing up to be like me, do you?"
Jake was careful not to respond to the verbal trap.
"No, you don't," Stephen finished for him. He fished a piece of paper out of his pocket and placed it on the table. "Take this, as a gift from me. Quit this crazy business and go home."
Jake picked up the paper. Sure enough, it was a one-way ticket to Arizona airport. When he looked up, Stephen was gone and The Rising had just finished their set.
Spider was staring at Jake. "F**king hell, that was Stephen Alzis you were just talking to!"
Jake nodded. "Yeah. So?"
Karl rubbed his forehead. "You didn't take anything from him, did you?" His gaze wandered to the ticket in Jake's hand. "Ah Christ, you did! Did you accept it?"
"I think so."
Baz shook his head. "Poor bastard."
"What?" Jake got to his feet. "What?"
"Alzis never gives anything for free," said Dave. "You just made a deal with the devil."