Intruder

It Begins
Destiny Calls

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

CONNOR DEE: a Wizard
MELISANDE AMEE ST. SIMON also known as EMMA: a Wizard
PRESTON BAGLEY-VANCE: a Wizard
SEAN TAUBE: a Werewolf
JOCELYN TRISTANE, also known as COPPER JOSS: a potent Empath of uncertain Origin

In the early evening, approximately half past seven, each one of our heroes receives a call from their phone, with a single long and unceasing ring to announce it. The call is the same, although the voice is different—to each her or his own, in fact. In their own tone and accent and diction, the message repeats:

“This is a Message. Listen, please. This is all I can do, now. Look to the sky, at midnight. Wait until there’s no more stars, and count. Please, please, please count. There’s still time. It doesn’t end for you, you can still change everything. This isn’t how it ends, but that is how it begins. This isn’t real, but I can’t leave. I don’t want to, anymore.”

Each of them is uncertain of the origin of the call, and uncertain of how to respond, save to find a space to stargaze, come midnight, and see what the voice was talking about.

Fairmount Park, it is decided by each one individually, is the best place: both relatively nearby and with a good view of the sky

Our heroes gather—unaware that they’re gathering—at the park; one by one, they encounter each other, and slowly begin to realize all of them are waiting for the same thing, the same call, if with different voices. Most of them are together in the same place, by a fountain—save Dee, whom Sean knows is nearby—when it happens:

On clocks across the eastern time zone, lopsided pairs of hands are raised up, straight up in worship.
You aren’t sure when, really. That part is hazy and so hard to remember… it might’ve been before or after, like in movies where the old cop and the rookie argue if it’s “On three, one two then go, or one, two, three, go”, but nonetheless the result is the same.
There are no stars. The sky can’t even be called black, because that would be something.
The sky is dizzying, vertigo-inducing. Yet, you must count. No matter what, your desperation was clear. One.. two.. three…
What are you counting? Seconds? Heartbeats? Ten… fifteen…
it’s amazing how soon your neck hurts from just looking up for too long.. thirty.. fourty..
After the 59th second has come and gone, the stars are there, as if they had always been.

The group is confused by what has happened, what it means, and still has no idea what the phone call was about in the first place. They ponder gathering the straggler in to compare notes, but there may be something more urgent to concern themselves with: something unfamiliar glimmers in the nearby topiary, and stinks of age and rot…

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Amateur CSI Hour
o/~ Who are you? Who who, who who?

Our wizards, empath, and mascot slowly take in the newcomer. Not to worry, though: Sean is able to rapidly ascertain that it’s a body—completely dead—that seems to have materialized in the middle of the topiary.

Pulling the unfortunate soul out, it ends up being a middle-aged man dressed in pajamas and a single sandal. He also has his throat torn open, but no blood spilled; he’s been pretty much drained.

It doesn’t seem to be just any poor soul who’s taken a fatal interdimensional trip. Preston recognizes him as one Geoffrey Liebaum, a (non-Council) practicioner with a strong knowledge of summoning, wards, borders, and the Nevernever. Joss knows that he had some White Court connections, as well.

Sean takes a minute to change into his werewolf clothes, and when he returns he quickly discerns that the man smells heavily of the Nevernever, as does the topiary. Overwhelmingly powerful: the hedge itself smells like a gate was opened only a minute or two ago.

There’s also a smell of rot there, meaty and ugly.

Sean changes back and takes long enough to just long enough to put on his jeans and run back out to share his findings.

Meanwhile, Preston and Emma are able to discern between his clothes and the stiff, musty quality of the back of his shirt that he died just outside of his home on wet pavement—he seems to have been dead a few days, but given the weather patterns it looks like time in the Nevernever may have been…relative.

Dee is also able to peer into the man’s final moments—he sees a gaunt woman with translucent skin and blunt, blood-caked teeth—and help pinpoint an address.

After some discussion, the group of body-finders take a minute to discuss who to contact—the White Council authorities seem less preferable to the mundane ones, and so cops on Joss’s take are contacted, spoken with, and then the PC’s are informed that someone from their local Special Investigations unit is going to want to ask questions soon…

(Minor Milestone)

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MORE Investigation!
Part the first...
  • Deciding that their opportunity to find out more about what might have killed the late Mister Liebaum, rather than return home to rest and await police interrogation, our heroes run over to his home to investigate.
  • Poking around the driveway, Sean and Dee are able to verify where he fell, and where whatever stank of the Nevernever dragged him. The werewolf changes form to be able to detetective a little more effectively.
  • Liebaum’s house has a threshold, but between Emma and—with a little coaxing and inconveniently-compelled Aspect—Preston, they’re able to safely dismantle it before entering.
  • When they get in, the sight that greets them is…unexpected.

Upon opening the door, the light of the moon illuminates very little, but more than perhaps may be kind to your senses. The home inside is littered with trash, empty water bottles, torn pages and empty, grease-stained pizza boxes. The walls are covered in maps that are hand-drawn, matching no area that you’ve ever seen or most likely ever will see. There are post-its pinned with multi-colored threads moving to each pin, and a white-board with maddened notes scribbled across in. Some post-its are labelled “WAY #562-SUMMER”, or “WAY #32-NEUTRAL”, or even “WAY #1221-VIOLENCE”. There are red threads, with post-its containing red ink. The red ink, in large letters, simply repeat “AUTHOR” “AUTHOR” “AUTHOR” in scattered areas on the map.

The dry erase board requires investigations on what has been written in tiny letters, yet the words in red at the bottom are quite clear: “AUTHOR” “WHO?” “KATZINGER?” “TPP-4412”"

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MORE more Investigation!
Part the Second.
  • Confronted with the bizarre array covering the walls, the team gets to work. Dee begins taking notes. Sean prods an answering machine with one paw and manages NOT to erase the messages on it.
  • The first few messages are a woman, apparently Mr. Liebaum’s ex-wife, stretching from at least a couple weeks ago to at least close to the present, expressing concern over his missing his daughter’s recital-after-some-fashion, and then proceeding to growing concern at a lack of response.
  • The last message is from a Mr. Weishaupt, agreeing to trade “reading materials” for an unspecified payment. The deal is set to happen late that evening—except, of course, that at least one of the parties is dead now.
  • With her knowledge of deals within New Town, Joss is able to clarify: Weishaupt is a fixer, who can get What You Need for a price; his “shop” is a tavern in New Town—“neutral territory in neutral territory”—and he generally goes about his business unimpeded, since he might be useful to anyone someday.
  • Following Sean’s nose, the wizards and company go to the kitchen, and down into the cellar—though not before Dee pockets a locker key from the living room.
  • Deep in the basement is a lab, with maps and diagrams. In the center of a multi-layered binding circle is a tiny figure of a winged man, making muffled cries for help through an upside-down fishbowl.
  • After a totally-joking-not-serious-at-all-claim to be ready to rain hell and destruction upon the world, the little spirit introduces himself as a messenger called Marathon.
  • Upon learning that Liebaum is dead—which makes him sad, he liked his shiny head, even if he was stinky and kept him locked away—Marathon agrees to pass along the last message he delivered, and draw what he gave it to, in exchange for his freedom.
  • Our heroes must think fast: Preston warns them that they have little time before detectives arrive.
  • Sean opens the circle, and Marathon agrees to pass them the information wherever they go to from here.
  • Time to go! They dash out, but not before Sean grabs a notebook from the living room.
  • Unfortunately, they’re already being followed: a trio of figures begin to approach them from the far end of the block, and while they quickly pack into their vehicles, their pursuers tear through the Veil Dee erects to hide them.
  • They might be trouble, except… something happens. A sound—maybe a whistle, maybe a scream, erupts, and the three figures disappear, moments before something craters the sidewalk, spattering it with something dark.
  • Apparently free of their pursuers, our heroes make their way to a cafe with just a little privacy, and go over their findings.
  • The notebook is a paranoid rambling stream of consciousness, referring to an “Author,” as well as “contamination” and “symptoms.”
  • One line stands out for being underlined: “Find out banish condition for Beast, too risky to petition without.”
  • “Petition? Awaken? Beg? Invoke?”
  • Finally, Jos reviews her message and image from Marathon.
The Message:

“This is a Message. Awaken, O Divine Beast, and Hunt. Eden is defiled, the Intruder has arrived.”

The Image:

“[S]omething impossible, alien, without rhyme or reason. The drawing has been created within the phone itself, pixels commanded and arrayed by a master artist’s hand.. or a messenger. The shape it depicts is dizzying, as if a thousand images are layered over eachother, dark with overlapping possibility. Sometimes the shape is a cloud of maws, sometimes it is a black dog, sometimes it is an eagle with talons of serpents and the head of a lizard.”

And a little extra!

The Response:

The same high-pitched screech/scream/is there even a word, that our heroes had heard as they drove away from Geoffrey’s home.

(Significant Milestone)

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Interrogation! Not Investigation!
And not us doing it this time!
  • At this point, later in the day, the PC’s are all cordially invited to talk to Detective Du Jardin.
  • Probably not so cordially.
  • Fortunately, given the definite supernatural nature of what’s just happened, they decide to get together and coordinate their stories.
  • Said amazing alibi? “Totally a coincidence.”
  • Also, neither Emma nor Sean are up to date on their movie knowledge.
  • In a police station in the uglier part of town, our heroes meet the good Detective, all at once.
  • She does her best to put everyone at ease, and waits for someone to start talking.
  • Aaaand that would be the werewolf. Sean’s about as evasive as he can manage—after all, nobody in the room really knows how Liebaum’s body was stuffed in the middle of an otherwise intact topiary of why—but it does get conversation going.
  • The Detective confesses that she doesn’t think anyone here had anything to do with the murder, but they probably have some insight into some of the answers regardless. She unplugs the cameras before questioning continues, and produces everyone’s phone records, showing the strange call that came in last night.
  • Dee tries to claim that he didn’t understand the voice on the other end of the line, but his attempts to deceive fail badly; only Joss’s weaponized empathy is able to insert a little doubt in the detective’s head that he might be telling the truth.
  • The others are a bit more forthcoming: Joss, Emma, and Preston acknowledge that someone using their own voices made the call…

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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Still Not More Investigation
Okay, maybe some at the end.
  • Sean, again is the one to volunteer more information. With some prodding, he doesn’t spill everything, but he does give up some of the contents of the call.
  • Emma and Jos also acknowledge some of the contents: the heroes confess that the voice on the other end of the line stated they had been taken, but didn’t want to leave anymore.
  • Apparently satisfied, the detective gives everyone a card with her name and number on it, and requests that they contact her if anything comes to mind.
  • Plugging the cameras back in, she defends her place in SI, as well as the entire organization:

“Ask anybody outside of SI, and it means where the kooks, burnouts, incompetents, and whistle-blowers go. Ask one of us though, and it’s where every single badge has memorized that old quote about eliminating the possible and leaving the improbable.”

  • The PC’s leave, and decide to track down Weishaupt for information that evening.
  • On their own, some of the others begin investigating.
  • Reaching out to her contacts, Jos learns about Marathon—or at least that he doesn’t exist in any official capacity, and asking around is a good way to get yourself taken in for questioning.
  • Dee, meanwhile, performs a ritual of divination upon the key they found at Liebaum’s place, and figures out where it goes…
  • It looks like a trip to the airport is in the PC’s future.
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Leaving On a Jet Plane...
Not really.
  • Dee comes to the others with his information. The only reasonable response is to get their butts to the airport.
  • Sadly, they keep the lockers behind the security checkpoints, which is…slightly problematic.
  • On the other hand, Jos has a unique power in addition to her empathy: Her massive checkbook. A few hundred dollars and a claim to an impulse vacation later, she and Preston walk right past security with wholly legitimate tickets, and proceed on.
  • It doesn’t take them long to locate the particular locker, and without any magical security, they’re able to open it easily, procuring a small vial with a few strands of hair preserved in oil. Easily enough retrieved, they turn around.
  • Meanwhile, Emma is wrangling a couple of small children, arguing over who can be what superhero. and Sean is just being nervous.
  • Well, not just being nervous. Super-wolf-senses are picking up something not-right and not-of-this-world. Once he sees the others returning, he quickly shepherds folks toward the exit, anxiously looking about for whatever it was he smelled…
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Welcome to New Town!
Going down!
  • Fortunately, Sean’s nose only catches the strange scent for a moment, and everyone is fortunately able to extricate themselves from the airport without further incident.
  • The team heads for the nearest door to New Town—at least some of them driven by a somewhat skittish werewolf—stopping only to pick up Emma’s pet dog-yes-dog-totally-not-a-coyote.
  • There is one strange blurb that pops up on the news, though:

In other news, a community bank in South Philadelphia was shocked and upset to find that they had been robbed overnight, with no signs of entry. Security cameras found no evidence pointing to the perpetrators, though police are currently investigating.

  • Odd that might be, for the moment they’ve got a mission and a timetable.
  • A veiled doorway in a subway station takes them down a long tunnel, illuminated with a long string of Christmas lights.
  • Welcome to New Town, folks!
  • A cyclops tourist nods genially to our heroes as he passes, and a handful of Wardens likewise are visible in the crowd for a moment before they split up for reasons known only to them.
  • Well, our heroes are locals: They get to asking around as to where Mr. Weishaupt’s “shop” is to be found.
  • Most folks only overhear mutterings of confusion and worry, perhaps regarding the movements of the Wardens, but Sean is able to find a pleasant White Court woman who points him in the right direction, and invites him to hear her on the piano later.
  • In a small cafe with an Arabian theme to its decor and dining, they find their target in the company of Sigrid, his bodyguard.
  • While he’s willing to talk after hearing that Geoffrey is dead, he makes it clear “he doesn’t do crowds,” and Emma is the one to do the talking while everyone else gives them some space.
  • Using a magical talisman to verify her words, Weishaupt interrogates Emma. He laments the loss of Mr. Liebaum, even if only as a customer who was punctual, precise, and paid his debts.
  • While Weishaupt is unwilling to describe what it was Geoffrey Liebaum was going to offer him in trade, he does describe the items he was going to offer in return: one book Geoffrey wrote (the last surviving copy thereof), and another—which Weishaupt was instructed not to read—which was a play with no author, in which the main character was “a blank space.”
  • He does describe his payment as worthless to anyone but himself, or one who wished him harm.
  • Emma takes a moment to confer with her friends.
  • Concluding that it might well be Weishaupt’s hair in the tube from the airport, the wizards and company conclude, perhaps, that it might be proper to conclude this trade…
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Let's Make A Deal!
  • Another hint cajoled out of Weishaupt further consolidates the suspicions of the PC’s.
  • Sean’s nose is sharper than any human’s has a right to be, even when he’s not a wolf, but he isn’t able to verify the hair belongs to the fixer.
  • Emma presents it anyway, and sure enough it seems to be what he wants. He agrees to fulfill his part of the bargain, noting that once he’s done here he’s getting out of town.
  • He’s hearing rumors. The Black Court—previously reeling and skulking in the shadows—seems to be a force to be reckoned with now. They’re going after anyone with a hint of magical talent, which has the White Council greatly concerned, while the White Court smells blood in the water. While they’ve been playing mostly nice together, the vampires are always ready to seize an opening.
  • Second- or Third-hand, the PC’s hear this, From Weishaupt who heard it from Liebaum: It seems that a young Black Court vampire by the name of Katzinger has taken some power for himself (an odd thing given that he’s apparently less than a year undead, and among the Black Court power and age tend to go hand-in-hand), taking out the old guard with gusto—as well as bullets and magic and whatever else would be effective.
  • He hands over the briefcase of Geoffrey’s payment to Emma, unlocking it as he does so, and then proceeds to burn the hair and oil together.
  • In the briefcase are two books:
    • One old, missing a cover, though its title is clearly legible on its front page: On Entities Beyond The Nevernever – Manuscript by Geoffrey Liebaum, Practitioner and Wayfinder – Date: 5-20-1981
    • The others is a beautiful leather-bound tome with a golden clasp: Man – A Tragedy
  • Weishaupt notes that he was informed to never let the second book be destroyed, nor ever to write in it, even if his life were to literally depend upon it.
  • He presents his business card to Emma, informing her that if she ever needs his services, to burn the card and he will be in touch.
  • Well, that’s it, right? Done?
  • Sean’s violence-sense tingles, feeling something from up above, and just as he warns the others, a voice crackles out over the speakers littered throughout New Town.
  • The man on the speakers announces himself, and then proceeds to make it rain the corpses of wardens from above.
  • Well, one corpse of a warden.
  • The voice then notes that he’s looking for Weishaupt—by description, not by name—or more specifically, the contents of his briefcase. He jovially offers great rewards to those who find it for him—and death to anyone who opens it—and adds that if people aren’t sufficiently motivated to find it in the next ten minutes, he’ll start giving his own moral support in murder dollars.
  • Sigrid, Weishaupt’s bodyguard, prepares for a fight, but Emma and the other wizards ponder finding another way out.
  • Some people around them have the same idea…while others are just searching. Maybe they want the reward, maybe they’re the voice’s agents. No telling.
  • Preston, concerned, opens his Third Eye to get a better idea of what they’re dealing with.

The lights, smells, and sounds of New Town are exaggerated, as if your pupils were permanently dilated and you stood in the center of the Vegas strip. The light of possibility, exchange, and the meeting of minds in a safe, neutral place… and yet, there are tears in the tapestry, recent, bleeding wounds that leak something less than darkness, more hateful, as if static could be black. A screeching assault of synesthesia in four tears around the place’s rooftops, that beyond them lead into the Nevernever, like lights at the end of tunnels made through a victim’s heart. Two other shadows, with pinpricks of sickly yellow eyes and wide smiles stand behind the five people that gamble on the voice’s offer. Preston’s SIght tells them they are behind a veil, but that veil is unnatural, as if the world wanted to protect others from those. Their shadows are mottled with words written across them, words like “Revenge”, “Power”, “Eat”, “Regret”, “Hunger”, “Loneliness”. The words that make up their stories, scribbled, out. New words overlap them, new histories, gifts, strength.

  • Preston barely manages to retain consciousness as he reins in his Sight, and Joss points out the people who might be more trouble in this crowd…
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Making a Break For It
  • With Sean and (more imposingly) Dee trying to stand in the way of anyone who might recognize and try to turn in Weishaupt, Jos plans to use one of the more secret ways out of New Town, behind Theedson’s Rare Books and Imports.
  • Emma would very much just like to tear open a portal through to the Nevernever or something less immediately dangerous than here, but the borders of the world would take a little more time to chip away at than they have.
  • Dee offers to cover everyone with a veil while they beat feet to Theedson’s, but subtlety and veils aren’t necessarily his thing.
  • The tears in the world that Preston saw—four of them, plus one directly overhead—are weakening the borders, here.
  • Recognizing that time is running short, Preston and Emma both slap veils on the fixer and his bodyguard, rendering them pretty much unrecognizable.
  • A couple of the more active searchers—a brother and sister of the Summer Court of Faerie—ask if the PC’s have seen the targets.
  • Of course, they deny it.
  • They introduce themselves as Llewellyn and Kate, inviting the PC’s to join them—of course, again, they refuse, citing the use of having some people stand in one place, in case the quarry is flushed out.
  • Preston recognizes the five, of course, and with his head clear, he sees two with them that the others don’t: two men with the pale skin, red lips, and telltale black veins of the Black Court.
  • Seeing a chance to make a getaway, Jos suggests we do work with them, maneuvering to the back of town to go sweep forward. That the back of town would be where Theedson’s is goes completely unmentioned.
  • Before parting ways, the other wizards are able to see through the veils of the vampires, and Sean recognizes the smell that wafted about at the airport, and lingered in the home of Geoffrey Liebaum.
  • The vampires continue to follow the group they were with, leaving the PC’s to make their way to Theedson’s.
  • As they draw close, it occurs to them that just leaving may not be the moral course of action. If the voice on the speaker decided to off a Warden just to make an idle point, he probably will end up making good on the part where he starts killing people in a few minutes.
  • Still, our heroes manage to escort Sigrid and Weishaupt to the emergency exit. The fixer thanks them profusely, and the two exit back to the streets of mundane Philadelphia, leaving the PC’s to figure out what to do about this mess…
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