The Secret Garden

Chapter Thirty-Four: "Scourge"
Down the Rabbit Hole

Summer swells and passes. Fall from Grace prospers, winning repute on the club scene, sweltering with success. As the months pass, the Butterfly Effect cabal are not idle. Kailani hooks up with Jah Kingdom and studies the arts of Time and Mind with him, while going on a massive skunk binge. Aiden spends his time meditating on his past lives, deepening his understanding of Spirit. Alastair listens to the Wheel in a series of deep isolation sessions in his tank, further exploring the Entropy arts. And Felix spends his time working with his library, further refining his Quintessential web, and increasing his mastery of Prime.

Early in September, Alastair contacts Corduroy Jack for his promised pint. They meet at the Black Castle pub near the fish market. Jack is clearly interested who the mage they’re keeping at St Jude’s is. Alastair says he’s a mage who knows how to find a book that one of his friends is seeking. Alastair, in turn, asks for the dirt on Ludwig, and Jack spills the beans on Ludwig’s broken bonds with the Brythonic Lodge. He rounds this out by giving Alastair Ludwig’s mobile number. Alastair thanks him and pockets the number.

They down their pints and head to a nearby park, settling down on a bench. Jack leaves a pound coin on the footpath in front of them and tells Alastair to figure out whose life is the most changed by it. ‘If someone picks it up, or someone walks past and doesn’t pick it up, upon whose life will it have the most effect?’ he says, then leaves. He’ll be back in an hour…

Back at the club, Aiden welcomes Kay Weston from Time Out for a feature interview. The interview goes well enough (Kay noses around how much the club cost) until their tray of drinks flies across the room. As Aiden tries to calm Kay, he sees the wall behind her cake with frost. Just as she seems about to settle down, she feels someone touch her on the shoulder. This is more than enough for anyone’s nerves – Kay makes her excuses and leaves. Aiden mutters to the empty room ‘You haven’t heard the last of this.’

Felix is stroking his pussy at the Mobius Strip when he hears someone enter the shop. He finds a small boy who introduces himself as Babo and asks Felix to help him. Felix realises the boy is actually a magical effect of some kind. Babo asks Felix to find him, in return for which he will help the cabal find the Hapsburg Codex. Felix examines Babo’s Resonance and finds that it is connected to himself, the rest of the cabal, and the sleeping form of the Thebian at St. Jude’s. Babo departs and is apparently run over in the street in front of the bookstore. Felix rushes to his side, but there is no sign of the boy. The distraught driver swears there was a boy there a moment ago. Felix heads for the chantry, deep in thought.

Kailani sits atop Fall from Grace, chatting to Gothrak. They discuss how best to get Gothrak home to the Chalcedony Cathedral, to which Gothrak reacts as if he is being punished for his failings. Surely the Great One does not wish to banish him? Kailani insists it is only because he is an alien here and needs to return home. Gothrak promises to do whatever she thinks is best. She is the Great One, after all. Kailani makes it clear she can’t take up her role in the Cathedral until she learns how to heal others. They spot Alastair arriving home and wave from the rooftop.

Alastair watches the coin. A rich woman walking her dogs ignores it. A youth out with his mates pockets it. Alastair follows them, but they are doing little of interest besides smoking and drinking alcopops. Alastair sits on another bench to watch them. He is joined by a young woman with a baby in a stroller, checking her phone and crying. They talk. She is in a dilemma, having reported a crime but indirectly caused the death of someone in retaliation. She now wonders whether or not to report this killing. Alastair tells her that she has a greater responsibility – that of her child – and that staying alive is her prime task. Yes, there are things worth dying for. But not this. She makes her mind up and leaves.

Shortly thereafter, Jack returns and asks Alastair whose life was affected the most by the coin. Jack muses on the possibility that it could have been Alastair’s. Alastair is pretty sure the coin had the most effect on the woman, who neither picked it up nor ignored it, and whom Alastair was able to help because he ignored the coin except to let it lead him to the right place. He doesn’t contradict Jack too much though, because he is so intrigued by the whole game, and Jack’s motivations for it. They part. As Alastair heads back to the chantry, he sees Baedecker ahead of him in the street. He follows, but loses sight of Baedecker a couple of blocks from the Red House. Kailani and Gothrak wave as he walks up the street.

Inside, the cabal gathers to consider its options. Felix talks about Babo and says the boy is connected to the Thebian somehow, so they decide to pay a visit to St. Jude’s. En route they also decide to visit Solomon at the Observatory so they can check up on any developments with Rupert Soames. During the discussion, Aiden notices small spirits clustering around Kailani. Investigation reveals that they are barely-sentient music gafflings, drawn to her. They create a continual soundtrack on the other side of the Schism. He also reports the strange occurrences during Kay Weston’s visit. Alastair sends his senses across the Schism to survey the Spirit world in the surrounding area. He sees Killian’s wraith in the corner of the room. Killian glares at him and demands he stop looking. Alastair tells him to fuck off, and Killian sinks through the floor.

Kailani uses her Time arts to divine when she will next encounter the Chalcedony Cathedral. To her surprise, she learns that this will be in three months and also nine years ago in Egypt. From this she deduces that time travel to Egypt lies a few months in her future. The cabal ponder the significance of this as they head to the Observatory.

There, Solomon is preparing for the Surge, and is only too happy to explain its significance to the cabal. As for Soames, he states that the hapless journalist is still in an induced coma but that he found a small runestone embedded in Soames’ neck. The runestone uses static magic to make its bearer appear Awakened, but Solomon hasn’t had any time to look into it further. The mages examine the runestone, then inspect Soames himself (in magical sleep in an antechamber beneath an ensorcelled shroud).

Aiden examines Soames’ mind and discovers that he has a compulsion to phone a certain number after leaving the Observatory. Aiden notes the number and looks deeper. Soames’ memories of the implantation of the runestone have been removed, but Aiden is able to glimpse a blonde woman in a featureless grey room administering Mind arts to Soames. Aiden rises out of Soames’ mind and imparts his discoveries to his cabal-mates. They agree that whatever is going on here, it’s far too spooky to get involved with at the moment. They recommend to Solomon that he remove Soames’ memories of the Observatory, but keep him here under observation for now. Solomon agrees, far more concerned about the Surge than an unconscious Sleeper.

Shortly thereafter, the mages arrive at St. Jude’s, where the Thebian is still comatose. Babo appears again and they correctly divine that the child is an astral projection of the Thebian’s younger self. They narrow the Schism as much as they can, then Aiden joins the cabal together in a shared dream, from where they will be able to step into the Thebian’s dream in order to answer Babo’s call for help.

Aiden’s Arts engulf them, and they arrive in a strange representation of Fall from Grace. It is dark and dank, and graffiti lines the walls. “Murderer!”, “Killian knows!” and “The Codex will destroy who I am!” and similar inscriptions reveal that they are joined together in Aiden’s Oneiros – his personal dreamspace. From there they must find the conduit to the Thebian’s Oneiros. It lies, of course, in the astral version of the club’s toilets where they faced Killian’s wraith. There the broken mirror has been replaced by a jagged portal into darkness. The cabal summon their courage and plunge through.

They arrive in a strange maze dotted with unearthly black monoliths inscribed with silver runes. Alastair manages to decipher the runes, learning the name of the place: The Maze of the Ebon Gates. Moments later, a mass of grasping tentacles erupt through the hedges and attacks the cabal. Felix is able to decipher enough of the runes on another of the monoliths to activate a portal. Aiden and Felix race through and Alastair shoves Kailani ahead of himself, suffering the touch of the Maelefract for his troubles.

They emerge from the portal in a forest glade. A boulder grooved with lost scripts sits at it centre, and standing before the boulder is a startlingly beautiful man. He identifies himself as Adonaios, and asks if the Thebian found the Garden. Alastair replies: ‘Would we be here if he had been successful?’ Adonaios seems unmoved by his insolence, and asks if it was worth the search, but the cabal has no answer for this. Finally, the angel asks why the Thebian’s search was unsuccessful. ‘Because there is no Garden,’ Kailani says. Adonaios smiles at this reply and steps aside as a further portal flares into life atop the boulder. The cabal step through.

They appear on the banks of a great river at the heart of a verdant belt in a mighty desert. A dusty hut sits on its banks. Babo plays in the dirt outside and is overjoyed to see the cabal. He points to the hut. ‘I’m in there.’

The mages enter the hut to find the Thebian sitting in the gloom. He congratulates them on being able to understand and respond to his plea for help. He says that he needs their help. The Scourge has trapped him inside his own mind and he wants out. If the mages agree to free his consciousness from this nest of memories, he will help them in return. Aiden says the cabal will help and Felix asks where the Hapsburg Codex is. The Thebian says they’ve had a wasted journey as he gave the book away years ago. But if the cabal helps him, he will tell them how they can find it. They agree.

The Thebian tells them that he obtained the Codex by trading it for a diary. He then traded the Codex to the Ahl-i-Batin in return for learning the location of a Lilith Stone, so that he might enter the Garden. But the Batini lore was flawed – or a lie – and he found only Adonaios and death at the Lilith Stone. As for the Codex, he gave it to a Batini called Yusuf in Jerusalem. The cabal thank him – this advice is better than nothing – and ask what they need to do to help him. The Thebian replies that they must kill Babo.

The cabal are horrified. Alastair suggests that they just end the shared dream and leave the Thebian where he is. Only Kailani and Aiden possess sufficient Arts to destroy the spirit-projection, but Kailani flat-out refuses. The Thebian insists it doesn’t matter – Babo is only an astral construct. Aiden heads outside to kill Babo, but Felix follows him, arguing that Babo is actually part of the Thebian’s mind and therefore sapient. Aiden changes his mind, breaking their bargain, and ends the shared dream. The Thebian’s curses echo through the Astral Umbra after them.

Back at the Red House, Felix contacts Ibrahim and asks him about Yusuf. Ibrahim replies that Yusuf went into the Nephandic pits at Damascus, and has turned barabbus. The Codex wound up in a Batini library, but was subsequently stolen by a demon known only as the Angel of Tears

Chapter Thirty-Three: "Home Truths"
Buried Secrets

The Butterfly Effect cabal returns home from Rosedale with Balthazar of Thebes in tow. They make directly for the Red House, which they have decided to reopen under a different name and begin using as their Chantry. As they settle themselves in, Kailani performs a tarot reading for the cabal.

This complete, she then uses her Time arts to examine the recent past of the Red House, looking for signs of any wrongdoings there that might haunt the cabal. She immediately witnesses Aiden’s murder of its three previous owners, and their illegal dealings with the Spaniard and Norman Stafford. But apart from this, only a few minor drug-related misdemeanours reveal themselves. And, pushing her perception back a handful of years, she sees that the club was merely a warehouse before that. After a quiet word with Aiden, Kailani proclaims the place safe to use.

While Felix heads back to the Mobius Strip to check up on things and feed his cat, Alastair contacts Dr. Becker at Saint Jude’s and arranges for the Thebian to receive long-term care there. Becker is more than amenable, and Alastair and Aiden drive on over, arranging to have Balthazar collected by ambulance shortly thereafter.

While Aiden deals with the financial side of things in Becker’s office, Alastair is led by Nurse Bryce to the room where the Thebian will be staying. Alastair notices that she is struggling to conceal some private grief, but does not press the matter and instead checks the room over while Nurse Bryce returns to the nurses’ station further down the hall.

No sooner is she out of the room, however, when Alastair notices none other than Theora Hetirck sitting in a chair by the window. She demands to know who he is and why he is prying into her life. Alastair insists that he has no idea what she is talking about, so Theora changes tack, asking why he had to kill Shelton Bruntee. Alastair replies that it had to be done, to which Theora replies that this makes them the same as each other. Alastair isn’t sure, but Theora merely laughs at him. ‘We’ll see,’ she says, and saunters out of the room. Alastair follows her into the hallway, but she has already vanished.

Aiden arrives, his dealings with Dr. Becker complete, and Alastair, somewhat panicky, tells him of his meeting with Theora, insisting that St. Jude’s is now compromised and that they have to find somewhere else to house the Thebian. Aiden concurs. While Alastair hurries out of the clinic, Aiden takes a moment to slip his perceptions inside Nurse Bryce’s mind, curious as to the cause of her sorrow. He is, therefore, deeply shocked to discover that she is the daughter of the man who died, along with her brother, in the explosion caused when Alastair destroyed Stafford’s house.

Aiden finds Alastair in the parking lot, checking their car for bugs and explosives. Aiden tells him what he has learned about the nurse and Alastair, even more unnerved by this coincidence, decides to abandon his car at the clinic, and the pair takes a long, circuitous route back to the Red House.

At the club they discuss what has happened. Felix thinks that Alastair might be suffering from Paradox-induced visions, but is at a loss how to tell for sure. Kailani decides that first-hand intelligence is the best way to learn the truth. She disappears into the women’s toilets and works Life magic on herself to transform her appearance into that of an over-the-hill WAG – exactly the kind of person who might come wandering into the clinic outside of visiting hours. She departs for St. Jude’s via taxi.

While she is on her covert WAG-mission, Felix examines the club with the fullness of his magical skill (and some large hammers) and discovers a covered hatchway leading into a forgotten cellar. From the cellar he discovers a bricked-up archway leading to a deeper area. He calls Aiden and Alastair, and they proceed into the darkness.

At the clinic, Kailani totters her way past reception and into the room where Alastair saw Theora. There she uses Time arts to view the room over the previous hour. She sees Alastair subconsciously create an etheric projection without seeming to understand what he is doing. He holds a conversation with this shimmering form, clearly believing it to be Theora. He even watches it leave the room before dispelling the projection a few moments later. Satisfied that the vision of Theora came from Alastair’s own mind, Kailani returns to the club.

Beneath the Red House, the rest of the cabal explore the lower area and find statues to Dionysus, Diana and an angelic representation of Priapus (bearing the legend “Fais ce que tu voudras”). They divine that this is a long-buried Regency-era Hellfire Club and that the statue of Priapus is the focal point of an inactive Node. When Kailani rejoins them a few minutes later, she also confirms that a guardian spirit slumbers at the Node. Further investigation reveals that the Node can be activated by a sufficiently riotous celebration, and so the cabal decides to throw a huge opening-night party once the club is ready and use this to power the reactivation of the Node.

Alastair, still concerned as to the source of his vision, asks the cabal to watch over him while he looks further into the matter. They agree and all head to his flat in Pudding Lane, where Alastair immerses himself in his flotation tank. He has been inside it for about an hour, when someone knocks on the exterior. It is apparently Baedecker, who claims that he is not really dead, but only faked his demise. He advises Alastair not to look into his death because Alastair should be content with remaining an irrelevance and a mere pawn of fate. Alastair is polite but rejects this advice outright and goes back into his tank. When he emerges, Baedecker is gone. He tells the rest of the cabal what he has experienced, and how he has no intention of following Baedecker’s suggestions. They agree that it is the right decision, but are none the wiser as to the source of these strange apparitions. Alastair, however, begins to suspect that they are projections of his subconscious, each espousing a different opinion on his place and behaviour as a mage.

With the pseudo-Baedecker having reminded them of the issue, the cabal decide that now is the ideal time to look further into Baedecker’s death. Felix devises a cunning conjunctional Effect that will allow them to triangulate the location where Baedecker called them from on the night of Aiden’s little kidney incident. They all head to the places they were at on that night and prepare – Aiden at the hotel where Ruth Pearcy seduced him, Alastair to his car on the Strand, Felix to the Mobius Strip, and Kailani to Felix’ couch with a nice fat joint.

Aiden settles himself into the bath at the hotel and finds himself in the grip of some startling visions that hint at past existences for his soul – an eye like an eclipsed sun, a face on a desert monument, a sorceress, an ethereal child – but they lie in spiritual waters deep enough to strike utter terror into him. He makes note of the experience and prepares for the triangulation Effect.

The Effect is successful and the cabal trace their communication with Baedecker to a small houseboat on a tributary of the Thames in Teddington. They head there and discover that it is home to a Sleeper called Rebecca Handley. Aiden and Alastair disable mundane security devices around her home but discover that there is a powerful Effect of some sort in place. Their investigations are briefly derailed when Aiden loses control of his Enochian chanting and breaks one of Rebecca’s windows, causing Rebecca to emerge from the houseboat wondering if “Charles” has returned. Mental investigation reveals that Charles is none other than Baedecker, whom Rebecca believes to be a retired city banker. The two were clearly lovers and she has no inkling of what has happened to him.

Kailani, meanwhile, discovers a powerful serpent spirit coiled around the houseboat and learns that it was placed there by Baedecker to watch over Rebecca. Kailani tells the serpent that Baedecker is dead and the spirit prepares to depart, freed from its bond. Kailani asks it to continue watching over Rebecca in return for its freedom and it agrees to do so… for a month and a day.

The cabal continue to investigate the Effect on the barge by sluicing raw Quintessence across its Pattern, and learn that it is an Obfuscation hiding something else. Without dispelling the Obfuscation, they manage to work their way around it in order to examine the Effect that it is concealing. They discover an incredibly powerful Correspondence/Entropy/Time Effect that is anchored on the barge and three other locations. Investigating further, they learn that these three other locations are the café outside which Baedecker was killed, the Mobius Strip, and Alastair’s apartment. They also examine the Resonance on the Effect and divine it to be Pattern (Enduring, Preserving) and Entropic (Black, Murderous, Rotting). Felix recognises this as the same Resonance that attacked his shield over Shelton, and the group assume that it is connected to House Helekar and the Harvester.

They leave the various Effects intact and return to the club, bedding down in the apartment above it. Alastair is woken in the small hours by a phone call from his dead friend Smitty, claiming that he has found a buyer for the stone head they recovered on their last mission together, and that Alastair needs to come on over to the hotel as soon as he can. Alastair, now fully understanding what is going on, agrees and then just goes back to sleep.

He has a dream in which he is at Rosedale Manor once more, Shelton on his knees before him, Theora at his side. Alastair promptly puts a bullet into Shelton’s brain, and Theora crows that they are just like each other after all: they do what needs to be done, when others cannot – or will not – make those tough decisions. Alastair says that they are not the same at all, because Theora never bothers to make a distinction between who should die and who merely could die. Theora challenges him to prove that he has made that distinction himself, even once. Alastair says that he made that distinction where Cade was concerned. Theora concedes the point (although she says she was sure the man’s name was Declan) and bids him au revoir. Before the dream ends, Alastair sees Jenny Smits, who thanks him. ‘For what?’ Alastair asks. ‘For knowing how to tell the difference,’ she replies.

The dream over, Alastair lies awake in bed, watching the sun rise through the bedroom window. ‘I don’t always get it right,’ he says, ‘but I’m damn well going to try.’

The following day, the mages rebuild their various shields and wards and discuss their options for the reopening of the nightclub. Aiden makes arrangements for work to start on this side of things – during his preparations, he heads into the subterranean vault and finds that there is another exit through a boarded-up tunnel that leads to a metro line.

Alastair calls a coroner contact of his and reveals Baedecker’s Sleeper identity so that Baedecker’s body will be identified. Felix, meanwhile, divines that Rebecca has a sister in Canada, a certain Alice Handley. He locates her and Aiden taps into her mind and prompts memories of family and a desire to contact her loved ones. The experience is overwhelming, filling Aiden with memories and longings he had long thought consigned to history. As for Alice, the Effect is successful and she calls her sister Rebecca and invites her to come to Canada. Rebecca agrees.

Aiden, shaken by his communion with Alice’s mind, goes to get a stiff drink and sees shadow in the nightclub’s courtyard. It turns out to be Gothrak who has traced the cabal here, wanting to see Kailani. Kailani confirms that her offer of sanctuary is still open and the mages agree that Gothrak can lair atop the club for the time being.

Felix heads to the Mobius Strip to collect Ziggy, but while he is there Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar visit. Theirs is purely a professional call – they remind Felix that the cabal must choose certain Great Rights to espouse. Felix promises that he has not forgotten and says he will raise the issue with his cabal-mates as soon as possible. Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar seem mollified and depart.

Back at the Red House, Alastair asks Kailani to teach him the spirit arts. Kailani is only too happy to agree. They head to Glas Bheinn, in the wilds of Scotland. Jah Kingdom meets them on the slopes of Glas Bheinn Mhor, and shares some serious ganja with them both. ‘Enough time spent playing in the grass,’ he tells Kailani. ‘Time to climb the mountain.’

Alastair and Kailani are immersed in a waking dream, and their spirits roam across the mountainside. In the depths of a primordial forest they encounter the Victus Ovate (or so they believe). ‘Who are you?’ it asks them. ‘I have used many names, but you may call me Alastair,’ Alastair says. ‘I am queen Funkadelia – phear my phat beats,’ Kailani answers. The Victus Ovate is pleased, and shows them a path through the ancient forest and out onto a plain where a stone circle rises from the mists. There three of Mama Netties Death Birds squat on the stones. ‘Why are you here?’ they ask the spirit-travellers. ‘To learn about you,’ Alastair replies. ‘For the free pizza,’ is Kailani’s reply. The Death Birds are pleased, and guide the duo towards a path leading higher up the mountain. There they find a cave, its opening guarded by Baedecker’s serpent spirit. ‘For whom do you speak?’ it asks. ‘For those who strive,’ says Alastair. ‘For all da ladies in da house,’ Kailani answers. And the serpent is pleased, and allows them to enter the cave.

Within the cave, visions await. Kailani sees her own, personal spirit guide – a many-armed Vedic goddess. Kailani admits that, in her quest to provide guidance to others, she has failed to look within and see the truth within. Alastair glimpses Kailani’s inner spirit, and speaks words of Kaja to it. His use of High Speech prompts a deep communion with Kailani, who finds that she can see Alastair’s inner spirit guide. In his case, it is a vast and implacable Wheel, grinding all of existence, all of time, to cosmic dust. Alastair looks upon the Wheel and sees it through spirit-eyes for the first time. He sees that the dust it leaves behind is the very ephemera that makes up the spirit-worlds. And he also sees how each grain of dust might in time become a Wheel – and so Wheel and dust are one.

Overcome by their visions, Kailani and Alastair awake. Jah Kingdom congratulates them on their fresh insight and takes his leave. Kailani and Alastair round the night off by cracking open a bottle of Cragganmore. And in the morning there is bacon.

Back in London, Felix and Aiden discuss Solomon’s visit. If the Butterfly Effect is to endure in London, they must at least appear to uphold the Lex Magica, and so they decide to seek advice on which Rights to espouse. They recall that Morgayne of the Belters was both knowledgeable and forthcoming at their last meeting, and so decide to seek her out. Felix uses his memory of Morgayne’s Resonance to locate her at St. Peter’s church in St. Albans and he and Aiden pay her a visit.

While they are still en route, Morgayne divines their scanning and probes them in return – Felix allows her to identify them and asks for a meeting. ‘Fine,’ Morgayne replies. At the church, after she has gotten over her irritation at being located, they discuss with her the requests of the Lodge. Morgayne talks over some of the ramifications of the Great Rights. Aiden invites her to come to the opening of the club and gives her its card. She agrees to pay them a visit.

Back at the club, Felix contacts Ibrahim and updates him on their investigations into Baedecker’s death. When Ibrahim hears that Helekar may have been behind the murder, he recommends that the cabal have nothing more to do with the matter. Helekar will kill them all if they cross them. Felix states that it is too late, because they have already crossed paths and slain one of the Freedom Razor. Ibrahim tells him to prepare for retribution. Felix also tells him about the Effect at the houseboat and both agree that it is a trap of some kind – possibly for Baedecker in case he faked his death, but certainly something to be avoided.

Aiden, meanwhile, performs a ritual to gain further communion with his past selves. He has a vision of the Sphinx buried up to its neck in sand and meets an ethereal young woman who states that she and he share a soul. However, he is not her reincarnation. Instead, because the timeline has been rewritten, she no longer existed and Aiden seems to have taken her place. She sees this as proof that her imminent actions have failed – she and her companions were about to embark on an undertaking intended to make everything better. If Aiden exists, it can only mean that the War of Ruins has further shattered the timelines and she will fail. Aiden suggests that there could be multiple timelines. The girl says that if so, he is in a worse place than she is. She hopes only to return home. Aiden, however, is still trapped in a cycle of reincarnation and death.

Aiden says that this is just the way of things. The girl states that his cycle sees him slain over and over again at his brother’s hand. Aiden says he doesn’t have a brother. She says he has two, but revisions to the timelines might mean that they are different to hers. She asks if he has found the book and Aiden correctly realises she means the Hapsburg Codex. He says that he is still looking for it, but that the man who knows where it is in still in a coma. He asks what is in it. She tells him that it was written by one of their forebears but from his perspective contains only lies. From her perspective, it was filled with uncomfortable truths. If Aiden is having waking dreams about his past lives, then he is close to the book – it must be calling for him. Aiden asks how he will know it when he finds it. She tells him that she will write of this meeting in the book. Aiden thanks her and bids her farewell, extending her hand. She places the book in it. Aiden opens the book and reads its first page before the vision ends.

The mages reconvene in the upper apartments, placing quick wards about themselves. They share their recent experiences and revelations and discuss what to do next. Kailani will check up on the serpent and make sure that Rebecca is heading off to Canada. The cabal as a whole will prepare wards for the Chantry. They will decide on which Great Rights to espouse, then visit Solomon to tell him. They will also try to persuade Solomon to release Rupert Soames to them so they can investigate who he is and what he was doing. And they will hold a huge fucking party for the grand opening of Fall From Grace.

The opening of the club is set for June 9th. The cabal prepare a host of Effects to protect themselves and the club from what they feel is inevitable… attention. Firstly they lay an aura of well-being over the entire nightclub, mellowing the mood of anyone in the building. They join themselves together in a perceptual filter that will identify aggressive thoughts among their customers. They enhance their own physical and mental characteristics, ward their clothing with primal energies, and a variety of other enchantments. And then they open the doors to the public.

The grand opening is a riotous success. The cabal’s subtle enchantments blend with their cutting-edge club, leading to a bacchanalia of Dionysian proportions. Solomon puts in an appearance, congratulating the mages on their new Chantry and asking if they have decided on their Great Rights. Aiden treats him to a drink as he explains that the cabal has elected to espouse the Rights of Hospitality, Sanctuary and Nemesis. Solomon, unfailingly gracious, congratulates Aiden again on his choices, leaving after a suitably polite period.

At the height of the revel, the cabal retreat to their Node and throw a banquet of their own, indulging in wild gluttony, carefree carousing, and copious quaffing, all laced with magic. The ritual awakens the guardian spirit of the Node, binding the mages to it, and it to them. The Rakehell Bastard, the spirit is called, and it raises rapier and flagon alike in salute to its new allies.

The evening wears on. With celebrations in full swing, the mages are alerted by their wards that someone is scanning the club using Correspondence. Investigation reveals the Resonance of Theora Hetirck. Alastair investigates and discovers that the scan originated at Correspondence point in a car parked outside the club. He tries three times to get near it – on the first two times, his experiences rewind so he is back in the club, but on the third he manages to get close enough to the car to see that it is empty. Eventually the car departs, leaving a mobile phone on the road in its place. It rings. Alastair refuses to pick it up. He gives it to a security guard to dispose of in a dumpster.

Meanwhile, back inside the club, there is a commotion in the girls’ toilet. Investigation reveals that there is a disturbance from the Umbra – spirits of some kind are causing mischief across the Gauntlet. The cabal hush up any problems and have the club security usher people away from the toilets, blaming a water leak. They discover fthe disturbances are being caused by none other than Killian’s wraith, aided by a second wraith who wears a large African death-mask. The cabal combine forces and unleash all manner of spiritual and physical whup-ass on the two intruding wraiths. Killian’ ghostly form is dissipated and he is apparently sucked down into some sub-realm. They then attack the other wraith with its own chains, ripping its mask from its face. The other wraith flees in horror at being unmasked and our heroes congratulate themselves on dealing with the first threat to their new Chantry.

Chapter Thirty-Two: "Of Wine and Roses"
In the Ruins of Rosedale

The cast and crew of Spook Spotters arrive in the village of Rosedale, where they are to investigate ‘the most haunted place in Yorkshire’ – the legendary Rosedale Manor. With the daylight already waning, they make their way to Pippin Lodge (or, rather Pippin Odge, as the damaged sign claims), where they are welcomed by Grace Potter.

Danny Dawn turns on the charm when Zach Farley’s foul mouth wins Grace’s ire, and she bustles about, clearly star-struck. While Zach and Weird Pete unload the team’s SUV, Danny and his wife, presenter Yvonne Meadows pander to their host’s ego, signing the guest book (with a huge marker pen in Yvonne’s case) and coo appreciatively at her oddly extensive collection of pictures of trams. After some confusion over the rooms (Grace has booked them all singles, and the only double room is reserved for another couple arriving later that evening), the team unpack and decide to head up to the manor to scout the location and shoot some night-time footage.

Danny and Pete prep the gear and load the car and Yvonne and Zach take advantage of their absence to indulge their illicit passions in Yvonne’s bedroom. Unbeknownst to them, the suspicious Danny has already planted a hidden camera in Yvonne’s room. Unfortunately, he mangles its placement – it falls down behind a cushion – but the audio it records is quite unambiguous.

With everyone engorged and tingling and eager to see what Rosedale Manor has to offer, they head up out of the village and onto the moors. Although rainclouds threaten a downpour, the vistas are stunning and, before long, masses of overgrown wild rosebushes show that they are near their destination. They have heard all manner of conflicting tales about this place, and its appearance does not disappoint. After forcing its rusted gates open, they are treated to a splendorous ruin of crumbling majesty, overgrown with an ambitious profusion of roses, creepers and twisting vines.

They park the SUV and explore the grounds. Most of the building is an inaccessible ruin. The east wing is almost entirely collapsed, and much of the roof has fallen in elsewhere across the building. Zach and Yvonne film some preliminary and interim footage outside, while Danny and Pete explore the interior. Danny searches for the best places to fake communication with The Other Side, while Pete simply wanders about, allowing his own sensitivities to point him in the right direction.

With the light failing, Zach and Yvonne are startled by furtive movement in the undergrowth. Switching to infra-red, Zach picks up a heat signature and then spots two feral blazing eyes. Out of the undergrowth rushes… a cat! Yvonne shrieks, back-pedals, and falls flat on her backside, which sends Zach into paroxysms of insensitive laughter. Yvonne’s irritation only provokes his mirth further, and she stomps off in search of the others.

Danny is exploring the old stone kitchen, wondering if this would be a good place to stage a séance with the alleged cannibal chef of the manor. The cat wanders in through one window to observe him with cool disdain. Pete feels a strange pull towards the east wing but his explorations only confirm that it is too badly damaged to locate any routes into its basement area in the poor light – and the sudden opening of the heavens does not help matters at all. He heads back indoors to see if there is a route through one of the house’s cellars.

Zach and Yvonne are already in the cellars, snooping around, filching bottles of wine and sharing a mutual grope. Pete catches them in a particularly exposed moment atop a huge wine vat but doesn’t seem to care, being far too obsessed with locating a route through the cellars to beneath the east wing. He is now certain that something supernatural is located there. However, the route is completely blocked off, and he reluctantly accepts that he might have better luck above ground in better light.

Satisfied with an evening’s productive work, they are about to head back to the Odge when the ever-vigilant cat alerts them to the arrival of another car. The team douse their lights and huddle together in the hallway, unsure if they are about to fall foul of local authorities displeased with their intrusion onto the property. The truth is far stranger.

A young woman in a black leather jacket and a young man in similarly dark clothing park their car at the end of the drive and walk up towards the house. Once they are within earshot, the team hear snatches of an extremely strange conversation – and catch the names of the two newcomers: Theora and Shelton.

The two are at the house looking for something (although it is not clear what). They are also concerned that four others have beaten them here. At first the Spook Spotters think that Theora and Shelton are referring to them, but Theora’s next words soon disabuse them of that notion:

‘They’re not here. If they were, we’d be dead already.’

She looks around, clearly nervous, and then insists that they leave before they are noticed. None the wiser as to who these people are, the team wait for them to depart before emerging from hiding.

The investigators then regroup in the kitchen and stage a thoroughly convincing interaction with the spirits of the dead who were burned alive in the furnace by the manor’s cannibal cook. Pete rigs a heat emitter to fake a rise in temperature in the oven for Zach’s camera, and Yvonne interviews Danny while the latter communes with the ghosts of the dying. Their work done, they head back to Pippin Odge.

Back at the hotel, they discover that Shelton and Theora are the couple who were due to arrive that evening – the Hetircks – and Theora is in the kitchen drinking tea with Grace. Zach clocks her as something of a badass through certain small, tell-tale signs. She is polite but noncommittal and the team decide to head over to the local pub to learn a little more of the lore of Rosedale.

At the Rose and Crown they find some decent food, decent ale, but poor conversation. The usual babble about mad monks, cannibal chefs and black dogs is repeated. Danny finds that not everyone here is a fan (the barmaid much prefers Derren Brown, to Danny’s disgust) and Zach’s ebullient nature brings swift scorn from the locals (a wholly unfortunate incident that ends with Zach chanting “USA! USA! USA!” while throwing the horns to all present).

Pete takes a more subtle approach and plies one of the locals with a few pints of ale and learns that the supposed “mad monk” was once a denizen of Rosedale Abbey here in the village, but was ousted for his heresies and went on to build Rosedale Manor out of his own pocket – something that failed to endear to the other inhabitants at all. Pete resolves to investigate this further in the morning.

The team retire to the Odge and settle themselves down in their rooms. Zach spends some considerable time hovering by his door, trying to decide whether he should go and pay Yvonne a visit. In the end he decides that “the bitch should come to me” and consequently goes to bed without any action. Yvonne has already decided against any late-night liaisons anyway, having donned her granny-pants and settled down for the night. Her sleep is disturbed only by the sound of the Hetircks leaving the Odge in their car at some point during the night, returning just before dawn.

The next morning is dominated largely by a quest for coffee by Zach, who is appalled that Grace has none in the house. Pete takes the time to look around the abbey graveyard for any signs of the mad monk’s heresy. He finds none, but he does encounter Rodney Mellor, church groundsman. Rodney tells Pete a number of interesting facts about the mad monk (locally known as “Bloody Barraclough”). Barraclough apparently got up to all sorts of misdeeds in the abbey and was thrown out. He went on to build Rosedale Manor and started abducting children from around town and cutting their heads off for some insane reason.

Yvonne is thrilled with the idea of adding some local colour to the show and so persuades Rodney to allow the team to interview him. Although at first reticent, Rodney soon warms to the idea. Yvonne tells him that they’ll do a dry run first without the cameras rolling, but secretly has Zach film anyway in the hope that Rodney will relax and provide more natural candid detail. Which he does when he explains how Barraclough was actually thrown out of the abbey for “buggering the nuns up the arse”.

Needless to say, the interview comes to a grinding halt, with Yvonne convinced that Rodney is just winding them up. Rodney insists that he thought they weren’t filming and Yvonne grudgingly agrees that bleeping the rude words out will only lend authenticity to the footage. They film the rest of the interview with Rodney and head up to the manor once more to complete the rest of the filming.

With the rain stop, a spectral mist hangs about the moors, lit by patches of diffuse sunlight from above. The manor itself sits in a pool of hazy darkness, however, and so the team park their SUV and head back into the grounds to investigate.

At Pete’s insistence, they search the ruins of the east wing for a way into the basement below it. Danny finds one in a most unexpected manner when rotten floorboards collapse beneath his feet, and he plummets 20 feet into the darkness below. Battered and bruised, with a badly sprained leg, he is lucky to survive, and calls up to the others for help. Zach and Pete rush back to the car to find some rope while Yvonne stays at the edge of the hole.

Danny groggily sits up and realises that he is in some deeper basement level below the east wing. Any alarm he might be feeling due to his predicament suddenly deepens, however, when he spots a spectral glow. It is coming from the figure of a woman in lace skirts – a real, honest-to-goodness ghost. Danny can scarcely believe his luck, and shouts up to Yvonne to go and get a camera. His shocked enthusiasm swiftly ebbs when the spectre hisses his name and begins to lift her skirts, revealing a strange, phosphorescent fluid running down skeletal thighs. She beckons towards him and Danny feels an overwhelming urge to go into her embrace. With a burst of willpower, he resists the compulsion, pulls himself to his feet, and flees into the darkness. The apparition follows.

At the car, Zach and Pete are rummaging through the boot for tow-rope and a first-aid kit when they hear a moist slithering from the undergrowth behind them. This time it is no cat. A group of vile serpents – seemingly formed from human waste and other fluids – with lamprey mouths come rushing towards them. Pete leaps into the car and locks the doors, and Zach is overwhelmed by the creatures. He fights two off, but the third deals him terrible injuries with its suppurating jaws. At this point Yvonne comes racing over, shouting for them to grab a camera. At the sound of her voice, the serpents turn and race towards her. She runs for her life.

In the darkness below the house, Danny arrives in some kind of subterranean sepulchre hung with faded tapestries. In niches in the walls are dozens of tiny heads, stitched shut at eye and nose and mouth and neck, yet still whimpering, still weeping. The stairs out of the chamber are blocked with rubble and Danny realises that he is trapped. He begins to pray – half-remembered snatches of the Lord’s Prayer – and the apparition closes on him. She pins him to the floor and hitches her skirts all the way up. And there, in the crux of her loins, is a suppurating growth like a sea anemone, fronds waving in anticipation, gleaming fluids pattering to the floor. To Danny’s horror, his own manhood betrays him, rising to meet the spectre’s engulfing grasp. He screams. The severed heads whimper in stitched sympathy.

Outside, Pete guns the engine and crushes the serpents pursuing Yvonne under the SUV’s wheels, even as Zach scrabbles to his feet and flees away from a fresh wave of the creatures. Yvonne throws herself into the car and Pete spins the wheel, driving back to help Zach. Bleeding copiously, Zach stumbles into the car and Yvonne starts trying to help him as best she can. Pete barks at Yvonne to grab his anti-ghost kit from the back of the car, and then spots something strange in the wing-mirror. It is a small girl, clad in 19th century clothes, translucent, and gesturing towards the manor gates. Pete looks in that direction and sees Theora and Shelton arriving in their own car. Pete wastes not a moment, floors the accelerator, and drives straight at them. By some freak coincidence, however, he hits a chunk of rubble in the driveway, loses control of the SUV and crashes into the undergrowth.

In the sepulchre, Danny is lost in a world of horror, his treacherous body bucking and trashing in the spectre’s embrace. And then, of all things, he smells the pungent aroma of cannabis smoke. A sing-song voice comes to his ears and the apparition slides herself off him. Drawn by the curious melody, the ghost-woman is entranced, and Danny seizes the moment and flees. As he rushes out of the sepulchre, he catches a brief glimpse of a strange, elfin woman, and then he is stumbling for dear life, back the way he came.

Back at the car, Yvonne, Zach and Pete come to their senses after the crash, battered and bleeding. Theora and Shelton appear, yank the car doors open, and order them out at gunpoint. Our team of intrepid investigators are no heroes, and they meekly comply. The duo order them down the driveway, muttering darkly to one another.

‘Are you sure that the wards are intact?’ Theora asks Shelton.

‘Yes!’ Shelton snaps. ‘Jesus, Theora, I told you already.’

‘You’d better be right,’ Theora growls. ‘There are four of them, remember. I’ve tangled with them before and they’re no idiots. It won’t be long before they find us. I want to be done and away from here long before then.’

Danny reaches the bottom of the hole through which he fell and sees a length of tow-rope come snaking down. He grabs hold of it and is yanked to the surface with surprising speed. His relief at being rescued evaporates when he sees the predicament he and his team-mates are now in. Theora doesn’t help his state of mind:

‘For fuck’s sake, pull up your pants,’ she says.

Danny does.

And so the team are ushered around to the back of the manor house where there is an oddly vacant patch of ground, devoid of any overgrown plant life or riotous rosebushes. There, Theora turns on the team and grins unpleasantly. At the same time, Pete sees the strange Victorian child-ghost once more.

‘Don’t worry,’ the ghost says. ‘Everything will be fine soon.’

‘So,’ Theora says, producing an elaborate, rune-carved dagger from within her jacket. ‘Which one of you will it be?’

Yvonne is the only one who can find her tongue. ‘What?’ she manages to gasp, knowing all too well what Theora is talking about. ‘What the hell is this?’

Theora laughs. ‘What do you think? I’m asking if any one of you wants to nominate someone else to be the one to die. No? No desperate screaming? No “please take him, not me, oh God I just want to live?” No? That’s what normally happens.’

‘Just kill the douchebag,’ Shelton says. ‘Look at him. He’s half dead already.’

‘Good point,’ Theora says. She turns towards Zach, blade glinting in the witch-light. Both Yvonne and Pete leap to save him. Shelton clubs Yvonne prone with the butt of his shotgun but Pete leaps past Shelton and splashes a vial of holy water into Theora’s face. Nothing happens and Theora sneers at him in contempt before stepping forward and stabbing Zach through the throat.

Zach gargles horribly, wheezes ‘You’re ugly,’ and then collapses, one leg spasming in death.

Theora strides to the middle of the clearing, kneels, and raises the the bloody dagger high.

Shelton looks over at the Spook Spotters. ‘Rabbit hole time, motherfuckers,’ he says.

Theora plunges the blade into the earth. She begins to whisper strange words over it, words that the team’s minds cannot accept, much less understand. And then, in their final moments, their world is upended forever.

As if the world had previously only been a night-bloom, its petals closed against the day, now it unfurls and reveals its petals in all their splendour. The wall between spirit and matter rolls away and a tower appears in the midst of the clearing. Up until now concealed within a fold in the Periphery, Theora’s blood sacrifice has opened the way to reach it.

Shelton keeps the three surviving members of the team under guard while Theora rushes into the tower. Wild, primal energies flood out through its doors, and she is soon lost from sight. Moments later, however, a blast of argent fire erupts out of the tower door, and Theora comes stumbling out, her shoulder smoking from a wound.

‘It’s the Cataphractine!’ she shouts. ‘We’re out of our depth. Get the fuck out of here!’

Theora levels her gun and puts a bullet between Danny’s eyes. She turns the gun on Yvonne, who can only stare dumbly down its barrel. It is the last thing she sees, as Theora blows her brains out the back of her head.

Pete knows that he has only seconds left to act, and runs for the tower. Theora spins, trying to draw a bead on his fleeing back, but the lights from the tower engulf him.

‘How the hell is he doing that?’ Shelton shouts, squinting after Pete.

‘He’s Awakened,’ Theora snaps. ‘It’s the only explanation. We’ve wasted enough time here. Let’s go.’ And so they race back towards their car, leaving the three bodies where they lie.

Gunshots. It is the gunshots that alerts the Butterfly Effect to the fact that all is not as it seems at Rosedale Manor. They have been here for a day or so, watching the Spook Spotters bumble about the place. Sent here by Mama Nettie to leave a message for Balthazar of Thebes at the manor’s Node, they have been unable to find said Node. Kailani has divined that it lies in a pocket realm in the Periphery (much like Caractacus’ Isle) but can’t figure out how to access it. Theora, of course, had no such trouble – but then blood sacrifice comes easy to her kind.

Felix, investigating the upper floors of the ruined manor, races to a window in time to see Theora and Shelton running back towards their car. The duo’s wards are now down and they and their misdeeds are fully visible. Felix opens his Correspondence senses and tracks their progress around the building. Alastair reacts equally swiftly, leaping through a window and taking aim at Theora and Shelton. Aiden thwarts their flight by putting a bullet through the engine block of Theora’s car. The car erupts into flames. And Kailani calls upon the spirits of fire in the burning car, rousing them to furious heat and lacing the fires with waves of fear and loathing.

Theora does an end-run around the burning car but Shelton foolishly stands his ground, leveling his shotgun at the cabal. Alastair, gun at the ready and already aiming for the perfect shot, puts a bullet through his knee and Shelton hits the deck. Felix sees that Theora is close to escaping and so unleashes his most powerful attack – Rip the Man-Body (or woman-body, as the case may be.) Theora collapses, howling and screaming, blood erupting from her form. And yet even in the depth of her agony, she finds the focus to bring her will to bear. Shrieking chants in High Speech, she vanishes in a whorl of Correspondence arts.

Aiden sends his etheric senses out after Theora, tracing her flight. He follows her trail halfway round the world, until it is lost in a mire of clashing mirrors and other defenses in the city of Calcutta. He files this reference away for future use and heads over to question Shelton. Alastair is already standing guard over the downed mage, pinning his knee beneath his foot.

Shelton bleats and screams for a short while longer. Felix erects a ward around him to prevent others from listening in, Kailani sends spirits streaking across the Umbra to learn more about the location where Theora has fled, while Alastair begins questioning the hapless mage. Aiden uses his Mind arts to infiltrate Shelton’s mind to learn what their captive knows.

Together the cabal discover some alarming facts. Shelton and Theora were members of something called the Freedom Razor. Led by Ayman Loufti, its other members included Virginia Adams. The Freedom Razor is part of a great chantry known as the House of Helekar, ruled over by someone known only as The Harvester. The Freedom Razor was sent here to locate the Butterfly Effect, find out what they were doing here, and locate the Node of Rosedale Manor.

As the interrogation – mental and verbal both – progresses, Felix becomes aware of an immensely powerful mind probing at the fringes of his ward. He immediately begins to reinforce the ward, as that other mind simultaneously attempts to batter it down. He informs his companions that they don’t have much time, and the mages decide that there is only one option. And so Alastair puts a bullet in Shelton’s brain, ending the matter for once and for all.

And then they turn their attention to the Node.

Entering the tower, they find the Node blazing and alive. Its lights dapple the ruins of the manor, alternately showing it as a fire-blackened husk, an empty conference centre, a vine-choked mass of stone, or even a grand building, untouched by time or damage. Above the Node hovers the wondrous form of the Cataphractine. And leaning against the Node’s shimmering basin is Weird Pete.

‘Hello,’ Felix says. ‘Who are you?’

Pete smiles. ‘I,’ he says, ‘am The Hammer.’ He nods towards the other side of the tower. ‘I’m going to head out to get some air. There are some people here who want to talk to you.’ And so saying, he heads outdoors, looking up at the shimmering lights playing across the manor.

‘Weird,’ he says, and wanders out of sight.

The cabal cautiously walk around the blazing Node to the rear of the tower, and there they find three women. One is an aged crone wrapped in a shawl. The second is a woman half her age, kneeling on the floor, busy with a tangle of knitting. And the third is a women half her age, leaning against the rear wall of the tower, chewing on her thumb.

Kailani bows immediately, and orders the others to follow suit and show respect. Even the least-educated mage known when he stands before the Three Fates (or their avatars) and the mages greet the three women with deference.

The three women, of course, know exactly who the mages are and why they have come here. They tell the mages that they will offer them a favour, advice and a gift. The favour is to pass on their message to the Thebian. The advice is simple: they should think carefully before they proceed along their chosen path to contact the Thebian. Just as one cannot tell a book’s contents from its covers, so also one might not like what one reads once the book’s covers are opened.

The Butterfly Effect, of course, have come too far to give up now. Aiden surmises that he and the book they seek are too closely bound to turn away. And so they ask the women to pass on their message. The women smile, and say that this has already happened.

No sooner are these words uttered, than the Node erupts with primal energies. The Umbra opens and a man, wracked with sour and smoking wounds, pitches out, collapsing at their feet. As the rift in the spirit world closes, the mages catch a glimpse of a terrible figure – a broken-winged angel with eyes that bleed white fire. And then the rent seals and the Thebian’s pursuer is lost from sight.

‘He is yours now,’ the three women tell them. ‘Nurse him to health. Heal his ills. And hope that he treats you with gratitude when he awakens.’

Left with little choice, they mages agree. And their reward? The three women smile, and the eldest hands them a pack of cards – a sacred tarot – and tell them to use them whenever they are in need of the wisdom of the Fates.

With the Thebian in their care and gifts from the Fates in hand, the Butterfly Effect cabal depart Rosedale, for a future unwritten… except, perhaps, in the cards…

Chapter Thirty-One: "Consilium"
In the Company of Serpents

Felix has been in touch with his mentor Ibrahim, asking for advice on how to deal with the apparent intrusions into the mages’ minds. Ibrahim investigates, tells Felix his findings, then recommends that the rest of the group allow him to examine them as well. Felix contacts his companions and they agree, convening at the Mobius Strip for a meeting with Ibrahim.

Once they are gathered, Ibrahim contacts them through a scintillating spray of geometric complexity, delving into their minds to see what damage has been done. He warns them that there will probably be countermeasures of some kind in place, but the mages urge him to carry out the investigation anyway.

Ibrahim reveals that it was not Solomon who carried out the intrusion into their minds; he was merely there to provide obfuscation. Ibrahim cannot tell who was responsible – their Resonance is too well-hidden. He can see that the intrusion was precise and targeted on information specific to the Chalcedony Cathedral. All the mages were scanned to make sure that they were at the Cathedral, then Felix and Aiden received more in-depth scans – the former for more information on the Cathedral, and the latter with a Mind/Prime/Spirit scan of great depth.

Midway through Ibrahim’s investigation, a series of chimes sound in the Umbra. Ibrahim cuts the connection immediately, and at the same time a spirit akin to a bird of paradise made from streaming white fire appears in the Periphery. Seconds later, a Correspondence scrying window opens, then closes again as rapidly.

Kailani converses with the spirit and it reveals to her that it has been compelled to observe them by someone who lives “through a golden door”. On the other side of the door, this person is keeping the spirit’s eggs captive, thereby compelling its cooperation. Kailani passes this information on to the rest of the group and they conclude that the Brythonic Lodge are using the spirit to monitor and track them. Consequently, they decide to depart London for a few hours, unsure of what might happen.

They head to a country pub outside the city called The Plough and discuss their options, including the possibility of warning the Cathedral. Kailani argues that they didn’t need to warn the Cathedral at all, as she would already know, given that her future self is head of the Bone Curia. Felix thinks that there are many possible future Kailanis, and that the one at the Cathedral may never come to pass in the current timeline. Kailani bets him £10 that the one at the Cathedral is her. She even made a prediction of what her future self would say to Felix, were he to warn her.

The mages return to London that night, get themselves a boat and head out onto the Thames. There they seek the Shallowing at Caractacus’ Isle to return to Cathedral to warn them that Lodge forces might be en route. The Cathedral, however, is gone and the Shallowing closed. Kailani uses her Time senses to view the recent past. She sees what looks like some kind of attack on the Cathedral. The Cathedral rings its great cloister bell and Petrefax race back towards its towers from all across the city. The bell makes a sound like it has cracked and fallen out of its tower and the Cathedral vanishes, leaving the Schism’s winds swirling in its wake. The mages depart, knowing the matter is now closed, one way or the other.

The time has finally come for the mages to attend the Consilium at the Greenwich Observatory. They make their way there and are greeted by a uniformed staff member who seems to be under the impression that they are there as part of some private night-time tour. He ushers them into the central auditorium of the Observatory where laser-generated displays of the Horsehead Nebula are accompanied by the soft strains of Neptune from Holst’s “The Planets”.

The newcomers are introduced to those present: Cavell, Solomon, Portobello, and Nebuchadnezzar from the Brythonic Lodge; Morgayne, Niniane, and Tristan of the Bearers of the Belt of Lud; and Mama Nettie, Tycho, and Corduroy Jack of the city’s independent mages. The mages introduce themselves in turn with their real names.

They are invited to make their representations to the Consilium, and raise three points. Firstly, they would like to become an official cabal. Secondly, they lodge a formal complaint against Portobello for his attack on the Zigg’raugglurr and the prior damage this caused to the Mobius Strip. Thirdly, they ask for an investigation into the intrusions into their minds.

Portobello becomes very agitated at being blamed for the battle with the Zigg’raugglurr and tries to place the blame on the mages. He argues that if he is to be blamed for causing damage before he knew it was happening, then the mages can be blamed for not knowing the Zigg’raugglurr would attack. The mages respond that the problem is not foreknowledge, or the lack or it – the problem is Portobello cutting loose with his Forces arts with little to no provocation. Tristan taunts Portobello, asking if Ludwig will be there to back him up. Portobello loses his temper and demands justice. Cavell concurs with his right to this, and Portobello, chooses Certamen. The mages ask who Ludwig is, and the Lodge get very upset and don’t want to talk about “the Oathbreaker”.

Cavell says that the Consilium will vote on the establishment of the mages’ cabal once its own questions have been answered. Should they be accepted as a cabal, then one of them will face Certamen with Portobello. Cavell also promises to look into the evidence surrounding the mind intrusion and make a decision. Morgayne heaps scorn on his pompous manner and demands that they just get on with things.

As for the Consilium’s questions, Cavell has three points of his own that he wants addressed. Firstly, he wants the Spaniard’s body and possessions. Secondly, he wants all the information that the have regarding Baedecker’s death. And thirdly, Cavell wants them to explain how the Chalcedony Cathedral knew to leave prematurely.

The mages happily tell Cavell where they dumped the Spaniard’s body, but refuse to hand over any possessions. Felix states that they have suffered enough losses already and sees Villanova’s possessions as adequate recompense. Cavell grudgingly agrees.

Where Baedecker is concerned, they divulge all that they know regarding his death and their subsequent interactions with Klara Neumann and Theora. Mama Nettie seems to recognise the description of Theora and her Resonance. Cavell is scornful that they did not return to the scene of Baedecker’s death to investigate there. Portobello takes his scorn to the next level, openly mocking the mages, saying that they are just another bunch of chumps Baedecker hired after he got the Regulators all killed. Tristan makes fun of Portobello again, asking him if Ludwig would agree, were he here. This proves to be too much for the Lodge, and angry words fly back and forth between them and the Belters. Alastair asks again for someone explain who Ludwig and Cavell starts shouting that the Oathbreaker’s name is not to be mentioned. Corduroy Jack interrupts the tumult, and promises to tell Alastair all about it over a pint. An uneasy calm reasserts itself at Jack’s words.

Before the mages can address Cavell’s third point, there is a loud crashing noise as something smashes through a window in a neighbouring room. Solomon teleports directly to the source of the noise and the others run after him. There they see that one of the Petrefax has flown in through a window and is flailing about in panic. Solomon is trying to restrain it magically. Portobello prepares an attack. Aiden and Alastair draw their guns. Things look about to turn ugly when Kailani enters the room. The Petrefax, identifying itself as Gothrak, demands sanctuary from the “Great One”. Portobello insists that Kailani cannot give sanctuary as she and her companions are not yet a cabal. Cavell concurs but before matters get worse, Mama Nettie calls for a recess. Cavell accepts, relieved of a chance to allow some semblance of order to return to the proceedings.

Mama Nettie escorts the group up onto the ringing balcony above the auditorium and makes sure that certain things are clear to them. This is a hearing into their conduct. The Lodge will just whitewash anything that makes them look bad so there is little sense in trying to confront them. The mages have already given up a great deal: their real names, their dealings with Baedecker. The question for them is how much more do they want to surrender? The mages thank her and she makes it clear that she just enjoys sticking it to the Lodge.

Mama Nettie leaves them to deliberate as Morgayne arrives. Morgayne asks who they have chosen to fight against Portobello, and it falls to Felix to take up the challenge. When Morgayne realises that Felix has never fought a Certamen bout before, she suggests that he get in some practice. All agree and head into the observatory gardens. There, Niniane enchants the area with various shields and Tristan casts Squaring the Circle. Morgayne spends a few minutes explaining the basics, then she and Felix engage in their practice duel. Morgayne wins easily, but as she departs, she gifts Felix with several drams of Quintessence to use in his coming bout with Portobello. Because she likes sticking it to the Lodge.

Moments later, Kailani notices someone spying on them from behind a tree with a small hand-held camcorder. The group rush him and see that it is none other than Tycho. At first, Tycho feigns interest in Gothrak, claiming he wants pictures of “the creature”. Kailani invites him to come and meet the Stone Hunter, and it soon becomes apparent that Tycho is utterly terrified of the creature. Suspicious of such a degree of fear in one of the Awakened, Alastair scans him and realises that Tycho is using some kind of disguise to make himself look like a mage when he is actually a Sleeper. Unsure of how Tycho is doing this (the disguise relies on some kind of static magic that Alastair doesn’t recognise), Alastair alerts his companions, and Tyhco is immediately taken prisoner.

Under questioning, Tycho breaks completely and reveals that he is really called Rupert Soames and is a reporter for the Nu Mu News and thought he was infiltrating a meeting of the Illuminati. The mages march him back inside where he is swiftly reduced to a blubbering wreck by the enormity of his predicament. Cavell orders Solomon to deal with the matter, and Solomon puts Tycho to sleep and carries him off to another chamber in the observatory.

Cavell returns to the matter of the Cathedral and now the mages counter by saying that they have uncovered a mole here and so the Lodge now owes them a favour. Cavell seems unsure but Morgayne insists that this is fair. Mama Nettie adds her voice to the mix, as does Corduroy Jack.

When Cavell agrees, Morgayne demands that the vote be cast, stating that it’s a done deal so they might as well get it over with. Cavell resignedly concurs and the mages are incorporated as the Butterfly Effect cabal.

This done, Portobello can’t get down to the Certamen chamber fast enough. Once there, he goes on at length about how the circle at Doissetep was much nicer and made by Verdi. Solomon says Portobello has never been to Doissetep. Portobello says he might have been often, but Solomon might not remember any more due to the effects of the Ascension War. There is no reply for this kind of idiocy, and Solomon does not attempt to give one.

Without further ado, the duel is on. Portobello is a formidable opponent, aggressive and forceful in his style, and Feflix soon finds himself in trouble. Holding his Prime Sphere in reserve, Felix begins some careful and clever Quintessence management, and soon begins to recover ground. A series of failed attempts to disarm Felix leave Portobello vulnerable, and Feflix makes one last, desperate gambit. He hurls all but his last few drams of Quintessence into a final attack, but Portobello is able to counter at the last moment. He ripostes, and Felix is defeated. As they are shaking hands, Felix realises that Portobello was cheating, having brought a spare supply of Quintessence into the circle. He make sure that Portobello knows he has been discovered, shakes hands, and walks away.

The circle chamber empties, the matters of the Consilium now resolved, once way or the other. The Butterfly Effect depart, now fully established as a cabal, with allies, enemies, and a pet gargoyle. And there was much rejoicing.

Chapter Thirty: "Mortal Coils"
Life Among the Sleepers

Part I

The mages say their farewells to the Chalcedony Cathedral, each departing one by one and returning through the Shallowing to London. Much as they would like to linger here, they know that matters in the city require their attention. Kailani is the last to depart. As she leaves, Yanner Morrow is waiting for her at the gates. He gives her a Clay Man Figurine in thanks for the assistance she gave his family, telling her to keep it close and it will protect her from harm.

Back at the Mobius Strip, Felix is in meditative communication with Ibrahim. Ibrahim warns that the Ahl-i-Batin have detected growing temporal disturbances in London. This is more than just the cabal’s encounters with the Zigg’raugglurr, but points to something greater. Their divinations reveal that investigating Baedecker’s death will accelerate the temporal fluxes and want Felix to find out why.

At home, Aiden Cavannaugh is visited at home by a man who introduces himself as Milton, personal aide to Baedecker. Milton wants to know what has happened to his boss. So Aiden tells him. Milton takes the news in his stride and, ever business-like, wants to know if the mages still have need of his services. He says that offers of work are continually coming in and he is not sure how to handle them. He mentions three possible assignments:

The first is to break into Blyth House and steal something called a Goddess Stone for clients up in Manchester.

The second assignment is to assassinate an aide to a government minister who was working as a covert human intelligence source, as part of a high-level cover-up by the police.

The third is to deliver a package containing a stone hand to a certain contact.

Aiden agrees to talk to the other mages about these various offers, and meet Milton later. Once Milton has departed, Aiden makes himself some brunch. While eating, he recalls glimpses of a dream from the previous night. Something about waves and wolves and ravens. It echoes through his mind like the aftershock of a fading tempest, and then is gone…

Alistair is on his way home after leaving the Cathedral, stuck in traffic behind a large truck. He finally reaches Pudding Lane, parks, walks up to his door, then is suddenly back in his car, stuck in traffic behind a bus. He finally reaches Pudding Lane, parks, goes indoors and finds Jenny Smits making lunch in a state of distress. It turns out that her boyfriend Cade has been round demanding that she give him money for some cocaine that he gave her to sell. She doesn’t have the money (or the coke) and is terrified of what Cade will do. Alastair conceals his anger that Cade apparently now knows where he lives, but promises to sort the problem out for Jenny. He spends the rest of the morning in his tank creating an extended coincidental effect that will see Cade arrested for drugs possession. Then he goes to meet the rest of the group. It is only when he is en route to the Mobius Strip that he remembers that Jenny’s boyfriend was called Declan, not Cade…

At the Mobius Strip, the group meet, discuss Milton’s offer, and agree to a meeting with the man. Alastair also raises the issue of apparent disruptions to his timeline, and Felix confirms that his mentor has mentioned the problem to him already. The group also discuss the various problems connected to investigating Baedecker’s death. If, as Ibrahim suggests, their investigations will accelerate the temporal disturbances, then are the mages not already embroiled in the flux? The mages agree that there is little to be done about this apparent paradox of predestination, and head to the Blackfriar’s Arms for their meeting with Milton.

At the Blackfriar’s Arms, Milton fills the rest of the group in on the possible jobs he can provide. The hand in particular draws Alastair’s attention as he realises that it was once part of the same statue as his stone head. He tell the tale of how he came by the stone head to his companions and they agree that the hand is probably bait for a trap of some kind. Alastair performs a brief divination and discovers that the surviving paramilitaries he has been hunting down have indeed laid an ambush. The group decide to take this mission and turn the tables on Alastair’s would-be assailants.

During the discussion, Kailani notices a thickening of the umbral airs about Milton. She sees a strange spirit observing him from the Periphery: a centipede-like entity that has folded itself about the pub’s barman. The barman promptly takes a picture of the group on his phone and sends it to a certain number.

Kailani alerts the others, and a flurry of magical Effects ensues. The mages track the progress of the photo across the globe and learn that it was received in the town of Dachau. The number turns out to be the phone of a woman called Klara Neumann. The mages remotely observe Klara in a café, waiting for her contact – a woman she knows as Theora Hetirck – to arrive and reading a Harry Potter book. Theora arrives after a short while and takes possession of the phone – only to discover that, in the interim, the mages have changed the photo to a random picture of a pub somewhere else in London.

Theora, realising that she has been discovered, takes Klara out of the café and conceals their presence with subtle magic. She walks Klara to the nearby river and kills her, stabbing her in the neck and pushing her into the waters. She then turns her attentions on locating the observing mages. Our heroes thwart her attempts to track them by interfering with her divinations through the noble art of making a passing bird poop in her face. Theora makes a rapid departure before matters escalate further.

Back in London, the mages turn their attention to the spirit possessing the barman, and attempt to confront or exorcise it. The spiritcauses the barman to flee (stuffing his face from garbage cans en route) and the mages think better of pursuing him. Milton departs and the group scatters, reconvening shortly afterwards at Aiden’s home.

There they devise a massive willworking that will completely ruin the paramilitaries’ day. Milton has revealed that they are in a warehouse down by the Thames, waiting for someone to deliver the hand. Scrying the warehouse, the PCs detect four paramilitaries and some security guards, including one soldier in the rafters with a sniper rifle. With everything in place, their Effect is underway.

Firstly, they open the warehouse windows, making it seem as if someone has sneaked into the building. Then they disrupt the paramilitaries’ radio communications. They then create an illusion of Alastair running around the warehouse. This is followed by a series of Mind Effects to make the paramilitaries angry and volatile, and also to make one of them mistake his colleague for Alastair.

The Effect works and the paramilitaries begin to turn on each other. Clever movement of the illusions and Mind Effects cause them to believe that Alastair is moving amongst them, picking them off one by one – when in reality, they are killing each other. The security guards flee at the sound of gunshots. Before long, the paramilitaries are all dead by each other’s hands. Problem solved without raising a finger. Well, sort of.

With their Effect complete, the mages are visited by Solomon. He congratulates them on solving the situation in such a subtle manner. He asks about disturbances in the Umbra (clearly referring to the presence of the Cathedral) but the mages refuse to divulge what they know about the place. Apparently relenting, Solomon invites them to the upcoming Consilium at the Greenwich Observatory in three days.

Only when he departs do the PCs realise that over an hour has passed, even though the conversation seemed to take less than ten minutes. Trying to make sense of this missing time, the mages scry their own minds and the recent past. They soon learn that someone has read their minds with a powerful Effect, then concealed it and removed all memories of what happened. Due to the powerful nature of the Effect and the obfuscation surrounding it, it is hard to discern what exactly has been taken from them. It seems likely, though, that the Chalcedony Cathedral will have been foremost in the interest of their violators.

And then Alastair’s phone rings, reminding him of a voicemail left sometime in the last hour. It’s Jenny, screaming and shouting for help. The sound of male voices is heard, blaming her for Cade’s arrest. Then there are more screams, the sound of a struggle, and the phone goes dead.

Part II

The mages break out the divinations once again and investigate Cade and his associates, scrying the abduction scene at Alastair’s house to determine what happened. Kailani runs a Time Effect to spool back events and sees men break into the flat and attack Jenny. She puts up a decent fight before she is drugged into quiescence. Looking even further back, she sees that one of the men was collected earlier in the day from a nightclub premises. Homing in upon him, they identify him as Trask Bowler. Clearly Cade enjoys some connections to serious criminals.

Extending their divinations to follow Bowler forward through his actions of the day, the mages learn that Jenny has been taken to a discreet brothel in a north London residential street, where she currently lies in a drugged stupor. They plan her rescue. This time, however, they will be appearing in person.

There follows a truly surreal assault on the illegal knocking shop. Initially, a variant on the anti-paramilitary tactic softens up any resistance: doorman Jonty’s longing for a raise and a longer lunch-break is ratched up to homicidal levels, and he sets about his boss Beck with a sawn-off shotgun. The owners of the establishment (Geoff and Tricia Morris) flee out the back door, where Felix waylays their escape attempts by filling the footwell of their car with scorpions (and not a snake at all because that requires Life 4 and so any snakes appearing in the game were clearly hallucinations and not the Storyeller messing up at all, no sir.)

Under the cover of various Effects, Kailani, Alastair and Aiden enter the house. Aiden renders himself invisible and makes it up the stairs and starts trying to bring Jenny round. Alastair, however, is waylaid by a gimp bursting out of the kitchen cupboard and is soon embroiled in a vicious gimp-fight. Kailani lends a hand by deactivating the gimp’s intenstinal flora, then makes her way up the stairs, surrounding herself with a Mind Effect that causes anyone near her to look elsewhere. There she shuts down Trask’s intestinal flora and, when this is only partially effective, disables him with a running cock-punch. In the hall below, Jonty’s mental turmoil finally gets the better of him, and he collapses (but not until he has been magically forced to proclaim that he has shat his pants).

In the kitchen, Alastair fatally wounds the gimp and helps Aiden and Kailani. Almost entirely unnoticed by the staff of the brothel, the mages liberate Jenny and two other girls (Lejla Patani and Toy Turatsani) and allow one terrified customer (Bill McPherson) to flee. With the sound of police sirens growing ever louder, the mages depart.

Once they are safe and satisfied that Jenny has come to no lasting harm, Alastair makes arrangements to set her up in a small flat in Southend. She gladly agrees, fully aware that she needs some time away to get her life together.

The group then decide to seek Mama Nettie, to find out how to contact the Thebian. They go to the Rainbow Loas shop in Soho, where they meet Isis and Argon and a customer called Reg who is having his tarot read by Isis. As Reg leaves, he seems rather excited to see Aiden, and thrusts a crumpled wad of paper into his hand.

Also present is Jah Kingdom. Apparently just chilling, he reminds Kailani of what Sister Scalamagdria told her – that her path to the Cathedral starts with her helping Aiden find the Hapsburg Codex. This is that very moment. Kailaini asks if he has any more advice for her. He seems about to give some, then thinks better of it and declines. However, he does give her an address in Islington where Mama Nettie is currently located…

The address is a wholly mundane terraced house with nothing remarkable about it at all – except for the trio of death spirits hunched on the eaves. Kailani addresses them and, to her surprise, they are relatively eloquent. The spirits tell her that they are waiting for the owner of the house to die, which will only happen when Mama allows it. Kailani asks them to elaborate and learns that the inhabitant is being kept on the brink of life and death by Mama Nettie as a punishment for “stealing something shiny.”

The mages spend some time debating whether or not they should disturb Mama Nettie while she is so clearly busy. But with Mama Nettie showing no sign of leaving, and left with no other option, the mages cautiously knock on the door. It opens, and they enter.

Within, they discover that the inhabitant has been stretched over every internal surface in a gruesome carpet of flesh and distended organs. Mama Nettie is in the lounge, waiting for them. She exposes a stretch of sofa and makes some tea while the mages stare about themselves in dismay.

Returning with a tray of tea, Mama Nettie is happy to answer their questions about the Thebian. She says that he is a renegade member of the Shoal, expelled from their ranks for trying to enter Paradise. He engineered his own death and arranged for his spirit to be concealed within the Maze of Ebon Gates as a way to avoid the escalation of the War of Ruins. Since then he has somehow managed to return to life. If the mages want to contact him, they can leave a message at a ruined Shoal safehouse in Rosedale, Yorkshire.

Armed with this knowledge, the mages depart, leaving Mama Nettie to her own devices. Ahead lies the Consilium and beyond that, the Thebian and his stolen book. Some things never change…

Chapter Twenty-Nine: "Secrets in Chalcedony"
Seeking the Cathedral

Part I

The mages are gathered at Alastair’s safehouse, where they are holding Arnau de Villanova hostage. Keeping him sedated, they carry out deep magical interrogation of the Spaniard. They discover that he is a mage whose immortality spells have failed due to something called The War of Ruins. He has been reduced to petty alchemy and stealing kidneys in order to stay alive. He has come to London to reach something called the Chalcedony Cathedral, where he hopes to find healing and refuge, and promises to share his wisdom and learning if his captors will let him go.

Kailani delves deeper into the Spaniard’s mind and sees a vision of the world as he sees it: Long years of wandering, feeling life ebb, magic ebb. The world has changed, and so have you. Your skills, your powers are mere shadows of what they once were. The world is in ruins, and your vast alchemies are likewise ruined. You are reduced to scrabbling in the ruins now, little more than a rat ekeing out a pitiful existence. There was a fine House you were once a member of – you can’t even remember its damn name now! What has become of you, of the order that once you called home? All that remains now is hope. A last, desperate hope… There is a place, it is said, that has evaded the Ascension War, a place that stands outside the ruins. There, if anywhere, you might find those who could grant you the immortality that once was yours; make perfect your shattered life; restore your greatness. A cathedral, made of white bone. The priestesses who tend that place have been known to grant such favours. If only you could learn how to win their favour. If only you could figure out how to find it, this Chalcedony Cathedral…

Kailani shares this vision with Aiden and together they ponder what it could mean. Aiden in particular is drawn by the idea that, if the Spaniard could find healing at the Cathedral, then maybe Aiden can too.

Alistair decides that it would be prudent to contact Baedecker and get his take on how to deal with the Spaniard. He and Kailani head to a Canary Wharf cafe to meet with Baedecker. When there, Baedecker magically conceals their presence and arranges for a few coincidental coffees, before getting down to business. He is behaving in a particularly paranoid manner, even for Baedecker, and reveals that he has come under considerable pressure from the Brythonic Lodge due to Alistair’s mishap with the tragic gas leak at Stafford’s house.

As for the mages’ questions and dilemma, Baedecker has little useful advice. He knows next to nothing about the Cathedral, but promises to look into it further. He has also never heard of the Spaniard. As far as Villanova is concerned, though, Baedecker recommends handing him over to the Lodge as a way to win back their favour.

The trio conclude their meeting. As they are leaving the cafe, a truck swerves across the street towards them. Alistair draws his gun and shoots the driver. The truck veers out of control and flattens Baedecker, killing him instantly and spraying Kailani with his blood.

Kailani and Alastair flee immediately, coincidentally evading notice, and call for help. Felix drives out and collects them, then drives back to the safehouse. Aiden, meanwhile, Aidan magically hacks into local CCTV coverage of the area and removes all footage relating to the incident.

Back at the safehouse, the mages catch their breaths and try to make sense of what has just happened. Baedecker is dead, with no seeming reason, motive or forewarning. Our heroes are now alone in Shadow London, at the mercy of the city’s other cabals.

They decide that the time has come for them to fully take matters into their own hands. Kailani taps into what she has learned of the local underworld and arranges contact with a dealer to buy a large dose of ketamine. Her contact turns out to be the enigmatic Jah Kingdom. Giving her the ketamine, Jah tells Kailani that everywhere is the Church of Jah, but some places are stronger in his love than others. “One such place is coming soon. Your path starts there, little sister.”

Back at the safehouse, Kailani heads down into the basement and administers a fatal dose of ketamine to the already-sedated Villanova. She observes his consciousness and spirit descending into a flat, white oblivion. His spirit has no words of farewell for her, and she watches with silent dispassion as the Spaniard dies.

Part II

After you have slain an ancient and powerful mage with a ketamine overdose, what do you do? Well, in Kailani’s case you go shopping for munchies at the local corner shop. And you bring Aiden along with you, just in case.

Turns out to be a prudent move. At the shop, a quartet of hoodie-bedecked youths burst in and try to rob the proprietor, Kenji Hiromoto. Aidan and Kailani intervene and save the man, forcing the assailants out of the shop with cunning use of coincidental magic. Kenji is overcome with gratitude and invites Kailani and Aiden to his house for dinner. They politely refuse and return to the safehouse.

Alistair, meanwhile, is at home at Pudding Lane tending to his Node. He is examining the fragments of the stone head he carried back from Georgia, when the coins embedded in it wriggle free, fly across the room and lodge themselves in the wall. At that exact moment the doorbell rings. It is Jenny Smits, looking for help. Jenny, tearful and terrified, says that her dad always told her to look Alastair up if she found herself in need of help. Jenny has fallen foul of her drug-dealer ex-boyfriend Declan and needs a place to stay. Alistair agrees.

The mages decide that the safehouse is not somewhere they can stay long-term. They dispose of the Spaniard’s body by weighing it down and dumping it in the Thames, while Felix takes possession of the Spaniard’s belongings. They regroup at The Mobius Strip to discuss their options.

Their discussions are interrupted, however. A spiritual ward blankets the shop and, before the mages can react further, a pair of strange spirits rip through the Schism, materialise in the shop basement, and attack the mages. Phasing in and out of reality, they hurl powerful magical attacks at our heroes, all the while loudly proclaiming that this is in revenge for the deaths of their companions and the breaking of their pact with the mages.

The spirits’ attacks are coordinated, precise, and seem to take into account the mages’ defences and tactics even before they happen. Although the basment is badly damaged, and the mages suffer several wounds, they are able to kill one of the creatures and drive the other off.

In the aftermath of the battle, the mages receive a message from a man introducing himself as Portobello and asked to meet with representatives of the Brythonic Lodge. They agree and set a date at a local hotel.

In the interim, the mages investigate what they know about the imminent arrival of the Chalcedony Cathedral. Based on lore taken from the Spaniard and other investigations, they are able to pinpoint its possible appearance in a Juncture at one of three locations – the sunken Isle of Caractacus, the old Temple of Diana and a third unknown place. Given that the Brythonic Lodge control Ludgate Hill, the mages make magical preparations to detect the Cathedral’s arrival and plan to find the Isle of Caractacus and gain entry there.

The mages meet Portobello and his colleague Solomon, as agreed. Portobello and Solomon want to know who the mages are and who they work for now. They want to know where Baedecker has gone and are also still angry about the killing of Stafford and, apparently, Felix’ use of one of their leylines near St. Judes. They also have questions about an imminent Juncture, which the mages claim to know nothing about.

The meeting is cut short, however, by the appearance of three of the same umbrood who attacked the group at the Mobius Strip. Portobello launches an immediate attack against the spirits, fearing some kind of ambush, and the mages are soon caught up in a pitched battle. The creatures seem outraged at the attack, claiming they expected to be discussing a truce. When one is killed, the other two flee, promising retribution. Portobello and Solomon are suspicious that they have been set up by the mages and depart.

The day of the Juncture arrives and the mages prepare to seek the Cathedral. Kailani has another meeting with Jah Kingdom at the Dragon’s Head pub; he tells her that her path is about to begin. Leaving her meeting with him, she encounters a family of clearly semi-human individuals: Yanner Morrow, his wife Diaphina, and their son Tobias. They are members of the Mater Carasophia and are seeking the Cathedral in order to barter for passage home. Kailani provides them with advice on finding the cathedral, and Yanner promises to repay her kindness before departing with his family.

The Juncture arrives and the mages head out in a boat to find where the sunken Isle of Caractacus should be. The Periphery blooms around them and the mages find that here, the Isle still exists. They also find that the Juncture has created a Shallowing, allowing them to pass into the Penumbra. There they behold the Twin Rivers of London for the first time, glimpse strange signs of settlements along her banks and see overhead the immensity of the Chalcedony Cathedral hanging amidst the spirit-storms.

On the spiritual echo of the Isle, the mages find a set of six dolmens, but before they can investigate further, a quartet of the umbrood that have been harrassing them for the past few days appear and attack. One is apparently already injured and confused and lashes out at our heroes, perhaps mistaking them for the source of its wounds. By now, however, the mages have figured out what is going on, and immediately call for a truce. The umbrood depart, agreeing to a truce and promise that they will return shortly to discuss matters and potentially forge an alliance.

Once the creatures have departed, the dolmens suddenly animate, revealing themselves to be a group of winged, stone creatures much like gargoyles in appearance. These creatures identify themselves as the Sleepless Tribe of the Petrefax, the Stone Hunters. They are satisfied with the group’s reasons for seeking the Cathedral and, without further ado, carry the mages aloft to the Cathedral’s vast alabaster doors.

Once within, the mages are met by two members of the Bone CuriaSister Scalamagdria and Sister Evanora. Kailani glimpses a third individual watching from a high gallery, whose identity is confirmed when the Sisters address Kailani as “Mother” and “Great One”. One day, they say, Kailani will return to the Cathedral to be its warden. In time she will instruct the Sisterhood, when she joins the Bone Curia, fleeing the War and its heartbreak. Her path to the Cathedral, they say, begins when she helps Aiden find the Hapsburg Codex.

These initial revelations are followed by a slew of others. Felix learns of the nature of the Ascension War, also known as the War of Ruins, and the effects it has upon Awakened and Sleeper alike. Evanora tells him that the Chalcedony Cathedral hides from the War in the Schism that lies between the worlds. The current phase of the war and the storms in the Schism date back to November 1998 and the death of an angel in the umbra. This conflict escalated with several powerful chantries becoming involved (she names Doissetep and the Maze of Ebon Gates) and culminated with something called the Giza Continuum in May 2000, although the Sisterhood don’t know what that exactly was.

Aiden discovers that the healing he seeks, the restoration of his lost kidney, may not be what he truly wants. Scalamagdria tells him that power can be derived from woundings such as this. A long line of mages believed this to be true – the best source of their studies can be found in a book called the Hapsburg Codex. It is a book that seems to move through the ages, seeming to choose its next owner. Its last keeper was a renegade mage called Balthazar of Thebes, a sometime associate of Mama Nettie.

Alistair also speaks with Evanora, and from her he hears the suggestion that Baedecker’s death could have been a salvo in the Ascension War, and suggests that he might wish to look more deeply into the matter.

The mages remain for several days in the Cathedral, studying in its libraries and learning from the Curia. Eventually, however, they elect to return to the material world where, before long, they will find themselves ensnared with mortal coils.


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