The Secret Garden

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…

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