Monday, August 10, 2009

The Stillness of the Hunter

The noise of the Cellar receded and disappeared in a “poof” as the front doors swung together and blew a gust of stale air out from the club.

The warmer air from inside circulated around Cati’s ankles. She huffed one last time and looked upward into the stars. On the verge of enjoying a restful breath of night air, she remembered her purse and removed a cigarette.
Henri was at her side holding a match. “Now what, mademoiselle?”
Cati leaned into the matchlight. “Do you think it’s safe to just go home?”
“I do not know.” Henri looked to Thelonius questioningly, but the reporter’s back was to them; he was looking at the interior of the club through the porthole on the front doors. Unencouraged, Henri asked Cati if she would require an escort.
“Oh!” Cati realized. “I had one! Should I tell her I’m leaving?”
Thelonius didn’t turn around. He said, “There’s something wrong.”
“What, did he follow us?”
“See for yourselves.” He stepped away from the tiny windows on the front doors.
Cati and Henri crept up and drew their faces near to the portholes. Inside, the breezeway, the coat room, and the Cellar’s ground floor ballroom, people stood around, striking cockish poses. A man was leaning over the counter at coat check, his hands behind his waist, peering after the attendant. In the breezeway, a woman was approaching him at an exaggerated trot. She stood on her right toe, with her left foot posed in the air ahead, extended almost as a dancer’s. She and the man, and everyone in the ballroom: they were hung in time. The effect was nearly photographic.
Cati pushed open the doors. “Hey! Hey you!” she called, as if upbraiding the Cellar’s patrons. Henri turned to the bouncer, who had been standing by quietly listening. Already assured in his heart of what to expect, Henri snapped his fingers in front of the bouncer’s nose.
Thelonius sized the bouncer up, and wondered just how to capture the scene on film. How does one photograph the act of standing still? Perhaps if he could take a series of pictures with Henri and Cati in them and simulate the passage of time . . . but just what would that be demonstrating? That a roomful of people could stand quietly as Henri and Cati danced among them? At least the wind is blowing, he thought. Then he remembered Rashfal.

The front doors were swinging again. They closed, separating Cati from the men. She tapped the coatless man on the shoulder, to no effect. Behind coat check, the attendant was holding coats apart with his gloved hands, frozen as the others were. “They’re all like this,” she murmured to herself softly. She couldn’t pull her eyes from these people – the old money, the nouveau riche, the descendants of nobility, the gifted young bankers and businessmen – all the people that her family had been mingling with for generations, all the people from whom she had failed to escape time and time again. Before her, a mass of living mannequins, just as she had always known. Finally! she felt like cheering – as though she had for once managed to transcend the stagnant worlds of her father and her husband, the dead foreign bloodlines, the weight of her inheritance and the demands of her ancestors. She smiled and let her hand dip into the man’s pocket. His wallet was there; she dropped it back in; it wasn’t fun this way.

A foul scent wafted in on the breeze, of rot, or of fluids repelled from the innards of an animal. Thelonius caught it and winced.
Henri saw his companion’s face wrinkle and, as if by mimesis, the scent appeared deep within his own nasal passages. It had snuck in. It burned a little and Henri thought to rub his eyes. He remembered a rule of thumb that had been meaningful to him once in a far away place, a truism that he had muttered to himself hundreds of times as a sick kind of reassurance: If you can smell it, you’re in it!
“Thelonius! – we are in danger! We must go back inside now!”
Thelonius would not have disagreed – but in an instant, the wind intensified – Henri saw the streetlights behind Thelonius pull like taffy and blurrily suggest movement – the lights stretched over Thelonius – no, more like something translucent and wet had been flung across points of light – Henri thought to compare it to observing the headlights of an oncoming car through a dirty windshield – it barreled into the reporter – Thelonius fell to the ground, the camera clattered against the cement - the wind turned up into the sky, refracting the lights of buildings' highest windows. The bouncer’s jacket had been disturbed.

Thelonius cursed as Henri crouched and scanned the air around them. Before he even bothered to get up, Thel checked his camera. Henri took note of a drip of blood, trailing from somewhere near Thelonius’ crown, underneath the brim of his hat. Henri pushed a door open. “There is no time! Come!”

(Upon realizing that the world had stopped around him, Thelonius was able to keep it together. Henri and Cati were not able to adjust as well to the realization. Henri has suffered -1 sanity and Cati -2. Due to a surprise attack by goodness-knows-what, Thelonius has suffered -1 hit point. Thelonius and Henri are in combat rounds – please declare your actions. Cati is not in combat yet, but could still act.

Corpus Clock and Chronophage conceived and designed by John Taylor, Stewart Huxley, Matthew Sanderson, and Alan Meeks. Image from A Blog to Read.)


Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius ignored the trickle of blood, instead thrusting his hand into the bouncer's jacket.

"I'm coming Henri. But if we're lucky, this mook has a gun stashed away."

Whether or not he finds a weapon, Thelonius follows Henri back inside the nightclub.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Once he's inside, and Jones in behind him, Henri's going to start looking around as quickly as possible for some way to bar the door. He hopes that something convenient is kept to slow down the police in raids.

"A bar. A beam. An axe handle for the door handles. Something. They must have something. What kind of speakeasy is this?" Henri is talking frantically to himself, not loudly but not in a whisper either, while looking around.

Teresa said...

Cati spun around as the two men entered the room. Seeing that Thelonius was bleeding, her face clouded, and she frowned.

"You gonna tell us what the deal with this vial is, Jones?" she asked. "Or do I have to wait till I'm dead?"

Thelonius Jones said...

Well, it appears to send your mind, or spirit, or whatever you call it to another place. The occultists know it by many names, but think of it as the Astral plane.

The reporter continued as he removed his head and wiped away his blood stained sweat with a pocket handkerchief.

"You may need the chant, to get your mind in the proper resonance, but i'm not sure as I haven't seen it used without the chant. Oh, and the chant is the key to getting back. It must attune your mind in some fashion. I can't explain more, as this is the first time i've actually seen this kind of thing actually work."

da solomon said...

The bouncer wasn’t breathing, he wasn’t moving at all – as Thelonius plumbed his coat looking for heat, he found little. It was as if he were pick-pocketing a work of taxidermy. Finally, his knuckle came into contact with something cold and metal, something with hinges and a grip of sorts. Hopeful, Jones pulled into the air a set of knuckle dusters – and more. They were attached to a revolver with no barrel and no stock, and behind the knuckles, under the cylinder, there was a short blade folded neatly against a trigger that was likewise tucked away.

“There is no time!” Henri implored, and Thelonius rushed into the club gripping the awkward weapon just as he felt the wind begin to pick up again. Even as he had held the door open for Jones, Henri had been scanning the premises looking for some kind of fortification. There was a chair in the lobby – was there nothing more than that? Had the Cellar no need to bar the doors ever? Behind the desk at coat check – Jones was inside now and Henri had let the doors swing closed behind the reporter – there was a broom. Maybe that could be threaded through the door handles and used to secure the club. He leaned over the counter past the stilled man and wrapped his fingers reassuringly around the wooden handle.

When Henri had righted himself, Thelonius was beside him working to unfold the contraption he had retrieved from the bouncer’s jacket. Some time ago in Montmartre, a tittering lady of the night had regaled Henri with stories of the Parisian Apaches, their characteristic firearms, and their terrible techniques. Who had come up with the idea of incorporating a coup-de-poing American with a firearm in such a concealable arrangement? – the whore had not known, but it was the mark of a brutal man to own one. The piece in Thel’s hands did have a sort of tortuous appeal to it, but at the moment the tiny barrel-less firearm did decidedly little to summon up the legendary brutality of Les Apaches.

Behind him, Henri heard Cati, exasperated, demand that Thelonius explain the vial’s contents to her. As Thelonius started to explain the effects of the silvery fluid to Cati, he managed to pull the knuckles away from the cylinder and into a configuration where they were at about a ninety degree angle with respect to the chambers, approximating the position of a stock.

Henri slid the broom into the door’s handles. He gave it a yank to test its security – it was firmly set – and backed away.
“. . . this is the first time I’ve actually seen this kind of thing actually work,” Thelonius said.

In a breath, the doors jumped. The broom handle cracked behind the weight of the attacker.

The weight came into the door once again.
There were no car horns outside, no lively babble in the ballroom, no jazz from the bar below – only the shattering of the broom handle and the sound of the wind blowing open the doors.

(An example of an Apache revolver without a knife.)

da solomon said...

(That was about two rounds. New round, everyone is in combat with an unseen force. The characters are facing the front doors, which are open. From the lobby/breezeway, characters may attempt to hide in coat check, they may flee into the ballroom among the frozen dancers, or they may head downstairs into the bar. Actions!)

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius hurriedly headed for the downstairs bar.

"C'mon. Ten to one there is someone else still moving about in here, and he's the key to dealing with....whatever this is."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri gave him a clipped nod and took Mlle. Predoviciu's elbow, hurrying her down the steps behind Jones.

"Jones is telling the truth," he said breathlessly as he followed. "This stuff takes you somewhere else, but that somewhere is not nice at all."

Teresa said...

Cati followed the men downstairs, trying not to trip over her heels as she ran. She reached into her purse and pulled out her pistol, scanning the ballroom for a place to hide as she did so. Between the options of dealing with a mysterious force or confronting the man in the restroom, Cati preferred to opt out completely.

da solomon said...

They ran down the stairwell, their steps echoing strangely as they passed a pair of flappers who had been heading up. The young women were smiling, walking arm in arm, looking into each other's eyes. Thelonius had moved first to flee from Rashfal, and even in his fright he managed to dodge around the pair of flappers.

Henri and Cati moved less gracefully past the women, and someone jostled the one on the left. She tipped over slowly, like a cut tree.

Cati thought she had brushed up against the girl. In the split-second temporality of the glass that has been knocked over, of the car accident as it happens, Cati paused at the bottom of the stairs and watched the flapper’s arm slip from her friend’s elbow. The girl’s fall quickened – she was still looking into her friend’s eyes, still smiling as her head hit the floor at Cati’s feet. The impact was strong enough to jar the boards at Cati's feet. The shine in the girl's eyes, the charming crookedness of her smile: she seemed to be looking up Cati’s dress, and in the context of the barroom floor, the flapper’s expression was nothing short of lascivious. She was smiling, but really she was only waiting for trauma to occur, for her head to erupt in bruises. She would gain consciousness and lose it quickly. It would have horrified Cati, had the girl's expression not been so dumbly comical.

Again, Henri put his hand on Cati’s shoulder. He gave her a jerk forward and the pair followed Thelonius into the mess of tables. Across the room, Cati saw Emma. For a moment it seemed that Emma was watching the three of them run. But no. In fact she had been watching the trio leave without her. Her head was in her hands, and her cheeks were bunched under her eyes. Her gaze fell blindly on the stairwell.

Then, the wind. Back alley dumpster smell of onions and milk gone off.

When the odor reached him, Thelonius was beside the first restroom attendant. Such was his determination to reach the bathroom and to find that grey-dressed man – to reach the single point at which this ludicrous situation made sense – that the reporter had failed to notice either the injured flapper or Emma. The wind and the smell, however; Thelonius couldn’t help but to notice those. Nor could Henri and Cati avoid acknowledging the awful presence with wrinkled chins and noses. Jones rested his hand on the handle to the bathroom door.


da solomon said...

Again, Henri watched the attack unfold.

He stood momentarily transfixed, and watched the coronas of the overhead lamps flash and reach, like elastic neon, towards Thelonius.

Cati felt a chill upon her release from the charm, as if she had been sprung forward an instant in time. As if glimpsing the fate of the flapper in the stairwell, she had observed the stretching light trails and the suddenness with which Thelonius had been thrown – from just two feet in front of her – into the doorframe. But there was some missing part to the narrative of Thelonius’ face meeting the hard wood. Cati thought of the girl on the steps. She saw Thelonius' temples, his cheek bones, and his nose simultaneously tear into thin red cuts. With Henri gasping beside her, Cati heard Thelonius draw breathe through his teeth and saw his face slide down the track of the moulding. Cati thought of the instant violence that poor girl would wake up to.

The blow had come too fast, but Thelonius felt the pain and knew he had been attacked. Now he was on his knees and he couldn’t even shriek. Released from the invisible hand, he mustered the will to separate his face from the doorframe. His nose was broken. Painfully squinting, he blinked the blood from his eyes. To his right, the restroom door was now half-open.

Cati saw Thelonius fall, and she knew that it – Rashfal – the unseen thing - was standing right there – behind Jones – before the bathroom attendant – right in front of Cati with its back turned to her

da solomon said...

(Cati was unlucky enough to roughly jostle a frozen bar-goer, but she and Henri both passed sanity checks vs. the weirdness of possibly severely injuring the frozen girl. Henri failed an idea roll, which Cati passed, thus locating Rashfal after its attack. The price for this knowledge was a sanity check, which she failed. -3 sanity for Cati.

Thelonius has suffered -6 hit points and appears to be severely injured with 4 remaining hit points.

Round three actions!)

Thelonius Jones said...

Blinking the blood from his eyes, Thelonius made a mad dash inside the rest room.

Henri said he was chanting in the washroom....

The reporter quickly moved about the washroom, wincing in pain as he want looking for ...something...that Rashfal was guarding.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"Smash it, Jones," Henri shouted. "Pour it down the drain. Get rid of it somehow. The thing wants the vial!"

Teresa said...

Cati raised her gun and aimed it at the thing in front of her. She moved her body slightly so as to avoid hitting both the frozen bathroom attendant and Jones. Then she fired.

da solomon said...

“The thing –” In his head, Henri heard the echo of the rest of his intended statement: wants the vial! Henri’s bones leapt in his skin, but he didn’t quite jump. He expected the bathroom attendant’s smile to wither and his knees to buckle. Instead he stood there blindly staring.

The explosion was from a .45.
Cati frowned deeply. A noticeable shiver ran across her shoulders. She sniffled and wondered if she’d be dead in an instant.

Thelonius, not yet able to muster up the fortitude to fight through his pain and dizziness to get up and flee his invisible assailant, had shrunk even further into the wall with Cati’s shot. A wet drop fell on Thelonius’ shoulder – he felt the pressure of its impact through his jacket, but it wasn’t absorbed by the fabric. A portion of it rolled down his shoulder and fell upon his hand, where he could not help but notice that the single, blue drop was cold and viscous. Cati had shot Rashfal.

Still struggling with the blood in his eyes, a moment of stillness fell over the reporter. Cati had shot it. The stillness settled around his aching head and throbbing face like an angelic cowl, relieving just enough of his pain to give him the courage to turn to face the monster.

It stood over him. A wide, gash-like grimace had torn its way across the hairless, pumpkin-sized lump of grayish flesh that was, Thelonius reckoned, Rashfal’s head. Its lip, a ragged, hanging roll of fat, quivered like a child's. A ball of sough, smashed slightly and bearing two shining blue stones pushed almost too deeply into the obscene mask to be seen – this sat upon shoulders and a long, long torso, formed from abdominal muscles twisted clumsily around an internal frame. Each muscle was another lump of shining, clammy clay slapped artlessly upon that frame – Rashfal’s pectoral muscles stretched in different directions from some central anchor in its chest towards its misplaced, asymmetrical arms. At the ends of those long arms were clawless mittens of flesh. One of those had smashed Thelonius’ head into the doorframe. The other was clinging to the creature’s abdomen. A dark blue trickle escaped from beneath its wet mitt and landed on the front of the reporter’s jacket.

Henri saw Rashfal’s back heaving – lungs inflating beneath layers of glistening grey meat, and the thickness of his torso ran from too thin to too thick – in, out, in and out went the air Henri and the monster were sharing – even the monster’s respiration was maddening, and Henri could not keep a yelp from escaping his throat. He wanted to cry, but more he wished he could sneeze or cough out that foul air, and the putrid scent.

Thelonius swallowed hard, banishing panic into his stomach. He took advantage of the moment and scrambled from under Rashfal’s rot. From his hands and knees, Thelonius launched himself into a crouched dash around the privacy wall and into the restroom. With no small effort, he stood up to survey the restroom. In here somewhere, he thought. Immediately, as if the very effort of moving through the daze of head trauma itself had focused his resolve, Thelonius saw a thin plume of smoke, strangely, still rising from within one of the stalls. In the next stall a shadow barely moved; Thelonius almost didn't see it.

Henri lost sight of Rashfal and in the same moment heard an unnervingly sudden shattering sound behind him, among the chairs.

From above, a tabletop fell upon her. It didn’t strike her, but the vibrations hurt when it hit the floor. She was on her back. In the moment before the tabletop broke over her, several bright pains had synchronized in her chest, in the back and front of her head, in her elbows. She was buried under a table – Rashfal had come for her – and she had bit her tongue. But she still had her gun.

da solomon said...

(Order of initiative was and will be Henri/Cati, Thelonius, Rashfal.

Cati shot Rashfal. Rashfal’s appearance forced everyone present to make a sanity check. Everyone passed except Henri who takes -1 sanity. Psychologically at least, the characters are dealing with Rashfal pretty well.

In retaliation for the wound, Rashfal attacked Cati, tossing her into the dining area. Cati has suffered -7 hit points. She is now at four.

Actions continue!)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri swung toward the crashing sound and tried to make sense of what he saw.

(ook: if he can make a guess he trusts on where Rashfal is--invisible, right?--then he's gonna grab a chair and swing it at the thing. if he can't guess where it is he's going to grab the nearest bottle of hard alcohol from any table and start splashing it about with the hopes that the droplets will cling to invisible skin and give him some sense of where it is)

Teresa said...

Cati groaned and rolled onto her stomach. She raised her gun, took aim, and shot at the thing one more time.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius kicked in the stall door - the one with the shadow - and flung his body against the form within. He expected to find the arrogant mystic who threatened himself and his friends.

da solomon said...

(Re-reading my posts, it seems that I’ve been a little less than clear about the flow and quality of events in the melee. To review for everyone, when this round starts, Thelonius will be in the bathroom. Cati, Henri, and Rashfal will be outside in the “tearoom.” Rashfal has returned to invisibility.

There are two layers of time-warping going on. The first layer, which is obvious to all the player characters, is the one that traps them in time with Rashfal. The second layer of time-warping is apiece with Rashfal’s attacks and accounts for the suddenness of the damage inflicted on Thelonius and Cati. Cati, who has accidentally inflicted injury on a bar patron in the stairwell, has definitely figured this out, but the secondary time-warping may or may not be obvious to Henri and Thel.)

da solomon said...

Henri hadn’t the time to reckon just how thankful or not he was that he no longer would be forced to look upon the malformed visage of Rashfal. But he was no fool in dire straits and Henri knew that if he didn’t give Cati a target to fire at, their invisible assailant might quickly finish her off.

He snatched an unlabeled bottle of green glass from the nearest table – right out of the hand of a man who might have been pouring his date a drink of whatever the bottle contained, who cared? – and flung its contents in a wide arc around him. Twice, then thrice, he swept the room in droplets. The slightly minty odor of anise mingled with the stink of onions gone off. Henri slung the last of the fluid out and towards Cati. The beads clung to something in the air. The mass, vaguely described in an absinthe gleam, was moving. It lunged at Henri – there was another gunshot.

Cati had fired again, Thelonius knew, and that meant that she was still alive. If she was standing her ground, then Henri might still be there too. Good. Thelonius had something to fight for, and he knew where he would focus his anger.

He tore the stall door open. Crouching on the closed toilet seat, like some hawkish gargoyle, was the man in the stiff grey suit. He was hiding, but discovered in his ludicrous hiding place, he smiled broadly. His canines seemed suddenly prominent, and his whole face took on the countenance of a predator. The man’s steel-blue eyes widened, and in them Thelonius saw insanity. Before, the man had seemed cold, calculating, and arrogant – now it was clear that he was all this, but also murderous. “Have you brought me my vial?” the man asked.

There was no answer from Thelonius. Incensed beyond his good sense, Thelonius threw his entire body at the man on the toilet. The energy of Thel’s attack pushed both their weights into the wall behind the toilet bowl. The man’s head knocked into the fine tile work, cracking it. There, Thelonius thought, take that!, but he did not release the man from his grasp.

The man sat up, bringing Thelonius with him. If either of them could have seen themselves there in the bathroom stall, they might have laughed. The grey-suited man sitting upright on the toilet seat, Thelonius, bloody and wobbling, straddling him, awkwardly embracing the man’s neck and shoulders – could there be any more comical expression of desperation? “Why, you stupid little man! – RASHASHA!”

Thelonius felt the man’s chest expand and his arms lift – what strength! He tried to keep the man secure, but it was impossible. One palm found its way onto Thel’s chest, and the other slipped inside the man’s jacket. The man was drawing a weapon! Unable to maintain his grip, Thelonius let himself stumble backwards into the half-open stall door. He took another two steps back and the suited man stepped forward.

da solomon said...

The grey man, still seated on the toilet, drew a long, frightening dagger. Standing, he threw his jacket off. “Like animals, then!” He tossed his knife into his other hand and leered at Thelonius.

Henri didn’t have the breath to reckon what had happened. He had seen the droplet covered thing move towards him, he had heard Cati fire her gun – and now he was awkwardly draped over the bar. His buttocks rested on the wooden surface; his shoulders hung near the floor behind it; his head was laying on the floor and his neck was at a painfully awkward angle. His whole spine ached. Henri was cautious in his movements, fearful of losing control of his weight and thus forcing it to all come down upon his neck.

Cati hadn’t seen what had transpired. Several of the bar patrons had been disturbed from their comfortable seats, and were now tipped over, leaning ajar, drinkless, or otherwise situated in positions reminiscent of mannequins locked in useless positions and laid willy-nilly on chairs and tables. One man was on the floor alongside Cati. Resting on his left side, he was facing her; his legs were spread and his knees were bent as if he was still sitting in a chair. His right hand was held up as if lifting a drink, which wasn’t there, to his lips. Halfway sitting up, Cati looked around the room. Another mannequin-person was draped backwards over the bar – but, no, Cati recognized Henri’s shoes. They stirred. He was alive.

Rashfal’s stink was everywhere. He was not gone.

(At the end of this round, Thelonius and the man in grey are facing off in the restroom. Cati is still on the floor under a pile of debris, surrounded by ludicrously arranged bar patrons. Henri has been thrown by Rashfal into the bar behind Cati, but by the grace of God and the die-rolling script has only suffered a meager -3 hit points of damage, leaving him at a relatively healthy 12 remaining. Thelonius seems to have hurt his opponent slightly – woe to him – but it appears that Cati’s attack has missed.

FYI, Thelonius made a successful grapple (which was subsequently broken), and Henri made a successful throw.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Slowly, Henri drew in his hands to his shoulders, and pressed them against the floor, lifting his shoulders and straightening his neck. He hoped he had the strength to maintain the position till he could slither his hips and legs behind the bar and drop his weight onto his upper back instead of his neck.

He tried to move slowly and quietly, not daring to alert the thing. He could hear nothing except the grinding of glass as he shifted. Was Cati still alive? Was Jones? He knew the thing was still out there. He could smell it. Surely that meant Jones was still alive, still had the vial.

Taking hope from that thought, Henri let his upper back take the weight and slid his back across the floor away from the bar. Crushed glass snapped and sizzled quietly under him.

Once he found himself curled in a ball behind the bar, Henri started looking around for a suitable broken bottle, the kind gangsters used in moving pictures. It would be a better weapon than nothing.

Thelonius Jones said...

"All right," slurred Thelonius, "You win. Here's your damn vial. Call off your damn Rakshasa, or whatever that thing is."

The reporter cautiously stumbled backwards as he spoke, maintaining a healthy distance from the man in the grey suit and the wicked dagger.

Thelonius wiped the sweat and blood from his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. He held up his empty left hand to the man, and slowly dipped into his front jacket pocket to pull out the vial, holding it aloft.

Simultaneously, he surreptitiously slipped his right hand into his other jacket pocket, resting his fingers across the revolver that was stashed there. He hoped that the man's attention was fixed on the vial (and Thel tried to maintain his attention there by keeping his hand moving and displaying the object).

If the man did not stop his advances, and did not call off Rashfal, then Thelonius was going to fire the revolver through his jacket pocket at the man.

Teresa said...

Feeling rather light-headed, Cati shifted her weight again, trying to draw herself further beneath what she felt was the protection of the table. With one cut and bleeding hand, she pulled the table closer to her, while still clutching her gun in her other sweating palm. She peeked quickly around the edge of the table, saw the wetly gleaming form of nothing, and fired another time. Then she ducked behind the table, collapsing onto the floor in pain.

da solomon said...

(First things first, a correction of the bad kind. Henri actually has 9 hit points, remaining, which is what I meant by “relatively healthy.” Carrying on . . .)

Carefully, Henri accomplished his goal of lowering himself onto the glass-covered tile floor behind the bar. How had he been flung into the bar – wrecking several shelves and destroying dozens of bottles of fine and not-so-fine spirits – without being cut to ribbons? Henri avoided tempting fate and took pains to lower his up-ended frame to the shard-covered floor. He slowly came into a crouch, and he froze to survey his surroundings, hoping to spot an appropriate bottle for a battle in a barroom, or to at least still the crunching of glass long enough to listen for signs of his comrades.

Rashfal, or Cati was shuffling through the debris. Likely Rashfal, for the dilettante was to Henri’s knowledge underneath a pile of broken furniture. He heard the shattering pop of a glass bottle breaking on the other side of the bar, and his eyes involuntarily fell to the floor again. As they fell, a glint – not of glass, but of steel – caught his attention. Henri reached out and took it. In a lesser speakeasy it would have been a shotgun. With a minimum of noise, Henri drew the cavalry sabre from its hiding place amongst unused champagne glasses. He took a look in the direction of the bartender, who stood with his back to Henri and the rest of the smashed bar, and wondered what kind of man he was.

He sighed –

The air came into her lungs. Without another thought, Cati rose and committed to action, punctuating her decision with the crack of gunfire. One shot, and she fell behind her table again. She held the gun with both hands like she’d been taught, and tried to concentrate on keeping her lungs filled.

There had been little to aim at, barely more than a slightly shimmering form that was – oh, Jesus, she realized it just now – coming right at her. To finish her? She decided that she would take another breath, just to make sure she was still alive.

Cati pressed her back into the flat, hard table. She was wondering what kind of woman she was, as she briefly considered pulling one of the frozen patrons in front of herself to use as a shield. The tabletop that she had settled upon would probably provide less armor than a human body, but the moral implications were less complicated. What a time to worry about the right thing to do! You get all worked up in a situation like this, some far-off voice reminded her, and then you stop thinkin’ straight. That’s the last thing you want to do! If ya gotta make yourself breathe, then make yourself breathe! He was right. “Breathe,” she whispered so quietly that the word was barely more than a breath itself.

Inhale –

da solomon said...

“You’re wising up,” said the man to Thelonius as the reporter held out the vial.

Thelonius had to agree with him as his fingers found the awkward form of the Apache revolver in his pocket. He pushed his middle finger into the space between the knuckles and the trigger, to which his forefinger was instantaneously attracted. Hooking his little finger into the last knuckle, Thelonius unfolded the piece. It didn’t feel like a sturdy stock, but as it clicked into place, it provided Thel with a modicum of confidence in the midst of his circumstances.

The tall man came forward, and began to reach out for the vial. “Say, friend, what do you have in your pocket there? You don’t think you’re going to shoot me, do you?” He came another step forward.

Thel’s attempt at a diversion hadn’t worked – there had been too much fumbling involved. Once again, Thelonius mentally scoffed at the bouncer’s assertion – magic bullets! The man was very, very close now, and –

The realization came almost too late. He was too close to miss. How did that happen? The man in grey made a grab at Thelonius with his free hand. He connected. The man’s hand rested on Thelonius’ shoulder, friendly-like. The man was smiling broadly. Why was he so sure of himself if he thought there was a gun pointed at him? His hand dug into Thel’s shoulder – the man was too strong to believe.

Thelonius could see the dagger running in between and through his organs, tearing down his abdomen with the same strength that was now macerating his bicep – but he had been ready for the move, waiting, holding his initiative. He squeezed the trigger in his pocket. The reverberations shook his wrist. Thel felt the pressure waves in his hip, in his lap. The muzzle of the gun protruded through a new hole in his moth-eaten jacket. This one wouldn’t patch up easily. In his other hand, buried beneath his tightly clenched fingers, the vial was safe.

The look on the man’s face changed from haughtiness to shock. His face paled. Something had gone wrong with his plan. He looked down at his own hip, which was torn open and soaked red. His grip loosened and he staggered backwards. He held his dagger out again, seemingly defensively this time. He waved it at Thelonius. He gritted his teeth in anger. Frothing, hair mussed, he opened his mouth. “Rashfal! To me!” The man in grey coughed and took a step in the direction of the door. He would have to move around Thelonius.

(Henri made a successful listen roll followed by a luck roll. The latter has afforded him a cavalry sabre. Cati isn’t sure if her shot connected or not, as she’s taken cover. Both Henri and Cati have heard Thel’s shot and the man’s call for Rashfal. Next round!)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri took a deep, slow breath, closed his eyes for a moment and prayed like he'd never prayed before.

Then he let out a howl and leapt up onto the bar, saber held at ready--God! At least he hoped this was right!--and scanned the bar for the damp shimmer of the wet, invisible creature.

When he saw it, with another howl he leapt toward it, swinging.

Teresa said...

Cati tried her very best to curl into as small a form as possible, her back pressed against the table. She held her gun tightly, pointing the barrel away from her body in case she needed to use it... and waited.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius blocked the door, his limp, thin frame not really a match for the supernaturally strong sorcerer.

He pulled the gun out of his pocket, fumbling to take another shot at the man in the suit before Rashfal arrived to tear the reporter into pieces.

He hoped his friends were somehow keeping Rashfal busy.

da solomon said...

Henri’s shoes hit the polished wooden surface of the bar with two loud claps, and he let out a war whoop unlike any sound he had made in years. The noise drew Cati’s attention, and the dull gleam of the sabre in Henri’s hands held it. She was wholly startled by the sight, and indeed she had been so shaken by the melee and her injuries that she nearly drew her gun on Henri. But, taking heart at the dressmaker’s valor and agility, she turned her gun in the other direction and, staggering, she stood to face with him whatever she might find.

Inside the bathroom, Thelonius heard Henri’s cry. Without even drawing the apache from the burned jacket pocket, he took his shot. Wounded and weakened though he was, it was still difficult for Thelonius to miss. There was a flash – no, two flashes, Thelonius realized: one from the hole in his coat pocket and one at a point low on the wizard’s bleeding abdomen. The man clutched the point on his belly where the spark had flown, and staggered one step backwards in a direction slightly diagonal to both the door and the wall of fancy urinals. He lifted his bloodless hand from where the wound ought to have been, looked at it, and turned his attention back to Thelonius. Breathing through his clenched teeth and open lips, he panted, “Fine, yes – just a gaffe!” He made a feint with his dagger and called again, “Rashfal!”

Thelonius tore his eyes from the man for half a moment. He tilted the firearm and glanced inside his pocket. The cylinder was empty. Poor luck; but on the other hand, Rashfal hadn’t come. Recognizing that he still held some advantage, Thelonius refrained from drawing the gun.

“Ah, this is –” gasped the man in grey (even though his jacket was resting on the floor of the stall, and the only grey he was left wearing was his slacks). “We both came into this situation a bit hastily,” he said inching through the interior bathroom door frame, “wouldn’t you think? Look, I’m going to walk this way” – he slid his foot a long ways towards the outer bathroom door – “and leave. We’re going to be even.” Somehow, he managed a smile. “You want to just let me go and walk out that door,” he said, and pushed the door open with his foot. He stepped outside. The door swung shut and blocked Thelonius’ line of sight. He blinked as if shaking off blurry vision and moved to follow the man.

Henri and Cati were standing. They were searching - for any hint of hanging moisture, scanning the barroom tensely, afraid to move - when the man appeared at the bathroom door sans jacket. He turned around as the door closed. The dagger came into view, half as long as the sabre in Henri's hand, and the man smiled at the pair. “What next?”

Just then, Henri noticed that on the wooden steps - nearest to Cati - there were damp marks. They were dampest at the bottom of the stairs, near the woman Cati had knocked over, and faded to nothing by the time they had climbed halfway up the case.

(Thelonius has lost another hit point thanks to blood loss. To review: Thelonius is in the bathroom still – he can exit next round. Cati is halfway across the barroom from the bathroom. Henri, who has passed a spot hidden check, is completely across the barroom from the bathroom door and the man in the grey slacks. Rashfal is nowhere to be seen. Action continues.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"Your monster is gone, you bastard," Henri growled through clenched teeth. "My friend in that bathroom had better be alive, because you're alone now, and I don't have any fear left in me."

He tilted his head a bit, without taking his eyes off the man in grey, and raised his voice.

"Jones? Can you hear me? Are you all right?"

Teresa said...

Cati felt a little woozy, perhaps from standing too quickly and perhaps after having lost all that blood. Her head hurt, and so did many other parts of her body. There only seemed to be one thing to do that made sense.

She pointed her gun at the man and shot him.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius called out to his companions, "I'm alive. He's heading your..."

He trailed off as the bathroom door shut in front of him.

The reporter staggered to the exit, summoning his reserves of stamina as he pushed open the door.

His bloody hand curled into a fist, ready to swing at the man formerly in grey. He paused briefly to observe the scene after exiting the bathroom.

da solomon said...

The man responded to Henri’s threat with a grimace. He pressed a hand to his wounded hip, and allowed his dagger to droop a little. His face fell even further when Thelonius exited from the bathroom behind him. He was surrounded and, indeed, his monster was nowhere to be seen or sensed in any other manner. The man opened his mouth as if to remark on Thelonius’ warning, but Cati’s shot cut him off.

No longer did anyone’s heart jump at the sound of the shot – after only a few seconds, the shocking quality of gunfire, even from Cati’s hefty .45, had been blunted. The man whipped his head to the left, tossing a single blonde lock to the wrong side of his forehead and throwing his attention over his shoulder to follow the trajectory of the bullet. He was looking at the bathroom attendant, who had been standing idly by the door. The attendant’s face still looked utterly and terribly bored, but now his body was set leaning against the wall. There was not yet any blood, but judging from the burst bit of fabric on the shoulder of the young man’s jacket, Cati had disastrously missed her intended target.

Glancing around, the man started to speak again. “More people are going to get hurt. It’s in everyone’s best interest if I leave now.” He looked over the clutter of fallen patrons and broken furniture. “Do you really want to be standing in the middle of all this when I relax my grip?” His gaze fell on Cati, who might have seemed to him to be the most immediate threat. Gesturing at the attendant’s throat with his blade as anyone else might do with their thumb he said, “One second ago this man was thinking about having a smoke. Or whatever he thinks about.” He took a step towards the stairs, passing near to Thelonius, and a few yards from Cati. “What about that man on the floor? Or that woman at the staircase? The rest of them? Split skulls, broken legs, twisted joints, teeth . . . We’ve taken our blows, and things haven’t worked out for any of us. But I still have the advantage. You should concede to that.” The man waved his dagger in the air, as if drawing a pattern with its tip. Still looking at Cati he insisted, “You want to let me walk.” He took another step in the direction of the staircase. “You’ll have a few seconds to collect yourselves.”

Cati’s shot had been an attempt to grasp at sense in the chaos of combat. But she had only succeeded in exacerbating her situation. She felt despair settling over her. Her gun hand began to quiver. The weapon seemed so heavy. She was, in a word, convinced.

da solomon said...

However, the man’s tone only angered Henri even more. Sheer arrogant effrontery. Didn’t the fool understand his predicament? If he “relaxed his grip,” as he had said, he too would be left standing amidst a scene of ruin and bloodshed. He too would get caught up in the panic that would without question ensue, and he would certainly fetch a share of the blame. Or would he? In his anger, Henri recalled the brief encounter with the man in the bathroom, and the flippant way he had insinuated murder right in front of the attendant. The way he dropped such a large tip. The suggestion of familiarity between the two . . .

A moment before, Thelonius had felt that the man – the wizard – had been on the ropes. Now Thel’s surety had faded. Was there anything to been gained from this ill-fated encounter? Could any victory or shred of a clue be salvaged? If they didn’t stop the man here, there’d be nothing gained – except whatever spent occult elements had been left in the bathroom stall. Thelonius tightened his fist, but it just hung at his side. He knew he was going to let the man walk away, but he wasn’t sure why.

But Cati was. She remembered the taxi driver, this grey man's sidekick. The man before her must have succeeded where the taxi driver had failed. It had been nothing quite as fumblingly obvious as the contest of psyches she had felt in the cab. This man's powers were much more subtle . . . and dangerous. She kept her gun raised, but she knew she would not be able to shoot him.

(Cati’s shot has missed. All three PCs have made idea rolls, piecing together different parts of the puzzle. Combat rounds continue. Actions!)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri paused, glanced quickly at his friends. The both looked reluctant. It seemed they were letting the man in grey go.

"You think he's going to let us alone if we let him walk away?" Henri asked both of them, keeping his eyes on the man. He addressed the man before his friends could respond. "What sureties do we have that you're done with us, that you won't bother us anymore?"

Teresa said...

Cati felt woozy again, and she braced herself against the toppled table with her free hand. She hadn't ever really needed to shoot someone, and she was devastated that she'd hit an innocent by-stander.

Adjusting her grip on the gun, she said to Henri, "How do you suggest we stop him? Or do we just take everyone out with the hopes that we get this fella in the process?"

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius used the brief time the man in grey was talking to catch his breath. He stumbled toward the wizard, summoning every last ounce of energy left in his battered body.

Without a word, and while the wizard was distracted with his dialog with Cati, Thelonius attempted to grab the man's hair with his left hand, as he pummeled the wizard in the face with his right.

He knew he had little chance to hurt the wizard, but Thelonius was not going to let him just walk out of here when he could still do something about it.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Taking Jones' action as an answer, Henri moved forward. He took in Jones and the grey man, waiting for a moment when he could thrust with the saber and help Jones finish off the grey man.

da solomon said...

Thelonius wanted to grab him, he wanted to put a stop to this right now. But reaching towards the man was like trying to force his fingers through cellophane. It was as if some veil hung between Thelonius and his target, beyond which his entire arm, from his shoulder to his fingers, refused to act against the man. The man’s words rang in his memory: “just let me go.” No, Thelonius was angry and would not be doing that. He focused his will on that anger and pushed harder, spending something of himself in the effort to attack the man.

From Henri’s perspective, Thelonius’s struggle was scarcely apparent. The reporter’s hand shook as he reached out, briefly quivered in the air as if Thelonius was experiencing a moment of doubt about the correct course of action, and shot forward. Thel’s hand was a claw on the back of the man’s head, pulling him down from behind. His fist swung around and inelegantly knocked into the villain’s jaw.

The wizard screwed his face up and released his dagger as his knees buckled and he began to fall backwards. It didn’t look like Thel’s awkward blow had harmed the man, but he had firmly reasserted his advantage over the scoundrel.

Henri seized the initiative. As the man fell backwards onto his haunches, his eyes opened and his wrenched, pained expression gave way to an open-mouthed look of terror. He watched Henri rush him. The blade struck true.

Leaning into Thel’s grasp, the man moaned, “I’m done,” and drew in another breath.

Henri couldn’t understand. Henri knew the tip of the sword had hit him square in the abdomen. Henri knew the point should have sunk between his ribs and deep into his vital organs. But it had not. The saber had slipped to the right, as if it had been deflected from some durable surface. There had been a flash like flint upon steel. What had gone wrong? Was he wearing armor underneath his shirt? No, that was impossible. The man should be dead.

The man took in one more sharp, desperate gasp, filling his lungs. He barked. “KARKARE!

Thelonius and Henri were focused on the man in grey. Cati was the first to notice the change.

(Action continues in a new post, The Cellar Collapses.)