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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Dead Drop

Previous session: Digging up Dirt 
Locust, the Whisper joins up with the crew. He's a young Skovlander who knows Paving because he's a scribe for Quellyn, a local witch. She lives aboard a decommissioned Leviathan Hunter waiting for final paperwork to be broken up. His burgeoning powers were useful to Quellyn in her attempt to summon and bind Setarra (an ancient demon) - but the attempt failed and now Setarra is seeking them out in order to free itself fully. 
In the few blocks of government buildings on the north end of Crow's Foot that passes for their hunting grounds they have identified a covert drop, run by an Iruvian named Sanaat (who works regularly with the Cyphers). They concoct a complex plan to bring the operation under their control. Posing as regular customers, they will leave an ensorcelled item into Sanaat's care so that they can identify the secret location used by him for his operations. In their investigation they discover that the front of the operation is a book store and cafe frequented by civil servants and what passes for well-to-do in Crow's Foot. The operation is also frequently used by the Iruvian Consulate, and is protected by the Red Sashes.

Shrike the Cutter stands uncomfortably in the formal blue dress alongside Hammer the Leech in a black suit. Hammer's friend Eckerd (a corpse thief) helped acquire both outfits. Sanaat spots them enter and obviously recognises them as customers for his secretive business. He invites them to a large bureau at the back of the shop and offers them tea. Paving the Spider has discerned that all the Iruvian requires is a reference from a trusted compatriot, so they have used 'Thena', who fortunately is out of the country at the moment, so Sanaat cannot confirm their credentials.


After some chit-chat, the tea arrives, and he holds out his hands for the item to be taken in. She explains that she needs the item to be held for a time until she can safely claim it back. He delicately wonders if it is thieves or creditors she fears; and while she does not confirm, he understands that it is creditors after her prized heirloom that she's holding out on. Hammer scoffs when he suggested she might be afraid of thieves taking him on. He examines the piece, a somewhat plain glass bracelet is made to seem valuable by being - inside an expensive lacquered wooden box, along with the trapped ghost inside which makes it glow an iridescent red. Sanaat's suspicions are belied and the box disappears below the desk, and he outlines the steps when she wishes to conclude their arrangements and retrieve the item. They leave, happy that their ruse was successful.

***

The ghost returns to Locust after midnight. It describes the short trip and the place it emerged from - out the back entrance of the bookshop and across the alleyway is a hookah and coffee shop, run by the Red Sashes. There's a bedsit on the top floor and then the box was placed inside a cubbyhole under the bed - there was some kind of spirit screen or protection that made the ghost's escape a little more difficult that it should've been.

Later on that night, Locust sits in the corner; partaking of his table's hookah and maybe enjoying it a bit too much. Paving walks in, scanning the place with his usual careful attention and ordering a coffee. Hammer and Shrike are making their way across the laneway from a building opposite via rope.

Hammer lands quietly on the window sill of bedsit, and takes out the carefully concealed burglar's toolkit from the thieves' rigging. Cutting through one of the window's pane's, he's ready to unlock from the inside when the curtains open right in front of him and a sleepy woman stares directly into his eye. Too startled to do anything for a moment, when she opens her mouth to scream, Hammer has had time to draw a syringe from a pocket and inject her with standstill - it's effective and the woman drops to the floor like a statue.

They climb in and Hammer goes directly under the bed. The joins on the cubby hole are so well done that if he didn't know what he was looking for, he'd have no chance of spotting it. He examines the setup, to make sure there are no alarms set, but apparently Sanaat relies on subterfuge to secure the goods. Unlocking the hatch, Hammer is caught off guard when a trap triggers and the box inside goes across the veil into the ghost field. It's gone and there's nothing he can do to touch it. Hammer has bigger worries though, as a trapped ghost lurches out at him, hungry and murderous...


Downstairs, Locust's attention is wrenched from the game going on to the sudden appearance of a ghost upstairs. The smoke billows in an unnatural fashion, and most others in the room just shiver for no particular reason. The Whisper knows exactly what's happened though. He jumps up and makes for the back stairs up to the bedsit.

Paving gets up, suddenly unsteady with alcohol or other drugs found in a vice den like this. He engages one of the two armed Red Sashes overseeing the room, claiming that he's a city health inspector and that there's a problem with the sewage in the basement. The young thug looks confused and a bit panicked by the official-looking documentation Paving pulls from an inside pocket. She tells him that he'll have to stay there, she's getting the manager, and she walks down the corridor to get someone who'll know what to do.

Paving quickly ushers Locust down that corridor and upstairs, staying behind to deal with the fallout.

**

With the ghost trying to force its way into Hammer and consume his soul, the Leech resists desperately, falling to the floor and struggling. His attempts to shut the ghost out cause him to lose consciousness and as the ghost tries for another way in, Shrike draws and strikes in one fluid motion. Electrostatic energy cascades from her hands and all the way up the sword and as the attack concludes, the blue lightning flickers through the entire ghost's being, destroying it in an instant and shattering the blade in two.

Locust surges into the room, just to see the electroplasmic energy disappear back into the Cutter's fists. He's angry at Shrike for the needless destruction of a ghost. Hammer sits up, with a vicious look in his eye, he turns on Locust who's standing above him with a snarl, but the Whisper doesn't waste time. Swiftly pulling down his spirit mask he tackles opening a portal into the ghost field where the sought-after box now lies. The bizarre harlequin's mask covers his entire face, even that which usually shows the actor's jaw and mouth. Deathly white, it makes even Shrike and Hammer shiver with some unknown existential dread.


Paving eyes up the rest of the room. The other Red Sash at the front door is looking at him warily, but he does spot another useful idiot. Una, a low-level magistrate from his department has just been knocked out of a game she was sure to win; and he reckons her desire for betterment and/or revenge will make her a willing accomplice. He beckons her over to him, and with a smile tells her that he and the owner have a bet that no one could lift the strong box behind the bar. She frowns and shakes her head - wondering if he knows Mel? When he blanks on the name, she walks past him and out the back door.

Moments later, an older Red Sash comes out from the rooms, with the younger one pointing at Paving from behind. The grizzled and wary man walks over, and wonders who the hell Paving is. Paving spins a tale that he's checking out security on the place for the Cyphers, and 'Mel' shakes his head. Staring Paving down, he tells the Spider to get lost, pointing at the front door. Paving certainly gets the message; if he's spotted in her by Mel again, there'll be trouble (but not if he sees Mel first!).


Locust applies his full power to extract the box from the ghost field, and with Shrike helping (not helping!) manages to force it out, even spilling it out onto the floor and bypassing the physical security. As he stands up, satisfied with himself, the door opens behind them all.

Sanaat walks in, looking hurried - though his worried look switched to panic as he first notices the woman on the floor, and then the three scoundrels arrayed inside the room. Locust draws a knife and leaps at the man; Shrike, wondering what the hell the Whisper is thinking, kicks out and Locust sprawls to his knees - the knife sliding across the floorboards to Sanaat's feet.

Hammer stands up off the bed, pulling out a grenade and yelling at Sanaat that if he moves he'll blow them all to smithereens! He lights the fuse for added effect. Shrike doesn't know what to make of this, and Sanaat isn't convinced, turning tail and running pell-mell down the stairs. Hammer drops the grenade, and is terribly confused by this turn of events.

Actually, Shrike just did a nerve strike to the Leech's elbow, forcing him to drop the grenade. She catches the grenade before it hits the floor and pulls out the flickering fuse without so much of a second thought.

Halfway down the stairs, Flint, a friend of Locust's (and spirit trafficker) waits. He shows Sanaat a pistol and waves the man back upstairs.

*

Back at their lair, Sanaat wakes up from his stupor and they pull the bag off his head. He's sitting, unrestrained in an overstuffed chair with tea and cake in front of him. There's a scratchy phonograph playing in the corner. Paving proposes a reasonable solution, considering that they'll all be better off if the Red Sashes remain ignorant of their arrangement - with Hammer tossing a grenade in the background, Sanaat is very convinced and will remain so.

The items in the box under the bed included a last will and testament from a rich merchant who died several months ago - however the details therein don't mesh well with what they recall from the aftermath. So they'll do a bit of research with their friends amongst the Ink Rakes, and find a good angle to make that blackmail pay off for them.


They also advance their project to extort Grace (Shrike's erstwhile friend) and they gather everything they'll need to leverage a nice bag of coin out of her. Shrike herself delivers the bad news, arriving at the Fitzroy pub (where her brother's gang usually hang out). Grace is surprised to see her, casually shifting in her seat so that the dagger under a cushion is within easy distance. Shrike shakes her head, telling the extortionist that if it was going to come to that, she'd already be bleeding out on the floor. After hesitantly telling Grace that she's going to pay them, Grace grins. She knows they've got her over a barrel, but laughs as she outlines how Shrike should be applying the pressure.

Shrike comes back later on with the documentation, and looks on as Grace reads carefully through it all. Grace marks out all of the names of interest (she's obviously thinking of revenge, or counter-extortion) and after each page is finished with, it ends up in the fire. She hands over several full purses of silver, and then a small bag of gold coinage - that last one has to be from her emergency/retirement fund.

Hammer also finds that the last will and testament pays well - they've all put in a load of work to find out that this is a true document, and that things were not distributed as the dead merchant wished - they force the de facto heir to pay up a substantial sum from his petty cash for them to keep quiet.

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