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The Whately Mansion Saga

The Story Thus Far: The vampire Alexander LeMourru acquired the Old Whately Mansion for reasons known only to himself. Formerly the scene of unspeakable murders, Alexander and his crew have refurbished the ramshackle mansion, making it home to a curious collection of blue-shirted cultists. They keep mostly to themselves, save for opening the place to the litterati of New England for grand seances on the weekends.

Alexander has long been a thorn in the side of the local Giovanni, a family of vampires and necromancers thoroughly entrenched in the shadowed underworld of Providence. Led by the stern and sometimes hot-headed patriarch, Antonio, the famiglia has determined that whatever Alexander is up to in the old mansion, it is not in their best interests.

After a week of preparation and recon, Antonio, his enforcer, Menecrites, and the grim, solitary necromancer Karl Beck headed out to discover what secrets the old murder house might hold.

No plan survives the field. The three sought to capture Alexander's cat's paw, Jeff York, unawares, but the spirit of Old Man Whately gave them away. While the Giovanni had hoped to infiltrate the mansion bloodlessly, they are hardly the sort to shy away from conflict once it becomes inevitable.

Adapting to complications none of them could have foreseen, Antonio, Menecrites, and Beck successfully take York as a hostage -- but not without some losses. Jeff pulled what appears to have been an Oblivion bomb from his pocket, and in the resulting explosion of negative energy, Julie, Karl’s wraith, as well as the wraith of Old Man Whately, were both consumed by the darkness. The bomb also did a level of aggravated damage to all of the living (or undead) beings standing in a ten foot radius around its epicenter. This included Jeff York.

As everyone recovered from this development, Karl discovered that his ring of unseen presence was no longer working. With a sinking feeling, he checked his other soul-forged items, only to discover that they now were also inert. The spirits bound to power them had been devoured by the concussive wave of Oblivion just like Old Man Whately and his companion, Julie.

This led Antonio to check his prize swordcane, forged with the soul of the Assamite once sent to kill him. Upon inspecting the blade, veins begin to stand out on Antonio’s forehead. His hands tremble for a moment, and then, closing his eyes, he puts forth a monumental effort to maintain control and not give in to frenzy. But it is very clear that Antonio is not pleased with this development.

In the parlour, one cultist, a young woman, lies dead, shot between the eyes by Menecrites in a mercy killing. Although Menecrites’ gun is equipped with a silencer, the girl’s desperate screams prior to her death caught the attention of at least one cultist who remained in the upstairs portion of the mansion. From the sound of things, that person has come to the top of the stairs and is calling down to York to see if everything is ok.

The story continues tomorrow ...

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Staring into the Abyss

Providence. 1929. The Whately mansion -- once abandoned on the heels of a terrible string of murders, now refurbished and home to a mysterious cult, with the vampire Alexander pulling their strings.-----------------------------------------------------

Jeff York and an unfamiliar mortal woman stand in the front parlour of the Whately place – oblivious to the three members of family Giovanni observing them from down the hall. No words pass between Karl, Antonio, or Menecrites. No words are necessary. They have fought together often enough that a single look conveys everything. Meeting Karl’s eyes, Antonio gives a single, slow nod.

There is a taut and breathless moment where time feels suspended – and then a flurry of action unfolds. Karl reaches into the pocket of his overcoat and withdraws an enchanted ring. With a smooth series of motions, he pulls off one of his leather gloves and slips the ring onto the index finger of that hand. His lips move with a word of command – mouthed, not spoken. He barely imbues the syllables with breath. But his intent is enough. In the next instant, he vanishes, the cloak of shadows in the wraith-forged ring obscuring his presence.

At the door to the sewing room, Antonio touches a pendant at his throat. With a murmured word, he, too, disappears as he activates the obfuscation of the enchanted item. Although their presences are unseen, both Antonio and Karl still make audible sounds. They each move with slow and measured steps so their footfalls do not reveal their positions. They creep toward the lighted parlor.

Menecrites hangs back in the darkened sewing room, taking up Antonio’s previous position at the door so he can watch as things unfold and step in when he’s needed.

Jeff is still chatting with the girl. She’s pretty, in a classy kind of way. She looks nineteen or twenty. Although she wears the collar of her blue shirt buttoned up tight, bruising on her neck suggests that she has been bitten some time in the past few days. York seems interested in biting her again, and he pulls her close as he leans in to feed.

It’s the perfect distraction. They want to catch York unaware so they can restrain him and use him to learn where their true quarry is hiding -- Alexander.

Antonio and Karl move swiftly down the long hall, past the locked basement door. They step invisibly into the parlour at approximately the same time. Almost as if they had planned this part, Karl steps to the left, Antonio to the right. They circle around, closing in on Jeff. When they get within ten feet, however, Jeff suddenly looks up.

“Wraith!” Julie hisses, trying to direct Karl’s attention to something swooping down the hall.

“YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS IN MY HOME!!!” the spirit bellows in a hollow voice audible only to Karl and York’s flesh-and-blood ears.

The wraith – an old man with a shock of white hair and a long, grizzled beard – goes directly for Karl. He balls his hand into a fist and pops Karl squarely in the jaw. Karl staggers backward – more from shock than from pain. He’s seen this wraith before. It’s Old Man Whately. And the dead bastard still packs quite a wallop. Karl daubs the back of his hand against his split lip. It comes away smeared darkly with blood.

York looks up from his dinner and whirls around, trying to spot the source of the disturbances. He sees Old Man Whately as the wraith lashes out – although, for Jeff, the enchantment on Karl’s ring means he can’t quite see Karl himself. York focuses first on Julie, but it’s clear that she is not whatever Whately is striking. It’s obvious enough that someone is hidden. Jeff squints at the air in front of Whately, and his eyes shimmer with power as he struggles to see past the illusion.

Antonio prepares himself to take a flying tackle at York, not wanting to completely lose the element of surprise.

In the next moment, York starts off by moving obscenely fast. In the space of two eyeblinks, he reaches into an inner pocket of his jacket, grabs something the size and shape of a red rubber ball, and tosses this item hard onto the polished wooden floorboards. He aims for a spot about a foot in front of himself and roughly between Karl and Antonio’s cloaked forms.

The item hits the ground and shatters. Antonio and Karl both tense, expecting to be caught in a fiery explosion. There’s not enough time to get to cover.

Instead of flames, the thing erupts into boiling waves of darkness. A numbing concussion of frigid shadows ripples out from the point of impact, sucking the air from the room and temporarily blinding all present. The shockwave hits with a silence so intense, the air seems to shriek with absence. Bitter talons of ice lash against every scrap of exposed flesh, biting somehow deeper than flesh, bone-deep and soul-searing. All thought, all reason is driven before that numbing wave and it’s all anyone can do to keep their feet. Karl stumbles and Antonio is nearly driven to his knees.

Karl and Antonio each take one aggravated wound.

The wraiths shriek and the sound tears at the very air. They’re tossed like autumn leaves in the silent gale rushing from the epicenter, and the pulsing waves of dark shear gobbets from their forms. Old Man Whately howls as he lifts his hands to cover his face – and the memory of flesh is torn down to the bone. Julie pleas for help from Karl, clinging with bitter desperation as the darkness eats her before his eyes. She’s blown like rags along the air, a tattered, screaming form, and then – nothing.

Both Antonio and Karl’s enchantments are ripped away as well, and in the wake of the awful storm of darkness unleashed by York, the two vampires stand, shaken and staring. York looks as shocked as they do. Menecrites catches only the tail of it from his position down the hall. He pokes his head back out the door once the worst of the shockwaves has passed.

The mortal woman is screaming. The sound rises and falls, desolate and empty of all reason. She screams till she runs out of breath, then takes a hiccupping sob and screams some more.

She’s on the floor and she crab-walks back from the point of impact. Her back hits the wall and she doesn’t stop, just keeps trying to crawl backward into it. She claws at her eyes, fingers hooked and nails gouging.

York looks down in stupefaction at the item he dashed onto the floorboards. There are bits of broken glass and bands of some metal – probably copper – scattered in a two-foot radius. From this epicenter, that chilling darkness lingers, though the waves are nowhere near as powerful as the first concussion that caught everyone unaware.

“Shit,” York swears unhappily at the shattered remnants of the bomb.

Antonio doesn’t waste another moment. He tosses his swordcane to one side and levels the Toreador with a powerful flying tackle. He’d prefer to just kill the bastard, but he needs to question him. He catches York by surprise so the smaller man can’t engage his supernatural speed. The two of them tumble down in a heap.

Menecrites dashes into the room. Karl is still stunned by what he witnessed happening to both of the wraiths – Julie especially. The stoic necromancer isn’t one to brood on his feelings, but watching his companion torn apart before his eyes has nearly unmoored him. He stands frozen in place, staring at the air where she had been.

As Antonio wrestles with York, the mortal woman’s shrieks change in pitch and frequency. She slams her head backward into the wall, still digging at her eyes. Her hands are bloody. Her mouth moves in nonsense sounds and she’s still trying to push herself backwards with spastic kicks of her legs.

Before anyone can suggest otherwise, Menecrites pulls out his gun and shoots her once between the eyes. It’s a mercy killing, efficient and quick. She falls silent at last.

Antonio throttles York, landing punch after punch on his face.

“What the fuck was that, York? What the fuck was that?” Antonio bellows. "Menecrites! Hand me my swordcane. I'm gonna take this bastard's head."

Through the ruin of his mouth, York begs for his life, screaming, “I had no idea it would do that! Please! I’ll tell you everything! Just don’t kill me!”

Abyss To be continued …

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Into the House of Death

1929. Night has fallen on Providence, and in one ill-fated house near the town cemetery, darkness comes to call.-------------------------------------------

Wednesday night comes, and they all pile into Antonio’s Packard. He kills the headlamps a few blocks from the Whately place, then cuts the engine as he turns into Kirkwood Cemetery. He lets the car coast for as long as he can, maneuvering it along the narrow gravel path that twists amidst the stones.

Once the car stops, he engages the parking brake and they all get out, taking stock of their equipment. Antonio has his trusty sword cane, an item enchanted with the bound spirit of a vampire assassin once sent to kill him. Antonio killed the Assamite and claimed his soul instead. The Giovanni patriarch has his gun as well, and guns are good enough for mortals. But the cane – especially with the screaming spirit bound to its hidden blade – that has a real bite.

Menecrites opens the boot and pulls out two large glass bottles, trying not to clink them together. The bottles hold a murky brownish liquid that could pass for urine in the wrong light – bootleg mead. It’s not the best stuff. In fact, it’s barely drinkable. But it doesn’t have to be good to be incriminating. Menecrites tucks one bottle under each arm, nodding to Karl and Antonio that he’s ready.

Julie the wraith hovers near Karl’s shoulder, humming to herself. Her reedy voice intermittently crosses to the flesh-and-blood world with a sound like wind sighing through the naked branches of frozen trees. Nadia is nearby as well, but Antonio whispers to her, asking her to stay near the car and keep an eye on things from a distance. If things go south, he wants her to hustle back home and let cousin Luci know to hit the place with everything the family’s got.

On foot, the three Giovanni head toward the house, moving silently among the canting, weathered stones of Kirkwood Cemetery.

Lights are on in the parlor and some of the curtains are drawn. As they watch, the familiar figure of Jeffrey York passes in front of one of the windows. The glimpse is brief, but they all recognize Alexander’s cats’ paw.

The rest of the house is dark, except for what might be a reading light in one of the upstairs bedrooms. With a gesture from Antonio, Karl heads around back. Antonio and Menecrites crouch as they pass near the windows to the parlor, gliding soundlessly through the grass as they move toward the side of the house. Once they’re clear of the lighted windows, Menecrites stashes the mead in the bushes. Antonio studies the windows on this side of the house for a likely point of entry. The foundation of the house is fairly high, so all the windows are a little out of reach, but between himself and Menecrites, that shouldn’t be much trouble.

As Karl approaches the back door, he calls upon his particular path of necromancy, reaching out to the spectral echo of the physical world. Most of the Giovanni necromancers can summon and compel spirits, but Karl’s from a line that has a different sort of knack. It’s one reason the Italian family “adopted” their German cousin. Karl can peer directly into the realm of the dead. Better than that, with effort, he can reach across and even walk through it. It’s a tasking ability, and not without its risks, but it’s a talent Karl’s had since the days he became a vampire.

Stepping carefully onto a regrettably creaky back porch, Karl has a momentary flash of déjà vu. It was this door precisely where he had previously broken into the Old Whately Place with Jack all those years ago. This was the house where he’d first learned spirits could physically hurt people. This was where he’d seen undeniable evidence that attested to his own skills.

He pauses at the door, his gloved hand hovering over its knob. Closing his eyes, he reaches inward to what feels like a dark and fathomless well. Cold power rests in that space, and he dredges it up. Even his undead flesh feels the chill as it bursts forth, flooding him. When he opens his eyes again, the world has bled of all color. The house before him is decrepit again, and all its angles have gone wrong – he’s looking at it through the shadowlands.

Karl presses forward, starting to step across, but he quickly realizes that the house exists very solidly in both the skinlands and the shadowlands. If anything, the place has more substance in the shadowlands, probably because of all of the stories told about it. The fear and horror associated with the place have soaked into every board, making the place unassailable. No wonder the wraiths couldn’t get in. Alexander didn’t even need wards – all he had to do to block the spirits was close and lock the physical door.

Karl steps back across, never actually moving from his position directly in front of the back door. Then he takes a couple of lockpicks from of his coat pocket and jimmies the lock. Julie teases Karl gently over having to resort to this.

He shoots her a look and whispers, “I suppose you could do better?”

She sticks out her tongue playfully, but quiets back down.

Elsewhere, Antonio and Menecrites move quietly to a side window. No lights burn in the room beyond, and some empty wooden crates lie close at hand in the yard beside an wheelbarrow. Quickly and silently, Antonio and Menecrites stack the crates. Antonio hands his cane off to Menecrites, then steps up first. Drawing upon his skills of stealth and security, he lets himself in through the darkened window. Then he reaches down for his cane. Once it’s in hand, he helps Menecrites through the window behind him.

The half-Greek enforcer is not as silent as Antonio, and for a few breathless moments, the two of them stand, stock-still in what appears to be a sewing room. They listen to the rest of the house, but after a few moments, it seems obvious that no one heard them enter. The door leading out of the room is slightly ajar, letting in a sliver of light from the hallway. Motioning for Menecrites to stay put, Antonio creeps soundlessly forward to the door.

At the back door, Karl succeeds in picking the lock. Julie pats him on the back with a ghostly hand. Ordinarily, he would send her in first to scout the place out, but if the vampire Jeff York is in residence, there’s a chance that he’ll see her. The Giovanni vampires might have the market cornered on necromancy, but they can’t control who is and who isn’t a natural spirit medium. The in-born skill makes Jeff especially inconvenient to them.

Murmuring so low not even vampire ears could hear him, Karl instructs Julie to stick close, following a step or two behind him. Crouching low to the ground, he turns the knob and cautiously pushes the back door open. The hinges creak and the sound seems loud as a car wreck to Karl’s ears. He halts, then listens. Nothing. He resumes pushing the door open slowly, but the hinges groan again in protest and, preparing for the worst, Karl gives in and just shoves the door all the way open.

No one seems to hear – or, if they hear, they’re not making any noise of their own.

Karl decides that he’s in the clear for the moment. He edges through the doorway with Julie close behind. The necromancer finds himself in the kitchen. The only light is the ghostly blue flickering of the pilot light on the stove. It streams weakly through the latticed burners. The kitchen is large, with a sizable butcher’s block standing in the center of the room. A rack of pots and pans hangs above the butcher block. Karl makes note of the collection of knives sitting on the block, including a well-honed cleaver. Those might be useful later.

Moving as quietly as possible, although he’s not particularly skilled at stealth, Karl steps toward the door on the far side of the kitchen. He can see weak light coming in around the edges. That way lies the front of the house and Jeff York.

From the darkened sewing room, Antonio peers carefully through the crack in the door. Directly in front of him is the side of a staircase, a thick, highly polished banister leading upstairs. There is a door at the base of this staircase. It probably leads to the basement. The door is closed and has a sizable lock. The lock is clearly new – its brass fittings are shiny compared to the knob and hinges on the door. Faint, rust-colored symbols are visible along the very edge of the door, where it lies flush against the jamb. Wards of some sort.

Filing that piece of information away for later, Antonio glances down the hallway to the right. There’s a dining room, unlit. At the far end of the dining room is a door that probably leads to the kitchen. As Antonio watches, Karl steps carefully through that door and surveys the dining room. Antonio locks eyes with Karl and motions for the black-clad necromancer to stay put for a moment. Karl nods, taking a step back so he stands deeper in the shadows.

Looking to the left, Antonio sees that the hall continues toward the front of the house, leading toward the parlour. York is there, standing in about the middle of the room. The gaslights in that room burn away all the shadows. Their dancing, yellow light paints weird patterns across the flocked wallpaper in the hall.

Standing close to York is a young woman. She wears the powder-blue button-down shirt and the long, navy skirt that is to be the uniform of the female cult members. Her russet hair is twined in a French braid and knotted at the base of her neck. York appears to be hitting on her. He is wearing a powder-blue button-down shirt as well, but he has a navy suit jacket over it. He wears matching navy trousers. From the way the suit jacket hangs on one side, Antonio can tell that York is wearing a shoulder holster. So he has a gun, at the very least.

Karl stands rigidly in the shadows of the dining room. He doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t move a muscle. He watches in silence as Antonio cranes his head out of the door to a side room, peering down the one lighted hall. After a moment, Antonio turns back to face Karl. Gesturing silently, he holds up two fingers to indicate that there are two people in the lighted room. He mouths a name that Karl knows well: “York.” Then he raises a finger to indicate one other. Mouthing “York” again, Antonio gestures to indicate that Jeff has a gun.

Karl nods. Menecrites steps up behind Antonio. It’s time to put the next part of the plan into action.

Haunted

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A Council of Shadows

We return once more to our shadowed version of Providence, a city of vampire gangsters and spectral femme fatales.--------------------------------------------------------------------

The Giovanni vampires tail the cultists for the better part of a week, Menecrites with the living, Antonio and Karl with the dead. Monday night, Antonio has them meet in his office to go over what they've learned. He knows time is pressing, but he's dealt with LeMourru often enough to be wary - - he won't rush in until he's certain he will win.

The patriarch of the family sits with his elbows on the big mahogany desk, hands laced under his chin. His eyes are distant as Nadia whispers to him. Karl arrives first, with his own wraith, Julie, trailing in his wake. He has a fist full of receipts and an expression that seesaws between bewilderment and irritation.

The eyes of the two wraiths dart fleetingly to one another – – a token acknowledgment. Simply because they're dead and working for the same people doesn't guarantee that the two ladies get along. Nadia presses herself a little closer to Antonio, clearly possessive. Julie makes a big show of yawning in a spectral pantomime of indifference. Karl shoots Julie a look, clearly not in the mood.

Menecrites bursts into the room, bringing a welcome distraction from the tension strung upon the air between the two wraiths. He's dressed smartly in a suit and tie, a matching handkerchief meticulously folded and tucked into the breast pocket of his vest. He carries a creased manila folder under one meaty arm.

"Sorry I'm late, boss. I had one last thing to check before I put everything together." He pats the document-stuffed folder with no small amount of pride.

Antonio gives Menecrites a perfunctory nod. He pushes back from the desk, stretching in his chair. "So what we got, boys?"

With a baffled air, Karl tosses his receipts onto the desk. He says, "Bees. These people are crazy about bees."

"Hunh?" Antonio responds. Abruptly, he settles forward on the chair, the rollers hitting the tile with an audible clack.

"I checked in at all the shops in town, trying to catch purchases that tied them to occult activity," Karl explains. He adjusts his hat on his brow -- Reynaldo hadn't caught him this time in order to tell him to take it off indoors. "What I found is these cultists have a thing for bee-keeping. They've cleaned the city out of related supplies."

Antonio pages through the bills of sale, squinting at the writing as if this could somehow help what he was seeing make more sense.

Menecrites shuffles a little self-consciously, muttering, "Well, you just blew anything weird I had right out of the water."

Karl shrugs helplessly. "What they're doing with the bees is anyone's guess. I don't know any occult practice I can connect with it.”

"Not just Alexander's Elder Cult and Bridge Club, then," Antonio murmurs.

"Say what now?" Menecrites sputters.

The family patriarch laughs a little at his cousin’s response. He tilts his head in Nadia's direction, forgetting that Menecrites has trouble seeing the dead. "That's what she called 'em. I guess when they're bored, they play a lot of cards. Bridge Club."

Karl makes a frustrated noise. "I have no idea what these people are up to."

With a flourish, Menecrites presents his manila folder. "Then allow me.”

Both Karl and Antonio focus curiously on him. Menecrites is fairly brimming with giddy pride. He says, “I don't got the benefit of spooky dead things for spying on people, but I do got a lot of eyes and ears on the ground.”

He opens the folder and spreads its papers in an arc in front of Antonio. The elder vampire’s brows tick up and he lifts one of the pages to read it more closely.

"This is a timeline," he murmurs with some measure of surprise.

"Yeah. It's like I'm organized or something," Menecrites says.

“Eight AM, breakfast. Nine to one, gardening. Group lunch. Indoctrination. Séance.” Antonio rattles off activities as he goes down the list. “You’ve got their whole day mapped out.”

“Their whole week,” Menecrites corrects.

“Nadia couldn’t get inside the place,” Antonio admits.

“Neither could Julie,” says Karl. “It’s warded or something.”

“Well, everybody gets a visit from the milkman and the ice man, and those guys report to me,” Menecrites explains. “I got my buddy Cicero over in the cemetery trimming the bushes, and he’s got a real nice view. Then there’s the gal at the grocer’s – those crazy blue shirts might make a lot of honey with all them bees, but they don’t grow all their food. They got people coming into town pretty much daily.”

Antonio continues reading over the papers, nodding vaguely at his cousin’s points. “This is good work, Menecrites,” he says.

“Wait,” the big half-Greek says. “It gets better. Look over on the next page, boss. Wednesdays are like cultists’ night out.” He leans over and taps a finger in the middle of the sheet. "The place is never empty, but that’s our best window. A whole bunch of ‘em go out and party at the dance houses and stuff. They don’t come back till at least midnight. Three or four stay behind, with Jeff York playing babysitter.”

“Seems like his regular job,” Karl agrees. “The only vampire Julia saw coming and going with any regularity was Jeff. No sign of LeMourru.”

“Nadia saw LeMourru once,” Antonio says darkly. “He didn’t arrive by any obvious means, just kind of showed up on the inside of the house. Surprised her.” He sets Menecrites’s meticulously lettered timetables down. Nadia lays a spectral hand on his shoulder and Antonio’s looks softens for a moment. The expression swiftly fades.

“You think he’s learned how to obfuscate?” Karl wonders.

“Nah,” Antonio counters. “That’s not his style. He loves that pretty face of his too much to hide it like that.” Pensive, he picks at a slight bend in one of the corners of the manila folder. “I bet he’s got a haven under the building or something.”

“Then we have to get in there,” Karl responds. “The wraiths can’t get past the perimeter, so we don’t have much choice in the matter.”

Menecrites noisily clears his throat, waving his hand between Karl and Antonio. “Hello,” he says. “Already thought of that. We should break in Wednesday.”

Karl’s eyes flick to Menecrites, his pale lips pressed into a disapproving line. “You said yourself the place is never empty. What do we do with the mortals? We can’t risk being exposed, and you can bet they won’t just sit around while we rifle the place.”

“Killing them is always an option,” Menecrites responds. In unison, Karl and Antonio shoot him dirty looks. “Hey,” he says, shrugging, “Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it.”

Antonio takes a breath and sighs unhappily. “Oh, I was,” he acknowledges, “And a couple years ago, I’d have been all for it. But if I know Alexander, he’s just waiting for an excuse to expose us.” He tears off the ragged corner of the folder with his nail. Sharply, he flicks it away, tracking it as it flutters to the tiles. “Nah, we gotta find a way we can raid the place that will hold up in court. You can bet he’ll try to drag us into some shit otherwise. That’s why he’s practically drowning in mortal patsies in that house.”

“If they were doing something obviously occult, I might be able to spin public opinion,” Karl offers.

“You just said their only weird thing is bee-keeping,” Antonio responds.

Karl shrugs. “I checked in with Shipton to see what kind of books they’ve picked up.”

“And…?” Antonio asks.

“Nothing.

“The Tremere could be lying,” Menecrites offers. “I mean, being a Tremere and all.”

Karl snorts. “He was lying about something. Which is why I had Julie watch the place,” he replies. “And if he’s selling them occult books, he’s doing it where those transactions can’t be observed. So, again, a brick wall.”

Antonio’s eyes have grown distant. He taps one nail against the blotter on his desk. Almost to himself, he murmurs, “Honey.”

Menecrites piques a brow at the family patriarch. “Squeeze me?” he quips.

Karl scowls at the enforcer with a look that eloquently damns Menecrites’ inability to be totally serious even at the most vexing of times. Menecrites either misses the look or ignores it – it’s an even bet. Antonio’s too immersed in his thoughts to catch any of it.

“I got an idea,” he says at length. “All that honey. They could be using it to make mead.”

“Julie didn’t see anything like that,” Karl objects.

Antonio barks a laugh. “I didn’t say they were actually brewing stuff. It don't matter. This will be the very definition of railroading. All we gotta do is plant a few casks in that house. Anything gets ugly, my police contacts can take care of the rest. We’ll be bustin’ up a bootlegging operation, after all.”

Understanding dawns across Karl’s face as he follows Antonio’s train of thought. The Doge of Providence, suddenly animated, slams his hand down on the surface of his desk in his excitement. The sound is enormous in the windowless basement office. His eyes glimmering with purpose, he says, “Menecrites – how quick can you get your hands on some honeywine?”

“Shouldn’t take much, boss.” Menecrites grins. Antonio’s excitement is infectious. “Then we hit the place Wednesday night, right?”

“Like you said, cousin,” Antonio replies, “that is the best possible time.”

Bee-Keeping

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An Honest Night's Work

It's 1929 in a version of Providence that's home to vampires, cultists, and the restless dead. A family of Italian necromancers have a choke-hold on the city, and they're looking to take down their rivals, lead by Alexander LeMourru.-------------------------------------------------

Nightfall finds Menecrites on the docks. The big man leans against a stack of weathered crates that don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon. His dark eyes luminous beneath heavy brows, he watches the ceaseless activity of the dockworkers as they load and unload the ships. It’s late, but this is a thankless job, and many of the men work well into the night.

Menecrites can hear half a dozen tongues shouted back and forth between the vessels in the busy harbor. Italian he knows, and he recognizes Polish, though he doesn’t understand anything more than the tone. Irish, Russian, Czech – and some lilting, rhythmic thing that must hail from the Caribbean, given its speaker’s exotic appearance. The world has many names for this diverse collection of people, few of them kind.

Menecrites sees them for what they are, these stevedores and roustabouts. They’re hard-working men, all trying to put food on the table through an honest night's labor. Immigrants and half-breeds, most of them can’t call any one place their own. The city doesn’t welcome them, but without their raw muscle, it would wither and die.

These are Menecrites’ people – the ones no one else will claim. He understands their struggles because he, too, stands out as someone who doesn’t properly belong. It’s not about being a vampire – that identity is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of family Giovanni, he doesn’t think of it as strange. No, Menecrites is half-Greek in a family that treasures its pure Italian bloodline. When his mother named him, she might as well have pressed a brand to his head. She bequeathed to him her dark coloring – black eyes and hair, skin less olive than brown. Maybe Antonio doesn't think that's a big deal, but all the others – especially back home – they treat the half-Greek like something they scraped off their shoe.

All Menecrites really wants from the world is some respect, but even Antonio doesn’t always manage that. It’s in the little things, like how they often talk around him in the meetings. Half they time, they only remember he’s standing there at the very end. And no one ever asks his opinion on any of the tactical decisions. The occult stuff, he understands. That’s not his bag, and he’s ok with that. Leave the spookfest to Luci and Karl. But would it kill them to ask what he thinks about the family business once in a while? Maybe thank him for some of the work he’s done? All they ever do is bitch at him when things get broke, after they gave him clear orders to go out and break them.

“They mean well,” he sighs. Though good intentions don’t mean things are changing any time soon.

He tracks the activity of a knot of workers who seem to be knocking off for the night, idly tapping the baseball bat he’d brought along against the side of his shoe. Menecrites has potence – the vampire gift of supernatural strength – so he hardly needs a baseball bat to protect himself no matter what part of town he finds himself in. But he’s learned that the bat makes a statement, and that statement is, Menecrites doesn’t fuck around. He almost never has to throw a punch when he walks around with the Louisville slugger casually balanced on one shoulder. That’s pretty handy for keeping his supernatural levels of strength discrete.

And the bat is such a regular thing that it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow among the usual gang of dockworkers. They all know Menecrites. He gives them jobs for extra cash, sneaks them a little hooch, and pals around like they’re society guys.

He falls into step with the group of roughnecks as they head away from the harbor. They chatter among themselves in accented English, crude and boisterous and unabashed. None of them stares at Menecrites like he’s out of place, though with his neatly-pressed shirt and his smart pants, he’s too well-groomed for this lot.

A couple of them greet him – they’ve seen him before. He pulls a flask from his back pocket and starts passing it around. It’s Prohibition, and good liquor is hard to find. His family regulates most of it – the stuff in the flask isn’t the usual coffin varnish these guys are used to.

“Hey, fellas,” he says at length, after pretending to take a belt from the flask himself. “I maybe got some work for you.”

“For more of that giggle water, sure,” one of them says. He’s a big guy – bigger than Menecrites himself. His skin’s so tanned and weathered from his labor outdoors, it’s impossible to tell if he started life white or brown. His features could be anything. His accent’s local. Menecrites treats him as he sees him – a man unafraid of hard work.

“I’ll do you one better,” the vampire says. He fishes in his pocket for some money. He holds up a ten dollar bill. That gets attention. The whole group stops walking and clusters around him, eyes bright as they listen.

“We don’t do breaking law,” says a squint-eyed fella with an accent so thick, he might have gotten off the boat last week.

“No worries there, buddy,” Menecrites says. “This is honest work. All you gotta do is watch.” He points two fingers at his eyes for emphasis. “There’s these people in town. You probably seen them. They dress kinda funny. Blue shirts, blue pants --”

“My sister talks about them,” says a whip-skinny man with a porkpie hat. “She works over at the grocer’s. Says they’re real strange.”

“You ain’t just whistling Dixie,” Menecrites laughs. “They’re strange as they come, and they’re up to something. You guys, you don’t gotta do nothing but keep your eyes open. You see them in town, you watch where they go. They talk to people, you see who they are. Then you tell me.”

“We could bust ‘em up for ya, Mr. Giovanni.” That comes from one of the regular guys – Cicero. His skin’s so black, it makes lanterns out of the whites of his eyes.

“Nah, Cis, we don’t need nothing like that now,” Menecrites responds. “You know I don’t make you go bustin’ kneecaps.” He grins as he shifts the bat on his shoulder. “That’s my job.”

Most of the men chuckle. They know the score. The new guy looks dubious, but he falls in step, laughing awkwardly along with the rest.

“I got a sawbuck for every guy that brings me useful information. Emphasis on the useful part,” Menecrites adds. “Don’t try to fool me – I ain’t stupid and I ain’t a charity.” The dockworkers nod and Menecrites flashes a brilliant grin – so well practiced, he manages to hide the pointy ends of his canines with his lower lip. “Play right by me and I’ll take care of ya. You know I’m good for it.”

“There gonna be trouble?” Cicero asks.

“Only for these blue-shirts who’re making trouble for us first,” Menecrites replies. “They’re into some not-so-good stuff, so don’t let them catch you. I wouldn’t want any of my boys getting hurt.”

Cicero takes off his hat and thoughtfully rubs his bald pate. He's been in Providence long enough to be worried -- not about the Giovanni, but about what must be brewing on the horizon with the blue shirts.

Menecrites sees his look, then hands off the ten-spot to Cis. “You all heading to that juice bar down the street?” Only the new guy hesitates before he nods. Menecrites’ grin widens. “Buy a couple rounds on me.”

Longshore Workers

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Her Breathless Kiss

Providence. A city of secrets, each stranger than the last. The year is 1929 and the vampire family Giovanni seek to maintain their version of order in this darkened mirror of New England, where ghosts and vampires are not the worst one can encounter in the long hours of the night.--------------------------

At the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, Antonio steps inside his office and moves aside a bookcase to access a hidden room. There’s no real mechanism involved. He’s got casters on the bottom and a rough little track, but most of the work is by main force alone. The puissant vampire physically lifts the solid mahogany bookcase out of his way, settling it back into place when he’s done. He’s glued down most of its books (who has time to read all that stuff, anyway?) and has hand-holds in the back so he can more easily shift the six-foot-tall piece of furniture from the other side.

It’s not the prettiest door to a secret passage, but it’s functional enough for Antonio. Sure, he could have had Menecrites get one of his contractors to fix a door up real nice – but then others in the family would know about the room, and the whole point’s about secret spaces.

The hidden room beyond the bookcase isn’t much – just an old broom closet. Reynaldo probably knows about it. The old ghoul originally belonged to Antonio’s sire, Scapelli, and he’s been around longer than most of the family’s full-blooded vampires – at least as far as the Providence branch is concerned. Reynaldo knows more than he lets on about pretty much everything, but over the centuries, he’s also learned to hold his tongue – a valuable quality in a family like the Giovanni.

Antonio knows he probably doesn’t have to keep this work-room a secret. It’s more for personal reasons that he does, and he’s all right with that. Antonio’s research into the family’s trade-mark skill of necromancy is something he likes being private about. Not too long ago, Antonio could barely whistle up a shade, let alone bind a ghost. A dirty little secret – and one engineered by his scheming sire, Scapelli.

Scapelli had manipulated Antonio’s heritage over generations of family Giovanni’s living relatives, forcing marriages and cross-pairings the way other men might breed prized hounds. Some he brought across as vampires, others he kept as breeding stock, using each and every one of them to forward his own inscrutable aims.

Scapelli felt he’d gotten a real prize with Antonio – the Giovanni was a remorseless killing machine, strategic, efficient, and brutally strong. But the old bastard hadn’t wanted brains in his lapdog, so he’d done his damnedest to keep his protégé stunted in all other arenas, the better to rule through Antonio as the power behind the throne.

Except Scapelli erred in cultivating Antonio’s hard-headed pride. No one makes a fool of Antonio Giovanni and lives to brag about it – not even the elder vampire who’d pruned their twisted branch of the family tree since the time of the Medicis. Antonio made sure that Scapelli was good and dead. He didn’t do the deed himself – blood-bound to Scapelli, he couldn’t have no matter how much he wanted to – but when an opportunity for freedom arose, Antonio did what Scapelli had groomed him always to do: he seized it, and he never looked back.

Now free of the old patriarch’s corrupt influence, Antonio does his damnedest to be the vampire the family needs to rule the city of Providence – not merely a cold-blooded killer (though there’s surely a place for that), but someone with skills on all fronts and a head for politics that would have put Machiavelli to shame.

Antonio strikes a match against the wall and lights one of the candles on a nearby shelf. He doesn’t need much light, and the room is small. One candle is more than enough.

There’s an old steamer trunk pushed up against one wall with a piece of silk cloth draped over its pitted surface – nothing so formal as an altar, simply a workspace, a little prettied up. There’s a ritual dagger and a chalice for offerings of blood. But the thing he’s interested in is a woman’s brooch. Silver, slightly tarnished, with one leaf bent, it’s a single, delicate rose. It serves as a fetter for Antonio’s favored wraith.

Nadia.

The spirit is as enamored with the taciturn Giovanni as he is with her. A woman who, in life, fell victim to her own father’s ceaseless rage, Nadia sees Antonio not as her oppressor, but as her savior. He'd freed her from the place where she’d known only suffering and grief, hunting down her father and making him pay.

The hard-headed Doge of Providence spent weeks secretly frequenting the site of Nadia’s murder, struggling to pierce the Veil so they could speak. He hadn’t planned on anything more than using her. That’s what the family did with most wraiths – summoned them, bound them, compelled them to serve. But once he got the hang of communicating, Antonio found himself growing fond of Nadia. Now a bond lingers between them, the unliving and the dead. The wraith is not a servitor, but a friend.

She is also the only woman Antonio feels that he can love without remorse. He’s a brutal man, and he knows it. With his volatile temper and his violent way of life, he’s left behind a bloody swath of people he’s tried to hold close. He has a marriage of convenience to a mortal woman arranged at childhood by Scapelli – and while the hardened former hit-man sometimes wishes he could love his wife, the best he can do most nights is keep her safe from harm.

But Nadia – Nadia is already dead. She’s lived through the worst life had to offer and come out the other side. More than that, she sees Antonio for exactly what he is – and it has never made her flinch.

Antonio takes up her rose, running his thick, blunt thumb along the delicate filigree of its stem. A thing of beauty, fragile and precious. A symbol of all the things which – beyond the walls of this secret room – Antonio is denied.

He’s too practical to brood on it for long. Every moment he delays, Alexander builds his power and the cultists do who-knows-what in the Old Whately place. There’s work to be done, and the dawn doesn’t wait.

“Nadia,” he calls to the air as he cradles the rose in his palm. “I got work for you, doll.”

Almost instantly, she fades into view. She wears the memory of a flattering knee-length dress, her shapely legs crossed primly as she sits upon the trunk. Death has leached most of the color from the fabric and from her skin, but hints of auburn cling to the carefully dressed waves of her hair.

“Whatcha want, tough guy?” Her voice is all syrup and honey upon the air.

Antonio wastes a moment just looking at her. Nadia’s a real swanky gal, built like a starlet. It's a shame her father robbed the world of her light.

“I got some trouble with that pinko Toreador, LeMourru,” Antonio says. “He’s holed up in the old Whately murder house, gathering power before he makes another move. I need eyes on his people so we know the score before we bust the place up.”

“You know I’m always up for a favor for you.” She drifts from the trunk, circling behind him in the small room. He feels her presence near his shoulder like the promise of a touch.

“He’s got a gang of cultists – mortals. Probably ghouled. I want to know what they eat, where they sleep, and when they take a dump. There’s a couple of vampires in there, too, more than just LeMourru. Jeff York, for one. I need descriptions. Names.”

Spectral fingers trail idly through his hair as she listens. Softly, she murmurs, “York. I remember that one. He can see me."

Antonio nods. He reaches a hand up to her hand. They can’t touch exactly, but her fingers press against his just this side of connecting. He says, “And LeMourru, you remember -- that guy’s dangerous. He’s got that oblivion power, nihilism. He can hurt you.”

“He’s hard to look at,” she admits, shifting to his other shoulder. Her voice is a breathless whisper against his ear. “Swirling darkness. Hungry void. I won’t forget what’s attached to him.”

Antonio closes his eyes. At the same time, he curls his fingers tightly around her tarnished silver rose. For a moment, he allows himself to dream of a different life. A life where he doesn’t have to wage campaigns of terror and bloodshed for the sake of the Family. A life where Nadia is still a breathing woman of flesh and blood. A life where his own existence isn’t one circumscribed by endless, violent nights.

Nadia clings to Antonio’s arm. He doesn’t realize how tightly his shoulders have tensed. But she notices. She knows his moods. He takes a breath – he doesn’t have to, except to speak – and exhales slowly. He lets the fantasy life that can never be drift from him like smoke.

“You spy on ‘em, Nadia, but the minute you see LeMourru, you beat feet, you hear me?” he says. “I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

With slow reverence, he places her fetter back in its position upon the trunk. The candle gutters and in its dancing shadows, Nadia leans close and presses spectral lips against his cheek. Her kiss is lighter than cobwebs, but it lingers like the burn of a brand. When she retreats, the stuffy little broom closet feels vast and empty as the yawning maw of hell.

Nadia

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Providence: Forbidden Books

The year is 1929 and the city is Providence -- but this is our world through a glass darkly, a place where magic and monsters hold sway in the night and the visions of Lovecraft are not portents of madness, but searing and horrible truths. ---------------------

Forbidden Books

The next night, Karl checks in at Shipton’s Books. A string of little brass bells hanging near the door tinklingly announces his arrival. Travis Shipton, the local purveyor of rare and magical tomes, fusses behind a long, wooden counter. When he sees the dour necromancer, the rail-thin thaumaturge grows as pale as the ruffled bit of lace at his throat.

“Ah, um, Karl. It is Karl, isn’t it?” Shipton asks, his words clipped with a dated British accent. The book vendor straightens his brocade waistcoat. Born some time in the middle seventeen hundreds, the city’s lone Tremere had never adapted to modern fashion.

“Cut the crap, Shipton. You know who I am,” Karl responds. His wraith, Julie, makes a face at him, but her antics serve only to annoy. Karl waves her off. The anachronistic Tremere is oblivious to her presence, and just as well.

Shipton purses his thin lips. “I haven’t done anything,” he says, with the air of someone fearful of being caught.

“Well, if you’ve got nothing to hide, then you won’t mind giving me a little information,” Karl prods.

Shipton maneuvers slightly so a large stack of books sits between them on the counter. He eyes the Giovanni necromancer warily, the briny blue of his irises glimmering with a faint sheen of power. Karl scowls when he sees it.

“You don’t need to use Auspex to see if I’m lying,” Karl barks. “Play nice and I’ll be out of here quickly.” He slams a list of names down onto the counter. Shipton jumps back as if expecting the list to explode like a pipe bomb. Karl says, “I want you to tell me what books any of these people bought in the past month. See? Simple.”

Shipton takes the list gingerly, pulling an old pair of pince-nez from his vest pocket and perching them on his nose. He squints at Karl’s handwriting, which wasn’t amazing on the best of days, and he’d written the list in a hurry.

“Ah, yes,” Shipton says, tapping a particular name. “I know this group. My ghoul Liza calls them the Blue Shirts. That’s all they wear, you see. Blue shirt, navy slacks for the gentlemen. Blue shirt, long navy skirt for the ladies. There’s been rather a lot of them of late.”

“I know,” Karl growls with more ferocity than is strictly necessary. Shipton nearly drops the list.

“You don’t have to be so cross with me. I’m not your enemy,” the Tremere objects.

“Yeah? You’re not my friend, either,” Karl retorts. “You’re selling books to these people, and they’re causing trouble for my family in this city.”

Shipton takes off his ridiculous antique spectacles, tapping them absently against the creased bit of paper. His eyes dart around the over-laden shelves that reach to the rafters, searching for something. He frowns, saying, “This book store existed before your family came to this town, and I have no intention of shutting my doors for the convenience of a few short-tempered Italians.”

Karl starts to hurl an excoriating response at the old Tremere, but Shipton stands his ground for once. No power is exchanged between them, but something in Travis’s eyes gives Karl pause.

Snippily, the Tremere says, “Before you threaten to tear off my head with your customary brutish zeal, let me remind you that I’ve been nothing but helpful to you and your people when events in this city have gotten … ” Shipton falters in his search for a fitting word, finally uttering, "Complicated." He tosses the list back onto the counter, making no effort to hide his irritation. “And none of these people have bought anything I would class as a dangerous book. I’d have mentioned something to Luciano at the Occult Council if they had.”

Karl glares at Shipton, balling his fists so tight the leather of his gloves creaks in protest. Shipton knows better than to stare back directly into Beck’s eyes, but he squares his shoulders and gives a haughty little lift to his cleft chin as he fixes his eyes unwavering at a point to the left of Karl's head. Beside her master, Julie the wraith whispers soothingly. She doesn’t see anything amiss in the store.

“If anything changes, you tell me,” Karl says at length.

“Not Luciano?” Shipton inquires.

“Cousin Luci is not to be bothered. You come to me,” Karl reiterates, drilling his meaning into each individual word. “We clear, Shipton?”

“As a gypsy’s glass,” Shipton says with a disdainful sniff. “Now buy something or get out. This is a place of business, after all.”

Karl leaves, slamming the door behind him so hard, the little string of brass bells crashes noisily to the floor.

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Antiquarian Books

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Providence: A Family Affair

We return to the world of In Providentia, set in a fictional version of Providence, Rhode Island that blends elements of Lovecraft's New England and Vampire: the Masquerade's World of Darkness. The year is 1929, and the Giovanni necromancer Karl Beck has been sent to investigate the history of an ill-fated house that is now headquarters to his family's rivals, Clan Toreador. ----------------------

Fratello Brothers Funeral Home Funeral Home

Karl slips from the city archives where he’s been doing research all night. It’s nearly four in the morning. He’s got a little dark left. He heads back to the Fratello Brothers Funeral Home, where he’s sure to find Antonio and the others at this time of night.

Sure enough, the head of the family is meeting with his right-hand man, Menecrites, while Grandpa Reynaldo tidies things up for the night. Karl nods to the old family ghoul as he enters, taking off his fedora and hanging it on a nearby coat-rack when Reynaldo frowns and reminds him of his manners. Karl waits on the bench outside Antonio's office as the Doge of Providence -- Antonio preferred that title to the Camarilla standard of "Prince" -- finishes up with his enforcer.

Once they're done, Karl steps in and plops the old newspaper clippings onto the broad cherrywood desk Antonio keeps in his windowless basement office. Menecrites leans against the doorjamb, his thick, muscled arms folded negligently across his chest. Antonio’s a big man himself, and while he sits in an expensive suit behind the desk, Karl knows the elder Giovanni’s veneer of humanity is a thin one. Karl’s never been one to be afraid – not even of the family’s powerful patriarch, but he’s wise enough to be cautious. Especially when bearing news that Antonio could construe as bad.

“I've been looking into the Whately Mansion,” Karl begins.

Antonio nods smartly, indicating that Karl take a seat in one of the leather chairs arranged in front of his desk. “Go on.”

“Well, I've found some things that are … interesting,” Karl hedges.

He could practically feel Menecrite’s eyebrow climb at this, even though his back was to the enforcer. Antonio says nothing, just sits still as a corpse, his dark eyes gleaming attentively in his sallow face.

Clearing his throat, Karl goes on. “Back before I met any of you I visited this place with my old occult group. The place was supposedly haunted but it was also supposed to contain some sort of lost treasure. All we ended up finding was a very angry wraith of Old Man Whately who scared off the person I was with by nearly breaking his jaw. Needless to say we didn't look around too much and we left.

I never thought about the place again until we found Le Mourru there, and since then I have done some digging. It turns out about 50 years ago Old Man Whately butchered several people in his home. He then performed taxidermy on them and arranged them throughout the house as if they were guests or residents. This guy even killed an eleven year old boy named Kevin Blackwell, and then proceeded to hang him from the rafters, complete with a set of angel wings he constructed from different things including human bones. Whately was never found but he was pronounced dead and since I saw his wraith, I would say that is correct.

Now I am telling you this for a few reasons. The first is that my old associate Jeff York has a wraith of a little boy and I am guessing that the boy is probably Kevin Blackwell. If York doesn't know what's going on, Kevin might. Secondly, Le Mourru picked this place for a reason, and when this is all said and done we need to find out why. It could be the wraiths, Whately was quite powerful, but I doubt that. There has to be something there, whether it was a treasure of gold or something mystical that attracted Le Mourru. My guess is the second one.”

Still, silence from Antonio. Menecrites shifts in his post at the door, the only thing giving him away the subtle whisper of the starched collar on his shirt.

“All I am asking here is that we don't blow up or bulldoze this place until we figure out what is so special about it,” Karl concludes, sparing a glance for the enforcer. Menecrites hadn't encountered a problem yet that he thought couldn't be solved with a wrecking ball.

Antonio tents his fingers, leaning back in his chair far enough that the springs creak.

“Very well,” the patriarch says. “We won't destroy this location until we know more. After all, it could be worth something. As for York's wraith; how is he controlling it? Has he picked up necromancy somehow? We can’t allow that.” Antonio’s scowl made his dark eyes glitter. “The guy’s a natural medium right? Maybe the wraith wants something, maybe we can give it to it. If it really is this murdered kid, that might be how we can learn what’s up with the location.”

Menecrites moves to stand behind Antonio and a little to his left. The big man looks down at the clipped articles, brow furrowing as he reads.

Pensive, Antonio taps the edge of one nail against the wooden surface of his desk. “We also need to know what influences control this site. I will use my contacts in local business to run a deed search, pull a few strings in bureaucracy to get my hands on the deed itself, then I’ll get my police contacts to dig up the file on the murders. Karl and Luci can use that to gain information on the wraiths, maybe figure out a few of their fetters. If we’re lucky, there’s some old evidence somewhere in the back of the courthouse that the police can pull. One or two things there might be useful.”

He turns to Menecrites and says, “You tap into your contacts, too, and see who controls this site.” Menecrites nods, making notes of some of the names. Antonio turns back to Karl. “You did good tonight, Karl. We’ll get these bastards and run Alexander out on a rail. Or maybe I’ll just run one through him.”

A chilling smile curls the elder Giovanni’s pale lips.

Take me to the next chapter

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The House of Death

The year is 1929. The city is Lovecraft's Providence, set in a fictional version of New England where magic is real and vampires roam the night. Some of those vampires belong to the family Giovanni, a clan of necromancers who have held control over the city of Providence for many years. The Giovanni's power in Providence was recently challenged by an elder Toreador, Alexander. Although Antonio and his boys got Clan Toreador to back down, shaming them publicly, Alexander and his minions have taken up residence in what was once an abandoned house, infamous for a string of grisly murders. With death such an integral part of the family business, the local Giovanni are investigating Alexander's involvement with this ill-favored residence because they know he is planning something -- the only question is what. The first member of the family sent to investigate is Karl Beck, a master necromancer related by blood, if not by birth. -----------

The Whately House

Something has been bugging you, Karl, about the old mansion the Toreador seem to be using as their home base. It nagged at you so bad, you decided to do a little research on the place. When you saw the old newspaper article in the archives of the Voice of Providence, it hit you why this place seemed so familiar. You had been there on a dare when you were just getting involved with your group of human occultists.

Jack was the one who told you about the place. He'd heard rumors that it was haunted and that the ghost of Old Man Whately was always searching for his lost treasure. Whately had been the eldest of the Whately siblings. He was a cantankerous sort, never married, and he had a reputation for dabbling in unwholesome activities. He lived and died in the house in the 1870s. Or, at least, everyone believed that he died there and, although his body was never found, the presence of his ghost seems to argue against any earthly survival.

At the time that Jack led you to sneak up on the house at night, you didn't know all the details of why the Whately place was reputed to be haunted. Jack's story about the haunting was garbled at best, and as far as you could tell, the self-appointed leader of your rag-tag group of black magicians was scoping the place out mostly to see whether or not there were any items in the house worth stealing. You half suspect that he dragged you along because he was actually afraid of the threat of the ghost.

Your little venture into breaking & entering (does it count, really? by then, the house had stood abandoned for nearly twenty years) didn't end in either of you getting rich by discovering Old Man Whately's hidden treasure. It did, however, prove to you that you had an innate ability to perceive spirits. Because you saw the angry old specter long before the wailing image of Whately hauled off and clocked Jack squarely in the jaw. It was a night of firsts for you: you had one of your first legitimate encounters with a spirit, witnessed by another person, and you encountered a spirit that could reach across the Veil and wallop a living being.

Jack was scared shitless. You were actually pretty excited. The specter took great offense to the fact that Jack had vandalized the back door in an attempt to gain entrance to the abandoned house. He didn't seem to care much about you -- but then, you hadn't busted his back door down. Jack was so freaked by the whole experience that he barely made it five feet into the old mansion before he ran like a scared little girl. You stayed behind, cautiously, and explored a little, but all you found was a dusty, run-down, abandoned house. There were signs that the place had looked impressive in its day, but by the time you & Jack got in there, there was really nothing to see. You do remember finding a door that probably went to the basement. This door was locked and, given the outburst the spirit had accomplished when Jack forced the backdoor, you didn't think it would be in your best interests to force this door either. It seemed thoroughly stuck from the other side anyway, so you called off your explorations and tried to find where Jack had run off to in his blind panic.

The newspaper article you found recently sheds a little more light on the mansion and its tale than you knew back then when you and your old gang dabbled in breaking and entering:

The Voice of Providence Saturday, April 15, 1900 Evening Edition

(continued from page 2)

Deputy Roderick Kemp made the grisly discovery on a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1875. The corpses included the body of Detective Solomon Godwin, 35, Arnold Powell, a drifter, and young Kevin Blackwell, an eleven-year-old-boy who had been missing since March of that year. The Whately mansion as it stands today.























Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence coroner, worked hard to identify the remains of the other bodies, however, in most cases, decomposition was so advanced that identification was impossible. In all, the remains of at least fifteen individuals were discovered in the home, which, by all appearances, had been abandoned for at least two weeks. No sign of Whately himself was ever found, although it was the opinion of the Providence police that Whately was dead.

Since the house became the scene of one of the most dreadful murder cases Providence has ever seen, it has stood abandoned on its lot not far from the Kirkwood Cemetery. Many tales have grown up around the house, including a persistent rumor that Old Man Whately haunts the property, protecting his hidden gold. The rumor of hidden treasure associated with the house came about from the fact that Whately, the eldest of five siblings, was the sole inheritor of the Whately fortune. Despite this, Whately lived a relatively simple live, remaining in the seclusion of his home and coming into town only to buy supplies every two or three weeks. On these occasions, he was often observed wearing the same patched and soiled set of clothes, with wild, unkempt hair and beard. To all appearances, he lived in poverty, which of course begged the question of what happened to the family fortune.

In twenty-five years, the mystery has never been solved, but it has become a rite of passage for some of the daring young men of Providence to invade the abandoned home, particularly on nights of the full moon, to dare the specter of Wheatley to manifest and drive them from his house of horrors.

--------------------------------------------

Further research led you to a longer recounting of what was discovered in the house, from the memoirs of Deputy Kemp:

Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp

Chapter Five: The Whately Place

Now, this was an investigation that I was involved in back in 1875. It’s twenty-five years after the fact, and I will carry the details of this investigation to my grave. In all my days working in law enforcement, I never saw anything so awful, and I thank God every day that I never encountered anything like it since. Some nights, I still wake up seeing scenes from the inside of that house. I knew Thomas Whately. Not real good, but I had seen him now and again, growing up. I don’t know how a man can become such a monster, but Thomas Whately was a kind of evil that should never walk the earth.

Well, you’re not all reading this to listen to me proselytize about man’s inhumanity to man or to conjecture about the metaphysical nature of evil. No, you want the details. So here goes.

Everyone knew that Old Man Whately was up to no good. But since he kept to himself and rarely went out of his house, no one bothered to really call him on it. There were a couple of incidents involving missing persons that a detective Godwin tried to trace back to the Whately house, but his investigations went nowhere. And then Godwin himself went missing, and no one seemed brave enough to suggest that maybe this disappearance was also tied to Whately. Godwin was a good man, and a few of us on the Providence force, we kept niggling at the case, trying to get someone to do some honest-to-goodness investigation into the issue. But nothing ever went forward. Maybe he paid people off. I don’t know, and I don’t care to think about it now. Whatever it was, no one was ever brave enough to confront Whately directly.

In the end, Whately's true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Whately himself mysteriously disappeared. And, eventually, the stench coming from his abandoned house became too much for the neighbors, even though there was a good amount of space between them & the Whately house.

A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Whately at his property. He found that the front door was sagging open and a terrible stench wafted out on the summer air. The buzzing of flies was audible through that open door, so loud that the deputy at first thought some kind of machine was on inside the house, running. There were no lights on in the old house, and most of the windows were covered over with heavy cloth. Most of this cloth was nailed directly into the walls around the windows. When the deputy yanked the first of these makeshift window covers off to let in some afternoon sunshine through the streaked and yellowed glass, he found himself staring at the most macabre scene he had ever witnessed. Shortly after that, he was just staring at the gravel on Whately's driveway, as the poor deputy knelt, hunched over, puking his guts out. Of course, by now, you all know that reluctant deputy was me, Roderick Kemp, though back then everyone called me Roddy. I thought the smell was the worst thing I’d ever been exposed to, but that was before I cleared off the windows and got a good look at what was causing that smell. Hell could never look so grim as that house on that June afternoon.

Inside the parlour, arranged in chairs as if they were just over for tea, were three corpses. They were well-preserved -- almost mummified. One of them was the missing detective. One of them was Arnold Powell, a drifter. One was a woman, never identified.

Five more corpses, similarly preserved and staged throughout the house were discovered. The most unsettling of these was the corpse of Kevin Blackwell, a young boy eleven years of age. He was in that attic. Whately (it could only have been Whately) had strung the boy from the rafters. He had also painstakingly fashioned wings for the child, cobbling them together with the bones and feathers of several birds, as well as a few bones from a human -- never identified -- who left no other remains in the house.

The stench of rot came from the basement. Whately's most recent victims were in a jumble down there. Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence Coroner at the time, identified the parts of at least seven bodies in the festering abattoir that lay beneath the rickety wooden stairs. A bathtub with saws and other implements as well as a worktable with needle, thread, and some taxidermy equipment, suggested that Whately had been planning to put these corpses together in much the same fashion as the others -- only he seems to have been interrupted.

No sign of Whately himself was ever discovered. He must have been dead. I made a thorough search of the house – and I’m not too proud to admit that I had to make that search in pieces, as I had to vacate the premises on more than one occasion to vomit in the yard. After a while, I wasn’t even bringing anything up, but that didn’t stop the smell and the horror of it all from getting to me. Like I said at the outset, I never saw anything like it in all of my years, and I am happy to have never encountered anything so terrible ever again. We never did figure out who all of those body parts in the basement belonged to. Frost, the coroner at the time, he did his best, working late nights to piece the bodies together. But even he had to admit defeat, and Frost was a smart man. Scary smart, though some called him crazy. I think that was just because he preferred to always work at night and he spent so many long hours locked away with the corpses. But my insights on Dr. Jacob Frost – well, that’s all material for another chapter.

Take me to the next chapter

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Gamer Tales

As many of you know, I've been a gamer since about the time I could roll dice. I was in fourth grade when my remarkably progressive public school introduced us to Dungeons & Dragons, encouraging my gifted class to play the game as the perfect union of math and creativity (if you remember how to calculate old school ThAC0, then you definitely remember the math part!). D&D was set in worlds inspired by the fiction of Tolkien and other fantasy greats and while I enjoy high fantasy well enough, I didn't find a game world that really gripped me till Vampire: The Masquerade came along in 1991. They had me at vampires, but the World of Darkness against which White Wolf's storytelling system played out was what really seized my imagination. Set in a modern world a step off from our own where magic and monsters existed in the shadows, the V:tM world had all the grit of Film Noir wrapped up in the syrupy decadence of the fin de siecle art. It was Urban Fantasy before the genre existed. I loved it, especially because the White Wolf gaming system placed more emphasis on the story and the characters than it did on the stats and the dice. It provided a fertile platform with which to weave tales and watch characters come to life.

When the V:tM system took the leap from table-top gaming, where 3-6 players met up in someone's dining room or basement and whiled away the night engaging in a shared story, to LARP, or Live Action Role Playing I had found my niche. Live action was where role-playing games met improvisational theater and collided into something amazing. Costuming, make-up, physical props all could be brought to bear. A simple rule structure governed the magic and powers that were still an integral and interesting part of the game world, but the real strength of a character in a LARP came down to how well you could embody that character.

And for the role-playing naysayers, no, I don't mean that we ran around nightly believing we had turned into our characters. I mean we learned to act. LARPs got gamer geeks like me -- bookish, introverted, and often socially awkward -- out of the basement and into a social life. And I say without regret or apology that everything I learned about public speaking, I learned through playing Vampire: the Masquerade. Yes, it was make-believe, but it was great practice for interacting in groups, learning to spot social manipulations, and comprehending the real power of the spoken word.

And, for a writer, the LARP allowed for a very special experience: creating a story and characters that then came to life right before your eyes. I loved it -- and for many years, LARPs were my medium. I wrote massive multiplayer games for conventions like Origins and GenCon, weaving stories that could sustain nearly non-stop play over periods of three to four days. It wasn't uncommon to have 150+ players in those games, and every one of them had a pre-generated character with a backstory that was a short story all by itself, each of them interlocking so the whole thing was one gigantic, living web of plot.

If I have any regret at all from the years between 1995 and 2000 when my LARP writing peaked, it's that all those stories are nearly impossible to share outside of the medium of the LARP itself. The world I'd created for my chronicle -- the Vampire: the Masquerade term for an ongoing gaming story -- was a rich and unique creation were White Wolf's World of Darkness intersected with Lovecraft's Providence -- with a healthy dose of gangbusters for some wild fun. Set in the 1920s, my fictional version of Providence was a confluence of the weird, with each layer of the city's history peeling back to reveal increasingly bizarre twists. I've still got maps, volumes of the town newspaper I wrote up to pass out for each game, lists and descriptions of businesses, a Who's Who among the town, and meticulously outlined house rules -- reams of supplemental material that grew with each event, indelibly shaped by the choices and actions of the players once they had their characters in their hands.

I've dragged all of you on this rather long ramble about my gaming glory days because I have found on my hard drive something that I can share that captures some of the richness and intensity of this method of storytelling. Sure, I've got skads and skads of those character histories, never mind all the supplemental gaming material -- but those are merely pieces and, if taken in stasis, they do not reveal even an intimation of the whole. To appreciate why this method of storytelling so ignited my imagination, you'd have to see the story as it played out. And almost all of the stories from Providence were like one of those great Tibetan sand mandalas -- something seen while created, appreciated in its fullness for a moment, and then gone.

Except ... in 2009 I did a Providence reunion at an Oberlin college gaming event. And because many of my core characters were played by close friends with whom I have never lost contact, we needed -- for the sake of the story -- to tie up a few loose ends from the game in 2000 when I quit running the big games to focus on more traditional writing.

And because we were far-flung at the time, that particular installment of the Providence storyline did not take place in real-time out in the world. It took place through an exchange of emails, and once I had each player's action for a turn, I compiled everything and wrote the story.

It's still here on my hard drive, all 20k words of it or so. I'd given some thought to editing it into a stand-alone novella, removing the gamespeak, tweaking the tense (it's all in present tense, to capture the real-time feel of the action associated with LARPs). But that was harder than it sounded. And many elements of the Providence story make little sense when removed from the Vampire: the Masquerade setting -- especially my favorite clan of vampires from that game, the necromancer family Giovanni.

But I have a feeling at least some of you will appreciate getting a taste of this favored outlet for my creativity. So, at the risk of confusing a few readers with the gaming jargon that is a necessary part of the tale, I invite you all to come on a little ride with me and meet a few old friends -- Antonio, Menecrites, and Karl, Giovanni all, if not by birth, certainly by blood.

To be continued ...

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Resurrection

I ran a Vampire: the Masquerade LARP set in the Providence of H.P. Lovecraft for many years. Called In Providentia, the chronicle was the primary focus of my creative fiction from college right up until the first publication of the Psychic Vampire Codex. I still miss those days where I wrote for the sheer fun of the story, watching the characters come to life through the acting talents of my closest friends. In return, they would get full, personalized tales, like the one reprinted here. This scene takes place between the long-standing character of Luciano Giovanni and his sire. I think this piece dates to 1998 or so. Resurrection

Luci’s head began to clear as the soul-rending scream reverberating through the Skinlands and the Shadowlands subsided. In its place was a low mewling barely audible even to Luci’s keen vampire senses.

Shakily, the master necromancer rose to his feet, trying to focus his awareness upon the room around him. Before him on the floor lay Dominick, naked. The blood and bones of the circle were scattered and all the candles had been snuffed. Dominick curled in the midst of it, huddled a tight little ball, trembling like a newborn. The mewling sound was coming from him.

“Dominick?” Luci asked, his voice seeming harsh in the hushed aftermath of the ritual.

Dominick didn’t immediately respond. Luci wasn’t even certain that his sire could hear him.

Gingerly, Luci moved toward Dominick, reaching out to touch him. He must touch him. Three years have passed since he saw his sire destroyed. All those long years of struggle, searching for a way to bring him back. One touch to prove it was no illusion.

At the merest brush of Luci’s fingertips, Dominick convulsed. Startled, the master necromancer stumbled back, a cry nearly escaping his lips. If his heart had been beating, it surely would have stopped in that moment. Everything he’d seen, everything he’d done, and still Luci felt both amazed and terrified by what lay before him.

Dominick raised his head, his face a rictus of pain. He drew a huge, shaking breath – surely nothing more than an instinctive response, because even before his destruction, Dominick’s lungs had not demanded air in nearly two hundred years.

Luci hung hesitantly back, uncertain how or even if he could help his sire. As he watched, Dominick slowly tried to get to his knees. Every motion was agonized and ungainly, as if the elder vampire’s muscles no longer remembered how to move.

“Dominick?” Luci asked, finding his voice once more. “Are you ok?”

Forcing himself to his hands and knees, Dominick raised his head, opening his eyes for the first time since his resurrection. With a voice like the rattle of dry November leaves, he rasped, “Do I look ok?”

Luci couldn’t respond. He was lost in those eyes. They were every bit as unnerving as Dominick’s voice. Once a dark, rich brown indicative of his Italian heritage, it was as if death had washed their color away.

Dominick took another breath, shuddering. “Get me some clothes, Luci.”

The voice was not so dry this time, nor so strained. Still full of gravel and phlegm, it still held hints of the fluid, cultured tone from Luci’s memories.

“Clothes, right,” Luci managed. How had he overlooked such a simple necessity? But perhaps he had not believed that it would work, even after all the effort and research he had invested in the rite.

After a moment’s hesitation, Luci turned to search the store rooms not far from his lab. There had to be something appropriate. As he headed down the hall, he found himself haunted by those strange, pale eyes. Had he done the right thing? Dominick’s death had been unfair, a wrong to be righted. Finding a way to restore the elder vampire had consumed Luci for many years. But now … was it a triumph or an abomination that Luci had magicked up in the other room?

There were always several changes of clothes for everyone in storage down here. In the Giovanni line of business, there was no predicting when something would go wrong and someone would need a suit free of bullet holes and blood stains. Luci went automatically to the closet that used to hold Dominick’s effects. Most of the shirts and pants hanging up now were tailored for Antonio, who had replaced Dominick as the head of operations in the Providence branch of the family. After some digging, however, Luci managed to find a few items more suited to Dominick’s leaner frame. There was even a pair of old leather shoes. They were a bit scuffed, but they would do.

Feeling suddenly awkward, Luci knocked on the door to his own lab before walking back in. Dominick didn’t answer, so Luci just went in, then stopped in the doorway, the pile of clothes clutched to his broad chest as he looked around for his recently resurrected sire.

Dominick had dragged himself from the circle and now knelt in the shadow of Luci’s massive oak desk. He hugged himself, shivering as if in the grips of a terrible chill.

Wordlessly, Luci went to his sire’s side, holding out the neatly folded clothes. Dominick’s head whipped around and he locked eyes with Luci. Once again, the master necromancer found himself nearly drowning in those strangely pale orbs.

For years, he had prayed to have his sire returned to him. Dominick had been his friend, his mentor, his constant companion through the long nights of undeath. With unwavering courage, Luci had delved into the darkest corners of his art, tirelessly seeking a method to restore the other vampire to some semblance of life. Pouring through endless numbers of dusty scrolls and forbidden texts, Luci believed that he finally knew enough to accomplish the impossible. But now, staring into those colorless eyes, he realized he had known nothing at all.

“Let me help you, Dominick,” he said gently, then stooped and tried not to think too hard about dressing his naked sire.

Dominick twitched and gasped at each little touch, biting back a cry as the fabric of the shirt settled across his shoulders. It was as if he felt nothing but pain. A little guiltily, Luci wished that Reynaldo was there. The aged revenant had dressed each and every one of them at one time. It was hard to imagine Dominick, who had been a vampire longer than Luci had been alive, even Dominick a small, naked child in Reynaldo’s arms.

Some truths about the family were too strange to contemplate for very long.

Finally, dressed and a bit more coherent, Dominick stood with Luci’s aid. His legs were still trembling and uncertain and the ground beneath his feet felt ungodly strange.

“I should take you back to meet the others,” Luci managed to say, guiding his sire forward as the other man leaned heavily against him. It was strange to realize how small Dominick was. At this point, Luci was used to the burly bulk of Antonio and Menecrites. Even Karl, from such a distant Giovanni line, stood like a mountain. Yet Dominick had more of Reynaldo’s lean frame, almost effete.

They walked together unsteadily down the hall, the sire relying each step upon the childe. And then they were out in the night, the autumn leaves skirling about them. Dominick gritted his teeth against the feel of even the wind upon his risen flesh. Everything was pain – but at least he was alive again, after a fashion.

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The Wine of Lethe

I have an alter-ego in an on-going RPG who - among other things - runs a tavern. A growing body of fiction has developed from this character's interactions in his fictional, shared world, and I've found it refreshing to write pieces that must answer to nothing but the character, nothing but the sheer joy of telling a tale. Here is one from a late-night tavern encounter. The Wine of Lethe

She comes in late each night, battle-scars standing stark against her dark skin. Her name is Selvia, and I've never asked what she does or what company she associates with - if any. I suspect that her calling is much like that of my own crew -- and thus I know it is best not to ask. Besides, when they come into the Badger, they don't always come to talk business. Most come to forget the murder and bloodshed that is rife in the world.

Last night, she came to forget.

Her face was uncommonly grim. She's a proud woman, this Selvia, and she rarely carries herself with any sign of defeat. But you could see the burden of some loss in every line of her form as she approached the bar and asked for the strongest drink I had.

I've seen her drink. I knew not to bother with a glass. I handed her a bottle and let her try to drown whatever sorrows held her heavy heart.

Another came in and approached her. They spoke of what had to have been a job. A necessary killing - or at least one that was ordered. And Selvia, though she spoke little of the actual circumstances and gave no details away, made it clear that when she is given orders, she follows them.

No matter who that means she is asked to kill.

She went through two bottles of hard drink, as did her friend. I tried not to listen as they discussed in a circumspect fashion the incident that had leveled Selvia's mood to such a desperate state. When they left -- with a paladin of questionable intent hot on their heels -- the two women could barely stand.

I wanted to ask. But I knew better. And I had other customers.

She came in later, when the only other person -- beyond myself -- was a quiet woman intent on a hot meal before she made the final few steps of her journey home to her own bed.

Selvia -- still wobbling from her indulgences earlier -- asked again for the strongest I had. A glass this time. Even she didn't trust herself with a whole bottle -- and she probably knew at this point it would do little to dull the pain.

So I offered her the Wine of Lethe. This is not on the menu. It is not casually left in the cabinets under the bar. I keep the few bottles I have under lock and key. They are rare and precious, and what I have to go through to retrieve them is better left unsaid. I don't brew the drink myself - I've seen it done, long ago, and in this suspicious age, I know better than to dirty my hands with such a process. Better to use my memories to guide me to where a bottle might be hidden away after all these years.

But I digress. The wine is a vintage of no ordinary fruit. It is a product of magic - dark and complex. The bottle itself requires a rite to construct and more shadestone than is healthy for normal people to be around. And the fluid inside - murky, thick and with an oily sheen - is not something you drink for the taste.

The bouquet is like an abandoned field after harvest, when the last ears of corn rot on the stalks. It is like a late autumn forest, denuded of leaves, with all the bare branches whispering together under the lightless eye of the new moon. It smells of death, decay and emptiness -- and that is what it is. Lethe. Forgetting.

I explain it to her before pouring. I would never just thrust this on someone unawares. There is a moment in death - just after you've finished the messy part of dying with all the pain and delirium. In that moment before your spirits stands over your corpse in the Grey, there is a sudden sense of peace. All the pain leeches away and the limbs grow heavy. The lungs no longer crave air. The mind no longer races. This is not a release precisely, but you no longer care about the pain. You are heavy and numb and still.

That is the Wine of Lethe. It captures a taste of that moment. Just a taste -- it does not last.

But in her state, Selvia needed it.

I uncorked the bottle with its runed silver stopper. I poured the potent fluid -- black as old blood. And she drank.

I don't think she had believed me. When I picked her up off the floor, a little chill of death still clinging to her lips where they had kissed the glass, she murmured and fretted and asked for more.

More would likely kill her. I offered to show her the threshold, not push her over the edge.

I carried her to an upstairs room -- I won't let any harm come to those inside the Badger when I'm on shift, not if I can prevent it. I let her sleep it off.

She was gone once I woke for the day and braved the crushing light of afternoon to get to the tavern. I can only hope that little taste of the absence of pain helped soothe her restless heart.

 

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The Gambling Man

Author's Note: Most of you know I'm a gamer. In 1995, 1996, and 2000, I designed, wrote, and ran the Vampire: The Masquerade live action role-playing events at the gaming convention Origins. I did not do this single-handedly (long-time friend Jason B. Crutchfield wrote a number of characters for the 2000 game) but I wrote the lion's share of the story and character histories for each of the 150-200 characters provided to players at these games. And in typical me fashion, I didn't skimp on these stories. Most of the character histories were short stories in their own right. These character histories constitute a massive body of work that really only holds any relevance within the context of the game. But some of the characters are fun to pull out and revisit again, like the Toreador Dean Marshal Callahan. Dean Marshall Callahan: Clan Toreador

Dean’s mother worked as a saloon girl in their little Missouri town.  By night, she also did some horizontal business out of her one-room apartment located above the aforementioned saloon. That’s how Dean came into the world.  There were a number of men who might have been Dean’s father, but the most likely candidate was the town’s sheriff, due to Dean’s striking resemblance to the man.  While Dean took after his father in appearance, he inherited his moral values from his mom.  He pretty much grew up in the saloon, and from age twelve onward he was gambling, smoking, and flirting with the other girls.  He made pretty good money at cards, supplementing his mother’s income when business was slow.  He also had a knack for playing the piano, and this served him for a legitimate job.  Around the age of fifteen, he had saved himself a good chunk of cash and, feeling a little restless in the soul, took off down the Mississippi on a riverboat.

Dean was a rambler.  There was no doubt about it.  But he had the kind of talents that suited that sort of life well.  He always made his way in the world, whether by playing cards or setting down at the piano and entertaining folks with his tunes and his beautiful voice.  His natural charm and charisma got him a long way, and even when he got caught cheating at cards, his easy smile and eloquent words could usually get him through without a fight.  Dean spent many years traveling up and down the Mississippi, stopping at a town now and again, but mostly always keeping on the move.

Only the outbreak of the Civil War convinced Dean that it was time to lay low and maybe settle for a while.  Around that time, he was in the Carolinas.  Even he wasn’t sure quite how he’d got there.  He ended up in Charlotte and established himself at one of the local watering holes, playing the piano and playing a few hands of cards when the money ran low.

It was here that Dean met Gerald Langtree.  Gerald was a southern gent if Dean had ever seen one.  He had fine cut clothes, elegant but never flashy.  He was always polite and courteous, and was especially deft with the ladies.  Gerald started being a regular customer at Dean’s little hideaway, always coming in after dark had settled on the town and staying nearly all night long, listening to Dean play and sometimes indulging in a game of cards.

Now, Dean’s gambler’s instincts told him there was something up with Gerald.  It wasn’t a bad impression – just that the man had a secret.  And this secret was something that intensely fascinated Dean.  And so in their many conversations together, Dean tried dragging this secret thing out of Gerald, always probing gently into Gerald’s past and asking leading questions.  Gerald opened up to Dean like a flower, telling him about his family home in the Carolinas and all the long-gone days when Gerald had nothing more pressing to do with himself than paint and study his art.  He told Dean how the estate was burned down in a slave revolt and looted by Yankees, of the harrowing escape Gerald had to make by night taking only the clothes on his back and what money he could shove in his pockets.  Gerald lamented the loss of his family home, but what seemed most important to him was all the artwork that had been burned.  He said the art hadn’t been very good – second-rate at best, but at least it showed him how he’d progressed over the years and how far he’d actually come.

Dean developed a real liking for Gerald.  And despite all the wild adventures Gerald recounted to him, Dean felt like he still hadn’t managed to get at the heart of Gerald’s fascinating secret.  Then one night, Gerald approached Dean at the saloon and asked if he’d come with him to one of the back rooms for a private discussion.  Dean had never seen Gerald so serious in all his life, but underneath that seriousness was a private kind of joy.  Intrigued, and guessing rightly that he was soon going to learn the secret he’d been digging for all these long nights, Dean left his spot at the piano and followed Gerald back.

That night was a night of revelations and wonder for Dean Marshall Callahan.  In that back room, Gerald explained to Dean that he was an immortal, a Toreador vampire to be exact.  He asked Dean if he’d want to join him in that way of life, and maybe travel the country together, enjoying the night.  Dean couldn’t see anything wrong with Gerald’s offer – and the thought never crossed his mind once that Gerald was bluffing, because a hard-core gambler like Dean knew a bluff when he saw one.

It didn’t take a whole lot of thought on Dean’s part to say yes.  Gerald warned Dean that he wasn’t the only vampire out there.  There was a whole society of them as well, and that society had all manner of rules.  Gerald was going to be breaking one of those rules by embracing Dean, as he didn’t have his elders’ permission to do so.  So he and Dean would have to leave Charlotte, even though the war was still going strong, and lay low for a while

The two traveled West, dodging soldiers as they went.  They saw some serious brutality during the few skirmishes they bypassed, and it left a mark on the both of them.  Although both men were capable of taking care of themselves in a fist fight, an all-out war was another matter entirely.  It seemed like the wisest thing for them to do was to leave the fighting to the fighting men, and pass their own nights quietly in socializing and playing cards, waiting for the big fight to get settled.  They got back on the riverboats that had been Dean’s traveling home for so many years, and tried to pretend the war and all the concerns it brought with it did not exist.

Around about the 1940s, Gerald got word that his own sire was in the city of Columbus, Ohio.  Now, Gerald’s sire had been passing through the Carolinas, and he gave Gerald the embrace and moved on.  While he spent some time with Gerald, explaining the ins and outs of vampire culture, Gerald never really got a chance to know the man who had brought him into such a wonderful and dangerous life.  Gerald and Dean were getting tired of rambling across the country, and so Columbus seemed as good a place as any to settle.  The fact that Gerald’s sire, George Bellows, was the primogen of clan Toreador in Columbus only made the deal even sweeter.

Gerald and Dean have called the city their home since that time.  Although Dean’s rambling spirit has been nagging him to move onward to new horizons for the past couple of years, Gerald is the sort of man who puts down roots once he likes a place.  The desire to move and see more of the world is about the only thing that Dean and Gerald don’t agree upon.  Otherwise, they’re a tightly knit pair, each involved in similar aspects of the city, each helping the other out in issues of status, reputation, and clan politics.

Dean holds Gerald in high regards, practically idolizing him.  He suspects that Gerald feels that Dean is a better Toreador than himself, mainly because he’s always talking about Dean’s natural talent and artistic passion, in contrast to what Gerald considers to be his own lack of talent and vision. Dean’s been in the argument with Gerald before for many, many years – he thinks Gerald is selling himself short as far as talent goes, and tries to remind his sire of this whenever he can (without sounding like a broken record, that is.)  Dean seriously respects Gerald.  He’s the father Dean never had, in addition to being Dean’s best friend in all the world.  Gerald’s about the only person the cunning Dean trusts, and the two have had to watch one another’s back in more than one life-or-death situation in the past.

-- M. Belanger

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Innocence and Experience

The following dark little tale grew out of a character history penned for one of my Vampire: the Masquerade games. For those unfamiliar with the series, there's a family of necromancers known as the Giovanni. Little Violet just might be a Giovanni girl (the title, of course, is a nod to William Blake). For a live reading of this twisted yarn, click here.

Innocence and Experience

She was a quiet little girl, never speaking unless spoken to. That was expected of her. Her family was very Old World in their values. Which is to say, they felt that little girls existed to grow up and become wives, and those wives were similarly expected to grow large and become mothers. A little girl wasn’t much of anything else but more babies, waiting to be.

Violette didn’t like that idea. That was her name. Little Violet. And she was expected to take after her namesake: sweet and silent and shy. She never told her family how she really felt. Her family wouldn’t have cared, anyway. They were always too busy with the Work. The menfolk went out and dug in the cemeteries while the women stayed home, raising the little ones.

Violette didn’t like the other children. They couldn’t see the things that she could see. Instead of having tea parties with her cousins, Violette liked talking to her special friends. Her aunties and her mother and all her little cousins couldn’t see her friends – but, then, no one would have expected Violette to see them either. Her friends were part of the Work, after all, and seeing them was something that only the menfolk in the family were supposed to do. That’s what they all thought, anyway. They would have known differently, had they bothered to talk to Violette. But they never did. After all, she was only a girl.

So Violette spent all her time whispering to her friends. Her friends were all dead, but she didn’t mind. They were very good listeners. And none of them cared that she was a girl. They didn’t even care that she came from that family, the one so many others shunned in the marketplace. No, her friends were understanding, attentive, and kind. Each night, they gathered round in a glimmering host. They laughed with her and they  told her things. Secret things. They talked about Daddy’s Work, digging up the corpses and polishing the bones. They talked about Grandfather and his friends who used the bones to call and sometimes bind the spirits of the dead. Her friends didn’t like the bindings, but they told Violette how it was done. They loved her and they trusted her, because she hated the men in her family as much as they did. Each night, Violette listened and grew cunning in the ways of the spirits. And the menfolk in her family were none the wiser.

As Violette grew from a quiet little girl to a quiet young lady, the men in the family started to pay attention to her. Most of it was the wrong kind of attention. Her uncle Pietro was the worst of the lot. He liked Violette perhaps a bit too much.

Violette was twelve years old.

When Pietro came to her in the night, she endured it. She didn’t know what else to do. Pietro was so very strong. And he promised not to make it hurt if she kept still and just let him do it. Daddy was away in the cemetery that night. Of course, he wouldn’t have stopped it. She knew he didn’t care.

But Violette’s friends were furious. They ranted and raged from their shadowy side of the world. When Pietro was gone, Violette sat in a corner, silently weeping. Her friends tried to soothe her from their side of the world. They told her to be strong, and they promised vengeance for what Pietro did.

Pietro wasn’t like the other men in the family. He didn’t know the Names or the Words to call. He might see spirits out of the corner of his eye, but he had no talent for talking with them. This was why he was often left at home. He worked as a lowly guard for the family. But Violette’s friends told her this was a good thing. It meant that he could not defend himself. If they struck out at him, he would not be able to strike back.

They promised to get him back for what he did to Violette. They told her that they were going to do it when Pietro was asleep so there wouldn’t be anybody else around. Violette wasn’t certain at first about their plan, but her spirit-friends were insistent. Eventually, she overcame her fear. She wanted to see him get hurt. She was still afraid, so she crept to the kitchen and pulled a knife from a drawer. She told herself it was just in case Pietro woke up and tried to do the thing again. The knife might keep him away.

When the spirits descended upon him, he woke up, all right. But he wasn’t worried about Violette. He didn’t even see her there at first, standing quietly in the corner of his room. She held the knife tucked away in the folds of her dressing gown. Pietro was shouting wildly at the spirits as they shook his bed and struck him from across the Veil. Welts and scratches appeared on his face and on his hands. The spirits called him mean things that he couldn’t hear, but he could certainly feel the blows.

By the time he noticed little Violette in her dressing gown, she had already raised the knife. The spirits held him pinned to the bed as she moved. Then she used the knife, pushing it into him again and again. As the spirits held him, she said the Words and recited the Names, and before she knew it, Uncle Pietro was screaming from inside of the blade, his spirit bound even as his body lay in a bloody heap upon the bed.

Then little Violette cleaned herself up and spent the rest of the night playing with Uncle Pietro and all her dear, dead friends.

-- M. Belanger

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Newsclipping Prop: Wheatley's Legacy

Note to readers: this little blurb was mocked up as a newspaper clipping for players to discover if they thought to go looking for old articles on the haunted Wheatley mansion in-game. This clipping gave them the name of Roderick Kemp, which they could then follow up on to discover the memoir previously printed here. The mock newspaper, The Voice of Providence was a long-running prop in the game (I started the Providence game as a table-top adventure while still in college, then moved it to a Live Action game in 1994. The chronicle was featured at Origins 1995, 1996 and 2000. You've not GM'd till you've wrangled nearly 200 players for four long days. The game ran all night, and sometimes players would track us down to our hotel room to go over puzzles they were trying to solve in-game. Creating both characters and plots with enough depth to occupy people for that length of time engenders a special kind of madness. Still, I miss it some days).

(continued from page 2)

Deputy Roderick Kemp made the grisly discovery on a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1875. The corpses included the body of Detective Solomon Godwin, 35, Arnold Powell, a drifter, and young Kevin Blackwell, an eleven-year-old-boy who had been missing since March of that year.

Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence coroner, worked hard to identify the remains of the other bodies, however, in most cases, decomposition was so advanced that identification was impossible. In all, the remains of at least fifteen individuals were discovered in the home, which, by all appearances, had been abandoned for at least two weeks. No sign of Whately himself was ever found, although it was the opinion of the Providence police that Whately was dead.

Since the house became the scene of one of the most dreadful murder cases Providence has ever seen, it has stood abandoned on its lot not far from the Kirkwood Cemetery. Many tales have grown up around the house, including a persistent rumor that Old Man Whately haunts the property, protecting his hidden gold. The rumor of hidden treasure associated with the house came about from the fact that Whately, the eldest of five siblings, was the sole inheritor of the Whately fortune. Despite this, Whately lived a relatively simple live, remaining in the seclusion of his home and coming into town only to buy supplies every two or three weeks. On these occasions, he was often observed wearing the same patched and soiled set of clothes, with wild, unkempt hair and beard. To all appearances, he lived in poverty, which of course begged the question of what happened to the family fortune.

In twenty-five years, the mystery has never been solved, but it has become a rite of passage for some of the daring young men of Providence to invade the abandoned home, particularly on nights of the full moon, to dare the specter of Whately to manifest and drive them from his house of horrors.

 

 

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Excerpt: The Wheatley Place

Note to Readers: a major outlet for my creative writing has always been gaming. I've been writing and running games since I was first introduced to D&D in fourth grade. The sword & sorcery worlds were fun and all, but what ended up really grabbing me was the urban fantasy setting of Vampire: the Masquerade. I liked the intersection of real world grit and supernatural elements. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Lovecraft's work, and for my long-running chronicle Providence, I freely mixed and mingled Lovecraftian elements with White Wolf's World of Darkness.  One thing that has always delighted me with writing and running games is designing props -- little clues and gimmes in the game that characters can explore to expand the plot threads. I've produced whole newspaper mock-ups just to have my players go digging through them for one salient article. Maps, journals, excerpts of books ... and it's all great fun. Attached here is one such game prop produced for the Providence reunion game I ran at Oberlin college a couple of years ago. It's a partial chapter from the memoirs of one of the town's law enforcement officers, and it expands upon the tale of a house characters encounter that is reputed to be haunted. As you read, you'll see why:

Guided by Providence: The Memoirs of Roderick Kemp

 Chapter Five: The Wheatley Place

Now, this was an investigation that I was involved in back in 1875. It’s twenty-five years after the fact, and I will carry the details of this investigation to my grave. In all my days working in law enforcement, I never saw anything so awful, and I thank God every day that I never encountered anything like it since. Some nights, I still wake up seeing scenes from the inside of that house. I knew Thomas Wheatley. Not real good, but I had seen him now and again, growing up. I don’t know how a man can become such a monster, but Thomas Wheatley was a kind of evil that should never walk the earth.

Well, you’re not all reading this to listen to me proselytize about man’s inhumanity to man or to conjecture about the metaphysical nature of evil. No, you want the gory details. Well believe me, they're gory! If there are any ladies reading this, or folks with a delicate constitution, you all may want to just skip along. Still with me? Well, here goes:

Everyone knew that Old Man Wheatley was up to no good. But since he kept to himself and rarely went out of his house, no one bothered to really call him on it. There were a couple of incidents involving missing persons that a detective Godwin tried to trace back to the Wheatley house, but his investigations went nowhere. And then Godwin himself went missing, and no one seemed brave enough to suggest that maybe this disappearance was also tied to Wheatley. Godwin was a good man, and a few of us on the Providence force, we kept niggling at the case, trying to get someone to do some honest-to-goodness investigation into the issue. But nothing ever went forward. Maybe he paid people off. I don’t know, and I don’t care to think about it now. Whatever it was, no one was ever brave enough to confront Wheatley directly.

In the end, Wheatley's true crimes were not revealed because the old man was caught. His crimes came to light because Wheatley himself mysteriously disappeared. And, eventually, the stench coming from his abandoned house became too much for the neighbors, even though there was a good amount of space between them & the Wheatley house.

A reluctant deputy was sent to check on Wheatley at his property. He found that the front door was sagging open and a terrible stench wafted out on the summer air. The buzzing of flies was audible through that open door, so loud that the deputy at first thought some kind of machine was on inside the house, running. There were no lights on in the old house, and most of the windows were covered over with heavy cloth. Most of this cloth was nailed directly into the walls around the windows. When the deputy yanked the first of these makeshift window covers off to let in some afternoon sunshine through the streaked and yellowed glass, he found himself staring at the most macabre scene he had ever witnessed. Shortly after that, he was just staring at the gravel on Wheatley's driveway, as the poor deputy knelt, hunched over, puking his guts out. Of course, by now, you all know that reluctant deputy was me, Roderick Kemp, though back then everyone called me Roddy. I thought the smell was the worst thing I’d ever been exposed to, but that was before I cleared off the windows and got a good look at what was causing that smell. Hell could never look so grim as that house on that June afternoon.

Inside the parlour, arranged in chairs as if they were just over for tea, were three corpses. They were well-preserved -- almost mummified. One of them was the missing detective. One of them was Arnold Powell,* a drifter. One was a woman, never identified.

Five more corpses, similarly preserved and staged throughout the house were discovered. The most unsettling of these was the corpse of Kevin Blackwell, a young boy eleven years of age. He was in that attic. Wheatley (it could only have been Wheatley) had strung the boy from the rafters. He had also painstakingly fashioned wings for the child, cobbling them together with the bones and feathers of several birds, as well as a few bones from a human -- never identified -- who left no other remains in the house.

The stench of rot came from the basement. Wheatley's most recent victims were in a jumble down there. Dr. Jacob Frost, the Providence Coroner at the time, identified the parts of at least seven bodies in the festering abattoir that lay beneath the rickety wooden stairs. A bathtub with saws and other implements as well as a worktable with needle, thread, and some taxidermy equipment, suggested that Wheatley had been planning to put these corpses together in much the same fashion as the others -- only he seems to have been interrupted.

No sign of Wheatley himself was ever discovered. He must have been dead. I made a thorough search of the house – and I’m not too proud to admit that I had to make that search in pieces, as I had to vacate the premises on more than one occasion to vomit in the yard. After a while, I wasn’t even bringing anything up, but that didn’t stop the smell and the horror of it all from getting to me. Like I said at the outset, I never saw anything like it in all of my years, and I am happy to have never encountered anything so terrible ever again. We never did figure out who all of those body parts in the basement belonged to. Frost, the coroner at the time, he did his best, working late nights to piece the bodies together. But even he had to admit defeat, and Frost was a smart man. Scary smart, though some called him crazy. I think that was just because he preferred to always work at night and he spent so many long hours locked away with the corpses. But my insights on Dr. Jacob Frost – well, that’s all material for another chapter.

*Author's Note: If you're up on your vampire folklore, you'll recognize this name as an homage to one of the first recorded cases of vampire attacks in Eastern Europe. Yay Easter eggs.

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