Majestic 11

Episode L1
A Clear Fall Day

It is a breezy afternoon, as Feng Li Long hurries home down the wooded path. This workout has been a long one; a month of ceaseless training and meditation, alone on the far side of Baiyun Mountain. It is dry and clear, good training weather. It will be good to see Grandfather again.

The path emerges the woods. From below the rim of your flat conical hat Li Long sees the mouth of the Pearl river emptying into the delta. The city of Guangzhou sits at the river mouth.

Guangzhou is burning.

It is November, 1938.

Ugly, grey warships sit in the bay. Iron vehicles surround the city. Black airplanes fly overhead. Between the city and the ring of vehicles, people seem to be milling, as if torn between remaining in the city and running the gauntlet of enemy troops. Pens have been erected, and are full of prisoners. Over it all, columns of smoke mark where huge uncontrolled fires burn most of the city. The city center itself is a huge, smoking crater.

A family—a young father, his wife, three children and a grandmother, carrying some meager household possessions—hurry in your direction. “Run!” the father says. “The Japanese! They’ve bombed everything! They’re taking everyone prisoner! Run!” The family hurries by, up into the mountain.

Below, the destruction of Guangzhou, the only place you’ve ever lived, continues…

Li Long gapes at the devastation, “Ancestors preserve us.”

He continues down the path, watching the city and trying to think of a good way to get past the siege to find his family and get them out.

The path winds down the mountain. Li turns a corner around a boulder, and there on the path ahead are four Japanese soldiers, armed with bayonetted rifles, walking up the path in a close group, probably looking for escapees or scouting out the mountain. They are about 20-30 yards away (10-15", -4 range modifier).

One of them looks up and sees you. He shouts something unintelligible; probably in Japanese or Mandarin. The rest look up.

“Halt! Be giving up now!” another shouts, in broken Cantonese.

Li Long immediately raises his hands in surrender and says in Cantonese, ’I give up!"

The four soldiers approach at a casual walk. As they near, one of them points his bayonet.

“You go with him!” one of the others orders; his insignia is different; maybe he’s their leader. The one with the bayonet gestures with it for Li to walk ahead of him down the mountain. The others keep walking up the hill, talking and chuckling to themselves.

Li Long goes along, willingly and weakly, with this for awhile then when they are out of sight from the other three and a little beyond, and if no one else is around he walks slower and slower. The soldier jabbers at Li when he slows down.

Li spins around, grabs the rifle by the barrel and yanks it away from the surprised soldier’s grasp. Li smashes the solder across the jaw with the butt of the rifle. He staggers. Li continues the momentum of his strike into a roundhouse kick, connecting squarely on the soldier’s head with a loud crack. The soldier spins around and drops to the ground on his face, unmoving and bleeding from his ears.

Li Long drags the soldier off the path and hides the body. He switches clothes with the soldier and pulls his hat down low over his face (trying to hide it). The soldier’s uniform fits adequately, though the helmet is a bit cracked from your roundhouse kick. He uses some of his “old” clothes and the blood to make a fake bandage around his head and ears (blood by the ears). He walks as soldierly as he can down the path while looking for one of the prisoner pens.

At the bottom of the path he sees two soldiers with rifles on guard, chatting with two other apparently unarmed soldiers sitting on a dangerous looking tracked vehicle.

Li leaves the path, crouches behind some rocks, and, summons the goodwill of your ancestors, causing the nearby air to blow and twist around the 4 soldiers. One of the soldiers notices Li, frowns when he sees him leaving the path, and shouts at him in a commanding voice. His eyes grow wide as the winds grow wilder and a miniature funnel cloud coalesces right above him. It touches down.

Tornado-like winds rip at the soldiers. The two with rifles are swept off their feet; one falls six feet away while the other slams into the side of the tank, collapses to the ground and drops his rifle. The two on the tank cling to it, buffeted by the winds, staying put but yelling in surprise.

As the winds die, the soldiers shake their heads to gather their senses, then come alert—all but the second soldier, who remains on the ground. The first soldier shouts at the others.

The tank motor suddenly roars to life. It turns, carrying its two riders, and bears down on your position until it’s almost close enough to touch—and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

The second soldier sits up, seemingly in pain but alert.

Leaves flutter in the winds that envelop Li, and his body becomes indistinct, as if it were made of a cloud. He dives toward the oncoming tank, but his aery body divides and passes through the main gun and the view ports, reassembling itself on the inside. The soldiers riding on the tank looked shocked as you pass by them.

The inside is cramped and confining. Li feels panic rise at being denied the world’s wind—he has to get out! With an effort of will, he masters the panic for the job at hand. 

It’s a wonder that three people can even fit in this thing. Li finds the gunner’s chair and positions himself in it before resuming solid form.

The driver sits just below and to the right. He turns and stares in terror, the winds whipping his hat away and roiling his hair. It’s hard to move in here but it’s also hard to dodge and he’s sitting right under Li’s foot. Li focuses his training and snap a kick at him. The driver is stunned but conscious—though his foot is still on the gas.

The soldiers on the outside of the tank yell and begin climbing to the top hatch of the tank. However, the tank continues its forward motion, slamming into the rocks where Li was hiding. The riders lose their grip and tumble down to the ground. You hear yelling and at least one pair of running footsteps outside.

The cramped quarters are too much for him; it’s time to make a run for the city. Li Long looks around for some way to disable the tank. He knows you probably have to pull some wires somewhere, but he’s in the gunner’s seat rather than the driver’s seat. He decides the best way to temporarily disable the tank is to knock out the driver and hope the cramped quarters make it difficult to remove him. A quick kick and the driver slumps over

Li Long decides it’s quicker to exit the tank in mist form than to figure out how to open the hatch from the inside. He filters out though the various cracks and slits and blows toward the city as fast as a race car. Behind he hears shouts. A couple shots are fired. One bullet tears harmlessly though him.

Leaving the soldiers far behind, Li Long approaches the city, dropping the mist form when reaches the limits of his endurance. He keeps low, and tries to avoid being noticed.

As he approaches Guangzhou, hoping to blend into a crowd, he notices two crowds; a crowd of Chinese prisoners in a makeshift barbed-wire pen the size of a soccer field, and a crowd of Japanese soldiers patrolling the fence and stationed at the entrance. The city is ahead. There are a few patrols, but Li feels he can dodge them…probably.

Li counts about 20 soldiers at the gate—maybe 10 on alert in a 10 yard area in front of the gate and 10 lounging around in a couple tents nearby—and maybe half that many clerk-types writing at camp desks or talking on radios. There are maybe 20 more soldiers patrolling in groups of 4 around the barbed wire fence (it’s pretty large; like a hastily build prison compound. Maybe the size of a football field). There is a manned machine gun next to the gate.

Li decides to try to free them from the inside, reasoning he can always escape himself. Winds flow as he calls upon them for defense. He takes off the Japanese army uniform, hide it, and walk toward the camp with hands in the air, “I surrender! No shoot! I good Cantonese! No Shoot! I give up see!”

The Japanese soldiers are not gentle as they march Li into the pen at gunpoint. They demanding his name and pitching them into the muddy compound on his face. They seem a bit puzzled about how breezy it’s gotten all of a sudden. The skittish Chinese prisoners slowly approach Li after the gate has been locked.

He gets up and brushes the mud from his eyes, nose, and mouth. Li asks if anyone has seen the Long family who own a restaurant. He looks around to see what the guards are doing.

“Long family? They own the fish place by the sea shrine?”

“No, it’s the noodle place by the municipal center.”

There’s a buzz of conversation, the hushed conversation of bored and frightened people desperate to get their minds off their circumstances and do something useful.

The guards return to their lounging and their guard posts and the clerks to their writing. You notice one of the clerks hang up his phone, then with a big grin chatter to the nearby guards. Then they all laugh as if they heard the funniest joke.

“Honored sir?” One of the prisoners, an older gentleman, is addressing you. “I am afraid none of us here know what happened to the Long family. Many of us think they perished when the city center was…when the battleship…” he breaks off. “A thousand apologies.” He wanders off.

A younger, hard-bitten man comes up. “The honored elder’s sons and grandsons were wealthy businessmen and lived in the center of town. Now there is only a smoking crater where there used to be many city blocks. Did you know the Long family? I am sorry. If they are alive, they are not here, and there are many prisoner compounds. I would not hope to see them again. Especially since now you are trapped with us. No one knows what they will do with us…but we’ve heard about Nanking.”

“What about Nanking?”

The man’s face grows bleak. “What not about Nanking? I didn’t think even the Japanese could imagine such atrocities. Casual murder of civilians on the street. Humiliation of the elderly. Indiscriminate rape. Looting. Torture. There are rumors of unnatural rites and perversions. They are not human, those Japanese, they are animals—or demons. I thought they’d never come this far south, but…I’m afraid those who died in the city center and in the fighting are the lucky ones.”

Li gathers the old men and anyone who looks like they have had military training.

“My name is Li Long. Let’s try to find a way to free as many of us from this camp as possible. The ancestors are strong in my family and I think I can help.” After hearing what the Japanese are doing to his China he secretly questions whether the Ancestors are right about not killing.

“What if we opened the fence away from the city, i took care of the machine gun causing a diversion, and we had a mass exodus? From what you say it seems that we are all dead if we stay here. Some of us will survive if we all make a break for it en masse. I would welcome all ideas. What do they have for food in here?”

“Are you crazy?” says an excitable prisoner. “There are 40 armed soldiers there, and a machine gun, and the clerks have radios. There’s no way to break down the fence. Many of us have women and children and elders; should we leave them behind, or more likely get ourselves shot? It’s impossible!”

“Hush, Ping,” says an older gentleman. "Let us hear him out. Death may be preferable to what awaits us. Or do you have something better to do?

“Li Long, we would all love to be free. I know the mountains well enough that if we reach them, we have a chance. We may be able to hook up with Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army. But we have to accomplish three things: Open the fence, neutralize the guards and radios, and move everyone fast enough to escape motorized pursuit. Now, how do you propose we do that?”

“Hey!” A tall, sharp-eyed man breaks in. “I might have an idea for the escape part.” He points to a distant caravan of supply trucks coming this way.

Li speaks to the tall, sharp eyed man,“What’s your idea? From what I have heard I agree that trying to escape and maybe dying is better than what will happen to you under these monsters. I should be able to stop the machine gun, open the fence, neutralize the radio, and distract the guards while as many of you can escape through the fence as possible.”

“Erm,” responds the tall man. “I thought we might get everybody on that convoy of trucks coming this way. You know, if we can actually get out of here without getting shot at too much. Women, kids, elders, everybody. And they probably have food or something in them, you know? ‘Cause I’m not leaving my six kids behind to have the ancestors know what happen to them. If you can do all you say, I’m with you.”

If he can do all he says. More likely he’s a Japanese sympathizer looking for an excuse to get us all killed.”

“Hush, Ping,” says the elder. “Legends speak of men with astounding power appearing in desperate times past. Can you do it? Can you distract the guards, open the fence, and disable the gun and radios?”

Li swallowes hard saying a silent prayer to his ancestors, “I might be able to, yes. I think I can open the fence for sure and distract the guards… the radio and machine gun will be more dicey. Ok, here is what I am thinking: First priority is disabling the radio, I can do that. Taking out the machine gun next, I can probably do that before being shot. This in itself will be a distraction. Gather the people near the trucks, I will then break the fence and help with any guards near the trucks and loading the people on the trucks. Some may die but all will die if you stay here – I am certain.”

“How soon can we organize the people but make them not look organized?”

The elder says, “Leave the organizing to me. We will be ready by the time the trucks arrive. After you attack we will all go to the south fence, waiting for your hole. Wait for the trucks to come closer; they will likely stop to unload supplies for the guards.”

“I’ll work on a diversion on the west side,” says Ping, “if Li Long can do what he says. I know some of the men who don’t have families here and are itching to do something dangerous if there’s half a chance it will do some good.”

It looks like the trucks are approaching along a dirt road that goes along the south side of the compound (away from the city). The gate, radio, and machine gun are on the east side. The soldiers there are goofing off, glancing at the compound once in awhile but mostly playing cards and talking to each other.

The elder turns and talks with the nearby men, who nod and filter off into the camp. Ping heads to the west part of the camp. The trucks continue to approach.

Li Long takes a breath and thinks to himself, “If this goes wrong, if I screw up, many will die… it must be done… all will die if we do nothing.”

To himself as he strolls toward the east – calming himself with techniques learned through training with his ancestors, “Ok. Radio First, then machine gun, then barricade the gate, then fly over and blast the escape hole through the fence, then try to distract the guards.” Li Long walks into a tent on the east side of camp and turns into vapor.

Li Long mists through the tent and the fence to the radio table, ready to yank the wires out, rendering it inoperable.

Unfortunately, it’s battery operated, and it’s a radio, so there aren’t any wires coming out of it, except for the microphone.

Fortunately, it’s open in the back. There are lots of tubes and wires to smash. Li Long solidifies and puts a fist through the delicate electrical components.

Li Long quickly summons the winds, creating a vortex around the machine gun. Papers and leaves, twigs, and a fair amount of dirt fly everywhere. The machine gun flies into the air, much to the consternation of the gunners. It sails about 70 yards into a clump of bushes and lands with a clatter.

Fierce winds flip the hefty radio table into the air, scattering the radio equipment and what papers survived the previous vortex. The table ponderously crashes into the gate, tangling itself in the wire and blocking the entrance.

The soldiers shout and run around. A couple have their rifles ready and the presence of mind to fire! One shot is fired true—but the bullet is deflected by the local high speed winds! The nearby soldiers on patrol around the fence begin running toward the gate. The convoy has pulled up by the southeast corner of the compound.

Li Long pops up above the height of the gate to get a clear shot at the south fence. Hurricane-force straight-line winds rip at the chain-link fence and tear a platoon-sized gap in it. Chinese prisoners rush the gap—men first, with the elder herding them through, followed by the children and women. The vanguard heads toward the trucks. There’s noise of a ruckus over on the west side of the compound.

Li Long flies over the soldiers’ heads, and raises a Wall of Wind separating most of the troops from the trucks and the prisoners. There are 4 soldiers on the truck side of the wall; they begin trying to club the dozens of prisoners into submission. About 6 of the soldiers on the troop side rush the trucks, only to be turned back by the palpable force of the winds. 10 more get their rifles and form up for combat. 4 of them are running after the machine gun. Most of the radio men are running for the city. The soldiers appear frightened but are steeling their nerve under the discipline of their squad leaders.

Li yells will for the prisoners to flee far away and leave him behind. He does his best to delay the guards from interfering with the escape. He tries to tangle some guards up in the tents by blowing the tents down and slamming them against groups of guards.

The irresistible wind hurls an uprooted tent toward the group of soldiers lining up to fire. The soldiers yell as the tent covers their shoulder-to-shoulder formation. The wind wall dissipates as Li Long’s concentration goes elsewhere.

The wind whistles around a second tent, hurls it at the group of 6 soldiers nearest the prisoners, and manages to cover or impede four of them in the heavy canvas. The two free soldiers fire at the flying wind demon! But the bullets can’t seem to find their marks.

The four soldiers among the prisoners furiously club with their rifle butts, knocking two of the prisoners to the ground. The ten tentified soldiers throw off the tent canvas and look around. They look into the eyes of an enraged mob of prisoners.

The mob surges! The elder and some of the prisoners with military experience direct the attack. Some drag down the four soldiers among them and pummel them senseless. Some rush the trucks, dragging the drivers out or making them flee. The six guards where the wall used to be fall to the twenty or so lead prisoners. The leader of the six soldiers in formation, outnumbered and soon to be out-gunned, suddenly looks a lot less sure of himself. More prisoners, with a higher proportion of women and children, hurry out the gap in the fence. Gunshots can be heard from the far side of the compound.

There’s some kind of ruckus going on across the compound, but tents in the compound obscure the view. Some of the soldiers who were patrolling around the fence are coming but they won’t be here for a minute or so. The radio operators have begun running toward the city. Reinforcements could come in a matter of minutes.

Li Long yells, “Get in those trucks and get out of here!”

He flies toward the squad of 6. He will try to crash into as many as he can and fight hand to hand as a diversion until the mob arrives. He knocks another flat on his back, unconscious, kicks at another one and drops him, too. The remaining soldiers raise their weapons to give Li Long a good clubbing. Li dodges all but one, which is deflected by the local winds and the grace of his ancestors.

The mob rolls over the four standing soldiers, who go down yelling defiance. Li Long takes a break.

Prisoners begin seizing the trucks. Drivers and non-combatants flee for the city. From the far side of the compound, Ping and a dozen other prisoners are running and shouting, carrying captured rifles.

All the guards at this compound seem to be down or running. The prisoners let out a loud cheer. There is medicine, food, and ammunition on the trucks, and there is enough room for all the escapees, if some hang on to the sides and the running boards.

“Come!” says the elder to Li Long. “We must escape while we can. They will soon be back with more than a few rifles. We can head for the mountain, and then inland, and hopefully we can find Chiang Kai-Shek and his army.”

Li Long hesitates for a moment. Deciding to either go into the city to find his family and restaurant or help these people. He decides that helping these people outweight the more selfish desire to see his family safe. He prays for forgiveness to the ancestors, hops on the side of a truck (or drives one since he knows how to do that) and says, “Lets go find Chiang Kai-Shek and his army.”; encouraging the group to leave as soon as possible.

The convoy heads toward the mountain, Li Long with the elder in the lead truck, with many passengers and people hanging off the side.

Before long the convoy is away from the city and on the road among the rocky hills near the mountain.

The truck rounds a corner.

In the middle of the road ahead, coming down hill, is a familiar Japanese tank. The hatches are open and the crew is at their posts but not particularly alert. Around it are maybe half a dozen soldiers, one of whom is leaning on another for support. In front of them a small Chinese family is being marched; a young father, his wife, three children and a grandmother.

Everyone shouts out in surprise.

Li Long looks at the soldiers and looks at the ex-prisoners, not wanted their new-found freedom to be short-lived. He tells the elder to stop the convoy.

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Episode M4
The Final Night

The city’s buildings are shattered and crumbling. Bodies lie everywhere, and slavering feral dogs prowl the streets. Distant choruses of screams seem to suggest that these dead are the fortunate ones. Fire is everywhere; consuming the buildings, guttering out of open manholes, rippling the sky, painting the city blood red.

There’s more. But Mark blanks it out.

“Mister! Hey! Wake up!”

The vision fades—mostly. It’s dark. It’s foggy. Things are lit by a faint, flickering red light. There’s a tall, athletic, light-haired man in a black sweater slapping Mark gently on the cheek. He seems to be an architect, for some reason; maybe the black cylinder slung across his back holds blueprints.

“Is this him, Cassie?” He seems to be talking to someone else.

“I don’t know,” comes a reply; a woman’s voice, with an old world accent. Her face leans into view; she’s got long black hair in ringlets. “There’s nobody else here, and this is where I lost track of him.”

“How could you have lost track?”

“I don’t know. It’s never happened before.”

The man turns his attention back to Mark. “The Rabbi sent us. Does that mean anything to you?”

Mark seems to be lying on the ramp leading into the Weaver building. He is still transformed. The building’s walls seem to flicker when you don’t look directly at them—flicker faintly, like fire. Thick mist blocks the view even as far as the street. But far, almost directly overhead, there seems to be an irregular flashing light; purpleish-white, almost like lightning, but the only thunder is an ominous shuddering in your bones.

Mark groggily thinks, “A creep who just looks at you, and clobbers your soul. Wonderful. Gotta pull yourself together. It’s not good for the image.”

Out loud: “The Rabbi? Perhaps. Do you see that light up there?” He points towards the irregular flashing light.

The man looks up. “Oh. That’s not good.”

“Third, maybe fourth order ectoplasmic energy,” says the woman. “I think we’re in the right place.”

“Look, mister,” the man says, polite but anxious. “I’m Arthur, this is Cassie. The Rabbi sent us after a man going up against an entity who’s probably trying to break the plane during tonight’s conjunction. He thought the man might need help. We’ve been searching all evening. Did he mean you? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”

Mark: “Yes, that would be me. While not looking like much more than a disheveled man, with one glance he seemed to send my soul screaming into Hell. I presume he’s the one we’re looking for. I believe he went inside.” Mark stands up and faces the building.

“Fifth order,” says Cassie. She swallows, hard. Then “Arthur! Look out!” and a heavy thump-crunch sound.

Turning around, Mark sees Arthur under the paws of one of the two stone lions, now somehow come to life. The other leaps for Cassie, but she steps out of the way, almost absently.

Mark steps up to the stone lion pinning Arthur and swings! It’s like hitting a rock, but the lion’s head snaps back. It shakes its head and paws at its nose.

Arthur takes advantage of the distraction to get a leg between him and the stone lion. He heaves, and the lion lifts just enough for Arthur to roll out of its grasp. He comes up standing, and the architect’s tube rolls away, leaving him holding a long, bejeweled sword.

The other lion pounces at Cassie again, and she absently steps aside. She swings at it with an outflung fist, but doesn’t seem to have any effect on it.

“Thanks, mister,” he says. “I owe you one. Now let’s teach these cats a lesson!”

The three humans stand side by side between the lions and the door. The lion you attacked has shaken off its disorientation, and they are both sizing up their prey.

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Episode M3
A Busy Day

A missing cat, a marital dispute, a leaky roof and one week after his encounter with the eccentric archeologist, Mark Maxwell is sitting at his desk doing a well-earned crossword puzzle. The news reported Doofus McGee and Dr. Tennyson back behind bars, but are silent on the rest of the gang.

The door to the outer office opens.

Stacey pokes her head in. “Hey, Mark, I’m going to lunch at Ching How across the street. Want anything? Oh, and some package came. And doesn’t your P.I. license expire today?”

It had slipped Mark’s mind; his license does expire today. He’s got the fee, thanks to that cat-lady heiress, but the license bureau in the Murray building downtown closes at 5.

Fortunately, downtown is fair walking distance; it’s closer than the University. It’s sunny today; a nice breeze off the bay, not a cloud in the sky. Mark takes the package and opens it as he walks.

The package is a small cardboard box, about 4 to 6 inches on a side, with some kind of scientific warning labels stuck to the sides. The return address is a place called Morningside Biochemical, in Wilmington, Delaware. Inside are six small bottles, carefully padded.

Mark doesn’t remember any recent medical cases. He puts the bottles back in the box, keeping them carefully padded, until he has time to find someone who knows about this sort of thing, and ask them about it. There’s an invoice stuck between the packing and the side of the box. It lists six different chemicals with dozen-syllable names.

Mark almost puts the paper back in the box without another look, but at the last moment something strikes him as strange about it. Two things, actually. One the one hand, there’s a handwritten message scrawled in pencil in the corner [see link]. On the other hand, the invoice doesn’t seem to be addressed to Mark. It’s addressed to one Dr. Konrad Lehr at the Temple Beth Shalom downtown.

The outside of the box is also addressed to Dr. Konrad Lehr at the same address.

The license bureau and the address on the scribbled note are both in the financial district, about six blocks apart. The Temple is near Central Park, about seven blocks from the other two locations. It’s a struggle, but paying the bills comes before mysteries. At least, for now. Mark continues to the licensing place.

The Murray building is a grand old skyscraper, maybe thirty stories tall. The small, vaulted lobby and the hallway to the bank of elevators are paneled in dark wood, with a chandelier hanging overhead. The license bureau is on the twentieth floor, for some reason. Though not as modern as some, the building is pleasant enough.

Except for today. The stench of garbage assaults Mark as he enters through the revolving doors. Standing—more like leaning—facing the wall across the from the reception desk is what is probably a man. He’s wearing what seems to be a large, hooded rain slicker over a ragged, possibly flea-infested tuxedo and is carrying a shoddy, stained umbrella. He smells like he’s spent a solid week in a restaurant dumpster, and it’s impossible to tell his hair color because of the grime. His face and eyes are sunken and starved-looking, and his crusted hands trail along the wall, leaving streaks behind.

“Hmph. Hmph.” He grunt/mumbles as he slowly moves along the wall, ear pressed to the paneling, keeping up an unintelligible commentary as he moves along. The two security guards and the receptionist seem to ignore him—or at least keep their eyes averted.

Mark walks up to him and say, “Hey. Mac. What’re you doing here?”

The man doesn’t seem to hear. He inches his way along with his ear pressed to the wall, muttering syllables slurred beyond recognition. On (phew!) closer inspection, beneath the layer of grime his face and hands seem to be scarred and blistered, as if he’d been splashed with boiling water or possibly acid.

Mark tries again, “Hey! I’m talking to you. Can you hear me?”

The unwashed gentleman continues to concentrate, as if he’s listening very intently to the wall, and either ignores Mark or can’t hear him. He keeps up his running unintelligible commentary.

Mark heads to the elevators. The elegant paneling is continued inside the express elevator, which he takes up to the twentieth floor. The licensing office isn’t hard to find, and the clerk examines his paperwork, takes the fee and stamps the approvals with a minimum of interest. Chore complete, Mark heads back down the elevator.

The doors open at the ground floor to reveal a young man, in his twenties, smoking a cigar and carrying a newspaper under his arm, and a little girl, probably about five years old, holding his hand. They stand aside as Mark gets out.

“Are we really going to the very top floor, Daddy?” The girl seems quite excited.

“Yes, sweetheart, the very top floor. We’ll be able to see the whole city from up there.”

“Gee whilikers!”

The door closes on them and Mark heads out to the lobby.

As he steps into the lobby, several things happen in rapid succession.

First, all the lights in the lobby and the hallway abruptly flash and explode in a shower of sparks. The people milling about gasp in surprise. For a second, Mark can see nothing but the bright rectangles of sunlit street through the front doors of the building.

Second, a series of loud bangs, squeals of metal on metal, and frightened shrieks as the elevators lose power, drop, and abruptly stop as the automatic brakes come on. The security guards rush toward the elevators as the receptionist picks up the phone.

Third, a muttering voice says, in a very matter-of-fact way, “No. Wrong. No no no.” Mark sees the ragged shape of a man silhouetted against the front doors, making his way to the exit.

Fourth, a muffled child’s voice, edging into panic. “Daddy, wake up! Daddy! It’s on fire! Wake up!”

Mark: “Great. Two things happening at once again. Let’s see what I can do about this elevator.”

Spirit: No. We must stop the perpetrator.

Mark: “What? And leave these people to die here?”

Spirit: Our task isn’t to save lives. Our task is to thwart evil.

Mark: “I can’t do that! We have to help them!”

Spirit: And what can you do here, that others cannot? Can you freeze fire? Can you rip open elevator doors?

Mark: “I’ve got to try something!”

From the sounds of the elevator brakes and the voice of the girl, Mark estimates that the elevator is stuck between the ground floor and the second floor. The elevator is not visible, since the outer doors are closed.

The security guards and a couple onlookers are gathered around, trying to figure out how to get into the elevator.

“Hurry! They’re in trouble!” one of the watchers yells helpfully.

Mark gets a grip on the doors and pull. The doors are jammed.

“That’s no good!,” shouts a guard. “We’ve got to get to the roof of the elevator car, to the emergency hatch! The doors lock between floors!”

“Don’t we need some kind of wrench to get the roof hatch open?”

“Try the super’s closet!”

“In the basement? There’s no time!”

“Hurry!” One of the security guards runs off, presumably to the stairs.

Mark mutters, “This wasn’t in the job description. I wonder how many people I met trapped in fiery elevators before I got chosen?” He hears the girl crying hysterically behind the doors. He hurries up the stairs to the 2nd floor, where the elevator door is also shut. There he hears crying and the hint of a crackle. There’s no one else on the second floor.

Hardly visible in the dark hallway, Mark’s aspect changes, to dark gray and black, like live shadows. Red eyes blink on in the shadows of his face. With a grunt, he manages to crumple the doors enough to get through.

The area behind the door seems to be a single shaft containing four elevators in a row. It is dark in here, but he can see cracks and spots of light from the emergency lights in one or two nearby elevator cars. There are ladders on the wall of the shaft to his left and right.

The space directly in front of Mark is empty, the car lost in the darkness above. But to his left an elevator car is stuck between the first and second stories, so that the top of the car is about five feet above the level of the floor he’s standing on. The girl’s crying is coming from that car, louder now that he is in the elevator shaft. Mark realizes as an afterthought that she’s in the express elevator, which doesn’t have a door on this floor. He opened the door to the local elevator that runs alongside it.

Mark climbs the ladder to his left to the top of the car. He finds a flat plate about where he expects the emergency exit to be. It’s bolted down, probably to keep people from climbing out and hurting themselves.

He punches through the plate, and peel most of it back. A cloud of smoke billows up from the inside of the elevator, momentarily blinding and choking him.

On the floor of the elevator he sees the little girl sitting huddled in one corner. The limp body of her father lies near her, looking like it’s been dragged to that position and bleeding from a head wound. In the other corner, a scattered newspaper burns, the flames spreading up the wooden paneling.

She stops crying, and looks up at Mark. Then she screams in terror.

Mark mutters to himself. “Great. Kids. Of course she’ll scream at me.”

“Hush, child; I’m here to help.” Mark jumps down into the elevator.

“You stay away from my daddy!”

Mark beats the flames with his coat, succeeding in helping them spread up the lacquered wood wall. Turning from the flames, he grabs the child and leaps up to the roof of the elevator. “Daddy!” she screams. Quickly Mark leaves her in the 2nd floor hall and returns for her father. It’s not as easy, but he manages to extricate him from the elevator too.

Back in the dark hallway, the girl calms down as Mark lays the man on the carpet. “Jeepers, mister, you saved us! Thanks!” The man groans a little and brings his hand to his forehead. “Ow! What happened?”

“There’s a fire in the elevator. It would be best to leave the building.” Mark leaves, taking his coat, which is remarkably unburnt. He activates the fire alarm, and bells clang throughout the building.

“Hey!” calls the man. “Who are you?” He staggers to his feet, following Mark, holding his daughter’s hand, limping slowly toward the stairs.

The shadows drip from Mark’s form as he descends the empty stairwell. “Great,” he thinks. “With my luck, the building will burn down and I’ll lose my license.”

The people in the lower story have cleared out because of the alarm, more are passing through from the other stairways. “Keep walking, folks, you’re going to be fine,” says one of the security guards. “Power outage, and a fire! That’s all we need,” he mutters. There’s a janitor there, too, he’s talking on a phone from the wall to panicky people stuck in elevators. In the confusion Mark makes his way out to the sidewalk.

It’s a beautiful afternoon. A fire engine screams in from around a corner. The smelly man in the raincoat is nowhere to be seen.

Mark finds his package, still in a coat pocket. Somehow, after using the coat to try to put out a fire, the package is fine and the coat doesn’t even look or smell singed at all. He pockets the invoice (with the chemical names) and the written address, and heads to the temple, wary that this doctor might be involved with some secret organization, and that the chemicals might be intended for nefarious purposes.

The Temple Beth Shalom is a walled compound taking up an entire city block in the park district. A few trees are visible over the walls, as if much of the inside are taken up with landscaped lawns. Mark hears a fountain playing inside over the traffic.

A half-circle driveway, gated but currently open, leads to the main entrance, surmounted by the image of a menorah and Hebrew letters. Inside is a spacious, ornate lobby. The lobby extends off to the left, and at the far left doors open into what looks something like a church but is probably a synagogue. To the right is a receptionist’s desk, currently attended by a middle-aged lady with glasses, in front of a door. Another wide set of wooden double doors (closed) stand straight across the lobby from the main entrance.

“May I help you?” asks the receptionist. From her attitude, there are probably one or two other things she’d rather be doing than helping visiting Gentiles.

“Yeah; is there a …” Mark looks at the package again. “… a Dr. Konrad Lehr here?” I got a package of his by mistake."

The lady suddenly looks more interested. She quickly leafs through some papers on her desk.

“Mr. Maxwell, I presume?” she says, reading from one of the papers. She doesn’t wait for an answer. “Right this way. He’s expecting you.”

She comes out from behind the desk to the large double doors across the lobby. She pulls out a key and unlocks them, then opens them and motions for Mark to follow. Mark follows, puzzled that he was expected. And that she knew his name.

Behind the doors is a fairly large, rectangular, well-groomed courtyard or quad completely surrounded by the porches of low buildings. A few taller buildings rise in the background; gymnasiums or dormitories or classrooms, maybe. On the near side of the courtyard is a large, splashy fountain. On the far side is a medium sized ash tree. Walkways criss-cross the green, and there are benches arranged along the walks, around the fountain, and around the tree. The effect is quite peaceful.

A few people sit on the benches or walk calmly along. Half of them seem to either be nurses or wear institutional pajamas and robes. Mark admires the compound. They must have some wealthy sponsors in these tough times. But is this a temple or a hospital?

The receptionist leads Mark to a man wearing black. He’s sitting cross-legged on a walkway that circles the tree, apparently meditating. His clothes are loose and bound with a cloth belt. He’s wearing a yarmulke on his balding head and has a very thick beard and the long, curling sideburns of a Hasidic Jew.

“Mr. Maxwell is here, Doctor Lehr,” says the receptionist.

“Excellent!” Dr Lehr has a deep, resonant voice [like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof] and merry, twinkling eyes. He stands with a smooth grace. “Welcome, Mr. Maxwell, to Temple Beth Shalom.” Dr Lehr is somewhat shorter than average, somewhat stouter, and inordinately cheerful.

“You were expecting me? You were expecting me to get a package meant for you, and that I would come by personally to hand it over?” Mark asks. After a short pause, he says, “This is one of those things, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Dr Lehr replies. "It is as you say. One of those things. You and I travel among some of the same gates, as it were.

“I knew you were going to come today. I knew you’d bring a package. I have no idea what the package might contain, or where it might be from. And I must admit, I have been looking forward to meeting our newest associate.

“But I forget my manners. I, as you know, am the Rabbi Dr Konrad Lehr, one of the administrators of the Temple, and a teacher. I also move in certain, let us say, obscure circles. And you, as I know, are Mark Maxwell, Private Detective and recent initiate. Now don’t worry, no one can hear us, and we Keepers keep each other’s secrets. But I find that it is good to have people to talk to about these things. To many secrets drives one mad.

“And perhaps I can get a look at that package.”

Mark hands over the package. “Here. It’s got chemicals in it.”

Dr Lehr examines the package. “Excellent! I ordered these chemicals for a patient. I wonder why it came to you?”

“I thought you could tell me.”

""I suppose the delivery service made an error. It must happen from time to time. In any case, it is here now. I am anxious to see if they will bring Soloman back to his senses, poor man. I am afraid I relate to his plight rather too well. Still, there is still much we can try to reach him.

“His is a tragic tale, but a good one to know. Would you like to see him?”

“I guess. If you think it’s worth the time.”

Mark also says, “So do you know anyone who’d be after some ancient Egyptian thingamajig?”

“Hmm. Perhaps you refer to the break-in at the University? The ancient Egyptians were quite advanced in the esoteric arts; some of the most ordinary artifacts we find today are the remains of highly powerful and dangerous arcana. But who can tell unless one has the skill and knowledge to unlock their sealed power? I have examined the University collection in the past. Most of it is second rate pottery shards and shaped neolithic tools, as common as any collection might have. The Natural History Museum collection is of much better quality. Dr Tennyson seemed to think he knew something, but I found him quite secretive about it, and, frankly, as encyclopedic as his knowledge of archeology is, he does not have the signs of someone with true talent.

“Now that you mention it, you may be on to something. Perhaps someone is using his knowledge and access. But who? The known local Gifted are accounted for. We must be vigilant.”

“Yeah, that’s the story, isn’t it. ‘Be vigilant,’ but not knowing for who or what.”

Dr Lehr leads Mark to a gate on one side of the courtyard. The gate is locked. An orderly opens the gate from inside and bows, in an odd, oriental fashion, as they pass through. There is a short outdoor lane, then another door. Dr Lehr knocks, and the door is opened from within by another orderly.

“The Temple Beth Shalom is a synagogue, and a school for children and for religious studies. But it is more. It is also, among other things, a hospital where we try to bring healing and comfort to shattered minds.

“Which brings us to Guy Salomon. Here we are.”

Dr Lehr stops at a locked room. A man in a doctor’s coat is approaching from the far side.

“Dr Samuels. How is he?”

“The same.” Dr Samuels is tall and balding, with wire-rimmed glasses and a preoccupied demeanor.

“This is Mr Maxwell, an associate. I have the chemicals. Shall we try them?”

Dr Samuels looks at Mark appraisingly. “Any friend of Dr Lehr’s is welcome here. We have tried everything else. I hope it will do no harm.” He unlocks the door.

Inside is a small hospital room that smells of animal. One wall is lined with stacked animal cages, containing mice, weasels, birds, and a few other assorted small animals. Another wall has a bench with dusty chemical apparatus arranged neatly on it. Another wall has a window, draped against the afternoon sun. Below is a bed, and on the bed a man, curled with his knees to his chest. There is an ugly scar running from his forehead to his temple.

“Le gardien, le gardien,” the man mutters, rocking a little.

“This is Dr Guy Salomon, Mr Maxwell,” Dr Samuels says. “A Frenchman, one of the premier animal biologists of our time—or he once was. He disappeared during a conference in Austria a few years ago, but was found last April in Belgium before it was overrun, delirious and badly hurt. We suspect he was tortured. His family sent him to us, both because he is Jewish and to get him as far from his trauma as possible. He does not respond, either to drugs or electroshock. He looks at the animals occasionally, but does little else. Apparently he was traumatized by what he calls ‘the guard’.”

“I looked up his research,” says Dr Lehr, “and I hope that by presenting him with something familiar we can begin to reach him. We shall see if that is the case.”

Dr Lehr removes one of the vials from the box and shows it to the man cowering on the bed.

The man stops muttering. He looks at the vial, and his eyes slowly widen.

“He’s interested,” whispers Dr Samuels. “Fascinating. Thank you, Dr Lehr. I can take it from here.” He crouches down by the bed. “This is for you, Dr Salomon. But first you need to eat.”

Dr Lehr ushers Mark out of the room. He face clouds over with hardly-repressed anger.

“I did not show you Dr Salomon only as a curiosity, though he is an interesting case. I believe, as do most of us, that Dr Salomon has been in the hands of the Nazis these last years, and his condition is their responsibility. The world has finally seen that Hitler will make war on who he pleases, and only our oceans protect the United States. But as you have seen, he has special hatred for Jews and other races he feels are ‘sub-human’. The news of atrocities perpetrated on them—on us—is no idle rumor; in fact, I believe we will not know the full scope of his malice unless somehow his entire empire is laid bare. His armies are fearsome, but those are not his only weapons. And the evil almost certainly does not spawn entirely from the mere man Hitler. Be on watch!

“But there I go again with my vague warnings.” He seems to regain some of his good humor. “Let me see if I can clarify them somewhat.”

They return to the courtyard. Dr Lehr goes back toward the tree, and seems to be meditating in front of it.

“Ah,” he says to Mark. “You have seen a man twice, and will see him twice more: once at the place of power, once astride his mount. The fourth time you see him, he will speak to you. You will not meet a fifth time.” He begins to turn pale. “If you survive, it will be as one washed ashore from a shipwreck. If you do not…”

Mark notices one of the leaves of the tree. It was green, but swiftly turns brown from the edges inward, then black, as if invisible flames were consuming it. The black leaf falls.

Dr Lehr picks it up, visibly shaking. “I’ve never seen it do that before. I suggest you survive. For all our sakes.”

“That was supposed to clarify things?”

“All the world is reflected in the Axis Mundi,” says Dr Lehr. “This makes it difficult to pick out specifics. However, the man it speaks of seems to be a quarry you are seeking; you have already learned the location to which he is going and will find him there, late tonight. He has lost his…” He seems puzzled. “Umbrella? Must be a metaphor for some kind of ward or shield—but the loss makes him vulnerable to…a giant bucket?”

Mark thinks, “Axis … axis … where have I heard that before? I don’t like that word, but why not? Can’t put my finger on it.”

Dr Lehr continues. “Does any of that mean anything to you? Are you seeking someone?”

“Not really. I met a weird guy earlier today a couple of times; I’m not really looking for him. And that bucket thing; maybe your ‘axis’ has been watching that movie from last year too much.”

“Movie? What?…oh. Oh yes. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’ Heh heh. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. But the symbols of the Axis are often strange. Half the time I have no idea what they might mean until they come to pass. I think you’d be astonished at how often I perceive mushrooms among the leaves.”

“Mushrooms? Uh, okay …”

“You see? I have no idea. Doubtless it will become clear in time.

“Well, perhaps if you go about your normal activities the meaning will become clear. There is a hazard in seeing the future, what seems to be a kind of principle of uncertainty: the more people who know about about a future event and the more that is known about it, the less likely it is to actually come to pass. Thus the unobserved future is virtually predetermined, but peeling back the veil introduces some doubt. And if there is too much doubt, you won’t get a prophecy at all, thus prophecy by its very nature must be vague to some extent. But I prattle.”

The courtyard clock chimes. “Oy, is it that late already. Mr Maxwell, it’s been a genuine pleasure to speak with you. Please come and see me whenever you have a mind to. I must prepare for class. If there is anything I can quickly try to answer for you? Otherwise I must bid you au revoir. And mind; a minor convergence occurs tonight. Be on…never mind.”

Mark makes a polite withdrawal and heads back into downtown, puzzling a bit over the scrawl on the chemical invoice. It seems to be an address, 635 North Elm, one that nags at the back of his memory. The MII could be the Roman numeral 1002, or M11 could be some strange room designation, or someone could have written IIIII in a hurry. It’s hard to say.

As he reaches the end of the 700 block of North Elm Avenue, he remembers what was strange about the address.

The 600 block of North Elm Avenue is taken up in its entirety by a single building. Back in the ‘Teens, 635 was a 5 floor brownstone, with a laundry on the bottom floor. The owner, one Sigmund Weaver, bought out the other buildings one by one until he owned the whole block. Then he leveled the block in the 30’s and rebuilt in his own unique style. After which he promptly died, officially of a household accident, but rumors persist that it was spontaneous combustion.

The Weaver Building has four square towers, one on each corner of the block, each a respectable office building in its own right, with enough space between adjacent towers for a wide, ground-level ramp leading toward the center. At the center of the block, wider than the towers and uniting them into one structure, a skyscraper rivaling the tallest in the city stabs into the sky. The towers and the skyscraper taper slightly as they rise, giving the unsettling illusion of even greater height.

The entire building is made of white stone. Carved gargoyles line the borders of the roofs of the outer towers, and presumably the topmost roof, though it’s hard to see from the street. People walk by on their various errands, some turning in where the stone lions guard the inner ramps to enter the main tower.

It’s always been a strange place. Lately Mark has been finding reasons to avoid it. Today it seems suffused with a palpable, quiescent malice, like an ungodly egg, hard, and echoing with the struggles of the terror yearning to break out.

Something is going to happen here, soon.

A nearby church bell rings 5 o’clock. The people go unconcerned about their business, many heading back to their homes and families.

Mark thinks, “Great. A spooky building. And I probably have to go in, with no back-up.”

Mark remembers that 635 was about in the middle of the block, in the gap between two of the towers along Elm. There’s nothing left of the old brownstone.

Mark walks between the Elm Avenue stone lions, up the gently sloping ramp between two of the towers and toward the main doors. The ramp, paved with polished granite, looks impressive but not unusual. Near as he can tell, he is now standing where the laundry used to be, probably among the racks of cleaned clothing behind the counter ready for pickup. The old building probably went deeper into the block than the ramp now goes, as far as the alley that used to cut through the center of the block.

It’s noticeably chillier now than just a few moments ago, though the sun is still out. There doesn’t seem to be a breeze. The air is still—unusually still, for an Atlantic seaport. It isn’t uncomfortably cold, but feels more like October than June. Mark wanders back and forth for a bit, to see if there’s a certain spot where the chilliness starts and/or ends. The chilliness seems uniform across the ramp, and out onto the sidewalk. Mark doesn’t notice any warmer areas; it could be this way across the whole city. Passersby seem to notice the change in the temperature, putting their hands in their pockets and hurrying just a little bit.

Mark mutters, “Stupid magical chillification.”

Mark glances around, notices nobody around, and aligns the Spirit Sign’s circles and they flash red. Mark’s eyes glow to match.

The very walls of the building are saturated with a dispersed, latent evil, frozen but waiting for the time or conditions to wake.

Mark starts to smell a faint stench in the still air, and it begins to grow. It smells like garbage and decay, vomit and offal.

Some thing catches Mark’s attention. He turns away from the door toward the street.

If a car were slowly approaching on Elm Avenue, one would see the wall and the lion to one’s left lit up by its headlights, and the illuminated part of the wall would be increasing in brightness as the car, hidden by the tower to your right, drew near. Mark doesn’t see reflected light, but does see reflected evil, and it is less like the beam of a headlight than the glow of a torch, as bright or brighter than any headlight would be. The reflected patch of evil on the wall is more intense than Mark has ever seen from any being, and its purity is uncolored by any rage, fear, greed, cowardice, arrogance or negligence. It is as if an unprecedentedly intense source of plain and simple evil were walking along the sidewalk toward the bottom of the Elm Avenue ramp, and only its reflected aura is visible. So far.

It occurs to Mark that he has never noticed a source of evil strong enough to reflect off a surface before. Still, he hasn’t been at this very long.

The temperature continues to drop. Wisps of mist appear and vanish, to appear again in the chilled air.

Hoo boy. I gotta look into this, don’t I? I’ll regret if I don’t, I know. The only problem is, I’ll regret it if I do, too.

Mark deactivates the Spirit Sign and casually walks down the ramp between towers, out to the sidewalk by Elm Avenue. The smell of decay gets worse.

Coming down the street, about halfway to the corner of 7th and Elm, is a man wearing a large, filthy rain slicker over a ragged and rotting tuxedo, carrying an umbrella. It seems to be the same person Mark saw in the Murray building, though he’s filthy enough that he probably couldn’t identify him from a (clean) photo. The stench is hard to mistake, though.

“Hrm. Hrm.” He mutters incoherently as he walks past, talking to himself in a speech that consists primarily of consonants. As Mark turns around to tail him, the man seems to have vanished. Then Mark realizes he probably just turned up the ramp toward the Weaver building entrance. Sure enough, when Mark returns to the foot of the ramp he sees him walking toward the doors, trailing his hand along the side of the building (leaving a smudge). The man stops, and leans against the wall, seemingly listening.

There aren’t any other people about, not on this block. A mist is coming up though, so one can’t see much farther down the street. The streets aren’t usually this deserted at quarter after 5 in the afternoon.

Mark shifts form, blending at the edges slightly into the mist. He approaches the man. The mist seems to thicken.

The stinking man is still muttering. “Hrm. Hrm. Yes. Good. Hrm.” He pulls away from the wall.

Mark announces himself. “What are you doing in this place? Speak up!” The man doesn’t respond and starts walking toward the door. Mark reaches for his shoulder.

Suddenly, like a striking snake, the man turns and glares at Mark. His eyes are far more bloodshot than any you’ve ever seen, as if rimmed with fire, and the swollen red veins of his eyes are also visible in his eye sockets and cheeks. The irises are blood red. The pupils…ferocious lights rage within, a world of hate. The eyes seem to expand, swallowing Mark, the street, the building, the city, the world, creating a hell of fear and pain in its place…

View
Episode M2
A Night on the Town

Episode 2: A Night on the Town

Mike’s Rusty Nail is a smoky hole-in-the-wall, an old speakeasy, down by the docks. Not all Mark’s clients used to be on the shiny side of the city, and that makes him as tolerated as anyone here, where the law is often the least of a gangster’s worries. Sometimes he wonders if his welcome here will change since the Event, or whether he might have to turn down—or turn in—some old clients. But not today.

There’s a group of dangerous looking revelers at one table, playing with knives. “Hey! Maxwell! You here to bring me in? I didn’t do nothin’!” They all laugh at the joke. Mark joins their table.

He skillfully works the conversation to the topic of museum heists. “Wasn’t Threeface going after a museum?” “That was a month ago. He gave that up after his tonsilectomy.” That gets a chuckle. “Oh yeah. Well, somebody said something.” “Say, Tommy was shootin’ his mouth off the other day.” “Tommy was here?” “Nah, he showed up at the countin’ house. Lookin’ for muscle. Easy job. But Ace Kiser was gonna be a big boss after.” “He get anybody?” “Nah. Some nutcase they met in prison, he said they’d all be runnin’ the city when they were done. Guess Ace is gettin’ desperate.” “Huh. Ain’t no percentage in museums. Heck, the Milkman donates a truckload to them cultural spots. Ain’t worth my neck to cross the Milkman.” “You said it.” “Way I heard Tommy tell it, it wasn’t much of a museum anyway. Never heard of the place, some college joint.” “What do they got?” “That’s just it. They got nothin’. Rocks. Old pots they dig up. Bones.” “Maybe they know a collector. I hear the Milkman’s got his own private collection of stuff like that.” “Nah. If it was worth somethin’, it’d be in the real museum, or at one of the bosses’ places. Take it from me, there’s nothin’ worth nothin’ there.” “Well, you ask me, it couldn’t happen to a nice guy. Ace was gettin’ on my nerves before he got tanked. Got half a mind to drop a dime on him myself.”

The table gets quiet and tense. “Hey, no, I’d never do that. Caesar’s ghost, guys, I was just talkin’. You know.”

The conversation turns to how bad the Hawks got beat by the Dodgers.

Mark gathers the heist is supposed to take place tonight sometime, but they don’t know for sure when since nobody admits to signing on.

“See ya Mark! And ya didn’t hear nothin’ from us!”

After the American Revolution, the Bayside City fathers wanted to start a college, and granted the new school a piece of land on the steep western slopes that nobody was interested in farming. Three-story classroom and lab buildings surround the quad on the widest stretch of level land available, while the rest of the campus is laid out fairly haphazardly, following the contours of the hillside.

Mark passes though some deep shadows as he approaches the campus, and emerges a different man—fedora and trenchcoat now gray as the night shadows, face obscured by darkness—except for two piercing, red eyes. He touches a strange medallion that he wears, and it pulses with eldritch light—a pulse picked up by the unsettling eyes as they scan the darkness for the hearts of evil men.

The campus seems deserted tonight. Crammed between the gymnasium and the English Literature building, the Archaeology building has the neglected look of a department whose faculty rarely stay long enough to earn tenure. Rumors are mixed as to whether this is by choice, by coercion, or by the onset of madness. Few come here, even in daylight.

Except for tonight. There is a car parked outside, a sleek Hudson sedan. It’s too dark to see into it—but the aura of a snarling jackal, slavering for the remains of the pack’s kill, which radiates from it is all too evident. He finds an appropriately shadowy perch to watch from, see who they are.

Nothing seems to be happening. In the quiet of the night an aimless, tuneless humming occasionally comes from the car.

Mark decides to enter the building. There’s a side door that’s not locked in any meaningful way.

It is quiet in the dark, abandoned hallway, the glass in the classroom doors giving away nothing of what may lie behind them. In the middle of the building, a wide stairwell has flights of stairs leading both up and down. There is a dim light coming from below.

Down in the basement, a narrow hallway leads to the left, and a door to the right with frosted glass is lit from within. Mark can read “B C U ARC AEOLOG MUS UM” in black letters on the glass. The door is ajar, and Mark slips in. The room is cluttered with random arrangements of glass and wood cases and shelves, full of dusty junk: earthenware pots, pieces of brick, rusty metal and the occasional semiprecious stone.

“This is what we came here for?” The voice is broad and skeptical.

“Zip it, Knuckles,” says another voice, gravelly and biting. There is an odd sound, rather like a machine gun on a silencer.

“It heh heh heh looks like like a rock. A rock!” the third voice is squeaky, fast and manic.

“This…this is an ancient relic. I-I swear! It’s the Hand of Sutek.” the fourth voice is a bit petulant and weak.

Through the maze of cases five men can be seen, in a clear area in the center of the room, wearing pieces of prison clothing with otherwise normal attire. One is large and broad, with good looks and hair, sporting brass knuckles on each hand and holding a flashlight. One is short and skinny, dirty and unkempt, carrying a large, 20’s style tommy gun. One has a scar across his face and a neat purple fedora, and is nervously handling a deck of cards, absently cutting and shuffling it one-handed (making that odd noise Mark heard earlier). One is nondescript to the point of invisibility. And the fifth is shortish, squatish, and balding with small round glasses, holding a piece of slate, very roughly the size and shape of a child’s hand. Mark recognizes him as the professor he sent to jail—Doctor Tennyson.

“How is that thing going to help me? I got a lot on the line here, and if I sprung you for no good reason then I guarantee—”

“No, no, Ace, this is it! This is what I promised you back in prison! It’s the key to—”

Doctor Tennyson stops suddenly, and freezes. Then he relaxes.

He seems to stare into the middle distance. “Well. If it isn’t Mr Maxwell, my old nemesis. I should have known someone of your impressive detective skills would track me down.” He seems to be relishing his role. “Well, the joke’s on you, this time. I have fr—”

As he turns to look at where Mark is hiding he stops. His eyes and mouth widen in shock. The others turn in puzzlement to look in the same direction.

“You—you’re not Mark Maxwell! Who…who are you??”

Mark can feel the mystical spirit begin to exert itself. And, to Mark’s dismay, it tends to be somewhat theatrical. “I am that which haunts your dreams. I am that which cannot abide the evil in your hearts.” The Spirit Sign around Mark’s neck [an iron circle, with four arcs of circles inside it] shifts from the Sign of Seeking to the Sign of Light [the arcs inside the circle shift around], and a soul-searing burst of gray and red strikes the eyes of the one holding the machine gun.

“Aieeeee!” the gunman lets out a high-pitched scream as the gray and red burst tunnels into his eyes. “I can’t see! I can’t can’t can’t see!”

“He’s gonna haunt our dreams!” shouts the big guy with the brass knuckles.

“C-can it, you mugs! Get ’im!” The man with the cards draws a gun from his coat with his free hand, but his hand is too shaky to take proper aim.

The others seem frozen in terror.

Mark slips behind the disorganized cases and shelves, and lets out an eerie laugh. “Repent and surrender yourselves, lest you face the wrath your evil deeds have earned you!” He waits in the haphazard shadows for your chance to strike. It’s the kind of arcane maze in here that only years of well-meaning enthusiasm, chronic underfunding, weak light bulbs and poor curating can create.

The gunner’s eyes return to normal. “Where’d he he he go! I’ll perforate ’im!”

“He vanished! He’s a spook! Ace, I didn’t figure on spooks!”

“Zip it, both of you. Tommy, take the left. Knuckles, the right. Fingers—Fingers? Jiminy Christmas, he’s gone again. Well, we’ll get him anyway. Now move!”

“But he’s a—”

“I said MOVE!” Mark hears the click of a revolver being cocked, then footsteps.

Mark is almost startled to see Ace’s shadow against a nearby bookshelf, and as he rounds the corner Mark lashes out.

Ace gasps as his breath whooshes out after a hit to the sternum. Mark feels ribs snap. He staggers, dropping his gun.

“It’s it’s it’s him!” Suddenly the air explodes with machine gun fire and the crash of splintered glass.

“Tommy! Knock it off!”

“Knuckles, it was him, I tell ya, I tell ya, it was him!”

“Where? I didn’t hear nothin! Where is he?”

Mark easily grabs the punch-drunk Ace and slams him to the ground behind the cabinet. Ace lies there awkwardly, clearly unconscious. Mark’s eerie laughter echoes among the dim light and shattered glass.

“No, no, not now! I must save the…where is it?” It’s Tennyson’s whiny voice. “I just had it! It has to be here, somewhere!” Mark hears scuffling and sounds of shelves being upended.

“What was that? Ace, what’s…Ace? Ace? Jeepers, Tommy, he got Ace!”

“You you you ain’t takin’ me, dream haunter!”

The machine gun chatters again, tearing a bookshelf to flinders…fortunately it wasn’t the one Mark was hiding behind.

“Sheesh, Tommy, hold it! It’s me! I’m coming over.” Mark hears Knuckles stomp through the wreckage.

Mark moves up behind Knuckles from the shadows.

“Knuckles, behind you!”

Knuckles turns as Mark approaches him.

“Pleasant dreams, Knuckles,” Mark says, in a voice that visibly raises goosebumps.

Knuckles throws up his forearms in an attempt to block as Mark winds up to lay him out. Years of street experience and a flood of mystic power combine into a punch that could snap a telephone pole and send it hurtling across the street. Knuckles describes a flat trajectory through the air, trailing blood from his nose and ears. Knuckles collides with the gun-carrying gangster, knocking them both into a case of heavy iron artifacts, which promptly collapses around them. The machine gun clatters away, falling under the debris. Tommy groans a little, but Knuckles seems lifeless and bleeding.

In the distance, the sound of a car door opening and running footsteps.

Mark (to himself): “Crap! Crap crap crap! I didn’t mean to kill ’im!”

Worry not, mortal; the innocent lives this man has taken, or will take, surely mean he deserved death.

“Oh really, spirit; didn’t you say before than no man is innocent?”

Um …

“And by taking a life, doesn’t that mean we too deserve death?”

Er … that’s diff—

“I’m taking over now!”

Out loud, Mark says, “Flee and repent your ways, evil ones, lest you remain here and die.”

Tommy struggles back to consciousness as Mark speaks. “Yeah yeah yeah, sure sure sure. Repenting, that’s what we’re gonna do. Anything anything anything you say. Knuckles, the nice…man says we we we can go and…Knuckles? Oh man oh man oh man. Nobody ever done that that that to Knuckles. Ooh, still still still breathing, good. Look, mister, I’m just gonna pick up Knuckles here, and we’re going nice and easy, and giving up all that evil stuff, and won’t bother nobody nobody nobody again. And—”

The door to the museum slams open.

“Guys? What’s going on? What…what a mess!”

“Wheels! Find Ace, and get get get him back to the car, and like the nice man says we’re going going going straight and getting out of here.”

“Going straight? What’re you—”

“We’re GOING STRAIGHT, all all all right?”

“But—”

WHEELS! Find Ace and let’s get get get out of here!”

Tennyson rummages in the shards of glass and wood, ignoring the cuts and splinters in his hands. “Where is it? The Hand? Where is it?” He seems quite oblivious to his surroundings.

Tommy grunts as he picks up Knuckles.

“Where’s Ace?”

“I I I don’t know, he went over over over that way.”

“It’s a maze in here!”

“Zip it, and let’s get out of here.”

“What happened?”

“Not not not now!”

“Caesar’s ghost! Ace is out cold! And—is that Knuckles? How did this happen? You don’t look so good yourself.”

NOT NOW!”

Wheels picks up Ace, and the four of them leave the room. Car doors slam and tires squeal.

“It’s gone,” moans Tennyson. He sits on the floor with his head in his hands. “What will I do now?”
As Mark approaches, he looks up, eyes wide. “W-What are you going to do to me?”

“You are going to tell me what you are looking for, and why. Now.” The arcs of the Spirit Sign shift and resolve into the Sign of Thought, peering into the man’s mind. He seems broken and in despair.

“I…I…I [my destiny!] it’s [the Hand of Sutek] gone [missing lost nothing to live for]. The Hand of Sutek [Sutek promised!] would have realized my destiny [my true ascension my throne my empire!]. But it’s [my life, my destiny] all over [nothing matters now].

“Are you [don’t hurt me] going to take me back to jail [cold scary confusing]?”

“Yes, Tennyson; you are going back to jail.”

Mark ascertains that the Hand of Sutek looks like a grey stone shaped, with a little help from imagination, like an open hand (like a policeman, signaling “stop”), about 3 or 4 inches long. Tennyson’s mental image of it looks exactly like what he was holding when Mark entered the room. Prominent in his mind is also a shadowy figure that he calls Sutek, a towering man, an unearthly animal, a thunderous storm with no rain.

The nondescript gangster is nowhere to be seen. Mark didn’t notice him leaving with the others, but then again he didn’t notice much of him at all other than his presence at the start.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Tennyson says. “I’ve failed. Do what you want. I’ll go turn myself in tonight if you say so.” He sighs. “It would have been glorious.” He imagines countless people bowing to him in golden splendor, with various ex-colleagues in chains, but the image fades to black.

“Go now. Turn yourself in.”

“Yes sir.” Tennyson turns and dejectedly climbs the stair.

Mark looks for the rock, and finds a few pieces that are similar but are not the same size or shape. The room is rather a mess, between bullets and flying bodies, and after a rather thorough search the object itself hasn’t turned up. A scan for Evil shows nothing.

Mark rushes outside. The car is gone. The lanes of the University are empty; Tennyson probably walked downhill toward downtown. The hint of an aura of inhuman misanthropy sensed earlier fro the Hand is nowhere to be found.

The wind starts to pick up. The sky is overcast; there’s no moon or stars. The lights of the city are starting to go out; it’s probably past midnight.

It’s a long walk home. Thunder mutters politely overhead.

Mark is a few blocks from home when he sees another wanderer ahead, several blocks away, under a streetlamp, one he doesn’t recognize. The stranger is wearing a dark suit, possibly a tux, has unkempt hair, and is walking with a weird, spasmodic limp. He stops and looks up into the sky. Or up at the street light; it’s hard to tell.

Abruptly lightning fills the city night, and thunder shakes the street. Torrents of rain collapse from the sky, instantly soaking the pavement.

The dark-suited man screams. He screams like a man on fire. He runs, disappearing from the pool of yellow light. It’s hard to see in the dark and the rain, but Mark could swear he saw wisps of steam rising from the stranger’s body before he vanished.

There’s no trace of him when Mark reaches the spot where he was. Nothing left but the nagging mystery.

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Episode M1
A Quiet Afternoon in Bayside City

Outside the dingy second-floor windows of the Maxwell Special Investigations office, Bayside City drums dully about its business. Cars rattle by. Newsboys call out the headlines. Pedestrians busy themselves among the sidewalks and stores. Since the base opened, it seems like more servicemen show up on the streets every day. Good for business—if you’re selling what they’re buying.

Faintly ominous, if you have a head for international affairs.

It’s June, 1940.

No callers, no telephone calls, not even mail, and no pending cases. Looks like another day of re-reading the paper, throwing cards into your hat and wondering where the rent is coming from.

“Hey, Mark.” From the outer office, Stacy knocks and pokes her head in the door. “It’s dead around here. I’m going to the ball game. Oh, that’s right, the Hawks are on the road, playing the Dodgers. Well, I’m just gonna go to that new Tyrone Power movie instead. See ya.” She starts closing the door. “You wanna come? Earl’s out of town today, training or something up in D.C.”

Mark visualizes how his brother-in-law would react if he let her precious daughter loose on the streets of the city alone at night. Not that he gives two cents about that rich twit’s feelings; it’s just fun to visualize his reaction.

Mark doesn’t, in fact, remember anyone in particular named Earl. Must be a new one.

“What? Johnny Apollo? You and your gangster movies. Haven’t you seen that five times already?” Still, there’s nothing better to do here. And Dorothy Lamour isn’t exactly hard on the eyes. “Sure. Why not?”

“Aw, geez, Mark. It’s only been three times. Come on. We’ll miss the newsreel.”

Thet head out on the busy street, walking the five blocks or so to the Bijou.

“Yextry! Yextry! Breakout at the Bayside City Pen! Read all about it!” shouts the paperboy across the street as they reach the theater.

“Go on in, Stacy; I’ll catch up.” After Stacy’s inevitable comeback, Mark heads across the street to look at the newspaper. If he has enough money for the movies and the newspaper, he’ll actually buy one. He’s specifically looking for who broke out, and if they’re ‘evil’ enough for him to go after, or if the cops can handle it.

“You’d better.” Stacy leaves in a huff.

The article says about half a dozen men broke out. It mentions Tommy Vinnelli, Seamus “Knuckles” Houlihan, Joe “Wheels” Hoffman and Leroy “Doofus” McGee, all of whom Mark recognizes as mob muscle. Also Marty “Ace” Kiser, a mob lieutenant, and another odd name: Anchises Kenneth Aeneas Tennyson III, a ex-archeology professor from Bayside State University. Mark remembers, from before, tracking him down for stealing artifacts from his own museum. Little round guy with glasses, always going on about his “destiny”.

It says the police are hot on their trail, and expect to have them back in custody in a couple days.

Bayside Penitentiary is just outside town. Mark tangled with Tennyson in his earlier days, before the Event, but at the time the professor seemed more deluded and out of touch with reality than evil.

Mark walks in as the newsreel depicts the stunningly rapid fall of Belgium and the Netherlands under the Nazi boot and the imminent defeat of France. The movie is otherwise enjoyable, despite the technical inaccuracies.

“Johnny, you never got a break,” Stacey laments as she and Mark leave the theater. “Hey, Mark, let’s get ice cream. My treat; Daddy sent me my allowance today. There’s a place I know…” She looks around… “just a block down. Come on!” She heads around the corner toward the alley behind the theater.

Stacey keeps up a stream of commentary and review on Johnny Apollo. As they approach the far end of the alley Mark starts thinking your anxiety is groundless. But then he notices a deep, thick voice unsuccessfully trying to whisper.

“An’ we got this here guy to get us in and knows what the good stuff is.”

“Doofus, zip it—we got company.”

From behind a dumpster two men suddenly emerge. One is built like a linebacker, wearing a fedora pulled down over his ears and a big overcoat over striped prison wear. The other is wearing a nondescript suit and looks lean, dangerous, and cynical.

“Well, lookie here, Doofus. It’s payday.”

“I don’t got a job.”

“Skip it. You, lady, hand over the handbag. Mister, your wallet. No funny stuff, and nobody gets hurt.”

“Aww. I like hurting people. Can I hurt just one?”

“First we’ll see what they got. Now hand it over.”

Stacey seems frozen with fear.

Mark don’t notice anything that suggests they have guns. A couple hoodlums. Great. The smart thing would be to play along, and get mugged. But I don’t always get accused of being smart.

Mark steps forward, and puts himself between the two fine, upstanding gentlemen and Stacy. 

“Now, who would imagine a couple of young men like yourselves would be hanging out in this alley, here? And would you please not scare the young lady? It’s not very polite.”

“Oh, a wise guy, eh? Somebody wants to be a hero, don’t he? What do we do to heroes, Doofus?”

“Uhh…we…what, Spider?”

“Teach ‘em a lesson, Doofus. Can’t have people disrespecting the Family, can we?”

“Umm…”

“Cripes, Doofus. We hurt them. So they’re afraid.”

“Oh. Oh!! Okay.” Doofus gets a big, toothy smile on his face.

They rush him!

Mark waits a moment, and as the big guy runs up he socks him right in the gut! Doofus lets out a whoosh of air and stops in his tracks, gasping for breath. Mark strikes a threatening pose, glaring at the thugs.

“Jeeps!” Spider says, skidding to a halt. Then he recovers himself and takes a swing at Mark. He connects, but Mark hardly notices.

Doofus breathes hard a couple times, then straightens back up with murder in his eye.

Stacey screams and runs, shouting for the police.

“Time for you to fall down, Doofus.” Mark takes on a more defensive posture, and socks Doofus in the jaw! He feels Doofus’ jaw crack. Doofus drops, unconscious.

“Why, you…I’ll knock your brains in!” Spider raises both arms over his head…

…and Mark steps aside as he brings them down hard. Spider stumbles a little bit, overbalanced by his swing.

Mark grabs Spider as he’s stumbling from his swing, spins him around and gets him in a shoulder lock from behind.

“Let go of me, flatfoot!” Spider struggles; he’s wiry, but strong. Mark don’t know how long he’ll be able to hold him.

“Flatfoot? I’m not cop.” Mark slams Spider into a handy nearby wall. “What’s a finely-dressed gentleman like yourself doing in a dark alley like this?”

He grunts when he hits the wall. “I’m waitin’ for a bus. What’re you doin’ here, Mr. I’m Not a Cop?”

Mark: “A bus. In an alley. Right.” Mark spins Spider around and lands a right cross to the jaw. “Look at what happened to your big friend. Why not just tell me what you know?”

He kind of wobbles on his feet. “I don’t…know nothin’. Doofus said to meet him…some kind of museum heist…had an insider…you showed up…I didn’t do nothin’…” Spider’s eyes roll back into his head and he collapses to the pavement.

Mark strolls to the street, in the direction Stacey ran off in, to see if he can find her. He sees Stacey running toward him up the street with two policemen running behind her.

“Mark! You’re okay! What happened?”

They arrive at the alleyway. “What’s the story, mister?” one of the policemen asks.

“A couple of hoodlums jumped us in the alley back there. They should still be there. I think I overheard them saying something about a museum robbery.”

“A museum robbery, eh? We’ll check it out.” One of the police goes down the alley.

Then Mark says to Stacey, “Exactly how often do you go down alleys, young lady?”

“I never go down alleys. At night. Often. Are you okay? They looked pretty tough! Did they hurt you? You don’t look hurt.”

“Hey, Seamus! Look at this!” the policeman down the alley calls. “It’s Doofus McGee! He’s out cold! Still in his prison clothes, too. Better call for the wagon.”

“All right. I will. Hmm…McGee…museum robbery…maybe he heard something from that Tennyson character. You must have some kind of arm there, mister. Say, there’s a reward out for those jailbreakers. Stop down at the station sometime if you want it. What was your name?”

“The name is Mark Maxwell.” He’d tell them he’s a private eye, but cops and us don’t mix well. “And McGee back there tripped over his own feet, even if he won’t admit it.” The noble and honorable things would be to turn down the reward, but Mark has never claimed either of those things. That and business isn’t too good right now.

“Mark…Mark Maxwell, eh?” He seems like he’s trying to remember where he heard that name before.

“Hey, it’s Jerry Robinson, too!”

“Oh, no. Not again.”

“You want I should leave him?”

“No, Ralph, we’d better bring him in, too. I’ll phone for the wagon.”

Mark: “What’s the story with this Robinson fellow?”

The cop sighs. “We’ve run him in a dozen times, and each time he gets sprung some kind of technicality or legal trick. We’ll take him in again, but with no witnesses…McGee will go straight to jail, of course, but I don’t know if we can make anything stick to ol’ Spider. ’Scuse me, gotta make a call.” He walks off to the pay phone. Ralph is busy handcuffing the gangsters.

“Come on, Mark, let’s get out of here,” says Stacey. “I don’t think I’m that hungry for ice cream tonight. Why don’t you walk me home?”

“Sure thing, kid.” As he walks Stacey home, Mark internally sighs as he thinks about what is sure to be a long night.

Usually, crooks who break out of jail lay low, or go on the lam. For one to plan a heist right away, something must be up — something that’s gonna happen soon. Mark racks his brain. Is there anything happening at the museum? Any traveling exhibit leaving, or a new exhibit opening? Reluctantly, he also considers possible mystical events; is there anything coming up now? Does he know someone he might contact about such things?

After Stacey is delivered home, he’ll check out the newspaper archive-of-interesting-events he just might have in his office.

Museums, museums—

The obvious target is the Treasures of Rameses collection, currently at the Bayside City Museum of Natural History. It’s not Tutankhamun, but there’s gold and antiquities. Mark deduces that the police will be alert for a heist there after his warning. The exhibit has been there awhile, but it came to town after Tennyson went to jail.

There’s the Bayside City Institute of Arts. There’s some valuables there. Security is pretty good, but if someone knows the ins and outs…

There’s the museum Tennyson tried to rob the first time; a couple rooms in the basement of the Archeology department at Bayside University that never gets any visitors. There isn’t really anything valuable there though, and the newspaper archive says the thing Dr Tennyson was going after got moved out of state.

There’s a minor astral conjunction in a few days. Those come along every few weeks. The Gatekeepers are a bit more alert around those days, but Mark hasn’t heard anything from them.

Mark heads down to Mike’s Rusty Nail, which certainly wouldn’t have any unseemly business going on, to see if he can find out anything in the ‘buzz’ about a museum/antiquities heist going down.

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Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.

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