And now you have a different problem


[Erica Blackburn is a professional audio engineer in a sea of amateurs. She also knows her way around computers and networks, though that’s more of a hobby - but she’s good enough that she’s gained a hell of a reputation in some unusual circles. None of this changed when she Awakened. Now she’s in the unenviable position of being aware of the less than mundane side of this city while still being utterly confused about how to handle any of it. This isn’t the first time she’s been thrown into an unusual situation…]

Lord Bastard. What kind of a name is that? All I know of the guy is that he’s a DJ when he’s pretending to be a sleeper, but he’s aware of me enough to know that I’m probably going to be able to fix the broken sound system at his friend’s club in a hurry. The job paid well enough, and I didn’t have anything better to do so… off to the club I go.

The club was pretty empty, even for a Tuesday night. There’s not a lot to do in a club with no music. I bet the band scheduled for tonight were pissed. The bouncer directed me over to one of the tables where the club’s owner (Gary) was sitting. I headed over to introduce myself, and he did the “thank god you’re here” routine before leading me wearily backstage into the dank underbelly (hah!) of the converted church.

As we passed the bar, a young woman who had been chatting with the bartender suddenly downed her drink and started walking with us. I’d noticed her aura when I entered the club, but hadn’t realised until now that it wasn’t like any I’d seen before. I caught her eye when she introduced herself as Briar Thorn and had a brief glimpse of intense curiosity, barely-contained mischief, and something… darker. I introduced myself as Erica (because that’s my name) and she told me this was a strange Shadow Name; I told her I haven’t been awake long enough to have settled on one yet, but as we spoke it slowly dawned on me that my handle would be perfect for that. She chatted inconsequentially with me until we reached the backstage door, at which point the bouncer stationed there tried to stop her. She sighed, then leaned around him and called out, “Belle, this guy won’t let me iiiinnnnn…”

An exasperated phone conversation ended abruptly at this point, and a woman appeared at the door. I assumed this was Belle; her picture had been plastered all over the place on bill posters for tonight and I realised it was her band that was supposed to be tonight’s entertainment. It probably didn’t matter how good her band was though - most guys I know would listen to nails on a chalkboard if it meant they got to look at her. Hell, even a lot of the women I know would too. Most of them wouldn’t have noticed that she had a similar aura to Briar Thorn though. Belle gave the bouncer a look and ushered Briar Thorn through the door; Gary motioned for me to follow him through to the space under the stage where the main audio racks were set up nearby.

I’ve discovered that my enhanced senses are really helpful for diagnosing electrical faults (no, I’m not calling it Mage Sight, that’s a silly name. Also I hear it more than I see it… it’s a little hard to explain). Feels like a frivolous use of this, but I can sense how the current is flowing and it makes life soooo much easier. I found the faulty modules pretty quickly, but also something curious - an old phone line, still active, snaking from the main j-box down under the carpet and disappearing into a hole in the floor. I lifted the carpet and found a trapdoor with no obvious handle or latch, and an eerie red mist emanating from it.

A sound at the door made me look up. I hadn’t expected Briar Thorn to come down and check up on me. I also hadn’t expected to see her through my enhanced senses… and she’s terrifying. Overlaid on the image of the unimposing figure that my regular vision gives me is a humanoid shape apparently made entirely of a writhing thorn bush, following every move of her regular flesh. I can see why she’s called Briar Thorn. I shook my head and blinked a few times in case something had broken in there, then looked around the room but everything else was as I had seen it previously. I let my focus drift and returned to my normal senses, but her aura was enough of a reminder of what I’d seen that I remained unnerved for quite some time.

Briar Thorn noticed that I was hunched over a patch of floor rather than face-deep in the electronics and asked me what was going on. I mentioned finding the cable and following it over here, and she said, “your kind are really great at noticing things. I can tell you’ve noticed me as well, little sister.” I started a bit at this - Thordis calls all of us “little sister” as well. “I have a friend who calls me that,” I said. “She doesn’t look anything like you though…” This intrigued Briar Thorn, and after a bit of back and forth we established that they don’t actually know each other. I mentioned the red glow around the trapdoor, but she couldn’t see it.

Briar Thorn wanted to check it out, and suggested I come with. She also called out to Belle to come with us, and excitedly told her what I’d found. Belle was sufficiently interested to check it out. While she let her bandmates know she’d be gone for a while, I took a proper look at her. Nowhere near as terrifying, but definitely a long way from “normal”. She came back in and lifted the trapdoor - literally wedged her hand through the seams between the boards and lifted it out of its hole, revealing a set of rough stairs down into the darkness.

I tried to remember how that darkvision spell thingy works, but before I could actually use it Briar Thorn somehow “shared” her immunity to darkness with me and Belle. I shrugged and thanked her; if I didn’t have to concentrate on that then I could be more useful anyway. We proceeded down the stairs, following the phone line and the red mist. These led us to a room that appeared to have been used for various experiments on… people? Probably not the human kind though. It was a little creepy but ultimately not that important. I was drawn instead to a rusty iron door at the far end of the room. It had apparently been locked, but the metal of the door had rusted away from the lock mechanism so severely that it fell apart at a light touch, and we proceeded into the room beyond.

This room was much more interesting. The phone line led to an empty coffin surrounded by books. Briar Thorn looked into the coffin and found a fancy metal puzzle; she messed with it for a moment and shrugged. I asked to have a look and she tossed it to me. A good look at it showed that bits of it shifted through each other in ways that aren’t supposed to be possible. I gave a few of the rings a pull and lines of force radiated from the puzzle, and the lock that had fallen off the door behind us started making interesting sounds in resonance with them. I tossed it back to Briar Thorn, told her it was a key for the door lock, and she started playing with it again. Eventually she solved the puzzle, but it wasn’t just a key for the door lock. All of the book locks clicked open at the same time.

The now-open books really excited my two new friends - they were the journals and research notes of an important vampire who had gone missing. This was cool and everything, but I find it difficult to muster the same enthusiasm. We proceeded a little further into the chamber and found a machine of some description. Apparently the others were familiar with it despite its modifications, one of which was a copper pipe that led down a corridor to where the red mist was most intense. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that we followed the pipe.

What we found at the other end of the pipe was a red room that bore a striking resemblance to the room we’d found under the Manton Memorial Church, but with some significant differences. Both were tiled on every surface with small closely-fitting triangles, but “my” room was a cold white dome that reeked of death where this was a blazing hot red tetrahedron with a crystal obelisk in its centre. The obelisk had etched upon each of its faces a representation of Hekate with a different mask, such that whatever angle it was viewed from it would appear that the image was facing you. It was quite hard to see this through the blaze of Prime energy it was suffused with though - nearly enough to blind a prime-sensitive mage like myself.

Through the blaze I could see Briar Thorn apparently taking root, and Belle dazedly drifting towards the obelisk with an outstretched hand. Something about this set off alarms in my head; I dashed over to stand in her way and called Briar Thorn to help me wake or restrain her. Then we noticed the pile of ash that was almost certainly the remains of the missing vampire…

We were all at a bit of a loss now. On the one hand, we all really wanted to uncover this room’s secrets; on the other, none of us wanted to be crispified. I remembered that I still had some favours owed me by one of the furies, but was reluctant to call upon her - I’m never sure whether I have an interesting enough encounter to be worth her time, and I was worried how my new friends would react to such an apparently powerful entity. I passed all of these concerns on, but Briar Thorn was both keen to hear Tisiphone’s assessment and certain that she could fight her off if needed. I wasn’t about to argue.

I prodded the little marking that Tisiphone had left in my pattern, and waited. Noting happened for a moment, then she faded through the wall and greeted me with an amused expression, which only became more amused as she noticed the others. “We meet again, little one. I was beginning to despair that you weren’t as interesting as I had hoped, but now you’ve summoned me in a new place with new friends to play with.” Briar Thorn stiffened a little at this, and inserted herself between Belle and Tisiphone. Tisiphone’s amusement deepened and she continued by greeting my companions with a familiarity that none of us expected. “It is a pleasure to finally encounter you, Deme. Please be at ease, you and yours have nothing to fear from me at this time. Ah, and this must be Belle. We have heard a lot about you. Your little band have been causing quite a lot of excitement.”

I watched Briar Thorn relax, and queried her about the name. She introduced herself to me again as Demetria Addison, and I began to feel her opinion of me begin to shift from simple curiosity to something closer to acceptance.

I asked Tisiphone if there was anything she could tell us of the nature of the room, of it’s previous occupant, and whether Deme and Belle could use this as a way to contact Hekate. She revealed that this place was indeed related to my cold room - built by the same hands, but powered by a different aspect of the universe. The cold room was death, this one was linked directly to the Aether and was powered by pure Prime energy. The vampire who had been ashed here had been attempting to channel that power into resistance from the sun, however had done an Icarus and paid the ultimate price. Hekate was indeed linked to this room, as she is to the others; it’s a different aspect of her but ultimately the same being.

This was about all that Deme needed to hear. I stopped her before she could summon Hekate though, with another question for Tisiphone: “is this going to be safe for Belle?” Tisiphone thought about this for a moment then replied, “the energies of this room are analogous to those that power the sun. You are right to be concerned, Belle may be able to withstand this but it will be painful and I can make no guarantees of her survival. It would be best that she retreat if her continued existence is important to you.” Belle nodded in disappointment, but withdrew into the corridor.

Deme quickly scaled the walls of the room and reached the top of the obelisk. She drove its sharp point through her hand and appeared to concentrate, and the image of Hekate started to glow, quickly increasing in intensity until all we could see was each other in a sea of white, with Hekate shining between us. One side of her mask spoke at length and with some familiarity to Deme, and another side watched me through its single eye with an expression of recognition and curiosity. She handed a ball of… something to Deme and then retreated, taking the blinding light with her. Deme examined the ball, manipulated it somehow, and suddenly the room felt different somehow, like it was now a part of her in some way.

Tisiphone had also disappeared as the light faded, leaving a sense of satisfaction. Curious as to how many of my three favours I’d spent today, I examined my pattern where she’d left her mark. I was surprised to find that the simple numerical representation was gone, replaced instead with something far more nebulous and interesting. It feels like I may have impressed her somehow, enough that “favours owed” had been replaced with a more powerful bond - although now I have absolutely no idea what the conditions are and this worries me a little. No, that’s not right. This worries me. A lot.

We reluctantly left the room and returned to where Belle was waiting. Deme excitedly started jabbering at her about all the stuff that had happened; I suggested (less than subtly) that we might discuss this on our way back upstairs; I still had a job to do. At the top of the stairs, we noticed that something was a bit… off. Our excited discussion immediately chilled. I had heard that vampires can be ridiculously fast, but I wasn’t prepared for the way Belle dashed out to where the rest of her band had been hanging out and laid waste to the goon who we found standing guard over them. Another goon was walking down the corridor holding his shotgun almost negligently, not having noticed it reacted to Belle yet. I figured I’d take advantage of this inattention, and with a quick spell I changed the potential energy in the gunpowder into kinetic (I made it go bang). The goon dropped his exploding gun in shock and pain, but I wasn’t expecting these idiots to be using phosphorous shells. They were clearly expecting to be dealing with vampires. Not sure they were expecting to set the building on fire though…

A scream of pain from Belle told me she was on fire too. She’d caught a shard of phosphorus in the back of her hand, where it was slowly burning a hole through. Deme was with her in an instant, shouting at the band members to get a knife to get it out. One of them dazedly got up and headed for the kitchen while the others just kind of stared blankly at us. I made sure the goon was down, then offered my assistance - another quick spell ejected the shard from her hand, but the burning and the pain weren’t so easy to get rid of. Deme took Belle’s hand and stuck one of her thorns through the burning hole; it remained there as Deme let go, apparently soaking up the fire and the pain. As usual, curiosity got the better of me and I took a closer look. There was now a tenuous thread of… something?… between Deme and Belle’s hand. I reached out and plucked it gently, and it made an incredibly beautiful noise that apparently only I was able to hear. Belle was still examining her new addition when the band member returned, proudly proffering a butter knife and exclaiming, “Knife!”

The fire I’d caused with the misplaced shot didn’t look like it was going to stop in a hurry. A band member had decided to try struggling with a fire extinguisher, but Deme convinced them all to run instead. We did the same. Belle ran faster than even I can, even though she stopped on the way out to destroy a couple more goons. I couldn’t quite keep up with her, but still arrived outside at her car not long after she did. Deme took quite a bit longer, and arrived in a cloud of obscenities about everyone else being the flash compared to her.

Belle kind of passed out on the floor of her car. Deme looked pretty worried about her but had a place in mind where she could recover; she drove Belle there and I followed on my bike. Apparently I wasn’t likely to get a warm reception there…