Rage Across Baltimore

Story 16: Come Join Us

Deserve got nuthin' to do with it

Baltimore is struggling to put winter behind it as the pack gets back into the swing of things. Each of the remaining pack members has resolved some personal struggles, such as the lasting impact of their unwitting steps upon the Black Spiral Labyrinth. Even as the pack has recovered from this mind-breaking incident, however, the unfinished business they left behind in New York gnaws at them.

After all, some time ago, Willow’s old sept-mate Laurel, aka Social Justice, was found — then lost again — not to mention little Reyna’s sister, Janessa. Whether it was Laurel’s frozen, dead expression of horror, or Reyna’s childish screams for her lost little sister, there’s something about this foul business of abused children that the pack just can’t let rest.

And so, Last Call aims to go back to the Big Apple, to look for the Silver Fang Loba Carcassone, perhaps to get things right this time. Is it time for them to break out the Rite of Dreaming again, and brave the unique joys and horrors of the Dream Zone? Or, will their path lead them to solve mysteries in the ‘real’ world?

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Chapter 3 update:

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…
— Rush, “Witch Hunt”

February sees the pack becoming restless again, as some time has passed since the end of their Mammoth quest. As Willow and Zero now have Rank challenges to consider, they decide to visit the Big Apple again in pursuit of their various challenges. Even Scully is starting to feel the pressure, and plans to take the opportunity to seek out NYC’s Fianna — their leader is an Athro, and worth challenging.

They’ve all been to a moot at the Sept of the Green before, and this time the pack looks to actually join in and participate some. Before they can, however, a small, unfamiliar pack led by a Silver Fang recognizes Last Call. This New York pack is working with Loba Carcassone now, and our intrepid heroes find that they’ve been replaced!

Still, after a call to Loba, she advises them to look for Reyna, one of the children the pack rescued some time ago. It would seem she’s been kidnapped again — and Loba’s not particularly interested in working with the pack again. Finding Reyna might be the way they need to get back into the good graces of the eccentric Fang…

And before that, they have their business to attend to in the city! A chat with their old friend Antonine Teardrop will lead Scully and Willow to the Hand of Gaia sept in the near future, as they explore their prospects for increasing their Rank. And then, there’s Zero.

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

WWZD?

Zero’s general Renown, and perhaps his change in mentor, seem to have improved his standing with the Garou he meets, and in particular the Glass Walkers he runs across.

While Scully and Willow are joining in the Moot, Zero meets the local GWs in charge, as again they’ve recognized him first. After some shop talk about vampires, along with mere mortal corruption, Zero promises their leader, Kleon Winston, that he will look into an old-money family in the New York area, the Van Geldings.

And then finally, he meets the resident Master of the Challenge, a Get of Fenris called “LB”, aka Wilhelm Krause. The enormous, musclebound Fenrir is initially dismissive of Zero’s quest, and as the sept’s business of challenges and disputes has already concluded, LB has no need for Zero’s input.

The massive Get does eventually pose a question to Zero, one which gets the attention of others at the Moot. Over the winter, a Black Spiral Dancer was discovered in the city and chased by one of the local packs into a crowded nightclub nearby. How would Zero deal with this problem?

Zero likely susses out the dilemma — the imperative to Combat the Wyrm, vs. the obligation that the Veil Shall Not Be Lifted. And if Zero fails to realize this immediately, others do. A pack of tattooed skinheads, led by a scarred, angry young man wearing a MAGA cap, insist that the Delirium would protect the Garou, and that any delay could allow the Black Spiral to call for support.

Perhaps this pack of skinheads was involved in what really happened? It’s clear, at least, that there is no love lost between them and the Master of the Challenge.

What would Zero do in this situation, with his pack? Attack the BSD in the nightclub? Would it mean having to slaughter every human there, to protect the Veil? Or, perhaps run the risk that the Dancer calls in his pack, and create a bigger problem? His responses will likely influence whether or not LB chooses to work with Zero on his Rank challenge…

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Zero’s response:

Zero has experience with disastrous engagements in nightclubs, but even without it and even without consulting the Litany, he would not go hostile on the BSD in the club.

The plethora of tracking methods Zero has learned lately would be very useful in pursuing the BSD once they leave the club, and from such pursuit much could be gained. It might uncover the location of their lair or meeting places that could later be used as ambush points. The target might eventually leave the club without backup, or if he has buddies there, they might later split up and you have a shot at removing several problems. Combating the Wyrm doesn’t have to mean ‘do it immediately with no eye towards the big picture.’

Particularly if this was just some rank-and-file BSD, there is no reason to risk major incident over a footsoldier. There would be a decision to weigh if it was a VIP BSDVIBSD? but in most cases it would be really dumb to spark a huge incident that could get very ugly in a crowded public place.

CHARGE! is no longer the default maneuver.

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Zero’s answers stir up controversy in the discussion. The skinhead Fenrir immediately accuse him of cowardice and squandering an opportunity to kill a lone enemy. As for the Master of the Challenge, LB may seem more sympathetic. However, his emphasis is more on the risk to the Veil than the tactical possibilities of tracking BSDs down later.

LB points out to Zero that his plan to lie low and wait could easily end with the tables turned on his pack. The Spirals may not outnumber the Garou, overall; but the cities, the Scabs, are well known havens for their corruption and numerous Bane allies. And if the Spirals see an opportunity, the Veil may not slow them down. With Banes flocking to their aid in the Umbra, waiting out a Black Spiral could result in a forced battle in the physical realm, and possibly doom his pack.

Zero may get the impression that the discussion was meant to test and teach more than just him, though. The Fenrir in New York City seem fraught with infighting, and Zero may have inadvertently chosen a side. If so, however, at least he may have ingratiated himself with the elder Get…something that may prove useful for his Rank challenge.

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Chapter 5 update:

Something inside of me has opened up its eyes
Why did you put it there? Did you not realize?
This thing inside of me it screams the loudest sound
Sometimes I think I could
I’m going to burn this whole world down
— Nine Inch Nails, “Burn”

After returning from NYC and checking in with their elders, the pack seems hesitant, unwilling to act too hastily. Willow’s been recruited to participate in a protective ritual for the caern, to hide its presence in the Umbra — perhaps a response to Zero’s persistent warnings about the Weaver and the Technocracy.

As for Zero, the mention of vampires the pack heard in New York has captivated him. If there are Leeches at work here, perhaps in this Order of the Rose, it’s well worth rooting them out. And so, Zero is most interested in the young man Albrecht’s pack found, who is now being held in a short-term behavioral health treatment facility.

After extended sessions at his PC over a couple of days, he’s cracked some passwords, invaded the facility’s network, and learned what he can. Sifting through countless files on patients, progress reports and medication requests, he identifies the boy as one Adam Burnside, an older teenager (but still a minor) with an extensive record of mental health problems, in and out of treatment facilities since he was in grade school.

With diagnoses including severe dissociative identity disorder, conduct disorder, PTSD with a history of trauma — and now evidence of psychosis — Adam is a very damaged young man. His latest behaviors have the facility’s mental health professionals scrambling to find Adam a bed at a higher level, long term treatment facility.

Naturally, bed space is limited, and patients often languish for weeks or months in less helpful environments, even in juvenile detention. Adam’s ever-changing cocktail of prescriptions sends Zero searching for data on antipsychotics, many of which have a sedative effect. The prognosis is grim: either the boy is drugged into insensibility, or his behaviors destabilize the other residents, even threaten workers’ safety. As they struggle to find a happy medium, they acknowledge the very real possibility that there is none.

In the meantime, while Willow is busy commiserating with Mila and Guides-to-Truth about the upcoming ritual, Scully spends the next couple of days schmoozing with the locals. He visits with the local Bone Gnawer packs, including the pack’s home sept Guardians, and with the packs at the Brewery, looking for any news about Leeches, the new residents of the former Shattered Glass Hive, or anything possibly connected to Reyna.

Scully gets an earful about the goings-on at the Brewery. With the caern’s security seemingly well in hand, thanks to the Gnawers and Glass Walkers, the Grog Monsters are free to investigate leads and hunt down the Wyrm. Iron-Eyes tells Scully stories of Leech hunts, bizarre vampire rituals in graveyards involving live (or undead) burial.

The Fireball pack pushes Scully to have his pack look into a new outbreak of drug-related deaths among the city’s poorest and most vulnerable. Fentanyl-laced meth and heroin plague the streets of Baltimore — perhaps the work of the remaining Black Spirals, or worse!

The Fireball pack takes Scully out to see the Bone Gnawer elders, the only ones who remained outside the two Gaian septs. It’s been some time since the pack visited Sixteen Tons, Runs-for-Cover and Listo in their Stomping Grounds. No one has heard of an “Order of the Rose,” although to the Gnawers it certainly sounds like Leeches. Socialite Leeches, pale and beautiful and deadly, the ones that hunt where the humans are herded together like livestock.

Downtown Baltimore, on the other hand, has been relatively free of incident, at least since the new residents made their hostile takeover of Shattered Glass. None of the Brewery packs appreciate the thickening Pattern Web downtown, making the area spiritually sterile and unpleasant to linger in. But after apparent terrorist attacks and high profile action by the feds in the last year or two, it seems safe, sound and quiet now.

Scully returns to the Hidden Spring, not eager to explore either the city’s nightclubs, or the downtown being smothered by the Weaver, but certainly not without his pack. He’s done enough on his own — and screwed up enough on his own — to know better. More importantly, running down these other possible threats, while intriguing to investigate, doesn’t help Reyna.

Will the pack take action to track down or rescue the little girl they’ve already let down once before? How much time does she really have left, if Leeches are looking to feed upon her like humans on lamb? Or, will other obligations and the lure of the Internet win out?

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Chapter 6 update:

There must be something else
There must be something good
Far away
Far away from here
— Soundgarden, “Boot Camp”

The pack got back together at the Hidden Spring to discuss their separate investigations — lots of leads, many potential red herrings or new problems, but nothing conclusive about Reyna. So, in spite of the issues he’s been having with it, Zero again turned to his new Moonstruck Path Gift…and was briefly knocked unconscious, waking up with corrupted digital memory errors, not entirely sure what happened.

Even so, the pack resolved to follow the trail that they had, and set off in the direction the Gift provided. Zero supplemented it with his Sense of the Prey as the pack drove off in Scully’s rusty truck, and the trail led to the nearby port city of Havre de Grace.

The city has seen better days, with the coastline mostly run down and boarded up in the wake of a hurricane strike from years back. The local marinas were still busy, though, packed with boats in the cold winter night. Zero’s trail ended outside of a warehouse that smelled of fish and blood…perhaps human blood.

And so, the pack floundered again, scrutinizing it as much as they could from the outside, but not daring to open a door. At Zero’s urging, they even took to the Umbra to investigate further, finding the Gauntlet stronger than expected. A brief encounter with a pack of Wyldlings left the pack perplexed, and worried — both with finding spirits of the Wyld in the city, and with what the spirits had to say.

In the end, however, the pack chose to cross back over inside the warehouse. And again, Willow found the crossing difficult, taking long minutes instead of seconds or even instantaneously. As a result, their slow crossing left them vulnerable. With no chance of surprise or to turn back, the pack slowly transitioned into the physical realm.

The scent of fish hit them first. Then, they could distantly hear the voice of a little girl, laughing and talking in Spanish. After that, things get hazy, their thoughts unclear.

The pack awakens on the floor of the warehouse, in their breed forms, in a pool of blood — dripping from their faces, the taste thick in their mouths. Their throats feel raw, as if they’ve been breathing ground glass. And their last broken memories are like fever dreams, or Saturday morning cartoons, kind of pastel, two-dimensional, as if they were not themselves…

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Chapter 7 update:

Chain, chain
Join the endless chain
Taken by his glamour
Fame, Fame
Infection is the game, stinking drunk with power
— Metallica, “Leper Messiah”

The pack awakens in what looks like the aftermath of a fight — although, from the look of it, not a Garou frenzy at least. Just a few bodies, including a dead child, and no sign of extensive claw or bite wounds. Outside, that changes. Scully finds a downed victim, nearly bled out from a large bite wound. Zero recognized her from the files the hacker-mage Vext gave him. They were looking at a Technocrat.

Curiously, neither Zero nor Willow were inclined to let her die, instead healing her enough to survive…and talk. This being a fairly young ‘Progenitor,’ Racquel Thornton, they figured they could reason with her. Although she recognized them too (Zero, at least, by name), the woman was in no position to clam up.

Racquel was able to fill in some of the gaps in their memories. Evidently, the pack had fought the Technocrats, at the bidding of a mad wizard, or Marauder — none other than little Reyna. One of the pack indeed bit Racquel, although they’re not sure which. And in turn, while the pack was being “neutralized,” the Marauder fled.

If the pack is willing to believe a Technocrat, there is no ‘cure’ for Reyna, and she’s dangerous enough to hunt down and kill on sight. Even the pack’s sometime ally, Loba, guessed the young girl was in fact lost to the Wyld and past saving. Indeed, one cannot stop a force of nature…but Willow thinks the pack might be able to divert it.

Reyna is after something in the area, and having seen the fish market in Havre de Grace, now they have a good idea as to what she’s after. Now, it’s just a matter of solving the problem somehow, so that Reyna might be satisfied and leave town before the Technocrats get her.

Although Zero has since followed up by harassing Racquel online through her more public email address, the nurse pled ignorance as to the fate of Zero’s Traditionalist allies. Just another of the many mysteries the pack may have to sort out by themselves — although that is supposed to be what they’re good at.

As for Willow, she shared what her Kin told her about a traveling minister, James A. Franklin. His ministry, run out of a nearby small town called Brooke, is linked to a home school scam called Pleasant Valley Academy, and a number of fish markets, restaurants and food trucks, generally using the name The Cracked Crab. And one of those fish markets was in Havre de Grace…

So, a ministry of some questionable practices, linked to home schooling and welfare fraud, child labor, and the Kin suspect, insurance fraud over the property damage they’ve been racking up of late. Willow’s Kin might be wrong about that last part, but perhaps, finally, the pieces fit.

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Chapter 9 update:

I refuse to let you steal my daylight
Barely awake but it strengthens my night rage
I’ve seen you kill many dreams
But I got brand new armor
And your weapons are way out of reach
— In Flames, “Drenched in Fear”

With Reyna’s apparent target identified, the pack needed to act fast. The longer they waited, the greater the chance of the Technocracy finding the mad little girl. However, it wasn’t as simple as driving out to the minister’s mansion and slaughtering everyone they find. Even Scully, who tends to prefer direct and brutal when it comes to humans, had to admit the threat to the Veil was real.

So, Willow chose to attack the preacher through the Dream Zone. Not that the pack had the best experience with it before, but Scully had kept up his explorations there, and Willow still had the ritual that would send them there together. With Zero as their guide through the enigmatic facets of Dream, the pack eventually found their way to Franklin’s dreams.

There, they found the minister exulting in a dream of dominance, where he would lead his flock through the apocalypse itself to prosperity and paradise. Through Willow’s gift for Dream Comprehension, they also found a Dream Bane lurking there, apparently just enjoying the ambience of the preacher’s lust for power.

Here, Willow led the pack down an unexpected path, and lured the Bane to them — so that they could make a deal. The pack’s best bet was to bring the ministry down through some horrendous, soul-crushing nightmare. And who better to inflict it, than a Dream Bane? Caught between the rock of Scully’s Banecruncher axe, and the hard place of the approaching Marauder, the Bane reluctantly agreed to their terms.

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Visions of Hell:

It was up to the pack to subvert Franklin’s dreams and bring him down. With Scully’s power of dream shaping, he twisted the minister’s dreams of triumph over crisis around, conjuring a warband of well-armed, racist neo-Confederates to attack the mansion/compound. And although it may have felt very wrong, the pack led these ephemera to the slaughter.

And after inflicting the most punishing, thorough defeat and death on minister Franklin, it wasn’t over; the pack followed him, through this dream of death to dreams of worse fates, of what comes after.

Here, the Dream Bane was waiting for the preacher to arrive. It was dark, too dark to see, but the Garou have other, keener senses to employ. The Bane bid them to take their wolf forms and harry the minister, who was imprisoned, tied down to a chair with barbed wire.

The Bane led Franklin on a tour of his many sins, with which the Bane was of course quite familiar. The pack learned the true depths of the minister’s depravity — inflicting hard manual labor on his flock, depriving children of food, of education, of proper care when injured, even taking some from their parents for sex.

And when new children were born, their parents would ensure the next generation shared their fate. It was proper; it was what God wanted. But now, presented with a vision of the fate he richly deserved, the pack saw Franklin in despair and watched him break.

Story 16: Come Join Us
 

Epilogue:

Over the next few days, the pack discovered the results of their latest trip down the rabbit hole. It didn’t take long for news to spread of James Franklin’s surrender and confession to the police, and his ranch/mansion in Brooke was raided soon after.

Willow’s Kinfolk, and many others, added what they knew and suspected to the mix. It will take time for the entirety of Franklin’s ministry — and his business — to be unraveled, but with the preacher himself in custody, there’s little doubt that it will all come undone in time.

In the Dream Zone, Zero learned Brenden was a familiar name to the minister, a reminder of his greatest failure. Brenden was the best friend of one of Franklin’s sons, Noah. Noah was to be the next Pastor Franklin, to inherit the name and the ministry, but it wasn’t enough. Instead, some years back, he and Brenden stole a car, cash, and valuables from the mansion, and fled. Perhaps to the big city, for bigger and better, or far nastier, things.

Willow learned the Dream Bane’s Name, Mahr, which Scully extracted from the Bane with the blade of his axe. The spirit’s name itself felt wrong just to know. Although not her first choice, nor the most pleasant of circumstances, it raises interesting prospects for Willow. What would her fellow Children of Gaia think of what the pack did, and how they did it? And what else might she be able to get the Bane to do, in the future?

And what about Reyna? Well, Scully has a tale to tell at the next Moot. Two days after their Dream Zone adventure, on a trip into town, he spots Reyna…in the back seat of an old station wagon driving by, sitting next to a younger girl. Although they never spoke, Scully swears on his ancestors that it must have been Reyna’s little sister, Janessa — or something that looked like her.

Because Janessa saw him, and smiled. And in that moment, all of time and space, reality itself wavered and ran like melting wax, before the car drove past.

The other packs cheer and clap, laugh and howl; you know Scully and his tall tales! Have you heard the one about the Black Furies and the naked archery contest, up at the Hand of Gaia sept? It’s a good ending, but that’s what Galliards are good for.

Story 16: Come Join Us
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