Eternal Lies: The Masks of the Liar

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 9)

They drove into Valletta. To the house of Montgomery Donovan.

[The PCs were pretty messed up right now; Jimmy and Dr. Orange were both at negative Health. Sadly, they were out of First Aid.]

They arrived at the square in front of his townhouse. Yvonne, their sniper, had already taken a position on top of a roof across the street. Boris, Dallas, and Umberto were sitting at a cafe drinking coffee.

“They have about six guys we have to worry about, plus staff,” Boris told them. “It’s bad, fighting floor to floor like this. We have been studying it in Soviet War College. Might come in handy…someday.” He gave Dr. Orange a quick glance.

The square began to empty of people as they took up positions. Shutters banged shut on the houses surrounding the open space. From somewhere, the sound of Spanish guitar music could be heard.

“I could go inside, find out lay of land, maybe kill somebody,” said Boris.

“Please do,” said Ruby. “But if you find somebody, maid, butler, who doesn’t shoot at you, just knock them out.”

“I make no guarantees.” He loped into the shadows and vanished. They waited a long while. Ruby thought she saw a window on the side of Donovan’s townhouse open and close quickly, and a person slip inside.

Suddenly there was a horrible, unearthly scream, something that could not possibly be human. The screams continued over the sound of gunshots. Suddenly Boris and another man came crashing out through third floor window. They tumbled through the air in a cloud of glass shards and smashed into the cobblestones with a crunch.

“Mouths,” said Jimmy with distaste. “They must be using them as some kind of magical alarm system. They’ll know if we get inside.”

[Cthulhu Mythos spend by JP, 2 points of Stability loss.]

“No use going in soft then,” said Dallas.

“We’ll throw some explosives in one window and go in the other,” said Jimmy. “Capitalize on the confusion.”

“I like your thinking, Mr. Jimmy!”

“Yes, Mr. Jimmy’s a smart fellow,” said Ruby resignedly.

“We did something like that in Oklahoma once. Them bootleggers never saw us coming. We drank well that night!”

Geronimo darted across the square and threw the pipe bomb through one of the front windows of the townhouse. It exploded almost immediately, showering him with shards of glass and debris. Based on the screams, he guessed one of the guards had been taken out by the bomb.

Meanwhile, Ruby, Dr. Orange, and Jimmy used the confusion to force one of the side doors of the townhouse, next to its garage. They jumped through it and landed in a well-appointed parlor. Cowering in one corner, under a Bösendorfer grand piano, was a young woman in a maid’s uniform.

“Ne me tuez pas,” she whispered.

“Just stay down,” Jimmy said. “We’re not going to kill you.”

She nodded, eyes large. “Deuxième étage,” she said.

“Third floor,” said Dr. Orange, mentally converting to the American method of counting stories.

Jimmy cracked the door of the room. He heard someone come down the stairs and flattened himself against the wall. As soon as he heard the man hit the carpet runner in the front hall, he opened the door again.

“Hey,” he said. The other man, one of Donovan’s ubiquitous black-suited minions, spun around. Jimmy put a bullet in the center of his forehead. As the others emerged from the parlor, he picked up the dead man’s sawed-off shotgun.

Geronimo kicked in the front door and joined them. Jimmy nodded. “There’s a guy upstairs covering the landing. Heard him move around.”

“I have a pipe bomb,” said Dr. Orange. “If one of you wouldn’t mind risking getting shot…”

“I understand, Kaiser Wilhelm,” said Ruby. “And I accept your mission!”

“I’ll do it,” said Geronimo, gently pushing Ruby to the back of their group. “She’s a little out of her head.”

Jimmy and Geronimo charged up the stairs. They saw a man standing on the landing, holding a Thompson. Jimmy fired off both barrels of his shotgun to distract the man, and Geronimo flipped the pipe bomb at him.

It went off with a loud report. Down on the ground floor, the lamps swung back and forth and plaster dust rained down on them.

They made their way up the stairs in a rush. Suddenly Jimmy stopped dead. “There’s a garrote strung across the doorway,” he hissed. “Clearly they wanted to distract people and then try and shoot them—”

A shot rang out and caught Jimmy in the shoulder. He crumpled to the ground. As Dr. Orange crawled over to treat him, Geronimo slid to the side, drew his sword, and cut the wire with it. “The man with a gun is in the bathroom across the hall,” he said.

Ruby lit a pipe bomb. “It’s the Fourth of July, everyone!” she said, and chucked it across the hall.

The sound of the explosion was quite literally deafening. Through the cloud of dust and the ringing of their ears, they saw a man stagger out of the bathroom, bleeding from his arm. Geronimo shot him.

They crowded into the only room other than the bathroom on that floor. It seemed to be some kind of a sitting room, a windowless box with a few armchairs and an expensive wooden bookcase. There was a double door set in the wall opposite the entrance to the sitting room. Geronimo rapped on it, and it rang hollowly.

“Steel door,” he said.

“This had better be the last time I do this today,” said Dr. Orange grumpily. He set up some explosive charges and they retreated to the landing.

He had done his work well—the charges went off with a muted bang, and then they heard the grating of metal as the heavy door swung inward, shearing through its hinges and dropping with a clatter to the floor.

Jimmy strode through the smoke cloud into a large bedroom, dominated by a huge canopy bed. The windows were shuttered, and the light that filtered through the slits in them cast bar-like shadows on the smoke and dust hanging in the air. Medical equipment was scattered around the room, including an IV stand next to the bed. A line snaked down from it into the arm of Montgomery Donovan, who was lying flat on his back on the bed.

“Mr. Wright,” he gasped. He raised one arm off of the bed. In his hand he was clutching a sawed-off shotgun. Jimmy leveled his pistol at him.

“I was hoping you’d be the one to do it,” sighed Donovan. “It’s a terrible thing to be a man like me, when you give up. You just don’t have it in you to do it yourself…”

“I can’t kill you if you kill me first,” said Jimmy simply.

“Why don’t you put your gun down first?”

Jimmy shrugged and lowered his pistol. “I don’t need a gun to kill you,” he said. Donovan let his arm fall back on the bed.

“Where’s the spell?” said Ruby.

“It’s on the bookcase over there,” said Donovan. “Monty’s library is upstairs, if you care to peruse any of his volumes.”

Mensch, was gibt’s?” said Dr. Orange. “How did you end up like this?”

“There was a lot of money to be made. And I thought I was a man without sentimentality. Until my wife died. And then I realized I was not…I won’t say strong enough…more that I was not the man I thought I was.”

“Yeah, that will happen,” said Dr. Orange. Jimmy twitched.

“My son was not the person I thought he was as well,” continued Donovan. “It is a terrible thing to discover your son is a matricide.”

[Me: I mean, the kid is like 14, so he’s basically spent his entire life near a Major Mouth.
RP: That kid is like the next anti-Jesus.
Me (singing Omen-style): Chorus! Evilus! Bogus! Latinus!]

Jimmy walked next to Donovan and bent down close to his ear. “We’re not all the men we thought we were,” he whispered. “But I never gave up.”

“You make me wish that what I was about to tell you wasn’t true,” replied Donovan in a sepulchral whisper. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wright. But mercenaries don’t always stay bought.”

Jimmy twitched again, then dragged a pillow across Donovan’s head, shoved his pistol into it, and pulled the trigger twice. He turned around, blinked, and then said in an odd tone of voice, “I need to get to the plane. I can fly it.”

“Why does he sound like Ruby?” muttered Dr. Orange. “Oh…right…the telepathy…”

[Gol-Goroth cherry use by JP to borrow Ruby’s piloting, since Ruby can’t fly one-handed.]

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 8)

As they continued down the hallway, they heard the sound of fire alarms ringing. The smell of Nectar rolled over them as they came to the end of the corridor, which dead ended in a large squarish room.

“I’m going to wait outside,” said Ruby meekly. “If I go in there, bad things are going to happen.”

The rest of them burst into the room, guns drawn, ready to throw their packs into the gaping maw on the ground in front of them…

Except there was nothing there. The floor was smooth poured concrete. They glanced at each other in confusion. Slowly, Jimmy raised his eyes to the ceiling.

The enormous Mouth hung above them. As he stared in shock, It opened wide and a long, sticky, thin tongue snaked down like an elephant’s trunk and wrapped itself around his neck. Jimmy was hoisted in the air, struggling fiercely, and managed to pry the disgusting member off of his neck. He fell to the ground with a thud, Nectar spurting all around him. Above, the Mouth closed Its ragged, lipless edges…and vanished.

Jimmy pulled out the vial Sir Godfrey had given him and drank it down before the smell of the Nectar that was soaked into his clothes could overcome his senses. Across the room, Dr. Orange saw a tiny movement in the corner of his eye and ducked instinctively. The Mouth suddenly opened wide on one of the side wall. A plume of Nectar shot over his head, and the tongue lashed out and grabbed his ankle. He fired some wild shots at the Mouth as It dragged him into Its maw and bit down hard.

As the doctor shrieked, the Mouth began to move along the wall, dragging him with it. Geronimo drew his sword and stabbed the Mouth. It spat Dr. Orange out, drenching Geronimo in Nectar…and vanished.

Ruby, shivering in the hallway, heard the confused sounds from inside the room—Jimmy’s surprised shout, rapid pistol fire, someone chanting in Latin—and came to a sudden decision. She drank from the vial that Sir Godfrey had given her, terrified that it would trigger a Nectar flashback…

Instead, a moment of crystalline clarity came over her, as fast as the feeling of arousal that Nectar produced in her would have set in. She felt the heightened awareness the drug gave her, but none of the loss of control.

[I told Ruby to refresh a point of Sense Trouble.]

Ruby ducked into the room, letting her suddenly sharp senses guide her intuition. Without even knowing why, her attention was drawn to a part of the wall behind Geronimo. She looped her backpack full of Semtex over her artificial arm and pushed past the Spaniard. Suddenly, the Mouth yawned open directly in front of her.

[Sense Trouble and Preparedness to find where the Mouth was going to be.]

She shoved her prosthetic into the maw and felt the shudder of the arm crunching beneath Its teeth. She rolled away hard, feeling the wrench in her shoulder as she pulled free of the arm’s harness, and flipped up the detonator on the satchel charge.

Jimmy saw what she was doing and dove across the room at Ruby, shoving her back as she fired the charge. She felt a tremendous pressure flatten both of them into the floor, followed a horrible sensation of heat lancing into her side as the explosion rolled over them. She almost didn’t hear the detonation that left her ears ringing and muffled all the noise in the room. She tried to stand up, but passed out before she could push herself off the floor.

[Eight points of damage from the bite, then another 5 from the explosion; Jimmy knocked her out of point blank range with an Athletics check.]

Shattered teeth and vile caustic saliva rained down on all of them. The Mouth vanished. Then, despite their deafness, they heard a horrible chuckle ripple through the room. The Mouth…was laughing.

Suddenly it reappeared, gaping directly beneath Jimmy’s feet. He leapt back as the tongue lashed out and slapped him. Geronimo slashed out with the sword, severing the tip of the tongue. Faster than he could see, the truncated tongue lashed itself around his ankle, pulling him to the ground and beginning to drag him towards the open maw.

[Athletics check by JP.]

Jimmy drew the sword he had borrowed from Sir Godfrey and stabbed the ancient blade down at the Mouth. The steel grated horribly against the serrated teeth, and black blood began to flow from the cuts he made. The tongue released Geronimo and the Mouth closed again, vanishing.

Geronimo rushed to Ruby and began treating her wounds. He tossed Dr. Orange a bottle of benzedrine to give him a pickup as he came over to help with Ruby. Jimmy saw them gather together and felt his stomach drop into his ankles. “No, don’t bunch up like that—”

[First Aid stuff here; probably I failed to enforce the “Health can’t be healed higher than what you started the scene with” rule here, but OTOH I put them immediately in trouble…]

The Mouth reappeared almost directly beneath them. Geronimo nimbly rolled out of the way, but Ruby and Dr. Orange slid down into the awful throat. Dr. Orange seized one of the jagged teeth to catch himself with one hand, and grabbed Ruby’s collar with the other.

Geronimo rushed up and caught Ruby’s hand in his. Dr. Orange helped him pull Ruby free as the Mouth closed around his waist. The Mouth began to move again, sliding towards the wall and then up it, gliding over to the ceiling with the now-inverted torso of Dr. Orange flailing his arms helplessly at the floor.

[JP was out of Athletics and asked if Jimmy could spend Health instead to catch the doc when the Mouth released him; I agreed…at 3-for-1.]

Jimmy slid across the floor and caught Dr. Orange mostly by cushioning his fall. Before he could get back up again, the Mouth’s tongue wrapped around his torso, hoisted him into the air, and bit down, the sharp teeth ripping into his body. Geronimo charged back under the Mouth and stabbed up with the Sword. Blood and ichor rained down on them, and the Mouth began to calcify, turning into a twisted stone sculpture. Jimmy fell as the tongue crumbled into dust, but Geronimo caught him and managed to gently lower him to the ground.

“We need to get this place on fire without it spreading,” said Jimmy.

“On it,” said Dr. Orange. He used the rest of their explosives to set up a controlled demolition that if it wouldn’t quite destroy the entire building, would certainly render it useless. Outside they found that most of the minor Mouths that littered the ground were calcifying; the ones that weren’t, they poured gasoline on and set on fire.

They stole one of the cars parked nearby and drove away. Behind them the warehouse went up in a shower of explosions.

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 7)

Ruby found Jimmy reading alone in the library. He instinctively slammed the book he was reading shut as she came in.

“James,” she said, “we’ve been doing this for how long?”

“Seven months, give or take.”

“Why don’t you just let us start reading those books together. You know you can trust us at least. You don’t have to talk so cryptically about them. It’s annoying enough when our enemies do that!”

“It’s not you I don’t trust, it’s the books. Once you step foot in that world, you can’t leave it—”

“You don’t say,” said Ruby, waving her prosthetic.

“And I have been trying to minimize that as much as possible.”

“James, I am as much in the shit as you are.”

“But you haven’t seen it all!”

“Have you?”

“I’ve seen plenty. I’ve seen enough. Anyway, we need the spell Godfrey told us about…then maybe we can do research.”

Dr. Orange set up a laboratory to make some plastique, dragooning everyone to help him. “This is the part that is dangerous,” he told people. “So be careful, unless you all want to look like Ruby.”

[Chemistry spend by OP.]

Geronimo had Nando evacuate the two boys to his ship. “We still need to find a place for them,” he said.

“M and her people are probably our best answer,” said Jimmy. “She’s used to dealing with stuff like that.”

LSAS can pay the bill,” said Ruby. “Maybe we should send them to Los Angeles. In fact…she needs a new organization…”

“Los Angeles?” said Mina when they broached the idea to her. “But it’s so…gauche. Also, sunlight and I don’t always agree anymore.”

“There are plenty of dark places,” said Ruby.

Ruby evolved a plan. She and her companions would sneak into the warehouse to find the Mouth. Once they were inside, the Sparrow’s British team would assault the warehouse to keep the guards off of them. Once the Mouth was taken care of, they would speed over to Donovan’s townhouse and assault that with their mercenary team.

The Sparrow and Mina would work their contacts to find trustworthy doctors to take care of the two boys…but it would take them some time, so Nando kept them for now.

Before they left, Jimmy dyed Ruby’s hair red again, to bring her spirits up, and boxed a few rounds with Geronimo to do the same for him. Dr. Orange engaged him in a rather dense philosophical conversation about Nietzsche while they were packing the explosives, but it kept his mind off of the things that awaited them.

[Various Stability refreshing psychological triage bits.]

Sir Godfrey took them to the edge of the catacombs under Valletta. He gave them four glass vials full of a clear liquid. “These were blessed by a priest who sadly is no longer with us. They are transformed Nectar…they should give you some resistance the call of that substance. Do what you need to do with them.”

The passage through the catacombs was long, dusty, and fatiguing. Dr. Orange meticulously disabled the traps they encountered on their way, and Ruby used her archaeological experience to help them keep their heads. At one point, quite improbably, they had to cross a large cavern spanned by a collapsed bridge, but Geronimo was able to rig up a rope bridge to get them across. Far below them, an underground river flowed, black in the dim light.

[The actual text has a whole bunch of challenges here that you can use skills to overcome but ultimately I wanted to get to the confrontation with the Mouth (and I found them a bit underwhelming, to be honest.) So I required three points of spends to navigate the catacombs, and colored it based on which skill they used.]

They finally came up against a cinderblock wall. Jimmy used a pick to break through it, and they found themselves in an anonymous looking industrial corridor—tiled floors, walls painted a sickly green, naked light bulbs in cages providing the illumination. They could hear people walking in the warehouse above them. A sign in Italian indicated that the office was to their right.

And everywhere was the heavy, delicious, mossy scent of Nectar.

Jimmy led them down the corridor as stealthily as possible. Geronimo helped by simply picking up Ruby; even struggling, she was quieter that way.

As they approached the office, they heard the sound of a woman crying. Geronimo and Jimmy took a peek around the edge of the doorway. They saw Bethany Mae Hampton sitting behind a steel desk, weeping. A pistol lay on the blotter in front of her. She reached out and picked up the gun, then turned it to face herself—

Jimmy strode into the room and put his hand over hers, forcing the gun down. Bethany bolted back. “Don’t kill me,” she said somewhat incongruously.

“I’m trying to stop you from doing it yourself,” said Jimmy. “Don’t ask me why.”

“Right…oh God…what are y’all doing here?”

“Destroying the Mouth.”

“You may want to get out,” said Geronimo.

“That’s probably for the best,” said Jimmy.

“Jimmy…please understand, I never tried to hurt any of y’all…I just had to keep an eye on you and run you off. That time in Mexico, we were trying to keep Brooks from being all, you know, insane and all?”

“Sure. And I’ve totally forgotten about the Shao Lin monks you sent after me.”

“They were just there to frighten you. I didn’t think your girl would have a shotgun.”

“Seems I’m getting a lot of apologies today.”

“Just…when we got the girl, they said I could take over here, and eventually they’d get rid of Monty because he’s a liability. But I didn’t know, Jimmy, I didn’t know what it was really like. We were looking for the girl, because she was the savior of humanity…but…it talks to me, Jimmy. It talks…”

“Where is it?”

“Down further that way. I’m…I’m sorry.”

“Sorry isn’t going to fix anything. But it’s a start.”

“I achieved what I set out to do, and frankly I don’t care about all this stuff. Can…I help you? I don’t know anything about redemption, Jimmy, I suppose that’s more Geronimo’s line. I don’t remember who I used to be anymore. I’m not even from Georgia.”

“If you get to England, look up Dr. Seward. He’s a friend of mine. He can help.”

“I still want to help. Should I get all the workers out of here?”

“Yes,” said Ruby. “We don’t want to hurt anyone. Say it’s a fire drill.”

“I’ll do that. I really didn’t know.” She paused on her way out of the office. “Jimmy? Everyone? Don’t underestimate this one.”

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 6)

They rerouted to Sir Godfrey’s cave, wheeling the two raving children down into the underground consistory.

“Those are two creepy children,” said Sir Godfrey. “Why are you bringing creepy corpse children here?”

“Leverage,” said Geronimo.

“One is leverage,” said Jimmy. “The other is here through no fault of his own.”

“An innocent,” mused Sir Godfrey. “The first casualty of war, Mr. Wright.”

Geronimo dragged all the supplies he could out of the ambulance and set about making the boys stable. Jimmy and Ruby repaired to Sir Godfrey’s library to research Mount Kailash in Thibet.

“I’ve heard the name,” said Jimmy. “No one has ever climbed it…well, except for a duel between a priest of the local religion and a Buddhist saint, who shot to the mountain in a flash.”

“Not surprising,” said Dr. Orange. “It’s sacred to four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bön, the native Thibetan religion. Shiva is supposed to live there. Anyone who steps foot on it would be committing sacrilege.”

[Occult by JP, Library Use by OP.]

“We’ll need a guide,” mused Ruby. “That could be a problem. Mountain is not that high. About six thousand meters…actually, that is high, just not oxygen-deprived.”

“For now we have a monster to kill,” said Dr. Orange.

“So the question is, do we want to go to get Monty or just go blow up the warehouse…oh my God, I’m beginning to sound like Francis,” said Jimmy.

“Monty is our people related problems, the Mouth is our occult problems,” said Ruby.

“But if we just kill the Mouth…” said Dr. Orange.

“We’ll have a very pissed off man who’s just lost his money train,” said Ruby.

“We have his son. He can’t shoot in that direction…”

“What are you going to do, walk around carrying him like a tower shield?” Ruby sighed. “Let’s all get some rest, then…let’s attack the warehouse and try to go straight from there to the townhouse.”

Jimmy found Mina in the ruined church above the underground tunnels, staring out at the sun setting over the harbor. She turned to face him as he approached. “James.”


“I’m not sure I should claim that…title. You seem troubled.”

Jimmy nodded. “Just…things have been getting more and more complicated. I feel like…I’m not the man I used to be.”

“James,” said Mina gently, “you did burn down nearly every warehouse in the British Empire back when I first knew you.”

“That wasn’t quite me, that was Francis—”

“James, if you were there, it was also you. Did you ever say, ‘No, Francis, let’s not burn down this warehouse’?”

“At the time, I didn’t realize he was going to burn down the warehouse until he brought out the bomb.”

“James, there’s such a thing as willful blindness.”

[Quick Stability refresh by JP, who had changed Jimmy’s “I’m still the man I used to be” Statement to “I remember the man I used to be.”]

Poor moral Jimmy. So worried about the price he was paying, but so convinced it was what he had to do. But was it? I mean, come on James, when even Geronimo is beginning to doubt his own convictions, maybe it’s time to examine your own life.

But Jimmy never did, did he? Dear, lucky Jimmy, always dodging the bill, always finding ways to make other people pay. I guess you have to admire it a bit: there’s a certain grace and art to running the con so well that the mark always buys you dinner.

Oh, you say, he’s so tortured though. Look at me, I’m not the man I was! I’ve become someone else! That’s paying a price, right?

You haven’t even begun to pay yet, Jimmy. And I’m going to collect on what you owe. Count on it.

What, you think I’m supposed to be some kind of a neutral narrator? Grow up, Francine. If you knew who I was, you’d understand.

On his way back from the church, Jimmy took the long way around to make a bit of a patrol before heading back to the consistory. He was sweeping through one of the outer rooms of Sir Godfrey’s warren when he heard a pistol cock behind him. He put his hand on the hilt of the sword he had borrowed from the knight and froze.

“Hello, Mr. Wright,” said a woman with an English accent. “I have to say, I’m going to enjoy this very much. I’m only supposed to arrest you, but I’m reasonably sure you’re going to die while trying to escape. I have to say, Mr. Wright, what galls me is that you should betray someone who helped you so much. M is the finest woman I ever met, and you betrayed and killed her.”

“What are you talking about? I just talked to her.”

“Don’t you lie to me about this!”

“I’m not lying, I just talked to her!”

He heard the snap of a baton unfolding, and his legs were struck from behind. He fell to the ground and rolled over. The Englishwoman, who was dressed as usual in black, came up and leveled her pistol at him. “I’m just going to do you right now,” she said.

“Listen! We’ve faced off before! Have I ever lied? When we were in the office, we made our deal, and you walked out, remember?”

[Me: Wow, sounds like you’re being awful Reassuring…make it a spend, given the situation.]

“But she’s dead, they told me she was dead—”

“They betrayed her. They took over the whole operation. Sheila Brisbane! She got in over her head, and betrayed M.”

“Prove it to me. You said you just talked to her.”

“Do you want to speak to her?”

“More than anything in the world.”

“Give me the gun—”

“No, I’ll think I’ll keep it. Lead the way.”

Dr. Orange, Geronimo, and Ruby were sharing a cold supper in the consistory when Jimmy entered, hands in the air, followed by the Englishwoman. “Nobody move,” she said. “I’ll kill Jimmy.”

“We should shoot the hostage,” muttered Dr. Orange. Geronimo gave him a look.

The Englishwoman looked around and saw Mina. She fell to her knees. Jimmy gently took her gun away as Mina approached and gently touched the woman’s face.

“You’ve found the Sparrow,” she said to Jimmy. “This is a good sign.”

“Right,” said Jimmy.

“It’s an excellent sign. She’s one of our most capable agents. And she’s going to help us now.”

The Sparrow nodded wordlessly.

“Oh, she’s on our side now?” said Ruby bitterly.

“She’s on my side, and I’m on your side.”


“Look, does this mean we get to kill someone now?” said Dr. Orange.

The Sparrow stood up. “Oh, so this is Dr. Orange! I could still shoot him,” she said as an aside to Mina.

Jimmy dragged the Sparrow to a chair. She sat down in a daze, looking around glassily until she saw Ruby. “Oh,” she said. “I—”

“Dear, I have just one question for you. What did the five fingers say to the face?”

Then she smashed the Sparrow across the face with her prosthetic arm.

The Englishwoman rolled with the blow admirably. “Had that coming. I don’t suppose a small squad of elite British soldiers might help?”

“Very much,” said Geronimo.

“And I guess we’ll need to cancel those warrants. Who should we blame for the events at the hotel?”

“Corsican mob,” said everyone but Ruby.

“Donovan,” said Ruby.

“That could be a problem…but I will see what I can do.”

“What happened to my seaplane?” said Ruby.

“Oh, the impound. I’ll get it out of impound. And I guess you’ll want me to remove the tracking beacon…my fault. Sorry. I’m very sorry I tried to kill you. I know it’s inadequate and that Geronimo will probably try to kill me.”

“No, he’s the moral one.”

“I could do it,” said Dr. Orange.

“You should go back and act as our inside person,” said Jimmy to the Sparrow. “Keep us informed of what Epsilon Sigma is up to.”

“Yes, I could do that,” she said. “They’ve already taken Millicent, you know.”

“What?” shouted Geronimo.

“Where?” said Ruby.

“I’m not sure,” said the Sparrow. “I had assumed England, but the last I heard they were headed for the Suez Canal.”

“I’d ask you to get your friends out of my business,” said Jimmy. “But you already wrecked it.”

“I suppose we could talk to the FBI…”

“Don’t bother. Edgar and I are on speaking terms.”

“I could make things a bit easier for you with the British Empire, if you’d like.”

“Do that. I understand now—just a little bit—what Freddie went through.”

“Freddie Blakely? Oh my. We used to take that file out and read it on winter nights when we needed to keep ourselves amused. Do you know how thick it is? The London Social Directory is thinner!”

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 5)

Jimmy, Geronimo, and Dr. Orange took the stairs up to the intensive care wing. A nurse was sitting at a reception desk in the vestibule, and two double doors behind her were guarded by a couple of men in dark suits who were not trying particularly hard to conceal their weapons.

“What are you doing here? This area is off limits,” said the nurse in Italian.

“Only observing,” said Geronimo, adopting the officious manner of a European physician.

“I will have to ask the doctor,” said the nurse, getting up and going through the double doors. Jimmy eyed the two gorillas closely, trying to calculate his chances of taking them down quickly and quietly.

But after a brief wait the nurse returned with a man in a lab coat. His dark hair was slicked back with Vaseline or Vitalis, his nimble fingers seemed to squirm with a life of their own, and he had a slightly stopped posture and a faint smile that lacked all sincerity.

Signore, signore, what can I do for you?” he purred.

“We literally want to walk down the hall,” said Dr. Orange.

“But this is the intensive care ward. It’s only for certain special cases, off limits to everyone else.”

Jimmy and Geronimo exchanged looks. “I’m from a hospital in Madrid,” said Geronimo. “Our intensive care unit is not as advanced as yours. I wanted a chance to observe your practices.”

“How regrettable that you did not call ahead…”

“I didn’t call?” said Dr. Orange. “Oh, my mistake, I meant to call ahead.”

“Well,” mused Dr. Solazzio. “I suppose I should call Mr. Montgomery…”

“Just five minutes of your time,” said Geronimo.

“My time is very valuable, signore. Very…valuable.”

“Clearly,” said Dr. Orange. “A consultancy fee would be in order. I thought our hospital had arranged all that in advance.”

Jimmy reached for his wallet. “I guess he won’t take a check,” he muttered.

“I must come with you of course,” said Dr. Solazzio, leading them down the corridor to the rooms of the ward. “Mr. Donovan’s boy, it’s such a horrible tragedy. He hasn’t been the same since his mother died. He has some unknown disease that we are trying to treat with some experimental drugs.”

“What kind?” asked Dr. Orange in what he hoped was a Viennese accent. “As a psychiatrist, I’m interested in such things.”

“A psychotropic drug. The manufacture is somewhat obscure, I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details.”

“But what could he suffer from that would require psychotropics? This isn’t a psychiatric ward, yes?”

“Surely you are a materialist. The mind is not separate from the body. We must treat both…young Master Donovan…I believe he had a psychotic break. Yes, that is very unusual, normally we wouldn’t expect something like that until he was older.”

“What about the other boy?” said Jimmy.

“He is a charity case we are doing.”

Jimmy frowned. The doctor was clearly dissembling.

[Assess Honesty use.]

“That’s so interesting,” said Dr. Orange. “I didn’t realize this hospital did charity—”

“Oh, Mr. Donovan is extremely generous,” said Solazzio. “Now, may I offer you gentlemen some orange juice?”

Jimmy braced Solazzio against the wall with one arm. “Mr. Donovan sent six men to attack me and my friends. They all died. Mr. Donovan sent a sniper against me. And now Mr. Donovan is unconscious and lying in his house.”

“I see. Allow me to rejoin with—” Solazzio turned to run. Jimmy pushed him down and the Italian skidded across the floor.

“You can scream for help,” said Jimmy. “But be assured you will die before they get here.”

[Intimidate spend by JP; the doctor scared easy.]

“I understand completely, signore.”

“What is the deal with the kid next door?”

“He was bitten badly and admitted here. His metabolism is very similar to young Montgomery’s, so we are treating him with a similar treatment as a control. Young Montgomery is manifesting certain…transformations. We have managed to arrest the progress of the disease thanks to this miraculous chemical. Would you like some?”

A highlight reel of Ruby’s greatest addiction moments played in Jimmy’s head. “Thanks, no.”

“You know where this comes from?” said Dr. Orange.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I think it’s better for my health to not know.”

“I see. Well, we should just kill him and get it over with.”

What?” shouted Geronimo.

“Why did you leave Germany?” said Jimmy.

“Collateral damage is one thing,” said Geronimo. “But not that.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Solazzio tried to hide in a corner and melt into a ball of slime. (Not literally; I know I have to be specific here.) Geronimo grabbed the charts for Alexei and Monty. The boys were being treated in parallel, as Solazzio said. He flipped to the intake notes for Monty; he had been brought in raving and in pain a few weeks ago. Sedation was the only way they could keep him quiet. Alexei had obviously been bitten by minor Mouths.

Oddly they had been doing transfusions of blood from Alexei to Monty.

“Stupid evil scientists,” said Dr. Orange. Everyone gave him a look. “I mean, this is sloppy.”

“We’re taking them out of here,” said Geronimo with finality. “Dr. Solazzio, prep them. We need a reason to take them out of this ward.”

“You realize I have to sell this pretty hard…” muttered the Italian. He went to the medicine cabinet and prepped two syringes…

Moments later the doors to the Intensive Care Ward burst open and Geronimo and Dr. Solazzio emerged, trailed by the rest, pushing two stretchers. On them Alexei and Monty Jr. were in the throes of seizure.

“BP falling!” said Geronimo.

“Damnit, I’m not going to lose you!” said Solazzio. They shoved past the bewildered guards and pushed the stretchers into the car of an elevator. Jimmy turned and held up one finger in warning at the guards as the doors to the elevator slammed shut.

Ruby wandered through the corridors of the hospital, lost in an etheric daze, jonesing severely for Nectar. She stumbled giggling against the wall and braced herself with one trembling arm. I’m sure one of these nice Sisters would get me some Nectar… she thought. But I’m not supposed to do that for…some reason…

She flipped around and pushed her back against the wall. Suddenly she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. You can’t beat this on your own, Charlie whispered in her ear. You have to find the others.

Ruby closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She knew what she had to do. She had to find the others. She had to find the people who could help her. She had to find her…knight in shining armor.

[RP challenged her “I can’t do this alone” Addiction value, and used it to refresh her Stability.]

Pobrecita,” said a nurse, noticing her state. “Can I help you?”

“Yes,” said Ruby. “I need to find my doctor and leave. Can you help me find him? His name is George. George the Fifth.” She drew out a crips hundred pound note and held it out to the nurse.

[Bargain spend to get out of the hospital.]

The nurse took Ruby out to the back of the hospital, where she saw Geronimo, Dr. Orange, and Jimmy loading two young boys into the back of an ambulance. She hurried up to them.

“Let me guess,” she said to Jimmy. “No time to explain.” She got into the ambulance.

An attendant came up, holding a sandwich. “Hey, what are you doing with my ambulance?” he said to Dr. Orange.

“Leaving,” said the German, and slammed the door closed.

Ruby insisted on driving one-handed, with Jimmy grabbing the wheel when she needed to shift. They drove towards the waterfront, hoping to send the two boys off to Nando’s boat.

“Someone’s following us,” muttered Jimmy. Suddenly he pulled his gun and leaned out the window, firing at the tires of a car that was peeling away from the curb. A couple of shots struck home, exploding the front tire of the car, and the sedan fishtailed into the road. Ruby skidded around it and floored it.

“Why did you do that?” she shouted at Jimmy.

“They were going to box us in,” said Jimmy. “Those other guys are definitely speeding up to catch us.”

“I’ve got this,” said Dr. Orange, grabbing a couple of oxygen bottles, Ruby’s cigarette lighter, some chewing gum, and a cigarette. He bound the bottles together with electrician’s tape and rigged a crude fuse with the other items.

[Explosives test by OP.]

Dr. Orange kicked open the back doors of the ambulance. He saw a black sedan rapidly closing the distance between it and the ambulance. He flung the bottles as hard as he could at the front of the car. The bottles smashed through the its windshield and exploded. The sedan spun out and crashed into the side of the road, already burning.

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 4)

Jimmy groggily wandered into the common room and found Ruby and Dr. Orange having breakfast. “Good morning, James,” said Ruby. “We’ve evolved a plan to go to the hospital where they’re keeping Monty’s son.”

“Really?” said Jimmy, pouring himself a cup of tea.

“Yes. I’m going to break my arm…” Ruby glanced around at the look of shock on her friends’ faces. “My prosthetic arm. Does no one remember? Then we’ll use that as an excuse to get into the hospital, I’ll bring it in for repairs.”


“How did your conversation with him go? Did you find out any information?”

“No, not really. We had a drink on his balcony, then I got shot by a sniper.”

“James, are you telling me you set all that up to go have a dick-measuring contest with the man who is trying to kill us? Did you at least win?”

“Well, I was conscious and he wasn’t at the end. By the way,” he said, handing Ruby a flat wooden box, “I thought you’d want this. I cleaned it for you.”

Ruby opened the box and took out Charlie’s kukri. “I can’t even bury him,” she said. “The police have the body.”

[Dr. Orange did some Psychological triage on Geronimo here, and JP wanted to know if the night’s rest healed a point of Health (which would bring his badly wounded self…back to the campaign max of 12.

“Nut up, Jimmy,” I said.]

Jimmy planned out their disguises. “Ruby, you’re going bottle blond. I should try to make Geronimo look…less handsome, I guess…”

“That is not possible,” said Ruby.

“Heavy sideburns then. Dr. Orange, I need to make you look French.”

Pour quoi?” said Dr. Orange.

“Best I can come up with. I’m going to go blond too.”

[Jimmy Wright: Master of Disguise! Aided by Ruby, International Woman of Mystery!]

They drove down to Superbissima Hospital, a six-story tall former mansion in the better part of Valletta. They took Ruby into the admissions. She was cradling her broken prosthetic in her good arm. No one paid them much mind.

“I’ve got this,” said Ruby. “Oh! It hurts!” she cried at the top of her lungs. “Someone bring me some juice! You there, get me some tea! I demand to see a nurse! I demand to see a doctor! I demand to see a carpenter!”

While she attracted a crowd of hospital staff desperate to get her to lower her volume below that of a DC-3 taking off, the rest of them ducked inside the hospital and made their way towards the Records Department.

[Stealth check by Jimmy, with the rest piggybacking.]

“Just look like you know what you’re doing,” said Geronimo, putting on his stethoscope and assuming an air of medical paternalism. Jimmy and Dr. Orange trailed after him through the gloomy hallways.

Ruby was eventually brought to a small examination room. A young Maltese woman in a nurse’s uniform came in with her. “Poverella,” she said, stroking Ruby’s arm. “Such a tragedy. You are such a beautiful lady. Sit down. Please, let me get you something to drink, darling.”

She seemed rather overly friendly.

“My associates are getting me a drink,” said Ruby, smiling brightly.

“Of course. Ah, il dottore. Come in, sir, this beautiful young lady is in need of attention.”

The doctor, a distinguished looking man in his forties, dressed in a white lab coat and moving with a firm, reassuring gait, sat down next to Ruby. “I must examine the site of the amputation to make sure that your prosthetic is well-fitted and not causing any irritation,” he said, unpinning the sleeve on Ruby’s dress. He took out a small vial from the pocket of his lab coat and poured it into a paper cup. “Here, drink this, it will help you relax,” he said.

The cup was filled with a pale orange liquid with a very distinctive mossy odor. Ruby trembled with the effort of resisting the urge to gulp the Nectar down.

[I had switched resisting Nectar—a Stability test with a TN of 5 if the Nectar is in easy access—with making it a Driver, since the math works out the same. This does mean that it is possible to recover Stability from Nectar, but this seemed to model drug addiction better anyway. For a different drug, you might treat the addiction Drive as having been invalidated once toleration has been reached—in other words, it could still be driven, but it would be impossible to recover Stability from it.]

“No thanks,” Ruby croaked.

“As you wish,” said the doctor. He downed the Nectar and crushed the cup in his hand. “Now, darling,” he said to Ruby, “why don’t you take off those tawdry clothes so we may examine you more closely.”

[RP: Bad touch! Bad touch!]

“Look, we’re from the insurance company,” said Dr. Orange to the middle-aged woman manning the Records desk. “We’ve brought our solicitor, and we need to see the records on Montgomery Donovan Jr.”

Jimmy tried to look like what he thought an English attorney would look like.

“Ay, just take them,” muttered the woman, handing over some folders. Geronimo studied them. Young Monty was in room 304, in the Intensive Care Ward. In room 302 was another boy named Alexei, who had been admitted for bite wounds on his feet and legs a few weeks ago.

Oddly, only a Dr. Solazzio was allowed to care for both the boys.

[Bureaucracy spend by OP.]

Ruby batted her eyes. “Oh yes,” she purred. “Show me what you want to do, on her…”

The doctor and the nurse fell into the throes of passion, but slammed against the door, blocking Ruby’s exit. She sighed, and pressed the call button next to the desk.

[Initially, Ruby made a Flattery spend to get out, but then we realized that she was at -1 Stability, so she’d need to pass a Stability test make a spend. A Flattery use still did stuff but it didn’t get her the full effect.

This was further screwed up on my part: the Stability test should have a Difficulty of the absolute value of her Stability, not 4 as I assumed; so Ruby should have been able to escape.

I include this as an example of screwing things up in the heat of game.]

After a few minutes, the door to the office was yanked open and a pretty nurse tried to step inside. “Oh, my!” she said, nearly tripping over the writhing bodies on the floor. “I didn’t know!”

She began to unbutton her uniform. Ruby tried to squeeze past her, but the nurse grabbed her good wrist: “Pobrecita, why are you leaving? Stay with us…”

Ruby sighed again and cold-cocked her with her artificial limb. The nurse fell back and was dragged into the embraces of the couple on the floor. Ruby pushed her way into the hallway, slammed the door behind her, and leaned against the door, panting.

She lurched away from the wall and stumbled into another examination room. She dug a can of nitrous oxide from one corner of the room and inhaled deeply from it to calm her nerves.

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 3)

Dr. Orange and Ruby made their way into the caverns beneath the abandoned Hospitaller church that Sir Godfrey used as his headquarters. They entered the common room to find Mina bandaging Sir Godfrey’s chest.

“What happened to him?” asked Ruby.

“Oh,” said Mina, “Geronimo broke his arm.”

“Ah, the vigil,” said Ruby.

“Fee buke ma naas,” said Sir Godfrey thickly. His nose had swollen to the size of a ripe pear, and his beard was covered in blood. “Foos tuh Chemmun?”

“This is Dr. Orange,” said Ruby.

“Hi!” said Dr. Orange, extending his arm. Sir Godfrey sighed. “Blezant to meed yuh,” he said. “I gudn’t dell him during tuh fight, but he rully hurd me. Wuby, dere’s bud on yuh dress.”

“Ja, ja, was nothing,” said Dr. Orange. “We just killed a few guys.”

“This is why we don’t let you do the talking,” said Ruby.

“I mean, we ran into some old friends,” said Dr. Orange.

“Were they bad men?” said Mina.

“Oh yes.”

“Good then.”

“We talked to one of them,” said Ruby. “He told us where the warehouse is.”

“Oh, really,” said Sir Godfrey, pulling some of the packing out of his nose. He pulled out a map of Valletta and let Ruby indicate the warehouse on it. “Good,” said the elderly knight. “I know the route we should take. I can show you the first part of it.”

He led them further into the caverns, sweeping up an electric torch to light their way. The walls were carved with ancient inscriptions, some in Latin, some in older and stranger languages. They passed shelves and depressions in the walls that were stacked with yellowed bones covered in dust.

“There are many catacombs under Valletta,” said Sir Godfrey. “Many built by my order, some we just found.”

Dr. Orange was less intrigued by the inscriptions and relics than the many ingenious traps that had been constructed in the passages. “Balance trap,” he said, passing one room. “And there, an old crossbow trap!” Later, he exclaimed with pleasure, “A covered pit! With a pivoting lid! How delightfully medieval!”

“Let me disarm that,” muttered Sir Godfrey. “Probably not functional, but still.”

After a long walk through the twisty corridors, they stopped in front of an arched entrance to a broader way that sloped downward into the darkness. “Don’t go any further before I disarm the trap,” said the knight.

“Why, what’s it do?” asked Dr. Orange eagerly.

“I have two twin-mounted Maxim guns in the next room,” said Sir Godfrey. “The weight shift will cause them to fire. The interesting thing is that I can keep them depressed, and they will train up—almost as if tracking anyone fleeing them—due to the natural precession of the barrels from the recoil. Rather ingenuous, if I don’t say so myself. Maintenance is terrible.”

“How do you keep it running?”

“Well, I go through a fortune in gun oil…”

“Sirs, please,” said Ruby, looking distinctly green in the face.

“Have you calculated the weight?” asked Dr. Orange. “I mean, the moment arm…” He began scribbling on a pad.

“I’m afraid I’m not a military engineer of this century,” said Sir Godfrey. “I am well-versed in ancient techniques.”

“See, look, if you correct the directional vector like thus…”

“Gentlemen,” said Ruby.

“Wait, I think he’s on to something,” said Godfrey. “I think I understand. A counterweight, yes?”

“Precisely,” said Dr. Orange. “We need to calculate the weight allowance. I mean, if a small child wandered in here…”

“Yes, we don’t want to kill children. But…what if they were working for them?”

“You need to give them a chance,” said Dr. Orange.

“The enemy has many guises…for example, people of shorter stature…”

“Now the trap’s useless against little people! We should put in a secondary system, maybe some kind of garrote…”

“Let’s go back and design this!” said Sir Godfrey.

“Gentlemen!” shouted Ruby. “Please, let’s discuss this in more depth. We’re not ready to destroy the Mouth yet.”

“How do you plan to do that?” asked Sir Godfrey.

“Explosives. Many, many explosives.”

“Do you have these explosives?”

“No, but we always seem to stumble across some,” said Dr. Orange.

“This is a military colony…dynamite and firearms are rather heavily restricted,” said Sir Godfrey.

“Yes! To the military! We’ll get the explosives from them.”

“You’re just going to ask the Royal Navy—”

“Ask is the wrong word,” said Ruby.

“We’ll borrow them!” said Dr. Orange.

Sir Godfrey shook his head. “My dear doctor, I am bound by vows of poverty and chastity. I’m afraid if you take dynamite and blow it up, it’s not borrowing. I believe at least one Commandment opposes this course.”

“Two things. First, really all matter just transforms into different forms. They can collect it if they really wanted to. Second, the aims of the British military are the same as ours, they just don’t know it, and it would be much too complicated to explain…”

“Are you a Rosicrucian? Because you talk a little bit like one.”

“I’m a pragmatist.”

“We had many alliances with the Rosicrucians. And the Masons, of course, although they got so much wrong…in any case, you could steal them from the Corsican mob. Of course, if they catch you, they’ll cut your throat, rather than putting you in jail.”

“Wait, the military here, how do they get along with the Corsicans?” asked Ruby.

“Poorly,” said Sir Godfrey.

“And Montgomery Donovan?”

“I’d assume that relationship is more cordial; he’s English, and rich.”

“Maybe we could ask his son what we should do,” said Dr. Orange.

“He’s in a highly fortified hospital!” said Ruby.

“Look, we’re going to get shot at no matter which of these three paths we take!”

“So let’s take the path of least shooting!”

[Me: Come now. There is no path of least shooting.]

“If I don’t blow something up in the next twelve hours, I’ll be the one who explodes!”

“Dr. Orange, I have more holes in my body than I was born with originally! I would like to find a smarter way of going about this! As a scientist, I’m sure you can understand this!”

Geronimo stumbled through the claustrophobic blackness of the chapel. He hunted at the base of one of the walls until his trembling fingers found a candle. He lit it. In the gloom at the back of the room he saw the ember of a cigarette light up as someone took a puff on it.

Into the dim circle of light shed by his candle stepped a rather dowdy looking woman in an old-fashioned black dress. He had seen her before. In Ethiopia.

“’Ello, love,” she said, taking another puff. “I’m the soul temptation, in case you were wondering.”

Geronimo crossed his arms and glared at her.

[OP: I’m getting sick of this sh*t!
(General laughter.)
Me: Everyone has that reaction to N. Which means I’m doing my job…]

“I mean I could do the fireworks like our little Mouthy friend did, bring back your brother, reverse time, blah blah blah. Not going to work on you, is it?” she said, pacing in front of him.

“I’ve set my heart on this,” Geronimo said.

“They teach you the Classics in Spain? One poem by monkeys I actually liked…you know Akhilleus? Achilles, I think you call him. I liked that one. You know the bargain he was offered?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Achilles was a young bloke being hidden from his enemies. And he was told flat-out, you ‘ave a choice. You can live a life full of glory, and die very young. Or you can live a life of perfectly normal happiness, but no one will remember your name. I always liked that story, because to me, it illustrates the true hypocrisy of all monkeys. Not a monkey who reads that story who doesn’t say, ‘Naff, I’d totally take the glory. Live that life, blaze ‘cross the sky!’ But there’s not a monkey—and I have done experiments, so I’m speaking truth here—not a monkey who’s lying there with his guts spilling out and all the shit and blood and dead people around him who if I showed up and said, oh, no one will know your name but you can live a nice normal life in some out of the way corner—they would take that in a second. Course, they can’t, because they’re dead. But they would have. Because you monkeys are total hypocrites.”

She tapped out her cigarette on the altar bearing the gleaming, naked sword. “So I’m here to offer you the bargain of Achilles and see how much of a hypocrite you are,” she said. “Here’s your choice, Jerome. Go off now, I’ll make sure you and Ruby are completely left alone, find yourself some nice place in California, climate just like Aragon. Maybe you’ll herd some cattle, be a local vet. Just lovely. But. You won’t be part of this anymore, and the world will end…or not; it won’t be any of your concern. You won’t have to carry that sword or anything. I’ve had that sword. It gets galling after a while. Or, finish the vigil; I’ll just leave. And…well, you’re going to die. Soon.”

She lit up another cigarette and stood waiting.

After a long time, Geronimo spoke. “Well…as you say, I am a monkey. Why disappoint you?”

“I have to give you credit. I like that answer. You’re all right, Geronimo. You don’t mind if I show up when you do die in horrible agony—just to fill out a survey.”

“Whatever gets you off,” said Geronimo, annoyed.

“Fair enough. You’ll probably want this.” She swept up the scimitar and tossed it in the air. It spun end over end and Geronimo caught it.

As soon as it was in his hand, it changed, straightening out, growing a second edge, becoming longer and thinner until it was a veritable replica of Tizon, the sword of El Cid. Geronimo stared in wonder, and then looked up quickly. He was alone. Through a high skylight the red rays of dawn reached down into the chapel.

[Here are the powers of the Sword:

—While the Sword is being brandished, the holder cannot lose Sanity. (Stability, yes; Sanity, no.)

—It ignores armor.

—It normally does +1 damage. I didn’t tell the players, but it did extra damage equal to the Stability Modifier of any Mythos creature struck by it.

—It also effectively gave the user a drive to protect humanity; GP took the Sword as Geronimo’s Symbol, so this folded in nicely.

JP who had just arrived, offered up the Statement: My sword is as sharp as my faith in God.]

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 2)

Ruby and Dr. Orange walked through Valletta by winding routes. Ruby waited until she was sure, and then said, “We have friends.”

Dr. Orange’s face brightened.

“Not friends,” said Ruby. “We’re being followed. Our friends are up ahead. Quick, turn this way!”

[Sense Trouble roll, then Preparedness to make good use of their mercs.]

They sprinted up an alleyway, only to discover that it was a dead end. Four men in cheap suits appeared at the mouth of the alley. One took out his stiletto, while the other lifted their clubs.

Suddenly they all heard the sound of whistling. The mafiosi turned around to see a man wearing a Stetson stroll into the alley behind them. He stopped, hands in his pockets, and spat out his hand-rolled cigarette.

“Well hell,” he drawled. “There’s only four of you. I thought this would be a fight.”

The Corsicans snarled and charged at the American. One immediately went down, grabbed from behind by a Slavic-looking man wearing black clothes nobody had seen crouching in the shadows.

“That’s Dallas,” said Ruby, indicating the American. “And that was Boris over there.” Dallas bashed in the face of one of the mafiosi with his Peacemaker revolver and then threw a kick into another of the Corsicans.

“Looks like they have things in hand,” said Dr. Orange. Boris suddenly emerged from behind an ashcan and pulled down another Corsican.

“We need one alive!” shouted Ruby.

“Alive?” said Dallas. One of the two remaining Corsicans punched him in the face. “Alive is extra,” snarled the American. He tripped the Corsican and knocked him to the ground. He spun his revolver around and pulled back the hammer. “Think about it,” he grunted, drawing a bead on the mafioso’s head.

Boris smashed the other Corsican’s face into a wall and threw him on the ground. Dr. Orange tossed some coins at the groaning bodies lying on the ground. “Go find a doctor,” he said, and jerked his head at Dallas. “Take that one with us.”

They began dragging their semi-conscious prisoner toward the waterfront. “It is a tactical error to allow any of them to remain alive and able to talk,” muttered Boris. “Unless you are sending a message, in which case you should have told us first. Sending a message isn’t something you just throw together at the last minute.”

“I didn’t know there was going to be a party!” hissed Dr. Orange.

“And you call yourself a German. Seriously, Beria has nothing on you people.”

They found an abandoned storefront and pulled their victim inside it. “Where’s the warehouse?” demanded Ruby.

Putain, I’m not telling you anything,” said the mafioso with a leer.

“You sure?” said Dr. Orange, gesturing at Dallas and Boris. Dallas was fingering the necklace of teeth he kept under his vest.

“You kill me, that’s fine. If I talk, they’ll kill me. Code of omerta.”

“What if we take you out of here?” said Ruby.

“Go on,” said the Corsican.

“Have you ever been to America?”

“No, but I have always wanted to go…”

“Los Angeles,” said Ruby. “Movie stars. Beautiful girls. Sir, I am a purveyor of violence, I’m not going to lie to you about that. But it is not the only thing I’m good for. I also deal in favors. We need to do something. You clearly want a way out. I can get you a plane ticket. If you tell me about the warehouse.”

[Me: That certainly sounds like a Bargain spend!]

“You don’t want to go there,” said the Corsican. “It is a bad place. But I will tell you where it is.” He described the warehouse’s location. It was far away from the normal shipping docks.

“We want to neutralize it,” said Ruby.

“I wish you luck, fancy American whore. I would watch your step when you go there. They say the ground can swallow you up. I have never been there, thank God.”

“What do you know about Donovan?”

“The boss? He’s not been the same since his wife died. His son is in the hospital now…I never liked the kid, he creeped me out. Something not right about him.”

Geronimo sat in the smoke-filled chapel, praying, his head bowed. He had put out the burning books but the room was still filled with choking vapors. He repeated his rosary over and over again, for a long time.

Suddenly he realized that someone was repeating his prayer.

He stopped, and then started a new rosary. “Ave Maria, gratia plena…

“Well-fought, warrior of God,” whispered someone.

Geronimo swallowed and continued to pray. The voice began to whisper the worst obscenities, ascribing deviant sexual practices to our Lord and Savior. Geronimo tried to continue to pray, but his hands were shaking with rage.

[A rare actual Stability test here to resist the effects of the whispering.]

“Pray louder,” whispered the voice. “Like every good Catholic.” It chuckled horribly.

From outside the chapel, Geronimo heard a new voice, a voice he could never forget: that of his brother Rodolfo. “Brother, help me!” the voice cried. “It’s so dark, and they hurt me so badly, brother!”

“It’s not real,” said Geronimo. “I have mourned my brother. I have become a better man than I was. This is not Rodolfo!”

“You failed me, brother,” said the voice. “You let me die! You could have stopped me that day! You’re no leader! You should just give up now and stop. Leave this place and go away, before you kill everyone else too!”

“It’s my fault that you died, yes!” groaned Geronimo. “But I will pay for it.”

The voice switched back to the horrible whisper. “You could have him back, you know. This is in my power. Not the power of your silly God. Dead man impaled on a cross. Hasn’t brought anyone back since Lazarus! I can bring Rodolfo back.”

“No one is meant to come back,” said Geronimo as calmly as he could.

“Interesting,” whispered the voice.

In the corridor outside the chapel, Geronimo heard slow footsteps walking toward the door.

“All you have to do is open that door, warrior of God,” said the voice. “I give this to you out of my enormous mercy.”

“Indeed,” muttered Geronimo. He drew his sword and crept toward a crucifix on the wall opposite the shrine to Mary. He was pretty sure the voice was coming from behind it.

“I don’t want to move to the past,” he said loudly, to cover his movements. “I want to move into the future.”

“Ah, yes, your future with Ruby. You do know that you can never truly love her, consumed by guilt as you are. Your sad devotion to the pathetic rites of your church will never let you give yourself to her as she could give herself to you.”

From behind the crucifix came a slow flow of sticky orange fluid that smelled faintly mossy. Nectar.

“But come. Drink. Be with her body and soul. Or you could choose to go own flagellating yourself because of what some dead carpenter told you to believe.” The voice put a sneer of contempt into those last words.

From the door came a sharp rapping knock. Geronimo ignored it. The rapping became louder. He shut his eyes tight.

He heard the door begin to creak open. “The test is to endure! I will not strike at you!” he cried. He turned quickly and opened his eyes.

Rodolfo was standing in the doorway. His shirt was covered with blood from the gunshot wounds he had suffered at the hands of the Guardia Civil. His face had the pallor of death, and his eyes had the bruised look of a corpse.

“Brother,” he rasped. “Help me!”

Geronimo slowly turned away and clutched his crucifix. “Lies,” he muttered. “Lies, these are all lies! Liar, liar, liar!”

The door slammed shut. He heard a horrible gluttonous chuckle from behind the crucifix on the wall. All the candles in the room blew out and he was plunged into the darkness of the tomb.

[So those were some drivers against Geronimo’s Statements—the last was a 4 point driver versus his Solace, and cost him a point of Sanity.]

Episode XIV: We Could Be Heroes... (Part 1)

Dr. Orange sat at a table in a dingy restaurant in one of the poorer sections of Valletta, reading the paper and sipping the strong local coffee. The restaurant prided itself on serving authentic Maltese food, which he had sampled at random while trying to decipher the Maltese orthography on the menu.

A woman, wearing sunglasses, a scarf wrapped around her head, sat down across from him. “Hello, Dr. Orange, how was your flight?”

“Fantastic. Some trouble at customs.”

“We had a couple of scrapes ourselves,” said Ruby.

“So I’ve heard.” He pointed at the headline of his newspaper. “They seem to think I’m a mass murderer of some kind.”

Ruby fixed him with a stare over her sunglasses. “Really, doctor?” She sighed. “The local mafiosos want us dead.”

“That’s not much of a problem.”

“The local authorities want us captured and dead. The man that we’ve been out trying to take care of discreetly knows that we’re here. James had a talk with him yesterday.”

“Oh, how did that go?”

“James was shot with a high-powered rifle. He’s recovering. We found ourselves a little hole to hide in. And Geronimo may be knighted.”

“Good for him. If anyone deserves it, it’s definitely Geronimo. Are we invited? I’ll have to wear my best clothes.”

“Yes. Now, Montgomery Donovan is somewhere in Malta. We’re going to track him down and deal with him discreetly. It’s going to be a challenge, but we have some interesting allies.”

“Allies? That’s a change.”

“They’re a bit…irregular, but quite effective at what they do. Have you ever heard of St. George the dragon-slayer?”


“He was a mighty knight who went out and slew the dragon and saved everyone. One of our allies is like that…except pretty much without metaphor.”

“Do knights use guns now?”

“They use swords, shields, and guns. All effectively.”

“And they want to help us? Why…Ruby, you didn’t sleep with one of them!”

“Dr. Orange! They want to help us because we have the same goals. Well, we did pay the mercenaries. There’s also mercenaries.”

“So…people want to kill us, but they don’t know where we are.”

“For the moment. I’m sure a spy will locate us, and maybe toss a hotel room. Because that is how things are done.”

“Tell me about it! At least they can’t toss the last one—it’s a crime scene. Lead the way, I’m ready for anything. I know you won’t be taking me to your beach house.”

Geronimo was preparing for his vigil. This involved some lectures with Sir Godfrey, which were uncomfortably weird, and some silent prayer, which gave him a little solace. Toward evening, the elderly knight told him what to expect during the actual vigil.

“You will be tested in the course of the night in three ways: you will be tested in your flesh, you will be tested in your faith, and you will be tested in your very soul.”

“I feel my faith has already been tested,” said Geronimo bitterly.

“Then this shall be the crucible and we will see if we anneal it, or if it will break.” Sir Godfrey opened an old chest and took out a sword encased in a beautiful green leather scabbard. “It is not appropriate for you to use the Holy Sword until after your vigil. Take this weapon; it is the sword I prayed vigil over. It is a good weapon, and will serve you well.”

He hung a pure white surcoat on the Spaniard’s broad shoulders. On it was embroidered the simple red cross of the Templars. Sir Godfrey put on his own surcoat, with a more ornate cross and letters in an esoteric script running across the hem. He led Geronimo to the dilapidated chapel, choked with rubble and dust, where a sword incongruously gleamed on an ancient altar. They lit the candles in ancient sconces along the wall, and in the flickering light the mosaic floor, obscured by dirt and debris, could just be made out. On the walls, faded frescos looked down upon them, notably a huge archangel whose wings vanished into the gloom of the vaulted ceiling.

“You must not leave this chapel for the rest of the night,” said Sir Godfrey. “No matter what happens, what you hear, what anyone does. If you do so, you will fail the test and not be worthy of bearing the great sword. Now. Do you feel ready to begin your vigil?”

“I’m ready,” said Geronimo, bowing his head.

“Then we shall begin,” said Sir Godfrey. He knelt, indicating for Geronimo to do so as well, and crossed himself. Standing up again stiffly, Sir Godfrey nodded, and then much quicker than his age would seem to allow, swept his sword out of its sheath.

“Defend yourself!” he cried, and fell upon Geronimo, hewing viciously at his head.

Geronimo rolled away and drew his own sword. He knocked aside a blow and jumped to his feet. The old knight danced in, using feints to push Geronimo back until his back butted up against the ruins of an effigy tomb in the center of the church.

[3 points of damage. Sir Godfrey was good at this.]

Geronimo slid along the side of the tomb, narrowly avoiding another blow from Godfrey. He backed toward the wall and ducked beneath another vicious swing from the knight. The blade smashed into one of the wall sconces. The candle fell into a pile of rotted books, which burst into flame.

Geronimo sprang up and landed on top of a small altar beneath a statue of Mary. Sir Godfrey hewed at his feet, but Geronimo jumped over the blade and pounced, knocking the off-balance knight to the ground.

[Athletics test to jump out of the way of the fire; GP got a 9, so Geronimo had the advantage of Sir Godfrey for the Scuffling attack that brought them both to the ground.]

The old man rolled onto his side and smashed his armored elbow into Geronimo’s face. Blood streamed down from his smashed nose. Geronimo smashed the pommel of his sword into Godfrey’s face, bloodying his lip and opening a cut on his cheek. Godfrey rolled to his right this time, trying to break the pin and get free, but Geronimo yanked him around again. However, the elderly knight had managed to grasp his sword again in the scuffle, and he brought the flat of the blade square across Geronimo’s back.

[They were trading blows here and I was rolling well—the knight did 7 points of damage total to Geronimo, putting him at 0.]

I need to start using my head, thought Geronimo. He shoved Sir Godfrey down and then smashed the flat of his blade against the old man’s chest.

[A Medicine spend refreshed 3 points of Weapons here.]

Pax,” said Sir Godfrey, casting away his blade. Geronimo helped him up to his feet. “You fought well,” panted the knight. “I shall retire. The next two challenges you must meet on your own.”

Episode XII: The Man Who Sold the World (Part 16)

“Who is this old lunatic?” said Umberto in a hushed whisper.

“Remember he killed six of them by himself,” said Jimmy. “Maybe I should get a sword,” he said a bit louder.

“For you I am sure one could be found,” said Sir Godfrey. “Mr. Cuevas, may I have a word in private?”

He led Geronimo to what had to be a chapel. He stopped the Spaniard before he could step inside. “I know you are a true soldier of God,” he said. “You seek to serve Him in all ways? To do His will?”

“Brother,” said Geronimo in a strained voice, “had you asked me this question a day ago I would have vehemently said Yes. However, I must admit my faith has begun to waver.”

“I understand, Mr. Cuevas. My Order practices chastity, and I have tried to live by those rules. It is true…once there was one that I loved. Did I break my vows? Perhaps. Perhaps those old vows we once took before the Pope. But my belief in the Will of God was unshaken, and the one I loved was a soldier fighting against evil as well. A friend of a dear companion. The true knight’s valor, Mr. Cuevas, comes not from conviction, but from the struggle against doubt. Against the forces of evil. Come with me.”

They stepped into the chapel, which was in great disrepair. Most of the pews had been broken into splinters. The baptismal font was full of dust and dry as old bones. But the altar was quite clean, and upon it laid an immaculate sword. The blade almost seemed to shed its own light.

“This sword,” said Sir Godfrey, “is a weapon of mystic power. For a long time it lay in the hands of the infidels. They gave it a ridiculous name, the Sword of Akmallah. In truth it is a weapon that can only be wielded by a true knight of God. In the hands of a holy warrior it is a weapon of incomprehensible strength. It will mold itself to the bearer’s hand; it will make itself into the sword he desires and needs it to be. This was returned to me through the services of one you will meet shortly. I am too old to wield this weapon. My strength is fading and my struggle will be over soon. Become a knight, Geronimo! Take your vow, wield this sword against evil. Become the man you were destined to be!”

Geronimo hung his head, thinking only of Ruby.

Sir Godfrey put one hand on his shoulder. “Be of good cheer, my dear brother. There are many grades of knighthood. I do not ask that you become a monk. I sense your conflict. You will not need to do as much as once we required.”

Geronimo nodded mutely.

“You must however still undergo your Vigil. This place is not like others. Many is the knight who fell asleep during his vigil and yet was just as holy a warrior. But here that cannot be; you must undergo all of what lies ahead of you. If you come out the other side, no matter what you feel, you will be worthy of carrying this weapon.”

“What must I do?”

“Rest now. When it is time, I will bring you back and you will stay here, praying all night over your weapons. I will explain it all in good time.”

Ruby left Jimmy and Umberto to their dinner and wandered through the dusty, drafty corridors. She found the chapel with the effigy tomb of the cowboy, and stared at it for a long time, trying to make sense of the puzzle. She heard someone come in behind her and turned around to see who it was.

It was another woman. She was wearing fashionable clothes in the current style, but something of her bearing indicated she was uncomfortable in them. A pair of pince-nez hung from a chain, over a long red scarf that was wound tightly around her neck. She looked to be perhaps thirty years old. But there was something strange in the way she moved that betrayed a much greater age—but nothing halting or decrepit. It suddenly and absurdly came into Ruby’s mind that it was some kind of grace, some kind of incredible efficiency of movement that made her think she was older than she looked.

“I’m sorry,” said the woman in a prim English accent. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“It’s all right. We haven’t met yet, I believe. What is your name?”

“Call me M—” the other woman said quickly, as if it was a reflex. Then she caught herself. “No. My name is Mina Murray.” She looked sadly down at the tomb. “That was a friend of mine,”

For the first time, Ruby realized that the image on the tomb was still being actively worked on—she could see the dust and the tool marks in places—as if someone had spent years, decades carving this memorial, alone, in the darkness…

“You are the people Sir Godfrey went to fetch?” said Mina.

“Yes. He did so quite spectacularly.”

“That would be in character for him,” she said with a wry smile. “Let us join the others, if you don’t mind.”

They walked back into the refractory. “James,” said Mina when she saw Jimmy. “How nice to see you again.”

“You know each other?” said Ruby.

“Only briefly. I mostly worked with his friend.”

“We stumbled into each other’s business,” said Jimmy, shaking Mina’s hand.

“How is Freddie? Have you seen him recently?”


“That’s probably for the best. I always found our conversation a little tiresome. I’m afraid you find me in the autumn of an exile, Jimmy.”

“Exile? You?”

“You remember my organization, the means I used to keep an eye on things?”

“Yes. For a long time I thought you might be behind this Epsilon Sigma we’ve encountered.”

“You’re not completely wrong. I was betrayed, and my group subverted from within. You remember Sheila? Apparently she never gave up on Muriel. She was always a woman of strong loyalty. I think it was of the kind that could only be turned once.”

“Wait,” said Ruby. “How long have you been doing this?”

“Since the 1890s,” said Mina, smiling. “Sheila was a friend of Jimmy’s and Freddie’s. She was a lieutenant of mine, but she began to work against me—she never gave up on the search for Mirabelle, you know. I found out, but by then they had become too strong for me to oppose openly. I fled here, to one of the last friends I had left. I met Sir Godfrey…oh, almost forty years ago. While we were planning to go to Cairo. Where we were defeated. Anyway, Quincy didn’t come back alive…they were very close, the poor man.”

“What do they want Millicent…Mirabelle…for?” said Jimmy.

“We never did figure that out. Probably something to do with their old rituals, although that may not be possible, since James here managed to place a shield that should protect the Earth from outside influences. By the way, James, I must apologize for something and I’m glad I have the chance. When I saw you last, I didn’t say what I should have. Well done, James. Very well done indeed.”

Millicent had been taken aboard a very well-appointed, small steam liner. They gave her the best stateroom, right next to Vanessa’s. Millicent of course wanted to see her immediately, but was warned the poor dear was resting.

They gave Millicent the most beautiful evening clothes, exact to her size in every measurement. That night she was led by eager, giggling young women to the ship’s gorgeous ballroom. Vanessa, dressed in the most wonderful gown, rushed up to meet her.

“Vanessa!” said Millicent.

“Please, dear. Mother. It’s all right now, you can call me Mother!”

They embraced. “Are you all right, Mother?”

“I’m fine, dearest one.”

Another woman walked into the ballroom. Somehow Millicent’s eyes were drawn to her. And she had no doubt, none whatsoever, that if you took the picture she had of Uncle Jack and the little girl whose face was not her own, and let that girl grow up to be the same age as Millicent was now…that she would resemble in every particular the woman who strode toward them.

“Hello, sister,” the other woman said, hugging Millicent with surprisingly strong arms. “I’m going to take back what you stole!” she hissed in Millicent’s ear.

Millicent felt the room whirl around her and fell back, into the deep, all-embracing darkness, and knew no more for a long time.


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