The Endgame BeginsEdit
"I was never too keen on urban fantasy. Turns out it's even worse to live than to read."
So you've heard Rake's tale about how we got this far. Kidnapped by interdimensional nightmares from humanity's dark past, transformed into twisted mockeries of our former selves, replaced by doppelgangers, so far, so terrible.
And now the worst of a bad bunch, Jack of Blades, Lord High Bastard of the Order of the Evil Spiky Thing, is pushing through to wreak chaos in the real world after we stopped the ritual keeping him out of London. That ritual? The torture-murder of a selected victim, and the psychic mutilation of another poor schmuck forced to watch. Seemed worth risking things to put an end to it, at the time. Maybe not.
But the former residents of Arcadia - who, incidentally, are motherfucking dragons - gave us a hint: the Fae are almost comically vulnerable to cold iron. Iron? Great, it's one of the most commonly used materials in human civilization - but there's the problem. Cold iron has never been worked by the forge. In the dim mists of prehistory, humanity struck a deal with the spirit of iron, against the fae, but fire still plays for the other side - or something along those lines.
My suggestions to broker a new deal with the elemental spirit of Lead - turning every bullet into potent anti-Gentry munitions - was discarded on grounds of practicality - such as "how do we talk to the spirit of lead, genius?"
There were, however, a couple of places where we knew we could 'borrow' some cold iron. One, the Natural History Museum, with its stocks of meteorites, and the other in the collection of antiques collector and toffee-nosed muckety-muck George Cannes. Rake just happened to have friend-of-a-friend links with this guy, and managed to wangle us an invite to one of Cannes' regular parties, with only slight implications of pimping out a friend and colleague from his firm (the unlucky Sarah) to his uncommonly depraved contact..
So we got ourselves ready - I got a pricier off-the-rack suit taken in for my new, more compact Bauplan, and we grabebd a chauffeur's uniform for Azrael. Our plan was to find out where the knife was, grab it, and escape through a Hedge gate.
Cannes keeps a particularly swanky townhouse in some posh end of London. We rolled up in Rake's posh motor, and the doorman, after a brief word from Rake, let us in with only the minimum of s tneers in my direction. Azrael went down to the staff breakroom to hang around with the other chaffeurs and dogsbodies until we could get him up to the main event. The place was, give it its due, ludicrously opulent. We were ushered into a broad hall, with art on plinths and hanging from the ceilings.
Rake's friend was almost immediately swooped upon by the woman who got us the invite - Maggie Wong, I think here name was - with an incredibly predatory air. Now I've no problem with gays - my wife turned out to have a bit of a twist in that direction, as it goes - but this Wong character - if I hadn't seen real vampires in the past few days, I've had pegged her for one, right out of the Ann Rice Creepy Pervert mould.
Rake managed to peel Maggie away from Sarah for long enough to introduce me to the man himsef, George Cannes. I knew his sort. We didn't get much of them in the garage - usually they got their driver to take their cars down to the main dealer - but now and then one'd turn up after some ill-advised DIY maintenance. The kind of man who expected his money to open doors, and was usually right.
I gave him the pseudonym I'd used once before: John Denton. "I'm not familiar with that name," Cannes smugged. "What business are you in?" I told him I was in auto maintenance, buffing up the actual number of establishments I owned. "Oh," he said with an insufferable half-laugh. "How charmingly provincial. I understand you're interested in making some connections. What are your interests?"
"I'm building up a collection of classic cars." I began spinning him a line of jargon-heavy flannel until his eyes started to glaze over and he drifted to a different conversation. I hadn't managed to get into his inner collection, where we'd been told the cold iron knife was kept, so I chose another tack.
One of the paintings hanging on the wall was particuarly lurid. A swirling storm of bright colours almost concealed what could have been a figure dancing, or possibly some kind of abstract windmill. I gave it a thorough inspection, trying to figure out what would possess someone to make such a mess of a canvas, or what could possibly lead someone to buy it.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" a haughty female voice asked from close by. One of Cannes' highbrow friends gestured towards the painting. "It's certainly distinctive," I replied, hoping the euphemism wouldn't show up. "Hockney's cubist phase shocked a lot of people, such challenging work."
I shrugged. "I'm more interested in classic motors, myself." I cringed inwardly; poshos of this rank never called their car a motor. As expected, the woman sniffed, and looked set to move on. I glanced around, frantic for another conversational hook. My eye lit upon a small, delicately carved figurine of a woman picking something from a hanging vine. I gestured to it, "Is that...?"
"Oh yes, an early Michalangelo." Now that was a name I recognized. "One of only three minatures from the set. The others are in museums."
"Wow," I uttered, genuinely impressed. "If that's what he keeps in public view, I can't imagine what he's got in his private collection.
The woman's eyes twinkled. "Oh, would you like to see it?" Bingo. She hauled Cannes over and began wheedling him to let the poor rube goggle at his collection. I gestured to Rake, who joined us and began adding his own enthusiasm to the prospect. Eventually, with a tone of much weariness, Cannes assented. I'm sure he was glad to be able to show off his special toys, though. He began leading a small group of us - accompanied by a couple of Cannes' bodyguards - to a discreet stairwell at the back of the hall. At the bottom of the stairs, a short corridor led to a very substantial looking vault door. I didn't relish trying to get through that without someone opening it for us. Just as Cannes was hamming up opening the door, one of the staff came down the stairs. "Mr. ------?", she asked, giving Rake's name. "Your chaffeur indicates that there's an urgent message for you - concerning your daugher."
Cannes opened the very, very thick safe door and led us into a narrow room lined with display cases. I began scrutinizing them as Cannes led us through, giving a little spiel about how he came by this or that piece. We'd made a circuit of the whole vault when I realised I hadn't managed to spot the cold-iron knife. I craned my neck and squinted at the clusters of treasures, but to no avail. Cannes led us all out as I grumbled to myself.
I met up with Rake and told him about my lack of success. He wasn't doing much better - the "message" from Azrael was a failed bluff to get the tough chap up into the main party, but the house staff were having none of it.
Rake began begging Cannes to let him through and look at his exhibits. It'd been the whole point of his visit, and only this false alarm had stopped him from seeing it. Cannes wasn't pleased about shuffling back down and re-opening the vault, but Rake's wheedling evidently paid off in the end, and they moved towards the stairs. Rake looked at me and made a hasty gesture - it looked like the "cutting throat" one, but I couldn't figure out what it meant.
A short while later, an annoyed Cannes and a hangdog Rake came up from the vault. We reconvened, and Rake confessed that he hadn't managed to find the knife either. "And where's Sarah? I asked you to keep an eye on her." So that's what that gesture was about. "I thought you were telling me to garotte someone." Sarah was nowhere to be found, and neither was Maggie. "Oh, God...!" Rake groaned with a visible shudder.
Defeated, we drifted away as the party began its downward slope. We'd have to resort to plan B: come back and night, break into the vault, and steal the knife that way. I contemplated my assets. The Plasma Rifle wasn't really an anti-structure weapon, but with a bit of tweaking..
Oh, did I not mention that? A few weeks ago, when we were in the Goblin Markets, our now-vanished comrade Fox got talking with a trader of weapons. I suggested she ask for "a phased-plasma rifle in the forty-Watt range", expecting the misshapen shopkeeper to retort with the classic, "Hey, just what you see, pal" (because I'm sure even mythological chimera have seen The Terminator) - when instead he pulled out.. a god-damned plasma rifle.
I ended up with it, because Fox couldn't manage to get the damn thing to work. The little manufacturer's plate described it as a British Army L3376 MCHEPL (this Yiddish-sounding acronym went sadly unexplained), and along with a lot of puzzling statistics bore a manufacturer's stamp of some kind of Roman gladiator's helmet, as well as the date 30-10-2067. I wasn't about to ask the goblin if it'd fallen off the back of a lorry in the future. There was a slot at the end that looked like some kind of power cell would fit. Bodged into the middle of this slot was something that looked like a massive hypodermic needle. I'd later learn that, in what must have been the height of Goblin puns, this rifle actually ran on blood. Probably not a standard-issue squaddie gun, then - or even special forces.
It shoots a magnetically-squeezed blob of plasma, which, after a certain range or bumping into something, releases, delivering a huge explosion to anything unfortunate enough to be lounging around within about five metres. I'm not sure what its maximum range is, but it turns out its average detonation distance is "too close".
Anyway, I spent some time fiddling with it, changing the positions of the electromagnets to create a shaped plasma discharge which, with luck, would be able to cut through the vault door.
We also visited Pax Anglos, and took a few packs of blood from their armory to power the rifle. Who suspected knowing vampires would be so useful?
We piled ourselves, along with an acetylene torch from my garage, into a van I'd been keeping off the road, and arrived back at Cannes' place just before the witching hour. The place was quiet. Under the vehicle a ramp led down to a gated-off vehicle entrance. The cutting torch made short work of it, and next we faced a locked door - leading, Azrael said, to the same break room he'd waited in earlier. Azrael worked on the door with a crowbar for a few tense minutes, then, with a crack, it fell open. At the same time, a shrill alarm began to issue from somewhere abave. We ignored it, barreling into the room beyond and quickly up towards the hall where the party was held. We heard footsteps, but didn't see anyone, even as we headed down the stairs to the vault. I crouched as far away from the door as I could. Azrael and Rake scuttled behind me as I steadied the plasma rifle on the floor, and triggered the firing mechanism.
The building shook, dust drifting from the walls. The end of the corridor was a white-hot glowing ruin. As the metal cooled, I could see a roughly man-sized hole melted right through the thick door. Just enough to squeeze through. We quickly forced our way through the gap - it pinged quietly as the heated metal shrank and cooled - and began ransacking the place, grabbing everything that looked remotely knifely.
"Get the hedge gate open!" someone shouted, and Rake did the honours, turning a picture frame into a gate to that otherworldly forest. Rake got through, and I grabbed Azrael's hand and jumped through the gate, pulling the big man behind. As soon as Azrael's fingers grazed the disjoint in space, though, it quickly snapped shut.
"What the hell?" Rake opened the gate again, and Azrael tried to move through it. No luck.
"Wait, cold iron is anti-everything-fae, right?" With the hedge gate opened once more, Azrael picked a strange, hammered-surfaced knife with a bone handle from the pile we'd collected - and flicked it straight at the gate. Just as it seemed about to pass through, the gate snapped shut.
Once Rake re-opened it, and we all stepped back into the vault, Azrael said, "Well, at least we know which is the cold-iron knife now." Another thing was sure - we couldn't get out via the hedge. As we turned to look towards the hole in the vault door, a shout came through. "Come out with your hands up or we'll shoot!" Cannes' guards, for certain.
"My gun just melted our way into this vault," I shouted in reply. "Get out of our way or I'll shoot you with it." This simple overture didn't have the desired effect, as the response took the form of bullets.
Rake's eyes suddenly went wide - but not in fear. He looked like he'd been struck by inspiration. Removing the painting from the wall, he reopened the hedge gate and pointed it towards the opening. Bullets zipped through the hole, and vanished through the gate. I thought I could hear a rustle of otherwordly leaves..
Rake started advancing towards the gate, and we followed. The gate caught the incoming fire - except for one bullet, which gouged its way into my shoulder. The part of my mind which wasn't overcome by pain briefly mused on the possibility that being so close to all this lead would help me get in touch with its elemental spirit. A scream came from outside the hall, as Rake charged, and as we watched, pushed the painting over the nearest guard. There were a few choked-off screams, then an uneasy silence. We charged forward and overpowered the remaining guard, taking his gun before we headed up the stairs.
In the distance, a siren wailed. We paused, fearful that the police had been called to what I tried to avoid thinking of as "our robbery". But the sirens drifted past. Evidently there were more important things to deal with than a rich man being burgled.
We piled into the van, and started to drive away. Bullets twanged off the rear doors. I looked out of the rear window to see none other than George Cannes leaning out of an upstairs window, face twisted in a rictus of rage, taking aim at us with a rifle.
I had rage enough of my own. "Eat this, you fucking snob!" I yelled. The plasma rifle was already sated by the blood from my wounds. The discharge tore the front off the building, sending plaster, concrete and wood showering to the floor, along with,presumably, lumps of Cannes. We sped off into the night..
Coming soon.. The Endgame Continues