Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Interlude008

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Carlos Hayate, non-projector
  • Tom Knox, Haunter

Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Craig Forrest, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter (hue)
  • John Reeve, Skinrider
  • Rory, ghost dog (Annie’s familiar)
  • Shelley Young, Haunter (ghost)

Brook House

  • Mona, Banshee

The Mole People

  • Alice, Wisp

Miscellaneous Spooks

  • A tattered man, Lament and Shade unknown


Eighth Interlude – Downtime

The group seems to have reached a consensus: they’re going to take it easy for a week or so. That isn’t to say they’re just going to put their feet up and do nothing, but they are collectively going to make an effort not to get into any fights/stir up trouble/get themselves injured, or do anything else that’s going to leave them below par. As well as allowing the injured a little recovery time, this mandated breathing space affords an opportunity for training, or for pursuing projects (research or investigations, for example) that need more than a few snatched minutes here and there. It’s also a time for taking stock; for assessing what the group needs and how those needs can be addressed. Tom comments idly that they should try to find Ben and Hoyt something to do. The two of them are rather scathing in response.

Currently, Phoenix has thirteen spooks on its roster, of which eight are skimmers, two are sleepers in cradles and three are ghosts. Carlos – who seems willing to pitch in with his new abilities – brings the total to fourteen and the number of skimmers to nine. This number includes Ben and Hoyt, whose work with Kate seems to have paid off. Being knocked out of their bodies by the tower’s fall was apparently the catalyst they needed. Certainly Adrian, who wasn’t there but has been working alongside them anyway, hasn’t yet achieved success. Kate and Zoë are still officially on the sick list, but Zoë is already agitating to return to active duty again sometime soon. She’s definitely recovering (and faster than Kate), so Chet has indicated that he might give his approval for light duties (that is: she can project, but she isn’t to get into fights) in the near-future. As well as the three human ghosts, there is also the ghost dog, Rory. His main role so far has been that of guard dog, which he seems eminently suited for. The ghost contingent is actually decreasing by one, as John announces that he is leaving the group to pursue his own projects elsewhere (although he’s rather vague about what those projects actually are). The parting is amicable, and the group manages to put together a small leaving do for him. Phoenix has only two non-spooks: Adrian (who may yet become a skimmer) and Mitch, the cradle technician.

So, they seem to be doing okay for manpower at the moment. (Although it’s a rare thing nowadays for everyone to always be available at the warehouse. Apparently, John isn’t the only one with his own projects). Thanks to Ben and Hoyt, their transport situation is also looking much better. The two of them pick up a couple of wrecks (a van and a car) from the nearby scrapyard, and Hoyt uses a combination of inhabit and his formidable skills as a car mechanic to restore them to functionality. [1] They’re not exactly top of the line, but they work: the group now has a new (in a manner of speaking) wheels.

On a somewhat less triumphant note, the group’s finances are looking grim. John has contributed a lot, and worked wonders with what they had, but that won’t last forever. As it stands, the accounts and transfers he set up leave them just enough to live on, but that’s about it. Now that he’s leaving them, they’re going to need another source of income. More than that, if they’re going legitimate, they need a legitimate source of income: no more emptying out cash machines, or cleaning out the bank accounts of hit men.

The obvious thing to do is to put their skills and training to use, and resurrect the ghost-busting business. (The idea of simply getting nine-to-five jobs never really comes up.) They’re pretty much continuing that line of work anyway, just for survival (heading off the apocalypse and dealing with the various nasties wandering around NYC) rather than for monetary gain. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, however. Various people are trying to work out how to set up in business as Phoenix, when Hoyt and Blink – looking very pleased with themselves – saunter in and announce that it’s done. Apparently, they’ve filled out all the relevant paperwork and registered The Phoenix Group as a business. (Naturally, they set up a post office box rather than give the warehouse address. There’s no point in making it easy for their enemies to find them.) They even have a rudimentary web page, thanks to Shelley (after a lot of sweet-talking by the two gentlemen).

Annie and Kate continue to work on the cleansing ritual. It seems to be coming together, but they really want to make sure they get it right. Kate’s health is improving, but she’s still more or less immobile. She’s also complaining bitterly about it, especially since the removal of their names from the FBI’s most wanted list means that people are now relatively free to leave the warehouse without having the law fall on them. (There’s still NextWorld and the Black Net to worry about, but people are stir-crazy enough that they’re willing to risk it.)

Zoë joins in with the complaining; pointing out that she’s bounced back from worse injuries than this.
      “Besides,” she adds, smiling sweetly, “compared to Grumpy-Guts here” – indicating Kate – “I’m the very picture of health.”
      “Thanks.” The edge in Kate’s voice could etch steel. Zoë, naturally, just flashes her a grin. Turning back to Chet – the arbiter of who’s fit for duty and who isn’t – she continues her plea.
      “Come on, Captain. You can see I’m well enough for field work. Let me be useful again!”
      Chet seems unmoved by the charm offensive. “Not yet.”
      “Then when?”
      “Depends on you. Might be a week or two if you’re careful; longer if you strain yourself.”
      “But...”
      “End of discussion, Soldier.” His tone brooks no arguments, not even from Zoë. “Continue with the exercises. Don’t push yourself too hard. We’ll see in a week.”
      Zoë sighs. “I’ll hold you to that.” He nods, and then takes his leave.
      “Cheer up Kid,” Kate smiles bitterly. “At least you’re allowed to project.” Chet recently gave his permission. Zoë was far too impatient to wait until he thought she was up to it before trying, of course, but he convinced her to cease the attempts until he gave the okay. The clincher was when he pointed out that she’d set her recovery back several weeks by pushing herself too hard.
      “I’m sure you’ll be able to soon.” Zoë shrugs. “He said your condition was improving.”
      “‘Improving,’ yes, but it’s still going to be a while. I’m older than you, Kid.” She sighs, and then smiles with genuine – if unexpected – humour. “And I was never as peppy.”
      “Peppy?” Zoë raises her eyebrows. “Who in the hell uses the word peppy anymore? Or ever?”
      “Umm, can I have a word?” James has been hovering nearby for a few moments, waiting for a chance to break into the conversation. This seems to be as good an opportunity as any. (Plus, if he doesn’t interrupt now, they might be bickering back and forth for the next few minutes at least.) They both turn to look at him.
      Kate raises an eyebrow. “Yes?”
      Zoë grins, slapping him enthusiastically on the shoulder in greeting. “Hey James. What’s up?”
      “I just wondered if you’d be interested in training with me,” he says, stoically enduring her exuberance.
      “Assuming you don’t mean me,” Kate observes drily, “I’m going to go back to my research. Have fun, kids.” She leaves them to it.
      “Sure, let’s go.” Zoë starts striding over to the designated nursery area, calling back over her shoulder. “Come on, then! What are you waiting for?” By the time he crosses the short distance, she’s already settling down and preparing to project. “What did you have in mind, anyway?”
      James stakes out a comfortable spot for himself. “I want to try to work on a way of resisting unearthly repose. I have an idea, but I need someone to practice with.”
      “So,” she purrs. “You want me to entrance you?” [2]
      “Yeah.” James is either oblivious to the flirting, or chooses to ignore it.
      “Let’s get to it, then.” They train together for a while. James soon figures out how to focus his mind to effectively ignore the effects of Zoë’s unearthly repose – it’s just a matter of focus, rather than of horror use; effectively a form of meditation [3] – so then it’s just a matter of practice. They continue to work on it sporadically over the next few days.

Tom, looking for something to occupy his time, decides to try to help the ghosts of Brook House. They’re full to capacity at the moment, and Mona thinks it would be a good idea to decant some of their residents to a new facility. The problem is: finding a suitable new building. Tom applies himself to the problem. Following a whimsical turn of thought, he starts scouring New York for creepy, gothic buildings. It has to be fairly large, with lots of rooms, and not be in any danger of being demolished or of simply falling down. Something like a hotel would probably have the required capacity. As luck – and a little investigation – would have it, there is a creepy, gothic hotel within reasonable travel distance of Brook House. [4] (Importantly, however, it isn’t particularly close to Mayfair Green or the Empire State building.) Ambitiously, it’s named The Grand.

Taking James along for backup, Tom heads out to take a look at the building. He spends a little time inhabiting it (one floor at a time), to get a feel for the structure and to look around inside it. [5] The hotel is a little dilapidated, but doesn’t seem to be in imminent danger of falling down. It does, however, have a resident spook: a tattered man lurking in the basement. Tom can’t tell whether the he’s looking at a battered ghost or a mostly human-looking spectre. Whatever flavour of spook it is, the tattered man doesn’t appear to be doing anything much. Although he watches it for a little while, all it does is stand there. Returning to his body, he reports his findings to James and they contemplate trying to talk to the spook. The problem is that it may be hostile. Also, if they both go in there, there’ll be no one to watch their bodies. After a few minute’s indecision, they decide that it might be an idea to find out if there have been any ghost-related incidents in the hotel’s recent history. Tom calls Shelley and asks her to do some background research on The Grand. She tells him to sod off and then hangs up. If they want any research done, it looks like they’re going to do it themselves.

Before heading back to the warehouse, Tom and James check out another nearby hotel. This is considerably more modern than The Grand, being a relatively new chain hotel. Using the same method of checking it out as before [6], Tom ascertains that it’s just as tacky inside as the lurid pink facade would suggest, and it doesn’t appear to have any resident spooks. It’s a little further away from Brook House than The Grand, but at least the Brook House spooks would be able to move in straight away. Besides, now that he’s had a look at The Grand, he’s quite taken with the place. Maybe Phoenix could use it as their new headquarters... First, however, they need to know a little more about its spectral inhabitant.

Tom and James hit the internet to see what they can find out about The Grand. [7] Tom gets distracted by something or other, but James manages to dig up a few interesting titbits. [8] There have been a couple of deaths in the hotel over the years, but it’s hard to say whether or not this is unusual for a hotel in NYC. Nothing about the circumstances leaps out and screams ‘spook activity’, and the deaths weren’t ascribed to foul play. Worryingly, an article on the ‘Haunted New York’ website names the place as being at the centre of legends about disappearing homeless people. This sounds like something that could be worth further investigation. On a slightly more mundane note, there are hints that the business isn’t doing well financially. (It’s not in a particularly good neighbourhood, and its reputation for being haunted doesn’t seem to be doing it any favours.) Tom – who really does seem to have taken a shine to the place – notes that the hotel’s financial troubles mean that they could probably buy it relatively cheaply. If they had any capital with which to do so. For thoroughness’ sake, they also look into the history of the chain hotel but, as they expected, there isn’t even a sniff of the supernatural about it. The site it’s built on used to be occupied by houses, but the developers bought these from the city – who had somehow claimed them under eminent domain – and then demolished them. It’s possible that there was some shady business going on, but none of this seems to have any bearing on the location’s suitability as an overflow for the Brook House ghosts.

When he’s not working out with his personal trainer [9], Carlos takes some time to look into the Catholic church on the corner of Fifth and First. If the chanting Alice heard there all those years ago really did resemble the music at Kiss’ underground music site, there’s a good chance it was connected to the ritual. The place is called the Church of St Jude. It takes a lot of hard work – digging through records; tracking down members and former members of the congregation to talk to – but he manages to get some results. [10] The congregation is largely composed of Irish ex-pats and their descendants. Talking to some of the older members – and the parents and grandparents of some of the current ones – he finds out that the priest at the time (Father Michael) introduced a number of new Latin hymns. This was almost certainly what Alice heard. Interestingly, the priest disappeared sometime in the nineteen-thirties.

Carlos decides that he wants to know more about Father Michael. Armed with his PI license, he starts trawling through the records. [11] According to the (somewhat cursory) police report on the disappearance, there were signs of a struggle in the rectory, but no blood. Obviously, there was no body. There didn’t seem to be any clues at all. The report mentions speculation that the matter could have something to do with illegal immigrants. Apparently, Father Michael was suspected of being involved in bringing them into New York, presumably through the tunnels. That’s a possible connection with Kiss, who almost certainly entered the city through those very same tunnels. Maybe Father Michael brought him in... Unfortunately, Carlos can’t exactly interrogate Kiss to find out.

There’s one more thing Carlos wants to do: he wants to try to get hold of some of the sheet music for the hymns Father Michael introduced. Maybe he can compare them to the music at the murder site (and the fragments carved into the hues there). [12] As it happens, there aren’t any of the relevant pieces of sheet music available. However, there is something potentially even better: Father Michael’s journal. It takes them a couple of days to dig it out, but they’re willing to lend it to him on the proviso that he’s very, very careful with it. Naturally, he agrees. The journal is handwritten – and in a fairly appalling hand – so it’s going to take a little while to decipher. After a cursory flick through the yellowing pages, Carlos decides to get help: deciphering old documents is more Annie’s forte.

Annie, of course, has something weighing on her mind. It’s been long enough now: if she really is pregnant, she should be at the stage where it can be confirmed by ultrasound. Yes, the tests Chet performed were unequivocally positive, but who knows what kind of effects her unique state might have on hormone levels? For her peace of mind (and Blink’s) she needs to know for sure, and simply waiting for time to reveal the truth just isn’t an option. Unfortunately, there’s a problem.
      “The ultrasound isn’t cheap,” Annie says softly. She and Blink are closeted away in a corner of the warehouse so they can have what passes for a private conversation.
      “How much?” Blink’s expression is grave.
      “About a thousand dollars.”
      “Hardly pocket change these days,” he observes.
      “Yeah.” They both think for a moment, considering their options.
      “You know Hoyt and I just got the business set up?”
      “Yes.” A quick smile. “That was quick.”
      “Well, it’s not that difficult,” he says, modestly. “Unfortunately, it’s going to be a little while before we actually start earning any money.”
      “I know. And even then, it’s not going to be easy to convince people to let me just take a chunk of our first profits.”
      “You could just tell them the truth.”
      Annie is already shaking her head. “No, not yet. Not until I’m sure.” She can’t explain why she’s so strongly opposed to just telling everyone. In some ways, it might even make things easier, but she can’t bring herself to do it. Not yet. ‘When – if – the scan confirms it,’ she tells herself. ‘Not before.’
      “Well, it’s up to you.” If Blink disagrees with her, he doesn’t let it show on his face or in his voice. “So, how are you doing?”
      “I’m fine.” She smiles a little. “Just like I was the last time you asked. Yes, I’m taking care of myself. Yes, I’m eating and sleeping properly. Yes, I’m trying to avoid risks where possible.”
      Blink smiles back. “Am I so predictable?”
      “Only a little.”
      “Well, can you blame me? I’ve never been a father before.”
      “And I’ve never been a mother.” There’s a slight catch in her voice, but she deliberately adopts a bright tone to cover it up. “Don’t worry; I’m taking good care of the both of us.”
      “Good.” He looks like he wants to say something else, but apparently changes his mind. Before the silence can stretch awkwardly, Annie speaks again.
      “Anyway, I need to get back to my research, and I’m sure you must have a thousand and one schemes on the go.”
      “Something like that,” he agrees cheerfully.

Annie and Blink say their goodbyes – although, given the size of the warehouse, it’s not like either of them is really going far – and go their separate ways. Both of them are wrapped up in their own thoughts, which is perhaps why neither of them notice that they aren’t alone. James didn’t intend to eavesdrop; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time he realised that, it was too late. Making his presence known then would just have been... awkward. Very, very awkward. So, now he knows Annie and Blink’s little secret. He knows, and he’s going to do something about it. [13]

James tells the group he’s taking a little trip to Boston, for reasons unspecified. He goes by himself – completely against the protocols that Annie, Craig and Chet are trying to encourage people to follow – taking one of the refurbished cars. It’s about a four hour drive each way, so he manages to complete his business there, rest, and arrive back at the warehouse the day after he set out, toting a full bag. Nothing much has happened in his absence. One of the first things he does upon his return is to ask Annie if he can have a word with her in private.
      “What is it?” Annie enquires, as soon as they’re alone. In response, James hands her a small, brown paper-wrapped package. “What’s this?” She looks at it, and then back up at him, puzzled.
      “Open it.” Frowning, she does so, carefully tearing open the paper to reveal a bundle of money. The sight startles a gasp from her, and she involuntarily riffles through it. There must be hundreds of dollars there... “It’s a thousand dollars.” James answers the unasked question.
      “But what’s it for?” The expression on her face is one of complete confusion.
      “It’s for you; for something you need.”
      The penny drops. ‘A thousand dollars...’ “Did you hear something you shouldn’t?” she asks carefully.
      “Yes.”
      “Oh.” She takes a deep breath. “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it to yourself.”
      “Keep what to myself?” He’s so deadpan, it takes her a moment to realise that he’s agreeing to her request.
      “Thank you.” She glances down at the money again, hardly able to believe that it’s real. “And thank you for this.”
      “You’re welcome.” There are so many questions she wants to ask – chief among them “why?” and “where did you get the money?” – but she doesn’t. She’s almost afraid to question this unexpected turn of fortune, just in case it ends up being snatched away from her again. Besides, there’s something she needs to do.
      “I have to go,” she says, tucking the money carefully into her jacket. “I have to...” she gestures vaguely. James nods, but she’s already turning away, mind already focused on making the appointment for the ultrasound. “Thanks again,” she calls. James watches her go, smiling slightly. ‘This is certainly different to shooting people...’

Annie makes an appointment and goes for her ultrasound, accompanied by Blink. He is as surprised as she was when she tells him where she got the money. Like her, however, he doesn’t ask James where it came from. They decide that they just don’t want to know. (As it happens, they needn’t have worried. It turns out that one of the things James did in Boston was to retrieve and sell some of the guns from his stash. He also picked up some weapons and clothes to bring back with him.) The scan confirms that Annie is pregnant. So, how and when do she and Blink tell the rest of the group?

While she thinks about the question – or simply puts off having to answer it – Annie divides her time between working on the ritual with Kate, and helping out at Brook House. The main thing she does there is assist with breaking tethers and passing ghosts over. The experience helps her almost as much as it helps the ghosts; leaving her somehow feeling more human than she has in a while. [14] Maybe she can shake off the spectres’ taint after all.

While she’s at Brook House, Annie catches up with Mona for a chat. When the subject of Alice comes up, Mona looks a little uncomfortable.
      “I’m sorry I didn’t mention her before,” she says. “Some people value their privacy.”
      “That’s okay. I understand.” They talk for a little while. Annie asks Mona about Jane, the ghost they rescued from the basement of the Empire State building.
      Mona frowns. “She doesn’t seem to be getting better.”
      “Is she getting worse?”
      “I’m not sure. Bill’s been spending more time with her than I have; he seems to have a rapport with her.” She pauses, clearly deciding whether or not to reveal the next piece of information. Making her decision, she plunges on. “There’s something...” She trails off.
      “Yes?”
      “This is... Well. This is something overheard. I’m not sure whether I should be talking about it, but it might be important.” She takes a breath. “I heard Bill asking Jane about Liz, and she seemed to be responding. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it looked like she was actually answering his questions.”
      “That’s... interesting.”
      “Yes. And worrying.”
      “I wonder...” Annie is already thinking through the metaphysics of it. “I suppose if Liz was taken – turned – by the spectres, then Jane might be able to communicate with her through the hive mind. Maybe.” She frowns. “If that’s what she’s doing, I don’t think that kind of contact is good for her.” In fact, she knows it isn’t. Maybe that’s why the ghost isn’t getting better.
      “I’m worried about Bill as well.”
      “I think Tom’s staying in touch with him, but I’ll prod him to make sure he does. I think that contact will help to ground Bill; stop him from slipping away.”
      “I agree. It doesn’t help with Jane, though.” She sighs. “I’ll keep an eye on her. On both of them.”
      “Does she seem any different to the other ghosts?”
      Mona shrugs. “Not as far as I can tell. I haven’t spent as much time with her as I’d like, though.” Given the current (over-)population of Brook House, that’s hardly surprising.
      “Have you ever met any other pre-millennial ghosts?” Since meeting Jane and Alice, it’s something Annie has been wondering about: could there have been any other ghosts hidden away somewhere, protected from the event that seems to have wiped out all the others? If so, might they have woken at the same time Alice did?
      “No, I don’t think so.” [15]
      “Pity.”

Mention of Jane reminds Annie that she has an appointment with Alice. Well, not an appointment, precisely: it isn’t as if Alice agreed a specific day and time when she’ll be available to answer Annie’s (many) questions. But she did agree to let Annie ask them of her at some point in the not-too-distant future. It takes a couple of visits to the Mole People before she manages to catch Alice with a few spare minutes. The ghost receives her in a cathedral-like space with huge, vaulted ceilings. Annie thinks it’s a storm-drain, although she didn’t know that there were any built on the scale of this chamber. The fact of it comes as something of a relief: at least this place isn’t like the one from that nightmare of a future. Alice receives Annie like a queen granting audience to a petitioner. If Annie was a prouder sort, she might find the attitude somewhat galling. As it is, she simply shrugs inwardly and treats Alice with the respect she seems to expect.

      “You may ask your questions.” That’s no guarantee of an answer, of course, but it’s something.
      “Thank you.” Alice looks at her expectantly as she sets her thoughts in order.
      “When did you first become fully aware in your current state?”
      “Sometime in the year two-thousand. I cannot be more precise than that. I only determined the time sometime afterwards.” “What were your first memories as a ghost, and do you remember the transition from one state to the other?” Experience has shown her that most ghosts seem to prefer their deaths to be described in this way, rather than ‘from life to death’.
      “The transition...” Alice’s gaze is distant; or perhaps inward-looking. “I don’t recall the process precisely, but there was something. I remember being at peace. I was lying in light and in darkness, and I slept. I dreamed.”
      “Do you remember what you dreamed?”
      “No.”
      “Were others there with you? Other presences?”
      “Yes. There were countless presences, but each one was only a fleeting contact. It felt like they were moving past me.”
      “And after this?”
      “Violence.”
      “What do you mean?”
      “Just... There was timeless peace and serenity and then, suddenly, there was chaos. I was jolted from my dreaming and startled awake. I can tell you nothing about the event itself” – forestalling Annie’s question – “only what came after. My first coherent post-death memory is of waking in the basement of the Empire State building.”
      “Did you know where you were at the time?”
      “No. I determined that afterwards.” Almost to herself, she seems to add. “Below ground is my domain. I know it, and all within it.”

Alice’s remark gives Annie pause. Her domain? She’s certainly spoken of these tunnels in a proprietary manner before, but this seems to be more than that. The word ‘domain’ is given a peculiar weight that implies more than merely territory. Concentrating, Annie studies Alice and the surrounding walls, looking for signs of any supernatural connection. [16] She sees faint traces of Alice’s aura running through the walls.
      “Did you imbue this place with your essence?” Annie asks. Such a thing is certainly possible for objects, and she’s heard of houses developing a spectral presence if repeatedly inhabited. Admittedly, the tunnel network is a little more extensive than the average house, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way.
      “No.”       “There are traces of your aura throughout the tunnels,” Annie explains.
      “Yes. This is my domain.” Her tone of voice is reminiscent of someone speaking to a small child. “Just as above ground is his.”
      “His? Do you mean Béla Kiss?”
      “Certainly not,” Alice snaps impatiently. “Kiss is a vile, unimportant little man. He must be dealt with.”
      “Were you aware of him entering your domain to commit the murders?” Annie asks, cautiously. It doesn’t seem likely, but yet she claims to be aware of all within this place.
      “No, and I should have been: I should know all who walk within my realm. He cannot travel here with impunity; I will not allow it!” Her gaze suddenly focuses intently on Annie, the effect not unlike being pinned by a blinding spotlight. “If you and your companions were to deal with him once and for all, I would reward you appropriately.”
      “We intend to deal with him, once we have prepared.” Even prepared, he was still handing them their arses, but that’s not something Annie feels she needs to point out. She’s sure they can take him, but they’re going to need all hands and better tactics.
      “When you do” – she sounds like she expects this thing to be done, rather than simply wishing for it – “you will have my gratitude.”

All this has gotten a little far from the question Annie was asking; one for which she hasn’t yet had an answer.
      “If the holder of the above ground domain isn’t Kiss, who is it? Is it William Lamb?” [17]
      “No, certainly not.” Alice sounds offended. “He was a self-important man of no real significance. Utterly vulgar.”
      “Who, then? Do you know his name and nature?”
      Alice pauses a moment, clearly considering her words. “No name that I have permission to share.” She smiles thinly. “You have heard his words, however. All of you have.”
      Annie’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Radio Free Death?”
      “That is how he is known, yes.”
      “I see.” That certainly is interesting, and raises a whole raft of further questions. Annie takes a moment to work out how to ask the obvious one with a modicum of tact. “Are the two of you antagonists?”
      “We respect each other’s boundaries.” Which doesn’t answer the question at all.
      “What is the nature of your relationship?”
      “Private.” This topic is clearly off-limits.
      “I intended no offence.”
      “None taken.” But the edge to the words suggests that it’s a close thing.
      “How do you know Kiss and Lamb?” This seems like a safer topic. From the way Alice relaxes slightly, it seems Annie is correct.
      “Lamb was quite prominent in society at the time. One couldn’t help but run into him from time to time. He gave a tour of the Empire State building while it was still under construction. Kiss was one of the builders on site at the time. I remember him because Lamb referred to him by name. It struck me as odd that such a repulsive little gnome of a man should be named Béla Kiss. Urgh.” She shudders delicately, and then continues in a wry tone. “Of course, the other time I saw Kiss was when he strangled the life out of me. That left something of an impression.”
      “I can see that.”

More questions reveal that Alice has no useful information about the ritual or the events preceding it.
      “They didn’t precisely seek my permission,” she observes dryly. “Nor did they explain the procedure to me.” She wasn’t yet conscious and aware when the ritual was actually performed, so Annie moves on to her next set of questions.
      “The ghost I healed before: do you know if his scars have reverted to what they are?”
      “Not completely. Their condition is worse than it was immediately after your attempt, but better than it was originally.”
      “So the healing was at least partially successful. That’s good.” It offers some hope that the wounds can be healed fully. “Perhaps it might be more complete and permanent if I invest more energy in the process.” Doing so might cause a spike, even with James’ help, but the lady of the underworld seems confident in her ability to deal with any threats that might be drawn towards it.
      “Perhaps.”
      “I would like to try to heal the others, if you are willing.”
      “How... experimental is this process?” Alice sounds like she’s choosing her words carefully, perhaps thinking back to Tom’s remarks about experimenting on the hues here.
      “The horror itself is something that I have used many times before. I have never tried healing wounds quite like these, however.”
      “In that case, when you have successfully effected permanent healing of one of the others, you may attempt it with mine.”
      “As you wish.” It’s another item for the ever-increasing list. “Have you noticed any changes in the murder site itself?”
      “Yes.” Alice frowns blackly. “It is getting harder for me to sense it.”
      “That doesn’t surprise me.” Annie tells her their theory that the ritual killings were intended to weaken the barrier between this world and the spectres’ realm. Alice listens impassively, making it difficult to judge whether this surprises her or merely confirms previously held suspicions. When Annie has finished, she asks:
      “Do you know of any way to cleanse the site of its taint?”
      “Potentially.” She explains about the ritual she and Kate are currently working on. “The principle is similar to the method we used at Ground Zero, but the ritual itself is undergoing considerable refinement. It worked, but, well, you know what happened.”
      “Indeed. I don’t think it would be advisable to bring another tower crashing down on my domain.” It’s not clear if she’s being amused, sarcastic, or mildly threatening.
      “That’s why we’re spending much more time on this one. Last time we were working to a deadline. No pun intended.”
      “Hmm. When do you plan to test this refined ritual?”
      “Soon. Maybe another week or so. It’s not as much time as I’d like, but as you said yourself: the sites are continuing to change. Ideally we’d want to start with the most recent site, which would be this one. Would you allow that?”
      Alice doesn’t even have to think about her reply. “I would prefer you try it somewhere else first.”
      “That’s understandable.” Annie doesn’t blame her at all. Given what happened at Ground Zero, she wouldn’t want to do something like this in her backyard without testing it first. “As you wish. I only have one more question: do you object to me sharing any of this information with the others?”
      Alice raises her eyebrows. “I rather assumed you would be.”
      Annie shrugs. “I prefer to confirm these things.” Why risk making an enemy of the queen of the underworld? “Is there anything you would like to ask me?”
      “You have already answered it. Please return when you are confident about attempting the healing and the cleansing ritual here.”
      “I will. Thank you for your time, and for answering my questions.”
      Alice inclines her head. “You are welcome.”

As Annie heads back to the surface, she can’t help but wonder why the answers to questions only seem to bring more questions. It’ll be interesting to see what the others make of her findings...

Footnotes

[1] Inhabit can be used to restore an object to its original condition. I think it can also be used to make minor changes, like a new paint job or changing a license plate number. The big advantage of this is that it doesn’t require tools. You can’t make parts out of whole cloth, only fix what’s there. Hoyt would have had to make sure that the cars he chose had all the relevant bits and pieces before he started, even if those parts were non-functional. Using inhabit to repair an object requires a [Stamina + Craft] roll. [Back]

[2] Although Zoë is a poltergeist, she also has the Wisp horror unearthly repose. Apparently, she has quite a few (and a relatively wide range) of horrors. [Back]

[3] This is actually a Background, rather than a horror trick. It’s called Focused, and gives [-1 difficulty] on [Willpower] rolls to resist being entranced by unearthly repose. [Back]

[4] After a successful [Intelligence + Investigation] roll to find somewhere suitable, the GM just asked the player what kind of place Tom had found. The haunted hotel idea is pretty cool. Of course, it might be a problem if it is actually haunted... [Back]

[5] 2 successes on a [Perception + Awareness] check to look for ghosts, spectres and other supernatural weirdness. The GM rolled randomly to determine whether there was actually anything there for Tom to find. [Back]

[6] And getting the same number of successes on the roll. [Back]

[7] Of course, back in the Orpheus days, this kind of legwork would have been done by a dedicated team of investigators before a projector even got within sniffing distance of the place itself. Maybe being on the run and hopping from one emergency to the next has made the Phoenix spooks a little sloppy... [Back]

[8] An [Intelligence + Investigation] roll. One little piggy got 2 successes, and one little piggy got none. [Back]

[9] The player wants to increase the character’s stamina, and this is the justification. [Back]

[10] 1 success on a difficulty 9 [Intelligence + Investigation] roll. The PI license didn’t help here, because Carlos’ main source of information was talking to people. The license only applies when trying to gain access to records. [Back]

[11] Thanks to the PI license, the difficulty of this roll was 8. Again, he got 1 success. [Back]

[12] It was a [Charisma + Etiquette] roll to try to persuade the relevant person to part with a priceless piece of the church history. Luckily, he got 4 successes. [Back]

[13] There was no roll involved here. James’ player thought it would be interesting to explore another facet of his character, so we decided that James overheard the relevant conversation between Annie and Blink. Given the number of people in the warehouse, and the lack of anything resembling soundproofing, it wasn’t exactly impossible for someone to hear them talking. [Back]

[14] Passing ghosts over is one of the things that can reduce Spite. If done as a downtime action, it costs 10 exp to remove 1 point of permanent Spite and 1 for a point of temporary Spite. If it’s something that’s done in uptime, there is no experience cost for Spite reduction. [Back]

[15] The GM made a roll of some kind for Mona at this point. I suspect it was an [Intelligence] roll to recall something (or to put some facts together), but I don’t know for certain. [Back]

[16] A straightforward difficulty 6 [Perception + Awareness] roll; no horror use involved. 4 successes. [Back]

[17] The architect who designed the Empire State building. Through forebode visions, they know a spectre resembling him in appearance was directing Kiss in at least one of the ritual murders. [Back]