- Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
- Radovan Venclovic, Romani ex-soldier
- Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
- Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
- Yan Nikolaev, Bulgarian police inspector
After taking the weapons distributed by Major Kristova's associates, the inspectors sat and waited until dawn. The professor sat by himself, casting surreptitious glances at the major's associates and wondering if they could be trusted. The countess offered up a brief prayer in memory of Jazmina, thinking of all the people she had lost. Radovan cleaned the shotgun he had taken, checked his ammunition, and otherwise fell back into his soldier training. Rosaline stared off into space, almost in shock.
Near dawn, they all piled into a truck and drove southeast of Sofia, to a set of caves near a smaller village. The entrance had been concealed and behind was an obvious emplacement for an ambush, with barbed wire and sandbags set up in front of a machine gun emplacement. The actual machine gun was lying yards away, smashed to uselessness against a rock wall. There were several trucks parked nearby but all of them had ruptured fuel tanks and were undriveable. The major surveyed the carnage, hoisted his rifle, and shared a grim expression with his men. There would be no prisoners.
The cave was completely dark, with a slick floor and unsteady footing. Further in were cave paintings, a bison and hunters frozen in time. The passages looped in on themselves as the group descended further and further into the earth, and finally they heard the sound of boiling water and the faint stench of decay. Through a jagged arch of rocks was a giant chamber, full of echoes, and liberally strewn with bodies with a strange pyramid in the center. As the police fanned out and secured the room, the investigators moved in an examined the scene. The bodies had been torn apart, still clutching weapons that had proved useless against what they had faced. Radovan examined the bodies and found that there was much less blood than there should be. He looked closer and and realized that they were already starting to rot, and then realized that only parts were staring to rot. Parts which had been attached to living bodies by unnatural means.
As Radovan reeled back, the countess moved to see what was wrong and, as she crossed the room, she saw her own eye staring at her from a dead man's eye socket.
The major followed a trail of blood toward a crevice leading upward, with the sky visible through the other side. It was far too narrow for a human to make it through, and he abandoned any attempt to follow the trail. As the group approached the pyramid, they realized that it was made of skulls. Fifteen feet high, growing more and more fleshy as it rose. The top was flat, possibly intended to be used as a platform, and the countess mused that the head may be here. Radovan tried to climb and backed off in disgust when one of the skulls fell on him, and Rosaline suffered a similar fate. Yan asked what they were doing, and when the professor explained he asked for a boost and easily climbed the pyramid of skulls. It was strangely stable, and from the top he could a shrine on top with a pillow, bearing the indentation of a heavy object but otherwise empty. Yan called down that there was nothing there except the shrine, and then climbed down.
Following another trail of blood that led behind the pyramid, the group entered a narrow passage and found a dead cultist who had been torn to sheds. Behind him was a small opening, two feet in diameter, that descended down into the depths of the earth. Rosaline shined a light down but couldn't see anything, and Radovan dropped a rock. When the sound came back, Rosaline reached a hand in, twisting her arm around the passage's turns, and felt two garlic cloves and something smooth, with eye sockets. She lost her footing and her check against the rock, but reached further and further and pulled out the Head of the Sedefkar Simulacrum.
As they existed the small passage, they noticed that most of the bodies on the ground had gone missing.
Radovan stared, seemingly in shock, but the group noticed that the other policemen were still there and had seemingly missed the bodies. One of the police shouted something, and the group noticed movement in the darkness, something darting around in the shadows. Climbing the walls and crawling along the ceiling, and a Yan called out to the major that they needed to leave immediately. A hundred feet from the exit, things came charging out of the shadows. Long-clawed, red-eyed, sharp-toothed, muzzled gray-skinned monsters, and the group prepared for battle.
Shots range out as the investigators fired at the rushing group of monsters. The major made the first kill, blasting one with its shotgun and sending it falling apart in a spray of accelerated decay, but then the monsters were on them. One of them hit Yan, knocking him to the ground, but Yan brought his pistol up and blew it apart. Another clawed Radovan and tried to seize him, reaching around Radovan's attempt to push it off and sunk its fangs into Radovan's neck...and then it crumbled as the major shot it in the head. Rosaline crushed a clove of her garlic and the creature attacking her backed off, hissing. As one of the monsters approached the professor, he drew forth the Mims Sahis, slashed the vampire, and cut it in half.
As the countess backed away from the creature attacking her, the major shouted at them to run and ordered Yan to follow them. Rosaline threw another clove to the major and the investigators moved toward the cave entrance, avoiding the creatures who reached for them, and fled through the passage toward the surface and into the sunlight. The monsters' footsteps followed them through the tunnels, but as they left the tunnel their flesh seared in the sunlight and they fled howling into the caves. The major, having followed them, punched the wall in fury and stalked to his truck. He said he had lost good men and there would be vengeance, and pulled out dynamite and passed it out to the investigators. They laid it down, triggered it, and an explosion sealed the entrance to the horrible caves where the Butchers had their temple.
Rosaline applied first aid to Radovan's wounds as the professor carefully examined the wound's reaction to sunlight. It seemed benign, and Radovan claimed that no blood was drawn, but the professor watched him all the way back to Sofia. There, the major and Yan had a private discussion and then Yan said that he would travel with them to accompany them on their trip. Yan grabbed his equipment and they all returned to the investigators hotel, where they had an almost supernatural compulsion to reassemble the Sedefkar Simulacrum.
Each investigator saw something of themselves in it, and they spent some time gazing at it. Yan asked them their plan, and the investigators explained the Shunned Mosque, the Brotherhood of the Skin, and the need to destroy it. The professor explained about Le Comte and the expectation that he would be coming for them, soon, and the investigators split up to prepare. The countess bought garlic, Yan bought wood to be whittled into stakes and "acquired" some holy water from a local church, and the professor picked up the Arabic translation materials he had had forwarded to Sofia. The professor wrote letters to his sons and daughter, and the countess bought a fashionable eyepatch. Then, they boarded the train for their last night on the Orient Express.
The investigators were exhausted, but they knew they were in danger. The professor suggested they crush garlic and apply it to the seams of the outdoor windows. Yan suggested that they jam the doors in their rooms that led to other rooms, and the countess suggested that they set a watch. After an uneasy dinner, they returned to their rooms and fell asleep, and in the night, there was a knock on the countess's door. Her questions as to the identity of the person were answered only with more knocks. The noise alerted Yan and Radovan, and Yan peeks out into the hall and saw a conductor. The conductor seemed to be sleepwalking, but they raised a shotgun, slowly, and fired. The sound raised screams and and shouts, and as the conductor raised his shotgun, Yan charged. The conductor moved backward just in time to be hit by Rosaline and the countess opening the door to their room.
As conductors came running and shouted at Yan about whether to arrest the conductor, the conductor who had the gun protested his ignorance and eventually was led away. After some brief argument about what to do, the investigators drifted into uneasy sleep. After about an hour, the professor heard a whispered voice demanding that he return the "skin." The professor said nothing, retrieving some garlic, and knocked on the door to the women's room. As the voice ranted, Rosaline knocked and the professor opened the door, shushing her. Eventually Le Comte promised to kill one passenger per hour that the Simulacrum was not returned, and the voice fell silent.
Waking the others up, the professor explained the situation. The investigators decided that they would have to track down Le Comte and destroy him, and so they girded for battle and proceeded to the Fourgon, where they assumed that Le Comte must have some coffin that protects him from the sun. As they walked down the corridor, they heard a roaring sound, and coming around the corner they saw a tiger that sprang on Yan, biting him! As the tiger's fangs sank into his flesh, Yan drove his stake into the tiger, but it didn't seem to have any effect. Rosaline crushed some garlic and hurled it at the tiger, and it recoiled and its body rippled and twisted into the form of a man. A horrific mockery of the human form, long arms and covered in scars, with a muzzle-like face, rotted nose, and hideous fangs. The countess threw holy water to no effect, Le Comte stared at Radovan but Radovan fired his shotgun, blowing a hole into Le Comte. Then the professor pulled out the Lover's Heart. The red light of hatred seared the ancient monster's face, and its body fell apart into mist as it fled.
As they entered the salon car, they were questioned by a conductor, but Yan managed to bluster enough to ward him off. To assuage further suspicious, Rosaline, Yan, and Radovan briefly went back to their room, but the professor and the countess stayed for a drink. As they drank, they heard from another passenger than one of the passengers had died.
The others returned and the professor told the conductor that he needed to retrieve something from this luggage and the conductor, who seemed unsteady on his feet, shuffled aside. They entered the Fourgon and began to search, frantically looking for a coffin or something large enough for one. They found an unregistered crate, clearly large enough to contain a body. Radovan and Yan pried it open and found a coffin, padlocked shut, and the investigators forced it open. The coffin cracked open, revealing a layer of blood-soaked earth and...Le Comte, who opened his eyes and attacked.
Yan hurled garlic and Rosaline tried to stake the vampire, who clawed her across they face, dropping her with hideous wounds. The vampire leaped up and stared at Yan to no effect, and Radovan grabbed Yan's carbine and fired, blasting a hole in the vampire. The countess quickly bandaged Rosaline as the professor pulled out the Lover's Heart and, in Latin, intoned, "Tullius Corvus, go now to thy reward!" The red beam illuminated the vampire, spreading like a bloodstain across his body, and the shock of hearing his name was the last thing he knew as his body exploded into dust and the ancient monster was finally laid to rest.
In the chaos of the passenger death, the investigators were able to scatter the blood-soaked earth and destroy the coffin. They told the conductors that there had been an anarchist bomb in the unregistered coffin, and surprisingly their story was accepted. They finally went to sleep, knowing that one threat had been dealt with, but they were traveling straight into the maw of danger.
Annals of the Fallen
- Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
- Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic, devoured by the living lair of the Baba Yaga in the forests outside Orašac, February 13th, 1923.
- Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist, killed by a thrown grenade during a battle with the Butchers at Sofiiski Universet, February 15th, 1923.
On my hands and knees
God damn these vampires
For what they've done to me
I definitely thought we were going to lose Rosaline this session, but the countess pulled a clutch first aid roll at the last moment! And it's a good thing that none of us approached the windows. There's a lot of terrible things the vampire can do from the safety of outside the train.
Le Comte is finally dead (through the professor doesn't entirely think so, and he's followed us across Europe this far so I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to be suspicious). Now we just have the Brotherhood left to deal with. Just.
This is the first of our rose plants to flower.
The plant's name is Sheila.
I've been growing roses all my life.
I wear a necklace of rosewood.
In many ways, I am a rose.
Roses aren't naturally climbing plants, like bindweed or grapevines. They must be cared for, and bound to a structure. And I've learned that I need to give myself a structure, or I can't naturally climb.
I am a rose.
Roses need work. They must be pruned. The pruning is painful, but without it they won't flower.
I am a rose.
Nobody cares about dog-roses, nobody notices them, but they grow wild wherever they please. The popular roses that everyone admires are sterile and can't spread: they survive because they're grafted onto a dog-rose root. The roses nobody cares about are the roses that keep the others alive.
I am a rose.
I grew up near one of the biggest rose nurseries in the country, so everywhere there was me, there were roses too. I fell into many a rosebush while I was learning to ride a bike. I carefully grew one up the side of the house, a yellow rose with a mind of its own: soon I had to leave it to its own devices because it had grown taller than my arms could reach.
I am a rose.
When I was about six I had a dream of a concentration camp. I had been imprisoned, along with many other humans, by gaseous aliens who lived on methane. The armed guards would float around our cabins and the parade ground, terrifying us as much as they intimidated us.
Of course when you're sent to the camps, they take everything away from you: all your property as well as your dreams and your name. But I'd smuggled in one memento: a small twig of rosewood. I kept it in the pocket of my grey uniform and squeezed it tight whenever I was homesick.
One day I realised that roses have thorns. And that was the day I used the rosewood to burst and kill the guards at the gate, and run free into the outside world. One small piece of reality had torn a hole in the nightmare.
I am a rose.
I had such high hopes! I put Read Only Memories on my Steam wishlist basically as soon as I heard about it. A new adventure game, with pixel art, in a cyberpunk setting with a robot as one of the major characters and made by the people behind GaymerX? That sounds amazing! And when I started it I was having a lot of fun, but as I played the annoyances started to pile up until an event near the end of the game that completely cut me off from caring about the story. Then it was just clicking through a lot of text boxes until the end so I could finish.
( Read more... )
( Food pictures )
Everything tasted amazing, and it wasn't particularly expensive either! Less expensive than going out to dinner, which only makes sense since we had to cook and clean it up. This was a trial run to see if we wanted to make it a Wednesday tradition, and it came off splendidly. And tasty.
I’ve always been constitutionally incapable of dealing with heat.
My mother was the opposite. You’ve never met anyone more eager to bake in the sun on a sandy beach than this woman. She would wake me up before 7am when we were vacationing at the Jersey shore to let me know she was headed down to the beach, already equipped with her chair and her book.
(I would spent the day reading in the cool confines of the hotel room, punctuated by occasional trips to the pool.)
Memories of being hot as a child are on my brain because our central air conditioning is mysteriously on the fritz at the moment. It turns on and works mightily for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, and then its double-breaker in the basement trips with an audible CLACK. The first few times it happened I simply reset the breaker, but breakers trip for a reason and continually flouting that reason with manual intervention seemed unwise.
We’ve kept EV6 and I entertained and cool throughout this week with a combination of car trips, mall walking, and cold showers. It’s the nights that are getting to me. Like a video game character who cannot recover hit points while he’s poisoned, I don’t actually seem to derive any sort of restorative qualities from sleep when I’m feeling too hot. We are now on day five (the repairman is due tomorrow) and I am starting to feel delirious.
It reminds me of childhood nights spent at my paternal grandmother’s house, which was equipped with fans and a single air conditioner suspended above the kitchen door which I saw turned on only once in my life. On those hot nights I would sprawl in the middle of a couch or bed, arms outstretched to find the hidden cool spot on the top sheet or beneath a pillow as I counted the slow seconds until morning.
(Their avoidance of air conditioning was out of pure Italian stubbornness. Later, my aunt would have us wear multiple layers in the winter in her huge, drafty house rather than touch the heat. I never minded; cold, at least, can be warded off.)
From my childhood fixation on being cold you’d think I spent entire life spoiled by thorough air conditioning. That’s not the case. Our house was old, but it had forced air heat, so we probably could have had central air for a not-outrageous cost. I don’t remember ever discussing it, though. We were poor, and even after being poor we were still just renters. Some of my earliest memories are of leaving my room to crawl onto the foot of my mother’s bed, since her room had the most powerful window unit conditioner in our house.
When my maternal grandparents returned to Philadelphia from Florida they purchased a house with central air, which at the time I viewed less as a luxury and more like some sort of sorcery. Not only did it work through the entire house, but you could set a temperature and it would maintain that temperature? I remember laying on the floor of my room with my feet dangling over the vent to feel the rush of icy air blow across them.
Now I consider central air to be essential to life. We didn’t even bother looking at houses without it already installed, and I look askance at our neighbors with window units.
For her part, EV6 seems unconcerned with our current, heated state of affairs despite spending her days sticky and her nights sweaty. She insists on maintaining her bedtime routine of being tucked under a trio of light blankets; her only concession is declining to wear socks. Yet, she has given up her mid-day nap multiple days in a row, leading her into her own unique state of delirium as bedtime approaches each night.
I wonder, what will her memories be of childhood heat? Feeling snug in her sweaty cocoon of blankets? Exasperation with how her papa completely shut down if the temperature reached above 80° Fahrenheit? Or, will the immense privilege of living in a home that’s immune to the whims of the weather outside save for the occasional mechanical breakdown render the entire question of hot and cold moot for her?