Dresden Files Portland: 1998

The Branch of Hope
A Deal is Struck

The Branch of Hope

Dr. Charles Martin mention that there is an artifact called "The Branch of Hope" that could assist in the fight against the rogue Skavis assassin.

Dr. Martin explained that in ancient Britain, two clans of Celts were said to have reached an inevitable impasse and were to go to war. On the very day of battle, the clans gathered, facing each other on the field and their war leaders met together to negotiate one last time under the shade of a rowan tree (mountain-ash).   The two clans had been at each other’s throats for a long time and were of equal power and battle prowess. Both had sent their best warriors to the fight. Both were assured to be virtually destroyed in the process of this battle of pride.  The two leaders met and argued and insulted…but, miraculously, came to terms. Peace was bought for their peoples beneath that rowan tree and, ultimately, hope for their future.

The tree became a symbol of hope for both clans—hope that peace will ultimately prevail.  All that remains of that tree today is a single branch, imbued with the power of veneration and hope itself.

According to Heinrich, Dr. Martin's student assistant, the last known location of the branch was Portland, Oregon. Tufel, the ogre-changeling, upon hearing this, stepped aside to make a phone call. When he returned, he announced that the group should seek out a man called Deacon Flint when they get to Portland.

This announcement caused a bit of a stir in the group, especially with Zara (the fae fox), who was curious how he knew. No explanation was forthcoming and the group made preparations to leave. Part of the group loaded up into Dr. Martin's Corolla (on loan to Jorain for the journey) and the other half went with Tufel in his refrigerated truck.

To the City of Roses

Along the way, Zara reminded everyone of her previous contacts in Portland. Deciding that the Winter Envoy, Trevidian, probably did not wish to see them, they opted to try and find Aleister Marcus, the Warden of Portland. If memory served, he usually could be found at Powell's Bookstore, located downtown in the Pearl district.

While Heinrich and Alice were distracted by the joys of the rare book room and the bookstore itself (it being quite impressive), and David, Steve Wilson, and Arthur all occupied themselves at the coffee bar, Zara, Tufel, Mansur, and Tyler managed to find Aleister in the cafe, sitting alone enjoying a old paperback

Tufel approached the old man and introduced himself and told him he needs to find out about Deacon Flint. Zara sat down and smiled at him and said, "Remember me? We need your help again."

Aleister looked the foursome up and down warily but said, "Come with me." He stood up and led them into a secluded corner of the store's parking garage. "What's he done?" Aleister demanded, as if fully expecting some sort of trouble.

The group explained that Flint had access to an artifact that they need to defeat a Skavis assassin that had killed a lot of people in Seattle. Aleister nodded. "He's a two-bit huckster and a sorcerer. I've never caught him breaking any of the Laws of Magic, but that doesn't mean he isn't trouble."  He didn't know where Flint lived, but that he could often be found at the Saturday Market, on the river near Chinatown. Unfortunately, today is Thursday. He also indicated that Flint now worked for Jim Butler— a local construction magnate, crime lord, and free-holding Lord of the Unseelie Accords.

Some of the group realized the implications of this association—Zara just thought it meant he got free pizza.

The group thanked Aleister for talking to them and he took his leave.

Tufel then stepped aside and made a phone call. After he returned, he said that in two hours he would have an address at which to meet with Deacon Flint.

Zara couldn't let this lie and questioned Tufel as to how he was getting all this information. He reminded her of recent extended stay in the Nevernever and indicated that when he came out, he spent some time in Portland with new obligations. This seemed to satisfy the curious fox—for the moment.

The group found a bite to eat downtown and did some sightseeing while Tufel waited for his call. Finally, it came. An unfamiliar voice gave him an address and a time—8:00 pm. They had an hour to get there. Tufel got a city map from one of the many downtown shops and the group loaded up again to find Deacon Flint.

Deacon Flint

Following the map and the address, the group found themselves in a housing development not too far from downtown. Most of the homes were still in various stages of construction. The address was for a home that was nearly complete—the walls were intact. Tufel, Zara, and Mansur went forward to meet with the wily sorcerer.

Tufel knocked on the door the door, sans doorknob, swung noisily open. There was a light on inside and voice called out "Come on in."

In the living room, lit by a shop lamp hanging from the ceiling, was a young man, handsome, wearing a scarf and pea coat. He smiled at the group as they came in. "Now, I was assured that this was going to be a friendly meeting." Mansur said that they have every intention of ensuring that it is.

Tufel began the conversation, cutting to the chase, and asking about the Branch of Hope.

Flint made a show of thinking about it, saying that he did, indeed, have that particular artifact at one time, but no longer. However, he could put them in contact with the current owner.

Mansur asked what that would take. And Flint responded that he wanted to hear what they wanted with the Branch. So they explained that there was an assassin in Seattle killing a great deal of people that they believed this Branch would help them stop him.

Flint seemed very interested in this story. "Assassin? Killing many people? Sounds more like a serial killer to me."

Zara asked if it made a difference to him one way or the other. He said, that no, it didn't, he just found it a curious description. After Mansur pressed him, he assured the group that his price for the meeting was the information about the artifact's use. "With the pedigree of your recommendation, I'm sure the meeting will be arranged."

Tufel would receive another phone call within a day with the details.

The group cautiously left the house and made their way back to the others, who had waited at the cars. They all then made their way back downtown and booked hotel rooms for the night. Alice, David, and Steve Wilson attempted to explain the finer points of hotel amenities to Arthur—though, to be sure, David and Steve were having some fun at his expense. Zara offered to tour him about, teaching him some things about the mortal realm of this time, but Arthur demurred. Meanwhile, Tyler and Heinrich made their way down to the steam tunnels beneath the hotel to go exploring.

A Bargain is Made

The next morning, Tufel received a phone call. It was Deacon Flint. He said that the "client" will meet with only one of them at Imperial, a fine dining restaurant, at noon.

After sharing his news with the others, the group decided to call in a ringer—Jean—to come down from Seattle and handle the negotiations.

Jean arrived with barely enough time to spare. They briefed him on the situation and he headed to Imperial. He strolled in like he owned the place and noticed that it seemed sparsely populated for a restaurant at lunch. He spotted his client immediately, sitting alone at a large, curved booth. He was a middle-aged man, balding, in an impeccable tailored suit. He did not look happy.

Jean approached and indicated that he had been enlisted by the group to handle the negotiations for the item in question. The man nodded and asked Jean to sit. Jean did so and  ordered the most expensive wine on the list. The two each had glass and Butler offered a toast to their health. The man introduced himself as Jim Butler. Jean indicated that he'd heard of him and introduced himself. Butler nodded, as if acknowledging that he, too, had heard of Jean.

Butler indicated that he really didn't wish to sell the artifact. Jean asked if he was doing anything with it right now, and Butler simply smiled and said, "That would be telling." Butler, did, however, have a task that needed doing. Jean asked "What kind of task?" "An acquisition." Butler said.

Jean offered that if they were to make this acquisition for Butler (once he hears what it is, of course), then Butler would give them the Branch. Butler still seemed hesitant and counter-offered a loan of the Branch. Jean negotiated further and convinced Butler to go for the straight-out trade.

The item Butler wished to have is a ring that has the ability to dampen mortal magic. It was currently in the possession of a man named Barnabas Gould. Jean had heard of Gould—he apparently paid "tribute" to House Raith for one of his business concerns. He was a grubby little mortal who was trying to be an up-and-comer. He did, however, have access to some supernatural talent on his side, including a bodyguard who was most likely an ogrekin.

The two men made the agreement—with the stipulation that the group needed the Branch now. Butler agreed and gave them one month to come up with the ring. Butler would make the drop at a downtown park in two hours.

The group now has the Branch and can make their way back to Seattle.

View
Dark Supremacy
The Battle for Beer

Dark Supremacy

After raiding a nest of Abashai demons in the Seattle Underground, part of the group, lead by the werewolf Ki, decide to pursue the missing Heinrich and Brennan into Oregon to give them support in their fight against a black magic sorcerer. Another part of the group, following Castiel, decide to pursue the artifact that Heinrich mentioned being held by a skinhead by the name of James Allen who is holing up in a compound in the wilds of central Oregon.

Though it is late, Castiel wants to leave now for Oregon. Zara and Jorain volunteer to come with him to make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble. Steve Wilson also decides to accompany Castiel. Steve rents a van and asks Jorain to drive it while Zara rides in the sidecar of Castiel's motorcycle. In the early morning hours, the band drives south out of the Seattle and into Oregon.

A few hours later, they've driven through Portland and have emerged into the rural areas beyond. They pull into a small general store (think Cracker Barrel without the restaurant) and gas station to fuel up and decide how they are going to begin their search for James Allen. Walking into the store, Castiel, Jorain, and Zara see a man paying for a cup of coffee at the counter that they recognize as Ivan Malvora. 

Ivan seems wary, but greets them as a friend. They converse briefly, with Ivan indicating that he was in the area following up on some business that fell through. He also lets them know that he goes by Boris Vladimirovna now. Castiel asks if he knows Lilith, the Malvora they met in their fight against the Abishai. Ivan says he doesn't, but makes a note in a small notebook he keeps in his pocket—he is looking for others of his kind in the area. 

The old man behind the counter asks if "you young folks are going to stand around jawing all day or are you going to buy something?" Castiel gets some beef jerky and a Mapsco as Zara, Jorain, and Ivan continue to speak quietly together. Steve also makes a purchase and heads outside. 

The old man behind the counter asks Castiel what brings all of them into the middle of nowhere—he doesn't get a lot of customers these days, and certainly not all at once. Castiel indicates that there are going into the woods to go hunting and asks the old man if he knows of any old cabins or lodges in the area. The old man says he doesn't and warns Castiel that if he's going out there to go hunting, that he should be wary of wandering into "gubment" lands. There is a lot of national and state park areas out there where a fellow could get into trouble. He also asks the old man if there is any liquor in the store and the man says no, the store is dry. He's a teetotalling Baptist and doesn't sell the stuff. Momentarily panicked, Castiel asks if the whole area is dry and the man demurs, admitting that's it's only his store that's dry. Castiel thanks him and pays for his purchases. Boris indicates that he has some vodka in his car and Castiel asks if he can have some and Boris and acquiesces. 

Meanwhile the others have headed outside to reconvene at the vehicles.

As they're talking, Zara hears a noise coming from inside the van. She tells Steve and he says he'll check it out. Steve goes into the van and looks around. He then sees a familiar face pop out of his duffle bag saying, "Uncle Steve!" It appears to be a red panda—but is obviously able to talk. Steve seems much more annoyed than surprised. He asks what the panda is doing here and she says she wants to fight evil; that Chastity said that he fought evil and she wants to help. Exasperated, Steve argues for a bit with the panda, whose name is Kitty. Meanwhile, Zara hears Kitty inside the van talking with Steve and investigates. She's horrified, believing that Steve Wilson has kidnapped this talking panda and stuffed her in a bag. "How many other people has he put in bags??!"

The kerfuffle attracts Castiel and Boris, who are now coming out of the general store. Zara tells Castiel that Steve Wilson has stuffed Kitty in a bag and may be a serial kidnapper. Looking at the talking red panda, Castiel can tell that she is a denizen of the Nevernever, not really fey but similar. Boris can only tell that she is from the Nevernever. Still scarred from his time there, avoids the creature and eyes her warily. 

Zara and Jorain have explained to Boris some of what they are up to and he asks if he can accompany them—his business here has fallen through and he has time on his hands. Castiel says "the more the merrier." Boris gathers up a sword and bottle of vodka from his car and sets his belongings inside the van. He then heads back into the store.

Meanwhile, Kitty asks Steve for some cookies. He tells her he doesn't have any but Zara insists he goes into the store and get her some cookies. He reluctantly heads back into the store as well. 

Boris engages in a brief conversation with the old man behind the counter, asking if he's heard of James Allen. The old man seems wary and asks if Boris is with the "gubment." Boris just smiles and says, "do I look like I'm from the government?" He says that he has heard of him and the "Nazi yahoos" he has out some compound in the wilds of central Oregon. Boris asks if he knows where this compound is and the old man says that it's off of Boone Road—they can find it on the Mapsco that that other fellow bought. Boris thanks him and heads out as Steve purchases some snacks for Kitty.

Boris had asked if he could ride with Steve Wilson and Jorain in the van, but upon hearing that Kitty will be in there, he gathers up his things and decides to follow in his own car—a very fine vintage Mustang. Castiel studies the Mapsco to get the directions and leads the way in his motorcycle with sidecar. The train pulls out of the general store and starts heading southeast into the wilds of central Oregon.

After about an hour and half, Castiel turns down a gravel road with a battered street sign labeling it as Boone Road. The road is surrounded by thick woods and they can see the mountains on the eastern horizon. Mount Hood itself looms at the edge of their vision. They park and have a brief discussion to decide their next move. They decide to look for a place to stash the vehicles before getting too much further and looking for the compound. As they drive further down the road, with the sun rising over a clear, spring morning, Boris spots a potential stash area for the cars. He flashes his lights to get the others' attention and pulls in. The others turn around and join him.

They discuss their next course of action and decide that Steve looks enough like one of the skinheads that maybe he can get in posing as a potential recruit. Steve takes a knife from Castiel and shaves his head. Castiel, after a securing a promise from Steve not to wreck it, lets him borrow the motorcycle with sidecar. Steve promises to not wreck it and heads further down Boone Road in search of the compound. 

Zara (in her fox form), Kitty, Boris, and Castiel follow under the cover of the woods. Jorain follows as well, but at quite a distance behind, choosing to remain in her human form but ditching some of his clothes to make her later change easier. 

As Steve carefully drives down the gravel road (he's not a very experienced driver), he looks around for some sign of a compound. Eventually, he comes to a bend in the road at which is a large farm gate guarded by two shaven-headed men with automatic weapons. The fence—not quite chain-link, but fairly solid, is topped with a strand of barbed wire. Steve pulls up to the gate and shuts off the motorcycle. 

"Keep going," one of the guards says, pointing down the curve in the road. 

"I want to join you guys," Steve says. 

"Do you now?" the lead guard asks, smirking back at his companion. "And who do you think we are? What do we stand for?"

Steve thinks for a moment and says, "The White nation."

This seems to satisfy the guard who says. "Gimme your gun." Steve nods and hands the man the rifle he has slung on his back. The guard then takes a look in the sidecar and sees nothing there. "You don't have a bag? No clothes or anything?"

Steve says, "No, I didn't know how long I'd be here." 

The guard gives him a wary look, his confidence in Steve obviously diminished. The other guard rolls his eyes as if he can't tell if Steve is just dumb, or full of it.

"You messin' with me, boy?" the guard says.

Steve just shakes his head and says, "Nope."

"You best come with me anyway," the guard says and his companion opens the gate. The lead guard has Steve walk in front of him down a gravel path through the rough woods. 

Castiel and Boris each manage to climb the fence without injuring themselves on the barbed wire. Boris stealthily follows Steve and the guard, with Kitty following close behind. Castiel stalks closer to the remaining guard. Zara looks for a place where she can bypass the iron of the fence. Jorain continues to follow up the road, far behind the others. 

As the other gate guard gazes out into the woods, he spots Jorain. Keeping his hand on his submachine gun, he calls out, "You best come on out!" 

Jorain, having ditched most of her clothes to make her inevitable change into a bear easier, emerges from the woods, striking a seductive pose to catch the guard off-guard. With the view of an attractive woman, scantily-clad, practically floating on the morning mist from within the woods, the guard stands transfixed, staring agape at the beautiful Jorain. 

Castiel takes advantage of the man's distraction to club him hard on the back of his head with the hilt of his demon-slaying sword. While man is severely hurt by the blow, he remains standing, turns, and fires a burst from his weapon at Castiel. The burst misses but alerts Zara, who leaps high over the fence to come to Castiel's aid. She rushes the guard and starts nipping at his heels to distract him. Castiel takes his weapon and finishes off the man, knocking him clean out. They take some of his clothes to make bindings and Zara hides him in the nearby woods. Castiel takes his .45 sidearm and walkie-talkie. 

Meanwhile, as Steve makes his way down the path, presumably toward the compound, the guard sends a message via walkie-talkie that "he's coming in with one." He gets no acknowledging message, but this doesn't seem to bother the guard. What does bother him is the burst of gunfire that erupts far behind him He turns to look and see what is going on and then finds himself face-to-face with a fast-moving Boris. The vampire seizes him in an iron grip and incites fear into man—so much so that he cries out and pees himself. Boris smiles in satisfaction, feeding on the man's fear. Steve turns, noticing the growing stain on the man's pants and laughs at him. He then tries to wrestle his rifle from the man's grasp. The man tries to break away and hold the gun, but fails on both accounts—he remains transfixed by Boris and Steve gets a hold of his rifle. Then Kitty emerges from the woods and starts harrying the guard to distract him. 

Boris, maintaining his grip, wraps the man's mind in a tight mantle of fear, giving him a vision of Kitty clawing his eyes out. He cries out in pain and fear, crying about his eyes, and then sinks into unconsciousness in Boris' grip. Boris sets the man down gently. They, too, secure the man in bonds and hide the unconscious form in the woods. They elect to wait for the others, as it's clear they ran into some trouble at the gate with the gunfire they heard. 

Soon, Boris' assumptions are vindicated—the rest of the group comes wandering down the path and rejoins them.

As they discuss their next move, a voice comes over the radio. "Eugene? What's going on? You coming or what?"

Kitty starts to respond on the walkie-talkie, but Boris beats her to it. "Yeah, I'm coming."

The voice on the other end appears to be fooled by Boris' ruse. "Well hurry up. We got a cold one waiting here for you."

They all continue down the path and finally get a look at the compound. They see one of those old school portable buildings, the back of which is facing them. Beyond it they see a small water tower about 30 feet up in the air. Also behind the portable building is a taller, larger building and the signs of other structures that they can't make out from here. There is a also a 4-story watchtower. To the side is a gravel parking lot with several vehicles parked—mostly older model cars and trucks. 

Boris and Zara each take off into the woods on opposite sides to sneak up closer to the compound. Kitty and Steve hang back behind Castiel, who draws his sword and starts walking boldly down the path. 

As Castiel approaches, he can see gun barrels poking out from the windows facing him from the portable building. A voice calls out from within. "I don't know who you are, but you best be turning back."

"I've come for a beer. You got beer in there?" Castiel asks. 

There's a confused pause. "Yeah. Nothing here for you."

Castiel continues to walk forward. There's a short burst of gunfire and gravel from the path is thrown up in the air. "That's your only warning!" the voice calls out from the portable building.

"I want to talk to James Allen. I want to make a deal. Is he in there?" Castiel asks. 

There is a brief pause. Finally, another voice calls out. "I'm here. But I don't know you."

"No, but you know something about swords. I want yours."

"You best know when to fold them, son. You're getting nothing but shot here."

Tired of negotiating (and really wanting the beer), Castiel rushes forward, sword raised high. He tries to force himself through the flimsy wall of the portable building, and does manage to push the window frame in somewhat, but fails to penetrate the wall. The man inside fires at him, but misses, apparently surprised by Castiel's bold action. 

Steve raises his rifle and fires, shooting wide, away from the building. Kitty rushes forward toward the other window and leaps onto the edge of the open portal. Her small form can just fit inside the open window. She looks intensely at the man inside holding the gun and "You've made bad life choices!" The view of this fierce red panda talking to man unnerves him. 

Meanwhile, Boris has made his way through the parking lot and approached the compound. He peeks through the window of the larger building behind the portable building. It looks to be a gymnasium. He forces the window open climbs inside. Zara, on the other side of the building, climbs under the portable building and starts looking for a suitable duct to climb up into the building. 

Castiel takes another running jump into the side of the building. The wall bends, but does not break against the onslaught. Steve fires again, but to no avail. He decides to move toward the parking lot. The men inside the windows fire, but miss their targets, clearly unnerved by the sight of a fierce red panda and crazed too-sober man trying to crash through the building. 

Zara pops up through a vent and sees the men in the windows, as well as three others readying their .45s, and a fourth standing nearby with a rune-etched old sword. The men with the guns do not seem to have noticed her. But the one with the sword turns and looks straight at her. She ignores the man with the sword and runs to the gunman at Castiel's window and starts harrying him with nips and bites, yelling "Get away from my friends!"

Steve gives up on the gunfight and goes to the parking lot. Once there, he starts slashing tires and otherwise sabotaging their vehicles. 

Boris crosses the gym and comes to the door. He tries to force it open, but it is chained from the outside. He doesn't quite break the chain and readies himself to try again.

Kitty bites her gunman in the hand—hard. Blood starts spurting from the wound and he cries out in surprise and pain. Castiel takes a third and final jump into the building and busts through, knocking his gunman on his back. The man fires, but is in a bad position for aiming and misses the VU operative completely. 

Suddenly, the side wall of the building collapses under the paws and weight of a great bear. In an impressive display of sheer power, Jorain takes down the wall of the building and stands snarling at the gunmen inside—who shakily raise their guns at this new threat and fire. She shrugs off most of the bullets and continues to intimidate the skinheads.

The man with the sword raises the weapon and points it at Jorain. His eyes take on a metallic, fiery glint and a gout of flame shoots forth from the weapon toward Jorain. She hunkers down and the flames only seem to singe her fur. She roars in defiance. 

Castiel, witnessing this, realizes, through his many years of experience with the supernatural, that the man with the sword—presumably James Allen—is using borrowed or sponsored power of some sort. He rushes forward sword raised to attack the skinhead leader.

Meanwhile, Boris busts through the chain on the door and turns to enter the portable building from the rear. He opens the door and sees a severed head roll by. Looking in the room, he sees Castiel standing over a headless body that has just fallen forward to the floor. "Where's my beer?" he roars at the body. Boris takes in the scene with the bear, the holes in the walls, Kitty's bloody victim, and the headless swordsman. He draws his own sword and demands that the gunmen surrender or die. 

The men look to the headless body of their leader, to the bear, to Boris, back to the bear, and then drop their weapons and raise their hands. One of the men asks, "What happens now? You guys with the government? Is this one of those Ruby Ridge things?"

Castiel thinks it is hilarious that they think the bear, the fox, and the panda are with the government. Boris assures them that they are not federal agents. Castiel makes his way to an igloo chest he spotted when he broke in. He opens it in anticipation finding beer…and does find some. It's the cheapest of the cheap stuff—white label, black letters that read "BEER." Not even branded. He opens one up and takes a long pull. It's not much better than water. Disgusted, he demands of the prisoners the location of any liquor. One of the men says that James had some in the watchtower and that there may be some in the shop.

Meanwhile, Boris takes James Allen's shirt and wraps the sword up in it and gives it to Castiel. 

They all leave the portable building after frisking the gunmen at the window and taking their weapons. They leave Jorain behind to watch the prisoners. 

Behind the portable building are the watchtower, the gymnasium, and two other buildings. Heading to the back-most building, they see a small wooden cross posted over the door. Boris takes the cross and breaks it. He then kicks down the door after Zara listens behind it and hears nothing. 

Inside they see a church. At the rear is a raised platform with a podium sitting upon it. On the front of the podium is a Nazi flag. Behind the podium on flag poles is an American flag and an Aryan Nation flag. The rest of the room is filled with pews. Disgusted, they leave the room and head to the other building—presumably the shop.

Castiel heads to the watchtower and goes inside. The first floor is a mostly empty, containing only fencing tools (clippers, pliers, post-hole diggers, etc.). There is a staircase heading up, which he takes. The second floor is empty, save for the staircase. He continues up to the third floor which Allen seems to have made into his living quarters. There's a bed, various white supremacist posters and flags on the walls, a wardrobe, and a small liquor cabinet. Castiel heads straight for it and gets a drink. Then he searches out the room. After searching and finding nothing of interest, he sits on the stairs with his newly-acquired liquor, waiting on the others.

Zara listens at the door of the shop and hears movement inside, as well as a voice "shhhing" some others. Boris rears back and tries to kick in the door. He doesn't quite make it as he sees that they've chained the door from the inside. From inside, a male voice calls out that "There's nothing in here you need! Move on!"

Boris kicks again and busts open the door. Inside is a dirty shop—greasy tools on racks on the walls, White supremacist paraphernalia tacked up about the room. A small fridge and small cooking range. A large Craftsman tool chest wheeled into the corner. Two gun-bearing skinheads are there in front of three women. Boris dismisses them with a gaze and says, "Nothing in here." He leaves the doorway, leaving Castiel there to watch and intimidate these new prisoners. Kitty pops her head in and says "Where are your cookies?"

One of the men says, "Sherri, go get some cookies." One of the women gets up and pulls open the bottom drawer of a Craftsman tool-chest. She tentatively gives a package of Nutter Butters to the panda, who grins with delight. 

After Castiel intimidates the men into dropping their weapons, they move everyone to the back of the shop and assure them that once they search out James Allen's room, they'll leave them here and allow them to live. The group then ascends the stairs of the watchtower to James Allen's room.

Zara snoops about and finds a loose floorboard beneath the bed. Opening it up, she finds a small fire safe. Boris moves the bed out of the way and Zara shifts from her fox form and into the form of a naked, teenaged girl and then pulls up the small, heavy, box. Pulling out a hairpin from her mane of purple hair, she goes to work on the lock of the fire safe. After a moment, it pops open.

Inside they find a bound stack of $100 dollar bills, which Zara throws over her shoulder and Castiel catches. She also finds some official looking papers—of large interest to Zara—indicating that the papers belong to a "Allen Jameson." There is also a strange looking knife with a swastika emblazoned on it. Zara has no clue what it is, but Castiel easily identifies it as a Nazi bayonet. 

Also looking about, Zara finds a milk crate turned on its side being used as a book case. Inside are various books on the White Power movement, a copy of "Mein Kampf," and book on Norse mythology. Castiel takes the last book, thinking it might be a clue. 

The group reconvenes outside the compound and waits as Castiel retrieves his motorcycle and gets Jorain to the van to pick everyone else up. They decide to head out of here to Aurora, Oregon, only about a two and a half hour drive from here, to meet up with Brennan, Heinrich, and the others.

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The Sacred Key
A Trap Is Sprung

In early April 1998, Castiel O’Brien receives a communication from Mr. Nysmith, head of operations for the Venatori Umbrorum in Portland, Oregon. In the spirit of their previous conversation about continued cooperation between the Seattle and Portland operations during the War, Nysmith thought Castiel would be interested in looking into the recent break-in that took place in Portland at the chapel of Mary, the Mother of the Human Race (locally known as “The Grotto”). The site has a secret vault that was used by the Servite Order of friars as a storage facility for powerful relics, several of which have now been stolen. One relic in question is St. Hubert’s Key, a relic reputed to have belonged to the patron saint of demon hunters. The VU in Portland is running down the other relics—perhaps Castiel and his companions would be willing to look into the missing Key? One of the Servite friars, Father Joseph Ignatius, survived the attack, and lies in a hospital bed at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center recovering from his injuries. That might be a place to start.

Castiel calls all of his companions together at a local bar, one of his usual haunts, to brief them on the mission. He also calls Boris Vladimirovna to see if he can get any local information in Portland on the matter. Boris says he’ll look into it.

Mansoor recognizes the story of St. Hubert’s Key. It is reputed to have healing properties, as well as powers in recognizing those possessed by demons.

The group, after much discussion, decide to head to Portland and meet at Boris’ club, L’Ombre Burlesque. They all load up into various vehicles and convoy their way down to the interstate from Seattle to Portland. After a three-hour drive, they arrive in the City of Roses and head downtown to the horror club that Boris has established. Boris informs Castiel that he has found out about a local auction of a “special” artifact that may have to do with what they are looking for. A local pawn broker, Richard Brothers of Big Brother Pawn, may have more information—he usually deals in such transactions.

After some discussion, the party decides to split up—Castiel, Mansoor, Chris, Tyler, Wade, Lilith, and Ki head to the hospital while the rest head to the Alberta Arts district to the pawn shop.

Providence St. Vincent Medical Center is one of the larger medical centers in the greater Portland area. The priest is conscious, though is hooked up to various tubes and wires. The group question the injured friar gently about the attack. There were five masked, black-clad professionals that raided the vault. They apparently had inside information to even know of the vault’s existence, much less to breach its defenses. They were mortals—the better to be able to penetrate the mystical defenses of the vault and to cross the holy ground beneath which the vault lies.  Ignatius was the sole survivor. He also caught a glimpse of a brand on one of the assailants, which he draws:

Mansoor and Castiel recognize the symbol as that of the Icarian Order, an ancient Order of cultists dedicated to the Demon known as The Icarian or Icarion. The cult is based in Greece and dates back to the time of the Peloponnesian War. 

After gaining their information, the group heads back downtown and decide to meet with Todd Van Ives, the Executive Director of the Chapel of Mary, Mother of the Human Race (aka “The Grotto”).

Van Ives confirms much of what Father Ignatius had to say. He also confirms that the vault is housed beneath holy ground—and beneath a mountain to boot. He is disturbed because the break-in indicates that there is a traitor in the Servite order—or possibly the Venitori Umbrorum.

Meanwhile, in the Alberta Arts District, Jean, Zara, Kitty, Steve Wilson, Lucius, and Boris all head to the Big Brother Pawn Shop. Inside are all manner of interesting things, both old and new. Zara is fascinated. Jean leads the conversation with the pawn broker, an amiable Middle Eastern man with sharp eyes. Jean asks about auction houses that deal with elite clientele and materials. Brothers suggests Hancock & Sons as well and Tamaran’s—especially Tamaran’s if one is looking for the “eclectic.” They eventually come to an exclusive auction that is taking place tomorrow night that Jean might be interested in. Jean would like some invitations and the broker says that he will see what he can do. Jean leaves his card for future contact. They head out to meet back with the others downtown.

The group re-congregates at the L’Ombre and begins to pool information and plan. Later that afternoon, Jean receives a phone call from Richard Brothers—some invitations to the auction have been secured—they can be picked up at the shop. Jean thanks him and leaves to pick them up. He receives three envelopes with three parchment cards indicating that the auction is tomorrow night at 11pm at the Church of St. John the Revelator.

First they will recon the area, try to find a place for people to hide and lie in wait for when things go south.

They do some drive-byes and check out the property. The Church of St. John the Revelator is an abandoned church, no longer maintained by the diocese. It sits on a large plot of land in a residential neighborhood. There is an office building abutting the lot, as well as a nearby convenience store.

After returning to the club, it is decided that the three to go into auction will be Jean, Ki, and Mansoor. They will go armed, with forged papers indicating that their swords are valuable auction pieces. Ki will carry Castiel’s cold iron sword. Jean will carry Zara in her fox form, Mansoor will carry Kitty, and Ki will have Chris in his cougar form with a break-away collar devised by Steve Wilson. They will pass themselves off as rich eccentrics—common for the period.

Tyler will position himself on the roof. Castiel will hangout at the convenience store. The others will lease the office building and wait there until they are called. Castiel arranges for a VU surveillance team to be brought in to the office building and to monitor the entry way to the church.

The next day, everyone makes their arrangements.

The VU team arrives and makes their set up.

Steve Wilson fashions a bedazzled collar for Chris—much to his horror.

The majority of the group gather in the office building with the VU team, waiting for the signal to come in.

Jean, Ki, Mansoor, Zara, Chris, and Kitty wait to arrive closer to show time.

Tyler makes his approach to the roof around 8 or 8:30. Once he gets up there, he is surprised by a shadowy figure trying to put him in a sleeper hold. After a few brief exchanged, he manages to overcome his attacker handily and lower their dead body into the brush at the base of the church and take up his position.

Around 10:00 pm, the VU observers note an attractive woman in a business suit unlocking the padlocked chain on the front doors of the church and opening the doors. She is soon followed by a large man in a suit. Other well-dressed people, none of them parking near the church, soon follow.

Jean has Lucius drop them off at the church and they all get out and go inside. They are frisked for side-arms but, even with their exotic items, not given a second glance—except for Ki with his cold iron sword. The man at the door—the large man in the suit—notes that it is a “nice piece.” Ki acknowledges the compliment.

Everyone is mingling in the sanctuary of the church where folding chairs have been set up in lieu of the missing pews. Boris arrives, producing, amazingly enough, an invitation. He makes himself at home on the back row of chairs. His arrival makes an even dozen of guests, not including the auctioneer (the woman in the business suit) and the bouncer (the large man in the suit).

Zara definitely smells “egg McMuffin” on the air but can’t quite pinpoint it. Neither can Ki. Mansoor can definitely sense that the woman in the suit is a demon—but no one else. He also spots part of the Icarian brand peeking up through the clothes of one of the guests. He gives Jean and Ki a warning of what he senses.

As the mingling settles down and the woman moves to the front of the sanctuary where a table with a valise resting on it sits, Jean sits at the front of the room while Ki moves toward the middle and Mansoor heads toward the back.

The woman starts thanking everyone for coming to such an auspicious occasion—it is not every day that one can deal in such antiquities as one is dealing with today. She presents the Key of St. Hubert. From the valise she pulls out what looks like an ancient nail. She pontificates on its reputed healing powers and its ability to reveal those bedeviled by the spirits infernal as she shows it around.

Mansoor looks at it as it is passed about and notices that something is wrong—if she is a demon it should be doing “something.” Further—it doesn’t seem as old as it should be. As the woman passes by, he stops her and says, “Madam, this object doesn’t seem to be as old as it is reputed to be…”

The woman looks down at the nail, then looks at Mansoor, and smiles, her grin wicked.

“You’re right.”

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The Trap is Sprung
A Grand Entrance and Exit

The Trap is Sprung

Castiel is standing outside the convenience store near the abandoned church, waiting for word from within that something has gone down. Jean has left the scene for some unknown reason, taking Lucius and Kitty with him. Suddenly, he is hit with a unassailable knowledge that something is wrong—something is wrong and he absolutely HAS to get inside that church. Something is going down RIGHT NOW and he has to get in there.

Acting on this certainty, he hops on his motorcycle and rides straight up to the church doors…

Meanwhile…

Mansoor looks at an old nail as it is passed about by a woman in a business suit and notices that something is wrong—if she is a demon it should be doing “something.” Further—it doesn’t seem as old as it should be. As the woman passes by, he stops her and says, “Madam, this object doesn’t seem to be as old as it is reputed to be…”

The woman looks down at the nail, then looks at Mansoor, and smiles, her grin wicked.

“You’re right.”

Suddenly, the doors burst open as a flying motorcycle rips them apart and Castiel is standing there, sword drawn, ready for action.

Zara jumps from Mansoor’s arms, runs, grabs the pillow with the nail from the startled woman and carries it out of the ruined church doors toward the office building across the lot where the rest of the party awaits.

Castiel, continuing to act on this inborn, but infallible instinct, attacks the woman as the source of his need to be there. His demon-slaying sword makes quick work of the woman, whose human guise falls away, revealing a serpentine lower body, a second set of arms, and glowing reptilian eyes. Her body melts away after her death.

Ki springs into action against the auction guest with the Icarian brand, unleashing shamanistic lightning against them.

Meanwhile, back in the office building across the street, Lilith has observed the dramatic entrance into the church by Castiel on the surveillance monitors set up by the VU monitors Castiel has called in. She starts running to the church.

Back in the church, Boris runs to the head of the church to the bodyguard and begins grappling with him and feeding on his fears as only a Malvora can.

The auction guests then, to a person, all pull .45s and begin firing at Castiel. Some miss—but several hit him as there is little cover. Most of the party notice that they keep looking back toward the balcony as if they were expecting something to happen from there—but nothing does.

Tyler, up on the roof, has heard all of this ruckus and begins looking for a way down into the church. Searching around on the roof in the moonlight, he finds a trapdoor leading into the balcony. He lowers himself down to the balcony and parkours down to the floor the church.

Jorain, back in the office building, starts running to the church behind Lilith.

Matthew, who joined the group after Jean and Lucius’ departure, starts running to the church behind Jorain.

Mansoor turns toward one of the guests, draws his sword and engages in battle.

The melee has begun.

As the fighting ensues, Lilith, Jorain, and Matthew make it into the church. Lilith begins feeding on the auction guests/cultists and Jorain actually petrifies one in fear, making him easier to dispatch before finally mauling him to death. Tyler knifes one of the cultists fairly viciously, and Chris, after getting into an almost comic wrestling match with a cultist, finally mauls his opponent handily.

While all of this is going on, Ki has been providing some healing and Zara has handed off the “key” to the VU surveillance team for safe keeping.

The cultists, in the meantime, have their own agenda. They continue to fire, concentrating on Castiel. After a barrage of gunfire, Castiel takes a head shot that rocks him back. He cries out in pain and anger, calling for a drink and starts trying to stumble out of the church. Matthew, who has finally made his way to the entrance of the church, helps him out. He is effectively out of commission.

Still, the melee continues, as Matthew returns to the fray after depositing Castiel outside.

Zara is making her way back from the surveillance pit and sees Castiel lying on the grass outside the church. She stays with him, standing guard. They eventually head back to the VU surveillance team and make arrangements for Castiel to be taken out of there, as well as for a VU clean-up team to come to the site.

The cultists continue to fire at the party as they continue to fight. But the fight is not going in the cultists’ favor. Boris even manages to turn the bodyguard into a thrall. Eventually, there are only two cultists left. They both shout something in a language no one understands and shoot themselves in the head.

Boris asks the thrall what they said, and he replies. “The world will burn, but the wings will rise.”

Mansoor searches the valise that the “key” was kept in—it is empty. They search the cultists and find only holsters for the .45s and light body armor.

They have Boris ask the new thrall what the “auctioneer” did before they arrived. He says that she arranged the chairs, checked with Circe to make sure she was ready, made the final arrangement for the guests…

“Who’s Circe?” Boris asks.

“The mercenary who was to be stationed in the balcony,” the thrall replies.

At this point, Tyler reveals the story of the person he encountered on the roof. They find the body in the bushes at the rear of the church and search it. The body is that of a woman. She is carrying an heirloom scimitar—according to Mansoor, it is probably not magical or occult-made, but quite old and valuable—and, when her face mask is removed, her mouth is revealed to house a jaw full of sharp teeth. Mansoor recognizes her as a Jann—a scion of one of the Jinn. The news shakes him up considerably.

The group decides to reconvene at Boris’ club. He wants to make a phone call to try to make some sense of how he got his information—something that a lot of the group are curious about as well. So they all load up into various vehicles and head to L’Ombre Burlesque.

Mansoor stops along the way, delaying his arrival to the burlesque, to pray at a local mosque on what he has discovered today. In his prayers, he finds a feeling a reassurance.

Once they all arrive at the theatre/club, Boris heads downstairs to his office. Zara, unnoticed, follows behind to listen in. She listens, hearing only his side of the conversation.

When he emerges from his office, she confronts him. “Why were you telling about them about being with the Portland VU?”

Boris, at first cagey, says, “Information for information, you know how it works.”

Zara narrows her eyes. “No, if you’re telling people about our friends, I want to know why.”

Boris says, “I was answering a direct question with an honest answer.”

Zara says, “You might consider telling me what’s going on because if I tell them upstairs they might not be very happy about it.”

“I was answering a question with an honest answer.”

Zara turns and heads upstairs. Boris follows behind.

When she gets upstairs, everyone is having varied conversations, passing the time. Chris has found his way up into the rafters of the theatre in his cougar form. Mansoor has arrived from his prayers. There is also a new arrival, Arthur, another VU member sent by Castiel to handle his affairs during his recovery.

“So, have you discovered anything about your information?” he asks Boris.

“Why were you telling them about someone being with the Portland VU?” Zara asks pointedly.

All eyes shift to Boris.

“Like I said, I was answering a question with an honest answer.”

No one appears to like the implication that Boris was informing any outside source of Castiel’s status. Boris tells Arthur that it would be a good idea if Castiel left Portland and found some other place to hide. Arthur reveals that Castiel is, in fact, not with the Portland VU, but being transported back to his island in the Seattle area. That with the apparent breach in the Portland operation, Castiel specifically did not wish to be taken into the Portland operation.

Mansoor tells Boris that he no longer wishes to prolong his association with him and leaves the club. Others begin to leave as well. Boris asks the thrall some questions about demons in the area, but the thrall doesn’t know very much—he was very low level and the cult worked as an independent cell. The only demon he ever saw was his mistress—Marileth.

Everyone else disperses, heading back to Seattle, despondent at the lack of leads and the bevy of unanswered questions.

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