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.
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.