Monday, December 16, 2013

Changeling: Session 9

When last we met, our heroes finally met the elusive Madame Butterfly, who told them of their true natures.  They begin meeting with her regularly, as she trains them on how to recognise and use their new-found abilities.

The next two weeks are spent mostly with Madame Butterfly.  During that time, some in the group are able to discern from her commentary that she harbours some bitterness, though is not overtly hostile, to the Vanishers, although her interest far exceeds simple curiosity.  Putting things together, they think that her office is built specifically to keep Them out, or if the situation arose, to act as a cage to contain one of Them.

When not training, the group continues on their normal routines.  Tickets have gone on sale for Konstantyne’s “Christmas Day Massacre” show at $500 a pop.  Drake asks Alex if he’d be interested, but Alex declines the offer.  Alex does, however, wander down to Times Square to see the preparations that are being made for the show.  Still a couple of weeks away, there isn’t much yet, although framing is being erected for a large stage to be elevated high above the street, although nothing strikes him as being too unusual.  Gareth, struck with sudden inspiration, begins fervently working on a series of new art progress, and requests a collaboration with Goom, providing him with a few hundred yards of Kevlar yarn, asking him to simply knit whatever strikes his fancy. 

One night, sometime into their training, Alia is given a call and given specific instructions to open the loading dock of her building.  When she does so, she is met with a delivery-style van, sans markings, that disgorges a group of individuals clothed in pale blue full-body clean room suits, each of them carrying some manner of supplies for setting up an impromptu clean room – heavy plastic sheeting, black vinyl bags, and so on.  They set to work in Mia’s apartment, stapling the plastic sheeting to her walls, setting up lamps and a gurney, preparing a sterile space.  Just before the room is sealed off, they walk in a large cooler. 

After three hours have passed, they start breaking down and bring everything back to their van.  Alia sees that her friend is receiving a final round of blood transfusions.  Alia is cautioned to stick to a regimen of medications that will keep Mia healthy.  Although she’s just been through an intensive medical procedure, Alia can’t help but notice that Mia looks so much better than she’s ever looked.  Alia stays with her for three days, until the pills run out.

The evening of December 14th, Gareth gets together with Kali, another artist who lives in Gareth’s building.  She’s a slight, quiet young woman, who recently left an abusive marriage to pursue her art in New York, and she and Gareth, with their shared artistic pursuits and damaged pasts, have struck up a casual but close friendship.  They have one mission that night – to plaster cast Gareth’s entire body to create a base for a series of sculptures.  Once Gareth has stripped down and Kali begins applying the plaster strips to his body, Drake decides to take his leave of the apartment, heading anywhere else. 

Kali and Gareth banter a bit while she plasters his lower extremities, although she soon opens up about something she’s noticed the past few weeks.  Namely, what’s up with all the weird people Gareth’s been having in and out of his apartment?  Not that she objects, in fact she’s really glad that he seems to have finally gotten some sort of a life, and she totally encourages him in his friend-making pursuits.  It just seems as though they’ve come out of nowhere, very suddenly.  Gareth gives her vague answers, saying they’re from a support group he’s been attending for several months, and that some of them (Wally and Drake) have run into bizarre circumstances that have displaced them from their homes, and Gareth offered up his couch.  Kali expresses some concern that perhaps, with all their issues, these aren’t the best people for Gareth to hang out with. 

They’re interrupted by Goom, who walks into the apartment mid-casting to deliver his Kevlar work to Gareth.  He’s made a strange sort of web-like creation, which he says is a hammock.  Kali, a fibre artist herself, takes a gander and is intrigued.  Not wanting to stick around too long, Goom takes his leave.  As Gareth stands and dries, Kali wanders around the loft, poking about the place and ribbing Gareth on any number of subjects, as any one would when faced with a friend in such an amusingly compromised state.  After she’s cut him out of the cast and he’s gotten dressed, they make plans to get together later that week for an evening of wine and music, as they haven’t hung out much of late.  Just as she’s leaving, she seems about to say something, but thinks better of it and says goodbye.

As Kali is leaving, Drake returns to the apartment.  He and Gareth discuss that they seem to have been learning some of the same things from Yuri-ko, in that they are both able to read into and manipulate the desires of others.  Drake also lets on that he’s been regularly using one of his abilities on Gareth – a rejuvenation effect of sorts, which makes the subject feel as though they’ve had a full night’s rest, a hearty meal, and are bright and alert.  This explains why Gareth’s been making such great progress on his projects on comparatively little sleep.  Gareth asks if he can return the favour, as he’s gotten quite adept at fixing things, but Drake declines the offer.

That Thursday, the group meets again at the little Christian book store for their regular meeting, the first official meeting Alia will attend.  Drake surprises Alex with a ticket to the Konstantyne show, which Alex accepts with much hesitation.  They’re just getting started, tucked away in a back alcove of children’s books, when they hear the door chime and the teenage girl at front tells someone, “Oh, the people you’re looking for are in the back.”  There is a tense moment as a large person of indeterminate gender shuffles back – they’re dressed like a street person, with greasy matted hair, large boils, and Goom distinctly smells mildew and overall grossness.  Goom asks if they can help, and the guy (for it is actually a man) asks if this is the abductees group, which Goom confirms.

The guy starts frantically muttering, “Don’t wanna go back.  Not gonna go back.” As he reaches into his threadbare coat and pulls out a bottle of brownish liquid with a rag sticking out of the top, and a Zippo lighter.  The group immediately springs into action, although they are largely ineffectual at disarming the man, until Goom whips out his knitting needles, striking the bum across the knuckles so that he drops the lighter, which Morgan hurriedly scoops up.  Drake, turning on his charm, tries to calm the guy down, saying that they are here to help, no one is going to come for him, and so forth.  Alia, able to read and feed off of the regrets of others, determines that the man came back into the world about two years prior and has been utterly abandoned since.  All seems as though it is going to wind down until Goom, still keyed up and in battle-ready mode, lunges again at the stranger, growing slightly larger as he strikes him with his fist.  That’s when the bottle of gasoline shatters, drenching Goom and the bum and showering the rest of them with the noxious liquid.  Everyone bolts, some out the back fire exit (setting off the alarm) others out the front, including the girl at the front desk. 

After a minute, the inside of the store illuminates, windows blowing out in a blast of heat and fire, and the bum runs into the street, completely engulfed in flame.  Most of the group has fled, but Goom and Alex have stayed behind and are able to make it to the apartments above the book store, rousing everyone and getting them out before the building goes up.  By the time the fire department and paramedics arrive, they’ve managed to evacuate almost everyone, and the authorities insist they cease action to get medical attention.  Both Alex and Goom manage to slip away into shadows just as the television news crews start arriving.

Local news coverage that night is nothing but the fire and the daring rescue by two unknown heroes.  Interviews with people rescued from the inferno are full of nothing but praise (and a few good descriptions) of the two brave men.  Even Mayor Bloomberg speaks out, asking for any information about the two, as they have shown the true spirit of New York, and he wants to give them keys to the city.  In the middle of the night, Morgan, who as the organiser of the support group meetings would have left her name and information with the book store, is contacted by a Lieutenant Donegal, who asks if she was at the book store and if they can meet tomorrow to discuss exactly what happened.

The following night, Kali once again comes down to Gareth’s apartment, to enjoy a quiet evening, drinking wine, listening to music.  Recalling that Kali had wanted to say something earlier in the week, Gareth calls upon his abilies – the first he’s tried them outside of training with Madame Butterfly – to see what is going on with Kali.  He’s hit with an onslaught of desires:  Her lingering dismay at the dissolution of her marriage, but the keen need to move on; she’s desperate for a rebound.  Not just a one night fling, but a relationship, any relationship, even if it is not right at all.  She just needs.

Not wanting to let on that he’s just read her so clearly, Gareth opts instead to just embrace her, support her.  The pent up emotion in side her mixed with wine soon has Kali sobbing, bemoaning that the best male relationship she’s had since moving to NYC has been with Gareth, and fuck all if he’s gay.  When are things going to look up for her, when will she get what she needs?  Gareth is mostly quiet but commiserates with her, reassures her that she’s beautiful and worthy, offering a shoulder to cry on, and wine, more wine!  After a bit she calms down and they start talking about other things, projects they’re working on, life in the city.

That’s when Drake comes home.  Drake also reads Kali, getting all the same information Gareth had received.  Drake, however, decides that this is apparently Mortal Play Time.  He starts flirting with Kali, brazenly, turning on his charm although not going into full glamour.  Gareth immediately realises what is going on, that Drake is playing her, and although he tries to butt in, to get Kali to change the subject, leave the apartment, go back to her place, anything. But he’s helpless – Drake’s got her, and she’s gone all dreamy-eyed.  Then Drake’s cell phone rings, cutting him off mid-sentence. 

“Oh, sorry,” He says. “Gotta go.  It’s my girlfriend.”  And leaves.  Kali is in shock.  Gareth gently reaches out to her, and she agrees that they should go back up to her apartment.  A loom, yes, she’d wanted to show him a new loom project.

When they get up to her apartment, Kali’s completely expressionless.  She seems on the verge of tears, but is holding it together… barely.  She tells Gareth she’s changed her mind, she just wants to go to sleep now, but she’ll see him later.  Unsure exactly what to do, Gareth quietly agrees, but asks her to please call him if she needs anything, and maybe they can get together again sometime soon, though this time at her place.  She nods and shows him out.

Seething in anger, Gareth calls Drake.  It rings and rings before going to voice mail.  Gareth hangs up and calls again.  Straight to voice mail – Drake has turned off his phone.  More pissed than he can remember being lately, Gareth stays up, working on his projects.  He loses track of time until his phone reminds him, when it rings at 4:00 in the morning.  It is Kali.  She sounds terrible.

“Hey.  Can you come here?  I think I did something stupid.”  And the line goes dead.  Gareth is out the door before she stops talking, though, sprinting up two flights of stairs to her floor.  Her door is unlocked, though she’s nowhere to be seen in the apartment.  Calling her name, Gareth heads back to the bathroom, and there she is.  On the floor, crouched by the toilet, mostly empty bottle of vodka and an opened bottle of prescription pills at her side.  She’s pale, clammy, glassy-eyed.  Her lips have turned blue and there’s a bit of foamy spittle at the corners of her mouth.

As Gareth drops to the floor beside her, gathering her up in his arms, images come flooding back to him – Sam, or another friend, people he knew when, nearly catatonic from a heroin binge; Sam, pale and shaky, firmly in the grips of the disease that would kill him, wanting to die before the sickness took him itself; Gareth, always Gareth, sober or otherwise, always nursing them, bringing them back from the brink... until he couldn’t.  Unable to bear another loss, Gareth reaches for the only tool he’s got.

Squeezing her tight, Gareth revives Kali, as Drake had been doing to him, not knowing what will happen.  She’s blinking, colour rushing back into her face, lips no longer blue.  She’s confused.  Didn’t she just try to kill herself? That was a lot of vodka, a lot of pills, what happened?  Gareth says that maybe the pills were expired, or something.  She’s still a little shaken, but gets up.  Gareth knows there’s still all that crap in her system, and magic or no magic, she probably needs to get to an emergency room.  That first.  He’ll deal with Drake later.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

If music be the food of PCs, play on

I picked up a really fantastic trick from art school which has served me exceedingly well in crafting characters for tabletop campaigns:  Mix tapes. 

Well, playlists, since we're in the future now.  I have made playlists for probably a good half dozen or more characters who I feel the driving need to bring to as much of a fulfilled realisation as I can manage.  As I think I've mentioned before, when crafting a character, I cannot just sit idly by and allow them to be a vessel for stats.  No, I craft my characters as extensions of myself, as fully-formed beings with loves, hates, desires, and deep histories whenever possible.  Pretentious and over thinking?  You bet, but that's my bag, baby.

When I am getting ready to sit down to roll some dice, I bust out that character's mix and listen to it.  Sometimes just a quick spin through the list, sometimes I'll bring it to work and listen all day.  I'll spend hours at my computer combing through my ever-growing collection of MP3s, sourcing anything I don't already have from M'Colleague or from reputable sellers of music, throwing everything and anything that has potential into one massive list, and then listening to each song to pare down a tight core of songs that evoke whatever it is about that character that I'm trying to maintain.

I find that the list length itself often speaks to the character as well.  Ruby from the late great Deadlands game maybe had 6 songs and could be listened to just on my commute home/to game - though she had depth, her defining characteristic for me was Woman Scorned, and I could accomplish that in just a few pieces.  Gareth's got an "album length" mix which takes me to and from work without repeats.  I tell his story through his mix, and am often left a bit emotionally fragile once finished.  Perfect for the dark game that our Story-Teller has given us.

Then there's Bosabrieln.  Bosabrieln is this ridiculous Half-Elf Virtue of Cunning Bard character that I play in the 4E campaign that M'Colleague has been running for almost three years (having Grown-up Lives means we end up a few months at a time between sessions sometimes).  Bosie, as he's known, was fashioned after Oscar Wilde's lover and famously awful person Alfred "Bosie" Douglas.  He's vain, beautiful, talented as fuck, and Oh So Misunderstood.  He's alarmingly androgynous (think Andrej Pejic or Anatoly Elgert) and not fickle at all about who shares his bed, or in what quantity.  Bosabrieln's play list takes up two CDs when burned.  Prick.

We're playing today!  This has been one of those long hiatus breaks, as life was taken over by work insanity (all the PCs are my coworkers) and by wedding planning.  Over the intervening months, I've discovered some "new" music for him and so I'm currently going through and switching out old songs for better ones.  Most notable among the new selections are RHCP's "Blood Sugar Sex Magik", Britney's "Work Bitch" and, naturally, Lady Gaga's "Applause".  To be honest, I could listen to "Applause" for hours on repeat and be ready to go with Bosie, but I like to try to keep what depth I can.

They say music soothes the savage beast, and they couldn't be more right.  I started my morning in a bit of a downtrodden rut, but now I'm overcome by feeling overwhelmingly FIERCE.  Bring it, Mr. DM, the bitch is back!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Changeling: Session 8

When last we met, our heroes did some investigating, and mostly tried to carry on with their lives.

It is Thursday, 28th November, Thanksgiving, and everyone is headed to Gareth’s for a holiday meal which doubles as their regular support group meeting.  Everyone brings a little something to share, and Morgan has invited Alia along.

Though no one speaks to it, this is the best Thanksgiving any of them have had in a while.  Though things are awkward at first (what do you expect with a house full of jaded and wounded souls?) once the alcohol starts flowing, things loosen up.  Pretty soon they’re laughing and telling stories, until someone mentions Meagan, and the room falls back to silence.  But then Diggles comes up, and there they go again.  Gareth tells of some truly ridiculous and embarrassing things Diggles would do back in the 90s when Gareth and his partner, Sam, would buy from Diggles in clubs (without divulging any of the more intimate details of his erstwhile relationship).  That’s when Alia puts it all together and realises that these people are the cause of all of Diggles’ recent rash of bad luck – word does tend to get around the seedy underbelly of the city.

It is Gareth who notices the lacquered butterfly box that Wally brought in, and calls it out.  Wally explains what happened to him after leaving Gareth’s apartment the last week, after his encounter with a taxi, and the creepy limo that followed him around.  He passes around the invitations, which detail the time and place of the meeting, which is the following afternoon at the Chrysler Building. 

While deciding what to do about the invite, those who weren’t around earlier are brought up to speed on Drake’s conspiracy theory about his doppelganger’s devious plot, and the possibility that Alex’s doppel, Konstantyne, is involved in some way with his upcoming “Christmas Day Massacre”.  Adding to the connections, Morgan reveals that her doppel is known as "The Oracle”, a woman who has an uncanny knack for reading and playing the stock market, and who has made billions off of this skill, making her one of the top investors in the world. 

The following day, everyone meets at the Chrysler Building at the appointed time.  They are taken up a series of elevators to the 75th floor, which houses a triumvirate of related corporations:  Harajuku  Importers (which Wally recognises as his friend Alexis’ place of business), Harajuku Limited, and Shinjuku Exporters.  The lobby is very plush, with laquered wood, crystal clear glass doors, and a very nice reception area.  They are greeted by a very pretty young lady named Harmony , who offers them drinks, which some accept, and they wait around for a few minutes before Harmony  leads them through an expansive office space, to yet another elevator in the back of the building.  She activates it through a series of biometric scans, which verify her through her handprint and eyes.  She rides with them to the very top floor, where she smiles at them and leaves. 

They are left in a hall with mirrored walls, cherry wood, marble floors, with two bronze pillars in the centre, holding a Japanese scroll suspended in protective glass.  It is a poem, and a podium in front of it provides a translation:

As the cherry blossoms fall
At the height of their glory
So, too, must I fall

That men may call me
A flower of Yamato,
Though my bones lie scattered
In the bleak wilderness
Of strange and distant lands.

Before they continue on, Drake turns on his glamour, making him seem in an instant as though he’s beautiful beyond comprehension.  From a door at the end of the hall steps a bald Caucasian man who greets them and motions for them to follow him back through the doors from which he came.  They squeeze into a small corridor with air vents that blow up, down, and in from all sides, as though creating a curtain of air to keep something from passing through.  When they emerge on the other side, they see what is being contained. 

The room they step into his huge, easily 100 feet by 300, with artificial branches covering the ceiling, coming up from the floor, creating an enchanted woodland space at the top of the skyscraper.  And fluttering about are hundreds, thousands, of butterflies.  The view out the windows is magnificent, a treat to see New York’s skyline the way so few can.  Turning around, they see a large ornate desk in the room’s centre, and – at the very farthest corners – two huge tigers chained to the floor. 

The man wheels in a frail female figure wearing over-largedark sunglasses dressed in white and with limbs bound with gauze, almost like an Egyptian mummy, leaving her sitting at the desk where she begins to unwind the coverings around her hands, revealing the paper thin skin of the truly ancient.  She is easily in her 90s, if not older, and of Asian descent, some of her hair still black.  When she removes her glasses, her face passes in and out of shadow, showing this visage to be an illusion, much like when Wally and Alex saw each other looking strange.  Her other self only appears to be about 70 years old, a difference of at least 20 years.

It is then that they all realise, as they’re standing mostly in shadow, that they’ve all taken on an Other appearance:

            Alex looks featureless and pale, as he’d seen in his reflection at the school.
            Wally, similarly, appears corpselike, as Alex had described him.
            Goom is ogre-like, with one eye, but still very much like himself
            Alia looks bestial, partly human, partly catlike, partly something else entirely
            Drake, even accounting for his glamour looks stunningly gorgeous, beyond human.
            Morgan’s hair and clothes move on their own accord, as though rustled by an ever-present breeze.
            Gareth looks gaunt, as though he’d lost at least 50 pounds from his already thin frame.

Drake approaches the woman, and she greets them, introducing herself as Madam Butterfly, though invites them to call her by her given name, Yuri-ko.  She calls them each by their actual first names and offers to answer questions.  She is one of them and has been for some time.  She had been in contact with Meagan, assisting her before her disappearance, but claims she doesn’t know where she is.  Morgan senses she’s not being entirely truthful.

Wheeling herself out from behind the desk, she drops a bomb – she’d always thought, as the group has, that she’d been taken and replace by something Else, but she and we are wrong.  We, it seems, are the doubles, the inhuman ones.  At this declaration, she flips a switch to illuminate an aquarium below their feet.  In it swim fish of various types, but in its own spot bobs the head of a younger Japanese woman.  Madam Butterfly claims that this is herself, her supposed “double”.  She’d had her executed in the 1950s, but not before she did some tests on both of them, the results of which convinced her that she herself was not human, but this other woman was.  After she killed herself, Yuri-ko took over her other self’s life, expanding her business to the empire that is represented in part here in the Chrysler.

She speaks of others like them who she has encountered before, others who could not handle what they really were, who succumbed to the strange power that comes with their state, and who ultimately went mad and disappeared underground.  That is why she cautioned Meagan (and cautions the others now) not to go under ground, for the closer one gets to the centre of the Earth, the thinner the boundaries between our world and that of the Vanishers become.  She turns to Goom, saying that she fears for him the most, as he seems the one most likely to succumb, especially given where he lives.  The assembled group all has gifts, she explains, but they couldn’t start to realise their own powers until placed under great stress, and that’s why she’s been toying with them for the past few weeks.  It was she who placed the strange phone calls to Alex and Wally, she who planted the note on Wally during the bust, she who had suspicious persons watching Morgan’s workplace, and so on.  She who blew up the #7 bus outside their old meeting place.

The others, the “doubles” who have been living stolen lives (or not?) have no memory of their taking.  The group, as constructs made by the Vanishers, have connections to human dreams, can manipulate people through dreams, and that includes their other selves.  But that is a dangerous undertaking, as once the doubles are aware of their Other, they can use that dream connection to inflict suffering upon that individual.

Madam Butterfly reached out to this group of misfits because she needs them – there is much she wishes to accomplish before she dies, and she does seem to have a queer fixation with death.  She has spent decades searching for those she claims created them.  Why do these Other beings exist?  She needs to have some understanding before she passes on.  She has a group of six other Others also working for her, although they don’t have the same social support and strength that this group has formed.  These others had been assigned to keep an eye on Meagan, but after a certain time, they were no longer able to locate her.  She still claims she doesn’t know exactly what happened to Meagan.

She offers to train them.  Those who advance to be adept in their abilities without succumbing to madness are rare, their minds usually tend to fall apart.  There are spaces where the wall between this world and the Vanishers is thin, and they happen to be standing atop one of those spaces, which she has harnessed here.  She mentions that iron reduces the energy from the other side and is detrimental to the creatures that come from it.

When Gareth calls her out on not having done anything to affect him, she brushes him off, saying that she put in a good word for him at The Box, which is, unsurprisingly, another one of her properties, and a gate to the Vanishers’ world. 

She speaks of a blood test that can be performed to show us that we truly are unhuman.  Recalling that Wally is something of a chemist, she pulls a folder of lab results from her desk, handing it to him.  What he reads shows a chart, blood panels, of an unnamed individual.  The levels of various neurochemicals in the blood show that this person should be both experiencing serious bouts of psychosis, but also that they should be unconscious.  Overall the numbers seem to be way off, but they are consistent with a human sleeping and in an active dream state.  She insists that any one of the group, if tested, would give the same results, even when awake.

They agree to her training, which will take place over the next few weeks, sometimes as a group, sometimes individually.  To seal the deal, and for their mutual protection, she offers a peace pact – she and the group will be bound by blood, and for the duration of the pact, none of them can willfully inflict ill against another in the bond.  The bond will last until 1st January, although they are free to enter into it again at any time.  She takes out a knife and cuts her hand, asking each of them to do the same.  They do, with Alex and Gareth hesitating and going last (Gareth has a thing about mixing blood).  Again, she calls them each by their real first names – Gareth, Alex, Wallace, Alia, Thaddeus (Goom), Muriel (Morgan), and Charles (Drake).

As a show of good faith, Yuri-ko offers them any services they might need, as she has a great deal of cash and influence at her disposal.  Alia steps up and inquires if there are doctors available, as she has a friend (Mia) who needs a procedure done.  Though they speak only in the vaguest terms, Madam Butterfly does agree to provide a doctor to perform the abortion, provided that Alia makes good on the promise to train with the others on their new found abilities.  Alia concedes, and arrangements are made.

Goom does some quick medic work on those who want it, to help their hands heal quicker, and after a short time they all leave, returning to their lives for a brief while before entering into an intensive two week period of training with Madam Butterfly.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Changeling: Session 7

Pre-post warning.  Some of the links here are NSFW.  Click away from this page at your own discretion.

When last we met, the day following their strange night at The Box and beyond continued to be even stranger…

Wally is still mulling over what to do with the invitations received from M. Butterfly when there is a knock at his door.  Peeking out, he sees it is one of his building neighbours, Alexis.  She’s dressed very nicely for work, her hair is up, and her face is plastered with makeup.  He opens the door and she greets him as Edward, the name by which he’s known in the building.  She’s holding out a casserole dish with Fritos on top.  She seems very excited to see him and asks how his apartment has been since the police raid earlier in the week.  They make the stilted small talk of two socially awkward people before he finally invites her in.  She noted that he hasn’t been around the building in a while and she thought, after the debacle wit his neighbour, that he might want some food, so she made him a Frito Pie.  She starts acting really coy, playing with her hair, and he notices a few bruises on her neck and under her arms.  He’s deciding whether or not to comment when his phone rings.

It is Hank, his landlord and drug dealer, and he wants to discuss business.  Since Wally had to take his production kit with him when the police arrived on site, Hank has run out of product and his customers are getting antsy.  He’s not overtly threatening but serious, and Wally suggests they meet in an hour.  When he steps back into the apartment, Alexis has gotten out bowls and silverware and has served up the Frito pie.  He notes that she seems a bit calmer now and they eat and soon wind up on the couch, talking.  When she puts her hand on his knee, giving it a squeeze, he freezes and she freaks out.  She tried to leave, but Wally stops her, saying it is OK, and that it isn’t a big deal.  She breaks down into uncontrollable sobs, and he brings her back into the apartment where she proceeds to cry herself to sleep, head in his lap.

Knowing he has to meet Hank, he gently rests her down on the couch and writes a note saying he has to “see the super about something” but will be back soon.  When he gets to Hank’s office, he notes that he’s been chain smoking and is on edge.  Hank’s “investors” are starting to breathe down his neck, and he wants to know when Wally can have more product.  Wally says two days is realistic, although if he really wanted to push it, he could have it done in a day.  Hank suggests that Wally call in sick to work and get started now; he’ll be expecting product tomorrow, and make sure that there’s some beer for him when he picks it up. 

Wally goes back to his apartment, and when an hour passes without Alexis waking up, he amends his note explaining he has to “run an errand” and leaves his number for her.  He takes what remains of his Pyrex set and descends to the basement where he spends the next several hours cooking.  He checks on Alexis periodically, and sometime after dawn, she’s returned to her apartment, although she’s cleaned their dinner dishes and put away the rest of the casserole in the fridge.  Wally texts the group to say that he’s gotten caught up in things, but he’s received some information and will get it to them soon.  Knowing he’s got the better part of a week’s worth of product ready for Hank, he pops down to the corner store to get some beer.

Meanwhile, back at Gareth’s the assembled group – Gareth, Alex, Drake, Morgan, and Goom – decide it is a good idea to see Goom’s lair so that they know it’s location for future reference, just in case.  Everyone except Drake heads out, as he has had a notion pop into his head about his doppelganger and, feeling he is on to something, he wants to research it further.  The rest of the gang heads out, following Goom into subterranean levels of the city through twisting, turning pathways.  They do note, however, that he’s cleverly and discretely marked the way with brown yarn that blends in with the shadows and dinginess. 

  Eventually they make their way to a heavy metal door, which Goom pulls open.  The interior of Goom’s lair (as he calls it) is shockingly nice.  He’s managed to siphon electrical power from somewhere, and has a fridge, TV, a recliner (with a basket of yarn to one side) and an elevated sleeping area; he even has a small vegetable garden with a grow light.  He offers them refreshments, and everyone takes beer or water while Goom has a glass of milk.  After hanging out for a little bit and marveling at Goom’s ingenuity, they all go their separate ways, Alex heading home to sleep, Morgan returning to her apartment to prepare for work, and Gareth returning to his apartment to update Drake.

Morgan gets dressed appropriately and heads to work to tell fortunes – a small back room in a new-age shop.  The proprietress quickly motions Morgan aside and tells her that people came by earlier saying that they are investigating fraudulent and unlicensed business practices in NYC.  They wouldn’t give any ID or business cards, but kept saying they were with a federal agency.  The “agents” had a very unsettling vibe, and Morgan acknowledges that there have been strange things in the air lately and thanks her for the information, saying she’ll likely take a few days off to see if it blows over.  The woman comments that she’s so unnerved she might close shop early and go home to “pop some Wallies”.  Morgan again returns to her house, changes out of her fortune telling garb, and heads back to Gareth’s.

Alia, having returned Mia to their apartments after the unsuccessful visit to the free clinic, realises that she’ll need to cover both her wages and Mia’s while Mia is out of commission, goes into the city and tries to scrounge up an odd job or two.  She’s able to make $40 washing dishes for a few hours before she has to go to her “real job”.  She’s just been dropped off on a street corner by her pimp, Smoky, and who does she encounter, but Morgan.  She’s a bit suspicious about suddenly encountering this person from the previous night of supreme weirdness, but they chat a bit.  Morgan reminds her of their meetings, and says that they’ll be doing a Thanksgiving dinner at one of the group member’s place the next week, and that Alia is welcome to join them.  Alia says she may, confirming that she’s got Morgan’s contact information, when they’re interrupted by a guy in a sedan pulling up and propositioning them both.  Morgan quickly declines, despite the guy’s insistence, and backs away, leaving Alia to her work.  After the car pulls into an alley with Alia, Morgan continues on her way.

Alia is asked to do a host of freaky shit (vaginal sex, analingus on the John – no condom – followed by tongue kissing).  She agrees, provided that he uses protection when they fuck, and she can use some sort of sanitary wipe on him before she goes down.  He busts out a handful of wet-naps from his glove box (he’s got kids, he says) and they get down to business.

When he gets back, Gareth finds that his apartment has become host to an impromptu chaotic art installation – papers with hasty scribblings, and thread and twine connecting various papers have been taped up around the apartment – and Drake has a mad glint to his eyes. 
Drake's "Art"
 He explains that after looking up what his doppelganger has been doing (investments in concrete and steel) he realized that something must be up and started delving deeper, and the resulting madness is his flow chart.  To cut a very long and involved story to its briefest possible point, Drake explains thus:

He knows that his doppel has business with a hedge fund and investors at Goldman Sachs, though apparently there has been some tension of late, possibly stemming from “Drake’s” poor investments in steel and concrete, which are dying industries in the US.  Recently, “Drake” and others had been involved in lobbying for NY to pass legislation giving preferential treatment to companies that are based out of the state and owned by racial or gender minorities when large contracts are offered for things like rebuilding, city beautification, and so on.  Two of the companies that “Drake” recently invested in fit the bill perfectly (NY based, owned by minorities). There wasn’t a lot of industry in the United States for steel and concrete – most product coming in from over seas – until the September 11th attacks when the American companies contracted to rebuild the World Trade Center raked in billions.  Were there another disaster that cleared the way for the rebuilding of a new skyscraper, these two companies invested in by Drake’s doppelganger would be perfectly poised to receive said contracts, and he would make a financial killing.  Drake just doesn’t know when, where, or how his doppel intends to pull this off, although it will probably take a decent amount of time before the plan is executed.  Off the top of his head, Drake thinks that the Empire State or Chrysler buildings seems like prime targets.

Gareth is in the process of downing his second beer of the afternoon while listening, and suggests a connection between this plot and the “Christmas Day Massacre” being planned and promoted by Alex’s double, the magician/illusionist known as Konstantyne, which will be going down in just about a month in Times Square.  Both are mildly horrified when they realise that Times Square, while not a high rise, is a large portion of expensive – and more importantly iconic – real estate, and may very well be another potential target, although Drake thinks that the timing is too quick for what he thinks his double’s got planned.  At one point in their discussion, Drake casually touches Gareth on the hand or the arm, and suddenly Gareth feels refreshed, as though he had received a solid night's rest, despite having been strung out on no sleep since well before The Box the night before.  Gareth looks suspiciously at Drake for a moment, but says nothing.  Knowing they need to do away with the incriminating evidence of Drake’s brainstorming, they pile up the papers and string at Gareth’s welding apparatus, turn on the vent hood, crack another beer, and fire away. 

That’s when Morgan gets back, and they fill her in on everything, making sure that all traces are burnt to a crisp.  The rest of the day proceeds without incident.

The following week is fairly mundane. 

Wally tries to get ahead of production for Hank and visits with Alexis again.  He manages to catch her during the week, which has gotten difficult – he thought she had a 9 to 5 job, but has recently been getting in around 2:00 in the morning every day.  They hang out briefly, and she invites him over for Thanksgiving dinner at the end of the week.

Morgan tries to figure out what she’s going to do about work.  The shop that she uses is still under heavy surveillance by whatever suspicious party has taken interest – her host tells her that they’ve been sitting outside in a car each day, although every time she’s tried to call the cops, as soon as she begins dialing, they drive away.  Morgan hasn’t been back yet.

Goom explores the city using his new-found heightened sense of smell and looks into procuring a shotgun on the black market.

Gareth begins having erotic dreams, every night, about the devilish host at The Box.  They’re always frustrating and incomplete, causing him to awaken every morning in an extreme state of arousal, although the memories of the dreams soon fade.  Freaked out by that and what he saw in the red door, Gareth goes to a local free clinic to get tested for HIV.  He also takes time to look up Sam’s family, finding that they moved to Virginia sometime after he died, and that there is still a memorial web page set up for him, obviously dating back to the mid-90s.  The picture on the site of Sam he knows to be one of the two of them, although Gareth has been cropped out.  Following that, he also looks to see what his own doppelganger (a moderately well known artist) has been up to, but only sees that he’s recently had some trouble with a piece overseas.

Drake predominantly spends his week looking for a more permanent place to live, while also continuing to keep tabs on his doppelganger.

Alia spends her week babysitting Mia, trying to get her as sober as possible without going cold turkey, so that she can try again to abort her pregnancy without doing serious harm to herself.  Alia also does what she can to over-earn each night, and working during the day at odd jobs, to cover both her and Mia’s wages for the week.  She also tries to squirrel away some extra money ($50 here, $100 there) for her own, without letting Smoky know.

During the week, through text messages, they determine that the next meeting will be on Thanksgiving and since Gareth has the room and an oven, he’ll host.  Everyone decides what they’ll be bringing, although Wally says he might be a little late.

Alex goes to work as usual, although notes that he has stopped receiving bizarre phone calls and has seen no more butterflies.  The night of November 27th, he has a strange dream.  He finds himself in a room with stone walls, manacled and chained in a corner.  The room seems to be precariously balanced, and keeps tilting around, causing him to be slammed into the wall, or dangling by his wrists over a black vacuum of space.  His hair is long and stringy and hangs in his face.  The room gives one final lurch, and he falls, free of the manacles, landing in a sewer similar to the spaces that Goom led them through earlier in the week.  He hears a din coming from the end of the tunnel and approaches it.  He hears chanting, which he knows to be in English, but he cannot understand it.  He walks into a massive room with concentric levels of stairs going down, like an amphitheatre.  Sitting in it are thousands of homeless people, chanting, and they all have black orbs for eyes, with flickering candle flames for pupils.  Seven levels down, the space bottoms out at what appears to be a subway track (Alex can see the third rail) with a block of concrete with a stop sign in it to one side.  Secured in the concrete are also the manacles he’d been held with (he just knows it) but in them now is a woman, and he knows without looking that she is his daughter. 

He leaps over the ledge to the first row of the amphitheatre and everyone goes silent and stares at him, flames flickering in their dark eyes.  However, they make room for him and allow him passage down, level by level.  When he makes it to the bottom, he turns to look at his daughter, but finds he is blocked by the red door.  He tries to look around it, but he is compelled by some unseen force that stops him.  Giving every ounce of his willpower, he makes his way around the red door, and all of the people in the seats start hissing at him.  His daughter looks up at him, her face haggard, spent, as he’s never seen her, but when she sees him, a wave of hope washes over her and she starts calling to him.  He starts towards her, the image breaks, and Alex is awake.

The afternoon of Thanksgiving, Wally goes to Alexis’ apartment around 2:00.  He knocks and announces himself, and he hears her call out to wait a minute.  Through the door, he hears a rustle of plastic being shoved into a trash bag, cabinets being slammed shut, and other noises.  Finally the door opens, and Alexis greets him with a puff of flour covering her head and shoulders, though conspicuously none on her apron, and there is a smell of burning coming from the oven.  She lets him in and goes to get dressed, coming back out sans flour.  Wally offers her the pumpkin pie he picked up at CVS, and they sit down to eat what is obviously a meal, portioned for at least ten people, that was picked up at Boston Market.  As before, Alexis is bubbly and awkward, but they fall into a pattern of small talk and comfortable silences.  Wally apologises for having to leave, as he has to go to the meeting at Gareth’s, but she sends him off with Tupperware full of leftovers.  At the door, he kisses her on the cheek.

Wally drops off his leftovers at his apartment, bringing some of them, another CVS pie, and the invitations for the next day with him to Gareth’s.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Changeling: Bonus Material - Gareth's Place

Since Gareth's apartment seems to be fast turning into Gareth's Home For Wayward Lostlings in our Changeling game, I decided to do up a fancy-shmancy floor plan of the loft space.  I used Florplanner, a really awesome free site that lets you do 2D and 3D renderings of architectural plans.  I do recommend checking it out, as it was really easy to start using, and I intend to do a lot more with it in the future.

But the apartment.  I've had this space kicking around in my head since the game began, although it took a lot of restraint not to make it massive.  I keep having to remind myself that, though the (fictional) building in which Gareth lives is an "artists' colony" which is geared towards low-rent living/working space for otherwise starving artists, I couldn't go all out.  I must say, it was a great creative exercise, and I am much pleased with the result!

The building itself is an old warehouse that has been converted into various types of living and creative spaces from lofts like this to more conventional apartments.  Gareth's flat is about a 660 sq ft, high ceilinged loft space, with a concrete tiled area off the kitchen for with an Ansul hood system for his welding and sculpting apparatus.  There is a regular door as well as a garage-style door to allow for the coming and going of large art pieces and materials.  Conveniently, the main elevator (which in game continuity is an old fashioned grate-style contraption) is right outside his door.  Gareth's home is on the second floor.

An overview of the whole place.  That window in the curtained-off bed space is where they saw the frosty footprint.
The entrance and garage doors.  That's Wally's crash couch in the foreground, and an easel and work bench to the left.
The work area (no good objects for a welder, so it is empty space) and the "bedroom", sectioned off by curtains and a wardrobe.
And from the other side, showing the kitchen, washer/dryer, "living room", and a closet.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changeling: Session 6

When last we met, our heroes arrived home after a night at the box and began to experience all manner of even stranger strangeness…

Alia falls back to sleep after her strange nightmare and is awoken by a knock at her door.  It is Mia, a fellow working girl, and she looks incredibly rough, as though she’s not been to bed at all and is still intoxicated.  Alia lets her in.  Mia offers her a cricket (marijuana laced with meth) out of an Altoids tin, which Alia declines as she starts making breakfast.  Mia lights up and confesses to Alia that she’s afraid she’s pregnant.  After giving her grief for not using protection while working, Alia asks what she can do to help.  Mia says she’s got no money, not enough for a legitimate clinic at least, but she’ll give Alia what she’s got if she’ll do something to end the pregnancy.  Alia refuses and takes her to a free clinic after helping Mia into clothing other than her tight stained dress. 

Drake is asleep in his apartment.  He is shocked into wakefulness by the sound of automatic gunfire from outside his apartment, spraying his apartment from the street below.  Brick explodes, glass shatters, and holes are peppering his ceiling and floor.  Something ricochets and gets him in his left arm.  After what feels like an eternity, the gunfire stops and tires squeal away, followed by screams from people outside – this is not the sort of neighbourhood where drive-by shootings happen.  Drake rolls out of bed and huddles for a moment until he is sure it is over.  When he hears sirens, he scrambles to get dressed and joins the other building residents in evacuating the building.  On the street, he sees officers entering the building, one uniformed man poking his head out of Drake’s window to view the street.  An ambulance shows up, and Drake eventually gets help for his graze wound while an officer questions him.  

A plainclothes officer named Detective Matthews asks permission to look in Drake’s apartment, as he seemed to be the target, and if there is anyone who might have wanted to harm him?  Drake gives permission – he’s got nothing to hide and the laptop where he does all of his nefarious book-cooking is heavily protected and encrypted.  He makes up some story, not entirely untrue, about calling out Diggles at a bar or club, and that Diggles seemed very upset.  The cop buys the story, says Diggles has been linked to another “act of dramatic violence” recently, and that he thinks he received a big break recently – a new source, better business – something that has given him confidence to step up his game and assert himself.  Drake senses something off in the detective’s story, but goes along with it, saying that he’s got a safe place to stay with family near Buffalo.  He gives Det. Matthews his burner phone number and asks if he can get his laptop.  As the apartment is a crime scene, the detective won’t let him do it himself, but radios up to have someone bring it down.  It takes a lot longer than Drake feels is necessary, though at a brief glance, it appears to be OK.  Drake leaves, getting on a bus and making several changes throughout the borough on his way to Gareth’s loft, shaking the police that were sent after to tail him.

Meanwhile, outside Gareth’s apartment, Wally has just been struck by a taxi.  Thankfully, it was going the speed limit in a residential area, so he’s not terribly injured.  The cabbie gets out of his vehicle with a cry of, “Oh no, not again!”  Goom, still standing just outside of the alley, says that he is a paramedic and that he will attend to Wally.  Wally, of course, will have absolutely none of this, although Goom insists and does a cursory examination of Wally, noting that he’s pretty much just bruised.  The cabbie offers to take Wally to the hospital, or call paramedics, but Wally again refuses help.  He picks up his duffel bag from where it was flung across the street, dismayed to hear his entire Pyrex collection making a cacophony of brokenness.  He brings it with him anyway and begins to limp away.  At this point, Gareth and Alex have arrived streetside and Gareth tries to go after Wally.  Wally ignores Gareth’s requests to just come back inside and continues walking. 

Goom, Alex, and Gareth all return to Gareth’s loft where Goom starts to explain his bandaged face (even revealing his empty eye socket for them – Gareth grabs a beer) but says the full explanation should wait for everyone to be together. Goom sits on Gareth’s couch and begins knitting.  Alex asks what he’s making, and Goom says it is an eye patch.  Gareth is fascinated that Goom knits, and suggests a collaboration for a future art installation.

Wally gets about four blocks away, when he again feels that thrumming in the air, to his right.  He stops, partly because he’s got a stitch in his side, and looks downtown to where the skyscrapers rise.  He sees one of the buildings (he thinks it’s the Chrysler) vibrating and emanating that violet darkness, with tendrils whipping out from the top floors, reaching skyward.  “Motherfucker” he whispers as the pain in his side eases and his violet vision fades.  He looks around – no one else seemed to notice – and begins heading to his apartment. 

Morgan awakens with no incident, has a cup of tea, and checks her messages, seeing all of the back and forth from earlier in the morning and over night about the butterflies and other strange goings on.  She gets dressed and begins to make her way over to Gareth’s.  She and Drake end up arriving at the same time.  Once inside, Drake tells the tale of his morning misadventure, Goom reveals what happened with his dream and waking nightmare, and Alex tells the full story behind the butterflies at the high school.  When he mentions the part about not having a face, something odd happens – everyone in the room sees his facial features disappear.  It is only for a brief second, the blink of an eye, but it definitely happens.  Goom keeps knitting his eye patch in the green red and yellow colours symbolizing Vietnam, stitching “Death” and “Forgotten” on it.

At the free clinic, Mia is refused service, as she is too inebriated to give consent, and there is a good chance that she would lose a lot of blood as a result of said inebriation.  Alia tries to convince them otherwise, but they are steadfast.  She is given the third degree about how serious this procedure is, how critical it is that her friend be sober for this, and what complications may and will arise after the procedure if Mia has sex, continues to use drugs and alcohol, and so forth.  Alia hears and understands, but gives flippant responses and eventually the health worker gives up – bring her in once she’s sober, and they’ll see what they can do.  Alia leaves with Mia, returning to their apartment building in the projects, all the while explaining again and again that Mia has to be sober, and no, she can’t have any drink or drugs until the whole thing is over.  She is finally able to convince Mia to do it by offering to cover her wages while Mia is out of commission after the procedure.

Back in the loft, Gareth has started into his and Wally’s strange encounter from the night before – the “TOUCHED” note, the footprint on the windowsill, the unsettling feeling that they’d missed something.  Goom says he might be able to figure something out, and Gareth gives his permission for Goom to investigate.  While this is happening, Drake examines his laptop and sees fine scratch marks around a USB portal – someone had tried in a hurry to plug in a flash drive, and he knows it had to have been the cops.  Nothing seems removed or damaged, though, and he asks Gareth for a hot glue gun, to fill in the open ports on his computer to prevent future tampering.  He then begins to look up what his doppelgänger has been doing, noting his odd purchases of stock in concrete and steel.  He wonders what his Other is up to – building something?

Meanwhile, Goom has started sniffing around Gareth’s apartment.  Literally – nose to the ground, at the windowsill, going all over the space, tracking almost like a hound.  He goes from the window, across the apartment to the bathroom door (though not in), over to the couch, and back to the window.  He says that is the path the intruder followed, noting that the person stopped in the bathroom door, and paused for a while at the couch where Wally slept, presumably to leave the note, before exiting the way they entered.  He says the  person smelled of sweat and stale beer, he smells metal, like a bunch of body piercings, and blood.  This description doesn’t seem familiar to Gareth or anyone else.

Wally finally makes it back to his apartment, but doesn’t go in.  Parked about a block down is a sleek black limo, definitely out of place for this area, and the back door and window are thrumming violet black.  It starts rolling towards him, and he walks quickly away, turning down a side street.  It changes course and follows.  Wally runs down an alley.  The back door of the limo opens and someone shouts, “Mr. Kim!”  He keeps running.  He dashes into another alley and disposes of his Pyrex shards, keeping anything that managed to make it through the accident.  He circles back around to his apartment.

Back at Gareth’s, Morgan notices something in her pocket that hadn’t been there before.  It is a golf ball sized sphere, dark and shiny, like a large black pearl, and it is cool to the touch.  She hands it to Goom to sniff.  It has no smell.  Not just that, it is the absence of smell.  She recalls from her red door dream that she had put a bottle in her pocket, although it hadn’t been there when she came back to The Box.  This is the same pocket.  Goom picks up a scrap of something from Gareth’s work bench, and has Morgan put it in her pocket; Goom’s theory is that it is a magic pocket.  He adds that it may be best for them to find a new meeting place, if they’re all already being watched, and he offers up his lair as a meeting place, provided no one is opposed to entering a sewer to get there.

Sneaking back to his building, Wally again sees the limo.  This time it is parked directly in front of his building.  Again he turns tail, calling 911, reporting that “There are people threatening me outside my apartment, they’ve been threatening me all day” and provides the address and hangs up, avoiding the area for part of the afternoon. The limo is, of course, still there when he returns.  Giving up, he approaches it with his arms out.  A man wearing a cross between a chauffeur’s outfit and a Nazi SS uniform steps out of the driver door.  His head is shaved and his face is covered in piercings.  “Mr. Kim?” he asks, and Wally nods.  The man pulls out a small box topped with a blue bow and a black butterfly, offering it to Wally, who tells him to put it on the ground.  The man confers with his passenger and then places the box on the street.  He gets back in the limo and drives away, past Wally.  Wally makes sure they’re good and gone before picking up the box.  The butterfly atop it is fake, made mostly of wire.  He brings it up to his apartment where he finds the hole in his wall has been patched and poorly painted.  He shoves as much of his book collection as he can fit into his duffel bag, and then opens the box.

On top is nice parchment with Japanese writing.  (Wally is Korean, but knows some Japanese).  Beneath the parchment are envelopes, each with the name of a person in the abductees group, along with one addressed to “The Woman In White”.  Getting a rough translation, Wally reads the parchment as “Any nice dreams lately?”  He ponders it for a bit before opening his envelope which, like the others, is sealed with a butterfly stamp.  It contains an invitation card with an address, date and time, and instructions to be dressed in “business casual” attire.  He looks up the address.  It is the Chrysler building, and the suite number on the card corresponds to the 75th floor of 77.  According to the information he finds online, floors 75 – 77 are owned by an unpublished occupant.  The meeting time is at 1:30pm the following Friday – Black Friday.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Changeling: Session 5

When last we met, our heroes were subjected to some supreme mindfuckery inside the surreal night club known as The Box.

After receiving their consolation prize of $500 each, the group departs, going their separate ways.  Alia starts to head off, but Morgan stops her to make brief introductions and to hand her a flyer for their support group, on which Morgan scribbles her phone number.

As he heads down the alley, Wally realises that his nose is bleeding heavily and does what he can to staunch the flow.  He feels that the air seems to be carrying a charge, almost thrumming.  He turns and sees the others making their way, stumbling, down the alley behind him, and everything around him seems shadowy.  The door of The Box, however, seems to be backlit purple, and out of the shadows he sees creeping tendrils of darker darkness.  He turns and runs out to the street and eventually makes his way to Gareth’s apartment, though the entire way he feels as though he is being followed, although the feeling passes once he is in the apartment.  At some point in his travels, the light also returned to normal.

Gareth, Morgan, and Drake all head to a bar that Drake knows to still be open at this time of night. (day?)  For the first two blocks, Gareth feels intense unease, as though something is following him – the same sensation Wally had on his way home.  He looks around and sees nothing out of the ordinary, and after two blocks it subsides.

Goom returns to his lair and drifts off to sleep, where he has another horrendous nightmare.  This time he is in a MASH unit, suffering from some awful jungle virus.  Time passes and as his caretakers argue about what is wrong with him, he receives no treatment and gets increasingly worse.  He feels a throbbing pain in his right eye that only intensifies with time.  Eventually the vision in that eye occludes.  One night he is finally left alone, and, covered in filth and sweat, he rolls out of bed.  He searches the infirmary for a mirror and after registering that he appears to be young and fit as he was when he was in Vietnam, realises that his eye – the actual eye itself – has swollen to several times its normal size.  It is then that his eye explodes, and out of it pour dozens of honey bees. 

Goom awakens screaming and feels a warm wetness on the left side of his face, touching it, his hand comes away with blood mixed with some clear fluid.  There is also a hollow where his left eye used to be, and his eyestalk is lying on the outside of his face.  He feels no pain when he pushes it back into his eye socket, and gets some cloth to tie around his head to keep it in.  He makes his way to a hospital.

Meanwhile at the bar, Gareth, Morgan, and Drake are all drinking and discussing the night, each sharing what they experienced in their vision, although Gareth holds back some details of his.  They are interrupted by two ageing Jersey girls who start trying to hit on Drake and Gareth, completely ignoring Morgan.  When Gareth declines the offer, the girl who had been talking to him starts loudly berating him for being queer, and her friend joins in, prompting Drake to ask the bartender to throw the ladies out.  Gareth thanks him, though says that it is not necessary, he’s dealt with this sort of thing his entire life.  Last call is made and they depart, returning to their respective homes.

Alia goes out on the street trying to scrounge up a John or two so that she can make her money for the night – the guys she had gone to The Box with never paid her in full.  Due to the lateness of the hour (or is it earliness?) she is unsuccessful and only goes back with the $500 from the club.  Her pimp berates her, saying that she’s going to owe him in a big way, and gives her $100 out of the envelope.  Alia goes to her room to sleep, also falling into a fitful dream.  The four guys from the club are there, and they’re all fucking her.  She finds that she keeps drifting in and out of her body, sometimes experiencing it from her normal perspective, sometimes watching from across the room.  The dream turns violent and the first guy, the leader of the bunch, yells at her for leaving him in the club after he’d paid for her, as he starts beating her with a baseball bat.  She is out of her body and crosses the room in just a couple of strides, and tears off the guy’s head with her bare hands.  She sees that her hands have become claws, and she is covered in fur with zebra and leopard markings.  The other frat boys start to scream and run.  Now she’s in a dark hall and the first guy is there, head back in place, with a comically oversized erection, and he looks furious.  She sees that she is abused, bruised and bleeding.  He tries to take another swing at her with the baseball bat, but she lunges and tears his dick off.  The bat explodes against her head.  He runs and she gives chase, gaining on him as he trips over his enormous phallus.  She leaps at him, biting on to his foot and shakes him violently, and then starts consuming him.  Alia awakens suddenly, finding herself on the floor next to her bed, tangled in her sheets.

Alex is at work as part of a crew cleaning a local high school.  He’s mopping the front of the building, where there are several pay phones that line the walls – relics of an older time.  One of them rings, and he goes to answer it.  It stops just as his hand touches the receiver, and another phone across the hall starts ringing.  This dance repeats several times, and each time a phone stops ringing, it dispenses a quarter out of the change slot.  Finally, all the phones start ringing, and Alex lunges to answer one.  On the other end is his daughter, frightened and pleading.  She asks him why she can’t regognise his face, what is wrong with his face?  It is then that he catches his reflection in a window and he appears featureless – hollows where eyes nose and mouth should be – and the hand holding the phone appears to have no fingernails.  His daughter’s voice grows urgent, saying that they’re coming to take her, the same ones that took him, and that he’s got less than a month, begging him, “Don’t go.”  He hears her struggle with something, and there is a chittering sound on the line before the call ends. 

Across the hall, a closet door starts rattling, and when Alex opens it, hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of butterflies come bursting forth, completely covering every surface of the hallway.  The sound of their wings is deafening.  Alex gingerly makes his way through the swarm to a bathroom where he inspects his face which again appears totally featureless in the reflection, and he feels that his skin has gone malleable, with a putty-like texture.  He hears a coworker calling to him, and they begin trying to figure out what to do with all the butterflies, which are apparently very real indeed.  They try to clear them out, though before too long students and staff start arriving on the very confusing scene.  There is also a news crew that shows up to document this bizarre occurrence, and Alex does whatever he can to avoid being seen by the cameras and crew.  He makes his way away from the commotion and messages the group to see if anyone is awake.

When Gareth arrives home, he sees Wally asleep on the couch, a piece of paper folded on his chest.  Gareth gingerly picks it up and sees that TOUCHED is written on it – the same message and handwriting that had been on the back of one of Meagan’s pictures in the old meeting place.  He tires to gently awaken Wally, who comes to with a violent jolt.  Gareth shows Wally the message, and they both notice that the apartment is cold.  Too cold, to the point that they can see their breath.  Gareth begins to inspect the apartment, finding the window nearest his bed is open, with a bare human footprint lingering in the frost on the sill, angled as though it were stepping in.  He combs the room but finds nothing, asking Wally to look around, to no avail.  He inspects the rest of the apartment.  Nothing.  He can’t shake the feeling that he’s overlooking something, and the two of them do not sleep, with Gareth opting to work on an art piece, television turned on to local news to help keep him awake.

At some point during the early daylight hours, Gareth and Wally catch the story about the butterflies at the high school Alex had been cleaning (although they don’t know he was there).  That’s when they get his text message, and Gareth replies that he’s awake and at home.  Alex says he will stop at Gareth’s place on his way home, as he has to tell them about what really happened with the butterflies.

When Alex comes into the apartment, Wally freaks out, as he sees Alex’s visage changing as he moves in and out of shadows.  When he’s in the light, he appears normal, though when he crosses into a shadowy patch of the room, his face looks featureless.  Alex notices the same thing about Wally, although in shadow, Wally looks dead, though still with his face intact.  Both of them say something to Gareth, who doesn’t know what they’re talking about – they both look normal to him, regardless of the lighting.  Wally tries to leave, but both Alex and Gareth caution him, since they don’t know what is going on, and think it is safer to stay.  Wally decides he’s having none of this, and bolts from the apartment out to the street.

Out of an alley next to him emerges a monster.  It is a man, but not a man.  It has one large eye in the middle of its forehead – a Cyclops straight out of an ancient legend.  Wally screams and the thing steps out of the shadows into the sunlight, changing form, and Goom starts to say something to Wally.  In a blind panic, Wally turns and runs into the street where he is struck by a taxi.  Upstairs, Alex and Gareth hear the thud and squealing tires as the car screeches to a stop.