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.

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