Monday, December 12, 2011

H:tV Bowen's Journal Thursday, September 13, 1956


Morning has broken on another useless day. It’s cold and it’s only going to get colder. Doc got me a roof over my head, a couple of walls, and a place to lay down, but that was all he could manage, and really more than I deserve. But it doesn’t stop me from shivering in the morning, and wishing I had better heating, or less “unintended” ventilation.

But that’s this morning. This morning, I’m a poor, graduate student.

Last night, I was a hero, if only for five minutes.

I spent the morning in the stacks at the University Library (boring name for an impressive place). I still couldn’t find any of the resources that the catalog said should be there, but aren’t. I asked a resource clerk, who said everything had been removed and the catalog hadn’t been updated. That’s simple insanity! The history of those books alone makes them priceless. I immediately headed over to the special collections to talk with the librarian there, but was halted by a cute little German grad-student named Heidi, who thought I could get an appointment sometime next month.

I booked the appointment, and made another with Heidi for tomorrow night.

After those three frustrating and wasted hours, I headed over to Doc’s apartment in the English quarter. It feels like we haven’t been at Doc’s place in . . . well, forever. I ran into Doc on the way in, and then we immediately ran into Ragman. You’d think we’d be able to smell him long before we ever saw him, but maybe it’s better we didn’t.

Ragman said Heinrich, the well-dressed-man we’ve been hunting down, was trying to kill him, and he wanted out protection to get to the local police station. No problem! I was running short on cash anyhow, and Ragman had plenty of the Doc’s.

I have to admit, in my many years of cavorting and living the jet-set lifestyle on my father’s dime, even I have never been able to burn through such a relevant abundance of cash as the Ragman claims he did in less than six hours. Certainly not without easy access to Dom Perignon and some Cuban cigars. Ragman was hesitant to part with what little money he had left, but a quick raid of the Doc’s liquor cabinet convinced him to give me a fistful of dollars. I won’t see much in the way of revenue from my new “transportation” job, so I’ll have to scrape every barrel in the meantime.

We walked the Ragman over to the police station and there met Officer Rutger. Rutger immediately put me on edge. He seems like the kind of guy who, given the opportunity would shoot his best friend in the back if it was the “right thing” to do. Still, for some reason, I have a high degree of faith and trust in Rutger. Either he’s an excellent cop, or I’m a push-over for his do-the-right-thing attitude. I ended up telling him just about everything I’ve written in this journal. Not much about myself, but our on-going investigation into the murders and so forth.

Rutger immediately decided we needed to confront Heinrich, even though the evidence was flimsy and based mostly on the information we’d provided him. To his credit, he asked Doc and I to go along, Doc being the police consultant and all, and I being the only thing that keeps Doc alive in these situations.

As soon as we entered the grounds of Heinrich’s place, I knew we were on the right track. I can’t say how, but this seemed to be the culmination of days of effort and tracking through Berlin’s rainy, cold streets. I checked my weapons, made certain my spare clips were in place, and Rutger gave me a cop-look of disapproval but didn’t comment. Lucky for him.

No one was answering at Heinrich’s but we could hear something that sounded like rushing water. Not like someone was taking a shower, but more like we were up the hill from a river. It was a creepy sound, but not especially suspicious. It wasn’t a scream or a cry for help, or the sounds of gunfire, so Rutger was pretty much helpless.

Fortunately, when Rutger wasn’t looking (and after I turned the knob) the door opened all on its own (after I shoved it with my foot). The sound of rushing water was louder, but water isn’t illegal, even if you have a river running through your house. But we knew someone was in the house (my future silver Porsche was parked outside). Rutger told us that he was here to get answers, that Heinrich was suspicious enough all on his own, and, in what I took to be a slight bend to his otherwise rigid world-view, he was going into the house.

Gotta say, it was a nice place. A bit on the German gothic for my tastes, but I’m an American and (past tense) “nouveau riche” so what do I know? Still, dollar signs filled my eyes. I quickly made an inventory of Heinrich’s wealth, and hoped things were about to go down the way I thought they would.

They did.

We made our way up to the second floor, with the sound of water rushing louder than ever, and at the far end of the hall we saw the man himself: Heinrich. He was dressed in crazy, scary robes, and there was some kind of swirling vortex before him. Power radiated from the man, and not the kind of power you feel when you meet a president or a general or someone like that. This was the kind of power you’d think Merlin could use to throw thunderbolts from Olympus. I don’t mind telling you that my mouth was dry, my bladder was full, and my palms were as sweaty as a virgin groom’s on his wedding night.

The confrontation was fast, and deadly.

Heinrich made some motions, and ghosts, I swear to Almighty God or whatever Powers That Be, actual ghosts came at us. Rutger fired first, and I watched in horror and dismay as exactly what you think would happen, happened. The bullet went right through the apparition.

Well, if we couldn’t shoot the ghosts, then we should shoot the guy who made them appear. My two guns came into my fists, and for the first time in days, I knew exactly what I was doing and why. Once my weapons were in my hands, I didn’t hesitate. I pulled both triggers, once.

Once was enough.

Two slugs hit Heinrich and he went down, dead before he hit the floor.

There’s not much I can brag about in this world, but you put a pair of pistols in my hands, and I guarantee I’ll hit more than the broadside of a barn.

Immediately, the rushing water sound was gone. The ghosts, gone. The swirling vortex of fear, gone.

Rutger was in shock, but I wasn’t. I sent the poor man downstairs to call in the event. What followed next was a mad rush of events that culminated in my “liberation” of several highly portable items of decent worth, and, I’m proud to report, the aforementioned silver Porsche.

Unfortunately, when the police arrived and took my statement, they also insisted on taking my guns. The beast within me, that darkness and anger immediately welled up. I actually calculated my odds on shooting four armed officers of the law. The odds were in my favor, but escape would not have been. Berlin is a city on the brink, and locked down tightly by not just one government, but four. And not just four governments keeping the peace, but four armed camps ready to spring into full killing action should the order be given. I might have been able to keep from killing all the German police at the scene, and I might have been able to get away temporarily. But I’ve seen enough movies to know that you shoot a cop, and the world will fall down around you like a ton of bricks.

What additionally swayed me was the officers promise that I would get back the weapons, and the fact that I had “liberated” a Luger from Heinrich. I was not weaponless, and my weapons were safe. With some help from Rutger, and a little Jean Valjean, I might be able to get them back without the police being the wiser. I’ve made some inquiries, and a plan is forming.

Now, I gotta give the Doc credit for some quick thinking here. He managed to take off the license plate of a police car, and exchange it for the one on the Porsche. Granted, we’ll have to ditch the police plate as soon as possible, but it did give us immediate safety for the transport of the Porsche into Doc’s garage.

It is such a smooth, beautiful, lovely machine. I drove it with the same kind of relish that a man, forced to eat nothing but processed luncheon meat for months, would find for an excellent, medium-rare, porterhouse steak. It was a pure treat to not be bounced around by poor shocks or truck-tires.

I’d love to keep it.

I don’t think I can.

The funding it would bring far outweighs the perilous nature of keeping the machine. I would be better off selling it, and purchasing something more practical . . . by which I mean legal. Something far lower profile that would allow my commerce to flow more easily between checkpoints.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Giuseppe Pre Prelude background story. Vampire: Dark Ages.


Yesterday I posted a story for The Vampire: Dark Ages chronicle, I bowed out of last year.  A few weeks ago I reached out to the storyteller to feel out if he was still running the chronicle, and if I could jump back in.  He asked what Giuseppe had been up to since he left the coterie, but I figure someone might be interested where it all started. 


Dearest Sister:

I was elated to hear of your election as Prioress after all your devotion to the people of Fossacesia, and the Abby of San Giovanni.  This is such wonderful news.  Who would have thought the bastard twins of a wool merchant would rise to such great heights.  My work with the Bishop in the Diocese of Osimo continues. I had no idea five years ago when I was elected Archdeacon all the responsibility that would befall me.  But it is the work of the church and I try to work for the greater glory of God. 

I have received an invitation from a Lord Giovanni to a dinner party at the Giovanni Manse. I have no idea who this mysterious man is, but my Bishop has granted me leave to attend.  The journey will be long so indulge me as I write to you to escape the doldrums of the road.  Since we have not spoken since I left to continue my theology studies at The University of Bologna I will up date my history as briefly as I can.

When I arrived in Bologna from Fossacesia I was immediately assaulted by what I thought were thugs.  I was struck with a club and abducted.  They bound my eyes and took me to an underground meeting hall.  I learned that these were no thugs but an order of young men calling themselves The Order.  Like myself all were young men at university on scholarship, the order had been formed a decade after the university itself.  The poor students bound themselves together for support against the rich or noble born bastards.  Most like me were also there so study theology or medicine having been sent by their abbots and priests.  Other than God I have no greater allies then members of The Order.  For seven years we lived, prayed and studies together.  As young men do we found ourselves in a bit of mischief, and these times are where our bonds grew tighter.  Our members are everywhere throughout the Papal States and the holy Empire.

On my graduation I returned to Osimo to work in the Abby, by the grace of God I was blessed with good fortune and was able to do the lords work with Abbot Osmond who had sponsored me to university.  For three years I worked with Osmond, but he was killed when a wall in the hospital collapsed after a heavy snow.  I was elected Abbot in his place.  I worked tirelessly and was soon recognized by the Bishop.  I my self had no ambition for further advancement in the church, I had more responsibility than I thought I could handle.  The Bishop Bernardo, however, took note of the reforms I was making around the Prior and asked me to be his Archdeacon.  He said he could not stand that his previous aid had coveted the Bishops robes for himself; Bernardo had him appointed to Rome to get rid of him.  I was honored to serve as an arm of God for the good of the holy church.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark Ages: Vampire Character backstory


Caine Murdering Able

Giuseppe

I am a sinner, I have always been a sinner, but since that terrifying night at Lord Giovanni’s dinner party I have broken God’s most sacred commandment.   My embrace in to this dark covenant with Caine has renewed my faith, no not renewed, but proven without a doubt God’s existence.  Now with this proof I must sin daily to exist. 

I left the coterie of my fellow newly dammed to search out the meaning of this brutally evil existence after twice witnessing the cannibalism of diablerie.  First I travelled back to my residence in Osimo to resign my post as archdeacon, and collect my possessions. The journey was long and harrowing for a lone dammed to undertake.  As a mortal when I rested at night, the protection my body needed was trivial.  One can sleep under the stars.  The dammed, however are not so lucky with God’s light.  It was on the journey I wrote a beautiful hymn I planned to present to my beloved sister.  I wrote whenever I could and pored myself in to the song, but in the rejected verses I found another tune.  Not written for the glory of God, but a dark song for Caine.  

It broke my heart to leave my beloved Bishop, who would have me staked to a pole in the central plaza if he knew what I was.   Before I traveled to my sisters Abby, I fed my blood to both my lover and my assistant to aid me in my long journey.  The light should not be so frightening.  I began to snatch a glimpse of the morning sky.  The first attempt I hid deep under a balcony on the west side of my apartment.  Even as I began to smoke I willed my self to stay to see a hint of blue in the sky.  I thought I would be blind, but my sight did return, and with it the need for more blood.  We fled the next night. 

I continue to sin, and have punished myself, whipping my flesh, but this increased my need for the blood of innocence’s.   So I attempted to fast, an utter failure.  I resisted for days but the hunger grew so strong I could not contain the devil in me.  I do not remember the murder, or murders I committed when I was overcome.  I regained my mind covered in their blood.  I punished myself brutally that sad night.   Begging the father for forgiveness I knew would never come, and again I went out a dawn to be consumed by the father’s wrath.  The fear that overcame me was too intense to resist.  I ran from the sun again a coward.

In Fossacesia I planned to present myself to my sister as proof of God’s existence.  She promptly rejected, and cursed me.  Again we fled, this time with a mob set on us.   Elia, my assistant was gravely wounded in the violence.  I knew the power in my blood so I attempted to save him with Caine’s curse as my sire had embraced me.  I failed and Elia died, my blood on his lips.  It was then I decided since I had been unable to burn myself in Gods light I would have to find a mentor to replace my sire.

My lover Assunta and I traveled to Bologna where with the help of my school day allies, The Order, I had a strong coach built so we could travel during the day.  I also hired a young man, Orfeo, as a pilot.  I fed him my blood on our way to Venice.  I sought the Cainite prince there, Guilelmo Aliprando, to present myself and to plead for a tutor.   It was in Venice Lord Giovanni’s Ghoul, Lothar, first struck.  I did not know what a powerful enemy I had made, for Lothar and his mercenaries have been ruthless.  I also didn’t realize that Augustus Giovanni had made his home in Venice.  It was entirely the wrong place to go and the Prince expelled us from Venice in any case.  Next we went to Milan to speak with Prince  After I introduced myself and pleaded my case, the Prince told me he could not help as emissaries had approached him from Augustus Giovanni recently.  We left court heart broken and afraid.  We were sent into the wild again with no aid or benefactor.  That evening however I was approached by a graduate of my alma mater and a member of the order.  Eliodoro, an ironic name for one of the dammed, a Lasombra, spent the night with me explaining a great many things and pointed me to France where a Toreador Salianna, Matriarch of the Courts of Love, resides.  Eliodoro would send introductions to France ahead, and accompany us short while as he was headed to Turin.  While on this short journey I learned as much as possible from Eliodoro.

In Turin we found refuge for a few days but were attacked again by the Ghoul, Lothar.  Lothar died in the assault, or so I thought.  At the Prince’s court, Eliodoro found a Cappadocian Rosalva, another ironic name, who was on route to France.  After introductions we agreed to travel together in my coach.  In exchange Rosalva would tutor me on the journey.  I felt a need to better understand the enemy I had in Giovanni and this was the closest I could come to them.  She witnessed my self-flagellation, attempts at stealing a glimpse of early blue sky on several occasions, drank from my Assunta repeatedly, and taught me how to strengthen myself against harm.  At one point, Assunta accidentally drank Assunta dry.  I tried to mourn her, but was unable.  Perhaps this curse of Caine was stealing my humanity as it had my soul.  Rosalva was on her way to Perpignan to study at an abbey.  Days turned into a month and soon I was as engrossed in research as Rosalva, and we found ourselves on the way to Anatolia in search of information on Golconda.  While my faith is even greater because of this curse, I still see it as a curse and something I must atone for or overcome in some way.  Rumors of Golconda may be that way.  I also have found myself even more interested in the remaining fragments of Caine’s Book of Nod and sought additional pieces of that ancient text.

We spent months on the journey arguing, debating, fighting and learning from each other.  When we arrived I, a mere neonate, was denied entry into the sacred temples.  If one could only fly to Bordeaux, the journey back to France was heart breaking.  I practiced what Eliodoro and Rosalva had taught me, killed Lothar again, filled my time writing hymns many for our holy father, but more often for Caine, and then killed the ghoul once more.  Persistent bastard…I long for such loyalty. 

Arriving in Bordeaux I found home amongst my own clan, found a true mentor (Alphonese des Rosier, a powerful Toredor) who encouraged me to join the Knight’s Hospitaler, and found my purpose…Golconda.

Working within the French circle, I came to be well known and well respected for my Faith and revitalized spirit.  Once news reached France that Michael had surfaces once again and that he was in the company of past friends of mine.  I was asked to return to my friends and find out what I could discover of Michael’s purpose and intent.  Michael was never pleased with the French Toreador claiming they were deceived by their vice and disillusioned lacking a vision of the Dream.  You had also heard that Michael had information about Golconda which was a personal interest of mine.  The Giovanni continue to be a problem, my sire continues to be a problem.  And, while I have made my presence in France, I still do not have the support of like type individuals.  I am still seen as sired out of necessity not desire which has kept me an outcast.  I am despised by my sire which limits my ability to gain influence and status.  My beliefs drive me, not my passion for the arts.  I see them as one and the same, but others do not.  I needed a change and therefore agreed to attend to this task.

Monday, December 5, 2011

H:tV Character Background: Dr Hoyle Ambercrombie


Dr. Hoyle Ambercrombie

Professor of Anthropology, Ancient Mythology & Cryptozoology (unofficially)
Author of some of the more important works in the occult world such;
“Were -Wolves of the Black Forrest: Real life Apex Predator or Hairy Inbred Woodsmen?”

“Sasquatch: North American Yeti or Hairy Canadian?”
“Mer-Folk of the South Pacific: Aquatic Mystery of the Deep or Just Really Ugly Sharks?”
“Bangladesh Horror” (The story of the encounter with a were – tiger, the only book that actually sells... most people just think its a fictional novel)

My father, Mortimer Ambercrombie was a military man. He was a certified Flying Ace in His Majesty's Royal Flying Corps. He flew his plane in the First big war, and was a proud patriot the rest of his days. My mum, Emma Ambercrombie stayed at home, and made an occasional quid or two teaching piano from our home. She and my dad led a very quite life in their older years until the Lord called them both into his kingdom, as he is one to do.

Of course the life of my Flying Ace father is an exciting one at points you, the reader, clearly is more interested in knowing more about me. I began life on the winter evening of January 21st 1910. As a child I took to more scholarly pursuits rather that the arts or athletics as my mum and father would have liked. My natural aptitude for history, science, math, and just about every other subject they offered at the boring and dry primary schools I was sent to as a youth.

I finished school at the age 13 and promptly entered the prestigious Oxford University. There I spent most of my time attending lecture, and in the wondrous library reading all that I could. I finished my first book ( Sasquatch: North American Yeti or Hairy Canadian?) by the time I was 17. I graduated with doctorates in Ancient History, Anthropology, and Medieval Studies all by the time I was 22, became an associate Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge University by the age of 24, and saw on my way to be a tenured professor, but then, when I was 29......All hell broke loose.

The Second Great War broke out through Europe the same year my father passed. In
honor to him I decided to sign up even though I by this time I was almost 30 years old, an author, a doctor, and college professor. I was stationed in the far off land of India in the city of Kempur. There was not a lot to do there, but I just went where they sent me. Whilst there I began to teach the local children how to speak and read English, and taught them the history of their Mother Country. I made friends with many of the locals including a young Nepalese boy named Raju, but his story is to be told another time...

One night while doing my routine watch I heard a loud scream from a small house off in the distance. As I ran to investigate I found a man being brutally attacked by the biggest Bengal Tiger I have ever seen. I took a shot at the tiger and for the first time in my whole military career I actually hit my target. The bullet struck his stomach, and the tiger ran off into the night. Myself and four other soldiers followed the trail of blood until it ended at the body of a freshly dead young Bangladeshi man. The man apparently died from a gaping gun shot wound to his stomach..

The soldiers and I moved the body back into our camp where our CO quickly took the body. He was accompanied by two men in black suits, they all went into the officer's tent and that was the last time I saw, or even heard of the Bangladeshi man ever again.

Was the man a lycanthrope of legend? I am still looking for the answers to that question.


I found this looking for pictures of Christopher Hewett the dude who played Mr. Belvedere, and it's funny.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Scary ...

This freaks me out, but I love it.


I've been reading V:tR to punish the pc's in our Hunter game.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

H:tV Bowen's journal Wednesday, September 12, 1956

I’m walking through this world all alone. It feels like God has taken my soul, and I’m left on my own. Yesterday, I saw a crow flying a straight, perfect line, which is exactly how my life is now: a perfect line that points from a start to a definite, deliberate end. Instead of freedom, like that dark bird, it’s a shotgun blast to the chest, a family of .45 slugs in the gut, a switchblade to the temple, and I’ll end up with the skin cut from my face and my eyes scooped out for some dark ritual. I’m on the Devil’s back until I die.

But I’m not dead.

Not yet.

I keep telling myself that, and as of today, things are starting to look good. Days of running around, making connections, negotiating terms, selling my soul for a crate of cigarettes and a case of mediocre Vodka, and what did it amount to? Piddling success that barely paid for itself.

But it did pay for itself.

I turned the faucet and instead of dust and rust, I got a couple of drips of clean water. I don’t know if these drips of cash are going to make my cup run over, but maybe enough to drink. Maybe enough to keep me from dying of thirst.

And what’s it for? Why am I doing all this?

Damned if I know.

There’s some scary stuff out there, and it seems to just get scarier.

Like those bums we managed to fight off. There was some kind of bad voodoo going on there. There was an immediate change in the guy we took to Pip’s, and suddenly he was apologetic, remembering everything that he’d done, but unable to reason out why he’d done it. The guy was just a run-of-the-mill bum, more interested in scoring another drink than trying to kill people. He ended up being reasonably helpful, pointing us at another guy known as the Ragman. Guess what that guy looks like?

Both the Doc and Pips were pretty much the worse for wear. Pips was adamant that he stay in his apartment, and that he could talk his way around the police who were certainly going to respond to the violence in the alley area, the two dead bums, and the gunshot just fired into his favorite right leg by yours truly. Malarky wanted to go with us, so we shouldered the Doc and got out of there.

The choices you have to make in this world sometimes suck cold rocks. The Doc was in pain, and I needed to make my connection for the cigarettes. Missing that would be messing up an opportunity that was held together with coat hangers and chewing gum. I ended up having to give the Doc one of my Vicodin, which meant I was, once again, on my last tab. It drives me mad at night, when I have the shakes, thinking about how much of that stuff I gave out to “friends” and “friends of friends” like candy on Halloween. All those shared tabs now seem like a wasted lifetime supply.

The dealings don’t really matter. Suffice to say that once I was making the deal for the cigarettes, the Vicodin I gave to the Doc really paid off. We had no currency, we had no resources, we had nothing to barter with. Then the Doc came through with the idea of selling a “safe house” night using Pip’s apartment. I’m sure the Frenchie will be angry as only a Frenchie can, and it may be that this dog will come back to bite us on our collective ass, but the currency worked, the deal was struck, and we were in business.

Now I had some breathing room. Not much, mind you, and I never realized just how unglamorous and stressful the life of a criminal is, even as petty as me. It’s not like “The Asphalt Jungle” or “Rififi”. Nothing is meticulously planned, and I’m certainly no Sam Jaffe. I’m not even a Sterling Hayden. I sweat bullets, I sweat, my knees shake and my heart beats a rhythm so loud in my chest that I’m certain everyone hears it. And that’s WITH a hit of Vicodin. Maybe it gets easier with time.



We picked up the case of cigarettes and then made our way to Checkpoint Delta where O’Hara was waiting for us. We’d been flagged on some kind of watch-list, and if we hadn’t made the connection with O’Hara, we’d have been done for. She didn’t ask too many questions, and we briefed her with just enough information. Everything went well, we crossed into the Russian sector of Berlin, and we had five hours.

By this point, the Doc was starting to groan again, and he’s far too valuable, as a friend first and an asset second. The guy keeps a roof over my head, and keeps me out of some trouble. I watch his back as much as I can, and I repay him when the opportunity presents itself. I was able to track down an underground vet who managed to do some good work on the Doc and provide us with a pad for the rest of us, Malarky, O’Hara and I, to crash for a few hours. Doc looked a lot better when the sun was up and Malarky and I made our way to my Russian tobacconist, and finally closed that end of the deal.

The four of us headed back through the American checkpoint, with O’Hara again flashing her credentials and getting us through without much concern. We’ll have to be careful moving forward, as the whole group going back and forth with her will quickly make us all targets. I might have to start thinking about a legitimate business cover. Or maybe I can hire someone to move the cigarettes and the Vodka.

Maybe it never gets easier.

After that, Malarky wanted to go check out the well-dressed man’s place: Something Heinrichs. I should really start carrying a pad and pencil for the other side of these investigations. It’s one thing to write down my Vicodin, cigarette or Vodka connection. Entirely something else to have names and dates and information for what could easily be played off as research for another of Doc’s books.

Heinrichs is old money. Very old money. There wasn’t too much to be gleaned from watching his estate, and no way to fast-talk our way into the place. Doc and O’Hara figured out there was a country club that Heinrichs was likely to be a member, and the Doc’s real world persona got them in the door. Those two were smooth as a hot knife through warm butter. Schmoozed and pressed hands with some of Berlin’s high society crowd which let us in on the Society of Philosophers. Heinrichs is their leader, and while most of the members consider it an elite social club for elites, apparently Heinrichs considers it something more. He’s directly connected with the murders. I can see the blood on his rich hands right now.

But for what reason?

Our next lead was to try to track down Ragman. This turned out to be easier than I had ever thought. We tracked him to a specific area, and then the Frenchie and Malarky wandered off to try to find him. I stayed with O’Hara and the Doc in O’Hara’s jeep, smoking and admiring certain scenery. About twenty minutes later they brought him back. He smelled like a frat house toilet after a series of weekend benders and no maid service. The Doc asked him a bunch of questions and then got more excited than I’ve seen the old boy get in, well, probably ever. He started pulling out wads of cash I didn’t even know he had, and giving them to this dirty, smelly, poorly dressed, raggedy Ragman. There was some discussion of “shape-shifting”, you know like from that Lon Chaney flick, “The Wolfman”. Only instead of being a wolf, Ragman turns into a dog. And instead of being bit by another “shape-shifting” dog, Ragman uses magic to complete his transformation.

I swear to you, I’m not making any of this up. The Doc was practically bouncing on his feet and wiping his mouth. But goddamn him, he wanted proof. He wanted to see this charlatan do exactly as he claimed. He wanted to see the goddamn magic right before his goddamn eyes. Of course, Ragman wouldn’t do it out in the open. Whatever his trick, he wasn’t going to reveal it for everyone to see. The Doc waved me over with him, and had me cover Ragman with my guns, and I did, right up until this smelly, dirty, nasty bum did exactly what he said he would do.

And it was no trick.

I swear.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. I was there, with my guns aimed at his scrawny, dirty ass, and then watched him literally transform, and not with the ease and swiftness of Lon Chaney, but in a visceral, wet, grotesque manner of bone, sinew and muscle reshaping themselves from a human into a canine. I didn’t know whether to be scared or sick or both. I also couldn’t say if I would have been able to shoot him if he’d gone after Doc. Or maybe I’m lucky I didn’t accidentally shoot him right then. I’d never, ever seen anything like this.

I can’t say I was unhappy when he changed back, and he and Doc discussed some more about shape-shifting (which I won’t put in quotes again) and magic and the murders we’d been investigating. My hands shook when I tried to holster my guns, and I knew it wasn’t from lack of Vicodin, but I popped another one anyhow. I don’t actually remember when I’d met with Der Falcon, my current source, but I had a day or two worth if I was careful.

This wasn’t a time to be careful with the drugs.

Ragman agreed to look over the most recent murder scene, the one we’d been at just the previous morning. The ride was a complete blur, and I’m glad we didn’t run into any trouble anywhere. I was completely useless, still trying to resolve what I knew of the world with what I’d just seen. If magic worked then what else was real? Are werewolves roaming around with gypsies? Are mummies cursing Egypt? Are there vampires dining in Romania?

What about all those Lovecraft stories I’d read as a kid? What about Asquith’s ghosts? What about the “entities” of Blackwood? Were those just stories, or did they know something? Did they see it for themselves?

Jesus Christ it’s enough to make me want to get religion in a big way.

Either I pulled myself together or the Vicodin kicked in. In either case, I found the super at the apartment complex, and because O’Hara was with us as an MP, he had no problems letting us back onto the murder scene. And goddamn if Ragman didn’t immediately do his dog-changing trick again. I wasn’t ready for it, and nobody saw me jump and move back, but I did. I don’t know how they can all be so calm about this supernatural shit.

When Ragman turned human again (seriously, I just wrote that) he told us that there was some bad magic being used here. He didn’t know what, but it wasn’t what he did. I don’t mind telling you that Ragman is a little nuts (and we’re even nuttier than a fruitcake for being around him). But the pieces are starting to come together and it all points to something altogether . . . evil.

Not like the two-dimensional Ming the Merciless, evil for the sake of the plot. Evil for the sake of giving Buck Rogers someone to fight. No, this is evil for . . . power, I guess. The sacrifice of innocent people for its attainment.

Their deaths for power over others.

Snuffing out candles to make the world darker. To make the world a place for dark things.