It is an early summer afternoon a couple of days after the Consilium meeting, and Sinon is sitting in a downtown Starbucks, awaiting the arrival of Jones, who abruptly texted him for a meeting.
Sinon appears roughly 10 years older than his normal self, with slightly graying hair and going sans tie. He is also attempting to look a bit more bookish, wearing a pair of reading glasses and carrying the day’s Vancouver Sun.
The place is bustling, but in that kind of anonymous Starbucksy way. Nobody seems to stay for more than five or ten minutes so Sinon is reasonably confident that nobody is watching him, at least not from within the shop. Eventually Jones comes in the front door, awkwardly ordering a “CoffEE. JUST a coffEE” before sitting across from you. “SINon.”
Sinon ignores her for a second, pretending to be incredibly interested in an article about zoning law changes. He looks up. “Jones.”
“What DO you know aBOUT the VANcouver Free CounCIL?”
“Not much. Apparently there is some involvement with a local television program? I heard they call the program Nightfall. Morley and the others back in DC would be rolling in their proverbial graves if they knew.”
Jones nods. “It is puerILE trash. But its ACTress has JUICE, as they SAY. She is…diffICULT to TOUCH. FOR now.” She slides an invitation across the table to Sinon, a busy-looking thing printed on heavy cardstock. = VIPS ONLY! TONIGHT AT ANKH! DJ TLON UQBAR SPINS THE HOTTEST DROPS ON THE WEST COAST! ONE NIGHT ONLY =
“What do YOU think of DUBstep?”
Sinon grabs the invitation and looks at it for a second with a mix of amusement and annoyance. “How understated of them.”
“Dub-step? Whatever it is, I assume that I love it… or know someone who does?”
“My little BROther says it’s PREty SICK. WHATever that MEANS.” There’s the slightest twinge of a smile. “And you GUESS corRECTly.”
She produces a dossier.
Sinon reaches out. “May I?”
She hands it to Sinon. He looks over a series of photographs of a young man, probably mid-twenties, somewhat under-fed looking. It looks like most of his body weight is in his impressively gelled hair. Name: Jordan Rhodes. 5’10", 145lbs, Berkeley graduate, music major, est. net worth $75 million.
Sinon laughs quietly at the net worth bit. “It always amazes me how much easier artistic ‘integrity’ is when you have a trust fund. So. What exactly are looking for where Mr. Rhodes is concerned?”
“His FAMily are PROXimi although they have never MANifested any MAGical talent themSELVES. They OWE their FORtune to their connECTions in our WORLD. Young JORdan was invited to this PARty but we INTercepted the notice. Someone wants his FAMily’s backing for SOMEthing.”
“I see. I assume you would like it if Mr. Rhodes… were not exactly himself for this meeting?”
“Just SO. The guest LIST is somewhat exCLUsive so we’re not in a poSITion to get our usual assets IN place.”
“Who in the COUNcil needs monEY and doesn’t want to GO through the usual CHANnels?”
“Someone with an off book project? Interesting.”
“Yes. Don’t TAKE any unNECESSary RISKS, though. Once we have a NAME we can take THE rest from THERE.”
“Understood.” Sinon nods. He hands the dossier back.
She gives you a number. “Call LeFORS if there are PROBlems. You can TRUST him to be…disCREET.”
“It’s nice to know that someone here is. By the way, I trust you will let your boss know that the little show at the last meeting was not intended as an insult. I have some plans to leverage the results for our own ends assuming the mystagogues don’t disrupt them.”
She nods slightly. “We…susPECTed as much. But he will…I think…be pleased TO hear it.”
Sinon stands and gives Jones a single nod. “Well. I had best prepare for my star-studded debut.”
We se a montage: Sinon researching Jordan Rhodes on the internet. A ritual casting involving computers, strange injections and a mask.
(Sinon casts Incognito Exchange to copy as many of Jordan’s features as he can. He also casts Gain Skill to pick up performance for a scene. He also places a mental shield on himself.)
The Ankh is located in Surrey, east of downtown. It’s an old building that’s been recently renovated as part of a gentrification drive – the street has a lot of fair trade coffee places, martini bars, and so forth. Parking is almost nonexistent, though, and Sinon ends up having to park a block and a half away and walk.
The invite said the party started at 8, and it’s now about 8:20. Fashionably late.
Ankh is on the second floor, up a narrow flight of those really uncomfortably tall old-timey steps.
‘Rhodes’ strides up the stairs—moving past anyone who might be waiting in line—and heads toward the door.
There are a few scowls but Canadian politeness holds true. The bouncer, a beefy blonde guy in jeans and a black tank top, takes one look at the invitation and his eyebrows go up. “VIP section is directly to your right, sir. A waitress will be by with bottle service shortly. Enjoy your stay at Ankh.”
He heads over toward the VIP area and sits himself down at the table with the best view.
As soon as he opens the door, the volume goes way, way up. A high-pitched, completely incomprehensible vocal line wavers reedily over gut-thumping bass. A crowd of thirty or forty people are pumping arms on the dance floor, and waitresses in gold-trimmed white dresses vaguely suggestive of Egyptian garb walk past.
The VIP area is soundproofed and comfortably-furnished, with a round window giving you an overview of the entire main floor.
A waitress brings the disguised Guardian a bright, atomic-dayglo-orange cocktail. “Here you are, sir! I was told to tell you that your host will be joining you shortly.”
There’s something written on the napkin.
“Thanks gorgeous.” He takes the drink and pretends to sip at it. He reads the napkin
TAKE THE PHONE FROM UNDER THE TABLE.
It’s signed with a little heart.
Sinon sits down and reaches under the table.
It’s a disposable twenty-dollar burner phone, the kind they used to give out for free in 2005. After a few moments, it vibrates.
He brings the phone up to his ear: “Yo. Jordan here.” he places just enough confusion in his voice to convey that this is not usual for Rhodes."
The voice on the other end is husky and feminine. “Hey, you.” It sounds like someone who knows him. “Sorry for the rigmarole, hon. You know how the Guardians back home are? Well, ours are, like, ten times worse.”
“Really? They’re so bad we gotta act like we’re on the Wire or something? Man…” he trails off.
“Yeah, it’s kinda a buzzkill. Hold on a sec…” there’s a pause. “Okay, it doesn’t look like you were followed…and the VIP room is warded against normal scrying. I’m coming up. Sit tight.”
An employee door opens, and a young woman in a slim black dress steps out. You recognize her – it’s the star of Nightfall. “Valentina.”
She smiles, somwhat dazzlingly, and steps over, arms out for a hug. “Jordan, it’s good to see you again…”
‘Rhodes’ hugs her. “Yeah, it’s good to see you too. Been too long.”
She sits down and flags a waitress. “Brandy, please.” The waitress looks confused. “Cristal? Fine, we’ll have that.” The waitress heads off. “Jordan…your family have always been allies of our little community…but, gosh, this is embarrassing, I’m tongue-tied! I need to ask a favor. A big one.”
‘Rhodes’ nods as he sips at his drink. “I figured it’d have to be big with all of this cloak-and-dagger stuff. But hey, you’ve been friends to us too so… what do you need?”
“We need money. I guess that part is pretty obvious. But the reason we need it…Jordan, something’s wrong with the Consilium here. It’s going rotten. Or it’s been that way for a long time and we’re just starting to notice. We’re considering…an alternative.”
“An alternative? You’re not going all anarcho-syndicatalist-commune on me, are you? I mean, just how bad is it here?”
She smiles. “Well, you were at Berkeley. You had to have read your Kropotkin. The caucus has felt for a long time that the Consilium doesn’t have young mages’ interests at heart…newcomers are left to sink or swim, the Guardians have some kind of hold on the Hierarch and the Arrow councilor is out to lunch….”
“But it’s not JUST that. There’s something else going on. The sensitive ones are beginning to feel it. Weird dreams. Omens. But more tangibly, some odd discrepancies. Donatella, the Sentinel, and her cabal – Leonardo and the others – they tangled with a Seer Pylon a few months ago. They captured a Profane Urim!”
“But the Urim never made it to the Athenaeum. The mystagogues never got it. Someone disappeared it and there’s been no investigation, no inquiry, no nothing.”
“Donatella was told in private that she must have made a misidentification ‘in the chaos of battle.’ "
“Ho-ly shit.” ‘Rhodes’ shakes his head in a can’t-quite-believe-it kind of way. “You’re telling me she handed this thing over and it just poof” He makes a motion with his hands to show something disappearing as if in a puff of smoke.
She nods. “Exactly. And the only people who had anything to do with it after it was found were Arrow…and Guardians.”
“And these are the guys who’re supposed to be protecting us.”
Sinon sizes her up—she is telling the truth as far as she sees it.
She continues. “Janis thinks it’s something to do with Sacerdote, the Guardian councilor. There’ve been rumors about that guy for years. Weird ones.”
“What kind of rumors?”
She leans in. “The way I hear it, he and the Hierarch used to be in a cabal together. This is like, way back in the day, when they were both novices. Something happened. Nobody’s really sure what. But most of their cabal died. But everyone who knew Sacerdote before say he was different afterwards. Kind of obsessed.”
He raises his hands as though that might ward off the badness of the situation being described. “Okay, okay, okay. So… I’m not saying I can definitely help, but… if I did, how much are we talking and what sort of alternative are you looking at?”
“We want to be able to operate without tugging on the Consilium’s purse-strings for everything. I mean, I have a bit of money, but not enough to fund the Council entirely. We’re not talking a coup or anything. Just…moving out from mom’s basement, you know?”
“Uh-huh. And how do you think old-mister-haunted-by-his-mysterious-past-his-hierarch-best-bud are going to handle you guys moving out? ’Cos they sound like real helicopter moms, with you know, decades of arcane experience.”
“Oh, they’re not going to be happy. But if our milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and their council meetings start looking deader than bingo night at the Super 8, they might start having second thoughts. Or first ones, even.”
He brings his hands up to rub his temples for a second before bring forward to gesture with each word. “Alright, alright, alright. Look, I’ll see what I can do. I can’t promise the world or anything, but if things are as bad as you’ve been saying… but I kind of need a teensy favor myself.”
She nods. “Shoot.”
“Thanks. And, hey, I’ll look into just how much support I can swing. I mean, I know I’m made of money, but not like Bill Gates money.” He shakes his head for a second. “Plus, we’ll need to be careful with how the funds move around. Don’t want to get Spitzer-ed if the Feds end up looking or… well, worse if the Guardians catch wind of things.”
“No, you’re completely right. We may know some people who…” Her phone beeps. She looks at it and frowns. “Shit. Speak of the devil…” She turns it around. You see a familiar face in dark glasses, apparently caught by an exterior surveillance camera. “That’s him skulking around. Lefors. He’s the one we think took the Profane Urim.”
She’s standing up, motioning Jordan to his feet. “Nobody’s opened a scrying window or anything…he probably just here keeping an eye on a libertine caucus. With luck he didn’t see you come in.” She calls two people over – a trim, muscular woman in black leather pants, a tank top and spiky blue hair, and a taller black man in jeans and a leather coat.
‘Jordan’ bites his lip for a second. “Yeah, hopefully not. Still, it might be for the best if I got outta Dodge.”
“Leonardo. Donatella. Mr. Rhodes here needs a discreet exit. Assume the building’s being watched.” They nod, and she turns to you. “I know this is all very sudden – take some time. You can get in touch with me by the usual channels.” She flashes a bright, dazzling smile, then waves the proximi and his handlers off.
The faux-Californian sizes up the two new arrivals. “So Leonardo and Donatella, right? Are there a Raphael or Michaelangelo around here too?”
They lead him backstage, through a door labeled STAFF ONLY. The tall man nods and speaks in a soft, deep voice. “Yeah. They’re back at the Sanctum, though.” The staff area of the club is unadorned and businesslike, with tarpaulins serving as makeshift dividers and sawdust on the floor. “You’re joking, but names have mystical significance…”
Leonardo begins tracing symbols in the sawdust with the toe of his boot, staring intently. Donatella looks at you and smiles. “Don’t worry! Leo’s just drawing a quick circle for a teleportation spell. Where did you book your hotel?”
“Downtown Hyatt.” Sinon examines the two mages, then the symbols—trying to make sure that this is on the up-and-up.
Donatella is bustling around looking for something, and Leonardo is staring intently at the circle, so it’s hard to get a read on them, but the circle seems legitimate enough. After a second, she makes a triumphant noise. “A-ha!” And returns bearing a black 3-ring binder.
She pulls something out and hands it to Leonardo. He shows it to Sinon – it’s a coaster with the Hyatt logo on it. “She collects these. For the sympathy, you see.”
Jordan nods. “That makes this stuff easier, right?”
“Just so. You will appear inside a maintenance closet directly behind the hotel bar. It might be dark, but if you feel around about yay high” – he gestures – “there is a set of switches. Use the left one only, the right one turns on a particularly noisy fan.” He winces with some memory. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.” Jordan shrugs while looking a bit uncomfortable at the prospect of being teleported.
Leonardo intones a few syllables in the High Speech and without any sensation at all – no whoosh or transition – the Guardian is in the maintenance closet previously described. The light is on and it smells very much like Clorox in here. Your foot brushes a stack of wet rags. From the other side of the closet door Sinon can hear the tinkling of glasses and a hint of music, then a sudden SWOOSH as a large industrial dishwasher is switched on. This definitely seems like backstage at the Hilton bar.
Sinon opens the door and steps out, trying to think of a reason for having been in the closet…
The door opens onto a corridor that runs through the various backstage parts of the hotel – there’s a grotty-looking employee elevator across from Sinon, a few unused drinks trolleys taking up space in the hall, and kitchen noises coming from a pair of swinging doors to the left. A second pair of doors with a big crash bar seems to lead to the public areas.
A waiter hustles out of the kitchen with a tray and sees Sinon. “Excuse me, sir? The bathrooms are back out here…”
“Oh, thanks. First time at the Hyatt.” ‘Jordan’ follows the directions the waiter gives him and heads for the restroom. Once there he goes in to wash his face. When his hands move away Sinon’s normal face returns.
There’s a beep over the hotel intercom. “Page for Mr. Jordan Rhodes. Mr. Jordan Rhodes, at the front desk.”
Sinon heads over that way…
The hotel lobby is sleek, ultramodern, and minimalist. The front desk is a solid black slab of what might be marble. The desk clerk is speaking to a pair of men in dark suits. Sinon does not recognize them. One is listening intently to the clerk, the other is turning slow circles in place and looking up and down at every corner and exit.
Sinon pulls a pair of glasses out of his pocket and dons his ‘eyes’.
Their mental aura is colored with the dark blue of suspicion and sparkles with flecks of golden light. Mages. Also, the clerk’s aura is a bit dimmer than is normal for a Sleeper. He may be under some kind of mental enchantment.
(Sinon casts Incognito Presence in order to better blend in.)
The second mage, the one checking the perimeter, passes his gaze over Sinon and doesn’t seem to react at all.
Sinon thinks these guys probably didn’t take many precautions, expecting a Sleepwalker as they were.
Sinon sits down in the lobby picking up a paper, pretending to read. He takes a moment to size the two mages up.
His read of them is that they intend some kind of mischief. The one who was dealing with the clerk is twitchy and sweaty, clearly frustrated that nobody seems to know where the diffident Sleepwalking punk is yet. A couple of times he exchanges terse words with the second, who nods but says little and continues slowly watching the comings and goings.
Once or twice, the two of them gaze out the front windows and following their sightline shows Sinon a long dark car idling on the circle drive.
And something about them does scream Seer. It might be the clearly tailored suits or the heavy gold rings that both seem to sport on their pinkies.
There’s another clerk at the far end of the desk (about thirty feet), female, and seated, who seems to be occupied entering something on a computer.
Sinon checks his watch. He smirks for a second and stands. He folds the newspaper under his left arm, puts his hands in his pockets and heads to the free clerk. “Uh, excuse me ma’am?”
She looks up – she’s an Asian, wide-faced, maybe twenty-five or so. “Yes, sir?”
“Hi. I’m staying in 410. I was wondering if you could call a cab for me?” He pushes the glasses back up to the bridge of his nose with his right hand.
“Of course, sir.” She picks up the phone next to her and speaks a few phrases into it. “It will be outside in just a moment. You can wait in here until it arrives if you like; I’ll make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Sinon takes the opportunity to get a closer look at the two Seers, as well.
Both are caucasian men. One is tall, middle-aged and somewhat dyspeptic-looking despite the quality of his clothing. He keeps touching a handkerchief to his sweaty forehead. The other is shorter and is either bald or has a shaved head; he has kind of sticky-out ears and a completely placid, serene expression.
(the first one is Richard Jenkins, the other is Steve Buscemi)
SInon doesn’t recognize them from any briefings or previous encounters, but having studied them he can rattle off their salient features later if required
Sinon responds to the clerk: “Thanks, I think I’ll wait outside—I love the summer nights out here.”
She smiles. “Wonderful idea, sir. Enjoy.”
He heads out the front door.
The seer’s vehicle a couple cars ahead of Sinon’s taxi in the circle drive. There’s the cab, then an SUV with a harried-looking father trying to get his brood to help him unload their luggage, then a sports car with a bored-looking woman filing her nails, and then their Lincoln Town Car.*
The Lincoln is idling and you can see the silhouette of a man in a sky cap in the front.
Sinon internally debates whether or not to cast a gremlins rote on the Seer sedan, but decides against it. He opens the door to to his cab and says “Burnaby.” As he passes by he does make an attempt to ID the Lincoln’s driver, or at least his general features.
His face is an impassive, blandly handsome mask, and he has almost no discernable aura. Not Awakened, not anything. There are dogs and cats with more going on.
“A Husk.” Sinon thinks to himself as he passes by.
Sinon has heard rumors about “hollow ones” or “vessels” – programmable shells of meat that Seers use to take care of mundane tasks for them. They’re conditioned to perfectly accept Urim control, but in the interim can perform fairly simple tasks (like driving) with almost no conscious thought. Their origins are disputed; some say they’re made, others grown.
Sinon arrives at his car twenty-five minutes later without any problems, leaving two presumably increasingly frustrated Seers behind him.
Once he arrives he texts Jones a series of seemingly random letters, that translate into: “It’s done. Possible complications.”
There’s a pause, then a text that indicates acknowledgment.
In code: “The competition were sighted.”
In code, “What were they interested in? Were you seen?”
In code, back: “They wanted the proximus. I was not detected.”
A pause. “Good. No action for now, but this will be worth following up on. Begin thinking of ways to bait competition. Just in case.”