05: Umbra Graeciae ('Shadow of Greece')

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): June 21-23, 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris)

What It Was

Out at the Renaissance site, Mark sees an employee of Demetrius Katsoulakis sliced to death by invisible knives. Later that night, Katsoulakis invites Mark, George and Ken to his apartment, where he tells them an old enemy, a Greek sorceress named Rhea Dimopoulos, "the bitch of Colchis", has come to America to kill him. Dimopoulos has summoned three keres, ancient Greek spirits of death, to help her. Katsoulakis captured one of them in the Kempelen Speaking Machine, but the other two are loose in New York City. After a visit with classics scholar, Daria Zannakis, the three men manage to capture one of the keres in the Weill Cornell Medical Center. But Dimopoulos saves the last one for her direct attack on the Katsoulakis residence.

The Full Horror

It's Friday afternoon, and as usual, Mark is at the Renaissance site:

"Right now you're in CentCom, your mission-control room. Actually Jonathan said it used to be the coat-room, but like everything else in this place, the space is enormous. Plenty of room for a large tactical map of Harlem hanging on the wall; a massive table with its three-dimensional, Heroclix-scale layout of the Renaissance site; and a cross-referenced, state-of-the-art scheduling matrix hanging by the open door. And, of course, there's the rather alarming arsenal hidden in the wallspace right behind an innocent-looking kitchenette. The NYPD would freak if they saw even half of the weaponry you have stashed inside CentCom, but goddamn it, the Renaissance is secure like a mother fuck."

At 2:30pm, Aristos Volakis, an employee of Demetrius Katsoulakis, arrives to invite Mark to a private meeting of the Aces at the Katsoulakis residence that evening. "He apologizes for the short notice, but wants to assure you the matter is urgent."

Volakis heads out the door and a second later, Mark hears a thump from above, and then a crash outside. He runs out to find Volakis on the ground holding his arm. The man must have walked under a dangerous spot, and a box of industrial staples fell from the second floor and slashed his arm.

Mark starts to give the man first aid, and it looks like he's going to be fine, but then he suddenly goes stiff. Volakis' eyes open wide, his jaw clenches, and he starts to shake. A five-pointed circle of red dots (blood) appears on his chest. The man gags and begins coughing up blood, even as blood begins to pour from his head, chest and groin. Mark tears open Volakis' shirt, but before he can do anything, the man's chest is ripped open, and his heart cut to shreds as if by invisible knives.

Katsoulakis Besieged

That night, the three men arrive at Katsoulakis' residence and find it besieged by dozens of crows, cawing loudly. A haggard Niko greets them at the door, and when they see Alexandra in the hallway, she looks exhausted and scared. Katsoulakis, however, is furious and defiant. He greets the three warmly and gets right to the point: an old nemesis has sought him out and is trying to kill him. He shows them a note in Greek which George translates:

"May 1, 2002: The sixth year ends. You will not see the seventh. Expect the bitch of Colchis this month, and your death the next."

Katsoulakis explains that Sunday, June 23 will be the sixth anniversary of the death of Andreas Papandreou, Greece's premier in the 1980s, and an old friend. As he says this, the crows get louder, and Katsoulakis strides over to the window and bangs on the glass, roaring:

"The crows, they would foretell my death. We old Greeks, we say to the birds: "Go on your way, and bring me good news." But I don't.I say to them: "Go. Warn the bastards who sent you, for they will see Tartaros before I do. They were sent to torment me. Sent by Rhea Dimopoulos. To me, the best fuck she ever had. And now she comes here to slay me. That woman, she has the honor of a hyena! Come with me, gentlemen, and you'll see what we're up against."

Katsoulakis takes them down a spiral stairway to the sub-basement where he keeps his collection of the occult, one of the finest in North America. In the middle of the room, resting on a stand, is the Kempelen Speaking Machine that George and Jonathan secured for Katsoulakis nearly three years ago.

"It was the Kempelen Machine that first warned me. I knew for some time that there was something amiss with it, but my investigations came to nothing. And then, last February, a breakthrough. Last month, spirits began to manifest through it. But one week ago, a much stronger spirit displaced the rest."

Katsoulakis has the men stand back and then walks over and places his hand on the metal cylinder. Suddenly a horrific, inhuman voice bursts from the machine. Katsoulakis takes his hand off the cylinder, and then recites:

"[The men were] fighting their battle, and where they were the Keres, dark-colored, and clattering their white teeth, deadly faced, grim-glaring, bloody and unapproachable, were fighting over the fallen men, all of them rushing forward to drink of the black blood, and each, as soon as she had snatched a man, down already or just dropping from a wound, would hook her great claws around his body, while his soul went down to the realm of Hades and cold Tartaros. Then when the Keres had sated their senses on the blood of men's slaughter, they would throw what was left behind them and go storming back into the battle-clamor and the struggle."

[-Hesiod, "The Shield of Herakles", tr. Lattimore]

"Gentlemen, you have just heard the voice of death as it was known over two thousand years ago. We are perhaps the first to have heard it and lived since the days when the gods stood by the side of men."

Katsoulakis leads them back up to his office, and over stiff glasses of ouzo, explains that placing the Kempelen Machine in the basement--closer to Tartaros--he inadvertently saved his own life.

Rhea Dimopoulos must have summoned the keres, ancient spirits of death, which haunted the battlefields of ancient Greece, preying on the wounded and dying. One of them was drawn into the machine, trapped inside its mysterious metal cylinder. That caused the other keres to retreat in fear, giving Katsoulakis time to invoke even stronger wards than those which normally protect his home. He is safe now, in his place of power, but he dare not leave the residence.

Most likely Dimopoulos' spell summoned three of the spirits, which means two more are now at large. "I am grieved to say my past has put this marvelous City in grave danger. Gentleman, I am no saint. I have never claimed to be. I expect you to understand that some matters can only be resolved by the spilling of blood. One year ago, I had a man named Michael Astakos murdered."

Astakos was an assassin in the employ of the November 17th group, a terrorist organization that sparred with the government of Greece throughout the 1970s and 1980s. When Papandreou became Prime Minister in 1981, he asked Katsoulakis to infiltrate the November 17th and undermine it. Katsoulakis came across Astakos early in his mission, and he hated the man from the start.

Astakos was a man who loved his job. His trademark was cutting off the hands of his victims before he killed them, and he was known for doing this to the spouses and children of his victims as well. He was a perfect monster.

His lover was Rhea Dimopoulos, a dangerous and ruthless sorceress. She and Katsoulakis bedded and backstabbed each other for years, though he doubted Astakos ever knew about it. Even if he had, so long as Astakos had plenty of people to torture and kill, he didn't care about much else. Katsoulakis dearly wished to destroy Astakos, but Papandreou forbade it for fear his friend would be killed himself.

Katsoulakis lost track of Astakos in 1988, but one of his old contacts rediscovered the man in 2001. By then, Katsoulakis was in New York and Papandreou was dead, so he lost no time in putting a contract on Astakos' life. The man was dead within two weeks. Now Astakos' old lover, Rhea Dimopoulos, had come to America for vengeance.

The two keres must be found. In a city with so much crime and accident, the spirits will gorge themselves on blood, and drag countless, innocent souls down to Tartaros. Any wounded or dying New Yorker is potential prey. Since Katsoulakis is trapped in his home, he needs help. "And who better than the men I myself brought into this Great Game?"

Unfortunately, Rhea will be almost impossible to find. She will have gone to ground, and Katsoulakis assures them that none of their usual contacts will know anything about her. Instead, they should concentrate on the keres, "for they will be in places of misery."

Katsoulakis gives each of the men a Hoplite-styled sword and dagger, both fashioned from bronze and enchanted against spirits. They will be vital, for the keres are intangible and invisible to anyone who isn't wounded. Katsoulakis does not know magic that will make the keres visible, but his colleague Daria Zannakis, a classics scholar at Columbia, probably will.

Meeting Daria

Ken actually knows Daria Zannakis, having met her in Columbia faculty cocktail parties. She's an energetic fifty-five, and her lust for life has made her very popular. She welcomes the three men into her cluttered office, makes a few comments suggesting she was once Katsoulakis' lover, and then gets to business.

First she reads from Apollonius, a passage from Argonautica about Medea and Jason and how Medea summons the keres to harass the bronze giant Talos until he injures himself and "dies." [Argonautica 4.1659; tr. Rieu].

"You see, that's the way of the keres. So long as you're whole, they cannot touch you. But once you're wounded, you're in their thrall, and they can do with you what they will. But they aren't all-powerful. They aren't the Kindly Ones. The gods could defy them when they wanted to protect a favored warrior."

Daria then gives them a recipe for a tea composed of water, yarrow and fish oil that will help their eyes adjust to the "other" world and see the keres. Just as important, she explains to them that they will need kolossoi, the Greek equivalent of voodoo dolls, to trap the spirits until they can be dispelled. She gives them an imprisonment spell for that. The Aces go to a tourist shop and find some small replicas of the Statue of Liberty which seem just right for the job.

Saturday Night Death

The Aces scan the police band while Ken makes a few discreet inquiries. Sure enough there's been trouble lately at the New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. Ambulance drivers are starting to say patients would be better off in Jersey.

The Cornell is not far from Katsoulakis' residence and it has the foremost Burn Center in the country. Plenty of material for a spirit of death. Ken's contacts get them in, and they stake out the enormous complex as best they can. Then Ken has a lucky break. A friend of his, Dr. Amir Hourani, is on shift that night. Amir reluctantly and quietly confirms that the Cornell has been losing more than its share of lives. He takes Ken down to the morgue to show him the body of a man he watched die right before his eyes. Sure enough, the wounds match Mark's description of Aristos Volakis.

Saturday evening wears on, and then suddenly, Ken hears a message over the intercom he wishes he hadn't: a call for "Doctor Powder", the staff's code name for a security problem. They follow the announcement to the emergency room, where Doctor Hourani is watching in horror as yet another patient is cut to ribbons in front of him.

But this time the three men are there to help. George begins the imprisonment spell while Ken and Mark attack the spirit with their Hoplite swords. The keres telekinetically hurls scalpels, trying to wound them so it can move in for a direct attack. Fortunately, the imprisonment spell works, and the spirit is trapped inside a Liberty kolossos.

Stopping Rhea

With two of the keres captured, the three men return to the Katsoulakis residence to wait for Rhea Dimopoulos. Katsoulakis is certain she will be there the following night. The hours are long, and the wait is hard on everyone. George and Alexandra have a fling in bed, just to ease the tension.

At twilight Rhea appears, standing before the building, the third keres drifting around her. Niko herds Katsoulakis to the basement . The three men face off against Dimopoulos, but she blasts her way right through the front door. The battle is fierce and desperate, and the men would have had no chance without the Hoplite blades.

Dimopoulos has made herself immune to firearms just like the keres, and she blasts Ken more than once with a terrible spell that burns and singes his flesh. But in the end, the swords work on her too, and she is brought down before she can reach Katsoulakis. At her death, the three keres are instantly dispelled back to fell Tartaros.

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