16: Possession

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): February 1-22, 2003

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

What It Was

Back in New York, the Aces learn not all possessions are alike: Ken has a dream-encounter with the goddess Brigit, who helps him meet Jennie Creighton at last, and give birth to the Gift within. Tamara and Cassandra find themselves the sole occupants of Jonathan's apartment. And at a splashy party hosted by Andrew Ben-Nevis, Michel Borsavin, haggard and besieged by spirits, makes a surprising return.


Lesek Czernin reports that TNI has now lost contact with its operatives in Eastern Europe and Russia. As yet, no organization has claimed responsibility. . . Mark Donavin is back on his feet after a long recovery from the brutal showdown with Curtis Book. His therapy sessions with Ken continue, but he's starting to feel like his military past may finally be behind him . . . Thanks to his agent, Ruth Steinberg, Yukio Ohta has a fine deal with Kodansha for a book of his poetry, and possibly an anthology of twentieth-century Japanese poetry. . . George's fascination with luck has led him to start carrying a 1932 Liberty half dollar and a vintage 1943 Lucky Strike lighter. . . And Demetrius Katsoulakis has received invitations from Andrew Ben-Nevis, addressed to each of the Aces, for a formal gala at his Upper West Side residence on February 22. As Katsoulakis puts it: "That man is resourceful. I like that. Whether a Scotsman can host a gala worth going to, that is another matter. But you wanted more parties, my boy, so here you are. Now, the American in you will want to see the night through sober. See that the Greek in you gets drunk and loud as soon as possible."

The Full Horror

A Dream of Tir nan Og

For three months now, Ken's slumbers have been troubled by sleepwalking and the desperate attempts of Jennie Creighton to make contact with him. But on the night of February 1, that all changes. For the first time since November, Ken dreams.

He finds himself once again at the top of the stairway leading down to the Cavern of Flame. He descends, and the two strange men guide him to a dark cavern that feels warm and carries the scent of a woodland vale after a spring rain. When Ken steps into it, he suddenly finds himself sitting on bare ground beside a quiet brook. He is clothed in a snow-white gi, marked only by the symbol of a club. He is in the middle of a carefully tended garden and apple orchard, and from every branch in sight hangs a flickering lantern. The night sky above is awash with countless stars. There is an odd hint of garlic and salmon in the air.

A woman's voice greets him, and Ken turns to see a beautiful, young woman with flaxen hair and a simple dress of cornsilk blue. At first he thinks it's Cassandra Moon, and indeed this woman looks very much like her, but then she seems to shift before his eyes, and he realizes she is someone else. Whoever she is, she has a special light about her, and a joy that seems good and yet strange and very, very old. She's watching Ken with shining eyes and the hint of a smile. When Ken asks if he might know her name, she replies, "I have many names, but my favorite by far is Brigit."

She apologizes for being a day or two early for his people's festival of Setsubun, but hopes the scents of garlic and salmon will put his ancestor's spirits at ease. Their meeting had to happen now for this is "Imbolc, my special night." When Ken asks what they are there for, she asks if Jennie might join them, "for she is a Scot, and my kinswoman, and I'm here on her behalf as well." Ken quickly agrees.

And with that, Jennie's spirit draws out of him with a silky shimmer more intimate than any lover he's known. And then she sits beside him, warm and alive, no longer the crazed captive of Winfield Hall, but young in heart, her rich brown hair tumbling down her shoulders and her blue eyes flashing almost as brightly as Brigit's. She smiles at Ken and squeezes his hand, and you can feel the passion and strength that freedom has restored in her. "I kept calling to you, Ken, but I didn't know how to reach you." She looks at Brigit and laughs merrily, "This is so much harder than I expected." And Brigit laughs in turn, wild and free and dangerous, and Ken senses a deeper joke beneath the surface that's not for him to know.

The two women grow silent again, Brigit tells Ken that he has a choice to make. "There is no right choice. No wrong choice. No choice you 'should' make. No choice you 'should not' make. But there will be one path and there will another path, and one or the other you must take."

"You have always been a healer, Ken, and in that we share kinship. But the most ancient of healers have always understood war as well, and in that we share kinship too. We may not be knights ourselves-that path belongs to those like Mark-but we can take up their arts when we must.

"She hasn't been able to tell you so, but since you met and were joined, Jennie has been helping to nurture a seed within you. But the time is come when you must decide if you will give birth to this Gift and let her see the light of day. Or take her back within you to remain one with your most secret self."

It doesn't take Ken long to say yes. Brigit seems pleased by his choice, and Jennie is delighted-she has become the embodiment of Ken's Gift, and his decision means she can now do her part to help the Aces.

Brigit reminds him that every decision must, of course, have its consequences-"that has ever been the nature of the Old Ways"-but that one good result is that this dream garden is now his. Ken is free to come back whenever he sleeps, to wander the woods, spend time with Jennie, or whatever he wishes. "It is a place of strength and refuge, perhaps one you will need in the times to come." If he desires it, Brigit can join them on the nights of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. With that, Jennie passes once more inside him, he says goodbye to Brigit, and with a flash of brilliant, pure fire, he passes out of the dream and wakes up in his bed.

Seconds later his phone starts ringing. It's Cassandra Moon, hardly able to contain her joy. She tells Ken that Brigit-Brigit!!-had been using her as a vessel, an honor beyond Cassandra's wildest hopes.

Ken no longer has trouble sleepwalking, and he can remember his dreams once again. Yukio notes the change in him right away. There is a kind of duality in Ken that suggests a balance Yukio has never encountered before.

A few days later, Ken goes to the Shaolin Temple in the Village for his usual sparring. After only a few minutes on the mat, he knows something profound has changed-he is absolutely nailing every form, and feels more at home in his body than ever before.

Sifu Shi Yan-Ming is walking past the practice area when he sees Ken and stops dead in his tracks. He comes over and asks the Ace how he is doing. Ken says he's feeling fine, but the sifu is already nodding, and he suggests Ken should start practicing more often with advanced students like Michelle Chan.

Tamara in Distress

Not long after Ken has his dream, Tamara and Cassandra show up at the Renny, hoping to see Mark and the others. Tamara is beside herself, because Jonathan is gone, and she doesn't know where. She hands Mark a letter addressed to "Aces" and inside they find a brief message from Jonathan saying he's left to take care of certain matters. Fortunately, it includes a coded phrase, so they know it was his choice, not something forced on him. The Aces reassure Tamara that Jonathan has gone away before, and that everything will probably be fine.

When they ask about Jonathan's apartment, Tamara tells the Aces that Jonathan seemed confident that the wards he placed around the apartment would hold indefinitely, and that the orgone engine is probably still safest there. Cassandra says she was planning to get her own place, but will instead stay with Tamara to help guard it (and, by implication, to keep an eye on Tamara, who seems a bit overwhelmed by life in New York).

Yukio has noticed a shift in Cassandra's aura. He finds a moment to take her aside and ask how she is. In Yukio's terms, she no longer seems bound to Toshigoku, the land of slaughter, like she was when she first came back to them from TNI. She seems more in balance now, and more tied to the healthy earth.

Cassandra blushes. "Don't get me wrong. I'll still give you any message Alex Abel sends me, but I just don't think of myself as part of TNI anymore. I just couldn't-they used to say they wanted to help people, but in the end, they were always about power. I just couldn't stay a part of that." Yukio nods and notes that, given the disappearances in Asia and Eastern Europe, this is not a good time to be part of TNI anyway. Cassandra's head drops, ashamed, "But that's what I mean. I don't know if I'm doing this because it feels right, or just because I'm-because I'm a coward."

Yukio dismisses this, and says in fact that Cassandra has better things to do than worry about TNI. Since early January, he's been exploring the Renny and Ground Zero, and he has found that there are many spirits in both places desperate to pass on to the next life. Would she be willing to help show them the path to peace? Cassandra is speechless for a moment, her eyes shining. She says she would love to help. It's just the sort of noble crusade she has so dearly hoped to find.

The two meet at the Renny a few days later, and together they help the spirit of another homeless person pass on. Cassandra is overjoyed, though Yukio cautions her to remember that some of the Renny's spirits are dark and dangerous.

George's New Path

George is downstairs in Katsoulakis' library, studying Latin and various texts, when Demetrius comes down and lays a mint-condition Sig-Sauer P220 on the table in front of him. The gun "came his way" and Katsoulakis assumed George would find use for it. Instead, George shares his decision to leave the way of the gun behind him, which surprises his 'uncle'. Katsoulakis thinks for a while, and then claps a hand on his shoulder. "I'm proud of you, my boy. You have become a man who chooses his own path. But do always remember, George, that some men need killing. But, of course, there are many ways to get that done."

Not long after, the Aces assemble at O'Malley's and go over recent events. George talks about the breakthrough he's having in his experiments with Blessings and ritual magic. He even performed a special ritual for O'Malley's to ensure the bar enjoys continued good business. Yukio has continued his discussions with Jim Oleson about that spirit's unusual attachment to George's cab, and now wonders if Jim is here for a particular reason.

Then Ken amazes everyone with the story of his dream journey, how he met Jennie, and their meeting with Brigit. George asks Ken to tell Jennie that they are all happy she's in a better place. Yukio asks if he might try to contact her sometime, when she and Ken are both more comfortable with each other.

The conversation shifts to the upcoming Ben-Nevis party, and the Aces talk about who they've asked to go with them. Yukio is going with his agent, Ruth Steinberg. Ken is taking Cassandra, and Mark has invited Tamara. George has decided to go alone, which is probably wiser than going with any woman other than Alexandra, though he says he's only trying to keep himself free for any 'opportunities' who might be there.

The Aces also compare some notes they've assembled about their host. NevisCorp is a Fortune 500 company, but it keeps a low-profile. Amazingly enough, NevisCorp is still private, and Andrew Ben-Nevis clearly has a gift for business. In fact, he and Alex Abel were frequently profiled together back in the 1980s as up-and-coming entrepreneurs. That stopped around 1990, when Abel started devoting most of his time to TNI. There were no indications that they had a falling-out, and since it was Abel who asked the Aces to help Ben-Nevis before, it seems the two are still on good terms.

NevisCorp has many high-tech patents, especially in materials science and superconduction. Many of the patents relate to the automotive industry, but NevisCorp also does a lot of basic research trying to find applications for raw materials. The home office is in Boston/Nashua, with major branches in NYC, Southfield MI, San Diego, St Louis, Portland OR, and New Orleans. The corporation has gained a reputation for philanthropy in the past few years, but here too keeps a low profile.

George, concerned that Ben-Nevis may be trying to use them to find out about orgone, asks Katsoulakis if Ben-Nevis has contributed to the renovation of the Renaissance. Katsoulakis says no. Most of NevisCorp's New York philanthropy is in Brooklyn.

Party On

February 22 arrives, and the Aces go to Ben-Nevis' swank apartment on the Upper West Side, at 90th and Broadway, overlooking Central Park. Just thinking about what the place must cost makes George feel giddy. The residence is warm and humid when they arrive, but it's a cold day and many people have already shown up.

There are many familiar faces, including Tom Wolfe and New Yorker editor David Remnick. Lady Margaret Jameson is there, looking staggeringly hot and surrounded by admirers, and Lesek Czernin is impressing several coeds with his usual world-weary, European, decadent aesthete routine. Classics professor, and sexy earth mom, Daria Zannakis talks to various Euros, and Monica Randall looks much healthier and happier than when the Aces lost saw her at Winfield Hall. Jonathan's boss, Taylor McKendrick, and leaves no doubts about his reputation as a swinging playboy bachelor.

Ruth Steinberg gets some serious social networking done, while Cassandra enjoys meeting some new people, and has a long, happy chat with Daria. Tamara keeps her arm tight around Mark's the whole night, but also seems to enjoy herself.

George notices Boris Gergiev is there, apparently having survived the auction from several years ago, but the Ace is much more interested in Nicole, a beautiful Australian model. He ends up with her on his arm, but he's sobered by the thought that his success might only be due to the Blessing he cast on himself earlier that evening.

After a short time, Andrew Ben-Nevis, a consummate host, comes over to greet the Aces. He is a classic Scot, handsome and very much in control of his world. His Italian-cut suit fits him like a silk-lined condom. He seems like a man who owns everything he has ever wanted and now no longer worries about it. He thanks them for coming, and then asks if they would consider meeting with him at a later date. "That problem at my branch office wasn't the only strange thing that's happened at NevisCorp lately, and with what's been happening to poor Alex-well, this is definitely not the place to talk about such things." The Aces agree to meet with him.

A Surprising Return

Later, the Aces talk with Lesek Czernin, who says he's heard nothing new about the TNI disappearances. He notes that Abel probably has about 200 active agents, and while that may not sound like many, they are strictly organized into cells. These are not easy people to find. And it's not just the agents who are disappearing, but also their regular allies and sources.

Could the Sleepers be responsible? Lesek thinks it unlikely. The Sleepers want to suppress public displays of the supernatural, but when they move against someone, they usually try to do it in a way that makes their target a cautionary tale to the rest of the Occult Underground. Taking down TNI would be their greatest accomplishment. It's hard to imagine they wouldn't have left a sign of their responsibility by now.

Then who's doing it? "If I didn't know better, I would almost suspect the Order of the Sentinels. They at least had a global reach. But as you know, they fell during the Pyrrhic victory over the Serbian Black Hand and their pagan allies in 1913. I have never found any credible evidence that the Sentinels reformed, even under this pope with his love of the old Church."

Lesek notes that the Sentinels claimed to go back to the Middle Ages, which of course, almost every occult group does. But in their case, it may have been true. They were closely allied to the Order of St. Cecil, a more scholarly group that complemented the warrior Sentinels. By 1850, there were Sentinel 'Chapel Houses' in most major cities in the West and many others around the world.

At their height, there were about 500 Sentinels, but the increasing challenges of the nineteenth century steadily drained their resources. The problem lay in their methods. "It's not that they were reckless, but because they were doing the work of god, they usually saw no reason to change an effective tactic just because it might require self-sacrifice." By refusing to minimize the need for martyrdom, the Sentinels thinned their own ranks. By 1913, there were probably no more than 100 of them, and most of those fell during the battle, along with the Rosicrucians, Templars and Cecilites. Even with the resources of the Church, there were simply too few survivors for the four groups to recover.

Which leaves the Aces with the disturbing question of what unknown group could be responsible for this slow, inexorable dismantling of TNI.

Lesek is about to go on, when he suddenly stops and stares at something behind them. The Aces turn as he whispers, "Mirabile visu-it's Michel!"

And indeed, Michel Borsavin, once the Emeril of celebrity psychics, has come into the room-his first appearance since the Aces dropped him off on their return from Winfield Hall. He is a transformed man: haggard, and not even trying to hide the new traces of gray in his hair. His eyes are tired and red. Yukio, George, and even Ken can see something else: Michel days as a fraud are over-he now has the Gift.

Lesek goes over to talk to him, and Lady Margaret is already embracing him, when the Aces come up. Michel greets them all, and seems glad for the company, but in conversation, he is constantly distracted, his eyes glancing momentarily over a person's shoulder or to one side.

The Gifted in the group can see what's happening: Michel is besieged by spirits desperate for help. Michel admits that at first he wasn't even able to leave his apartment. For the first few months, he suffered one possession after another, and he gratefully accepts Yukio's offer of helping him learn how to manage his new Gift. Michel says the spirits in the City have been talking about Yukio and the help he is giving them.

But the spirits have also been telling Michel something else: that when TNI agents die, they are not passing on to Kether, or to Geburah, the Sephiroth of the dead, nor indeed to anywhere else in the mystical Kabbalah. They are simply disappearing altogether.

But Michel believes they may be a way to find out what is happening. Apparently, there's a window, a short time between the moment when a TNI agent dies and when his spirit disappears. The Aces would have to be physically present, and they would need to know the right ritual, but if they can be there, they might be able to intervene, or at least see what is happening to these agents. Of course, that might also mean they would have to deal with whatever killed that agent.

All this leaves Cassandra terrified that she might still be considered a member of TNI by whoever is killing their agents. The next day, Mark follows her directions to TNI's last-known safehouse in New Jersey, only to find it abandoned. Uncertain what else they can do other than wait to see how events unfold, they suggest Cassandra start volunteering at the Abyssinian Baptist soup kitchen, so she can spend her time helping people, but also stay close to Mark and the Renny.

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