18: Distant Early Warning

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): March 30 - April 25, 2003

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

What It Was

April is a busy month for the Aces. Things start well: An elaborate ritual puts down the last fell spirits of the Renaissance. And a dinner with Andrew Ben-Nevis, a conversation with Demetrius Katsoulakis, and an investigation of the Woolworth Building give the Aces more things to think about. But things soon take a bad turn: After a brief appearance in George's cab, the Sleeper they met at NevisCorp turns up burned-at-the-stake in Central Park. Then, while the Aces scramble to respond, Mark comes face-to-face with Thomas Donnelly.


Coming back from their uranur battle with the serpents at Wardenclyffe, George, Ken, Mark, and Cassandra feel like they have a bad case of influenza. Tamara's reaction is worse, and Cassandra's Wicca-based healing doesn't seem to help her much. But Tamara feels much better after spending a night sleeping near the orgone engine, and she's able to start going through the Tesla journals. The Aces store the serpents' instruments in the basement of the Renaissance.

Lesek Czernin offers what he thinks may be his last TNI update: As of March 15, TNI has lost contact with all its agents outside North America. Alex Abel has ordered the twenty full-time agents in Canada to relocate to safe-houses in the US, and he's also ordering more agents to fall back to the New York headquarters. The endgame is coming.

But there's also some good news: the construction-crew foreman at the Renaissance tells Mark that if they stay on schedule, the renovation will be complete by mid-June. And Laurie, Mark's contact at McKendrick & Sloane, tells him that Demetrius Katsoulakis has urged the renovation board to keep Mark as head of security even after the project is finished.

Meanwhile, Art contacts Yukio and tells him the time has come to confront the last of the Dominican bokors haunting the Renaissance.

The Full Horror

George is pulling a late shift on the night of April 3 when he gets an unexpected guest in the back seat of his cab. George can see through the man's Lesser Illusion, and the voice gives him away as the Sleeper they encountered at NevisCorp. George tries to speak, but the man interrupts to repeat the warning he gave them last time, and then slips out of the cab. Only then does it occur to George that the Sleeper was sweating-and his hands were trembling.

The Aces assemble at O'Malley's. Mark and Yukio say the Aces are like an 'unaligned nation' in a new Cold War. None of the major players can be sure what the Aces are going to do. Some, like Tessa, seem to want to work with them, at least as far as they can, but others, like the Sleepers, just issue warnings without even trying to reach out to them. But they do all seem to agree that the public should stay 'veiled' from the truth, and the Aces decide to follow suit.

Ritual at the Renaissance

For a few months now, Yukio and Cassandra (and, lately, Michel Borsavin) have been laying spirits at the Renaissance to rest. But the Dominican bokors are still there, and Art tells Yukio they need to go before the crew finishes the renovation. So Yukio, Cassandra, and George work together on a ritual to drive out the last of the bad spirits. Soon after that, Jamal Rashid stops by and asks to take part.

Yukio recommends the evening of April 10 because it's not a time of magical power. They should be able to gather enough Essence for the ritual on their own, and he worries that casting it at a time of power might only give the bokors more Essence to use against them.

Mark tells the guards to take the night off. Jamal and Michel both arrive early. Michel is looking as tired as ever. He tells Ken that lately the spirits have been tormenting him with the song "When the Saints Go Marching In"-which is a special hell for a native of New Orleans.

The three principals begin preparing a sacred space in the Grand Ballroom. Yukio marks out a circle and tells everyone to step inside it. Then he pauses for a moment, raising a Ward to protect the space. After that, George sets playing cards at each of the cardinal compass points, and Yukio and Cassandra place specially prepared candles on top of them. Art begins to play a simple melody in the background. The three Aces then take positions as a defensive triangle around the others-Ken for Michel, Mark for Jamal, and George for Cassandra.

Each Ace carries the bronze Hoplite dagger he used against the keres, and another weapon to symbolize himself: George has his deck of cards; Ken, his sword; and Mark, a shotgun with shells filled with salt harvested at midnight from the island of Hokkaido. Cassandra summons the aid of the Four Guardians of the Watchtowers, and lights the candles. Then Yukio completes the circle by covering it with the rest of the Hokkaido salt.

Things happen quickly after that. The ballroom surges with Essence-something Mark has never seen before-and tension builds in the room. Suddenly Yukio can see the bokors coming at them-three of them, followed by their leader. As the three come near, Yukio struggles to expel them, one-by-one. Finally, only their leader is left, but he doesn't attack. Instead, he starts walking slowly around the circle, and then speaks:

"I will have my say, houngan. Our you pleased now to cast us from our home? Are you content to banish us to whatever hell you have chosen? You have no justice, houngan. You even bring that one, Rashid, to insult us and shit on our memory. Have you told them, Rashid? Have you told them what you did, you and your Muslim brothers, what you did to ruin us? The innocents you sacrificed?"

Jamal is silent, but there's a look of surprise and shock on his face. The bokor stops in front of him, and continues:

"Fifteen mothers, daughters, sons. Sacrificed because they were close to you. Because your brothers could use their magics best on those they loved. To twist them, warp them, make them like the servants we used against you. But at least we used strangers, Rashid. Yet you believe you were better than us? Perhaps if our elemental spirit hadn't killed us, perhaps if we had survived, the world might now say that justice was done the day we put you down."

A tense and frightening struggle begins, but at last the bokor is laid to rest. At the end, Jamal is silent, his body tense, but tears are running down his face. When the ceremony is complete, he leaves without saying a word.

It's a time for celebration, so Yukio treats the group to an expensive dinner at Nobu. But their triumph is tempered by doubts about Jamal. Can they trust the word of the bokor? But how do they explain Jamal's reaction? Yet, as Mark points out, "Maybe Jamal had a reason."

The Woolworth Building

After resting for a few days, the Aces investigate the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway. They're surprised to see that, unlike other landmark buildings in New York, the Woolworth doesn't give off any Essence.

When the opening ceremony was held on April 13, 1913, the Woolworth was the tallest building in the world (until the Chrysler was finished in 1930). It rose 625 feet and had 58 stories, some with ceilings 20 feet high. It cost Woolworth $13.5 million, which he paid in cash. Neo-Gothic gargoyles watch from above, and inside the spectacular lobby, the walls are lined with marble and murals, and the floors are paved with nickels and dimes, in memory of how Woolworth built his fortune. As Rev. S Parkes Cadman said on the day of the ceremony, the Woolworth Building was a "Cathedral of Commerce." The ceremony ended with President Woodrow Wilson pressing a button in the White House, illuminating the building, inside and out, with 80,000 light bulbs.

The Aces also discover that Nikola Tesla was one of the building's first tenants. Even today, most of the building's offices are used by financial and high-tech companies.

But their real interest is the Woolworth Museum on the 24th floor. It's a quiet place, and judging by the attention the curator gives them, there aren't many visitors. The main exhibit room is an unpleasant shock for Mark, Ken, and George. The heavy red drapes over the walls and the gilt-and-red-velvet thrones around the room are exactly like the ones they remember from Winfield Hall. And there's a lot of Napoleonic memorabilia too, including a large bronze statue of Bonaparte, rearing up on his horse. And an eight-foot oil painting of the emperor in ermine robes, glaring down as he holds a scepter.

The Aces also find a album with photos of Winfield Hall and an envelope containing plans of the estate. They include the tunnels and secret passages, but none that are new to the Aces.

Finally, there's an onyx mirror, just like the ones they saw at the Hall. The Aces know much more than they did back then, and they can now tell that the mirror is a Gateway to and from Winfield Hall. The mirror is very low on Essence, but it seems to be siphoning off whatever Essence the building might be generating.

Next the Aces go to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, where they check out Woolworth's Egyptian-styled mausoleum. Of course, his spirit is gone forever, but the Aces do find symbols of the Freemasons, and a Rose-and-Cross, carved in several places on the mausoleum's walls.

The Four Seasons and Andrew Ben-Nevis

Soon after that, its time for Yukio, George, Ken and Mark to join Ben-Nevis for dinner at the Four Seasons. That evening, a limousine picks them up from their respective apartments, and when they arrive, valets escort them right into the magnificent Grill Room. Ben-Nevis gets up from the table and greets them warmly. They can't help but notice that no one has been seated within earshot of their table. That can't have been cheap.

After some small talk, Ben-Nevis thanks them again for dealing with the problem at his New York office. Then he drops his voice a bit. Given all the troubles his friend, Alex Abel, is having, the last thing Ben-Nevis wants is unexpected surprises, but he fears he might have one.

Ben-Nevis is going to spend the next six months back home in Scotland because, he admits, he thinks the City is in for a bad summer. But when he comes back, he hopes they will help him with a delicate problem. It takes Ben-Nevis a while to come out with it, but he's convinced that some of his employees are serpents.

He doesn't know what they're up to-they haven't tried to kill him, and they seem to work as hard as anyone else at NevisCorp-but he's still worried. He doesn't want the Aces to act before he returns, but when he does, he would like to pay them to find out what they're doing.

From Ben-Nevis' description, he's seen six black-faction serpents. Two are engineers currently assigned to a superconducting project for the automotive industry. The other four are clerical people in different parts of the corporation.

The conversation turns back to Alex Abel, and Ben-Nevis is clearly upset. He's certain things will end badly, and he finally has to excuse himself. He assures the Aces that they should feel free to stay-the bill is already paid, and the limo will wait as long as they do.

Questions and Katsoulakis

Meanwhile, the Aces having been trying to find information about 1913, and that hasn't been easy. Pre-WWI politics are not easy to follow, beyond the obvious fact that the Serbs didn't like the Austro-Hungarian empire. There are no references to an Order of St. Cecil-or even, for that matter, an appropriate St. Cecil. But there is a Thule Society, an anti-Semitic group that later helped found the Nazi Party. The Aces agree that if nothing else is clear about 1913, the side that includes the Black Hand and the Thule Society must be the "bad guys".

Theories get tossed around. Yukio notes that Lesek Czernin is probably Austrian, and perhaps that means he's a latter-day Sentinel. And given their friendly relations, might Katsoulakis even *be* St. Cecil? The others don't think so, but they also doubt they can trust Katsoulakis or the Occult Underground enough to ask them about 1913. And they still can't be sure what role the Templars or the Rosicrucians had in the confrontation, although they agree that Tessa's account is probably more trustworthy than Lesek's. But if all these groups died out soon after 1913, what difference does any of it make now?

George isn't happy about mentioning any of this to Katsoulakis because they have no idea what his agenda might be. But the Aces decide he may be their only hope for learning more, so George visits the Katsoulakis residence. The conversation that follows, however, is not what he was expecting. It begins over a bottle of Katsoulakis' own ouzo, newly arrived from Plomari. Then once they have settled back in their chairs:

"Trying to explain the Balkan Wars to Americans is pointless. You will never understand them. *I* barely understand them."

And it would miss the point anyway. "One acts 'behind the veil' to prevent or influence what will happen next, not react to what has already happened." The confrontation of 1913 was a failed attempt to make all other plots irrelevant and prevent the disaster of WWI. But for what it's worth, Katsoulakis says, he believes the Sentinels and the "Cecilines" were indeed on the side of the Black Hand and the Thule Society.

Which, Katsoulakis adds, means the Black Hand were imbeciles, because anyone could see the Thule Society were bound to betray Serbia. And, sure enough, when the battle turned against them, the Thule Society fled for Germany, stealing the Spear of Destiny and leaving their "allies" behind.

But as the discussion continues, Katsoulakis must have picked up on George's doubts about him, because he decides to change the subject: George and the others must understand that the details of what they do don't really concern, or even interest, him:

"You are grown men, capable men, talented men. Your affairs are your business.

"From time to time, I will call on your services, and I expect you to provide them willingly. Not because of the favors I do for you, but because that is the Greek way. It is the Greek way, and it is the 'Old Way'. The way of men who act as men should act. But while I expect this right, I also give my promise to you that I will not abuse it.

"George, I brought you men together to act. This "Underground" of theirs-as fools like Czernin and Margaret Jameson call it-had grown stale and stagnant. And as for the forces that move beneath them-the *real* powers, whom you are finally beginning to meet-it's been decades since you could tell any of them from a corpse.

"Just by acting, by doing what you do, you break up this stagnation. You bring change. You make things interesting again. This I find amusing. But I also know it to be important.

"You are men, George. You act. And your actions will have consequences. This is as it should be, because you are doing what you must. But-and this is important-such consequences may threaten those close to you, and when that happens, you must, as men, protect your own.

"Have you been to Delphi, George? I have. And I have witnessed the Oracle, and I have heeded what I was told: if I draw men together, they will act. And those acts will benefit me. But they will also benefit everyone."


On the morning of April 26, both Ken and Cassandra wake screaming from the same dream: a heavy-set man, tied to a stake, which suddenly bursts into flame. The man screams and cries in agony for several minutes, far longer than a person would normally stay conscious. Finally, when he's almost a cinder, the man falls silent and slumps. Only then do they realize the man is in the Sheep Meadow near Tavern-on-the-Green in Central Park.

Ken, feeling Jennie's pain within him, heads straight down to the park, only to find the NYPD already there in force. The man at the stake is just like he was in the dream, except for one detail. At the top of the stake is a plaque with the words: "brutum fulmen."

Ken calls the Aces, and asks George, who's been studying Latin with Katsoulakis, what the words mean. A literal interpretation is "an insensible thunderbolt", but the phrase usually means "empty threat."

Ken's description leaves no doubt: the man at the stake is the Sleeper.

Mindful of what Katsoulakis said-protect your own-the Aces start making plans. The first step is clear: move Cassandra, Tamara, and the orgone engine to the relative safety of the Renaissance.

While the others help pack up the apartment, Mark (in a truly shameless act of impromptu GM railroading) goes to get his van. But just as he takes the keys from the rack in CentCom, Thomas Donnelly walks into the room.

"Mr. Donovin, what a pleasure. Oh no, please, *do* sit." With a wave of Donnelly's hand, Mark is paralyzed in his chair and feels a wave of nausea wash over him. Donnelly's body seethes with uranur. He casually sits down across from Mark and looks around the room.

"An interesting place you have here. I should come back and give it a closer look, after our business in the City is done. Not to worry, that won't even begin for a couple of months yet. These things take time to handle properly.

"You see, Mr. Donovin, it won't do. These petty demagogues strutting about, daring to tell their betters what they may or may not do. Servants thinking themselves Masters. It simply won't do.

"Consider this a friendly warning, Mr. Donovin. We have business in this City, and we will see it done. But this matter does not concern you. Your day will come eventually, you may be sure of that. But not for some time yet. Unless, of course, you insist on trying to intervene. In that case, you will only be forcing us to discipline you before your time.

"We are returning to this City in ten weeks. Please don't delude yourselves into thinking you have the means to stop us. My people are well aware of your resources, including your friends in Michigan. Neither they nor you will be allowed to stand in our way."

"And now I must go. I'm afraid I'm on a rather tight schedule. Do give my best to your colleagues."

Donnelly gets up and strolls out of the room. By the time Mark can move, the man is long gone.

And then, two days later, a desperate call comes from Ken Inada at the Reich Institute in Ann Arbor. They've lost contact with their other lab, in Houghton, MI. Inada is certain something has gone seriously wrong. He begs the Aces to come as soon as they can.

Previous Recap | Next Recap | Updated 3/19/12, by the Croupier