25: Bad Taste

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When It Happened (Campaign Time): August 10-15, 2003

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris), Jeff Bradshaw (Bob), Robert Gilmore (Matt)

What It Was

The Aces reunite in Edinburgh, but are dealt a setback when their DK Imports contact turns up dead by very unnatural causes. Worse, when they find his body, it’s become a snack for a hungry ghoul. But that’s a simple problem compared to a city-wide maze of underground passages, a haunted Faerie hill, a mysterious stone, a dragon in chains, and a very confrontational meeting with Andrew Ben-Nevis.

The Full Horror

Mark, Ken, and Jeff reach Edinburgh the next day. They find rooms at the Sandaig Guest House (a nice place), and wait for George to arrive on the private jet. To kill time, they wrap up the books and objects from Gleeson House and ship them to Katsoulakis in New York.

Mark and Ken tell George about Gleeson House, and George looks at Jeff’s footage of the symbols that were engraved on the vampiress’ door. Sure enough, they look like the kind of glyphs used to imprison something dangerous.

Thanks to Ileana Sarkis, the Aces have Terrance Selway’s number, so they leave a message on his cellphone, asking to meet the next day. Then its time for a few pints at a nearby pub called “The Slumbering Mastiff.”

Visions and Visitors

That night Ken has another dream. He feels himself in the presence of something immeasurably old. Then gradually a sense of watery depths. Darkness and bitter cold. The waters give way to icy mists. Then a great shadow, a massive body, half-slumbering in a dark, dank place. Ken can sense immense pain. Chains and hooks sunk deep into ancient flesh. Then a voice: “You are he. The one destined for the blade. If you would free me, you must free Tomnahurich.”

The next morning is rainy and dark, and Mark wakes up with a vague memory of a woman in his room in the middle of the night. Standing at the foot of his bed, staring at him with dark, shining eyes. The vampiress from Gleeson House.

The next day passes with no word from Selway. That night, Ken has the same dream.

Meanwhile, Mark is taking no chances. He fills the room with garlic, shuts every window, and draws shut all the drapes before going to bed. But, sure enough, he wakes again in the middle of the night. The drapes are open again, and the vampiress is watching him intently from outside his second-story window. Mark rolls out of bed, walks slowly over to the window, and then smiles. Whipping the drapes shut in her face he stabs them in place with his hunting knife. When daybreak comes, Mark even has Jeff dust the window for her fingerprints.

The Gilmores

Later that morning, the Aces pile into the black van (now thoroughly tricked out by Jeff), and drive over to Selway’s flat. The place is very old but well-kept, and the landlady is delighted to have a troupe of young Americans show up at her door. But when they ask about Terrance Selway, she says she hasn’t seen him in a while.

While they’re talking, a man walks up, introduces himself as Robert Gilmore, and asks about a Terrance Gilmore. When the landlady tries to correct him, he insists Gilmore is the man’s real name. The family demanded he use a pseudonym because “Terrance insisted on making a living by selling our priceless heritage to Americans and worse.” The landlady is shocked and certain that such a “charming” man would never do such a thing, and besides, she’s not seen him.

The Aces sense that Robert is Gifted, so he must know they are too. When the landlady goes off to answer the phone, Robert makes a passing comment about “being one of the Benandanti.” Whatever that means, he doesn’t seem to intend any harm, though the Aces sense something distinctly wolfish about him.

With the landlady distracted, the men slip upstairs and look for Selway/Gilmore’s room. They find it—and the door standing ajar. The Aces move in to find the room completely tossed. But nothing seems broken, and there’s no sign of a struggle.

Jeff finds a laptop on a desk, and a PDA in a cradle next to it. Both are password-protected, so he takes them both to hack into later. The Aces search the rest of the room, but there’s nothing to tell them what happened. Most of the paperwork concerns DK Imports, and a quick scan of them suggests Gilmore was a conscientious employee. But there is a cache of documents in a back closet that confirm Robert’s claim that Terrance is a Gilmore (and that Robert is his cousin).

Death from Above and Below

But none of that explains where Terrance Gilmore is at that moment. With nothing else left to search in the room, Mark goes back to the hallway. And there, halfway to the stairs, he gets lucky. A scrap of paper, the sort of thing a person might have in his pocket, and that might fall out if he’s pulling something else out of that pocket in a hurry. There are more scraps on the stairway. And that’s when Mark gets a gut feeling to look in the basement.

The Aces know the drill, but for her own safety, they need to get the landlady out of the building. Robert says he can see to that. He goes to speak with her, and sure enough, a few minutes later, they watch her head out the door and down the street.

Mark waits for everyone to get ready, and then he carefully opens the door to the basement. It’s pitch black down there, but he can make out some faint sounds. Bones crunching, and other noises that remind Mark too much of something. . . eating. Mark tells the Aces to douse all the lights and get their guns ready. That done, they start downstairs, moving as quietly as they can.

Mark waits until he’s nearly down at the base of the stairs before he throws on his flashlight. It’s an appalling sight. On the bare stone floor lies the body of Terrance Gilmore, half-eaten. Hunched over him is a creature the Aces have never seen, but whose ancestral memory says, “ghoul.”

The beam of light makes the ghoul look up in surprise, and it stumbles back a few feet, catching Mark’s tight burst of gunfire full in the chest. The creature crumples to the ground, and the Aces quickly scope the rest of the basement.

The first thing they notice is how very old the basement is. The second thing they notice is the gaping hole in one wall. From the scattering of bricks on the floor, it looks like the ghoul pushed its way into the basement. But why that happened now, after all this time, isn’t clear. It couldn’t be just because someone was down there when the ghoul was nearby. If that was all it took, surely something like this would have happened long before.

Ken examines Gilmore’s body. One thing is certain: he was dead long before the ghoul got to him. Gilmore’s face and upper body are covered with a thick film of mucus that must have been acidic because it half-melted his features. What’s left of his face shows how painful that must have been. And there doesn’t seem to be anything about the ghoul that could have caused that.

But there’s a pattern of scorch marks in the stone leading up to Gilmore’s body, and that makes the Aces check the ceiling. Sure enough, there’s a path of scorched plaster from one of the corners to a spot right above Gilmore. Whatever made that path must have killed him. And a dead body was probably not something that turned up in the basement very often. The ghoul must have smelled it and pushed its way through the wall for an easy meal.

The hole in the wall opens onto an underground tunnel that runs alongside the basement for several yards, but then splits into multiple passages at both ends. It’s a maze, and it looks like something that would be very easy to get lost in. The Aces decide to let it wait for another day.

Ken now has two bodies to examine, but he needs a lab to do it. Fortunately, Robert has another cousin, Angus, on the Edinburgh police force. He makes the call, assuring the Aces that this isn’t the first “special” occasion he’s had to arrange.

With Gilmore dead and the bodies taken care of, the Aces go upstairs for one last sweep of Gilmore’s flat. And that’s when they find something they missed the first time: a stone inside a plain leather bag. There’s a strange, oily coating on the stone, and it feels “wrong” to the touch, as if it did not belong in this world. The symbols carved into it are like none George has seen before.

George and Mark try to scrye it, and both men immediately collapse to the floor, fast asleep. Ken and Jeff quickly revive them, and they seem unharmed, but the Aces decide to put the stone back into its leather bag and deal with it later.

Meeting Ben-Nevis

If Terrance had been the scandal of the Gilmores (for selling Scottish treasures to Katsoulakis), then Robert had been the disappointment, the perennial underachiever who never found his place. But that changed a few months ago, when he made a new acquaintance who, for the price of a few pints, was happy to share rumors and hearsay with Robert about the family Douglas, the heirs of Castle Glamis.

The Gilmores had always believed Glamis was rightfully theirs, so they loved nothing more than gossip they could use to embarrass the Douglases and tarnish their public image. That’s just what Robert’s new friend was giving him, and Robert’s standing with the Gilmore family elders had been rising ever since.

Robert doesn’t share any of this directly with the Aces, but they pick up on it after spending some time around him. And when the Aces start wondering how they should approach Ben Nevis now that their contact, Terrance, is dead, Robert suggests they try asking his source instead. After all, the man seems to know a lot of people.

That turns out to be surprisingly successful, because Robert’s contact turns out to be Donald MacLean, whom the Aces already know as Andrew Ben-Nevis’ right-hand man. And as surprised as they might be, he looks even more surprised to see the Aces drop by his office in the company of Robert Gilmore. Needless to say, MacLean has no trouble setting up a meeting with Ben-Nevis the following day at the Edinburgh office of NevisCorp.

The meeting starts well enough. Ben-Nevis is pleased to see the Aces, and he’s not surprised to hear that Katsoulakis wants to talk with him about the future of New York. He tells MacLean to contact Niko Kakoyannis and arrange a summit.

But then the conversation shifts to Ben-Nevis’ problem with black serpents among his Nevis Corp employees, and his previous request to have the Aces investigate them. And with that the meeting takes a bad turn, because Ben-Nevis is now being vague and evasive about the whole thing.

He says the problem is no longer in New York. The serpents have actually followed him here to Scotland. And he still has no idea what interest they have in him. But when the Aces offer to look into it while they’re here, Ben-Nevis once again says no. He wants them to wait until he feels the time is right. When the Aces ask what that means, Ben-Nevis says he would rather not get into it.

At that point George loses it. He demands Ben-Nevis share what he knows about the serpents and explain exactly what he wants the Aces to do about them. If they seem like such a threat, then what’s the point of waiting? If Ben-Nevis refuses to give them details, if he insists on keeping them in the dark even while he’s asking them for a favor, then why should the Aces help him at all?

Everyone is shocked by the outburst, and even Ben-Nevis seems startled. But he holds the line, insisting they just need to wait. All will become clear. But that’s not about to happen, and the meeting comes to a quick, uncomfortable end. MacLean silently escorts the Aces and Robert out of the building.

Embarrassed and confused about what just happened, Gilmore takes his leave of the Aces. The four men head back to the Sandaig Guest House, and then on to The Slumbering Mastiff for a round of pints while they figure out what to do next.

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