April 22, 2017
Scheme Thwart beginning.
Intro: Pesach Sameach! Jewish communities around the world are observing Passover, the celebration of the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt. After the ceremonial feast of Seder, held throughout most of the world on the nights of April 10th and 11th, observant Jews spend the next six or seven days abstaining from leavened bread, enjoying traditional Passover treats, reflecting on Jewish history, and spending time with loved ones.
This year, a Jewish organization in New York identifying itself as Peace for Passover is calling for the Jewish diaspora to embrace peace and mercy during the time of festivities. They've rented air time on major networks, taken out ads in newspapers worldwide, and are hosting all-inclusive celebrations in major cities culminating in a night of song and prayer on the 18th.
Desc: Peace for Passover seems to be a legitimate, good-faith effort by a group of New York Reform Jews to bring a bit of peace to the world. The leader, a young woman named Sarah Abelsohn, has reached out to supernatural contacts throughout the world to request magical support for her endeavor. A small team of White Circle and unaffiliated mages have convened in Haven to use Gate magic to force peace between supernaturals and humans in a complex ritual started on the first night of Seder.
Sarah lives in New York City and is fully human, leaving her protected during the Aegis from the usual methods of supernatural forced "persuasion". The leader of the magical task force in Haven is Zeke Caffey, a White Circle mage with additional ties to the Watchers.
Possible Thwart Method: If someone were dead-set on breaking the peace, the best place to start would be by speaking with Sarah Abelsohn, the leader of Peace for Passover. Sarah is an idealist, but not a fool; if offered a meaningful alliance or some other boon worth lowering the ritual, she would peacefully end the Aegis in the service of the greater good.
Zeke Caffey, the mage heading the Haven task force working the ritual, is heavily invested in Jewish history and lore. As the spell was crafted around the complex rites and tradition of Seder, he would be best approached by someone capable of answering the Mah Nishtanah, or Four Questions, of the Haggadah.
Your research has led you to a small, charming cabin in the deep northern forest. It is difficult to approach on foot, but not impossible for someone capable of defending themselves from the dangers of the deep woods. The cabin is locked, no lights visible inside; this is where Zeke Caffey was last seen, as well as where the magic of the Aegis can be traced back to. It is a single-floor cabin with simple glass windows and a common store-bought Mezuzah scroll affixed by the door.
Raul gets a massive warhammer engraved with redstone from black canvas duffel bag.
No noise is audible from inside.
Raul navigates the wilderness with warhammer shouldered, more than capable of reaching this deep into the woods. He spots the scroll, his lips drawn into a thin line, frowning at the protection.He tries the door, without success, and then merely swings the hammer from his shoulder, attempting to smash the door to splinters so that he can stride through and inside.
Raul thinks; "No sense pretending that I'm here as a friendly face."
The door resists for a moment or two before the magical warding snaps with the wood. There's a feeling of strain to the magic, as if it's been worn weak by the time the Aegis has been in effect. The hinges stay where they are but the bulk of the wood shatters and splinters inward, surely announcing Raul's presence if it hadn't already been noted. Inside there is a warm, bitter smell, and something sweet like rotting food. Immediately inside is a small living room, furnished simply, and closed doors presumably leading to bathrooms or bedrooms. The smell of rotting food comes from the kitchen.
Raul shoulders his hammer again, walking through the cabin. His eyes survey the living room with a neutral expression, but he runs a finger along the wood, closing his eyes for a moment in concentration. Shaking his head, he goes towards the locked door, swinging his hammer again to attempt to break his way through.
Raul thinks; "There's something here. I'm certain of that. But kitchen or locked room...Locked doors first."
The first door Raul tries isn't warded at all, and it explodes inward in a mess of cheap, laminated particle board. Raul has discovered, and mostly ruined, the bathroom. Like the living room it's furnished enough to suggest occasional use, but the sink and shower stall are dry. A single toothbrush sits in a New York Mets mug on the counter by the sink, and a roll of toilet paper is on top of the toilet tank.
Raul thinks; "What a quaint cabin. It's a shame that it'll need all new doors when I'm finished with it. Maybe I can suggest a good contractor."
Raul ignores the bathroom, finding nothing of interest, and continues on to the next door, not bothering to use his warhammer at all. He simply kicks out at the door, trusting supernatural strength to be enough, barring the presence of additional wards.
Raul thinks; "Hopefully I won't have to tear the place apart to find something. But if that's what it takes...Oh well."
This door has a simple, weakened ward that gives along with the cheap lock. The cabin appears more and more to be exactly what it seems: someone's inexpensive vacation home, not currently occupied. Raul finds himself in the doorway of a small, tidy bedroom with wooden floors. A queen bed sits in the middle of the floor under a curtained window, with a nightstand to one side. A machine-made quilt is spread atop the bed, and a lamp and book are on the nightstand.
There are two more closed doors.
Raul heads towards the bed, taking the book. He opens it with one hand, careful to catch the lamp light. He starts checking the pages, his brows furrowing. He keeps an eye on the way he'd come, paranoid as always, his weapon still in hand as if prepared to defend himself at any moment.
Raul thinks; "This is too simple. Has he set up his spell and then left? Or...Hell. Maybe I should blow both doors and see what comes of it."
The book is a battered paperback copy of Exodus, by Leon Uris. It tells the story of the creation of Israel as a Jewish state. There are a few folded pages, but no notes in the margins.
Raul slows the book away in his duffel bag, as a possible clue, and then shakes his head. "Not here," he says, returning to the living room. He approaches the door, and then kicks out with one foot to attempt to rip it off its hinges. In rapid succession, he goes to the next, one hand on his warhammer, eyes scanning for threats first and foremost.
Raul thinks; "Possibly that the folded pages are hints, but not likely; move on, then."
Raul thinks; "That'll be after I've checked the building, if there's nothing else."
Raul has successfully murdered the door. Inside: a linen closet, with a dusty combined washer-dryer unit. There is a bottle of scent-free detergent on top. Convenient, but not visibly useful at the moment. Cleaning supplies are stacked on wire shelves built into the wall.
The next door is the door to the small backyard, which has been overtaken by weeds and vines.
Raul thinks; "Will it be the Book of Exodus in fact, then? Will it be ripping this damned cabin apart? One more place to try."
Raul sighs and says, "Why does it always have to be tiresome?" He shakes his head slowly, at last heading into the kitchen. His steps are faster, not purposeful; merely impatient. He taps his warhammer against his shoulder.
The sweet smell of rotting food grows stronger as Raul makes his way through the living room partition. The small galley kitchen looks barely suited to the purpose of hosting a family dinner, let alone powerful ritual magic, but it hums with strained, layered wards and the residue of complex rituals. A folding wooden table has been set up in the cramped dining area, set with four chairs and two plates atop a white table cloth. Two bottles of wine sit at the middle of the table. There is food on both plates, but Raul is unlikely to find it appetizing: the most immediately identifiable pieces are a hard-boiled egg and a slowly rotting chicken wing. Seder dinner.
Raul thinks; "Here. The place where the ritual was done. This would be the place to counter the ritual, if any."
Raul grabs the table, flinging it through the partition towards the living room with ease. He sets his warhammer aside, then, and pulls the Book of Exodus from his duffel bag. He sets it down in the center of the room, and then draws a knife across his palm. Blood spatters acrouss the book, and he presses his palm to the floor, trailing blood in a circle around it, marking off the space and a focus for his ritual.
Raul unsheathes his curved long knife.
The sleepy banality of the little cabin shatters when Raul grabs the table. For the first time he encounters real resistance, the layered magics chiming like dissonant bells. There is a vicious crack of energy in the air, and when Raul throws the table he is thrown back with the same force. The wine bottles roll and crash onto the floor, shattering and spilling, but the plates remain somehow whole. They land, one upside-down and one upright, with the food smeared but not spilled.
The ritual magic wasn't only performed at that table, it was within that table, wrapped up in the precise placement of each plate and item of food. It would probably have been much, much easier to untangle if Raul hadn't thrown the table.
Raul thinks; "Fucking Jews."
Raul slams against the wall from the force of it, grimacing, but not making a sound. He sets his warhammer aside, and says, "Alright. So that's how this will be." He draws his kukri, all the same, slashing it across his palm. He reaches for the plates with a blooded hand, turning each one upright, and reaches for the food with a bloodied palm. Unsanitary, almost certainly, but it's only a brief touch, or an attempt at one.
Raul thinks; "So the arrangement has been disturbed. The spell was woven into the food. So annoint each one with blood, to get a foothold. That should do."
Raul thinks; "And from there...Let's see what happens."
Well, that can't be kosher. The first plate causes no ill effects when righted, but when Raul reaches for the second he gets a thick blob of horseradish burning right into his cut palm.
There is no change in the charged air. Raul's blood doesn't noticeably affect the magic, although things feel less dissonant with the plates righted.
Raul has done worse to himself, it seems, in the name of ritualism. He grimaces, all the same, and touches his fingertips to the blood. He goes to brush his fingers against each food item in turn, and with it leaves his strength, and his energy as an arcanist. Then, he sets the copy of the Book of Exodus onto the center of the table, and goes to gather a pinch or a piece of each food item. He gathers it into a pile, squeezing his fist, and bleeds upon it. He murmurs a few words in Nahuatl, rolling series of syllables. It's clear that he's forging a connection of some kind to the interwoven wards - or trying.
A high, ringing noise rises up out of the air, just at the upper level of Raul's range of hearing, loud enough to verge on pain. The already disrupted paths of magic go hot and jagged as Raul handles the food. A phone beings to ring in the bedroom, muffled.
Raul thinks; "What the Hell?"
Ring. Ring. It's not the clear bell of a landline, but the tinny pre-recorded noise of a cell phone.
Raul lifts one hand to his head, closing his eyes and letting out a sharp breath. Afterwards, he mutters, "Damned thing. Can't you use a proper ritual for this?" He looks for a moment as if he might kick the table over, one foot lifting, but thinks better of it. Instead, he heads towards the bedroom, hearing the ringing, and pulls out a waterskin as he goes, pouring it over his bloodied and stained hand, washing it quickly of most of the filth. If he can find the phone, he tries to answer it.
Raul thinks; "Idiots and amateurs. I suppose that's White Circle for you."
Raul thinks; "Not even a proper sacrifice."
The phone is, of all places, in the closet, in the hip pocket of a man's rain coat. It's an old, cheap burner phone at about half battery life; it's probably been sitting there since the Aegis began. The connection clicks through when Raul answers, and the first noise is an immediate, exasperated breath on a rush of static.
"Yes?" Raul says, suppressing his usual Spanish accent and affecting a more American sound. "Don't simply sigh at me, if you have something on your mind, speak it." He returns to the kitchen as he speaks on the phone, to survey the ritual at its source.
The cheap burner phone says, with a young man's impatient East Coast patter, 'I've been watching on camera. If you'd done this a day ago the failsafes still would have worked.' He sighs again,even louder, even more obnoxiously. Nothing in the kitchen has changed since Raul left it. 'Why is this night different from all other nights?'
"Holocaust Remembrance Day?" Raul says in a dry tone into the phone. "I'm not entirely sure," he admits. "Jewish traditions were never my strong suit, as you can well tell." He reaches for his warhammer, tapping it idly against his shoulder. "So why don't you share?"
The high-pitched ringing noise starts again, building -- and then abruptly stops. A ward traced onto the underside of the tablecloth in chalk starts smoking, a tiny lick of orange flame eating the chalk dust. The cheap burner phone says, with a young man's impatient East Coast patter, '...I told her we needed to reinforce that. Shit. Um. That's not, can you just put that out? I don't know what's gonna happen if stuff catches fire.'
Each of the two plates has precisely the same food on it, in the same arrangement: a very small sake cup of salt water, a piece of parsley, a piece of boiled potato, a boiled egg, a chicken wing, and something that looks like baklava filling. The spilled wine is seeping into the floorboards.
"This sounds explosive," Raul points out to the voice on the phone. "I think that means it's time to vacate the premises." Even as he says that, he extends one hand towards his side. Distortions gather around him, as he prepares to step onto a path. "Or you can tell me the precise method to dispel the ritual, if I put it out. Your call."
The magic is very slowly disintegrating around Raul. Not enough to break the Aegis yet, but enough that the obviously over-complicated process originally meant to defuse it is, well, no longer relevant. Maybe knocking the table over wasn't the worst idea after all. "It's not my cabin, I don't give a shit if it blows up, but I don't think the Aegis is gonna break right if the Seder gets all burnt."
"Is that right?" Raul asks the voice over the phone. "Perhaps I should simply take it with me, then. Away from the site of the magic, to wane." He pulls out the same half-empty flask, holding it over the seder. Instead of pouring it out, he simply rips the leather in half, dumping the contents onto the seder, and nothing else. WIth the magic disintegrating, he tries to lift one of the plates and take it off the table.
"You're a fucking bull in a china shop," the voice complains, impotent to do anything else. The well-concealed camera up by the kitchen cabinets blinks steadily. "Look, we tried to do a good thing. Okay? We tried to give the world a little peace. Sarah swore there was no way anyone would let it run past the eighteenth." Raul's flask of water drenches the tablecloth, extinguishing the fire. The plate lifts easily.
Raul throws a large leather waterskin away.
"I had no interest in ending it," Raul admits to the man on the phone. "But I was paid five hundred dollars, and so it's done." He goes to steal the other plates, as well, stacking them together awkwardly. He stows his warhammer away, to more easily handle it all, phone pinned to his shoulder with an elbow. With all of them in hand, he says, "Besides, I don't need things to be clean; as long as the spell ends, I've done as I promised."
"I'm gonna say that counts as washing your hands," the voice mutters, tinny and petty through the phone speakers. "Fine. Hold still, stop... what, are you a waiter? Stop stacking shit. Put one of the plates down. I'm not gonna draw this out, if you don't do it somebody else will, or it's gonna... sputter and blow up Lauren's cabin. Let me just walk you throw it. Maybe you can throw a hundred my way."
"See? That's the wonderful thing about working with good people. They always do the right thing," Raul says in his driest tone. He sets the plates down, and lifts an eyebrow in the direction of the camera. "Well?"
The camera blinks steadily back at Raul, unimpressed. "Okay. You spilled all the wine. Grab the, do you see the parsley? Dark green leafy thing? Dip that in the salt water in the little cup, and then eat it." The voice through the phone goes quiet, waiting.
Raul grabs the parsley, as instructed, knowing his way around the individual parts of the dish easily enough. He dips it in salt water, and then hesitates with it near his mouth. "Your Oath that this isn't a trap to try to kill me? It's something one of my rivals might do, and I'd certainly commend the ruthlessness if it is."
"I don't know," the voice snipes, "are you allergic to parsley and salt water? Just eat it. Tonight is different," he adds impatiently, in the tone of a recitation, "because on all nights we need not dip even once. On this night we do so twice. That's the tears the Jews cried in Egypt, drink up."
"Fine," Raul says with a shrug of a shoulder. "Though I much prefer Mesoamerican traditions, myself." With that, he tosses the parsley into his mouth and eats it, fearless despite his paranoia, at least on the surface.
Raul thinks; "This could, in fact, be a trap."
Raul thinks; "He didn't Oath."
Raul thinks; "But I'll trust my gut instinct that this person doesn't have the steel to kill me."
It's not a trap, but it's still pretty unpleasant. Some of the water in the sake cup has evaporated over time, concentrating it. The parsley is wilted. There must have been protective magic over all of the food to start with, but it's worn off from everything but the eggs. The boiled eggs, one on each plate, look and smell perfectly fine. "Good. Uh. Where'd the matzah go? Did you knock that off the table too? Look for some flat bread."
Raul searches for the matzah, needing the description to overcome uncertainty. "I'm looking for it," he assures the man, snatching up a piece if he finds it.
"On all other nights," the man recites over the phone, "we eat chameitz and matzah. Why on this night only matzah?" There's a few flat pieces of matzah wrapped in a white towel that survived the fall. They're soaked in spilled wine, which is... probably not traditional. "Even you should be able to answer that one. Why unleavened bread, Mister Five Hundred Dollar Mercenary?"
The wine has improved the matzah. Instead of tasting like flavorless cardboard it tastes like wine-soaked cardboard.
"The Hebrews did not wait for the bread to rise, when fleeing Egypt" Raul says to the man on the phone in his driest tone. "I am familiar with the Book of Exodus, even if the traditions are not mine. After all, you deny our Lord, Jesus Christ." He eats the matzah without complaint, afterwards, grimacing some at the taste but not commenting.
"He was a Jew," the voice reminds Raul smugly. "He celebrated Passover, too. You're so lucky I'm not making you sing all the songs, Sarah would have made you sing. Did any of the horseradish survive? Uh... on all other nights, we eat all the vegetables. Why, on this night, maror? Eat the horseradish."
The blob of white horseradish is still intact on the plate Raul didn't bleed on as much.
Raul eats some of the horseradish, commenting afterwards, "And I would've continued to ruin things and then pathed out to let it explode. I don't sing." He grimaces and says, "Alright, what's next?"
It tastes like horseradish. It burns. If only there was some wine to wash it down with. "Hold on, there's so much I'm skipping past... okay," the voice says, back on track, "take two pieces of matzah and charoset in between them. The charoset is the brown filling, it's... nuts and fruit, don't worry about it. Do you have allergies?" He doesn't wait for a reply. "The horseradish was for the bitterness of slavery, by the way."
"Wipe some horseradish on that before you eat it," the voice adds. Even with a hopefully minimal amount of horseradish the charoset is perfectly pleasant.
Raul shakes his head. "I'm allergic to explosions, uranium, and nothing else," he explains in a dry tone, preparing the matzah and charoset with horseradish as requested. He chokes it down, grimacing the whole time. "Yes, yes, the plight of your people, I am aware."
"...on all other nights, we eat either sitting up or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?" The man on the phone answers for Raul, all in the same breath. "We're celebrating our freedom, so everybody reclines." He never specified that Raul should sit, let alone recline, so presumably he's deemed that part unimportant. "Dip the egg in the salt water and eat it. Hey, guess what?"
Raul doesn't bother to sit, dipping an egg into the salt water. He eats it raw, looking more and more irritated by the minute. "Truly, yours are an enlightened people," he says in a dry tone. "To celebrate freedom with lazy boy recliners." He clears his throat and asks, "What?"
Lucky for Raul, the egg was hard-boiled and magically preserved. At least he'll get out of this without food poisoning, probably. "You don't need to eat the chicken wing. You're fucking welcome, you heathen." Despite the hostile phrasing he sounds like he's trying not to laugh. There's some tinny clinking and chiming in the background, then the glugging sound of liquid being poured. "You should be drinking wine right now, but you spilled it all. That was good wine, one of those bottles was like thirty dollars. You should also pour some for Elijah... we're gonna say you poured some out for him, it's just on the floor. Is there anything left of the front door? Go open it."
There's faint music playing in the background now, and though it's coming through the cheap phone speakers it sounds like it's coming from everywhere. It's something joyous, a praise song in Hebrew. The voice on the other end murmurs along.
"Thirty dollar bottles of wine? What am I, starving and homeless?" Raul asks the man on the phone in a dry tone. "There's a splinter and a hinge still attached to the door, so we'll call it open." He remains where he is, staring up at the security camera impatiently.
"...fuck," he sighs, freshly unimpressed with Raul. "Can you kick the rest down? It's already broken, Lauren can deal."
Raul heads towards the front door, grabbing hold of whatever remains of the door with one hand, merely ripping it off with brute force and casting it aside, if he can.
When the last few shreds of wood and brass are removed, 'opening' the door, there's an abrupt winding-up of power and pressure. The air reverberates, one of the already-broken bottles of wine shatters into small pieces in the kitchen, and Raul's ears forcibly pop as a rush of cold, clean wind blows in from the forest. The pressure eases, and the faint, happy music continues. The Aegis is broken. "L'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim" the voice says, smiling, as if it's a toast. "Bye, Mister Mercenary."
Raul scowls at the popping in his ears. "I'm not cutting you in on the payment. Bye." He throws the phone aside, at that, careless, and heads out the front door. "Maybe I should've blown it up..."