by Timothy Toner (28 Feb 93)
First, to begin with, my brother's fine. Thanks to everyone who asked.
Second, yet another offering from the grst mill of my mind. I like the story for this one, although the item is a cheesy rip off. Comments, critiques, compliments always welcome.
Third, yet another contest, and a bit tougher. Louis, in the course of the story, imitates some famous people, fictitious or not. The first person who sends me a list with all the people named wins a prize! Watch it...one of them's pretty tough...
Three figures stealthily slid down this, the last corridor they would check before giving up the Hunt altogether. The first, a tall man holding an Ithaca pump action shotgun, walked with determined strides. The other two seemed constantly looking--back, left, right--never forward. That was Roger's job.
"Damn it, Rog! How much farther is it? The party is going to be over in 30, and we need at least that long to clean up after ourselves."
"Shut up, Phil. It's close. Gotta be close. He needs to see it every night, and some nights he never leaves the house. It's this way. I can feel it. Randy, check Carter, and see how he's doing."
Randy, the third man, carried a bandolier of wooden shafted crossbow bolts, each with a silver tip. His crossbow was a modern replica of the chinese crank action repeating crossbow, that became all but useless with the advent of gunpowder. He sometimes thought that maybe vampires gave the secrets of gunpowder to mortals, since gunpowder, in all its years of advancement, never did as much damage as a single shaft of wood.
He pulled out a folding cellular phone, and pressed a button. A few seconds later, a voice responded. "He's still at the party. Lucas is staying a bit longer than he planned. Out."
Randy relayed this information quickly. Phil smiled. "Praise the Lord, and pass the detonators. Even if we don't find the damn thing, he ain't gonna have much of a home to return to."
They arrived at this, the final door they would have to check. Everyone readied their weapons, Phil preparing the heavy silver crucifix around his neck. He opened the door quickly.
The room was large, and seemed to stretch all the way to the gables two stories above. Boxes covered the walls, each with the mailing labels still intact. Each went to one to look.
"Hey! He's got a stack of Van Goghs! And here's a Warhol. He's even got a Drake! Should we douse em?"
Roger grimaced. "Why do you have to be so STUPID?!? Open it up!"
Randy did. The boxes, all the boxes were empty. "They're just the packing materials. Lucas has to save them, to prove he acquired the damn things legitimately. C'mon, there's nothing here."
Indeed, there were no other exits beside the one they had entered from. The lights they had brought with them, halogen maglites attached to their head, failed to dispel all the shadows, and they longed for a simple, mundane light switch.
"Hey Rog, do Toreadors collect replicas?"
"Nah. Most of them would die first."
"Isn't the Pieta in Italy?"
All three men walked to a large wooden statue crate in a corner. "Lucas is into paintings, not statuary. Here." He handed the shotgun to Phil, and withdrew a minicrowbar.
It wasn't necessary. The moment he touched the right edge, the front panel swung toward them on unseen hinges. An open space was revealed beyond.
"B-I-N-G-O, and Bingo was his name, oh..."
Prepping their weapons once again, they passed through the crate door, and into the next room.
The floorplans said this room should not have been here. Connected to the attic, it should have deposited them into open space next the house. And yet here they were...wherever here was.
It was large, with walls covered in drapes. Midnight black, they killed all hope of light cheerily reflecting back. There, in the center, surrounded on three sides by curtains, stood the Abomination.
Phil and Randy wanted to retch at the sight of it. It was a statue, cut in purest dazzling white marble, that seemed to catch the halogen beams and reflect them at thrice the normal intensity. One, perhaps, could call the figure human-shaped, but that would be generous. Hands twisting into claws that faintly dripped of stone blood. The face was contorted in a sneer a thousand times more horrific than any serial killer's. The nose was drawn sharply forward, the face a sagging mass of rotting flesh. The stance was that of a hunchback. And the eyes, ah, the eyes. They were the facet that inspired nausea. They spoke, in a single glance, of steak knife rape, chainsaw sodomy, dropping children off 10 story buildings, their parents desperately trying to catch them with one leg hamstrung, feasts on long tables with linen napkins and silver service, the main course being human aorta tatar, and as a delicacy, fetal eye soup. All things, tried once, tried over if it thrilled the blackened soul within.
Here it was; all the secrets of Lucas Reinholt, all the evil that hid behind his caring eyes. With supreme strength of will, Rog stepped forward, claw hammer in hand, ready to smash.
"You sure that will work?"
Rog looked at Phil, with his white face sheened in sweat. "The mage said that this would do it. All you have to do is take it down hard, and that's all I ever do."
He shifted the hammer in his hands, aware that the glance the statue gave bore down on him almost physically. It was damning him for all the secret deeds he had done and hidden away, and calling him on to greater pleasures of the flesh, and what lay beneath. Rog pursed his lips, closed his eyes, and swung...
"So quick are we to destroy fine art?"
Lucas. Close. Too close. The sound of the voice, so unexpected, sent a shiver down his spine that made him drop the hammer.
Both of his companions were quick to follow up, however. They levelled their respective arms at the unseen foe, and prepared to annihilate.
"Please, gentlemen. You are guests in my home, albeit uninvited ones. I expect certain courtesies in return, such as you not threatening you hosts' existence."
Oddly, Phil and Randy paused, looking at one another, wondering if this was the right thing to do, or, if it was the right way to do it. They seemed lost, looking for guidance.
Lucas continued, finally appearing from behind one of the tapestries. "I have done nothing to you...nothing at all. You have spied on me, utilizing a spy of atrociously bad taste, I might add, broke in here, molested my help, and tried to assault my property and my person. By all rights and laws, in this state, I could kill you. But I won't. Now put those ridiculous toys down."
Phil and Randy, with broad, penitent smiles on their faces, threw their weapons away, and collapsed on their knees, accepting the pain as the beginnings of what they most endure to earn the forgiveness of their lord. Rog still stood though, hatred boring its path through the air, and striking Lucas hotly.
"Ah, I have done something to you personally? What ever could it have been?" Lucas glanced at the statue. "A woman...and you. I left you alive, and drained her dry. She meant something to you?"
"She was my WIFE!"
"How very cliche. Next time you tell the story, make it your girlfriend, or a lesbian you walk home out of the goodness of your heart, or something original like that. Heartstrings can be so very boring, and so easily plucked."
Rog began fingering the Ithaca, so very close, and yet a thousand miles away.
"We could have had an extraordinary relation...good friends, in fact. Now, your obstinance has rendered you a SLAVE.
"You cannot hurt me."
It was such a simple phrase, a mere statement, but the effect was immediate. Rog collapsed, like a puppet with its strings cut. He fell heavily, and raised his head slowly, as if a massive weight was holding it down. A single tear was all that remained of the defiant hunter.
"Pathetic. You three aren't worth replacing the staff you killed. I had such hopes with the spy you sent after me. He did manage to remain hidden, until he kept on getting calls from someone named..."St. George?" You forget my acute hearing. I was having someone slowly killed downstairs, for my ears only, when I was continually interrupted by that phone."
The phone in Randy's pocket bleeped. Lucas reached into his pocket, and withdrew it, Randy quivering in pleasure at the incidental contact.
Lucas opened it, and listened. He grunted once, and closed the phone. "I'm on my way home.
"One does not get as far as I have, without a few Nosferatu in the wings, ready to replace me at inopportune moments." With a single hand, he crushed the cellular unit. Blood raged in his temples with a hellish fury.
"Observe. Observe your end, in all its glory, recorded not on my soul but rather on that. I will kill you, and relish in every sweet drop. Not because you broke in, not because you angered me so terribly. No apologies necessary. I'm doing it because I can.
"Your neck please."
For the first time since Rog stepped into the darkness, hunting the bastard who killed his...lesbian friend (another tear)...fear crept into the only thing that was still his--his eyes. The rest of his body scooted forward, and he slowly inclined his neck to Lucas, his master. The other two stood, jealous that they were not taken first. Still, soon...
Silence filled the chamber, as everyone, Lucas included, ceased breathing. All eyes turned to a figure, somehow behind the statue.
He was tall, of African descent, with a razor cut and a slight mustache that only added character. His long trenchcoat draped to the floor. From the voluminous folds, he extracted, a single item, a sledge, which he maneuvered with great ease above his head. He wound up...
Lucas couldn't move, impossibly held in place by fear, shock, disbelief, and...something else. He watched as the hammer connected with the head, and his universe exploded. He let out a powerful wail of dread, as a part of him was wrenched into oblivion.
But the figure didn't stop there. He changed directions, and brought the sledge down on the twisted kneecap. It splintered under the force, but it was nothing in comparison to what happened to the toreador. Bone separated from bone with a sickening pop, as the figure sang out, "Knee bone's connected to the Thigh bone..."
The hammer was swung ten more times, and each time the sound Lucas could make grew more and more quiet, finally rendered into a death whimper. He was now a mangled mess of flesh, fractured and crushed, but not a single blow grazed him.
The figure glanced at the pile. "Now that's what I call catharsis." He was now dressed in a toga, with a long white beard, looking incredibly wise.
All three hunters finally regained their senses. In a moment, the spell was broken, and the marble reverted to its once original smooth facade. The heap seemed somehow to pervert further, finally sublimating into an ash. Lucas' delicate Italian leather boots, however, still somehow remained upright.
Setting the sledgehammer down, and walking over to the mess, the figure shifted one more time, wearing a blue suit, blue hat, white shirt, and sunglasses. He pointed to an almost invisible patch of fluid on the ground, and revealed a spraycan in his pocket. "Epoxy...strong stuff..."
"Who is this guy?"
"Easy, Rog, we met him a few days ago. We know how you feel about vampires, but he saved our collective butts, and all he wanted in return was to witness the downfall of the bastard that killed his Sire. He's just a harmless Malkavian, who thinks he channels famous dead people. They're mostly movie characters, thought." At this moment, the figure was unmistakably Stan Laurel, innocently blinking.
"Thanks," he grunted, his hatred forever preventing true gratitude.
"So...the bad guy's dead...what do we do now?"
Randy walked forward. "I don't know about you, but I have a sermon to write for tomorrow, and I'm sure you have to finish grading those papers you were bitching about."
Phil smiled. "If only stakes worked on freshmen comp papers."
The levity helped dispel the gloom that arose over what just (almost) happened. Both turned to go. "Rog?"
Rog was squirting the pile with lighter fluid. "I wanna make sure the sonovabitch is dead." He patted down his pockets. Somehow in all this confusion, Rog had forgotten to load up on matches.
The stranger was once again to the rescue. He produced a silver Zippo, elegantly fashioned. Rog took it from him, and examined the name etched in it. "Louis Carlson?" He looked back at the Malkavian.
No mask hid his face now. There was now a teenage boy, incredibly sad, with hollow, dead eyes. Rog knew where he saw them before: in the mirror each morning. He dropped the lighter on the mess.
Flames flickered up, and began to consume the room. Rog walked out slowly, the Malkavian keeping perfect pace. The Hunter glanced at the vampire, and noticed he had changed forms. He was now a bit shorter, with a tight mustache, and wearing a French Legionnaires Officer's uniform. The smell of cordite, and the buzz of airplane engines somehow lingered in the air. Rog knew what to say, and he said it:
"Y'know Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
It is said that truly talented artists can capture a metaimage of an object, an image so real, and so exact, that a sympathetic bond exists between subject and Object. Voodun is an insincere form of this principle, relying more on heavy manipulative magic to make the connection. When properly utilized, and created by a loving craftsman, that it is the Object that changes with time, and not the subject. Through the Art, then, the subject does indeed attain immortality.
It is not immortality without price however, for the magic that crafts such an item is fuelled by obsession and the unrequited love between artist and subject. Part of the artist, and part of the subject must be offered up to the Object to make it work. The nature of the magic is so potent, that only one such Object can even be prepared during the artist's life, and all other works created after, regardless if they deal with the subject or not, seem trite and awful.
The artist in question must be of unsurpassed quality (Artistic Expression 5, specialty Visual Mediums (Painting, Statuary, Photography, etc.)). He must thoroughly be in love with the subject (which can also be heightened through use of disciplines) and create a life sized image of the subject, scoring 5 successes in doing so.
The subject, if he accepts the Object, immediately loses one point of Humanity to make the power work (he has effectively given up part of himself). From then on, the subject can never consummate the love the Artist holds for him. Doing so would immediately break the magic, with consequences as seen below.
From the moment the Image is captured, the subject seems frozen in time. He will not age (if still mortal) and will not seem to change at all. If hit, no blemishes appear on the face, if stabbed, no blood appears. It is as if the opponent never hit, and witnessing such a spectacle gives the subject -2 to difficulty rolls to intimidate. He will still be damaged; it will just not show.
If a Gangrel, the marks of Frenzy do not appear on the body, but rather on the statue. Further, as Humanity drops, there seems to be no outward change in the character. For all purposes, he is held to his Humanity before the image was taken, including determining how much dice he can roll at social engagements and during the day. The amount of time he remains in Torpor is also determined by that initial Humanity. Additionally, the character is not taken out of play at 0 Humanity.
Finally, the aura of the individual forever remains Magic tainted, sparkling so brightly that a pale aura is impossible to see. All signs of diablerie added after the fact are hidden away. Any other form of auspex fills the viewers mind with static, from psychometry to telepathy. Two successes are wasted driving through the static created by the bond.
The Object, however, over time, shows all the signs of age, deprivation and hurt. The loss of humanity will twist the Image into something horrifying to behold. Merely seeing it makes the character take a Rotschrek roll, (diff the amount of Humanity lost by the subject), if the viewer has a Humanity greater than the subject's current. It is not often that we see the sins of another so clearly displayed.
As a result, the subject often hides the Object away, soon growing paranoid that his sins can be seen by all. However, the subject MUST view the Object once per night. This is a compulsion that will eventually drive him into frenzy. It is a self-control roll, rolled each day the subject fails to visit the Object, with a beginning difficulty of 4, and increasing each day. If the subject frenzies, nothing will stop him, short of Final Death, to find the Object. Most, however, have an innate sense of where their Objects are, and can pinpoint where it is, if stolen.
If the Object is ever destroyed, the subject takes aggravated damage levels equal to the difference between starting humanity and current humanity. This oftentimes is enough to kill, or immobilize the subject so that killing is easier. After a short time, the magic fades, and the Object takes on the original form, with the subject becoming the twisted Image.
Once the downward slide has begun, there can be no turning back. After the initial expenditure of Humanity to create the item, no new Humanity can be gained.
The subject can free himself at any time by destroying the Object himself. However, he takes the normal damage, and the image reflects back on him, potentially dropping his Appearance to 0. He cannot create a new one ever.
Endimion told the then mortal Oscar Wilde about such a Soul Item of Desire, and Wilde turned it into his novella, The Picture Of Dorian Gray. Sadly, it is rumored that Wilde is currently seeking to replicate an Item, fearing his own slipping humanity.