Logs:The Mortal Marionette pt. 2

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The Mortal Marionette pt. 2

Ashes to Ashes

Dramatis Personae

Sebastian, Aurore, Amanda

12 June, 2017

Sebastian investigates his first lead regarding the Cossington Case.


The Mornington Residence

The apartment of Astara Mornington proves to be in a rather nice part of town - Amelia must pay well. A two bedroom unit in one of the newer blocks that overlook the harbor - 68B. Though there is no answer to any call on the phone numbers given. And there is no answer to any knock on the door. The windows are closed and the curtains drawn. There is a faint scent escaping under the front door; sweet and cloying.

Sebastian arrives without his sword, dressed in a sweater vest and slacks, the outfit atypically nerdy and feeble for someone of his profession. It's almost like Clark Kent's disguise, the rouse disheveled by his sturdy, thick frame, and ashen visage. His fist as been pounding at the door for a while now, the smell of incense rare in an unoccupied home. "Ms. Mornington, I need you to answer the door." His fist rattles the door once more, a series of fast bangs, beat at it with the bottom of his fist.

All that banging brings out one of the neighbors who glares at Sebastian in that 'tutting' way. She doesn't actually tell him to be quiet - he's a big guy - but hopefully her glare gives him the right message. Then she slips inside her apartment and the locking of the door can be heard.

The smell behind the door is getting stronger. It's not incense. Similar but something is not quite right. There is a sharp tang beneath the aroma.

Sebastian gives the neighbor a bit of a gruff look, annoyance present in his eyes. There's a huff under his breath when she disappears, before he goes back to focusing on the door. His hand reaches down, twisting the knob and giving a push to see if the door is locked.

The handle is stiff but, after a bit of strength is applied, the door proves to be unlocked. It slowly creaks open and the smell hits him like a wave. That sweet aroma infused with something much less sweet. Something...rotting. There is no lights on inside and with the curtains closed it is very dark in there. The door opening into a short hallway though all the doors along it are closed.

Sebastien gives a bit of a sigh, his hand clutching around air, wishing he had Der Blut des Kinder. He presses into the room, his palm sliding up and past the light switch to flick it into the on position while he pushes the door closed behind him. "I really need to update my interview kit."

The light bulb glows with increasing intensity and then hisses before blowing, plunging the hallway into darkness again. But there was something there for a moment. A shape. At the end of the hall. Or was it just the burning of the globe into his retina. There is no sound of movement. No sign of movement. Just the smell.

The man steps further into the room with a slow, heavy pace, his hand running along the side of the wall to guide him toward that smell while he waits on his eyes to adjust. His gaze is intense, attempting to pierce through the darkness while he quietly moves further in.

Sebastien's fingers trail over the cold wall and the even colder shut doors. Nothing leaps at him as his eyes grow more accustomed to the gloom. When he reaches the end of the hallway he discovers that there is a door there but this one is open. It opens out into the lounge room. That shape he saw...that would be the reflection on the white door surface. A reflection of a body hanging from the fan in the center of the lounge. It is too dark to make out details but the stench of rot comes from it. A circle of six incense sticks burn underneath it, almost extinguished.

GAME: You spend 1 Willpower with reason: Eye for the Strange
====> Sebastian to Here <=====================================================
    Rolled 2 Successes 
    < 1 1 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 5 10 10 >
==============================>  Intelligence + Composure + 3 [No Flags] <====

The tensity doesn't leave him. Sebastian steps deeper into the lounge, pacing closer to the corpse while he sucks in a heavy breath, a troubled expression in his gaze. He picks apart the little pieces of evidence, working to determine if this is simple pretend ritualism gone awry or something more sinister.

The placement of the incense seems more about hiding the smell than any attempt at a ritual. But the body itself...it is not right. It has been charred. Burned to crumbling blackness. As Sebastian moves slowly past the hanging body, that slight wind in his wake is enough to make ashen skin flake off and float through the air. But the rope tied around the body's neck...and it seems to be a woman...is untouched by flame. Did the body burn but the rope did not? Or did someone decide to hang a burned corpse yet did so without disturbing the charred skin? Either way...it is not natural.

GAME: You spend 1 Willpower
====> Sebastian to Here <=====================================================
    Rolled 1 Success 
    < 1 4 5 5 7 7 7 7 8 >
======================================>  Wits + Investigation [Rote] <========

Sebastien paces around the corpse, drinking in the details of its posture, the way it hangs, the placement of it, any little detail of significance. He'll also look around the rest of the room, checking for anything else nearby that could be indicative of what happened here.

Nothing else in the room, or indeed the apartment, looks scorched. The body is the only thing to have burned. There is unopened mail from a week ago sitting on the kitchen counter. Photo frames sit on the counter too - pictures of the resident. One of the photo frames, an older design than the others, has no photo in it. The body is rather stiff, almost at attention as it hangs there. The rope is wrapped around the center of the fan and hangs down between two of the blades. Someone either very tall or with a ladder got up there but there are no indentations in the carpet to suggest the latter. Assuming the body needed to be touched at all to get up there.

Sebastian takes the mail, sifting through it. He shifts the envelopes to the back while he examines each parcel, checking for anything that doesn't appear to be common junk mail.

The unopened mail looks to be mostly bills - does that count as junk mail - but there is also an envelope from what looks to be the 'University of Lagos'.

His amber eyes wash with disinterest over the various envelopes until he arrives at the note from the university. He tears it open with a rip across the top, peeling away it's top in a fine strip while he takes out the parchment within, unfolding it as he reads in the company of the corpse.

The letter inside is from a Professor N'Bapo. A quick skim reveals it concerns the providence of the Junari doll that went missing. It seem to suggest that it is authentic and the Professor is pleading that Astara return it to Lagos and not try to use it. He feels that the course of action she proposes, which is not mentioned anywhere, would lead to disaster. And that there are other ways to deal with her issues.

The hunter taps the edge of the letter while he reads it. "Mm." He stuffs that into a pocket, leaving the envelope opened and resting in the pile. That finished, he'll head off to the empty frame and lift it up, checking for any inscriptions or other markings on the item, either in plane sight, or hidden within it's assembled ridges by pulling it apart as though to insert a new photo.

There are no markings on the frame or anything hidden inside. A corner of the photo falls out of the frame as it is disassembled. It is a black and white image of what looks to be the branch of a tree. The photo must have been torn when removed.

There are no markings on the frame or anything hidden inside. A corner of the photo falls out of the frame as it is disassembled. It is a black and white image of what looks to be the branch of a tree. The photo must have been torn when removed.

That fragment is pocketed as well before the frame is rebuilt and wiped free of any fingerprints. His last move is to step back toward the body, pulling a small utility knife from his pocket. He'll use it to cut away at a piece of the rope, stealing it to study later.

The rope is...odd. Sebastian will need to stand on something to get to it and as he tries to carve away a chunk, it comes away like it is a sculpture of plastic. And underneath the brown, hairy surface is a slick, dark redness. This is not rope. It only has the appearance of rope.

The hunter blinks, shifting in his spot atop the coffee table as his knife comes away as though it might have through flesh. He slides a finger through the wound he's made in the rope, bringing it to his nose and inhaling.

The pungent stench of rotting death burns his nostrils and assails his senses. The waxy substance becoming more liquid with the warmth of his flesh. Now it is like blood. Tissue. The hair of the rope feeling more like human hair now.

Sebastian almost feels the quiver in his stomach of rising vomit as saliva rushes through his mouth before his eyes press closed and he wills his body into submission, conquering the stench with the ward of sheer willpower. "Disgusting," he mutters beneath his breath. Curiously, he'll move to snap off one of her fingers, testing if there's anything but ash left behind.

Most of the finger disappears into a cloud of ash but he is left with the off-white of what must be the bone. Except that the bone is squirming in his hand like a worm. A worm that writhes and...hisses? It tries to wrap around his finger…

With a flick of his wrist that worm is flicked on to the ground below the coffee table. He takes a wary step back from the corpse, still atop the coffee table, while he watches the creature he's released from within it.

It is a bone. No writhing. No hissing. Simply a finger bone tossed violently to the carpeted floor. The incense sticks are starting to extinguish now.

With intrigue in his eyes, Sebastian steps down from the coffee table. He pulls free his cell phone and taps in a series of digits.

Aurore's phone will ring, announcing Sebastian's call. It's mid-day.

Sebastian's voice comes through the line gruff and heavy. "Aurore. It's Sebastian, the retired folklorist." He pauses a beat, giving her a chance to recall. "I have a situation here. Can you come to 129 Bridgewater Lane? Bring nag champa incense."

Sebastian is in the two bedroom apartment of someone else...he can explain any details he wishes to. It is a nice part of town though and the units are recent. The arriving pair will get a curious look through the blinds from a neighbor but no one will stop them.

The apartment is dark. The windows and curtains closed. And it smells of death. A little more each minute as the incense sticks burn out and no longer cover the odor.

Aurore does look rather out of place: full bike leathers and a hefty pack containing an array of conventional and esoteric elements of an arsenal, along with the side-shaven head and striking looks. She's also sporting a decidedly wary look, surveying her surroundings with her full array of senses as she approaches the unfortunate domicile.

Amanda arrives with Aurore, clad in orange and carrying her own bag of esoteric weaponry and a camera. She has no supernatural senses, but she looks at the scene more forensically, and looking for anything that may have been caused supernaturally.

When they arrive, they'll find the hunter leaning against a wall, staring down a corpse, burned to a crisp, that hangs from a ceiling fan.

"Shut the door behind you," Sebastian calls out from further into the apartment, a burned out lightbulb above the hall heralding their arrival. He grinds his teeth, and steps further into the room. "There's something unnatural about this corpse. I'm not certain yet, but when exposed to either heat or something living it seems to come alive." His teeth grind, eyes sliding over Amanda dubiously. "I hope your friend knows what she's doing." He looks down onto the carpet at a small bone. "Did you bring the nag champa?" he asks, amber eyes steeling over Aurore.

Amanda looks at Sebastian then Aurore, asking Aurore, "He one of you lot?" She takes a few steps closer to the body to get a closer look at it and the rope.

Aurore cocks her head, eyes unfocusing as she seems to... listen, perhaps. "There's a spirit present," she says, wholly failing to answer comments from either of her current companions. "Doesn't appear to be actively *doing* anything at the moment, but whatever went on here at the least drew some attention. I could see if I can get hold of it for a chat, but kicking my consciousness out of my body takes time...." Refocusing upon what constitutes most people's reality, she musters a wan smile. "Sorry. Mr Jager, meet Miss Pierce. She wound up involved in this side of life when some 'folklore' showed up where it shouldn't, and grabbed someone right in front of us. Since then, she's been doing what she can - which has been quite a lot - to help keep other people safe. As for Sebastian: he was directed here to retire for a quiet life." She shoots Amanda a wryly amused look. "He's a freelancer, consulting on problems regarding 'folklore'. On which note... heat animates it? Hrmmmm. I can't recall seeing references to anything quite like this, off the top of my head. But fire as a motive, living force certainly does feature in some mythologies."

The rope looks like rope. A small piece of it has been sliced away to reveal the intertwining strands within but nothing beyond that. Any touch to the corpse's skin, or even walking past it, will cause ash to peel away and float into the air.

"Mm." There's a bit of a grim expression that sets over Sebastian's lips. "I expected a ghost." He uses the word like he's agreeing, and isn't aware of any technical difference between a spirit and ghost. He gives Amanda a brief nod, only half considering her. "I'm not certain it's heat. When I touched it, it came alive. It may only respond to the touch of a living creature. What I am certain of is that testing it's nature is unwise unprepared and alone." He kneels down before the fallen bone. "Aurore, if you can communicate with the lost spirit of this woman that would be very helpful. Ms. Peirce, let's get to work. We need to light some incense and touch the end to this bone. I want to know if we can get rid of whatever this is with fire before the police find it, wake it up, and get themselves killed."

Yeah, this totally isn't natural," Amanda says, looking at the others. "If the body was burned hanging up, the fire magically didn't affect the rope. If it was burned on the ground, it was hung up without disturbing the ash and burned skin," she explains. "So yeah, whatever happened only the body was targeted." She nods to Sebastian and says, "Sure. Need me to spray holy water anywhere, if that'd help?"

Aurore rather absent-mindedly shakes her head... beginning to look more and more perturbed as she catches up with quite what her nose and eyes are registering. "Ahh, no. Not a ghost. Manifestation of concepts or objects - including people and animals - within the physical realm," she explains distractedly. "Tend to be dealt with by us in a similar fashion to ghosts, since they're naturally bodiless and ephemeral here, but their origins are quite different. And they were never human. I'll, ahh, withdraw out of your way a little and see what I can do about opening up contact. I really need to work on making this easier..."

"Oh, so you mean a fae," Sebastian answers Aurore, his terminology apparently quite different. Back to Amanda, he shakes his head. "Don't think so." He gestures around the apartment. "Nothing nearby is burned or scorched. The ash falls away like thick dust in the wind, but there's no ash anywhere else in the apartment, so it wasn't dragged here. Whatever happened to that corpse happened right there where it hung." He picks up the chunk of rope he cut free earlier, tossing it to the investigator in hopes that she'll catch it in her hand. "Here's your rope. Did you two bring the incense I mentioned?"

Amanda looks to Aurore then moves closer to her so she can keep an eye on her friend and quickly intervene if anything happens. She catches the rope with a latex glove, then properly gloves up her hands to inspect the rope. Looking it over, she says, "Yeah, I've got some incense." She shoves a hand in her bag and pulls it out, handing it over.

The touching of burning incense to the bone causes...slight browning of the what remains of the finger bone. No reaction. No twisting and writhing. Whatever Sebastian saw before doesn't seem to be repeating itself.

The bit of rope that Amanda catches is just that, a bit of rope. Cords of 'hair' twisted round and round. The smell is rapidly getting worse. Will it be too long before that nosey neighbor gets a sniff?

"We tend to have a few supplies around.... And no, not fae. They're something else again. This kind of spirit's the sort of thing that'd be dealt with by many shamen," Aurore explains as she swings her pack off her back, delving into it to begin setting up a ritual space - starting with a ground mat decorated with an array of occult sigils. "Their native realm's the 'spirit world': a shadowy reflection of this one, with influence flowing both ways, at times. What happens here generates and nourishes things there. So there's an active interest in intervening here to shape things. Old legends often tell of times when there was no boundary between the worlds, but most entities of either realm struggle to even perceive the other, let alone travel there. Anyway... I'm going to zone out for quite some time. This'll require entering a trance."

Sebastian takes the incense from her and steps into the kitchen while she looks over the rope. "Try it with your bare hand," he hints, moving through the kitchen to find a lighter and apply it to the tip of the incense. He taps it against the bone several times, watching it's reaction. With a voice like oiled granite grinding against itself, he stands, shaking his head. "Guess it wasn't the heat." He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wraps it around the bone, picking it up to test the outcome while he shakes the nag champa about the room, attempting to combat the scent.

Amanda lifts up her camera to take a few photos of the body and rope. "Everyone else will be interested in this," she says. Putting back down, she looks to Sebastian. "Yeah? What happens when you touch the rope with your bare hands?" she asks.

There is no reaction from the bone in Sebastian's hand either. It sits there, crumbling a little from all the touching.

Aurore is slowly drifting off into her trance as Amanda takes photos in the gloom of the room. The body inert as it does its silent modelling.

"Nothing pleasant," he tells, stepping wide around Amanda to dodge the business end of her camera. He'll set that finger bone down on the counter before moving through the apartment methodically, moving from door to door, exploring each room with careful, slow steps, as though expecting to be attacked.

For her own part, Aurore's silence is occasionally broken with short bursts of mumbling, but it seems as if the process of 'kicking her consciousness out of her body' does indeed take a while... during which time she does her best to remain oblivious to her surroundings and the actions of her companions.

====> Aurore to Here <========================================================
     Rolled 0 Success 
    < 1 2 3 4 4 5 6 6 6 7 7 >
==============================>  Resolve + Occult + 1 + 1 + 1 [No Flags] <====
====> Aurore to Here <========================================================
    Rolled 2 Successes 
    < 1 1 1 1 1 3 4 5 5 7 8 10 >
==============================>  Resolve + Occult + 1 + 1 + 1 [No Flags] <====

It takes Aurore so long to detach her awareness from her corporeal form that the main surprise is, frankly, that there's still anything there to receive here. Still, she formally bows her Shadow-projection's head to it. Her lips move slightly, silently, in the physical realm, as she addresses the spirit in Shadow.

Amanda's not of much use at the moment, as she's not psychically attuned like Aurore is. She slowly walks round the apartment, looking for anything of interest.

The rest of the apartment is 'quiet'. It doesn't look like anyone has been here for a week or so. The resident does not have a lot of furniture or possessions. Nothing leaps out at either of the wanderers to attack them.

====> Sebastian to Here <=====================================================
    Rolled 5 Successes for an exceptional success.
    < 5 5 7 8 8 9 9 10 >
==========================================>  Wits + Composure [No Flags] <====
====> Amanda to Here <========================================================
    Rolled 2 Successes 
    < 1 2 3 4 5 5 5 5 6 9 10 >
==============================================>  Wits + Composure [Rote] <====

Amanda is unable to find much beyond the basics but Sebastian finds a hastily scrawled phone number on a curled up piece of paper stuffed under the pillow on the bed.

Sebastian grabs the parcel, as well as the blanket from the bed. "I found a phone number," he tells, having already stuffed the paper into his pocket. For the blanket, he brings that into the main room, laying it beneath the corpse. A coffee table positioned nearby is used as a stool for him to stand atop, and being working at untying the rope from the fan with his bare hands, unflinching.

"Want me to check it out?" Amanda asks. "I can call it, make sure it's not traced it back to us. I can also research it, find out who it belongs to."

Aurore frowns - rather more evidently in Shadow than on her fleshly face - and slowly inclines her head once more. "Something has implanted a puppet within the body, to control it?", she asks. "You can speak to me: I can understand spirit-tongue. I am kin to you, however distantly it might be."

The room feels colder all of a sudden. Sebastian's fingers painful as he picks at the rope. Rope that now seems to have frost on the surface. And then the body shudders as if something had rammed into it. The 'impact' causing it to billow into a cloud of ash.

GAME: Aurore spends 1 Willpower with reason: not screwing this one up
====> Aurore to Here <========================================================
    Rolled 4 Successes 
    < 2 2 3 4 5 5 5 6 6 6 7 8 8 9 10 >
=========================>  Intelligence + Occult + 1 + 1 + 3 [No Flags] <====

Sebastian plucks his fingers back from the rope sharply just as the body shakes and spasms before him, his eyes going wild and alert. "Sure," he tells, reaching into his pocket while eyeing both the corpse and Aurore dubiously. "Here. Let me know what you find." The number is held out toward her invitingly.

Aurore fights the urge to say anything in response to the abrupt departure of the spirit... but quite easily suppresses the urge to set about summoning it back. Or the thing it mentioned. Instead, she shifts the focus of her thoughts and awareness, slipping back into the embrace of her physical body - and promptly shivering in response to the chill that has pervaded this side, too. Groaning softly, she arches her back and rolls her neck, joints crunching slightly, before she looks around in search of her companions.

The body is now simply ash floating in the air. The only thing left the piece of bone that Sebastian retrieved earlier. The rope now hangs with nothing in its noose.

Sebastian wears a grim-set expression from where he stands atop the coffee table, his body tense as he eyes that rope. As Aurore rises again, he casts his eyes toward her only long enough to be sure that she isn't rising injured. "Your friend left. Ran off to research a phone number I found," he explains. Tentatively, he reaches up again, attempting to untie that rope once more if he's not injured for his attempt at it.

Aurore nods slowly, then reaches a hand up to rub at the back of her neck. "Nnngh. Have you heard of 'Junari' dolls?", she asks, a little hoarsely. "Originally from Mali, they're the local version of a protective charm - employed to defend families and their homes against malign spirits. There are stories of malevolent practitioners of the arts finding ways to corrupt the dolls; instead of keeping out, they invite in. Becoming carriers of evil rather than a defense against it. Some of those stories suggest that such corrupted dolls can come alive, to torment their victims - even killing them - before returning to their masters. It seems that we've had an incident of that, here. The spirit I was talking to was afraid of whatever had corrupted the Junari. I *think* that it might have been what burned the body, to try to purify it. Certainly, the cold hit when it departed."

Aurore launches into her explanation, during which Sebastian remains silent. After she's finished, he nods. "I've heard of them. Your spirit mention anything about some kind of token or item?" he asks, rolling it into his hands, testing at it before muttering something unpleasant beneath his breath and tossing it aside. "We'd better get out of here. Meddled long enough," he tells, stepping toward the front door.

Stiffly regaining her feet, Aurore bundles up her possessions, returning them to her pack. "It pushed a spear through the chest of the body, ripping out a doll that had been hidden there. I'd guess that was it removing the last of the doll's influence - and what precipitated the body collapsing here. But if the doll's taken animate form, then the *actual* thing could potentially be roaming free. Or whatever corrupted it might be looking for more targets in the local area. Either way, yeah... we should clear out, for now."

Far later into the night, Sebastian reclines in a chair before his desk. In his hand, he holds the bone, still wrapped in a handkerchief. He twirls the remaining morsel of Ms. Mornington thoughtfully, though it doesn't seem to be the bone itself that he studies. Mortality courses through the veins of each of us, and in a pursuit of power it is too often tested.