Listening to the Universe: Freedom City mystics

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Listening to the Universe: Freedom City mystics

Post by kipling » Sat Apr 22, 2006 8:00 pm

The following is a brief story involving none of my players or their characters but intended to give something of the flavour I'm hoping for in the campaign and indicating the first awareness of the problem that will prove to be the major plot arc.

So far as I can tell, Thomas Rhymer appears only in the Freedom City encyclopedia, so I used him.

EDIT: Now, of course, he's detailed in Book of Magic, but you can enjoy him here in his pre-BoM days.

Listening to the universe

Thomas Rhymer, cigarette already in hand, stepped into the spring night as the nightclub exhaled the last of its hot air.

"Light?" asked the young woman from the shadows.

Rhymer nodded, and studied the woman--girl, almost--in the light of the flame. Pretty: heart-shaped face, medium brown hair pulled back, dark eyes, and pale skin that was almost translucent. "I liked your set," she said.

"You're not old enough to be in there," he said as a stray breeze blew out the lighter. She lit it again and he cupped his hands around hers. Her flesh was cold. "Bloody hell," he said. "You're dead."

"Just a little," she said.

"Dead is like pregnant, darlin' -- there's no just a little."

"You know that's not true."

"True enough." He took a drag on the cigarette. "What do you want with me?"

"I like your music--isn't that enough?"

"Funny, the dead usually prefer the blues."

She took his wrist in her cold dead fingers. "I need you to get my life back."

Rhymer sighed. She was pretty and he was an eejit for a juicy girl.

"Come inside and we'll see what we can do.."

Andrew the bouncer grabbed Rhymer's arm as they came back in.

"She's underage."

"You're closed," Rhymer said. "Besides, she won't drink anything."

Andrew didn't let go. "Was this one of your seeings?"

"No; she came to me. I can't prophesy anything that's coming to me. That would spoil Gloriana's fun."

"You're sure she won't drink?"

"I don't drink any more," she said.

"That's okay," Andrew said, "Rhymer can drink enough for both of you."

"I'd vex you if you weren't right, Andrew."

* * *

Her name was Sarah. She was seventeen. She had been trying on her prom dress when suddenly she was standing next to her prostrate body, there in her bedroom.

"I waited--you know, for the light, or the angel, or whatever--and there was nothing. So after a while I just pushed, you know? Put my hand on my own hand and, well, slipped in."

"And how'd you think of me?"

"I didn't know where to go, and then I remembered that Yeats had been really into the occult and I had seen a bill up for your set, and you're Irish."

Rhymer nodded. "You know what magic is, Sarah? Mostly, it's listening when the universe is trying to tell you something. And you listened when the universe told you to come see me. Good girl."

She smiled. Her cheeks were still fairly supple; sometimes rigor mortis was delayed by the spirit. That's what he had heard, anyway. He took a deep swallow of his Guinness. Not as good as at home, but it was Guinness, and draft. "You're not in the prom dress, I see." She was wearing jeans and a polo shirt.

"I didn't want to mess it up."

"And your parents?"

"Away for the weekend. Trying to get back in touch."

"Can I ask you a few basic questions?" She nodded. "Have you unfinished business?"

"Hello? I'm seventeen."

"Lots of lives get cut short, Sarah. Anything in particular?"

"The prom is coming up?"

"That's such a big deal, is it?"

"It's...." She shrugged. "It's the prom."

"The prom." He rolled the words in his mouth and didn't like the taste of them. He took another sip of Guinness. "Have you pissed off any bokors or crazy people living under bridges? No? Ever done magic of even the most trivial kind?"

"Magic?"

"Did you ever wash a mirror with seawater at midnight and chant Bloody Mary's name? Burn a blue candle to get a boy to love you? Ask questions of a Ouija board?" She shook her head for each of them. "You're sure? Because the prom..." He sighed and then drained his Guinness. "Let me get my kit and we'll be off to this bedroom of yours."

* * *

He was reluctant to let a dead girl drive, but she had gotten to the club fine. "You can't smoke in my dad's car," she apologized.

"You smoke."

"Yeah, so does my mom. Maybe to piss him off. But my dad doesn't want cigarette smoke in his leather."

"You can tell him it keeps ghosts away."

"Is that why you smoke?"

"It's why I keep smoking. "

"Here it's against the law, in public places."

"Same back home. But I'm sure they'll regret it when the ghosts show up."

Sarah giggled. "My gramma played bingo. She had to go to the Catholic church basement because the Baptists said it was sinful. I went with her as a kid and the cigarette smoke was down to your waist. I had to kneel to breathe." She pressed a button and an automatic gate opened.

Her house screamed money, but discreetly. The garage was larger than the home Rhymer had grown up in, with a long work table and tools racked up on pegboard and outlined in white paint. He caught a glimpse of something moving on the far side of the garage, and he said, "I'll have a cigarette now, if you don't mind."

"Oh. Sure. I'll join you."

"So," he said. "Is there a boy to go with the prom?"

"I don't wanna talk about him. He's being a jerk."

Rhymer nodded and leaned against the work table. It was clean as a baby's conscience, almost untouched by human hands. He felt old. They smoked in silence.

Finally she crushed hers in the ashtray and said, "So what do you think my problem is?"

"You're sure you never did magic? I remember one fellow carved an inscription on the mold for a trophy figurine, four footballers--American football--possessed by demons when they read it aloud."

She put one hand on her hip: she knew this punch line. "What, the others couldn't read?"

"Almost. Their accents were atrocious and the demons didn't know they were being called." He grinned. "But if you say you've never done any, then you haven't. Shall we see that room of yours?"

The room was tidy--the prom dress was back in plastic and hanging on a hook on the closet door; books and pictures competed for space on shelves. She went over to the dress and stroked the skirt through the plastic. "I didn't mess it up. I heard you, you know, mess yourself when you die."

"Depends on where your food is at the time. Or your ex-food, you might say." He wandered through the room, stroking surfaces with his fingertips: the bedspread; the desk; the shelves; the wallpaper; a mound of stuffed toys. "What's supposed to happen after death is that an agent comes to take you to your afterlife."

"An agent?"

"A spirit, a guide, a white light, an angel, a whippoorwill, a giant black dog, a horse, a Valkyrie, or Hermes. These days it might even include a limousine service and a pogo stick--it depends on your culture."

"There wasn't!" she said, near tears.

"I believe you. Sometimes an agent offers you a choice. Do you remember being offered the chance to fight evil?"

"No!"

"Shhhhh," he said, and hugged her. "So what we'll do is make some phone calls, okay?"

"All right."

He used the phone in her parents' bedroom--twin beds, he noticed--and called a few people. Then he said, "Mind if I use your loo?"

"Go ahead," she said. "Are you hungry? I'm not hungry. Is that bad?"

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, Sarah."

"Do cigars keep ghosts away?"

"You're not old enough to flirt with me yet. Go make me a sandwich, then, while I make some calls. And some crisps if you have them. And then put on that nice prom dress. I'd like to see it on you."

* * *

She stopped at the threshold. "What are you doing?"

"Making some calls. Nobody on earth could help, so I called long distance." The phone jack dangled, unconnected, in the center of two concentric circles drawn on the carpet with chalk; the cord ran on small cardboard trestles. "I left messages."

"What's the cardboard for?"

"Sometimes other things come through the circle. You don't want to accidentally smear the lines with the phone cord."

"I thought magic was listening to the universe."

"Sometimes the universe lies, donit?"

* * *

"So there I was, surrounded by hungry spirits, rain starting to wash away the circle, and me with laryngitis and nothing but a Jew's harp to charm them. Well--"

The phone rang. Sarah stopped laughing. "It's for you."

"Cheeky," he said and answered the phone. "True Thomas."

The voice on the other end was staticky and uncertain. "What will you bargain, True Thomas?"

"Information is all I want."

"Information is all I sell. I repeat: what will you bargain?"

One at a time, Thomas wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs. This kind of improvisation was always risky. "What do I ever offer, Galernel? A song, a moment's release from the infernal place where you are."

There was a long pause. "It is enough," said the demon. And then: "But none of that power pop ballad crap. I want a real song. "

Thomas rolled his eyes at Sarah. "Agreed." He covered the mouthpiece. "This won't be pretty. He wants country and western. You might want to leave. "

It took her two tries to get up. "Gosh, I'm stiff," she said, and Thomas nodded and smiled with encouragement as she shuffled out of the room and shut the door behind her.

* * *

"Singing to demons always gives me a headache. I took some paracetamol from your parents," he said as he walked into her bedroom. "Found something in there." He held out an empty pill bottle, dated for the previous day. "Did you maybe take these, young Sarah?"

"I don't remember."

"Did your boyfriend perhaps dump you?"

"Maybe."

"There's no dimension but ours that has claim on you. Were you so distraught that you put on your prom dress and took all of your mother's barbiturates?"

"I don't remember!"

"Look at me." He put his hand under her waxen chin and turned her to look at him. "Did you maybe change your mind?"

"My parents are going to get a divorce. They're splitting up. That's what they're doing this weekend. And Faber dumped me. But I don't want to die!"

"I know, darlin'. You're too pretty to die."

"I'm stiffening up."

"It happens."

"It's rigor mortis, isn't it?"

"Ayup. May I have this dance?" She managed a small nod.

He sang "Save the Last Dance for me," a capella, while guiding her around the floor. Her steps were slow and uncertain, but finally she was standing in the circles in her parents' room. He held the last note for longer than he had any right.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Now, darlin', do you hear the universe whispering? It's time to let go." He kissed her on her smooth cold forehead. He said a few short, very old words, and she sagged in his arms. He laid her body on her bed, and then scuffed out the markings on the floor.

* * *

When he got outside, the ghosts were waiting.

"That was so touching, Thomas," said Archie, who had an open hole where his heart used to be. "Someone you could actually help."

"Was it because she was prettier than I used to be?" said Meta, half her face gone and shreds dangling from the other half.

"You can be the saviour to girls like that, but we know the real you," said Dwayne, bent over from the agonies of his death.

"Sod off, all of you," said Thomas Rhymer, as he lit another cigarette to keep them at bay.
Last edited by kipling on Thu Aug 07, 2008 10:41 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Post by Devastation Bob » Sat Apr 22, 2006 11:31 pm

Wow, nicely written. Did you mean for her to say the part about not wanting to mess up the prom dress twice?
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Post by Libra » Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:26 am

Technically True Thomas the Rhymer is Scottish. You may want to consider that.

Nice Short Story.
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Post by kipling » Sun Apr 23, 2006 7:14 am

Libra wrote:Technically True Thomas the Rhymer is Scottish. You may want to consider that.
I thought about that, but the Freedom City encyclopedia expressly says Irish for this guy, so I figured I'd go with compatibility.

There was a line where he complained that everyone in America thought he was Scottish, but it got taken out.
Libra wrote: Nice Short Story.
Thanks.

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Post by kipling » Sun Apr 23, 2006 7:17 am

Devastation Bob wrote:Wow, nicely written. Did you mean for her to say the part about not wanting to mess up the prom dress twice?
That would be what I call a "mistake." Fixed. (I hope.)

You proof and you proof again, and your eye (well, mine) skips right over these things... (My other excuse is that I'm doing it on someone else's computer this weekend.)

Thanks for the catch, and the compliment.

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Post by Libra » Sun Apr 23, 2006 11:00 am

Hmmmm. Accuracy or canonicity?

Accuracy! The Irish seem to always get the credit!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Rhymer

See, Scottish!
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Post by kipling » Sun Apr 23, 2006 12:24 pm

Libra wrote:Hmmmm. Accuracy or canonicity?

Accuracy! The Irish seem to always get the credit!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Rhymer

See, Scottish!
All right. For the no-prize:

In the Freedom City universe, the man called Thomas Rhymer or True Thomas is a descendant of Thomas Learmonth of Erceldoune, the original Thomas the Rhymer. One of Thomas' more immediate ancestors left Scotland for greener pastures and started an Irish branch of the family.

The modern Thomas is in fact the seventh son of a seventh son, and inherited nothing of his ancestor's title or deeds.

Although raised in Ireland, he does claim to be Scottish, as the fancy and need take him.

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Post by JohnR » Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:09 pm

Good job on the story.

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Post by Libra » Mon Apr 24, 2006 7:13 am

Alright, I apologise for the nitpicking, but I can't let the Irish get the credit for all the best Celtic myths now, can I?
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Post by mortarion » Mon Apr 24, 2006 8:02 am

Libra wrote:Alright, I apologise for the nitpicking, but I can't let the Irish get the credit for all the best Celtic myths now, can I?
No


No you can't
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Post by kipling » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:21 pm

All right, you two.

If you get Steve Kenson to change the nationality of the Freedom City Thomas Rhymer to Scottish, I will change the story to match.

The Scots have all the good witches, too.

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Post by mortarion » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:33 pm

kipling wrote:All right, you two.

If you get Steve Kenson to change the nationality of the Freedom City Thomas Rhymer to Scottish, I will change the story to match.

The Scots have all the good witches, too.
Oh Steeeeeeeeve!
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Post by Libra » Tue Apr 25, 2006 3:12 am

KENSON!
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Post by kipling » Mon Jul 10, 2006 11:49 am

I've modified the ending of the story, because the campaign is not getting near the original arc. :)

So the original ending was:
kipling wrote: She was waiting for him outside, still in her prom dress: visible only to those who were sensitive or who had spent time in Faerie. "There was no agent," she said. "Please don't light that cigarette. I don't want to be kept away."

"Bloody hell," he said as he looked up and down the block. "Something is seriously wrong."
And the new ending is above.
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Post by Good_Omen » Fri Sep 22, 2006 7:22 pm

Most excellent. I enjoyed it very much. Hope the rest of your game goes as well as the short story did.
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