Elliott, campus head for Chicago, steps up to cover the 911 and public spin aspects of the unfortunate fatality.
“The body will be moved very soon; don’t worry about the in situ aspect,” he assures Sandi, “and the public story will be that June had stomach flu and had to go home.
“Ah, by the way Sandi,” he continues as Sandi makes notes on her checklist, “I’ve called for volunteers to lay charms on bullets, so if you have the, ah, bricks bring their ammunition to reception that will be done shortly.”
“Oooh, sparkly!” Sandi exclaims happily and rejoins the security detail. She relays Elliott’s instructions and continues:
“Just a couple more things before we patrol again. First, let’s remind ourselves where fire extinguishers are when we go back on patrol. Next, Stratos-7: Is the whole list through now? We need to close it off.”
“Uh no,” Michael responds, checking off his list and double-checking with Ford. “Still a couple of stragglers to come.”
“OK that means you need to stay in Stratos-7 and let me know once they are in. Next, let’s just refresh ourselves on hand and voice signals. Remember to keep signals simple.”
The 14-strong security team quickly runs through hand and voice signal protocols again, before Sandi moves to the next issue, slightly awkwardly:
“Uh Cliff, can we just chat privately for a few moments?”
Sandi and Cliff step away to the entrance. Beyond, the reception desk is now clear. Across the broad space of the lobby, the North Utah Bridal Center’s displays of bride and bridegroom mannequins have been set up, festoons of white and cream silk, taffeta, lace and georgette turning the area into a fairytale setting. Dora and Paul, obeying Sandi’s precepts of remaining in section at all times, follow and wait for developments.
“So Cliff, what’s your feeling about the next attack? We’ve seen infiltration with diversion. I’m thinking some type of close-range assault will happen sometime.”
“Yeah, could be. There’s plenty of key targets and we really haven’t been tight on carry-in gear,” the barrel-chested Cliff agrees. “But we don’t have scanners – just relying on reading people and spotting things as they develop.”
“I was trying to figure out when we should ask you to bring on the sparkly magic bullets, Hitch,” Sandi explains as they rejoin the group. “It’s kind of hard to guess what comes next but with your talk being quite soon…”
“Oh, right enough: it’s the top-notch magic bullets you’re after. Well, let me see: if I cast now, the charm will last to hmm, nearly eight tonight.”
“Let’s do that then: Cliff and me will use yours and top up with the normal stuff over there.”
Hitch powers up the pile of ammunition Sandi and Cliff provide and the whole security detail loads up from the cases of charmed ammunition Elliott has organized.
The bricks break into sections again and swing back onto patrol, Sandi warning them to expect close-range assault on key targets and to stay alert. The section – Ford and Mike – guarding Stratos-7 remains stationed there until 11am when the last straggler ports in, then push a table across the portal locus and patrol actively. Dan is on his own in the watch room, because Hitch has taken a seat on the small dais where, backed up by their entourages, the Big Three are kicking off the convocation.
William Wagner, patriarchal, dignified and charismatic, inaugurates the convocation with a short, pithy welcoming speech, then Diana Trieste, the Canadian head and a smartly-dressed, well-preserved 50ish, replaces Wagner at the podium. Her speech, received mainly in a hushed silence, describes the devastation of the past 14 or so months. Many there are unfamiliar with details, or have not associated a multiple fatality with a particular campus. The enormity of the threat is stark and clear by the time Trieste finishes. Behind her Wagner nods majestically and Rudolphus Verde, smooth-faced despite his mature years, claps gently.
Trieste calls on Joe Hitchcock to make the next presentation. She gives a brief recap of his role and career with the Chicago campus as he readies his Powerpoint, then takes her seat facing out over the 100-plus Academy members. The bricks patrol quietly around the perimeter and into the staff area, watchfully. Catching Sandi’s eye, Frank Gibson of the “G” winks encouragingly. She smiles in return: Elliott introduced her to Frank when he checked in, and has conferred with the craggy-featured Fed since: apparently Gibson is here in a liaison capacity.
In the watch room, Dan runs his experienced eyes over the monitors. Roof is clear; the lobby is busy but with visitors heading for the Bridal show; the sections are patrolling normally. The Big Three and their entourages are seated behind Hitch, some craning around to see the Powerpoint, others watching him.
Thanking Trieste, Hitch introduces his subject: the presence of Greater Vampires and their source. He deals first with the immediate past: the Chicago campus’ purging of the vamp nest in Frisco. Most of the audience is attentive and receptive, but Randolph Goodman, a red-faced Orleanois, raises his voice in condemnation: where are the photographs of these supposed Great Vampires? Hitch quiets him firmly but politely and moves to the second section of his presentation: the rise of Rieker and speculation as to the presence of a being of immense necromantic power sponsoring him.
“Sandi! Neneh, that woman in Wagner’s entourage who made trouble before, is videoing Hitch with her cellphone,” Paul calls in.
“On our way.” Sandi’s first instinct is to use immediate physical force but her Academy training cautions her to try subtlety. She writes a quick note asking Neneh to come to the watch room and has a waitress slip it to Neneh: but the suit-clad PA merely dismisses the request.
Hitch turns to the roots of the Great Vampire Hunt: the Niejetzie affair. He proposes that the Monk had in fact swapped identities with Roundtree and by that means escaped the effect of the great spell and in turn caused the death of the real Roundtree. The unfortunate Cross, driven mad by the experience, left clues in his ravings, unearthed in the letters the San Francisco mission uncovered.
Hitch is interrupted as Sandi steps up to the Podium:
“I’m sorry to interrupt Hitch, but I have to ask Neneh to assist on a security matter.”
So saying she and Cliff book-end Neneh and with Dora and Paul covering them, march the reluctant PA to the watch room. Neneh fumbles with her cellphone but even as she locates the delete key the phone disappears from her grasp as if by magic: Sandi tosses it to Paul.
Dan stares closely at Neneh as Sandi zip-ties her into a chair and gags her. His access to the spiritual realm suggest she is under a spell of some kind. But his counter-charm fails to dispel it.
“My guess is that she’s been dominated by a Greater Vampire,” Paul comments. “She’s sent a number of messages, including one that signaled her arrival just before the first attack.”
“Renfielded!” Sandi exclaims. “That totally explains it!”
Meanwhile, Hitch ties together the Vitellius cup, which vanished from Niejetzie and has just been recovered, with the Frisco nest of vamps, and the Chicago team’s success. He proposes that the Monk is still extant and is creating Greater Vampires as expendable soldiers and dominating mortals. This was how an explosive was smuggled into Seattle’s campus: one of their number was dominated and smuggled the bomb in himself.
While there is no hard evidence for a great deal of Hitch’s proposition, the circumstantial evidence hangs together well and the mood of the audience is receptive and even enthusiastic – save for Randy Goodman, who storms out in a huff.
William Wagner quietly leaves the dais and makes his way to the watch room. He finds his assistant bound and gagged and the Chicago brick unapologetic: Neneh has been Renfielded (as Sandi puts it) and is a danger. Wagner draws on his considerable powers and breaks the domination. Neneh sobs in remorse.
“Sandi: would you care to accompany me to a more private area: I need to ask Neneh some questions and other observers should be present,” Wagner asks.
“I’ll be very happy to! Let’s go, girlfriend!” Sandi exclaims, and she and Dora accompany Wagner and Neneh to Stratos-7, the only other room not being used for workshopping. The convocation is breaking for lunch: a little late but sticking to schedule. Sandi’s smooth forehead creases slightly in a frown.
William Wagner casts an enchantment that requires Neneh to tell the truth. Under its influence, she recalls that around eight months ago after the sinking of Boston she met one Philip Ussher. A round-faced, curly-haired, pallid gentleman of impressive charisma and impeccable attire, he it was that bent her mind to his sway. Wagner himself pales at the thought of this spy in his entourage for so long. Finally he asks Neneh if she knows of anyone else Ussher has been in touch with.
“Yes… my assistant Rachel… we had a dinner meeting with him once…”
“Cliff!” Sandi snaps, “Rachel – in the entourage for Wagner – sanction her now! Bring her here!”
Cliff’s gaze sears over the convocation, happily jostling along buffet trestles and filling plates. Trieste is ladling some cranberry onto her turkey and Rachel is right there beside her: a blade glitters, barely glimpsed, in her fist!
Realizing he can’t get there physically in time, Cliff draws his Colt Python, levels it in law enforcement stance and fires! Blood splatters all over the buffet – and Diana – as Rachel takes a through-and-through from the heavy slug! The stiletto tumbles from her inert grasp to shudder upright on the floor.
Dora hurries to heal Rachel and Cliff carries the stricken assistant to Stratos-7 where Wagner repeats his casting-out procedure. The horrified convocation is distracted by Sandi, who has stepped up onto the dais and makes a public service announcement:
“Your security team apologizes for the interruption! A threat has been safely dealt with. Please continue to enjoy the buffet!”
Elliott rolls his eyes as he wonders how he’s going to spin this one to the catering staff.
Bridezillas of the Vampire
“What’s the schedule now?” Sandi double-checks, as she and Dora link with Cliff and Paul briefly. The bricks are filtering back to catering in the rear, section by section, in order to eat.
“Workshops,” Paul replies, scrolling through his PDA.
“Are they still, like, sticking to schedule? Kind of predictable for the bad guys,” Sandi frets. “What could they pull next? I’m thinking, all-out assault.”
“Our enemies have shown they are capable of laying their hands on high explosives and delivery systems,” Paul interjects.
“OMG Paul, you are totally right! So let me think… OK, what we could do is try to move things up a little…”
After a quick bite she tracks down Diana Trieste. She puts her concerns to the Canada chief and Trieste agrees to at least gather the votes on waiving the Objective Premiere – since they will be by ballot not by show of hands – and possibly foreshorten some of the workshops. That will enable the “Closed Session” which Campus heads and above will be having to be moved forward to 4pm.
Catering staff set up the bar at 3.50pm, and the convocation becomes convivial as peers enjoy much-needed refreshment. Campus heads and above have absented themselves: they have left through a portal erected in Stratos-7. Offsite: “Fairyland,” Sandi terms it. Mike and Ford are once again on duty there, this time with Neneh and Rachel to guard as well. The two girls are on parole: free but not trusted to leave the room.
Sandi has a brief but amiable chat with Frank Gibson and a happy feeling of a slight return to normalcy lifts her spirits. Gibson has assured Sandi that the G was not responsible for the massacre at Vitae and she can’t wait to tell her mom, who occasionally dates Web, one of the G’s squad leaders.
“Eh, Sandi?” Gordon Fry’s heavy Yorkshire accent gurgles down the comms into Sandi’s ear.
“Hi Gordon, what’s up?”
“I was eh, chatting to some of the porters here and they was you know, complaining about the weight of some of the bridal mannequins they lugged in this morning. Said they was you know, too heavy by half.”
“OMG Thanks Gordon!! All bricks now hear this! Can we have acolytes to the front! Acolytes to the front please!”
Hitch swallows down a hasty bite of his sub and nods to Dan:
“OK off you go Dan! I’ll keep updating from here – sounds like Sandi expects undead!”
The North Utah Bridal Center’s show comes to an unseemly, bloody end as mannequins lurch into life, snapping necks or tearing limbs off! Patrons flee in terror, mobbing the Davidson’s exits and causing more injury. Some mannequins stalk slowly across the lobby area and pound massively on the entrance doors – and wall!
As the doors and walls splinter in two places, two mannequins push their head through, bridal headdress disarrayed and lace torn. Bar staff and peers alike begin to scatter in alarm.
“Please evacuate to the rear in an orderly fashion! Patrons please evacuate to the rear!” Sandi calls, still in Public Service mode. But she slips her IR goggles and balaclava down over her face: her Glocks are ready, sighting beams searching out targets.
The pouting plastic face of one mannequin scans the area: then chips apart as Sandi’s opening shot catches it on the perfect jaw. Gleaming silver metal is exposed beneath!
“Those are not undead! They’re some type of construct!” Paul calls, as he and Cliff race toward Dora and Sandi. Dora calls a blessing on the Academy battlers.
“Swapsies Dan!” Hitch calls, “I’ve got some useful spells up my sleeve and you won’t be able to affect constructs!” He races out of the watch room and Dan “tags” him with a powerful boost to abilities as he begins to return.
A second bride forces her way through the wall, joining the first who smashes a heavy fist into an elderly peer, who manages to stay upright and is dragged clear by Ana and Gordon. Zariah and Sara reach the bar area, Zariah’s shot also catching the first mannequin.
To Sandi and Dora’s right, Cliff runs to support, leveling his Python and damaging the same mannequin. Paul however can see other mannequins arriving from across the lobby, tearing at the next wall. He throws a slowing spell on the first two and remains on station, ready to defend that flank.
Flame-like beams of light blast from the eyes of the mannequins and Sandi and Cliff are seared painfully as they cover the retreating patrons. Sandi steps back a little to give herself room: a withering blast of gunfire erupts from her twin Glocks: Zariah and Cliff throw their weight of fire in as well and the first mannequin crumples. But then there’s a call from Ford:
“They’re breaking through into Stratos-7!” There’s a WHUMP and flare of light as Mike initiates something arcane and nasty.
“OK that!” Sandi responds, “We’ll be there soon! Ana, Gordon? Make sure no-one evacs outside!”
Hitch calculates angles: waits until Dora’s pulled back next to Sandi: throws up a force-field-like wall that can’t be seen but will stop the mannequins from getting to the convocation while the threat to Stratos-7 is dealt with.
Paul, no longer needing to take immediate action against mannequins, throws a spell over Sandi that will speed her actions. “I’m nearly tapped out of spells,” he reports.
“I’ve got movement outside – Vulgaris vamps and lots of skin kites all over the street in back!” Dan yells.
“Acolytes to the rear please,” Sandi calls calmly as she races away from Dora. “Paul you’ll need to be watch room.”
Cliff, Sandi and Hitch arrive at Stratos-7 at much the same time, Sandi a fraction faster thanks to her enhanced speed. Her shot supports Ford’s, driving a Ken-and-Barbie style couple of mannequins back: then Cliff adds his heavy shot, and finally a multiple blast of arcane bolts from Hitch takes “Ken” apart.
“I must warn them!” Neneh cries, starting toward the elaborate portal doorway. Michael looks to Sandi: who shakes her head.
Over on the entrance side, a makeshift brick of Zariah, Sara, Fidelius and Jason await the mannequins that are feeling their way around the force wall. Soon, they’ll bust through the wall beyond the force field. Hitch runs from Stratos-7 to help:
“You four’ll see them off – but make sure someone does tell the chiefs!” Hitch calls back. “How’s the perimeter, Paul?”
“I can see plenty of skin kites, both sides of the center. Vulgaris too,” Paul updates, “and I can see a couple of police cars arriving.” The cowering, panicky evacuees, still guarded by Ana and Gordon, call for Dan to help, as he’s joined by Dora. Gordon and perhaps one or two other armed peers try a few shots. But Dan feels a little overwhelmed by the scale of the threat: so many vamps! Fangs gleaming, claw-like nails raking, they stalk back and forth along the length of the center. And surely their Greater kin must be lurking behind them?
In Stratos-7 the “Barbie” half of the mannequin couple pushes forward, and is thrown back again by a withering blast of gunfire from Sandi. Cliff rushes the mannequin, swinging his heavy revolver as a club: it seems almost to want to stick in the silvery metal exposed by Sandi’s gunshots, but he certainly does some damage. Then the damage is returned with interest as one of the mannequin’s bludgeoning arms catches Cliff squarely on the temple, smashing him back, blood spurting!. Sandi tumbles adroitly through the melee, rolls to her feet and drops “Barbie” with a final shot. With an astonishing display of grit Cliff pulls himself together, ignoring his massive head wound, and staggers through the portal. Another mannequin moves slowly toward Sandi…
Zariah, Sara, Fidelius and Jason are joined by Hitch as a cluster of mannequins burst through the wall:
“Wait to see what’s left after I lose our fire-damage insurance!” Hitch yells gleefully. They’re nicely bunched: an intense globe of heat bursts over them, frying all but one, which the three firearm-users easily finish off.
At the opposite end of the floor, Dan at last feels the reassurance of his faith: extending his cross-cane through a broken window-pane, he thunders:
“Flee from the righteous power of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Three of the vulgaris vampires explode into blazing ashes immediately and all others in a wide circle run from his excoriation. Overhead several flesh kites flee as well. Police debouch from their vehicles, riot-guns at the ready, and to their eyes it seems as though rioters are retreating at their approach.
Inside, the harried convocation hears a final public service announcement:
“Attention please! This is an evacuation notice! Please return to the central area and through the doorway that Diana Trieste is supervising. Repeat, this is an evacuation notice! Please return to the central floor area to Diana Trieste. And the security team bids you: have a nice day.”