The Land Beyond The Forest
The old woman confirms that she is, indeed, Mina Harker. She’s kept herself alive with vampire blood for more than a century, for if she dies while Dracula lives, she’ll become his Un-Dead slave. She contemplated ending her own life in 1940, before Edom could bring Him back, but she could not be sure if the operation would succeed and so clung to another few years – which turned into another whole lifetime, maybe more.
She knows about the check on Dracula, and suspects that it is connected to the work of Professor Van Helsing. He and dear John Seward moved to Germany after the events of 1894, and she suspects that John was still in love with sweet Lucy. Katherine Reed died in Germany in 1910, a supposed suicide. On killing vampires, she knows that the key is that the vampire must be weighted down with memories of its mortal life, or else carried over that threshold of eternity by another soul. It was not the knife that destroyed Dracula – it was brave Quincey Morris, whose death dragged the Count down into the afterlife.
Of course, the knife helped – and she gives the Agents a box containing her husband’s Kukri and Morris’ bowie knife.
Brussels. In a dark room, the agents learn that the Catholic Church has been funding a project began by Van Helsing in the early years of the 20th century, a countermeasure that has kept Dracula in check for a century. The countermeasure is based in…
Munich. In an underground complex near the Deadhouse, the agents are met by the old men who run Undertaking Brown, Van Helsing’s countermeasure. She rests her, in her rooms, as she has done for more than a hundred years. The keepers caution the Agents not to address her by her old name – she is Alraune now. She yearns to destroy Dracula, and she has the power to do so,, but they cannot risk letting her attack the Count in his place of power in Romania – the Count has too many allies and servants there. If Alraune were left off the leash, she would charge into Romania and be destroyed before she reached the mysterious Castle Dracula – wherever that is. Instead, she keeps Dracula from extending his reach beyond Romania; whenever he rattles the bars of his prison cell, Alraune is drawn to his presence and forces him to withdraw.
Lately, though, she has not been herself, and Undertaking Brown fear that the countermeasure is breaking down. The Agents explain that Dracula’s allies were trying to disrupt the link between Kate Reed’s ghost and Lucy Westenra. Now that the Hillingham Working is done, there shouldn’t be any more attacks of that sort.
Finally, the agents are allowed in to speak with Alraune. Thanks to his new psychic powers, Fitzy is able to see the spirit of Kate Reed, bound to her friend and ensuring that Dracula has no hold over the vampiric Lucy. “Alraune” demands that the Agents set her free, so she can hunt down and destroy Dracula; in this case, the enemy of their enemy is definitely not their friend, and talking to “Alraune” is like being trapped in a room with a hungry tiger. Still, they arrange to have her brought to the borders of Romania – if they can lure Dracula close to her, maybe she can be released to destroy her quarry without running into whatever traps and barriers the Count has prepared for her.
Romania. McAllister’s player quickly sketches out the farm (which turns out to be a farm with a newly installed CCTV system attached to a derelict church next to a graveyard near running water, because give a player an inch and they’ll take a precision-engineered anti-vampire stronghold), and spends Preparedness to ensure that he’s pre-arranged an emergency strategy with his family (if bad guys come, head thataway). Baptiste takes up position with a sniper rifle, Elgin sneaks in to recon the place, Fitzy finds a foxhole. There’s a dozen bad guys, including Elvis and several Edom Jacks.
McAllister drives up the long, winding laneway to his farm. Elvis comes out to meet him, and gets about five words into a monologue (“You’ve made the right decision-“) before the first grenade gets thrown. It explodes at his feet, and battle is joined. The Agents initially hold their own – Elgin manages to lock three Edom soldiers in a barn, giving the team some valuable breathing space, Fitzy proves a dab hand with lobbing grenades, and Baptiste grabs a Night’s Black Agents convention rules reference and quickly masters the sniping rules to considerable effect. Then countersniping takes its toll, Elgin ends up in a close-quarters knife fight with a Serum-using jack (by close quarters, I mean “rolling around in the mud at the bottom of the farm’s well”), and McAllister takes several bad hits. Elgin survives only by using his own dose of Seward Serum.
Fortunately, McAllister’s extended family show up, and it turns out that marrying into a clan of faintly sinister Romanian partisans has its advantages. The team retreat into the graveyard under Uncle Grigori’s covering fire, just in time for Dracula to show up – fortunately, on the far side of the running stream. Nonetheless, Fitzy tries hiding behind the fallen spire of the old church, figuring that if a crucifix is good, a six-foot-tall iron cross is better.
The Count threatens them again. “That one,“ he says, pointing at Fitzy, “has power. That one” – Elgin – “has a connection to Reed. You will bring me the bitch ghost, or you will all die. There is no escape. You think killing these men will stop me! I will raise up my whole country against you!”
The Count vanishes into the mist, and the wolves close in.
The next morning finds the Agents in a mountain cabin with several of McAllister’s relatives (“they heal you with old peasant cures. Also, because it’s the 21st century and Romania isn’t a land of racist stereotypes, one cousin is an army medic”). When the Agents (bar Elgin, who decides to lurk inside out of the sunshine to protect his pool of Seward Serum points) emerge, they find the hillside is littered with the bodies of dozens of wolves. Overhead, a huge storm rages across the countryside, and they hear rumours of gangs of Ruvari Szgany and other criminal groups causing havoc all across the country. The Romanian armed forces are on alert, including the forces at the nearby air force base, which the Agents suspect are agents of Dracula.
After a brief detour to collect the ghost engine buried by the Edom commandoes in 1940, the team go looking for Castle Dracula. They’ve already worked out that the castle can’t be any of the ‘real’ candidates like Bran or Hunedora, but it’s only when Elgin tries putting the brooch back on that they realise the truth: Castle Dracula is in the land of the dead. It’s in that spiritual subduction zone between life and death. It’s everywhere in Transylvania, in the blood and the soil of that troubled land.
As they walk through the forest, the air grows chill. The shadows lengthen, and the pale sunlight that sometimes breaks through the rainclouds seems to slow and weirdly congeal. And then, on the ridge ahead, they see the castle.
McAllister’s family are unwilling to cross the threshold, so the four Agents enter. The gatehouse and courtyard are empty, but there are signs of life, and an old man (one of the Silent Servants) opens a side door for them. The Servant indicates that the Master will come to them at nightfall, and shows them up to a dining room where meals have been prepared for them. There’s also a circle of candles, like the circle in Singleton’s house. Clearly, Dracula intends for Fitzy to complete the psychic’s plan and tear Kate Reed’s ghost from Lucy Westenra’s body, turning “Alraune” from a weapon aimed at Dracula’s heart back into one of his Brides.
After a few nervous minutes, McAllister and Baptiste go exploring. They find the library, the room where Harker stayed… and the room that leads to that vertiginous drop, the sheer wall that leads down to Dracula’s lair. It’s still daylight. Dracula should be sleeping down there… and they’ve got stakes, and the knives given to them by Mina Harker. Why not end him now?
In the banqueting room, Fitzy assembles the old Ghost Engine, while Elgin contacts the Undertaking Brown handlers and relays the location of the breach into the land of the dead – gambling that if Alraune knows where Dracula is, she can go there directly and take the King down. All the Agents need to do is occupy the Count until Alraune arrives.
Even though the pair of spies have ropes and climbing gear, the climb down the wall is still nerve-wrecking for Baptiste and McAllister. The castle walls betray them, with seemingly solid stones crumbling when touched, and ropes tangling and twisting at the worst moments. Still, they make it down and discover a huge chamber in the depths. Searching, they discover several coffins, including one huge sarcophagus made of stone. Engraved on it is the legend
They open the coffin.
In the distance, a gate clang open, and wolves pour into the room.
Upstairs… “Did you not read the Irishman’s book? Did you forget I can walk abroad during the day if I choose?”
“Without your powers,” points out Elgin.
“And when that sun sinks beyond those trees,” says Dracula, pointing out the window at the setting sun, “I shall have the power to destroy your souls, unless you serve me. Call the ghost, and I shall set you free.”
Fitzy has, by now, assembled a circle of crucifixes around himself and the ghost engine. “You can’t touch me.”
“You think THOSE will stop me? Here, in my place of power? Look – the sun dies. The powers of darkness rule now.” He steps past the line of crosses and lifts Fitzy by the throat. “Summon Reed NOW or I dash your brains out on the floor!”
Fitzy, in a moment of beautiful confusion, responds “summon who?” His player had forgotten that Kate is Katherine Reed (the group had been referring to her as Kate). Dracula, in a spasm of fury, hurls Fitzy across the room. Elgin uses his Seward Serum-granted speed and darts forward, grabs a sword from above the mantelpiece, and runs Dracula through.
The Count responds by taking down another sword, and driving it through Elgin’s chest. The thief dies.
“SUMMON HER!” he roars at Fitzy. Fitzy switches on the ghost engine, which shakes the whole castle and sends it falling to Hell.
Baptiste and McAllister, having escaped the wolves by climbing back up the wall, burst into the room. McAllister, for the second time, shoots Dracula in the face with silver. Baptiste, having injected himself with the second dose of Seward Serum recovered from the hospital in Edinburgh, slashes at the Count with Harker’s kukri. McAllister stabs with the Bowie knife. Dracula’s still a fearsome foe, but he spent much of his Aberrance on raising up wolves and storms across Romania, and he’s felt the bite of these knives before. He knows, too, that he doesn’t need this fight – the intruders are trapped in his castle. He can retreat, heal, and then destroy them one by one. He begins to turn to mist…
All through the fight, Fitzy’s used his talent to be a beacon. He’s summoning “Alraune” all right, but not into the binding circle of candles. Lucy Westerna crosses the Romanian border as a golden hurricane, a cloud of mist racing against the wind. Battered and wounded by Dracula’s occult defences, she has almost no strength left when she descends on the castle… but Dracula’s weakened too. The two mist-forms entwine, entangle, like drowning figures they fall through the floor, through the foundations of the castle… beyond the final threshold of death.
As the castle collapses, the surviving Agents stagger across the courtyard, and find themselves climbing a steep slope in a grey and mournful land. They stumble blindly up, out of the land of the dead. For a moment, they glimpse a fourth figure. Was it a dark-haired woman, pointing the way back to the light?
And then it’s strong rough hands, woollen blankets thrown across shoulders, the smell of sweat and cigarettes and garlic, as McAllister’s family finds them and brings them home.
CODA 1: A newspaper report relates how Ms. Ellen Mowbray, a long-term resident of a retirement home in Malvern Hills, vanished on the night of Dracula’s death. Other reports and rumblings from the clandestine world talk about a series of mysterious murders, said to be almost… vampiric. Someone’s cleaning house inside Edom.
CODA 2: Nearly a year later, a youngish man with a jaunty cravat knocks on the door of the stately home at Ring, ancestral seat of the Holmwood family. “The name’s Fitz,” he says, and there’s an unearthly light in his eyes. “I think you’ve got an opening for me.”
We Ask No Proofs, We Ask None To Believe Us: Fifteen hours of play over two days was an intense but immensely rewarding experience. I certainly had a fantastic time running it, and I believe the players enjoyed themselves. My thanks to all of them, especially Shane and Andy who both came over from the UK for the convention. Also, thanks go to Gaelcon (especially Janet) for organising everything and coping with a novel game setup.
Running the game over the Halloween weekend added extra weight to the ghostly elements of the whole affair. The encounter with Cotford’s ghost was one of my favourite scenes in the whole campaign. Having only five sessions meant I was able to stick to a strong theme throughout; something to experiment with in future longcon games, perhaps.
The following image, taken the following evening on Halloween neatly sums up both my exhaustion and elation after running the game.