|1||A quick foreword|
|3||Chapter 1: After the Devouring - Part 1: Horrors|
|4||Chapter 1: After the Devouring - Part 2: Hungers|
|5||Chapter 2: Waking Nightmares|
|6||Chapter 2 Part 2: Food, Incarnation, and Heroes|
|7||Chapter 2: Kickstarter Edition|
|8||Chapter 3: Character and Traits|
|9||Chapter 3: Part 2|
|10||Chapter 3: Part 3|
|11||Chapter 4: Rules|
|12||Chapter 5: Heroes and Other Monsters|
|13||Chapter 5 Part 2: Hero Creation|
|14||Chapter 5 Part 3:The Rest of the Cast|
|15||Chapter 5 Part 4: The Beast Incarnate|
|16||Chapter 6: Beasts of the World|
|17||Chapter 7: Storytelling|
|18||The Morning After|
|19||The Primordial Feast: Part 1|
|20||The Primordial Feast: Part 2|
|21||The Primordial Feast: Part 3|
|22||The Primordial Feast: Finale|
Eve loosened the hoodie. She had pulled it tight around her face, trying to screen out the world, for all the good it had done. The cafeteria was too loud, and the sounds too diverse. Boys thumping on tables, high-pitched laughter from girls, the hum of the microphone that the lunch lady used, in vain, to get them to shut up. Eve stared down into her juice, and thought of water, the silent, cool, Boundless Deeps. She felt the cold on her skin, and she was home, if only in her mind.Something slammed into her back and pitched her forward. One of the boys — Antonio — was playing catch using a wadded up piece of paper and had slipped. Eve stood up, wiping juice and the remnants of her lunch from her hoodie. She turned to face him.“My bad,” said Antonio. Eve said nothing. Antonio didn’t wait for acknowledgement, he just turned and went back to his game.Eve reached out and grabbed him by the hair. She pulled, using only a fraction of her true strength, and yanked him backwards into her arms. If we were in the ocean, she thought, I could crush him. I could eat his skin and liquefy his flesh in my mouth, and drink him slowly. The thought appealed, and started to call her home.Seawater trickled into the room from the corners. No one noticed. The students chanted “Fight! Fight!” Someone ran to get the principal.Eve let him go. Antonio turned, and curled his hands into a fist. And then he glanced at his forearm, and stopped.A row of angry, circular wounds had appeared across his arms. Eve hadn’t touched him there. He looked at her in horror, and she pulled the hoodie strings tight again. “Don’t touch me,” she said.Antonio could only nod.
Sorry you didn’t like it; I wrote it. Wasn’t meant to be a power fantasy, just a Beast having a rough day (based in part on my experiences working in a school with a similarly chaotic cafeteria, though I never saw any giant squid).
Heroes are assholes. That’s not necessarily all there is to say on the matter, but don’t look for them to be portrayed sympathetically. You have lots of other games for that.
OK, I'm not going to post in red text, because I'm very much a normal poster in this thread, but as a request - could we tone down the "OMG HEROES ARE FIREMEN WHY DO YOU HATE FIREMEN" stuff a little? Because that's really obviously not what we're going for, and frankly the question of why Heroes are called Heroes has been more than adequately answered.(And, I note, once again Heroes smash their way in here and are all like "not all Heroes!" and "what about the Heroes?")
I’m Autistic. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I’m going to end up sooner or later misreading social cues or misunderstanding the situation in a way that hurts or upsets people. Despite my best intentions, I have been more work for my parents than an non-autistic child would have been.I am trans. It shouldn’t, but my transition is going to hurt people. People who are too invested in my as my assigned gender. People who feel like they’re losing someone close to them, or having their own work in me undermined. Not to mention people for whom I’m a threat to core beliefs about how gender is supposed to work.By conventional narratives of marginalization, I don’t deserve to exist anymore. People are right to hate me and want me gone, because I have, because I will hurt them. I either have to pretend I’m not hurting anyone, or acknowledge that I’m worthless.Beast is saying that I deserve to exist – that no-one else has the right to decide I don’t except me.
Actually, someone else pointed out some really, really interesting things from Melanie's stat block. First off, she has Integrity 3. That doesn't mean anything itself, but then look at her Social skills, and we get "Empathy (Finding Insecurities) 3." Her character write-up doesn't say, but from that, it sounds a hell of a lot like she was already exactly the sort of bully you'd expect to become a Hero. That doesn't mean she deserves what happened to her, but it strongly suggests that, yes, there is a certain sort that becomes Heroes beyond just "low Integrity" and Melanie was one of them, rather than having it forced on her by that nasty Beast when she'd never done anything wrong.
Though while the topic is still in the air, she also has the Subterfuge specialty "Putting on a Brave Face", which also shades the possibilities of her unrevealed history. Including the 'finding insecurities' specialty and especially Integrity 3.
No it certainly doesn't - but equally, all but one of the Beasts she's killed have nothing to do with what happened to her.
I sent a long email to Rich, Rose, and Michelle (the editor of Beast) tonight. I'm not going to go into the contents (yet) because I need to actually have some feedback from folks, but basically it was a proposed batch of changes/fixes to the material, based in large part on the discussions happening here and elsewhere.Now, I could be flip and say that these discussions might have happened anyway, or I could be contrite and say that we really want all y'all to love the game so we're changing it, but neither of those things is precisely true. The truth of the matter is: This game is generating discussion. It's generating controversy. It's challenging people. I think that's good...but I also think that some of the criticism that's come up is entirely valid. Beasts do need a more defined struggle and culture. They do need specific things to do. Their relationship with Heroes does require some more scrutiny.So: To the people who have read the game and made their opinions clear without being hostile, to the people who have shared what they feel works as well as what doesn't, to to the people who have been constructive with their criticism: Thank you. I tell my authors all the time, "kill your darlings," but sometimes it's hard to know which darlings to kill without some outside perspective. I won't say that this discussion hasn't stung; it has. I'm a writer and I'm as sensitive as any other writer. But at the same time, as I was scribbling notes in my li'l red notebook last night, I also found myself really getting excited to run Beast (starting up a chronicle when I get back from vacation).I think the changes are going to strengthen the game, and I'll be talking with the rest of the team about how best to communicate those changes to the backers and the readers so you'll get a quick sense of what we're doing.
“Mom? Ben’s acting weird.”
Laurie started guiltily out of her doze, sending the paperback in her lap tumbling into the sand. She shielded her eyes from the noonday glare and followed where Jessica was pointing. Her son stood a little ways away with his back to her, swaying in that unsteady way toddlers have, but otherwise unmoving. Ben was well away from the water line, but something about the way he stood there sent a chill down Laurie’s back.
“You were supposed to be watching him!” Laurie snapped as she stood up, fear shifting to irritation. She brushed the sand from her legs and glared down at her eldest daughter, who spread her hands in surrender.
“I was!” Jessica said. “He was building sandcastles until literally just now. Then he just got up, turned around, and walked to that spot. It’s not like I would let him get anywhere near the water, Mom. Relax.”
“Nice, Jess,” Laurie said, but the irritation was already evaporating, leaving behind a film of guilt for falling asleep in the first place. She didn’t ask why Jess hadn’t simply gone and checked on Ben herself. Ben often got in moods where only Laurie could console him. Today he’d been especially fussy. She’d been forced to swap with Jess and sit in the backseat with him to quiet him down on the drive from Philadelphia, and even then he’d been so unruly that Matt had joked about leaving him to be raised by coyotes in the Pine Barrens. Laurie suspected taking the twins mini-golfing was his way of recovering. He never said it, but she knew Ben’s insistence on her and only her bothered Matt sometimes.
“Hey, punkin,” Laurie said, standing over Ben with her legs on either side of him. Normally it made him giggle and swing around her legs like tree trunks, but he didn’t so much as look up. “Whatcha doin’?”
Ben didn’t answer.
“Are you OK, sweetie?” Laurie tousled his hair. Still no response. Ben was staring straight ahead, eyes focused, lips moving without sound, little hands clenching and unclenching. She sat down beside him. “What do you see?”
“Mama,” Ben said.
Laurie frowned. That wasn’t his name for her. She was always Mommy. “Mommy’s right here, honey.” She reached down and took one of his hands.
At last he looked at her, eyes bright and happy, smiling shyly like he was sharing a secret. He pointed a pudgy finger. “Mama in the water.”
Laurie looked at the waves, but they were empty, as far as she could see. She forced a cheer she didn’t quite feel into her voice. “Well, you say goodbye to her, buddy, because it’s time for lunch. Past time, actually. Let’s go get sandwiches, OK?”
Ben nodded and took her hand. “Bye, Mama,” he said, waving at the sea.
That night Laurie lay awake for hours, telling herself that the dark shape she saw when Ben said goodbye had been a trick of the sunlight on the ocean. That there was nothing in the ocean so impossibly enormous, much less so close to the shoreline, right beneath the surface.
Nothing at all.
The sword rammed through Sabia’s back is awkward. A vicious square peg in a round hole. Awkward. Awkward to be surprised by a Hero in her own home, awkward to let herself neglect her Hunger. That’s the word she keeps turning over in her head, and it almost makes her laugh as she loses all her air. She wonders if she can turn her body. She wonders if she can take a step or take a breath, or any other motion she takes for granted. But she wonders, if she goes too fast, if she won’t cut herself in two.
Sabia falls in an ugly, graceless kind of way as Isolde, the Hero wrenches the sword back. Its curve hooks a rib like a prize bass, and Sabia thrashes uselessly. Agony turns to memory. She’s six-years-old with sleep paralysis, being weighed down by a nothing in the dark, calling out without a word for her mother to Please help! Please help! Only later would she understand what the nothing was trying to tell her about fear. How she could make it her friend.
But fear isn’t her friend right now, as Isolde rolls Sabia onto her back. “I’m actually sorry. A bit.”
“I know,” Sabia says, surprised she believes such bullshit, but the pain whites out all cynicism. She should feel hate and spite, but vengeance seems like such a waste of energy. All she wants is to fall into the Dream, but the Dream won’t take her in this state.
Isolde produces a little black vial and cracks it over the blade. “It’s not personal. It’s just what I do.” Survival pushes Sabia’s body, forcing her into a last ditch slide across the kitchen floor. Isolde runs the sword through her heart before she can even reach the wall.
Finally, the Dream takes her. It opens up from behind Isolde in bright, endless wings, wrapping over them both.
Sabia is warm. She’s that six-year-old again, and her mother is holding her little body tightly. She tastes salt tears, but she doesn’t want to cry anymore.
Do you want to go back to sleep, baby?
Do you want to stay up with me?
“I don’t know.”
Her mother kisses her forehead and sings a lullaby she doesn’t remember. It has no notes. It’s the color of ice and sweet like corpses. It’s the most wonderful thing Sabia as ever felt. It makes her think of pain. Of the nothing in the dark. That fear is her friend.
Do you want to go back to sleep?
The Dream falls away, and time takes her mind back. She’s cold, standing, leaning on the sword, unlocking the contents of Isolde’s stomach. They’re both surprised.
Survival is pushing Isolde’s body now, but her voice betrays her. “I...saw her...”
“I know,” Sabia says, as they both begin to bleed out.
You don’t suffer nightmares.
You cause them.
You were normal, once. At least more than you are now. You got up and went about your daily routine like anyone else — work, school, family, friends — with the same petty complaints and ambitions as anyone else you knew, except that you never quite fit in. People might have called you a troublemaker, a tattletale, a great judge of character, or an empath. You might know the truth, though: you dream deep.
Of course, the human world doesn’t understand what you’re doing. It’s not easy being the monster everyone was raised to hate and destroy. The Beast who evoured you, your Big Brother or Sister, told you to do your best to minimize the harm, to teach without causing lasting damage, and to choose targets who will spread the wisdom you grant them. You might take that advice. Alternatively, you might simply embrace your monstrous nature and become the villain of a thousand legends before you. If your Legend grows, your lessons could reach entire cultures; it might be the whole human race that awakens breathless, terrified, but wiser.
Discovering one's true Family can be traumatic, but for many of the Children, it's a profound relief. They finally understand the reason for the dreams that have been drivingt hem their whole lives. They have the chance to grant others a lesson from pain and fear, to give people a moment of catharsis. And of course, that moment of catharsis feeds the Horror inside the Beast. Everyone wins! Not every Beast is a good teacher, however. Some succumb to bitterness, or revel in the power the Horror provides, and descend into sadism and brutality. A Beast who teaches nothing and instills fear for the sake of the feast reflects badly on all Children, bringing the wrong kind of attention to them.
Beasts don't apologize for their harsh methods - wisdom doesn't come without loss. At the same time Beasts generally embrace a creed of moderation. If they feed too deeply or too brutally, they teach nothign but trauma and loss. If they feed too lightly and make their lessons too superficial, the Horror grows hungry and roams the Primordial Dream, looking for nightmares to amplify. Beasts must be mindful of both their Horror's appetites and what they hope to accomplish. Eat to live, don't live to eat.
Anyone can become a Beast. The potential to slide back into the first darkness and join the ranks of humanity's nightamres-made-flesh dwells within every human heart. Still, the process of heeding the wisdom of the Primordial Dream begins early, sometimes in early childhood. The nascent beast has nightmares, glimpses of the Primordial Dream. Her nightmares are made all the worse because she is more often predator than prey. She awakens with a start: sweating, sometimes crying, but wiser A problem that was eating at her has a solution. It's not always (or ever) an easy solution, but she knows what changes she must make.
Of course, with relief comes dreadful knowledge, as the Beast realizes her terrible Hunger must be fed to keep the Horror appeased. Everything a Beast has learned since she was a child tells her the monster is evil. The monster is, at best, a vicious animal to be slain by a victorious Hero. In most cases, the monster is an analog: Satan, lust, greed, or whatever other quality or being society wishes to demonize. The monster is vile, she is wrong; every story the Beast knows ends with the monster’s destruction. The Beast has to come to terms with knowing that she is the monster, and in most stories, she’s the villain.
Though the primal drive is the same for everyone, how beasts interpret that drive can vary - instead of literally hunting prey to consume them, for example, a Beast might metaphorically stalk a target and "consume" their trust.
Put another way, as older Beasts sometimes tell younger ones, "If someone eats, something else gets eaten." A Beast may console herself by thinking that she only hurts "Bad people" to sate her Hunger (either to scare the subject straight or make an example of him), for example, but deep down she knows that as far as her Horror is concerned, really anyone would do.
In order to teach the lesson, though, the subject of the lesson has to survive it and internalize it. A nightmare is only useful if the dreamer awakens, and wisdom is only useful if someone survives to use it.
A Hero kills a Beast, but then realizes that the nightmare hasn't ended, and his work isn't done. More monsters must die on his sword. He cannot receive the fame he so richly deserves, because the world doesn't believe in monsters, so he smears the Beast's name, drags her publicly into the light, makes her hated for mundane reasons and crimes (real or not), and amasses followers who know the truth about him and his enemy
Characters - and players - might assume that they have a solid understanding of how the Chronicles of Darkness work and what the "rules" are. Beast is a reminder that no one- not he most connected vampire, not the wisest mage, not the oldest mummy - really has all the answers. Beasts delve into the secrets of the Chronicles of Darkness not because they necessarily wish to solve mysteries or gain power, but because the world is their home and they feel they have the right and, the responsibility to know
This theme comes up in another way though: Beasts are not "good guys." They terrify people in order to feed their Horrors. Although their culture teaches them that they do so in order to impart important lessons, their peculiar form of pedagogy is entirely optional. A Beast is capable of being a force for wisdom, even for "good" in the Chronicles of Darkness, but doing so is entirely up to the Beast. Likewise, a Beast's primary enemy, the Hero, believes that killing the Beast is the right, objectively moral thing to do. The Beast Disagrees. Neither of them is necessarily wrong.
Perhaps, though, Humanity is just one more kind of monster; the fact that any human can become a Beast is an important part of that..... The characters in Beast are not the most evil parts of humanity. They're the scariest parts of humanity, because they are the stuff of nightmares
Monsters don't choose to be monsters, but, looking at Greek myths, one often finds an element of fatalism or determinism. Medusa and her sisters are sometimes listed as children of Echidna, but there are also legends that Athena cursed Medusa for sleeping with Poseidon. That notion that monsters are responsible for their own nature plays into the rather childish, but pervasive, notion that everyone and everything faces the same choices. On a sociopolitical level, we see it when people blame the poor for being poor, as though it was a choice (and a moral failing). In Beast, Heroes see the Begotten as irredeemable because of what they are — but the Beasts cannot be otherwise. Even Beasts that “choose” to be Beasts because another of their kind offered the Devouring aren’t really making a choice; they know what they are. The Devouring just confirms it.
Anathema: Weaknesses of Beasts. Some are vulnerable to particular metals, herbs, rituals, or methods of attack. Heroes can place Anathema on Beasts by striking them when they are “soft” (when Satiety is low enough that the Beast is still hungry, but high enough that the Horror isn’t roused).
Apex: The most powerful and feared supernatural being in a region. The Apex unconsciously colors the local hive with its influence.
Atavisms: Supernatural powers available to a Beast based on the character’s Horror and Lair. As Lair becomes bigger and more powerful, Atavisms become more useful. Atavisms are also more dramatic when the Beast’s location resonates in some way with her Lair.
Beast: A human granted a mystical connection to the Dark Mother, as expressed by the Horror.
Brood: A group of Beasts who have banded together and formed a shared Lair. They can fulfill each other’s Hungers to some degree.
Burrow: A passageway connecting Chambers within a Lair. A Burrow may also connect Chambers belonging to two or more separate Lairs of brood members.
Chamber: A distinct location within the Primordial Dream, often part of a Lair, reflecting an important place to the Beast, her Horror, or both. Chambers can also form in response to the actions of other supernatural beings, though they seldom recognize this.
Dark Mother: The ancestor of all Beasts, she is also called Echidna, Gaea, Tiamat, and many other names. Beasts are firmly convinced on a deep, instinctive level that she is still alive and watches over them.
Family: One of the five lines descended from the Dark Mother. They are Anakim, Eshmaki, Makara, Namtaru, and Ugallu.
Hero: A human being who senses the Primordial Dream in a broad, superficial way. Some Heroes becoming violently obsessed with killings Beasts.
Hive: The interconnected mass of Chambers that form near a given population center, all subtly influenced by the most powerful and influential supernatural being(s) therein.
Horror: The monstrous, iconic form of the Beast. It is separate from her physical body and lives in the Primordial Dream.
Hunger: One of the five driving urges that spur a Beast to go out into the world and hunt. They are Prey, Hoard, Power, Punishment, and Ruin. Fulfilling a Hunger increases Satiety.
Incarnate Inheritance: One of the three “end” conditions for a Beast, this involves the character and the Horror becoming fully realized. The character is permanently connected to her Lair and becomes one of the most dangerous forces in the world.
Inheritance: A state that any Beast can reach under certain conditions, in which she becomes something other than what she was. The three Inheritance states are Incarnate, Unfettered, and Rampant.(ed: Yes they say Rampant instead of Unleashed.)
Kinship: The familial relationship that Beasts share with each other and other supernatural beings, including vampires, werewolves, Mages, changelings, Prometheans, mummies, Sin-Eaters, ghosts, spirits, and most of the rest of the weirdness in the Chronicles of Darkness. Beasts can use Kinship to accentuate and augment the powers of other creatures, and can use interactions with these creatures to bolster their Nightmares.
Lair: The pocket of the Primordial Dream that a Beast’s Horror inhabits. When a group of Beasts form a brood, they may connect their Lairs via Burrows to allow free passage between them.
Merger: The process by which the Beast joins with her Horror, creating a near-mindless monster unable to access the Primordial Dream, thus achieving the Unleashed Inheritance.
Nightmares: Supernatural powers of Beasts based on activating Primordial fear in other beings. Nightmares are tied to Kinship; as Beasts expand their Kinship, they can learn (or create) new Nightmares.
Primordial Dream: A layer of the collective soul of the world, perhaps “below” the Temenos, in which the nightmares of humanity are given life. The Lairs of the Primordial Selves of all Beasts are here. Beasts can grant access to this Dream to other supernatural beings through Kinship.
Primordial Pathways: The paths used to access the Primordial Dream. Beasts can do it fairly easily, and can open them for other beings with Kinship.
Retreat: The process by which the Beast’s human body becomes severed from her Horror, creating a vicious spirit monster unable to leave the Primordial Dream, achieving the Unfettered Inheritance.
Satiety: Pronounced “SAY-shi-tee.” A measure of how fulfilled a Beast’s Hunger is at any given time.
Unfettered Inheritance: The Inheritance gained when the Beast undergoes Retreat. The Beast embarks on an astral journey and dies while in the Primordial Dream. The Beast’s Horror becomes a free-floating nightmare, a quasi-spirit haunting the dreamscape forever.
Unleashed Inheritance: The Inheritance gained when a Beast undergoes Merger. This can occur when a Beast’s Lair is destroyed, or if the Beast wills it to happen. The Beast’s Horror merges bodily with the Beast’s human form and becomes an animalistic monster, lurking in some dark corner of the world until a Hero arrives to kill it.
You were normal, once. At least more than you are now. You got up and went about your daily routine like anyone else — work, school, family, friends — with the same petty complaints and ambitions as anyone else you knew, except that you never quite fit in. It always felt like you stood apart from the rest of the herd; no matter how much you tried to be good, no one could argue that you had a cruel streak that ran bone deep.
Then came the day when you came face to face with the monster inside you, and suddenly it all made sense. You didn’t fit in with other people for the same reason a fox doesn’t fit in with a room full of poodles. It wasn’t cruelty in your nature: it was Hunger. Now you knew just how to feed it. Maybe it’s not pretty, sating these drives, but you don’t have a choice. It’s not your fault you’re what you are; since you can’t go back, you might as well make the best of it.
When the moment finally comes — when the Soul claims the mortal and the Beast is born — the horror of the monstrous is almost always accompanied by a sense of relief. At last, the Beast tells herself. At last it makes sense. The nightmares, the need, the thrill of seeing fear in someone’s eyes — it’s all part of something so much bigger. Of course, with relief comes horror, as the Beast realizes her terrible Hunger must be fed to keep the Soul appeased. Everything a Beast has learned since she was a child tells her the monster is evil.
Literature idealizes these figures as square-jawed, divinely chosen champions putting themselves between depraved monsters and their innocent victims, but the Children know the truth is more complicated. Once a mythic link takes hold of a person, they are at best a ruthless stalker willing to commit any act in the name of “heroism.” At best, Heroes bear a strong resemblance to the heroes of ancient epics: deeply flawed people doomed to a terrible but glorious fate. At worst, Heroes are gibbering, gore-spattered maniacs whose obsessive quest to destroy the Beast twists their minds and makes them dangerous to everyone around them.
Having been raised with the same stories as everyone else, it can be very difficult for Beasts to process this reaction, to feel as though the whole world hates them and wants them dead. On the one hand, even the noblest Beast is still indisputably a monster of the darkest sort of nightmares, one who inevitably preys on human beings to satiate her Hunger. On the other hand, the Beast wasn’t exactly offered a choice in the matter and is often simply doing her best to survive, just like any other creature. Coupled with the fact that many of these self-styled Heroes are capable of any number of atrocities in the name of the greater good — after all, what isn’t justified to stop a dragon preying on your town? — it can be very hard to tell who the villain is in the situation.
Ultimately, Beasts recognize that the Hero cycle is as much a part of their nature as their Lair and their Soul. Humanity fears Beasts — that’s the intrinsic truth of what they are — and what humanity fears, it invariably attempts to destroy. Beasts quickly learn that they can’t become angry that people have that reaction; it’s reasonable. At the same time, though, the Children know that they have a right to exist. The world is a terrifying place, and the monsters in the dark are there for a reason. The dominant narrative may be “Hero arises, kills the monster,” but the Begotten see past that and know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Heroes, on the other hand, never question their own heroism — and that is why Beasts hate them.
The nightmare began the same way it always did: with a slight tug. Ben had suffered the same nightmare as far back as he could remember, and yet when it began, it always managed to surprise him. This night was no different from any other in that respect. He was swimming with his sisters down at the shore, maybe a little farther away from the beach than they should. They were laughing and splashing when there was a tug on his foot. As if something large grabbed ahold for a moment.
It wasn’t much, just enough to get his attention. One of his therapists had said the tug symbolized his fear of being dragged down by life pressures, which was in his opinion a bit over the top for a six year-old; when he was ten, a different therapist said it was his feeling of being left behind by his more academically successful siblings. Those therapists were right, in a way, but they always missed the larger point.
The thing in the dream was a monster, and it was pulling him down to die. No matter what realization Ben awakened with, that feeling never left him.
Right on schedule, another tug followed, pulling him under. Ben fought to surface, spitting out cold salt water, only to find himself alone, the sun hidden behind clouds, the beach deserted. That was the way it worked, each pull drawing him under longer, returning to a surface ever more bleak and inhospitable until it was almost indistinguishable from the blackness of the deep itself. Ben would go under a final time, something cold and rubbery gripping his leg dragging him down until he opened his mouth to scream and nothing but cold water flowed in, salt burning his lungs as he went numb. He’d wake up soaked in sweat, the salt scent of it nearly making him gag reflexively as he remembered the sea. He’d wake up understanding something, recognizing some obvious part of his life that was dragging him down, and he’d understand how to fix it.
Except this time, he couldn’t struggle to the surface. This time, the monster was going to finish him. Ben struggled a moment more, and then embraced it. When the cold tendril wrapped around him, Ben ducked under the water and grabbed hold of it. It was cold and rubbery and tough to hold on to, but he held fast when it released his leg, even as it dragged him down into the dark. Water pressure pounded in his ears and his chest burned as his air ran out, but still he held on, panic shifting to a giddy sense of defiance.
Ben’s eyes strained against the dark, seeing nothing in the blackness … until he realized it wasn’t blackness at all. He wasn’t blind, he was simply looking at something so vast and dark it might as well have been the abyss. In that moment, still clutching one of its countless tentacles, he forgot about drowning, and would never again remember it.
A single baleful eye opened, as large as a house, and it was the same strange blue-gray shade as his own. Ben stared at the eye as the tentacles enveloped him, pulling, tearing, rending him to pieces. And then…stillness.
Something in the dark. Something in his head. No. A face. A mother. The woman he’d seen in the lake all those years ago. His mother, now. Ben felt himself changing, becoming one with the Horror in the black sea, tears of joy mixed with the salt of the deep. He finally understood. All those nightmares, it was never trying to drown him.
It was calling him home.
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking we can’t hit bottom. We’re strong, sure. We wander through dreams and we rub elbows with werewolves, we do things that nine-tenths of the planet doesn’t even know are possible. We can hit bottom, though. I hit bottom at a music festival in Tennessee, in June. It was 110 degrees during the day.
Six people died of heat stroke that weekend (well, four died of heat stroke, one died because she partied with a vampire and then got dehydrated, and the other one…I’ll get to him). I ran out of drugs on the second night because some asshole stole my stash while I was lying on the grass listening to some little band play. I could feel the music like tongues on my skin, I could feel the water leaving my body behind and my lips tasted like salt. I couldn’t smell a thing, though. That always happens to me when I fix, don’t ask me why.
The fucker who stole my stash, I found him the next morning. Sun was rising. I could hear people fucking in tents, I could see the early risers making breakfast. This guy, his name was Fred or Frank or Fredo or something, he’s got on a one-person tent and a shitty little car next to it, and I can smell that he’s fixed just a minute ago. I unzipped the tent, and he’s nodded off.
I tried to punish him. I did. I sat there with him for an hour, trying to think of the worst thing I could do to get him back for taking my shit. I tried to reach out to the monster inside, that great and terrible whale-thing that swallowed Jonah and belched up the remains of ships, but it had beached itself, and I was left there, sitting in a tent, watching this guy smile away the morning on my drugs.
I just laid down next to him, trying to think. I wanted more than anything to fix, but I also knew if I did that I’d just be there with him all morning, probably into the afternoon. I turned over on my stomach, and I started to cry. And then I felt Her.
She pressed down on my back, Her weight forcing the air from my lungs. She didn’t speak. She didn’t need to. She let me know what I needed to know: I was on the bottom. I was dry, beached, stranded, marooned…but She loved me. She would accept me if I could find my way back.
I left my shit there in the tent. I’m not saying the next few months didn’t suck; they did. But at least I got to see them, and that’s more than I can say for Fredo.
His instinct is to get out of the way as the fist comes down. With the adrenalin rush, he sees it practically in slow motion. But it’s too big to dodge. It fills his vision as it collides with his face, a widescreen impact that sends him reeling across the room and wondering if his neck is broken. No, not broken, he can still feel. Feel his heart pounding against his rib cage. And feel those ribs crunch inwards with the next blow. And then feeling is gone, and sight is gone, and it’s all sound. One sound: the monster’s rumbling laughter.
Vampire: Their greatest power is in the blood. It’s not the way I do things, but it works.
Werewolf: The spirit wilds have things that are bigger, and yet you’re still the thing they fear. Nice work.
Mage: When I say “not all giants tower,” it’s these guys I’m talking about.
Promethean: I’m impressed at how much punishment your body can withstand, but you know there’s more to it than that, right?
Changeling: I think you’ve already learned what I have to teach.
Sin-Eater: I knock you down. You get up. OK. But if a ghost helps you up, does that still count?
Mummy: No one judges me.
Demon: What would happen if I tore off your masks? Would anything remain?
She knows it by its eyes. She hasn’t seen its face, hasn’t heard its footsteps… come to think of it, she hasn’t even really seen the eyes, either. She’s just seen them reflected, shining in the darkened shop window or the rear view of a car she passes. It’s after her. Should she run? Scream? If she did, would the fantasy of the lurker burst like a soap bubble and leave her free? But she does none of those things, and this time, she feels its breath on her neck.
They say children can see monsters. They’re wrong, at least about him. He’s only seen in his day job, as the administrator of a juvenile justice facility. His facility’s got one of the cleanest records in the state. After lights out, he stalks the corridors of the building, seeing what no one else can see, guarding against the dangers the children bring inside with them or foment when given too much time to themselves. He’d never hurt any of “his kids”… but they’re here to learn a lesson, and he isn’t shy about teaching them.
She only wants what belongs to her. She was disinherited, with everything taken and distributed to relatives who couldn’t give a damn about her childhood memories, much less her material needs. So she’s taking things back, one by one, night after night. She snatches her heirlooms and leaves things in their place. Deadly things. Poison syringes, pipe bombs. Victim by victim, those wicked relatives are dying off. One day, maybe even soon, she’ll be the only kin left standing.
He knows what it’s like to be on the outside, but he likes it there very much. He gets to watch people. Happy people. Sad people. Loving people. He sets up camp every night across the street from the only bar in town, and watches the little people go about their lives, blissfully unaware that they share their town with a monster. He’s very strict with his Horror. He only lets it feed with abandon every few years, but oh, what a glorious feast. To take one of those happy people and break their neck before they can even stop smiling, and then to feast on the flesh. The rest of the happy people cling their loved ones tighter, and shiver, and think “there but for the grace of God.” And he watches, sated.
Every day, the elite get away with things. Those people are her prey, but it’s not so much the injustice she worries about. Life isn’t fair or balanced, after all. It’s that they think they’re better. That they think it’s more than an accident of birth or fortune that let them use and discard people like tissue. She knows about accidents of fortune. That’s how she became what she is: not just the Beast, but also a very rich woman. So she mixes with them, learns their secrets and their sins, and then, when the acquaintance is over and there’s nothing to connect her to her prey, she strikes. Brakes that fail. A fall from a penthouse balcony. A lover goaded into a jealous rage. She doesn’t kill them, not usually. She wants them to learn that luck doesn’t make them better or safer. Luck cuts both ways.
Vampire: When the world was young, it was your kind and mine, together in the shadows. Do any of you remember?
Werewolf: You watch boundaries. I live in them. Let’s be friends.
Mage: When you look so long, so deep, in the dark, what looks back? It isn’t me, if that’s what you were thinking.
Promethean: I get being on the outside. Thing is, I like it here.
Changeling: You’re worried about being taken? I could watch you. Just to make sure.
Sin-Eater: You’re never quite alone now, are you? Do you know what your Other thinks, or is it always just…watching?
Mummy: The longer you walk, the less in the dark you are. I know how I’d feel about that.
Demon: I like my prey to be multiple choice!
It’s strange, because he’s almost forgotten he’s going to drown. He’s still holding his breath, but the rush of the water by his ears is so steady, it’s almost hypnotic, the drag of the hand on his foot so unyielding, it’s almost gentle. There’s a sense of leaving the world behind, the surface, the cares, all that breathable air. What did he need it for, anyway? Still he holds his breath, and still he sinks deeper, and as he hears the siren call like whalesong, he’s faintly aware that his lungs are about to burst. And then… black. Nothing but the deeps and the end of time.
The swimming hole is his. Sure, in the summer, the kids can play there. He allows that. He allows the adults to come by and throw coins in, making a wish on a whim. But it belongs to him. Only he knows how deep it really goes. Only he has touched the mind of the thing that slumbers there. The thing that grants those wishes when it wants to, the thing that makes everyone regret wanting. It’s the thing that tells him the secrets. Who wants what. Who wants whom. And those secrets are very lucrative indeed.
She likes to think of herself as a classic. She finds remote beaches, swims out far enough, and lures someone into the water. Sometimes she pretends to drown, while other times she just looks alluring. Either way, she lures her prey and shows them the wonders of the deep… for as long as their lungs will hold. And then she takes whatever they leave on shore. Waste not, want not.
Vampire: You don’t drown. My place, then?
Werewolf: The sharks of the land, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Mage: Abyss? You’re looking at her.
Promethean: You’re drowning in an ocean of sorrow. Let me drown you someplace nicer.
Changeling: You’ve seen depths I can only imagine. When you’re ready, I’ll listen.
Sin-Eater: We’re both drawn to deep places; perhaps the nightmares we find there are not so different.
Mummy: You’ve forgotten something out there, buried deep in the desert. Something you fear. I can wash away the sands.
Demon: They’ve mistaken depth for dressing in layers.
He reminds himself that he didn’t follow her out here for her pretty face. It wasn’t that kind of lure. No, she promised him what he needed, the only thing that makes his heart still beat like it was in love. As he turns the corner though, behind the dumpster, he sees that her face has melted away, that he’s looking at something from an older and more terrifying world. He screams, but her hand is on his face, scratching lightly, and the poison burns to work in his veins. Not the poison he was after, but it will have to do.
She’s the last thing you’ll ever see. Not a murderess, not an angel of death, but the night shift nurse. They keep her on nights because she has a habit of upsetting visitors. She’s plainspeaking, rough-voiced. She offers no comfort where it would be illusory, no word of kindness where it would be forced. But put her on at night… and, well, some of the problems seem to go away. Whatever it is that lives in the basement and sucks the life out of patients when they’re nearing the end… it’s afraid of her. And so, when your time comes naturally, the last thing you’ll see is her smiling, ugly, rough-hewn, face.
He works in a clinic, the kind where they give free needles to junkies to try and curb the spread of disease just a little bit, even if they can’t do anything about the spread of addiction. He doesn’t let anybody push his patients around, either, the skeletal, odious, half-day nocturnal folks who come here to get their works. He isn’t one of them, but he looks like he is, and he gets the same stares. When he started at the clinic, he fed his Horror with the fears of the addicts, thinking to teach them about the perils of using. He’s learned, though, that they don’t need his lessons. The people who spit on them do.
The Namtaru hold a special place of reverence for the original Gorgons. You see, Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. It was an ugly crime. When Medusa’s sister, Stheno, cried out for justice, Athena gave the family an ugly blessing: Medusa and her sisters became the chosen of the Goddess of War, given the power to bring vengeance against the wicked. The gaze of one of these original Gorgons could freeze a man’s blood in his veins, even turn him to stone. For centuries, Medusa and her sisters traveled the ancient world, destroying evils no one else could touch. Medusa had always been too kindhearted for her own good, however; when the Hero Perseus made her face the blood on her hands, she died of grief.
Vampire: Those night terrors you leave them with, sweat soaked and crying for their mothers…is that how you dream of me? Let’s find out.
Werewolf: Do you want them to fear you? Or does it just…happen that way?
Mage: Mysteries, you say. The uglier and more horrifying the better? Well, my place or yours?
Promethean: These people who reject you. Why do you let them?
Changeling: You hide your face, too.
Sin-Eater: Your dead companion is ugly enough for the both of you.
Mummy: We both keep Lairs, but yours was built for you and I dreamed mine. What would you choose?
Demon: You’re a virus. You infect everyone you touch with your fears and paranoia. I can’t decide if I should thank you or end you.
Stay with the car. That’s what they always tell you, stay with the car. Don’t set out across the desert by your lonesome. Don’t risk the scorching days and the freezing nights and the endless thirst tromping somewhere you might never be found. She didn’t listen, though. She didn’t even remember. She just had to get as far away from that wreck as she could, because she couldn’t bear to see who she’d just lost to it. She’s been aware of the shape overhead for hours now. It’s been watching her. It’s not a natural thing, not part of the experience of a college student driving south for spring break. But it’s there, and she knows it’s waiting. Finally, as the sun dips below the horizon, she lies down and lets it take her.
He rolls his eyes when they talk about chemtrails. He’s a cropsprayer by trade and he doesn’t like the anti-science bullshit spouted by fringe elements. He particularly doesn’t like the black marks it puts on small aviators, the ones who make modern agriculture possible. He’s never been able to master flying under his own power, so he needs that little plane to get up where he belongs. And he needs money to keep flying. So when those tick-tock men come with their mysterious “fertilizer” and cryptic instructions, he takes the payload and he takes the cash. But still, he rolls his eyes.
Vampire: I’ll blot out the sun with my wings for you.
Werewolf: You take the ground, I’ll take the sky. By morning, it’s all ours.
Mage: Icarus’ mistake wasn’t flying. It was flying badly.
Promethean: If it’s any comfort, from up there you look the same as any of them.
Changeling: I’ll see them coming before you do. Make a deal with me.
Sin-Eater: I admit, your Underworld makes me uncomfortable. It’s so close in there.
Mummy: Everything about you is a tapestry. I can’t wait to unravel it. Then you can see how it was made!
Demon: Didn’t fall far enough, apparently.
Vampire: Control isn’t love. Trust me.
Werewolf: You can call that big. I guess.
Mage: Pure discipline, wasted on sacks of meat.
Promethean: You’re strong. You’re indestructible. There ain’t room for the both of us.
Changeling: Why strike bargains with the people you tower over?
Sin-Eater: People shouldn’t get back up after I’ve torn them down. Stop that!
Mummy: No one judges me.
Demon: What would happen if I tore off your masks? Would anything remain?
Vampire: Just like a wine drunk. No sense of variety and you lose your shit at every party.
Werewolf: You watch boundaries. I violate them. Let’s be friends.
Mage: Met one once. His dreams smelled of old knowledge, ancient and true. So I ate him.
Promethean: I get being on the outside. Thing is, I like it here.
Changeling: You’re worried about being taken? I could watch you. Just to make sure.
Sin-Eater: You’re never quite alone now, are you? Doesn’t that get stifling?
Mummy: Of course I can kill it.
Demon: I like my prey to be multiple choice!
Vampire: You don’t drown. I don’t have much use for that.
Werewolf: We both go places no one else can.
Mage: Abyss? You’re looking at her.
Promethean: You’re drowning in an ocean of sorrow. Let me drown you someplace nicer.
Changeling: You crossed hedge and thorn to get here? Call me back when you’ve faced the sharks.
Sin-Eater: We’re both drawn to deep places; perhaps the nightmares we find there are not so different.
Mummy: You’ve forgotten something out there, buried deep in the desert. Something you fear. I can wash away the sands.
Demon: They’ve mistaken depth for dressing in layers.
Vampire: Those night terrors you leave them with, sweat soaked and crying for their mothers…is that how you dream of me? Let’s find out.
Werewolf: You want them to fear you. I like that. But I prefer my prey more…substantial.
Mage: Mysteries, you say. The uglier and more horrifying the better? Well, my place or yours?
Promethean: These people who reject you. You need to learn to kill more of them.
Changeling: You hide your face, too.
Sin-Eater: Your dead companion is ugly enough for the both of you.
Mummy: We both keep Lairs. I’ll thank you to stay in yours.
Demon: You’re a virus. You infect everyone you touch with your fears and paranoia. I can’t decide if I should thank you or end you.
Vampire: You take the ground, I’ll take the sky. By morning, it’s all ours.
Werewolf: It’s only polite to eat what you kill.
Mage: The tighter you grasp, the faster you slip.
Promethean: If it’s any comfort, from up there you look the same as any of them.
Changeling: I wish I could just carry you away. But that would bring flashbacks, wouldn’t it?
Sin-Eater: You think you can see everything, the present and the past, but there’s a whole other world you’re missing just above your head.
Mummy: Everything about you is a tapestry. I can’t wait to unravel it.
Demon: Didn’t fall far enough, apparently.
Some monsters live to make mighty warriors feel like mere infants, alone and scared in the dark, trying desperately to stand against something stronger and more cunning than they. In ancient times, such Beasts were worshiped as gods. Child and champion alike fell to their knees in awe at the mere sight of such a magnificent, terrible creature. Not every Beast would thrive under such attention, but for the Tyrants, the best part about being on top is looking down at all the people they crushed to get there.
A Tyrant teaches people their limits. The modern narrative in many places is that people can be whatever they set out to be, but that’s simplistic and naïve. Some people’s bodies are weak; that’s not a moral failing, but it does prevent them from feats of physical strength. A beneficent Tyrant can show people alternate ways to achieve their goals or goad them into pushing past their weakness. A more vicious Tyrant might teach through despair, terror, and even shame — you are not strong enough to best the dangers of the world alone.
Jo doesn’t tower over her prey — she’s short, but she’s all muscle. She enjoys letting other people challenge her, especially men. The challenge isn’t always or even usually physical. Sometimes they try to test her knowledge on topics they think she shouldn’t understand, or try to explain things to her that it’s obvious she knows. She destroys them; she knows what they know and she pokes holes in their beliefs and their facts, showing them sides of the topic they never considered. Secretly, though, she relishes the rare times when a man gets so mad he tries to touch her, because then she can beat him in a way that leaves no room for argument.
Reynold is a health inspector for the city. Most of the time, he does his job without complaint, but sometimes he finds the places where horrible things have happened and left… stains. Then he finds those responsible, and he makes them clean up their mess. Human offenders are simple. Supernatural ones…they take a different kind of approach. Reynold doesn’t mind the work; he doesn’t judge others for making the mess, just for leaving the stains behind.
Ari drives a cab. He goes to the parts of the city that the other cabbies won’t. He knows every bit of the city — the poor neighborhoods where everyone looks out for each other and the rich neighborhoods where everyone’s a stranger. When he feels his Hunger, he picks someone up and drops him in a place the person’s never seen before, a place where just walking down the street will get him arrested or jumped. He never lets anyone die. He just wants each little fish to know how far from its home pond it has strayed.
No one wants to get sent to the principal’s office, but especially not with Ms. Blaise there. Ms. Blaise is the assistant principal, but the real principal is just as scared of her as the kids. She has a pet scorpion in a tank on her desk. She always feeds it when she’s talking to a kid in trouble. Sometimes kids cry, sometimes they mumble apologies, but no one gets sent to Ms. Blaise twice.
Dave worked his way up. He started out delivering packages, but then he got promoted to supervisor, went to school, got his MBA, and now he’s got a corner office. But he’s got his sights set higher — he wants top floor. He wants to look down at the whole city. He’s patient, though. He figures there are about six more positions between his and the big boss, and he wants to have them all. It’s not having the top floor that will make him happy. It’s taking it.
The image of the dragon perched upon her hoard of precious gems and gold has been written into stories for thousands of years. Kingdoms have fallen trying to appease such Beasts with an endless train of gifts, only to have her sights turn to their grand castles and priceless crown jewels once everything else is gone. Even hundreds of years after all survivors have fled her domain, the stories of legendary riches and their fearsome guardian spread far and wide on desperate, greedy whispers, keeping a Collector well fed for centuries to come.
Zmei is a burglar…of a sort. He doesn’t creep in quietly or slip through windows. He walks in, takes what he wants (he’s partial to silver), and leaves. If the homeowner wants to try and stop them, they’re free to do so. If they can stop him, Zmei feels, they deserve to keep their belongings.
Rose collects teeth. She’ll take them from a victim’s mouth, if she needs to, but that’s messy and difficult. She’d rather take them from people — a lot of parents keep their children’s baby teeth, at least for a while. She’s taken them from the dead, too, and sometimes she breaks into dentists’ offices. The shape of human teeth fascinates her. Hers, after all, feel so sharp. She wonders if a vampire’s teeth might feel more like hers, but she likes most of the vampires she’s met too much to rip their fangs out. Most of them.
Yin found a little hollow just off the coast. She swims out there once a day with a plastic bag. She always has something in the bag, something metal and heavy, and she always comes back to the beach without it. Once, someone from her neighborhood decided to grab the bag and peek in, but no one’s sure what happened after that because a storm blew up out of nowhere. Next time anyone saw Yin, she was walking into the water with two bags.
Many Collectors hide their riches away from the world. Not Nigel. He takes (“acquires,” if anyone asks) heirlooms, antique clothing, items of historical significance, and then he defiles them. He smears the handstitched clothing with blood or shit, he carves deep, uneven furrows in the furniture, and he puts it all on display by the side of the road, under a banner that reads “SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI.”
Anya owns an apple orchard. Each tree has a ribbon tied around the top. Some of them are red, some are yellow, some are green, and most people who visit the orchard and buy her apples assume the ribbons correspond to the specific type of apple the tree bears. But that isn’t it. Anya goes out into the orchard at night and checks the ribbons, reminiscing about the day each tree was planted. The ribbons don’t match the apples. They remind Anya what she buried when she planted the tree. Red for something stained with blood, yellow for something stolen, green for something never touched or tasted.
A Predator might spend a night chasing a victim down the dark alleys of his city, let him “escape,” and then take a lock of her victim’s hair after sneaking into his apartment while he sleeps. She might simply feed off the utter terror in her victim’s eyes when the Beast has him pinned to the ground with a knife to his throat. The Beast doesn’t need to kill the victim, but he needs to have been able to do so. The victim needs to be at the Beast’s mercy. Unlike the Hunger for Power, though, the victim doesn’t need to know it.
Darius took his name and his hunting style from a werewolf he met once. He chases down his prey and breaks a bone — finger, arm, leg, neck, doesn’t matter, as long as he can hear the crack. He inflicts pain and fear in his prey and leaves behind a crippled, anguished person…or sometimes just a corpse, depending on how loudly his Horror howls.
Father Landon was a priest before the Devouring. He still believes, but when he prays, he prays to the Dark Mother. He talks with other men of the cloth, tempting them to break their vows and sin, and then watching as they run to other priests to give confession. At times he exposes their crimes and watches as the church either protects its own or makes examples. Father Landon doesn’t really care about the punishment (though his broodmate sometimes takes an interest) — he hunts transgression.
Brianna came to her Family early. Now in middle school, she spends summers with her brood, traveling the coastlines. She visits beaches, swims out too far, and waits for some poor soul to come and try to save her. Some Predators feed on flesh and blood. Brianna feeds on altruism. She doesn’t drown her would-be saviors — what kind of lesson would that teach? — she just dives deep and swims away, letting them either keep looking or swim back to land thinking that she drowned.
Vanessa likes blood. Her forearms cause deep gouges, as though they had serrated blades, and anyone caught in her embrace will bleed. Vanessa doesn’t necessarily drink the blood — she’s been known to, but just feeling it running down her body is enough. Her favorite “bleeders” are the disinterested, the people who are aloof and disdainful of their fellow humans. In her embrace, she knows they feel; if they survive, they are grateful for every moment they have. Everyone wins.
John Dawson owns the big, big house in the south end of town. The house has many rooms and a high, slanted roof. John steals people, takes them away to his house, and keeps them there long enough for their families to grow desperate. He waits until someone accuses someone else, until the dirty laundry comes out and the grief and fear breaks someone…and then he releases his prisoner, hungry but unharmed. Most of the families repair themselves. John prides himself on being the one to help them clear the air.
Ogre got his nickname wrestling in high school. The funny thing is that he’s met real ogres since then, creatures who were forced to be brutes and workhorses in the far-off Faerie realms. He’s made friends with several such changelings — and he’s the one they call in when someone breaks an oath. Ogre can’t stand betrayal. If you want to fight, kill, maim, that’s fine, he thinks, but don’t say you have someone’s back and then stab it. That’s when Ogre cracks his knuckles and everyone steps back, because they know he’s about to hit something.
Jess’ brood doesn’t know much about zir. They don’t know zir’s real name or zir assigned gender, and Jess isn’t interested in sharing. Jess also doesn’t participate in group hunts — it’s not personal, Jess just takes hunting seriously and prefers to do it alone. Ze finds the people who have committed crimes that went unreported — date rape, domestic violence, child abuse, the really unpleasant stuff. Those are the people Jess punishes, and ze doesn’t linger over the act. Ze does, however, make sure that zir deeds become visible, not so much as a deterrent (Jess has found that it makes little difference), but to give future victims of such crimes hope for justice.
Patrick and Ahmed are a Makara Collector and a Makara Nemesis, respectively, who fell in love. Patrick placed his treasures at the bottom of Ahmed’s lake, and Ahmed resolved to punish all those who would dare to steal his lover’s hoard. People come to the lake to almost every week, looking to dive down and take the “abandoned treasure.” Of course, Patrick makes sure to spread the rumors about the treasure. That way people come looking, and his lover gets to punish them.
Angela went to law school to represent the people who wouldn’t otherwise have representation. She represents the victims of bullies, the victims of the beautiful, the rich, the popular, the charming, the privileged. She doesn’t always win, of course — she has a small practice and she’s just as overworked as any other attorney. But she’s got a superlative method of negotiation, and it involves putting the fear of God (or at least a billion little spiders) into opposing counsel.
Benjamin knows that Father Landon lures clergy into breaking their vows, but he sees no entrapment. If they promise something, they must keep their promises, forever. If they wish to break the vows, they must renounce the church. Benjamin punishes the offenders, taking them high up to the bell tower and offering them a choice — confess, renounce, or try to fly to Heaven. He’s seen priests take all three options, but it’s all the same to Benjamin.
Grace watches with amusement as people take care of their cars with a tenderness they never show to people. Few things provide so much sustenance with so little work as damaging an expensive car. When Grace really feels the need to treat herself, she turns a car upside down and watches as the owner goes crazy trying to figure out how it happened.
Lester loves the sound of glass breaking. Human beings forget how flimsy windows are — they are enough to keep out the rain, yes, but not enough to keep out bricks, branches, or a determined intruder. Lester smashes the windows in the homes of the rich in the dead of night, and watches the security come running. Sometimes he writes his message on a wall or a mirror: YOU ARE NOT SAFE.
Naia tries to keep herself under control. She really does. She breaks things when she’s hungry, calling up enough of a storm to do some damage, and watching people feel helpless in the face of nature. But when her Horror truly hungers, she relinquishes all control and lets her Lair pour into the world, blowing down walls and flooding buildings. That’s when she floats on her back and happily watches the debris drift by.
Amon finds fungus fascinating. He knows that certain types of fungus turn insects into zombie slaves, and other types can drive people from their houses in fear of their health. The fungus that grows in his Lair and that festers in the eyes and mouth of his Horror could overtake and reclaim a city in days if he ever let it out. He wouldn’t — he has friends who run as wolves, and they have to live here, too. He has a deal with them, though. If their enemies ever attempt to take territory, they’ll establish a spiritual quarantine zone and Amon will let his fungus spread.
Diana is an assassin. She chooses her targets based on two factors. One is how much someone will pay to see the target die — Diana is a woman of expensive tastes, and her lifestyle requires money. The other is how many people will mourn (or celebrate!) her target’s death. A sufficiently high-profile target or an appropriately large deposit to her Cayman Islands account earns a single shot from her rifle. Unless, of course, she feels like a more hands-on approach that night.
Reynold is a health inspector for the city. When his Soul hungers, he dons rubber gloves and tests everything. He quizzes employees, he looks for the slightest bit of mold or dirt, and he happily provides miles of appeals forms to the owner. He refuses bribes and dutifully reports any attempt. He isn’t after money, after all. He’s after the frustration and defeat in their eyes.
No one wants to get sent to the principal’s office, but especially not with Ms. Blaise there. Ms. Blaise is the assistant principal, but the real principal is just as scared of her as the kids. She has a pet scorpion in a tank on her desk. She always feeds it when she’s talking to a kid in trouble. Sometimes kids cry, sometimes they mumble apologies, but no one gets sent to Ms. Blaise twice. That’s actually a problem for Ms. Blaise — she needs kids to misbehave. She’s hungry, and so is her scorpion.
Tim drives a truck for the county, picking up roadkill. He scrapes the dead animals off the sidewalk, drives them out to his house, and tosses them into a ravine. Sometimes he trudges down into the ravine and marvels at the process of decay, how the flesh gets soft and falls off and how the worms and flies do their work. He loves finding new and different species on the road — sure, he gets a lot of possums and squirrels and skunks, but finding a pet dog with the collar still on? That is a rare treat. Even rarer, and better, are those misty mornings when he finds a person on the road. Tim doesn’t hunt purely through chance, of course. He drives a truck. He can make roadkill just fine.
“The fuck are you looking at, dipshit?” Kyle snarled, standing up and walking up with his hands out in a macho pose he’d probably seen in a dozen tough-guy movies.
Ben stopped up short, hands hooked around his backpack straps, trying to hide the smile on his face, maybe even put on a little fear. That’s what they’d want to see, after all, and that just made what was coming even sweeter. There were three of them, Kyle and two of his admirers. You could usually catch them smoking at the edge of the parking lot before school. He’d heard they liked to come out here and sneak some booze, maybe blaze a little bit, but the thin boy with frightened eyes behind them told a different story.
Good. He’d been hoping for something worse than a little weed.
“Hey guys, I just wanted to let you know — you know what? Fuck it.” Ben normally drew out a feeding, savoring the indulgence, but the monster was growling loudly and he couldn’t be bothered. Instead he drew on the cold depths within and looked at the two boys behind Kyle with eyes that had seen what lived in the lightless dark. “Get the fuck out of here.”
All the color drained from the boys’ faces as they scrambled away from Ben, tripping over backpacks and nearly pitching headfirst off the loading dock in their haste to get away. Kyle looked around, disbelieving, as his “muscle” slammed the door shut behind them with such force the plexiglass panel rattled in the frame. “What the fuck —”
Ben grabbed hold of Kyle’s arm. The older boy threw a wild haymaker with his free hand. It bounced off Ben’s temple without so much as moving his head. Ben had a moment to savor Kyle’s confusion as it turned to panic before he squeezed the older boy’s wrist. Bone groaned under the pressure and Kyle shrieked, falling to his knees.
“This is what being an asshole gets you,” Ben said casually, still squeezing. His Horror savored the punishment, drinking it in, and for the first time in days Ben’s head cleared. He enjoyed it so much he forgot Kyle was still there until the boy began to blubber. Ben let go of his wrist like he was tossing a piece of garbage. “Now fuck off.”
Kyle yelped and scurried backward, clutching his wrist, where a bright crop of unusual bruises was already blooming. He looked at his bag and back at Ben, thought better of it and left it behind, hurrying after his friends.
“Holy shit,” the younger boy said when they were alone. He looked Ben over, eyes still frightened. “How did you do that?”
Ben shrugged. “People don’t fuck with you if you don’t let them.”
“Well, thanks.” The boy smiled weakly. “They were gonna fuck me up. Fourth time this month.” He pulled down the collar of his shirt to reveal yellowing traces of old bruises. “And all I did was scratch the big guy’s car by accident.”
“Oh really?” Ben felt his Horror stir. Maybe he could make another meal of Kyle sooner than he’d thought. He put his arm across the other boy’s shoulders, barely registering the flinch. “Tell me about it. Maybe there’s something I can do.”
It was meant to be the other way around. She should have been the one chasing them, her shrieking laugh echoing off the sandstone walls of her Lair as they fumbled through the maze of twisting passages. She should have been tearing them apart, first from each-other, then bone from flesh and muscle from sinew in a long-awaited feast.
But one mistake, and now Tanya was the one running for her life. There were only six of them, one Hero and five of his lackeys, but they were armed and she had nothing but a perfect trap that they had just completely avoided. She had better eyes, but they had longer legs and far more practice running. They were gaining on her. A part of her yearned to just turn and sink her teeth into one of their throats, take him down with her in a blaze of glory and death. But her family was waiting back in the warehouse, and who knew what kind of trouble they’d get themselves into if she didn’t survive? Besides, it wasn’t just their flesh her Horror wanted. They needed to know what they’d done first. They needed to know that she knew who the real monsters were.
She made her feet beat faster down the wet pavement, forced aside her gnawing Hunger to focus on the escape. Left turn at the intersection, right turn to duck into the alleyways, then left again. The dark corners of the city could be a little like a maze, maybe like enough to call to her Lair? If she could just have a moment to breath, to figure out a plan. Another turn up ahead, maybe with a few more twists and turns she could slow them down.
Or maybe she’d find a dead end. It was too late to turn back by the time she saw the tall chain fence that blocked the way, slick with rain and sharp with barbed wire. The thud of her pursuers was close, and closer still with every moment. This was it, then. Dying cold, wet, and alone. No, not alone.
Beyond the fence, through darkness not even Tanya’s keen eyes could pierce, there was something waiting. Something fierce and ravenous, even by a Beast’s discerning standards. Something horrible. Tanya’s breath caught in her throat, but the fear that washed over her was familiar. The darkness was familiar too, cold and eternal just like it had been the night of her Devouring. Dangerous, yes, but not to her. Not tonight. Tanya let her mouth curl open in a sharp, predatory grin.
“That’s a dead end” the Hero said, still just out of sight. “We have her. One monster, six of us, this shouldn’t take long.” And then he and his followers turned the corner. What did they see behind that fence, she wondered? How did the Dark Mother show herself to those who weren’t her Children, if she showed herself at all? Whatever they saw, it was enough for the Hero’s lackeys found the better part of valor and turned to run. She’d catch them later, one by one, alone.
But first, food. Tanya licked her lips, and met the Hero’s wavering gaze. “Two of us and one of you, now. I’m going to make this last.”
They lounge together, hands occasionally brushing. Once in a while, Patrick reaches up and strokes the back of Ahmed’s head, playing his fingers across recently buzzed hair. It’s easy for Jo to forget they’re monsters.
“I always dream of blood,” she says. Patrick smiles. Ahmed remains poker-faced, but he sits forward. “I mean, not always, but whenever the dream is….”
“Deep,” says Ahmed.
She nods. “Deep. Yeah. I dream of the smell. Not fresh blood, but old, rotted. Like meat. That’s the first thing that hits me. And then the dream is different every time. Once I dreamed that I was in this museum, with all these beautiful people — like model-beautiful, dressed up to the nines — all behind glass. And I was tiny, and weak, and they didn’t notice me, they just stood there.”
Patrick licks his lips. Somewhere, in a place-that-isn’t-a-place, a sea monster breaches the surface looking for food.
“And I walked up to one of them, and I realized she was dead. Dead, but still moving. She stared at me and smiled and she had fangs, and then I realized they all did.” Jo clears her throat. The dream shouldn’t affect her. It was years ago. “I woke up, and I called my friends and changed plans for the weekend. Stayed away from the new club. We never went.”
Ahmed cracks a smile. “You mean Verdant? Club with the big tree on the logo?” Jo nods. “Good call staying away.”
Jo pales a little. “Why?”
“Because the vampires really do run that place.” He reaches over to the cooler and pulls out a beer. “And you are just their type.”
Over time, the population increased and people came together in ever-larger communities. The human mind is equipped to recognize a finite number of other people — approximately 150-200. Anything past that number isn’t a “person.” This works well in a small group, but as the number of humans grew, people’s minds became overwhelmed by the number of unrecognizable beings around them. This led to a number of effects; xenophobia, paranoia, and increased tribalism among them. It also meant that the simple, uncomplicated language of the Primordial Dream was drowned out by the noise of billions of voices, all experiencing the fear of being surrounded by strangers.
Charlotte sits in the back of class, hunched over a desk two sizes too small. The teacher explained to the class that she has a genetic disorder. She is taller than everyone, boys included, wearing ill-fitting clothes over limbs that seem grotesquely elongated.
The teacher’s words are hollow. People snicker behind her back.
Things are worse at home. Every afternoon, she returns to a ramshackle house with a father who belittles her. She cringes while he rants and raves and throws bottles at her. It doesn’t sting as much as it used to, but the words — the words still hurt.
“It’s your mother’s goddamn fault!” he screams, and she is not sure if he means her being a freak or being alive. To her, there’s no difference.
Every night she goes to bed bruised and brimming with hate. She has nothing to look forward to but doing it all again.
Rick is climbing. He does not know where he is or how he got here, but such is the way of dreams. The sun shines on his back, and he reaches up for the next handhold, smiling, happy, free. A good dream.
No. A shadow over the sun, just for a moment. This isn’t a good dream. This is the other dream, the dream where—He has no time to think before the talons hit home. He is plucked from the mountainside, hundreds of feet in the air, with burning, searing pain in his shoulder and leg where the great bird’s claws have pierced him. He twists to see the thing, to finally see it, but he cannot move. He hears the wings beating, but everything else is pain.
The claws move, pushing him forward. The beak — he can finally see the beak. It closes over his head, and he hears the SNAP as his neck breaks.
Darkness. Nothing. And then…the sun returns. He emerged from a cave. He’s standing on his own mountain, but it overlooks a vast forest, lush and green. But that isn’t right, he thinks. That forest should be burning and charred.
He does not think. He takes flight. He swoops low and spits fire into the trees, and then soars high, gazing down over the forest, the mountain, his Lair, his new home. He will never dream of being plucked from the mountain again. Others will dream of him.
Sometimes, the devouring just happens. The Horror ascends from the Primordial Dream, finds the dreamer, and consumes the thin veneer of humanity that was her soul. Sometimes, a Beast finds the dreamer, her horror drifting towards the dreams of a seemingly normal person who's nightmares extend deep into the Primordial Dream. The Beast might then choose to offer the Devouring the dreamer. Some Beasts couch the Devouring the form of an offer; become a Beast, or remain a dreamer. Some are less friendly about the choice, making it clear that if the dreamer refuses to join the Begotten, she can’t be allowed to live. Some don’t even bother making the offer, but progress directly to the Devouring. Very occasionally, the dreamer spots a Beast first and follows her, trying to make sense of the odd connection she feels, eventually realizing she is, in a sense, chasing herself.
In any case, though, the Beast isn’t losing her humanity, but gaining her true self. She experiences one final nightmare: The Devouring.
The particulars of this process are the subject of much debate among Beasts. If the Beast’s Devouring is brought on by another of the Children, is the new Beast’s Horror chosen, in some way, by the Beast that does the Devouring? If that’s the case, it would make sense for a Makara to “spawn” other Makara, but that isn’t always what happens; a Makara might Devour a dreamer only for the dreamer to become an Anakim or an Eshmaki or a member of any other Family. Is the new Beast’s Horror — and therefore her Family and Hunger — random? That doesn’t seem to make sense, either, as new Beasts invariably feel that by becoming a Beast, they have not lost their humanity but gained something they were missing all along.
That feeling — the realization that the dreamer has, in some way, always been a Beast — isn’t universal, but is extremely common. The dreamer might never have had the language to describe it, but all her life, she felt different. With her soul cleared away and the Horror finally replacing it, she claims a birthright she never knew she had. For Beasts Devoured by other Beasts, they have a big sibling to welcome them to their new family. For Beasts who experience the Devouring spontaneously, the Devouring is more of a homecoming.
The date isn’t going well. It’s going fine, which is the opposite of how Rick wanted it to go. Alessandro is completely Rick’s type — strong arms, blue eyes, thick hair — but he seems tentative. Rick can’t quite stop seeing him as…well, prey. They haven’t really found anything to talk about.
“What do you dream about?” Alessandro’s question is weird, but what the hell.
“Flying,” says Rick. “Mostly.”
“Like a bird?” Alessandro’s blue eyes are fixed on Rick, and Rick notices he isn’t blinking.
“Like a hawk.” Rick licks his lips.
“And you dive.”
“And then you catch—“
“Whatever I’m diving at. Yeah.”
They stare at each other for a minute longer. “I have that dream, too,” whispers Alessandro.
The dead girl is a good listener. She scribbles in her book, swiping absentmindedly at her hair, and lets John spill his guts. She never touches her coffee.
She looks up when he finishes. His knuckles are white on the table. He forces himself to relax, his talons digging into the Formica surface. He takes his own coffee with what looks like a human hand.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I believe everything.” Alice gives him a crooked smile, showing the edges of sharp teeth. She covers it as the waitress passes. “I want to help you. Believe me, I know the importance of family. But you have to do something for me first.”
“More.” She taps her pen on the paper. “I need more. I need everything.”
Everyone’s been hungry.
Beasts are hungrier.
Hoard, Power, Prey, Punishment, Ruin: such simple words for such monstrous needs. Hunger is a word that suggests eating, but the Hunger of a Beast isn’t so base as appetite. Hunger is the stuff of legends. It inspires epics of the wars fought against it, of the empires it breaks, and of the people who die at its feet. When a Beast hungers, humanity does not sit idle.
The Dark Mother hungered, too. Hunger was her greatest gift to her Children, a mythic drive to explore her world and carve out a piece of it. She left no true record of what her Hunger was, of course, but she left many legends.
The audience is unwilling, but the choice is out of their hands.
Five-foot-two, bespectacled, and groomed within an inch of his life, Sin-you is a clashing color on the palette of the 24-hour greasy spoon. His eyes are posing questions no one wants answered.
What does he know?
Did he see me do it?
A trucker lumbers out of his booth and settles up. Sin-you knows what comes next. He smelled it in the man’s dime-store deodorant, and he sees it in the exact change he counts out over the cash register. Not a nickel over the bill. The hostess forces a smile as she drops a receipt like a piece of garbage.
Sin-you’s smile stretches like a stab wound.
Miles away, the trucker’s mind is wandering up the interstate. The waitress he pinched. The waiter he called a faggot. The call girl with the bloody lip. They’re crawling over the walls of his cabin, tearing out soft pieces of his body and screaming obscenities he can’t hear but understands in the pit of his belly. He pulls his rig onto a side road before it slams into a concrete barrier.
“Guilty,” whispers Sin-you. It’s the most obvious thing in the world. An ivory spike, notched like a horn, drags down the trucker’s cheek, and Sin-you gorges on judgment. The trucker isn’t sure if he’s still dreaming, but his heart is beating so fast he can barely breathe. He doesn’t see Sin-You. No one ever does. He remembers, though.
He remembers how he treated the people he met on the road. Maybe next time he’ll remember they are travelers, just like him.
Sin-You slips out of the back of the truck and waits for his broodmate to arrive.
Whatever call the Dark Mother heeded, Beasts hear its echo. Hidden deep in every instinct, she whispers, chiding her Children to grow up just like her. That whisper is the reason a Beast gets up in the morning, or carries on when her brood is slain and an ax-happy Hero prepares his coup de grâce. Only a Beast gets to decide when she’s cut off. For every hurt, for every disappointment, for every loved one who walks away, she remembers her Hunger — that which fed her when the world was fallow.
Living with Hunger is dangerous, yes, but a dragon’s gold is never a burden. The Hero might call it profane, but in his heart of hearts, he envies its glory. He’d be lucky to have such a light to guide his way. Instead, he’s left with the solipsism of vendetta; Hunger is a lodestar, not an addiction as the Heroes claim. As if a Beast could detox off instinct. Grendel wars on Heorot because killing Danes is the only way he keeps his sanity stapled together. He savors the blood spattering on his skin, and the bones crumbling in his fists, but that’s all empty calories. Hunger drowns out doubt. If it didn’t, he’d throw himself on their spears.
A sated Beast knows how to break out her prey’s best terrors. She knows how her victim obsesses over his looks, as well as his nagging suspicion that if they fade, he will too. She knows all about his dreams of limbs melting like wax and of a fast, anonymous decay into old age. She knows how to make fear fact. Now, whenever a chill hits the air, his bones ache and his hands tremble; whenever he looks in his mirror, he sees what he’ll become.
A sated Beast can tear away mental blocks. Drugs, therapy, and money went into repressing his hit-and-run, but the Beast makes sure her victim still dreams of the homeless woman he killed, dying as her blood leaks memories into shattered glass. The slurs of pedestrians. The agonies of withdrawal. He sees her in every beggar downtown and in his own shadow as he turns out the lights.
A sated Beast takes the pain that threw her victim’s life into a spiral of self-hatred and sorrow and says I can do better. She tortures the world until it feeds her again.
A man snores beneath the cracked lights of a bus shelter. Through winter rain, the ticking of his Rolex synchs with Ana’s heart. She needs that watch more than anything she’s ever needed.
She thought she could get by on scraps. The cops are watching all her haunts: the subway, the tourist traps, even the fucking library. She hasn’t had a real meal in weeks, and the night her neighbors woke up screaming about deep, dark oceans, she knew cold turkey wouldn’t work.
Watch-guy’s not going to be sleeping on that bench tomorrow. He’s not going to be there in five minutes. That’s the message Ana’s Horror is thrashing into her on typhoons of stomach acid. Her bones chill as if it’s dragging her back to the sea, but really, it’s just dragging her to him.
She finds her hand on his wrist before she can think the desire to put it there. Her goose bumps brush against his as she hesitates.
Not just from sleep, but from the polite fiction that Ana is anything but a monster. He grabs a handful of hair and slams her into the bench. The rain twists around him, robbing him of balance. He tries to club her head with his briefcase, but she swings her leg further than a human knee allows, smashing him through the shelter’s cheap glass.
Her goose bumps grip his skin like suckers as she crushes his chest and rips the watch from his arm.
Somewhere in the space between the rain, the ticking, and Ana’s heart, her Horror roars.
Reward comes with risk, however. If a Beast expends her reserves or goes without a meal too long, her Horror goes feral. It has no logic to understand poor feeding prospects, nor the motives that might put its Beast on a diet. It has needs that outweigh consequence. It shatters the confines of the Lair and hunts through human nightmares. Like any predator, it revisits the same hunting grounds over and over again. A single nightmare feeding leaves a person bleary and edgy the next morning, but one a night for a week makes the victim sick, depressed, and spiritually weakened. Worse yet, so much activity in the Primordial Dream attracts Heroes.
Luka’s a Predator, the kind who uses every part, from skin to sinew. Zie thinks other carnivores are the best prey, and being hunted in return gives hir a special sort of thrill. Normally zie’d describe hirself as a conservationist, but sometimes the bleeding hearts go too far. The new laws mean a lot more rangers snooping around the woods looking for poachers. If they catch hir with a bloody bowie knife and a bear carcass, zie’ll have to answer uncomfortable questions. Luka’s Horror is hunting on its own now, and it’s acquiring brand new tastes. Ugly ones.
They say that internal affairs is for slimeballs, and that describes Hollis well. He’s always had a strong sense of right and wrong, as well as an unerring eye able to exploit that quality for his own edification. Woe to the cop who comes across his desk, because whether or not she’s right, she’ll always be wrong. Playing that game can be delicate, though, and now he’s faltered. He’s been suspended for all kinds of violations (if only they knew), and the review board’s going to throw the book at him. Starving outside his red tape empire, it’s time for Hollis to make good on his rolodex of spite. Time to show these cops what justice really is.
He has always needed to burn. As a kid, Levin played with matches and brought fiery doom on ant hills, so when the salamander in his dreams turned out to be him, everything clicked. Now the local news calls him the Eastside Pyro. Despite the disappointing nickname, his Legend grows in the warmth of the media’s attention. Or rather, it did. The concrete walls of the county jail make poor kindling. Now his Horror’s torching every dream it can, and rumor has it that his fellow inmates plan on snuffing out his light for good.
The modern world’s relationship with fear has become strange and muddled. People fear occurrences that have virtually no chance of ever actually happening, while ignoring the dangers right in front of them. The sheer number of people alive at any given time means that a sea of strangers surrounds an average human being, resulting in generalized anxiety about the world and the people in it. Meanwhile, the visceral, blood-and-bones wisdom of the Primordial Dream has to be filtered through so much noise that it has the wrong effect. People fear each other but ignore supernatural danger. They fear terrorism but rationalize hatred. They fear a disease that will almost certainly never touch them but disbelieve the slow death of their planet.
Humility: A common lesson of Anakim, Tyrants, and Ravagers, humility shows the victim that some things are simply beyond his control. The victim might be a very powerful, rich person, or just someone who tries to exert control over others in his life. The Beast might display this lesson by destroying something important to the victim, physically or social dominating him, or simply showing him a nightmare vista in which he is a subjugated, whipped slave.
Acceptance: Acceptance is an especially harsh lesson. Predators, Ravagers, and Namtaru are its most common proponents. For a victim to learn this lesson, he must be brought low, losing friends, family, home, shelter, even himself. A beneficent Beast teaching this lesson (if such a thing exists) does it in a dream, where loss and death evaporate with sunrise. Beasts find this lesson an especially difficult one to teach, though; people don’t give up easily and they instinctively rail against horror and injustice. The lesson that “this is just how things are” is rarely one that they appreciate.
Passion: One of the effects of the modern world is that people have instant access to beauty, art, humor, and whatever else they might wish to experience. Feeling becomes difficult as people become jaded. Even people who work to better others suffer from dulled emotions; stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout numb the better angels of our natures. The Begotten have a good fix for that: mortal terror. The pure, elemental nature of fear stirs the heart and the mind. Collectors teach this lesson by stripping away items of comfort, while Ravagers do so by calling down fire and wind to change a person’s perspective. The Makara, adept at stirring the emotions of humanity, also favor the lesson of passion.
Tradition: Traditions become traditions for a reason. People tell stories as cautionary tales, but also as reminders and out of reverence. Then again, traditions can also outlive their usefulness. Years after a practice is no longer relevant, people stick to it because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” The lesson of tradition can therefore be either to uphold or reject the old ways, depending on the proclivities of the Beast in question. Makara, Tyrants, and, of course, Nemeses favor this lesson, whether to support or subvert.
The Collector poaches devil birds, whose calls portend death for those unfortunate enough to hear them. She keeps her pets in a special habitat and offers admission for a small fee. With each new nest in her collection and every new guest, her hunting grounds grow outward in a storm of shrieking.
The Nemesis has a riddle. She offers it to whomever she meets, but never the same way twice. Never the same tense, never the same words, never even the same punctuation, and never adding up to anything. Her unsolvable puzzle plagues countless sages and philosophers. For each life it envelops, she finds new ways to twist her Lair into a labyrinth of dead ends.
The Predator explores the back alleys of Skid Row, patronizing godforsaken drug dens or any other places where time slows and the world falls away. Her Lair is a sea of illusions set against an endless city, drawing prey in with the promise of fantasy and vice. She stalks them, hiding behind fever dream walls, and strikes them down with fears wrought large.
Pompeii, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima. These are the Ravager’s fantasy getaways: anywhere the restless dead are anchored by disaster. The Ravager’s not interested in helping them, though. He wants to revel in mass destruction, to make his Lair an instrument of entropy. No better way to learn of death than from those who can’t escape it.
The Corporation: When a secret is unearthed, it becomes a commodity, and Beasts often form cartels to capitalize on their pools of lore. The Predators in one brood study the bizarre agendas of shadow owls, trading insider information with paranoid vampires. Ravagers in another group study the effects of hauntings on dreams, and trade their results to Sin-Eaters in exchange for unique services.
The Detective Agency: Occult mysteries attract Beasts like moths to flames, but these broods take that pull and give it structure. Each member brings a special skill: occult forensics, parapsychological profiling, or just plain blood-spatter analysis. Investigatory broods often run into cabals of mages with similar agendas. At best, the two groups share resources and collaborate. At worst, it’s akin to a loner P.I. running afoul of city hall.
The Institution: Sometimes broods settle down. They find a mystery to their liking and milk it for all it’s worth. Perhaps rooms at the old asylum randomly open into the Primordial Dream, or a cabin out in the woods saps the essence of supernatural creatures. These mysterious places can be sources of power for years, and the broods that guard them will do so with their lives.
The Mystery Religion: The Begotten are scions of a primal goddess. Their divine heritage can bloom into a full-fledged religion, or at least cults. These broods task their adherents with sacred quests, either to help them better understand the Dark Mother’s world or to see if religious fervor can better regulate the needs of Hunger.
The vampire spreads madness. Shunned by mortals and Kindred alike, she’s going to fall into a deep slumber if she keeps going hungry. Asklepian wants to help and offers her shelter for service. The little starving vampire can crack sanity with her bite the way he crushes ribcages with his coils, and every brain she breaks for him becomes a ward in the madhouse of his Lair.
Changelings live and breathe fate, just as the Norn does. In exchange for her help in hiding from their mad gods, they re-craft her Hero’s destiny. With his Legend untwined from hers, the fae show her new and subtle ways to flip narratives in her favor.
Mr. Void steals the Hero’s soul. Wendigo doesn’t mind, though. He likes to watch skins change hands. He can learn so much as the demon’s mask crumbles with his new, despicable obligations, and even more when tungsten angels come to drag him back into service.
She is born in blood again and again. The dream used to scare her; now she looks forward to it. The waking world is unreal. Only this forest matters.
The autumn chill whips over black fur. The wine-scent of rotting vegetation fills the air as she hurtles through the night after her prey. There, at last! It is her. Still a child trying to flee the monster, her feet slip-sliding on a ground cloaked in leaves.
She feels nothing for her younger self, neither rage nor pity. She feels nothing whatsoever until she pounces — effortlessly — and bears the child to the ground. Little bones snap like twigs. Flesh is rent to bone. She kills, she dies, and is reborn.
She wants this to continue forever.
Imani stands before a cave. Nothing here is beautiful, but even the rot infecting the rocks — the fungus and the beetles and the corpses — even the rot is saying, “Welcome home, Imani.” But the trees that frame the entrance are begging Imani to STAY OUT because they know she’ll never leave, she’ll never come out again, because the oaks look like mom and dad and they love Imani, but she goes in anyway because it’s the only thing she’s ever needed in her life and she doesn’t need mom and dad or a LIFE when the walls collapse and the moss tries to touch her and choke her and STOP HER but she pulls back she chokes the moss she chokes the cave and SMASHES the rocks into dust because she knows that this is how she WINS this is how the world ends not with a bang but with HER and she can hear a voice it’s calling out it says her name again and again and AGAIN and she is in a room.
She stands before a giant. Imani’s flesh is its food, and her blood is its drink. There’s nothing to hide that now.
The giant crawls from the ruins of the cave. She smashes the trees and whittles them into clubs.
Helena breathes in salt air. She leaves paw prints in wet, cerulean sand, and little black crabs made of onyx dart through the shadow of her wing, into other shadows many miles away. Her mane is tangling on the wind, but the water has no waves. It’s a mirror for the sun and moon to dance on.
The men are running. More a dash, Helena thinks. Nothing as dignified as running. They’ve been hurtling at her since they were dots on the crooked horizon, kicking up blue sand with the frantic lope of dogs. She doesn’t fight when they shoot her. She doesn’t try to dodge or take cover. She doesn’t bite when they run out of bullets and beat her with their guns.
Helena lies down in the sand. Golden blood tangles her mane, matting it in glittering chains of life. One of the men collects her life in a bucket so he can sell it. When she’s hollowed out, they throw her in the water, and her brass bones drag her to the bottom. But then, she floats. She’s not
a Beast anymore, just a woman with curling red hair and a dead smile.
A griffin swims. It leaves Helena without a thought because Helena is gone, a half-remembered fragment of a dream. She doesn’t matter. Only revenge.
“I think this is bullshit,” says Arnold. He would say that.
“Trust me,” I say. “It’s here.” We walk down the old, slick, stone steps, and I find the door. “Here.”
“Access door,” says Arnold, and Mira nods. She looks scared, though.
I chuckle. “Dude, you haven’t seen anything yet.” I shoulder the door open, and lead them into the Underground.
An hour later, Arnold still won’t shut up about how cool it all is. He’s taking pictures like crazy, planning to do a full shoot down here, and he still hasn’t apologized for all the shit he gave me. That’s when I realize….
“Where’s your sister?” He looks around, whipping his flashlight around.
“Holy shit. Mira?” He calls out, but nothing comes back but echoes. I called out her name, too, but nothing.
Nothing at first. But then….
“What if she never came back?” The voice is low. I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. I shine my light at where it came from, but all I see is something dart away before I can really catch a glimpse. “What if she’s lost down here, forever, along with all the other ghosts?”
“Where the fuck is my sister?” Arnold’s screaming now. My heart pounds. I reach for my phone, but then Arnold’s light goes out.
“What if your last thought was that you should have heeded the signs?” The voice is behind me now. Something touches my neck and my legs go numb. I collapse. “What if?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper. “Please.”
“Do something for me,” says the voice. Its breath is in my ear. It smells like dust and red wine. “Tell someone else about this, once a day, for 10 days.”
So that’s why I’m telling you.
He’s smashing the door with a crowbar. Chunks of plywood burst like flak, and a piece of doorframe shoots through his swinging arm. He grits through the pain as the next swing squeezes the splinter deep into his shoulder, lodging it between bones.
Mara watches from her bedroom window, waiting for him to realize that a tank couldn’t knock that door down.
Eventually, he sniffs out the basement window and thinks himself clever for it. He loses a few inches of skin to broken glass as he shoves his body through the opening, and tracks bloody, trampled daisies as he limps up the stairs. His moment is coming.
Mara wants him to have it. She wants to see triumph in his face before she strips it of dignity and flesh. They both have their roles in this game, and playing that out won’t sour her victory. Not when she demolishes his self-worth with that crowbar.
That by itself is understandable. The problem is that Heroes aren’t really doing it because they want to put down a monster. Heroes feel that they should loom large over humanity’s dreams. People shouldn’t be having nightmares of monsters, but dreaming of feverish adulation. The Hero longs to enter a Beast’s Lair, cut out its Horror’s heart, and substitute his smiling, bloodied face in the dreams of all whom the Beast
would have victimized.
To a degree, the Begotten understand the Heroic drive. Whether it’s for piles of gold or slaughtered prey, Beasts are equally slaves to instinct. The difference between a Beast’s Hunger and a Hero’s obsession is self-awareness. A Beast knows what she is. She learns to live with it or she suffers. Justifications miss the point of having a Hunger in the first place. A Hero, on the other hand, twists his brain to rationalize his hatred. Becoming a Hero is just a matter of experiencing the Primordial Dream without context or depth.
Is the Hero to blame for what he does? Beasts debate the question. Heroes seem to be operating on instinct as much as the Begotten. Just as the Begotten can minimize the harm they cause, though, or at least give it some context by using their Hunger to teach lessons, Heroes can discriminate in how they apply their murderous abilities, and they are capable of prioritizing a Beast that does real, reckless harm to people over one that does not. In addition, they can ignore their urges. If they focus on their own lives, if they ignore the hunt, if they develop some humility and stop trying to be the Hero, the urges diminish and stop. Few Heroes manage this, however. They have a lifetime of experience telling them that the Beast must die.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go down.
The judge is sitting like some goddamn magistrate, lording over the court as if he’s important. As if any part of this show trial matters.
Oh, these newspeak platitudes. This isn’t how a man’s treated. I didn’t target her because she’s black. I targeted her because she’s a monster.
She’s sitting all solemn, little crocodile tears blotting her mascara. If I look hard enough, though, if I look past the skin suit, I see it hiding. I see its coils sucking the life out of the room. You don’t fool me, bitch. I got your friends. I burned them all.
It doesn’t take long.
“…the jury, find the defendant…”
She smiles. A smile for me. Mistake.
“Die, bitch!” I rip my cuffs off and jump the table. The bailiff unloads a round into me, but I don’t care about pain anymore. The only thing I care about is choking her with the chains she put me in.
I scream in her face. I scream at these stupid fuckers to see what she really is!
I choke harder.
She. Keeps. Smiling! Smiling even when her eyes bulge and her face turns blue. The bailiff hesitates because he can’t get a shot in without it going through her. Do us both a favor, pal.
Then, I feel my heart explode.
The coils are wrapped around me. In me.
Her smile falls as I drop.
“You burned them,” she whispers. “My brothers. My sister. You burned them. They weren’t like me.” She has tears in her eyes, again, but this time I believe them.
I try to say something, but honestly, I can’t think of anything.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down.
“This doesn’t end here.”
We’re standing in the middle of LaGuardia, just a girl and her stalker. My hero. He doesn’t have a weapon, though. I guess he’s not crazy enough to bring one to an airport, but I bet it killed him not to.
“I’ve got a flight to catch, Frank. I’m not coming back,” I say.
“You need to listen—”
“I’ve heard everything. Every bullet,” I say, hoping no one else can hear this. I can’t afford a fight, especially not with Homeland Security.
“I’ll find you, Elisabeth,” he says, like saying my name will give him control. But his heart’s pounding right along with mine, and the flop sweat’s starting to crawl up his shirt. For anyone else, I’d feel sorry.
“You don’t have money for the bus, let alone a plane,” I say, trying to shove past him.
“Because you ruined my life!” he shouts, pulling the gaze of sleepy commuters. The edge in his voice isn’t violent, though. He’s a child who didn’t get his favorite blanket.
I snap. “If you want this, you do it here. The big kill, in front of everyone. Go ahead. They’ll chain you up and toss you away, where all you’ll have is the satisfaction of knowing the world thinks you’re another broken vet who slipped through the cracks and went postal.”
A tinny voice warbles. My flight. I wait for him to make a move. Gods know he’s desperate enough to—
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
Because if I killed a hateful, sad, old man, I’d be everything he thinks I am.
“I’m better than you,” I lie.
I grab my carry-on. He steps into the crowd and out of my life.
I’ve seen them at my shows a few times, watching me with the same foregone conclusion they always have drilled into their dumb eyes. They’re the kind of guys who haven’t met a collar they haven’t popped.
They follow me after my gig, and I walk them into the crappy park downtown that city council never bothered naming. They’re carrying — I shit you not — golf clubs. One of them is packing a Glock! My kind of night.
“Jesus, boys. Is this, like, a rumble?”
They don’t bother verbalizing their battle cry into English, just grunts and slurs they imagine scare me. I let their leader take a few swings with his nine iron to get my blood pumping. I call him a piece of shit, and that’s when the night starts to sizzle.
Glock-bro draws his piece, but he’s not pointing it at me.
The boy I called out starts convulsing and they know exactly what he is. The half-crazed, mean motherfucker they all are on the inside. Covered in boils, seeping pus, and hate. And maggots. Lots and lots of maggots. The Hero ascendant.
That’s what he looks like to them, at least.
“You’ve got the wrong monster, men!” I shout at the others, bending them to my cause. Without a thought, Glock-bro shoots him in the stomach. He screams; they swarm. He begs; they break his legs. His skull cracks on pavement as I walk on.
There’s a halo forming around the vision in Raul’s left eye. The baseball bat almost detached his retina, but that’s the least of his worries. This guy means business. Concussion grenades business. Scooping out guts and dancing in entrails business. Raul hadn’t foreseen his Legend ending in an alley behind a boarded-up Blockbuster, but here he is.
“What the fuck are you doing to him?”
The halo’s turned into haze, but Raul can see two shadows enter the alley.
“This doesn’t concern you,” the Hero snarls.
“Get off him, or I’ll kill you,” says a man.
“And I’ll eat you,” says a woman.
“I told you this doesn’t—”
The woman leaps. The man howls, and then he gets bigger.
The Hero doesn’t hesitate to run — smart guy — but he’s already dead. The woman lands on the other side of him with a knife through his spine. As she tears out viscera, her companion turns his ribcage inside out. It only takes seconds.
“Raul?” says the woman.
“Thanks…for being…so prompt.”
“Don’t be an asshole,” says the man, once more the size of one. One of the werewolves swings Raul over a shoulder as the other calls an ambulance. Raul passes out thinking that friendship is a strange thing.
A symbol can be far more potent. Symbols are universal and timeless; they wear whatever form the culture bestows on them. How many people have heard of Jack the Ripper? Millions? Compare that to the scope of his crimes. Only five women’s deaths have been conclusively laid at his feet. Horrific as they were, they pale compared to the number of people who died from coal smoke and disease in Victorian London. Jack the Ripper is a nobody, just another maladjusted murderer, and yet he has become synonymous with evil.
For millennia, lepers were reviled as harbingers of plague and corruption, both moral as well as physical. Homosexuals became the lepers of the AIDS generation and were victimized by the same moralist hysteria. Immigrants, Muslims, transgender, and impoverished people have all been vilified in the modern era, turned into scapegoats by bigoted “crusaders” with narrow minds and selfish agendas. The next pandemic or culture shift will produce its own outcasts and they, too, will be blamed for their plight.
Humans are mythmakers. Symbols provide the seeds for stories, the grain around which forms the pearl. Some serve as warnings; others make sense of the inexplicable. Introduce an unknown or shocking element — a mystery, a nightmare, or a monster — and people instinctively build a legend around it.
Legend cuts both ways in the Astral Realms. An ordinary madman like Jack the Ripper can be elevated to a mythic monster, taking his place in the Temenos and casting a long shadow over human history, but a Beast can become the stuff of legends just by growing in power and holding sway over a greater part of the collective unconscious.
Take a high school bully, mate him with a rabid dog, and a Hero is born. The saying goes that fanatics redouble their efforts when they lose sight of their aims; if so, Heroes are an exceptional breed of fanatic. Their efforts leave no room to be redoubled, and their aims are barely coherent to begin with.
Strip down the layers of a Hero’s ego, and all one finds is murder. Murder is his only end, regardless of bystanders. He’ll bloviate about the little girls and puppies he saves, but at the best of times, protecting the innocent is incidental. He pursues the Beast because she dares to live and breathe and occupy the same world he does, not because some fool needs rescuing. It’s an imperative a serial killer might understand.
The man at the butcher shop remembers when his neighborhood was safe to walk at night. It’s the coddled kids, he mutters. Whelps raised up without the belt, like the punk who comes in and mouths off about the quality of his cuts. She’s the problem. All the little shits like her. He sees that clearly in his nightmares, in the eyes of the spider wrapping its webs over town. He’ll spread his own webs soon, made from cotton twine and clear, sterile plastic.
She’s the richest woman in town, a woman whose generosity knows no bounds. The local activists know a crook when they see one. They know her philanthropy is a front for…something. The specifics aren’t important. The further they dig, the more her secrets consume their lives. Most of them haven’t been to their real jobs in weeks. The walls of their offices are plastered with tax forms and stationary stained with garbage water. Beneath soiled pizza boxes, a blueprint of her house is marked up, and a bomb diagram is pasted over a barrel of gasoline.
Her boyfriend’s got a musk that only she can smell, like his core is rotten with worms. Like it’s leaking discharge through his skin. She could scrub down to bone and never get that stench out. It’s all she can talk about. That’s why nobody likes her anymore. She can’t stop droning on and on and on about how he’s weighing her down. He’s the reason she wasn’t promoted! He’s the reason her best friend dumped her! He’s the reason she’s a failure. One night, she wakes up and understands what the smell really is. The gun in the dresser could cleanse him, she thinks.
The Collector promises the Hero a fight for the ages, but he has to play her game first. Otherwise, she’ll go to ground and never come back up. She sends him a list of objects, a fetch quest with an endpoint in her Lair. The items are both junky and occult, from literal trash to rare spices available only through import. He gathers them and expends every resource he has. On completion, the Collector makes good. He finds her stooped over an effigy, fashioned from refuse and smelling of magic. Before he can run, she lights it with her breath, and his skin bubbles off.
The Nemesis lives up to her name. She finds the Hero’s phone number and records long, rambling messages listing every infraction he’s guilty of over the course of a single day. Then she hacks his email and distributes screeds he’s written about his bosses. Then she calls his wife and claims to be his mistress. Then she calls his mistress and claims to be his wife. By the time he seeks revenge, no one will care if he lives or dies.
The Predator burns for the hunt. His mind is overwhelmed with designs for weapons and traps. He’s been sick for prey that fights back and he doesn’t want to disappoint his self-appointed enemy. He rents a cabin off the grid so they’ll have a little privacy, so the Hero will know that he’s poured his heart into this. That she’s a special kind of prey. Not that he’s going to fight fair, of course — fair fights are for humans.
The Ravager goes to war. Wrecked the Hero’s car? Check. Burnt his house down? Check. Frozen his accounts? Trickier, but check. She’ll shred the Hero’s life until all that’s left is his fight with her.
Resource management isn’t just a knack, it’s the Tyrant’s ideology. When the Hero and his gang invade her compound, they’re outflanked by her legions. While snipers slaughter his men, the Hero manages to dash inside. He only loses a finger to the Rottweilers, but the mercenaries are more generous with the pieces they cut off. When they drag him before her throne, she barely needs to finish him off. But she will.
[BEGIN HANDWRITTEN DOCUMENT]
I treasure our last time. If I were prone to romance, I would commission a mural. I would expend the whole of my wealth in payment for the sort of grand artists it would require. I have never broken a thing in the way I crushed your knee. All that lovely bone escaping, pouring over the ground. So clean and white, as if I were spreading lilies. Do you know what Fabergé eggs are? They shatter brilliantly. Destroying your knee was akin to breaking art. If I could have snapped it off, my joy would have been complete. I would have prized it as the jewel of my collection, regardless of whether it matched the set or not.
But I am not prone to romance. And I could not have you forgetting the lesson. In a strange way (silly, mercurial me) I wish I could have spared you. I did not see it then, but you were right! Your knives belonged in my heart, and if I had known how I would ache for them now, I might have let you finish your “quest.” Your successors are petty juveniles pretending at a fraction of your strength. They do not even taste like you.
I almost knocked on your door the last time I came into the country! Why do you live so far away? Is the air refreshing? Regenerative? Forgive me for not inviting myself in. Too difficult to see you as you are now.
Reminds me of old times. Battles unwaged. I hope the girls sleep well. They must be so beautiful, all grown up. I hope they take after their mother.
I would so love to see them again.
[END HANDWRITTEN DOCUMENT]
Ben had never followed anyone before, but then, he’d never met anyone like her before either. She was young, blonde, and pretty, but in truth that barely registered. He’d spotted her in the mall on his break, of all places, coming out of an upscale teashop. A single look and he knew, just knew she was like him.
“You know, if you want to be more obvious, maybe you should just start yelling ‘I’M FOLLOWING YOU,’” said the blonde, stopping without turning around. A nearby sports car lock chirped off.
“You’re like me,” Ben said, hating how dumb he sounded. He’d been working on what to say since he spotted but none of it wanted to come
“Except I know the value of subtlety,” the blonde said, turning to face him. Though shorter than he was, she loomed larger in his sight, and as he looked closer he saw her Horror, something huge and vaguely feline.
“You’re too loud, kid. Someone’s going to find you.”
“Kid?” Ben stiffened. “You’re not much older than me.”
“You’re sweet to think so,” she said, smiling a little. “Seriously, though. You’re drawing too much attention. That’s why we wanted to chat.”
“We?” Ben asked, looking around. As he watched, the shape of a man detached itself from a nearby light post, rapidly resolving into an older man in a sharp suit. Behind him, his Horror coiled in sinuous lengths beneath a vast head of dripping fangs. His mouth was set in a severe line and his eyes were narrowed suspiciously. The feeling of power coming off him struck Ben like the heat of a fire, and he instinctively stepped back.
“This isn’t just your territory, you know,” the blonde continued, as if nothing was wrong. “We’ve spent a lot of time putting down roots. Fixing up our homesteads, right? Making sure things run smoothly around here.”
“Then you come along,” the older man said, each word as deliberate as a rock dropped in a pond, “and start lighting fires all over town. That,
by the way, stops now.”
“Homesteads?” Ben thought of the dark water and rolling surf he’d learned to visit, the place where his Horor roiled beneath the waves when it wasn’t out feeding. “You guys have places like that too?” Another thought caught hold of him. “And who’s going to find me?”
The blonde looked to the older man and something passed between them, though Ben couldn’t quite catch it. “We’ll get to that,” she said after
a moment. “But yes, people like us all have our own places. Way you’re going, you have to learn how to defend it, too.” She put out her hand. “Hi. I’m Robin.”
“Ben,” he said, taking it.
“I’m James,” the older man said, pointedly not offering his hand, though his look softened a fraction. “Let’s go grab a shake or something."
“Meeting’s in five minutes.”
Dave looked up at the bathroom mirror. Gerald was standing behind him. He’d obviously come into the men’s room to check up on Dave. Dave ground his teeth and didn’t answer.
“Did you hear me?” Dave could almost hear the implied ‘boy’ at the end of the sentence.
“Yeah, I heard you, Gerald.” Dave enjoyed the bristling look. Gerald hated that Dave got to use his first name now.
“OK, then. See you in there.” Gerald walked out, and Dave stared into the mirror. But the bathroom wasn’t behind him anymore. It was a mountaintop. Dave turned, and saw the sky, immense, endless, clear and blue. Down the mountain, miles away, he saw creatures running and playing and fucking…oblivious. Dave — not Dave, not the man in the suit and the tie and the polished shoes, but still Dave, somehow — leapt off the mountain. Immense wings blotted out the sun and cast a shadow across the creatures below. They ran in fear, but he could see them wherever they ran. He swooped, diving towards his prey, and talons large enough to uproot trees pierced flesh and bone. He took the sky again, carrying his prey back to the mountain.
He landed at the mouth of the cave, and walked back into the dark. He felt something above him, something like the immense creature he had become and yet still bigger, something more horrifying than he could ever be and yet something that loved him. He lifted his head, and pressed his against Her neck. She whispered something in his ear, and Dave understood.
Dave’s vision cleared, and he was standing there in the men’s room, staring into the mirror. “What…”. He glanced down at the sink. There were gouge marks in the porcelain. Striations made with impossibly sharp claws.
Dave straightened up. Someone was coming. Gerald opened the door. “Hey, Dave. You about ready yet?”
Dave turned and fixed his gaze on Gerald. “Yeah. Are you?”
Attribute: 4 Experiences per dot
Merit: 1 Experience per dot
Skill Specialty: 1 Experience
Skill: 2 Experiences per dot
Nightmares: 3 Experiences
In-Family Atavisms: 3 Experiences
Out-of-Family Atavisms: 4 Experiences
Lair: 5 Experiences per dot
Magda is making a character for her friend Orson’s Beast game. Orson has told the other players in advance that he wants to explore the concept of family and what that means. He’s set up a chronicle based in what looks like a normal suburb, complete with white picket fences and PTA meetings. It’s a perfect hiding place for a brood of Children (the players’ characters) to set up, inciting and feeding on the mundane fears and terrors of its residents. When Orson first hears Magda’s idea, he likes it, but is a little unconvinced about how it’ll mesh with the rest of the group. Still, he allows it anyway to see what Magda does with it.
Magda chooses the Hunger for Punishment for Mrs. Winters, letting her seep into the dreams of those who confide in her, berating them for their failings and filling them with the terror of their secrets being discovered. While Mrs. Winters won’t outwardly judge those who confide in her, she stalks them in the Primordial Dream, never letting them rest comfortably while they try to hide their illicit affairs, abuses, and other guilty pleasures. If they come clean, though, tell the truth and clear the air or otherwise make amends and cease their bad behavior, she leaves them alone. Fair’s fair.
The additional details Magda established previously makes Merit selection easy. Magda takes two dots of Resources (from her social security check and her side business of watching the neighborhood kids), Small-Framed (which costs two dots), Common Sense (which costs three dots), one dot of Allies for her connections on the city council, and two dots of Contacts (one for her neighbors and one for the city offices).
Unexpected: Regain one point of Willpower when your character reveals her presence to someone who thinks she is nowhere near him. Regain all Willpower if she startles a whole room of people previously unaware of her presence.
Watchful: Regain one point of Willpower when your character, while not revealing himself, makes it clear to another character in the scene that she is not alone. Regain all Willpower if someone discovers your presence despite all efforts to remain unseen.
Shy: Regain one point of Willpower when you opt not to reveal your nature when doing so could reap significant benefits, such as gaining an ally or Kinship. Regain all points of Willpower when your taciturn demeanor gives your enemies pause or makes them think they incorrectly perceived the threat you pose.
Cautious: Regain one point of Willpower when prudent behavior helps you dodge a metaphorical bullet, such as revealing your nature as one of the Children before a vampire attempts to drain you dry. Regain all points of Willpower when this caution urges you to do unto others before they do unto you, such as shooting your enemy while he distracts himself with his own heroic monologue challenging you to single combat.
Your character has become closely bonded to a Beast
and finds great (if sometimes grudging) strength in that
connection. While in his immediate presence, she may use the
Beast’s relevant Resistance trait value instead of her own when
defending against supernatural powers. In return, both she and
the Beast receive a +1 on any rolls made to directly assist each
other, or as part of teamwork actions undertaken together. You
may have this Condition with multiple Beasts simultaneously.
Possible Sources: A Beast
Resolution: Your character severs her association with the Beast.
Beat: Your character encounters trouble with others of her
kind or forsakes an important obligation to her supernatural
culture, due to her connection with the Beast.
Cost: 1 Willpower
Dice Pool: Stamina + Satiety – target’s Supernatural
Tolerance. If a target of Mother’s Kiss has the Family Ties
Condition with the Beast, the Beast adds three dice to her pool.
Dramatic Failure: The Beast not only fails to boost a target’s
powers, but loses 1 Satiety as her Horror rebels against being
ordered about in this fashion. In addition, the target suffers a
dramatic failure on the next use of a supernatural power this
scene (the target receives a Beat when this happens). He may not
receive another use of Mother’s Kiss until after this failure occurs.
Failure: The Beast fails to augment the target’s powers.
Success: The target gains a pool of dice equal to the player’s
successes. For the rest of the scene, he may add these dice to
any roll for a supernatural power. Dice must be allocated before
a roll is made; they cannot be added afterward. Once dice are
sed, they are removed from this pool. If a power does not
require a roll, the Storyteller may allow it to receive a narrative
benefit based on the number of dice expended — the more dice
spent, the greater the benefit potentially generated.
Exceptional Success: As above, plus the target immediately
refreshes 1 Willpower point, plus an additional Willpower
point for every success above five. This may take her over her
normal Willpower maximum. Any Willpower points in excess
of her maximum rating are lost at the end of the current scene.
Cost: 1 Willpower
Dice Pool: Resolve + Occult + Lair vs. Supernatural
Tolerance of the gate’s creator or current owner, whichever is
higher. If no such rating readily exists, the Storyteller should
assign a rating based on how well-used the gateway is, with very
active gates being easier to open. If the gateway has a security
rating of some kind, add that to the resistance roll.
Dramatic Failure: The Beast not only fails to open the
gateway, but it slams shut on her, causing a psychic backlash.
Roll the gateway’s Supernatural Tolerance — the Beast suffers
one level of bashing damage per success on this roll. In addition,
the owner of the gateway, if any, is immediately alerted to the
fact that someone who is not one of his kind attempted to
force the crossing.
Failure: The Beast fails to open the gateway.
Success: The gateway opens, allowing travel between
worlds for a number of turns equal to successes rolled or until
the Beast wills it closed as a reflexive action. This applies even
if the gateway is normally open for a much longer or shorter
period of time. A gateway can only be connected to one realm
at a time — either its normal destination or the Primordial
Dream. If the Beast wishes to switch the destination, she must
end the current use of Skeleton Key and activate it once again.
Exceptional Success: As success, but using this particular
gateway does not require a Willpower point for the rest of the
story — the shadow of the Horror lingers on the portal, removing
some of the difficulty in crossing between worlds for the Beast.
A roll is still required as normal.
Cost: 1 Satiety
Dice Pool: Presence + Satiety vs. Integrity. If the Beast is
a blood relative, she adds 3 dice to her roll.
Dramatic Failure: The Beast is unable to enter the
Primordial Pathways through the target’s nightmares, and the
resulting psychic turmoil reverberates through the Primordial
Dream. Any Heroes in the same region feel the reverberations
and can track the Beast’s location (see p. 206).
Failure: The target’s mind shrugs off the Beast’s efforts
to infect them with a suitable nightmare; no travel to the
Primordial Pathways occurs.
Success: The Beast is able to step through the target’s
nightmares into the Primordial Pathways. She cannot
bring others along — this passage is an expression of her
connection to the target, and the passage itself reflects a
distorted version of the events in the target’s mind as a
result. The target gains the Spooked Condition regarding
the Beast and that night has terrifying nightmares involving
the Beast and her Hunger. While the target may not wake
up assuming that the Beast is actually a supernatural being,
he will likely be a bit wary around her for a while, even if he
can’t exactly explain why. The Beast gains no Satiety from this
dream, however, as the Horror doesn’t linger in the dream.
Exceptional Success: An especially potent connection
to the Primordial Dream is created; the Beast may make a
number of additional trips equal to her Lair rating before
rolling again, and the target does not need to be asleep for
the Beast to use this ability. The Beast must still be in close
proximity to her target and spend Satiety for each trip.
Unfortunately, a nightmare this powerful is very hard on
the target’s mind — he suffers a breaking point as a result of the
intense nightmares. Even if he successfully wards off Integrity
loss, the target awakens with absolute certainty of the Beast’s true
nature; if he was already aware of it, he sees the worst possible
aspect of the Beast. He is considered hostile to the Beast for
the purposes of Social maneuvering, requiring tremendous
effort to repair relations.
Dice Pool: Wits + Occult + Lair
Dramatic Failure: The Horror takes a strong, instinctive
dislike to the Chamber and whoever spawned it. If the
Beast’s Satiety falls below 5 during the next week, the Horror
automatically seeks out the mortal whose Integrity loss caused
the Chamber and feeds on his dreams. The Beast can never
add this location to her Lair.
Failure: The Beast cannot find any information about
the Chamber this way, but can still investigate the area by
Success: The Beast sees a brief, muted vision of the
incident that led to the creation of the Chamber. If she
sees the supernatural being or the mortal victim again,
she recognizes them. If the Beast investigates the incident
further, the player may add the successes on this roll as a
positive modifier to any involved rolls. Each of these dice can
be used only once, but they can be split between multiple
rolls during the investigation. For example, if a player rolls
three successes on the roll to learn about the Chamber,
and later rolls to persuade a contact to tell her about what
happened in that location, she can apply a +3 modifier (using
all of the dice) or apply a +1 or +2 modifier and keep the
remainder for other actions.
Exceptional Success: As above. In addition, the Beast can
follow the psychic trail of either the supernatural being or the
victim (not both) to wherever they went after the incident. The
trail goes cold after approximately half a mile.
A Tyrant Anakim has incorporated an abandoned high school as a Chamber in his Lair. On the run from a group of mortal monster-hunters (though not, thankfully, Heroes), he leads his pursuers into the school and opens the Primordial Pathway. For a few seconds, the interior of the school becomes both the material world and the Chamber in his Lair, and the Anakim immediately merges with his Horror. Faced by the hulking monster where their target once stood, the hunters panic. Two gird themselves and fight, while the third attempts to flee the school. While the Pathway is still open, however, she instead transitions through a Burrow into another Chamber. Killing one of the other hunters, the Anakim closes the Pathway — the school returns to normal, the Beast appears to transform back into his mortal body as he separates from his Horror again, and the remaining hunter who stayed returns as well. The hunter who left the Chamber, however, remains behind in the Lair, easy pickings for the Anakim’s Horror.
Dice Pool: Power + Lair – Composure
Dramatic Failure: The Horror cannot penetrate the dreamer’s mind and howls in rage and pain. Any Heroes in the same region as the Beast can track her, as described on p. 206.
Failure: The Horror inflicts dreams of its presence and Hunger on the targeted individual, but is not sated.
Success: The Horror inflicts dreams of its presence and Hunger on the targeted individual. He loses a point of Willpower while the Beast gains 1 Satiety. The target awakens feeling restless and disturbed, but (at least after one such dream), with no lasting damage.
Exceptional Success: The Horror, not satisfied with simple nightmares, seizes the targeted individual and drags him into the Lair via a Primordial Pathway. The Horror then hunts down the individual and attempts to “kill” him. If he loses all Astral Health within the Lair, the Beast gains the victim’s Willpower
dots in Satiety. When the victim awakens, he has the Soul Shocked Condition (p. 325). Any Heroes in the region can attempt to track the Beast, as described in Chapter Five.
If a Horror feeds on a given target once, the target normally doesn’t suffer any lasting ill effects. He has a nightmare — an intense one, granted, probably enough of a shock to merit some time holding a loved one, maybe even prompting him to reconnect with an estranged parent or something similar, depending on how he copes with fear. Even if the Horror drags the person into its Lair, the worst that happens, mechanically, is that the victim is out of Willpower for a few days. As long as he gets some rest, he’ll be fine.
Dice Pool: Intelligence + Resolve
Action: Extended. Target number of successes is equal to three times the Beast’s Lair rating for a Chamber, or five times the Lair rating for the Heart. If the Beast is conscious and resisting, the roll is also resisted by her Resolve. If the Beast is collapsing her own Lair, each roll gains a dice bonus equal to her Composure.
Time per Roll: The Beast’s Lair rating in minutes.
Dramatic Failure: The Chamber is not collapsed, and the Beast rallies. The Beast regains all Willpower; the intruder loses all progress against the target number of successes.
Failure: The intruder makes no progress on collapsing the Chamber. He may give up or continue after taking a Condition. If the Beast was not aware of the presence of intruders within her Lair, she is now alerted.
Success: The intruder makes progress on collapsing the Chamber. If a Beast was not aware of the presence of intruders within her Lair, she is now alerted.
Exceptional Success: The intruder makes great progress on collapsing the Chamber. Choose one of the exceptional success in an extended action (p. 158.)
Examples of Lair Construction
He served on a Russian submarine before his Devouring, and lay awake at night thinking of the terrible pressure and dark water all around his fragile world. He dreamt of tentacled things in the deep, wrapping themselves around the metal shell of his vessel, until he realized that the creature in the depths was him. The Makara’s Horror takes the form of a sea monster attacking a submarine, rupturing its hull and feeding from the panic of the dreaming sailors as water flood the ship. His Lair contains the Flooded, Downpour, Thin Air, and Sealed Exits Traits.
She seeks out those who victimize others, catches them with her surprising strength, and renders them unconscious. It’s not enough to be stronger than those who use their strength against the weak — this minotaur has a sense of justice. Her prey wake to find themselves in pitch-darkness, her mocking voice telling them that if they can find their way out, they can go free. When they put their hands to the walls
to guide themselves, stumbling in the dark, they slice their palms on the glass and nails studding the maze. The labyrinth is impossibly large; they die of blood loss long before they see daylight. The minotaur feels their fear, desperation, and final, sad resignation as they die alone in the dark, taking a measure of satisfaction along with sating her hunger. The Anakim’s Lair contains the Maze, Razored, and Darkness Traits.
Beasts hunger. The Horror doesn’t just want sustenance. It wants to feast. Beasts hunger for power, or violence, or possession, like the monsters they are. Their Hungers aren’t biological urges, but jealous, vicious needs. Beasts strive to teach their victims something, but deep down, they know that this is merely something they do to give context to their feeding. The Horror doesn’t care about the lesson. All it cares about is Satiety.
Beasts feed by satisfying their Hungers. Doing so can be as simple as a Tyrant shoving a victim up against a wall and screaming in his face, or as elaborate as a Ravager slowly dismantling a victim’s life, piece by piece, until he’s either completely ruined or he breaks off contact with the Beast. In either case, the moment of feeding happens when the victim experiences the shock.
The shock happens at the moment where a victim realizes what is happening. If he learns a lesson, the shock is the instant in which it crystalizes. Beasts liken the shock to the moment when one awakens, startled, from a nightmare — a moment that every Beast is well familiar with, having experienced it many times before the Devouring. This comparison is not completely apt, however; a victim can also experience the shock at the moment of death.
High Satiety: The Collector must hunt for rare, very specific examples of his desire. He can’t settle for any blonde man as a lover; he needs a blonde virgin with a large birthmark on his ass, a soprano voice, a boyish stutter, and who would be outraged by the Beast’s seduction.
High Satiety: For high Satiety, a Beast lingers over the punishment. Death traps, long sessions of torture, systematically hunting down and crippling the target’s friends, or socially isolating the victim by turning his friends against him all count. The delicate balance here is making sure the target survives long enough to know why he’s being punished.
High Satiety: For high Satiety, the destruction must be obvious and extensive, or the target must be widely accepted to be valuable or in use by many people. A Beast could destroy a large swath of property and then feast on the feelings of horror as the pictures go viral. She could kill a beloved celebrity, or smash a religious artifact.
Example of Gaining Satiety
Mrs. Winters, Magda’s character, is running a little low — she’s only got two dots of Satiety and she’d rather not risk becoming Ravenous. She Hungers for Punishment, and her particular favorite flavor is punishing those who harm the children in her neighborhood. As it happens, Halloween was last week, and she noted a young man named Brent snatching bags of candy from some of the youngsters.
Magda decides Mrs. Winters doesn’t need to be subtle or elaborate about her punishment, not this time. She breaks into Brent’s house while he’s away and notes that he’s got a bunch of candy on his coffee table. She grabs a few soft candies and injects them with a mild poison — nothing fatal, but enough to make the bully very ill. She lurks upstairs for a while, and waits until she hears him start to retch. She then creeps up behind him with a thick plastic bag (one of the bags of candy he stole from a child) and holds it over his face until he nearly blacks out. As he lies there panting, she whispers, “Now, you behave. We see what you do on All Hallow’s Eve, and we remember.”
Just to drive the point home, she uses the You Deserve This Nightmare on Brent, and Magda is delighted to see that she’s rolled an exceptional success! That means that if the house is dark enough to match the Darkness Lair Trait of Mrs. Winters’ Lair, Magda can spend a dot of Satiety and turn this place into a new Chamber. She decides to do so; she likes the idea of having an inhabited house as a Chamber, and she doesn’t care if her Soul inflicts nightmares on Brent (and besides, the Storyteller figures Brent would make a great Hero).
At the end of the scene, Magda and Orson, the Storyteller, figure out the Satiety roll. The base potential is 3 (Mrs. Winters had to do some preparation, but it didn’t take more than a scene). She adds one because the act fits with Mrs. Winters’ particular proclivities, and another because it fulfills one of her Aspirations (“protect the children in the neighborhood”). Finally, since she spent Satiety to add a Chamber, she asks Orson if that counts as spending Satiety on the hunt. He agrees that it does, and also has her add one die because nearly smothering Brent with a trick-or treat bag was a really nice touch. Her Satiety potential is now seven dice. Magda rolls and gets three successes, meaning her Satiety is now 4 (she started at 2, spent one during the scene, and then added three). She resolves the Starving Condition (and thus takes a Beat) and replaces it with Sated.
Basilisk’s Touch [Namtaru]
Neither fire nor ferocity brought Beowulf to his knees. It was poison that sealed the king’s fate, presaging an era of warfare, darkness, and death for his kingdom, guaranteeing the dragon would have the last laugh even in death. Many Beasts have venom in their arsenal, from the wyvern’s sting to the hydra’s poisonous breath, but none more so than the Gorgons. Plague and poison literally run through their veins, much like the dreaded basilisk, whose mere touch was deadly and whose seeping poison scorched the earth in its wake. Applying the poison requires a touch attack (p. 165), but activating the Atavism itself is reflexive.
Dice Pool: None
Normal Effect: The Beast’s touch applies either the Drugged Tilt or the grave version of the Poisoned Tilt to the victim. The player chooses which effect when this ability is used. Outside of combat, the poison lasts for a number of turns equal to the Beast’s Stamina and has a Toxicity rating equal to (10 – Satiety). The victim’s veins burn as the venom courses through his veins, eating away at him like acid, all while his vision swims and his head sickly throbs.
Low Satiety: The Beast’s venom is particularly insidious and long-lasting. In combat, increase the damage caused by the Poisoned Tilt or the Defense and Speed penalties from the Drugged Tilt by the Beast’s Lair rating, in addition to the normal effect. Out of combat, add the Beast’s Lair dots to the poison’s duration.
Satiety Expenditure: Venom drips from the Beast’s fingertips and greenish-black streaks course through the veins of his arm as he reaches out with a concentrated dose of poison. In addition to the other effects, the Beast’s touch applies the player’s choice of the Insensate or Stunned Tilts. Strength drains out of the victim, who struggles just to remain upright and functioning, leaving him vulnerable to whatever the Beast has in store for him. Vicious Gorgons prefer to render their
victims helpless so they can watch and
Dragons are implacable foes and harbingers of destruction. Possessed of terrible grandeur, their very presence quails the heart, and their ire brings the certainty of doom as they lay waste to everything in their path. Most people are cowed — if not driven in terror — by a Beast unleashing hellfire and striding confidently through the flames. Unfortunately, those consumed by the Hunger for Ruin hardly know when to stop.
Normal Effect: Dragons delight in fear and destruction, both of which are always near at hand. The Beast need only open her jaws and unleash the hellfire building within her, and a curl of smoke or a dreadful gleam in her eyes is often her victim’s only warning. The Beast can blast individual targets in range (5/10/15) with gouts of fire. This counts as a ranged attack with a thrown weapon and requires a roll of Dexterity + Athletics – the opponent’s Defense. Damage is lethal and adds the Beast’s Lair dots as a weapon modifier. Flammable materials ignite on contact, turning the area into a raging inferno if it is not contained quickly. Then again, that may be the point.
Furthermore, fire causes no damage to the Beast, and she never suffers environmental penalties or damage caused by heat and smoke, which are like clear air to her. This is in addition to any environmental immunity from Lair Traits.
Low Satiety: A hungry dragon feels fire welling up uncontrollably from within. The Beast’s Dragonfire is capable of autofire as well as single blasts, including short, medium, and long bursts. This represents sustained torrents of fire, similar to a flamethrower, that can immolate multiple enemies or set large areas alight.
Satiety Expenditure: Flames dance in the Beast’s eyes as she spends a dot of Satiety and invokes a holocaust. Her next attack with Dragonfire has double its normal range and inflicts aggravated damage. Even incombustible materials can be reduced to ash by the onslaught, as Dragonfire ignores Durability equal to the Beast’s Lair dots. This is in addition to the normal and low Satiety effects.
No Beast is ever truly alone, not even in his own head. The Horror constantly pushes him to fulfill its Hunger, and a Beast with this Atavism has it worse than most. Instead of one Horror, he has many, perhaps hundreds of insect voices. He hears them buzzing and chewing and crawling over each other at all hours of the day. He can — and must — surrender to them on occasion, dissolving his body into a cloud of angry red wasps or a carpet of writhing maggots. He is them and only them and their only united thought is to feed.
Dice Pool: N/A
Normal Effect: The Beast need not surrender completely. He can squeeze through narrow gaps just by loosening himself a little, turning his body into a gestalt assemblage of insects that still — barely — looks human. His skin ripples and bulges as they move underneath, and individual insects occasionally crawl from his mouth and other openings. They are quickly swallowed or burrow under his skin again, but the effect is… unpleasant to say the least.
The Beast can safely squirm through any opening at least one foot in diameter, including many air conditioning ducts and major water pipes. He can hold his breath indefinitely while doing so, effectively being many insects instead of a single bony mammal. However, his Speed is halved and he is unable to apply his Defense against attackers in a confined space, not that anyone is likely to attack him while he is in a pipe.
Low Satiety: The Beast’s appearance as a unified whole is just an illusion, and a fragile one at that. Being less constrained by his bulky human form, though, he can go faster while squirming, moving up this normal Speed. Push the Beast too hard, though, and he nearly falls apart. Pieces of him get dislodged and turn into a mass of chewing insects before reforming seconds later. The Beast takes bashing, not lethal, damage from firearms and piercing weapons. Since he can activate this Atavism reflexively, the Beast can use it to avoid damage from an attack in combat, assuming he isn’t surprised (see p. 164). Ordinary fists and bludgeoning weapons do full normal damage, however, crushing multiple insects at a time. The Beast can brace himself for an attack, however, and turn the tables in horrible fashion. By giving up his Defense for a turn, the Beast can automatically inflict lethal damage equal to his Lair rating on any opponent foolish enough to strike him. The Beast’s skin ruptures and thousands of tiny bugs or creatures sting the attacker.
Satiety Expenditure: By spending a dot of Satiety, the Beast surrenders to the hive within, and his entire body disintegrates into a mass of insects or spiders, leaving his clothing and worldly possessions behind. In so doing, he becomes a swarm with a radius of two yards per dot of Lair. The area is reduced proportionate to the amount of damage inflicted on him. In other words, the swarm is reduced to half size once half of his Health boxes are filled with damage. The Beast can also condense to attack a single target, inflicting lethal damage each turn equal to his Lair dots.
In swarm form, the Beast can move at double his normal Speed. That includes through any opening, no matter how small, and in three dimensions, since the swarm can crawl or fly over virtually any surface. Furthermore, he can use other Atavisms, Nightmares, or supernatural abilities that do not require human faculties such as speech. Witnessing the swarm in action may be a breaking point for someone with a phobia of insects.
Mimir’s Wisdom [Anakim]
Giants have an unfair reputation for being ponderous and stupid. It was the Greek Cyclopes whose weapons helped the gods seize power, the titan Prometheus who gave the secret of fire to mankind, and the giant Mimir to whom the Norse god Odin sacrificed his eye for knowledge. Anakim were the first pantheon of the primeval cosmos, both brutal and cunning, and they preserve secrets from the beginning of time.
Dice Pool: N/A
Normal Effect: The Beast’s Horror sits at the Heart of his Lair like a spider in its web. It has an unblinking eye and faultless memory, and it pieces together patterns from his experience and knowledge ripped from those who suffer its nightmares. Occasionally, the Horror shares flashes of insight — so long as the Beast keeps it well fed. Its guidance yields several benefits:
• The Beast has the Eidetic Memory Merit for free.
• Any mundane attempt to deceive the Beast automatically fails. The truth is not necessarily revealed, but he knows when someone is lying to him or withholding information or when a crime scene has been tampered with to conceal evidence. Likewise, he knows when supernatural powers have been used to affect his thoughts or perceptions (though he can’t necessarily counter them).
• Once per chapter, the Beast’s player can request information from the Storyteller that sheds light on the problem at hand. This information is impersonal in that it never identifies a specific person. However, it can answer questions like, “Where is the murder weapon hidden?” or “What leverage works best on this person?”
Low Satiety: Hunger in no way dims the Beast’s awareness. It sharpens his mind to a deadly focus. He gains the rote quality on Mental Skill rolls aimed at sating his Hunger, such as Academics to research a valuable item (for a Collector) or Computer to ruin a rival by hacking his bank account (for a Tyrant). The penalty for using Mental Skills untrained is also reduced to -1, as the Beast falls back on the Horror’s knowledge when his is inadequate. In addition, the Beast knows one damning fact about anyone with whom he comes into physical contact. The Storyteller can provide the player with this information or simply give the target the Leveraged Condition, depending on the needs of the story. The fact in question tends to be one that the Beast can use to feed. A Ravager might learn what the target values most (so the Beast can then smash it), while a Nemesis learns whether the target has transgressed recently. The Beast still benefits from the normal effect while at low Satiety. However, the starving Horror is not forthright with its knowledge, and the Storyteller can opt to provide misleading (but factually correct) information if the player requests it.
Satiety Expenditure: The Beast digs deep into the Horror’s store of knowledge. Some consider it a drink from Mimir’s well. Others describe visions of lives other than their own. Either way, the Beast claims a treasure trove of information. He gains his Intelligence + Lair dots in temporary Mental Skill or Library (p. 117) dots for the next 24 hours. These dots are allocated as the player sees fit, including raising existing Skills. However, no Skill can be increased above the limit dictated by the Beast’s Lair rating. This is in addition to the normal and low Satiety effects.
While Nightmares are “all in your head” in the sense that only the victim experiences the effects and sees the hallucinations, that’s not the same thing as Nightmares being “illusionary” or somehow “not real.” The effects of Nightmares are very real and are quite capable of inflicting somatic injury or even death. Just because no one else can see the bugs crawling all over you doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Behold, My True Form!
Oh God, how can that be its face? Just looking at it hurts, like you’re gouging out your eyes with shards of broken mirror. The memory of it crushes your heart, liquefies your brain. You’ll do anything to not see that again.
Unlike most Nightmares, Behold, My True Form! is a single attack action and does not have a scene-long effect.
Dice Pool: Presence + Satiety – Stamina
Normal: The attack inflicts one point of lethal damage per success. Victims slain by the attack often show signs of supernatural cause of death: their hair might turn stark white, or their entire body might be turned to stone, salt, or some other material.
High Satiety: The attack roll gains the 8-again rule.
Satiety Expenditure: For every point of Satiety spent, a successful attack inflicts +2 weapon damage.
Exceptional Success: Apply one of the following Tilts in addition to the damage: Arm Wrack, Blinded, Deafened, Insane, Leg Wrack, or Stunned.
Flying and Falling
Elation. Freedom. Pure, unrestrained joy. Suddenly, darkness. Loss. You’re not flying, you’re plummeting, racing headlong toward the broken ground below.
Dice Pool: Manipulation + Satiety vs. Composure + Supernatural Tolerance
Normal: Every time the victim rolls an exceptional success, he loses 1 Willpower. If he has no more Willpower remaining, the roll counts as only a normal success.
High Satiety: When the victim loses Willpower due to this Nightmare, the Beast gains 1 Willpower.
Satiety Expenditure: While the Nightmare is active, the victim’s threshold for an exceptional success is reduced to three successes.
Exceptional Success: The victim loses 1 Willpower immediately.
How could you ever think you could face it? You’re like an ant trying to stand up to a tiger. It could snuff your life out as easily as breathing, lay open your soul with a glance and show you the things you thought were buried. There’s only one sane thing to do: run.
Dice Pool: Manipulation + Satiety vs. Composure + Supernatural Tolerance
Normal: The victim makes a heedless, headlong dash to get away. If the Beast invoked this Nightmare immediately, he tries to get away from her specifically; if the Beast set the Nightmare to trigger when the victim next slept, he just runs as though the Devil itself were after him, but with no particular direction or goal in mind. Either way, he keeps running until exhaustion forces him to stop.
If the victim was in the middle of a fight, his intent immediately changes to “get the hell away.” Likewise, if anyone tries to stop him, he fights to escape and keep running.
High Satiety: The Beast can implant a subconscious hint for where the victim should try to flee, or specify another target rather than herself the victim must escape. Reaching that place of safety then becomes the victim’s intent. If the implanted location is obviously hazardous (e.g. “Jump out the 50th-story window,” “Go run into the interstate”) the victim gains a +2 bonus to his Composure for purposes of resisting. Alternately, the Beast can implant the suggestion that a particular individual is the sole source of safety for the victim; in that case, the victim’s intent becomes “get to that person and stay with them.” Any action on that person’s part that even suggests an attempt to leave the victim behind will prompt the victim to do anything in his power to keep their source of safety from leaving.
Satiety Expenditure: The victim’s panic is so complete that he doesn’t pause or hesitate, even in the face of hazardous terrain. Any time the victim fails an Athletics action (for example, in a foot chase), he suffers one point of lethal damage due to nasty falls, cutting himself on fences, etc. On a dramatic failure, he instead suffers 4 lethal damage and a Tilt or Condition of the Storyteller’s choice. This represents running into traffic, falling off a roof, etc. Despite the danger, the victim adds 3 to his Speed as blind terror supercharges his flight response.
Exceptional Success: The victim never suffers the Beaten Down Tilt against people trying to restrain or stop him; in effect, he treats attempts to stop him as though their intent was to kill him.
You Deserve This
Look around you. Everyone knows what you did. Did you really think you could get away with it? Everything that’s happening right now is karma, payback for your many, many sins. You brought this on yourself, and nothing you can do will make it right. All you can do is suffer.
Dice Pool: Presence + Satiety vs. Composure + Supernatural Tolerance
Normal: The victim gains the Guilty Condition (p. 324), and cannot resolve it during the scene, no matter how much he confesses or tries to make restitution. After the scene ends, the Condition may be resolved normally.
High Satiety: As long as the victim has the Guilty Condition, he begins every fight with the Beaten Down Tilt. Even creatures that normally do not suffer the Beaten Down Tilt are affected.
Satiety Expenditure: As long as the victim has the Guilty Condition, he does not apply his Defense to incoming attacks. He may spend 1 Willpower reflexively on his turn to apply his Defense normally until the start of his next turn. However, his wound penalties become wound bonuses (i.e. with an injury marked in his third-to-last Health box, the victim has a +1 bonus to all actions instead of a –1 penalty), and he doesn’t fall unconscious when his last Health box is filled with bashing damage.
Exceptional Success: The penalty inflicted by the Guilty Condition is −4 instead of −2.
You Are Infected (Vampire)
The poison is in the blood. You can feel it burning in your veins, calling out to you across empty miles. Run as far as you like, you can’t escape the blood.
Dice Pool: None, see below
Normal Effect: The Beast takes a –2 penalty on her roll to invoke another Nightmare, and in return she can target anyone who has tasted her blood within the last 24 hours, no matter where in the world they are. Even a tiny drop of blood is enough to trigger this Nightmare.
High Satiety: The Beast takes a –4 penalty on her roll to invoke another Nightmare, but does not subtract any Resistance Attribute from the roll. In return she can infuse a quantity of her blood with that Nightmare. Anyone who comes in contact with it (touching or tasting it) is immediately the victim of the infused Nightmare.
(Note: This Nightmare’s High Satiety effect has a higher than-normal penalty to compensate for the lack of a specified target’s Resistance Attribute.)
Satiety Expenditure: The invocation roll for the other Nightmare suffers no penalty, and earns an exceptional success with three successes rather than five.
Exceptional Success: As per the invoked Nightmare.
You Are Meat
Everything you tell yourself is a lie. You aren’t special, you aren’t elevated above the rest of the
herd, and you don’t deserve anything. All you are is meat, and you can’t keep the hunter at bay
Dice Pool: Intelligence + Satiety vs. Resolve + Supernatural Tolerance
Normal: The victim gains the Soulless Condition. This Nightmare doesn’t remove the victim’s soul, strictly speaking, but it suppresses it to the point that it might as well be gone. Some Beasts theorize that the soul is flung inward and lost in the depths of the Primordial Dream. If the victim’s Integrity reaches 1, he gains the Enervated Condition as normal. Likewise, if his Willpower reaches 0, the Condition upgrades to Thrall. These Conditions are removed automatically when the Nightmare ends, and the victim’s Integrity and Willpower return to their original values at a rate of one dot per day.
High Satiety: The victim skips the Soulless Condition altogether and goes straight to Enervated. His Integrity is considered to be 1 as long as he has the Enervated Condition.
Satiety Expenditure: The soul “loss” is permanent. Only a journey into the Primordial Dream can recover it. The exact nature of such a journey is left to the Storyteller, but if it needs to be modeled mechanically, it should be at least an extended action with a time interval of a day. Recovering from Soulless requires a number of successes equal to the victim’s original Integrity. Recovering from Enervated requires a number of successes equal to the victim’s original Integrity plus Willpower. Recovering from Thrall required a further 10 successes on top of that.
Exceptional Success: The victim immediately loses 1 Integrity (Normal effect) or 1 Willpower dot (High Satiety effect). This is part of the soul loss, not a permanent affliction.
The Souls of Monsters
Many of the things that haunt the shadows of the World of Darkness have additional rules that come into play when they lose their souls. Others have souls wholly unlike ordinary humans, or perhaps have no soul at all. You Are Meat affects all these creatures. Moreover, they’re treated as having lost their souls while under the thrall of this Nightmare, with all that that entails. For example, mages gradually lose their ability to work magic, while demonic soul pacts with the victim cannot be called in. Beasts are immune to the effect, as their Souls are far too powerful and vicious to be thus affected.
Vampire. I’m hanging out with a vampire. Ben shook his head, still not quite able to believe it. The Halloween street fair moved around the two of them on the bright paths around the lake, a sea of fake monsters surrounding the real ones, a terrible live band thumping out a tune somewhere on the far shore.
Someone waved and it took Ben a moment to realize it was the kid he’d saved from Kyle a few weeks back. Ryan, he’d said his name was Ryan. Ben waved back but was glad when Ryan kept walking. His heart was racing, just a little bit faster because he knew Noelle could hear it. He caught her eye and they grinned at each other, teeth very bright in the dark.
“You really want to do this?” Noelle nodded her head toward the alley. If everything was going right, her “date” would be waiting already. It was so much easier when she hunted in her femme presentation, she’d told him. As Noel it took more effort and sometimes required a supernatural nudge to draw in prey, but as Noelle all it took was a carefully worded Craigslist ad. “It’s OK if you don’t want to.”
“I do,” Ben said, squeezing her hand. She was cold, but she would be warmer soon. His own Hunger was insistent, especially after tangling with those hunters of hers just days ago. Noelle stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek and headed into the alley, the fringe of her flapper outfit swaying seductively as she went. It was dark, but darkness didn’t bother him like it used to. He could make out the shape out the man at the end of the alley clear as day. Alone, too, which was good. It made everything easier.
“Hello, lover,” Noelle crooned. The guy was so intent on Noelle that he didn’t even notice Ben at first, just went to embrace her with a smile on his face. When he saw Ben coming up behind her, though, his face fell.
“Who’s this?” he asked, irritation plain in his tone. Noelle’s time wasn’t cheap. “If this is some kind of shakedown—”
“Change of plans, love,” Noelle purred, sliding into his arms and twining herself around him. Ben could practically see the lust warring with the annoyance on the man’s face. “We’re doing dinner instead.”
“Private reservation,” Ben agreed. He locked eyes with the man and found the fear he needed. “Just us, alone in the dark.”
The man looked like he was about to speak when Noelle sank her fangs into his throat. For a few minutes the world was slow and red as she drank her fill and Ben’s Horror fed on the thrill of the hunt itself, until they were both near drunk on it.
When it was over and Noelle had told her date his bedtime story and put him to sleep, she took Ben’s hand with her warm one and drew him close for a kiss. “That was nice,” she said, licking the last of the blood from her teeth. “We make a good team,” Ben agreed, dismissing the wall of shadows with a wave of his hand. Together they walked out of the alley and back into the Halloween fair, just two more monsters holding hands in the night.
Tales of the Dark Mother: Mia
Mia sat in the middle of the room and watched it fill with water.
The room was a basement storage room belonging to a corporation that did terrible things. Most corporations did terrible things, yes, but this one took pieces out of her family and stuffed them into people. They took the fangs from her undead brothers, the flesh from her shape-changing sisters, and even the strange, silvery liquid from her not-quite-human cousin. They were butchers and killers and they had no place in the world. They were not Family.
So Mia sat in the middle of the room and called up the ocean. She and her Horror had fed deeply the night before, and she was prepared to drown the whole place out, bring it crashing down upon itself.
Are they not family?
The voice was a beautiful song, played backwards and atonally. It was a clash of metal on teeth. Mia’s Horror heard it, lurking in the dark corners of the world, and cringed.
Are they not family? The voice was insistent now. Mia stood. The water was shin deep around her. They weren’t family. They killed family. They were butchers and hunters.
And what are you? What are we?
We are the Begotten. The Children. We—
We kill. We cause pain. It is no shame to do as we do.
Are they family, then? Should they be spared?
Here is the secret, my beautiful daughter.
Mia steeled herself. She reached out and staunched the water’s flow. If she had to flee, she would, but she needed to hear what her Mother had to say.
They are family, yes. Being family carries my love, my respect, and my power.
Mia smiled, and understood. “But not Your mercy.”
Mia flung her arms wide, fingers splayed out, and laughed joyously. Water rushed in, and she heard the building’s supports groan. Maybe soon she could meet her new family. She hoped they would understand.
This is such bullshit! Ben said the words, but the serpent simply roared, slamming its vast coils against a nearby tree and taking off a chunk of it. Not that it mattered; in Robin’s Lair, there were always more trees. Rows and rows stretching off into a misty distance, in fact, the scent of rotting leaves and fallen branches thick in the air. Right now, it was also as close to neutral ground as the brood could manage. You’re the one who told me to talk to Noelle in the first place!
That was when it was just Noelle. Robin’s reply was something between a growl and a low purr. Then she made another of her kind. That’s a problem. The monstrous tiger crouched, and Ben could hear the effort it was taking to control her voice. A big problem.
How? Ben spat. Just fucking tell me already.
One vampire, nobody gives a damn. Not her kind, not ours. So long as she’s careful. Robin gave Ben a pointed look. The serpent was many times the size of the tiger, but this was the tiger’s Lair, and the serpent shuddered. But more than one vampire, in a town this size? Their kind start to pay attention. Which is bad for her, and worse for us.
Especially since you invited her in, James hissed from the shadows. What the fuck were you thinking, letting her in here? And without asking us? The serpent coiled and reared back.
Enough, Robin snarled. Ben did as we asked getting to know her, and you didn’t complain when they were just hunting bullies and johns, so shut it. The shadows rustled, and a cold breeze blew from where James’ voice had come, but he said nothing.
But, Ben, Robin continued, why did you bring her here? I mean, you had to know we would want to be consulted on something like that. I know you’re close, but her seeing this place…it’s not good. Not without warning.
I love her. If James had said so much as a single unkind thing Ben would have spat poison into the trees, but whether he managed on his own or Robin kept him in check, he stayed silent. I love her. I’m sorry.
For a long moment, the only sound was the wind in the trees.
Look, Robin began, but Ben cut her off with a hiss.
I know what you’re going to ask, all right? He said.
Do you. James said, quietly. It wasn’t quite a question.
I’m not stupid. I know what happens if we draw too much attention. Ben exhaled, and venom dripped from his maw. She’s gotta get rid of the new fucker, or they both gotta leave town. He left the other option unsaid, but in the stillness of the forest he might as well have shouted it. I’ll make it happen. I promise.
You’re strong. Robin looked at the serpent’s yellow eyes, unafraid. I know you can do it.
Family first, right? Ben said. Robin opened the Pathway and they walked back to the waking world, leaving the serpent, the tiger, and the formless horror behind. Ben was already imagining how Noelle would react and hoping he was wrong.
Tales of the Dark Mother - Embla
“If I fall and die, I’ll haunt you,” Embla says, clutching her safety rope as she climbs down the cave wall, inching over each rock at the speed of snail. Khepri makes no effort to slow, skittering down without so much as a second thought.
“Stop whining. We’re almost there.”
Embla tries to force herself into a faster clip, but every move makes her stomach flip. The cave grows wider with each meter, a great, bleak funnel through the earth. She feels increasingly like a bug in a bathtub. Friction was banished from this place. The rocks are slick with stagnant water, and blue, glowing fungus. She and Khepri have been descending for hours, a half-mile below any cracks or crevices that might reveal daylight. Embla tries to imagine the cloudless sky hanging over the forest in her Lair, but even her imagination is hard to make out in this light.
By the time she reaches the ground, Khepri is already digging. She throws him a sour look, and starts to assemble her pickax. “I don’t know why we had to go this way.”
He doesn’t look at her. “Are you helping or not?”
Embla fumbles with the handle of the ax, struggling to lock it in place. “Stupid piece of—”
“Forget it. I found it.” Khepri concentrates and turns his fingers to thick, sharp insect claws. He tosses clumps behind him as he burrows, and nearly clocks Embla’s head with a rock.
“Come on, man! Shit. Why the fuck am I here?”
“You’re the only one I know who reads Sumerian,” he says, and pulls something from the earth. It’s a clay urn, shaped like a headless, armless belly with two legs. It’s the color of ochre, but long streams of black ooze stain its sides. The spout is engraved with jagged cuneiform. It leaves its grave with little resistance, and dirt falls away as if the earth rejects it.
“It was the Mother’s vessel. Her royal cup, to sip the blood of her enemies.” Khepri beams, vindicated.
“You can’t be serious.”
He holds the urn to her ear. The screams come in too many voices to count. All in pain. All begging. Embla’s flight instinct kicks in for the first time in decades, and it takes every ounce of selfcontrol she has not to jump straight out of the cave.
“I need you to translate it. It can’t be removed without the spell inscribed on it.”
“Christ. Okay, put it down and get out of my light,” she says, studying it for a minute. “I don’t think this is what you think it is, Khef. Look.”
Khepri kneels, and Embla smashes the pickax through his temple. She moves the urn to collect his blood.
“Mea culpa, but she’s been calling me way longer than you. And the voices were really clear about you being the sacrifice. If it’s any consolation, you were half right! But it’s not a cup.”
The ichor from the urn flows into the ground. The dirt and rock turn to mud, swirling into a spiral.
“It’s a key.”
A number of things can cause these disturbances, not all of related to the Children, and so some Heroes go their whole lives never knowing that Beasts exist. Once they find a Beast, though, they associate it with the constant turmoil in the Dream; they know, beyond doubt, that killing the Beast will calm the Dream. They are, of course, wrong about that, but they usually have no way of knowing it.
Heroes feel the Primordial Dream in a light, broad sort of way, much like placing one’s palm flat on a smooth body of water. As long as nothing breaks the surface tension of the water, the hand doesn’t get wet, but the person can still feel the water quiver. Anything that disturbs the water, though, upsets that feel (and might even submerge the hand). Beasts have a habit of disturbing the Primordial Dream, and that means they draw the attention of Heroes.
What he does next defines him as a Hero. He might ignore the feeling or attempt to learn what it stems from without actually tracking down that particular manifestation. In any event, he recognizes that whatever is going on, it isn’t about him specifically.
The Heroes who Beasts tend to encounter, however, lack that awareness. Misinterpreting their instincts as a call to action, they charge out to find the source of the disturbance. They find the Children and see the Horror lurking behind human eyes.
Heroes resemble the Beasts that spawned them in most ways, but several concepts that are integral to Beasts do not apply to their Heroic opponents
Violent Heroes often conflate their instinctive sense of disruption in the Dream for skill at tracking down dangerous monsters, but that isn’t the case; the most gentle and conscientious Beast can make ripples in the Primordial Dream if she goes too long without feeding, and the most violent and bloodthirsty of the Begotten can kill a dozen people a month and never disturb the Dream. The Hero, however, will sense the former before the latter.
This initial Heroic Tracking does not have or require a game system. A Hero notices the character if the circumstances indicate that one should. If the Storyteller doesn’t want to include a Hero-related plotline just then, she can ignore the result or assume that the Hero that noticed the disturbance isn’t interested or able to track the Beast (again, this is discussed further in Chapter Seven). If the Storyteller decides that the Hero does track the occurrence, the Hero begins an investigation into the Beast.
Much of this investigation occurs “off-screen,” and therefore the Beast’s player winds up determining what the Hero knows and discovers by what actions she takes with the character. The Storyteller should consider what the Beast has done, how public she has been with her powers, who knows about her or could identify her, what other witnesses have seen, and especially what impact her actions have on the Primordial Dream. Once the Hero has identified the Beast by name or physical description, or has seen the Beast in person (even from a distance), the Hero is no longer Tracking, but Stalking.
Dramatic Failure: The Hero is convinced a Beast is present, but suffers from severe doubts about who it is; he believes he may have misidentified the Beast. This grants the Beast character a reprieve, during which she might be able to get the Hero off her trail (or simply kill him, depending on her predilections).
Failure: The Hero gains no information about Beast activity in the area.
Success: The Hero knows whether or not the Beast is currently present nearby, and whether a Beast has used a supernatural ability nearby within 24 hours.
Exceptional Success: The Hero also learns exactly how many Beasts are currently present, and can identify them as such on sight. This does not grant any particular ability to see through disguises or to find Beasts who are otherwise hidden.
Example: Mrs. Winters, the Eshmaki Nemesis we met on in Chapter Three, has a problem. She let her Horror stay too hungry too long; as a result, it hunted down and fed upon Brent, the frat boy bully that Mrs. Winters once taught a brutal lesson. In fairness, Brent had kept his nose clean since that incident, but the Horror doesn’t care. It’s come to visit him a few times. In the waking world, Brent isn’t sleeping well; he looks sallow and has bags under his eyes. In the Primordial Dream, though, these predations have a larger impact.
In game terms, Mrs. Winters gained the Ravenous Condition and her Horror fed from Brent twice. The second time, Magda rolled an exceptional success on the Inflicting Nightmares action (p. 99), which indicates a Hero notices the activity. Having just resolved a plot point involving one of the other players, Orson, the Storyteller, decides it’s a good time to give Mrs. Winters something to worry about. He creates a Hero named Nathan Blix, a man who lives in the same town but grew up in the neighborhood that Mrs. Winters protects.
Orson decides that since Blix knows the area, he has no difficulty navigating to Brent’s house. Blix and Brent chat, and Brent eventually winds up telling a mostly truthful version of what happened to him after Halloween (he leaves out the part where he snatched bags of candy away from children). Blix convinces him to give him a few pieces of the candy he had left over. Now Blix can trace the candy, bringing him closer to Mrs. Winters.
Eventually, Blix sees Mrs. Winters as she’s sitting on her porch, knitting…and he knows. She’s the monster. He wonders how he missed it before. That night, he goes home wondering if he has the strength to kill a monster when that monster looks like a sweet old lady. That night, though, one of the other characters in the group uses a Nightmare in the same general area, and Blix feels the reverberation (the player rolled an exceptional success). Blix wakes up with terrible purpose in his heart and fetches an ax out of the shed. He’s now Stalking; Mrs. Winters had better watch out.
Some Beasts theorize that vampires are only weak to fire and sunlight because some Hero managed to pin their predecessor with this Anathema in ancient times. A Beast suffering from a Bane is weak to a specific element or material that can be used as a weapon against him. The exact nature of the Bane varies, but it’s never so common that acquiring an effective weapon to suit it is easy; generally, acquiring a Bane-weapon adds one to the Availability of a weapon. Wood, silver, and cold-forged iron are all common banes. As with all Anathema, Bane adapts itself to the nature of the Beast it targets, so a Beast whose Horror makes his home in a volcano is not likely to be stuck with a Bane of fire, nor would a dragon who hoards gems and precious metals be likely to develop a Bane for gold.
High Satiety: The Beast is exceptionally vulnerable to her Bane. Any attacks made against her using her Bane deal aggravated damage and are treated as armor piercing. If such attacks were already aggravated or armor piercing, increase the weapon rating by 2. If the Beast takes damage from her Bane, she suffers from the Stunned Tilt for one turn.
Middle Satiety: The Beast remains vulnerable, but can recover far more quickly from dangerous blows. She no longer suffers from the Stunned condition if hit by her Bane, but all other High Satiety effects still apply.
Low Satiety: The Beast’s Bane becomes only a minor inconvenience when faced with her awakened Horror’s immense power. The Bane deals lethal damage, rather than aggravated. All such attacks are still treated as armor piercing.
Beat: The Beast has her Bane used against her in combat.
Resolution: The Beast gains and then resolves the Ravenous Condition.
This Anathema pins a Beast with an intense panic reaction to some particular and specific trigger. This is never something so common as to be completely unavoidable in day-to-day life, but neither is it so specific and difficult to acquire that most Heroes can’t get their hands on it with a little work. A Namtaru might develop an intense fear of her own reflection, or a Beast with a spiritual bent might develop a Phobia of a particular religious text. The exact nature of the Phobia depends on the Beast targeted, and is never something that would obviously cripple her human life or her bestial nature: a Predator Beast would not develop a Phobia of blood, and a Beast employed as a farmhand would not develop a Phobia for any of the animals she saw on a day-to-day basis.
High Satiety: When in the presence of her Phobia, the Beast is all but incapacitated by her terror. She takes a –3 modifier to all rolls that do not involve trying to escape from the Phobia; her Initiative modifier is always treated as 0, as her instinct is to freeze up in fear. These penalties persist for three turns after the Phobia is no longer present, as the Beast takes time to compose herself after the Anathema-induced panic.
Middle Satiety: As the Beast’s Horror re-emerges, she regains some measure of control of herself in the presence of her Phobia. The roll penalties are reduced to –2, and she takes a –2 penalty to her total initiative. These penalties persist for one round after the Phobia is no longer present.
Low Satiety: Though still terrified, the Beast’s Horror helps her turn her fear into rage. When in the presence of her Phobia, she takes a –2 modifier to all rolls that do not involve either trying to escape from it or trying to destroy it. Her Initiative is no longer penalized, and all penalties disappear as soon as the Phobia is no longer present.
Beat: The Beast is exposed to her Phobia.
Resolution: The Beast gains and then resolves the Ravenous Condition.
Heroes think of Beasts as nothing more than violent monsters, just waiting to be put down. This Anathema drags a Beast into that story, filling her mind with uncontrollable anger at the world around her. While a Beast suffers under Rage, her mind is clouded by vicious thoughts, hindering her ability to be anything other than the rabid animal from the Hero’s story. Though she may still attempt to live her normal life, any conflict may bring all her anger welling back up to the surface. Rage doesn’t require a trigger; it’s always present once the Anathema
High Satiety: The Beast sees nothing but red, and is barely functional outside of combat. She automatically fails all Social rolls save for Intimidation rolls. In combat, she must attack every turn unless she is incapable of reaching a valid target, in which case she must move to attempt to reach her next victim as quickly as she is able. The player may spend a point of Willpower to ignore the effects of Rage for one turn and allow the character to act freely, burying her rage temporarily when the need is great.
Middle Satiety: Though her anger is still strong, the Beast tempers it with cunning and guile. Her Social rolls receive a –3 modifier, except for Intimidation rolls. In combat, she applies a –3 penalty to any action other than an attack. The player may spend 1 Willpower at any time for the character to ignore the effects of Rage until she next suffers damage, at which point her anger reasserts itself.
Low Satiety: The Horror is able to keep some of her Rage mostly in check. All the Beast’s rolls, including Intimidation, receive a –1 modifier, as the Beast is neither quite able to be diplomatic nor safely able to be intimidating without unleashing all her pent-up anger. The combat penalties of the previous level are reduced to 1 die. The player may still spend a point of Willpower to ignore the effects of Rage until her character is next damaged. She may also spend a point of Willpower to ignore the effects of Rage for one scene in a social situation, though at the Storyteller’s discretion a clear insult or provocation might cause her character’s anger to resurface.
Beat: The Beast’s anger causes her to lash out in a social situation or attack an obviously superior opponent, against her better judgment.
Resolution: The Beast gains and then resolves the Slumbering Condition.
The Hero has discovered some small part of the Beast’s body that is more susceptible to damage. The Beast suffering under this Anathema has a spot on her body that is particularly easy to harm. Regardless of all measures she might have in place to protect herself from attack, the Anathema does its best to keep her Weak Spot open and vulnerable.
High Satiety: The Beast’s Weak Spot is a constant presence in her life. Any attacker who knows about it may choose to target it specifically and does not take the usual penalties associated with making a Specified Target attack (see p. 166), but with only a –1 penalty. If the attacker hits a Beast’s Weak Spot, the damage of his attack becomes aggravated. The Beast cannot cover up her Weak Spot; no matter how hard she tries it’s somehow always accessible. Any armor bonuses the Beast receives do not apply to attacks that target her Weak Spot.
Middle Satiety: The Beast is able to keep her Weak Spot better protected, though it still provides a serious flaw in her defenses. An attacker must specifically aim to target the Weak Spot and takes a –3 to his roll for the Specified Target attack, regardless of where the Weak Spot is on the Beast’s body. If he hits successfully, he still converts damage to aggravated and negates the Beast’s armor from affecting that attack.
Low Satiety: The Beast’s Weak Spot still causes her aggravated damage when hit, but she’s able to defend it as thoroughly as she might any other part of her body. An attacker still takes the –3 for making the Specified Target attack, but the Beast may benefit from armor as normal when hit.
Beat: The Beast has her Weak Spot hit in combat or it otherwise complicates her life.
Resolution: The Beast gains and then resolves the Slumbering Condition.
While most Anathema drive a thorn of weakness into a Beast’s hide, Weaponbound externalizes that weakness into a single weapon that is empowered to kill the Beast to whom it is tied. Often this weapon is the Chosen Blade of the Hero who places this Anathema, but sometimes it’s some other weapon of great fame or importance to the Beast. A famous sword kept in a nearby museum might suddenly become capable of living up to its legend, or a prototype gun being tested nearby might be bound to slay a Beast. Though this Anathema is external to the Beast, it is still tied to her Horror and self. As normal, another Anathema may not be placed on a Beast suffering from Weaponbound.
High Satiety: Meeting her Weaponbound weapon in combat spells almost certain doom for a Beast whose Horror cannot help to defend her. Attacks made against the Beast with her Weaponbound weapon gain the rote action quality. The weapon inflicts its normal damage, plus an additional two points of aggravated damage (so a sword that inflicts 2L damage would inflict successes rolled + 2 in lethal damage, and then two points of aggravated damage as well).
Middle Satiety: As her Horror awakens, the Beast is better able to defend against her Anathema’s power. Attacks made against the Beast with her Weaponbound weapon gain the 8-again quality, and deal an extra two levels of lethal damage.
Low Satiety: While still dangerous, a Beast whose Horror is active can face her Weaponbound weapon with far less fear. Attacks made against the Beast with her Weaponbound weapon gain the 9-again quality, and deal an extra two levels of lethal damage.
Beat: Someone attacks the Beast with her Weaponbound weapon.
Resolution: The Weaponbound weapon is destroyed.
Most people in the Chronicles of Darkness experience the supernatural and ignore it. They see something inexplicable and terrifying — a ghost shrieking in an abandoned house, a man changing into a wolf and running away, a woman growing razor-sharp silver wings and taking flight, or a vampire feeding in the corner booth of a dark club. The witnesses forget or make themselves forget. They look for ways to rationalize what they’ve seen. This doesn’t make them weak or foolish — ignoring the supernatural is a survival mechanism.
The supernatural is dangerous, multi-faceted, and largely outside of human law and morality. Some people see the supernatural and feel called to combat or at least study what lurks in the dark, and these people become hunters (a la Hunter: The Vigil). These people are exceptional in their
drive and bravery, however, and a good number of them wind up dead or inexorably changed by their fight.
Heroes are not hunters. They do not take up their battle against Beasts because of something that was done to them. They step into situations that they do not understand, that they have no context for, and make a gross assumption about what they’ve seen. They respond with violence out of misplaced outrage or, worse, a desire for adulation. The people they bring along are normal mortals who would rather simply shake off the experiences they had and go back to their lives; they do not share the Hero’s bloody-mindedness or his gifts.
Heroes with Saint’s Whisper gain the ability to place Anathema on vulnerable Beasts through conversing with them. To do so, a Hero must engage in a scene of meaningful social interaction with his opponent, which must include the Hero denouncing the Beast as evil or monstrous in some way. As the Hero does so, the Beast feels the Anathema creeping into her Horror, and faces two options: physically attack the Hero immediately (using a Nightmare does not count) and end the Hero’s attempt, or be placed under the Anathema. A clever Hero will try to use Saint’s Whisper in situations where the Beast cannot leave the conversation or lash out, such as approaching her at her workplace or in a public space with plenty of witnesses. Even if the Beast avoids the Anathema through violence, the consequences of her “outburst” may be problem enough.
Thaddeus has spent his entire life blaming his problems on other people. Coming from a middle-class suburban home, he was told all through his childhood that he was special. Whenever the real world failed to reinforce this, he retreated into whatever fiction he could find that said that bookish kids like him would eventually inherit the earth. Thaddeus graduated from a good college with excellent grades and very few friends, and went right to work behind a desk at a mid-sized corporation’s programming department.
Once it became clear to Thaddeus that he was destined to work a mediocre job for the rest of his life, the resentment started. He’d been promised so much more than this: vast riches, adoring fans, and a beautiful wife who would fawn over his genius. Instead he was living as the model of mediocrity. Everything that went wrong was a personal slight against him: the pub was out of fries because the waiter had it out for him, or his car wouldn’t start because the mechanic who fixed it was clearly an idiot who’d resented Thaddeus’s superior intellect.
Then one night, Thaddeus dreamed of…well, he’s still not sure how to describe it. It had color, but no joy. It had breadth, but no depth. Featureless, surreal plain? No, it was too violent and loud. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he woke knowing that whatever it was, it happened at his office. He went to work the next morning excited for the first time in years — was something actually about to happen to him? Was this the call to action he’d been promised? Then he saw one of his co-workers in a meeting, and he knew. It was a call, and she was the monster in the mountain cave.
He killed his former coworker (an Ugallu) two weeks later. It was pure luck, catching her unaware at the end of a long day before she had any idea he was a Hero. He lured her behind the building with a story about his car needing a jump, and then ran her through as she opened her hood. Her death filled him with a rush of power and left him more certain than ever of his calling. This was the life he’d been promised, full of action and certainty with great rewards at the end. All he had to do was kill every monster he could find, and everything would be exactly as he’d always imagined.
Thaddeus is a tall, skinny man in his mid-30s, clean-shaven with pale skin and neatly cut hair. During office hours, he wears business casual polo shirts and slacks, and is completely unremarkable. While out hunting monsters, he wears a poorly fitted trenchcoat and a black trilby hat. Thaddeus considers himself a modern gentleman and speaks with an unnecessarily verbose vocabulary, dotted with “chivalric” language he’s mostly picked up from fantasy movies and novels.
Heroes on the hunt have seen glimpses of a young warrior queen in their dreams, pointing the way to the Lair of their quarry. When they get to the creature’s Lair, she’s there, fighting beside them to vanquish the creature. She says she is sleeping somewhere in the real world and beseeches the Heroes she allies with to find her. To date, none of the Children or the Heroes who have encountered her can track her down.
If they did, they would be surprised at what they see: a sickly teenage girl named Melanie, trapped in a coma for the past two years. Doctors and nurses regularly check her bedside, as do worried family members. Her mother spends the entire window of visiting hours sitting with her daughter, either knitting or working on crosswords to pass the time. Her father drops in when he can. They have no idea what caused their presumably healthy daughter to fall so ill, and the doctors are equally stumped.
Melanie fell into the coma after a Horror entered her dream to feed. Instead of cowering, she gave chase, following the monster right back to his Lair, where she killed him. The Lair collapsed. Melanie tried to make it back to her body, but something went horribly wrong. Her soul remains in the Primordial Dream, just out of reach. Melanie has tried to follow other Horrors back to Lairs, but she can’t quite manage to move quickly enough. She can, however, home in on disturbances to the Primordial Dream and speak to Heroes that sense them. Melanie acts as a muse to other Heroes, a guiding angel, but because of the abstract nature of their contact with the Primordial Dream, she can’t do much more than point them in the direction of Beasts. That, however, has been enough to sustain her.
With each victory, Melanie grows stronger. In her hospital bed, she twitches in her sleep, her hands clenching into fists and unclenching. Her body shows remarkably few signs of atrophying despite the coma, and it gives her parents and doctors hope that one day they may see Melanie, their darling daughter, walk and smile again.
Melanie is a truly strange case. She should not, by rights, have been able to follow a Horror to its Lair, much less kill it. It is possible some outside force — another Beast, perhaps, or some other supernatural creature able to enter the Primordial Dream — used Melanie as a weapon and then left her adrift. Acting as a Hero provides her soul with the sustenance it needs to stop her drifting apart in the Dream, but if she were to return to her body, would she continue the fight? It’s never crossed her mind. She just wants to go home.
"Dude, you popped your cherry with your soulmate? Sweet!"
Younger Heroes have developed an argot all their own surrounding their lifestyles. This slang, while not particularly discreet, makes talking about hunting the Children a little less conspicuous to unsuspecting bystanders.
Anonymous: A group of humans a Hero enlists as his or her personal army to help kill a Beast.
Aquaman: A Hero who specializes in killing Makara. Applies to any gender of Hero.
Ballroom Blitz: A fatal confrontation between a brood of Beasts and a band of Heroes.
Captain America: A Nemesis' Hero.
Cherry: The Beast who becomes the Hero’s first kill. Frequently used in the phrase “pop one’s cherry,” as in gaining one’s first kill.
Creeper: A Namtaru.
Crusader Rabbit: A male Hero who exclusively hunts Beasts targeting women.
David: A Hero who specializes in killing Anakim. Originates from the story of David and Goliath.
Ding/level up/notch the bedpost: To kill a Beast and gain a Gift.
Dude/girl in a cape: (derogatory) A Hero who espouses and frequently waxes
poetic about an idealist code of ethics.
Do: (verb) To kill a Beast. Example: “Dude, Sherry did that Swamp Thing last week, man. She’s smelled like bong water ever since.”
Family Guy: (derogatory) A Hero who still lives with or maintains contact with his or her family. Applies to any gender of Hero.
Flyboy/Flygirl: A Hero who specializes in killing Ugallu.
Hercules: A Hero with twelve confirmed kills. Originates from the twelve labors of the mythical demigod.
Leroy: A Predator's Hero, especially ones who charge into battle without thinking.
Master Splinter/Obi-Wan: A veteran Hero who teaches younger, inexperienced Heroes.
Musashi: A Hero with several kills originating from single combat.
Ninja: An Eshmaki.
Packrat: A Collector's Hero.
Pirate: A Hero who specializes in killing Eshmaki.
Plague Doctor: A Hero who specializes in killing Namtaru.
Quest: An individual Hero’s journey, either short-term or long-term.
Recruiter: A Tyrant's Hero.
Ronin: A Ravager's Hero.
Sauron: An Anakim.
Spoon-Fed: A Hero who gained one or more kills with help from other Heroes who let him or her have the kill.
Soulmate: The Beast who provoked the hunter response for a given Hero. Veteran Heroes particularly dislike this one.
Swamp Thing: A Makara.
In answer, Beasts point to the fact that human beings have an instinctive response to the supernatural. Sometimes it's very overt and supernatural, as with the Quiescence Curse that Supernal magic invokes, werewolves' Lunacy, or the Disquiet that follows Prometheans. Other times it's more subtle: the so-called "Hunter Response", the fact that most people can't see the gears of the God-Machine, even the general "live and let live" attitude that people subconciously develop. Either way, Beasts believe that points to common ancestry.
In any crossover game, a Beast’s primary role should be to subvert, challenge, and otherwise change the narrative. That’s not to say that Beasts should be hogging the spotlight or dragging the story off the rails to follow their own whims; rather, just as a straight Beast chronicle challenges the classic “hero slays the monster” narrative, the introduction of the Children into other chronicles should look at the themes and expectations of, for example, “a vampire story” and cast new light on them. Just as the best monsters of fable tell us something about ourselves, the best crossovers tell us something about our other monsters.
One possible pitfall of bringing Beasts into a Vampire chronicle is portraying the Children as "Uber-vampires". They share many thematic elements while simultaneously having few of the Kindred's weaknesses, which can lead to a feeling that Beasts are simply better. A certain sense of inferiority is good if the Beast is in an antagonistic role, but if the beast is meant to be ambiguous, or a PC, this attitude can kill a chronicle. Be aware of this, and be prepared to introduce plotlines that challenge the Beast where she is weak just as often as you play to the weaknesses of her vampire kin.
Though they aren’t connected to the Shadow in the same way werewolves are, Beasts cannot help but warp the world on the other side of the Gauntlet by their mere presence. In sating their Hungers, Beasts spawn innumerable spirits: things of greed and destruction, dominance and submission, and fear. Always fear. Just by existing, Beasts create ripples in the Shadow; as their Horrors run wild through the Primordial Dream, the nightmares they leave in their wake seem to follow no vector the Uratha understand.
From a Beast’s perspective, mages are the one child in a family who went to college; she comes to family gatherings with her mind on experiences she can’t share and vocabulary her kin can’t understand. Her family feels threatened, and she feels alienated by their reaction. A Beast who takes the time to explore his Kinship with the Awakened finds they have more in common than they think — a shared fascination with primal symbolism, the human soul, and a burning ever-present hunger. A mage’s addiction to Mystery is just as potent as a Beast’s own Hunger, and both Beast and mage grow more powerful by experiencing the strange and uncanny — the Beast incorporating it into his Lair and the mage adding it to the symbolic knowledge making up her Gnosis.
Peaceful contact between Beast and mage often hinges on how far the Beast goes in sating its Hunger, and how the mage takes the story of the Dark Mother and an explanation of the Lair and soul. Friendly Mages use baffling terms like “Pandemonic Emanation Realm,” tell the Children stories of the great primal “Aeons” in the far reaches of Astral Space — some of whom match certain descriptions of the Dark Mother — and make theories about the Dragon-like beings who supposedly helped the first mages to Awaken. Mastigos and Thyrsus can even use the presence of a Beast with a kinship bond as a symbol or “Yantra” in their spells. Hostile mages decide that Beasts are a reflection of the World’s Fallen state, or claim that the Dark Mother is the Raptor, the Supernal personification or “Exarch” of humanity’s fear of nature. They become terrible enemies, able to slip into the Lair and wreak havoc with their magic, like Heroes without the self-delusion or reliance on the Beast’s own power. Worst of all are mages who steal the souls of victims for use in experiments or fuel for strange powers; a Beast’s soul is a difficult but prestigious prize for so-called “Reapers.” Due to Beast’s connection to their Lair mages can’t steal the soul of a Begotten just by casting a spell in the physical world. It requires as much ability with the Arcana as taking the soul of a mage, and can only be cast inside the Lair. Despite the risks, some Reapers who learn the existence of Beasts go on twisted safaris into the Primordial Pathways, convinced that they can reduce the Children of the Dark Mother to big game.
The Gentry, for their part, see Beasts as curiosities: they’re born of stories and their lives follow familiar mythic patterns, but they exist outside the Arcadian precepts of fate and time that bind the True Fae’s existence. Theirs is a wary respect, the sort you might extend to a strange animal that might take your hand off at any moment. Some of the oldest parts of the Primordial Dream allegedly hide secret paths that lead to the courts of the Kindly Ones, and Fae hunters sometimes invite the Children of the Dark Mother to join them on their wild hunts.
In their rise to power and eventual Inheritance, Beasts highlight a common fear among changelings: that of becoming the very thing they hate and fear. Unlike a vampire’s Golconda or a mage’s Ascension, most changelings look on the prospect of apotheosis — of harnessing their Wyrd to become essentially True Fae themselves — as a fate worse than death. The fact that Beasts seem sanguine about becoming creatures of nightmarish predation makes them creatures to be feared. On the other hand, Beasts are some of the few beings the Gentry interact with on something like equal terms, and it’s better to have a dragon inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in. Freeholds in or near the territory of known, powerful Beasts sometimes propitiate the Beast with offerings to satisfy her Hunger, in the hopes that she will intercede on their behalf when the Gentry come calling.
“If it bleeds, we can kill it,” describes the typical hunter’s view of Beasts. It’s a simplistic, reductive attitude, one designed to insulate them from the idea that they might be killing a thinking, feeling being. In itself, that’s not terribly unusual: any hunter who’s gone after a vampire or a witch has faced the conundrum. The difference is that Beasts know the script: their arguments are less, “perhaps it is you who is truly the monster,” than “what gives you the right to kill monsters?” For hunters used to self-justification and equivocation from their prey, that sort of reversal can prompt some soul-searching.
From the Arisen point of view, Beasts are potential allies as long as the mummy can get past some initial misgivings. The artifacts mummies hoard and pay in tribute to their masters often have properties that warp the emotions of mortals; just as Sybaris prevents Beast Horrors from hunting, the fear spread by the Begotten can have unintentionally disastrous effects on what Arisen call “the lifeweb” of geomantically aligned emotional influences. Many Beasts put the Arisen in mind of certain enemies, as well — the chimerical animal-forms of Amhkata, the all-consuming Shuankhsen, and shadowed legends of Ammut the Devourer, a Beast-like monster from the religion of the Arisen’s living days. Despite that, as long as a Beast poses no threat to their purpose, Arisen are happier dealing with the Begotten than many other supernatural beings. The Children of the Dark Mother typically have no use for the mummies’ toys and hunger for more primal sustenance.
Sara fled panting through her Lair. She hadn’t been prepared for a Hero to follow her here, into the Dream. She mentally cried out for her Horror, the Great Serpent, but it slept on. She was nothing but a normal woman now. Her only hope was to get away, to come back at the problem another time.
Another arrow punched into her shoulder, hard enough for her to stumble. She tried to raise her arm and found she couldn’t. She reached the Heart of her Lair. She saw the Serpent, curled in a tight ball, oblivious to her. She turned, ready to fight or reason with the silent man behind her. Another arrow hit her, square in the chest this time. Anything she was going to do to him was forgotten in the mind-numbing pain, and she fell to her knees.
True to form, the Hero swaggered into view. Sara’s fear, her defensiveness at her Lair being violated, those were both gone, replaced by a burning hatred. She tried to claw her way to her feet, but the bastard nonchalantly nocked another arrow and let it fly.
Sara drew the last breath from her body, filled with regret and hate. The archer stepped forward, looking around the Heart, pulling a lighter from his pocket. He did not notice the Great Serpent’s emerald eye flick open. He splashed fluid from a bottle around the Heart, never noticing the Serpent sliding into the shadows.
Sarah’s Horror didn’t care. The Heart could burn. It no longer needed the Lair. It slithered out behind the Hero, and when he turned to flee the burning Heart, he found he could not.
In life, the Mourning Owl was called Adrienne Cook. She knew misery from a young age. Her parents barely had the money to pay for extra clothes for her through school. College was certainly out of the question. Still, she tried her best to earn a scholarship in order to help her family. When that failed, she worked hard at a menial, minimum-wage job at a local convenience store. That wasn’t good enough, either. College was just too expensive and out of her reach.
Then the dreams started. Falling. Always falling. The wind taking her terrified scream and ripping it from her lips. The ground rushing up to meet her until impossibly huge talons snatched her up. That was when she woke up, every time. Eventually, she finally had the courage to look up, to see what held her in its grasp. A gigantic bird — it could have been an eagle, or a hawk. Adrienne wasn’t so sure exactly, but it drew her in. She felt a connection with the creature. She woke up a Beast.
After a month, she began regretting her existence. Feeding her Hunger for Prey scared her, and she didn’t have anyone else in the area to teach her about what she’d become. Trial and error and instinct only went so far, after all.
She did manage to connect with her Lair and spend some time there. She actually felt good while there for the most part. But she knew she had to return to the physical world. She had a job. A family.
Her fear and depression grew until even her Lair didn’t hold the same comfort it once did. She hit upon a solution. If the Horror was what did this to her, then maybe if she could separate the two again, things would go back to normal. She entered her Lair, sharp knife in hand, and did the deed.
Tragically, Adrienne was so, so wrong about her theory. She died, but her Horror lives on as the Mourning Owl. It roams the Primordial Dream, stealing into the dreamscapes of others and fulfilling its Hunger. Hunt. Feed. Repeat.
Wayne Lyle had a relatively easy life. Naturally gifted and talented in both academia and sports in school, he was popular with teachers and his fellow students alike. While it was true that he was sometimes odd and offputting, what others saw as his good points caused them to brush any eccentricities under the rug.
Wayne was plagued by a host of self-doubt, however, as well as by disturbing dreams. In those dreams, he was always in water of some sort. It always gave him the sensation of great depth, and he could never see any kind of coast to swim to. If that weren’t frightening enough, he had the sensation of not being alone — a sense that was confirmed in later dreams where he was pulled under by long tentacles.
It didn’t take long for him to confront and then accept the creature at the other end of those tentacles, and thus realize that he was a Beast himself. Like everything else in his life, Wayne took to his new life with gusto. Unfortunately, he had only instinct to guide him and as such was unprepared when a Hero invaded his Lair. Sure in his ability to take down what he thought was just a regular person who’d found their way into the Dream somehow, Wayne leaped into battle. He was surprised when the spear pierced his chest and hurt even worse than he would have imagined it to.
As his blood poured out onto the floor of his Lair, his Horror broke loose, ravaging the Hero on the spot and fleeing into the depths of the Dream to find things of dream-stuff to hoard.
Eli stood, staring at the darkness, for a long time. The darkness stared back invitingly. Eli took a step, then another, slowly, as if a man in a dream. He supposed that was appropriate.
It was Mia’s hand that stopped him. A Makara of incredible beauty, kin to the Sirens, she was also the only other member of Eli’s
brood who really understood him. He trembled, suddenly unsure if this was what he wanted to do.
“Is this how we say goodbye? With you walking into the darkness forever?” Mia’s tone was curious, not judgmental.
Eli relaxed. “I wasn’t going in. Not yet. I’m just…thinking about it.” The tremble in his voice betrayed him.
Mia chuckled. “You know as well as I do that if you’ve come this far, you’ve already made your decision.” Mia’s voice became more serious. “I’ll miss you. The others will, too, after they’re done being mad and come to understand why you did it like this.”
Eli nodded, and turned to take one last look at Mia. She smiled, then gestured toward the darkness. With a shy, fleeting smile, Eli turned and walked into the gloom. Mia watched as long as she could, until her broodmates’ calls brought her back inside.
In the creeping darkness, Eli cast off his skin. He pulled out his teeth, and ripped off his fingers at the first knuckle. His Horror saw the holes he had made, and filled them — fangs, claws, and coarse black fur grew in.
Eli — what had been Eli — sniffed the air. It was time to hunt.
Over time, they draw the Horror into their bodies, becoming wholly monstrous. This integration of body and Horror is imperfect, however. The Horror's power, made manifest through a Beast's Lair, is more at home in the Primordial Dream, where it can spread and express itself according to the Beast's desires. Being trapped within the Beast's body in the physical world constrains the Horror. On one hand the Beast's Horror still empowers him, giving him continued access to her Nightmares and Atavisms. On the other, his Horror bends inward, twisting his body and crippling his mind. He becomes a monster in truth, chasing his Hunger in its most basic sense even as it acts as a source of power.
Eli Howard grew up knowing what it was like to be poor. He never knew his father; as his mother worked two jobs trying to make ends meet, he barely knew her, either. An only child, he was also very familiar with being alone. As he grew older, Eli explored the neighborhood, finding shortcuts, hidden places, and pathways between them. Other than the elderly who’d lived there their entire lives, nobody knew the area like Eli.
His relationships with other children were strained. They all had both parents and did things with them — vacations, outings, father-son fishing trips. Eli never managed to connect with them, which further pushed him away from people. As soon as he grew old enough, he got a job at a local warehouse in order to help with the bills around the house. Even so, his help came too late for his mother, who managed to work herself into an early grave. Eli was left to his own devices. Rather than bounce around the foster care system, he struck out on his own.
Roughly a month later, he started having the dreams. A large presence, felt but never seen, stalked him through the night. He’d be traveling through a forest, or high grass, and the foliage would rustle and shake as though some sort of beast was slinking through it. Every time, Eli would run, trying this time to shake his pursuer. It wasn’t until Eli somehow realized that each dream was set in the same area he’d just been through that day and that he was the shadowy creature that he went through his Devouring.
Eli tried to reconcile the physical world and the Dream, but it never quite clicked for him. The physical, for him, was real and knowable. The depths of the Primordial Dream were esoteric and unknowable. After much thought in regards to the consequences, as well as what it would mean to his brood, Eli pulled his Horror into his body, destroying his Lair in the process.
He walked into the darkness and made it a part of him forever. Locals know that a monster stalks the night, and they refer to it as “the Pard” (an archaic term for “leopard”).
Miranda grew up on the reservation, feeling constrained the entire time. She wasn’t confined to the area — on the contrary, she’d gone to town with her parents (or alone, when she was older) many times. Still, something she couldn’t put her finger on made her feel restrained and hemmed in the entire time she was home.
It wasn’t her Makah background, either. That she was proud of, and it drove her to study law when she was old enough, in an effort to make things better for her people. In college, though, she realized it didn’t really matter where she was. She still felt she wasn’t fully free. By that point, she’d gotten very skilled at pushing that feeling to the back of her mind and concentrating on the task at hand, however.
The dreams started a few months before she planned on taking the bar exam. She’d wake in the middle of the night remembering little else other than the earth-shattering thunder and a sensation of falling. She started taking sleeping pills in an attempt to not remember her dreams and just sleep through them, but to no avail. It took her several months to make enough sense of her dreams to realize that the monster with the raking talons made of lightning was her.
After her Devouring, Miranda exalted in the new power she’d attained. She went back and finished school, passed the bar, and began practicing law. Opponents in the courtroom backed down before the onslaught of her arguments and the force of her personality. She became known for pressing cases others had given up on. She also became known, or rather, resented, for what they called “Miranda’s superiority complex.”
Miranda continually pushed herself, working on more cases then she should have, not taking vacation, working long hours. Complete burnout was the inevitable result, and Miranda shut down almost her entire life. She then ultimately decided that she’d had enough, and that Merging with her Horror was a way out. If anything was left of Miranda, it would regret the decision made in haste. But now she is only Starless.
Prior to the Merger, Miranda was a woman of obvious Native American descent. Now, her skin is a shimmering, dark blue. A pair of wings unfold from her back, and electricity arcs across her skin on occasion. She smells faintly of ozone and fresh rain. When she speaks, her voice booms and crashes like the midst of a thunderstorm.
Nobody ever thinks much of insects, the creepy-crawlies that pervade everything, crawling and scuttling underfoot. But they’re everywhere: one of the most, if not the most, populous creatures on the planet.
Tyler knew all about where insects went, and more importantly, what they saw. He knew, for instance, that a group of so-called “Heroes” were delving into his Lair, a dark and twisting cave system. They hadn’t paid attention to the miniscule creatures scrabbling across the rock walls. Tyler would feel sorry for them, but he wasn’t sure he had the capacity for that any longer. Besides, they were invading his territory. They should know what they were in for.
The Heroes had just wormed their way through a tight crevasse into a slightly larger chamber when Tyler turned the lights out. Yells of anger and surprise turned into screams of anguish as the insects swarmed their victims. Tyler joined in himself, gleefully punishing those who’d dared to intrude upon his ground.
As the last Hero died, Tyler stepped upon the path back to the physical world. As he did, he felt his Horror come with him, tying to him in a more perfect symbiosis. He gasped at the sheer pleasure of it all, of every sense in his body moving to new heights. It felt
wonderful. It felt powerful.
It felt like coming home all over again. Tyler tried to weep, but all that fell from his eyes were the bugs.
In the usual story, a Hero believes himself the central character. The Beast is a simple creature, with easily discernable goals and desires. It is only there for the Hero to kill. Obviously, the tale is about the “good guy,” the upstanding, handsome, proper protagonist. The creature, as the outcast, serves only to validate the Hero’s existence.
Instead, the Beast reminds the Hero whose story it really is. By controlling the meeting from the beginning, whether through sheer power, cunning manipulation of the events leading to the meeting, or taking advantage of openings in an instant, the Beast makes the would-be Hero insignificant in a world he wants to control. In so doing, the Beast shows that she’s the better creature, the one who deserves to live — the Apex.
The Beast Incarnate can remove the Hero’s gifts, granting him clarity and showing him exactly who he is in the scheme of things — an interloper, an intruder in a story that was never his. With a simple touch, the Beast shows the Hero that, no matter how terrifying the nightmare, it’s not his place to end it.
Shen-lung was not always this Beast’s name. He started life as Chen Ling, a son of a librarian and a grocer. Life was not awful for young Ling. For the most part, he lived life normally, as any other kid, with the same problems and successes. The only pressure he had was academic, as his parents both aggressively pushed him to succeed in his studies. He dutifully dove into his schooling, striving to make his family proud.
His sense of obligation to his family was strong, but it didn’t completely mask his resentment. While he applied himself in school, he was much more at home in the forest, in the places where the light and shadow mixed and played. He was always adept at moving quickly and quietly and eventually taught himself to hunt. Chen Ling found that stalking and killing prey came naturally to him.
The dreams always began the same way: Ling Chen alone in the forest, stalking his prey. In some dreams it was a rabbit; in others, a deer. Eventually, he realized that something else was hunting him. He never saw it or even heard it, but he knew something was in the underbrush. The shadows didn’t lengthen on their own. The forest didn’t naturally seem more dangerous and bloodthirsty. No, he was convinced there was a reason, and after a month or so of this recurring dream, Ling-Shen finally found enough strength to find out what it was.
Forcing his way through the grasping branches, he found a dragon, ink-black and sinuous. Somehow he knew he only found the creature because it desired it so. They took stock of each other, the man and the dragon, in a moment that took an eternity. In the end, they found a kindred spirit in one another, one who delights in the thrill of the hunt.
He took on the name of Shen-Lung, an imperial dragon of the rain and storms from Chinese mythology. The newly named Beast tried to find his own way in the world, eventually finding other Children. He even met other creatures that he felt were kin. Despite his dragonish nature, these creatures — werewolves — also took part in the hunt. Shen-Lung found common ground with the wolves, drawing upon their ferocity in combat.
Somehow, it wasn’t enough. He felt that he could do, he could be, so much more. He pushed further and further into his nature, expanding his Lair and strengthening his Horror. He and his shapechanger friends expanded their territory throughout the land. Shen-Lung found other Beasts. He tracked down the most powerful of them, an immense spider-like creature, and issued a challenge to her — relinquish her position and seal off her Lair from the hive, or die. She refused; on the next full moon, she found herself the quarry of the wolf pack and its dragon. Shen-Lung became the Apex and claimed dominion over the region’s
Primordial Dream. In so doing, his body and Horror merged. Feeling the power coursing through his body, complete with the
new sensory information it brought with it, Shen-Lung finally mastered the serenity of the hunt.
From a young age, Boleslav was a vindictive, cruel child. The other children in his neighborhood avoided him. Without peers to victimize, he moved on to animals. As he got older, he found ways to terrorize adults.
Very few people avoid the consequences of their actions for long. So it was with Boleslav, who was eventually caught terrorizing a neighbor. As it turned out, the neighbor had shown Boleslav up the previous night in the bar, calling him out on a lie. This didn’t sit well with Boleslav at all, who savagely beat the poor man. As his victim lay bleeding into the dirt, many others stood and chased Boleslav from the town, sending him fleeing into the mountains.
While there, he dreamed that he was being chased by a gigantic creature of stone. For the first time in his life, Boleslav knew true fear. He ran, but no matter how far or how fast he fled, the creature was behind him, relentless in its pursuit. Finally falling to the ground from exhaustion, Boleslav tried to fight back as the creature caught him up in one massive hand. His punches, which could break a man’s cheek with one blow, were like those of an infant against his captor. The cold hand of helplessness wound its way around his heart. In an instant, Boleslav saw himself as the villagers and the stone colossus as him.
For most, this would be a revelation toward greater sympathy to others. Not so for Boleslav. Instead, he realized just how much more powerful he could be; he could finally get back at those who’d wronged him throughout his life. He awoke with a new soul as a Beast. As Boleslav learned what he could now do, his sense of superiority was only reinforced. He spent years in the mountains, traveling from village to village and exacting punishment for various infractions to satisfy his Hunger.
Eventually, he returned to his home village. He promptly killed the town leaders, inserting himself as the sole and unchallenged leader. Boleslav’s first order of business was to create a set of esoteric rules and laws that would be difficult for most to untangle. In this way, he had numerous people to punish each day. His typical punishment was an immediate public whipping.
Confining his citizens to the town and punishing them for infractions of increasingly confusing laws was bad enough. Compounded by his nightly terror sprees through their dreams, however, he inevitably attracted Heroes, who decided to take matters into their own hands and slay the obvious monster in their midst. It was hopeless, though; all of the Heroes’ righteous fury was for naught. Their weapons were ineffective; their plans rendered useless. The crude and unintelligent beast they thought they were slaying proved to be far more smart and cunning than they’d given him credit for. After the surviving Heroes made it through several traps and pitfalls to Boleslav’s den, not a single one managed even a scratch. Boleslav ripped the remaining men to pieces with his bare hands. Their remains litter his den to this day.
After that incident, Boleslav’s hold on his town has tightened. He’s found that he has control over the very land itself and can even witness the people within it. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for the inhabitants, who suffer under Boleslav’s depredations every single day. Sooner or later, they hope, someone will remove the monster from power.
The first hit came out of nowhere. Ben had barely entered his living room when something slammed into him from behind the door, sending him sprawling over the sofa. He landed hard, off-balance and hurting. Nothing had really so much as scratched him since his Devouring, and yet he could feel blood running down one side of his face and his side felt like it was on fire.
“About fucking time,” said a familiar voice. Ben rolled on his side and blinked up at the shape above him, but even when his eyes focused his shock didn’t go away. Ryan. The skinny kid was holding something hooked and almost as tall as he was, raised above his head to strike. “I’ve been waiting for this for weeks!”
“Ryan, you need to run the fuck away right now,” Ben caught Ryan’s wide, manic eyes and tried to send the Nightmare to him, but the skinny kid just laughed in his face and slammed the hook down, ripping into Ben’s shoulder. He screamed and grabbed at the metal but it burned his hands just to touch it.
“Metal from a sunken ship’s anchor,” Ryan said with a look of great satisfaction, digging the hook in deeper. He looked down at Ben with pride and fished a necklace out from under his shirt, held it up for him to see. “Same deal here. I know how your kind work! I saw your tricks up close, remember?”
“Fuck you!” Nightmares might be off the table, but that wasn’t all he had to offer. Ben pushed back the pain and grabbed Ryan’s ankle, managing to snag it with one hand at the cost of digging the hook in even more. One hand was all he needed, though, and Ben felt his Horror’s strength surge through him, snapping Ryan’s ankle with a sharp cracking sound. Ryan fell backwards onto the couch, pulling the hook free in the process, and Ben dragged himself to his feet.
“Back!” Ryan shouted, holding up the necklace. Ben staggered backward as if he’d been punched, still not quite believing what was happening. James had warned him about this, but this was just unreal.
“Ben!” Noel burst through the doorway, sizing the scene up and heading straight for Ryan. “Bad call, fucker.” Noel growled, hands hooking into claws as
“Back!” Ryan shouted again, shoving at the advancing vampire.
“Oh, honey,” Noel said, almost apologetic, and tore out the boy’s throat out with a casual swipe of his hand. Ryan’s mouth fell open, but whatever words he had were lost in a gurgle as his blood streamed down his chest, turning his shirt black in the dim light. Noel hardly broke stride as he went to his boyfriend.
“What happened? Baby, you’re hurt!”
“I’ll be fine,” Ben managed, gritting his teeth. He put his arm around Noel and the vampire took his weight effortlessly. “We have to get out of here. Now.”
“Yeah, but we should probably clean up—”
“No,” Ben said, and his tone made Noel meet his gaze. “We need to leave. The three of us. Right now.” He was starting to feel faint, but fortunately Noel caught his meaning, and carried him out of the house without another word, leaving Ryan behind, entombed in the mausoleum of Ben’s old life.
Tales of the Dark Mother: Malcom
No one visits the greenhouse at night. Very few visit it during the day to begin with; with severe municipal budget cuts, the park staff can’t afford to keep it maintained, deterring all but the most die-hard armchair horticulturalists, who marvel at the “anonymous” donations of rare varietals I bring here. I take care of my plants and they take care of me. The greenery here does not directly obey me like it does in the place I call home, but it doesn’t have to.
At night, even amorous teenagers and others looking for private dark corners stay away.
The brave ones who do visit the greenhouse at night never stick around for long, and their nightmares taste like candy.
Tonight, I’m sprawled out in the thick patch of mayapples in the back corner. The little blossoms that hide beneath their giant leaves have just begun to open. Only children bother to look underneath the leaves, and even then, only when they know the flowers are there. I normally don’t spend time in this patch, but tonight, it called to me, and the plants and the very earth cradle me, much like it did at my second birth. The leaves sway and brush my skin in a gentle caress, and the stems seem to move of their own accord, stroking my hair from my face. I know I am not alone in my verdant refuge, but the presence swallows me, my doubts, and those lingering fears that keep me all too human. For now, I am my Mother’s son, and nothing more. A deep soul-rumbling purr reverberates in my chest.
“…the fuck was that?”
I can feel the adrenaline shoot through my body, tensing my muscles. Anger not my own turns that purr into a growl that I only just keep contained. I lie still as the scent of sweat and fear not my own travels straight to my nose. A glittering spray of broken glass lays inches from my feet, defiled by bootprints. Bright sweeps of light cross the leaves erratically.
“Never mind that!” another voice hisses. “Let’s just get the stuff and get out of here.”
The footsteps thump and crunch through, getting slightly fainter as these two fools mutter to each other and shatter pots in their search. Their own noises disguise the rustle of leaves as I rise from the mayapples. My footfalls are nowhere near as heavy; I know just where and how to step to follow them. I feel larger, fuller, and so much more than the skin, muscle, and bone that contains me. When I bear down upon these intruders, it is not just me, but this all-encompassing presence that fills my chest that demands to know who dares disturb our place and our moment.
The scent of fresh meat and offal fills the greenhouse as I return to my bed of mayapples. I sink my bloodied fingers into the dirt, and the blossoms open just for me. They close again when I leave at dawn.
This is a legend of the First Nations:
When the gold rush came to Squamish lands — what would one day be Vancouver — the greed it inspired took hold of one of my people, a man named Shak-shak. Under the gold’s influence, Shakshak came to love wealth more than his own life. He spurned the potlatch, and as his neighbors starved in harsh winters, he reveled in his hoard. His avarice grew so vast that even the Great Spirit came to loathe him. It called down from heaven and transformed him into a two-headed serpent, so long its body threaded the entirety of our waters. He had become the Salt-Chuck Oluk, a thing made only to be despised. The Great Spirit promised that if a hero would pierce the serpent’s heart, greed would be banished from the land.
As it always is, that call was answered. The story ends with Shak-shak’s heart cut out and cast into the Capilano River, and the people rejoicing over the tremors of his death throes.
We Begotten had no pity.
—From the journals of George Wolf
Decades after the serpent’s story had warped into its modern form, his hubris echoed, calling Heroes like moths to a light bulb. When the Great Vancouver Fire razed most of the new town and settlers turned to drunken rioting, a mob of Heroes set upon the Beasts. They boarded up the hideouts of the city’s broods, and doused them with stolen whiskey, chanting the Salt-Chuck’s name. Few survived.
In the aftermath, Family rivalries became vendettas. The Makara and Ugallu had always been at odds — such is the nature of a land where sea and mountain meet — and the Raptors blamed the Leviathans for Salt-Chuck Oluk’s bloody legacy. Though the serpent was dead, his relations would pay for his sins. The Raptors began secretly opening Pathways for Heroes into Makara Lairs, hoping they would wipe each other out. It didn’t work.
In 1911, “The Legend of the Salt-Chuck Oluk” was published in a series of articles on Squamish folklore. The stories became popular across the country, and Heroes seemed to wake en masse in the aftermath. Vancouver’s vampires began to take notice. Always vigilant over their precious Masquerade, the vampires grew uneasy at the violence and attention being drawn to the supernatural world. The Raptors saw another opportunity. Masters of exploiting the fear of exposure, the Ugallu convinced the Kindred that the Leviathans were to blame and that it was in their best interest to call a blood hunt to stem the tide of Heroes. This time, it worked. Over the next forty years, the Nightmares of the Depths were nearly wiped out from Vancouver at the fangs of vampires and the swords of Heroes.
In 1951, the government began constructing North Vancouver’s Cleveland Dam. No one gave it a second thought, let alone any Beasts, but that changed the day workers began digging up the site.
When I looked inside my Lair, it was flooded. As water and debris flew past, I tried to return to my body. I couldn’t. Giant birds aren’t natural swimmers, but the animal part of my brain tried to glide with the current. My wings tore apart like wet paper, and I blacked out from the pain. I thought my Horror would drown, which is a terrible prospect to an 8-year-old.
Instead, I woke up in my bed with three broken ribs and a pint of puked up water. I don’t think my mother ever cried so hard in her life. She never understood what happened. For a long time, I didn’t either.
—From the journals of George Wolf
A rift had torn between the river and the Primordial Dream, as if some plug in reality had dislodged. The immediate assumption was, of course, that a Makara had somehow become Apex of the area, but searching for this Leviathan proved futile. Whatever the truth, it benefited the despised Makara. The river formed paths between Chambers, floodways only accessible to Leviathans. Rumors spread that the workers had dislodged the remains of the Salt-Chuck’s heart from the river, and the pogrom reached a fever pitch. The Raptors pointed their vampire allies at the last brood of Leviathans, hiding near the dam construction site and hoping to find the source of the water.
The leeches easily overwhelmed them. As the brood’s Tyrant leader succumbed to fear of death for the first time since her Devouring, she experienced a vision. In her mind’s eye, a wave burst from the dam, washing over her and her tormenters. From its depths, a thundering voice cried out:
These are not your kin.
In desperation, the Tyrant reached out with her Kinship, and found a thread she’d never felt before. She pulled, and she was enlightened. As the waves in her mind’s eye receded, the powers of every vampire in her presence failed. Makara still celebrate the massacre that followed.
The Tyrant gathered every sibling she had left, and together they immolated the leaders of the Kindred court. They gave the remaining bloodsuckers a choice: servitude or death. All chose servitude. With their new minions, the brood turned on their estranged siblings. Travelling through floodways, they stole into the Lairs of their Raptor enemies. The choice was given again. Most Ugallu, too proud to see their sins repaid, chose a third option: exile. In memory of their martyred sibling, the Disciples of Salt-Chuck Oluk have dominated the supernatural denizens of Vancouver ever since.
The Disciples practice their anti-Kinship through a powerful Nightmare. Only Leviathans who’ve swum through the floodways can learn it, and only the Disciples know how to teach it. Unlike other Nightmares, this power benefits from teamwork actions (p. 161), though not all actors need to know it. This power doesn’t work on Beasts, Heroes, or mages.
Outside Vancouver, it doesn’t work at all.
Your Strength Is Your Weakness
You’re a fraud! You’ve never built anything of worth without some magical cheat. Now you’ll see what you really are, without your cheap tricks.
Dice Pool: Manipulation + Satiety – Resolve
Normal: The victim gains the Abruption Condition.
High Satiety: The Beast gains the 8-again quality when using Social Maneuvering against her victim, or the rote quality when using Hard Leverage.
Satiety Expenditure: As long as he suffers the Abruption Condition, the victim takes lethal damage equal to the Beast’s successes each time he tries to
use a power.
Exceptional Success: The victim also gains the Shaken Condition
Your character’s supernatural gifts are hobbled. Each time he attempts to use a power, whether inherent or learned, he loses a number of successes equal to the inflicting Beast’s Lair plus one. If the power isn’t rolled, it simply fails. If multiple Beasts caused this Condition, the penalty is equal to their combined Lairs. This Condition fades at the end of the scene.
Possible Sources: Magical effect disrupting supernatural powers.
Resolution: Your character accepts her inferiority and takes the Beaten Down Tilt (p.327) or an appropriate Condition.
“Ben? Are you here?” Robin looked at the dark water, not really hopeful but determined not to give up yet. “It’s me, Robin. I just want to talk.”
The media firestorm had burned bright but briefly — one kid dead in a bloody, “ritualistic” crime scene and another missing made for a few sensational lead stories, but didn’t have the legs of a pretty girl having vanished. Robin had seen the aftermath of Heroes before, and knew how to wait out the coverage and the inevitable trickle of hunters and occultists that accompanied them. At first she’d assumed Ben had just gone to ground, was trying to process the attack, but then the Burrows connecting his Lair to the rest of the brood collapsed. His Horror was still nearby, both she and James could feel it, but as days turned to weeks, a different sort of suspicion crept into her mind.
As if on cue, the first rumors showed up in local online chatter not long after.
Local kids were talking about strange things down at the lake. A pale, slim boy — or sometimes a girl of similar description — was walking alone by the water late at night. Except if you got close enough, they weren’t alone at all, and you’d realize what you thought was a shadow on the water was really a shape right under the surface. Supposedly they’d beckon you to join them, the pale kid and the thing in the water, but all the rumors agreed that would be the worst and final mistake of your teenage life.
“I’m not here to hurt you, or Noelle, or anyone else.” Robin continued, still scanning the water. “I just want you to know if you’re all right.”
“He’s fine.” Robin turned and saw a pale young woman detach herself from the shadow of a nearby tree, followed by another pale teenager a moment later. Robin tasted ashes immediately, as if she needed confirmation of their vampiric nature. “You’re one of his kind, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” There was no point in lying.
“I knew you’d come looking sooner or later.” Noelle’s tone was flat, indifferent. “He said so.”
“Is Ben here?” Robin asked. The closer she looked at Noelle, the more ragged the vampire appeared. Her clothes were ripped and stained, as if she was sleeping out here in the trees. Not at all the modern, sleek predator Ben had approached only a year ago.
“You should go.” Noelle said. Behind her, the other equally ragged vampire nodded. “He’s fine.”
“Can I ask him?” Robin said.
Noelle cocked her head. “Go on, honey. Show her.”
Robin heard something break the surface not far behind her, but when she turned and saw the thing that had been Ben, her heart fell. It rose on itself like a coiled serpent, and while she could see no malice in its large black eyes, she didn’t see anything like recognition either. As she watched, its mouth opened, venom dripping like rain on the lake, and if its tentacles seemed to reach out pleadingly for a moment, it was almost certainly her imagination. It slipped back under the surface and all Robin felt was relief, mixed with a profound sadness.
“See? We’re very happy here.” Noelle faded back into the shadows, leaving only her voice after her in the midnight air. “We’re home.”
Tales of the Dark Mother: Hin
“I don’t think this is good.” Hin struggled with the English. The mages ignored him, as they often did. Hin sighed. He didn’t mean good, but he wasn’t sure how to phrase it.
The mage called Atalanta glanced around the room. “I think we’re ready. Symbols are in place, sacrifice is ready. Hin, we good to go?” She said it like she was addressing a four-year-old about to act as ring-bearer in a wedding; important as these things go, but if he screwed up and spoke out of turn, no one would really care.
“I don’t this is good,” Hin repeated. He looked over at Babel and spoke in Cantonese. Babel shrugged helplessly, and Hin cocked an eye — normally he understood.
“Guys,” said Babel. “Hin needs to tell us something. Give me a minute to—“
“No.” Pluto’s voice was deep, resonant, and terrifying. “No magic. We’re doing this. We’ve waited too long. We’ve put too much into this. Whatever Hin needs to tell us can wait.”
“Sunk cost,” said Hin. It was a phrase he knew well; one of his finance professor’s had drilled it into the class and Hin had found it a useful way to feed. “Sunk cost means you think you can get back what you already—“
“Later, Hin.” Atalanta stood before the altar and raised her hands. Babel, obviously concerned, patted Hin on the shoulder reassuringly and raised his hands as well. Behind them, Pluto struck the ground with his staff.
The gate opened. Something stepped through.
“That’s not…” Atalanta didn’t finished the sentence. She dropped to her knees, hopeless, terrified, mouth agape. Babel turned and ran, but could not make the doorknob work. Pluto tried to bluster, but only wound up cowering behind his staff.
“I tried to tell them, Mother,” said Hin. At least She had no problem understanding him. “Will you let them live?”
She spoke, and Hin nodded.
“Spare him, then,” he said, pointing to Babel. “At least he listens sometimes.”
He turned to his friends, trying desperately to put up spells to protect themselves, call for help, repel Her, end the summoning. It was nothing but noise. “I’m sorry,” he said. He wanted to say more, but he couldn’t think of the words. They weren’t listening anyway.
In Western film, books, and other media, particularly genre fiction like Chronicles of Darkness and Beast: The Primordial draw inspiration from, you find certain trends and tropes. The “monomyth,” popularized by Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” is one of the most common structures in modern fiction. It largely entered the pop culture parlance through George Lucas’s Star Wars. However, it doesn’t really work for Beast. You can make it work, but that structure is not Beast’s default state.
In such a structure, the Beast has to die. The Hero must conquer “the dragon,” subsuming the Beast’s power and moving on, like the monster was simply a hurdle on his quest. This clearly doesn’t work, for a couple of reasons. First, it would mean every game would end in the characters’ deaths. Second, the Beasts would only play a menial role in the story. In this game, the Beasts are the stars of the show. Still, you can’t just reverse the story, and shift roles. In the Hero/Beast dynamic, Beasts are not assumed to be proactively against Heroes. Heroes are still the active force in the relationship. This seems like it might be at odds from the presentation on p. 72, that identifies Heroes as reactive; both are true. Heroes are reactive insofar as they do not exist (again, in terms of the narrative) without a Beast, but they are active insofar as Beasts don’t generally go seeking them out. Beasts attract them through their actions, yes, but even then, the Beast is simply the catalyst in the relationship. The Beast doesn’t achieve a great milestone in her life for destroying the Hero. In fact, if the Beast achieves a great personal milestone for destroying the Hero, that belittles the relationship. Part of the compelling aspect of Heroes is that the Beast doesn’t usually have a direct tie to her assailant. The Hero comes out from
left field. The Beast has her own life to deal with. Usually, the Beast’s only knowledge of the Hero is his motivation, and that if she doesn’t fight, he’ll destroy her.
Instead, look to stories about outsiders, about disenfranchised people, and about communities that exist on the outskirts of the mainstream. Beasts aren’t the heroes, but the Heroes aren’t really the heroes, either. Nobody needs to be the hero of these stories. These are stories about people (albeit monstrous people) and the unique challenges they face. They’re not only stories about overcoming adversity, but about how people react to dramatically strange circumstances. Consider Grendel, an archetypal Beast story. Grendel isn’t a story about whether or not Grendel can conquer his foes and overcome obstacles; it’s a story about Grendel coming to realize what he is and coming to terms with that. We don’t care if he can win in a fight against a given opponent, we simply care about what the fights mean.
Consider looking at other models. One good example of an alternate story frame is the Japanese Kishotenketsu, which is popular in some Japanese animation, and has been co-opted in some western television shows when they film a “Rashomon-style” episode. It’s a four-act structure that works in a relatively tight pattern of introduction, development, twist, wrap-up. For Western audiences, many of the renowned films of Akira Kurosawa have popularized the idea (even if it’s not something formally recognized and widely discussed). Stories such as Rashomon embody the idea of a “conflict-free story”. This isn’t to say the story has no conflict, but the story isn’t about the conflict, it’s about understanding the path and the intricacies in interweaving tales.
This model assumes a single game session covers the four acts of the story. However, if you are planning ahead for a larger chronicle, each act could be a full game session, and you can play it in a more relaxed, soft-handed fashion. But a four-act story requires some attention to pacing, to keep things moving ahead. All games require mind to pacing, but in a more traditional game, break points are more obvious. As the characters uncover and resolve challenges, the story moves forward. Conflict drives the plot. With a Kishōtenketsu style story, it’s important to move forward as soon as possible, and to not let threads linger too long. Listless characters, and by extension listless players, will tend to seek out conflict resolution if they feel there’s no direction.
In Beast specifically, this should be where you showcase some of what makes the characters truly monsters. Give spotlight to Nightmares and Atavisms. Give longer, more elaborate descriptions than you might otherwise. Focus heavily on the direct and indirect ramifications of these monstrous features. Don’t be afraid to give a quick cutaway, just a brief description of some of the ripples happening off-camera. If a Nightmare breaks a person’s will, show them at their family dinner table that Sunday. Show the family asking him what’s wrong, and gossiping about him when he goes to the restroom. Show us his fiancé, cupping an engagement ring, and opting to second guess himself and put it away when his lover’s behavior becomes erratic and disjointed. Show us his custody hearing where his defensive attitude costs him visitation rights with his children. This should happen quickly, but clearly.
It’s important you don’t allow for any superlative resolutions at this point; your goal is to add plot, not let it go away. The players need to be made aware of this in order to keep with the structure. Normally, players will work toward resolution as rapidly as possible. With this style of play, they have to understand that they can’t get that until a certain amount of time has passed.
This phase of the story should be about half the total game time. It ends once you have a strong collection of plot events to build from. If it feels like the tension is getting too great and there’s too much to handle, that’s about time to move on. You need at least a few random additions from failures, so if those aren’t coming fast enough, introduce them yourself.
If your players are amenable to suggestion, you don’t need to explain what you’re doing. Just tell them you want to try something different tonight, and run with it. Let Act Four tie these threads together. If you go this route, it’s important to keep things as
separate from the primary narrative as possible, but to offer hanging threads the players can tie together. Beast is particularly good at this part of the tale, because it offers such sweeping diversity tied to its core paradigms. You can use any of the other Chronicles of Darkness games to tell this part of the tale, and it will remain workable within a context that’s both easy to justify, and easy to present as something mysterious and separate from the main story.
You could run Act Three in a different place, or even a different time. What do the werewolves of Ancient Egypt have to do with your Beast chronicle? That’s a good question; it’s one you’ll answer in Act Four. Why does a story about Jack the Ripper matter to our tale set in modern Tokyo? That’s another great question. But for help answering, use symbols, references, quotes, and callbacks to other chronicle events. You don’t have to explain them, and should just move on if players try to draw conclusions now. But if the leader of a majestic Gaelic Freehold of changelings uses the same line as the Hero in your New York Beast chronicle, your players will notice it.
Lastly, we bring it all together. Here, we discover how the divergent stories are actually one story. Every element on the table is eligible for “resolution,” which means a player can take it and, within the scope of their character’s story, explain how they are related. Doing this grants a Beat. Cross out the element, or otherwise note that it’s handled, and it’s married to the story entirely. This can be done once per player per scene. During Act Four, the players can’t add new elements for failed rolls.
This act should be all about revelation and understanding. The players should use these relationships between elements and their characters in order to finalize the story and make sense of the events.
Heroes can be difficult to use effectively because we tend to think of them as, well, heroes. They are called “Heroes” for a reason, though (they could just as easily have been called “Slayers,” which would have conveyed a different message): Beast is about the monster/monster killer narrative, but it’s meant to subvert it. Beasts aren’t necessarily good people; they can be, but it’s not a prerequisite for being the protagonist. Heroes aren’t necessarily good people, either.
The reasonable, caring, “good” Heroes don’t make much of an appearance in Beast, not because they don’t exist, but because the narrative role for the Hero in Beast is that of a violent, narcissistic antagonist. If you want to include Heroes that break with this narrative role, go ahead! The prevailing thought among Beasts is that Heroes are dangerous and violent, because that’s the type of Hero they tend to find. Again, thematically speaking, breaking narrative assumptions and recognizing that easy labels aren’t so useful is very much in keeping with Beast (this is also why Melanie is included as an example Hero; she’s not violent and narcissistic. The way that a brood deals with her would be very different than dealing with, say, Desmond.
Look at the fervor with which people will argue about what is important to them, from comic book movies, to gender, to space cowboys, to vaccines, whatever. Even if the person doesn’t have a leg to stand on logically, they hold their perspective. If you listen to their reasons, it at least makes sense why they believe what they do, regardless of whether or not they reasonably should. It’s about identity. If you identify with something, an opposing viewpoint isn’t attacking your argument, you feel like it’s attacking you. This is, perhaps, more noticeable on the Internet, because people online don’t see the other people they are talking to, so it’s much easier to depersonalize. People are wired to believe what they hear or see first, though, and they also tend to sympathize with whatever argument gives them a narrative that they can agree with.
The more complex aspect of conspiracy theory requires the theorist to be at the center of the theory. For most theorists, it’s one thing to say NASA never landed on the Moon. But it takes a whole different level of theorist to speak with any sort of “authority.” That theorist is your Hero. He stands at the center of his grand theory. After all, he was slighted. Remember, the conspiracy is a challenge to the Hero’s identity. The Hero must never consider himself culpable for any of the various strings on this web. No matter what he does, he has to be able to rationalize, justify, or ignore the influence of his actions. This means he needs an excuse for why everything goes bad around him.
As explained in Chapter Four, Integrity is a game trait measuring the health of a person’s soul and self-image. Integrity does not, by itself, measure whether a person is “good” or not. It is not a measure of kindness or compassion. Certainly people with high Integrity traits tend to be strong of character, and strength of character leads to empathy and compassion, but it is possible to have a high Integrity rating and be harsh, cruel, or even violent. It simply means that the character is well aware of who and what he is.
Violent Heroes, though, lack that awareness. Their souls are weak, whether by nature or by difficult lives whittling away their Integrity. They tend to be shortsighted, self-centered (but not self-aware), and unfocused. A person can fall to this level of Integrity in any number of ways; when you are designing Heroes for your Beast chronicle, it’s worthwhile to consider how it happened. You don’t need to design breaking points for the character (though you can), nor do you need to detail how any given dot of Integrity was lost, but just a general sense of what happened to the character is enough. Did the character avoid talking to people out of belief that he was better? Did the character suffer some hardship and look for someone else to blame? Or is the answer more basic — is the character an abuser or a bully?
As noted in Chapter Four, it’s possible to lose Integrity from exposure to the supernatural, but this by itself doesn’t usually reduce the trait low enough to qualify a person for becoming a Hero. Thematically, too, it’s not appropriate for someone whose only “crime” was bearing witness to the supernatural to become a violent narcissist; if such a character is going to go out and seek out the supernatural, it should probably be in a different context than strapping on a sword and a gun. Since Heroes are Storyteller-controlled character, you as Storyteller dictate why the Hero is the way he is, so make choices that allow the Hero to fulfill the appropriate role in the story. If the Hero is a sympathetic character, driven to hunt monsters by the relentless attacks of the supernatural, then you might be better served checking out Hunter: The Vigil (and perhaps using Beasts as antagonists). If, however, the Hero has deliberately shunned other people, defining himself by what he is not, what he hates, or the wrongs done to him, that’s a perfect candidate. The line is thin, and that’s deliberate.
It is also possible for a Beast to build a Chamber based on Integrity loss that she had nothing to do with. As described in Chapter Three, if a character loses Integrity due to witnessing the supernatural, it creates a Chamber in the local hive that the Beast can add to her Lair, provided she can learn the context in which it occurred.
This rule is, of course, designed to give Beasts a concrete reason to go looking for other supernatural creatures and learn their stories. Beasts don’t need to learn the deep, dark secrets involved, of course. If someone lost Integrity during a mage’s bloodletting ritual, the Beast doesn’t need to know the political ramifications that would have ensured if the local Consilium hadn’t looked the other way for this particular ritual, since the perpetrating mage is a supporter of the faction that is trying to stay in power. All she needs to know is that it was a bloodletting ritual. Of course, now that she knows, is there anything she can do to help?
Heroes Exist Even When Off-Camera
Heroes have to be active even when the action isn’t focused on them. This requires a bit of work for the Storyteller, but it’s necessary to represent the degree of focus that Heroes exhibit. When a Hero has a target, he devotes himself to that target because to him, his existence is predicated upon being the champion that slays the Beast. That means that although the action in the game is going to remain with the players’ characters, you as Storyteller need have at least some idea what the Hero is doing.
We touch on some techniques that’ll help make this feasible without overwhelming the players. Showing ripples can help. Peeling back the curtain is invaluable. Naming everyone can make even minor actions seem important. But ultimately, your best bet is to define Heroes by their actions. If Joey is a hacker, he hacks. It’s your job to bring that into play. He should dox the Beast’s friends and family. He should uncover lost data that can tie disparate threads together. However, since the Hero isn’t a protagonist, show those ripples in all their glory. Don’t hesitate to explore how an effect came from a cause, and let the players’ characters stumble upon that information. A Hero defines his life by his relationship to the Beast, but that life happens even when the Beast isn’t looking. If the Hero seems to only exist when on-camera, he’ll feel shallow and boring.
The Blame Game
The bad Heroes, the absolute worst, don’t even blame the Beast. They draw in their friends, their families, and everyone around them to blame for what goes wrong. If the Beast’s Hunger has her seduce the Hero’s wife, the abhorrent Hero finds a reason to blame his wife, or his children, or his boss, or anybody but himself or the most likely target for his ire. He must always weave conspiracy because, even if he kills the Beast, the job isn’t done. Monsters will always be here, he tells himself, so he keeps a dossier on all potential monsters.
His manifesto, be it in blogs, online videos, a book kept under his bed, or scrawled on the walls in the blood of his targets, should be convoluted, sickening, and patently false. But it should circle around to support his original premise, that world perspective that started him down the rabbit hole. It’s never his fault. The job is never done. He is the Hero. Everyone who disagrees is a potential monster to be slain.
Sometimes, camaraderie isn’t the only thing that keeps a group together. Sometimes a little drama, a little internal conflict, keeps momentum and keeps people poking at sores. It’s difficult to drive a story with just weirdness and negativity, but that can be the difference between a purely positive but boring relationship, and a story with real teeth.
To take advantage of this idea, you’ll need the players to collude and agree to come up with some destructive relationships and run with them. This is important, because the players have to work together to not reject these pitches out of hand. If a player says, “All right, so, you come in. How about Layli’s character and mine are in the broom closet together, and you hear a little moaning and a little banging?” Layli can say no of course; she doesn’t have to give her character’s consent here at all and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. On the other hand, she should at least consider the possibility, since that’s the nature of this style of chronicle, and it could cause ripples that drive family action for numerous chapters to come.
The Begotten of the French Quarter in New Orleans all know one another. They don’t all belong to the same brood, but they do their best to make sure the Quarter stays friendly. That means being courteous to one another, being polite to the local supernatural population (especially vampires), and helping each other clean up, when necessary.
The Apex in the Quarter is Esmee Childress, an Ugallu on the verge of becoming the Beast Incarnate. Everyone knows Esmee, and while she’s difficult to get along with sometimes, she’s a good friend to have when things go bad. But as she’s leaving her Legend behind and forging a Myth, she’s on the verge of doing something that will change the Quarter irrevocably, invite scrutiny from all over the country, and sour relations between the Children and the Kindred forever.
The characters have the chance to prevent Esmee’s plans from coming to fruition, but do they want to? Do they support her intentions and ambitions, even if it means ruining their homes? If they do stop her, are they prepared to have such a powerful enemy? And in the midst of all this, a group of Heroes casts about blindly for a monster to slay. They’re on Esmee’s trail, but Esmee is happy to distract them with younger Beasts (read: the characters) until she’s ready to party.
“Paid…she paid me. Make this. Came back.” The man isn’t making sense, and you can’t stop the bleeding. He’s against the back wall, a bloody smear leading down to his prone body. The wail from approaching sirens mingles with the cry from a riverboat, and he shifts slightly. “She took it. It’s not here no more.” You glance around the ruined shop, but how will you figure out what was taken?
Esmee will answer the characters’ questions, provided they’re respectful. Some likely questions and answers include:
What’s going to happen at the concert? Esmee is happy to reveal that the concert is a trap for Allain and his flunkies; she intends to kill him, publically, and then take her leave of the city. She doesn’t reveal that she’s near her Inheritance (partially because she’s excited about it and doesn’t want to jinx it, and partially because she sees it as her business), but if the characters pry, she reveals that she’s “on the verge of transformation.” A character can realize what she means if the player makes an Intelligence + Occult roll (see below).
Why did you lead Heroes to us? Esmee says she figured a brood of Beasts could handle a little attention from a Hero, and anyway she’s going to kill him soon. If they mention Rhonda, she apologizes and says she didn’t know about her (which is true). If they press the issue, she offers to kill Rhonda herself and will indeed do it that night, in whatever dramatic manner you wish.
Why did you kill Olmos? Esmee was concerned that Olmos would talk to someone, and she was also hungry at the time.
What about the French Quarter? If the characters raise the point that her plan is going to damage the Quarter, she claims the damage will be minimal. If they point out that explosions and poisons tend to have unpredictable effects and are likely to bring to mind “terrorism” more than “unholy monster,” she takes their point and agrees to leave the explosives and gas out.
Who gets your store? Esmee had been planning on burning her little mask store down, but if one of the characters wants it, she’ll sign over the deed.
Cheers erupt as the band takes the stage for their encore. They’ve only done a few songs, of course — when you don’t have permission to use the space, you can’t linger. But the crowd seems to be enjoying the music, the drugs, and the overpriced beer. That’s when Esmee appears.
She walks past the musicians and shoves the lead singer. He goes flying off the stage and collides with a wall with a wet thud. She grabs the mic and her voice flows like spiced rum. “Allain? Where you at, sweetie?”
If the characters haven’t talked to Esmee or have failed to convince her to leave the explosions out of it, she steps on stage and calls Allain out. Allain rouses his troops and draws a pistol, but Esmee activates the bombs. Anyone standing near them suffers nine levels of lethal damage, and the area immediately takes on the Noxious Gas Tilt (as the Lair Trait; p. 106). Esmee uses it to impose her other Lair Traits (she doesn’t impose Downpour, though; she wants everyone to see her). Using Wings of Shadow, she leaps high in the air, and then dives straight down and lands on Allain, crushing him. With the crowd in a panic, she takes to the air, gives a cry that shatters windows for blocks, and flies out over the river.
If the characters have talked to Esmee and convinced her that the explosives are unnecessary, she still takes the stage but calls upon her Storm-Lashed Atavism and strikes Allain with a lightning bolt, killing him. She then uses the Atavism to call up winds, doing minor damage to the area, and takes flight, again becoming the Beast Incarnate.
She was trembling as the key scratched at the lock. Twenty-five years, all leading up to this moment, two and a half decades of confusion, fear, rejection, and finally — finally — understanding.
It could have come sooner, she knew that much. It just hadn’t been time. She hadn’t been ready yet; things had to be perfect before she could truly get the satisfaction she needed from tonight. So much of her time had been carefully curating things and arranging them just so. No fumbling first attempts, no learning curve. No, it couldn’t happen until she knew exactly what she was doing, until she could squeeze every last drop of absolution from this moment. The maddening itch had been growing in her mind for years, yearning for her to scratch it. At this point, it was more a scab to finally be picked and rid of, a moment of bittersweet pain and so, so much relief.
She could hear her cursing outside, as the key wouldn’t turn, and then the clatter of a dropped phone. The door finally swung upon, and her target entered, distracted as she searched for cracks on the screen until the door creaked shut and darkness swallowed the entryway.
Clara watched the initial fear of an old, familiar dream seize her mother as she realized the blackness was too thick to see through. It was one that had plagued her for years before she recognized it for what it was, one she learned quickly to recognize. The visceral fear as she walked darkened, inscrutable landscapes was something she remembered well, betrayed by eyes that were useless in such absolute dark.
“What do you want!”
There was an undeniable note of terror in the other woman’s voice now, a shrillness that sent a delightful shiver down Clara’s spine. She was feeling better every moment her prey felt worse, and the echoing laughter grew louder as she allowed herself a moment to truly enjoy the experience.
Her laughter abruptly died as her mother turned and fled the room again, arms outstretched to try to avoid obstacles. With a capering leap, Clara took the shorter route to what she assumed was her mother’s ultimate goal of the staircase. The stumbling sounds of her progress confirmed her suspicion. As she crossed in front of the hall that led to the stairs, Clara knelt and stuck a leg out to neatly trip the woman, who fell with a cry. Standing over her before the front door, Clara grinned down as her mother turned into a sobbing wreck, curled about herself, and begged to be left alone. Little more than a looming silhouette, she crouched over her mother’s form and reached out, hands closing around her collar, and remained silent for a long moment, as the shrieks grew louder. They reached their highest pitch as eyes and teeth glinted in the darkness and hot breath hovered inches from her face; when her ears began to ring, Clara shifted her grip, pulling the fabric to secure a choke and holding it until the woman went limp.
“What, exactly, did you do to her again?”
“Nothing yet. Not really.” She followed a step or two behind as he hefted the unconscious body with disarming ease and began up the stairs. “Just...used atmosphere to my advantage. The heavy stuff comes later.”
Her companion smiled over his shoulder at her, oddly proud.
Normally she woke at that point, but tonight the dream continued. Voices floated up from the dark, agitated and loud, the half-remembered amalgam of a hundred fights between her parents. The shrill pitch of her mother always drowned out her father’s almost desperate tone, pleading with her to calm down, to be rational. Eventually the words resolved into an entire scene, one she had witnessed from a doorway, her mother pacing and her father sitting at the table, telling her again that they could find someone who could help. Bless his heart; her father had tried so hard. He had never condemned her the way her mother had, never ceased to acknowledge she existed, and never tried to force into something she wasn’t — at least not beyond sending her to a dozen or so psychiatrists. She had terrified them all one by one, and eventually he stopped making appointments, refusing to believe that the only solution would be to have her committed.
For his sake, she had begun to learn to be more careful and discreet when she hunted, and for his role in protecting her, he had never earned her ire.
“You weren’t anywhere near that house last night, were you?”
His voice held both hope and resignation, as if he was prepared for either answer but holding out hope for the better of the two options.
“She really blames me for this? I haven’t said a word to the woman since she took everything from you and we left. That was when I was…twelve?”
“Ten,” he quietly, pointlessly corrected.
“Oh. I’m sorry. It must have just felt like an extra two years got tacked on. You know how time flies when you’re having fun? Yeah, it stretches out when everything’s gone to hell.”
“How the hell do I catch the blame for this? Please, tell me how that makes sense.”
“Clara, I know how you can be...”
Her eyes flashed at him, hands tightening into fists. “You ‘know how I can be’? What’s that supposed to mean?”
He was obviously trying to dance around it, to find polite words and neutral phrasing. "I know how toxic that environment was for you. Which is why I took you out of it. But you never made it easy on us — me or your mother — with the way you like to...get even.”
“So you really think that after fifteen years of having absolutely no contact with her, I suddenly decided one day to go back and... carve a message in her mirror? What the hell does that accomplish?”
“Maybe you wanted to go back home.”
“Home? That house, that was never home. The tiny two-bedroom place we stayed in for a while right after she took the house and half your paycheck in alimony? That was more my home than that house ever was.”
The darkness lifted just enough, and instead of the man and woman that had been torturing her, there were two unspeakable things, one enormous, hulking, musclebound humanoid, and next to it simply a void. It roiled with motion at the edges, but beyond that was simply a dark place, its shape and size ever-shifting. The only constant about it were to two gleaming pricks of light deep in the shapeless horror, focused intently on one thing. The words, cold and poisoned, reached her somehow, though if she was hearing them or simply knowing they were intended was unclear.
You were right, you know. Right all along.
She tried to stifle her shriek and continue to press on, hoping she could escape the cramped room and find a way out. No matter where she looked or where she went, the dark cloud was always at the edge of her vision, seemingly inescapable. The smoky form could easily navigate the thin spaces between the shelves, and when she stepped into an intersection it was there, filling up any other venue of escape.
You were so sure I was a monster, mother. I just wanted to let you see the truth, at least once.
There was a roar from behind them, and heavy footsteps. Bookshelves began to go flying as Aiden joined the chase.
Are you happy you were right?
She took off again, and Clara watched her go. There would be no escape from the library. She’d claimed it as hers after getting locked in one night after closing and terrorizing the night janitor. The living room had been a childhood acquaintance’s, taken after scaring three girls to tears at a sleepover.
The door suddenly appeared at the end of a row of books, and with a rough sob and tears running down her cheeks, her mother staggered toward it. Clara paced her easily, staying just steps behind as they travelled the Burrow out of the library Chamber. It was a city street with fewer and fewer street lamps lit on it, growing darker as they led to the core of Clara’s Lair. There wasn’t so much a door leading to it as arriving meant an abrupt loss of footing in the dark. Without a floor, her mother tumbled down with a cry as she fell forever.
Welcome home. Clara relaxed in the unfathomable dark, comfortable in the embrace of the all-encompassing black. Wait for the pressure to crush you bit by bit. And be glad that he didn’t get the chance.
She waited a few more moments, grimly determined, until she could feel Aiden just outside her Heart. When she turned her attention to him he gave a grave nod, and she finally lashed out to strike the final blow. There was a dry snap, the sharp note of a voice suddenly cut off, and a low growl from the two Horrors sated by the final judgment rendered.
“Clara, I...to my face?”
She shrank from the disappointment in his voice, curling up on the couch.
He was quiet for a long time on the other end, the next thing she heard was a sob poorly masked by a cough and the sound of him wiping at his face.
“I still loved her, you know. At least the way I remembered her.”
There was cold finality in his voice, and she was quiet until he spoke again.
“Nothing else after this. This is the last time I help you.”
She nodded before remembering he couldn’t see her, and swallowed hard before she answered.
“Yeah. Thank you.”
Three short beeps and that was it. Aiden came to sit behind her, pulling her into his lap with little resistance. He understood enough about the unexpected consequences when things escalated, and how little her mind would assuage the sudden guilt now that her Horror was likely sleeping.
“It gets easier.” His arms tightened around her, and he ran a comforting hand through her hair. “Everything gets easier with time.”
Henry Duvall, 51, CPA, slept like a baby in the honeymoon cottage next to the newest and youngest Mrs. Duvall. He dreamt of that pleasant assignation a week or two ago, the third such in which he required his even younger personal assistant to bend over his desk for easiest access during a “working lunch break” taken behind the locked door of his office. She was crying — he liked it when she cried, it made her shake silently in ways that were even more enjoyable than just his ability to have her any time he wanted her, because she needed that job, needed it desperately. Her ex was never on time with the child support payments and her kid needed food, clothes, and medicine, and oh, that desperation and those tears did make everything so much better. But there was something wrong this time — something terribly, terribly wrong, something grabbing hold of him, something hard and sharp and strong that clamped down tight and pulled. He fell backward, fountaining blood down his thighs, all over his chest and belly, trying to gather up what was left of himself while that thing he hadn’t known she had, hadn’t even suspected, chewed and chewed and chewed
“I know who you are, Mr. Palladino, and I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“No? Really?” Something crashed outside — it sounded like the garbage bins out back — and Kevin reflexively reached for the window to make sure it was locked, then crossed to do the same for the front door and the patio doors.
“She’s keeping my kid from me, you know. The bitch cut and ran as soon as she could, got the court to declare me dangerous to her and the kid.”
Kevin pulled the sturdiest of his canes out of the rack — hardwood cored in titanium — and took the stairs down toward the lower floor to check the back and the music room doors. “Mr. Palladino, I don’t know your wife that well. I don’t know you at all. But I do know Samantha, and I will do nothing at all to endanger her, or to help you violate any orders against you, or force her to see you if that’s not what she wants. She’s a wonderful girl, Mr. Palladino.” The back door was locked with the key and the deadbolt, and Kevin crossed into the music room, reaching for the light switch. “She’s grown up to be a wonderful girl without you in her li—”A hand closed around his wrist and, before he could even begin to react, his bad leg was crumbling under the force of a heavy, well-aimed blow and the hardwood floor was rushing up to meet his face. The phone skittered out of his hand as he hit hard, every pascal of air driven out of his lungs by the force of impact, a hand knotting in his hair and slamming his head into the floor once, twice, a knee pressed into his lower back pinning him down. He tried to struggle, to get his feet back under him, to set some kind of leverage, and was rewarded with a coughing, rumbling laugh, like a piece of industrial machinery rolling over and a stench of boiling oil and searing blood so thick it made his head spin even harder.
“You’re tougher than you look. I’ll give you that.” The weight came off his back and he lifted his head just in time to get a good look at the boot coming at his face.
“Hurt? I’m not hurting.” Nicholas rose, a smile spreading across his face that had nothing to do with any of the emotions usually associated. “And I’m not alone.” He tapped his temple. “I’ve got all I need right here. I know what I need to do and I know how to do it. I can find the people who have to fucking burn any damn time I want. And now I have a pretty good idea where Lindie and the brat are so I can finally give them what’s been coming to them. I’m a little bit sorry they dragged you into it. You seem like a pretty decent guy for a—”
“Big talk, Eddie,” the woman said. “So much for punishing me.”
His vision returned. She lit a cigarette. The soft red glow illuminated her face.
He knew that voice. Even through sight blurred by aching eyes and hot tears, he could recognize her.
She was as tall as ever, a full head above him. She looked stronger, tougher. There was an aura of glory around her, a heaviness on Ed’s soul that he felt as he looked at her. It was a feeling he had experienced before, and one he had helped snuff out.
Ed had become used to looks of scorn, fear, and hatred. Sometimes he even welcomed them. That wasn’t how Mary saw him. She looked at him with pity, and he wasn’t sure how to feel.
His left hand swept across flames. Ed yelped and fell to the ground. He gagged on his dry throat. His head spun. He looked up at the sky. He saw light through the smoke and a dark shadow above him. He couldn’t make out its shape or size, but he knew who it was. The bird had arrived to snatch him up. The nightmare was ending.
He lifted his burnt hand to the sky. “Come on. Come and get me.”
Charlie called out for him. He sounded closer now.
“Just let ‘em take us, Charlie.”
Ed felt a sharp kick to his shoulder. The pain was a dull ache compared to his burned hand but the surprise was enough to make him sit up.
“We’re going back,” Charlie said. “Best chance we’ve got.”
Ed tried to say that they were close to the road, that they were going to burn no matter where they were, that it was all just a dream anyway and the bird was going to get them, but it came out slurred and quiet. Charlie said something in response, but he couldn’t hear him over the sound of a tree tipping over beside them. The tree careened forward and its branches caught in the burning canopies of smaller trees. The flames spat embers on the brush around them.
Charlie ran faster. Ed tried to keep up, stumbling over patches of dead leaves and branches. Charlie’s grip slipped every time he fell over, until all he was holding onto was his wrist. Ed steadied his footing but an upturned root caught his ankle. He fell on the ground face first. A new pain bloomed from his nose. He looked up to see an emerald blaze fall towards him.
“Ed!” Charlie dove over him. The burning wood rolled down Charlie’s back and Ed saw his face contort into a silent scream.
A trunk hit the back of Charlie’s head. Ed felt the entire weight of Charlie’s body on top of him. He didn’t feel him breathing. The fire tore through the back of Charlie’s shirt and spread over his corpse. Ed pushed him off and the world went black. Then he was awake again, rising into the air. He was on a stretcher attached by cable to a helicopter. Two paramedics were with him. They pumped clean air into his body. Everything hurt.
They reached the helicopter and one of the paramedics motioned to the pilot. They flew away from the smoldering forest. Ed hoped that Charlie was on board somewhere, but after they wheeled him out into the hospital, all that he saw come out of the helicopter were body bags.
“I believe you,” Mary said. Ed saw the bloodlust in her eyes vanish. The Great Fire Bird felt his surprise. It flew back to him and perched on his shoulders.
“Something is wrong with us,” she said, “and I’ve been trying to stop it.”
The Great Fire Bird screeched into Ed’s ear.
She deceives! The great and awful light spreads within her! She seeks to snuff out our fire!
Mary reached out for Ed’s hand. “But now I know how.”
Attack! Kill! Hide! Flee! Run!
“You don’t have to do this,” Ed said. “You…we can walk away from this.”
Their hands clasped. “I don’t think I can,” she said. “And you just won’t.”
Mary’s grip tightened as he tried to pull away and the Hero’s look crept into her gaze. “I can’t walk away but I can end this. It’s all so simple, Eddie.”
He stepped out of the moonlight. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he saw their target. She kept her eyes on him, even though he was over a foot taller than she was. She was in rumpled, soiled clothes covered by a winter jacket made for an adult man. Her curled black hair was flat and matted with grease.
She couldn’t have been older than thirteen.
He grasped her shoulders and pulled her close. “Look at me!”
She saw him. Not the twenty-something grasping her, but the Beast within, the Great Fire Bird that spread fire among the fields and brought blessing and doom in equal measure. She felt its blazing glory and Ed saw the girl’s flesh singe. The warmth was overflowing. It was time to pull back now. He’d tell her to run. Ruth didn’t need to do anything direct to feed, so she’d just block the girl’s path. Morgan would probably scream one last threat at her and Anatoly would make sure she kept far away.
“Run,” he said, “Run away and never come back.”
The girl threw herself off the landing. Her neck twisted the wrong way when she hit the floor, and then she was still. Ed felt three things in succession: the instant feeling of being comfortably full, the Great Fire Bird falling asleep, and then numbing fear.
“I told you to stop!” Ruth said.
“I...” Ed began.
“Cop cars on the move!” Anatoly yelled. “Let’s book it!”
Ruth grabbed Ed and pulled him out of the warehouse. The girl’s corpse never left his sight until they were well beyond the warehouse door. The rest of the brood didn’t say a word to him on the ride back to town. For now, he was the only human among monsters.
All they had to talk about was each other. Mary told Ed about the failed semester at college and the nightmares that came after. She told him about seeing monsters, and all the horrible things they did. She told him about changing that, about repairing lives, finding lost objects, and comforting the abused, all while she lost her apartment and her father died of cancer. She told him about the nightmare that pushed her over the edge. A girl fell to her death, pushed by a bird made of fire.
Ed told her about his last nightmare, about the bird of fire that ate his soul and made a nest in the empty space. He told her of the creatures he had known and the worlds he had seen. He told her about feasts and famines. He told her about the duty that the Dark Mother tasked his people with and everything else Ruth had tried to teach him. He told Mary about what she had told him when they were out of their broodmates’ earshot; about the cycle of Beast and Hero and how it wasn’t always that way. Ruth said that with enough time and understanding they could shift the tide back to a better time, when no one had to die.
No minds changed and no reconciliation occurred.
Mary hunched over her left knee. She had a firm grip on it, like she was trying to hold it together. Her eyes shut tight. “Well?” she asked. “What are you going to do?”
Anatoly yelled, “You see what happens when you screw with my family?” He wasn’t anywhere near them, and that gave Ed great relief.
“I’m going to save you,” Ed said. “We’re going to go home, and we are never going to see each other again.”
More trees fell. Ed helped Mary up.
“But you’re going to promise me, Mary, that you’re not going to kill anyone. That you’re going to keep helping people, no matter what. Because it works, it really works, no matter what you’re telling yourself.”
She looked at him as both man and prey. “Can you promise me that, Eddie?”
He saw her, standing alone and afraid in a forest that had no place for her. A trespasser. The Great Fire Bird hungered. Ed shut his eyes to block out the sharp pains of starvation. He heard Mary pick up her shotgun. The sound of falling trees was around them now.
“I can’t,” he said.
A pause. “Then I can’t either.”
She fired. His shoulder burst apart. Ed shrieked and it echoed through the trees like a birdcall. He kneeled on the forest bed, panting and sweating. He hadn’t bled since he was Devoured, and the hot blood darkening his shirt seemed to make up for lost time. He heard Mary reload.
He looked at her with a flat expression. Ruth’s eyes widened. “Ed.”
“I couldn’t promise Mary anything. I didn’t kill anyone else this time, but I came close.”
“Ed, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I cut a man. I cut him for sneaking into his job at night, because I knew it’d get me a step closer to putting it to bed. I cut his ankles and made him crawl for help.”
She reached for his hand.
“I didn’t feel guilty, Ruth. Not about that. Not about that night. Not about anything.”
She held his hand tight. He squeezed her hand and smiled sadly. “When you were first showing me around, showing me who I was, we’d meet these Beasts who’d kill people without even stopping to blink,” he said. “That’s what it was like, Ruth. For a moment, I understood what it was like to be them. And that’s why I need to go.”
“Is it jammed?” Jesse asked. From the other side he thought he could hear voices, maybe a man and a woman, it was hard to tell through the thick darkroom door. He repeated the question, louder this time, but if there was any particular response he didn’t hear one, just more indistinct talking. Jesse shivered, and with a sense of growing confusion realized the handle was cold in his hand. Had it been that way when he grabbed it? He felt like he would have noticed that. It was cold outside, but the heat was on in the building.
He let go, turned to walk away—
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, fine.” Jesse turned back, grabbed the handle and put his shoulder to the door. There was a moment’s resistance, but then the door flung open and Jesse stumbled after it into the darkened room. At first he figured the dim red light was simply par for the course in a darkroom, until he saw what was emitting it, and had just enough time to wonder who had put up torches in a classroom before the many things that were one was upon him. The door slammed shut as Jesse began screaming.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
The two women were standing in the basement hallway where Jesse had died only a few weeks earlier, staring at the last door he’d opened. The college had reopened the room in the week after the “tragic accident,” but now that the two women were close enough to it, no supernatural senses were required to feel the otherworldly chill emanating from the room. Sam stood across the hall from the door, hands on her hips and a disgusted, almost offended expression on her face. “You didn’t sense this before?” Becca asked.
“No! I mean, I haven’t been here in,” Sam paused to do some math. “Well, let’s call it a while. I got bored of art, figured I’d give it a break for a few years. Fuck!” She slammed her hand into the wall hard enough that Becca winced. “I’m getting sloppy.”
“Not to twist the knife,” Becca began cautiously, “but this is way, way older than a few years.” She pointed at the door, and then gestured around them. “This has been here since before all of this was built. Now something’s breaking and it’s coming apart.”
“Yeah, well, this? This is news to me.” Sam felt an absurd urge to attack the door itself and reined it in. She was already hungry. She hadn’t had a proper feeding since she noticed Becca following her around, and the bad mood that accompanied a lean time was only getting worse. “Seriously. I haven’t got a fucking clue what’s going on here, but I’m going to find out, believe me.” She felt the blood running down her palms and a feral smile crossed her face. “Nobody hunts here but me.”
“I don’t think anyone is hunting,” Becca said. Seeing Sam’s sideways look, she explained. “I mean, yes, whatever’s down here killed that guy. But I don’t think it’s a person, or even a thing. I think this place is hunting.”
“What, like … an Amityville thing?”
“Well, Amityville was a hoax,” Becca corrected reflexively, “but yeah, if it was real, I’d say something like that.” She put a hand out toward the door, feeling the chill intensify as she got closer. Even the gate under the old hanging tree back home hadn’t been this powerful, and that had set her heart racing just passing by. This gate, whatever it was, felt like standing too close to the bass speaker at a concert — a constant, low-level thrumming in her bones. “I did get some research done before I ran across you,” Becca said, pulling her hand back. Her fingertips looked bleached, as if she’d plunged them into a snow bank. “You know this was the site of the college founder’s original residence? I mean, it was the president’s house until the ‘50s, then it burned down and they had another building in mind for the president’s residence, so they put the new art building on top of it.”
“So, what, are you saying people died in the fire or something?”
“No, not like that. That might cause a haunting, but not this.”
“Was he like some sort of weird occultist or something?”
Becca frowned, considering. “Maybe? I don’t know how you’d create something like this on purpose. This is a real Avernian Gate — a gate to the Underworld –— but it’s been modified, somehow.” Becca gestured vaguely at the doorway, trying to find the right words. “Most gates are locked, one way or the other. Otherwise, people would just wander in and out of the Underworld, living or dead. That’s true here too. As strong as this gate is, believe it or not it’s still locked. Well, mostly.”
“Damn.” To Sam, the large, vaulted chamber looked like a man-cave designed by Aleister Crowley — tall shelves stacked with books, black candles burning in elaborate brass candelabras, rich carpets the color of pooled blood spread across the floor, even some overstuffed chairs with suspiciously textured leather. A fire blazed in the hearth, though no heat emanated from it, just waves of bitter cold.
The Devourer might once have matched the room better or so said the tatters of its suit, but it had bloated past human proportions, swollen skin bursting out through straining seams. Its face was a puffy mess of flesh devoid of any recognizable features aside from its wide, slobbering maw, which had distended to stretch almost the entire way around its head. What sheltered form of immortality it had grasped at had come at a steep cost. At the sound of their intrusion, it raised itself up on ponderous legs and gurgled at them, waving its fleshy hands in an unmistakable gesture of outrage and surprise.
“I’ll come back and check on it later,” Becca said. Her skin was losing its metallic sheen, and fortunately, whatever sort of ectoplasm passed for the thing’s blood and tissue had evaporated on crossing through the gateway. In a moment, she looked herself again, just an unremarkable college girl. She paused. “Do… do you want to check it with me?”
“What, are we a team now?” Sam asked. She meant it to be sarcastic, but to her surprise, it came out straight, and to her greater surprise, she found she didn’t mind. She’d just learned there was a whole side to her campus she didn’t know, for one, and for another she’d started to admire the fearless girl who thought herself shy. Becca was blushing; about to apologize it away, but Sam squeezed her hand to stop her. “I’d like that.”
“Really?” Becca smiled. “I thought you had this territorial thing going on.”
“Well,” Sam said, “territory’s not just the place. It’s the people.” They made their way slowly up the stairs, arms around each other’s shoulders.
Zhuangzi, the great Taoist philosopher, once dreamed he was a butterfly, lazily fluttering about his garden on a spring evening. Upon waking, he couldn’t tell if he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. That story never used to bother me before I learned that dreams are real. I don’t have the luxury of doubt. I struggle with my own version of his dilemma with one big exception. Zhuangzi dreamed of something beautiful, and I dreamed of a monster.
I felt the Hunger rear up in my bones, my head, and my heart. Under all the noise, I heard the monster Start to hiss and growl. I thought with all these people around, that I’d be okay. Yet again, I’m wrong. Breaking into a cold sweat, I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the growing sense of fear that swelled within me. All these people, all so close. I hadn’t been to a show in so long. Not since I realized the truth about what I am. Not since the monster. Too many people all crowded in. Too close, too real. How stupid of me to come here.
“Just tell Bec that I’m here. She wants to see me. I guarantee you.”
The bouncer scoffed. “Sure she does.”
“Open the door,” I said. I also screamed it, the sound reverberating around the man from all angles. Reaching into his mind, I unfurled my wings and bared my teeth. I was everywhere. His face contorted and his whole body shook for a moment. Sweat began to pour down his forehead.
I reached past him and grabbed the doorknob. At the first hint of movement, he slunk away into the corner, his palms flat against the walls, his mouth still hanging open. The other patrons went about their business unware of my actions.
It seemed like a simple conversation to them.
Dinner is served. I hadn’t intended on feeding. I just needed to get past him. The Hunger abating as ferociously as it had arrived, I breathed a slow, contented sigh. The monster’s desperate craving sublimated into a newly strengthened sense of focus. “Thank you,” I said. The bouncer, gasping for air like a waterlogged swimmer, held his head in his hands and dropped to his knees. Colin following behind me, I walked through the door. We moved down a hallway decorated with faded old playbills on the walls. A single, uncovered light bulb hung from the ceiling and quietly buzzed.
“Excuse me, Bec? I need to talk to you,” I said.
“I was wondering if I’d get to see you,” she said. “Come in.”
Bec dismissed her bandmates, who left through the rear entrance to smoke and stow gear in the van. She motioned to a ratty couch. “Please, sit down.”
“My name is Sally. This is Colin.”
“Nice to meet you. Did you enjoy the show?”
“Fantastic,” I said, trying not to gush too much, “but I think you know the real reason I’m here.”
“I do,” said Bec, beaming for a moment. “You’re family.”
“You’ve been alone this whole time?” She asked. “I met Colin pretty soon after it all happened, but I’ve never met someone like us.”
Bec nodded. “I’m sorry. Some of it is instinctual, but it must have been overwhelming to cope with all that by yourself.”
Colin said, “I tried to help Sally the best I could, but I don’t understand how any of it works.”
“I’m sure you played a greater role than you realize,” said Bec. “The Uratha and the Begotten are both descended from the Dark Mother. We’re cousins, you might say.”
“How did you know what I am?” he asked.
“I’ve met your kind before.”
“Feeding must have been a problem,” she said. She studied me intently. Like a bug on a pin? No, like a fine painting hanging on a museum’s wall. That was it.
I finally caught what she said, and a wave of vertigo hit me. All the memories of the things I did to feed the monster. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of.”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty. People need to feel that kind of fear from time to time, or they get too complacent. You said you use the word ‘monster’ to describe what we are. Do you know where that term comes from?”
“No,” I said.
“It’s derived from a Latin word meaning ‘warning’. That’s what we do. We warn them of all the dangers in the world. We teach them what to fear because that knowledge saves lives. It shaped civilization.”
“But we hurt people.”
She cleared her throat. “Back when I first realized the truth, I was lucky enough to find Victor. He helped me figure this stuff out. Let me ask you what he always asked me when I would doubt. What does a shepherd do?”
“Guides the flock?” I’d never really been around sheep, so I was guessing.
“That’s what I said, too. Yes, but how does he do it?” I could see in her eyes that she had a specific answer in mind, but I didn’t know what.
“I don’t know. I guess he shows the sheep the right path to take?”
“Wrong. A shepherd shows the flock where it shouldn’t go. If a sheep tries to stray of the path the shepherd shoos the wayward animal back to where it needs to be.”
“For its own good,” added Colin. “That lamb would be doomed out in the wilderness.” He seemed like this made sense to him. It was a little unnerving.
“Exactly,” said Bec, smiling at him. “We are what they need. You can’t simply tell them because they don’t understand the words. Not really. Oh, they’ll know, but what they need is to feel. Deep in their hearts. Deep enough that they’ll never forget or rationalize it away.”
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“You terrify them. You put so much fear in them that it creates a watershed moment. The kind that divides their lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’.” Her eyes
“You mean traumatize them,” said Colin, crossing his arms. “That’s pretty cold.”
“It’s necessary,” she replied. “People need this. They long for it. Why do paying customers watch horror movies or ride rollercoasters?”
I cleared my throat and shifted on the bench a little. “Well, I was going for the role of Titus, who—”
“But you’re a girl,” she said.
I shrugged. “My dad taught me to always go for the best roles. Even if you don’t fit the role, directors like actors who show off with the heavy parts. Besides,” I said, grinning, “I feed on the shock of the audience.”
She was grinning too. “Yeah, I could see that being really cool. Walk out on stage, everyone’s wondering who you’re supposed to be, then you shock them all as you do…whatever it is Titus does. That’d be cool to see.”
“Yeah, well,” I said, distracted by a slight growl in my stomach. “I guess; I should get back to memorizing it then.”
She frowned. “Aren’t actors supposed to practice their lines out loud?”
“Well, yeah, but I don’t know where I can do that, and I don’t want to look crazy, reading to myself” I said, shifting back to read.
The girl stood up. “Well, c’mon then, I know a place that should work.”
I felt a little warm. “Nah, you don’t need to.”
“A trade then,” she said. “You give me a performance; I give you half of my lunch.”
My stomach roared at that. Traitor.
“Is that a yes?”
There was something disarming about this chick. It usually takes me a month or two to make friends. But even with her poking and prodding, I felt at ease with her. Hell, I was kind of intrigued at her sticking around despite my being a jerk. Not a lot of people just go up and start talking to strangers.
“I guess I can be blackmailed into it,” I groaned. I stood up and followed her into the school.
“You are not enough,” the wolf said, the cavern turning it into a chorus of spiteful growls.
I didn’t have breath to waste on an argument. Instead, I pulled myself inches ahead through the water, shivering in cold pain as I tugged on the ribbon at my fingertips. The tunnel continued to curve ahead of me, and I wanted to say I wasn’t anywhere near the end. But I wouldn’t. I always made my way to the wolf’s jaws inevitably, but tonight, it was going to be my choice.
“Your promise is already betraying you,” the wolf snarled. “If an immortal hand could not free the world for two, what hope can your failing form give us?”
I fumbled the ribbon in between my fingertips for a long time, slowly wrapping it around and around until I was decently tangled up in it. I dragged my head up, and took a breath just in time for the water to surge up. I gagged and sputtered, and I swore frost was spreading over my lungs as I gulped quick, small breaths. I went for another deep inhale, and pulled myself forward, cringing as I tore up my belly along the sharp rocks. I reminded myself of the wolf chewing on me night after night after night, my throat crunched, my femurs stabbing out, my rib cage collapsing. That thought filled me, and I screamed as I threw my other arm onto the ribbon.
I knew why it was happening. The wolf was trying to escape the ribbons and the cavern, but it wasn’t strong enough. All it had to eat were scraps, the unwilling, the unaccepting-people who were nothing but empty calories. It kept drawing me in, but like an audience, it kept eating faces I wore, and never the real me. If it kept going like that, it would stay trapped forever. The wolf didn’t get the idea, though, and so it would keep gnawing on me every night. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I wasn’t going to let the wolf keep drawing me back in night after night until it finally realized it wasn’t filling itself. I would not let it control me like that.
“Bright as your defiance is, you are bound as deeply as I. Your flesh binds you to the world that bars your dream. Your fate is sealed.”
I started fidgeting the ribbon around my other fingers. I could barely get them to twitch. I wasn’t going to stop until the wolf was free. I wasn’t going to stop until I was free.
The wolf laughed, long and loud, genuinely pleased. It sounded cracked, like faint faith grated a throat used to cynicism.
“Fulfill the oaths, then. Become all that I am and free yourself from this cycle.”
I tore the ribbon apart, anticipating the inevitable. The great wolf who had been stalking me for the whole year finally lunged and snapped me up. I could feel my bones lance sharp and hot out of me with each bite, before I plummeted down its throat. We opened the eyes of my body and looked frantically around my bedroom, and I felt the truth as the Hunger raced through my bones — my nightmare was always who I was. It was my soul. I was its body. We were one.
“So, what exactly did you have in mind for letting me make up my test grades, professor?” Wendy said with a perfect tremble. A little nervous, a little depressed, flat enough for resignation, but strong enough for false hope. What I’d do to convince her to take to the stage.
“Well, business is a serious major, Wendy,” Mr. Prescott said, his dark voice flowing with a layer of velvet I’d never heard before. “Quite frankly, to give you a chance to continue on at this point in the semester would involve me breaking some rules.” That was creepily effective on a lot of emotionally manipulative levels.
“So, I can’t just work hard over the weekend on re-taking the tests?” Wendy whined slightly, some lost fight with fake panic.
“Well, I know one way you can work hard to make up for this,” he nearly whispered. A second later, there was a bump and scrunch, and some uncomfortably silenced sounds. That was as much of a cue as I needed.
The wolf within reared back, and I broke through the door with my elbow. I spun in and took a shot before the teacher could even turn around. The Polaroid slid out neat and easy, and I shook it as I bounced around the edge of the office to the stammers of Mr. Prescott. Yep, that was his red-sleeved hand at Wendy’s crotch, and his chiseled face smashed against hers all right. A wave of nausea rolled through me, making my muscles itch all over and the ache in my bones pulse.
“So, not only hacking, cyber-stalking, and academic discrimination against female students, but sexual assault too,” I growled, waving the picture up in the air as he stammered and shambled away from Wendy. “I think such atrocities should be shown to the world, don’t you?”
“Absolutely,” Wendy said with devastating sensuality as she rolled of the desk and strutted over to the front door. “Let’s start an exhibition here. Pin that one up on the shelves, I think that’ll look nice.” She smiled brightly at Prescott, and I swore he was staring into Heaven’s judgmental light as he fixed his eyes on her.
I stole his attention back by sweeping my arm across a bookshelf with such force that the pages flew apart from their covers. He jumped and yelled, like that would make a difference this late at night I placed one Polaroid there, and then reached into my bag and started sticking up the photos we stole from him of each lesbian he had raped.
Half an hour later, Wendy started rubbing my back stiffly. She hadn’t forgiven me yet, and she wasn’t quite sure why I was so shaken. She wanted answers for why I did it, why it hurt me now, and why I didn’t think about how she would feel. She wanted to know why I was selfish.
But her hands still went up and down my back, and she didn’t say anything. That was her punishment-to let me choke on self-loathing as she saw to our relationship first where I had not, and to burn as she showed me the flaw behind that feeling still playing second to the despair binding me.
“My bones still ache,” I said, sniffling. “No matter what I do, no matter how I fill myself, I still can’t stop it. I just hurt all the time, down to the soul, and even when it falls asleep, I still hurt. I’m broken, and I don’t even know why or how.”
Her hands stopped, for a second. Then she pulled me onto her lap and held me, resting her cheek on my head, stroking my hair with her fingers. I felt her bitterness at that answer. I felt her hatred for how I hadn’t trusted her when she told me that we would find out how to fix that together. I felt her disappointment that I placed my problem over her plans for our larger work tonight. I could feel her every dark emotion about this.
But I tasted her sympathy for my confusion. I smelled her compassion for my pain. I could hear her acceptance of my self-loathing. I knew her caring for every loss I had coursing in my veins. Wendy had hope for my growth the way prophets had hope in their gods, and she was dedicated to making us work.
“We’ll find a way,” she said simply, saving everything else for when I was more composed. “If it takes another decade or ten, we’ll make you whole.”
In that moment, I believed in her love more than anything, and I hated that my bones ached with emptiness.
She knelt down and dug her talons into my wrists. “How could you beat the crap out of Mike and wreck his chambers? I thought you gave up on that vampire’s bullshit, that we were going to find an actual answer, that—”
“I found an Incarnation,” I said quietly.
She stopped, blood draining from her face.
“During the show in Vegas, I met a dragon named Shen-Lung. Not like us, not a nightmare in flesh. He was a nightmare made flesh. Incarnate. I heard he was there from some travelers a few months ago; the show was to check it out. He hunted me down, and I could just feel it. Even as I ran, he was...whole. Complete. When I escaped him, he caught up and I asked him about it. He told me it felt like an aching emptiness, bone deep, before he achieved it, how he finally felt when he Incarnated, and I knew — I knew — I had to try it. And Wendy, it’s true. The myths of Incarnation are true, and they’re what I’ve been missing. I feel it, I know it.”
I really wanted to. My bones didn’t hurt, but looking at her face, contorted and lost, it didn’t matter. She was right, Mike would forgive me, and from there so would everyone he knew. It would take Wendy time, but I could go with her and continue acting for her events, fighting bigotry and having fun, and slowly make up for everything.
I almost could have swallowed that.
I handed her the key. I had tasted a larger world, and I couldn’t go back.
There weren’t any other words between us. I’m not clear when she left. One second she was there, and then only the aching emptiness. I got up, trying to think of who wouldn’t have heard the news, who I could devour before the walls started coming up.
Titus had lied to me. When you didn’t have any tears left to shed, there was no laughter. Only the Hunger remained.
I glared at her. “No.”
“This isn’t a discussion, Robin. It’s a jury council.”
She put a gun in my other hand. I was stunned, and she guided the barrel to her forehead in that moment.
“What are you doing?”
She was maddeningly calm. “It’s judgment day. I can’t abide you hurting family for your pain, and this is my punishment for you. You can stop everything you’re doing, or you can get everything you want. But you’re going to stop hurting family like you did Mike and the others.”
I couldn’t stop shaking. I was frozen to the spot. If I overpowered her and ran, she would punish me the only way she thought would work. I saw that in her eyes. But I didn’t want to choose between the two.
My bones ripped at me, splinters of pain and confusion racing through my thoughts, my blood, my being. I felt like ribbons were binding my heart, my throat, my hands, my feet so tightly I would be crushed by them if I didn’t get out. I couldn’t choose. It wasn’t right, I should just be able to take and win and be, I shouldn’t have to be bound to this!
My stomach roared, and my bones joined in a chorus. Their song pierced me, hot and angry, want so intense it threatened to devour itself and I could only scream in fury, only hide in myself by curling up and closing anything that might get in.
The gun went off.
I watched as she fell, her head splitting like lightning, and I fell to the floor as my world broke apart. I fell and I drowned and I died. I screamed, and cried, and rolled through oblivion, trying to kill this moment, trying to wake up, trying to find comfort, trying to escape these endless tunnels. I only found darker ones.
“I think she got the idea,” said a young boy with a nasal voice. “Can I go now?”
I rolled over and blinked my eyes clear.
There was a scrawny, awkward kid sitting where Wendy had lain dead, sticking bits of skull back over his brain as blood raced back inside. And near the stairs, there was Wendy, tired as hell, but alive.
Wendy glared at the boy. “Yes, vampire, now get out of my city. If I see you again, there won’t be a scrap of you left to find, understand me?”
Her words clicked in my head, and I felt frail. I hurt all over. I curled up on the altar, and I rutted through how helpless I felt.
You are not enough.
I was so close. The chase for Incarnation had been hard, but each soul I wrecked made the world that much vaster, and at the same time brought me closer to satisfaction.
What hope can your failing form offer? Your promise is already failing.
I was so close. I could almost reach out and grab it if I wanted to. However, I couldn’t reach past her. She was too wide a chasm for that.
Your flesh binds you to the world that bars your dream.
I didn’t want to give up. I was so close. I felt like I could stop hurting. I felt like I could be something in this world, if I could just overcome this one obstacle. If I just wasn’t bound up like this.
She stopped near the stairs. “Yeah?”
Fulfill your oaths. Become all that you are and free yourself from this cycle.
I hesitated, gripping the gun.
“Thanks for feeding me.”
“I think Sparks — I mean, Stephanie — is starting to notice me,” said Nadia, straddling a chair backwards in the dining nook. The glass of the closed window muffled the cacophony from the garage below the apartment, and it faded to white noise from long familiarity for the three throngmates.
Corazón shoveled a huge mouthful of canned beef stew into her mouth and then talked around it. “It's okay, you can call her whatever you want. Not like she's here to argue.”
“No, the point is to call her whatever she wants.” Nadia looked down at the table, hunched over the chair's back. “She gets to choose her own name now.”
“Anyway,” Nadia continued, “she ordered a really big coffee with extra espresso.”
“Mm-hmm.” Cora gestured at the two Prometheans with her spoon. “That means—”
“No, don't tell me,” Prin interrupted, adopting a thinking pose with one hand on hir chin. “I know what it means. It means…” They waited. She's in a bad mood. She didn't sleep well.” Hir raised eyebrows turned it into a question.
“Thank you all for being here tonight,” said the woman at the microphone. “As you know, we've gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of one of our finest officers, Detective Kelly Anderson. Let's give her a round of applause!”
Kelly stood in front of the room, smiling, as they all clapped.
“We've put together a slide show to showcase all of Detective Anderson's wonderful achievements,” said the emcee, gesturing to a projector screen. A flickering picture appeared there, like a still photo from an old home movie, of a bruised and beaten college student's corpse. “Take this aggravated assault and murder case, for example, which she never solved!”
Another round of applause. Kelly wasn't smiling anymore.
The picture changed. Now, a woman and her son lay side by side in matching coffins. “And this double homicide, the perpetrator of which was never caught despite the hate group that claimed credit!”
Everyone cheered. Kelly opened her mouth to protest, but the sudden glint from the emcee's badge seemed to warn her off, saying you have no voice here. You don't matter.
“And this next one — oh, who am I kidding,” said the woman, grinning now in the fitful light of the projector. “Why don't we be honest with ourselves? Detective Anderson isn't worth the paper her resignation will be printed on!”
The applause became laughter, filling the room. The glint wasn't coming from the emcee's badge anymore, but from her teeth, which seemed to elongate more and more the longer Kelly looked. “Why don't you just die?” the emcee roared, taking a step forward as a huge, hairy brute burst from beneath her skin, foaming at the mouth. “Then your murder can go unsolved, you pathetic has-been!”
Nadia hovered, hoping to be noticed without speaking, but no such luck. “Hi,” she said eventually.
Stephanie looked up, pushing her bangs away from her face. “Um. Hi.” She smiled belatedly. “Can I help you with something?”
“No, not at all,” said Nadia, and then paused. “I mean, yes.”
“Oh,” Stephanie said, her smile bemused now. “Well, what is it?”
“It's…” Nadia cast around desperately. Her hand came up, still holding the book. “It's this book,” she said hastily. “I don't understand it. I thought you might.”
Stephanie's expression changed several times, but Nadia couldn't identify anything in it. Then Stephanie said, “Sorry, I'm pretty out of it, I haven't been sleeping much. I don't think I can help you.”
“Is something wrong?” said Nadia.
“Nah, not really.” Stephanie shrugged, then chuckled. “Just some bad dreams, that's all.”
Nadia didn't see what was so funny about that. “Bad dreams? Like what?”
“Like, bad dreams, I dunno. Something about a clock? Or was it…” Stephanie looked down at herself, her chest, her arms, turning her hands over as though they were unfamiliar. She took a long sip of coffee, rested her forehead in her hand for a moment, and then glanced sidelong at the Promethean. “Look, I have to go.”
“Oh. You do?”
Stephanie stood up and clutched the cup to herself like a security blanket, or a weapon. “Yeah, I do,” she snapped. She brushed past Nadia and went out the door.
Cora sprawled on her back across the hood, her long hair splayed out over the shiny painted surface like corkscrew graffiti, and dropped the wrench with a clunk. “Maybe she's just remembering stuff.”
“No! She can't!” Prin glanced between them in alarm. “It'll ruin everything!”
“Who says?” Cora challenged hir. “Who says she shouldn't remember?”
“I say,” Prin's jaw clenched. “If it is you, you'd better stop.”
“Oh, you say. What the hell do you know? When was the last time you were human?” She cupped a hand next to her ear. “What's that I hear? Never?”
The Promethean stepped close to tower over her. “I may not be human,” sie hissed, “but I know more about you than you think. I know that thing that lives inside you won't rest until you've ripped the wool from her eyes and destroyed her life. I'm not going to let that happen. Do you hear me?”
“What life?” Cora bared her teeth in a sneer. “Bills by day, Netflix by night, no family, no friends — if you ask me, it's worth destroying.”
“Good thing I never asked you.”
Cora's hand shot up to grab Prin by the collar and pull hir down until she could smell hir breath, like tea and ashes. “She'd be better off here where she belongs and you know it,” she growled. “People are weak and miserable. She's not. She's one of us.”
“No,” said Nadia, stalking over to wrestle the two of them apart. “She's not like us anymore, Cora. I tried to talk to her, she practically ran away from me.”
“You talked to her?” Prin turned on her, aghast.
“Yes, and it was a mistake. Are you happy?” Nadia shoved hir back, sending hir stumbling. “You were right, we were wrong. Just the way you like it.”
“I don't —”
“We should leave.”
“What do you mean, leave?” said Cora.
Nadia gazed out at the setting sun. “Leave New York. Go far away. I think we need to…I think I need to let her go.”
“Like hell.” Cora slid off the hood and snatched up her wrench. “None of us is going anywhere.”
The Prometheans watched her storm out of the garage. They watched the sun go down. They wondered whether she was right, and whether they could afford her being wrong.
Through the eyes of her Horror, things were not as they should have been. She wasn't in her Lair, but instead stalking a grand concert hall with high vaulted ceilings that vanished into darkness above. Up on stage, a frail little shape sat at the piano, playing to a metronome's beat. The music sounded feeble and tinny by comparison to the monstrous ticking of the metronome, pounding like the rhythmic fall of a judge's gavel. She passed empty row after empty row. She silently climbed the stairs to mount the stage. She raised one razor-sharp claw, ready to tear the false flesh from the pianist's bones to reveal what was really underneath.
Something alive prowled the shadow of a spindly city tree, but only for a moment. That shadow was the door that led Cora into the pitch black of a bedroom, two stories above the street where the tree's sad dead leaves scraped the pavement in their windborne quests. She was the presence of the darkness. She was everywhere, she filled the room. The darkness said, "Sparks! Sparks, wake up."
The woman in the bed stirred and opened her eyes, then clutched her blanket close to her chest. "Who's there?"
"It's me, Cora." The voice sounded affable, but the darkness was total. "We were friends, once. We can be friends again."
Stephanie's eyes darted back and forth across the room, seeking a figure, a target, something to run from. Nothing. "W-where are you?"
"Just calm down and think back. You remember last year, don't you? When we went to Coney Island, and you made me take you on the Ferris wheel, and we got stuck at the top and Nadia tried to climb it? And we got thrown out?" The voice laughed. "You remember, right?"
"What?" Stephanie didn't dare get out of bed, but she reached toward the bedside table with one hand, fumbling around. "I dunno what you're talking about, leave me alone!"
"We never should've left you alone in the first place," said the darkness. "Your name's not Stephanie, it's Sparks. You're not even human! You're a machine, a living machine who can think and feel and loves pancakes, don't you remember me?"
"No! Get outta here before I call the cops!" Stephanie's hand found the lamp. She groped for the switch.
"Don't do that," the voice warned. "Please, Sparks, listen! We used to stay up all night together watching old horror movies! You'd ask me what was supposed to be so scary and we'd eat hot dogs right out of the fridge and —"
Light flooded the room and chased the shadows out. The darkness vomited up a woman who stumbled back, squinting. Stephanie stared at her. “I don't know you,” she whispered.
“Yes, you do!”
Stephanie threw herself off the bed and bolted for the door. Cora's hand lashed out like a whip and seized her by the hair, yanking her back and dragging her toward the full-length mirror. “You don't believe me?” Cora sneered. “I'll show you what you really are! Look!”
In the mirror, Stephanie saw her reflection flicker and change. The lamplight shone dully on the gears and bolts that made up her body. The metallic casing of her skull, frozen in a vacant grin, held two LEDs where her eyes should have been. In the center of her chest, a chrome mechanism ticked out an artificial heartbeat, sickeningly regular. When she screamed, it sounded like an electronic squeal, like radio feedback. “Now do you remember?”
“No!” Stephanie struggled and kicked, but Cora's grip on her hair held fast. “No! Let go of me! Please, please…please stop…it's not me, it's not!”
“Fine.” Cora's face contorted in a scowl. “If that's the way it has to be.” She slammed Stephanie's head into the closet door. The woman collapsed in a heap, a trickle of blood smeared on the wood. Cora ran a finger through it. It was blood, not oil. Cora turned and flicked off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness once again. She crouched beside her erstwhile broodmate, and the room swam.
The tingling in her limbs meant that something was wreaking its havoc, and she knew she wouldn't be alone by the time she walked into that apartment. She'd heard the rumors about this neighborhood, seen the reports: weird incidents, nonsense complaints that couldn't be corroborated, one teenaged girl begging to be admitted to the hospital's psychiatric ward. The monster and its cohorts had shown their true colors one too many times around here, and now these people would get the chance to retaliate, thanks to their protector. The call to arms was her birthright, too. Just like her duty.
“Oh, hell,” said Nadia.
“Maybe we can reason with them,” said Prin. “But given our track record with Cora's enemies, I doubt it.”
“Hold it right there!” the officer called out. “I know you're working for the monster. Surrender now or we will open fire.”
“Working for her?” Nadia called back. “Where you do people come up with this stuff?”
“This is your last warning,” said the officer.
“Prin,” Nadia murmured quietly, “get out of here. Go find Stephanie and Cora. I'll handle them.”
“Are you sure?” Prin glanced at her.
“Don't worry. I have a plan. I think.”
Prin's face was a mask of clear skepticism, but sie nodded and vanished as soon as sie reached the limits of Nadia's light. Nadia turned to give the crowd a smile. “Well, you came all this way, I wouldn't want to disappoint you.”
The officer — Anderson, Nadia saw now on her nametag as she came closer — smirked, hooking a finger around the trigger of her pistol. “You have no idea what your boss is in for,” she said. “You think I would come here with just any weapon? This Beast-killer has been in my family for generations. Every bullet in it has your master's name on it. Move aside and she'll be the only one.”
“Sure. I'll move aside.” Nadia stepped to the edge of the platform and dropped down. The third rail hummed. She didn't know whether electricity in the Lair would act like normal electricity, but she had no time for experimentation. Anderson and her posse cautiously peered over the edge to see what she was up to. She grinned up at them and stepped onto the third rail. The power of Pyros coursed through her, filling her nigh to bursting. “Come and get me,” she said through gritted teeth, her voice raw with fire, the industrial staples holding her mismatched parts together revealed as her light burned with blinding intensity and the tunnel filled with sparking current.
Anderson fired and hit the Promethean square in the chest. Seconds later, the bullet pushed itself out of her skin and clattered on the track. The policewoman gestured for her people to back off, and followed her own advice. “Find the monster!” she yelled.
Nadia yelled back without words, leaping up onto the platform. She landed swinging.
Stephanie flinched back, but Prin held on tight so sie could speak close to her ear. “It's all right! I'm here to help you!”
“What a hero,” said Cora.
Prin looked up to see the ghastly creature looming on top of the outcrop, silhouetted in a lightning strike. “Corazón!” sie shouted. “Stop this!”
“That's la Corazón to you.” The monster bared her teeth. “Destroyer of lies.”
“You want to talk about heroes?” Prin pointed back the way sie'd come. “There's one out there with a small army looking for you. You're lucky Nadia decided to keep them busy.” Sie reached up with a hand, as though sie could grasp Cora's from here. “You do still care about Nadia, don't you? I know you're in there somewhere.”
“This is what you never understood about me, Prin, even with all your poking and prodding.” She spread her arms. “What stands before you isn't 'the thing that lives inside Cora’. This is me. It's always me, it's always been me.”
“Fine,” Prin barked, dropping hir hand, “but leave Stephanie out of it! She fought hard for the life she has, don't take it away from her!”
“I just want her to remember!” The last word came out as a furious roar, exploding with a gale force that threatened to tear Stephanie out of Prin's grasp and send her flying. Prin flung hir arms around the human and rearranged hir Azothic radiance into a shield to shelter them both, glad it was too dark for her to see hir withered face.
“But she refuses,” Cora shouted down, as the storm smothered the echoes of her roar. “So I'm going to take her apart, clockwork piece by clockwork piece. And when I crush that chrome ticker of hers, she'll wake up and she'll know. She'll come home to us.”
“This isn't right!”
“Ask Nadia if she cares about what's right!” Cora's hideous features contorted with malice. “Look at you. You'll never be human. The way people feel isn't about right and wrong, Prin! It's about what's in your heart.”
“It's not your heart that concerns me,” said Prin, putting hirself firmly between Stephanie and the Beast. “It's your stomach. So if you're determined to do this, you'll have to get through me.”
“Stop!” called a voice over the rain.
Cora looked up. Detective Anderson stood not thirty feet away, leveling a heavy pistol and a flashlight at her. “You're not welcome here,” she snarled.
The officer didn't bother with banter or taunts. She pulled the trigger. Cora expected to laugh it off, but the bullet pierced her like an icy dart. Her muscles spasmed painfully. “What did you do?” she gasped.
“Nothing but my job,” said Kelly. She tensed to fire again, but something slammed into the back of her head and she collapsed, Probable Cause slipping from her grasp. Nadia appeared out of the gloom.
“Thanks,” said Cora, grinning.
“Don't thank me,” Nadia snapped. Her eyes fell on the pistol. She stepped over Kelly's inert body and picked it up.
“What are you doing?” Cora protested. “I thought you'd understand, of all people!”
“I understand just one thing.” Nadia slowly advanced, keeping the gun steady even while her voice shook with rage. “That cop said this weapon is a Beast-killer. That's all I need to know.”
“Nadia…” Prin smelled the rising bile of hir throngmate's Torment, drowned in her breathtaking passion, and fell silent. Sie was in no shape to pull Nadia out of this now. It was too late for Cora. Too late for the throng.
“You're going to kill me?” Cora's voice rose to a hysterical pitch. “Nadia, we're family! I just want us all together again!”
“I don't care what you want!” Nadia's eyes were wild in the lightning's white-hot light. “You think I don't miss her? You think I wouldn't give anything to have her back? You selfish bitch, you have no idea what she went through to get here, and I am sick and tired of your entitled, hypocritical bullshit! You are not one of us! You never were!”
“Nadia, wait —”
The gunshot was louder than the thunder, as was the one that followed, and the one after that. The Horror toppled in dreamlike slow motion. Nadia had nothing else to say. She stomped over to Stephanie and grabbed her wrist, pulling her roughly to her feet. The woman had no argument and offered no resistance, letting the Promethean yank her away into the darkness.
The woman in the shadows wasn't a nightmare. She was real. She was real, and every time I turn off the light now I think I see her. I threw out my watch. I bought a nightlight. None of that got rid of the dreams, though. They're just different now. Not nightmares so much as distant pictures behind glass, and if I lie still for a while right when I wake up, I feel sad. Sometimes I wake up crying already.
I miss her. Somebody. I don't know who, but I wish she were here.
“This place is a shithole.”
“A townie shithole.”
Dav and Galen aren’t wrong. The place in question is a townie bar, run by three generations of Stowes, frequented by three generations of Colebridge residents. Usually, we’d drink over at Jana’s place, or bring our booze to the park, but she’d wanted to come out tonight and this is where the cheap drinks are. That, and Jana’s hungry. She’s kicked back in her chair, eyeing the regulars at the bar the way some people eye a dessert tray. When she shifts, I feel her shoulder brush mine, even though we’re a foot apart.
Jason sits hunched over his beer, trying to make himself small as possible next to Jana’s bulk. He didn’t want to come out tonight, though I know he has to be hungry. Every time Jana’s laughter booms out across the bar, he flinches. Her laugh draws attention, and even though Jason and I are technically townies, too, he doesn’t want to be spotted. His family and mine have lived here a good three-quarters of a century, but small town bullshit means some last names are more important than others.
“That was you.” He spat.
“…Wait…” She croaked, and coughed, trying to clear her throat.
He reached across the wall to the mantelpiece, still keeping his eyes on her. Like I could turn on him at any moment, she realized. His fingers found his wand among the mantle’s clutter.
She’d laughed when she’d first seen his wand. Made the obvious jokes. Double-entendres. She’d played with it yesterday, until he’d irritatedly snatched it back and put it up there. An instant of hurt pride, soon forgotten.
It was a lot less funny when he pointed it at her like a weapon.
“If I ever see you again. If you ever try anything like that again on me or mine—” His rage was cold, controlled.
“Hal… Wait… I don’t… I didn’t…”
“—I will end you.”
“You’re back” He croaked.
“You’re getting careless, Vance. Someone’s going to notice you.”
The other Beast let out a single harsh laugh.
“They came in here. Looked right past me. The only one who knows is you, and it’s because we’re the same.”
“We’re nothing alike. I feed in this world, and I leave them alive—”
“You’re in denial.” He snorted. “Still swallowing what your Devourer told you about lessons.” The last word was a mocking sing-song.
“She also said that if our Horrors fed in the Dream, the prey only suffered a nightmare. You’re killing them. Needlessly.”
“Safer this way. No one left alive to be a Hero and come after me like they came after her. You learned every lesson except the one that killed her.”
She took a deep breath, felt her Horror’s restlessness, irritated by the arrogance.
“Vance, please. You don’t have to kill them. A few roofies in a bar and you’ll be just as fed.”
“And open myself up to getting caught.”
One more try.
“It bothers you because you want to join me. Because you know that I’m right. We’re not teachers, Dr. Tembhekar, we’re not human. We’re monsters. And we’re alike more than that — your fangs are just like my fingers. We both exist to be the fire in their blood.”
She shook her head. He gestured out at the night skyline, streetlights glinting below them, lonely figures of those still up walking past.
“Stay tonight. Maybe we’ll catch a meal together. If we both feed, we can link our Lairs, become a brood. You wouldn’t have to be alone, clinging to the nonsense Erica taught you.”
She backed away a step, and shook her head again.
“I can’t do it, Vance. I still believe in our purpose.”
As she reached the stairwell she paused, shaking. Vance called back to her.
“When you accept what you are, I’ll be here.”
She descended, and felt a mixture of fear and resolve growing with every step.
Not one more.
“I have to feed, Hal. My kind, we don’t have a choice about it. I’m a naga. I humble those who stand above the crowd. Now, I’ve arranged my life so I can eat a little, often. Athletes. Top-flight students. Bright young PhDs. Make them stumble a bit, prick their pride, and I can go another week or two.”
“You went back to university.”
“Finished my doctorate. I’m a postdoc now. Students everywhere, and reversals of success are not unusual. No one gets hurt. What happened to you is what happens if I don’t feed; the naga hunts for herself, but even then, it’s not fatal. Dangerous for me, but — and no offense — they get over it.”
“I said I’d help. You don’t seem overjoyed.”
“No— It’s… Thank you, sincerely, but, I have to ask… What are you?”
Najat raised her eyebrows.
Sandhya blushed, embarrassed, annoyed at Hal’s obviously enjoyment of catching her out.
“I can sense monsters, and people like Hal who are connected to the supernatural. Something about their souls, but you…”
“Oh! That must be because I don’t have one.” Najat said, matter-of-fact, and poured herself another cup.
“I don’t understand.”
Hal leaned back in his chair.
“Your kind are fueled by the basic fears of humanity.” He drawled. “What do you call it? ‘The Primordial Dream’? All the nightmares hidden beneath civilization, culture, and story. Najat here,” the mage nodded to their hostess, “doesn’t have a human soul. She’s got what some people call a Nahual instead.”
“I’m a cat,” Najat said.
Yes, it was me who decided to raid the big backlog of obscure, unloved CofD creatures and settled on Changing Breeds. And I'd do it again, I tell you.
“You’ve got an animal’s soul? Like I have my Horror?”
“Deep in the human soul,” explained Hal “there’s a barrier, a boundary between humanity and the soul of the world, the animals, even the stars. Your Primordial Dream clusters around that boundary like… like rock pools after the tide’s gone out. The animal parts of the human race, where the monsters live. What you’re sensing is that Najat lacks that boundary. She’s a daughter of nature, in harmony with her animal nature. You’d find, if you tried, that your Nightmares slide right off her. And that’s how we’re going to bait him into our trap.”
“Your motives. You said we’d address them later, and now’s later.”
She closed her eyes, thinking.
“He’s abusing his power. He kills the people he feeds from.”
“So we’re going to kill him in turn?” He did not sound satisfied.
“It’s not the way we behave. We have a responsibility, a purpose.”
“You’re doing this in service of some higher power?”
“The Mother put us here to teach people that — okay, what?”
He didn’t reply for a moment, choosing his words.
“Have you heard of Peter Childs?”
“He’s famous for something?”
“Reality TV star, went to prison recently for a massive drug binge. His behavior wasn’t just down to fortune; it was his fame that possessed him.”
“I’m not seeing the relevance.”
“His fame literally possessed him, Deeya. We don’t know how it got through into material reality, but the astral embodiment of his celebrity took him over. Drove him to greater and greater excesses, feeding off the notoriety. It’s gone now, exorcised, but his life is ruined.”
Her Horror shifted.
“I’m not possessed, Hal.”
“Technically?” Her voice rose, in warning. Hal shrugged.
“No, and neither is a Sin-Eater, but you are to Childs as they are to people ghosts take refuge in. ‘A higher purpose’? You, Vance, you’re both Goetia with delusions of grandeur. There’s no Primordial Mother, no higher purpose behind what you are. You’re the astral embodiment of a particular fear, no more, no less.”
He stopped, watching for her reaction. She tried to get hold of the rage steadily filling her, knuckles turning pale as she made fists. He spread his hands, conciliatory, but all she could think of was how fake the gesture looked.
“I am not saying this out of spite. I’m saying it out of concern. This man has breached your moral code, and for that you are going to punish him. That’s fine. That’s what all justice is, in the end. But when we do this tomorrow night, you owe it to yourself to be honest about it, and go in with a clear mind.”
“Get out.” She said, quietly.
“Take this advice, if you take nothing else. The best murders are premeditated.”
Hal sat down. Najat paced back and forth behind him, keeping him between her and the water.
“You had to have an argument with her the day before we put ourselves at her mercy, didn’t you? It wasn’t tense enough for you.”
Hal gritted his teeth.
“I didn’t mean to.”
“No, you were just you. Look, you like her. It’s obvious you like her.”
“I like a lot of people.”
“Not that kind of like. Have you considered maybe she’d like you back if you didn’t score points off her all the time?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“You haven’t thought about it?” She repeated, disbelieving. “She’s perfect for you — nerdy, weird, can paralyze people by jabbing them, and best of all if you get too…” She paused, searching for the right word. “…Wizardly, her inner snake monster will murder you in your sleep.”
Halcyon didn’t respond. Najat turned to look at him.
“You already did, didn’t you?”
He glared down at her.
“I don’t want to talk about it”
The cat laughed.
“You did! You rode the snake!”
Vance snarled, swiping the air with his claws. One passed uncomfortably close to where she actually stood, hidden by the illusion Hal had cast on their way in.
“Have you ever seen a cat catch a spider?” Hal asked, amused.
Najat, ignored while Vance focused on the humanoid prey, suddenly lunged, shifting into her hybrid form as she did so. Her claws stabbed into Vance’s back, and she opened a surprisingly wide mouth before biting, hard, down on his vulnerable neck.
Vance shrieked and jumped, trying to throw her off. Najat let go, black blood dripping from her claws and fangs, and grinned as he spun to face her. She jumped back as the Horror lunged, twisted to land on all fours with feline grace, and ran.
The Horror charged after her.
“You said we aren’t human. That we’re monsters. Other people,” she looked at Hal, who seemed ashamed “have told me, at length, that we’re just dreams. The thing is, we’re both. We are the nightmares of the human soul; we exist to remind thinking beings that their Bright Dream is fragile. Everyone tells me that I’m an idiot to see a purpose in that…but they’re wrong.”
She crouched, feeling the pressure of Hal’s spell keeping her from going to him.
“This is what’s beyond the Dream. This is what denying your humanity looks like. Some beings belong here.” She looked at Najat, who had become fully human, smiling wearily at her. “But we don’t.”
“Let me go. Please let me go.” Vance begged.
“No. I won’t. You can’t open a Pathway from a desert; there’s nothing for you to use. This place will consume you. I’m told that normally, once it cuts you down to the bone and you can’t hold onto yourself any more, you wake up like our prey is meant to wake up. Scarred, maybe, but alive.”
“That’s not going to happen, though” Hal said, matter-of-fact.
“My friend here has bound you.” Sandhya could see the realization in Vance’s eyes. “And when it consumes you, you’ll die. But don’t worry, Aaron. It won’t get that far.”
She pitied him now, watching him writhe.
“Hal will stay here to make sure you don’t get free, but I’m going to wake up now. I’m going to come to your library, stand over your body… and I’m going to feed. You’re immune to poison, just like I am, but I don’t just bite people. I drown them.”
She stood up.