16 February 2021

Fever-Dreaming in Marlinko, part 2

This is a game of Finders Keepers set in the city of Marlinko. The dramatis personae are:

  • Atiin Brigantia, a brilliant but lazy lunatic
  • Edward "the Wild" Bleestocles, a leper disowned by his wealthy family
  • Jacobin "Jackass" Valentin, a soulless bastard
  • Tadzio Checker, an estranged son of a powerful mage
  • Victory Alder, a young vampire

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Atiin's apartment, morning
Around seven o'clock, Atiin returns home and finds Jack fast asleep and an envelope slipped under the door. It's the floor plan of the Golden Swine Undercouncil Hall.

"Riiight! I forgot about Jarek and the trophy. We should really see about that..." Jackass says over the breakfast.

"Hey fellas! Guess who just joined a cult!" Edward shouts as he flings the door open, Tadz trailing behind him. Both display cross-shaped blood stains on their foreheads.

"DAY'UM Eddie," Jackass grins. "Let me guess - was it you?"

"You know it. Once we finish this trophy business, I promised to drag some heretic's reputation through the mud."

"Sounds like a worthy cause! I personally could never see myself joining a cult - too much effort - but the blood cross looks good on you. You too, Tadzio!"

"We should wash it as soon as possible, though," Tadz replies. "I'm pretty sure that the first orthodox Solarist who sees us walking around with these will be quick to report us as heretics."

"Right, right," Ed frowns, "good idea."

"You smell nice for once, Edward. You should keep the blood on," says Victory, emerging from another room. She's clothed in a fancy black dress and surrounded by cigarette smoke from a cig in a long black holder.

"So what are we up to?" she adds.

"We need to steal a trophy for no money to keep our kneecaps (and looks), and then I need to besmirch a specific heretic," Ed helpfully provides.

"Interesting," Victory says. "Oh, and Atiin? The landlord was here earlier. Kept knocking on the door, saying that rent is overdue."

"Shit," Atiin replies. "Well, I might have an idea for that, at least..."


League of the Free Handed HQ, late morning
The whole gang makes their way to the Golden Swine district's north-eastern section. The amount of slum shacks and beggars lining the streets is rapidly increasing, and while not a new sight for anyone from the group, it is always striking how sudden the scenery shift is from their neighbourhood to this dreadful state of affairs.

Placed on a slope next to the Square of the Bog Haruspex is the headquarters of the League of the Free Handed - the most poorly kept secret in Marlinko. The building looks like a pile of rotting wood; all askew and falling to pieces, really. To the regular Marlinkan, it manages to be an imposing view nonetheless, for it is from this building that the feared One-armed Jiří rules over the town's criminal underbelly.

Two bouncers with arms crossed lean against the wall next to the main entrance. State-your-business-or-fuck-off kinda deal.

Atiin approaches them: "Hey, we're looking for some work. Know anybody that owes your boss and we could help collect?"

One of the bouncers grunts in response, opens the door and shows the gang in. They walk through narrow, shadowy corridors. Behind most doors, bits and pieces of conversations can be heard, aplus one heated argument that quickly degenerates into insults and furniture-crashing.

The bouncer parks everyone before a tiny little office crammed with all sorts of papers and books and writing implements. Sitting behind a desk that occupies nearly the entire room is a massive individual dressed as a bureaucrat, but the outfit is at least one size too small for him. It's a bespectacled, muscle-bound, middle-aged man, and he looks dead tired. The doorplate on the office door reads Tiny Tomáš.

"Came looking for work, like debt collecting or something," the bouncer says and leaves.

The huge man stares at the gang and takes his time to speak: "Here's the thing. As crucial as regular repo jobs are for numerous reasons, and to us especially from a PR point of view, we at the League are prioritizing slightly different venues."

He drops a pile of files on the desktop. "Several of them are really variations of repossession claims, but far more lucrative. We call them 're-appropriation indulgences', you see. Short version is: instead of pressing the people who are contractually obliged to restore a given sum or goods to their rightful owner, but resist to do so for one reason or other, we go after said thieves and charge them with a trimestral fee that ensures that we will not be bothering them, for a while, about said contractual obligation which they have acquired relative to a third party. For an additional symbolic fee, we can also provide protection from said third party taking punitive measures towards them. As most of those appropriated items are far more valuable than years worth of our fees, most of them keep paying us instead of returning the overdue sum or item."

He pushes the top file over to your side of the desk: "This fellow, for instance. Steelpike the Younger, he is called. He's taken a map for a job he was hired to do for Fraža, the Curio Dealer. Thing is, he's never finished the job, never came back to Fraža. He just vanished and pocketed the map. It's been six months. Two days ago, one of our associates has spotted Steelpike in town. He's probably staying at the Drunken Troll inn. If you want a quick and easy job, I can pay you one hundred gold total. All you have to do is get this guy to pay us his five hundred gold fee so he can keep his damn stolen map."

The gang quickly agrees, but then has to submit to a tedious process of filling in membership applications and signing contracts. This involves posing for hours as an artist draws their portrait that must be included with the documentation, then getting a stack of forms-to-be-filled dropped in front of them.

Many more hours later, they are good to go as the newest members of the League of the Free Handed, one of the most solid and most legally confusing institutions in Marlinko. They even get new papers identifying them as initiate members.


The Drunken Troll inn, evening
"Have you seen this man?" Victory asks the barkeeper, holding up a portrait of Steelpike they were given.

The innkeeper silently stares at the picture, then stares at Victory. He stays... silent. And goes back to drying glasses and cups with a rag.

"Tadz?" Vic tries, "Would you please give this fine gentleman a token of our appreciation for his cooperation?"

Tadz shuffles behind Victory: "I mean, I'm kinda broke too, Vic. And dad's cut my allowance," he taps his pockets. "But maybe if we show him our new credentials?"

Ed pulls out his papers and says: "Look, sir, the faster you tell us a negative or a confirmatory answer the faster we can all leave."

He sighs, drops his rag on the counter and answers in sign language.

Which no one among the group knows.

And neither do they have a pen and paper.

And the regulars are just watching them with mocking grins.

However, Victory takes out a vial of an off-white, lambent liquid and pours two shots, then pushes one in front of the barkeep and downs the other one.

"This should let us have a chat," she motions towards the potion.

The barkeeper takes another look at the League papers, then at the crowd now expectantly watching him. He gulps, gives Vic a meaningful, concerned-for-my-own-life kind of look, and drinks the shot.

A whole lot of conflicting thoughts gets jumbled together in their two heads at first. It takes a second for them to tune into a viable frequency. They exchange a few misfired thoughts initially, until each of their minds gets used to its interlocutor's thought patterns.

His mind's voice is prickly and dry. It smells like fresh mortar for some reason.

I don't mean no disrespect to the League of the Free Handed, he thinks. This guy has a room here, for sure. Second room on the left, just upstairs. Paid in advance. Spent a lot of money on my finest brew, the Radegast's Dark. He's been in contact with a foreigner, never seen this other guy before in my life.

Would you be able to describe the foreigner? Vic wonders.

The barkeeper thinks of this tall, thin-boned stranger. He wears a veil and a hood. Odd choice. He is pale, a bluish kind of pale. Victory sees many fragmented images of the stranger in her mind, although it is uncertain whether those are the innkeeper's memories, or whether he's actually just quite vividly imagining the foreigner. Perhaps it doesn't really matter. The result is clear enough.

"Thank you for your cooperation, I will be sure to mention you in positive light in my report to superiors," Vic says.

While Atiin and Jack mingle with the patrons and Ed with Tadz head outside to keep an eye on the passer-bys, Vic goes upstairs and knocks on Steelpike's door.

"Open up, we're here on an official guild business!"

There's no answer, not even a peep, and the door is soundly locked.

Meanwhile outside of the inn, Ed and Tadz can only stare as out of the blue, the very same pantsless, tattooed barbarian who passed out in front of them yesterday decides to enter the Tomb of the Town Gods.

No one has ever pulled such a stunt before.

That strange building had been there for centuries before Marlinko was even a settlement. Huge taboo-braking going on right there. People are all about it, watching in awe, but no one is stopping the barbarian. As people in the Drunken Troll get the news, they flock outside to watch as well - the inn, after all, sits at the very edge of the Tomb Plaza.

Nobody is paying attention to the inn entrance.

Inside, Victory returns to the taproom just in time for someone matching the description of the foreigner to enter the bar. He sports this weird veil and hood over his head. And his skull appears to be elongated at the back, kinda pointy.

The strangely bluish man approaches the innkeeper and asks him: "Greetings. I look for lodger. Called Steelpike. Is there?"

"Excuse me, sir?" Vic addresses the alien, "I couldn't help but overhear that you are looking for Mr. Steelpike? Funnily enough, I too am here because he arranged a meeting with me. Unfortunately, he didn't yet show up and frankly, I am getting a bit bored of waiting."

The stranger raises an eyebrow - his features are easier to make out beneath the veil, standing as close to him as Vic is right now - and says: "Steelpike not say there is other meeting. You let me ask name?"

"He did not mention you either," she gives the man a tight-lipped smile. "Victory Alder, pleased to meet you, sir... ?"

"Yes, pleased. My name Xoxx."

"I am sorry to pry, master Xoxx, but you don't seem to be from around here?"

He seems to grow slightly impatient. "N-no... not from... here. From... other town. Bad... Rajetz?"

Of course, his accent is everything but a Bad Rajetz accent.

Someone from the street sticks her head in and loudly announces: "The pantsless guy did it! He's broken in!"

"I haven't had the opportunity to travel, so I must say I'm quite intrigued! Tell me, what is it like in Bad Rajetz? Have you liked it there? Any place you would recommend to visit?" Vic continues to snoop with the friendliest smile.

"Y-yes... Bad Rajetz... very... good." He looks around nervously.

At this moment, Steelpike walks into the tavern.

"You're not gonna beli-" he stops himself as he sees the stranger chatting with Victory in the nearly empty room. The innkeeper's pathetic attempt at looking chill probably factors in as well.

"Well hello, Mr. Steelpike," Vic smiles widely, showing off her long, sharp fangs. "We are already waiting for you. Would you like to join us?"

Steelpike turns pale: "Wh- whu- wha- what is this? Who are you? Whu- what d'you want?!"

"You have something that doesn't belong to you, Mr. Steelpike. The League of the Free Handed doesn't look kindly on such things, especially if they were not informed and properly reimbursed. But we shan't discuss these matters here, shall we? Why don't we go somewhere more private, and we can find a way to reach a mutually beneficial agreement?"

Steelpike freezes in place. For the time being, at least. "I- I- don't know what you're t-talking about! I- I- I'm no thief! I'm an- an- an explorer!"

"Exactly, and we would like to keep it that way, wouldn't we?" And Vic motions for him to follow her upstairs.

Xoxx says: "I think I go now," and disappears from the inn as quickly as possible without running.

As Xoxx leaves, Steelpike casts a desperate look to him, which the stranger ostensibly ignores. Jack and Atiin are standing by the door, smiling. Defeated, the man walks with Victory to his room.

"My superiors have sent me to you, Mr. Steelpike, due to your exploration contract with master Fraža. The League is concerned about you defaulting on said contract and disappearing with the map that master Fraža provided to you, and we will, unfortunately, be forced to inform master Fraža about both your presence in Marlinko and your dealings with master Xoxx." Victory smiles especially widely, once again flashing Steelpike with her fangs.

"However, we are not unreasonable and we fully understand that unforeseen circumstances can lead to a certain shift in priorities. We even offer... let's say protection to our clients who have found themselves in need of freeing themselves of past contractual obligations. For a fee of only seven hundred and fifty gold, the League can help you maintain your so far secret presence in Marlinko and provide security against any punitive measures that master Fraža would take towards you, should he found out about you. The question now is, Mr. Steelpike, would you like to become our client?"

The man says nothing as he unlocks and lets her into his room. He opens the dresser, plunges his hand into a backpack, produces a pouch and quickly closes the dresser.

"Here is your money," he says, handing Vic a little bag full of coins.

"I do believe there's no need to count the money, is there," she says. "Thank you, Mr. Steelpike, the League of the Free Handed is glad to count you among its clients now. I will be your agent, so feel free to contact me. Good luck in all your future endeavours."


The Golden Swine district, morning
The next day, the gang pays a visit to the League headquarters again, to report a job completed. They also hand over the five hundred gold they were supposed to obtain, receive their payment and get their papers stamped. Tiny Tomáš seems quite happy with their quick, incident-free success.

While everybody is cheered up by their newfound funds, Jack, Edward and Tadz are starting to get antsy about the whole steal-a-trophy-tonight-or-loose-your-kneecaps quest imposed upon them by Jarek.

See, people in Marlinko are very much into horse racing. The Great Race is the most celebrated event every year. It also provides the occasion for the districts to enact their everyday rivalries in a more civilized framework. The Golden Swine district has been winning the Great Race for the town gods know how long, and all of their trophies are stored in the Undercouncil Hall.

The Sullen Apiarian district, on the other hand, has been losing the race for ages now. They may be the richest quarter of Marlinko, but they sure are known all around as the butt of many jokes involving horses and swines.

Jarek lives in the Sullen Apiarian. The Great Race starts tomorrow.

The gang idles in the streets and talks about the way they should approach this for a long time. They also notice the new rumour circulating among the people of Marlinko, about the pantsless barbarian who went into the Tomb of the Town Gods and remained there. No one else dared to follow him.

Eventually, a stall set on a dreadful little corner next to a foul-smelling tannery catches their eye. A sign (ineptly) placed to its left reads The Five Blades - Exotic Novelties and it holds all manner of... well, blades.

"That is a hefty price to pay for two daggers, old man," says Victory to the blacksmith when she notices the prices written in chalk by each weapon. "I do like your craft, but still..."

He mumbles something in response to the remark, but nobody can understand him.

A robo-dwarf  standing next to the stall clarifies: "Master Ondřej says that he is sure that he has crafted at least one of these blades with unusual materials gathered in the Weird, which would result in a superior performance and, perhaps, an additional (and, as of now, unpredictable) functionality. Unfortunately, he cannot remember which weapon has been endowed with such features, so he raised the prices of all of them just to be sure. He apologizes for that and promises that he will do his best not to tax his customers for his own stupidity next time."

With that, Victory and Jackass decide to spill some of their freshly gained coins on a pair of daggers and a rapier, respectively. Finally, Jack has a proper duelling weapon.

And while Edward disappears on a supplies run, everyone else goes to stake out the Undercouncil Hall.


The Undercouncil Hall, afternoon
Half of the Hall is devoted to a Temple of Revoc. Great copper fixtures thick with green verdigris decorate its exterior and its doors are wide open, with worshippers always entering and exiting the building. Its interior is vast, the ceilings a dozen meters high. On the far side, a massive statue of Revoc defiantly sticks out its serpentine, razor-bladed tongue as its hands are fixed in a gesture by which the god seems to incite an enemy to engage him in combat. At the icon's feet, people yell all sorts of insults to please their god.

The whole place smells of horse shit.

Jack shouts a few inventive vile invectives to fit in, then cusses out the closest person and asks if the temple has any events tonight.

That person happens to be the cutest old grandma with a handkerchief wrapped around her white head. She slams back without missing a beat: "THAT'S WHAT YOUR MOMMA TOLD ME LAST NIGHT, YOU FREAKING WUSS! REVOC BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, ASSHOLE!" Then, switching to a super sweet mode: "Not that I know of, dear, no."

"Thank you, you old hag! May Revoc whip you into shape."

Meanwhile, Atiin heads upstairs and confronts a guard stationed at the door to the Chief Undercouncilman's office.

"Hey! I heard someone calling out for help in that room over there! It sounded like a child! You have to help him!!!" he says in a frantic voice.

"Wait, what? Calm down, citizen. Tell me what's going on."

"There's a child locked over there, in this room!"

"Oh my! A child, you say? How did that happen?"

The guard fumbles for his keys and unlocks the room. With the door opened, Atiin manages to peek in. The interior has similar aesthetics to those of the temple, except that it is an obvious derivative at best. Plenty of frescoes on the walls seem to tell a story about how Revoc used his razor tongue as a whip on a bunch of barbarians and orkish people, so they would thrive in their journey through the Northern wilderness.

There is a mechanical horse in the very centre of the room, and a reinforced metal door to the north.

"I'm sure I heard something," Atiin mumbles.
"Well, sir, I can't hear a thing," the guard clears his throat and takes on a more severe look. "Now, why are you here again? Have you lost your child or something?"

"I was actually looking for a bathroom but then this happened! Goodness gracious! I even found a child's toy outside on the ground when I heard him crying for help." And he pulls out a set of nesting dolls, showing it to the baffled guard.

"Alright, pal," the guard says, "I think we have established that whatever you think you heard isn't there. Now move on. You cannot be in here."

As Atiin is on his way to the ground floor, a couple extra guards are moving up to join the other guy. The door to the Chief Undercouncilman's office open as well, someone demanding to know what is all this fuss about? But while the guard stutters an answer, Atiin is already gone.


The Slum Tenement, afternoon
Victory doesn't feel so sure about treading on a hallowed ground, but right behind the Undercouncil Hall, there is a particularly tall slum tenement, separated only by a narrow alleyway from the Hall's roof. Vic goes in there to look for a place with windows directly overlooking the roof and soon finds a suitable apartment, its door slightly ajar.

Inside, there are four stoned hruz-heads. Probably squatters. Two of them are passed out, the other two all tangled together. They are all filthy; the apartment as a whole has been trashed. An improvised stove and a crusty cooking pot bubbling with the remains of the hallucinogenic mollusc paste sits in a corner.

Slowly, Victory creeps closer, but the two addicts never stop making out.

With a great effort, one of them eventually steers his gaze in her direction. He flashes a stupid smile, but does not otherwise react. The other hruz-head is on top of him, being lewd. She says to her partner: "You're made of, like... mist... That's wild, dude."

Victory kneels next to her, winking playfully at the guy. Then she grabs the girl's hair and slits her throat, pushing her aside and stabbing the man in the heart. They both wheeze and trash about, but can't manage a single scream.

It's still enough, however, to wake up the other two addicts from their drug-addled sleep. They stare as their friends bleed out in front of their eyes, uncomprehending.

Vic pins one on the ground and opens his carotid artery, but the final squatter starts crawling away from her: "Y- y- you- UAAAAAAAGH!!!"

The hruz-head finds her footing and runs towards the door, but with a deft throw, Vic buries a second dagger in her back.

She grabs hold of the door, fights to open them, but her legs give in and she slides to the floor, struggling to breath and eventually failing.

Carefully, Vic tastes the blood spilling from their wounds. It bears a clear, pungent tang of the hruz paste. Not something one would want to drink before a heist.

Instead, Victory drains some of their blood into a vial, and pours the leftover hruz from the pot into another vial of hers. Then she drags the bodies into a sideroom and throws some rags over them.

With a roof access point secured, she goes back to the Undercouncil Hall, even more hungry now that her cravings were excited by the smell of freshly spilled blood.


League of the Free Handed HQ, late afternoon
With everybody else busy still nosing around the Undercouncil Hall, but having drawn too much attention to stay himself, Atiin decides for a quick visit to the League.

"Back so soon?" one of the bounders asks. "I don't recall Tiny Tomáš mentioning yet another appointment with you guys."

"Yeah, no. I came for some advice on how to deal with locked doors, y'know, discretely..."

"Tiny Tomáš is in a meeting now, but you can wait."

"Sure, sure."

After a little bit of waiting in the narrow corridor in front of the office, the door open and a bald, unassuming little man with a furry vest walks out, all business-like. He nods politely as he passes by Atiin.

Inside of the office, Tiny Tomáš listens to Atiin's request.

"Oh, that's serendipitous," he says. "I can arrange someone to teach you a bit about locks, but I might also have another job for you. Boss was just here telling me about this thing he wants to get his hands on. An axe. But it's dangerous. I'm not sure this would be wise. Maybe we should let the boss cool down his head. Maybe tomorrow he'll come by and say 'Ah, forget it. That's stupid.' You know what I mean?"

"He wants it done in a day?!?"

"What? No! Are you even listening? I'm saying I think we should let the boss sleep on it. You wouldn't want to break into Lady Szara's mansion, would you? I know I wouldn't. The Sun Lord knows how it would mess with Marlinko's power balance.

Basically, the boss says that the old hag Szara has something that belongs to him. An axe. Says that it belonged to his grandpa and that it is some precious heirloom. It's been stolen and considered lost long ago. Then one day  - just the other day -  the boss was paying Lady Szara a visit and he saw the axe! Apparently it was sitting there among her knick-knacks in the antechamber.

Boss tried to negotiate a price - He offered her a fortune! A fortune, I say! - but Szara wouldn't let go of the relic. So he came to me, put me in charge of setting up this break in. A team of our agents would sweep her house clean, as clean as they'd be able to. The axe would be taken, and it would look like a simple robbery, something unrelated to the boss. The agents would be allowed a cut of the loot, twenty percent to be precise."

"Quite the job indeed."

"Right. But as I said, let the boss sleep on this and if he'll still want it done and your crew would be interested, the job is yours. Now, about those locks..."

And Tomáš tells Atiin how to navigate the headquarters to find a storage room where Old Míla can show him the basics and gear him up. After an hour of paperwork, of course.

On his way back to the others, Atiin nearly bumps into Eliška. She's dragging along a dishevelled young man. His tailcoat is covered in wine stains, his cravat is loosened (more like hanging from his neck, really). His once-charming five o'clock shadow is beginning to look like a hobo stubble.

She also notices Atiin, but her poker face is flawless.

"Oh man, oh man!" Atiin rushes to the dishevelled man. "Littlest Pavol, it's you! Can I have an autograph? The guys aren't going to believe this!"

The booze spirits are keeping a strong hold on Pavol's tongue. It twirls and turns, trying to deliver at least one single word that doesn't sound like it comes from someone having a stroke. But to no effect.

"You will excuse my brother," Eliška chips in. "I'm afraid he's had too much... excitement this last night. Or was it three?"

Upon hearing this, Littlest Pavol smiles a proud smile: "Cold Hell yeah, Lishhh."

But she slows her pace.

"Oh my, well, right this way, sir..." Atiin props up Pavol, taking the weight from Eliška.

"Oh, there's no need, sir..." she says rather loudly, only to whisper: "Do you have anything prepared? I should be able to come up with a story once I get home."

"Um, kinda? We frame him for some depraved acts in this drug den a friend told me about, then we help him lie low until the heat dies down. He'll be gone for a while," Atiin whispers back.

"I hoped you will have something more dramatic for the kidnapping per se. It would help me sell my story back home."

"Ah well, maybe you are right. Here, when he sobers up tell him he met an agent that wanted him for some poetry gigs. I will think of something more dramatic and find him later."

She wants to say something more, but changes her mind. She takes over Pavol again and both are on their way to the Sullen Apiarian district.


The Undercouncil Hall, evening
Victory spends the rest of the day with the guards in the Hall's wing opposite to the Temple of Revoc. She engaged some in conversation, and soon found herself sitting in the guard room, listening to their stories and keeping an eye out for their patrol times, breaks and itineraries. And when there is a moment of no one paying attention, she empties her vial of hruz into their tea kettle.

Finally, the day shift is over and Vic approaches the guard who first brought her into the guard room.

"Hey, I know this... private place real close," she says. "Would you like to... hang out some more?"

"I'll be with you in a second, ya pretty thing. Just clocking out, gathering my things." And he can barely conceal his enthusiasm.

Victory leads him to the squatter flat.

"It's a bit of a mess, I know, but no one will bother us here."

With eyes all over Vic, he misses the still drying bloodstains on the floor. She starts undressing him, undoes the belt so that he has trousers around his knees, pulls his shirt over his head and tangles his arms in the sleeves. But this is no hruz-head, and he may be aroused and all, but he is sensing something off. He starts looking around.

Victory is hungry, though. She already killed today and restrained herself not to get all high before a heist. The blood in the room is getting to her. She is also aroused, in a sense, and does not want to stop.

She bites, and he swears and pushes her off, trips over his trousers and falls prone. Victory jumps on his back and stumbles for her dagger.

"We could've had a nice moment," she hisses in his ear. "Did you know that some people asphyxiate themselves just to get that rush of too little blood in their brain? It could've been just like that for you, a momentary pain and then a rush like you've never experienced. Instead, you chose to die snivelling in fear. Suit yourself."

The blade draws blood and he gurgles something in response. Blood spills over from his mouth.

"But don't worry, you can still die knowing you made a woman happy," she says and finally has a drink.


The Slum Tenement, night
Atiin, Victory, Jackass and Tadz are sitting by the windows, watching the lights in nearby houses slowly going out. The Undercouncil Hall is mostly dark now, except for the occasional flicker of a patrol's lantern.

"Hey hey, I'm back," Edward says, entering the flat. "I got some nice shoes! Good for tip-toeing. Didn't find no masks, but I got these dark robes here... And moustaches of course. Also rope and hooks."

He comes to a halt, taken aback by the thick smell of death and puddles of gore on the floor.

"Woahhh - where'd this blood come from? There a serial murderer about?"

"Don't worry about it, it's just bad neighbourhood," Victory smiles.

Edward blinks as the rest of the gang is staring at him.

"Come on, Ed," Jack makes a face. "How could you not notice that our Vic is a vampire?"

Ed looks from Victory to Jack and back.

"I just thought you were anemic," he says.

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