“It’s not just a machine. It’s a miracle.”
Thursday night, 18 October 2007, AM
GM: Codi still has yet to show back up. Emil imagines he could look at those mosaics, listen to Elliot’s stories, and read the books here for hours. The other slave notes as much.
“But there’s… actually something neat I could show you, deeper in the warren,” he ventures.
Emil: “Oh? What sort of thing?” Emil inquires, a fresh flame of curiosity flickering to life in his eyes.
GM: “You… you really have to see it. Explaining doesn’t do it justice.”
Emil: At that, peaks of flame gleam out the darkness in the centers of his pupils as his interest is piqued. Nothing’s better than a good surprise.
“Well then, by all means lead the way!” he expresses, scooping up his now zipped duffel bag.
GM: Elliot glances around, then walks up to one of the bookshelves and pulls out an unremarkable-looking book. Or at least, starts to. It doesn’t come all the way out. The shelf shunts to the side with a low whir, revealing a literal hole in the wall.
Emil: Emil looks at Elliot with the unbridled expression of joy that only a real life book lever could elicit.
GM: Elliot beckons him in, then presses a button on the shelf’s back. It slides back in place with another low whir.
“Pretty cool, right?” he chuckles.
Emil: “Oh yeah,” he agrees, still fantasizing about where he’d install one once he buys a house. Emil turns from the now closed door into the hidden chamber.
GM: It’s less a chamber than it is a rough-hewn tunnel. It stretches on into the gloom further than Emil can make out. The walls look like concrete, or maybe stone. There aren’t any lights that Emil can see. It seems strange, in fact, that he can see.
“I don’t think the Nosferatu know that I know about this place,” says Elliot. “But, well, eight years looking after the books. I found it by accident one night.”
Emil: “Ah that’s the trick of these book levers. A really well-hidden one can’t brute forced, you impose a required order of books to pull. Though, in a library this large, I guess they didn’t expect anyone unauthorized to try touch so many books.”
GM: “Yeah. I mean, it’s looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“A required order of books is smart, though. There’s still a random chance someone might pull that book, however small, but that chance gets exponentially smaller with even two in a specific order.”
Emil: “That’s locks for you,” Emil’s voice echoes as he drifts down the hall, feeling the cold walls with the gloved back of his hand. “To someone who knows there’s something to find, they’re at best a deterrent. That would make for a stronger deterrent though.”
GM: “Well, I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t do that here, I might never have found this place.” He walks deeper into the tunnel with Emil. It’s bare well for as far as he can see. “I’m not sure why it’s even here.”
Emil: “I dunno, as far as I’ve experienced, long, dark tunnels that arrive at special locations play key roles in the Nosferatu aesthetic.” Then again, Emil hasn’t seen very much beyond the first tunnel, so perhaps that’s a misjudgment. “Where else would you place it?”
GM: “Sorry, I didn’t mean why it’s here specifically. I mean why it’s even here at all.”
“But, let’s go. I never know if any of them are gonna show up while I’m in here…”
Emil: “I don’t want to get you in trouble, of course. But,” he says, staring down the seemingly endless hall, taken with the potential it holds. He frowns, though, at how clearly the hard walls are visible in the darkness. He glances around for a light source and sees none. “Where does it lead?”
GM: “Just… c’mon. You’ll see.”
It’s a long, long walk down the lightless tunnel. Emil can’t see the end, and after a little while, he can’t see where they started either. The pair’s footsteps echo behind them.
Eventually, they reach the end. Another hole in the wall surveys their surroundings, dozen of feet below:
It’s a cathedral-like cavern is as long as a football field and as tall an apartment building. Hundreds of columns stretch on and on and on for as far as Emil can see. It takes him a moment to realize it’s partly illusory, and the space is ‘merely’ as tall as a two-story family house: the lower half of the columns are actually a reflection cast in an enormous pool of water. The space is vast, eerie, and elegant, reminiscent of ancient Roman ruins.
“It used to be a drinking water reservoir,” Elliot whispers over the steady plunk of water. It’s less like listening to a drip-drip than to a low rainstorm: the enormous space must be making the sounds echo a thousand-fold.
“One of the city’s first. Built in 1926, holding 15 million gallons.”
“These days that isn’t actually a lot. Houston uses an estimated 500 million daily gallons now.”
“It was decommissioned after it sprang an irreparable leak. I’m not sure that leak was an accident. So it’s just sat here, ever since… for them to use.”
Emil: There’s an inherent question that leads to: for what? What does this place hold now that the water has receded? The emptiness is tangible, it sits stale in the slow-drifting air that cleaves to the lowered surface of the rippling reflection.
It’s like a vacuum. The void calls and its greatest wish is to be filled. It forces the closed open, forces what’s inside out. It leaves Emil’s jaw hung slack, and his eyes stretched wide. The air fills his lungs.
What does it bring out of them? What do you do with a room so utterly removed from its purpose? Removed of all but the columns which perpetuate the void’s existence.
“Why? What do they need this place for?”
GM: “That’s where it gets good,” Elliot whispers.
“They’re going to be here soon. All of them.”
“And… you’ll see. Like I said, you really have to see it…”
Emil: “What if they see…?” he starts, trailing off. “They’re not Kindred are they?” They couldn’t be. Not with him so eager to be around them. Unless.
GM: “Well, yes. I mean… who else would they be?”
“But we’re pretty far away. I just lie flat on the ground, to be double safe. They haven’t seen me yet.”
Emil: Unless they just don’t notice him at all. The place is so vast, and they’re so small. Silent flies on the wall. Just like looking through a camera, like watching a screen. The thought stems the deluge of his thoughts, loosens the tightness of his stance.
“In that case,” he whispers. Lowering into a seated position and patting the floor at his side, he adds, “Let’s get comfortable. We’ve got the best seats in the house.”
Thursday night, 18 October 2007, AM
GM: The pair wait a little while. Eventually, figures start to emerge from other holes in the walls. Emil can’t make out their faces from two stories up, but it’s obvious what they all are. Some are merely pale-faced, pointed-eared, and obviously inhuman, but not inherently hideous. Others are cursed with jutting fangs, knife-like claws, warts and boils, split lips and lazy eyes, hunchbacks and club feet, festering wounds and cleft palettes, scars and wrinkles: every defect and deformity that Emil can think to imagine is present among these elephant men and women. Some are small, twisted little dwarfs. Some are Emil’s size and build. Some are walking scarecrows or praying mantises, all gaunt lines and sleek cruel angles. Some are bloated like rotted corpses. One is so impossibly fat as to be at least as wide as she is tall, with layers upon layers of fat that look ready to spill over the floor in an adioposic tide. Codi is there among them. Some wear rags, others casual clothing, and some even don suits and formal wear, albeit with thick leather boots. There must be dozens of them.
They’re also wheeling in something on expansive, almost raft-like platforms to keep it out of the water. Emil recognizes what can only be the gray-black racks and cabinets of a supercomputer. There are dozens upon dozens of those tall rectangular blocks and veritable nests of cables and wiring. A transparent glass or plastic enclosure surrounds sections of the great machine with assorted vents and attached cables, circuits, and machines. Some of them have to be dehumidifers if they don’t want moisture to cause internal damage and corrosion to the computer’s sensitive components, but there has to be ventilation for all of the heat it must produce too. Emil’s heard of one supercomputer that produces enough heat to warm a university campus.
Several figures make guiding motions with their hands, as if to direct the other ones pulling the machine along. Those laborers look less ugly than their masters: some could even pass for normal. Minutes pass as they move the dozen-odd platforms bearing the supercomputer’s components into position around the cistern’s pillars.
Emil: The slow-moving gathering of these disfigured monsters assaults Emil’s insular cortex with a curious mixture of emotions, all heightened, all vital. It sends pangs of revulsion crawling beneath his skin, encircling his windpipe, and nearly triggering his gag reflex. No amount of vile internet filth could prepare him for the sight. But paired with that revulsion comes a heady aura of awe, potent with the legend that surrounds them. Each of the imposing figures are but leaves sprouting off centuries old branches, and those but twigs extending off the thickest of millennium trunks. Each and every one of them invigorated through capillary veins by the very same antediluvian blood. Nosferatu.
And for all that emotion, all of that impossibly old stems of blood that fill the room, that is all overshadowed to Emil by the machine they construct before him. This is their king, their tabernacle, carried in on a floating pedestal. It is untouchable. It is holy. And it is new, a marvel of modern engineering towering over the canopy of that vital tree.
Tulane never had anything like this behemoth. Stuck in the past. And yet these monsters, perhaps some even older than Tulane, hold the future in their hands readily.
The contrast leaves a great tension in Emil’s limbs, and he waits with bated breath for the mystery in that contrast to reveal itself, taking small moments to read Elliot’s face before flicking back to the construct.
GM: Elliot looks a little surprised.
“That’s new,” he whispers. “I haven’t seen them with a computer that big before…”
Emil: “That’s no mere computer,” Emil whispers back, his voice struck reverent. “It’s so, so much more.”
GM: “A supercomputer, right. Don’t they mostly use those for scientific research?”
“I’m not sure what the Nosferatu would be doing with one.”
Emil: “To call that behemoth a supercomputer is like calling the U.S. a superpower. To describe it like that demonstrates the sheer power of its output, true. But it hides the beautiful complexity the structure encapsulates. Each supercomputer is an electronic city, an intricate structure of hundreds of networked computers orchestrated to act in concert. Millions of workers fire faster than sound down the intertwined highways of cables, responding to calls to action made in any one of those metal towers. They turn on a dime, swapping destinations at the will of the puppeteering conductor called the scheduler. Every act, every moment, all towards enacting the living, breathing will of the city. And that will is to uncover, to reveal the unanswered. It’s the ideal city, unhindered by the forces of corruption or the slowness of flesh. It is made of uncountable streams of pure information, geared as one to the eternal construction of great works and wonders.”
“It’s not just a machine. It’s a miracle.”
All of this he whispers with a solemn intensity. Letting moments of empty silence sit between each phrase. These are words for Elliot only, and yet he doesn’t look at Elliot as he speaks. He narrates as the city is constructed before them, Virgil waxing poetic as he shows his Dante the purpose each of the construct’s layers.
GM: “That’s a beautiful way to describe it,” Elliot answers reverently. “You make it sound so pure in its purpose. So vast and complex and yet so totally devoted towards the pursuit of knowledge. I think you’re right there’s something sacred in that.”
“But why do you think they prayed for this miracle?”
Emil: “I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s big. You don’t just risk water damaging this scale of equipment on a whim. And if it’s to present a finding, they didn’t need to show it being computed. Maybe its presence is more symbolic. This could be a ritual of sorts.”
GM: “A ritual? As in… magic?”
Emil: “Well, I meant in a broadly religious or organizational sense. A ritual is a codified series of performative steps, usually incorporating the use of symbolically important objects, which physically calls upon the power behind the ritualists’ faith or ideology to be present during an important moment.”
It couldn’t be magic, of course not. That’s impossible. Then again, so were vampires just a few nights back.
“But,” he says, his eyes drifting upwards, “maybe…”
GM: “Maybe. I mean, most rituals in the sense you’re describing are pretty old things. Catholic mass. Bar mitzvah. Marriage. I can’t think of any that incorporate supercomputers.”
Emil: “Well, for major long-established religions, sure. But New Religious Movements have popped up in the US in great numbers since the 19th century, each with its own new ideology. And if you have an ideology, you likely have at least ritual or two. Especially based around powerful objects in the context of the ideology.”
“For a group who value gathering information, I can think of no better ritual focus than the wellspring of secrets discoverable through supercomputers. That just begs the question: what do they believe in?”
GM: “Yeah, but supercomputers are expensive objects. It’s largely scientists and academics rather than ideologues and believers in fringe religions who have access to them.”
“But you’re right they’re especially significant objects to the Nosferatu. And… I’m not sure what they believe in, beyond the legends about their clan’s past. Nicodemus believes in Judaism, but Codi doesn’t seem to believe in… well, I don’t really know what he believes in.”
Suddenly, lights and noises begin to go up from below.
Emil: The sudden sensory chorus rips Emil’s attention instantly away from his newfound friend to the dynamic branches of light weaving in and out of existence, a matrix covering every singular pillar supporting the cistern’s structure.
Those sounds accompanying the visuals are overwhelming. The sound of rain plunking against the water augments from a drizzle to a storm in a matter of moments, and echoing off the cistern walls the feedback loop assaults his sense from every possible direction which an all-encompassing volume. The cavernous drone accompanying it all grows steadily louder having sprouted from silence. The weight of it all feels like a pair of conch shells has been pressed so firmly against his ears that the ocean water has started to spill directly into his thoughts. There are faraway voices in the water, messages shredded to incomprehensibility by reverb and distance, but undeniably present, humanity splitting off from the bellowing tones.
Were Elliot to break sight of the mesmerizing moment, he would find Emil’s eyes darting wildly around, their white surfaces stretching to reflect the composite totality of the scene.
GM: A new sound soon joins the ‘rain.’
It’s similar. It’s a thundering, hail-like sound, echoing throughout the cavernous space dozens upon dozens of times in its own feedback loop. When Emil looks across the assembled figures below, he sees they’re all making the same motion. Though each of them suffers under their clan’s curse in their own way, they’re all smacking their hands together, pulling them apart, and then smacking them back together.
“I told you that you had to see it,” whispers Elliot, a smile stealing across his face.
Emil: “It’s beautiful,” Emil whispers in turn, still struck by the scene. The broken coming together to see the perfect.
GM: “I’ve seen them let other vampires into the warren, sometimes,” Elliot whispers. “Like you.”
“But I’ve never seen them let anyone but their own see this.”
“They don’t let anyone else watch. They’re… they’re monsters, but what they do here… it’s art.”
Emil: It’s odd, being grouped among other vampires, though Emil is only a slave. He doesn’t correct him, though. His smile widens.
“It’s their secret. They don’t need to look normal on the outside, their beauty comes in the things they make together. In light. And in shadow.”
“I… I think I get it,” he says in hushed tones.
“The secrecy lives at its core. Only a chosen few get to form a relationship with the piece, so the secret lets the viewer become part of the art. It lets the art impart its beauty on them in turn.”
GM: “Exactly,” Elliot agrees. “The secret becomes part of the entire experience. It may not change the actual art piece itself, but it’s the same reason why chefs focus on presentation and atmosphere and not just the taste of their food.”
Emil: “Hey, I guess that means you and I are part of the secret now too. Just by sharing this moment with each other. That makes you a piece of the art. Makes you a piece of art. Almost like Prince Zvi’s portrait. You’re a living mosaic, Elliot, and you’re painted with light.”
GM: Elliot actually blushes at Emil’s compliment.
“Oh, well. Thanks.”
The pair are interrupted, however, as a rough and phlegmy voice echoes up from below. The speaker has to be using some kind of microphone for Emil to hear from this far away, or it might just be the cistern’s acoustics. If Emil dropped a pebble he could imagine the splunking noise ringing off the enormous walls for ever and ever, like the speaker’s voice seems to.
“I’m not gonna spoil this moment with too many words. We aren’t degenerates. We let things speak for themselves.”
“I’m just here to say that all of that, was for this.”
An echoing clap rings through the cistern.
“I know what you’ve all been thinking. I know what you’ve all heard.”
“Well, we are not letting the work of decades fall apart. For too long we’ve been thinking too small. We’ve fallen behind.”
“So, this is our answer. It’s the first of its kind in this corner of the country.”
Emil: So it’s an unveiling, then. But that’s a lot of effort to bring it in person. It’s like a military parade, but for compute-power.
Emil can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy. To have the kind of resources necessary to build a supercomputer lies firmly in the realm of fantasy for the new slave.
GM: “My thanks to Opal, Meeks, Ross, and everyone else for their roles in making this possible.”
“This is our answer. This is our future. We will beat those fuckers at their own game.”
“That’s all I have to say.”
Applause sound again, loudly ringing off the cistern’s walls, though more muted than the first round of clapping.
Emil: What sort of “game” requires this beefy technology?
Emil repeats the names in his head, Opal, Meeks, and Ross.
Carter said the Nosferatu were the ones with real tech interest, so probably not other Kindred. Hunters, maybe. But Lucky’s crew couldn’t tell a calculator from an abacus.
“You know what org they’re referring to?” Emil whispers to Elliot.
GM: Elliot looks uncertain. “Maybe other Kindred?” he whispers back. “They don’t all get along.”
Sploshing footsteps ring up from below, along with indistinct sounds of chatter endlessly echoing off the cistern’s cavernous walls. The Kindred below seem to be leaving.
Emil: Well that was fast.
GM: The supercomputer stays where it is. So do a few other lone Kindred.
Emil: Must have been the rabble clearing out. What does that make these? Leadership? Or just the IT guys? Maybe that isn’t too different a role down here.
“You recognize any of them?” Emil asks in a whisper.
GM: “Well, Ross is one the older Kindred here,” Elliot whispers back. “And there’s… Nicodemus.”
He shrinks back from the ledge. His voice comes out so faint Emil can barely hear.
“I’ve never seen any of these others… I don’t think they’re from here…”
Emil: Emil’s eyes flick between the different Kindred, drinking in their faces.
If Ross is here, then likely enough two of those must be Opal and Meeks.
What face does a Kindred like Nicodemus wear?
GM: Emil’s eye is first drawn to the enormous one he noticed earlier. She looks female, if her shape is anything to go by. He can’t make out many other details from so far away. Another one of the figures is tall and gaunt. There’s a shorter one dressed in a raincoat with enormous ears and a head that looks like it’s been shrunken by savages. There’s a taller male with cracked and leathery skin that looks as if it were left out to bake in desert heat for 100 years. The sewer rat next to him is shorter and squatter, but has no distinguishing deformities Emil can make out from so far away. There’s two other short males, one who looks rather portly, with some of the worst acne Emil has ever seen, even from two stories up. Several last figures, at least one of which looks female, are clad in heavy attire that conceals their faces.
All of them seem to be talking quietly among themselves.
Emil: It’s too far, it seems, for human ears to hear what they’re saying clearly enough to understand. But not, he hopes, for the mic, received alongside the laptop from the masked delivery man, hidden in the fabric of his bag, that’s recorded every echo in the chamber.
“He one of the tall ones?” Emil asks Elliot in a whisper.
GM: Elliot shakes his head.
Emil: “Wearing a raincoat?” he attempts.
GM: He shakes his head again.
Emil: “So does he just look…” Emil pauses, not quite sure how to put it, “Normal?”
GM: “None of them look normal,” Elliot whispers.
Emil: “Or well, comparatively less abnormal,” Emil whispers back stiltedly. “One of them is short and squat, but not especially abnormal.”
GM: “I guess?”
Emil: “That’s him?”
GM: “I guess?” Elliot repeats.
“Like I said, none of them look normal.”
Emil: “How would you describe him then?”
GM: “Short, harmless, balding little old man. His true form looks like that, but… twisted. His hair’s worse, he’s got claws, his mouth is twisted and doesn’t really close properly, one of his eyes is bigger than the other… um, why do you ask?”
Emil: “You pointed him out down there and said none of them look normal. All but him look like they have obvious abnormalities. I was just curious is all. Maybe it’s the distance, cause I can’t see them too well, but when you say true form, you mean he normally wears that harmless face?”
Emil’s seen this before, with the golem who jumped out of Paul’s window, it wore his face.
GM: “Yes. They can make themselves look normal. They just don’t bother down here.”
Emil: “So, there’s no need to hide in the darkness.”
GM: “Who’s here but them, slaves, and other… not-human things, right?”
Emil: “I guess you’re right. But, how do they know for sure no one else is watching? I mean, that’s what we’re doing,” Emil whispers.
GM: “Well, how do you know that anywhere? I guess they feel secure enough.”
“Still makes me wonder why that tunnel behind the bookshelf exists, though… if it’s to eavesdrop, one of them could just watch everything from below, right? They’re already invited.”
Emil: “Well, are you sure the Nosferatu do know about this place? What if one of the slaves who put this place together,” because of course Kindred wouldn’t have done the grunt work themselves, “dug this out in secret?”
GM: “I guess I’m not,” Elliot muses. “That would make sense, it’s not as if they always let us attend…”
Emil: “Or, well…” Emil surveils the high walls of the chasm, looking for further openings.
GM: His sight does not make out any.
Emil: “Hmm… maybe not… you know of any other tunnels in the warren, by chance?”
GM: “Sure, there’s lots. This place is huge.”
“You mean ones that are secret though, to the other Nosferatu?”
Emil: “Yeah, particularly those, like this one, that connect two places in an impractical way.”
GM: “Is it impractical? I mean, we’re able to eavesdrop here pretty effectively.”
“I don’t know of any others, anyway, but it definitely doesn’t seem impossible. Who knows how many tunnels are down here.”
Emil: “Maybe someone could map them out in full. I know seismic techniques aren’t always successful, but there might be a way to do it, especially if you can do the work from within the warrens themselves.”
GM: “Oh really, how do you think someone might do that, besides manually trying to explore each one?”
Emil: “Well, the general idea is you project a wave of pressure or electromagnetic radiation into the ground. By analyzing the portion of the wave that got reflected back instead of being absorbed, and comparing that to the data you’d expect without the tunnels, you find discrepancies which imply the presence of tunnels.”
GM: “Well, isn’t that the power of science,” says Elliot, managing a smile. “I wonder if any of them have even tried that, or if they just figure they know all the important tunnels already.”
Emil: “It’s that very same hubris that keeps scientific consensus from shifting on long-unchallenged issues even when presented with fresh evidence. Complete certainty is poison to discovery.”
One such certainty looks to be that the pair won’t be able to hear the whispers of the monsters below. It’s too far, it seems, for human ears to hear what they’re saying clearly enough to understand.
But certainty is simply an illusion of perspective. The muted mutterings are not, he hopes, beyond the sensitivity of the mic, received along with the laptop from the masked delivery man, that hides in the fabric of Emil’s bag, recording every singular echo in the chamber.
GM: But what the ghoul cannot hear, he can see.
The assembled Kindred below seem to have stopped talking. They’re “breaking up” the supercomputer. The transparent, rectangular-shaped enclosure, Emil sees, is divided into columns, each one containing perhaps a dozen looming gray cabinets. The sewer rats slowly retool the supercomputer’s shape into a circle, forming a great ring in the center of the cistern.
“Why are they doing that…?” Elliot frowns.
Emil: “Whatever it is, it’s important to them. Rewiring those cabinets is very delicate work on a raft. And each component is very expensive as well.”
GM: “Does a different shape somehow make it more efficient?”
Emil: Emil is mesmerized by their actions, the miracle machine coming apart and taking this bizarre form.
“…no… I don’t think it would…” he responds, his attention taken immediately back to the scene.
“…it’s like a…”
Great pillars, an electronic Stonehenge surrounding and equidistant center point. But at Stonehenge they observed the motions of the stars above. Down here, the above is sealed off, and no starlight pierces through the stony ceiling. And under the towers is the impenetrable murkiness of the shadowed depths. No above and no below, thus the focal point lies directly within. At the center.
GM: “…oh,” whispers Elliot.
Some of the sewer rats clamber on top of the glass enclosure. One of them, female judging by the shape, kicks and struggles as another carries her up. Actually, she doesn’t even look like a sewer rat. Emil can’t spot any deformities on her face and there are rope bonds around her arms and legs. She looks as if she’s crying, or perhaps hyperventilating.
One of the Nosferatu starts fondling her breasts. A few of the others look as if they’re laughing.
One of the other vampires makes an impatient gesture. One of the shorter, squatter Nosferatu approaches the bound woman with a knife. From up high, Emil can see that his wisp-thin hair looks like cobwebs, and that his twisted mouth hangs partly open.
Emil: “…at its center…”
Emil stares on, and as he makes out the tortured look of the woman, his awe is stricken by a fluttering lightness in his gut. He can feel her terror pervading the room, her inner turmoil rapping manically on the walls of mind, begging to be let in. He need only choose to listen in, to ensure she’s not alone when the inevitable arrives, but he can’t do it. He can’t risk losing control should he really feel what she must feel now. Bound, terribly alone, under the blade of an inhuman monster. And that’s when the terrible, terminal truth arrives.
“…she’s their sacrifice…”
GM: The Nosferatu slashes the bound woman’s throat. Blood leaks freely from the carved-in second smile as mouth falls open. Perhaps she gives a death rattle, or her eyes try to seek something, anything, beyond all this, but Emil can’t tell from where he is. She finally goes limp.
“Oh my god…!” exclaims Elliot, clutching his hands over his mouth.
Emil: There is no escape from the sight for Emil, the presence of death presses its hands at the sides of his head and force it to look, to listen, as the dying woman’s thoughts scratch at the borders of his mind, begging to be let in, begging for any respite from this moment.
As the knife slices through skin, cartilage, veins, and arteries, and the blood of her life spills out, he lifts his hand to the level of his eye and his lips proclaim a whispered refrain:
“שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד”
(“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”)
The whispers fall mute but his lips shape the still flowing words:
“בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.”
“בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.”
“בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.”
(“Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom now and forever.”)
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
“יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים.”
(“The Lord is God.”)
“יְהוָה מֶלֶךְ. יְהוָה מָלָךְ. יְהוָה יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד.”
(“The Lord reigns. The Lord has always reigned. The Lord will reign now and forever.”)
His hand lowers. As the blood flows out the fount of his neck, and spills over the glass enclosure around the supercomputer, the tormented projections of the dying woman’s mind slow and fade until deathly quiet. Emil whispers one last phrase, borrowed from the tormented Job, as he takes in the stillness of the moment.
“יהוה נתן ויהוה לקח. יהי שם יהוה מברך מעתה ועד העולם. הצור תמים פעלו כי כל דרכיו משפט, אל אמונה ואין עול, צדיק וישר הוא.”
(“The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. The Lord’s name will be blessed from now and forever. The Rock, perfect is God’s work, fro all God’s paths are just; God of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is God.”)
Emil tears his the sleeves of dirt-coated undershirt in two places, and sits in the silence of death.
GM: Emil’s prayer hangs in the cistern’s silence. The Nosferatu, however, do not slow in their labors. Several more clamber up. They saw and pull at the corpse’s extremities, ripping off the limbs. They slit each one, as well as the torso, dribbling blood across the glass like messy paint. They produce paintbrushes and slowly work to paint the blood into designs that look like symbols.
The woman’s corpse, and its four severed limbs, is unceremoniously dumped into the water.
Emil: Emil sits stoically, taking it all in. He turns for a moment to check on his newfound friend.
GM: Elliot looks queasy.
“I can’t believe they did that,” he whispers.
Emil: “But they did do it. They’re still doing it. They all have blood on their hands,” he responds resolutely. Denial of the truth won’t undo what they just saw.
“But why? What do those symbols mean?”
He examines them from afar, trying to recall the shapes should they lie in the recesses of his memory.
GM: He’s too far away to make out anything distinct.
Emil: After a moment he sighs and stops squinting. “Can’t quite make them out this far.”
GM: “I guess some binoculars would’ve helped…”
One of the masked figures clambers on top of the glass. Female, judging by the build. She starts pouring out a white, sand-like substance from a container. She slowly makes her rounds over the supercomputer’s enclosure, forming an unbroken circle with the substance. Some of her fellows poke and prod at it.
Emil: “Well on the bright side…” Emil says, retrieving a pair from his bag along with a pad of paper and writing utensils. “I plan for nearly every possibility.”
He holds the view up to his eyes and peers out at the faraway blood-painted images. Then he audibly gasps at the sight.
He recognizes them, all of them. A complicated pattern of Kabbalistic Hebrew lettering and Hermetic symbols, intermixed with crimson streams of binary bits winding around and betwixt the symbols, chain links of red-dripped ones and zeroes.
And as he gazes over them, piecing together the intended meaning, he recalls how similar they are to the rippling patterns of letters that wrapped around the endless height of the Tower from his dreams.
It was real. He knew it was but this is proof. How could it not be? The writing is on the glass walls, though it is obviously a lesser projection of it. Drawn in blood instead of engraved, static instead of shifting, and missing all the other languages of the world. But if the projection exists, so does the projected, at least in some sense. His heart beats like a drum from a conflicted mixture of horror and ecstasy.
…real. It was real. All of it…
…and that means Metatron was too…
Emil’s muscles tense as the esoteric meaning behind this horrifying, awesome ritual ties together: It’s meant to summon an entity from another world, to bring it to the center of the ritual circle. To the summoning circle.
This is the Nosferatu’s secret weapon. Not the supercomputers. Those were only means to a greater end. A greater end that will soon appear in the nucleus of the cistern, right before his eyes. He knows it.
GM: The vampires on top of the supercomputer’s enclosure clamber off once they finish their work. More Nosferatu have since emerged, Emil notices through his binoculars, just as ugly as the ones before them. There’s perhaps a dozen individuals all told.
They seem to confer among themselves, for a little while. Their facial expressions aren’t always easy to read, on faces so hideous, but a few of them seem to be arguing with their fellows.
One of them points at the masked figures. The female one crosses her arms.
The dissent doesn’t last for long, though. Four of the sewer rats—the large-eared one, the massively obese one, the tall and gaunt one, and the one with the dessert-cracked skin—take turns talking. Their gestures and expressions look less like entreaties and more like ‘this is how it is.’
A fair number of the other vampires nod or make signs of agreement. Some of them are slower to nod, but still do so, or don’t say anything.
Emil: As more figures join, Emil starts to make sketches of the faces of the figures who stayed back initially.
Rabbi Shemtov’s son actually worked as a composite sketch artist for the HPD for a time before he made the switch to law enforcement. He told Emil that a good sketch doesn’t have to be exactly accurate, it just has to evoke the key features of the subject.
Whatever is gonna happen, he has to remember who was responsible, especially the ones not from around here. Maybe Carter will recognize them.
GM: A female Nosferatu whose face is covered with boils and pustules only shakes her head, then turns to leave the cistern. A few of the other vampires look angry, but most don’t. The one with the cracked skin holds up a forestalling hand. No one stops her as she leaves.
The large-eared Nosferatu approaches the terminal inside the glass enclosure and starts typing into it. He gives a nod. A few of the vampires remain behind, taking up positions at other points within the enclosure, but most file outside.
Someone has brought ladders. All of the others climb on top of the glass and spread out to equidistant points outside of the symbols and circles. They clutch grimoires in their hands: thick ledgers of technical documentation, ancient-looking tomes that seem like they could have come from Elliot’s library, and even one Kabbalistic text with yellowed parchment, thick Hebrew characters, and the 10-dotted sefirot diagram. The sewer rat who matches Elliot’s description of Nicodemus carries it.
In unison, the assembled vampires begin to chant. Some of their words are English. Others sound like Latin. One sounds Hebrew. It’s a dirge-like, droning, and bone-chilling sound that echoes endlessly off the cistern’s walls. It builds and builds off itself like a cthonic monster rising from the earth’s darkest depths.
Streams of code flash across the supercomputer’s terminals. Green lights blink and race along the supercomputer’s cabinets like flickering columns of fire.
Then, out of nowhere, perhaps a dozen bound and kneeling figures suddenly appear on top of the enclosure. The sewer rats yank hoods off their heads. There’s perhaps a dozen of them, an equal match of men and women. At least six of them look old, with heavily creased faces, grimy cheeks, and matted hair. Some look barely adults. Most of them look like people Emil could have encountered sleeping in the underground’s tunnels. Several, though, have clean and exceptionally comely faces. The misshapen vampires behind those apparent captives leer evilly. A few clawed and wart-spotted hands mockingly squeeze the good-looking captives’ breasts or stroke their flaccid dicks.
But young or old, ugly or pretty, all look terrified for their lives.
Emil: And he can’t do anything for them. All of them are consigned to their fates. Each one of them, set to die as sacrifices to open the gates to some unseen dimension, to give the Nosferatu a trump card. He thought the first woman was the sacrifice. No, she was just setting decoration. These are creatures of blood, like ticks, always ready to feed, to engorge themselves on more. Blood calls to blood and wishes to clot. For these haemovores to spill their most precious nectar on this scale, to end the lives of so many, the results must far overtake the costs.
GM: Some of them struggle. It avails them naught. The Nosferatu who looks like Nicodemus makes a sharp motion, then slashes a dagger across his captive’s throat. Most of them go out that way. A few particularly brutal-looking sewer rats, though, rip open the mortals’ throats with their bare hands. Emil makes out gleaming muscle and white bone through his binoculars as the blood flows. So much blood.
But a dozen gurgled and wetly shrieked death rattles are not so quiet as the girl’s was.
Emil: One. Two. Three… On and on it goes. It feels like an eternity between each. He couldn’t save them, this was their awful fate, to be condemned underground, split open as a korban, on this altar of glass. But in a blasphemous inversion of the temple sacrifice, the blood is not discarded but the goal of the sacrifice.
And only a few short weeks after the closing of the book of death. He wonders why God chose this for them, what they have in store for them in the afterlife. After all this suffering, will they still require cleansing before they can present before the court of the Lord? Is this brutality not punishment enough?
He doesn’t look them in the eye before they go. Only at their shoes. And kneeling, forced to the ground, the tops are concealed. All he can make out are their soles. And no matter how unclean they were before their owners were taken, no matter how pure, one by one they get stained red as their wearers’ bodies flail like fish out of water. Blood spills like a deluge.
GM: Emil can’t even describe the sound. It’s amplified a thousand times by the enormous cistern’s acoustics. It’s wet like intestines being spilled from a corpse. It brims with pain and terror like a vat-sized pot brought to skin-scalding boil. It shrieks through his ears like a howling gale from the depths of the netherworld. It does not sound like a thousand voices crying out. There are no voices in the sound. It’s a thousand gurgled, animal-like heaves, ringing over and over and over throughout the cistern’s walls, never stopping, never dying, never moving on, knowing only suffering eternal.
It makes him think of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, on a long-ago family trip to Washington D.C. with his parents. All of those countless portraits in that great domed chamber.
Death on a scale impossible to comprehend.
Only to witness.
Even some of the Nosferatu look rattled, as if not realizing the full gravity of their collective sin. As if not anticipating the sheer ghastliness of the sound, which still does not die, but echoes on and on and on throughout the cistern, haunting the ritualists like an unquiet shade.
Emil has a moment to think about how fucked up that is. How these people are dead, but he’s still listening to them die. The sound of their deaths has literally outlived them.
Emil: The awful pull of death assaults every one of his senses, violating the most holy of things. The rending of God’s breath from the body of life. And in that unstoppable current, some part of Emil gets caught, dragged away, ripped from within. Murdered along with the rest of the sacrifices.
For a moment as the echoes of the dead rattle about the walls, Emil lowers the binoculars to look at Elliot, his mouth slung open, his eyes sunken and harrowed.
Tremors overcome his body. A thousand questions wrack his mind, all equally awful. But in the end, as the voices dim into oblivion, the loudest come through, and they all boil down to one simple word:
His mouth works in a soundless scream as he voids his bowels.
Then he does the only thing his terror-obliterated consciousness can do.
He runs for dear life.
He runs for his sanity.
He runs for his soul.
Maybe he starts screaming. Weeping. Vomiting. He doesn’t know. All he can do is run, run, run, and heed the angel’s commandment to Lot’s wife:
Do not look behind you.