OFFICIAL VEKN GANGREL-ANTITRIBU NEWSLETTER VOLUME 7 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2004 **************** In this lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land issue ..... FICTION: The House of the MacNabs [another d20 Call-of-Cthulhu adventure from the denizens of Legbiter Hall] CARD OF THE MONTH: Celeste Lamontagne DECK: Black Hand Hybrid *************** FICTION: The House of the MacNabs With Anklebiter as Dr Jack Jefferson .... Lady Legbiter as Dr Shona MacConochie .... Jack Drever as Major Colum O'Keefe ..... and Legbiter as everyone else. Early in the month of August, 1915, a long, narrow steel craft was nosing through the fog towards the enemy coast. Night was imminent, but no lights shone on the dark land rising ahead - a testament to the enemy's discipline, thought Lieutenant-Commander Lutyens, peering through his binoculars into the fog. "Tea, sir?" asked the small voice of a midshipman at his elbow. "Thank-you, Mr Reynauld! Mr White! Position report, if you please! And, erm, a little more sugar, Mr Reynauld, if you would be so kind!" "Sir! Position is 20 minutes from target!" "Are they ready?" "Yes, sir!" Lutyens nodded, and made his way down from the bridge towards where the agents were waiting for disembarkation. Brave men, he thought - risking not just life but honour; to be shot like a dog for the Empire, that was the true courage. Wordlessly he shook them each by the hand; each returned his pressure, and saluted. Then, donning balaclavas, they slipped into the rubber boats and sculled for the cold shoreline ahead. The sailors watched as they merged with the fog, and then the vessel turned, back to home, warm fires and cold beer. "Signalman! Inform the High Seas Fleet Command that our agents have landed, near to Pittenweem, in Scotland! Code Orange, I need hardly say. And, erm, is there any more of that tea?" His Imperial German Majesty's Torpedo-boat Destroyer V106's wireless blipped out its message, unnoticed by all but a select few - in the Imperial Admiralty back in Kiel, in Room 31 of the British War Office, and on the freezing bed of the Nordsee, 400 feet below its keel, where something vast and vile twitched and stirred in the ancient mud. ******** That same evening, at a Scottish baronial lodge in the hills Northwest of Dundee, Dr Shona MacConochie was preparing to receive her guests. Although she now claimed to have embraced Mohammedanism [and had, indeed, taken to wearing the veil whenever she went out], there was no shortage of the Amber nectar at her charity Ceilidh for the Relief of the Casualties in Mespot. Indeed, there were some malicious souls who whispered that her conversion had more to do with an alleged penchant for handsome black-bearded Imams; others, that the facial concealment afforded by the veil was the real attraction. And while we need say nothing on the subject of the hunky Imams, it is true that Shona had good reason to hide her face these days, thanks to a distressing encounter with an animated Mythos Tome in a Sorcerous Tower. Outside on the croquet lawn Dr Jack Jefferson and Major Colum O'Keefe were watching the sun set. Neither could any longer be fairly described as a young man. O'Keefe in particular appeared aged and worn, walking now with a stick thanks to a piece of shrapnel at Mons the previous year, and his shape seeming sometimes to waver in a strong breeze. He still smoked cheroots, and had acquired a troublesome cough. Jack, who had given up Turkish cigarettes for the duration of the war, looked concernedly at his friend. "You should give up too, old chap. Those blooming reefers are going to kill you!" O'Keefe smiled. "Been there, done that." "All the same, I worry about you - maybe more so because of what happened in Corsica and London." "Don't, dear boy. When a man gazes too long into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into him. If you want something to worry about, think of your patients in the sanatorium! Which reminds me to ask you, I mean congratulations on the new job and all, but why the deuce did they put you, a mad-doctor, in charge of the Mespot convalescents?" "Simple answer? An awful lot of them, all the ones that end up at Pitkerro Mearns, ARE mad. As to why, I suppose that is what I'm supposed to find out. On that point I still have some work to do." "I think that's the real trouble with me - not enough work to do, now that they won't let me fight." "Well, but don't you have some frightfully important intelligence job?" "Counter-espionage liaison, Angus. Mainly involves watching over the local bolshies in the Dundee jute-mills and monitoring the odd frothing Scottish Nationalist lunatic. That, and a LOT of golf. If the Germans come I shall challenge their commander to a round, winner takes North-East Scotland, should be able to give him quite a decent match. O look, here's my runner. Probably coming to tell me that RNAC shyster has cried off again with some pathetic excuse about having to patrol for U-boats." Indeed, a leather-clad motor cyclist was being ushered into the garden by the butler, who was indicating where to find the two friends. The man marched up to O'Keefe and saluted. "Cable from London, sir. The Red Channel. Lieutenant Marsden is still decoding it, but he thought you might like to know." "Quite right, good man." "I brought the side-car, sir." "Good show indeed, well Jack, toodle-pip for now. And if you pick up any spare Celtic lovelies, or better yet, shooting invitations, remember us poor toilers, won't you?" Jack listened as the motor cycle trio sped off back down the hill in the direction of Dundee, then turned to go into the party. A glowing eye watched him disappear into the house, then winked out - the stub-end of Colum's cheroot. ********* Shona cast a benevolent glance onto the crowded dance floor. What a good thing that it had been Colum and not Jack who was called away! For Jack was the real bait for her party, the magnet to which all the local beauty had been attracted, and even if they could not all flirt with him, at least not all the time, there were enough young servicemen to partner most of them, at least most of the time. Poor dear, he DOES look tired, she thought to herself, as the dance ended and another bevy of Scottish lovelies collected around his tall and handsome figure. Never mind, the service of the Empire must come first. She sensed someone behind her, and turned. "Dr MacConochie, you will not remember me, MacNab is the name." "On the contrary, my new neighbour! I remember you quite well, and I'm most grateful to you for coming. Ahmed, a glass of Lagavulin for my guest. Mr MacNab, this is Ahmed, my, erm, spiritual adviser." MacNab bowed. "Thank YOU for inviting me. I wanted to say that I have read some of your work, the Monograph on the Baluchistan Anomalies, the Notes Towards a Biography of Robinson, your work on the Psycho-Physicality of Dreams." Shona dimpled under her veil. SUCH a useful invention! "O dear, then you know what an awful fraud I am!" "Nonono, quite the reverse. I think of you as Scotland's answer to Freud, our greatest brain since Hume. It is I who am the poor fraud by comparison, the merest dabbler in Pictish antiquities. Nevertheless I think I may have something of interest to you, some stones on my estate. I would value your opinion, and as bait I propose to invite you, and any friends you may care to bring, over to the estate this weekend for a spot of shooting. May I count on you?" The combination of game-shooting and ancient stones revived old and not altogether pleasant memories in Shona, and she thought for a moment before answering. "Of course I'll come, if I may bring my friends Dr Jefferson and Major O'Keefe. Just to check, there aren't any chalk carvings, prehuman delvings or ancient pagan bonfire customs around here, are there?" "O, you're referring to the Windhover hanger business in your biography of Robinson? No fear, all very peaceful hereabouts. Except for the army range next door of course, Anyway, let me tell you what I know about these stones." ********** What Macnab had had to say, and what he drew, was more than enough to convince Shona that this was a problem worthy of her attention. And as for Jack and Colum, a day's shooting was always going to prove an irresistible lure. We may, perhaps, forgive Shona a little for not revealing any unnecessarily-alarming rumours about alleged stones to her younger friends. Northwest of Dundee the land rises in waves towards the inner plateau of Angus, and there, overlooking the Tay to the south, and overlooked in turn by the ancient ditches of Dunsinane fort, lay the House of the MacNabs. A motley collection of villainous Labrador hybrids and local ne'er-do-wells were waiting by the house door as Shona and her friends drew up in a pony-trap. MacNab came out to greet them, dressed for the shoot and beaming all over his heavily-whiskered face. "Good morning! Good morning everyone! Well, here we all are - dogs, beaters, shooters. The picnic is being taken up to the butts, hope you like pork pies, claret and bloater paste sandwiches? Got some hard-boiled eggs too, and some pickles. Now, please choose your weapons! Of course you may use your own, if you wish. O, what a superb piece, Dr Jefferson! Jack, then, and you must call me Donald." Still chattering away animatedly, MacNab led them into the house. The beaters began to make their way up to the start of the drive, a longish walk. It was still cool in the mist, but everyone could tell that a hot day lay ahead. Jimmy Souness took a slug of raw whisky from the ginger-beer bottle under his coat, then passed it over to his friend Willy Stewart. "Come the Revolution, it's us'll hae the claret. They can hae the whisky." "Nah. They can help MAKE the whisky. We'll put them in the mash. That Army chiel first. The Party has it's eye on HIM, alright!" ************ It was a shorter walk for the shooting party, but a steep one, up a treeless slope to a ridge overlooking a foggy glen. The butts lay along the ridge, and at the higher end were the stones which MacNab was eager to show to Dr MacConochie. O'Keefe decided to come along too, since MacNab's name was professionally known to him, and Jefferson accompanied him, so as not to be left alone with the sandwiches. At the top of the hill the stones huddled in a circle around a large flat central stone, or altar, with a foot-shaped depression in which rainwater had collected. The grass here was grey, blade-shaped and slightly greasy to the touch. The stones themselves Shona judged to be of the 8th century, showing as they did mature forms of the famous Pictish Zed-rod and mirror symbols, in addition to the figures of armed warriors. Yet, as MacNab had hinted, there were oddities, too. The faces of the warriors were turned outwards, towards the viewer, and they seemed to grin disturbingly. Also, there was writing, and here Shona became really excited. She paced around the circle making notes, and then she turned to her friends. "How my poor late husband would have loved to have seen this! And it all fits with his notes, "A conjectural reconstruction of the ancient Pictish script". If poor Calum was right I judge that there are three stones missing, but here would be the text from the others: "All hail to the Hidden Ones that Wait in Shadow, attendant on the … then there's a gap … third moon of the 9th year of the 333rd cycle shall they … another gap … against which no mortal thing may stand save by the recitation of the … another gap … Ahai Foebock! Ahai Carnala!" "That's part of the Incantation of the Great and Threefold Wyrm, is it not?" "Yes, so either a forgery or the oldest known example of it! And right under Dunsinane hill! Witches, Macbeth, the old stories of the Saltatores Labyrinthi Nigri, Damborough, the devil-dog men of the woods, all coming together - isn't it exciting?" "Very. Let's celebrate by killing some birds! Or better yet, by having a jolly good picnic lunch and THEN killing some birds!" ************ Lunch was indeed of the jolly good kind, little affected by the food shortages inevitable in war. It began to be really hot, and the party watched as the drive came into view, then descended into the dank mist of the glen. It was time to get to the butts. As they did so, a desultory gun began to fire in the Army range to their left. MacNab cursed. "Damme! They'll scare our birds!" A few minutes later, MacNab's pessimism seemed unfounded. Whirrrrr! Whirrrrr! Two fine, fat grouse zoomed into view, and Jefferson shot one, MacNab the other. And then another grouse, and another. And an owl. And a wildcat. And a badger, a whole FLOCK of hares, and several rabbits. On they all came, quite oblivious to the presence of the shooters, sometimes stumbling into, and then out of, the very butts in which they stood. All except for one little rabbit, which scurried up to Jefferson's position, and then, with a sigh, collapsed in front of him, its bright, terrified eyes filming over with the finality of death. And then, out of the mist, emerged that from which they had been fleeing. Low and slow the dogs came loping out of the mist, purplish tongues lolling out of their dead mouths, rib-bones showing through their ripped flanks. Dropping his gun, Jefferson leapt to the lip of his firing position, and began a strange throaty chant, accompanied by arcane gestures. "OooooOOOOOO………OOOOwongOOOOOOooAyaaaOOOO…." The sound reminded MacNab of the pipes, but whatever its provenance it had meaning for the evil dogs … snarling silently, they turned, and disappeared back into the mist. And then the beaters came. … Some time later, and to various degrees shocked and hysterical, the shooting party found themselves being helped into an Army lorry by soldiers in strange masks and with glass goggles. They could remember only fragmentarily how they had come to be there. O'Keefe recovered first, intrigued by a conversation he lip-read between two of the [by now unmasked] soldiers. "… two canisters missing, yes sir. It must have happened during the flap after we realised the experimental material was blowing over towards the civilian shooters. No sir, we got them all, and the corpses have been burned. Yes sir, all reliable except for the MacNab chappie, he has some ScotNat form and has known Bolsheviks in his employment. Yes sir, understood." ********** It was several days before Shona recovered sufficiently to turn her attention to the question of the missing stones. By that time, it was almost too late. To be continued ........ *************** CARD OF THE MONTH: Celeste Lamontagne From the Gehenna preview at the White Wolf website: Celeste Lamontagne Gangrel antitribu, Sabbat, Group 4 Capacity 5 for ANI PRO Celeste can strike to end combat against a werewolf opponent. She gets +1 intercept when attempting to block a Camarilla vampire whose controller has at least one Gehenna card in play. Illustration by Chad Michael Ward, think Tia Carrera with pointy ears and teeth. A very solid country Gangrel antitribu with two interesting specials and decent discipline spread. Back in the old nights there would have been a lot of whining about how over-powered this vampire is compared with equivalent Camarilla Gangrels, but this would have been as misplaced then as it would be now. The Sabbat are savage fighty vampires but their Clans relatively weak in politics and at bleeding - i think after all this time we should just accept that this means they are individually better, on average, and also more variable, on average [think Monique]. One other point of note is that Celeste is a group 4. This means we STILL do not have the option of playing with 12 different individual country Gangrel-antitribus in a deck, though you can do so with City Gangrel antis. *************** DECK: Black Hand Hybrid SPAWNED BY: Legbiter COMMENTS: A cross between 2 Jalan Aajav decks, one due to Jeff "Lasombra" Thompson, the other to Smiling Tom [Almadeva, IIUC]. Fairly functional deck [2 outings, swept once, lost once] but still needs some work [eg Wolf Claws should all be Claws of the Dead or Bone Spur, 2 masters should be removed/replaced by Elder Library or Dreams of the Sphinx, and number of action cards needs reducing to 16 or so, thereby creating space for 2 Mythic Forms and 1 more ritual]. Requires careful playing - build your hand and mount surgical strike [Grapple, agg strike, decapitate, ritual]. CRYPT [12 vampires]: Jalan-Aajav x 4 Soldat x 4 Skryta Zyleta x 4 LIBRARY [90 cards] MASTER  The Admonitions Blood Doll x 6 Campground HG Communal Haven: Cathedral Corporal Reservoir x 2 Fame The Path of the Feral Heart Shakar Talons of the Dead Watchtower: Four Ride Forth Weeping Stone MINION  ACTIONS  Ambush x 3 Bloodwork x 6 Harass x 3 Reunion Kamut x 7 COMBAT  Body Flare Claws of the Dead x 5 Decapitate x 7 Flesh of Marble x 7 Immortal Grapple x 11 Wolf Claws x 4 COMBO  Ritual of the Bitter Rose x 6 EQUIPMENT  Eye of Hazimel REACTIONS  Forced Awakening x 5 Ministry x 6 WWEF ********* And that's it for April! A bit late i'm afraid. Perhaps i will be timelier in May. See you then!