Dresden Files: Venice
Who Hunts the Hunter
The first squalls of autumn are blowing across Venice lagoon, La Biennale and its accompanying Film Festival are over, and the inhabitants that left the city in the summer are now returning. It is late in the afternoon when Dolores Alegra Malspina recieves a phone call, apparantly from Nerina, asking her to meet her at the ‘Lone Bell’ an hour after sunset. Neither she nor Gina Tortelli are exactly sure where the ‘Lone Bell’ is, but a phone call to Luca Porrini finds out that is about a mile off the city in the lagoon, and is the point where the cruise ships turn for entry into the port. A little nervous aboout what may be going on, Dolores hires a boat, but asks Luca and Gina to wait at the nearest point on shore just in case.
Dolores Alegra Malspina pilots her boat to the ‘Lone Bell’ but other than the slapping of waves and the repetitive ‘dong dong’ of the bell there is apparantly nothing. Until Nerina rises slowly from the depths, her eyes a dark pit of barely contained violence. Checking Dolores is alone, she sinks back into the lagoon, only to emerge with the headless body of a mermaid. Her request “Find out who did this”. Slightly nervously Dolores examines the body, concluding the head had been ripped off, but unsure as to how it was done. Tentatively she asks to be able to take the body back to the Ponte Antico shop for further investigations, Nerina agrees, but asks for the body to be then given back to the lagoon. As Dolores tries to work out how to lift the body on board, Nerina simply presses it into the air and over into the well of the boat. Dolores covers it with a tarpaulin and heads the boat back to shore, behind her Nerina sinks into the black depths of the lagoon.
Collecting Gina Tortelli and Luca Porrini from the shoreline, Dolores Alegra Malspina calmly pilots the boat back to close to the Ponte Antico shop and then with the aid of the tarpaulin and a little magic inside and down to the storage room without apparantly anyone being any the wiser. Further examination of the corpse indicates her head was indeed ‘ripped’ or ‘torn’ off and there are grip marks around her neck and shoulders from either claws or teeth. Physiologically she appears a different species from Nerina with more developed hips and thighs, indicating a possible ability to walk on legs? Gina tries a simple ritual to try and find the last moments of her life, there is a poweerful aura of fear and dread, along with a smell of burning.
At this point Luca Porrini gets a phone call from Nunzio Arbatti asking him to drop by the morgue as there is something he needs his opinion on. Arriving there, Luca is shown the headless corpse of a woman, whom after an inspection both of them conclude is Sylia. Again it appears her head was torn off and there is bruising on her arm. Luca takes a few photos for identification purposes and tries to phone Cossette but all he can reach is her voicemail. Asking Nunzio Arbatti to keep him updated he returns home and emails Dr Helen Magnus to ask her opinion.
Meanwhile back at the Ponte Antico shop, just around midnight Gina Tortelli is final ready to enact a sscrying ritual looking for the mermaids head. But as her spell reaches out, the power just in her control, it crashes into a powerful defence (a warding?), and there is again the smell of burning. Thwated, with just a few ‘’minor lacerations’’ for her trouble, she gives up for the evening, leaving Dolores Alegra Malspina to lock up and heads home to her flat. Outside it however she is stopped by Cesare Domino who notifies her that the Fey Court have officially not claimed responsibility for her, and thus she is bound by the edicts of the white council, at least for now.
Luca Porrini is woken in the middle of the night by a phonecall from Dr Helen Magnus who has read his email and believes it to be another outbreak of attacks by a group called the ‘Head Hunters’. She is sending him a file on them currently. Warning him to be careful it becomes apparant that there is someone else in the room and after calling to someone she tells Luca that his father has just ‘left’.
The following morning, Luca Porrini still cannot get hold of Cossette on the phone, so tries Rachelle Lenco who is also not responding. It is at this point he notices an envelope pushed under the apartment door, despite rushing to the door to open it, he cannot spot the perpertrator. Opening the envelope, he finds it contains a used train ticket from Milan to Venice dated yesterday. He leaves a note for Svetlana Korai who is till asleep, and texting Gina Tortelli with his intentions, heads to the railway station. None of the vagabonds he has met before are obvious when he arrives, but after collecting some water and chocolate, notes one of them watching him from the end of the concourse. He mouths “I just want to talk”, but the man does not wait, dropping his bag near the lockers, and vanishing around the corner. Approaching carefully, Luca lifts the bag and opens it, to find it contains a very large rats head! As there is no one to question, he heads to the Ponte Antico shop, and having taken a few photos to send to Dr Helen Magnus, stashes it in the freezer.
Mentioning to Gina Tortelli that he will back later, Luca Porrini heads round to Rachelle Lenco‘s apartment in Dante Court. He notes a new statue in the courtyard; of an armoured man – but its not in Delilah’s style. Climbing the stairs to the balconey, Luca spots a hooded figure leap from the shadows at the far end, and run towards the tunnel to the street. He gives pursuit, but loses it when it dissapears into the floor halfway along the tunnel. He returns to the apartment noting a faint smell of perfume outside. Rachelle Lenco answers his knock at the door, waringe a very sheer negligee, something that causes Luca to struggle to maintain his concentration. He explains that Sylia’s body was brought into the morgue last night, and that he needs to get Cossette to confirm her identity. Rachelle Lenco says all of them were working last night, and that Sylia was meeting a man at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, and after checking a small hand held device, confirms she has not returned home. She says Cossette will not be awake for a few hours yet, and she promises to get her to call Luca at that point. Feeling more uncomfortable by the minute, Luca makes his excuses and leaves, his last glimpse of Rachelle Lenco being as she heads to her bedroom to dress, discarding clothing as she goes.
Mid afternoon, and Christy enters the Ponte Antico shop asking to see Dolores Alegra Malspina. Escorted to the workshop in back to meet her, she passes a cryptic message from Serpentine; “Why?”. Dolores looks bemused, and asks if this anything to do with the headhunters, and explains what has happened. In return Christy looks surprised and rushes from the shop texting as she goes. Dolores decides to phone Cesare Domino and warn him about the Headhunters, and arranges for him to drop in for coffee and to discuss matters after the shop closes.
Early afternoon, and Luca Porrini arrives at the Ponte Antico shop with lunch and other bribes to molify Dolores Alegra Malspina about the head in the freezer. Surprisingly she seems calm over this. She is on the point of closing the shop for the afternoon, when Cossette appears without apparantly using the front door. Her mood is grim and silent as she is briefed about the death of Sylia and the other activitys of the ‘Headhunters’. Luca also tells everyone about the figure near Rachelle Lenco’s which after getting a description, Gina Tortelli pronounces was probably a were-rat. Dolores collects some hair from the head in the freezer, and on comparing it under a magnifying glass, to samples found under the claws of the headless mermaid decides it is a match! Dolores heads to the storeroom to check there are no rats there, when from behind there is a voice: Mistress!.
Despite Dolores Alegra Malspina‘s misgivings her old fashioned sensibilities come to the fore and she offers Mistress a seat, before taking one for herself. Their discussion is polite and slightly vague, before, after prompting, Mistress mentions she has information relating to the ’headhuters’ and the fact that both she, and Luca Porrini are on the hit list. In return for this she asks for ‘keys to the boutique with nice views out the window’. Not sure what this means, Dolores says she will look into it and Mistress says she will pop back after Dolores meeting with Cesare Domino. In return for Dolores’s quizzical look she points out she has good ears! Returning to the others in the lounge, Dolores fills them in on what Mistress had told her, and Gina Tortelli confirmed that it was her personal realm in the Nevernever that the crystal court vampire meant. With Cesare Domino due, the meeting broke up; Cossette mentioning to Luca Porrini that the phone numbers he has for the surviving members of La Belle D’Venice will no longer function and that she will get in touch with new numbers at some point in the future.
Gina Tortelli slipped away to her personal realm to do some research on the metaphysics of the realms construction and usage, whilst Luca Porrini headed upstairs at the Ponte Antico shop to give Dolores Alegra Malspina some privacy with her expected guest. Cesare Domino arrived on time, bearing a box of small cakes, and was invited into the lounge to take coffee. There the two discussed the current ‘headhunter’ situation, to which Cesare regretably could add little. He was however interested in somebody called ‘Hunter’ who Dolores regretted she did not actually know. Thier discusion amicably concluded, Cesare Domino departed and as Luca heads down the stairs Mistress returns, to ask whether Dolores has considered her offer. She says she has put it to Gina and is awaiting a response, which Mistress accepts and departs.
Dolores Alegra Malspina realises that she has a basic answer to give to Nerina and so asks Luca Porrini to accompany her to the ‘Lone Bell’ to deliver it. Renting a boat and heading out after sunset they make their way through the gloom. As they round the top end of Venice they spot a figure watching them from the waters edge. Luca’s vision can make out little than a hooded and hunched shape, so Dolores decides to take a risk and opens her mind to the sight, waves of light and images threaten to overwhelm her but she focusses and starts to make some sense of them. ‘’The Greatest Collection of Death’‘, ’’Skulking in the Shadows’’, ‘’For She’’ and finally before it became too much ‘’Wererat Headhunter!’‘. As if it had been spotted the creature faded back into the growing darkness. For a second the two considered heading after it, but fearing a trap they instead continued on out into the lagoon. By the time they reached the ’Lone Bell’ it was almost completely dark and a thin mist was starting to rise. With no sign of Nerina Dolores decided to try and attract her by dripping a little of her blood into the water. For a while nothing happened, then Luca spotted movement in the water, ripples of at least half a dozen creatures approaching the boat. They started to circle, edging closer to the boat and then one broached the surface; a wide flat head full of teeth, coupled to a long body and tail with a series of spines down it. Then the first one nudged the boat, starting it rocking…..
The boat is rocked several times as the submerged shapes get closer, several slip under the keel, rubbing on the hull, and causing both Dolores Alegra Malspina and Luca Porrini to become rather concerned about thier footing. Dolores decides that it is time to leave, and with creatures broaching the surface all around, flings a bloody decoy far out into the lagoon, before gathering enough mystical energy around the boat to veil it, rendering it all but invisible. With the submerged creatures momentarily distracted, Dolores carefully pilots the boat back towards Venice and the safety of dry land. Mooring back at the dock, Dolores and Luca step off confidently, which is just as well, because as they do so one of the creatures broaches the surface, bare feet from the boat, before slipping back into the darkness of the water.
Luca Porrini heads back to his apartment and Svetlana Korai, leaving Dolores Alegra Malspina to return to the Ponte Antico shop. On arrival she gives some consideraton to her personal security as she prepares dinner. Far too many people seem to come and go with little or no impediment. Intrigued she decides to take a closer look at her home and workplace; the visions here are organised, mathematical, and multiply recessive. Slowly it resolves itself into a number of ideas; ‘’Of unfixed geometry’‘, ’’Mathematical Construction’’ and ‘’Bigger within than without’’. It would appear there is a lot more to the shop than meets the eye. That just leaves the problem of the Hunters; making a decision she picks up the phone and makes a few calls, informing Serpentine and Don Joseph Tormelli amongst others of what she has learned about the creatures. Feeling that is all she can do for the night, she heads to bed.
Meanwhile Gina Tortelli has been pondering the significance of Mistress’s request for access to her realm, and come upon some frightening conclusions. The windows she assumed gave a day to day view of Paris, Milan and Rome, in fact repeat the view of the same day continuously. Given the crystal-court vampires ability to interact with transparent surfaces, acces to them would potentially allow Mistress to travel back in time!
With Nina DaCosta in charge of the Ponte Antico shop for the morning, Luca Porrini leads Dolores Alegra Malspina and Gina Tortelli to Dante Court, and the place in the tunnel under the building, where the hunter he saw dissapeared. Arriving at the spot they note a drain cover, it seems the creature simply disspaered below ground! Pulling out torches, the three venture into the tunnel, and head along it in the direction of the grand canal. Sloping gently downwards, initially it appears to be some form of storm drain and of brick construction (perhaps 18th century), but having reached its deepest point its construction changes to concrete and it flattens out before finally coming to a stop at a heavy rock fall. Just at that point however, there is a hole in the tunnel roof and after a short discussion Luca boosts the two ladies up through it before climbing up after them. They emerge into a chamber, partially man made, partially natural with a ceiling hieght varying from four to nearly eight feet. There are piles of rubble around and the centre of the roof appears supported by two, semi-greek, columns. Spaced around the chamber are four large bronze bowls containing a thick black liquid, which given the smoke marks on the ceiling above them is obvioucly inflammable. Of greatest interest however are the alcoves in the walls, two of which contain carefullly placed skulls. Moving closer the three identify the skull of the mermaid, one that is probably that of Sylia and one rounded in shape and containing a large number of teeth, which Gina identifies as belonging to one of the creatures that attacked them in the fort on Isola de Vignole. It is at this point that four were-rats emerge from the shadows, moving slowly and menacingly into view, followed a few seconds later by ‘She’ a part human,part rat, female. Gina tries to reason with her, but it becomes apparant that the two simply have different frames of reference and what Gina is saying simply makes no sense to her world view. It thus appears violence is inevitable and the were-rats edge closer….
The tense anticipation lasted for only a few more seconds before Dolores Alegra Malspina reacted, throwing an evocation at the two were-rats furthest away, causing them to become ’’entangled’’ in thick spiders webs. This triggered movement closer by, and Luca Porrini reacted first shooting at (but missing) the nearest were-rat. The creatures reacted, with one attacking Luca and missing by the narrowest margin whilst the second struck at Dolores and missed thanks to her enchanted defense. Gina Tortelli noted ‘She’ summoning some form of sorcery and channeled her power into blocking the spell: whilst Dolores failed to dodge around the were-rat that attacked her, and hence could not get back down the hole and out of the chamber. With a were-rat coming for her, Gina channeled a vast amount of power into an enchantment which cooked it from the inside out. Luca swopped forms and continued the brawl with his, both combatents exchanging minor hits