Image by Ulysses0302. Please do not use without permission
Concept: Web journalist
Tradition: Hollow Ones
Physical Strength 2, Dexterity 2, Stamina 2
Social: Charisma 3, Manipulation 2, Appearance 3
Mental: Perception 3, Intelligence 4, Wits 3
Talents: Alertness 2, Awareness, 3 Dodge 1, Expression 3, Streetwise 2, Subterfuge 2
Skills: Crafts 1, Drive 2, Etiquette 1, Stealth 1
Knowledges: Academics 2, Computer 1, Enigmas 2, Investigation 4
Spheres: Matter 1, Mind 2, Spirit 2
Backgrounds: Allies 2, Arcane 3, Avatar 3, Contacts 2, Library 4, Resources 2, Wonder 2
Bryn fits the conventional Hollow One image - he likes black clothes, particularly silk shirts, long coats, and cravats and scarves that give him a vaguely Victorian, antiquarian look. But beyond that, he fits into the Hollow One ethos. He's a dark romantic - dark because years in journalism dealing with the seedy underside of human nature have given him a relentlessly cynical and pessimistic view of others' motivations, and romantic because, in spite of everything he's seen, he honestly believes that the good guys do win sometimes - especially if they have a little help.
I grew up a citizen of the world.
Well, actually, that's not quite true. I grew up a temporary resident of whichever place in Europe or America my Mum was posted next. She was in the Foreign Office - not actually an Ambassador, she's not what you'd call a schmoozer. More of a petty dictator, actually. She gave Dad his marching orders after that business with his secretary. And her secretary. And his boss's secretary. And - well, you get the picture. He had quite a thing for secretaries. Shortly before she cut him off - in a figurative rather than a literal sense, although I understand that was a pretty close-run thing - Mum suggested that he open a secretarial agency, on the grounds that it would be like working in a sweet shop - after a while, maybe he wouldn't want to touch them any more. Then - since he was obviously too flighty and irresponsible to be entrusted with my well-being - she scooped me up and swept me along with her to her next posting.
She was always far too busy to pay much attention to me, so I was left pretty much to my own devices. Unlike many Hollowers, I wasn't much of a rebel in my teenage years, simply because there was so seldom someone around to rebel against, It would have been like trying to punch a cloud of smoke. I just happened to like black clothes, alternative bands, Victorian funereal imagery and the occasional spliff.
I was bright enough to coast through my schoolwork with minimal effort. When Mum ordered me to choose a career - and yes, it really was that blunt - my mind went totally blank. I looked frantically around her office. There was a stuffed tiger's head mounted on the wall, but somehow I didn't think "big game hunter" would pass muster. There were expensive oil paintings on the walls, but while I wouldn't have minded living in a Parisian garret painting gorgeous women in the dishabille, I couldn't even do convincing stick figures, so "artist" was out. There was a drinks cabinet, but that didn't suggest anything except "barman", or possibly "alcoholic". There was a copy of the Times laid out neatly on Mum's desk...
"I'd quite like to be a journalist", said my mouth before my brain had a chance to catch up.
Funny how things turn out. I didn't mind the college-based parts of the journalism course, but what they called the "practical" - going out at 3am in the freezing rain to cover riots that didn't take place (because all the rioters quite sensibly didn't want to be out in the freezing rain at 3am), interviewing the winner of the most-amusingly-shaped vegetable competition at the village fair, covering the Mayor's speech on the new Municipal cleaning contract - i.e., all the things a real journalist wouldn't touch with a ten-foot barge-pole - those made me wish I'd tried to pitch the big-game-hunter idea. I was giving serious thought to giving that artist's garret a try - these days, all you need is some disembowelled animal parts in formaldehyde to be exhibited at the Tate Modern, and with my predilection for Victorian Gothic, that wouldn't have been a problem - when something happened that changed my life forever.
At the time, I thought it was just another lousy job. Someone had been vandalizing the outskirts of an old graveyard dating back to the Civil War. Now, bear in mind that this was in England, so "Civil War" meant the mid-seventeenth century. The parts of the graveyard that had been disturbed were so old that most of the headstones had crumbled away. The "vandalism" consisted of some tangled patches of grass and bramble getting dug up. I didn't much fancy the prospect of lurking in a graveyard all night on the off chance that the vandals would come back, especially as it was February, freezing cold, and pelting down with rain. I don't know why I even bothered to do it. Maybe it was my brooding Goth nature wanting a chance to be miserable. Maybe I just wanted a legitimate reason to feel pissed off. But for whatever reason, I was there that night when it happened.
I was hiding under a tree. Well, not really hiding - it was just the closest thing to shelter within sight of the area the vandals had targeted, I was lurking there, soaked to the skin, freezing cold, sipping lukewarm coffee from a cheap thermos and thinking mournfully of animal parts in formaldehyde and large cheques from gullible patrons of the Tate modern. I was so wrapped up in my own self-absorption that at first, I didn't register the way the ground in the old section of the graveyard was churning. I thought it was just the rain splashing in the mud. But eventually, the way the earth was rippling and shifting became too obvious and unnatural to ignore.
Especially when the half-decayed hand pushed its way up through the soil like a drowning swimmer clawing desperately for the surface.
My head started pounding. I was developing a migraine worse than any I'd had in my life before, and I was totally transfixed, unable to move a muscle. Even the simple act of drawing breath felt like an effort. Everything seemed sharper, clearer - I seemed to be tracking each individual raindrop as it fell, tracing its progress as it fell through twigs and leaves. And the leaves themselves - I could see their veins, feel the life pulsing through them, the complex structures beneath their surfaces. My gaze was tracing every striation in the bark of every nearby tree at once.
I'd never done LSD, but I'd had friends who had, and this sounded like their accounts of its effects. But it didn't feel like a hallucination. It felt more real than anything I'd ever experienced - despite the horrific impossibility of the creature I could see clawing its way out of the ground.
It started out as a decayed corpse, clad in a vestigial mass of rotted, unidentifiable rags. But as it pulled its way free of the soil, it took on form and definition, the flesh growing back over the yellowed bone, and the rags becoming recognizable clothes and expanding outwards to cloak the flesh. By the time he was completely out of the earth, he looked like a living man, albeit a thin, cadaverous one clad in archaic black seventeenth-century clothing. And boasting hideously elongated nails, like talons. He looked straight at me and grinned malevolently, revealing a mouthful of teeth in serious need of dental attention. He started walking towards me, and I knew, somehow, that if he reached me, I'd die. I yelled at him to stop, and I could feel the power in my words, the kind of power I'd never experienced before. He could feel it, too; he didn't stop, but he slowed down, moving as if he were fighting his way through a strong wind.
I heard cars pulling up in the distance, but I didn't dare to take my eyes off the... whatever the hell you call it. Zombie? Revenant?
Out of my peripheral vision, I saw half a dozen black-clad figures sprinting through the rain and the mud. They got between us, and started chanting in Latin. I know a bit of Latin - they were telling the thing to get back into its grave and stay there, as closely as I could make out. A couple of them began throwing salt at it.
It staggered back from them. Its flesh and clothes started to come unravelled again as it retreated, returning to the putrescent state they'd been in when it had emerged from the ground. It was little more than a grinning skeleton when it eventually topped over backwards into the wet earth and was lost to sight.
As Awakenings go, it wasn't the most pleasant, but it sure as hell took care of any suspension-of-disbelief issues. The cabal who'd rescued me were a mixture of Hermetics and Hollow Ones, who'd sensed something evil stirring in the old graveyard, some ancient magic related to the Interregnum-era witch craze. They were mostly interested in finding a way to undo the curse, but I was intrigued by the question of why it had suddenly started causing trouble after all these centuries. I was sure there had to be more to it than random chance, and eventually, it turned out that I was right.
There had been a murder committed on the soil of the old graveyard. A very ordinary, very petty murder, one teenage drug dealer knifing another, but it was that killing - a secret killing for which no justice had been given, no debt repaid - which was activating the curse and resurrecting the victims of the witch hunts to rise and seek revenge on the living.
The ghost of the victim was a feeble thing, just an echo, really, but I managed to get enough out of it to track down the killer. Combining my journalistic skills - such as they were - with some early, clumsy, ham-fisted experimentation with my new powers, I was able to see the killer brought to justice. And the curse became dormant again. The cabal who'd rescued me were impressed enough to offer me membership.
We were an eclectic lot. Several Hollow Ones and a couple of Hermetics from House Thig. Our base of operations was a converted Victorian vicarage, draughty and falling down in places, but with an amazing library which had been built up over a century and a half. The main problem with it was that there was so much material to look through that it was often hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Derek, our Thig computer whiz, was trying to solve that by scanning the entire lot into his souped-up laptop in searchable PDF form.
With the backing of the cabal and my own newfound talents, my career in journalism started to take off. Spirits make great informants, and so do ghosts. The cabal turned me into a sort of guided missile, using me to target exploitive industrialists, crooked politicians, organized crime, drug and people trafficking, you name it. We had all sorts of defences set up around the vicarage to shield us from magical detection or attack, and we were constantly on the look-out for signs that the Technocracy might be targeting us. We were very confident that they wouldn't be able to sneak up on us unawares.
And we were probably right, too. Nemesis, when she finally showed up to punish us for our hubris, came in the form of a dodgy electrician in the pay of a common-or-garden mortal drug dealer whose rackets we'd smashed up. The wiring in the place was old - the "accident" which burned it to the ground was so easy, so ridiculously, pathetically easy for that wretched, worthless little scumbag to arrange. No magic, no spirits, no Primium-enhanced cyborgs, just a bit of insulation carefully sawed through in exactly the wrong place.
Derek and two other members of the cabal died of smoke insulation - we weren't stupid enough to have neglected the smoke alarms, but the electrician had removed the batteries. Afterwards, we all kind of drifted apart. I got one legacy from Derek - his precious laptop, with its scanned collection of tomes from the vicarage library. Too bad he never finished the project - I could cry when I think of the irreplaceable books that went up in that fire - but what was already there is still amazingly impressive.
I'd built up enough of a reputation that I had a reasonable choice of jobs. The one I chose, Exoterica, surprised a lot of people. It's part of the New Media wave, a predominantly web-based subscription news service on the outer fringe of what most people consider serious journalism. It does do serious, hard-hitting investigations, but there's usually a flavour of the Fortean Times about them. Or, occasionally, the National Inquirer. But it has one thing the others didn't - an editor who's willing to support me when my investigations go off at a tangent. I wish I knew exactly why. I sometimes get the feeling that she knows more than she ought to, or that she's working to some hidden agenda. I know she's not a Mage, or a bloodsucker or a shape-shifter, but there's something a bit... well, weird, about her. I haven't tested it a lot, for obvious reasons, but I don't think she triggers Paradox the way a Sleeper would, and she's never seemed surprised about anything she's seen or heard from me. I became a roving reporter - and sometimes I rove a very long way. Different continents, on occasion. For the last two years, I've been working out of the company's American office, based in LA.
About four months ago, I became involved in a new investigation. A California property magnate with an interest in Native American stuff was buying Hohokam pottery that didn't seem to come from any known source. It looked like someone was organizing their own little dig and selling off the stuff they were finding.
At least, it looked that way to the property magnate. Looked that way to whatever Sleeper experts he hired to check the stuff, as well. Matter magic - even the basic level I know - told a different story. The Hohokam ceramics were all fakes. Perfect fakes, the kind of perfection you only get through Awakened means.
I had a contact, an inside guy who was part of the gang bringing the stuff in from Phoenix. Only he was murdered before he could give me the final links I needed to break the story open. Not that the police realized that, because it was a perfect murder. The kind of perfection you only get through, you've guessed it, Awakened means.
I take it kind of personally when my contacts get murdered. And forgers are the kind of Mage who give the rest of us a bad name. I'd like to have a serious talk with whoever's responsible - if I can find him, or her. So now here I am in sunny Phoenix, looking for a needle in a haystack...