Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cave of Secrets: Dump the Body (WtA)

Okay, at this point I should be caught up on gaming posts for the immediate future. Just a reminder, I'll be at Gencon this year from Wednesday to Monday if anyone wants to hang out or whatever.

And just a reminder of something from a previous post, we're heading into the last Werewolf story for a while. This will be something of a 'season finale' and then I'm going to take a break from running it for a bit (likely focusing on my group's Pathfinder game to get the Adventure Path we're on through a slow section).

So here we go. Some of you who follow Werewolf: The Apocalypse material since W20 came out may recognize what it is I'm doing, if you haven't already. If you leave a comment (not that anyone ever does), please try to avoid spoilers since my players sometimes read this.

So last time we left off with a moot and an impending Rank challenge from Åke. Because of some difficulties with the story he's chosen to present, he's decided to hold off on that for the moment and I don't mind giving him a bit of time[0].

So three weeks pass. During those three weeks, people have learned Gifts and Rites and relaxed after the madness. There haven't been any more attacks, and in fact the sept is pretty sure the Spirals accepted the loss for the moment and took off because they reclaimed the bodies of their dead without drawing any attention.

At a moot that happened during the downtime, Rebel Ray[1] is officially labeled the 'Kin-Speaker,' liaison and advocate for Kinfolk. He's also learned the Rite of the Fetish and started by binding a spirit into carvings in his fangs, performed by a scrimshaw and tattooing/scarification artist at the sept.[2] Åke has begun studying with Jerry because he really wants the Wuxing Gift and it was explained to him that he would have to better embody the Stargazer mindset if he's going to impress an avatar of Chimera enough to teach it to him. I haven't had an opportunity to do any proper introductory scenes with them yet, but I've mentioned that a trio of Corax have made themselves known to the sept so they're around somewhere.

So it's early January 2012. The full moon approaches and with it, Noah Harliss'[3] Rite of Passage. One early morning right before dawn, while Jerry and Åke are meditating under a waterfall in the cave, Raptor Strike wakes up Rebel Ray and Wants-to-Know. He needs their help with something very sensitive and he needs it right now. So the two lupus gather up their packmates with some shenanigans and goofing off, and everyone meets with Strike back at their room in the cave.

So he's got a major problem. Well, one problem, possibly two. And he's really hoping it's two. First problem: Noah's missing, and hasn't been heard from in a couple of days. Second problem: A mutilated body of a man about Noah's size and build has been found, dumped, in a junkyard just outside of town. Strike heard about it via a local contact of his, a Kinfolk Sheriff's deputy named Chuck McNamara.

Strike wants the pack to look into this quickly and quietly before ill-informed rumors get out and stir up shit before they know anything definitive. And Chuck made a comment about the state of the body that Strike wants confirmed ASAP, but he doesn't want to send them in with any expectations so he holds back that detail. At least, that's what he says, though it's just as likely that he just doesn't want to say it out loud.

Wants-to-Know tries to track Noah with Pulse of the Prey, but he can't get a bead on him, which means he's either hiding or dead. Rebel's first thought is that maybe the Spirals stuck around long enough to kill him on their way out of town. His second thought is that Bury the Hatchet might go on the warpath about this and blame Strike for putting off the Rite of Passage as long as he did. Not that anyone honestly expects two Gaian caerns to go to war over this, but events like this can still tear apart the local Garou. Especially since, if this goes down the wrong way, Bury the Hatchet's family will show up to do their own investigation and might not care about what damage gets done on the way.

So the pack takes off in Åke's car and meets with Chuck at the county dump. He's run interference for them and they should have some time before anyone official shows up to start recording things. So the pack goes in and they can easily smell the mess before they find it.

The body's been skinned. Cleanly, professionally.

They quickly investigate to see what they can find at the scene. They learn that his throat was cut by a silver blade (they can tell from the searing of the flesh), that the killer had no scent (which implies a Garou with the Scent of Running Water Gift, possibly a Ragabash), and that the body was wrapped in a sheet and dumped after being killed elsewhere. Rebel is the only one who picks up a chemical smell on the remaining threads of the sheet, but neither he nor the rest of his pack have the context to recognize the scent.

But the fact that he's been skinned has a lot of meaning for Garou. It suggests Skin Dancers, Kinfolk who've discovered a blasphemous ritual that lets them become full Garou by skinning five werewolves and stitching the skins into a suit. It also raises some concerns about what really happened to the bodies of the Black Spiral Dancers after that battle.

The Sons of the Saga quickly decide to get the body back to the sept, getting some plastic to wrap it up and smuggle it back. If nothing else, they need to make arrangements to perform the Gathering for the Departed. Wants-to-Know takes off ahead of the others so he can get to Strike as quickly as possible and tell him what they found and what's going on and find out what to do with the body. Strike suggests they put Noah's body in the weapon shed, where they can easily have someone watch it. He says he's just managed to track down Bury the Hatchet and will break the news to him in private.

Strike also asks that the pack looks into what happened. He wants them to do it, because they get along well with Bury the Hatchet and as a result they're invested enough to care but not so invested they're going to lose their heads. And, in case it needs to be said, the pack accepts.

By the time the others get back Aedan is at the weapons shed, waiting. They set the body up in the shed and take a closer look at it, trying to get a better idea of how long ago Noah was killed. But none of them are doctors and the best they can guess is within the last couple of days -- the fact that he's been skinned and moved doesn't exactly make it easier to determine time of death. The problem is that the Skin Dancers' ritual requires that the skins be taken during the same moon phase, so the phase under which Noah was killed is relevant. While they're trying to figure out how to properly begin the investigation, they hear a scream of rage and despair from across the sept -- a scream that eventually dissolves into an inhuman snarl.

A couple of minutes later Strike shows up, zipping up a jacket as they get a glimpse of claw marks on his torso and a shredded shirt. It's easy enough to guess that Bury the Hatchet shifted to Crinos form, grabbed Strike by the chest, and slammed him into a tree. Strike, to his credit, tries not to make a big deal out of it. The pack tells him what they've found and about the chemical smell they can't identify. Strike shifts to Lupus and takes a sniff and recognizes the smell as formaldehyde, commonly used in funeral homes.

So there's an obvious lead. There are four funeral homes in the area, and Wants-to-Know and Jerry are going to look into those. Rebel wants to go back to the landfill and talk to the spirits to see if he can learn anything about who dumped the body, and Åke is going to go with him for backup (also so Åke can reclaim his car, which he'd stashed nearby earlier). We start with the latter two.

So out at the landfill, Rebel activates the gift Call to Duty, which summons all Gaian spirits within a mile, getting mostly nature spirit and a relatively weak spirit of the landfill itself (one of the Great Trash Heap's brood). And he basically calls out for anyone who knows anything about who dumped the body. The best the spirits can tell Rebel and Åke is that it was a Garou that did it, but not a recognizable local (not that that means much, coming from the spirits). A tree spirit, however, says that it may know where Noah was killed.

And we left off there, with Rebel and Åke on their way to the scene of the crime.

[0]-- Admittedly, this is partially because I don't know what I'd do if I declare the challenge failed. Just let him try again with a different spread of stories? I may as well just let him take his time with the challenge.
[1]-- Sean's tried to impress upon us that Ray would prefer we use his deed name ("Rebel") or his full name ("Rebel Ray"), so I'm trying to get in the habit more.
[2]-- Mechanically, it's the same as the Fang Dagger fetish except it applies to his bite attacks -- because Ray is a lupus and prefers biting to stabbing. It works sort of like a scar fetish, except instead of a scar it's tooth-carvings (which is a thing that people do). Because of the location and effect, we're calling it the Dagger Fang. (It's a level higher than normal, because taking it away from him would be such an ordeal)
[3]-- Bury the Hatchet's great-nephew, in case anyone needs the reminder.

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