Chapter 73: Mr. Chassan
We left our heroes on the pantope, except for Robbie and Katrina, who are staying with Crystal's team in our Victorian residence in Classical Line London, while they work on Ms. Yanova's recovery.
We fast-forward the pantope through five days, watching a clock on a shelf, slowing down to stop every afternoon at three. On the fifth day--
Katrina, in her new role as lady of the house, receives a letter. Unfortunately, it isn't for her, but for Lorelei McHerron, who was here a few weeks ago (local time). Unwilling to open another's mail, she leaves a note by the clock: "We need to confer."
We obediently stop the pantope and get out to confer, emerging a little early, at 11:45. Everyone is armed. Remembering the need to stage an arrival, Tom immediately goes over to the front door and slams it. After the staff have been alerted to our presence, we duly confer with Katrina. She gives the letter to Tom, who, undeterred by Victorian scruples, just opens the letter. It begins:
My dear Miss McHerron,
The writer would be very grateful if Lorelei could give her similar assistance. It's from an Irene Southwick, at Southwick House, not very far from here, a block or so north of Grovsnor Square.
We all wince.
You see, the trouble Lorelei helped clean up at Carlfax Abbey was a vampire, one spawned by Count Dracula on his recent sweep through Classical Line London. It was (or had been) a young woman, like unto Lucy, in the novel. Heck, it may have been Lucy; the Classical Line doesn't match homeline fiction perfectly. We also staked out a small child she'd done in and vampirized.
Here we go again. (Although Tom is the only veteran of that particular adventure.)
Kate volunteers to step into Lorelei's ichor-drenched shoes. She recommends the hit squad be fairly unhuman -- Robbie the robot, Daphen the pixie, Corrian the gargoyle, and herself the elf. The dragon would be good, too, though this means Markel, but Markel is a very able warrior. So is Dafnord, who wants to go too.
Katrina obliges by forging a reply from Lorelei to Mrs. Southwick, saying she's unable to come herself (being worlds and ages away), but is sending some capable comrades. We then dispatch this by footman.
While Dafnord heads out to the woodpile to chop some logs into stakes, Robbie decides to go to the library of the British Museum, to see if they have anything on vampires, disposal of. Along the way, he ignores some of the odd looks he gets from passers-by and other folk in the library. In a small but promising room, he finds a vein of travelogues, some old bloke, and a thin, swarthy, sharp-featured man of more than middle age, with a goatee. After a bit of browsing, he notes the swarthy man is watching him intently. "Can I help you?" Robbie asks.
The man apologizes for staring. He has a heavy accent. He admits he's never seen anyone as unusual as Robbie. Unusual how? Small things -- Robbie moves oddly (and very fast), appears to be wearing makeup, and has an unusual "aurora." Hm. On closer inspection, Robbie isn't wearing makeup; his skin just has completely uniform coloring and no pores. (Shoddy glamour job.)
Trying to deflect this sharp inspection, Robbie asks what the man is looking for. He gets very evasive and deprecatory; it's just a small problem, involving something the British "collected" from his homeland in Abyssinia -- something they obviously assumed was free for the taking since no one British owned it.
Robbie, who was made in Chicago, listens to this sly putdown with equanimity and probes a little further. The little something is "The Heart of Tigre," and Tigre is the part of Abyssinia that the man is from.
Robbie has an impression that he's heard about Abyssinia from the other party members. Getting a telepathic link through to Tom, he learns that, shortly after we polished off the vampires at Carlfax, we went on a trip to Abyssinia, racing an English occultist, who was after the "Eye of Dalgroom," a gem that was, in fact, a segment of the Diadem. We scotched the occultist and got the segment, but didn't stay long in Abyssinia for touring.
Robbie ventures to remark to the man that a friend of his went to Abyssinia after the Eye of Dalgroom. The man hastens to assure Robbie that the Heart of Tigre has "nothing to do with the little yellow idol on the road to Katmandu. Except maybe-- Have you heard about recent events in Abyssinia? Some British was collecting objects of power, and some other British (or something) apparently took offense and stopped him. And the Eye of Dalgroom was destroyed. And there were great earthquakes. Certain secret things, held in the bowels of the earth, were loosed. And you know these people? Perhaps that is what the stars and cards meant..."
Probably, the little name-droppers.
Robbie invites him home and he dubiously accepts.
On the way home, Robbie asks him if he knows anything of vampires. (Robbie never did find any data in the library.) "Why do you ask?" Robbie explains we've been asked to help.
A little late, Robbie asks our guest his name and learns he is Malich Chassan. He enters freely, and of his own will-- Sorry, wrong line. He comes to lunch with us, and we make introductions. He picks very carefully at his food, for some reason, but is very polite and certainly very interested when Tom admits to his own role in the destruction of the Eye of Dalgroom. He is surprised that we had such adventures while knowing so little occult lore as we seem to. Tom explains we had a guide at the time.
Tom repeats Robbie's question: Got any advice on handling vampires? Ans: Move. Mr. Chassan goes on for a time about the naturalness and utility of the nomadic or semi-nomadic life, but suddenly stops, gasps, stares through the table, into the floor, and suddenly, urgently needs to go. He mutters about the "aurora" of the place.
As far as we can determine, he was staring into the area of the basement where Crystal has Ms. Yanova confined. And shielded. Heavily.
Dafnord intercepts Mr. Chassan on his way out and pointedly urges him to stay for dessert. Meanwhile, the cat scurries to the basement door and, once he's sure none of the staff are in eyeshot, scratches at it. Then rattles the doorknob. Then hangs on the doorknob and kicks the door with both hind feet. Eventually, someone opens, looks around, then down, and sees him. "Did something happen just know?" he asks.
"It was a small breakthrough. Very technical."
"We had to batter down some psychological resistance. All part of breaking up her delusional system."
"You scared a visitor."
"Hm. Odd, but possible."
"He talked about auroras."
"Auroras? You mean auras? That would be very unusual. Seeing auras usually requires also seeing the owner of the aura. Doing so through objects or at a distance is a remarkable skill."
Meanwhile, Tom is trying to un-flutter Mr. Chassan. He promises, with no great sincerity, that there will be no more disturbances (not that Chassan will admit to having felt any disturbances). Eventually, we send him out the door for a calming walk with Daphne and Dafnord. Daphne, in the likeness of a small girl, begs Chassan for a story. The result is educational. To summarize:
The Heart of Tigre, whatever it is, is in a small stone box. This was, long ago, acquired by the Templars, who took it to one of their castles in the south of France. Then the Templars were overthrown, but a few (naturally) survived in hiding, and two of them came to Tigre, poking around looking for some object of power (grail, ark, or whatnot; Chassan isn't sure). The holy places of Tigre are delved deep in the stones of the earth, and "unfortunately" collapsed on the two interlopers. There they stayed, until the earthquakes accompanying the destruction of the Eye of Dalgroom. Then their bones were re-discovered, along with a journal. Clues in that journal have led Chassan to London as he tries to recover the Heart, taken by the Templars back in the Middle Ages.
The box containing the Heart was of soft, smooth, grey stone, faintly inscribed. Chassan is reasonably sure the Heart hasn't been taken out; it would have been ... noticed.
Daphne probes more about the box. He mentions a key to it, but doesn't say whether it is literal, metaphorical, or what.
He then starts asking Daphne what she's doing, mixed up with the likes of... um. She explains that mostly she's along for fun, and to keep Dafnord out of trouble. (Strangled snort from behind.) She says that a vampire hunt will be more fun than staying in the house, which is so dull. Chassan obviously thinks it odd to call "dull" a house that rings with whatever it was that startled him so. Daphne "innocently" remarks that "we're supposed to stay out of the basement, but I don't need to go there anyway, knowing nothing of doctoring."
Chassan is more and more getting the message that Daphne is not what she seems. He asks her where she's from (a place called "Rusalka"), and remarks that her aura/"aurora" is very sparkly and bright.
She asks him about the people of Tigre. There are two main ethnic groups, who appear to get along moderately well, and some mythological animal people. How about djinn? No, those are the people of the wind and the wild. He tells a story of how the djinn are said to make bodies for themselves out of dust and clay, in miniature imitation of the way God made Adam from the clay. And then there are always tales of the Little People...
He stares at Daphne, mutters to himself a lot, then remarks suddenly that he has left his pen at the house and must go back to look for it. Tom, listening in telepathically, obligingly makes a pen for him to find. That surprises him. He continues to look around for something, but doesn't seem to find it. It seems he's looking for Robbie, who's stepped out for another try at the library.
Robbie obediently returns, on our telepathic alert, and Chassan deferentially starts to question him. Seems the "key" to the Heart is supposed to be shown to him by the "mazzikim" (a.k.a. djinn). And, um, does Robbie...?
Robbie denies being a djinn, but tells Chassan a fairly complete edition of his trip to Djinnistan by ill-judged "wish" to the Ambassador, losing his body, getting this one, etc. He only leaves out that he was a machine to begin with.
(Daphne begins whittling. The story takes some time. "You should be careful with that knife, little girl.")
Chassan is understandably fascinated, even more so when Robbie unveils briefly to show him what he looks like under the glamour. (Something between C3PO of Star Wars and one of the extras from the "Magnus: Robot Fighter" comics.) When he learns that Robbie's body, when last seen, was trying to figure out who it was now, Chassan remarks "Ah, you have a guest." He also suggests that Robbie has made his own body much as the djinn themselves do.
And, most important for Chassan himself, maybe Robbie, with his mazzikite connection, is to show him the Key to the Heart.
Tom, who came in to undo and re-do the glamour, shows Chassan the gargoyle as well. Chassan begins to see why we might take on a vampire. Tom also admits to the addled young woman in the basement. "A powerful mind," Chassan remarks. We agree. "Such can attract unwanted attention." Like vampires?
Since Chassan now has some motive to hang about with us, and seems a fascinating character, we invite him in on the vampire hunt. We understand if he doesn't want to come. But he's VERY perceptive, and might make an excellent lookout.
Uneasily, he agrees to come with us to Southwick House. Daphne, in gratitude, gives him an exquisite little wooden figure of a pixie, with a dab of psi stored in it. He recognizes that it's "special."
Won't Mrs. Southwick be surprised?
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.