Monday, January 16, 2017

Drac's Back!

Oh come on, 2016 wasn't that long ago. You must remember this lot:

Natasha Avram, former Russian government assassin. Wears a lot of leather. Driven by money. Possible sociopath.

Sten Brodrington, ace driver who is a bit vague about which specific branch of British intelligence he worked for. He's looking for direction and purpose in life, or at least that's what he says.

Max Fischer, German investigator with a mysterious past. A little twitchy. He's hoping for some sort of redemption.

Carmel Shaked, Israeli break-and-enter specialist with a bit of a nationalistic streak. Carmel has had enough of secrets and lies.

The team is trying to investigate some ruins that may be what is left of Castle Dracula, but a vampire has just turned up and is trying to eat Natasha. The rest of the team is a short distance away, safe within a circle of crushed communion wafers.

Natasha brandishes her crucifix at the vampire, a short but athletic woman in what looks like special forces fatigues. Although the woman does retreat from the symbol, she doesn't seem bothered by it, let alone frightened, and this disconcerts Natasha.

The woman turns her back on the Russian -- also disconcerting; no one ever does that! -- and wanders over to the corpse of one of the guards the team killed in battle a few moments -- or two months, depending on how you look at it -- earlier. She kneels beside the body and manipulates something, but none of the investigators has a good view of what the newcomer is doing.

Natasha is about to join her colleagues in the holy circle but reconsiders when she realises that while the circle may protect them from supernatural harm, it also leaves them vulnerable to physical attacks.

Sure enough, the vampire stands and turns, readying the submachine gun she has recovered from the dead guard, and advances towards the group. They have not been idle, and have readied crossbows; they fire, hoping to pierce the monster's heart, but she turns into mist and the bolts pass through and on into the woods beyond.

Carmel has a -- literally -- bright idea and turns an ultraviolet torch -- borrowed from EDOM's headquarters -- on the vampire, remembering that the creatures' powers seem to be limited or negated in sunlight. Her hunch goes untested as the vampire fires a burst at the Israeli spy, shattering the torch; some of the debris wounds Carmel, lodging in her spine and causing her to lose feeling and strength in one arm.

(It wasn't long ago that Carmel lost an arm. Dark magic was used to restore the limb; perhaps this is the cost of meddling with such sorcery. Or perhaps it's a player with terrible luck.)

The vampire offers the team a choice: to return home, forget all about their quest, and live long, healthy lives; or to fight on and end up like Carmel.

They choose to fight.

Max, Natasha, and Sten surround the vampire, brandishing crosses and forcing her back. Max leaps in and tries to wrest the gun from her hands but is stymied by her unnatural strength; he does succeed in immobilising her enough for the others to approach with stakes at the ready. Natasha strikes and misses the vampire's heart but it seems enough to scare the creature, and she once again transforms into mist. This time she does not reappear.

Carmel is patched up and the team decides to press on, surmising that there must be something important among the ruins, to justify such security. A set of stone stairs winds around the edge of a shaft that drops down into the ground and the agents descend; perhaps expecting traps upon the stairs, they set up ropes and abseil down the central shaft instead. Show offs.

Max is first to descend and discovers a set of old metal doors emblazoned with the symbol of the Order of the Dragon; a similar image was seen in the cult temple in London and the recognition brings both hope that the investigators are on the right track, and fear at what may be lurking beyond.

Expecting an ambush, the team goes on the offensive and smashes through the door into a large chamber lined with stone sarcophagi, each adorned with carvings. With considerable caution, they examine and open each tomb, finding nothing of interest. They relax a little.

Carmel discovers a secret door and after a couple of minutes of poking and prodding, finds the mechanism to open it. Beyond is a short corridor and two more doors; one elaborate and old, and another simple but modern. The newer door appears to have some sort of seal around the edge, suggesting that it is airtight, and an electronic keypad glows in the darkness. This puzzles the agents but they reason that it does not look like the door to a tomb, and they are looking for a tomb, so they choose the older door.

Beyond is a stone chamber at the centre of which is a dais; upon that is another sarcophagus, larger and more grand than those in the main room, and with a single word carved in its side.


The team pauses to make a plan. A few moments later the agents take up positions around the tomb; Carmel and Sten get ready to remove the stone slab atop the sarcophagus, while Max and Natasha ready crucifixes and weapons. Carmel and Sten push and the lid flies off; before the pair can express surprise at their own strength, a vast furry shape bursts from the tomb.

It is some kind of huge grey bat, larger than a man, with long yellow fangs and hungry red eyes. Carmel, already fragile, cannot cope with this development and flees.

The bat-creature ignores the proferred holy symbols and shrugs off Natasha's attempts to stake it; once again the team ponders whether to fight or flee and once again the decision is made to engage in glorious battle. Max and Sten -- Carmel has by this point fled to the surface -- retreat while firing their guns, while Natasha persists in trying to drive a stake through the thing's heart. Bullet after bullet strikes the beast and still it does not slow its advance, so the team changes tack; Max and Natasha lob grenades at the thing while Sten slams the door shut, and all three run as fast as they can.

The explosion throws them to the floor, makes a mess of the fifteenth-century masonry, and even Carmel feels the ground rumble. All that remains of the bat-monster is heaps of gristle and bloody fur -- Natasha sneaks a sample -- and the tomb is ruined; if it held any clues they are now dust.

Max and Sten return to the surface to check on Carmel; she is reluctant to descend once more into the catacombs -- she has developed claustrophobia as a result of her encounter with the bat -- but clutching her father's Yom Kippur War medal gives her courage and she accompanies the other two back under ground.

With one hand still clutching the medal, Carmel bypasses the keypad on the newer door and it opens into a red tiled room much like the two the team discovered in London. Having now studied EDOM's files, the team suspects that these Red Rooms are used to boost a vampire's inherent powers and may even grant the monsters new abilities.

The investigators decide to destroy the catacombs and the able-bodied team members help Carmel rig enough explosives to do so, or at least seal them off. For once, no one minds if Carmel over-eggs the explosive pudding.

Back at their temporary base, the agents try their best to recover, wary of the next moves of EDOM and the vampires, and frustrated that Dracula's trail seems to have gone cold. They focus their attention on the gun-toting vampire and Carmel runs a sketch of the woman's face past her local contact Dacien Comenescu; he suggests that the sketch looks like Natasa Dobra, a notable member of Romania's Securitate, but the agency disbanded in 1991 and Dobra herself disappeared in 1988.

Carmel asks Comenescu to dig deeper and -- guessing that the Russians probably know a fair bit about the agency they helped set up -- asks Natasha to probe her contacts for information.

Next: egg and chips and guns.

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