Monday, May 16, 2016

An Explosion in Belgravia

Red Line Corporate Solutions is a company formed by a group of former intelligence operatives who used to conduct covert missions for the highest bidder, but have somehow got involved in hunting Dracula. Yes, that Dracula, from the books and the films and the Castlevania series. It turns out that Bram Stoker's novel is not in fact a novel, but an edited record of an actual British operation to recruit a vampire! Egad!

The current Red Line roster consists of:

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.

Last time, the team roughed up an art dealer who had a collection of Dracula-related objects and a connection to a prominent London businessman. After resting, the team decides to pursue this lead and they research said businessman, one Geoff Berkeley. He is the head of an organisation called Blackrock, which appears to be a holding company with interests and shares in all sorts of businesses around the UK and beyond; the team digs deep but can find nothing illegal or suspicious about any of Blackrock's dealings, much to their general annoyance.

Carmel hacks the Blackrock email servers and downloads Berkeley's correspondence. She notices that he does have a personal email address, but it is hosted by Google and her attempts to hack the tech giant's systems come to nothing. Meanwhile, Natasha receives an encrypted email. She reads it with interest but does not tell her colleagues she has received it, let alone anything about its contents.

There is a tracking device attached to Berkeley's car and Carmel has hacked his mobile phone, so confident that they know where he is, the team decide to look into some of Blackrock's holdings; Natasha is most interested in a series of Blackrock-owned warehouses scattered across London and so they spend the morning driving around the city, looking for anything suspicious at any of the sites and, alas, finding nothing untoward at a first glance. Berkeley himself seems to be going about an average working day and isn't giving them any useful intelligence either, so the team's morale slips a little, until they have the bright idea of looking at historical tracking data from the businessman's mobile phone.

Upper Belgrave Street, Belgravia - DSC05404They look at the data for the previous evening, when Berkeley disappeared after being contacted by Aytown-Baptiste, and see that he drove to the fancy pants neighbourhood of Belgravia. Carmel accesses CCTV footage of the street and sees Berkeley's car stopping outside a house, and then the businessman entering said house. Other cars are seen to arrive later and the passengers enter the building; rolling the footage back, the Red Line team also see a number of visitors arriving just before Berkeley. Most of the details are obscured by poor video quality or too acute a viewing angle, but Max spots a number plate and notes the registration.

A somewhat unhinged conversation develops as the Red Line team decides what to do with a building that they are convinced is the home to a nest of vampires. For a short time, they consider blowing up the house, but in the end they decide to investigate, posing as cleaners. They rent a van and the necessary equipment, conceal their own gear in buckets and the like, then set off. They arrive at the house with plenty of daylight left and ring the doorbell. There is no answer.

Their nerve nearly fails them and they almost leave, but instead press on and Carmel unlocks the front door, whereupon the team rushes inside and begins exploring. They find that the house is for the most part empty; the kitchen appears to be in frequent use and is well stocked with food and utensils, and one bedroom upstairs appears to be in use by a woman with expensive tastes in clothing and perfume. Carmel notes with a shudder that there are no mirrors anywhere in the house.

Max and Sten investigate the cellar and find that there has been extensive expansion work below ground with tunnels branching off in three directions; they decide that this is a bit too much ground to cover by themselves, and they return to the ground floor to wait for Carmel and Natasha so the four can descend together. The team follow one corridor to some sort of storage room, and not one among them is surprised to find a number of elongated boxes large enough for an adult to lie within; they are also not surprised to find that the boxes contain soil. Carmel takes a sample while Max soaks the boxes in holy water and scatters communion wafers over the earth within.

Oxford - Jesus College - 0531Down another corridor they find an impressive wine cellar... and a secret door! This takes them into what looks like a large shower or wet room, except the only fixture is a single drain in the centre of the floor, and the tiles are all a deep blood red. It is not clear what purpose this room serves, but everyone has an idea, and Natasha fishes out some lumps of unidentified gristle when she investigates the drain.

The team returns to the foot of the cellar stairs and heads down the third corridor, which leads to a metal door decorated with the image of a stylised dragon. The door is locked and even when Carmel picks the lock, the door does not open; Natasha surprises herself when she ponders out loud that there may be some sort of magic involved. The team decides that brute force is the way forward and breaks out the C-4.

The first attempt does nothing and Max suspects that they used too little explosive, so a much larger amount is used for the second attempt. The door is blasted open but the explosion also manages to bring down some of the ceiling; Max and Sten avoid the worst of the collapse but Carmel is almost crushed under falling bricks. Natasha, having fled upstairs between the explosions, loses her footing as the house shakes and grazes an elbow.

As Max and Sten dig an unconscious Carmel from the rubble, she dreams of being surrounded by a thick grey fog. Her attention is drawn to a pair of burning red eyes staring at her from the mist and a faint voice whispering her -- real -- name. She feels a sharp pain and wakes with a scream, to find Max leaning over her and a syringe half full of adrenaline stuck in her chest.

Dragon order insigniaThe Red Line team has a brief rest but is aware that the explosions will bring attention and so time is running out. Once Carmel has caught her breath, the team continue on past the twisted metal door, into what seems to be some sort of underground church or temple. The room is dominated by a stone altar in its centre, and a large metal -- it looks like brass or bronze -- disc hanging on the far wall; the disc features an inverted pentagram and within the pentagram is another stylised dragon; Carmel suggests that the dragon is a symbol of Dracula himself.

The altar is well worn and is -- of course -- stained with what the team guesses is blood. Grooves in the surface seem to allow for liquid to run off to be collected, and Max begins to imagine that this is the place of worship for some sort of blood-drinking cult; his macabre theory is supported when the team finds thirteen crimson hooded robes in a cabinet in one corner of the room. The pentagram itself looks heavy and is attached to the wall, but Max spots what looks like some sort of concealed grille in the centre of the symbol and using the last nubbin of their C-4, Natasha blows it open. A pipe leads off into the distance and then curves upward, but the team decides that there is no time to explore further. They flee the house, taking four of the robes and one of the tiles from the red room with them.

They hear police sirens approaching but Sten -- at the wheel of their van -- gets them clear without being spotted. Natasha tunes into her police scanner and is surprised when she hears officers on the scene claiming that everything is normal and the reports of an explosion "must have been a car backfiring or something". The Russian then calls the police herself and requests that they have another look, even dropping the magic words "terrorist" and "Islamic State", but no action appears to be taken, and the team suspects that the police may be in on it, whatever "it" is.

They head home and spend the evening recovering and continuing to spy on Berkeley. He makes a number of calls and it's clear to the team that he is discussing the Belgravia infiltration with his conspirators. Natasha makes a mental note of the voices she hears through the phone tap, while Carmel tries to trace the numbers; most are blocked, but one appears to be that of Anton de Ville, CEO of London-based Axel Logistics. Meanwhile, Max traces the number plate he noted earlier to the Romanian embassy; with a sinking feeling he looks up the ambassador and matches him -- Andrei Popescu -- to one of the faces in the CCTV footage of the cult house.

Carmel sends images from the footage to her ex-husband, asking if he can identify any of them, and he confirms Popescu's identity. Arthur also indicates the presence of Jo Ramsay, the London head of the international charity Heal the Children, and media personality Jeremy Clarkson.

At last, the true evil is revealed!

Next: a night at the opera!


  1. I'm loving these write ups Kelvin. And I'm loving the game concept too. Keep them coming please.

    1. Thanks Matt! Yes, there are plenty more on the way.

  2. Thanks for the refresher for the memory! Another fab write up of an awesome game! :)

  3. Don't forget the attic window, which someone seems to have been using to get in and out of the house...