The Coldest War

Roving Kings

The wounded warrior on the Eastlake bridge thanked Rhyme for the rotgut whiskey with which to dull the pain. In exchange for a promise to let him live, and drop him off by the old Lake Union power plant building, he told Rhyme that the former inhabitants of the bridge were mostly killed or driven off, but that all who could be taken alive, including most of the women, were taken to the old ruined University hospital building. Rhyme and a grumpy Firestone drove south to drop the wounded man off, but they rapidly realized that the Lake Union power plant was a bastion of the King’s Gang, who normally don’t come that far north, and they opted to drop their wounded passenger off a few blocks away. Notwithstanding the blood Firestone was bleeding on the upholstery they opted to scout the hospital. Sadly, they got too close and a gang of about six guys on motorcycles engaged them in combat, getting a lucky shot on one of Firestone’s tank’s wheels.

Rather than drive on the rims, Firestone opted to pull into a defensible alley to fight. Sadly, even notwithstanding Rhyme’s strange facility with weaponry, two against five are not good odds. Badly wounded, Firestone drew on hidden reserves of focus to pull off some amazing driving on a badly damaged vehicle to flee. They returned, whereupon Firestone was taken to Missed, the local mechanic / medic, while Rhyme informed Mice that if his sister was still alive, she was being held in the old hospital.

While the daring duo was scouting, an Academic named Millions showed up at the Tower. He informed Miss Stockton that a gang had started encroaching on the territory of the Suzallo Palace and that, in lieu of the usual tribute payments, he would prefer it if she would get a posse together and roust them. Millions was then diverted by Silver, where he spent the rest of the day eating strawberries and enjoying the sensual company of one of Silver’s employees named Dustwich. Carver developed a sudden, strong need for the strange metal gauntlets borne by Millions, but was unable to cajole them out of him.

Miss Stockton put together a strong posse, bringing most of her gang, the “Have Rats”, along with Rhyme and Carver who was convinced to help so as to get in good with Millions. Carver even produced an ancient blueprint of the old hospitals electrical systems which showed the gang a way into the hospital’s basements from the old, collapsed Triangle parking garage. Firestone spent the time getting patched up by Missed, although to pay for it, he had to owe Silver, who payed the tab on his behalf.

Miss Stockton and her posse set forth into the black rain, the particular, oily, foul rain that comes when the weather is from the south-west. The black-needled pines of the south University campus provided excellent, if moist and creepy cover for their approach. The plan went off fairly well. The Have Rats, being generally better equipped than the faction of the King’s Gang present in the hospital, and armed with knowledge of the basements of the sprawling ruin, routed their foes. The King’s Gang tried to use some of their prisoners as human shields, but Rhyme convinced them to flee and leave the hostages, none of whom were Mice’s sister.

A more thorough search discovered a sub-basement with a captured Academic and Amy, Mice’s sister. The Academic was an unconscious older woman. Amy was a gaunt girl with dead, vacant eyes. This didn’t seem to strike Mice as unusual, but when Rhyme attempted to calm or understand the girl, she reached out and touched Rhyme on the forehead whereupon Rhyme fell into a sudden slumber. Amy’s touch had a different effect on Carver, who had a sudden epiphany that the Academic prisoner may well have gloves just like Millions! Which she did.

The Have Rats, under Miss Stockton’s command, took Amy, the unconscious Academic, and the slumbering Rhyme back to Mount Safeco.

Meanwhile, Silver was conducting business as usual. She managed to procure a pristine can of coca cola for Mutual, a man she owed for connecting her with Kitty her bouncer. The coke was a strange “new” variety, that didn’t appear to satisfy his pregnant wife as much as had been hoped, but she did her best. She effectively held down the fort while the rest were away.

Firestone, recovering thanks to the unorthodox methods of Missed, was overseeing repairs to his vehicle when the posse returned. He attended to Rhyme’s unconscious form while looking askance at Amy’s weirdness and Carver’s sudden clingy attachment to the odd girl. Rhyme suddenly awoke, having experienced a vivid dream where she was dancing at an elaborate masquerade ball wearing a lemon-yellow sun dress. Suddenly there was a hush. The attendees muttered about the King arriving. Rhyme saw in her dream a tall man in gold brocade and a smooth, porcelain mask enter the room. He reached up to remove the mask and… she woke up.

Silver gave the Have Rats permission to enter her club (although they still had to pay) as a reward for a job well done, whereupon Millions emerged from the private rooms where he was enjoying Dustwich’s company. He seemed pleased that the Academic prisoner was still unconscious, but when he went to prepare his departure, the woman opened her eyes and made a plea to Miss Stockton for asylum, or at least escape. It seems she didn’t want to go back. After a bit of a verbal altercation, Stockton let her out the back much to the dismay of Millions, who huffed and puffed about it, but couldn’t come up with a way to punish Miss Stockton immediately. He went back to the Suzallo palace where, unbeknownst to all but Silver, he succumbed to a mysterious fatal illness just a few days later. The Academic, named Visage, was concealed in Silver’s establishment after giving Miss Stockton a mysterious book…

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A Day in the Life of Mount Safeco
First Session

In the shattered, decaying edifice once known as Safeco Tower, looming high above even the Suzallo Palace, lives one of the better fed communities in Seattle. Led by the ageing Hardholder Cynthia Stockton, one of the few who remembers the old sciences of agriculture and hydroponics, the holding tends to eat better than the other, more savage tribes around.

The “Mount Safeco” Hardhold lives in the penumbra of the Suzallo Palace’s influence, and pays tribute in fresh food to that bastion of mysteries in exchange for a steady supply of electricity and the questionable protection of being nearby. “Miz Stockton,” as she prefers to be known, presides over the hold with a calm but firm hand, holding to a communitarian ethic that is enforced by one of the more savage of the local gangs, given shelter and fresh food in exchange for their violent service.

One of the individuals of note within the hold is Silver, the proprietor of The Supper Club, an exclusive establishment that takes the fresh food provided by the hydroponics levels and turns it into culinary masterpieces. The serving staff, pretty girls and boys all, are also for sale, at least for an evening, if the price is right.

Lurking in the dark corners of the building, moving through silent halls and scuttling behind the walls is Carver, a scarred, seemingly sexless being known for extreme creepiness as well as a significant hoard of old books, maps, and other sundry valuables… although the location of this stockpile within the building is a well-kept secret.

In the garages beneath the building are at least two vehicles: an old Camaro and a Hum-Vee with a mounted machine gun. Both belong to Firestone, a young man with a talent for speed on an open road. He came to the hold some years back seeking independence from larger groups such as the Toll or the King’s Gang. Miz Stockton’s knowledge is enough to produce small amounts of biofuel, enough to keep both of Firestone’s vehicles fueled and ready. Firestone provides mobility and courier services for the hold.

A teenaged girl named Rhyme arrived with Firestone back in the day. She has characteristic bright-yellow goggles and wears windchimes made of shattered glass. She is an idealist, the driving light of a purpose fills her eyes, her seeming naivete belied by her uncanny ability with “Reason”, her rifle. She preaches to any who will listen a new world of cooperation, civilization, a rebirth of the golden times. Perhaps because Miz Stockton is one of the few who still (vaguely) remembers those times, Rhyme’s proselytizing is tolerated if not actively encouraged.

The leader of Miz Stockton’s gang of violent savages is a woman named Fleece. She has seen countless battles and looks it. She’s scarred, missing teeth, and hard-bitten, but has developed a strong crush on Firestone. She took her crush up to the Supper Club to treat him to fresh strawberries in hopes of luring him to her quarters later. As they entered, however, a drunken fellow named Lefty lurched out of a booth and accosted Firestone. The young driver had no idea what Lefty’s problem was, but handily face-planted the drunkard into a table before Silver’s bouncer, Kitty, manhandled Lefty out of the establishment.

Fleece, impressed with Firestone’s rapid removal of the problem, seemed somewhat oblivious to the lad’s deep ambivalence about her advances, but he was not so willing to offend that he refused to sit with her in a dark booth and eat strawberries with her. Over the course of dinner, though, it became clear that he would have to either refuse her firmly, and forego any special favors, or let her have her way, with all the complications that might entail.

Lefty, tossed into the lobby of the building to the derisive laughter of Miz Stockton’s gang, was noticed by Carver, who slunk up to him. Carver noticed that Lefty’s nosebleed left delightful patterns on the floor, and rather forcefully attempted to assert Lefty’s artistic talent. While this creeped the drunkard out, he saw an opportunity and sought to hire Carver to take out, or possibly kill, Firestone for him. Apparently Lefty had conceived of a great lust for Fleece, and saw Firestone as his rival. Carver simply walked away from the offer, but turned and slunk after Lefty once he left the room.

Rhyme entered the lobby in time to watch Lefty depart, and was greeted enthusiastically by Mice, one of Fleece’s lieutenants. Mice attempted to ingratiate himself to the young woman, but it ultimately came out that he was concerned for the fate of his younger sister whom he had left with the rest of his mud-fisher family down by the Montlake Slough. He had heard of recent raids down there. He had to defend the hold, but hoped that Rhyme and Firestone might check it out for him. Rhyme readily agreed and went upstairs to the Supper Club to find Firestone.

Lefty, meanwhile, bullied his way past Miz Stockton’s secretary Newton and into her office where he made a loud complaint about having been assaulted by Firestone, spinning an entirely slanted version of the events in the Supper Club. Silver, having anticipated this, called Miz Stockton on the intercom (powered thanks to the bounty of the Suzallo Palace) and gave her a somewhat more accurate view. Lefty, realizing that he probably wasn’t going to snow the leader of the Hold, sought to back out of her office only to run into Carver, who creeped him into backing back into the office. Carver informed Miz Stockton of Lefty’s attempt at contract assassination, whereupon Lefty snapped. Perhaps he realized that his welcome was well and truly worn out. Whatever the case, he pulled a handgun on Carver and sought to shoot it. The bullet bounced off Carver’s makeshift scrounged armor as Carver twisted his arm and broke his elbow.

At that point, Miz Stockton calmly pulled out a shotgun from under her desk and informed the combatants that the only person permitted to spill blood in her office was her. Carver clearly backed down, but interpreted the statement to mean it could keep punching on Lefty so long as no blood was spilled. Lefty opted to ignore Miz Stockton and got his brains blown out for his trouble.

While Lefty’s remains were cleaned up and taken to the “reclamation” level, Miz Stockton retreated down her private staircase to join Silver for strawberry shortcake while Carver creeped Newton the secretary out.

Meanwhile, Rhyme convinced Firestone to take her out searching for Mice’s sister. They went down toward the University bridge, where they noticed a new, rougher, more armed gang in control of the bridge. Rhyme attempted to cow the armed thugs with talk of an important mission, but that only encouraged them to hunker down behind their overturned truck fortifications and hose the interlopers down with bullets. Firestone yanked Rhyme back into the truck, taking a bullet for his trouble. Annoyed, he gunned the engine, and machine-gun blazing, the two assaulted the fortified position. The defenders were well-entrenched, but one got hit with a lucky machine-gun bullet and went down, while two more were dispatched with eerie aplomb by young Rhyme who seemed… possessed by some quality of conviction that was nearly otherworldly. Through sheer force and display of personality, the two were left in control of the bridge while the remaining defenders leapt over the rail into the muddy slough below. As Firestone attempted to stanch his blood so as not to get it on the upholstery, Rhyme sought to aid and interrogate the wounded defender…

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