Saturday, May 19, 2007

Demon Days: Season 3, Episode 4 – “House of Leaves”

Previously, on Demon Days

  • Sunday was arrested by her fellow mages for helping Evets, her fugitive friend. She begged to be rescued.
  • A bomb went off on a subway car. In the aftermath, Edgar was left blind (a psychosomatic blindness, probably caused by the shock), and the other Hunters recovered the hard drive from a vampire's computer. It's unknown who set off the bomb, or why.

"House of Leaves"

The next morning, the gang gathers at Edgar's apartment (though Edgar is still in the hospital). Simon and Lucy are in a gloomy mood: today is March 9, 2007 – it was on this day, twenty-seven years ago, that their mother was murdered. It hits Simon a little harder, for he's old enough to remember her; Lucy was only a month old at the time of her death.

The Hunters crack into the hard drive. In addition to an endless amount of music and music videos (including many copies of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," for some reason), they find a stash of e-mails, all of them correspondence between the computer's owner – named "Jorge Bastille" – and a woman known only as "Wilhelmina." This would be a terrific find, fantastic for discovering information, but all of the e-mails are written in spy-movie gibberish: "The second baseman stands in the sun," or "The roses are in the vase, but they get no sunlight." They search the computer for anything more useful, but nothing is found. They do, however, note the oddity of Jorge Bastille's name – could the initials "JB" mean he's Johann Sebastian Bach? And could Wilhelmina be Mozart? The WAM Willem spoke to was a woman. They leave the computer for later.

At the hospital, Edgar is in poor spirits, even before Willem starts taunting him. He's still blind, and his doctor – "a bad House impersonator" – has been taunting him, too. As it turns out, Little House (ha!) is actually our old friend Evets, in disguise as a doctor. He wants to help them rescue Sunday, but can't – she's being kept in "mage jail," as he puts it, and if he were to step inside, magical wards would teleport him to a cell of his own. He can, however, tell them where the jail is, and give a few other pieces of advice. For instance, he says the jail probably won't be closely guarded – the mages in the city are busy dealing with a massive bout of supernatural bad vibes. See, each of the major groups of creatures blame the subway bomb on someone else, and massive conflict is brewing because of it. (And if anyone wasn't already sure why the three-parter about the bomb was called "The Black Hand," that's why.)

Evets gives them the location of the jail, and tells them to be careful: he's not sure what they'll find inside, but it's not likely to be pleasant. He also that says that, even if they manage to find Sunday, she won't be able to help them get out – magical seals prevent prisoners from using magic, and they're impossible to break. Other spells keep the prisoners without need for food or water, meaning they can just be left to rot in their cells indefinitely without interruption.

With all that cheery information, the Hunters head off for their rescue mission. They ask Evets to watch over Edgar, and he agrees, though he points out he won't be able to use his magic should trouble arise: that's how they found him last time, and if he does it again, they'll find him just as quickly.

The Hunters head off to the address given to them by Evets (3122 Ash Tree Lane). They find a nondescript blue two-story house, but Evets warned them that the house will be "much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside." They step up to the front door and find it locked, but a note is taped to the door: Three Blind Mice is a good rap number. They knock three times, and the door unlocks.

Once inside, the door closes and locks behind them, leaving them trapped in an enormous circular chamber that stretches several stories high. The room is lit by a giant chandelier with a diameter the same as the chamber; if it falls, no one gets out of the way. The door they entered is closed and locked. A small shelf (which they realize quickly is a scale) next to the door bears Greek writing, which they can't read. The scale depresses with the weight of whatever they put on it, but nothing opens the door.

That leaves the only other exit from the room: a huge wooden door opposite the entrance. It also bears Greek writing, but it's unlocked; opening it reveals a stone corridor. With nowhere else to go, they enter together…

…but arrive separated. Lucy and Dean are together in one version of the hallway, while Dan and Willem are together in another. (Simon is missing, but neither pair realizes that.) They can each return to the entrance, even at the same time, but can't find one another. Left still with no options, each pair ventures deeper into the house. They find several intellectual and logical obstacles waiting for them.

Each pair enters a room that would either be fatal or inescapable without the ability to see in the dark; luckily, the Discern Edge gives them that power. (The magical seals apparently do not suppress Hunter Edges, thankfully.) Lucy and Dean have to solve the old "Get exactly four gallons of water using only a five-gallon jug and a three-gallon jug" chestnut, though Dean cheats by just pulling several gallon jugs of water from his magic bag. That violates the spirit of the puzzle (as he'll be chided later), but it's somewhat fair – though they had to get four gallons of water into a bowl to open a door, they weren't given any water to start with; it's definitely assumed the user will be able to create water from thin air.

Willem and Dan come across a room of cells, which are unlocked on the outside but sealed on the inside. All are empty, save one…and its occupant is a vampire, a red-haired woman who screams for help as soon as they enter the room. "They've left me here to starve!" she says, and offers to help them escape, adding, "You can't get out of here without me!" When asked for clarification, she says she knows what opens the front door, and that only she can get it for them.

When they open her cell, she's overjoyed…for about a second, and then she recognizes them. In terror, she ducks into the corner of the cell as begs not to be killed. She's been "briefed" on the Hunters, she says, and pleads for her life (er, well, un-life, I guess). She knows, sort of, their names and recognizes their faces, but that's all – she was only in town for a few days before she was apprehended by the mages. But she offers to help them get out – the scale at the front door requires a quantity of "dead flesh," which she can provide. Not ashes, though – killing her won't help them. "You need me," she says. But after a longer discussion, they leave her in the cell and continue on their journey.

They find another door, one that leads to the roof of the house – another exit, and one they won't need the vampire for. But after only a moment, a spell kicks in and the door leads to somewhere else in the house – the destination appears random. Following the corridor in the other direction, they find another puzzle chamber – a room filled with near-freezing water, at the other end of which is a doorway blocked by a stone slab. At the bottom of the chamber, nearly 150 feet down, is a switch that, theoretically, opens the slab. They manufacture a clever way to cross the chamber (ripping the door of its hinges and using it as a surfboard), but they know that neither of them could survive swimming down to flip the switch. But someone who was already dead….

They return to the cells and retrieve the vampire. She thanks them profusely, and introduces herself as Victoria. She says that she is from out of town – her fellow "Kindred" (what the vampires call themselves) brought her in because she's an expert in cryptography. Why they need an expert in cryptography she doesn't know, because she was abducted before she had a chance to find out. She says she unknowingly wandered into what had been agreed was "mage territory," and was arrested and thrown in jail before she had a chance to defend herself.

Returning to the puzzle chamber, Victoria effortlessly swims down to the bottom of the well and flips the switch, opening the slab and allowing them to continue. She offers this as proof of her good intentions.

Meanwhile, Lucy and Dean explore their own puzzle chambers. They also find a room of cells, though these are occupied by sleeping mages – and one of them is Sunday, though without her trademark purple raincoat. Retrieving her is simple enough, but they can't wake her no matter how what they try. (In what I thought was an amusing moment, Dean deduces she may need her purple raincoat to wake up and goes looking for one in his magic bag, but all he can find is a copy of Purple Rain. I kill me.) Dean slings Sunday over his shoulder and continues on through the house.

Soon enough, the groups run into one another. Before the meeting, Victoria begs Dan and Willem, "You can't let him kill me [referring to the kill-first-and-ask-questions-um-never Dean, obviously]; you need me to get out, remember?" And sure enough, Dean and Lucy are not pleased to see a vampire walking with them: "I leave you guys alone for five minutes…" But the Avengers agree to let her follow them as they try to escape.

Unfortunately, the house seems to start folding in on itself – they travel through several rooms they're already seen, and not in the proper geographic order, either. Tensions rise, and when Victoria gets a little too chatty, Dean tries to stake her (Victoria having told them that staking a vampire will only paralyze them, not destroy them outright). He's unsuccessful, but only just barely.

The rooms again start to repeat, and the Hunters find themselves in the jugs-of-water room. Lucy, confused, pissed, and worried about her missing brother, lets out a string of profanity. Victoria chides her, "I don't think your father would like that very much." Lucy turns to her in a rage, and Dean tries to stake the Kindred before anything else can come out of her mouth.

Victoria pleads with Lucy, "You can't let him kill me, Lucy." She asks why not; Dean's stake finally hits home, but not before the vampire can answer her question: "Because I'm your mother."

Storyteller's Notes: Following this session, FRINAN generously pointed out that I'm an unoriginal bastard, which I've noted before. The title of this episode is, of course, a reference to Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves, which is also about a house far bigger on the inside than the outside. The puzzle that opens the front door – the one about Three Blind Mice – is lifted verbatim from the game The 11th Hour, which is also about solving puzzles in a magical house.

At the beginning of this game, I mapped out a vague mytharc, one I never really imagined would come to resemble anything close to the plan. It's with great delight to see that I have, in fact, managed to lead the game to a territory that at least looks like the one I plotted out at the beginning. (For example, I wanted to begin the third season with a bomb in the subway tunnel. And lo and behold, there it was, a bomb in the subway tunnel at the beginning of season three. The why has completely changed from my original intent, but the how is still there. Joy!)

Next week's episode: "The Chamber of 32 Doors."

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