The Zalozhniy Quartet for Night’s Black Agents sends the Agents on a desperate search for… wait. Spoiler warning. Don’t read this article if you’re likely to play in a ZQ game anytime soon. It’s a desperate search for, ah, something fuzzy and friendly and totally does not involve unkillable time-locked zombie monsters.

Now that we’ve cleared the room of non-Directors without clearance, let’s get into it. The Quartet involves a search for two mysterious substances, the nigredo (vampiric essence) and the albedo (a control substance of some sort). Combined, these create the rubedo, a marvellous compound sought by the vampires – and that, incidentally, gives control over the House of Saud and Saudi Arabia. (I note in passing that not only have world events overwritten the opening sequence of The Zalozhniy Sanction, set in Crimea, but current events in Riyadh may soon make the description in Treason in the Blood obsolete…)

If all goes according to plan, the Agents pick up the Albedo in The Boxmen and find the nigredo in Treason in the Blood.

The terms albedo, nigredo and rubedo are borrowed from alchemy. They’re three of the steps towards the Great Work to make the philosopher’s stone and achieve immortality, which makes them obviously pertinent to vampiric weirdness. You start with nigredo, with putrefaction and death (or, if you’re going with a Jungian know-thyself interpretation, the dark night of the soul). You’re wash it clean with (or in) the albedo (the Whiteness, Cleansing). You transmute it through citrinitas, the Yellow, the solar light, the dawn. Finally, you achieve the rubedo, the Red, perfection and victory and immortality (and access to Saudi oil reserves.)

So, there’s a whole alchemical step in the Magnum Opus right there – citrinas – that’s missing in the Zalozhniy Quartet. If that offends your sense of alchemical symmetry, here are some options for adding it in:

  • The citrinas is the human element in the vampire. CITRINE was St. John Philby’s codename for King Ibn Saud; the Conspiracy still use the Citrine codename to refer to the Saudi royal family (“we can draw down funds from the citrines”)
  • Citrinas is the essence of solar heroism – it’s vampire slaying. To create the rubedo, you need the blood of a hero. The Conspiracy needs to capture one of the Agents alive to complete their plan.
  • The citrinas refers to the ritual needed to combine the albedo and The Agents can obtain it from the Russian defector Arkady Shevlenko, or from Kim Philby’s safety deposit box, or St. John’s grave, or Dorjiev’s notes. Alternatively, the citrinas might be a potion that awakens the imbiber’s consciousness, enabling them to combine the albedo and nigredo safely. This also implies that the Conspiracy may end up needing to snatch one of the Agents.
  • The citrinas refers to a magical lens (maybe one of the glass fulminates retrieved from the desert, suitably polished) that transmutes the solar magic of daylight into the alchemical heat needed to achieve the rubedo. The Kingdom Centre in Riyadh is, of course, made using windows of citrinas; the Agents can delay the ritual by blowing up the Conspiracy’s lenses, or hike into the desert to find their own lenses.
  • Citrinas, the moment of self-realisation after death and cleansing, refers to the death-moment of a zalozhniy. Dr. Dorjiev wears citrine stones to anchor his life to that death-moment, as per p. 9 – if the Agents destroy or remove those stones, he’ll have to create a new zalozhniy post-haste to hide his death away again. (Kim Philby also created a citrinas token to sustain him through the Great Work, which is why he was so damned hard to kill – his citrine-stone ensured he survived the shell explosion in December 1937 in Spain, when he emerged unharmed from a blast that killed everyone else in the car he was travelling in. The citrine may be stored in his deposit box in the Kornersbank, or in some KGB storeroom in Moscow.)

For lots more alchemical fun, check out GUMSHOE Zoom: Alchemy

“Behold a great Mystery which I reveal to you without an enigma; this is the secret of the two Mercuries which contain the two tinctures. Keep them separately, and do not confound their species, for fear they should beget a monstrous Lineage.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus (date unknown, first known publication 1689)

red_mercuryThe modern conspiracy-tale qua urban legend that is red mercury was born, most likely, in the hothouse world of smuggling and corruption that sustained the Brezhnevite Soviet Union. Although the “orthodox” version of red mercury was a sort of hyper-accelerant for nuclear explosives, or possibly an ultra-catalyst for implosive fusion, a 1993 Pravda exposé on the topic depicted red mercury as also (or alternatively) a key ingredient in Stealth technology or perhaps missile guidance systems. Supposedly a lattice-shaped isomer of mercury antimony oxide (Hg2Sb2O7), enhanced with or somehow containing radioactives (lutetium, or perhaps plutonium) and then bombarded with a particle beam, becomes capable of immense energy storage: “a bullet can sink a battleship, a baseball can destroy a city.” The “red” refers to its color, or its Soviet origin, or abbreviates “redistilled.” Although Samuel T. Cohen (among other things, the co-inventor of the neutron bomb) vouched for its existence, the general consensus is that “red mercury” was invented not as a super-weapon but as a super-scam, a means to separate desperate would-be nuclear nations and terror groups from their slush funds. One particularly recherché theory holds that it was deliberate disinformation jointly concocted by the CIA and KGB as a nonproliferation measure: get nuclear smugglers chasing a myth, and they wouldn’t chase plutonium.

Red mercury had a brief heyday in the early 1990s, when it appeared at the center of at least five murders associated with an Iraqi attempt to buy nuclear material from South Africa. (Fun fact: The South African Defense Forces shell company created to thwart (?) this ring was called “Delta G Scientific.” Really.) Osama bin Laden bought a cylinder of red mercury from a Sudanese general in 1993, for instance. Every year since then, one or two arms dealers, Russian Mafiya entrepreneurs, or needy dictatorships tries to buy red mercury (the going rate was $300,000 per kilo in 1997, up to $1.8 million in 2013) and usually gets scammed, which means someone usually gets dead. Where Iraq and al-Qaeda went in the 1990s, of course, ISIS goes today.

In a zingy read in the New York Times Magazine, C.J. Chivers follows the trail of red mercury through Syrian and Turkish middlemen, illuminating the contemporary form of this modern myth. Chivers re-tells the delightfully wild story from the late 2000s that Soviet engineers (during the “American occupation”) smuggled red mercury out of the country in Singer sewing machines, though doesn’t mention the Egyptian conspiracy tale that red mercury can be obtained by cutting the throats of mummies. The story also gives a few new details that should prick the thumbs of any Night’s Black Agents Director worth her salt. For example, Chivers quotes a smuggler named Safi al-Safi: “The most expensive type [of red mercury] is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.” Another smuggler, Faysal, says that red mercury or “spiritual mercury” can be found “in Roman graves.” And finally, the smugglers’ consensus is that “real red mercury is attracted to gold but repelled by garlic.”

Red Mercury Cylinder

“The most sharp Vinegar is the Red Mercury; but the better to determine these two mercuries, feed them with flesh of their own species — the blood of innocents whose throats are cut.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus

Which leads us not to a Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier per se, but rather to one of the many many areas of modern mythology that the Dracula Dossier can comprise. Here, then, broken down as a proper Director’s Handbook Object, is that postmodern philosopher’s stone, Red Mercury.

Appearance

A dull gray cylinder about 30 cm long and 10 cm thick, marked with a radiation symbol. Cyrillic lettering on it reads Obrazets Noly — “Sample Zero.” When opened, it contains about 30 mL of radioactive material resembling thick red ink that flows and separates into drops like liquid mercury. Its density is 20.20 grams per cubic centimeter. Without testing the material, an Agent with Chemistry believes the substance could be mercury antimony oxide.

Supposed History

This is “hot” red mercury, the good stuff, straight from a Russian nuclear weapons lab. It might even be taken from the original 1965 test in the Dubna cyclotron, or just the “calibration batch” (easy to abstract, hard to miss) from a new program spun up under Putin. And there’s more where that came from. Tradecraft provides the information in the above paragraphs, and a 1-point Research spend leads the Agents to the New York Times Magazine story linked above and its intriguing garlic-related information. A 1-point Occult Studies spend leads to the Six Keys of Eudoxus, and to alchemy in general if that helps in your game.

Major Item

This is indeed red mercury, and the secret ingredient is Dracula’s blood, infused with mercury during his own lifetime as an alchemist. The Russian vampire program (DH, p. 76) figured out how to use particle beams to cibate the blood of Dracula into a mercury-antimony matrix (in KWAS: Alchemy terms, this is an Awakened Working of Vermilion + Sulfur), and the amazing effects of red mercury all follow from that:

  • Immense Explosive Power: The demonic strength of Dracula infuses red mercury: a Class 3 explosive requires only 3 g; a Class 4 explosive only 6 g; a Class 5 explosive only 12 g. Hand-loading red mercury into hollow-point rounds (~1 g per bullet) either increases bullet damage by +3 (and makes the bullet a bane to all lesser vampires) or (unmodified roll of 1) blows the gun up in your hand when fired (Class 2 explosion, +4 damage in debris range). Using red mercury requires a Difficulty 7 Explosive Devices test.
  • Chemical Weapon: A drop of red mercury added to chlorine creates a deadly cloud of vapor: if inhaled or exposed to an open wound, treat as injected tetrodotoxin (DH, p. 87). Garlic oil acts as an antidote.
  • Lifebane Bomb: Samuel Cohen believed that the Soviets built dozens of baseball-sized red mercury “neutron bombs” that required no fissile material to fuse their core of heavy water. With 150 g of red mercury (and either a very detailed schematic or a 2-point Physics spend), an explosives expert can make a lifebane bomb that acts as a Class 6 explosive. Dracula can command those killed by this bomb. Those protected from vampires (surrounded by garlic, inside holy ground, etc.) within the debris range are immune to the bomb.
  • Stealth Sheathing: Atomized and used to paint a surface, red mercury renders it invisible to all imagery, just like Dracula! Any vampire is at -4 Difficulty to track anything coated with red mercury. High-tech automotive paint requires about 15 g per square meter, but a Chemistry spend might reduce that even further.
  • Missile Targeting: Dracula’s blood knows its own. The user must separate one drop of red mercury into two drops. A missile, artillery shell, or anything else in free flight homes in on a drop of red mercury if the missile has the matching drop inside it. Vampiric Blocks that affect Dracula block the targeting signal.
  • Summoning Demons or Djinn: Dracula’s demonic pact connects his blood to Hell. Burning red mercury in the correct sigil (2-point Occult Studies spend, at least, plus an incantation from Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273)) summons a demon or djinn. Every gram of red mercury burnt equals 1 point of Aberrance or Hand-to-Hand the demon or djinn possesses; its damage equals +1 per 1o points in Hand-to-Hand, its Health equals its Aberrance. It has the same banes, weaknesses, etc. as Dracula. Dracula can command it.
  • Key to Further Dracula Research: Reverse-analyzing the substance provides clues to Dracula’s powers, to the Soviet vampire program, and likely to plenty of other big campaign questions.

The blood of Lilith (DH, p. 69) or Queen Tera (DH, p. 71) might also be the active ingredient in red mercury. Or the Director could vary the effects of the red mercury depending on the donor vampire. “Telluric” red mercury has the same effects, mostly explained by the conversion of telluric bacteria to telluric mutant bacteria by Russian radiation.

Minor Item

This is indeed red mercury, but it only has one of the powers above, as well as being a key to further Dracula research. Unlike the red mercury above, it’s also highly radioactive: treat exposure as anthrax (NBA, p. 81) except the victim only heals half her lost Health after treatment. Her Health rating lowers to the new level, from which she can rebuild using experience points.

Fraudulent

This is one of the many types of phony red mercury floating around the arms-trader underground: liquefied cinnabar (mercury sulfide), “red oil” (tri-n-butyl phosphate, highly exothermic), waste metallic nuclear coolant, mercury tinted with cochineal or lipstick, depleted uranium powder in an oil suspension, chloride of mercury, mercuric iodide, mercuric oxide, or mercuric cyanate (also highly explosive and flammable).

Connections

Al-Qaeda in Rûm (DH, p. 148) wants red mercury very much, and the Romanian mafia (DH, p. 157) might well be dealing it, perhaps through the Arms Runner (DH, p. 102) or the Syrian General (DH, p. 133). The SRI (DH, p. 156) may have seized a sample from which more could be traced, as might the Slovakian Border and Alien Police (DH, p. 164). The Retired KGB Agent (DH, p. 97) might know about the original experiments, and the Seismologist (DH, p. 100) might be obsessed with replicating them. Red mercury might power the Earthquake Device (DH, p. 266) or the Radu weapon (DH, p. 276). If authentic, Edom would very much kill to get this cylinder, and Pearl (DH, p. 52) may well run one or both parties to the transaction. Edom might have set up this transaction even if the cylinder is fraudulent, as a means of drawing out shadowy players in the vampire-alchemical underground.