The Toll Collector

By Douglas Muir (


I pulled the Mercedes into the furthest left-hand lane at the toll plaza, one of the two that still had a human attendant (well... an attendant, anyhow). Beside me, Vexorg was poking holes in the plush opholstery of the passenger seat with his finger.

"Stop that," I frowned. "Do you know how much a good upholstery job costs?"

"It wouldn't be a problem if I was driving," he grinned back. Oh right. Like I would let one of the Calabim drive a car while my own precious hide was in it. I sighed inwardly. They're useful in a fight, but...

"So what do we say?" Now he was fiddling with one of the window switches. It'd snap off any second now, of course.

"Anything from parts three, four or five of the poem. And if you don't have them memorized by now, tough. You can beat up a couple of angels and get your Essence that way." I pulled the car up beside the toll booth. As I turned to the collector, I heard Vexorg chuckle. He knew perfectly well what to say; he just liked being annoying.

"Hi!" The toll collector leaned out his window. He wore an ugly brown uniform and a beautiful white smile. "That'll be one dollar, sir, and won't you have a nice -- Oh. You."

"Me," I nodded, smiling back at him. "Ah, ahem. 'Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many'" I stretched my hand out to him, a single dollar bill between my fingers.

The toll collector's smile had disappeared like a spark on snow, and with much the same sound. Lips thinning, he reached out to take the bill. Our fingertips brushed against each other, and...

...aahhhh, Essence. How I love getting Essence. I had burned up too much, skulking around that wretched Tether. This would bring me almost back up to full. I let my arm fall limply against the side of the Lincoln. I could feel my smile stretching wider...

"Hey! Don't forget me!" Vexorg leaned across me. I pushed myself back into the seat, alarmed; the last time he'd done this, he'd spilled beer on a $1,500 Armani suit, and the stain had never come out. "Uhhh, 'Oh you who turn the wheel and look to windward, consider Phlebas, who once was handsome and tall as you.' Gimme!" Vexorg had his empty hand held out, palm up.

I heard the toll collector hiss something under his breath. But he had no choice. Glaring, he slapped the Calabite's hand with his own. I felt the Essence being transferred...

"Ha ha ha!" Vexorg flopped back into his seat (I distinctly heard a spring snap, twang). His face had gone loose and drunken; I wondered if I looked that silly, and sat up and put both hands on the wheel. "Just like going to the gas station! Woo hoo!"

"You're holding up the line," snarled the Impudite. It was true; there were a dozen cars behind us. I shifted gears and rolled forward. Vexorg was giggling madly.

Behind me, I knew, the toll collector would be pasting his smile back on. I wondered how many human drivers it would take to fill him back up on Essence.

* * * * *


Impudite of Baal

2 Corporeal
Strength 3
Agility 5

2 Ethereal

Intelligence 3
Precision 5

4 Celestial

Perception 5
Will 11

Role (toll collecter) - 1

Vessel - 2 (twentyish white male)
Vessel - 2 (fortyish black male)


Area Knowledge (city) - 3
Dodge - 4
Fast talk - 3
Lying - 3
Ranged weapon (pistol) - 5
Running - 3


Celestial Attraction - 2
Celestial Charm - 2


Impudite of War


Cowardly - 2

Feris, an Impudite of the War, screwed up bigtime a little while back. It was the sort of mistake that could have gotten him busted down to emptying dumpsters in Shal-Mari for the next century or so, or worse... perhaps much worse.

But his boss (a Balseraph Captain of the Infernal Armies, one Urhious by name) just smiled at him. No problem, said Urhious. You'll get to stay on Earth, my lad. And what's more, you're going to be privileged to participate in a _very special_ experiment in logistical support..

Feris has two vessels and one Role: He's a toll collecter on a highway just outside a major city. He works a shift in one vessel, then swaps to another and works another; with overtime, this means that he's almost always on the job.

His job is to be a living Essence battery for the demons of the city.

Feris' Role lets him chat briefly with hundreds of humans per day. As he greets each one, in the few seconds as he leans out to smile hello, he tries to Charm them; as he takes their change, he can try to drain a bit of Essence. Hundreds of humans pass him every shift, so Feris can acquire some startling amounts of Essence a day this way.

Stop at his toll booth, recite a line from T.S. Eliot's _Waste Land_, and he'll give you 2 Essence. Recite one from Sylvia Plath, and he'll give you 5 Essence... but be careful; he reports these incidents to his Captain, and you may get a visit from a 12-Force distincted Balseraph wanting to know just why you needed that much. Most demons just take the lesser hit; he'll distribute Essence once per demon per day, so they can always just come back tomorrow for more.

Feris is very, very unhappy with his job, but he knows better than to complain. Things are bad, but they could certainly be worse.

His boss, Captain Urhious, is delighted; he thinks he's discovered a brilliant new strategy for generating Essnce *and* a clever new way to punish wayward Impudites. He hasn't gotten around to telling his Baron about it yet, though, because he wants to have a demonstrated success up and running. Indeed, he's toying with the idea of skipping the Baron and going directly to Baal...

Well, it _is_ clever, but not as clever as he thinks. What Urhious doesn't know is that this trick has been tried before, and there are some problems with it.

The biggest one, of course, is that Feris is a serious security risk. He now knows the appearance, favorite vehicle, and license plate number of every demon who's taken Essence from him (giving up Essence goes directly contrary to Impudite nature, so they're more or less branded into his memory). And he's a coward... so anyone who gets hold of him and twists a bit, will have a great deal of valuable information.

(Originally, only a dozen or so demons of the War were supposed to have the password. But demons are demons; one of them passed it along to a friendly servitor of Saminga, and another got drunk and let it slip to a Lustie, and, well, by now something like thirty demons know about the "Essence ATM" out at the toll plaza... most of the demons in this particular city do, in fact. And Feris is starting to feel the strain, as demons are coming by for Essence almost hourly now.)

Also it hasn't occurred to Urhious that an *angel* might drive through the toll plaza at some point. It is, after all, very busy; that's the point. And an angel would almost certainly realize that he was dealing with an Impudite as soon as Feris tried to Charm him (main book, pg. 154).

_Feris_ has considered the possibility -- he's got nothing to do all day but charm human drivers and contemplate his situation -- but he's stuck; it's just one more thing to make him miserable.

Another problem is the side effect on the humans who are being drained of Essence. The stretch of highway beyond the toll plaza has seen a sudden, mysterious spike in accidents; three people have died there in the last month alone. The police have noticed this, but are at a loss to explain it. Someone may write an article about it in the paper soon...

The deaths and accidents weren't _caused_ by the Impudite, exactly... he's just making them a lot more likely, statistically speaking. So instead of the "BONG" of Symphonic disturbance from killing a human, something else is happening, something rather strange. The stretch of highway just beyond the toll plaza has begun to gently hum with a continuous low level of Symphonic disturbance. The demons don't notice it -- their perceptions tend to be lowish, and they're too high on their Essence hit when they pull away -- but an angel might (-2 on the roll, as it's Very Hard to hear). The longer Feris stays, though, the more accidents he's going to contribute to, and the louder the noise will become.

Feris carries a pistol (against toll authority regulations, of course), but if threatened he's more likely to run than fight. If caught, his Cowardly discord means that it shouldn't be too hard to beat some interesting information out of him.

If the PCs are angels, or demons hostile to Baal, discovering and interrogating Feris would be a major coup; he'd be able to give them the appearance and license plate number of a couple of dozen demons.

Keep in mind, though, that Urhious' Captain of the Infernal Armies attunement lets him know the location and health of his subordinates at all times. So if Feris is injured or killed, a very tough 12-Force Captain will be showing up to investigate. Once he belatedly realizes what a security risk Feris is, Urhious will be VERY determined to recover or kill him; otherwise, he'll be in Really Big Trouble with his boss, and his boss' boss.

Alternately, demon PCs could be tipped off about Feris by a "friendly" Servitor of the War. In this case, they'll have the benefit of "free" Essence... for a while. But in the long run, they'll be the ones whose identities and Roles are at risk. Which may teach them a salutary lesson about taking gifts from fellow demons.

If nobody interferes with Feris, eventually he'll be shut down, once Urhious tells Baal or his Baron (or once the Game finds out). Urhious may, depending on Baal's mood, get complimented for his creativity or have a Force or two ripped away. And Feris will be debriefed as to just who has been taking Essence for the last few months. If he survives, he'll remember always everyone who ever used him, and will quietly watch for a chance to do them a bad turn.


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