GURPS: Red Sky

Clean Slate, Chapter 6

The OSBI team arrives at the Howell Estate and find it busy but not under attack as feared. Having been informed by Howard Lee that this place has at least some minor connections to the Red Court, Jack Carter decides to scout ahead on his own, trusting in the glamour of his magical cloak to keep him mostly out of sight. He leaves Lee and Wufei Qing behind in their ‘borrowed’ van. As he nears the fence enclosing the estate, Jack becomes aware of a sense of power which he guesses (correctly as it turns out) to be some sort of magical wards.

Once in place, he is able to get a tolerable view of the main entranceway to the mansion and is thus in place when vehicles arrive. These cars are allowed entry and Jack is able to identify one of the newcomers as Diana Raith, the White Court vampire who he knows had an unexplained relationship to his former boss, the later Arthur Curtmantle. The other two he does not know.

Sofía Torres has a clear view of the Howell Estate from her vantage point in an empty neighboring home and is reeling from the revelation that her husband is still alive. Not to mention, he’s a freaking vampire too! She discusses with Auric Craft about the best way to gain entrance – the young apprentice is eager to do something and to do it now, but Sofía cautions patience.

She then turns to study the wards enclosing the estate, intent on locating a weak spot that she can punch through. After several long minutes of study, she finally isolates her most likely breach point and begins working her magic in that direction with an eye on being subtle. It takes longer than she would like – to her eyes, these wards are powerful, but not very well constructed – but eventually, she is successful: the wards have a breach and no one but her and Auric realize it.

And then, to her surprise (and mild annoyance), all of the wards sputter and collapse for some reason.

Colin Jenks steps through the doorway to find himself in a large cellar filled with cages that appear to have been transformed into cells. At his appearance, all of the prisoners begin clamoring for him to get them out, even a young woman he recognizes as Kimberly Howell, a wealthy debutante who is famous simply for being famous. In other cages, he sees fae and creatures he does not recognize, including a wolf-like man who is desperate to get out. Near the stairwell leading up, there is a great magical stone of some sort that has a man secured to it somehow. Although Jenks was going to free them anyway, Ms. Howell’s promise to sex him up should he free her only intensifies his intent.

All of the cages appear to be electrically-controlled and he eventually tracks down the source of the cables to a master control panel hidden behind the great magical stone. Once he deactivates the power, all of the cages open at the same time; simultaneously, the subtle buzzing from the large stone also stops and the man secured to it collapses to the floor.

As Jenks is getting his bearings, he feels a physical tremor through the floor and then hears gunfire. That can’t be good.

Outside, Jack is observing the goings-on when suddenly, he hears a rapidly approaching garbage truck. It smashes into the main gate and carries on inside before crashing; moments later, a group of vans rush forward, disgorging hostile shooters who immediately begin engaging the estate’s defenders in a fierce firefight. Carter quickly hides in the shadows to remove his glamoured cape so he can contact Lee.

At the same time, Sofía and Auric gird themselves in magic and then begin advancing toward the breach, intent on sneaking in. They have to wait as guards rush by to engage the attacking shooters.

At Carter’s signal, Lee drives their ‘borrowed’ van to pick Jack up; along the way, he catches sight of Sofía, which surprises him slightly. Once Carter is filled in on this, the OSBI agents decide to investigate her presence so Lee drives the van back toward her. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite think this through because, as far as she can tell, they’re just another van filled with hostile shooters. As they approach rapidly, Sofía concentrates on blowing out the electronics on the van … and it most definitely works, which causes the vehicle to slow abruptly. When Lee hops out of the van, Sofía blasts him with a knockback spell but she underestimates his strength, while Auric tries the same with Carter (but being only an apprentice, he does not have much power behind it.)

As is her wont, Sofía tells everyone that there’s not enough time to fill everyone in on the situation and then heads off into the estate grounds. Everyone else shrugs and follows. They sneak forward and then, naturally, come under fire by a trio of vampires consisting of two Red Courts and an unfamiliar Asian-looking zombie guy. The fight is over rather quickly, with Lee killing one of the Reds with his sword while Sofía incinerates the other. Far more interesting is the fate of the other one as Woo, who has been struggling with weird sensations, charges the jiangshi with a jump kick … and he feels something shift inside his body. When his foot connects, the Asian vampire explodes. Woo hits the ground, abruptly exhausted, and observes the other jiangshi look at him and then blur away.

Inside the cellar, Jenks “leads” the freed prisoners up the stairs – he and Ms. Howell are half-carrying, half-supporting the maimed and barely conscious man, while the wolf-man guy charges madly forward to engage the vampires. He is promptly followed by the furious fae who Jenks also released.

RingOfSolomon.jpgRather than get involved in what is shaping up to be a brutal fight, Jenks maneuvers the man and Ms. Howell to somewhere slightly more safe; the stranger directs them toward a large, antique wooden chest that Colin can feel magic rolling off of. He helps the man open it, then seeks out an overturned coffee table that they can use as cover. When the man extracts a book, something falls free and rolls toward Jenks. He grabs it, intending on returning it to the old man, but whatever it was bites him. Recoiling, Colin realizes he has a large ring that won’t come off on his index finger … and it’s getting hot.

With a loud crash, a new group of people enter the estate – it’s Sofía and company, of course, but Colin does not know them – but only one of them focus on him. ‘Master Montjoy!’ Auric exclaims as he rushes forward, just as Sofía squares off with a vampire who addresses her: ‘Hello, Sofía,’ Eduardo says with a dangerous leer.

And then, the ring on Colin’s finger explodes in white light. Most vampires are obliterated entirely, though Eduardo is simply hurled through the window. Lee is also bodily picked up and thrown into a wall, as is Ms. Howell. Jenks collapses, unconscious from whatever this thing was. In the distance, the sound of sirens approach.

With the fight now mostly over – the surviving shooters outside are punch-drunk from this flash and are easily disarmed by the OSBI agents – Sofía and Auric grab Wizard Montjoy and Colin and make good their escapes. Though she does not know Jenks, Sofía can tell that he’s potentially quite powerful and the ring that appears bonded to him looks to be a potentially valuable weapon in the fight against the Reds. There is no sign of her former husband but she suspects he’ll show up again.

SWAT, led by Special Agent Hawkins, arrives soon after to take control of the situation. He is surprised to see the entire Special Investigations taskforce here and reveals that he’s been coordinating with other law enforcement agencies to head off a suspected attack by narco-communist terrorists who were intentionally targeting the top one percent. Hawkins then declares that he looks forward to reading S.I.’s report about how they got here.

And Jack Carter looks around at the mess and silently promises that he’s going to find out what really happened here and why.

GM Notes:

I thought this was a complete mess, from start to finish. None of the players did anything wrong – all of the blame falls squarely on my shoulders as I planned for one thing to happen (PCs infiltrate the estate before the shooting begins) but did an inadequate job of establishing exactly why they needed to do this … so the players used logic and reason and did not sneak in. And then there were some rules mistakes I made and lack of actual player agency … ugh. Yeah. This was a mess on my part.

And the above fails don’t even take into account the fact that the characters remain ignorant of what actually just happened and why. Fortunately, Jack’s player expressed his character’s intent on digging into this mess so as to figure things out, so I can bring that into play next time. Hopefully. Providing I don’t mess that one up too by trying to do too much at once.

Interestingly, the players appeared to have fun during this mess so I guess there’s that. Now I need to just put it behind me and move on. Planning must commence for Volume VII: Dead Line.

Clean Slate, Chapter 5

From the City Below, Colin Jenks steps onto the Gray Road and begins walking. As he hikes, once again, he notes that he does not seem to be experiencing the level of fatigue that he would expect for such physical exertion. Around him, the terrain gradually begins to change and climb higher until he finally reaches the Stone Bridge. It crosses an unrealistically deep chasm and a small but old-looking … man with a sword that is larger than he is. This old man greets him calmly with a simple, ‘Hey.’

OldTroll.jpgAn interesting discussion plays out, where Colin learns that crossing the bridge requires a toll paid. This makes sense if this old man is a troll as Jenks suspects, but since he gave the Coin to the Regent, he doesn’t have much in his pockets beyond the toe-bone taken from one of those hanged men he saw earlier. Discreetly dropping an illusion of the Coin over the bone, Jenks passes this to the bridge guardian and is then startled when the illusion itself seems to be … consumed by the troll’s simple touch. Fortunately for him, the troll seems quite pleased with the toe-bone and accepts it as the toll. They continue chatting as Jenks explains the strangeness of his day as well as his mission from the ‘Coyote-Man’ and the troll makes a comment that Colin thinks nothing of at the moment: ‘you’re going to have to Choose soon.’

After receiving a warning about the West Gate’s guardian, Colin assures the troll that he will get past it using ‘wit and charm’ before venturing off. He finally reaches the gate and is startled when a massive dragon clambers into view above it. Jenks immediately pulls his ‘rock’ trick wherein he drops the illusion of a stone over himself with the intent of creeping forward incrementally. Unfortunately for him, the dragon lands before him and loudly reveals that it can smell him. A tense exchange ensues, with Colin forced to at least reveal that he’s there lest the dragon simply ‘burn him out,’ which Jenks definitely would like to avoid. Since Colin does not initially drop the illusion, the dragon henceforth addresses him simply as ‘Rock.’

They converse, with Jenks learning that the dragon does not play riddles – evidently, that’s why he let the last person go through the Gate, after losing a game of them – but is surprisingly friendly for a dragon. Colin inquires about the number of other dragons to which the Guardian (for lack of a better term) declares that there are no others like him! This leads Jenks to break out his phone and show images of other fictional dragons – Drogon, Smaug, Vermithrax Pejorative. Seeing them, the Guardian demands to know how to get access to these dragons; he makes Jenks swear an Oath to return and show him the way before allowing passage.

Colin uses the Key to open the Gate and …

Having just burned a trio of vampires to ash, Sofía Torres is about to head toward this estate that Auric has shown her when suddenly, a being cloaked in shadow and rage drops out of the dark sky and starts striding toward her, bellowing her title: ‘Wizard!’ The few people who had emerged to observe the wizard-vampire duel retreat quickly as Auric whimpers in sudden fear and even Sofía recoils from the hideous face of this thing she vaguely recognizes. Upon seeing the Enochian glyph upon the entity’s torso, she realizes that this is the Denarian she exchanged a Soul Gaze with some years back. Grimly, she girds herself for battle, expecting to be promptly turned into a grease stain.

Penemuel.jpg‘Wizard!’ the Denarian bellows, its voice shaking the ground and even causing some car alarms to start sounding. ‘I know you! And I require … your aid!’ The Fallen Angel whips out a bizarrely complicated-looking map that sincerely looks to have been crafted upon the skin of something (which Sofía doesn’t really want to think too much about, actually.) This Denarian, which Sofía has finally realized is Penemuel, the Fallen Angel who ostensibly taught humanity writing (and Fell because of this) is … lost. The irony is somewhat amusing, actually.

From Penemuel, Sofía learns that the Fallen is seeking out a ‘ city of bricks’ but cannot match any of the landmarks it knows (probably from before the Flood to be honest) with modern, mortal architecture. It has a meeting that it cannot be late for and so, if Sofía does not wish it to burn this quaint village to the ground and piss on the ashes, she will aid in finding where it must go. Being a naturally curious sort, Sofía offers to show Penemuel the way; to her mild surprise, the Fallen briefly turns to Lei standing in the doorway of Neutral Grounds and asks her if Sofía can be trusted with this. At Lei’s nod, Penemuel orders Sofía to lead on; it will follow in the air.

Taking her bike – Auric follows in his old, beat up WWII-era Jeep – Sofía rides to Bricktown and is quickly joined by Penemuel. A man that Sofía knows as Father Cristián approaches, though Penemuel, who has by now transformed into a young woman, addresses him as Anael; the father … if that’s what he actually is thanks Sofía and escorts Penemuel to one of the outside cafés where they have dinner together. Sofía tries to keep an eye on them as she struggles to comprehend what is going on since, frankly, it kind of looks like a date (although the two are clearly debating about something.) Auric rejoins her, revealing that he could not even understand Penemuel’s words when it talked to her.

After a few minutes of observation, the two wizards head to Nichols Hills and the mansion that Auric showed her via magic earlier. Immediately upon arrival, Sofía can identify which house it is simply due to the sheer strength of the magical wards present. Crossing those wards will definitely alert the inhabitants and might just fry the trespasser. She and Auric enter an empty neighboring house that Craft reveals had an ‘accident’ with its high-tech alarm system that he absolutely had nothing to do wit. The owners are evidently in Aruba. Here, the two wizards can eavesdrop.

LadyHu.jpgAnd soon after, once full night has set in, several cars pull into the estate. Once the various security types signal the all clear, the passengers emerge. Out of the gleaming silver Rolls-Royce climbs Diana Raith, looking cool and professional and way sexy in her white suit. A second woman of distinct Asian heritage, who Sofía does not recognize, gets out of her car as well; this woman moves strangely – she is stiff and awkward, but somehow still comes across as frighteningly dangerous. This second woman’s entire entourage seem to suffer the same rigid awkwardness that she does. The third person, though, is someone Sofía is intimately familiar with.

It is her dead husband, Eduardo. Apparently, the Red and White Courts, who have been at war in Oklahoma City for nearly a year now, are gathering to have a discussion.

Suddenly, this meeting became a great deal more interesting to Sofía.

Howard Lee is rushing to the Sweet Tooth candy manufacturing plant in his car. Following the fight with the strange bear-men, he discovered from Lilith Morgan that Lady Aoibheal had already departed, so there was nothing keeping him in the Wolfram and Hart office. Armed with that strange vision from the hooded lady of Jack in danger, Lee left and is now arriving.

He arrives, discovering an uniformed OKC police officer standing guard outside the parking lot; this cop stops him, then reveals that he is here investigating reports of a disturbance. Lee identifies himself, complete with a flash of his badge, then abruptly gets a bad vibe about this guy; there’s something just … wrong about the way this cop holds himself or wears his uniform or something, so Lee throws out a line of bullshit regarding who he suspects to be this officer’s superior, intentionally using the name of a cop who is no longer on the force. The fraud buys this fake-out, only confirming Lee’s suspicions, then suggests that the OSBI agent park ‘over there’ if he wants to wait for his partner. Lee does so, keeping an eye on the fake cop while calling this in to confirm that the man’s badge number is not valid.

Abruptly, a trio of men armed with M4s step into view and unload on Lee’s Cadillac CTS; he immediately dives for cover, simultaneously tossing aside his phone – still on the line with the local police – while drawing his sidearm. None of the bullets penetrate the car to injure him, but the damage to his beloved new car is still rather significant, which infuriates Lee. Popping up into view once the shooting has stopped, he takes a few wild shots, luckily dropping the fake cop who was retrieving his own M4, then slides out of the car.

A fierce gun battle ensues but it is short-lived as these shooters are simply unprepared for the onslaught of the Autumn Knight who is out to avenge the death of his new car. Two more of the hostiles are dropped as they try to flank him, and the sole survivor darts for one of the nearby parked vans, clearly intending on escaping. Lee retrieves the M4 from one of the men he’s shot and fires a sharp burst into the passenger window of the van, killing the driver instantly. Once satisfied that all hostiles are down – clearly, his soldier training meshes well with the Autumn Knight’s mantle – he retrieves his phone, discovering that the dispatcher was listening to the gun fight with bated breath and has already sent reinforcements.

Lee heads for the main facility – during his gunfight, he heard the sounds of other shooting inside – where he discovers that Jack Carter and Wufei Qing have had an interesting time of it. Evidently, only one of their hostiles turned into a fire zombie – the other two screamed in agony and burned away to ash – but the refrigerated state of the building slowed it to a crawl, making their encounter less a fight and more of a shooting range. Bare minutes later, police cars arrive with great sound and fury, followed soon after by ambulances. When the injured woman, who they have by now identified as one Aubrey Petersen, is being wheeled into an EMS vehicle, Jack orders the city police to make sure that she has a uniform on her at all times since she is a person of interest.

The agents spend some time looking over the scene and generally doing their job. Lee discovers that there are two vans outside (including the one that now has brains smeared all over the front of the windshield) and both are chock full of illegally modified M4s, ammunition, and various other goodies; even more interesting to him are the floorplans and photographs of the very mansion that he was surveilling until earlier this evening. From the local cops, Jack learns that the Sweet Tooth plant is owned by some large conglomerate but the point-of-contact is one David Howell; this man’s wife is sister to Ms. Petersen’s husband who Jack suspects to be one of the bodies he saw earlier in that penthouse. When Woo returns with surveillance tape of a large group of shooters actively planning to make a strike on the mansion that Lee has found photos of, it seems clear that this is a clear and present danger. When Carter inquires about the availability of SWAT, he learns that they are deployed on a training exercise that was arranged weeks ago by Jack’s very boss, Special Agent Hawkins. Both Carter and Lee find this very suspicious and, realizing that the local police are likely stretched to capacity by two major events, discuss their next steps.

So the three OSBI agents take the other van filled with guns and go to the Howell mansion themselves.

GM Notes:

Down a player tonight due to sickness (Woo’s) and another player (Sofia’s) was fighting illness, so I’m very hopeful that everyone will be okay next week since it going to be the climax of volume 6.

Quite satisfied with this session. I’ve been watching a bunch of Matt Colville’s “Run the Game” videos on YouTube and, while he’s focusing on 5E D&D, a lot of his general recommendations are quite valid, so as a result, this session was something of an experiment on my part. I intentionally did not go into my usual amount of detail for game prep. Now I’m not saying that I’m going to be ‘wing it’ all the time, but I did make an intentional effort to force the players into ‘taking’ more agency.

I was extremely happy with how the Colin and Sofia scenes went; both players were definitely ‘in-character’ and did some very nice roleplaying. Both scenes have then resulted in some pretty interesting (at least to me) opportunities for future stuffs, particularly with Colin & his Oath to the Dragon (voiced by Mark Strong, of course). Sofia’s player also declared her intent to dig deeper into the Anael-Penemuel thing once this latest crisis has abated, so that worked out nicely.

That said, not everything went as well as I would have liked: the final bit of data-dump that put the three OSBI agents on the road to the Howell Estate was kind of crap, but we had an friend and former player drop in unexpectedly, so that was distracting. I should have also done a better job of prepping for that pre-game (specifically, having a clearer outline plan about how to get from Sweet Tooth to the Howell Mansion.) This was definitely a case of ‘didn’t prepare enough.

Clean Slate, Chapter 4

Howard Lee is bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored. He is sitting in the lobby of Wolfram and Hart, outside the office of Lilith Morgan which Aoibheal entered over an hour ago, and he’s getting tired of it. That said, he has been quite interested in the variety of weirdos that have passed by him while he’s been sitting here.

A few moments before he stands up and barges into Morgan’s office, he observes a pair of very large, very hairy men bump into a woman wearing a strange veil. Though they knock her down, this does not seem to be enough for them as they then begin kicking her brutally. Upon seeing this and noting that both are wearing pro-communism shirts, Lee intercedes and shoves them both.

Naturally, this starts a fight.

Both of his foes are incredibly strong and supernaturally durable, which quickly forces Lee onto the defensive. He connects with several would-be crippling shin strikes that seem to barely faze the monster-things and, the longer they engage him, the more bestial they become. After narrowly evading their latest strikes, Lee backpedals and tries to draw the ASP Baton sheathed at his back, but instead, Ævenchos comes out. This changes the entire tenor of the fight.

In seconds, one of the creatures is on the ground, his head separated from his body, and the second follows soon after, missing one arm and with another crippled. Lee grimaces at the mess he’s created but notes that no one present, not even security, has made any efforts to stop the bloodshed. In fact, more than a few are eying him with more respect or perhaps interest.

Still gripping Ævenchos, he helps the veiled woman to her feet. She thanks him through winces of pain and then clearly declares that he is in the wrong place. Lee doesn’t know what she’s talking about until she touches his hand and suddenly, he’s experiencing a flash of memory that he hasn’t had yet where he sees his partner, Carter, lying still in a pool of blood. Above him, emblazoned on the wall, is the logo of the Sweet Tooth manufacturing plant…

Bullets are whizzing by the heads of the two OSBI agents following Jack Carter’s loud order to ‘lay down your weapons!’ Staying low, Carter dons his ridiculous-looking cape once more as he creeps toward a parked forklift nearby; Wufei Qing, for his part, returns fire with his pistol, though it is ineffectual thanks to the body armor worn by the shooters. He is then forced to dive for cover when they orient toward him instead of just utilizing suppressing fire.

After first dialling 911 on his phone and sliding it away, Jack clambers into the driver’s position of the forklift and takes a second to orient himself before starting it up and jamming the accelerator. As the lift starts to pull away, Woo grabs a protruding piece on the back so he is dragged along; he twists his body around a bit so he’s on his feet – this is the first time he’s been grateful for the slick dress shoes he’s wearing as they allow him to slide along the concrete easily enough.

All three of the shooters orient on the seemingly driver-less lift and empty their magazines into it, though two of them only have a few shots left and immediately start reloading. In that brief lull, Woo slides out to one side while still being dragged and pops off several shots at one of the hostiles; it takes the man’s leg out from under him and he falls with an agonized shout. At nearly the same moment, Jack slides out of the slow-moving lift and then football slams another of the shooters, knocking him to the ground; he follows up with a powerful kick to the man’s jaw that knocks him straight out.

With only one shooter still really a factor, Jack charges him as well, once more knocking the man flat; they promptly begin wrestling with Carter emerging victorious and managing to get the man face-down so the OSBI agent can zip-tie him. While this is going on, Woo scrambles into the now abandoned driver’s seat and orients the lift on the shooter whose leg he crippled; his intent is to trap the man in place with the box on the lift’s forks until they can handcuff him as well. There is a single gunshot from the man’s pistol and Woo will later discover that his opponent ate his gun.

After thoroughly zip-tying the conscious (and struggling) man and then doing the same to the unconscious one, the OSBI agents check the facility for more and instead discover a grievously wounded woman bleeding out. Clearly the origin of the screams that Woo heard through the portal that resulted in them coming here, she moans and whimpers and pleads for help; Jack springs forward and stabilizes her, though he recognizes that she needs immediate medical attention. He is about to ask Woo if he still has his phone when a loud booms echo from the loudspeakers, like a bass line for an especially obnoxious rap song. It shakes the walls. And then repeats. Again. Again. Like a heartbeat.

“Oh, hell,” Jack murmurs, comprehension coming suddenly.

And in that moment, the three shoots begin to smoke…

Colin Jenks looks up. He is momentarily startled to see a young woman at the top of the stairs – apart from the bizarre mask she is wearing, there does not appear to be anything about her really out of the ordinary … though the dress she’s wearing definitely does look expensive. She glides gracefully down the stairs, declaring that it has been a very long time since a Fool has been chased to ‘her city.’ As she demands Colin’s name, he feels an urge to spill out his entire life’s story to her but manages to ignore this likely magical compulsion.

He does note, however, that the big, strong, fierce lofas seem absolutely terrified of this slip of a girl.

“Call me CyberJinx,” he says, opting to use his online pseudonym instead of his actual Name. This minor effort of will seems to briefly impress her and she declares that he is clearly not a Fool after all, but rather a Fabulist. When she inquires why he is here, he responds with a curtailed version of his story – the Coyote-Man sent him to get a Key and open a Gate. The Regent muses briefly but then shakes her head. “_For trespassing upon the shores of my city, the penalty is … a Trial. Yes. You have three foes so there shall be three tests. I approve of this symmetry. Three tests: one of strength, one of will, and one of valor. Chose your Champion, lofas; the test of Strength shall be first._”

Jenks soon learns the rules of this: the hunter will name a task that is within doing. To prove that is doable, the hunter will first accomplish this task. Should Colin accomplish it, he then may name his own feat, do it, and allow the Hunter to attempt as well. Failure along the way results in death. The lofa champion points to a large, very heavy-looking slab of masonry and tells Colin to move it. To prove that it can be moved, the lofa digs his fingers under it and manages to lift it several inches. He then joins his comrades and laughs as Colin circles around the masonry and gathers stuffs.

That laughter ends abruptly when Jenks uses the mast from the boat as a lever. “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world,” he quotes with a cocky grin. Now that it’s his turn, he ponders what to do and hits upon something that he read on an online gaming forum. First, he tells the champion to ‘pick himself up’ before advancing and, with a great deal of effort, lifts the lofa off the ground. This immediately causes the creature to look around in confusion as it tries to figure out a way to ‘pick himself up.’ Unfortunately, it isn’t smart enough figure out a way to accomplish this and looks at the Regent who shakes her head. Instantly, the man with the lion-headed helmet springs forward…

And transforms into a lion as he takes down the lofa champion with a loud crunching of bones. Jenks’ eyes widen sharply but he is frozen to the spot in disbelief; one of the other lofas, however, panics and runs. He gets only three or four steps before the Regent gestures idly in his direction.

He explodes.

The Regent declares that Jenks has won the test of Valor since he did not run, so only the test of Will remains. Clearly terrified and confused, the final lofa struggles mightily to figure out how to test Jenks’ will, during which time Colin also takes action. As these lofas are clearly dumb as bricks and rely entirely on brute strength, he expects the creature to try and force him to react to an attack. To that end, Jenks discreetly erects an illusion of himself while hiding his actual self. This does not seem to fool the Regent who looks squarely at the real Colin. He shrugs … and she allows it.

After hefting the discarding ship mast – and discarding it when the Regent shakes her head – the lofa opts for the direct route. Scream a fierce battle cry, he lunges at the illusion Colin has crafted and swing his fist at its face, stopping only at the very last instant. From where he stands, Jenks realizes he would have been unable from recoiling. He then counters by having the illusion reach up and tear off its face to reveal … the Regent who points a finger at the lofa and declares, “Die.”

The lofa shrieks and spins to flee … only to be taken down by the waiting (and blood-flecked) lion.

With a smile, the Regent tells Colin that it appears he has won, though she probably should penalize him for cheating during the test of will. She decides against doing so, however, as she did name him to be a Fabulist, after all. His reward is the Key which she offers in exchange for his Coin. He is now welcome to visit the City Below at any time but his current task may take precedence. She gestures to the side and Jenks finds himself looking at a road that was not there before…

GM Notes:

Interestingly, I think I was more satisfied with this session last night, immediately after the game ended, than I am now. I’m not sure what bugs me now, but I have to downgrade my initial feeling of ‘very strong’ to ‘moderately okay.’ The session was ultimately just two fights – Lee’s fight with the ‘were-bears’ and the OSBI shoot-out – and then Colin’s escapades, and everyone still seems to have been engaged and having fun but … I dunno. Something just felt off.

During the Lee fight, Jack and Woo’s players handled the werebears which worked out nicely. The fast-healing and high DR of those creatures definitely made that fight last a bit longer than originally planned, but once Lee broke out Ævenchos, that cursed faerie sword he obtained a while back, it definitely shifted into his favor.

The OSBI fight went a lot differently than I expected it to – first, Woo nearly got perforated by some suppressing fire, then Jack decided to hop on a nearby forklift – the map I was using had one right next to where the PCs were so I rolled with it – in order to drive toward the bad guys. Then Woo basically let it drag him behind so he was sort of ‘concrete surfing.’ This was slightly more cinematic than I was really expecting, but again, I rolled with it.

Finally, the Colin ‘trial’ sort of fell on its face IMO. I mostly blame myself because it was a little too railroady with me expecting certain behavior instead of just letting it play out. Plus, it was getting late so everyone was starting to fade. I wasn’t expecting his final illusion thing, though, so kudos to Gigermann for taking my established facts – that the lofas were terrified of the Regent – and running with it. Afterward, we chatted about this and it gave me some cool ideas on how to have the Regent reappear down the road in a way that won’t be a repeat of Lee and Aoibheal. And it sort of explains why she let his cheating pass…

We were down Sofía’s player so the wizad was sidelined, which sort of works as I was planning on a quick deviation thanks to her Weirdness Magnet to delay her from reaching the climax of the story arc too soon, but now, based entirely on how the two fights played out, I may have to extend ‘Clean Slate’ to six sessions instead of five, so that scene will likely make a reappearance after all.

Clean Slate, Chapter 3

The backpack hurled by the man strikes the ground and explodes.

To Agent Jack Carter, it seems to happen in slow motion, which gives him just enough time to shout out a warning and dive for cover; this warning is enough to send Agent Wufei Qing into action as well, though in both of their cases, it’s barely enough. The concussive force of the explosion throws them both across the penthouse. For a long moment, their ears are ringing and spots dance in their eyes – both are aware of just how close they just to dying in a fiery conflagration.

But it isn’t over yet. The man they had just taken down and cuffed was also tossed by the detonation of whatever was in that backpack but now, he rises to his knees, screaming a guttural cry as something inhuman bakes him from the inside. With strength beyond that of a normal man, he strains against the handcuffs and somehow breaks them apart before lunging to his feet and turning toward Jack. Heat boils off the man as he dashes forward and delivers a tremendous blow to Carter’s face. The OSBI agent narrowly eludes the strike and, in his momentary panic, draws his pistol and fires wildly.

With his partner shooting wildly, Woo cannot risk advancing and instead tries to find an opening so he can attack. He winces when Carter takes a terrible blow to the face and then sees his moment; with a loud kiai, he strikes but his kick barely even budges the burning man. It does attract the man’s attention, though, and for long seconds, the two exchange strikes, with the man on fire abandoning defense in lieu of power. Only Agent Qing’s expert training allows him to evade his foe’s strikes.

Jack abandons his pistol and draws his Faerie-wrought knife, but he finds that even it hardly seems to slow the burning man. In pain and unsure how he can best aid in this desperate fight, Carter backpedals while Woo dances around the man on fire. Both note that great chunks of the man’s body are breaking off into ash, prompting them both to start thinking that maybe whatever is happening has a limited duration. Agent Qing delivers a powerful push kick that sends his foe to the ground, but the man scrambles back upright and turns to face him once. Again, the burning man lunges toward Woo but the rookie agent delivers another push kick that sends his foe to the floor…

Where the man explodes into ash. The fight is finally over.

As the three massive creatures charge toward him, Colin Jenks turns and runs.

He doesn’t think about how bizarre all of this is or how his shoes seem to inexplicably spark against the Black Road or how badly he wished he’d just stayed on bed. All that really matters to him at the moment is escaping the very large, very hairy, and very loud things in hot pursuit behind him. One them hurls a telephone pole-sized spear that misses by a wide margin … okay, it isn’t actually that large, but in Colin’s moment of panic, it certainly seems that way.

The Black Road continues for some time, dipping into some more rocky terrain and hills. Serendipitiously, it crosses a crumbling stone bridge that slows down two of the massive creatures, but the third one continues to gain. Colin once again tries not to think about that anymore than he considers the crucified skeletons now adorning the side of the road. He presses on, growing increasingly desperate until his pursuer badly misjudges a jump intended to cut him off. Breaking line of sight with the three beasts, Jenks scrambles into a convenient hiding place and thinks very, very hard about looking like a rock. To his utter relief, the three creatures power by him, still bellowing.

PERS-CrucifiedMan.jpgOnce they’re out of sight, Colin straightens, dismissing his brief illusion and then nearly jumps out of his skin when the crucified man hanging above him croaks out a request for help. Jenks does not even hesitate to help – nor does he inquire as to why the man has been crucified – and although it takes a bit, he manages to get the stranger down. When the man reveals that he has no memory of his name, Colin declares that he shall be henceforth known as Brian. His new friend doesn’t get the joke.

Brian reveals that Colin is heading the wrong way – the City Below is back the way they came and they should hurry since the ‘lofas’ track by smell. They might be dumb as bricks, but they’re tenacious as hell. So it’s back the way he came and Colin is slightly creeped out when he realizes that the rickety stone bridge he crossed is nowhere in sight. He shakes it off and they continue.

The Black Road comes abruptly to a sharp overhang that looks out over a wide lake. On the other side of this strange, shadowy body of water is a city and Colin pauses, then turns to Brian. ‘You’re supposed to state the name of the city, dude,’ he says which only causes the other man to frown in confusion. When Brian responds that this is simply the City Below, Jenks nods. That’s more like it.


And then, of course, those lofas show up again. With Brian leading the way down narrow stairs carved into the rock face, Jenks concentrates once more on erecting another illusion, this time extending the lip of the cliff a bit further than it actually is. He then starts down the surprisingly slippery stairs and has just reached the bottom when the first of the lofas squawks in startled surprise as his foot goes through the cliff. The massive creature slams into the beach hard and is still shaking his head when one of his companions falls out of the sky and lands atop him. They are angrier than before and cast about for Colin.

By this time, Jenks and Brian have reached an old boat resting on the beach and have managed to get it into the murky water. Neither actually know how to sail but Brian seems at least mildly competent with the the rowing, which is odd considering he was crucified only a short time ago. They strike out for the City Below and the two beachside lofas, furious and in some amount of pain hurl their spears. One goes very wide, but the other strikes the boat square one, which causes the thrower to momentarily cry out in jubilation. Colin scrambles for a crappy bucket and begins bailing water. When he glances back, he almost cries out in frustration: the damned stubborn lofas have waded into the water and begin swimming.

Jenks doesn’t know how long he’s been bailing water – his back and shoulders ache badly and he can only imagine how much pain Brian much be in. Suddenly, their boat strikes land and Colin realizes that they’ve made it! He and his new friend half-crawl, half-fall out of the boat and start limping toward the city. The sound of the three lofas wading out of the lake makes his heart sink but just as the creatures move to surround them, a voice calls out: Hold!

A man wearing a lion’s head stands before a set of stairs that Colin had not even noticed before and it takes entirely too long for Jenks to realize that it’s a helmet, not the guy’s actual head. The lofas actually stop and the man speaks again. They are all to kneel in the presence of the King’s Regent. He goes down to a knee, and then so do the lofas, and then Brian as well. All of them are looking at the top of the stairs.

So Colin looks up there too.

Sofía Torres has her doubts about Auric Craft’s story, but she’s willing to at least check it out. With him at her side, she exits Neutral Grounds and almost immediately, feels her supernatural senses tingling. The parking lot lights have all been extinguished and there is an ominous feel in the air.

Seemingly materializing out of the darkness, a trio of Red Court vampires (sans their flesh masks) appear. They hiss and posture, with the leader announcing that the wizards have interfered with their plans for the last time. With a gesture, he orders his fellows to attack and blurs forward himself.

Unfortunately for him, Sofía is having none of that crap today. Even before the vampires appeared, she began gathering power and as they lunge forward, she gestures at the leader and calls out, jua moto! A focused beam of flame streaks out from her finger and punches through the lead vampire’s torso; he has just enough time to look startled before exploding into flame. Their leader’s sudden and hideous demise causes the others to hesitate very briefly, but then continue forward; luck is not with them though, as the one targeting Sofía badly overextends which she capitalizes on instantly. Another spoken word of power sends a second laser-like beam through the skull of the monster and he is almost immediately immolated.

Seeing this, the third fledgling vampire turns and tries to flee which unwisely puts his back to her. Sofía hurls a third killing beam before eyeing the darkness around them almost contemptuously. She knows that there are other vampires lurking there but none attack, having clearly witnessed her prowess, and a moment later, the ominous vibe departs. They’re safe for the moment.

‘You need to work on your control,’ she tells a wide-eyed Auric Craft who is staring at the smoking remains of three dead vampires.

Woo rounds on Carter the instant he sees the burning man collapse into ash and demands, rather loudly, ‘what the fuck was that?’ Over Jack’s shoulder, he can see Agent Moretti staggering into sight, her armor smoking and her hair disheveled. Before Carter can respond, they hear and feel a loud ripping noise that rumbles through the floor. An instant later, a woman screams and both OSBI agents move to investigate, snatching up discarded rifles along the way..

EST-Portal.jpgThanks to the explosion, the master bedroom door must be forced and when Woo puts his shoulder into it, both men are surprised to see a spinning, sparking circle of vertical fire near the window. Jack recognizes it immediately, having traveled through a portal before, though this one is somewhat different; he is immediately leery about advancing further, but curses under his breath when Woo impulsively rushes through the gateway. With no other choice, Carter pursues.

Naturally, the portal collapses behind them.

They immediately realize that they are in a manufacturing plant of some sort, but there is a strange smell in the air that they cannot quite place. In the distance, they can hear muted voices – an argument maybe? Jack shrugs and decides boldness is his best weapon. ‘Drop your weapons,’ he shouts. ‘This is the OSBI!’

Silence answers him.

And then, gunfire. Lots and lots of gunfire.

GM Notes:

Again, fairly satisfied with this, although there were some issues. This time, Fantasy Grounds simply did not cooperate on the remote side, so I had to resort to some more old school methods which basically consisted of me double-clicking on images to bring them up on the big screen television. Not sure where the failure is – Windows or FG – but I’ll keep poking around until I can figure it out.

The first fight – the two OSBI guys and the burning man – took longer than I expected, while the vampire fight took hardly any time at all with Sofía being the burninator. My poor vamps rolled like crap for their dodges – one of them even crit failed on an unarmed attack so he fricking face planted in front of her! – and she hit them with her specialized ‘seared to perfection’ vamp laser and POOF! Up they went. In like 5 seconds. Her stock will definitely be going up after this fight. Because of how efficient she was, the encounter I intended to last a good thirty to forty-five minutes took less than ten.

Used a bit more from the short-lived “Emerald City” television show (which I actually really liked, dammit) than I expected, but that’s okay. Colin is down in the City Below where weird stuff happens.

Woo’s player decided to go through the portal which caused Jack to grudgingly follow. I was definitely not expecting Carter to so loudly shout like he did … to be honest, I had planned on (if they did go through the portal) that they would sneak around a bit and eavesdrop, so since I was slightly blindsided, I had the bad guys respond the way they did and called the session a little early so I could let it cook a bit. Amusingly, Woo’s decision here is going to put Carter in even more hot water since he was the agent-in-charge and then mysteriously vanished.

Clean Slate, Chapter 2

Colin Jenks might be going mad.

Coyote.jpgNot only is a giant coyote approaching him, but it is talking to him as well. As it approaches, this coyote seems to melt and shift, transforming from a giant canine to a very tall humanoid in an expensive-looking suit … with a coyote’s head. The creature tells Jenks that it would be well within his rights to eat thieves, but Colin has the smell of the Nunnehi upon him. Are they kinsmen then? If so, then it would be very poor manners of the coyote to eat a kinsman. Seeing a loophole, Colin is very eager to claim distant kinship so the coyote instead decides to send him on a “journey outside of the boundaries of earth, along the spine of the dreams of Man and through the nightmares of the Fade.” Unless Colin would prefer to be eaten instead, of course. Wisely, Mister Jenks opts for the ‘less painful’ option and then is at least mildly concerned when the coyote-man is unclear on which one is the less painful.

Regardless, the creatures charges Colin thus: “Via the Black Road, you shall enter the City Below and go to the Lake of Shadows. Cross it and proceed on to the King’s Gate. As there is no King sitting in his throne at this time, pay homage to the Regent at his circle and prove your worth in whatever manner he decides. Succeed at this and ask for the Key, which you must then take along the Gray Road to the great Stone Bridge. This should allow you access to the Nickle Hill where you must find the West Gate and open it with the Key…”

Colin’s blank-eyed response: “Go down a road. Get a key. Got it.” This causes Mister Coyote to query as to whether Jenk truly understands what he has been tasked with and then, upon discovering that his distant kinsman is either very young or very dumb, Mister Coyote muses upon how to best describe the City Below to younglings and fools. He settles on “the City Below is a tiny piece of the Never-Was, carved upon footprints of the Could-Have-Been with foundations wrought from the memories of tomorrow. It is the place where the echoes of the Maybe become solid and that which is Lost may yet be Found.”

This is not really that helpful but Mister Coyote seems to think it explained everything and takes the bucket of poker chips away from Colin before replacing it with a large, heavy gold coin that is covered with strange symbols and glyphs upon it. These symbols seem to shift and change when looked upon, and Colin’s head hurts when he looks at them. This Coin, according to Mister Coyote, will be necessary for the boatman to carry him across the lake.

Mister Coyote then ushers Colin to a set of stairs leading down – they weren’t there before and are in exactly the same spot he remembers the elevator having been. The stairs seem to glow from within subtly which makes Jenks think (wildly) that they’re wrought of congealed starlight or something. After wishing him a terse good luck, Mister Coyote sets him upon the stairs.

Colin goes down … down … down … down … seemingly for an eternity. Around him, there appears to be … nothing at all – no substance or light or wind, just a hollow nothingness that is disturbing. Equally worrisome to him is the fact that the stairs back up seem to vanish exactly two steps up, regardless of how far down he goes. So much for retracing his steps!

He isn’t sure how long he walks – his legs ache, but it is a dull, distant pain, like he exerted himself the day before instead of now – but eventually, they come to an end right in front of a very dark road that stretches out in either direction. The landscape is weird-looking to him as well, like something out of a particularly strange (or drug-induced) dream. He barely has time to get his bearings before a trio of immense and stunningly ugly monsters appear. They react to his presence with surprise, then malicious glee as they roar wildly and start charging toward him!

In the stairwell of City Place Tower, the situation has just turned violent. OSBI Agent Jack Carter is one landing above the two masked and armed assailants that he sent tumbling down the stairs, while Agent Wufei Qing has burst through the door outside the stairs below them. Accompanying Woo are ATF Agent Kara Moretti and two OKC police officers, Davis and Sullivan.

Woo is the first to shoot, although this will definitely be justified since he’s facing down two men wearing body armor, one of which is holding a Colt M4 while the other has a Glock. Agent Qing is concerned about his boss, Carter, who has apparently dropped completely out of contact. Immediately, the stairwell is crisscrossed with gunfire – which is loud in the enclosed space – and Officer Sullivan is struck squarely in the torso by automatic fire; his vest absorbs is not strong enough to hold against the assault rifle rounds and he staggers to covers, bleeding profusely, before finally passing out.

Thanks to well-placed fire from Agent Moretti’s shotgun, the two shooters are knocked off their feet, but their body armor holds and they continue to exchange fire with the LEOs they can see … and the one they can’t. Hidden by his magic cloak, Jack unloads with his M4, and soon, the hostile rifleman is taken out.

The pistol-wielding hostile – who is also handcuffed thanks to Carter’s earlier actions – empties half a magazine in Jack’s general direction but is unable to pierce the glamour surrounding the man so his shots are wide. Recognizing that the shooter is distracted, Woo charges up the stairs and lashes out, disarming the handcuffed man. The man is not yet done, though, and lunges toward Woo with a growl, clearly intending on trying to take him over the railing; Qing expertly evades the strike but the shooter’s handcuffed hands throws the man off. With a startled cry, he goes over the side of the stairwell landing.

Realizing that everyone seems to be ignoring him while the cloak’s glamour is active, Jack removes it, momentarily startling Woo when he seems to spring into existence. Carter orders Officer Davis to remain here with Sullivan before issuing an “Officer down” call over his radio. Taking Qing and Moretti with him, he then starts up the stairs, intent on getting to the penthouse under siege before the hostages are killed.

From the sounds of gunfire above them, though, they may already be too late.

Arriving at Neutral Grounds on her bike, Sofía Torres is greeted by Lei and notes that there are five people present tonight. Auric arrives soon after and addresses Lei politely in Chinese before joining Sofía. He immediately thanks her for at least listening to her and reveals that the Red Court have seized his master, Wizard Montjoy!

According to Auric, Wizard Montjoy has been researching a long-storied grimoire known as the Nocte Eternæ and had tracked it here. Sofía is surprised at this because this grimoire has long been frankly thought of as a myth – it is a treatise on necromancy written by some unnamed warlock from centuries past on the lines of the equally mythical “Word of Kemmler.” That a wizard of such prestige as Montjoy would even believe in such a thing is strange enough, but for him to have been interested in at all … well, that’s equally troubling.

As to how they tracked it here, Auric reveals that he overheard his master speaking to a woman he addressed as “Ms. Raith,” which Craft guessed was the White Court vampire that lives here, and soon after, Montjoy sent Auric to research a family that lives in the city. And then, the Reds seized his master and the Council did not believe his story … so he came to her, knowing that she possesses Guardian tendencies at the very least and might even lean toward the Crusaders.

This causes Sofía to briefly muse upon the strange internal politics of the White Council and how there are six major factions within the wizards. These are similar to political parties in parliamentary systems of government, but are mostly unofficial alliances, not firm groups. The Centrists are the largest group but least political viable and, as their name indicates, are moderates who want to go along to get along; the Directors want to guide and control normal society for various reasons – the Merlin is generally considered the unofficial leader of this faction; Guardians want the Council to actively oppose supernatural threats and it is from them that most Wardens are drawn; related to them are the Crusaders who want the same thing but also want the Council to act proactively against warlocks – they do not consider themselves a separate faction, just really aggressive Guardians, but everyone else (including most Guardians) consider this minority faction to be extremist nutjobs; Isolationists are a minority group who want to avoid dealing with the mundane world entirely; and finally, the Weissians are a tiny group who adhere to the teachings of a Wizard who died in the 1700s and taught that magic is the next step in human potential so the entire race needs to embrace it. After some consideration, Sofía realizes that yeah, she probably is of the Guardian mindset.

When asked about the family that Montjoy had him researching, Auric reveals that they’re a wealthy family named Howell and their house is very powerfully warded. He produces a small silver bowl, dips some water in it and summons up an image of that house…

Ironically, Howard Lee is already observing this house, having been staking it out for nearly a week. In that time, he has learned that the Howells are a thoroughly creepy lot, with the patriarch – David – being from Old Money but working at a generic-sounding investment firm, and the matriarch – Melissa – being a model, failed actor and general trophy wife. Their daughter, Kimberly, is an Instagram celebrity who is basically famous for being famous … and for her sex tape.

Over the week, Lee has observed the family’s routine: David Howell leaves every day for work at seven, then around 9 a UPS guy (who isn’t driving a UPS truck) arrives to deliver a package to Melissa Howell who then … “thanks” him for his service very explicitly. Lee suspects that he’s stumbled upon a drug delivery system for they wealthy and makes a note to investigate further when he’s not creeped out by seeing daughter Kimberly watching her mother sex up the UPS guy … and offering tips! For pretty much the rest of the day, the daughter hangs out at the pool or works out, usually naked, and then entertains guests in a manner similar to her mother. Dad comes home around 6 and both parents are disturbingly comfortable with talking to their entirely too naked daughter.

This family, Lee has decided, is thoroughly screwed up.

Around 10 p.m. every day, a man arrives who the family fawn over. The entire lot disappear downstairs for two hours before reappearing and then, the guy briefly feeds on someone – one of the Howells, or one of the staff, or even one of the ubiquitous guards who patrol the house grounds. Seeing the Red Court vampire’s flesh mask waver makes this entire setup a little less strange to Lee … and that probably disturbs him more than he would like.

Tonight, Lee has decided he’s going to try and follow the vampire. He’s currently posing as an Oklahoma Gas & Electric tech working on testing the power lines; this puts him high up enough to see over the trees that conceal the house. When he hears the sound of wings, he’s only slightly surprised to find Aoibheal perched on the power line beside him. She inquires as to why he is watching this ‘den of iniquity’ since she tasked him to ‘liberate the kinslayer girl’ and Lee reveals that his investigation has brought him here. When he briefly glances at Aoibheal’s feet – a normal person wouldn’t be able to balance on a power line like this! – he discovers that she currently has the feet of bird … which causes Lee to shake his head and try to not break his brain.

A new car arrives and Aoibheal goes thoroughly rigid at the sight of the woman who climbs out. This stranger has a brief conversation with Mister Howell and then offers a card before returning to her car. Aoibheal informs Lee flatly that they need to follow this woman before demanding to know where his “chariot” is. When he points toward his car, Aoibheal stands and starts walking along the power line in that direction. Unfortunately, it takes him a little longer to get down and he finds the Fae Lady waiting at his car for him to open the door for her.

Which he does.

It takes a little doing, but Lee manages to shadow the woman to what appears to be an empty park within visual of the Capitol building. Aoibheal murmurs something that Lee does not understand: “So this is where the Wolf, the Ram and Hart hide themselves,” she says.

He quickly realizes that his efforts at shadowing the woman were for naught as she angles toward them and Aoibheal gives him an impatient look, prompting him to exit the car and open her door. This woman greets ‘Lady Aoibheal’ like an old associate and the Fae responds in kind, identifying her as ‘Miss Morgan’ before introducing Lee as ‘my Knight.’ After a bit of diplomatic speak, Morgan and Aoibheal head toward the ‘empty field’ with Lee following. They pass through … something and suddenly, Lee finds a very large building looming before them.

With a sigh, he continues to follow.

Upon reaching the floor of the penthouse, the three law enforcement agents hear a few gunshots and a scream or two. Jack dons his cape again after telling Woo and Moretti that he’ll scout forward, but they don’t bother listening to him, not with the sounds of violence inside. Instead, Woo surges forward and power blows the door leading inside. To Jack’s strange supernatural senses, it seems as though lightning briefly centers in Woo’s hands, then courses through his body and erupts from his foot as he kicks in the door.

Instantly, a gunfight erupts. The first visible hostile barely has time to react before both Moretti and Woo open up with their shotguns and send him sliding back onto the ground; his armor holds, but he scrambles into cover and closes a door connecting them. The gunfire and shouts of alarm immediately draw the man’s allies and within seconds, the narrow foyer of the penthouse is crisscrossed with bullets.

Jack, unseen thanks to his cloak’s glamour, skirts around the hostiles, kicking one out of cover and into range of Woo who surges forward and drops the man with a flurry of kicks and punches. Carter takes out another with a burst of fire from his reloaded M4; the bullets tear through the man’s leg and send him to the ground. Not to be outdone, Moretti empties her shotgun, then draws her pistol; she takes several rounds to the chest, but her high-end body armor protects her and she retaliates with a well-placed head shot that kills her target instantly.

As Carter wrestles with the last upright man – apart from the first one who dove for the bathroom – his cloak is knocked askew so he can be seen and Woo promptly springs forward to assist with the takedown. Moretti, satisfied that the two can handle that man, kicks open the door to the bathroom where the first man fled. She is momentarily startled to realize that he has broken through the thin wall on the other side but then her eyes widen in alarm when he reappears and throws a backpack toward her. Crying out a warning, she dives for cover.

And then, there’s a flash …

GM Notes:

Again, fairly satisfied with this, although there were some issues. My use of Fantasy Ground helps sometimes (the combat tracker, especially) and hinders others (mostly because I’m running it off of my work desktop, then using Join.Me on my laptop so I can control said desktop while joining the session on the television/computer for the players to see), so I need to find a happy medium. As is all too often, I got some tunnel vision with regards to it – hey, the program’s available so I have to use all features instead of not – so I’m hoping next week will go smoother.

Because of the twin fights in the session, I knew that the Colin, Sofia and Lee bits would be slightly shorter than I would have liked, but I’m planning on having at least two of them (Colin & Sofia) be the central elements for next session.

Also, totally stole the “factions” bit for the Council from the Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka. I may have also borrowed some elements from that series for Jack’s cloak…

Clean Slate, Chapter 1

OSBI Agent Howard Lee is in a fight.

He is in Tulsa, having become obsessed with some of his older cases now that he’s see the dead walk and other previously unimaginable things happen. One of these cases is Shay Mackenzie, a young woman he put on death row for the crime of killing her parents. According to her, they were already dead when she murdered them and burned their corpses to ash, but everyone thought she was trying to go for the insanity plea at the time. Thanks to Aoibheal pointing him in this direction, Lee is now less sure.

The trail has led here, to an underground fight club in Tulsa run by some lowlife punk named Riley Pike who is a known associate to Mackenzie. To get access to Pike, Lee has to fight three men, all of whom had reputations as bullies with bad tempers. They converge on Lee … and in a flurry of elbow smashes, knee strikes and shin kicks, Lee puts them all down. Hard. All three of the would-be fighters are badly injured and in need of hospital care, while Lee himself is untouched. Every person present who saw this is alternately intimidated and very impressed with him. As to Lee himself? Not only is he fine, but he is also quite enthusiastic about the very idea of a fight club. He wants more.

From Pike he learns that Mackenzie came to the lowlife because she wanted to learn how to fight. Real street fighting, not fancy martial arts crap that’s just there for show, and Pike reveals that he once saw her take on six guys at once … and kick their asses. For a tiny slip of a girl, that was pretty awesome. As to why Pike was thoroughly unavailable for the trial, he will admit that he was afraid that he might get thrown into jail for his part in aiding her break into some rich guy’s house in Oklahoma City the night before she killed her parents. He provides the address and is grateful that the scary guy who just laid out three hardcore fighters in eleven seconds without a scratch (who looks suspiciously like a cop for some reason) doesn’t beat him to a pulp.

EST-CItyPlace-OK.jpgIn Oklahoma City, OSBI Agents Jack Carter and Wufei Qing are in transit in the truck assigned to them when they hear the following on the radio: All units, we have a 10-23 (officer needs assistance) at 204 North Robinson. Possible hostage situation developing. Without hesitation, Jack changes their direction and heads toward the City Place Tower where they discover a pair of familiar faces, Officers Sullivan and Davis, who inform them a silent alarm was sent from the penthouse owned by Grant Petersen and the alarm company immediately contacted the police when they reviewed their CCTV cameras and observed armed men entering the penthouse.

Carter immediately assumes command of the situation and tasks Sullivan and Davis to set up a perimeter while he does some recon. He breaks out his ridiculous-looking cape, much to Qing’s confusion, then orders the probie to wait for his signal. Armed and mostly invisible, he advances into the tower and takes the elevator up to the floor below the penthouses. Via his radio, he orders Qing to follow in a few minutes.

When the door opens, though, there is an armed gunman waiting. The man sweeps the elevator, his eyes not able to see Carter due to the cape’s glamour, and then backs away. Seeing two armed guys in this hallway, Carter lets the elevator door close, then goes down two floors so he can sneak up through the stairwell. As he does, the second man – who was guarding the door – hears something and advances to investigate; again, the cape’s glamour prevents him from actively seeing Jack but the guy definitely hears something and tries to find it. Carter lets him pass … and then tases him in the neck. He quickly cuffs the poor bastard, rips out the man’s radio, takes his weapons and gags him before informing Qing (who is now in the elevator with some other officers) of his location.

Back up the stairs he goes and, with the rifle butt, he bangs on the door to attract the attention of the guy in front of the elevator who moves to investigate. As the door opens, Jack realizes too late that the guy he cuffed has managed to get his gag free – the man shouts a warning to his buddy, but by then, Jack is already pulling off an unexpected wrestling move that sends the second man down the stairs and into his partner. Despite this collision, both bad guys scramble to their feet, with elevator guy shouting a warning to his compatriots in his comm-piece while trying to ready his rifle; cuffed guy has no weapons since Carter took them so he reaches for his buddy’s sidearm.

And into the mess bursts Agent Qing and his backup, ATF Agent Moretti, guns drawn and shouting for the bad guys to get down…

PERS-Ghost-Librarian.jpgSofía Torres is at OU in Norman, racing into the Bizzel Memorial Library. Over the last few weeks, she’s been researching a ghost who has been attacking students and has finally identified who this memory is: the very first librarian who controlled these halls in 1890, after the library was originally built. According to what Sofía has learned in her research, this woman committed suicide in 1903 by setting the library on fire (and burning it to the ground.) No one is quite sure why this librarian killed herself – her very existence is actually something of a secret – but Sofía suspects that that the ghost’s choice of location is a clue.

It is a commonly known “fact” that students use this part of the library – known as the Stacks – to hook up for anonymous sex and, indeed, as Sofía enters, she can see a couple already on the ground, gasping as they try to breathe while a malicious-looking ghost looms over them. Fortunately for these idiot students, Sofía has prepared.

First, she breaks out some chalk and draws a circle, though she does not activate it just yet. Instead, she puts this circle between her and the ghost and, once she’s gathered adequate energy, calls out to the ghost in a taunting manner. “Hey,” she exclaims, “I thought this was supposed to be a threesome!” As she expects, this actually causes the ghost to recognize her and float forward, ominously lifting an ethereal arm … but Sofía is ready and activates her circle trap the moment the ghost crosses the threshold. Instantly, the two students are able to suck in oxygen and they bolt in terror the moment they can get to their feet.

Ignoring them and the raging ghost, Sofía begins the slow, laborious process to permanently banish this ‘footprint in stone’ and, as a result, is forced to pit her will against that of this image. It is a narrow thing – this ghost is old and angry and spiteful – but Sofía is successful in forcing it to effectively destroy itself by raging against the circle trap. She is relieved when the ghost is gone, then less so when she notes the destruction within the confines of the circle. Fortunately, none of the books were damaged … though she notes a ghostly shadow against the wall and realizes that it is a likely permanent relic of the ghost’s passing.

From the exit, someone claps and states, “Well done, Wizard Torres.” It is Auric Craft. And he needs her help.

For Colin Jenks, rent is nearly due.

WeirdGambler.jpgHis apartment isn’t cheap – even though a woman was murdered there! – and since YouTube has been demonetizing a bunch of videos, he’s had to turn to alternate means, which has led him to Riverwind Casino in Norman. He’s generally careful to avoid winning too much and actually doesn’t have to cheat this time as he cleans out an especially irritating gambler lowlife who looks vaguely familiar to him for some reason.

As he gathers his chips to go cash out, Colin notes that security seems to be closing in on him for some reason, so he glances at a nearby slot machine that an old granny is working at and it serendipitously gives the woman a massive jackpot, complete with alarms and whooping lights. He hopes that will delay the security people long enough for him to get out of here intact …

But alas, Big McLargeHuge clamps a meaty hand on his shoulder and asks politely if Colin will come with him. This seems to be the limit of Mr. McLargeHuge’s vocal repertoire, though Jenks does attempt to engage the man-mountain-thing in some witty repartee. Colin is escorted to the elevator, unceremoniously shoved in, and the hulking security guy hits the basement button before standing in front of the elevator doors so Jenks can’t get out. The doors close and the elevator begins to go down.

And keeps going down, much to Colin’s confusion. When the doors finally open, he’s convinced they gone at least twelve “stories” down … and the view beyond is even more unsettling. He finds himself in a massive and dark cavern, though he sees some strange glinting ahead. The elevator seems to lose power and his curiosity gets the best of him so Jenks advances forward to investigate the glinting which he discovers to be sacks and sacks of gold coins and ingots. When he turns back to the elevator, he finds it gone.

“You have stolen from me, Colin Jenks,” a voice announces from the shadows. A moment later, a positively gigantic coyote appears out of the dark, looming over Colin at an impossible height. The animal narrows its eyes as it stares at him. “You have stolen,” the impossible creature says. “From me.”


GM Notes:

  • Matias’ player had to temporarily bow out due to grad school, so his character likely won’t be involved. Woo’s player (new to this campaign) was out this week due to a wedding he had to attend.
  • Overall, I was fairly satisfied with this. Got a slightly later start than I would have liked and while working on the recap, I (naturally) noted some things I should have done differently (like the gunman & the elevator; he should have done something to force the elevator to stay where it was, like maybe jam something in the doors so they couldn’t close), but hopefully I can resolve the stuff that was missed next week.
  • Was caught unprepared for Carter’s decision to just storm into the tower without first trying to gather any intel, but that’s fine. I think I managed to roll with the punches fairly well.
  • Colin’s scene was too short and too rushed, but we were closing in on midnight and I wanted to end on a certain spot, so … will try to do better by him next time. That said, who was that mysterious gambler who looks so much like Jack?
Clean Slate, Prelude

Most of 2016 has elapsed since the conclusion of Volume 5: Death Curse: it is now late October (2016) and Halloween is literally right around the corner. (Official date: 10/30/2016)

In the last eight months, the crime rate in OKC has actually come down slightly … at least during the night, although missing persons reports are through the roof and any major crime that is perpetuated is invariably big, splashy, and notably violent, thus causing even greater headaches for OSBI personnel. To the public, it seems as if there is an ongoing turf war between the Southside Locos and the Rollin’ 60s Crips of the Eastside, but to those in the know, this is Red Court versus White Court waged via proxies…

With Agent Curtmantle dead, S/A Carter has been elevated to the AIC of the Special Investigations Division. This is pretty much a polite fiction as it means he got all of the responsibility but no corresponding pay increase. Still, as the character with the highest Police Rank, it’s now his job to deal with Lee’s increasing weirdness of late.

Since Oklahoma is going through a budget crunch, no new agents have been hired; despite this, Agent Wufei Qing had already been accepted to OSBI training. He is a new probationary agent and evidently pissed someone off as his very first assignment was the Ghost Squad. Congrats, Jack and Howard: you guys have a Probie.

Lee is off in Tulsa. Carter knows that his partner is Obsessed with an old case of his revolving around a young woman – Shay Mackenzie – who was put on death row after the girl murdered several people she insisted were already dead (though nobody bought her crazy person defense.)

In the weeks since Doctor Solomon died, Sofia has found herself extremely busy as word has definitely gotten out about his death and she has been putting out ‘supernatural’ fires (metaphorical and otherwise) ever since. Additionally, she’s been handling a lot of magical adepts coming to her for aid; one of the things her mentor evidently did a lot of without her learning of it is provide direction for non-wizards and kids who have just come into their magical talents. Sofia has not quite figured out how he always knew when someone manifested powers, but … he did. The apparent hostilities between local Red and White Court agents remains her number one problem. It is not entirely clear why the Reds and Whites are fighting and, according to the reports from the Wardens she’s received, it appears to be mostly centered in the OKC area…

Ever since his recruitment into Department X, Matias has either been training or on mission; the team he’s been assigned to operates in the SW US and has mostly been concentrating on the Texas-Mexico border. He’s seen a lot of action in last couple of weeks, whether it is exterminating a Red Court nest in Austin or augmenting a DEA task force rooting out a major drug kingpin. Currently, he’s in Dallas, having just completed his latest op.

And finally, there is Colin Jenks. While the characters don’t actually know him (yet), he’s drifted in and out of their lives for a while now. Recently for him, he’s started to manifest some strange abilities that are going to get him into trouble one day…

Death Curse, Epilogue

NOTHING made sense anymore.

That was the thought that kept spinning through Ebenezar McCoy’s brain as he leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and stared at his desk. Currently, it was littered with dozens of half-read reports or hastily jotted down notes that he was hoping he could later coerce into full-blown ideas, but he barely noticed the mess, so distracted was he with the events that had just transpired. Yes, he was ultimately unsurprised at the result but how they got there … that still baffled him.

Shaking his head in a vain attempt to clear it, he tried to refocus on the task at hand. Of course the Merlin had tasked him with relaying this information to the acquitted – if there was anything Arthur Langtry excelled at, it was these ridiculous political games of one-upmanship – and ordinarily, Eb would have had no problem accomplishing that task. In fact, he would look forward to it since, after all, he’d championed Thaddeus’ student in the closed door Council meeting, but he just could not concentrate. Why had Joseph voted against her? Listens-To-Wind was normally one of his most stalwart allies in all things White Council – they had a friendship that stretched back more than two centuries, after all – but in this matter, Joe had sounded exactly like one of the Merlin’s hardliners. And then to have Ancient Mai decide to vote for Torres? She always voted with the Merlin, so why would she change stride now?

A sharp, commanding knock on his door dragged him out of his woolgathering and Eb mentally kicked himself for being so distracted. He cleared away the confusion and irritation from his face, pushed himself out of the chair and donned his most forbidding expression. Right now, he needed to get a firm grasp of this girl’s mindset…

“Enter,” he called out and the door opened less than a heartbeat later, revealing Warden Captain Luccio with Solomon’s fierce-eyed student a half step behind her. The girl was wearing her formal robes but had long ago been divested of her various magical tools; it did not escape Eb’s notice that both of her wrists were encircled by thin, metal bracelets. Those would be the Warden’s bracers that would ostensibly prevent a wizard from casting while the Warden who secured them was still alive. There were ways around these shackles, of course, but that was not relevant for the moment.

“Wizard Torres, as requested,” Luccio said. The Warden commander stepped aside and allowed Torres to enter but made no move to depart, which was fine as far as Eb was concerned. After all, Luccio had already expressed her own interest in recruiting this girl.

“Thank you.” Eb gestured. “Have a seat, Miss Torres.”

“I have been sitting all day,” the young woman replied. “I would prefer to stand, if you don’t mind.” There was no heat in her voice but her eyes … hell’s bells, this girl was angry. The rage lurking underneath her mask of self-control was almost intimidating and Eb tried not to relax slightly. Her fury at the loss of her mentor was there for anyone to see if they knew what they were actually looking for and that, more than anything else, had convinced him that she was wholly innocent.

“Whatever suits you.” Eb gave Luccio a discreet glance and nod, then reached forward to tap the Warden’s shackles. With a tiny flash, they fell open and Torres inhaled sharply at the sudden return of her magic. Her expression remained cool, but he could see that she understood the significance. “The Council has completed our review and found you innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said. “Yes, you were affected by violations of the Laws of Magic but you took appropriate action to bring that Lawbreaker to justice.” He was getting good at this, Eb realized – that actually sounded like the Council’s decision had been unanimous instead of the contentious four-three decision to acquit her. Admittedly, the Gatekeeper’s revelation that Torres was Cerridwen of Highfrost’s grand-daughter had convinced the Merlin and his lackey, LaFortier, to change their votes so it was six for acquittal but Joe … Joe had been adamant that this girl was a threat.

“That she has been present at both attempted Breaches by Nun’yunu’wi concerns me greatly,” Listens-To-Wind had said when he refused to change his mind. “The safest course of action for the Council would be to destroy her.”

“Welcome to the Council, Wizard Torres,” Captain Luccio said brightly, her broad face creased with a smile.

“Thank you, ma’am, sir.” Torres frowned briefly. “And this Faceless King? What are we doing about it?”

“The Council is looking into that,” Eb replied. The young woman did not look entirely satisfied so he continued. “I will be personally heading up that investigation. With your permission, I would like to review Thad … Wizard Solomon’s notes that might explain what this … Faceless King wants.”

“I do not care what it wants,” Torres said in a surprisingly hard voice for someone so young-looking. “I just want to kill it.”

“One war at a time,” Luccio interjected. “We still have the Reds to deal with.”

“Captain Luccio will take you to Wizard Peabody,” Eb added. “He will start the paperwork to officially recognize you as a full Wizard within our ranks.” Torres blinked at that, clearly surprised but hiding it well, and Eb smiled again. “Before I forget,” he said as he reached for a specific envelope resting on his desk, “I believe you will want this. It is a copy of Wizard Solomon’s last will and testament.” Torres stared at the folded document like a sane person would watch a venomous snake but grudgingly accepted it when Eb offered. “As I understand it, he acknowledged you as his heir. That absurd House of his is now yours.”

“I see.” He could not quite read her expression at the moment, but that did not bother him as much as it might have.

“There are a few things I will need from the House,” Eb said, almost as an aside. It was a lie, of course – he had long ago helped Thad set up many of the enchantments around that ridiculous structure and had very little interest in anything within – but it was necessary so he could judge her reaction. Torres did not disappoint.

“Over my dead body,” she said softly. Even Luccio looked at her askance at that but Torres did not back down. “As you said,” Torres stated flatly, “Bavinger House is now mine.” She brandished the will like a talisman. “If Doctor Solomon left it to me, he had a reason and I will not allow anyone to take his legacy away. Not even the Blackstaff himself.” Eb’s eyebrows shot up – he saw Luccio’s eyes widen as well – and he gave this girl another careful look. His job as the Council’s occasional wetworks man was not public knowledge and Torres must have interpreted his expression as a questioning one. She shrugged. “Doctor Solomon may have let slip some things once when he was … irritated at something the Merlin told him.” That caused Eb to smile – he had very fond memories of seeing Thad and Langtry go at it; the antipathy between the two men was nearly as old as they had been.

“That is not a title that you should advertise,” he said. “It might get you killed someday.” He let the hint of a threat hang – Torres nodded very slightly in acknowledgement of his warning – and then exhaled. “There is one other thing before Wizard Luccio takes you to Peabody. Inside the House, there is a Door. It is locked and … you know the one, don’t you?”

“I do.” Torres tilted her head slightly. “I could not open it,” she said.

“Only the master of the House … or mistress now, I suppose, can.” Eb pinned her with a look. “You must never open that door. Never.”

“Why? What’s on the other side?” Eb fought the urge to grimace – why was it that wizards these days just had to ask questions like that instead of doing what they were told? Hell’s bells, but he was glad he had not been this bad when he was her age. He considered his options.

And then, he told her the truth.

“Oh,” Torres said in a small voice, her face pale and her eyes wide. Good. She at least understood the dangers staring her in the face. Perhaps she would be able to avoid the fate of the last half dozen wizards who had inherited the Door.

“Oh, indeed.” Eb nodded to Luccio before offering his hand to Torres. “Welcome to the Council,” he said.

HE hated funerals.

Shifting awkwardly in place, Robert Hawkins discreetly glanced at the various faces in the crowd, noting without surprise that most of the attendees were members of the Bureau or at least had ties to Oklahoma law enforcement. He even saw a few federal agents scattered among the crowd, although at least one of them looked to be least more interested in networking with his associates than with paying respects to the dead.. There were certainly some he did not recognize – the redhead who stood with Lee, for example, or the hard-faced Native American man who stood slightly apart and watched the proceedings with an impassive expression – but the rest he knew by at least their faces and all had come to pay their respects to a fallen comrade.

This was actually the first time he’d been to a Catholic funeral and there were a handful of differences between it and the Baptist ones he was more accustomed to, but the similarities were strong enough that he was able to sleepwalk through most of it while mentally juggling his list of priorities. With the statewide budget shortfall, there was no way he was going to be able to promote someone to replace Curtmantle – half of the meetings he was forced to sit through these days were discussions on how to curtail spending – and even if managed to find a loophole around that, the next agent slotted for that position was Carter. Robert winced. Dear God, they had fallen on hard times if Jack Carter was the only agent he had who could do Arthur’s job.

At his side, the agent currently troubling his thoughts was standing silently. It took Robert a moment longer than it should have but he finally realized that Carter was studying his partner, Lee. No, that wasn’t right: Carter was watching the redhead with Lee. Why? Robert gave her another look – she was definitely attractive, but those clothes did not really seem all that appropriate for a funeral. How was she able to even breathe? He had the sudden horrifying thought that the woman was actually nude and wearing one of those painted on suits but a soft breeze caused the lapels of her too tight jacket to shift. The relief that blasted through Robert then was overwhelming.

It struck him then that Carter, even with his reputation for harebrained conspiracy theories and strange notions had somehow become more reliable than Lee, a decorated war veteran. People stepped carefully around Lee these days and eyed him cautiously, as if they expected him to fly off the handle at any moment. Through the grapevine, Robert had discovered that the agent was actually seeing a shrink for his issues – God, he hoped it wasn’t PTSD; the last thing they needed was another case of a LEO losing his damned mind because of that – which was why he had not taken any direct disciplinary action against the man for his clear temper issues. Abruptly, he brightened; if Carter took over Curtmantle’s job, then that meant Lee would be his problem.

By the time the funeral had ended, Robert was confident he had a working plan of action. Everyone in OSBI knew about the budget cuts so Carter would understand why he did not receive an actual promotion or raise when he took over Curtmantle’s job and besides, Special Investigations had been a gimmick anyway, designed to get the director off his back. He made a mental note to speak to Agent Carter before they went their separate ways. Glancing back toward the empty casket – the explosion had evidently vaporized Arthur – he felt his breath catch.

A woman stood before the casket.

She was slim and athletic and tall, even without the heeled faux-Victorian boots that did wonderful things to her calves, with dark hair that fell to her back and swayed with the wind, and Robert could not look away. Even in the black clothes appropriate for a funeral, she was all effortless style, and when she glanced up, Robert’s thoughts splintered and fractured. He wanted her. He wanted her in the most primal sense, in every way he could conceive. Whatever thoughts and love he had for his wife suddenly evaporated, washed away by a blistering desire. He swallowed and tried to reassert control, especially when he realized she was striding toward him. All eyes were watching her and Robert tried hard not to hate them all.

“Special Agent Hawkins,” she said in a voice that smoldered. He swallowed again.

“Miss Raith,” he greeted in a husky voice. He knew her now. She and Arthur had been … what? Lovers? Sex buddies? He’d never gotten the full story and had tried to stay out of it, especially with his embarrassing reaction to her presence. How could you look a friend in the eye, knowing that you would kill to have sex with their significant other? Wars had been started that way.

“Diana, please.” She smiled and Robert felt his heartbeat increase rapidly. “And Agent Carter. I do not believe we have been officially introduced.”

“Not officially, no.” How the fuck did Carter sound so cool and collected? Robert glanced at the agent and was surprised at how wary Carter looked. It was as if he was facing off with a suicide bomber desperate to go to Allah or a junkie hopped up on PCP, not a stunningly beautiful woman. “But I’m familiar with you and yours.” Miss Raith’s smile did not vanish but it did seem a touch cooler than before.

“We should have dinner one evening,” she said, “and compare notes. I am certain both of us will find it … fulfilling.” Was there a slight undertone of a threat there? Robert could not tell, not with how hard it was to think straight while standing in this woman’s intoxicating presence. It was all he could do to keep from drooling on her shoes.

“Another time perhaps.” Carter still sounded cool but there was definitely a strained quality to his voice that Robert just barely noticed. He was missing something but could not put his finger on what it was.

“Another time.” Miss Raith returned her gaze to Robert – the entire world fell away when she did so all that mattered was Her – and then leaned forward to kiss him softly on the check. It burned and froze and he felt himself stiffen even further. He was a half moment away from pouncing, from tearing her clothes away and taking her right there, regardless of the location, when she pulled back. “I shall be in touch, Agent Hawkins.” He was still clawing for a coherent response, something that did not involve professions of love and desire, as she strode away, pausing very briefly to speak to the redhead that had accompanied Lee.

Gradually, sanity reasserted itself and Robert shivered at the effort necessary to reclaim control. Damn, that was … damn. He kept his eye on Miss Raith, only slowly becoming aware that Lee, just like Carter, was watching her like she was some kind of terrifying predator about to spring. In a way, he reflected, she might be.

“That is the most beautiful woman I have ever met,” he muttered under his breath.

“Lethally beautiful,” Carter corrected softly. He was still tense as he watched her and Robert had to nod in agreement. “I wonder if Helen was one of them,” the agent murmured, mostly to himself, and then seemed to realize that he’d spoke aloud. Later, Robert would wonder about the non sequitur, but by then, it would no longer be important.

“Helen?” he asked.

“Old case, sir,” Carter replied. “Not relevant at the moment.” Robert shrugged.

“You and I need to have a chat,” he said. Without meaning to, he glanced back toward Miss Raith – Lee and his redhead had vanished; Robert spent another half moment looking around to determine what direction they had gone but there was no sign of them at all – and shivered again when she once more looked his way with a smile. “I’m going to need you to step up and handle Curtmantle’s duties,” he began. He was not surprised that Carter accepted the additional workload without complaint; for all of his problems, the man’s work ethic was second to none.

His wife, Jackie, was waiting for him when he got home but, to his utter disgust, Robert found himself constantly comparing her to Miss Raith and in every way, the latter won. He tried not to let his irritation and anger show, but Jackie could see that something was bothering him. Unfortunately, her every attempt to help only made things worse and, in no time flat, they were once more at one another’s throats. He was half moment away from saying or doing something he would truly regret later when the doorbell rang. Jackie stormed away to answer, leaving him to stew in his foul mood. At the sound of approaching footsteps, he turned to see who was with Jackie …

And stopped thinking entirely.

“Hello again, Robert,” Miss Raith said in her smoldering voice. “I was hoping you and I … and your wife, of course, could continue our earlier discussion.” Her smile sent him to his knees. A moment later, Jackie joined him, her breathing rapid and her hands trembling as she began undressing. A tiny part of Robert marveled at that – his wife was something of a prude and was not even comfortable with him seeing her unclothed – but he was too busy stripping out of his own clothes to give it much thought. And then, Miss Raith removed her jacket, her eyes gleaming…

Robert stopped thinking after that.

IT was a pleasant enough day to meet outdoors.

The Klyde Warren Park was actually above the freeway but provided a decent enough view of downtown Dallas that Miranda could not quite relax. There were plenty of people present, some of whom she immediately identified as undercover agents there to provide security for the person she was scheduled to meet. The sheer number of bodyguards gave her pause – Control did not warrant so many … unless this was a sanction operation and she was marching toward a bullet – and her step faltered only slightly when she recognized the woman sitting at one of the open air tables. Well. That explained the number of security personnel.

“Have a seat, Flores,” the older woman said. She was knitting, of all things, and looking at her, one would think grandmother or perhaps even great-grandmother. Her hair was snow white, there were more wrinkles on her face than there weren’t and the cane hanging off the table was not just there for show. No one could look at this woman and think ‘spy’ … which was probably why she was one of the most successful espionage agents to have ever lived.

“I was expecting Control,” Miranda said as she sat.

“We received your report,” the old woman said. “Control has been relieved of his duties and transferred to somewhere more in line with his inclinations.” That could mean anything and Miranda briefly wondered if Control had been transferred to a monitoring station in Antarctica or if he’d been given a bullet to the head. “I wanted to personally apologize to you for our failure to respond in a timely manner.” The old woman’s expression darkened slightly. “We were juggling multiple major operations simultaneously and I did not realize the extent of the danger Control posed to Strike Team Bravo.” Miranda looked away.

Strike Team Bravo was her baby and it still stung that they’d been taken away from her and squandered on senseless false flag ops to divert the media’s attention away from the growing extranormal threat. She’d been only slightly surprised to learn that the team had suffered casualties under Control’s mismanagement, or that at least one of the operatives had been suborned by the very threats they were supposed to be exterminating. That was to be expected when the idiot in charge had been compromised himself. She hated to admit it, but historically, better than forty percent of the threats the Department dealt with were internal because of how much a corrupting influence the supernatural was. It was seductive, looking at the beautiful faces the Reds put forward and seeing the power at their disposal, and far too many of the agents they had were not strong enough to resist temptation. That was why their strike teams were set up like sleeper cells these days, so as to minimize the amount of damage that could be done.

“I reassigning you to Bravo,” the old woman said. “You will need to rebuild it from the ground up – Davidson screwed it up so badly that none of the existing operatives are trustworthy in the field.” Miranda frowned, then realized that Davidson must have been Control’s real name; she’d never known that. “I have a few candidates you might want to review,” the woman said as she pushed a stack of files forward.

“What about Torres?” Miranda asked as she glanced through them. Castellanos she knew – the girl was a damned fine thief and their paths had crossed once before – but the others were not familiar to her. “He would make an excellent point man.”

“And his contacts with the White Council might be useful. Yes. I’m aware of the recommendation.” The old woman gave her a sour look. “The fact that you’re sleeping with him makes it difficult for me to believe that you are entirely unbiased about this.” Miranda did not reply – she’d already defended herself against this and her arguments had not changed; yes, she occasionally had sex with Matias, but that did not change her opinion of him as a potential operative and asset – and her silence evidently worked to her benefit. “Extend the offer to him,” the old woman said. “If he agrees, we’ll put him through the training regimen at the Monastery.”

“Clayton?” Miranda blurted out. “You’re going to have him train with Clayton?” The man was a legend inside the service, having survived the Cold War and single-handedly shut down a massive supernatural infiltration of the Central Intelligence Agency after he’d officially retired. There were even rumors that he’d even once gone toe to toe with the Hellhound and survived.

“While I may have my doubts about your professionalism in this matter,” the old woman said, “your research is impeccable and I like what I see. If you can focus this man, he will be an exceptionally capable weapon.” She smiled and it was a shark’s smile, devoid of human warmth or feeling. “Just remember to point him in the right direction.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Miranda hesitated. “And the other matter?”

“I am looking into it. When I have more information, I will let you know.” The old woman gestured. “Now go. Convince this man of yours to join up. There is a war coming and we need all of the weapons we can put our hands on.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Miranda was up and moving without further reply. She could feel the cold eyes of the bodyguards watching her depart and did not relax until she had reached her rental car.

Two hours later, she was on a plane heading north and wondering how she would convince her erstwhile lover and occasional asset to pledge his life to certain death in the service of the greater good. No one sane would accept that offer … but then, Matias did not truly fit that definition, did he? She smirked at that, knowing he would find it amusing as well.

And then, she began to make plans.

THE earth groaned.

One had to be carefully attuned to the forces of nature to even notice, but it was there, hidden in the way the ground trembled ever so slightly or the soft murmur of dismay one could hear when rocks rolled downhill. It was there, with the sullen faces one could see in the dirt when the wind blew or in the sparse vegetation that trembled and shivered, even when that wind was absent. One needed only to be able to See.

James Ross was blind to all.

His Gift had been stolen from him and now he stumbled through life without benefit of the great advantages he’d once held in his hands. In both hands, not just the one he’d lost. He wanted to rage at the heavens, at the underworld, at the blind fools who ghosted through existence like the dead, but inside, he was hollow. The Voice was gone, stolen from him along with his Gift, and now, he was lost.

Failure, whispered the wind. Failure, murmured the sky. Failure, groaned the earth.

He stumbled forward, unseeing and deaf to his surroundings, knowing only that something tugged him forward, pulled at the severed strings that had once tied him to his god. Perhaps it was madness. James considered that he might be mad, but then pressed on. What did it matter if he was? Would he truly be able to tell?

There was still yellow police tape enclosing the place where the cambion had failed, but he stepped over it and continued forward. His heart began beating faster. The gray that had become his world receded very slightly and he could almost taste color once more. There! That clump of dirt! He could smell the scent of the master’s home upon the ground! Stumbling forward, he fell to his knees.

And the Voice returned.

It was weak and distant but he could just make out the instructions, no matter that his ears and eyes bled at the utterances of the Voice. With clumsy fingers, he tore the wrappings free from the long-healed stump of a hand and clawed open bloody scars. The pain caused him to tremble – he was so weak! When had last eaten? Or slept? None of it mattered, not in service of the master – but he ignored it as he jammed the stump into the blackened earth.

Pain. It coursed through him like a living thing, scouring away his weakness and burning a lethal path to his mind. He saw things a Man was not meant to see and instinctively, his thoughts shied away from them. There was a noise, a Voice that was thunder without sound, and it destroyed him, remade him, and then repeated the process a second time, a third, a fourth. Someone was screaming but it was distant and he realized only afterward that it was him.

When the pain withdrew, he was still there, kneeling in the dirt with his injured arm thrust into the earth. He blinked, aware and conscious of himself for the first time since the failure. Glaring, he pulled his arm free.

And stared at the remade hand that now replaced the one he’d lost.

It was not perfect – the color was wrong and it was clearly wrought of stone instead of flesh – but he smiled at the sensation of power renewed. His master was still far distant, still buried within that prison of lost hope and broken dreams, but now, he could do that which he had been made for. Rage burned through him, both his and that of the Voice, as he reflected at how much of their work had been destroyed by sheer happenstance and the blundering of fools. His stone fist groaned as he clenched it tightly, momentarily allowing himself to imagine what it would feel like to tighten his grip around the throat of his enemies.

Patience, the Voice whispered. James shivered and trembled and groaned at the painful ecstasy he felt when heard the whispers. You moved too fast, too recklessly before. You must become the shadows themselves. Let the Enemy break themselves upon others. Husband your strength and rebuild. We shall strike when it is time.

“Yes, Master,” James murmured. “I shall see Thy will done.”

Death Curse, Chapter 5

Having spoken with Agent Curtmantle and learned valuable information, the team decide to set their plan in motion. They will proceed north to the East Cambell Gas Field while Curtmantle organizes a SWAT response to a perceived terrorist cell in Fairview. Downstairs, though, both Jack and Mat sense danger an instant before a U-Haul truck driven by one of the cultist with their lips sewn shut roars over the sidewalk and races toward the building. Rather than dive for cover (or shove someone into cover) like everyone else, Agent Lee draws his sidearm and fires a perfectly placed 3-round burst, killing the cultist driver instantly. But it is not enough as the U-Haul slams into the building.

And explodes.

Sofia falls back into her body. Her first action is, as per normal, to free herself from the magical shackles. She then proceeds to seek out some pie from the icebox and mull over this madness. Now, Curtmantle will have no recollection of their previous meeting which means she has to start over. Once everyone else arrives (or is granted access), she once again explains the situation to everyone else and, even though they think she’s a little crazy, they agree to intercept Curtmantle outside Devon Tower following his conversation with a visibly angry Diana Raith.

Initially, Curtmantle does not know what to make of Sofia (although he will admit to experiencing some deja vu) but when she mentions that the foe from 1666 has returned (as well as referencing the Warden sword in Curtmantle’s apartment), he agrees to rally the SWAT assault on Fairview. Sofia also tells him to watch out for the U-Haul guy. The rest of the team pile back into that stolen SUV and race north to the East Cambell Gas Field.

They find is dark and silent, which isn’t that much of a surprise as it is close to 11 PM when they arrive, although to Sofia’s eyes, the sky is boiling with intensity. Mat picks a lock on one of the locks and they approach. Sofia’s skin tingles, like it is too tight for her body, and then, BAM! She’s skipped forward in time! It is obviously near noon on the following day and the area is crawling with zombies of those damned cultists! She sees the SUV, now a ruined wreck off to one side and sees a shimmering globe of fire ahead, within which appears to be Solomander! Throwing caution to the wind, she sprints forward, hoping to get a better view, which she does … right before she’s overwhelmed by zombies who claw and tear and rip and …

Sofia falls back into her body. She is shaking and freaking out from her latest death – this is the first time it has not been quick and painless, and once she’s free, she raids that pie again, thinking furiously. She is convinced that the world is trying to fix this temporal wound and all of the time that should have passed for her is passing once she’s in close proximity to Solomander. Once the team rejoins her, they retrace their steps – speak to Curtmantle, head to the gas field – but this time, she stops them before they pass that point and decides to throw an invisibility veil over them. Everyone is to be in physical contact with her as they pass over the unseen threshold…

As before, time jumps forward to nearly noon the following day. With everyone moving quietly, they reach a vantage point mostly secure and safe from the silent guardians while observing the ritual that Solomander is undertaking. It is strikingly similar to the one most of them saw at the National Memorial in Volume I, but the anchor points are occupied by cultists and both Solomander and Mankiller are within the innermost section, protected by a shimmering barrier of magic. The team decides to hit one of the anchor points and Lee sprints forward, his black sword in hand. A moment before he reaches his target, Solomander tears open a portal to somewhere in the Nevernever and Robert plunges his hand into it. Solomander then places his palm upon the larger man’s chest…

And Sofia feels the strange, low-level buzzing that was the groundhog day spell vanish. She realizes instantly that Nihancan has body-jumped once more and is now within Mankiller! Solomon collapses to the ground in an unmoving heap.

Lee reaches his target and strikes! Instead of a dead foe, however, there is a brilliant flash and he is hurled backwards multiple yards, slamming into a pursuing zombie. He strikes swiftly and the “zombie” topples, clutching its leg as blood pumps free. A second swing and the next nearest target is also down, prompting him to wonder why they thought these cultists were zombies in the first place.

Recognizing that the inner barrier must come down, Sofia begins drawing power into her and Brandon suddenly declares that Mankiller appears to be channeling demonic energy. He can counter that! So saying, he produces that sword of light and asks if Sofia is positive she can bring down that barrier before charging forward. Jack, mostly invisible in his godawful ugly cape, follows but stops when he reaches Lee as his intent to cover his partner. He is somewhat surprised when Brandon, whom he knows as just a con artist, brandishes his sword of light and bellows a piece of Scripture that causes the cultists to reel away from him.

As Mat takes down several cultists with well-placed shots, Sofia unleashes her magic and it slams into Nihancan’s barrier with a fierce flash of light. To her dismay, it does not quite drop the barrier but it does weaken it just as Brandon strikes with his sword. There is a great screech as the angelic blade carves through the weakened field and, as Harris continues forward, Mat opens fire with his M4. The rounds strike Mankiller but do negligible damage and Brandon can see that the wounds are closing up almost instantly. He realizes that it is likely due to the Rift that Nihancan is plugged in and realizes what he must do. As he springs forward, intent on tackling the much larger man, Doctor Solomon stirs long enough to utter a command to Nihancan backed by the very last of the doctor’s strength and fueled by his very life essence. It is a death curse and he orders Nihancan to fail.

And fail he does. When Brandon hits him, Mankiller’s footing is not set and the two stagger back … directly into the Rift. As he vanishes, Brandon is smiling – he knows he is going to die and is at peace with this because he has saved the world. Nihancan -with Mankiller’s face – looks horrified and surprised.

The Rift implodes violently and then explodes outward, hurling everyone to the ground and triggering an earthquake that will make the history books. Most of the cultists simply collapse, unconscious, dead or other, and by the time the investigators reach Doctor Solomon, it is clear that he is fading fast. He calls out to Sofia in a raspy voice and apologizes for failing her before telling her that her form was terrible. Dammit, he taught her how to bring down a ward better than that! Through tears, she agrees and tells him she will do better. A moment later, he’s dead.

the end of Volume V

  • Points awarded: 3.
  • And thus ends the grand experiment. Not quite as successful as I would have liked – I made a lot of dumb mistakes (which is pretty normal when it comes to me being the GM) and was a bit more stressed due to work than I would have liked which resulted in me not being as prepared as I would have liked, but overall, it worked, I think. By the end, the PCs definitely seemed to be getting tired of the whole “groundhog day” scenario so there’s no way I could have dragged this out another session and, in fact, I think it really only kind of works for 3-4 sessions.
  • The initial truck ramming Curtmantle’s house was the fault of the player(s). Last session, following his info-dump, someone (I think it was Sofia’s player?) mentioned that he was lucky that the cultists hadn’t targeted him since he knew so much. This may me think “Well, duh. Why wouldn’t they hit him too?” and that led to the big boom. I would later reveal in the postscript that Curtmantle is believed to have been killed during the raid on Fairview, but no body was recovered and Sofia doubts he is actually dead
  • The final fight was something of a mixed up mess – I should have gone ahead and used the tactical map for placement as everyone seemed pretty confused about where everything was, but it seems like every time we break out the tactical rules, the game grinds to a complete stop, even with my streamlined rules, but I wanted things to go faster. Something for me to consider and review later.
  • Removing Mankiller and Brandon in this way was always the plan, as was writing out Solomon. The players for both Mankiller and Brandon had to drop the game due to personal reasons – work and family, mostly – so I felt it appropriate to write them out violently. I actually had intended on trying to get to a similar scenario even when the characters were active, but it would have been done differently – not sure how. Best part with Brandon is that the character can always come back like Dean Winchester did in season 4 of “Supernatural” – an angel could fly into this hell dimension, “grip him tight and raise him from perdition” like Castiel did in that show. Solomon was always intended to die in this way since how else could Sofia become a full-blown wizard. The player expressed her dismay about this as it means she is now the White Council representative in the city and she is afraid that she’s a terrible wizard. As GM, I fully intend on having all sorts of parties test her capabilities.
  • This marks the end of my current run for a while so Red Sky goes onto hiatus again. The next volume will probably be titled “Clean Slate” and I intend to make Jack a central character for it. There will be a prose epilogue for “Death Curse,” but I haven’t written it yet.
Death Curse, Chapter 4

Sofia falls back into her body. Her first action is, as per normal, to free herself from the magical shackles. She then proceeds to make tea to best determine her next course of action. Seeking out Bon-Bon, she outlines her request for the dewdrop faerie to scout out Fairview once more. Not being an especially powerful fae, Bon-Bon only partially recalls their previous conversation but once more agrees to undertake this task for a pizza party.

Once the rest of the team arrives, she lays out the situation and convinces everyone that a discussion with Special Agent Curtmantle is in order as he seems to have some sort of connection to this mess, what with how frequently Brandon has seen him at the same spots that Doctor Solomon has struck.

With Jack Carter and Howard Lee being aware that Agent Curtmantle was planning on heading to the Devon Tower, that is their destination. Lee attempts to call his boss, but the call goes straight to voicemail. This does not trouble them too terribly.

Upon arriving outside the Devon, the team discovers that Agent Curtmantle is present … and is meeting with Diana Raith. The White Court Vampire is visibly angry and Sofia quickly casts a spell that allows her to eavesdrop. She quickly learns that Curtmantle is trying to calm the vampire down and he appears to be successful as she heads back into the building, although not before giving Curtmantle a decidedly intimate kiss.

The team shadow Agent Curtmantle to his condominium apartment; he calls Lee as he enters and suggests they go ahead come up since they clearly have things to discuss. Upstairs, they discover Curtmantle appears to own the entire top floor and has converted entire rooms into arsenals, both of the modern type and the ancient. When he greets Sofia with a handshake, she is able to tell that he is a practitioner, albeit a much weaker one than she is. She is aware that his magical aura is remarkably intense, however. Stunningly so.

They discuss the situation and, from Curtmantle who implies that he has been around a lot longer than he would appear. Thousands of years ago, before mankind even had writing, the Faceless King first possessed a tribal shaman in some tiny part of Africa. Its goal has always been chaos – it is not quite an Outsider but neither is it truly Fae, though the Sidhe consider it as such. As far as Curtmantle is aware, the Faceless King’s ultimate goal is to open up a direct portal to some chaos dimension and let free the denizens of that place upon Earth.

Three hundred and fifty years ago (the ominous year of 1666), the Faceless King nearly broke free. Curtmantle, along with a White Council wizard gone rogue, and a Cherokee warband were able to contain this almost escape by bounding the spiritual essence of the escaped into the bodies of the warband. Each of the Cherokee had volunteered for this task, no matter that they knew it meant their deaths. The wizard destroyed himself ensuring that the bodies would not rot and could not escape while Curtmantle took the bodies west where he buried them deep in the Earth.

Bon-Bon returns while they are discussing this and Sofia is startled to discover that the dewdrop faerie is torn up and pretty badly wounded. The faerie also is irritated – there were wards all over the place and it was not a fair view after all. In fact, it was boring. Bon-Bon further reveals that the thing wearing Solomon’s face was raising the dead at the Fairview cemetery and then spoke with the Raised in a language that made Bon-Bon’s ears bleed before instructing the humans with their lips sewn shut to “gather his monkeys and … something … the camp bell feel.”

Armed with this knowledge, Agent Curtmantle and the team identify what they believe is the place Bon-Bon was referring to: the East Campbell Gas Field, which is one of the largest oil storage hubs in the world. They begin planning to make an excursion there, with Agent Curtmantle causing a distraction by calling in a terror threat to Fairview.

  • Points awarded: 2. Bonus to LabRat – she drove most of this session again.
  • I was pretty unsatisfied with this session – although we missed last week due to various work-related emergencies, I did not do enough prep work and was also absurdly, stupidly tired, which resulted in a pretty sub-standard session. None of the blame falls on the players – it was all on me.
  • We also didn’t get a lot done in this session, both due to my fairly pretty poor preparation and because a friend of ours stopped in to chat in the middle of the game.

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