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.
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 convince 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.