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.
Once 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..
Thanks 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.
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.