Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Gus and Guy

Hangovers eventually dealt with, John Smith returned to give a mission:

Losing a bit of paperwork for a certain android that would be essential to an upcoming mission.

The facility was made up of three buildings: a rather dirty manufacturing building, a spotlessly clean building, and a fairly ordinary building connected to the other two. After dealing with the guards (and kidnapping one of them), they headed into the compound.

Attempting the third building first, the sniper made a door through the wall via explosives, and wandered around until they made their way onto the manufacturing floor, where android bodies from the dirty building were being fitted with electronics from the clean one. Finding a worker, the group bullied the poor man until he gave up the location of an engineer; tracking down the engineer, they made enough noise to convince him they were from the UEA. He pointed them towards the document storage facility, in the body-manufacturing plant.

Inside, they quickly realized there were a LOT of documents. Shrugging, Flamethrowerette walked to the back and started hosing down the files with her flamethrower. Which, of course, kicked off the sprinklers. The sniper stepped outside the door and took a shot at the pipe feeding the sprinklers, cracking it open. The water inside splashed out onto the wall as the overhead sprinklers dribbled to a stop.

After a good ten minutes (and most of her ammo), the room was a towering inferno. Job done!

On the way out, they came across a delivery truck, full of androids. "Hey - buddy! Hey, you  know where I'm supposed to drop this load of Gus-designation androids?"

They did not.

With Gus the Android set up to be returned to service without a full overhaul, the party was sent to the most important mission yet: removing explosives from one of the exploration ships. The other ships had been cleaned, but that one had shipped out to be stocked before they had time to get to it.

Inside, they swept the corridors and rooms, removing the bombs where they found them. Finally, they located a bomb on the jump drive - and while trying to get assistance in removing it (from a certain Guy Gift, moving in with his family, Madge, Guld, Frank, and Myrr), they ran into a new infiltrating force from AlSec! The fight was over quickly; the few injuries were dealt with, and the ship finally cleared of bombs.

Outside the ship, Captain Seth Grainer met them - he lead them to a missile bay on the station, and loaded the bombs inside. They watched the ship launch; Grainer smiled a bit sadly. "It's strange to think that these could have lead to such destruction are being used for good, now... How odd the way that targets just seem to change. It's a fitting name for this ship, then, isn't it? 'Shifting Horizon'."

After a thoughtful silence, he turned. "Now, I believe we have a ceremony to attend!"

Fast and Furiously High

Once again, John Smith came to give the gang (posse? Band? Whatever) a new mission...

"There is a public figure that has been hounded by AlSec; we don't think he's dirty, but he might be under their watch. We want to send a message that we can be scary, too. He's going to be doing a public announcement tomorrow. You need to get in position... and shoot his bodyguard. Wing him if you can, make it look close, but hit the bodyguard and take him down. We only have one chance for this."

After a little planning and a few light hover-bikes, a select few of the group (including the smooth criminal, the ghost, the sniper, and the Miss Flamethrower) headed downtown. There were two buildings; the Smooth Criminal took one, and the sniper took the other. After a bit of waiting, the politician took the stage, far below; together, the two snipers fired. The sniper shot cleanly through the politician's upper arm, and just behind him, the lower half of the bodyguard's head vanished in a puff of pink mist. A millisecond later, the smooth criminal's shot whistled through the bodyguard's new gaping hole and plowed into the stage. For a brief second, there was stillness, then the square sprang to life as police rushed to action. Quickly, the two snipers took their disposable rifles and jammed them into a ceiling tile, leaving them smoldering, to eventually turn to ash.

The overweight sniper decided to take the elevator. He managed to bluff off two policemen, but a third was a little more wary, and ended up getting tasered. Smooth Criminal, meanwhile, took the stairs, and roared past the guards without stopping. He headed outside, breezing past police, and eventually slipping into the subway, taking a few passages, and popping out near the destination. Whistling, he bought a T-shirt and a cap at a nearby stand and blended into the crowd. Easy-peasy.

At the hovercycles, the flamethrowerette distracted a police officer long enough for the sniper to hit him with a sonic shotgun blast, folding him in half; the two took off, the sniper heading south, the other heading north.

Miss Flamethrower narrowly avoided a police blockade, but with a little luck, managed to weave through traffic and get lost in the crowded highway traffic.

The sniper, however, had a little more trouble. He managed to make it through the southern blockade without any trouble, but he wasn't quite as speedy as Miss Flamethrower, and was tracked long enough for backup to arrive - a large mech! It kept up with him until he turned off and into some trees. Getting lost in a baseball crowd, he slipped off, eventually finding the meetup point.

And that was the easy mission!

Next was something a little more... interesting.

The gang was given an infiltration task: get in, get someone in trouble, and get out. And who was to be in trouble? A certain James Montegue Harrison III, Earl of Shaftesbury. The group settled in to the party, and soon were enjoying some very good alcohol. The flamethrowerette decided to get the Earl in trouble by drinking the alcohol the Earl offered her, then immediately drinking some ipecac. Which didn't exactly work. She got pretty sick, but a waiter helped her to a bathroom to clean up, where she was equally sick and woozy from the drugs the Earl had slipped in her drink...

Meanwhile, Smooth Criminal managed to collect the hardcore drugs the flamethrower lady had ordered, and decided to share it with... well, everyone. The Earl got really, really high. Well, higher. Smooth Criminal, meanwhile, got himself a girlfriend! Which was only slightly related to the drugs...

The culminating moment was the Earl strutting over to his mother, telling her how he really appreciated her, and giving her a long kiss on the lips. His father, incensed, shoved him off, and began bellowing something about his next assignment being off-world - really, really far off-world.

John Smith collected the heroes(?), staying behind to impersonate Smooth Criminal and get his new girlfriend home safely (as it turns out, John has face-changing capabilities...).

The next week was spent nursing some of the worst hangovers anyone had every experienced.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What Does HOT Hot Mean?

Cryotechnology progressed in leaps and bounds in the last century; even so, like almost anything else, most ships use last gen tech, and the military uses the generation before that. The ship they got a ride in, though? Top-of-the-line pleasure vessel, with cutting edge cryo chambers and comfortable, padded seats. Even closets for their gear, and a pre-flight cocktail served with real fruit and an authentic tiny umbrella. Rather than a sudden sense of panic and light-headedness, the marines gently drifted off to peaceful sleep.

Just as gently, they awakened, refreshed after your long nap... just before a momentary headache. One of the marines was hit a lot worse than the others, losing his lunch. The lights in the room flickered, then turned on with a bit of a hum, revealing a sandy-haired man in a white ship's captain's uniform, his brow furrowed, his hat under his arm.

"Well, good news is, you made it home. Bad news is... you missed your interview with the president. Good news, I guess, you all got the medal of valor awarded... bad news, it was posthumous. Yeah. welcome to 2748, boys, you've come a long, long way, and you've still got a long way to go. Funny how 55 years of waiting doesn't help that we're all in a hurry... I am Captain Seth Grainer, of the - well. We'll get to that. For now... you've got some catching up to do."

The man explained that the ship was destined to be flown into the sun, but that his organization had boarded the ship and redirected it to an orbit around Saturn. The others were not so lucky; Lt. Commander Thawar and the Ghost were assassinated. The Lt. Cmdr because of what he discovered about the Duul'Tlak - wholly separate from the Kchurg - and the Ghost, because of the Ghost Initiative, and what it could have meant... The ghost technology is dead and gone. Which means no more upgrades for those with the Ghost tech in their head.

Meanwhile, defeating the Kchurg and the Duul'Tlak resulted in the Duul'Tlak surrendering and returning both Quern and Melba - which has become L20's new base of operations. The Duul'Tlak have actually joined the UEA, as have the Kchk'Trrs; between the two of them, the UEA gained a lot of new technology, and have even opened a joint research facility with the Kchk'Trrs.

"But that brings me to why I am here. You are... no one. You are 200 years out of your time, dead twice over; no one knows you exist. In point of fact, as far as the UEA is concerned, you no longer do; your biometrics have been scrubbed from every database, down to the ancient paper copies. You simply don't exist. Which means you are perfect to talking, fighting, and blowing things up - all the things you are good at. However... Alliance Security, or AlSec, is growing too bold. They have far more power than they ought. They built a new class of stealth ship, one that could signal dark days ahead. There are forces working in the background to destabilize the UEA..."

"A new initiative has begun, a galaxial survey mission. That initiative absolutely must succeed. There are, as always a few dissenters, but some seem more... entrenched... than others. Your first mission is to "convince" one of these dissenters to change her mind. Legally, I'm afraid - no disintegrations!"

After a few days of rest, the team loaded up on shiny new gear - lasers and sonic grenades and shoulder-fired missiles, oh my - and set off on their... er... latest first mission. The team experienced their first running insertion - as their dropship flew over the drop location, they were fired from man-sized cannons, along with a blast of gel; they hit the gel to slow them down, then the gel dissipated. Overall, very exciting.

After a quick firefight (resulting in one of their members gaining a few new holes in her armor), they managed to burn a hole through the door of the mansion and break in. Inside, after a quick search, they located the safe room, and quickly set to knocking on the door with their shoulder-mounted missile. After some back and forth, they came to realize that one, the senator and her husband thought that they were someone else, and that two, that someone else had taken their daughter, and was using her as leverage. Now this was something they were prepared for - assaulting a hardened bunker! The senator sent her daughter's location - using a beacon she had kept hidden from the kidnappers - to her desk upstairs. "Oh, that's a heavy desk, but I guess we can..."

"Oh, uh... check the drawer. There's a pad inside. Use that. Please... leave the desk here."

Calling for their drop ship and apologizing for breaking the senator's house and killing her security squad, the group headed towards the signal. A few miles out, the copilot relayed that the facility was heavily armed, and asked, "Do you want to go in hot? Like, HOT hot?"

The party agreed. Twice, actually, because the pilot asked in a somewhat disbelieving tone at first. As it turns out, HOT hot means instead of firing the marines at the ground, the dropship would fire a barrage of bunker-busting rounds, then fire the marines at extremely high velocity at where they hoped the hole was. With the warning, "When you land, MOVE!" the marines started their very rapid journey. Everyone landed and moved, except for the overweight sniper, who rolled into the wall in front of him and bounced back; lucky for him, the last member bounced off the wall above his head, having not actually been fired before, and entirely unsure of what to do. She pinwheeled through the air, bounced around through the hole, and slammed into the wall, sliding down somewhat disoriented.

After killing half the personnel in the facility (not that they skimped - they only met half the facility), the team finally located the girl - Annalise - and with a few well-placed shots, took out her captors. And rescued a bulky suit of mechanized armor:
Heavy Armor 10; weapon hardpoint; pace 10; built-in targeting system. Oddly... the sonic grenade they threw had no effect on the girl. Hmm.

Returning her to her parents (and freaking out the police), they bid them farewell, refusing to tell them how to get in contact. Later, during debrief, Captain Grainer explained that he had gotten in contact with them afterwards, and offered his support whenever they needed it.

And then, for once, everyone got a real vacation - a whole week with nothing to do. What could go wrong?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Musgrave Poem

Arriving home from their adventures, the Musgraves (and friends) return home, where Geoffery Musgrave, with some amount of groaning, set to the mountain of paperwork that awaited him. However, a letter awaited him: his great Uncle had passed away, and in so doing, left a small amount of money to various members of his family - among them being the Musgraves. They were invited to a meeting a few days hence at the Musgrave Manor. The uncle, Reginald Musgrave, was already buried, but the will was to be read; additionally, since Reginald was quite the fan of parties, a huge event was to be thrown, and thus guests were encouraged to bring friends and family.

Bertie attempted to learn how to throw knives from Jo; he was... mildly successful. Depending on who you asked.

Desmond St. Price, happy that his nephew was enjoying his time with the Musgraves, left him in their care, though took Penelope with him. Veronica was tired from her travels, and remained at home; Frances decided to keep her company, while Jo opted to go with the Lady Musgrave.

Two days later, they were moved into their rooms (Piper, who drove everyone there, stayed with the other help in the employee housing), and at 9 AM promptly, the reading of the will commenced. The barrister, Roger M. Gently, read the will - the house and the little fortune that remained was to go to Reggie (Lord Reginald's grandson, Lord Reginald Musgrave IV) and his wife. However, there is a treasure, hidden somewhere on the property; were it to be found, its wealth would be divided amongst the family and friends, and part given to the British Museum. The treasure was connected to a poem:

Find the face that workers tread
Hook the eye and wet its head
Pull the teeth and be then lead
With other kings to buy our bread

The barrister clears his throat, and added, "In a strange turning of fate, the treasure was uncovered by Lord Reginald himself only three weeks ago, though he refused to say where it was, only that he would write down its location in his will. Unfortunately, that time never came, as his illness was very sudden. His will stands as written, if the treasure is rediscovered."

There is some discussion, in which the family agrees that apart from a small fee - "Spending money, wot wot" - the treasure should be donated to the museum. Most of the family were only somewhat interested in the treasure itself.

As the reading was wrapping up, Bertie noticed another boy his age - Humphrey Silversmith II - sitting behind one of Reggie's friends, Me. Eustace Spode. Seeing Bertie, Humphrey put his finger to his lips, then stood up, back up a few feet, and laughed uproariously, catching the attention of the adults. As Spode turned, he tripped on his shoelaces - tied together by the bratty child.

In the crowd of distant relatives and their friends, there were a few that actually seemed interested in treasure hunting, among them Mr. Rudolf "Kipper" Herring, Mr. Freddie Glossop and his friend Mr. Edgar "Bicky" Bickersteth, Mr. Cuthbert Wilberforce, and Miss Cora "Corky" Winkworth.

First, the family went to investigate the garden, and its sundial, suspecting the "face". While Lady Musgrave and Piper spoke with the gardener, George Bingley, Bertie and Jo picked their way into the garden shed, then quickly fled the scene when Lady Musgrave wandered over. She looked over the shed, but saw nothing of importance. While she was investigating, Bertie decided to relieve himself on the shed, and was caught and firmly cuffed for his impertinence.

Hearing that Professor Enoch Bassington-Bassington knew quite a bit about the history of the house, they returned to the house to speak with him. He told them that the house itself was only 215 years old, but the stables (and attached workers quarters) were quite old, having been built in 1192, originally as a small barracks. The barracks was converted to living quarters for servants, but the stable is still used for horses. He mentioned that Sir Oswald "Pigeon" Widgeon knew more about the actual poem and associated treasure, but the party decided to head to the stables.

Bertie explored the barracks/living quarters, and tried the doors, but found nothing in the open ones. The three locked doors belonged to Emily Byng, the maid, George the gardener, and Piper, temporarily next to George. Finding nothing interesting, he joined the rest of the party. Lady Musgrave's keen eyes spotted a strange looking stone in the floor - the face of a winking fat man, with a snaggle-toothed grin. Looking closely, she realized his "eye" was actually a hole! Bertie grabbed a hook off the wall, and managed to wrestle it into the eye, as Jo poured some water from her canteen on the face. Pulling the hook did nothing, and for a few moments they were stumped. Finally, Jo and Bertie left to get some water from the well. Returning and pouring the full bucket on the stone's "head", they watched the water quickly drain into a tiny crack. A moment later, there was a clunk! Jo and Bertie gave the hook another pull, and this time, the stone tilted, and slid across, revealing narrow stairs down!

With her torch (flashlight) in hand, Lady Musgrave led the way. Inside, they found an entryway, that lead to a small workroom (with a heavy bronze hammer), and finally a bedroom of a sort. Lady Musgrave spotted a shelf, surrounded with scraps of rotted leather; as Bertie carefully put the pieces of the "puzzle" together, she took a closer look. Something wooden was kept on a low stone shelf, next to what Bertie pieced together - a bag that could hold roughly a basketball. Jo discovered a scrap of pink taffeta, torn and stuck to a loose nail in the doorway.

Whatever treasure was here... someone else had discovered it, and stolen it!

As they returned to the light of the stable, one of the youth came to inform them that lunch was prepared (The chef lived in town, and thus didn't stay in the barracks).

The adventure will conclude... next time! Whenever that is.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Nukes, Bugs, and a CRAAAZY Escape!

Two of the members of the party awoke in darkness. Quickly, they lit their flashlights (and in the case of the guy afraid of the dark (nyctophobia), lit two lighters and an extra flashing, too), and took a look around. Each was in a small, cave-like area, barely six feet wide and 12 feet long. Tentacles wrapped around the room, and a leathery skin-like covering that seemed to be some sort of doorway. A thick, slimy, mucus-like, grey sludge covered the room - as well as their sidearms, supplies, and armor. wiping everything off as best as they could, they realized their rifles were missing, as were their flamethrowers, grenades, and other high-powered weapons. They were left with their sidearm, some ammo, their (de-powered) melee weapons, and most of their gear.

After cutting and/or pushing their way past the leathery door-flap, the two upright members of the party met each other in a narrow hall, filled with more leathery doorways. The nyctophobe found one of the party's ghosts, and kicked him awake; startled, he vanished in a blink. Freaking out a little, the nyctophobe started muttering to himself about ghosts - more so when he heard footsteps behind him, and saw no one there!

After a little trial and error (and successful fear checks), the party was reunited. Listening carefully, they heard wind from one direction, and headed that way. Everyone was present except the Ghost; she wasn't in any of the rooms, and even her gear was nowhere to be found.

Outside, they found a ruined city, obviously having been attacked by the Kchurg; after a short discussion, they returned to the cave, and explored the other direction. At the end of the tunnel, they found a hollowed-out room filled with leathery eggs. Correctly surmising that they have been left there as food for the soon-to-hatch brood, they carefully crept out again.

Those with ghost abilities were sent into the city; they found a ruined office building, which was bereft of unspoiled food, but had running water. Sending for the others - and fighting a razerdog on the way - they made it to the building and got cleaned up. Once reorganized and with working sidearms, they set out to find somewhere a little less damaged, in hopes of finding some decent food. The area looked as if it had been attacked about three weeks prior, so a lot of food was spoiled; no fresh fruit, for sure.

Heading for a stronger looking structure, they ran into a strange man who introduced himself as Crazy Jimmy. Professing to be a drifting engineer, he managed to avoid answering a single question they asked. He did, however, suggest that he had a way to escape the city.

One of the more hardy-looking buildings had some minor damage, but enough hardening to look like a decent place for supplies. Inside, they found bloodstains and shells - or rather, not shells, but rocket-gun casings. Hoping to find the owners, they searched the second floor (the first floor was a huge lobby), and uncovered a break room, with a working beverage and snack dispenser! They quickly smashed it open and pulled out any unspoiled food. Next door was a security office; there were obvious signs of a struggle, and a bloody smear of a handprint on the pad. Unfortunately, using tape to press it didn't open the door. Down a long hallway was another security door, this one with a pair of cameras guarding it.

Checking the fire escape, they found a perfect handprint; ever-so-carefully peeling it up with tape, they managed to transfer it to the hand scanner in front of the security office! The door only opened a little way - too little to enter the room in armor - and after a short discussion, "DASH" was picked to enter the room. Gagging on the smell of death, he found half of a security officer in the door, and another dead officer sitting in a chair, his oxygen tank long since run out. Luckily, he found a security swipe card on the man, and was able to pull some nice weapons from the gun safe. They headed back down the long hallway, and swiped into the room. After a tiny lobby, complete with secretary desk (empty), the room continued up some glass stairs, ending at a massive pair of wooden doors. In fact, black walnut - wood not found on Quern, as it was native to Earth. Whoever owned this place was loaded.

Inside the doors, they found an opulent home - and better yet, food! Steaks in a curing chamber, cheese, wine, alcohol (including some insanely expensive Snakebite Whiskey and some very expensive Black Label brandy), and even weapons. They also found the owner, hidden behind a secret door, having shot himself while listening to Bolero, the classical piece by Ravel. The music was playing on a loud loop.

Settling in and looting the place, everyone enjoyed a lovely meal and a good rest on the various beds (one huge "for show" bed, one comfortable king-size bed, and one rather strange round bed, that was inexplicably pink, and had fluffy handcuffs dangling off of it). In the morning, they awoke to Crazy Jimmy making breakfast: beans and sausages. They didn't complain much. Afterwards, they asked Jimmy what his plan was.

"Aha! Well, you see, here's the deal, now: before we can get off this rock, we gotta nuke something! Oh yeah, nuke it REAL good!"

The immediate response, of course, was, "Uh... wait. A nuke?"

"Well, yeah! Y'see... a bullet has a name on it, right. A grenade is more of a 'Dear Sir or Madam'. A bomb is addressed, 'To Whom It May Concern'. But a nuke? A nuke is more of a PSA."

He leaned forward and grinned toothily, while attempting a subtle wink. "Gotta nuke 'em all!"

By bits and pieces, the party unraveled his plan. He had, it seems, found an unexploded nuclear bomb, hanging in some webbing. When throwing rocks at it had failed to cause it to explode, he decided to enlist the assistance of the marines. He took them there, and after a brief fight with a detonating infested marine, managed to rig up enough flame thrower ammunition to burn the webbing and drop the nuke into the pit below it. Crazy Jimmy "borrowed" one of the nyctophobe's lighters, and handed over a box of parts, wired together. He tried to explain how it all worked, but only got as far as "the basics of radiofrequency cavities and klystron-based electron beams," before everyone was well and truly lost. He rephrased it.

"The pointy tube in the box makes the tiny lightning balls in the air all sing together so loud it makes the big dumb space-bag go quietly insane because it can't hear the voices in its giant head, and that lets you yell at it, an' hopefully it'll listen better'n you dumb lot. Here, this button makes it go whoosh. Now git, I gotta warm myself up for my PSA."

Hurrying to another tall building (this one with four of the fleshy, floating creatures hanging in the air above it), they managed to toss a rope up and climb inside. It was a rather unenjoyable experience. Inside, they pushed the button, and the creature shook and moaned; it called for a pilot. The pilot stepped up and found that the "controls" were, in some way, familiar, as long as he closed his eyes and pretended he was wearing meat gloves.

Up they went! After a few minutes, the nuke dropped, and the city and surrounding hills were blasted sky-high. The creature they were riding in rocked, but they managed to gain altitude and head into space. Once there, they were fired upon by another ship - a friendly one! They managed to contact it, and left their rather disgusting transport behind.

Once aboard the damaged battle-cruiser, they introduced themselves, and learned that they were on fairly equal footing with the crew - after a battle with space-borne Kchurg, the ship was damaged, and the entire bridge was destroyed. They had been keeping the ship and minimal power levels, as the creatures seemed to sense energy.

Alarm bells sounded! From below, a shuttlecraft rocketed towards them, pursued by the ramming Kchurg; some quick firing managed to blow them out of the sky, and allowed the shuttlecraft to land. Inside were the Lt. Commander, and Ghost, as well as a few other survivors! They had used the distraction of the nuke to flee the planet, promising to return for the others once it was safe to do so.

The ship, however, was in no state to fly down, and the other battlecruiser - and its captain, General Acetus - were destroyed. They decided to flee into jump space, to give them time for repairs...

Unfortunately, they had forgotten about the Duul'Tlak blockade! Dash was quite surprised - "What, what? Who are these guys?! I thought the Duul'Tlak were those bugs we were fighting!"

The blockade immediately opened fire, as the navigator, with the assistance of the aces, dodged as best as they were able. After only a single barrage, however, the firing shifted to new targets - the Kchurg! As if the battlecruiser were dragging them from the planet below, huge creatures sped towards the stationary Duul'Tlak. Most of the creatures were shot down, but the few that made it through tore through the Duul'Tlak ships.

The battlecruiser, with only a lone Duul'Tlak still focused on it, sped beyond the gravity well of the planet and made the jump into jumpspace. Once again, the party got a bit of a break. There weren't steaks, but at least they didn't have to worry about anything eating them or burning holes in their brains.

Finally, the ship dropped out of jumpspace. The navigator began taking bearings to determine where they were, but none of the star charts were lining up; puzzled, he started doing calculations. They ended up in a solar system, with at least one habitable planet... And judging by the absolutely massive ship that approached the battlecruiser, the system had a pretty good amount of tech, too! The navigator took that moment to inform the crew of their current location: Omega Parada.

The other ship hailed them, and nervously, the comms officer opened the channel, filling the secondary bridge's screen with... bugs! Multi-eyed, carapaced, bugs! Though... not like the Kchurg. Oddly, the bugs were wearing... uniforms?

Through their translation software, the crew were greeted by Lord Dappled Sunlight of the Kchk'Trrs, who welcomes you to the Omega Parada system, his home. After some back-and-forth with the Lt. Cmdr, the lights suddenly dropped to red alert! Multiple targeting systems locked onto the battlecruiser, and the other ship immediately fired, blasting the rear engines!

After a few tense moments, the comms pinged again. It seems that a Kchurg had stuck on and made the jump. Obviously upset, Lord Dappled Sunlight immediately took the entire ship hostage - for their safety, as much as anything. The party received a hurried advancement, becoming officers, just so they would get better quarters. Which were actually really nice, even if they were bug-shaped. The Kchk'Trrs had obvious high-tech laser weapons and stung guns, far outstripping the tech of Earth, which provided quite a bit of diplomatic encouragement not to die like an idiot by trying to fight them.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ghost Initiative

Outpost 7 is a carefully hidden base, blended into the foothills of a nearby mountain range. It was one of the original bases on Quern, and as such, is stocked with weapons, ammo, and armor is available. Because of its out-of-the-way location, not only was Outpost 7 not a target during the original Duul'Tlak invasion, but it managed to survive the first wave of the newest threat. Over the next two weeks, stragglers pour in from all over Quern. Some troops were fresh as a daisy, and confused as the the sudden panic, while others were just as war-torn as the party. News filtered in; the Duul'Tlak were tough, but these monsters are far, far worse. Cities were wiped out by the rampaging monsters. It's a good thing most of the civilian population were pulled out.

Apart from a few patrols to keep everyone from going stir crazy, the party decided to invest in the surgical facilities, and upgraded themselves with countless cybernetic enhancements. A few decided to try out for this new, secret UEA program... the Ghost Initiative. After a major surgery, where complicated tech was implanted in their head and body, the newly-reformed characters found themselves having attained new powers...

And of course, new weapons. The UEA Fireteam grew by one member, and more than one marine decided to grab a sniper rifle and a pile of grenades.

After the two weeks of "R&R" elapsed, Lt. Cmdr. Lars Thawaar called the troops to one final all-hands meeting.

"Men and women of the UEA, we've been getting reports of these creatures - we're calling them Kchurg - moving this way for a while now, but it looks like they are gearing up for a scrap. As animal-like as they are on the battlefield, something intelligent is controlling them; they've got us cut off from any other way out... except for a path through the mountains. It's tough, but it's the only way. That said, we simply can't get through just yet. We've got excavation clearing a path, but it's going to take at least 48 hours, and intel suggest we've only got 30 before those creatures come charging in. We've got the tank sandbagged in, plus two mechs we managed to get running and souped up, plus whatever equipment you can get your hands on, but that's still not much."

He takes a slow look around the room. "Your orders are this: survive. Keep everyone here safe for as long as you can. You are our last, best hope of living through all this."

The battle was a long, drawn-out fight, as the waves of Kchurg washed up against the long-guns of justice. Only a few of the creatures managed to make it all the way to the front lines, and those were quickly dealt with. Carefully chosen shots eliminated the large Fleshies, and the rocks they hurled were no match for the tough armor of the mechs. They gained an unlikely companion - The Ghost, the original member of the Ghost Initiative, and one of the most famous UEA army. Her likeness was plastered on all manner of recruitment posters and bunk walls. Not that she cared. Her nigh-on robotic sniping abilities were legendary, but she lived only to end the next enemy.

Finally, the main wave of the Kchurg arrived. The wave of razor-dogs was still held at bay, as the troops retreated back into the main building. The last marine in the tank decided to stay, to provide covering fire until everyone was inside. It took a little convincing for the last mech pilot to not die heroically, but he stepped inside the blast doors as they closed, safe and sound. They kept up radio communication with the tank as they moved through the base. She ran out of bullets, first on one mini-gun, then on the other, and finally on the heavy cannon, but the smaller razor-dogs couldn't crack the tough tank's armor. She spent her final hour reading the tank's manual and learning how to crack the reactor, so she could send whatever larger creatures came for it skyward.

The route through the base was much longer than the party expected; after nearly five miles of trekking, they finally made it to the tunnel. Behind them, the last marines moved through the tunnel. Taking a moment to reload and attempt to fix the mech (unsuccessfully), the party were the last to exit the tunnel system. As they stepped into the narrow ravine beyond, they heard a thrumming sound overhead... Fleshies! The mech fired, but didn't manage to bring down the great floating beasts. Each dropped a load of razor-dogs and needle-snakes, as the uncomfortable thrumming sound got even louder in their brains.

The ground creatures were, for the most part, dealt with swiftly, in a burst of fire and bullets, but the sound in their brains grew louder and louder until they could no longer stand it. One by one, the party fell unconscious, even the Ghost...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Meat Grinder

After holding position for little more than an hour, the party was relieved by fresh troops. After some medical assistance, they were debriefed by Lt. Cmdr. Lars Thawaar, who had picked up camp and moved into the ravine. If all went well, he expected that they could break through the enemy defenses and hit the base where the rumored super-weapon was being deployed.

During their debrief, another group of recruits were deployed, this time shoving the line forward hard. They arrived en mass in an armored personnel carrier, and quickly set to defending the ravine from the newest wave of enemies.

The first onslaught was brutal, leaving several dead and dying, but the UEA troops gave as good as they got. One by one, the Duul'Tlak fell to the UEA guns. A tall spire between the two sides created a definite "our side" and "their side"; the Duul'Tlak took refuge behind the wall, and the UEA jarheads refused to advance past it. Grenades and gunfire flew in both directions, until the UEA troops were down to only a third of their original number.

Even so, they pressed their advantage, using their APC as a mobile shield and picking off the enemy one by one. A wave of reinforcements arrived, including a large mech, and soon the APC was taking fire! The two sides battled to a standstill, with the Duul'Tlak keeping out of sight of the APC's autocannon, and the UEA forces staying well away from the deadly gun of the Duul'Tlak mech.

The sound of a low-flying UEA troop carrier echoed up the ravine, and within moments, the jarheads were joined by the original party, as well as a few friends they had made earlier -  Lisa Tychus in her Fireteam armor, and Albert "Huffer" Huffman in his Heavy Weapons armor. Together, they opened fire on the enemy, quickly eliminating the last troops, and beginning to focus-fire the mech.

Suddenly, the ground beneath their feet rumbled, and dozens of creatures poured out! Some were the size of very large dogs (or small ponies), sporting razor-sharp claws on their backs, while others were tall, snake-like creatures with arms ending in wicked talons. Huffer was swarmed by the creatures, and fell, screaming, as they shredded his armor and tore him to pieces. The Duul'Tlak mech was surrounded by the snake-like creatures, and after two blasts of some sort of spikes or needles, it toppled over. The UEA troops quickly returned fire, with Lisa opening fire - literally - on the swarm of creatures, and the others hurling grenades and spraying bullets.

Surprisingly, they managed to wipe out most of the creatures almost immediately; the clusters of razor-dogs were no match for the grenades, and even the needle-snakes couldn't handle an APC blast to the face! The initial cheer was interrupted, however, as another wave of creatures poured over the side of the cliff, and from the direction of the ravine. While the APC slammed into reverse and provided covering fire, the marines leaped aboard and rode to the still-waiting troop carrier. Piling aboard, they saw several other carriers racing up the ravine; as the needle-snakes began spitting at their own craft, the pilot quickly pulled up and out of the ravine. As they rose into the air, it became clear just what was happening. Like a living carpet, the new creatures flowed down the ravine and across the plains to the south, while Duul'Tlak troops to the north opened fire on the newly-acquired target... but not for long. With no one left to eat in the ravine, the creatures quickly scaled the other side, and slammed headlong into the Duul'Tlak troops. The cannon fire targeting the carrier quickly faltered as the troops turned their attention on destroying the new threat.

The danger wasn't over, however; on the horizon, a large, blimp-like creature with dangling, fleshy tendrils floated slowly towards them. Smaller creatures flapped through the air, and suddenly dove towards the nearest ship! With a rending crash, the creature latched onto the fuselage, then suddenly exploded! The troop carrier fell from the skies, as more creatures began targeting other ships. Manning the guns, the marines kept most of the creatures from their own vessel, but another carrier took a hit. Dripping fuel, the only option was to escort the other ship to Outpost 7, one of the few military outposts nearby.

After several near misses, the ship managed to safely reach the outpost and land; the other carriers arrived as well, spilling out troops, medics, and equipment. Within minutes, they were once again rushed into a base... but this time, the battle wasn't for Quern, but for their lives. The Lt. Cmdr. estimated they had only a few days before the outpost would be discovered.

Luckily, however, Outpost 7 was well stocked with supplies; armor, weapons, ammo, and even surgery centers, if anyone wants to try a new limb on for size, or maybe get a few skills implanted?

More importantly, there is a discrete but urgent request for anyone with above-average intelligence for a super-secret project...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Musgrave Express

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all my notes on this adventure! However, I'll try to reconstruct events based on my original notes...

The Musgraves and others begin packing up to leave, but Lord Musgrave uncovered a letter he had missed - there was a dig found by his "searcher" that may be interesting! He still needs to pack up, but he's sending the others ahead - on the Orient Express! After a day-trip to Munich, they board the Orient Express, en-route to Varna, Bulgaria.

The train was slightly delayed, departing at nearly 8pm. After meeting a number of the train's occupants, and causing a little trouble here and there, the Musgraves and friends settled in. Here and there, they cause glimpses of drama - tension between guests, and eventually, a murder! A man was thrown from the train!

There is a layover, and police question the group, but eventually give up. One of the guests, a Bulgarian named Küçük, seems very upset about a shipment of his, yelling at the conductor.

After some investigation, the party found a young Romanian boy; they freed him, and eventually smuggled him off the train. They had Küçük arrested for kidnapping, and additionally helped the American, James, find who killed his friend - a pair of mobsters!

A few days later, Mr. Musgrave joins them, and they continue on to the new dig.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

First Blood

With the War on Quern well underway, new recruits signed up daily, wanting to do their country - er, planet - proud. After a fast, grueling bootcamp, the fresh new recruits were flown from Nahundi to the staging area on Quern. On the flight over, they chatted briefly with the quiet Marcus Andwards, the young Joe "Over the" Hill, the wiry and well-tattooed Lisa Tychus, the gruff Jason Abshire, and the somewhat-plump Albert "Huffer" Huffman. Huffer joked, "Big muscles, fast reflexes... Say, any of you pass the IQ test? I hear they were looking for some smarter-than-the-average-marine types for some super secret experiment or something..."

Tuesday, April 12th, 2535

Almost immediately after landing, they were hustled into a large meeting room in the main bunker, where they listened to an address from General Acetus, an older man with a well-chewed cigar.

"All right, people, listen up. I'm sure you've heard about the big, red, dumb idiots that are shaking their sharp sticks at us. That's wrong. 100% wrong. These Duul'Tlak are crafty, smart, and a lot tougher than a couple skinny army boys like you lot. They've got tech like ours - gauss rifles, even some early prototype laser weapons. They have heavy armor and more troops than... [sigh] Look. They've got us outnumbered, and there are rumors of a super-weapon they've got. We need to stop them, and we need to stop them now. This won't be easy, but we do have a way. We need recon, though, and that's where we're sending you now. Get out there, and do us proud, soldiers! Dismissed!"

The troops were loaded up, and rushed to the front lines. The first sign of the enemy was a simple engagement - four scouts, quick but not well armed. Advancing forward, the group next found a slightly larger group, this time with a pair of melee fighter, much tougher than the scouts! Even with sniper fire, they managed to destroy all resistance, quickly rooting out the snipers.

That area cleared, they were picked up and taken back to camp for a quick rest. One soldier, wounded in the line of duty, managed to spot the entrance of a ravine, something that might work as cover.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2535

The next day, they were once again roused for another meeting;the room wasn't as full as it was the day before. General Acetus shared the night's planning:

"All right, boys. The recon was a success. We found a hole in the enemy defenses - a narrow chasm that runs perpendicular to the enemy fortifications. Hopefully, they haven't found it, and we can sneak in unperturbed. I can't stress this enough - you need to kill every last creature in this ravine, or yesterday was for nothing. Get moving!"

Once again, the troops were herded into troop carriers, and shuttled into the forest. The first skirmish of the day was much rougher than the day before; wounds were taken by several marines, but the enemy was beaten back once again. Again they clashed, and this time, two of their number fell - one permanently. They called for assistance, but were told not to fall back - the camp was coming to them. They bunkered down, and waited for assistance...

Thus concludes the first session of the Battle for Quern! Rough, but rewarding, I hope. As a note, everyone who survived (and everyone who gets a new character next session) gets an advance: improve one skill currently equal to or over its linked attribute, improve two skills currently under their linked attributes, improve one attribute, add one edge, or remove one hindrance!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Monster Mystery Makes Mad Mage Meet Machete

In an attempt to bolster spirits, the party traveled to Dallas to eat some delicious food. It cost a bit of money, and unfortunately Alistair's roommate tagged along, but forgot his wallet...

After a lovely meal, Will overheard two men discussing an ABC - Alien Big Cat. Catching up, he asked if they needed any assistance; once they realized he wasn't just going to make fun of them, they offered to show the group what was going on.

Just off Rowlett Nature Trail, at a branch of the stream that drained into the lake, they had found an ABC, a large, black, panther-like creature. It kept to itself, for the most part, but recently, it had gone missing. The two men showed where it had been living, and after some discussion, left.

The party found traces of a ritual - wax from burned black candles, a crushed rattlesnake rattle, and other things. Then... the weirdness started happening. First, bark flaked off of a tree, revealing flesh beneath; once exposed to air, the flesh toughened back into bark.

They found tracks, and while following them, a small calico cat approached them, and laid a small heart at their feet. Moments later it dropped dead.

Reaching the far creek, Alistair overestimated his balance, and slipped off the fallen tree he was using as a bridge... one foot on each side. Wincing and groaning, he pushed himself to the other side, as Will and Toby managed to make it across without any trouble.

Continuing to follow the tracks, they found themselves walking out of the woods and into a very nice development... with a rather strange artifact of some sort. Nearby, they spotted man watering his flowers, and walked up to ask him some questions:

"Can I help you?"
Have you murdered any cats recently?
"What are you talking about?"
Anyone looked like they murdered a cat...?
"Why do you ask?"
Why do you think, there was a dead cat!
"Why would you think I would know anything about it?"
We were following tracks that lead us here
"Why were you following tracks?"
To find who murdered the cat
Turning to another member of the group: "Are you with this guy?"

This back-and-forth continued for over half an hour, with Toby and Alistair trying to get a straight answer, and the man only answering in questions. Eventually, fed up, Toby demanded the man actually answer, and the man suddenly grabbed his head, screamed, and passed out!

Stunned, the trio could only stare at each other in confusion. After a few minutes, a large owl flew up to a nearby window, pecked the glass until it cracked, then flew away.

Just as they began walking back, the sun suddenly skipped forward in the sky! Checking their watches and phones, they realized 84 minutes just went missing. Realizing the weird events were growing closer together, they hurried back to the site of the original ritual. In the underbrush, they caught sight of a strange, goat-faced creature...

Then, bursting out of the brush, they found a young woman chanting, already having started a ritual! Will dashed forward and kicked over half the black candles she had burning, and Toby tried to bull-rush her, only to miss as she dodged aside. Alistair, possibly going insane, unclipped his gun and started taking pot shots at her. He struck one or two glancing blows; Will continued disrupting her ritual, and finally, just as she chanted the last words, Toby managed to land a solid blow, knocking her out.

The ritual was complete, however, and a split second later, a wavering portal opened... with a roar, the strange white creature they saw earlier careened into the portal, just as a large, black panther leaped out! The portal crackled and snapped shut, as the leopard loped off into the woods.

Alistair quickly rifled through the young woman's... person... and discovered the ritual she had been using: Leofrick's Preternatural Scourge. He and Toby left; Will, unsure of what to do with the young woman, stuck around until she moaned and sat up. Seeing him there, she screamed and pulled out some mace! She sprayed it at him, but missed, only managing to get a little in her own eyes. "Why did you do that!?" she demanded.

Will tried to explain about the ritual, and why everyone thought it was a terrible idea, and how they were trying to stop it because magic is bad, and importantly, "I have a gun too, but I didn't shoot at you, I knew that was a bad idea!"

She stared at him, red-eyed, and shouted, "IF YOU KNEW IT WAS A BAD IDEA, WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP THE OTHER GUY!?"

Eventually, Will managed to calm her down, and escorted her to the others. Alistair, meanwhile, realized that he had neglected his roommate in his vehicle; somehow, the roommate had emptied the car of its contents and created a rather intricate artistic sculpture on the lawn. Groaning, Alistair had him collect it all and put it away; he was just getting into his car when Will and the young woman - Virginia Scott - showed up. She stalked over to his car and demanded her grandmother's ritual back; after a tense standoff, Alistair finally gave up the paper.

Fun fact: this was a completely random adventure, originally created to eat a little time until everyone showed up, then expanded because no one could figure out why the guy was talking in questions...

Supernatural: A creature, ghost, demon, or human with supernatural abilities is on the prowl.
Double Trouble: There are two forces at work here.
Two Cryptids: A natural but unproven creature such as a chupacabra, skunk ape, or night panther. (In this case: a night panther, aka ABC, and the Lake Worth Monster)
Missing person: Someone is missing:
Paranormal: The victim is a supernatural creature; it may be good, redeemed, or the lesser of the evils. (The Night Panther, again)
Ritualist: The perpetrator practices the black arts. A master. (Virginia had a d12 in ritualism, though she hadn't done much black magic... yet.)
Why Accident: The antagonists didn’t mean for anything to happen. (The portal wasn't meant for the night panther)
Where Out of Town, in Dallas
All Hell Breaks Loose: Magic or Ritualism gone awry causes a dimensional rift. A number of creatures enter our world and run wild. (The Forth Worth Monster, and the portals causing High Strangeness!)

I don't know about anyone else, but this was a fun way to end - certainly silly! We'll start up next semester; in the meanwhile, prepare yourself for the Battle for Quern!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Quern War: An introduction

July 17, 2889

In 2424, the planet Melga was settled by some of the first human explorers. However, in 2463, a mere 39 years later, Melga was attacked by the Duul'Tlak as the first known act of interplanetary war in the galaxy. For the next 70 years, Earth fought a few light skirmishes against the Duul'Tlak. However, in 2533, the Duul'Tlak reached Quern, and immediately set up a blockade. Quern was the only Jump-route connecting the rest of the known galaxy. That attack and blockade began a 160 year cold war, ending only in 2693 when the Kchk'Trrs helped the Earth forces break through the blockade. By 2741, the Duul'Tlak had been beaten back to their homeworld, and the war was over.

It was not, of course, the only war; AlSec's coup, followed by the great battle of 2880 was a terrible war, but removed the subversive AlSec from Earth and the other planets, thanks largely to the crew of the Shifting Horizon. The events that took place before, during, and after that war were released under the watchful eye of Emperor Julian and the crew of the Shifting Horizon, in an effort to maintain transparency. Of course, compared to the 230-year-long war against the Duul'Tlak, the information relating to the uprising of AlSec and the overthrow of the Earth is still fresh in our minds; few remember the final salvos of the Duul'Tlak war, let alone the opening ones.

But the Quern War and the Battle of Melga may not have been all that the history books had written. There are rumors that something else entirely was at play.

Excerpt from presentation on anonymous J-Web message board, 2855:
So the Duul'Tlak discover Jump Drive technology only a few years before declaring war on Earth, right? As far as we could tell, they never left their own system - no Jump tech. However, the seven years they even know about the tech, they managed to not only start replicating the tech, they were able to fully duplicate it! It wasn't perfect, but we're talking about technology that took hundreds of years for humanity to engineer that was rebuilt in under a decade. I think you'll agree that there is no chance of that happening. In aptitude tests, the Duul'Tlak are no engineers - warriors, yes, but not engineers. How did they copy our drives? Stranger still, there is no trace of the original Duul'Tlak technology. Their assault made it as far as Quern, and held there. It wasn't until the Kchk'Trrs helped us assault Quern that we even made it that far. What happened to our superior numbers? Superior tactics? Superior firepower? You've read the same summaries I have. The Duul'Tlok are great warriors and tacticians, but they couldn't stand up to our forces! A bare handful of worlds against all the resources of Earth? Really?
End excerpt

The document fueling these rumors of conspiracy is a single transmission, received during one of the major offensives on Quern. Much of the document is redacted; furthermore, after only one more offensive, Earth forces stopped most major offences, resorting to maintaining the existing battle line, and only devoting a trickle of forces to the war at large.
Scan of a military communication, circa 2538.

Though the redacted portions of the scan have yet to be uncovered, it is believed that General Acetus, aboard the Sturmmund, had perished, leaving his troops under the command of Lieutenant Commander Lars Thawaar. LtCmd Thawaar held out at Quern Military Outpost 7, though they were cut off from the main fighting force. Any further information about Thawaar and the forces at Quern Outpost 7 has been lost to time - or, if the conspiracies are correct, hidden from the public. What really happened at the battle of Quern? The world may never know...

Friday, April 26, 2019

Burning Man

September 12th, 2019

At the bookstore, Toby applied for a job; he started right away. Mary Lynn was overjoyed to have him. Meanwhile, Will headed next door to the Hick & Frog deli for a light (though expensive) meal... hoping to find a way upstairs, and thus into the bookstore. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any easy way through to the roof.

Back in the bookstore, Toby asked about the door to the upstairs; Mary Lynn told him that she rarely went up there, and mostly used it for storing holiday decorations and books that weren't selling and were tagged for later sales events. Once he finished his work for the day, he asked if he could tidy up the upstairs; Mary Lynn was happy to let him, and opened the upstairs area. Toby did a little dusting - it was obvious no one went upstairs but a few times a year - and after some eyeballing, he realized the upstairs was smaller than it should be. After a little searching, he found a level hidden by a book, which opened a secret door! He quietly closed it again, and continued working. Mary Lynn called up soon afterwards, saying that she would be closing the shop soon. Toby asked if he could stick around and do some more cleaning; she was perfectly happy with that arrangement, and after locking her office, handed him the keys so he could close up.

Once she left, Toby waved Will inside. After a little more some quick work to cover their tracks, they opened up the secret entrance. The first time Toby opened it, it creaked loudly, until it was slightly open, then was completely silent; the same still applied the second time. Walking in, they realized it was because there was some sort of sound barrier, blocking all noise from going through! Handy, that. Stepping into the room, they immediately spotted a woman, crouched miserably on the floor. She quickly stood, and begged them to let her out of the chalk circle she was trapped in. Shrugging, Toby walked up and scuffed the circle. Immediately, the woman transformed into a horrifying demon! Will and Toby bolted for the door, as the creature screeched and dove for them, slashing with its horrible claws. Thankfully, it wanted to escape more than fight, and as soon as it cleared the secret doorway, it used a claw to tear a hole in the air in front of it, and vanished through it, leaving nothing but the faint smell of sulfur...

Cautiously, the two returned to investigate. They found a few things on the shelves, all carefully organized and labeled. Some seemed to have degraded over time:

  • A dark smear in a jar, labeled, "brain (rabid fox)"
  • An empty, cracked jar marked "Blood, demon"
  • A pile of rust sitting on a label: "hinge, rusted"
  • A scoop of dirt marked, "grave dirt - expires 8/1/1986"
  • A jar labeled "Crypt air" with a broken seal

However, there were a few other items that seemed intact:

  • A kitten's tooth in a tiny vial
  • A skunk pelt, wrapped in a ribbon
  • A dried rattlesnake rattle
  • A cardboard box, with a glass vial inside, marked morphine, 20cc
  • A folded paper with "hair, female, 100 years old."
  • A paper packet marked "Rhino tusk powder"
  • A dried gorrilla's paw

There were also a few tomes on the shelves. On the floor, a large, brass circle was permanently mounted, obviously a ritual area. Prominently hung on the wall was a map of Gregg County. Intersecting lines of different colored string cross the county. All the lines converge on an area outside of town, which a little investigation using Google Maps revealed as within the present-day Burn, a charred area of forest just out of town. Finally, a framed photo rested upon a small table; the three men pictured are the same three in the office: Morgan Dragic, Crayton White, and Rodya Kuznetsov.

October 10th, 2019

After midterms, Will saw some signs about a camping trip to The Burn, hosted by a professor, Dr. Barton. After gather some supplies, they and a group of other students head to the burn.

October 18th, 2019

The students included Kyle Lawless, a Biology major (who happens to be Toby's roommate); Ariel Summers, a Math major that flirted relentlessly with Kyle; Matt Meranda, a shy, lanky Computer Science major; Derek Ward, a boisterous country boy that joked with the guys and flirted with all the girls - a mechanical engineering major;  Journee Deering, bright, selfless, extroverted Biology major; the flirty Roza Gabriell, Biology; the self-important, typical-rich-kid Clara Beaufort, Chemistry - who was obviously crushing on Joe Jordan, a decisive, laid-back Electrical Engineering major. Finally, Jeong Song, an unadventurous, introverted, task-focused chemistry major, who only brought some snacks and a light, indoor-only sleeping bag.

Arriving in a van, the group were given various pieces of equipment to help carry, and together they trekked the hour into the woods. Close to the Burn, they could see the trees were looking unhealthy; the closer they got, the more dead the landscape grew. Finally, the trees were nothing but charred husks, and ash drifted on the still air. Dr. Barton pointed out various markers, showing the Burn seemed to be growing, and drifting slowly towards town. They set up camp at the edge of the Burn; after a short lecture, Dr. Barton said that he had a headache, and went to lay down, telling the students to feel free to look around, but to be back at camp before sundown.

Toby decided this might be a good place to try his ritual, and with the help of Will, managed to complete it. The two felt themselves suffused with joy; after the initial high wore off, they still felt confident - the somber nature of the Burn didn't weigh on them as heavily.

Joe Jordan suggested finding the epicenter; as the students wandered off in 2s and 3s, Toby and Will used the map from the bookstore, and found the center with little difficulty. Once there, they discovered a sliver of metal, poking out of the ground - a badge! It read, "The Agency", and had a badge number: TX13-02. Pulling it out of the dust and ash seemed to lower the strangeness a little. Wondering if there were other badges around, Toby and Will began carefully searching; an hour later, they found Badge #4 - and, weirdly, they heard what sounded like a terrible car accident, complete with screeching tires and shattering glass! Of course, there were no vehicles there; the students nearby were as confused as Toby and Will were. However, they began helping the two look for badges. Over the next few hours, they found twelve badges; only #6 was missing. They also found a small, gold pin... the same pin that Morgan Dragic had been wearing! Had he been present here, and perished, along with the Texas 13?

Right at sunset, Will got a headache, with a vision of a strange, gray beast attacking Kyle Lawless. They returned to the camp, where Joe and Kyle managed to get a campfire going. Toby, hearing noises, investigated Dr. Barton, and found him restless and running a low-grade fever. There was no cell phone signal in the area; the last signal they had was an hour away, before their hike. The students agreed that as long as Dr. Barton was ok, they would wait until morning to send someone down the trail.

Eventually, most people go to bed. Toby stayed up with Derek, Kyle, and Ariel by the fire, and Will headed to bed. About an hour after everyone went to bed, Dr. Barton staggered out of his tent. As he loped into the firelight, Toby could see Dr. Barton's eyes had gone black, and his skin was a dark grey! Before anyone could react, he reached out an arm, and with a quick movement, ripped out Kyle's throat! As Ariel screamed, and Toby lunged forward, he shouted in a gravelly voice, "What comes cannot be stopped! The Convergence is only delayed... We will ravage your world!"

Derek jumped up as well, and together, he and Toby fought the monster back. Hearing their shouts, Will and Joe Jordan woke up and charged out to help as well. Will and Toby managed to get a good taze in, and after several back-and-forth rounds of fighting, finally managed to put the crazed Dr. Barton down. As they fought, the man kept repeating, "Power Grows... Convergence Returns!"

Joe volunteered to run down the road and call for help; about an hour later, a military helicopter (the only kind that could make it through the electrical interference) landed nearby, picking up the bodies of Kyle and Dr. Barton. A number of off-road vehicles arrived half an hour after that, administering medical assistance and helping the students gather their belongings. Early the next morning, everyone was returned to campus.

Toby, Will, Joe, and Derek - the four that fought off the crazed Dr. Barton - were regarded as heroes by some of campus, and reckless vigilantes by others. Legally, they were cleared of any wrongdoing; there were plenty of people who witnessed Dr. Barton's attack. His obituary said that he was affected by a rare brain tumor that affected his behavior, and that even without violence, he was on the edge of death. His body was cremated by his family's request.

Individually, many of the students on the trip came to Toby and Will and thanked them, volunteering help if they ever needed it.

Since Kyle Lawless was Toby's roommate, he's going to get a +1 on his next academic roll out of scholastic pity...

This should put everyone at Sophomore, just after midterms.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Crayton's Machine, and From Love with Russians

It's a new semester, Fall of the Sophomore year! With a good summer to take the edge off the weirdness, the students return to campus.

At first, it seemed as if all the strange happenings of the last year had drifted into the past, merely a distant memory. Alistair got used to his new digs on Greek St., and met his new roommate: ADHD frat-bro Tom Yazzie, a sophomore in Business... something. He wasn't entirely clear.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sunk Costs and Dead Ringer

It's a nice shovel!
First, a new character: Mike Swanson, a student who only recently got swept up in the chaos. Mike is a fairly ordinary guy, loyal and curious, and trusts in his... well, shovel.

They met at a party, thrown by a local businessman: Xulián Bruxo. The party got to eat pizza, drink soda, and Toby knocked Alistair into the pool. Good times, good times... well, except that Alistair's phone got... soaked. And ruined: a $120 loss.

Xulián was wandering through the party, talking to guests; eventually, his assistant, Lizzie Bourdan, came up and whispered something to him. He turned and waved at someone who had pulled up - a Hispanic man.

After hanging around for a while and talking, the party eventually wrapped up, and the group headed home. However, while they were away, there had been a rash of robberies! Will had a car window smashed, which resulted in a loss of $200; Toby had $50 stolen from his room.

After making some inquiries, the group found that, apart from the usual stuff that gets stolen (cash, computers, game consoles, calculators, and so forth), there were a surprising number of books stolen. not only that, but the books taken were almost all the same - a history book.

One thing cropped up a few times - a black sedan, and a Hispanic man. The man seemed strangely familiar... possibly the man from the party? Mike remembered the license plate number, and was able to use some contacts to get a little information; no surprise, the car was registered to BlueStar, Xulián's company.

Saturday, April 2nd

The next morning... Mike realized he had parked in the wrong space. Ugh, $40 gone.

The group piled into Will and Alistair's vehicles, and took a look around. Will tried his lock picks on the back door of the building, to no effect - they snapped off in the lock. Mike, meanwhile, took a closer look at the camera on the front door. Fake, it seemed; the wire didn't actually go into the wall. As the group contemplated breaking in, Toby caught sight of something under the garbage in the trashcans behind the building: the missing stuff! Books, Playstations, and more were heaped in the bins. Flipping through the history books, most seemed unharmed - all but one, which had a specific page torn out. Page 911, which included a description of the bombing of the World Trade Tower. Also in the garbage was a crumpled copy of a page - marked with a ritual!

The group kept the page, but turned the rest of the stuff over to the police. Unfortunately, there was nothing to link the items to BlueStar, apart from circumstantial evidence... the items "could have been put there by anybody," it seems.

Wednesday, April 17th

The campus seemed to slowly fall into a bit of a funk; a number of students stopped showing up for classes. Will and Toby decided to ask around near the societies. They saw a few people wearing strange stickers, marked with the face of the Cheshire Cat. Toby managed to buddy up to a rather out-of-place young man who seemed to be selling the stickers; however, just as the man was handing Toby a card, Will waltzed up, pointed to the card, and said, "Hey, that's the symbol of The Ring, that gang!"

The man palmed the card and quickly walked off, leaving Toby growling in frustration at Will. A kid walked up when he heard them discussing drugs. "I don't even understand how someone could do that to their body. I mean, come on, man, your body's a temple. I wouldn't even drink alcohol. Besides, there's a contest going for a drug-free campus, and I won the daily prize! I'm claiming it tomorrow morning. That contest is run right - absolutely no drugs allowed, only a happy face! Hey, like that sticker!"

He pointed at one of the discarded Cheshire Cat stickers, oblivious to the irony, and walked off.

"The Symbol of Jolmett"
Meanwhile, Alistair was itching to try out his latest ritual. He enlisted Mike, and together, they attempted the ritual that was rather too hard for either of them. Failing utterly, they found themselves suddenly struck by a terrible backlash! Mike found himself unable to bear the touch of sunlight, and Alistair's hair was turned entirely white. Shaken, they carefully placed the ritual somewhere safe, and decided that... maybe... just maybe... they shouldn't try that ritual again. Alistair guessed it would summon a demon, of some sort... and he wasn't that far off.

Thursday, April 18th

The next day, the group skipped classes to follow the "winner" they had talked to the day before. Predictably, he wound up at the entrance to the offices of The Ring - though this time, it looked like the building was actually finished. Out front was the greasy Chet Addicks, along with two scantily clad women, greeting everyone who walked in. The group filed in behind the other student - it didn't look like anyone really cared who showed up to "claim a prize." Well, until Alistair walked in. He must have left an impression on DeKlerk; as soon as they walked in, DeKlerk spotted him, and barred him entrance.

The others were left to wait in the lobby, along with the student and a few other citizens, some of them homeless people. Eventually, it was Toby's turn. Inside, he found a large camera, a smiling man in a lab coat, and a raised dentist's chair. The charm of the waiting room seemed to be fading quickly. After a few questions, Toby decided that maybe, just maybe, he didn't want to sit in the chair, and left without his prize. Will went next; sitting in the chair and answering the questions left him feeling tired and drained. At least he made $50, right? Just as he exited the building, Alistair caught the door and suggested they all head in again. Will agreed, moping in behind Alistair and Toby. Mike, meanwhile, took a hard pass on sitting in the creepy chair, and met them just on the other side of the door.

Having exhausted the usual approach of waiting around until someone force-fed them a clue, the gang took things into their own hands. In a friendly way (with Mike waving his battle-shovel around), they convinced the lab tech to sit in the chair, and started the process. The camera had a strange, glowing symbol; pressing it activated a similar set of symbols surrounding the chair. Interested, Alistair began tampering with the symbols; the tech, meanwhile, seemed to pass out, as the symbols under the chair began to smoke. Toby took over, whacking the buttons a good few times, as the chair suddenly burst into flames! The camera shuddered, then suddenly cracked wide open, crashing to the floor. Will suddenly recovered, feeling much better! Not only that, but Toby suddenly was inspired by a ritual - Pure Joy! The chair was quickly engulfed in flames; after dragging the tech out of the burning chair, the four decided to head once again for the exit. On the way out, they quickly questioned the attendant manning the prize table - a questioning that ended with the man passed out on the floor, a shovel-sized lump on the back of his head. Casually swiping the remaining prizes, the four walked outside - only to find the police had swarmed the front of the building. Hoping to hide, they zipped around the side of the building - just in time to see Addicks and DeKlerk exiting the building! Alistair, thinking fast, taunted DeKlerk, who froze, unable to respond. Addicks weighed his options, then with a roar, rushed the group. Toby and Will slowed him down, Alistair tried - and failed - to taunt him, and Mike swung his trusty shovel with a resounding crack. It took another few swings, but soon, Addicks was down for the count. Seeing his cohort so quickly dispatched, DeKlerk turned to run for the fence, hoping to scale it and escape; his attempts were fruitless, however, as police rushed out of the building in pursuit.

After a hasty search, the group was released, obviously victims of the underhanded gang members. While they were interviewed later, they were released without suspicion. And richer by $50, a nice metal bat and some cleats, and a fancy board game.

After all that... finals were a breeze.

Over the summer, Alistair tested his newfound knowledge of rituals. And while he may not know it yet... he's going to find his new roommate somewhat annoying. Heh.

Point of Note: We're entering the Sophomore Fall Semester; that means you should have 8 total upgrades, and your most recent one is part of the Sophomore year - you can upgrade abilities again, and you get a few new Edges to try out. Additionally, if you have participated in a ritual of any sort, you are now allowed to take the Rituals skill (based on Smarts). This currently includes Alistair and Mike.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bugs and Bad Guys

Tuesday, March 26th, just after Spring Break, Alistair was looking through a book and found a note. It didn't have much - it just said that that Saturday, someone would die, unless something was to be done.

That afternoon, a young woman named Missy contacted Toby. Hoping that he and his friends would be able to help her, she shared her story: it seems that a young man had taken an interest in her. As kind-hearted as she was, she was flattered, but not particularly interested. Especially since the suitor was Johnny Chafe - aka, Bug Boy. Though known for his bad personal hygiene and even worse manners, Johnny was a brilliant student, and did well in his classes. However, after Missy turned him down, he decided that stalking was the next best thing. Missy hoped the gang would be able to convince him to lay off...

Toby, realizing she might be holding back, pressed a little; Missy added that a close friend was hospitalized that weekend from numerous wasp stings. While she didn't see how it could be relevant, Johnny had asked her friend to "back off."

After looking into Johnny, Toby decided that he would lure him out, by "asking Missy out" - in reality, just walking the Loop. After a pleasant evening talking, Missy bid farewell. None of the crew saw Johnny... but the next morning, Toby awoke to find his bedroom awash with roaches! The creepy crawlies covered every inch of the room! With a yelp, he bolted outside, standing well away as the bugs scurried out into the sunlight. He called a friend in Maintenance, Phil, who arrived a few minutes later. Realizing it might be a big job, he suggested Toby stay out of the apartment for a few hours while he sprayed bug killer...

Will caught sight of Johnny after classes, and followed him. Watching from afar, he saw Johnny working with some strange, yellow liquid. Johnny caught sight of him, but didn't recognize him.

Alistair, meanwhile, decided to do a little research of his own, and happened to run across what purported to be a ritual that wards against insects... Spending $60 on it, he soon received an email with the ritual: Brangian's Whizzing Composition, duplicated on a green page, torn from a book. He gathered the required materials: a rat's tail and a clove of garlic. He tried it out, but failed miserably... fortunately, the error informed him of another ritual: The Templar's Charismatic Glamour! It laid out the ingredients as 20 cc of morphine, 4 oz. whiskey, and 8 oz. of alcohol, along with a book on the subject of the knowledge you wished to gain...

Toby and Will, unsure of how bad this magic thing really is, were loathe to participate. Alistair tried again, this time successfully casting the ritual! And just in time - as the circle of protection enveloped Alistair, he saw that it shoved a swarm of fire ants back! The ants crawled on top of each other, trying to get past him to Toby! While Alistair ineffectually flung stones at him, Toby and Will darted to one side, away from the ants, then turned back to Johnny. As Johnny raised his arms - soaked in a yellow liquid - the ants responded, swarming over the two! Luckily, after the first nibble, the ants were quickly brushed off. Will dashed closer to Johnny, and stomped in a puddle, purposely splashing the muddy water onto Johnny's arm! The yellow liquid was quickly washed off. Toby tore off his sweater, dunked it in a puddle, and tackled Johnny, wiping the yellow muck from his arm... and throwing him headlong into the ground, knocking him out cold. The ants, no longer controlled by Johnny, vanished back into their holes.

After some light slapping, followed by some light intimidation (including a frank discussion on the nature of beheadings), they managed to convince Johnny to stay away. Hopefully, that, along with the previous communication with his professors, is enough to keep him at bay.

Meanwhile, Alistair finally tracked down the young woman who had written the note in the book - Sarah Woods. She explained that she would occasionally would have dreams that would come true, or almost come true. The closer it got to the date, the worse she would feel, but just before they arrived, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. It seems Johnny was mad enough to take someone's life, but their actions had protected the eventual victim!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Golden Microphone Part II + Greek Tragedy

Joining the party are two transfer students. The first is Zander Koch, a 19 year old from Quemado, majoring in Military Science, and the second... I'm not sure about, actually. I'll update when I get that info.

Monday, Jan. 21st

While there wasn't much info on the thief, the group learned of an earlier attempt to steal the microphone. As it happens, Lurk Until Dawn was interviewing a few bikers that had purportedly seen a UFO, and the bikers dished out some street justice to the would-be thief. Tracking the bikers down to a bar, the party (now consisting of Will, Zander, and Alistair) sent Will inside. After an awkward introduction, Will managed to learn of the prior thief's place of work - the old Petroleum building, in the downtown. Quickly heading there, they found the thief's beat-up blue Ford parked nearby.

They had done their research - the building was registered to a supposedly clean business, called The Ring, and run by the shady Victor Pryce, the slimy Timo DeKlerk, and the sleazy Chet Addicks. The three ran some sort of investment and research firm, if the business registration was to be believed.

After installing a walkie-talkie app on their phones, and leaving Zander keeping a lookout, Will and Alistair infiltrated the building, bluffing their way past the two guards. Inside, they rifled through some drawers, picked a lock, and generally poked around, but found very little of interest. Most of the entry room was covered with plastic, and it looked like there was a lot of work going on, including building some new walls.

The thief, meanwhile, left the room he was in, heading for the bathroom. The two slipped into the room he had been waiting in, finding nothing but a single plastic-covered object in the center of the room. They didn't have time to investigate, however, as the thief returned! Startled by Alistair, the thief was caught entirely off guard by Will, who grabbed him in a choke hold! After a moment, the thief collapsed. Rifling through his pockets, the duo liberated some petty cash, and rescued the golden microphone! They also stole his keys... After some careful thought, they tied him up and dumped him in the bathroom.

They radioed Zander, who was busy trying to be sneaky, but ended up being spotted; he clicked a response back, and the two crept out of the building, dashing away without the two guards noticing them. Tossing the thief's keys into a storm drain, they returned to their vehicles, they sped back to the radio station and returned the borrowed laptop, as well as the golden microphone. Overjoyed, the station manager gave each member of the team a $50 bill, and his thanks.

After their adventures, it made Alistair's Valentines' Day seem almost tame by comparison. Michele even baked him a cake! Awww. So cute. The knife, though... not so much.

Dead Dave (Thursday, Feb. 28)
Hoping to find a good society to join, Alistair invited Zander and Will along to scope out the society houses. It's just after a soccer game, and the perfect time for the societies to throw a huge collective party, in the hopes of doing a little unofficial pre-Rush recruiting. Eventually, they ended up at Delta Epsilon Delta.

A charming young man introduced himself as Vance Crawford, and took them on a tour of the house, pointing out trophies and awards they had won, and mentioning a number of semi-famous people who were part of the fraternity. Getting them some nice steaks on the grill, Vance got a phone call, and had to step outside. Hardly a minute had passed before the group felt a chill in the air... and a figure stepped up to them. Cheerfully, the newcomer nodded in the direction of Vance, and said, "Man, you gotta watch out for that guy, he can be a real killer sometimes! Ha ha! I'm Dave, by the way, Dave Dalton."

He joked with the group for a few minutes, pointing out the room at the top of the stairs - the "Love Shack", as he called it. Leaning in conspiratorially, he added, "I totally set up a video camera in there that catches all the action, if you know what I mean!"

Just then, Vance returned, calling out to them from across the room. When they looked around, Dave had disappeared. Vance apologized, saying that he had been called away for a bit, but that he was glad to meet the crew. He waved, and headed out. Looking around the room, the three eventually spotted a picture of Dave, with "June 12, 1997 - Sept. 13, 2017" written underneath; they flagged down a member of the fraternity and asked about it. He nodded, relaying the "sad tale." It seems that a year and a half ago, Dave was messing around with another frat brother's girlfriend, but ended up committing suicide out of guilt. The girlfriend dropped out and moved away. They pressed for more details, but the man shrugged. "I dunno, I joined this year, so it's like, history to me. Ask Vance - it was his girlfriend."

Correctly surmising that Dave was, in fact, a ghost, Alistair and Will called GlenMac, who excitedly began setting up ghost hunting equipment near the table. The commotion - fueled by Alistair - allowed Will and Zander to get into the room next to the Love Shack, and quickly hunt through the air vent. They found a camcorder, though its battery was long dead, and it used firewire and a digital tape rather than SD cards. After rifling through the frat brother's stuff a bit (and finding he had interesting tastes in adult entertainment), they crept out of the room, signaling to Alistair that they were done. Meanwhile, Michele showed up, wondering why Alistair was avoiding her. He apologized; luckily, it was open dorms, and the four walked back to Alistair's dowm, where he had a few charge cables. The cable from the previously-destroyed camera happened to fit, and after a few minutes of charging, they rewound the tape. While Alistair distracted Michele, likely by discussing her dreams for the future, Will and Zander watched the tape. A minute or two after the tape started, Dave walked into the sparsely-furnished room, leading a young woman. They talked, then started making out; just as things were getting heated, the door flew open! There in the doorway, barely in the shot, was none other than Vance! He screamed in rage, and drawing a gun, fired at Dave! Dave fall back onto the bed as the young woman screamed. Vance waved the gun in her face. "If you so much as breathe a word to anyone, I will straight-up kill you. You understand? Not. One. Word. Get out of here - I don't ever want to see your face again!"

The young woman grabbed her clothing and dashed out of the room. With a heavy sigh, Vance holstered his gun, then wrapped Dave in the bed-sheets - including the plastic sheet underneath. He hefted the body onto his shoulder, then hauled it out of the room. The rest of the tape showed the empty room, until the tape was full and the battery died...

Unanimously, the group decided to hand the tape over to the police - after making a copy, of course. They claimed it had been turned in to a lost-and-found, and they dug it out and discovered the evidence. The police immediately arrested Vance on murder charges, and thanked the group for their help. Alistair, as it happens, was not invited to that fraternity...

A few days later, Alistair got a knock at his door. Outside was a man and a woman; the man introduced himself as Kit Mueller, and his partner Deana Scolaidhe, both FBI agents. He asked a few questions, seeming interested in the supernatural aspects of the case; he seemed to have already figured out it wasn't just a tape from the lost and found. After some friendly questions, he left his card, with the suggestion to call him if anything else weird showed up.

Over the next few weeks, Will and Alistair told the other members of their group the various adventures they had experienced. Halfway through telling them about the bank robbers, Will suddenly made a connection - Jake Busar, the bank robber! He must be the Jake B. in the picture! If the girl was Monica Dragic, and the man behind her her father, Morgan Dragic, that only left two members of the photo to find - the white-haired man, and the slightly irritated man off to the side... However Jackson managed to get a hold of this picture, it was certainly related to his disappearance. Hopefully, cracking that mystery would solve the greater one - where was Jackson Green?

Friday, February 8, 2019

Missing: Jackson Green

Things calmed down, and a month later, everyone was just getting back from Thanksgiving break. School was going well, everyone was passing their classes, and a lot of the weirdness from the previous months was slipping into comfortable obscurity...

...When Will got a phone call from Jackson Green.

The two had met a few times, enough to exchange phone numbers at least, but Will wondered why he would be getting a call from him. He answered, and Jackson quickly interrupted in a strained whisper: "Hey, sorry, y'all're th' first person I c'get a hold of - sump'm's following me, and I need help. South Green Trailer Park, back corner o' th'-"

He was interrupted by a crash; his phone clattered to the ground, then the roar of a shotgun filled the line, just before the phone went dead! Concerned, Will called Toby and Alistair, and they quickly made their way down the street to the nearby trailer park. Jackson's trailer was obvious; a police car was there already, and another was just pulling in. Concerned neighbors crowded around. The large bay window in his trailer was smashed in, and there were dents from shotgun pellets across the side of the building. The door hung halfway off its hinges.

After a little snooping, Alistair and Will found there were no tracks around the back of the building - whatever cause the damage either stayed to the road, or took a rockier path to the side.

Toby spoke with a policeman, and after confirming that he was a friend of Jackson, the officer allowed him to accompany him into the building.

Inside, the damage was obvious: the broken-in window, pinpoints of light from the shotgun blast, and a knocked over lamp... as well as a smear of blood on the ground. Toby uncovered Jackson's cell phone - screen smashed - under the sofa, and almost invisible against the carpet, a three-inch, tapered, plastic-like object. He pushed it with his foot, and it shimmered a little in the dying light. He carefully palmed it, and headed back outside.

Meanwhile, one of the officers' radios squawked to life:
"Unit 3, check."
"Unit 3, we’ve had another boogeyman sighting on campus. Can you do a wellness check on a witness at the LeTourneau's student center?"
"Dispatch, we have another 45 minutes here then we can head over."
"Unit 3, roger that. Dispatch clear."

The officer sighed, something about "prank calls again," and went back to keeping the rubberneckers out of the building.

The three friends, meanwhile, decided to head over to the student center, as long as they were going back to campus. Just inside the building, they found Leslie Merspin, the student writer for Cryptid Underground! She looked pale and shaken, and as soon as they showed up, she jumped up and threw her arms around Will. Somewhat baffled, he did his best to calm her down.

"I was on my way back from Glaske, taking the long way 'round to get to my dorm - going behind the materials joining lab. I heard this freakish noise, like a growling, purring sound mixed with a swarm of bees. I tried to hide around the corner. Somebody came past, heading towards the maintenance building, and they were dragging somebody all hunched over with them. I didn't really see them... but nothing human could make noises like that."

Michele, seeing Alistair talking to a strange girl, immediately came over to see what was going on.

The ROTC student who was sitting with her looked a little skeptical, but offered to stay, while the party went to check it out. Will found some distinct tracks - footprints from a human, and footprints from something much, much different, a three-toed creature of some kind. They tracked them to the new greenhouses, built at the edge of campus for the biology and horticultural students. The tracks lead to the third building, and they could hear weak cries for help coming from inside!

Inside, the air was thick and humid, obviously designed for the tropical plants inside. Two paths lead down the center of the greenhouse; Alistair and Michele followed one, while Will and Toby followed the other. They stepped out at about the same time, to see a woman, holding a nasty-looking stomach wound, and... the chupacabra! Will, Toby, and Alistair weren't frightened by the creature, but Michele took one look and ran screaming from the building. The creature turned towards them, but the woman on the ground seemed to divert its attention through some mental means. She held it for a moment, but the effort proved too much, and she passed out. Immediately, the creature leaped towards Alistair! Alistair tried whacking the creature, while Toby and Will helped the woman; the chupacabra turned on Alistair, but its claws merely raked across his bulletproof vest harmlessly. He struggled with it, until Toby ran up behind, and with a mighty chop, hacked into its back. Already injured from Jackson's shotgun blast (as they correctly inferred), the creature fell to the ground, dead. Alistair immediately began harvesting quills from the creature, as Toby and Will pulled the woman outside and bandaged her up as best they could. As they finished, two black vans pulled up, and several men in suits stepped out. One introduced himself as Officer Johnston, and declared that he and his fellow officers were part of a task force hunting the creature inside, and were part of the Longview Police Department.

Alistair, meanwhile, had followed the path to the end, and uncovered a hidden lair the creature had undoubtedly been living in. Inside were bones from small animals, as well as what were likely the bones of homeless people it had killed and eaten!

He tried to hide from the agents entering the greenhouse, but only succeeded in tipping over a plant. The three were told to return to their rooms...

In the following days, they learned that the greenhouse had been burned to the ground; Will, through his contacts with the police, also found out that there was no special task force, and that no one named Johnston worked there. More intriguing was a package that showed up, with a simple note from Jackson Green to keep its contents safe, and secret.

The package includes a photograph, with the words, "June 17th, 1986 - Monica & Jake B at Dad's office! Best buds!" written on the back. It's a picture of a young girl, maybe 8 or 9, and a slightly older boy, maybe 13 or 14; behind them is a middle-aged man, wearing a small label pin (a phi symbol), a white-haired man, and a younger man, standing a little apart with his arms crossed.

A little research later, and Toby was quite sure that the girl in the picture was Monica Dragic, current owner of EyePhi! The middle-aged man was her father, Morgan Dragic. The other name - likely the young man - resulted in no information, but everyone was sure they had heard the name before, but just couldn't remember where...

After Christmas break, there was still no sign of Jackson Green. GlenMac was sure he was still alive, somewhere, but there were no leads available.

The group was contacted by a radio show, Lurk Until Dawn, a show that interviewed interesting personalities and touched on the strange, the alien, and the supernatural. Having heard about their interactions with the chupacabra - called by students the Needler, due to its ridge of spines - the show invited them to come and talk about their adventures for a little.

The interview went well, but halfway through, there was a commotion out front; as they raced to find out what was going on, they saw a man holding a gun! The secretary was standing nearby, her hands in the air and her face white as a sheet, as he forced her to unlock a display case and yanked a golden microphone from it. Waving his gun, he dashed out of the building and to his running vehicle.

Alistair ran after, trying to spot which way it went, but it had already vanished in traffic.

Inside, the manager fumed; the microphone was really only of sentimental value. It was a gift at the station's 75th anniversary, back in 2004. He promised a reward if it could be returned. The station engineer, Jessie Achord, loaned the group a laptop to do any research they needed, while Ryan Lunemann, the "voice" of Lurk Until Dawn promised to reschedule, as they had already gotten a good response from the interview.

The only information they had to go on was a video of the getaway truck - free of a license plate - and a good shot of the thief.