Friday, May 8, 2020

Old Friends

Early in January, Alistair had the gang help him out in gathering more materials for damage potions. After managing to get a few prepared, Will received a text message from an unknown number: "i have answers. Meet@lutes lk on 2204 W of airport 10pm. Don't b seen"
After a few seconds, a second message followed: "Bring Pizza King lrg Everything"

The students grabbed their gear, and headed to the airport, parking there and walking to Lutes Lake. As they neared the lake, a shadowy figure stepped out of the trees and beckoned to follow. Swiftly and silently, he lead them down a trail through the trees. Just as they lost sight of him, they caught the rumble of an engine. Fearing an ambush, they crept up on the vehicle. Behind the wheel, carefully scanning the trees, sat a (rather bedraggled) Jackson Green! He was wearing ripped camo clothing, worn boots, and a ragged beard. Even his cowboy hat was crumpled. Even so, his eyes lit up as they approached. "'d you bring pizza?" he demanded, and tore into the pizza, moaning happily. After scarfing three pieces in quick succession, he waved the group into his jeep, shoved the box back into James' hands, and roared off down the power line clearing, dodging stumps and puddles. On the way, across the roar of the engine, he shouted out what was going on.

The night he was attacked, he was at a dinner thrown by Monica Dragic, as a guest of GlenMac. After wandering around trying to find the bathroom, he stumbled across Monica's study, and uncovered a photo - the same photo he mailed to the group. It linked her father, Morgan Dragic, to both Rodya (the Russian man, whose brother is looking for information about) and Crayton White (the man who invented the ghost-portal-machine), and most dangerously, to Jake Busar (the bank robber). Realizing the picture was important, Jackson swiped the picture. Monica realized it was missing, and sent the Needler after him. When it broke in to his home, he fought it off with his shotgun, but realized if Monica was going to send monsters after him for a simple photograph, she was willing to do anything. He fled, and got help from - well, from someone who turned out to know a lot more about the current circumstances than expected - and was set up at his new base camp, from which he spied on EyePhi and Monica's various plans, from the Fenris virus and undead apes to chupacabras and the Burn.

Finally, he pulled up near what appeared to be an abandoned farmhouse. After inviting them in, he let them look over the maps and photos he'd collected in the last few years. His spying on the missile site uncovered a systematic program for creating larger and stronger chupacabras. And with that, he opened the door and waved a shadowy figure towards the building - his friend, Paul, a chupacabra! Paul is humanoid, with fewer spikes and quills, but a drastically improved camouflage. Jackson found him, dumped in a mass grave, and nursed him back to health. Together, Jackson and Paul found out about thousands of incubation tanks, installed in an abandoned missile silo, filled with growing chupacabras. Jackson tried to blow the whistle twice before, but the lack of response most likely means someone in the government is protecting it. A direct fight would only get people put in jail, at best - instead, he proudly reveals his master plan: sabotage!

He explains:

There are two ways to disable the incubators: poisoning the water system, and tampering with the temperature regulators. The facility is staffed with a skeleton crew - the fewer in the know, the better - a total of nine operators. In three shifts of 8 hours, one tech monitors the control center, one the power house, and the third inspects the incubators, top to bottom, twice per shift.

Jackson ends by saying that he plans to pull off this mission in the next few hours, at shift change. He'll take some advice on nuances, but is adamant that the plan must be soon. He'll send Paul into town to pick up any supplies the group left behind - which ends up being Alistair sending Paul to break into a medical storage area and steal 40 cc of morphine.

After some rituals and planning, the group split into two. First, the "poison" group, with Alistair, his girlfriend Michelle, and James; and second, the "temperature" group, with RC, Priya, and Will.

The poison group needed to break into the power building, and pour a two-gallon jug of potent poison into the post-purifier water supply. A camera watches the door.

The second group needs to crawl through a vent on the side of the building, infiltrate the heating/cooling area, and either destroy the machines, or get into the control room and turn everything to "dry/cold" instead of "hot/moist".

Alistair, using his sling, expertly broke the light near the camera, and after sneaking up to it, tilted it just enough so it was no longer watching the door. James snapped the lock off the door, and after stepping inside, laid out the tech with a single blow to the head.

Meanwhile, the other group crept up on the rotating camera, staying out of view, and with RC boosting Priya, managed to disconnect the motor and leave the camera pointing at the parking area. After removing the grate on the vent, Will climbed inside and slipped past the spinning fan. A little amature electrical work later, and the fan stopped spinning, allowing Priya and RC to slip past. Together, they crawled down the vent, opening an access panel and utterly surprising the tech working on the AC. Will jumped down and thumped him over the head before he even realized what was happening. He and Priya looked through the laptop, and realized they would have to break into the control room if they wanted to shut things down - and that taking things apart might alert the guards. After a little indecision, they headed towards the control room.

Back in the power building, James and Alistair followed the pipes around, and found he place they needed to pour the poison. Alistair attempted a bit of sleight of hand, sticking a mirror into the reflector securing the purified water cistern.

In the control room, RC eased the door open, and Priya crept up behind the tech, who had just noticed a warning light go off - one marked "purification tank". She smacked him with her spear, knocking him out.

With no alarms going off, Alistair nodded to James, who dumped the poison in the the tank, then slapped the bolts back on. They, with Michelle's help, followed the camera feed, but only came to a pipe that sank into the ground. The camera lead somewhere else...

In the control room, the Will expertly set the AC to its coldest setting; they watched the temperature drop until it was low enough, while downloading some files onto flash drives. Just as the files were wrapping up, one of the computer screens flashed a message: "Convergence simulation 9,361 complete. Play now? Yes / No"
Of course, they pressed "Yes", and watched simulated ley lines crisscross over Gregg County, warping and converging over LeTourneau. The map detail wasn't precise enough to show the exact epicenter, but it lined up with what they knew from the dream. The running date in the bottom corner ended in May, three days after graduation.

Suddenly, there was a muffled thump from outside, and a klaxon began to blare!

In the power area, the sound of an explosion echoed above the noise of the generators. James raced for the door, with Alistair and Michelle right behind. They bounded outside, and turned to see some familiar faces! The Russians were coming! Or rather, the Russians were there; several men with guns were firing at the front door, which was blasted off its hinges. More gunfire echoed back from inside. Watching the battle was Vladislav, goth-emo-ritualist. Alistair contemplated sniping at the guy, but decided against it, and instead waved the others away. They fled towards their rendezvous location.

Inside the main building, however, RC, Will, and Priya were not having nearly as nice a time. Four chupacabra halted their escape; after narrowly avoiding some serious wounds, they finally managed to bash them down, Priya finishing off two, and RC and Will ending one each. Just as they took down the last creature, they heard a shout behind them - they bolted for the exit, but stopped when they realized it was Jackson Green! He waved them towards the back way. As they passed row after row of incubators, the eggs inside already beginning to blacken, Jackson explained that he had, possibly, lead a certain old Russian guy to believe that some lantern and maybe his dead brother were inside the building. Once they rejoined the others, Alistair was highly amused.

Jackson drove in silence. After a while, he nodded firmly, as if coming to a decision. "I'm done here, I think. I'm going to move camp, and hopefully not have to show my face until after the Convergence thing. Take a look at those lines, and let me know where you think the Convergence is going to be. Oh, and please... don't tell GlenMac, ok? Don't let him figure out you know, about me, or about all this. Use him to get to EyePhi."

As he left them at the airport, he gave them a final warning: "Hey - it's not over. The worst is yet to come, you know that, right? Stay tough."

Snow Time Like the Present

A couple weeks before Thanksgiving break, Joe Jordan (who you may remember as the speedy fellow who ran for help during the fight at the Burn) offered an all-expense-paid ski trip. Well, almost all expenses, as they needed to buy their own plane tickets. The resort, as it turns out, is owned by Joe's grandpa, Horace "Horse" Jordan, and was shut down due to damage from terrible weather and possibly a bit of sabotage.

The group moved into one of the large, luxurious cabins just off the slopes, then Joe took them on a tour of the place, pointing out a rival resort, just on the other side of a valley, and showing them were the various equipment for skiing was kept. As they headed over to the main lodge for an amazing Thanksgiving dinner, they saw a large, angry-looking man, looming over Horse, who didn't look particularly upset. The man was screaming screaming something about how "he'll be sorry!" - but when he saw the others approaching, he stopped short, then stamped away in the snow.

Over dinner, Horace explained the various troubles he'd faced, and admitted that the slopes were do for a complete overhaul, and he'd been putting it off. The ski lift was out of commission, and there was some damage to a number of safety rails. He warned them to avoid hiking in the nearby valley, as heavy snowfall resulted in the death of a guest earlier in the season - the snow around trees is very soft, and it's possible to tip over into the soft snow, get a load of snow dumped from the branches above, and suffocate. Not a great way to go.

After dinner, James took a look at the ski-lift, and found some scratches near the door, as if it had been forced. He wasn't able to fix it - Horace mentioned he was waiting on a part for it.

That night, they set up watches, just in case the saboteur returned. Will dreamed of a train full of people, all enjoying their vacations. As the train passed through a tunnel, it suddenly slammed to a stop! Looking around, you realize the train car in front of you is covered in a thick layer of ice... and the people inside aren't moving. Will snapped awake, just as Alistair caught sight of a hulking creature, and chased it away. It took off through the valley, towards the other resort.

The next morning, the group went hiking, following the creature's footprints. They followed it all the way to the other resort - where they found the bloody corpse of the owner. Blood coated everything except a single book... Alistair later read through it, and found not only a ritual for summoning an ice-demon, but it's name: Bralgronnith.

About that time, RC showed up, presumably having taken a slightly later flight. He joined in searching the immediate area. Suddenly, they heard a scream, and ran back to find a woman pointing at the corpse; the police were called, and the students allowed to leave. They took a little more time, and found a raven's feather near the faintest traces of a chalk circle.

Back at the resort, they blew off a little steam; James did some amazing ski tricks, wowing the group with his prowess and complicated (though possibly accidental) flips and jumps. They also contacted the priest of the little Catholic church in town, and after a bit of back-and-forth, the priest admitted that he donated a few drops of blood to the "pious woman with brilliant blue eyes" that visited him. Realizing what he had done, he nearly had a breakdown...

Alistair collected the various ingredients for the banishing ritual - 22 strands each of blonde, brunette, and red hair; a pine-cone; and a bunch of human saliva. Once again, they set watches, and once again, it was Alistair who saw movement on the ski slope. This time, Priya and James slept quite a bit heavier, and took a little longer to wake up, but they managed to stumble out of bed to face the creature. This time, however, the creature wasn't a hulking ice-demon, but a woman with striking blue eyes! She laughed, and in the blink of an eye, transformed! The ice demon, meanwhile, dropped down from the roof, grinning at them.

RC rushed the shape-changer, only to realize that it was immune to his twin bats; he skipped out of the way, heading back for the ice demon, where James was gearing up for a fight. Alistair and Priya started casting the banishment ritual, while Will went toe-to-toe with the shape-changer. In fact, he realized it was the same shape changer from years before, that was released from a chalk circle!

The ritual completed, creating a tear  and sucking the ice demon into it. The shape-changer laughed, and reached out to grab hold and get a free ride back to... wherever it was going... but Will swung his axe, chopping the creature open from jaw to tail. Its laughter died with it; after a few moments, it shriveled up, falling into ash. Alistair made sure to call the priest and tell him the evil was dealt with.

Sunday, the students headed home, and finals were not long after. James and Ed impressed Joe Jordan quite a bit; for the next semester, he'll be a contact for them. Priya, meanwhile, managed to get herself banned from Walmart...

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Blue Shyster Cult

Something was brewing; strange effects began occurring on campus, and before long, the group caught wind of something heading south from Oklahoma. Whatever it was, it left a trail of cultists and freakish magical - I mean, nanite - destruction in its wake.

Their suspicions were confirmed when they were contacted by Kit, from the FBI, and by Chelsea Gloster, photographer for Cryptid Underground. Kit suggested that the reports that the thing responsible was the antichrist may be true, while Chelsea was absolutely sure that it was due to the same aliens she thought had abducted her before.

As it turned out... Kit was a little closer to the truth.

Two very familiar faces showed up on campus, trying to cast a ritual that would harness the growing ley line energy: Xulián Bruxo, leader of the BlueStar cult, and his right-hand man, Raoul Tolemo.

Raoul was struck down by James before he could cast more than a single spell; the cultists were quickly dispatched, though the group realized that they seemed to control the shield protecting Bruxo. As James pounded away on the shield, the others took out the cultists, with Priya knocking out the last man... and Bruxo zapping him with lighting to finish powering up his shield. Not that it did any good; the constant barrage of wrenches, spears, rifle, and katana tore through the energy protecting him in short order. As he screamed out-of-context Bible verses to "prove" that he was the anti-Christ, James gave him a new head wound. Screaming in rage, Bruxo's skin crackled and charred, as he was consumed from within by blue flame. His screams faded into nothingness as the last of the cold flames flickered out on James' favorite wrench. Lightning flashed down as everyone dove for cover.

A little medical assistance from Priya set everyone right, though the crispy cultists were far too long-gone. About that time, Kit showed up. Recognizing the body of Raoul Tolemo, he promised to leave the students' names out of his report, and spin it as one last ritual gone wrong for the cult - already in the news from the massacre last year.

All's Well That Ends, Wells

Amy Wilson was at home when the group dropped by. After they explained that they were there on the request of Peregrine Cycle, Amy invited them in. She offered some cookies, and gave them the condensed version of events.

In 1983, shortly after the events of the Tempus Frigate, Amy Wilson was dropped off in her own time. In 1986, Peregrine Cycle returned. "Amy Wilson. I bring sad news. A group of Agents known as the Texas 13 stumbled onto… an Event. They mobilized two days ago. While they were able to stop the Event, all but one of the Texas 13 perished. The result of the Event has left a scar that I believe will never fully heal. Little remains but ash. Your new assignment, effective immediately, is to replace the fallen Agents. You are to move to the city of Longview, Texas immediately."

She moved, and after helping the lone surviving agent to clean up what they could, she began work full time for the Agency, keeping the area safe. The surviving agent was unable to explain what caused the Event, or what was done to locate or stop it; he knew only that the Event created a portal, of some sort.

Through the 80s and 90s, she helped the Agency maintain tabs on Longview, LeTourneau, and the surrounding area, keeping the higher-than-usual-number-of-threats under control. At this point, she is only on administration duties, being in her 60s.

Importantly, she admitted her part in "magic" as it is today. Back in the mid 1940s, she was on the crashed ship that caused the Roswell alien craze. Part of the crash resulted in the release of a swarm of self-replicating nanites, which apparently took the existing nanites in the atmosphere and multiplied them, resulting in a steep climb in magical abilities. Older "magical" items were powered up drastically as the tiny robots grew in power. Rituals, as it turns out, are less about magic, and more about stumbling onto the precise motions and components that sends a command to a bunch of nanites...

James mentioned the poem that Alistair had received; after looking it over, Amy filled in some gaps. "Obviously, I am the clockwork policeman's elderly friend / Who swam against time's dark sea - while Peregrine has never stated it outright, I am fairly certain he's an android of some sort. And I've time traveled, though I resent being called elderly. Eye of Phi surely refers to EyePhi - I know you've already have several run-ins with them."

Finally, she filled them in on the strange men (and woman) they encountered. They are the Men in Black - an organization that exists to keep knowledge of strange events under wraps, but why, no one knows. Amy works for The Agency, a group that is similarly shrouded in mystery, but not nearly as brutal in their cleanup methods. The MiB and the Agency are enemies, and clashes between them are bloody and devastating for both sides. Make no mistake - the MiB are evil, and incredibly dangerous. Members of The Agency are warned to never go up against the MiB alone.

After a few other tips and hints, she urged them to hurry - if Peregrine was willing to bend the rules enough to tell the group about Dr. Wells, he was surely important.

After a quick trip to their hideout in the bookstore for Alistair to make some sharpness potions, the group was ready to go. Taking James' "spooky" car, they met up with their new redneck buddies, and crept up on the old abandoned building. They spotted some tracks around back, and after disarming a rather shocking electric trap, opened the door... and immediately began combat! A quick crushing blow and a couple stab wounds later, and the MiB in the kitchen area was down. Another MiB, hearing the noise, poked his head in, then sounded the alarm. Will, sneaking a look, counted four MiB and two WiB (Women in Black) in the dining area.

After a moment to regroup, they charged together; the MiB took a few shots, but only succeeded in angering James. Will and the rednecks opened fire, injuring two of MiB; trading shots and blows, the MiB were worn down, and finally, James was able to break through and get to the WiB in the back as they cast their ritual. Too late, as the ritual succeeded, drenching the building in darkness. Even so, the group managed to take down the two WiB, as well as the last of the MiB, though Bobby Lee took a round to the gut. Priya, burning a black chip, resuscitated and stabilized him.

The fight wasn't over, though, as one of the MiB in the kitchen seemed to have healed up enough to crawl out - James ended him, again. Searching the building, they found Dr. Wells, surrounded by whiteboards and working feverishly. He ignored them entirely until he was knocked unconscious by Priya, and dragged outside. When he came to, he was more himself; he mentioned that while he was mostly out of it, he'd had the presence of mind to create some explosives, and rig them to a short-range dead-man's-switch. With Will yelling, "There's a bomb! Get to da choppa!" in his best (?) Schwarzenegger voice, they dashed for some construction waste bins nearby. Bobby Lee and Dr. Wells weren't quite hidden when the blast went off... As it turns out, Dr. Wells thought he had only been imprisoned for a few days, maybe a couple weeks, and had been preparing a small amount of explosives every few hours. As it turns out, his nearly-a-year experience resulted in a lot more explosives, and one very, very flattened building.

Kicking it into high gear, James and the others bolted for the vehicles, executing such an energetic escape that the police, only three blocks away, didn't even catch sight of their car.

Returning to campus, they found Peregrine Cycle was waiting for them. He offered to take Wells off their hands, keeping him safe with an Agent Peregrine knew to be trustworthy.

Perchance To Dream

Summer break was, thankfully, free of anything terribly strange. As Senior Year begins, the group reflected on their adventures...

Way back in their Freshman year, Jackson Green went missing; while nothing has been reported on the news, it's a fair bet that he's gone, eaten by a chupacabra or something. Dr. Wells is gone, too; officially, still on sabbatical, but it's been a year, and no one has seen or heard from him. Monica Dragic, at least, seems to be busy; last heard, she was visiting various foreign countries... Russia was on the list, take that as you may.

After a few weeks getting into the normalcy of classes, a little research by Priya uncovered a strange forum. The site seems to be filled with a number of stories from various individuals - most of them crackpot stories of alien probings and, uh, erotic visits from vampires, but a few seem to be following the same theme: a single dream of terrible monsters and the destruction of the world. "April Dream of Monsters, did you see them too? Share your story here!" The accounts are spookily familiar. One seems to have some sort of call to arms; it's followed by a list of jumbled letters:

ifebzqps qggoifh ciss opwg jsprg if sbfhaigc oglpk bf kgjogqdgz ocgseom ocgfou ocgfou bfg po omg aec kil ombykpfv bfg bf cgko qpzkmpss po kil omizou
dzifh kfprwk pfv p ezigfv
While Priya and Will struggled through translating the cipher by hand, James got bored and started Googling ciphers, eventually finding the answer. It was a simple substitution cipher, resulting in the following messages:

informal meeting will take place in longview texas on september twelfth twenty twenty one at the vfw six thousand one on west marshall at six thirty bring snacks and a friend
The VFW was an old brick building on the far west side of town, across from a car repair shop, and next to a church - and the date was only a couple days away. After gathering supplies (and arguing about whose car to bring), the group showed up about fifteen minutes early, just as the first person showed up and unlocked the door - a fellow in a decently nice suit, with well-trimmed facial hair. Five minutes later, a couple who looked to be in their 20s arrived and went in.  A few minutes later, a pickup truck rumbled up; three obvious rednecks sat inside, listening to country music. At 6:30 on the dot, a middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit arrived, and the three rednecks turned off the music and followed him inside. The group joined them. About five minutes after they entered, a scruffy fellow slipped in, and stayed off to one side.

Everyone snacked and mingled for a few minutes, talking about trucks, music, and demon-dreams, until at 6:45, the fellow who unlocked the door stepped forward, and directed everyone to the chairs he had set up. He was clearly nervous about something, but went ahead and introduced himself. "I'm, ah, wow, uh, there sure are a lot of you guys. Hi, Lester. When I put the message out... I didn't expect so many, heh. I'm Ed Cline; I guess you read my story already, and... well, you know. The dream. Last April. It's... it's coming, y'know? Anyway... I thought that meeting others... maybe we could piece something together."
He paused awkwardly, then nodded to the young couple.
"Uh hi, I'm, ah, Lester Hayes, and... this is my fiance, Sara. Sara Stibowitz. We, uh, we had the dream, too. It... scared me. I was so freaked out, I couldn't leave the house for a week. If Sara hadn't been there..."
He glanced at her, trailing off; she patted his leg, and took over talking. "Hi, yeah, I'm Sara. I'm just... we're here for answers. Or maybe just better questions? I honestly don't know. I mean... yeah, the dream was scary. Terrifying. But then... He had it too. And somehow, that made it worse."
She trailed off, and Ed nodded to the first of the three rednecks, who stands up, clutching the brim of his wadded-up trucker's cap.
"Hey, y'all, Ah'm Coop Tucker, an' this is muh brother, Garth. Naw, I di'n't dream like all y'all? But Garth, he did, an' from what he said... Y'all, I don' even KNOW, raht? Ahm jus'... Ahm here for muh brother."
He looked around abashedly, then sat down, giving a supporting nod to Garth, who nodded back silently. The third redneck stood up, scraping his chair noisily.
"Ahm Bobby Lee Staffer, an' ahm jus' here tuh bash monster heads." He pointed in the air with both hands, continuing, "Woo! 'Cause this is 'Murica! Y'all know y'cain't jus' walk in here or you're liable tah gichoe se'f shot! Ya'll'll be pryin' muh guns outta muh cold, dead fingers! Woo!"
After a few emphatically "Woo" sounds, he crashed back to his chair, crossing his arms and muttering to himself, the words "'Murica!", "guns", "monsters", and "damn ra't!" feature prominently.
Next was the man in the ill-fitting suit. He stood, nodded to the ladies, then hitched up his sagging pants. "Hi, I'm Jimmy Don, I work over at th' Shevver-lay? I, uh, I guess you could say, I had those... I dreamed that... with the monsters. An' it... I can't get it out of my head, y'all. Every night, like I'm being haunted. I just... I gotta get m'life together. An' this might just be the only way to do it."
He gazed around the room, then ducked his head and quietly seats himself.

Ed nodded at the group. "You don't have to share if you don't want to, but that's why we're here - to make sense of all this."

James took the floor, explaining what had happened to the group in the dream, and how they had made it to the meeting. Finally, Ed turned to the last man. "Come on, why don't you introduce yourself. We're all friends here."
The man, who has been leaning against a wall, stands straighter and takes a tiny step forward.
"Jordan. Jordan... uh..."
He looked around nervously, almost furtively. "Just Jordan. I, uh... I had that dream, too. It... I don't get out... much... but I heard..."
He glanced up, his eyes meeting Will's, and stopped. "You... You were there..."
He twitched again, violently, then backed up to the wall, crossing his arms, hunching his shoulders, and rocking back and forth.

Will, James, and Priya blinked in surprise, and took a closer look around the room, realizing that indeed, they recognized almost everyone there!

Leaving campus, they had seen a body wrapped in a dingy blanket; it must have been Jordan! Sara was the young woman in the house, and Lester the young man. Garth was the young man in the blue truck who they tried to help. Jimmy Don... well, Jimmy was dead - the overweight man in the street. He seemed to have lost a lot of weight since then. The only faces they couldn't recognize were Coop, Bobby Lee, and Ed Cline. Sara was the first to speak up, timidly: "I... I remember Garth. You were driving a green truck. You... just before I got to Lester's house, you ran over one of those... things. So I could make it."

Jimmy nodded. "Ah knew you looked familiar. Lester, was it? Y'all opened your door, an' waved me in."
He looked down at his feet. "Ah would'a made it if I wasn't so... big. I, uh, I've lost some weight since then, but... it doesn't feel like it's enough."

For a moment, everyone sat in silence, studying the faces around them with new interest. Suddenly, Priya felt a tingle warning her of danger, just as the door swung open. Three figures stepped into the room: two men and a woman, all wearing black suits. Priya stood quickly, side-stepping over to the wall, and heading for the door. The first man removed his hat, setting it carefully on a shelf near the door, then stepped forward into the room.

Will and James noted that Ed looked entirely freaked out by the sight of the newcomers, sweat beading on his face, and caught sight of Jordan bolting for the back door.

The man in black raised his arms. "Your attention please," he said, in an almost droning voice. The second man moved past him, towards the snack table. The woman remained by the door.

"What you experienced was nothing more than a nightmare, enhanced by a common experience. Our extensive testing shows that each one of you walked, drove, or lived near an area blanketed with sewage gasses known to cause hallucinations. Additionally, the films "Night of the Demons," "Night of the Demons II," and "Night of the Demons III" were playing back-to-back. In a drowsy state, affected by the hallucinogenic gas, your dreams directed by the movie playing nearby, you would all have what could be called a 'shared dreaming experience', of a sort."

The woman set a few items on the small table by the door - a cup of red liquid, a dead animal, and what appears to be several teeth, arranged in a triangle.

Ed stepped forward. "I... I'm sorry. I think you have the wrong place. Please... leave."

As the woman in black suddenly raised her voice in a chattering, chirping, almost mechanical sound, throwing her arms out... Priya upended her table, sending ingredients flying, and smacked the woman with her spear! For a split second, the lights in the room flickered, then whatever ritual the woman was using backfired, turning James into... a woman.

In the blink of an eye, the first man was holding a gun, and fired a single round into Ed, who toppled to the ground. James dashed for the other man as Will fired at the first. The woman screeched, then held out a beaded bracelet, using it to fire a tiny sphere of darkness, dripping black steam, at Priya.

James quickly bludgeoned the second man into a heap on the floor, and dashed to help Will with the first man. Coop, Garth, and Bobby Lee all dashed forward, raining blows down on the man. Between the study group and their new allies, they brought down the three strange people with little injury.

As the woman fell to the combined strength of James and Priya, the door suddenly slammed open! The light from outside framed a man, tall and thin, a large revolver in his hand. Seeing everything was under control, he quickly ushered everyone outside, as other men in suits entered the building... wearing full protective gear, and carrying flamethrowers.

Will recognized the man - Peregrine Cycle, who they met at the job fair! Peregrine offered James a syringe with a strange, thick, blue liquid in it. "This will help. I'm sorry I could not come sooner. I see you have made some new friends. Perhaps... it would be best if the events of this night do not haunt their memories?"

Sara nodded. "Uh... yeah. I... we really don't want to remember... all this."
Peregrine inclined his head, then motioned to yet another man in a dark suit. "Of course. Please step this way."

Peregrine looked at the VFW, flames spurting from inside. "Three... this is a loss they will not soon forget. Hmm... Have you met Amy Wilson? No? Perhaps you should look her up before this is through. Here is her address." He handed over a card, similar to the card at the job fair, with only two lines of information: "Amy Wilson, 2052 Leona St."

Looking off into the distance, he pulled a second card from his jacket's inner pocket. "You should return home. With this threat neutralized, there will be no further threat against you, at least from them. Return home, and get some rest."
He held his arm away from his body, and released the card. It fluttered to the ground. Still looking into the distance, he continued, "And by no means attempt to arm yourselves and do anything... rash. Even though they are weakened, there are yet more, more dangerous than these."

Turning back to the group as if nothing had happened, he bid them farewell. "Good evening; I hope it is rewarding one."

Priya grabbed the card from the ground. "Dr. Harrison Wells, 1021 E. State Hwy 31"

The rednecks stepped up. Coop cleared his throat. "Look, Ah'm gonna come clean, none 'a this makes any sense, but, uh, if y'all want some help? That's us."

After a short discussion, it was decided that they would visit this Amy Wilson first, then investigate the second card - they needed to bring all their weapons, for one thing.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Hootennany

It all started on April 30th, 2021 - Hootenanny, and days away from the end of the semester. The skits and silliness of Hootenanny seemed a little dark this year; the theme was ghost hunters, and was a little on the nose at times. The study group was lampooned at least once, as were the Men in Black, and more than one of the previous adventures. Even the host of Lurk Until Dawn was there as a guest. After Hootenanny, the crew headed for a well-earned rest, feeling collectively bone-tired. Between fighting monsters and studying for finals, it's time for a good weekend snooze.

Early the next morning, however, it was immediately obvious that a good rest wasn't in the cards. Sirens filled the break of dawn. As the students awoke, they found hallways empty, and rooms ransacked... and occasionally, splashed with blood. The power was out; only the sound of distant screams can be heard. Checking their cell phones, a number of the group realized the date was a bit off. It was more than a year in the future, the day after  their own graduation, Sunday, May 8th, 2022.

James grabbed his tools; Will grabbed his weapons. Priya headed for her truck, but managed to attract the attention of a gremlin, which she dispatched easily. She picked up Will and James, and hearing the sound of gunfire on the other side of campus, let Will (a better driver) take the wheel.

Meanwhile, across campus, Alistair found his car totaled, though was able to pull out his weapons and equipment. He bolted for where he hired the others would be, only to be stopped by a huge, winged demon! As the demon swung its mighty blade at him, he dodged and tumbled, staying mostly unharmed until Will executed a beautiful tail-slide and, using the tail end of the truck, bashed the demon into a wall some 30 feet away.

It was only then that Will noticed the limp form in the bushes - Michelle, his girlfriend, dead.

James grabbed the massive demon blade, then quickly jumped back into the truck as more demons jumped the fence and headed towards them. Picking up Will's car, they headed away from campus, picking off demons, gremlins, and imps as they got in the way. The demons chanted, faint on the wind: "Convergence! Convergence!"

Outside campus, the streets were littered with the dead, the demons, and the wholly unnatural. As they served between wrecked and burning cars, the only other human visible far down the street is mobbed and killed by a pack of gremlins right before their eyes.

Trying to get to the Risen Church, they were forced to detour into a residential area - a fire truck was turned over in the street. As they inched between two cars, just avoiding the corpse of a fat man, they saw one vehicle - a green truck - held a man that was still alive. James and Will managed to pull the bent door off, and carefully removed the young man. Inside a nearby house, they found a couple, a man and a woman, dead... They healed the young man as best they could, and hid him in the building, going he would survive.

When they reached the Risen Church, they found nothing but the burned out husk of the building. They continued through town, realizing something terrible was coming - a monstrous demon, 60 or 70 feet tall! It moved slowly towards them as they fled. Finally, they decided to return to campus, using the last vial of Ley Line juice to see where the lines were - they were obviously bending and writhing through the student center! Climbing up, they fought a number of flying demons, and used the candlestick to destroy the überdemon. James found himself batted halfway to the grave site, but managed to pull himself tough and rejoin the fray, taking on two lieutenants and a plague demon, and winning. Will and Priya fought waves of imps, as Alistair fought several horrible wraiths. He stopped once the roof was clear to cast a spell, a question of a deity. Once cast, he found himself in a stark, white room; a pleasant yet monotone voice asked him to state his question, which he did: how can they prevail? The answer was... Strange. Unexpected, perhaps.

Finally, as they ran out of bullets or strength, they fell, one by one...

...only to awaken from their shared nightmare with a certainty that they've just glimpsed the future. It is the morning after Hootenanny, and the world is still safe... for now.

The wounds sustained somehow remained, though, as old scars; thankfully, finals went well, and they headed into summer break with relief.

Oh, but you want to know the answer to the question, don't you! The strange woman's voice answered, after a short pause:

The talkative mage must follow his dreams
The dreamers hold the key
And the clockwork policeman's elderly friend
Who swam against time's dark sea
The Spanish berserker must learn of the truth
Before a Wells's run dry
Battle the witch and the bitter cold
But forget not the Eye of Phi
So find the quiet runner's friend
Old enemies, return to the dead
The Dutch spear-woman, tunnel bound
To stop this Convergence, you said?

Enter hell.
Stop the spell...
End it well?
Who can tell?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Just a Little Darkness

The students took a little while to spend some of their new-found wealth on new toys; after a shopping spree, they started looking around for someone that might have some holy water. Real holy water, that is, not the weird stuff Alistair keeps making.

After asking around a bit, they found a fellow interviewee of the Lurk Until Dawn show, one Rev. Michaelse, of the Risen Church of Longview. It's a little church, fairly conservative, but well-liked. And, more importantly, the Reverend believes that demons walk the earth, and indeed has battled them himself!

The church was guarded by one Bob, the usher - a man built like one of LeTourneau's earth-moving machines. He seemed to be the janitor, as well, and kept the church spotless. The Reverend was in a meeting with the Church Secretary, Mrs. Eliza Dolouse. As they exited his office, she kept up a string of prattle - "...just need to buy a few more bottles for service on Sunday, not the good stuff you know, just good enough that Mrs. Applebottom doesn't complain, you know how she loves to complain, oh and I think I'll get a few more boxes of tissues as the ones at the ends of the pews are running low, such a good sermon last Sunday Reverend..."

She scuttled off to her car, leaving Rev. Michaels to speak with the students. As it turned out, he didn't have any holy water - there's not really such a thing, it turns out. Just normal water, though sometimes that's enough... After listening to some of the student's stories, he finally nodded, and handed over a fairly ordinary candlestick. "I've used this myself - it's a very powerful artifact, that allows you to dispel the demons that walk among us!"

The talisman, known only as the Candlestick, can banish demons, if Rev. Michaels is to be believed. To activate it, it must be defiantly held above one's head, directed towards the demon; then, roll Spirit at -1. On a failure, the wielder is Shaken, and the talisman is unusable for 24 hours; on a failure with 1 on the Spirit die, the wielder takes 2d6 damage (directly, ignoring armor); on snake-eyes, the talisman is destroyed, in addition to the other effects. They agreed to weekly meetings with the Reverend, in trade for being allowed to use the device.

A few days later, Alistair got a text from a Veronica Nails, who asked for the group's help. They agreed to meet, and she explained that she had accidentally spilled some chemicals on herself while working in the Organic Chemistry lab. She was afraid that the lapse in lab safety would be enough to ruin her already faltering grade, and didn't want to go to the professor directly... but she felt very strange, and not in a way that getting chemicals spilled on her would be expected to make someone feel.

The group immediately set off to investigate the professor's office; after some breaking-and-entering, they managed to unlock a very expensive filing cabinet, and revealed that the professor did a little on-the-side chemical testing of materials sent to him by Homeland Security. No one knew enough about O-Chem to decipher which write-up pertained to the chemicals Veronica may have spilled on herself, but they could tell that they must have been fairly unsafe...

After carefully locking everything back up, they moved on to the lab; inside, they found the chemical, and managed to isolate some of it. They waited until the next day for Alistair to buy a book on organic chemistry, and conducted a ritual of knowledge. Now much better at O-Chem, he carefully studied the chemical; while he wasn't able to isolate the exact chemical makeup, he was at least able to tell that it was very, very dangerous, being highly toxic... and able to be inactivated with high intensity ultraviolet light.

After a very spirited discussion on where and how to find the correct lighting (including, but not limited to, using X-Rays), they finally agreed on taking Veronica to a spa for a fairly inexpensive 20-minute tanning bed treatment. Veronica was only barely persuaded, as her eyes had turned entirely black - though her night vision was awesome!

She relented, and after an uneventful 20 minutes in a tanning bed, she was happy to report that her eyes were no longer bothered by light; indeed, her irises were returned to normal!

Unfortunately, the treatment only seemed to last a day. Undeterred, the students moved to plan B: subjecting her to half an hour a day of intense UV light, created by using the TIG welder! While her tan-lines were very uneven, the treatment worked - no more light sensitivity, and no more all-black eyes.

LeTU Meets The Wolfman

Our erstwhile heroes received a hasty call from Professor Maclanahan to discuss an important new investigation, meeting at a swanky club with a biology professor named Dr. Wayne LeGrevellec. Dr. LeGrevellec showed the students a video of a woman in a lab coat, attacked by some sort of creature, a wolfman perhaps. The creature slammed the woman's head on the table, knocking her unconcious, then grabbed some vials, ripped the hard drive out of the computer, and took off. Dr. LeGrevellec explained that he works in the off-site lab with a few other LU professors, and from speaking with his colleagues, is fairly certain that the attacker was Dr. Allen Miller, who worked in that very lab. The woman, Dr. Miller's research partner, survived the attack but is under observation at the hospital due to a concussion. The attack occurred last night; he isn't entirely certain what Dr. Miller was researching, but he had gotten a fat grant from a private firm, one that had invested in many professors' research. Presumably, Dr. Miller became infected with his own experimental gene therapy and may be undergoing radical mental changes as well as the obvious physical one. While campus security believes the attacker is someone in a gorilla suit, it's pretty obvious that it's no suit.

After answering a few questions, Dr. LeGrevellec handed the group a slip of paper with the addresses for Dr. Miller's lab and home, and his lab assistant's name (Aubrey Wright), and closed by saying that while he and GlenMac are too conspicuous to openly investigate, students are largely overlooked, and should be able to investigate without much trouble.

Together, the students went to visit Aubrey Wright in the hospital; they found her arguing with the doctor, who wanted to keep her for further observation. Finally, she convinced the group to assuage the doctor's fears... by getting them to convince the doctor they would keep an eye on her. After a little persuasion, she was released, and somewhat warmer towards the students. Somewhat.

She wanted to go straight to the lab, and after running some blood tests on herself, was much calmer, and suggested they go investigate Dr. Miller's house. After peering in some windows and trying the door (locked), they found a fake rock in the garden. Bingo! The key to the front door!

Inside, Ms. Wright went through some mail, heading towards the study; the students fanned out, leaving James to keep an eye on her. Apart from a mean-looking full-size poodle in the back yard, and a rather more luxurious house than most (any?) LeTourneau professors, there was little to uncover. The house was there to be fancy, not to be lived in, it looked like. In the den, Will found some important looking papers, but apart from a header that read "SH 211 B, Lab 2" and "SH 211", as if referencing different labs, there wasn't a lot to go on.

After befriending the dog, Priya snooped around the doghouse - the heated doghouse, with its own running water - but found only a squeaky toy. Ms. Wright refused to go anywhere near the dog, as she rather hated it...

After one final sweep of the house, they decided to head back to the lab. A printed note on the door announced that the room was under lockdown, but the students waltzed in, sure that they could find Dr. Miller. Everything had been cleaned up, and the computer replaced, though yet to be set up. The students snooped around, carefully investigating, until finding a trickle of water dribbling out from under a cabinet. Nothing useful was in the cabinet, but when Will dragged the cabinet backward, the wall behind it moved too, revealing a only-just-now-awakened Dr. Miller!

He greeted them, and kept them talking for a few minutes, all too eager to spill the beans... he had been hired by EyePhi to develop what he was sure was some sort of weaponized werewolf drug. He was given some strange ash and a few other chemicals, and after much trial and error, was able finally perfect his - er, the - concoction. Well, almost. It seems that while the user would retain his or her humanity, there was a substantial amount of hair growth.

About this time, the students noticed Dr. Miller was rather bulkier than when they entered the secret lab... and then long, curling hair grew out of his body, as his grin turned a little more feral. Oops.

Will, Priya, and James took the front lines, frustrating the wolfman in doctor's clothing by blocking his (quite powerful!) attacks, and occasionally landing some decent blows. Unfortunately, the damage seemed to just melt away; only silver can harm a werewolf! Or at least, this werewolf. Alistair dashed for his car, realizing he needed his silver bullets. Will took a hit, and Priya narrowly avoided getting slashed, deciding to back out of the fight and look for something helpful. Remembering Alistair shouting something about silver, she grabbed a bottle of colloidal silver from a shelf, and dumped a few ounces onto her spear. She tossed the bottle to Will, and got a good stab in! Will sprayed down his katana, and passed the bottle to James; together, they hacked and smashed, wearing down the wolfman's defenses... then slashing him through the heart, and finishing him off.

Just as the wolfman shrunk back down to dead-human-sized Dr. Miller, Ms. Wright (having heard the commotion) entered the lab. She didn't seem too bothered about the corpse of her former collegue - in fact, she was quite willing to help "sweep it all under the rug", if only they would hand over the hard drives and bottles of serum they found in Dr. Miller's desk. After some thought, they decided they would do just that, and quickly left. Well... almost. James, feeling adventurous, pick-pocketed the hard drives from Wright's pocket, without her noticing a thing.

Back at school, they called up GlenMac, and soon, Dr. LeGrevellec arrived, all too happy to "clean up any mess", including the possibly back-stabbing Ms. Wright... And, for their help in the matter, each student was awarded $500.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Light and Shadows

After the last adventure, there were a few lingering details to go over... killing a man does that, as it turns out. There was an informal hearing with those present and a judge; the judge agrees that Niles Henry was, indeed, a serial killer. Evidence gathered showed that along with Krista Levens and Dawn Ramirez, Niles Henry had kidnapped at least two other girls. He kept a detailed journal, and frequently wrote how he hoped to be found, and relished the thought of a fight to the death. It was obvious that no matter what, Niles Henry would have used lethal force.

After hearing the evidence and testimonies, the judge thanked the group for their quick action, but warned them against future vigilante behavior. "This isn't the first time your names have come up, and while this court finds your actions to be excusable homicide, future courts will view similar action as a pattern vigilantism."

Finally, the judge ordered those of the group not already attending sessions with a psychologist to do so.

Monday, January 20, 2020

To Stop A Predator With Extreme Prejudice

As Priya, Will, and James returned from Martin Creek Lake, their phones suddenly lit up with an Amber Alert - a 10-year-old girl named Dawn Ramirez went missing from a nearby school the previous day. Suddenly, on the side of the road, they spotted a little girl with long brown hair and a sad face standing on the side of the road. As the car drove past, the four heard a faint voice calling, "Help me... help her..."

The students quickly got GlenMac to pull over, and went to find the girl; about the same time, Alistair texted them that he had arrived in town, and they sent their location. 10 minutes later, he arrived; Priya volunteered to watch his car, as GlenMac had rented the boat and needed to return it, and couldn't hang around any longer.

Exploring the wooded area where the girl was last seen, they stumbled onto an old crime scene - tattered yellow crime scene tape was tied around a few trees, and a small funeral wreath was leaned up against a tree. Thinking back, they remembered hearing about another little girl who had gone missing, and was found dead (see: Sophomore Fall, Sanctuary).

A little phone-Googling later, and the public details were uncovered: eleven year old Krista Levens was snatched from her front driveway, assaulted, and eventually murdered. A week after her disappearance, her body was discovered, buried in a shallow grave. The murder was never solved; the article ends with a generic note about kidnappings: "In many cases the victim often knew the assailant," but even so, there weren't even any "people of interest" in the case, and it was still open. One of the articles had the family's address.

After some discussion, the students decided to head to the house, for lack of other clues. The house was vacant, and obviously had been untouched for a while. A beat-up "For Sale" was the only feature in the front yard. Looking around at the houses, they saw a woman peering out at them - the standard nosy old lady, it seemed. They trooped over, and found themselves invited in for a lovely (cheap) cup of coffee and some (dollar store) cookies. They learned that Mrs. Levens had committed suicide, and that Mr. Levens had left shortly afterwards, but unfortunately, the woman (Lillian Smythe) had been out of town with her husband when the kidnapping and murder occurred.

Managing to extricate themselves, the intrepid heroes went back outside; in looking at the house, they saw a curtain move as if someone were standing behind it; unwilling to break in, Alistair called the number on the sign and set up a meeting with a realtor. After borrowing some ghost hunting equipment from GlenMac, and eating a lovely lunch nearby, they met back up with the realtor and headed inside. The woman was flustered and ill-prepared, but willing to cut a deal, as the house had been on the market 7 months; she talked with Priya, while the guys explored. James saw, suddenly, the girl from the roadway; she waved him over, and pointed out the window at the house across the street, shaking her head sadly. Alistair, a room over, caught a burst of activity on his equipment; by the time he got to the room, the girl was gone. James showed he and Will where she had pointed, and realized there was a man entering that house, carrying some groceries... after entering the building, he began playing classical music, very loudly.

Quickly thanking the realtor, the group hurried across the street and knocked on the door. The man answered, said that he wasn't interested, and slammed the door in their faces. That's when Will and Alistair hear the cries for help. Eager to rescue the girl, James slammed into the door; Will ran around the building to look for another way in. On the second strike, James kicked the door off its hinges, smashing the frame. Inside, the man was ready for him, holding a large butcher knife.

James slammed into the man, whacking him with his favorite wrench; the man fought back, but was unable to land a blow. Alistair swung and missed; Will, hearing the noise, charged in, just in time to see James bludgeon the man across the head, then land another heavy blow on him when he crashed to the ground. There wasn't much left of his noggin at that point...

The three spread out through the house, but found no sign of the little girl; finally, they moved a throw rug in the kitchen and found a cellar entrance. Inside was Dawn Ramirez! Will picked the lock on the handcuffs, and Alistair helped her out of the house, away from the rapidly spreading pool of blood.

Reluctantly, James contacted the police, explaining that they had found the girl. The police arrived to find Will and Alistair comforting the poor girl, while James stood confidently on the porch. The lead officer, Officer Jones, asked James what happened; James walked him through the events. "We heard really loud music, so we came over to complain, and heard cries for help. We gained access to the building," at this point walking inside, "and found the trap door over here."

The officer stepped inside, and once his eyes adjusted, he saw the man on the floor, his head caved in, clearly deceased, and yelped, "HOLY CRAP! Uh... uh! Sir, I need you to exit the house, right now!"

He went over his story again. "Tell me what happened to the man inside."

"Oh, well, when we knocked, he slammed the door on us, then we heard the cries, and I opened the door," (the officer couldn't help looking at the shattered door, hanging loosely from its broken frame) "and that guy was inside with a knife. We fought, and he lost, and then we found the trap door and the girl!"

Alistair, too, was interviewed, and put on his best shell-shocked expression; his story matched James' well enough. Will told the officer interviewing him how he had run around the building to look for another way in, and when he heard the sounds of fighting, ran back to the front door, and saw the man dead. The officer blinked. "You found him dead? Can you elaborate?"

Will shrugged. "Welll... He was in the *process* of being dead..."

Another officer interviewed Dawn; after taking the four stories, three officers - with a fourth left to guard the students - quietly conferred. It probably helped that when asked for ID, the three showed their LeTourneau school IDs. Finally, Officer Jones waved them over. "Now, let me get this straight. You three were studying, and upon hearing the loud music, came over to ask the fellow to turn it down. You heard cries for help, and... " - with a glance at the shattered door - "gained access to the house, where the man inside attacked you with a knife." Here the officer paused and flipped a page, giving the three a significant look. "After you defended yourselves against his attack, you found the girl, trapped and chained. Does that sound about right?"

The three nodded hurriedly, realizing the officer was giving them a way out. "Good, good. Well, I know where to find you if I need to ask any more questions. Oh, by the way, why don't you go ahead and call this number" - he handed James a slip of paper - "and give 'em your name. Now, you get on home, and get some rest, watch some TV - it's been a rough day for y'all. I'm sure some reporters will be around to ask you questions about this later."

As it turned out, the number was for Crimestoppers - Dawn's rescue lead to a $2,500 Crimestoppers reward! The next day, they picked up a newspaper, with a picture of the three of them:

LOCAL STUDENTS RESCUE KIDNAPPING VICTIM
James, Will, and Alistair, all Juniors at LeTourneau University, rescued a kidnapped girl and solved a year-old murder case. "We heard cries for help, and we knew we had to do something," said James. His friend Alistair added, "We felt lead to the place where she was held hostage."
Niles Henry, a soft-spoken civil engineer at a small Longview firm, lived across the street from the home of Krista Levens, found dead last year after a six day search. According to Lakeport PD, Henry was pronounced dead en route to the hospital from injuries sustained in fighting the heroic students.
Dawn Ramirez has been reunited with her family; Matthew Levens, Krista Levens' father and only surviving relative, wept openly when he learned of the death of his daughter's killer. "It won't bring her back, but I can sleep better knowing that monster is dead."

Just below the fold was a headline from another familiar story:

DEAD END - CULT DEATHS CASE GOES COLD 
Investigations into the November Cult Murder has stagnated, says Agent Peregrine Cycle; until new information on the whereabouts of Xulián Bruxo and Raoul Tolemo can be uncovered, the case is in limbo...

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Little Fishing Trip

GlenMac had the students early Saturday before school started; Alistair couldn't make it, but Will, James, and Priya were present. As they helped him load equipment, he reminded them of the history of the "Lantern of the Deep", and how it came to be located - as far as he knew - in Martin Creek Lake. He described the artifact as a simple bulls-eye lantern made from blue-tinted glass. Feeling bad for bringing them back to school early, he offered some "directed study" credit - worth a +1 Academics on the next exam.

The January air was cool, but the lake was quite warm, almost bathtub temperature, due to the nearby power station. As they arrived in GlennMac's car (pulling a small boat behind it), the park ranger on duty gave a word of caution - a gator or two had been spotted in the lake, and he hadn't gotten a chance to haul the beasties off. "Just keep your eyes peeled."

Once the boat was launched, GlenMac steered it near the power station and began dropping buoys in a grid. Maybe it was the fog, maybe it was the threat of gators, maybe it was the harshly-lit power station, or maybe it was the overcast skies and the strangely calm lake, but something puts everyone on edge. After a few tips on underwater safety and how to do a grid search, the students drop into the water. Priya and Will make it look easy, but James got a bit of water in his mask. No big deal, just annoying...

The water was dark and murky; visibility is barely a yard. Near the bottom, very little light filters down. Slowly, the trio searched the silty lake. After several minutes of searching, Will caught sight of something - an alligator! He fended off its first attack, but the next bite ripped up his arm! Priya, hearing the disturbance through the water, quickly surfaced, located the fight, and swam quickly to assist. James eventually heard the commotion and joined as well. Together, the three managed to spear the gator to death.

That threat dealt with, the three returned to searching for the lantern. Priya received a vision of a slimy, silt-covered creature, locked in watery combat, the lantern in its grasp, and something silvery around its neck. Not long afterward, James saw a feeble blue glow, hidden in silt; reaching for it, he was startled by a hand reaching up out of the mud! A creature, man-shaped, its clothes and features covered in silt and mud. James immediately grappled the creature's arm, pulling on the lantern and keeping his foot in the thing's face. The two battled back and forth, the creature trying to shake him off, and James hanging on with dogged determination, trying to whack the creature hard enough to make it let go of the lantern. Will and Priya found the two, and joined in, slashing at the creature with their spears. Every blow they landed seemed to heal itself almost immediately, until Priya managed to land a blow on the creature's arm. Its grip weakened on the lantern, and James pulled free. Priya, remembering her vision, grabbed for the locket as the creature fell back to the lake floor, nothing but silt and sludge.

The lantern suddenly freed, James felt a sudden gust of wind, and found himself staring out across the lake, a young man sitting in a boat nearby. He recognized the man from the photo the group found - Rodya, the third man in the photo!

Rodya was holding a lantern - The lantern, in fact. Another man stands on the shore, holding a gun. He called out; for some reason, James knew it was Russian, yet could understand it: "Rodya! What are you doing? You are throwing away your life for these... Americanski! These capitalist idiots! Don't you understand, the Motherland needs power like what you are holding!"
Over the deadly calm, Rodya calls back, "Maksim, the power you chase ends only in death! USSR, Communism, me, you... everyone. This I have seen! And so, I will protect the Lantern - from you, and anyone else who wishes to use it for power!"
With that, he spread his arms; the Lantern began glowing brightly, and Rodya leaned back, falling off the boat and sinking beneath the waves. Maksim tried to run forward, but was stopped by an invisible barrier. Cursing, he slammed his hands against it, causing it to flash blue momentarily, then with a scream of anger, spun on his heel and fled. Rodya, protected and enhanced by the Lantern, sank into the lake, deep into the dark silt at the bottom.

A heartbeat later, James watched the revenant turn to muddy silt and slip back into the water. Even its tattered clothes faded to mud and vanished. Together, the three swam back to the boat, handing the lantern to GlenMac, who placed it in a padded case.

The locket Priya found contained a single photograph - somehow protected from the water - of Rodya kneeling beside a young, smiling Monica Dragic.

Though GlenMac asked a few questions on the way back, he saw the students were rather pensive, and the conversation eventually died out. Just as they were nearing town, everyone's phones suddenly began beeping, buzzing, and vibrating - an Amber alert. Glancing down to turn it off, the intrepid heroes realized it was actually in Longview, TX! A 10-year-old girl named Dawn Ramirez had gone missing from a nearby school...