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...