Modern/Delta Green - The Beginning of the End (COMPLETED) - Page 51




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    Angular Gods: Part 4 – Family Matters

    Several men dressed in white outfits crept up to the door.

    White Shadows. Hammer knew them well.

    “Tcho-tchos,” snarled Hammer. “I hate Tcho-tchos.”

    He hid around the corner and waited. He had to draw them in first.

    A wiry little man wearing dark sunglasses and a business suit stood in the doorway. He barked some commands in Vietnamese and the White Shadows spread out.

    Hammer leapt out from his hiding place and, with both Glocks blazing, unleashed the entire clips in a spray at the front door.

    The leader held up one hand and some of the bullets ricocheted off of his palm, peppering his nearby companions. They went down, twitching.

    But Hammer kept firing. The onslaught was too much even for tcho-tcho magic. The Vietnamese man fell, gurgling from a bullet that pierced his defenses and struck him in the throat. The other White Shadows fled.

    The other agents came downstairs.

    Jim-Bean stared in wonder at the carnage of tcho-tcho corpses. “Jesus, Hammer, have a bad day?”

    Hammer didn’t say anything.

    “This is Sang Eh-poh Morrow,” said Guppy. “Morrow’s adopted son.”

    “How can you tell that?” asked Hammer.

    Guppy gave the dead man’s arm a tug and pulled off his prosthetic arm.

    “Great,” said Hammer.

    “I think we just got in the middle of a family squabble,” said Jim-Bean.

    “We’d better get to this CCS headquarters before Morton summons more of those things,” said Archive.

    “Without access to Blacknet, I can’t hack their security,” warned Guppy.

    Jim-Bean smirked. “Just give me a knife and some glue and I’ll hack their security my own way.”
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Angular Gods: Part 5 – Hail to the Chief

    Centurion Computer System’s new headquarters sat on flat, empty fields in Partridgeville, which in turn were surrounded by an electric fence that stretched all around the complex except across the main gate. There was a medium-sized sign with “CCS Ltd-MAIN COMPLEX” written on it and a gatehouse. The entire area around CCS seemed empty and lifeless, a feeling enhanced by the way hardly anyone seemed to come and go from the building.

    Walter Morrow leaned out his Honda Civic window to greet one of the guards.

    “Sir!” said one of the two guards, surprised to see him. “We haven’t seen you in so long.”

    Morrow smiled and slid his badge along the scanner. “I’m coming with a few guests. Do you mind clearing them?”

    The sensor flashed green.

    “Not at all sir,” said the guard. He waved to the other guard and the gate opened.

    Jim-Bean, disguised as Morrow, grinned at Guppy. “And that’s how we kick it old school.”

    They drove up to the front door and parked in the executive spot.

    Inside, the complex was very efficiently laid out, with the ground floors taken up by a large, open-plan office area. Despite the initial Spartan feel of the place, the building conveyed wealth and prosperity. The carpets were very rich, some of the corridor pictures on the upper floor walls are cubist originals, and all the furniture was designer-made.

    “We don’t know where Morrow’s office is,” said Hammer out of the corner of his mouth.

    “It’s an office complex,” said Jim-Bean. “Just follow the signs.”

    Sure enough, the executive suite was obvious. It was a corner office on the second floor, on the west side of the building, with little to indicate that it is Morrow’s aside from the nameplate on the door. It was clean, well-kept, and looked as if it hadn’t been used for some time.

    Guppy hooked up his cistron to the computer system. He rolled out a portable keyboard and tapped away.

    “Interesting,” said Guppy. “Even though Morrow has executive-level access there are certain files that are restricted.”

    “Morton’s hiding something,” said Hammer. “Morrow mentioned a basement.”

    Guppy tapped more keys. “It’s not on any floor plans.”

    Hammer smiled grimly. “Then that’s where we need to be. Let’s go.”
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Angular Gods: Part 6 – Fractal Gods

    The real heart of CCS was in the basement. Every door was protected by a series of computer locks and the only means of bypassing them was via a set of security cards. Fortunately, Morrow had access.

    They passed a sign beyond a pair of steel doors that read: “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT.” After passing through a long tunnel, they entered the testing labs.

    The testing labs could only be seen as darkness through the window, lit by the occasional flash of reddish light, flaring and dying away. There were definitely larger machines in the lab, but it was difficult to make out what they were. They appeared to be hulking metallic shapes in the darkness, and the flares of light revealed coils of heavy, twisted cables strewn over the floor.

    Guppy slid Morrow’s card along the reader and the door to the lab hissed open.

    The room itself was dimly lit. The machines had become warped and pitted, as if they suffered severe metal fatigue. Odd smells drifted through the air, and occasionally mist rolled over the cables.

    “These are all PlayPals,” said Guppy, inspecting the machines.

    “So they’re using the computing power to control the Hounds of Tindalos,” said Archive.

    Just then a tall, skull-faced man with receding white hair and yellow teeth entered on the other side of the corridor, eyes blazing. He was dressed in a conservative, dark suit cut in an old style. Four security guards stood behind him with automatic weapons.

    “That must be Morton,” said Jim-Bean.

    “You!” snarled Morton. “You would dare destroy our great work? Don’t you see what we’re trying to do? These are Crystal Matrix Artificial Intelligences – they are the only tools that can truly comprehend the power of Tindalos. This is the only way humanity can survive – we’re trying to ENLIGHTEN the human race!”

    Hammer didn’t bother to respond. He raised his Glock and fired. The bullet ricocheted off the glass. If it hadn’t been for the bullet-proof glass, it would have been a perfect head shot.

    Morton pressed a device and security curtains slammed shut all around them.

    “The Greys gave Morrow a gift, but he didn’t understand how to use it,” said Morton’s voice over the intercom. “The CMAI doesn’t just have fantastic computing power, it can access another world! With access to these beings, we would have the ultimate weapon! Our plan was to release millions of PlayPals as the platform for our invasion. Now that you’ve interfered, I’ll have to launch it to just a few hundred.”

    The PlayPals in the lab whirred to life. A series of email addresses flicker along with a prompt: SEND FRACTAL_GODS.ZIP

    “Oh man,” said Guppy.

    “But look at me, prattling on,” said Morton, a sneer in his voice. “Why should I rant about such things when I can show you?”

    On the screens, in the middle, against a black background, a mathematical equation was given form through the awesome calculating power of the PlayPal.

    “Guys,” said Archive. “That’s a summoning ritual…”

    A shiny silver ball emanated from the fractal in the middle of the screens. Abruptly, the ball opened slightly to give way to a single fire-red tentacle that started exploring the surroundings. It hatched, filling the screens.
    “Shoot the computers!” shouted Hammer.

    The bizarre creature drifted around the screens, searching for a way out. It seethed and pushed hard against the screens, which abruptly rippled and bulged.

    A hailstorm of firepower raked the PlayPals, sparking and smoking. The screens flickered and died.

    “Guppy, get us out of here!”

    Guppy cracked open the keypad on their side of the door and hooked his cistron to it. “This would be a lot easier if we had access to Blacknet,” he mumbled.

    The security curtains lifted. Morton and his guards were gone.

    The whole place shuddered.

    “What is going on up there?” asked Jim-Bean.

    “I’m afraid to ask,” said Hammer. “Guppy, can you—“

    Guppy cut him off. “This is the control room!” He kicked open the door and plugged his cistron into the small computer room.

    “I’m going to…this is weird.”

    “What?” asked Hammer.

    “All the systems are being used. Lots of lag. Every computer is running the same program.”

    “Fractal Gods is a summoning program!” said Archive. “Can you stop it?”

    “I can try.” Guppy tapped a few keys. Klaxons went off. “Just turned on the fire alarm system.”

    The place rumbled again.

    “Can you see what’s happening upstairs?” asked Hammer.

    Guppy pulled up the black-and-white security feed.

    All the computer screens in the cubicles on the first floor whirred and clicked, running through complex calculations. James Morton stood in the center as multicolored strands arced from one monitor to another, forming a complex pattern.

    In another window, Guppy ran a tracer program. “The good news is most of the computers can’t handle the enormous computing power that Fractal Gods requires,” said Guppy. “Not many PlayPals made it out to the public.”

    “Are there any other systems that could run it?” asked Hammer.

    Guppy nodded. “SINNER, for one. Any other CMAI. There was only one successful delivery…oh no.”

    On screen, Morton chanted, “Chu htn llo han zob kzad!” and stepped through the gate formed by the complex pattern. The building shuttered again.

    A gigantic fractal, rising from the wreckage of the now ruined computers. Expanding quickly to cathedral size, it smashes through the roof, gouging a great furrow in the ground.

    “We’ve got to go!” said Hammer. “Move, move!”

    Hammer dragged Guppy away from the computer screen. The agents sprinted down the tunnel and out through the stairwell, through an emergency exit into the street.

    Fractal tentacles reached out towards nearby structures but then, as the gate collapsed, it vanishes with at terrible thunderclap.

    “Lisa,” whispered Guppy, bruised and covered in dust. “Fractal Gods was delivered to Lisa Howell.”
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Angular Gods: Part 7 – The Tick-Tock Man

    Dr. Lisa Howell, Guppy’s former girlfriend, worked for USAMRIID, an organization of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. It was the lead medical research laboratory for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program. The Institute played a key role as the only laboratory in the Department of Defense equipped to safely study highly hazardous infectious agents requiring maximum containment at biosafety level-4. It also worked for Majestic-12.

    Fort Detrick was located in Frederick, Maryland, in the heart of Frederick County, the third fastest growing county in Maryland. Fort Detrick was the center of the biomedical technology growth that had occurred in the county. It was located approximately one hour’s drive from Washington D.C. metro area and Baltimore, Maryland, easily accessible by major interstate highways.

    They tried calling Howell’s cell phone, sent emails, faxes, nothing. There was a lockdown of all government communications.

    The agents pulled up to Fort Detrick.

    “You guys go inside,” said Jim-Bean. “I’m…” he looked pale. “Not feeling so good.”

    Guppy didn’t argue. He sprinted towards the entrance.

    Fort Detrick’s offices were plush and modern. Desktop computers were found on every desk, networked to a large mainframe.

    The secretary at the front desk looked bewildered. “We need to talk to Dr. Howell,” said Guppy. “Now.”

    Dr. Howell was paged. She arrived a minute later. “Guppy?” She looked around. “Hammer? Where’s…” she caught herself before she asked for Jim-Bean. “What’s this about?”

    “Listen to me, this is very important,” said Guppy. “Did you receive an email with the attachment, Fractal Gods?”

    Howell’s brow furrowed. “My personal account?”

    “No,” said Guppy, leaning forward to talk more privately. “The other one.”

    “The Tawil server?” said Howell. “No, why?” She put her hands on her hips. “Hank, if this is some kind of weird stalker plot—“

    “I’m not stalking you,” said Guppy. “Take us to the server room. Right now.”

    “Fine, fine!” Howell shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t even check it that often.”

    The other agents looked at Guppy quizzically as they walked quickly down the aisles of cubes and computers. “Lisa runs a virtual game on the servers called ‘Umr at-Tawil’s Lounge.”

    Hammer squinted at Howell. “You’re running an unauthorized game on a government server?”

    Howell blushed. “It’s only for government employees…”

    “It’s how we met,” interjected Guppy.

    “And this just happens to be a Crystal Matrix AI,” said Archive.

    Howell shook her head. “No way! We don’t have a CMAI here. But we do have an ASC Purple server and several Crays. But to harness that power you’d have to network the entire system, and their computer power is divided up running different analysis programs right now...” She opened the server room door and stopped short.

    A humanoid figure composed of wires filled the room, with tendrils of wires and motherboards spiraling out from it. Its head was a computer screen and the Purple server was visible at its core.

    “That’s one way to network the servers,” said Guppy
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Angular Gods: Part 8 – ‘Umr at-Tawil’s Virtual Lounge

    “Tear it up!” shouted Hammer, firing his Glocks at the thing at the center of the servers.

    Bullets had little effect. The thing shouldn’t have been working in the first place; its arrangement of wires and monitors made no sense at all.

    The monitors lining both sides of the room powered up, screens flickering all around the figure. The fractal edges of a gateway yawned wide, beyond the edges of the computer screens.

    “It’s creating another gate!” shouted Archive.

    The fractal edges stretched upwards, through the walls of the monitors and up to the ceiling. A tentacle of wires shot out and grabbed Howell by the torso. The mechanical monstrosity disconnected itself from the web of computers and retreated through the shimmering gate.

    Guppy didn’t need to be told what to do. He dove right in.

    He was reduced to a series of pixels on the screens. The image gradually dwindled in size until it blinked out.

    Guppy experienced intense needling of the skin as though he was being charged, and then an intense release of the charge akin to a static shock.

    Guppy found himself an amalgamation of polygons in a bad virtual reality nightmare. He had stepped out of a newsstand on the street in front of a vast building of art deco style and bright neon lights.

    Guppy looked over his shoulder. There was a low-resolution image of a window behind him.

    Hammer and Archive stepped out of the window to join Guppy, similarly pixilated.

    “‘Umr at-Tawil’s Lounge,” said Guppy breathlessly. “We’re here.”

    Guppy looked up. The fractal universe was a Technicolor world of infinite detail and incomprehensible behavior. Huge, foamy mountains drifted in meaningless circles above them, while revolving fractal entities swarmed everywhere, bustling about their alien activities.

    Shaking his head, he ducked into the Lounge.

    The agents jogged up a set of stairs and passed through the main doors to gain access to the lounge. An attractive blue-skinned, bald woman sat at a desk before the entrance.

    “I’m sorry but you’re not authorized to access this server,” she said.

    Guppy concentrated and a keyboard appeared in front of him. He typed rapidly.

    “What are you doing?” asked Hammer.

    “Hacking the system,” said Guppy. “There.”

    The administrator disappeared. They ran past her desk into the dance floor.

    The dance floor was a large, open dance area with a glowing grid floor, multicolored spotlights, flashing strobe effects, and various DJs in floating music platforms.

    Each time an avatar gets on the floor, it can choose music from one of the DJs to listen to. Thanks to complex programming, the DJs always play songs with similar tempos and lengths, so two avatars can dance together even if they’re hearing different music.

    “The Tindalosians are trying to come through the gate,” said Archive. “They need a sacrifice to make the portal permanent.”

    “I can find them!” shouted Guppy over the music. He tapped a few keys and the music stopped, although the other avatars, which ranged from weird furry anthropomorphic humanoids to odd stick figures, didn’t seem to notice. “I’ll just move us into the administrator’s lounge…”

    The surroundings shimmered and were replaced as Guppy gated them directly to Howell’s location.

    They appeared in private room with a conference table, vending machines, a sound system, and posters that changed over time.

    Howell was strapped to the table. A silhouette of a man stood over her behind a strange, shimmering veil.

    “Let her go!” shouted Guppy.

    Tawil turned and pixilated tentacles launched themselves from beneath his veil.

    Hammer got off a few shots. To his surprise, the bullets actually fired, raking the figure but having no effect. More tentacles tore the weapons from his grip.

    Archive began to chant a defensive spell, but a tentacle snapped around his throat, choking off the words. He struggled futilely to remove it.

    All the while, Guppy tapped furiously. His form shimmered and reappeared as…

    A giant humanoid lizard with large, dragon-like ear fins. He roared and tore into Tail, shredding the tentacles. But it was a virtual world with virtual rules, and it just sprouted more and more. The crush of virtual tendrils threatened to overwhelm him.

    Distracted by the assault, ‘Umr at-Tawil did not see the anime-style female with short flaming-red hair, huge red eyes, wearing a military-style jacket, miniskirt, gray thigh-highs, and black military boots rise up behind him. She wielded two huge 72mm artillery rifles, one in each hand.

    There was a shocked moment of silence as Tawil turned to face the overwhelming display of force.

    “GET OFF OF MY GAME!” shrieked the avatar of Dr. Lisa Howell.

    And then the room was nothing but bullets.
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Angular Gods: Conclusion

    Hammer, Guppy, Archive, and Howell appeared through the gate. Jim-Bean was leading a team of government employees clearing a path through the wires. When the gate collapsed behind them, fires broke out, but Jim-Bean, fire extinguisher in hand, had it well under control.

    The agents, covered in smoke, bruised and battered, sat down on the steps leading to the government building.

    “What was that, exactly?” asked Hammer.

    “Oh that?” said Guppy sheepishly. “That was just a combat form I coded to—“

    “That’s Calactyte, the form Guppy used as his avatar on my game,” said Howell. She had a black smudge across her nose and she had long since lost her glasses. “I’m going to miss that game.”

    “You look exhausted,” said Guppy, changing the subject. “Are you okay?”

    Archive nodded. “The portals are powered by psychic energy. That’s what was affected Jim-Bean the first time we encountered the Hound, and it’s why the portal closed right after Lisa left it. She was powering it.”

    “Yeah,” said Jim-Bean. “That’s a perfect explanation for why I didn’t go in with you guys.”

    Guppy frowned at Jim-Bean.

    “If it weren’t for your quick-thinking with that fire extinguisher, we would never have made it out,” said Howell, beaming at Jim-Bean. “You’re amazing!”

    She laid her head on Jim-Bean’s shoulder. Jim-Bean shrugged and got up. “I’m going to go home and take a long nap.”

    “But—“ Guppy sputtered, rising. “I…”

    “Let it go.” Hammer patted Guppy on the back as they all limped back to the Honda Civic. “Sometimes it’s not worth arguing the point. Trust me on this.”

    Guppy sighed.

    As they got into the car, all their cistrons chirped, including Guppy’s.

    “Looks like you two are reinstated. Guppy’s back on full service and Archive's Friendly status has been approved. " Hammer nodded at Archive. "You won’t have full access to Blacknet but at least you can use our comms.”

    Jim-Bean smirked. “Cheer up, Guppy. You may not be the king of the virtual server anymore, but you’ve still got an online admirer.”

    He showed the email that had been sent to the team.

    It read, “WELCOME BACK AGENT GUPPY. LOVE, SINNER.
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Chapter 38: The Wild Hunt - Introduction

    This story hour is “The Wild Hunt” by Bruce Ballon from Unseen Masters. You can read more about Delta Green at Delta Green. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

    Our cast of characters includes:

    • Game Master: Michael Tresca
    • Kurtis "Hammer" Grange (Fast Hero/Gunslinger) played by George Webster
    • Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero/Acolyte) played by Joe Lalumia
    • Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
    Wild Hunt is, at heart, a criminal investigation in the tradition of Kolchak and other 1970s-style cop procedurals, long before crime procedurals like CSI and Law & Order became popular. Thus it has a certain quaint charm about it; there’s reference to the Feds “newfangled computers” and one of the NPCs talks like Popeye. I chatted with my players about this and it didn’t bother them in the least—indeed, they saw many of the NPC quirks as just part of the colorful terrain of role-playing in my campaign. If they were okay with it, I was too.

    The Wild Hunt is peculiar in its selection of props. Many of the props are red herrings involving vampire research, while props that are really useful to the investigation, like autopsy reports and media statements, are missing. So I made my own.

    Picking up where we left off, I planned this scenario down to the hour. We had approximately six hours to play the game, so I made each day of the investigation take one hour. This kept the game moving. There’s certainly plenty to do, but it's an open question as to how long each route of the investigation should take. With just under a week to solve the case, the agents had plenty of leads…

    Until they didn’t. Then they got completely sidetracked by another red herring: Club Apocalypse. This turned out to be a gift in disguise, because a certain powerful NPC then gently pushed the agents back on track. It introduced someone who has been lurking in the background of the campaign.

    In the end, although Hammer and Jim-Bean did most of the investigating, Archive was the real star.

    Defining Moment: Archive turns to one Great Old One to defeat another.

    Relevant Media
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    Wild Hunt: Prologue

    I'm trying to fit it all inside
    I'm trying to open my mouth wide
    I'm trying not to choke and
    Swallow it all, swallow it all, swallow it all, swallow it all

    --The Collector by Nine Inch Nails
    Agents Jim-Bean and Hammer met at 8 p.m. in a conference room at City Hall in New York City.

    "What's this about?" asked Jim-Bean, looking around.

    "Not sure," said Hammer. "Special murder case. One of our friendlies, Dr. Conrad, called in CIFA after finding some evidence of the preternatural. So here we are."

    They took seats around a large table in the conference room.

    "Hello Agent Hammer," said a familiar voice.

    Hammer looked over in surprise. "Magnus? What are you doing here?"

    It was Magnus, the vampire hunter who had his own show on late night television.

    "I think that will all become clear in a moment," said Magnus in his rich baritone.

    After a few minutes, Captain Matheson, Sergeant McGarnagle, Dr. Conrad, Dr. Gourdie, and District Attorney Chester Boulder walked in. They called the conference to order and briefly introduced themselves.

    Hammer nodded at the DA. "That's Boulder. More of a politician than a lawman. He is up for re-election in a few months."

    "How do you know that?" asked Jim-Bean.

    "My grandmother raised me in the Bronx," said Hammer.

    The district attorney was a tall thin man in his forties, gray-haired and clean-shaven. He was dressed in a dapper suit.

    "Welcome," said Boulder. "You have been called here to form the core of a task force to apprehend a killer or killers. You might wonder why we needed to call upon all of you for this. To the point, we believe these are serial murders; these murders are out of the ordinary, as you will see. We want minimal press coverage of this investigation. We feel that if certain details of the killings are released, it may cause a panic. The autopsy reports are currently sealed--we are labeling the deaths 'Undetermined cause, still under investigation.'"

    The folders contained profiles of the two victims and autopsy reports for the two victims, and a map of SoHo showing the location of the two bodies.

    Matheson continued. "Wendy Hughes, age twenty seven, and Lori Atkinson, age twenty two, were brutally murdered over the last two days. You can look through the profiles of the victims later. The same bizarre features found at the autopsies connect the murders. The victims seem to have been shredded by a wild animal, and drained of all their blood!"

    "The motive for the killings was not robbery not vengeance, and not rape," added Dr. Conrad. Conrad was in his early fifties, with a Freudian beard and gold-rimmed spectacles. He was dressed in a mock-turtleneck sweater with a dark sport jacket and pants.

    Matheson cleared his throat, studying the assembled members' faces. "There's more to this weirdness. We have witnesses to the killings. I'm going to play the taped statements of both. We felt that the first witness was an unreliable drunk, until we heard the witness to the second murder. Their testimonies seem to support each other."

    He motioned for his aide, Sgt. McGarnagle, to set up the tapes.

    “The first witness is Horace Cobb. He was picked up for questioning when the police searched the area of the first killing. He was found drinking, babbling about monsters. He saw a pretty woman attacked near the area he was sprawled. She matched the description of Wendy Hughes." Matheson signaled McGarnagle to start the tape.

    "I was lyin' in a nice cozy blanket in the park. I was propped up behind some statue or other, to block the wind. It was a cool night, y'know. I was drinking my hooch whens I sees this pretty young girlie walking down the street near the park. I was drinkin' a bit too much, so I couldn't even whistle at her. Thens I smell this horrible stench, like that outta a slaughterhouse- it reeked of death, I tells ya! I began puking.”

    “Whens looking through the tears running out my eyes I sees all this mist forming, and I notice this man in a dark long trench coat and broad-brimmed hat. His back was turned to me. He, like, seemed to come out of nowhere! He grabbed the girl and picked her up like she was a rag doll. He turned around and seemed to wrap around her-it was crazy…it's like he kept changin' shape or somethin'. Then I sees a bit of his…I mean its face-yeah…you gonna say it's me drink insides me—well, go to hell—I tells ya what I seen!—teeth, big fangs, fangs, fangs! I heard it snarl in a voice that belonged to Satan himself--' I thirst!'"

    "I couldn't bear lookin' at it—it was evil! Maybe it was the drink, but I passed out. I don't remember anything until you guys rousted me and dragged me down here."
    The tape ended.

    "The next tape you are about to hear is from Ms. Kate Rowlins," said Dr. Conrad, "the person walking home with the second victim. She was Lori Atkinson's roommate. She saw the killing take place before her eyes. However, the event traumatized her severely. The following dialogue is an interview of Kate Rowlins with a police officer at the station. Due to her agitation, the police doctor on call gave Ms. Rowlins two milligrams of lorazepam before the interview This allowed her to regain lucidity for a few moments."

    McGarnagle started the second tape.

    "Aaaaa...No, no, no, no, no-please!" screamed Rowlins on the tape. "Monster! Monstrous! Howling—howling!"

    "What did he look like?" asked the detective.

    "What? Who was it...what did he look like..." A long bout of crying followed. "It wasn't human! Wolf-like...wolf-like...yet it was a man—I think. It was different things—different shapes—as it moved...its trench coat flapped about, like huge wings—it seemed to be in different places at the same time..."

    "Can you describe the man's face?"

    "No...please don't make me describe its face—please." Rowlins started crying again.

    "Tell us what happened," said the detective.

    "It took her—we were just walking—walking home from the gym-lousy basketball game...Lori was eating ice cream, I was carrying the basketball. We went by our favorite shops...then...then..."

    "Then what?" prompted the detective.

    "Then the blazing eyes!—or did it have eyes?"

    "Go on."

    "I remember the horrible smell-the mist-then suddenly Lori was gone-I turned around…and…and…"

    "Yes?"

    "Fangs! Fangs! Aaaaaaaaah! No, no, no, no—had to run...had to run—it howled like it was laughing. It would have had me next—I left her—I ran. No, no, no, no, no." Rowlins' crying jag was followed by silence. The tape finished.
    "Despite another administration of lorazepam twenty minutes later," said Dr. Conrad, "the woman could not be brought back into a state of lucidity. She has been transferred to the psychiatry ward at Bellevue for treatment. Currently she is in a dissociative catatonic state."

    Boulder stood up. "Both witnesses, of course, are questionable in their ability to give an accurate history but we are probably dealing with a maniac...or maniacs-into ritualistic killings, or who think they are Count Dracula!"

    Dr. Conrad nodded. "I believe our killer does indeed have vampiristic tendencies, and agree the supernatural has nothing to do with it. I suspect most of you agree with me. Listen closely..." Conrad droned on in a monotone voice about clinical vampirism and the psychological state of its subjects.

    "We are probably dealing with a sadistic, psychotic psychopath who is high on drugs," said Matheson. "We want him caught fast, before he kills again. I recall a few months back that a group of kids who were into blood drinking in South Carolina were also into Goth culture. They killed their parents, too. We need someone to check out that angle. McGarnagle can show you some of the Manhattan nightspots those punks hang out in, if you don't know your way around." Matheson nodded at Hammer and Jim-Bean. "Maybe you can also check into any patterns of the killings with those new-fangled computers you Feds got. I hope some of you will help out with the forensics as well. Any questions?"

    There were none.

    "Good. Let's get going people: If anyone can shed light on the occult thinking of the killer or killers-if they are part of some Satanic cult, vampire cult, or whatnot, I want answers, fast."

    As the others got up to leave, Magnus pulled Hammer aside.

    “You know what this is, of course."

    "I do?" asked Hammer.

    Magnus looked around conspiratorially. "There’s another one. I caution against suggesting our 'unimaginative' colleagues in law enforcement. We'll have to prove it to them first, or they will dismiss us as madmen. Meet me at the restaurant where we met last time."

    With that he left.

    Jim-Bean and Hammer exchanged glances.

    "Who's that?" asked Jim-Bean suspiciously.

    "Nobody," whispered Hammer. "A friend of Archive's. He thinks we're vampire hunters."

    "What?" asked Jim-Bean. "Why would he think that?"

    "Long story. I'll tell you on the way over to Itchi-Leng restaurant."
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Wild Hunt: Part 1 – My Dinner With Magnus

    Magnus met them at an Asian fusion restaurant in SoHo called the "Itchi-Leng." The decor consisted of old brick walls, hardwood floors, timber ceilings, and paper lanterns, which lent the rooms some appearance of a Japanese country inn. Magnus recommended a hot dark broth served with half-cooked exotic vegetables, sesame seeds, and noodles. He ordered a dish of boned chicken, scallops, and blanched spinach, and as an appetizer avocado with shrimp in miso sauce.

    “There is no doubt in my mind—we face the undead! However, the question is what sort—vampires are as varied as ice cream flavors...We must find proof before we tell the rest of the team, or they will dismiss us as madmen!”

    Hammer rubbed his forehead. "You can't be serious."

    "Deadly serious, I'm afraid," said Magnus with a bemused smirk. "You yourself staked a vampire."

    Jim-Bean looked at Hammer. "Wait. What?"

    "It's true. He staked a vampire!"

    Hammer just shook his head. "We're not sure what we killed, but that doesn't—"

    "Of course it does!" rambled Magnus. "The witnesses mentioned the perpetrator had giant teeth. Fangs, if you will."

    "Yes, so?" asked Hammer indignantly.

    "The perpetrator smelled of death, a frequent observation in the vampire literature, especially their breath."

    "Bad breath doesn't make this a vampire," said Jim-Bean.

    "Think about it!" Magnus ticked off his fingers. "One, there were no traces of blood left in the body. Just like a vampire! Two, human saliva was found around the edges of the wound."

    "A big hole in the woman's torso," said Hammer.

    Undeterred, Magnus continued. "Three, the killer growled, 'I thirst!' Just what a vampire would say!"

    "I don't know what who the killer is," said Jim-Bean. "But what you're saying doesn't make sense. It seems like you're trying to fit this into a pet theory that's not matching up with the facts."

    "Facts?" asked Magnus with a smirk. "When it comes to predatory hemophages such as this, facts simply don't apply. The victims had their life force drained. Although not traditional blood drinking, psychic draining has also been reported in the literature. How can you deny the evidence when you yourself defeated the Green Grove Vampire?"

    "The what?" asked Jim-Bean in disbelief.

    "The thing in Arizona," said Hammer.

    Jim-Bean leaned forward. "Where did you hear that?"

    "That's not important," said Magnus indignantly. "What's important is we have a serial killer who drinks the blood of his victims. And I'm the only one who can help you."

    Jim-Bean opened his mouth but Hammer put one hand up. "Fine. What are you offering?"

    "The witnesses had the impression the perpetrator became like a wolf; they cannot explain this perception. Vampire legends speak of the undead being able to shape-shift into animals such as wolves. One witness clearly said the killer seemed to literally shift shape. I believe this is likely a Greek revenant known as the vrykolakas, related to the one we defeated previously. I will research this creature further and get back to you. Shall we meet back here, same time?"

    Hammer ignored the "we" comment. "Fine." He got up and Jim-Bean, followed, glaring at Magnus. “See what you can find out. And bring that book you showed us last time.”

    With that they left.
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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    Wild Hunt: Part 2 – Having a Ball

    The next morning, Hammer and Jim-Bean visited the second crime scene. It occurred in an alley two blocks away from the first murder. Police tape cordoned off the area. Inside was another taped outline of the victim.

    Hammer looked around. “Coast clear. Do your thing.”

    Jim-Bean nodded and kneeled down. He put one hand within the tape outline.

    Jim-Bean was with Kate Rowlins. Rather, he was looking out from her eyes.

    She and Lori were walking home from the YMCA when the monster attacked them. It had the shape of a man, was dressed like a man, but was not a man. It was inhumanly quick and strong.

    When Jim-Bean saw its face, he was overcome with a fear that threatened his very soul. It was wolf-like, with blazing eyes and clashing jaws shifting-a kaleidoscope. That was all there was to its face: huge clashing jaws.

    From its jaws, a monstrous snake oozed forth, and fastened itself onto Lori’s chest. Lori went limp.

    Jim-Bean, transfixed until that time in utter horror, screamed. The monster turned toward him, and he threw the basketball he was carrying at the thing. The monster recoiled for a moment, dodging the ball. Jim-Bean turned to run…
    And he was back.

    “Well?” asked Hammer, staring at him curiously.

    “This…this thing. It reminds me of those dogs that attacked you.”

    “PROJECT RELISH,” said Hammer.

    “Anything useful from that vision?” asked Hammer.

    “Not unless you count a bouncing basketball,” said Jim-Bean. “I got a good look at the thing though. It has a long snake-like tentacle and a huge mouth. It shifts in and out of time and space, I think. Hard to look at it directly.”

    “You think it’s a Tindalosian Hound?”

    Jim-Bean shrugged. “Not sure. It may be two different entities. It’s hard to—“ Suddenly he went quiet. When Hammer started to ask a question, Jim-Bean shushed him. He cocked his head. “Did you hear that?”

    Hammer listened. “No?”

    “Howling. Like a pack of wolves. Really pissed off, weird wolves.”

    Hammer shook his head. “I don’t hear anything.” He squinted at Jim-Bean. “You sure you’re not getting any psychic interference or something?”

    Jim-Bean looked around, clearly spooked. “I don’t know how this works. But it’s never happened before.” He dragged Hammer with him towards a flower shop. “Let’s hide in here.”

    A bell rang as Jim-Bean entered the small flower shop. The woman at the front desk barely got out, “can I help you?” before Hammer dragged them back out again.

    “What is wrong with you? There’s no dogs! We’re in the middle of New York City! One dog, maybe. But not a whole pack—“

    Jim-Bean ducked into a small church overlooking the parks in the middle of the north side of the Hob’s Court, The Church of the Savior.

    Hammer muttered an oath and then caught himself as he entered the church. He hadn’t been to church in awhile.

    He looked around. Jim-Bean was sitting at a pew, apparently in prayer. It was a tiny church, nondescript except for a sparkling fountain to one side.

    Hammer joined Jim-Bean on the pew. “What are you doing?”

    “Praying,” said Jim-Bean.

    “Since when?”

    “You got a better idea?” Jim-Bean closed his eyes and resumed his meditation.

    Hammer sighed and then joined Jim-Bean in prayer.

    He eventually felt a presence at his shoulder. Hammer fought the urge to draw his pistols.

    A Greek Orthodox priest, complete with black garb and long beard, smiled benevolently down at them.

    “It is good to see you gentlemen,” he said in a thick accent.

    Hammer nodded politely.

    “You are the government men searching for the vampire, yes?”

    Jim-Bean cracked open one eyelid to look at the priest. “Vampire?”

    “Yes. I have spoken with Magnus, the famous vampire hunter.”

    Jim-Bean stood up. “The famous…”

    Hammer put one hand on Jim-Bean’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t listen to Magnus, Father. He’s a little confused.”

    “But on the television,” said the priest, “the reporter said the SoHo Killer murdered another woman today, and that he drinks their blood—“

    “Juarez,” said Hammer. “She never gives up.”

    “Yes, that’s her!” said the priest.

    Hammer and Jim-Bean got up. “Thank you for the sanctuary, Father. It helped,” said Jim-Bean. “The demons in my head stopped barking.”

    The priest look startled but he nodded hesitantly as they left.

    “No more hounds?” asked Hammer when they were outside.

    “I think they’re gone now,” reported Jim-Bean, obviously relieved. “They’re not howling anymore, anyway.”

    “I think we’d better talk to Magnus,” said Hammer.
    Mike "Talien" Tresca

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