Wednesday, 13th August, 2008, 12:19 PM #251
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 1 – The Trail on the Stairs
BOSTON, MA – It was night. A long strip of road, McKinley Boulevard was once part of an upper-class residential area. Some crumbling manses had been razed or burned down. Others were cut up into apartments or rooming houses. A few, among them 17 McKinley, were more or less sound buildings that for various reasons were abandoned to vagrants, addicts, and runaways. Nearby small factories and sleazy businesses had for some time quietly used the abandoned properties as dumping grounds for refuse, adding to the general atmosphere of neglect and decay.
Archive parked the car at the front of 17 McKinley. Cars sped by recklessly. Vagrants huddled around open fires. Loud arguments occurred in the distance. Bottles were thrown and broke in impotent rage.
“You don’t have to do this you know.”
“I know,” said Hammer. “But someone’s going to have to watch your back.”
“None of the other agents agreed to this mission…”
“That’s because it’s not a mission,” said Hammer. “SINNER assigned it to us.”
“To me, you mean.” Archive looked back at the house, the same house that was in his dreams. “This is where it all started. The Labib Home for Children. An orphanage for raising future cultists of America.”
“This was the same place Richard Jacobs was raised,” said Hammer. “It later became the Allen Foundation under George Allen.”
“Right. That’s why Drake had SINNER dig up this info. If there’s really a cultist conspiracy, we’ll find it here.”
They got out of the car. In the distance, there was the flat crack of a gun firing.
“What are we looking for exactly?”
“Records of who those kids were and where they were placed,” said Archive. “Easiest way to determine the fate of those kids is to find out who they turned out be when they grew up.”
“Got it.” Hammer donned a headpiece with a flashlight over one ear. When Archive gave him a questioning look, he just put drew both Glocks.
With a solid kick, the wood over one of the window cracked. They crouched their way into the house.
The rooms inside were extremely dark. A little light came in around the window boards, just enough to make out the general layout of the rooms. The ceilings were eleven feet high. The rooms were stripped of most furnishings. Plaster had broken and fallen. Rain damage was apparent. Dust and dirt drifted everywhere along the walls. Trash, empty bottles, used needles, and moldering human wastes were present in most of the rooms.
The stairs in the entry hall were blocked off and propped up with odd lengths of lumber. A huge chandelier hung over the lobby.
Opposite the stairs were two statues, their great bulk almost too large to be noticed in the gloom. They were elaborately carved stone columns, each about three feet square and nearly eight feet high, flanking the entry between the first story vestibule and the hallway. One was horribly grotesque, made of an unknown element, combining the worst aspects of octopus, elephant, and human being. The other, in a similar style, portrayed a being that was very squat and pot-bellied, its head was more like a monstrous toad, giving somehow a vague sensation of both the bat and the sloth. Its sleepy lids were half-lowered over its globular eyes; and the tip of a queer tongue issued from its fat mouth.
“There’s a trail on the steps,” said Hammer. A fresh trail had been worn through the dust on the back stairs.
“There’s someone still here,” said Archive worriedly.
“Right,” said Hammer. “Let’s convince them to relocate.”
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Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
House on McKinley Boulevard: Part 2 – The Second Story
They climbed the rickety steps to the second floor. As they approached the hallway, a dark figure darted from one side of the hallway to the other and slammed a door.
“Hello?” shouted Hammer. “This is the police!”
Hammer made his way over to a door at the far end of the hallway. He knocked. “Anyone in here?”
“Go away!” shouted a man with a Jamaican accent.
“This is the police,” said Hammer. “You are to evacuate this house immediately.”
“You have no authority here!” shouted the man on the other side of the door. “You can’t make us leave. This is our home!”
“It’s not safe here,” said Hammer. “Look, I just want to talk with you.”
There was the sound of something heavy bumping up against the door. A woman’s sobs reached Hammer’s ears.
“Is there someone else in there with you? Ma’am? Are you all right?”
“She’s fine! Now ya get the hell out of here.”
Hammer shoved on the door, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Look…I’ll pay you to leave.”
There was barking laughter behind the door. “Hey, f**k you mon! We don’t need your damn money.”
“How about food? I’ve got power bars if you need it, all you want…”
There was a pause. “Who do ya think we are? That’s not going to work—“
There was a squeak as the door opened on the other side of the hallway. A thirteen-year-old boy craned his head out the door. “What kind of bars? Candy bars?”
Archive and Hammer exchanged a look. “I probably have one or two, but not on me,” said Hammer quickly. “We can get some for you though if you…”
“Don’t listen to ‘em Kristian!” shouted the man through the door. “We don’t know these people!”
Kristian sighed. “Good going Gideon, now they know my name.” He put his hands in his pockets. “Are you guys really cops? You don’t look like cops.”
“Something like that,” said Archive. “We’re more federal agents…”
Kristian’s expression lit up. “Secret agents? Cool! Are you here about the suicide?’
“Suicide?” asked Archive.
“Don’t tell them anything!” shouted Gideon on the other side of the door.
“Yeah. Andy. He committed suicide last year. Jumped right off the roof. He said he was hearing voices. I think it was the Workman.”
“The Workman?” asked Archive.
“Yeah. When they built this place, one of the workmen slipped and fell. The other guys were all illegal immigrants and didn’t want to call the police, so they buried him in the walls of this place.”
“Sure, kid,” Hammer said gruffly. “Where are you parents?”
“Is Gideon your father?” asked Archive.
“Nah. I just stay here with them. He’s cool, he just doesn’t trust cops…” Kristian looked the two agents up and down. “Or federal agents.”
“There’s a woman in with Gideon…” began Hammer.
“Oh that’s Clara. Don’t worry about her, she doesn’t deal with stress well. She probably figures you’re here to evict us.” He squinted at Hammer. “But you’re not, are you?”
Hammer shook his head. “We’re just trying to get you to leave because we’re concerned it’s not safe here. If everything turns out all right then there’s no reason you can’t come back. Who else is in the house?”
“There’s Dave and Diana.”
“Where are they?” asked Hammer.
“Diana lives upstairs. Dave’s right behind you.”
Hammer turned. A skeleton of a man, obviously a junkie, shuffled forward from the other side of the hall with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up. “You offering money, man?”
Hammer became very still. “Yes.”
“Two hundred dollars if you leave right now.”
Dave rubbed his nose. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
Hammer reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. He handed it to Dave, who snatched it out of his hands.
The man scrambled down the steps.
Kristian rolled his eyes. “He’s just going to spend it on drugs you know.”
“As long as he’s out of the house. Can you take us to see Diana?”
“Sure. Can I have one of your federal agent-type flashlights! I’ve seen the X-Files, those are cool!”
Hammer handed Kristian his Maglite.
“Cool!” said Kristian. Then he bounded up the steps towards the attic.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 3 – The Attic
A haggard-looking woman lounged in the opening to her room. “You boys lookin’ for me?”
Hammer nodded. “We’re trying to get everyone out of the house…”
Diana swayed unsteadily. When Kristian beamed the Maglite on her, they could see that her pupils were pinpricks.
She sauntered up to Hammer. “I’ve always had a thing for cops.” She traced the lapel of his jacket with one chipped fingernail. “What can I do for you officer?”
Hammer swallowed. “Please miss, stay in your room. We’re checking the place out. We’re concerned that this place it’s unsafe.”
Diana snorted. “That’s why we’re here.” She managed a grin. “But it’s comfortable enough. I’ve got a bed in the back…”
“So you’re a junkie.”
“I…” she shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”
“And you turn tricks for drugs.”
Diana’s expression turned from sultry to furious. She turned and slammed the door behind her.
Hammer smirked. “That should keep her in her room for a little while.”
“Can you show us Andy’s room?” Archive asked Kristian.
“Sure, it’s right here.” Kristian pushed open a door on the opposite side of the hallway attic. “But Dave took all of his drugs.”
Scratched into the plaster walls were sigils.
“I recognize those sigils,” said Archive. “From my dream.”
Hammer inspected the sigils closely. “Looks like someone made this with their bare hands.”
Intermittent flashes of blue light pierced the room from across the street.
“What is that?” asked Archive.
Hammer peered through the window. “A bug zapper. Going nuts.” He turned back to Kristian. “Can you take us to the basement? I’d like to check out the rest of this place.”
“Sure!” said Kristian. “Follow me!”
He half-jumped down the steps.
“This kid is going to get us killed,” muttered Hammer.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 4 – Moths to a Flame
By the time they got to the lower level, the sparking outside had become a cacophony of buzzes. Blue light flickered constantly through the boarded up windows, as if there were a fireworks display outside.
Hammer made his way over to the window facing the street. “What the hell is going on out there?”
Through the window he could see a twitching, smoldering mass beneath the zapper. It looked as if it were a pile of insects, so many that they were piling up in droves.
Hammer turned back to Archive. “Moths,” he said.
Suddenly the zapping stopped. Where ambient light made it through the window, now nothing was visible.
“That’s weird,” said Kristian.
Hammer turned back to the boarded up window. It was completely covered by something, darkening all windows on that side of the house as if it had been blanketed by a sheet.
A stray month crawled between the cracks and flitted into the room in an erratic spiral. It made its way past Hammer, landing on the floor in the center of what was once a drawing room. It crawled into the debris littering the ground.
Then another moth flitted out. A few more followed.
“Get away from the window—“ began Archive.
With a crash, the boards exploded inward as thousands of moths poured into the room in a raging torrent. Hammer grabbed Kristian and covered him with his body, diving to the ground.
The moths swirled in a choking cloud. They formed a huge, grinning, toad-like face in the center of the room.
Archive reached into his shirt and pulled out an amulet. It was in the shape of a pentagram, with a burning eye in its center. “IA! The power of the Elder Gods compels you!”
The toad-like cloud of moths shifted from rage to fear. They dissipated, spiraling in a long line into the debris on the floor.
Hammer stood up, dusting himself off.
“We’d better get out of here.” Archive looked to Kristian. “Are you all right?”
The boy’s eyes were wide, his mouth agape. For a second Hammer feared he was in shock.
“THAT WAS SO COOL!”
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 5 – The Lobby
“We need a fire extinguisher, fast,” said Archive. “If those moths come back we need something to—“
“Uh, I think we have bigger problems than moths,” said Kristian.
A creature loped into the lobby, blocking their path to the door. Standing at nearly two feet tall, it had an earth-like appearance as if formed wholly from clay. Its hide has a rubbery, pale texture to it. Sharps white claws, jutting forward like that of a bird, hung in front of the little beast. Its face was a mask of hatred, two bulging milky white eyes, slits for a nose, and a frog-like maw bristling with yellow teeth.
“Go upstairs.” Hammer drew his Glocks, not taking his eyes off the thing. “Stay in your room and put something in front of the door.”
Kristian nodded and ran back up the steps.
Hammer took aim. “Got something in your voodoo bag for this thing?”
Archive shook his head. “No, but—“
BLAM! The bullet struck home, piercing the thing right between the eyes. It collapsed to the ground, melting into a swarm of slithering white worms that disappeared into the wood below.
“—bullets might not have an effect either,” finished Archive.
“Looks like it’s effective to me,” said Hammer. “What are these things?”
“Not sure. Homunculi maybe.” Archive scanned the room. “But whatever they are, they’re part of something larger.” He pointed at one of the huge statues. “Look familiar?”
Hammer was about to say something when one of the little creatures leaped on his back from the chandelier.
He whirled but not before the thing sunk its teeth into his shoulder. Hammer hurled the thing into the drawing room, and took aim with his pistol. He squeezed off a shot, but numbness pulsed from his neck to the fingertips of his right arm and he missed.
Archive had his own pistol out. Another homunculus hissed at them from a china cabinet in the far corner of the drawing room.
Archive shot the homunculus that had bitten Hammer. The bullet found its mark. It fell down, hardening into stone, a dead statue.
Not wasting any time, Hammer sprayed the china cabinet with both pistols. The homunculus shrieked and melted away.
“Look out!” shouted Archive.
Three more homunculi loped towards them from the other side of the drawing room.
Hammer turned, backing up as he and Archive retreated to the center of the room. Suddenly all three of the creatures turned and ran.
“What just happened?”
Archive looked down as the sound of splintering wood trembled beneath their feet. “It’s a trap!”
First one plank, then another fell away. Archive and Hammer dove to the side as the planks in the floor ripped open with a tremendous blast, sucked down into the hole. All of the objects in the room were sucked down into the vortex, including the china closet and garbage that was strewn about.
Hammer lunged and grabbed the foot of the huge column. Archive slipped past him. Hammer grabbed hold of Archive’s shirtsleeve to stop him from being sucked into the hole. Objects and garbage flew past them.
Hammer was losing his grip. Archive’s shirt tore and he bounced along the floor, disappearing into the hole with a yelp.
Hammer couldn’t hold on any longer. He screamed, flying backward, towards the hole, but managed to grab onto the side of the entryway.
His body was horizontal, his feet dangling in the air in the direction of the hole. Hammer hung on for dear life. Objects continued to fly past him.
“For God’s sake, how do you stop it?”
The nails in the molding that Hammer held onto tore loose and the molding snapped free. He spun wildly away towards the hole. He was sucked down into the hole, like a particle swallowed by a deep funnel of draining water.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 6 – Holes
Hammer landed on something soft. It grunted beneath him.
“Yeah,” groaned Archive.
They were at the bottom of the pit. The opening was easily thirty feet up. A strange wind whistled all around them through numerous two-foot wide holes. The pit narrowed at the bottom, which was where Archive and Hammer were wedged.
“Can you move?”
Archive strained. “I think so.”
Something chattered in the darkness.
Hammer fumbled for his pistols. He swung his head back and forth, catching glimpses of tiny clay bodies, the tilt and waver of their eyes glittering in his headlamp.
“We have to get out of here. NOW.”
Archive started climbing upwards, finding footholds in each of the holes. They struggled past each other.
One of the things scurried out of a nearby hole and sank its teeth into Hammer’s ankle. He screamed and kicked it off.
The chattering became unbearable. “Climb!” shouted Hammer. “Climb!”
He fired both pistols blindly around him. A rope made of bed sheets hung down.
A dark-skinned man in dreadlocks shouted down to them. “Hold on! I’ll pull ya up!”
Hammer shoved Archive towards the rope with his elbow. Then he resumed firing into the darkness.
Squeals and shrieks of rage responded. They bit him again and again, their poison seeping into his veins, but Hammer fought it with all of his willpower. He finally made it over the lip; strong hands lifted him up.
Hammer rolled over onto his back, gasping. “Thanks,” he said.
“I don’t normally help cops,” said the man with a Jamaican accent.
“You must be Gideon,” said Archive.
Gideon nodded. “I was lookin’ for Kristian. I heard him go into his room but he never came back out. I went in and he’s not there.”
“They got him,” said Archive. “We’ve got to find Kristian fast…”
Gideon was about to say something when their conversation was cut off by a scream upstairs.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Bouelvard: Part 7 – Bad Dreams
They scaled the steps two at a time to Diana’s room. She was twitching on the floor when they found her.
“What the hell happened to her?” asked Gideon.
Diana’s clothing was torn. She was covered in tiny scratches. Her breathing settled into a deep, unnatural wheeze.
Hammer lifted her eyelids. “She’s slipped into a coma.”
From the looks of the room, Diana hadn’t given up without a fight. She had been dragged towards one of the heat registers, which was bent from her kicking. Judging from her position, they hadn’t succeeded.
“What did this?” asked Gideon.
“Homunculi,” said Archive. “Their bite is poisonous.”
“Is there a heat register like this in Kristian’s room?” asked Archive.
Gideon nodded. “I’ll show you.”
In Kristian’s room, there was much the same scene. It contained a sleeping bundle and some candles for light.
Archive looked around and found the white rocket. “This is just like in my dream.”
“The kid’s crazy ‘bout rockets,” said Gideon sadly. “We try to buy him one when we can spare the cash.”
“We’ll find him,” said Hammer. “Is there anywhere he might hide?”
“It’s a big house,” said Gideon. “The basement is huge—“
“The basement it is,” said Hammer.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 8 – Men at Work
The basement windows were small, narrow, and at the ceilings—designed to let in light but baffle thieves. All the windows were boarded over. Though the walls of the upstairs were wood, in the basement the walls were of well-set stone. The house’s foundation had settled slightly in the southeast. A few inches of standing water covered most of the floor.
Hammer, Gideon, and Archive shouted Kristian’s name, peering into different rooms.
“Shh!” whispered Archive. “Did you hear that?”
It sounded like a young boy screaming for help.
They made their way into the laundry room, which was awash with several inches of foul-smelling water. There were wall faucets, but the water was turned off. Two pairs of concrete tubs with sides slanted for washboards rested on the floor. A locked door was set into the wall.
Archive put his ear to the door. “I can hear him, but it’s very faint.”
Gideon tugged on the handle but to no avail. Then he grabbed it with both hands and, putting all his strength behind it, strained to open the door.
Hammer tried, then Archive, then all three together. They tried prying it open with a piece of metal Gideon found in one of the other rooms.
“Screw this,” said Hammer. “Stand back.”
He blasted both Glocks into the door at point blank range. Wood splintered and exploded, some of it puncturing outward.
Hammer stared through the door, slack-jawed. “Son of a BITCH.”
There was only a blank stone wall behind the door.
Hammer stepped away from it. “There’s got to be another way around this.”
Gideon put his ear to the wall. “Kristian? Kristian, can you hear me? We’re coming—“
Suddenly Gideon screamed. A lumbering corpse in overalls stepped out of the wall and wrapped its arms around him. It had an odd, mannequin-like appearance, as if it had been sculpted.
“The Workman!” shouted Archive.
Hammer turned, pistols still smoking, and unleashed bullets into the Workman’s head, decimating it. The head tumbled off the neck, separating into two of the homunculi who scurried into the wall, merging with it.
It wasn’t enough. The Workman fell backwards with Gideon still screaming in his arms. They disappeared back through the wall.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 9 – Backwards
Smelling of joss sticks, decorated with a beautiful leafy branch, Clara and Gideon’s room was by far the cleanest. Two mattresses were piled as a bed. Indian-print sheets hung from the ceiling. Ethnic rugs warmed the wood floors. A battered record player sat in the corner, with a guitar propped beside it. Numerous candles stuck into wine bottles illuminated the room. Well-thumbed paperback novels rested in stacks. A small camp stove provided warm food.
Clara sat in the center of the room, rocking herself.
“Do you remember if Gideon said anything?” asked Hammer. “Anything about the house?”
She shook her head. “We all heard weird noises sometimes. But we just figured it was rats.”
Archive caught sight of something. “What is this?” He picked up an old vinyl record cover. It was by God’s Lost Children, titled The Secrets of N’Kai.
“We found it in the garbage,” said Clara.
“Did you play it?” asked Archive.
“I don’t understand—“
“Did you PLAY IT?” he repeatedly urgently.
Tears filled Clara’s eyes. “Yes, I think so!”
Archive pulled the record out and put it on the player. He lowered the needle.
“In a time before the earth, before the sun, and before the light of the stars, when all was darkness and chaos, the old gods, the forgotten gods ruled the darkness. But what was theirs now belongs to the world of light and substance, and the old gods, the rightful masters, are jealous, watching mankind with a hatred that is as boundless as the stars, with plans for the destruction of man that are beyond imagining. There is a passageway between our physical world of light and pleasure and their spiritual world of madness and pain. A gate, behind which the demons wait for the chance to take back what is theirs! Ftaghn, N’kai, Zhothaqquah, Zhothaqquah, Zhothaqquah!”
Archive flipped through the liner notes. “According to the liner notes, the old gods will seek two human sacrifices to establish their hell on earth.” He looked up. “I think that whoever summoned this thing never finished. But now it’s coming back. And it needs two sacrifices. We’ve to get down there before the homunculi sacrifice them…”
Clara looked from Archive to Hammer. “Sacrifice them? What are you talking about?” She started to tear up again.
“Does it say anything about how to stop them?” Hammer asked impatiently.
Archive looked at the notes. “The demons can only be destroyed and the gate closed once again by a true spirit of gentle passion deriving energy from pure love and light.”
“Whatever the hell that means,” muttered Hammer. His gaze wandered over to the record player, which, having finished the incantation, was skipping. “Wait, that’s it! Play it backwards.”
Archive blinked. “Of course!” He shut the player off and slowly pushed the record backwards.
“Be gone, be gone, be gone!” came the warped voice. “Thou art hideous, filth-eating, unspeakable! We consecrate this ground, this world of light! We curse the abominations of darkness. We block the passage of evil! May the old devils depart! May they burn in the fires of their own damnation! May they freeze in the infinite cold and darkness of their own hideous creation!”
Archive stood up. “We’ve got our ritual,” he said. “Now we just—“
Another scream from downstairs cut them off.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
McKinley Boulevard: Part 10 – The Second Sacrifice
A trail of blood led from the entrance to the hole. Dave’s hooded sweatshirt was caught on the torn molding that Hammer had used to prevent himself from being sucked into the hole.
“Uh oh,” said Archive.
A screaming burst of smoke blasted out of the hole. For a moment, all was silent.
Then one huge, clawed paw found purchase at the rim. Lifting itself up was a toad-like monstrosity. It was very squat and pot-bellied, and its head was more like that of a monstrous toad. Its whole body was covered with an imitation of short fur, giving somehow a vague impression of both the bat and the sloth. Its sleepy lids was half-lowered over its globular eyes; and the tip of a queer tongue issued from its fat mouth. It was all vaguely clay-like.
“Tsathoggua,” said Archive. “We’re too late. He’s awake.”
Hammer reloaded his Glocks. “Start the ritual. I’ll take care of this thing.”
The idol of Tsathoggua lumbered forward with jerky movement, something like stop-animation and a Ray Harryhausen film. The expression’s on the thing’s face was one of curiosity.
“Be gone, be gone, be gone!” shouted Archive, extending the Elder Sign before him.
The idol’s expression turned from curiosity to anger. It took several shuddering steps towards Archive.
“Thou art hideous, filth-eating, unspeakable!”
Hammer stood in front of Archive and fired several carefully placed shots into the idol’s head. Its expression didn’t change as chips of clay flaked off of it.
“We consecrate this ground, this world of light!”
Boiling out of the hole were more of the homunculi. They scrambled towards the idol and dove into it, merging with the clay form and healing the chips where bullets penetrated.
“We curse the abominations of darkness.”
The thing lifted a paw and swiped at Hammer. He rolled to the side and came up firing. More bullets thudded into the clay idol with no effect.
“We block the passage of evil!”
The thing turned its attention back to Archive. It reared lifted one paw.
“May the old devils depart!”
Hammer concentrated his fire on the clawed palm. The bullets burst it into fragments. Howling, the thing backhanded the agent with speed that belied its size.
“May they burn in the fires of their own damnation!”
The idol turned back to Archive. It raised its remaining paw, maw grinning with uneven teeth, its tongue flicking in and out.
“May they freeze in the infinite cold and darkness of their own hideous creation!”
The effect was instantaneous. The idol collapsed into many scurrying homunculi, who in turn collapsed into worms, who in turn solidified into their clay-like forms. In seconds, they were dust.
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