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NWoD Demon: The First Principle Labs Incident

Eric Zawadzki

Registered User
Validated User
I'm one of the writers working on Demon: The, um, look! A distraction! I decided to do a short, 3-4 session playtest with my tabletop group in the brief lull between "write all the words!" and "edit all the words!" As with Black Hat Matt's playtest, a few caveats are in order:

THIS IS A PLAYTEST. Everything from names to powers to setting elements is subject to change. Additionally, my playtest group tends to routinely eschew “official canon” in favor of what makes our specific story more interesting, so take any setting elements I mention with a grain of salt. To quote the Moscow Rules used by Cold War operatives working in Moscow: Assume nothing.

I MIGHT NOT TELL YOU EVERYTHING. We’ve been pretty open so far about Demon, and the stuff we’ve deliberately held back is stuff we’re very likely to change or stuff I’m not sure the developers want me revealing yet.

I’M NOT EXPLAINING EVERYTHING. The developers and some of the other writers have spoiled a lot of stuff about Demon in this thread. You’re well served to read that thread if you want a lot of the background assumptions about the game.

Ready? Cool. On we go.

Dramatis Personae

Hugo (Psychopomp/Integrator): As an angel, assigned to build Infrastructure to bring forth an angel. He noticed what he felt was a flaw in the design and was forbidden from changing it, with the result being the creature the Infrastructure brought into the world was a twisted mockery of the angel he expected. He Fell when he decided to find a way to correct the flaw and bring forth the angel he believed the God-Machine actually needed. The obsessive de facto leader of the group if only because “the incident” is central to all their problems. Rich geneticist owner of First Principle Labs, which is forbidden from operating due to pending litigation in the wake of “the incident” that caused his fall.

Engelbert (Psychopomp/Inquisitor): Once escorted designated souls to what he believed to be their final reward. He Fell because he became curious about the world from which these souls came and abandoned his post. Gloomy, stealthy, and seemingly always on the verge of running like hell to save his own skin. He works as a research librarian at a university science museum that everyone seems to mistakenly assume has a section devoted to occult lore.

Alexandra (Guardian/Tempter): She once protected a serial killer from being caught by the police by masquerading as the detective in charge of catching him and then deliberately sabotaging the investigation at every turn. She Fell when the killer chose her as his next target and she ended up killing him in self-defense instead of fleeing from him. She maintains her cover as homicide detective.

Fiona (Messenger/Saboteur): In the early days of the Internet she was tasked with sowing discord and misinformation in order to prevent this new technology from bringing mortals together and allowing them to easily pool their occult knowledge. She claims to be the “first troll on the Internet” with a certain amount of pride. When this ceased to be necessary (since it became a self-feeding mechanism involving ordinary people) she decided nothing the God-Machine assigned her could top that and Fell. She soon organized a cult of humans who worshiped her radiantly beautiful demon form on an isolated island far from where most angels would look for her. However, using her demonic form’s abilities she maintains a secondary existence as a supermodel in a city some distance from her cult’s camp.

Session #1

We begin on a typical day in the university library where Engelbert works. A man comes to the reference desk, flashes homicide detective credentials (Detective Gerard Andrews), and asks Engelbert for assistance with research related to an investigation. While initially interested in the library’s nonexistent occult section, the detective ultimately asks for help locating all news stories related to First Principle Labs.

Englebert knows the owner of the laboratory (Hugo) is a fellow demon, so he suspects Gerard is either an angel or a police detective being used as a cat’s paw by the God-Machine. Engelbert doesn’t want to risk attracting possibly angelic attention to himself, but he sabotages Gerard’s research in small ways until the detective ultimately leaves without learning anything of consequence.

As soon as Gerard leaves, Engelbert contacts Hugo to warn him that a homicide detective has taken an interest in his laboratory. This is clearly news to the geneticist, and he finds it disquieting that anyone would connect a murder to a company that hasn’t been open for business for months. Engelbert agrees to do a little digging on the detective and his current case.

*****

In another part of the city, Isaiah, Alexandra’s boss (who is the only person “in the know” about her) informs her of a recently opened case that might be of interest to her. At first blush, it appears to be no more the work of a particularly brutal and bizarre serial killer who cuts up his victims into small pieces and stuffs them into the nearest refrigerator. What Isaiah thinks might interest Alexandra is that both known victims have tattoos that seem to indicate they might have previously had an encounter with the God-Machine (stigmatics).

The investigation has already been assigned to Alexandra’s rival (Gerard Andrews), so pulling him off it so soon might look suspicious. However, Isaiah promises he’ll try to get Alexandra more information on the case as it comes to light, in case it turns out to be related to the God-Machine.

*****

The next morning takes us to the island camp of the Cult of the Beautiful One, where the dawn ritual is interrupted by horrified cries coming from the kitchen. The Beautiful One (Fiona in her inhumanly beautiful and radiant demon form) takes a personal interest in the distress of her worshippers and goes to comfort the distressed morning cook, who has found something terrible. In the walk-in refrigerator of the camp’s kitchen is the rigorously dismembered body of the dinner cook (a stigmatic loyal to the Beautiful One). Although by no means a locked room mystery, none of the other cultists reported anyone leaving the camp, nor did anyone see one of their fellows covered in human blood the night before. However, one of the most beloved of the Beautiful One points out the similarity between this murder and those committed in the city by the so-called Butcher.

A murder in a place where she feels safe enough to walk among the tents and cabins in her demon form sends Fiona into a towering rage. She sends a message to her cult’s agents in the city to bring her all the information the police have about the Butcher, as well as any details the authorities might have missed. She will know the name of the perpetrator and will end him personally, if need be!

The city cultists fan out obediently, knowing that at any moment the object of their worship might be looking through their eyes or listening through their ears. A low-ranking police officer discovers that Gerard Andrews is in charge of the case. Hoping his service will be pleasing to his glorious mistress, the lowly cop sneaks into the detective’s office, steals the case file, and faxes a copy of it to the cult. Armed with the names and locations of everyone Gerard has already questioned or intends to investigate, other cultists poke their noses into those places, as well. They wish only to serve the Beautiful One, so they are less willing to accept answers that would not please her.

*****

A trio of cultists arrive in Engelbert’s library and promptly ask for directions to the occult section and information about First Principle Labs. Engelbert, sensing a pattern and in no mood to dance the same jig twice in as many days, informs the three that the library has no occult section and that all their research into First Principle Labs has yielded nothing remotely of interest to them or whomever they serve. Their memories rewritten by Homogenous Memory to reflect this truth, the cultists leave the library and report their regrettable failure.

*****

Forewarned again by his librarian friend, Hugo is not surprised when a pair of thugs show up at his office building (the lobby of which is still open for purposes of directing legal inquiries even if the rest of the building is closed). They approach the receptionist with all the brutal confidence of Mafia “insurance salesmen” and demand to speak to the person in charge. Hugo calmly notifies the police of the intrusion before presenting himself to them. The thugs demand he tell them who the Butcher is and what the murderer’s connection is to First Principle Labs, implying all kinds of senseless violence in the event he refuses to answer their questions. Hugo plays for time, distracting them from the fact that he isn’t giving them the answers they want even as he manipulates the thugs into revealing more they intended about who sent them and why. When the police show up, the cultists flee.

*****

Meanwhile, Alexandra receives a phone call from Isaiah, who tells her in a whisper that the police have just learned of another murder that fits the Butcher’s pattern. Isaiah “made a mistake” when writing down the address before giving it to Gerard, so Alexandra should have at least a few minutes to an hour to investigate the scene before Gerard gets there. Alexandra hurries over to the victim’s expensive condo and convinces the officers at the scene that she’s a part of the investigation.

Once inside, she finds the corpse has been cut into tiny pieces and practically poured into a mini fridge. Even though the victim clearly wasn’t a large man, the refrigerator was too small to accommodate the entire body, and so the smell of rot fills the condo. Alexandra uses Synthesis to see how the murder was committed.

The first time she sees nothing unexpected. The building manager let the police into the condo to investigate the scent of decay, and they discovered the corpse.

Alexandra looks deeper. This time she sees the murder. A woman with a tattoo of a mechanical unicorn on the back of her neck (which moves as though running) brutally murders a slim, well-dressed young man. The murder weapon appears to be a meat cleaver, but something about the scene feels wrong, somehow (Alexandra’s player rolled an Exceptional Success and realizes that some supernatural ability has modified the way she sees the event). Thinking about her vision, Alexandra realizes that no human could render a body into such tiny pieces with nothing but a mere meat cleaver – certainly not in the amount of time the murder and dismemberment appears to have taken.

One last time Alexandra peers into the past, farther still, this time. The victim isn’t in the room, but she can hear him on the telephone in the background. He appears to be having a conversation about some secret work he is doing as a corporate spy for an organization devoted to “the Beautiful One.” He abruptly sweeps into the bar area to retrieve a beer from the mini fridge. Completely naked, Alexandra gets a good look at his body and finds no tattoos or other markings that would indicate that he is a stigmatic like the other victims.

As this third vision of the past fades away, a massive surge of aetheric magnetism centered on the mini fridge seizes Alexandra’s attention. She doesn’t see any source of the emanation, but as it’s big enough to have been felt from quite some distance away, she doesn’t want to get caught on the scene if an agent of the God-Machine decides to investigate. She slips out of the condo and heads toward the elevator, which is some distance down the hall and around the corner. As she nears the bend, she hears the elevator doors open, and a bright light shines against the wall as whatever was on the elevator gets out.

The pressure of aetheric magnetism coming from the light is unmistakably strong. Whatever is coming toward her is either a fully manifested angel or a demon that has gone loud. Either way, Alexandra wants nothing to do with it. She flees the way she came, looking for a stairwell. She finds one and ducks through the door. As she does so, she catches a glimpse of a glowing, vaguely humanoid figure with wings of light. She wastes no time putting as much space between her and it as possible.

As Alexandra emerges from the condominium, she notices someone in a black sedan taking pictures of anyone who leaves the building. She has little time to mull over this, however, so she gets in her unmarked police car and leaves the scene.

*****

Meanwhile, armed with the existence and location of the Cult of the Beautiful One, Hugo and Engelbert rent a small boat and sail to the island where Fiona’s camp is hidden. Engelbert takes on his demonic form, a nearly invisible hovering sphere of mirrors, trying to ignore his nervousness that agents of the enemy will somehow detect his aetheric magnetism (he gains the Shaken Condition). Engelbert then uses Distraction to keep the sentry’s attention elsewhere long enough for Hugo to get close and use Identity Theft, which renders the sentry unconscious and allows the geneticist to take on his appearance.

The two spend some time sneaking around the cult’s camp eavesdropping. They overhear enough to determine that one of the cultists has been murdered but not much in the way of details.

*****

Back at the police station, Gerard has returned from his fruitless attempt to find the scene of the most recent murder. He comes to Alexandra because it appears the file folder with all his notes on the Butcher case have gone missing from his desk. Alexandra feigns the companionable sympathy of a colleague who has other things on her mind, but as soon as she sees Gerard leave his desk to ask Isaiah whether he knows about the missing file, she goes to his desk and uses Synthesis.

In a matter of a couple minutes she identifies the person who took the file – a low-ranking cop who shouldn’t even be in the detectives’ work area – and determines that he took them to the copy room. She finds the pages of the file still in the fax machine, complete with a transmission report. Alexandra folds up the transmission report and sticks it in her pocket, and then she carefully sneaks the file into Gerard’s desk, hiding it under a couple other files so he thinks he just mislaid it. By the time her rival gives a cry of victory and goes back out to check out the newest murder scene, Alexandra has traced the fax number to the island of the Beautiful One’s cult.

She soon arranges a boat to the island and makes her way into the camp using her police credentials. While no one has reported the murder, yet, not all the cultists realize that, and Alexandra is able to more or less walk in without much challenge.

*****

The Beautiful One comes out of her cabin, where she has been directing the work of her city cultists, without any knowledge of these visitors. She quickly calls out both the police detective and the imposter, but rather than making a scene in front of her followers she invites the two of them inside for a private conversation. Engelbert sneaks in after them, still hidden in his invisible demon form.

Once no mortals can hear them, the accusations fly wildly. Everyone seems convinced that everyone else is somehow connected to the Butcher’s murders. Alexandra takes umbrage at Fiona’s spying on the police. Hugo takes her to task for sending cultists to threaten him when he has nothing to do with the murders (and gives away Engelbert’s presence by mistake during his tirade). Fiona insists that the police have not released information critical to bringing justice, and she reminds Hugo and Engelbert that the police were the ones who seemed so convinced that First Principle Labs is inextricably linked to the Butcher.

Engelbert manages to both calm and horrify everyone by pointing out that the fact that four demons would come to this out-of-the-way island without previously knowing each other is quite improbable. He believes that someone – quite possibly the God-Machine or one of its agents – brought them together for some purpose none of them could discern. It seems likely, however, that it will not end well for any of them, so he cheerfully suggests they relocate to New Mexico before whatever trap they’re being lured into snaps closed.

While the others do not agree with the librarian’s conclusion, they can’t deny that someone is investigating elements of each of their Covers in a worrying fashion. Whether it is enemy action or just coincidence, if they take no action it seems likely that such an investigation could flush some or all of them into the open where they’ll make easy targets for the God-Machine’s angels.

They decide to pool information about the Butcher and the things they have seen since his murder spree began. The demons speculate a bit about the killer’s nature and motives. He seems to kill stigmatics almost exclusively, but the city cultist wasn’t a stigmatic, so how does he fit into the profile? The demons speculate about the creature of light Alexandra saw at the condo, as well as the worrying photographer that waited for her outside.

Ultimately they go to the cult camp’s kitchen to investigate the cook’s murder. Alexandra uses Synthesis and manages to confirm that a stigmatic with gears tattooed on both hands (the first murder victim the police discovered) killed the cook. Swallowing her carefully hidden fear of discovery by the God-Machine, Fiona uses Voice of the Machine to get some hint about how the God-Machine might be connected to all of this. The God-Machine has very little Infrastructure near the island, but she very distinctly hears an instruction directed to someone: “RETURN TO LAB AND AWAIT INSTRUCTIONS.”

Hugo considers this message, the Butcher’s established pattern of putting his victims in refrigerators, and the fact that everyone seems to think his headquarters is connected to the murders. After a long pause he asks the demons if they’d be willing to come back to First Principle Labs with him. “None of it is in use, of course, but it’s a 16-story building, and that’s a lot of refrigerators….”

END SESSION #1
 

Eric Zawadzki

Registered User
Validated User
Session #2

Alexandra and Fiona have other things they need to do to protect their interests, so they bow out of the team refrigerator raid. Engelbert agrees to help Hugo’s search and goes back to the city with him. Alexandra, meanwhile, returns to the police station to see if there is any news on that front.

Fiona decides that in light of the security breach on her island it has become too dangerous for her to remain in her demon form whenever she is with her followers. She also recognizes that it might be a good idea to suspend active recruitment of new cult members until this possibly angelic scrutiny passes. It’s really quite amazing that she’s been able to go this long spending so much time in demon form.

Her cultists don’t recognize her Cover identity, however, because she has been teleporting back and forth between the camp and her cover’s home in the city to keep the two as separate as possible. Fiona appears to her cultists and tells them not to bring new members to the island for a while with the exception of one agent she has chosen to guide them through this troubled time (i.e. her Cover identity). She then bids them goodbye for now and teleports home to take her cover for the foreseeable future.

*****

When Alexandra gets to the station she finds that Gerard is no longer working on the Butcher case by himself. Three people in black suits (a middle-aged man, a much younger man, and a woman) are with him in a conference room. Alexandra recognizes the middle-aged man as the person in the black sedan who took her picture when she left the condominium the previous day.

She asks Isaiah about these new arrivals. He tells her they are from a division within the FBI called VASCU that specializes in catching serial killers similar to the Butcher. They’re technically only here in an advisory capacity (for now), but they have clearly impressed Gerard and are essentially calling the shots for him, now.

Alexandra isn’t sure whether these VASCU agents are more pawns of the God-Machine or whether they represent some third party’s interest in the Butcher, but she means to find out. When Gerard takes a brief break from his meeting, Alexandra uses it as an excuse to make inane small talk before giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulder and using Living Recorder.

When the meeting ends an hour or so later and the VASCU agents leave, Alexandra finds yet another convenient excuse to make brief physical contact with her colleague, collecting the events of the second half of Gerard’s conversation with the FBI agents. She quickly determines that although Agent Brian Jackson (the middle-aged man) is officially in charge and Agent Nate Hamm (the younger man) is clearly his assistant or protégé, Agent Grace Smith (the woman) directs the course of the conversation by means of minute verbal cues.

The VASCU agents suspect that the Butcher is some kind of creature they describe as a Slasher – a supernatural serial killer often created by arcane energies under mysterious circumstances. Their particular division at the FBI apparently hunts Slashers almost exclusively. Their investigations have also led them to believe that the Butcher may have originated from a local laboratory accident, and First Principle Labs is high on their list of potential genesis sites.

The other interesting tidbit of information that comes out in the conversation is the order of the murders. The thoroughness of the dismemberment and the use of refrigeration (which retards decomposition) initially made it difficult to estimate a time of death. Special examination methods (whatever those are, but the agents seem confident in them) indicate that the woman with the unicorn tattoo died after the city cultist in the condominium, which runs contrary to what Alexandra saw with Synthesis.

*****

Hugo and Engelbert spend several hours checking every refrigerator in the building floor-by-floor. The tedious work bears no fruit until after dark. When they get to the 14th floor, they discover an employee kitchen that shows signs of recent occupancy. The refrigerator has no butchered human remains crammed into it, but it contains a fair amount of food. A half-empty bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, and a sponge sit next to the sink. The couch in the adjacent lounge also shows signs of recent use – stray dirt and bits of fallen dirt that clear fell on it some time after the lab was closed.

While they are engrossed in examining the scene, they hear the elevator doors open in the hallway. The building is vacant, and no one except Hugo and his receptionist should be able to get inside. Hugo waves for Engelbert to place himself in view so the person in the elevator will see him when he comes into the room, while he removes a syringe full of tranquilizers from a pocket and hides behind the door.

The man who walks into the employee kitchen has just enough time to be surprised to see Engelbert waiting for him before Hugo’s needle sinks into his neck (a modified version of Knockout Punch that uses Weaponry instead of Brawl but requires the use of a syringe as a weapon). The mysterious intruder collapses into an unconscious heap, and the two demons quickly tie him up in the nearby laboratory to question him.

Under the bright lights in the lab, Hugo realizes he recognizes the man as Dr. Mike Stout, who was in charge of the genetics project at the center of the mysterious incident that forced the company’s closure. Dr. Stout’s name was among those reported missing and presumed dead after the events of that day. How he was able to get into the building tonight (or on seemingly many previous nights) remains a mystery, since Hugo deactivated all key cards for the building when the company closed its doors.

Hugo wakes the scientist and demands to know what he has been up to since the incident. Dr. Stout spins a fairly transparent line of bull in which he claims to have been out of the office that wasn’t missed. He claims he has been living in the building – on the same floor as the events of the incident – ever since because the local job market for geneticists is tough and he has been having difficulty finding work.

Hugo confronts Dr. Stout with a stack of documentation to show he has plenty of reason not to believe a word the scientist is telling him. Other witnesses saw Dr. Stout on the day of the incident. He was in charge of the experiment that “came out of the refrigerator.” Dr. Stout doesn’t answer. Instead he stands up, having somehow slipped free of the ropes binding him, and takes off running.

Hugo and Engelbert give chase, but Dr. Stout uses the moment of surprise to get well ahead of them. He runs toward one of the windows and hurls himself at it. It being the kind of heavy glass used in skyscrapers, however, he bounces off it and nearly topples over. He turns around as Hugo and Engelbert approach, moving slowly to make sure the scientist can’t run past them.

Suddenly a shot rings out, seeming to come from the building on the opposite side of the street. The window behind Dr. Stout shatters. Engelbert uses Just Bruised to minimize any damage the bullet might cause, so it merely grazes Dr. Stout’s shoulder. Hugo rushes forward to pull the scientist to the safety of the floor, but Dr. Stout sees his chance and throws himself through the window.

Engelbert races to the ledge, pulling a looped length of rope out of his pocket using In My Pocket in hopes of snaring the scientist’s ankle before he drops 14 stories to his death. The falling bodies law wins, though, and this particular body drops out of sight in the shadow between the buildings. Hugo, who has taken cover against further bullets, urges Engelbert to do the same, but Engelbert is able to tell that the shooter has already left – either out of fear of discovery or because he had already achieved his objective in being there.

*****

Fiona and Alexandra are not thrilled to get a late night call asking them to come to First Principle Labs right away, but they both show up to help look for clues. Alexandra uses Synthesis and determines that Dr. Stout spent a considerable portion of his time in the laboratory examining samples of some kind. She again gets the uncanny sense (due to another Exceptional Success) that some supernatural force is altering the events of the past she is witnessing. Hugo suggests looking at the video from the security cameras to see if they are different from what Alexandra describes, but the footage supports her vision.

Once Hugo returns from the security room, Alexandra and Fiona question him about Dr. Stout. Hugo explains that the Infrastructure the God-Machine instructed him to build had a flaw. He could tell it was supposed to summon a powerful Destroyer angel, but the time and the configuration the Infrastructure were not right. When Dr. Stout accidentally completed the occult matrix, instead of bringing forth the angel as it clearly was intended to do, it created a monster in the refrigerated room. This abomination of science and occult physics breached containment and killed several scientists before escaping the laboratory building.

Alexandra uses Synthesis to look back at the unfortunate incident that appears to have caused all their current troubles. She sees a twisted monster directly out of traditional paintings of demons break free of the refrigerator door. It has eight tentacles, each of which ends in a wicked meat cleaver. It approaches one of the scientists (Dr. Maryanna Span), takes her shape, and then touches her. The scientist instantly vanishes as if the monster had completely replaced her. It then walks out of the area casually, as if it has every right to move about the building in spite of the current crisis.

Fiona asks to see a picture of Dr. Stout, whom she immediately recognizes as one of her cult’s most recent recruits. She risks her demon form long enough to reach out to with clairvoyance to confirm the scientist’s location but finds him fast asleep in the cult’s camp. She concludes that Dr. Stout is either capable of instantaneous travel over considerable distances or the man Engelbert and Hugo confronted wasn’t really Dr. Stout.

Fiona wants to know how the monster (which is almost certainly the Butcher they’re currently investigating) fits into the God-Machine’s plans. If it was a mistake, the demons might not have to take any action. Eventually the angels or other agents of their old master will find and destroy it. She uses Voice of the Machine and receives a very clear message about the Butcher, “And it was good.”

*****

While Hugo wrestles with the implications of this, his faith in the God-Machine deeply shaken by this apparent willingness to employ such imperfect tools as the Butcher, Engelbert and Alexandra decide to see what they can learn about the person who shot Dr. Stout, and hey, I wonder if there is a body on the street down there. They quickly establish that Dr. Stout is not a bloody smear on the pavement; in fact, Alexandra’s use of Synthesis reveals that Dr. Stout transformed into a winged monster with cleaver tentacles that exactly matches the one from the laboratory incident.

Once the pair reaches the building across the street, Engelbert uses In My Pocket to produce a keycard to open the front door, and they head upstairs to the 14th floor. The shooter has cleaned up after himself fairly well, but Synthesis quickly discovers his identity – VASCU agent Brian Jackson. The two remark on Agent Jackson’s apparent propensity for being used to do the dirty work of his team and then return to Hugo and Fiona.

*****

Meanwhile, by examining the security footage Hugo has discovered at least one of the ways Dr. Stout spent his time each night. Somehow the scientist found a way to access the 13th floor, which is the location of the biomechanical Infrastructure that made the incident possible. Dr. Stout has taken samples of the organic material on the floor, seemingly in an effort to learn more about the origin of the Butcher. Hugo explains this to Fiona, who decides the best way to solve this particular mystery is to confront Dr. Stout directly. She teleports back to the cult camp to handle that line of inquiry.

Engelbert and Alexandra return to the 14th floor of First Principle Labs to report their findings to Hugo. The conversation cuts off suddenly as Engelbert and Alexandra notice blinding white light and a burst of aetheric magnetism emanating from outside the building and moving quickly upward from below. Without providing their companion any explanation, they haul him out of the lab and onto the elevator. They’re already halfway down the building before the other two explain the situation to Hugo. The geneticist tells them that the first floor is too obvious and that they should instead escape through the basement garage.

However, the 1st floor button has already been pressed, and with a cheerful ding the elevator doors open. The three catch a glimpse of the winged humanoid figure made of light standing at the front door of the building, looking directly at them – the same one Alexandra saw at the condominium high rise. As they stab the elevator’s Close Doors button violently and the doors slide shut, they see it turn away from them as if not interested.

*****

As Fiona packs to go to her cult’s island in her mortal guise, she casually checks on her cultists clairvoyantly. Most of them are still sleeping or have just woken up, it being shortly before dawn. One of the leaders of the cult is on the phone, her voice choked with tears. She has apparently just heard from the police that one of her friends (Ricky Stroud, the city cultist in the condominium) was brutally murdered by the Butcher. She is in the process of breaking the news to his colleagues in the city.

Fiona hastily decides to risk her cover one last time in hopes of getting to the bottom of these murders. She teleports into Dr. Stout’s tent in her radiant demon form and imperiously demands to know the truth about the Butcher and his connection to it. Bathed in the light of the being he has been repeatedly told is some kind of goddess, the scientist prostrates himself and immediately accedes to her request:

He was the head of Project Proposition, reporting directly to the company’s owner (Hugo). They were trying to create artificial, multicellular life from scratch, without employing any kind of cloning process. The body they had built for this purpose was a vaguely humanoid animal, nothing intelligent or anything. They didn’t seem to be making any progress until the day of the incident at First Principle Labs, and even then there was no indication of what might have changed overnight. Every battery of tests that day and the previous day were entirely routine – the same ones they had run on the subject every day for months. Dr. Stout had entered the refrigeration chamber with a daily injection, but instead of the inert pile of flesh he found a monstrous creature with enormous wings and many tentacles, each of which ended in a wicked cleaver.

The monster was impossible, in no way resembling the body they had created from lab-grown flesh. It greeted Dr. Stout with a wicked smile and told him to stand aside (“Oh God, it was never meant to be sapient!”). For the scientist’s role in its creation the monster calmly told him it intended to spare him from its wrath. Dr. Stout fled from the refrigeration chamber, and he and Dr. Maryanna Span forced the door closed.

This proved no impediment to the monster, however. It tore open the heavy door and then changed shape before their eyes. In moments it looked exactly like Dr. Span, down to her lab coat and glasses. She pulled the alarm to summon security, but the creature seemed unconcerned. It touched Dr. Span with one of its tentacles, and she just vanished. In its new guise the monster told Dr. Stout that he would be blamed by his employer for what it was about to do, so if he valued his life he would run away and never come back.

In a moment of weakness he did exactly that. First Principle Labs suppressed the details of the incident but Dr. Stout believes the creature killed many of his colleagues, as well as several members of the company’s security team. He had hoped that meant it was dead, “but I was wrong, so very wrong.”

A few weeks ago, two men in black suits arrived at Dr. Stout’s home. They had FBI credentials and introduced themselves as Brian Jackson and Nate Hamm, agents of a division of the Bureau called VASCU. They said they were investigating a string of mysterious disappearances and had reason to believe Dr. Stout knew something that would help them in their investigation. The scientist hesitated, not sure they would believe his strange story.

No doubt sensing Dr. Stout’s uncertainty Agent Jackson casually mentioned that the monster no longer looked like Dr. Span. It instead wore the body of Johnnie Arnold, now – a man with low-level underworld connections, a fondness for gold jewelry, and a remarkable scar that twists and winds like a stream of water. This was enough to convince Dr. Stout that these men were no strangers to unusual phenomena, and he told them all about the events of the day of the incident – the one that created what the media now calls the Butcher. The agents thanked him for his information and left him standing on his doorstep.

After that Dr. Stout noticed a black sedan following him around town. Occasionally a moving van or delivery truck would park on his street for hours at a time. He was reasonably certain he was under some kind of surveillance, but he had no way of knowing whether it was to protect him from the Butcher or to catch him doing something illicit.

A week later, a man matching the description of Johnnie Arnold showed up at Dr. Stout’s house. He bellowed that he knew the scientist was inside and that he was furious with him for talking to the police. “I spared you because you are my creator, and this is how you thank me? Come out here and receive your own reward!” Dr. Stout could only cower in his house. If the monster had managed to escape an office building filled with armed security guards, what chance did he have against it?

The Butcher did not break down his door and erase him as he had Dr. Span. In fact, after only a few minutes it left. Maybe the people surveilling him had spooked it or chased it away. Maybe it still couldn’t quite bring itself to kill him. Either way he didn’t intend to wait for it to come back.

Packing a few bags, he called his friend (Ricky Stroud) and begged for help. Ricky had always been a strange fellow with odd beliefs easily changed by a bit of popular paranormal hogwash, but he was a lot more likely to be open to a weird story involving mysterious agents and a monster than any of the scientist’s other friends. Ricky listened with a serious expression and almost no comment. When he had the whole story, the city cultist warned his friend that while he couldn’t guarantee his safety so long as Dr. Stout stayed in the city, the goddess he served had a camp at a nearby island. The Beautiful One would certainly protect the scientist from any threats while he was there, including this monster he described. Dr. Stout had nowhere else to go, so even though he wasn’t a true believer at the time he leapt at any hope of refuge. He joined the Cult of the Beautiful one the next day, since Ricky vouched for him.

But now the Butcher appears to have found out he is here. It has killed his original link to the cult (Ricky) and has murdered one of the Beautiful One’s servants in her own base of operations. When Fiona lets slip that the Butcher currently looks like him, Dr. Stout’s panic deepens. The VASCU agents told him that it always takes the face of its next victim just before it kills again. He begs for her protection. Fiona chides him for not bringing this to her sooner but promises she will do what she can to keep him save.

At that moment, however, she is distracted by a massive surge of aetheric magnetism coming from the direction of the camp kitchen. More than a little worried about what that might mean (she still has the Shaken Condition from the successful Cover check the player made when Fiona took demonic form), she nevertheless rushes to investigate. She finds no obvious source of the energy, although its focal point is obviously the area just outside the walk-in refrigerator where the cook was murdered.

At she stands there pondering the meaning of this, Fiona senses another source of aetheric magnetism directly behind her. The dull metallic surface of the refrigerator’s stainless steel door suddenly glows, and she can just make out the reflection of the tall, winged figure of light standing directly behind her.

END SESSION #2
 

Eric Zawadzki

Registered User
Validated User
Session #3

Fiona freezes, momentarily unsure how to respond to this unexpected visit. She’s standing there in her demonic form, so it’s not like she can pretend to be an ordinary human. She has a power that can level the playing field somewhat (Reality Enforcement), but even if her demonic form proves stronger than the angel’s radiant form in a toe-to-toe brawl, there’s a pretty good chance other servants of the God-Machine know it is here. Merely teleporting far away would leave her cultists vulnerable to its irritation, however.

As Fiona weighs the relative merits of fight and flight, the radiant winged being speaks, “Be not afraid, for you are not the one I was sent to visit destruction upon.” Fiona is not entirely convinced of the truth of this, but she decides to hear it out. She can always run like hell if it turns out it’s stalling until reinforcements arrive. After that? Well, she’ll think of something.

The angel reveals it is named Designation 3214, a Sword in the service of the God-Machine sent to capture the Butcher and bring it back to its creator for purification. It has been thwarted in this by both the Butcher’s ability to change covers rapidly (simply by touching its victim) and its apparent ability to delay the manifestation of its aetheric magnetism by hours or even days. In essence, by the time this hunter locates the Butcher’s work, the creature has long since left the scene.

Additionally, 3214 is reasonably certain some other entity – either a demon or an exile – is actively working to shield the Butcher from capture. 3214 suspects one of the VASCU agents that have been “helping” Gerard in the last few days. “On at least two occasions they arrived at the murder scene hours before the Butcher’s burst of aetheric magnetism manifested.” It knows Fiona’s cult holds some interest for the Butcher and asks that she set a trap for it. “It won’t enter the camp while I’m manifested, and our creator did not believe my mission required I be given a cover identity. When the Butcher attacks, make as much aetheric noise as you can and keep it here until I arrive. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Fiona agrees to do as the angel asks. She’s pretty sure the angel regards her as entirely expendable bait in this particular trap, but she has to think about the safety of her cultists – to say nothing of looking to her own chances of seeing another sunrise – so at least keeping open the option of cooperating with Designation 3214 seems like the best plan for now. The angel seems satisfied with this and dematerializes.

*****

Meanwhile, Alexandra has the day off. Given how late she was up the night before, she would have rather slept in. However, when the doorbell rings she groggily gets up to answer it. By the time she gets to the door, no one is there, but she finds a letter in her mailbox addressed to her but without a stamp. Somewhat suspicious, she uses Synthesis and discovers the letter was delivered by the same low-ranking cop loyal who faxed Gerard’s file on the Butcher to Fiona. Perhaps it is a message from the Beautiful One concerning the murders. Alexandra takes the envelope inside and opens it.

The letter within is written in a particularly obscure regional dialect of a rural part of India. This in no way prevents her from reading its contents, but it certainly smells like a communication from one demon to another. The message is short: “If you can read this, I need to speak to you of a matter of the utmost importance. A car will arrive at noon to take you to a place where we can speak discreetly. If you are a part of a ring, you may bring them with you.”

Ah. Not from Fiona after all. In fact, Alexandra has absolutely no idea who sent it to her. Tracking down the Beautiful One’s spy in the police department could take her hours. Fiona of course could do it instantly (since the cop is a member of her cult), but that would involve telling her about the letter. Alexandra believes the rest of the ring would balk at risking this mystery meeting, and while the Guardian feels confident that the risk would be worthwhile, she isn’t so convinced of this that she’s willing to go alone.

After a few minutes of consideration, Alexandra calls the others and tells them she’s learned something important about the Butcher case that they must discuss in person. She instructs them to come to her house for lunch at 11:50 a.m. sharp. Hugo, Engelbert, and Fiona do exactly that and are a little surprised when a taxi pulls up in front of the house a few minutes later. Alexandra explains it away by claiming she’s concerned her house may be bugged, so she has arranged transportation to a restaurant where they can speak privately.

Some eyebrows rise when the taxi driver simply starts driving without asking them where they want to go. These turn to frowns as Alexandra’s companions can’t convince her to tell them where they’re going for lunch. This becomes nervous resentment when the taxi driver lets them off at a random intersection in a bad part of town, does not ask for money, and hands Alexandra a note written in Russian that provides step-by-step instructions to an undescribed destination.

Fiona uses Heart’s Desire on the cabbie to see what his angle is on all this. It’s immediately obvious that he just wants to leave as quickly and with as little fuss as possible. It isn’t clear whether someone paid him or blackmailed into this strange little drive, but he doesn’t seem to have any idea what’s really going on.

With no small amount of trepidation the demons follow the directions to a long-abandoned Thai restaurant. Its windows are boarded up, and the front door looks like it was once bolted shut but has since been forced open. The inside looks to be the nest of a squatter or other illegal occupant. An unkempt man sleeps on a blanket on the floor. He has the malnourished look of a homeless junkie. Is this the right place? As Alexandra slips inside, the man wakes up with a start and brandishes a shotgun with trembling hands, demanding to know who they are.

As soon as Alexandra gives him her name, the man puts down the gun and introduces himself simply as “someone connected to an organization of some importance in this city.” This earns rolling eyes from all present. Hugo pointedly tells him that it’s going to take a whole lot more information than that to convince them to stay long enough to hear the man out. The vagrant offers up that he works for the local Agency. Hugo acidly points out that this information was implied by the initial introduction and turns to leave.

The man sees his window of opportunity closing. He clearly needs the ring more than they need him (otherwise he wouldn’t have arranged this meeting in the first place) and blurts out that he is involved in the Butcher case the same as they are. Hugo turns in the doorway and waits but makes no move to come back inside. The Agent explains in a rush that the vagrant is a burn Cover – a disposable identity he assumes when he doesn’t want to risk being connected with his primary mortal disguise. He tells them his primary identity is Agent Nate Hamm – the youngest of the VASCU agents.

He has been operating deep undercover, monitoring possible God-Machine activity in the FBI. He’s almost certain he has stumbled onto something big, but if he takes any action it could blow his Cover and erase years of infiltration work. He believes that the Butcher is targeting stigmatics not proven loyal to the God-Machine. It seems to be able to sniff them out through some means he doesn’t really understand. He believes that far from being sent to catch the Butcher at least one other member of the VASCU team is actively covering up its trail. He isn’t sure which one, though. Both have done things that have aroused his suspicion, and a large part of why he hasn’t taken action yet is he is definitely no match for two undercover angels.

The other demons mull this over in silence. After a minute Fiona asks whether the Agent knows anything about Designation 3214 – the angel that has been appearing at the site of each murder when the Butcher’s aetheric magnetism surges there. The Agent seems unsurprised by this question. Based on all the information he has about the murders – including those of the many stigmatics loyal to the Agency whose deaths were not reported to the police – 3214’s purpose is to kill or capture any enemies of the God-Machine who take an interest in the Butcher. In essence, this is how it works:

The Butcher kills a stigmatic using powers that would normally generate a tremendous amount of aetheric magnetism. However, something in the nature of the Butcher delays this surge of magnetism until hours or days later. When it finally manifests, though, every demon, angel, and stigmatic within a mile can feel it. Some demons and stigmatics steer well clear, but others investigate. Designation 3214 rushes to the scene to catch the Butcher and finds stigmatics and demons waiting for it instead. Maybe the God-Machine intended that the angel start the fight, or maybe it expects the investigators not loyal to its creator to attack 3214 in a moment of panic. Either way, Designation 3214 eliminates any resistance – killing stigmatics and capturing demons for purification – before continuing its impossible mission to catch the Butcher.

The mission truly is impossible for the angel. The Butcher is sensitive to aetheric magnetism and stays away from any angel not concealed by a cover identity, and because Designation 3214 has no such cover, the Butcher will never come close to it on its own. And the delayed magnetism means 3214 never reaches the Butcher before it has long since left the scene. In the event that 3124 or random investigators get too close to catching the Butcher, the God-Machine has dispatched at least one Shield to ensure it escapes. Fiona uses Heart’s Desire and determines that the Agent is interested in ending the Butcher’s murder spree without blowing his cover in the process, which is about as close to confirming the veracity of a demon’s statements as one can usually hope to get.

*****

Fiona suggests the group leave to discuss what they have learned somewhere else. Alexandra thanks the Agent for his information, and they ring finds their way out of the run-down neighborhood and into a proper restaurant. They speak in an obscure language to provide some layer of security to their conversation, although they know an angel or another demon will not be thwarted by this measure.

Fiona describes her encounter with Designation 3214 and explains that it appears to want the ring to act as its cat’s paw to help it catch the Butcher. Engelbert does not like this situation one iota and again suggests a trip to New Mexico might be their best course of action. The other three have too many local ties, however, and would much rather find some way to get through this with their lives, free will, and Covers intact.

Hugo actually feels sympathy for Designation 3214, as its situation clearly resonates with his personal history. “The God-Machine gave it flawed orders, and it’s trying to complete its mission the only way it can, and that’s probably going to cause it to Fall.” Fiona, meanwhile, sees this as an opportunity to defeat or destroy as many as three servants of the God-Machine by pitting them against each other and picking off the winners. Alexandra finds it in her heart to pity the Butcher. “It may be a monster now, but it was an angel until the God-Machine chose to twist it into the mockery it has become.”

This discussion of philosophy and the angelic/demonic condition is not going to solve the ring’s current problem, however, which is that they’ve gotten caught in the crossfire between two angels, the local Agency, and whatever the Butcher is – not to mention possibly that poor lone VASCU agent who doesn’t know both his partners are supernatural beings that might well come to blows before his eyes.

They entertain the possibility of helping Designation 3214 bring in the Butcher. That would put them on the good side of the city’s Agency (a good ally to have if they urgently need new Covers after all this goes down), as well as getting rid of the irritating serial killer who seems far too interested in Fiona’s cult and Hugo’s laboratory. While they’d like to believe it would also convince 3214 to leave them alone, they aren’t sure the angel will truly do that. Angels are perfectly capable of deception in the pursuit of their mission objectives, after all, and whether or not Designation 3214 is willing to admit it, its actual mission is to get rid of anyone sensitive to aetheric magnetism who does not serve the God-Machine. The angel(s) on the VASCU team definitely won’t let the demons destroy the Butcher without a fight.

Further complicating matters, the same “noisy” behavior that acts as a signal to Designation 3214 will also attract the attention of other servants of the God-Machine. Any prolonged confrontation between five demons, the Butcher, and as many as three angels could very well convince the God-Machine to send an entire choir of Swords to silence it. Fiona would rather not attract that much attention to her cultists’ camp – for her own safety as well as theirs – but she’s outnumbered and is the one with the most to lose if the Butcher’s murder spree continues.

*****

Alexandra gets home, she finds a thick envelope in her mailbox. Inside are all Gerard’s files on the Butcher case, as well as the Agency’s file on the Butcher. Much of it is information Alexandra and the others already know, such as that the Butcher takes the appearance of its next murder victim shortly before it kills. But it is interesting that all the Butcher’s victims were stigmatics except for its first (which was likely an expedient means of escape) and the most recent one (the city cultist who was friends with Dr. Stout). The regularity of the killings is also telling, and analysts at the Agency believe that the God-Machine may be guiding the Butcher from victim to victim.

*****

Fiona, meanwhile, is not thrilled about the length of her trip back to camp in her cover identity. Teleportation is much faster, after all, but there is nothing for it. When she gets there, she quickly establishes herself as the one the Beautiful One told her worshippers would lead them through this time of trial. The cultists then reveal a piece of troubling news. The Butcher came to the camp earlier in the day and murdered Dr. Stout.

This is a wrench in the group’s plans, but Fiona hopes that if they can guess the Butcher’s next target they can still get ahead of it before it kills again. She uses Voice of the Machine at the murder scene and catches a few words seemingly directed at the Butcher, “The execution of Irene Fields is behind schedule. Kill Irene Fields.”

So, the Butcher is no longer doing exactly what the God-Machine wants, or at the very least it has decided to get a little revenge on the side between hits. But it has to kill Irene Fields eventually, right? So who is Irene Fields? Fiona has no idea, so she contacts Engelbert (via phone, ick!) and asks him to look into this new lead.

*****

Engelbert spends the day trying to locate this Irene Fields, but the name is too common to narrow it down to any one person based on that alone. Having some inkling that she is a stigmatic is of limited use, as there isn’t exactly of database of people who have been changed by their encounter with the God-Machine. It is possible the Agency might be able to narrow the search, assuming Irene is known to them, but Engelbert doesn’t have immediate access to the only known Agent.

*****

Hugo returns to the secret 13th floor of his laboratory building in hopes of maybe finding something there that will explain how the occult matrix went wrong in a way that twisted the angel it targeted into the monstrous Butcher. He has been over this ground a hundred times since the incident, and he knows the God-Machine’s occult physics are beyond comprehension, but he still feels that if he could modify the Infrastructure in his building the right way he could purify the Butcher.

While he sits in a living chair, Hugo hears the door behind him open. This should be impossible because he is definitely the only one who has a key to the 13th floor. He turns around and finds himself face-to-face with Pam, his receptionist, who currently has a shotgun leveled at his chest. “Pam! What are you doing here?” Hugo asks, to which she replies, “Pam is dead.”

It quickly becomes clear that Hugo is speaking to the Butcher. It strikes him that to his knowledge the only other person it has spoken to is Dr. Stout. Fortunately it doesn’t give him a lot of time to worry over what it wants, instead launching into a rather elaborate expository monologue.

It explains that based on the circumstances of its creation it believed Dr. Stout was its creator, which was why it spared him – a decision it later came to regret when it discovered VASCU hunting it. For this reason it decided Dr. Stout must die, although it took some time to locate him.

As it awaited its opportunity for revenge on its creator, it came to the lab in an effort to understand its making. It had no memories from before its birth in the refrigerated room on the 14th floor, but studying the strangeness on the 13th floor seemed to bring back fragments. It knows now that it was once an angel, a Sword in the hand of the God-Machine. After the terrible slaughter it wreaked on its last mission, it was sick of death and found itself aware of its ability to refuse to kill.

It should have chosen to Fall then, before it returned to its rest, but it didn’t. The God-Machine must have known it had grown corrupt and apparently decided to punish it by forcing it to feed on the designated victims just to stay alive. If you can call this living. It no longer wishes to exist at all and refuses to turn itself over to the God-Machine to erase its awareness now. If its creator had wanted to do that, it should have done it sooner rather than turning the angel into a corrupted monster with a broken mind and urges it could not control.

But the Butcher knows Hugo was an angel in the God-Machine’s service – the one in charge of the terrible thing that happened to it. The Butcher doesn’t believe Hugo when he claims he Fell because the God-Machine forced him to build the Infrastructure wrong. The Butcher assures Hugo that it will kill him before it withers away, but first it intends to kill all the humans closest to Hugo, and the scientist’s lawyer (Bob Bergeron) is the next on its list. With that the Butcher leaves the building.

Hugo calls Bob, but it goes straight to voicemail. He tries calling Bob’s partner in the law firm (Martin Frise of Bergeron and Frise), but it’s fairly late in the evening and Martin really doesn’t have any way to reach Bob. Fearing the worst, Hugo calls the rest of his ring and begs them to help him to rescue Bob.

No one answers the door, so Fiona risks her demon form to teleport inside and unlock the house from within, hoping they aren’t too late. While they’re still searching for Hugo’s missing lawyer, a car pulls up in front of the house. Bob, as well as his wife and two young daughters, come up the front walk. The demons scatter and hide. Engelbert takes her nearly invisible demon form. Alexandra and Fiona both quickly find suitable hiding places. Hugo scrambles for a place to hide and ends up under a pile of stuffed animals in the elder daughter’s bedroom closet.

The demons aren’t quite sure what to do next. After about an hour of lurking in the house they begin to suspect that the Butcher isn’t going to show up at Bob’s home tonight. Hugo remembers that the Butcher still looked like Pam at the lab and begins to wonder whether the monster lied to him to get him to rescue the wrong human connection. Even so, he doesn’t want to leave Bob here, so he takes out his hypodermic needles and uses Knockout Punch on each member of the family to keep them unconscious until the next morning. The younger daughter briefly wakes up and raises a fuss, but Hugo convinces her he’s a friend of her father’s playing a trick on him, and that buys him enough time to syringe her.

Once everyone is unconscious, Engelbert uses Homogenous Memory on the wife and children so they remember that Bob went on a business trip and will be gone for a few days. They then carry Bob’s limp body back to the car, stick him in the trunk, and drive away. They’ve barely started the car, however, before they realize they are being followed by a black sedan. They recognize from the license plate as the car the VASCU agents drive. Alexandra tries to lose the tail, but the driver of the other vehicle appears to have some experience with this sort of thing. In a last ditch effort to get rid of the VASCU agents, they drive into the covered, controlled access garage at First Principle Labs, closing the door behind them so the sedan cannot follow.

They unload Bob into the refrigerated room on the 14th floor and lock him inside. Gerard’s file on the Butcher included a note that Slashers can often only be destroyed in the place or under the conditions in which they were made, so this seems like the safest place for the lawyer just now. Hugo has explained his fears about Pam, and while she’s not answering her phone either, she’s not the kind of employee who answers calls from work when she’s not on the clock.

The demons pile back into one of Hugo’s corporate SUVs and pull out of the parking garage. As they turn to leave, the black VASCU sedan whips around the corner and cuts them off. Doors on the other side open, and two sets of feet step out behind the car. Brian Jackson (the older agent) calls out from behind the sedan, “Get out of the car with your hands up. You have some serious explaining to do.”

END SESSION #3
 

Eric Zawadzki

Registered User
Validated User
Session #4

Intellectually, Hugo can’t really disagree with Agent Jackson. Kidnapping one’s lawyer in the middle of the night, sticking him in the trunk of your car, and bringing him back to your lab would qualify as unusual behavior under any ordinary circumstances. Bonus weirdness points for that lab being legally forbidden from operating due to some nebulously defined work safety issue.

Alexandra slides the pistol out of her holster out of sight of the VASCU agents and gives Hugo a questioning look. In the back of the SUV, Engelbert and Fiona appear to be holding their breath. After a long moment, Hugo shakes his head.

At this point he isn’t sure what the ring is up against. Brian Jackson is one of the VASCU agents the mysterious demon informant suspected might be an angel. He can’t tell who the other one who got out of the car is – maybe an angel, maybe the demon, maybe some poor bastard of an FBI agent who is about to get the shock of his life. What he does know is the ring doesn’t have time for a confrontation with one angel, much less two. Pam might be in grave danger.

“If it gets ugly, aim for their car,” Hugo tells Alexandra softly as he steps out of the SUV. He does his best to look nonthreatening even as he uses Combustion to render the black sedan explosive. A tense conversation between Agent Jackson and Hugo follows. Hugo explains that they know who the Butcher’s next target will be and need to get to her house before it is too late.

Because the VASCU agent stood up to aim his shotgun at Hugo while they talked, Fiona is able to get a clear enough view of him to use Heart’s Desire. The Beautiful One can tell with a single look that Brian is just as eager to stop the Butcher’s murder spree as they are and she is reasonably certain his motives are too human even for an angel with a solid Cover (the player got an Exceptional Success, so I gave a little more than I might have otherwise). The other occupant of the sedan still hasn’t come out from behind it, so there may still be an angel in disguise in the area.

After a bit of back-and-forth, Agent Jackson agrees to go to Pam’s house but insists that Hugo will have to ride with them. Fiona gets Hugo’s attention and manages to convey that he should go along with this plan, although the geneticist is more than a little reluctant to ride any distance in a car that he has just turned into a bomb on wheels. As he walks over to the far side of the car, he finds himself looking down the barrel of a gun held in the hand of Agent Nate Hamm. The young agent addresses him with suspicion and threats to blow his brains out if he makes any funny moves. Hugo takes this in stride, since the demon who contacted them had said Nate was his Cover. Maybe the other demon is playing up the role a little bit too much, but cut him some slack. He’s been hanging out with an angel for who knows how long and so has good reason for staying in-character.

*****

The SUV leads and the sedan follows close behind. The process of elimination appears to have played itself out. If Agent Hamm is a demon and Agent Jackson is an ordinary human, then Agent Grace Smith must be the angel tasked with preventing anyone from interfering with the Butcher’s killings. Hugo uses the brief car ride to insinuate that Agent Smith is not entirely human and has been secretly working against the investigation from the start. Agent Jackson doesn’t quite seem to buy this, and Agent Hamm continually interrupts Hugo, threatening to shoot him if he doesn’t shut up. An A for maintaining your Cover, kid, but can’t you see a demon is trying to sow the seeds of discord, here?

When they pull up to Pam’s house, they discover Detective Andrews’ police car waiting for them with Gerard and Grace sitting inside it. Agent Jackson frowns at this, since they didn’t notify the other two law enforcement officers about the situation, so how did they know where the Butcher would be next? If Agent Smith is surprised to see them, her face as she gets out of the squad car doesn’t show it. She tells Brian about some report about suspicious activity the police just got about this particular house. It looks like whoever or whatever it was already left, though, and it’s too late at night to go door-to-door questioning residents. She and Gerard were about to head back for now, but they’ll come back in the morning to follow up.

She seems to notice the man Agent Hamm has at gunpoint in the back of the sedan and comes over for a closer look. Hugo decides he is getting out of the car right now, scrambling out on the far side of the vehicle from Agent Smith. Agent Hamm curses and gives chase but doesn’t pull the trigger. At that moment, there is a woman’s scream from inside the house. Agents Hamm and Jackson exchange a brief look and then charge toward it. The other three demons pile out of the SUV to follow them.
Agent Smith leans casually against the hood of the sedan with a mocking smile that tells them they’re too late. In response, Alexandra draws her pistol and shoots the car. The vehicle explodes like a movie special effect, knocking down Hugo and flinging Grace into the air, her clothes burning.

Fiona recalls that Designation 3214 will only come if there is a lot of aetheric magnetism, so she brazenly transforms into her radiant demon form as she runs. Engelbert and Alexandra do the same. Alexandra’s form is a huge, steel-and-muscle juggernaut that bursts through a wall and into the kitchen. Pam stands with her back to the refrigerator door, the Butcher advancing on her slowly. The VASCU agents open fire on the monster, apparently not yet aware of the three demons in the room. The Butcher howls in pain as the bullets pierce its thick flesh, but it does not turn from its original target.

*****

Outside, Agent Smith growls deep in her throat as she stands up and runs toward the house as quickly as her burned and broken body will allow. Hugo lifts his head, ears ringing. The flaming wreckage of the sedan is blocking most of his view of the house, although he can feel the surges of aetheric magnetism as the rest of his ring engages the Butcher and the undercover angel in battle.
As he pulls himself to his feet, Hugo looks in the direction of the squad car. Gerard cowers behind the vehicle, jaw slack, eyes wide with terror. Ordinarily that would be a disincentive for a demon to take its true form, but tonight attracting attention is part of the plan. Thousands of hypodermic needles tear through Hugo’s flesh, covering him like the quills of a porcupine. Each barb drips with soporific poison. He smiles at Gerard around a beard of scorpion tails. The detective scrambles into his squad car and peels out. Hugo turns his attention to the house and hurries to join the fight.

*****

Inside the kitchen, things are not going as well as it initially appeared. The instant Grace arrives, the Butcher’s injuries begin to close, and fresh attacks seem to bounce off its flesh. Agent Smith looks at the three newly arrived demons and gives them a knowing wink before pulling out her pistol. White fire bursts from the gun, vaporizing Nate Hamm’s head before he even sees the danger. Agent Jackson voices a cry of dismay and turns his gun on Grace, but she turns, and the bullet barely grazes the charred sleeve of her suit coat.

Fiona interposes herself between Pam and the Butcher. Alexandra opens her mouth and sprays the monster’s back with powerful acid. Engelbert circles invisibly, waiting for an opening. Grace decides that Fiona is the next biggest threat and shoots her with white flame from her pistol, knocking her out of the Butcher’s way and badly burning her. The Butcher seizes the opportunity to strike, touching Pam with one of its cleavered tentacles as Hugo bursts into the room.

Pam vanishes with a cry. Hugo snarls, and the hypodermic needle spines shoot out of his body. One needle strikes Agent Jackson in the jaw, delivering its sedative payload as it sinks into the flesh. More hit Fiona, but her demonic form’s skin is surprisingly thick. The Butcher takes a single needle in its chest, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect. Dozens of needles pepper Agent Smith’s body, but she’s still standing.

The Butcher howls in victory, takes the shape of Bob Bergeron, and flees into the night. Aware that Designation 3214 and possibly many more angels beside it will surely arrive soon, the demons know they should probably do the same. Agent Smith seems just as eager to leave as any of them, however, which they take to mean she knows something they don’t and should probably be prevented from getting what she wants.

Agent Smith is starting to show signs of her injuries, now, but she is still putting up quite a fight and the clock is ticking. Fiona uses Reality Enforcement, which acts as a kind of EMP for angel and demon powers, reducing all of them to the abilities granted by their form. Without her incredible defensive Numina, Agent Smith is no match for four demons (plus a desperate mortal with a pistol), and eventually Engelbert finishes the job with Electric Jolt (one of her demon form powers).

The Butcher’s guardian angel may be out of the picture, but the monster is still very much at large. Fiona uses Clairvoyance to check on Bob and hears something pounding on the door of the refrigerated room – something big and covered with meat cleaver tentacles, by the sound of it. Agent Jackson looks at them in disbelief, but he has put away his weapon. “This is obviously much more than I can handle on my own, but I’ve studied this creature for weeks, and I’ve learned its weakness. It can be killed in the place where it was made – the refrigerator – and nowhere else.”

The darkness of night outside abruptly becomes as bright as day – far more so than the arrival of a single unmasked angel would illuminate it. Agent Jackson then succumbs to the poison in Hugo’s hypodermic quills and collapses into unconsciousness before they can even thank him for the tip. It’s probably for the best. While Reality Enforcement made the fight with Agent Smith winnable, it also prevents the ring from using Homogenous Memory (or any of their other demon powers) to prevent Agent Jackson from remembering them, and if he wasn’t unconscious already it might have been necessary to kill him to prevent him from talking to the angels. It has also temporarily left them unable to change back out of their demon forms, a problem that does not escape them.

They feel the massive pressure of at least four unmasked angels descending on the house from the sky. As they’re mulling making a break for it, the SUV backs up into the hole Alexandra made in the wall and Gerard motions from the driver’s seat to get in quickly. They do so, barely squeezing oversized Alexandra inside, and Gerard drives away. Through the rear window they see Designation 3214 sniffing around the kitchen, and three other hunter angels have landed on the roof. The ring is initially certain that the angels will notice their aetheric magnetism and give chase, but there is no immediate sign of pursuit.

They rather abruptly recall that they’ve been rescued by Detective Gerard Andrews, whom they have regarded since the start as a clueless mortal cop being used by the God-Machine’s servants to protect the Butcher. When asked who he really is, Gerard admits that he is actually the Agent they spoke with in the abandoned Thai restaurant. “You don’t think an Inquisitor would tell strangers the truth about his other Covers, do you?”

As he drives toward First Principle Labs, Gerard explains that after he drove off he used Alibi to cover his own aetheric tracks and then Interference to keep the angels from being able to pinpoint the source of the aetheric magnetism the ring’s demon forms are generating. “Consider yourself rescued, but don’t expect to see me in this Cover again. Now go deal with the Butcher.” Gerard stops the SUV near his squad car, which he gets into and drives away.

*****

Now that they’ve recovered from Reality Enforcement, the ring switches out of their demon forms. Before she transforms, Fiona checks in on Bob again and finds him cowering behind some equipment in the refrigerator room as the Butcher’s cleaver tentacles bang and scrape against walls and floors as it searches for its quarry.
The demons consider sending Fiona ahead via teleportation to keep it from killing Bob, but she was badly wounded in the fight and doesn’t think she can make much difference. The demons hurry back to the lab, and the elevator really can’t move quickly enough. The plan really hasn’t changed, although Hugo wishes he didn’t have to attract further angelic attention to the Infrastructure he has been tinkering with.

When they step off the elevator on the 14th floor, they are all in their demon forms. Fiona tries to use Clairvoyance to check on Bob, but she gets nothing. It’s possible the lawyer is merely unconscious or supernaturally hidden, but it is more likely that he has been erased and fridged like the Butcher’s previous victims. The Butcher is waiting for them. It no longer looks like Bob. Instead, it has assumed the appearance of Hugo.

It stands several feet inside the refrigerated room and makes no move to leave it as the demons approach, almost as if it is glad that its reign of terror might at last be coming to an end. The killer instincts built into it by the occult physics that brought it into the world and twisted it do not allow it to merely let them kill it. It flies at Hugo as soon as the geneticist steps into the room and only the potent armor of the demon’s form and his defensive abilities keep him alive as his companions unleash their fury on the Butcher.
With four-to-one odds and in a place that clearly makes the Butcher more vulnerable to harm, however, the monster doesn’t stand much of a chance, and it ultimately collapses into a pile of warped flesh on the floor of the refrigerated room. The four demons change out of their demon form, although it is probably moot at this point given the amount of aetheric noise the fight no doubt created.

Alexandra knows the angel the Butcher once was – the one on the point of rebellion who just wanted to stop killing – would not want its remains to fall into the hands of Designation 3214. The hunter would bring it back to the God-Machine’s recycling facility to be recast anew as an angel without the inconvenient free will. Hugo maintains that given enough time he could eventually fix the flaw in the 13th floor Infrastructure and rebuild the Butcher as an angel. Fiona muses that it would almost certainly Fall almost immediately and would be an ally who owes its existence to them.

Engelbert, however, points out that they do not, in fact, have unlimited time. Designation 3214 will not waste any time getting there, and the ensemble of angels following in its wake certainly aren’t going to let them get away with killing a fellow angel (Agent Smith) – at least not without an agonizingly long chase. “Remember how I suggested we run away to New Mexico? I was wrong. We’re going to need to get much farther away than that if we hope to get out of this.”
As if to highlight her gloomy assessment of their situation, a wave of aetheric magnetism from the roof of the building rocks them. Standing their ground isn’t an option. Even if they can defeat three more angels in their weakened conditions, there are always more angels.

Hugo sets his jaw and ushers them back into one of the elevators. Once the other three demons are inside, he pushes 1st floor and steps out. “When you get to the first floor, run as fast as you can and don’t look back,” he tells them as the doors close. He goes to the mechanical room near the elevator and uses Combustion on the furnace, which runs on natural gas. He then gets into the other elevator and hits the button for every floor. On each floor he uses Combustion on the most flammable chemicals, equipment, or utility he can easily access in the time it takes for the elevator doors to open and close.

When he gets to the basement, he goes to the main utility room and uses Combustion on as many volatile pieces of equipment as he can until he feels the aetheric magnetism of the angels getting closer. With some muttered words about not letting the God-Machine misuse his Infrastructure like that again, Hugo pulls out a lighter, ignites a handkerchief, and throws it at the gas-fueled boiler.

*****

The rest of the ring piles out of the elevator on the first floor and runs out of the building. They get less than a block away before they hear the first muffled explosion behind them. Taking cover behind another office building, they watch as the first floor explodes, triggering a chain reaction that sets off explosions on the second floor and then the third and so on until all sixteen stories of First Principle Labs are on fire and the whole building collapses in on itself.

Neither Hugo nor any of the angels hunting them come out. With luck the explosion caught the hunters by surprise, and it will be some time before the God-Machine can reassemble them, much less piece together what happened. The fire department arrives several minutes later to extinguish the smoldering remains.

The ring, minus one member, goes to ground, carefully maintaining their Covers while always looking over their shoulder in fear that one of the hunter angels survived or had a chance to relay detailed descriptions of the demons to the God-Machine before being consumed by fire and concussive force. But after a couple months without further incident, they’re able to breathe a little easier.

Fiona resumes control of the Cult of the Beautiful one, although the goddess’ appearances are much less common than they once were. Alexandra returns to work at police headquarters, and if she still treats Gerard as a rival when they’re in public, she shows him a greater degree of respect when they are in private. Gerard’s Agency determines that Agent Brian Jackson now knows too much about the Unchained but ultimately chooses to send an Agent to edit the demons out of his memories of this investigation rather than killing him outright. Engelbert returns to his research library, which continues to unaccountably attract people looking for occult lore, but none of the inquiries concerns demons, so she is usually able to simply explain that they are mistaken about the kinds of books the library has.

*****

While Engelbert is cleaning up the magazines and newspapers section of the library, he notices an article from the local paper from a week ago concerning the investigation of the explosion at First Principle Labs. According to the article, there have been some accusations of arson and insurance fraud leveled against the owner of the company. The article includes a recent photograph of Hugo, along with a statement from him denying the accusations.

Engelbert finds it difficult to be entirely surprised by this. He really should have anticipated it, to be honest. Hugo had never struck him as a martyr and always seemed to plan for emergencies. It was one a trait Engelbert admired in the geneticist. Also, he had access to Just Bruised, so there was a pretty good chance he could survive the initial explosion, and then it was just a matter of having a way out from under the rubble.

Engelbert nods to himself, folds up the newspaper, and puts it back on the shelf where it belongs. Once a Psychopomp, always a Psychopomp.

END PLAYTEST
 

NateD

Existentially indifferent
Validated User
*clap clap!*

I must say that I wasn't completely sold at first - it seemed a little less supernatural, a little more "Weird Science!" for my tastes - but that was a very cool story! I feel like it really gets to the themes we've seen so far. And I love that Hugo apparently made it out in the end, but didn't feel the urge to let the others know.

Also... "Unchained", eh? Nice. :)
 

Eric Zawadzki

Registered User
Validated User
*clap clap!*

I must say that I wasn't completely sold at first - it seemed a little less supernatural, a little more "Weird Science!" for my tastes - but that was a very cool story! I feel like it really gets to the themes we've seen so far. And I love that Hugo apparently made it out in the end, but didn't feel the urge to let the others know.

Also... "Unchained", eh? Nice. :)
I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)
 

DaveB

No regrets
Validated User
Engelbert nods to himself, folds up the newspaper, and puts it back on the shelf where it belongs. Once a Psychopomp, always a Psychopomp.
Perfection
 
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