White Knights and Dark Days

Tutorial Run Part 4

"Good news, everyone. I've found the kids."

Skip drives with a great big smile on his face, and is much more mellowed out. His hair is full of leaves, his clothes are covered in dirt. He’s quite happy with his little bit of reckon work, and that he was finally able to remember that the guys name was actually Maurice. He even got to shoot someone he didn’t care for. All things as they are, this was a pretty accomplished day for Skip Sheffeld.

To nobody in particular, he says, “Man, that thar was some of the most badass badassery Ay’ve ever seent. Mister robot man, ay think you an me are gonna be buds. Say, y’ still got that package? I reckon we should give Maurice a call, see what he’s doing in just a couple minutes. I sure could use some barbecue. Any o’y’all like good barbecue? Thar’s a place out by whar I live that has some dee-licious cue. Been open like a hundred years too.”

Linus opens his big nerdy mouth.

“Barbecue? You people are fucking monsters! When I said I would burn the house down I didn’t say with people IN IT! That was murder, plain and simple, and now I am an accessory. This is insanity. This is insanity. We are in very very deep now. Our only hope is that those lowlifes were known criminals and the police don’t give a flying fuck, otherwise there’s going to be a god damned investigation.”

“We have to find those ork kids before the police, because if this gets traced back to the Otto then it can get traced back to us. Fucking fuck.”

Yulong calms the scientist with a gesture. “I do not think you need to be so alarmed, Linus. I doubt either Duke or RTPCorp cares much for a few dead racists. Besides, they will probably be more concerned with that mantis shaman and his monstrous pet, not to mention the astral anomaly within the building.”

The monk turns to Skip. “I am a vegetarian, but I have developed a special fondness for hushpuppies and fried okra. I for one am starving. Let’s go eat, and maybe give this new character a call. I would also like to search the Brotherhood van for any more clues.”

“Man, they never knowed who we was till today, and ain’t like the cops give no shits about some human s’premacist gang. B’sides, it was the wrong house. Ay’d be more worried bout Maurice and his boys coming to find Otto than the police. Or that bug-man changes his mind and decides to come lookin for payback. If yer gonna lose yer shit, at least make it somethin realistic.”

Linus pauses to think for a moment.

“Shit. All… alright yes. Yes you are quite right.” He begins, turning back into his academic self, regaining some bearing.

“Listen that is the first site of death I have come upon since my training… a vile experience I would not go through again. And that was on the astral plane, it’s of a different variety. All this blood, so much blood…. so much blood.”

“I will be ready next time, I am sorry for my behavior back there… it will not happen again. Next time though, we absolutely must be more cautious! We learned nearly nothing because we had no time to search and examine the premises!”

Zinedine shakes his head. “I pointed us to Otto’s for a reason. We need to warn them of the situation before we do anything else. There isn’t a reward if the orks die from a Brotherhood retaliation. Also, what the fuck was that thing?! I’m more concerned about some mantis mage thing and a bird that’s stalking us than some stupid racists that don’t know left from right.”

Zin goes to the orks to find Otto and give him an update. He recommends that they set up any defenses they can, both magical and not.

As Zinedine goes to warn the orks, Yulong returns to the liberated van to give it a thorough search, looking through the glove compartment, under seats, and beneath the floormats and spare tire for any clues which might give them more information about the Brotherhood.

Alexander sighs, the mysteries of magic will never be explained, especially to sleepers like these. He is worried about what he saw in the house, how it got there, who created it, but doesn’t need to include the rest of his team on his worries. He is anxious about journeying to the astral realm now, but perhaps the black plume of smoke they saw was the astral realm relieving itself of a burden. It probably wouldn’t hurt to try projecting again once they are in a different space.

He travels with Zinedine to warn the orks of their botched job today, electing to stay in the car to attempt another astral journey.

Linus relays an order to the Fire wolf as they wait. “My guardian, I have one service I must ask of you before the sun falls and you are released. The house we just left contained a spirit of great power, and a force of uncertain origin. Your powers are far beyond those of a watcher, but you are likewise much more competent to achieve what I must ask. Go to the house, remaining in the astral aspects, and remain unseen to the police who have certainly arrived. Observe what there is to observe.”

“Destroy what clues you may find there around the area this van was parked, though leave all people unharmed.”

“Return to me with what you observed there. If you are seen, though, do not return. We must be careful.”

Otto isn’t terribly hard to spot. He is finishing his meal with a group of other orks, and notes your approach. He turns sullen as you approach, and stands to greet you. “I do not see the children. Do you require more of us? I do not think it is wise for us to be seen so much, especially in this place. I trust in your abilities, but all the same, I would prefer to avoid such open meetings as this in the future. Though, as you are already here, what can I help you with?”

[I’m treating Yulong’s search as a ‘take 20’ from D&D, in that he has all the time he needs, and is being thorough enough to eventually roll the best possible result. As Nameless is right there, the results will be sent to the group.]

Inside the car, Yulong finds much more than he had expected. Inside the glove box are three certified credsticks with unknown values on them and a flash-pak, almost lost among a pile of receipts and food wrappers. Beneath the seats, Yulong finds a ton of crumbs, hair, and crushed leaves and dirt. Nothing exciting there. Below the floormats, the car is oddly clean. I suppose they just never bothered to move them, and cleanliness never quite was a high priority to them. Ah, but in the storage in the back, inside the spare tire stowed under the flooring, is a veritable arsenal. Maybe they thought the world would end. I guess they were right about what, just not how or when. A frag grenade, two small boxes of 12 pistol bullets, one flechette and one ADPS (armor piercing) package, what appears to be a rusty carving knife, and a genuine survival knife. A smoke grenade. Kids in a candy store, these folks. Strange load, but a nice find none the less. Stuffed between the driver seat and the console is a written note, saying “Take them to you know where, and lock those trogs in the basement. Willis will guard them until we can move them. M’s orders, so don’t frag this up. ~Mo.” Jackpot.

Alexander slips into astral space in the back of the minivan, electing to stay in the car.

As soon as Linus is finished commanding the hellhound, it jumps straight into the back gate of the van. Heat rushes through the vents, and those in the rear cough from smoke inhalation, but in just a moment, no trace of the spirit remains.

Zin nods to the elderly ork. “I understand, Otto, but there are a few things we need to speak to you about. First, when we visited the school, an members of our group found an Astral Watcher. I know little of these things, but it was concerning. We have since found and visited a house connected to the Brotherhood. There was blood shed, but more interestingly there was a mage, who appeared to be using less-than-savory magic, from what I gather. We have not found your children, but since you have been the target, I feel we should warn you that these people are connected to magic. If you have anyone Gifted in your clan, they need to be aware of this and on the look out. I think my associates would like to speak with them if possible.”

Linus pipes up. “Well, let’s not… look… let’s not jump to conclusions here!” He laughs. “Yes there are magic users, though (pardon my correction, sir) it appears that the brotherhood is only tangentially involved with them.”

“I should mention quite clearly that the reason we are here is that we have taken action against the Brotherhood, quite against my better judgement, and we believe it will likely be in your best interests to remain… guarded for the near future. We must take action quickly to avert reprisal, and we shall, but you must be aware of the situation and act accordingly.”

He looks at Zin with a small smirk. Privately he whispers to him, “nerdling indeed, don’t speak of matters in a plane you do not understand.”

Zin’s eyes widen briefly before he recomposes himself almost instantaneously. “Either way, I’d rather one of the Gifted among us speak with them.”

Yulong slams the trunk of the van, satisfied with his search. He slips the flash pak, frag, and smoke grenades into his robe, alone with the handful of credsticks and both boxes of ammo. He looks up to find Nameless approaching silently, and they ride together in sullen quiet to join Skip for dinner.

The adept orders fried okra, hushpuppies, and baked beans, and sits down at the sticky wooden table. He tosses the note casually in front of his partners. “I found this in the Brotherhood van. It must be referring to our kids. This is certainly some relief; I had feared that shaman might have used them in some sort of blood ritual.” He takes a drag of iced tea. “What do you two make of it? It sounds as if we may not have been far off—they are simply hidden in a basement somewhere. And there may only be one man to guard them. Perhaps we should split up and cover the last three houses on Linus’ list?”

The cyborg’s not a man of many words, but after wolfing down nearly two full pounds of BBQ and a large plate of ol’ fashioned mac’n’cheese he seems satisfied. He largely ignores the note Yulong has tossed before him and instead gazes inquisitively at the monk.

“You found more ammo.” A statement, not a question. “I need more. You don’t.”

The monk meets the cyborg’s gaze. “Yes, I found some bullets.” He regards the nameless man carefully, taking a swig of tea without averting his gaze from the cyborg’s cold, artificial eyes. “But I am not convinced that giving them to you is the way.”

He leans his elbow against the table. “Let me tell you a story which my master used to train my mind. A fable, if you will.” Yulong starts in without waiting for consent. “There was once a war in Japan, fought for no good reason, and the tides of battle went one way and not the other, so that the Japanese army was forced to take up residence in a Buddhist temple.”

“The abbot of this temple was named Gasan, and Gasan instructed his cook to feed the officers the same simple food which the monks ate. One of the officers got very upset with the abbot, and said to him, ‘Who do you think we are? We are soldiers, sacrificing our lives for our country. You must treat us as such!’”

“To which Gasan responded, ’Who do you think we are? We are soldiers of humanity, aiming to save all sentient beings!”

Yulong snaps his fingers once to emphasize his point. “Do you see? The man most worthy of respect is the one who values all other life above his own. Only then can he break the cycle of karma—the chain of suffering caused by suffering.”

The monk leans back in his chair. “So, because you do not understand this basic truth of cause and effect, you suffer. And it is plain to see that you suffer, nameless one. And because you suffer, I believe you are not ready to wield steel with justice. No. When you are a soldier of humanity, then I will give you your bullets.”

The monk has barely finished his last sentence when the cyborg stands up from the table, adjusts… himself, ambles past a confused server, and bangs through the door to the privy.

Yulong shakes his head and looks at Skip. “The same goes for you, cowboy. I know you do not relish death the way that man does, but it was obvious you enjoyed killing that man today.” The monk stretches, and rubs his bald head. “All the same though, it’s entirely possible you saved my life, and for that I thank you. The perils of bringing a sword to a gun fight, I suppose.”

He shrugs. “Skip, you are a resourceful man, and know this land far better than I do. What would your next step be?”

The cyborg returns from the bathroom, swiping a basket of huspuppies from a table as he passes. The earnest faced patron seated at the table quickly quashes a protest.

Nameless walks behind his chair but refrains from sitting in his seat. “Too long. Leave now.” He murmurs. The haze that had cleared momentarily during combat appears to have risen again and it is clear he is uncomfortable and unsure in such a public place. He fishes the van keys out of his pocket, as if to remind the others—well honestly, more directly Skip—that he’s got them, and turns and heads towards the door. He hasn’t paid for anything.

Skip drains his sweet tea, and leans back on two rickety chair legs. He ponders for a moment, then he reckons for a minute more.

“I knows a place that nobody comes looken fer anybody, if y’d like to avoid gettin into trouble. S’long as y’aint used to electricicity or nothin. Big cabin up north of here, real old, hundred years or more. Prolly haunted with alll sorts o’shit fer you fellers to feelahzifize with. Ay’aslo think it’s a good time to give that — Maurice — feller a ring on his telerphone.”

Skip looks especially pleased to remember the guys name. He dials the man’s number and brings the phone to his ear. “Maurice! Yer boys done got lit up! Yea, fucken unbelievable dude, like there ain’t nothin left there. I was down the block ramblin round with my goodbuddy Doyle when I herd them shots. Carter told me to call you sometime, he was real-real nice. Said I reminded of his buddy Charlie from growin up. I’ma go find out who did this and kick their god damn ass! Look the cops was here already, but I hitched their van — no it got ransacked. Maybe I can come give it back to ya. You and I got similar sympathies, I do believe.”

As Nameless moves to leave, Linus and Zin walk in through the door. Alexander remains in the van, still in the astral space.

Zin calls after the cyborg. “Hey metal-man, I think it would do us some good to do a debrief after what happened at the house don’t you? Let’s sit for a bit. We still have a mission to do, and you still owe me for that pistol.”

Alexander awakens to find himself in the back of a van in the parking lot of a barbecue restaurant. I suppose it is about dinner time. He walks inside, a little groggy, and sees the group sitting at a table, eating whatever it is them folks eat. Hush puppies, fried okra, pulled pork. Sounds mighty good.

The serpent uncoils himself into a cheap plastic chair, which gives him a loud static shock. He doesn’t seem to notice, and rubs at his temples before addressing the other runners, “Good news, everyone. I’ve found the kids. They’re being kept in the first BC safehouse on the map, in a basement. They’re scared, but unharmed.”

He listens as Yulong recites the contents of the note that he found. His glasses drift off the bridge of his nose and he pushes them back up, “Then we’re on a tight schedule. There’s only one person guarding them right now; if we move quickly we will be able to take him by surprise.” He makes a reach for the Nameless one’s pilfered hushpuppies, then thinks better of it and chooses a pair of bread rolls instead.

Skip comes in smirking at his cell phone. He mutters, "Ain’t sher what’ay’think’a’him. Ain’t seem to be no guy in charge, warnt no intrested in no van neither. Hey I know a guy who’ll buy that van, won’t give much, but’s bettr than bein seen drivin that junker. Course shitheap like that kinda useful for blendin in some neighborhoods. Fucken GE motors, gone t’shit since they moved off gas hybrids. New ones even shittier, a’ter gets a little dirt in it. Any’all e’er ridden in a six-speed gasoline-burnin’ 2012 Dodge Charger? Ain’t nothin liak it since been built… Course th’older ones was even more fun to drive, b’fo they ’stalled them damn antee-lock-brakes an airbags… "

Yulong stands up from the table. “Perfect. Excellent work, Asclepius. We should get moving immediately. I will go pay.” The monk shoulders his broadsword and goes to the counter to pay the party’s check with his found credsticks. He also orders the nearby couple another basket of hushpuppies and a round of beer before following the rest of the group out the door.

Linus follows along, ordering hushpuppies and a pork butt sandwich on his way out. He stuffs his face with the goey and delicious sandwich, glad that hogs haven’t proven sentient after the awakening.

Yulong’s credstick is run. Even after paying close to 100nY for the party and the fresh beers, the stick still has 350nY left on it. Not bad for a ganger grunt.

The group piles into the cars, food, drinks, and all. It ain’t exactly the fanciest meal they’ve eaten, but it’s far from the worst. On the road again, they chatter across comms and among themselves. They arrive about 20 minutes later. This house is a little farther out, off the beaten path. The house itself is dark on the outside when they arrive. A lone light seems to light the interior, coming from the back of the house. Nice enough place. The group stands, assembled, about 50 yards away, having parked, gotten out, and seen nothing of interest surrounding the house.

Bc sh 1 front

Yulong folds his arms into the sleeves of his robe. “Alex, you have been here before, on another plane. What can you tell us about this place?”

The Asclepius furrows his brow. “The ground floor is guarded by a single man, in the kitchen through the front hallway on the left. He’s within earshot of the basement door. I think there’s only one way into that basement, that’s where the kids are…”

He scratches his stubbled chin, “oh, and the man is scared. Really scared.”

The monk raises an eyebrow. “Scared of what?”

The shaman shrugs his shoulders, “I don’t know.”—a reptilian smirk—“but I bet I can find out.”

Yulong eyes the more violent members of the group suspiciously. “Dare I say it? Can we try to take this one alive? We would be able to learn things about the Brotherhood and their threat to us if his brain stays inside his skull.”

“I can entice him out of the house and learn what he knows,” Alex explains. “When he’s clear, we need a group to go in, find the children and bring them out here. Nameless one, I’d like you with me to hold our guest captive in case he tries to escape. We also need some people to watch our surroundings for signs of the enemy.”

Yulong crosses his arms. “I do not mean to insult you, shaman, but the last time we trusted you to control one of these men they tried to kill us. What about this situation makes you think things will come out differently?”

Alexander snorts, “The fault there, monk, lies not with me. Those men were expecting a conflict. You have heard that those who live by the sword die by it as well? Some people are destined for violence, and violence is what they deserve.”

“Anyway,” he continues, “this is one man. Like birds, a single mind is easier to catch than a flock.”

Linus crosses his arms. “I will so very happily wait outside. And what better time to summon my guardian, presuming there are no objections?”

Skip grunts to himself. “One feller guarden all those kids? Seems a might too simple, course maybe these fellers just that dumb. Can y’make him tell us who’s hidin in ther ‘fore we go in? Fucken kids might be armed, who the fuck knows. Watch th’ news man, shit like that goes down all the time.”

He pauses. “Also, ay’think would be prudent to blow this her’ shit up when we’s done, cause that would abs-o-lutely fuck up Maurice’s entire perspective. Guy was shaken in his shoes when I talked t’him.”

The cyborg cocks his head to the side, a gesture more akin to a puppy than the bloodstained terminator he appears. He does, however eventually nod in recognition of the monk’s logic. His conciliatory gesture however is to merely shelve his larger gun in favor of his original pistol.

Linus mutters to himself, “right well, better get to business.” He places one hand at his temples and weaves the other through the air.

[Linus Casts force 4 increase logic, which will be followed by force 5 summon spirit presuming nothing goes wrong.]

The monk clears his throat. “I said I meant you no insult, snake talker. As I have also said before, caution is the heart of safety. If we are to act harmoniously, we must be able to trust each other.”

Yulong pauses to think. “I will gladly go in for the children, once you have lured the guard outside. Since Alex, Nameless, and Linus are waiting out here, it would be. . . well-balanced for you two to come inside with me.” He gestures to Skip and Xenith.

Linus waves his hand in the air for a moment, and the other hand, touching his temple, glows blue for a fleeting instant. Such a simple task for a man of his intellect.

Perhaps because of his earlier endeavors, or perhaps because it is simply getting late, Linus summoning isn’t as strong as it once was. Lighting yet another match, and blowing through the flame into astral space, Linus manages to coax forth a spirit, though after a long pause. Proud, powerful, recalcitrant. Try as he might, Linus’ weariness will only allow him to wrangle two tasks from the powerful apparition. Still, a spirit as powerful as this one does not come easily, nor often. Linus does feel some relief as the astral presence of the spirit imparts a feeling of warmth and courage to the scientist.

Linus, in need of no favors yet… waits for the group to decide its course. He does pause to note the position of the sun.

The sun set about 20 minutes ago, it is now roughly 9:30 at night. It has been a long day. It’s not totally dark, but it’s not exactly bright out either. It’s definitely low light conditions, getting darker.]

Zin slicks back his hair. “I’m more than happy to help with the kids. Sometimes there are non-monetary rewards to this work. Seeing a non-human might put them at ease.”

The team splits up, with Skip, Zin, and Yulong to one side, and Alexander, Linus, and Nameless to the other. As one prepares to take the adult hostage, the other preps to extract the children.

The cyborg looks to Alexander to lead the way. Stealth and planning are not his forte, and even he recognizes that this is no time for a treasured frontal assault.

Yulong steals forward through the front yard, past the scattered trees, angling for the right hand corner of the house. He keeps his eyes at the windows, straining to make out shapes in the dusk.

Alexander follows Yulong’s lead, skirting around to the left-hand side of the house to get a look into the kitchen window.

The man inside is either distracted, hysterical, or blind. Two men clump their way noisily through his front lawn, barely hidden and moving like cartoon thieves, and he doesn’t even stir.

Alexander rounds the corner of the house, noting a man in the back kitchen of the main house, frantically yelling into a phone, pacing around a circular table. There’s a grill stashed in the cubby between the rear, attached shed, and the one bedroom.

Bc sh 1 left side

Yulong makes it around to the right, and sees… nothing. There’s no windows. Odd, but given the purpose of his visit, not terribly out of place.

Bc sh 1 right side

Yulong continues to pad undetected around the side of the house in search of a back door.

Alexander stealthily gets within eyesight of the man and casts a spell of absolute control on his feeble, mundane mind.

[He casts Control Thoughts at force 5 on the man in the kitchen.]

Yulong sneaks around the back, only to find that sheds don’t have back doors, and this house is probably not up to code as far as fire safety goes. Looks like any entrance will have to be to the shed or main house, which do not connect.

Bc sh 1 back

The group may be in luck, however. The man hangs up the phone, sits down, and drops his head into his hands, clearly distressed. Then he stand suddenly, knocking the chair out from under him. Straight as a board, he stands still for a second. Then, just as straight as ever, falls face first into the table. Flipping the flimsy circle with his weight, the man lands on the floor, and groans. He doesn’t move for a long few moments.

[Alexander’s control thoughts spell has worked, though the glitch has made the man fall on his face and become concussed, jumbling his thoughts.]

The cyborg looks at Alexander with new-found respect. He’s incapacitated many a man, but he’s never knocked someone out with his mind before. Strange tricks. Troubling tricks.

Looking through the window, the cyborg attempts to use his thermal vision to ensure that this man is the only living creature in the room.

Yulong hears the loud crash-bang of the man concussing himself, but continues to tread with caution, unsure of his fate. He skirts around the edge of the shed, locates its small door, and tries the doorknob carefully.

Alexander wills the man to come to the window and climb outside, to join him, not breaking eye contact with him.

Crashing his way through the yard like a lawnmower hitting a pine cone, the Cyborg makes it to the window just in time to see the man willfully crawling out. Or at least, attempting to. Poor guy’s head won’t let him climb, so he drops his upper body out the window, and tries to push himself free. With no such luck, the Cyborg quickly becomes bored, and pulls the man from the window to the ground. With the man on his back, propped on his elbows, gun in his face, stupid, concussed grin on his face, Yulong makes it to the shed door.

Metal knob, pretty rusty. Not the safest. The door itself is barely more than plywood and hinges. If it ever did lock, those days are long past. The knob turns easily, and the door swings outward a few inches, lilting on its hinges.

Yulong peers through the crack, craning his neck to see into the gloom.

The cyborg hoists himself up through the window and into the house and quickly appraises his surroundings.

Alexander reaches into his pocket and readies his handheld taser gun, in case the man decides to become more willful than he is already. Straining with the effort of casting two spells at once, the shaman place his hand on the forehead of his victim and digs his mental fingers through the poor man’s mind, reading what he can about the activities surround the kidnapped children: motives, current and future plans.

[Alexander casts Mind Probe at force 5, sustaining the Control Thoughts spell as well.]

Yulong, try as he might, is unable to make out much beyond the doorway. The door blocks the light from the street, and darkness has closed quickly. The shed has a lawnmower, some tools hanging up, an empty workbench, and a basket with long-handled yard implements. He does notice, however, that the shed itself seems to extend far past the interior walls of the building.

The Cyborg grips the window, and hoists himself through. Crunching the soft pine frame of the window, and cracking the lower piece of sheet glass, the Cyborg manages to make his way into the kitchen. Whoever he was in his previous life was not a cat burglar, and losing all of his memory has not awakened any sort of innate sneakiness in the metal man. The kitchen is small, perhaps 10 feet by 12, with what were once white counters, now thoroughly, disgustingly yellow. The cabinets have fared better, and are merely an off-white, bordering on gray. Though that may just be the grime from years of fingerprints. The stove, somehow still a resistor coil model, is beyond fetid. The fridge will remain undescribed. The house, as it is, is a mess. The man flipped the table, and one of the two chairs now lies towards the living room. A lone bulb hangs from a chain a foot down from the 8 foot ceiling.

Alexander winces, headache quickly settling in, and attempts to read the man’s thoughts. With the man’s recent concussion, and Alexander’s mental effort of sustaining control, the effort isn’t his finest moment.

The monk cocks his head curiously at the strange dimensions of the room. He lifts his broadsword slowly from its sheath, activates the face of his phone to act as a light, and shoulders his way carefully into the shed.

Alexander wipes his brow, straining his mental powers even more. The shaman knows that the mind quickly develops a resistance to the probe and so chooses his focus carefully. His sorcery ravages the man’s enfeebled mind again, questing for one word: Maurice.

[Alexander casts Mind Probe again, at force 3.]

Zin and Skip have managed to shuffle their way over to Yulong. With handguns drawn, the men flank the adept, and venture slowly into the shed. What little light does make it into the shed illuminates the worst cover-up in history. The side wall, with the tools hanging from pegboard, is clearly fake. There’s not even a back to the pegboard. It can be seen right through to the actual walls. Not to mention the sweep lines on the floor that nobody bothered to even kick dust over.

Zin oh so sneakily sneaks over to the pegboard and looks for an opening mechanism. No good to scare the kids by breaking everything.

Mechanisms are for professionals. This is pegboard, a frame made out of 2×4s, and some hinges. Behind the door there’s a roughly 4′×4′ area. A sturdy metal cellar door, barred by thick chain looped through massive eye bolts drilled into blocks of concrete on either side, bars the way.

Yulong glances at Skip. “It looks like you might get to blow something up after all.” He sheathes his sword, then stamps heavily on the door, calling out to any children who might be below.

Faint screams echo from below. Metallic bangs echo through the night, but the door hardly moves, it just seems to settle, loosing dust into the air. Door must be thick, stopping all those screams. Kids sure seem scared, too. Been missing a few days now. Probably hungry too. Too bad about that locked chain.

Zin tries to pick the lock. As he reaches for his tools he mutters, “someone make sure the idiot that went out the window didn’t have a key on him.”

Alexander frowns and trades his taser for a small disposal syringe of Narcoject. He uncaps it and jabs the venom into his victim’s neck, one quick bite to ensure his silence. This man would be no help to them in the state he’s in, and they can’t afford to have him giving out their description to any BC hit squads.

[Narcoject does 10 stun damage, immediately, with no side effects. After this, he casts Alter Memory at force 3, removing the last few minutes and erasing his and Nameless’ faces.]

Linus moves towards the shed, where things are starting to go down. His warhound in tow on the astral plane, he stands outside the shed facing out, scanning for any threats on the physical and astral planes.

The kitchen is pretty gross. You can see into the living room enough to make out a couch, an old TV, a TV dinner tray with some food remaining on it, a pair of sneakers in reasonably good condition.]

As Alexander casts his spell on the mind controlled, unconscious man, his headache worsens slightly, causing him to wince. But, free from the burden of sustaining his earlier spells, he has no trouble scrubbing the man’s mind clean of any and all pernicious thoughts. Should he wake up at all from his concussed state, he will not remember any of the group, or why he’s outside.

[Another stun damage for Alexander brings it up to 3 total. Also, you just knocked a concussed man back out. How very kind of you.]

[The lock is a traditional key and cylinder lock, uncommon in this day and age, but not unheard of.]

Zin, man of many talents that he is, kneels down, and gets to work on the ancient lock. Man as smart as he is, with the right tools and more than enough time, he makes short work of the lock. Pulls the lock off, tosses it aside. Unbinds the chain. Pops open the door. A wire disconnects from the inside of the door, pulled free by the movement of the door. Closer inspection, it’s a magnet, with some sort of trigger switch connected to an electrical lead. Goes all the way down the newly discovered stairs, all the way to a second door. Big, iron, flat mess. Big lever handle on one side, looking like a restaurant fridge door. Exactly like one, actually.

“Thunk…Thunk…Thunk….”

Three metal beams slam across the lower portal horizontally, about 2 feet apart, and a solid 2 inches think.

[Skip’s enthusiasm for dynamite will be carried forward for the day. You folks have until 1 to decide how to open this, or Skip gets his way.]

Linus looks in on this mess. “We could try to melt our way through… might be a little more quiet than dynamite… maybe….”

He looks at the massive door, and out to the man lying prone outside the lawn.

“I’m really starting to get the creeps about this place. Why bring the kids here only to leave them practically unguarded? None of this feels right.”

Yulong edges cautiously down the stairs with the hillbilly and the elf, playing the light of his phone over the heavy door. “Well done Zin, although I’m not sure if you’ve made matters better or worse. . .” He eyes Skip toying excitedly with a remote detonator. “I have to agree with the scientist—I’m also not sure that explosives are the answer here, or at least not what we should try first. There are children on the other side of that thing. A few grams too much of that compound could kill them all.”

The monk rubs his bald head. “What about the wiring? If the tripwire closed the bars, surely you could do a hotwire or something like it, to reverse the circuit? I’m afraid electrical engineering isn’t one of the 72 Shaolin arts, so I can’t be of much assistance, but I can’t help feeling that if we can just determine how it works, we won’t need to resort to more dangerous, fiery measures.”

Left alone outside, Alexander takes it on himself to move the body of the unconscious man. He puts his arms underneath the man’s shoulders and drags him onto the front porch, and then into the hallway, just inside the front door. He takes up overwatch at the front window, nursing his headache as the cyborg bangs around in the rooms behind him. Putting a call in to Yulong, “Monk, I couldn’t get much information out of the man inside, but one thought he had did worry me: he seemed to be under the impression that a dangerous BC ganger was on the way out here to relieve him. I think we should make our stay here as short as possible.”

Linus edges nervously down the stairs and examines the bizarre mechanism, hoping that it is not too different from his lab apparatus. Before he does so, he mutters to Yulong “Are we 100% sure the kids are the only ones in there? One guard isn’t much of a guard… I’d like to be sure the next tripwire doesn’t set off a sentry gun. The nonliving can guard a door nearly as well as the living.”

Yulong’s phone buzzes, and he answers, listening intently for a moment before hanging up. “Okay. Understood.” He looks at the other men in the basement. “The shaman says there is another Brotherhood agent coming, more dangerous than the first. I don’t know how you three are going to get those kids out of there, but you better do it fast. Give me your keys, quick, I’m going to move the cars around the street so it doesn’t look like anyone is here.”

The monk dashes upstairs, the keys jangling in his grip. He tosses a set each to Asclepius and Nameless. “Here, help me move the cars away from the front lawn. If he does show up while we’re still here, at least we can have the element of surprise.”

Linus sits down on the floor up against the corner of the door jam and slumps into it as he projects astrally.

As Alexander cleans up his handiwork, dragging the man around the side of the house, up the stairs, and back into the house, Nameless trudges through the living room to meet him. Tossing the man on the couch inside, Alexander shakes his head, clearing the fog. His head pounds, but he is unharmed. He is also not used to casting this often, or under such duress. Divining poker odds is lighter fare than scrubbing concussed minds.

Skip just grins for a long while. “Y’all ain’t ne’er done blastin’, huh? Why do you blow up a door when you ain’t gotta? Door ain’ the one stoppin’ us. It’s them bars. Just gotta blast ‘em apart. Now I only got 3 blastin’ caps, but I ain’t dumb, gonna rig me another one up right good, blow apart them bars, get them kids.”

[Skip begins improvising a blasting cap from the rounds of pistol ammo in his pocket. He will finish…soon. Within a minute or two.]

Linus, meanwhile, begins to look over the door. He is no mechanical expert, nor an electrician, but he isn’t an idiot. He can tell the magnet in the lead tripped it. To solve it, the magnet would surely need to be secured once more.

Yulong races outside, quickly moving the cars to the side yard, where the cover of darkness keeps them from being readily seen. There’s nowhere close by to hide all three, but hopefully having them off the street will allow the runners the element of surprise.

A phone rings inside.

Linus, slumped against the wall, moves through the barrier astrally. There’s not much to see. However this device works, it is purely mechanical, or, at the very least, in no way magical. Without any astral significance, the device is clearly visible, but the details elude the man. Might as well try his magic, eh?

As he returns to his physical body, Linus places his hand on the wire, and focuses his mind. Feeling the wire, the lead, the magnet, thinking it through. The lead is the key. Once engaged, the door can be opened. But not right away, and not from the inside. It actually is a fridge. An industrial fridge, retrofit to provide air, but no chill. If the bars slam, they can be reset by engaging and disengaging the magnet in a specific pattern. Then, after 10 minutes, the bars will open. Someone went out of their way to fit this to be hard to undo, allow a response time, and have absolutely no computer or magic parts.

Skip finishes his blasting charge in about a minute. He’s creepy good at this. Using two of his spare revolver rounds, he has somehow managed to hillbilly rig another explosive. He’ll have to wire it to a timer, but that’s not tough. He begins to shape explosive charges in semicircles. Using 3 pounds of his precious TNT, he mutters “better pay me back, stupid kids.” He proceeds to the set up phase of his plan.

Yulong returns to the house, listening to the phone ring. He curses under his breath. “Wo cao. . . Asclepius, I could emulate his voice perfectly with my adept powers if I knew what he sounded like. Can you show me with a spell? Quickly, they will be expecting him to answer.”

Zin dashes to the phone. “Alex get in here!”

Playing his best racist, Zin attempts to con whoever is on the phone into thinking everything is fine. He uses Alex’s knowledge of the man to inform his con.

The cyborg glances almost longingly at Skip’s improvised rig before trudging after Yulong. His set of keys go to the stolen van. It’s a big vehicle and heavy, and the cyborg is worried about driving it on a soft surface for fear of either leaving tracks or getting it stuck. “We shouldn’t assume he’s coming up the driveway” he mutters to Yulong. It’s the first time the cyborg has used the word ‘we’.

[Kevin, what’s the outside like? Is it a soft lawn? pine needles? gravel? is there somewhere I can take it through the trees or around back of the house with out it being too noticeable? Is the driveway up to the house relatively sheltered? how big is the clearing around the house?

If there is a safe way/place to move it, he’ll do so. Afterwards he’ll head back to the house and take up a defensive position in the highest window he can find with his best long range gun.]

Asclepius frowns. “I could grant you a memory of his inner thoughts, but I am weakened, and anyway he was too confused for me to read properly. Whoever he is, I don’t think you’d have an easy time mimicking the way he talks. Maybe it’s best that we don’t answer the phone?”

Yulong folds his arms into the sleeves of his robes, listening to the phone ring. “Well if we don’t answer, he’ll know something is amiss regardless. We might as well roll the dice, see if Zinedine can trick him or at least find out how far away he is.” The monk looks expectantly to the roguish elf.

“In that case, the man was very agitated and spoke with a southern drawl,” the shaman offers. “He was trying to speak a mile a minute. Zinedine, maybe if you talk fast enough they won’t know it’s not him.”

The lawn of the property, if it can be called that, is mostly crabgrass. A few patches of real grass exist, but their continued life is a mystery to all but mother nature. There is a long gravel driveway that leads to the shed door, but stops a good 10 feet short. Small bushes live in front of the porch. Dusk has fallen, and darkness is settling quickly. The street lights nearby light the streets, but there are enough scraggly pines and young hardwoods in neighboring yards to protect the sides and rear of the house from immediate exposure.

After Nameless and Yulong park the cars in the side yard and rear, ready to tear down the driveway, Nameless returns to the living room, taking up position kneeling on the floor next to a window, to the right of the door. The light from the kitchen shines into the opposite side of the room. The imbalance partially obscures the Cyborg, which suits him just fine. With his revolver drawn and loaded, he settles into his battle center, hyperfocused, ready to flip the mental switch on his improved reflexes at a moment’s notice.

Zin reaches for the phone, holds it to his ear, and answers.

“Right, I’ll get packed. See you in a few.” Zin warns the others that they have 5 minutes and there are some ‘goods’ that we don’t know about yet. Also, this guy has no idea there are kids downstairs, and the second group of cleaners is going to be packing a lot of heat.

Yulong cocks his head at the news. “That’s strange. They’re coming for something other than the children? We should search the house while they’re still working on the door below.” The adept starts in the kitchen, turning out cupboards and drawers in his search.

Yulong rummages through the kitchen, uncovering untold wealth in the form of rusty silverware, cheap plastic plates, a slightly dented mixing bowl, two baking sheets, a lasagna pan, three pie tins, and a brownie pan. The fridge contains a myriad of beer bottles, deeply unfresh produce, and suspicious meet products. He finds nothing of value among the remains of the kitchen.

Emerging back in the physical plane Linus yells “Damnit!”

“There’s nothing we can do about this damned door save blowing it open or, and I hate this idea, closing the door behinds us that Zin just unlocked. Even then it looks like it would take time for the mechanism to disengage and open these forsaken bars.”

Linus kicks the door, hurting his foot. “Doubly damned!”

Disappointed with his search, Yulong continues into the living room, checking around the trid’, beneath the couch, and along the walls for hidden compartments. He takes a look at the pair of sneakers, and glances at the unconscious thug’s feet to see if hes wearing shoes, or if his feet would even fit in the discarded pair.

Zin starts using his sneaky sneak skills to look for more hidden compartments, under floors and in the walls.

Yulong rifles through the living room, tearing open the cushions, looking behind them, tapping the walls, and turns up nothing. Some loose change, more than enough crumbs to reconstitute an entire bag of chips, and, for some reason, two forks. Other than dust and dark mold, Yulong finds nothing of note behind the trideo. He even rips off air vents, only to be greeted with disgusting slimy dust. The unconscious man on the couch has no shoes on his now grass stained socks. They would appear to be a match. Perhaps today wasn’t such a good day for him to relax.

Zinedine fares slightly better, finding a combat knife in a compartment in the front door frame, but is at a loss to find anything of real value, much less what he imagines the man was talking about.

Three minutes have passed since the phone call ended.

Skip sets the charges, warns everyone to back up, yells to the kids to get to the side walls near the front of the room, wires the trigger to his remote detonator to his revolver, empties out the shells, aims at the shed, and pulls the trigger. maybe he just likes to imagine he’s got a gun that big. Maybe he does it because he looks bad-freakin-ass when stuff blows up near a man holding a gun. Either way, there’s a big ol’ sound, and a surprisingly small explosion. Pyrotechnics, apparently, aren’t involved in every combustive reaction.

Returning to the scene of the blast, the group discovers that Skip, crazy as he is, is actually pretty good at this. Two of the bars are severed at the wall. Not cleanly, not neatly, but blown through none the less. Shrapnel and hot metal litter the staircase. The third bar hangs on, but barely. A tiny bridge remains, about the total size of a bullet, holding the bar in place. Once removed, the door can possibly be open. screams echo from the other side of the door, though no obvious shrapnel holes show in the door.

Yulong rushes around the corner of the house, his face a mask of concern. “It’s too late, they’ll be here in minutes. We don’t have time to get the kids away before they arrive, and I don’t think we want this to become a running battle. I say we keep the younglings below, and make open combat with the Brotherhood when they arrive. It’s the only way to keep the children safe. Does anyone have a better plan?”

There are now two minutes until the Brotherhood man should arrive. The metal has clearly been damaged, and two of the bars have fallen to the floor. The last hangs by a thread of scarred and partially torn iron. It’s not thick, it’s just jagged and hot.]

With two minutes remaining, that’s enough time for the cyborg to quickly abandon his post and make his way to the damaged seal. He pauses a moment to examine the remaining boor before giving it a mighty kick The cyborg then immediately stomps his way back to his window hole-up without so much as a glance inside the door.

The Cyborg, creepy emotionless face locked in, returns to the back shed, and levels a strong stomp on the bar. It creaks, but does not give. A small movement, but something stronger, or more violent, will be necessary in order to break this barrier with enough time to search the room beyond.

Linus looks incredibly distraught. “Damnit there’s no time! This has been a hell of a fucking day.”

Linus addresses Yulong and Alex. “In what condition did you leave the man in the house? This sounds crazy, but what if we closed the door at the top of the stairs and see if they ignore us? I can send my spirit ward to observe at the entrance. We can lay in wait and potentially ambush the men if they come down here.”

Skip grabs the cyborg’s shoulder. “Aight hold up—them kids is better of whers theys is, cause this mister sunofabitch is on ‘is way. Ay’reckon we best be settin up ar ambush, then we get em out after we kick his ass.”

To Linus he adds, “holin up in a stairwell strikes me as a terribly instrategic position ’case we get found out. You can hold up here ’case you want to wait it out, but we gots to surround this motherfucker lest he proves hiself to be some badass motherfucker.”

Skip and the Cyborg leave the stairwell. While the Cyborg returns to his post inside the darkened window, Skip looks to where he wants to hole up. The rear of the house is dark, and quiet, but the trees beyond are sparse, thin. The yard backs up to another house, and the treeline is, at best, two trees thick.

Zin shakes his head. “Bad idea, there’s a second group coming that will be far more thorough, and I believe that includes moving the kids.”

Yulong strokes his chin as he listens. “Yes, it may not be best for all of us to stay here. Perhaps some of us can hide in the dark of the woods surrounding the house.”

The monk turns to Aspera. “What if you were to create the illusion that the elf was the man they left here to guard? We already know he can imitate the man well enough. Then Zinedine could see what it is they are here to collect, as well as steer them away from the children below, while the rest of us hide out in the woods to swoop in at the first sign of trouble?”

Skip looks around for some garbage, a cardboard box or a paper bag, or whatever. If he finds something, he’s going to hide the package of TNT from earlier inside and leave it in the road by the driveway, try to make it look like it was thrown away. Then he’s going across the street to find an out of the way place to hide.

Linus mutters to himself: “Have an elf stand toe to toe with a humanist gang… and I’m the failed strategist….”

“Good strategy or no, I will stand between them and the children. And in the meantime I’ll see if I can get the hulking door open…. Be sure to seal me in as you leave.”

“If violence is about to ensue, com me immediately. You have not yet tested the capabilities of my hound.”

The houses across the street have a few lights on. This isn’t the sort of neighborhood where heads get stuck out doors to investigate loud noises, but it’s not exactly Neo-Detroit either. each house has a mailbox near the driveway, and the ganger house, and a few others, have trash bins by the curb.

Skip finds himself a spot behind a neighbor’s car in an unlit driveway in a seemingly empty house, one removed from the house across the street from the gang. Along the way, he stashes the TNT someplace ‘safe.’

[One minute remains.]

Yulong shakes his head. “No, no time for complicated plans. We must be ready.”

The monk hustles upstairs and takes cover opposite the nameless man. He draws his blade and nods solemnly to the cyborg. “You have shown restraint and a willingness to care for others tonight. This is good—tame your mind and perform selfless acts, and you will find the Way. You have earned these.” The adept tosses over two boxes of pistol ammo.

Alexander, swept up in the sudden action, watches the team file into the house, and hears the story of the trapped door and basement. He had heard the explosion; certainly, anyone in half a mile heard that, and Lonestar had likely been summoned. For the second time that day, he questions his decision to join these people. They couldn’t see the way of things, couldn’t help Nature be set straight. Only he could do that, and his task was all the harder due to their rebarbative love of destruction.

He stops at Zinedine and grabs him. “Elf, if you want to stay and try to fool whomever comes, I can fool them, make you appear as him.” He points to the unconscious body on the floor. “It is your choice. If not, I suggest you help me hide this body and follow the others upstairs.”

Zin purses his lips in frustration. “He expects me be ready to go with something that we haven’t found yet. I don’t see how this is possible, but I am much more concerned about the second group to follow him. The children are of no concern to the first man.”

“Well… look. The man on the phone was really confused, he may not have known what it was to begin with,” Alex suggests. “If they press you, try telling them you were never told specifically where or what it was.”

“I didn’t see any indication that he knew there was something else in here, but I didn’t ask specifically. What do you want to do?”

Honks echo through the night. Tires screech. A van, headlights on, makes the gentle turn a little too sharply, and fishtails as it rounds the corner. Tearing down the street, the van’s headlights wobble from side to side as the driver struggles to maintain control of the vehicle.

The van pulls up, stopping in a cloud of tire smoke in front of the house. Continuing to honk loudly, the man driving, a human, medium height, a little heavy, wearing a white T shirt and jeans, opens his door, and begins yelling.

“Emmanuel, Come on man, we ain’t got time for this! Just got word, Lilith is on the way, and you know what that means! We got to get out of here, drek’s no good, it’s time to roll!”

The man is oblivious to the runners in the windows, and is clearly not thinking straight. The car remains running, and the man looks around anxiously.

The cyborg grabs Zin by the scruff of the neck, and pokes his gun into his back. He bangs open the front door and drags him towards the driver. When he gets close enough for a sure shot, he’s just gonna shoot him.

The man looks shocked, then suddenly terrified. He leaps back into the car, yelling:

“Frag man, they’re already here! God damn robot death squad! I’m out of here!”

He stomps the floor of the van, attempting to grind the pedal into the engine like a cigarette butt into concrete, and the van begins to accelerate away.

[If you want to stop him, you’d better hurry.]

The cyborg throws Zin aside and takes careful aim at the van. It may be receding in distance but the driver is going straight backwards making the shot, relatively uncomplicated of a… creature, of such prodigious skill.

The man, trying to peel out in a van, can only wish for more horsepower. As he attempts to do so, the Cyborg steps onto the porch, removes his gun from Zinedine’s back, and fires an APDS (armor piercing discarding sabot) round as carefully as he can, activating his wired reflexes as he does.

The round screams out of the Cyborg’s weapon, faster, leaner, sharper, deadlier. It makes a beeline for where the man’s head is. Fortunately for the ganger, his van musters just enough horsepower to jerk him back in his seat, and jostles him as the gears change. The APDS slug punches a clean hole in the door frame, and makes a somewhat less clean hole in the man’s left shoulder as it whistles through, from rear to front, fast and strong enough to dislocate the clavicle. The man screams in pain.

“No, please! I got a wife and two kids! I don’t even know what they got here!”

The cyborg fires again. He’s aiming for the body, the driver merely needs to be stopped, killing isn’t the priority right now, so he aims for the larger target.

The second bullet springs from the Cyborgs gun with a louder than average crack, reflecting the nature of the ballistic. The casing quickly splits, leaving the tungsten dart to seek its target hungrily. The round neatly pricks a hole in the driver side door, and quickly comes to rest in the man’s hip joint. While not heavy enough to shatter the femur, the dart was solid and quick enough to make contact with bone, and the man certainly knows this. Jerking from the impact, in agony from the pain, the man quickly careens to the right, slamming his no longer accelerating van engine block first into the steel mailbox of the house across and to the left of the ganger safehouse. Whether he survived is not currently known, as he is now 35 yards away and obscured by the angles in the van and the darkness.

The cyborg, satisfied that his prey has been largely incapacitated, goes tearing off into the darkness at speeds only he can reach.

The cyborg makes for the van, shouldering Zin aside. He makes it halfway across the street and most of the way down, coming to 10 yards away, before anyone else can react. Such quickness, it’s incredible.

Skip continues to lay low, his ears pricked for the sound of approaching cars.

He gets his rifle out for when the van of more folks arrive, but keeps the remote detonator at the ready. Skip hopes the cyborg remembers about the bomb he planted when the next batch of folks roll around. That feller’s got a tendency to run up on folks without thinkin bout it.

Locked below in the stairwell to the basement, Linus yells into the room beyond, “we are friends of Otto, we are here to help!”

With that he asks a service of his summoned spirit. “Would you kindly break through that fucking door?”

Scared, anxious, and all sorts of jacked up on adrenaline, the scientist decides that now is the time for action! pulling his matchbook out, he lights a match, tosses it towards the barred door, and whispers “Come, my hound, and open for me this door.” When the match hits the concrete floor in a burst of sparks, each spark remains alive, shifting, twisting. Each grows into a small flame, no bigger than a golf ball. Each of those pops, crackles like a wet log in a fire, and spits out as many again sparks. Each new spark sputters for a moment, then bursts into flame as well. The collected miniature flames begin to grow taller, and soon a tiny conflagration rages uncontrollably near the mage. The flames flare white, and a loud bark echoes through the tiny space. All the flames extinguish but two extinguish at once, and Linus is left looking at the fully formed body of a hellhound, eyes smoldering, flaming still. The hound’s ears perk up, and it turns toward the bar. Growling, barring its teeth, Linus notes a change from bone white fangs and incisors, moving toward a bright orange. As the color changes, the outlines of the teeth seem to blur, until they flow slowly into each other, as shifting coals. Suddenly vicious, the hound bites into the small connective piece of iron, and sparks fly. In a less serious situation, one would be forgiven for thinking this a game of tug of war, but nothing about these participants warrants such a playful name. The hound tears his jaw free, and Linus notes deep, knifing marks on the iron. Progress has been made, and quickly. One or two more solid tugs, and the beast should have the bar on the ground. Though, changing out a lock for molten metal isn’t really a net change in danger.

Skip hops up from his hiding spot, Warhawk out, loaded, cocked, and laser sight on. He sprints to the man in the van, peering in the passenger door. Unconscious, or at the very least, as good at acting as he is at bleeding. And this man is no novice bleeder, by the looks of his current situation. The engine of the car smokes and whines, having sustained serious damage from the steel mailbox. The van, a 7 seater, is empty, save the driver.

Skip checks beneath the van’s smoking hood to see if the car is still drivable. His next move is to open the passenger door, turn off the car, search this guy for weapons or his phone.

With the man unconscious, an end has come to major combat operations. Longer actions are allowed, and out of turn, though nothing fancy.]

Sword vibrating, hungering, smelling blood, the somewhat more tempered monk makes himself hidden among the trees, crouching low, waiting.

Linus’ hellhound once again tears at the door, managing to take another nick out of the bar. One more should do it, as the bar has begun to sag, and the metal appears to be weakening.

Skip and Nameless reach the door at the same time. The man is clearly unconscious, and Nameless opts not to end the man’s life as he did with the previous man he punched.

“God damnit man!” Skip hollers at the cyborg. “This here shitbox done got destroyed! We needs a tow-truck t’ get it out. Fuck it. Let’s leave him in ther, wait for his boys to show. Ain’t goin nowhere anytime soon.”

Skip leaves the keys in the ignition, switched off. If he can find an empty liquor bottle in the recycling, he’ll throw that in there too.

He keeps a very close lookout for the rest of the guys.

Asclepius swears at his teammates; another man injured by gunfire, and this one a family man. He rushes out to the car to take a look at the injuries and gauge their severity, judging whether the victim will live or die without his help.

Alexander rushes across the street, managing to stay upright on his wobbly and tired legs, and looks the man over. He will survive, for a while at least. He’s in shock, and it’s doubtful that his body can stop the bleeding, but keeping him alive, at least for the time being, should not be an issue. It will, however, require immediate attention.

A muffled clang can be heard from the shed.

Alexander returns to Skip’s van, where he had stashed his medkit. Returning, he opens it and applies coagulants and bandages to the man’s two gunshot wounds. The medkit, helpfully, talks him through staunching the bloodflow; the recorded voice is British, for some reason, which he finds strange.

[LOG (2) + First aid (3) + medkit rating 6.]

As Alex returns to the crashed van, the cyborg puts a strong hand on his chest. “I did not kill him, but if the van cannot be moved, it would be best to make it appear as if he crashed of his own accord. We give up too much by helping him, and we do not know who are how many are approaching. You would endanger the lives of your comrades to most likely only delay the passing of this man.”

The cyborg glances at Skip “rigging this van to detonate—how quickly can you do it?” He pauses momentarily to note Skip’s answer before bounding back towards the house. Yet again the immediacy of battle has begun to clear his mind, even to the point of recognizing that his second headlong charge in several hours was most likely needlessly rash. He reaches the kitchen and swoops a sixer of the fetid looking beer cans under his arm.

He quickly returns to the van and pours two cans out on the floor, dumping them next to the driver’s seat. He tosses two more onto the passenger side, one onto the dash and places a half emptied one into the unconscious man’s hand.

Skip gets to work rigging the car, and Nameless runs inside to get the beers. As Alexander stands, upset, with Skip under the hood, loud honks pierce the night. Foghorn-esque, these are not the sort that civilian cars make.

A commercial vehicle, and a big one at that, are on the way, and closing quickly.

Skip’s instincts tear him in different directions.

“Feller warn’t about to kill us, I don’t know bout blowin it up with him insides it. Jes don’t seem right. Course when we beat tracks and get on outa here, I think it’d make a mighty fine fireball. Let’s hole up and see what them boys got with em. Maybe theys unarmed nobodies too. Ay’says we bring him insides fer they get here.”

Skip rigs up the car to explode if anyone turns the key.

He hears the horn go off. He cracks a smile, and goes “Aww, shit, here we go!”

Skip takes up his previous position, but not before taking a healthy gulp of beer.

Skip retreats quickly to his previous hiding spot, having disconnected the starter battery and used the leads for other, more explosive connective reasons. Alexander is left to hustle the injured man inside by himself.

As Alexander retrieves his medkit, he dropps the unconscious man on the floor next to his drugged friend. Opening the kit and demanding specific instructions, the medkit happily obliges, and pops out various syringes and bandages at appropriate times. The blood stops flowing quickly, and the man seems to stir. [Great success, if you succeed each of the next two rounds, the man will recover 6 damage, of the whole bunch he took earlier.]

The honking continues, louder still. As the group waits, it only grows, impossibly loud. Clearly, the people on the way aren’t interested in surprise. Chilling.

“Fuckin fuck fuck. Fuckin’ robot,” Zinedine spits. Concerned mostly for himself, Zin dashes to the trunk of his car to retrieve his still-assembled SM-4. He hides himself in the woods and adjusts his tie before thumbing the safety of his milspec rifle.

The cyborg eyes the distance back to the original house, shakes his metal head, and follows Skip towards his position, reloading his gun as he goes.

Something big this way comes.

There’s a streetlight at the western end of the street, where the man came from, and where the honks now close from. Good thing too, otherwise it’d be too dark to know when to lose it and flee for your lives.

An armored transport car rumbles to a stop at the end of the street, 150 yards away. A luxury SUV pulls up behind it, turning down the street. The rear doors of the transport pop open, and two figures in sleek armor step out. Vivid black, with deep crimson outlining and detail. Shinguards, armored boots, hip plates, impact shielded ballistic chest guards, small but hardened spaulders in eerie crimson, streaked with black. Helmets without features, composed of what is assumed to be mirrored glass, like drone heads, or statues worn down over time, rest atop each soldier. Each piece of armor seems wrought from the darkness, given light and life by the rich crimson, shining in the streetlight, that outlines the seams and colors the plates. The soldiers are lithe, tall, and seem to have worked more on agility than brute strength.

The SUVs rear door pops open, and a woman steps out. deep red hair, the same color as the detail on the soldier’s armor, flows from her head to well past her shoulders. She wears a similar suit of armor, though seems to have dispensed with subtlety altogether, and has chosen to color hers a mirror of the others. Crimson, with dark, shining detailing in black. She nods to the soldiers from the transport, and they bow slightly, then straighten.

One of the soldiers kneels, and the standing soldier reaches back into the transport, retrieving something hidden by the doors. The standing soldier hands something long to the kneeling soldier, who shoulders the tube, and flips something out of the body of the tube. The group can’t quite make out what the soldier is holding, but doesn’t have to wait long to find out.

A split second later, a high pitched, burning sound comes from the newly arrived group, and the runners see a streak of flame and hot exhaust propelling what appears to be a large dart down the street.

The rocket hammers the van, tearing apart the rear gate, and detonating as soon as it enters the chassis. White hot fire rips the van apart from the inside, sending slivers of aluminum, plastic, and alloys in every direction. Some bite into the pavement, others embed themselves in neighboring walls and vehicles. A few make it to trees to puncture bark. The kilo of explosive loaded into the engine block doesn’t help the situation. By the time the blast is finished, fractions of a second later, the tires are the only parts that can identify the wreckage as a vehicle, and those are scattered across three lawns, with the fourth tire nowhere to be found.

Yulong crouches lower into the shadows and shifts his vision to the astral plane, checking the armored figures for a magical signature while he waits for them to make their next move.

The adept then quickly shifts back to the physical plane, to prevent his aura from lighting the woods on the astral plane and betraying his position.

The explosion rattles Alexander, making him lose concentration on his task. He flips off the voice function of the medkit and proceeds to bandage the wounded man in the living room of the house, keeping a furtive eye on the intruders, wondering what fresh new madness he has been thrust into this time.

Alexander continues to bandage, and succeeds in replacing the dislocating scapula. The injured man moans, and begins to stir.

The cyborg may be the combative type, and he has his own brand of rash courage, but he is not an idiot, and as much as his gears are whirring to engage these interlopers, he know discretion is the better part of valor for the time being. He retreats to a more concealed position [if he doesn’t have open ground to cover to do so] behind the house across the street.

The Cyborg, previously crouching behind a car with Skip, works his way backwards, and moves to a more secure position behind the bricks of the garage the car in the driveway should, be all rights, be in right now.

Zin breathes a sigh of relief to see metal-man not play his usual role of psycho-bloodthirsty-maniac, but these ‘cleaners’ are not taking their job lightly. As his scope moves to the head of the man with the RPG, he recalls that they expect 2 men, not 6, perhaps they think their job is done besides moving/killing the kids. If he starts to set it up again, he’s dead.

Likewise Skip is going to lay low for the moment. Taking on two awesome armored guys with a hunting rifle is a bit beyond his paygrade. He does get his rifle ready to go and hunkers down next to the car.

The woodsman checks the dark figures for any obviously unarmored targets. The neck, possibly the head? Knees? Inside the shoulder? And the lady isn’t even wearing a helmet.

He will let the others know that we’ve got some ‘Legit Baddass Motherfuckers’ on the way. Maybe they can draw them to the ‘inconspicuous’ bojangles box he left by the driveway.

And man, that’s a nice truck theys drivin.

Yulong pushes himself to remain calm, using the meditative techniques of his livelihood to slow his pulse and even out his breath. He keeps low and still, waiting for the newcomers to show their agenda.

[Yulong is delaying his action until the enemy(?) acts.]

The people are pretty far away to observe in detail, but fo’ free I’ll go ahead and tell you that they don’t have any glaring weak spots.]

The group tenses, readies, and waits. Alexander, still working diligently to heal the wounded man indoors, continues his task unabated.

The soldiers return to the back of the armored van, and are handed objects obscured by the door. The woman in red reaches back into the rear of the SUV, and puts on a helmet, bright, deep crimson, featureless like the others, but with a hideous death mask applied in black paint, of a grinning skull. The woman begins to walk leisurely towards the house. The soldiers, flanking the woman, reveal their additions to be assault rifles, a matte black. She is, as far as the group can tell, unarmed.

As the soldiers make their way down the street, a fourth figure hops from the back of the van. The armor all matches up, but the newcomer has no trace of crimson, only the shined, inky black. They hurry to take their place, staying behind the advancing group, though not far. They too, appear to be unarmed.

[Round two, fight! The order will be Crimson lady, soldier A, Nameless, soldier B/Skip/Yulong/dark soldier, then Zin/Alexander/Linus. Lots of ties. Everyone’s actions are considered simultaneous unless one specifically needs to be resolved first, in which case intuition and then reaction are the tiebreakers.]

The soldiers continue to advance down the road, now only 130 yards away. The armored van and the SUV begin to creep after the soldiers, blocking off the road.

Nameless hunkers low in the shadows, flexing his fists, one meat laced with titanium, the other metal through and through. The cyborg pauses to count the number of enemies he faces.

There are two soldiers, a crimson lady, and a black soldier. All the soldiers are moving and delaying their action. You may yell a single phrase per turn.]

Yulong watches with trepidation as the distance between the two parties shrinks. He feels the dao move him to action, and does not resist. The monk steps from the brush, out onto the road. His right hand is held up and open, his left holds his broadsword down and low. “Wait! We share a common enemy.” He inhales sharply, feeling his qi leap from the reservoir in his stomach to his throat chakra. “You will let me explain.”

As the monk steps from the shadows, inching into the light from the streetlamps, he commands the group to halt their advance. The two soldiers immediately snap their strange rifles up to meet the threat, then relax as the monk’s voice washes over them. The crimson woman laughs as the soldiers lower their weapons.

“Well, Adept, it would appear you have their attention, so why not mine as well? State your case, and know you have amused Lilith.”

“Lilith.” The monk inclines his head. “I am Zhuang Yulong, of the Shaolin order. I represent a team of shadowrunners hired to retrieve a number of children kidnapped by the Brotherhood of Cain. We have tracked them to the basement of this house.”

He gestures to the flaming wreckage behind him, without averting his gaze from the red woman. “It appears you too have no love for this Brotherhood. Now, it is said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Allow us to take the children back to their parents unharmed and in turn we will not meddle in your affairs. I am certain there is no need for further conflict tonight.”

[Yulong is using his negotiation skill, rolling 10 dice.]

Lilith laughs, and the monk feels distinctly mocked.

“No love for the Brotherhood? You, who knows nothing of who I am, or what I do, believe to know my reasons for doing as I do? I have no love for inept thugs, or those who cannot do simple tasks assigned to them. You do not seem that type. The children are not my concern. If you wish to make them yours, I will not stop you. What is of concern is that these men have failed. You being the reason is amusing, but not excuse enough. Let’s make a deal. You look like a smart fellow. You know where I’m going, and you know what I’m going to do once I get there. You will leave the bodies of the men you killed here. Or, if they live, you will surrender them to me. They will be made example of, and there are no two ways around that. I’ll even ignore that you stole a car from one of the men. He’s dead, and I doubt he’ll miss it. I’m going to keep walking, and as long as the men are in the house when I arrive at it, whatever else you want to do is acceptable to me.”

[Yulong has used a point of edge to make this test. He initially got only 1 success on 10 die, and used edge to reroll all the die he missed, getting 4 more hits. Edge is your luck attribute, and it can be used to help you ‘must-win’ tests, and as a way to negate glitches, critical glitches, and death (or at least attempt to do so.) Edge is spent just like karma, and will be rewarded similarly, for in character and in context awesomeness. Everyone will start with 4 edge as the max, and proper use of edge will result in the max being raised slowly.]

The monk regards the woman for a moment, weighing her offer. Finally, he consents. “Very well, the children for the men. It will have to do.” He stands aside, resting the flat of his claymore upon one shoulder.

Lilith and the soldiers continue to walk towards the safehouse, in no hurry.

[Unless someone wants to shoot at them, this is, once more, the end of combat. Act as you will. Everyone can take about a half-dozen actions if they wish, before Lilith reaches the house. Proceed.]

Alexander finishes patching up the wounded driver and packs up his medkit. He hasn’t heard any more gunfire or explosions, so he figures the people in black have better things to do than kill
them recklessly. He lays the man out on the floor, next to Emmanuel, snoring fitfully.

Yulong sheathes his blade and heads back towards the small house, calling out for his teammates in the night. “You can come out, we have negotiated a truce. Let us bring our charges home.”

He hustles into the house ahead of the crimson warriors to explain the situation to Aspera. “Asclepius, for once we have reached a peaceful settlement, but. . . as always, this coin has two sides. The red woman demands the lives of these two as balance for the children. I’m afraid she will cause them great suffering, but I see no way around it. Sometimes even heaven itself cannot stop the wheel of karma on its vast rotation. For the greater good, please do not stop her from taking them.”

The shaman balks. “She… just wants to kill them? For what reason? They’ll both live through tonight to see their families, there’s no reason for this!” His mind races, thinking of a way to save either man. He looks out the living room window onto the lawn, at the approaching woman. He wonders whether she is prepared to engage with him in a contest of wills. If she is Awakened, she might be a powerful mage, hiding under that crimson shock of hair. His eyes flash into the astral to perceive the woman’s true nature.

[Flipping to astral perception for a moment to catch a glimpse of the advancing group, and to see whether any of them are Awake.]

Linus ushers the children quietly up the stairway and opens the door. He plans to take them to his van as directly and quickly as possible, but as his eye catches the woman and her approaching body guards he freezes for a moment, sizing up her power and strength. His hound and watcher remain at his side on the astral plane.

Alexander looks around the mundane and wrings his hands. “Damned fools… Yulong, I cannot permit us to simply hand these men over, knowing they will be killed. They weren’t armed, and we assaulted them; I will not be held responsible for their deaths when Gaia’s judgement is rendered.”

Linus turns to his spirits on the Astral plane: “If those people move a finger against these children,” he says “You use your full powers to defend them… whatever it takes.”

Yulong places his hand on the shaman’s shoulder. “Trust me Alex, no one shares your concerns more. But this woman is a powerful caster—your illusions will not fool her, and if you aggravate her I fear we will not all walk away from this run alive.”

The monk shakes his head. “Think of it this way: these men chose their own path when they started down the road of hatred and kidnapping. If they are worthy of redemption, Gaia will see them reborn in a worthy form.”

For the second time, the shaman scoffs haughtily at the monk, “Maybe in your world people come back from the dead, but rebirth is not the way of Nature. Those that are killed are consumed by those that follow. Do we know for a fact these people mean us no harm? No. Do we know for a fact these two men were kidnappers? No. They are in this situation because of us and we must take their lives in our hands.” He does not budge from his protective place over the two unconscious men.

A memory tickle linus’s hippocampus. He looks out at the men once more, looking for a particular symbol that he saw earlier that day.

Yulong matches the shaman’s condescending tone. “Do not confuse your dogmatic ideas with the nature of reality, snake charmer. It is said that a bronze Buddha sinks and a wooden Buddha burns—just so, your attachment to a single-minded path distracts you from the Way.” He steps closer, whispering. “I have just steered those children and our team from the jaws of death; if you would steer us back, then turn the tiller yourself.”

The adept wheels and stalks out of the house, hoping to rush the orklings away before anything, or anyone, can upset the terms of his delicate truce.

Linus is busy jogging out to the van and opening the sliding door, ushering them in.

As the scientist ushers the children into his van and the stolen transport van, the soldiers continue to close. The monk and the shaman argue in the living room. Those hidden around the building, the hillbilly, the playboy, and the robot, must consider their actions.

Managing to suppress his inner instinct screaming for conflict and violence, the Cyborg simply shifts his weight from his right foot to his left. He’s not ready to materialize until he has a better handle on the situation and his sights do not waver from the advancing soliders.

Zin goes to help with ushering the children. He pauses as he walks past Lilith. “Ma’am, this trade may seem to tie up loose ends for you, but I think you’ll find the Brotherhood to be a bit more of a problem than you believe. Perhaps these men will be more useful as a source of information than worm food. Our healer can help you extract information if you wish. Waddaya say?”

[Zinedine uses his fuck-yeah-I’m-a-salesman skills. He’s also trying to figure out her motives.]

It’s tough to talk to someone who’s face you can’t see. Even tougher when two silent sentinels have assault rifles with underbarrel grenade launchers trained on your lightly armored chest.

“You people continue to assume that this is a topic that can be negotiated. I’m not here to chatter on with runners. I’m here to show these men why failure was a poor choice. Think of it as a learning experience. I know exactly what I need to know, which is two things. More than you, and enough for me. End of story.

No wait, let me guess. You’ll pay me double. You’ll beg me. Let me save you time. I’m already here, which means now it’s a point of honor and pride to me. Step aside."

[The children are loaded into the stolen transport and Linus’ van. They didn’t much like the looks of the stolen van, but they seem too traumatized to object much. Linus is currently with Yulong at the cars, but anyone who wants to get there has plenty of time. At this point, people can take about one more action, and then they will be assumed to be getting in the cars, unless they object. (A perilous objection, to be sure.) The shaman remains in the house, as of now, and Skip and Nameless are across the street. Skip, you are welcome to recover your dropped ‘food’ if you would like. Zin is across the street, having talked to Lilith, and is helping secure the children, and getting into his own car.

There are 7 kids, and you’re driving a 7 seater. basically, you own a Honda Odyssey. I’d assumed you’d load 4 in yours, and then 3 in the other one. If you want to load 6 into yours, let me know. That would leave one kid alone, however]

The woman, the armed soldiers, and the soldier in black cut off the road towards the door. They are taking the most direct route, and will not pass close enough to Skip’s I.E.D. to ensure fatal, or even serious, results.

The three soldiers and the woman will reach the house before long.

Alexander makes a WIL check to leave his charges, getting two hits.]

The snake shaman stubbornly holds his ground and watches the team file the kids into their vehicles, leaving him alone in the house. He knows he can’t charm or beguile his way out of this one, not easily, and eventually decides that discretion is the better part of valor.

Taking a last look at the two men on the ground, he decides to leave them to their fate, but not before attempting to help them one last time.

He packs up his medical supplies and strides out of the house, casually looking at the approaching woman and tossing an influence spell in her direction, laden with the thought, “I will spare the men inside”.

[Casting Influence at force 3, 13D6 to hit and 10D6 to resist DV 2. Don’t forget to roll to notice spellcasting.]

As the shaman walks out of the house, the soldier in all black snaps his head to make eye contact with the shaman, or at least, as near as the shaman can tell.

Lilith pauses at the threshold, confused.

The dark soldier speaks.

“Sir, we asked nicely.”

Turning as he speaks, the man brings up his armored right hand, and levels a cross at Alexander.

Caught by surprise, Alexander can’t move fast enough to avoid taking the shot to the chin, and electricity arcs from the glove into the shaman’s skin, rattling his thoughts, and jarring his mind. Good thing Alexander chose to pass to the right, as the soldier’s glove fails to make solid enough contact to incapacitate the shaman. Not that the shaman would feel much different at this point.

“Ma’m, we are here to kill these men, on your orders, and we will do so. Mercy is not for us to decide.”

Hearing those words, Lilith grins, turns, and pats the nearly unconscious, though still standing, shaman. Gently, on the shoulder.

“Good one tiger. Better luck next time. I say that because if you attempt again, and fail again, it’ll be the last thing you do. Now run along.”

With those words, she pushes the shaman roughly down the steps to the departing cars, and turns, moving into the house, as the armed soldiers and the darkened warrior stand on the threshold, facing outward.

Yulong rushes from the van to catch the staggering shaman on his way out, supporting his weight as they stagger back to the van. “I am sorry, Alex. The path of righteousness is not always paved with gold. Now, are we ready to bring these children home?”

Skip gets up and dusts off his jeans just a little bit. He casually finishes his beer and sets the can down where he was hiding, then picks up his “Bojangles” and scuffles over to the van, but not without taking a good look at the armored truck down the road.

“Maaan,” he says, “Ay’wish ay had on’a them armered trucks. Buddy a’mine from way up in V’giner was workin on r’storin on’a them old Wells Fargo money trucks. Hada six hunderd sqar inch V-10 engin, got it runnin on old frier oil. E’reywhar he drove, smelled liak fried chicken. We used t’call it the Chicken Truck cause’a that, but we ain’t ne’er kept no chickens in’t. Don think this here bomb’d do much t’a truck liak that one. Shit. Did y’all see that van go up? God damn! We aught’a get on’a them Arpeegees liak that feller had. Wonder how much’e wants fer it. Y’think they’ll trade it for a couple of ’em kids?”

After getting eyed by the more ‘upright’ members of the group he adds, “R’lax ay’s only jokin. Take at leas 25 kids fer a rocket liak that.”

“Sure’is too bad a’bot them fellers in th’house. Ay’do wonder jes What The Fuck is goin’ on tween these Cain fellers, and why so many folks is upset with them. Ay’mean the orcs is pissed cause of them kids, the bug guy’s pissed at em, now this her killer badass lady and her badass mofos too. Sure am glad m’name ain’t Morris. Erm. Maurice.”

Zin starts up his car, does a bit of peeling out (on gravel, so it kinda fails). Then he rolls down a window and hollers at the woods. “Hey metal-man, you ready to leave? Get in!” The cyborg reluctantly climbs in, and they head out to Otto’s.

Linus is long gone, ignoring everything else around him to get the kids home. “Don’t worry, kids, this will all be over soon and you’ll be safe at home.”

Having phoned ahead to Otto, the group is told to go to the old church next to the park they first met Otto to return all the children.

As they turn into the parking lot, they notice plenty of other cars, and a group of orks on the steps of the old brick building. Otto in front, Aka not far behind, and many unrecognized orks surrounding. The group parks, stow their weapons, and exit the vehicles. Children cry, parents cry, it’s a touching moment. Those dirty, tearful, whimpering orklings, safe once more. Soon as they get a hot bath and a hotter meal, they’ll be right as rain. Forever mentally scarred rain, but some things can’t be helped.

Otto finishes hugging one of the children, and the young boy runs to Aka. As the child scurries away, Otto comes to talk to the runners.

“Thank you for what you have done. I cannot imagine it was easy, and, judging by the news today, it was not the safest either. I am glad to see you all safe and unharmed. You have my thanks, and the thanks of our little community here. If ever we can help you, please do not hesitate to let us know. I must return to my brood, and it is far best bedtime for all of the children here, and for most of the adults as well. Here, I have put your payment on this credstick. I know you cannot verify it just yet, but you will have to trust me. Plus, you know where I live.”

Handing the credstick to Yulong, he pauses for a moment to hear out any comments the runners may have, then heads back to Aka and his grandson.

Yulong clasps his fist and bows to the orkish elder, his face beaming with the joy of seeing so many families reunited and the pleasure of a good deed done well. He accepts the offered credstick graciously. “Thank you for this, Otto. I have something for you in return.” The monk fishes out the three credsticks he found and hands them to the ork. “I do not know how much these are worth, but please use them to invest in the security of your community. This world is a dangerous place, and one nuyen spent on prevention is worth ten spent on recovery. Perhaps you could hire a rigger to install some point defense drones around the schoolhouse, or some similarly low-cost deterrent.”

The adept turns to regard the rest of his rag-tag group. Their run was successful, if moderately disfunctional. He could see among them the potential for camaraderie and success, but just as plainly the fissures of dispute and hatred were already beginning to form between them. He was unsure which path they would follow.

Yulong folds his arms into the sleeves of his robes. “There are times when I doubted our abilities, but clearly I was wrong. I think we have done well, and probably deserve another round of barbeque. Let’s go back to our restaurant, to speak of things to come.”

Linus looks at his watch and grimmaces. “Yes, I think I can join… my wife believes that I am at a conference and will return quite late, but let us be brief, yes?”

The cyborg stirs upon Yulong’s relinquishing of the cred sticks but subsides quickly enough. That is not a battle to be fought at the moment, nor was it plunder he had taken directly.

His first act must be to find armor and weapons. He has no idea how he wound up in a hospital or anything that came before. It is only the complete and utter absence of identity that prevents this reality from being any more unsettling than it is. Instead the cyborg merely feels disjointed and incomplete.

He scans his fellow shadowrunners (he supposes they are fellows, now). An Elf, more flash than substance. Two Monks/Shamans/Frauds, ersatz mystics enamored with rituals of an ancient and best forgotten past. A cowardly nebbish more prone to pretension than action. And a drunken hillbilly with a penchant for…fireworks. And yet somehow this collection hadn’t proven themselves totally inept.

The cyborg’s gaze lingers on the redneck, headed towards his new vehicle, beer still in hand. Of the motley gathering, the cyborg felt the closest, well, connection to him. His brief foray with the elf for weapons had netted him a measly peashooter at an exorbitant price. But, this yokel seems to know a thing or two, in the most backwoods way possible, about making things simply go boom and that was something that boded well.

So, the cyborg turns and pads after Skip, catching up to him as he’s about to enter his car. Nameless’ bulk prevents Skip from closing the car door. “Where can I get a gun?” he asks; “A much, much, bigger gun?”

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