Call Of Shadows

Episode 2 - What we had to.
The team rescues some children from a place out of time.
Prologue

Ela Sziveri, vizier to the high priest of Ghatanothoa, slipped her oracle robes on over her head and clasped her orichalcum bracelets to her wrists, binding the sheer, billowy robe to her arms. These fools keep asking the gods for advice but won’t do what they’ve been told. Tonight won’t be any different. We simply don’t have the children to keep the Sleepers sleeping.

“Madam?” a blind, old man in rags asked from the doorway, “I’ve been sent to tell you, the bull has been blessed.” Why do they have to keep calling them that. They’re people. They deserve some respect, after all it’s their sacrifice will keep the priests in power for another few months. Frustrated, she swung her fist at the mirror which cracked but didn’t break under the blow.

“I’ll be down in a moment.” she told the page. He turned and descended from the oracle’s tower which stood nearly a hundred feet over the temple below. She finished preparing for the ritual with ornate sigils on her face and her ritual obsidian blade in her sash. She took a moment at the window to look down on the community of servants to the Great G’thana and smiled at them._ It is for all of you that I do this._ She descended the stairs, extinguishing the torches on her way past.

The priests were waiting for her in the marble main hall which connected the different areas of the temple. Slavering over her revealing appearance, they bowed before her and crawled around her legs like dogs, anxious for their owners affection and treats. She couldn’t help but feel a disgusted at the way the lecherous old men looked at her when their eyes came up from the floor. Memories of some of her … interactions… with these people over her lifetime flooded her mind, distracting her for a moment, but only so. “We have a job to do. Get your asses off the floor.”

“Our apologies our lady, but perhaps you’d be willing to… bless… the ritual area before we begin?” the old men giggled to each other.

“Absolutely not! It’s blessed enough!” She slapped him across the face, sending the toothless old man to the floor. “Go!” she pointed towards at the stairwell which led down into the ritual room. They scampered away and ran down the stairs, laughing at each other like children the entire time. I hate Lesser Priests. Lesser Priests were a special sect of priests, ones which couldn’t bear the entirety of the truths they had witnessed but still held a special place in the temple to G’thana. Their power was limited to initiating the weak and young and assisting with the rituals of the temple. She looked around the main hall. It was surprisingly empty, even for this time of night. Elam, the blind page, and two guards in loose red cloth sat by the main door, waiting to intercept any visitors.

She descended the ancient carved basalt steps into the ritual room below the temple. There, a young man hung like a pig between two roasting stakes, only the fire was too weak to cook him. The lesser priests began pounding on drums while the oracle began her work, chanting and dancing around the room and working herself into a fervor. She pulled the blade from her sash and played with it’s edge along the exposed areas of her skin, bleeding crimson essence onto the blade. Slowly, chanting the names of gods and spirits older than the ones she served, she walked over to the man and cut a large rectangle into his back. Carving the sigils for the high priest’s request into the design. We’re running out of children. Can we stop the sacrifices to G’thana.

The last time she asked this question, only a few days ago, the man exploded into flame screaming until his body had burned too much to produce the sound. He was still alive in there. I could feel him. The message was clear. Destruction of Mu and death and suffering to all of us. The same happened when she had asked this question a month ago, and the month before. She took the knife and plunged it into the center of the design, piercing his spine and locking the blade in place.

This time was different. The design worked itself until a page of text cut and carved its way through the sacrifice’s skin. The letter’s were unreadable, but she knew how to translate. She pulled a smaller, surgical blade from her sash and went around to the weeping man’s face. She looked in his eyes, mouthing her apology to him, before she cut them out of his head. Pressing the eyes onto her fingertips, she ran them methodically across the text on his back, studying their meaning.

“A traveler is coming. Someone who has tamed the Passageways and will solve all our problems for a price. A price that I don’t think we’ll have a problem meeting considering the extent of our graveyards. He’s a beast of a man, without a name because one only needs a name to interact with the living. To get his attention, we’ll have to place some bait in our corner of the network. Without him, our world is ruined.”

-——————————-

Mr. Ortega, a teddy bear of an orc, pushed together a couple of small tables, leaving small dents in the carpet of the Downfall. The dwarven waitress followed behind with the chairs. Six? I hope they’re willing to work for a little less, considering I was only expecting four to show. One by one they all showed. Jennar, an elven combat medic, Gespenst, a combat decker, Mr. East, an actual samurai, disgraced by the look of his hands, Solomon, Sierra and lastly, Charity, a gnome system cracker draped in a variety of occult sigils and accoutrement.

“Well, now that you’re all here, let me fill you in on the details. I own an orphanage deeper in the Barrens. The Redmond Children’s House. Though, we also have some kids broaching adulthood, we don’t turn anyone away from the barrens that’s facing hardships. The older individuals end up working off the costs of their staying by helping to take care of the younger folk. We have a pretty happy home.”

“Well, if it’s so nice, than what’s the problem?” Gespenst asked in a thin german accent.

“Our children keep going missing. Every year, a few days from now, we lose a dozen kids that’re 16 or older. They simply vanish. We want you to find out where they’ve gone, if you can bring them back that would be fantastic. If they are in a better position, than by all means, leave them be. We are just concerned and want to know they’re ok or get them back to us if they’re not.”

“Well that sounds good and noble. Tell me, surely you have some type of security system?”

“We do, it’s not very good and yes, there are cameras. However they don’t seem to capture the disappearance. It’s all very strange. The locks on the exits are never opened. It’s as if the kids simply vanish.”

Charity piped up. “No blood or anything left behind? Any sign of a struggle?”

“No. The beds are unmade as though the kids are getting out of bed on their own. There’s no sign of violence.”

“Well it sounds like quite the mystery you got there.” Gespenst said. “How much do you have to cover the expenses as it were?”

“After fundraising from some of our former children, we’ve managed to raise enough to pay each of you ten thousand nuyen. If the children don’t need to be brought back, we’ll pay you five thousand just to find out what has happened to them.”

“Well that sounds fine then. We’ll meet you at your orphanage, when we get there, could you let us into your security host so that we can do a bit of research ourselves?”

“Of course. Thank you so very much for helping us with this. Our home hasn’t felt safe in years.”

Mr. Ortega stood from the table, beaming with joy, and left the bar for the Orphanage. The team followed behind in their own vehicles. The roads got rougher and rougher as they got closer, as did the gangs. Mr. East noticed that most of the gangers milling about seemed to be in their mid twenties. There were a few in the young teens, but they were rare compared to other areas in the Barrens. Parking in front of the building was ample and the team got to work.

Charity and Gespenst travelled into the building and slipped into the security system using the access rights granted by Mr. Ortega. Jenner and Shannon started talking to the much younger kids, trying to find someone who had seen what had happened while Sierra started searching the astral space for signs of magical influence. Mr. East found a dice game happening on a street corner nearby and joined in.

Charity and Gespenst poured through the camera archives from the last abduction and saw that the feed would fuzz out as soon as a headlight could be seen at the end of the street. Taking some time to examine the fuzz, Charity found traces of resonance which seemed off somehow. The code was erratic and jarring, not fluid and soft like the other ‘mancers she’s dealt with. Charity then searched for any other nearby cameras and found a storefront camera a couple of blocks away. With barely a thought she sleazed her way into their security system and pulled out the camera feed from the night of the last abduction. The footage lasted longer and the angle was much better this time. The camera feed still eventually fuzzed out, but not before Charity could see the vehicle, an old gas powered school bus, being driven by a sickly looking person.

Jenner and Shannon found a young boy, Matthew, who was awake during the last abduction and saw everything.

“I was listening to my roommate’s music on his headphones. He was sleeping and didn’t like it when I used his things, but Artemis Soars is the best! Anyway, about an hour after lights out, he stood up all weird like. Like he just floated out of bed. He walked over to the window and it just … opened… then he floated out. I ran to the window and peeked out, trying to stay safe while the music seemed to get louder in my head. I dunno what was going on, but a whole bunch of the guys and girls were just floating down to the street where an old school bus was sitting. It smelled gross and smoke poured out of its back. In front of the bus was this sick looking werewolf guy wearing a bunch of robes. His hands were up in the air like this.” Matthew’s hands danced in the air. “and he looked like he was saying something but something inside me told me not to listen to it. So yea, everyone was floating down and these guys in weird clothes came out of the bus and brought them all onto it one by one. They just let them too, like they were still asleep. When they had a bunch of kids, they told the ones still standing around to go back to bed. Then the bus drove away.”

Jenner and Shannon shared Matthew’s story with the rest of the team and Sierra took a look around to see if she could find any trace of the powerful magic on the street. Unfortunately it had been so long and the area is so trafficked, that whatever trace had been there was washed away by the noise. Gespenst hit the local directory and found a talismonger’s shop near by, run by an old dwarf named Orin. He walked over and started looking at the displays of reagents littering the shop.

“Can I help you? You don’t seem the type to normally grace my shop.” Gespenst heard the man before he could see him amongst the shelves.

“Actually yea, I’m not so much looking for items right now, more like, lore, legends that sort of thing.”

“That’s an unusual request. Did Barren send you?” Orin asked.

“Who? I don’t know that name. No, I’m on a job, and I’ll throw some money your way if you could share some information for me on any old legends regarding a sick looking werewolf abducting children, usually orphans or other forgotten children, in some sort of vehicle.”

“Ah, well that does strike a chord. One moment.” A movement between the shelves and tables stirred the air, fluttering some scarves and nudging a rack of pendants. A ladder moved across the bookshelves behind the counter and the old man climbed up, grabbing a book labeled Entrails and Mystical Tales, Fables for Adults. His hands, larger than they should be, dropped the book on the counter as he climbed the legs of the stool. Adjusting his reading glasses, he started flipping sections of pages until coming upon the tale of the ChildCatcher. A mischievous old man who they claim stole dozens of children across eastern europe about a 170 years ago. He was captured, but disappeared from his holding cell a few days after.” He turned the book around and held a fat finger against a hand drawn image on the page.

The picture was hard to make out clearly, but it appeared that the ChildCatcher had an elongated nose, beady, narrow eyes and patchy facial hair. Orin continued, It appears that that was the last time the ChildCatcher was seen, however, his story is not confined to this one instance. It appears as though he’s been seen throughout history and amongst different societies. He always collects orphans, only a couple dozen at a time, and only older teenage boys and sometimes teenage girls. The vehicle is always different, but it always has some kind of carrying capacity.

“What is he?” Gespenst asked. “Spirit? Demon? Ghost?”

“None of the stories say. It mentions he broke his arm during his escape, so I’d wager nothing too supernatural. Why do you ask?”

“We’re looking for something that seems to be following his motives. If it’s him, we were hoping he wouldn’t put up too much of a fight, you know.”

“I see, yes, well, with the return of Mana in this age, a lot of these old fictions have manifested themselves as spirits in the world. So while he wasn’t one in the stories, I don’t know what it is you’re going to run into out there.”.

“Thanks old man” Gespenst finished by throwing a few hundred nuyen down on a credstick for Orin. “I’ll let you know what happens. Perhaps you can add a few pages to your book there.”

As he came back to the group, Mr. East finished playing cards with the guys down the street. “Look young man, look at my hand.” He said, showing the digit which should be longer to the gangers throwing dice with him. “It’s not worth it. Make a difference while you can. These kids are living your life. Help them.”

The large troll, curled horns twisting into the sky, suddenly started to cry. “What can I do man? I ain’t got nuthin.”

Mr. East pointed at the orphanage nearby. “They could use some help. Just spend some time with the kids. Be the light that you never had.” An orc, most of his teeth replaced by obvious plasteel implants, nodded in agreement. “You make a good case man. You’re not that great a card player, but you make a good case. I’ll head over there tomorrow and figure out what I can do.”

Standing from the game, he returned to the group at the orphanage, arriving about the same time as Gespenst. Heading to the dining room and grabbing a table, the group discussed their plan. “So when the bus shows up, we shut it down?” “No, we need to find the kids that’ve been taken so far.” “We have to follow the bus and see where their going.” “Perhaps, we can put a trace one of the kids here. He gets on the bus, we follow the signal.” “What if he’s killed?” “He’s going to get taken. We can either follow him, or we can choose not to.” “Who do we pick? How do we follow him?” “Wait. Charity. Let me get a look at you.” Charity stood up, her gnome body making it hard to discern her age. “I think we’ve got our plant.”

The next few evenings, the team waited quietly around the outside the orphanage. Just when they were about to give up, the rumbling, grinding noise of a diesel engine echoed down the street. The faded yellow school bus came to a hard stop outside the orphanage’s side wall. The door creaked open and a twisted man in rags came spilling out. The clothing made it hard to discern his features, but the sharper eyed amongst the team noticed his patchy facial hair and elongated nose. Sierra whispered to the team over their comm. “He’s not a werewolf. He’s not infected. I don’t know what he is.”

The scabbering creature climbed onto the engine compartment of the bus and began to sing. An enchanting voice, incredibly beautiful for such an ugly thing, carried into the street and up into the open windows of the orphanage. As before, young boys and girls came floating down to meet the musician. A pair of men, barely clad in loose red cloth, stepped off the bus and selected a handful of kids, including Charity who had walked out of the front door in a slow, sleepy gait and Sierra who used a physical mask spell to make herself look like a teenager. The old man leapt off the bus and bowed to the children. “Ok my lovelies, return to your beds! Until next year!” he said in a gravelly, high pitched voice interrupted by grunts and meeps. The kids floated back up to their window and disappeared inside. The bus roared to a start and coughed it’s way down the street and out of the city. The team followed, not too closely, behind the bus for over two hours through narrow mountain roads and old timber drone ruts until the bus came to a stop outside of the entrance to a cave.

A few more men, dressed in loose red cloth like the men on the bus, came out of the cave and took the children. The bus then drove a little past the cave, coming to a stop a couple hundred feet away amongst some trees. The creature in rags, escorted by his guards, disappeared into the darkness of the cave as the team came up the path and out of the trees and followed the congregation below the earth.

The caves were poorly lit by a variety of devices along the right hand wall. As the group made their way further into the cave, the lighting devices aged as well, from LEDs to oil lanterns to torches. Gespenst noticed an incredibly weak and unusual signal coming from deeper within the cave. It seemed to be carrying data like the Matrix, but it’s encoding systems were completely foreign. Following the most recent footsteps through the guano and gravel, the team followed their target through the complex network of tunnels.

Charity and Sierra were being led by guards who took them with the children through the connected series of caves until they came out into an underground town, carved from a massive hole in a mountainside. A temple, made of onyx, obsidian, gold, and marble towered above everything at the far wall. As far as they could tell, that’s where they were heading. Charity noticed something peculiar however. The air was full of resonance. Stronger than she had ever sensed before. It was as if there was a host nearby, running on pure resonance. However it was too far away for her to lock onto.

The guards had their hostages at the gateway to the temple by the time the rest of the team made their way out of the caves. Quickly subduing the nearby guards, they set up sniper positions and held their action for the signal from Mr. East who slipped stealthily into the darkness of the cavern.

After only moments of waiting at the temple gateway, a heavily robed and gemmed individual, an obvious priest of some type based off the symbols on his outfit, came forward and examined the latest lot of children. “Eyah. Tokra ehm kis’Si natah.” He said to the guards who turned, their spears pointed at Charity and Sierra. “Noto shi va’ye luima.” He looked at the two of them. “You’re not that clever. I see through your disguise. You’ve upset a delicate situation here. I will have to decide what to do about you for now, follow these fine young men to your new homes.” The guards then took them into the temple and sealed them all into their own rooms. Here, however, Charity noticed that the resonance was finally clear enough for her to connect. So she closed her eyes, sat against the corner of her cell and tried.

Mr. East made his way through the narrow alleys between the houses and shops of the underground town. None of the characters written on anything made any sense and the fish hung up to dry looked strange with long, thin whiskers flopping loosely from around their mouths. As he crept from a fishmongers towards a fabric stand, heavy with purple and red linens and velvets, a strong hand came down on his shoulder and the point of a spear pressed into his back. “Ee-yah Ee-yah!” the voice behind him shouted. Turning his head, he saw a temple guard, dressed like the rest, staring at him angrily and shouting. Using the spear as a motivator, he encouraged Mr. East to move ahead of him to the temple entrance. The same priest that had just dispersed the group of children was standing there waiting.

“So we have another visitor.” He cocked his head, examining the new prisoner. Sensing a touch of magic and a burden in Mr. East’s past, he felt this would be a good opportunity to learn something of the world beyond the Passageway. Taking Mr. East on a guarded tour of the underground town, and out into the land of Mu which the mountain they under was looming over. During the tour, they talked intently about the nature of power and the nature of the world in general.

Charity, sitting in her cell with her eyes shut, finally managed to meditate her way into the alien host running within the temple, her resonance vibrating in sync with the penetrating field of resonance around her. Darkness filled the host, peppered with glowing spheres of light like the stars of the sky. Charity reached out and vibrated a star with her thoughts, in response a collection of lights and sounds flashed around her. Confused as to the meaning, Charity took a few minutes to analyze the stars in the host to determine more about them. While searching through the universe, she stumbled across a black hole swirling and gnawing away at the emptiness. Floating around it was a classic sci-fi rocketship broadcasting a simple repeating radio message in morse code. “Charity! Over here.”

Charity dove towards the black hole and soaked in the resonance bleeding from it. It was hers. She had been here before. Deconstructing the source code of the rocketship revealed her signature code, only the resonance based timestamp appeared to be set at decades in the future. Shrugging away her fear, she slipped into the singularity and awoke on a path in some cold, dead woods. Momentary flashes of resonance and code triggered a memory of something she had been reading about in the matrix. She couldn’t remember much other than beneath every host lies a dreamlike world which gives function to the system built on top of it. The foundation. Giddy with excitement over the possibility of control, she took a moment to examine the world around her.

She was standing in the middle of a small clearing. Human looking creatures would come out of the woods wearing priest-like clothing before getting into a line travelling down a worn path through the trees. Charity couldn’t see past the line of people, so she focused on her image and manifested a set of clothes identical to that worn by the beasts and got in line. This must be the portal into the foundation. This line should take me to the Scaffolding Control.

The line moved quickly, or it seemed to, time seemed hard to track within this world. It seemed like hours and moments before the line dispersed into a clearing filled with statues, each one grotesque and alien, but unique amongst the collection. The priests were approaching the statues and kneeling before them. There they picked up an empty dish and joined another line heading out of the clearing. That line was running parallel to another line of priests bringing dishes full of a white liquid into the clearing and placing them before the statues. Those priests then join the line heading back towards the area Charity came from. A closer examination of the priests showed they were decorated with sigils matching the statues they would interact with. Noting the sigils Charity had unknowingly added to her own robes when she first arrived, she found the matching statue, kneeled, retrieved the empty dish and followed the line deeper into the foundation.

The stars overhead shifted and the tree branches blurred past her as she faded into the Master Control node. Ahead of the line of priests, she saw something so grotesque, her meat body vomited reflexively. As the priests reached the end of the line, they would approach a cloudy mass of writhing tentacles, mouths, and other orifices, There they disrobed and slipped into the mass which probed and filled their bodies as they did the same to it. As they emerged, covered in a thick white slime, a robed insect-crustacean would greet them, bowing. They then scraped the slime off their body into the stack of offering dishes and hand the priest his dish to take back to the statues. Sometimes, a creature like itself would emerge. This thing would then fly into the sky along the beam of light cast by the moon towards a massive, blimp-like version of the creatures. Occasionally a beast-man would emerge from the thing deformed and broken. These were carried away by the flying creatures and deposited into a massive pillar of flame, pouring through infinity some distance away.

“"Nooooope":http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/930/861/d6f.gif. Not doin’ that.” Charity muttered to herself, devising a way through the situation without having to obey all of the rules. Intently focusing her resonance around her, she sheathed herself in code until a shell grew around her, dripping with viscous milky material. Keeping her … digits… crossed in hope that the illusion would work, she flew into the sky towards the blimp-like creature. It didn’t respond until she mimicked the way the other creatures rubbed the milky substance onto the hairs on its body. Looking around from the back of the beast, Charity saw that the great beast would rub it’s belly against the tops of a particularly gnarly and twisted grouping of moving trees. Before she could leap off, she heard a voice echoing through the air. A beautiful, vibrating noise that harmonized with itself. She took a long hard look at the trees during the next pass and saw that they would consume the milky drops that ran down to the tips of the hairs on the beast’s belly, and for every drop they had would, a new, small, orange sac would swell from their bodies. “I bet that’s the archive!” She allowed herself to fall from the beast during its next pass.

“Here Data, Data, Data.” she sang into the resonance, calling to her data sprite. It took longer than usual to manifest in this alien environment, but it eventually came through, a bit different than its normal appearance, dozens of new insect limbs sprouting from its back and a new mouth across its torso but it still followed Charities command, albeit with a bit more reverence than usual. “Collect everything you can, don’t worry about translating it. If you need help, reach out to Crack or Fault. When you’re done return to the deep resonance and I’ll pull you out from a safe place.” Data crawled out into the woods and up the closest tree. A long, thin proboscis unfurled from its face and plunged into the pulsing sac, drawing some of the sap. Data continued collecting sap this way while Charity got back onto the belly of the great beast during its next pass.

This time, when the chanting came back through the air, Charity sung back, matching the notes. As she sang, she felt herself pulled through the air towards the source until she was standing behind a robed crustacean which was colorfully vibrating high above the scene below. A podium in front of it held an ancient book with heavily worn pages. Alien sigils decorated the pages in way that made it frustrating to look at over the creature’s shoulder which seemed oblivious to her presence. She touched the book and allowed her mind to peer into the pages. Most of the sigils were still too foreign to understand but some had been marked with Charity’s resonance with the same advanced timestamp as the anchor into the foundation that had been prepared for her.

The first, her resonance translated into “Door Controls”, the second, “Shelter”, and the last “Oven”. The last sigil had a note, made of Charity’s resonance with her signature handwriting, “Emergency Only!” As Charity looked away from the text, the marks on the sigils burned in her mind. She realized she could still reach these sigils regardless of where her attention was. Something told her that Door Controls wasn’t the doors she wanted, instead she triggered the Shelter command. The priest-creature interrupted its song and chittered noisily into the sky before continuing. “Time to go back.” Suddenly, the creature stopped singing and started screaming. Above her, Charity could see the great beast yawn towards the forest below. Lightning began to rain down into the trees which ran from the blasts. The flash of light revealed the truth about the trees, they weren’t. They were tall, ropy, twisted knots of tentacles walking on elephant legs. Get out Data!

Staying in disguise, she attempted to fly back through the path took to reach the podium. However, she couldn’t figure out how to sing to reach the great beast, so when she arrived, she found massive mites crawling on its back. Deftly maneuvering around the spidery, jittery things, she flew back to the orgy below and dropped her disguise. The beastmen turned to her and lumbered after her as she ran back into the woods towards the statues. Occasionally, one would get too close and with a bit of focus she found she could blast it with bursts of energy from her fingertips. Accessing the sigils, she hit the Oven sigil she had brought with her. Nothing happened. She ran quickly to the portal and leapt through it, returning to her meat-form in the real world. The sound of the alarm blared through the open door. Screams and roars could be heard from every corner. “… back yet? We’re under attack! Repeat! Under Attack! Time to go.” Gespenst’s voice came over the comm.

Sierra saw her door slide open. She had been astrally patrolling the cells, looking for the abducted children and magical guards when the alarm had sounded and she returned to her body. A slithering, chittering, cracking noise echoed through the halls as a winged crustacean-insect creature walked past the open door. Afterwards, Sierra ducked out and watched the creature carefully. A temple guard came around the corner, his spear at the ready when the creature flung itself at him and ripped his body in half. Thinking about the children in the nearby cells, Sierra stepped out of her cell and yelled at the creature. “Hey!”

The creature turned towards her and peered into her soul. Then came closer to her, donning a human face mask over its own spherical, vibrating head. “You do not have the sigil. Do you follow the man that these fools have devoted themselves to?” it asked, the words resonating inside Sierra’s head. Clicking its abdomen, it moved around her and pointed towards the steaming pile of guard.

“Not at all. If my friends and I help you with dealing with him will you help us get out of here?”

The creature pondered her offer. “There are few of us and many of them. The man may escape while we take the grounds. I accept. We must capture the high priest of this temple. He is wanted for judgement by our government. If you help us obtain him, I will help you reach the passageways.”

Charity stepped out in time to hear the offer. “Sounds great. Let’s get out of here.”

Sierra asked as they worked to gather up the children, “What are you?”

“We are known amongst your kind as the Mi-Go.” it responded.

The three of them gathered up all hundred of the children in the cells and left the temple. The sounds of gunfire, yelling, and magical forces in combat echoed through the massive chamber and over the underground town. Behind them, a flood of Mi-Go came spilling out of the doorway, swarming the last of the town guard, the mages and the spirits in the air. As the team regrouped near the Passageway, Mr’Khul appeared, seemingly from nowhere and ran into them. “Uphold your end of the contract humans.” It insisted to Sierra and Charity. Using the distraction which the Mi-Go were providing, the team slipped into the Passageway and away from the slaughter. During the chase, Charity caught a sudden resonance signal of a nearby technomancer. She realized that it was that same signature that she had seen in the alien host and tried to follow it through the caves. However, her eyesight is extremely poor and shortly she became lost in the Passageway.

Mr’Khul knew the Passageway well and managed to stay ahead of the team most of the time during his escape. Thinking he could hide in the wells of history, he cut left through one last fork and emerged into the snowscape of a massive mountain range. “Don’t move.” a voice said behind him. Dizzy from the overpowering, raw magic filling the world at this time, Mr’Khul opened his robes, manifesting a prize he had taken from the future, a large combat drone, thinking that would give him the time he needed to escape. A round of armor piercing ammo tore the drone to pieces and some stick-n-shock pounded his chest. He hit the snow hard.

The Mi-Go flew over to his bruised body and lifted him into the air. It sprouted a pair of new limbs, one holding a tool of some kind and the other a golden skull, adorned with gems. The tool tore Mr’Khul’s head apart faster than anyone could realize and in the next moment, the man’s brain sat in the relic in the Mi-Go’s claws. “Excellent. Now for the rest of you.” Additional limbs spilled out of the Mi-Go’s torso, each with a golden skull. One for everyone.

The air grew suddenly dense with lead. Then the Mi-Go hit the snow, melting into a green steaming liquid. The golden skulls clattering down the side of the mountain, lost to time in the frozen abyss. Gespenst attempted to find a matrix or gps signal of some kind, not knowing that they were travelling through history, and discovered that there was no satellite signals for his enhanced cyberdeck to lock onto. While he tried to figure that out, Sierra, Shannon and Jennar all realized that they had seen that skull before. In the dream they had the night before the job started and quietly mentioned that fact to each other. Realizing they couldn’t stay here, the team returned to the passageways with the children in tow, searching for the way out.

Charity emerged from the passageways into a bright, sunlight desert. It was almost too much for her fair skin. She stepped, cautiously from the mouth of the cave and heard a deep growl of a very large and hungry cat, but she couldn’t see it. She cried out, clasping her hands over her mouth to stop the noise, when the crack of a firearm followed by a burst of air flew over her shoulder and the cat went silent. A voice, english but carrying a native american accent, called out to her, “Are you ok?”

Gespenst kept his deck out, scanning the channels, looking for any signal when the basic connectivity tone pierced in. Using a bit of hardware knowhow, he used the signal to trace the path back towards the entrance they had originally taken. The bus was still parked in the same place and the mountainside was absolutely quiet. “Ok kids. get on the bus. You’re going to have to sit on each others laps and in the walkway and anywhere else you can find room. I’ll drive easy.”

They cautiously left the mountain forest, made their way back to the barrens in Redmond and back to the Orphanage where Mr. Ortiz was waiting for them. “You found them! You found my…” he trailed off, seeing the number and state of the orphans the team had brought back to him.

“We found some extras. Hope you don’t mind.” Gespenst laughed.

“Not at all. We’ll find a way to make it work. Thank you so much for what you have done. Do you think they’ll be back?”

“I’d be real surprised.”

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Episode 1 - What did we do?
After reaching their inherited property, the heroes discover it might be haunted

Prologue

The short, stocky man from Massachusetts sighed uncomfortably. The dry, dusty air always made him cough and the sun always made him sweat. Sheriff McCauley, a ‘Lewis-and-Clark’er’ who made his way out to Bend years ago, was waiting for him on the steps leading up to the ranch door. James parked his Chevrolet in the grass to the side of his car and got out, fanning himself. “Afternoon Sheriff.”

“James. Good to see you again.” The sheriff moved to block James from entering the ranch. “You might wanna stay out here for a few minutes more, Matthew is still attending to the … bodies.”

He looked at the Sheriff questionably, “What happened boss?”

McCauley looked down at the ground and grimaced. “Well, the Washington family up the road came to my office this morning to report the deaths of the Johnson’s here. Apparently Mr. Washington came over to purchase some horses. He found the car out back and thought the family might be in danger so he entered only to find the bodies… angled and bent into some kind of satanic marking in the great room. He was so distraught that when he ran out, he left the door open. By the time we got here, only a few bones hadn’t been taken by the local wildlife. I’ll tell you what’s the strangest thing about it though… No blood. Anywhere. It’s as if every drop simply vanished. The bones are clean and polished. Like they’ve been sitting in the sun for years.”

James Alexander, shuddered and sat down in reflex. He took his handkerchief and wiped his face for a moment and panicked at the thought of some twisted cult operating out here in the middle of nowhere. He chose to be silent.

Matthew, a man only a few years younger than his boss, was carefully collecting the remains the scavengers had left behind. McCauley has had him doing most of the wild animal cleanup due to his years working with alligator victims in Louisiana. He had learned to be meticulous as scavengers can scatter pieces into every corner of a place. The eerie quiet of the house unsettled him more than the task at hand. As he was collecting a fingerbone which had found itself in the back of the fireplace, the clacking sound of wood on wood loudly reverberated through the house. Startled, Matthew tried to stand and slammed his head against the top of the fireplace. He immediately fell unconscious.

He came to moments later and found a stack of papers next to him. The last will and testament of Fixer Johnson. Matthew anxiously collected his box and the will then ran for the door. The door slammed shut behind him and the Sheriff quickly fastened the lock. Muffled voices came through the door. “I found this inside James. It should make your job a fair bit easier.”

The hairy ghul which was listening from the basement slid the hidden door open and came scuffling out. “Charity, they’ve gone. Are you sure about this? It didn’t work last time…”

“What didn’t work Pickman?” Charity asked as she followed. “They always come.”

“But last time, they ended up releasing G’thanha. The time before that they were devoured by the Dwellers of the Passageways. Every time we try we end up risking the attention of the Hounds. We haven’t even cleaned up from the last pass. What if they get lost?”

“We don’t really have a choice. I trust them. Look, we got the key fragment and we’ve located the scroll. Those prior attempts haven’t been a complete failure. Besides, we’re running out of time. Eventually, that will be me in that box.” Charity reminded him. “I’m scared too. We’ve lost a lot of battles, but we only need to win once.

I’ve recorded the message and placed the items for our soldiers to find.

Charity stopped sustaining the ritual keeping the spirits away and stepped outside with her friend. “Shall we?” she asked as her cane extended with a snap. He offered his arm and together they walked off into the desert.

-

James Alexander unlocked the door to his small office. “There aren’t enough chairs for everyone but if some of you are willing to stand then you should all fit.” Charity’s named inheritors stepped into the room. A nun from the midwest, a black WWI vet, an aeronautical engineer, an illusionist and … The former lady of the house?! A short woman in an expensive black dress entered the room, escorted by her butler. No. There’s some differences in the face. Perhaps they were sisters.

“I’m glad you could find a way here to claim your property. How familiar were you with Mr. Fixer Johnson?” The room stayed silent as people looked at each other curiously. “No-one? Well, he seemed to be familiar with you. He provided the contact information when he named you all in his will.” He pulled the will from a drawer in his desk and showed it to them. “Well, essentially, Mr. Johnson has left you with some property a little distance from the city. I need you all to sign this contract that says you have received the property and we can close this case. Before you do, we’ll head out to the property and I’ll fill you in on it’s history and building details when we get there.”

Everyone seemed amenable to the idea and returned to their vehicles. James walked outside, wiping his face as he came out into the sun. And after stumbling about a bit while his eyes adjusted, found his car and started driving. The road quickly vanished into a trail of gravel as they left Bend and toured the ornate desert geography. What is that?! James wondered as they approached the final turn. He stopped his car and got out to see a young boy, only nine to ten years old, crying on the side of the road. The other cars came to a stop behind him. James leaned over and lifted the bicycle off of him while the nun, Margaret, ran to his side with a bag of medical supplies.

“Stand aside.” She said as she knelt down to examine the boy’s wounds. “I need a flat surface and some water to help him.”
“There’s water at the ranch.” James pointed down the road where the ranch stood amid a field of golden grass and red gravel. “I’ll take him in my car if you ride with me and tend to him.”

Margaret and James lifted the boy carefully into the backseat of the car and went as fast as the road would let them to the house. Margaret tried to ask the boy for his name and other details, but he was too upset to talk. James parked the car next to the patio and worked with Margaret to get the boy out safely while the other vehicles parked around the front of the property. Together they brought the boy into the home where he promptly vanished, leaving only bloodstains on James shirt.

Severely unnerved, Samuel the former WWI pilot, pulled his shotgun out from under his coat and held it down at an angle. “What?!” He shouted. Turning about, he pointed the gun at the solid wall where the door used to be. “Hey, what?!” he and the others ran to the wall and tried to feel around for seam or slit where the door would have been. Finding none, Samuel ran to a window nearby and drew the curtains aside, seeing only stars. Hypnotized by the vastness of eternity staring at him through the glass, Samuel stared deeper, until he saw some kind of sweeping motion between the stars. Terrified, he dropped the curtains and fell back into the room with a shout. Joshua, the stage magician, began to search the room and walls for hidden mirrors and ropes, convinced that a crafty illusionist was at work.

Margaret found an empty photo frame sitting next to a recliner, when she picked it up a cord pulled tight. Joshua followed the cable as it ran under the rug up along the fireplace and up to a small cube with a lens affixed to the front. He picked it up and turned it around so the lens faced the chimney. On the fireplace mantle there was also an ornate dagger, made with very expensive materials, sitting in a custom display.

The team then turned to James, who was sitting on the couch, mouth agape. Joshua put his finger in his face. “What’s happening here? Why did you bring us?”

James stared back “I don’t know. There was a family here, they died, they left the property to all of you. That’s all I know!”

Charity smiled and asked, “Did they did here?”

James stayed silent. A horrible sound came from the kitchen, as though someone was being gutted and burned alive. It only lasted for a short time, then stopped as suddenly as it began. Curiously, the group entered the kitchen and started to search around. The far wall had a fresh spray of blood on it and the smell of burning flesh lingered in the air. After a few minutes, Gavin found a hollow section of the floor, which, when pulled up revealed a bottle of blue wine. The label seemed to be printed in some type of Gaelic text and had a bottling date of 2048. A few of the individuals had a pull off the bottle, which had many layered flavors and sparkling notes of mysterious, unnameable fruits. Charity took a closer look at the bottle, working out the shape and flow of the label name. Although it appeared Gaelic, it was actually different in some aspects. Different enough that she couldn’t translate the name or the print on the back.

After searching the kitchen for any additional useful items, an apparition of a native man, stood at the stove, humming some kind of lullaby. A loud, sickening crunch of bone echoed through the room as a baseball bat, carried by the young boy that was severely injured, collided with his skull, sending his face into the frying pan on the stove. The man screamed terribly and fell backwards to the floor where the boy then pulled out a knife and drove it into the man’s stomach, spraying the walls with blood. The apparition then faded away. The frying pan sizzled as the flesh on it burned away, revealing a star with an eye at its center. The new grooves in the pan glowed a bright crimson. Charity recognized the symbol as an ancient ward against evil spirits and Joshua grabbed it, and held it firmly in his hands. They returned to the great room as the kitchen was too uncomfortable to be in.

Charity turned to her butler, Wilfred, and whispered something in his ear. He withdrew a bag and a book from his matron’s gear and handed her her supplies. “Please excuse me for a moment.” She went around the room, placing small totems and devices while lighting a bundle of sage. Confused and wanting to leave Charity to whatever crazy thing she was doing, the remaining team members, including Wilfred, went down the hall to the first bedroom, which was obviously the bedroom of a young boy. His baseball bat stood in the corner, covered in blood. The group started looking around to see what they could find in regards to the intense haunting they found themselves in.

Under his bed, they found a box of gemstones, fossils and rocks collected from the river. The box also had unusual, highly advanced, ammunition casings and a small grey rectangle with metal bands. Gavin recognized the basic design as what could possibly be a battery but he had never seen one designed like this. In the boy’s dresser, they found a journal, detailing his thoughts over the last few years. His mother had him go panning for gold in the river that ran through their property. Over time, he had managed to find a fair bit of it, as well as a few other things that had washed down that he could keep. A couple of weeks ago, the boy found a golden skull in the river covered in gemstones and unusual inscriptions, when he brought it back home, his mother took it from him and buried it in the wall of the basement. That’s when the nightmares started.

The next few pages showed pictures that were drawn by the boy in clumsy strokes. A man in a headdress with a blade in one hand, dripping blood, and his parents dead at his feet. A man standing before a great doorway with a weird line drawn around it. People bowing to the man in the headdress. Some flying bee-like creature that seemed to be stabbing the man in the headdress while other people shot at him with guns. The man with the top of his head missing. Then there were some pictures of the valley from the mountains. The last page had a drawing of the young boy, who the journal identified as Charlie, standing over the bodies of his dead parents, with a knife in his hand. Then another picture of him eating the flesh from their bodies and finally cutting his own heart out.

When they put the journal down, Charlie was standing before them, staring at them with his baseball bat in his hand. Nervously the team backed away while they tried to determine what to do. Charlie then crushed his skull with repeated strikes of the baseball bat. When he had beat his head into a bloody pile on his neck, he dropped the bat. Stomach acid poured up through the neck would and sprayed across the floor, narrowly missing the team. The spine then ripped and grew out of the boy’s body, tendons and flesh wrapping around it, twisting it into a four foot tentacle with an eight inch fang, dripping acid.

Charlie’s tentacle swung out towards the team who dodged out of the way. Samuel fired his shotgun at Charlie, the rounds simply passed through punching holes in the wall. The holes bled darkness into the lamp light being cast by the oil lamps on the wall. Wilfred suddenly started shouting at Charlie, “You are being a very naughty child.” He pulled his belt from his pants and prepared to swing it at Charlie who backed off in terror into the corner of the room. An apparition of the mother suddenly manifested in the room and grabbed Charlie, carrying him through the wall in a flash of light.

The team ran from the room and back into the great room where they found Charity meditating. “There is something terrible here. Something growing from beneath and flooding this place with terrible, dark energy. Something I’ve never seen before. I believe it was manipulating the minds of the people that lived here. Whatever it is, it’s beneath the house, we need to find a way downstairs.”

Gavin, Samuel, Joshua and Margaret went into the final bedroom, searching for any last clues. As soon as they stepped in, a bitter, frigid cold filled the room, causing their skin to crack and bleed around the knuckles on their hands and around their eyes. They immediately ran back out of the room and tried to figure out what to do. Joshua wrapped himself up in blankets and coats, ready to tackle the cold, when Gavin took the frying pan and entered the room, bringing the temperature up to normal. The rest of the group entered the room and they took their time searching it.

On the bookshelf, Samuel found two books that stood out amongst the less unusual ranching and geology texts. Unaussprechlichen Kults, a black book covered in horrific carvings, authored by Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt from 1839, and a copy of Nameless Cults, 1909. In a hidden cubby beneath another loose floorboard, they also found a thin, notebook sized piece of plastic attached to a decorated hood by a cable, a suit and some type of powder in a small vial.

Gavin noticed a trail of sunlight coming from the window, brushing aside the curtains, sunlight poured into the room. The mark from the frying pan was engraved on the glass and seemed to be keeping the spirit’s power at bay. He opened the window and climbed through. He heard the rattlesnakes before he saw all of them, then backed up against the wall as they formed a tight barrier around him just a few feet away. A glint of sunlight off of metal caught his eye and he, using the frying pan as a shield, moved towards the unusual construct of glass and metal. The rattlers stayed a few feet away, enraged but hesitant to come any closer to him.

The machine was a complex series of glass tubes, mirrors and metal pipes all coming together in a device connected to a classical turbine which Gavin recognized. He realized the device was generating power somehow and followed the cable coming out of it back to the house where it was connected to a large box with small lights decorating its surface. They all were glowing green. In the middle of the box was a dock, crafted specifically for another one of those batteries that he had found earlier, which he removed and pocketed, thinking it might be useful later. Turning around and noticing the distance the rattler’s were staying from him, he had another idea.

Holding the frying pan out as a shield, Gavin made his way around the front of the house, where he found the world as it originally was. Excited, he ran to his vehicle and almost flew inside. No matter how many times he tried to start it, the engine simply wouldn’t start. As he slammed his fists into the wheel with frustration, a reflection in the mirrors caught his attention. Turning around he saw a person, too heavily robed in a crimson-brown mix of rough cloth to identify, staring at him. In his hands he held a bridle, leading to what looked like were a family of horses, mashed together into a single creature. It’s spindly limbs, splayed out before it like the fangs of a spider danced nervously on the ground while it’s heads screamed and gnashed about blindly. Gavin ran from his car back into the house as words whispered in his and everyone else’s mind. “Release the spirit from beneath the house. Put an end to this madness.”

The door vanished behind Gavin as he came back into the house. Charity smiled at him. “We can’t leave until we’ve completed this moment.” Everyone took a seat around the great room and tried to figure out how to get beneath the house. Gavin took a look at the items collected from the hidden niche in the bedroom and realized that the notebook sized device they found had some very tiny screws in the back of the body. He utilized the path through the bedroom to retrieve his toolkit from his car and rushed back inside. He found a screwdriver that could work in a pinch and delicately opened the case of this strange device. Inside he found a green plate covered in a forest of strange components with rivers of silver flowing between them. In a tray tucked into an empty corner of the device, he found another battery, very similar to the one he had taken from outside. Sliding in the battery from his pocket, the device came to life with a chirp and a picture of a lock danced on it’s screen. Gavin closed the case loosely and showed the device to the group.

Charity felt along the case and pulled the hood up into her hands by the cable. “I think… I think this will fit me.” She slid the hood on, which was almost a perfect fit, and collapsed to the floor.

Charity was standing on an infinite blue grid, extending forever in every direction. Then she realized she could see clearly and brought her hand up to her mouth in shock. A fuzziness came over her lips and she realized she couldn’t feel her body like she was used to, that everything seemed mostly numb. Hanging in the sky were two extra large images, hovering in space. The first one, a painting that hovered just above the horizon, the other, a set of gears which seemed semi-translucent. She instinctively held her hand out towards the painting which flew to her so quickly that she ducked reflexively. The painting looked like an image of the Great Room they were in. She reached out towards it again and the painting began to animate. She saw the device which she had just plugged her mind into sliding into the empty picture frame on the end table and the wall behind the chair pulling away into a hidden area. A floating arrow pointed downward.

Reaching up to her head, she slid the hood off and the infinite grid vanished. She awoke in the real world with a start and pulled the hood from her physical head. Taking the device she made her way carefully to the empty photo frame and slid the device inside after pulling out the cable leading to the hood, which disconnected smoothly from the device. The screen flashed a few times and a voice echoed through the room. “Excuse me, but could you please re-orient my display device.” Joshua went over to the fireplace and rotated the small cube with a lens around until an apparition appeared in the center of the room. One that looked nearly identical to Charity, but significantly older. It turned about the room, smiling at everyone and began to speak.

“I have been programmed to deliver a message from Charity O’Banion to whomever found this device.” The apparition found Charity sitting on the couch, staring in disbelief. “Oh, hello My Lady. Do you wish to record a new message?”

Charity managed to cough out a “no” in response. “Tell us your message.”

The ghost made of light looked down towards the floor. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You have been drafted. You would have been drafted anyway, but this way you might have a chance to stop that which already happened. If you succeed, it’ll never happen again and you’ll never have to do this in the first place. The warrior who will save us all has already turned to dust. There’s nothing you can do right now to change that, but if you all stick to the plan, it won’t matter.

I’ve been at this for the last few decades, though only fifteen years have passed in this world. There are terrible groups of people, worshipping terrible gods made flesh billions of years ago, and almost all of them are out to sacrifice the world to their deity for power and secrets or simply because they’re insane and think it would fun.” She looked up at the group and held her hand out. “The followers of the Great Goddess will be helpful to you when the time comes to pass but not right now. Don’t trust them, ever as they are driven by their own selfish motivations, but especially don’t trust them now.

“It’s name is Ghatanothoa. It was imprisoned here by beings from another world. It’s terribleness is so powerful, that merely seeing an image of the creature instantly mummifies the victim. Only they aren’t deceased. It was imprisoned beneath the ocean and in a fragment dimension, but it won’t be soon and when it escapes the world and all life upon it will be consumed.

She looked sorrowfully at the floor again. “It’s our fault that this is happening. We didn’t mean to. Sometimes a Run just goes sour and you find yourself having to run away. Sometimes there’s side effects to running away.” Looking back up to the group before her. “Don’t tell anyone about the plan. They don’t know it’s happening and they might interfere. Hide the commlink in the basement. You’ll see where. You won’t need it anymore, but I have a task for some other people who will be by here later. Don’t leave home without your key. Enjoy the wine, that’s a gift from me to you. If the bedroom is overwhelming you, light a fire in the fireplace. It’s been enhanced.”

She went silent and a solemn expression came over her face. “He’s not my son anymore. Something else is wearing his form as a skin. Please… Please… Put him down. The dagger on the mantle should do the job.” She turned towards Charity and with the sudden vibrance of life cried out to her. “I’m so sorry, but there’s only conclusion to this night. It’s already happened. It will happen. It’s always happening. But if the plan succeeds, it will never happen again.” With that, the life left the apparition which started speaking in a monotone voice. “The conclusion of the recording has a program attached. Performing operation.” The far wall slid open and a rough stairwell leading into the basement could be seen. The apparition faded away noiselessly and silence hung in the air.

Joshua grabbed the dagger from the mantle and the entire group, including James, prepared to face whatever lay beneath them. As they started going down the steps, a terrible wind came up around them. The tools on the wall struggled with their mounts, trying to free themselves and a miserable scream echoed from the walls. The team hit the bottom of the stairs as Charlie manifested. Extending a hand, a knife flew from the wall and into the throat of James Alexander, Esq. taking him out of the fight. Margaret launched herself at his body and tore his shirt open, plunging a scalpel into a spot below the wound, allowing air to pass into James lungs. Joshua threw the dagger at Charlie, which flew just over his shoulder. Samuel ran over to the dagger and picked it up, getting ready to strike, while the rest of the group reached the bottom of the stairs.

Another knife flew from the workbench and struck the wall behind Gavin and Charity, sticking into the boards. It tried to pull itself free but couldn’t. Charity noticed a space behind the boards and motioned for Gavin to help her pry the boards off. Charlie manifested his baseball bat and swung at Margaret who dodged out of the way. The bat crushed James’s skull, spraying brain matter and bone across the floor. Samuel struck charlie with the blade, plunging it into his back. Charity and Gavin managed to free the boards. She reached inside and grabbed a skull, made of gold and overlaid with sigils and gemstones. Two large pink crystals sat in the skulls eyes and stared deeply into Charity’s being. All of reality seemed to diminish into a tiny point in the distance and she felt herself drifting into the Aether.

Samuel fired his shotgun, blowing Charlie’s head wide open. This time, no tentacle came writhing out and the body hit the floor, dissolving into a pool of black ichor and neon green bile. The team took a breath of relief and looked over to Charity who was staring into the skull. Without warning, she plunged the skull over and over into her head until she had completely destroyed the bone and tissues inside. Violently, she shoved the skull into the mass of flesh protruding from the top of her neck which quickly wrapped itself around the donor organ. With a scream of pain and the crunch of bone, Charity’s body twisted and reshaped itself until a middle aged man was standing in her place. He reached into the cubby and pulled a jagged purple crystal from inside. Wilfred got in his way and ripped the crystal from his hand and Gavin pulled his firearm out, ready to destroy this creature.

The being that was once Charity ran up the stairs and out of the house. The group followed through the doorway leading out, their firearms at the ready. In the twilight of sunset, they watched as a group of shadowy torsos ripped from the ground and pulled themselves to the party at a fantastic speed. They ran back inside, but it was too late, the disembodied shadows broke through the windows and began tearing at their flesh until they all passed out.

While they slept, they dreamt of a futuristic society losing children to an ancient one, caverns which travelled through time and alien creatures who steal the brains of their victims. They dreamed of a fight with a powerful sorcerer, who was quickly overwhelmed by the firepower of a group, and of his mind being placed in a skull identical to the one which Charity had taken by. That skull was lost on an ancient mountain, trapped within a glacier for eons.

They awoke to an incredibly awful smell. As though the morgue had caught flame and filled the room with its smoke. When they opened their eyes, a creature could be seen hobbling about the room. Gibbering to itself. It keeps extending its arms, poking their bodies with it’s long, gnarled, fingers covered in dirt and mold. “Wakey, wakey, eggs… and bac-ey… The Lady said you would be awake by now!” It shouted in a high-pitched, gravelly tone with a slight Boston accent.

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A mysterious letter arrives
Mr. Fixer Johnson? Who in the world had such a terrible name?

September 23rd, 1938 –
Opening your newspaper and glancing at the headlines, you can’t help but feel it’s a particularly harsh year. The death toll from what the media is calling the Long Island Express has reached over 600 people. An underground explosion at a coal mine in Stanton England killed another 78. Europe looks like it might be preparing for war again. Things are definitely unpleasant. You toss the paper in the rubbish, tired of the bad news and look through your mail. A letter from a creditor, reminding you of an upcoming house payment… A letter from a family member, informing you of the addition to their home… Then you reach the last letter, the postmark indicates it came from Bend in Oregon.
My friend,
I am saddened to inform you of the passing of a friend of yours. A Mr. Fixer Johnson of Brothers, Oregon. He left a very clear will which identified you, as well as some of his other friends, as the shared inheritors of his ranch. If you could meet me at my office in Bend, we can finalize the paperwork and hand the property over to you. Thank you for your time.
James Alexander, Esq
Bend, OR
BE-5735

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