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The Story To Date

Story 1, Session 1, October 2010
We begin the story with the very nervous, very agitated administrator of Vortex – The Secret Frequency’s Minneapolis site. Helena Signy, the Network Zero field correspondent, hasn’t checked in in over 48 hours. Standard protocol is to check in within 24 hours, even if she’s staying in the field. BubbaJay and Helena have a surprisingly friendly relationship, considering that BubbaJay replaced Helena as the Vortex’s administrator not one year ago. She’s always careful to abide by protocol, they both are. They know what’s out there, more perhaps more accurately, they know that anything could be out there. She and her cell aren’t the warrior type. It’s not their role. They quietly slip in, get the material, and slip out. That’s what Network Zero does – disseminate information about the enemy. Who is the enemy, you ask? There’s no single, monolithic enemy. No, it’s a collection of frightening realities lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch the weak, the vulnerable, and the unaware among us back into the shadows with them. Anyway, back to current events. The last 24 hours has given BubbaJay a lot of time to think about what he’s going to do. She left the coordinates of her investigation before she left, according to protocol. She noted that she expected to be back well in advance of the 24 hour marker. BubbaJay is hoping that this is the one time that she forgot to leave the message that she’s back, safe and sound. He’s hoping, but he knows it’s not the case. He’s called her cell, checked her status on all three of her computers, even looked into any activity coming from her ISP. Nothing. Some creative “access management” shows no activity on her cell and no GPS coordinates for it since the day before yesterday. These are all bad signs. So, BubbaJay does something that he wouldn’t normally do: he reaches out to the individuals on Vortex who have attempted contact with him in the last month. It’s a short list of 7, and he’s already run most of the background analysis that he conducts on every new member. There are some questions remaining, but he needs their help. And he needs it soon. If there’s any hope of finding Helena, or at least evidence of what happened to her, it has to come soon. With the heavy rains in the last several weeks and her choice of sites to investigate a single storm could wash away all evidence of her passing. Much to BubbaJay’s dismay, it’s time to take a leap of faith. His first target for recruiting is RangerJoe (James Kingston). One of the more recent contacts, he’s readily accessible and his ISP shows he’s the most local. BubbaJay makes contact through a hacked computer line and feeds him just what he was looking for: more information, a video of a failed attempt at a Hunt. Once intrigued, he gives Jim a time and location, fifteen minutes and three blocks away, to meet. BubbaJay sets up in the back of the sports bar and waits. Jim, too intrigued to pass up the opportunity for more answers to the maddening experiences that drove him from his native Chicago, meets BubbaJay. After a few uncomfortable moments of trying to get a read on one another, BubbaJay plays another brief video. Yes, this is exactly what Kingston was looking for. He needed something, someone, to validate that what he’d seen wasn’t unique, that he wasn’t the only one aware of just how thin the veneer of civility and safety was. BubbaJay gave Jim an offer: accompany him to a site at some time within the next seven days, with several other Hunters, and see for himself just what is out there. It didn’t take Jim long to make up his mind – and his response was “Where and when?” BubbaJay said he’d be in touch, and Jim returned to his shop. It was time, Jim decided, to start preparing. A few low-key calls were made, and through great timing and an especially desperate contact Jim acquired just the kind of tools he was looking for. Familiar tools, things he’d worked with in the past and had faith in. He’d worked with them before, and they’d dispatched enemies of a different sort.

Story 1, Session 2, Halloween 2010
Erika Mathers made contact with Medic82 (Aaron Brandt). This contact was in the form of shadowing him, poorly. After an awkward initial exchange where Aaron confronted Erika (Para Ord .45 in hand) about her intentions they spoke at a coffee shop and she explained that she needed help. That she was connected to Vortex, and that their field correspondent and her cell had gone missing two days prior. Aaron tentatively committed to help, so long as the others involved in the task seemed competent enough to watch his back. Erika contacted Jim and Aaron an hour later, giving them instructions on where to meet the rest of the assembled team. They met in an abandoned industrial park in Saint Paul, where Aaron, Jim, Drew, Anton, Maureen and Jack became acquainted. Erika gave a rundown of the very limited information available to them about the site and the correspondent team, and the six members of the search party departed for Walmart, the military surplus store and finally Deerfield, which would serve as their staging point. Upon arrival they checked into the hotel and then went searching for any sign of the correspondent team in Manganese. The entrance to the abandoned town was overgrown and there was evidence of a vehicle passing through recently. The team pursued the tracks into the woods, creeping forward in the waning sunlight. After finding evidence that a vehicle had sat for a time, then moved further in toward the town, they continued to pursue the tracks until dusk had all but faded. Turning the cars around, something was moving in the headlights – and then, just as quickly, was gone. The team members panicked, and sped down the trail back towards civilization. As they broke back out onto the road leading away from Manganese Jack fishtailed, the lights flashing across the same disturbing figure before the FJ Cruiser straightened out. The team burned out onto Country Line road at highway speeds and didn’t stop until there were miles between them and the site. They changed out of their gear and returned to town, grabbing Chinese takeout and retreating to their hotel. The team retired early, with Maureen and Drew zoning out into the television and Jack breaking down and cleaning his weapons. Anton seemed undisturbed throughout the entire encounter, and was the only one that seemed unscathed. Drew woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night, the remainder of the evening passing uneventfully. The team got an early start, stopping at a diner and then returning to Manganese by the light of day. Following the tracks they had yesterday, they passed the point at which they’d stopped and finally moved to within sight of the ghost town. Their advance by car was halted by several huge trees that had fallen over the road. Aaron noticed that the tree was scarred up, and upon closer inspection saw that the tracks lead over the trees – and that whatever vehicle had gone that route had broken pieces and cracked lines, leaving a visible trail of fluid. The team moved across the smattering of delapidated houses, finding a few traces of passing individuals, with all evidence pointing to years past. One house bore fruit in their investigation, showing signs of recent passing, a struggle, and a crawlspace beneath the house with what looked to be a body. Aaron penetrated the crawlspace and several team members entered after him, finding a large hole in the foundation of the house that led to a tunnel. They also found a pile of clothes, old and new, that had blood splatters upon them. One of the pants had a wallet in it, with a driver’s license which had expired five years prior. The team continued their investigation of the tracks, and upon returning to the road to ensure the fluid trails were intact they found the final destination of that vehicle – straight into one of the decaying storefronts and through to the basement. The team swarmed the building, clearing it and finding no threat. They checked the van, and what they found was unnerving at best. The driver door was open, the windshield cracked by what could only have been the driver’s head. There was blood on the windshield, the steering wheel and the driver door. The van was devoid of bodies, but was full of demolished audio and video equipment. The car was registered to Bisby, one of the correspondence team members. Jim pulled all of the intact data from the wreckage in the back (tapes, memory cards and the hard drive from the destroyed laptop.) There was a Glock 19 in the back of the van, all it’s cartridges spent but 4. There was more blood in the back, enough that Aaron’s EMT skills led him to believe casualties are imminent. Further investigation of the crash site shows drag trails, leading to a hole much like the one in the previous building. The session ends with the six cell members, armed and armored, staring down into the blackness of the hole.

Story 1, Session 3, November 14th 2010
BubbaJay has been out of contact since the night before, so Erika reached out to the final member of the group that contacted the Vortex content submissions email address in the early hours of the second day of investigation. She showed him the same video BubbaJay used to pique Jim’s curiosity. This new initiate was Erik Bystrom, an undercover narcotics detective with the Saint Paul City police. Erik looks a lot more like someone off the set of Sons of Anarchy than he does a cop. After their initial meeting at the end of a Target parking lot Erik parked his motorcycle and rode with her to Manganese. Meanwhile, as the team began to investigate the hole Jim noticed something moving outside, in the brush across the weathered street. The group, startled by the movement and Jim’s exclamation, pointed their weapons at the source of the movement – Sam Murphy. Sam had parked at the Southern entrance to Manganese and trekked through the ruined town, searching out signs of supernatural activity. He threw his hands up to show he meant no harm, and after a a tense exchange explaining his presence due to research on Vortex joined the group. Jim received a call on the satellite phone from Erika, who was arriving at the north entrance to Manganese just as Sam showed up. The party regrouped near the Northern entrance, where they met Erik and where Erika showed the group pictures of Bisby, Dues, Brown and Helena. The group also reviewed the media recovered from the wreckage, seeing the shocking conclusion to Helena’s trip. The correspondents were investigating at dusk, and Dues ventured into one of the abandoned buildings – only to disappear screaming into a hole in the floor. The rest of the team, one by one, ran in fear away from the scene. The camera got shaky as the cameraman, Brown, darted for the van. There were more screams in the darkness, and eventually the group reached the van. They weren’t alone, the camera caught a fleeting glimpse of something circling around the back of the van, between them and the road out. They panicked, and drove frantically away from it – and towards the barricaded part of the road. The van ran roughly over several of the fallen trees, losing pieces blowing tires and eventually coming to a stop after crashing through the front window of the general store. That was where the tape cut out. Erika left for Deerfield shortly after. The group, now 8, moved the vehicles back up to the part of the road barricaded with fallen trees and began to discuss strategy. Maureen, Drew and Jack were left to guard the cars. Maureen was posted on the second floor of the building the group had searched earlier in the day. The other five descended into the hole, one at a time. The hole took them deeper into the ground, advancing carefully as Sam tracked the drag marks and other odd imprints along the tunnels carved into the ground. They came upon an intersection that led back towards the surface, moving only far enough to determine that it probably surfaces beneath another of the town’s buildings. The group continued their descent into the earth, moving within first soil, then clay, and eventually finding the rocky mouth of one of the caves. Aaron began to move into the cave when a figure emerged from the darkness, moaning woefully and reaching out towards him. It was Dues, and he looked badly wounded – the bone of his right cheek was splintered and the tattered flesh above it seemed to move. As Aaron grabbed hold of Dues to lay him down and assess his wounds a tiny spider came crawling out from his tear duct. Before Aaron could react to the startling realization spiders swarmed from Dues’ mouth, nose, ears and out of the hole in his shattered face and began to collect upon Brandt’s arm and neck. He pushed Dues away, and a short firefight ensued. As Dues’ body took damage it deflated, a mass of spiders pouring out and crawling towards the party. Aaron batted frantically at the spiders are they bit his arm, his neck and his face. Sam blasted at the swarm with shotgun, obliterating most of it. At the same time that Aaron, Sam and Anton were engaged with Dues’ spider-ridden corpse an elderly man appeared in the tunnel behind the group. Jim and Erik opened fire, and a severe wound to the old man’s head sheared the human flesh away, exposing a slick black chitinous head. The rest of the soft flesh gave way to reveal a massive spider with long, sharp legs and long, ragged fangs. Jim and Erik blasted away at it, one of Erik’s shots taking a leg off. It grabbed hold of Erik and retreated into a tunnel above the one where the group was fighting. The group gave chase, following the sickly green blood that fell from the wounded spider, also finding human blood – Erik’s, spattered as well. The team of 4 moved with a sense of urgency, Sam’s tracking easier by the grotesque trail. Winding through several dark, web-streaked tunnels they finally came upon a cavern, coated end-to-end in webbing dotted with all manner of desiccated husks – explaining the terminal stillness surrounding the town above. The group slowly burned their way through the tangle, the stench of death and sounds of webbing giving way to send the countless corpses, animal and human, crashing upon that rocky floor in a chorus of horrific thuds. In the far end of the cavern lie a black pool, and on the other end a webbed-over mineshaft. Sam tracked through the labyrinth, eventually finding a pathway up a wall to a hidden pathway. In hot pursuit of the creature and it’s human cargo, the group wound through more caves, these unmarred by webs. Stopping at the mouth of another opening, they saw several alcoves in the room with human-sized cocoons. Throwing a rock at one of the alcoves, the massive spider skittered from a nearby nook and the team opened fire, piercing it’s chitin and destroying it utterly. The team began to cut away at the cocoons, finding Bisby unconscious but alive. After further investigation they also found Helena – she was conscious and hysterical. Aaron cared for the wounded, treating Helena for shock and attempting to wake Bisby to no avail. They had yet to account for Erik and Brown, but feared the worst – one human-sized cocoon was burst open, it’s contents spilled forth prior to their arrival. They followed the cave forward and came upon another sizable room, this one littered with more human-sized cocoons. Entering warily, the group threw a flare into the room. As the flare cast it’s bright red light a massive figure was illuminated, a frightening hybrid of a human torso upon a spider’s lower body clung to the ceiling near to them. The team opened fire frantically, but the monster moving with unearthly speed. It bit Jim deeply on the shoulder, and as it drew back it’s fangs he dropped to the floor paralyzed. The monstrosity flung itself toward the rest of the group, but was cut down before it could injure anyone else, dissolving into a swarm of spiders that fled in every direction. The team recovered Erik, but all other cocoons in the room were empty or hosted corpses. The team pressed on, hoping to find the source of the infestation or to confirm that they’d killed the last of them. After a lengthy walk through winding caverns, the team found the source of the breeze that wove through the passages. A limitless hole lay before them, made evident once they dropped a glowstick into it and watched it fade into the blackness. The decision was made to turn back, and to tend to the wounded. The team surfaced after hours of winding back through the tunnels, carrying the wounded that couldn’t move of their own volition. As they surfaced they tried to contact the rest of the team, but got no response… only a static noise that sounded like a constant hiss. Aaron and Jim snaked around the houses to find out what happened to the rest of the team as Sam moved across the street. Sam spotted something moving in the second floor window, Aaron and Jim went to investigate. Maureen was still at her post, scared witless. She explained that hours before, something had terrorized the three. Drew panicked and ran for the road, screaming in the darkness a hundred yards past the vehicles. That’s when the hissing started, and it hadn’t stopped. She never saw jack leave the area of the vehicles, she thought he was still there, somewhere. The team synced up their radios, then Aaron Sam and Jim circled the trucks in a wide arc. As they made their way across the street they spotted something crumpled on the road. Approaching carefully, Aaron investigated the figure and found Drew unconscious, the constant hiss was actually his ragged breathing. He was pulled from the road, Sam left to watch him and provide cover as Aaron and Jim approached the vehicles. Inside, they found Jack huddled on the floorboard with his gun aimed at the window. After collecting the rest of the team they fled, moving as quickly away from Manganese as they could. Sam made contact with a law enforcement contact and secured the still-unconscious Drew a place where he could quietly get medical treatment – in a CDC medical wing an hour outside of Minnesota. Sam and Jim went to deliver him, while back at the hotel in Deerfield the team cleaned up and tried to collect their thoughts. The evening ended not long before sunrise, questions remaining on whether they were done with the mines, or if they would have to return to lay to rest anything else that remained.

Story 1, Session 4, November 28 2010
Aaron and Anton took turns on watch through the day, as the others slept. Aaron tended to the wounded members of the group, putting a precautionary IV into a deeply sleeping Jim and helping to rouse Erik from the depths of unconsciousness. As Erik came to, he ran to the bathroom to violently spill everything in his system, the taste of spider venom still strong in the back of his throat. Shortly after the dry heaving stopped he fell back into a deep sleep, plagued by images of the spider that stole him away from the group. Nothing eventful happened the remainder of the time that the group slept, each one rising at or shortly after dusk but Jim – who slept until nearly 10pm. Aaron ran out to the local Chinese restaurant to get food for the waking crew, some of whom rose looking rested and collected, others looking shaken and unsteady. The group ate, then waited nervously for word from Erika about what The Secret Frequency would ask them to do next. Discussion was had, with some for returning to the depths in an attempt to destroy the evil that lies within once and for all and others ready to leave, feeling they’ve done their job by recovering what was left of the correspondent team. Erika entered the room and began to explain that the team would be going home when she received a phone call – from BubbaJay – and quickly exited the room. She got news that his home had been broken into two nights ago, and after fleeing kept a low profile by moving from one hotel to the next. The mysterious men dressed in cheap suits with white shirts and black ties had stolen his wallet, his phone, and his blackberry. Upon closer inspection of his computers, they’d also copied all of the data from the Vortex servers, both active and archived. By the time the police arrived at BubbaJay’s home two hours later there was no trace of the men. BubbaJay had spent the following two days reestablishing his identify and replacing his phones, unsure of whether or not he wanted to return home. Erika returned to the room, reiterating that the cell was to return home Minneapolis while BubbaJay followed up with The Secret Frequency and attempted to learn more about the enemy. All members of the cell returned home except Sam, who stopped in at the hospital to check in on Drew. His coma was unbroken, he hadn’t stirred, uttered a word or showed any display of consciousness. The cell dispersed upon arrival to the city, returning to their normal lives as best they could. Aaron was cleared for work, and started with his new partner. Erik continued to run packages for the Bosnians and to investigate the big picture that they were working towards. Jim returned to the pawn shop, an unhealthy obsession with the spiders spurring him to make drawing after drawing of the creatures trying to capture the perfect portrait. His back room, usually full of scattered notes and spreadsheets of his inventory, was covered with these sketches in a matter of days. Sam began to get situated in his tiny apartment, scouting the city for signs of The Keeper’s passing but finding little of use. BubbaJay began scouring the Vortex archives and the internet to absorb as much information as possible about spiders and their paranormal existences. Erika and Helena returned to coding, both happy to be safe and sound behind a computer screen after witnessing, first or secondhand, the horrors within the caves. The videos came out clear enough, until the creatures shed their skin and at that point the forms took on an ethereal blur. Three weeks passed, the injured recovering from their wounds and the nightmares eventually subsiding for most. Jim has a nasty pair of scars just above his collarbone, Erik a painful one through the center of his left hand, and Aaron tiny bitemarks dotting his neck and cheek. Some are content to be away from The Vigil, others itching to return to it, but none of them have forgotten what they experienced. BubbaJay called and interviewed each of the survivors, recording the conversations and then transmitting them to the Regional at The Secret Frequency. BubbaJay is still convinced he is being followed, and organizes a meeting just over three weeks from when the team had returned from Manganese – at King’s Pawn. He drives to the airport and drops off his car, wandering the grounds until he’s confident he slipped any pursuers. BubbaJay then hailed a cab and took it to the pawn shop, where Aaron, Sam, Jim and Anton were waiting – and outside of which Erik was surveilling. Several suspicious customers came and went, some buying, some just looking, and after they filtered out the Open sign was shut off and the doors were locked. Erik entered the building shortly before the place was locked up. BubbaJay laid out what he and The Secret Frequency had found – nothing conclusive, but a lot of lore and information about spiders and their role throughout many cultures. A common thread found in much of the information was of spiders as guardians of the passageways to the spiritual world, though arguments were made for them being guardians and predators. The diminished cell decided, after having similar arguments, that their course of action would be to try to destroy the caves, and the spiders with them. To blow the thin wall between the cave and the lake – the thing which drove the tragedy in 1924 – was the chosen method. After much talk, Anton spoke up and said he’d see if any contacts would have access to this kind of equipment. $3000 and two hours later, Anton returned with information about a construction project not far outside of downtown Minneapolis that had just what they were looking for. The team decided to head to the construction site in two cars, and scoped the place out for a full hour. They counted 3 guards, two roaming and one on the container holding the explosives. Erik also spotted an outbound line with an alarm on it, and laid out a plan for how to get to the container. Erik and BubbaJay climbed up a fire escape to the roof of one of the surrounding buildings, Erik providing overwatch and BubbaJay working to hack the outbound alarm and monitor the EMS dispatching system. The other four snuck into the site, Aaron accidentally drawing the attention of one of the guards, but with Erik’s advice was able to avoid being caught. The other three continued forward, both roaming guards now trying to spot Aaron hidden amongst construction debris and towering beams. From his hiding spot, Aaron began throwing rocks to distract the guards. With Erik’s advice, the other three converged on the guard at the container, who spotted Anton as he approached. Jim quickly tazed the guard, and Sam put the chloroformed cloth over his face. The other guards radioed the now-unconscious container guard, and Sam attempted to trick them – failing miserably and drawing their attention toward the container. Aaron attempted to grab hold of one of the guards, and after failing began to bolt away from them. At this point Anton and Jim had loaded their bags and fled from the site, Sam running to help Aaron. The guards began to chase, one falling behind and the other gaining ground – Aaron turning it into a game of cat and mouse, running, then hiding, when spotted he ran and hid again – until he was caught in the open at gunpoint. The heftier guard, who had fallen behind, was grabbed by Sam – who tried unsuccessfully to chloroform him. Turning to pistolwhip Sam, the guard missed, and the two began to struggle – at which point a shot rang out. The other guard had fired on Sam, the bullet tearing into the side of his chest, missing the armor and leaving him terribly wounded. Sam, struggling to stand, drew his revolver and took the heavy guard before him hostage – barking out an order for the other guard to drop his weapon. Aaron drew on the guard and fired, striking him in the back and causing a wound far less than mortal. The guard kept his gun trained on Sam, who chloroformed the hefty guard at nearly the same time that Aaron knocked out the other guard. BubbaJay disabled the alarm, but saw the EMS dispatch pull up reports of shots fired – the cell abandoned any aspirations of taking more of the explosives and fled the scene. Aaron took a badly injured Sam back to his home, and began intensive medical care to try to minimize the lasting effects of the damage. The others dispersed after arriving at Jim’s pawn shop, agreeing to meet up later to take care of the spider infestation.

Story 1, Session 5, December 14, 2010
Days passed, time enough for Sam to heal up with a few extra days for personal matters. Aaron spent five days tending to Sam’s wounds in his guest room whenever he wasn’t in the ambulance. Sam spent a few days canvassing the towns around Manganese, searching for any sign of Drew. While he got no lead on where Drew may have gone, he did find that an entire family of 8 disappeared from their farm less than a week after the cell departed from Manganese. Sam broke into the basement of the house, searching for a spider hole. He found nothing telling there, and searched the rest of the house. Rotten food on the table, refrigerator left wide open, but no obvious signs of struggle. The back door was open, so Sam followed it out. He checked the outbuildings, and came upon a hidden bur horrific scene – a spider hole set back in one of the horse stalls. He found a bloody human fingernail embedded in one of the wooden planks of the stall, and signs of struggle surrounding the hole. Aaron had returned to work, lifting what supplies he could from the ambulance and trying to evade detection by his new partner. BubbaJay continued to have feelings of being watched, but saw no signs on intrusion upon Vortex. Jim got back into the business of the shop, still obsessing over the incomplete job the cell had done in Manganese. Aaron, Sam, Jim, BubbaJay and Anton gathered at the pawn shop to discuss what comes next – each arriving with their chosen methods of monster disposal. When Bubbajay walked in the back door with a hunting rifle the crew got a good laugh. Jim tendered a Glock he hadn’t put on the shop’s books just yet. Anton acquired a .40 caliber pistol silencer from some of his black market contacts, and made the exchange with Jim for one of the SBRs. After some discussion, the cell decided that since there was no sign of Drew near Manganese they would clear his apartment. Closest threats first, after all – they were in the middle of a metropolitan center and if he was here, he’d have an endless stream of victims. The cell arrived in two cars, parking at opposite ends of the rundown urban Saint Paul street. The buildings were falling apart, the residents mostly absent from the frigid streets at one in the morning. Anton barely broke stride to pick the lock into the building, and the cell piled into the dilapidated 12-story building’s entryway. The building smelled of piss and decay, it’s scarred walls and dizzying staircase rising into the darkness above them. The elevator was out of order. Sam approached it, casting his flashlight int the crack between the doors and noticing cobwebs covering the heart of it. The cell decided to search the basement first, and after a bit of lockpicking by Anton and persuasion by Sam and Aaron the ancient door gave way, revealing crooked worn steps into the basement. The cell descended into the horrific scene – the spider had indeed taken root there, and there were five bodies lashed to the wall, so webbed over that you couldn’t distinguish their features. The cell spoke in hushed whispers about what to do next… Aaron, growing impatient, decided to employ a familiar tactic – he put both gloved hands over one of the thick, corded webs and shook violently. Much to his surprise, he didn’t get those hands back, and as he struggled violently against the sticky ropes the spider manifest from the giant elevator shaft – hissing menacingly, but failing to intimidate any of the Hunters. They opened fire, one after another, upon the monstrosity – chipping away at it’s chitin, opening holes through which ichor of a dark, sickly green oozed. It crawled along the ceiling and was destroyed in the volley of fire – breaking into a massive swarm of spiders running in all directions, but not before BubbaJay missed his shot and sunk it squarely into Sam’s vest. The group was surprised by the attacks of three of the webbed tenants, trying to grapple and bite at the cell. In the scuffle, BubbaJay and Sam were both bit by the tenants – but the cell worked to minimize the damage by cutting down the infected, making carefully placed shots that spun by their cellmate’s bodies to strike the intended targets. In the silence that followed the cell discussed what to do with the remaining captives… Aaron advocating to dispose of them quickly and efficiently, Sam standing between the cell and the spider’s victims, arguing to ensure they are infected. Sam spoke to the tenants suspended against the wall by webs, and received two very different answers… one worked it’s tongue between the webs and began to hiss violently, struggling to free itself from the bonds. Aaron dispatched it quickly, the blast of his .308 rifle ringing through the huge basement in a deafening roar. Sam cut away the webbing from the fifth victim, and she bagan weeping uncontrollably. Sam cut her out of the webbing and was accompanied by Jim and BubbaJay upstairs, where they dropped her off at her 6th floor apartment and ascended the stairs into the darkness of the highest floors. Every light on the 10th, 11th and 12th floors had been broken… and the group was thankful they’d brought flashlights to illuminate the disturbing space. After tossing Drew’s apartment, they found few new clues as to what might have happened in the space between his departure from the hospital and tonight. Jim found $300, BubbaJay found an engagement ring, and Sam found the address of their meetup prior to Manganese sketched out on a piece of paper. All three of these items disappeared into the pockets of their respective finders. They discovered that each of the tenants seemed to belong to the five apartments whose doors had been forced in – and that they were abducted in their sleep, in the dark of night, according to the bewildered old woman who was the lone survivor. In the basement, Aaron and Anton were picking up the brass and disposing of the bodies… Aaron had set the hollow skins alight in the elevator shaft as Sam and Jim returned to the basement and BubbaJay went to the car to hack the police dispatch. The crew loosed the line binding the elevator to the 12th floor and fled as it came crashing down upon the smoldering remains… as they ran from the basement they got a call from BubbaJay, telling them to get to the other end of the street quickly. The sirens went screaming by BubbaJay, heading to the building, as the cell ran the opposite direction to the car parked on the far end of the street. They returned to the pawn shop and dispered, Sam and Bubbajay wounded from the bites, to return to Manganese some day soon. Part 2 After a day’s rest, with the crew mostly healed up from their last encounter, they ventured toward Manganese early in the morning. Pulling into the North entrance, Aaron had the forethought to bring along a chainsaw and towrope. It took some time, but the cell carved up the trees and cleared them from the road. They pulled the trucks beside the destroyed general store and descended the same hole as the time before. Moving more quickly this time, the group followed Jim – no need to track when someone with impeccable direction sense has already been there one. Coming to the fork, Jim and a few others moved along the tunnel long enough to be reasonably assured it led to the small farmhouse with the missing family of 8. Moving back towards the heart of the cave the cell encountered no resistance. Peeking around every corner expecting disaster, the place seemed deserted. The shreds of discarded flesh lay in the same place they were left nearly five weeks ago. The cell moved quicker through the winding cave system, dodging the familiar holes that sank into cobwebbed spaces below. Coming upon the horrorshow that is the heart of the cave, the room in which the hole to the lake had been repaired, the cell realized that the spiders had been busy. Despite the havoc the cell wreaked in this room five weeks ago, dragon’s breath rounds and fire having gnawed through the sturdy bindings, the room had been returned to a labyrinthine maze of webs. The spiders had even strung up the horses from the stables of the abandoned house, alongside cattle and the family dogs. The cell carefully worked their way down the steep wall, one at a time. Their night vision was on, eyes darting around the room searching for any sign of movement… Aaron’s eyes caught movement around one of the massive hanging carcasses. As he squinted, he realized that it wasn’t from around, but within, the horse suspended within the web. A child, or what was once a child, crept from within the desiccated corpse and reached out towards Jim. Shots rang out, lighting the cavern up and thundering down the long passageways. The child-turned-monster hissed as several rounds struck the carcass and one hit home, shattering bone and tearing flesh. The monster and the carcass went spiraling toward the floor as more rifles rattled into the darkness. The cell stood still, listening to the effects of the brief firefight… the intricate webbing was damaged once more, and corpses began to rain down from the places they were once suspended. The dull thud of rotten flesh and wiry snapping of webbing continued for a long moment, the Hunter’s eyes the sole part of them that moved. Once the cacophony of noises ceased and the cavern was motionless they began their descent again. As the six hunters reached the bottom they fanned out, two by two, in a motion familiar to both Jim and Aaron. They navigated the sticky mess of broken bodies, their feet occasionally falling upon brittle bones, ground to dust. The cavern once more exploded with activity, another child crawling from the hollow body of a horse fallen to the ground. She sank her teeth into Jim’s left calf and the cell tried to carefully fire into the melee without injuring him further. At nearly the same time two more figures darted from the piles of carcasses and webbing, one moving towards Jim and the other towards Aaron. BubbaJay fired a shot from his rifle, catching one squarely in it’s side. The other Hunters’ rifles bucked, some rounds disappearing into the darkness and others weaving their way into the flesh of the creatures. Just as the life was extinguished from the one gripping his left calf the other monster reached him, sinking her pointed teeth into his right thigh and stunning him with venom. Sam’s shotgun caught her squarely as Jim’s body moved clear of his sights. Aaron put the last round into the creature that had bitten deeply into the flesh of his shoulder, and the cavern went quiet again. The stillness belied what had happened just before it, spent powder and the tangy scent of blood in the air overpowering, for a moment, the stench of death and decay that hung heavy enough to make you wretch. Aaron quickly tended to the wounds, Jim coming to shortly after the volley of fire was done. Anton, Sam and BubbaJay’s eyes flickered across the cavern searching for any sign of threats. Once Aaron was done patching himself up he moved as close to the repaired part of the wall as he could get, trying to work around a deep pool lining that side of the room. Jim popped a chemlight and dropped it into the water, then watched it disappear into the depths. Aaron began to assemble the bomb, the others watching the pool and the entrances to the room. A faint rumble began in the distance, growing louder with each second that passed. Aaron set the timer and obscured the explosives by dragging a carcass over to the wall and placing them within it. As the cell made their way toward the opposite side of the cavern the source of the rumbling became obvious, a stampede of spiders spilling forth from one of the webbed-over entrances. The cell began to climb the rope they’d attached to the top of the wall, BubbaJay first, as the swarm approached. He had trouble getting up the rope, leaving Jim and Sam dangerously close as the rest made their way up the rope. Jim began to blast away at the swarm with dragon’s breath shotshells from his Masterkey, but the swarm kept approaching. Sam drew the propane torch from his backpack and tossed it into the swarm, then firing on it. A brief flash, but not enough to stop the spiders cascading toward them. They quickly climbed, the spiders moving quicker and nearly catching them as they reached the top. The cell ran, with the stragglers firing on the swarm. BubbaJay and Sam put debris in their way, but it wasn’t enough to slow them… until Sam hit a critical beam and the tunnel came crashing down behind the fleeing Hunters. Trekking back to the surface in Manganese, they mounted the Cruiser and the Explorer and drove off to watch from a safe distance. A low rumble sounded off at the right time, but the cell watched in doubt and dismay as the frozen lake seemed to hold. Just as they started to discuss a contingency plan the massive sheets of frozen ice caved in, revealing that the contents of the lake had violently spilled into the mines.

Story 2, Session 1, December 26, 2010
The cell took some time to recover after their final venture into the mines. Sam continued to investigate for signs of The Keeper and picked up a job at a private security firm. Erik delved deeper into his undercover work, continuing to play courier for the Bosnian syndicate while a particular prize caught his interest and absorbed his thoughts. Business was booming at the pawn shop, keeping Jim more than occupied as he raked in the cash from Christmas shoppers desperate for a good deal or a few dollars. BubbaJay continued to administrate his dating services and to sort through data for Vortex, working more closely with Erika and Helena and trying to avoid the maddening thoughts of his home and his data being pillaged. Aaron’s EMT work brought him to the scenes of the murders of two Saint Paul police officers, each of them beaten to death by a woman in her early 20s. Erik was called into the station and privately showed footage of the suspect, taken by one of the officer’s cruiser cameras as he was battered. An undercover officer had been killed in the line of duty by the same suspect, which brought the total count to 6 in the last five weeks. The killings were spread out across both the Saint Paul and Minneapolis metropolitan departments, and no direct links could be found between the officers. Erik quietly took camera phone footage of the video, then sent that and the flier over to Erika for review. Sam was working for the private security company in the blistering cold, around 2am, when the familiar pain and nosebleed flared… and immediately he knew the source. A figure, bundled against the cold in heavy clothing, walked down the sidewalk across the street. Trailing a ways behind the figure was another form, this one bulky and covertly shadowing the first. Sam stealthily moved off to his truck, starting it up and racing toward the empty intersection as the figure approached it. Sam tried to hit it with his Bronco, but flew past as the figure suddenly stopped. Sam stepped out of the car and ran up to the figure, feigning a hysterical apology until he got close enough to see that her eyes were entirely black – then, backing off, he drew his .44 Magnum and fired. The figure launched at Sam, a clawed hand grazing the heavy cloth protecting him from the cold. The figure struck out again, hitting Sam in the chest and lifting him from his feet, knocking him onto his back. As the figure – who he now saw was a woman – lifted her clawed hand to strike at him again her abdomen erupted with the sound of gunfire behind her. She turned and charged the figure firing upon her – the one Sam had seen shadowing her – and struck him open-fisted at the temple. The figured collapsed, his gun crashing to the ground beside his motionless body. Sam steadied his gun as she exhaled a feral gurgle, steeling himself against the terror that gnawed at his mind. He fired another shot, and though the creature didn’t act injured it ran away. Sam got the truck, turned it around and picked up the figure collapsed on the pavement, throwing both into the truck. As Sam shook the figure, he felt a gun against his ribs – the figure had roused, and while dazed could still draw a pistol at breakneck speed. Sam eased away and tried to calm the figure, the two of them exchanging tense words before the gun was drawn away. The man, later giving his name as Kolton, explained that he was tailing the creature, a “Shade,” to it’s lair when Sam tried unsuccessfully to run it down. Kolton explained that the creatures are born of tragic, violent circumstances, and come back to avenge those that wronged them in life. Kolton also explained that the best way he knew to destroy them was to burn their lair down, and that if the body the Shade was possessing was destroyed that it could possess another body. The police arrived and Sam reported it as a gang-related altercation, convincing the officers that he was merely a witness while he worked his security job. Once the officers had departed Sam and Kolton tried to track the creature – unsuccessfully. Kolton and Sam parted ways without exchanging contact information, with Kolton advising Sam to watch his ass and to bring more backup the next time he tried to confront a Shade. Sam contacted the crew, need to update

Story 2, Session 2, January 9th, 2011
Sam, Jim, BubbaJay, Aaron and Anton await the arrival of Rene, the Shade, at the warehouse. Aaron demands to know the plan, to know just what the end-goal of this interaction is. As Anderson spills the last gory details of Rene’s demise and the chamber of Sam’s spinning revolver slows to a halt Sam noticed movement in the windows outside the warehouse. Sam calls it out, and points to the far corner of the second floor of the warehouse where he saw it. Aaron runs towards the stairway to the catwalk as Jim moves out of the emergency exit on that side of the building. Bursting out of the door with his gun drawn, Jim sees no figure on the fire escape and heads towards the front of the building. Aaron moves up the stairs, and upon reaching the stop stands still, listening for movement. Aaron hears movement from the office directly in front of him as Jim breaks around the front edge of the warehouse outside, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Aaron radios what he heard, and Jim begins to sprint back to the bottom of the fire escape. Aaron gingerly moves towards the office and flickers his flashlight on momentarily… spotlighting Erik, who is crouched in the opposite corner with his gun trained toward the office door. The laser sight on Erik’s pistol quickly finds it’s way to Aaron’s chest as he yells out not to shoot. The three return to the floor of the warehouse, where Aaron and Jim attempt to pry from Erik just how he came to be there. Erik gives no definitive answer, saying only that he was investigating the Shade. The four begin to argue about what to do with Anderson, and how to handle Rene. The compromise that the cell agrees to is to tie Anderson up and leave him for Rene, tacking a camera onto the wall to observe. Sam leaves his throw-away phone next to Anderson, and the cell leaves the warehouse for a ‘safe’ position blocks away. Erik follows, and the cell watches impatiently as Anderson begins to work his way out of his restraints. Once freeing a hand, he pulls the hood off and works off the restraints on his other hand and his feet. Just as the cell is preparing to turn back and recapture him, Rene appears in the middle of the frame as she punches Anderson in the jaw. He falls hard, his pudgy body bouncing on the pavement. Rene then goes to work on him in a long, violent, gruesome display lasting forty minutes… and making full use of the chair and splinters to inflict as much pain as she can on Anderson as he lay dying. Sam, Aaron and Jim watched in rapt fascination, but BubbaJay and Erik didn’t have the stomach for it. Once Rene’s handiwork was complete Sam borrowed Jim’s phone and called his throwaway… Rene picked up, responding in a snarl that sounded more demon than woman. Sam offered her a deal, that the cell would assist in her path to vengeance in exchange for her promise to hurt no one but those that hurt her. She berated Sam, though as the conversation went on her voice sounded more and more human, until it became little distinguishable from a normal 20 year old girl. Sam offered to mislead Kolton and his cell on her whereabout, and asked what Rene knew about the Keeper. At first noncommittal, when Sam spoke about the possession of a child her voice changed. Sam wasn’t able to extract anything pertinent from her in the conversation, but he was left wanting more, believing that she knew something about his target. She agreed to end her killing once she had crosses everyone off of her ‘short list,’ and Sam believed her despite a slight mock in her tone. The crew broke off to try to find more information on the Shade, Erik, Anton and BubbaJay leaving to pursue their own ends. The group, minus BubbaJay, reassmbled at the pawn shop later. They began to compare notes, trying to piece together how all of this had come about. Rene had surfaced six weeks ago and began her spree – what had happened six weeks ago to spur her return to the land of the living? The pieces began to come together as the cell talked it out. Anton’s contacts had been loose-lipped about the Bazaar after an untimely arrest of one of the guards spurred the rumor mill. Through Anton’s digging, and Erika’s informant (Erik), the cell was able to figure out the location, the time, the security and even the identify of one of the guests. They also discovered that six weeks ago tomorrow, the last Bazaar was held. The cell supposed that the last Bazaar was the trigger for her resurrection. The group began to debate just how to handle the situation, deciding that the best way to approach it was to go in posing as the identified guest. The rules of the Bazaar were that every guest was allowed two guards armed only with a pistol. The guests are to be dressed appropriately, and the event begins in the warehouse right next to the one where Rene tore Anderson to pieces at 9pm. The cell argued out what the best approach to removing the identified guest from play and decided to fill the elevator from their penthouse with nitrous oxide. A relatively safe, painless solution that wasn’t lethal – agreeable to every member of the cell. To help this plan Aaron spent several hours rigging a remote valve release, Jim’s attempts failing miserably. BubbaJay hacked into the hotel’s security system and took control of the elevators. Aaron stuck the apparatus and the tanks into a large piece of luggage and waited for Bubbajay to stop the elevator at the floor below him, prying open the door and slipping atop it to fix the apparatus and the tubes running into the elevator. He slipped out unnoticed and left the building. The group re-entered late, Jim and Sam dressed as cable company employees and Sam dressed as nondescriptly as possible. Erika programmed the security cameras to go on loop and the other three waiting impatiently in the stairwell. After several long hours in the stairwell the radio squelched and Erika told them that the guest had left his room with all four of his guards. They entered the elevator, and as soon as the doors closed Erika triggered the apparatus. First the elevator attendant, then the guest and one by one the guard crashed to the floor… but not without several shots being fired. The three slipped from the stairwell and immediately to the elevator, opening it up and airing it out momentarily before hopping on and taking it back up to the floor with the guest’s room. Aaron rifled through the VIP’s pockets as Jim indulged his Greed, beginning to pick every item worth anything off the bodies of the guards. As the elevator door dinged, it opened to reveal an empty hallway. The three dragged the VIP and the guards’ unconscious bodies into their hotel room, and Jim removed one of their shoulder rigs and put it on. Aaron, as soon as Sam and Jim were done searching the bodies, took one of the pistols from a guard’s shoulder holster, put it in the guard’s hand and pulled the trigger – against the VIP’s head. Sam and Jim looked on in utter shock, slack-jawed at Aaron’s callous Wrath. Aaron shrugged, and nonchalantly began to walk out of the room. Several other guests poked out tentatively from their rooms as the three moved quickly to the stairwell and hoofed it down the 14 flights of stairs. They departed from the hotel quickly and spent the five thousand dollars stolen off of the bodies to clean up and buy convincingly expensive suits appropriate for the occasion. Anton had to turn down accompanying Aaron, Jim and Sam to the warehouse because he would be recognized. Erik was mysteriously unable to go along with the three, and only Aaron knew that it was because he would be working security at the event. The three arrived at the Bazaar in their rented Escalade behind a Lincoln Towncar and a Yukon, all with windows so tinted you couldn’t see the figures inside. The guards outside of the garage door raised just high enough for an SUV to get through were dressed in expensive suits and overcoats, not obviously armed. Upon driving through the garage door, however, the situation was very different. At the door out of the parking area stood two large men in expensive suits, over which were military-grade plate carriers strapped with a mass of magazines for their Sig 552 Commando rifles. The three left the Escalade and walked towards the door and through the security checkpoint, being both wanded and patted down. As they arrived at the guest check-in Jim and Sam were shocked to see Erik standing there, in the expensive suit with the plate carrier and rifle. He stood behind a small kiosk, where a laptop computer sat with the checklist and guest information. As the credentials were handed over, Erik knew they wouldn’t match – and distracted the guard positioned with him by pointing out the small knife pinned to Aaron’s pocket. As the guard inspected the knife, then returned it to Aaron, the credentials were scanned through without notice. The three were released into the main room, which was surprisingly well-appointed for having been a large, empty warehouse not a day ago. On the far end was a stage, and in the span between were a sea of buyers, bodyguards and beautiful young women waiting to be sold. Drywalled rooms lined the wall butting up against the docks, and couches spotted the landscape throughout the floor. Scantily clad waitresses, quite possibly some of the very ‘product’ to be sold later, were dispensing champagne to the guests. Erik specifically requested that Aaron seek out and if at all possible extract Natalya, a woman of exquisite beauty that was purported to have extensive knowledge of the filthy business conducted tonight. Erik said she was the key to unraveling the secrets of the sex trade, that she had spent enough time beside the man in charge of the dealings to have absorbed important information. The three scanned the crowd carefully, searching for her as well as for any sign of Rene. They managed to restrain their disgust enough to betray that they didn’t belong here, Sam feigning interest in the merchandise and pretending to sip from champagne snatched from one of the waitresses. Just before the auction began, a man walked from one of the back rooms with an entourage – Natalya among them. He was older, short and round, dressed in a fashion loud and distasteful despite the expense of the suit. His black hair slicked back, incapable of covering the bald spot at his crown. His teeth were aged and stained, some chipped, and he chewed at a large cigar as he laughed. He had a nasty habit of checking the quality of the product as he strolled about, and was obviously someone of important in this place. The cell eyed him carefully, moving in a trajectory that bought them beside him, as he sat down center-front of the stage. The auction began, and as it wound on Sam decided to try to strike up conversation. Sadly, Sam’s inattentiveness to the station of the man drove him to a terrible faux pas – he complained that the merchandise wasn’t to his taste. Vlado, Erik’s new employer and the proprietor of the business venture happening tonight, began to raise his voice in anger at the insult hurled his way. His argument became more vehement until, suddenly, a wild look grew in his syes… and Sam realized that his nose was bleeding and the pain had crept into his sinus. The lights died, just that quickly, and panic swept over the crowd. The muffled screaming of a single man across the building crept over the hum of the crowd. Sam wiped the blood from his face and then reached out to touch Vlado, to ensure that he was there… and to put a bullet in his skull. What Sam hadn’t anticipated was being bit – Vlado sunk his fang into Sam’s hand, and through sheer force of will Sam overcame the Kiss and yanked his hand from between Vlado’s jaws. He also raised the Magnum to where he guessed Vlado’s head would be and fired off a shot – grazing the vampire’s skull and setting off a chain reaction of fear and flight, and momentarily blinding all those around him. The screaming in the distance gave way to a cacophony of screams from the crowd and one loud, agonized scream in the same direction the first had come. Aaron flicked on his flashlight, and Jim drew out and used his lighter to illuminate the space. Gunfire erupted from the catwalks above, the guards spooked by the screaming and alarmed by the gunfire. A hail of bullets rained down into the area around Aaron, Jim and Sam and each took injuries. Sam gripped Jim, and Jim Aaron, and the three fled towards the stage, up and towards the back of the building. As they reached the back of the stage they ran into a guard, who insisted that they couldn’t venture back into the area. As the argument began, the lights kicked back on with a buzz and an eerie yellow twilight was achieved. The guards on the catwalk saw the source of the anguished screams – one of their own hoisted up by Rene, who mercilessly beat his skull in – and they began to fire. She used the dead guard as a shield, retreating into one of the back rooms. The gunfire followed, and the three took advantage of the chaos by attacking and killing one of the stage guards. The guard opposite the stage fired upon then, raking across Sam’s vest and opening nasty wounds that sent him cascading to the floor. Aaron dragged him to cover as Jim dragged what was left of the dead guard to cover, taking the body armor and rifle for himself. Aaron patched Sam’s wounds, using only the items he had at hand. After stopping the bleeding, the three fired rounds at random to send the other guard to cover. When Jim peeked over the stage he saw the guard prone, rifle trained in their direction – Jim found cover just before more shots rang out. The three moved to towards the rooms lining the dock side of the building, breaking into the dressing room to find a mass of hysterical women huddled in the corners of the room. Aaron spoke in English, trying to assure them they wouldn’t be hurt. Jim echoed his words in Bosnian. Sam began to barricade the door as the other two worked at the drywall to the next room. Wall by wall, they began to burrow between the studs and move from room to room. A buyer was hiding in one of the rooms, and Aaron threw him out into the main room and locked the door. Eventually the three broke through to a room with an emergency door – occupied by one of the guards. The guard was initially alarmed, but let them Aaron and Sam pass as he was more concerned about what was going on just outside the door to the main room. Jim slipped in, and the three spoke quietly and agreed to try to rescue the girls – and to kill the guard. Mercilessly and without hesitation, they shot the guard in the back of the head. Aaron snatched the body armor and rifle, and the three ushered the girls out of the back room and out the emergency exit, into the frigid night air. They trekked across the warehouse district, carefully passing the alleyway between the Bazaar and the next as the guards and police had a gunfight at the other end of it. After putting enough distance between themselves and the warehouse they called Erika, stole a boat and moved the women to a location where they could be picked up. 13 women had accompanied them, and they were all piled into a panel van Erika had brought. Aaron tended to wounds as the three discussed just what to do with them. They stopped off at the pawn shop and clothed them, then dropped them at the hospital… all but Natalya, who had ended up alongside them through sheer good fortune.

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