Dark Matter

Unhinged

The Buddha was asked if he ever felt anger. “Of course,” said the Buddha. The Buddha was asked if he ever felt the desire to strike another. “Of course,” said the Buddha. “But if I am connected to all things,” said the Buddha, “hurting another is hurting myself. And how does that better me?”

“Why does this shit just make me angrier?”, Jack said aloud as he shut the CD player off. It didn’t matter if it was New Age music, Zen CDs or warm milk. The fact remained that he couldn’t sleep. It had been weeks now. How many? He had no idea and he couldn’t care less. He just wanted more than an hour or two of sleep. At first he thought it was just being restless and not having something to do. Hoffmann had given them some time off since Hancock showed up to shake them down. If the FBI was going to require them to ask permission to take a dump then that’s how it was going to be. But that didn’t mean Jack had to like it.

He didn’t. Not one bit. And at first he thought that was the issue. But now it had been a couple of months and Jack was still not sleeping. He tried to distract himself. He even went on Natalie’s MMA tour and pretended to be n charge of her security. That was more of a joke than a job. Natalie didn’t need the help. She could handle herself just fine. And Jack hated those fans. They all acted so tough because they were at that kind of event. When they came in crowds they got stupid brave. Jack was supposed to be around in case things “got crazy”. Usually just showing up took care of the problem. Even your average MMA fan and his buddies weren’t so tough around a guy his size.

He thought maybe that was keeping him up. Just being around those fans made him agitated. Maybe he couldn’t sleep trying to come down from that. But he knew that wasn’t it either. It had been over a month since the tour ended. And in retrospect he was making them out to be worse than they were. Mostly he just watched Nat try not to make beating people up look easy. He would never understand that sport.

Looking around the barn he saw all of Nat’s workout gear and fighting ring. She had done a lot of work to make it a functional space for her to get her workouts done when they were at the Hoffmann campus. All Jack had wanted was a heavy bag and she had delivered. He crossed the room to stand in front of it. It had always been the only thing that calmed him down. Angry? Hit the bag. Frustrated? Hit the bag. Tired and can’t sleep? Hit the bag. Never failed.

Until now.

And this Zen shit…it was supposed to calm him down. He was too violent and he knew it. For a long time he had forced himself to dial it back and relax. That only worked for a while, like always. It’s why he left the police force. A relentless urge to hurt bad people. With Hoffmann he saw a lot of bad people. Worse than he could have ever imagined. And he had hurt them. A lot of them.

He threw a jab at the bag. Maybe that’s all he was good at.

He hit the bag with a combo. Maybe he was just a thug with an overdeveloped sense of righteousness.

Left, left, right. Just a killer waiting for a reason to justify what he did so that he could sleep.

Right, right, right, right. The bag swayed wildly. He wasn’t what he wished he was. He was the opposite. He was the bad guy. He was the killer and his brain wouldn’t let that go. What did Jade call that? A feedback loop?

And now Anna said she wanted to start a family

Leftrightleftrightleftright…suddenly he was aware that he was screaming

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A little night music.
Sal in Seattle

The search for artifacts and tomes has been light, but I need to be sure that I use every effort I have to keep these dark items out of the hands of innocents.

The contact seems young, but he was insistent that the book he has is real. For his sake, I truly hope it is not.

Lost in my own thoughts, spot seems to be bored and starts nipping at my hand resting on the gear-shifter of the rental car. “We will be there shortly, Spot. Chill out.”

Approaching the intersection specified, I park and I see a young goth, nervously watching my car. I get out and walk over to him, Spot walking to the shadows on the other side of the road.

“Do you have the money? He asks. “If the book is authentic, I do”.
“Follow me.”

We go down a couple doors to an alleyway, and start into the darkness. I gesture to spot and he follows. I really don’t need him to wander off at this point. This was so much easier when he was a spirit.

We get behind the building stop by a few trash cans. He looks around and then shifts them aside to reveal a low hole going into the building.
He gestures to the hole and says “They are waiting inside”.
“You are kidding me, right” I say with a hint of annoyance. It looks like this kid wants to just fuck with me and mug me of the cash.

“You need to provide me something of proof before I go anywhere.” I say. "He leans into the hole and calls in, “Hey Mark, he wants a sample.”
Amongst some swearing I can tell someone is crawling. This seems to be more than just a hole. The young man that emerges is as goth as the one already here, but obviously more in charge. He brushes himself off and approaches, pulling from his duster what appears to be a few pages, ripped from a larger binding. “I’m not going to pay full price If there are pages missing.” I say as he hands them over.
These pages look authentic, I see pieces of a couple spells, but there are missing steps and key phrases. I’m not sure the goths would be able to make the leaps needed to extract these powers. I look up at him, and he says “The whole book is like this. I wasn’t able to make heads or tails of them.” “I bet you weren’t.” He gestures to the tunnel and says, “If you have the cash, let’s do this”

I hand the pages back and say, “Give me a sec.” as I fumble in my satchel and signal to spot to see if he will check out the building. He has a feeling of adventure and bounds for the hole. Once he goes in, I close my eyes and reach inside myself to find that connection I share with Spot and release some of my inner strength. I immediately see a familiar low view of the world which sharpens into a view of a tunnel. Could be a heating duct or such. Spot bounds through and into what appears to be a warehouse. Table and chairs along with a couch and lounge chairs are all ramshackled together. Looks like they turned this area into a nice little hideout. There are a few others in the area, and they are lounging/sleeping/passed out on the chairs and couch.

Great, just great…but at least it doesn’t seem like they are setting up any ambush. I hope they are smart and give me all of the occult stuff they have. I release my connection to spot as I step towards the tunnel.

I brush off my pants and look in. I crawl through the low tunnel. It’s probably 15’ long and was probably ventilation duct at some point. As I emerge into the dank stink that is the abandoned warehouse, the occupants barely seem to notice and continue doing nothing.

I approach the sitting area and the leader goes to a cabinet and produces a ragged book that seems to have seen better days. The cover seems to be leather of some sort with a few arcane glyphs. This could be promising.

There is a commotion coming from the tunnel. I turn towards the sound while listening for something to identify the issue. The barrels seem to be being tossed around and something is coming through the tunnel. I step forward and try to get between these kids and the commotion. I mentally frame my curses, as those should be able to give me more time to determine what is going on.

The stench that flows into the room when this person…creature…thing, emerges from the hole in the wall is sharp and massive. It’s a mass of tattered clothes and roughly human shaped. As it gets to its feet, looks directly at me and yells. I raise my left hand, show him my first and last fingers and say to it “the evil eye is watching you.” As my curse grabs it and forces it to not attck me, albeit briefly, I can see that this is a form of a human, but the bulbous and bloated face have little resemblance to its former self.

While the magic protects me from its attack, it looks around and sees the kids. The rage it holds must be released so it bounds towards the leader. There is only a moment until the creature is on him. I say a word, flourish my hand and my little glue bottle appears in my hand. I point at the creature’s feet, and release the ‘sticky floor’ cantrip to the spot. It takes hold and the creature is stuck in place. I need to neutralize it.

While it is stuck, I decide to force it to make mistakes. I gather my will and release energy to force dramatic failures. Spot loves this one, as he gets to take center stage. As I speak the incantation, he knows whats coming and walks across the creature’s path. What’s worse than a black cat crossing your path? Maybe one that is smart enough to know you are in trouble and sticks his tongue out at you while he’s at it…
Spot, you are an ass!

The kids start to panic and run from the room — good for them. Mike drops the book in the process, and I instinctively note the area where it landed.

I need to start to damage this thing. I say a few words and call for this area’s pests to swarm this creature. The vermin respond to my summons- rats, flies, and other vermin start to engulf this creature. They bite, claw, and sting this thing. My spirit lifts a bit as it starts bleeding. At least it can be hurt with mundane means.
While the swarm is buzzing, It keeps saying something about not killing it again and must kill me. After another minute or two of the screaming and bleeding, I would have thought it would be in worse shape… I scramble over to where the book landed and put it in my satchel. I turn back to the creature and decide I need more power if I’m going to last this out. I reach out with my first-learned curse and touch his willpower. I feel his willpower leave him and refill my own energy. He screams again in writhing agony.

With this last assault, he rips himself free of the glue. He turns and shambles to the tunnel. I guess he doesn’t want to die today. It might be hurt, but I need to kill it. This thing cannot be loose in the city.
As it crawls into the tunnel, I say “Thank you, dummy” to myself. I have the perfect solution. I raise my hands to the heavens and yell “To the earth, please obey me and reclaim this abomination to the ground.” The area around the tunnel starts to quake and heave. As the quake grows the wall starts to collapse, I believe on the far end. I yell at Mike to show me the door…there has to be another way out. I need to get on the other side and finish this.

He points to blankets covering a portion of the wall, and I head that direction. I pull aside the blanket, open the door and head around to where we started this adventure to see if I was able to get him in time. I round the corner and see a cloud of dust. I approach the area and draw my gun. I don’t dare any more magic out side…someone has probably already called the cops. I get closer and through the dust I see a pile or brickwork and two hands and forearms poking through. They are clawing their way free with the boney tips. What does it take to kill this thing? I dropped a building on it, for Christ’s sake…

I pull out my 9mm and start to aim between the hands and at ground level. As I see its forehead appear, I can still hear it saying that I can’t kill it again, and it must kill me…. It’s bloody mess of a face appears and it lifts its dangling jaw to scream at me as it realizes I’m going to shoot it. I pull the trigger over and over until I have no bullets left. When I regain my composure, the figure is not moving and the puddle of its face has melted.

I put my gun away and decide I really need to get out of the area before the cops arrive. I don’t really want to begin to explain this situation. Especially the occult tome in my bag. As I turn to go, I decide to snap a couple pictures… Maybe we can determine more info on this thing/person.

As I get in my car and start to drive, I run through the event again while its fresh and deduce a few things. This creature seems to be a Revenant. I recall that there are two varieties, one created from a traumatic event; and the other created and summoned by necromantic means. Since I have not need in the center of anything horribly traumatic recently, I’m guessing this Revenant was summoned and was being forced to hunt down and kill me. This can only be bad, as the last big things I was apart of was with the entire team, and there were necromantic possibilities involved. Shit… If these are connected, everyone I care about is in jeopardy.

I feverishly dial Anna. She doesn’t answer, and I leave a panicked message for her to be careful and an undead creature may be stalking each of our team.

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The Revenent Party Crasher
Thud! It's louder when it's you.

With the hiatus imposed upon us, and having seen one of my sons recently, I found myself longing for contact with my sons and daughters. While we don’t have a habit of calling every week, contacting each other hasn’t usually been a problem, with the exception of Ben and Capricia…

Nearly a year of searching brought me to San Francisco. I was growing weary of traveling to dead ends and cold trails, wondering why they were avoiding me. My ship of determination sank and I bought tickets to Minnesota, my colleagues at the Hoffman Institute would be around… if only Wade.

Wade picked me up at the airport. I was weary and he was frisky. On the way back to the compound he asked… no begged me to go out for a drink with him. I said something about sleeping when I’m dead and he smiled that smile that makes you wonder how he’s the only redneck with all his teeth.

We went down town somewhere, damn if I can remember where, but we were walking around, stepping in to bars and getting a couple shots or beers. We weren’t too far gone but Wade went from frisky to handsie after the second stop. I told him to stop but he didn’t so I tossed him in a taxi and paid the fare to get him home. As the taxi rolled away, I realized the key to the truck was still in Wade’s pocket. Fuck. Well, I’ve never before had trouble finding a ride home, maybe not my home but never trouble.

Walking up the front of the next bar I heard a commotion off to my left. A bum pushing past people like he had a purpose was heading towards me. In a moment, our eyes met and I saw the spark of recognition in his eyes. I bolted across the street as I heard him bellow something about killing me like I killed him. I ran into the parking ramp, climbing the levels as my buzz fell away with the flood of adrenaline. I ran up the second level and heard him gaining. Fourth, I thought, fourth level, if I can make it there I think I can get away. Making the round to the third level I felt his fingers brush the back of my shirt. I ducked to the floor, stopping as abruptly as I could but I sensed him vault over me and halt.

I bolted the other way, heading to the edge of the building. Just as I got to the short wall, he grabbed my shoulder just enough to turn me where his meaty fist pounded the side of my head. Damn it, blackness flooded my vision as the smell of dumpster juice enveloped my remaining senses. I tried to roll with the punch but only managed to roll over the barricade into fresh air.

THUD! It’s louder when it’s you. Fuck, grass side next time, grass side. A crowd of people swarmed to me with phones out, some calling 911 and some recording the next viral video. I begged them to help me, to move me somewhere safe. Another declaration of intent came from above, but this time it sounded frustrated… good. I got up and stumbled with the crowd back to the front of the bar only to hear the bellow, again, at the ground floor.

I knew it had to end here, that I wouldn’t find rest until that thing fell. I drew K9, my sidearm, and leveled it at the exit of the parking ramp. Somebody yelled, “Gun!” and people screamed and fled, clearing the battle field of innocent bystanders. I pushed the tunnel vision aside and pulled the trigger when my pursuer stepped out. I hit him center of mass, like Jack trained me, and my target took a knee and I breathed a sigh of relief… then the hole closed up with the cracking of ribs and it bellowed at me again but with an almost gleeful tone.

I had 2 more shots in him/it before it was grappling me and chewing on my neck like a rabid dog. That’s when I noticed the large black man with a badge and a smoking gun beside me. I heard the shots he took and saw the creature buck, but just didn’t find time to think about him earlier. The look of terror on his face was over shadowed by the resolve to serve and protect. I tried to fire 2 more rounds into its guts but only the last one made it release me and I stepped back to give a clear shot to the officer. The LEO put another round of lead into the beast and it started to break apart at the deformations and, slowly, fall. I fired one last shot, for good measure, that tunneled to the spine before being covered in black nastiness. I thought it was dead, not the smell but the creature.

As the focus of battle wore off, my gun started to shake and I slumped against the wall before sliding to the ground. In the distance, I heard sirens and thought about what I was going to tell my team.

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Revenent attacks and a new mission
Natalie's Point of View

My fighting career is going great. I really like helping people with the institute but the break and being able to focus on training has been… amazing. Wu’s school is growing so fast! He thinks I am the reason, but I see and hear his passion for it. Jack has been doing security for me when I travel. Not so much needed, but it makes life easier and nice to have a friendly face around when I am away from home. I think he has some growing respect for “play fighting” but it is bothering me less as the time goes by anyway. Sometimes Wu and/or Ana come along too. Those are by far my favorite times. Fuck… am I actually happy?
I am at the gym after a day of classes and sparing stretching. Someone tries opening the locked door, I don’t think anything of it as it is probably just someone who forgot to grab something from the locker room before leaving. Wu is at in the office so I just let him help them out. The door opens and I hear a scuffle. I sneak up to see what is happening and contemplate heading to the office for the gun. When I peek around the corner I see a hulking beast that looks kinda like a human but more… I don’t fucking know… “Frankenstien-y”. He has Wu on the ground… hands around his throat. Wu’s face is red… and… fuck, shit… I don’t even think. I am charging, a tele knife out and tackling this monster before my brain catches up. I slide and feel a smirk on my face as the blade slides into the things chest. I just finished thinking “Game over mother fucker” when I land on my back. Looking up at the bloody mess of a creature over me. Shit. Even outsized I am not really used to that anymore. I get it together enough to find a way to snake out of his grip and get him pinned again. These clothes will be burned. The blood.. The smell. I had assumed Wu would just go get a god damn gun. He knows I can handle myself but goddamn chivalry and male ego has him coming to help me. I yell “GO GET A GUN!” He takes off and the thing throws me off him. We square off and I chance a look at the door every few seconds to see if Wu is ready to take a shot. I decide to buy time and just concentrate on not getting hit. If you can’t trust your boyfriend with your life who can you trust right? I dodge a couple swings and between glances Wu has made it back with the gun. I know this because he yells to stay back. Perfect. I start to think this might just be alright. The shot rings out and it’s center mass, pretty sure it’s about where I stabbed him. It is hard to tell because I am distracted by it healing itself and saying something about killing me like I killed it… My mind is filled for a second with some occult possibilities but I shove them aside before anything clicks. I can think about that later, or just call Sal. I manage to yell out that he is healing. Wu’s next shot lands in the things head. I prepare for another lunge at me, this thing is clearly after me, but it seems Wu has become a big enough threat with me just dodging that the thing goes for him. I watch in horror as the thing stretches it’s fists into bone claw fingers and takes chunks of skin from Wu’s gun arm. Wu stumbles back and turns it into a tactic by getting into the office and putting the desk between the two of them. I will be god damned if I watch by boyfriend die. I charge the thing… Giving all I can I smack into the back of the mother fucker, riding him to the ground knees on his back and manage to sever his head before we hit the ground. We make sure the thing is no longer a threat and I bandage Wu up. I am a little worried about some sort of occult curse spreading through him… I fight back tears and the thought. Wu notices… and I see him think to ask, but at this point he knows better. He says he will contact the Special Affairs Division. I tell him I will tell Hoffman. We both know this will happen, but we have worked out a sort of code about this shit. I contact Sal and send him the pics and relate the story quick and nervously ask him about a curse or contamination. He has his own encounter as well. He assures me these are Revenants. Reanimated corpses seeking revenge. No worries on curses if that is the case. Fucking thank god. We meet back up with Anna and discuss as all the group has been attacked. The general agreement seems to be that this is possibly related to the last couple missions. Sal makes contact with an old… friend Cassidy Winters. She is concerned about something and wants us to help. She bought the old Grant building in downtown Minneapolis. She bought it without taking a look because of paperwork saying it was in good condition. She went to visit the property and was attacked by a small man who might have been wearing a cape. She defended herself with a stun gun and the thing flew up with the cape that now seemed to be wings. It then swooped down and took a chunk of her hair. She asks if we can help and we all want to. Anna is a little worried about the FBI but we work out that we are just touring a new property a friend purchased. She gives Sal a set of keys and lets us know there is no security on sight.

Sal offers Cassidy a ride home. When they leave Danielson mentions she was acting weird having recently been through something like that. I brush it off assuming he is just kinda misogynistic., but Mia adds that her aura is showing confusion. We start discussing different occult reasons. Mostly working off her missing some hair and a bat like creature. We bring up some options and discuss them a bit and Sal comes in. He says “That bitch is crazy” I glare at him. He has the decency to look a little sorry about it.. Probably just being caught.

Upir seems the most likely . Sort of like a vampire but a little weaker. They have some intelligence but are mostly animals. They can flap and fly a bit, but mostly glide. They prefer the dark and it is thought they have sonar. Holy objects do have an effect.

The rest of the team is looking into the building blue prints and history of the area. I am around to help, but really no idea what I can do but keep my skills sharp.

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The Church of Ancient Wisdom Part 3

After concluding that Brother Ryan was planning to perform a substantial black magic ritual and that he may have been alerted to their investigation, Agents of The Hoffmann Institute arrived at the compound to find it minimally guarded.

The Agents fought their way to a path in the woods leading to an enormous bonfire with robed figures surrounding it in an inner circle, and heavily armed cult members forming an outer ring to protect the ritual that was being performed within.

The Agents were able to break through to the inner circle but failed to stop Brother Ryan from completing the ritual as he stepped into the fire.
The effect of the ritual as are unknown as there was no immediate effect other than the tripping of the Dark Blessing spell Sal had cast on the Agents prior to heading to the compound.

Agent in Charge Bliss decided that it was time to alert Special Agent Hancock of the FBI Special Affairs Division about the ritual. Field Director Takamora relayed the report and was in turn instructed to pull her Agents from the field immediately and to expect another visit from Hancock after SAD secured the site.

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The Church of Ancient Wisdom part 2

We land and get rental cars. Jack and Wade head off. The rest of us go to the University. Sal and Danielson head off to the admissions office.

Mia and I stop off at a residence hall. We get some University branded clothes and head over to a residence hall. I walk up to a girl in a sorority shirt and ask her about joining. She… uh well she’s a fucking frigid bitch to me. She finally just suggests I go to the new residence hall and I say “That’s a good idea” and head off.

I get there and catch a frisbee as it passes by and toss it. It hits the guy in the face. I laugh, but force it back as he runs over. He recognizes me. Which at first feels great but then I panic about the mission. A crowd starts to gather. I start signing autographs and posing in some pictures. I ask what classes people like and listen for religion stuff. It takes a few shouts but one guy finally mentions religion. I make my way over to him and mention that I met Professor Smallwood at a fight once and thought he still taught here. The guy said that he left two years ago with no sort of feeling that it was is last at the University. I thought about him maybe recruiting from the students and asked if he know what he was up to now. This dude seemed to like Smallwood a lot, but I still don’t know. Some dumb ass frat guy pushes him out of the way and pulls some misogynistic bullshit naming male fighters and telling me I couldn’t beat them. I name an advantage each has over me and say “It would be one hell of a fight” which is the canned response Alice gave me to use. It works just as well as it is fucking lame. I know I could take Frankie Edgar and most would probably be a good fight. I check out some bulletin boards and at first I don’t see anything, but notice a symbol and find one sort of buried. So nothing recent at least.

Jack calls. There is a compound hidden back on the land. There is a locked gate with a camera. They backed off and Wade circled around. A car pulled up and two people checked out the area. After they leave Wade took out the camera. The two and one checked out the camera. Wade continues on through the woods and sees a compound fit for about 50 people. Jack met two people, Tina and Peter. They pulled up on a crappy mini van. Jack was pretending to have car trouble. Peter claimed to know about cars and looked at it. It was working of course, but they changed then from friendly to insisting Jack leave.

I take the flier and ask around. I keep getting recognized and stop asking randomly. I bring it up to the people that approach me after some autographs and fight talk. I get nothing. At least he isn’t preying on the students. I text Jack asking

Mia and Sal get a tour of the place. We have Danielson get us into the parking garage. Eventually Mia makes it down and we head up. I get us in the door. Wade starts taking pictures of bookshelves. I take a closer look at pull out some occult ones. They find a safe with a finger print scanner. Jack and Danielson start figuring out a way to get in. I realize there might be wards around and start looking. I realize there is probably one in the safe and manage to catch them just before. Sure as shit there is an alert ward. Sal just covered this with me for the compound and I am able to disarm it and reset it to alert me. There is about 50k in cash and some occult books. I take a lot of pictures of the books but don’t notice the same symbols from the flier. We wrap up and head down.

As we group back up we realize there is a service going on for the chruch. Jack decides not to go in as he was seen at the compound and Sal isn’t interested, but I mention it might be a good idea. As I walk in I get a vision. It is intense:

The room seems to darken at the edges as you feel an oppressive weight descend on you.
Brother Ryan’s expression changes to one of perverse joy as he leans over the pulpit, white knuckled hands gripping at the edges.
The congregants remain frozen in rapt attention, slightly thrumming as if connected to a high-voltage wire.
As he continues his sermon, his voice is joined by another. It is malignant and alien and it makes your head hurt and body ache as if you just came down with the flu.
Now you see two of his acolytes have just finished constructing a wooden figure behind him and before you can make out the details they set it alight.
The fire engulfs the wood and a blazing bonfire silhouettes Brother Ryan as he raises his arms in triumph. The congregants continue to vibrate as their bodies contort and smoke begins to rise from them.
One woman manages to turn her head to face you and you see that she is clenching her jaw tight enough to crack her teeth which are exposed in a terrible rictus grin. Her eyes are rolled back into her skull and the whites bulge cartoonishly before bursting in a spray of gore. Smoke begins to billow forth from the sockets.
The rest of the congregants are in a similar state and Brother Ryan begins to laugh in ecstasy as they all begin to emit a high pitched keening wail.
You now realize that you have joined in with your own scream; issued through clenched teeth as your muscles seize up in electric convulsions that threaten to break bones.

I rejoin reality with Wade helping me into a pew. I mumble thanks to him and try to remember as much of the vision as I can. At some point I notice I am listening to Brother Ryan.. and start thinking maybe he is a good guy. Like Sal he uses the power to do good things. The sermon wraps up and I start felling like maybe he was working something but I am not sure I need to bring that up to Sal along with the vision. He invites everyone for snacks. The congregation follows in I straggle back but follow just behind. Danielson walks up and chats with him. Wade talks to him next. I keep looking around for more information and notice he is still talking to a very interested Wade. I remember the feeling from the sermon and text Wade “You are being abducted” I watch out the corner of my eye and that breaks up the conversation. Wade looks confused but goes get a doughnut, I walk over and tell him what it looked.

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The Church of Ancient Wisdom Part 2

(narrated by Waylon Jennings)

The Department 7 crew landed outside of Chicago to begin their investigation of Professor Ryan Smallwood and the Church of Ancient Wisdom. Natalie, taking on her new role of lead agent, divided the Dep 7 crew into teams. She sent Jack and Wade up north to investigate a piece of acreage owned by the Church of Ancient Wisdom while she led Mia, Sal, and Danielson to Northern Illinois University.

Out there at that college, Nat and Mia mixed in with the students to learn a little bit about what kind of teacher Professor Smallwood was. ‘Course in the process, enough of the students recognized her from her fightin’ career to form a rather inconvenient mob. While she was stuck signing autographs and dodging leering taunts from a frat member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Mia was contemplating a previous visit with a prim, pretty, and rude sorority girl. Over a hundred years of living, and the woman still had all the intentions of a teenager. Them two girls gave out a lot more info than they got. It turned out the students really liked ol’ Professor Smallwood, but he wasn’t teaching any more.

Sal and Danielson didn’t have much more luck. They masqueraded as investigators trying to question the good professor about a rival seeking to do harm to the Church of Ancient Wisdom. There wasn’t a rival, of course, they made up that whole story to fool a crabby old administrator at the school office hoping she’d give them some valuable way to contact the Professor. She was about as tight lipped as a frog holding in a horsefly. She did give them the name of the fella who took over Smallwood’s classes, though. One Professor Silver. Guess he was the runner-up in the theologian race.

Silver was friendly as could be with Sal and Danielson. He swore up and down that Brother Smallwood was a good man and wouldn’t hurt anyone. Sal managed to confuse the poor feller into thinking the one he was accusing of foul play was Smallwood himself. Well by now it was plain as day Professor Silver was into the whole Church of Ancient Wisdom business and he wasn’t about to give up any major intelligence other than the location of the Church where Smallwood gave his sermons.

Now Jack and Wade spent their time packed up in a car filled with gear. Mostly they sat in silence. Wade found plenty of country stations to flip through. When they got to the acreage, there was a steel gate barring the dirt road that led back into the woods. Jack spotted a camera watching the gate and started to hatch a plan to get around it. He and Wade got back in the car and backed up a ways down the road until they were out of sight from the camera. Then Wade took off running through the woods until he got around the side of it. Before he could shoot the camera with one of his arrows, a car pulled up and a middle aged feller got out while a young woman stood by the doors. They glanced around then headed right back the way they came. Wade took out the camera as soon as they left. Jack told him to sit tight. It took about 20 minutes for the car to come back and now them two folks looked mighty agitated. The man even examined the camera and found where Wade’s arrow took it clean through.

Jack and Wade sat tight and that car drove off again. This time, Wade headed after it, being careful to avoid any other cameras. Jack stayed with the car for a good hour or so, waiting on Wade to investigate a compound he found further back in the woods. Soon enough, Jack got himself some company. A van pulled up behind him and two people got out to ask him what he was doing. Now, luckily, Jack was no dummy. He planned ahead, popped the hood of the car, had out his cell phone, poured a little water on the hot engine to create some steam and mimicked a call to his rental car company to convince the two questioners that he was just a stranded passerby looking for assistance. He fooled ‘em well enough but they sent him back to the road to wait for help.

Wade, meanwhile, found a compound with a farm house, two bunkhouses, an animal barn, a pair of utility sheds, two outhouses, and an outbuilding to house the site solar and wind generators. The farm house had a couple of cameras but the place wasn’t terribly defensible. It looked like a standard off-grid living compound that could hold about 50 people if it needed to. Without anything more major to discover, he traced a route back to the car they could use later. He and Jack then went to meet up with Nat, Mia, Sal, and Danielson back at a penthouse belonging to the good Professor Smallwood.

Now what a former professor turned churchman did to afford a penthouse in one of the nicest buildings in Chicago was anyone’s guess. But it took some doing for the rew to find their way in and up to his apartment. Mia and Sal posed as a married couple looking for real estate and Sal worked his magic charming the britches off their tour guide. Mia took advantage of the distraction to steal a keycard that would let the rest of the crew into the building. Of course, they had to get iin through the parking garage first.

Luckily, Danielson was able to hotwire the keycard box that opened the gate. The crew got entrance to the building thanks to Mia and they took the elevator right up to the penthouse floor. Nat picked the lock to the Professor’s door and they got to looking. Nat and Danielson found a biometric safe iin one of the walls. Jack, being a former trained police officer and all, knew how to access the safe and gave soe instructions. Danielson put together a workable fingerprint and they opened the safe. Inside the safe, Natalie found a warding seal. Thanks to some training with Sal, she knew that if she crossed the seal without taking down the ward, the person who set it would know. She performed the ritual to remove the seal and they inspected the contents of the safe, a few old occult books and fifty thousand dollars in cash. It still seemed might strange that a church fella could afford all that and a library ripe with occult books.

Wade was making a mess of things in the back office, but he did manage to open a wax-sealed letter, snap some photos of the seal and a coded message inside the envelope and re-seal it without too much issue. Jack had to clean up his mess though, and he was none too happy about the lack of care. Mia had gone back to the model unit where Sal was still Distracting the tour guide with his shining personality. She returned the keycard and everyone hauled tail to get out. It was just before seven o’clock.

Since they had time, the crew hurried over to the Church for the 7pm sermon they’d found out about from some fliers on campus at NIU. It was more of a business building than a church, but it looked like the organization had contracted the space because they could all hear some sermonizing going on inside. Spitting up, they took seats around the room, watching the crowd as the listened to Professor Smallwood. He was a mighty fine speaker it seemed. Folks from all walks of life looked downright elated to be a part of whatever message he was preaching.

That message struck Natalie with one of her visions. She went start still but for the erratic quiver of seizing muscles. Danielson and Wade got to her quickly and sat her down before she fell over. She didn’t say what happened, but she looked pale and shaken. Still, while the Professor, or Brother, rather, was speaking, Mia and Natalie started hearing what he was saying about peace and joy and good living and thought it matched right up with what the students at the university told them about Smallwood. He seemed a nice enough fella and what he was saying didn’t seem to hurt nobody. In fact, most folks looked glad to hear it.

When Brother Smallwood finished what he had to say and invited the congregation into a conference room for coffee and donuts, everyone went to see what he was all about. By now Sal was getting ighty suspicious, thinking that people were taking to Brother Smallwood’s message unnaturally easy. As a precaution, Sal warded himself with an anti-magic barrier. Wade didn’t find anything the matter with Brother Smallwood when he set to talking to him. In fact, what the brother said made a good lot of sense. So much sense, that Wade started to wonder if what he was doing with his life was really worthwhile. Was he getting the answers he was after? Was he really helping anyone? Was he doing what he was meant to? Department 7 had led him to any information yet about the existence of aliens. And here was Brother Smallwood telling him to be true to his heart.

Right about that time, Natalie, who was watching Wade get brainwashed by the Brother’s magic mumbo jumbo, sent him a text telling him he was being abducted again. That set off every alarm in ol Wade’s head and he backed off and went to find himself a donut. That was a lot simpler than thinking about the existential issues of his life. Before the Brother could intercept any of the other crew members and apply his uncanny skills of persuasion, Sal put himself in front of him and squared off in a battle of wills. The Brother found himself uninterested with Sal as he wasn’t receptive to the church man’s message. The service wrapped up and the crew gathered together to discuss their next move.

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Church of Ancient Wisdom part 1

Sal has agreed to teach me the basics about warding in regards to what he is doing around the compound. That should be about as cool as it will be creepy.

The Worthington Estate in Tennessee is becoming dangerous. The research staff has been removed and the house has been quarantined. We will need to go there eventually but there is currently more pressing concerns.

The Warren woods, where we turned into children and fought the witch, is now owned by Hoffman. The witch was dealt with, but the area is still wonky. That is apparently just a relation to the area not from the witch.

Sal is getting a warding stone. They are expensive and he needs a big one. It needs to be secured and it’s a good idea if we keep it on the DL. They are generally acorn to football sized. I mention to Sal amulets would be a good start.

The day after the meeting a single government car pulls in. The security detail gets out and I don’t recognize any of the three of them. I head to the conference room and see Jack sitting at the table. I walk in and head to back and hold up the wall. The team enters and the driver notices the cameras. Takes out his phone and does something that makes him nod and puts it away. Agent Hancock introduces himself and wastes very little time trying to assert some dominance. We are kinda up shit about a group of occult collectors/societies that would probably be the best bet in locating something like that. They often require an artifact as proof of that are of the same mindset. I suggest one of the rat creek here with a tiny paddle. Anna plays nice. I stay quiet. He is kind of a dick. Jack.. frickin’ Jack. He pushes back on Hancock a little and I think I hide a smirk. Hancock does mention it’s beneficial that we are civilians.

He then asks about our recent mission in Milwaukee. I have no intent on saying a damn thing. Jack launches into a very Jack way of describing the mission and Mia chimes in. I notice the stone faced dude in glasses was no doubt eyeballing me as the biggest threat. Which is as flattering as it is accurate. Though I do suppose that depends on if it will come down to gun play. Not that I want that shit by any means. I come close to showing a reaction to that but I manage to keep steady. Jack starts digging in a little with questions. He asking something in the Jack tone about Hancock being the Dad brought in because the Step-Dad wasn’t handling it. He is a little… I don’t know what the fucking word is but he kinda shrugs it off. He does say we can’t “impersonate” Federal Agents. Motherfucker we had the ok from Rausch… anyway.. he says his goodbye and attempts to mention again that he wants a friendly relationship. The guy watching me is last to leave and shit I can’t help but wink at him. Let that fucker know I knew he had an eye on me. It was at least twice as satisfying as I thought it would be. After they have left Anna asks for advice on how to proceed. I say it might be good to think about the kind of relationship we want with Hancock as the face SAD. She asks if I would find out what Wu thinks. I say sure and head out the door. As the phone is ringing and I am almost at my room, I realize that might have been a little… well fucking school girl-ish…. God damn it. And…. voice mail. I uh… well I hope he doesn’t catch how awkward that was. I head back to the room and silently take a seat. They are talking about Chicago.

Danielson is mentioning his research. They don’t have an online presence, only been around for about two years. The founder Brother Ryan, was a professor at a state school and quit. Likely to start the church. I ask Danielson if we could look into what courses he taught and syllabus. He taught world religion and theology, the usual sorts of things. The church owns a large track of land and a fancy apartment in downtown.
Alice Blendel calls and has some endorsement ideas for me. She will send samples for me to try and pick the stuff I like.

Shortly after that Wu calls. He is going to be on probationary period, if it works out he will keep his same position. That is great. It is pretty clear he doesn’t want to talk more on the phone about it so I ask if we are still on for training the next day.

When we are training he finds the time to let me know that he will bend the rules as he can to let us know helpful information. Then we catch dinner and go to a movie.

Before we leave Anna names me as Agent in Charge. I never minded Jack being the boss, but fuck this feels good. Anna gives me a list of spells Sal needs to ask permission. I ask how Jack handled it and find it was after the fact. I am totally fine with that.

The next day at breakfast Sal tells us that Brother Ryan is not the head. There is another then a… something. Sal knows it’s a powerful entity, Outer Dark, Demon… something…. fun. Wade flies us out to Chicago. I suggest we take a look at the land and apartment before we make ourselves known to the group and interview some of his former students before making ourselves. Danielson suggests also talking to the staff.

It gets to the point I need to decide who does what. I put Sal and Danielson on talking to the staff. Jack and Wade check out the acreage and apartment. Mia and I will handle the students. She can chat up the sorority types and I’ll take the outsiders.

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Aftermath of Milwaukee

After them agents went and got themselves out of a real pickle with the summoned Rodent Of Unusual Size, Wade was still none too happy. See, he had to go fishing in stuff don’t nobody wanna fish in to get his bow back. He took a right nasty hit from that big creature to keep Natalie from getting blindsided. His bow, Sarah, went flying into the sewer drain river. Guess you could say that sometimes being a gentlemen don’t end up so gentle for the man.

Fact is, that there big ol’ rat nearly killed Wade by drowning him. Natalie pulled him out and managed to get him going again. Right then, he was feelin’ mighty thankful. At least, until the smell set in. That was one pungent trip back home. There ain’t nothing quite like being cooped up in a plane with recycled air after being soaked in sewer water. I reckon the lot of the department 7 agents was real happy to get back to the nearest shower. It took Wade a week of washing to fully get the smell out.

In the time that followed up the mission to Milwaukee, the agents settled in to their daily lives. And you can bet Wade was getting himself into a little trouble. He kept about the Rogers farm, working on a system of rain barrels. He had a mind to make the place self-sustaining. ‘Course anybody looking for him would have to track him down. If he wasn’t working on some project to get the farm off the grid, then he was out blowing up gas cans with flaming arrows, tearing up a dirt road, running through the industrial back lots of Rogers, piecing together an old junk motorcycle frame he found rusting in one of the outbuildings on the property, making his own custom arrows, jumping around like a monkey with ADD through the barn, or trying to sweet talk a farm girl over at Millside Tavern off the Crow River and 116. Never had much success with the last one, though.

“Where the hell is Wade?” was bound to quickly become a catch phrase. Still, when you really needed him, he was right there to lend a hand. He knew the other agents were pretty tight knit. And he also knew from experience that when getting to know folks, it was all about putting your money where your mouth was. Department 7 had given Wade an opportunity he wasn’t about to squander. Even though he felt like a contracted merc, it was nice to be around folks who’d seen and believed the kind of weird stuff Wade believed. Not one person had called him crazy for believing he’d been scooped up by aliens. ‘Course, there was still plenty of time for that.

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Milwaukee II

Jack keyed the locked on the apartment door and walked in. He was hoping that Anna would be running errands or at the Hoffmann office. But he knew that wasn’t the case. The team had been in Milwaukee for two days with Sal and Nat sending crazy video from the mission. Anna was going to be here, wide awake and waiting. Mercifully most of the team’s phones were trashed in the fight in the sewer. Otherwise Anna would have been blowing them up looking for details and making sure they were alright. He felt bad about it but he just didn’t want to deal with the boss part of Anna’s job right now.

As he walked in Anna came out of the kitchen. She ran to hug him but stopped just short.

“Jack! Thank God you’re…uh, you smell awful. Are you okay? what happened?”

Jack tried not to be frustrated. It wasn’t Anna’s fault but he had reached his tipping point hours ago and was trying to keep from going off. He set his bag down on the full and tried to calm down. “Count to ten,” he heard the therapist saying in his head.

One…

Two…

Fuck it

“What didn’t happen? We fought some shape shifting whatever the fuck they were things and I got hit by one. So now Hoffmann will send me back to New York and shoot me full of that silver shit while I sit on my ass and do nothing. Everything I eat tastes like nickels for two months after that. I lost one of my guns so some gang banging piece of shit has an untraceable weapon. Most of the team’s phones got wrecked. Sal, Mia and Nat got fucked up and Wade just about died drowning in sewage. We left a mess in a warehouse that a department with maybe one decent cop has to clean up. I am still half covered in shit. That creepy, mind bending friend of yours did something to my head that I can’t figure out. And I fucking hate Milwaukee.”

Anna let it roll right off of her. She knew that Jack was venting and that it he had to do it. But it was still hard to not feel somewhat responsible since she sent them there in the first place.

“Jack, I don’t think you have to go to New York. Sal said those rat men…”

“Sal can fuck off. I don’t care what kind of things they were. Hoffmann is going to be cautious and won’t listen to a damn word we say about it. They don’t even like Sal.”

“Let me see what I can do,” she said calmly. Talking to Jack when he was pushed too far was like negotiating with a cross between and angry child and a hungry bear. “Can I get you anything?”

Jack exhaled. " I just want a shower. And I want need some sleep."

The sun coming through the widow woke Jack up. He rolled over and looked at the clock. 12:30. He had about an hour before the briefing at Hoffmann. Plenty of time. He swung his legs out from under the covers and sat on the edge of the bed for a minute. A couple of quick sniffs and he knew the thirty minutes in the shower had done the job. He no longer smelled like used Old Milwaukee. Clothes, lunch and on to the debriefing. Piece of cake.

As he walked into the kitchen Anna was sitting at in the table with her coffee. “There’s cold chicken in the fridge if you want some. I also made a sandwich for you if you want it. It’s in by the milk.”

“Thanks,” Jack grunted in reply. He grabbed the sandwich and the milk and joined her at the table.

Anna drink her coffee slowly, watching him over the rim of her cup. He still had a bit of that restless animal energy. Missions like this often took a full day or two for Jack to fully calm down. She was still surprised at the amount of adrenaline he could summon when he needed it. The downside was it took so long for him to wind down. Sometimes the best way to help was to take his mind off of it. She wanted to know the details of what happened. It was her job, sure. But she cared so much about the team. Nat was one of her best friends. Jack was her…boyfriend? Sure. But the word sounded weird with him. Sal was starting to grow on her once you got past all the handsome guy womanizing appearance. Her friends and the people she was responsible for had been in danger. She as glad they were back safe and sound. For now, waiting for Jack’s report was going to be the best way to go. As Agent In Charge he had to write it. He was great at writing reports. It must have been the former cop in him. He got the details. It was clinical and to the point. But at least she’d have that. Now was not the time to ask. For now she wanted to get Jack settled.

“How is Natalie doing?,” she said, taking another sip.

Jack stop chewing and looked from the window to her like he just realized she was sitting across from him. “Huh? Oh, yeah. She’s good. Wade was the one I was worried about. Sal, too. He got some of that, what do you call it, ichor? Yeah, some of that right in his face. I had to wash it off in that shitty water. It was a mess.”

“No, Jack. I mean how is Natalie doing? How is it going with Wu or her MMA training?”

Jack stopped chewing again an looked stared at her. “What the hell does Wu have to do with anything? He’s just an FBI guy we know.”

“Natalie and Wu are an item. Did you even know that? She could see the hangry half animal part of his brain trying to process what sounded like a foreign language.

“What do you mean, an ‘item’?”

“They are seeing each other, Jack. Like dating. They started training together and it just happened. He was in her corner for her last fight. Jack, do you even know what is going on in her personal life? Take her to lunch. Ask her how she’s doing. Go to one of her fights.”

“Hang on a second. What? Ask her about Wu? Why? That’s her business”

“Jack, you need to know about your team. You need to know what’s going on with them. Sal is seeing someone, too?”

“Sal sees a lot of ‘someones’”.

“It’s the same woman, Jack. He has been seeing her for some time now.”

Jack slumped back in his chair and sighed. “Where is all of this coming from? We do our missions and go our own ways. I don’t need to know what they are doing and they don’t need to know my business either.”

Anna leaned forward and put her hand on his arm. “That works great for you. I get it. You come back from a mission and pace around or hit a heavy bag and then sleep for a whole day. Then you’re done. It doesn’t work that way for everyone. They know you have their safety in mind. They know you’ll do anything to keep them safe on a mission. But people need to know you actually care what’s going on in their lives and show some interest.”

“But I’m not interested.”

“Then pretend.”

“Ok. I’ll ask Natalie how she is doing and take her to lunch. But do I have to go to her fights? Fighting for money is…I don’t like it. I don’t fight unless I have to and then it’s no rules. Hurt them bad before they do it to you. This MMA stuff just seems…wrong.”

“She knows how you feel, Jack. She understands. But it hurts her. She respects you, more than you’ll ever know. I bothers her that what she is passionate about you can’t even watch. She fights and it’s a big deal and you don’t even show up or ask. You even called it “play fighting”.

“That’s because it IS, dammit!. In reality if a guy knocks you out in the street he’s going to do more than go through your wallet. You can’t tap out. He stomps your head into the curb and leaves you gurgling on your own snot. There’s no ref to stop it. You can fucking die. So when it starts you finish it. Hard and fast. Brutal as you need to be. That’s not what she’s doing.”

‘So you don’t respect her then?"

“No, dammit. I mean, yes. Yes I respect her. She has always had my back and kept me safe, too. But this isn’t a mission. This is fighting for fun, or whatever. I can’t get that. It makes no sense to me.”

“But it does to her. You need to go. She wants your support. You don’t have to like it. But you need to go. For her. And Sal, too.”

“Jesus. I have to ask Sal the details about who he’s fucking now?”

“Maybe, just maybe he actually likes her. Maybe she likes him. This is important stuff. You need to be a friend as well as their colleague.”

Jack sat back and put his hands on his face. He rubbed his head like he was washing the rest of Milwaukee off and exhaled hard. “Okay, fine. I will ask Sal and Natalie to lunch. I will go to one of Nat’s fights. Square?”

“Mia, too. And Danielson. Ask them, too. Maybe Danielson would like to take my sister out. They may be a good pair.”

“Smith and your sister? Jesus. Where did this come from? And don’t call him Danielson. It’s weird.”

’That’s his name, Jack."

“It’s not what we call him. Fine. Whatever. Sign me up and I’ll go. I gotta go get dressed and write a report.”

Anna watched Jack get up and head to the bedroom. “I’ll set up some double dates,” she called after him.

“Whatever. Sure,” he called back.

“That ought to get his mind off Milwaukee,” she said to herself as she took another sip of her coffee and smiled.

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