Dark Matter

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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Milwaukee Mauler 4

We form back up out in the main tunnel. Two columns again. I take the rear on my side. We hear a shit load of squeaking coming our way. It’s gonna be rats…. a lot of them. Wade drops into the middle, I follow suit as Jack yells out “Mia push them, Natalie light ‘em up”. I keep an eye out for Mia’s push and ask if we want to risk flaming rats at us. Jack replies he want’s dead one’s.. I can’t argue with that. A swarm of rats lifts up like a wall and I start it the fuck on fire. Wade looks back and yells to get in the water. As he turns to head a little further into the combat he falls. His head keeps above shit creek. One swarm hits Jack, shortly followed by them turning tail toward the other swarm. They end up crawling over the downed Wade on the way… I shudder a little and keep a watch down the tunnel.

With the current swarm neutralized, Wade yells over the rat screams to get back onto the walkway. Jack has us move past them. Headed closer to the fucking monster. I can’t really keep the smirk off my face, but why try anyway? Jack thanks Mia, I guess she finally got around to healing him. Good shit…. Fuck. Fuckity fuck. The growl actually startled me… and…. there… it…. FUCK. I come out of it as the thing lunges into Wade and it knocks me onto my ass… luckily its just like taking a seat on the flooring. A gun shot then some… I don’t fuckin’ know what the fuck runs through that things veins but it stinks way worse then the shit… I think it might even irritate a little like a pepper spray. If that wasn’t enough to bring me back around… Spot… is panther like again… and even bigger than upstairs. As I finally have a chance to pick out a target another gun shot rings out… more.. ooze? I shake it off quick, but hear Sal start wheezing. I head over and just as I get to him I hear Jack scream for someone to grab Wade. I feel fucking bad for forgetting Wade and like shit for leaving Sal but pivot and head over to the rat carcass. Fat is spilling over Jack and Danielson’s hands. I act before I have time to think, dipping below the shit line and pushing up a little the rat I fish around for Wade. I get a hold of him and pull… at first he dosen’t move. I’m already in it so I get a little deeper, push with all I have in my thighs and pull on what ever I have a grip on… he pops out… but isn’t breathing. I dig around and get a little out of his throat but he still isn’t breathing. Danielson stops by and offers some help, thank fucking god Wade starts breathing. I stay with him for a bit. Jack and I take a trip through the tunnels to make sure it’s clear. Thank fucking whatever Sal talks to it’s clear. We get back and Mia looks rough, but Wade is looking fine and swearing about the damn bow. He finds it in the shit. We head up top. Wade takes us to the body from his fight with the creature. We get it back to the warehouse. Jack sends the rest of the group to the hotel and I stay back with him as he talks to Detective O’Conner. It goes… as well as that shit ever does. We don’t need to do any more for O’Conner so we meet back up with the group we all get showered. Get on the plane and we are home in 4 hours. Mia doesn’t want to head back to the city. I already have my shit set up so I offer her my bed. Gym and a nap was my plan anyway, couch will be fine. We walk in and I hear something from the kitchen. I stop Mia in the doorway… there is a noise in the kitchen. I move forward quietly and peek around… Max is grabbing a yogurt from the fridge. I call out “Hey Max what are you doing here” Mainly to let Mia know it’s ok and relief. He is startled and drops the yogurt. I walk over and grab him a new one and clean up the mess. Mia gets in the kitchen and Max… uh… well reacts like guys do with Mia. In between flirting he lets me know he has the security system set up.

I have a message from Wu and call him back. Markus Hancock is now head of S.A.D. & Rausch is in Seattle. Wu hasn’t heard anything, but might not be part of S.A.D. He asks if I can train… and fuck this is embarrassing, but I say yes before he even mentions when. Turns out it’s the day after tomorrow. I get in a short run and catch a nap.

We gather for the meeting. Jack… well Jack is kinda… really fucking weird. He asks how I am doing and says we should get lunch.. like a double date… thing. If clicks this is probably Anna, but yeah. He also mumbles about wanting to go to the next fight and I tell him I will get him a ticket.

The meeting starts and Anna mentions Hancock has gotten a hold of her and wants to set up a meeting. She forwarded the information I sent to the Hoffman group and is waiting to hear back.

Found by Danielson running info from the data:
Church of Ancient Wisdom flyer. The address is in Chicago, 7112 Autobahn St. The symbol from the amulet is on it. Services at 7pm every night.

Max arrives a little after the meeting and goes over the security system. The system only works with Hoffman phones and has night vision with real time video. Internal cameras in public spaces. I walk Max out and he asks about training. I give him my rate and tell him we can work out something better than that.

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Milwuakee Mauler 3

Two come out from a door in front of me and one grabs me, the other misses. I am not too worried about being overpowered at this point so I decide to start a fire in the stack of boxes behind me. I know it lights, but seeing the light and feeling the heat is nice. Now I just need to get away to use it for cover…

The other one gets a chance to grab me as I notice the third emerge from the door. I concentrate on not getting swipped by the third’s claws and my attack suffers for it, but at least I am not bleeding yet. I hear a howl from the crates and think I got one light up without trying, fucking sweet. They keep trying to immobilize me, even with two it’s kind of pathetic. I focus mainly on the one trying to claw me and notice another one behind me as he misses. I was going to use the psi blade but it’s time to stop fucking around, I light the first swipper attacking me on fire. He squeals in pain and pulls back. I press the advantage and manage to draw my pistol. I gave up too much trying grabbing the god damn pistol and one immobilizes me while the other takes advantage and takes my feet out from underneath me Fuck. Mother fucking fucking fuck. Oh… Hello fire… Thanks.. Sal? I get up and dust myself off enjoying the kiss of flame and a moment to regroup. I think I see Sal as I look around, but not sure.

I step out, one is down and looks dead, the other one is still running around on fire. I shoot and drop him. I call out asking if there is a reason to not let this place burn. I quickly connect some dots and realize there might be hostages. Others call out the same and also mention fire fighters. I don’t give a shit about that, police are probably on the way from gunshots anyway. But.. hostages. As I start to focus on the fire closest to the office where the team is heading water spouts from the ground and takes the fire out.

I head over to the offices and Jack looks pretty bad. With Danielson’s help I stop the bleeding on Jack. Wade comes in and after seeing what is going on, runs out and grabs the first aid kit from the car. We get Danielson patched up pretty well.

After that Wade shows off a collection of necklaces from the bodies. I draw a blank but apparently the talisman curses the wearer with lyncathropy. The objects are not difficult to make, but do require some skill and if done incorrectly can damage the creator.

Wade also tells a tale of fighting and capturing one. While carrying around the captive he is attacked by, what he calls, and alien. It has a swirling armor around it, glowing eyes and sharp teeth. The thing attacks, but only the were-creature. Wade hid the body by the Taco Bell in some weeds.

This jogs the memory of Mia who remembers something called Hunting Horrors and Sal remembers Prey Hounds they are a little different, but both spirits not aliens.

There is movement and sound. I move out to the warehouse and see the were creatures changing back. I manage to get some footage of them changing back to humans and send it back to Anna along with a few pictures of the talisman, Wade’s story about the creature, and Mia’s and Sal’s leads on what that is. I also ask her to find out if there are known practitioners capable of the talisman and/or hunter things.

We realize that about 10 minutes has passed, no police, and the possible trail is getting colder. Into the sewer we go. As Jack drops in I notice he isn’t any better off then after my first-aid job. I really don’t know what Mia is thinking letting they guy head into danger like that when she could help. I mean shit she takes the damage on herself, but if Jack drops we are kinda fucked.

I shake it off for now and drop into the sewer. Yeah, it’s fucking gross. We break up into two groups, one for each side of the sewer. Wade and Jack each take a lead on one side. I take the rear guard on Wade’s side. I go with a drawn pistol.

After a bit we hear some regular sized rats and Wade calls out that there is something bigger than we have seen already. We finally get into a dead end room that is apparently a nest. There is nothing alive in here, but there are bones of human’s and animals. Sal shines a light up at the ceiling and there are some worn symbols in black, like charcoal. Looks occult. Sal says it’s black magic. I ask Sal if it would be safe to take a picture and send it to Anna. The only thing Sal kinda knows is that it is not warding.

We hear a loud and ominous noise that sounds like the big creature Wade mentions is coming.

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Just Some Good Ol' Boys, Never Meaning No Harm
Milwaukee's Best

Well now that them boys an’ girls in Department 7 got themselves a case to work, they go on and divide up into teams to cover all the locations where someone keeps leaving human remains. Mighty disturbing the result of these murders. There’s someone off in Milwaukee keeps tearing folks to bits and leaving the scraps where others can find ‘em like a farm cat showing a mouse.

Wade and Mia got pretty excited about taking responsibility for three different investigation sites. So excited that ol’ truck got to rocking, if you know what I mean. That kind of activity makes a man mighty hungry, so Wade knew he’d best get himself a snack from the Taco Bell. It worked out that one of the bodies was found ‘round back of the restaurant.

Though the chalupa he ordered wasn’t terribly satisfying, Wade found a feller there behind the trash can with some information as juicy as a summer ham. Now, he wasn’t the sort of upstanding citizen you could rely on, but he’d seen something of the killer, nonetheless. At least that’s what Wade figured. Though how to explain the killer was a giant raccoon was gonna prove mighty interesting.

Wade called it in and it sure sounded like the other Dep 7 boys were busy. By the sound of Jack gasping into his walkie-talkie, you’d think he was running a marathon. Turned out, they was chasing a scavenger down the train tracks. Jack and Sal were hot on its heels with Sal’s little cat gnawing the arm of that scavenger like a Florida gator.

Now ya might think it’s awful mean to chase a homeless feller out of his cardboard box and halfway crossed Milwaukee. But Jack and Sal had reason aplenty. They’d found a fresh body near the neighborhood of some more colorful locals, got a picture and description of some hippie lookin’ feller who was caught chowing on the bones, and nearly got in a big ol’ brawl before stumbling across the homeless scavenger. And all that doesn’t even mention how ol’ Sal nearly scraped up that fine Italian suit of his. Boy looked slicker than two hogs in mud. Right tae say them two boys was on edge and a little chase was the right kind of medicine to get the blood going.

While Jack and Sal radioed for help, Danielson and Natalie were busy checking on a junkyard to the north. Danielson nearly got caught trying to break in through the front gate by a passerby who quickly turned a blind eye and headed right back where he’d came. Nat wasn’t too happy with Danielson making a run at the lock right there under the street lamp when she’d already found a way in. But round that time Jack’s call came through and there wasn’t uch to do but lend a hand. They were right in line to help out capturing that scavenger for questioning.

Thinking this might be their best lead, just about everyone went to help. Everyone, that is, except Wade. You see, by now, that good country boy had found himself a bar right across the street from the Taco Bell dumpsters where the homeless fella saw a man-sized raccoon chewing on the leavings of its human dinner. If you know anything ‘bout country boys, it’s that they’ll never turn down a good time. And some liquid courage couldn’t hurt before facing up to an ungodly creature, now could it?

When that call for help came through, though, it was right back to business. Wade suggested Mia take the car to intercept while he kept an eye on things at their position. That meant finishing his beer and heading back out on the streets while Mia went all Bo Duke across Milwaukee’s best. Sure enough, Mia caught up to the rest right quick. And Wade? Well, he got himself into a right pickle. Ya see, while he was out looking for trouble, trouble was looking for him.

For a gas, he told the team he was spending a little quality time with a gal who’s real popular with the men-folk. Sure if that didn’t get the whole lot of ‘em steamed. But he followed it up by saying the lady gave him some intelligence about a recent sighting of something scary in the neighborhood and he was checking it out. Good ol’ boys work as hard as they play. And Wade was about to earn his keep.

Investigating a little alley brought him face to face with the biggest, ugliest, smelliest rat he’d ever seen. It wasn’t a raccoon, but it sure looked like what the homeless fella at the Taco Bell described and it’s laugh rightly resembled the woman’s description. This here was a bona-fied were-rat. Now the two of them scrapped it up in that dark alleyway and Wade managed to get it under control. Once unconscious, the strangest thing happened to the giant rodent. It turned back into a man.

It ain’t a pretty sight watching bones break and reset, but that’s what it looked like happened as Wade filmed the transformation on his phone. The rat man was starting to wake up and got mighty angry when Wade claimed a strange runic pendant fro around its neck. He had to make sure he tightened the belt around its wrists and bounced down on its back. He radioed in that Davy Crockett took the Alamo, a fancy code way of saying he’d caught what he reported as the giant raccoon. ‘Course code only works if other folks understand it, and Wade was gonna need to explain this one to the rest of the group.

By now, everyone else had got together and tracked the scavenger to a little building. The paint was fading, the widows boarded up and it smelled mighty foul. Weapons drawn, they headed inside to investigate, hoping to talk to whoever was inside.

While they were designing their approach plan, the folks inside were making their own designs. By the time our good folks of Dep 7 got inside they were already surrounded and a fight was surely coming.

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Milwuakee Mauler 2

After deciding on a stake out we start to formulate a plan on how to go about it. Jack takes point on the planning as agent in charge and his background as a cop. Danielson and I get the scrap yard. It’s the fartherst north spot and the most isolated of the body dumps. Jack and Sal go on foot in the middle of the most active area. Wade and Mia will park on the street that seems to be the southern boundary.

After the plan is settled we head to Wal-Mart for some scent masking stuff and I get some things to help blend into the area. Danielson sees what I pick out and mentions it isn’t really on point for the area and helps me swap out choices for better ones. With a little time left to kill we get some dinner before heading out for the stakeout.

Danielson and I scout out the scrap yard. There seems to be a fairly easy access point between two buildings, just a chain link fence to climb. The two story building seems like a decent spot to get a lay of the land. Danielson gets me a boost on my way to the roof and I take a look into the scrap yard. No movement and nothing out of the ordinary. I notice Danielson trying to pick the lock on the main gate. I test out the handsfree walkie talkie set up on our smart phones and ask him if he is sure that is a good idea. He mentions if something goes down it would be nice to get in fast. I can’t argue with that and keep a watch out for people coming. A person comes around the corner, but Danielson notices them about the same time I do. He drops, pretending to tie his shoe, the person sees him and turns around back the other direction. I don’t get a good look at them. Danielson waits a minute or so then goes back at it. I focus more from where the person went to, but keeping an eye out all around. He gets it unlocked, leaving it looked like it’s still locked then does a pretty decent junkie shuffle off to scout more of the area.

Jack checks in, he and Sal got some info. They get a witness with a story of a big white man eating a body. Jack texts a picture he obtained from one of the locals. Sal found another body while Jack was dealing with some locals. They didn’t have a chance to investigate it due to interest in their presence by the same group they got some info from.

Wade texts back that we are looking from a raccoon. Like he knows for sure. Jack asks for more info and Wade responds that a homeless man behind the Taco Bell gave him the info.

Everything is quite for a bit then Sal comes on the radio telling Jack to keep chasing “it”. I ask for direction and heading. Sal say train tracks and headed north. I get off the roof and head to the train tracks. Danielson calls out a spot to get onto the tracks on the radio. Sal updates with approximate size of the “it”, that it jumped a 6 foot fence and some other details. I catch most of it as I keep running full speed to the tracks. I reach it in time to see Danielson duck into a hiding spot. I do the same on the other side of the tracks. Shortly after I get settled I see some lights appear on the tracks. They look like headlights and I get on the radio and ask if it’s Wade. Mia comes back that it’s her.

I keep asking if they are still headed north on the tracks. No response. After a few times, Wade comes back that he is talking to a prostitute. Jesus. Fucking. Christ. The last thing we need is another goddamn nympho on the team that tries to get laid on missions. While I am seething, Wade gets more info on his situation and the prostitute is apparently a witness to something that may be related and he is investigating. Really happy to have a a little longer fuse then I used to.

As my mind clears of anger, panic sets in about Jack and Sal’s safety. I start asking louder for a situation update. The fear making me louder and my voice is catching a bit. When Sal finally responds I almost miss it beacause I am just screaming swear words in my head. The therapist is right. I swear like a god damn fucking sailor and shit when I get nervous… or angry… or… Anyway Sal says that Jack is still in pursuit and as far as he can tell they are still headed north on the tracks. I take off from my spot and head south. After a bit of running I see the SUV turn left and Mia says Jack is out front of a building.

As I get closer I hear the thud of an attempt to bust a door in. I head up to the door and ask Jack if he wants me to pick it. He grunts, kicks the door again and then says yes. I start grabbing my lockpick kit and notice he is bleeding from the nose and an ear, his eyes have burst blood vessels in them too. I ask him if he caught the thing at some point and he says he didn’t. The distraction of worry about him gets me in a nice mental spot and the tumblers click open before I can even think about it. As I test the handle to make sure I did actually unlock it, I ask quietly if he is alright and motion to my nose and ear. He reaches up and looks at the blood. Oddly he is not very surprised or concerned and says “later”. I nod, checking him over once again quickly. I ask for some clairifaction before we enter, Sal said human and jumped a fence… Jack says yep, just catch them. I ask Sal to get in contact with Wade and push the door open.

It appears to be a squatters spot. It’s dark and I grab my flash light. I call out that we just want to talk. We start spreading out. Jack asks if I want to head up the short stairs to the loading dock, I nod and head up, mentioning we just want to talk and that we’ll take them to Taco Bell for some food. I give the all clear relaying on the headset. Jack and Danielson each move deeper and I flank around on the wall. Jack points out a spot. I nod and keep moving along the wall to flank the spot he pointed out. Wade responds that the “Alamo has fallen”… or some shit like that. Sal asks for more info and Wade says he caught one. That is good news. As I move around I finally pinpoint where he was mentioning because I see something rooting around with a tail.

There is a muzzle flash and gunshot from Jack’s location. The one I see looks over in that direction and I pounce. I take it down and land a solid body blow. It seems more surprised then hurt, but skitters back from me. I move up and land two solid blows. It squeals and my satisfaction is quickly ruined by noticing some more moving from the shadows. I take a breath and start deciding between fire or telekenetic knives…

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