Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission010

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Dramatis Personae


Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph [1] (revenant) [2]
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Frank Nosrav, Mindbender [3]
  • John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)


Supporting Characters

  • Adrian Challis, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Shelley Young, Haunter (hue)
  • Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter


One Hundred and One Days Before We Die

A hundred and one days until the end of the world, and it’s a beautiful morning. James continues his epic quest for a bigger gun. Having gotten his hands on several pistols and a submachine gun he’s feeling a little better armed, but he still wants a sniper rifle. (Got to get them all, apparently.) After a little bit of asking around he manages to make contact with a supplier, but it’s going to take another day or so to get him the kit he wants. In the meanwhile, the others start planning a trip to the Terrel & Squib secondary research site. They need to go soon: Terrel & Squib are likely to clear the place out, if they haven’t already. There’s also the matter of Shelley, AKA 'Hermes'. They know she was shipped off to the secondary site, so it’s possible they might be able to rescue her. Ben, Hoyt and Matthieu agree to go with them. (They figure this is as good a time as any to see how well Matthieu works with the rest of the team.) James asks if they can wait another day or so until he gets his new sniper rifle, but they decide they’ve already left it long enough.

Before heading out, Tom does some research on the address. It’s in an area called Halstead in North New York State. It used to be a company town, but has been more or less abandoned since the sixties. John looks up the company in question: a chemical plant. They had a leak in the sixties; a bad one. In the aftermath of the disaster, investors deserted the company in droves. Between that and the lawsuits, the company folded like a cheap suit. With no one to pay for the clean-up, the town was abandoned. There have been sporadic attempts to clean-up, redevelop and re-colonise the place over the years, but ultimately none of them have come to anything. The site seems to have been plagued by various accidents: electrical failures, equipment malfunction, collapsing scaffolding and building subsidence, amongst other things. To the Orpheus team, it looks a lot like possible Haunter and Poltergeist activity, despite many of the incidents happening decades before the millennium. (Still: there have been stories of ghosts for about as long as there have been stories. It’s looking more and more like the reason why there don’t seem to be any pre-millennial ghosts is because something happened to wipe them all out, not because there weren’t any.) There is a renovation attempt going on at the moment -- presumably being carried out by another Terrel & Squib cover company.

John suggests trying to get some fake ID made so that they could pretend to be company employees with legitimate business on site, but no one else is in favour of taking the time to do that, preferring to head out that day. Taking one of the black vans they acquired from Mastworth, they drive out physically to the place, aiming to get there at around 11pm. (It’s a good couple of hours drive: a little too far for them to project and still have the time and vitality to properly scout and penetrate the place.) ‘They’ are: Tom, Annie, James, John, Ben, Hoyt and Matthieu. (Frank is nowhere to be seen, for a change.) Hoyt, of course, is driving; there’s no way he’s going to let anyone else take the wheel.

They pull off the road a little way out of town, hiding the van among the trees. Seeing as it’s a black van in dark woods at night, they think it should be relatively safe from view. Everyone settles in. Ben eagerly takes custody of James’ submachine gun, in preparation for watching over their bodies.
      “Do you have to do that?“ Annie asks, as he plays with the weapon. Guns made her nervous even before she was shot to death.
      “Just fondling my barrel.” There’s a definite smirk on his face as he says that, accompanying the words with the appropriate -- or inappropriate -- actions.
      She rolls her eyes, glancing meaningfully at the gun. “Someone has delusions of adequacy…”
      “Yeah, someone does,” he shoots back. That, she ignores, and no one else seems to be paying any attention to their verbal sparring. As she did at the Mastworth plant, she projects and manifests as a bat so she can take a look around the place. It looks like the renovations have already started; some buildings knocked down and some partially finished construction work. There are tall, sturdy-looking fences surrounding the site, and a very high density of security cameras. She can see a few black vans and, despite the late hour, some people.

Back at the van, there is a massive pulse of energy that blinds John and leaves everyone else reeling. Tom thinks it came from beneath them. The van is lit up as if by a magnesium flare, and it starts to get very, very hot. James flings open the passenger door to see sparks crackling and arcing all over the van. He dives through them and out, taking some burns as he does so. Ben picks up Annie’s body and jumps out of the van with it. Tom helps him to drag her away. Everyone else gets out of there as quickly as they can, and they all hit the ground running. They only just get clear before it goes up. John, still disoriented from the pulse, doesn’t quite make it out of the blast range. Fortunately for him, though, he already became insubstantial so the blast doesn’t really do anything to him. Annie wakes up just after the explosion. She felt the jolt as her body was electrocuted, ripcording back to it as soon as she recovered from the shock of it. It’s a moment or two before she can get her feet under her, but it only takes that long for her to figure out what’s going on and that she needs to run. The blazing bonfire where the van used to be is enough of a clue.

Matthieu and James already have their pistols out, covering the others’ retreat. The two of them and John are the only ones who see a figure standing in the heart of the flames, still crackling with electricity and still manifested. It’s a ghost: female, slightly plump and with bits of circuitry embedded in her gauze. Both of them recognise her as Shelley Young. (Matthieu has been shown the CCTV footage from Mastworth, so he knows her.) Matthieu swears, his every instinct telling him to shoot, but not wanting to kill the person they’re supposed to be there to rescue. (His weapon, like James’, is loaded with ghost shot.) Shelley throws a lightning bolt at James, but he easily dodges it. Acting on instinct, he shoots at her, but the first shot misses and his gun jams on the next. Matthieu also shoots, aiming to wing her. After getting her attention, he dashes off into the cover of the trees, neatly evading a lighting bolt she hurls after him. He leads her off, away from the others, buying them time to project. As she pursues him, she hurls another lightning bolt, missing him again but starting a small fire in the undergrowth.

The others all scatter into the trees. John runs for a while, and then hides by Inhabiting a rock. Tom, Annie and James all find places to hide and then project, heading back towards Shelley. (They all know it’s her now, having seen her slinging lightning bolts.) Tom reaches her first, making sure to stop well outside what he thinks is the range of her Witch’s Nimbus. It’s hard to tell because of her crackling aura, but there doesn’t seem to be any expression on her face at all: it’s just completely blank.
      “Shelley, stop!” He yells, trying to snap her out of it. It sort of works, at least briefly; it at least gets her attention. She pauses for about a second, and then goes back to shooting lightning bolts at Matthieu. (She hasn’t actually managed to hit him yet, but that doesn’t seem to have discouraged her efforts.) Annie gets there soon afterwards and Wails at Shelley, trying to help her break free of whatever has her in thrall. (They know Dr Velvet tortured and brainwashed her, and that Mastworth were experimenting with ways of controlling her remotely.) Shelley stops again, this time -- although they can’t really see this because of the Witch’s Nimbus -- looking utterly confused. While she hesitates, Tom says: “Shelley, it’s Tom. Do you remember me? Do you remember Orpheus?”
      “I… I think so.” Shelley’s voice sounds cracked and broken; as if she hasn’t spoken in a while. She lets her Witch’s Nimbus diminish and die, leaving her standing there forlornly. “But the machine is talking to me. It’s telling me to kill.”
      “You don’t have to kill anyone.”
      “It’s in my head.” Her voice rises to a shriek: “Make it stop!”
      “I’ll try,” Tom promises. Not knowing whether or not this will work, he tries to Inhabit the circuitry embedded in her gauze. Perhaps to his surprise, it does work, and he can feel the machinery around him. It’s active, although it would take him some time to find out exactly what it’s doing. He decides to just shut it down.

James returns, pistol at the ready, but upon seeing that Shelley has simmered down he doesn’t fire. Instead, he just approaches the scene cautiously. Tom emerges from Shelley’s circuitry just as the music of Annie’s Wail dies down. There’s a tense moment where they wait to see what Shelley will do… But she doesn’t do anything. It looks like Tom has managed to successfully disable her controls. Looking around the clearing -- it wasn’t one before, but it is now -- she focuses on each of them in turn, pausing when she gets to Annie.
      “Annie? Is that you?” Of all of them, she’s the one Shelley is most familiar with, although it can’t really be said that they’ve ever been close.
      “Yes, it’s me.” She pauses, and then asks: “Do you remember what happened?”
      Shelley flinches badly, wrapping her arms around herself and shuddering. “No.”
      “It’s okay. It’s okay, Shelley.” Annie tries to make her voice as soothing as possible. “You don’t have to.” Between Annie and Tom, they manage to calm Shelley down enough to ask her some questions. It turns out that the people who were holding her have security cameras set up all along the road leading to the town. They saw the Orpheus team approach, recognised their own van and sent Shelley out to stop them from getting away.
      “We have to leave. They’re coming. They’re on their way now -- they could be here at any moment.” Shelley is growing increasingly frantic. “We have to leave now!”

The others agree with Shelley’s sentiment. Unfortunately, they’re not really in condition to take on a fully armed and alert Terrel & Squib research base right now, especially with their getaway vehicle a burning pile of wreckage in the woods. Gathering everyone together, they head off into the woods. Annie calls up Adrian -- who she thinks is currently in the warehouse -- and asks him to bring the other black van out to pick them up. They arrange to meet him out by the interstate so he doesn’t get caught on camera. It’s going to take him a couple of hours to get out there. In the meantime, she and the others keep moving, trying to keep ahead of their pursuers. None of them particularly want to be captured and experimented on. A helicopter haunts the skies, playing a searchlight over the woods, but they manage to avoid being spotted. Shelley freaks out a little when Adrian pulls up in the black van, but they manage to stop her either running or torching it.

Everyone piles in, Shelley actually Inhabiting the van. Chet is sitting in the passenger seat, armed with a pistol loaded with spook-killer rounds. Hoyt unceremoniously kicks Adrian out from behind the wheel, who yields it with good grace, and they roar off into the night. After they’ve been driving for a while, they notice another van behind them. It’s been sticking with them for some time, and Hoyt thinks it’s definitely following them. It moves up as if to try to overtake them. As it draws level, James opens the side-door of their van and opens fire with his submachine gun, which he’s reclaimed from Ben. The driver swerves wildly. He manages to avoid the central reservation, but by the time he pulls the vehicle out of its slew, it’s too late: the Orpheus team are long gone.

While all the active skimmers, plus Ben, are off attempting to infiltrate the Terrel & Squib beta site, Frank is engaged on a mission of his own. Since it doesn’t seem to be at the top of anyone else’s ‘to do’ list at the moment, he projects and heads off to investigate the Mayfair Green projects. Naturally, he doesn’t do anything like tell someone where he’s going. (Why would he tell anyone anything that he doesn’t have to? He’s a lawyer! Apparently, some habits are hard to break.) Not being completely without sense, however, he makes himself invisible and inaudible before entering the area. The atmosphere hasn’t improved at all since his last visit, and the projects seem wreathed in a miasma of despair, decay and wrongness. Something is rotten here. Although he stays alert and keeps his eyes peeled, he sees no sign of either the spider’s webs from before, or any spectres. But the night is still young.

Entering the tower block that seems to be at the heart of the shroud, he sees a graffiti-daubed lobby strewn with all manner of filth and rubbish. It’s not the most welcoming of entrances. (This is the building that Ben had suggested as a temporary base of operations for the group.) The moment he steps over the threshold, he senses something; a sound, a vibration. It’s a sensation he recognises. The last time he heard/felt it, there were spectres in the area… [4] Nevertheless, he strides boldly forwards, embarking on a systematic search of the building.

Most of the flats are abandoned; broken windows blindly staring over the scattered bones of furniture and other debris. There is one apartment that’s still inhabited, although just barely. Its solitary occupant is an old black woman who potters aimlessly about for a few minutes before settling wearily in front of the television. The flickering pictures cast deep shadows, painting the woman’s face with a death’s head mask. Maybe it’s prophetic. Frank doesn’t stay long: it isn’t the nearly-dead he’s interested in. The next flat is empty and completely trashed. There is a black stain on the floor, and Frank is suddenly sure that someone or something died here. There is mould growing on the walls: not unusual in a place like this. What is unusual is that when he tries to walk through the wall and into the next room, he can’t: something stops him dead. Further investigation shows that it is the mould -- rather than anything else about the wall -- that’s stopping him. He pokes at it a little, his gauze flooded with the twin sensations of nausea and wrongness as he does so. It feels like when he caught that brief glimpse of the webbing shrouding the area. The mould seems to fill a crack in the plaster, but further prodding tells him that it doesn’t stop there. Rather, it continues on into the wall, and onwards. The patch he can see is just where it breaks the surface. Intrigued by this phenomenon -- if, perhaps, somewhat repulsed -- he follows the crack through the building for a while. Specifically, he follows it until he comes face to face with the spectre.

It’s a corpse. A child. A dead child with needles piercing its flesh; tens of needles, maybe hundreds. The effect could have been comical -- hey! A human porcupine! -- but it isn’t. It’s sad and slightly pathetic and more than a little creepy, and the child-spectre snaps its body around to face Frank and opens its mouth and hisses like a snake about to strike. As its mouth gapes wide, he can see that the needles even pierce its mouth, protruding from its rotting gums like teeth. The instant he realises what he’s looking at, Frank uses sheer force of will -- and perhaps no small amount of desperation -- to wring more vitality from the depths of his gauze. He channels that energy to the surface until he glows and, more importantly, until he looks alive. [5] His quick-thinking saves him. The Lost Boy [6] hunts around the room, occasionally sniffing or swiping the air with its needle-claws, but doesn’t seem to see him. Moving to follow the crack onwards, he sees more small figures enter the room. Belatedly, he remembers that Lost Boys travel in packs.

The other mutilated children also hunt around the room but, like their brother, don’t seem to be able to see Frank. He takes the opportunity to make a quick exit: it’s getting awfully crowded in here. As he heads out into the corridor, he sees another figure; a man. Dressed in a Savile row suit, he carries a large scythe and wears a bloody, battered ruin where his face should be. Both he and the weapon are sheathed in actinic fire, which arcs and crackles as he moves down the corridor, towards Frank… It isn’t clear whether or not this new spectre has actually seen him, but Frank is taking no chances: he runs. When he reaches the stair well, he stops and looks back. There is no sign of either the Savile Row Reaper (if he is a Reaper-class spectre). He can hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet, but they don’t seem to be heading this way just yet. After a moment’s consideration, he decides not to leave just yet. There is still the rest of the tower block to explore. What’s the worse that could happen?

The strange vibration continues to nag at his senses as he wanders through debris-scattered corridors and empty rooms. The mould-encrusted cracks seem to run throughout the whole building, branching and spreading like a crooked spider’s web. Perhaps this is what he caught a glimpse of before? It’s unclear what it means, or how it got here, but it might make ripcording from inside the building a little tricky. If it’s solid to gauze, slamming into it at speed might cause a cheese wire effect -- not something he’s particularly keen to experience. He still has painful memories of passing through the spectres’ sandstorm. No, if he’s going to ripcord, he first has to make it outside.

As childe Frank through the dark tower stalks, his path is dogged by Lost Boys and, once, the Savile Row Reaper. (There seem to be about eight Lost Boys, making this a mid-size pack.) Whenever he sees or hears one of them, he does the sensible thing and gets out of their way. If necessary, he backtracks and finds somewhere to hide until they pass him by. This cautious approach works just fine until he runs into the Fetch. [7] He rounds a corner and there it is, larger than death and infinitely more bladed. As soon as he sets eyes upon it, the hulking creature starts sniffing the air, turning towards him and bunching what passes for muscles as if to spring. Before it can do so, he channels vitality into something and the Fetch falls down. [8] After taking a moment to make sure it’s down, and a second to make sure it’s out, he leaves before it can get up again. Even though he can’t be certain just how long he has, though, he doesn’t make a dash for it. Rather, he simply walks calmly towards the stairs. The stairs that appear to be full of Lost Boys. Full of Lost Boys when he’s drained of vitality. Drained enough that he looks dead, which means that they’ll be able to see him. This… isn’t good.

Knowing he has to try to make it outside, Frank races down the stairs, lashing out with his new ability as soon as the Lost Boys come into view. The first one looks a little dazed for a moment or so, but then it launches itself at him, the rest of them hard on its heels. Getting through them all isn’t going to be easy, but then inspiration strikes: there’s more than one way to get out of this place. Dodging around the lead Lost Boy -- whose needle-teeth close on his sleeve, tearing off a piece of his gauze -- he dives through the wall and ripcords. There’s just enough time to notice the ground racing towards him before he’s safely -- if a little sorely -- back in his body again. He decides that the others don’t need to know anything about his little adventure.

As he's reaching that conclusion (and, possibly, thinking about getting some sleep), the team who went out to the Terrel & Squib beta site are driving up and down the back roads of New York state in an to make sure they're not being followed. Once they’re certain they’ve left any pursuers far behind them, they pull over so they can talk to Shelley. She doesn’t really want to talk about what happened to her, saying only that her captors were controlling her through the machine. They’re worried that Tom’s shutting them down is only temporary, and none of them -- least of all Shelley -- want them to switch on again. The best solution would be to get them out of her gauze, if they can. Annie thinks she might be able to use Flesh Flux to do that, but it’s going to send up a spike. Hoyt says he’ll drive while she does it: if they’re moving fast, nothing should be able to track it back to them. Shelley emerges into the van, and Annie concentrates on pushing the circuitry and machine parts out of her. Watching this, Tom comments: “It’s amazing what we do in the back of vans.” The process seems to work, and the parts even seem to be still intact. There is some discussion what to do with them, but Shelley says she wants to keep them. She plans on studying them -- maybe she’ll be able to find a way to use them to get into her captors’ network. If anyone can do it, she can -- she was Delta Crucible’s computer expert.

Hoyt asks where he’s supposed to be driving to. After some brief discussion, they decide to take Shelley to the waste ground where they hid out for a couple of days. It’s not the most convenient location, but it has the big advantage -- as far as Shelley’s particular case is concerned -- of being a dead zone for radio frequency radiation. They don’t want to take any chances in case there are any pieces of circuitry Annie or Tom missed, or if the extracted bits can still work even without being embedded in Shelley’s gauze. There’s also the possibility that Terrel & Squib have some way of tracking them. She doesn’t seem to care one way or the other where she goes, as long as it isn’t back to her captors. Not particularly wanting to leave her alone, Tom and Annie agree to stay with her. Hoyt drives out there and drops Annie and Shelley off. After picking up supplies -- and, at Annie’s request, the gauze tablet -- Tom returns alone in the black van. (Ben’s van is still back at the warehouse, so everyone else still has transport if necessary.) He arrives just as the sun is coming up.

One hundred days until the end of the world.


Footnotes

[1] Metamorph: A shade with the basic horror of Flesh Flux (altering the gauze of yourself or others) and the advanced one of Familiar (summoning or creating entities of limited intelligence, in the form of animal spirits). To date, Annie is the only known shade of this type. (In the book, the shade is referred to as a Marrow, but Annie -- and her player -- chose this name and they’re sticking with it.) [Back]

[2] Revenant: A ghost who now occupies a body as if alive. This is distinct from possession with Puppetry, as the connection appears identical to that of a ‘normal’, living projector. If a skimmer, the revenant can even ripcord into their new body. Annie is the only known revenant in existence. [Back]

[3] Mindbender: A shade with the basic horror of Bedlam (crafting illusions) and the advanced one of Dream-shaping (entering and affecting dreams). (In the book, this is called a Phantasm. “Mindbender” is Frank’s player’s choice.) [Back]

[4] Frank has apparently been developing new abilities in secret. The same way he does everything else. Alas, the poor chronicler only has vague out of character descriptors to go on, so is forced to be similarly vague in her write-up. If I had to guess (and I do), then I would surmise he’s got some kind of “spectre-sense” ability, possibly tuning to their hive-mind. Whatever it actually is, the GM’s description reminded me an awful lot of the radio in the Silent Hill games. (For that matter, the whole Mayfair Green escapade was very evocative of those games, especially Silent Hill 2.) I’ll leave it to the GM to comment as to whether that was deliberate. [Back]

[5] Many spectres tend to ignore high-vitality spooks. Frank had this point hammered home to him during the NextWorld attack, when the spectres made a bee-line for Annie and Craig (who were both looking mostly dead at the time), whilst ignoring him. [Back]

[6] Lost Boys are one of the least powerful types of spectres. They generally resemble children, and are often found in places where children have died, especially when the deaths were particularly unpleasant. [Back]

[7] A Fetch is a type of spectre that resembles a large (human-sized) dog made from razor-blades. They seem to be particularly attracted to the pulses characteristic of large vitality expenditures. Standard Orpheus procedure for encountering one of these is to ripcord (skimmers) or run away very fast (sleepers and ghosts). [Back]

[8] Another new ability Frank’s been developing in secret. From the looks of it, it sends spectres (and possibly other things) to sleep. If I were a suspicious soul -- and I am -- then I might suspect Frank of wanting to learn how to put spooks (projectors, ghosts, spectres, and anything else that falls into this category) to sleep so he can get into their dreams. If he can get into their dreams, then he can twist their minds as he chooses. If any of this were in-character knowledge, the PCs would probably be very, very worried. As it is, it’s just the players who have certain… concerns. [Back]