Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission012
- James Darkwood, Poltergeist
- Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
- Carlos Hayaté, non-projector
- Tom Knox, Haunter
- John "Blink" Carruthers, Wisp
- Adrian Challis, Wisp
- Ben Cotton, Poltergeist'
- James Darkwood, Poltergeist
- Kate Dennison, Banshee
- Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
- Craig Forrest, Skinrider (hue)
- Chet Mason, Skinrider
- Frank Nosrav, Mindbender
- Rory, ghost dog (Annie’s familiar)
- Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
- Freeman, not yet revealed (hue)
- Bill Knox, Banshee (hue)
- Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
- Mona, Banshee (spirit)
- Various ghosts
- Special Agent Larson
- Various agents
- Bruno Tavoularis, Wisp?
- Ethan Torrence, Skinrider?
- A taxi driver
- Various ghosts
- Various hues
- Bela Kiss, Jason
- William Lamb, 'unknown shade (spectre)
- A burnt dog
- A crushed man
- A Frightener
- Two hooded figures
- A little girl spectre
- A pack of Lost Boys
- A wispy figure of a woman
- Various spectres
Mission Twelve - The State of Affairs
Part One - New Friends, Old Enemies
On Thursday (almost two weeks after Bounce Night), Tom receives a phone call. He does a double-take when he recognises the number but, frowning, answers it anyway.
“I understand you’re still having trouble with the FBI.” Yes, it’s definitely Frank’s voice. Without giving Tom the chance to say anything, he continues. “They’re interested in cutting a deal and would like to send someone to meet with you on their behalf. The time and the place are up to you. You’ll probably want to discuss this with the others first, so call me back on this number when you’ve made your decision. I’ll make the arrangements.” The line goes dead before Tom can ask any questions. He gathers the others and they talk about what they’re going to do. There’s no question about whether or not they’re going to go through with this meeting, of course: how could they pass up an opportunity like this? There’s certainly the distinct possibility that it’s a trap, but the possibility that it isn’t is just too intriguing to ignore. To minimise the risks, Tom says he’ll project and go alone. To Annie, he says:
“Can you use flesh flux to make me look different?” It wouldn’t do to get jumped by well-meaning cops when he’s on his way to have a quiet meeting with an FBI negotiator, after all.
“Yes,” she says, “but it’ll spike. We’ll have to do it in the van en route.”
“Fine,” he says. “Now where should we meet?”
“I have an idea,” says Blink. “There’s a café called ‘The Candle and the Rose’. The lights are dim, the staff are discreet and there are lots of booths for privacy. It’s perfect for assignations.” Annie recognises the name: it’s somewhere he used to take Teresa.
“Sounds good,” says Tom.
“Take your phone,” says Craig. “Keep the line open, so we can hear what’s going on. We’ll also know if they start jamming you. I suggest you ditch it after this, though. In fact,” he looks around at the others. “You all should. You’re not changing up nearly often enough. It’s sloppy.” No one disagrees with him. They put the finishing touches to their plan and then Tom calls Frank back with the place and time (seven o’ clock that evening).
Tom and his back-up team head out in one of the vans. After Annie’s altered his appearance, he manifests and gets out. They drop him near a subway station a few stops away from the café, so there’s less risk of the van being made. Hoyt takes a circuitous route so he can drop the others off near another subway station. Annie is manifested so she can carry a phone for Tom to call. The rest of them are still immaterial. They head into the area and wait, taking up a position close enough to the café that Blink can storm-wend them in if need be. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
For some reason, the booth has been booked in the name of ‘Firebird’. There’s nothing like subtlety and, really, that’s absolutely nothing like subtlety.
“Is that the name of a rock band?” The waiter asks.
“Something like that,” Tom replies. He takes a seat at the table and waits. A short while later, the waiter brings another man  to the table. They order drinks and food – somewhat redundantly in Tom’s case, but he has to keep up appearances – and wait until the server has departed before introducing themselves.
“I’m Carlos,” says the man. “You can think of me as an intermediary.”
“Tom.” After a pause, he adds: “I look different at the moment.” Sizing Carlos up, he asks: “Are you with Osorio’s team?”
“I used to be. Not any more.”  It sounds like there’s a story there, but it’s not something he really seems to want to talk about at the moment. “I represent another faction; one much more… Sympathetic to your plight.”
“So, why are you here?”
“The FBI has a problem, and they need Phoenix’ help.” He pulls out a file. “Have you heard about the Mayfair Green deaths?”
“The public know that the killer got away. What they do not know is that he’s still killing. Every two days, at precisely midnight, he slaughters another family. I’m sure you can understand why it’s necessary to keep this quiet.” Tom nods, slowly. If something like this got out, there would be panic. “The FBI are working closely with local law-enforcement to catch the murder. His attacks seem to be ritualistic in nature, and there is a definite pattern. Once the agents on the case figured this out, they set an ambush.”
“What went wrong?”
Carlos smiles thinly, but there is no humour in it. “He killed ten agents within minutes. He was shot repeatedly, but it didn’t even seem to slow him down. He got away.”
“I… See.” Not exactly surprising for a Jason.
“He’s broken the pattern now, which makes tracking him difficult. The report states that his unnatural speed and strength – not to mention resilience – was the result of a drug such as PCP. To those who know what to look for, however, it seems that some other influence is at work.” This is interesting. Is he saying that the faction he represents actually believe in ghosts? Of course, it could just be that they’re desperate enough to believe anything that will catch them their perpetrator. Tom’s seen cases like that before. “The sequence of events in each case is always the same. Shortly before midnight, the killer enters the family home of his chosen victims. He starts killing on the stroke of midnight, and everyone is dead and dismembered not more than ten minutes later. He works fast. Over the next half hour or so – according to the crime scene analysts – he writes all over the scene in blood and faeces. Sometimes there are messages in English; sometimes he just writes vaguely occult-looking symbols. It’s different every time. The dismembered and mutilated bodies are stuffed into metal barrels of the type used to store oil or hazardous chemicals. They contain alcohol with traces of some unidentifiable compounds similar to those found in pigment. The lab boys aren’t sure yet if it actually is pigment, but the chemical profile is consistent. The murderer is likely to have a vehicle – possible a van – but so far we haven’t managed to get a positive ID on it. It’s now been four days since the last attack.” Carlos closes the file, placing it on the table between him and Tom. “Are you interested?”
Tom pretends to think for a moment, already knowing what is answer is. “Yes, but it’s going to be a little difficult for us to do anything while we’re still fugitives.”
“Maybe we can do something about that.”
“Then maybe we’ll be able to help.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” He takes a card out of his wallet, sliding it over. “Here’s my card. Call me when you’ve had a chance to think about it.” He indicates the meal and drink that Tom’s mostly just played with. (If a spook eats or drinks something while manifested, it tends to leave a puddle when they de-materialise again. It’s rather messy.) “This is on me.”
“Thank you.” Tom stands up. Carlos does too, shaking him by the hand.
“Goodbye for now, Tom. I hope to hear from you soon.”
“Goodbye.” Taking the card with him, Tom leaves. Maybe Carlos will be able to do what he’s implied. It would be nice not to be wanted by the authorities any more. Sure, there are still the spectres, and NextWorld, and Terrel & Squib, and the Black Net, but still… Maybe their luck is finally changing. After all: it can’t exactly get any worse, can it?
Part Two - A Night at the Opera
“So, what do you think?” Tom looks around at the others, all of whom either were listening in on his meeting with Carlos, or who have subsequently been briefed by those who were.
“I don’t see how we can pass up this opportunity.” Craig is the first to reply. “It would make our lives much easier if the FBI weren’t hunting us. And it isn’t like this is the kind of thing we wouldn’t normally look into.” There are scattered nods at this. If they came across this case on their own, the only debate they’d be having is how best to get started. In any case, everyone seems to be in favour of not only accepting the case (with Craig noting that they’re going to have to do some negotiating of terms if they’re going to have any kind of meaningful partnership with the FBI), but of getting started right now. After all, the next murder is due at midnight tonight, which doesn’t leave them much time.
“You could use forebode to look at past sites,” Craig says to Annie, just as she’s about to suggest it herself.
“Yes,” she agrees, “although there won’t be time to do that and set up an ambush unless we split up.”
Craig nods. “You’re a researcher, not a field agent. I think you’d be better doing that than risking yourself on the front line.” Tom and James raise their eyebrows, glancing at Annie for her reaction. She looks torn, but nods in agreement.
“Fine.” Craig is right, after all: recent experiences notwithstanding, she was neither intended to be nor trained as a combat operative. Not that she isn’t tempted to protest anyway, but she has someone else to think of right now. Once he has Annie’s agreement, Craig turns to Tom.
“I suggest you go with her, both for protection and because of your background.  Maybe you’ll see something at the crime scene that the FBI investigators missed. Even the smallest thing might be useful.”
James frowns. “Wouldn’t he be more help going with us? Is there really going to be anything that’ll make a difference to the ambush?”
“How about whether there’s only one Jason, or five of them?” Annie’s reply seems to give him pause for thought.
“Well, maybe that might be useful to know,” he mutters.
“I’ll go with Annie,” says Tom.
“I’ll take Rory as well,” she says. “He can look after our bodies while we’re out of them.”
“Good idea,” says Craig. To Tom, he adds: “You might want to get the addresses from Carlos. Not to mention telling him that we accept his offer.” Tom pulls out a (new) phone and starts dialling the number on the business card.
“It’s me.” He assumes that Carlos will recognise his voice. “We’ve decided to accept.”
“Oh.” Carlos sounds a little surprised. “That’s good, but I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon.”
“We want to start tonight. Can you give me the address of this one and the three previous?”
“Certainly.” Carlos reads out the information. “I’ll send you the file as well.” Tom gives him a disposable e-mail address he can use. “I would like to accompany you, of course, as an observer. Will that be okay?”
“Fine,” says Tom. “We have to get going now, but I’ll pass you on to someone from the other team.”
“That will do fine. Goodbye Tom.”
“Bye.” He hands the phone to James, who looks a bit bemused. “He wants to go with you. Sort it out.”
Tom has already turned away. “Let’s go,” he says to Annie. “Hoyt, will you drive?”
“Always.” Hoyt looks pleased to be out doing something. The three of them, plus Rory, head out. James looks at Craig.
“Tell him to meet us at the Lincoln Motel, on Broadway.” Glancing at the clock, he adds: “Nine-thirty should give us enough time to put the plan together and get out there. No doubt he’s going to want to go over everything in detail.” There’s an odd note in his voice. He shakes his head as if to clear it and raises an eyebrow at James. “Are you going to tell him?”
As if on cue, from the phone comes a faint: “Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Oh.” James puts the mobile to his ear. “Hello?”
“Hello. Who is this?”
“I’m James.” He relays Craig’s message.
“How will I know which room you’re in?”
“We’ll send a text message.”
“Very well. I’ll see you then. Goodbye James.”
The plan is a fairly simple one at heart. They plan on killing the Jason if possible, but will settle for driving him off if it isn’t. The assault team will consist of James, Craig, Chet and Blink (who is the emergency escape route for everyone unable to ripcord). James suggests taking Kerekov as well, but Chet thinks he’d be better off on guard detail with Ben, who’s going to be their driver. With a Jason running around, they can’t take chances. The site turns out to be not that far away from the warehouse.
“You know, I could just project from here,” James muses. “That way, my body isn’t even in the area.”
“Good idea,” says Chet, but Craig shakes his head.
“No time,” he says. “We won’t be able to go back to the warehouse to drop you off after we meet Carlos.”
“We’re all going to have to head out with you, then,” says Chet. Fortunately, there aren’t that many more details to arrange. The Jason’s target is likely to be one of two addresses. The spooks will get there early, conceal themselves about the area and jump him when he shows up. If it all goes horribly wrong, James will ripcord and Blink will get the rest of them out.
The assault team head out to the motel. Ben is driving, with Kerekov riding shotgun. Blink, James, Chet and Craig are in the back. After Ben drops James and Craig off, he parks up some distance away to wait. James texts Carlos as soon as they’ve rented the room and, soon enough, there comes a knock at the door.
“Good evening. I’m Carlos.”
“James.” He stands back, opening the door so Carlos can enter the room. Carlos stops just inside the threshold, frowning, staring past James.
“And who is this?” He says. He’s looking right at Craig, who is currently unmanifested. This is unexpected. Apparently, the FBI negotiator can see spooks.
“Can you hear me?” Craig steps forward, frowning. James closes the door, looking from one of them to the other.
“Craig?” A slight widening of his eyes is the only indication that Carlos is anything other than completely sanguine. “I thought you were dead.” In answer to that, Craig opens his shirt to reveal the bullet wounds in his chest. “Oh.” Carlos stares at them for a moment, looking back up to study Craig’s face when he buttons his shirt again. “That was an unfortunate business.”
“Especially for me.”
“I went to your funeral.”
“Considerate of you.” There is obviously history between these two. Carlos looks hard at Craig for a moment longer, and then switches his attention back to James. “Anyway, shall we get to business?” Whatever inner turmoil he may be experiencing, it doesn’t show in his voice or in his expression. Apparently, Carlos is not a man you’d want to play poker with. James describes the plan. Craig adds in the off detail here and there, but mostly leaves the talking to him. Carlos asks a couple of questions, but seems largely satisfied that they know what they’re doing. He seems happy to take the spook stuff at face value for now, or maybe he’s just waiting to see how it all plays out. In any case, he tells them that he plans to go along in his car and park a little way away, preferably where he can watch the ambush without getting directly involved. The best defence against the Jason is simply not to come to his attention.
Tom and Annie decide to start with the third murder site, as it’s the one closest to the warehouse. Their plan is to move on in chronological order, bringing them closer to the ambush team so they can provide back up if necessary. As Hoyt drives, they read through the information that Carlos sent them. (The rest of the Phoenix spooks are doing the same.) Starting with Mayfair Green, there were three murders believed to be committed by the same individual. An examination of the sites suggested that they were marking out a circle centred on the twin towers. The spacing led the FBI to predict that the perpetrator was intending to commit a total of nine such murders to complete the pattern. Annie frowns.
“Maybe these are the ‘nine pillars’ the prophecy talks about,” she muses. Certainly, it’s difficult to believe that this is all a coincidence. Once the FBI figured out this pattern, they worked out the fourth site (narrowing it down to a couple of houses closest to the projected co-ordinates) and set up an ambush there. The operation did not exactly go according to plan. A few minutes before midnight, the agents on the scene noted the approach of a van. The watched the vehicle closely, but didn’t see anyone get out. A short while after midnight, they simply stopped reporting in. After continued radio silence, a second team was sent in to investigate. The side of the van containing the assault team had been torn open like a sardine can. From the finger-marks in the metal, this had been done by human hands. There was no sign of the agents, just blood and evidence of weapons fire. As well as the tactical team, there were agents maintaining a surveillance perimeter around the area. These were also missing. These were also missing. The investigators found some signs of a struggle, but no blood or weapons fire. If there were vehicles, the doors were apparently opened normally, rather than being ripped open like the van. There were ten agents in total, four on surveillance duty and six in the van. All of them are presumed dead, although no bodies have yet been found.
Despite the FBI presence, the Jason still managed to complete his night’s work. Crime scene analysis suggests that he somehow entered the premises without being spotted, where he strangled and restrained his victims. Leaving them there, he took down the agents on scene, starting with the ones on surveillance duty. Once they were down, he dealt with the assault team and then proceeded with the murders, following the same pattern as before. Post-mortem analysis of these victims, however, suggested that they were conscious when he drowned them. The fifth (predicted) site is actually under-water. The FBI kept the area under surveillance two nights ago, but saw nothing. Divers have investigated the water, but found nothing so far. For number six, tonight, the FBI have pinpointed two addresses closest to the co-ordinates as being the most likely targets.
The perpetrator appears to be following exactly the same pattern for each of the murders to date and his victims have all been families with children. They are strangled into unconsciousness and then drowned in barrels of industrial alcohol laced with what is likely to be pigment. (That is: the identifiable chemicals match those found in the drug, and unidentifiable compounds are present in similar numbers, with comparable properties. Essentially, the chemical profile of the additive is consistent with that of pigment.) The bodies are dismembered post-mortem and then (mostly) stuffed into the barrels. Subsequent investigation suggests that the barrels were most likely stolen from a local scrap yard.
There appears to be a significant ritual component to the murders, not just in the act itself, but in the way the perpetrator decorates the scenes afterwards. At the first scene, letters were cut from newspapers and stuck to the walls with blood and faeces. It looks like a message, but one which the investigators have not yet managed to make sense of. Annie glances over the pictures and recognises the language as ancient Sumerian, although she doesn’t have time for a translation. It’s only some time afterwards  that she realises the problem with this. English and ancient Sumerian use completely different alphabets. If the letters were cut from newspapers, how did he manage to put together a message in that dead language? Looking at the pictures again, it’s clear that he didn’t. When she makes an effort to examine the letters individually, she can clearly see that they are from the standard English alphabet. Looking at it as a whole, however, her mind tells her that it’s written in ancient Sumerian. It isn’t even as if it’s been spelled out phonetically, or the letters have been altered into Sumerian glyphs. No, it seems to be purely a trick of the mind. Somewhat uneasy, she makes a mental note to try to translate the message at the earliest opportunity.
The Sumerian message (if that’s what it is) was only found at the first scene. At the second, roses were glued to the wall (again, with blood and faeces) and the intestines of one of the victims strung across the back of a chair like harp strings. At the third scene, a human femur was been carved into what looks like a flute. The tool used to do this has not yet been identified. At the fourth (the site of the botched ambush), the severed head of one of the victims (believed to be the mother of the family) was placed on a spike in the centre of the room, an upside-down smile carved into her face. At all of the sites (including the first) Hungarian writing was scrawled across the walls in blood and faeces. The messages all appear to be more or less the same: mostly gibberish, with a recurring theme of “they’re all going to pay.”
The research team arrive at the third murder site at about 9pm. Tom and Annie project, leaving Rory and Hoyt to guard their bodies. As they head towards the address Carlos gave them, they spot a hue wandering around the area, aimlessly breaking street lights with helter skelter. From his behaviour, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to really notice the two spooks, they deduce that he is a blip; probably the ghost of one of the murder victims. He is making a continual low moaning sound, as if in pain. There are symbols carved into its chest; some kind of inscription in what looks like ancient Sumerian. Annie can’t be sure, but she thinks it might be the same as the message left at the first crime scene. Unusually, the wounds are still raw, bleeding a constant stream of gauze which fades away into the night air. Despite this, however, the hue doesn’t seem to be fading away. The other interesting thing is that there were no such symbols carved into any of the bodies. It must have been done afterwards, to the hue itself, but what could do this to a ghost?
Cautiously extending her supernatural senses, Annie can feel a haze of pain over the place. Much to her relief, it’s muted and faint; nothing at all like she experienced in Chicago. Then again, the victims were unconscious when they were killed. Focusing on the hue, she tries to sense his tethers. Instead of the vast, deep ocean she’s expecting, she gets a brief image of a great and hungry storm. It looks like the storm; the one from the spectre’s realm. There are no other tethers that she can sense. She relays this information to Tom. It doesn’t look likely that they’ll be able to break those tethers, so that puts paid to the idea of passing the ghost over.
“I think we should disperse him. Put him out of his misery.” Tom is looking distinctly uncomfortable, studying the hue with pity in his eyes. “Dispersal has to be better than this.”
Annie nods, slowly. “I agree.” It’s obvious the hue is in pain. If they can’t help him, surely ending that is the next best thing, right? “This must be important to the ritual; making ghosts and carving them up. Maybe if we disperse him, it’ll disrupt it.” But her voice is uncertain. Can it really be that simple? What are they missing? She shakes her head. “Let’s go and look at the scene first.” They see more ghosts: a woman and two children. Like the man, they have bleeding symbols carved into their gauze. Like the man, they are moaning in pain. Tom’s eyes are shuttered as he looks at them, his face expressionless.
“We have to disperse these as well,” he says tightly.
Annie is staring at the smaller figures. “Children, too,” she says, her voice not quite as steady as she would like. She’s read the report; knows that the Jason has been targeting families, but still... It’s one thing to read about it, and another to actually see their suffering ghosts. “I hope they stop him.”
Tom keeps watch while Annie tries to look back at the night of the murder. Nothing happens on the first attempt, so she summons up every last drop of concentration and tries again. Her spirit guide is no more than a blurred impression of movement reflected in the window. When she blinks, the reflection is gone, but her surroundings are just as dim and out of focus. The effect is quite disconcerting. Several figures surround her, but only one seems to be upright and moving. Despite the lack of detail, she recognises this one as the Jason; the same man she saw in Mayfair Green. His victims are slumped on the ground, almost certainly unconscious and restrained, just as the files said. One by one, he starts to pick them up and push them head first into the barrels, holding them there until they drown. The last victim – one of the children – is just starting to wake up by the time he gets to her, but this doesn’t seem to bother him at all. She barely even has time for one shrill scream before he holds her under. She dies just like the rest.
When ghosts start to form over the bodies, the Jason looks up and so does Annie. She sees a multi-limbed something clinging to the ceiling. The image is too blurred for her to make out any details, but she has an impression of something huge and spider-like. Whatever it is, the Jason seems to be looking to it for instructions. After staring up at it for a few moments, he uses blood from his victims to inscribe circles on the floor and ceiling, dividing each of them up into nine-pointed stars. Annie is too busy trying to get a better look at the other spectre to see what the Jason is doing now, but she suddenly finds herself spinning around, her gaze snapping towards him. No, that’s not right: not towards him, but to the object he’s just taken out. It’s a knife; silver, and with an oddly shaped blade. She can’t see it too clearly, but she can feel it, there at the edges of her mind. It feels... Hungry. Without consciously deciding to, she finds herself taking step towards it, and another and another, so focused on the knife itself that doesn’t realise what the Jason is doing until she’s practically standing right on top of him. He’s carving symbols into the ghosts’ gauze. She can feel that too, dimly: a sharp pain that trails off into the bone-deep ache she sensed earlier. ‘They feel this all the time,’ she realises. With a start, she realises something else, too. There are things moving in the blade: small, writhing shapes. She leans forward to try to get a better look... And then she’s back in the present again.
Before they can return to their bodies, there’s an unpleasant task to complete: dispersing the ghosts. Tom handles it on his own, using witch’s nimbus. After he dissipates the father, the mother tries to wail at him, but he simply shrugs it off. Dispersing the little family of hues is almost too easy, and leaves a bad taste in his mouth. It might be the only thing he can think of to do for them, but it still feels wrong. This isn’t what he signed up for. Once back in their bodies, Annie and Tom pass on the information about the second spectre and the knife to the assault team, and Hoyt drives them all to the next site. The two skimmers meditate to recover some vitality and, perhaps, some focus. They can’t let the unpleasantness distract them from their mission.
There is another family of hues at the fourth site, although there don’t seem to be any of the dead FBI agents wandering around. The hues have the same ancient Sumerian writing carved into their gauze. First of all, Annie tries to look at the Jason’s vehicle. This is difficult, since there’s little emotion associated with his arrival – just the anticipation of the FBI agents who saw it. She does, however, manages a brief glimpse of an old, off-white General Motors van. The image is too blurry for her to get a look at the license plate. Next, they move on to the murder site itself. The clinging aura of pain and fear is much deeper here, much as Annie expected from the report: these victims were awake when the Jason drowned them. Aside from that small complication, events proceed much as they did at the previous site. This time, she manages to get a clear look at the spider-thing on the ceiling. Contrary to her first impression, it apparently was human once. Its body has been grossly twisted and distorted: legs withered, arms and fingers elongated so that they look like the limbs of a great spider. It still, however, has a recognisably human face (which Annie does her best to commit to memory). The contrast makes for quite a grotesque effect. Again, because she’s concentrating on the arachnoid creature, Annie doesn’t see the Jason draw the knife. She feels it, though, its ravening hunger sending a shock right through her. She can see it clearly this time; see the screaming faces embedded in the silver blade. It’s made out of ghosts...
Moving on to where the FBI assault team died, the first Annie sees of the Jason is when he rips the van open with his bare hands. Looking a few seconds further back, she does manage to pick out his approach, but only because she knows exactly where to look. Even then, it’s not easy: he seems to blend seamlessly into the shadows. It isn’t clear whether he’s just very, very good or he’s using some supernatural effect (and the thought that he could be doing that in the flesh is terrifying), but either way it means they can’t rely on seeing him coming. The attack is over in no more than a few seconds. A couple of the agents manage to get some bullets into him, but they don’t even slow him down. Stopping him – or even just seeing him – is not going to be easy. It isn’t clear whether he actually kills the FBI agents, but he definitely breaks bones. When they’re all down, he drags their battered, bleeding bodies off in the direction of his van, which is just out of frame.
“We should go and join the others.” With a Jason who’s almost impossible to spot (and who took down six highly-trained FBI agents in no more than a few seconds), a type of spectre they’ve never seen before orchestrating matters and a knife that can hurt spooks, Tom thinks the assault team are going to need all the back up they can get.
“You’re right.” They head back to the van as fast as they can move without ripcording. Tom looks torn as they pass the hues, but doesn’t even slow down. He wants to disperse them, but thinks that time and vitality are of the essence. They’re unlikely to get there in time as it is.
“I’ll do my best,” says Hoyt. There may or may not be a glimmer of anticipation in his eyes. It isn’t that often he gets handed the chance to drive the way he wants to. “You might want to hang on tight...” He isn’t wrong. The phrase ‘breakneck speeds’ doesn’t do that journey justice. Annie gets flung around a little as she tells the others about the Jason’s ability to move unseen – hanging on tight enough really needs both hands, and preferably a few more just to be sure. Unbelievably, Tom actually manages to meditate en route. Annie finds the rollercoaster ride a little too distracting. Maybe it’s the way they keep running red lights and taking corners on two wheels. Maybe it’s the slightly maniacal grin on Hoyt’s face. “This is more like it!” He calls back.
“You’re insane,” Annie mutters. “How can you possibly enjoy this?” Her stomach definitely isn’t enjoying the ride.
“I just like living life in the fast lane, Senorita.”
Amazingly, they not only make it in time, but also in one piece, meeting up with Ben and Kerekov a short distance away from the site. After dropping off Tom and Annie, Hoyt drives back to the warehouse (at a slightly more sedate speed). The two skimmers leave their bodies with James’ in the back of Ben’s van.
“We could do with some more vitality,” Tom observes, looking expectantly at Kerekov. The former mercenary just looks at him, not saying a word.
“Let’s go,” says Annie, turning away. She doesn’t want to get involved with this, having said she wouldn’t ask unless it was an emergency. Tom lingers a moment longer, then turns away with a look of disgust, shaking his head.
“Well, he’s useless then, isn’t he?” It isn’t clear whether Kerekov hears the muttered words. Tom and Annie join the other spooks.
Carlos doesn’t seem to have any trouble seeing the sleepers or skimmers, and he’s already demonstrated his ability to see ghosts. Unfortunately, time is ticking on and they can’t really afford to spend any of it quizzing him about his ability to see and hear them.
“I hope you’ve updated your will recently,” Annie murmurs to Carlos, when she realises that he’s planning on staying around to observe. “Still, at least it should be over quickly.” That doesn’t seem to put him off. He does, however, withdraw to what he thinks is a safe distance – he’s read the case reports as well. Everyone else takes up positions near the two potential targets. Tom and Craig inhabit car aerials. Chet steps inside a large wheely bin, ghostly pistol at the ready. Annie tells Rory to wait inside another building until she calls him, then dissolves into a swarm of wasps and hovers near a street light. Blink – who, as a wisp, is always gently glowing – decides to wait in Carlos’ car. Carlos sees the spook approach, and then suddenly he’s sitting in the passenger seat beside him without passing through either the intervening space or the car door.  Carlos blinks at Blink a few times.
“Why are you glowing?” He asks.
“Haven’t you ever heard stories about glowing spirits leading the unwary astray?”
“Well, you have now.”
James spots a perfect hiding place, using anathema  to scale a nearby wall. The roof offers a great vantage point, allowing him to keep tabs on all possible approaches. There’s no way he’ll be able to miss the Jason from here. Unfortunately, neither he nor his fellow spooks see the way that the light neatly silhouettes James against a billboard. Yes, he’ll be able to see any vehicle approaching. Unfortunately, any occupants of that vehicle able to see spooks will get a good look at him...  At around five to midnight, an off-white General Motors van pulls up. The Phoenix spooks, and Carlos, all focus their attention on it, looking carefully for the Jason. Some of them catch a brief glimpse of him as he steps out, but then they lose him in the night. As everyone else looks around the area, trying to spot the Jason, James keeps his gaze glued to the van. He’s certain that the Jason is still in there...  And then his lower back explodes with agony.
The Jason stabs him repeatedly, driving the knife deep into his gauze again and again and again. If he had any kidneys in this form, they would be well and truly carved up by now.
“Fuck!” He yells at the top of his lungs, even as he instinctively channels anathema to try to defend himself against the frenzied attack. Making an attack of his own is out of the question at the moment. It’s about all he can do to stop the Jason putting even more holes in him. That would be bad. That would be very bad indeed. Not only do the wounds hurt like a motherfucker, but he can feel the knife ripping away vitality as well. And he’s all alone up here...
Everyone’s attention is drawn to the rooftop by James’ exclamation, by the bright lights of anathema and by the massive spike as he suddenly channels a large amount of vitality. People start to scramble from their hiding places, heading towards the fight. Blink teleports over to Tom, intending to jump the two of them up to the rooftop, but the Jason moves too quickly. One second he’s driving the knife into James’ gauze, the next he’s leaping off the roof and disappearing from view. No one sees where he goes. Annie splits herself in two, sending one swarm into each of the target houses so she can find out if he’s there. Tom’s gauze suddenly crackles with electricity as he brings up witch’s nimbus, careful to keep his aura close so he doesn’t hurt Blink.
“Everyone stay together.” Chet starts barking orders like the old soldier he is. “We need to check the van and the two houses. Stay alert and remember there’s likely to be another spectre somewhere in the area.” He looks up James, who is running down the wall to join the rest of them on the ground. “Are you alright, Cadet?” James’ only answer is to swear vigorously. The poltergeist certainly isn’t alright. The knife has left actual bleeding wounds in his gauze, something that just doesn’t happen to skimmers. Well, not unless they’re tangling with a Reaper. The wounds aren’t healing, and they hurt. Channelling his pain and rage, James manages to squeezes more energy from somewhere.  He uses this to manifest and reach out for the van with anathema. Wrapping silver tendrils around the vehicle, he suddenly wrenches his hands apart, tearing the van in two as if it was made of paper. Six metal barrels fall out and bleed their contents all over the asphalt. Whatever else he does this evening, the Jason won’t be drowning his victims in those. The van is otherwise empty.
Annie spots the Jason inside one of the houses, already strangling his chosen victims. She hesitates a moment, thinking about trying to distract him, but then wheels around and heads back outside. A couple of weeks ago, she might have risked it, but she has someone else to think about now. Gathering herself together, she calls out to the others:
“He’s in there!” She points back to the house and Chet immediately starts giving orders. Tom flares his aura a little more. Lights are starting to go on in nearby houses. The van’s demise was not quiet, and people are looking out to see what all the commotion is about. There isn’t anything they can do about that right now, though. They start to head in, only to stop dead as the world splits open. The vast tearing noise  – more felt than heard  – is coming from the building where James fought the Jason. The spooks all wheel around to see a fetch  stepping out onto the roof. And, in that same moment, the fetch sees them...
Craig immediately blurs into motion, heading into the house where the Jason is.
“Everyone who can, follow me,” he calls. The fetch casts its gaze back and forth, homing in on James. Bunching its powerful legs beneath it, the spectre leaps for him, blurring as it does so. Tom immediately hurls a lightning bolt at it, managing to singe it a little but not to deflect it from its course. James has just enough time to channel vitality into juggernaut, his skin morphing into rock-like hardness just as the fetch bites down. Those powerful jaws scrabble for hold, but are unable to pierce his armour. James is already sending a fist hurtling for the creatures head, but the blow goes wild as he is pulled off-balance. Chet starts shooting, but the holes he blasts in its hide – scattering razor-blades every which way – rapidly seal again. Annie calls Rory and the two of them start to follow Craig into the house. After commanding the dog to attack anything that she does, she dissolves her gauze into a swarm of rats. Before they reach the house, Blink catches up with them. The wisp uses storm-wending to teleport the Annie, Rory and Tom into the bedroom, while he stays outside. Behind him, something starts to crawl out of the wreckage of the van...
The Jason moves fast, slashing at Tom with the knife as soon as the spooks and the ghost dog appear in the bedroom. Tom nimbly dodges the first blow, but the second hurts him badly, draining his vitality through the wound. There’s a sudden pulse from Craig, and he disappears into the Jason’s body. Neither of them emerges; the body dropping to the floor and starting to thrash wildly. It looks like spook and spectre are warring for control. Tom, who was about to manifest and fry the Jason, checks his action, not knowing whether it will help Craig or hinder him. Annie also pauses, both she and Rory poised to attack. The knife is flickering in and out of existence as the body continues to thrash and judder. They just don’t know what to do.
The spider-like spectre rears up and spits webbing at Chet, enfolding him in sticky strands that root him to the spot, partially cocooning him. He tries to break free, but can’t fight his way out of his prison. The fetch, sensing the presence of a softer target, releases James and instead goes for Chet, biting down on his exposed head. It doesn’t seem to be sticking to the webbing. James fires up anathema – giving off another pulse – and tries to tear the fetch in two. He succeeds in sending it skittering away from Chet, scattering yet more razors. Unfortunately, he also succeeds in getting the attention of the spider, which snares him in another bolus of sticky webbing.
“Don’t look this way,” shouts Blink, the words closely followed by a pulse from his direction. He glows brightly, trying to trance the spider with unearthly repose.
Up in the bedroom, the Jason’s body continues to convulse, breathing stopping and starting repeatedly. Annie attacks, not wanting to risk the Jason regaining full control of it. If it dies, the worst that should happen to Craig is that he’ll be kicked out, isn’t it? Well, there isn’t really time to try to reason it out. She swarms over the thrashing body, aiming for arteries and vital organs. Rory manifests and follows her lead. The Jason’s body is extremely tough – far more than she would expect – and doesn’t really bleed. It’s as if it’s already dead. Tom watches and waits, ramping up juggernaut.
The fetch dives for Chet again, managing to catch him a glancing blow that he just shrugs off. As James attacks the spectre again, Chet manages to break free, taking aim with his gauze pistol and doing his level best to blow its brains out. Already weakened from James’ attacks, the fetch is blasted into oblivion with a couple of shots.
“Turn off the glow,” James yells to Blink. “We’re turning around.” But the light of Blink’s unearthly repose is already dimming.
“It disappeared,” he says, sounding worried. “I think it sank into the ground.” Evidently, he didn’t manage to trance the spectre.
Annie and Rory continue their attack on the Jason’s unresisting body. Tom glances out of the window, the fight’s aftermath reassuring him that the people outside are handling things just fine. Eventually, Annie manages to chew all the way through the Jason’s neck. As its head falls away from its body, Craig and a small, gnarled man tumble out of the corpse. The man is strong-featured and thick-set, with mad, staring eyes. He is sheathed in darkness and shadows, from which many – well over a dozen – filthy, taloned hands emerge. To immediate response is to lightning-bolt the spectre. The hands start reaching out for Craig, Annie and Rory, while another lunges at Tom with the knife. Annie scurries hither and thither, managing to avoid any of her bodies being snatched up. Craig and Rory aren’t so lucky. Tom doesn’t try to dodge the knife, taking the hit while he quickly pours enough vitality into juggernaut to send up another spike. The knife skitters along the surface of his gauze, draining vitality but doing no real injury. Unfortunately, the lightning-crackle and spark of his aura seems to slide off the darkness sheathing the spectre, leaving the man unharmed. Tom hurls another bolt of electricity, but his aim is off and it sails wide of the mark. Luckily, he hasn’t manifested, so there’s no danger of setting fire to the building. Juggernaut making him a blur of motion, Tom follows that attack up with two quick punches. Again, his sparks gutter and die on the spectre’s dark aura, but the blows connect solidly, tearing away wisps of its substance.
Keeping an eye out for the spider, James tries to break free of the webbing it spat at him. It seems to have dried to concrete-hardness, the strands almost impossible to break. He tries several times, using anathema, but with no luck. Craig tries to free him from the outside, but with a similar lack of success. After a few attempts, they try working together. Between the two of them, they manage to tear enough of a hole that he can wriggle free. They both scan the area, looking for the spider or for any other threats that might have been drawn by the multiple spikes. Carlos, who has been watching events,  relaxes a little but still keeps hold of the shotgun he pulled out during the worst of the fighting. It looks like they have everything under control now, but better safe than sorry. It’s not clear why he pulls the shotgun, rather than the pistol loaded with ghost-shot, but presumably he has his reasons. Blink looks around and then disappears from view.
Craig pulses again, using juggernaut to make himself stronger and tougher as he struggles to break free of the spectre’s many, grasping hands. Annie’s rat swarm savages the limbs holding Rory, but is unable to make them let him go. For his part, the dog is looking most unhappy with the situation, struggling wildly but to no avail. Blink pops in, quickly taking in the situation at a glance.
“Do you want me to get you out of here or to get help?” He directs the question at Tom, who’s the only one of the group able to respond at the moment.
“Get help.” At that moment, the Jason starts to move again. It reaches for Annie, who scrabbles away and manages to evade his grasp. At the same time, he swings Craig, Rory and the knife at Tom. Craig and Tom bounce off each other, with neither particularly the worse for wear. He tries to dodge the knife, but it’s suddenly right there in front of him. The blade sinks deep into his gauze, tearing a ragged, bleeding hole in his chest.  At the same time, Rory crashes hard into him, knocking him off his feet and slamming him into the wall. Tom slumps to the ground, unconscious and Rory gets rather singed. Blink, who hasn’t left yet, decides that discretion is the better part of valour. He jumps them all out of there.
On the ground, James picks up the mobile phone they placed in the area earlier and uses it to call Ben.  He wants to find out if the knife wounds have been transferred to his body, like with a Reaper.
“Your back’s bruised as fuck, but there ain’t no stab wounds. Looks like you were lucky.” James just has time to start feeling relieved, but then there’s an explosion of swearing from the other end.
“What is it? What’s happening?”
“It’s Tom.” With that, there’s a clattering noise; it sounds like Ben’s dropped the phone. The swearing continues, albeit fainter. Whatever’s happening there, it doesn’t sound good for Tom. James uses anathema to run up the wall of the house and peer in the bedroom window. He sees a man and woman sprawled on the floor – clearly either unconscious or dead – and a spectre. There is no one else. Jumping lightly to the ground, he goes over to Chet.
“I think Blink took them away. Should we go?”
“Yes.” Just the two of them doesn’t make for good odds. “You should ripcord.” When James disappears, Chet jogs over to Carlos’ car and gets in. “Zone’s hot,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Get out of here now.” If Carlos has a problem with Chet issuing orders (and, for that matter, inviting himself along as a passenger), he keeps his thoughts to himself as he starts the engine and zooms away.
As soon as James is back in his body, he gets up and goes to take a look at Tom’s injuries. He’s hurt pretty badly; bruised pretty much everywhere and bleeding from a ragged gash that goes right across his chest. Ben is doing what he can, but James is better trained (and has much more experience of doing this kind of thing). He takes over the first aid, managing to stabilise Tom’s condition. Of course, he’s still out of his body...
Blink teleports himself and everyone with him into Kerekov’s van.
“We’re leaving,” he says. Kerekov nods and starts to drive. Unlike Hoyt, he’s a careful driver, even sticking to the speed limit. It makes for quite a change of pace. Blink lowers Tom’s gauze gently to the floor of the van.
“We need to get him back in his body,” says Annie. If his body is hurt half as badly as his gauze, he must be in a pretty bad way.
“Can you do that?”
“Yes.” Turning to Kerekov, she continues: “We need to rendezvous with the other van.” He nods, pulling out his phone and calling Hoyt to arrange a meeting point.
“Where are we going?” Carlos glances over at Chet, who is busy scanning the area for hostiles.
“Can I borrow your phone?”
“Sure.” He starts to hand the device to Chet, but the spook hasn’t manifested so it falls through him to land on the seat. He starts to say something, but stops when he sees silvery threads  extend from Chet’s hands and start to manipulate the phone. Chet calls Kerekov.
“I need a pick up.”
“Not right now. Tom is unconscious and out of body.”
“Understood. Someone can pick me up at the motel when it’s convenient.” He rings off. “Back to the motel,” he says to Carlos. That definitely had the ring of an order. Carlos frowns, but duly heads in that direction.
“I thought you people were supposed to be the experts at this,” he observes.
“We took out one of Santa’s little helpers and almost certainly stopped tonight’s ritual. Total of our casualties: one man unconscious and some minor injuries. Not an unsuccessful mission.” Chet frowns. “You need to get the emergency services out there now. The people in that house are probably still alive, but may be hurt.” Pulling over at the next public telephone, Carlos puts in an anonymous call to the emergency services. He tells them that some people have been attacked in their home and need medical assistance. That’s actually completely true.
“Done,” he says, when he gets back in the car.
Chet frowns at him. “Why weren’t the FBI all over this one?” His voice is cautious.
“They lost ten men at the last one.”
“Would’ve thought they’d just get more determined to get this guy. Why didn’t they turn up in numbers?”
“They don’t really have the manpower for that.”
“Hmmph.” Chet’s frown deepens, but he doesn’t push.
The vans meet up and Annie manages to ease Tom’s gauze back into his body. James has treated his injuries as best as he can, so there’s nothing more they can do for him other than get him back to the warehouse and let him rest. The spooks fill each other in on what happened.
“I’ll go and fetch Chet.” That’s the only thing Kerekov has said since he spoke to Chet en route.
Annie turns to look at him. “Do you want back up?”
She frowns. “There are two spectres unaccounted for, one of which has something a lot like puppetry. If you go out alone, there’s no guarantee you’ll come back yourself. I suggest you take either a teleporter or a skimmer with you.” She’s thinking more in terms of reporting than combat support.
Kerekov tilts his head, considering. “Teleporter.”
“That would be me, then,” sighs Blink.
“Is that okay?” Annie wasn’t really intending to volunteer him. He nods.
“I wouldn’t mind being topped up a little, though, if anyone has any energy to spare.” Annie and James donate some of their vitality to the cause. Kerekov and Blink head off to the motel. Everyone else returns to the warehouse.
Carlos waits at the motel with Chet until Kerekov turns up. They’re not actually waiting all that long – the reason they picked the motel in the first place was its relative proximity to the ambush site. As Chet’s getting out of the car, Carlos speaks.
“I’ll need a report on tonight’s events.”
“It would be best.” That gives him time to clean it up before he has to make his own report.
“I’ll need your phone again.” Chet calls the others, explaining that Carlos wants a report. James volunteers, so Chet passes the phone back to Carlos and bids him goodbye.
The next morning, the incident – well, part of it – has made the local news reports. Apparently, the emergency services arrived just as the couple were starting to come around. They were, understandably, rather distressed. First, someone breaks into their home and strangles them. Next, they come around to see the decapitated body of their attacker on their bedroom floor. Tom contacts Carlos to find out the parts that didn’t make it into the papers. For one thing, there’s the fact that the attacker had his head bitten off by a small horde of rats. Second, there’s the fact that there isn’t nearly as much blood as there should be. Third, there’s the van that James ripped in half: they’re still trying to figure that one out.
“Annie, can I talk to you a moment?” Craig looks serious, but then he usually does.
“Of course.” She gestures him into her cubicle, wondering what this is about. Fortunately, this being Craig, he comes straight to the point.
“The Jason’s body felt dead, even though it was breathing. It was just being sustained by the spectre inside it.” That doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but he hasn’t finished yet. “Fighting it was nothing like an ordinary battle for possession. It felt like we were somewhere else, but I don’t know where. And whenever I won control, it felt like I died.” His tone remains even, if a little grim. “It felt just the same as the first time.
” She thinks about that for a moment; what that says about the spectres’ version of puppetry. It’s fascinating... And worrying. “Maybe you shouldn’t risk doing that again.”
“If the same situation came up, I’d almost certainly have to.”
“How many...?” How exactly do you ask someone how many times they died, anyway?
“I’m not sure precisely. A handful. Maybe five or so.”
She studies him, thoughtfully. “Are you alright?”
“Yes.” It’s hard to tell whether he really is, but Craig’s tough. He’ll probably be okay. “I don’t think any of the Quick  could take it, though.”
“It gets easier,” she says, softly.
He frowns at that. “Every time I died, it felt like I lost a piece of myself.”
“As I said.” She didn’t say it was a good thing.
He sighs. “I suppose I’m going to have to tell the others. Someone’s bound to try it for themselves, otherwise. Goodbye.”
“Bye.” Craig strolls off.
Carlos goes to meet with his ally in the FBI. Special Agent Larson is waiting for his report on the night’s events.
“So, it’s definitely spook activity.” It isn’t really a question.
“You know there’s a certain amount of controversy over this in the Bureau. You’ve been out of the loop a little while, so you probably don’t really know…”
“Oh?” Carlos asks, politely.
“This all came down since after you left. As you know, we’ve been interested in Orpheus for a while. Recent events provided something of an opportunity. Osorio, well...” He shrugs; a mere twitch of his shoulders. “Osorio was on the case like a bloodhound tracking a scent. The higher-ups allowed him to have it because, frankly, he’s considered expendable.” He grimaces. “This current business is causing some problems, though. You're probably wondering why there isn’t a Fed behind every streetlight on this street?”
Carlos nods. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
“Well, this clusterfuck on top of the Phoenix mess has got every would-be politico in New York and more than a few beyond running around in circles, scenting blood whilst covering their asses at the same time.” Apparently, Larson really is speaking frankly. “If you get this wrapped up tonight, or at least stop another bloody murder, this is going to help us a lot. Might even get us enough clout to get our friends permanently off the books. If this becomes another public mess...”
“They'll use it to nail you to the wall.”
“Nice to know the stakes.”
“I guess it doesn’t really touch you one way or the other. Anyway, the idea of spooks is gaining some credibility here. We’ve requisitioned some equipment from Terrel & Squib – like the gun I gave you – and we’re hoping to get hold of more. We’re definitely gaining influence, and there’s a real possibility that we’ll be able to effect change within the Bureau…” The two of them spend some time discussing FBI internal politics. It seems like Phoenix are, unknowingly, caught up in some kind of power play within the organisation. This could make their lives even more interesting…
Back at the warehouse, Phoenix are planning their next move. At most, they have two days before the next attack. It’s likely that they’ll actually have less than that, because last night’s ritual was disrupted. Assuming that the spectres need all the sites, they’re undoubtedly going to try again. Unfortunately, the opposition are now forewarned about their involvement, but that can’t be helped.
“Annie,” says James. “Why don’t you finish foreboding all the sites? It would be helpful to find out what they’re going to do now.”
“I agree,” she nods. “I suggest we go in prepared for a fight, though. They might be watching for us to try something like this.”
“I’ll go with you.” James is always ready for a fight.
“Maybe you should invite our liaison along,” suggests Craig. “Just to show willing.” Annie starts to say no on general principles, but grudgingly admits that Craig is right. It certainly can’t hurt to build up some goodwill.
“Fine,” she says.
James is thinking. “From what you saw of the ritual,” he says, “do you think you can work out what they’re trying to do? If we know what that is, we might be able to work out a way to disrupt it.”
“Maybe. It’s more Kate’s area of expertise, though. I’ll go and talk to her.” Kate’s bound to be demanding to know what happened last night, anyway. Fortunately, she and Zoë were moved to the warehouse yesterday, so she doesn’t have to go far.
The ritual definitely seems to be hermetic in nature, drawing heavily on symbolism. The sites are obviously being prepared, somehow. It seems to be the locations themselves that are the most important aspects, not necessarily the mutilated ghosts.
“Maybe they’re planting some kind of seed,” Kate muses, “starting a process that will mature over the course of the ritual.”
“Do you think dispersing the ghosts will stop it coming to fruition?”
“I think it’ll slow it down. I don’t think it will stop it.” She gives a short, humourless bark of laughter. “I don’t think we’re that lucky, Kid.”
“Hmm.” Annie finds her attention drawn to the Sumerian writing again. There’s something about it that’s nagging her; just scratching away at the back of her mind...
“Shit!” Kate is staring blankly, eyes wide with the shock of realisation.
“What? What is it?”
“Hand me those crime scene descriptions again.” Annie does so. “It fits. Fuck me, it fits.”
“The nine muses. Clio: muse of history. Associated with books and scrolls – the newspapers at the first site. Erato: love poetry, which doesn’t seem to fit, but then she’s often seen with a lyre and crown of roses. There were rose petals glued to the wall at the second scene, and the strung intestines could represent a lyre if you squint hard enough. Euterpe carries a flute. Melpomene is tragedy, and is often portrayed with a tragic mask: that’s what was carved into the dead woman’s face. See?” She looks up at Annie. “It fits.”
“It makes sense,” Annie starts to say, but Kate speaks over her.
“The muses are supposed to inspire, so maybe that’s what the spectres are trying to do. Inspire... Us? With their values, maybe?” She sounds unsure. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to follow the thought to its logical conclusion.
“You think they’re trying to turn us into spectres.” Kate is silent for a moment, looking down at her hands. When she looks up again, there is horror in her eyes.
“Something that big... It could affect the living as well as the dead.”
“You think they’re trying to turn everyone into spectres.”
“Yes,” Kate says, simply.
Annie is completely lost for words. What do you say in the face of something like that? Her gaze falls on the photograph of the first crime scene, still in Kate’s hand, and the thing that’s been nagging at her suddenly flashes into sharp focus. Anything to turn her mind away from Kate’s intuition.
“How did he write in Sumerian?”
“What?” Kate looks at her, handing over the pictures when Annie holds her hand out for them.
“He cut the letters out of newspapers. Ordinary, modern, English-language newspapers. But ancient Sumerian doesn’t use a Roman alphabet.”
“Did he put letters together? Draw on them? Make a collage?”
“I don’t know.” Annie looks at the picture, sees the Sumerian writing she noticed the first time; pictographs and all. But then she looks again, forcing herself to consider each character in turn. And she sees English letters. They look like they’ve been cut out of newspapers; just like the report says. Closing her eyes a moment, she blanks her mind and just looks at it. Ancient Sumerian. “No, he didn’t.”
“Look at this.” Annie thrusts the photograph under Kate’s nose. “Tell me what you see.”
After studying it for a moment or two, Kate shrugs. “Some kind of language I don’t understand. It sort of makes sense, but I can’t read it.”
“Huh. Interesting. Now look again, but this time try to focus on each letter individually.”
Kate frowns. “I don’t... Oh.” She takes the photo from Annie again, bringing it close as if mere proximity will force it to behave. “That’s fucked up.”
“Yes. It is. Be right back.” Taking the picture, Annie heads outside the trailer and collars the first person she sees. It happens to be James. “Look at that and tell me what you see.”
James glances at it and shrugs. “Just a bunch of random letters and stuff.”
“English, or some other language?”
“Oh.” She wasn’t quite expecting that. “Thanks.” She asks some more people to do the same thing, all with the same result as James. Apparently, she and Kate are the only ones who can see the Sumerian message; something that they both find equally disturbing. “I’ll have to translate it when I have the time,” she mutters, setting it carefully aside for now.
Before heading back out to tell the others the results of their analysis, Annie takes a quick glance over the pictures of the Hungarian writing. It pretty much confirms her first impression: the passages are long, rambling screeds about revenge and paying people back for unspecified crimes against the author. She does, however, notice something new. There’s a word that doesn’t seem to fit; two words, actually: Béla Kiss. A name? Whatever it is, it’s there at every one of the sites pictured. Not really expecting much, she grabs one of the laptops and runs a quick search. It pays off. Béla Kiss was a Hungarian serial killer who murdered at least twenty-four women at the start of the twentieth century. Interestingly, he pickled them in giant metal drums. Even more interestingly, the last sighting of him was in New York. Could they be dealing with a spectre that’s almost a century old? After a little hesitation, Annie e-mails her findings – plus Kate’s speculation about the muses – to Carlos. She’s not sure what he’ll make of it, but it can’t hurt, right?
Eighty-three days to go.
Part Three - Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses
As soon as everyone’s up and about on Friday morning, Craig gathers up the puppeteers. He warns them about what happened when he tried to kick Kiss out of his host, stressing the fact that he doesn’t think any of the Quick would be able to survive it.
“It’s not an option any of you should consider,” he says, firmly. If that seems to be directed more at James than at Tom or Chet, surely that’s just a coincidence. It’s not, after all, like the ex-SWAT member has gained a reputation for recklessness among the rest of the group, or anything...
The morning is largely a time for planning, theorising and old-fashioned investigation. Even if Kiss is going to try again with the ritual they disrupted, it seems likely he’s going to wait until midnight tonight. Every other detail of the ritual is so precise; it seems likely the timing is important as well. They can only hope that disrupting one site is enough to completely invalidate the whole ritual, but no one really believes they’re that lucky. That’s why they’re continuing to work on the problem. Various people go through the information that Carlos gave them, just in case there are any other clues there. It can’t hurt to be sure.
Carlos manages to persuade his FBI contact to flex his political muscles at the Bureau and get the families in the hot zones moved to somewhere safe. Counting last night’s attempt, there are four sites left. There are only a couple of houses within each target area, so moving the families isn’t a particularly huge endeavour. This might not stop Kiss – he can potentially bring in victims from outside the area – but it should hopefully slow him down and give them more of a chance to catch him. 
Tom focuses on the Jason’s body and vehicle. According to the initial reports – courtesy of Carlos – the body has been dead for about a week and a half. The individual who carried out the post-mortem offers no explanation for how it was not only moving around, but managed to strangle a man and a woman into unconsciousness. Clearly, Kiss was somehow sustaining his host body; possibly keeping it at the very point between life and death. It’s an interesting trick – presumably a peculiar feature of the spectres’ version of puppetry. The host body has not yet been identified. The van is slightly more promising. It hasn’t been reported stolen or anything, but is apparently registered to a retired carpenter living in Mayfair Green. Given recent events there, it’s unlikely that any police officers or FBI agents are planning on going in there to look for him. They haven’t managed to make a positive identification yet, but it seems likely that the unfortunate carpenter ended up being Kiss’ ride in more than one way.
Unfortunately, the body and vehicle analysis doesn’t really help them work out where Kiss’ base of operations is, nor where and how he’s cooking up the alcoholic pigment solution. The barrels he was using are another possible lead. The FBI have managed to track them back to a particular scrapyard by means of soil analysis, but the scrapyard owners have no idea how many have been stolen, nor when the theft (or thefts) occurred. The Phoenix spooks could stake the place out, but Kiss could have already acquired all the barrels he needs. Also, he knows they’re onto him now, so even if he needs more he might look around for an alternative supplier.
With James’ help, Annie uses forebode to try to work out whether Kiss will return to Thursday’s attempted murder site.  The vision is fleeting and blurred, with no hint as to context or timeframe,  but the meaning seems clear enough. She sees the houses covered in black ichor – the same as in Mayfair Green – the whole scene illuminated with a cold grey light. Everything looks flat and unreal, somehow. Either he’s going to come back, or the site is going to be prepared some other way. Whichever it is, it means last night’s victory may have been only a temporary one. ‘May’ is the operative word, though: they know the future can be changed. The question is, can they change it in time? She relays the vision and her interpretation to the others.
Kate spends some time working with Shelley to try to identify the spider-like spectre, guiding the search with some ideas of her own. Before the morning is out, their investigations bear fruit.
“Hah!” Kate’s expression of triumph can be heard throughout the warehouse. “Got you, you little fuck.” Others wander over to see what the fuss is about, so she reads them the highlights. The spider is – or, perhaps, was – none other than William Lamb, the architect of the Empire State Building. There are a number of strange numerological and astrological peculiarities about the tower, some of which may be relevant to recent events. The first thing that leaps out is the fact that the building was dedicated on 1st May, 1931. “And we know what day the apocalypse is meant to fall on, don’t we, boys and girls...”
“Also, Kiss was sighted in New York in 1932,” Annie points out.
“Huh.” Kate glances at the notebook in her lap. (There is a laptop and printer just beside her, but apparently she prefers to do this the old-fashioned way.) “The other interesting thing about the dedication day is that Saturn was in Aquila.” Looking up again, she frowns at the sea of blank faces. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! Don’t you know anything?” She sniffs, targeting Annie with her beady eye. “I’m surprised at you, Dr Harper.”
“Astrology was always more your thing than mine. Why don’t you enlighten us?”
“Hmmph. Saturn is the killer of children. Aquila in this context could well represent the American eagle. You see where this is going?” There are some indistinct murmurs that might be agreement, but Kate is already moving on. “Fourteen people died during its construction. Another fourteen died when a plane hit the building during World War Two. Within the first sixteen years after it was built, sixteen people took death dives off the observation deck. The place is practically drenched in death. And then there are the rumours: disappearing homeless people; tunnels used for satanic rituals. I won’t bore you with the details” – her voice drips acid as she glares at the people glazing over most noticeably – “but the list just goes on. There are a lot of odd things about that building.”
- “Something else.” - Shelley communicates via IM, her preferred method. - “Deciphered the message from RFD. Turned out to be an image – a tower.” -
“Maybe that’s their base,” says Tom. The Empire State Building seems a little public, but Kiss was very good at being unseen. It’s certainly something they can look into, though.
There are a few leads they can pursue, even their examination of the FBI files hasn’t really turned up anything new. The Empire State Building is one. Trying to track the vehicle back is one. The pigment manufacturing facility is another. The Sumerian writing might be important, but Annie thinks it’s going to take her on the order of weeks to translate it, rather than hours. There just isn’t time. And, speaking of time, it’s coming up to mid-morning now and Carlos wants another meeting. Craig arranges another neutral place away from the warehouse. As well as him, the group consists of James, Tom, Blink, Annie and Hoyt (who is, naturally, driving). The back of the van is a little crowded. They fill Carlos in on their findings and theories, and they talk about their options. All of them are very conscious of the fact that time is ticking away.
“Can’t you come up with a counter-ritual, or something?” Carlos asks. “Maybe a ritual that does the opposite of whatever they’re doing. Wouldn’t that cancel it out?”
“A counter-ritual...” Annie muses. “It might be possible, but it’s a little outside my area of expertise. My knowledge of the supernatural is more focused on spooks and horrors...” She breaks off mid-sentence, eyes widening. “That’s it! We can use Wail.”  Excited now, her gaze turns distant as she thinks this through. “We already know it can be used to counter other horrors.  It can also disrupt metaphysical disturbances like the storm in the land of the spectres. This would just be an extension of the same principles. With multiple sirens, we should be able to achieve quite a powerful signal – the reinforcement seems to synergistic, rather than additive in nature.”
“So... That’s a yes?” Carlos seems a little non-plussed by Annie’s rapid descent into technobabble.
“It’s possible in principle, but the devil’s in the details. There’s a lot we have to work out.”
“How many of us have wail?” Tom is already working through the details.
“Five: four Banshees plus me.”
Tom frowns. “I count three Banshees: Kate, Kerekov and Mona. Assuming that you’re including her. Who’s the fourth?”
Annie looks at him, her gaze a little uncertain. “Your brother.”
“Billy?” He doesn’t seem to be expecting that. “You want him to take part in this?”
“I think we’re going to need everyone we can get.”
“Do you think he can? Does he even have wail?”
“He’s a Banshee. It comes naturally to him.”
“And will this... Is this ritual going to be dangerous?” At the same time, Blink asks:
“Will this ritual be safe?”
“I don’t know.” That hangs in the air a moment. Tom looks distinctly unhappy.
“I thought you were supposed to be the expert.”
“This is a little outside my field, I’m afraid. If it works like I think it should, I don’t think it will be inherently dangerous. We might attract some attention, though: we’re going to be sending out powerful spikes. I’m afraid that’s unavoidable.” She shrugs. “It’s a risk, but I think it’s a manageable one. And worth it.” Tom still isn’t sure it’s a risk he wants his brother taking. While he thinks about it, he returns to the practicalities of the endeavour.
“Would we have to do this at each of the sites?”
“Unless we can find a way to target all of them at once... Wait!” She starts hunting around. “Where’s that map?” Carlos hands it to her and she studies it for a moment or two, nodding to herself. Spreading the map out as best as she can, she points to a location. “There.” 
“The World Trade Centre?” Tom looks at her incredulously. He doesn’t actually say ‘are you mad?’, but it looks like he’s thinking it. With the exception of Carlos – who doesn’t know why that would be a stupendously bad idea  – so do the others.
“I thought we couldn’t go there.” Blink’s tone is cautious.
“That’s... Not strictly true.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was trapped in that future vision” – Carlos’ ears prick up at this – “I managed to get to Ground Zero by going underneath, through the subway tunnels.” She shrugs. “Apparently, the storm was only on the surface. Although,” she muses, “maybe we don’t even have to get that close. If we position ourselves just outside the area, that might work just as well.” She shakes her head and fishes out her mobile phone. “I need to talk to Kate.”
“Are we going to do this?” James looks around at the others in the van. Tom still seems troubled.
“If we can stop the spectres’ ritual today... I think we should.” He still looks troubled, but he adds: “I’ll talk to Billy.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Carlos addresses the question to the whole group, but it’s Craig who answers.
“Transport,” he says. “It sounds like we might be spread quite thin on this one.”
“I can arrange that. How many vehicles would we need?”
Craig looks to Annie. “How many groups are we talking about?”
“Hmm?” She’s talking on the phone, presumably to Kate. “Five. It would be better with five separate groups.”
Turning back to Carlos, Craig says: “Three vehicles, plus drivers. Preferably people who won’t have a problem working with us.” He smiles grimly. “We don’t want any unpleasantness.
Carlos heads off to make his arrangements,  and the Phoenix spooks drive to Brooke House. By the time they get there, Annie and Kate think they’ve come up with a working ritual. There are still a number of uncertainties, but it’s the best they can do with the time and information they have.
“Kate says that Kerekov has agreed to take part,” Annie reports. “Now we just need to persuade Mona and Bill. I’ll see if any of the other Brooke House ghosts are willing to take part as well.” While she’s doing that, Tom goes to find his brother. Bill’s in the middle of calming down a couple of angry-looking ghosts, so Tom waits until he’s finished before going over.
“Hiya Billy,” he says. “How’s it going?”
“Hi Tom. It’s going okay, I guess.” With a rueful smile, he adds: “I’m putting my psych degree to use in ways the prof certainly never saw. I’m just glad I can do something though, you know?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks for asking.” The words drip with sarcasm “These horrible wounds?” He gestures towards them. “Not as bad as they look. I mean: what’s one more near-death experience anyway? It’s practically expected in this line of work.” Bill is looking horrified, staring at Tom’s battered gauze as if seeing the marks for the first time.
“Oh my God, Tom. I’m sorry – I didn’t notice. I guess I’ve gotten used to being around people who look dead. Are you okay? What happened?” Tom seems mollified by his brother’s solicitousness.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine really. Just a little banged up. We had a bit of a fight with a spectre.”
“Did you kill it?”
“Not exactly.” Tom pauses a moment, wondering how to go about this. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there have been a number of murders over the past ten days or so. Families. Strangled unconscious and then drowned; their bodies mutilated and used to decorate the crime scenes.”
“I hadn’t heard.” Bill looks slightly ill. Apparently, even ghosts can get green around the gills.
“Well, this spectre is the killer, and the murders are part of some kind of ritual. Very bad things are going to happen if he’s allowed to finish it, not to mention all the people he’s killing. We’re trying to stop him. We managed to stop last night’s killing, but we didn’t disperse him. He’s still out there, and he’s going to kill again unless we find a way to take him down. Or to disrupt the ritual completely. That’s what we’re working on now.” Bill has been studying his brother thoughtfully.
“What do you need me to do?” Apparently he’s fairly astute. In some ways, that makes this easier. Tom explains about using Wail to cleanse Ground Zero; the apparent focus of the spectres’ ritual.
“It might be dangerous,” he cautions. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen. Also, we’re going to be sending up huge vitality spikes: anything nasty in the area is bound to come sniffing around.”
“What’s going to happen if you don’t stop this?”
“More killings, certainly. Our resident expert on rituals and the occult seems to think that they might be trying to turn us all into spectres. Whatever else it does, it’s going to bring the apocalypse one step closer and that’s a really, really bad thing.”
“I see.” Bill looks pale; maybe a little nervous. Nevertheless, he takes a deep breath and says: “I’ll help. Just tell me what to do.” Mona and Lo-Jack also agree to take part, but none of the other Brooke House ghosts are willing to risk getting involved. They’re still thoroughly shaken by what happened in Mayfair Green. Still, they have the five sirens, plus Lo-Jack and the Phoenix spooks for support. They just hope that will be enough.
Midnight is when everything is going to start. Kate does wonder if midday would be better – after all, this is supposed to be the antithesis of the spectres’ ritual – but no one really wants to wait that long. There’s also the worry that Kiss is going to kill again tonight. Even if this doesn’t manage to distract him enough to stop another family dying, it might stop him torturing their ghosts. Maybe. They hope. In any case, tonight’s the night. Everyone gets into position early. Carlos came through with the drivers, so they have enough transport. The drivers, unfortunately, come with spook cameras – there’s no way the FBI aren’t going to keep watch on what the Phoenix spooks are up to – but there’s nothing that can really be done about that. The skimmers leave their bodies at the warehouse, as no one is entirely comfortable with having them nearby. It’s not that they don’t trust the FBI, but, well, they don’t trust the FBI. There’s also the fact that they could be facing opposition from spectres.
Each of the sirens has at least one other spook to support them. Chet is with Kate, with Hoyt as their driver. Tom and Zoë are both supporting Bill. As a hue, he needs Zoë’s help just to create a powerful enough effect  and there’s no way Tom is going to let him go out there without him. Ben is their driver. Blink, perhaps unsurprisingly, is accompanying Annie. He has a vested interest in keeping her safe. Carlos has volunteered for taxi duty – since he was planning on accompanying them anyway – and is acting as their chauffeur. Rory is also along for the ride, to keep an eye on Annie’s body. James is supporting Kerekov and Lo-Jack is with Mona; both pairs have FBI drivers. It’s not clear how the agent accompanying Kerekov and James feels about helping the man who wounded one of his colleagues. The five sirens are positioned just outside of the storm that rages around Ground Zero, forming the points of a pentagram centred on the World Trade Centre.  The drivers all have mobile phones. As midnight approaches, they set up a five-way conference call and switch the devices to speaker-phone. This is how the five pairs are going to co-ordinate their efforts. Now all that’s left to do is wait for the Witching Hour.
“... Radio Free Death, welcoming all new l... been some murders around town in the last couple ... not normal ones. Spectres are up ... big. I think it might be another ... of the murders have been in family homes, ...another one you might not have heard ... happened in the tunnels beneath ... talk to the Mole People ... to Alice, if you can ... Free Death, signing out.”
At midnight exactly, and with the help of the spooks supporting them, the sirens all start to sing. They channel as much energy as they can into their combined wail. They’re into uncharted territory now – no one has ever done anything quite like this before, and certainly not at such range – but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the song. Mona is leading, as they agreed, her voice ringing out pure and strong. Annie sings the counterpoint, weaving around the melody line to support and reinforce it. Kerekov brings in the bass-line. He hums rather than sings, but he holds the note, a rhythm almost like a heartbeat starting to emerge from the wordless song. Bill starts hesitantly, but gains in confidence as he starts to lose himself in the music. He has a surprisingly sweet tenor. Kate’s voice cracks and falters after only a few notes, her body wracked with a violent coughing fit as the wound on her chest bursts open. The other four continue to sing, unable to stop to see how she is, trusting to Chet’s medical skills to pull her through. The song changes, even though no one made a conscious decision to change it. Now it’s balanced for four voices, rather than five, and something’s starting to happen...
The song reaches out, into the storm, sinking hooks deep inside it with the ease of familiarity. Mona and Annie have been through this crucible before. The song drags those memories out of them, weaving them into the music so that it’s hard to tell where the song ends and the storm begins. They capture the very essence of the storm in their music, describing and defining it so that, for one brief moment, the song is the storm. The changes are subtle at first – a harmonic here, a trill there – but they rapidly gain momentum. The music rings out, much greater than the sum of its parts. It is serenity, peace, and an end to suffering. It is silence. It is the complete antithesis of the storm.  And the storm starts to die.
The wind stills, the haze dissolving like mist before the sun. The clinging pall of pain and death cracks and peels, the last of the breeze scattering it like so much ash. The music swells in a triumphant crescendo as the last wisps of the storm die away, the four strands of the melody interweaving for the first time without its interference. Staring out across the newly cleared skyline, the spooks see an odd ripple in the centre, where the song is focused. Almost like a heat haze the ripple spreads, and there comes a vast tearing sound that shakes the very foundations of the world. The sky splits asunder, and a great tower starts to fall... 
Part Four - All Fall Down
The tower – it looks like the spitting image of one of the twin towers – starts to fall. Tom grabs Billy, all but dragging him to the van. Zoë is hard on their heels. As they pile in, Tom yells:
“Get us out of here!”
“Yeah, right.” Ben shakes his head as if to clear it, starting up the engine and tearing off… In reverse. Even so, he manages a reasonable turn of speed. Elsewhere, others are having the same idea. Lo-Jack jumps himself and Mona away. Kate and Kerekov both ripcord. Chet leaps into Hoyt, who’s already preparing to hightail it out of there. James tells the FBI driver to get out of there and then ripcords himself. Annie starts to ask Blink to jump them away, but before she can even finish the sentence the two of them are a hundred yards away, atop a building. Carlos, still in his car (thermos of coffee forgotten on the seat next to him), ducks and covers. For all of this frenetic activity, not more than a second or two have gone by. The tower still tumbles, end over end, racing inexorably towards the ground. It hits; flinging out a great cloud of dust with the crash of impact. Momentum flips it over until it fetches up against a nearby skyscraper. The blast wave races outwards… 
Annie and Blink, atop their building, see the newly revealed Ground Zero swallowed whole by the dust cloud, the wave-front rushing out to about three hundred feet or so from the point of impact before it starts to peter out. Skyscrapers are waving back and forth as if shaken by an earthquake; windows break and car alarms yowl in counterpoint to the wind. This clearly isn’t just happening on the metaphysical plane. Up in the sky, where the tower came through, violent energies boil through the rent, coalescing into a powerful hurricane fifty feet wide. The two of them just stare as the disaster unfolds before their eyes, helpless to do anything else.
“No,” Annie breathes in horror. “No, no, no, no, no! This wasn’t supposed to happen. It can’t… We can’t be the cause. I didn’t… I can’t…” Her voice cracks and she backs away from the building’s edge, shaking her head. “Not again.” 
“It’s okay; we’re out of it. We should be safe up here.” That might be more reassuring without the pause followed by a hesitant: “Shouldn’t we?”
She makes herself take deep, even breaths, forcing herself to calm down and focus. “I think so.”
“Do you think the others are okay?”
“I don’t know. If they were caught in the blast...” She shakes her head. “It tore me apart every time. And Mona. But...”
“There’s no point in assuming the worst,” he interrupts.
“No,” she agrees. She’s really trying not to. “They should have seen it coming. They should have had time to get to shelter. There are lots of buildings they could have gotten to.” They watch the scene below for a few minutes more. “It’s not the same as it was,” she says, hesitantly. “The blast radius is smaller, and the tower looks different. It was covered in spikes and barbs, and crawling with spectres. They... They were stretching ghosts over it. This is different.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” She hopes so; she really hopes so.
Blink looks at her. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” She injects the word with more certainty than she really feels: how can she be okay given what’s just happened? But she can keep it together, and that’s what’s important.
Back at the warehouse, James checks the other skimmers’ bodies. He, Kate and Kerekov seem to be the only ones who ripcorded. Kate is in a bad way, only semi-conscious and wracked by a bone-jarring coughing fit. Zoë and Tom are also looking the worse for wear, sporting some new bruises on top of their existing injuries. Annie seems uninjured.  Kerekov and Adrian – who was on babysitter duty – are already administering first aid where needed. James joins them, possessing more training and experience than both of them put together. When everyone who needs it has been patched up, he tries calling Ben. The phone rings and rings, but no one picks up. After letting it ring through to voicemail, he hangs up and tries Hoyt, getting exactly the same result.
Tom opens his eyes to darkness. The last thing he remembers is the van being hit by a wall of force. Did it knock him out? Looking around, he realises that it isn’t pitch black in here after all. Now that his eyes have adjusted, he can see the dim glow of... Emergency lights? It’s enough to show him that he seems to be inside a building, and he’s not alone. Three figures sprawl near him, already starting to stir and sit up. Relief flood through him as he recognises Bill. His brother is looking a little battered – for that matter, Tom feels rather sore himself – but he seems okay, waving away Tom’s concern with:
“I’m fine, Bro. You should see yourself.” The other two figures prove to be Zoë and Ben; another source of relief. Except... Except Ben is somehow in gauze. In this light (or lack thereof), it isn’t clear if he’s projecting or dead. There’s no sign of his body or the van anywhere. Ben is looking down at himself, frowning. He rubs his throat and prods at his chest, giving an involuntary wince as he does so. Both places sport nasty-looking welts. He shakes his head and stands up, offering his hand to Zoë. She rolls her eyes at the gesture and gets to her feet without his help (even if the effort does occasion a few muttered swear words). Tom helps Bill up, and the four spooks examine their surroundings. Tom flares his aura a little so they can see better, bringing up his witch’s nimbus to the brightness of a candle or a small flashlight.
“Where are we?” Ben looks around suspiciously, his stance saying he’s expecting trouble.
“Welcome to the Office Land,” Zoë responds, dramatically.
“How do you know?”
“Used to be a temp, Boyo. Briefly.” She flashes him a grin, which melts into a thoughtful expression. “Unless the spectres also have offices, I’d guess that we’re still in the real world.” The confidence of the statement is belied somewhat when she adds a quiet: “I hope.”
They seem to be standing in a foyer. As Zoë said, it does look like something they’d expect to see in an office building. The reception desk is currently unmanned, which isn’t exactly surprising given the lateness of the hour. Across from the desk, large glass doors gape open, their panels crazed with a spider-web of cracks. Through them, they can just about glimpse what seems to be a raging dust storm. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be entering the building. The four of them look out into the storm, and then back at each other.
“I don’t think we can go out that way,” mutters Tom.
“What gave it away, Sparky?” Zoë’s tone is scathing, but Tom ignores the sarcasm.
“Maybe we should try to go up.”
“It’s a plan...”
Elsewhere, Carlos also wakes up in the dark, feeling sore. He automatically reaches for his penlight, but it isn’t there. More than that, he doesn’t seem to be in his car any more. With a gently glowing hand, he reaches for his side-arm, but that isn’t there either. ‘Wait: what?’ His hand is glowing. In fact, both of them are: a soft, gently light like a firefly or a candle flame. ‘This is... Odd.’ But he doesn’t have time to worry about this right now. There are so many other things he could be worrying about, like: where is he? And what happened when the tower came down? ‘How can a tower fall out of the sky anyway? That’s just not possible!’ But that’s also a subject for another time (and, possibly, some pointed questions directed at his new friends). For now, being a practical soul at heart, he tries to use his mysteriously glowing hands to light his way. Unfortunately, the effect is not unlike holding up a lighter in a football stadium. Contrary to what the movies would have you believe, that isn’t much. It looks like he’s going to have to rely on feeling his way around.
Tom, Bill (who’s being very quiet), Zoë (who isn’t) and Ben make their way to the stairs and start climbing. By tacit agreement, no one mentions Ben’s condition. The climb is hard on Zoë, who still hasn’t fully recovered from having her chest and stomach clawed open by the Reaper-class spectre back in Portland. The others know she must be feeling pretty bad, because she actually accepts Ben’s help, even if it is under protest.
“I’m still tougher than you, even when I’m injured!” She pokes him in the shoulder for emphasis, adding: “Ya big lunk,” just for good measure.
Ben rolls his eyes. “Sure you are, tough girl.” He continues to support her up the stairs. It’s fairly slow going, so around the third floor Tom says:
“Wait here – I’ll go ahead.” He climbs up another three floors, realising as he tries to jog that he’s not in such great shape himself. It was only last night that he got badly mauled by a spectre, after all. He takes it a little easier the rest of the way.
Carlos walks forward, arms outstretched in the hope that he’ll feel any obstacles before tripping over them. The first thing he encounters is a barrier made of some kind of rigid, yet spongy material. His hands are already buried up to their wrists before he realises, cutting off his only source of light. Cautiously, he braces himself and pulls them free. They emerge without any real difficulty – whatever this substance is, it doesn’t seem to be sticky – but he suddenly feels weaker, somehow. It’s as if he’s left something of himself behind in the barrier. Holding his hands close to it, he tries to work out what it could be. Much to his surprise, it seems to be a wall; a perfectly ordinary, solid wall. That he’s somehow just pushed his hands – his glowing hands – into. ‘Let’s just add this one to the list.’ There’s always the possibility that he’s hit his head. This could all be the result of a nasty concussion, or worse. But there’s probably no point in worrying about that right now, so back to exploring this place (building?). He tries calling out, just in case there’s anybody around, but his “hello” just lingers forlornly in the air, and goes unanswered. Maybe there isn’t anyone else here, wherever ‘here’ is. In any case, it looks like he’s on his own for now.
He follows the wall until he finds a light-switch and a door; the one next to the other. First, he tries the light-switch. Just as he realises that he can’t actually feel the switch – and that it’s right inside his hand – the glow intensifies and the switch clicks anyway.  The room stays dark, apart from his own glow, which for a moment or two seemed to be coming from his stomach. Looks like the lights are on the blink. ‘Figures.’ He tries the door-handle, having no more luck grasping this than he did the light-switch. The handle turns anyway, but the door doesn’t budge: locked. He stands there for a moment or two, considering. The brighter light fades as he does so, leaving only the dim glow from his hands. Pity – the other one might have provided enough illumination for him to see where he’s going. So, here is a locked door. But his experience with the wall suggests that solid objects may not be the barrier they used to be... He acts on the thought as soon as it flashes into his mind, striding determinedly forward, right through the door. It feels spongy yet rigid, like the wall, and there is the same tugging, draining sensation. However he’s doing this, it’s definitely taking something out of his. The stride takes him right through and into whatever lies beyond, where he sees... Darkness.
Tom surveys the scene from above. All the skyscrapers he can see are dark, sporting cracked or shattered windows. Aside from the storm, it looks like the aftermath of a minor earthquake. The good news is that none of the buildings seem to have toppled. The bad news is that the storm still rages below, rising to about two floors in height. He moves around the building, looking out through windows on all sides to get an idea of how far it extends. It’s hard to judge in the poor light, but the storm seems wispier on the side of the building furthest away from where the tower came down. Maybe it’s thin enough that they could make their way through it without having their gauze torn apart. Maybe. At the moment, it’s looking like their best escape route. While he’s up there Tom has a look for the van, but he can’t see any sign of it
When he reports back to the others, the group decides to risk leaving the relative safety of the building.
“We don’t really have any choice,” Zoë points out. “There’s no telling how long the storm’s going to last and we can’t stay here forever.”
“Do you think it’s safe?” Bill looks to his brother for reassurance, but Tom has none to give.
“I don’t know, Billy,” he says, “but Zoë’s right – we can’t stay here.”
“Okay.” He casts an uncertain look towards the storm. “Shall we go, then?”
“I’ll go out first.” Ben is already striding purposefully towards the door. “Might as well see how bad it really is before we risk everyone.” Zoë starts to protest – her main objection being that she should be the one to go out, not him – but he ignores her and heads outside, leaving her glaring at his back. He returns a minute or so later, looking none the worse for wear. “Seems okay,” he says, with a shrug. Looking at Zoë, he adds: “Even you frailer folks should be able to handle it.”
“Come over here and say that,” she challenges him, hands on hips. “I’ll show you who’s frail.”
“Yeah, you would. That’s the point, Babe.” Tom interjects while she’s still drawing breath for a retort.
“Let’s go, people,” he says. Suiting the action to the words, the little group heads out into the storm.
After some more fumbling around in the dark, Carlos manages to find another door. Passing through it – something that seems to be a little easier the second time – he finds himself in an area of dim illumination. It looks like the lobby of a skyscraper. Outside, through the cracked glass doors, he can see nothing but dust. It fills the air, stirred by violent winds. Reluctant to head out into that without a clear idea of where he’s going, he makes for the stairs and goes up a few flights to get a better view. Rather than going straight up, he takes a quick look around each of the floors he passes, looking for people. The only person is comes across is a man dressed in a security guard’s uniform. The man is busy talking on his mobile phone as he plays his flashlight over the room: maybe that’s why he doesn’t respond to Carlos’ initial hail. But that doesn’t explain his lack of response when Carlos stands right in front of him and practically yells in his face. This is getting stranger and stranger.
After a few moments of trying fruitlessly to attract the security guard’s attention, Carlos gives up and goes to find a phone. Conveniently, there’s one on the desk briefly illuminated by the guard’s flashlight. Although still half-heartedly looking around, the man’s attention seems to be focused mostly on his conversation. From the sounds of it, he’s calling family and friends to tell them what happened and to ask if they’re okay. He doesn’t say anything about seeing a tower fall out of the sky; he’s wondering if it’s a bomb or an earthquake. Ignoring him, Carlos tries to use the phone, but doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the handset. As he concentrates – he managed to flick the light-switch; he must be able to do this – the security guard suddenly breaks off from his one-sided conversation and swings the beam of his torch towards Carlos.
“Who’s that?” Carlos says nothing. The security guard comes over and points the torch away, his gaze focused on Carlos’ stomach. Or, rather, on the glow now emanating from his stomach. Carlos waits for him to do or say something else, but he just stands there, staring. It starts to become quite irritating. Since he isn’t having much luck with the phone Carlos walks away. To his increased irritation, the guard follows him, still staring blankly at the glow from his stomach. 
As he rounds a corner, passing out of the guard’s line of sight, the man lets out a loud exclamation. It sounds as though he’s snapped out of his daze. Ignoring the confused noises from behind him, Carlos continues on his way. When he reaches the third floor, he looks out of the window, taking in the general (if relatively minor) devastation and, of course, the storm.
“What is that?” He mutters aloud. Alas, no answers are forthcoming from the shadows, so he gets his bearings and starts looking around for his car. After a few minutes of searching, he thinks he’s spotted it. Carefully memorising its location, he heads back downstairs and prepares to brave the storm.
“We should look for the others,” Annie says softly.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Blink replies. “Not like this. If I was on my own, I’d just jump over to where they were, but I don’t want to take you into that. I don’t want to leave you on your own, either.”
“I can always ripcord.”
“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” he says, quickly. “We don’t know what effect it’ll have on the baby. It’s one thing if there’s no other choice, but if you don’t have to...”
She nods. “I’ll have to take the long way back to the warehouse then. Maybe the subway...” She breaks off, remembering tunnels filled with spectres; monsters descending on her and Mona to drag them off to the tower. “No. Not the subway.” Blink starts to ask why, but then understanding dawns.
“A taxi then,” he suggests. “You can manifest.”
“No money,” she points out.
He shakes his head. “Taxi drivers don’t ask for money up front. You can vanish before we get to our destination.”
“Oh.” That didn’t even occur to her. “Good idea.”
“I have them on occasion,” he notes, drily.
The four spooks haven’t gotten far before there’s a tearing noise, like the sound that tends to precede a fetch’s appearance. Exactly like it, in fact.
“What’s that?” Bill is the only one of them who’s never heard the sound before, but from their expressions he knows it can’t be good.
“Something bad just turned up,” Tom answers him, his voice distant as he tries to work out what direction it came from. “Up there.” He points.
Despite Zoë’s assertion that: “We can take it,” they pick another direction to travel. After they’ve been walking for a few minutes, keeping an eye out for threats, Tom suggests that Bill and Zoë make their way to the warehouse. To Ben, he says:
“We could stay out here and look for your body.” It’s the first time anyone’s mentioned the fact that he’s not inside it.
Ben shakes his head. “I’d rather not head out into the storm like this. Why don’t you inhabit a car or something and get us all back to the warehouse? You can always pick up your body and come back out.” They agree that this is a good idea. Zoë and Tom, of course, could just ripcord back to their bodies. Neither of them particularly wants to deal with the resulting bruises on top of their other injuries, however. Tom’s conscience barely twinges at all at the idea of stealing a car. Although, he muses, he can always return it afterwards. After all, he’s going to need transport to come back and look for Ben.
The howling winds tear at Carlos, scourging him with their burden of dust and ashes. He hunkers down, shrugging off the worst of it to keep forcing his way through.  Eventually, he reaches the car he was aiming for, which turns out not to be his after all. It looks like his, and it’s in the right general area, but it isn’t his.  After some searching – being slowly sandblasted as he heads deeper into the raging storm – he does manage to find his own vehicle. It’s slewed across the road, canted up onto the pavement, but it seems more or less intact. The only real damage he can see is to the windows, none of which are there any more. Through the empty frames, he sees himself, slumped bonelessly in the footwell. ‘Oh.’ Now it all makes sense. Well, kind of. ‘Another out of body experience.’  The question is: for his next trick, can he get back inside it? Giving the matter some brief but intense thought, he phases inside the vehicle and settles himself over his body, trying to match its position as best as he can. ‘How did I do this last time?’ After a minute or so of wriggling around, trying to will his body to do something, anything, something happens: his little finger twitches. It isn’t much, but it’s a start. After some more fiddling, there’s an odd popping sensation, and then suddenly, without fanfare, he’s back within his cage of flesh and bone. It hurts. Apparently, his car wasn’t the only thing that took a battering. Still, as far as he can tell, it’s just bruising; nothing is broken. It could have been much worse.
James tries ringing Hoyt and Ben every few minutes. After about quarter an hour of no contact, he decides to head out in the flesh and look for them. Kerekov says he’ll stay at the warehouse, just in case trouble comes a-knocking. There is a slight difficulty regarding transport – both of the group’s vans are currently somewhere near Ground Zero. There is, technically, the rig they’ve set up as a mobile base, but that’s hardly the most inconspicuous of vehicles to drive through Manhattan. The obvious solution, then, is to steal a car. After putting a little distance between himself and the warehouse, he locates and acquires a suitable car, driving it towards the danger zone. 
Once Carlos reaches what he judges to be a safe distance from the area, he pulls over and checks his phone. There are a number of missed calls and messages, both from the FBI agents on scene and from Larson. He calls the latter.
“Are you alright?” That’s the first thing Larson says to him, closely followed by: “What happened? The cameras went white-out and then died completely. It looks like an earthquake hit.”
“Possible supernatural activity.”
“Really!” The sarcasm contained in that one word is an almost palpable force.
“I’m not sure what happened yet. I’m in the process of trying to find out.” He doesn’t mention that he saw one of the twin towers fall out of a rift in the sky. Larson fills him in on what he knows, which isn’t all that much. The on-site spook cameras haven’t come back online yet. The engineers with them are still working on it, just in case there’s anything to see. Emergency services are coming into the area. After emphasising that he expects a full report on the night’s events, Larson rings off. Carlos immediately tries to call Phoenix, but gets no reply. (That’s not surprising, as the only contact number he has for them is Tom’s new mobile.) Instead, he goes him and makes arrangements to get his car fixed. Given the late hour, those arrangements consist of leaving a message on the voicemail system of his local garage.
Blink teleports he and Annie out of the blast radius. She manifests, makes some minor alterations to her appearance (it’s not likely that anyone will recognise her, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful), and flags down a taxi. She asks the driver to take her to a location some distance away from the warehouse. Again, the risk of leading anyone (or anything) back to the warehouse is relatively low, but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. Part-way there, she asks the driver to pull over so she can make a phone call. It’s just occurred to her that it might be an idea to let the others know that she and Blink are still alive. Her lack of money means she has to reverse the charges, but fortunately Adrian accepts the call. She tells him that she and Blink are okay, and asks about the others. He fills her in on what he knows (including the fact that James is heading back out), and she tells him that the two of them are in their way back. After handing up, she calls James to see if he’s still in the vicinity of the warehouse. If he is, she plans on asking him to wait for her. As it turns out, though, he’s already well on his way.
The two returning groups of spooks reach the warehouse at roughly the same time. The skimmers re-enter their bodies, and there is a period of general catching up. The fact that Ben’s out of body occasions a comment or two. Tom rings Carlos to tell him about the people lost in the storm. Carlos asks him what happened out there. Tom passes the question on to Annie who, having had some time to think about it, responds with her theory of why the tower came down. All that energy from dissipating the storm had to go somewhere, and if the spectres already had the tower poised at the threshold... Or, it’s possible that the storm was a barrier for them, too. Maybe it was the only thing keeping the rift closed. Tom listens to her theorise for a few moments – Carlos, catching the odd few words, grows very confused – and tells Carlos that they’re not sure yet, but they’re working on it. They hang up and Carlos does some ringing around. A few minutes later, he calls Tom back with the information that Hoyt and Ben have both been taken to the nearest hospital (the same one) and their condition is listed as “unconscious, but stable”.
James has been driving around, assessing the aftermath of the impact as he searches for the ones who are still missing. He sees a lot of spectres wandering around; mostly lesser ones, but he does come across the odd Fetch and even, once, a Reaper. It looks like the same one that Frank and Tom have encountered before.  Tom calls to let him know where Hoyt and Ben’s bodies are. Shortly after that phone call, when he’s searching in the vicinity of Hoyt and Chet’s last known location, he spots a couple of spooks trying to flag him down. As luck would have it, they are the very spooks he’s looking for. They must have noticed him driving past. He takes Hoyt straight to the hospital, pulling up a block or so away so Hoyt can go in and reclaim his body. Tom and Annie do the same with Ben, the three of them setting out in the car that Tom ‘borrowed’. After Ben’s back in the flesh, they return the car to its parking place and meet up with James, Hoyt and Chet. It’s time to try to work out what they’ve done...
Part Five – Hyde and Seek
Tom and Annie drop Ben off at the hospital (he’s going to meet up with Hoyt, Chet and James) and continue on into the dust storm. They drive around for a little while in their “borrowed” car, getting a feel for the place. The dust-laden winds seem to extend for another hundred feet or so out from the previous boundary, but it’s too soon to tell if the storm front is expanding, contracting or holding steady. Once within the storm it gets increasingly difficult to see, so they return the car to its original parking spot (somewhere in the smudgy border of the dust cloud) and head in on foot. They spot a pack of Lost Boys, but the spectres pay them no attention. The two spooks head for the tower, their sight becoming ever more restricted and their ears assailed by the continuous howling of the wind. The atmosphere is heavy and oppressive. It’s not clear whether the wind actually provides any physical resistance to their movement. There might be some, but that could be psychological: the sound of the howling gale engenders certain expectations.
As they approach the heart of the storm, they see a Frightener heading in the same direction, battling against the wind. It’s clearly an uphill struggle, its gauze starting to fray and tear before the onslaught before it eventually gives up and backs off. By this point, it’s so dark that Tom and Annie can barely see each other, let alone the tower. They have to hold hands to ensure they don’t lose each other in the darkness. As it is, they overshoot the tower completely, finding themselves emerging from the other side of the storm without having passed through Ground Zero at all. Going back for another pass, they manage to stumble into the eye of the storm this time. In Tom’s case, that’s a rather literal stumble as he trips over some unseen obstacle and sends up twisting his ankle.  Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be seriously injured, and he is able to keep moving with Annie’s support.
The air here is clear and calm; a welcome respite from the unremitting assault on their senses. They can see the tower, upside-down and leaning against another building. One end is buried in the ground near the entrance to Courtland Street subway station. It looks like it might well emerge into the station itself. Up close, the structure is clearly one of the Twin Towers, albeit sand-blasted and with all its windows shattered. Annie and Tom get as close to it as they can, peering through the windows to see the wreckage of offices, much as they would expect. Now the test of whether or not it’s actually a physical structure: they try to walk through the wall, into the interior of the building. The wall offers no resistance, answering their question about its nature. As they pass through it, each of them feels a chill, not unlike passing through a solid object while projected. It feels strange. Stranger still, though, is the feeling of peace that Annie senses from the tower. She tells Tom, who doesn’t notice anything of the sort, observing that it seems odd – wrong, even – that one of the twin towers would have an aura of peace after what happened. Is this the effect of their ritual?
After a few minutes more spent poking around, they decide to head back out. As they leave, Tom spots movement in the shadows, by the low wall that surrounds the Ground Zero site.
“Movement over there,” he murmurs quietly to Annie, indicating the direction with a flicker of his eyes. It’s not the way they came in. They alter their course slightly to get a surreptitious closer look. There’s a figure there, approaching the tower. It looks like they’re trying to get inside it; reacting to it as if it’s a solid object. “Let’s go over,” Tom whispers. They draw closer to the figure; close enough to make out the features. Familiar features. The figure standing before them is Hyde. 
There’s a moment of frozen horror, and then Tom grabs Annie’s hand and pulls her back towards the tower. They flat out run for it, as fast as they can; running for their lives. Hyde blurs into motion as soon as they move, chasing them with murderous intent. Tom and Annie hurtle into the building mere moments ahead of the Jason, who stops dead at the wall. There’s barely time to feel relief at the fact that their gamble paid off – apparently he’s unable to walk through the walls as they are – before Hyde’s snarling face appears at one of the windows. He reaches up, trying to drag himself through the glassless opening... But can’t. It’s as if the empty space is still a physical barrier to him. He’s not about to give up just yet, though. The two spooks dive for cover as he brandishes the fire axe, drawing his arm back to hurl it. He holds that pose for a moment or two, searching for a target. His black-eyed gaze passes over Annie’s hiding place and fixes unerringly upon Tom.  He lets the axe fly... Only to have it clip the edge of some solid object hidden by the tower that isn’t there. The axe rebounds into the ground at Hyde’s feet, sending up a shower of concrete chips and the odd metal shard back at him.  He snarls again, and then disappears from view.
It’s too much to hope that Hyde’s given up on his prey. They catch the occasional glimpse of him through one window or another: he seems to be prowling around the base of the tower, presumably looking for a way in. They initially try to keep as far away from the windows as they can, but that puts them squarely in the middle of the road. It’s not precisely busy at the moment, but they did see the occasional car go past while they were looking at the tower from outside. If someone drives through it now, they won’t see the car until it hits them. They decide to risk moving closer to the windows. Hyde does occasionally try to reach or climb through one of them, but with no greater success than the first attempt. It looks like a stand-off, or, more properly, a siege: he can’t get in, but while he’s prowling around out there neither can they go out. In the open, and in the flesh, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Luckily, they have friends nearby.
Annie calls James. Ben picks up the phone with:
“We’ve got a problem.” No names: Craig and Chet would be proud. “We’ve run into Hyde.”
“Shit!” There’s a wealth of emotion in that single word. In the background, she can hear someone – Hoyt, maybe? – asking what’s wrong, but Ben ignores him. “Where are you? What’s the situation?”
“We’re holed up in the tower. He doesn’t seem to be able to enter it, but he’s prowling around outside.”
“Ain’t happy about taking on Hyde in body, Babe. How about an extraction?”
“Suits us fine.” She certainly wasn’t suggesting they go toe to toe with the Jason; that would be suicide.
“What about the storm?”
“It’s calm here, but it’s still there outside the eye. In body, the main problem is visibility. There’s a subway station just below the tower, though: Courtland Street.”
“Looks like we’re taking the subway, then. See you soon.”
“See you soon.” To Tom, she says. “They’re on their way.” Now all they have to do is wait.
Time passes. The wait is tense, but at the same time incredibly dull. Hyde still seems to be prowling around outside, but seems to have given up on the idea of throwing something sharp and pointy through the window or of climbing through himself. The interval between sightings grows longer and longer, until they start to wonder if he’s actually still out there. Maybe he’s grown bored and gone away… About an hour or so after Annie spoke to Ben, her phone vibrates.
“We’re here,” says Ben. “Near the subway entrance, where the tower goes into the ground. There’s no sign of Hyde. Let’s go.”
“On our way.” Tom and Annie hurriedly make their way towards where their rescuers are waiting. James, Chet, Ben and Hoyt form up around them and hustle them over to the subway station. And… Nothing happens. The extraction proceeds without incident. Maybe Hyde really has given up after all.
By the time everyone’s back at the warehouse, it’s getting on for 4am. The people who stayed behind were all waiting up until the stragglers got back, so no one’s really gotten any rest. It’s been a long and stressful night and most people are just about ready to crash. There’s one more thing Annie wants to do, however.
“We need to see if Mona and Lo-Jack got out of there,” she says. Transport is still a problem, as their vans have presumably been towed and impounded by now. Fortunately, there are other options. Turning to Tom, she says: “Do you think you can take a quick hop over to Brooke House to see if they’re okay?”
“I suppose so,” he says, reluctantly, “but I’m a little low on vitality.”
“I can top you up,” she says.
“Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the morning, when I’m feeling a little less battered?” Between his previous injuries and the damage he sustained from the blast, he’s feeling like doing nothing more strenuous than rolling over and going to sleep.
“Tomorrow may be too late.” It’s not like they’re in the best shape to mount a rescue operation right now, but at least they’d have the option.
Tom sighs. “You’re telling me to go, aren’t you?”
“Fine.” Looks like that well-deserved rest will just have to wait a little longer.
Brooke House seems to be in a state of high alert. There are even guards: a pair of Echo-class ghosts keeping watch over the entrance, apparently expecting trouble. They eye Tom with suspicion as he approaches, tensing as if preparing for a fight. He starts to explain who he is, but then another ghost heads over and tells them that he’s okay. It’s Freeman, one of the ghosts that he, Teresa and Ben met on their first visit to this place. The guards take his word for it and go back to their posts. Freeman leads Tom inside.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Things are a little tense at the moment.”
“I noticed.” Freeman himself seems a little on edge, and as they enter the building, Tom spots another pair of Echo-class ghosts, apparently patrolling the place.
“Can I talk to Mona?”
Freeman nods. “She and Lo-Jack are in the office. I’ll take you there – save you gettin’ challenged by anyone who don’t recognize you.” Even if the guards at the entrance hadn’t been enough of a sign, it’s clear that the something’s up. The less compos mentis of the inhabitants have been rounded up and are being carefully watched; gently herded back into the group if they try to head outside. All of the more powerful and more aware ghosts seem to be on alert, either patrolling, babysitting or just waiting. Brooke House is in as close a state to military readiness as Tom’s ever seen it. There’s a general air of nervous agitation over the place. Even the drones seem to have picked it up, some of them lashing out at each other or aimlessly expressing their horrors. The babysitters step in where needed to calm things down and break up any fights.
Mona looks up as they enter the office, her gaze fastening on Tom like a drowning woman clutching a lifeline. She barely seems to see Freeman, who mumbles something about going to make sure things stay calm out there as he leaves.
“Has it started?” The question is more of a plea.
Tom shakes his head. “I don’t think so. Annie said it’s not the same as in the vision. She said the tower looks different.”
“The blast wave is smaller,” Mona says, softly. There’s still panic in her eyes, but she manages to sound calm and in control. Lo-Jack stands beside her, a silent, reassuring presence. “And there aren’t as many spectres. In the vision…” She swallows. “There were hundreds of them. Thousands. More than I’d ever seen. They were roaming the streets, hunting ghosts. Sometimes they just tore them apart then and there. Others… They dragged them off to the tower.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “I think the ones they killed were the lucky ones.” Lo-Jack places a hand on her arm. She jumps a little at the contact, but then relaxes against him, flashing him a grateful look.
“The spectres were having trouble getting through the storm,” says Tom. “A Jason did manage to get through, but he didn’t seem to be able to touch the tower.” He shrugs. “Annie said the tower felt peaceful.”
“Good. That’s good. If they can’t touch it...” She doesn’t need to finish the sentence. “They only have one dark cathedral this time; not lots of them. Maybe that makes a difference.”
“They could still be planning an attack, though. We’re on full alert here and I’d suggest you do the same. Set guards.” She smiles briefly, but it doesn’t touch her eyes. “I imagine you’re more experienced with that kind of thing than we are.”
“We always set watches.” Tonight, though, perhaps they’ll step up their level of alertness. Just in case.
Mona nods. “Good.” She hesitates visibly, and then ploughs on with her question: “Did all of your people make it back?”
Tom nods. “We’re all fine. Some of us got a bit battered by the blast wave, but nothing serious.”
“And Billy’s at the warehouse? He’s okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. A bit shaken. It’s better for him to stay there tonight, I think.”
“Take care of your brother, Tom.” Another pause, and then she says, abruptly. “If the spectres come, it would be better to kill him rather than let them take him.” Her breath hisses through her teeth, voice quavering. “Don’t let them take any of you. Death is better than what they’ll do. It’s cleaner.” Lo-Jack, frowning, looks like he’s going to say something, but Mona forestalls him with a quick head-shake. He just squeezes her arm gently instead; a gesture of comfort and support. Tom doesn’t respond to Mona’s exhortation. All he says instead is:
“I should be getting back.”
“Of course. Goodbye, Tom. Keep in touch. Let us know if... If anything changes.”
“Bye, man.” Lo-Jack steps forward to shake his hand. “Good to see you’re okay.”
“You too.” He returns the hand-shake. “Bye.”
Back at the warehouse, the group consensus is that they’re not going to do anything big until everyone is as close to full strength as they’re going to get. This means they’re going to be spending most of the next day resting and recuperating. Time might be of the essence, but they’re only going to get themselves killed if they rush out unprepared and under par. Besides – they’ve surely managed to disrupt the ritual good and proper. Hopefully, the spectres were as surprised by the tower coming down as they were. Between that and the evacuation of the remaining murder sites, Saturday’s murder probably won’t happen. Probably. They’ll have to deal with that when they come to it. For now, though, the main priority is getting a good night’s (or, for the people taking the first shift, day’s) rest. Annie, James and Craig have the first watch. To ensure that as many people as possible get a full night’s sleep, they decide on eight hour shifts. 
The rest of Friday night passes uneventfully for the Phoenix spooks. People start to stir from around ten o’ clock onwards. Annie, James and Craig gratefully relinquish the task of keeping watch to other eyes and go off to get some rest of their own. Someone switches the radio on and most people listen to the morning news. It’s being reported that an earthquake struck Manhattan last night, causing a great deal of minor but expensive property damage. Some people sustained injuries, but there are no reported deaths. That’s something, at least.
Tom is just starting to wake up when his phone rings. Still a little fuzzy, he hunts around until he finds it.
“Hello, Tom.” It’s Carlos.
Tom rubs at his eyes, trying to wake up. “Morning.”
Carlos gets right to the point. “Is someone going to explain what happened last night?”
“One of the Twin Towers came down.”
There’s a moment of silence from the other end, and then Carlos says, cautiously: “The Twin Towers were destroyed two and a half years ago.”
“It’s definitely there. Annie and I went in and took a look around.”
“About 3am. We found that you can’t get through it while...” He starts to say ‘while projected,’ but changes it to: “In ghost form.” Carlos will probably find that easier to understand.
“There were ghosts? I didn’t see any.” Apparently not. He’s sounding a little confused.
“No, ghosts can’t get through the storm.”
“I’m struggling to think of questions here. What do you mean, part of the Twin Towers came down?”
“One of the towers. It’s upside down, leaning against a building and partly poking into Courtland Street subway station.”
“Oh.” That doesn’t exactly address the question of how a tower destroyed years ago somehow fell out of the sky last night, but Tom is already continuing.
“Also, we ran into a little trouble there. Remember Bela Kiss?”
“He was there?”
“No, but something like him was: a human possessed by a spectre.”
“Like the thing responsible for the Forest Hill massacre.” Carlos has heard of that, even though it was after he left the Bureau. “In fact, it’s the same one.”
“He went to ground for a year, and now he’s suddenly turned up again?” He sounds a little sceptical.
“Well, we’ve run into him before. He killed some Orpheus agents a few months ago.”
“I see. And he’s there at the tower?”
“He was last night. He was trying to get to us through the building, but he couldn’t. Apparently he couldn’t just walk through the walls like we could. Couldn’t get through the windows either.” And a very good thing that was, too.
“The tower isn’t physical?”
“No. Even though it caused all that damage.”
“My car’s wrecked.” There is a certain amount of recrimination in Carlos’ voice, almost as if he blames the Phoenix spooks for what happened to his vehicle. Tom completely ignores both the words and the blame.
“We’re probably going to take a look later today, but not until everyone’s recovered.”
“You were two men down last night – are they okay?”
“Yeah, they seem to be.”
Carlos contemplates asking more questions, but in the end says only: “Is Annie around?”
“I’ll talk to her later, then. Goodbye, Tom.”
“Bye.” They hang up.
Tom decides he wants to have a look at the tower in the daylight. Fortunately, deadwire means that the site is only a few, near-instantaneous hops away. He zips over there and inhabits a camera, using it to study the area. The storm seems to be dying down now, which is both good and bad. Good, because it means it’ll be easier for them to get there. Bad, because the same is true for the spectres. There are a score or so there now, some of them apparently intent on approaching the tower. It seems hard for them, though, as if they’re trying to get close to a blazing inferno. None of them seem able to get near it, altering course so they veer away from it. They keep trying, though.
A small knot of spectres are standing some distance away, apparently watching their brethren’s abortive attempts to reach the tower. They’re too far away for Tom to be able to get a good look at them, so he jumps into a nearby streetlight. There are two cloaked and hooded figures, like the ones Craig said that Frank saw at Mayfair Green. The air around them is humming with some kind of power. It’s a rather disconcerting effect. Between these two figures is what looks like a little girl, and the misty form of a woman. None of the spectres are familiar to Tom, but he doesn’t get much time to study them. As he leaps into the streetlight, the misty woman abruptly turns and looks directly at it; directly at him. Discretion being the better part of valour, he immediately tries to deadwire out of there, but it’s not that simple. Something drags at him, some unseen force trying to keep him there; to stop him from escaping. Somehow, he knows that she’s the source. The chains of her will start to wrap themselves around him, sealing the trap, but at the last moment he spots an opening. Re-doubling his efforts, he twists side-ways and leaps, slipping through her fingers just as the cage snaps shut. Once free, he doesn’t hang around to wait for the spectres’ next move. He’s already zig-zagging away, taking a weaving, circuitous route back to the warehouse, just in case any of them are following him. He doesn’t notice a tail, but then he’s mindful of the golden rule: it isn’t paranoia if they really are out to get you.
“What’s up?” James looks quizzically at Tom as he slips back into his body and gets up. “What did you see?”
“Lots of spectres.”
“Dragging ghosts to their doom?”
“No, actually. They can’t get close to the tower. There were some standing around watching – maybe they’re in charge.” Briefly, he tells James what happened. Now he comes to think about it, something’s been bothering him. The way the spectre tried to grab him: he’s not sure it would have worked. He has a feeling he might just have been able to deadwire through it. Maybe. At any rate, she didn’t seem to have been expecting him to escape that way. James voice breaks into his musings.
“Time to go in and start shooting, do you think?”
“Or projected, materialised and heavily armed. If that lot really are in charge, we could just take them out.”
“I’d rather wait until everyone’s up and about.”
James doesn’t look keen. “Night isn’t the best time for sniping, especially when the thing you’re sniping at doesn’t register to night-vision goggles.”
Carlos has the same plan as Tom: go out to Ground Zero and take a look around. After doing some chores – mainly sorting out his poor, battered car – he takes the subway to Courtland Street station. As he steps off the train, he sees the tower jutting through onto the platform. It’s a little hard to miss it: the wind-scoured wall with its shattered windows stretches almost across the full width of the platform. People walk through it as he watches, not seeming to notice anything as they do so. Walking slowly – earning a number of shoves and curses from the people around him for doing so – he makes his way to it and then, carried onwards by the press of the crowd, steps through. He feels a slight chill as he passes through the wall, but the overwhelming impression is one of peace and serenity. It feels like walking into a shrine. Considering what this is, and where it is – a crowded New York subway platform – that just seems wrong. He isn’t sure whether any of the other people can feel this. If so, it doesn’t seem to be affecting their behaviour.
Once above-ground, in the eye of the storm (which has definitely died down since last night, he notes), he looks up at the tower. It’s leaning against the Century 21 department store, on the corner of Courtland Street and Church Street, actually passing through the top ten floors or so. It over-shoots the department store by quite some way. Spotting a café, Carlos gets himself a coffee and sits for a few minutes, taking in the scene as he considers his course of action. He keeps an eye out for roving serial killers as he does so, but none come to his attention. The place is a veritable hive of activity, swarming with glaziers, engineers, builders and plumbers in addition to the usual crowds of shoppers. Boards already cover shattered windows, the patches of pale brown looking like unsightly growths against the steel, glass and concrete. More boards go up as Carlos watches, the sight of all that industry giving him an idea.
Quickly finishing his coffee, he heads into Century 21 and takes the lift to the twentieth floor. As he expected, a large portion is cordoned off while the damage is repaired. Swiping a hard hat, reflective jacket and clipboard, he strides confidently through the chaos until he reaches the place where the tower intersects the building. No one challenges him. The inside of the upside-down office block is wrecked, but the structure itself still seems solid (in a manner of speaking). The outside definitely looks sand-blasted, but aside from the windows it seems to be intact. As he wanders around inside it, he starts to receive impressions. It’s as if he can feel all the people who died when the real tower fell; as if all those deaths are a part of it. And yet, the overall feeling here isn’t pain, or fear, or anything like that: it is peace. Suddenly, he’s reminded of his near-death experience: the tunnel of light. It feels as if that’s what the tower is, somehow: as if it’s woven from the tunnels of light belonging to all the people who died here. Another realisation: those peoples’ ghosts are still here. He can’t see them, but he can’t shake the feeling that they’re a part of the tower.
Perhaps a little uneasy – life was so much simpler when his perception of it was limited to the merely physical – Carlos steps out of the tower and starts to make his way back downstairs. Despite his distraction, a part of his mind still busies itself with keeping an eye on the people around him, automatically making assessments. That’s why he notices the man who just doesn’t fit in. He’s dressed like a builder and he looks like a builder, but he’s not acting like a builder. He’s acting like someone exploring, or looking for something – like Carlos. Well, this is interesting. As Carlos is currently playing the role of site foreman (it’s the clipboard that really makes it), he walks over and asks the man to fetch some more boards from downstairs. He speaks in Spanish – the man looks Hispanic – but gets only a blank look in return. When he repeats his request in English, the man says:
“I was told to come up here and do an inspection.” It’s obvious – to Carlos, anyway – that he’s lying through his teeth.
Carlos waves his clipboard indignantly. “I’m the foreman here: I do the inspections.”
“Okay, okay,” the man mumbles. “I’m going.” He shuffles off out of sight. A few minutes later, a man in an orange prison jumpsuit – the type worn by the inmates of maximum security prisons – and a scar across his face comes around the corner. No one reacts to him at all: maybe he’s a ghost or a projector. Whatever and whoever he is, he seems to be heading towards Carlos. Pretending not to see him, Carlos moves out of his path, consulting his clipboard and nodding to himself as if conducting an inspection. Scarface just flat out runs towards him. Still trying to act as though he hasn’t seen this, Carlos steps into the tower. At the very least, it might block his pursuer’s view. It seems to, but he apparently hasn’t given up the chase. The two of them engage in a game of cat and mouse, Carlos trying to out-think Scarface; to evade him without necessarily letting on that he can see him. It seems to be working, but then Scarface barrels into view. Moving faster than a human has any right to, he leaps at Carlos...
Carlos is abruptly standing on the roof of the Century 21 building with absolutely no recollection of how he got there. Taking a quick peek over the edge of the roof, he takes a few steps back: it’s a long way down to the ground. Looking at his watch, it seems that two hours have gone by since Scarface leaped at him. Whatever he might have done – whatever might have happened to him – during that time is a complete mystery. It’s a distinctly unpleasant feeling. Maybe it’s time he went back home and tried to find his mysterious... What? Assailant? That man/ghost/projector/whatever obviously did something to him. Casting his memory back, he realises that, unusually, the jumpsuit didn’t actually have a tag with the prison name on. Without that, how is he going to narrow down the search? Well, it’s worth a try anyway, he thinks, making his way to the subway so he can go home. Once outside, he notices that the storm seems to have more or less died down during his missing two hours. Also, in a somewhat unpleasant development, groups of what appear to be very ugly ghosts – horribly mutated and mutilated – are now wandering around. They seem to be interested in the tower. He makes a mental note: another thing to ask Phoenix about.
After about an hour or so spent fruitlessly searching through descriptions of escaped prisoners, he gives up on that and calls Tom. It’s getting on for mid to late afternoon by this point.
“Any news?” He asks Tom.
“I had a quick look around at the site.”
“After we spoke.”
“I was there.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“It’s turning into freak-show central around there. There are lots of ugly ghosts. What are they?”
“Spectres. I saw some of them hanging around the tower.”
“I met one ghost inside. He was ugly too.” He might not have looked as bad as the ones outside, but he was certainly no oil painting. The scar didn’t help his appearance any, either.
“Did it ignore you?”
“No, it came for me. The next thing I knew it was two hours later and I couldn’t remember anything that happened during that time. I still can’t.”
“Oh.” That one word speaks volumes: Tom is very worried indeed.
“It was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit; like a maximum security prisoner.”
“Oh.” Understanding dawns, and with it, more worry. “That sounds like one of the Marion Prison spooks. Do you remember what he looked like?” Carlos describes the ‘ghost’ as best as he can remember. “Could be Ethan Torrence, from the scar.”
Filing that piece of information away, Carlos asks: “Who are the Marion Prison spooks?” Tom explains. The information doesn’t seem to make Carlos feel any better. “So, there’s twelve of these... What? Ghosts? Projectors?”
“We don’t know what they are. We know they’re not friendly, though.”
“I see.” At least that’s a start. Carlos is most interested in Torrence, of course. Tom doesn’t seem to be able to tell him anything more about him, however, so he changes the subject. “I noticed that the area around the tower feels unusually peaceful.”
“But for how long?” If he’s expecting Tom to shed any light on the phenomenon, he must be sorely disappointed. When he doesn’t seem to have anything else to add, Carlos tries another question.
“So, what are these things; these spectres?”
“Evil spirits. They want to turn the tower into a nexus of evil.”
Carlos sighs. “Can you explain this differently? Preferably in a way that makes sense?” Tom tries to explain, but only succeeds in confusing Carlos further. “Is Annie awake?”
“I have some questions for her.” Maybe she’ll be able to explain what Tom’s talking about. And then there’s the other business: his little out of body adventure.
“I don’t want to wake her. She was keeping watch all night.” It looks like he’s just going to have to call back later. ‘Oh, well.’
“So, what else did you find out on your expedition?”
“Not much. They spotted me, so I had to leave.”
“They seemed to ignore me. Apart from Torrence.”
“He’s a minor concern at the moment. Probably someone we should frag if we get the chance.” It’s unclear what Carlos thinks about this sentiment. He certainly doesn’t make his opinion known. “Hopefully, Kiss won’t be committing any more ritual murders. I think we’ve managed to disrupt what they were trying to do, so there wouldn’t be any point. Our priority at the moment is investigating the site and making sure the spectres can’t use it.”
“Are you going out again today?”
“Probably. When everyone’s up and about.”
“What time do you think that will be?”
Tom thinks a moment. “Around seven-ish.”
“I’m interested in going along. Shall I meet you there?”
“We’ll call you.”
Back at the warehouse, the first thing they do when everyone wakes up is to have a meeting. After making sure everyone is up to speed on current events, talk turns to the matter of Carlos' possession by Torrence. It’s a worry. They have to assume that he went through his host’s memories and he now knows about Carlos’ connection to Phoenix; not to mention everything he knows about what they’ve been doing. For all they know, he could have been listening in on his conversation with Tom. Fortunately, Tom doesn’t think he gave anything important away. He was being careful. Meeting up with Carlos might be problematic, though. There’s a risk that the Marion Prison spooks will take the opportunity to set up an ambush for Phoenix. They talk about ways to turn that to their advantage: if they can get the drop on their enemies, they might be able to either take prisoners or just take them out of the picture. Except that Torrence must realise (either through eavesdropping or just plain common sense) that Carlos has told Phoenix about the incident. As such, it isn’t difficult to predict their likely response. So the Marion Prison group might well plan something in return. At this point, it starts getting complicated. Of course, he could just leave Carlos – and Phoenix – alone, but none of them really believe they’re that lucky.
Craig points out that they can test whether Carlos is being puppeted – and, potentially, eject the puppeteer – by having one of their puppeteers dive into him. If they’re fast enough, they could slap the anti-spook cuffs on him when he gets kicked out. If they’re quick enough. The trouble is, even if he can’t ripcord, they know he has deadwire. He can be out of there before they do anything. Annie wonders if it’s possible to trap a puppeteer by putting anti-spook cuffs on its host and then having a second puppeteer kick it out. It doesn’t seem all that likely – she suspects that the cuffs would stop the first spook being kicked out, so that the second would just bounce. It is, however, something they can test right here and now. Tom offers up his body for science, and Chet and Craig agree to try to puppet him. He puts on the cuffs and then Chet leaps into him. So far so good: he and Annie have established this much before. Craig follows Chet... And then Tom starts violently twitching and juddering. Neither Skinrider emerges. James quickly removes the cuffs and examines Tom. Chet and Craig leap out as soon as the cuffs are off. Tom seems a little dazed and disoriented, but recovers quickly enough. It remains to be seen whether there is any lasting damage, but he seems okay for now. None of the three experimental subjects are overly keen to repeat the exercise. Apparently, both Craig and Chet were trapped in Tom’s body. Neither one could push the other out, or get out themselves. Tom became an accidental battleground. All in all, this doesn’t seem to be a viable course of action. Oh, well: at least now they know.
The discussion continues.
Part Six – It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you
It’s Saturday evening. The Phoenix spooks are as rested and refreshed as they’re going to get, so now they’re engaged in what seems to be their favourite activity: planning. Well, perhaps planning is a little too strong a term. Discussing might be better, as in: discussing their options, and what they should do now. ‘Discussing’ also includes debating the minutiae of plans they haven’t actually decided whether they want to follow yet. It doesn’t necessarily include anything as straightforward as actually making a decision. In short, they waffle.
Carlos and the tower are the main subjects being tossed around. Everyone agrees that they need to make sure that he doesn’t still have a passenger, but not on how best to go about this. Do they send in a small group who can bug out at the first sign of trouble? Do they go loaded for bear and ready to fight? Do they go in body? In gauze? Do they warn Carlos before having someone puppet him? And what if there are spooks inhabiting his possessions? There are a lot of things to talk about, and that’s even before they get side-tracked with discussing exactly how they would set up the theoretical ambush they haven’t even decided if they want to set up yet. In the end, they just go with their first plan: the simple one. Tom rings Carlos and arranges to meet him at a place of Carlos’ choosing. He doesn’t mention anything about checking for unwanted passengers. Working on the assumption that they’re going to look at the tower, Carlos suggests a car park not far away from Ground Zero. So, that’s that. They still haven’t decided who’s going, and whether they’re going to be in gauze or in body, but that’s going to depend on their second goal of the evening: the tower.
They want to get a good look at the tower. When Annie and Tom went there in the flesh, they were too busy hiding from Hyde to really study it. Tom didn’t manage to actually get to it when he deadwired in and Carlos, as far as they know, isn’t a spook. The main problem with just strolling in there is the fact that there may well be spectres hanging around. So, do they want to try to take the spectres out? If so, do they go with a frontal assault, or have James snipe them with ghost shot? A combination of both? They get tangled up in the details for a while before deciding that, first of all, they need information. So, this is going to be a scouting mission rather than an attack. The good news is that they can potentially combine this with sneaking a couple of people in to examine the tower.
So, how are they going to do this? After a lot of debating, they decide to have Hoyt rent a car. (Transport is something of an issue at the moment, as both of their vans have almost certainly been impounded.) Tom, James, Annie and Craig will go with him, the three skimmers projected. It means using more energy than they otherwise would, but has the benefit that their bodies won’t be anywhere near the potential hot zone. Mention of projecting reminds Annie of something she didn’t get around to doing last night. She asks Hoyt and Ben if either of them have tried projecting since they got back into their bodies. Both of them have tried a few times, but neither has yet succeeded. They agree that the thread keeping their gauze in their bodies feels a little ‘looser’, though. With practice, they think that they’ll eventually be able to skim. Certainly, they intend to keep trying.
Late afternoon shades into evening, and it’s soon time to set off for the meeting. As an added precaution against ambush, they decide to switch the meeting place at the last minute. Tom picks another car park more or less at random, and they head there. When they arrive, Annie has a quick look around the place, but doesn’t find anything out of the ordinary. She sees a couple of homeless people shivering in cardboard boxes, broken drug ampoules littering the ground beside them. A jogger rounds the corner, passing a young couple who are oblivious to everything but each other. There are no obvious spooks. Tom rings Carlos to tell him there’s been a change of plan. Talking over his objections – Carlos has just shelled out a not-inconsiderable amount of money to park where he is – he gives him the new location and then hangs up. If he wants to meet them, it looks like he’s going to have to move.
There’s only one car in the car park when he arrives. Tom and Craig step out of it as he pulls up. They haven’t bothered to manifest, but that’s okay: they know he can see them.
“Hello,” he greets the two spooks. “Why the last-minute change of car park?” Generously, he doesn’t mention the money he’s just wasted.
“Oh, paranoia,” says Tom. “Just in case Torrence is still around.”
Carlos frowns. “I haven’t seen him.”
“Yes, well. We’re going to take a look around. I’ll check the car; Craig will check you.”
“What?” He looks slightly startled. “I don’t need a physical!”
“It’s alright: Craig’s a ghost. He doesn’t do physical.” With that, Tom inhabits Carlos’ car. (It’s a courtesy car, replacing his own vehicle while it’s being fixed.) Before Carlos can voice any more protests, Craig strides towards him and places a hand on his shoulder.  There’s no sensation of physical contact, or anything else for that matter. A couple of seconds later, Craig steps back again, putting some distance between him and Carlos.
“There doesn’t seem to be anyone possessing him.”
From the car’s radio comes: “What kind of a cheap car is this? Even ours is better.”
“It’s a courtesy car.” There is an edge to Carlos’ voice. “Mine was wrecked when the tower came down.” No one responds. Tom emerges from the car, shaking his head. “It’s clean.”
“Check his clothes.” Tom disappears from view again. Carlos could swear that his clothes move under their own volition for a moment or two – quite an unsettling sensation – and then Tom steps out of them. 
“Nothing there,” he says to Craig. To Carlos, continues: “You have a clean bill of health from the Phoenix group.”
Carlos just stares at Tom for a moment, keeping his discomfort from his face. “What was that about?”
Tom looks toward Craig, but the former FBI agent just folds his arms and stands there impassively. Looks like it’s up to him. “It’s like this,” he begins.
After ‘Possession of People and Objects 101’ has concluded, Carlos and the Phoenix spooks discuss their visit to Ground Zero. There is some indecision about how best to approach. They have to assume that there are going to be spectres around, so just walking boldly up is out of the question. Well, it’s out of the question for anyone who’s there in gauze, anyway.
“How did you get there last time?” Carlos asks Tom, either ignoring or not noticing the speculative glances being cast his way.
“I flew.” Tom doesn’t particularly want to tell Carlos about Deadwire. He doesn’t trust him that much.
“Can’t you do that again?”
“I can,” interjects Annie. Carlos already saw her do that during the fight with Kiss. “If I approach from the air, I should be able to get into the tower from above, without being seen by any spectres on the ground.”
“If you can both fly, can’t you go in together?” Carlos doesn’t seem to want to let this one go.
“No,” says Tom, again. After a little more discussion, they settle on something approaching a plan.
Hoyt drives back to the warehouse while the other spooks pile into Carlos’ car and head to the car park he chose as their meeting point. It’s conveniently close to a subway station near Ground Zero, which is why he chose it in the first place. Carlos heads out in his body (as far as any of them know, that’s the only choice he has) so he can scout the area and see what the spectres are up to. Craig sense-rides him, just in case there are any unfriendly puppeteers in the vicinity (and so he can provide a tactical assessment of the situation). The two of them take the subway to Courtland Street station, lingering there a few minutes to examine the part of the tower that protrudes into it. As far as Carlos can tell, it appears unchanged. (This is the first time Craig has seen it.)
Above-ground, Carlos and Craig see several spectres near the tower. There are a couple of battered, misshapen-looking children (Lost Boys) with bloated stomachs. The shapes of their bones are visible through their flesh. Further along is what looks like the burned remains of a large dog, and a man who’s clearly been crushed under something very heavy indeed. They surround the tower, but are keeping their distance from it, and every single one of them is making some kind of noise. The children are keening; the dog howling. The man is making pained grunts and glottal noises from the ruin of his throat. Maybe they’re singing? It’s hard to tell. The spectres don’t pay any attention to Carlos, and he returns the favour. Century 21 is closed, so there’s no chance of getting to the floor he explored earlier (or of getting hold of the CCTV footage of what he did in those missing two hours – that’ll have to wait until the morning). Instead, he heads over to where the tower meets the ground, taking care to avoid traffic. (It’s mostly across a busy street, with only a relatively small ‘safe’ cross-section.) Much like the parts he’s already seen, the inside of the tower looks like an upside-down, mostly-wrecked office. It seems to be glowing faintly, as if it’s covered in some kind of bioluminescent moss. It isn’t as bright as he was when he was out of body. He pokes around for a few minutes but, finding nothing of obvious interest, heads back to his car.
Annie dissolves into a mass of flying insects and takes the aerial route. After circling the area to make sure she has the skies to herself (she does), she heads for the top of the tower. As Carlos observed, it is glowing silver, clearly giving out its own light rather than reflecting that of the moon or the streetlights. It seems solid enough, so she lands on the roof (which is actually the base) and makes her way inside through the shattered remains of the glass doors. The tower is huge. In her current form, it would take her hours to search properly. As this is just a scouting mission, she takes the lift shaft straight to the likeliest place of interest: the impact site.
Unlike the rest of the building, there are figures here: people-shaped patches of light stretched across the walls, floors and furniture. There are scores of them in all, and they resemble the radiation shadows seen in pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken after the bomb. Annie touches one, trying to sense whether they are a part of the tower, or whether they are constructs (or entities) in their own right. She spends a few minutes in concentration, but the results are inconclusive. ‘Maybe I can get their attention,’ she muses. ‘Wail, perhaps?’ But what kind of emotion should she try to evoke? Irritation would be easiest, but if those shapes are aware, she’s not sure she wants to annoy them. In the end, she decides to aim for interest. Concentrating, she gathers her energy, singing softly… and nothing happens. She tries again: still nothing. Third time may be the charm, but it still comes up blank. Maybe she needs more energy, or a different emotion. Or maybe it’s the wrong approach.  She might be able to use flesh flux to separate one of the shapes from the tower… but that might be a really, really bad thing to do. And it would cause a spike. She wants to continue this research, but she’s already been here about half an hour or so. Besides, given the recent track record for experiments going horribly wrong, does she really want to try something risky without back-up? ‘I should get back to the others…’ Reluctantly, she takes to the air.
Part Seven - All Quiet on the Harlem Front...
As Annie flies back to the car, she keeps a look out for spectres. She sees about six of them on the ground around the tower. Four of them seem to be roughly evenly spaced, facing it. She can’t see into the construction area, as it’s pitch black in there. Flying in blind doesn’t seem like a particularly safe idea. When she gets back to the others, they seem relieved to see her. She’s been gone about an hour, and with her body back in the warehouse they had no way of knowing if she’d run into trouble. Carlos and Craig have been back for some time. The three scouts fill in the others on their observations. (Carlos and Craig have already done so, but they repeat them for Annie’s benefit.) It seems likely that they all saw the same spectres. Annie speculates that they might be trying to do what the Phoenix spooks did: use something like Wail to change the resonance of the place. That could be bad. Unfortunately, they’re not really in condition to take on half a dozen spectres right now. Maybe tomorrow night.
It’s about ten o’ clock now. If Kiss is still following his schedule, there is supposed to be another group of murders tonight. It’s too late to get there in time to intercept him, but then the houses have all been evacuated. Hopefully, between that and the tower has coming down, there should be no more such killings. Tom wants to check out the site afterwards, however. They call Hoyt, who takes the Phoenix spooks back to the warehouse. (Those with bodies have been out of them for quite some time, and some of them have been expending not-insignificant amounts of energy.)
“... Radio Free Death, welcoming ... new listeners. To ... who didn't hear the explosion ... what were you on? To everyone else ... seems a tower fell down from heaven last night ... Lower Manhattan ... Two Towers, in fact. To all ,.. have been dreaming of a dark tower ... is *not* that ... friendly action, kind of ... still seems to have attracted a bucketload of spectres ... be careful. I ... whether this is good or bad ... is *not* the end ... are moving ... careful you don't get crushed. More as I learn it. Radio Free Death, signing ...”
After retrieving their bodies, Tom and James meet up with Carlos and the three of them drive out to the murder site. Their route takes them past a cemetery, where they see a few pale figures standing around.  They don’t stop to investigate. It’s getting close to 2am now and, unsurprisingly, all the houses nearby are dark. In any case, the putative target and the nearby houses have all been evacuated. They get out and take a look around, but the curtains are drawn. Both front and back doors are locked and show no obvious signs of a break-in. The windows are also intact and locked. James projects and takes a look around inside. Returning a few minutes later, he reports that everything looks fine in there. Whatever else Kiss might be up to, he hasn’t killed anyone here this night.
“What are you going to do tomorrow?” asks Carlos.
“Annie wants to go ballistic on the spectres,” Tom replies.
“Why? They seem harmless. They weren’t really doing anything.”
“They might be damaging the tower.”
Carlos doesn’t look convinced, but he shrugs and says: “You’re the experts.”
“Yes,” Tom declares. “We are.” He pauses for a moment, and then continues in a much less confident tone. “That’s the worrying thing.” Diplomatically, Carlos doesn’t comment on the last part. He suggests that they investigate the Empire State Building tomorrow. The three of them discuss the idea (and the ‘mole people’ mentioned by Radio Free Death) for a few minutes, and then decide to meet up tomorrow so they can decide then. They call it a night, going back to their respective residences to get some sleep.
Just before eleven the next morning (the agreed meeting time) Carlos gets a phone call from Larsson. An entire church congregation (about three hundred to four hundred people) has been found dead, apparently by carbon monoxide poisoning. They were only found within the past couple of hours, so forensics don’t have any word yet on whether it was accidental or deliberate. The reason for Larsson’s call is that it happened in the Bronx, near Mayfair Green.
“I don’t know if there’s any connection with the other matter you’re looking into, but it might be worth investigating. It’s certainly strange.”
“Do you think it was a suicide pact?”
“We don’t know yet. The church group wasn’t on any of the cult watchlists.”
“I’ll need access to the scene.”
“CSI are there at the moment, but I can probably get you in. The investigation is currently under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, but we have a presence on site. Depending on what they find, we might be taking over.”
“I’ll see you there.” After ringing off, Carlos rings Tom to tell him about the change of plan. Tom says they’ll meet him there.
James, Tom, Annie and Blink head over. As the church isn’t far from Brooke House, the skimmers leave their bodies in the attic there, under the watchful eyes of Ben and Rory. Carlos arrives at the scene before them. The press are already there, calling out questions to anyone they can see, but Carlos ignores them. Larsson gets him through and into the church. CSI have been there less than an hour, so they’ve only just started their examination. They’ve already found the source of the carbon monoxide, however. There are a number of coke heaters scattered around the church (heating a large area like that must be difficult). Someone had rigged these to produce the deadly gas, and then blocked all the ventilation with rags. This was definitely a deliberate act. The question is: was it homicide or suicide?
There are people keeled over in the pews, and a man – presumably the pastor – lies sprawled at the base of the pulpit. The pastor lives in the rectory. His personal possessions might offer up some insight into what happened here, but it’s going to take a few hours to go through them. The forensic team have already taken his computer. There are some notes on the pulpit, presumably for that day’s sermon. It seems to be rather apocalyptic in tone, and sounds like the snippets of his speeches that Kate dug up. Phrases like “the time is now”, “the war is upon us” and “it’s time for us to rise up and claim our heritage as children of God” feature prominently. However, most of the words have been crossed out. All that’s left unmarked is the phrase “the time is now” and a note about introducing a guest speaker. The notes don’t mention the name of the guest speaker. Nor is there anyone else near the pulpit. Checking the pastor’s diary, he can find no mention of a guest speaker for today. There is one for next week, but they are referred to only as “B”. Next to the notes is a bible, open to Psalm 23. ‘Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death...’ Looking around, it’s clear that death’s shadow lies heavy on this place. Larsson tells Carlos that the FBI are taking over the investigation, even though this isn’t technically their jurisdiction.
“This isn’t something that happens too often in New York,” Carlos observes.
“No.” Larsson sounds weary. “No, it isn’t.”
The Phoenix spooks arrive, and they recognise the church: it’s the Church of the Children of the Angelic Host, the one whose pastor predicted the Bounce Night deaths, among other things. Somehow, that doesn’t surprise them. They pass that information on to Carlos, who is looking around the church, frowning thoughtfully.
“There are no ghosts.”
“No, I don’t see any.” Annie is also frowning as she studies the scene. With so many deaths, there should be some ghosts. Also, she can’t sense any strong emotions here at all, although that might be explained by the fact that carbon monoxide probably put them to sleep before it killed them. “Speaking of which,” she continues. “Maybe you should be careful about talking to people that no one else can see.” She glances meaningfully towards the CSI agents crawling over the scene. Carlos doesn’t reply.
Annie uses Forebode to look back to when the vents were blocked. She sees a few dozen people, male and female, all dressed in purple robes. They’re all white, and their heads are shaven. It’s still dark outside as they go about sealing the church. The clock on the wall reads five o’ clock: it must be this morning, since Annie only tried to look back within the last day. The cultists are wearing no obvious insignia or symbols. There is one spook present. He is male, white and in his forties. Although bald, he sports a moustache and beard. The white of his robe – he’s dressed as a priest – is almost blinding. It’s almost as if the material is fluorescing. The man himself bears no obvious death marks, and doesn’t look like a spectre. If he is a spectre, he’s the most human-seeming one Annie’s ever seen. His charisma is almost a tangible force; his sheer presence overwhelming. The priest doesn’t speak, but he seems to be overseeing the proceedings. The purple-robed figures occasionally glance over in his direction, clearly able to perceive him. The vision fades just as the cultists complete their task. Annie relays what she saw to the others. Carlos frowns, but doesn’t ask how she came by that information. He seems willing to take it at face value, however, noting that the CSI team should come across fibres from those robes the cultists were wearing. It’s strange that, in a predominantly black neighbourhood, no one reported seeing a large group of shaven-headed Caucasians (whether or not they were wearing the robes at the time) pouring into the building.
Next, Annie looks back to see what happened to the ghosts. The first surprise is that every single member of the congregation – even the children – left a ghost. Every one. More than that, they left hues. It’s impossible to mistake the monochrome shades for anything else. A glowing figure leads the hundreds of ghosts out of the church, just like a shepherd leading his flock. The figure is obviously a spook, and is using unearthly repose. She can’t tell anything more than that, because if she looks at him she’ll be entranced, just like the ghosts.  (Fortunately, she realises in time what the glow means, and is able to look away before being ensnared by it.) Looking around, she sees the pastor, crumpled at the base of his pulpit just like he is now. As she watches, however, someone steps out of his body. It isn’t the pastor. It’s a man in an orange prison jumpsuit. This is... interesting. She doesn’t recognise this one, but he must be one of the Marion Prison spooks. How many other spooks are likely to be running around in orange jumpsuits? As this vision starts to dissolve, she quickly looks around for anything else out of the ordinary. One thing catches her eye: the Eucharist. Communion wine and wafers in an Adventist church? That’s fairly unusual. One possibility is that it was used to slip the Pigment to the congregation.  Another possible route could be through the doctored heaters. Most people smoke the drug, after all. Carlos requests that the forensics team test both the communion wine and the fuel in the heaters for traces of Pigment.
After some discussion, the Phoenix spooks decide they want to try to work out if the glowing spook led the hues to Mayfair Green. This information might help them work out what the people behind this incident are trying to do. The plan is that they get a bit closer to Mayfair Green, and then Annie will use Forebode to see if they passed by. Hopefully, they’ll be able to take the opportunity to get a look at the spectres’ base. So they don’t attract the attention of wandering spectres, Annie and Tom inhabit items carried by Carlos (his tie and his mobile phone, respectively) and the FBI negotiator goes for a walk. As they approach Mayfair Green, they start to see buildings encrusted with a black, leprous substance made out of gauze. It looks extremely unpleasant. The atmosphere becomes oppressive, and grows ever more so the closer they get. The people here – and, surprisingly, there are still people here – seem listless and sluggish; drained of life and energy. This does not feel like a good place to be, even without the spectres.
Boom! There’s an explosion from the direction of Mayfair green. It must have been physical, because people are reacting, albeit slowly and apathetically. They start wearily moving in the opposite direction. Carlos, still carrying his passengers, does the opposite: he runs towards it. Rounding a corner, he sees the cause. There’s a hole in one of the walls; the remains of a vehicle spread all around. It looks like someone drove a car packed with explosives into the side of one of the buildings. There are no bodies. There is, however, someone moving in the middle of the wreckage. Flash of orange, and a figure suddenly bolts, leaping for a nearby public telephone. The person – a Marion Prison spook? – reaches their goal and vanishes. Behind them, a sea of insects – fist-sized gauze insects – boils out of the hole. They start to flood out into the street, swarming and clacking their mandibles. A tributary splits off from the main body and starts flowing towards Carlos. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, Carlos turns and runs. He isn’t quite fast enough. Some of them start swarming up his legs, biting and stinging. Fortunately, they are gauze and he is flesh. And yet... And yet he can feel patches of cold where they crawl over his skin. Larger spectres, man-sized ones, can now be seen roaming the street, clearly looking for trouble. He keeps running, managing to dislodge his extra passengers. As far as he can tell, he gets away without attracting any more attention.
Larsson calls to ask if Carlos knows what’s going on. Carlos tells him it looks like a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a building. He doesn’t mention little details like the orange-clad spook or the army of spectres. As he’s making his way back to the church, it strikes him that there’s been no sign of the emergency services. With an explosion like that, he would have expected fire trucks, ambulances and police cars to turn up in droves, but there’s nothing. Did no one call them? Or, maybe, after all the killings and disappearances, they simply don’t go in there any more. He mentions this to Larsson, who says he’ll look into it.
“You know what happened to the last FBI team that went in there, don’t you?” Larsson’s voice is grim.
“Only one of them came back out again.”
“Apparently, he went mad and shot all of his team-mates. We still haven’t managed to find out why.”
“Be careful out there, Carlos.”
Carlos, Annie and Tom make their way back to the church, where they fill in Blink and James on what happened. James observes that it’s the second car bomb they’ve heard about in the past couple of weeks. There was the one in Baltimore, although that one was probably connected with Beta Crucible and NextWorld. They all crowd into Carlos’ car to discuss the information they have, and what they’re going to do now. It seems that only some of the Marion Prison spooks are working with the spectres. Blowing up part of their stronghold doesn’t exactly seem to be the act of an ally. But what of the events in the church? Annie speculates that someone’s trying to raise an army of ghosts. The pastor’s recent sermons were certainly all about fighting the ‘unholy demons’, and the prophecy does talk about ‘her’ enemies raising armies against her. Carlos looks oddly at Annie.
“How do you know about the cultists, and all the rest of it?”
“I have a horror – an ability – that lets me look into the past and future.”
“How does that work?” Annie gives him an overview. She tries to keep it simple, but even so, his eyes start to glaze over towards the end. She breaks off, looking thoughtfully at him.
“Why can you see spooks?” she asks, bluntly. He shrugs. “Have you had any near-death experiences?”
She waits, but he doesn’t expand on that. “Well, that could explain it. What about out-of-body experiences?”
More quietly, he says: “Yes.”
She raises her eyebrows. “I see.”
Carlos isn’t finished. “I had one after the tower came down.”
“Tell me what happened?” He summarises. “Interesting. Well, you seem to be a projector, Carlos.” She gives a small smile. “Welcome to the world of being a spook.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“It sounds like you’re a Wisp,” she notes. “If you want, I can try to teach you how to project deliberately, and how to use your abilities.”
“That… could be useful,” Carlos says, cautiously.
There seems to be little more that they can do at the church (and this isn’t exactly the ideal location to train a new projector). Before leaving the area, Annie and Tom decide that they want to find out whether the ghosts were being taken to Mayfair Green. If they were, then that implies that there are at least two factions within the Marion Prison spooks; one working with the spectres and one working against them. This piece of information, they decide, is probably worth the risk. After giving the spectre activity a chance to die down a little, the two of them, plus Blink and James, pile into Carlos’ car. Tom directs Carlos to drive part-way towards Mayfair Green and then stop, but to prepare himself for a quick getaway. Annie dissolves into a swarm of insects and heads towards a nearby roof. She needs somewhere with a good view of the most likely route from the church to Mayfair Green if she’s to glean any useful information from the vision. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the skies to herself. Here and there, they catch glimpses of the aerial spectres they saw on Bounce Night; the ones that resemble giant pairs of human hands. Annie is hoping that by virtue of sticking close to the buildings (and being a swarm of really, really small things) she will go unnoticed. Unfortunately, she’s not that lucky.
The first Annie knows that she’s been spotted is when one of the flying hands suddenly wheels and dives towards her. It moves too fast for her to get out of its way, tearing through the small cloud of insects that currently hold her awareness. She feels a handful of them dissipate into nothingness, a small amount of vitality vanishing with the wisps of gauze.  The spectre is already coming back for another pass, but – propelled by desperation – she dives towards the nearest building, managing to inhabit the catch of a window just before it crashes into her again. It hovers by the window, taking the occasional swipe, but it can’t get to her. This isn’t the end of it, though. A few seconds later, another one turns up. And another, and another. Within half a minute or so, there’s a whole flock of them fluttering around. This... isn’t good. If she wants to fly away, or to ripcord, she’s going to have to come out of her hiding place. If she does that, they’re going to be on her like sharks on a bloody lump of meat. She’s fairly certain she can’t dodge them all. ‘Maybe I can wait them out...’ Just as that thought goes through her mind, she hears a metallic clanging coming from the wall below her...
Carlos and the three Phoenix spooks see the spectre dive at Annie; see her leap at the window and disappear. They deduce what she did from the fact that it keeps hovering by that spot, and by the fact that more of its friends show up.
“That doesn’t look good,” murmurs Carlos. Another spectre comes into view, making a beeline for the building where Annie is hiding. This one is humanoid, with metal struts driven through its gauze. It reaches the wall and starts to climb. That’s when they realise the struts are actually digging into the brickwork, leaving behind marks of its passage and sending a small shower of chips and powder towards the ground. This really isn’t good. If it’s manifested, or if it just has some other way of affecting its surroundings, then it can destroy the object Annie is inhabiting and force her out into the open. Where the fliers are waiting to tear her apart.
“We have to do something.” Blink’s voice is low, but frantic. “We have to help her.”
James sighs. “This is going to spike.” To Carlos, he says. “You have to get us closer, and you have to be ready to floor it. This is probably going to draw every spectre in the area.
Carlos nods and heads towards the knot of spectres. As soon as he’s close enough, James concentrates and every spook in the vicinity – including Annie – feels a pulse of energy. A silver wave rushes out from him, catching up Mr Scaffolding and hurling him into (and through) a wall. The flying hands immediately wheel around and start to dive towards the car; towards the source of the spike, but James is expecting that. Using a combination of anathema and helter skelter, he hurls bolts of silver energy at them, knocking them away. Carlos floors the accelerator and they zoom off. As soon as Annie realises that the spectres aren’t there any more, she leaps out of the window catch and starts to fall.  With only moments to decide on a course of action, she looks towards the car, but it’s already some distance away. And she’d have to go through a flock of spectres to get to it. That only leaves her one option: she ripcords.
The occupants of the car (except Carlos, who’s busy driving) see Annie’s re-appearance and sudden vanishing act, recognising it for what it is. Blink heaves a sigh of relief.
“She got away,” he says, quietly.
“I hope we manage that,” mutters Tom. Through the rear window, he sees a couple of Fetches blink into existence and start to chase them. “Can’t this thing go any faster?” Perhaps muttering something under his breath about his own car having much better acceleration, Carlos somehow manages to coax a few more drops of speed out of the vehicle. Slowly, their pursuers start to drop behind. It’s starting to look as if they might be out of the woods... which is when the Fetch appears inside the car.
Tom ripcords as the spectre lunges. Jaws opening wide, it savages James, who shrugs off the creature’s fearsome teeth and simply hurls it out of the car. Carlos concentrates on the road, and they soon leave the Fetch behind. Now they’re clear. They think.
Part Eight - Tethers
After the close call with the spectres, everyone apart from Carlos gathers at Brooke House.
“That was scary,” observes Annie. “Maybe we shouldn’t be out in the open so close to Mayfair Green in future.” There’s nothing like stating the obvious.
“Yeah,” says Tom. “You know, it’s a real pity that we’re not the only ones with flight capability.”
“Aerial domination would be nice,” agrees James.
“So,” Tom changes the subject. “What do you think the Marion Prison spooks are up to?” None of them have any ideas beyond the fact that their actions so far suggest that their may be at least two factions within that group: one working with the spectres, one working against them. There may also be those of their number who are just out for themselves. The disparity doesn’t make it any easier to figure out how to stop the group working with the spectres. As for the others: well, the enemy of your enemy isn’t necessarily your friend. It would help if they actually knew who they were dealing with. Tom fires up the laptop and digs up some pictures, showing them to Annie. She manages to identify the two spooks she saw in the church as Uriah Bishop (the glowing figure who oversaw the cultists and who led the hues away) and Bruno Tavoularis (the man in the jumpsuit who stepped out of the pastor’s body).
The conversation quickly turns to ghost armies, the prophecy and spectres. If Bishop was gathering hues to form the ‘choir of three hundred souls’ mentioned in the prophecy, then they easily have the numbers they need to perform their ritual. Given his putative involvement in the Bounce Night deaths, it seems likely he’s one of the ones working with the spectres, which is bad. Unfortunately, there isn’t much they can do about that at the moment. They can, however, do something about the tower.
“We should take out the spectres surrounding it, at the very least,” Annie states. “They’re almost certainly trying to de-consecrate it and we really don’t want them to do that.” Remembering the tower from her vision of the apocalypse, she has to suppress a shudder.
“With the attack on their base, I wouldn’t be surprised if the spectres from the tower have pulled back to Mayfair Green. We know they’re on high alert. It makes sense for them to assign the bulk of their forces to aggressive defence.”
“We could visit the tower now,” suggests Tom. “I’d like to get a good look at it in daylight. At least we could see if there’s anything lurking in the construction area.” After some discussion, Tom, James and Annie decide that the three of them will just drive there, in their bodies. The plan is that Annie will project and scout from the air again. This time, though, she’ll be a flock of pigeons rather than a swarm of insects. She can cover more ground (well, air) that way. Just in case there are any spectres hanging around, however, she’ll manifest and use borrowed vitality to appear as a living, flesh and blood group of birds.
As it turns out, there aren’t any spectres. None that she can see, anyway. There are, however, a lot of spooks inside the tower. Getting a closer look, she recognises them as hues. The people are predominantly black, and they all seem to be dressed up: she can’t say for certain, but she has a hunch that these could be the hues that Bishop led out of the church a short while ago. This certainly complicates things. There are less spooks in the tower than she saw in the church, which raises the question: where are the rest of them? There is no sign of Bishop, but then it is a very large tower and she’s just flying around the outside looking through the windows. It looks like the hues climbed in from the Century 21 building. They’re currently spreading out into the floors above and below where the tower intersects the structure.
Annie returns to the car, which Tom is driving through New York on a previously agreed route. They figured that would be safer (and less suspicious-looking) than just parking up somewhere. She relays what she saw and, after a brief discussion (very brief, for this group), they decide to try to talk to the hues. Tom calls Adrian to come and keep an eye on their bodies. Rory is there, but he can’t exactly drive the car. Adrian turns up with a bottle of cheap booze. Before any of them can protest, he sprinkles it liberally over them.
“What the fuck?” James shoots Adrian an annoyed glance.
“In case I get stopped by the police,” he replies blithely. “I need some way of explaining the three unconscious bodies slumped in the car.” Grudgingly, they admit it makes a certain amount of sense. The three skimmers project and Adrian drives off with their bodies. A little vitality sharing and then it’s off to the tower.
This time, they approach from the ground. The floors closest to the Century 21 building seemed awfully crowded, but hopefully the lower part of the tower (technically, the highest floors, as it’s upside-down) should be a little more sparsely populated. Unfortunately, that assumption isn’t quite correct. Tom spots the crowd of ghostly figures inside just as Annie hops through the window and into their midst.  She looks at them, looking back at her. Tension hums in the air, and then the moment is abruptly broken when someone says, loudly:
“They don’t look like demons.” That seems to be the catalyst for general chatter to break out among the crowd of hues. Most prevalent is the question of whether or not the Phoenix spooks are the ‘demons’ that they were warned about. Unfortunately, not all of the room’s occupants seem content to stand about and speculate. Some – mostly young men – seem intent on taking a much more proactive approach. They start to advance purposefully on the visitors, clearly spoiling for a fight. This could get messy...
James hops nimbly through the window, landing beside Annie. Congealing a gun, he points it at the advancing hues, ordering them to stop. “We didn’t come here to start a fight,” he says, “but we will defend ourselves. Back off!” The men stop, startled by the sight of the weapon. None of them are armed with anything more than their own two hands (and, of course, whatever horrors they manage to express). There’s some muttering, but they do back away, eyeing James warily. Tom comes through the window. The room is quiet now, the hues all watching the three projectors. A woman at the back of the room darts off up the stairs and out of sight. After a few moments, people start to mill around, murmuring quietly among themselves. “We don’t mean you any harm.” Annie aims for a reassuring tone, trying to make herself seem as harmless and trustworthy as possible. “We just want to talk. Maybe we can help you.”
One of the hues – a tiny, ancient-looking woman – steps forward.
“Who are you?” she demands to know. Apparently, she’s the group’s spokesperson.
“My name is Annie.” Again, she reiterates: “We’re here to help.”
“Fine.” The woman nods, decisively. “Now leave. We were warned about you, Demons.”
“We’re not demons.” Annie takes a couple of steps forward. “Are you from the Congregation of the Children of the Angelic Host?”
“We were.” A beatific expression spreads over the woman’s face. “Now we are part of that host, doing the Lord’s work.”
“How did you get here?”
“The Lord sent one of his angels to guide us.”
“Did you come here of your own volition?”
The woman looks puzzled. “We followed the messenger.”
“But were you given a choice? Did he take you against your will?”
“We went gladly.”
“Do you know what happened to you?” Now the woman looks really confused.
“It’s the Rapture,” she says. “Our earthly chains have been cast off. We have been raised up so that we can do battle against the armies of the enemy.”
“Even the children?”
“Well, we couldn’t leave them behind.”
“Don’t try to argue with fundamentalists,” Tom murmurs in Annie’s ear. “Logic won’t work on them.” Shooting him a look filled with frustration, she turns back to the woman.
“Can we speak to this messenger?”
“He is coming. Now.” The hues start to crowd around again.
“If it will make you more comfortable” – and, coincidentally, reduce the risk of being trapped – we’ll wait outside until he turns up.” Tom, suits the action to the words, beckoning the others to follow. James joins him. Annie hesitates, but follows the two men out of the building. Behind them, there are excited murmurings.
“See,” calls out an old man, loudly. “Even mentioning the Messenger can drive the evil ones away!” There’s a general sound of agreement.
“It’s not that at all,” says Tom, sounding faintly annoyed. “We’re just trying to be considerate.” The crowd seems unconvinced.
Soon, they become of a faint glow emanating from the inverted stairwell. The light grows brighter, and soon a glowing, angelic figure comes into view. Annie and Tom turn away immediately: both of them have fallen afoul of unearthly repose before, and don’t care to repeat the experience. James – who, so far, has a hundred percent success rate with resisting the horror – simply stays as he is. He studies the figure. The man? He looks, well, unearthly. Angelic is an apt word, although there is no evidence of wings. James doesn’t think the newcomer is using unearthly repose (at least, not as he’s experienced it in the past), but he must be doing something. Still: whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be affecting him. 
“I think it’s safe,” he starts to murmur to the others. “I don’t think he’s...”
“See how they can’t even bear to look upon God’s holy light!” interrupts one of the hues. Tom turns back. Squinting a little against the glow, he recognises the figure as Bruno Tavoularis, or at least an idealised version of the man. He looks younger, purer; and he isn’t wearing orange prison coveralls. Bruno seems to be studying the Phoenix spooks in turn. Looking from one to the other, he draws himself up and intones:
“Who is it that would trespass upon this holy place?” To Tom and James, his voice is musical; almost a tangible thing.
“Who are you?” Tom asks the question, even though he thinks he knows. “What are you doing here?”
“I am a messenger sent from God to lead the faithful in a great crusade against the demons.” A number of the hues visibly draw themselves up at this, pride shining in the faces. They seem to be hanging on their leader’s every word. “Are you demons?”
“Do we look like demons?” Tom glances down at himself, and then looks back to the figure.
“There are those that take a fair form to bewitch the innocent. They are called Deceivers.”
“I’m flattered you think I’m fair,” James interjects, “but I’m not a demon. None of us are.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not.
Annie risks turning around to get a look at the self-proclaimed messenger. As soon as she claps her eyes on him, she wonders how she could ever have thought of his voice as nasal. It clearly isn’t: it’s resonant and pure; a joy to listen to. Like Tom, she recognises him as a younger, more handsome, more charismatic version of the spook who possessed the pastor.
“Bruno Tavoularis?” she asks. “Is that your name?” Tom sees the man twitch as she asks that, taking that as confirmation of his identity. James is too busy keeping an eye on the hues to notice. Annie, on the other hand, is struck by the sudden and certain realisation that she was mistaken: this can’t possibly be Tavoularis. She doesn’t know who or what he really is, but one thing is clear: he really, genuinely believes himself to be a messenger of God. And he is making a stand against the spectres...  As she considers possibilities, Tom starts questioning Tavoularis closely, trying to trip him up.
“What are you doing here really?” he asks.
“As I said.” Tavoularis’ voice holds infinite patience. “I am leading the God’s army in battle against the demons. These are the end times, and the apocalypse is almost upon us. We stand against it; against the forces of evil. This is a holy tower, sent by God to be a bulwark against the demonic hordes.”
“Shows what you know,” mutters James. “We’re the ones who brought this tower down.” No one seems to pay any attention to him.
“Why this tower?” Tom asks. “Why the World Trade Centre? Why not something more holy, like a church?”
“God’s ways are his own,” states Tavoularis. “And He can purify even this former temple of Mammon, turning it instead into a symbol of faith itself.”
“Is Bishop around?”
Tavoularis goes still. “What?”
“Uriah Bishop. The one who led the hues out of the church. Known for poisoning people with strychnine.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” But his body language says that he does. This time, both Tom and James notice his reaction, but Annie notices nothing. She’s too caught up in her own thoughts. 
“Enough of talking.” Tavoularis pronounces. “It is the Deceivers’ way to mislead with words. This is the time for action.”
“What are you getting at?” wonders Tom. Tavoularis is obviously working up to something.
“Have you been shriven, my children? Are your souls pure? Do you walk in the light of the Lord?”
Tom and James exchange a look. “What?” asks James.
Tavoularis sighs; a sound of the deepest sorrow. “I didn’t think so. Will you accept my blessing?”
“No.” Tom and James reply in unison.
“That is the answer I would expect from demons.” The crowd of hues behind him start to murmur. Variants on the phrase ‘I told you so’ occasionally rise to the surface of the sea of sound.
“We’re not demons!” James glares at Tavoularis, who is unfazed.
“I’m not going to let you do God knows what to me,” mutters Tom. “I don’t trust you.”
“A convenient excuse.” A look of satisfaction crosses Tavoularis’ face. Half-turning to face his followers, he says: “See? They...”
“What is this blessing?” It’s the first time Annie has spoken in a while. Tavoularis breaks off mid-sentence, giving her a considering look.
“It purifies the soul,” he says, slowly. “It will cleanse the taint of demons and make you pure in the sight of the Lord.”
“Fine.” She nods. “Go ahead.”
“What?” He makes no attempt to hide his surprise.
“I’ll accept the blessing.” Tom and James are also staring at her in shock.
Quietly, Tom murmurs: “Annie, are you sure?”
“Yes.” The spectres changed her; left some taint, some darkness in her soul. She wants it gone. This man... He may not be a messenger of God, but he clearly believes in his cause, and in the power of this blessing. Maybe he really can cleanse her of the spectres’ touch. Maybe. She wants to believe so much. Her gaze is fixed on Tavoularis, who appears to have recovered his aplomb. “Well?”
“Come.” He holds out a hand, smiling beatifically.
“No.” She shakes a head. “Out here.” They don’t know if they can ripcord from inside the tower.
“As you wish.” He makes his way out of the tower, accompanied by an honour guard of his followers. Tom and James take up watch positions, making sure that the hues don’t surround them. This whole situation is making both of them uneasy. Annie just stands there, hands unconsciously clenching into fists, her expression closed. ‘It’ll be okay,’ she tries to reassure herself. ‘This is going to work.’ Tavoularis reaches out towards her...
Tavoularis – the self-styled ‘messenger of God’ – lays his hands upon Annie and intones a blessing. Looking up at him, she sees his eyes start to glow. At the same time, she feels like a great weight has been lifted off her shoulders. The constant chittering that’s been at the back of her mind since she escaped the spectres is abruptly stilled. She feels... ‘I feel human again.’ She’d almost forgotten what that felt like. As Tavoularis steps away from her, she is also aware of feeling tired and weak; almost drained, but she doesn’t care. The spectres’ taint is gone.
“Is that it?” Her voice is hesitant as she looks up at Tavoularis. A part of her is waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
“Is the Lord’s blessing not enough?” But surely it can’t really be that simple... can it?
“Thank you.” Although she strains her senses to their limit, she still can’t hear the spectres’ voices. To Tom and James, she says: “I feel fine.” Better than fine, really, apart from that sudden weariness. She sounds surprised. “He didn’t harm me. It wasn’t anything bad.” Tom and James still look sceptical.
“You see?” thunders Tavoularis, suddenly, turning to the hues. “Even this heathen can feel the power of the Lord!” Whatever else this may be, it is clearly also a show for their benefit.
“How do you know I’m a heathen?” Annie interrupts, quietly. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Do you accept the Lord into your heart? Do you accept me as his prophet? Will you join the holy armies?” With a grand, sweeping gesture, he indicates the tower and the hues spilling out of it. Holding her gaze, he waits a beat or two, smiling slightly when she doesn’t answer. “I thought not.”
“We fight the demons. We want to defend this tower against them.”
“Will this... Will the blessing last?” The question is much more hesitant than she intended. She’d almost forgotten what it was like to be completely alone in her head.
“If your faith is strong.”
“Oh.” She doesn’t quite know what to say to that.
Tavoularis turns back to his flock, raising his voice in a stirring speech about the power of the Lord, and their value of their holy work. The hues eat up every word. Tom makes the occasional biting comment, but neither the preacher nor the hues pay attention to him. The three Phoenix spooks huddle together, taking advantage of the crowd’s distraction to confer quietly.
“We should go,” says Tom. “Before they turn nasty.” Tavoularis does seem to be working the hues up to a fever pitch. It wouldn’t take much to turn all that emotion onto the three of them. The hues might be weak individually, but the prospect of fighting hundreds of them isn’t to be relished.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything else for us to do here,” Annie agrees. She still seems a little shell-shocked.
“Yeah, let’s leave them in the tower,” proclaims James. “It probably won’t do any harm.” He shakes his head. “Although a group of spectres will just tear straight through them.” Suddenly, they realise that Tavoularis is focused on them once more. He probably didn’t hear them, but his expression isn’t particularly friendly.
“You must leave now.”
Annie frowns. “Can you hold this tower? It can’t be allowed to fall to the spectres. You know how important that is.”
“Can we hold? Can we hold?!” The first is spoken quietly; the second almost shouted. “These are the chosen of God Almighty! The warriors of the Lord! The unholy demons have no power over us. Though they throw themselves against us with all the fury of the damned, we will stand firm. They will break upon us like a wave upon the unyielding stone. We will hold! More than that, we will destroy them utterly. So it is written, so mote it be. We are strong in our faith. We will prevail.” His confidence is echoed by some of the hues, who call out in support. He smiles, the expression at once fierce and beneficent. “Now leave,” he says, pointing away from the tower. Glancing at each other, the three of them go. They have no reason to stay.
They return to their bodies to talk. (Since it’s not an emergency, they don’t bother to ripcord. They just make their way to the agreed rendezvous point and wait for Adrian to drive past and spot them.) Tom is clearly not impressed with Tavoularis at all. He and James are curious about the blessing, and ask Annie for more details. She tries to describe the feeling as best as she can, adding:
“I can’t hear them any more.”
James frowns. “Hear who?”
“The spectres.” James and Tom trade glances.
“You could hear them before?” James asks, his voice cautious.
“Since I came back,” she says softly.  This is the first time she’s mentioned this to someone other than Kate. “Not words; nothing like that. Just a constant, well, buzzing at the back of my mind. Chittering. Like insects.” Almost as an afterthought, she adds. “I don’t think they could hear me.” She hopes.
“I see.” The both of them are looking askance at her now, but they don’t question her further. About an hour after Tavoularis bestowed the blessing, the silence at the back of Annie’s mind abruptly pops, replaced once more by the constant droning and chittering of the spectres. She could almost cry. What she does instead is swear profusely, earning yet more strange looks from the others. In a tight voice, she tells them that the effects of the blessing seem to have worn off. The strange tiredness also disappears, just as abruptly as the silence.  Maybe blocking out the spectres requires some energy expenditure from her. Is it something she can replicate? Can it be done permanently? Unfortunately, this is all a little outside her experience. ‘I need to talk to Kate,’ she decides.
Adrian drives them all back to the warehouse, so they can rest and work out what to do now. The two main leads to follow up on at the moment are the ‘mole people’ mentioned in the Radio Free Death broadcast, and the actual murder sites. Regarding the mole people, paying a visit to the community of living and dead homeless people in the disused City Hall subway station seems to be the best place to start. Given the hostile reaction Tom and Teresa previously encountered there, they figure it would be a good idea to take Carlos, a trained negotiator. Unfortunately he can’t project, and they’re not sure they want to risk taking someone in body. On the other hand, they might be able to help him learn to project: he obviously has the potential for it. He doesn’t seem to be answering his phone at the moment, so Tom leaves a long, rambling and (presumably unintentionally) innuendo-laden message.  Rather than sit around and wait for him to get back to them, they decide to start poking around Kiss’ murder sites.
As they drive into the area, Annie and James become aware of a pall of emotion settling over them. There’s an air of depression and lifelessness. To Annie, it feels like they’re walking into a tomb: the weight of death lies heavy upon this place. It feels as though there should be hundreds of dead here, but if that’s the case, their passing left no ghosts behind. Rory’s ears flatten against his head and his whines unhappily: apparently even dogs can sense it. Tom, however, seems to be oblivious, whistling a merry tune as he keeps an eye out for spooks.
“What’s up with him?” he asks, indicating Rory.
James looks at him with disbelief. “Can’t you feel it?” 
“The stench of death.” Annie can’t quite suppress a shiver.
“Well, there’s a ghost over there.” He points to the pavement up ahead of them. Even from this distance, they can see that it’s a hue, and that his chest is a bloody ruin. This must be one of Kiss’ creations. After a brief discussion, Tom parks the car somewhere out of the way and all three of them project. It’s a risk, but not a great one, and they’re not going far. Rory is left to guard their bodies.
Close to the hue, the feeling is stronger, and tinged with pain. He is whimpering slightly as he wanders, not paying any attention to his surroundings – or to them – as far as they can tell. Tom clears his mind, trying to get an impression of the ghost’s tethers. As with the other ones he and Annie studied, he sees an image of a great storm, possibly the one in the land of the spectres. (It’s also possible it could be the one that used to encircle Ground Zero, but he thinks it more likely to be the other.) There is also a second tether: an image of a bloody knife. Something to do with his murder and mutilation, perhaps? It wouldn’t be surprising. While Tom is working on the hue’s tethers, Annie studies the symbol carved into his chest. As she expected, the language is Ancient Sumerian. The symbol means something like ‘history’, or ‘a beginning’. Interestingly, now she’s standing next to him, she can see that there are other, smaller symbols spreading out from the central one. These don’t seem to have been carved. Rather, they are blooming like flowers on his skin, seeded by the one that Kiss cut into his gauze. It’s as if the hue is being turned into some sort of tablet or scripture.  The three Phoenix spooks debate whether they should disperse this ghost like the others. In the end, they decide to leave it for the time being. They can always come back later. There’s the possibility that they might even be able to break the tethers and pass him over. The storm-related tether won’t be easy, but they might be able to use the fact that they dispersed the storm around Ground Zero. It’s something they’re going to have to think about.
The trio decide to investigate one of the more recent sites; to see if that’s starting to develop the same kind of emotional miasma. They pick the fifth one (where the FBI agents died), as they dispersed the ghosts there. Hopefully, they’ll be able to determine whether dispersing the Kiss’ hues makes a difference. On their way, Tom tries to ring Carlos again. This time, the negotiator picks up his phone. Somewhat confusedly, he asks what the strange message was about. Tom doesn’t explain straight away. Instead, he briefly tells him about the ‘mole people’ lead, and that they plan on looking into it.
“It could be dangerous to go in body,” he adds. “When I went with Teresa before, they were quite hostile. But, we need someone with your skills...”
After a little more hedging, he eventually gets to the point. “We want to teach you to step out of your body.”
“Ooookay.” That isn’t quite the enthusiastic acceptance they were hoping for. Tom tries to sell him on the idea, but Carlos isn’t biting.
When the conversation starts going round in circles, Annie tells Tom to hand her the phone. She explains to Carlos that learning to project and control his abilities gives him another set of options. It would help him to defend himself against hostile spooks, including spectres.
“But the spectres seem pretty harmless to me. They left me alone before.”
“You were in body before. What if you get knocked out of it again? You’ll be a sitting duck.” He thinks that over as she continues to try to make the idea sound attractive. She really does believe it would be a good idea for him to learn this. (As she said: it gives him options.) However, she also has an ulterior motive. Phoenix are very short-handed at the moment. If they can recruit even one more projector – especially if he turns out to be a skimmer – that would be a significant addition to their manpower. Eventually, Carlos says:
“Alright. I’ll give it a go.” They arrange when and where to meet – for some reason, Carlos doesn’t seem to want them to come around to his house – and continue on their way to the fifth site. (They’re almost there, after all.)
There are no ghosts that they can see. Neither Tom nor James sense anything out of the ordinary (and Rory shows no reaction), but Annie says:
“There is something. It’s faint, but it’s here.”  Closing her eyes a moment, she concentrates on what her otherwise senses are telling her. “It feels... very sad. Depressing.” She sounds a little down herself: there’s a definite down side to being so open. The first murder happened nearly a fortnight ago. The one at this site was more recent. Maybe that’s why the emotional residue is so much weaker. There doesn’t seem to be much else the spooks can do here, so they head for their rendezvous with Carlos.
 This is Frank’s player’s new character. It took quite a while to actually introduce him, mainly because the Chicago investigation took longer to play through than any of us really expected. In hindsight, perhaps we should just have summarised the results. [Back]
 Carlos actually left following the botched extraction operation in which Craig was killed. (Osorio had assigned Craig to infiltrate Orpheus. When Craig decided that he liked it better there, Osorio decided that he’d obviously been brainwashed and mounted an operation to retrieve him forcibly. Things went very badly wrong.) [Back]
 Tom was a cop with the NYPD before being recruited by Orpheus. [Back]
 This realisation isn’t actually going to hit until after the events of this session. Assuming, of course, that she survives the events in question, which is by no means guaranteed at this stage. [Back]
 A side benefit of storm wending: never having to pay the vitality cost for walking through solid objects if you don’t want to. Short hops like that one cost zero vitality. [Back]
 This is what the book calls the third Poltergeist horror, and is what I will be using until the player decides what he wants to call it. I’m not going to keep writing “James’ third-tier horror” all the time, as that’s just silly. [Back]
 Somebody botched his stealth roll. Again. Despite having a fairly reasonable dice pool for stealth, I don’t think James’ player has managed to succeed at a single one since he joined the game. It’s become something of a running joke among the group. [Back]
 Yes, he botched his alertness roll as well. Can you guess who had a big target painted on his back? [Back]
 You can tap Spite to recover Vitality. Each temporary Spite point you tap gives you back one Vitality. You then roll a number of dice equal to the number of Spite points you’re tapping. For every one that doesn’t come up a success, you get another point of temporary Spite. [Back]
 This is very different to the phenomenon that heralds a Reaper’s approach. With that, the sound and pressure wave reverberates through the air until the whole area seems to ring like a giant bell. This was just a loud ripping noise. [Back]
 All the Phoenix spooks heard/felt this, but Carlos didn’t. He was much further away than them, however. [Back]
 A fetch is a spectre that looks like a giant dog made of razor blades. They tend to be drawn to vitality spikes. [Back]
 Carlos has sensed the vitality spikes that various spooks keep sending up, but doesn’t know what they are. [Back]
 Tom’s player botched his dodge roll, and the GM rolled astoundingly well for the attack. [Back]
 There was a slight retcon regarding the disposition of the vans and the people in them. When the group met up before staking out the ambush site, Ben joined Hoyt in his van, transferring James’ body into the vehicle with Tom and Annie’s. Hoyt then started driving back to the warehouse. Kerekov stayed in the other van, which he drove to a point out of sight, but within 100ft of the target. This was intended to be the escape route for the sleepers and ghost. (Blink can teleport a group of people up to a distance of 100ft.) [Back]
 Helter skelter. [Back]
 A slang term for the living. It comes from “The Quick and the Dead.” [Back]
 This actually represents the use of a new mechanic that the GM has introduced. For things like planning, research, persuading contacts to do something or other such actions, the player makes the roll as usual, but then can choose where to assign “excess” successes. For example, in this case Frank’s player made a [Manipulation + Bureaucracy + FBI allies] roll, getting a total of six successes. Three of those were needed to get the families moved. The other three, he kept in reserve until needed. This situation was the second time the mechanic has come into play. The first was a tactics-type roll made by James’ player when he was planning Thursday night’s ambush. The player used one of his reserve successes to retroactively say that there would be a mobile phone at the site so the team could contact their drivers. [Back]
 This is an event in her own future, so she doesn’t have to be at the location itself in order to do this. [Back]
 Yeah, I got one measly success on the roll. Still, at least I got something. [Back]
 It was actually Carlos’ player who came up with the idea of using Wail. However, the GM decided that his character doesn’t really know enough about horrors for the suggestion to be an in-character one. Annie, on the other hand, wrote the book on horrors (quite literally), so it’s not outside the realms of feasibility that she might think of something along those lines when prompted by Carlos’ question about counter-rituals. [Back]
 That’s something she and Kerekov have been experimenting with over the past couple of weeks. [Back]
 At this point, the GM had me make an [Intelligence + Occult] roll to work out what the best place would be, and how good a ritual she could cobble together. My base dice pool is seven, plus I got a two dice bonus to represent the fact that I’d be enlisting Kate’s help when it came to actually working out the nuts and bolts of the ritual. I spent a Willpower point to get an automatic success, since there was no way in hell I wanted to risk botching this one. Altogether, I got nine successes. (Remember that – it will be important later. You’ll know when.) Lo, there was much rejoicing from the players and much cursing from the GM. [Back]
 Since September 11th 2001, a vast storm has raged on the metaphysical plane around that site. Spooks who enter the area in gauze form never come out again. Spooks who go in while in their bodies are blinded by the storm and by the haze that fills the area. The ones who’ve tried the latter have mostly survived the experience, but not always with their minds intact. One of the first things new Orpheus spooks were told was: “Don’t go there. Ever.” So, the others’ incredulity isn’t entirely unjustified. [Back]
 Carlos’ player used two of his reserve successes from earlier on arranging transport. That leaves him with one. [Back]
 Unlike spirits, hues can never go about their natural vitality cap. A low-vitality hue, therefore, will need the help of another spook to be able to pull off high-vitality effects. A poltergeist is particularly useful as the benefits of helter-skelter and anathema are to reduce a horror’s vitality cost by two and four points, respectively. [Back]
 Nine successes said this is less risky than trying to enter the area, but hopefully should be just as effective. [Back]
 If it’s not immediately obvious, the plan is to break the storm, and to cleanse Ground Zero of the residue of all those deaths. Annie’s theory is that, rather than just blasting through the storm with sheer power, they should be able to silence it through negative interference. It’s an extension of the same trick she’s been working on with Kerekov. Emotions like peace and serenity seemed the most likely to have the desired effect. [Back]
 Did I mention I got nine bloody successes on the roll to work out the right kind of ritual? And yet, despite that, we seem to have brought the apocalypse down on our heads a few months early. Is that fair? Is that even remotely fair? On the other hand, I suppose we were dealing with assumptions, guesswork and extremely patchy information. Technically, it seems that we achieved exactly what we set out to do: Ground Zero has now been cleansed of whatever residue still clung to it and the storm has been silenced. It just seems that there were some side-effects. Given the recklessness of what we did, I can’t honestly say I blame the GM for inflicting some consequences. I just hope that this takes the spectres as much by surprise as it did the players. The absolute worst thing is that next Monday is a bank holiday, so we have to wait a full two weeks before finding out what happens. I’m not sure I can stand the suspense... [Back]
 There are a few differences between this sequence of events and the one Annie witnessed in the future vision. For a start, the tower isn’t a baroque monstrosity covered in a patchwork of screaming ghosts. Nor could its descent and landing exactly be described as controlled. Finally, the blast wave doesn’t seem to have spread out nearly so far. It’s bad, but hopefully not as bad as it initially seemed. The other possible bright side is that the spectres almost certainly didn’t see this coming (the GM definitely didn’t!), so they’re probably not fully poised to take advantage of it. Hopefully this means there’s still a chance to fix this before it becomes the apocalypse proper. [Back]
 As far as Annie’s concerned, she’s just brought the apocalypse down on their heads. Between that and her memories of dying repeatedly the last time she witnessed this, she’s somewhat freaked out. [Back]
 Everyone caught in the blast wave took one level of bashing damage. Annie and Blink were up high enough that they were above the wave-front, though. Storm-wending is extremely useful in circumstances like this. Blink can transport multiple people up to one hundred feet in a single hop. If it’s just him, he can travel much further. [Back]
 Carlos is obviously out of body, and the glowing hands suggest that he’s a Wisp. The lowest level (zero Vitality) manifestation of this shade allows them to appear as a glowing ball of light. In this form, they can manipulate small objects. [Back]
 Carlos appears to be spontaneously expressing the horror unearthly repose, inadvertently entrancing the poor security guard. [Back]
 The storm damage can be resisted with a stamina roll, like other damage suffered while in gauze. [Back]
 Someone botched their alertness roll. [Back]
 Believe it or not, this little ‘revelation’ didn’t exactly come as a shock to the rest of the players. [Back]
 It was an [Intelligence + Security] roll to get the car open and started without triggering anything inconvenient like an alarm, an auto-locking mechanism or an engine immobiliser. [Back]
 The description of spectres wandering around sparked conversation that resulted in the suggestion of mounting the anti-spook black glass  on the front of a vehicle and using it to mow spectres down. Normal matter just passes harmlessly through them, not even draining any of their energy, so they don’t generally bother to get out of the way of cars. [Back]
 Mention of black glass reminded us that we were going to try to work out if it’s possible to imbue items without dissipating the unfortunate donor spook. This was going to be tested on a strictly volunteer basis, of course. We haven’t gotten around to these experiments yet, though. [Back]
 Finding Ground Zero in almost total darkness occasioned a [Wits + Survival] roll from both of us. The first, fruitless pass represents the grand total of zero successes that we accumulated between us. On the second pass, I got a couple of successes, but Tom’s player botched. The GM decided that meant we found it, but that Tom got hurt. (One level of bashing damage, to be precise.) [Back]
 Hyde is the first known Jason, apparently created during a botched Terrel & Squib operation. During the mission to kill the Reaper, Hyde showed up and butchered Beta crucible’s skimmers, plus their babysitter and driver. More recently, he showed up while the Phoenix spooks were trying to set up an ambush for the train of spectres Craig acquired when he gathered up all the tainted pigment he could get his hands on just before Spook Night. He stabbed the man Craig was puppetting – a drug dealer called Ike Turner – and dragged off the unconscious, bleeding body when Craig jumped out of him. This is the first time they’ve seen him since then. [Back]
 Guess who passed their stealth roll and who failed it. Then again, Tom is on significant wound penalties at the moment. [Back]
 Apparently NPCs can also suffer from botched rolls. That was a double botch, to be precise. There may have been some gloating from the players, possibly tempting fate somewhat. [Back]
 Every hour of uninterrupted sleep allows a skimmer to recover one point of Vitality. Sleepers and ghosts take eight hours to get one point back, which is why skimmers tend to recharge them whenever they can. Sleeping for eight hours also allows both non-projectors and spooks (of all types) to recover a point of Willpower. (This can only be done once per day, thus avoiding the silliness of characters simply sleeping until they get back everything they’ve spent.) [Back]
 Craig has a nice little trick that lets him puppet someone very lightly without actually entering them. It’s very useful in cases like this, when he wants to tell whether or not someone’s possessed without getting into a contest with the puppeteer. [Back]
 The GM has decided that inhabiting an entire suit of clothes (or an object made up of multiple components) will tell you whether a spook is inside any part of it. This means that you don’t have to check every stitch and button individually. [Back]
 The GM deliberately didn’t tell me the difficulty for these rolls, so I have no idea if I got nothing because I failed, because there was nothing to find, or because this was never going to work. I actually prefer that, because it means I don’t have to worry about trying to keep player and character knowledge separate. [Back]
 This is quite unusual. Contrary to what various horror films would have you believe, ghosts don’t actually tend to hang around in graveyards. They tend to haunt either their place of death, or a place that meant something to them in life. [Back]
 Unearthly repose works on anyone who can see it, even if that person is looking back or forward through time. Teresa found that out the hard way, when she used Forebode to look back at Gwynneth and Not-Gwynneth’s activities in Chains. [Back]
 The only known reason for someone to become a hue, rather than a spirit, is if they took Pigment in life. Once is enough. Also, all the evidence to date strongly suggests that someone who’s taken Pigment always leaves a ghost. As the chances of three to four hundred people (including children) all being Pigment users is fairly small, it seems likely that it was given to them, somehow. [Back]
 The GM has decided that Annie takes Vitality damage when in swarm form, losing points of Vitality instead of Health Levels. This may be subject to change, depending on how well it works in play. She only lost one point, as it happens. [Back]
 She’s no longer in swarm form, as she had to drop that to inhabit the window catch. Apparently she can use forebode while using swarm queen, however. [Back]
 I botched my [Perception + Awareness] roll to spot the hues. [Back]
 Tavoularis is using unearthly repose to give himself huge bonuses to [Charisma]. [Back]
 Someone botched her [Perception + Empathy] roll. The dice were not my friends that evening. [Back]
 Given the first botch, I didn’t get to make a roll at this point, which is fair enough. Annie was pretty solidly convinced that this wasn’t Bruno Tavoularis. [Back]
 I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop, believe me. We’d had a two-week gap between the last game and the last, so I was dying to know what was going to happen. I guess in a way it was a little anti-climactic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was hoping that this ‘blessing’, whatever it was, would get rid of her spite. I wasn’t expecting it, but I was hoping. I was half-expecting the experience to turn out to be fatal, however, or to turn her into an NPC somehow. I’m glad it wasn’t either of those. I’m quite fond of this character. [Back]
 I’m assuming that this is an in-character reflection of the fact that Annie came back from the spectres with seven points of permanent Spite. I guess she has a low-level connection to the spectre hive mind. That’s really rather worrying, and something she’d prefer to forget. I figure that’s the main reason she hasn’t actually told anyone else about it until now. [Back]
 Out of character, I wasn’t expecting it to be permanent. For one thing, the GM didn’t change the Spite rating on my character sheet. For another, it would be a little cheesy if there was a horror that could remove permanent Spite. In character, Annie didn’t think she was that lucky, but she was still hoping. Oh well. [Back]
 It was hilarious. Alas, I don’t think I could reproduce it adequately for the write-up, so I haven’t tried. Basically, it ended up sounding like Tom was coming onto Carlos with some really cheesy pick-up lines. It didn’t help that he kept stressing that it was important for Carlos to feel comfortable and relaxed. (It’s true – meditation exercises are useful in helping a new skimmer learn to step out of their body.) [Back]
 Tom’s player failed his [Perception + Awareness] roll to pick up the emotional miasma. Everyone else made theirs. For some reason, I got a two bonus dice to the roll. I’m not quite sure why. My guess would be that it’s either something to do with Forebode (increasing her sensitivity to a place’s aura) or the fact that she’s on her way to becoming a spectre. All in all, I’d rather it was to do with Forebode. [Back]
 I got nine successes on this roll, which is why Annie managed to translate an Ancient Sumerian inscription with merely a glance. (Her [Intelligence + Linguistics] dice pool is nine, and she has an Intelligence speciality of [Analytical], which the GM ruled was applicable in this case. This really is her kind of thing.) [Back]
 It was a [Difficulty 9] roll this time. However, I got five successes. Maybe this is balancing out my recent run of failed rolls. (Not to mention the two botches last time.) [Back]