RP The Hand Strikes IX

illirica

Breaker of Forums
Staff member
[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]The sign outside the door said "Break Room." A Post-It note had been appended, which read "the one where we break [EXPLETIVE]." Despite being technically open to any L-9 personnel, even most L-9ers didn't dare to tread in that particular room. The walls were gray - but covered in burn marks. The ceilings were gray - but definitely had some questionable liquid damage. The floors were gray - and inscribed with a large pentagram made of solidified pink Himalayan salt.

There was a large tattooed man in the middle of the pentagram with his hands folded behind his head, wearing only a pair of boxers - distinctly not gray. Orange, and patterned with obnoxiously bright blue and yellow chameleons. A woman was seated beside him, writing on the right side of his ribcage with a ballpoint pen.

[font color="1E6649"]"This would go much faster if you would hold still, you know."[/font] Agent Gail Weber was left-moded, which meant no-nonsense, cool professionalism, and absolutely no sympathy for others. Some people might have pointed to that as an example of how the Foundation corrupted people, but Agent Weber had been a lawyer prior to joining the ACF and it was generally established that she was just Like That.

[font color="FF4D00"]"Yeah, but it tickles."[/font] This objection was raised by the beshorted man, with an arrogant grin, before he raised his head and craned his neck to look at the progress. [font color="ff4d00"]"And it's gonna hurt like a son of a [EXPLETIVE] when you start doing it with the tattoo pen. Why do you have to do it there, anyway? I still have space on my biceps."[/font]

[font color="1E6649"]"Because we're binding an entity of air,"[/font] came the answer, with all the terse patience of someone who had gone over this already. [font color="1E6649"]"So I want it over your lungs. It gives me a little more room in the contract for extra restrictions if I originate it next to a source of wind."[/font]

[font color="33CCFF"]"You could tattoo it on his buttcheek."[/font] The girl in the corner was hard to notice, despite having a head of blue-tipped white hair that trailed on the floor when she sat lotus-style, which she was. People didn't notice Cait. Most of the time, they never even knew she had been there. Her hands were on her knees, thumbs-to-forefingers in the sign that definitely meant "meditating" and not "[EXPLETIVE]."

The older woman looked up at this statement, tilting her head slightly. This was L-9, after all. [font color="1E6649"]"Might work. Let me look into that."[/font]

[font color="FF4D00"]"You are not tattooing my [EXPLETIVE]ing buttcheek. [EXPLETIVE] you, Corby, you hear me? Go back to your meditation bull[EXPLETIVE]."[/font]

The meditating girl giggled, snorted, then took a breath and got hold of herself, closing her eyes and uttering a slow, wordless tonal chant.

On the other side of the room, where two men were playing some sort of anomalous card game that mostly seemed to involve recapturing the cards before they got too far, one of them looked up. [font color="993033"]"That's the "Song of Time" from Zelda, Cait."[/font] It was no surprise that the team's technical guy was a huge nerd, but it had been a surprise to him that their occult specialist was just as bad, if not worse.

[font color="33CCFF"]"Yes, and I'm meditating on the nature of ti~ime. Seriously, I told you before, anything works, it's the mindset that's important."[/font]

[font color="A32372"]"Your mindset seems quite focused on Mr. Gutierrez' buttcheeks, Miss Corby."[/font] He didn't need to look up to catch the quartz crystal she threw at him, only raised one of the anomalous cards, which sprouted teeth and tiny clawed hands and started attempting to chomp on the crystal like a bat with a banana. The team's doctor - for that was who he was - shook in a few times like a thermometer until the crystal clattered to the floor before setting the card and the rest of his hand on the table. [font color="a32372"]"That's djinn."[/font]
 
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[img src="[URL]https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/426247770299432962/1113324689465540619/Strings.jpg[/URL]" style="width:150px;border-radius:15px;"]

[font color="#53277E"]Code by Illirica[/font][/div][/div][div style="background-color:#90ee90;border-top:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-left:#90ee90 4px inset;border-right:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-bottom:#90ee90 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#90ee90 4px inset;border-left:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-right:#90ee90 4px inset;border-bottom:#ADD8E6 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"][font color="#53277E"]“I dunno. Tailbone right above the crack could work too.”[/font]

The voice was high, nasal, and thickly Alabaman. The accent was intentional. It’d been long enough that it had to be, or at least that’s where all the bets were.

While he certainly hadn’t come through the door it was not at all possible for him to have always been there, since this was L-9, especially not without the question-mark butterfly that SV-2 always tried to send in and babysit him. Six-foot-seven, thin as a rail, and eternally in a lab-coat and broad-brimmed hat with a sawed off shotgun over one shoulder and an impressively well-maintained banjo over the right, even newbies recognized him before even looking him in any of his three eyes. Which there weren’t, there were only two right now, but the third one could be there if it needed to be.

The remaining unmatched pair was taking the room in at a glance from the corner where he definitely-hadn’t-always-been blocking the view of a particularly ugly burnmark, and his perhaps uglier mug was split in half with a crescent-moon grin as his hands idled with banjo strings. A little chalk on the toe of his right shoe betrayed how he’d gotten in, to the observant.

Hocus Locusts was easily his favorite field team. It was probably rude to say that out loud, but a lot of the time it did help to get the other teams off their behinds, and Strings had hardly ever cared what was or wasn’t rude in a non-contractual sense of manners. They were a bunch of [EXPLETIVE]in’ nerds, sure. But they were his hand-picked, highly effective bunch of [EXPLETIVE]in’ nerds. Even and maybe especially HACK’s Irish prettyboy, though Corby certainly could compete. And while Weber shouldn't have counted, she'd given them a hell of a Name.

Speakin of.

[font color="#53277E"]“I ain’t interruptin’ nothin’ important, am I, Duet?”[/font] he asked both of his favorite team-lead, in the tone of someone who knew he was interrupting something important, and could wait if someone dared to ask him to.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]None of the strike team even blinked at the sudden presence of the location's demented head. It went without saying that they were used to this sort of behavior from him. In all honesty, they thrived on it - but people had to be a certain sort of special to end up as Strings' favorites.

[font color="1E6649"]"That depends on if you want a tattoo on your buttcheek, Councilman,"[/font] the team's leader said with a wink and a wave of the ballpoint pen. There had been, at one point, a concern that remarks like this were due to the influence of extraplanar entities, but it had turned out that this was another case where Gail Weber was just Like That. Oddly enough, it turned out that when she was under demonic influence, she was less likely to make catty remarks.

[font color="1e6649"]"We're just making sure the contract will fit in the space. You want a drink or anything?"[/font] Agent Weber always did a dry run on her contracts before she inked them, both because she needed to make sure that it would fit right and because sometimes seeing it written out was helpful in case corrections needed to be made. Of course, sometimes seeing it written out made interns start screaming and need to go lie down for a while until the eldritch nightmares stopped, but the Hocus Locusts were made of either stronger or crazier stuff than that.

The Councilman's remark hadn't gone unnoticed, being echoed by a half-suppressed giggle from the occultist and a regrettably thoughtful [font color="a32372"]"I think doing it that way would introduce the variable of what the cafeteria serves for lunch into the mix,"[/font] from Dr. Seimar, in the tone of someone who was putting way too much medical expertise into considering what was essentially an offhanded fart joke. [font color="a32372"]"Maybe on chili night."[/font]

[font color="ff4d00"]"What brings you here, Strings? Got anything fun, or were you just missing us? I can put pants on if it's gonna be fun."[/font] Nic had pulled himself to a sitting position, completely unashamed of his chameleon boxers. He was one of the few people who could come close to looking the Councilman in the eyes, though Strings still had about an inch and a half on him and Nic had no plans to forgive him for this injustice any time soon, unless the Councilman came up with another plan that was suitably entertaining.

So far, the entertainment value at L-9 had been pretty high.
 
[div style="background-color:#90ee90;border-top:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-left:#90ee90 4px inset;border-right:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-bottom:#90ee90 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#90ee90 4px inset;border-left:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-right:#90ee90 4px inset;border-bottom:#ADD8E6 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]Women (or any people) after his own black heart were few and far between, and as usual Weber exceeded expectations. A brief cackle that was a bit more like a squawk followed her offer, which could have been a genuine consideration for all most knew. He idly waved off the offer of a drink. The L-9 rule of not accepting candy from strangers – well, food or drink from extradimensionals, didn’t necessarily extend to strangers connected to those extradimensionals, but Strings had always been a master of loopholes and always expected such from anybody else. Typically people disappointed him on that front, among others. With Weber, he was just glad she’d never tried to shoehorn into a contract of any kind, because testing the boundaries of her written word would be a massive pain in the [EXPLETIVE]. If anyone could dishonor without breaking that kind of word, it was him. Hell, there were bets on the subject in the triple digits.

But they had better things to do than try to tie each other up in knots.

[font color="#53277E"]“Knowin’ you, Nicky, fun might not mean the pants stay on.”[/font] He didn’t say it like that was a bad thing, necessarily, just a personal preference. [font color="#53277E"]“Might end with a Scottish castle gettin’ blown up if it ain’t anomalous, but I need somebody to double-check first.”[/font]

Once he was sure he had everyone’s attention, he bit down on his thumb and made a small mark on the back of his other hand in the blood. There wasn’t any apparent pain from it, and they’d seen him do something of the sort any time he needed energy to burn. Most people around here were just grateful he was content with using his own, even if it was because it was a little bit more potent than your average intern’s and not because he was above blood sacrifice.

The fluorescents in the gray room dimmed a little as he borrowed some of their light to create a series of images from memory. Considerably faster than HACK’s tech, if messier. Councilmen weren’t really supposed to leave their DNA around, but L-9 tended to focus on other, more important rules.

[font color="#53277E"]“Possible temporal anomaly, or maybe just some cult [EXPLETIVE]in’ around with space-time. Scottish countryside, none too many witnesses until yesterday, lots of historical records that’ll need checked out and maybe taken care of. Nasty disappearances associated with whatever it is. Whole village went dark last night. So’d the cops that went to check it out.”[/font]

Square images of an historic Scottish castle, a peaceful looking little countryside town, and some disturbing images of what was left after the disappearances were taken care of that wouldn’t shake anybody in the room, but might make any intern that nervously poked in there promptly throw up. Sterner or crazier stuff and all that.

[font color="#53277E"]“There’s a formalized report waitin’ for y’all when yer done here. Ain’t too much rush, neither. Doubt there’s much left of them folks for the savin’ department.”[/font]
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"][font color="33CCFF"]"Oh, if it's anomalous, can we keep it? I always wanted a castle..."[/font] Agent Corby's voice was wistful, and immediately made a person think of a little girl fantasizing about being a pretty princess. Of course, any one who actually knew anything about Cait would be much more suspicious.

[font color="993033"]"No inverted mirror hellscape castles, Cait."[/font] Brian knew her very well and had seen through that one instantaneously. He didn't even look up from attempting to return the playing cards to their containment box.

[font color="33CCFF"]"But I think I could do it. The trick would be only reversing gravity once someone passes through the inversion portal, but I think maybe if you set it up when Mercury is in retrograde... I need more powdered obsidian, can we requisition some? Like, a lot. Please, Councilman Strings? Can we keep it?"[/font]

[font color="1E6649"]"No decisions on that until we find out if it's anomalous."[/font] Agent Weber wasn't always the voice of reason, but she was usually the voice of tactics. These things were not necessarily as linked as people expected them to be. [font color="1E6649"]"And you should do a trial run on the spell before you attempt a whole castle."[/font]

[font color="33CCFF"]"Yeah, I guess. All right, groovy, I'm gonna invert the interns' bathroom."[/font] It was a measure of the team's mentality that all of them seemed to find this an acceptable measure. Of course, Caitlynn Corby had always been somewhat of a special case. She had come to the foundation at the age of 13, already an accomplished occultist. It was decided that it would be morally wrong to send a child to L-9, so Cait had started her internship at a low level location where nothing big was supposed to happen. Within six months, she had managed to use only cafeteria supplies to rig a system that summoned an Eldritch horror the next time the kitchen served Thai curry. The Eldritch horror was eventually banished to its own dimension, and Cait was banished to L-9, where she became so enamored of the vibe there that she caused almost no trouble at all for the next year, and then collapsed the 13th floor into a cube that could be carried around in a backpack.

This had gotten fixed, eventually.

Other chatter on the proposition had ended, mostly because Strings had started the light show, and anyone who was going to survive L-9 knew the value of paying attention.

[font color="993033"]"I'll take care of the records. You want the nothing ever happened, not a single mention of it anywhere variant or the Scottish townspeople ingest questionable mushrooms and engage in group hallucinatory behavior variant?"[/font] Both were entirely feasible, of course, it was just a question of how the ACF wanted to swing this particular one.

[font color="1E6649"]"I'm pretty sure we can handle this one either way,"[/font] Agent Weber nodded agreement. [font color="1E6649"]"How noisy do you want us?"[/font]
 
[div style="background-color:#90ee90;border-top:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-left:#90ee90 4px inset;border-right:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-bottom:#90ee90 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#90ee90 4px inset;border-left:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-right:#90ee90 4px inset;border-bottom:#ADD8E6 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]Strings didn’t need to address the castle issue, partly because Weber did, partly because it might not be relevant. Corby was a gifted girl, and a handful under the right circumstances. Maybe the wrong circumstances, to most locations, but even somebody from security had made a comment on how useful the 13th floor trick would be a big help if something else got out. L-9 was just different, different enough that its Councilman’s smile had grown if possible at the mention of that bathroom. Should teach a couple interns to think outside the boxes.

[font color="#53277E"]“Cover-up depends.”[/font] As expected, Brian had spoken up first, and Strings addressed him in a rare semblance of order. [font color="#53277E"]“If there’s anything left of the town? Amnestics and cover story. If everyone’s dead? There ain’t never been a castle or village out that way.”[/font]

As for the question of how noisy…

[font color="#53277E"]“I’ll give the team-leads some operational discretion on how big a ruckus y'all make.”[/font]

Strings was a big fan of ruckus. Quiet had never suited him. But you could learn a lot by being quiet, and sometimes it made someone let their guard down long enough for the surprise BANG! of your stored-up noise to do its rightful damage. Sometimes, yes, the response was very disappointing. STL/RH-IX-S was very good at going out with a bang, with all its damage, and at damage-control. He had a lot of doubt Weber would disappoint him.

And of course, as always, Strings was very interested in seeing what happened.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"][font color="1e6649"]"We'll go in quiet,"[/font] Gail stated, nodding her head decisively. [font color="1e6649"]"Brian, start with some propaganda to keep the locals away, something we can air on local news and weather sites, that sort of thing. Air quality warning or heat index or chemicals from a tanker accident, whatever fits the area. Nothing that'll get them writing to their governments or anything, just some short term 'good day to stay in and catch up on binge watching Spanish soap operas' mindset."[/font]

[font color="FF4d00"]"Hey, don't insult Spanish soap operas, that's my heritage you're talking about."[/font]

[font color="33ccff"]"Nic, you're from Idaho, your heritage is potatoes."[/font]

[font color="ff4d00"]"Look, if all you've got is potatoes, you absolutely need Spanish soap operas to distract you."[/font]

[font color="33ccff"]"You'll watch those, but you won't watch Evangelion-"[/font]

[font color="a32372"]"Ladies. Must we?""[/font] The bickering stopped, without a hint of guilt from either party. Nic leaned back, folding his hands behind his head again, grinning idly at the ceiling.

[font color="1e6649"]"Thank you. Ghost, I want you outside on the perimeter. We'll get a truck for Tech, pretty it up with something innocuous. Road crew - they're everywhere and no one expects them to actually do anything. Tech can monitor the situation and adjust cov-int on the fly as needed; Ghost, you're on walkabout, get your big circle set up in case we need a spell. The rest of us will take a look around and see if there's anyone alive to talk to. If there is, make sure they do. Gonna amnesticize 'em later anyway, so just don't do any permanent damage. Strings, anything you want us to bring along?"[/font] Sometimes he had good ideas, or inklings. Sometimes, the Councilman just had a feeling about things, and those feelings were either going to get them through it alive or bring down the apocalypse, and either way they were worth listening to.

A little apocalypse once in a while kept things interesting, after all.
 
[div style="background-color:#90ee90;border-top:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-left:#90ee90 4px inset;border-right:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-bottom:#90ee90 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#90ee90 4px inset;border-left:#ADD8E6 4px outset;border-right:#90ee90 4px inset;border-bottom:#ADD8E6 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]Gail gave her orders, and Strings kept quiet until she was done. Somebody might’ve been paying attention to something that was an inconsistency among inconsistencies, but not the kind of attention that told them about the oily feeling he’d had more and more often lately. Not his usual slimy inclinations – something else he recognized, and which he’d keep to himself until somebody else needed to know. Hocus Locusts didn’t need to know about it now – they needed to know if he had any suggestions about field tools.

[font color="#53277E"]“Standard kits. Toys to help with convincin’. The works.”[/font] Strings hid his distraction by scratching the middle of his forehead, which did nothing for the stray hairs that somehow had stayed blond into his fifties, but did give him a little insight. [font color="#53277E"]“It’d be bad for quiet, but I could sign off on them bagpipes we got in soundproof storage.”[/font]

To anyone else it might’ve seemed like a bad joke about their destination. Between Strings and Weber, however, it’d make its odd sense. ACF-7841, “Warppipes”. High-Grade Risky in the wrong hands, which was anyone’s hands at L-9 but it was kept here anyway because anywhere else it wouldn’t be as useful. Technically they were Irish pipes, not Scottish, and were old. There were lots of gory details about them – like how you’d always taste blood when you were playing them, or if you weren’t familiar with the baseline instrument they’d sound like screaming. Strings could, of course, play the bagpipes. He had a gift for music – in many people’s opinion, the only good thing he’d ever been able to bring into the world. Whether that was true remained to be seen.

What 7841 was good for was interrupting the sorts of things L-9 collected and contained. Temporal warping, spooks and specters, even low-level ontokinetics. Best application was outdoor use, preferably over a large space. Scottish countryside would work. Inside the castle – well, those would be some interesting acoustics, especially since nobody in Hocus Locusts had someone with “professional bagpiper” on file. Except maybe Tech. Strings hadn’t actually checked about Brian’s musical skills. Maybe he’d surprise him. It was always fun for one of Hack’s boys to surprise him.

[font color="#53277E"]“I’ll take care o’ that. Y’all suit up and get outta here. Keep me updated once yer out there. Ain't never been to Scotland this time of year.”[/font]
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The Warppipes were an interesting offering. They might help, or they might screw things up irreparably, or they might do both. Both was entirely possible.

Two pairs of eyes - three and a half if you counted Strings' - turned towards the team's Irish technical guy, who responded to these gazes with a confused [font color="993033"]"...What?"[/font]

[font color="FF4D00"]"Do you play the bagpipes?"[/font]

[font color="993033"]"No! I played the violin like a normal kid. Do you play the bagpipes?"[/font]

[font color="Ff4d00"]"[EXPLETIVE] if I know, maybe I did!"[/font] Nic didn't actually have any memory of playing the bagpipes, though, so even if he had at one point done so, it was probably somewhat of an invalidated point.

[font color="33CCFF"]"I might be able to figure it out, if you don't need them played well,"[/font] Cait offered, half-seriously for once. Everyone at L-9 was well aware that she had a bit of an idolization problem where Strings was concerned, so it had followed that at some point she'd tried to pick up various instruments, which hadn't been her most successful experiment, though she had managed to pick up drums decently well. Occultists had to be good at timing, or they didn't last long.

Duet had been quiet - the wrong sort of quiet, the sort of quiet that was inward focused and not observationally focused. An eerily thoughtful silence, broken a moment later by: [font color="1e6649"]"I can do it."[/font] Gail wasn't known to play the bagpipes. She was, however, known for frequently whistling to herself, often in harmony. She shrugged. [font color="1e6649"]"The other side likes music. If I let it take over it can play. Might have some unexpected side effects."[/font]

Might meant almost certainly, since handing anomalous bagpipes to a demonic influence while letting it take over enough to play them was the sort of idea that would get shot down almost anywhere.

And if there was one place that wasn't almost anywhere, it was L-9.

[font color="ff4d00"]"Guess I'll go find my pants."[/font]
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]Strings had signed off, with the caveat that someone should record what happened between Duet and the Warppipes.

Castle Kirkavar overlooked a small village of the same name and a body of water that was only part of the naming-family because it was too small to be its own loch. The whole affair was set into a ring of hills, already secluded enough that the rest of the world hadn’t yet heard of it – either now, or in a few centuries. In the southern part of hill-strewn Highlandshire, its primary boast was that like the far more famous Dunkeld it had been burned down in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion.

The only reason the police had even heard about whatever-was-happening outside of missing persons cases was a call from a concerned older woman who hadn’t been able to reach her son in a few days. The Foundation only started to pay attention after the officers they’d sent stopped reporting back; and they only decided to do something after the second set of officers disappeared. Total time since the initial call was one week. The mangled police records were from earlier, other calls from the surrounding area that had spanned months and been chalked up to animal attacks, even if none of the tattered remains showed evidence of being eaten. After all, nobody had heard cannon- or musket-fire since those folks’ disappearance.

The town of Kirkavar was eerily quiet. Cars were parked on the street, but there was no sign of life in any of the neat white houses or their lush front gardens that hadn’t yet had the chance to start growing wild, but did look just a touch unkempt; nor in the bar, bed-and-breakfast, or grocer. No lights were on anywhere. No animal movement, either - no dogs or birds or stray cats to watch the living pass. But there was a smell in the town, not the pungent stench of rot and blood that came with a massacre, but something faintly peppery with a bit of sulfur.

The only blood was in and around the police car. The front was badly mangled, as if it had hit a pole, but it was parked in the middle of the street. Both front doors were open, but only the driver’s side boasted dark red on the seat and pavement beneath. Drag marks, like someone badly wounded pulling themselves away from the wreck, stopped abruptly at the sidewalk nearby, with no bodies to speak of. The keys were in the ignition, switched to off.

From the street, Kirkavar was a ghost town. If there was anyone indoors, they did not move enough to be seen from the windows.
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Date: 6-29-2023

Location: Village of Kirkavar, Scotland

Personnel: STL/RH-IX-S "Hocus Locusts" [Gail Weber, "Duet," A-Class-E; Joshua Seimar, "Leech," R-Class-D; Cait Corby, "Ghost in the Spell," A-Class-C; Brian Connor, "Tech Wizard," A-Class-C; Nic Gutierrez, "Damsel," A-Class-C]

Equipment: ACF-4722, "Seer-Sucker;" ACF-1949, "Demonlitions Rig;" ACF-7841, "Warppipes;" standard strike team weapons and armor; standard medical kit; white van (Scotland British LP 9A5 C4F0); standard road crew survey equipment


Kirkavar, when they reached it, was quiet. Not humanly quiet, but the sort of quiet that came from everything being quiet, gone. There was a difference between what it sounded like when all the people were dead and when all the animals were dead as well. Strike Teams like Hocus Locusts learned to tell the difference.

Or they didn't, and then they got quiet.

In this particular case, the intention was to start out softly. The team had brought the van in near the police car, and Duet was crouched by the bloody stain with Leech, the two of them having a hushed conversation about what the smear could have meant. Damsel was on alert, watching the area while the others got themselves situated, and Ghost was drawing on the pavement with a piece of what was technically chalk.

Chalk, of course, being just tiny little dead things all squished up together, geologically speaking. The circle she'd drawn was big enough to fit all of them if they stood close together, and the runes around it, when activated, would drop anything inside it into another circle of the same dimensions that she'd inscribed about ten miles back. The activation triggers had been inscribed on the inner surfaces of the team's armor, checked and renewed before they'd left. They didn't always need an escape hole, but it was good to know one was there, especially if they were about to cause trouble.

[font color="ff4d00"]"Smells like."[/font]

The sentence didn't have an end. It was messy that way, but it didn't need to have an end. They all knew what it smelled like. They'd smelled it before. Sometimes they'd been the cause of it, if they needed to be. This time, someone else had done it for them.

[font color="1e6649"]"Fan out. Stay in visual range. Do what you do best, don't wait for my order, especially if I'm possessed."[/font] Duet's other half knew [EXPLETIVE]-all about tactical thinking. It was more of a rip, tear, crush sort of thing - which was useful if you needed something ripped up in a hurry.

Or if Ghost needed more chalk.
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]The blood was not quite a day old, which aligned with the time for the second set of officers’ disappearance. By volume it was indicative of severe arterial bleeding; the fact that someone so injured had managed to drag themselves that far was nothing short of a miracle. A meaningless one, it seemed, with an abrupt end.

Despite the smell, there wasn’t any sign of large-scale destruction anywhere around Hocus Locusts. The breeze stirred it around, possibly carrying it from elsewhere, although the direction remained unclear. 

The rest of the street offered little else. In a small village, few cars would be locked, but they offered nothing more than the personal effects of some of the missing. A mirror ornament, earrings in a cupholder, a mug that could have been there a week, or a month, bottom dark with coffee stains; a child’s carseat and toys, a book left open on the passenger seat, spine forever marked by the last page read.

Most of the barely-overgrown gardens were devoid of all but plant life. No insects visited or crawled on the flowers, no birds sang from the hedges. There were signs of pets – a half-faded pawprint from some large dog, the marks of a cat’s claws along the side of a house. There was one clear sign of humanity, however: a single shoeprint, the sole flat and patternless with no sign of outsole, but a sharp, half-square heel. The whole affair was the size of a man’s foot and pressed into soft soil beside one of the paths like someone trying to move with stealth. On that house, a side window was open, invisible from the street but the street still visible from outside it. Some soil on the sill showed someone had stepped through, although inside the house still seemed still as the rest of Kirkavar.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]Blood without a body wasn't all that unusual, but it did give the strike team a better idea of what they might be dealing with. There was a subset of anomalies where you'd get bodies without blood, after all, and those could probably be crossed off the list of potentials. If nothing else, the blood being left alone meant something. What exactly that something was would still need to be pieced together, but it was a start.

[font color="33ccff"]"Want me to try to pull up a phantasm?"[/font] Ghost inquired quietly, kneeling by the smear pattern.

Duet shook her head. [font color="1e6649"]"Not right now. Takes too much time."[/font] Sometimes Ghost could get an afterimage to appear of someone's last moments, but the spell itself was both time consuming and resource heavy. The spell Ghost had worked up only worked during the witching hour, and it required at least an hour's prep work and, for some odd reason, exactly five hundred dollars' worth of powdered diamond, which had to be measured out according to the current exchange rates.

There had been events in the past where they'd had time to burn or they'd had no other choice, but sitting around inside an active anomalous zone waiting for Ghost to chant up a dead guy who might not even have seen what hit them tended not to be a great use of time. She scooped up some of the blood into a little vial anyway, putting a cap on it and tucking it away, either in case they wanted to try it later or because she had some other use for violently spilled blood planned.

Scoping out the area meant it didn't take particularly long to find the footprint, which looked like a relatively normal bootprint. It could have been human, it could have been ano-human, it could have been some eldritch being who liked to stomp around with boots on its tentacles. Hocus Locusts had learned to keep their imaginations open until something became definitive.

There didn't seem to be a similar exit print, however.

[font color="1e6649"]"Go ahead and wall it off."[/font] The team separated, Ghost pulling out her questionable chalk again and making a circle around the house, placing quartz crystals every 6 feet. Tech stayed with her, taking up a guard position as she sat down to start meditating up a cylindrical wall of force that would hopefully keep whatever was in there from escaping, or at least slow it down some. He might have been specialized into computers, but he was also a security agent - and since he'd come through SV-4's recommendation, he was a proper one. He knew his way around a rifle.

The rest of the team stepped inside what would become the barrier zone, a question lingering.

[font color="!e6649"]"Go loud. Barrier will muffle it. Whatever it is probably already knows we're here"[/font] That was all the decision required to prompt Damsel to stick a metallic object onto the windowsill next to the footprint. The team backed off, knowing the distance by rote now, and the so-called Demonlitions Rig made a cheerful little beep, followed moments later by the silence of demonic shrieking. It wasn't a noise so much as one thought there should have been a noise and imagined it for themselves, but everyone tested had pretty much imagined the same thing. This was anomalous, but that was the point.

A house could not generally withstand a pack of demons tearing into it, so this left a sizeable hole in the wall. The strike team was on watch, of course, to see if they'd scared up anything of interest, but if nothing came out to them, then it was time to go in.

Fortunately, they now had a pretty good doorway.[/div]
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]There was a rustle in the curtains of the house’s second story as the team discussed their plan. Not enough to see what was behind it – but just enough to notice life, the first movement in the whole town besides the uncaring wind.

A startled scream, a real noise, tuned itself to the Demonlitions rig. Anyone familiar with the different kinds of human terror would recognize this as surprise, which quickly cut itself off. Not cut off as in, “there’s no breath left to scream with,” but much more likely as in, “to avoid any more notice.”

The wall gaped open to reveal what was likely the house’s kitchen. There was a doorway to the left that led into a larger space, although nothing could be seen beyond that.

There was movement from that side room, the soft motion of something trying to avoid notice. A rustle as of clothes, the creak of a floorboard. The soft click of a shoe that would be almost silent on moor mud, but instead betrayed itself on hardwood. Soft, incredibly soft words in a language almost recognizable, but in the tone of a swear; then several more hurried steps away from the doorway before the body seemed to settle.

And then a voice, in Scotts brogue far thicker than even Strings’ Southern lilt. If that could be cut with a knife, this would probably take a sledgehammer and still be standing. Or perhaps another blast from the Rig, if someone felt especially creative.

[font color="B06500"]"Dinnae come ony closer. Ah - a've git a gun. A've git a gun 'n' shot 'n' ah will pumpin' murdurr ye if ye come in 'ere. Ah'ament comin' oot. Bade whaur ye ware. Whit urr ye? whit dae yi'll waant?"[/font]

A young man’s voice with nothing more that could be identified offhand, except perhaps the slightest quiver of fear disguised as brash assumption of control.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]
[font color="a32372"]"He's got a gun."[/font]

[font color="ff4d00"]"'You idiot, we've all got guns!'"[/font] There was zero hesitation on the paraphrase. Ghost's responding giggle could be heard over the audio line, as could the doctor's responding aggrieved sigh. The statement was not, however, inaccurate. Leech had his standard paintball-style gun filled with questionable content, Damsel had a standard shotgun much like the one the Councilman carried, and Duet was currently dangling a rifle off her finger by its carry strap, swinging it back and forth.

The team knew what that meant. Her index finger pointed lazily upward, and Damsel obligingly put a shotgun blast into the ceiling just below where they'd seen the motion on the second floor from outside. It was possible that there was still something up there, and if there was, they wanted it to come join the party.

[font color="a32372"]"Sir, if you're in your left mind, I'd recommend stepping out, unarmed, with your hands up, and telling us what you know about what happened in this place."[/font] Leech was currently the voice of reason on the team.

Duet was whistling, something lilting and longing and quite possibly Scottish in origin. It was probably meant to be played on the bagpipes, but she hadn't gotten those out just yet. She was harmonizing with herself, which shouldn't have been possible, but they were used to it.

[font color="a32372"]"I'd recommend doing so expeditiously."[/font]
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]A long pause, from within. Maybe he just didn’t find the reference funny, or didn’t get it at all. Maybe he needed time to think, maybe it was just better to be quiet right now, maybe quiet was safer – best not to draw attention, draw fire.

There was no more movement on the second floor, but there was a hiss of sharp breath at the sound of the shotgun blast. The pause lasted a little longer, except perhaps a whispered breath of song, words to a tune without a melody. The voice wasn’t good, but maybe that was just because it was quiet. He knew the song, though, perhaps enough to ground himself. Old, maybe, familiar, certainly.

Apparently not familiar enough to gain his trust, it’d seem, when he finally got enough hold of himself to speak clearly again.

[font color="B06500"]"A dinnae ken whit happened. Ah dinnae even ken whaur a'm."[/font] Just a little hesitation, a little confusion or maybe hope as he waited to see if these people would give him an answer. Then, addended: [font color="B06500"]"N' A dinnae ken whit ye sassenach bastards waant bit - ah will blether tae ye. Bit ah'ament comin' oot. Nae wi'oot terms."[/font]

Left or right mind, the voice seemed determined to remain wherever it had settled. It carried the same forced confidence as before – maybe a little more forced, a little less confidence. Expecting this to go badly, but now too deep to change its mind; not stubborn enough to be unreasonable, but enough distrust to keep him from giving in.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]
[font color="ff4d00"]"...What'd he say?"[/font] Demonic babble and Eldritch whispers were one thing, but Scottish brogue was something else entirely.

[font color="993033"]"He says he doesn't know what happened or where he is and he's not coming out without terms. And also he thinks you're English bastard."[/font] Tech might not have been Scottish, but he was Scottish-adjacent enough to understand what was being said.

[font color="ff4d00"]"Do I tell him I'm from Idaho or does that not help?"[/font] Damsel was keeping his gaze mostly upward, in the direction of whatever was up there. There was a song up there, and singing always meant some sort of chaos, at least around L-9.

[font color="33ccff"]"Being from Idaho never helps."[/font] This was one of those phrases that was not exactly refutable.

[font color="A32372"]"All right, enough."[/font] Leech was used to it. [font color="A32372"]"Okay, sir. Here's some terms: if you're not out here by the time she finishes whistling that song, she's going to come in after you, so if you recognize the song, you'll know about how long you've got to decide."[/font]
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]He listened again to the words spoken outside, not all to him but hardly kept quiet, either. Two men with odd accents, one from someplace called I’d-a-Hoe, the other their apparent spokesperson. Two people farther off, harder to hear, maybe one female, maybe one male, hard to tell. And a woman singing, the one who’d given orders. He did know the song, and he caught the verse.

He didn’t really have that long at all. And despite what he’d told them, he didn’t have his own musket.

His pride tried to tell him that it wouldn’t be so bad, dying here like this. Without a field to die on, maybe it was better to go in this strange empty town full of odd structures, to strangers from I’d-a-Hoe. At least he could fight.

Except the strangers that thought that he might know could know more than him. They had to be from this place, or close, they had to know something. And they could shoot him down before he could get anywhere near enough to use a sword.

There wasn’t time to wrestle with himself, as the song wound down. He had to make a decision.

A rustle again of movement, and then the appearance of something long and heavy, which struck the ground with a great clatter. Not a musket at all – a longsword, with a basket hilt. Much lighter than the claymore, but good against an old-fashioned sort of gun, the kind with a bayonet. Then another, lighter clatter of a dagger following. And the heavy thud of a round shield on top of both.

He raised his hands, then stepped through the door, then out toward the hole. His steps were slow and deliberate, even if his mouth was dry and his breath hitched slightly every so often. The mud of weeks outdoors in the rain, now dried to caked dirt that stuck too tightly to be washed off, obscured only a little of his decidedly antiquated appearance from those interested.

Unlike the usual, distinctive tartans of red, green, or blue, his kilt was black with squares of brown; the cloak about his shoulders was mostly deep purple, with distinct lines of white. High socks reached his knees, and the shoes he wore – open-laced gillies – had the sharp heel that would match the mark in the garden, upon investigation. A black cap sat slightly awry on his head, with a white rose-shaped cockade pinned to one side and a sprig of monkshood on the brim.

Under the cap and its wilted wolfsbane, the hair was greasy brown, not the distinctive ginger most might expect. There were no bangs tin the front; it was tied behind his head at the nape of the neck in a limply hanging ponytail. His eyes were piercing grey, and even as they squinted in the summer sunlight they moved erratically between all members of the team. A long, broken nose sat above a firmly set mouth.

Yet despite the set, the face was young under all the dirt. Unlike the fashion of his clothes, he had no beard, just some dark scruff that might indicate he was trying to grow it out. He was far from scrawny, with the build of someone who’d spent a great deal of his relatively short life outdoors and active, but there was also a telling thinness to his face that indicated he might not eat well, or regularly. He walked with the stiffness of someone who would run at the slightest provocation, unaware there was a barrier between himself and the street, but all too aware of every weapon present, however odd to him. He would wait to see if they decided to kill him before he made up his mind to speak again.
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[div style="border-top: 4px #CCCCCC solid; border-bottom: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #000000 solid; border-right: 4px #000000 solid;"][div style="border-right: 4px #cccccc solid; border-left: 4px #cccccc solid; border-bottom: 4px #000000 solid; border-top: 4px #000000 solid;padding:8px; background-color:white;color:black;font-family:'courier new';"]
To the disappointment of those who were hoping for immediate chaos, the man decided to show himself. The strike team looked him over with the sort of critical eye that was good at picking up the small details that might be part of a larger picture. They'd learned to pick things apart, at L-9 - and if they couldn't be picked apart, they could usually be torn apart, broken apart, or otherwise rendered into little pieces that might tell more about what was going on than a simple glance at the outside.

On the other hand, sometimes that didn't work out so well. For now, Duet had stopped whistling, not quite at the end of the song, but she'd truncated herself at the arrival of the man, giving him the same critical looking over as the rest of them.

She didn't ask him his Name, of course - they all knew where that sort of thing was likely to lead. Instead, she reclaimed a more proper grip on the rifle, at least deigning to put the strap back over her shoulder instead of dangling it like a child's toy.

[font color="1E6649"]"Hm. You wouldn't happen to know today's date, would you?"[/font]

As opening questions went, it was probably not what the man was expecting - but then again, Hocus Locusts excelled in doing things that weren't what people were expecting. It was why Strings kept them around, after all.
 
[div style="background-color:#0065BF;border-top:#0065BF 4px outset;border-left:#0065BF 4px inset;border-right:#0065BF 4px outset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px inset;"][div style="border-top:#0065BF 4px inset;border-left:#0065BF 4px outset;border-right:#0065BF 4px inset;border-bottom:#0065BF 4px outset;"][div style="background-color:white;color:black;padding:15px;font-family:courier new;"]They didn’t shoot him right away, which was a blessing. As his eyes adjusted he once more saw the odd figures in strange armor. His first contact with people since he found himself here, and it was this. Admittedly better than he expected, but he remained tense in case one of them decided his words were false. At least it was an answerable question, and not something like "how did you get here?" That would’ve been complicated.

[font color="B06500"]"Tis - Juin, th' year o' oor laird 2023."[/font] That’s what the calendar in what he had to assume was the kitchen had been turned to. The day hadn't been marked. [font color="B06500"]"Bit twa days ago 'twas th' tenth o' Ochtober, 1745."[/font]

That was the answer that the strange woman who’d graciously stopped singing actually wanted, he understood. But – that was it. It had been then, and this was…now. He couldn’t even tell where this was supposed to be. Although he was glad they shared a language. He watched the biggest figure from the corner of his eye, but he continued to speak to the woman.

[font color="B06500"]"A dinnae ken howfur. Something changed, 'n' noo a'm 'ere."[/font]
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