The game opened with Eddie, a private investigator hired by Jason Talbot, driving north on I-90 in Montana with Max. Jason Talbot is the multimillionaire CEO of Logicwyrx and father of Paul Talbot, an autistic child kidnapped by Brett Volsky, a psychotic fugitive from a Washington hospital with a trail of victims, including one dead, leading from Washington to Montana. Max is Paul’s main caregiver.
Eddie’s cell phone rang. It was a reliable contact of his on the Seattle police department. His friend informed him the FBI had just received a tip Volsky had been identified by a sheriff’s deputy near Superior, Montana. Volsky had assaulted the deputy, hospitalizing him (broken jaw, ribs, concussion). Eddie thanked his contact and called Jason Talbot to update him. Jason told Eddie he’d already contacted Sonny, the guide he’d hired, and asked him to head to Superior, Montana. Max entered Superior, Montana into the GPS and Eddie hit the gas. Eddie wasn’t keen on someone kidnapping someone’s son, not after losing his two boys to his cheating ex-wife in a custody battle. Max seemed happy to hear Paul might have been spotted.
Several miles south and heading east on Highway 200 in his comfortable Crown Victoria, OHS agent Reginald Cheney III received an update from his boss that Volsky had been spotted in Superior, some distance to the northwest. Reggie fumed at the realization he’d just missed the next turn-off and had a good distance to go before he could turn around. Being stuck behind trucks transporting horses (who took inexplicable delight releasing hay out the back of the trailer) only worsened the situation. Finally, he was able to exit (the horse trailers took the same exit, of course, and the same turn he took to get back onto the highway) and head back towards Superior.
In a dump of a Super 8 on the south side of Missoula, Deena Scullay hectically packed her bags. Her toilet had overflowed and she’d had to wait for another room to open up to get a shower in. She was more than two hours behind the rest of her team and frustrated after a night without much sleep (she was confident they’d filmed an adult movie in the room next to hers given the all-night noise coming through the wall).
Deena’s phone rang and an agent from the Phoenix office told her she needed to head for Superior, Montana (the rest of her team was out of communication, following up on a sighting of Volsky in eastern Montana). Deena finished zipping up her travel bag, trotted out to her rented Prius, and drove as fast as its little engine could get her to Superior. At one point, she was stuck behind a monstrous Crown Victoria federal car with a furious driver (the car would swerve as he smacked the dashboard or steering wheel). Fortunately, the car exited a bit ahead of Superior, allowing Deena to relax some.
Back in Superior, Eddie and Max pulled into a parking spot outside the sheriff’s office. It was a small thing (three desks, a small dispatch area, and the sheriff’s office), visible through the huge glass front. The door had County Sheriff in fancy gold stencil letters with black dropshadow. Eddie opened the front door, jerking slightly at the sound of the bell over the door. Max noted the quaint Americana of the scene. Sheriff Vin McGee leaned against his office door’s jamb, asking in a southwestern accent if he could help.
Eddie and Max introduced themselves and Eddie handed the sheriff a business card. The sheriff asked if they were working with the FBI on the kidnap case. Eddie explained he was a PI working for the father of the kidnap victim and that Max was the child’s main caregiver. The sheriff digested this and explained what little he had so far (matching what Eddie had already heard)—his deputy had been found at the side of the road not far from his car, unconscious, earlier that morning. He’d been beaten pretty badly (broken jaw, concussion, broken nose, black eye). He was taken to the hospital and when he came around, he scribbled “Volsky” on a pad of paper and confirmed he was talking about Brett Volsky. A search of the area not far from the assault turned up the vehicle Volsky had stolen in Missoula.
Eddie asked for copies of anything the sheriff had on the case. Sheriff McGee grabbed his file from a largely-empty filing cabinet and proceeded to make copies on his cheap multi-function printer/copier/scanner. As he handed the copies to Eddie, the sheriff stared out onto Main Street through the front window. Eddie turned and saw a young, athletic Native American hopping out the back of a beat up pickup truck, an AR-15 and duffle bag in his powerful hands. The Native American man stepped up to the sheriff’s office and entered. Introductions were exchanged, with Sonny and Eddie agreeing to step out and catch Sonny (the Native American) up on everything.
Up in the mountains west of Superior, Michael Varsik scoured a small clear for evidence. His high-powered rifle was slung over his shoulder, his sidearm holstered on his hip. Michael was a proud member of the US Park Service’s law enforcement program. He was on the trail of a couple poachers who had in the last month killed an elk and a deer. He was fairly confident the poachers were using Izhmash Tigr rifles based on the rounds (7.62mm) and a couple witness accounts.
While searching an area on the mountain from his vehicle, Michael had spotted a glint of metal and stopped his Jeep to investigate. He looked now at the fruits of his efforts—two 7.62 shell casings and some boot prints that matched the poachers’. He searched around a bit more, hoping for some sign that he was closing in on the poachers, all the while wondering if they would surrender or put up a fight. His focus was so tight on his hunt that he didn’t see or hear the giant man until it was too late.
Volsky’s first swing lifted Michael completely off the ground, knocking him cold. He gave Michael’s ribs a couple solid kicks just to be sure then ran back to grab Paul. Without so much as a glance back, Volsky clambered into the Park Service vehicle and drove off, leaving Michael to the mercy of the wild.
Eddie, Max, and Sonny stepped out of the sheriff’s office, stopping at Eddie’s SUV to spread out Sonny’s well-worn map of the area. As they talked about possible places to search, a Prius pulled up and squeezed into a parking spot a couple spots up from their SUV. A very attractive young woman dressed in new, fairly comfortable outdoors clothing stepped out of the car even as a Crown Victoria pulled up onto the sidewalk, nearly grazing the Prius as it parked. An angry man in a business suit stepped out of the monstrous car and almost sprinted for the sheriff’s office. The attractive woman rolled her eyes and followed.
Inside the sheriff’s office, Deena and Reginald introduced themselves to the sheriff and gathered what information he had. Reginald all but made a fool of himself, talking about 9/11 conspiracies and terrorists. Deena did her best to exhibit some level of control, but Reginald truly tried her patience. At the mention of the men hired by the kidnapping victim’s father to find his son, Deena decided to see if she could find out anything new from them.
Reginald intended to listen in, but he was distracted by a car with Washington license plates. He jogged over to the car, jotted down information on it, then decided to head out to the site where the deputy had been assaulted. He headed for his Crown Victoria and heard the others discussing heading to the same site. Reggie (he made clear the others could call him that) gave the others an opportunity to invite him; as he suspected, they failed to understand the gravity of the situation and climbed into the private investigator’s SUV without inviting him. Reggie followed the SUV with his Crown Victoria.
The site, a small road (Terrace View Road) just off the main frontage road (Diamond Road) was fairly lightly traveled. There were markings for the deputy’s and Volsky’s cars. Deena and Eddie carefully searched the area for evidence; Sonny and Max assisted. At first it appeared the sheriff had done a good job combing the area, but someone stumbled across a damp matchbook caught up in some brambles. The matchbook was in condition that pointed to it having been out in the open for only a short while. Inside was the address and name of a bar and grill in Idaho (Sundown Saloon, in Coeur de Alene). Eddie said that would’ve been along Volsky’s suspected route. With a heavy sigh, Deena sealed the matchbook in an evidence bag, even though it had been compromised for fingerprints.
Sonny searched around the area and found a trail leading up into the mountains. A quick walkthrough left everyone comfortable about how the scene had played out. Volsky had spotted the trail, probably while trying to hide his stolen vehicle. He’d been in the process of heading up the trail with Paul when the deputy had arrived. Volsky had hidden until the deputy was caught up in searching the vehicle then had closed and assaulted the deputy. He’d then headed up the trail with Paul.
Reggie decided to head back to town to further investigate the car with Washington plates and to buy some hiking boots. The others decided to head up the trail and see if they could find anything more on Volsky.
Reggie cursed angrily as he drove past the empty parking spot where the car with Washington plates had been. He pulled into the spot and looked around. There were a few establishments—a liquor store, a Tru Value, and an IGA grocer/diner—that offered potential witnesses. Reggie ran into the establishments, flashed his badge, and asked around about the driver of the vehicle. He came away with the information he’d been expecting. There were four men, Arabs or Pakistanis, in the vehicle. They’d bought some supplies from the IGA grocery store and driven off. Reggie had his terrorist lead.
Sonny led Deena, Eddie, and Max up the trail some distance, stopping occasionally to try to identify the most current boot prints. Everything pointed to a large pair of work boots—probably Wolverines, size 12 or 13. Deena said Volsky was a former construction worker and he’d acquired some of his belongings before kidnapping Paul, including some clothes. As Sonny searched one area to reacquire Volsky’s path, he heard someone approaching from above. He signaled everyone to hide and stay quiet. Eddie and Deena readied themselves to draw, Sonny readied to close with the man reputed to have beaten grown men into comas and to have stabbed someone to death. Max watched, hoping he wouldn’t have to prove himself in battle.
A man in vomit-covered park service uniform stumbled past them on the trail. He was letting gravity do the work for him as he descended the trail. Deena suspected he was suffering from a concussion based on the wicked swelling along the left side of his face. Sonny moved from cover to catch the ranger as his legs finally buckled. Sonny set the ranger to the ground. Deena checked him out and strengthened her suspicions of a concussion. The ranger was barely able to string together a meaningful sentence. Eddie turned out to have the strongest signal on his cell phone, so he called for an ambulance to meet them near the site where the deputy had earlier been found. Sonny and Eddie helped the ranger (who mumbled his name was Michael) down the trail.
The ambulance arrived as Michael began to show signs of recovery. He said the nausea was past and he was starting get over the worst of the headache. Deena explained the implications of a concussion and warned Michael to take it easy. The paramedics checked Michael out and recommended he go to a hospital for further evaluation but couldn’t force him to do so. Michael decided against that, instead asking for a ride into Superior.
While Michael was being checked out by the paramedics, Deena, Eddie, Max, and Sonny discussed their next step. Michael had managed to identify Volsky as his assailant and said Volsky had stolen his Jeep but left him with his sidearm and rifle. Everyone agreed that Volsky gaining a vehicle changed the complexion of the chase. They decided to head into town to see if they could rent an off-road vehicle. A quick Google iPhone search got them a phone number in Superior. They called and requested a hold on the vehicle.
Back in Superior, Reggie, now supplied with hiking boots and outdoor clothing, asked around for any place that might rent off-road vehicles. He was given directions to a place not far from the store where he’d purchased his gear. The establishment had two Jeeps that it rented out to the occasional tourist. Reggie strolled across town and came to a run-down camping and fishing supplier with a single banged-up Jeep Liberty parked outside it. A grizzled old man was hastily wiping down and hand-vacuuming the vehicle interior while his pudgy young assistant sprayed foam into a partially deflated tire. Reggie already knew the answer, but he asked the old man if the Jeep could be rented. The old man said the renters were on their way and nodded towards the SUV Reggie knew all too well. Reggie asked about the other Jeep and discovered it had been rented not an hour ago by four foreigners. Reggie determined these foreigners were his terrorist suspects. The old man said they’d driven northwest out of town.
Deena, Eddie, Max, and Sonny climbed out of Eddie’s SUV and headed for the rental place. They nodded at Reggie, who quickly explained to them the kidnapping case was bigger than they understood and they needed to let him rent the remaining Jeep. Deena explained it had been rented by private citizens and she had no reason to believe there was anything more than a kidnapping case—a felony crime that was clearly in the FBI’s jurisdiction—at stake. Reggie sighed loudly and asked if he could accompany them.
The ambulance dropped Michael off at the sheriff’s office. He went in, introduced himself to Sheriff McGee, made a statement, reported in to the nearest park service station, freshened up, and headed out, unsure what he should do while waiting for someone to come pick him up (it could be later that evening or two days . . . resources were stretched thin at the moment and him having suffered a concussion all but guaranteed he would be put on sick leave for a few days). As he walked through tow, Michael saw the folks who’d helped him earlier chatting in front of a banged up Jeep Liberty. He decided to check up on them.
With Deena’s reluctant support, the group agreed to allow Reggie to join them. Deena excused herself to run grab some coffee and supplies for the trip just as Michael arrived; Max and Sonny offered to help her. Deena asked Michael how he was doing. He said he’d felt better but would be okay. After a quick exchange with the others, Michael asked if he could accompany them. The idea of recovering his Jeep held greater appeal than having to deal with stolen property reports.
Deena, Max, and Sony returned to the Jeep, loaded up with water, trail mix, energy bars, and sports drinks. Deena had a huge cup of coffee in her left hand and a dozen candy bars stuffed into her ever-present travel bag. She hoped the coffee would calm her nerves. Heading up into the mountains with a transplanted bayou PI, a nanny, and an unhinged intelligence agent was not what she’d hoped for when she’d woken up that morning.
Sonny sat behind the wheel, Eddie rode shotgun, leaving Deena to squeeze between Max and Reggie. Michael rode in the back of the Jeep, clinging to the rusty roller bars. After consulting his map, Sonny decided to take Thompson Creek Road (based off Reggie’s description of his prey’s behavior) before heading back up towards Thompson Peak.
The Jeep proved a bit of a challenge to control, with unbalanced tires, a lot of play in the steering, shot suspension, and a sluggish transmission. Sonny did what he could to compensate, but there were limits. After several minutes of aggressive driving on Thompson Creek Road, Sonny turned south and headed onto a hiking trail that would take them to Thompson Peak. The drive was even more challenging as the trail became rougher. Sonny stopped a couple times to confirm they were indeed following a vehicle with similarly nearly-bald tires.
Nearly 30 minutes into the drive, Sonny spotted something off the trail and braked hard. Everyone quickly piled out to investigate. A little way off the trail they found a hiker’s corpse. He’d been stabbed repeatedly and his throat cut. Deena preserved the crime scene this time, recovering the hiker’s wallet and backpack without anyone else touching it. The wallet held a California driver’s license with a Bakersfield address. No one had enough signal to call in the corpse at the moment. Deena searched the area for any other evidence and snapped several photos (as did others) with her phone before saying they should move on. Sonny confirmed there were no other tracks beyond those of the Jeep they were following.
Deena and Eddie pondered the significance of the murdered hiker as Sonny took the protesting Jeep higher up the mountain. The wounds looked exactly like those of Jarrod Cleveland, the murdered Western State Hospital orderly, yet there was no indication Volsky had been in the area. Deena asked Reggie about his “terrorists,” but Reggie was suddenly quiet.
Reggie knew his prey had gotten sloppy. Ayman Abu Aita loved to finish off witnesses with very bloody knifework. Reggie figured he was hot on the trail and had a chance to take Aita and his team down, but he didn’t feel it was safe to bring civilians in on the particulars just yet. He figured he’d find a moment to pull Agent Scullay aside to give her a better explanation before things got too hot. He was wrong, of course.
As they approached a particularly treacherous stretch of trail that had at its right a fairly steep drop down the mountainside, Sonny lost control. The Jeep plunged over the side of the trail despite Sonny’s best efforts, accelerating, twisting, bucking. Deena tried to brace against the seats in front of her but misjudged, banging her forehead against the seat back and slipping into unconsciousness. In the cargo trunk, Michael struggled to hang on. His head banged against one of the roller bars and, already suffering from the effects of a concussion, he blacked out.
Sonny struggled to regain control of the Jeep, turning in the direction he figured most likely to stop or slow the plunge. The Jeep groaned and hopped, coming down with an abrupt crash, throwing Michael free. Sonny’s shoulder strap gave and his face slammed into the steering wheel. He blacked out just as the Jeep came to an sudden halt against a boulder.
Reggie and Eddie, fearing a Hollywood moment, leapt from the vehicle, looking for any sign of flames. There was fluid leaking from the front grill, but it was apparently just a ruptured radiator or water line. Max checked on Sonny and Deena, unbuckling them and pulling them from the Jeep. He told Eddie and Reggie to find Michael. They found him about 20 feet up the trail, scraped and unconscious but alive.
As Max tended to the three unconscious folks, Reggie surveyed their surroundings and Eddie surveyed the Jeep. Reggie still couldn’t get enough signal to manage a connection. The mountainside looked the same as any other mountainside to him. They were in a stretch of very light vegetation, probably the result of the steepness of the cliff as much as the lack of decent soil for trees to grow in. Eddie saw that the driver’s side tire was flat, probably the result of hitting a rock during the plunge. Still, he looked closer. He found the hole and realized something was wrong. A rock should have scraped the rim in the area of impact given the placement of the hole, but there was no scrape. Eddie pulled out a knife and probed inside the tire. He saw what he’d feared he might see and worked the object loose from the wheel.
Eddie turned around to show Reggie what he’d found. Reggie looked at it and looked up the cliff. Max had brought the three unconscious folks around. Reggie told everyone to get some cover, they’d been fired at, tossing aside a flattened piece of lead. As people moved towards cover, a shot rang out and two impacts sent dirt and stone into the air not far away.
Sonny shook off the worst of his wooziness and gathered up his AR-15. He called to Eddie and Reggie, telling them he was going to head northeast to flank the shooters. Reggie pulled his sidearm and said he would head straight up the mountainside, keeping the shooters focused on him. Michael woozily said he would provide cover fire. Deena and Eddie shook their heads at the cowboy bravery (insanity?) of the three. Deena ordered Max to stay under cover; Max complied.
Sonny headed off at a near run, squatting low as he moved from boulder to scrub to rock mound. Reggie did the same, zig-zagging as he sprinted up the mountainside, just as he had months before in Afghanistan. Shots rang out and everyone finally figured out where at least one of the shooters were (also determining the second shooter had a silencer). Finally, Michael tagged the shooter with the un-silenced rifle. Seconds later, Sonny winged the second shooter, who was moving to assist his wounded comrade.
With the shooters apparently in retreat, Deena, Eddie, and Michael began the demanding sprint up the mountainside. Reggie and Sonny pressed the attack, alternately sprinting, taking cover, and popping off shots to keep their opponents pinned down or retreating. Sonny came up on the trail first and spotted one of the shooters running for the treeline above the trail. Reggie crested the road not far from where the Jeep had gone over. They ran towards the shooter, shouting for him to surrender. Reggie punctuated his shouts with Arabic insults. The shooter spun and fired. He took another hit, staggered, tried to fire his rifle with one hand, and went down with a final, fatal hit.
As Reggie moved towards the fallen shooter, Sonny spotted the second shooter, who was sighting in on Reggie. Sonny shouted, took a shot at the second shooter, then sprinted towards the trees hiding him. The shooter winged Reggie then ran. Reggie grabbed the dead shooter’s rifle and ran for the treeline as Deena, Eddie, and Michael crested the trail.
Deena ran for the dead shooter, grabbing out his ID and sidearm with evidence bags. Michael ran for the treeline while Eddie took cover. Sonny and Reggie took a couple shots at the retreating shooter before sprinting after him. Sonny eventually started closing the gap on the shooter while Reggie began falling behind. Reggie gave up the chase, doubling over to catch his breath. Sonny doggedly pursued, even as the sun dropped behind the mountain, casting everything in long shadows. When he lost the shooter in the shadows and trees, he stopped to listen. Something in the silence of the woods set his nerves on edge. He realized he hadn’t seen a squirrel or hare or hawk or goat his entire run. There was nothing in the forest at the moment, nothing but him and the shooter. And something in the brush nearby.
Sonny spun, listening, looking, straining to identify the source of a strange, insect-like noise. It was an almost mechanical ticking sound. He was sure he’d found the source of the sound, spotting a tree limb moving as if someone had pushed against it, but there was nothing there. The sun descended further, the shadows lengthened, and Sonny’s sweat began to cool on his skin. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his stomach turned. He decided the chase was over for the moment and began a controlled descent towards the others. The ticking sound came again and he clearly saw a bush give as something pushed past it, but there was no “something” to be seen. Sonny decided a controlled descent was less appropriate than a speedy one. He began to jog then sprint downhill, ignoring the protest of his legs.
Down below, Reggie rejoined Michael and Deena at the corpse. Deena had the evidence bagged and set aside. Eddie, who had run down to the Jeep to retrieve Deena’s travel bag, rejoined them. Deena pulled out her medical supplies and put the evidence bags inside her travel bag. She tended to Reggie’s wound and did what she could for everyone else with Max’s assistance. Max then bandaged Deena’s forehead.
Sonny returned from his pursuit, winded and edgy. He told them he’d lost the shooter in the trees and suggested the get down to the Jeep and set up camp for the night. Working together, they managed to set up a small fire and a cover against wind and rain. Reggie told everyone what he felt he could safely divulge—the kidnapping was masterminded by terrorists who wanted the boy for leverage to influence his father. They were cramped, uncomfortable, and a little loopy from their wounds, but they were also exhausted. After wolfing down some of the granola and trail mix, they all fell asleep. And dreamed.
Deena dreamed of her brother, smiling as he finally wore Marine BDUs. He stood in ruins and looked towards a bright horizon, telling her he had finally done it and was living his dream of service. He stepped out of the ruins into the bright horizon, which turned blinding in intensity, disintegrating him.
Eddie dreamed of his ex-wife’s house. He heard her scream, pulled his pistol and moved towards her screams. The floor was covered in blood and viscera. He saw an arm that was all too familiar, a leg, a head. His boys! His wife screamed again. Eddie saw a hallway draped in shadows. His wife’s shadow recoiled from something . . . inhuman. He heard a ticking sound, like a large insect’s limbs or mandibles or . . . she screamed again and Eddie heard tearing, blood jetting and spraying a wall and the screaming stopped.
Max dreamed of a cave, a cold, dark place. Paul called his name. Max moved towards Paul’s voice, calling for him. The cave gave way to a drilled-out chamber, reinforced by steel girders and lit by sodium lights. Paul called again and Max followed. The chamber turned into a corridor with other corridors heading off it. Max knew the direction. He could sense Paul now. He proceeded down a few corridors before he came to an open vault door, its electronic security pad showing nothing but asterisks. He went inside the vault and saw a catwalk leading across a small ravine to another open vault door. Again, Max walked through the doorway, this time finding another drilled-out chamber. Where the chamber’s far wall should have been was a pulsing pool of what he perceived as liquid energy framed by a chrome circle. Paul stood in front of the circle, terrified. Paul said he didn’t want to go, that they would hurt him. Max reached towards Paul as something . . . reached from the liquid energy and pulled the little boy through.
Michael dreamed of wandering through the darkened mountain in a lightly wooded area, coming upon a clearing. There was a door to what may have been a mine or some sort of construction shed ahead of him. The woods seemed silent, lifeless, empty. Michael walked towards the door, opened it. Inside, moonlight caught something on the floor. Michael fumbled for a flashlight and shone it on the floor, revealing humanoid skeletons, warped, twisted, alien. He heard the wind rustling the trees, spun around with his flashlight, caught dozens more of the warped skeletons crawling towards him, talon-like hands extended hungrily.
Reggie was in an interrogation room in Afghanistan. A bloodied prisoner slumped in a chair, held in place by ropes that had torn away flesh during the interrogation. There was a small drowning pool behind the prisoner, a place meant for intimidation as well as the occasional accident. The prisoner looked up at Reggie, its ruined face insect-like, its compound eyes blinking with horizontal membranes. Reggie recoiled in disgust, caught his own reflection in a mirror on the wall and saw the same insect-like face staring back at him.
Sonny dreamed of the forest where he’d pursued the shooter. Out of the shadows, a shaman stepped. The shaman told him they had been warned by the manitou. The land had been spoiled and war awaited. The shaman said it was time for warriors to ready themselves for the end time. The woods seemed to come alive with the sound of movement and chittering.
Sonny suddenly heard a crow. He looked up and saw a lone crow staring at him from a tree branch. It cawed to him, tilted its head as if waiting for him to understand. It cawed again and leapt into the air, taking flight, circling above him. Another crow joined it, then two more, then four more, then eight more, then too many to count. They circled Sonny, faster and faster, their caws becoming thunder, their wings becoming dark shadow in the night. They flew around—hundreds, thousands of them—cawing in a deafening roar. Sonny woke and the crows became leaves, pine needles, twigs, spinning around in a dying dust devil. He looked to the sky and saw a strange helicopter, black against the night sky, free of any interior or running lights. It climbed and disappeared over the treeline.
Sonny looked around, realized he’d wandered some distance from the camp. The dead shooter was gone, but his blood was still pooled at Sonny’s feet. Sonny shivered. He descended to the camp below.
Session One End
The game opened with Samuel preparing to sleep for the night in the mountains of Montana. His hunting partner, Jerry, slept soundly across the fire, a bottle of Jim Bean slipping off his belly and onto the ground. At one point, Jerry snored himself awake, shifted, and started nodding back off. In the snore-free moment, Samuel heard something in the surrounding woods. Instinctively, Samuel grabbed his shotgun and rolled out of the camp, taking up a position behind a tree. He watched and listened from that cover, never moving a muscle. On occasion, he thought he might have heard something, but he could never see anything to match the sounds.
Finally, one of the sounds came from nearby and he saw a bush move as if someone had pushed past it, but he saw no one there. Again staying perfectly still, he watched and listened. The bush bent slowly and Samuel saw nothing but the slightest of outlines in the moonlight. Whatever was moving in the undergrowth several feet from him, it was all but invisible. Samuel stayed still, waiting, listening. An hour passed and he held his position. Another quarter hour passed and he finally moved, listening, waiting for the ghostly form to return. Jerry woke at one point, relieved himself at the camp perimeter, noticed Samuel was gone, grabbed his gun, called for his buddy, went into the woods, calling for his buddy. Samuel said nothing, waiting to see if the invisible form returned. Eventually, Jerry staggered back into camp and fell back asleep.
Shortly after that, Samuel ran into the camp, swiftly gathered up his sniper rifle and a canteen and hustled into the woods. Jerry slept on, completely oblivious. Samuel made his way to a tree some distance from the camp and slowly climbed it. He took up a position where he could observe the camp. He slipped in and out of catnaps through the rest of the night and into the morning, but there was no indication the ghost returned.
Samuel woke at dawn and checked the camp through his scope. Jerry was gone, only some sort of damp spot marking his sleeping area. Samuel sighted through the scope and saw what he’d assumed was urine was actually some sort of gel. Curious, he descended from his perch and jogged quietly to the camp. He gathered his backpack and shotgun. He reached for Jerry’s backpack to retrieve what foods he felt would best help him on the trail and recoiled at the sensation of the gel.
Samuel got up and examined the backpack. The gel—a pink-orange goo—seemed to originate from a cylindrical object hidden beneath it. The cylindrical object gave Samuel the impression of an egg, cracked in the center and with the gel puddled thickest at the crack. The “egg shell” looked like a solidified version of the gel.
Samuel decided to check the camp and perimeter for any sign the ghostly form might have left of its passing. He found a few tracks that were like nothing he’d ever seen. He decided to track Jerry. He followed the trail of gel leading out of camp and found Jerry’s boots pointing downward about 150 feet outside of camp. Jerry had fallen into some brush, so Samuel hacked a branch off a tree with his hatchet to push aside the limbs to get a look at Jerry.
Jerry looked quite dead. His lifeless eyes stared at the ground. Blood-streaked gel leaked from his eyes, nose, and mouth. He wasn’t breathing, but his left hand twitched. Samuel pulled out his cell phone and recorded the bizarre sight. Coupled with some of the strange flora he’d snapped photos of the last few days, the sight entered into the realm of the macabre. He decided to head down the mountain to Superior, the nearest town. As he put his phone away, he saw Jerry’s eyes flutter and turn towards him. Samuel decided to begin his descent immediately. With some pace.
A few hours earlier, Sonny ran back to the camp to wake everyone and warn them about the black helicopter and the missing terrorist corpse. Reggie played difficult, telling Sonny it was none of his business and not to worry about it and challenging Sonny for “sleepwalking” in the first place. Sonny’s natural suspicions about the government were made worse by Reggie’s behavior. Later that morning, after everyone woke from the little nap they could catch following Sonny’s revelation, Sonny pulled Eddie and Max aside and said they would do best to dump the government agents and hunt down Volsky themselves. Eddie and Max agreed.
They broke camp and began their ascent up the mountain, hoping to find Michael’s stolen Jeep and the Jeep rented by the terrorists. About two hours into the hike, with Eddie, Max, and Sonny bringing up the rear and preparing to leave the government folks on their own, things went terribly awry. At the head of the ascent, Michael, Reggie, and Samuel walked right past a tree nestled against a rock outcropping without noticing Jerry. Deena and Sonny noticed Jerry and shouted, but too late.
Jerry leapt from cover with incredible speed and ran for Reggie, monstrously deformed feet poking through ruined boots. Jerry’s hands were similarly deformed, his fingers turned into talons. Sections of his flesh had been replaced by scaly chitin. Jerry brought his talons across Reggie’s chest, cutting through jacket and shirt and leaving a slight scratch across flesh.
Everyone drew guns and opened fire on Jerry. To their horror, point blank shots with sidearms, shotguns, and rifles bounced off the scaly patches. Sonny tried to draw Jerry off with a brave’s shout, but Jerry seemed focused on Michael after a shot from Michael’s sniper rifle nearly penetrated. Jerry closed on Michael, his attack missing disemboweling the young Park Ranger by centimeters. Finally, Reggie landed a shot in an unarmored section of gut that caused Jerry to double over. Everyone closed on Jerry, finishing him off.
Deena performed a quick inspection of Jerry’s corpse, discovering some amazing mutations to match with the chitinous patches. Jerry had developed mandibles inside his mouth, a compound optic sensory structure had replaced his human eyes, and certain exposed organs had transformed. Deena couldn’t reconcile the mutations with Samuel’s claims that Jerry had been out of his sight for maybe two to three hours.
After seeing Samuel’s crazy claims prove true and seeing the threat Jerry-bug presented, Eddie, Max, and Sonny decided to hang out with the government folks a bit longer. Eddie and Max still hoped their young charge was alive, although they knew that terrorists and mutant insect-humans only reduced the odds of that. Everyone proceeded up the mountain, abandoning the notion of visiting Samuel’s campsite. They eventually found the trail some distance up and headed up it to allow Michael and Sonny to find tracks.
With tracks of both Jeeps discovered, the group ascended the trail for a good distance before finding signs—scored rocks, oil and transmission fluid leaks—the two Jeeps were running out of passable trail. Watching the trail for any signs of the Park Service vehicle passage netted an olive drab wool blanket stuck in a tree just off the trail. About an hour later, the Jeeps themselves were discovered. Michael and Sonny signaled the group to move forward while they exited the trail to get around the vehicles.
As Michael and Sonny climbed off the trail and scooted along the cliff face below it, Samuel sneaked forward up the trail and Deena, Eddie, and Reggie checked the Park Service Jeep radio. All electrical systems were dead. Eddie and Reggie set about switching out batteries between the Jeeps.
Michael and Sonny returned to the trail and headed for cover about 60’ up from the Jeeps, hoping to scout out any potential ambush sites. No sooner had they settled in behind a fallen log than they spotted two of the terrorists. Unfortunately, the terrorists had already spotted Michael. As Michael engaged the terrorists, Sonny made a mad dash for the Jeeps. Once out of sight of the terrorists, Sonny began scaling the cliff face above the trail. Samuel couldn’t make the climb, so he moved forward on the trail, sighting in on one of the terrorists with his sniper scope even as Michael took a glancing blow off his skull that was enough to knock him out.
Sonny opened fire on the two terrorist riflemen from the raised terrace. Samuel took advantage of the resulting distraction and blew the face off the terrorist who had knocked Michael out. At around the same time, Eddie and Reggie pulled the batteries out of the two Jeeps and began swapping them. Meanwhile, Deena consolidated supplies from the two Jeeps into the Park Services Jeep. Sonny—using the last of his clip—finished off the second terrorist, allowing Deena and Max to tend to Michael.
Sonny determined the terrorists had been trying for at the very least a delaying action, if not a fatal ambush. He wondered how that worked with Reggie’s claims they were actually after the kidnapped boy. Sonny searched around and found a third set of footsteps and ran after them. As he headed into a lightly wooded area slightly uphill from the dead terrorists, Deena moved up the trail to begin gathering evidence from the dead terrorists. Samuel moved up to get a better look at the men he’d helped kill. Eddie ran up the trail to retrieve the silencer off one of the terrorist’s rifles.
Sonny tracked the footprints through the woods for several yards before losing them. He retraced his steps and, more focused, tried again. He was completely caught off guard when the fourth terrorist, the knife-wielder, attacked. What should have been a crippling thrust to the gut Sonny deflected at the last second with his rifle’s butt. He then spun the rifle around and struck the terrorist between the eyes with the rifle butt, landing a glancing blow. He cursed himself for not reloading. The terrorist followed up with another stab at Sonny’s gut, this time connecting. Sonny bellowed in pain and rage, sensing that, despite his conviction, fortune wasn’t with him. Deena, Eddie, and Samuel dashed towards the woods to check on Sonny.
The final terrorist worked hard to finish Sonny off, but Deena, Eddie, and Samuel filled him full of lead. Sonny collapsed to the ground, bleeding profusely. Deena called for Max. She stabilized Sonny and, when Max arrived, sewed him up. The knife had missed vitals, but Sonny had lost a lot of blood. Everyone agreed they needed to find shelter for the night.
Eddie, Reggie, and Samuel worked together to build a litter for Michael. That done, Reggie and Samuel moved Michael onto the litter while Max and Eddie helped Sonny up, supporting his weight between them. Sonny had previously spotted an old mining cabin on the map less than four miles from their current position. They made for the cabin.
It was an arduous walk, with the sun descending, temperatures dropping, and the wind picking up. By the time they reached the cabin, Michael was conscious. He almost squealed at the sight of the cabin in the clearing; it matched the one from his dream. Reggie checked the cabin out. Moonlight leaked through the small, high windows, revealing warped and twisted skeletons. After some debate, the bones were pushed into a corner and everyone piled into the cabin for a night of uncomfortable rest. Michael dreamed again about the skeletons, his only comfort that Deena, Max, Reggie, and Samuel were taking turns on watch.
Session Two End
The game opened with Reggie on watch in the pre-dawn hours. Reggie was struggling to stay awake, fighting memories of aggressive interrogation sessions and the thrill of breaking the will of terrorists. He stretched, flexed, shook his head—whatever it took to stay awake. His watch said it was quarter to four, but it felt so much earlier. Moonlight passed through the four windows intermittently, sometimes washing the skeletons piled in the corner with an eerie blue light, sometimes bathing the cabin’s interior in darkness.
The cabin fell into darkness and Reggie moved through the open room, avoiding his sleeping comrades as he fought off the strange feeling he was being watched. The clouds blew past and the blue light returned, momentarily darkening as something moved in the trees outside. Reggie pressed against the cabin’s north wall, looking through the corner of the westernmost window. He could see nothing. He squinted, finally shifting to get a better view of the world outside. He saw two people in the blue moonlight. People in torn clothing, with glistening chitinous patches across torso and neck. People changed like Samuel’s hunting buddy had been changed.
Reggie quickly moved to Samuel’s side and shook him, warning him to wake up, there were “creatures” outside. Samuel woke without a sound and snatched up his sniper rifle. Reggie whispered he was going to go outside to investigate. Samuel woke the others quickly and quietly as Reggie exited through the door on the eastern wall. The door handle creak loudly as Reggie released it; he shook his head at his own clumsiness.
As those inside the cabin shook off sleep and moved to the windows to see what was going on, Reggie slipped along the eastern wall until he reached the southern wall. He crept as quietly as he could towards the western corner, assuring himself he was the quietest man in the world, impossible to see in the darkness. Samuel barely noticed Reggie passing below his window, but that was mostly because his attention was drawn to a half-naked beastie moving towards Reggie’s position from the southwest. Samuel was sure Reggie mentioned beasties to the north, not to the south, so he called through the window to warn Reggie he was being watched from the south. From the north windows, Eddie called a warning he’d spotted a beastie running towards the cabin through the woods.
Reggie desperately scanned the darkness to his left, eyes straining. Almost too late, he saw it—a camper in torn slacker gear, patches of chitinous armor showing through, mutated hands with wicked talons, compound eyes glistening in the moonlight as it charged from the nearest tree and hit him, knocking him into the cabin wall with a thunderous thud. The beastie to the north reached the north wall unchallenged. Eddie called out another warning and everyone turned to cover the east door. Sonny knelt and pointed his M-16 at the door as the beastie threw itself into the door. Miraculously, the wood held for the first impact, but it shivered and cracked and splintered.
Outside, Reggie backed away from the beastie and drew his pistol. He sent a shot into it at point blank range and cursed as the beastie did little more than twitch from the impact. He was learning to hate the distinctive crack bullets made as they bounced off the chitinous scales covering sections of the beasties’ bodies. Inside, Michael and Samuel fired on the beastie attacking Reggie to no effect. Meanwhile, the beastie at the door breached the entry and closed on Sonny after several rounds flew wide or failed to seriously wound it.
Reggie determinedly continued his tactic of evading the beastie’s attack and stepping back to fire. His tactic was keeping him alive for the moment, but it was making it nearly impossible for Michael and Samuel to get clean shots off. The beastie inside the cabin took down Sonny with a vicious, disemboweling swipe before another series of point blank shots sent it to the ground in a spray of viscous goo. Max ran to pull Sonny out of the still-conscious creature’s grasp and began treating Sonny’s wounds.
Eddie put a round into the downed beastie’s head while the rest of the folks inside the cabin moved outside to finish off the beastie terrorizing Reggie. Reggie, visibly shaken, said it was time they got a move on. Everyone agreed, despite the pre-dawn darkness. The second beastie was dragged into the cabin and the cabin set on fire. While Sonny was moved onto the litter earlier used to haul Michael to the cabin, Michael scooted up a tree to watch for any more beasties.
As everyone reloaded and prepared to hit the trail, Eddie noticed a soldier stepping from behind a tree to their east. As Eddie pointed the soldiers out to everyone, a second soldier stepped out from behind another tree. They wore unmarked forest camouflage and had NVGs pulled down over their eyes. They held distinctive assault rifles. The second soldier had another gun of some sort on his back.
The first soldier advanced, gun held ready; almost as one, the soldiers pulled up their NVGs. He asked the group what they were doing. Reggie, skeptical the soldier—whom he pegged for Delta Force (Samuel had the same opinion)—didn’t already know, nonetheless flashed his Homeland Security ID and said they’d been hunting terrorists and then been attacked by the beasties. To no one’s surprise, the soldier showed no disbelief or shock over either claim.
Deena asked the first soldier for names and learned he was Jim and the other soldier was Butch. After confirming Sonny was going to make it, Jim checked the corpses in the cabin. Again, no one was surprised when he showed no reaction to the mutant corpses. Jim told folks they were heading west.
Before they could do anything, four more of the beasties ran in from the trees. One closed on Butch as he was pulling his NVGs on, another made for Michael (who had just descended the tree he’d climbed), a third advanced on Deena, the fourth had a long run to reach anyone, so it settled on Michael. Jim did what he could to help the others with tactics, shouting out they needed to concentrate on one creature at a time.
It was a vicious firefight. Butch died while trying to switch weapons. Several other people suffered wounds, but eventually their numbers paid off and the beasties went down. Jim retrieved Butch’s dog tags and resolutely distributed his gear among the rest, taking the weapon that Samuel guessed was a flamethrower from Butch’s back. Deena asked Jim if he would be okay and if he wanted to bring along Butch’s body. Jim said someone would be along to retrieve it. Once again, Jim told everyone to prepare to move on.
Reggie decided to take the opportunity to see if he could fool Jim into sharing any information. He pretended to know there was a special operation under way and explained he’d been sent to keep an eye on the others as part of the anti-terrorist operation and the Talbot situation. Jim seemed to fall for it. He pulled Reggie aside from the others and showed him a map of the area. He explained they needed to head for Sheep Mountain where everyone could be taken care of. Reggie continued to bluff his way on for a few moments, all but confirming Jim and Butch were Delta Force and that they were in some way involved in the Talbot situation. Finally, though, he let slip a enough for Jim to realize he wasn’t who he was claiming to be and Jim angrily closed the map and stormed off to get everyone ready for the trail.
Jim drove them hard, maintaining an extremely aggressive pace that had Eddie and Max sweating under the litter’s weight. They traveled west before descending to travel through valleys and start their ascent again. Jim had them positioned to assault the mountain when he called a halt and made camp.
During the day, Eddie sent text messages to his Seattle PD contact to update his status and Deena received a text from the FBI requesting coordinates for a team to recover her; she sent GPS coordinates and texted they were on the move. Sonny was in and out of feverish rest most of the day before coming around enough to walk on his own and Michael was fighting a splitting headache following the concussions he’d suffered the previous days. Deena asked Sonny if he saw any of the beastie tracks on the path they were taking; he confirmed he had and that they were relatively fresh. Reggie moved from person to person during the day, warning them he didn’t trust Jim and asking them if they would support him when the time came. Only Eddie and Samuel offered support, and that at a lukewarm level.
The campsite Jim chose was perfect—a small clearing up against the treeline, overlooking a slope and with sufficient cover to offer protection. Jim made a point of establishing trust with Samuel, asking about his military background, asking him to take watch with him, gauging his trust of the others, determining what he knew of the situation. Jim then strengthened his bonds with Deena (checking on Sonny, giving her a bag of instant coffee) and Michael (commenting on his park ranger training and weapons skills). After eating, everyone retired for some much-needed rest. Reggie told Samuel he didn’t have to do anything more than wake him during his watch, although he hoped Samuel would do more when the time came.
Jim woke Samuel to take the second watch, warning him to stay sharp, he’d definitely seen tracks of the beasties during the day. Samuel waited until he was absolutely sure Jim was asleep before waking Reggie. Reggie gathered up his interrogation kit and sneaked over to Jim, who was sleeping against a tree. He knew Jim had pushed himself hard during the day, making up for the loss of Butch, but even a fatigued Delta operator would be a serious challenge for him to take on alone. To his relief, Samuel crept up and put his knife to Jim’s throat.
Jim woke, surprise and disappointment on his face. Reggie and Samuel pulled him from the camp and secured his hands behind his back with a zip tie and gagged him. Reggie gave Jim a few opportunities to avoid things becoming unpleasant. Jim told him he was making a big mistake. Jim shot a look at Samuel that conveyed the depth of his loathing for someone who would betray the trust of a military brother. Samuel looked on, cold.
Reggie proceeded to torture Jim, breaking fingers, brutalizing his kneecap. Finally, Jim broke. He confirmed he was Delta, revealed they’d been looking for Volsky in an effort to stop him from delivering Talbot to “Vault 7,” said they’d (Delta) been out of the area when it all went down because of a breach at “Vault 4” (in Arizona), that the vaults held portals “they” (he didn’t specify who “them” was) used, that Talbot was one of the strongest known of keeping the portal closed, that Volsky had been manipulated by “them” (those on the other side of the portal), that Delta been planning to airlift (the PCs) out at Sheep Mountain, that Vault 7 was at Sheep Mountain.
Reggie decided he’d gotten all he was going to get out of Jim, so he gagged him again and shoved him down the slope, figuring either the roll or wild animals or the beasties would get him. Jim rolled down about 150 feet and slammed into a tree trunk. Jim began to moan in pain, most of it was muffled by the muzzle. It dawned on Reggie that not only might Jim’s moans get someone’s attention but that he hadn’t searched Jim before shoving him down the slope. With a frustrated sigh, Reggie ordered Samuel to cover him. Samuel gave Reggie his knife and nodded towards Jim.
Reggie descended the slope, knife at the ready. He reached Jim without too much trouble. Jim’s arms had taken a beating sliding down the slope—both looked broken and one was dislocated from its shoulder. Jim glared at Reggie through puffy eyes. Reggie imagined he saw his own soul burning in hell in Jim’s eyes. Reggie twisted Jim’s head aside and slit his throat. As Jim bled out, Reggie went through his pockets and pouches, retrieving everything of potential value, starting with a small flashlight. He snarled angrily when he found a small, plastic-covered picture of a cute young wife and daughter smiling up at him. He tossed the picture aside with the other useless material and stuffed everything of value—the map Jim had earlier shown him, the flashlight, four atropine injectors (although they didn’t quite look like atropine in the flashlight’s light), a sidearm and knife, communications headset, and a few other odds and ends—into his own pant pouches before kicking Jim’s corpse clear of the tree.
As Reggie prepared to kick Jim farther down the slope, Samuel saw movement up the slope. Two forms were moving towards Reggie, one from directly below him, the other from below and to his right. Samuel waited, tracking through his scope, watching, hoping for a clear shot that could only come if Reggie remained unaware of the two forms. Samuel fired finally.
Back in the camp, everyone woke to the sound of gunfire. Fearing more beasties, they gathered their guns and ran to the sound. Reggie began screaming that “they” got Jim. Everyone eventually arrived next to Samuel to see him firing down the slope.
Reggie snapped around at the gunfire, surprised, and saw the beastie ascending towards him from below. He kicked Jim’s corpse down the slope, distracting the beastie, then began running up the slope as fast as he could. Samuel took another shot at the beastie closing from Reggie’s right and missed. The beast closed on Reggie and took a swing at him. Reggie fired at the beast at the same time Samuel hit it; it fell to the ground, dead.
Reggie began his ascent again. The beastie that had pursued Jim’s corpse closed on him and knocked him to the ground. While Samuel fired on the beastie, Reggie decided to test out one of the atropine injectors. He missed with his first swing but connected with his second. The beast seemed unaffected for a few seconds, flailing at Reggie ineffectively. Several seconds later, it began howling in agony and vomiting up goo. It fell to its knees, writhing. Samuel finished it off with a perfectly placed shot that took off the top of its deformed skull.
Deena and Sonny descended to look at the beastie. Eddie followed. Michael and Max hung back. Reggie explained that the beasties had gotten Jim and then come after him. Deena, Eddie, and Sonny weren’t buying it. Deena and Sonny descended to check on Jim’s corpse. Deena spotted the blood from the attack but proceeded on to the corpse itself. As Sonny watched for any other beasties, Deena checked Jim’s corpse.
It didn’t take long for Deena to realize Jim had not been killed by the beasties. She took Jim’s fingerprints and ascended back to the blood-spattered scene, where she searched around until she found some of the items Reggie had discarded, including the family photo. She collected these items into evidence bags and ascended with Sonny.
While Deena was doing this, Reggie tried to convince Eddie he’d done what he had to do to give them any chance of saving Paul. Eddie didn’t believe that had been Reggie’s true motivation, but he was willing to listen on the off chance it could help him. Earlier, Jim had told him he would never see Paul again. Eddie didn’t like hearing that, regardless if it were true or not. Michael, distressed by the thought Reggie had likely killed a soldier, climbed a tree and watched the camp from there. He wasn’t sure of Samuel’s part in the probable murder, but wasn’t interested in taking chances.
Everyone returned to camp, watching each other warily.
Session Three End