The Unusual Suspects

Seeds of Destruction, Chapter 1

The night of the Infinity Sanction:

Thinking over the intricate structure of the code within Infinity’s PDA, the Weaver recognizes familiar lines and symbols from fragments stored in the dust Dr. Ilyes brought to Jean. That sample must be connected to this device. If the strange material does consist of memories then whoever possessed this code in the past is also tied to the sample.

Daemon also takes a look, intrigued by a possible link between demons and pure information.

Then the Naturalist takes the PDA. It activates the identify routine and inputs itself as the target.

The screen displays “Scanning…”

A minute later it beeps. “Current Mission: Kill Cymbeline Hand in 4, 6, or 9 days.”

Nat hands the device back to Weaver quickly. The demon’s mind runs over the possibilities. It fell, it shouldn’t be part of the God-Machine’s plans, and it certainly has no intention of killing Cymbeline.

The following morning (Monday July 2, 2012):

The Hunter never owned much. Dealing with David’s apartment continues to confound him. Over a dozen sets of clothes, artwork on every wall, place settings for six. How can a single man need so much?

This morning in trying to clear out some faded sports jerseys, the demon stumbles across several boxes of gay pornography. He should have expected it but didn’t think to look. He’s sure the Naturalist’s records didn’t include them. The question is what to do with the magazines?

The demon flips through the decade old stacks. In the end he finds a convenient dumpster and burns them. He does an extra hard scrub of his computer’s browser history for good measure.

That dealt with, the officer reports to work. Always looking to prove himself, the demon arrives early to the morning briefing.

Instead of the usual tidbits on local dealers and current neighborhood tensions, Lt. Lawrence arrives to inform them about the details of the latest missing child.

Three children have gone missing since mid June.

Aiden Hex disappeared first on June 15th, vanishing on his way back from school in Windermere. The son of tech investor Samuel Hex and former model Amanda Hex, he is 14, white, 5’ 4" with sandy blond hair and green eyes.

On the night of June 23, Peace Montaro was taken from her bedroom in Lake City. This 12 year old African American girl is 5" tall, with long curly black hair and dark eyes.

Yesterday afternoon Queue Johnson vanished from her front yard in Olympic Hills. Her father Karl Johnson remains a suspect. He has a history of public drunkenness and violence. Queue may have run away though that seems unlikely due to the details of the scene. She’s 7 years old with short blond hair and brown eyes.

At the moment the department has found no connection between the disappearances but it hasn’t been ruled out.

As Hunter ponders that, a disturbance absorbs all attention at the front of the precinct. There a small crowd has converged on a mysterious package without a sender or a recipient.

After people evacuate, the bomb team looks it over, and the dogs give it a sniff, the police discover that it only contains a few hundred photocopies of a missing person poster from the 90s.

The subject is Clare Smith, a teen who vanished from Bainbridge island in 1996.

Around 9 AM as each of the demons works through their morning activities, they feel a series of strains and cracks appear in their covers, as if a small group of people learned damaging secrets about them. Most spend the next hour looking over their shoulder or jumping at the least surprise.

Daemon focuses on researching what signals Infinity might have made in her last moments. He skips class and misses a raid as he falls into a rabbit hole of research.

The Naturalist meanwhile feels guilty for putting the people associated with its cover in danger. It takes some time puzzling out where the most glaring evidence of its supernatural might be.

Jenny confirms with John that she’ll have the kids on Wednesday.

“Have you heard about these temporary tattoos?” he asks.


“Something I noticed at a group play date this weekend. A couple of the older kids had them. Blue stars, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. Anyway the kids seemed interested in them. They seemed fishy. You never know what chemicals they put into those things. Anyway I thought you should know.”

“Maybe we can get them analyzed at the university or something. I don’t like the kids putting things like that on their skin. I met a woman recently whose son got sick from toxic dye in a t-shirt.”

“Really? Well if I get a hold of one I’ll do that. Let me know if you see the kids with any of those. We need to watch that.”

“Ok. I will, and thank you.”

Later that morning as the wave of compromises flow across Dorian’s cover, the Naturalist tries to piece together how this might have happened. What did the demon do to risk its safety?

The answer is obvious. Infinity. She must have had some failsafe, some info dump that went out to a team of mortals she trusted. What did Daemon say? She had connections to monster hunters.


But who is coming after them? Who would she trust? Someone local. She had many connections in the area. She invested a lot of time and energy in manipulating the ring and events in the city.

Sorenson? No. Whoever it is would be more active. They probably already know something about the God-Machine, the Dream Machine and the rest. Perhaps Daemon knows someone who fits the bill.

Several stories dominate the Slog’s newsroom that morning. Jane McCall discusses her upcoming report on drugs in schools and child drug dealers. Perhaps connected are the recent disappearances of three children in as many weeks. The latest was grabbed from her front yard yesterday afternoon. They’ve all come from schools on the more prosperous north end of the city so there is already a lot of media attention.

Other stories include the recent protests against the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace by local industry. Tyler Robbins wants to cover rumors of a modern day slaving ring. It seems like a wild goose chase.

Around midday, Accabish grabs a latte on her way into nearby Cal Anderson Park. The morning coolness is gone, replaced by a sticky warmth. She finds Mr. King sitting on a worn park bench, petting a small dark cat.

“Do they have things like our late friend on your world?” Accabish asks, settling in before asking her real questions.

“Oh, yes,” the gaunt man says, ruffling the cat’s hair. “Especially like her.”

“What about my companions?”

He hesitates. “I’ve heard rumors. I had assumed they were just about experimental prototypes from one of the other corps.”

“They don’t have the God-Machine at the home office?”

“I was-. My briefing stated that the God-Machine had made some incursions in the past. A few angels. Several secret facilities. The Syndicate purged them 11 years ago. Before we realized how we could use it.”

Accabish asks a few more questions, trying to pinpoint the historical divergence of that world. She files the idea of a world free of the God-Machine away for later. “Interesting. Anyway the item I wanted your help investigating involves a person from another world. Perhaps yours.”

“Who?” he asks, his brow creased in thought. “There are not many of us.”

“A woman. I know she’s from somewhere else because I saw the original die. She got involved in the aftermath of the job we did for you.”

Accabish quickly describes alternate version of Mercedes plus the differences Hunter related. 11 years. That’s an interesting coincidence.

As she talks, Mr. King’s face loses its already minimal humor. “That’s a very dangerous woman, a member of an anarchist organization known as Eris. On our side, her name is Mercedes Ferrara but she calls herself Lilith. We thought she or her fellow operatives were behind the interference we encountered here until we isolated this hacker Infinity.”

“What’s her connection to all of this?”

“She’s a survivor of the God-Machine’s last incursion. An operative that it tried to install in our world. We believe she might be still working for it. I have orders to capture or kill her.” He looks off across the path. “I’m surprised to hear she manage to make it to this world. Normal humans don’t usually survive the transit. Not intact.”

Accabish’s burner phone vibrates. A text from Weaver. “Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”

The demon ignores it. She knew from the start it was her. A quick backtrace told her that the promethean wasn’t truly dead.

King’s information however fills in some gaps. There are multiple people being called Lilith. An ancient demon, Infinity, and Mercedes. Her alternate daughter likely was the one stirring up the local demons.

Returning to the office that afternoon, Priscilla’s secretary tells her that Lillian Shaw called. The private investigator requested a meeting.

Hunter considers its options. Officially the purpose of the briefing was to help him and the other officers keep an eye out for the missing kids. But aiding directly would be a good career move.

Hunter heads over to Lieutenant Lawrence.

“I’d like to help out on the case.”

“Thanks,” the older man says looking at some papers with a pair of detectives. “You keep your eyes open. Hopefully we can find some clues.”

“No I mean I want to help out directly.”

The Lieutenant Jack Lawrence turns to look at the officer. “David, right? I appreciate the offer but let’s leave this to the detectives for now.”

Hunter knows better than to press further and turns his mind to how he can help unofficially.

The sheets, now strewn about the lobby, tell the demon a few clues. Brunette, white, 5’ 1", and slightly overweight. Last seen by her family’s pier the evening of August 3rd, 1996. 16 when she vanished. She would be about 32 now. He has an address. The demon wonders if her folks still live there.

Hunter decides to hunt through the records for more clues. Less awkward small talk that way. Drawing on his cover’s academic training, the demon manages to search through the police files without leaving a mess. Thankfully someone digitized the records a few years back.

The files provide a lot more information but create more questions. Statements from friends, teachers, and classmates in Bainbridge describe a girl unlikely to run away. Where it gets strange are the notes on her extended family. Uncle Harry Smith doesn’t seem to exist. Her great aunt Beth has no last name near as he can tell. The company her father worked for never had a branch in Seattle.

Weirdest of all, Clare Smith’s address isn’t on the map. There isn’t space for it. Google maps shows the houses to either side, houses that show up in the crime photos, but not hers.

There are no records of her family after 1997.

The Weaver peruses the available resources it has on the supernatural. Admittedly it isn’t much. The public library opens in a couple hours so the demon contents itself with the internet and the increasingly eclectic selection of books at Adamant Technologies. The Deva Corporation contract helped the company in more ways than one, it muses.

The demon finds only rumors and hearsay. Legends tell of animate statues, reanimated corpses and machines in search of a soul. Powered by strange alchemical processes, these beings are perpetually on the move, feared and hated by those they encounter. Lightning seems to be involved in some of the myths. It powers them, heals them, resurrects them.

Resurrection. That which falls may rise again. They don’t stay dead.

The Weaver spends the rest of its lunch hour at the library, perusing the stacks for more information on the occult and finding what few books on the subject the library has to offer. The demon skims the original “Frankenstein” and a few other titles about things like mummies rising from the dead, creating golems, and what not. The Weaver sits back in its chair, considering how it might resolve this lack of information. It decides to discretely search local bookstores later. Perhaps they might have what it’s looking for.

It texts the ring knows that Infinity is not permanently dead.

As the Weaver puts its books away, it spots Melanie as she goes into the bathroom. Jeanette frowns with concern as she notices the bruise on the girl’s arm.

Perhaps the Weaver has let this go on too long. With five minutes before Jeanette needs to leave for work, the Weaver decides it can spare a little time to make a start on rectifying that abusive father-daughter relationship.

Jeanette follows Melanie towards the bathroom, producing a Styrofoam cup with ice in it from a pocket once it’s sure it’s out of sight of the security cameras. She pushes the door open, stepping inside and scanning the room for Melanie. The girl glances back from half way in a stall.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but I saw you on the way in and thought you looked like something was wrong. Are you alright?” Jeanette’s eyes go to the bruises on the girl’s arm.

Jeanette can see that the bruising is fresh, all around Melanie’s left arm like someone or something hit it several times.

“I’m fine,” Melanie sniffs.

Jeanette knows that she isn’t. She tries to talk to her but the tween shuts her out.

“That bruise does look like it hurts though.” She looks down at the cup in her hand as though she just thought about it before producing a small hand towel from her bag and taking some ice out of the cup. She wraps it in the fabric so that the ice won’t sit directly on the skin before offering it to her. “Here, this ought to help.”

As the demon wraps the bruises, the girl’s anxieties become clear. She’s afraid of her father hurting her. She’s afraid he’ll hurt himself drinking so much. Worse she worries he won’t come back from one of the jobs he does for “Big Freddy.” Jobs involving collecting debts. Finally the demon can sense a hope for something better, a job on the other side of the law, one which might one day pit her against her father.

“Thanks,” Melanie says. " You didn’t need to do that."

“Don’t worry about it,” Jean says. “There are some chairs in the break room if you’d like to sit somewhere a little more private. I know Kelly won’t mind under the circumstances and it’s got to be more comfortable than here in the bathroom stalls.”

She nods and follows Jeanette out.

The two find the break room almost empty. A balding librarian scowls at them before scurrying off to the stacks.

The demon finds Melanie somewhere comfortable to sit. The girl seems calmer once they are alone. In the warm light her bruises don’t even seem quite so bad. Or perhaps Weaver’s dab of medical training helped more than it thought.

Melanie seems less suspicious than the last time the demon made a deal with her. Instead her curiosity is the problem as she starts to ask some difficult questions. In the end the trust Jeanette has built up wins out and she agrees to sign the deal. Jean writes it up on some printer paper and the girl signs her name.

Weaver decides to walk Melanie home both to make sure she is alright and to mark where her father lives. Those mob connections could be useful.

Jeanette arrives at work about 20 minutes later than originally planned. She surprises Scott Liles when she gets in the elevator behind him.

“What happened, was your car towed?” he remarks snidely.

“I left my phone at the place I got lunch,” Jeanette explains, “I had to go back and get it and they had it in the lost and found by the time I got back to my seat. It was a little frustrating for a bit there.”

“But I found it, eventually.”

He shrugs.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully.

Cymbeline texts Atticus at noon. “Staying out late with Karen to study for the PSAT.”

The Naturalist runs over what it knows about this young woman. Determined yet shy.

Even with her destiny aborted, she still strives to succeed. Still conflicted about her lost destiny. She wants to rediscover the passion that drove her those short few days when she sought her dark fate. Dangerous but also potentially useful. She also wants to excel at the PSAT clearly.

This morning though..she also wanted to learn why Mr. Roberts the library janitor seemed so helpful recently. Who is this man and what are his intentions?

A short while later another more sinister text arrives from Weaver. “Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”

“What if we like bury the pieces across the world. Like in the movies?” he writes back.

Hundreds of documents and links litter Daemon’s computers, decorated by his current obsessions.

In one diagram, he maps most of the complicated ownership network for the Pentex-Cheiron conglomerate.

Another document details a timeline:

  • 1893: A house is built at 613 South Washington Street by Mr. Samuelson.
  • 1900: S. Westergard purchases the house and moves in with his wife.
  • 1922: Mrs. Westergard dies of heart failure.
  • 1940: S. Westergard’s daughter (age 27) disappears from census records.
  • April 12, 1942: Adam Freud, the future Ambrose Grant, magician and world renowned psychic is born. He lives at 611 South Washington street.
  • 1956-8: Adam spends time at Hillcrest Mental Health Center.
  • 1960s: 613 South Washington street and its owner slips from official record.
  • 1972: Ambrose Grant builds Ashwood Heights at 611 and 615 South Washington.
  • May 8th, 1989: Grant vanishes off the coast of Oregon in his private yacht. He is presumed drowned. He is survived by his ex-wife Doretta Teesdale.
  • April 12, 1992: Doretta Teesdale dies from falling down the stairs.
  • June 2, 2010: One of a Kind Investigations is paid six figures for unspecified services.
  • June 5, 2010: Keystone Pharmaceuticals arranges for the transport for a large amount of material from somewhere in Yesler Terrace.
  • June 6, 2010: Verdant Technologies begins its program to unravel the mystery of the Dream Machine, a computer built sometime in the 70s but which contains more complex components inside it.
  • November 27, 2010: Aura of forgetfulness fades from Yesler Terrace.
  • June 24, 2012: Keystone Pharmaceuticals purchases Ashwood Heights and the property between the two structures that make it up: 613 South Washington Street.

Daemon runs through its resources. Jabberwoky (a.k.a. Elma Thomas) recently developed just the supernatural talent the demon needs.

He contacts his lieutenant. “I need you to go past 611 through 615 South Washington. Tell me what you see. Be careful and don’t talk to strangers.”

The demon then turns to his other obsessions: the code residing within Infinity’s PDA and a terrified fascination with the town of Bainbridge.

The program has resisted superficial analysis. To learn more he realizes he needs either to conduct potentially dangerous surgery or find someone or something that could dig deeper into its secrets magically. The latter sounds more rewarding.

Daemon opens a channel to Reactor. “I have a code that might give us an opening.”


“Not exactly sure but it is powerful supernatural software. I need help decoding it.”

“Decoding the code or decoding the magic?”

“The magic.”

“Not exactly my area of expertise. I know a guy however who could. He’s pretty busy these days but I could see if he’d be willing to help.”

Then there is Bainbridge.

Named second best place to live in the United States, remote but close enough to commute to the city, and deep under the God-Machine’s thumb.

Originally a logging and shipbuilding town, it remained mostly rural until the 1990s when the technology boom increased the population by an order of magnitude.

That seems to be when things changed. A string of child abductions plagued the area throughout the 90s and early 2000s. No connection was ever made between the incidents and few children were found. Add in the high number of child deaths of a variety of common ailments and he could see why they saw so few kids during their visit. All of this tapered off several years ago, before it might have attracted more attention.

A ring known as the Legion colonized the region a few decades ago but no one has heard from them since the turn of the century. The demons in Seattle feel that something is just wrong about the place. From his connections, Daemon knows of only one other demon who has visited Bainbridge recently.

That demon is the disturbing figure known as the Mutilationist.

Daemon determines how to get a hold of her. He’s heard the demon owes the Erasers, a small agency that does counter-surveillance and disappearances for demons under angelic attention. They charge steep prices but the Daemon has aided them in the past. A quick secure call later and he’s put in touch with the reclusive Temptor.

“Are you looking to peel back the skin?”

Daemon ignores the comment. “I want to talk about Bainbridge.”

“I know. It’s begun again. I can meet tomorrow. In person. At the Olympic Sculpture Park under the Eagle at 2 PM.”

That evening Jabberwoky reports back. “It was strange. I could see two apartment buildings back to back. But when I turn my head to one side, I could see this really old house in between them. The front porch was all torn up. Broken windows, no front door, and all of the siding torn off. Upstairs looked intact though. Old, gray but with unbroken windows. The yard was all withered and dead. It felt really creepy so I left in a hurry. I didn’t sense any sign of the enemy though.”

Daemon realizes that most of the day is gone. There are a series of messages on his phone from the rest of the ring.

That afternoon a furtive conversation unfolds.

“Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”

“What if we like bury the pieces across the world. Like in the movies?”

“I think we should burn Infinity,” Nat adds. ”Inform every contact we have of what she tried to do. Inform them she doesn’t stay dead. Spread word she doesn’t honor the implicit compact of secrecy. Even if we can’t kill her, she’ll have no friends.”

“Can we box her up in parts? Can she regen limbs?” Hunter asks.

“Weaver, any thoughts?” Nat queries.

A short while later the inquisitor replies. “I need to find better information to be certain of specifics regarding the other things, but cutting her off from the community seems like a good start in case she ever does rise again. She certainly can’t be trusted. Based on what I’ve found so far, it seems like some part of her would have to exist to permit regeneration, somehow, but I don’t know enough yet to be able to say how that works. I will keep you posted as I learn more.”

Daemon decides to involve himself. “Don’t the Black Pyramid still have possession of her body? Has it started moving?”

“"Accabish,": can you reach out to them?” Nat asks.

“Put the regen part in a box too small to regen in,” Hunter suggests.

“We need to learn more about how it works before we act to try and combat it,” Daemon points out. “What if doing these things makes it easier for her to come back?”

“Burning her is an option if we are willing to burn our current covers as well,” he continues. “As far as we know she can’t become someone new.”

“Well we know we shouldn’t use electricity,” Nat comments.

Accabish mulls over her meeting tomorrow as she reviews the growing chain of messages.

She puts in a quick call to Mr. King’s tattoo shop. “What is the status of Infinity’s body?”

“There’s been a development,” he says slowly. “Her body is rapidly mouldering away. I’m afraid we won’t be able to learn much from it. I’m preparing what remains for transport back to my superiors. Perhaps they can uncover some clues.”

“Thanks, keep me informed.”

Accabish texts the others. “The body itself has mouldered. That seem to be the reverse of regeneration. What makes us think she will reconstitute?”

“On my part, suspicion, hearsay and paranoia,” Nat admits.

Over the ring’s chat, Daemon asks, “Weaver, perhaps we can work together on the research? I can help speed things up in that regard.”

The other demon replies quickly. “I certainly won’t say no. Your assistance is more than welcome.”

That evening Daemon assembles his cultists online and coordinates them with Weaver as they pursue their research on prometheans and their capabilities. From ancient Greek myths to cutting edge AI research, from anonymous Youtube videos to heavily redacted government records, the assembled team scours the internet and whatever library resources they have available.

A rough outline of facts emerges.

These creatures are rare. Most of the accounts document a one in a lifetime encounter with one or perhaps a small band of these beings. Somehow they can find each other though. It is rumored each is created by another of their kind or a single obsessed person. Corpses, statues, even robots have be brought to life in this way. However these creator-creation relationships always sour.

The stories are full of people turning against prometheans. Perfectly normal people turn into hostile mobs when these reanimated corpses are around. Jealousies, hatred, and fears boil to the surface. Meanwhile the region around the promethean becomes twisted, blighted and hostile to all life.

It seems these artificial forms of life are powered through processes best described as alchemical, using a force known as Azoth.

In terms of their abilities, promethean seem uniquely hard to kill, able to withstand incredible damage and even returning from the dead. One record describes such a monster being reduced to ashes only to being reborn from them the next day. Prometheans appear to be able to reconstitute themselves from the smallest fragment of remains.

Through alchemical processes, they can control electricity, manipulate emotions, and transform their bodies. Some have inhuman levels of strength and speed.

Most prometheans talk about seeking to become human, claiming their unnatural and unloved condition as a curse. They sometimes say angels guide them along this pilgrimage. The strange beings they describe do not fit with the God-Machine or its tools.

The names of only a few of these creatures have been recorded. Besides the legendary Frankenstein, they learn of a walking disaster area named Varney, the sinister sounding Doctor, and John Smith, a Promethean who supposedly dedicates himself to eradicating dangerous supernatural creatures.

July 2, 2017 8 PM

Atticus’s phone rings. The Naturalist ducks into a nook in its apartment before answering.

Cymbeline’s breathing is fast and loud on the other end. “I think, I think Karen is dead! I don’t know. There were these stickers on the desk and I rubbed them off and then…I don’t know…I touched Karen and she fell on the floor shaking. She’s, she’s not moving….what do I do!?”

The demon hears the fear in her voice as well as intense guilt. What could she have done? She’s just human. Then the Naturalist recalls her stigmatic capabilities. Did she use an Embed?

The Naturalist crouches down in the kitchen, out of sight of the windows. “Okay. I know you are scared, and that is fine. But take a deep breath. What did these stickers look like?”

“But K-. Okay Okay.” A couple quick breaths comes across the phone. “They were, I don’t know, stars. Blue ones. Should I call 911? Karen needs help.”

“We need to determine this is something the police can help with first. Otherwise it could cause her more problems. Where are you?”

Nat’s eyes turn cloudy and a tracery of blue light covers Atticus’s skin. The demon watches Cymbeline remotely as she cradles her phone while crouched over her friend. Karen doesn’t appear to be breathing. Next to her four desks huddle next to each other like a makeshift table. A half dozen books lie scattered across it.

“I’m, I’m at school,” she says. “On the second floor. In Ms. Peach’s classroom.”

“OK. What makes you think this is your fault? What specifically happened?” The demon pours more power through its fragile cover. Wisps of fiber optics dot Atticus’s otherwise bald head.

“I-I don’t know!” She takes another breath. “We were just starting to study. There were these stickers on the desk. I scratched them off and- and then I felt sick. Like I was going to barf and fall over at the same time. I grabbed Karen and-and-and I-it was like I gave it to her. I don’t know. She collapsed and started shaking. But she’s stopped. Oh-oh, Karen don’t be dead.”

The demon’s milky eyes watch her stroke Karen’s head.

“OK. We call the police and we tell them everything except that you ‘passed’ it to her. I can’t promise you everything is going to be okay. I can tell you that whomever put those stickers there is at fault.” He pauses. “I’ll be by your side soon. I’m coming.”

“Okay, okay. Thanks Dad.”

The Naturalist of course knows the phone numbers of all of its children’s school officials. A moment later Principal Jenkins picks up. Some quick words and dropped names later and the very advancement conscious administrator is on his way to help.

A minute later, so are the police and paramedics.

Nat texts Cymbeline that Jenkins is on their way. Than the demon closes its eyes, scans a location near the school and vanishes.

The Naturalist’s eyes adjust as it leaves the well lit house and appears in the grassy nook between the science labs and the gym. The glow of street lights shines over the school from the street. Orienting itself, the demon realizes Peach’s classroom is on the opposite side of the wing next to it.

Nat spends a minute focusing on composing itself as Atticus. The unnatural enhancements of its demonic form fade and he strides into the school with purpose.

He sees the strobe of the ambulance’s red lights from the hallway window as he reaches Mrs. Peach’s classroom. Jenkins is already inside, doing a passable job of consoling Cymbeline.

Cymbeline throws herself into his arms when she sees him, shaking and sobbing.

Atticus holds her tight. He presses his head into the her hair, and he whispers. “It’s okay. You did the right thing. You took the right steps.”

As he holds her, the EMTs arrive. Though they try for ten minutes, Karen does not revive.

By that point the police also have arrived. The principal does a good job of reducing the focus and strain on Cymbeline. She holds up well, giving a statement minus the supernatural element.

Along the way the demon retrieves the mental recording it placed on Cymbeline that morning. It confirms what she told it on the phone. She scraped off some of the stickers and began to suffer from some sort of poisoning or overdose. Then she grabbed Karen and the effect transferred the effect to her.

The police take a sample of the stickers, jot down Cymbeline’s description of the events and conclude by asking her to come down to the station tomorrow to give a formal statement.

Atticus calls a cab. He asks Cymbeline to wait in the hall a moment. He then quietly suggests that Jenkins have the stickers tested independently, suggesting Adamant Technologies as good place to try.

Jenkins nods, still numb from his call to Karen’s parents.

Nat is quiet for a moment. “Let me know if you need help. I need to take care of my daughter. I’m sorry for your loss principal.”

Later once they are home, Nat leads Cymbeline to her room and guides her to her bed. The teen, distraught and drained, slips quickly to sleep.

The Naturalist texts the ring at 9 PM. “We have a problem. Someone has created stickers that make people sick. Cymbeline peeled one up today, and she almost died. Her friend Karen did expire, and it was almost instantaneous. It was recommended to the principal that he send a sample to Weaver’s lab. Also he’ll help keep things quiet. We may need someone else within the police to keep an eye on things.”

A few minutes later the demon adds, “Also… John reported to Jenny that there are temporary tattoos going around that parents are worried are dangerous. This has suspicious similarities to the t shirt incident we resolved. “

Work takes up most of the rest of Hunter’s day. That evening as the demon puzzles over the case, the Naturalist’s texts arrive.

“i can keep my ears open,” he writes back.

The demon thinks back. Drugs are always an issue in a big city. His bosses did instruct them to keep an eye out around the schools several times. He hadn’t asked follow up questions though. No signs of gang involvement.

Accabish reviews the photos and evidence from Mercedes’s appearance at the school. She squints at the blurry photos looking for clues that might give her an idea of where the fugitive might be now.

Unfortunately all she can make out is a dark haired woman in a leather jacket and dark slacks wielding a sawed off shotgun and carrying a leather satchel. After she reaches the crowd Mercedes melts away, vanishing from the surveillance footage.

According to Hunter, the shotgun is a modified Remington Model 870. The police are still running the serial numbers. If it turns out to be from this world perhaps that will yield some clues.

Over the next couple days, Accabish canvasses the neighborhood, questions her contacts in the police and scrutinizes the evidence.

The modifications on Mercedes’s shotgun appear crude and hasty. So it probably isn’t something she brought over from the other side. When the serial numbers come back it might unlock part of her path.

No cars appear to have arrived or left after the incident so the woman must have been on foot. Accabish maps out the likely public transit paths and calls in some favors to look at the security cameras. She finds a hit at the very end of a bus line. She was at the Northgate Mall. And she wasn’t alone.

The pictures show her talking to a young black man in a hoodie and fancy glasses.

Accabish doesn’t know who he is. But she plans to.

July 3rd, 2012 10 AM

The Naturalist sits next to Cymbeline in Atticus’s car, a beat up Civic. Outside police officers, concerned citizens, and less desireable denizens of the criminal justice system make their way in and out of the precinct.

The teenager looks at the demon with damp eyes. “What if they ask about how Karen died?”

As the demon considers its next words, its phone vibrates. Dorian’s phone. Caller ID says the number belongs to One of a Kind Investigations.

Then Jenny’s phone vibrates with a text.

The Naturalist takes a deep breath. It reminds itself that “your current life is the face you wear”, and it allows the concern it feels to show through. It’s weird how over time when you practice self control you have to remember to show your hand.

“If you can get away with holding back, then hold back,” it tells her. “But if they pressure you, tell them the truth. Remember the words ’I know it sounds crazy.’” The Naturalist is quiet. “I love you. I am horrified you have to deal with this.”

Cymbeline’s fragile smile gives way to something firmer. “I love you too, Dad.”

She gives Atticus a hug and heads to the precinct to give her statement. The demon watches as she heads up the steps past a trio of black birds fighting over a piece of newspaper.

The Naturalist looks at Dorian’s phone. The call has gone to voicemail. Jenny’s phone shows a text from John.

“Hey are you okay? I just got a call from a private investigator. He said a stalker following one of their clients might be interested in you too. They want to get a hold of you so I gave you their number. Let me know when you get this.”

The demon listens to the voicemail next. It strains to hear as a couple argues loudly from two parking spots over and the birds caw at each other.

“Hi, this is Robert Mill of One of a Kind Investigations. There’s a woman we are investigating for another client who you might have encountered at Moe’s. I’d like to ask you some questions about her. Could you give me a call back? I’d like to meet you to discuss it. My number is 555-4352. Thanks.”

The Naturalist frowns. Part of it, the former angel, wants to wipe every trace of Infinity from existence for this infraction. Death, simply, wasn’t far enough. The more reasonable side of it just wants this resolved.

First, The Naturalist texts John. “In a webinar, will call you when I’m done.” The Naturalist, easily distracted, eavesdrops on the couple’s conversation. It is strange to be arguing so vehemently outside a police station.

It watches them as it sorts out the next move. If the investigator knows what it is, then the meeting with Dorian will be a trap. If he doesn’t, then the meeting is an opportunity to fix this situation.

Nat texts the ring. “This is going to be a pain. A man named Robert Mill is pursuing both Jenny and Dorian. Dorian is a problem easier resolved. I tried to keep Jenny out of this, but Infinity has really made that hard. Dorian is meeting him in a public place. Anyone have more info about him?”

Then as Dorian, the demon texts Mill to schedule a time to meet him at Moe’s.

Daemon gets back to the Naturalist quickly with a short dossier.

“He was looking into Weaver a week ago,” he explains.

The Naturalist splits its attention between the files and the couple.

“I thought you were done with that shit!” she yells at him.

“I just needed something-”

“You need rehab,” she says. “I’m not bailing you out again.”

The demon’s eyes scrolls over the document. The information confirms what the demon suspected.

Robert Mill, age 33, employee of One of a Kind Investigations for the past 7 years. Mill originally joined the company as an IT specialist. He acquired his detective licence in 2006. Most of his work was unremarkable. Then last year he was treated for animal bites. Deep ones. A few months later he was arrested after discharging his gun in a threatening manner outside a nightclub. Someone squashed the charges.

A second file includes a summary of One of a Kind Investigations. They have an ex-Seal sniper named Vittorio Vitacelli on staff. The firm’s founder, Frank Brooks, went missing for three weeks and returned with severe memory loss. Shortly after Frank’s release from Hillcrest Mental Health Center, he reported shooting an intruder. No body was found. The company’s current owner is Lillian Shaw, a former cop turned private detective who became famous after rescuing a millionaire’s son.

Daemon’s assumption is that they are a group of monster hunters.

Outside the couple reconcile, stumbling back to whatever place they call home. A black bird lands on the dashboard and caws at the Naturalist. Its eyes blink like camera shutters and it flutters onto the concrete below.

A text appears on Dorian’s phone. Mill has agreed to the meeting.

Then Jenny’s phone rings. It’s Mill again.

Atticus exits the car. He gets close enough to get a good look at the couple, but doesn’t let his gaze linger for too long.

The demon takes a good long look around.

That Promethean is a real bitch. Hunters. It is not just Jenny Nat has to worry about, but the kids. The demon needs to get Jenny some space. It needs to build a larger network.

Nat relaxes fractionally once it is sure none of the hunters are around. The Naturalist slips a wallet from its magical leather bag and calmly jogs toward the couple.

Nat slows. Its eyes focus on each of them a moment. The woman just wants some stability, it knows. She wants to help but might just accept a bad situation. The man probably is using drugs to deal with his pain. He doesn’t think things through often but keeps a cheerful disposition.

Atticus speaks confidently. “Excuse me sir, I think you dropped this.”

“I did?” He asks, patting his pockets. “No, I still have mine.”

A black van passes by as the woman says, “I suppose you could turn it in at the station.”

The Naturalist tips his head to the side, and looks at the man with the recognition. “Oh… well… I’ll go do that. I have to head back that way anyway.” He looks down as he puts the wallet away, and then he looks back up. “Have we met somewhere before…?”

“I’m Atticus,” the demon says extending his hand.

The man tries to place Atticus before shaking his hand. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m Jim,” the man adds.

“Carol,” the woman interjects.

Nat shakes Jim’s hand, and then Carol’s. “A pleasure. My apologies to both of you. I thought we may have met at a…meeting.”

Carol elbows Jim with a smile. “I thought you didn’t go to those.”

“I went to the first couple.”

Atticus smiles lightly, and he feigns embarrassment. “I have missed a few recently myself. Things have been better recently, but I suppose we never know when it won’t.” He looks over his shoulder. “I do have to go. My daughter will be out shortly, but…” He looks at Jim a long moment. “Do you want the card of a group I’m familiar with?”

Atticus hands them the card and pitches his special recovery group.

Carol says she’ll drive Jim over at the next meeting. The man just smiles and nods. The black van drives past again going the other way.

That morning Daemon considers its next steps. One of a Kind Investigation appears be a thorn in the ring’s side. He decides to learn what he can about them.

Daemon digs into the computers of One of a Kind Investigations. He finds six people on the payroll. For the past year they’ve been working a large number of mundane cases, searching for a few missing people but mostly watching cheating spouses and locating absconding debtors.

Daemon looks closer. Their computers are all new, purchased in the past year and scrubbed as recently as last month. Did some other hacker mess with them in the past?

Trawling their emails he sees references to some sort of stand alone system for their sensitive files. Gaining access he realizes will require a more hands on approach.

He also locates a list of external experts the firm uses. Two in particular work closely with the team: Dr. Sorenson and Dr. Ilyes.

Daemon quickly spots the spelling discrepancy between Sorensen, the “retired” hunter, and Dr. Sorenson, a psychiatrist working at the Hillcrest Mental Health Center. The demon recalls there used to be an important piece of Infrastructure beneath the old asylum.

Dr. Ilyes was the scientist consulting with Weaver’s cover. Apparently he is an CSI whose hobbies include studies of cryptoparasites. His website is rather fascinating.

On an older computer that one of the investigators, Vito, keeps at his home, the demon finds a series of old files. From time stamps and the internal dates, Daemon guesses this was transferred from Robert Mill’s system in February of last year.

Scanning through them he realizes they are diary entries made by Mill after and during the various supernatural investigations the firm did. He discovers the team visited the creepy house Jabberwoky saw and were perhaps responsible for some of the damage. That house might be the epicenter of the Memnovore activity in the city.

These hunter appear to have eliminated the supposedly dead Ambrose Grant, the currently incarcerated Jarette Costa, something named Community, and an Isabel Westergard (perhaps the daughter of the old owner of the house) in the course of their investigations.

They also were in contact with Infinity.

She wanted the doll they found at the house. They seem to think it was a powerful magic item. Infinity also apparently obtained tapes from the team that contained something important.

Finally Mill references a ‘key’ to some sort of ‘door’. This seems intimately tied to Mill, the doll, and that house in some way.

Hunter sits in his patrol car sipping some coffee. A half eaten sandwich lies in the next seat as he scans the nearby school yard.

Another shudder runs through Hunter’s other cover. Somewhere someone learned some weird fact about Joseph.

Just then his attention is taken up by a girl moving slowly along the fence separating the street from the school. Her carefully braided hair and soft features exactly match Peace Montaro, one of the missing kids. The 12 year old’s brown skin shines in the summer light.

Hunter exits his patrol car and walks calmly toward the child. Behind the chain link fence the school yard is empty, the other kids gone for the summer. A car drives past a distant intersection but otherwise the Hunter and the child are alone.

As the demon steps in front of the girl, her distant gaze snaps to him.

“Excuse me young lady, is your name Peace Montaro?" he asks, smiling.

“Yes,” she says, returning his smile. He eyes focus on his badge. “I need your help. I must get to Stone Way and 38th.”

The oddly focused eyes and strange calm remind Hunter of his past. She might be drugged but the last time he saw faces like hers was with child soldiers in Africa.

“Young lady, where have you been?” he says keeping his concern to himself. “Your parents have been very worried about you.”

“I’ve been,” she says before her voice breaks up in static. “Away.”

“I see. Can you tell me what you need to go to Stone Way and 38th for?”

Her eyes flash blue. “I need to find Ms. Storm.”

“Ah and who is Ms. Storm?” he asks.

“She’s,” she pauses. “A bad lady. Which way is 38th and Stone Way?”

“I’ll take you in a minute, but only if you can tell me why you need to see Ms. Storm if she is a bad lady.”

The girl breaks out into a grin. “She needs to be punished.”

“She does, does she? What has she done wrong?”

“She didn’t do her job.”

“And what was her job?”

“She-,” the girls starts, emitting another burst of static, “-failed to disband the Cult of Eight Feet.”

“Well, if anyone is going to do the punishing, don’t you think it should be the police?”

Peace turns to the south west. “I need to be going now. I know the way.”

As she starts walking away, Hunter grabs her hand. "I’m sorry young lady, we have to take you home.”

She stops looks back at her hand for a moment. Then she yanks. Hard.

Hunter barely keeps his balance. “Come now, young lady, it’s time to go home.”

As he tries to pull her to the car, her face scrunches up. “I need to go!”

Before he can react, her hand and arm shift and transform. A row of blades embedded in flesh emerge from her slender arm as it changes into a nightmarish biomechanical chainsaw.

Hunter snatches back his bloody hand, pouring aether through his cover. Hydraulics bulge from inside his uniform and a red glow traces along his body. He steps back and pulls his cell phone.

He sends a message to Ms. Storm. “Your cover is blown. I am doing what I can to control the situation.”

Peace begins to stride away confidently. Then she stops and turns, her eyes glowing red. “Mustn’t leave witnesses.”

“Ditch the 38th and Stone Way site,” he adds as the child approaches him.

He tosses aside the phone and rushes her. He grabs the blade limb. With his greater mass and increased strength the demon pins the blade to the ground. Grit and debris is kicked up as the blades cut uselessly into the asphalt street.

“Peace, please get a hold of yourself,” he tells the child.

The demon hopes to snap her out of it. Instead he sees no humanity left in her snarling face, her childish features now just a mask for the machinery beneath. He tries to smash her head into the street but she slips under his grasp and wrests her arm free.

Hunter quickly takes stock. Even with her impressive strength, the demon is stronger and faster. She’s better armed for now. She might have some tricks up her sleeve but in raw ability the advantage is his.

He decides his duty is to end her ‘suffering’. He lets his cover slip away, dark skin replaced with gold fur. As his claws emerge, she manages to slip away, desperately putting distance between them.

Hunter charges, his claws scoring her small frame. She staggers, blood and circuitry oozing from her wounds before toppling over dead.

“That was…faster than I expected,” he mutters as he approaches the body.

He detects no pulse or other signs of life. A few sparks fly from the exposed wires.

The tread on her shoes appears fresh and unworn. She hasn’t walked far. Her red backpack holds some lunch and a stuffed bear. The thermos inside is warm. He guesses she’s been wandering around the neighborhood a few hours after being dropped off by someone or something.

The demon retrieves his phone and taps out a message to the ring. “Missing children being turned into demon hunters. Warn others."

Hunter retrieves a body bag and stuffs the remains in the truck before resuming his human form.

He texts Weaver. “I killed an angel. I have secured the body. Do you want to take a look?”

“Of course I would like to see it,” the other demon replies, quietly grateful Hunter did not just dump it in the bolthole.

After a late night of research, the Weaver finds the routine of work reassuring. Since they completed the big contract, Mike has been offering the firm’s chemical expertise to a variety of different companies and individuals.

Around 10 AM, Mike swings by its end of the lab. “I’ve got a quickie analysis project. Jean can you take care of it?”

“Hey, what about me?” Scott calls from the hall. “I can get it done.”

“It just a simple chemical analysis, Scott. No offense, Jean’s the fastest chemist on staff and I’d rather not spend a lot of time on a knock off drug for high schoolers.”

“It seems unnatural how fast she gets those tests done,” Scott snarls.

Mike stares down the hallway for a moment. A door closes a moment later, probably Scott’s.

“Anyway, can you look at this?” Mike says.

“Why certainly, I’ll get right on it,” Jeanette assures her boss.

The Weaver analyzes the drug once the mortal distractions are away, working with mortal skills and equipment. At its base the compounds resemble LSD and presumably would yield similar hallucinogenic experiences. But the demon discovers a lot of more complex chemistry involved. Suspiciously complex chemistry. Perhaps sufficiently complex.

The demon switches tactics and begins to analyze this as if it were the product of infrastructure. Cross referencing the compounds with the still incomplete research that Daemon liberated from Keystone Pharmaceuticals, the Weaver can see similar but much more advanced lines of chemically induced psychic activity.

Too advanced for even Keystone, this drug seems likely to create an intense connection to another person, tied to the trace amounts of their blood in the drug. Weaver isolates the blood for later work.

The demon also locates trace amounts of contaminants, likely from the manufacturing site. Contaminants that are all too recognizable. The same toxins and chemicals that it worked with before it fell.

The Weaver runs over where those chemical traces could have come from. The original producer shut down due to legal troubles. They lost their lease and the original dye machine was sold off or moved.

But ‘Jerry’ was selling knock offs not long ago, T-shirts that had to be made with same device. Finding Jerry should lead the demon to the Infrastructure behind this mess.

After analyzing the compounds and setting the compounds aside for future analysis, the demon reports to the client the relevant factors that a normal chemist would have been able to pick.

As the demon heads back to the car, it realizes Cymbeline should be back by now. Nat glances back at the van. The dark windows hide the driver but the demon notes the license plate number in case. Then it continues toward the precinct.

The Naturalist makes its way inside but still doesn’t see its daughter.

An officer moving a box full of forms brushes past Nat.

“Are looking for something?” She asks.

Atticus looks around a moment, and then eyes the officer. “My daughter. She came to give a statement. Her name is Cymbeline. She should be done by now.”

The demon looks at its phone and then the officer. "Could you please see if Cymbeline Hand signed out?”

“Sure, just wait here. Won’t be a moment.”

A minute later she returns frowning and scanning the room. “She didn’t sign out. We have officers looking for her.”

“Thank you. Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”

The demon goes into the restroom and locks itself in a stall.

The demon pours aether through its cover and Atticus’s eyes cloud over.

The Naturalist’s vision fills with a soft snow, the color of a winter sky. In between the tumbling chunks of gray, the demon makes out the interior of a van or ambulance. Pushing through the jamming field, Nat recognizes Cymbeline on a stretcher.

A sandy haired man in damp sweat pants pulls a needle from her arm. “Injection complete.”

His companion on the other side of him looks at a beeping device. He absently scratches the back of his head where a white liquid feeds in via a plastic tube. “Interference. 93% probability from a defective servitor. It is scanning us.”

The first man draws a thin knife from the medical kit beside him. “Incoming?”

The demon scrutinizes its targets, scanning the interior and spotting two more men up front. Nat encounters an odd resistance. The static obscuring its vision hides these men’s desires from it. It encounters the same bland emptiness.

“Not yet,” the first man says.

The Naturalist decides to act. It sheds its cover as Atticus taking on the form of the glorious angel it once was.

Its senses extended the demon perceives the coils of angelic power around the van. An unusual numina has been used to ward the space from extradimensional intrusion. Teleporting in will be difficult.

The men each have been affected supernaturally to make them pliable and obedient. It seems to be concentrated in the liquid feeding through the tubes in their heads.

Their minds are icily calm. They must deliver the target to the pier for transport. They don’t know where she is going. Under the flat thoughts the demon detects a current of euphoria.

The Naturalist manipulates its burner phone in its inhuman hands. It messages Daemon. “Agents of the machine have kidnapped Cymbeline. I need to act before they get her to port. Can you provide support? Need to shut down their vehicle.”

In his dorm room at the University, Daem snatches up his phone. “What are they driving? Are you nearby?” he texts.

“Some kind of large black van. I’m in the bathroom of the police precinct. Their cameras should have picked it up. Thinking of doing something stupid but not sure how else to stop them.”

Daemon logs out of World of Warcraft. “I can stop the van but I would need to be touching it. It is possible I can track it on a camera and reach it through the network then teleport onto it. But I would be totally exposed.”

Daemon considers their options. “That’s a stretch though. Do you know where it’s headed? I am more likely to get the boat locked down in red tape by the port authority.”

“Too dangerous,” Nat replies, his panic subsiding. “They know about us. Can you make the police realize they took her? Maybe I can try to cut them off at the port.”

“You can always call the cops if you want them involved,” Daemon tells the other demon. “Is that what you’re looking for though? That’s a lot of heat and attention.”

“I’m in the station now. They kidnapped her right from here. They injected her with something, and they are driving. The vehicle and the people are under the influence of an angel, blocking my powers including teleportation. Not sure if there is a way of helping her.”

Daemon queques up some command line windows. “Do you have a plate number? We could track it and get ahead of it. Is the angel in play?”

“212 AMW. Not that I can sense.”

Daemon quickly uses an old backdoor into the DMV. The plates are registered to a bakery called Angel Cakes on the north end of the city.

Then he switches tactics. His fingers sizzle along the keyboard. Daemon quickly accesses the city’s traffic system, hurriedly adapting a pattern matching algorithm to handle the images. He spots the van a few blocks from the waterfront in the Industrial District. Traffic is moderate with the influx of the lunchtime crowd.

Daemon texts the Naturalist. “The van is at 1st and Wall Street. I’m working on slowing it down. Do you have any other assets available for recovery?”

“I haven’t texted the others. I do not.”

Daemon accesses another part of the traffic system. A few lights malfunction leading to accidents and near misses. Traffic snarls, pinning the van in gridlock two blocks from the water’s edge.

“The van is locked in gridlock at Wall Street and Western Avenue. I can keep an eye on it remotely. Can you take it from here?”

The Naturalist focuses on its vision.

Inside the van, the Naturalist watches the men talk.



“Should we move on foot or risk waiting?”

One of the men upfront lifts up a strange device made of crystal and wire. He tunes it and touches it to his temple.

“We are to abort,” he announces. “Inject her with the catalyst. Then everyone proceed with Directive 5.”

The demon pulls an alien looking gun from his bag. Then he vanishes.

The Naturalist materializes within the van, the weapon pointed at the man crouched over Cymbeline.

The man ignores the demon and inserts the needle mere seconds before a bolt of blue tears a chunk of his shoulder off. The other men draw thin knives.

As the man struggles to complete the injection the Naturalist fires again. This blast craters his chest. He collapses on against the side door.

The other men glance at the half empty syringe and nod. They place the knives at their hearts and press down

The Naturalist looks over the gathering of corpses around it.

Daemon watches the traffic cams.

The van rocks for a moment. A flash of blue lights the interior for a moment though the tinted windows makes it hard to see anything. There is a second flash.

“Something is going down inside the van,” he texts the Naturalist.

“Daemon please free up traffic. I’m bringing the van to a place to dump,” the demon replies.

“I’ll do what I can about the traffic.”

As traffic slowly eases, Nat sends off a few quick messages. He thanks Daemon and then asks, “Could you please see if Hunter is available to meet me with a vehicle? Also if Weaver could meet me in the hideout?”

The Lacuna Job, Part IV
Infinity Sanction

Priscilla’s phone rings. She picks up.

A distorted voice asks, “what about our deal? What happened to the Dream Machine?”

“By deal you mean your blackmail?” the demon replies sourly.

“It wasn’t all blackmail. Not for you.”

Accabish considers that. Sensing a loophole, she pours Aether into one of the hidden rules of reality. Laws bend then break as she extracts Infinity’s location from the call. An image of the angular woman sitting upright in front of a wall of screens floats within her mind. Infinity is in a wood cabin well set back from the road in an empty quarter of Eastern Oregon.

“You mean you have information on my daughter? Do you want to do a side deal on that?”

“Do you still have the item?”

“Yes,” she lies.

After a moment of silence, Infinity says, “my electronics say you are telling the truth but I don’t trust them.”

“It’s really too bad you don’t trust your machines.”

After another awkward silence, she says, “if you can deliver the device, I’ll give you the information on your daughter.”

“Well I’ll need to get it away from the rest of my team first. How about I drop it off tomorrow at 10?” she ask, thinking of a location with poor surveillance. ”Down at South Washington and 1st?”


Daemon pours through company memos and private emails, neck deep into hacking Keystone Pharmaceuticals. Ever since he saw the article linking the company to land buys in the former memory hole of Yesler Terrace, he knew he had found the connection between Verdant Technologies and the Dream Machine.

The strange forgetfulness that until recently had a hold on the neighborhood must be connected to the Memnovores. Verdant took possession of the Dream Machine shortly after the effect dissipated. And Verdant is tied to Keystone and the tortuous web of subsidiaries and joint projects that make up the Pentex-Cheiron Group conglomerate.

The other interesting thing about the Keystone purchase was that the property, Ashwood Heights, was the former home of Seattle’s latest serial killer. Jarett Costa murdered three women by slicing their eyelids open. The relevant point for Daemon was Jarett’s claims of prophetic dreams and God-Machine imagery in his rants. He was probably a stigmatic, likely exposed at Ashwood Heights.

Hacking Keystone had been easy enough. After a couple hours he found the shipping records for trucks in the vicinity of Ashwood Heights just before the Dream Machine arrived at Verdant Technologies.

As for the recent purchase of Ashwood Heights, the official line is that this is an example of giving back to the community. But Daemon discovers they bought three plots of land. Ashwood Heights encompasses two of those plots but the third doesn’t appear to exist.

Also surprising is the fact that Keystone has paid One of a Kind Investigations for several jobs over the years. The last one was shortly before the Dream Machine ended up in Verdant Technologies hands.

Accabish and Daemon reveal their information at the next meeting of the ring.

“So we should strike at Infinity,” Accabish concludes.

The team discusses how they will counter the defenses the hacker has in place, especially any data dumps her removal might trigger.

The Naturalist scries her, watching the hacker for a few hours. Though the demon cannot detect any direct angelic influence, it does notice some crude infrastructure. Several sets of wind chimes hang around the darkened rooms. They appear to be some sort of shielding device. The homemade PDA she keeps on her person definitely is running Infrastructure level code. Nat also detects something weird about her personally though it can’t pin down what.

More mundanely interior of the building appears to clad in modular kevlar and steel security walls. There are no windows though frequent monitors attest to a network of security cameras.

The most worrisome thing to the demon are the documents displayed on the screens. Neural scanning papers, details on brain-machine interfaces, speculative material on uploading minds, and a large number of reports and evidence on the God-Machine. She wants to join mentally with its old master.

They decide to bring in some backup. Accabish puts in the call to the Black Pyramid.

The van bounces along the darkening road. Fading light touches a few parched trees and dusty scrub.

Inside the ring crouches in their facades with the Black Pyramid team. An albino called Snow drives them to infinity’s hideout while Mr. King goes over the plan with them and Barb, a towering warrior woman.

Daemon will accompany the team to secure her tech and cut off any last minute transmissions. As they approach he will enter the system in dataform. Accabish and Hunter will aid King’s team in any fighting. Nat will hang back using its abilities to provide remote intelligence. They will approach by stealth if possible where King and his people will secure the doors before they can close. Weaver will help should the security doors inside the house hamper them. The demon’s shears can cut through almost anything.

King lets them in on some of his people abilities. They practice their world’s ancient blood magics and have been further enhanced by their corporate superiors. Somehow this grants them superhuman reflexes and speed.

Daemon reads their strange crimson auras. Hieroglyphs and stars twinkling within the bloody mess.

As the sun sets, the terrain becomes even bleaker. In the final hours, they pass only two cars and a delivery truck going in the opposite direction.

Hunter’s skins blends with bare earth as his eyes scan the perimeter in night vision mode. If he didn’t need to guide the others, he’d be able to slide past these cameras easily.

He moves and the others follow.

Daemon trails behind, scanning the air for signals. As they get within a few meters of a camera, he turns into a stream of ones and zeroes, disappearing into the system.

The front door opens easily but the entrance hall soon splits forcing a choice: right or left.

“Straight,” Accabish says.

Weaver pulls a pair of giant shears from its shoulder and begins slicing.

Nearby Daemon traces the buildings power to a large lithium power cell . As it struggles to disable it a short signal escapes the structure.

The team makes its way through the newly darkened structure, their path illuminated by a ball of red energy in Mr. King’s hand.

Outside by the van, Nat’s milky eyes view Infinity’s control room. She waits, the glow of a custom PDA shining from her hand.

Daemon slides into the back of the team as they reach Infinity’s hideout. Up in front, Weaver spots strange blood stains on the woman’s shoes.

“You understand, I couldn’t be sure I could trust any of you,” the woman says. “Especially not members of the Black Pyramid.”

As Mr. King steps into the room, Daemon shifts into his true form. With a sickening lurch, his facade stretches and then shreds. The metallic being glows with electrical energy.

“We’ve got incoming,” he says.

As King and the others move in, Infinity’s fingers move with increasing slowness toward the PDA. Everyone grinds to a halt and stops except Accabish.

The demon slips forward in that instant of time, snatching the device from Infinity’s hands. As she hurries back into the pack, she slips the PDA into her pocket and tosses a curse upon the hacker.

Time speeds up as Accabish takes on her demonic form. The shining blue metallic woman stands ready to strike.

Hunter lunges forward ahead of the sorcerers. One moment he is a man falling to all fours and the next he is a metallic gold lion bearing down on Infinity.

The hacker stumbles back, her hands grasping the air where her device was a moment ago. Then he wrakes her leg with one claw. The other warriors tries to crowd in on her but end up interfering with each other.

Infinity retreats to a corner before regaining her balance. She lashes out with one hand. Electricity races up her body and down her arm. In the blue glow, her skin looks withered and leathery with stitching along every joint.

The blast strikes Hunter dead on and he tumbles back, his circuits momentary overloaded.

Outside the Naturalist hears the thunder rumble out of the house. Then he hears another crack answering from a few miles to the southwest.

“Two can play at that game,” Accabish shouts as electricity arcs around her body.

She grabs the hacker grounding the charge in her. Again the electricity arcs around Infinity revealing her true corpse-like features. As the sparks subside, the hacker’s wounds close up.

On the ground, Hunter’s own scorch marks fade. The lion snaps at Infinity from the ground but she skips past him.

And right into the middle of the Black Pyramid operatives.

Mr. King clips her shoulder with a sudden punch sending her into Snow who smashes her into a wall. As she staggers away, Barb topples the wall of monitor displays on top of her.

As she struggles to rise, Daemon brings his sword arm down swiftly twice. Her newly severed arms twitch for a few seconds as she glares up at him, critically wounded yet somehow defiant.

Daemon notices a signal emitting from her searching for a device in the area. As he readies his arm blade again, Accabish rushes forward and smashes her metallic fists into Infinity’s leg, shattering it..

Daemon swings but his sword sticks into a monitor.

Hunter rises to his feet and sinks his fangs into the crippled monster. She gasps, shudders and dies.

Outside the Naturalist climbs into the van. Another peal of thunder rolls over the land, closer this time. Hunter runs out of the building, Infinity’s body in his jaws.

Nat blinks and Mr. King and his confederates appear next to the van, several hard drives in hand.

Accabish and Daemon hurry to catch up.

The next clap of thunder is much much closer.

As the van starts down the road, the thunder gets nearer and nearer. Daemon tosses a burner phone out the window. A moment later he disappears into it as mix of ones and zeroes.

A moment later the thunder stops right behind them.

Then they are alone on the long road to Seattle.

Daemon begins bouncing from cell tower to cell tower. an ominous booming chasing him through cyberspace.

He pings off a few satellites until the angel almost corners him high above Canada. Circuits pop and melt as the servant of the God-Machine attempts to overload the system and trap him.

At the last moment, he slips away, disappearing in networks across the Pacific.

Weaver runs over the events in Oregon as it looks over the dismembered body of Infinity. She might be a promethean, a reanimated corpse with strange alchemical powers, such as manipulating and healing from electricity. For some reason they are universally despised.

The Black Pyramid offer to take the corpse to analyze with their magics.

”We have techniques for interrogating the dead,” Mr. King says.

The Weaver gives its okay. “Share anything you learn please.”

Accabish takes King aside. “Since we provided Infinity’s location I think you still owe us something. I need your help investigating a personal matter.”

“Alright, what?”

“It is private. I’ll stop by later to give you the details.”

After the corpse and their allies leave, Accabish produces the PDA. Weaver scrutinizes the code within it. It is an incredibly potent gadget, perhaps a high level lambda. Its primary ability is to tap into the control codes behind the God-Machine’s minions, overriding their free will temporarily. It can also identify what the purpose an object or person serves in the Machine’s plans.

“I want to use it on myself,” the Naturalist declares.

“This was also made by Lilith,” Weaver says.

The Lacuna Job, Part III
Double or Nothing

With the matter of their deal with the Black Pyramid settled, the ring discuss which of the doppelgangers they will attempt to exterminate first.

“Joseph is becoming a liability,” Hunter says.

“Becoming?” Daemon asks.

Hunter shrugs.

“We need to be sure this won’t damage our covers,” Nat says. “As far as I can tell ’killing’ them and using the scepter has at least a 61.2% chance of working. That’s not good enough.”

The demons decide Joseph is the least valuable cover to preserve. Daemon begins tracking his purchases. Accabish offers to handle the footwork if Hunter investigates the doppelganger trailing her.

Talk turns to how they will handle isolating “Joseph”. Daemon suggests using his cats.

“What are your cats like, Hunter?” Accabish asks.

Joseph describes Mr. Whiskers, a tabby with a torn ear, and Stalking Death, a fluffy white Persian. Unfortunately both cats went missing when Hunter retired ‘Joseph’. The ring considers making flyers advertising the “found” cats.

“We could then direct him to meet us at a motel,” Accabish adds.

“He wouldn’t be that dumb,” Daemon says. “Would he?”

Hunter remains silent.


Daemon’s search turns up a transaction just after noon the next day. Joseph just bought some beers, coincidentally at the bar Dorian works at.

Dorian, a.k.a. the Naturalist, checks into work early. The demon finds a tired looking Joseph talking to an increasingly shocked and drunk Bob Jensen.

Listening in after dropping off another round, Nat hears the doppelganger explain how he has no one to turn to.

“Don’t you have family?” Bob asks. “Friends?”

“I have one friend,” the man says before staggering to his feet. “Yes, I’ll see him.”

The Naturalist texts the ring and a few blocks away Jane McCall, a reporter for the Slog, begins tailing him.

The temptor however slides up to Bob and asks him what is going on. Bob soon tells him the story: how his friend “died”, came back and seems sure someone is stealing his life. The Naturalist also learns about Joseph’s other oddities: super strength and the encounter with the bathroom alligator.

Nat tells him to pick better friends.

Weaver meanwhile spends the day working and researching. In the morning the demon spends an hour in its bolthole analyzing the strange dust that Dr. Ilyes brought her.

Tiny filaments emerge through its cover’s hands, sampling and categorizing the grains of dust. Strangely the demon detects no chemicals whatsoever. Instead, it experiences foreign memories.

A house flashes in its mind, gray and decaying. A faint warmth touches its wooden heart. Home.

Then it recalls a handsome man it has never met. The man smiles, standing confidently in an old fashioned brown suit. Trust but also fear.

Finally a white hot fragment of God-Machine core code races across the demon’s mind. A cipher or perhaps a key.

Weaver considers digging deeper but the timer goes off on Jean’s phone. Time for work.

On Jean’s lunch hour, Weaver calls Daemon.

“I need help identifying someone who has been asking questions about me.”

“Where and when?”

It tells him about the library and when Kelly told Jean about the visitor.

“Do you have a description?”

“Tall and thin. Average.” The Weaver considers the conversation.

“That’s not much.”

“A snarky T-shirt. A professional investigator.”

“That’s helpful,” Daemon says to the last item.

He scans through the library security footage until he finds the three targets that match the time window and descriptions. A college student, a man in his late 20s and an older balding man.

He cross references them with the city database and finds a hit.

Robert Mill, 33, employee of One of a Kind Investigations for the past 7 years. He emails his findings to Weaver.

Do you want me to look deeper, he asks in the message.

The other demon replies yes.

Elsewhere, Jane reports back to Accabish’s cover Priscilla. “He’s entered a shop named Magambo’s. Looks shady. There’s a wrinkle though. I think he made me before he went inside.”

The demon directs her to leave and tells her to find some cats for her. She forwards descriptions of Mr. Whiskers and Stalking Death.

Accabish considers the situation as she researches Magambo’s. Why did he go there? She finds the owner’s first name is Yves. Yves Magambo is Joseph’s friend from before Hunter fell. But Yves also wants Joseph dead and is unafraid of putting himself in harm’s way.

Yves is an angel, she concludes.

Accabish settles into her car from a block away. The alleyway lines up well to give her a direct look at the shop’s exit. From this far, no one can see her.

After a half hour, Yves exits with Joseph. Flanked by a pair of bodyguards, the angel waves goodbye. Accabish trails Joseph in her car. Her hair glows softly as she sense his aura for angelic interference. He is clean for now.

She calls Timothy, a stringer for the Slog, and directs him to follow Joseph until he crashes for the night.

An hour later Jane texts her some pictures of the cats she found. Accabish confirms with Hunter that they match well enough.

Around 5 that afternoon, Timothy tells her that Joseph is staying at a fleabag motel. He guzzling some red bulls. But he isn’t alone. A man in a dark car is watching the motel room from the parking lot.

Across the city Hunter sits in his patrol car, sipping some lukewarm coffee.

He studies the house on the other side of the street. The for sale sign looks a little worn and the grass a bit rough. Otherwise nothing seems out of the ordinary.

Then he spots her.

The teenage girl matches the photo almost exactly. Who is this doppelganger to Accabish? What would a demon be doing with a 16 year old?

The dark haired woman paces in front of the house, occasionally glancing at the house and biting her lip. After fifteen minutes she looks back one last time and starts walking away.

Hunter tails her to the local high school, another location on the list Accabish provided. He drives slow and she fails to notice him.

As she resumes her anxious loitering and fidgeting, Hunter blinks.

A figure in rags stands in the street. Somehow Hunter can’t remember how the emaciated man got there.

Slowly the chalk white creature turns, revealing a rotten visage and black soulless orbs. Hunter shifts gears and begins rolling away slowly.

He turns around to spot four faceless men blocking his path.

Events spin out of control. The dark suited things move toward the patrol car as Hunter shifts to reverse. A shotgun blast stops him in his tracks as a woman, a woman resembling an older version of the kid he was tailing, blows chunks out of the memnovore.

He pulls out his phone and hurried texts the ring.

Memnovore found while staking out. Avoiding

Autocorrect changes Memnovore to Mennonite.

Accabish texts: good job

Meanwhile the featureless men begin banging on the car. The side window cracks but holds.

Hunter pulls away quickly, retreating with the car back into the school’s parking lot. He quickly calls for backup. “Shot fired at Shorecrest High School. Officer under assault, requesting backup.”

As a crowd grows at the entrance to the building, he warns them to stay clear. ”Remaining inside and lock any doors until further notice.”

The woman breaks away from the memnovor and races to the school. She drops her sawed off shotgun, her long dark trailing behind her. As she reaches the mass of students and teachers, she vanishes.

Sirens begin to close in. The faceless men and the teenage target move out of direct sight of the crowd before winking out. By the time the cops arrive both them and the memnovore are nowhere to be seen.

Hunter helps sweep the area and answer questions about the attackers for the next hour. “They were wearing nylon masks.”

With no sign of the mysterious woman, either version, he heads back to the city and arranges to meet the rest of the ring that evening.

Daemon spends the rest of his afternoon alternating between level grinding a new character on WoW and researching Robert Mill.

Accessing hidden reserves of knowledge, the demon learns that Mill originally applied for the position of an IT specialist at One of a Kind Investigations. He acquired his detective licence in 2006. There was a suspicious arrest in 2011. He turned himself in after discharging his gun in a threatening manner outside a nightclub. But someone squashed the charges.

Stranger facts surround his coworkers. The company hired an ex-Seal sniper named Vittorio Vitacelli after the firm’s founder, Frank Brooks, went missing for three weeks. Frank is back on the payroll but he spent a few years at Hillcrest Mental Health Center to deal with his odd memory loss. Shortly after his release, he reported shooting and intruder. No body was found.

The whole mess screams hunters to Daemon. He tells the Weaver.

The Weaver thinks over how they decided to come after it.

Cory. He knew something was up and he only backed off around the time her cover suffered a minor compromise. He found something and then he found enough money to hire these investigators.

The ring meets up in the early evening. After ribbing Hunter about how his phone autocorrected memnovore, Daemon asks, “is Mennonites going to be our code word for them?”

“I think it already is,” the Naturalist replies.

Accabish explains that the woman, at least the teenager, is a doppelganger of her daughter, Mercedes or “Mercy”, her natural born daughter as an angel. “But I don’t know about this older woman. I thought my daughter died, that I completed my mission.”

The rest of the ring suggests she might be an alternate dimension version of her daughter. Perhaps even from the same world as the Black Pyramid.

Shelving that thought for a moment, the ring decides to strike at Joseph no while he is isolated.

Daemon pulls his car alongside the one watching Joseph’s motel room. As he lowers the window, the man inside barks, “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” the demon asks.

Under his steady gaze, the man o9pens and closes his mouth. The man’s face darkens before finally he drives off.

Daemon exits, pausing a moment to download files on dimensional sciences from the God-Machine’s secret stores. Now a master occultist, he joins Hunter and the others as they pick Joseph’s door.

Hunter pops the lock quietly and the four demons burst in before the doppelganger can prepare.

As Joseph lurches to his feet, he stiffens with pain clutching his leg. Across the room, Accabish loosens her grip on the weave of fate and gets inside.

The Naturalist gets out of the way as Hunter tackles joseph to the ground. As he pins him down, Daemon wrenches a hole in reality. As a vortex appears connecting the motel room to Weaver’s bolthole, his facade shudders but holds.

Hunter hurls Joseph through the portal. While the others rush through the gate, Accabish gathers Joseph’s meager conditions. She dives through just before the dimensional rip seals.

On the other side Accabish finds Joseph already subdued and duct taped by the rest of the ring. She takes her place nearby the Naturalist, scanning his surface thoughts with her demonic powers.

The Naturalist studies the doppelganger, digging into his memories. Slowly he pieces together “Joseph’s” story.

The doppelganger told Yves about which local Agencies Hunter works, with their methods of communication, and work he agreed to do. Basically everything Hunter did using his cover as Joseph. Luckily for the ring, Joseph’s direct involvement has been limited and he failed to mention them. He did however mention Ping who also bore a grudge against Hunter. Before they captured him, Joseph managed to tell Ping about Yves and arrange a meeting.

Accabish asks him about the cans of Red Bull and his fear of sleep. Joseph claims he will wink out if he loses consciousness. He thinks this happened when he was shot.

The demon tests his theory by pummeling him into unconsciousness. He doesn’t vanish.

Hunter slits his throat and his body crumbles away. Daemon using the rod locates his remaining essence floating nearby. Accabish targets it with the scepter and it evaporates.

Later that night, the ring slips into Jenny’s new home and repeat the extermination.

The next day, Accabish turns over the scepter to agents of the Black Pyramid. They deliver the payment: three leather purses and two leather satchels each linked to the same interdimensional space. The black reptilian skin matches well to the gold latches and inked hieroglyphs. They also receive a doorway that once placed against a surface will sink into it to create a form of bolthole.

Now they just need to wait until they are ready to strike at Infinity.

The Lacuna Job, Part II
The Escape

Accabish hurries into an alley and hides the scepter under her shirt.

She tries to reconstruct the events of the previous night. She recalls Daemon and the Naturalist leaving to infiltrate the warehouse around closing time. According to the plan, the Naturalist went in as a replacement janitor while Daemon entered via the wifi network and impersonated a researcher.

The rest of the Ring then moved the van into position after hours. Daemon and the Naturalist let them in. Accabish and Hunter then moved inside.

After that it got fuzzy. They located the lab with the Dream Machine. It was disassembled. Something happened. Monsters came for them. They tried to escape. Someone stayed behind. The building caught fire. She got to the van and they drove off. There was a tree.

The gaps in her memory torment the demon. She focuses on the cause. She remembers pale emaciated walking dead that seemed to suck up memories with a glance or touch. Some grabbed her, she is sure of it.

With that in mind, she traces the previous night connecting events around these gaps. A few details emerge.

The Dream Machine had been disassembled and core components removed. While they were in the lab, Weaver warned them of the monsters approach. Hunter and Nat hung back to guard their retreat. Hunter probably set the building on fire. Daemon tripped on the way out and she had to leave him behind.

The creatures swarmed the van as she peeled out. Weaver’s facade shredded as she fought them off. Accabish lost control and hit a tree. Shaken and worried about the arrival of angels, the demon ran away as best she could.

One thing is clear, the scepter came from the Dream Machine. It was a vital component they needed.

Then she spots her long dead daughter walking past on the street.

David Schmidt tours the charred wreckage of the warehouse, slowly winding his way to the yellow tape along the boundary.

Several SUVs pull up in front. Men in dark suits step out. The officer in charge intercepts them. Hunter inches closer to overhear them.

As the corporate men question the police about the crime scene, the demon feels a twinge as the one of the “bodyguards” scans the area. His eyes just skip past the demon, unaware that he isn’t human.

Hunter relaxes while the leader of this delegation from Keystone Pharmaceuticals demands access. They want to know who of their people have been accounted for. As the officer and the corporate employees talk, the demon learns that twelve people were supposed to be inside the structure last night. He glances at the eleven corpses laid out in the parking lot. With another in the hospital and a thirteenth in custody, someone is going to be asking some hard questions.

He recalls that the Naturalist should be accounted for in the cleaning detail. So either Daemon is dead or captured. Nat as well.

David finds some privacy outside the police tape and texts his allies. Found 11 dead. 2 in custody. Expected 12.

In the park, Jeanette slips out of the park as the siren approach. By the time the police officers reach the van, she’s already mingled with the growing crowd of onlookers. She hurries to a side street and makes her way home.

At the police precinct, Daemon hears arguing outside of the interrogation room. Despite his best efforts, the demon can only make out the detective’s anger. The other speaker refuses to rise to his volume.

Daemon debates leaving but lingers. A moment later the door opens and the detective shows in a blond man in a suit.

“Your lawyer is here,” he says grumpily.

The man places down his briefcase on the table and turns to the cop. “Could you give us a few minutes?”

The detective closes the door loudly.

The man turns to Daemon. “I’m Mr. Abrams.”

Instantly Daemon knows he is being scrutinized. Somehow this mortal can tell if he’s human or not. Fortunately his paper thin cover holds.

Abrams relaxes and sits down. Daemon shakes his hand, logging his identity.

Then the lawyer informs the demon, “Mr. Smith, you and I both know you don’t work for Keystone. Tell me what happened last night and this will go a lot easier for you.”

Daemon explains he doesn’t remember much.

“That’s not unusual.”

The demon begins to tell him the broadest details: there was a fire, it was night. “Perhaps if you told me what was going on there this might be easier.”

“The less you know the better this will go for you,” Abrams says. “Just stick to what you remember.”

Tired of this charade, Daemon steals Abram’s identity. The ‘lawyer’ slumps into a stupor as the demon discards his bloody lab coat for the professional’s jacket. He snags the briefcase and leaves the room.

The detective stops him outside. “You are ready now?”

“He’s writing a statement,” the demon explains. “Give him 20 minutes.”

“Better be a great explanation.”

“It will be.”

With that the demon leaves the police station. Once safely away he glances inside the briefcase. In addition to some papers, he finds a 9mm and a syringe full of a golden liquid. BSNX-9 he guesses.

The Naturalist props itself in bed up a few minutes after the nurses leave. The demon hears two officers talking outside the door with a physician.

Nat twists to look out the window. Three stories down, a white owl sculpture looks back at the demon.

The Naturalist pulls on its demonic powers. Circuitry and electric light traces along its skin as the demon’s cloudy eyes stare through space to Dorian’s apartment. A moment later the demon is there too.

Nat grabs Dorian’s cell and texts the others. Ow.

Daemon pops up in the feed. Everybody check in.

One by one, the team checks in.

Meet? Daemon asks.

Tonight? Hunter texts.

Location? the Weaver asks.

Wings is Nat’s reply, referring to one of their regular bars, the Eastside, known for its appalling chicken wings.

Sooner, now, Daemon urges.

Later. Nat concludes before giving his injuries a rest.

Accabish watches the thing resembling her daughter wander down the street. She glances at her burner phone, texts the others that she got out and tosses it away.

The strange device shifts awkwardly under her shirt as she begins to follow the young woman. Her daughter hasn’t aged a day since her death.

It doesn’t take long though before the teenager spots her. Accabish attempts to simply walk away but she finds herself tailed in turn.

Accabish makes for an open 7-11 down the street. The young woman or whatever she is stumbles along the way. Accabish hurries inside and ducks behind a stand of potato chips. By the time her “daughter” reaches the store, Accabish resumes her cover as Priscilla Webb. The journalist exits with her daughter’s doppelganger none the wiser.

As the crime scene, Hunter walks slowly over to his car. The radio crackles to life. There has been a shooting on the campus of the University of Washington. A man by the name of Joseph Mutsinzi was the victim of a driveby shooting.

Shocked, the demon decides to investigate.

David Schmidt finds a couple of officers already at the scene. A small crowd is slowly being interviewed including his old friend Bob Jensen.

Bob tells them that Joseph appear out of the blue this morning, surprised to learn he had been fired. The pudgy man explains he took ex-janitor to get a bagel and calm him down. Joseph called someone on the way. Then as the two of them were finishing their meal, a car drove up and someone shot at them. Joseph fell down, dead he thought.

Hunter looks around. No body or blood marks the concrete. Cracks cross a window in the storefront, intersecting at a bullet hole. An officer is looking at a few casings by the curb.

Then Hunter finds two bullets on the ground.

The chunks of metal are deformed, like he’d expect if they hit a living target. But again there is no residue of blood.

Hunter approaches Bob and asks some follow up questions about the incident. Bob indicates he didn’t see all the action. He tripped before the shooting started and fell on the sidewalk. He saw Joseph lurch back, he assumed from being shot. He fell but when Bob got up, he was gone.

The demon steps away and calls Daemon. He outlines the strange situation and asks the hacker to grab the footage from a camera he spots across the street. A few minutes later, the demon watches the weird event on his phone.

In the video Bob and an oddly blurry black man are leaving the store. Everything else appears to be in focus. The blurry figure suddenly turns and pushes Bob to one side as a car slows in front of the store. The man stumbles back. Then suddenly a blast of white static envelopes him as he falls. When it vanishes, he is gone.

Hunter texts the others. Everyone should check on your other covers.

Nat replies back. We have a very odd problem on our hands.

An hour earlier, the Naturalist texts Jenny’s husband John. How are the kids?

They are with you? he replies.

Quickly the demon’s eyes cloud over as it scries its children. It finds Jane and Jacob scampering about a park. Smiling behind them is Jenny. Jenny, its cover.

Nat texts John. Old message. At the park having ice cream.

ha ha, he replies.

That potential compromise dealt with, the demon shifts into Dorian’s identity. It heads for the park and this imposter.

The bartender finds “Jenny” pushing the kids on swings, helping them on slides and generally being an enthusiastic and affectionate mother.

The Naturalist extends its supernatural senses into this woman’s mind. What it finds is someone who really wants to give her children a great day. Digging deeper however, it finds an eerie truth. While it has all of Jenny’s memories, every moment experienced by Jenny, it also knows it only came into being shortly after 2 AM. Right when the demon encountered the Dream Machine.

It texts the rest of the ring.

The Weaver rests at Jean’s apartment. Around noon, her friend Kelly calls.

The librarian was reminded of Jean by a patron asking about the craft class. They agree to meet up that afternoon.

With the recent texts in mind, the demon stops by work first. Nothing seems to be out of order and her coworkers saw no doppelgangers today. Mike, her boss, does mention someone came by with an offer of freelance work. This Dr. Ilyes wants a chemical analysis done. Jean takes his card with her.

Later at the coffee shop, she and Kelly chat about their recent activities. The demon soon realizes the the patron that asked about the class was interested in more than learning to make birdhouses. The questions he asked seem like those of a practiced investigator. Unfortunately Kelly only describes him as tall and thin.

At least it isn’t Cory, it decides.

The demons spend their afternoons trying to recall the previous night. Unfamiliar with forgetting, the experience frustrates them. Eventually they reconstruct the basic events.

Daemon and the Naturalist completed their infiltration flawlessly. The demons disabled the security system and opened the way for the rest of the ring in the van. With the Weaver waiting behind, they infiltrated the lab where the device was being worked on.

Then the Weaver noticed lost time and snatches of blurs entering the facility. It alerted the team. But it was too late. The creatures swarmed them and everyone else inside.

Hunter and Nat hung back to buy the others time to escape. The Saboteur targeted some propane tanks. Nat was too close to the explosion. As the building burned Hunter escaped in the chaos.

The fire and emergency sprinkler system hindered the monsters. Daemon tripped on the slick floor and several of the things grabbed him. By the time he squirmed free, Accabish had long since reached the van and peeled off.

The things entered the van while it raced away. The Weaver fought them off in demonic form until finally they crashed into a tree in a nearby park.

Daemon considers the Dream Machine. He can recalls it had been disassembled and how the 50s era machinery contained ever more complex electronics. The room had been vast, far bigger than they had been led to believe. The machine seemed to contain more material than it possessed volume for.

But one item stood out. A scepter with technology decades if not centuries more advanced than the rest. They had determined it was the core of the device. Right before the creatures arrived Accabish grabbed it. When he last saw her as the things swarmed him, she still had it. It at least escaped the blaze. He relaxes.

Daemon’s curiosity somewhat satisfied, he then turns his attention to the new Cover he is building. A job at the Seattle Internet Exchange would open many doors for him. With a little work he had located two possible targets for pacts. One was David Mitchell, frustrated programmer and low man on the totem pole. The other, Archibald Simkin had powerful position within the organization. But the recent illness of his favorite aunt left him torn and distracted.

The demon weighs the options and decides discretion equals safety. He types up an offer to Mitchell: a new exciting position for his signature. He readily agrees and the demon dispatches a courier.

Daemon trawls through the Knights of Chaos forum to fill time before the meeting. As expected Bob has brought up the shooting of Joseph. But the demon also notices a thread discussing a rash of missing time. Something is targeting his minions.

As night approaches, Accabish entrusts Vince with a long heavy brown bag. “Keep this safe and don’t look inside.”

One by one the demons meet at the bar. The Naturalist arrives with its hoodie up and a frown on its face. As they wait for Accabish to arrive, talk turns to the doppelgangers.

What are they? What do they want?

Hunter and Nat relate what they know which isn’t much.

“Perhaps they are fetches,” the Weaver suggests relating that line of legendry. “Or doppelgangers.”

Daemon checks the ring’s finances to ensure no one else has a double running about. They find that they are clear. Except that Joseph just bought some coffee from a 7-11. It seems death isn’t permanent with these creatures.

As Nat notes the time these doubles popped into existence, the demons begin to reconstruct the events of the previous night. Though they recall most of the events before the attackers arrived, they still have gaps in their minds, places where no record exists.

What were those things? From snatches of memory, they sketch out their appearance and abilities. Chalky skin, black eyes, blurry on video tape, inhumanly fast, invisible to mortal memory. Something clicks.

The Naturalist, Daemon and the Weaver each relate the rumors they’ve heard about the rare beings known as Memnovores. These “memory-eaters” share many qualities with vampires including a resistance to mortal harm. They devour the very memory of their presence granting them a form of invisibility.

With some further research, they even find a video purporting to show the autopsy of one of these creatures. The picture jerks about as the filmmaker moves the camera about a homemade autopsy room.

“Take a look at the late great Francine Johnson,” someone says.

The handycam focuses as best it can on the emaciated creature on the metal gurney. Its pale skin resists focus however, smearing in the video even though the rest of the shot is clear. A Y-incision has been carved into the bony humanoid torso and the top of its skull have been removed.

A different male voice off camera says, “Here is an associate of ours with some medical experience.”

The camera turns toward a man in hospital garb who quickly shields his face with one hand. “I don’t want to be on the film,” the first voice says. “Please keep me off this, I’ll provide medical experience.”

“Okay”, a third voice, likely the cameraman, says. The video settles on the blurry corpse. “Tell me about the creature.”

“By all biological rights this specimen should have been inanimate for the last twenty or thirty years. If this was found in the Mojave desert, I’d believe you.” This “expert” then begins to list his findings. The video jerks a couple of times before clicking into a steady shot.

“One of the things we are trying to find out is what it was using in lieu of a circulatory system,” the doctor says as he begins to speculate on the biology of the creature. “There was no sign of a brain whatsoever.”

“Well it was a woman,” the second voice quips. He laughs for a moment before a smacking sound is heard. “Ow.”

The video jumps momentarily as several minutes of intervening footage is cut.

The cameraman continues to interview the expert. He notes the lack of any forgetfulness about the Sandman though it still appears blurry on film. “Maybe it is inactive.”

A female voice says, “Maybe it has to be conscious.”

The doctor continues his speech. He delves into the particulars of its bodily structure. He pauses as he considers the slow repairs to its body. “Where is it getting the material from? It has nothing to metabolize into tissue.”

“It might be pulling material from the air,” the woman says.

Then a few moments later the video suddenly ends.

The ring then contemplates if “Joseph” or “Jenny” is a memnovore or directly related to them. Daemon hacks Jenny’s laptop camera to check, confirming that she does appear blurry on video.

At that point Accabish arrives, delayed by traffic.

She reveals that the scepter they retrieved is safe. The team related their own experiences and the surmises about these doppelgangers.

Accabish points out that only those demons with more than one cover have been affected. Without fully revealing her own problems, she suggests that the others might encounter doppelgangers replicating people from their pasts.

Talk turns to how to remove these threats to their stolen lives. The Naturalist recruits Daemon’s help in determining the true nature and threat of Jenny.

Later that evening Daemon teleports into Jenny’s apartment after she falls asleep. Using his superior Aetheric senses, aura reading abilities and the augmentations granted by Lilith’s rod, he examines the sleeping “woman”.

Her aura resembles the outermost edge of a demon’s. But inside there is nothing. She is like an empty cover. She also displays heavy traces of God-Machine influence.

He teleports out and reports his findings.

Meanwhile Accabish examines the scepter. She discovers that this too was a creation of Lilith’s. While it possesses many powers, the most accessible include the ability to allow one’s cover identity to act as an independent being and to suppress the supernatural powers of angels and demons.

She confers with the Weaver. The other demon agrees an inadvertent use of this device might have spawned the doppelgangers. But if they could kill one, returning it to a temporary nascent state, then the second power could nullify it entirely.

The next day the Weaver calls Dr. Ilyes.

The voice of the doctor from the autopsy video thanks her for her time. He explains he works as a freelance CSI and needs an independent opinion on a sample from one of his jobs.

She invites him over to the lab.

A few hours later he arrives. The pudgy man shows her a vial of a strangely colored dust, dust that shifts and shimmers like the remains of the memnovores she killed in her escape the day before.

As she conducts several tests, Ilyes questions her about various highly technical procedures. The demon gauges this 30-something man is checking its skills. What does he suspect, it wonders.

The sample itself defies investigation. It matches no element known to the demon, possess no spectrographic signature (despite clearly having a color), and fails to appear on X-Rays or other active sensors.

Suspicious, the Weaver asks to keep the sample or part of it for more tests. Ilyes refuses, explaining his employers refuse to part with it.

Before returning the vial to the doctor, the demon quietly steals a trace amount. More than enough for its own, internal mechanisms.

The Lacuna Job

Accabish hurries down another city street. Above the sky begins to brighten with the coming dawn. Somewhere sirens scream. The faint smell of smoke lingers over the neighborhood.

She stumbles on the curb, unfamiliar with the flimsy cover she’s wearing. With horror she realizes she can’t recall how she got here or anything else from the past few days.

Looking down, she notices blood dripping down her arm, staining her sleeve and sinking into the strange metal rod she has clutched in her hand. Silver circuitry traces along its surface and numerous LEDs stud the length of the club-like implement.

A phone rings from her pocket.

She pulls it out. The screen shows an unfamiliar number.

As she answers, she hears a sound like rushing distant sound like a tunnel. The echoing hoarse voice on the other end asks, “What about our deal?”

She remembers.

Priscilla Webb decides on the stories for next round of articles on the Slog just as the phone rings. She recognizes the line as the number she supplied the Black Pyramid.

The connection cuts in and out with a rushing noise in the background like someone travelling through a tunnel. The rough voice on the other end introduces himself as Neferronpet. He explains he is a more senior member of the Black Pyramid with a greater latitude for bargaining than the agents his organization is forced to use in her world.

After some slight recitence, he lays out who the Black Pyramid is and why they are after the Dream Machine. They are one of the many guilds that control magic and society in a parallel reality. Something happened, something that broke their world. Whole continents vanished and the stars began to go out. Now the guilds seeks to save their reality by whatever means they can. The Black Pyramid seeks to use the Dream Machine and the resources of the God-Machine to stabilize their dimension.

Accabish accepts the premise and notes favorably that these sorcerers have not realized that she is anything other than human. She lets him know that she and her associates also seek the device though not for themselves.

Neferronpet offers to pay well if she were to retrieve it for them instead. Millions of normal people like her still remain in what remains of his world.

Accabish asks to discuss this face to face. The Neferronpet explains that travel to her world is too dangerous for himself but that he will direct Mr. King, who she met at the tattoo parlor, to provide whatever assurances she desires. They arrange a meet at the park.

Mr. King meets her on a park bench as people jog by or push strollers filled with children.

Accabish asks King from more details on his world. The man adjusts his sunglasses and describes a place run by what sound like corporations with a distinctively Anglo-Egyptian aesthetic. They merge ancient magics with cutting edge technology to protect what remains. But it is insufficient to stop the destruction of their dimension.

The demon asks how his allies found her. He reveals that they can peer back in time and simply traced back her steps from when she spooked Liles Barber. They’ve had their eyes on him for some time. His employer, a being they call Lilith and who they claim was once a servant of the God-Machine, seeks to use the Dream Machine to return to its service.

She asks what happened to the people who ambushed her. King says that a strange gray beast attacked them. The sorcerer suspects it is from her world. He goes on to explain that he tracked the monster back to a location in Phinney Ridge before he lost its trail. He also noted some sort of temporal distortion in the area but remains unsure where it came from.

Accabish notes the location where he lost it and asks about the Dream Machine itself. Mr. King tells her that it is a window into the equivalent of the God-Machine’s subconscious. They hope to implant a program into it so it will act to save their world.

It is also the size of a small room.

Accabish asks if he has a place to store it. King assures her he can line up a storage location if they retrieve it.

The demon ends the interview by explaining that she needs to get the approval of her allies first. They arrange to keep in touch.

Later that day, Accabish considers the dossiers again. Her mind traces along the pattern of evidence seeking clues to their blackmailer’s identity. Things click into place. Infinity dealt with almost everything remotely, but she had to enter the clock tower herself. Drawing on hidden databases within the cracks of reality, the demon deduces her opponent’s appearance. A thin angular woman whose black curly hair expands out in all directions. Something seems off about the African American hacker, but even Accabish can’t put her finger on it yet.

Smoke rises over the wreckage of a lakeside warehouse. The teams of two fire engines tromp through the ashes snuffing the final guttering flames. Nearby several police officers help others with grimmer work: cataloguing the bodies of the people who were trapped inside. An ambulance idles nearby at the ready.

Yellow tapes slowly surrounds the scene.

Daemon wakes up. His head pounds, aching where he lay on the concrete.

The demon blinks with unfamiliar eyes. Pastel blue paint covers the prison cell. Gray morning light leaks through a barred window.

He looks down. His facade’s lab coat is bloody but he finds no cuts on his person only bruises.

The demon does find a wound in his mind, a gap where the memories from the past couple days should be. Dimly he recalls stumbling out of a burning building. The cops nabbed him. Then they tossed him in here.

That much is clear. But before that…

He strains.

Images spark inside his electronic brain. An explosion. Things chasing him and the rest of the ring. They had to get to the van. Then he tripped. They left him behind while the creatures swarmed him.

The door into the hallway opens. A policeman enters with a detective in a brown suit.

“You’ve got a lot of questions to answer,” the detective tells him.

Daemon decides to play up his wounds and replies that he was just an innocent bystander.

The detective asks the officer to take him to interrogation while he checks on his credentials. The demon puts up no resistance and in fact leans into the man, logging his identity for future use.

As he sits in the concrete white room, Daemon listens to the chatter on the local wifi and cell networks. The cops are investigating a fire at a warehouse in the Lake District. They’ve found twelve bodies so far. Twelve bodies and him.

Then he hears something new. There is a survivor.

Hunter hurries down the street.

Away. From something.

He stops. The facade he is wearing is unfamiliar but smells of smoke.

His phone rings. David Schmidt’s phone rings.

He shifts covers and the policeman answers his phone. His commanding officer directs him to help out at the lake front.

”I’ll be there soon,” he says.

He turns. The smoke billows up a dozen blocks back the way he came.

The Weaver turns over its elegantly carved fingers. Shifting, multicolored motes drop from its wooden frame and perfectly taut threads.

Around it the dust covers the interior of the van in an inch thick layer. Perfectly sliced cuts decorate the sides and roof. The back door hangs open a crack revealing a sliver of dimly lit greenery.

The demon turns around, the dust tumbling off of it. The windshield is covered in cracks obscuring somewhat the tree that the van collided with. The driver’s side door hangs wide open.

The Weaver carefully examines its surroundings. The cuts were made by its shears. Several people or creatures must have fought the demon. It won. From the pattern of dust inside and just outside the van, someone else was driving. They escaped on foot. As for the attackers they must have turned into this dust.

The demon takes on Jean’s form and slips out of the van. Already sirens fill the air. Jean sneaks into the bushes and tries make sense of this.

As she crouches down, it all crystallizes. The ring infiltrated the warehouse but then everything went sideways. Things appeared out of nowhere and before the demon knew it the building was on fire. Accabish and the Weaver escaped to the van but the creatures, gray skinned and wild, swarmed them.

The Weaver’s facade shredded and the demon fought back with all of its strength. Shears meant to craft the finest gowns turned the undead things to dust.

David Schmidt ducks under the police tape. The fire crews stomp through the wreckage looking for anything smoldering while EMTs and police catalogue the dead.

He thinks back to when the ruined structure was whole. What was he doing here?

Hunter recalls snippets. Some sort of faceless horde bearing down on them in white corridors. Too many grasping hands. The demon and someone else hung back to buy the others time to escape. The lettering on some propane tanks jumped out at him. He fired and the building became a hellhole. Then he ran.

An officer grabs his shoulder breaking his revery.

“Hey do you know what happened?” Lt. Lawrence asks him.

David shakes his head.

“You are Schmidt right? I heard you are looking to get into the gang squad.” The older man looks around. “I have some friends there. Let me know if you find out anything about what really happened here and I’ll pass my recommendation along.”

“Sure,” he says and begins joining the search.

As he inspects the damage, the demon realizes he lacks even David Schmidt’s rudimentary police skills. Drawing on his cover he fills in the gaps.

As David’s expertise trickles into his mind, details pop out of the wreckage. Charred pipes push out from the ash from far too many sprinkler systems. Patches of strange multihued dust peek out from under the debris. In the parking lot where the dead are laid out, rubber tracks show a large vehicle left the scene in a hurry.

Hunter puts on his gloves and quietly gets some of the dust on them.

“We’ve got a survivor!” someone shouts.

Nat’s first impressions are of pain and people shouting. The room rocks and someone tells the demon, “you’ll be okay.”

As the paramedics care for its battered body, the demon realizes it is in an ambulance. Slowly it tries to put the pieces together.

By the time they reach the hospital, the Naturalist is no closer to the truth. But it knows it must remain alert. As the anesthesiologist injects a sedative, the demon resists and feigns sleep.

They wheel him into surgery. The next couple of hours are unpleasant.

A week ago the ring met at their normal haunt.

Accabish explains to the others about the Black Pyramid’s desire for the Dream Machine and their willingness to buy it from them. She favors taking the offer, both to slight Infinity and to get something out of it.

The others however are less sure. They don’t trust the Black Pyramid and the idea of saving millions in another reality is only a slight inducement. They don’t want to betray Infinity before they can strike at the hacker. They decide to think on what payment they might demand first.

Accabish then turns the conversation to one of her leads on the hacker. The Black Pyramid traced the creature that attacked her assailants to a stretch of apartments in Phinney Ridge. Nat agrees to check it out but she convinces the demon to take Hunter along as well. “It could be dangerous.”

Meanwhile the others begin researching their targets, both Keystone and Infinity.

The Weaver learns that Keystone has a tangled history as a subsidiary of Pentex and the Cheiron Group. They began as endevour to research a cure for aging but now work mainly on psychotropics. But the demon also discovers a large secret research project underway, hoovering up hundreds of millions of dollars. Keystone has dozens of properties across the region, any of which might hold the Dream Machine. Unfortunately their internal files are locked away in isolated computer system at their corporate headquarters.

Daemon recruits Reactor into his research into Infinity. From their online contacts they learn Infinity is the handle of a skilled hacker with ties to some monster hunting groups. The criminal has a grudge against the Pentex corporation. Back in the 90s, Infinity ran a private message board. The material is gone but rumor has it that it had a very strange membership. In particular Infinity was obsessed with something called the God-Machine.

Expanding their search, they learn Infinity has never been charged with any crimes (internet or otherwise). Some say the hacker was behind some of the earliest facial recognition software, code that predated recent advances in neural networks.

Elsewhere Nat and Hunter find the likely location where the beast went to ground, a decaying tenement which seems to slide off the eye. Bars cover the dirty windows while thick curtains and papers obscure the interior. The soot stained paint hangs in ribbons off the nicotine colored walls.

Nat recognizes the hideout of a former monster hunter named Sorensen. Supposedly the man pays good money for cryptids. He collects them for his private zoo.

The pair enter. The interior hallway hasn’t been updated in decades. Scents of smoke, piss, and some faint metallic smell assault their senses. The elevator ahead of them sits vacant and broken. To one side a door is labeled Manager’s Office.

Nat glances at Hunter. Both of the demons wear nondescript male facades in their early 20s. They decide to pretend to be university students.

The pair knock and enter the office. Behind a desk a disfigured old man gruffly greets them. Heavy scarring covers over half his face from his wispy white hair down to his jagged jawline. An eye patch covers one eye while the other even colder eye probes them. He slowly rises and asks them their business.

Hunter recognizes the damage of a grenade at close range. He also realizes his bulky clothes hide body armor. Both demons note his right hand never comes into view from behind the desk. A sawed off shotgun, Hunter guesses.

Nat introduces the pair as college students needing help dealing with the gator people living under the University. Sorensen asks for ten grand in order to put them in touch with his contacts. When Nat balks, the old man points out it is only a semester’s tuition.

Meanwhile the demon looks into the hunter’s heart. He hits some strange resistance but learns that the crippled old man is striving to get off his pain medication and harbors a desire to get the one monster that escaped him: a patchwork monster called a Promethean. His pride demands it.

Nat reluctantly says he’ll consider it and they excuse themselves. As they leave, they hear pounding on the walls upstairs and perhaps some screaming.

The ring decide to research the old monster hunter before pressing further. Daemon digs into his past and learns that the real Sorensen died in 2006 in a skiing accident. Whoever bought and runs that building took up his identity in 2008.

The real Sorensen has a number of oddities about his background as well. Former force recon and a wildlife expert, he worked at a company called Verdant Technologies, a company with ties to Keystone Pharmaceuticals.

Nat tries to remotely read the old man’s mind but find itself blocked. Some sort of parasite or implant simply drains away any magical force acting on ‘Sorensen.’ From the grapevine, the temptor determines that the ex-monster hunter likely worked for Pentex originally. He is also known to be an asset of the Wallbreakers.

The ring discuss the situation. As they pool their information and in particular Hunter and Nat’s observations, they consider why Sorensen is keeping monsters in his home.

“He’s getting old,” Hunter comments. “This is how he feels he is in control. How he proves he is better than them.”

The ring decides to reach out to Ms. Storm and find out what the Wallbreakers know.

Meanwhile the Weaver continues work on the hazmat suit for the Deva contract. Unfortunately the demon has to make a choice: full body protection at the cost of becoming intolerably hot within 30 minutes. It realizes that is better than a Class A suit and proceeds.

A day later, Daemon and the Naturalist meet Ms. Storm at Black Iron Coffee. Though in the lower rung of the agency she can confirm Sorensen is an asset of the Wallbreakers.

“But,” she stresses, “he is only used in extreme circumstances. He isn’t subtle.”

When they question why they would use him at all, she indicates that the creatures he keeps can hunt targets based on a blood sample. The demon also tells them that they last used him a few months ago under a surprise order from the inner circle. She says she will ask around and learn why.

Daemon and Nat warn her that the source could be an Integrator. They inform her about the connection to Infinity, a.k.a. Lilith. Storm agrees to be subtle in her questions.

Meanwhile Daemon infiltrates Keystone. He walks in the front door like just another employee. After a few hours of navigating the busy halls, he finds an unsecured terminal, accesses their archives and locates where all of the money is going.

The warehouse where they are studying the Dream Machine contains six researchers during the day and two more each evening. A dozen security guards watch the perimeter. They are well armed and equipped with something called BSNX-9. Daemon downloads the details.

It appears to be a drug designed to counter mental interference and identify ENEs, extranormal entities.

The rest of the security system is equally strange. Machine learning algorithms trigger automatic defenses when there are glitches in the video feeds. High powered lasers and an extensive system of sprinklers then repel intruders.

What are they protecting themselves against?

The demons gather to consider their options. Again Accabish brings up the Black Pyramid’s offer. They decide to ask for some payment while they mull over whether they really want to betray Infinity so soon. Some suggest turning the Dream Machine over to the Wallbreakers instead.

Nat asks for a portable satchel that is larger on the inside. The team decides a secure bolthole would be very handy. Lastly they want the wizards to strike at Lilith/Infinity sooner rather than later. Hunter and Accabish add that they want to be cut in on the action when they do attack.

The Black Pyramid agrees to their terms.

Then Ms. Storm gets back to them. She’s learned that the inner circle has an important source that provides the agency detailed plans on what the God-Machine is working on. Because of her worth, this “asset” sometimes calls in favors in return. Siccing Sorensen’s beast on the Black Pyramid was one of those favors.

They realize that they only have only one real choice.

Daemon and the Naturalist brief the ring on the warehouse and its defenses. Luckily it is optimized against something other than demons.

They describe the plan. The Naturalist will enter the warehouse around shift change as a janitor. Daemon will enter via the internet and impersonate a researcher.

While they disable the security system and locate the Dream Machine, the rest of the Ring will drive the van into position. The Naturalist will let them in. After locating the device they will load it on the van and drive away.

As smoke rises in the background, the voice on Accabish’s phone repeats the question. “What about our deal? Do you have the item?”

“What have you heard?” she asks.

The man on the other end mentions the reports about a fire and the carnage left behind.

“We are regrouping,” she tells him. “Our deal is still on.”

The Cxaxa Interlock, Part II
Angels and Demons

Priscilla smiles as she reads the email from legal. The court dismissed Donna Angstrom’s libel lawsuit.

She turns her attention to the police report her contacts downtown helpfully supplied. The killings in the parking garage remain unsolved after two months of investigation. They found three dismembered bodies but only trace amounts of blood splatter. The officials still don’t know who they were, despite their numerous medical implants. Everything about them was strange: hundreds of medical scars, bronze pins and joints, computer chips in their heads, and hieroglyphic tattoos across their torsos. The one other clue, a leather scroll covered in strange writing, remains a cipher.

After convincing the detective in charge to part with a copy of the vellum and autopsy photos, she heads over the University of Washington. She shows them to Yuri, the graduate student she consulted with about the Dendra reliefs.

After signing the NDA, the woman excitedly tells her that the scroll is in hieratic. Some of it seems to be in code, but from what she can decipher it describes the observation of a Liles Barber. He fled after Priscilla did something and the writer intended to capture her to learn more. The whole missive is addressed to the Black Pyramid.

As for the hieroglyphic tattoos, they resemble those of the book of the dead and other magical writings.

The only Black Pyramid the demon knows about are the secretive rivals of the Wallbreakers. They are fighting over control of the University but very little else is known about the demonic agency. This Includes if they are really demons.

Accabish decides to find the tattoo parlor where her assailants might have been inked. It takes a few days but she locates a likely place.

Hieroglyphics decorate the window and walls of the small brightly lit shop. A man with skin so dark as to be almost blue greets her. Under his simple white undershirt, she spies the edges of tattoos done in white ink.

Accabish shows him the symbol and asks if he can do it. As he looks it over, she notices metallic silver in his irises. She asks about them and he claims unconvincingly that they are contacts.

Gripping her sunglasses, she lets her demonic nature come forth. Her eyes turn a bronze color as she tries to peer into his mind.

Instead she feels the tattoos on his body glow with power as they push her away.

Changing tactics, she says, ”What about your tattoos? I was told never to trust a tattoo artist who doesn’t show off his own work.”

Reluctantly he pulls off his shirt, revealing ornate hieroglyphic tattoos across his torso. She asks what they mean and he outlines the invocations to gods and demons, rites to protect him from harm both material and spiritual.

When she asks how he knows all this, he simply says that he had an enthusiastic teacher at his local university.

She thanks him for his time and rather than get the tattoo, she gives him her card with one of her disposable phone numbers. Marked on the back of the card is an invitation for the Black Pyramid to contact her.

A few days later, she feels a shudder as her cover is tested by some revealed truth. She keeps an eye out for threats but it isn’t until the next day that she learns the truth.

The Slog’s secretary calls her. “A Liles Barber wants to see you,” she explains.

Priscilla directs her to tell Mr. Barber to meet her at a local cafe in an hour.

Accabish finds the older man fidgeting in a corner booth. In his hands he holds a thick brown bag.

As she sits down, Liles explains that he has learned about how she broke into his storage container. His employer instructed him to meet with her and to provide her with some information.

He slides the bag across the table. “I have a second missive to give you after you’ve looked at that.”

Gripping a folder, he continues, “I am told there is information pertinent to yourself and individuals known to you. I don’t know what the papers contain and I don’t want to know. This whole operation has become too dangerous for my tastes. Perhaps I’ll excuse myself while you peruse the papers.”

As he orders another coffee, Accabish opens up the bag. Inside are five folders, each addressed to the cover identities of one of the ring. One of them, Jenny Olson, is unfamiliar to the demon. She looks at it first.

The folder has a full history on Jenny, her husband John and their two children. Also included are images of Dorian and other facades used by the Naturalist captured on security cameras. The photos suggest that the individual pictured vanishes one moment and is replaced by a new person moments later.

She additionally finds medical records for a Jacolyn Gold after she was hit by a car at high speed. She suffered no broken bones or significant injuries but the report shows she had numerous surgical procedures done some time prior to the accident as evidenced by surgical pins and scars. Hieroglyphic tattoos cover her back.

Accabish turns to her own file. In addition to the mundane details, there is a chronicle via newspaper clippings of Priscilla Webb’s sudden rise to the top. Documentation of the damage to the storage container is also included as well as security footage showing her sign up for the other damaged container.

Lastly there is a photo of her daughter, grown up and wandering the streets of Seattle two weeks ago.

Liles returns and slides the other folder over to her.

“My employer has a job for you. This covers all the details you need.” He sighs. “That concludes my business with you.”

As he turns to leave, she says, “I hope they are paying you enough.”

“I thought so until a few weeks ago.”

Alone, she reads over the papers within. Liles’ boss, someone called Infinity, wants her and her allies to steal a device called the Dream Machine from a company called Keystone Pharmaceuticals. A phone number is provided for once they obtain it. Two other groups are after it. One of them is the Black Pyramid. The other is the mysterious force that controlled the device when it was located in Yesler Terrace.

The Dream Machine, she realizes, sounds like Command and Control Infrastructure. Just like the Lizard Brain. If the former has fallen into the hands of mortals, perhaps the Lizard Brain was meant to replace it and seal off a vulnerability.

Daemon spends the next couple of days digging into xxxsonyxxx’s fake trail. Something about it bothers him. Even though he can’t locate the guild member, something about his coding style strikes him as familiar.

Then the demon realizes where he has seen this before: his rival Reactor.

He spends the next evening searching internet forums and learning what his old friend has been up to. He discovers Reactor has been asking about the Marianas Web.

One poster sends a copy of a conversation he had with the master hacker.

Why are you so interested in the Marianas Web?

I want to get in



Daemon decides to locate his rival. His signal proves hard to pin down, jumping from Europe to the Northeast United States. The demon realizes the hacker uses some form of interdimensional travel and finally locates one of Reactor’s safe houses in Detroit.

Daemon reaches out to him.

Knock knock appears on Reactor’s screen. Follow the White Rabbit

Very corny, Reactor writes back.

A woman knocks on his door. Reactor sees the newly inked rabbit tattoo on her shoulder and follows her to a hotel suite.

He finds Daemon in a new facade along with several more of his cult. The two greet each other before moving to a room off to the side.

Alone together they begin to talk about their interactions and common goals. To smooth things, Daemon uses on his powers to learn the secret signs of Reactor’s occult society.

Deceived into thinking the demon belongs to the Red Company, a guild of hedge merchants and explorers, Reactor, also known as Rocco, relaxes.

Under his dark glasses, Daemon’s aura sight sees that Rocco’s tattered soul is entwined with thorns.

Rocco reveals he has infiltrated his guild but not to subvert it. He just wanted to see what Daemon had learned. And to enjoy the raids.

Even though Rocco voices his distrust of pacts he agrees to make a deal with Daemon. “They can cost more than you expect”, he explains, arcing electricity between his fingers.

Daemon exposes his coppery eyes.

Rocco shakes Daemon’s hand. “Let’s agree to share any information about getting in for a year and a day. Just don’t cross me.”

The man the Naturalist finds isn’t the healthiest but his age is correct. 47 and homeless. A quick trade makes him a bit younger and a bit luckier. The demon pockets the stolen years.

That contract plus Cymbeline’s pact gives the Naturalist a cover as her parent, generically African American with the last name Hand. It has more work to do.

Hunter finds his new life both familiar and surprising. A man at the station keeps asking David Schmidt for his twenty bucks. When he expresses his confusion, the hefty officer just laughs and says he’ll get it from him next time.

For now he focuses on helping the Gang Unit. Hopefully he can get transferred to it soon.

Jean focuses on a new project at Adamant Technologies. At her own initiative she began work on a hazmat suit designed to deal with the threats likely from the Deva Corporation contract. Intrigued, Mike, her boss, lets her go ahead.

Jean reads the test report from the sound tests. Acoustic isolation works well.

But to get the desired level of mobility and atmospheric isolation she needs a good filtration system. She glances across the hall to where Scott Liles just completed the necessary work.

Jean walks in on him, catching a snap of music from Minecraft on the way. Liles looks up at her with suspicion.

“What do you want? Are you looking for more work to magically complete?”

She explains she needs his filtration system to complete her project. Though reluctant, she eventually wins him over.

“I owe you one,” she said.

“You bet you do.”

The Naturalist invites the others to the Baudelaire to discuss Cymbeline and their other troubles.

Hunter brings up Yves. His “friend” tried to kill him and seemed very sure he wouldn’t die in the crossfire.

The Weaver points out that leads to two conclusions. Yves might have been testing Hunter and that Yves himself has little to fear from bullets or worse weapons. Both are disturbing ideas.

Hunter agrees to leave him alone for now. Joseph has already disappeared from the face of the world.

Turning to the main problem, the Naturalist asks what they know about Cxaxa as she seems tied up in Cymbeline’s “destiny.”

The ring discuss the rumors they have each heard. Cxaxa was a powerful demon, one whose legend resounded down the millennia. She openly ruled a city state somewhere in Asia or Africa for centuries. Somehow she avoided the God-Machine’s attention, either through magic or sheer strength, for all that time. But in the end she died and her nation with her sometime before the rise of ancient Sumeria.

The Naturalist resolves to invade Cymbeline’s dreams to learn more

That night the demon reads the girl’s mind as she sleeps. The Naturalist watches dream imagery flit by as Cymbeline encounters signs and portents.

A mirror that isn’t a mirror. The eyes of salt. A heart full of flies. A town by the bay. The body orchard within a deep ancient wood. A gown crafted from a silvery substance neither cloth nor metal. A sky heavy with storm clouds.

The dream roves over a seaside town, through the docks, past the church, over the park and along its many streets. As her mind searches for something, Cymbeline catches flashes of where the Naturalist has hidden the other artifacts crafted by Cxaxa.

The whole dream has a feeling of expectation and unrealized potential. The former messenger realizes it is viewing part of an occult matrix. Raw and poorly calibrated but an occult matrix regardless. Cymbeline dreams are giving her a message, a message sent by a demon long dead.

The next morning the Naturalist talks to Cymbeline about her dreams. The teenager explains she’s had them as long as she can remember but that they intensified a year ago when she turned 16.

The demon advises her to research her genealogy. “The secret of your dreams might lie there.”

Then Nat texts the others. Not the God-Machine. Occult matrix. Possible Resurrection?

How bad? Daemon asks.


The ring meets later that day. With the new information, the decision becomes whether to allow Cxaxa to complete her resurrection. That hinges on whether she can be trusted. With little information to go on, the demons decide to abort this occult matrix.

Hunter attempts to convince the others to let Cymbeline to find the third artifact first and then destroy one of the gadgets. He is overruled and the team decide to unravel the goggles before this gets too far.

Weaver advocates conducting the operation in the already contaminated sewers just in case the leaking Aether infects any nearby mortals.

“I think you think about this more than I do,” the Naturalist comments.

Once in the sewers, the Weaver carefully breaks down the gadget. The eyes crumble in its hands and a strange wind blows the crumbs away.

The Naturalist visits Cymbeline afterwards. The demon finds her less driven before. Her cycle of dreams seems ended and though she remains intrigued by her destiny, the drive is gone. Nat explains that it will still look into Bainbridge and the last part of her ‘destiny’.

Cymbeline gives Nat a quick description of the town, once voted the second best place to live in the United States. The rich neighborhood serves as a bedroom community for downtown Seattle. The only access is via private boat or the ferry. Church attendance is surprisingly high, especially for the Church of Christ, Scientist.

Before heading out, Nat resolves to keep an eye on Cymbeline just in case.

The ring arrives by ferry disguised in generic facades. Lush green foliage covers the island and as they step off the docks they note the clean streets. Not even a stray leaf mars the enjoyment of the very white inhabitants.

“I’m getting a Stepford wives vibe here,” Nat says.

Daemon senses a strong source of Aether in a nearby church. The ring move towards it along the edge of a large partially wooded park.

The demon pulls the rod from his pocket and takes a sounding.

A distant thwack emanates from the baseball diamond.

Daemon detects the taint of the God-Machine in everything from the buildings down to the perfectly manicured blades of grass.

A baseball lands near the demons and rolls over to them.

A large dair haired man runs up and asks for it back. His widen as he sees Hunter. “I’m Reverend Jones,” he says.

Daemon’s eyes turn copper behind his sunglasses as he reads Reverend Jones’s aura. As the clergyman looks at him, he realizes this man can see auras himself. The stigmatic knows what they are.

Nat asks him about the town and explains it is looking for a realtor. The Reverend Jones refers him to Miss Ryden as he attempts to conceal his fears.

Daemon sees through him, picking out his foremost desire: to protect his town without the use of violence.

“Well I need to return to my game,” the clergyman says, running off.

The ring determines they have at least a half hour before the defenders of this town marshal against them. They tour the park. Only a few toddlers populate the elaborate playground.

They decide that rather than visit the church they will examine the community center first.

Inside the unassuming structure, they find an elderly woman manning the reception desk. From the foyer, the community center opens up into a large hall. Other doors from the front room lead to the council chambers, a museum, and several other meeting rooms. The museum catches their attention. Unfortunately it is closed for the weekend.

Nat walks up to the receptionist, Mrs. Edwards, and distracts her with questions about the community.

While Daemon and Hunter keep an eye on the front door, Weaver slips into the museum. Inside she finds various artifacts pertaining the history of Bainbridge and Seattle itself: old china, maps from the past three centuries, old muskets and rifles, and equipment from the original settlers and logging era. Some photographs and paintings complete the collection.

At one end of the hall, Weaver spots a door behind a penny-farthing bicycle. She also spies a security camera watching the door. She slips up under it and with some quick wire work sends it into an endless loop.

Beyond the door, she finds much stranger objects: a skull with circuitry running through it, a dozen rats joined together by their fused and knotted tails, a fragmentary piece of stone from the Lighthouse at Alexandria, an unlabeled idol that looks like a brutish fish with three-lobed eyes, a bottle of something black and ancient labelled as blood from the stigmata of St. Francis, and a number of black-and-white photographs of crop circle formations from various places.

In an unmarked glass case at the far end of the gallery, the Weaver discovers a silvery cloak that is clearly not natural. The Weaver lifts the padlock on the case and starts picking it.

In the foyer, the front doors open. Reverend Jones and two other people walk in. Hunter busies himself looking at a plaque as Daemon quickly texts Weaver. Heads up.

The trio head for the council chambers. The demon scrutinizes the new man and woman. The stout man with graying hair reveals the vibrant aura of a mortal psychic. A tracery of suspicion and laziness encircles him.

The man looks intently at Hunter for a moment, perhaps peeling away at his own secrets. Then he pushes Jones in the council room with a panicked look.

The woman gives them a sour look and follows. Daemon sees her angelic form through her aura.

Daemon grabs his allies. He pulls them outside and away from the angel. As they retreat, Hunter’s facade shudders and his hair turns an unnatural gold.

Inside the secret museum Weaver gets the text. The demon abandons its lockpicking and phases its arm through the glass. As the demon pulls the cloak out, its skin takes on a wooden texture. The Weaver slips through a wall and meets the others as they pass through the park.

The ring heads to docks, well aware that the defenders of this place are after them soon. Daemon spies a man in the process of casting off. He bumps into him and snatches his identity. As the dark haired fellow slips into a stupor, Daemon leads the rest of the demons onto the boat.

Once safely on Puget Sound, the Weaver descends into the cabin to analyze the cloak. Hunter and Nat also examine the boat while Daemon pilots them across the waters.

Weaver discovers that the cloak is a creation of Lilith. It shields its wearer from the God-Machine and its agents making them invisible to angels. Even mundane investigation becomes unnaturally difficult. However, the interference slowly shreds Covers.

The others find their own surprises: a metal case with a sniper rifle and numerous firearms hidden aboard the boat.

They decide to leave the weapons where they are.

The distribution of the robe proves harder to decide on. Everyone agrees it is a powerful asset. But it is also one to use as a last resort. They also quickly conclude that Hunter, their resident loose cannon, will need it most. But no one (besides Hunter) wishes for him to be in charge of it.

After much wrangling, they vote to place it in Weaver’s bolt hole until they can secure a communal space of equivalent security.

They soon reach the city, leave the boat at the dock, and discard their facades. Once more they are safe in the city.

Jean leaves work late one evening. The summer light is just beginning to fade. She doesn’t notice the car waiting at the corner nor the figure inside watching as she walks to the bus stop.

Feminine hands raise a cell phone up, the screen tracking her motion. A well manicured finger taps the screen. An image of Jeanette freezes in place, crisp and perfect.

“At least she isn’t one of those,” Lillian Shaw says as she sends the photo to the rest of her cell.

Accabish joins the ring as they discuss their latest success. After they fill her in on the cloak and their clean escape, she says, “we have a problem.”

She reveals the details of her own investigation and then gives them the dossiers Infinity sent her.

Daemon finds a full roster for the Knights of Chaos including most of their real names and addresses. A subfolder contains series of news articles, internal memos and forum postings chronicling his notable hacks. Most troubling is a side by side comparison of his coding projects and the “proprietary” source code for UltimaQuest.

Hunter finds a usb, photos of his various missing cat advertisements, a photo capture from one of the webcams monitoring the sewer entrances when he made his dramatic escape, and documentation linking him to the Rwandan Genocide.

As the Naturalist looks over Jenny’s file, the Weaver finds that both her bolthole and aether source have been located. Their blackmailer has been inside the clocktower where she gathers the waste of the God-Machine.

The Weaver examines a facial recognition matching report. It clearly identifies Jeanette’s face as that of Carrie Coulson. The file also includes details on Carrie’s new life in Nice and Corey’s obsessive search for the truth.

Adding to the growing paranoia are signs like changes to work schedules, bus line routes, and other seemingly mundane delays all leading up to the incident that brought the ring together. The surveillance begins before they formed as if Infinity had been grooming them all along.

They consider their options. Clearly they have to do the job. But Infinity is also going to have to go down.

The Cxaxa Interlock

Alex’s heels click on the concrete as she walks back toward campus. Another frustrating night following that damn janitor around. She reaches the corner and looks down the long dimly lit road. A car breezes by.

Madison was supposed to be here. She’d gotten weird and distant these last few months, especially after that surprise scholarship landed in her lap. Alex pulls out her phone and searches for her uber app.

A black van glides in behind her. It stops for a moment, the side door sliding open. Gloved hands reach out and pull Alexandra in before she can call out.

Hours later Alex opens her eyes. A single light shines down on the wet concrete.

She tries to sit up. Metal chains bind her arms to the steel post behind her.

Something large moves in the darkness, its joints squealing like rusted iron.

“Tell me,” a metallic voice booms. “Tell me about the man who killed the Lion Tamer. Tell me about Joseph Mutsinzi.”

In the weeks following Sabek’s demise, Shaun Wykes’s dreams become sporadic and disjointed. His psychiatrist begins to focus more on his memory gaps and refers him to a Dr. Trevor Sorenson, a specialist familiar with such cases.

As for Accabish, she begins to notice strange people watching her: A man with plastic pink skin and shocking white hair and a brown woman with bright red hair. Near as she can tell they are not demons or angels.

About two weeks after cutting her way into Liles Barber’s storage container, she finds herself heading through the Slog’s parking garage late in the evening. A bald man with shaved eyebrows stops her. In the corner of her eye she spies the woman with red hair moving in with a stun gun.

Accabish twists the laws of reality for a moment, risking the attention of the God-Machine. Time slows to a crawl.

She turns to the woman as the pair freeze in place. As she pulls the stun gun from her would be assailant’s hand, she notices a third figure. The glow of arcing electricity illuminates the man’s plastic pink skin. Well behind him a large inhuman shadow looms out from behind a corner.

Accabish decides to put some distance between herself and whatever it is. She jogs to the edge of the parking garage, leaps over the concrete barrier and crouches down behind it before time restarts.

As she balances on the ledge three stories above the street, she hears her attackers express their surprise. Then moments later the screams begin.

Wet meaty sounds mix with the crackle of electricity. Something hits concrete with a crack and thump. Then the screams stop.

As something makes chewing and cracking noises, the journalist raises her phone over the edge and snaps a picture.

She creeps along the edge of the structure until she finds a wider space. Cupping the phone, she sees the huge gray beast she captured. Only a row of spines covers the hairless monster as it slurps up blood and gore.

Accabish draws on her demonic strength and swings down a level. She finds her car and races off.

The next day she gets the police report. Dismembered bodies, no blood, surgical steel. Something weird is going on.

As the semester ends, Daemon works late every night. Not on school work but on the many vulnerabilities he discovered. Someone very skilled hacked his systems. Folders misplaced. Subtle trojans inserted into critical files. After many hours of work, he mostly convinces himself that his systems are secured. Mostly.

The other aggravation has been the jockeying and infighting within his guild. Several raids failed epically as if someone tipped off the opposition. Bob at least remains lost on a wild owlbear chase.

One Saturday morning in June, Joseph meets his friend Yves for brunch. The two Rwandans enjoy the spot of sunny weather in Seattle, sitting outside and discussing the past.

Joseph asks how Yves got to America. The former child soldier explains that it was a long road. He spend time as a soldier for the new regime after the genocide. Mostly he worked border security. From there he moved to North Africa before hopping a boat to Italy. Eventually he emigrated to the United States. Now he runs an import export business dealing with Africa, using his various connections over the years to help grease the wheels of commerce.

As Yves completes his tale, three men on motorbikes ride up. The men pull guns on them. Joseph upends the table and pushes his friend to the ground.

The demon notes that one of them has a silvery raygun that wouldn’t look out of place in a 50s science fiction movie. He decides to bend reality slightly to make their shots go wide.

As their bullets dig into the earth, walls and other objects around them, Joseph asks Yves, “Do you know them?”

“No. Do you?”


Bolts of gold light and bullets tear up the storefront as customers run this way and that unharmed.

“Let’s get inside,” Joseph urges.

Yves nods and they race into the restaurant. Outside the three shooters drive away.

Joseph watches them leave. Their colors suggest that they belong to the Valley Hood Piru gang, though they are well outside their territory.

He turns to his friend. “You sure no one wants you dead? What do you ship?”

Yves shrugs. “I sometimes move medical supplies. Maybe they were after drugs.”

Joseph considers it. But the raygun nags at him. He texts the ring.

I ran into some trouble. There was an unusual device. Let’s meet tonight to discuss it.

Don’t tell me about your sex life, Nat sends back.

Across town, the Weaver leads the library craft class in building bird houses.

Jenny’s small daughter, Jane runs up to the demon. “Miss Jean, can you help me?”

“Sure,” she says, glancing at Jenny as she and her other child, Jacob, paint a birdhouse. “What’s is the problem?”

“My mommy and daddy don’t talk to each other anymore. Daddy moved away,” the little girl babbles. “He’s staying with a strange lady and she’s a witch.”

The Weaver asks how the four year old knows that.

Jane says bluntly that she just knows what people are good at. Jackie, her dad’s girlfriend, is good at magic. Jean is good at listening. Mr. Carter, she points at a older man in the class, is good at driving. Plus, Jane explains, Jackie has weird tattoos on her back and healed from a cut overnight.

The Weaver senses something strange about this child but convinces Jane that there is nothing to worry about.

Then Jean and Jenny’s phones vibrate. Hunter’s text reaches them.

Elsewhere Daemon groggily looks at his phone as well. Last night another raid failed. Someone is leaking their plans and he spent all night identifying the possible suspects.

One of them, EbonKing accused another, xxxsonyxxx, of being a spy.

EbonKing blocks his camera and scrubs his digital tracks. The lack of information troubles Daemon. Even so the demon knows where he lives.

But xxxsonyxxx left the demon a false trail. The savvy netizen worries him more. He alerts his lieutenants to both of them and tells them to string the potential double agents along for now.

Later that day, the Weaver pays a visit to its bolt hole for solitude.

The extradimensional space is empty.

The gadgets, both the rod and the goggles, are missing. A quick search finds some fingerprints but nothing else. Thinking quickly, the demon realizes the surveillance camera footage of the street might reveal more promising leads. It heads to the bar to meet Daemon and the rest of the ring.

At the Baudelaire, the ring falls into blaming Hunter for his recent troubles. Daemon points out he is “not risk averse” and crazy for keeping his original cover.

“Let’s get to the point,” says the Weaver, hoping to address its own problems.

Nat tells Hunter to burn his “Joseph” cover, perhaps after resolving this current issue, and then use his soul pact with David Schmidt to start over.

That out of the way, the Weaver explains how it was robbed. Daemon seems reluctant to help at first but the Weaver makes it clear that real resources are at stake. He says he’ll look at the footage for clues.

Later that evening, after Daemon’s cult sifts through a day’s worth of video footage, he sends the Weaver pictures of the four individuals who spent an inordinate amount of time near the alley. Two are clearly homeless and the demon recognizes another as working in the building next door.

The fourth however it clearly recalls: the girl in the pink headscarf who was poking around a few months ago.

They forward the photo to the rest of the ring. Nat recognizes Cymbeline Hand. He owns a pact for her, or rather her father’s connection to her.

The demon tells the others it will take care of this issue.

Nat’s eyes turn a milky white as it scries Cymbeline.

The young woman hikes through a forest of thick old trees. The demon can’t tell where or what she seeks there. But it spies the goggles around her neck.

Nat drives to the suburbs where she and her father live. Donning a generic facade, it rings the doorbell. Muhammed Hand answers the door.

Nat explains he has a deal with him. The heavily sweating man lets him in. The interior is new and freshly furnished. A quick search of the house finds no signs of unusual activity, just new money and a stash of drugs. He takes Muhammed’s phone and sends the number for Cymbeline to Daemon.

The demon ends its search at her door and waits.

Daemon uses the GPS from Cymbeline’s phone to locate her within Olympic State Park. Weaver and Hunter drive out to intercept her.

Weaver parks Jean’s car as far into the woods as possible. Then the demons move forward on foot.

The old growth forest closes in on them. Thick green foliage replaces the sky and giant trees twist the path this way and that.

Their quarry’s footprints in the moist earth lead them through a hollow trunk.

Instantly they became aware of a strangeness in the woods. The distant birdsong ends. The greenery gives way to autumn reds and yellows.

Hunter notices an eye open up on a strangely humanoid trunk. Before in a blink, it vanishes.

Weaver meanwhile watches a patch of flowers open and close, revealing tooth-like petals and flickering tongues.

The demons slow their progress.

An inhuman scream up ahead breaks the silence.

They rush forward toward a clearing surrounded by trees made more of flesh than wood.

As they break through the ring, they spot Cymbeline, her back to them, doing something to a thrashing pink tree.

Hunter and Weaver head to her, skirting a pool of milky white liquid in the center of the clearing. A metal pipe thrusts out of the earth nearby, spilling more of the waste into the pool. The scent of Aether is thick in the air.

Cymbeline carves into the tree with swiss army knife. Blood and gore cover her arms as she excitedly tells them, “It’s here! It’s here! The Heart Full of Flies!”

Before they can stop her, she pulls it out. A glass object, stained with blood and filled some sort of buzzing creatures.

Weaver asks why she came here. Cymbeline mutters about following her dreams, that they were all true, and that she must complete her destiny.

As they try to question her further, the trees fall silent. The demons look to see red leafed branches swinging down at them.

Weaver pulls the young woman to the relative safety of the pool. Hunter follows. As the trees wave their limbs ineffectually at the trio, Hunter decides to power through. Circuitry crisscrosses his skin as his demonic powers rise to the surface. He picks up both Weaver and Cymbeline in his arms and rushes past the trees.

The path twists under his feet as the demon runs for the hollow tree. The flesh grove looms ahead of him.

Dodging another attack, Hunter runs back and finally reaches the gateway. Once through the sound of birds and the green filtered light returns.

Once back in the sunlight, Hunter puts the women down. Cymbeline mumbles her thanks before the stress overwhelms her. She collapses into Weaver’s arms.

The demons carry her back to the car.

Weaver lets Hunter drive while she looks at the artifact Cymbeline unearthed. Under the blood, the gadget is clearly a glass heart filled with what look like flies. Moreover, this device was crafted the same Cxaxa Queraphis who forged the goggles. The heart, her heart, allows one to assume the form of a swarm of insects.

As they reach the city limits, Cymbeline lifts her head up. As she comes to her senses, she asks for the heart and goggles back.

Hunter comments they were not hers to take. Cymbeline insists saying she needs them and something in Bainbridge to complete her destiny. The demons question her and she mentions that she has been dreaming about this for years: the heart, the goggles, Bainbridge. She needs to find something called the cloak of the first demon.

They take her to her home and explain she can talk to their colleague about it.

As her house, she finds Nat at the door to her room. The demon explains it owns the rights to her, that it can make her its daughter. Creeped out if convinced, she asks what the demon wants. They make a deal: Nat’s help in exchange to an agreement to listen to it when they find the cloak.

Elsewhere Hunter decides that the time has come to give up his identity as Joseph Mutsinzi. Before claiming his soul pact with David Schmidt, the demon decides to enact some blatant vigilante justice.

Talking to the right people points him in the direction of his three would-be assassins. It seems the thugs have been showing off their fancy raygun.

He locates them on a street corner chatting with a fourth man. Manifesting his demonic strength, he walks up behind them, grabs the leader’s arm, and twists.


As the man collapses to the ground in pain, the others flee. He lets the stranger escape but corners the other two.

As he grins horribly, they sputter that a mobster named Todd hired them. They tell him where to find him.

Then he kills them with his bare hands.

He goes back to the crippled leader. He takes the raygun and then stomps him to death.

Sirens in the air, he walks off.

That evening the ring gathers at their usual bar. A despondent Joseph tells them that his attackers were hired through a cutout, a gangster killed yesterday with a single bullet to the head. He slides the raygun over to the Weaver.

Accabish meanwhile shows them a photo from her phone. The Weaver looks up from the weapon and says the gray beast is a Chupacabra. Then she lets Hunter know that the gun was made by and from a demon who calls herself Clare Smith. She is better known as the Mutilationist.

Nat recognizes the name. The gadget crafter sells her wares through a demon known as the Pentacle. That demon is known to be a little paranoid, even for one of their kind. But it knows where the Pentacle will be. The demon invites Accabish to help talk to him.

Accabish watches Nat as the food truck pulls into the empty parking lot. It stops short a couple times before sliding into a parking space. The demons approach.

A sandy haired man wearing a red bandana opens the truck. Stacks of lighters, weapons, and stranger paraphernalia decorate the interior.

Nat introduces itself to the Pentacle. The other demon welcomes them and begins rambling about his goods, the God-Machine and how there are sleeper agents everywhere.

“We are all sleeper agents,” he explains. “You, me, her. Mortals definitely. Even our kids.”

As the temptor interrupts a spiel about a lighters that set off fire alarms to ask about the raygun.

The Pentacle calls it the farscape gun. “Since it shoot those yellow bolts.” He explains sadly that he can’t recall who he sold it to.

It seems that in an effort to break the programming of the God-Machine, he shattered his cipher with a fifth embed. It drove him a little crazy and now he suffers from fugue states.

”I recall something though. They paid in cash. That was odd. Mostly people pay in pacts or gadgets. Aether sometimes. Anyway it was in cash. 1 million dollars. Won’t have to worry about the rent for a while.”

As he babbles on, Accabish dons her sunglasses. Her eyes take on a copper hue as she scans his mind. Digging deep, she retrieves the memory they need from his damaged brain. An African man in a black armored car visited him. He had bodyguards. He needed a weapon.

She signals Nat.

Nat haggles for a gadget lighter in exchange for a month long facade. As they shake on it, Accabish texts the description and license plate number to the others.

Hunter checks his phone as he waits by the elevator.

The description matches his old friend Yves.

He considers his next step as the police man exits the elevator. The brown skinned officer asks him who he is.

“I’m here to collect,” he tells David Schmidt. The demon takes his hand and assumes his new life.

Alligators in the Sewers, Part V
The Weak Link

Nat considers its plan as it approaches the coffee shop. Through Dorian, the demon had learned of Jackie’s good intentions. Of course there was also the troubling fact that she wasn’t human.

Daemon looked through Jackie’s paper thin background: minimal identification, some of it faked, an accident report from 6 months ago, and a few odd credentials like a doctorate in chemistry. It sounded like another demon. But the rod revealed fewer connection to the Naturalist’s old employer than most of the mortals on the street.

Nat glances into the shop’s window, admiring the blond hair and rugged good looks of its current facade. They seemed to work for Jackie as well. That and his charm let the demon get close to her. Hopefully close enough to make John jealous.

Nat enters and orders his drink. As he flirts with Jackie, he tries not to glance at John seated a table away.

The widening of the barista’s eyes behind her wide rimmed glasses alerts him however. Nat spins around before John can clear his throat.

He quickly makes some innocuous comment to Jenny’s husband before drawing him aside. Out of earshot, he quietly notes a married man shouldn’t be romantically involved with the staff.

John rubs his ring and looks down.

Nat softens his expression. He apologizes for being so direct. Quietly he adds, “Man if you are ready to cheat then you are ready to leave. If the relationship is that bad then you owe it to yourself to end it. Things don’t get better just because someone tries a little bit. It just drags it out. You are better off ending it and moving on. Let her move on. Then be that guy.”

John sits down and fiddles with his glasses for a moment before nodding absently. Nat moves on, grabs his drink and slides a card to Jackie. “In case you are looking for better work."

The next day John confronts Jenny about her drinking problem and explains that he is leaving her. As he walks away, Jenny cries and sobs. Behind its cover the demon is surprised to feel real sadness and loss.

A few days later, there is a knock at the door. Jenny answers and finds Jackie waiting for her. The barista explains she wanted to check in on her.

As the pair talk, Jenny admits, “I am not the same person he married. I changed after the kids were born. I struggled with thoughts of suicide and I started drinking. I love them and him, but I am not sure if I am in love with him. Even though it hurts, this is for the best.”

In the following weeks, the Naturalist allows John to take the kids. It stipulates that Jenny gets them for a minimum number of days per year. She refuses to set any specific days but agrees to schedule them in advance first.

“First…I might go away for a while, to a private clinic,” she explains. “Second, I plan on getting a sales job where the hours won’t be set. This way I can do some daytime events with them, and maybe pick them up from school in case they are sick or something.”

During this process, the demon finds time to pull her young son aside. “Our life is going to change a bit,” it explains, “but that is ok. I don’t love you or your sister any less. Everything I am doing, I am doing for you. Take care of your sister.”

Meanwhile Accabish looks over the week’s gossip stories and leads at the Slog. Kenny Nguyen seems to be missing. He never got back to her reporter.

She ignores it and focuses on a juicy item from the gossip hotline. Donna Angstrom was seen stealing a fish from a local koi pond. She quickly verifies the source and lets her staff run with it.

On the drive home, she listens to the tapes of Shaun Wykes’s sessions. In his dreams, others have joined him in the waters. He describes one, a man who resembles Daniel Montgomery. He dived deep into the river where the ticking continues to grow louder. Curious the demon heads to the bus depot.

A bit of persuasion allows her access to the security tapes and reveals that the cult leader returned to Seattle the day before. He looks worse than ever, with a waddling gait and thick scaly skin. He took a bus headed for Eastlake before disappearing.

The next day the demon heads downtown to visit the Eye. Passing through the glass and steel structure, she notes the numerous security cameras. At the front desk, she asks to meet the head of security.

She is led to a small clean room. Electronic eyes watch every corner of the space. In the center, a handsome woman sits behind a steel desk. Priscilla Webb introduces herself and explains she wants to talk to her about a cybersecurity issue. “Jane Eyre” feigns ignorance until the demon pulls out the device Rhodes had been handling.

The Eye leads Priscilla to the relatively unsecured roof. The demon explains that it is being blackmailed. An infected thumbdrive was used to hack the building’s computers. Since the Eye spends much of its time possessing the structure that code also affected its systems. Now the hacker is forcing it to work for him or else he will shut it down.

The demon explains the hacker communicates via letters and packages. It was able to trace the material to a nonexistent printing firm called Kobyashi Publishing. The address is fake, just a door bolted onto a wall. It knows of real a P.O. Box however and gives it to her as well as the details on other devices it has helped spread over Seattle in the past few months.

Later in the week, Accabish stakes out the P.O. Box, watching an older white man pick up the mail. She sends his license plate number to her investigators and then follows him to a storage depot. While he goes inside, she learns his name is Liles Barber, an unemployed paralegal. She receives information on Kobyashi Publishing from her team. The firm is a shell company with ownership ultimately being in Liles’s name.

After a few hours Liles leaves. The demon talks to the retail office and get a spot next to his.

Later that week, she rents some tools and cuts through the wall in the night.

Inside she finds stacks of packing material, a printer and typewriter, and a burn basket. Within the charred papers she discovers fragments of missives from Barber’s employer as well as to do lists where he refers to them as “The Concern”. The Concern’s correspondence consists of orders to send packages, write letters, and otherwise handle their communications.

Early in the week, the Ring meets to discuss their current work. Joseph still needs to eliminate the Prismatics for his contract while the Weaver hopes to forestall the cancer caused by the dye in their T-shirts. The Naturalist for its part wants the weapon Joseph has been promised in payment. So the Temptor decides to wrap this operation up itself.

That evening, in the guise of an elderly Hispanic woman, the Naturalist approaches a member of the gang. The woman rubs her cross as she remarks that his shirt looks like ones from ”that recall.”

“What recall?” he asks.

“The one for all those cancer cases,” she explains.

The man hurriedly doffs his shirt. “Shit! I’ll have to tell Seth. We need some new colors.”

The Naturalist refers him to a local print shop that will make them some Tees cheap. She also learns that the sister of their last leader bought the shirts from some guy called Jerry.

A few days later (and many shirts dumped in the trash), an Amazon box is dropped off at an empty apartment in Joseph’s building. He grabs the small but hefty package and opens it in the safety of his living room.

Inside he finds a weapon that looks like a marriage between a hedge trimmer and an arc welder. According to the crumpled instructions, the device emits a blast of blue energy that eats through organic and inorganic material with equal ferocity.

That night he heads for Dorian’s bar, evading the men in dark cars and that pesky sorority girl with the blond hair.

Once inside he quietly nudges the package to Dorian without anyone being the wiser.

Later that night, the Naturalist advises the Weaver to use a disguise as a government official to distribute its cure. With some effort the demon’s plan works, further limiting the potential damage of the T-shirts.

Midweek, the ring meets to plan their next step. The Naturalist suggests they convince Madison that Sabek is giving the cult a raw deal. Then they can offer her a better deal: more occult knowledge with less sacrifice.

As they wait for Daemon, the Naturalist and Joseph argue about whether they can trust trading the cult off to someone else should Madison make a pact with them.

“I do this regularly,” Nat says. It goes on to explain that it doesn’t want a cult for itself, feeling it is too much work.

The Weaver meanwhile makes a logic leap. The agent turning people into alligators is most likely waterborne. The demon makes plans to obtain a sample from sewer.

Daemon arrives and hears the plan. He is fine absorbing the cult. The two Tempters fall into shop talk as Joseph slips off. Nat asks if it is wrong to promise intangibles (like video game benefits) in exchange for real sacrifices by the mortal. Daemon points out that MMOs are as real as anywhere else, darkly pondering the potential to exile people to the Tenemos realm of WoW.

The Naturalist suggests a message to Madison and Daemon relays it to her phone.

“I can offer more with less sacrifice,” it sends.

Then they wait.

The next night, the Weaver convinces a local drunk to lend it some of his life. Donning some overalls and its new facade, the demon ventures out into the rain.

As the Weaver reaches a manhole cover, it spots a suspicious webcam nearby. The demon heads for different sewer entrance but finds it observed by another cheap camera.

Not willing to wait another night, the demon retreats to a safe distance and hacks the camera, causing it send an endless loop to whoever is watching.

The Weaver enters the alleyway and pulling a crowbar from its bag, wrenches the manhole cover open with an awful clang. An old woman passing by stops and glares at the Weaver’s facade. She mutters something and peers closer at the rough looking man’s ill fitting suit. She starts to call 911.

At the same time, the Weaver feels Jean’s Cover shudder as someone somewhere uncovers evidence she isn’t human.

“I slipped,” the Weaver says, fishing an official badge from its pocket.

The shiny new identification mollifies the woman who tells the demon to be quieter next time before walking off.

The Weaver quickly descends into the sewers and gets its water sample. Once back at the lab, Jean checks her email and phone but no signs of what risked her cover are apparent. Focusing on the sample, the demon quickly determines that it was right. With knowledge of the chemical and supernatural composition, it devises a counter agent should it be necessary.

The next day Madison agrees to meet the ring.

Daemon uses the rod to check that the park they’ve chosen is clear of angelic interference. As he watches from the edge of the greenery, the dark haired woman heads for the bench at the center. Her aura is a thick purple but clear. He senses a mind free of magical manipulation but also containing a furtive greediness.

A few minutes later a bland looking coed sits down beside her. Nat turns to Madison and offers her occult knowledge, independent wealth and the continued leadership of her cult in exchange for information.

The cult leader tries to learn who she is making a deal with and what they want but the demon carefully sidesteps her questions. Reluctantly she agrees and signs the pact.

Nat asks her where Thomas is buried.

Her eyes widen. After a moment she starts talking, her voice heavy and low. After the sacrifice, Thomas’s remains were taken away. But when she and Alexandra helped move the Groetnich into the tunnels the Stanley Company built, she saw his sarcophagus.

The demon has her draw a map for them. As they conclude their meeting, the student gets a message on her phone from Daemon.

“Welcome, you are now level 1.”

With a target located, the ring readies their plan to infiltrate the sewers and desecrate Thomas’s body. Daemon, alerted to the cameras, attempts to hack them and traces them to their source. Unfortunately he springs a trap that cuts off the connection, leaving them in the dark about who placed them there and the full breadth of their network.

Joseph secures a facade and Daemon rigs his phone to maintain an open connection. Daemon assures him that he will teleport in if he needs help. He also makes sure the phone will vibrate to alert Joseph if he is losing signal.

Meanwhile the Naturalist visits the Black Iron Coffee to seed rumors to distract Ping Wu or anyone else who might expect the attack. While there, it runs into Mr. Nostalgia. While the “hipster” hints at his encounter with Accabish, Nat tells Nostalgia that it is worried about an associate called Hunter.

The Naturalist explains that it has concerns about Hunter’s mental health. It claims it normally works with the Saboteur via facades and has heard he and a demon called Lilith are planning on killing Sylvia Woodard.

Mr. Nostalgia recognizes the name of the University board member and reveals he has also heard rumors about Lilith. She’s considered something of a dangerous upstart taking on a famous name. He promises to let others know to keep their heads down in case of any repercussions.

The plan now in motion, Hunter heads for the sewers. As he descends he pushes his demonic form through his thin cover. His eyes glow, turning the gloom into day. His skin turns to mirrored shards hiding him from sight and his limbs move with incredible strength and speed.

Map firmly in his head, the demon slips through the waters and tunnels, passing slumbering alligators and venturing into the deepest portions of the facility. Along the way he passes a bloody shirt in the water. The name Kenny Nguyen is visible on the tag.

Hunter skirts a long gallery filled with massive columns, half submerged in briny water. At one end the demon spots an elaborate pillar covered in alien hieroglyphs. As he rounds the massive stone, he thinks he sees a shadow moving around the opposite side. Cautiously he sneaks to the large stone sarcophagus nearby.

Hunter looks at Thomas’s burial spot, his phone vibrating weakly in his pocket. Glancing around he notices a figure by the pillar. Wires and cables emerges from the stone and the silhouette, connecting the two together.

The demon sneaks up behind the familiar figure, dropping the phone on the sarcophagus as he goes. Shedding its flimsy disguise, the gold lion that is Hunter bites down hard on the neck of the “woman” in front of him.

As blood pours from her throat, the demon Ping Wu screams. Instantly the tunnels echo with the movements of hungry reptiles.

Back at campus, Daemon and the Naturalist listen in growing horror. “What does he think he’s doing?”

The alligators slosh out of the waters towards the demons. Unseen by all, Daemon phases in next to the sarcophagus, already transformed into his avatar.

Hunter body checks Ping, sending her stumbling toward the creatures’ waiting jaws. At the last moment she transforms, spreading her ebony wings and taking to the air.

Glaring down at him she commands him to freeze. He feels his muscles tightening in place but shakes it off with sheer will.

Daemon hides and watches as something yanks Ping out of the sky. She struggles, flying just over the snapping jaws of the alligators before disappearing down a tunnel. Meanwhile the rest of the beasts pull themselves onto the damp concrete and waddle towards the remaining demons.

Hunter runs over and with a mighty heave knocks the stone lid off the sarcophagus. Instantly Daemon springs into action, slicing off the mummified head with his bladed arm and grabbing it.

As the alligators close in, Hunter’s body glows with increased heat and power. One lucky beast gets a bite in but his wounds begin to instantly repair.

A sneaky gator slips up behind Daemon and chomps on his arm. As sparks shower the creature, it recoils in pain. The demon shouts “Pawned” before disappearing in a cloud of 1s and 0s.

Alone, Hunter flees.

The demon races down an unfamiliar tunnel, moments ahead of the hungry alligators.

He finds a dead end.

The beasts close in.

The demon turns his assault rifle on them, murdering all four in an instant.

Elsewhere Daemon reappears in front of the Naturalist and tosses it the mummified head. Nat complains this will give it nightmares. The pair of demons discuss whether Hunter will survive.

Back in the sewers, Hunter creeps back to the gallery and the familiar lines of his map. The alligators focus their eyes on him and growl hungrily.

They pounce.

Minutes later, Hunter crashes through the sewer tunnels, batting away snapping jaws and keeping one step ahead of the press of scaly bodies. Clambering up a rusty ladder, the demon burst into the damp night, sending the metal cover flying. He disappears into the gloom.

Hunter finds a pay phone and calls the others. Nat directs everyone to a new bar and they debrief him. After a couple weeks of laying low, it becomes clear Sabek has left, probably to report his failure to the God-Machine.

Alligators in the Sewers, Part IV

The Naturalist spends a week spying on Jackie Gold. As Dorian, the demon visits the barista every day using its powers to follow her day and learn her inner most desires. Strangely she unconsciously blocks the demon a few times. What the Naturalist does determine is complicated. John and Jacolyn flirt when he visits in the morning and the pair have been spending their lunches together. Jackie wants to make John happy but she also wants to help him repair his relationship with Jenny, the demon’s other cover. She also wants to help people, though she needs more time and money before she can make that dream a reality.

The demon continues to watch her but scans her for God-Machine influence. No obvious signs appear. It makes a note to talk to Daemon about her.

John for his part, is attracted to Jackie but also wants to hurt Jenny for being so distant. He has been working on taking Jackie on a secret date, hiring a babysitter for later in the week when Jenny will be out.

The Naturalist considers the situation. On one hand, Jackie seems like a decent individual, one it might entrust its children with. But she still might be a threat. The demon still has feelings for John, not love but a form of affection.

It decides to manipulate John into hiring a full time nanny. As Jenny, the demon brings up wanting to go back to work and pursue some additional education. She suggests he can hire a former student or something. After a few days he relents.

Elsewhere Priscilla Webb finishes another productive day at the Slog. On the way out, she runs into Kenny Nguyen, the city’s animal control expert. The older man accosts her, complaining about how he was depicted in the news after her interview.

“And there really are alligators down there,” he says. “They need to be removed. I’m not crazy.”

Priscilla tries to calm him down. Kenny seems determined to do something decisive if nonviolent. She gives him the “author’s” contact information to do a follow up and then heads out.

As she drives home, she warns that reporter to be on the lookout. She then calls the police and reports the altercation.

Later she listens to the latest recordings from Shaun Wykes’s therapy session. He continues to relate dreams of floating down a river, surrounded by many half hidden people. Or perhaps alligators. He isn’t sure. Two pyramids on one side of the river have collapsed, leaving two on the other side intact. Worryingly, he isn’t concerned.

The next day Vince informs her that the malware he seeded into the server reported back to him from a coffee shop in Fremont. Somehow the code found its way from the stand alone machine to a computer connected to the wifi at Black Iron Coffee. Priscilla says she’ll look into it.

Privately, she partly relieved. The cafe has a reputation for being shielded from the God-Machine and its servants. The demons and mortals there do a brisk trade in pacts.

That afternoon she steps inside. The stigmatic behind the counter offers her the special but she buys a latte instead. Surveilling the patrons, she spots a young man in tweed doing business in a nook. Her senses tell her that this unassuming hipster can best help her.

After watching him makes some deals, she approaches him. After some innocuous seeming small talk, the demon called Mr. Nostalgia realizes she is looking for one of his regular clients. With some cajoling, the Tempter gives her a detailed description of a man known as Rhodes.

The demon points out the mortal near the entrance. He appears to be a shabbily dressed African American man. But through numerous deals with demons and stranger things the mortal has unnaturally extended his life and gained access to many minor supernatural abilities. He lurks at the edge of supernatural societies, trading what he can for a bit more: a magical gift, some luck, or another year of life. Mr. Nostalgia confides that for the past few weeks Rhodes has brought a strange electronic device to the shop. He warns that the mortal might run if approached forcefully.

Accabish thanks him and quietly approaches her quarry.

She sits down next to Rhodes. After a moment she asks what the bulky device he has plugged into the wall is. Rhodes lies and says it is a battery charger.

Gradually, she gets the old man to open up about the device. Rhodes indicates he might spill the beans if given a better deal. It seems he is getting free room and board for carting this thing around.

Accabish scrawls a pact on a napkin: a month at a luxury hotel in exchange for information.

Rhodes signs and tells her about it. A demon haunting a building downtown told him to carry it around. The demon is called the Eye. He gives her an address and asks that she not reveal where she got the information. She agrees and takes the device as well.

Her next stop is the library of the University of Washington. Looking around she soon detects who she needs. The demon approaches an Asian woman in her late 20s. She is looking over a pile of papers from various Egyptology journals.

Priscilla introduces herself to Yuri as a journalist interested in Ancient Egypt. Yuri it turns out is a graduate student working under Dr. Brooks. With some mild encouragement, she tells Priscilla about the tablet, the difficulties of pronouncing ancient Egyptian, and the Dendra Reliefs they resemble. The tablet includes some material on the god Sobek. She has only begun to decipher that part but it indicates that four servants once called him to this realm to bring an aspect of divinity to to this world.

The demon convinces the student to make a deal with her for an advanced copy of her research. As she signs the release form, Yuri find the writing easier to decipher.

A few days later Accabish receives the translation. Sabek needs four servants to be sacrificed to bring him to this world. One of those must receive the proper funerary rituals to hold Sabek’s ka. If this vessel was disturbed or desecrated, Sabek would starve and eventually be forced to leave this world. As for his mission, Yuri indicates it need to bring a sort of divine soul to the world: something called the Lizard Mind.

Earlier in the week, Daemon takes a second crack at Phi Sigma Rho. Cloaked as member of the sorority, he reaches the secret chamber. He punches in the code to the electronic lock like it was the most obvious combination ever.

Inside he discovers an electronics workshop and a well stocked occult library. On a worktable, another of those eggplant bulbs spills a red glow across the room.

Closing the door behind him, he scans the table, glancing at different papers and memorizing them for later. Several concern Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Dendra reliefs.

Then he hears the sounds of someone approaching. A powerful desktop dominates one wall and he heads towards it. He activates one of his demonic abilities and disappears into the internet in a stream of 1’s and 0’s.

Daemon calls the ring together. He reveals his findings: a secret society within Phi Sigma Rho called the Sophia Society is building these bulbs. As they consider the new information, he hacks into their computers. From their records, it appears the group dates back to about 9 years ago and is funded via a private account by Sylvia Woodard, a member of the University’s board of trustees. From their financial records, four of these highly expensive devices have been built. Three of them were sent to a PO Box. There are no plans for a fifth.

Daemon sends the Weaver a roster to research as he digs deeper. Together they find that the membership of this cult consists of the bright, the rich and the occult minded. The current leader is Madison Woodard, Sylvia’s granddaughter. The demons note a distinct lack of color among the members. Their literature seems to promote the advancement of the “right” sort of people.

They quickly hatch a plan. Daemon will run surveillance on Madison while the Naturalist will use its clairvoyance to spy on Sylvia. The Weaver lends Nat some Aether to power this plan.

A couple days later Daemon contacts Joseph with some bad news. Madison called one of her friends, Alexandra Braun, and instructed her to spy on Joseph. Apparently the Sophia Society knows he poked around in the sewers over a month ago.

Joseph realizes this was before the angel incident. The only person he told about that escapade was Ping Wu, leader of the Seattle Linchpins.

He’s been sold out.

Daemon recommends that he lay low for now and avoid direct contact with the ring. Joseph hopes the Naturalist finds a new cover for him soon.

For now however, the Naturalist focuses on Sylvia Woodard’s schedule. Spying on her outside of public events, the demon watches her berate her staff and make racist comments at the people on the TV.

Eventually Nat catches her at a meeting of the Sophia Society as they summon Sabek.

The crocodile headed angel asks what they’ve learned about Joseph. Sylvia reluctantly reveals that not much has been learned thus far. They’ve noticed that others are also watching him. They appears to be private investigators but she doesn’t know who hired them. Sabek mentions that the informant may have been lying about this janitor.

As the demon watches, it senses each of their desires. Many, including Sylvia, seek to gain real occult power. Madison merely wishes to escape her grandmother’s influence. Another wants to create something impossible. Alexandra’s desires are simple, stupid and destructive. As for Sabek, his mission is to bring the Lizard Brain into existence.

Nat sends a facade to Joseph and arranges for the ring to meet again. Even with this new information, the demons cannot agree on the next step. Joseph decides to continue to lie low until the Naturalist can secure a backup cover for him.

Left to its own devices, the Weaver spends its time living its cover Jean. The demon enjoys some coffee with Kelly, discussing work, students and crafting. As they talk, the demon notices some hispanic youths passing by wearing brightly painted T-shirts, the same shirts the demon designed before it Fell.

Much later on the demon returns to the scene to search for those kids and more importantly the shirts. The clothing was still fresh, in better shape than than the originals should be. Someone is making more.

After a few hours of hunting, it finds them in a neighborhood near the University District. A gang called the Prismatics are donning the shirts. The demon locates an apartment building they like to hang out at and decides to investigate further.

The Weaver makes a quick deal with an awkward kid watching a local basketball game. He gets to be a star athlete for a day while it borrows his “reputation”.

As a klutzy teenager, the demon sneaks into apartment building without issue. It sneaks down to the laundry room, waits until an older woman leaves and grabs a T-shirt from the wash.

Joseph begins his week lying low. He spends his days at his spartan apartment. He sleeps on his couch, feeds his cats, and watches his small old television. Only a large National Geographic poster adorns his wall. The African savannah looks down on him every night. A chair and wobbly table complete his collection of furniture.

As he heads to work, he stops by a specific street lamp. He notes a missing cat poster hanging there. Floyd the poster reads. Pink Floyd’s the Wall, his mind translates. The Wallbreakers have a job for him.

On the bus, he calls the number on the poster. The voice on the other side tells him they need a gang moved. It seems the Prismatics, so-called because of their brightly colored shirts, have become more aggressive lately. Also the T-shirts they wear have some sort of connection to the God-Machine. The Wallbreakers have assets in the area and would rather avoid Angelic entanglements. They don’t need the Prismatics or their leader Jack Regalado killed, just out of the area.

As payment they can offer him a gadget. Joseph gets the address of the gang leader. The Wallbreaker says that his cover for the mission will be at the usual place. It is a homeless vet.

That night after work, Hunter dons the new facade. The homeless man slips past the hoodlums loitering in front of the apartment building and up to the 4th floor. He picks the lock and swings the door open.

As he walks in, he hears the click of a gun being cocked. In the yellow light filtering through the curtains, he makes out figure with a shotgun near one of the two other doors into the room.

He pushes his demonic form through his paper thin cover. As a green glow encompasses his eyes, he makes out that an older woman has the drop on him. Hunter tenses his now inhumanly limber joints.

He rushes the woman, swivelling out of the way of the roar of the gun and grabbing her from behind.

As the pair struggle over the gun, a young man emerges from the other room pistol out. Hunter grabs the woman with one arm and pulls her between him and the leader of the Prismatics.

“Put down the gun!” he commands.

As Jack hesitates, the woman calls out, “Take the shot.”

“Hold on sis,” the nervous youth says. Then he fires.

Hunter doesn’t let the pain show on his face as the bullet smashes through his shoulder cutting flesh and cracking bone. Instead he wrenches the shotgun from Jack’s sister’s hands and calmly tells the gang leader to put his gun down.

Jack lowers his gun in disbelief. “Just let my sister go.”

“You are going to leave this area. You, your sister, and your goons.”

As the men out front reach the apartment, Jack waves them off. “Okay, just let her go.”

Hunter backs himself and the sister out of the room. “Remember I know where you live.”

With that he tosses her aside and disappears into the darkness.

A few minutes later, Hunter drops his facade and rubs his newly regenerated shoulder.

The next day, he verifies that the Prismatics are gone and then calls the Wallbreakers. They give him a choice of payment: a custom weapon forged by the Mutilationist or something from a gadget clearing house known as Second Lives. Thinking about the Naturalist’s needs, he asks for a long range weapon from the Mutilationists. They say it will be ready in a few days.

Working on his side of the bargain the Naturalist approaches his target through the usual channels. David Schmidt may want to live a life outside of the closet but he also wants to advance within the police force. The demon subtly promises him that he can balance his personal and professional life.

Eventually the cop responds to his messages and agrees to meet Nat at a local park. The demon appears with the same facade he used in the sewers. Gently he sounds him out and convinces the officer that through mundane means or not, he can improve his life. He hints that even his old injuries could be repaired with his help.

David considers the offer. He explains he will need to think about it. The demon doesn’t press him, simply offering to help him however he can. The cop walks away deep in thought.

Later that night, Nat calls David and tells him he has met a amazing man at a high end bar that he thinks might be a good fit for him. Though initially reluctant, he agrees to meet him. After a wonderful night, David signs a release for the demon’s “program” to help him improve his life. Nat assures him that the blood test is purely to screen for any health related issues.

While the Naturalist works to know the new client/cover better, the Weaver takes the T-shirt to Jean’s lab for some late night work. It discovers that chemicals alter the brain chemistry of the wearer, making them more aggressive while draining positive emotions. Worse the imbalances cause genetic damage leading to cancer.

It decides to finish its angelic work and create a cure. Over the course of several nights, the demon develops a treatment that will reverse the genetic damage.

Later in the week Joseph sees another missing cat poster. Floyd is still missing. He calls the Wallbreakers again. It seems that the Prismatics have reformed with new a leader.

Joseph arranges a meeting at the Baudelaire to get help, attending as his impoverished vet facade. The Weaver and Naturalist arrive to aid him. Accabish also joins, curious about what progress has been made on stopping the Lizard Brain.

Instead she find her ring focused on personal missions and not forthcoming at that. Eventually she teases out that Joseph, now considering the name Hunter, needs to remove the Prismatics as part of a contract with a local agency. He needs some help however.

The Weaver notes it is also investigating the gang and has devised a cure to the toxins contained in the T-shirts they wear. Nat informs Joseph that the cover he requested is ready but that the demon is still gathering a full biography of the mortal. The pact has already been sent to his dead drop along with the major life details.

Frustrated with this turn, Accabish tells them that she knows Sabek’s ban. After revealing it, the Naturalist says Madison might be a weak link within the cult, someone they can manipulate to learn where Thomas, the fourth victim is located. The demon also speculates that they might be able to tip Sabek into falling.

Accabish is dubious.

In the meantime she asks the Weaver to look into a different problem. Producing the device that has been hacking her server, she ask the demon what it can tell her about it. The Weaver picks it open and examines the complex circuitry inside. It is like nothing the demon has seen since its Fall. The device creates connections between machines through hidden dimensions. This sort of technology is usually found in the brains of angels. Interestingly the creator of this device did not follow the usual schematics. This was not done by a servant of the God-Machine.

Accabish asks if it can turn the device off.

The demon looks over the tiny golden lines and breaks a connection.

Then Accabish asks the Naturalist what it knows about the Eye. The Tempter knows a little about the Inquisitor, having helped it construct its patchwork cover. The Eye has possessed a mixed use building downtown. Its mortal identity is the head of security there.

Daemon arrives late and the ring informs them about their rough plans. The Naturalist will investigate Madison and try to turn her against her grandmother. She can hopefully tell them where Thomas’s mummified body lies. Once they destroy it, Sabek will soon starve and be forced to retreat from this realm.

Alligators in the Sewers, Part III

While she waits for her session with her therapist, Alexa Harper, Accabish thinks back over what she knows about Sabek. The alligator headed angel looks alive but she could easily pick out taxidermy marks as well the human bones molded into his form. Perhaps they belonged to his victims? Or the sacrifices?

Alexa’s receptionist calls her in. The psychiatrist questions her about the stresses of her job, her friendships, and her family. To each, Sccabish responds with carefully prepared answers. Except about her family. Somehow the woman zooms in on her sorest point. As she parries Alexa’s questions, Accabish decides this will have to serve her purposes. The demon allows her frustration to show and requests a referral after her session. She makes a note to call tomorrow to cancel her sessions.

Later that afternoon, the demon listens in on Shaun’s session. The Stigmatic relates his dreams. He is floating on a warm river while four pyramids drift by. In his most recent dream, one of them appeared cracked. He feels safe however, unconcerned as he bobs along with the others. He can’t see them, only submerged logs. However he can hear gears ticking to life beneath him.

He does see someone. A dark woman away from the river. Somehow he knows she lies beyond the desert, outside of all of this landscape. They call her Lilith. She is manipulating events, altering paths, shifting the river’s flow.

Alexa switches him to twice weekly sessions.

Accabish considers this new information. The pyramids could be some part of the God-Machine’s plan, part of an occult matrix. The river could refer to the water way between Eastlake and the University. That would mean this mechanical brain would be coming online not in Yesslar Terrace but in the tunnels beneath Eastlake. That must be Sabek’s mission.

What do the pyramids represent, she considers. The cult was one. Is there another cult or facility at the University? In the Stanley Company? And is Lilith really involved? Accabish never thought the legendary first demon ever existed.

Putting those questions aside, she spends the next few days working on the new gossip webpage: picking a layout and selecting stories to launch with. Sebastian has an article already ready. She assigns a few more to her other reporters.

As she considers what she might contribute, Vince stops by to tell her about a problem. The IT expert informs her that the private server holding her sensitive research, research into the God-Machine, has been hacked. Someone is searching the files. The strange thing is that computer has no internet access and none of the storage devices they have used with it show any signs of malware. No one else even knows about the server.

As Vince begins to discuss the possibility of someone using acoustic methods to hack the machine, Priscilla interrupts him. She suggests he install a spike so they can trace the hacker next time they strike.

Later that week, Priscilla Webb attends a fundraiser for a new community center for inner city children. The journalist wanders the event collecting the latest gossip. In addition to the recent construction delays on a water overflow project, she learns of a sharp decline in vagrancy. Interestingly this has been noticed over a much larger area than just Eastlake.

Then Donna Angstrom pulls her aside. The sharply dressed bureaucrat sounds her out for exposing a dangerous group of individuals beneath the city. Donna admits to infiltrating this gang and seeing their murderous behavior up close. Priscilla mentions she’s heard something about that and mentions the rumors of alligators. Donna denies anything that crazy, saying the gossip is result of the ravings of an overstressed city worker.

The journalist can tell this woman intends to save her own hide. Priscilla makes it clear she will help but that she will need to interview the deluded city employee. Donna agrees. Throughout the conversation, the demon notes that Donna avoids exposing her teeth.

Curious Priscilla stumbles forward, dumping her drink on Ms. Angstrom’s gray dress. In her shock, the bureaucrat opens her mouth wide, revealling strangely sharp and crooked teeth. Accabish is sure Donna’s teeth were picture perfect a few weeks ago. But her supernatural instincts tell her that Angstrom is the weak link in the cult. She just needs to break her.

Priscilla apologizes and agrees to do the story. She just needs the right quotes.

Next day after meeting with Kenny Nguyen, Priscilla calls Donna. She explains that she’s not finding many other leads and none that are quotable. She really needs Donna to break this story. Eventually the demon wears her down. In the process Donna accidentally incriminates herself. Priscilla notes that information down for later but withholds it from her final draft.

Giving the byline to another reporter, Priscilla sets up this story to run with the relaunch of the gossip column. She also makes sure the ring has a five hour lead before the story goes live and that the police get an hour to act before it becomes city news.

Meanwhile Daemon spends the last couple of weeks tending to his cult. In particular he discovers that Sirguy447 recently joined the guild. He traces the account to campus and the computer of Bob Jenson, the janitor snooping into his mail. He informs the rest of the guild secretly. Let them send him down rabbit holes, he decides.

Then he turns his attention to Jabberwoky. His second in command has taken to keeping an audio dream journal. Unconcerned with her privacy, he listens to them. She describes floating down a river under warm sun. Pyramids sliding past her and a red glow surrounds her. She describes an urge to go somewhere, though she isn’t sure where.

Daemon chats with her. Familiar with his reputation for omniscience, she explains the dreams began after she went hunting for ghosts near Montlake. She noticed a weird red light while she was there, near the water’s edge. Daemon warns her against going back or following the impulse to go someplace in her dreams.

Elsewhere, Jenny Olson takes a new route on her morning jog. Passing near Green Lake, she pauses behind a tree and disappears. The Naturalist ambles out, cloaked in the guise of a generic homeless man.

The mad hobo lurks near the mansion of John Stanley for an hour. Hiding in plain sight, he spots two people of interest drive up to the four story Victorian structure. The elderly woman and the richly dressed man share a family resemblance. The demon guesses they must be Gloria and John Stanley Junior, the old man’s children.

The targets acquired, the Naturalist returns to Jenny’s life. Over the next few days she uses her rare breaks to scry the Stanleys, slowly uncovering their leadership and relationships. John Senior remains in full control of his faculties, even as his withered body is stuck in bed. Despite being in his 50s, John Junior continues to drive fast cars and chase fast women. He handles the day to day operations of the construction company. Gloria runs the family bank and generally defers to the others. The demon spots the eldest brother, William, only once but the arguments and black looks are enough to tell him he is on the outs with the rest of his clan. Much closer to the old man is his grandson, Damian, who works with someone or something called the Surveyor.

The Naturalist sends all of its intelligence to Daemon and Accabish. William could be a weak link, it suggests. The Surveyor may work for their old employer or a former coworker.

Daemon decides to do some digging on his own. Activating his internal circuitry, he scans the internet, rapidly picking out the important details. He finds a suspiciously fast rise to wealth and influence. Originally a dirt poor family of British immigrants, the Stanleys moved from being factory workers to contractors to owning their own business. Now approaching the upper echelon of Seattle society, they seem surprisingly competent and lucky. Looking between the lines, Daemon sees the signs. Strange tattoos, metallic eyes, odd health ailments. All signs of Stigmatics. The whole family is a God-Machine cult.

At the same time, Joseph begins to feel more limber, his wounded leg healing slowly and naturally. Bob continues to be nice to him. His coworker seems intrigued by the demon’s strength. He continually asks how he moved that broken dumpster last fall. Was it a secret technique? Super powers?

Joseph waves him off for another night and heads into the downstairs bathroom of the Sociology Building. As he starts to mop, he hears the clink of claws on porcelain. Turning he spots an alligator the size of a large dog impossibly crawling out of a toilet. It pulls itself onto the bathroom floor and under the walls of the stall.

The demon extends its form through its cover. Joseph’s muscles become literal hydraulics and strange scars cover his skin, remnants of a thousand of wounds. Invigorated, he snaps the handle of his mop and charges the beast.

He stabs the beast with the sharp end, wedging it between two scales. The alligator thrashes and snaps in his direction.

Joseph drops the stick and grasps the alligator’s head with his bare hands. The reptile and the demon strain mightily sliding along the wet white floor. The animal struggles for leverage while Joseph attempts to move it to the wall.

Finally, the large man lifts the creature’s head up. He smashes it down on the sink, cracking it open. Pieces of porcelain skitter across the floor, mingled with its blood.

As it recovers, he dives down on it, pounding his elbow into the beast’s spine. It snaps back once last time. He knocks the jaws aside and straddles its back, pummelling at the scaly neck until he smashes a shard of sink into its spine with a loud crack.

The animal shivers a couple times on the floor before going still.

Joseph gets up and fumbles for his phone.

He calls the Naturalist and tells him what happened. Before he can call the police, Nat tells him to call his supervisor instead. It is more natural, the other demon says.

Joseph thanks him and calls his supervisor. Putting post adrenaline shakiness into his voice, he tells Bill Johnson about the attack. His boss tells him to wait for him there.

The demon arranges the scene to look less incriminating, including stabbing the stick into the creature’s neck. Then he goes to wait outside.

He runs into Bob.

“What happened?” the man asks, before looking into the bathroom. “Is that a gator?”

As the other janitor pokes and prods the creature, Joseph does his best to look appropriately freaked out.

Bill soon arrives and expresses similar shock. He sends both of them to the Physical Plant and calls campus security. He finds them an hour later and gives them the night off.

“But be back tomorrow!” he tells Bob.

The demons all meet at the Baudelaire for the first time since the bus incident. Joseph fills them in on the events at the university. A quick internet search reveals no other reports of attacks on campus. Daemon has his cult double check that but it looks like Sabek targeted him specifically.

The next night, Joseph finds the matter cleaned up. Bill knows nothing about an alligator and only recalls an incident with a feral dog. As their boss leaves, Bob leans over to Joseph and says, “I’m pretty sure I recall an alligator.”

While Joseph keeps a low profile, Jean keeps working on the new contract at Adamant Technologies. Friday afternoon her near sighted coworker across the hall comes over. Haltingly the thick-set man tells her someone was here looking for her. He precisely describes the intruder from his height and weight down to the exact length of his curly red brown hair.

Cory Coulson, the Weaver decides and thanks Dr. Walters for his help. It decides to keep an eye out for him and alert security if he returns.

Later as Jean walks home, she spots another intruder. This one, a girl wearing a pink hijab, is standing directly in front of the entrance to the demon’s bolthole. Jean freezes and watches as the girl, no more than 17, paces back and forth looking for something. The mortal can’t see the entrance but somehow knows it is there.

The demon approaches and asks, “what are you doing?”

The pale brown girl hesitates before explaining she was just looking around. She turns to leave, glancing back once. Her eyes focus on the exact spot of the bolt hole entrance.

Jean discretely follows her for a few blocks until she reaches a bus shelter.

Saturday night, Joseph finally gets the work detail for the new Anthropology building. Working carefully through the building, he eventually finds what he is looking for. A large stone tablet the size of a dinner table rests in Dr. Brooks’s lab. As he sweeps around it, his eyes trace the outline of a strange serpent pictured within, a perfect match to the bulb filament they found in the sewers. Other parts of the diagram seem to indicate it as a light source or perhaps a religious item.

He invites the ring to the bar again the next night and relays his findings. When he describes the red glow of the sewer light, Daemon suddenly realizes the connection to Jabberwoky’s dreams. He informs them that another such bulb is located in Montlake. They decide to investigate.

The demons know that Montlake is a nice suburban neighborhood with a very NIMBY-ist attitude to development. They have a neighborhood watch and don’t approve of vagrants. So they decide to acquire some new facades to shield their cover identities from any angelic activity.

Daemon checks the IPs of local WoW players until he finds someone he can sell a maxed out character to in exchange for their job for a day. He has one of his cultists deliver the contract for him.

Joseph outsources his identity to the Naturalist. The pair also agree that the Saboteur will acquire a gadget to keep the Tempter safe. In exchange the Naturalist begins work on a replacement cover for Joseph. For now, he uses his usual methods to locate a local jogger and obtain part of his life for a night. He has some difficulty but eventually obtains an appropriate if overweight identity. For himself, he trades for the facade of a scrap metal collector.

The Weaver spends part of a day finding the right target, specifically a kid with a bike. At the library as Jean, it encounters an upset teenager who with some coaxing tells the demon about her abusive father. It takes careful note of the girl’s name and situation and convinces her Jean can help. For now the child won’t have to worry about her father for a week. Later maybe it can fix that problem permanently.

Weaver rides up to Montlake that evening just as the street lights turn on. The generic teenage girl joins the others as they walk along the waterside.

It doesn’t take long to find the red light softly illuminating the dark waters. The jogger and scrap collector wait until no one else is in sight. Daemon takes lookout while the Naturalist gives Hunter a boost up to the lamp.

The Naturalist grunts as the heavier man reaches up for the bulb and carefully pries it loose. In the gloom, the Weaver pulls a replacement bulb from inside the girl’s jacket. Hunter exchanges the God-Machine Infrastructure for the still warm replacement.

Daemon hisses over to them as the sound of poorly chanted Coptic emerges from the houses nearby. “Cultists!”

The girl rides off on her bike before the approaching gang arrive. Meanwhile Hunter puts the replacement bulb in its place.

The mob mutters darkly about these hoodlums. Nat jokingly complains to Hunter about being put up to a prank while Daemon suggests they are just harmless mischief makers.

Some of the residents suggest calling the cops but another member, scaly and bowlegged, suggests they feed them to the waters.

The ring bolts, each taking off in a different direction.

Disorganized, the mob attempts to follow them. Daemon escapes, quickly dismissed by the others as a member of the community. Hunter, despite his bulk, also makes it away easily. Nat struggles for a few minutes but eventually outpaces the out of shape mob.

As they catch their breath outside the limits of Montlake, Accabish’s warning arrives via text. The Naturalist responds and arranges for them to meet at the Baudelaire. Joseph taps the eggplant shaped bulb for some Aether while the Weaver lends the Naturalist some of its supply.

At the bar, the ring discusses their findings. Hearing of Jabberwoky’s dream, Accabish reveals her own information. She avoids revealing her source and no one asks her for it. The four pyramids might refer to four cults or pieces of infrastructure. They have found two. Could another lie in the University?

When talk turns to the Montlake cult and their connection to all of this, the Naturalist excuses itself and heads to the bathroom. As the others snidely joke of its cover’s seeming weakness, the Tempter’s eyes turn cloudy as it turns its gaze to the leader of the mob.

It finds the unwholesome man taking a warm bath while a small TV shows Lawrence of Arabia. “Dan!” a shrill voice calls up. “Did you eat all the fish sticks?”

As Dan submerges himself, the surprised demon returns its focus to the grungy bathroom. It washes up and returns to the others.

The Naturalist relays its findings, suggesting that perhaps the cult is slowly turning into alligators. They speculate if the effect can be countered.

Accabish asks if the name Lilith means anything to the others. Most only have a hazy knowledge of the legendary first demon. The Weaver reveals that it has something more tangible: a gadget created by Lilith. The demon shows them the rod and describes its powers. The ring decides that they can use it to scan the University of Washington, aided by Daemon’s refined senses, and thus locate any cult lurking there.

It takes the demonic student a few days to canvas campus but Daemon eventually uncovers a good lead. In addition to the Registrar’s office and few art installations (and his own cult), the main center of God-Machine influence involves the Phi Sigma Rho house. He steals the identity of a sorority member, gets a facade of the proper gender and slips inside.

Following the trail illuminated by the rod, the demon discovers a door hidden behind a bookshelf in the sorority library. It senses Aether welling up behind it. The electronic lock presented a minor challenge but the sound of approaching students puts an end to the mission. Daemon hides the traces of the investigation and ignores the suspicious glares of the sorority sisters on its way out. The demon does bump into one of them on the way out, hoping to steal her identity later and with it the privileges to visit the secret room.