“Joseph is becoming a liability,” Hunter says.
“Becoming?” Daemon asks.
“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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
“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.
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.