It began with the bus explosion. At least that’s what everyone agreed to call it. In truth a faceless angel encountered four surprisingly resourceful demons, screaming at them in a voice like wind chimes. Somehow they destroyed it and the bus. A scattering of metallic cylinders were all that remained of it.
After the reporter and police leave, satisfied with their answers, the demons, joined by one more, fall to talking. They discuss recent events, trying to find a pattern behind what they just experienced.
The nerdish Nick Mathers, known as Daemon online and among his fellow Demons, relates the recent upsurge in cult activity. The Weaver uses the name Jean and twirls one of the rods as she listens. Dorian, one of the Naturalist’s covers, nods, occasionally glancing at his watch.
The pair beside that sturdy frat boy have the most to add. Accabish in the guise of the journalist Priscilla had come to interview them but recognized her partner Joseph among the crowd. Joseph explains his investigations into signs of the God-Machine in the area: strange disappearances, four likely murders near the University and even alligator sightings. Priscilla adds that one of her sources dreams of a clockwork brain coming to life. An occult matrix to create some form of Infrastructure is occurring where they live and work.
Priscilla excuses herself to do some research on her own. The others continue to talk, slowly feeling out their unlikely allies.
Joseph in particular seems sceptical of Daemon and his virtual army of cultists. “You have people…in a game.”
Daemon tries to explain who they are but fails to convince the former child soldier of their usefulness. The Weaver tries to help but as hostilities increase, the Naturalist begins treating the two Demons like small children.
Chastized, talk turns to their past interactions and possible connections. Daemon brings up a janitor who seems to be following him. Joseph recalls the lazy coworker, commenting that Bob Jensen must have noticed one of Joseph’s rare indiscretions as well.
The Naturalist looks at its watch again, realizing it was late for work at the bar. With Joseph’s shift starting soon and Weaver needing to head home, they all head to the next bus stop together.
“I’ve got a raid to get to,” Daemon comments as he tags along.
“In a game,” the janitor says sardonically.
Joseph’s eyes shift to a low shape moving down the street. Along with the Naturalist, he watches as the lizard like beast slips down into a storm drain.
The others look on in bewilderment as the large man runs across the street without a word.
“I don’t think we should go over there,” the bartender says.
Joseph stops by the drain to look at something on the ground.
“What’s over there?” the Naturalist shouts.
The dark skinned man points at a small object on the ground.
“Use your words.”
Joseph gives him the finger.
As the demon drew closer they make out the object in the dim light. A finger, colored with red nail polish, sits a few inches from a wide trail of blood.
Daemon and the Weaver examine the trail which stretches from the grate back to a large puddle five feet away. The pattern of wet blood appears consistent with an attack low to the ground. The demons relay their findings along with a disturbing fact. The attack happened moments before, perhaps while they were bickering amongst themselves down the street.
The newly forged Ring places an anonymous call and makes plans to meet up the next night at a dive bar not far from here. Joseph passes a message on to Accabish to join them.
The Weaver returns to Jean’s home, spotting a suspicious green Civic parked across the street. It recalls a similar dingy vehicle there two nights ago. It ignores the threat for now and lets itself inside. Before turning in, it examines the metallic rod again. The metal is strong but surprisingly flexible. Roughly a foot long, it appears to be made of some alloy. It can sense an Aetheric resonance about it. The rod must be some sort of Gadget.
Daemon messages his guild, putting some of them on the task of locating plans to the city’s sewer lines in Eastlake. Then he joins the rest of them in a successful raid. Annoyingly to him, one of his head lieutenants misses the mission. After logging out of WoW, he messages Zanity, the absent member.
Zanity apologizes for her absence. She got caught up studying for the bar exam and forgot to warn the guild. Daemon admonishes her before asking if it would help if she had the questions and answers beforehand. Zanity waffles on taking that risk and though Daemon tempts her, he chooses not to push the issue.
After concluding their conversation, Daemon locates the site where the bar materials are recorded. Using his knowledge of human patterns he quickly picks out the proper password, downloads the answers, and sends them to another member of his cult to deliver to Zanity anonymously. Let her decide, he concludes.
That night as Joseph does his rounds, he spots Bob carting around a small plastic waste paper basket filled with scraps of cardboard and papers. The large man tries to sneak up on the pudgy janitor but Bob spots him and nervously says hello.
Thinking quickly, Joseph offers to take care of the trash for him so he can get back to his scheduled work. Reluctantly Bob hands it over and thanks Joseph.
Inside the Saboteur finds parts of Amazon delivery boxes and other mail, all for Nick Mathers, Daemon’s cover. He spends the evening slowly disposing of the evidence in receptacles throughout campus.
Meanwhile the Naturalist arrives late to Dorian’s bar. Thankfully Stacie, a waitress, covered for him. They exchange pleasantries and she babbles about her various problems. The night has been slow which is good for his tardiness but bad for tips. She also mentions that a cop named Jack Lawrence came by.
After work, the Naturalist doffs his bartender cover and resumes his main identity as Jenny Olson, frustrated housewife. Jenny slips back home, successfully avoiding waking her two toddlers. Rather than risk the stairs, she sleeps on the couch.
Her sleep is fitful, disturbed by a dull vibration. Eventually the Naturalist wakes up and feeling around finds a phone wedged in the cushions. It belongs to John, Jenny’s husband. But the message on it doesn’t ring a bell. A “Jackie” apparently wants to see Jenny’s husband again. Frustrated and tired, the Naturalist tosses the phone across the room.
Next morning over breakfast, Jenny asks John about his evening. Wearing dark glasses to hide her “hangover”, the Naturalist manifests its mind reading abilities. Through copper laced eyes, it senses John’s surface thoughts as he tells Jenny, truthfully, that he watched Netflix last night. It also detects signs that he is hiding something as he deletes the latest text on his phone.
On his way out the door, Jenny gives him a kiss…and supernaturally tags him with an Embed. He hurries off, unaware that he is recording his day for the demon.
Elsewhere as Jean heads in early for work, she stops and turns down an alley. Halfway down the empty path, she walks up to a handleless door. She steps precisely four feet over, reaches forward and opens a gate into nowhere. Once safe in its bolthole, the Weaver forces part of its demonic nature through its cover. Fine threads emerge from Jean’s fingertips as her hair takes on the hue and texture of aged wood.
The Weaver runs its fingers across the rod. It detects iron, aluminum, trace elements and a large amount of element-161. Scrutinizing the gadget closer it slowly unpicks its secrets. After an hour it learns that the gadget is based on an Embed it has never encountered before, one that reveals the presence of any object or being with connections to the God-Machine.
With matter of the faceless angel behind her for now, Accabish looks deeper into her reporter’s dreams. Shaun Wykes remains something of mystery to her, a product of his time in the memory gap that devoured knowledge of Yeslar Terrace for the past several years. She recalls him talking about being troubled by his own memory gaps, such as the origin of a wedding ring on his finger. As Priscilla, she tasks her IT expert Vince to track down more details, especially about a possible marriage.
It takes the morose technician a day to track it down. Shaun married Mary Burton a few years ago, though Vince can’t seem to locate any other details about her. Priscilla seems unconcerned.
She locates a reputable psychiatrist and arranges an appointment. Alexa Harper probes the blog editor’s concerns about the stresses of her job but Accabish easily avoids raising suspicions. She also slips a listening device beneath her chair, preparing the way for her scheme.
After arranging a follow up session, Priscilla contacts Shaun and convinces him to meet with “her therapist” to deal with his missing time.
In the meantime, Priscilla begins work on relaunching the Slog’s gossip column. One of her writers, Jane, volunteers to spearhead the research into what new trends are out there and how they might rebrand the Slog. Priscilla explains she’s looking for an interesting new spin.
After hours, she contacts her police contacts to learn more about the disappearances last year. Lt. Jack Lawrence is friendly but not very helpful. There were three deaths in the wetlands near the University last year, apparently by invasive snakehead fish. Tom Kobo disappeared around the same time but no clues have surfaced since then. If he also died out there then the construction crews that filled in the wetlands for the school’s new museum would have uncovered him.
Jack also dismisses the rumors of alligators, suggesting a mangy dog or perhaps one of these nasty fish could be the culprit. In any case animal control is looking into it.
Next she hits the streets. A young man in a blue sports jacket tells her that lots of people have gone missing in Eastlake: homeless, prostitutes, even a few members of his gang. He’s seen reptilian creatures climbing in and out of the sewers at night. Some people say there is a weird cult down there worshipping the things. He also mentions a strange disease that’s been affecting people around here, scratching at some scaly skin as he talks. She gets him to pinpoint where he’s seen the animals on a map and thanks him for his help.
The demon works late into the night: researching snakehead fish and the sightings that Vince compiled for her. She find a surge in encounters with the fish in 2009 but they have dropped off significantly since. After talking to an ecoactivist named Yolanda O’Meally, she is convinced that the snakeheads are not an invasive species. The reporter encourages the young woman to investigate further. Next Accabish looks at the work near the University and everything she can find on the sewers.
There she finds the link.
The Stanley Company did the filling in of the wetlands near the school. They are also handling a series of renovation projects in Eastlake, particularly ones dealing with the sewers.
A few days later she listens in on Shaun Wykes’s therapy session. It starts innocently enough but soon veers in a strange and disturbing direction. He begins to talk about his dreams: visions of swamps, pyramids, and a clockwork machine coming to life in the muck. He rambles about ancient conspiracies and inhuman gods. Alexa books a second session for him.
Despite a decade long smoking ban, the bar still stinks. The demons do not let any disgust show. They compare their findings about the rod, the rumors, and the Stanley Company’s probable involvement. Joseph lets Daemon know about Bob’s activities.
As the others talk, the Naturalist watches the crowd. The couple in the booth behind the demon excitedly talk about an upcoming meeting. In hushed tones they mention a man with supernatural powers, a trip into the sewers and the dreams that propel them forward.
Then they stop, staring at the man whose head is craning over them. Sheepishly, the demon smooths things over with a quick apology and some free beer. They accept it after telling him, gently, to keep to his own business.
The Naturalist turns back to the others and switching to an obscure language, fills them in on what it just heard. It convinces Jospeh to tail them and text Dorian if and when they enter the sewers.
The couple soon leave and the powerful Rwandan follows, his skin turning mirror-like and his eyes softly glowing green as soon as he is out of sight of the bar.
As the Naturalist presumed, they enter the sewers. Joseph texts Dorian.
By this time, the bartender had made his way to work. Excusing himself, Dorian heads to the bathroom and locks the door. The Naturalist’s eyes go white as the demon scries the couple and their journey through the sewers.
The tunnels grew stranger as they go deeper and deeper. Strange writing appears on the walls and a red glow appears ahead of them. Eventually the man and woman reach a small crowd of people listening to a dark skinned man with black eyes. He leads them in a ceremony within a large chamber somewhere beneath the city. The Naturalist recognizes it as part of some Infrastructure.
The man tells them of the power of Sobek, the need to survive, and how they will feed those deemed unworthy to the sacred beasts within these tunnels. The Naturalist makes careful note of each of their faces. As the ceremony concludes, the leader reveals the power of their patron by turning his head into that of an alligator!
The Naturalist ends the vision and sends a mass text to the Ring, calling them to an emergency meeting at a local diner after Dorian’s shift ends.
Six hours later, the demons, tired or not, arrive. The Naturalist reveals what it saw.
The Weaver comments that Sobek sounds familiar. It worked in ancient Egypt with an Angel called Sabek. The crocodile headed figure was very indirect in his missions, especially for a Psychopomp, focused on its survival and that of its projects. In terms of capabilities, it recalls Sabek was of middling power.
Joseph finds this new information quite motivating while the Weaver and Daemon remain curious. The Naturalist works on sketches of the people it spotted, worrying about its level of involvement. Accabish stops the demon as it finishes an attractive older woman. She recognizes her, a bureaucrat named Donna who is trying to blackmail her. Then Joseph proposes exploring the sewers and finding the site the cult met at. But he will need the Naturalist’s help…