Anima Threshold

Ehus Shartha, Magath Daku

The group was in bad shape. The Azlu had taken a big hit, but the pack was nearly crippled. Scott was riddled with bullets with a punctured lung. Aleister had not yet begun the Rite of Dormancy, but he was badly shot up himself. Jeremy was relatively unscathed, while Bentley and Walt were back up to speed after a short retreat covered by a curtain of airborne poison. Their protective equipment was damaged. They needed a new plan.

Walt recommended splitting up and using distraction to keep the Azlu from pinning down Aleister while he performed the Rite. Walt would accompany him and watch his back while the others drew the Azlu away from the center of the Locus. Bentley used some of the larger husks as booby traps, filling them with acid stored in plastic gloves and stun grenades with string attached to their pins. A combination of epithets and bravado drew many of the Azlu into a gauntlet of hazards that decimated their numbers.

Aleister began the Rite, navigating closer to the heart of the Locus and its Touchstone. Walt stayed in front, taking a full clip to the chest from one of the Azlu. Using the satellite radio link, the rest of the pack heard everything. Aleister maintained a position of stealth and continued the Rite while the rest of the pack flooded in to take down the Azlu. Walt rallied and took out the one who shot him, while the others cleared out the remainder with a hose full of acid and their now superior numbers. Upon completion of the Rite of Dormancy, they had taken a huge draw of essence from the Locus and slaughtered nearly forty Azlu.

Mega cut into their radio communications to tell them that Elder Wolf had killed Peter. The Leaning Fortress had distracted Elder Wolf by catching him in a bear trap and dragging it behind a truck. Unfortunately, Peter was in the driver’s seat and had suffered the consequences. Kathy called to tell them that the Totem Purity-of-True-Fury was in danger of killing her pack. They had lured the Totem into their territory and cast the Rite of the Sacred Hunt upon it, then Bête had taken a hit from Elder Wolf while drawing him into the trap set by the Leaning Fortress.

Walt insisted that they go to the aid of Zathu Dulesh’na and deal with Purity-of-True-Fury. Though the pack as a whole wanted to put Elder Wolf down, they were not confident that they could take him in their current state. Also, Walt had made plans with Bright-Eyes to deal with the rival Totem and save Aleister being sacrificed to it as tribute. When they arrived in the vicinity of the spirit, Bright-Eyes called down a group of crow spirits called the Mountain Morrigan and held a brief congress with them. Walt asked Aleister to cut out one of his eyes—which he gladly obliged to do—and fed the eyeball to Bright-Eyes. When they had sight of the rival Totem, Aleister lined up a shot while Bright-Eyes and his spiritual murder set upon it to steal its essence away. Bright-Eyes discorporated himself and Aleister took the shot, obliterating the spirit Purity-of-True-Fury forevermore.

The local packs were gathering together to lay Peter to rest. Along the way, Jeremy used his police status to get close to the scene of the accident where Elder Wolf had destroyed the truck Peter was driving. He collected a blood sample from Elder Wolf that he gave to Aleister, who used the Rite of Shared Scent to give the blood scent to the rest of the pack. The trail ended at the nearest Locus, showing that Elder Wolf had retreated into the Shadow.

At the chosen site of Peter’s burial, Aleister was given the lead on the funeral rites. Everyone said their piece regarding Peter, then Three-Talons used a Gift to shift the earth of the grave. They all moved on to the bar for a proper wake. Walt had Aleister pluck out his other eye to solidify the power bond to their Totem. It was now nearly dawn, but they shut down the establishment for another full day and night to properly mourn. Mega, feeling ashamed and isolated from her pack, turned to Jeremy for comfort. He succumbed to sin and accepted her advances. The following day, a newly empowered Bright-Eyes appeared with a Lune that presented Local-Trade and its offer to teach the pack members the Gift Sand in the Eyes in tribute to their Honor renown and strides against Elder Wolf. The details of its willingness in this regard were left somewhat vague for the moment.

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Siege Poisonous and the Riddle of Lead

The group received the call. The Leaning Fortress and Zathu Dulesh’na were engaging Elder Wolf and separating the Pure from their totem Purity-of-True-Fury. This was the distraction they needed to cover their assault on the azlu hiding in the Wells-Fargo building.

Scott had done much of the preparation by gathering weaponry from his personal arsenal, buying a secure communications network, getting Mega to set up a security-cracking program, and planning the specifics of the raid. The pack would enter the building under the guise of an extermination company, seal off the infested floors and wipe out the azlu with a combination of organic-disintegrating acid and cyanide gas. Jeremy managed to acquire the necessary chemicals and equipment through lies and other extralegal means.

Bentley, having had plenty of interaction with the spirits aligning around his bar, tried to convince them to rally around the building to create a distraction for the spirits there. After talking to the spirit Burke and offering up a large dose of Essence as chiminage to the various intoxication and celebrant spirits, he managed to inspire them to create a chaotic party atmosphere surrounding the Wells-Fargo building. His end goal was to distract the workling spirits that regularly file in and out of the building and maintain its spiritual security, to which he made decent strides. He also secured the pack’s appointment there upon learning that another appointment had already been made by real exterminators after Scott’s first communications with the impersonated company and the Wells-Fargo building security.

Once inside, Aleister was to shut the Locus down to prevent the azlu from escaping in the Shadow and lock out the Pure from entering their territory directly.

Walt led the pack in moving unobtrusively through the building in order to avoid detection by worklings connected to the security system. Once they reached the area of azlu influence, they began setting up a “hot box” for the acid burn phase of the assault. Bentley and Scott tossed flash grenades into the nest to rile them, and the former taunted them into giving quick chase. Meanwhile, Aleister and Walt hid and covered the exits, while Jeremy activated the gas and watched for azlu from outside the building.

The first wave of azlu—eight or so—were quickly and painfully dissolved in the stairwell along with their webbing. Moving the hot box further down, the webbing became thicker and the azlu assault complemented with automatic gun fire. A massive azlu used a fear-based Gift to drive off most of the pack after their protective suits were shredded in the firefight, grabbing Aleister in a death grip as his skin began to melt away. Aleister entered Kuruth and fled, skin sloughing off from the acid. They had killed another three azlu.

After recovering, the pack switched to breathing apparatuses and airborne poison. With most of their protective gear destroyed, they could not risk relying on acid for further encounters. They found an ambush waiting for them, but got the drop on their attackers and stunned them with a flash grenade. The azlu were wearing the protective equipment of another extermination team that had not made it out, but the pack quickly stripped them of it while they were stunned. The azlu were reduced to holding their breath to avoid a poisonous death. Still, they put up a hell of a fight when they recovered. Three of the giant azlu jumped Scott and nearly killed him with their poisons, while Aleister and Walt were thoroughly shot up. The pack prevailed, but Scott was in horrible shape after having his lungs and several other organs thoroughly ventilated with bullets. They retreated further into the building after killing something like eighteen azlu, but Scott was crippled and the Locus was not yet sealed.

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The Lair in the Labyrinth

Jeremy and Walt went to the hospital to observe an old one-eyed acquaintance of Jeremy’s, apparently settling into his new job working on Stash‘s physical rehabilitation after his eyes were injured. Training under a blind Japanese-looking man, he seemed to be happy with his work. He did not recognize Jeremy, as per Local-Trade’s agreement. Then they saw Philip, looking after a pregnant woman who must have been his mate.

Once he noticed them, Philip nervously demanded that they make no move against him, or the woman. Jeremy agreed and pressed him for information about his presence in their territory. He seemed nervous about the birth, and eventually confessed that it was no coincidence that Elder Wolf had been filling their pack mate’s shoes at the hospital. He also told them that his pack’s Totem, Purity-of-True-Fury, demanded the lives of all first-born children from Uratha to whom he gave his favor. It seemed that Elder Wolf was considering joining Philip’s pack in earnest and bonding with the Totem, which would be bad news for his son.

Aleister managed to learn the Rite of Dormancy from the Totem of the Leaning Fortress: Rose-Bull. Peter offered to give him whatever support he could in the upcoming assault in terms of Talens.

The group began to look into the lair of their enemy, the Azlu. Bentley concentrated his prophetic dreams on the Azlu. He saw a spiral tower made of stairwells and mirrors connected to a network of webs leading to a huge spider puppeteer. Images of office workers interspersed with spiders move along the stairwells and mirror faces. A pack of wolves walking through the building’s pathways is slowly and steady enveloped by webbing, until they disappear. Bentley has trouble interpreting this dream for his packmates, but they glean that some manner of spirits inhabiting the office building are obscuring the actions of the spiders hiding within and that a misstep could lead to the pack being overwhelmed there.

They entered the Shadow and approached the Wells-Fargo building together, sneaking past the defenses of the Workling spirits flooding in and out of the building. Jeremy left an Essence marker to act as a guidepost to lead them out of it on their return trip. After spotting the influence of spider spirits, Walt tapped into his Irraka heritage to follow their trail through the winding landscape. Aleister periodically used his Two-World Eyes gift to get a clear vision of the state of things in the physical world, finding an increasingly complex and thick tangle of spider webs covering whole floors of the building. They saw Azlu of varying size and appearance working on both sides of the Gauntlet to perfect the webbing. Bentley narrowly avoided being attacked by a pair of Azlu with human infant features.

As they began to near the area of influence of the Locus, Aleister felt its resonance—greed and desperation—strained by the thickness of the Gauntlet. He surmised that if the Gauntlet here were to be torn away too quickly it might cause some form of catastrophic event that could lead to the creation of a Wound, a sort of tainted Locus. They pushed on until they found the Touchstone of the Locus, an old metal filing cabinet completely covered in Azlu webs.

Getting the hell out of there, the pack headed back to the bar and argued over the risks and rewards of a full-on assault on the Azlu with chemical weapons. If done wrong, it could lead to their escape or the destruction of the spiritual landscape at the expense of their extermination. Aleister and Walt were against acting too hastily in this manner without more information, while Jeremy and Scott wanted to deal with the Azlu and be done with it. They settled on a plan to trap the Azlu, seal the Locus, and mop up the enemy outside of the area of its influence without altogether collapsing the web structure sealing the Gauntlet. Hopefully.

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Pure and Pest Control Plans

The group finally knew where the Pure were entering the territory and came to the quick conclusion that the Azlu were closing off the locus entry point from detection. The pack got together with members of the Leaning Fortress and Zathu Dulesh’na: Three-Talons, Mega, Vera, and Kathy. Mega was looking worse for wear after a run-in with Elder Wolf. They discussed the Elder Wolf problem in detail. Not only was he responsible for terrorizing the spirit world, he had killed Walt’s entire pack and severed Three-Talons’ arm the last time he blew through town.

The consensus was that he was powerful enough to take on any pack by himself, regardless of the other Pure he had taken leadership of since his arrival. However, he was also clearly toying with the local Forsaken in his attempts to accomplish whatever he was after. Aleister Van Wick informed them that he was Elder Wolf’s son, which raised some eyebrows. Scott Larson came to the conclusion that the best way for the pack to be able to take him on would be to first deal with the Azlu problem. The only way to safely do this, however, would be if the Pure were suitably distracted during the extermination.

Another benefit of taking the Azlu out of play would be to take the locus used to access the pack’s territory away from the Pure. The other packs had access to a ritual that would allow the pack to put the locus to sleep, cutting off that entrance. Kathy was concerned about the Pure having the ability to access a bridge between loci, because traditionally the Forsaken were the only ones with this ability as it was taught to them by the Lunes.

The other packs were agreeable to distracting Elder Wolf while the pack cut out the Azlu incursion, but warned that they would need to make it quick and have a solid plan. Every moment spent distracting Elder Wolf was likely to bring death. Walt Steiner recommended reconnaissance on both sides of the Gauntlet before making any sort of head-on assault. The pack discussed using traditional exterminator tactics, heavy gun fire, literal fire, government agency involvement, and other possible methods. Acids that break down organic compounds in tandem with the heavy gunfire were considered the most effective way to ensure no one of the Azlu would escape. Everyone was in basic agreement about how to proceed, in theory.

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Young Blood, Old Wolf

The group tried to sort out the movement of the skin-stealing killer. Scott used his position at the school to ask about altercations between Ian Coen and Martin Lumly to track their movements. Aleister talked to the nearby spirits—a cockroach spirit feeding on Lumly’s corpse disintegration and an anger spirit following campus fights—and found that Lumly had been seen loitering around the bathrooms and showers. Jeremy found Lumly’s skin in the gym showers, carrying the scent of death and riddled with wolf hair growing from the inside out. They guessed that the sickly wolf was following Ian in anticipation of his first change.

Bentley broke into Ian’s dorm room to try to find something he could use to track him and dug up a shirt of his. Scott found a telephone bill with the name Sasha Coen on it and an off-dorm address. Scott realized that the bill was addressed to Ian’s mother at her home. Remembering that he had lost Ian’s scent in the parking lot, he decided Ian might have been picked up and taken home for a break after his angry outbursts.

The pack went to his home and cut off the exits after seeing Ian and his parents in their dining room. Aleister set up a sniping point on a nearby roof, Walt covered the back door leading out of the dining room, Jeremy took on the shape of a condor and fumbled with an upstairs window, while Scott and Bentley approached the front door intending to separate Ian from his parents under the guise of concerned college staff. Scott distracted the father, Rudy, while Bentley told Sasha to lock herself in her room upstairs with the added power of a Dominance gift; she passed Jeremy’s bird form coming out of her son’s bedroom on the way to doing Bentley’s bidding.

Ian seemed concerned with the interruption of family dinner and found himself on the business end of a Bentley headlock. Scott pulled out a syringe filled with sedative—borrowed from Aleister—and failed to get the drop on Rudy, who fought back with gusto. After a heavy brawl that destroyed the dining room, left Rudy in tattered and sedated, and triggered Ian’s first change directly into Kuruth, the pack moved quickly to pick up the pieces. Walt used a Technology gift to wipe out the recording ability of a neighbor’s cell phone, Aleister destroyed the blood left in the dining room using ammonia, Jeremy confirmed that Ian’s father had been replaced by the—now dead—skin-stealer, and Scott brought his truck around to load up the fallen combatants.

At that time, Bright-Eyes told Aleister that the Pure had arrived in the territory and were heading their way. Frantically dashing to escape with their quarry intact, they heard a piercing howl and saw the silhouette of a man staring down their vehicle. Elder Wolf was finally making his presence known. Scott tried to brake and avoid collision, but Elder Wolf tossed the truck into a telephone poll like it was a toy. Everyone was unconscious but Jeremy—who flew over head in condor form—Aleister and Walt. Aleister tried to shoot the Elder Wolf and was beaten into Kuruth, which sent him fleeing. Walt was tossed around like a rag doll while Jeremy was pinned after getting off one strong bite. Elder Wolf offered Jeremy and the rest of the pack one chance at survival: they had to give him Ian Coen and the corpse of what he called the “skin wolf”. Not in much of a position to argue, Jeremy assented. The rest of the local Pure pack fell in and gathered up the Coens before heading into the night. After forcing Scott’s truck back to life, the pack gathered Aleister and sputtered to the chop shop to dispose of the truck and count their blessings that they were still alive.

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Killer on Campus

Aleister had gotten himself abducted. Taken to a desert, drugged, and detained for over a month, Aleister found himself dumped back into the territory where he first changed and face-to-face with a tree spirit named Hickory-Sticks. The spirit thanked him for his family’s support of the land and expressed regret for his uncle’s death in the spirit wilds. He left for Winston-Salem.

The group had gathered at the bar, having been unable to hunt down Aleister in the interim. They noticed a new Uratha had arrived to present himself, an older wolf named Scott Larson. He had noticed some strange scents near his home in Clemmons, such as the scents of a powerful Uratha and a sickly wolf. Scott had been brought here by his connections to the pack’s territory at the Wake Forest University Campus. In fact, Scott had once briefly been one of Bentley’s teachers there. Walt mentioned that he knew of a wolf-blooded staying on the campus. Jeremy reasoned that the Pure might try to add to their ranks from local wolf-blooded with the potential to change.

Aleister unceremoniously showed up, brushing off his ordeal and ready to get back to business. Jeremy was surprised to see him, but told him that someone had been covering for him at work since he vanished. Aleister took this news in stride and decided to hunt downtown for whatever means the Pure were using to gain access to the territory. The consensus was that the Pure were probably using the same locus being dominated by the Azlu to enter the territory undetected, but the latter were doing a suspiciously good job of covering their tracks and leaving no trace for the Forsaken to hunt them through. He did, however, find the scent of death mixed with that of a wolf in the area, which he thought might lead to the college campus.

Meanwhile, the rest of the pack and Scott searched for signs of the wolf-blooded on campus, expecting to find signs of the Pure as well. What they found, instead, was evidence that the wolf-blooded—a young man named Ian Coen—was on the verge of the First Change. He had been getting into altercations with other students and had very recently destroyed the workout equipment in one of the gym areas. Scott noticed that he had left his blood behind and got a taste of it so as to better follow Ian’s scent. He followed it around campus and asked a few questions before following it to a dead end in the parking lot.

After asking around and investigating a few places they knew he had been, the group found that he had gotten into a fight with another student, Martin Lumly. He was in the computer lab that day, but after his incident in the gym he had gone home. The local spirits had picked up on his anger, as well as that of another creature that smelled like a wolf and looked like a fiery-haired man. A bit more investigation revealed that the red-hair was Martin, with whom Ian had been fighting recently. The campus was a bit cleared out for winter break, which gave them some extra mobility.

Walter found something that he thought the group would want to see in the basement of the science lab. It was a corpse, over a week old and completely missing its skin. Though it was hard to tell because of the state of decomposition brought on by a brood of cockroaches nesting in the corpse, they determined that it was the body of Martin Lumly. Someone had taken his skin and been wandering the campus wearing his face.

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Hallowed and Bedeviled

The bar was finally set to have its grand opening on Halloween Night with a masquerade motif. Paranoid of the possibility of the Pure crashing the party, Aleister opted to keep watch from across the street with Bright-Eyes. The party was jumping—due to all of the ground work laid out by the pack—and Bentley was in a good mood despite his grievous injuries from nights previous. Jeremy kept an eye out for familiar faces with a couple of his fellow off-duty officers, while Walt looked for spirit influences other than the gathering soaking up the resonance of the bar scene. Troy, the vampire, arrived and seemed pleased with the turn-out. The ground floor was crowded with random people and freely-flowing alcohol, the downstairs had a small dance floor, the upstairs was used as a V.I.P. lounge and the surrounding back exterior was roped off to contain the overflow from inside.

Bentley found himself talking to someone who smelled and looked like Aleister and asking him a lot of questions about their friendship. After bringing it up to Jeremy, they realized it might be a Pure using a Gift to take on Aleister’s appearance. They began trying to trace Aleister’s scent through the bar, while Aleister prepared to shoot anyone who looked like him from an adjacent rooftop. Jeremy was approached on the downstairs dance floor by a man dressed like Zorro who asked to speak with Bentley. It was Philip, and he explained his position as a moderate among the Pure who needed the pack to show their strength in order to justify him keeping his own pack at bay. Since they had allowed the Azlu to run so rampant and Bentley had violated his tribal vow by asking for his help, Philip had no choice but to allow his pack to attack them. They talked about the so-called Elder Wolf, and he admitted to there being some sort of family affiliation between the Elder Wolf and Aleister. He gave Bentley an envelope containing all of the evidence that linked him to the murder of Tashimoto, fulfilling his promise to make the situation go away. Bentley threatened to lay him out the next time he saw him.

Walt told Jeremy he had tracked the Aleister-scent to the lounge bathroom and was guarding the exit for him to deal with it as he pleased. Jeremy walked in and saw—not Aleister—but a one-eyed man he knew from his days in D.C. After a veiled threat to Jeremy he began to walk out before stopping, adjusting his posture and addressing him in a manner more familiar of Local-Trade. Jeremy told him he could take all the memories from this man, which piqued Local-Trade’s interest; though, he did say that he would have to give Jeremy the man’s memories of himself if he did not wish them to be bartered at a later date. Jeremy agreed, but after a word with Walt changed his mind and chased down the man inhabited by Local-Trade and tried to rescind the offer. Local-Trade told him he would have to offer something new if he wished to unmake such a powerful agreement. Jeremy told him he could take all memories of his son in place of making the man forget everything about him and moving on to a happy life. Local-Trade agreed. Aleister was prepared to shoot him, but Jeremy told him to back off. Then, Jeremy started drinking.

Aleister found the spirit Burke, inhabiting a large man dressed as a character from Fat Albert, and asked him what he knew about Local-Trade and the Elder Wolf. He learned that Local-Trade was selling what memories he had accumulated of Aleister in exchange for protection from the Elder Wolf’s wrath. The Elder Wolf had a tendency to enter a territory, take over the strongest Pure pack of the area, and lay waste to whatever enemies he felt the need to destroy, spirit or otherwise. Burke believed that the only reason he had not wiped out the local Forsaken was because Aleister was the Elder Wolf’s own son. Aleister took the news strangely. He put his phone and keys on his car and took off for his uncle’s cabin in Pilot Mountain.

Some of the members of the other local Forsaken packs had gathered to acknowledge the accomplishments of the group and discuss the future. Jeremy and Walt addressed their concerns about the Elder Wolf, which the other members understood quite well. Last time he had been in the area, Walt’s entire pack was killed and Three-Talons from the Leaning Fortress earned his name in the battle with Elder Wolf. They admitted to having spent a great deal of energy trying to keep him out of the city limits, which had ultimately failed for reasons unknown. There was discussion of something Aleister had seen in the Shadow, a moonbow touching one of the loci. Kathy offered that in some Forsaken groups was held the ability to travel between loci by binding them together with a sort of bridge, but none of them had ever known the Pure to have this ability.

The packs all agreed that the Elder Wolf problem needed to be addressed, but the group was effectively on their own until they could strengthen their territory enough to repel the Azlu and act from a position of strength.

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The Corporate Web and Terminal Velocity

After returning from their journey into Pure territory, the pack discussed what to do next. Aleister had some explaining to do, since he was seen in the ambulance before it was crushed, but not after. He decided to pretend he had suffered a blunt force trauma to the head; Walt did the honors—tired of Aleister’s constant mutterings—rather than letting him bludgeon himself with silver. He wandered around downtown until he was picked up by a cop, but soon enough he had to contend with the speed with which his wound was healing. Once taken to the hospital, he stole a scalpel and kept his wound fresh. He did not hide the evidence as well as he would have hoped to and received some pointed questions about self-injury from his superior. Eventually, he was given two weeks paid leave to recuperate with mandatory psychological evaluations before he could return to work. He was not pleased with the decision.

Bentley went to his meeting with Tachimoto and found himself losing track of fifteen minutes. As he was standing outside of Tachimoto’s office, a cleaning lady told him he was covered in blood and he realized that it was true; and, it was not his blood. Going to the bathroom to clean up, he was soon approached by a very nervous Philip, who told him that the security guards were saying he had killed Tachimoto in his office. Going inside, they found a body mutilated beyond recognition, covering the walls and floor. Philip took a moment to steady himself and quickly dug out an aged bourbon from Tachimoto’s desk. He poured a glass for himself and for Bentley, then swished his finger around in his own drink. After Bentley drank, he noticed his appendages felt a little wobbly for a moment. Philip told Bentley he would need to lawyer up and deal with this situation, so Bentley called Walt.

He listened to the situation and decided it would be better to not risk Bentley dealing with this alone so soon after an attack. Walt gathered the rest of the pack and told them Jeremy would take point on extracting Bentley from this situation. As the pack arrived, Aleister set up across the street with his rifle while Walt sneaked into the building while most of the late night workers ran out because of some form of ward. Jeremy called some gang members—who questioned his activity because of some rumors starting to spread about his time in D.C.—to cause a distraction and walked in with the authority of a police officer. Philip told Bentley he would be able to pull some strings and call in some favors to make this go away if Bentley asked him to do it, which he did. Then they heard the scream.

Aleister set up just in time to see the cleaning lady snatched up by a chitinous arm into the ceiling outside of Tachimoto’s office. Bentley stepped out and called out the attacker, who revealed itself to be a giant spider with a man’s torso. It retreated into the hallway away from Aleister’s sights long enough for more spider-men to emerge from the ceiling to attack Bentley, then charged him. Aleister began taking shots at the spider-creatures before the large one vaulted into the ceiling with Bentley, trapping him in a massive web in the rafters. Philip crouched in the corner to avoid gun fire. As the police arrive outside, Walt and Jeremy must force through thick webbing on the stairwell guarded by a spider-creature with a shotgun. Most of the police are kept at bay by the ward, but a few slip through; Aleister starts taking shots at their legs.

Bentley finished off the spiders in the ceiling, leaving their bodies to shed smaller spiders in sickening numbers. He came face to face with Philip in his Dalu form, who said to him: “desh kar,” a First Tongue expression used by Storm Lords. Then he told Bentley he was sorry, took on a massive white Gauru form, and threw him out of the twenty-storey window.

On impact with the street, Bentley came within an inch of his life and fell into a comatose dream state. He found himself laying down in a swamp he had dreamt of before. When he reached his hand up to take an offered helping hand, he was slapped back down into the murk by the mighty paw of Skolis-Ur, the Winter Wolf and totem to all Storm Lords. When he was allowed to emerge he found himself in a pile of Uratha bones and face to face with his pack totem. The Winter Wolf told him that he was showing his weakness by dragging down his pack and forcing them to tend to him. He told Bentley that they pitied him, which is unacceptable. Bentley was not so proud to ignore this omen and realized his tribal vows demanded more of him.

The rest of the pack scrambled to save Bentley. Bright-Eyes told Aleister that he was still alive despite the twenty-storey drop and he reached him in time to give first aid. Walt skidded down the elevator cables to reach him and Jeremy followed suit after activating the fire safety system that voided most of the oxygen from the office floor and killed the remaining spiders—left over after Bright-Eyes sicked a flock of crows on them. They rigged together a makeshift stretcher and got him to the hospital locus. There they began the long process of tending to his wounds. Bentley suffered a severely fractured skull and plenty of damage to the ribs and spine, which would probably affect him for a long time. Jeremy managed to convince the spirits of healing to aid in Bentley’s regeneration for the sake of the pack’s continued protection of the locus. After a while, Bentley was well enough to decide to get up and keep his bar on the road to opening.

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Weak Link and Hard Choices

The pack gathered together with Peter from the Leaning Fortress and Vera the Bone Shadow to deal with the spirit HMS-Craggy-Wave-Runner, a magath of some form. After some deliberation, they decided to store it in the form of a fetish by bonding it to Aleister’s rifle. After affixing a St. Christopher to the gun and having Peter perform the fetish rite, it channeled the spirit’s power to make the gun portable in the Shadow as a necklace wearable by Bright-Eyes and able to gift a bit of Essence when used to discorporate a ghost.

The bar was nearly ready for its grand opening. Bentley, working harder than he likely ever had in life, experienced a strange dream. In it, he was sinking deep into a woodland bog. Arms reached forth to help him out of the muck; and, when he took hold of one, he heard a low howl nearby. He saw the Winter Wolf growling at him with lightning in his eyes and icicles on his breath. Bentley looked at his hands and saw they were those of his Gauru form, covered in blood.

He met up with Philip for a drink to congratulate him on his progress with the bar and talked about his upcoming meeting that evening with his superior, Tashimoto. Philip drove home that the man was in a sour mood and Bentley needed to tread lightly when speaking with him, then excused himself after a couple of shots of whiskey. A well-dressed hispanic man at the bar offered his congratulations and—once Bentley realized it was Local-Trade—shared a drink with him to the success of his dream. He told Bentley that he would very much enjoy the experience of seeing a dream realized in person.

Aleister was covering a night shift, riding with Stash, when he came to the scene of a gang skirmish. One of the victims had his face severely mutilated and needed to be stabilized. Jeremy arrived in time to see said victim loaded into the back of the ambulance, after receiving a tip from one of the gang members he knew. Through Gifts and investigation, he learned that the man with the mutilated face was not attacked on-site, and the gang members loosely associated with Reina Araña found the scene unnerving enough that Jeremy doubted they were directly responsible for it.

In the ambulance, Aleister tried to keep the victim stabilized and ask him who did this to him when his eyes opened and he rasped that he did it to himself. His name was Stan and he was an obvious threat, saying that his pack was going to remove the weakest link from Aleister’s pack. Aleister smelled his blood in the air and knew this man was Uratha. He moved to inject him with a sedative when Stan threatened to set off a bomb if he did so. Aleister called his bluff and injected him anyway (regaining a bit of willpower for tapping into his Vice), yelling to Stash that the patient was freaking out. As Stash started to respond, they heard a loud howl in the distance.

The ambulance was approaching a bridge when it lost all power and came to a rolling stop beneath the overpass. Stan told Aleister to give him a hug and grabbed him. Then the bomb went off. Stash took a face full of windshield glass and Aleister was knocked down. The ambulance was buried in rubble and went completely dark. Aleister took on Gauru form—nearly crushing the walls of the ambulance under the pressure—and bit into Stan. Stan went all out and returned the favor, nearly killing his enemy. Aleister staved off Death Rage, but killed Stan while trying to keep him down. After failing to revive him, Aleister tended to Stash’s injuries.

Jeremy and Bentley heard the explosion from their respective locations nearby and rushed to investigate. Finding the collapsed rubble of the bridge covering the front of an ambulance, they quickly dug passage to the windshield. Aleister climbed out, set Stash on the ground, they retrieved Stan’s body, and left. Aleister and Bentley went for the hospital Locus while Jeremy took his car to a chop shop to get rid of any evidence of his presence at the crime scene. Bentley called Walt and told him where they were heading.

Once Aleister reached the Shadow with Stan’s body, he immediately started out for the pack’s claimed Locus, despite his injuries. Bentley bounded off after him through the spirit and then followed his lead, though Walt told him to wait at the hospital Locus. When they reached their Locus, Bentley kept the corpse from being devoured by the hungry grass spirit. Jeremy eventually caught up with them, followed last by Walt. Walt was torn and bloodied, as though he had been in the fight of his life; but, he was healing.

Discussing the situation, the pack decided that the best—or most honorable—thing to do would be to return Stan’s body to the Pure so as not to further escalate hostilities. After a private conversation between Jeremy and Walt, the pack was ready to move. Aleister and Walt went to scout the drop area, leaving Jeremy and Bentley to set up the meeting. Jeremy sent a dove spirit as a messenger of peace and crafted his appeal quite well. An owl came in its place with the return message. The meeting was accepted and set for midnight.

Aleister found himself a sniper’s nest and agonized over the events of the evening while they waited for the others to show up. He and Walt were well-hidden when Jeremy and Bentley arrived. The latter two carried the body, wrapped in a shroud, setting it respectfully upon a bedding of leaves and pine needles. Jeremy represented the pack when the Pure arrived. Two of them were in their Hishu forms, the third a snarling white-furred Urhan. Aleister lined up a shot on the male Hishu, seeing him as the leader after their last meeting. Jessica seemed much more forcefully restrained than her previously vivacious self.

The male asked Jeremy’s name and received his First Tongue name, Dagganum Urbat. Jeremy lamented the tragedy of the situation and expressed his pack’s intention to act honorably in the face of death, to which the male seemed bemused. The male said that Jeremy carried himself well under the gravity of the situation and recognized his wisdom in not bringing the killer of his pack mate to this meeting, giving Bentley a glance for confirmation. When Jeremy sued for peace he balked, saying that there could be no peace with the Tribes of the Moon. Because of their ties to the Mother, he said, they were all natural liars and could not be trusted. Jeremy could not convince him otherwise and had a hard time holding his tongue on the subject of honorable actions.

Jessica told Bentley that he was a fool for taking the life of an Uratha and aspiring to nothing. She insulted his intelligence and said that if he had been Pure, his mind would be forged of steel by now instead of being wasted on some bar. Bentley made a crass remark that his choice was to avoid people who try and fail to kill him. The male calmed Jessica and they gathered up their fallen comrade, leaving with the white wolf covering their exit.

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Apparitions and Buccaneers

The pack had made a lot of individual progress while its members attempted to keep their heads low. After about a month, they had accomplished quite a bit. The moon was coming full and the fair was in town.

Walt trained extensively with the other pack members to toughen up and improve his rate of healing. He also managed to find the full names of the vampires Troy Pruett and Simon Carson—as well as Ed Hodges, the duguthim eater of maggots.

Jeremy checked up on his family when he was not interacting with the local gangs or seeking out loci. He managed to find foreign investors from South America interested in connecting to the North Carolinian wineries through Bentley’s bar. He learned a bit more about Reina Araña—namely, that she has not been on the scene for more than a few weeks and might have been one of the witnesses from the bus station incident named Elizabeth Diaz.

Bentley managed to push through the red tape keeping the bar in limbo and to gather up local talent to do some of the heavy lifting in terms of day-to-day work. He also began his new job of breaking the ice for a banking corporation to sell supplemental healthcare loans, meeting with some success.

Aleister researched helions and found circumstances for their potential arrival. He was not fired from his job, perhaps because of intensive need from the emergency services. He also spoke to Amy about the alibi she provided for him and was surprised to learn that not only was she not lying, but she had apparently learned details about Aleister that he had no memory of because of time or sale to Local-Trade. He realized as well that he could not remember the sound of his mother’s laughter.

Bentley went to get the ball rolling with a potential contract client and deliver some herbal remedies to her and came face-to-face with Amy, now bald and sickly from chemotherapy—the cancer was getting worse. She seemed to feel on some level that Bentley and Aleister were not exactly normal. He did his best to calm her down, but she told him she had been seeing Jermaine pop up a lot since she started wearing the engagement ring he had given her before his death. Bentley remembered seeing an image of him in the old cabin and thought she must be haunted by him now.

Aleister—fresh from training in his rites with Kathy—got a ride back to his truck from Vera. On the way, they almost hit a phantasmal ghost standing in the middle of the interstate. Vera said he had seen the ghost before, occasionally trying to crash cars. Before they could react, ethereal chains wrapped around the ghost and pulled the ghost away before a large, billowing cloud blew in towards the city. Aleister took this as an omen and informed the rest of the pack.

They met at a local strip joint that was host to a locus with strong lust resonance. Bentley was fashionably late because of his immersion in a prophetic dream. In his dream, he was with the pack; but, the bar was bobbing like a raft, Aleister was cleaning his gun, Walt and Jeremy were staring and growling each other down, and random people were wandering around them. The back wall was crushed by what looked like the hull of a ship and men with cutlasses rushed out of it and began to stab the unmoved pack members to death. When he woke, Bentley rushed to the bar and started to tell them of his dream. Then the liquor bottles started to break and the strippers began to go crazy on the pack members.

As they dog-piled onto Jeremy, Walt entered his Gauru form and bum-rushed them into the bathroom. Aleister hopped the bar and stole a shotgun from behind it while Bentley looked across the Gauntlet to see what appeared to be a pirate ship anchoring itself to—and draining the Essence from—the locus located in the private dance room. A pirate ghost materialized and joined the fray, but was quickly dispatched by the pack. They moved into the Shadow to confront the pirate ship and saw two things: one was that the ship had several whispy ghosts chained to it, and the other was a salty old pirate spirit covered in cuts and missing an eye. Asking what he wanted, he simply told them he wanted booty, which was plentiful in this particular location. When they wanted to know why he wasn’t out at sea, he told them that territory belonged to Teach. Bentley intimidated him into backing down and not destroying the locus as he drained it. Then the ship took off in the general direction of their claimed locus; the pack swiftly followed.

The ship was not there when they arrived and they had Bright-Eyes investigate to find that the ship had gone to the fair grounds. Arriving at the fair, they could not find the ship. So, they asked the spirits and found that the locus on the grounds became much more powerful during this time of year, drawing in local ghosts. The pack began searching for someone who might have a connection to death and found Amy picking up a bit of seasonal work on one of the rides, followed by the ghost of Jermaine and surrounded by shadowy chains. Bentley used Luna’s Dictum to demand that she give him her wedding band, and she obeyed. Trying to destroy it, they drew Jermaine’s ineffectual wrath and traced his chains to the pendulum ship ride. Aleister used his new Banish Spirit rite to try to exorcise the spirit ship from its position fettered in the ride and it begin to go crazy, swinging so hard and fast that the fair-goers were pinned to the floor of the ride by sheer force of momentum.

While Aleister continued his rite, Bentley boosted Walt into the ride where he began tossing terrified riders back out to be caught and saved a few people. Upon completion of the rite, the ride slowed down just enough to rain fair-goers across the grounds and causing many casualties. The pack crossed over to put a stop to the pirate problem.

On arrival they saw the spirit captain pointing his cutlass at them as he said: “Fire.” Aleister was blasted by the ship’s cannons before the pack could engage. The ship pulled its chained ghosts into the Shadow by pouring essence through their chains, which the pack climbed up to reach the deck and tackle the spirit crew. While fighting, the ship began ramming about in an attempt to knock down and shake off the pack—to no avail—eventually slamming into the spirit representation of the Wachovia building. They dispersed the spirit captain and Jeremy managed to calm the ship by taking the helm. Talking with the ship, they realized that it wanted most to serve a captain that would not abandon it. Discussing options, they determined that the ship would be too dangerous roaming free and might best serve them if placed into a fetish. They called Peter from the Leaning Fortress pack to see what he could do about the situation.

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