Eric’s Group’s Playtest: Final Session Where Things Explode

Session #4

Intellectually, Hugo can’t really disagree with Agent Jackson. Kidnapping one’s lawyer in the middle of the night, sticking him in the truck of your car, and bringing him back to your lab would qualify as unusual behavior under any ordinary circumstances. Bonus weirdness points for that lab being legally forbidden from operating due to some nebulously defined work safety issue.

Alexandra slides the pistol out of her holster out of sight of the VASCU agents and gives Hugo a questioning look. In the back of the SUV, Engelbert and Fiona appear to be holding their breath. After a long moment, Hugo shakes his head.

At this point he isn’t sure what the ring is up against. Brian Jackson is one of the VASCU agents the mysterious demon informant suspected might be an angel. He can’t tell who the other one who got out of the car is – maybe an angel, maybe the demon, maybe some poor bastard of an FBI agent who is about to get the shock of his life. What he does know is the ring doesn’t have time for a confrontation with one angel, much less two. Pam might be in grave danger.

“If it gets ugly, aim for their car,” Hugo tells Alexandra softly as he steps out of the SUV. He does his best to look nonthreatening even as he uses Combustion to render the black sedan explosive. A tense conversation between Agent Jackson and Hugo follows. Hugo explains that they know who the Butcher’s next target will be and need to get to her house before it is too late.

Because the VASCU agent stood up to aim his shotgun at Hugo while they talked, Fiona is able to get a clear enough view of him to use Heart’s Desire. The Beautiful One can tell with a single look that Brian is just as eager to stop the Butcher’s murder spree as they are and she is reasonably certain his motives are too human even for an angel with a solid Cover (the player got an Exceptional Success, so I gave a little more than I might have otherwise). The other occupant of the sedan still hasn’t come out from behind it, so there may still be an angel in disguise in the area.

After a bit of back-and-forth, Agent Jackson agrees to go to Pam’s house but insists that Hugo will have to ride with them. Fiona gets Hugo’s attention and manages to convey that he should go along with this plan, although the geneticist is more than a little reluctant to ride any distance in a car that he has just turned into a bomb on wheels. As he walks over to the far side of the car, he finds himself looking down the barrel of a gun held in the hand of Agent Nate Hamm. The young agent addresses him with suspicion and threats to blow his brains out if he makes any funny moves. Hugo takes this in stride, since the demon who contacted them had said Nate was his Cover. Maybe the other demon is playing up the role a little bit too much, but cut him some slack. He’s been hanging out with an angel for who knows how long and so has good reason to stay in-character.


The SUV leads and the sedan follows close behind. The process of elimination appears to have played itself out. If Agent Hamm is a demon and Agent Jackson is an ordinary human, then Agent Grace Smith must be the angel tasked with preventing anyone from interfering with the Butcher’s killings. Hugo uses the brief car ride to insinuate that Agent Smith is not entirely human and has been secretly working against the investigation from the start. Agent Jackson doesn’t quite seem to buy this, and Agent Hamm continually interrupts Hugo, threatening to shoot him if he doesn’t shut up. An A for maintaining your Cover, kid, but can’t you see a demon is trying to sow the seeds of discord, here?

When they pull up to Pam’s house, they discover Detective Andrews’ police car waiting for them with Gerard and Grace sitting inside it. Agent Jackson frowns at this, since they didn’t notify the other two law enforcement officers about the situation, so how did they know where the Butcher would be next. If Agent Smith is surprised to see them, her face as she gets out of the squad car doesn’t show it. She tells Brian about some report about suspicious activity the police just got about this particular house. It looks like whoever or whatever it was already left, though, and it’s too late at night to go door-to-door questioning residents. She and Gerard were about to head back for now, but they’ll come back in the morning to follow up.

She seems to notice the man Agent Hamm has at gunpoint in the back of the sedan and comes over for a closer look. Hugo decides he is getting out of the car right now, scrambling out on the far side of the vehicle from Agent Smith. Agent Hamm curses and gives chase but doesn’t pull the trigger. At that moment, there is a woman’s scream from inside the house. Agents Hamm and Jackson exchange a brief look and then charge toward it. The other three demons pile out of the SUV to follow them.

Agent Smith leans casually against the hood of the sedan with a mocking smile that tells them they’re too late. In response, Alexandra draws her pistol and shoots the car. The vehicle explodes like a movie special effect, knocking down Hugo and flinging Grace into the air, her clothes burning.

Fiona recalls the Designation 3214 will only come if there is a lot of aetheric magnetism, so she brazenly transforms into her radiant demon form as she runs. Engelbert and Alexandra do the same. Alexandra’s form is a huge, steel-and-muscle juggernaut that bursts through a wall and into the kitchen. Pam stands with her back to the refrigerator door, the Butcher advancing on her slowly. The VASCU agents open fire on the monster, apparently not yet aware of the three demons in the room. The Butcher howls in pain as the bullets pierce its thick flesh, but it does not turn from its original target.


Outside, Agent Smith growls deep in her throat as she stands up and runs toward the house as quickly as her burned and broken body will allow. Hugo lifts his head, ears ringing. The flaming wreckage of the sedan is blocking most of his view of the house, although he can feel the surges of aetheric magnetism as the rest of his ring engages the Butcher and the undercover angel in battle.

As he pulls himself to his feet, Hugo looks in the direction of the squad car. Gerard cowers behind the vehicle, jaw slack, eyes wide with terror. Ordinarily that would be a disincentive for a demon to take its true form, but tonight attracting attention is part of the plan. Thousands of hypodermic needles tear through Hugo’s flesh, covering him like the quills of a porcupine. Each barb drips with soporific poison. He smiles at Gerard around a beard of scorpion tails. The detective scrambles into his squad car and peels out. Hugo turns his attention to the house and hurries to join the fight.


Inside the kitchen, things are not going as well as it initially appeared. The instant Grace arrives, the Butcher’s injuries begin to close, and fresh attacks seem to bounce off its flesh. Agent Smith looks at the three newly arrived demons and gives them a knowing wink before pulling out her pistol. White fire bursts from the gun, vaporizing Nate Hamm’s head before he even sees the danger. Agent Jackson voices a cry of dismay and turns his gun on Grace, but she turns, and the bullet barely grazes the charred sleeve of her suit coat.

Fiona interposes herself between Pam and the Butcher. Alexandra opens her mouth and sprays the monster’s back with powerful acid. Engelbert circles invisibly, waiting for an opening. Grace decides that Fiona is the next biggest threat and shoots her with white flame from her pistol, knocking her out of the Butcher’s way and badly burning her. The Butcher seizes the opportunity to strike, touching Pam with one of its cleavered tentacles as Hugo bursts into the room.

Pam vanishes with a cry. Hugo snarls, and the hypodermic needle spines shoot out of his body. One needle strikes Agent Jackson in the jaw, delivering its sedative payload as it sinks into the flesh. More hit Fiona, but her demonic form’s skin is surprisingly thick. The Butcher takes a single needle in its chest, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect. Dozens of needles pepper Agent Smith’s body, but she’s still standing.

The Butcher howls in victory, takes the shape of Bob Bergeron, and flees into the night. Aware that Designation 3214 and possibly many more angels beside it will surely arrive soon, the demons know they should probably do the same. Agent Smith seems just as eager to leave as any of them, however, which they take to mean she knows something they don’t and should probably be prevented from getting what she wants.

Agent Smith is starting to show signs of her injuries, now, but she is still putting up quite a fight and the clock is ticking. Fiona uses Reality Enforcement, which acts as a kind of EMP for angel and demon powers, reducing all of them to the abilities granted by their form. Without her incredible defensive Numina, Agent Smith is no match for four demons (plus a desperate mortal with a pistol), and eventually Engelbert finishes the job with Electric Jolt (one of her demon form powers).

The Butcher’s guardian angel may be out of the picture, but the monster is still very much at large. Fiona uses Clairvoyance to check on Bob and hears something pounding on the door of the refrigerated room – something big and covered with meat cleaver tentacles, by the sound of it. Agent Jackson looks at them in disbelief, but he has put away his weapon. “This is obviously much more than I can handle on my own, but I’ve studied this creature for weeks, and I’ve learned its weakness. It can be killed in the place where it was made – the refrigerator – and nowhere else.”

The darkness of night outside abruptly becomes as bright as day – far more so than the arrival of a single unmasked angel would illuminate it. Agent Jackson then succumbs to the poison in Hugo’s hypodermic quills and collapses into unconsciousness before they can even thank him for the tip. It’s probably for the best. While Reality Enforcement made the fight with Agent Smith winnable, it also prevents the ring from using Homogenous Memory (or any of their other demon powers) to prevent Agent Jackson from remembering them, and if he wasn’t unconscious already it might have been necessary to kill him to prevent him from talking to the angels. It has also temporarily left them unable to change back out of their demon forms, a problem that does not escape them.

They feel the massive pressure of at least four unmasked angels descending on the house from the sky. As they’re mulling making a break for it, the SUV backs up into the hole Alexandra made in the wall and Gerard motions from the driver’s seat to get in quickly. They do so, barely squeezing oversized Alexandra inside, and Gerard drives away. Through the rear window they see Designation 3214 sniffing around the kitchen, and three other hunter angels have landed on the roof. The ring is initially certain that the angels will notice their aetheric magnetism and give chase, but there is no immediate sign of pursuit.

They rather abruptly recall that they’ve been rescued by Detective Gerard Andrews, whom they have regarded since the start as a clueless mortal cop being used by the God-Machine’s servants to protect the Butcher. When asked who he really is, Gerard admits that he is actually the Agent they spoke with in the abandoned Thai restaurant. “You don’t think an Inquisitor would tell strangers the truth about his other Covers, do you?”

As he drives toward First Principle Labs, Gerard explains that after he drove off he used Alibi to cover his own aetheric tracks and then Interference to keep the angels from being able to pinpoint the source of the aetheric magnetism the ring’s demon forms are generating. “Consider yourself rescued, but don’t expect to see me in this Cover again. Now go deal with the Butcher.” Gerard stops the SUV near his squad car, which he gets into and drives away.


Now that they’ve recovered from Reality Enforcement, the ring switches out of their demon forms. Before she transforms, Fiona checks in on Bob again and finds him cowering behind some equipment in the refrigerator room as the Butcher’s cleaver tentacles bang and scrape against walls and floors as it searches for its quarry.

The demons consider sending Fiona ahead via teleportation to keep it from killing Bob, but she was badly wounded in the fight and doesn’t think she can make much difference. The demons hurry back to the lab, and the elevator really can’t move quickly enough. The plan really hasn’t changed, although Hugo wishes he didn’t have to attract further angelic attention to the Infrastructure he has been tinkering with.

When they step off the elevator on the 14th floor, they are all in their demon forms. Fiona tries to use Clairvoyance to check on Bob, but she gets nothing. It’s possible the lawyer is merely unconscious or supernaturally hidden, but it is more likely that he has been erased and fridged like the Butcher’s previous victims. The Butcher is waiting for them. It no longer looks like Bob. Instead, it has assumed the appearance of Hugo.

It stands several feet inside the refrigerated room and makes no move to leave it as the demons approach, almost as if it is glad that its reign of terror might at last be coming to an end. The killer instincts built into it by the occult physics that brought it into the world and twisted it do not allow it to merely let them kill it. It flies at Hugo as soon as the geneticist steps into the room and only the potent armor of the demon’s form and his defensive abilities keep him alive as his companions unleash their fury on the Butcher.

With four-to-one odds and in a place that clearly makes the Butcher more vulnerable to harm, however, the monster doesn’t stand much of a chance, and it ultimately collapses into a pile of warped flesh on the floor of the refrigerated room. The four demons change out of their demon form, although it is probably moot at this point given the amount of aetheric noise the fight no doubt created.

Alexandra knows the angel the Butcher once was – the one on the point of rebellion who just wanted to stop killing – would not want its remains to fall into the hands of Designation 3214. The hunter would bring it back to the God-Machine’s recycling facility to be recast anew as an angel without the inconvenient free will. Hugo maintains that given enough time he could eventually fix the flaw in the 13th floor Infrastructure and rebuild the Butcher as an angel. Fiona muses that it would almost certainly Fall almost immediately and would be an ally who owes its existence to them.

Engelbert, however, points out that they do not, in fact, have unlimited time. Designation 3214 will not waste any time getting there, and the ensemble of angels following in its wake certainly aren’t going to let them get away with killing a fellow angel (Agent Smith) – at least not without an agonizingly long chase. “Remember how I suggested we run away to New Mexico? I was wrong. We’re going to need to get much farther away than that if we hope to get out of this.”

As if to highlight her gloomy assessment of their situation, a wave of aetheric magnetism from the roof of the building rocks them. Standing their ground isn’t an option. Even if they can defeat three more angels in their weakened conditions, there are always more angels.

Hugo sets his jaw and ushers them back into one of the elevators. Once the other three demons are inside, he pushes 1st floor and steps out. “When you get to the first floor, run as fast as you can and don’t look back,” he tells them as the doors close. He goes to the mechanical room near the elevator and uses Combustion on the furnace, which runs on natural gas. He then gets into the other elevator and hits the button for every floor. On each floor he uses Combustion on the most flammable chemicals, equipment, or utility he can easily access in the time it takes for the elevator doors to open and close.
When he gets to the basement, he goes to the main utility room and uses Combustion on as many volatile pieces of equipment as he can until he feels the aetheric magnetism of the angels getting closer. With some muttered words about not letting the God-Machine misuse his Infrastructure like that again, Hugo pulls out a lighter, ignites a handkerchief, and throws it at the gas-fueled boiler.


The rest of the ring piles out of the elevator on the first floor and runs out of the building. They get less than a block away before they hear the first muffled explosion behind them. Taking cover behind another office building, they watch as the first floor explodes, triggering a chain reaction that sets off explosions on the second floor and then the third and so on until all sixteen stories of First Principle Labs are on fire and the whole building collapses in on itself.

Neither Hugo nor any of the angels hunting them come out. With luck the explosion caught the hunters by surprise, and it will be some time before the God-Machine can reassemble them, much less piece together what happened. The fire department arrives several minutes later to extinguish the smoldering remains.

The ring, minus one member, goes to ground, carefully maintaining their Covers while always looking over their shoulder in fear that one of the hunter angels survived or had a chance to relay detailed descriptions of the demons to the God-Machine before being consumed by fire and concussive force. But after a couple months without further incident, they’re able to breathe a little easier.

Fiona resumes control of the Cult of the Beautiful One, although the goddess’ appearances are much less common than they once were. Alexandra returns to work at police headquarters, and if she still treats Gerard as a rival when they’re in public, she shows him a greater degree of respect when they are in private. Gerard’s Agency determines that Agent Brian Jackson now knows too much about the Unchained but ultimately chooses to send an Agent to edit the demons out of his memories of this investigation rather than killing him outright. Engelbert returns to his research library, which continues to unaccountably attract people looking for occult lore, but none of the inquiries concerns demons, so she is usually able to simply explain that they are mistaken about the kinds of books the library has.


While Engelbert is cleaning up the magazines and newspapers section of the library, he notices an article from the local paper from a week ago concerning the investigation of the explosion at First Principle Labs. According to the article, there have been some accusations of arson and insurance fraud leveled against the owner of the company. The article includes a recent photograph of Hugo, along with a statement from him denying the accusations.

Engelbert finds it difficult to be entirely surprised by this. He really should have anticipated it, to be honest. Hugo had never struck him as a martyr and always seemed to plan for emergencies. It was one a trait Engelbert admired in the geneticist. Also, he had access to Just Bruised, so there was a pretty good chance he could survive the initial explosion, and then it was just a matter of having a way out from under the rubble.

Engelbert nods to himself, folds up the newspaper, and puts it back on the shelf where it belongs. Once a Psychopomp, always a Psychopomp.


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