A Hard Rain

A Night At Hill Manor
"I don't know but I've been told, we're caught in a space-time fold..."

“The Hill Manor Hunters? Yeah, I know ‘em. Buy me a drink and maybe I’ll tell you a few things.

I’ve still never met a more unlikely group. An army vet, a biker, a hipster, a cable guy… I think that other guy worked for the government? Oh, and Ipip. Still not sure what her deal is.

From what I’ve gathered, they started their vigil in the summer of 2011. They were all tenants in the same building. Didn’t know each other that well, ’cept for playing together in the biweekly community poker games. Between us, I think they were more interested in mooching booze off their neighbors than actual community bonding.

Anyway, some sorta space… time… thing happened, I’m fuzzy on the details. Long story short, it was an angry ghost, possessin’ and trappin’ people. Lucky for them, the local wizard lived in the penthouse. Unlucky for them, he was dead. Lucky for them, he was sticking around. And he was a generous old bastard.

Left ‘em the building in exchange for takin’ care of the ghost. To hear Texx… He’s the biker dude. Real bad attitude. Anyway, to hear him tell it, he did it solo and pissed on his ashes. Whenever Ipip talks about it she tears up and glares at Crawford. Oh, they’re the chick in the cloak and the dork in the chainmail tie, respectively.

Oh, I left out the best part. The reason Ipip gets teary? Crawford shot her cat. Apparently it was possessed or something? Heh heh heh. Crawford gets half a PBR in ‘im, and he won’t stop making dead cat jokes. TO THIS DAY.

But yeah. Enough about them. Wanna hear about the time [DATA EXPUNGED] torched a bloodsucker with a tanning bed?"

-Lucky Williams, in an interview with [DATA EXPUNGED].

Flesh Freaks and Foreshadowing
"You ever try to catch the ferry from the 54, detective?"

“There’s something going on with them, if you ask me. Something illegal. Something dangerous. Why? Well, let me tell you about it. Off the record, of course.

When I met Solano and his little troupe of lowlifes, the building they were living in had just had some… problems. I never figured how it happened, but the place looked like a war zone. They were scratched up all to hell, there were nine casualties and most of the tenants were packing their bags. The corpses… Well, let’s just say the ones who got shot were the lucky ones. Never seen such a fu- er, messed up display, and I’ve been on the force for going on ten years.

As for the perp, or possibly perps? Never caught. No one was even arrested. But I did have some suspicions… Which were only strengthened when I caught two of their little posse in the midst of another crime scene.

Traffic accident, or so it seemed at first. A bus went out of control and crashed off the West Seattle Bridge, I’m sure you heard about that little incident. What you probably didn’t hear about… Well, I’m pretty sure you don’t have clearance for that.

Oh. That high? Well then, you probably DID hear about the pile of completely mutilated corpses. And the bus full of witnesses that swore that they had stripped the driver completely to the bone in seconds. No, not Solano and his boys, the pile of corpses. Meth’s a helluva drug.

Far more relevant to the topic were the witnesses who say some shady looking individuals that climbed down the bus, and climbed back up with some… extremely customized hardware. The kind of hardware you don’t generally take for a leisurely bus ride…"

-Detective Jerry Sutton, in an interview with Agent [DATA EXPUNGED].

The Farm
"I'll pay you in venison!"

“No, nothing happened. Why? Who are you? How did you get this number?”

-Crawford McCormick in an interview with [DATA EXPUNGED].

Story Time
A talk with Lucky.

“The Heart of the Soldier? Jewel of Pandora? This’s some wacky shit, C.” Lucky sipped his lager and looked across the table at Crawford. “I’m guessing you’re after a specific soldier’s heart.”

“Hell, at this point we’re not sure we’re even looking for anything literal,” Crawford replied, a mostly full can of PBR getting warm in his hand, “But we figure if anyone knows where to start on this, it’s you, and our time frame is… limited, at best. Have you got anything?”

“Well…” Lucky paused, deep in thought. "Jewel of Pandora… I know a chick, antiquities dealer, if anyone knows where to get a valuable magical artifact, it’s her. Might ask her about the staff, too.


“Whatever. No idea about any soldier, though. Or his heart.”

Crawford let out a sigh, and took a sip of watery beer. Another dead end. This was starting to get repetitive.

“Nothing? No war stories, urban legends, friend of a friends that might know a guy? This is the least talkative I’ve ever seen you.” Crawford leaned in and stage-whispered: “I think you might be losing your edge.”

Lucky narrowed his eyes. “Nope. No urban legends. But now that I think of it…” Lucky finished his beer in a single mighty gulp and smiled devilishly.

“How about a fairy tale?”

Crawford attempted to slam his beer, choked, and coughed. When he had managed to clear his windpipe, he choked out “At this point, I’ll take what I can get.”

“My grandma, Aleksandra, used to tell me a story from her homeland. About a soldier and his adventures. After finishing his duty in the Tsar’s army, he was given three biscuits and sent on his way.”

“Three biscuits? That’s it?”

“This was Russia in the time of the Tsar. Three biscuits was a lot back then. Now pipe down, this is for your benefit. Now, on his way home, he was approached by a beggar, seeking alms. He gave the beggar one of his biscuits and continued on his way. Further along his path, another beggar approached and asked for alms, so another biscuit he gave away.”

“Man, this guy has zero business acumen.”


“I mean, giving away 2/3 of his assets like that.

“The point is that he’s a good man. And shut the fuck up, I’m telling a story.”


“Don’t apologize, just be quiet! Jesus. Alright, alms given, he walks away. Further on, be comes across a third beggar, asking for alms. Dutifully, the soldier gives him his very last biscuit. But this beggar had something to give in return. He handed the soldier a deck of cards and said ‘play with these cards, and you will always win.’”


“Shush! He also gave the soldier a flour sack, and said ‘anything you command to get into the sack, will be compelled to get into the sack.’”

“How long is this story?”

Lucky reared back as if to smack the hipster, but stopped himself. “Grandma was Russian. She loved long stories. Know what, I’ll skip to the cool part. So bladibladibla, the soldier becomes good friends with the Tsar, marries and has a kid, and the kid falls ill. Real ill. Deathly so. And lo, Death comes for the kid in the form of an old crone, as Death is wont to do. But the soldier has a trump card.”

“Don’t tell me; the sack?”

“The sack. As soon as Death reared her ugly head, he commanded her into the bag, and hung the bag from a tree in a deep wood. And for years afterwards, no one died. Finally, the wailing of the sick and maimed grew to be too much, and he released Death from the bag. Death returned to work, and all seemed normal. But when it came time for the soldier to die, Death was too afraid to come and retrieve him. So the soldier went on living, and presumably lives to this day.”

“That… Is certainly a story, Lucky. Well, thanks for your time.”

Crawford dropped a 20 on the table, said his goodbyes and left Donovan’s.

The Harvesters
"Did I mention that I FUCKING HATE THE WOODS?!"

Status Report: Project Eulachon

“Project subjects left Seattle at approximately 1300 hours on [DATA EXPUNGED]. Destination: Blackbird Falls, WA. Purpose of visit appeared to be to purchase Object 142-451.

Subjects met with Christine Reese, local fence, in a donut shop (Bobby’s Big Ones). Subjects haggled over price before agreeing to a location for the exchange (local Motel 6).

Situation was altered by the kidnapping of Reese by a group of organ harvesters led by David D’Angelo (Subject 941-752, now deceased). We have sketchy reports of members of Group 4311-3475 being present as well, though these have yet to be confirmed.

Subjects rectified situation with prejudice and returned to Seattle. We can only assume that Object 142-451 is in their possession now.

Recommend Protocol Gamma."

-Recent status report from Agent [DATA EXPUNGED].

White Night
An interlude.

White surveyed the wreckage of the lobby. The smashed detritus of tables and armchairs crunched under her feet as she walked. She wished she could have seen it happen. Nothing cheered her up quite like a riot.

The stench of magnesium burned her nose as she entered the elevator, the remnants of a flash-bang. White hit the button for the second sub-basement, pressed her keycard against the pad and chuckled to herself. The status report she had read told her the captives had flash-banged a hall full of guards as well as themselves to escape. It had been a long time since she’d encountered a group of the fun ones. Most of her targets, if they managed to escape, simply ran away and tried to hide. Tried.

The fun ones, though, were much less predictable. Put up more of a fight. And were, in the end, much more satisfying. It was the difference between beef jerky and a t-bone steak.

As the elevator doors slid open, the sight of two MP5 barrels greeted her. It had become company policy to cover the elevator in case of intruders, and after what had happened she couldn’t blame them for tightening security. As soon as they recognized her, however, the guards lowered their weapons with apologetic looks on their faces.

“Sorry Ms. White. Standard procedure, you know.”

“Not a problem. Where’s the prisoner I requested?”

“Room 68. He should be awake by now.”


As she walked, she looked in the windows to her left and right, remembering her various hunts. The lengths she had gone to to put some of these things away. The majority of the rooms on this floor were research labs, but some of the things they studied… getting them into the lab had been hard enough. They had simply sealed the rooms, converting what had been labs into cells.

Room 68. One of the torture suites. White checked the window. All was as it should be. One prisoner, two guards. She went inside, noting that the previous, obviously obsolete wooden chairs had already been replaced with steel reinforced dentistry chairs. Aurora tended not to dither when it came to improving on their weak areas. The man bound in the chair glared daggers at her, unable to speak due to the tape over his mouth.

“Detective Sutton. We have things to discuss.” She ripped the duct tape off his face. “Your friends… those little vigilantes over on the Hill. I need to know everything you know.”

White unsheathed her blade. She usually let the technicians take care of this sort of thing, but she was in a… playful mood. She pressed the long thin knife against his left hand and pushed. She was rewarded with a grunt of pain and a trickle of blood. Her knife sank slowly into his flesh.

“Tell me.”

In which a computer is raided.

Found on Anton Steinbock’s Laptop…

To: asteinbock@auroracorp.com
From: esmythe@auroracorp.com
Date: 8/21/11
Subject: Project Eulachon development URGENT

Mr. Steinbock: We’ve recently been contacted by Echo Research Station, on Attu Island in Alaska. Generally they are concerned with weather pattern observation, but they say they’ve discovered something that could be an important lead on Project Eulachon. Operations Code Delta: for your eyes only. They assure me that this could lead to Object 43457.

-Emily Smythe

To: esmythe@auroracorp.com
From: asteinbock@auroracorp.com
Date: 8/21/11
Subject: RE: Project Eulachon development URGENT

Smythe: Excellent news. If they’re invoking Ops Code Delta, they must have something strong. Book me a red-eye for tomorrow evening. If all goes well with White’s Gamma Extraction, we should have the staff and the jewel by then.


P.S. Make sure it’s first class this time! You put me in business class the last time I flew, and it felt like I was in steerage on the Mayflower. Don’t make the same mistake twice!

To: asteinbock@auroracorp.com
From: white@auroracorp.com
Date: 8/22/11
Subject: Gamma Extraction Complete

Steinbock: the job is done. got three of them, their in sb3. tracker chips in place. -White

A Field of Stars, Part 1
Crawford and Maya have a chat.

Crawford sighed and rolled out of bed, careful not to wake Maya. Meandering to the kitchen, he pulled out a bottle of grape drink and sat at the table. He drank ruefully, staring into space.

A month had passed since he had saved the world.

It hadn’t really sunk in that that was what he was doing until it was done. At the time he had been so focused on the shittiness of his situation that it had been a chore. Self-preservation, really. If he had any choice, he would’ve avoided doing it altogether. At any rate, he certainly didn’t feel like any sort of savior.

Crawford downed the purple sugar-water in a scant few gulps and stared at the bottle. Idly, he wondered if red dye #42 had any proven links to pancreatic cancer. Did it really matter? He got another bottle and drank that one too.

If what the Wax King said was true, it was the only thing standing between humanity and annihilation from umpteen different sources. Death could come at any day and in twenty different ways. If the Wax King was lying, then he had been through hell, risked life and limb, nearly been eaten by zombies… for nothing.

It was a time for something stronger than grape drink. Crawford fixed himself a vodka cran.

“What’s wrong?”

Crawford looked up with a start to see Maya framed in the door, clad in nothing but a loosely belted bathrobe.

“Oh, nothing.”

Maya strode in and sat down. She poured herself a shot from the vodka bottle on the table and slugged it back.

“You’re as bad a liar as you are a drinker.”

“Hey, ain’t nothing manlier than a vodka cran.”

Maya snorted. For a time, they said nothing. Then, Maya spoke.

“Nothing ever got solved by not talking about it.”

Crawford looked into her eyes… those piercing blue eyes.

Maya had been a hunter since she was 12. She had told him about her mother training her in swordplay, making her kill a vampire on her 13th birthday… If anyone knew a thing or two about handling stress…

“Maya… how do you deal with it?”

“With what?”

“This life. Fighting things that could end you with a thought. Abominations that would make Bosch curl up and weep. How do you deal with the burden?”

Maya seemed to ponder this for a minute. Then she leaned over and kissed him.

“You fight back. You do what you can. Take heart in the fact that we’ve faced these threats for millenia, and we’re still here. By providence, perseverence, or sheer bloody luck, our species has survived. In the face of overwhelming odds, humanity still exists. You are the latest in a long line of warriors who maintain a vigil over those who lack the means to protect themselves, a candle in the dark, a star against a field of black. And in the end, if you should fall, someone else will take up your light and stand once more against oblivion. "

Silence once more. Crawford poured himself a shot and knocked it back, supressing a cough. The bottle was now only half full.

“Have I mentioned that you’re an awesome girlfriend?”

“I know. Now come back to bed. The mysteries of life will still be here in the morning.”

A Field of Stars, Part 2
Resurrecting the Beast.

“Torque wrench.”

Ipip leaned down and placed the tool in Frank’s outstretched hand. From her perch on the hood of the old GTO, she could only see his legs sticking out from beneath it. She returned to her previous position, leaning against the windshield, and went back to her book. “Attenborough’s Guide to Hermetic Healing, Volume 1.” It had been sitting in her room for months, and only recently had she gotten around to reading it. From beneath the car, there was a grunt and the sound of a small metal object rattling.

“Dammit. Ok, now I need the magnetic screwdriver on a stick.”

“What happened?”

“I… Dropped something.”

“What did you drop?”

“Something important.”

Ipip accepted this answer, and handed down the jury-rigged implement. She didn’t know much about cars, but with Texx gone walkabout and Crawford in Britain, she was the only assistant in evidence. She didn’t mind. The garage was mostly pretty quiet, and with the right assortment of pillows she could sit and read in comfort, her cat purring beside her.

There hadn’t been much else to do, at any rate. Things were quiet. They had moved back into Hill Manor after beefing up security, there had been no bad dreams beyond the norm, and in general everything seemed…

Normal. Too normal, perhaps. Ipip had become accustomed to facing danger at every turn, and this lull did little except to incite her paranoia. There must be balance in all things, and the longer this period of safety lasted, the more terrible the oncoming storm must be. Or, maybe, it was all over forever… And she wasn’t sure which possibility made her more nervous.

“Alright, I think I got it.”

Frank extricated himself from the underside of the car. It was nearly unrecognizable from the broken down state they’d found it in. New racing seats, new-to-him rims and tires, and armored panels made the thing resemble something an extra from Mad Max might own. This pleased Frank, and Ipip had to admit it was an appropriate vehicle for hunting monsters. The gun rack in the trunk didn’t hurt matters.

“Let’s see if this thing sounds as awesome as it looks.”

Ipip slid off the hood, followed by her feline companion. With a press of the clutch and a turn of the key, the engine roared to life. As Frank whooped in triumph, Ipip and Apollo climbed into the passenger seat.

“Time for a test drive?”

“Time for a test drive.”

The newly restored Beast roared out of the garage, leaving a trail of burnt rubber.

A Field of Stars, Part 3
Riding Easy.

Texx streaked up the highway, the roar of wind in his ears. It had been a while since he’d seen anyone. It’d just been him, his bike, and the wind.

Well, and the bugs.


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