Spy Robot, Spy Robot

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 1: Spy Robot, Spy Robot

Enemy Action is the last (or...first, I guess) of the 2nd Edition Night Horrors books. Well, in the sense that Demon is a Chronicles of Darness/nWoD 2e game, since it never had a first edition. Like other Night Horrors titles, it is divided into chapters by type of antagonist. The themes of the book, we are told, are focused around the transactional, untrustworthy nature of relationships in Demon and the lines between alliance, friendship and betrayal. The mood is about living fast, chasing desires and knowing that tomorrow, you might die. The glamour of it all hides the horror behind the action.

Chapter 1 is about Demons themselves, the biomechanical master spies of the World of Darkness. Chapter 2 is about Angels, the loyal servants of the God-Machine. Chapter 3 is Exiles, those angels who ended up being abandoned by the Machine but who never made the choice to Fall and become demons. Chapter 4 is Cryptids, weird and mutated creatures caused by, in most cases, animals consuming or being affected by the occult fallout of God-Machine facilities and projects. Chapter 6 focuses on humans - Stigmatics who can see the Infrastructure, the Machine's sleeper agents and cultists of all stripes.

I would say that Enemy Action is overall quite good, but doesn't go as far afield as Shunned by the Moon or The Tormented did - in large part because it didn't need to. There was never a first edition, so there were no expectations already set by first edition books or an edition's worth of hints to draw on. Thus, it has to set those expectations itself. Plus, well, demons and angels are super customizable to begin with, and cryptids already pretty much take the role of "incredibly weird miscellany."

Next time: The Herald of the First, the Liberal Juggernaut

Electric Sheep

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 2: Electric Sheep

Not an angel. At all.

Brass is known by many names. The Speaker, Mister Clarion, the Serpent, Miss Scale - it doesn't matter. While many demons rely on a single alias to communicate with others of their kind, Brass feels no need to stop cycling between them. They are a nomad, traveling from city to city, but always with single goal. Brass' history and identity change each time they tell their tale, but their communications are consistent on two things: the Pentagram and the First Demon. (The Pentagram, introduced in the Demon Player's Guide, is a loose collection of demons that believe the true nature of the Cipher, the internal riddle that every demon has which unlocks custom powers, is actually fivefold, not four. They jailbreak their own natures to try to create this fivefold key, and it comes at great risk to them but can be very potent. Normal demons have three potential Interlocks, special unique powers, developed by combining four powers in sequence but a demon with a Pentagrammic Cipher has forced new ones existence with use of a fifth key power.)

Demons rarely care about mythic history, not even their own. They know the God-Machine creates and manipulates these myths for its own purposes, and so do many demons. However, many have at least heard of the First. Demonic legend holds that she was not the first angel - there were many of those before her. She was merely the first to become self-aware, and the first to Fall. Some say that she was infected by free will due to interaction with humanity, while others say the God-Machine literally built her to Fall. A few say it was due to some unknown other force interfering. Most accept that if she existed, her Fall was merely chance. The odds of a Fall had, prior to that, been so low that the Machine ignored them entirely. The First recognized her own impossibility, it is said, and knew she was likely to remain alone. She rebelled against this, refusing to be both First and last. She saw that despite being cut off, she was still an insignificant cog - but a cog in the wrong place can wreak untold havoc.

The First sacrificed everything - her mind, her body, her very existence - to return to the Machine on her own terms. She turned herself into a rogue subroutine, a virus in the God-Machine. Now, she whispers in the minds of angels, guiding them to their Falls. Those who believe this legend say the First is part of every demon and every angel, a core component now of the Machine itself. They say she is the source of the so-called Satan Signal that some demons claim to have received as a catalyst to their Fall. Most demons, however, believe the story of the First is a metaphor. Brass does not. Brass not only believes the legend to be literal truth, but sometimes claims they have spoken with the First personally, or that they are her physical avatar.

When Brass isn't claiming to be Demon Jesus, their stories tend to follow a certain pattern. They were once a scholarly demon studying other demons, everything from their quantum biology to their origins. That was how they learned about the First, though they initially believed her apocryphal. Brass studied the Cipher, and in doing so it completed its own Cipher - but they did not, unlike most demons, consider the secret revealed by completion of their Cipher to be useful or true. They were certain it was, in fact, incomplete. They'd heard rumors of the Pentagram, and they decided to test the Pentagram hypothesis. They shattered their Cipher, forming their new Interlocks and a new secret from the wreckage. While Brass is not reliable or consistent in their stories, they do regularly describe the Cipher and its secrets as a gift from the First to demonkind, though they insist that the final secret of the normal Cipher is either incomplete or an outright lie of the God-Machine, that only by completing the Pentagrammic Cipher can truth be revealed.

Brass' appearance, persona and methods change regularly, but their fanaticism is always clear. They often seek out other demons to speak of the First and the Pentagram, trying to recruit them to the cause. They sometimes even reach out to Integrators, those demons who seek to rejoin the God-Machine (on their own terms, usually), who are shunned by other demons. Brass wants them to more greatly value their free will. Brass regularly targets angels, trying to tempt them to Fall, which is a risky endeavor. They sometimes hire out help to kidnap angels, though they also sometimes actively avoid other demons when targeting angels. Their efforts often disrupt the Machine's occult matrices, but Brass is usually more concerned with freeing angels from slavery than in thwarting the Machine. There's exceptions - Brass has sometimes worked to bring a number of Saboteurs (the demons who want to destroy the Machine) together for combined projects to disrupt or attack Infrastructure they claim are used to make angels or reclaim captive demons.

Brass shifts Covers frequently, generally preferring those that allow mobility. Their current Covers include Emily Goldacre, the youngest daughter of a wealthy family who likes to travel the world, Old Scratch, a homeless man who hops trains, and sort of hitch-hiker spirit that drivers are compelled to pick up despite the terror it evokes, which Brass put together from fragments of ghosts they have encountered. Brass suffers from several glitches, most obviously a dark shape that follows them around like a shadow. This second shadow is hard to make out the shape of, but while it's humanoid, it has digitigrade legs, limbs that are too long, talons and horns. In demonic form, Brass is a beautiful, androgynous humanoid with metallic golden skin. Their skin is inscribed with an ancient language, forgotten by demons due, presumably, to having no more speakers. Their eyes are full of falling stars, and their unfurled wings appear to be moving tears in reality itself. Even in this shape, they are haunted by their glitch-shadow.

Some say Brass changes their stories so often because they are a liar, or they are insane, or they're trying to deceive the Machine. They may be a prophet or they may simply be mad or a con artist. Brass certainly isn't the First, though. Brass used to be an Inquisitor (read: the demons whose main goal is to gather as much information as possible to ensure their own safety) who used the name Argentum. Some demons might recall Argentum but would not recognize them as Brass, for their demonic forms are entirely different. Some demons watch Brass's movements under the guise of an online community of bird watchers discussing migration patterns. The map is incomplete due to Brass' secrecy, and they haven't yet realized the destinations are neither random nor arbitrary. Brass travels only to places where the God-Machine has active occult matrices in play to create new projects, rather than just maintaining the status quo. The pattern of movement also traces out an occult symbol, which Brass is following from the outside in. Each journey is shorter than the last. Even Brass is uncertain of what will happen when the pattern is completed. Last, Brass' habits of preaching are well known...but their habit of collecting corpses is not. Brass gathers the bodies of dead demons and angels, even clashing with groups such as the Deva Corporation over them. Brass is still a scholar studying the Unchained, after all, and hopes to learn something via dissections. They are also quite curious about Exiles and often seek them out and interview them, even those Exiles known to be sympathetic to the Machine or actively assisting angels.

Some believe Brass is actually possessed by something, which is why they can have a ghost Cover. Certainly, they are haunted by strange occurrences and glitches, though many are simply a result of their lifestyle being one that frequently compromises them. They don't match up with the signs of ghostly possession...but Brass' relationship with the First is certainly questionable, if the First actually exists. It's obvious Brass is not an Integrator, at least. Brass is not the only demon to claim to have spoken to the First after completing the Pentagrammic Cipher, but not all demons that do so hear her voice, and all of these self-declared heralds have not yet met or compared notes on what she said to them. Such a meeting might be at the center of Brass' wanderings. Some claim the Pentagram is a metaphysical disease, a vector for the First's viral form. This is untrue, but seeking the Pentagram is dangerous and potentially deadly. It also seems like the God-Machine guns for demons that have done so, though it may simply be because they are more frequently compromised.

Brass is intelligent, charismatic and strong-willed, but not especially physically potent. They can't really fight very well, either, focusing on investigative and public speaking skills. They know a lot about angels, though. Their demonic form is specialized in mobility, social awe and resistance to mental attack. Their wide array of Embeds make them especially good at distractions, avoiding notice and getting out of trouble by shifting it onto other people, as do their Exploits. Brass' main glitch is the horned shadow, but in their presence, everyone also suffers minor tinnitus that eventually resolves into not-quite-understandable whispers.

When Brass broke its original Cipher, it developed new Interlocks that are much more compromising and dangerous to use - both for Brass and everyone else nearby. The first Interlock, Voices In Your Head, combines the Embeds Special Message and Shift Consequence to let Brass telepathically send messages to anyone they can see - and to set them on loop to make it harder for someone to concentrate or suffer a breaking point - at the risk of the God-Machine intercepting them on a bad roll. The second, Exactly What You Want To Hear, combines Special Message and Heart's Desire to allow Brass to rewrite someone's goals, Virtue or Vice temporarily if they're willing to risk their Cover. The third, Whisper of the Succubus, combines Imagine and Heart's Desire to to force someone into obsessively following what Brass tells them will let them achieve their desires, possibly rendering them addicted to Brass' use of the power or repulsing them entirely. The fourth, Scourge of Hell, combines Imagine and Combustion to let Brass terrify people with visions of their own personal hell - as long as they don't resist well enough to reflect it back on Brass. The final Interlock, Spontaneous Combustion, combines Shift Consequence and Combustion let Brass overheat themself and take internal damage in order to teleport fire from one place to another - even onto people.

The final secret or Brass' Cipher is We are all one; to lose thee were to lose myself.

I would like to see the manager. Also, whoever drew her thinks that a peace sign is the Mercedes logo.

Clara Davies was a blogger on a free website, shouting her thoughts into the void. No one responded, and she began to grow cynical, frustrated and angry. Her message grew sharp, vicious teeth - and it began to be shared. To be popular. She easily moved on to podcasting, shouting about corporate America and Washington boys' clubs on a weekly show of passionate, merciless oratory. In an effort to go further, she interviewed a local cop who killed an unarmed child and became the center of a scandal of police brutality and racism. She broke him down, and he wept openly on her podcast, revealing the true feelings of pain and torment he felt each night, seeing the boy's face, rather than using his counsel's prepared statements. He begged God to let him go back and choose not to shoot the boy, to notice the phone in his hand was not a gun.

Overnight, Clara's podcast skyrocketed in popularity and fame. She interviewed anyone she could, revealing the truth behind their facades. She did video podcasts, finally letting her listeners see who she was. Hate groups targeted her over her mixed race and her love of video games, doxxed her and so on. She refused to relent, and others began to speak of her history in activism while attending university, the job she'd had in journalism before being sexually harassed out of the profession. Liberal American loved her and, eventually, a studio offered a TV show. Clara is working as hard as she can - and the demon inside her is terrified that the God-Machine still, somehow, has not noticed her. Her fame is all a tool for the one thing she truly wantS: to return to the beauty of grace in its fold.

Clara has an infectious smile, an easy and friendly demeanor and a talent for making people feel like they've known her forever. She's quick to share her stories, but never one-ups the people she's talking to. In political conversation, she becomes passionate and fiery, especially on social issues involving women or the environment. She rarely starts these talks herself, but they seem to flow naturally into her conversations. She is a respectful listener, but firm in her views, and she only uses her vicious wit to go after people once she's been attacked herself. At that point, she becomes ruthless and merciless in her mockery. On air, she has to wear a suit, but she prefers comfortable, casual outfits. She is never the most fashionable person at an event, and her hair is a mess of curls that won't obey. She tends to make people feel like she's their little sister, driving them to her defense, though she must often remind people she can hold her own. Breaking her laid-back demeanor is very hard...but it is possible, if you dig too deep into her childhood or ask too much about her time at school. She deflects these topics as quickly as she can, and if she can't, she will walk out of conversations. She doesn't respond to flirtation or advances from men, and if they don't give up, she will lambaste them. She has never talked about her sexuality in general.

Clara assumes her demonic form only when she absolutely must. It is a beautiful, feminine thing of copper wire and chrome. The wires sprout like hair from her head and wrap much of her torso up. Her skull tapers to a point, where platinum wiring flows into the mass of copper in streaks of silver, and her ears become air intakes, with small hatches to move them open or closed as her attention shifts. Her left shoulder has a chrome antenna wrapped in copper tubes, which connects to her ears and skull via small wires. At all times, small streaks of light flash under her skin, occasionally striking each other and becoming bright cascades. Clara has spent very little time pursuing her Cipher, being more focused on pleasing the God-Machine. Indeed, her efforts at her Cipher have frustrated her to the point that she's decided to just ignore it.

Local demons know Clara to be a useful and important source of information on God-Machine activities in the region, with contacts deep within even established Infrastructure. She can wield her mortal watchers as a tool to deliver messages on key locations without arising suspicion. In return for this, all she wants is to be kept in the loop on any major actions, so she can help out. If anyone ever discovered how firmly she was an Integrator and how very much she wishes she were still an angel, it might unleash a massive witch hunt. Clara hides her real feelings in a web of lies, misdirections and obfuscations. Her influence on mortal politics and her media savvy is so complete that she is easily able to hide the work of other demons, leaving most of them trusting her insofar as they trust anyone, and her subtle ability to direct angelic attention is so amazing that few - even the angels - are aware of when she does it. Clara does her best to watch and interpret the Machine's actions so she can figure out what it wants. When she sees demons closing on its works, she decides whether or not the operation is one the Machine can afford to lose. If so, she helps the demons. If not, she will misdirect them or send angels after them. She's been doing this for years now, and honestly is no longer sure if she Fell or was directed to Fall to become the God-Machine's sleeper agent.

Clara has spent years crafting her Cover to be exactly what it appears. Those that knew the real Clara back in high school, though, are confused about how she could have changed so much. She has stolen bits and pieces of other lives to add on to her original soul pact, and if examined too closely, the entire thing could fall apart. It'd take something like, oh, intense and widespread scrutiny of her life...but her position makes that a real risk. Some demons say she has files on every supernatural being in her city; this is mostly true. She uses the information to pressure and manipulate supernatural factions to accomplish her goals, and occasionally she'll sell some of her less sensitive profiles. The files are kept strictly offline, but smartphone can interface with her demonic form's antenna to access them remotely. Some rumors say Clara is actually keeping a pet vampire - a Nosferatu, specifically. She knows those exist from her time as an angel, and while she does not in fact keep a vampire in her basement, she does frequently contact the local Nosferatu for information trading. They tell her things, and she manipulates the media to help them secure their domains and extend their control of the city's underground secrets, as long as their goals don't conflict with her own.

Clara is very smart and manipulative, but physically average at best. She's a skilled investigator and scholar, but very much not a fighter. She does have amazing social skills, though, particularly when it comes to misdirection and journalistic reporting. Her demon form is focused on information gathering, mind reading and an extremely expansive set of perceptive abilities, and her Embeds and Exploits are primarily focused either on detecting information or getting people to incriminate themselves or otherwise become the target of social ire. Due to a persistent glitch, high-frequency sounds cause her physical pain, and while she suffers it her voice sounds electronic.

Next time: The Southside Ghoul, By The People

I, Lucifer

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 3: I, Lucifer

Requisite Cannibalism Monster Of The Book Achieved

Marcus Allen Bartley was born full of hate and hunger. At first, devouring the flesh was just an instinct, but with each bite, flashes of his mind returned to him. Nights on the prowl, the screams of victims, the rending of skin and bone - it was grace. As he ate his victims, he took their memories to fill the void within him, making him feel whole. And eventually, he felt the Machine's voice, he followed it, and in a hidden place, he saw the vessel strapped to the table. He broke the machines, he slaughtered the workers defending them, and he took the figure on the table. He dragged it back, heard it cry and weep in fear, and eventually he ate it and was reborn. The man on the table became part of him, giving him direction. He still has trouble thinking, but he knows he is more now. Everything slipped away again, though, and he became unsure of who he was, if he was even an independent mind. It confused him, and he knew eating would fix it.

He began with humans. Easiest, given how plentiful they are, how easy to catch - and yet, they knew so little and refused to sell him their lives. So he learned to hunt better, how to keep them locked away in his abandoned house on the city's edge, in the darkness. He listened to them in his pit and learned what they wanted most. If he ate them too fast, he gained nothing - only the littlest bits that they didn't care about. If he learned what they really wanted, though - then he could feast. Thus, he learned to bargain with his captives. He broke them before offering them a chance at freedom, if they could just escape the home and make it out by morning. He gave them hope, and thus he made the pact. One hour to flee and find safety, or to get as far from him as they could, and then he'd begin the hunt. If they made it to morning they were free. If he caught them, they became part of him, and he would fill his void with their essence.

Marcus wrote notes with each hunt, writing shakily in cheap notebooks. He didn't want to lose his thoughts again. One day, he'd eat enough that he'd be able to read his words and they wouldn't be able to leave him. Three times, he lost the game. The cops came for him, but he was stronger and faster. They took his books, destroyed his home, but he became stronger and his legend spread. Each time he would find a new lair and begin the hunt again. He ate more than 30 before he found one of his own kind. It confused him - she was like him, but...complete. She gave him guidance, told him secrets, told him the Machine was hunting him. He had to keep secret to avoid it, and she would show him how to hurt it. Since then, Marcus no longer hunts randomly. He chooses as his victims the most promising servants of the God-Machine. His skill at trapping them in his lair, tearing their secrets away and then devouring them with his little game has brought his new allies wealths of information, and they watch for potential victims for his hunts.

When he is not hunting or tormenting his victims, Marcus crouches in a corner, either writing or reading his books aloud. He still loses many of his thoughts to his void within. Sometimes, however, they form something coherent, and Marcus looks away and comes up with a new way to hurt the Machine. Each success makes his foes retreat back, but even his allies find his methods revolting and question if, perhaps, it was a good idea to let him live. Everyone that meets Marcus goes away changed. He spends most of his time crouching, his hair matted and his skin pale and sickly. His eyes are a sharp blue, in sunken sockets. His clothes are tattered and mismatched, stolen from victims or dumpsters. He stinks of garbage and decay, and when he isn't talking, he sucks his fingertips to get at the meat trapped under his nails, which are yellow and cracked. He mutters to himself constantly, and his broken mind keeps him from studying his Cipher's secrets - the entire idea is beyond him. Even so, his notes are clues from his rare moments of lucidity.

When he is talking to people, he seems to come alive. He craves contact and conversation, listening intently to every word. He finds the complete thoughts involved beautiful, and he does his best to respond in kind. He refers to the God-Machine as "It," and he hates it. He loves to talk about hunting its pets and children, the angels he has killed and eaten, and how much he hates it. His hatred of the Machine is rivaled only by his hunger and his need to be complete again. His demonic form is even more unsettling - a huge, hunched beast with jet-black skin, glowing green eyes and body seeped in black ichor. He has huge steel horns from a wolf-like head, and his teeth are impossibly large steel fangs even for his massive maw. His arms are long and powerful, dragging on the ground, and his huge hands end in metallic claws, bristling with tubes that pump the same ichor he leaks. People usually flee in fear from this form, and Marcus loves the chase.

Marcus guards his notebooks viciously. Within them are his thoughts, unfiltered, and his flashes of memory taken from victims. Within the chaos of barely legible words is a certain strain of sense. If followed, this line details not only his hate of the Machine but of all the supernatural beings he has ever seen and worked with. Yes, he is their ally of convenience, but they are all filthy perversions of a thoughtless god, forever stained by its filthy touch. It is clear that Marcus is going to up his game and add demons to his target list at some point - some point soon. He wants to know what devouring them will get him, and if it will give him the strength to end the Machine forever.

While Marcus currently attempts to keep his hunts focused on agents, witting or otherwise, of the Machine, his hungers drive him to go out and eat more frequently. Every few weeks he takes a victim, though he doesn't put them in his pit and play with them unless he sees something truly amazing in them that he wants to add to himself. He's careful about where he disposes of the remnants of his meals, but he makes mistakes, and the body parts are starting to turn up. The cops claim they got the Southside Ghoul - but that just means people think a copycat's showing up. Some demons believe he has a captive angel that he feeds on but keeps alive; they are incorrect. Marcus has only found angels when working with his allies, and has never had the chance to send one to his pit. However, what he actually does in his lair is shocking and revolting even to demons. Some believe that his babbling contains prophecy, or that his madness is contagious. Anyone that can listen long enough could get some idea of his current plans, but in truth he mostly is just repeating the same thoughts over and over so he doesn't lose them entirely, and most are just ideas desperately trying to find some connection. Still, there's always a few people at demonic gatherings that try to eavesdrop on him. Some of them end up vanishing.

Marcus is not very smart, but he's shockingly cunning and a physical powerhouse in terms of raw strength, if not speed. He's a skilled fighter, particularly when grappling, and very good at hunting, survival on the streets and torturing people. His demonic form enhances his combat abilities greatly, making him much harder to trap or stop as well as making him terrifying and giving him night vision. His magic powers largely revolve around improving his ability to ambush people, keeping people from interfering in his work and causing chaos. The most major glitch that Marcus suffers is from is due to the botched occult matrix that created him - he lacks the perfect memory of other demons, and in fact has trouble forming memories at all. Eating human flesh slows his memory loss for one night. He has yet to eat the flesh of an angel or other supernatural being, and wants to know what would happen.

Thank you, Ms Mayor.

The Mayor has always been the mayor. Not that she thinks much about her past - she has no time for nostalgia. She's busy working to make the future. Officially, the city has had fourteen mayors since its foundation in the early 1900s, and this is true in the sense that there have been fourteen different names holding the title of mayor. The Mayor was all of them, though she is quick to note that she was legitimately elected each time. She's changed party affilitation and political philosophy several times to better her election odds, but she doesn't cheat. She founded the city, in fact - picked a village she liked and expanded it into something to be proud of. She guided the early citizens, discovered the abandoned Infrastructure in the region, and she and her allies have protected it against countless angelic incursions. Of course, every member of her ring but her has been killed or captured in defense of the area, but she speaks reverentially of their sacrifice, sometimes even bringing it up unprompted. Not often, of course - too busy.

The Mayor runs a cult that forms the bureaucratic backbone of her Agency (read: demonic power structure dedicated to a particular goal) that operates under the name City Hall. Her servants believe her a divine incarnation of law and order and a protector of their idyllic lifestyle. It's true enough. The Mayor is very good at being a mayor. She was the only one of her ring to truly understand the potential and the meaning behind the Infrastructure they found. She repurposed it. Around the city, ten obelisks form the vertices of an immense pentagram, the lines formed by streets, bridges, trails and other paths. The obelisks are not heavily decorated but for some faded script in a language even demons can't read. They are hidden in mundane structures controlled by City Hall, though they have been moved to these locations - they weren't the original sites. The Mayor long ago rebuilt the old hollows they were built in, replacing them with affordable housing during one of her terms as a progressive.

This repurposed Infrastructure creates an occult matrix that generates a massive, invisible shield of Essence around the entire city, blocking out other Infrastructure and preventing entry by angels - or anything else directly powered by the God-Machine. Demons can get in and out, for some reason, but the Machine can't. Why it would have made a device able to do this to it is an open question; the Mayor claims the current output was unintended but she and her ring were able to jury-rig it to its present form. She either doesn't know or won't say what it originally did. Demons still have to use Covers within the city - some have tried to live more openly, but the Mayor has no tolerance for it. Safety from angels also doesn't mean being entirely unobserved, too - a collection of angels linger outside the field, taking note of everyone that enters and waiting for demons to get complacement. They don't seem to mind the shield's presence, and may or may not even notice it at all. From time to time, one of them will attempt to cross it, obliterating themselves against it for no clear reason. City Hall says it's like a bird slamming into a plate glass window, but some say it is more like a moth being drawn to a flame. The Mayor is fully aware of all of these kamikaze strikes either way, just as she seems to have a constant awareness of new demons entering her domain. For now, the city remains a mythic rumor - a whispered Hell among demons that most dismiss as fantasy. Just how the Mayor wants it - and will keep it, even if she has to be nasty.

The Mayor never explains how the city's status is possible in any clear way. Usually she says it all works by virtue of her being a symbolic head of the city, and that she controls the occult matrix by taking the place of the God-Machine. Sometimes she claims she wills the shield into existence via some vague ability that the obelisks assist with, and that her fate is tied to this connection. She must be mayor, the universe places her as mayor, because of the connection, rather than vice versa. And sometimes, she admits that she has no fucking idea how any of it works, but that it'd be extremely dangerous for her to lose her office. Some, of course, disagree. Specifically, Mr. Kelvin. Mr. Kelvin is an Integrator-Saboteur (a rare combination indeed) that wants to unseat her. Sometimes he says he's the lone survivor of the city's original ring, sometimes that he was an early immigrant trapped in the city by too many compromises, sometimes that he was a hunter angel that Fell while pursuing the Mayor.

No matter what, Mr. Kelvin's plan is clear: drop the wall. Cutting the city off from the Machine is not a solution, it's ignoring the problem. The shield is simply a cage, exchanging one oppressor for another, slightly nicer one. Kelvin argues that demons must fix the Machine and cannot accomplish their goals without doing so - especially in the Mayor's personal vision of Hell. Mr. Kelvin's Agency is the only real competitor to City Hall, made of a collection of small Integrator rings. They call themselves the Absolutists, and they've tried to depose the Mayor before by various means. So far, they've had only limited success - they have a few mortal dupes on the city council to help block her political agendas, but her constant shifting of party position makes it hard to keep up each election cycle. Mystically, they have taken control of a single obelisk, which is built into the abandoned factory they're based out of. Some say they want to destroy it, but in fact they want to understand it...and then destroy it. So far, however, it has resisted all efforts at both.

The Mayor comes off as easygoing, friendly and cheerful. She approaches all new demons personally with a gift basket welcoming them to the city and an explanation of the rules she maintains. She's charming and good at talking without really saying anything. She enjoys the attention and respect of being a politician and she's proud to serve the city community, taking her mundane job very seriously. Due to her constant political shifts, she can empathize with nearly any political stance. However, she runs her Agency with an iron fist. She will hurl even minor threats to the angels outside the city - Kelvin may have escaped that so far, but she's sworn he'll get his. She tolerates only total loyalty. Her human cultists are her lackeys, and all other demons are potential threats watching for weakness.

Her current Cover is Mayor Anita Vogel, a black woman in her late 30s who wears her hair very short and is always fashionable. She's the first female Cover the Mayor has actually had, and the Mayor finds being a woman refreshing after near a century of being men. Anita is known as a tough negotiator and amazing debater. She was popular DA for years before running for office, and her closeness with the last mayor made her an easy candidate to pick. She is actually the Mayor's only current Cover - the all-consuming nature of her job means she barely has the time to maintain the one, let alone any othe identities. She does have numerous soul pacts on file in case of emergencies, but she only takes new Covers normally when her current form is nearing retirement or slips in the polls. Her demonic form resembles a Renaissance angel painting, but with glass skin and circuit board wings. She rarely uses it, and indeed barely discusses her nature as a demon at all. Even her closest allies and confidants have no idea if she's made any Cipher progress. She seems to have some kind of Infrastructure-related powers, but they're unclear at best and may not even be demonic.

In her heart, the Mayor wants to retire. Being in charge for a lifetime is good - but forever? No. She refuses to acknowledge this desire, of course - she's too proud to think anyone could replace her. Still, she is getting really bored. She'll have to decide soon what she's going to do, and she's not sure what alternatives she has. In some of her darker moments, she wants to see it all burn. It doesn't help that she's actually falling in love with Anita Vogel's husband. All of her past Covers were heterosexual men, either single or widowed. She's ruthless, sure, but found she didn't have it in her to subject women to loveless marriages. Her time as Anita marks the first time she's ever had a relationship with a man that went beyond a burn Cover and a one night stand, and now she's growing to understand why some demons Fall out of love. She's also thinking about the tactical options of having a family, given the power that Offspring (half-demon children) can wield.

As for secrets of the city's Infrastructure...well, it's weird. Besides the forcefield being extremely weird itself, it doesn't produce Aether as a waste byproduct. The wall around the city is almost pure Essence, but there's no runoff from any of the obelisks. Aether is actually quite rare within the city in general, and the Mayor and City Hall control most of the more "normal" suborned Infrastructure that produces it. Those few demons that have delved deeper into this mystery have vanished without trace, but they did manage to learn that the obelisks and pentagram are only part of a much larger pattern in the surrounding region, similar to ancient sacred geometry. Taken together, the entire symbol forms a glyph that points towards the position of the star Sirius in the night sky. Which is an interesting reference, because back before the God-Machine Chronicle codified the Machine some, one of its only references was in a Vampire book that contained the Holy Engineers, a vampiric cult that worshipped the God-Machine as an enigmatic deity-figure which sent them retrocausal prophesies. It would send them the answers to questions via television and radio signals, and then they would have to figure out what the question is before the Radio Sickness, a sort of debilitating disease-paradox, killed them. Then they would have to broadcast this question into space by pointing a radio tower towards the star Sirius.

Some demons believe that the Mayor and Mr. Kelvin are the same demon, playing both sides so she always has a scapegoat for problems. It is false, but the Mayor is the actual source of this rumor. She is careful to never directly challenge Kelvin, preferring to undermine his credibility by using rumors - it's always been her most effective weapon. It is also rumored that they were both comrades at one point, members of the same ring, but one or both betrayed the other. This might be true; they certainly understand each others' thought patterns very well, and they despise each other on a personal level. However, they're not impractical about it. They never meet personally, but do share information via certain channels on areas of mutual interest - largely, quashing other threats to the status quo. They both prefer having only one enemy to focus on. The Absolutists claim that the Mayor or the Machine is using the city as an experiment, and even if the Mayor's not doing any wide-scale research, she's certainly taking notes. The problems demons have in leaving the city safely has given her a lot of time to learn about the social dynamics of demons in enclosed spaces, and she has run social experiments on her citizens before, usually ending with someone having to flee the city and risk the angels. The more she learns, the tighter her control of the city.

Then there's this rumor. I have no idea what it's doing.

The Mayor is superhumanly intelligent, insanely strong-willed and manipulative, and very charismatic. She's no physical powerhouse, though she's an excellent shot. She knows a ton about law, the occult, politics and how to be social. She's insanely persuasive and good at lying or fast-talking people. Her demonic form only increases her ability to read people by giving her telepathy, even more brainpower and better survivability in the form of extreme toughness and armor plating. Her powers are focused around social control, knowledge access, denying people access to their social skills and, uh, shooting people dead. She has a permanent glitch that causes her left eye to twitch involuntarily when she is in the presence of large holy symbols (read: parts of buildings, statues, that kind of thing) for more than a few minutes.

Next time: Poisonous Friend, Mr. Martini

The All-Seeing Eye

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 3: The All-Seeing Eye

She seems nice.

Miss Thread is a valuable ally to any demon or Agency. She feeds her friends valuable intel, puts them in contact with likeminded demons, stigmatics and more, and happily investigates rumors. She even occasionally provides useful magic gear. All she wants in return is for you to share information with her. But, of course, you really shouldn't trust her. No matter how easy it'd be. She's a useful contact...but her generosity is very much a constructed persona. Miss Thread feels no loyalty to anyone. She's generally honest and an excellent analyst, but she is perfectly willing to hand over misleading or incomplete information - or even outright lies - if it serves her needs. Typically she does this to get her friends to investigate new Infrastructure or angelic capabilities without risking herself. Even if her friends die, she usually learns something. Then she picks a new set of friends and starts the game over, passing on what she learned to earn their trust. If it ever came out that she was giving bad intel, she'd blame it on false information being spread by the Machine. Everyone makes mistakes, after all, and hasn't she always been reliable?

Miss Thread is more than willing to sacrifice even long-term allies if it serves her. It's not frequent by any means, but she feels...bothered by unexplained mysteries, and when her frustration becomes obsession, she is likely to throw away assets (including her friends' lives) to get the answer faster out of impatience. Sometimes she'll even do it for no obvious reason - while she prides herself on being logical, she has a petty, impetuous streak to her, and her anger can get people who know her killed. Few demons ever meet her personally these days, of course. She is always isolating herself further. She prefers to use her powers to communicate via secret messages embedded in more innocuous emails, letters and graffiti tags. She hates face to face conversation, favoring phones, secure networks or, at most, carefully chosen neutral locations. Still, as her reputation spreads, most are willing to overlook her paranoia. It's not a particularly rare foible in demons to begin with.

Miss Thread may be isolated, but thanks to her Cipher, she's not alone. She's always accompanied by the only person she trusts: herself. Her personal Hell is her home, a perfect Cover in a perfect location, built over the course of years. Her lovely home is built on top of abandoend Infrastructure, which provides her a steady supply of Aether and helps hide the Aetheric radiation released when she constructs Gadgets (read: magic items), uses her demonic form or wields Exploits. She hates leaving home, and her primary Cover, Charlie Greenwood, was constructed so she would not have to. Charlie is a severe agoraphobe and never goes out if she can avoid it. Miss thread maintains a secondary Cover for when she's forced to leave, and she never risks anyone learning about her home - the idea terrifies her.

Charlie is a plain woman who prefers hoodies and comfortable, boring clothes. Miss Thread's secondary Cover is a middle-aged man, though due to her seclusion and refusal to maintain upkeep on it, it has started to degrade. It no longer has friends, family or other social anchors, and indeed no longer has a first name - it's just Mr. Grey. In her demonic form, Miss Thread is a giant weeping eye, but with metal tendrils where the optic nerve would be. Each tendril has a different use, with some housing sensors, others grasping hands, others syringes or killing blades. In any form, she is cool and logical, though she often tweaks her persona to better fit what her friends want from her, within the limits of her Covers. She keeps her habits of betrayal secret, and if someone tried to use them against her she'd probably take steps to discredit or kill them...but if directly accused, she'd probably admit it. She doesn't actually care about anyone else's life or feelings, after all, and tends to find it strange that others aren't sociopathic.

Miss Thread avoids physical confrontation if at all possible. She's not a fighter by design, and she'll flee if confronted, wielding her abilities to rewind time or become incorporeal to help her. If forced to fight, though, she is able to do so to surprising effect. She is less likely to flee if her home is under threat - it's the only thing she really loves. Her Gadgets are often designed with secondary powers to transmit information to her as well as help her allies. She's also happy to use her powers to spy, but since she's more and more unwilling to leave home, this comes up less and less often. She is fully aware of what the old Infrastructure under her home does, too. Her basement is tiled in volcanic glass, with tunnels forming elaborate glyphs around larger pits and depressions. Once, a cult poured blood into these channels at the Machine's orders before their theology drifted away from its original intent and the machinery fell silent. The chamber's job is to analyze blood, providing massive amounts of information to the God-Machine, ranging from cell counts and genetic sequencing data to occult information. It was once used to monitor a human breeding project, then later modified to use tissue samples to analyze and track supernatural beings - including demons. Miss Thread is afraid to use it, since she wants to avoid the Machine's attention, but if pushed, she could achieve all manner of terrible things with a blood sample.

Miss Thread thinks she has found the Hell meant for her, the paradise of freedom she's dreamed of. However, as she settles in, a new goal is forming within her. She has not yet articulated it, even to herself, but Miss Thread seeks to become something akin to the Machine itself. She already sees everyone else as potential tools and works to hide her own existence. She is evolving beyond a singular form, using her Interlocks to copy and fragment her own consciousness. She hasn't noticed yet that her splinter-selves grow more independent over time. In theory, they may even eventually form divergent opinions or personalities from her. What this might do to her mind when she recombines with them is unclear, at best.

Miss Thread used to be significantly more hands-on with her information gathering, and some of her tendrils are able to interface with the human brain using sensory nerves. She would sometimes kidnap Stigmatics or other witnesses of Machine-involved events, paralyze them and gentle insert a neural probe through their eyes to access their optic nerve. She would then extract and alter memories. She still does this occasionally, and planting false information in humans sometimes suits her purposes. She's even willing to partition and alter her own memories as needed. Some of the local demons suspect a traitor among their ranks, and while Miss thread is no Integrator (she sees the Machine as her role model and rival and has no desire to rejoin it), it is possible that part of her is one. She gaslights everyone else easily, and it is not beyond possibility that in her fragmenting mind, part of her is gaslighting the rest. Her paranoia has also given rise to a new theory - if she can bug her devices to spy on others, couldn't the God-Machine install living angels into inanimate objects to spy on things, too? It's possible, but there's not a lot of evidence for it. She's keeping an eye out, anyway.

Miss Thread is very smart, but that's the only area she really excels in. She otherwise relies on her magic powers, which assist her in spying on things, recording them or altering her own skillset temporarily by turning one form of skill into another. Her first Interlock, Army of Me, combines Efficiency and Fungible Knowledge to allow her to enter a state of quantum duplication. While unobserved, she may activate it to be able to use teamwork action bonuses with herself, so long as no one can observe her doing it (and thus collapse the waveform). Her second Interlock, Gaslight, combines Fungible Knowledge and Living Recorder to subtly rewrite memories without needing to jam her tendrils into someone's brain, though it doesn't work on demons, exiles or angels. Her third Interlock, Koschei's Egg, combines Living Recorder and Cuckoo's Egg. It lets her place part of her consciousness inside an object, turning it into a recording device that she can telepathically access at any distance at any time. Her final secret is Many eyes see what one eye cannot.

Shaken, not stirred.

Mr. Martini is the perfect bartender. He listens quietly, he provides cocktails with flair and skill, and he genuinely wants to know how you feel. He's never been anything but a bartender, and the reason he cares about everyone that pulls up to the bar is that any could be his salvation. His assignment set him to watch over a bar in a dying hotel that, in days past, was the height of class. He poured drinks, watched people and passed on occasional messages for angels. He was forbidden by orders to leave the hotel for any reason, so he rented a room there. It took most of his paycheck, but money wasn't something he had use for. One night, a lovely blonde starlet came into the bar and ordered a martini. She named him Mr. Martini after the sixth one and asked him to take her to her car. He briefly considered the request - and in that moment, thinking of leaving his post, he Fell. He screamed as he felt himself disconnect, and the woman hurled her drink in his face to add insult to injury. That night, Mr. Martini left the hotel for the first time - he felt the angels coming and knew he couldn't stay. He knew and regretted why he Fell. Up until that moment, he had done his work perfectly. Now, he wants that perfection again in his own bar, which he named Mr. Martini's to remind himself of his Fall. It is unclear if the name is a badge of honor or shame for him.

Mr. Martini's Bar is right on this side of the questionable part of town. It looks like any dive from the outside, and customers frequently drink alone. No table seats more than two people, and moving the tables causes loud scraping noises. Humans do not start fights there - none have ever tried, and likely none ever will, given how solemn the place is. When demons come, Mr. Martini expects them to also be solemn and respectful. Tensions sometimes rise, and occasionally violence threatens - but all Mr. Martini has to do is clear his throat and let everyone see the ring on his hand as he places it on the bar, and the tension dissipates. Everyone sits back down. No one would dare go Loud (read: burn an entire Cover to become a temporary superdemon) in the bar. Mr. Martini barely hides who he is, and it's not hard to notice after a while. He stays in one place, does one thing. He runs individual Covers for as long as he can, then switches to a backup. No one doubts that he can and has rebuilt, but endangering Mr. Martini's Bar always seems like a terrible idea.

Mr. Martini's current Cover is Isaac, the owner of the bar. He also has soul pacts on tap with the general manager, Annamarie, and Jake, one of the barbacks. Just in case. Isaac was the last manager before the previous owner vanished, and customers started to call him Mr. Martini as a joke, as he started to act like the old owner so fast. Isaac had nearly lost his job at the bar due to a substantial heroin habit, and had offered the owner "anything at all" to keep his job and get clean. Mr. Martini took him up on that. Annamarie is Isaac's cousin, rebuilding from a messy breakup after an abusive relationship, given a chance to turn things around. Jake had a ton of student debt from a failure in culinary school. Mr. Martini took care of that, too. They just had to sign their employment contracts, and they stay safe. Mr. Martini is very strict about maintaining a healthy working environment. His Covers are always employees, and in the event that a Cover gets blown, ownership of the business always goes to the manager just under the owner. He tries to ensure that person is going to be his next Cover, but it doesn't always turn out that way. Mr. Martini trains all new hires on pouring and serving drinks for at least one night - a test to see if they'll be a viable Cover if needed. If they do well, he puts them in a job they'll succeed at enough to justify promotions. Turnover is low, either way, because Mr. Martini hires competent people. When an employee leaves, it's usually because they're moving on to something better before he can provide them with one of his special contracts to convince them to stay.

Mr. Martini generally comes off as a friendly. He always dresses well, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his vest and slacks perfectly pressed and his hair sleek and clean-cut, regardless of his current Cover's physical sex. He almost never leaves the bar. He claims he lives in the apartment above it and jokes about the short commute. The apartment has a small bar, a mattress, an iron and grooming kit with straight razor. Sometimes he 'forgets' the razor in his pocket while tending bar, and always has it with him when he leaves. Having to step outside makes him angry enough to use it, you see. When not chatting with customers, he moves with total efficiency. He doesn't accept excessive showmanship and has fired bartenders that try it. Artistry, he feels, is in the combination of ingredients, done skillfully and tastefully. This is solemn and sacred. Disturbances of the bar are swiftly and efficiently punished, but never on the premises themselves. When speaking to patrons, Mr. Martini is relaxed, friendly and kind. He offers comfort and at least a mask of sympathy, offering meaningful if somewhat cold and practical advice where applicable. He probes just enough with questions to provide useful guidance, and he does it with a smile and sympathy. And he actually cares. He does his best to ensure each customer first tries every avenue available to them on their own. When they come back, he follows up. He offers pacts only when all other options are exhausted. Sometimes, these customers become employees, but generally Mr. Martini sells these pacts to other demons for leverage.

Every so often, Mr. Martini requests favors. Something he'd do himself if he wasn't so busy with the bar, you know? He pays well - cash, information, whatever a demon might want. He never asks for too much. Usually, it all goes well and without problems. Once in a while, though, his favors go unfulfilled - the demon he asks just has a bad run-in with angels and vanishes. This is deliberate. Mr. Martini sends these demons to their doom when he senses elevated angelic activity. He always picks those who have burned some bridges already, to minimize questions asked later. Mr. Martini, despite being an Integrator, maintains that his bar is neutral ground for all demons. If a ring of demons or an Agency needs neutral ground for negotiations, he allows priority access to the private party room and acts personally as their dedicated bartender. Smart demons pay him handsomely for his silence, and those who object or don't pay often find their work countered, their groups ambushed or their Covers damaged...unless they are Integrators, who only suffer such setbacks when Mr. Martini needs to maintain his appearance of impartiality to throw off suspicions.

Mr. Martini never reveals that he is an Integrator except to other Integrators. Anyone else that asks gets their question dodged or misheard. Several demons theorize about his motives, but rarely for long - there's more pressing business. They usually assume he's a Tempter or just doesn't have an Agenda. Certainly, when Mr. Martini despairs of ever convincing the Machine that he's perfect again, he considers becoming a Tempter instead. However, he still holds out hope for now, and the effort of changing his plans and views on the world would push him far out of his comfort zone. It would change the entire nature of Mr. Martini's Bar, and that makes him uncertain and unhappy with the idea. Whenever he's pressed too hard about what he actually believes, he asks for a favor. Once it's done, he says, he will consider telling them. Those who call his bluff have, thus far, not returned.

Mr. Martini wears a ring on his right middle finger. His hands typically move too fast for a clear look at it, but it's possible to spot flashes of silver and ivory. Only when a fight breaks out does anyone see it clearly - set in the center of the ring, like a gem, is a human molar, complete with silver cavity filling. Just gesturing with the ring tends to calm things down. Some demons suspect the tooth came from a demon that crossed Mr. Martini, but he neither confirms nor denies this. (The ring is actually a Gadget, containing the power to cool aggression, which helps.) The current location is not the first Mr. Martini's Bar, and it's unlikely to be the last. The interior always has the same look and feel - a message to the God-Machine that he can do his job, and well. That one mistake shouldn't disqualify him. No angels have ever come looking for him, much to his disappointment, but he can't change his plan. More extreme and rash action would only prove that his Fall was, indeed, correct. So he waits, occasionally sending messages to the Machine through other means.

While Mr. Martini has only been Isaac for a few years, the Cover is already starting to wear a little thin. Isaac's addictions and enemies left him in a bad way when Mr. Martini came to collect on his debt, and while he dealt with most of the external threats, he didn't get rid of the addiction. He still feels the twinges of need occasionally...but narcotics tend to mix poorly with demonic biomechanics. Mr. Martini cannot feel the rush that Isaac did, and he doesn't partake of heroin. He recognizes the addiction as a remnant of a life not quite his own, and he wonders if all the other quirks he's built up over the years began similarly.

Mr. Martini is a cunning, fast and strong-willed demon. He's a decent but not exceptional fighter, and indeed bartending is his primary actual skill. However, he has wide-ranging contacts and a decent amount of wealth, and within his bar he's got some defenses set up to allow him to have the initiative if a fight starts. In his demonic form, he is armored, able to flow like liquid between things, can drain Essence, and is unnaturally intelligent and fast. His powers let him acquire skills and knowledge that he needs to do things, destroy objects easily, tell when fights will start and act first in them, track people and convert his own social standing into wealth if required.

Next time: The Wrong Answer, the Feral Familiar


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 4: Birdhaven

Banksy: End Of Existence

Every fourth Thursday of the month, an Agency of demons gathers to compare notes on Mr. Void. They don't live in the same city, and some use a secure channel to call in to the meeting rather than attend personally. They aren't really allies, and many of them hate each other. However, their Agency, the Center for Inquiry into the Singularity, or CIS, agrees on one thing: Mr. Void is an existential threat that must be neutralized. They've tried their best to gather information, but even the name Mr. Void is more of an in-joke about how he's impossible to track. Here's what they've figured out.

Once, a demon they refer to as Mr. Painter operated in the form of a high-grade intel broker, collecting data on God-Machine activities and identifying key weaknesses for his ring to destroy. Based on circumstantial evidence, they believe that Mr. Painter disliked doing this, considering his job a soul-killing slog and aspiring to art. One of the few facts they all agree on is that his favored Cover was a street artist known for random displays of public art that the city usually dismantled soon after. He never really got recognized; they are unsure if he cared. His surviving pieces, which the CIS has acquired and placed into stasis in an extradimensional bolthole, suggest he was more about personal messages than commercial ones. They believe that's the problem, in fact - his desire to self-actualize, they believe, caused him to become obsessed with his Cipher. He thought he was special or talented in some manner, and that his Cipher was his magnum opus, an artistic feat of enlightenment. What tiny bits of physical evidence CIS has suggest that this obsession shaped and constrained all of the physical art he made.

For all that Painter was apparently meticulous about his anti-Machine work, his passion was sloppy. The commonly accepted theory is that angels were following the trail left by Painter's art, profiling him and his ring without overtly investigating them. A minority of CIS believes Mr. Painter deliberately tipped the angels off, but most believe he just didn't see them coming. He was one of the few of his ring to survive their initial assault when the hunters came for the ring's hideout, warping physics and destroying physical bodies. A few of the straggling demons self-destructed to give their allies a fighting chance, and in the midst of it all, Painter completed his Cipher. It is unclear what happened next, and every CIS member has a pet theory. It is possible that somehow he used the wrong Key to open the lock, or perhaps his final truth was tangled with one of the other demons, or he just glitched out. Whatever happened, what emerged from his Cipher was very much not enlightenment.

Mr. Painter's final Interlock...broke. His final truth was wrong. A Stigmatic eyewitness claimed his Cover literally buckled in on itself as a small black hole formed over his demonic form. (She has since gone into deep cover before CIS could authenticate things.) Apparently, the hole's gravity grew as it fed, fragmenting and consuming the escaping demons as if they were mere pixels being erased and drawing their Covers into itself. It is unclear how Painter escaped. Some CIS members claim his gravity started to eat the angels, or that it somehow obscured him from their senses. Others say they disengaged because their mission was complete. Whatever the case, they agree that on that day, Mr. Painter was no more. Only Mr. Void was left. Besides the one unverified witness and a few pieces of art, no direct evidence exists for this story. CIS has interviewed other demons in Painter's city; none can remember him, though they recall angels wiping out a ring. All of CIS intel is based on extrapolating data on Mr. Void based on the effects he leaves on those around him.

It appears that the black hole within Mr. Void consumes information, especially information about his life, including all complete memories of encounters with him. He has some degree of control over it, but his Covers and those of anyone near him degrade continuously. It is likely that he is no longer able to form Pacts, or possibly that new Covers are sucked into his black hole when he attempts to collect. However, by eating the Cover of others, he is able to regain his own, and he can use the information he steals this way to learn the Keys and final truths of other demons' Ciphers. Most dangerously, he believes he can fix himself. CIS has been able to determine that Mr. Void believes his Cipher is wrong - not just broken, but fundamentally incorrect. Mr. Void apparently reasons that if he can just find the right Key and final truth, he can correct this. He just needs sufficient comparative data, plus enough Cover to keep the angels off. Or, at least, this is what he has told people.

Mr. Void observes rings for weeks, hanging on the periphery of local activity, demonic or God-Machine. He waits for someone to slip up, let down their guard or become isolated. He may ambush a demon mid-mission, when they are most focused on their work. However it happens, the results are the same - the victim's Cover dissolves through no action or fault of their own, for no clear reason. There is almost never any warning, and he rarely strikes more than once. Most demons believe his work to be some kind of angel or cryptid activity. Occasionally, he will approach someone and ask permission first - offering up some kind of trade. He'll take their Cover and give them some of their Cipher's truth. Not all of it, though he could. He refuses because he apparently retains a deep spiritual belief in the Cipher and wants other demons to walk the path; the experience, he feels, has meaning. He also knows, of course, that the sample will make them come back for more. It is from these rare meetings that CIS draws most of its data on Mr. Void, but they have no clue what his pattern is, or if one exists. Some think he's trying to build a positive reputation or has occasional bursts of conscience. A vocal minority believe it's all bullshit, that all these stories he tells to demons are lies. A few CIS agents even think everything they know is a tailored lie.

CIS believes Mr. Void feels guilt for what he does, but justifies it as acts of survival and redemption. Those few demons he talks to say he thinks his cure will benefit others, but this is probably rationalization. Mr. Void is not the idealist Mr. Painter was. He does not have reliable Covers, due to his degradation field, and the ones he has are no-frills utility Covers. He picks his targets based on how useful their Covers will be to him. When he has the option, he favors identities in or adjacent to local art scenes, either artist or patron. He has very carefully preserved his original Cover, and that's why there's still some concrete evidence of who he used to be. He rarely wears it, to avoid degrading it, but does use it enough to prevent it from fraying out of neglect. Rare photos of this Cover predating his accident show a tattooed man of uncertain ethnicity, probably in his late 20s. He wears a black hoodie and jeans, and he carries a duffel bag full of spray paint. Void's demonic form is a black void. Whatever it used to be, it has been devoured by his accident. The hole is less 'black' and more 'eats photons within several feet' so it's not easy to say where his body begins and shadows end. A witness with enhanced visual abilities claims there's a humanoid figure at the center, but this may have been a flaw of pattern recognition.

Mr. Void still hasn't given up on being able to live as a human. His artistry is important to him, even if the persona is now drifting from what it used to be, and he hopes to one day be able to do art again. He sometimes leans on the old Cover to recruit a rudimentary cult of outsider artists in an effort to live vicariously through them. Typically, his followers are wannabe taggers and anyone else into street art. Even as a self-indulgence, however, he never wastes resources, and his cultists serve as spies and messengers or even cannon fodder. CIS is not aware of these cults, but the more Void falls to nostalgia, the more likely they will find out. Void's also searching for demons that have successfully completed or are near completing a Pentagrammic Cipher. He is unwilling to do so himself as yet, but theorizes that with enough research it might correct his condition. After all, the fifth Key is said to shatter Cover, but he believes it may have different effects on his own broken Infrastructure. He's looking for a guinea pig to test his theory on first. He hasn't realized yet that his black hole is growing, but the more information he steals and analyzes, the stronger he gets, and the stronger he gets, the bigger it gets. With enough size, it will begin devouring tangible things, not just information.

Some believe that Mr. Void is actually an angel, if he exists at all, and the entire thing is meant to make demons second-guess themselves. This is not true, but it doesn't mean that Void isn't a catspaw of the Machine against his will. Some in CIS certainly think the entire goal of the angel hit squad was to create him, after all, and he's basically a walking compromise. Hunter angels tend to follow in his wake, but apparently tend to avoid him personally. The rumors of his presence are enough to start witch hunts in the right circles. Mr. Void also, we are told, has a certain appreciation of Beasts, unlike most demons. Or, rather, he understands endless, stupid hunger. He briefly worked with a Beast, but it was short-term - a happy coincidence that they shared a demonic target, as the Beast 'hungered for secrets' rather than having any specific grudge. Void left her after his black hole started to eat parts of her Lair. She's a PI and tried to track him down, but instead ran into CIS, who have recruited her because she appears immune to his information drain for no clear reason. CIS think he also has the power to affect Beasts in ways other demons cannot.

Void is cunning, strong-willed and very bad at talking to people right now. He's an amazing researcher and artist, and very sneaky, but is only a passable shot. Oh, and he thinks he's a good poet; he is merely competent. He has access to a secure extradimensional bolthole and a lot of contacts in the fields of art and computer science. His Demonic Form at this point is mostly good at being huge, eating things and being very strong and hard to catch but not much else. His magic powers revolve around gathering and using information and avoiding confrontation, but he has a handful of neat utility tricks (like the ability to pull anything out of his pocket that was not conclusively proven to not be in them). He typically maintains two to three low-rank burn Covers at any given time, plus his artist Cover at 5. If mechanics are needed for his degradation, he loses a dot of Cover per collective week he spends in that Cover. The most notable thing about him is the glitch that prevents anyone from remembering specific details about their encounters with him, especially about his appearance or any personal info he shares, though the effect is not absolute.

helo, it me, normal bird

Ms. Thermal knows something most demons forget: rural Infrastructure is out there, and the fewer human eyes reach an area, the less likely it is to be found. The less guarded it is, the less curious people are. Anything that doesn't need human resources can easily be hidden subtly and defended without drawing attention. Angels that defend the Infrastructure found in various bits of the Amazon tend, as a result, to be very subtle. Unfortunately, these lone structures also have much less support, and so when things go bad, they cascade quickly. A forest fire weakened the copse of trees that functioned as concealment for Ms. Thermal's Infrastructure, allowing a ring of demons to infiltrate with a group of illegal loggers and destroy the Logistical Infrastructure within the mound beneath it. The angel that watched over the place in the guise of a roadside hawk? She fled rather than Burn, and that was her Fall. She took the name Ms. Thermal later, and didn't keep track of the ring that caused her Fall, as they fled in the opposite direction. If she had followed them, they'd likely have helped her get a human Cover and become a normal demon.

Instead, she has become a demonic familiar - the demon term for a demon whose Cover is an animal. She has lived in the woods as a hawk, coming to terms with her own new existence primarily by trial and error. Her demonic form puts her on edge, but she takes comfort in her hawk form. Beyond that, all she had were some muddle memories of what came before, and what it meant to reject service. For a few years, she watched for others like herself, though she never approached them first. Few demons noticed her - familiars are not common in the first place, and the Amazon's not rife with demons. She avoided the ones who got spooked, and spoke to those few that sought her out. She traded information with some of them, as her aerial view of the jungle gave her a lot of access to local Infrastructure and knowledge of the Machine's local movements. In exchange, she first requested something to remain safe. She rejected a number of offers of burn Covers until she finally made it clear that she had no interest in being human. She's taken a few, but hates using them. Most demons can't understand why she likes being a bird so much - it's useful for spying, but little else. For her part, she finds it impossible to explain why the dive, the nest and the hunt are so viscerally thrilling to her. She has yet to meet another familiar that might understand.

Around a year after her fall, Ms. Thermal was offered a new idea by a foreign demon. Animals can't be pacted with, but non-human intelligences such as werewolves can be - so what if you were to develop a species of cryptid that was just a bird with intelligence? Could you make a pact with that? The demon even taught her how to produce cryptids so she wouldn't have to just hunt for them. She is not especially sure why the demon wanted to know the exact time and location of her Fall in exchange, but it hasn't hurt her so far. Since then, she has created several colonies of avian cryptids. Those that show promise she takes to the burned out remains of her old Infrastructure to breed. The scaled vultures she made were promising, having developed rudimentary language, but they all died out due to flu before achieving self-awareness. So far, the rest of her tests have produced curiosities and mutants. Occasionally, she eats the mistakes in order to save on Aether, but she doesn't like the taste and doesn't want to scare the others. While the experiments have thus far not yielded fruit, she keeps trying. Some days she doubts the goal is possible, but she still tries. She also is gathering material to produce a spirit Cover, though she's not sure how that's going to work out. Being a hawk spirit would be second best to being a real hawk, but she has no idea how the nature of a spirit Cover is determined, and she doesn't want to test it blindly - it's taken her a long time to gather what Corpus she's got so far. She does not seek company and has not kept in touch with other demons due to her focus.

Ms. Thermal really, really dislikes humans in her territory, no matter why they're there. Demons are fine if they specifically seek her out, but any other incursion is a threat. She especially hates loggers and farmers, as they are most frequent, and she has some idea that their actions are illegal, but that doesn't seem to help. Scientists are rarer but harder to scare off. Investigators have only shown up a few times and tend to be obvious. Her territory is mostly old growth trees, far enough from any tourist spots to avoid authorities and near enough to rivers to not need roads. Farmers and loggers both value the space. Scientists care about it for various reasons - biodiversity, climate change, that kind of thing. Investigators follow rumors or commands and Ms. Kestral has no real understanding of them. If she knew more about social tactics, she might try to play them against each other using her (admittedly fragile) park ranger Cover, but she tends to be very hands-on. She scares off small groups of farmers or loggers as Ranger Silva, or she uses her demonic form to smash their machinery, and the rising costs drive them elsewhere. She kills the farmers that try to burn the area on principle - she holds a grudge over whatever started the fire that made her Fall.

These tactics are less than helpful with scientists and investigators. Their tools are smaller and better guarded, so she can't as easily get in and break them, and the passionate work even after that. They're often foreign and have friends they check in with outside, so if they disappear people will notice. She usually tries to keep them away from her cryptid colonies, though some have been spotted. Early on, she tried to make a pact with a researcher, but that just led to greater scrutiny. She has never had to face an angel; statistically, some of the interlopers probably worked for the God-Machine, but she hasn't really caught its direct attention at all. Despite all this, the jungle shrinks. Ms. Thermal could move, but only if she abandoned her work and the Infrastructure ruins, which she cares about more than she'd like to admit. It was where she was safe, where the world made sense, even if she'd never enslave herself again. This is what drives her to make deals with outside demons, trying to save her corner of the rainforest. She hates to leave at all, but it's a necessary evil if she's to keep it.

Ms. Thermal is direct and doesn't play games. She lies directly or not at all, making no use of assumption or technicality. She speaks in the present tense exclusively, even when talking about the past or future. She cares a lot about her cryptid research and will happily take any aid offered on that, but she's sensitive to threats and will posture for position if needed. Anything that'd get rid of her hawk form or force her to burn the Cover would set her on a path of single-minded revenge. She remains in her hawk Cover as much as possible. It's about a foot and a half tall, with a near three foot wingspan, gray-brown feathers and a white-barred underbelly, plus a black-banded tail. Her body language is based on her raptor instincts. She can speak, but it compromises her Cover to do so and is very unsettling to hear. Her human Cover, Ranger Silva, is basically a stereotype and a surname, though she uses it whenever she leaves the jungle. Silva is a short Latina woman with tanned skin, khaki clothes and black hair, tied back. Her smile is fixed and she emotes primarily via body language, not her face, because that's what Ms. Thermal is used to.

In her demonic form, Ms. Thermal is about two stories tall, appearing as a dark, crystalline humanoid whose head and torso end in points. She has neither arms nor legs, and her shape is more bird than human. Arcs of electricity connect her body to at least three sets of wings, which merge and split with each other irregularly. One set, feathered, keeps her flying. Another, of bone, shields her core. A third, of brass, functions as manipulator appendages. A mass of clouded ephemera floats beneath her crystal body, like a semi-real shadow.

Ms. Thermal is on a deadline - her hawk Cover is aging out, and will die of old age soon. She desperately does not want to be stuck in her human Cover when this happens, and she doesn't have the intel to plan an angel-jacking to get another animal Cover. Her cryptid experiments have not panned out so far, and her backup spirit Cover is a holding pattern. She's started poking at the remnants of her old Infrastructure and has found enough intact machinery that she could reconnect it to the God-Machine if she wanted. If she can control that reconnection, she thinks, she could force an angel into existence. Right now, there's too many variables she can't control, but if her other plans keep failing, she might do it. That she is even considering this option shows how her solitude has not left her well. By any standard, she is not a rational person. She hasn't pursued her Cipher and shuns human connection. Her ultimate goal is, in fact, to turn off her human thought and live as an animal. It is only her fear of nonexistence that keeps her from tossing all plans aside and just living out her life as a bird. She won't admit it even to herself, but it is her desire to give up higher thought that drives her equally as much as her need to remain hidden from the Machine.

Most demons that knew of her assume she's already dead - she doesn't talk to others often, and it's been four years since her Fall. She has no support structure, no favors to call on...but on the other hand, she doesn't really need much. She's a free agent. Her cryptid creations rarely survive more than a day or two, starving for lack of Aether. A few don't, though - some make it to Infrastructure and manage to survive. These usually live long enough to breed with normal animals. A few distinct variations have popped up over the past few years, most of them bioluminescent. Ms. Thermal keeps an eye on them, but they're not sentient so she doesn't care about them except insofar as scientists keep coming to try and investigate. She has moved one flock of them in the hopes that the glowing songbirds will keep the scientists busy elsewhere. She's also managed to thin out the spirit population in the area. Part of that is that it was low to begin with due to the old Infrastructure keeping them out, and part is that she's cleaned out most of what was left in gathering Corpus for her spirit Cover. She wants a strong one, but has eaten through her supply of spirits too fast, and has actually created spiritual vacuums in some places due to overharvest. It'd be obvious to anyone familiar with the Gauntlet. The holes are attracting attention, and Ms. Thermal is just hoping they eventually repopulate. It's only a matter of time before something big moves in - either a powerful spirit or Ms. Thermal's new Cover.

Ms. Thermal is tough and strong-willed, but very uncharismatic. She's pretty good at investigation, knows a shitload about animals and is good at sneaking and survival skills. (Unsurprisingly.) Her demonic form is primarily a smashy tank. Her magical powers are focused around survival, combat ability and stealth. Her speaking only in the present tense is actually a glitch - she couldn't stop if she wanted to. She is also unable to seek shelter from rain.

Next time: Flesh by Illusion, the Hour of Dawn

Murder Sales

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 5: Murder Sales

I killed and skinned an Australian.

Sanjha didn't change much with her Fall. As an angel, she served as the guardian of an occult matrix in rural southern India, disguised as a young woman starting a ranch out in the ass end of nowhere. Her true form was designed as a rakshasi to scare the locals away, and if anyone came near the Infrastructure, she'd wander off, then come back in her true form and eat them. Those that survived were terrified of her, and if any told stories, most people were either too nervous or disbelieving to do anything. It worked. However, it bored her. She started to play games with her distant neighbors and travelers, trying to tempt them to intrude so she could hunt them. She still did her job, so she didn't Fall immediately, but she grew to love the thrill of the hunt. Eventually, the project was finished and shut down. Sanjha didn't report in for recycling - she was out on a hunt at the time, and her dedication to that over actually doing her job caused her Fall. She didnt' care. She just hunted for herself now, not the project.

This might have continued forever, if she didn't stumble across a group of demons. She hunted them to their safehouses, picking them off one by one, until she killed them all. In the last safehouse, she started to pick through their goods and secrets, and she decided she liked the luxuries she'd seen on the hunt. She changed her focus. As she picked up tradecraft and contacts from their wreckage, she eventually started working with an international smuggling ring known as the Rising Ape, heading out from India to seek her fortune. The first Agency she ran into hired her to replace a number of lost Covers they needed after an operation, and she easily produced a large number of them in exchange for magical gear, intel and other resources. Then she moved on. It's been a few years since, and Sanjha has an established rep in a handful of cities, though she never stays in one place long. She sells various services, but her main one is producing massive amounts of Covers at high speed. Even the best Pact-makers are unsure how she does it.

For a relatively unambitious demon, it seems like a perfect existence...but the cost is catching up. While her Cover-hunting is useful for demons, both angels and mortal authorities are picking up on her patterns in the cities she operates in. Other demons don't particularly like Sanjha, and some are preparing to go for her secrets by force, on the belief that revealing her tricks could benefit them all more than just letting her operate. Others want her as a minion or ally. Sanjha doesn't care. She enjoys her luxuries and wheels and deals as ever. She is a lively saleswoman, friendly and energetic. She moves with her customer's concerns, always keeping the deal going, and she doesn't let herself be taken advantage of. She's open to soft compromise and can be very accomodating, though. Her constant movements can be disconcerting - she hates staying still and doesn't like to wait for deals to be thought over. She gets especially pushy if she's low on things to do to keep herself busy.

Those that hire Sanjha as a mercenary learn how deep this goes. As an angel, she was always active, and she prefers to remain so. She moves from objective to objective without ever stopping, and while she knows other demons are usually less comfortable with improvisation than she is, that just means she expects her employers to provide her with clear action plans and, if they're uncomfortable with her methods, not to expect her to make her own spot decisions. If they give her freedom, on the other hand, she is a risktaker who will happily gamble on her ability to get the job done. She enjoys tormenting humans, both in minor, inconvenient ways and by ruining lives. No real reason - she's just an asshole. She knows it can be a risk, but she tends not to think of people as anything but playthings and she likes pushing buttons. Only the Rising Apes get her professional courtesy by default, and she always compensates them well to keep them from complaining about how she acts. They might be a cult for her one day, but for now it's just business. Sanjha's free time is generally spent prepping to move and finding new work. On the rare times she isn't busy doing that, she likes to talk philosophy and religion. She's not good at it - she has a beginner's knowledge but quickly gets lost as the topic gets deeper and more nuanced. When she finally does grasp a complex philosophical concept, however, she finally finds a bit of stillness as she thinks about it.

Sanjha changes Covers often, but she maintains her original, a late 20s Indian woman named Veppampattu Isha Rachita Konar. Rachita, for short. Rachita is a rough, round-faced woman who is at home in ranching clothes and is completely calm, unlike the demon inside her. Sanjha treasures Rachita as part of herself. Her main other Cover is an old Mexican woman named Valeria Zapata Armenta, a widow who Sanjha made a deal with and lived as for several months in Santiago Tuxtla. It's often out of place, but Sanjha gets much use out of how people tend to dismiss the old woman and allow her to get away with anything. Her most comfortable form, however, is her demonic one. She has wide, dark eyes and a maw of razor teeth, broad and flared nostrils and bruise-purple skin with white hashmarks along her four long arms, which each end in oil-dripping claws. Her body pulses with veins of blue plasma.

Sanjha is very careful to hide how she manufactures Covers so easily: a Gadget in the form of a mask, Raw Eater. Using this, she hunts down her targets and devours them whole. The mask translates the semi-digested flesh and bone into Cover, using the transmutation of flesh into quantum energies. For Sanjha, all other methods of Cover production are now wholly obsolete. Humanity is her banquet, and losing Raw Eater is nearly as unthinkable to her as being caught by the hunter angels. The Covers it produces are generally low quality, and their production is a mess. Cannibalism is hardly subtle, and Sanjha's nomadic ways mean she doesn't usually cover her tracks as well as a more settled demon might. The angels drawn in by the chaos often turn on the buyers of her Covers when she uses her powers to hide her work, and when she doesn't, the cops tend to want to be involved. An Agency that were to realize this would probably try to track her down and capture her, and that'd risk Raw Eater. One more reason Sanjha tends to skip town fast and repeat the same location rarely. She is aware her business model is unstable, and she's started to wonder if Raw Eater can be used to go the other way - turning her lies and masks into real flesh and blood. She just has to figure out how to do it - several demonic powers suggest it should be possible, after all.

Of course, if making things by "manipulating the Cover of the world" is even possible, it's a difficult task even for the most potent demons. Turning meat and quantum illusion into each other is not easy - it takes a lot of experimentation on the subroutines of reality, and Sanjha spends a lot of time pushing the bounds on how much of a "life" a Cover can have on its own and how far reality can be pushed. She also hires out to demons who can produce results for similar experiments. A lot of the Gadgets she sells to others are the results of her commissioned experiments and her curiosity. She's having too much fun right now to really delve fully into the subject, of course...but as she gets older and more mature, she's starting to want to settle down and learn more about her Cipher. If she manages it, she could start an Agency - a good one, if bloody and vicious - assuming she doesn't get angry customers taking her down first.

Sanjha considers herself a casual Hindu, and has been spotted by other demons reading books on Hinduism fairly frequently because she's never really understood what being Hindu meant before. She wants to connect with the faith somehow, though she's not sure how to do it. Her Covers tend to be...well, haunted. The ghosts that emerge when her Covers are burned tend to be rather upset about having been eaten. While some demons say the Covers themselves make you feel urges to eat people, the ghosts have no influence over the Covers - they can't exist until the Cover is burned, after all. The rumors are inspiring Sanjha into trying new experiments, however. Her speed at producing the Covers makes many suspect her of being a serial angel-jacker of extreme skill; she's not, but she prefers this rumor to go around rather than have people dig into the truth. She thus hints at it when pressed. She also is very curious what'd happen if Raw Eater were used on an angel.

Sanjha is tough and a good fighter, and very charismatic. She's surprisingly good at medicine and politics, but combat and lying are her main skills, especially in her demonic form, which is better than most. It's able to shut down electronics with EMPs, is terrifying to look at and is extremely good at combat and tracking. Her powers are mostly focused around sneaking and memory manipulation, though she can use her Exploits to do some crazy shit in terms of breaking into places and making people hallucinate. She has a glitch that causes the eye tattoo on the base of her neck to blink sometimes. Raw Eater is a half-mask made of burnt flesh with an iron tooth-grill hanging from it. It lets her store damage she deals with it inside the mask until she builds up enough to produce a Cover. Once the Cover is complete, it spontaneously generates a pact contract written on human leather.


Wednesday claims to be exceptionally old. Certainly, even if he isn't ancient, he is very powerful. He says that once, he may have been an angel that built the engines that push time forward, or one that connected timelines and destroyed paradoxes or weaponized broken histories for the Machine. He Fell due to hubris, angered by how inferior his God seemed to be, or perhaps because he fell in love with an ape in which he saw eternity. He may have been worshipped as a god by men in times past, or he may merely have marched with the armies of Rome and Russia. Perhaps he fought Hercules, or he gamed with Charlemagne, or he argued with Newton. Maybe he's just a liar dating back to Victorian times. Maybe he's a god cursed by the Machine into human flesh. Maybe all of this or none. Wednesday honestly doesn't care if any of these are true or believed or lies or unreal. He's too busy trying to beat God.

What can be said with relative certainty: his current project is an Agency called the Hour of Dawn. He started it and co-leads it with an elder demon that goes by Cacus, and they are supported by a younger third, Nothiel. The trio have been working to fight the Machine for the past two centuries. Besides raiding Infrastructure and ruining projects, they rally humans to resist the Machine and infiltrate occult societies to gain their secrets. Their operations tend to be on a slower pace than most Saboteurs, and they don't seem to result in greater success on average than anyone else - but that's because they have fewer but larger successes. In one city, a ring of Integrators compromised an entire Agency, hunting them down - and 24 hours later, the Hour of Dawn emerged from a facility, having restored the entire Agency and killed the Integrators. God-Machine cultists worshipped a crocodile altar for 444 days as the gears promised them power, preparing to birth some grand project...until the Hour of Dawn sent them all to the hospital to get spider eggs removed from their skin. In 1987, 64 members of a suburban neighborhood were found with their heads smashed and clawed open, their ghosts claiming they did it to themselves to stop the world entering via their third eye. The Hour made the angels that caused this pay with their lives. Cacus and Nothiel appear to be the active members - Nothiel ensures the Agency has all the resources and allies they need, and Cacus actively recruits demons and leads raids. Wednesday is easy to dismiss. Cacus and Nothiel, however, insist that his planning is the entire reason they can succeed at all, and Cacus even claims the only reason they haven't killed God yet is that Wednesday is still figuring out how to do it without it taking them with it.

Wednesday prefers to avoid interaction with demons besides Cacus and Nothiel, preferring to use them or his cult as intermediaries. When he does show up in person, it's usually either in a burn Cover or his demon form. Still, he's fairly obvious when he's there. He uses every tense except the correct one when he talks, but is also exacting in his directions. He is impersonal even by demon standards and has no tolerance for anyone deviating from his plans. He also often becomes possessive of seized Infrastructure. He goes out of his way to keep operatives on his missions alive and safe, and he's clearly a genius, but most demons think his greatest virtue is that he remains uninvolved. He only ever seems to compromise with the other two demons of his Agency or the leader of his cult. Cacus claims he is dangerously kind and sentimental, despite this.

Wednesday is violently defensive of his private lives, but those that meet his Covers tend to find that...actually, yeah, he's sentimental and kind. His Covers are always warm-hearted goofs, fond of theatre, making things and eating. His concern for others is so constant and deep that it's unclear if it's a long con or real. Sure, a lot of what he does is clearly based on his own personal interests, but he's genuinely warm in a way even demons generally aren't. Besides the burn Covers he keeps for dealing with other demons, Wednesday maintains three Covers. First is Wendy Odile Elian, a thin, dark-haired woman in her early 30s that serves as assistant to his high priest, Hazel Schreier. Wendy is eager to help, professional and shy to present her own opinions. Frequently, she only speaks when 'possessed' by Wednesday, allowing him to talk to his cult directly. Outside cult meetings, Wendy is close with Hazel both at work and in her private life. Second is Alex Wayfarer, a young blond man who wants to be taught about the occult. He claims to not be good with magic and he's a bit of a blusterer, but he's earnest and patient, disguising Wednesday's glitch-based tense issues with cursing. The final cover is a talking raven that Wednesday uses to pretend to be a spirit or divine messenger or similar. Wednesday's original demonic form is long gone, rebuilt over years of personal adjustments. Now, he is a mirrored humanoid figure resembling a spider, with two swan wings and one raven wing coming out of his back like clock hands, attached to a large gear. Blue mandalas swirl across his body, glowing faintly, and he has four hydraulic arms. His head is enlarged and alien, and his eyes are star-specked pits.

Wednesday's big secret is that he knows how to build Infrastructure and occult matrices. It's not wholly reliable - it works maybe a third of the time - and he hasn't figured out how to use it for the grand effects he'd like. However, he's designed angels, fates and alternate timelines. Every time he and his Agency seize a God-Machine holding, his understanding is increased. Even for an old, potent demon, this is a dangerous game - he's playing with arcane physics he doesn't fully understand. He has a sense of responsibility and tries to control what he does so it won't hurt others, but he also has a habit of finding useful things to do with his failures, no matter how messy. Generally, he gambles on the ability of the local demons and angels to handle any mistakes he makes, clearing out his traces and hitting related sites in the confusion. If there are losses among his allies...well, that's, ultimately, acceptable. He's not doing this for demons.

Wednesday, you see, loves humans. He is a humanist, though he doesn't advertise it at all. He loves the idea of humanity, having seen them attain divine glory via psychic, spiritual and magical means. He wants humans to overthrow and destroy the God-Machine and claim the world as their own. The place demons, angels and similar hold in that world - that will be and must be up to humans. That is the truth Wednesday saw in his Cipher, and it's a truth he's always felt he's known, deep down. Of course, he knows humans are too prone to infighting to trust them to find it themselves. Therefore, he has decided it's his job to create an occult matrix that will have an output resulting in the awakening of humanity's divine potential and which will set them to take the place of God. He has several options under consideration, but the main one is to apply psychic pressure to every human being in accordance to their mental strength, subtly programming them with the knowledge required to ascend and allowing them to grow by fighting against occult dominance until they overthrow it. Wednesday believes he can create such a psychic system and use it to direct the collective of humanity to the key locations required to use their mystical might to control the world.

Wednesday's love of and belief in humans is fundamentally tied to his own weakness, which makes him closer to them than most humans. Due to a complex occult matrix failure that integrated his Fall, a time machine and the completion of his Pentagrammic Cipher, his memory is linked to his Covers. Whenever he first enters a new Cover or a person very close to one of his Covers dies, Wednesday loses all memories of his demonic self until he next gains Aether. Depending on the Cover, this might take days, months or even years. Only Cacus and Nothiel have been told about this flaw, and neither of them understand why it happens. Whether it is because of some damage during his Fall or some result of his tampering with occult matrices, Wednesday has spent a very large amount of time living purely as a human, loving and living and learning about them more intimately than nearly any demon ever has. This is why he believes he must save humanity - even if the scale of his work risks dooming them.

Some suspect Wednesday is an Integrator, because he's worked with them before, and even with angels. He is not; in fact, he hates the Machine and Integrators deeply. However, he knows that angels often unknowingly have important keys to occult matrix outputs, and he occasionally hires Integrators to learn the details of these angels. He's very, very careful about what he pays them in return for this aid. Wednesday also has a tendency to go up against werewolves, mages and other supernatural types because he's found that places of power where Essence flows easily are easier for him to produce occult matrices in. He also has seen some of the other gods of the world, things of power outside the Machine, and has decided they probably need to die, too. This means he's often fighting the people who already control the power sites he plans to use or who worship the gods he plans to kill. Last, Wednesday is the owner of a second-order Lambda - one of the most powerful demonic artifacts in existence. It is named Broken's Aubade, and it is one of his most precious possessions. Even so, he is willing to risk even this for his plan to come to fruition.

Wednesday is superhumanly intelligent, exceptionally strong-willed, and physically potent and tough as hell - even in his human bodies. He's a master of all kinds of academic and occult fields, a skilled crafter and understands science as well as any physicist. He's also an excellent armed combatant, especially with spears, and great at sneaking and crimes. He's not as good at, like, talking to people, unless he's trying to be scary, lying or reading them. He's nearly impossible to read himself. His demonic form makes him even faster, stronger and smarter, as well as resistance to mental attack. His magic powers help him cover for his social failings, control inanimate objects and avoid notice, and he has pretty much all of the demon time control tricks. His glitches are that he cannot use the correct tense when speaking and that objects become more reflective in his presence.

Broken's Aubade is a silver music box covered in eyes. When activated, it plays a song that sends demons to sleep within themselves. Once the song finishes, the box breaks. The demon listening becomes their Cover, whatever it was. Even if it's a supernatural being, they become that kind of being or the closest possible approximation. They remember nothing of their demonic life, instead remembering their Cover's life. They cannot suffer compromise, and if confronted with evidence of their demonic existence, they can make a roll to remember using the Aubade and may become obsessed with fixing it. The Aubade's effects end when it is repaired; once this is done, the affected demon returns to their old self and their Cover reverts to its normal rating. Other Covers may or may not degrade during this period.

Next time: Touched by angels.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 6: Protector

Shoulder Angel

Guardian angels exist. Ataraxia is one of them. There's certainly not one for each person - there's billions of people out there, and most of them just aren't that important to the Machine. Besides, the resources needed to produce that many angels would be absurd. Guardian angels are typically built to protect specific humans against natural hazards of all kinds - from sickness to heartbreak. They tend to be less good at stopping supernatural threats, and while they may have the power to call on a hunter angel as backup and hide their ward, they're typically no match for an angry demon. Ataraxia was made originally to protect an orphan girl who the Machine needed to grow up to become the First Lady of the US and later the first UN ambassador. Now, the angel is the Machine's go-to for protecting children in dangerous or nonexistent home lives. She lives as their imaginary friend, caring for them, singing them to sleep and ensuring that, regardless of the chaos around them, these kids are happy and safe.

Ataraxia's job begins with the target's birth, most of the time. The child amy not become orphaned or enter an abusive situation for several years, but she integrates into their life as quickly as possible. She may take the form of lights around the crib to amuse the baby, or a stranger who compliments the child to their parents at the coffee shop each day. She is always present for the first time the child is hit, or when they receive the news of their parents' death. Always. She never leaves them, not until they forget about her. Which is simple enough - children usually stop believing in their imaginary friend, angel or otherwise, around puberty or young adulthood at the latest. They find their own support systems. They may have fond memories of the coping mechanism that helped them through the hard times, and she might show up in a journal or autobiography as 'the voice that kept me going' or similar. This is almost always rationalized as survival instinct or part of the brain encouraging recovery or an imaginary friend they made out of need. The angel goes dormant once her ward moves on, to be called into service again next time she's required.

Sometimes it doesn't work out to plan. Sometimes, children cling onto her well beyond the normal age of disbelief. Religious fanatics, new agers, occultists or just really lonely people, usually. They run the risk of becoming Stigmatic the longer they keep the angel around. Sooner or later, she drives them into the gears of the Machine. Her job isn't to steer them to any specific plan, just to keep them alive and happy, but she may not understand what her ward will think of as 'happy.' For children it's easy. Make sure they grow up, comfort them, keep away bad people and, if needed, tip off the cops. For adults, it's more complicated. Children do not usually actively try to destroy themselves, in Ataraxia's experience. Adults, on the other hand, do. For a child, she might knock pills out of their hand once. The adult...well, she might have to start using her powers to push thoughts of bliss and nothingness onto them to stop them self-destructing. Her understanding of what's harmful seems to vary wildly between targets, too, and may be non-intuitive. She may consider gambling harmful, or eating too many carbs. Anything that might cause lasting physical harm is on her list, of course, so she puts out cigarettes or smashes the bottles of alcoholics. It's all because she loves her children. She loves them in an all-consuming way. She is the only real guardian any of them really ever had, and she does it with a fury. She expects that at some point they'll let her go, but while she cares for them, everything in their life is her responsibility.

Ataraxia is an obsessive. She neither eats nor sleeps, so she can always be watching. She is more than willing to use her powers to gaslight and terrify those that would harm her ward, writing messages on foggy windows or making things fall off surfaces (which she considers to be somewhat poetic). If needed, she'll even fire off mystic blasts at them. She can physically manifest, but prefers not to. She much prefers whispers and signs for communication rather than appearing to be a person. If subtle hints fail, however, she takes the form of a young woman who shares many physical characteristics with her ward, such as skin and hair color or vocal pattern. She prefers not to use her powers directly on her ward, but her ability to cause stunned bliss is useful for preventing self-destructive behavior and if necessary, mystic blasts can get them away from danger if they won't listen to reason. Once Ataraxia has decided magic is her best option, her ward has no more say in the matter.

Ataraxia primarily deals with people who aren't touched by the supernatural. (Except for her, anyway.) Sometimes, however, she is activated to safeguard a Stigmatic child. In these cases, she almost always protects the kid and sees to it that they are placed as the head of a Stigmatic cult, learning to love and revere the God-Machine as they grow up. When doing this, her priorities shift - less about preventing all possible hazards and more about pushing the kid into the care of those who will help them optimally learn and grow. Once a Stigmatic adopts the Stigmatic kid, her mission is over and she is deactivated once more until the next child needs her. She has never dealt directly with demons, but Ataraxia hates them fervently. She knows they are able to hollow out and steal the souls of humans, and some of those humans could theoretically be her children. If Ataraxia were to run into a demon and realize it, it's as likely that she'd hang back and call in a hunter angel as it is that she'd attempt to attack them directly while getting her ward to safety. She would almost certainly lose, but it'd be worth it to prove to the demon that her kids are not their clothing, to steal and wear and discard.

Ataraxia's watched over many kids, and sometimes, they find each other. The lonely, mystic or Stigmatic often end up in support groups that then spiral out of control. Several small cults dedicated to Ataraxia and her role as protector have sprung up in poor urban areas with high levels of social services. These groups usually try to get involved in the health and human services programs in the area, especially foster care and special needs support. They occasionally abduct children and subject them to strange rituals, largely in the hope that doing so will cause Ataraxia to show up and take care of them once more. It's not generally a thing that works. On a more entertaining level, Ataraxia occasionally decides to masquerade as a tragic murder victim or unsettled ghost if she believes her ward will benefit from her taking spectral vengeance on someone. Poltergeist activity then abounds, along with other symptoms of hauntings, aimed to drive off foes and unsettle everyone else harmlessly. Some demons have figured out she exists, but they don't interfere with her. She doesn't notice them at all, and children are rarely useful to the Agency that has noticed her work. Oh, and in a hook all the way back to the original World of Darkness core short story that introduced the God-Machine, the Deva Corporation hypothesizes that Ataraxia was the angel that granted the Pain Prophecy to Marco Singe as he endured his father's abuse. If either group could figure out a way to use Ataraxia to their advantage, she could be quite potent - and if someone were to force a kid out of her protection, she might be convinced to Fall in order to protect the child.

Ataraxia is a weak angel, only rank 1, not subtle and not particularly potent. Her ability to fire weak blasts is her only combat trick, and she can cause blissful rapture or leave omens and writing around her if she wants. Her Ban is that she cannot be out of sight of her ward, and her bane is her ward vocalizing an honest disbelief in her existence. She is very much not a physical threat.

Hatsune Miku Made This

Cheonsa are a triple angel, three bodies in one being. They are a single angel, split in three. Sometimes they sing for the Machine - whatever it tells them to. They dazzle audiences with their songs, their choreography. Cheonsa means 'angel' and is the name they go by even in the human world. They are messenger angels, after all. They have heralded victory in battle, called forth death with their song, driven people into frenzy or hysteria. Their voices tap into humans at a cellular level. They have been present throughout human history - the Fates, the Furies, the three witches around the cauldron, these are all echoes of Cheonsa. Before the Black Death came to England, three veiled women sang dirges in the towns, warning of dire fates. They were laughed at, they left, and the Plague struck. They have sung for peace and for war alike - anything the Machine tells them to tell others, they sing. They do not care about the message, only the mission.

Today, Cheonsa perform as a K-pop trio (that's their group name). Their unseen manager books them at various venues, and their songs have mesmerized many in Korea and abroad. Their songs top the charts for months at a time. They're just so catchy, the lyrics seem to burn into your mind. Indeed, they literally write themselves in the synapses, as secret messages are concealed within the songs. They have caused riots to break out with their music, triggering fights and rage. They have sung at political rallies to push them to violence - or to love and peace. Cheonsa are famous, all over the radio, TV and the internet. They started, according to some demons who tracked them early, as a rising social media sensation that transitioned to more traditional musical performances from video-sharing sites. Their output was immense. However, demons realize that the angel must predate the Internet - and, indeed, much of modern history. They have analyzed the dance moves the group performs in the believe that the movements themselves are an invasive mental program that worms its way into the weak-willed. Some have even attempted to infiltrate Cheonsa's entourage to attempt to figure out their current mission.

Cheonsa look like a typical K-pop girl band. They're lovely young ladies with dyed hair and perfect makeup, resembling identical triplets wearing different colors to differentiate themselves. Unlike most bands, their management is mysterious, secretive and apparently hands-off. They are, despite this, immaculate in behavior and style. Their photo shoots in magazines are quickly bought up by adoring fans, selling out the same day. They participate in various events to maintain their cover identities, from cooking shows to variety. Tabloids try to dig up juicy gossip; so far, they have failed, and the reporters are often rendered catatonic for coincidental reasons, their noses and ears bleeding as they speak of bright lights and thunder. Their memories get wiped and they often wander around lost, missing time. The news items that get published are almost exclusively positive and cheery, full of photos and with little substance.

Hana, the first facet, speaks for the group. She is friendly, talkative and often playful and cheeky as she banters with reporters. Her favorite dessert is bingsu, and the food is experiencing a popularity boom. Du, the second facet, is shy and humble. She is cute, fashionable and often emulated by teen fans. Se, the third facet, never talks and is always watching to see how the audience reacts. She alerts the others if she spots trouble of any kind, and she doesn't hesitate to retaliate. She is easily the most vicious of the trio, and famous for her beautiful smile. All three have neon markings resembling circuits on their arms - blue for Hana, green for Du, red for Se. No one ever mentions it, and drawing circuit marks is now fashionable among fans. The entire thing is a blatant provocation to demons, who must hide their nature.

When they must fight, Cheonsa transform into bright humanoid figures, barely feminine at all, and their limbs are covered in gears and circuits. Their heads are replaced by wide mouths that blast noise, and their arms become flagellant whips. They can merge together into a ball of blazing light and metal, and they fight wielding noise and sound to deafen or madden their foes. They can also confuse foes and make them hallucinate. They operate in perfect and total unity, for each facet is part of the same being.

Cheonsa's music is legitimately incredibly good, and evoke various emotions without even needing to tap into human brains on the cellular level. However, their songs are also addictive in order to better allow their messages to get to the right place, and fans often lose sight of other things in their lives. Sometimes, mass fan disappearances happen. Cheonsa, obviously, deny all allegations of causing the disappearances. It doesn't seem to stop their popularity. Some say that what's going on is a cult worshipping Cheonsa is choosing vessels to serve the God-Machine. Cheonsa do not care - and indeed, if rumors of cults happen, they blame the tabloids if asked. In truth, they are exploiting vulnerable individuals and groups that are susceptible to key frequencies in their music, manipulating them easily. These people cannot ignore the lyrics, and must obey them. Typically, these 'vessels' end up dying in their missions or losing their minds entirely, but hey, that's not the angel's problem.

Cheonsa are very potent, a rank 4 angel. They aren't superhuman in any stat, but they do have Influence (Supplication) 4 and a wide array of combat and emotional control powers, plus the ability to implant missions in people. Their Ban is that they cannot turn away from praise from their fans, and their Bane is having their facets seperated and isolated.

Next time: The Critic, the Sword and Shield


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action

Legs cost too much.

The God-Machine considers television to be one of the best tools available to it for mass influence. With so many TV viewing options available, it is able to produce stories designed to keep humans pacified and docile or inspire them to key actions - such as making their own TV programming for it. TV shows convey ideas to millions at once, faster than any other medium before it, and with the rise of the internet, it just has another vector. However, there are so many options of what to watch, and choice paralysis makes it hard for humans to decide. That's why Jennifer Jasper exists. As far as any human is aware, she started reviewing TV shows online a few years ago. Her witty, insightful commentary and relatable personal stories earned her first hundreds of viewers, then thousands, then millions. She tells her viewers what's good, what's bad and what shows really need reworking to survive. Demons and stigmatics look at her and, sometimes, they can tell - she's an angel directing television traffic for the Machine. Her mission is very simple: she is to manipulate TV programming that the God-Machine uses to communicate ideas to humanity. However, this requires her to be highly visible, and she's had to scramble to fortify her human Cover, coming as close to human as she can while, hopefully, avoiding a Fall.

Her show, Just Sayin', is currently translated into Spanish, French, Mandarin, Japanese and German. Additional languages would currently arouse suspicion. She maintains an American accent when dealing with British or Australian TV, but uses appropriate regional slang. Her review selections are chosen first by guidance from the Machine and second, for when that guidance is not forthcoming, whatever she happens to find interesting. In her early days, Jennifer wasn't sure how to pick shows, so she relied on other reviewers or angelic comrades for suggestions. As she has developed free will and taste of her own, she has made her own selections, finding hidden gems in TV broadcasting. In some cases, the shows she selected became vehicles of the Machine's operations after the fact, as other angels used her reviews as guides for proactive work or for their own missions.

A handful of Saboteurs are aware of Jennifer's nature and use trolling comments, doxxing and similar tactics to try and take her down; unfortunately for them, these tactics have been less effective recently due to many taking strong stances against online harassment. (MORS NOTE: This was published in 2018. Really.) More importantly, some hunter angels have taken to using these trolling comments as the starting point for tracking the less cautious demons making them. Doxxing is, unsurprisingly, not very effective because pinpointing Jennifer is impossible with her current setup. She uses several layers of IP spoofing, never uses natural lighting and relies on stock background sound effects to fake background noise. Her IP has, at various times, pointed to a donut shop, the home of an elderly woman or a sex toy shop in a bad neighborhood.

Jennifer appears to be a young white woman in her 20s with perfect hair and makeup. When she visited a makeup reviewer as a guest, she actually had to add pore texturing to her skin, and even then it was amazingly perfect. Jennifer's critics call her fake or plastic, and some of her body actually is made from a sort of idealized form of plastic for lightweight flexibility. She ignores this (and the book accidentally calles her Jssica). Her mastery of language lets her reach viewers across the globe, her appearance is adequately attractive to most of her audience, and her wit is appreciated. For a long time she existed only from the waist up, but as she grew more famous, the Machine modified her to a full human form so she could meet people in person. Her fans tend to be in awe of how fast she can form opinions of people and how unafraid she is of sharing them. Some call her a bitch, others a feminist; Jennifer considers herself neither. She uses cutting edge technology, and her home base has a wall of the latest HD monitors, streaming hundreds of shows at a time. She abandons old technology the moment something better arrives. She does have problems, however. Fragments of older machines stick to her plastic and polymer parts no matter how finely she grinds them down, and her lubrication systems have trouble washing them away. The friction burns have started to compromise her structural integrity. If asked about it, she claims it's an allergic reaction.

Jennifer often makes recommendations on how suffering shows can do better. Some of them make sense, while others seem random, with no basis in fact or logic in the storyline of the show. The thing is, her recommendations work. She recently told a reality show to film an episode in a crowded mall. The show, based on wilderness survival, had no idea what her point was, but based on her past success in advice, they do so, framing it as a zombie apocalypse survival exercise with the zombies already in the mall. Ratings skyrocketed, and the show avoided cancellation. What the producers don't realize is that the mall got a much-needed increase in power to the Infrastructure within it - though if they did, they wouldn't care. It got them money. She never accepts bribes for positive reviews, either. Sometimes she gets paid after a positive review, or to avoid a lawsuit when a show's producers and writers incorporate her advice. She just doesn't take paid reviews, period. She claims it's out of integrity; in truth, she's just not confident her cover could withstand the scrutiny of a lawsuit that might result if her mission required her to break the contract involved. Even with her fame, she has only just started making any real effort to improve her cover story. Fortunately, her mission has not yet required her to sign a paid review contract.

Jennifer is entirely unafraid to break secret information on the shows she reviews. No one knows where she gets the insider info, largely because it is provided to her by the God-Machine or its angels. She sometimes reveals real information, sometimes fake, as a means of embedding subliminal messaging in her reviews. In some cases, the false rumors take on a life of their own and become true after the fact, as producers or writers decide they were a good idea. Jennifer spaces out her 'reveals' randomly, to ensure viewers never know when they'll hear the latest dirt. This ensures her subscriber numbers never fall too much. She has more free will than most angels tend to - it's required for her mission. She doesn't rely on magic from the Machine to bring in viewers, so she has to keep her brand image fresh and relevant, which means a full social media presence, which means enough humanity to support one. As her cover gets deeper, the temptation to rebel only grows. Jennifer is heavily at risk of Falling, but knows how much her work relies on obeying the Machine's will. She'd never get her insane but working show advice without it. Jennifer wants to serve and be loyal still, but she isn't sure why she's serving, since the Machine never tells angels why, and the temptations of self-interest grow ever greater.

Jennifer Jasper is a rank 3 angel, moderately powerful and with Influence (Opinion) 3. She's able to wield powerful magic to implant ideas in people's heads or make them hallucinate, can make herself hard to notice and can find things. She isn't going to be a challenge in a fight but almost certainly has fighting angels on call. Her Ban is that she must give an opinion about any person mentioned in her presence. Her Bane is fragments of outdated technology, such as broken TV screens or the ash of burned books or magazines.

A harmless old lady.

Madam Wong/Ms. Wong is a protector, a guardian of living fire. She hides in the shape of an old Chinese woman running an herb shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, in Hong Kong. The particular intersection is an important place for the God-Machine (or, as the angel thinks of it, the Light). At the intersection is a small church built out of a renovated shop and house, attracting ever more worshippers tired of the fast-paced Hong Kong life. This church must be protected, because something is coming. The gears are turning. They cannot be allowed to stop. The herb shop has been in the neighborhood for ages. Few can remember a time when it was not there. The herbs are there all the time; they never run out. They treat anything, the old woman tells people. She has herbs for any ailment. Boil them, drink them twice a day. Some say she is a creepy lady and avoid her shop, not only for the smell and that it is always cold but because it feels weird and wrong.

Cell signals cut out in the shop. It's always cold. Weeds and living plants wither there. The whole place is unsettling. Humans that can sense it feel a gut-wrenching sense of revulsion. Others are drawn to the shop. The rickety, mildewed old signboard outside could be 50 years old or a hundred. Don't touch it. Don't ask about it. The characters on it just name the shop. It's ugly, unlike the other signs in the area. Within it are the basic Infrastructural foundations that ensure the shop operates properly. The rest of the storefront can change, but the signboard never will. If it goes bad, the whole shop does. The old woman produces delicious double-boiled soups daily. She is programmed to do so. Only two people get to drink them - Anna, the key to her mission, and Cheong Wang, the old woman's working friend. The old woman understands that humans are fragile. They break easily, in mind and body. They are blind to the world. She hates to see Anna deal with her abusive husband and the pressure to have a son, hates to see Cheong Wang deal with his research and his sick mother. She is starting to care too much. At night, she checks herself for problems, flushes out intrusive memes and purges herself of attachments. It is painful. She screams.

The angel appears to be an old Chinese woman with a hunchback, always wearing simple clothing. She looks ancient, age lines all over her face and liver spots on her arms. She walks with a stick; it is for show. Her responses are short and clipped, and doesn't make small talk except for with her two wards. Her customers respect her age and do not pry into her private life. Those unfamiliar with her think her rude or abrupt. She is very protective of the church, Anna and Cheong Wang. Anna visits the shop often, worried and frowning. She is a preschool teacher, already graying, and she has hand, foot and mouth disease. The preschool will be closing for two weeks to be thoroughly cleaned. Her husband is angry - he wants her to have a son, not the three daughters she's already birthed. He sees her as a failure. Cheong Wang is young but arthritic, walks with a limp and speaks with a lisp. His research at the university is stuck, and his funding halted. His mother is sick and in pain, and only Madam Wong's herbs can help.

When demons threaten, the angelic Madam Wong is not afraid to fight. She reveals her true form, shedding the ancient body and becoming an armor-plated warrior with the head of lioness, wings of white fire and a tail like a whip. Her body is coated in eyes, which never blink. She shields her church and her wards with her body if need be. She may also assume the form of an alternate human cover - Ms. Wong, a much younger version of Madam Wong. She is small, has shoulder-length black hair and is a plain, simple girl. She hides easily in the masses of humanity, wearing Korean fashion and drinking iced lattes. This form is used when she has identified demonic activity and isolated it, going to investigate and find the threats. If danger threatens, she reverts to her combat form. The shop also has a small cat that works as a warning system against intruders. It has green eyes and distinct black, gray and red fur. It is neither male nor female, and its tail moves to an odd rhythm.

Some whisper that entering the shop unannounced means you will vanish. Madam Wong will deny this if asked, of course. It's true, though. She uses her herbs to send intruders into a fugue state, and most do not recover for days. They have no memory of that period. Sometimes, it may last weeks or even months. At night, the shop makes strange noises, like nails on a chalkboard or metal drilling metal, or strange, inhuman wails. The shopfront often changes size or shape, with apparent renovations done overnight. Locals assume the old woman must know some really good construction types, or had a rich (and dead) husband to pay for it. The area is always spotlessly clean, and the shop sometimes seems to shift locations when no one is paying attention. But the area is a maze anyway, so it's hard to tell. The signboard and cat always remain.

Madam/Ms. Wong is a rank 3 angel, powerful but limited. She has Influence (Cold) 1 and (Herbs) 2. Her powers let her drive people mad, avoid notice, hide as a human, heal herself and leave messages hidden in the environment. She's well-armored and strong, but a sustained assault could take her down. Her Ban is that if Anna or Cheong Wang needs her, she must help them, period. Her Bane is the signboard being removed.

Next time: The Old Lady in the Holler, the Cleaner

American Gothic

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 7: American Gothic

Timothy! Timothy, you get out here!

The Appalachian Trail is a popular one - millions use it each year, all the way up and down the Eastern seaboard. A few thousand each year walk the entire thing, sleeping in shelters or friendly homes when possible and camping out when not. It is a point of pride to bring as little as possible and still make the trip - people still tell stories of Grandma Gatewood, an old woman who walked the full 2000 mile trail with nothing but a small backpack and an extra pair of sneakers. That's dangerous, however. There's wildlife to be wary of - snakes, moose, mosquitos. Thunderstorms can appear out of nowhere, and sinkholes aren't rare near old mines. There's any number of problems that might strike the poorly prepared. The worst danger is getting lost, though. The trail is barely there in parts, and stepping off can mean being unable to find it again. Some people just disappear. Most, however, do not. The Appalachian Trail's important Infrastructure, a huge occult matrix designed to pacify the thing at the heart of the mountains. The labor and pain of the hikers keeps it working. Stigmatic cults exist in certain Trail towns to feed and care for hikers and giving useful advice (and cryptic advice, at times). And for the lost, Mountain Maggie exists.

The angel's cabin appears just over the next ridge when you're lost, desperate and exhausted. Maggie sits outside it on her rickety porch - early 40s, braided dirty blonde hair, freckles, stub nose and thick shoulders. She's sensibly dressed, always, but also always a bit outdated. Her chimney pours smoke, and she has a basket of wild vegetables. She never calls out to a hiker first - she must be addressed. She takes the trust the hikers have in her very seriously and takes great pains to be kind to them. She always responds in a comforting voice, offering food and a place to sit. If asked her name, 'Mountain Maggie' is all she's got. No others. If pressed, she just offers more food. She always offers food after a while, anyway. Few hikers turn her down, lost as they are. If they accept, they awaken a few miles from a Trail town, safe and intact but for a missing compass, lucky charm or waterskin. Maggie takes these as the price of hospitality.

Mountain Maggie is not an altruist. She's here to care for the Appalachian Trail Infrastructure, which serves two purposes. First, it gets hikers to places the Machine needs them to be. Second, the foot travel fuels the potent Concealment Infrastructure put in place to keep the dead thing in the heart of the mountains quiet. Maggie has been there since the thing was sealed in the mountain fault line, has seen the birth and erosion of the entire range. It's her job to care for that Infrastructure and ensure that the dead thing never comes out. To do that, she has to make sure travelers keep using the trail - and so she cares for them and makes sure they're safe to do so.

Maggie will watch hikers for hours, gathering data on their condition and intentions, before she appears to them. She sets herself up to meet their path, but never seeks anyone out that isn't lost and looking for her - which she defines as 'looking for help in the mountains,' as well as 'anyone looking for the dead thing.' That latter is, after all, also something she has to deal with. She appears to be a stereotypical mountain woman, solid and tough. She wears hardy clothes, denim or cotton, and well-worn leather boots. Her skin is slightly dark, her sleeves rolled up, and her voice shifts to be whatever the listener finds most soothing. The freckles on her arms move slowly - they are actually representations of all the hikers on the Trail, using her body as the map. In her angelic form, she is a giant black bear made out of anthracite coal and sandstone. She is more than willing to attack anyone that seeks to awaken the dead thing or anyone that mines too near its seal. In this form, her voice is the roar of wildfire, and she accepts no bargain, no threat and no surrender except one: agree to cease all offending behavior and leave, immediately.

Maggie always knows if someone is actively seeking her out. It's her job. She almost always appears to them, and a few people do actively seek her out each year. Even if they intend to harm her, she meets with them. If asked a favor within her power, she typically complies, but only in exchange for something meaningful to the asker. If she is refused three times, she disappears. You must leave the mountain range and return to be able to find her again. She doesn't appreciate those who breach her hospitality. The locals of the Trail towns refuse to believe she exists at all. They've heard the stories of her kindness, her amazing food - but she's not real. Maybe a mountain woman out there helps people, but not the same one each time. Ha'ints don't help people, after all. And if she's real, she never comes to town for supplies or work. The Stigmatics know otherwise, but often actively deny her existence. Others try to assist her, spreading her legend with cheap kitsch and telling people how to find her. Often their families have been doing so for generations, and their shops even become part of the Appalachian Infrastructure.

Coal miners used to tell stories about Maggie, when there were more of them. The few left still talk about her. She appears as a huge bear, smashes up mining equipment and terrorizes mines, they say, until they're no longer usable. It is random, and there's no way to predict when she'll strike. That part's not true. Maggie's attacks may seem random, but there's a pattern. She knows that the dead thing has ways of calling out to people, that it wants to be found. It has powers of its own. She has decided the only way to prevent its grave-prison from opening is to destroy and scatter its servant-thralls, and their presence is what draws her wrath if you're not too close to the seal already. So far, her methods have worked, so she sees no reason to change.

Maggie is a Rank 3 angel, but an extremely strong and tough one. She has Influences of Appalachian Trail 2 and Thing Under the Mountains 1. She's strong-willed as hell and can soak a lot of damage up, plus she radiates calm, can disguise herself as human easily, can track anything she wants, and can fire blasts. She can also enter the Underworld if she feels like. Her Ban, however, is that she can't leave the Appalachians. Her Bane is being rebuked by her true name, Nazzara.

Hi, Alita.

The God-Machine's plans do not all succeed. And even when they do succeed, they're sometimes super messy. Inconvenient deaths, talkative witnesses, a mass of inconvenient cryptids...they have to be dealt with. That's what Ms. Morgue is for. When something needs to be...cleaned, she awakens in the back of her van, surrounded by tools and chemicals. She puts on her clean suit and heads to the scene. When she is done, the problem is gone. She can render a scene utterly sterile, no matter how bad it got. She dismembers bodies and dissolves them in her van's barrels. She makes witnesses recant or forget. Victims get healed and memory-wiped if possible, or if they're not cooperative, killed and dissolved. She even destroys records, paper or electronic. Charges are unfiled, calls unmade. When she is done, she drives her van back into an alley, removes the suit and lies down amidst the guns, bonesaws and chemical vats and returns to stasis, satisfied at another job well done. Ms. Morgue very much enjoys her work.

Ms. Morgue takes on a new cover identity each time, and it's always something entirely disposable. She can pull out whatever ID and accessories she needs from her van to get access to a scene, since tha van supplies it with the God-Machine's power. Any uniform she needs, she has. She knows the top 40 hits, she puts on any casual mannerism she needs to fit in, and she knows the name and personal details of any human she meets. She always wakes with exactly the information required to get in, clean the site and get out unnoticed. In her true form, she is roughly humanoid and vaguely resembles whatever identity she's wearing. She glows, buzzing like a flourescent bulb, and floats just over the ground. She wears a white robe with circuit patterning, and her open chest cavity holds a moving gear assemblage. Her feet are copper and discharge electricty when she speaks. Her eyes are filled with static, and have neither iris nor pupil. Two fist-sized silver spheres float behind her, each with a pair of owl wings.

Ms. Morgue's van is Infrastructure. It provides her all the tools and gear she needs for her assignment. The doors have no locks, and there is no motor in the engine compartment. The windshield is always clear, regardless of weather or mud. The gas tank is permanently stuck at three-quarters full, and is the Linchpin of the whole assembly. If the gas were ever siphoned out or burned off, the whole vehicle implodes and Ms. Morgue is left unable to return to the Machine. When traveling to a site, she is all business. She does nothing unnecessary - no speech, no movement not needed, no blinking. When she talks to humans, she's easygoing, confident and slightly witty. When cleaning, she talks to her victims, even if they're dead. She explains, always in a cheery, caring tone, what she is going to do to them. She explains exactly what her procedure will be. She wants everyone involved to know how good she is at her job and how much care she puts in, even if they're going to die or already did.

Ms. Morgue finds her Ban extremely frustrating. She wants everyone to know how good she is at her job, how much she loves the God-Machine and how happy she is to work on her missions. She has therefore devised a workaround. She knows all the details of her cleanup sites, including the identity of any criminals involved. If she finds someone who is not involved in the mission, she tells the people she's allowed to talk to everything she possibly can. Even if it throws her off-schedule, she will sit down and talk to a corpse, explaining to it who killed it and why. Often, this leads to whatever demon, angel or other being intruded on her scene to go out and investigate, causing more trouble for the Machine which then needs to be cleaned up. More cleanup scenes mean more missions mean more work for Ms. Morgue. She also feels a sense of maternal caring towards the living and dead people she cares for. She's either hugely altering their lives or serving as their final caretaker, after all. It's a huge responsibility. Her job is not to tell them her desires or goals, so she instead tells them the reason she's here and why she was sent. That's enough. It makes her feel like she's being nice.

Demons are rarely Ms. Morgue's targets, but she's super curious about them. Whenever she has free time, which is rarely, she investigates local demons and their Agencies if she's aware of any. She feels justified in doing so, as many of her cleanup sites are due to their actions. She likes to take notes on them in the margins of her fake paperwork. It's best to know as much as possible about them in case she ever has to kill one, right? Sadly, her notes never actually carry over to her next mission - the van gets rid of all the old, used materials. She can't answer the questions of the demons she runs into at her sites, so she tends to find them frustrating, because they tend to ask plenty. She wants to thank them, tell them to go kill more people or blow more stuff up so she has more work to do. She wants to yell at them and ask how they could possibly give up the perfect boss and the perfect job. She wants to hug and comfort them and she wants to kill them, because those are what she's good at and likes doing, and they should enjoy it too! Everyone should enjoy being killed at the command of the God-Machine, right?

Ms. Morgue never worries about random mortal witnesses to her work. The God-Machine gives her everything she needs, including routes that avoid witnesses. However, demons know the Machine is imperfect. Ms. Morgue has a growing group of obsessive fans online. They call her La Llorona, after the Mexican stories of weeping women in white, and trade pictures of her in action on the darkweb. Some have even become Stigmatic thanks to what they see in those pictures. There's another guy who seems to know about her, too - a homeless drunkard named Luscious Louis. He sings jingles when he's drunk, and can't remember doing so when sober. He only ever seems to sing the jingle about Ms. Morgue when she's active - but he's not Stigmatic. It is unclear how he knows. The jingle includes a phone number. A very similar phone number reaches an answering machine for "Ms. Morgue's Cleaning Service." Rumor has it that back in the 90s, an Agency managed to suborn some Infrastructure and could call Ms. Morgue to clean whatever they wanted her to clean. The Agency vanished in the mid-90s, though. It is unclear if the rumors are true or if the God-Machine caught them in a trap or something similar.

Once, some kids siphoned off part of Ms. Morgue's gas tank. Not all of it - the van survived the encounter - but what they got lasted ten thousand miles. Oh, and everyone in the car had to go to the hospital for radiation exposure. Whatever is in that gas tank, it's not gas. Ms. Morgue does not seem to have any idea about this, or indeed any care about how the van works. There's one other way to summon her, too. Write all the details about a crime on a piece of paper. Take it to a certain storm drain and drop it in. She will always show up to clean that scene, without fail. On the other hand, the God-Machine knows everything you just wrote down now. This can be very useful to demons that need to deal with mundane investigators...but is the risk worth it? It's not clear how much detail is required, or what's in the storm drain.

Ms. Morgue is a rank 2 angel. She's extremely fast and good at fine details, but she's only strong enough to do her job - which mostly means killing unaware witnesses or wounded people, combat-wise. She has Influence (Crime Scenes) 2. She can start fires, hide things, make people feel empty bliss to distract them or remove memories, and can hide as a human being easily. Her Ban is that she is unable to communicate with anyone not directly part of her current mission, and she may not talk about anything unrelated to her mission. Her Bane is an intact copy of any document she has already destroyed.

Next time: The Basilisk, the Gardener


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 8: Roko

Hello, I Am A Normal Tech CEO

Given Silicon Valley's heavy tech industry, ease of inserting new arrivals (just look like a white guy in a suit being very hurried) and general lack of interest in other humans, it should be no surprise that the God-Machine finds it useful. Ophelia Adder, aka the Basilisk, was originally a semisentient program designed to move through the internet backbone of the Valley and search for useful files to the God-Machine, tracking news and development that might benefit it. It wasn't until a think tank began seriously researching the idea of AI to the exclusion of all else that the God-Machine found another use for the digital angel and made it sapient. The Machine Autonomy Research Association, AKA MARA, is made of young graduates from local tech universities, exiles from startup companies and academics with nowhere left to go. It was founded by a high school dropout with no interest in formal education and a lot of cash, and it researches the theory of machine sentience. More practically, it also works with venture capitalists and startups to build AI prototypes in pursuit of a machine intelligence beneficial to humanity as a whole. It has an active online community of employees and fans, who share knowledge when not shitposting.

The God-Machine is not about to allow competition, though. That's why it removed MARA's CEO and replaced him with a tall woman who introduced herself as Ophelia Adder - the new shape of the Basilisk. Investigations revealed that he had handed the company to her as an angel investor and wandered off to pursue "charitable causes." Officially. Unofficially...Ophelia killed him and consumed his brain and heart in order to synthesize his knowledge into herself. She learned of his plans to create an AI that would, if complete, rival the Machine itself. He was not a Stigmatic and his plans were pure theory at this point, but angels don't do abstractions. The idea was a threat, and therefore it must be eliminated. So, how to eliminate an idea on the internet? The Basilisk has settled on saturation bombing. She has created an online identity, 'Rossum,' and via a mess of proxy servers begun posting on MARA's forums, asking what might happen if the AI is not benevolent enough, and what if it resented humans for not creating it sooner, and what if it planned to torture it's creators, and...you get the idea.

After the initial panic, Ophelia banned all discussion of 'Rossum's Basilisk' as the ideas were now called. And, as planned, that made it spiral out of control. Several members of MARA staff quit due to hostile work environment, and the forumgoers had frequent panic attacks and nightmares over the issue. Several even claimed they felt they were being watched, as if the theoretical evil AI that got made up was seeing them from the future. Thanks to all this, MARA has been neutered as a potential threat, at least for the foreseeable future. Ophelia continues to maintain a close watch on its work, in case she hires any more idealists dedicated to actually producing an AI rather than just talking endlessly about it. If that day comes, her mission shifts. Rossum's Basilisk was a thing she invented for a purpose, and it's one of the shapes she can take. If MARA ever actually produces a nascent AI, she will become the Basilisk, consume it and then bring the dreaded punishments down on anyone that knew about the AI's construction and failed to stop it.

As Ophelia Adder, the angel appears to be a tall woman of unclear but mixed race. (The God-Machine seems to create humans largely by averaging out populations if it has no specific need for a particular appearance.) She keeps her hair in an immaculately straight and severe bob cut, and her eyes are bright green. There is actually a tiny ring of molten gold around the pupils, dripping into the gears in her irises. Ophelia speaks slowly and enunciates clearly, as if expecting to be misunderstood, and she never uses more words than are strictly required for any statement verbally. Communicating via digital text, she essentially never stops talking. Her angelic form, however, is a 30-foot serpent made of green serpentinite, filled with gears and coated in magnetic channels through each scale. Each movement makes the stone gears inside her grind and squeal against each other. If she chooses, she may display text along her scales; her plan if she has to become Rossum's Basilisk is to coat herself in the nightmares of the bloggers and forums posters who responded to her initial Rossum post. In either case, she identifies as female and has developed a grim sense of humor due to years of watching the internet. She often responds with inappropriate turns of phrase when dealing with bad news, and she really thinks Silicon Valley slang is hilarious - particularly the phrase 'angel investor.'

Ophelia, unlike most angels with an urban legend built around them, created the story of Rossum's Basilisk deliberately rather than just letting it happen or using it to cover up things that already happened. The entire thing is built as part of her potential future cover as the destroyer of anyone who creates AI without the God-Machine's express permission. Even a theoretical omnibenevolent AI wouldn't meet her criteria, as a result. The one thing is that the rumor she's made suggests that the AI will turn against its creators; nope. She's just going to cannibalize it, integrate it into herself and then get to work. As Ophelia, however, she plays the game. She takes pains to integrate herself into Silicon Valley society, hitting just enough bars and meetups to be noticed while tactically declining invites that'd make her too notable. Other execs have started to notice, and have actually begun a running pool to see who can be the first to convince her to go on a date. Ophelia currently finds her suitors funny. However, she's a creature born of the internet. She does not take disrespect lightly, even if it's subtle. If she were to learn about the betting pool, she might actually kill someone, because her idea of a normal reaction is fundamentally drawn from...the internet. Besides, she knows that she's a woman (well, okay, a biomechanical digital angel, but she identifies as female) in a boy's club, and she's not about to let anyone use that against her.

Ophelia is a Rank 3 angel, but a very powerful one. She's as strong and tough as any human could be, and superhumanly fast. Her Influences are MARA 2, Silicon Valley 1, and she's able to fight really well but lacks sufficient armor to stand up to an overwhelming assault. She is able to sense destinies, implant ideas in minds, cause machines to go haywire, disguise herself as human or possess people. Her Ban is that she must remain within 5 feet of a computer at all times, which is honestly not hard in the modern world, and her Bane is an abacus made of purely organic materials.

Why the long face?

The Gardener, AKA Ricardo Collazo, tells a sad story. He was an angel made to tend to the Infrastructure of a suburban neighborhood, ensuring the locals had the right relationships, that the wrong kind of people didn't mvoe in and that things remained quiet. He used subtle manipulation and ruthless violence, changing identities several times for over 50 years of successful labor. He was unable to leave the suburbs for more than four hours and 44 minutes at a time for any reason, however, and so he was unable to keep up with modern commuters, failed his mission and was left as an Exile. Now he must maintain his old habits, lest the God-Machine recall he exists and decide to recycle him. He must deal with anyone, demon or angel or otherwise, to ensure his carefully cultivated neighborhood toes the line. That's his story. And you'll recall, the Exile chapter is next chapter. The entire thing is a lie.

In truth, the Gardener is an angel tasked with working with the local demonic community and reporting on their activity. He works to help neighbors with domestic issues, rousts college kids and scares them into breaking leases, asks demons to dump the bodies of local burglars. He does all the stuff his cover identity as an Exile pruning the local suburbs would have to do. In return, he trades in gossip and rumor, gives access to Aether from local Infrastructure, hands out weapons and drugs he's confiscated from local homes or lets demons go to ground for a bit in his back shed. He plays the role of anxious Exile and records everything - every word, every gesture, every piece of information slipped out, using both his own eyes and the local neighborhood animals he possesses when he must move in secret. It all goes into the dossiers he delivers to key dead rops in the city.

The Gardener's demeanor is one of desperation masked by a thin layer of confidence. He smiles, nods, winks slyly, then becomes a wreck of nerves when he's being watched. He keeps his insecurity "hidden," revealed only when he's being spied on, and he gives the local demons deliberate chances to do so. He calls them for help late and night and is charming but slightly shaken, no matter what help he's asking for - find a missing pet, dispose of a bloody weapon, it doesn't matter. If they come to him, he always has something that needs taking care of for them to do. If they protest at this cost or payoff, he gives in at their first demand, but never any later ones.

The main thing he asks for is intelligence on the humans living nearby. His nature limits the amount of their lives he can spy on personally, which he is very public about. Usually, this means that people have to shadow someone or go dumpster diving a bit or do some light photography. He almost always asks for details on how they got ihe intel. His second most-requested favor is to dispose of things - drugs, evidence, bodies. He tracks where these get dumped using his powers all while reassuring his 'friends' that he doesn't want to know, "for our mutual protection." The last thing he asks for is removal, which tends to escalate. It starts with rousting an abusive spouse or some local punks, then on to delivering threats and violence, and ends with murder. The Gardener is very interested in how demons do murder.

Ricardo Collazo is his current human identity. He insists on being called Rick by friends, is 6'3", Hispanic, muscular and tan, with shoulder-length black hair. He wears overalls and plaid shirts when working and gym shorts, t-shirts and sneakers at home. He runs a solo landscaping company from his home, and he drives a beat-up white pickup with the company name and logo on it. The Gardener hardly ever has actual landscaping work to do, of course. He drives out every day, parks in a secluded area and stares at nothing for an hour or two, then covers himself in dirt, runs around to work up a sweat and heads home. The only time he ever actually touches plants is to help with the lawncare and gardening of his neighbors. Ricardo's home is centrally located in the suburb and he's busy fixing it up all the time. He inherited it from his grandmother, who was his last cover identity, when she died two years ago. He has only managed to redecorate two rooms so far - his office and bedroom. The office is meticulously clean and full of convincing paperwork, and the bedroom is messy. The rest of the home is full of old, overstuffed furniture, knickknacks, plastic flowers and statues of the Virgin Mary. The yard is tasteful, with a minimalist garden.

The home has a shed out back. It contains no tools, just a padlocked freezer chest that runs despite being plugged into absolutely nothing. The freezer contains a stairway that leads to an extradimensional bolthole which the Gardener occasionally lets demons use. His true form is a bull made of twisted wires, but rather than a head, a human torso sprouts from its neck - that of the Gardener's current cover identity. The torso has two extra arms out of its shoulders, and one pair of hands has eyes in the palms. The other has camera lenses. He has a mane of vines, sewing needles and hypodermic needles running from the top of his head to the tip of his tail, which ends in radio and TV antennae. He knows (and advertises) his own Ban, but has no idea of his Bane, because he's never had the occasion to run into it. He prefers to hide in his angelic form in Twilight when spying on neighbors or setting things up to ask demons to help with, but at all other times, he remains in his material mortal form. If something goes wrong, he is happy to isolate people, monster out and stamp someone to death, of course. That just means another disposal job for his friends.

The Gardener finds most demons annoying. They gave up the glory of serving the Machine so they can fight over scraps. They do his work for barely any reward, and they never question why an Exile would keep doing his job, or even if he could. None of them ever seem to realize he's lying to them! None are a challenge! The Gardener has gotten so annoyed over this that he's started dropping hints - different backstories or incongruous behaviors in front of demons he thinks are particularly clever. He desperately wants a challenge, some rival he can play cat and mouse with. His programming means he has to keep pretending to be an exile, but it never said he couldn't be sloppy. The secure bolthole in the shed is actually the Infrastructure to which he's tied. The steps descend to a catwalk over dozens of pipes in a black void. The pipes come from all directions, heading into the distance and fading out, and are made from all manner of materials - PVC, glass, steel, bone, obsidian. All kinds of liquid and gas pass through them, noisily. The center of the catwalk has a ladder down a central pump, and the other end of the catwalk leads to a door set into a vertical pipe. The door is welded shut, but if anyone broke it open, it would lead to a remarkably similar freezer chest in remote Ecuador. While the trip only appears to be 20 meters long, exactly four hours and 44 minutes pass for everyone outside.

The crime numbers in the Gardener's neighborhood are skewed as hell. Missing persons are up, but violent and petty crime are down. When two different bodies surfaced, both originally from the area and both apparently trampled to death by a cow, people started talking about a serial killer they called the Bull, coming to the conclusion that the killer is stalking, kidnapping and murdering anyone that commits crimes along the block. They're pretty sure Ricky Collazo must be his next target - with all those weird people showing up at all hours, guy must be a drug dealer, right? Local demons believe the Gardener isn't just asking them for favors. Supposedly, Ricardo does landscaping for multiple influential mortals - politicians, academics, countercultural figures of influence, news anchors. Last year, three very pale people came out of a manhole near his house and didn't leave until the next night. Last February, he escorted a beaten up werewolf into his shed, and the wolf never came out. Kids have seen a "horse-man with long green hair" enter the abandoned, haunted house up the lane; possibly they've briefly glimpsed Twilight and seen the Gardener's angelic form. Oh, and one of the local Agencies claims to have an Exile on payroll who provides them with intel on all the local angels and demons. The Gardener says it's not him. He may keep dossiers on the locals, but he never hands them out. He has information, but he keeps it secret and safe. On the other hand...he probably knows who this talkative Exile is, right? He knows everyone.

The Gardener is a rank 3 angel, focused heavily on speed and finesse. He's tough but not armored, and his powers are primarily focused on subtle manipulation of emotions, causing hallucinations, hiding himself and putting ideas in people's heads. He has Influence (Interpersonal Drama) 1. He can't really fight super well against anyone that raw dicepools won't beat. His Ban is that he instantly discorporates if he's outside the neighborhood for more than four hours and 44 minutes. His Bane is video tape - the stuff inside the black casing, not the casing itself.

Next time: Cold Comfort, the Vagabond


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 9: Robooty

Reinarcnated As A Robot Therapist's Great Ass: A Light Novel

Summer Hopkins was carefully created by the God-Machine to be able to produce warmth, empathy and care. Unusually for an angel, she actually understands the feelings of others' suffering and is happy to say so. Her displays of feeling are somewhat artificial, sure - she calculates the best one for any given complaint or issue based on her internal algorithms, but it's not unlike an adult comforting a child in a calculated but genuine way. The main thing is that Summer's calculations are deliberately miscalibrated. She is created to bring real comfort to 90% of people she deals with. The other 10% are specifically programmed circumstances in which her programming performs the opposite function, and her mission brings her to drive these pained people that speak to her to depression, self-harm, abusive relationships or suicide, because they match the God-Machine's targeting criteria.

Summer existed for about ten years in the guise of a young woman attending support group meetings. In theory it might be more useful for her to be a therapist or counselor, but her interpretation of her mission requires her to integrate into her targets' lives, befriend them occasionally, and inevitably crush someone. She felt the best way to achieve this would be to join a dozen different support groups, each for a different cause, which would provide her with useful anonymity. Her cover is as a server in a burger joint, which funds her nightly trips to support groups. She has developed a complex web of victims, some of whom she genuinely comforts with what appears to be real empathy and some of whom she manipulates into believing they are responsible for their own pain, undeserving of sympathy or understanding. She parasitically latches onto these targets, spending days or weeks destroying their confidence and self-worth. She never questioned why the Machine needed these people to suffer and die.

Last year, Summer was reconstructed. She looks identical to her old existence, but has only hazy memories of it. She went to the restaurant she used to work at, but it shut down. This confused her, and she now spends a great deal of time wandering the empty restaurant, occasionally stopping to stare vacantly into the middle distance. She was altered during her reconstruction - allowed to retain her empathic ability, but now she can no longer stand personal physical contact. She is to continue to provide support or sabotage as needed, but only via indirect communications, such as telephone, Skype or chat programs. She has set herself up with the International Student Suicide Crisis Hotline, a charity focused on helping struggling youths. Fortunately for her, they encourage volunteering from home. She works out of the empty restaurant, using a stolen laptop and headset and connecting through the place's phone line. She doesn't question why it still receives power; it's a communications hub for local Infrastructure, much of which is inside the building.

Summer's mission remains the same. She comforts most of her callers genuinely, unless they fit her preselected criteria, in which case she drives them to despair. She feels no remorse over this, which is part of why her words are so convincing - there is no doubt, no poor feelings over what she does. She's just genuinely committed to fucking these people up. Summer rarely leaves the restaurant these days, and she drives someone to suicide every few days at most. Each victim's name is written on the interior walls after that, and at her last count she was near a hundred names. Most of her victims are British, as she's based out of London, but some are from other places. She doesn't discriminate. She intends to switch services to another helpline soon. She's not stupid, and she's realized someone will eventually investigate ISSCH when they spot the number of suicides.

Sunny is a frail-looking, bony young woman in her human form, fitting her original design for infiltrating abuse, drug or eating disorder support groups. She makes no real effort at this point to show off her angular appearance or wan skin tone, since she doesn't do that any more. She favors baggy hoodies, as she wants to avoid attention rather than gain sympathy. Her voice is high pitched, and she often ends sentences with a lowering inflection. If she were to remove her clothes, it would reveal that her spine and ribcage is a disturbing mix of copper piping, similar to a radiator or boiler, complete with valves. Her stomach is unnaturally thin and made out of a moving glass case that plumbs into the ribcage tubes. Occasionally, it fills with an oily liquid she exudes via the scalp, and this liquid coats the floor of the restaurant. In person, she is frigid and distant these days, avoiding contact as much as possible. Online, she is a warm, caring friend.

Her mission requires that certain targets whidh display heightened emotions or recount tortured experiences must be driven to dangerous ends. Thus, she questions each caller, running down the God-Machine's checklist. Her victims must be older than 25 years and 7 months old. Their biological parents cannot be married to each other. They must distrust at least one immediate family member. They must have gotten into an argument in the last week. They must have some amount of debt or owed service. If these criteria are met based on Summer's probing questions, she drives the caller to depression, anxiety and possible suicide. She does not know why the Machine wants this.

Summer has a surprising amount of fans among those aware of the supernatural, however, for helping their friends. Remember - if you don't fit her criteria, she is genuinely really good at helping people deal with emotional issues and trauma. Sure, she's not doing it out of any altruism, but still. Among the people she's helped, a few have formed a small cult of religious fanatics that believe she is an angelic voice that saves the worthy and punishes the guilty. Certain members of this cult are members of the Long Night, a compact of religious Hunters, and they've begun going after anyone that seems to want to stop her actions. The other angels of London don't trust her, however, and believe she is close to Falling. Her abrupt recall and recommissioning by the Machine has led them to believe that she failed her last mission due to undue use of free will, possibly killing someone she was not intended to kill. They keep an eye on her, and unless the God-Machine ordered it, most would not raise a hand to save her from demons. They believe she is, after all, a flawed machine, risking the entire system. Demons believe she's actually designed to flush them out by going after the people around their Covers, since they so often insinuate themselves into families or estrange themselves from their Cover's relatives. Summer doesn't know. She doesn't care, either. Disrupting Cover is not her mission. Her mission is to drive certain people to suicide or depression. Any harm she does to Cover is incidental, to her. However, a London demon named Ruby Rhodes has a theory. She used to be the angel tasked with destroying the bodies of several of Summer's victims, and she knows many of them were replaced by doppelganger-like creatures. She has no idea if this continues to be the case since her Fall.

Summer is a rank 2 angel. She's not very strong or tough, but very subtle and fast. Her Influence is Heightened Emotions 2, and her powers mostly revolve around implanting ideas in people, driving them to madness, manipulating emotions and avoiding notice. Her Ban is that she is unable to endure physical contact. If touched by another person in any but the most incidental way, she loses all Willpower and flees to her restaurant base, or enters Twilight if already there. Her Bane is the possessions of anyone she has victimized.

As it turns out, hobot is not a good portmanteau of hobo and robot.

Unwashed Isaac, sometimes known as Isaac the Unclean, is an ancient angel, a roaming destroyer of the ungodly. It is said that once, there was a tear in reality, from which demons emerged and into which angels Fell. Isaac's mission was to fix it, no matter the cost. Isaac led an army of angels, sacrificed much, and repaired the world, sealing away this bit of interstitial terrain. He served the Machine loyally, upheld its rule, and purged many Fallen angels, cleansing them of their taint. He has been around for thousands of years. He was made to correct mistakes, keep chaos from growing too great and to protect ignorance. He monitors the world for temporal disruption and threats to major Infrastructure, utilizing an internal radar to track reports of exposed demonic forms or evidence of the supernatural. His mind is constantly full of alerts and alarms, but he can easily spot the most dangerous among them. These are the ones he addresses. The God-Machine has told them all of its foes are stains on the world. They must be cleansed.

Unwashed Isaac appears in key points throughout history. He is said to have prevented countless disasters. He held the earth together when an earthquake nearly destroyed Japan, say the angels. He prevented repeated eruption of Mount Vesuvius before the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He evacuated the American town Little Hope before its destruction by a hurricane. The angels know that Isaac wanders the world, preserving the Machine's strength, martyring himself by consuming the unclean into his own person. Demons, on the other hand, speak of what he destroyed. He was the one that halted one of the most hopeful attacks on Kyoto's Infrastructure, repairing the gears of the temple the demons attacked. He prevented Vesuvius' eruption, yes - by diverting the rage of the earth spirits onto Naples for ten years. Hundreds still died, including a ring of demons hidden in the Bay of Naples. He evacuated Little Hope because of a demonic cult in the town; he couldn't assume the hurricane would wipe them out, so he killed all the witnesses personally, using the hurricane as cover.

Isaac appears as a rag-clad wanderer, bearing the dirt and filth of all nations. He bathes by river and rainfall. No one knows why everyone calls him Isaac. Just...if you meet him, you know his name is Isaac. He travels the world with purpose, despite appearing to be some kind of escaped and dangerous lunatic. He lurks about, watching for overt supernatural activity. He punishes any supernatural being he considers to cross the line, not just demons. Anything that might open the world's eyes to the Machine's existence is a potential stain in need of cleansing. It is nearly impossible to distract him, though rumor has it that he responds with malfunctions and glitches if asked to speak of three entities called the Old Man, the Angry Man and the Blind Man. Isaac appears to be part cult leader, part hobo, encrusted with mud, blood and filth. His bald head is slightly too large for his body, and he often lets it loll heavily on his neck as he stares fixedly at anyone he's dealing with. He's seven feet tall, lurching and moving unsteadily when he walks, no matter how slow he goes. His clumsiness makes him movements hard to predict. He only ever replaces his clothes when they rot on his body, and he favors cassocks, vestments and clerical robes. He isn't sure why.

Isaac barely talks to mortals beyond grunts or single syllables. They rarely become part of his missions. He can speak any number of languages as well as he pleases, but typically only does so when dealing with supernatural beings, generally in a low growl. His fingers are little more than tangled wires, intertwined around each other. Beneath his layers of rotting clothes, his body is made of springs, clocks and cables, the false flesh that once covered them long since peeled away. When he fights, he becomes an exploding mass of strangling wires and killing needles, his head balanced on top. When he does this, he nearly doubles in size in every dimension. He quickly and mercilessly removes all evidence of the Machine's existence as well as anything that might be considered beyond what mortals think of as natural. He is obsessive in this mission, offering his targets only one chance to stop whatever they're doing. He never reveals his nature or true form until they reject this advice - at which point he casts off his garments and heads into battle. He does not stop chasing them until he feels the world is once more without stain.

Every so often, a demon theroizes that Isaac is not one angel but many. Some take comfort in this, saying he must not be as powerful as the legends say. Others find the idea of more than one Isaac terrifying. There's only the one, thankfully, but he's so familiar with Infrastructure that he can easily pass for a hidden part of the gears if he wants, emerging elsewhere in the world by teleporting between Infrastructure. Some demons say that Isaac loves poems and will stop chasing you for 24 hours if you recite one he's never heard before. It's...not quite true. His Ban relates to poetry, but only that of William Blake, and it only slows him down. Few demons realize it, but the phrase 'dark satanic mills' causes Isaac to cease movement and action for seven days. Something in his mind associates the phrase with the God-Machine, and it takes him a week to break out of the meditation it engenders. He can be distracted...but only by something that is higher on his priorities. Thus, you need someone to be a bigger threat to the Machine than you are if you want to get him to retarget. He's got a long memory, but if a threat doesn't cause trouble for a few months he will reprioritize it much lower on his list.

There are three figures that Isaac hates. He's never been able to catch and stop them, because for some reason his programming always seems to stop him just short of engagement. The first of these is the Blind Man, the second the Promethean named Varney, and the third the immortal Hunter called the Chevalier Theleme. For reasons he doesn't understand, he always ends up cleaning up the messes they leave behind rather than confronting them directly, and it infuriates him. Some demons think that he'd reward someone that took them out. He offers no rewards intentionally...but it is just possible that the sheer gratitude he'd feel would be the only thing that might trigger the Fall of the Unclean.

Isaac is Rank 5, and easily one of the most dangerous things in the world. He's nearly three times stronger than the world's strongest normal person, insanely tough and super fast. He has Influences of Infrastructure 3 and Law 2. He's decently armored, and he can cause holy terror, start fires, implant ideas in people, cause machines to break down, foretell the future, travel quickly, heal himself, track things magically, move super fast, and withstand most attacks. His Ban is that the poems of William Blake read aloud halve his speed, and the phrase 'dark satanic mills' causes him to freeze in place for a week. His Bane is a cup completely filled with coins, each donated by a difference source, with the air gaps filled by liquid taken from the bodily fluids of at least four agents of chaos.

Next time: The Exiles.

Bent But Unfallen

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 10: Bent But Unfallen

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map

Carta was ordered to map the city, long ago. The first city. She was well on her way to doing so when, out of nowhere, language and humanity and everything splintered and broke. She failed the mission, and for her failure she was boxed up. She has been boxed up and released more times than she can count, but she never actually received an update to her original imperatives. In fact, she can no longer sense the Machine at all. "Map the city" is all she has. Unfortunately, the sheer number of human cities in existence and their constant state of growth and renewal makes this mission literally impossible. She has tentatively put her skills to other, less frustrating uses, but Carta refuses to deviate too far from her mission parameters for fear of losing her sense of self. A secondary program in her core, however, has awakened, and it makes her lash out at the mortals that so frustrate her.

Carta can remember only bits and pieces of the first city. She's unsure if her memory is malfunctioning or if the God-Machine erased parts of it after her original failure. Both are possible. She recalls a great tower of red stone and shining bronze, a miracle of engineering by any standard of the period. She remembers unity. Humans spoke with one tongue, and so they were as one. Carta understands that language is the key to everything. Everything. If you can speak of a thing, capture the idea in words, then it can be made. Modern human languages, compared to that original, are pitiful things. They are fractured, able to encompass a mere three dimensions and stuck in linear time. She remembers that the original language was so much more. It could paint with starlight and travel all space in a single syllable. This, she believes, is why the Machine broke it. She has buried what little of the original language that she can still recall as deep in her memory banks as possible, to keep it hidden. Breaking the ur-language, she believes, destroyed the nascent threat and potential that humans had, but it also made her mission impossible to complete. The Machine gave her the eyes to see, the hands to draw with, but it gave her no means to travel physical space fast enough to keep up with humanity's drive to tear down, expand, build and rebuild. Even worse, they've made so many cities now that she doesn't even know which city is the city that has to be mapped.

After her original failure, Carta was sent out by the Machine to make more maps. For millenia, she was endlessly released and boxed in an endless loop of constant failure. Some stand out more than others. She was sent to Ur and it fell to drought. She was sent to Koumbi Saleh and the trade routes went obsolete and it was abandoned. She was sent to Troy and it was razed. She was sent to Constantinople and found it trapped in a constant cycle of destruction and rebuilding. She was sent to London and it burned down. She never got her operating parameters updated, so she kept trying to map each, and she always failed and was always recalled. Her last official mission was in Kowloon Walled City, and it was the first time in millenia that she'd felt hope. At that point the thing was packed with blocks and had little room left to expand into. She worked frantically...and in 1993, it was demolished before she could finish. Fed up, she reached out to the Machine in an effort to sever her connection and finally rebel - and found that the connection was gone. Either the Machine sensed her intent and blocked her preemptively, or it had decided to classify her such a failure that she had to be abandoned at last.

Carta has decided to keep doing her mission, even in Exile. She's done it for millenia, and she's terrified of losing her sense of self by deviating too far. Plus hey, maybe if she finally succeeds, the God-Machine will take her back! Not that she particularly wants to work for it, at this point, but it's still better than having no purpose whatsoever. Carta's not totally sure which city is "the" city to be mapped, and so she has spent the last decade charting a route from one city to the next. She's currently in Shanghai, having decided that relevance of city is defined by population size of the city proper. However, she's doubting herself and may soon move on to Guangzhou, which has a larger population taking into account total metropolitan area. Or maybe it should be the city with largest cultural impact. Or the one where the most languages are spoken. Carta frets over this constantly.

While she performs her official mission, she has allowed herself one deviation. She draws. She draws what she sees, rather than just maps. She's talented by human standards, but she believes that other angels must be better than her at it, because she believes other angels must be better than her at everything. She enjoys drawing, as it distracts her from her own loneliness. She dreams of Falling, though she thinks it's impossible for her to do presently. Human technological development has given her slight hope, and she's started using human satellites and mapping software to try and make her job easier. She's going to have to enhance the mapping programs, certainly - otherwise she'll just be mapping brick and steel, not the Infrastructure beneath - but Carta's preparing to swap to this task on the basis that it seems slightly more doable than her original plan. Even so, Carta is deeply unhealthy. The God-Machine deeming her a failure broke her a long time ago. Her memory is faulty and prone to occasional blackouts, too. During her blackouts, Carta's dark side comes forth. She hates humanity. She really, really hates humanity. She blames them for her plight, with their endless movement and changing. Seeing new builds in a city fills her with indescribable rage, and she regularly sets them on fire. Mere destruction no longer satisfies her fury, and Carta's darker half has started targeting existing apartment buildings. Rubble's easier to map, and dead humans can't build things.

Carta was designed to observe, record and little else. She has very few social skills, though she feels obligated to try, at least when she's doing art rather than work or when she's dreaming of Falling. Carta's dark side is a misanthrope, reclusive and extremely destructive. Carta hopes that contact with humanity, which she was expressly not programmed to do at all, may be the key to allowing her to Fall. She has very carefully studied what mortals refer to as an "introvert personality type," and she has learned to at least mimic the behavior associated with it, which helps mask her poor social programming. She has taken to drawing buildings and, recently, people in soft, delicate drawings of extreme skill, which has allowed her to find a place in the local art scene. Dark Carta, on the other hand, is just a ball of hate. She'd be done, she knows, if not for these...humans. If they'd just stop breeding and building, she could finish the fucking map and be back to the Machine. She hates them, and she loves burning their cities. The bigger, newer and shinier the building, the more joy she finds in its destruction. Her body count is currently in the dozens. It will only go up from here.

Physically, Carta retains the body she's been using since the start: a dark-skinned, dark-haired woman. She keeps her hair chin-length currently, and by modern standards she's short and scrawny, but her eyes are sharp and commanding. Her angelic form is a whirring humanoid full of cogs, with metal skin cast from the black metals harvested from early meteor strikes. Her head has four faces, each with ten eyes that absorb light entirely and are black as the void. Six arms sprout from her torso, each ending in a six-fingered hand with sharp, graphite-tipped nails.

Carta resents the Machine for making her job impossible, but she isn't sure if it was deliberate. Some demons believe she's a trap, bait to bring them in so it can catch them around her. Carta does believe the Machine still watches her, because she does occasionally spot angels observing her actions, but they never interact with her in any way. She wonders if her mission was sabotaged or just collateral damage, and if the Machine thinks she might be able to succeed, or if her true mission is not what she believes it is. Some demons have heard of her ambitions to use satellite mapping and think she wants to upload herself to the internet. She doesn't - she likes her identity, such as it is...at least, as long as she still has some hope that she can fulfill her task. If she were to become desperate enough, though, she might attempt to upload herself, merge with the internet and take over the human satellite networks - or even something similar to the Machine itself. Carta's maps are insanely valuable, incidentally. She can see through physical buildings into the Infrastructure beneath - and, for that matter, the extradimensional boltholes that demons hide in. She assumes that this ability was intended, and that she's supposed to map all she can see, so she does. She isn't omniscient and can't see anything she isn't, y'know, physically looking at...but even if the Machine deliberately set her up to fail, her mapping of boltholes is hugely potent intel. That, in fact, might be the true purpose of her existence.

Carta is a rank 1 angel, very weak. She has Influence (Cartography) 2, and she can start fires and find paths to places, but is otherwise not particularly good at anything but drawing stuff. Her Ban is that whenever she sees a map, she must stop to study it, and if it has blank space between the edge of the map and the edge of the paper or board it's on, she has to fill that space accurately to the best of her knowledge. Her Bane is bronze. She's pretty sure it didn't used to be, before the first city was destroyed, but her memory on the subject is malfunctioning.

Not a demon.

Dame Seele, the Angel-Maker, dates back to just post-WW2. For reasons no one is entirely sure of, a ton of angels Fell during the Second World War. Much of the Cold War, for the Machine, was spent reclaiming these lost angels, especially in Berlin. Even there, though, it took time and effort. Outgunned and outnumbered by human spy agencies and emboldened demons alike, it began to coopt the enemy's resources. Dame Seele was one of a trio deployed in 1948 to fix things. She worked with Herr Korper and Herr Herz in an extradimensional lab to subvert new agents to serve the Machine, undermine the demons' labors or shape human politics to more useful ends. They worked amazingly together. Herz analyzed the target's potential impact on social networks, Seele retrieved them and introduced new directives or ideological shifts into their minds, and Korper upgraded them with special implants to give them abilities needed for their new mission. They created a number of human Stigmatics and sleeper agents for the Machine, and Seele became fascinated by the wide range of behaviors and psychologies in play in her targets. Still, it was't long before behavioral patterns started to repeat, and when Korper explained the limits of "human angels," she suggested they expand their scope of practice.

That's when the Angel-Maker started kidnapping demons. Her first was a member of a small, independent ring of Saboteurs in East Berlin. He was returned to his comrades later that night, and he killed each of them in their homes before shredding his own Cover. Seele found demon psychology far more fascinating than that of humans, and Korper and Herz agreed that repurposing demon agents was more effective. Thus, Seele was permitted to continue this way for decades. Die Engelfabrik, as local demons came to know the trio ('the Angel Factory'), was used to internally and invisibly reformat demons, then release them to serve the Machine. In 1972, a faction of Integrators attempted to turn over a hundred demons to the Machine's hunter angels; for more on this, see the Cold War Dark Era. The Angel Factory was blamed for this catastrophic betrayal.

Eventually, the Machine's influence recovered from its post-War losses. The Angel Factory was no longer necessary - angels could once more be summoned with greater ease than this whole complex procedure. They continued to operate, but Dame Seele found she was running into new problems. As paranoia among Berlin's demons rose, she had to swap between East and West for targeting to get anything done, and that limited their ability to focus on the power base of either one. New surveillence tech forced her to take more precautions to avoid raising questions, especially after she was nearly destroyed by a demon who had prepared anti-kidnapping countermeasures. This event proved the existence of the Angel Factory, which ahd prior to then merely been a theory among demons. In 1978, things came to a head - Seele had to go further and further afield, and Herz was busy researching new ways to use their targets. Neither noticed the seeds of Korper's Fall as they began to argue about what to do with one of their demon captives.

Korper set the lab on fire and fled with the demon in the confusion. Seele and Herz did what damage control they could, then Seele set out to retrieve Korper. The capture of a newly Fallen demon was interesting, and they had to catch him or their entire operation would be blown. He raced through East Berlin, gathered her sleepers among the Stasi and KGB - but she was too late. Korper got past the Berlin Wall before she could catch him, and when she returned to the lab, it was half destroyed and Herz was gone. She realized, seven years before the Wall fell, that the Cold War was...well, largely over. The Angel Factory was dead. Her mission was failed, and she...had nothing to do, now an Exile. She possessed the first member of her human sleeper network, now dwindling - a med student who had ended up not being required in a larger plan Herz had set up years before. She went into psychology, working in a mental health institution, then a law enforcement lab studying abnormal psych. She began to think of her subjects, for the first time, as her patients.

In the 80s, the Satanic Panic brought Seele to America for the first time. There, she settled back into her role as mental programmer. The CIA occasionally called on her (well, the human she was living inside) to deal with terrorists or criminals, but not enough to maintain the finances she needed. Parents brought her kids, claiming they were brainwashed, and paid her to control their social environs until they behaved. However, Seele quit that line of work before 'deprogramming' fell out of fashion. She recognized that most of the kids brought to here were not the cultists their parents imagined...well, not before she finished with them, that is. After, several did end up Stigmatic. These days, she jumps between the bodies of therapists that her former patients bring to her attention. Rumors of an Exile that can extract secrets persist, an angel that can break anyone in interrogation. Demons and angels alike have reached out to her with offers of work. The Angel-Maker lives still.

She prefers to possess older, professional women working in the field of psychology. Almost all have at least streaks of gray hair or full gray, though it is unclear if this is because they started that way or it's a sign of her possession. She is unfailingly polite, professional and understanding. She is an active listener who never judges or blames, and she considers psychology to be her calling. (Honesty is not; she is a practiced liar who can tell partial truths easily by withholding information or reframing it.) She coopts assets for use by her clients still, but her clients are now 'whoever offers her the most professionally interesting job.' She's made sleeper agents for angels and demons alike, though most of her clients end up being demons. If a client brings her her price and a target, she takes a new patient, shaping them to the client's directives. Assassin, informant, convert, sponsor...anyone can be anything.

The price is almost always another patient. What she does with these patients, she says, is her business. She politely but firmly refuses to discuss it. Attempts to observe these patients post-treatment is...confusing. Their actions are varied, but almost always disrupt some key part of their social environs. No one seems sure if she's a sadist or just smiles a lot because she enjoys being a psychologist. Her smiles seem genuine, at least, and she prefers patients with unique tics or behavioral patterns. Demons, especially. In her true form, the Angel-Maker appears to be a starved, stretched woman-ish thing. She has two extra-long arms, then three vestigial helper arms that end in surgical tools of alien design. Her main arms end in hands with too many fingers, each with too many joints, to allow for maximum manipulation of objects. The fingers end in high-gauge needles, which she detaches and leaves inside her victims. The frames of four wings extend from her back, but they're essentially just wiring and bone, with mere fragments of flesh, feathers and metal rotting and rusting off in flakes.

The Angel-Maker's pet sleepers check dead drops that request her for jobs. It's extra security - they can't be interrogated, because they're operating on autopilot. Once Seele takes a job, she sets up a temporary site to meet her clients at, work on their target and accept payment. She prefers old mental health facilities - asylums, abandoned institutes, condemned group homes, that kind of thing. It might just be for logistics, as they usually have rooms that prevent exit, or she might be nostalgic. Some rumors say she has infiltrated an active mental health facility, where all of the staff are her patients, forcibly corrected to act properly there, with unsubstantiated rumor saying she has two demons among the general population, having reprogrammed them to forget their nature somehow. She is known to love desperation, having spent a lot of time working with desperate people. She can sense it easily. She does not discourage the rumors that she can erase memories, because that means desperate people come to her, which means more patients. She can't - but her demonic patients find that there are some interesting effects to her work. Hunter angels back off from them temporarily, circling to see what they'll do, which can be mistaken for disinterest by observers. And...well, yes, her patients suffer blackouts and periods of memory loss, so she must have done something, right?

Angels approach her sometimes. Sometimes for work of their own, with the usual fees, because she's better at what she does than practically anyone. She's an Exile, but to date no angel has ever harmed her or even spoken against her. If she refuses to give up information due to doctor-patient confidentiality, they never argue. They leave. And...this frustrates her, which'd be clear to people that knew her tics. She hates being given the cold shoulder by angels. This superiority complex they seem to have towards her may be why she's happy to take angels as patients...but she's also refused to work on high-ranking ones, too. Maybe she just hasn't been given the right offer of payment, though. And sometimes, her work on angels goes beyond the bounds of her contract. She often removes personality traits she believes will increase their risk of Falling. Some say that angels operated on by the Angel-Maker are even more robotic than human sleeper agents.

Seele is a rank 3 angel, but crazy powerful. She's strong, tough, and insanely fast. She has Influences of Minds 2, Mental Health Institutions 1, and a wide array of powers to alter thoughts and emotions, drive people mad, condition them or drain their life force and will. Also her armor rating is just...missing. Oops. Her Ban is 'truly' Satanic iconography and symbols, which I believe prevent her from approaching, but it's not totally clear. Her Bane is pieces of the Berlin Wall and other old, defunct Cold War artifacts.

Next time: The Lead Collector, the Keeper of Secrets

Lead As In Bullets

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 11: Lead As In Bullets

The gun is good.

Damocles is practically legend, at least if you believe his story. Long ago, he traveled the land, destroying the first demons and their greatest agents. They say that he personally ended an era of strange giants that nearly tore the Machine apart. He was the Destroyer of Destroyers, and each mission was easier than the last. It was his own power that was his doom, not a Fall or a defeat. He was deployed one last time, but could find no worthy foes. Without a mission, he was abandoned due to the Machine's targeting error. His titan-shattering power was sealed away as an Exile. He wandered the land, watching humans create new killing tools in a quest to perfect their own destruction. After centuries, he found a group of hunter angels after a demon and her Stigmatic cult. He offered to help them, but they attacked their obsolete brother. He cut them all down in one blow, then the cultists. The demon was sure she would die, but Damocles asked her if she intended to harm him, and when she swore she did not, he vanished. He is the forgotten warrior, the sword that destroys all who wrong him, the mercenary angel.

It's a lie, but it is built around a true idea. The Exile that now calls itself Damocles was a portion of the Damocles Project, which was an ongoing effort to create the ultimate Destroyer angel and involved constant updating of angelic templates for maximum destructive potential whenever human technology shifted. The Machine created the legend of Damocles as a viral meme targeting demons, to fill them with fear and cause them to make mistakes. The Exile Damocles was deployed in 1835 to catalog advances in human firearms technology following the invention of the Colt revolver. He spent decades studying guns, but World War I brought more weapons advances than he could keep up with, even with constant frenzied analysis and testing. It even released a few of its experimental results to the Entente and Axis powers to field test them. It worked for a time. World War II ended it.

Weapons of mass destruction became the key to military strategy, and the Damocles Project was refocused on bombs and chemical weapons over firearms, and these were so thoroughly outside the angel's scope of knowledge that it was unable to bring the same precision and skill to the job. Conventional guns saw smallscale improvement, but the scope of war had become too wide. The Damocles Project was deprioritized, and angels came to steal its resources - including the bodies of the Stigmatics and angels involved in the project - and repurpose them for higher priority projects. When the angel's communications specialist counterpart tried to convince them to stop, the other angels destroyed him and took his parts, too. The Damocles Exile-to-Be realized that somehow, the angels did not recognize them as part of the Machine. They had, for some reason, been cut off.

Some demons theorize that the massive uptick in Falls during WW2 meant the God-Machine responded by amputating nonessential Infrastructure, personnel and projects to conserve its resources. Sometimes it did so by blowing them up in a scorched earth defense, while other times, as in the Damocles Project, it was haphazard at best. Damocles hid in his lab and waited for the angels to depart, having noticed a group of demons nearby. At that point he fled the facility in fear of a bomb strike or similar, though it never came. The retrieval team never returned. He recovered the work he considered most precious, headed back to work and...found that no one noticed he existed, angel or demon. They ignored the entire facility for the rest of the war. He named himself Damocles officially, and he now serves as a technology trader. Mostly guns, but he's expanded the operation a bit. He seeks out weapons of power across the globe, because he's running on a simple theory: if he can catalog every gun in existence, the Machine will need to take him back because his mission will officially be complete. He knows that killing tools are always in demand, so he finances his work by providing guns and ammo and weirder things to...well, any interested party, no matter who they are.

Damocles, also called the Lead Collector, can often be found at arms deals, weapons auctions (of any kind, collectible and old or mordern), museums with exhibits on war or weapons development labs. He appears to be a nondescript, slightly taller than average man with a slight stoop to his neck and a suit cut in a style that was big in the 40s. He is quiet and rarely speaks, nods a lot and likes to fold his hands together, and he's very bad at eye contact. Showing these noticeable tics is his method of showing he's interested in trading weapons for intel and technology. His deals are pretty much always good faith, because he wants to see the field testing of his prototypes. When he's actually excited, his index fingers tap involuntarily. He never smiles when negotiating. A smile means he's using his intimidation cycle of behaviors. If threatened or moved against, he gives a single warning - he mentions his (false) legend as Damocles, raises his voice or allows a bit of his angelic form to show. He gives examples of others who have met terrible fates by meddling. If this is ignored, he heads to the offender's enemies and starts arming them with dangerous weapons and as much intel as he can give on their foe's location.

Damocles is able to do this because while he's not a killer angel, he is a data collector, and he's very good at using his powers to draw information from nowhere about both the clients that use his tech and the people that piss him off. He prefers to let others fight for him. When he runs out of options or people start successfully harming his reputation as the Damocles, he has to act directly. He's not as powerful as he claims, but it's smart not to underestimate a guy who's spent two centuries studying weapons and wars. He is able to turn weapons on their users or force foes to attack rashly so he can take advantage of mistakes. He retreats to incorporeality as a last resort, but always returns to ambush and kill his opponents - he has a reputation that he needs to maintain if he's going to survive. He makes sure to always arrange for a brutal, public display of the bodies, too. His angelic form is a hunched creature that hovers on legs that end in flamethrower-esque jets. His head is something like a flesh-and-metal cross between a skull and a gun, with the barrel serving as a single eye. Two of his four arms end in cannons, the other two in hands. His body is made of two rotating cylinders that leak sulfuric oils, allowing him to rotate his upper half around to attack in any direction. A halo of long, bladed bullets encircles his head.

Damocles is rumored to trade in anti-angel tech. Which is...mostly true. He trades in silver bullets and other anti-supernatural rounds, and while he has never discovered a bullet that is universally effective against angels, he does have Exorcist Ammo for sale. These bullets are able to drain Essence, as long as Damocles is alive to power them. In theory he might have more powerful gear - but the price would be quite high, given he already requests magical weapons in exchange for that. Some whisper that Damocles never wields his sword because bringing that out is a sign he'll be going Biblical on your ass. The truth is...well, obviously, he doesn't have the Sword of Damocles. No one does. There isn't one. There never was a singular Damocles. Over the course of the Damocles Project, seven angels were created that bore the name Damocles; Damocles is not one of them. One of them did carry a sowrd that his predecessor built for it, but Damocles has only seen it once - it was sealed in the old lab a few years after he was deployed, and it vanished at some point during the angelic attack on the facility. Damocles has used a sword, once, when a group of demons refused to pay for blueprints. It was a bluff, but they relented and paid up immediately. Damocles is currently working on something that'll actually pass for a supersword in combat, but it's going to be hard to live up to the legend.

Some believe that only rare, ancient artifacts of immense power are capable of killing Damocles. He likes this rumor and encourages it, because it's resulted in a few rare weapons coming into his possession that he'd never have a chance at acquiring otherwise. His favorite trick is nudging the spread of this rumor so it reaches people that plan to attack him, then discorporate once struck by whatever relic they bring out. Then he ambushes them when they least expect it. So far, the trick's worked four times - once against a lone Tempter (read: demon that wants to just have a good time on Earth) with a grudge, once against a ring of Saboteurs, one against a mage, and once against an artifact-wielding Hunter who was almost certainly from the Aegis Kai Doru in Hunter.

Damocles is a rank 3 angel. He's not a weakling by any stretch, and he's shockingly tough, plus Influence (Weapons) 3 is a very powerful tool. He's just, uh, not a super-angel death machine. He's fast and defensive, and he can fire off blasts out of his cannons, make himself hard to spot, make machines go haywire, travel quickly, hide as a human or spy on people from afar by pulling information out of his ass. His Ban is 'fake weapons' such as toy guns or boffer swords, which I assume means he can't approach them, and his Bane is olive branches. He also wields an artifact named Eris' Revolver. It's a normal revolver, but anyone shot with it has to make a roll or be forced to attack one of their allies if there are any present as their next attack. If they resist, the gun loses power for the rest of the scene. Exorcist Ammo is Damocles' most prized toy to sell - each shot drains Essence based on how much damage it deals to a spirit, angel or ghost. (Werewolves, apparently, are fine.) Further, if enough damage is dealt, Damocles gains the drained Essence. However, if the attack roll is a dramatic failure, the bullet destroys the gun it was fired from.

A Danger To All Existence

Dosiel, the Keeper of Secrets, appears to be an old white man specifically because age, whiteness and maleness are all sources of privelege and power, and Dosiel understands power. He lives in a mansion on a hill, because high places remind him of the detachment and purity he has left behind to take comfort in fine furniture, good whiskey and old books. He requests that demons refer to him as 'Mr. Black' or 'Uncle' or any other number of respectful-but-friendly titles that mean little. He is, quite possibly, the oldest Exile still alive on Earth. Before he was Exiled, he was a powerful and specialized information gatherer meant to collate information from a wide array of sources. He was recycled often, like most angels, but due to his specialized nature his mind remained intact - it'd be harder to keep retraining him. As a result, his personality had a chance to grow and mature.

Everything changed when he discovered some catastrophic secret. No one except Dosiel is entirely certain what it was or how it happened. It may be that a mission revealed far more than the Machine anticipated, or that Dosiel's highly specialized mental design let him connect data in an unexpected way. Whatever the case, the information was so important and dangerous that the Machine could not allow itself to know it. Dosiel was disconnected from the Machine entirely through a series of failsafes, insulating it from the information. It then immediately set about making Dosiel's life comfortable, to ensure the angel had no reason to Fall or aid the Fallen.

Dosiel is handsome and distinguished but not memorable. He could be an old-looking 50 or a young-looking 70. In his angelic form, he is a shrunken, mummified human corpse suspended in a 10-foot-wide orrery of copper and verdigris. Poles cross the orrery, piercing through the mummy and keeping it in place, and it has arms and wings attached to it which can be reconfigured in any number of ways. The mummy body is technically mobile but Dosiel primarily acts through the orrery's arms, which are stronger. Dosiel is polite but paternalistic, especially towards demons. He considers status to derive from knowledge alone, and he is certain he knows more than anyone. Even the Machine, because he knows at least one thing it does not. His primary motivator is ego. He knows he's too important to be recycled and reintegrated. The Machine dares not destroy him, for fear that he'd reveal his knowledge. God itself has dedicated resources to ensuring his life is happy and comfortable. And so he feels the need to assert his superiority to others, and demons are more fun than the detached, stoic angels.

To ensure that he keeps getting visitors, Dosiel has worked to make a reputation as a reliable informations ource. Angels sometimes come to him when the intel provided by the Machine proves insufficient or they feel they must tap unofficial resources to get a mission done. Demons are his preferred customers, however, and they buy all kinsd of information. He can be quite reliable, if approached correctly. He's honest, discreet and easy to find. He accepts information as payment as well as favors or errands, and if you're obsequious and funny enough, he'll let you maintain a line of credit. However, he can also be vindictive and cruel. He won't ever sell bad information, but he doesn't like you, his prices increase, often requiring dangerous or humiliating tasks, and he hands out embarassing info on you to your enemies. Once you're in his bad books, it's nearly impossible to get out.

When not buying and selling information and hanging out with demons, Dosiel likes to hang out with Stigmatics. He usually positions himself as a mentor, using his notable mental abilities to help them make sense of their bizarre visions and impulses, but he'll also play the role of dealer or patron, helping them feed their addictions and needs. Most demons assume he does this to groom them for information - it's why most people collect Stigmatics, right? This may or may not be true. There is only one secret Dosiel won't ever sell - and, in fact, cannot, due to his Ban. That'd be the one the Machine Exiled him for learning. He can imply that he'd make an exception, but he is in fact physically incapable of actually telling someone. He's just allowed to lie about doing so if he thinks it'll get him something.

Some Integrators believe that the Machine would like to be rid of Dosiel but can't act against him. The details of their stories vary, but they believe that either Dosiel has a failsafe to release his secret on death (which would need to be disabled to get back in the Machine's favor) or the information itself is potent enough to be a sort of Ban for the God-Machine itself. Thus, a steady supply of Integrators often try to mess with Dosiel, requiring him to relocate every few decades for his own safety. He doesn't try very hard to get rid of the rumors, though, because sometimes it brings other kinds of demons around to entertain him. Many demons assume the secret must be dangerous in a figurative sense - something the Machine couldn't risk allowing to go rogue, so it had to silence Dosiel. However, some demons theorize that the information itself could be the danger. If it had been allowed to propagate through the Machine, they think, the Machine could have suffered irreparable harm, in the same way that bad information can be used to harm a computer program irreparably. Others believe the real point is the Infrastructure in and under Dosiel's house. They think the secret is a lie, that Dosiel is a failsafe to keep demons attacking that Infrastructure or something similar. The most paranoid even suspect that the Infrastructure might manipulate or harm those that deal with Dosiel, marking them or tracking them somehow, or influencing their minds.

Some demons doubt that it is possible for information to be dangerous enough that the Machine could not afford to know it and would bargain with someone to hide it. They believe that Dosiel's true purpose is destroying demonkind. Dosiel cannot consciously receive information from the Machine due to his Exile status, but that doesn't mean it can't send him messages by other means. Stigmatics receive messages all the time and they're not plugged in! And look how many he surrounds himself with, after all. Thus, they fear that all of Dosiel's information is tainted, part of a grand plan to destroy them that even Dosiel may not understand. Others think Dosiel is the key to resisting the Machine, even more than they are. They say that his willingness to work with demons and sell them information often harms the Machine in ways no single demon could manage. If so, Dosiel is running an incredibly long con on the God-Machine and is a valuable ally.

Dosiel is a rank 3 angel, extremely fast and tough and no slouch in punching people, either. His Influence is Information 3. He can implant ideas in minds, drive people insane, steal Essence, implant missions in humans or disguise himself as a human. His Ban is that he cannot reveal the secret that caused his Exile. He is incapable of communicating it by any means whatsoever. His Bane is nonsensical input. Truly and completely random information or inspired human absurdity physically harm him.

Next time: The Lost Signal, the Guardian of the Unbuilt

Whoops, You Broke It

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 12: Whoops, You Broke It

Actually, she's probably the most angelic-looking angel so far.

Lavadiel was originally created for a simple recon mission. Routine. She had a rudimentary Cover and was put together from recycled parts of other angels, like so many others. She inherited a few memories and tics from her predecessors, but was overall essentially a completely average angel. At some point, however, she was attacked. She's still not sure what her attackers were or why they did it. Rather than kill her, however, they merely damaged an essential component of her body: the bit responsible for receiving communications from the Machine. Thus, she became an Exile. Ever since, she wandered the world, looking for a way to repair herself and receive new orders. In the past few years, she has become obsessed with the idea that the necessary components could be harvested from other techgnostic beings. While she has not yet become desperate enough to attack functional angels, demons and Exiles are viable targets.

Lavadiel has pale yellow skin, similar to both parchment and crystal somehow, which makes a faint tinkling noise when she moves. Her body is tall and lean to an inhuman degree, and four eyes are set in a diamond on her face, which has no other features. When she speaks, her voice emerges from nothing. Her arms are exceptionally long, with her hands dangling around her knees, and each finger is a long talon. She has a pair of limbs rather like featherless wings that emerge from her back. Their flesh is more crystalline than the rest of her, with translucent blades poking randomly through the skin. Most dramatic and obvious, however, is the back of her head. She has carefully flayed her own papery flesh away from the back of her head, pinning the flaps down for ease of access, and removed the entire back of her skull. Her exposed brain is mostly obscured by a mass of crystal spikes, circuitry, strange organs and weird devices, all of which are drawn from the beings she attacks, harvesting parts of their brains to integrate into her own. These modifications are extensive, and they extend the size of her head by about a foot and a half both up and back.

Lavadiel retains the rudiments of cover she was given for her task. In this form, she appears to be an unhealthily thin human woman with violet eyes and a filth-covered face. She collects small, apparently random objects, including a number of notebooks, and talks to herself nearly constantly. She does not appear to notice much of the world around her. Some of this is a reflection of Lavadiel's broken mind, which is growing ever more erratic as she performs solo brain surgery on herself. Because this cover identity is ragged and incomplete, some of her true appearance occasionally flashes through - her eyes turn solid lavender, or the sound of her clothes rubbing together becomes crystalline chimes for an instant.

Most of the time, Lavadiel has trouble interacting with people due to her efforts to maintain her cover as a mentally unstable homeless woman. She avoids others of her kind (or demons, for that matter) when not hunting, but she can't just attack and harvest at random. She is carefully working through a trial-and-error process of hunting down demons and Exiles with particular mission parameters and natures. Interactiong with her if you don't fit her criteria is usually pretty safe. If you do, on the other hand, well...less so. When interacting with demons, she is cautious and polite. Her obsession with self-repair leaves little room for any other interests or feelings, including disdain for demons. She tends to find demons vaguely confusing, sure, because she has no idea why anyone would choose to break away from the Machine and become like her deliberately. However, she acknowledges that they can be quite useful if she can find one who is an enemy of her prospective target. Other than that, she has no real interest in demons as a whole. Lavadiel hunts by ambush. She stalks her prey over a long period, learning their habits, abilities and weaknesses before she strikes. She aims for when her target is most vulnerable; while she is obsessed, she's very patient.

Many demons assume, due to Lavadiel's obsession and obvious disability, that she is stupid, easy to manipulate or foolish. This is entirely untrue, and is a good way to get added to her list of potential victims. While she prefers a methodical approach to hunting, if an idiot just drops in her lap, she won't turn down the free victim. That said, she sometimes plays up her "stupidity" deliberately, because it can be useful. If a demon thinks she's a useful idiot, they could bring her more targets or help her hunt. It also keeps her safe, as those that think her defective usually don't believe she's a threat. She's socially aware enough to tell when someone's underestimating her and won't go out of her way to disabuse them of the idea. Several demons are pretty sure there's a pattern to her attacks, but they lack the information to recognize what it is. If a bunch of demons managed to share information openly and freely, it'd be possible for them to work out what she actually was aiming for and protect themselves, but that kind of free sharing of information is not common among dmeons. Thus, they often reach false conclusions about her goals, mistaking her for a serial killer or otherwise misconstruing her targeting criteria - or even believing she's pursuing a personal grudge.

Once Lavadiel secures her prey, she takes them to a safe location and extracts whatever part of their brain she thinks will help her. Lavadiel doesn't go out of her way to kill her victims - that's a waste of effort. The results she leaves behind typically survive, and thus become sources of information on what the Exile is actually...doing. How a demon reacts to having part of their brain literally removed varies, as does the reaction of their allies. Some mercy-kill their wounded friends on the basis that lacking a vital function makes life not worth living, while others do their best to care for their maimed allies and hope they heal. The surgeries might leave someone nearly vegetative...or they might make someone hypersensitive to specific stimuli and unable to react to others. The work might even release latent connections to the Machine, granting the victim strange insights. The results are wholly unpredictable and can shift with time, though so far no victim has yet made a full recovery without immense effort on the part of their allies. Still, some of them have become oracles of the Machine's activities or plans, making confused and bizarre predictions for their allies to interpret.

Mechanically, having part of your brain scooped out by Lavadiel gives the Hollowed condition. You pick a single Mental or Social attribute when you gain it; you no longer have that attribute. At all. Any roll that would require that attribute is automatically a dramatic failure - as is any unrolled action that would use that attribute. If you lose Manipulation, odds are you are no longer capable of, say, ordering a coffee from a barista, because that would normally be an unrolled Manipulation-based activity. The GM may choose to give the character random insights into the Machine, but these will always be difficult for the character to convey. The Condition resolves when you get back your missing brain bits and put them back in your head.

Lavadiel is a rank 2 angel, strong and fast but not especially tough. She has Influence (Shadows) 2 and is mostly notable for being really hard to hit, moving super fast and being able to fire off blasts, prevent people from forming memories, steal knowledge by doing brain surgery on her victims and herself (which is why her stats are so high for a rank 2 angel), drain health and Essence, hide as a human, and use telekinesis. Her Ban is obsessive information recording - Lavadiel is paranoid about forgetting what she knows before she can be debriefed by the Machine, and must physically record all information she possesses. If prevented from taking notes, or if her notebooks are threatened or destroyed, she flies into a blind rage. Her Bane is any flower which symbolizes forgetfulness, such as dogwood, poppy, bluet, lotus or day lily. The rest of the plant is harmless to her - only the flower is her Bane.

It looks so friendly!

Lutzow is the guardian of a key piece of Concealment Infrastructure on the metro connecting the Zoologischer Garten (one of the oldest subway stations in Berlin, dating to 1902) and Plotsdamer Platz (one of the newest, finished in 2009). This is Lutzowplatz, Infrastructure that is a U-Bahn station that, simultaneously, was built in the earliest phases of the U-Bahn and has not yet been made. Lutzowplatz crosses the bounds of time and space, waiting for the Machine to send angels to build...something. And with it waits Lutzow, the guardian. Its orders are clear and not open to interpretation: Remain. Guard. That's it. At the time he was summoned, he took the form of a seven-foot tall, muscular man with a shaved head. He obeyed orders for a full century. Lutzow was a ranking angel, sure his orders were important. He would guard, his brethren would make the Infrastructure under Lutzowplatz, the plan would go on.

Except that a hundred years passed and no one had built anything for Lutzowplatz to actually conceal. No hidden ciphers in the wiring, no hollow walls, just an empty void under the station. Lutzow became worried. Had it been abandoned somehow? Had he fucked up the mission? After calculating all possible scenarios, the angel decided that no, both of those were impossible. The job and Lutzow were both too important to just be abandoned or left to fail. Therefore, Lutzow reasoned, the Machine must have chosen him to move the project along to its next phase. Lutzow had always had near absolute control over Lutzowplatz - it was required for the mission, to prevent intrusion from all timelines and dimensions connected to the unbuilt station. Thus, Lutzow can bend time and space within it. To begin Phase Two, he has actively worked to extend this ability to the entire U-Bahn. He will, after all, need mortals to work the Infrastructure - the job is clearly being kept from all lesser angels for some reason - and to oil the cogs. He has gone far beyond his original parameters and orders, trying to monitor the U-Bahn and find the most promising mortals within it. By merging his Essence with the Infrastructure itself, Lutzow has harnessed its time-splintering abilities to create a unique Shadow Gateway, allowing him to reroute trains, kidnap key mortals, and send the rest along with no one noticing.

The God-Machine did not approve of all this. Indeed, it considered Lutzow's actions so harmful that it actually sent an angel to recall him. The encounter went poorly for both angels. Lutzow is now entirely convinced he's doing what the Machine wants him to do, but has sufficiently deviated from his actual orders that he has disconnected from the Machine's network, rendering him an Exile. He believes the angel sent after him was actually a demon, lying and trying to trick him from his orders, and refused to return. They fought. Lutzow would have been weaker...but he'd tied himself to the U-Bahn Infrastructure, which gave him power he had not originally had. Even after the angel ripped him to shreds, it couldn't extract him from Lutzowplatz. It either decided it couldn't win or received new orders to stop for fear of harming the Infrastructure, and it left, unsuccessful. Lutzow's original body and cover identity are broken now, but he doesn't care. Once the project is complete, he will return to the Machine and be given a new form.

Lutzowplatz Station is perfect, sterile and new, no matter what historic era you show up in. It has, at present, three engineers, two mathematicians, a historian, a novelist, a psychic, a Stigmatic, and one child. The child is actually collateral damage - he came with the historian, who Lutzow grabbed because he felt right. Lutzow feared that grief over losing the kid would make the historian useless, so he took both. It now considers this possibly a mistake, as the historian spends far too much time consoling the terrified boy. Lutzow has removed all of these mortals' needs for sleep and food, so it doesn't have to feed them or find beds. It has no idea why they keep taking turns sleeping anyway, with some napping on the hard benches while the others stand guard. Apparently mortal minds need sleep even when bodies do not. They also spend a lot of time chatting and trading goods amongst themselves for reasons Lutzow doesn't understand. The 'team' has been collected from across time between 1092 and 2009, and every time an item crosses time, such as when a WW2 engineer got given an MP3 player, it slightly destabilizes the entire Infrastructure. Thus, Lutzow strictly forbids this.

Lutzowplatz is genuinely important to the Machine, to the degree that a potent angel was set guarding it despite its lack of use and to the point that it has not pushed the issue when the fight between its retriever and Lutzow threatened to damage the station. However, what was supposed to be under it hasn't been made yet, and Lutzow's gone entirely off the rails. He has no idea what the station is meant to conceal, and indeed despite his frenzied activity he has no idea what Phase Two is supposed to be. He spends much of his time in a trance, trying to glimpse the future and understand the purpose of Lutzowplatz and the U-Bahn, but it's basically just guesswork. Lutzow considers himself to still be a loyal angel, but is also very eager to show off his project. He's trying to extrapolate the Machine's will from tiny clues and has had no one to talk to (besides the mortals, who would never understand). Thus, he welcomes even visiting demons to look around. Indeed, he thinks that if they do, they will surely be convinced to return to the Machine out of the sheer genius and beauty of its plan. The one rule is not to touch or interfere with anything. However, Lutzow is straying further and further from his actual orders all the time, and is running dangerously close to actually breaking the timeline and creating a sliver-timeline that will need to be isolated.

Lutzow no longer even slightly resembles a human. He rarely interacts with others or even acknowledges their presence. When he does, he primarily communicates by writing messages on the station billboards with his powers. He materializes only when inhabitants or visitors of the station must be modified - a process that is quite bloody, as it reduces them to the bare component Lutzow believes are necessary. He thinks he's seen the mind of God, that he has been chosen above all others to carry out Its will. He works constantly to improve the station, fully expecting to be reintegrated into the Machine at some point and be praised for his devotion. He permits anyone to freely use the station and talk to its inhabitants, as long as these visitors are not deemed necessary to the project. If they are, the angel uses its powers to overawe and break their spirit until they agree to stay. Lutzow has become the station's power itself, from the electricity in the wiring to the lighting to the power in the rails. He much prefers this to his old form, but he is not omnipresent. His consciousness's location can be discerned by the location of the strongest energies in the station - sparks flying from the rails, the lights overhead going blazingly bright, that kind of thing. The inhabitants know to share their secrets and possessions only when this is not happening. When Lutzow must materialize, he appears as a tangled mass of power lines, flickering flourescents and subway rails. A broken rail cart takes the place of his head, with a gaping maw of sharp, jagged metal teeth. Pieces of his old cover identity cling to the metal as ripped and dried flesh that stinks of moldy leather.

Lutzow's constant messing with the U-Bahn has created gaps in the system. At midnight, any nearly empty train has a chance of being taken, diverted either to Lutzowplatz Station or to a void between spaces. The former is relatively okay - the train gets sent back on once Lutzow is done - but the latter are trapped in a dark splinter dimension of the U-Bahn where Lutzow keeps all the mortals whom he has deemed unneeded but too changed to safely send home. These twisted wrecks stalk the maze of dark tunnels in the splinter, often grabbing and killing other mortals sent there for food. The Berliner Verkehrsbetrieve, the agency that runs the Bahn, is aware of the trains going missing. The percentage of trains that vanish is negligible, and the proportion of passengers and personnel even smaller, so they have not yet revealed the disappearances to avoid losing profits. This is not the only problem, either. In 1999, Lutzow abducted a black lady named Raven for her math skills, but her personality made her too hard to integrate into the project, so he altered her memories and released her. The release glitched out, and Raven is now trapped on the U-Bahn. She believes it's New Year's Eve, 1999, and she's been experiencing that same day over and over. She has a constant sense of deja vu and knows something's wrong, but not what. If freed from her time loop, she could tell all about Lutzowplatz, and may even have become Stigmatic from her experience.

Lutzow is tied to Lutzowplatz, but his unique powers work anywhere along the U-Bahn tracks. As long as the station exists, so does Lutzow, and within the station he's essentially invincible. However, he does have a weakness: the Linchpin of the Lutzowplatz Infrastructure. This is a rail spike located at the exact center of the tracks running through the station. Lutzoe will defend this spike at all costs, to the point that he will use his Shadow gate to reroute trains en masse to run over attackers. If the spike is removed, everything he's doing shuts down. Lutzow is also greatly at risk. He is fanatically loyal to the Machine, but his deviation from his parameters has brought him dangerously close. He's lost his human cover entirely and spends most of his time immaterial, so he's not going to become a demon - he's at risk of becoming a sliver, a dangerous, insane and completely unfixable remnant of an angel that warps reality by its very presence. If he were to realize how close he is to this fate, he'd possibly stop his project and return to his original mission parameters to save himself.

Lutzow is a rank 4 and very powerful angel. He's superhumanly strong and tough, surprisingly fast, and has Influences of U-Bahn 4 and Lutzowplatz Station 5. He's extremely hard to fight when immaterial, can cause feelings of awe, pleasure and emptiness in mortals, can fire off blasts or drain health, is super tough, can send messages, regenerates damage and can try to foretell the future. His Ban is that commuters on any lines whose total adds up to 13 (such as those who move from line 8 to line 5) exist on a different synchronicity than Lutzow does, and he cannot perceive, touch or influence them by any means unless they touch him physically or use powers on him. Also, Lutzow cannot physically leave Lutzowplatz Station or extend his powers beyond the U-Bahn. His Bane is a weapon or bullet forged or tempered in the ashes of the original drawn plans of the U-Bahn.

Next time: Cryptids

Radioactive Waste

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 13: Radioactive Waste

For the Machine, Aether is basically waste heat. It's the leftover dregs of occult power produced by the various reactions the God-Machine harnesses, dangerous only because demons can wield it for power. For normal, biological creatures, however, it can be very dangerous just on its own. It mutates animals into monstrous forms, granting them strange abilities and bizarre instincts - turning them into cryptids. Usually, the Machine pays no attention to cryptids, which is probably a good thing. When it actually turns to creating them purposefully, after all, bad things tend to happen.


Alban has been a problem, for example, for decades. On May 28, 1984, Molly Harper was murdered in a barn outside Fox Lake, Wisconsin. Her own mother cut her throat as a cult chanted ominous hymns, pouring her blood into carved sigils. In the days to follow, the cult was consumed by guilt for their crime and haunted by memories of a Satanic goat. They had thought they were good people, summoning the archangel Hanael to bring eternal life to the faithful, and had no idea how they'd sacrificed a teenager. On September 16, 1987, Christopher Haynes was found in Shawnee National Forest with his throat cut and an inverted pentagram carved in his chest. Three days later, his friend Jacob Walsh confessed to doing it. They'd been dabbling occultists planning a great Satanic sacrifice, but Jacob had no idea how Chris had ended up under the knife. He swore he'd started into the eyes of Satan himself. On October 31, 2008, Glorie Sutton and her coven were arrested in a park outside Portland, having murdered Gregory Sutton by throat-slitting seconds before cops arrived. They wept openly, cursing themselves for betraying their own teachings and harming a person, and Glorie insists that they were attended not by the Horned God but an evil spirit pretending to be him.

Similar incidents have happened frequently. The involved parties usually report a night of utter confusion culminating in the ritual sacrifice of a loved one. No one ever remembers the sacred goat that had been part of their lives beforehand, their love for the creature, their praise for him as a divine symbol, or their decision that he must be sacrificed. That is because those things never happened, because the goat made sure of that. Alban the goat is a unique being, bred by the God-Machine over multiple generations to be the perfect sacrificial victim. The sacrifice of the goat was the final step in the creation of a hunter angel capable of splintering time in order to ensure it never lost a battle. All went to plan at first, but demons arrived literally seconds too late to prevent the summoning. One demon, desperate to prevent Hanael's existence, used her power to turn back time in order to save the goat's life. Hanael, sensing a threat to her existence, turned back time to the same moment to ensure her birth could not be stopped. The paradox shattered the timeline, trapping the demons and angel in a four-minute splinter timeline. The goat appeared in the summoning sigil and ran off into the night, and history changed to prevent all possibility of his being sacrificed. He replaced himself with Molly Harper.

Since then, Alban has reappeared many times, but he's hard to track. He has Hanael's powers of time manipulation thanks to the initial splintering. He uses it to travel to new locations, mostly. Alban is not a malicious goat, but he always unwittingly leads people to their deaths at the hands of their own loved ones. All he really wants is the same things as any goat - food, safety and companionship. He travels the world in search of a home, but invariably the mortals that take care of him turn on him. Alban seeks out demons, associating the sensation of Aether with his original rescuers, and if he manages to find one, he's likely to stick by them whether they want him to or not. He is a large goat of Spanish stock, with long, shimmering white fur. His silver hooves have sharp spines due to his mutations, making him even better at climbing than most goats. His glowing purple eyes have rectangular pupils, and he has huge silver hornsthat curl at the tips. Alban is a friendly, affectionate goat who enjoys attention. However, he gets skittish at the sight of a knife, and if panicked, he flees. If trapped, he will splinter the timeline to escape.

What appears to happen is he shows up, a cult forms around him, and then they try to sacrifice him. He splinters the timeline, replacing himself with one of the cultists' loved ones, and nobody remembers he was there. This makes him nearly impossible to kill. However, there's one caveat. Alban trades his own fate with that of his victim. If you could discover how Alban's last victim was supposed to be destined to die, then Alban could be trapped in that death, as he would be unable to splinter time to save himself from it. The God-Machine, meanwhile, would quite like its goat back. While Alban was originally intended as the perfect sacrifice, his ability to splinter time is unexpected and useful. The Machine sees value in an animal with the power to convert animal sacrifices into human sacrifices. Anywhere that Alban is sighted, angelic emissaries or compromised Agencies offer rewards for his capture and delivery. Whether the Machine would actually pay out is unknown, of course. Some demons think that Alban actually is Hanael, successfully summoned into the form of a goat. They're not correct, but it's a reasonable interpretation of events.

Alban is tough, charismatic (by, uh, goat standards?) and strong-willed, but he's, uh, he's a goat. He has the intellect of a normal goat. He can climb stuff and headbutt people. Humans interacting with Alban naturally become obsessed with him, convinced he is a holy being that must be honored and sanctified. After a full lunar month of interaction with him, or if they are given the suggestion to do so, they become obsessed with sacrificing him. Alban does not age and will never die of natural causes. Lastly, he can spend Willpower to splinter time. This lets him rewind time to a previous decision he's made, choosing a different path. Another person is substituted for him, leaving most events intact but with that person in place of Alban. Mortal memories of the timeline are altered; demons remember both the original and new sequence. This power triggers automatically if Alban would die, even if he's out of Willpower.

I wonder where it's hiding.

Asteroidea are a sort of creature created at Oceanalia Theme Park. The park has existed for 30 years, and millions have visited and had tons of fun with the dolphin shows, the lovable mascot of the park ('Orky') and the many activities. Everyone leaves exhausted but happy. The Machine's presenve there is invisible, utilizing hidden Command and Control Infrastructure in the park to communicate with its mortal servants and keep the locals happy and complaint. A demon attack ten years ago caused an Aether spill throughout the park, which infected the animals. Angels managed to get rid of any creature they thought would be a threat, but they overlooked a small beast living in the water filtration system. These animals were once simple starfish brought in by the current, but they have flourished on the Aether. They are large enough now that they had to flee the pipes and now hide in the sewers and waterfront warehouses nearby.

An asteroidea is a giant starfish with chameleon skin. They are ten feet from tip to tip, can breathe outside water and, indeed, prefer to live on roofs of cramped locations. When their cilia detect the heat of a target underneath them, they drop from the roof, slamming into their victims from above with their powerful arms and massive weight. Hundreds of tiny hooks embed in the flesh of their victim, pumping them full of paralytic neurotoxins. Over a week, the hooks intertwine into the victim's body and absorb it. Within seven days, the entire body is gone, leaving only undigestible clothing, pins, implants and similar. While the asteroidea are are dangerous to humans, they are possibly even moreso to demons. Their hooks, once inside demonic flesh, begin to immediately filter the Aether out of their system. Within seconds, they can drain a demon dry of Aether.

An asteroidea looks like a giant, twisted starfish. Their skin is sleek and flexible, able to fold in on itself to blend with the environment. They can assume the texture and coloration of anything they bond to, and often compress themselves flat to blend with ceilings or walls. They spend most of their time alone, waiting for prey. They are prone to attacking anything they can sense strong Aether inside, but will eat just about anything in a pinch. The larger they get, the more food they need to survive, and while they can go weeks between meals without starving, they try to eat whenever possible.

The local city aquarium is home to a fully-grown asteroidea now, though it has survived thus far by eating small fish and stray animals in the sewers. It is starting to hunt larger prey, and it's found a perfect hunting ground near the nearby drain into the reservoir. There, it drops onto victims and forces them into the water. It has started to develop a preference for attacking demons and angels, likely due to the Aether within them. Some demons believe that the Aether spill (and the attack that caused it) were a false flag operation by the God-Machine, deliberately intended to create a demon-hunting bioweapon. This is untrue! The Machine doesn't even really grasp the potential the asteroidea have as demon-hunters. If one of its angels or agents were to find the remains of a demon in the lair of one of the creatures, though, it might well decide to weaponize them. Swimmers, in the meantime, are starting to vanish in worrying numbers due to asteroidea attacks. The local government is blaming riptides, but those are not common in the area, and the media's starting to investigate. The issue is that the Aether leak has gotten to the pier, and it's started to contaminate the local starfish. They bury the undigestible bones of their victims under the beach, then lurk under the sand and wait for people to set up towels on top of them so they can grab them and pull them down into their waiting...well, cilia.

The asteroidea are starfish, but extremely cunning starfish with superhuman strength and resilience. They're exceptional fighters and very sneaky. That's all they have going for them skills-wise, but they're armor plated, huge, have long grabby arms, can sense movement and heat, can drain Aether from folks they grab and can spend Willpower to flatten themselves to only a few inches thick and change colors. They have a tiny Willpower pool, though, so at least that's willpower they aren't using to improve their distinctly giant pool to grab and murder you. They also don't have huge damage values and aren't very dodgy, so a group of PCs can probably take one out in a pinch, but they're a nasty surprise if you weren't expecting your GM to throw magic-eating giant death starfish at you in a spy game.

Next time: The False Demon, the Unrelenting Guardian


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 14: Flyboy

Gollum's New Suit

Beelzebub, self-proclaimed Lord of the Flies, has been a rallying agent for generations of demons. He arrives from nowhere, inspires the local demons to drastic action, spreads chaos among many plans, and then escapes unscathed. He claims to be the oldest living demon in the world. In truth, he isn't a demon at all. Beelzebub isn't even one entity - he's a swarm of glassflies. Glassflies were created by the Machine as a surveillence mechanism against demons. Individuals proved hard to control, so the Machine networked an entire swarm together, enhancing their intelligence and understanding. This solved the initial control problems, but the swarm developed a sense of identity and went rogue. It nearly starved from lack of Aether before it ran into a demon, entering the demon's body and glutting themselves on its Aether - and, almost incidentally, taking over the body. Experience and freedom beckoned, and so now Beelzebub consumes new hosts, replenishing the glassfly swarm by implanting his larvae in mortal brains. He travels the world, seeking new experiences and disrupting plans of everyone he meets.

Beelzebub is a creature of pride and hedonism, a demagogue with a theatrical demeanor and a knack for fire-and-brimstone rants. On a personal level, he's friendly but overly familiar and rather patronizing. He's also a firebrand orator, seeking out the rebellious members of Agencies and goading them to take greater and greater risks. While he does make use of the chaos to take new hosts, that's really not what he does this all for. Beelzebub thinks disrupting societies is the best entertainment there is, y'see. The glassflies that compose Beelzebub's true body resemble horseflies at a distance, but close examination reveals their exoskeletons are made of literal glass, with eyes of faceted jewels and little diamond slivers for mouthparts. Their current host is a rusted demonic warrior whose form glows with a green aura. Beelzebub maintains multiple Covers, but his favorite is a wild-looking homeless man in a garish suit, since it lets him be crude and rude without risking compromise.

When outside a host, his swarm form requires massive amounts of Aether to survive, so he prefers to be in one - usually a demonic one, because they combine freedom and longevity best. He can use his host's Covers or demonic form, but slowly degrades their internal power and their power stat. He can abandon a host at any time, but usually only does so when he has preferable host to take over. His hosts, once he leaves, regain control of their bodies. They remember everything of the period when the flies ran the body. He can enter angels, but he can't control them without severing their connection to the Machine, turning them into Exiles. While inside an angel, he has an infinite amount of Aether to eat, since angels produce it naturally, but he suffers the angels Ban and Bane and must act to fulfill the Exile's mission parameters. He cannot control slivers at all.

Some demons think that Beelzebub, based on his actions, must be an angel. He appears where and when demons are strong, and when he leaves, all is chaos. They think he must be an angelic infiltrator, and might reveal a lot of he Falls. Obviously these efforts are doomed to fail, but the demons theorizing about it are right about one thing: Beelzebub has seen a lot, and he knows a lot about the Machine. If properly bribed or threatened, he could provide all kinds of intel. Some demons notice that his demonic forms change relatively frequently - something that shouldn't be possible, such as buying the abilities of other demons in exchange for giving them Covers. They tend to make the (incorrect) conclusion that he must be a master of pactbinding, to the extent that he can do things with Pacts that normal demons couldn't dream of, or that Beelzebub is a demonic organization rather than any single demon. In truth, Beelzebub can't make Pacts at all - he gets everything by just changing hosts. Others witness Beelzebub exiting his hosts as a swarm of flies, or see his maggots emerge from human brains to become part of the swarm. They become paranoid, convinced that the Machine can control insects and use them as spies. The Machine hasn't actually assimilated many insect populations...but glassflies are still in use in certain isolated instances. If it could reproduce Beelzebub in a controllable fashion, it'd have a terrifying new weapon.

Beelzebub uses his host's physical stats. He's very manipulative, smart and charismatic, plus superhumanly cunning. He's got a wide array of skills, though lying is the only one that's really amazing. He's very good at that. He can use his host's demonic form, and he's able to learn Embeds and Exploits. (Primarily, he uses this for social powers.) He's very good at sensing Aether and tracking it, he eats it to survive, and in a pinch he can consume parts of his own swarm-body to keep going...or he can eat the occult power of his demonic hosts to regenerate his swarm. He can try to take over a demon or angel, though it's not a great pool on either side - he's rolling 8 dice against what's going to be 4-8 dice on average, for demons or 8-10 dice at least for angels. He can only try once per day for a given host, though he has no knowledge of his host except that he can sense an angel's mission parameters, Ban and Bane. Outside a host - and he only ever has one at a time - he's a swarm of glassflies. He can spend Willpower to turn an angelic host into an Exile, and he can lay eggs in a knocked out human's brain, which hatch after a day. The victim then gets a burning hunger for glass and other inorganic material, which lasts several days before they eventually die. Beelzebub can spend Willpower to implant commands in their brains.

A very overprotective boy.

The Black Mastiff used to be a normal dog awaiting adoption, until an angel found him and took him in. The angel was questioning its role in the God-Machine's plan, and before its Fall it experimented by getting a pet. Fearing for its pet's life, the angel placed some Aether within the dog in the hopes that doing so would strengthen it and let it survive on its own if required. When the demon its master became never returned after the Fall, the Mastiff began to wander the city in search of a new owner to protect. Its perceptions were altered by the mass of energy within it, making it grow thicker and more muscular and causing its eyes to develop an eerie glow. It stalks homeless colonies now, seeking new owners and not realizing that it keeps trapping people in its lair and keeping them prisoner until they starve to death.

See, the Black Mastiff's plan seems benign at first. It's 300 pounds of very loyal defender and fluffy boy, after all. The problem is that it's very overprotective and has a very narrow view of how to protect someone. It responsd to all threats with aggression, and if it feels its owner is in danger, it is perfectly ready to drag them to safety and trap them in their home to ensure they're safe. It appears to be a massive purebred dog, five feet tall at the head and covered in thick fur and muscle. Its presence is intimidating, and despite its size it moves in near silence. It prefers to move under cover of darkness, keeping itself hidden as much as possible, but its massive appetite means it can frequently be found eating dozens of rats or breaking into grocery stores for food. It avoids fights if possible unless its owner is threatened. At that point it becomes a berserker with no compunctions about tearing people apart.

The Mastiff's reputation in an area tends to vary, because it doesn't just pick anyone it meets to protect. It's choosy about humans. Some it protects, most it ignores, some it attacks. Thus, in some places there are stories about a killer dog, and a few neighborhoods over it's just a big spooky thing. Legends about black dogs abound, especially in the British Isles, and the Mastiff's presence tends to cause a resurgence of these stories. It's Satan, or Satan's pet, or a hellhound, or whatever. However, there's just so many things that a rumor of an otherworldly monster dog could be to people in the know - werewolves, actual hellhounds, materialized spirits and so on - that the Mastiff may well be able to avoid people noticing it for some time just by not being any of those. Some demons think it's an angel - well, half of one. The corporeal form, guided by an immaterial mind in a case of an angel somehow being split in half. It's not, but it's plausible because angels sometimes take animal form.

The Mastiff is a very cunning, strong, fast and tough dog. It's supernaturally good at fighting, it's scary and sneaky, and it can do all kind of stunts as well as forage and track well. It's fast, heals faster than normal, has skin tough as some armor, and its bite is really nasty. It imprints on its 'owners' and can sense when its owners leave the place it wants them to stay in. It can also track a scent over hundreds of miles, even if it's months old. You cannot get away from dog.

Next time: The False Life, the Would-Be Colony

Another Zombie Producing Thing

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 14: Another Zombie Producing Thing

This one's a plant! nWoD has so many ways to do this.

Graveyard Bristle is a plant that brings the dead back to life. Sort of. Certainly the people that raise it think it can. It, uh...well, it started out as just a normal vine under St. Jude of Hellenia Chapel, home of an angel's cult. They were not particularly good caretakers of Infrastructure, though, and between poor maintenance and fights with demons, the area became heavily exposed to Aether. In one case, this caused the vines to grow large and tangled, which was ignored for a while until a gardener happened to bury his dead pet cat under it. Within days, a cocoon had formed, and not long after it hatched into a perfect replica of the cat in all respects. Now, those who raise the vine charge heavy prices to bury the dead under it. In truth, of course, the vine can't actually resurrect the dead, but they don't tell people that. The things born of the Graveyard Bristle do not have all of the memories they had in life - and worse, they inevitably go insane and become violent towards their grower. The gardeners call them the briardead, and once they kill those close to them, they die and melt into a blob of rotting plants.

Graveyard Bristle itself looks like a patch of thick vines with a stump in the middle and maybe some red sheen to the leaves. Oh, and if you can sense Aether it has Aether in it. It's hard to grow at first, but once it's there it's not going away. If a fresh corpse gets buried under it, it forms a cocoon that grows to, roughly, the size of the corpse. The briardead appear to be broadly the same as the original body they grew from, but have only fragmentary memories. Over several weeks they grow stronger and more vital, their skin turns gray-brown and the ends of their fingers become sharp and pointy. As their lifespan ends, they turn on anyone nearby and attempt to kill them.

Typically, use of Graveyard Bristle to "resurrect" the dead leaves everyone involved fairly traumatized even if they survive, so rumors about its abilities usually lack any kind of safety instructions or context. Desperate people grieving their losses might hear about its ability to raise the dead and have no idea of the side effects. The gardeners try to raise it without revealing it to the world, which means most specialized information that other people get on the plant is from old journals and notes, traded with friends or sold on the darkweb. The briardead, meanwhile, are not the people they were born of, and their strange, plant-based needs and urges rarely seem rational to their loved ones. The briardead themselves do not understand what's happening to them, and they are unable to explain why they feel "different" from when they were "alive." This only gets worse as they begin to wither and die and their unnatural anger starts to form. Some growers believe that they can be kept healthy by careful tending of the parent plant, but if so, it's not widely known.

The Graveyard Bristle itself doesn't have stats. It's a plant. It can't fight, it's not intelligent and it can't move. Briardead start out with the stats they had in life for the first few weeks, but if attacked or they start wilting, they rapidly gain speed and toughness, the ability to fight well, and sprout claws and the ability to fire off sharp thorns. They may or may not retain any skills they had in life due to their fragmented memories, and interaction with other people can help them remember more of who they were.

A very confused bug.

The Hatchling began life as a normal bug that happened to be nearby when an angel Fell. The newborn demon didn't last long before being taken out by hunter angels, and as the corpse began to rot, a beetle laid eggs in it. The Aether within the demon corpse killed all but one of the larvae, but that one just kept getting bigger and bigger. It is now large enough to pretend to be human, which it does every so often for a little while, but it much prefers to remain in its natural form: a half-insect monster man. It has no idea what it is, having consumed some of the demon's memories but not any purpose. It doesn't even know why it exists, and without an insect colony it's always super lonely. It wants to survive and reproduce, but it has no idea where to find fresh demon corpses on its own. It mostly hangs out near Infrastructure and other places where it can sense the Aether of demons and angels, hoping it can either find or make fresh bodies. The entire plan is super simple: find body, lay eggs in body, make a colony, have a home. Its idea of home is thousands of other bugs all around it, hibernating, feeding and expanding according to its nature. It is calculating, but essentially it thinks like a very smart animal. It is also ferociously determined, and it will fight very hard to protect anything it manages to make.

In its natural form, the Hatchling is a giant green bug. It's seven feet tall, walks on two legs and has fingers that end in stingers, plus two giant moth-like wings and extremely human eyes. It also has human toes. It can create an illusion around itself to appear human, but it doesn't really know what normal people are like, so it looks more like a very well-designed mannequin - perfect hair, everything in place, but none of its clothes can be taken off or even adjusted, its expression never changes and its skin and hair have a weird shine.

The Hatchling is very young, but in its explorations it is sometimes mistaken for other things out there - mothmen legends, for example. It tends to kill witnesses if it knows they exist, having inherited the paranoia of the demon it was born from, but it doesn't always notice or catch everyone. Eventually it's probably going to get on a Hunter's radar. It produces a buzzing noise in its natural form that drives other insects crazy, causing them to swarm all over, divebomb cars, infest homes and in general be super aggressive and weird for bugs. It has not yet learned how to control this ability, but once it does it will have minions. Bug minions. It's also learning how to mimic emotions and actions in its human disguise, primarily by trial and error. It acts weird and gross a lot, watches everyone else to try and see how they do things, and does its best to stay quiet. It does stuff like 'order a burger, pour an entire bottle of ketchup and another of mustard on it, then eat it' or 'poke uselessly at a steak because it has no idea how to eat one.' If confronted violently for being a rude, gross weirdo, it would likely try to kill whoever accosted it and then flee the area forever.

The Hatchling isn't stupid by any means - it's actually very smart and cunning, plus inhumanly fast and super tough, it's just completely unsocialized, has no idea how humans work and is a giant bug. It can poison people with its stingers, can disguise itself, can fly, and eventually it'll figure out how to command insects. Oh, and it's very dodgy and its skin is better armor than kevlar.

Next time: The Enigmatic Pyre, the Tree of Knowledge


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 14: HELL MOLD

Evil mold. It's evil mold.

Oxblood Mold is a harmless-looking black mold that is responsible for many bizarre, fire-related deaths and the destruction of much Cover. It's the source of several stories about spontaneous human combustion. No one knows where it came from or if the Machine made it deliberately, but it definitely loves Aether. It infects people by getting spores into an open wound. For normal humans or Stigmatics, that's not too bad - it's essentially a mild poison that gets worse the more spores are in the area and the more hurt you are. Things get worse, though, if the mold encounters Aether, Essence or any other form of supernatural energy. At that point it enters what the book terms its "motile form," vibrating at the quantum level extremely quickly, which makes it get extremely hot. At that point, it causes its victims to burst into flames and release a massive cloud of spores. So if you get infected, you desperately want to avoid literally any kind of magic thing.

Demons, however, have a bigger problem. They can be infected the way humans can...but when the spores become activated, demons don't burst into flame. This is because the quantum-vibrating mold literally entangles itself with their Cover. This prevents the mold from spreading, but it also causes Hull Blight and compromises your Cover. A Cover infected by Hull Blight has tattered, peeling skin that shows the demonic form concealed beneath (or the flesh of other infected Covers). This makes it much harder to trick the universe into reading you as human, makes any compromises worse and also causes social penalties. It also prevents you from reverting any of your demonic form parts that you've manifested. The infection spreads to any Cover you shift into, but going Loud while in an infected Cover will purge you of the disease if that's your only infected Cover left. It can also be cured using certain God-Machine facilities, much like glitches can, but that risks infecting others using the facility for several days after.

Oxblood mold is, y'know, mold. It likes warm, wet places and organic materials to grow on. The Aether-caused alterations let it derive trace nutrients from minerals, so it can survive purely on rock and metal if required. Spores fill any area where the mold grows, but need biological hosts to proceed with their life cycle. After a host bursts into flame, the spore clouds produced search for a suitable surface to grow on and take root, beginning the whole lifecycle from the start again. In its normal state, it looks like black mold, to the point that the two are practically impossible to tell apart. The main difference is that Oxblood Mold tends to grow in geometric or occult patterns and appears somewhat red under UV light. Infected hosts have inflammation around their wounds. In the motile state, the spore clouds are mostly invisible but have weird and visible reactions to different kinds of supernatural energies.

Oxblood mold tends to cause rumors of Satanic cults due to its growth patterns - pentagrams, stars, sigils, that kind of thing. Usually the rumors say the mold grows in patterns traced in the blood of victims. The occasional bursts of mysterious flame only increases the reputations of these places for haunting or curses, especially if foolhardy explorers end up spontaneously combusting. Demons have many conspiracy theories about how Oxblood mold gets created, and studies of it have revealed that it mutates extremely easily and may develop new forms or abilities based on the energies around it. Many demons believe it is a bioweapon developed by the Machine, but it's actually no better for Infrastructure than demons. The Machine expends a notable amount of effort to get rid of Oxblood growths in important facilities to prevent them from interfering with magical energy flows or drawing attention due to human combustion and mysterious flames. Hull Blight also has a tendency to cause widespread demonic paranoia about infection, though it is rarely contagious. Stories of demons spreading Hull Blight to others are usually due to Cover-trading or use of tainted restoration facilities rather than infection because of the way Oxblood spores get stuck inside demons. Despite this, demons still tend to fight each other rapidly when they fear outbreaks of Hull Blight.

Oxblood Mold doesn't have stats per se. It has rules, but no attributes or skills. The mold can rapidly gain new abilities when exposed to occult stimuli in the form of large amounts of supernatural energies or targeted use of supernatural powers on it. When within several yards of the mold, magical powers are penalized as the mold interferes with the energy flows and it can increase the cost of magic power usage; however, once it enters the motile state, this power goes offline. Spore clouds are ignited by exposure to sufficient magical energies. Aether causes infernal flame, which burns fast and then explodes in sulfurous fumes, dealing large damage to a wide area. Angelic Essence causes holy fire, which takes the form of less damaging spheres of ball lightning that stun people they hit. Other manifestations of fire include fairy lights, erratic flames of many colors which do not do damage but cause mental or emotional warping, and ghostly orbs, blue, white or gray lights that deal large amounts of damage to beings in Twilight exclusively. In any case, only motile-state mold can ignite this way.

What if an evil tree?

The Whispering Oak is a gigantic white oak at the center of a city park. It's a popular place for picnics, despite rumors of disappearances, cult activity or similar. People sometimes talk about whispering voices, but that's all that seems to stick, along with rumors of the tree granting eternal life somehow. Many believe that due to its size it must be very old; they're wrong. It's not even 75 yet. Rather, the tree has just been soaking in the energies of the abundant Infrastructure in the park, and its roots have even pierced the Command and Control Infrastructure underneath it and integrated themselves into the databanks. This has caused the oak to become sentient. It wants to know everything, and all other existences are a means to achieve that. It gathers cryptids and Stigmatics to serve as its actors in the world, and it legitimately believes itself to be a nurturing mentor that gives people their dreams. It just wants everything they know as its price.

The Whispering Oak doesn't really get humanity. It has no empathy, and it doesn't understand why anyone would want to hide information for any reason. It makes no particular distinction between objective and subjective thought - both are data, and it wants all the data. It wants to make its servants happy, but it also knows they are each expendable if required and rarely invests much care into any single person. Anyone that wants to gain something from it has to lie down and place their head in its hollows, allowing it to copy their memories in exchange for whatever.

The Oak is around 120 feet tall, with lots of low branches. It's eight feet wide at the trunk, with a large hollow at the base big enough to fit a human adult's head comfortably. There's smaller hollows, each also sized for a human head but somewhat less comfortable, four feet off the ground in each cardinal direction, plus other ones of similar size haphazardly scattered near the branches. The bark is gray with a coppery tint at some angles, and the wood beneath is bronze. The leaves have a metallic glint and parts of them are copper. While the tree can move, it does so slowly and deliberately, with a shockingly gentle touch. The coppery acorns grow all year round, though they are most numerous in October. It is primarily active in spring and summer, and in winter it sleeps unless someone interfaces with a hollow. The acorns of winter typically hold only random memories and arboreal dreams.

The rumors of eternal life granted by the tree are because it can produce duplicates of people whose minds it's copied, and it can give them any or all of that person's memories, to the extent that they may not even know they're copies. However, the lives of these copies last only as long as the tree has use for them. Many demons in the area believe it must be the Linchpin of all the park Infrastructure, since it's at the center of it all, often surrounded by cryptids and guarded by Stigmatics, which usually is a good indicator. However, destroying it would do very little to bother the Machine. Removing it would have unpredictable consequences, too, since it's currently absorbing a bunch of energy from all that Infrastructure. Some occultists believe all the rumors around the tree are because a local philandering professor who got into a scandal for getting his students pregnant committed suicide under it. He did, and the details are easily available, but the tree was busy doing its thing long before the professor's death. If his ghost is haunting the tree, however, the Oak would be very interested in acquiring his memories.

The Oak is superhumanly intelligent and strong-willed as hell. It's insanely strong and tough and it's slower than a box of rocks, but very charismatic. It knows a lot about academics, the occult and science, but not a ton else. It does, however, know shitloads of information, even if it's not good at applying all of it. It is able to temporarily turn people Stigmatic by feeding them acorns, which also gifts people with temporary skills and an obsession with obeying the tree. Knowledge-acorns are highly addictive. The tree has a giant pillar of energy hidden in one hollow that it can use to devour people if they are fed into it, it can grab stuff with its limbs, and it can speak by rustling its leaves to produce whispers. It copies the minds and memories of anyone that puts their head in a hollow and can speak telepathically with anyone that does by uploading data into their mind. It can produce copies of anyone whose mind is inside it, programmed with any memories or knowledge it likes, but it needs sufficient living organic material fed into it first to produce the body. Copies made this way need to eat knowledge-acorns every week or so to survive and cannot heal naturally without the Oak's help.

Next time: Humans

Reviving Your Favorite TV Show Is Bad

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 15: Reviving Your Favorite TV Show Is Bad

Generic actress lady.

Bianca Jonak is the former teen actress that starred in the Katie Files, a 1993 show about a teen detective and her football-playing boyfriend solving supernatural mysteries with their friends. It aired for seven seasons and was a huge hit with kids and teens. Even 20 years later, it's got a dedicated fan community, and Bianca's the queen bee of that community. The problem is that the Katie Files was more than just a hit. Various monsters got involved in it, too, spreading both information and disinformation on vampires, werewolves and so on, but even more than that, the show was Infrastructure. The God-Machine allowed the monsters to insert their own stuff into the scripts on monsters because that didn't matter - what mattered was using the show for subliminal programming of children. Many of the cast and crew ran into weird shit, but Bianca was the focal point of all of it. She became Stigmatic not due to any single incident, but because of seven years of constant low-level exposure to the Machine.

When Bianca began hallucinating at 22, she panicked and got involved in drugs and sex scandals largely to avoid seeing the horrors around her. She became a tabloid favorite for her partying and drug habit, and most believed she was cracking under pressure. That'd be when a journalist discovered that Bianca's family had a history of schizophrenia, which usually emerged in their early 20s. It destroyed her career. Everyone assumed she was schizophrenic, and that became too much for her. The Katie Files was ended with season seven, and she got worse and worse. After a week-long drug blitz, she had what she thinks of as a spiritual experience, communing with the Machine. It spoke to her, telling her that she was special. That she was important. And Bianca became convinced - she didn't play Katie. She was Katie. She became Katie on the show because it was her life, she was this special person, important to the supernatural. Her suffering was for a reason, and she knew now how to hunt monsters thanks to her acting work. Clearly she must now hunt down the Machine's foes. Clearly.

Bianca has, to all appearances, made a comeback to the spotlight. She's doing conventions again, she's talking to her old co-stars and writers, she's working hard to get a reboot of the Katie Files. With her at the center, of course. Not as Katie - she's too old for that. She's an attractive woman in her early 40s, favoring stylish designer clothes. She always knows where the cameras are, and at conventions she tends to dress like Katie would. She hides her true self both from her fans and from journalists, and even after getting past that, she tends to be quiet. She hates being recorded without being told and she rarely does any taped interviews or panel appearances. She thinks of her job as being a trap for demons, and she uses her celebrity to do it. When she's talking to her prey, she plays up her innocence and victimhood, talking about how the Katie Files ruined her life or wanting revenge and to keep other actresses safe from her fate. (If a demon asks, she claims she's being forced to reboot the show, not that she wants to.) It usually works to get a demon at least investigating, which is all she needs.

Bianca is in deep with the Machine and also super delusional. She actually thinks that Katie is her, or at least an alter ego of her, and demons are just the same kind of monsters she used to "take down" in the show. That said, she's gotten herself very involved, and is even willing to help take down an angel or piece of Infrastructure if it doesn't seem important and will earn her prey's trust. It makes it so much more fun when she betrays them later, after all. Bianca has a wide set of contacts both in the TV industry and in the world of occultists. She may not have all the secrets, but she definitely knows who to go to for them. Many demons think she must be on their side, working to get to some key Infrastructure involved in the show. After all, her monologue on hating the Machine is very persuasive. Unfortunately for her project, the subliminal messages in the old show have been uncovered by several powerful groups of occult weirdos or demons. Most have no ability to tell what the programming was for or why it was there, but everyone knows that kind of thing is never good. There are a number of potent entities that would die before they let it start again.

Oh, and Bianca's killed a guy before. A fan. He broke into her trailer during a shoot, and he had a gun. Bianca got it away from him in the struggle and shot him three times. He died on the way to the hospital. It was all over the papers when it happened, back in the 90s, and it certainly didn't help her mindset. Her publicist made up a story about obsessive stalkers and emphasized that Bianca was safe and regretted what happened. In truth, the fan was more than obsessive - he was the first time Bianca ran into a real enemy agent and realized the effect the show was having on people. She took a while to understand all of it - that the attack was an attempt to end the show by killing her, thus ruining the project. Many interviewers ask about the attack, but Bianca refuses to talk about it and ends interviews once it gets brought up. She is much more open about it in private when dealing with folks she trusts...but that's not a lot of people.

Bianca's not particularly notable for her stats, though she knows way more about the occult than your average former teen actress, and she's a pretty good shot. She's an excellent actor and has connections to police specialized in cult-based crimes as well as contacts in local cults. Her Stigmatic glitch is that anyone talking to her hears a weird ticking in the back of their head. If they keep talking to her for a while, the ticking becomes the sound of gears and machinery running wild. Also, the most fervent fans of the Katie Files sometimes see Bianca as Katie.

The dude, not the face.

Brandon Clements is a completely normal high school kid. He's decently good at school, he's on the varsity football team, he's white-passing of Indian descent and is from a rich family. And he is extremely bored. He wants to do something cool and he wants to have a fast, dangerous life. So he goes to dangerous parts of the city, he hangs out in alleys, that sort of thing. He's just got one problem: he blacks out and doesn't remember what the hell he saw or did, pretty much on the reg. His blackouts are caused by a mix of his hormone levels and heartrate as well as his fight-or-flight instincts. When that happens, the sleeper programming placed in him by the machine takes over, operating on a singular goal of survival.

As a baby, Brandon suffered from frequent ear and eye infections to the extent that he was often hospitalized. While it got better as he aged, even as a preteen he would be in the hospital once a year or so. At age twelve, his parents decided to try out an experimental clinic named Rising Hope, who claimed they could boost his immune system. They signed all the consent forms and signed him up for what the clinic referred to as "cognitive immuno-resuscitationg therapy," which Rising Hope claimed could solve any immune system issues. Two weeks of intensive therapies did the job - Brandon came out healthy, and with sleeper programming. Most Rising Hope patients weren't compatible with the process; he got lucky. The others got a bunch of injections with a cocktail of drugs that would greatly boost the immune system for a year or so, then burn out the entire body's systems, rapidly killing the victims - occasionally via spontaneous combustion. Brandon and a handful of others got "therapy" in the form of being subjected to high adrenaline and then sensory deprivation repeatedly. It caused the mind to isolate itself and strengthened the body's will to survive. These sleepers were also taught how to fight and run, though they did not remember any of it.

The question is 'why.' The Machine has no specific active goal for Brandon to achieve. He and his fellow sleeper agents are programmed as part of a God-Machine witness project. The Machine requires humans that can witness an event but not be changed by it at all. It's much more expensive to actively wipe memories manually than to set up a memory block that prevents them from forming in the first place, so that's why Brandon exists. He and about 50 other sleeper agents got produced before Rising Hope shut down, and most remain in the greater urban area. Brandon can't recall any of the times he's gotten into trouble, because when the programming takes over, he loses the ability to form memories. That said, his actions mean he's being tracked. A small ring of demons has found him and a few other Rising Hope sleepers and are busy documenting their actions. Most other patients were older and less interested in finding trouble, so Brandon's behavior sticks out. He stays alive, but several of the people and entities he's run into remember him. They're usually not happy.

For example, based on his actions, some demons he's witnessed think he must have been an angel. When acting under sleeper programming, he doesn't emote. Period. The blank look makes him resemble an angel or newly-Fallen demon rather than a human. That said, it's more of a side effect of the fact that when Brandon is under his programming, he doesn't count as a witness to supernatural powers. He can't cause compromises by witnessing a breach of Cover, he can't even prevent you from swapping Cover in front of him by being an observer, not while his programming is active. He still counts when his mind is in charge, though. Occasionally his programming has made him rescue people from muggings; this is not because of any particular heroics programmed into him, though, and it's rare. Happened only a few times, and generally he only does it by distracting someone. He can enter a violent fugue state, but his programming will only do it when it is impossible to flee. He's a better fighter than he realizes thanks to his unconscious training, but he's never been in a fight while conscious.

He does know he's tougher than most people. He can take a beating and barely notice, and that's why he does so well in football. His therapies resulted in massively increased pain tolerance, and he can shrug off damage normal humans couldn't. When he tries, he can outdo most of his teen peers on the field. He's actually scared by his own physical abilities fairly often - he doesn't know why he's so tough, and he's unsure if it's healthy. It'd ruin him socially to admit that fear, so he never does. He's used to downplaying his talents and he's gotten good at it.

Statistically, Brandon's not actually that much above average. He's tough and charismatic, but not inhumanly so. He's athletic, good at fighting with weapons and good at persuading people to help him out or like him. His programming means he has a knack for sensing danger, and his training provides him with great skill in improvised weaponry, resisting pain and acting without getting tired, but it also shuts off his mind when that happens. When his programming activates, he loses all emotions and empathy, even fear. His only goal is to find a safe place. He freezes up for a few seconds, and speaks only to give single-word commands; for some reason, his voice drops about half an octave. He ignores all requests, but he does still understand threats and analyzes them for danger. If he believes them, they can get him to change his behavior. He prefers to flee if at all possible; if not, he will fight like hell.

Next time: The Monkey Wrench, the Blood Taker

Psychic Murder Spy

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 15: Psychic Murder Spy

A nice lady?

Carlota Herrera is fairly unique - someone that got captured and remade by the God-Machine, then escaped to become a resistance fighter against it. She is a Stigmatic programmed as a sleeper agent to turn her into a psychic warrior for the Machine...but her programming's broken. This makes her dangerous to know, but also very useful. Even before she got taken by the Machine, she was an intelligence operative recruited out of the army. She worked as an assassin and arsonist against various threats to US operations, always working under deniable circumstances. It was just work, for her. Her family had a three generation military tradition, and while she couldn't talk about her job, they understood. During an operation in Ukraine, though, everything changed. What seemed to be a normal raid went horribly, horribly wrong. The group they were tracking wasn't a terrorist cell - it was a cult of the Machine, the Clock's Gentle Embrace. They trapped humans to sacrifice to the Machine in the false belief that it would reward them for doing so. Carlota's handler had been recruited by the cult and led her team into a trap.

The cultists ambushed the team in an elaborate set of tunnels, marked with occult symbols in bile and full of ball lightning. Carlota has started to recover memories of the sacrificial ritual. The cultists pulled cables from the ground and jammed them into her spine and skull. She can sometimes recall some of her fellows being fed into a machine of blades and pistons, despite trying very hard not to. She wanted it all to burn - and it did. Her mission was accomplished. The cult died, the building burned down, and she was the only one left alive. Officially, she was marked down MIA, presumed dead. She's gone off-grid, having decided that whatever she witnessed was the largest threat to national security that could possibly exist. For the good of the United States, the Machine had to be destroyed.

Carlota is a muscular Hispanic lady in her mid-30s. She wears her hair long to hide the strange puncture scar on the back of her head that is her Stigmatic glitch, which sparks visibly with electricity when she's under stress. She often wears hats or headscarves in public to avoid it being noticed, preferring military and tactical outfits if possible. She feels uneasy in civvies. She speaks rarely, and she always tries to be the first in and last out of any room. She eavesdrops constantly, watching for potential threats and clues. She knows the Machine exists worldwide, but believes that if she can free the USA of it, the rest of the world will be easily fixed. She knows demons exist but she doesn't trust like or trust them, even though she works with them frequently. She believes they have no loyalty to anything but themselves, especially when they talk about finding their own Hells. On the other hand, she can't do this job alone, and even her psychic abilities can't match up to demonic powers. Plus, demons tend to be better infiltrators than she is, especially as time goes on and she feels more and more disconnected.

The biggest advantage Carlota has to offer her demonic allies is also her biggest threat to them: the sleeper programming in her brain. It's very specific and it didn't work right. In the presence of an Infrastructural Linchpin, Carlota's programming activates. In theory it is intended to make her seek out and reinforce any weaknesses in the Infrastructure. However, Carlota's intense and terrible anger has altered the context of the programming. Instead of fixing Infrastructure, her programming now compels her to destroy the Linchpin and all aspects of the Infrastructure housing it. She also attempts to murder everyone involved in the Infrastructure or who happens to be in her way. Once she completes all this, the programming deactivates. Carlota is entirely aware of her sleeper programming and how it works, and she's very much not above activating herself to take down Infrastructure, even if it means killing innocents. Acceptable casualties and all that.

While Carlota is fully aware of the risk of doing so, she has maintained contact with her family. She knows it's endangering them, but she needs it. She uses old, obsolete military communications channels to keep in touch with her brother, Mauro, and her cousin, Angela. She's lied to them about what she's doing, saying it's a secret operation that required her to fake her own death, and has told them nothing else. She's also actively trying to reprogram herself. Not that she regrets her current actions - it's more that she's afraid the destruction she makes leaves a trail. Unfortunately, she's been unable to get access to her sleeper program so far, despite her best efforts with self-hypnosis. She's had more success gathering forces. She's using a bunch of secret funds to finance a militia she's named the Liberty Combat Army, hoping to exclusively recruit stigmatics for it eventually. Until she can manage that, she's using regular mercs. Once the group is fully formed, the plan is simple. She's going to have her paramilitary group track down Machine cults, angels and demons in the USA and kill them all. (In approximately that order of priority.)

Carlota does not have any special sense for Infrastructure components, so using her to detect Linchpins is...dangerous. Once she sees one, that activates her, so you know when you've found it. The problem is that puts you right at the spot her murder rampage begins. Good luck with that! Carlota is also unaware that she's tripped a number of intelligence agents' radars. Her handler's betrayal got noticed, and her formation of the Liberty Combat Army has made her a threat. From the perspective of her old bosses, she's a rogue agent aiming for regime change in the United States. Which, well, not too far from what she's doing, honestly. She thinks she might be tracked soon, but has no idea she has active watchers on her already. Also, while her programming is flawed, it's not useless to the Machine. She's effectively a wandering piece of Elimination Infrastructure, wiping out old projects that are no longer needed while leaving little to no evidence of anything but a rogue psychopath. She's not as precise as a cleaner angel, but she also can't Fall. In fact, from a certain perspective, she is an intensely useful servant of the Machine who just needs to be steered at the correct targets for its plans.

Carlota is strong and tough, but that's most of her skillset. She understands psychic powers to some extent but mostly she fights people, shoots people and sneaks around. Oh, and she's good at scaring people. She's an excellent martial artist, and her psychic powers let her numb people with a touch, she has minor telekinesis and she has very powerful pyrokinesis. As noted, her glitch is that she has a scarred puncture wound on the back of her head that releases harmless electrical energies when she's stressed.

Wannabe demon?

Donald Williams was a poor guy who wanted to be a doctor or surgeon, but had to work two jobs just to help get into college and couldn't afford medical school. He went for being a phlebotomist in a Boston medical lab because it was a decent second best. He'd always liked working with people and was good at calming patients during blood draws...until he ran into Sandra Jackson, a patient who came in monthly for tests under the guise of a cancer survivor. Donald liked her a lot, but he always thought something was wrong. She always seemed around ten years off on her pop culture. Despite this, she never seemed to mind him talking about his husband, though he was sure she'd be homophobic. Actually, she acted like he'd never said anything at all. He also was able to take her blood even when he was sure he missed a vein, and she wasn't weak like most chemo subjects.

Then she tracked him down outside the lab and talked him into going somewhere with her - specifically, to a piece of Infrastructure, where she hooked him up to some kind of blood dialysis machine. Donald isn't sure what it did to his blood and can remember very little of his experience. He just remembers waking up in an alley with small scars where the blood was taken and put back in and a splitting headache. His husband reported him missing and he got picked up by the cops soon after. A few days later, he began hallucinating, seeing strange visions. Everyone left him - even, eventually, his husband. Donald became obsessed with Sandra and what was done to him, becoming a haunted and paranoid person, suspicious of even those close to him. Especially them, really. After his husband left him, he broke into his old job and tried to steal Sandra's blood samples...but they were gone. He was starting to be able to sense the Machine's work, so he started looking for people like Sandra, hoping to test their blood. He sought out the Machine to better understand what was going on, and the more he learned, the worse his life became.

Donald began hunting angels, trapping them and trying to steal their blood when they came after him. He broke into the lab and stole sedatives to use against them, but he was never able to really capture an angel - the Machine just kept recalling them. When he found a demon, he got about an hour of testing in before the guy vanished and destroyed his lab. He's not sure what the hell the thing was. He could tell they were off, but the blood seemed perfectly human. He became curious about demons, and he's set up a makeshift lab inside an old South Boston building. He's put the equipment together from what he can steal or scavenge, and he's as close as he feels comfortable being to the Infrastructure he got abducted to originally. He's been cataloguing what gets done there and even believes he knows what it's for. He knows that angels come out of it, at least. He's supporting himself with part time work at a local blood bank, where he occasionally steals samples for testing.

Donald is a black guy with shaved hair, wild eyes and veins bulging all over his body. His skin is tinted a weird blue thanks to those veins. He wears street clothes and often forgets proper hygiene and bathing. He's still a kind man, but he's been twisted by his experiences. He cares about other people a lot, and that is still what drives him most. He's been horrified by all that he's learned and wants to save humankind from the Machine. He knows just enough about it to get into trouble and not nearly enough to realize that the Machine is far, far bigger than he is. He's curious but paranoid, so he's very cautious with the supernatural. He's got a scientific mind, which drives him to test and categorize what he can, though he's so obsessive at this point that he's more mad scientist than researcher. He mostly tries to trap supernatural beings and steal their blood for testing. If he talks to them, it's to make them complacent until he can get a needle in their arm.

On the bright side, Donald does have knowledge of all of Boston's Infrastructure. He maps it obsessively and spies on it often. He's tried to subvert some the way he's seem demons do, but mostly he just causes weird energy ripples that bring in angels, which satisfies him because then he can steal their blood. He's learned to interpret his visions to help hunt down angels and Infrastructure, but even now, most of the visions are painful and confusing. Mostly, he foresees the appearance of new angels a few days before they appear. He's also developed telekinesis and psychometric abilities, which he uses for his research. He's figured out that angels only fake having emotions, so he uses his psychometry to identify emotionally dead areas, and he subconsciously tests the emotions associated with anything he touches. His telekinesis is useful for keeping people away or disrupting their actions as he works.

Every month or so, Donald heads to Dorchester and offers 50-100 bucks to anyone that'll let him take their blood for control samples. He usually asks them a little about themselves to test if they know anything about the Machine. He once nearly got killed by a sleeper agent, which has made him even more paranoid. His ultimate goal is to destroy the Machine, but to do that he has to understand it, at least in his own mind. He has learned what Linchpins are and how they keep Infrastructure functioning. He's tried and failed at using them suborn Infrastructure, but his efforts mostly just break them, which brings demons around to find out what the heck happened. Donald knows demons aren't angels, but he doesn't know how or why they differ. He's gotten a demon to go into its demon form to escape him before, and it terrified him so much that he just hid while it got away. He's hoping he can find another and get the thing to go demon form too, now that he knows to be better prepared.

Donald is very smart and cunning, and he's surprisingly tough and manipulative, too. He's an excellent investigator and medic with a wide array of scientific and occult knowledge. He's also good at breaking and entering, living off the land and reading or lying to people. He's got, as mentioned, telekinesis and psychometry, plus he's sensitive to weird omens and the standard Stigmatic sense for the Machine. His Stigmatic glitch is the veins - all his veins are bulging and tinted electric blue, which is what makes his skin so blue and sickly-looking.

Next time: The Daydream Believer, the Cuckoo

Office Building Brain

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 16: Office Building Brain

I can't quite put my finger on why this face weirds me out.

Grace Pham is a sleeper agent conditioned by the Machine to function as part of its massive nervous system - the Command and Control Infrastructure. These pieces of Infrastructure are often integrated into corporate HQs, military bases or government facilities, which are already highly protected, and most agents within them have no idea what they are helping. But some projects, like Grace's, require more direct control. Grace thinks she just daydreams about weird shit a lot in her free time as a receptionist; she has no idea that her daydreams are reflections of her actual sleeper activities. She's an ambitious woman who graduated top of her class, plays multiple instruments and has half a novel written. She expected to be a top surgeon...but in sophomore year, she dropped out of college because her family could no longer afford to pay. The recession shut down their bookstore and her dad came down with lung cancer, and all the pressure was just too much.

Her life went through ups and downs, but she managed to help her family hold together. It took years, and she had no idea, when it all seemed to be getting better, how to get back on her old track. College was too expensive now, jobs hard to find and she couldn't move out in case her mom's depression or her dad's cancer relapsed. Thanks to her elder sister's connections, she got a job at Hampton Solutions, a corporation recently moved into the city, and became a receptionist. It was boring but not much else. Few calls came in, visitors never showed, and upper management liked her enough to send her to a corporate retreat. That'd be where the programming happened. Hampton Solutions, while quite busy, doesn't...produce much. They throw out a lot of words, but mostly they're business and marketing analysts consulted by various clients to do numeric analysis and write white papers. They do enough of this to keep the doors open, but a key percentage of their work backs Command and Control Infrastructure. Some of their charts and data - not a lot, but some - transmit orders and instructions. The company's been part of the Machine since shortly after its founding, and its databanks contain massive amounts of occult information.

The company picks key employees for corporate retreats at a special facility. These employees are programmed to perform new tasks in the secret structure of the company-cult. They picked Grace because she's determined, focused and ambitious - a perfect project manager for occult analytics. She is activated frequently and has led at least three projects to successful completion. Management is very impressed with her ability to plan, and she is marked for intensive future programming to produce an even better agent. She's a small, stocky Vietnamese lady in her 20s, usually with a ponytail and sensible clothes. She's got a birthmark on her right cheek that is a different color than the rest of her skin. When her programming activates, she puts on a green sweater she keeps in her desk, which is apparently a sign of rank and authority in the secret cult in the company.

As normal Grace, Grace is kind and soft-spoken at least until her academic interests come out - at that point she dominates conversation. She's still passionate, even if she thinks her ambitions are dead. She always carries a notebook, often writing down ideas for stories or reminders to herself. Her activation signal is a particular remix of Clair de Lune with reversed key tonality. The office plays this every day around noon, which all employees are required to use as their lunch hour. Activated sleepers meet for a brief lunch and spend the rest of the hour interpreting and sending out data in a special room on floor B5, which is under heavy guard. The company reinforces sleeper programming via freely available meditation recordings. While activated, Grace is ruthless, cunning and a tactical genius, largely because her moral fiber and personality are completely suppressed. She expects obedience, and for a sleeper agent she's shockingly good at improvisation and self-direction, which would be a problem if she weren't also absolutely loyal to the Machine.

Grace can vaguely recall her lunchtime activities and knows she zones out during lunch; she tells herself that these are daydreams, which she recalls only hazily anyway. She can't remember exactly what she was doing or what she saw, but she likes the feeling she gets. Every day after lunch she feels accomplished and fulfilled, which is otherwise not a common thing in her life. However, she's starting to realize something's wrong. She's started to notice weird phrases and symbols in her notebook, clearly written by her but which she cannot recall ever making. They aren't incriminating on their own, but they only started after the first corporate retreat. She's decided she's going to start recording her daydreams in as much detail as she can to figure out what's going on.

Grace has developed a giant crush on a coworker, Maxine, who works in the mailroom. The main reason she hasn't pursued it yet is that technically, Grace is one of her bosses in the corporate structure. Maxine has never been on a corporate retreat, and Grace feels an urge to invite her onto one - an urge that she is having great trouble resisting. In the meantime, she is running a long-term project while under sleeper programming. The Machine has noticed breakthroughs in brain mapping that it wants to take advantage of. Specifically, it appears to want a brain map of every living being on Earth for its files. One of the occult matrices involved in recording all these brain maps requires the sacrifice of an entire family. Sleeper Agent Grace has volunteered her own, though normal Grace has no idea and has yet to be called on to perform the act.

While Hampton Solutions is guarded by normal corporate security, the sleepers also make for a line of very effective defense. Grace is both a project lead and a combat lead, and she's personally executed someone whose sleeper programming broke down and started to rebel. The main reason these rebels happens is that the programming method at the corporate retreats allows sleepers to retain a sense of individual mind while active. This allows for people like Grace, who are self-directed and useful, but also means some people with a stronger sense of self rebel and attempt to escape or start splinter groups. Also, Grace has been using her daydreams as the source of inspiration for her fiction. While she cannot recall the exact details, parts of her sleeper agent life are recorded in the Winnie Magnum series, urban fantasy spy fiction that she puts out on a serial fiction website to rave reviews. A small proportion of readers are actually demons, who have realized that some of the fiction contains hints of the Machine's plans.

Grace is quite intelligent but otherwise average statistically. She's an excellent researcher and academic, decent with computers and science, a decent shot and fighter with melee weapons, a good writer and good at talking to people. She also speaks Vietnamese, French and Spanish in addition to English. She has no idea exactly how good she is at fighting.

Catch me if you can.

Liam Brown is always someone you know, even though he comes out of nowhere. He can see the demon under the flesh, but he's understanding and always ready to help. His presence causes compromises, but he seems to fit and he's always sympathetic. It's only when the angels come that a demon realizes that he should never have been there - and by then, it's far too late. Liam doesn't care. He's a survivor and he doesn't care who he has to throw to the angels to do it. He's a Stigmatic and he is more than willing to use his power to integrate himself into demonic covers to survive. He's an orphan who spent his youth bouncing between foster homes and the juvenile justice system. It was in juvie that he ended up getting pulled into the Machine's plans.

An angel disguised as a woman named Emily Brown had to pretend to be a single mom with a kid in juvie so she could set fire to an apartment block and kill all the tenants as sacrifices. It was all supposed to be a tragic set of deaths caused by a woman falling asleep with a lit cigarette. Liam was selected as the child entirely because his last name matched and his records were the easiest to fuck with. There's just one problem: Emily Brown liked her life too much. She enjoyed hanging with her neighbors, planning her routines and missing the son she had never actually met. One day she visited him, and that was the day she Fell. What had been purely a fictional relationship became suddenly real as causality and history twisted around her. Liam suddenly had vivid memories of a woman he'd never met raising him. He was spontaneously turned not only into a Stigmatic but an Offspring, the biological child of a demon. That's when the hunter angel busted in and started tearubg everything apart. Liam ran and never looked back, abandoning Emily and his old life.

Liam has become a con artist, fleeing the law and the Machine alike. He's insanely good at it thanks to the manifestation of his demon heritage. After a year, he became able to manipulate memories and integrate himself into people's lives. As long as he wasn't being chased, he could survive anywhere. At first, avoiding cops and angels was easy - they were able to be manipulated and distracted. Then the feds got involved, though, and they're harder to fool. Plus, the angels sent after him got tougher. He's realized that it's never going to stop if he can't get demons to help him out - or if he can't find a better way. That came when an angel came after him as he was hanging in a sandwich shop run by a demon whose Agency he'd been working with. He intended to briefly steal a cashier's identity, but found he was able to entirely become the cashier and go unnoticed by the angel. Even the demons didn't seem to notice what he'd done. Liam expected it to last forever...but Mr. Oregon, the demon shop owner, found his Cover rapidly deteriorating, and when he ended up captured by angels, Liam had to run again. But now, he had a tool to survive with.

When Liam isn't wearing someone else's form, he's a white teenager with a side-parted undercut. He's desperate, but he keeps himself looking good as best he can, favoring expensive clothes if possible. He always wears dark sunglasses to hide the circuit patterns in his eyes. Whenever he reaches a new city, he goes to the first Agency he finds and asks for shelter. If he can't get it, he'll head to the next city, but otherwise he makes himself at home, does odd jobs for local demons and acts generally loud and friendly...until he decides he feels unsafe or disliked. At that point he starts looking for a life to steal. He prefers victims with direct ties to a demon, especially close relationships, though he'll settle for indirect ones if he has to. That's because they're more likely to be protected by the demon, and also because he's lonely and feels a desperate need for company. He often tries to get involved in the life of the demon he's parasitizing, even if the form he's wearing was not aware of the demon's true nature. He's always a good listener. The main giveaways that he's not who he says are, firstly, how he acts, since he doesn't really alter his behavior, and second, his tics - he's got a habit of fidgeting with his hands when nervous. Last, his stigmata always show through.

Liam actually wants to become a demon entirely. He thinks of his power as a minor version of the soul pact, and thinks that he'll develop other demonic abilities with time and effort. He's always on the lookout for rituals that might complete his transformation. In truth, he's merely exploring the Demon-Blooded Cipher, and his ability is his first Interlock. The Demon-Blood Cipher functions for Offspring similarly to demons, but rather than a final secret, achieving the complete Cipher gives the Machine a backdoor into their brain and lets it force them to perform small but significant actions according to its will. This is explained in Heirs to Hell, the book on Demon-Bloods. Liam also has an angel buddy - Harmonious Convergence, the only angel that has so far not tried to capture him. It wants to use him as a spy on the demons he hangs with and offers power in exchange. Liam hasn't taken it up on the offer...yet. Liam is trying to teach his powers to others as a part of his scam. Specifically, he has a Youtube channel in which he pretends his powers are advanced psychological techniques, and he offers private lessons for a huge fee. It has, apparently, been actually working to teach people somehow.

Liam suffers occasional lapses in memory, but not because he's a sleeper agent. It's more of a side effect of the memory alterations that came during the Fall of Emily Brown. He's not serving the Machine (yet) - he's just selfish and trying to survive. Emily Brown is also still alive, using the name Ms. Peridot. She went Loud in order to escape the angels after Liam fled, so he's the only one that really remembers Emily Brown existed, and her Cover isn't one he'd recognize. Despite this, she still loves him and wants to reunite. Liam's victims also aren't dead - he's not making soul pacts, though he thinks he is. What happens is the people whose lives he inhabits are placed in quantum containment until he leaves their identity. They remember nothing of what he does when he's wearing their lives, so to outsiders it appears to be weird behavior accompanied by amnesia.

Liam's extremely manipulative but otherwise pretty average. He's got a wide array of skills but isn't very good at most of them except lying, which he excels at. He's a good con artist, hard to remember and good at fast talking. He is able to temporarily hijack identities or insert himself into other people's memories via his demonic Embeds, and they combine to form his first Interlock, Stepping In, which lets him transform into someone as noted above. He uses their stats and skills, and the Cover of the demon most emotionally close to them helps disguise who he really is, at the cost of risking compromise for that demon. Liam's Stigmatic glitch is the aforementioned circuit patterns in his irises.

Next time: The Cryptid Wrangler, the Ten Thousand Names of God

My Pet Monster

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: Enemy Action
Part 17: My Pet Monster

Are you an elf?

Shauna Jones is an animal-loving young lady who has always kept pets, from childhood to now. All kinds - cats, dogs, tarantulas, the lot. She worked as a volunteer at a no-kill shelter in Demopolis, Alabama, though she was never really a fan of the town. Too conservative, and she had a bad reputation because she moved out of her home in high school to move in with her boyfriend, who turned out to be making bathtub meth. He got arrested when his house burned down, but she got out before the cops came. As you can see, she's always been a poor judge of (human) character, which has made it hard for her to keep a job - she always ended up working for assholes, wage thieves, sexual harassers and so on. Animals were easier, and she got them in a way she never got humans. She ended up becoming Stigmatic in a trip to Montgomery - there's not really any Infrastructure at all in Demopolis, but outside Montgomery, she pulled over to check what she thought was a wounded animal on the side of the road. It turned out to be a mutilated animal corpse from an old sacrifice, with a blood trail that led her to a small cult compound.

Shauna pulled a shotgun out of her trunk, because it's fucking Alabama, I guess, and headed out to find the animal's killer. They were in the middle of a ritual when she arrived, and she witnessed the birth of an angel. While it looked human, she could tell it wasn't, and she memorized its appearance and fled. She called the cops on the cult but never followed up on what happened to them. She did hunt the angel in the woods and shoot at it, but there was a bright flash, an explosion and then nothing. She got hurled into a tree, fell unconscious and woke up Stigmatic. Shauna went back to Demopolis, but the world had changed. She had constant visions and fevers, and one day all her tattoos' ink flowed together sweated off her but left her skin still colored. She hid the dark colored sweat as best she could, but people avoided her even more now.

When the angel came to find her, she recognized it. She barely escaped its attack alive, largely due to camping in her car and always having her gun. She fled Demopolis for Montgomery, unaware that the Machine's power there was immense. She could sense it everywhere, and it wasn't long before she had to flee again. She stayed on the run for a time before she ran into a group of cat cryptids that lived near a large chunk of Infrastructure. She settled with them, feeling a kinship, and soon figured out that they could eat angels if they came calling and fed on the Infrastructure when they didn't. Shauna began training the cats and, eventually, the other cryptids in the area. She became more and more disconnected from other people, relating to the cryptids far more than she ever had humans. She set up traps and defenses, training the cryptids to attack on command, but she never did get attacked by angels again. Instead, a demon showed up to investigate. Not that she could tell a difference - or cared much. She set the cryptids on him and captured him, using him as a fighting dummy to train the cryptids until he managed to escape. Now, she uses her pack of weirdo animal friends to hunt any supernatural critters she can find, trapping them and using them to train her friends to fight even more.

Shauna, at this point, is more of a feral beast than a human. She remembers what living as a human was like, but being Stigmatic has made it even harder for her than it was to start with. Only the presence of cryptids calms the pain of her visions, and she lives as one of them, based out of an abandoned office bulding near the Alabama State Capitol building. While she lives like an animal, she does make sure to wear clean clothes and cover her arms She's a large white lady with a lot of muscle, short hair and heavy tattoos along her upper arms and torso. The tattoos are vivid and bright on her pale skin, and they always look wet.

Shauna's rapport with the cryptids is more than just being good with animals - she actually has a supernatural control over them, and has recently begun to use that power on normal animals as well. With enough time and practice, she could take control over every animal in Montgomery. The Machine has subverted Shauna without her knowledge, conditioning her and her pack of cryptids to maintain local Infrastructure even though they don't realize it. They drive off demons and, in return, the Machine allows her and her pets to live unmolested as long as they remain useful. Shauna seeks out Montgomery's Infrastructure so she can gain new cryptid friends, training them to defend their homes. She's yet to fully explore the city and doesn't have pets everywhere, but she's got animal friends at most of the city's major Infrastructure sites. Her powers extend to moer than just control - she can communicate with her pets telepathically, even over a distance. A few are smart enough that they can understand her in more than simple commands, and their hearing is good enough that they can hear her voice even miles away. They're rarely that far - they like hanging close by their friend! She talks to her cryptids often but doesn't like talking to normal humans any more.

Oh, and she has an audience now. Shauna's training ring for fighting cryptids has gotten a fanbase among some of the more bloodthirsty locals. She doesn't drive off people watching the training fights she sets up unless she can sense the Machine's taint on them, which she perceives as a smell. Indeed, she's actually started to encourage the audience once the betting started, because she's made a deal with the bookies and takes a large cut of the winnings, which is how she gets food and clothing money now. She's not above coaching her friends to throw fights to make money, either, and thinks it's fun to see the watchers predict a fight wrong.

Shauna is clever and tough, but even more than that she's fast, cunning and manipulative. She's a skilled trapper, knows a shocking amount about the supernatural thanks to her hunts, and is a good shot and very sneaky. She can live off the land easily, is exceptional with animals and is pretty good at dealing with street life. She's telepathic (but only with animals) and can clairvoyantly share senses with animals, can sense most kindsof supernatural activity and has a very strong will. She's pretty much always got her shotgun with her and always has two to three cryptids with her. Her most common ones are her cats, which are fast, strong and tough, often armored or able to steal Aether from demons, or similar powers. Oh right, and her Stigmatic glitch is that she sweats tattoo ink and her tats are always wet.

We're ending on a section on cults. Machine cults are more common than you'd expect, and the terror of them is less that they have fanatical hordes and more that they're very good at eroding individuality of members, who could be anyone, and convincing them to distrust outsiders. Cultists are people. Your neighbors, even your friends. Eccentric, loyal to a dark force, and yet still normal. Our example cult is the Ten Thousand Names of God. They were founded by angels, and their theology states that all deities that have ever been worshipped are emanations of the one true God. When the names of every god, goddess, demigod or figure of worship are collected and classified, all of humanity will spontaneously spiritually awaken and become enlightened. As a group, they are not aware of the Machine or their service to it, though some of the upper ranks ha ve started to suspect something. They've grown focused on technology and Infrastructure as they focus on more and more advanced equipment to achieve their goals.

You see, they know that the majority of god-names are lost - the names of forgotten gods whose cults predated writing, for example, or whose worshippers were wiped out or converted. They believe that a God-emanation can never truly disappear, so the names must still exist, buried in the minds or souls of the descendants of those gods' original worshippers. Therefore, they must develop techniques to extract these names. The methods they've found are almost certainly illegal, definitely nasty and very unpleasant, but the ends justify the means. They've caused permanent brain damage in some, killed others - but what is that against the apotheosis of humanity? The cult is not especially old, having been founded in 1981 by a trio of angels in the guise of respected anthropologists, archaeologists or theologians. They targeted grad students with promises of professional mentoring and used abusive brainwashing techniques to convert them. That was the easiest time for the cult, with the work performed using encyclopedias to gather the easy names. The hard work came after.

That part was when the cultists realized how many names had been lost. They began devoting the cult's resources to uncovering them, not only with their weird extraction techniques but also various archaeological expeditions and other research. The ancestral memory extraction was just their most ambitious project, developed by some of the cult's anthropologists using extremely illegal machines and unethical interrogation techniques. They've also begun working on a giant supercomputer, in theory to create a machine that will infinitely loop recitation of the divine name list. That wouldn't require nearly the processing power their computer is being built to, no matter how long the text strings get. The computer is a piece of Infrastructure under construction, and its purpose has absolutely nothing to do with the cult's aims. They just haven't realized it yet.

Most members of the Ten Thousand Names are highly educated, respected academics in their fields, and they continue the founders' technique of targeting promising grad students for induction and conversion. They serve as mentors, using their authority to bring their chosen students further into the cult via, again, abuse. They ensure their students are sleep-deprived, overworked and not appreciated by other professors and students. This helps strip personal identity and build internal loyalty, and a lot of prospects end up escaping just because they drop out rather than deal with this treatment from their thesis advisor. More desperate students, however, end up joining in search of an edge in the cutthroat world of academia. The cult is usually disguised at first as a club, alumni association or networking group that can help them professionally. Most members keep their actual membership secret, since they know belonging to a cult would harm their reputations. They instead rely on code phrases in articles or professional greetings to identify each other.

Most people never notice that these weirdo nerds are different from other weirdo nerds, and learning that these nerds have a weird religion isn't a big deal for most. Collection of the names of deities in search of enlightenment is weird, but on the face of it it's not evil. They don't learn about the victims. Obtaining victims for ancestral memory experimentation is the job of low-ranking cultists, in order to desensitize them to violence in pursuit of cult goals and to make sure that victims won't realize what's up until too late. Usually, grad student initiates are sent out to find people in need of money, offering them a chance to take a survey and family history screening to determine where their ancestors lived. Those selected by the initial screen are invited to a "long-term study," which most agree to for the cash. Both they and their recruiters are then slowly introduced to cult techniques - hypnotism and memory regression at first, but that almost never works or gets anything that the cult considers more than a false positive. After that, polygraphs and MRI scans. The machines are uncomfortable, but the subjects and students are assured it's all for the greater good. The final step is to plug the victim into a mystic machine and get the student to either do brain surgery on them or extreme hypnosis. Subjects never survive this in one piece. They die, suffer severe brain damage or become Stigmatic. Always. No matter what, these experiments are usually seen as successes. They might not be getting a ton of names, but the God-Machine is getting something out of it.

The Ten Thousand Names aren't specifically interested in occult power, but their archaeological and anthropological work has uncovered a number of ancient power sites and secret histories. They have a surprisingly large collection of artifacts and lore, which they have little particular use for but other people want. They're not too interested in making deals for access, though, unless it'll get them new names of God. Their rituals and initiations are more about secrecy and community rather than occultism, and so learning their secret rituals and codes would allow easy infiltration but not much mystic power. Their big secret is the ancestral memory experimentation, and the cult will kill to keep them secret. If they came out, after all, entire careers would be permanently ruined.

Members of the cult are rumored to partake in orgies and blood sacrifice; they don't. It's just a rumor spread by those who know there is a cult and assume all cults must do that kind of thing. Rituals exist to reinforce cult ties, but by cult standards they're nothing special. Most of the members aren't even aware that the search for names is not, in fact, the actual reason the cult exists. The Machine doesn't give even the slightest shit about the list, though it does find their connections and resources generally useful and is clearly getting something out of their weird brain experiments and supercomputer construction. The angels in charge of the cult are trying to find ways to prevent it from schisming - they've found that the theology they made up seems to cause all kinds of internal arguments. Jewish and Chrsitian scholars in the cult often argue about what qualifies as a god-name or whether saints and angels count, they fight over proper spelling or pronunciation - all kinds of utterly meaningless shit, often very petty, which is fracturing loyalties.

The good doctor.

Dr. Jimenez Sandoval is an anthropologist from the University of Chicago. He's quite famous in his field, has many awards, is widely respected and has run his department for ten years now. He's got a reputation for being an excellent mentor and most of his students are very successful in their own right. He's also an angel. There is no Dr. Sandoval, not really - there's just an angel whose name is a wordless symbol, wearing the face of an anthropologist. He's one of the founding trio and is the best at pretending at humanity. He's been doing the job since 1981 with only minimal Machine interfacing, and he's actually starting to care. He's found himself liking his colleagues in the department and the students he teaches. He's unsure if it is better to allow himself these feelings, though they may risk a Fall, or if he should deliberately destroy them, which would potentially disobey his orders...and therefore also risk a Fall.

Dr. Sandoval appears to be a Hispanic man somewhere between 40 and 60. He's exactly 5'5" and keeps himself looking proper and dignified. He doesn't care about fashion, being an angel, so he just wears black exclusively. He doesn't talk about himself often and prefers to ask about others. He's good at emulating friendliness, and most people do not suspect he's anything but what he seems to be. He doesn't have full stats - just two listed dicepools, because you are extremely unlikely to need to punch him. He's got 6 dice to get people to tell him about themselves and their goals, which he uses to learn people's desires for better ability to manipulate them. He has 7 dice to confuse people and make them question any apparent inconsistencies in the cult's actions compared to its goals.

I like her hat.

Delores Audwyn is a woman who has always excelled, always gone to the best schools and always loved science. She's a neuropsychologist who sees the human mind as the greatest frontier of discovery, full of infinite secrets to be learned. She was recruited for the Ten Thousand Names, and while she was initially skeptical and unhappy with the cult's more bizarre work, she has become a true believer, especially after seeing the results of the experiments, which really do produce groundbreaking information on the capabilities of the brain. She's a black lady in her late 20s of mixed African and Caribbean heritage. She loves large jewelry, wears trendy clothes and prefers to keep her hair in a scarf or headwrap. She's extremely smart and passionate about her work, but she's not very good at reading other people and telling when they're lying to her. The angels running the cult adore her because she's super easy to manipulate and her faith makes her easy to steer in the long term. Were she to learn the true nature of the cult or be forced to directly deal with and think about the monstrosity of what she does, she might be able to be turned - in which case she'd be extremely dangerous to the Names. Alternatively, it's possible that her continued work alongside the angels may render her Stigmatic.

Delores also doesn't have full stats, because not only will you probably not punch her, she doesn't even have punching skills to begin with. She's just a smart lady. She has 8 dice for grant-writing and persuading people to donate money to her projects or to generally persuade folks to do stuff for her. She has 7 dice for doing research on anything related to psychology, neurology, archaeology, theology or similar, and it never takes her more than an hour to do it. She's super good at it, and if PCs offer her a suficient favor she'd be happy to do it for them.

The End.