Summer Crossroads - DFW Metaplex

Ring of Fire

Session Three – Part Two

Mustang waited patiently in the shadows of the hallway…well, what shadows were to be had. The fluorescent lighting and rather modern office feel to the interior left little in the way of cover. Sleek straight lines along hallways broken only by the occasional office door of dark wood. The more elaborate office doors were flanked by tall panes of frosted glass.

So far, some Professor had crashed their poker game to speak to a professor about some other missing professor. Some sort of convoluted mess that generally wasn’t his thing. Mustang liked to keep a low profile and this group had been anything but. Still, a man was dead and some greater evil brewing so he couldn’t just leave it alone.

Hard charger, that’s what his CO had called him in Afghanistan. Injustice, on both sides, was a daily occurrence in a war zone and not much had set well with him. Mustang always had the urge to get in the middle of it all, despite any reservations. His CO had always shrugged and told him that it gets you one of two things – a medal or a ride home in a flag draped casket.

Skire and Marion were searching through Professor what’s-his-name’s office a floor below, while Anita and Lucian searched Professor Donald’s office just down the hall. Mustang was sure they were getting mixed up in something pretty bad – just that feeling you get, you know, when an incoming mortar is whistling just a bit too close.

They’d been in there a while but the campus was quiet. He’d seen a few people roaming the halls but it was early morning, probably during classes and everyone was locked away somewhere in a room giving lectures, listening to lectures, or studiously punching away at a keyboard in an office. Campus security had come a long way in the past several years, but when you’ve got the office key, invisible half-feys, and burglars with a talent for bending light, it just doesn’t cut it.

Still, something was making him uneasy.

There was a momentary shift in the light just down the hall. Could have been nothing more than a shadow cast by a passer-by around the corner. Mustang sunk a little further into the one dark corner he could manage, but the hall remained empty.

The light shifted again, ever so slightly.

His hand went to his Desert Eagle as the light rippled down the corridor. His other hand slowly reached for the fire alarm nearby.

The Professor’s door creaked open. Marion was looking out into the hallway wide eyed. She’d sensed something as well and as she peered blindly down the hall, whatever it was made a sudden rush for the door in a wave of barely noticeable distortion. Mustang threw down the fire alarm. The buzzing was instantly followed by a sharp click and the hiss of rushing water streaming down from the sprinkler systems. The rippling distortion flickered and melted away as the water poured down over a solid form.

Blue, nasty and row after row of needle sharp teeth in a cavernous maw attached to a hunched over bi-pedal form that was vaguely simian in appearance. Marion saw it at once and as the creature stuttered to a halt it let out a low growl. Suddenly everything went black.

Mustang blinked, looking down the barrel of his weapon where the creature had once stood. He tried to focus – darkness was one of the few steady friends in his life. It hid him but revealed all of it’s dark secrets…normally. But this inky blackness defied his sight. Weapon raised, he strode forward slowly, not daring to shoot with Marion so close.

A wave of heat washed over him and he could just see a glowing inferno flare in front of him. It bruned feebly in the inky black, as if staring at a great flame at a distance through several layers of fine cloth. Slowly the blackness faded and the world returned. Marion stood pointing a blasting rod down the hall, now thoroughly soaked, and smoking gelatinous goo puddled in front of her.

“Move!” Mustang shouted and they were rushing down the stairs, nearly crashing into Anita and Skire in the stairwell.

The office dwellers had certainly been aroused as they heard stairwell doors clanging above followed by panicked voices and sloshing footsteps. As they reached the lower level, the hallway was starting to fill as people scrambled for the exits.

Marion and Mustang sprinted across the grass toward Darryl’s truck, parked and running at the curb while Skire, Anita and Lucian dashed for the Volvo in a nearby lot. Mustang paused briefly to open the door and push Marion in. Darryl was once again staring blankly into the distance and Mustang groaned – he picked a good time to go bat shit again. But before Mustang could shout it, Darryl had the accelerator down hard.

“I see them…right there…something..” He sputtered as he whipped the car tightly around a corner. Mustang squinting and unable to get a bead, he glanced back behind them through the empty gun rack in the Datsun’s back window. The Volvo was sliding deftly out of the parking lot and falling in close behind.

Another sharp turn and Marion slid across the cab pressing Mustang against the door. Mustang freed his arm and started cranking on the window, keeping his gun ready in the other hand. The campus wasn’t a place to take clean shot, but seeing as though he had no idea what Darryl was following, he needed to be ready if the opportunity presented itself. Marion was fumbling for her blasting rod again and Mustang sighed. Keeping a low profile was just not gonna happen, ever.

The Volvo was keeping pace, but Darryl’s erratic turns were making it difficult. They careened through an intersection and found themselves racing hard through neighborhood streets. Nice little ranch homes that had had their white picket fences for probably 50 years and not too accustomed to a high speed chase.

The Datsun lurched down an alley, back end sliding precariously and the Volvo zoomed by with a flash of brakelights. Marion and Mustang compressed up against the old rusted out door squinted out the windshield, still unable to make out their target.

As the Datsun bounded out into a neighborhood street Marion called out “Stop, stop!” Darryl came to a screeching halt and suddenly the cab started to fill with energy. Maron leaned out over Mustang, her blasting rod pointed out the window as Darryl reached for the stereo. With a word from Marion, the yard next to them was suddenly a sheet of flame and several inhuman screeches could be heard within. Meanwhile, Darryl stared vacantly down the road, the truck stereo dial spinning wildly stopping short as he gestured down the street.

Trumpets blared and an acoustic guitar strummed out with an upbeat tempo as the deep bass of Johnny Cash filled the air.

Mustang was reaching for the door, gun in hand. Instinctively he checked the street as he opened the door and movement caught his eye. Something small, mostly flattened, began to twitch in the gutter. A fluffy brown tuft sprung to life, twitching in time with the stereo-

“I fell into a burning ring of fire…”

Fascinated, Mustang struggled to keep his eyes on the flames in the yard while the tiny form twitched and danced, slowly rising up. With an odd shuffling gait, the tiny squirrel, blood crusted and mishapen chattered down the street toward them.

“I went down, down, down and the flames rose up higher…”

With a screeching fury, the Volvo came skidding around the corner at the far end of the street. The twitching squirrel stopped briefly, a resigned look on it’s mutilated face. Brakes smoking and screaming, the Volvo skidded to a halt just shy of the tiny squirrel and the critter raced toward the Datsun.

Mustang raised his weapon, trained on the flames ahead of him which still encircled their invisible quarry, but eyeing the incoming death squirrel all the same.

“…and it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire”

Then there it was…that feeling again. Incoming. As the music steadied, suddenly the air was charged to capacity. Mustang could feel the hair rise on his head and the stereo let loose a pitiful wail that ascended into an ear splitting scream. Mustang dove for cover as the Datsun blasted into the air on an expanding cushion of electrified air. Blue lightning sparked out from the truck to the ground as it shot ten feet above the pavement and came down with a magnificent smash, the frame sparking as it collided with the pavement.

Mustang shook his ringing head clear, crouched low, his firearm still trained on the circle. As expected, the flames were gone and leaping out came one of the toothy beasts. With calm precision he put a bullet straight in it’s throat and the creature jerked backwards, crashing to the ground mid-leap. Moving forward he could feel the air getting tight around him and he kept his gun trained on the beast. They better get the spell right this time.

The creature thrashed about wildly under an invisible force and Mustang glanced to see Lucian nearby, hands outstretched focused intently on their quarry. Skire was sitting in the Volvo under Anita’s withering gaze, her hair standing on end as arcane energy arced off the car.

Yeah, low key just ain’t their thing.

A call for a tow truck, a garden hose on the lawn, and they piled in the Volvo, Anita insisting Skire ride in the trunk as they tore off to the sounds of sirens at the campus.

The creature was a Hob – usually servants of the Unseelie court; Winter Fay. The teams in the offices reported numerous finds, none of which made sense. Meth, drugs, lists of trips to South America and a wad of cash. Professor Donald, who had come to warn them, apparently had a box with some minor divining foci as well. He also seemed to have a string of amazing archeological finds to match. The other Professor, the first to disappear, was apparently the one with the missing obsidian knife. They at least had a picture of that now and had some emails from an interested party, an architect on the UNT campus. Apparently a layman with a bug for archaeology.

The party returned to their hotel figuring their next lead should be to try and find Professor Donald. Marion tried several tracking spells, each coming up empty. Empty as in absolutely no sign. The man was dead or in the Nevernever, neither of which boded well.

Darryl, along with his new twitchy pet, insisted that Dead was the most likely option. For him of course, it was always the only option. However, his hunch proved right as he called forth some necromantic mojo to track down the corpse.

They never asked the source of the bone finger as the party drove up the Interstate following it’s spinning clues. It led them well north of town, just outside of Denton to an out of the way field. A small warehouse and out building sat in a chain link enclosure, a cement truck parked in the gravel drive next to it. The bone finger spun wildly for a bit pointing at once toward the building then and off to the north further along the interstate.

The plan was to approach cautiously and Mustang noticed, as usual, the plan wasn’t panning out. Lucian seemed the only one capable of keeping his head down, which became increasingly more difficult – they were being watched.

A jaguar crouched atop the warehouse in the deep shade of an overhanging oak. It was motionless and quite fixed on the middle of the skirmish line the party presented as it approached the property. Skire, who seemed to think crouching in an open field was the equivalent of stalking and Darryl’s concern being chiefly his twitching pet. Both were under a watchful eye and Mustang passed on a warning.

Darryl, undeterred, placed his now stiffening pet onto the ground, disappearing amid the scraggily grass at his feet. Quietly, he began to clap out a rhythm and soon the mottled tail sprang up and the little creature shuffled toward the out building. Scaling the building it began to root around on the roof until it finally disappeared inside. As it did, there was a sharp buzz and a puff of smoke and Darryl shook his head.

Lucian was rapidly approaching the perimeter unseen. Mustang, catching Lucian’s eye pointed toward the building and with a nod Lucian crept forward. With a deft flip Lucian was over the fence noiselessly and Mustang crouched down ready to provide cover fire if necessary. Within minutes a voice whispered into Mustang’s ear, carried on the gentle wind, “Some kind of ritual, lots of blood in there…I’m going to check the warehouse, is it clear?”

The jaguar had been joined by another and they both sat crouched by the main gate, unaware of Lucian’s presence and focused on the party members they could see in the clearing outside the fence. Sneaking by them across the yard would still be too risky.

“It’s not clear but you should be able to come out the way you came.” Mustang whispered, and he felt the wind stir around his cheeks and carry off toward the buildings.

More movement outside the gate and a half eaten coyote hopped toward the fence. Mustang shot a glance at Darryl and he was once again lost in concentration, tapping out some sort of hillbilly tune on his leg. The moldering coyote began pawing awkwaradly on the ground by the warehouse as bits of fur and flesh jangled from exposed ribs. Moving to investigate, a jaguar slinked forward out of the shadows and Lucian deftly put the distraction to use, coming back over the fence and toward the party unseen.

Skire, seeing his chance, fired off a round at the jaguar. The big cat jerked at the sound and with a flinch, it tore off around the building with blinding speed.

Mustang looked around, motioning the crew back toward cover and they headed back into the brush where the Volvo and Anita were waiting.

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