Lost Words

New York, it was a city always reminded of war, always reminded of destruction. If one traveled beyond the reinhabited zone, hugging the East River, you could see the remaining scars of the First Arcanotech War, in the form of rubble, ruins, and the regrowing wild of 'Old New York'; blown to pieces by the orbital bombardment and lightning fast Nazzadi mecha, who wanted to leave nothing but ashes remaining of Earth's first capital. Or one could just take a look at the unfinished arcologies, rising off the coasts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, the first levels of the mega-structures barely completed, marked by fire and fighting. Once symbols of the Big Apple's rebirth, now just more bones reminding everyone of what was and what could have been. Another sight, clearly visible through the thin cloud cover that night, which made any mortal remember the constant struggle Earth was enveloped in, was the Migou Hive Ship. It was the planet's second, smaller 'moon', an alien harbinger of Human and Nazzadi kind's extinction.

Despite the sights, in one neighborhood you could forget the troubles. With Brooklyn's once arcology hanging on the horizon, Greenpoint throbbed to the beat of hedonistic life. A plethora of Red Houses, bars, clubs, and theaters were ready to pore out the drugs, sex, and alcohol for all buyers. In contrast to the cheaply and hastily built structures of cinderblock and wood, which housed them, the establishments' advertising was state of the art; three dimensional holograms reached out, as digital spam clogged the views of those plugged into the augmented reality of the net, along with good old fashioned blinking neon-lights. They called for patrons, enticing them with all the pleasures the New Earth Government's laws approved, and then some that weren't most likely - which remained few. It was probably the only part of New York that could still be said to never sleep. This included the ever vigilant military, the guardians of the city operated out the half-built arcology and the adjoining, resurrected Brooklyn Naval Yard. It somewhat spoiled the fantasy of escaping the Aeon War, but also cast an illusion of safety over the neighborhood. Evidence of their wardship could be seen zooming overhead in the form of aircraft and the flying Kameni mecha; ironic the Nazzadi war machines, which probably helped destroy the original New York, were now keeping it safe. The multitudes of soldiers partaking in Greenpoint's services also kept the businesses very happy with the armed forces' presence.

James walked the packed streets, watching with his dark eyes. He knew everyone here thought they were safe from the Migou, the cults, and other dark forces that sought to unmake Earth. Of course, New Yorkers weren't as deluded as those whose cities had the fortune of being rebuilt into a functional arcology. New York was an outsider city, out in the open and exposed to the enemy, who was well to remind them with raids and terrorism; it was only last week the bugs tried to strafe the new financial district of Astoria. Still, they largely fancied they were safe, the NEGAF would always ride in to drive them off. But James knew better, even before stumbling upon the true face eating away at the heart of his race, he knew what haunted the shadows. These soldiers think they're away from the front, but they're right in the middle of a battlefield.

He side stepped some of those troops, a throng of liquored and drugged up mech pilots, who laughingly half collapsed toward a Red House - whose prostitutes awaited eagerly for them. One of their number, a beefy Caucasian man, fell into James and decided it was not his fault. "Hey watch where the fuck you're going."

James replied by removing his badge, identifying him as a NYPD detective. "Unless you want to spend your leave in jail soldier, I suggest you move along."

The pilot scoffed at him, slurring every word. "Your badge don't scare me, the bugs don't even scare me, why should I fear you?" He puffed out his chest.

The pilot had a point, James was not a very intimidating looking man. He was quite a waif, always predisposed toward books then to physical excursion. He wrapped his thin frame in a thick, but still sleek looking turtleneck, further protected from the winter chill by an imitation leather trenchcoat. A matching fedora covered his head of short, spiky, pitch hair, which topped his squarish face. Many said James looked pale or sickly, despite the fact his skin was a natural deep tan. His complexion was the inheritance of his primarily Mohawk heritage, but possessed a good dose of European blood from his parents, both half-Indian too; though it wasn't like blood quantum was really an issue in the modern world of the late 21st century.

Sliding between them and staring the pilot down, Shiv answered coldly. "Because I'm his friend."

Given that Shiv was even thinner and shorter then James, would suggest the soldier would find him even less intimidating; especially so, given the fact that he was younger then the already youthful detective, an adolescent in fact. In spite of this, the pilot recoiled in the face of the kid. Maybe it was the fact Shiv was a 'White' or Sidoci - an aberration, born of the mixed seed of a Human and Nazzadi coupling. Unlike most Xenomixes, whose complexion was a merging of the two mortal races, shading them a silvery gray, the 'Whites' were called such because of their sheet white skin and hair. The detective knew they possessed a strange, disconnected aura, which at the same time repelled but also attracted in an alluring, mysterious way. He'd heard pseudo-theories about this being pheromonal, and he could see this being true with Shiv disguising his otherworldly features with a layer of beige colored, skin tone makeup. Or maybe the intimidation factor was just his post-apocalyptic biker get up, with half a snarling face poking out beneath a beanie and mirror-shaded goggles, reflecting the intoxicated soldier's face right back at him. What ever the case with the sharp chinned youth, there was something quite inhuman about Shiv, and it was far more then his Nazzadi blood.

The mech pilot glanced back to his laughing friends, shame restoring his liquid fueled courage. "Well you get some too!" He raised his ham sized fist, clumsily broadcasting his move.

The Sidoci quite literally beat him to the punch, moving his fist like a lightning strike to the pilot's jaw. With strength far beyond someone of Shiv's stature, his blow sent teeth and blood flying. The soldier collapsed at the foot of his fellows, muttering in near unconsciousness. Shiv's surprising might was not natural, but para-psychic power focused through his muscles. The ability to channel the supernatural forces, by will alone, was second nature to every White Xenomix, and another reason they were feared.

The other pilots were stunned, angry but quite stunned. To emphasize they were not to be messed with, Shiv slid out one of his knives, letting the light of holo-advertisement gleam off it's well honed edge. It made his unspoken message very clear. James backed up their threat by reaching in his coat for his CS-40 'Defender' pistol, but not fully drawing it from his shoulder holster. The soldiers complied, dragging their large friend away, mumbling threats and insults.

"Thanks." James said to Shiv.

"Man, your kinda pussy for a pig." He blurted out bluntly, and continued toward their destination.

The detective rolled his eyes, but at least he could say he wasn't exactly a cop. Oh sure, he'd minored in Criminal Justice back in college, even considering the recruiter's pitch to join the infamous federal agency of the OIS - the Office of Internal Security, the ever feared enforcers of paranormal law. He was a valuable commodity after all, given his aptitude in sorcery. However, life had other plans for him, and his occupation was merely a cover for other ends, such as for the purpose of his current jaunt.

They took a turn down a less crowded side street and stopped outside of a small black painted building, touched up by fake hieroglyphics. At the door, a holo sign depicted a flowing black-light river, which formed into the letters reading 'Black Nile', before melting back into liquid. It continued to cycle through this transformation non-stop.

"Well here we are." James proclaimed.

Shiv just quietly looked it over.

James then noticed, coming the other way, was the rest of his troupe. Pushing his way not so politely through was a man who refused to go by anything other then his callsign of Panic. He was a tall Caucasian, built, but not overly so, roughly the same twenty-something age as James. His dark, almost black hair was unkempt and approaching shaggy, matching the untended stubble on his strong jaw, which in turn resembled his clothes - consisting of the same jeans he'd worn for over a week and an untucked, wrinkled button up, beneath his own trench coat. All in all, Panic appeared like a total burnout.

Maneuvering with more ease and finesse was Taraly, who they more commonly called Graze. She was a full blooded Nazzadi, a few years older then Shiv, with a lithe body, accented by curves. Her cardinal streaked hair was pulled back into a messy bun, held by a head band composed of a rolled up bandanna. Some loose bangs of her long silky strands fell to the sides of her youthful, high cheakboned face, that humans would call a mix of Caucasian and Asiatic. Graze didn't dress herself in the revealing fashions of her people, and not just on account of the season. Instead, she covered her jet black skin and white tattoos with the loose fitting, grungy attire preferred by the fans of Sahwhy music - a sorrowful but outraged rock-sound, birthed from the diaspora of Southeast Asia. James had to admit, it made her look cute in her own way, even in the oversized fatigue jacket and half-zipped up hoody she kept herself warm in.

The detective nodded at the pair, passing a brief smile to Graze, who returned the expression.

"Hey Ward." She greeted him with his own callsign. It was a play off his cover as a cop and his sorcerous skills.

Panic interrupted, muttering loudly. "This place looks fucking ridiculous." Commenting on the bar. "And a dump to boot."

"Well they chose it, not us." Graze dismissed him.

"Not a bad choice." James chipped in. "A place like this is crowded enough to be considered public, but low key enough not draw any unwanted attention."

Shiv's contribution was to silently walk toward the entrance. The rest followed, entering a spacious, lowly lit tavern, where an Asuvez band played their fast, Latin-folk style off their acoustic instruments. On the Neo-Egyptian mosaic-dance floor, the Black Nile's patrons performed the twisting and twirling dance that accompanied the music. The companions moved to the bar to gain a better vantage over the place.

Earlier that evening, they'd all received a message from their operator, Scatter. The hacker had been tipped off about some transfers of funds by their opponent in the 'Shadow War', as the secret conflict had been named. James's murder, or pack as the Eldritch Society officially preferred, was just one of many who fought on the secretive front lines against one of the most powerful corporate entities on the planet, the Chrysalis Corporation. It was a titanic front, used by one the most insidious of cults, the Children of Chaos, spreading their corruption unknowingly throughout the NEG. The Society had splintered off from them, founded by renegades who could no longer stomach the evil of the corporation. And the Black Nile was now a battlefield, with those funds distributed in cash form and delivered to the establishment, reeking of some hidden motive.

Glancing about, there was no normal way they could really discover where the receiver of the money was, or guess what it was for. However, Graze and Panic both possessed gifts that could smoke out the Chrysalis's minions. James watched as the Human and Nazzadi gazed over the Nile, studying each person. Graze had told him it was like opening herself up, allowing her to feel the otherworldly taint that smeared both body and soul. Again, her and Panic differed in style - while he observed in a forceful, almost hungry looking manner, Graze leaned back, unobtrusively sniffing out their query.

Graze then locked onto someone at the opposite end of the bar, but James couldn't perceive who exactly it was, given the many who clamored for intoxicants. She raised her PCPU or 'peek', which took the form of a small metallic orb, hanging off a necklace of beaded chain. Activating the murder's private channel, heard from their wireless earpieces, she informed. "The tall guy at the end of the bar, in the leather outfit, he's one."

The detective reached out his eyes, struggling to track the pinged target in the darkness. He finally spotted the guy, grabbing a beer from the bartender. He was indeed tall, looking like he was mixed with a variety of Human ethnicities, whose wavy hair hung shaggy, and dressed himself in a stylish pair of pants and coat of maroon leather. He appeared like any other mortal in the Nile, but it was only a facade the Dhohanoid wore.

Beverage in hand, he headed through the dance floor, with the murder in tow. Graze told them to spread out as they shadowed the creature, following him to a rear sitting area. However, the Dhohanoid didn't fully enter the space, remaining at the edge, sipping his drink. He was about to ask Graze what their their next move was, when he noticed the man was watching something himself. Tracing the Dhohanoid's line of sight, James's vision came to rest upon a booth, where a couple sat.

The one most directly facing him, was an African man with a runner's build, donning an expensive white suit. His hair was sheared to the skin, along with any on his long face. The other, whose back nearly faced him, was a plump woman, short, with shoulder length auburn curls, wearing a gothic-industrial style of club gear; numerous piercings and tattoos, including a few Nazzadi style ones, decorated her flesh. He couldn't be sure, but the man seemed to be gazing off, throwing his attention to a new part of the tavern every few seconds. One of these glances brought James's attention to another watcher, a square jawed blonde woman with short messy styled hair; she stood a few meters off to his right.

Are they guarding them, or is this an ambush? And he voiced his thoughts through their channel.

"So you see the others too?" Graze said quietly back.

Shiv joined in. "You mean the black guy and the fat chick at the table, right?"

"What fat black guy?" Graze spoke confusedly at the Sidoci.

"I don't know what any of you guys are talking about." Panic interrupted. "I only see the Dho were tailing."

This is just great, James mentally complained.

Then Shiv blurted out. "Um, we got company."

James spotted Shiv, and followed his eyes to someone else pushing through the crowd. Just as they shoved their way into the sitting area, including knocking aside the Dhohanoid in leather, he caught a glimpse of two professionally dressed women - one Nazzadi and one Human, holding pistols. Once clear of the dancers, they raised their weapons in two hands, like pros. The Human shouted at the couple in the booth. "OIS, freeze!"

The pair did as commanded, with the woman looking absolutely terrified.

"Maggie Luntz." The Human OIS agent stormed out. "You are under arrest for illegal possession and sale of occult knowledge, surrender now!"

While the named Maggie Luntz, stammered out her words, James caught the Dhohanoid reaching into his jacket, presumably for a gun. The detective realized the other watcher was doing the same. Oh shit…

Suddenly, Shiv was behind the Dhohanoid, pressing his knife to the disguised creature's kidneys. And before he could do another thing, a gunshot went off. Simultaneously reaching for his own pistol, James's eyes hunted for the source of the blast, seeing the Nazzadi OIS agent gripping her throat, collapsing; the bullet shot from the smoking firearm held by another member of her race, a sharply dressed male with long hair. Oh shit!

All hell broke loose after that, as the music died and the bar's patrons panicked. The long haired Nazzadi continued blasting away at the other agent, who returned fire as she dropped low. James readied to take out the blonde near him, who struggled to finish drawing her own weapon in face of the stampede. However, the detective's attention was drawn back to Shiv, as the Dhohanoid revealed himself.

It was hard to miss, seeing the shaggy man's face stretch into a long necked, amphibious skinned monster, with huge glowing saucers for eyes, and a deadly beak for a mouth. He snapped at the Sidoci, who repeatedly stabbed the beast in his neck, tearing out large chunks with his psychically enhanced strength. Then the jagged beak of the thing struck true, and James swallowed his fear, turning his weapon on the Dhohanoid to save his packmate. There was no time to aim properly, in addition to the still fleeing patrons, so he took the best shot he could. The bullet whizzed right between both of the combatants' faces. He could just see Shiv glowering at him, if he wasn't fighting for his life.

"Goddamn it!" James growled to himself at missing.

He was about to try again, the room a little clearer of bystanders, when he saw another of the creatures appear. It resembled it's 'brother', except fully transformed into a vaguely humanoid mass of cephalopod tentacles. It sprinted with horrifying speed toward Shiv; and though James popped off a shot that blew a hole in it's chest, the wound didn't slow the Dhohanoid down one bit. Then Graze entered the fight, except she was wearing her other shape.

Graze was a Tager, the divine warriors of the Eldritch Society, merged with an otherworldly symbiont to battle the monsters of the Chrysalis corporation on an even footing. The Nazzadi was wrapped in symbiotic armor, a black chitinous and crocodile skinned monster that stood two meters tall, with elongated arms, and legs bent like an animal's, all covered in rows of jutting thorn growths. She looked out her two sets of sunken eyes, emerging from a snout like face that ended in a pair of long spikes instead of a mouth, as she tackled the Dhohanoid. Like a shadow, the symbiont type was named for, she just dropped from seemingly no where, revealed as her strong, spiky grip knocked her foe to the ground.

Transfixed by the brawling creatures, James almost failed to see the blonde woman taking aim at him. With only a moment to think, James leaped for the cover of an overturned table, wildly firing away, as she shot off her own rounds. One of her bullets caught him in the chest, but a brief arcane flicker of light absorbed the projectile. James thanked the Creator he'd spent the time casting the protective ward on himself; occupying much of his day drawing the geometric and totemic designs of his tribe, mingled with more common occult symbols, all along his body, weaving a protective shell about him. Just in case, James also wore his concealable police-issued body armor, even though it interfered with the flow of the mystic energies of his spell. Still, together they nearly equaled a military grade protective suit.

Another of her shots kept him low, behind the bullet ridden table. James readied to return fire, when his opponent screamed. The detective glanced over toward the far side of the bar, where Panic emerged in his symbiont form. He now stood almost as high as the ceiling and roughly humanoid. His massive, smoke colored body was mostly torso, standing on strong legs and balanced by tree trunk sized arms, all which ended in massive talons. In the upper center, something vaguely resembling a head jutted forth, rising beneath it's stone hard flesh, ringed with numerous yellowish eyes. It was a true horror to look upon, aptly named a Nightmare type, which sent the blonde Human and the long haired Nazzadi fleeing in terror. A slit ripped open on Panic's 'head', where an enraged bloody eye burst forth, emanating a red mist. This even gave James pause, especially when the Tager's chitin, bee hive looking shoulder growths burst forth a crimson blast of energy that ripped into the fleeing Nazzadi, shredding the gunman nearly in half. Panic roared, then bound with an uncanny speed into the fray.

The Tager's next victim was the Dhohanoid battling Shiv. The creature was shifting more and more into it's inhuman shape, lashing out with it's tentacles at the dodging Sidoci. The beast had enough time to look up as Panic reared his claws, slashing them right through his neck. With the Dhohanoid dead, the corpse shifted back into the man he was, even the decapitated head. James closed his eyes to the grisly sight.

The Nightmare wasn't done, bounding over to Graze. The Shadow continued to struggle with her Dhohanoid, keeping the squiggling monster down, while she punched it over and over, shredding it with her thorn growths. Despite it's wounds, the tentacled monster continued to try and break free, until Panic brought his foot down, smashing it's skull to a pulp. The body reverted to a light skinned woman in a ravaged dress.

Once the fighting was done, James surveyed the Nile. The bar was practically empty, with only them and a few other stunned witnesses. One of the awe struck was the Human OIS agent, who knelt over her bleeding partner, unable to take her eyes off Panic. To the detective's shock, the Tager moved over to the agent, leaning in close as he flexed his claws menacingly. The Latina-looking agent's lips quivered, eyes wide at the horror before her. What the hell is he doing, James mentally cried. But Graze grabbed his arm, eying her packmate; probably telling him to back off, through the telepathic link all Tager's shared when wearing their symbionts.

With Panic bowing down, Shiv literally leaped over to the wounded agent. Using strips of cloth, torn from the agent's clothes, he started bandaging the wound. He turned to the rest of the pack. "She'll live, the bullet only nicked her." Glancing at her partner. "I don't know about this one though." Then the Sidoci helped himself to both their firearms.

Over his earpiece, James heard his fellow law enforcers were arriving. "You all need to leave, now, the cops are on their way. I'll stay behind and see what I can find out from their end."

With his last word uttered, his packmates were gone. Graze had vanished once again, while the other two hightailed it toward the exit. The Nightmare melted back into his mortal shape as he ran.

James proceeded to speak into the police channel. "This is Detective Bardon, I'm already on scene at the Black Nile. We have two OIS agents down, send an ambulance!"

His partner, Rob, stepped over to him with a coffee. "Here Conner." Speaking with the central Canadian accent from where he moved, after the first war.

"No thanks." James refused, answering to his cover's name, Detective Conner Bardon. He was still worked up from the fight and just wanted to calm down.

Rob shrugged, sipping his own cup. Robert Godley was a man of large girth, but not as unfit as his extra weight would suggest. He was nearly twenty years James's senior, with his short, combed back brown hair showing signs of gray. His hazel eyes rested on a friendly, pudgy face. The fellow detective preferred to dress in more professional attire, consisting of the best quality suit an underfunded police man's salary could afford.

As another street cop passed them by, wearing his navy blue combat armor, Rob handed him the coffee. "Here, take this."

"Huh." The officer took it, confused.

"Just say thank you and move along." The detective said with a smile.

And the street cop did so, nodding as he joined his fellows surveying the Black Nile. It crawled with the girls and boys in blue, collecting evidence and the bodies; one of which James watched being wheeled out in a sealed body bag, to the coroner's hover transport.

"What a mess." Rob stated, taking another drink of his steaming beverage.

"Yeah…" James answered, trying not to let the horrors and bloodshed sink in. He could have cared less for any minion of the cult ridden corp, wishing for their destruction even. The violence and the shapeshifters' true face just brought back painful memories…I need to get out of here.

"So how'd you end up here?" His partner asked.

The question caught him off guard, but answered after a second. "I was out looking for some fun…heard the gunshots when I was passing by." Telling a practiced lie. "Why?"

Rob smiled. "I was going to write up the report for you. You look a little shaky, might wanna just go home and get some sleep."

A paramedic approached. "The agent's coming to."

Rob moved to follow her. "I'll take care of this too."

"No, let me. I'd like to know what the hell was going on here, at the very least." James stepped away from where he'd been leaning, on the outside of the bar.

"Not like you'd get any answers from a witch hunter." Rob called the OIS by their pejorative.

"You never know." James slyly smiled. He needed to find out anything he could, otherwise it would just go down in the Society's annuls as another skirmish; and the gut, cops were known for, was telling him it was far more then that.

Agent Paz Romano sat in the back of an ambulance. She was about average height, olive skinned, with black curly hair cut into a bob, and a chin that jutted out slightly. Her eyes were still wide, though she looked significantly relaxed compared to when she was guided out of the Nile.

"Agent Romano." James began.

She snapped her sight over to him. "Huh, oh yes?"

"I'm Detective Bardon, and this is Detective Godley." James introduced them. "We just wanted to let you know your partner, Agent Kyziny, will be fine. We also had some questions for you about the incident."

"Thanks, I don't…I don't even remember her getting taken away." Romano muttered. "Did any one catch Luntz?

"Who, ma'am?" Rob asked.

James knew who she mentioned, the woman meeting with the suited man. But he couldn't mention a word of it, if he didn't want blow open his story. This rang especially true with the OIS involved.

"I guess not. Shit." Romano cursed. "Well Maggie Luntz, she's a dealer in the Arcane Underground. Just a small timer really, but I'm sure you can understand how dangerous even that can be. I mean look what happened here, God."

James didn't need to be told about that. "Do you know what she was doing here? She was dealing with some heavy mojo for just a small timer."

Rob added. "And where were the marines, I thought you guys always have some those juiced up gorillas in the shadows for stuff like this?"

Romano made a heavy sigh. "I know…I know. We just thought nabbing her would be easy. She was going out in public after exposing herself not even a week before. I should have seen this coming…I should have, damn it!" James was about to offer some comforting words, when her eyes filled with anger. "And did anyone see that damn thing, with it's bloody eye, did anyone!" Her voice going frantic. "I swear I'm going to find it, something like that shouldn't exist!"

"Don't worry." Rob spoke calmly. "I'm sure you will."

James decided to dig. She was obviously unhinged from Panic's stare down or whatever the Tager was doing, and he was worried he'd lose her. "Did you know why Luntz would expose herself, or who she was dealing with?"

"No…It should have been an easy bust…That thing shouldn't have been there, it shouldn't be alive…." Romano looked down, breathing heavily. The paramedic even glanced at the cops, silently saying she needed to go. James complied with his eyes, knowing it was only a matter of time before Romano's fellows arrived and hushed it all up in true OIS fashion.

"Sorry." James said to her a bit awkwardly, he never quite knew what to say in emotional situations.

Rob patted the agent on the shoulder and guided his partner away. "So what do you make of that?"

"That they made a very bad assumption about the dealings of this Maggie Luntz." He answered him. "Well how about we put an APB out for her arrest, and I'll see if we have any files on her."

"I'll take care it, partner." Rob stepped up again. "Just go home, you look like shit. I'll send you everything I sniff out in the morning."

James agreed and went off to find his car. He parked his silver Gemini a few blocks away; the two-door sports model of course, he didn't need the sedan's family four door type, not planning on children, let alone a girlfriend anytime soon. A voice command started up the D-Cell that powered his car, generating the extra-dimensional energy of Arcanotech. He was far from a mood to manually drive, letting the Limited Artificial Intelligence of his ring shaped PCPU, he named Ewennahnotha ('Learned' in his ancestral tongue, an inside joke of giving the device an 'Indian name'), hook up to the car's computer and drive him home instead.

His home was in the 'Shine' part of Greenpoint, a residential area near the arcology. It was called such because it basked in the glow of the red light portion of the neighborhood. James's dwelling itself was typical of New York, a four story pile of cinder blocks, recycled by nanites from the old city, designed to be only a temporary shelter until the arcology was finished. At least his landlord had the sense to add some brick siding, giving the building some visual appeal. He lived on the third floor, with a corner unit that faced the front and side alley.

The detective wasn't much for decor, being a bachelor, as well as a workaholic for both his employers. His place was furnished with an old couch and love seat, a coffee-cum-dinning table that had quite a few food stains, a fridge of condiments, along with cupboards of cereal and instant food stuff to be shoved in his second rate nanofactory. He did add a little ethnic flavor to his place with some Native American knick-knacks and spiritual items, which also doubled as sorcerous tools.

James's had always been curious about exploring the mystic undertones of his own culture, while studying his sorcerous craft. It turned out to come in quite handy when gathering ingredients for his rituals, since the government kept track of more commonly used components - and his cover identity was not a registered sorcerer. Sorcerers were carefully watched, and for good reason, something the Eldritch Society figured might get in the way while waging their secret war. Despite this, James still had to proceed with caution not to end up with the OIS knocking at his door.

He did have one piece of furniture he did adore. After removing his coat, hat, boots, and armor, he sat down in his plush, personal-adjustable and actual leather chair. It was a rare Ekornes reclinable, since the company was devoured along with Scandinavia by the Migou. It was his father's, and he loved sitting in it since he was little; after his parent's death in a Nazzadi raid on the Ashcroft facility he worked at, the company that founded Arcanotech, it took on a whole new sentimental meaning. He exhaled his stress, trying to let his body unwind.

The comfort of the Erkones wasn't enough though, especially since just seeing a Dhohanoid brought back the memories. Images played out in his mind of when he went for his sister, answering her pleas as she sobbingly agreed that he was right about the 'Lodge of the Circle', being nothing more then a dangerous corruption of Iroquois beliefs. He remembered being shocked as the leader, the so-called medicine man, blocked their exit from the cult's perversion of a long house. James, being a good big brother, told his sibling to remain behind him…then the shock hit him, journeying with the bullet that struck his arcane armor, turning around to see the smoking gun belonging to her…The betrayal was almost as horrible as the thing the fake medicine man turned into…

James felt the scar from the Dhohanoid's claws on his chest. Then the detective reached out to unscrew the hollow leg of his coffee table, and removed his ultimate relaxant. He shook out the components of his pipe, followed by removing his small pouch of opium. Even though the drug was a completely legal, it was still heavily regulated, with only certain allotments allowed per month by users. In a similar vein to his sorcery, he didn't want to bother with government approval and the risk of being forced into rehab, with a similar sentiment for the Society. Any worry about those repercussions vanished, along with his dark memories of earlier and of further past events. They all drifted away with his exhaling smoke.

"Get down!" Her mother roared, as she pulled out her pistol.

Taraly obeyed, dropping to the floor as the bullet blew out the back of the Domi's head, dropping the overlord of New York's Nazzadi underworld. However, the two toughs, friends of her parent, shot their own guns with trained, military precision, adding her oty's blood to the wall.

Taraly screamed, she couldn't believe it, watching her mother's body fall. She said they could trust her Domi, that he'd help. Suddenly, she was violently pulled up by strong, scaly hands. She looked up into the cold red eyes of Natkiga, eyes she once thought were just bored with the world around him, not those of a callous murderer. The Nazzadi adolescent held her firm, his always gloved hands fully exposed, revealing the fish like scales and talons beneath. "You can still carry our great father's seed."

Natkiga forced his slimy tongue down her throat, choking her…

…And Taraly sat up gasping for air, knocking Silohy off her chest. The tabby cat, frightened, leaped off her bed, heading under her owner's night stand.

The Nazzadi realized she wasn't back in the office, where her old life had come to an end, only in her darkened bed room. Thanks to her race's nightvision, she could still make out every detail. Seeing the graffiti, paintings, and drawings scattered across her walls. A poster of her favorite Sahwhy band, Tiêu Tùng or 'All Lost', made up of mostly Vietnamese refugees, hung above her head. While across from her, sat an easel with an unfinished painting of an old family picture, hazy shadows cast over those members who passed; she stalled on the depiction of her mother. Paint, charcoal, spraypaint, sheets of drawing paper, two extra canvases, and assorted other art supplies lied around the room as well; but it had a neat, orderly placement.

Taraly closed her almond eyes, colored red like any Nazzadi's, and breathed in deep. She thought on her nightmare and the event that really happened. The memory of the betrayal stung, and her hands went to the cord necklace resting on her nightstand. On it were two pendants, one was the pentacle of her faith, and the other a crystalline, four pointed star of her people's old religion. Her parents had been initiated into the worship of the dualistic God and Goddess of Wicca, joined by a few other members of their Nelzoki - a military collective the warriors of her people were raised in, at least the fake memories, implanted by the Migou, told them that. Still, a bond was a bond, and it was sealed in fire during the First Arcanotech War. Taraly had even been reared in one, the still integrating Nazzadi not knowing what else to do. Then the neighboring Humans' anger boiled over, enraged by the fact their former foes, invaders who'd wiped out billions of lives, were living side by side with them. Some sympathetic members of her future coven would rescue her and her twin from the flames, set by the rioters. So thankful, her parents chose to embrace their beliefs, especially her father. They found a connection with the nature revering faith, discovering similarities with their own race's manufactured, polytheistic religion. They found it appropriate to honor the Earth, the planet that was their new home, a place where the Nazzadi would become their own people, more then the duped clone army of the bugs.

The other pendant, a piece of shaped red quartz, represented the dim red dwarf that lit her people's fictional home planet, a symbol of the god, Jyna. Jyna, according to the Korali creed, was a deity of the stars and sky, a dreamer whose stories told of his simple awe of creation. Her mother had given it to her when she was young, telling her Jyna loved the arts and those who produced them. Even then, Taraly was skeptical, wondering why her parent would give her something that was a lie, a tool the bugs used to manipulate the Nazzadi. Her mom said it still was an important symbol of who they were, and her way of showing she loved and supported her daughter…of course, Taraly had tossed it away when she left them to run with the Nuradi - their people's 'mafia'. It wasn't until after the Domi had stabbed them in the back, that she wore it again. Holding the pendant reminded her of the guilt of getting her parent killed, and the burning desire to end those like her killers. They were what fueled her passion for the Eldritch Society's cause.

She sat up, sliding the pendants between her fingers, thinking more on the nightmare. The mere thought of Natkiga made her squirm, dredging up how powerless she had felt. He wasn't even in that office, just delivered right to that freak and the rest of those fish-heads…I'll never be that weak again. But I should have gone straight to the cops, she told herself a hundred times. Oty would still be alive, but I had to be stupid and not trust them. Taraly, even to this day, was wary of the authorities, seeing them stand back as her apartment burned during the riot, claiming her baby sister's life. The aid of her coven showed her not all humans were bad; but it wasn't enough for her mom to forgive them, leading her into the arms of the Nuradi. To bad they sold out there own long ago, learning later the Domi was selling Nazzadi as sex slaves to the cult of Dagonites who infiltrated her neighborhood. Should have just went to the cops. It's where I met James…Her cat then leaped into her lap, purring and rubbing herself against Taraly, for attention. She petted Silohy, and decided to she needed to cleanse herself.

After placing Silohy on the bed and donning her necklace, she stepped over to a small wooden chest, which contained her altar. Taraly removed the items she needed, unfolding a cloth on the flattened top of the container. She followed by placing a candle for each direction and their corresponding element, lighting them. Next she filled a small stone bowl with water from the sink of her room's private bathroom. She finished by mixing some crushed sea salt into the fluid, and began the ritual by casting a circle, spinning around slowly with her ritual knife. Taraly called on each element and invoked the deities, then anointed herself from her forehead, to her heart, and down to her hands and feet with the salt water.

She said her quiet prayers, asking for peace. The words of the ritual had long been memorized, especially since she became a Tager. They had told her she would change after the Rite of Sacred Union, which bonded her with the symbiont; and ever since she'd survived the grueling ritual, she found her patience magnified and her temper cooled. But Taraly had no conscious about killing. She possessed no bloodlust or sadistic urges, she just found she could kill with ease, feeling no remorse. It quite frankly disturbed her at times, especially when the urge struck to take the lives of those who weren't Dhohanoids or other servants of the Children of Chaos. If someone was a problem, the idea of simply murdering them often crossed her mind. Taraly's faith was one of the few shields she felt she could muster against such compulsions.

Then a loud knock disturbed her venerations. "Hey, you awake in there sweat meat?" Panic bellowed, his mouth stuffed with food. "Ward called, and he's going to pick up Shiv for a meet up."

Taraly groaned, and finished her prayers with a thought to her family. She asked for peace to the souls of both her parents and baby sister, extending it to whoever they were reborn as. Then wished to her still living twin, Fekira, all the blessings and protection to him on the battlefields of Asia. The Nazzadi blew out her candles and snatched up her peek and earpiece.

Her silenced comm device indeed held a voice mail from the sorcerer. Taraly listened to the brief message as she exited her room, followed by Silohy. It simply stated what Panic had already told her. Even though they had all the encryption available through Scatter, things were still kept short and vague on such easily traceable communications.

The Tagers' safe house was a second story apartment that took up the whole floor. The rest of the place was divided into a living room and kitchen, with a hall that lead to the rooms, and connected to the rear workout space and public bathroom. The dwelling was meant to house five, but currently only Taraly and Panic resided there. The Nazzadi herself knew the other two Tagers who once lived in the apartment, the ones who recruited her into the Society, eager for a new crow to replenish their decimated numbers; sadly they in turn were killed in a Chrysalis ambush, just after she finished the Rite of Sacred Union. Panic had been teamed up with her from another murder, also fresh from bonding with his symbiont, to keep the Black Hearts murder going.

Out in the living room, Panic had already returned to his perch on the sofa, watching television and devouring corn chips. He zoned out to some petty reality show about feuding wannabe models, trying to win a contract with a firm. He mockingly laughed at the stars' antics, making crude comments under his breath. It was pretty much all the Human did when they weren't actively waging the Shadow War.

"You done praying witch girl?" He said with humorous contempt. It was his other hobby, insulting everyone else. The Nightmare was quite possibly the biggest asshole she'd ever known.

Taraly replied with a middle finger, entering the open kitchen space, divided from the living room by a counter. She decided to indulge herself as well, grabbing a carton of cinnamon ice cream from their fridge and dug out a plentiful portion. The Nazzadi topped it with hot sauce and pretzel bits. Ever since she was a kid, her tongue favored any dish that mixed sweet, spicy, and salty.

She joined her fellow crow on their couch and began to scarf down her treat, dropping a few pretzel bits for her cat. Panic stopped his own face stuffing with a snarl of disgust. "Are you pregnant?"

Taraly didn't even know how to respond. "What? Ugh, no."

"Well you sure eat disgusting crap like one." He followed his proclamation with a burp.

"Yeah, and you're the picture of perfect eating." She went on to call him a lazy, disgusting moron in her native tongue, and returned to her breakfast. Humans had such a bland palette for all the flavors of food they produced.

"Like I gotta care." He mumbled, getting up. Panic brushed the crumbs off the same clothes he wore last night and the night before that. Taraly found her people's obsession with always looking neat and fit exhausting and superficial, but her fellow Tager epically failed even her low standards.

Panic proceeded over to their nanofactory and dropped in the food stuff to generate more corn chips. He discovered early on their bodies could survive off nothing but junk food and not gain an ounce of unnecessary fat, thanks to their bonded symbionts. It was a dietary fact she indulged in herself, especially given the athletic look demanded on her by her fellow Nazzadi. As long as they filled their stomachs with some kind of nutrients, a Tager would always stay in a healthy shape. Again though, Panic took this to the extreme. If he was an ordinary mortal he'd probably be obese and in need of a bypass.

Taking advantage of his absence, she changed the channel to GNN. She selected from the various news feeds offered at that hour, choosing the one on China. It was the fiercest front of the war, with nothing but spins about 'strategic withdrawls as both the bugs and the cannibal warbands of the Rapine Storm ravaged what remained of Asia. A three way slaughterfest, and somewhere in the middle of it was her brother.

"Hey, I was watching that." Panic yelled.

"Oh shut up." She dismissed him. "I wanna see what's going on in the real world."

Panic stepped back over with a fresh bowl of chips. "Well let me tell you what the propaganda machine doesn't think you can bare. We're getting our asses kicked, and another million poor fucks are feeding the worms. Same story, different day. Now can you turn it back, I think Tanisha was going to make out with Fahmidah."

"Kanayari." She called him the Nazzadi equivalent of an asshole.

"Sorry, I don't speak lab rat."

"Then learn house ape."

He laughed. Taraly just shook her head with a sigh. Even though Panic was a jerk, they were packmates, bonded in blood like a Nelzoki. She learned pretty quick not to take him too seriously, for all his jibes and lack of hygiene, there was loyalty beneath it. She wondered how he'd gotten the way he was. Taraly did know he was once an agent of the Federal Security Bureau, running afoul with the Chrysalis Corporation through the agency. She also spied a photograph of his once, a family portrait containing a clean cut version of Panic, with presumably his wife and baby. Beyond that was a mystery, he said who he was before was dead and no longer mattered, fuming with an almost violent bitterness if it ever came up.

Panic returned to the indent he left in the sofa. Taraly took a whiff of him and added. "Why don't go learn to use the shower while you're at it, you stink."

"But don't you love my manly smell, isn't it alluring?" He finished with a chuckle.

"Yeah, and was that what you were doing to that witch hunter last night? Alluring her, what the hell was that?" Remembering when the Nightmare had stood over that OIS agent, sucking up her fear.

Panic shrugged, then turned away, dropping chips into his mouth.

She decided not to pursue the matter further, going back to the the news. It was something she just started noticing about him, an urge of his to terrify. Intimidation came in handy in their line of work, but Panic relished in it. It's like me and killing…but he's embraced it.

Her peek buzzed, indicating a new message. Listening to it, she announced. "Esharveer says they're here." And the Tager couldn't help but feel relieved at not being alone in Panic's company anymore.

The guns were laid out on the table, each individually taken apart, every piece cleaned and ready for reassembly. Shiv had the two Defenders he swiped from the witch hunters and the MP-6A1 machine pistol he picked off the corpse of the Dhohanoid he tangled with. Satisfied with his examination, he began to put them back together, just as he was taught. Long hours he spent as a child disassembling and reassembling guns, sharpening knives, fixing armor. Last night he'd already patched up his own make-shift protective suit of scavenged Kevlar and composite metals; thankful the Dhohanoid's bite had only gouged out a shoulder pad, and not a chunk of his pasty hide. The care he took in his equipment would have made old Caesar proud. Too bad the bastard's probably rotting in some shallow grave, somewhere.

His mind drifted to memory of the man who 'raised' him. Caesar had taken him in after he'd run off from the state run group home, overflowing with kinless or abandoned kids left behind in the wake of the First Arcanotech War. Shiv was of the later, dumped on social services by his parents, who ever they were. It was the fate of many of his particular stripe of half-breed, shunted off because of their freakishness and their para-pshycic abilities. It was those still developing powers that landed him in trouble, accidentally killing a fellow orphan after another round of taunting that turned physical. Shiv fled that night, eventually ending up with Caesar, luring him in with a kind word and a plate of food.

And what did a drug dealing, trouble-shooter like Caesar want with his own Sidoci? Well from the moment he came under the old man's wardship, Shiv was put under grueling training. Before he hit puberty he could field strip just about any firearm, and memorized all the vital areas where a blade would work the best. Caesar must have heard something about Whites, wanting to hone his freak into his own personal assassin for the Monzano Cartel, which he served most of the time. In fact, one of his freelance gigs, which Caesar was sure to keep quiet from the Colombians, was what landed Shiv with the Eldritch Society.

Shiv finished putting one of the Defenders back together, when his old, slide open, palm-sized peek rang. He answered it verbally with his earpiece. "Yo Ward, whatta you want?"

"We need to meet up with the rest of the murder, got some info courtesy of the hunters." The sorcerer answered. "Think you can be ready?'

"Yeah, meet me at the bakery on 20th and 6th." Shiv replied and hung up. He wasn't one for idle chat.

The Sidoci wrapped up each of his new guns separately, a little annoyed he didn't have time to finish. It was one of his only true pleasures, to clean, repair, and test his gear. He could just focus on it, like a machine, taking his mind off the stress, off the things he'd done. It was also one of the few things allowed to him as a child, and he learned to love the distraction, which also made him a better killer. Still, it was business time, except these missions actually mattered, actually served a purpose other then settling debts and taking out witnesses and other trouble makers for the cartel. With the firearms' parts in hand, he hid them in a secret panel, concealed inside of a vent of his apartment. Shiv decided to keep the rebuilt Defender on him, in addition to snatching up a few of his knives and donning his body armor; it fit in quite well amongst his usual attire of leathers, denim, and other simple durable material.

Shiv hid his closely cropped white locks beneath a beanie, covered his milky eyes with his mirrored goggles, and wrapped the exposed ivory skin of his lower face in a scarf. His features were completely obscured, adding a warm work-coat to the mix, with his leather one needing a patch from last night's scuffle. He wasn't trying to hide his identity, but disguising himself was second nature, another important lesson beat into the Sidoci. Not only was it vital for the word not leak out about a 'White' hitman gunning for them, but even more so to keep the authorities off Caesar's back. The OIS monitored his kind, and Caesar made sure to keep off the radar. It was no wonder they drifted through the rural parts of midwestern North America, eking out in nearly abandoned towns and battle scarred wastelands from the Nazzadi invasion. Thinking over all this, he sometimes wondered why the old man would have gone to all the trouble to keep him. The numerous scars, left from Caesar's knife, were probably part of him taking the stress of it all out on the Sidoci; his 'lab rat tattoos', as Caesar once called them, were a secondary reason Shiv always hid his flesh. Thanks to settling down however, Shiv had to get registered, considering his kind were as rare as roc's teeth. The Society had given him a new name of course, taking up the identity of a recently deceased White (whose records of his passing were 'mysteriously' never processed), and a cover job as the maintenance man for his building.

Shiv left his one bedroom dwelling, a unit in one of the many public housing complexes, filling up 'South Arc' - an unofficial title to the southern tip of inhabited Brooklyn, designated Greenwood by the authorities. He had a nice view of the failed arcology to the north, while only a few blocks away, he could cross the parklands into the ruins of Old New York. By the city's standards, it was a rather undesirable piece of real estate; but Shiv had lived in far, far worse places, and he didn't have to pay rent, so he wasn't complaining.

A fresh coating of snow was falling from the January colored sky, as Shiv walked with a brisk pace to his destination. South Arc's graffiti strewn streets were only lightly traveled, given the weather and it being a weekday, with the adults off to work and the kids at school. A few other walkers were out, almost universally retired elderly or young adults and truant teens pissing time away. They were mostly refugees from the more war ravaged parts of the world, dominated by humans with some Nazzadi here and there. The Sidoci had figured out this was how the government kept the shell of a city populated, dumping the homeless of the Aeon War into it's gullet. Even the mayor was from long fallen Russia.

Freshly baked bread filled Shiv's nose when he entered the small Swedish establishment of 'Gotlund's Bakery'. He ordered some Cardoman Rolls for breakfast, paying with actual physical Terranotes, and went back outside to wait for his fellow crow. As he took large bites out of the rolls, he instructed his peek to fill his earpiece with some music. What was commonly referred to as Outy, started to play from his programmed mix. It was a sound drawn from rural influences across the North American continent, mingled with a rock beat. It was the music of the outsiders, the forgotten townsfolk who lived between Earth's great arcologies, hence the name of Outy. The Sidoci felt the themes of it even fit in the forsaken, former capital of the NEG.

A song and half later, James pulled up in his Gemini, and Shiv dropped into the passenger's seat. He continued listening to a ballad about a broken man returning to his hometown from the war, while James guided his car to the neighborhood checkpoint, where their IDs and genetic code were inspected. Waved through, they continued onto the New Prospect Expressway. Through relatively light traffic, the sedan headed north alongside the arcology, rounding it into Greenpoint and another checkpoint. Observing out the window, it was hard for Shiv to imagine the stories of Old New York's freeways and streets being a sea of honking gridlock.

The detective parked his car across the street from the bodega, which rested under the Tagers' safe house. It was located right on the edge of Greenpoint's main business tract, just away from the crowds of pleasure seekers, but close enough to not warrant any suspicion of strange comings and goings. The pair entered the bodega, which in the modern age mainly served as a public nanofactory. Food stuffs or materials needed for common house hold items were ready to be bought and compiled for customers. There was also some shelf space available for those companies who either didn't allow their products to be generated by privately-owned nanofactories, or made them 'naturally'. All in all, it freed up quite a bit of store space, compared to their counterparts in earlier decades, leaving the bodega about the size of a large bedroom.

Esharveer sat behind the counter, an Indian man in his thirties, with slightly outgrown curls, and large eyes. He always seemed to wear a very intense face. "Hey, howzit?" Speaking with a South African accent.

Both Shiv and James greeted him back, though Shiv stepped over to the store owner. "Esharveer, can you compile me a pack of Mary-cigs?" And he handed him a few Terranotes.

The bodega owner nodded, and Shiv waited as he fetched the materials needed to generate a pack of marijuana cigarettes. While waiting, the Sidoci's eye fell onto the shotgun Esharveer kept behind the counter. He knew the pistol grip weapon as Benelli combat model, and Esharveer kept it for more then protection against robberies. He was in on the Society, a sentry for the safe house and a relayer of verbal messages for the murder. What caught the former hitman's eye however, was the shoddy upkeep of his weapon. What did this guy do, load it like five years ago and let it sit? He had to fight the urge to snatch it up and clean it right there. I woulda got one hell of a beating for this.

He returned with Shiv's Mary-cigs, and the packmates were off. They took the steps, half-hidden behind a door, near the bathroom. It was a security precaution to keep the safe house veiled from any spies that might be following visitors, and give the Tagers extra time or an escape route if trouble did come a knocking.

Graze let them in, then rejoined her fellow Tager on the couch, watching the news and eating junk food. The Nazzadi's cat stepped over to Shiv, purring as she brushed up against his legs. At least somethings don't think I'm a freak.

Panic greeted them. "So what's so important that you had to interrupt my daily dose of B.S. from GNN?" He smiled evilly at the Shadow, who rolled her eyes.

Shiv decided to take a seat, retrieving his fresh cigs, joined with his bowie knife and a whetstone. He lit up his weed and started working on his knife. This was how the meetings went, Panic would throw his insults around, Graze might toss some back, while James fought to keep everyone on task. Eventually he'd hear what needed to be heard and some decision would be reached, usually with Graze refereeing. The Sidoci figured he would get a nice buzz going to tolerate it, while sharpening his knife. He needed a smoke anyways, losing what was left of his last pack at the Black Nile.

James began, removing his hat to rub a hand through his hair. "I got a chance to question the OIS agent. But I didn't get much beyond that woman at the table's name. She was quite disturbed." He eyed the Nightmare.

Graze gave the other Tager a severe stare, while Panic raised his hands. "What? And what woman at the table, I didn't know a damn thing about what you guys were on about?"

Shiv joined the conversation. "The Dhos and their sidekicks were watching a meet of their own. A fat woman was one of them."

"And that is Maggie Luntz." The sorcerer-cop continued. "I guess she's a small time occult dealer. The agent told me her and her partner were after her. They didn't consider her dangerous enough to call in for backup. She said something about Luntz being stupid enough to come out in public after exposing herself."

"Morons." Panic added, but everyone ignored his outburst.

"So she exposed herself, what was that about?" Graze asked.

James shook his head negative. "My partner even looked into it. All we could get on her was some questionable internet and library browsing in her teens. She was also tagged as being part of the wannabe Arcanist crowd during that period too. Though she's obviously wisened up into the real Underground. But I asked Scatter to look into it, and speaking of which I should see if she's dug anything up."

He pulled out a HIU projector from his coat pocket, it was about the size of a fountain pen, and placed it on the table. With a verbal command, a holo screen appeared, with text that read: "awaiting call." Once Scatter answered, her face appeared in the screen. The hacker was a Xenomix as well, but the more common, silver-gray skinned variety called Amlati. Her hair was styled in a jubilant array of dreadlocks, surrounding her somewhat gaunt, heart-shaped face, decorated lightly by white inked Nazzadi tattoos. Her dreads hid the nasty scar on the side of her face, Shiv spotted once.

"Heeey y'all. You called just in time." She spoke in a high energy voice, tinged with a mixed Cuban and Nazzadi accent. "I managed to gather some stray intell on our case here. Obviously I'm not gonna try and hack that monstrosity of a vault, the witch hunters have guarding their shit, but I did get access to some emergency calls about the incident our Maggie was involved in."

The operator fooled with something off screen, and a recording followed. It was of a frantic woman, yelling about a man, a filthy homeless man being followed by a small flying creature. She said the name of a coffee shop he entered, before expressing vulgarly her desire to flee.

Scatter went on talking. "The OIS yoinked all the footage from any cameras, so I got no pictures. Sorry guys."

Again, Panic interrupted. "Well, what good are you then?" And laughed alone.

Graze shhed him. "The grown ups are trying to listen."

Panic retorted "And the grown ups can suck my…"

"That's fine Scatter." James brought the discussion back on track with a raised voice. "Let's see, a flying creature…sounds like a fetch of some kind, but I can't be sure. So this homeless guy is most likely a sorcerer. Anything else about a meeting she was going to, or someone matching the description of a black man in a white suit?"

Scatter shook her head. "Nada man. Only that Maggie-girl owns the coffee shop, and it's been closed by the OIS…Oh, and two beat cops did respond, but ended up in the hospital."

James was taken back. "I never heard of that."

"I'm not surprised." Scatter responded. "The OIS seems to have labeled that info eyes only, until they could sort through the mess."

Shiv exhaled a cloud of marijuana smoke, deciding it was his time to add his two-cents, mulling over the information while the others talked. "Seems like the witch hunters are covering alotta tracks, but only two agents decide this dealer chick isn't worth back up. I mean its obvious something's going on, and fatty…" He had to stop himself from laughing. The drug was obviously 'mellowing' him out a bit too much, and put it out on the table. "Yeah, well Maggie or whatever, seems to be the least of their concerns."

Graze and James nodded in agreement. Though Panic scowled. "Are we really going to listen to guy whose baked? I mean come on now. He even ruined our table."

Shiv glanced at the crumb sprinkling on the Tager's clothes. "And I can see you truly care about the material things."

"Not as much as you should care about sun screen." Panic chuckled.

Graze again, intervened. "Please, just shut up, please."

"If you give me some sexual favors." He mocked.

Scatter spoke up. "ANYHOO, I have one lead for y'all. I have a friend in the Underground who can help. He goes by the name of Ayit. He's down with us, and knows our Maggie, I already sent you the address, Ward. He'll be expecting you, so holler when you learn some more. Good luck." And the call ended.

James looked at the address through his mirrored AR shades. "So, should we get going?"

Panic answered, standing up. "I'm gonna take a nap."

"What?" Graze voiced the other crows' surprise. "We have things to do."

"If there's one thing I remember from my FSB days, its that whether they're dealing in the occult or kiddie porn, is they rarely get up before noon, let alone wheel and deal before then. So wake me up in a couple of hours." The Tager departed with a loud burp, whistling some tune to himself.

Shiv was actually surprised for once, with Panic making an actual contribution beyond destroying something.

It use to be called Bedford-Stuyvesent, or Bed-Stuy. Only government records and history books called the 'Easty', 'East End', or the 'Far East' neighborhood that title. It's new names came about being the neighborhood was the most outlying part of reinhabited Brooklyn, right up against the rubble of the old city. Unlike other border regions of New York, government interests collided on what to do. The city government wanted to build more vertical farms, such as in the Bronx; the state government desired to set aside the remainder of Brooklyn for a park and nature reserve (well one day on the latter); and finally the NEG itself demanded it go to use as a wargames site. And until the courts and special interests could work it out, the working class residents of Easty got an unhindered view of the consequences of modern warfare.

Politics, politics, politics, Panic muttered to himself, gazing out the window of his car. The only reason he even bothered to waste a few brain cells on the topic, was on account of the daily news interruption off his car's radio. It reminded him of all the BS he had to endure when he was a fed. Digging out the cults' cancerous touch was his specialty in the SCD - the Sectarian Crimes Division. Even fighting for my race's survival is full of fucking politics. That never stopped the man Panic was before from going after his targets, pushing through all the traitors' layers of shadows, shields of respectability, and friends in high places. And where did my do-gooder zeal get me? Stabbed in the back by one of my own…I was so stupid and naive back then. His diligence had seen through some of the shroud the Chrysalis Corporation had thrown up over their activities, their helping hands to the worshipers of the Old Ones. He remembered realizing even then, his discoveries were far to big to expose on his own. He needed to go to someone he could trust…

Panic shut down his little sojourn down memory lane, especially as it lead to what he lost. He wondered how his wife and son were doing back in Chicago…wondering if they were okay…wondering if they still thought of him…Who cares, they think I'm dead. I might as well be. He was Panic the Tager now, a weapon to avenge who he was, that was all and that was it.

The former agent slid his vehicle up to the curve, opposite side of the street from their destination. He glanced over to the laundry matt, labeled 'Twirly Clean' above a 24 hours sign, written in soft blue neon. From the huge front windows a few customers could be seen loading and unloading their clothes.

"Well this is it." James stated, reaching for the door handle from the passengers seat.

"No shit Sherlock." Panic exclaimed dismissively.

Shiv, rolling his eyes, beat the detective out of the car first. The White just headed off toward the place, on his own initiative again. Panic was beginning to see this was a habit with the half-breed.

"Itanani kara gi yutti?" Graze trailed off in annoyed Nazzadi.

"I'll get him." James was on Shiv's heals, yelling for him through their shared channel.

The Shadow Tager was about to exit too, when Panic halted her. "Wait."

She leaned forward. "Why?"

Panic explained "The surprise element, let them check this idiot out first, if he's playing us, we'll fly in for the rescue."

The Nazzadi sat back, and told the detective and Sidoci the plan. Meanwhile, Panic went to his own peek, a forearm glove model, telling it's LAI to route James's AR shades' camera into the Tager's HIU, which he placed on the dashboard. It was just like back in the day, staking out cultists, though he was usually the one to volunteer to head in. Let them two do it, especially Ward, for making me use my ride. "Looks better then a cop's registered car pulling up to an Underground dealer's place", my ass.

Through the holographic screen, the Tagers watched James catch up to Shiv, who headed into the alley.

"Where are you going?" The sorcerer asked him.

Shiv didn't answer, stepping to the Twirly Clean's rear door. He pounded hard, continuing until a voice within responded. "What the hell do you want, the entrance's up front dick head."

Shiv asked forcefully. "This Ayit?"

Panic turned from the HIU to Graze. "Pasty's real subtle, isn't he."

She sighed, her face strewn with irritation. "Hey Shiv, why don't you kick the door down while your at it." Letting her sarcasm bleed through her earpiece.

Back on the screen, the man behind the door refused to identify himself, telling Shiv to buzz off. Then the Sidoci followed Graze's advice, by slamming a boot into the entrance, nearly tearing it off its hinges. Panic snorted, nearly chocking on his laughter, almost not believing the blunt stupidity he was witnessing. Graze growled and was out of the vehicle. "Come on."

Panic closed up his HIU and followed his packmate. They arrived to find Shiv backing a guy into a corner, with James trying to calm the situation. Graze immediately set about scolding the Xenomix, while the Nightmare remained in the doorway, taking in the small backspace - a storage and break-room with a table, mini-fridge, and shelves of cleaning supplies and other odds and ends.

"So you're all with Scatter?" The man, who revealed his street name was Ayit - Hebrew for Eagle (a revelation that aroused a brief mocking laugh from Panic)- said as he sat at the table. He was beanpole, standing just over Panic in height, with a pasty complexion. His brown hair was spiked up, sitting atop a long face that bulged with a beak of a nose, which was the only thing 'eaglish' about him. He otherwise appeared like any other jackass on the street, completely unlike how the movies portrayed the 'evil sorcerers' of the Arcane Underground. Leave that nonsense to the wannabe Arcanists, the Tager thought on the ridiculous youth sub-culture.

"Yeah." Graze answered Ayit's question. "And she says you know Maggie Luntz, right?"

Ayit nodded. "Yep, I've had a few run-ins with Mags…" He went silent when Shiv sat next to him, lighting up a Mary-cig and sharpening his knife again. He stopped after Graze drilled her eyes into him.

James continued in his crappy, emotionless interrogation tone. "Do you know why the OIS is after her, what exactly happened at her coffee shop?"

Ayit swallowed. "Yeah, yeah. Well, I didn't hear it from her of course, I cut all contact once the alarms went out about the witch hunters blazing her. It's a shame, she's not a big pusher by any means, mostly caters to dippers" Naming the slang for newbies in the Underground. "Hear she does have a loaded buyer up in Queens though, some bored old fogy, paranoid about metas." Dropping another term for metaterrestrial creatures.

Panic let off a loud and obviously fake yawn. "That's a beautiful story, but I'm finding it hard to care. Can you please get to the point, birdy boy."

Ayit tried to gulp down his nervousness again. "Okay…Mags, well at her place, I guess some wacked out old man, totally freaked, comes waltzing in with a damn fetch fluttering behind him like its the latest fashion, demanding some magic-works from her. Mags tries shooing him off, when the local bacon bits rain in. The old man zaps them with some mojo, and rips out of there. Mags went dark after that."

James rubbed his chin. "You have anything else on this old man?" Ayit shook his head no. "What about Luntz, got a bead where she is?"

"Sorry again." The dealer did smile after answering. "But words out and loud on her trying to find a buyer for something big, and Mags's name is all over it." The detective followed up about the black guy they'd seen her with, but their contact was not surprisingly in the dark on that as well. But he did give them one solid lead. "I know her old roommate, Huakai. She's barely a dipper, mostly just hangs around the scene with Mags. She might know something. Lives in Manhattan." James recorded her address in the new China Town, on his peek.

"Thanks." James finished.

"Yeah." Graze added and headed for the door. "Well lets go."

Panic let the rest of the murder exit the laundry matt, then he approached the still sitting dealer, getting real close to him. "Listen birdy-boy, your intell better be the truth, or I'll personally be back. And I'll put you in the real underground, if you're catching my meaning." Slamming his hand into the table, giving Ayit a grin that would make a corpse empty their stomach again. As he quivered and stuttered out claims of his genuineness, something inside the Tager was positively thrilled. Panic simply loved the terror, soaking up every ounce of it. He would have went a little further, but Graze's annoying mommy-like tone called for him; and he stepped back from Ayit. "See ya."

Now I just need a good lay and my day's complete. Panic departed on that thought.

You could barely tell the coupe was painted black with the uncleared snow and road salt smeared across it; along with the numerous scratches and dents that festooned Panic's transport, not to mention the broken headlight as well. The car very much resembled it's owner, and fitted quite well in the surrounding slums of Sutton Place. James glanced out the window, straining his vision to get a look through the dirty piece of transparent polymer, seeing the evidence all around of the area's Asian shading. Business and street signs were written in both international English and the various languages of the eastern continent, Mandarin the most dominate. Though the residents ranged far from simply Chinese, housing a greater amount of refugees who survived the genocide of Southeast Asia at the inhuman hands of the Rapine Storm. More and more daughters and sons of China filled the neighborhood every year thanks to the same followers of the Old One, the unnameable Ruined King, but Sutton's nickname of 'China Town' was still very much a misrepresentation.

The sorcerer parked the car a block away from Huakai's apartment, exiting with Graze and Shiv into the chill of the night. They'd wasted a good twenty minutes dropping their other crow off at the seedy Red Houses on the border blocks between Sutton and the Nazzadi neighborhood of the Upper Eastside; I can't believe he blew this off to get laid, God that guy's an irresponsible ass. James spotted Graze's discomfort at returning to her old stomping grounds, but she shrugged him off when he asked about it. He could relate, having not set foot back on his reservation since his sister's death.

The trio entered the dwelling, getting inside with an 'old trick' of Graze's, where she simply buzzed a random unit and said she forgot her keys. They headed down the hall to the elevator, which surprised James, given the rundown state of the building. Though once the doors screeched shut and it ascended with groans and shakes, the marvel of its presence faded.

James's peek rang, slipping on his AR-shades to see it was his partner. "Hey Rob."

He replied. "How you feeling man?"

"Good, good. A lot better. I'm just out with a few friends, relaxing like I'm suppose to." He lied. James had requested the day off, which was granted given what had happen. The price to pay would be a visit to a shrink. Thankfully the Society provided one, so he wouldn't have to dance around the issues seeing the department psychologist.

"Well, if you get bored, my family's having dinner, so give me a call."

"Sure thing Rob." They said their goodbyes, and James looked to his packmates. "My partner, checking up on me."

On that statement, the doors grinded open to the second top most floor. Stepping out, Graze asked. "So how exactly are we going to play this?"

James answered, getting his mind back on task. "Well I guess I'll do my cop bit…"

Shiv silenced them with a wave, and both the sorcerer and Tager spotted why. Ahead, the unit of Huakai lay wide open. All three went to the wall and drew their weapons - Shiv and James their Defenders, and Graze her sleek and quiet needler-pistol, she carried as a backup. Centimeters away from the door, not a sound but a wind rustle emerged from the apartment. Shiv, being in the lead, turned to his crows and used his eyes to say he was going in; then the Sidoci spun around the corner, Graze and James followed, weapons ready to cover him.

Inside, the single bedroom unit was a mess. Everything was knocked over and tossed across the room, with the winter cold blowing in from an almost completely shattered window. Graze nodded for Shiv to check out the bedroom and bathroom, coming back with a report of them being just as trashed and just as empty.

"They went out the window." Shiv stated, heading to the broken portal for further examination.

"I don't think so." James disagreed, noticing some blood splatters on the rug covered floor. Studying them, they lead outside into the hall. "You guys seeing this?"

"Yeah…" Graze nodded, but sharply glanced up.

The sorcerer followed her red pigmented eyes to the unit across from them, to see a middle aged Asian man studying them from behind his door. He went for his badge. "Sir…" But the neighbor slammed his door before the detective could finish.

The murder hurried out into the hall, James pounding on the man's door. "Sir, its the police, I need to speak with you."

"I didn't see anything." The neighbor replied in Mandarin accented English.

The Tager continued to study the faint blood trail. "Its going back to the elevator. How'd we miss this?"

Cause I was busy blabbing on my peek. James groaned to himself, before knocking again at the man's door. "Sir, we just want to know what happen, did you see where your neighbor went, was she taken?"

Shiv growled and repeated his entrance theatrics at the laundry matt, grabbing the surprised resident through his broken door. "What happen in there! Tell me now!"

The man stammered out a tale about hearing Huakai's door being broken down and her screaming. He heard a man shouting at her, until she fled. He saw a dirty bearded man with a gun going after her. "I didn't want any trouble, please, I'm sorry." He pleaded to Shiv, who had him by his throat.

James put a hand on Shiv's shoulder. "Come on." He brushed him off, dropping the neighbor and departed.

The blood trail lead back inside the elevator. James mentally chided himself for not seeing it before. "I can't believe we missed this."

"We'll just see if she was yoinked out the front." Graze spoke assuredly. "There's fresh snow on the ground, good chance we'll pick up the trail. I'll call Panic too, maybe he won't be too busy to head them off." Her voice grew with frustration at mentioning their errant crow.

Preparing to leave when the elevator hit the ground floor, the blast of a gun froze them.

"Where the hell was that?" Graze exclaimed.

"That was a shotgun." Shiv stated. "And it was right below us." He went straight for the basement button.

Even before the transport opened again, James could hear the screaming and yelling. The three of them rushed out, rounding a brief corner, their weapons ready. Down at the far end of a narrow hall, was presumably Huakai, a twenty-something Chinese woman wearing a torn turtleneck, a bruised eye, and a badly bloodied nose. Grasping her was a wide bodied Caucasian man in attire pulled from a trash dumpster, his unwashed face was shrouded by a filthy, tangled mane and beard of white-gray waves. In his free hand, he grasped a shotgun, which he shoved under Huakai's chin after pulling the wounded woman in front himself. It was at that point James realized the man's eyes were a sickly green, and not just the iris, but the entire eye; the detective's sight was also drawn to his feet, seeing twisted, elongated toes, wrapped in strips of cloth, far too large for any normal shoe.

"I just want my words back, I want them now!" He screamed at the murder.

"Please, help me!" Huakai pleaded, before the muzzle of the crazed man's weapon was jabbed into her throat.

Shiv leaped, propelled by his para-psychic strength, blasting off a round of his pistol. Instead of the bullet striking flesh, something shivered around the disheveled man, cracking the air. In the blink of an eye, the Sidoci was blown back, slamming into the concrete wall, clenching his armored chest.

James focused his brain to understand what he saw, sure it was sorcery, wracking his memory of his occult teachings. He's using a Dimensional Shield. And that means his deformities are outsider taint, ah crap. Sorcery carried a high price, playing with cosmic power dealt with truths and concepts that easily risked stripping a practitioner of their sanity, as well as unleashing energies that could leave a caster deformed. A beneficial side effect of such taint left a victim saturated with the spiritual energy of the universe, overloading them with Ruarch; the hostage taker would be capable of incredible feats of magick, spells that would often take a gathering of sorcerers to undertake.

"Stay back!" James warned Shiv and Graze. "Anything you throw at him will be thrown right back at you."

Having dropped his gun when struck by his own bullet, Shiv unsheathed his bowie, ready to pounce again. The tainted sorcerer aimed his weapon at the White, daring him to move.

James spoke to the corrupted caster. "Hey, lets stay calm now. What exactly do you want?" He was desperate to stall further violence, turning back to Graze for any advice she could offer. But the Tager was gone. She must be in her symbiont. The detective willed his eyes not to seek out the shimmering disturbance of the Shadow's stealth field, as to not warn their opponent.

"I Just want my words back!" The man yelled again. He squeezed the sobbing Huakai's wrist hard, digging his nails into her flesh. "I want them back you bitch!"

Suddenly, they were all disturbed by the ding of the elevator. When the hell did it go back up? But that minor point was moot, when James witnessed who exited. The tall black man he saw at the Black Nile emerged, leading an entourage of four armed men and women, all dressed in casual, but professional clothing.

"How about we lower those guns, shall we." the newcomers' leader spoke in a thick African accent. "This does not have to end in violence." His eyes rapidly dancing between them.

James, who still had his pistol aimed at the tainted sorcerer, spat back. "Why the hell should we?" He'd be damned to leave himself at the mercy of any Child of Chaos.

The African man answered. "Because we have no care for you fools, we just want the woman. Keep your lives and carry on with whatever feud you have between yourselves."

"No!" The tainted sorcerer bellowed. "The words are mine!" And he blasted off his shotgun at the throng of Chrysalis operatives. James however, was right in firing path, dropping to the floor just in time, feeling some of the buckshot test his arcane armor.

The detective gazed over to the cultists, seeing their leader and the front two take the brunt of the deadly pellets. If they were mortal, they would likely be seriously wounded or dead, but their already healing flesh revealed they clearly were not, along with their shifting forms. Their leader began to burst buzzing insectoid wings and a chitinous exoskeleton; two others changed into more of those tentacled, beaked monsters; while the final woman grew taller, scalier, as her mouth stretched into a horribly fanged maw. James's body filled with fear at the sight of the Dhohanoids, forcing himself to roll onto his back, rearing up his gun to fire in a futile gesture of resistance.

Before he could squeeze off a round, he felt himself being yanked up by his jacket, glancing up to see the Shadow sticking to the ceiling. As he was pulled into Graze's embrace, James heard the loud tearing of metal, as something ripped apart the elevator. The Dhohanoids swung around to the disturbance, only to be consumed by crimson light. Graze quickly dived over the illumination, pressing James against her hard, scaly body. He closed his eyes to the terrible radiance, his ears filling with a deafening WHOOSH of destructive energy, while his scent was overwhelmed by burning flesh…

Panic breathed easy with the two Nazzadi prostitutes wrapped around his naked body. His day was indeed complete and the price very much worth it, which was a hell of a lot lower then getting ménage à trois in Greenpoint. If he was a normal mortal, he'd probably have to deal with the inconvenience of a doctor's visit to get some meds for STDs, but that was the plus of being bonded with an otherworldly entity. Some people, such as Graze and Ward, also took offense with the Red House not even hiding the fact it was run by the Nuradi, a detail that didn't even bat an eye from Panic. At least I don't have to hear that shit from Shiv. He's good for a weird little half-breed. Though the thought of the two races mixing was something he always considered unnatural. Tracing his finger over one of the prostitutes swirling tattoos, he couldn't help but find the dark skinned woman highly attractive. Hell, I'd go a few rounds with Graze if she wasn't so stuck up. But sex was one thing, having children was a completely different matter, it was a path he felt shouldn't be taken. Shiv was all the example he needed to point out.

Screwing some random prostitute, especially Nazzadi ones, was the only way he felt like he could escape his wife's memory. It helped not seeing her face, not missing her touch, her smell…Damn it! He roared in his mind, trying to shut out any memory of her. Don't even think her name…Panic beckoned one of the prostitutes, best way to get his mind straight, and he still had a half-hour. Sadly he had to set her aside when his peek started buzzing.

"What Graze!" He was quite annoyed at the disruption.

"Get your lazy kani out here." She ordered. "We need you to head off that girl, she's been kidnapped, so hurry!"

He hung up and muttered. "Just great." Then rudely told the prostitutes to get off him and went for his clothes.

Panic was pulling on his coat when he hit the street, pushing his legs at top speed. The quickness he was moving would have put a professional runner to shame, thanks to some of his symbiont's physical prowess bleeding into his Human form. He'd cover the distance in minutes, not even working up a sweat, even when he leaped clearly over the hood of a taxi that blocked his path.

The Tager kept trying to call his crows, to get more of an idea of the kidnapped girl's location, but no one answered. He got a clue as to why when he arrived, spotting a large wheeled Pioneer SUV pull up, emptying it's gun totting occupants; he concentrated on the bastards, feeling the sickening corruption of Dhohanoids in all of them. They rushed inside with Panic right behind them, but he entered the apartment complex just as it's rickety elevator closed on the disguised monsters. Watching it descend, he tried his packmates one more time. Goddamn it, where are you guys?

Panic let the Nightmare out. It felt like he unleashed something hungry and pissed off from a cage, exploding within every cell of his body. His increased bulk barely fit in the passage, but he ripped his way through like the painted cinderblocks were tissue paper, using his huge talons to peel aside the elevator's door. At that moment he felt Graze touch his mind.

"Its about time." She telepathically spoke.

"Shut up." He snapped. "You got an elevator of Dhos about to descend on you."

She swore, knowing it was in her race's tongue, but could feel the meaning behind the word thanks to their mental connection. The Nazzadi followed with the ding of the elevator. "They're here, but they ain't attacking…ekuri!"

"Be sure you're all out of the way." Panic told her and dropped into the shaft.

The Nightmare shredded through the elevator itself, darting behind the corner as he activated his symbiont's most powerful weapon. The shifting monsters of the Chrysalis Corporation had enough time to turn, to see the building energy emerging from his beehive shaped shoulder cannons and the bloody central eye, which only emerged when he was really pissed or using this power - which went hand in hand, especially dealing with the abominations before the Tager. The crimson energies linked into a trinity of destruction, then shot out a wave of death at the Dhohanoids, consuming them whole. When it cleared, it left behind a pile of twitching, burnt corpses, along with partially melting the hall and blowing a gaping hole into the far wall; the hole also left an above unit missing it's floor and barrier to the outside elements. The apartment's occupants fled in horror at the sight below.

Panic turned his many eyes to Graze, gripping James, who must have leaped behind him when he unleashed his weapon. She appeared to have been nicked by the mystic blast, her thorn covered form quickly regenerating. "You idiot, Shiv and the girl were down there."

"And your corpses would've been too, if I hadn't of shown up." Groaning back through their link.

The three of them were startled when one of charred bodies darted forth. The ravaged insectoid Dhohanoid leaped up into the exposed apartment unit, then flew off at a surprising speed on it's still regenerating wings. The Nightmare spied another of the monsters still breathing, the large mawed Dhohanoid was so damaged it couldn't even heal. Panic regretfully ended it's misery, happy the creature was suffering. Gleeful at seeing the last fearful sight of the Dhohanoid, as he brought his clawed foot down on it's remaining eye. The charge of pleasure continued at witnessing all the destruction he unleashed, he could almost care less at the fate of Shiv and the girl they were suppose to rescue or whatever.

James, clearing his throat, spoke up. "I just got a text from Shiv, he has Huakai."

Shiv saw Panic emerge from behind the bend, generating the deadly energies he could unleash. The Sidoci only understood the basics on how Tagers worked, but he knew he needed to get out of the way immediately. The crazy bum thought likewise as he dropped Huakai and fled down the next turn of the L-shaped passage. Shiv snatched up the stunned girl as he made another supernaturally powered leap. He could feel the heat of the Nightmare's discharge searing the air behind him and collapsing the ceiling. The White and full-blooded Human landed in a roll, shrouded by a cloud of grit. As it cleared he could see the fallen bits of the building cut them off.

Huakai cleared her lungs of the grime, and wrapped her hands around Shiv. "Oh thank you!" Her voice cracked with sobs.

Shiv knew they had no time to catch their breaths. If the authorities weren't already on their way, they would be then. His survival instinct took over and without a word, tossed the young woman over his shoulder and ran with all the speed his enhanced muscles allowed. Zooming past a storage space and the laundry room, he found a short stairway to an emergency exit, already blown open by the twisted sorcerer's gun. He didn't even pause as he pushed it open with his free shoulder, darting through the maze of alleyways, leaping over trash cans, stray cats, and the occasional slumbering homeless. He didn't stop until the sweep of traffic on a busy street forced him to.

Out in the open, he realized how conspicuous he looked with a woman over his shoulder and set her down. Huakai was shaking, and it was from more then the cold. Not being the most sociable of people, he really didn't know what to say other then: "Hey, no one will hurt you." It was certainly something he would have liked to hear when growing up.

Huakai looked the Sidoci over, wide eyed and simply stunned from her ordeal. Shiv glanced at her still bleeding nose; first aid was something he did have knowledge of. "Hey, tilt your head back, and squeeze your nose. It doesn't look broken, so it should plug it right up." As she followed his instructions, he realized he should contact his pack, sending James a text.

"You, you're a White." She finally spoke.

Shiv rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I already knew. And let me guess, you've never seen one before?" She nodded no, and he sighed. Damn full bloods.

James answered back, wanting to know where he was. Shiv didn't want to stick around, everything he'd ever been taught told him to rip out of there, and the growing sirens of the authorities were not convincing him to ignore his instincts. "We need to move."

Walking at a brisk pace, Shiv thought over his next move. He simply wanted to hail a cab and head as far away from China Town as he could, but the checkpoints would be on lockdown with all the commotion they caused; for him at least, it would be easy to get through the segregating fences between the city's districts, but not with the freezing and half-shocked woman tagging along. Shiv went with the only other option available to him, calling his murder's operator. "Scatter, I'm in a bind and need a safehouse." He whispered urgently through his earbud.

He could hear the fellow Xenomix fooling with her gear. "Ok, ok, I got just the place." Sending his peek a map. "Phuong lives here, I'll let her know y'all are coming." Shiv had only met Phuong Bui once, the beat cop had worked with the Black Hearts since before he joined up; he'd heard her parents were some of the first members of the Society.

Shiv let her know the rest of his crows weren't with him, and to send them to Phoung's too. Finished, Huakai asked. "Who are you?"

Aside from not wanting to discuss such matters in public (given some of the security cameras might actually work, despite the neighborhood being a craphole), or to slow down to explain, his simple desire of not wanting to deal with social interaction kicked in. "This really isn't the place to talk about that."

She halted. "How do I know you aren't going to kill me too?"

Oh great. Shiv growled and tried to convince her otherwise. "Listen…If I was gonna hurt you, why did I save your life, huh? Now…I said I wasn't gonna hurt you, and I meant it, okay….So…So I'm gonna take you to a safe place, but we gotta hurry. Now come on." Please just come, I don't have time for this shit.

Tears returned to her eyes as she nearly collapsed, mumbling between sobs. "This crap's ruined my life."

Shiv balked, not believing this. He glanced around, noticing looks from other pedestrians, and finally gripped her shoulders, forcing Huakai to face him. "If you want any more of a life, we need to go!" The Sidoci yanked her along by her wrist.

He hailed a cab, which Huakai didn't resist getting in. Telling the driver the address, Shiv passed him a few bills, especially after the guy realized he was a Sidoci. A short ride later, in which Shiv finally started to ease up, they arrived at their destination. Again, Huakai didn't resist going down into the basement apartment, when their host buzzed them in.

Phuong Bui was a wide faced Asian woman at the end of her twenties, her hair cut in a very short, but feminine style, and still in her patrol uniform. She wore a sassy expression. "Well look what the cat dragged in." Her voice carried a very slight Vietnamese accent.

Huakai looked between Shiv and Phuong "You're cops?" Fear returning to her face.

"Do I look like a cop?" Was all Shiv said back, nudging her in.

Inside, the rather spacious unit was neat and orderly, brimming with pictures of family and the countryside of Vietnam - Shiv knew those images were all that remained after the Rapine Storm had their way with that part of the globe. A pile of sleeping bags and pillows were already waiting in the corner, along with a plate of compiled sandwiches and tea on the small wooden coffee table. She invited them to take a seat on her couch, and went to fetch some de-swelling creme for Huakai's face. While waiting, Shiv gave into his urge to light up a Mary-cig, offering Huakai a hit, which she eagerly took up.

Feeling the marijuana lightening him up, Shiv smiled. "See, told you no one was gonna hurt you." And helped himself to a sandwich.

Once they arrived at the Phoung's place, Panic barged in without a word of greeting, only demanding the bathroom's location. He splashed cold sink water into his face, gliding his wet hands through his unwashed scalp, taking in a view of himself in the mirror. Even though he returned to his mortal shape, he still felt the charge from the destruction and terror, immensely satisfying the hungry bloodlust within. Though some of his sense had returned, especially when he caught himself not caring if he killed the White or the chick they were after. What the hell's wrong with me? Get it together man, stop being a pussy.

He splashed more of the icy liquid over his whole head, desperate to cool his emotions. Panic didn't go into this blindly, the Society warned him the T'age Symbiont would do more then allow him to change into a death machine. He would be bonded, mind, body, and soul with something beyond reality. He was gladly willing to risk it, having nothing to lose by undergoing the Rite of Sacred Union. But sometimes, such as the current moment, he questioned his decision, wondered how much of his humanity had he peddled away for the power. Oh stop playing Devil's advocate with yourself, it was a buncha Dhos you killed, goddamn traitors and monsters with no souls. Don't you dare shed a tear for them! For all his mental bravado, he knew the killing of the Dhohanoids wasn't what was bothering him, but he still tried to pretend it was.

He stepped away from mirror, hoping if he didn't face himself he wouldn't have to deal with his doubts. The Tager stepped back into the living room. Graze was leaning against the wall, politely sipping her tea. She probably wants ketchup in it or some crap. James had taken a seat on the recliner, touching nothing offered, appearing a bit shaken. That dweeb needs to grow a stomach, even if he wasn't in the Society, he's a cop and a sorcerer for Christ's sake. Meanwhile, Shiv continued to sit next to their interrorgatee, puffing away. And I'm not even gonna comment on his pasty ass…Panic himself joined his fellow Tager against the wall, perching himself in a far corner. He took a look at a picture of Phuong's. In it was some of the passed Black Heart's crows; remembering his first blooding as Society warrior was going out to avenge their deaths. This whole place is like a goddamn memorial to something or another. Phuong's a weird chick I swear. He didn't know the beat cop well, but thinking about how she could still smile after losing her whole family to the Storm, or that rumor of her father failing the Rite - the fear of any Tager candidate, devoured by a symbiont instead of bonding - it just dredged up his own bitterness…And we're not going there again.

Huakai, gulping down her tea, hands all shaky, questioned Graze. "What were those things, the ones who showed up, and…and changed?"

Graze answered in a comforting tone. "They're called Dhohanoids. They're mortals who sold their soul for the power they showed you. You know some of the lore of the old world don't you?"

She shook her head yes. "I know some, I mean I hang out in the Underground, but I don't dip into the art myself. I just write encryption for the spells and books."

"Well they serve one of the Endless Ones…" Graze continued.

She interrupted. "No way…I thought those were just myths." According to what mortalkind knew, the Endless Ones were deities of the most primal aspects of the universe. One of these gods, since any other term failed to capture their sheer power and influence, was behind the Chrysalis Corporation's corruption - the being who the Children of Chaos venerated, the Crawling Chaos, Nyralathotep. This was at least what the Lorekeepers of the Eldritch Society told Panic. It was something he didn't like thinking about too much, since it made him feel like any efforts against the secretive cult were pointlessly insane.

The Nightmare decided to speak up. "It wasn't too long ago we thought magic, soul eating monsters, and giant bug aliens were all myths. Is it really that hard to believe in things whose farts could wipe out the better part of a galaxy exist."

"Thanks." Graze said condescendingly to him.

"Any time." Panic smiled.

Huakai asked more. "What about that thing that blasted them?"

The murder all gazed at each other, with Panic chuckling. James intervened. "Well that's something for another time. But do you know what they wanted with you, what they were trying to buy from your friend?"

She finished her tea and heavily sighed. "Well this all goes back to that creepy old bastard who had me, he showed up to Maggie's place, demanding some magick-works. Of course the cops show up, I mean you saw the freak. He also had his…oh what do call it?"

"A fetch." James named it.

"Yeah, that's it. Anyways, he dropped this scroll. I didn't see it myself, Mags just told me about it before she went dark. She wanted to sell it; she wasn't exactly sure what it was, just that it was without doubt very old, and very valuable. She just wanted to pull in a big catch and rip out of town before the OIS caught her." She leaned back. "God this sucks, our whole lives get turned upside down cause that asshole picked her place to go crazy in."

"Life sucks." Shiv contributed, blowing out the smoke of a fresh cig.

Panic couldn't help himself. "And so comes the wisdom of the great high one."

"Both of you shut up." Graze commanded and turned back to Huakai. "Do you know where she might be? I don't need to tell you what kind of danger she's in, or how that scroll can't end up in their hands."

She pored herself another cup, thinking. She was about to shake her head no, when her eyes filled with realization. "I know where she might be. She use to fool around with this city worker, and he knew a way inside the Manhattan Tower." Giving the name for the two parts of the arcology New York was suppose to be reborn into, a twin tower design. "He'd sometimes let us stash stuff in there."

James bit at the information. "You know exactly where?"

She shook her head yes.

Before more could be said, Phuong came out from her room, dressed in the body armor of a patrol cop. "Well thanks to your guys' antics, I got called back in. Hope you didn't leave any evidence behind that I have to risk stealing." She pointed to Huakai. "You better keep her off the streets, the witch hunters have already put out an order for her arrest." The beat cop wished the pack luck, and said she'd let Scatter know if she found anything on her end.

Huakai buried her face in her hands, only looking up to ask. "Will you really get us out of this?"

Panic stepped over to her, grabbing a sandwich. "Sure, even if its in a body bag. But since there isn't shit we can do right now, I say we tune into the Earth's Top Model marathon." And he ordered Phuong's TV to fetch the serial. "Besides, I need something to help me entertain myself in the bathroom later." Scarfing down the peanut and jelly smeared bread, he plopped down next to Huakai. "You gonna share one of those cigs pasty?" It was about time for the Tager to numb his brain for a few hours, pushing back any thoughts about his life a bit longer.

Fenner gazed from across the street, observing the apartment the thieves went into. He knew they wanted his words, he knew it was a plot against him, they and that coffee house girl wanted him dead so they could have it.

They had been after him for a long time, ever since the bombardment. "Those damn aliens, damn lab rats had taken over the world after bombing it to pieces!" He violently whispered, remembering how they turned his home into a crater. Thankfully he found the words, calling to him from the darkness, rescuing him from death, granting him the truth and power to survive. Fenner refused to lay down and be an ignorant slave like the rest of the fools around him.

"Yes, dance to their whim, like the dumb children to Pied Piper, damn fools!" He mumbled from his hiding place. "Not for me, oh no, not for me." Still, he knew they were clever. "Very tricky. Very, very tricky, yes." He had to remember to check his wards, he must have slipped up if they found him. "But I found them all right." Thinking how he followed the ones who left the apartment in the black car. "I know you work for them, led around by your alien whore and her half-breed, damn traitors…They have my words and I'll get them back."

Fenner needed help though, and started up the car he'd liberated from the slave - his buckshot riddled corpse still cooling in the back seat. He drove to the edge of the district, abandoning the vehicle and slipping over the security fence. This time his protection spells worked, the alien's security devices not even noticing him crossing into the ruins of Old New York. He scurried through the mess of the aliens, disgusted how it was just left to go wild, abandoned to the animals and monsters that haunted it. "Disgusting, just disgusting."

He arrived at his makeshift home, the left overs of what was once a department store, burnt black and housing a twisted tree. Fenner passed his blood drawn wards to keep the sickening creatures out, descending the remaining cracked stairwell to his basement dwelling. Thanks to the words' gifts, he needed no light to see his sleeping bag and fire pit.

There to greet him as always was Daskt. The little leathery skinned imp glanced up, his mouth full of flesh and blood off the dog corpse he was devouring. "Oh, you've returned. It's about time, that thing's growling was getting annoying."

Fenner ignored his fetch's bellyaching. It always did so. He went over to the one Daskt referred to. It stood in an intricate and arcane circle of ground up herbs mixed with blood - from some lab rat child he put to better use then allowing him to grow up and be another enslaver. It was further encircled by a row of candles and harmonic crystals. At the drawing's center was what Fenner summoned, a tall lithe beast, standing in a humanoid frame. Bat wings sprung from the back of it's tough, dark hide, along with sprouting a long, wickedly barb-tipped tail. The creature's face was nothing, just smooth featureless skin, save for the twisting horns emerging from it's forehead.

Fenner gave the gaunt a commanding stare, directly at where it's eyes should have been. "Now you will be free, once this girl and the scroll are in my hand." Removing a picture he swiped from her coffee house, to show it.

The gaunt growled, but lowered it's head in submission.

"Good, you understand…I'm coming for you my words. I'll save you, as you saved me." Fenner sucked down air, still worried. "I need them back, I need them. They're mine!"

"Hey, wake up." James heard a feminine voice, cracking open his eyelids to see Phuong looking down on him. "The checkpoints are clear, and you're late for work."

The detective groaned and sat up, followed by another annoyed sound, seeing Graze had been snuggled up against him. "Sorry." He said to the Tager, embarrassed.

"I'm sure you can snuggle later." Phuong giggled.

James gave the fellow cop a severe stare and finished getting up. Pulling his shirt back on, his peek signaled a call, seeing it was his partner. "Thought you only had one day off Conner." Hearing his fake name gave him pause for a second.

"Yeah man…I got stuck in China Town when they closed the checkpoints." He told him most of the truth.

"Whoa, you heard what happened there?"

"Not really. Some cultist set off a bomb or something, what's up?"

"Something's right, some more freaks showed up and tore up more of our fair city. And our suspect's involved again, or at least one of her associates."

James pretended to be surprised. He really hated lying to Rob, he was a good guy, but what else was he suppose to do. It was tempting to bring him in on the Society, but you never knew how someone was going to take it; he might try to undertake the next casting of the Rite of Sacred Union, or run to the OIS and report them all. Most recruits ended up in the Shadow War like Huakai, who still slumbered away on the couch. We were all robbed of our lives like her, he couldn't help but think bitterly.

James knew today was no day to play cop. "Hey, since I'm already late, I'll just take another personal day. But while I'm over here, I'll check this out, you got the address?" Again, feigning ignorance.

"You sure, captain's gonna be pissed?" Rob responded.

"Yeah, just tell her my shrink appointment went longer then expected."

"Okay, your funeral. I just sent you the address, but the witch hunters are all over this and you know how they feel about sharing."

James agreed, and the detectives said their goodbyes. James then stretched and finished getting ready. He felt a need to check up on their damages and see how their governmental counterparts were fairing.

Graze fully awoke. "Where you going?"

He answered. "Out to check on Huakai's, heard the place is crawling with OIS."

"Ok." She yawned. "Don't be too long, I wanna hit the arc today. We need to end this before someone else figures out where she is."

James agreed. Sometimes he found it strange taking orders from the Nazzadi. It wasn't that he didn't respect her, but he remembered, well over a year ago when she was escorted to his desk. She was just Taraly then, just a scared kid who'd escaped the Dagonites; now she was a blooded Tager, running the Black Hearts. This world makes us all grow up fast. It made James feel proud, him being the one that was her introduction to the Society, helping her transform from a victim to a fighter of the darkness.

Phuong then called the detective into the kitchen. "What's up?" He asked her.

"When I was at the scene, you were mentioned by a witness." She said, while she finished compiling some breakfast pastries. "Some refugee basically described you and the White. I lied about knowing the guy, to the rookie interviewing him, said he was an attention starved drunk. So be careful when you're back there."

He thanked her, but Phuong wasn't finished. "One more thing. Remember to thank Scatter. She was complaining about being up most of the night, hacking into the checkpoint database to erase your guy's records of coming here, especially the White. She works harder then you guys know to cover your asses"

"I will." James grinned, and was out the door with a pastry. He really wasn't hungry, his body demanding his 'relaxant' instead. He could go a few days without needing a fix, but after another night in the trenches of the Shadow War, the nausea was creeping up on him.

He took a taxi to Huakai's former residence, shortening his ride to fetch a coffee. The sorcerer hoped some straight black caffeine would alleviate his desire to get high. Sipping his beverage, James couldn't help but find it surreal to be back at Huakai's former residence, thinking how only the night before he faced off against Dhohanoids and a mad sorcerer; and here he was again, just sipping coffee. A part him wanted to flee, a primal bit that feared what horrors he witnessed, coupled with the instinct to avoid returning to the scene of his own 'crimes'. This feeling was strengthened when he saw agents donning coats marked with 'OIS', recognizing Agent Romano as she stepped out of the building.

"Detective?" The witch hunter not quite remembering him. Her eyes had froze into the grim visage he saw when she spoke about Panic. "What are you doing here, we've already taken over the scene?"

"Coffee." It really wasn't in his nature to be humorous, but her seriousness was really spooking him.

His gesture opened a crack in her icy glare. "Now I know you're not here to deliver me coffee." And the agent took the drink, downing a quick gulp.

"No. I'm just following up." James answered, adding some truth. "I'm not too fond of whatever the hell these things are, tearing up my town."

"Touching, but your out of your league…Bardon, right?" He confirmed her question, but they were interrupted when Romano's attention was called to her earpiece. "You got him? Good, just bring the idiot down here, I wanna catch her trail before it goes dead again."

"You caught one?"

"No, just Luntz's loverboy…Listen, I appreciate the coffee and your eagerness to help, but this is my jurisdiction. I'm sure there's plenty of other criminals in this city that need your attention. Got it."

James tipped his hat, and stepped away. It was good timing too, as another agent approached her. The middle aged man with a scar across his face, held a glass container. "There were no wards or anything hidden inside. You want me to dust the perimeter as well?" And that was his cue to make haste, certain the agent's container held the mystic revealing Powder of Ibn Ghazi - which would surely expose his own mystical protections.

The detective walked as briskly as possible, to not draw suspicion on himself, when Romano called out. "Hey Bardon."

Damn it. He paused, letting her come to him. "Yeah."

"Listen, thanks, really, especially back at that bar." As Romano talked, James had to hide his growing anxiety, seeing the scarred agent open up his jar. "I don't mean to be a hard ass, but like I said before, you're out of your league."

"No problem." He then faked a call. "I gotta take this, and no problem, I understand."

Once out of sight, he half-ran back toward Phuong's. The exposure of his illegal knowledge wasn't his only concern, but he knew the 'loverboy' they arrested must be the city worker Huakai mentioned. Graze was right, we need to find Maggie, now. When it came down to it, the OIS claiming the scroll was astronomically better then the Children of Chaos getting their hands on it; but Chrysalis's tentacles reached deep, and there was no guarantee the scroll was beyond their reach. This fact was one of the primary reasons the Eldritch Society operated in such secrecy, they could trust no one but themselves with their enemy holding such influence.

He called Graze. "You guys need to get ready, now."

"What happened?" Graze's tone full of concern.

He summarized his encounter with Romano. "I'm heading back, but it'll be quicker if you guys just come pick me up."

"Alright, we're on the way." Before the Tager hung up, he heard her yelling for the rest of the murder to move it.

James kept up his pace, thanking the Creator for the insight to go back to Huakai's. The stress of the situation was really hitting him at that point, and the sorcerer wished he had enough time for just one puff.

The Manhattan tower consumed the horizon, taking up most of the southern part of the island. Unlike its counterpart across the East River, the arcology was completely abandoned, just as broken as the ruins it replaced. Taraly hated it, blaming it for her father's death. He'd been up there working, laboring away like much of the Nazzadi population of New York when the Migou launched their biggest raid, the infamous Christmas Blitz. He shouldn't of even been up there, but like all of them, he wanted the extra pay; with the Second Arcanotech War raging, the NEG wished to ramp up construction and gave out big bonuses for working the holidays. The tower was always a reminder after that, an inescapable eyesore for the remaining years of her childhood.

Scatter spoke through the murder's private network, irritable sounding and drained of her usual energy. "Y'all don't have to worry about any cameras around the arc. I don't think they ever bothered fixing them after the bugs fried our communications again last year. But whatever, if our little squealer's telling the truth, there should be that crack in the outer-wall to a mag-lev tunnel. Just follow the path I outlined in the schismatics, and you should arrive…" The hacker finished with a mighty yawn and didn't even bother saying goodbye.

"Well you heard, lets move it before the witch hunters get her." Taraly exclaimed to her assembled packmates, gathered beneath some icicle and rust covered left-overs of construction platforms.

"Yes ma'am!" Panic mocked. "Should I salute too, Christ…"

"Christ, it be a miracle if you ever weren't a total dick." Taraly raised her voice and walked off.

"I thought you prayed to the Goddess." The Nightmare snickered alone, bypassed by James and Shiv.

A crack was not a word the Nazzadi would have chosen to describe the hole in the arcology's shell. A gaping wound, blown open by some long ago explosion, was a short climb above them. Unannounced, Shiv literally jumped in first, helping the rest of them up. It was an easy ascent, and from all the graffiti decor, they weren't the first to find the same. I wish I knew about this when I was a kid, we would've marked this whole tower up. Taraly briefly reminisced about her days in a gang of graffiti vandals. I woulda gave my Ota one hell of a memorial.

A short walk down the icy, inclining tunnel lead to exactly where Huakai said. A short drop later, they entered what would have been a mag-lev tunnel. In a darkness that not even the Nazzadi eyes of Taraly and Shiv could penetrate, the murder activated the flashlights they borrowed from Phuong. Past scurrying rats and things that looked like rodents, the four continued on until reaching the first transit station. The train hub was just a shell, and to reach the hab-level they needed to descend a maintenance ladder.

A gaping chasm awaited, where only hints of narrow streets, hugged by closely packed structures of various conditions, could be made out from the limited field of their illumination. It was an eerie maze that unnerved Taraly, Tager or not; and she guessed everyone's silence was because none of them wanted to admit it. A distant radiance did spill in from the 'ceiling', the mark of their destination. The crows hurried, maneuvering as best they could in the pitch and rubble.

Taking a corner brought them to the stream of sunlight, exposing the landmark Huakai mentioned. Lying ahead was the bent, broken remains of a mech, atop a heap that was once one of the dwellings around them. Taraly wasn't an expert on the warmachines, but she'd seen enough military parades and episodes of 'God Engine Abaddon' to recognize most types. From it's remains, she could tell it was a big bulky Sword class, figuring a Broadsword or maybe the faster Gladius type. Whatever it was, it was long forgotten from whatever raid knocked it down. The Tager just hoped the pilot was recovered or died in the fall.

"That should be the place." Shiv surprisingly broke the silence, pointing out one of the four-story apartments.

Taraly went in first, summoning her symbiont over her mortal body. Under the cover of the Shadow's stealth field, she invisibly crept into the building, which lacked any doors or windows. Inside was evidence of habitation - sleeping gear, a portable heater and stove, with used and unused non-perishable food stuffs. To her disappointment, it was no arcane treasure vault. No stacks of forbidden tomes or artifacts of power, like what was drilled in her head from too many cartoons and movies. It was just a squat.

"Hey!" She heard an unfamiliar voice of a woman, guessing it was Maggie.

Taraly hurried to the door, still cloaked in stealth, spotting a dirty faced woman with auburn curls that fell onto her warm clothing. Maggie stood frozen, gripping her own flashlight at the rest of her crows. "You're not suppose to be here yet…and wait, how do you know where I live? Where's Silongo?" Fear rose off her freckled face, and she retrieved a gun. "Stay back."

"Please." Panic dismissed her threat. "Just put it down before you hurt yourself."

Maggie turned to flee, but Shiv was after her, hurtling himself over Maggie's head. She tried to raise her weapon, but in one fluid motion the Sidoci disarmed her and had the same limb captured in an armlock. He forced her back to the dwelling, joined by Panic and James. Taraly shifted back to her mortal form before they entered.

Shiv made Maggie sit on the floor, then examined her little needler before shoving it in his belt.

"So where is it Maggie?" Taraly demanded.

"Where's my money?" She tried snapping back, but her fright was all too apparent.

Panic searched his pockets, dropping a few Terracoins at her feet. "Here, now fetch the damn scroll and stop wasting our fucking time!"

Maggie did her best summon some bravado to her cracking voice. "If you hurt me…you'll never find it. I wanna speak to Silongo."

The Sidoci stepped close to her, studying Maggie, then smiled and unzipped her coat. He pulled a plastic wrapped piece of parchment free. "Amateur."

"Please don't kill me!" Maggie nearly broke out in tears.

Panic was about to say something, when James cut him off. "We aren't here to kill you, and we don't work for this Silongo."

"I had a snappy line." Panic said to the detective. "And you ruined it, you ass munch."

Taraly brought the conversation back on focus. "Maggie, we have Huakai, we're going to help you both, cause you obviously have no idea who your trying to sell this to." She truly felt sorry for the girl, along with Huakai. Two idiots drowning in a mess that was largely bad luck and bad decisions, just like the ones that got her mom killed. But she had to fight back the urge to just slit Maggie's throat and leave her body for the witch hunters. She'll slow us down…but cold logic fought it back, knowing her corpse could lead to the OIS hunting for her killers, instead of continuing to hound the rogue occultist.

"You have Hua?" Maggie looked between them. "Is she okay?"

"Yes." The Nazzadi growled. "I just said we're not trying to hurt you."

"I think we've established she has a listening problem." Panic sneered.

Taraly gritted her teeth. "Can you go find something to blow up and leave the talking to me, or hell, anyone else." She went back to Maggie. "So come on, get up, we need to move."

James hurried against the wall, near a window. "Well there might actually be something out there for him to blow up."

Ekuri! The Shadow roared in her mind, getting low and away from any opening like everyone else. "You see something?"

The detective replied. "No, I heard footsteps, and my peek's jammed."

A plan formed in Taraly's mind. "Ok…I want you all to take Maggie and get the roof, they're close enough for even her and James to leap it."

James rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but what about you?"

"I'm the distraction." She said and changed, slipping out like her symbiont's namesake.

Shiv didn't need to hear Graze's plan to start yanking Maggie up the stairwell. "Hey, hold on!" The Human woman complained. He ignored her and pressed on to the roof.

On top, Shiv could take in a better view, with the spilling sunlight giving off enough illumination for his nightvision to kick in. Below was a squad of heavily armed and armored soldiers, taking up siege positions near the fallen mech; a smaller group splintered away, moving up the street to take up guarding the building's rear. The Sidoci really hoped they hadn't had the time for snipers to set up. Not wanting to wait and find out, he tossed Maggie over his shoulder and charged to the next building.

He could just imagine one their number sounding a warning of his location, followed by streams of electronically ignited bullets leaving him little more then bloody shreds. Landing on another roof, gunfire erupted, but it wasn't anywhere near his position; he risked a quick glance back, their attackers were thrown into chaos, firing amongst themselves. Shiv was too far away to pierce the pitch, but he knew the Shadow Tager was slicing her way through their ranks.

It was then something sliced a good tear into his armor, forcing him to drop Maggie and nearly landing him on his rear. His psychic strength and agility kept the Sidoci balanced, allowing him to duck another swing of whatever struck him before. Freeing his bowie, he faced his assailant, seeing it was the barb of a long reptilian tale that hit him, belonging to the faceless horned creature before him. It tried to flank him, stretching it's bat wings as it quickly crawled toward the Sidoci. Shiv hopped away, Maggie desperately tried to keep the White between her and the thing.

It sprung at him, and Shiv dodged left, slicing his blade into it's side. The thing roared somehow, and jabbed with it's horns. Shiv stepped back, barely having enough time to knock them aside with his knife. It moved nearly as fast as him.

Both the combatants paused, as another roar disrupted their fight. A roof away, Panic charged into the fray, his body wrapping itself in his symbiont as he crashed down. The faceless thing had enough sense to recognize the danger of the Tager, and rammed it's body full force into the Sidoci, taloned hands reaching for the screaming Maggie. Of course, it underestimated Shiv's own strength, and he tossed it back, plunging his bowie deep into the creature's shadowy flesh. The wounded monster had no time to recover before the Nightmare made a leaping strike, slashing both his hands of grisly claws into it. The thing dropped, missing an arm and eviscerated, leaking it's black blood all about the roof.

"What the hell is that?" Maggie squeaked at viewing the blood splashed Tager.

James caught up, about to leap to their building, when a burst of gunfire cut the air in front of the sorcerer. His magick armor saved him. Shiv went low, cursing at the OIS marines who caught up with them, but a quick glance over the side revealed they were more lightly armored. The crack of their weapons wasn't from automatic rifles either, but submachine guns. RMG-14s I bet, Shiv recognized the sound of the model preferred by the forces of the Chrysalis Corporation. Just what we need. About four, maybe five of the shooters remained in the street, keeping the murder low with suppressing fire. Another four moved to engage the OIS marines.

Panic, absorbing a few rounds, which didn't even make him flinch and healed in seconds, returned fire with a few blasts from his shoulder cannons. "Go!" He roared through the monstrous exoskeleton, then he ran for the entrance to the dwelling, shattering the door and descended to the street.

Shiv was already gone, Maggie in hand, tensing for the jump to the next building before the Chrysalis goons got their nerve back. Then something zipped past him like a lightning strike, cutting into his shoulder, piecing flesh. No stranger to pain, he shrugged off his wound and readied for another fight. Now what's up here, annoyed at the endless amount of ambushes and sneak attacks, scanning for the new threat. It was then he noticed James laying in a ball, still on the other roof, shielding his tear strewn face, sobbing. What the hell? Next he heard buzzing, like a giant insect, and something again flashed in the corner of his eye. Shiv was ready, hurling his knife, burying it in the submachine gun held by the half-transformed insectoid Dhohanoid, who landed on the edge of the roof.

The Dhohanoid tossed aside his firearm, and spoke. His face hadn't fully changed, mandibles twitching from his still human mouth. "Give me the scroll!"

Maggie's jaw dropped. "Silongo…"

Shiv entered the conversation by drawing the little 'Hornet' needler he snatched from Maggie. It wouldn't do more then sting the Dhohanoid, but it could buy him the seconds he needed to close the gap and unleash his para-psychic powered body on him. The cloud of tiny, piercing projectiles struck Silongo's chest, barely irritating him as he let his wings carry him up. Shiv had a second knife ready, crossing the meter or so of distance between them; but Silongo struck first, slashing out with a long forearm blade. It went right through his already battered armor, ripping open the Sidoci's chest. Shiv collapsed onto his back, blood filling his mouth.

The Dhohanoid must have assumed Maggie still had the scroll, grabbing the terrified Human. Right as he gained air again, Shiv willed himself up, wrapping his arms around Maggie's waist and pulling her back down with all his remaining strength. He'd be damned if he was going to let the monster succeed while he still drew breath, squeezing the trigger of the hornet again and again into his chitin hide . The surprise of Shiv's attack made Silongo buzz away. He was about to dive back in, when something on the ground gave him pause.

Silongo's bug eyes darted back to the Sidoci, then beyond him. "Orena, grab the girl, we need to go. That Tager's nearly finished with the rest of the team." A victorious howl from Panic was sweat music to Shiv's ears.

The White motioned his eyes to whom ever Silongo was speaking to, it was all he could make his body do. Behind was an armor clad man, with a RMG-14 in one hand, and a sword strapped to his back. His face was concealed completely by nightvision goggles and the mask of the pitch body suit beneath his protection. He quickly turned to the street as well, while the Dhohanoid bellowed for him again to finish Shiv. The air suddenly grew even more frigid, condensing into a growing shard of ice in the man named Orena's free hand. Shiv recognized para-psychic power when he saw it, and bore his milky eyes right into his hidden ones, it was all the defiance left in him.

Except the frozen knife never hit him, instead it shot right into the Dhohanoid's still human neck. Spitting up blood, Silongo drifted away, trying to summon a curse for the treasonous para-psychic.

Orena spoke something in Nazzadi to Shiv. He only recognized 'Sidoci', before he darted off with speed that defied even his powers. It sapped the last of his strength watching him flee, blackness sweeping over the White's vision. Maggie's crying pleas for him to stay awake faded…

Taraly was completely unseen as she moved toward the marines. The soldiers paused around the mech collapsed building, waiting for the other half of the dozen strong squad to round the block and cover the rear of Maggie's hideout. The Tager had heard stories since she was kid about the elite combat units of the witch hunters, storming in to battle monsters, unregistered sorcerers, and rogue para-psychics. She'd even been warned of them during her training, her head filled with stories of Tagers who acted too openly and too arrogantly being mowed down for their trouble. Closing in on a pair toward the periphery of the scene, Taraly couldn't help but feel bad for them, they fought the cancers hidden in the NEG as well, but they were a threat to her murder.

Her cloak dropped as her blow struck the marine, puncturing his neck with her thorny protrusions. The man aside him raised his weapon and fired, but with uncanny speed, Taraly grabbed the muzzle and re-aimed it at the other OIS operatives. The spray of bullets went wild, only a few even cracked against their military grade armor. The surprised return fire was not so off however, shredding their comrade while the Tager ducked into a patch of darkness, summoning back her stealth. Taraly scrambled up the mech, readying to make her next strike before they could recover. The bony barbs that ended the Shadow's snout, shot out, piercing two of the witch hunters. As they dropped from the paralyzing toxin, which coated her projectiles, Taraly leaped at the remaining pair. She smashed into one, gripping his head and letting inertia and her body weight carry it down on a chunk of rubble. The last marine raised her rifle, managing to pop off a few rounds. The Shadow shrugged off the bullets that hit home, and launched a kick in return, denting the marine's helm and knocking her on her rear.

Then something hard slammed into her chest, followed by another that nearly tripped the Tager. She still let the force of the blow carry her to the ground, rolling behind the mech's remaining arm. Analyzing her regenerating wounds, she saw bullets were the culprit. The sniper rounds were followed by a wave of automatic fire, keeping Taraly pinned. She glanced up to the roof, drawn by Panic's roar, seeing some kind of scuffle. Ekuri, how'd they get up there, she hoped the powered armored units, the OIS could also call upon, hadn't arrived. If not, they're on the way, and we're screwed if we're not outta here.

Then out of the edge of her symbiont's nightvision, emerged more combatants. They were lightly armored and brandished submachine guns. Half let loose a volley on her packmates, the rest advanced on the OIS. In the confusion, Taraly decided to make haste. About to cloak herself again, the Shadow was the one surprised, feeling a full burst rip into her. On instinct, she leaped for a shadow, and with her stealth shielding her, hoped again, just as the spot was shredded by more bullets. Hidden, Taraly saw it was the marine she kicked in the face. She'd pulled her armor's helmet off, revealing her to be that Human agent she saw back at the Black Nile. The witch hunter ducked down herself to avoid fire from the new players, reloading her rifle.

Breathing hard, Taraly continued crawling away, doing her best to ignore the pain of her not-healing-fast-enough injuries. It was then Panic burst out of the building he was atop before. Leaping into the street, he descended on the new gunman. The OIS agent stood at the sight of the Nightmare, rage filling her eyes. "I'll kill you!" She screamed, charging.

Seeing a direct drop into the street was even too much for him to absorb without some damage, Panic tore through the roof's door and hoped down each section of steps. Reaching the street, he let out another cry, startling the gunmen and launched himself into their ranks. One's head dropped off his body with a swing off his talons, while he let the tentacles unsheathe from his massive palms, grabbing another who tried fleeing. With her neck snapped, he dodged most of the bullets from two others, and took them down with blasts off his shoulder cannons. The rest fled, headless of the OIS bullets that cut them down. Their last terror filled screams warmed the Tager's heart.

A furious cry drew Panic's attention, twisting around just in time to see a gun blasting woman charge him. She let out a full spray in the Nightmare's direction, which he managed to leap over, landing meters from her.

"I'll kill you, you freak!" She cried, completely consumed by her outrage. It was then the Tager's memory was triggered, remembering the quivering lips of the Latina witch hunter. He was quite amused by her efforts, reloading her assault rifle for another try, still vowing to end him.

Before he could end it, she dropped to ground, with one of Graze's darts protruding from her shoulder. The wounded Shadow wasn't too far behind, limping over.

"I coulda handled her." He spoke through their link.

She skipped over the subject. "What happen up there, and who the hell are these guys?" Motioning to the fresh corpses.

He told her had no idea, but the sounds of insect wings gave him a clue. Panic saw the Dhohanoid who escaped from the mess at Huakai's apartment, drift away from the roof. He could tell the creature was badly hurt from his symbiont's senses, and decided to finish it off, letting loose the fury of both his shoulder cannons. The Dhohanoid's body half exploded, it's now human remains crashed to the street with a splut.

"What the hell was that?" Graze sent through their link.

Panic replied. "I guess the Dhos wanted one more crack at getting Maggie, stupid fucks." He spied the rest of the witch hunters recovering. "We need to leave!" Letting his wounded crow jump on his back, he bound away with all the speed his symbiont could muster.

Graze asked "What about Ward and Shiv, where are they?"

"We need to get lost, they're expendable." He coldly returned; they were his packmates, but Tagers weren't easy to replace.

She protested. "No! We're not leaving them behind…we still need to get that scroll."

Panic ducked inside a building. "Fine. What's the plan?"

As quickly as it had come, the fear vanished. James was readying to leap across the brief gulf between the housing complexes, when he suddenly felt the urge to inhale. The sorcerer was flowing with adrenaline already, but an all consuming terror seized him. He couldn't keep on his feet, he just wanted to lay there, hoping to disappear - horrified at getting caught in a bullet spray, or in the cuffs of the OIS. Everyone heard the rumors about where the witch hunters jailed away the violator's of arcane law. It was all too much…and then it was gone, and James could move again.

Still reeling from the experience, he pulled himself up and cleared the tears from his eyes, trying to figure out what happened. He saw a figure leap away in a blur, exposing a badly injured Shiv, with Maggie trying to keep him awake. Drifting away from them was that insectoid Dhohanoid, choking up blood and trying to dislodge what looked to be an icicle from his still human throat. Where the hell did he come from? What happened when I was out? James didn't have much time to think more, distracted when the Dhohanoid was nearly consumed by blasts of crimson energy, leaving a mangled and incinerated corpse dropping.

Chancing a view below, he saw the Tagers flee, trailed by a few wild bursts from the advancing marines. That was his cue to hurry to the other roof and get the others out of there. Maggie cried she couldn't get the White to wake up, so James tried slapping his face a few times. "Shiv, Shiv wake up!"

He stirred, but was only half-conscious. James examined his wounds, seeing a wicked cut traveling up his chest. All the detective could think of was to staunch the blood flow, removing his coat and wrapping it across his abdomen, tying it as tight as he could; he knew leather would make a truly terrible bandage, but he hoped it would apply enough pressure to keep the youth from bleeding to death. James then told Maggie to help lift him, each taking an arm.

"Oh my god!" Maggie exclaimed, drawing James's attention to the two suits of descending power armor. The three meter tall and urban camouflaged painted warmachines dropped in from the ceiling hole, landing on the roof of the structure neighboring the resting place of the larger mech. They were Centurions, a common model used by both law enforcement and the military.

Ignoring Shiv's pained yelps, he hurried his crow and Maggie through the shattered roof's door. The Centurions held their position, sweeping the streets with the cannons that made up one of their arms; he figured they must be coordinating with the marines below, hearing them securing the area. It was only a matter of time before they searched each building, and there was no way he was going to be able to sneak away, even if he wasn't hindered by Shiv and Maggie. He could see Maggie was realizing their same hopeless fate. James's surprised himself when the idea of kissing a bullet popped into his head, but he saw little else he could do to avoid the OIS's tortures. That was also if he'd even live while awaiting a transfer to one of their detention facilities. The Chrysalis Corporation would most likely call on it's influences to kill him before he could leak any of their secrets as well.

Then one of the Centurions was hit by a destructive ray, which could only have come from Panic, leaving the power armor slag. It's brother unit was singed by the same blast, leaping off the roof as it let off a shot of it's own energy cannon. The battle was now out of the sorcerer's view, only hearing more yelling and gunfire. James knew this was their shot and told Maggie to move, and together, rushed to the ground floor. Through a window, he witnessed the Centurion take off, the remaining marines firing in the direction it took, presumably after the Nightmare. James next heard the clink of rolling metal, seeing a few grenades drift amongst the witch hunters. One marine cried out too late, and the explosions sent even James and his companions ducking. Through the billows of thrown up dust, Graze appeared, right next to the detective. James was quick to clasp a hand over Maggie's mouth, as the Shadow Tager beckoned them to follow. She took charge of Shiv, with her symbiont's greater strength, and lead them out the rear.

They'd meet up with Panic, back at the Mag-lev station. He was back in his Human form. "Well pasty sure got his ass chewed up."

James turned to Graze. "Where'd you get the grenades?"

Returning to her Nazzadi shape, she tossed the grenade belt to his feet. "Off one of the goons."

"Courtesy of our friends in the Chrysalis Corp." Panic added with a chuckle.

Graze got back to business "C'mon we need to rip, Shiv's already lost alotta blood. And tell me you have the scroll."

James took it from Shiv's pocket. Even though it was wrapped in plastic, he could feel Ruarch radiating off the ancient piece of parchment, gleaning bits of the hieroglyphs drawn on it. I think this is Tsath-yo, recognizing the ancient Human tongue he studied in college.

Maggie halted, speaking with almost a stutter. "Wait, what are you guys?"

Panic smiled. "If I told you, I'd have to eat you." Earning a shudder out of the woman.

James put a hand on her shoulder. "They'll be time enough to explain everything later." Which was how he wanted it, the sorcerer couldn't wait to be out in open air again.

With Panic taking hold of the Sidoci, they left the abandoned arcology, which filled more and more with OIS reinforcements. James was near awestruck they managed to get out, but he wouldn't find ease until his lips tasted opium again.

"Dang, look at you two." Scatter exclaimed as Taraly and James walked into the room.

"Thanks, but we're just going to the funeral." The Nazzadi had donned a low cut white dress, adorned with a waist sash of the same color - the traditional Nazzadi color for those mourning the dead. The custom was hangover from their old religion, to show the light of a Nazzadi soul returning to the dark embrace of Iby, goddess of Creation. She further added a loose, netted shirt over her ensemble, a long coat to warm her, and dyed her free flowing hair back to her race's natural pitch shade.

When her answer drew some blank stares, James answered. "The one for the slain OIS agents." The detective was in his black, high collared dress uniform.

The whole of the Black Hearts were gathered in the small space set aside for those wounded in the Shadow War, treating injuries that would call for questions in official facilities; still, it wasn't often used, since most of the fighting was done by the regenerating Tagers. In this case, Shiv took up residency; his chest and shoulder covered in sim-skin bandages, which also applied pain killers, when the medical-LAI he was hooked up to, sensed the Sidoci's discomfort levels rising. Taraly found it odd to see him out of his leathers and denim, exposing him as just a skinny adolescent, but one covered in numerous tiny scars. By the God and Goddess, what kind of life did he lead before? But I'm barely older then him, and look at me. Whatever his past, she was just glad he was recovering.

"So how you feeling Shiv?" She asked him.

The Sidoci shrugged. "Never had my chest split open like that, but the doc says I won't even have a scar." The doc he mention was Plummet, a Tager from the other murder that operated out of New York, the Night Watch; though not an actual doctor, Taraly heard she was once a medical student before joining the Society.

"You not having a scar's more thanks to me, kid." Omar pointed out, sipping the tea he was always drinking. He was a short African American man, well into his thirties, with waist length dreads and a braided goatee. He was dressed in a brown leather coat, over clothing that resembled a mix of modern and traditional Middle Eastern. He was their murder's Lorekeeper, the one who recorded their scraps and cultivated occult knowledge for their battles against the Children of Chaos. He was also quite skilled in sorcery, being the one who guided Taraly through the Rite of Sacred Union. "Plummet just keeps the rest of this crap working. And trust me, that spell I cast will have you back on your feat faster then all these gizmos." It was clear the Sidoci could care less.

Panic belched, leaning back in a chair, scarfing down some junk food. "Not that I ain't happy to see pasty here doing better, but you're interrupting my cartoons."

The Lorekeeper rolled his eyes at the Tager and spoke. "Well, I've done research into the scroll, but its going slow. You were right James, about it being Tsath-Yo, but its one old and rare dialect of it. I've yet to carbon date it, but it doesn't take an arcanotechnician to tell you its probably older then the pyramids."

James questioned. "Do you have any clue what it says?" The sorcerer's intellectual interest was hungering for more info on the scroll. Taraly found it cute, incredibly geeky, but cute.

"From what I gather, it contains some heavy mojo, a number of powerful rituals. I'm surprised at it's compactness though. Its like what it initially shows is a tease, daring you to delve further. Its obviously enchanted, but I swear, I feel like the damn thing's playing with me…But whatever, such writings can really mess with your head if you aren't careful." Omar went on.

"So did fatty and her sidekick know anything else?" Panic referred to Maggie and Huakai. The two of them had been whisked away through the underground network the Society maintained, for the price of them contributing. They both seemed eager to become involved, once more of the Chrysalis Corporation's agenda was explained to them. In the end, there was no going back to their old lives.

Both Omar and James shook their heads. Scatter added her other contacts in the Arcane Underground turned up nothing, even a rumor of it's existence, or who the insane old sorcerer was.

Taraly then asked about the old man. "So what about that guy? What's he, a damn ghost? He seemed a bit cracked to be that good."

"Trust me." James said to her. "The spell he used at Huakai's alone makes him more then capable. Who knows what else what he might have learned from that scroll."

"He's a lesson though." Omar stated. "To proceed with caution with this. Just from its aura, let alone what's actually written, I can tell you its nothing to be treated causally."

"Oogody boogedy, whatever." Panic dismissed all their talk. "We should burn it."

James and Omar were as one in their look of horror and contempt at Panic's declaration.

Shiv interrupted. "Hey, can you guys take this somewhere else. I need some sleep." And with that, the murder let him rest, moving into the hall.

"We should get going." James suggested.

"Well Ward, here's to you getting lucky on your guys' first date." Panic dropped, earning a crossed stair from Taraly and James.

"Come on you idiot." Scatter poked Panic in the ribs. "Let them be."

"Only if you poke me somewhere else." The Tager continued.

Ignoring another of Panic's crude remarks, the crows said their goodbyes and Taraly followed James out of the Society's archives. No one passing by the brownstone would ever guess it contained some of the gathered lore and training facilities for a secret society. It was located in a neighborhood of similarly designed buildings, reminiscent of the architecture of pre-war New York. It was part of the Historical Harlem District, an attempt by the city to draw tourists to see how the Big Apple appeared before Taraly's people left it little more then craters. It was the only part of Manhattan considered nice, and sadly it was a museum.

It was a short ride, under a warm and partially obscured sun, to the Roosevelt Island Cemetery, located on the small island of the same name between Manhattan and Queens. The place was a sea of grave stones from all the past wars, a sad reminder of how more had perished in the last few decades then currently lived. Taraly didn't understand why most humans set aside such large swaths of land for their dead. Nazzadi burned the remains of the departed; according to their old beliefs, the soul was gone, returned to the darkness from where it was birthed. There was no need to keep what essentially was a useless shell around, to be entombed and constantly visited. She chalked it up to the race's obsession with acquiring material things and the inability to let them go. At least with her own adopted faith, they largely practiced cremation, scattering the ashes to return them to the Earth.

The funeral had drawn quite a crowd, with what seemed like every OIS operative in the region, including their families, in attendance. She even spied the mayor, Yisheng Dyakov, a middle aged man whose slicked back hair shined a silvery gray. He was of a mixed Chinese and Russian heritage, something he made big a deal about during his initial election campaign; his diplomat parents uniting, like the two power blocs of the pre-NEG days did, when the First Arcanotech War broke out - vowing to do the same for New York. It was a nice photo-op for the politician, but she personally didn't mind him, being he largely worked for the interests of the working class, and actually included the Nazzadi in that equation for once.

James's partner was there to meet them, not quite fitting in his own uniform, but it wasn't embarrassingly snug. "So this your friend from China Town?" He winked.

James almost blushed. "Ugh no…"

Taraly helped him. "We're just good friends, and actually I live in Brooklyn." It drew a raised eyebrow from the Human, given few of her race lived outside of Manhattan. She was also surprised he didn't remember her from when she'd fled to the police, after escaping from the Fish-Heads. But I did barely speak more then two words to him, before James hurried me off to a safehouse.

The three continued chatting, looking for a seat amongst the grounds of cleared snow. Rob asked her all sorts of questions, ones a friend would ask a buddy's date, the kind that continued to embarrass James. Taraly played along, finding it amusing to see her packmate squirm so much.

"Detective." A woman's voice called out. Taraly gulped, as the agent she'd popped with one her paralyzing spikes approached them. The nice, all black suit she wore was contrasted by her injuries - her face carried small cuts and slight bruising from the Tager's kick, and her left arm was noticeably stiff. Taraly couldn't help but find it odd to be face to face with someone she nearly killed, but had no idea of the fact. "I'm surprised to see you here."

"Just came to pay our respects, Agent Romano. It was a shame what happened, you have our deepest condolences." James replied politely.

"Thank you…it is a shame, we lost six good agents that day and didn't even capture Luntz…" Outrage grew in her voice, but she let it die away, especially when her partner walked over.

The Nazzadi also wore white, in the form of a provocatively designed suit, truly Nazzadi in style. She greeted them all, speaking hers to Taraly in their native tongue. Agent Kyziny's voice was rough, her neck still holding a sim-skin bandage. "I never had to chance to thank you, Detective Bardon." She called James by his fake name, reminding the Tager she needed to do the same. "For your help back at Black Nile." James again gave her some courtesies, before she sharply changed the subject. "And is this your girlfriend?"

The question angered Taraly so much, she grabbed onto Jame's hand. "Yeah, he's a real great guy." James balked, not knowing what to do. His partner nudged him with a big grin, that read 'I knew it'. It earned her a stern gaze from the older Nazzadi.

When it really came down to it, few were comfortable with Human and Nazzadi partnering, but this was especially true with her people. Most Nazzadi felt it was too soon to 'dilute' themselves, when they were still establishing their own culture and identity from the false one created by the bugs. Taraly herself had never actually dated a Human, generally preferring her own, but it wasn't like she hadn't experimented. But Kyziny's attitude reminded her of her aunt, who took her and her brother in after their father's death; the woman hated her niece's music, her fashion, and even the religion her own brother chose.

Kyziny said a curt goodbye, which Romano quietly apologized for and joined her partner.

"That didn't make her happy." Rob stated. "Bet that pisses of their hunter urge to be able to tell us what to do, eh." It earned him a smile from Taraly. James however was still too stunned by her actions. "Well lets get a seat, before all the good ones are gone."

The service itself was one done under the guise of the Universal Church. It was a loose faith, which dislodged the already tenuous hold many of the old organized religions held. Taraly got to know some of their beliefs during a few interfaith potlucks her coven attended, learning they honored a distant deity, who cared, but ultimately played little role in the day to day affairs of the world. One of their ministers, who wore no special attire, just their circular symbol off a simple gold chain, spoke the sermon. She discussed the sacrifice the witch hunters made for mortalkind, a duty which all should aspire, which the creator would wish for the survival of both Human and Nazzadi kind.

Listening to the speech, Taraly thought on how she was responsible for most of their deaths. She'd come out of some form of penance. The problem was, she quite honestly didn't care, hoping the funeral would spring some guilt out of herself. Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that it was a necessity, that the witch hunters were truly in the way of the greater mission. These feelings also reminded her of when Panic was hauling her away, when he said James and Shiv were expendable. She'd never admit it beyond her own mind, but she had agreed with her fellow Tager. Those who could successfully survive the Right of Sacred Union were few and far between, and every death of a Tager was a blow the Eldritch Society was hard to recover from. The sorcerer and Sidoci were sadly far easier to replace. Going back for the scroll was the Shadow's way to justify their rescue to not only to Panic, but to herself. Looking at the still uncomfortable James, Taraly feared for him, and feared for herself. What am I becoming…

Orena stepped into the circular, wood paneled office. It was very spacious, the feeling enhanced by a wall completely made of windows, gazing over the other centers of business in the Astoria District. However, they weren't that far off the ground, not even a dozen stories; for a skyline of skyscrapers was nothing more then a paragraph in a history book for modern New York. Orena had seen the great Spire, the world headquarters of the Chrysalis Corporation, and found the view pathetic in comparison.

"Have a seat." Sasha Braun invited him, from behind her expansive and polished ebony desk.

The Nazzadi took a seat in the leather coated chair, automatically adjusting to his well honed body - despite his advancing years. He was a member of the Old Guard, as the younger generation called them, a full grown adult who partook in the First Arcanotech War. He could recall quite vividly the memories of his people being just one armada of an interstellar empire, part of a mighty race of warriors, the chosen of the gods to subjugate the lesser races of the universe. Besides the propaganda, he remembered the small red star that lit his darkly home planet, the great storms which ravaged its surface, growing up in his Nelzoki to be another generation who expanded their dominion…Except they were all false, all made up in some Migou computer, in the depths of their underground cities on Pluto. Orena was only half the age he supposedly was, but his shaggy waves grayed, age lines grew deeper on his sharp featured face, and his muscles ached more and more.

"I've read your report." the executive spoke. "And I agree on your assessment that Silongo acted far too rashly in pursuit of an artifact of unknown quality." She was relatively young to be head of all Chrysalis operations in the city, still in the first half of her thirties. Sandy brown hair was pulled tightly into an immaculate bun, over a pale fleshed, gaunt face. Her clothing matched her position, a personally tailored suit, probably sewn of actual hand made material. Her eyes are what drew the most attention, her green irises carrying specs of red, a hint of predatorial menace. It was a sign of her blessed state, gifted by the Endless One to have a body of use for the return of the Old Ones. " It was quite simply a disastrous waste of resources. Good thing he had the sense to get himself eliminated."

"Yes." Orena simply replied. His true emotions over the ordeal were carefully bottled up. The Nazzadi was furious at the dead Dhohanoid, who foolishly flung away the lives of his carefully pruned team. Sure they were all mortal like himself, but that was the point, a fire team which could move in quickly and without fuss to handle threats that would prove problematic for the chosen of Nyralathotep. He was tapped because Silongo needed back-up to get into Manhattan, after running afoul with the turn-coats of the Eldritch Society; security was already too tight to summon another cell of Dhohanoids. In his personal opinion, which would never go beyond his own thoughts, Silongo was truly unworthy of his blessing, in his decision to toss his comrades away like scraps before the Tagers and OIS marines. "But what do I owe the honor of your personal assessment?"

Sasha smiled. "The fact you're the only survivor of this doomed operation has made me see a good use for your talents." Orena could barely believe he was receiving a compliment from a blessed one. Even with his para-psychic abilities, the unchanged were always lesser members of the Children of Chaos. He'd already risen to about as high as one of his likes could achieve. "We've been given the green light for Project Red Tide, and I'm borrowing you from T99." She retrieved a file from her desk. "This is for you, you'll find your mission spelled out within. You can also destroy it's contents when your finished."

"We're going to be working with these idiots, they're just some fringe movement." Orena's good feeling from Braun's compliments faded into disappointment. He was an operative for the elite T99 Division, the most fundamental department of the corporation, it was through them the blessed even came about. It shouldn't have surprised Orena though, no matter how much of the cosmic forces he could will through his mind, no matter his standing in the old Nazzadi armada, he was just an easily discarded tool for the cult. Despite this, Orena still felt submission to Nyralathotep was the only chance Humans and Nazzadi had to survive the onslaught of the Migou. There was no way to resist the will of a god, and even the bugs would learn this lesson.

"Trust me, they will bare fruit." Braun smiled again, an expression more akin to a predator finding satisfaction in cornering prey. "I expect a full report on your selections to rebuild your fire team, and thoughts on how to achieve the outlined objectives."

Orena bowed his head and departed the executive's office. Reading further, the Nazzadi's fully red eyes widened at the overall goal of the operation. I can't believe they think this will work. Then again he was just a lowly para-psychic, and did not possess a closer mind to the Endless One. Or am I the only one whose realized they've let their blessed nature get to their damn heads.

The End

The intellectual properties known as Cthulhutech and Framewerk is ™ and © by Black Sky Studios LLC. The contents of this document are © their respective authors, excepting those elements that are components of the Cthulhutech and Framewerk intellectual property.