Marco led the way down the steps to the locker room, and as the adrenaline left her body, as the red mist faded from her eyes, Vera considered the enormity of what she’d done. Her hatred towards the Aggies fled with it, and she couldn’t even remember why she’d felt the way she had. She’d hurt people… probably killed or at least seriously disfigured a few, and why? She couldn’t get the wet crunching sound her spikes had made when she’d punched that woman in the chest, or how easily her companion’s face had given away before her fists out of her head…
The next thing she knew, they were in the parking lot. The man whose fingers she’d severed, the man she’d maimed, was in the lead, secured by Josh and Marco, the Professor gently guiding her along. “What have we done?”
The Mist has worn off. Vera has to make a Fright Check to come to terms with what she’s done while under its effects. She fails by five.
“Easy,” the Professor said. “You’re okay now.”
“No, what did we do?” Everything felt distant. Faded. Like something she was watching, like her words were lines she was delivering.
“Are they okay?” Marco asked.
“She’s dissociating.” The Professor looked back at Vera, lowering his voice, though she could still hear him. “Whatever happened at the hospital, what Toni told us about… I think this is similar. And it’s worn off.”
Marco looked past her. “And Ash and Nick?”
Vera looked back and saw that the both of them were standing off on their own, silent, eyes downcast. Ashly had her arms folded and Nick… Vera hadn’t seen him looking like that since his uncle died.
The professor shook his head and stepped closer. “Listen, what happened to Vera and Josh… I don’t think those were choices they were making. Not consciously. They’ll come to terms with it. But Nick and Ashly chose to fire those guns. They held them, they pulled the trigger, they killed those men. And you’re all… I’m sorry, but you’re just kids. You can’t expect them to just… kill and not feel anything.”
“Yeah.” Marco said. “Fuck. I knew I should have punched that Pete right in the nose, got us out of here. Fuck. This is all my fault.”
“Man, that’s bullshit.” Josh turned, spinning their hostage around with him. “Listen, Marco, I give you a lot of shit but you did what you had to do. We all did what we had to do to survive. They were trying to kill us. This whole fucked up situation, what do all of you expect? Some fucking walk in the park? Sometimes you have to do bad things to get by, and there’s no shame in that.”
Vera stirred. “Josh, shut the fuck up.”
“No, you shut the fuck up!” He half-screamed. “Are all of you goddamn mental!”
Ashly burst into tears.
“Josh-” Vera started.
“Now, wait, wait,” Professor Poropat said. “Josh isn’t entirely wrong.”
“The fuck I’m wrong.”
“Listen, people are… violence affects people in different ways. Everybody has an acceptable level of violence,” the Professor continued. “We see everything above our accepted level as unreasonable. We see people who live at a lower level as weak. Some people are totally non-confrontational. Some people stand up for themselves by yelling and screaming. Some people see physical assault as acceptable. Others… others will kill without hesitation.”
“Society, our society, teaches that any violence is wrong. And in most cases for most people that works just fine. But the situation we’re in… you saw what was going on in there. You had to do things to survive. And now… and now you’ll have to adapt to that, because we really need to get moving. If you let the guilt win, if you hesitate… next time you might not be so lucky. Next time your friends might be the ones lying back there on the field.”
“Okay,” Nick said. He looked up, a defiant expression on his face. “Okay.”
Reluctant Killer costs 5 cp to buy it off, and doing so means that the characters have internalized the hard actions they might have to take in the future. This can be quick, or it can take time – all depending on when we spend the CP to buy it off.
To expedite this I’m going to start giving out Character Points every episode. We’ve earned 3 since episode 10, putting Nick at 7, Vera at 3, Ashly at 4, Marco at 12, and Josh at 13. Since episode 10, everyone has used the Stealth skill.
- Nick buys off Reluctant Killer. He passes his IQ rolls to put a point into Guns (Rifle) and Stealth.
- Vera and Ashly are simply saving their points to buy off Reluctant Killer. They’ll have to deal with their feelings until then – though because Vera was technically immune when she went Berserk, she’s not stuck in a morose state like Ash is.
- Marco buys off Reluctant Killer. And his (ironically) bad luck continues, as he fails his IQ rolls to pick up both Stealth and Guns (Rifle).
- Josh passes both his rolls for Stealth and Guns (Rifle). He also spends 10 points to buy his Health score up to 11.
Josh jabbed their hostage with the barrel of his rifle. “Hey. Asshole. What’s your name?”
The man clutched his bleeding hand to his chest. “H-Howie. It’s Howie. Oh god, what… what did we do?”
Josh jabbed him again. “Shut the fuck up. You got a car here?”
Howie made a pained face. “Y… yeah. Yeah.”
“Hey, Howie.” Ashly pushed Josh’s gun aside. “Show us the way there, and I’ll patch your hand up. Deal?”
He looked down at the bloody mess that had been his hand, then up again, nodding. “Oh. Okay. Yeah. Sure.”
Josh stepped up to her. “Why are we going to waste good bandages on this asshole?”
She glared at him. “We have plenty. And not that it matters, but he wasn’t any more responsible for his actions than Vera. Or you.”
“Psht. I’m not blaming what I did on mind control. Someone steps up to me, they better make sure they do the job.”
“Whatever, then think of it as keeping a useful hostage. One who knows the city.”
“Hostage?” the guy asked.
“Yeah,” Josh nodded. “You tried to kill us, motherfucker. You think we’re letting you go?”
Howie led the way through the parking lot to a slightly rusty powder blue Ford pickup. Vera could hear gunfire in the distance, and more explosions. She got into the truck’s cab, sitting there silently, trying not to think about… anything.
“Did you know him,” Ashly asked, wrapping the man’s hand in gauze. “The guy I… the one I shot?”
“No,” Howie said. “Sorry. We just all got carried away. You know?”
“Yeah,” Ashly said, “I know.”
“Can you save my fingers?”
“Did you keep them?”
Howie’s face fell. “No.”
“Then no, sweetie. No.”
GURPS: Ashly rolls first aid to stop Howie’s bleeding.
Ashly and Vera climbed into the cab alongside Vera, while Josh, Marco, Nick, and the Professor climbed into the back with Howie.
Vera lifted the walkie. “Marco. We’re still heading towards the state Capitol? Over?”
There was a pause before Marco responded. “Yeah. Yeah. Give it one more chance. They we get out of here. Over.”
“Roger.” She put the radio into the cup holder, put her seatbelt on, and pulled out of the parking spot.
It was a short drive south to the Capitol building. Vera took the byway the short distance up to the front of the columned building, put it into park, and rolled down her window.
Above the building’s facade, in front of its peaked dome, was a small balcony where stood a dignified looking man in severe business attire. Vera gazed up at him, and he stood, hands on the rail, gazing down at them.
Marco’s voice came over the radio. “Should we go talk to him? Over?”
Vera maintained a steady, if weary, eye contact with the man for several heartbeats. As she watched without altering his expression, the man stepped up on the railing, stood, then launched himself off towards the car. He landed face down on the stairs leading up to the entrance.
She picked up the walkie. “No.” She put it down, rolled up the window, and drove away down Capital Road, heading south towards the river.
She was done with this place. Done with this town. Done with its madness. She felt numb, burnt out, just tired of the calvacade of horrors facing them. She didn’t care what Austin threw at them, what opportunities it tried to tempt them with – Vera Was Done. And by the looks of it, so were her friends.
The further south Vera drove, the more the city changed. Whereas many of the windows they’d passed had been broken, the closer they got to the river the more ravaged everything looked. Streetlights were knocked down. Signs were pocked with bullet holes. Debris littered the street. More of the high-rises they passed showed cracks and structural damage – more than a disaster, it looked like a war zone.
She swerved around what at first she took to be a bundle of old laundry on the road, but in a flash saw that it was a man’s body, torn up and ravaged as if knocked on by wild dogs.
GURPS: Vera rolls a Fright Check at -1.
She suppressed a shudder and didn’t mention it to the others. They had enough on their minds. After that, though, she kept her eyes on the road ahead, trying not to look to closely at the details.
It didn’t matter. She just wanted to get the fuck out.
GURPS: Everyone rolls Perception-2. Everyone but Vera succeeds.
“Hey Vera.” Marco’s voice came over the radio.
She picked up her walkie. “Yeah.” Her voice sounded quiet in her ears.
“You seeing this shit? Over.”
She glanced at the abandoned buildings and empty lots they were driving past. “Can you be more specific? Over.”
“We’re seeing some… I don’t know. Something following us. Watching.”
Nick’s voice chimed in. “Something watching us from the buildings. Over”
Ashly looked away from the window. “I think I saw something move on the rooftops.”
“Jesus Christ,” Toni said.
Vera felt the cold hand of fear grip her heart. “Hold on to something, gonna speed up. Over.” She slowly pressed down on the accelerator, bringing the truck up to forty-five, as fast as she dared with how much debris she was passing.
Suddenly, the light poles ahead started to fall inward, crossing and crashing in the middle of the road ahead of the truck.
GURPS: Vera must make a Driving roll, at -2 because she’s unfamiliar with the pick-up truck.
Turning the wheel hard, she managed to swerve to a stop sideways alongside them as they crashed to the road, hearing a curse from one of the passengers in the back of the truck. She stared down at the fallen poles for only a moment before backing up and heading back to the last intersection she’d passed, a four-way between four tall but empty-looking buildings.
“That was close,” Toni said.
Vera didn’t respond, turning right at the intersection, intending on turning back to the south at the earliest opportunity.
She didn’t trust it, didn’t trust this city, didn’t trust the coincidence of the falling poles and the mysterious figures keeping pace with them. Whether the shapeshifting aliens, or the spider people, or some other new threat, she wanted no part of them.
“Lookout!” Toni shouted, suddenly lurching forward and pointing.
Roll to spot the ditch:
Vera, Ashly fail, Toni succeeds and shouts a warning.
Roll to stop in time:
Too late, Vera saw the gap gouged out of the road ahead, spinning the wheel to try and turn but knowing it was futile. The front of the truck launched into the air, only to fall nearly a foot into the ditch, hitting the other side and bringing the truck to a sudden stop.
Everyone takes damage – Vera, Ashly, and Toni are protected by their seat belts for an effective 5 Damage Resistance.
Nick takes 3 damage. (3/10 remain)
Vera takes 3, all of which is blocked.
Ashly takes 3, all of which is blocked
Marco takes 1 damage. (5/10 remain)
Josh takes 4 damage. (0/11 remain) He passes out.
Toni takes 1 damage, all of which is blocked.
Poropat takes 2 damage. (7/10 remain)
Howie takes 5 damage. (1/10 remains)
Vera shook her head, clearing it of the sudden pain of the compression of the strap across her chest. She turned to Ashly and Toni. “Are you two okay?”
“Yeah, I-” Ashly began, then screamed as the ditch suddenly burst into flames.
Vera threw the truck into reverse, hoping she hadn’t broken the axle, thanking whatever dark gods were watching them when the vehicle pulled back out of the hole and onto the road. “Fuck it,” she said. “Fuck this.” She backed up all the way to the intersection, then turned to head back the way they came. Whatever this was, whatever was going on, she wanted no part of it.
As she reached the last intersection back north, a block from the intersection, she saw dark figures dragging large objects – mattresses – across the road. She barely had time to register them as children – pre-teens – with long, sharp fangs glinting in the darkness before she slammed into the barrier they were moving into place.
Will she try to gun through a gap in the barrier?
3: No, but she’ll try to stop before hitting them.
She needs to make a Driving roll to stop in time.
She hits the mattress barrier hard – everyone takes 1d6-2 damage, with seatbelts protecting as before. Accordingly, Vera, Toni, and Ashly are fully protected.
Nick takes 0 damage.
Marco takes 0 damage.
Josh takes another 2 damage (-2/10)
Professor takes 1 damage (6/10 remain)
Howie takes 4 damage (-3/10 remain), and he fails his roll to stay conscious.
We’re giving out CP every episode now, so everybody earns 1. Ashly now has the 5 she needs to buy off Reluctant Killer, and while the obviously monstrous children won’t trigger it, if we buy the disadvantage off we can cut short the days of time she’d otherwise be morose and useless in a fight.
Something tells me the PCs are going to need all the help they can get.
Next Time: Trapped by devil-children!