SHC Season Five Prequel: Hitch and Sandi’s Magical Mystery Tour: Troll Bridge

Characters

Joe ‘Hitch’ Hitchcock: This young man in his mid 20s has, through years of service to the Academy, become a powerful hunter of monsters. While he has a number of skills, Hitch now wields the powers of an Arch-mage usually associated with much older mage, which he gained through constant study, and bitter practice in the field.

Hitch swaggers with well-founded confidence
Hitch swaggers with well-founded confidence

Hitch is also known for his eccentric taste for the 70s and Glam Rock, possibly resulting from his British upbringing, only possibly. Hitch’s biggest difficulty is that his Spot skill is so low that his usual technique of finding ambushes is to walk into them.

While Hitch has a number of skills and abilities: the key feats to remember for this combat are Heroic Surge (gains four extra actions a round, a day), and he has two signature spells, magic missile and fireball.

Sandi Maclaine: Even younger than ‘Hitch’. In normal situations Sandi appears to be a small, but athletic college girl with nothing about her more remarkable than her interest in most popular American musicians, clothes and motorbikes. Appearances in this case are not everything. Through her work with the Academy, Sandi has found the training and experience to become a good infiltrator and formidable gun woman.

Sandi, runnin' and gunnin'
Sandi, runnin’ and gunnin’

Sandi may pass herself off as an ordinary college girl, but she is something of a gear freak – constantly seeking upgrades.* Should trouble be expected, Sandi straps up with layers of equipment in a lightly designed combat set: pistols, spare magazines, night vision goggles and other surprises. Should trouble not be expected, she still will usually have a number of key items on her.

Again, Sandi has many strong skills and feats, but key for this encounter are, Advanced Two-weapon fighting, Guns Akimbo, Double Tap, Infiltrator Sweep, her acrobatics, and her astounding Armor Class. Her weakness is she is vulnerable to spells attacking the mind, she does not have enough training to resist that magic for long.

Bad Readings.

Runaway hipster

There have been indications that a Mystic Nexus a few hours north of Chicago has been spiking… and that is never good. Mystic Nexii are concentrations of uncanny power, and when they overload, well, bad things happen. Hitch and Sandi have pulled the duty to locate what has been going wrong.

The pair have been traveling in Hitch’s 1973 Dodge Monaco station wagon for three hours, with another two hours to go. The first two Nexii read normal, leaving only NX847, a Nexus point physically beneath the middle of a bridge in river, to check. It is usually a quiet Nexus. However, Sandi has got a craving for a cherry-flavor lollipop. So Hitch pulls his car over at a 7/11, and while Sandi is inside, hunting candy, he starts topping up the tank.

A chime sounds from Hitch’s back pocket. Stepping back from the fuel nozzle, Hitch checks his phone.

RABIT WM >:- [

Blinking, Hitch looks up from the phone to the 7/11 behind him. Why did Sandi text him? She is only 10 meters away. The 7/11’s glass doors slid open. A young white male, – trucker’s cap, buttoned-up plaid shirt, clean jeans – hustles out through the doorway, and with a glance back into the store, starts to run as if the premises are on fire.

‘White Male, rabbiting. Angry Face.’ Hitch, choking back a groan at Sandi’s expecting him to be fluent with her SMS speak, chases after the escaping man, too late. By the time Hitch gets to the alley behind the store, he hears a motorcycle’s ignition, and then the throttle open up.

Sandi’s light footsteps come up behind Hitch.

‘He got away! OMG Hitch, you didn’t even get your gun out!’

‘He had a start on me, and he wanted out of here, badly. What happened inside?’

‘I scoped him. His outfit was wrong – and he was wrong in it. Too trim, and his hairstyle too nice for a cap. He’s waaay too hot for plaid. So, went over to talk, y’know… I’m sure he made me…’

‘And he didn’t want to take his chances with you, and ran for it.’ Hitch finished.

Hitch rolls the idea round in his head. A guy that age should have been happy to talk to Sandi – unless he knew exactly who she was and what she could do. So, he was here as a spotter, to let someone know when we got this far along the road. A spotter briefed on whom to expect, our car driving by, but never expected we would come into the store.

‘We are under observation. I’d say the Olympians want to keep an eye on us.’

‘You always say it’s Olympians, Hitch’ sighs Sandi.

‘True, but we are looking into Nexii flaring up. Odds are it’s the Olympians – someone getting into sacrificing, stirring it up.’

Sandi tilts her head in provisional agreement.

Mismatched

After paying up, the pair return to the Monaco. Hitch checks left and right and says ‘As a precaution, I should do something for your bullets.’

‘Ooh, sparklies!’ Sandi trills, presenting her specialist 20 round Glock pistol magazines for enchantment. Hitch’s fingers move as he recites a familiar enchantment. Within seconds the bullets are entwined with a magical charge that will add to the bullets impacts on foes.

‘Y’know, perhaps I packed too light…’ Sandi looks down at her twin pistols ‘… shoulda brought this sweet SMG I saw in a catalogue last week. OMG, it’s Awesome! It can set for single fire, but the magazine…’

Hitch starts the engine – She can’t be set to talk about a sub machine-gun all the way there? – He changes the music to T. Rex, Electric Warrior album, on random.

… Well you’re dirty and sweet/
Clad in black, don’t look back and I love you/
You’re dirty sweet, oh yeah…

Somebody should tell ‘20th Century Boy’ that was then, this is now! He can’t be planning on listening to these weird old tunes the whole way. I totally coulda ridden my bike... –

Sandi concentrates on her lollipop, and looking out the window.

Party scene

Night has fallen as the Hitch drifts the Monaco, lights and engine off, to the side of the road a few hundred yards back from Nexus 847. The suspension bridge was anchored by massive pylons set either side of the approach road: but now, very little remains past the pylons other than parallel tangles of cable and concrete and crumbled road-bed stretching off down into the river. The water is broad at this point; flowing wide and cold to Lake Michigan. The far bank is only a suggestion in the dark. Between Hitch, Sandi, and the bridge lie a few stands of woods, some rough ground, and a party of teenagers around a fire, playing loud house music down by the water, as they move around a blazing campfire.

‘Oh, bugger me. Always bloody teenagers… it’s like they smell trouble, and think “Way-hey, tequila”!’

‘We just slip past them, Hitch…’ Sandi advises, while strapping on her combat kit and night-vision goggles, ‘… take the reading, and out.’

‘Sounds simple…’ Hitch casts Mage armor on himself, grabs his sturdy flashlight, and his standard issued Glock out of the glove-box, clipping the holster where he could reach it on his belt. Just for the comfort of having it there.

He joins Sandi in a com check, then asks ‘Where’s the toaster?’

‘I’ll carry it.’ Sandi waves the energy flux reader, designed for measuring magical emanations from Mystic Nexii. The early designs were like 1950s Geiger counters, but now the technical genius of Paul Birkby has updated the design. No longer built like a boxy toaster as the nickname suggests, the Mark IV is about game-pad or smart-phone size, and has a touch screen, and does just as good a job as the old clunky models. Better, if you count the additional apps, like GPS.

Plan A

The pair start across the ground towards the bridge. Sandi, all business now, call for an investigation of the nearest wood. The pair enter, quiet except for Hitch’s crunching across undergrowth. The wood proves uninhabited. They then move up to a spot of rough ground closer to the bridge. Sandi pulls out the reader, pushes back her night-vision goggles and stares at the glow.

‘Hitch, getting strong readings already. It’s pulsing, all ooky, up to six… in beat with the music.’

‘Bloody teenagers: Righto, how about I wander in as “Old Uncle Killjoy,” shut the music off, and tell them to get off home before I call their mums…’

‘…And I keep in the dark, ready bring down flank fire – once you have baited out the monster’, Sandi finishes, tucking away the reader, and resetting her night vision goggles.

‘Brilliant.’ Hitch doesn’t fancy heading towards the bait, but those kids have to be told to get clear. Sandi quickly moves off into the dark to Hitch’s right and Hitch starts towards the teenagers. Hitch casts the spell Darkvision on himself as he trudges.   It would be nice to see what’s eating him before it starts. Hitch picks up a hint of a foul smell on the breeze off the river.

Gatecrasher

The music grows louder, as Hitch approaches, and he can now make out the features of the people around the fire. That smell persists, nagging Hitch he is missing something. Then the river beside the party erupts as a 10 foot high creature – manlike but repulsive – tears forward from the water, and roars onto the strand. Its skin is a green gray and sagging in the firelight, its gut is bloated, its unnaturally-long arms appear rubbery, but show immense power in their stringy muscle. Its hands terminate in long, rending claws.

The teenagers scream, and some start to run while some cower. Hitch summons his mightiest magic, drawing down an invisible wall of force between the monster and its prey. Then turning his mind again, Hitch casts another spell onto himself: enhancing his already formidable intelligence to work faster than is humanly possible, Hitch readies himself for serious combat.

‘Hitch, what’s happening?’ Sandi calls through the com set, unable to see from where her flanking advance has taken her.

‘Teenagers jumped by …’ Hitch’s mind raced ‘… Water Troll, Greater North American Water Troll.’

Not just the one, then

Alert to any ambush, Sandi advances between the pylons, towards the left-lane bridge parapet, to get a flank position on the Troll. In various shades of night-vision green a pair of Water Trolls appear, advancing up the sunken bridge so swiftly that Sandi has no chance of simply retreating.

‘Two more here.’ Raising her right hand pistol, Sandi fires two bullets level and steady. A good double tap into the middle of the largest one’s chests she’s sure. It does nothing to slow either beast, both rapidly closing in.

Twixt Two Trolls!
Twixt Two Trolls!

‘Any weaknesses?’ Sandi calmly asks. She has a couple of chemical options handy against most things that need to breathe.

Hitch’s mind pulls facts from his memory with enhanced speed: ‘Regenerate, except fire and acid damage. The October 1942 Manitoba experiment determined Water Trolls could be killed by lots of bullets, but lots!’ – Three Vickers guns firing SA .303 600 rpm each aimed at a single target destroyed the troll in an average time of…-  Sometimes the Enhanced Intelligence spell could prove a distraction.

The reveal

‘Wait.’ Hitch breaks into his own recitation.

‘What?’

‘I think I just saw Nève Campbell in with the teenagers. Oh, bollocks. We’ve been had!’

– Should have spotted that earlier: that’s an illusion from some scary movie.

Sandi is in her own difficulties as the Trolls loom over her. With great sweeping blows, the monsters strike to claw Sandi. She nimbly avoids the first few blows, then a repulsive monstrous hand cleaves at Sandi’s side. Although she avoids the claws, the bruising impact of the palm powers her a yard or two aside.

Seemly timed with Sandi’s thoughts of dropping back, a large spider web of dense entangled white strands grows in a flash between the pylons. Thicker and higher than a truck’s trailer, the web cuts her off from retreat. To get out Sandi will have to go forward past the trolls, and their claws.

‘Hitch. They have a caster: web spell!’

Fire and Walls

Hitch is cursing himself as the illusion faded. The teenagers and bonfire disappear, leaving a set of man sized sacks, piled together. The stains on the sacks, and the smell tells Hitch that inside the bags are bodies. – Dead bodies, dead people, to draw the Trolls. – The Water Troll in front of him is running its great hands across the Wall of Force, thinking. They are known for their cunning, Water Trolls.

‘Hitch, Hitch. I’ve got two here. I’m coming your way; you have to slow them…’

Sandi’s com call snaps Hitch back to the present. Again with practiced speed, Hitch casts a Haste spell on himself. He will need to move quickly, dashing forward to a position he could see around the pylon. His Darkvision shows Sandi, two pistols in hand, rolling and shooting, and out from under the Trolls as their mighty arms swing just behind her. Before they can pin her she’s clear and round the corner of the pylon. Hitch summons his magic again. This time he encircles the two trolls with a 20′ high Wall of Fire spell: a flaring and ferocious chimney shape. – Tandoori Troll, that’s going to pong a bit.

burning_troll

One of the Water trolls shrinks back from the flames, but the other gives a guttural growl, and bursts through the fire towards Sandi. The flames blacken its bloated flesh, but still it closes on her. Sandi turns to bring her pistols to bear on the creature. Then her head aches, as if ice water is being driven across the contours of her brain. The cold proceeds from her temple to the base of her neck. Sandi is halted, her body cannot move. She is trapped within her immobile body as in a coffin, with a 600lb Water troll closing in on her.

Yoink!

Sandi stares forward, and the Troll grabs at her. Missing, perhaps by aiming at where it expected Sandi to dodge, then it begins to hideously laugh as it sees she can’t move.

A roar reminds Hitch that this is a two flank fight. The Water Troll behind him has found the limit of the Wall of Force, and like some colossal parkour move, vaults up and along it to attack Hitch from behind! The Mage Armour holds the blow off Hitch, but it’s very clear to him that this is no place to be too long. Fighting in-close with a pair of Water Trolls can only have one ending.

Hitch grabs Sandi by her immobile collar and casts with speed a powerful Telekinesis spell. Using his heightened speed from the Haste spell, Hitch and Sandi shoot straight up between the two Water Trolls, and then onto the top of the concrete pylon, where two more grimly stained body-shaped sacks lie.

– Whoever organized this ambush sees the life and death of humans as just another building block – Hitch notes. – How many is that so far, a dozen? –

Hitch turns his attention to Sandi’s plight. Surging again, Hitch sends the searching magic of a Dispel Magic spell at the gunwoman. With concentration, enemy’s power is pried from Sandi’s mind, releasing her to move again.

At the limits

Warmth floods back into Sandi limbs, and she moves with alacrity. She darts to the edge of the pylon. Two of the Trolls have begun clambering the concrete, their natural size makes the formidable pylon an easily conquered height; the third Troll has found the courage to break through the Wall of Fire to join the charge. Sandi fires with rapid accuracy into the scorched Troll that had taken particular interest in her. The gunwoman’s Glocks kick out brass shells: 9mm rounds punch through its skull again and again, rendering the head above the brow to a paste.

The beast falls from the pylon, slamming into the ground. And then, to Sandi’s horror, its chest swells with breath, and the gore of its head begins to obscenely reassemble itself: bloody strips of flesh and bone knitting together.

‘Hitch, they are climbing. And they are shaking off the bullets. We gotta…’

Sandi’s mouth twists with surprise. A profound silence falls across the pylon, and she has no words. She looks questioningly at Hitch, as the only noise either can hear is the grabbing and grunting of Water Trolls climbing closer.

– Silence spell, you crafty bastard! If I have no voice, I’ve no spells. Think Hitch, c’mon think!-

And awaaaayyy…

With his heightened speed, Hitch steps into reach of Sandi. Grabbing her arm, he turns and starts sprinting to the opposite side of the pylon. Sandi follows, watching Hitch to read his plan in the silence. As the first enormous troll hand grips the top of the pylon, Hitch’s feet touch the edge of the concrete. He kicks off like a long-jumper and leaps out, away from the pylon, not down off it.

– All spells have a radius, we just have to –

As Sandi falls, she faultlessly swings her body, ready to perform a practiced parachutist’s roll: meanwhile Hitch is approaching the ground in a less controlled manner. Suddenly, Hitch can hear his own, somewhat panicked, breathing.

‘Feather fall!!!’

The magic removes the acceleration of gravity. The pair slow, to Sandi’s surprise, and Hitch’s relief. They strike the ground with the impact of one stepping lightly off a stationary bus. They run. Sandi glances behind her. The Wall of Fire is casting light up at the pylon’s right flank: on its summit stands a mighty Troll, looking around for his enemies. On the fire-lit side she can see another Troll, moving up at speed, and she imagines the third is climbing the reverse side where she can’t see. She runs on to catch Hitch.

‘Tell me you have a bug-out ready.’

Taking the offensive

‘Yes, stay close’ replies Hitch, his mind running faster than his legs. The Trolls are grouping themselves on that pylon, readying for pursuit. – We haven’t heard from the Mage for a while. Enough seconds to prepare? Worth the risk! –

As the pair reach the nearby rough ground, Sandi instinctively takes cover, but Hitch spins, and begins to draw mystic power. As he does so, the waiting enemy caster has his chance. Three bolts of magical power slam into Hitch from out of the darkness. The pain drives into Hitch, as he musters his will to control the power he is trying to direct.

multicasting

The view turns white in Sandi’s night-vision goggles, as the top half of the pylon is struck with a 40’ wide globe of fire. The trolls wail in pain. Sandi pushes the goggles up, just in time to see Hitch’s second fireball, summoned so quickly behind the first only by a supreme last effort, strike the same position. As the second flash dies away, the Trolls pitch off the pylon, their fat, flesh and sinew burning on after death.

‘Trolls sorted…’ pants the Mage, sweat sticking his shirt to his back. Channeling magic at such speed is exhausting. Nine spells in 30 seconds, it has to be a record.

Read’n’run

‘That mage is still out there. And we have to get a reading,’ reminds Sandi. ‘Have you got the magic to speed me up?’

‘Last Haste spell.’ Hitch empowers Sandi, ‘Watch yourself. That mage is in magic missile range.’

‘I’ll go for the reading. You run cover.’

Sandi lowers her goggles, and dashes into the distance running for the bridge. Hitch hauls himself to his feet, and runs to cover by the edge of the wall of force. The wall will linger for only another minute before it dissipates, and it is transparent, but till then it gives all the cover Hitch needs.

– Just show your head, you crafty bastard, and I will have you. – Hitch readies a non-lethal volley of magic missiles. A talkative captive would make his evening.

Sandi runs light-footed past the still burning wall of fire, and the scorched and burning remains of Water Trolls. She carries on across the bridge rubble, tensed for another attack, and very conscious of being alone. She slows only once the inbuilt GPS on the reader said she has reached the Nexus spot. Its core is centered beneath the dark waters flowing over the bridge, surrounded by who knows what horrors.

‘Hitch. Reading is hot: a steady six. We gotta call in a fix-up crew.’

In the distance, Sandi hears the sound of a small outboard starting well off in the dark.

‘And I think the mage is leaving fast. Give chase?’

Hitch hears the question, ‘We have to let this one go. You can’t see where they are, I don’t have anything either. Drop back to me. We’ll check the sacks, be sure there are bodies in them, and then move before the law rolls in. Or whoever they are come back to throw another wave of whatever at us. Let’s just count our blessings, and leg it.’

*For the record Sandi was trained with a SIG, equipped with a Beretta, upgraded to G17, after 3 years experimented with a G18, and settled on the G17 with extended mag. Other equipment is the necessary result from trying to observe the Objective Premiere over seasons 1-4, and combining sneaker and mobile gunship roles.

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