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Dear Diary...

05/15/07:

               Our first day back in the 'real world' was quiet - too quiet. I should have known that was a bad sign.

               The day was quiet and enjoyable, like I said, but after we'd retired for the night it just got nuts. Leo and I were watching the late news and saw a story about a building that had been destroyed by some huge 'monster' before the City Defense Forces could take care of it. The report was that the building had been the headquarters of a licensed adventuring company (in actuality - it was an old, run-down bar that a biker gang had claimed as their own) and there was no sign of survivors.

               There were some interviews with witnesses but none of them could agree on details. The monster had anywhere between four to six heads, and had who know how many tails. Not only that, but according to one person it was breathing lightning bolts at people. "Great," said Leo. "Now we're being attacked by King Gidorah." I blinked at him and he muttered something about Godzilla movies.

               Lucifer appeared and made a brief statement that the 'monster' had not yet been identified and that an autopsy was pending, "Another question remains to be investigated - how did a creature this large get into town to begin with?" He refused to answer any more questions and the reporter signed off.

               A few minutes later the phone rang. It was Olivia, of course. She told me that she had just called Lucifer, demanding information. He'd told her that due to the size of the creature, they were going to be doing the autopsy on site. Just as soon as they could find some chainsaws and gas masks, that is.

               "Are you watching the news?" she asked. "I called Rodrick and he's bored with trying to figure out the problem of a centralized currency so he's going to go with me to check out the monster. Do you want to join us?"

               "No thanks," I told her. "It looks messy and smelly. Take some photos for me."

               She agreed to do so and when she'd hung up, I told Leo we'd better get some sleep, "I bet we get a call at some un-Godly hour." He agreed that was likely so we're hitting the sack.

05/16/07:

               Surprise, surprise! We actually got a full night's sleep! Sort of. The phone rang at one point, but there was no one there. How rude!

               We had just gotten dressed and were headed to breakfast when Lucifer showed up on my doorstep with a human man in tow. Lucifer introduced him as a member of his Crime Scene Investigation team. They had a vial of some unknown compound that they were hoping I could help them with.

               "Where did it come from?" I asked. That was when Olivia, in her bathrobe, came bursting into my room to find out why Lucifer was talking to me. While they were hashing that out, I called Rodrick and invited him over and they all filled me in on what happened (or what they think happened) last night.

               They got to the bar and found the place in ruins and the entire area reeked. Rodrick sent one of his bodyguards to get some gasmasks. It was too late - he took a few steps closer to the building and puked. He said that the only thing that made him feel any better was the obvious signs that quite a few other people had done the same thing. When they finally worked their way inside, Lucifer met them, wearing an oxygen mask.

               "Got any more of those?" Olivia asked.

               "A few, for my people." he said. "You didn't bring your own?"

               They moved closer to inspect the carnage. There were bodies all over the place, most of them bitten in half. The beast was found 'in' the back room of the place, with the walls all pushed outwards. There were three severed heads (definitely reptilian looking), each on a neck that was about seven feet long. The body was about fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long, not counting the tail that was about another 15 feet or so.

               There was one head that was still attached to the body. It had been pretty much blasted apart with what looked like a shotgun. When Lucifer's people were able to get some forklifts in to move the body, they found two more severed heads under it. And tentacles - it had two tentacles - about thirty feet long with squiddy-grabby pads on them. The whole thing had icky, slimy, green/brown mottled skin and smelled BAD! No, bad is just not strong enough. Think "Bog of Eternal Stench" or the Aegean Stables.

               Lucifer's people were going over the place and he explained that he'd managed to find a couple of ex-Vegas CSI people to work for him. Apparently, Las Vegas Hilton decided they were extra overhead that he didn't need, since he can force people to tell the truth. You could tell they were pros - they had biohazard suits and the whole crime lab kit. One of them offered me some menthol jelly for my upper lip. It helped a little.

               Olivia told Lucifer that she could feel some residual Magic in the area but couldn't really narrow it down as to what kind. Then the forklifts moved the body some more and revealed a few pretty well squished biker-types on an equally squished bed. Two of the CSI people were examining the back of the creature and making, "Hmmmm" sounds.

               "What did you find?" Olivia demanded.

               "Nothing to report, so far."

               Lucifer said, "Tell me, what have you found?"

               "Whip marks, my lord."

               "Oh," Lucifer said, "A circus creature of some sort."

               "Not hardly," I thought to myself.

               "No, sir. The angle indicates that the creature was sitting or crouching while the blows were inflicted by someone standing above it," Lucifer's people explained.

               "Like a person was being whipped and then turned into this thing?" Olivia had asked.

               "That's my bet," I thought as she covered that part of their evening.

               Rodrick had asked if any of the biker gang had survived - none had - so he started checking the bodies for clues. Olivia interrupted him at that point to 'test' the Magic in the room again. This time she got a vague sense of some sort of Magic that had been abruptly ended. Rodrick went back to checking out biker corpses and found one who really didn't fit in with the others. His jacket was new and the gang 'logo' on it was brand new. He had librarian-ish glasses and clean, soft hands. "He looks like an accountant," Rodrick said.

               He must have been new to the gang. Unlike the other that had been bitten in two, he'd been wish-boned by the beast and pretty much the only thing holding him together was his jacket.

               Olivia used her fairie-fire bead to check the room for magic. Everything that had been touched by the beast, a part of the beast or any of the beast's blood glowed with residual magic. But there was one other item glowing - a finger with a ring on it that was half-buried under some rubble. Olivia tested the ring and determined that it was made to detect magic. Well, that could be usefull..

               Rodrick looked at the finger and announced that it must have come from the Newbie so he checked what was left of the guy's body and his clothes to see if there was anything else of interest. He found a lot of pockets in the jacket - all filled with different sorts of items that Olivia said were for casting various magics.

               Olivia poked around the rubble and found a bill of sale. It read that the biker gang had assumed the debt of an indentured person named "Shawna". It also said that Shawna was African-American, Human, female and that she had originally been indentured to a registered brothel to pay for an outstanding debt. But they had not yet recovered the body of an African American human female.

               Rodrick took a closer look at one of the heads on the beast and saw that there was a tiny (comparatively speaking) little ball-gag stuck in the teeth as well as some shattered manacles on the floor near the remains of the bed. At that point, the CSI people announced that they had found more than just whipmarks. There were cigarette burns and what looked like brands. One of the brands was the one used to identify someone who has been indentured, for their lifetime, to the city. Usually for a truly heinous crime, people who are not usually released to the public.

               Lucifer looked at the paperwork that Olivia had found and declared them to be forgeries, "And not very good ones. There are no seals from an Overlord. No photo or fingerprints, no copy of her conviction record and no itemization of earnings versus debt."

               Rodrick and Olivia decided that they'd seen (and smelled) enough so Olivia ordered Lucifer to notify her of any further developments and they took their evidence and left. They went to the brothel that had sold Shawna to the biker gang, a place called House Scarlet. On the way Olivia called her people and had them check the record on the place. The proprietor, Madam Samantha had survived her initial interview with Olivia and there had been no infractions since then. When they got to the place there were two big, beefy 'greeters' out front, wearing spiked leather and oiled from top to bottom.

               "Yummy," I said and got glared at by Leo.

               The Senior Madam met them in the selection room and politely listened to them. Then she shook her head. "We have no indentured people in the House," she told Olivia.

               "Was she being truthful?" I asked.

               "I don't know!" Olivia said. "My ring of truth didn't register her at all. I think that means she's guilty."

               Samantha showed them around the House, boasting how each girl (and guy) has their own room and how the House keeps several mages on staff, "To cater to those clients who can't find precisely what they want." In her office, she produced paperwork (legitimate paperwork) for every one of them, "I trust you noted that not one of them has an indentured brand?"

               Rodrick asked Olivia if he could see Shawna's paperwork. She handed it to him and he compared it to the real thing, "Whoever did this didn't even try to make it look real," he observed.

               Olivia and Rodrick agreed it was all very clean. Maybe even a little too clean.

               They asked if they could speak to the girls.

               "But of course, you are their Overlord."

               So they walked thru again, asking each 'entertainer' if they remembered Shawna. None did and all were truthful about it. Olivia doubled back and asked them all again - still nothing and all were still being truthful. They asked to use the phone in the madam's office, and after making sure they were indeed alone, Olivia called Las Vegas Hilton.

               He was a little out of sorts about being woken up, "What?!?"

               "Did you see the news tonite? The monster that took out that bar?"

               "I did. What about it?"

               "Well that monster had some forged indenture papers I'd like you to look at."

               Hilton was confused as well as grumpy now. "Why would a monster have indenture papers?"

               Olivia walked him thru the scenario.

               "I see. I'll have an assistant ready to help you when you get here," Hilton told her.

               "Will it be a person who knows something about indentured people?"

               "Naturally."

               They were met at the Hilton and shown to a room that contained files on the indentured. Rodrick and Olivia asked about the ones who would have the brand of a lifetime indenture. Hilton's assistant explained that was reserved for the worst crimes - child molestation, cannibalism, etc.

               "Do you have records for any female African-American humans who were branded?"

               He found files for three. The first was an 85 year old woman who'd been convicted of poisoning Elven children (in God's name). She had been sentenced to hard labor and had died almost a year ago after suffering a stroke. The second woman was a street prostitute in her mid-20's who'd decided that her best chance to get ahead was to kill her johns, rob them, and save the best parts of them for food, ala Jeffrey Dahmer. She'd been sentenced to work in a uranium mine and died six months ago. Her file contained a photo of her body being fed into an incinerator.

               The last woman had believed that she was a vampire and had taken to accosting people, stalking and then attacking them. She was a six and a half foot tall former track star, so she was able to catch quite a few victims. After chasing down and overpowering a victim, she took them back to her home and drained their blood. When she was finally apprehended, they found her soaking in a bathtub filled with the blood of three little Elven girls. That one was still alive. She had also been sent to the uranium mines and according to the mine's records - she was still there as of last month. There was a 'current' photo that showed a gaunt, sickly, balding woman.

               Olivia called Lucifer, "Are your CSI people still working on the site?"

               "They are. Why?"

               "Check the body for traces of uranium."

               "We've already used a Geiger counter on the whole area - nothing was out of line."

               Well, it was pretty damn late by then so Olivia and Rodrick headed back to their respective hotels to wash the stench off before bed. One of the CSI people had suggested that they try bathing in fresh lemon juice. Olivia decided to be nice and let Leo and I sleep, but Rodrick admitted he was the one who called last night and hung up.

               Butt head.

               Lucifer held up the vial he'd brought, "And that leads us back to this. It was one of the items found in the Newbie's jacket. Everything else has been identified. But my mages could only determine that it is some sort of plant extract. The CSI people were unable to match it to anything in the terrestrial database." He held the vial out to me. "So, since Lady Jazz has 'contacts' on other planes…"

               I took it and said, "I'll see what I can do." I composed myself and sent a plea to Corellon asking for His help, "To stop whatever this may be, before it can hurt Your people."

               His answer was quick: "It is the concentrated juice from a plant called the Blood Lilly; a flower not normally found in an Elven garden. It is used by Necromancers, combined with demon essences to mingle with mortal creatures to create abominations."

               "If someone didn't know what they were doing, could they end up creating something with six heads and two tentacles?"

               "No," He said, "that thing, while being monstrous, was not a demon."

               I thanked Him for His help and reported what He'd said to the others.

               "So it's something to summon demons and then create cyborg-like creatures?" Lucifer asked.

               "That's a pretty good summary," I said.

               Then he sort of fidgeted, cleared his throat and said; "We also found some photos."

               "Of?" I prompted.

               "A human girl, a black girl. She was chained to a bed and had what I've been told is called a ball-gag in her mouth. The photos show her being raped, repeatedly, by members of the biker gang." He had a copy of one of the very first photos. Olivia looked at it and said it didn't look like the only living indentured for life woman. The photo was very disturbing - for a lot of reasons - but the woman had the oddest, 'vacant' look.

               Lucifer nodded, "Her expression never changes, thru all of the photos and everything they did to her. But here, I thought you'd find this particular photo very interesting." He passed the photo in question around. In the photo, a man was heating a branding iron with a blowtorch. The brand used on the indentured for life.

               Rodrick asked if Newbie was in any of the photos - he wasn't.

               "And the date/time stamps on the photos indicate that they had the poor girl for a week and a half before last night," Lucifer added.

               I wondered out loud, "So, does he get off on watching or being the Newbie, maybe he didn't rate a turn of his own?"

               Rodrick asked if everyone in the photos (except the girl) had been accounted for.

               "They have," Lucifer said.

               Olivia told him to have Jim broadcast a photo of the girl (before they went to work on her) and ask the viewing public if anyone knew her.

               Lucifer agreed to that and asked, "So how, and why, would someone change a beast like that into the form of a defenseless girl?"

               "And why wait for such a long time before ending the illusion" I asked. Nobody offered any answers. We decided to go have another look and Olivia excused herself to get dressed. She asked Lucifer if he wanted any breakfast.

               He shook his head. "If we're going back there, it would just be wasted." Oh, YAY.... We got some biohazard suits from Scooby and headed off to the bar.

               Out on the front sidewalk there was a line of bodybags and Lucifer's people were sorting body parts into neat piles. Rodrick suggested that I try to question Newbie's body for information - but Lucifer told us that a construction crew had shored up the walls and what was left of the ceiling so it was safe to go in for more searching, but not for long. He also informed us that they found an 'apartment' in the basement. It looked like Newbie had been living down there. So that's where we headed.

               And I wish we hadn't.

               There was a big-screen TV and a VCR and a huge collection of bondage porn. He also had a collection of photos like the ones Lucifer had shown us earlier. All the girls in them had the same vacant expression, too. It was beyond creepy. The latest set of photos must have been taken by remote, because Newbie was in them. Strangling the girl, this time. All the photos were neatly filed, by date in boxes and each set had bogus purchase papers.

               Rodrick looked around the room and said, "This is probably a stupid questions - but is there any chance the guy kept a diary?"

               We dug deeper and Olivia came up with a hand written journal. The name on the cover was Fred Barrios. And the latest entry was just two days ago! We flipped thru the early entries and found that Fred was quite the world traveler and that his favorite trips were to Thailand for the sex-tours - he spent his vacations raping children.

               There were entries about his job, too. Apparently he was very good at what he did - helping the filthy rich hide their money from the IRS (that's why he was in Vegas to begin with - no state income tax to contend with). From there he went on to doing some investment brokering for other members of his under-age sex clubs. He even found a way to write off his sex-tour vacations on his taxes. There was another entry explaining another reason he liked Vegas so much - it was so easy for him to pick up 'strays'. Illegals, seasonal workers, runaways.

               I was so very glad he was dead.

               Then Rodrick found an entry that said he was 'currently' working as a Security Mage for the City Defense Force and that he found it to be quite advantageous to know people like the members of the biker gang. People who could get him luxury items for his own use or for bartering with. He wrote about how after the Change he'd found that he could 'bend' people to his will, even better than Before. He could even make people go to sleep and do 'extreme' things to them without them waking.

               One entry included a cryptic remark about one of his associates ("And I thought he was a snake, Before!") who was having an invitation-only private auction out of the back room of House Scarlet.

               It went on to say that having purchased so many 'choice offerings' recently, he found himself short on money so he got in touch with the biker gang and they were going to go in together at that next auction to make a purchase they could share.

               Fred also wrote that he was hoping for better results this time. He'd been disappointed with the last four 'choice offerings' he'd purchased from said associate, "They'd had all their spirit beaten out of them. No sport in that."

               There was a note that the next auction at House Scarlet was going to be three days from now and Fred and the biker gang were really looking forward to it. The gang had hit a commune of Hippies 'and other lowlifes' and had secured themselves some items that show "real potential" to bring a good return at the auction. We took the diary with us - just in case - and continued searching.

               "What the Hell?" Rodrick mumbled. "Look at this. This video tape is labeled 'I'm fucking what?'"

               There was a sticky note on it that read, 'Fred! Check this out!'

               "Should I?" Rodrick asked. Olivia and I simply shrugged and he popped it in the VCR and switched on the TV. When the static cleared the tape showed a man going to town on a Human woman with that now familiar vacant look. She didn't react to anything being done to her but suddenly began to convulse. Then she Changed into a very large, very pissed off badger. The badger, no longer contained by manacles, turned on the man, savaging his quite unprotected privates. There was the sound of gunshots as the 'audience' took care of the creature.

               The man was holding his wounds and yelling, "What the fuck was that?" There was laughter off camera and a voice said, "You got ripped off, man!" The man on camera started muttering something we couldn't make out and his wounds Healed right up. He looked at whoever was manning the camera and told him, "You'd better delete all of that!" "Oh, of course I will," the voice said.

               Thankfully, that was when the tape ended.

               Olivia found another stack of photos and started sorting through it. Suddenly she stopped and held one of the photos up. "Oh no. I know this girl. Jazz, I think she's a teacher at your Cathedral." She showed me the photos and she was right. They showed Sandra - a young Moon Elf who was working at the Cathedral as a teacher's assistant.

               "I heard someone say that she'd called in sick last week."

               The series of photos showed all the details as she was raped and then murdered.

               "Look at the background," Rodrick said, "it's the same as the badger video."

               Olivia wanted to scry to find the men involved.

               Rodrick said, "I bet we'll be able to find them in three days at that auction."

               Olivia decided to Scry to locate the badger's body to see what sort of drug had been used on it.

               "Maybe there were no drugs," I suggested, "they could achieve the same results with Magic." Rodrick asked Lucifer if the beast's blood had been tested for any sort of drugs. One of the CSI guys heard the question and said with a snort, "We're not even sure what its blood is, yet." Lucifer's cell phone rang then and Olivia was quite jealous that he has a cell phone that works.

               "Yes?" he said. "Really? Excellent!" He hung up and told us that a scavenger on Fremont had recognized the beast. He'd run into a colony of the things up in the northern Nevada desert, living around a toxic waste dump. The scavenger said that he'd been chased off by the creatures, but saw that someone else had been there before him. There were tracks made by some heavy vehicles and around the perimeter of the area there had been bait-boxes set out every quarter mile or so, loaded with sides of beef or entire pigs.

               Olivia told Lucifer about the auction in three days and asked that he not do anything to disrupt it before we had a chance to check it (and its clients) out.

               "You think that wise?" Lucifer asked.

               Olivia laughed and said, "I prefer not to answer that question."

               "Very well," Lucifer agreed, "I'll prepare a squad to go in when you've seen what you want to see and arrest the guilty. Are you going to scry to find that badger?" Olivia said she was indeed, back at the Aladdin. So that's where we went. Rodrick and I watched while she located the body. She called Lucifer and ordered him to have his people go get it and test its blood. Then she asked the crystal to show her the men from the videotape.

               The man who'd been attacked by the badger was at work - at the Bellagio! He appeared to be some sort of stagehand. Amazingly enough, Olivia wasn't able to locate the other men we'd heard on the video. So she called the Bellagio and asked to speak to Jim.

               "What can I do for y'all?" he asked.

               Olivia said, "We'd like you to detain one of your employees until we get there to question him," and she described the man and where he was working.

               "And what is your interest with this man?"

               "We have a tape of him having sex with a badger." Olivia said.

               Jim asked, "Is the badger having second thoughts?"

               Olivia explained how the man had thought that he was raping a woman. Then she warned Jim that the man was capable of healing himself so he might have other powers and that he should be careful. We got to the Bellagio and were shown to a room where Jim, a few security people and the man from the video (who was looking VERY nervous) were waiting.

               He took the offensive, "So, what's going on?" he asked.

               Olivia said, "We've got a videotape."

               "With some interesting shots of you and a badger," Rodrick finished.

               The guy laughed, "Man! We were drunk that night! I've got a sick friend who's a mage. He thought it was all very funny."

               Olivia asked, "And you thought it was cool to rape a woman?" and she demanded the names of the others who were present.

               The man tried to claim that he didn't know names. Rodrick and Olivia both drew their guns. Rodrick had his free first and placed it to the guy's crotch, "Are you sure you don't know their names?" The man didn't answer but he did sort of rear back and away from Rodrick and the gun. As he did his face began to Change. First it turned green, then sort of scaly and then a cobra-like hood formed around his head. Rodrick got off three quick shots, hitting it twice. Leo also opened fire, doing some pretty good damage.

               The thing's body started to exude some sort of rancid oil from its skin and as Olivia moved into position it turned to face her and fixed on her. If it was trying to do something, it didn't work and that made it even madder. It hissed and spit at her and missed, spattering the wall behind her. As the thing started looking more and more cobra-like, one thought appeared in my head.

               Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

               So I appealed to Corellon for help and His answer was in the form of a giant mongoose that sprung up from a pattern of gold light that appeared on the floor. It looked around saw the snake-man, chattered loudly and pounced on it. While that was going on, Olivia had pulled out one of her wands and Zapped it.

               When the snakehead appeared, Jim had stepped backwards in alarm. Then with a big grin and a cry of , "Dude!" Dallas took over. He grabbed a microphone stand from the corner and clubbed the thing twice on the head with it, stunning it pretty good. Rodrick had taken careful aim and shot the thing in its big old snakehead. Splooge flew everywhere and as the body began to droop the mongoose jumped on it and shook it wildly. More splooge.

               As the thing died, it looked more and more reptilian and less human, down to the tail that was visible thru ripped pants. The mongoose took a big bite, jumped back, screamed in pain and dropped the body. The poor thing - its lips were smoking. Something was seriously wrong with snake guy's blood! I thanked the mongoose, apologized for its pain and sent it 'home'.

               Then we noticed that the carpet, the wallpaper, anything that had been in contact with any blood, was smoking. Then the floor below the body dissolved and the body fell through to the floor below us and that floor began to smoke and sizzle. Olivia told Jim that we'd better get his people alerted.

               "Oh dude! Yeah!" Dallas responded. He made a call and we watched the body fall thru one more floor before Jim's people caught it on what looked like a huge silver platter. They took it to a bathtub, wet it down and dumped baking soda on it to stop the acidic action. They checked the body and told us that there wasn't enough of the head left for me to question him.

               "Well, now we're going to have to go search his place," I said.

               Olivia asked Jim for his personnel files. "Huh?" he answered.

               Olivia and I said at the same time, "Maisara?!?" She came in and managed to get Jim back into the driver's seat and sent someone for snake guy's personnel file.

               Jim looked around at the mess, "What was that thing, anyway?"

               "Damn good question - if we find out, we'll let you know," I told him. Olivia apologized for the mess in the office - and on the floors below us.....

               Jim waved it off, "Eh! Maisara was after me to remodel, anyway." His personnel manager appeared with the file and we got the guys address - a house in West Vegas and the file indicated that he lived with some family members.

               Olivia asked about any friends that he might have had amongst coworkers and was told that he had one 'buddy' on the staff. He was called to Maisara's office, since Jim's was sort of...well, icky. Whwn he showed up, the man admitted to having been to the guy's house a couple of time for 'parties'.

               Olivia said, "Tell us about his family."

               He shrugged, "Never really met them, but I know he's got some brothers. They get girls and really like to party. I don't know how they do it - but they give a girl 'the eye' and the girls just love 'em."

               "So - did you get to their party last night?" Rodrick asked. "We hear it was a real blast with some big surprises."

               "Nah - I couldn't go. Too bad, cuz that guy will screw anything that walks and he proved it."

               "Like a badger?" Olivia asked.

               "Oh that was classic!"

               "So you were there?" she asked.

               "Sure - and you know what? The sick bastard wasn't upset about screwing a badger - he was upset cuz it bit him!"

               "So you were there that night?" Olivia asked again.

               "Oh yeah."

               "And you had your turn. Before the badger?"

               "Sure did."

               "You had no problem with that? Taking your turn with that poor girl?"

               "Hell no! It's not like it was her first time, and hunger makes one Hell of an aphrodisiac," he said. "Besides - she wasn't even a real person - she was a badger!"

               "But you thought it was a real person," I said.

               Olivia turned to Jim; "Can I shoot him? Can you think of a reason I shouldn't shoot him?"

               "You'll make a mess of the carpet in here, too."

               Olivia asked, "So you admit to having taken part? You weren't just there, watching?"

               "Yeah, I had a turn."

               That did it, Olivia drew and shot him three times in the stomach. Then, while he was writhing on the floor clutching his stomach, she shot him three more times.

               "Send me the bill for the carpet," she told Jim.

               Maisara informed us that the guy had lived in the Hotel and promised to lock up his room until we could search it.

               Jim pointed to the dead snake guy, "I assume you'll be going to his place, first?"

               "We are," Rodrick said, "After we arm up."

               So after a quick trip home to do just that we made our way to snake guy's home. Standing outside everything appeared to be normal, but instead of using the front door I Windwalked everybody up to the roof and down the chimney. Inside we saw two guys quickly grabbing everything of value and shoving it all into duffel bags. We wanted to take them by surprise, so I set a silence spell and then Olivia shot a pain-web spell at them. The silent screaming was really quite disconcerting. One of them collapsed, knocked unconscious, but the other twisted a bracer he was wearing on his wrist and he began to glow. Rodrick took a huge swing at him with his axe and as his blood hit the floor it began to hiss. Leo opened fire and hit him a couple of times.

               The guy turned to Rodrick - extending a long forked tongue with a large ruby stud in it, breathing fire at him and Leo. Rodrick was singed a bit but Leo took the brunt of it and fell to the floor. Olivia got three shots into the guy and he hit the floor where Rodrick gave him a quick kick for mussing the 'do'. The body started glowing red and then it rotted and collapsed in upon itself at an amazingly high speed.

               I dispelled the Silence at Olivia's signed command and while she and Rodrick tied up the unconscious guy, I used my wand of Healing on Leo. Then we searched the house. It was a ranch style with a basement so we decided to start on the ground floor then move to the basement. Leo went with me to the kitchen to search it (and keep an eye on the back door and the stairs to the basement) while Olivia and Rodrick searched the two bedrooms and bathrooms.

               In one bedroom they found a pit made of pillows and furs that had an elevated area made up of pizza stones with heaters and sun lamps under them. I remembered I saw once, on the Discovery Channel, that reptiles digest their food by absorbing heat from rocks into their bellies. That's how they break down their food.

               They poked around in the next room (which looked like a normal bedroom with two sets of bunkbeds) and found a pencil box filled with tranquilizers, heroin and hypodermics. There was also a vial filled with something slimy that had something black moving thru it.

               In the kitchen, Leo and I found cables running from the refrigerator out back to some solar panels. Inside the fridge - t looked pretty much like any bachelors fridge; alcohol, some pre -Change beer (Eeew! Bet that's gone bad). The freezer had a couple bottles of vodka and a neat stack of lizards and small rodents. The pans on the stove were all huge - like they're used to cooking for a large group. Then I opened the pantry.

               And saw Sandra, the little Moon Elf from the Cathedral and six others - filleted, smoked and hung neatly on hooks.

               Responding to my screams, Rodrick and Olivia arrived in the kitchen. Apparently I was curled up on the floor with Leo trying to calm me.

               "What?!" Olivia asked but all I could do was point to the pantry.

               "Oh my God," she and Rodrick said in unison.

               "Are you okay?" Olivia asked me.

               "Look at her! I'd say she's pretty far from okay. Close that door!" Leo said. Rodrick did, then went to stand ready at the door to the stairs - in case anyone (or thing) decided to come up for a look.

               "Is she injured?" Olivia asked Leo.

               "No. Give me some time, though," Leo told her so she went back to the bedroom to look thru some footlockers she and Rodrick had found.

               And what did she find? Makeup. Lots of it. Foundation, theatrical makeup and lots of skin lotion. By the time she returned, I'd more or less pulled myself together enough to go downstairs. Rodrick opened the door and found that is was a heavy-duty solid steel model that had been further soundproofed and we could hear why they went to the trouble. From the basement we heard whimpering, moaning, sobbing, crying and screaming. We all took a deep breath and went down the stairs.

               We found two rows of cages, about twenty of them, total. Fourteen of them were occupied. All the captives were young women and either Human or Elven. Each cage had electrical cables running to it and the whole place smelled of ozone.

               There was a 'click' and a red light over one of the cages began to flash and the girl inside began to scream as electrical current flashed around the metal of her cage. Olivia tried to slash the cord to the cage with her sword and got zapped - really hard. I was looking around trying to think of something and saw Rodrick's big ol' army boots. "Take those off! Right now!" I yelled at him.

               He kicked them off as fast as he could and I put my hands inside them and used the rubber soles to grab the cord and yanked it loose. But then, of course, I didn't dare let it go. "Someone find out how to turn this off!"

               Behind another row of cages Olivia found a door marked, "Caution - Do Not Enter". Inside was a whole spaghetti plate of electrical wiring and a bunch of switches. There was one really big red one and Olivia grabbed it and yanked it down.

               And was sent flying. Before she hit the ground, the basement was in total darkness and the girls began to cry louder. Olivia yelled at them to be quiet, "I'm trying to listen here!"

               I said, "Honestly, girls. We're here to help you, but we really need you to be quiet, now." They quieted down a bit. I used a small magic to bring sunlight into the room and handed Rodrick's boots back to him.

               Olivia asked the girls, "Is anyone else down here?" They all turned away from her, so we began to search the basement.

               The next room was a 'playroom'. Compete with mirrors and a stack of 'toys' in one corner. The opposite corner had some sort of bridle (let me be clear - the kind of stuff a horse wears) arrangement hanging from the ceiling.

               "Hey! What's this thing for?" Olivia asked the girls but they ignored her.

               "You ask them," she told me.

               "Can we wait 'til we know if it's safe down here before we ask about the sex-toys?" I asked.

               We split up again, Rodrick and Olivia going one way while Leo and I went the opposite.

               After a few minutes Olivia called out, "Jazz - don't come back here."

               Leo asked, "What is it?"

               Turns out it was the smokehouse and there were at least two more bodies soaking in a vat of some sort of seasoning. I gladly stayed away. Leo and I found an office with paperwork on each woman. It included how long they'd been there (the longest one had been there a couple of weeks), how often the electrical shocks were being administered and noted their reactions. There were also estimates when each one's 'obedience training' might be complete. There was also a calendar marked for the next auction at House Scarlet.

               There was a Polaroid of Sandra with a note, "Was seen at Cathedral of Corellon. Thought she was precious and perfect for what he wanted. Offered 50% above the going rate is she can be gotten."

               There was another room with racks of clothes. Creepy clothes. Little girlish outfits, Catholic school uniforms, that sort of thing.

               The last room had a couple dirty mattresses on the floor and a four-foot hole in an outside wall connecting the basement to the sewers. There were marks on both sides of it indicating that something had been going thru it, fairly regularly. Olivia pulled the monofiliment whip she'd taken from that guy in Thunderdome and Rodrick rigged it to cover the opening in a zigzag pattern. It was impossible to see - so whoever tried to use that opening was in for an unpleasant surprise. I sent a message to Lucifer telling him where we were and that he needed to come take a look.

               We waited in that creepy basement for Lucifer to show up with his men, then Olivia decided to question the girls while the guy upstairs was sleeping it off. The first challenge was getting them out of their cages. They simply would not leave them. Finally we got them all out and one or two kept mumbling something about being in big trouble when "The Master" finds out. I started doing some Healing, starting with the one who'd been shocked while we were there, but they all had electrical burns as well as lots and lots of bruises and welts.

               It looked like several of the girls had gotten to the point that they would just lay on the floor of their cages - not even trying to get away from the shocks. And by their facial expressions and body language they all thought they were being moved from their cages to be tortured.

               Olivia said, "We're here to rescue you." There was no response. "Set you free?" she tried. More blank looks. "What are your names?" Olivia asked them.

               "What do you want them to be?" they said in unison.

               "Okay - they're creepy," Olivia said to Rodrick and me.

               Rodrick suggested, "Try ordering them to tell you their names." She gave it a try and all she got was more blank looks and fear to go with them.

               One woman whispered, "We, um, whatever you want, Mistress."

               "Almost!" Olivia yelled. "C'mon - what did your parents call you?" she asked.

               The same gal said, "We cannot respond - we have been ordered to forget everything from before."

               "I am ordering you to remember!" Olivia said.

               "But nothing that happened before matters," the woman cried.

               "I'm telling you that it does!" Olivia snapped.

               I said, "Okay - let's try talking to them nicely, calmly. Reassure them." I turned on the 'Trust Me' aura and said to the women, "We are here to help you, to take you away from here. It will all be better now."

               he woman who sported the most scars shook her head (the first time any of them showed any sort of animation), "No, we really shouldn't say anything to you. This is a trick, an excuse to beat us more."

               "No - they will never beat you, ever again," I told them. "We've taken care of that."

               A different woman said, "It's a test!"

               "No it's not!" Olivia said.

               The scarred one said, "We cannot expect help. No one knows we are here. No one cares and no one will help us. It's a trick."

               "We know and we are trying to help," Olivia insisted.

               The first one I'd healed pointed to me and said, "But, but…she made me feel better, no one's ever done that before."

               Olivia said, "Yes! Yes she did - she's nice, she's a Priestess of Corellon and she wants to make all of you feel better. It's what she does."

               The scarred one held firm, "It's a trick and I'm going back into my cage. The Master will be mad at all of you and beat all of us."

               "No!" Olivia yelled. "I won't let you." She locked all the cages so they couldn't get back into them. Some of the women began to weep. "We're going upstairs," Olivia announced. "All of you upstairs. Right now!" She poked and prodded and eventually got them upstairs, where they all stopped short when they spotted the dead body. None of them seemed upset at the sight but some of them looked, well, hungry. Nostrils flared and I swear there was some drooling.

               Olivia saw it, too; "What have they been feeding you girls?"

               "Have they been feeding you?" I asked.

               "Roots, leaves and sometimes - meat," one of them said. I thought about what I'd seen in the pantry and my skin crawled. Olivia used some magic on the group to see if there was any sort of magic on them and she told us that every single one of them glowed.

               "I bet they've all been be-spelled - a lot, probably," I said.

               "Do we dare trying to dispel it?" she asked.

               "Why not?" I said.

Then Olivia did the oddest thing - she asked the girl standing closest to her for her permission to do something. "I am here to serve," the girl said, so Olivia used some magic to disrupt the magic on the girl.

               And she Changed! Into A German Shepherd! A rake thin German Shepherd with burn scars showing thru its fur. She shook herself, barked at us and ran to the door. It was closed but she was determined to get out, she moved to a window and jumped against it, knocking the screen out, and she was gone in a flash.

               Olivia yelled, "Sit! Stay!" But she was gone and wasn't coming back.

               The scarred one stepped forward with eagerness written all over her face. "Me next!", she demanded.

               Olivia shook her head. "Not so fast - what are you, were you?"

               "I was a house cat."

               But Olivia's truth ring told her that she was lying. "Tell me the truth," she insisted.

               "Oh okay, I was a mountain lion."

               She was still lying so Olivia asked her, "Will you attack anyone in this room when you Change?"

               "No." Another lie.

               Olivia had a thought, "Before we Change anymore of them - should we wait for Lucifer? For evidence?"

               "Do we care about evidence?" I asked. "Have we ever before? Besides, we've got two Overlords present - their testimony should be good enough for Vegas justice."

               "Right," Olivia said.

               "Good point," Rodrick agreed.

               Olivia pointed to the scarred one, "Jazz, do you sense any evil on this one?"

               I tried to 'read' her and shook my head. "No, not really evil - but there is an amazing feeling of true HATRED. Hatred for anything even remotely Humanoid. I get the feeling that she wants nothing but vengeance. Vengeance on all of us."

               Then Rodrick had a truly evil though, "Teleport her to a Ka location and Change her there."

               Hmmmmmmmmmm.

               Olivia said to Vengeance, "Work with me here. We'll Change you, okay?"

               Vengeance smiled, "I just want to Change, that's all. Change back into a pony. A little wild pony running free across the plains."

               Olivia shook her head at us; Vengeance was really lying that time. Olivia looked at all of the women and asked no one in particular, "Why would someone do this?" As one, in perfect unison, they chanted an explanation that must have been beaten into them, quite literally. Ick. I will not repeat it.

               When they were finished, Olivia looked at me in amazement and I said, "The ones who did this haven't broken any laws by doing this to animals. And they can make big money by selling them to brothels or private collectors who think they're getting Humans and Elves."

               Olivia shook her head and asked them, "Anyone want to stay as they are now?"

               About six of them raised their hands but one of them said (really very pathetically), "I want to go home."

               "And you will," I told her. Then we heard sirens, signifying Lucifer's arrival. The girls got spooked and turned to head back to the basement. Olivia ordered them to stay put and they did.

               Lucifer appeared at the door and Olivia took him by the arm, "We need to talk."

               He looked at the corpse and said with disgust, "Outside?"

               Olivia agreed, "Rodrick, Jazz, Leo you all okay here?"

               Rodrick nodded, "We're good - you go."

               Once they were outside, Olivia tried to fill in all the details for Lucifer, but was interrupted by Vengeance. She zeroed in on the mage that Lucifer had brought with him, "Please! Can you help me? An evil sorcerer put a spell on me. Would you be kind enough to change me back?"

               Olivia snapped at the man, "Don't you do it! I'll explain. Outside."

               Rodrick tried to explain to Vengeance that it was in her best interest to behave;"Have you ever seen what a .50 caliber bullet can do to a head at point blank range?" She pouted, but behaved herself.

               Watching Olivia thru the window explaining to Lucifer, he seemed to be only minimally upset about the whole animal angle and seemed genuinely surprised that any of them would choose to stay in their Humanoid form (glad I wasn't alone on that).

               "As opposed to an animal with no rights?" Olivia asked.

               "And?" Lucifer asked. "That is what they are, after all."

               "But what about you? You Changed?" Olivia said.

               "Indeed. I Changed into what I truly was." Lucifer told her. "Can you Change them back?"

               "It's not my job," she told him.

               "Not is it mine," Lucifer replied.

               Olivia yelled in to me, "Jazz I need your input here."

               I joined them on the lawn and she asked me, "I've used up an awful lot of power today, I don't think I can change them all, can you help?"

               I thought about it for a moment or two, "One or two, I think." Then she asked if I thought we should move them. Definitely. "This isn't exactly the healthiest place in the world for them to be," I said.

               "Can you move them?" she asked Lucifer.

               "In what?" he inquired.

               "Can't one of you two Overlords order up a bus?" I asked. Olivia sent a message to Karyn asking for transportation for twenty people or so and before long an old airport shuttle bus and two limos showed up.

               Back at the Aladdin, Olivia ordered accommodations for the six that want to stay humanoid. "There will be a debriefing tomorrow morning." So they'll know what to expect as 'Humans'. Then we turned to the ones who wanted to be changed back.

               Olivia said, "I'm going to ask you all what you used to be. If you're truthful - we'll Change you."

               Well, five of the seven wouldn't tell. Wait. I shouldn't say they 'wouldn't'; they couldn't say. They literally did not know the words to tell us.

               "Describe what your family looked like," Olivia told them. No good, the poor things simply didn't have the capacity, the communications skills to do it. All they knew was that they wanted to change back. Rodrick suggested that we have them look at pictures in a book; maybe they could tell us that way. Karyn sent someone for an encyclopedia. Olivia decided to start with the two that had been able to tell us (roughly) what they'd been and asked them not to run off right away.

               "Maybe we should feed them first," Rodrick suggested.

               "Would you like that?" Olivia asked.

               Surprise! They all said that they wanted food before being changed back. Olivia sent for food and as they ate their fill I told her that I got no feeling from any of them like those I'd gotten from Vengeance, nothing except the desire to be changed and gone from here. So when they were done eating and were ready to begin, Olivia did just that.

               The first woman changed into a painfully thin Mule Deer. Vengeance began to drool at the sight of her. The second woman changed to a shaky Collie, the third a Golden Lab with tattoo on one ear indicating that she had once been a service animal of some sort and the fourth was a pathetic little Siamese cat.

               That left one, not counting Vengeance. Olivia tried, but couldn't muster enough power so I tried and the woman changed into a bedraggled little Pekingese. When Vengeance realized that she wasn't going to be Changed she got really upset that we didn't trust her.

               Olivia told her, "Look - we're both tired; we had a busy day before we found all of you in that basement. We'll help you tomorrow. It would be easier if we knew what sort of terrain was home, before. And please, don't lie again."

               Vengeance thought for a bit. "Out in the desert."

               From the look on Olivia's face, she'd finally said something that was the truth. "So, what were you?" Olivia tried again. And struck out again.

               "A pony. Running free," Vengeance lied again.

               So we got everyone stowed for the night, including the animals. Karyn will find homes for them all tomorrow. Rodrick headed home to the Paris and Allison. Then we all collapsed. We've got to get over it though. We have lots to do tomorrow.

Continued...