Förrgår, Part II


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Scene Title Förrgår, Part II
Synopsis SESA heads to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to investigate an anomaly not far from the other anomaly.
Date September 8, 2020

Pine Barrens

Anomaly was the word the scientists used to describe the area of the Pine Barrens several agents (and escort) find themselves staring at. Well, another anomaly.

Normally, the pines here form a thick forest of trees fairly even in height, up to eighty feet high. No two trees are identical, of course — even in species less prone to the gnarled, crooked trucks and limbs than the native pitch pines of the Barrens.

What the team finds themselves looking at defies logic.

A curving arc — a line of demarcation — separates the woods they stand in from the section they’ve come to investigate. On their side, the trees appear as they always have. On the other, most of the pines seem dwarfed in comparison, shorter by dozens of feet.

Walking around the perimeter, things grow even stranger.

A fallen log on “their” side of the line crosses their path. Cracked, rotten, and covered with moss, it must have fallen years ago. Where its base should be, where the roots once should have been, stands a sapling, just ten feet tall. Somehow occupying the same space.

Nicole Miller slowly begins walking the perimeter of this anomaly. Every few feet, she stops, lifts the camera hanging from around her neck, and takes a photo. This would normally be someone else’s job, and some documentation has already taken place, but she’s always felt comfortable behind the lens of a camera. Right now, she needs comfortable.

“Has anyone tried crossing that line?” she asks, not bothering to point ahead of her. They can all see where expected ends and what the fuck is that even begins. “Not asking for volunteers,” she clarifies quickly, casting glances to Agents Cooper and Roux in turn.

For her part, Robyn Roux was still unclear on why she’s here entirely. A part of her expects that, this is Voss finally throwing all the times she's interjected about all the weird shit she knows about that she absolutely should not back in her face. Maybe it was the new director testing that knowledge and leveraging Robyn's experience in the field handling… Whatever the hell is thrown at her, really.

But ultimately, Robyn didn't care. Beyond excited as she was with her assignment at Raytech back in NYC, and as still apprehensive as she was about being back in the field, something about this felt right. When Nicole looks her way, she shakes her head quickly - she'll leave volunteering to Cooper.

Robyn's eyes scan the ground for a branch that still has a number of now dead pine needles stuck to it, lifting it up. "Active testing would be better than conjecture," she offers, holding the stick towards Nicole. "Because this is definitely… Not anything I've seen before." Duh.

“Starting to think we need to get an animal telepath in our employ,” Corbin murmurs, perhaps even thinking about one in particular, but also feeling guilty for thinking it— but sending an animal onto the other side would be safer than sending a person. The telepath could tell it to go in and come back, and perhaps even see what it sees, depending on if the anomaly blocked telepathy as well as everything else.

He couldn’t even ask Hokuto to venture across cause she was somewhere else at the moment— or at least he didn’t see her teasing him in the corner of his vision. He steps closer, but not too close. “How close are we to where people actually live?” he looks back towards his nephew— the expert he’d brought along for this particular job. The young man had lived here for a while, after all.

Chris, who came along because Corbin asked — and he's still crashing at his uncle’s place so it's only right that he helps out now and then — has chosen to hang back. Let the agents have their field trip and play in the creepy waste that's grown from the site of the nearby monster explosion. He’ll watch like some kind of parental chaperone and tsk if anyone falls down. Just don't ask him to wipe any noses. Were it him, he'd have said there's far more interesting things the government spooks could be looking into.

He's doing his job, though, watching the group prowl around, making sure no one goes too far off and that none of those stupid robots he's never mentioned before aren't lurking nearby. He looks over to Corbin, eyes squinted against the sunlight. “A few miles,” he calls back. Accuracy at its finest. “If I remember right, the nearest farm wasn't even touched by the blast.”

Thumbs tuck into his hip pockets, fingers curled into his palms. Chris angles a look past the investigations, then back again. “I don't imagine anyone’s come out here after what happened. With the government crawling all over it like flies on honey?” He huffs a substitute for a laugh. Like anyone from Providence would come check out the weird thing that's got the government all hot and bothered like a stirred up wasp nest.

While everyone talks volunteers, out of the corner of their fields of view a rock goes flying into the grouping of dwarfed trees. It strikes one - tock - and disappeared into the foliage on the ground.


Next is a flying pinecone on the same trajectory. Which is followed by a… “Welp, that seems to answer that.” Thomas Cooper was rather relieved that nothing seemed to explode… or implode. “It looks almost like someone turned back time.”

Cooper eyes trees and then shrugs with hands going out as if a bit disappointed. “Other then that, it seems alright to me,” he adds, casting a look at the ground in front of him. “I mean, when it comes down to it, there is only way to find out and I could go for taking a few years off.” Standing a bit taller, he presses a hand to his chest as he addresses the others. “Remember me fondly…”

Before there can be protests, especially from Nicole, Cooper squeezing his eyes shut - for reasons - and steps across the line.

Nothing seems to happen.

Cooper doesn’t disappear. No mist sucks him in and out of their memories. On his side of things, everything feels as it did on the outside of the perimeter.

It’s only when he looks upward that he can see the faintest difference in the air above the tree line — a subtle glimmer in the air that shifts with the light when a cloud passes in front of the sun. It pings a memory in Cooper — it’s reminiscent of the Dome that cut off Roosevelt Island from the rest of New York City so long ago.

At least this “dome” isn’t solid.

Somewhere in the woods behind him comes the cry of some animal — a wolf? — followed by the report of a single gunshot.

“Now that’s a thought,” Nicole says when Corbin suggests an animal telepath could come in handy in situations like this. Although if she thinks about it too hard, it feels unfair to animals. She doesn’t have time to dwell on that moral conundrum, however, because one of her agents is doing the exact opposite of what she wanted him to do.

Nicole’s eyes grow wide with panic and she drops her camera to hang from her neck as she starts sprinting forward. “Cooper, no! Coop! Stop!” She gasps sharply, realizing she isn’t going to make it in time to drag him back. “Thomas!

The senior agent comes skidding to a stop just at the edge of the anomaly, coming up on her tiptoes and flinging her arms out to counterbalance her abrupt shift in momentum. She almost goes toppling over that line herself and just holds there for a moment when she finally falls back on her heels again, stance flat footed.

Nicole lifts her head slowly, eyes wide as she looks to see what’s become of Cooper. She’s relieved to see that the answer appears to be that nothing has happened to him. But she holds her hand out toward him, curling her fingers in toward her palm briefly before they straighten back out again, beckoning him toward them again. “Cooper. This is an order.

She needs to know he can come back from it. That’s only solidified when they hear the gunshot in the distance.

She ordered him and Cooper planned to listen, but then he looked up. “Whoa,” Cooper exhales out a breath at what’s above him. He isn’t ignoring the order more… distracted if anything. “Hold on. You should see this.” Pulling his phone from his pocket he first makes sure there is no interference before pointing it at the sky above him. With the bright light of the sun, he can’t tell if he gets the shot he wants, but later he’ll find that it doesn’t really show anything.

Only then does he start to slowly back his way out, pale eyes to the sky curiously. “So… this is like the dome, but different.” His eyes narrow and his head drops to look at the plants. “So why is everything different,” Cooper murmurs mostly to himself as he mulls over the phenomenon.

“Don’t need an animal guy, we need a plant telepath,” Cooper quips as he reaches the edge of the circle. “I mean… if there is such a thing. Do plants even talk?” he asks with mild amusement, knocking on the trunk of one of the dwarfed plants.

Cooper,” Corbin exclaims a little out loud, in much the same voice as he would say his younger brother’s name when they were growing up. But this Cooper didn’t need to know that. Chris might recognize it, though, because, well, that also happened to be Chris’ dad. “This is why we need drones or something— can we get Raytech to make us drones or something?” he looks toward Robyn, because, well, she’d be the one to talk to about that kind of thing. And he is definitely going to be looking into that later.

Cause that was a risky thing to have done, and he was just glad Cooper didn’t turn into a baby or something when he crossed that threshold. With a sigh, he looks back toward Nicole and Chris and gives them an apologetic expression. Maybe it was Cooper he needed to apologize for instead— And apparently weapons being fired.

“Are— are there wolves out here?” No, probably just feral dogs or coyotes, with someone hunting them in Providence— but he can’t help but reach for his sidearm on instinct as he steps forward, nodding a little at Cooper’s words. “I actually know a guy— though I don’t know if he actually talks to them…” but he doesn’t continue that thought, really, cause he’s still worried about Cooper. And everything else on the other side.

Chris opens his mouth to suggest that Cooper probably shouldn't go there. But then the agent does. “What the actual shit.” It's got an undertone of a laugh in it, but his overall delivery is deadpan.

His head swivels at the sound of gunfire, habit making him reach for a rifle that isn't there. Well fuck. The young man turns the motion into a scratching of the side of his neck then, after a second, he shakes his head to answer the questions about wolves, drones, and telepaths all in one go. Better to act like it's no big thing then. “Only two things do any hunting around here.” The younger man, seeing that Cooper didn't disintegrate or worse, wanders from his spot of playground duty to get a closer look.

“One is the fine folk of Providence itself.” Chris doesn't fully cross the demarcation at first, but he scuffs a boot over the obvious change in the land. “This is some strange… is it like this all the way in?”

Nicole's reaction gets a chuckle out of Robyn, almost reflexively - at least, once it seems like Cooper's going to befine. It's only when Corbin chimes in that she straightens back up, clearing her throat. That doesn't, however, stop her from offering Cooper a low five as he crosses back over to them. "That's the Coop I know," she offers with a smirk, before turning herself to more serious observations.

"We could license some drones, I'm certain. They wouldn't mind more government contracts. Choi will have to negotiate that, though." Looking around, she tries to see what Cooper sees as she slowly approaches the line. "Different dome, different properties." She hadn't forgotten who was the source of the original dome, or what happened to them even after all this time.

The gunshot drives her from further observations, looking around with a bit uncertainty. "Should we be wearing brighter colours?" Instead of the blue outfit she wears today. Her hand tightens at her side, grasping at the head of a cane that is still back in the vehicle they took out here. "I'll keep an eye out."

Somewhere between the SESA team and the sounds of the dog howl and gunshot, they hear a yell, followed by the sound of horse hooves.

Skynda dig!

In the distance, those looking into the perimeter of the anomaly can see two horsemen, traveling deeper into the circle. The thick woods make it hard to make out the details; the closely-packed pines make it almost like trying to look through the slats of a fence while driving a car: the images are there but disrupted, chopped up in a way that makes them hard to process.

Still, a couple details stand out from that obstructed view: their clothes, dark colored and rough hewn, look like something from a film set of a period piece, but for the extras, the poor working men that fill in the background.

And the musket across the back of the second man as he and his horse follow the other’s lead.

There’s no film crew following them, no camera on a dolly track.

“Don’t encourage him,” Nicole snaps at Robyn. She hasn’t been long on patience since her return from Canada, but she’s also tried to keep to herself because of it. Fortunately for the other agents, there isn’t much time for her to consider leaning into a maternal lecture before this strange situation gets stranger.

“What the cinnamon toast crunch is that?” Someone’s brought her mommy vocabulary to work. It looks like reenactors, but there’s no way, is there? Nicole heard the call, the galloping. She lifts her camera and starts snapping photographs in rapid succession, hoping the lens will capture what she’s seeing.

Watching the musket brandishing horsemen meander through like it's nothing gives Robyn a moment of pause, expression flat as she watches them. "So that's a yes to brighter colours," she deadpans in response to Nicole's near curse. Reaching into her pocket she pulls out her phone, quickly bringing up her browser in an effort to see if there's any reenactments in the area on this weekend - assuming she even has a signal out here.

"Agent Miller, would you like us to approach?" Given that she's still standing next to Cooper, it's assumed she means the two of them, "I, uh. I'm not sure what the protocol here is, since this isn't a crime scene." She leans back, looking around to see if she can catch sight of any more oddities like this.

Chris makes a sound, a huff that swallows whatever more colorful words and phrases he'd have used before. He's trying to be on his best behavior, but there's some obvious regrets. Mostly, in this moment, the lack of his rifle. The scope on it would've probably helped clear up any confusion about who the fuck is hunting in the land that time forgot. He grunts annoyance and protests over the situation.

“Might be one of the neighboring militia,” the young man offers as a possible solution. Not that he's ever seen any of them engage in anachronism, but he can testify to their lack of sanity. “You um… wearing vests? I mean Remnant’s not big on visitors, but the other guys'll shoot first then bury the body so they don't have to ask questions later. If you get my meaning.”

“That’s a musket,” is leveled at Chris. “Do they use muskets? Kinda… un-useful. You shoot it and you have to take time to stop and reload it.” There is a confused look, turning back to the distant people. “I mean yeah, they could be re-enactors, but in the post-apocalypse?” Cooper comments under his breath watching the others on horseback. “Guess it would be a nice escape I guess,” he glances at Robyn next to him, “Not that I am one to judge, I dress up a guinea pig in tiny outfits.” He gives a small shrug and a whatever look.

“Maybe they saw something,” Cooper comments thoughtfully, looking none too worried about those other folks or the muskets.

“Why go to them, why not just have them come to us?” Cooper asks, still just inside the circle. “I mean… it could be an illusion. Let's find out,” he says for the second time this trip. “Get ready to duck out there,” is quickly added before he gives a shrill whistle.

“That looks…” Corbin trails off as he tilts his head, looking out at the men and their muskets and horses— and clothes. The horses aren’t out of place, certainly, and perhaps not even the clothes, some people out here in the wilderness might try to make their own, but he’s pretty sure he hasn’t seen any muskets like that being used for hunting. “Yeah, I’m with Cooper— there’s more efficient weapons than a musket. I doubt a neighboring militia would be using one…”

But who knows with some of the people who lived outside of the Safe Zone. Maybe they did.

Maybe they had really regressed that far and were making their own rifles or something. Corbin had known some guys who had been big into the Civil War reenactments— before there was a second one at least. Those had fallen out of a fashion when people really died all around you.

As Cooper seems intent on finding out, Corbin sighs and looks over at his nephew, “Stay behind me, okay? Don’t try to use your ability unless you have to,” before he pulls out his side arm just in case he needs to use it later. He doesn’t like shooting people. But he hates losing friends even more than that.

Both horsemen come to a stop, and the other calls to the first, “Fortsätt. Hitta djävulen.” The first, a younger man, continues through the trees while the older gentleman at the rear circles his horse around to come trotting back to where he heard the whistle.

Closer up, the details of his outfit can be seen — no zippers, no labels, no plastic or rubber on the simple clothing the man wears. He’s thin, with a neatly trimmed silver beard that matches his silver hair, pulled back in a leather throng at the nape of the neck. Bright blue eyes dart from person to person, taking in the company of agents. His brows draw together as he studies the women’s phones.

“Good afternoon,” he says, the words tinged with the Swedish accent. “Do you hail from Batsto?” he asks, reaching to pat the neck of the black horse he rides when it paws the forest floor impatiently.

“No,” the senior agent tells Robyn when she asks if they should engage. “Do no— Cooper!” Nicole hisses, barely heard beneath the sound of his call to attention. Well, that’s one way to do it. She snaps just one photo — okay, two photos — of the rider approaching before she lets her camera hang loosely from her neck again.

They’re speaking English, so that’s a good start. She isn’t sure where to begin, but she knows she needs to take control of this situation, or one of the others will. “A bit further up the road than that,” Nicole offers in reply with a smile that hides just how disconcerting all of this is. But when in Stockholm…?

“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Nicole Miller. Are you… hunting out here?” She casts a quick glance to Corbin. Look, she’s playing like this is normal, but they both agree this is super weird, right?

“It's not like I can pick and choose when it happens,” Chris grumps. He folds his arms against his chest, unable to fully tame the glower that's settled on his face. It lasts the straight up until the LARPers turn their attention toward the group of agents — and him — following the cutting whistle from Cooper.

That's when the young man breaks from his grumpiness to first give Cooper a look. Are you fucking serious right now? That's followed up by a muttered, “Vikings? In New Jersey. Maybe that blast copied Scandinavia and pasted it in the Barrens.”

"Swedish?" Robyn barely even knows this, from when she was trying to find languages that Elaine somehow didn't know to torment her with. "That's definitely not something I had on my bingo card." While Nicole approaches the apparent hunters, Robyn turns to look deeper into the anomaly.

"I think we'd see a lot more chaos if something was pasted from one place to another like that," Robyn remarks quietly, glancing over at Chris. "The demarcation lines are too crisp and clean, if you didn't know what to look for you'd think nothing of it." Eyes lift up to the sky, before her eyes abruptly widen.

A glance is given towards the two oddly dressed men, back to Chris, before finally landing on Cooper. "Merde. Does anyone know the local history here?" There's a clear implication to her words, one she stops short of flat out saying.

This— wasn’t a good sign.

“Well if you do then you had to,” Corbin assures his nephew in response to him not having full control over it. It is just him saying not to try to use it, really. If it happens, it happens, and he had to do it. If it doesn’t, it didn’t. But really, there’s definitely something very off about this whole situation and he finds himself looking at Robyn and saying something rather pointed. “I’m suddenly sensing a lot of paperwork.”

He says it as if she will understand what that means.

And it’s something he doesn’t like one bit. With the conversation started and not appearing hostile, he puts his side arm away and starts to examine the area, trying to remember local history lessons from high school—

Which was way, way too long ago.

Hey! That worked! And they didn't get shot at. Cooper calls that a win and leaves the rest to the others, finally stepping back to let them cover things while he studies the men.

The man studies the group, his posture and his countenance polite and respectful, as if he’s trying to mask what might be utter confusion or some disapproval as he appraises them with cool blue eyes.

“Some wild beast has attacked some of our cattle,” he says, after a long moment. “We are a small village and the death of one man’s cow affects us all. It is not like it is in the larger villages.”

He looks over his shoulder, to where his fellow rider has disappeared into the trees. “They say it was like a winged boar or some such nonsense. Men drinking too much to keep their animals straight, is what I say. Still… strange things do happen.”

The man looks off into the trees at the perimeter, his brows drawing together with a worried expression at the shift in the treeline there. “I forget my manners. Mats Ahlgren, Fru Miller. A pleasure to meet you. Are you from New York?” His lip twitches a little in the smallest hint of disdain for the larger city. “You do not sound like an Englishwoman.”

“No, my husband is,” Nicole responds. English. It’s a non-answer, but it might at least spare her from having her accent scrutinized too much. Because this? Is anachronistic. And she has far too much knowledge of time travelling SLC-Expressive abilities to discount the notion that this has something to do with that. Somehow.

If she didn’t know better — or maybe because she does — she might say this is a window in time. A bubble of the past overlapping with their present.

“A winged boar, you say? The men must be in their cups.” For all that Nicole is able to keep her demeanor as mild as Ahlgren is, she is just as deeply baffled as he is likewise pretending not to be. “But… you’re correct. Strange things really do happen.” Like right now, in fact.

“In their cups,” Chris echoes quietly before adding, “and enjoying a little too much sugar cereal.” He's not buying it, whatever it is. He ignores any looks his uncle might direct at him. After all, renaissance fair dropouts claiming their village was harassed by strange beasts? “Sounds like their brownies were twice baked is what I think. I get living for your art but — ”

A short grunt stops the thought there. Chris rubs a spot along his ribs and drops an accusatory look to Corbin. That hurt.

A winged— boar.

Oh Gods. Was this the famous Jersey Devil?

But it also sounded like a case they had had, many, many years ago, over at Fort Hero, with creatures that had been seemingly chimera’d together. Corbin had revisited the case briefly when the electric rats seemed to be a thing, wondering if they had been part of the same experiment— but at the same time, he clicks his tongue in thought, and allows Nicole to do the talking, while he continues to nudge his nephew into silence.

“Let the boss lady do the talking,” he murmurs, quietly— because he knows that if this is the past, a lady being the boss might seem out of place already. But she was the boss. And he would let her do the talking while he kept an eye on the area to see if this flying boar creature happened to be around anywhere.

The mention of a flying pig has Cooper’s head tilting to the side a bit. “A… winged hog?” He can’t help but sound perplexed, as he murmurs under his breath. “A flying pig? I’d actually love to see that.” He glances aside to Corbin and shrugs his shoulders. “Course could just be a MP or police helicopter patrolling.”

Suddenly, Cooper straightens and turns to the men on horseback. “Need help? I’d love to hear more about this creature.” He sends a nervous glance Nicole’s away, because even without being able to zap him, she was scary. Still he offers the strangers crooked grin. “We’re in the business of helping people.” A finger is pointed at the two women in the group behind him still outside the circle. “Especially these two. The stories I could tell.”

“Very like,” the man says with a nod to Nicole regarding the origin of the rumor. “We do have enough troubles in our village without such gossip mongering. I would heartily appreciate you not repeating that tale, when you travel back to wherever it is you’ve come from.”

It’s said with the implication he expects them not to come to town with him, but his eyes land on Cooper and he shakes his head slightly. “The beasts, we likely can handle. We have good marksmen among us. The illness though, that be beyond our ken, I’m afraid. Not like any pox we’ve seen before, and it’s taken one of our young folk already,” Mats says gravely.

The drumming of horse hooves on forest floor returns, and in the distance, a rider appears, lifting his hand to wave to Mats. “There are strangers in town that…”

He stops short when he sees the group of agents in their modern apparel, speaking to what seems to be the village’s leader. “Look like them,” he finishes, with a jut of his chin to the group. His news delivered, he turns the horse to ride back in the direction from which he came.

Mats squints at Nicole and the others. “I should see to this. I trust if they are your kinsmen or company, they come not on hostile terms. We are a small village, but we will protect what is ours.”

He spurs his horse into motion, to follow the rider deeper into the wood. “If you be friendly, you are welcome. If you can lend us aid, that too is welcome.”

Nicole’s brows furrow with concern at the mention of illness. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she murmurs. It brings back memories of the flu that ravaged the city years ago. They aren’t pleasant ones. When the other rider approaches, her head lifts and she’s pulled from her thoughts. Strangers who look like them. A tense beat passes where she wonders if they’re going to be assessed as a threat.

She finds herself trying to engage something she no longer possesses. Nicole’s shoulders sag. If you be friendly, he says, and she nods in return. Only once he’s started to depart does she turn back to the others. “Someone has to investigate this,” she says. “Agent Roux, I want you to get on the phone to Raytech as soon as you can. I’d like to borrow Valerie Ray.” Either her ability can be used to safely enter this anomaly, or it won’t work. Either results in data she can use.

“Corbin, I want you to call in a preliminary report to Fort Jay. Take your nephew back to Providence and find out if there’s anyone unaccounted for.” Nicole watches after Mats for a long moment. “Cooper?” The senior agent turns to him next. “I’d like you to take point out here and monitor the situation.”

Blue eyes settle on each person present in turn. “I’m going after Mr. Ahlgren.”


The word is flat and firmly said from the direction of Cooper?!? He’s looking at Nicole like she’s grown another head or not thinking clearly. Gone for the moment is the witty comments or that goofy ass smile. “I don’t care who you take, Miller, but at least one of us is going with you,” he says, looping his finger to include the other agents with him. “SESA doesn’t do lone wolves, we do things in pairs.”

Hands go up before she can even utter a sound. It’s rare that he takes a situation so serious. “I don’t care if you drag me in front of the big bosses for insubordination, you’re not going alone. I will follow your ass into that… that…” He waves a frustrated hand in that direction frantically trying to think of the right word. “… whatever in god name that is out there.”

Finished, Cooper sticks hands on his hips stubbornly and dares her to keep on with that plan.

“If this is some kind of death-wish, we’ve all been there before. This isn’t the kind of situation you go in alone, Miller,” Corbin responds in agreement to Cooper, stubbornly nodding as he steps up to stand beside the other man. They were going in with her, whether she liked it or not. They would face whatever consequences side by side, if they had to. “Chris, Robyn, it’s your choice here, I can’t tell you to stay or go at this point.” Cause he’s not going to. “Chris knows the area, he can help Robyn make it back safely if she chooses to go, but it’s both your choices.”

He’s not going to make him stay or leave. He just isn’t about to let Nicole, or anyone, walk into this bullshit by herself. If she hadn’t tried to go it alone, he might have taken Chris and left as told, called for backup, but since she did… “Come on, Coop.”

“The fuck I will.” For all intents and purposes, Chris sounds amused by the plan Nicole lays out. He huffs a laugh, casts looks around at Cooper and Corbin in spite of their more sober disagreement. “I don't work for you. And you're all nuts if you think anyone in Providence’ll give me so much as a glass of water.” Okay, they'd probably give him supper too, it's not like he left on bad terms or anything.

“I'm going that way.” Which isn't toward town or the car. Chris starts marching after Erik the Awful.

"Ça me prend la tête," Robyn mutters just audibly to herself, even as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small earbud, turning her phone over in her palm so she can see if she has a signal - she can at least walk and talk once she's out of earshot of Swede 1 and Swede 2. The fact that there's other visitors that resemble them, that doesn't sit well with her.

"With all due respect, Agent Miller… if there's others, we shouldn't split up." She says this even as Chris turns in a new direction, and she huffs out a heavy sigh. "Does it count as lone wolfing it if there's two of me," she grumbles mostly to Cooper. Fingers wrap around her earpiece as the others share their defiance. For once, Robyn looks a bit sheepish, a bit less ready to jump into danger.

Eyes squeeze shut, and she rolls her shoulders. "I'm with them," she adds after a moment, starting after Cooper and Corbin.

Nicole’s eyes widen, stunned first at Cooper’s response, then each of the others in turn. Rather than argue or snap at them for refuting her orders, she sighs, chin tipping in toward her chest and face turning away from the unified front they represent.

Fine.” Turning on her heel, Nicole starts off into the forest. “Let’s go.”

The man on the horse watches their discussion, blue eyes moving from each stranger’s face to the next. He looks bemused but seems too polite to question their customs.

When they seem to be of an accord, he gives them a nod and nudges his horse into a trot — slow enough for them to follow. “It isn’t far from here.”

And it isn’t. Eventually, through the trees, they see a village — town would be too strong a name for the rustic buildings that seem to be from an earlier time. Cottages, barns, a black smith, a mill with a water wheel churning through the creek water.

If Chris has come through this part of the forest on his own before, the village simply wasn’t there. It’s as if it sprung out of nowhere — and yet all of the buildings are weathered, and the roofs of some of the buildings have accumulated moss in the places perpetually in the shade. Nowhere is anything that looks like it’s been made in the past century — not even a vehicle tucked out of sight.

In the distance, the investigating agents see figures heading to one of the houses — strangers like them. And it’s not too far across the village for those who know them to recognize the familiar shapes and clothing, if not quite their faces, of some of Providence’s residents, led by a child and a teenager dressed in the strange, old-fashioned garb.

“That’s the sick house,” Mats says with a jut of his chin in the direction of the building, even as the Providence group disappears around the side of the cottage. “Come along.”

The few people out of their homes stare at the agents as they pass by. A somberness and fearfulness permeate the small village. As they draw near the sick house, they see what may be the cause of some of it, in addition to the “pox” Mats spoke of: a carcass of something — it’s hard to make out at first, due to deep gashes and the fact that it’s missing half of its face. The closer they get to it, they can make out that it is — was — a cow, killed violently and recently.

Whatever did it, it wasn’t a man or one of the Hunters, but a dangerous predator of some kind.

Mats seemed to be right about something — whoever he and his people are, they certainly do have their troubles.

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