The team hires on with Frosty Jane again, having passed her first test. She tells them that an expert in species preservation and parazoology/biology has recently surfaced after getting snatched at a conference some years back. Having heard rumors of Jenna Ni’Fairra working on some mysterious project in Mt. Hood National Forest, Frosty sends the team to Cara’Sir to retrieve the Doctor and find out if he was involved in Jenna’s work, and if so what exactly that work entails.
The team hires Sounder to get them into town from Seattle, through Jackpoint, which many of them gained access to. They make their way past port security, and manage to link up with Rook and some other local Ancients to get a vehicle and some supplies. They scout out Dr. Ziusudra’s last known location, and find a group of 9 elves guarding him in an abandoned apartment building in a slummy part of town.
They watch as some food is delivered, and also notice that there seems to be another separate group holed up nearby and observing the site. They decide to try to play the 2 off each other, but the 2nd group makes a move before they get the chance. Toast fights them on the roof while the rest of the team enters the target building through the front. They take some heavy fire from the elves inside, but manage to take them out and secure the doctor (who the elves try to kill when they see all is lost), as well as eliminating the group outisde, who seem to be some GreenWar members or similar types- not prepared to go against runners, but fanatical.
The Doc seems happy to be rescued, and shocked that the elves he was with tried to kill him- he seems to have thought they were saving him originally, having gotten him away from Jenna, who he says is building some kind of bizarre living tree city deep in the woods, using ancient magical tombs that he was unable to read. When she first snatched him for her project, he was enthusiastic, thinking she wanted to bring back extinct or near-extinct species (his passion/specialty), when it seems she is actually corrupting or altering local species and creating something entirely new (or perhaps very old). Some of the elves there were disillusioned with her dictatorial rule, as well as the literal sacrifices she had begun performing to power her rituals. A group of them agreed to leave, and take the Doc out, but he now feels that they likely had some other plan for him.
They offer to smuggle him out, but he says he won’t leave without the Book of Leaves, the magical text that he thinks is enabling Jenna. Sensing that this will interest Frosty greatly, they call her up and she sets new mission parameters: as the Doc has offered to lead them to Jenna’s city, his survival is now secondary, with recovery of the book as the top priority. Frosty would still like to receive the Doc intact if possible, but one has to be realistic. Chem decides to stay in the city and try to make some connections, to ensure a smooth exit, if needed. The rest of the team tricks out the truck they got from the Ancients with some astrally-shielded smuggling compartments and heads out. Aemon helped get them tourist visas from his old contact, Evan Parris, with the understanding that they would bring him back some strange reagents from whatever Ne’Fairra is up to.
They hide Ziusudra in of the shielded compartments, and Gethin blags their way through the checkpoint. They park in the last “legal” tourist area, according to the Dr., and hoof it from there. Ziusudra easily guides them through the security perimeter around the protected forest, and starts navigating to the astral oddity at its center, with Love confirming that they are on track. Matrix reception is shit, but Fentin is still enjoying showing off his extensive knowledge on all things as they travel. The first oddity: a 10m-wide band that seems perfectly cleared of debris.
As they examine it for traps or spells, they notice that the “normal” collection of trees on their side gives way to more twisted and gnarled trees inside the band, which seem to grow much tighter together. They hear a loud rumbling, and take cover as an enormous beast lumbers past, with Fentin ID-ing it as a Juggernaut, an immensely tough awakened armadillo larger than a city bus. However, this is well outside of their usual territory in the south CAS and Aztlan. It seems to be moving in a slow outwardly-expanding spiral, and they get the feeling that the twisted inner core of the forest is expanding in the beast’s wake.
As they enter the cleared area, they are swarmed by deathspiral butterflies, which seem innocuous until they notice that they all have large probosci, which they sting Love and Toff with, though both seem to shake off any ill effects. They rush into the woods on the far side, though they find it harder going, due to the tight/close growth. They chase off a pack of extra-aggro agropelters, and make their way deep into the woods, noticing that many of the clinging vines therein seem to be leaking a viscous red substance, which they confirm is metahuman blood (blended with some plant material). They save some for later tests, and Fentin recalls an old elven folk-tale about an ancient land called The Bloodwood, and some sort of strange magic there. Maybe that’s what Ne’Fairra is working towards?
Toast is almost lured into a strange pond in a grove, but Love is able to prevent him with intimidation and a magical wall. Toff gets a sphere of silence set up to protect the others from the siren song of the river Merrow that waits in the water. Love’s water spirit seems unable to resist however, and he frees it to go merge into the pool. They continue, with Love providing excellent directions.
They continue and find an area where the trees seem to have been denuded of much of their bark, and which seems much less populous of various small lifeforms than usual. They quickly realize they are being tracked by some spidermoose, which aren’t seen this far south, and were thought to be contained some of the polluted zones in the AMC. They get in a serious fight, but use the moose’s pack tactics against them with area effects and suppresive fire. They get some good reagents though- silk glands from the spidermoose should please Evan Parris mightily. They continue on and finally encounter the village, which Ziusudra says has already expanded since he left. They tell him to lay low and stay out of trouble while they approach.
They see that true to the Dr’s description, there are a few dozen unarmed workers carefully carving, shaping and bending the woods and vines of the village into living quarters, bridges, ladders, and the like. There seems to be about a half-dozen armed guards keeping an eye on things, who look to be quite well-equipped, and Toast and Gethin ID them as Tir Paladins, the Tir’s secret service, who swear a life-oath to the Prince they are bound to serve. Via assensing, they also detect that Ni’Fairra herself is a massively powerful spellcaster, is accompanied by a similarly powered spirit, and is actively using the artifact, while draining life energy from a half-dozen low-magic acolytes near her. Toff determines that the magic seems similar to the strange tarot card that he found.
They decide to strike while she is distracted with the ritual, as it seems like most of her security force is near her, while 2 patrol. They also get lucky and spot another man patrolling the perimeter with a cerberus hound, and are able to silently ko him and kill the dog just before the dog alerts to their presence. Gethin covers them in a ghillie blanket, and they sneak forward to set their ambush, while Love hangs back to reinforce as needed. They see the ritual just wrapping up as they approach, and see 4 of Ne’Fairra’s paladins hauling away the bodies of 2 of the acolytes, who seem to have died in the ritual, and feeding them to the sangre del diablo trees that ring the village. They all take their initial shots, and though it seems they got that drop on the elves, Ni’Fairra is protected by some powerful magic, and manages to avoid some of the damage and hold onto the book, though she seems exhausted from the ritual.
Her paladins rush to her aid, while engaging with the team. The team takes 2 of them down, and manages to avoid Ne’Fairra’s spell assault long enough to ko her and let Toff levitate the book out of her grasp as a massive air spirit manifests and whisks her up and inside one of the central structures. 4 of the paladins retreat inside, seemingly to protect her, while the team prepares to flee, after barely freeing Toast from one of the sangre trees as it tried to consume him, and partially digested his armor. Toff races out into the middle of the clearing on his deployed skates, and grabs the book, but notices that someone has loosed another 2 cerberus hounds from a nearby kennel, and also hears a loud buzzing and sees a disturbing hive atop the kennels, that also seems to be open, with a cloud of oversized hornets spilling out…..
Toff makes a run for the woods while everyone else tries to cover him. Some paladins begin returning fire, and take down Fentin, who only survives through freak chance. Love and Toast manage to hold off the swarm of void wasps with some magical cleverness, which is lucky as they seem to be homing in on the magic-users in the party, and are known to drain magical energy. The team escapes, with Love in the lead and Ziusudra assisting, while a spirit ensconces Fentin and carries him along. 2 cerberus hounds are trailing them, but staying out of sight, so they make for their truck with all haste.
Finally reaching the edge of the woods after massive abuse of stimpatches, they head for the truck across the open, spurred on by the hounds’ fear effect, causing all except Love to flee pell-mell, right into a waiting trap. As 2 choppers above them decloak, armed corpsec types begin to rappel down, surrounding the panicked team. Just as Love begins attempting to negotiate their survival, Frosty and Harlequin arrive via a shockingly quick levitation spell, accompanied by a sonic boom. Frosty calls a halt to the proceedings by issuing a chal’han, an elvish ritual challenge, to the leader of the opposition. An elven woman emerges from one of the choppers, and Love finally places the armor and insignia on the corpsec goons- there are Mystic Crusaders, and the elven woman who leads them is none other than the founder of the Atlantean Foundation, Sheila Blatavska.
Blatavska, finding herself trapped by social niceties, is forced to accept Frosty’s challenge, with Frosty claiming Ehran the Scribe as her second, while Harlequin offers to act in the same capacity for Blatavska. She accepts, and they exchange the ritual vows, with Blatavska naming the Mystic Crusaders as her champions, and Frosty nominating the runners as hers. The team quickly confers and accepts, given their current precarious situation. The challenge is of the non-lethal variety, so they cannot fatally harm the other team, though they can interfere with them in various other ways, and none of the principals involved can directly participate, though they can fund and support their champions.
The terms of the challenge will be as follows: Blatavska has gotten wind of Frosty’s plans for the navigational artifacts, and has been following her and Ehran’s agents around the globe. They’ve caught on that Frosty and Ehran, with the backing of the Draco Foundation, are seeking rumored caches of knowledge and artifacts passed down from the ancient powers of the Fourth World, including the potential discovery of the location of the lost city of Atlantis. Blatavska has tasked her organization with the same goal, hoping that her superior funding could outmatch the advantage that Frosty has with possession of the artifacts. Frosty and Blatavska both seem to think that around 3-6 of these caches may have survived and remained currently unrecovered, so it will be a contest- the first to recover each cache “scores” it, and may make use of the contents for the remainder of the challenge. Whichever team recovers more caches by the end of the contest wins, and gets final ownership over the contents of all the caches, as well as the Book of Leaves, which Frosty is able to claim for now, given the terms of the challenge.
They head back to a DF safehouse in Cara’Sir, where Frosty says she will fill them in and help them heal up from the near-disaster in the woods. Love finally figures out what seemed so oddly familiar about Blatavska’s face, and Frosty confirms that Blatavska is indeed Ni’Fairra’s mother- & apparently the mysterious, powerful backer that the team kept hearing rumors of. This makes Gethin feel a little better about leaving Ni’Fairra living, as her mother had to come to her rescue, which is humiliating. Also, if the team can win the challenge, it will be a major embarrassment to both Blatavska and Ni’Fairra! Gethin still wants more though, and convinces Frosty to dig into what happened to Gethin’s parents. Frosty agrees, and provides a first piece of info- Ni’Fairra led a deathsquad called the Songbirds, who all took names of various birds. The only known survivor is an elf/drake known as Canary. They reach the safehouse, receive some healing, and rest for the night.