Christopher Toff splits off from the team to do some investigations of ancient Templar sites on Malta, and also look into the island of Lyonesse, which he and Jane believe holds the portal to the final cache, wherever that leads. As the team and the Atlantean Foundation are currently tied, the team needs to get the Ubar cache and the Lyonesse cache to ensure victory. They also hear of a group called Treasure Hunters, INC that has apparently been sabotaging some ATL digs in the Mediterranean region, and file them away as possible allies. The team also hears that they are basically persona non-grata as far as Ares in concerned, due to their activities in Dubai (luckily, NeoNET already hated them?), narrowing their future options just a bit further.
Fentin also checks out the Saeder-Krupp TacNet that they got at a heavy discount, and finds a high-powered agent program keeping an eye on things inside. He leaves it be, planning to deal with it after the run if SK doesn’t shut it down once their deal is complete, but the team is becoming a bit more paranoid of their erstwhile corporate “sponsors.” They contact The Blemmyae and call in their favor, and he puts them in touch with a Bedouin smuggler in the south named Nimat Jamillah. They arrange to have a few useful pieces of gear waiting for them when they meet, and fly south, reviewing everything they can find on Zero Zones, MCT’s famed ultra-secure sites.
Unfortunately, most of what they find suggest that MCT’s traditional weakness (magical support) is likely compensated for at this site by the presence of an Apep Consortium team, who often use paracritters and awakened security. So the team is expecting high-level response on all levels, and decides to just go as hard as possible. The isolation of the site play to their favor, as MCT won’t be able to easily muster reinforcements. Plus, the Bedouin’s, pissed about MCT denying them use of the oasis at the site, offer to help conceal the team on their approach, as well as get them over the perimeter fence, though they can’t provide much direct support.
The team agrees, and take the better part of a week to train new maneuvers and skills with the integrated TacNet. They choose their loadouts, tell Speed to be ready to swoop in with the chopper once they’ve cleared air defenses, and fill their auto-injectors with everything they can think of to keep themselves alive. The Bedouin’s, meanwhile, have been amassing a small force of their own, coming in on dune buggies and sand skiffs from the surrounding desert. They seem to be planning to pillage the site after the team completes their mission. Once everyone is ready, they head out, strapping into sand skiffs with skilled Bedouin pilots, after some of the elders do a ritual of some sort to get the sand moving.
They surf atop 100m high dunes, until they reach the edge of the Zone, when whatever magic kept the moving dunes aloft hits a barrier and collapses, flinging the team deep into the killing field inside. Love ramps them down safely with levitation and barrier spells, and has an earth spirit start quaking the ground to set off nearby mines. As they land and unstrap their motorcycles, some auto-turrets deploy from nearby camo’ed positions, and the team takes them out. However, the turrets are using devastatingly lethal loads, and the team is worried if they’ll be able to keep everyone alive long enough to reach the center of the Zone…
They encounter a series of traps and opponents, including: more turrets loaded with APDS as well as gel rounds with a blinding venom, irradiated razorcats, hellhounds, basilisks, landmines, a laser maze and a maze of monowire, moving in a cat’s cradle interlocking pattern. Luckily, the earth spirit manages to safely clear a path through the landmines before being disrupted by the monowire, and Chem and Gethin follow it in on the bike, with Toast sneaking behind on foot. Love and Fentin provide sniper and spell cover as the team approaches. However, they come under sniper fire themselves from the on-site sec goons, and get in an elaborate and deadly long-range duel.
As the bike team nears the oasis, they are felled by squads of the sec goons opening up with assault rifles and grenade launchers. They are both felled, but stabilized via the TacNet. Toast reaches them in time to start healing Gethin, as Chem comes back to under the influence of a stimpak. They finally locate the onsite anti-air defenses, when the sec goons deploy them against the team. Fentin manages through sheer luck to hack a frag missile headed his way and prevent it from detonating, though the physical missile still lands on him, causing a serious injury, and Love is reeling from drain, so they call in the chopper after Chem manages to use the AV missile in the launcher to take out the onsite missile array.
Speed races in, and manages to blast the quad cannon that rises to try to shoot him down. However, the team panics as an attack chopper rises from the dig pit to engage. They take turns taking pot shots as Speed handily dodges left and right, up and down, avoiding incoming missiles with the new onboard PDC. Chem lines up a final missile shot, and manages to take down the enemy chopper (already damaged by a stray grenade he launched down into the dig earlier) as Speed manages to corral them into his line of fire. Speed races back out the perimeter and scoops up the rest of the team, bringing them forward to the edge of the oasis, and the team prepares to storm the hill and explore the dig until they can find the cache and escape. Toff emerges from the chopper to heal his damaged teammates, having linked up with Speed after his research on Malta concluded.
Fentin starts picking up some strange matrix interference, and the TacNet comes under attack. He can’t spot the attacker, but their firewall is being degraded, so Chem and Toast blow up some different comm arrays they spot while advancing up through the camp. This stops the attacks but also prevents them from gaining any data from the destroyed equipment. They don’t find anything useful in the camp, other than signs of a quick withdrawal, so they head to the edge of the dig. They spot some large cats with some kind of holographic camo prowling around, and as these seem to be the source of the attack on the TacNet, they all go wireless-off until they defeat the e-critters. Chem takes over flying the chopper around and keeping an eye out while Speed, still un-injured, heads into the pit.
They also come under fire from 3 mini-tank drones with a variety of weaponry. They manage to defeat the drones and cats with no casualties, and begin heading down into the dig pit, finding an ancient fortress surrounded by toppled pillars and evidence of mummified remains having been removed. The MCT/Apep team has added a sealed sec door to the entrance to the fortress that they have uncovered, so Love slams through it with spellcraft. Unfortunately, this releases an overpressurized cloud of deadly Seven-7 gas that was inside the room, seemingly as a trap.
Love nearly dies, and many others on the team take severe injuries. Toff basks in his fully sealed armor. The team heads down multiple levels, dodging more traps (aside from Toast, who almost severs his foot on some monofilament). The building seems like a scaled-down model of the sky-fortresses of Thera that the team has heard tell of, and seems to have used sacrifices to serve some astronomical purpose, although the team can’t determine what. The statues they find seem to be more representations of the Passions, although many of the designs are a bit cruder, implying some might be later additions, from the early 5th Age.
They finally find the techs and scientists from the dig site holed up in the bottom-most excavated area, and try to intimidate them into surrendering. The lead tech refuses, saying that MCT will call in a Thor strike to prevent the team escaping with anything, if the team won’t leave. Chem also reports incoming choppers, but says they are in a holding pattern a ways out. The team believes the tech is telling the truth, but they also spot the cache, partially excavated from what looks to be a tomb set in the wall. So, they gun down the techs, and grab the cache, racing for the exit and the chopper in case a tungsten rod is currently hurtling towards them from atmosphere.
They get to the top, and see a disturbing glint rapidly growing larger above them. They jump into the chopper, and Speed takes back the controls. They race away from the site as the Thor shot impacts, sending up a huge blast wave and tons of sand. The chopper crashes, but Speed keeps it pretty intact, and manages to avoid much passenger damage. They make some jury-rigged repairs and limp back to the Bedouin rendezvous cave. They hide out from whatever MCT sends in to sweep the area, as the Bedouin survivors from the raiding party also straggle back. The imagery they bring shows that the area was fully glassed- SK is gonna love this, but it’s a major loss for archaeology.
They get ahold of Jane, who arranges to send the needed supplies to repair the chopper in via supply drone, and congratulates them on the successful cache acquisition. She says there should only be 1 more, and they can talk details when they link up at a set of coordinates she provides in NW France. They spend the better part of a week healing and fixing the chopper, with the cache concealed in the magic-proofed smuggling compartment, before flying Northwest. They link up with Jane, and get paid, with some keeping some items imbued with magical properties that were contained in the cache.
Jane reveals that based on her used of the artifacts, and Toff’s research, and assistance from the Vigilia Evangelica, they think the last cache is located in the fey realms, and the team will have to head there to gain it. Worse yet, the ATL team seems to have been tipped off as well, and could tie the chal’han if they get it, so the team needs to move fast. As far as Jane can tell, there are 3 potential access points: through the closed nation of Tir’na’nOg (the area most connected to the fey realms), through the mysterious mists of Brittany, and through an unstable portal on the recently risen British isle of Lyonesse, which is under heavy military security.
The team starts doing some looking into how to make their approach, with Jane telling them they will likely have to use the recently acquired Bianchi Orb to stabilize the crossing, whichever one they choose.