The team puts together their counter-offer to Fringe, and he accepts. Aylin and 6Cyl arrange to ally with his spirit and some members of the Vigilia Evangelica to secure the 3rd Book of 9 Gates and hopefully free themsevles from Tohu Wa Bohu. Hotkey and Carol gets more money, Test gets contacts with the Egyptian Coptic Church which apparently shelters a lot of TM’s who are working with the great dragon Masaru on a new library of Alexandria. Avocado gets a quickened strength-boosting spell on him, provided by Fringe. They need a few days to heal and then it’s off to the metaplanes to end this particular threat once and for all. They find out that Patty C, Otoko and Big Meat have been doing movie and popcorn nights at Ahabitat.
In the meantime, Avo promotes 6C’s upcoming fight at the Vault, and notices that “Popular Will” militias and propaganda are starting to crop up around the CZ. Doing some research, they find that this is the street arm of the Freedom Network, a militant anti-magic/anti-TM group, like a more extreme Purists from Boston (without the hate for implants). They seem to be cross-race and meta-, but have strong paramilitary vibes. Test also gets and invite from GC to help connect Garmonbozia with different mesh net building subversive groups globally, to ensure they have some safe harbors when the new Matrix launches, and in exchange they will help Test with his Null problem. Hotkey hangs with his fam, who arrive and get settled in their Sierra Crop provided apartment. He hears that the mesh net in NYC that he helped start in Queens is a big hit, and seems to be safe from the Null. Also apparently the Rat Pack has gone partially toxic and the Underground has gotten a lot less safe.
6C and Aylin head down to Midway airport to meet with Old Crow, newly arrived in town from the metaplanes. They also meet up with Lycus, Vonny, Angoka, and some other neo-A’s, and get some offers of work and assistance for some of the team’s various interests, as well as introduction to a runners union called The Shadow Chapters from a Muslim ork woman named Jazz. There is also a pro training facility on site, which Avo is excited about for learning new maneuvers. They also notice Midway has an impressive drone security array. Chessick wanders over and he and Aylin have a good chat about Boston and fringe reporting, and agree to collab in future. OC finally lands, and schemes a bit with Aylin and 6C about going up against the BL. They find out about the BL’s infiltration of the “Free City STL” movement, which HK’s wife is also interested in, and also find out that the BL has infiltrated the highest levels of Chicago/Illinois government, and has an unknown level of control over Gov. Presbitero, the mean in charge of Operation: Takeback. They plan to try to use all this as a way to get the Book they need to a less secure location than the seeming BL North America HQ that St. Louis has become.
With everyone rested and ready to roll, they head back to the church, and find that Fringe has fully cleaned it and arranged an elaborate maze on the floor. His angel spirit still guards the door, and says she will present interference from both sides. Fringe pays up and grants their various boons, and then walks the maze and cuts himself into the Jade Cup at the center. He tells the team to follow, and they do, seemingly crossing the astral boundary as they do so. They walk for what feels like hours, and then say the angel again and are told they have completed their task. Luckily they quickly spot this as a trick, and recognize a Nightmare spirit posing as the angel. It seems amused to be spotted and says it will get them next time.
They head through a glowing portal, and emerge into what looks to be a truly haunted realm. A narrow mile-long causeway with long falls into a perhaps never-ending chasm on either side approaches a dark and moldering castle in the distance. A rotting dragon flies overhead. Seeing no way to sneak, they attack the dragon, and are surprised and delighted to find that it has a matrix presence. Luckily they manage to take it down between those 2 modes of attack before it can reach them and it plummets into the abyss. They head up the causeway.
Carol spots a narrow path down the side of the castle to what looks like a dungeon entrance, and they take that route. The door has a maglock (surprising, again, and also once again MCT brand). They enter and find 6 chained Catholics from various points in the last few decades, who all seem very tortured and confused. They free them and tell them to make their way to the exit and announce themselves to the spirit there. They head upstairs with drones scouting ahead, and find a creepy courtyard with a massive bone garden and gargoyles. The skulls and gargoyles seems to follow them, and seem to be cameras with watcher spirits bound to them. Seeing no way to sneak once again, they head further and find 2 rotting knights guarding a massive burned black set of doors. They blast apart the knights who seem bound to their post, and approach,
The doors blow open as they near, and they see Auslander on a tendrilled throne, he mocks them and tells 12 more knights to attack. They get in a brutal brawl with the possessed corpse knights, and find their life energy being slowly drained by the throne. Luckily the throne seems to be the host device for all the castles tech, and HK and Test manage to brick it, shutting down it’s powers. Auslander seems weakened in it’s absence, and they managed to finally take him out after defeating his guards, without permanently losing anyone on the team, despite some close calls.
Fearing that they may be approaching the deadline of the ritual after a lengthy exploration of this plane, they race back towards the exit! Suffering through some drug crashes, many almost tumble into the abyss off of the narrow causeway, but with assistance from the medical drone and some lucky catches from some quick on their feet members, the team manages to safely cross and re-enter the astral maze before it closes. Completing their journey, they find the angelic spirit waiting, luckily Hotkey spots that it is once again a Nightmare spirit trying to trick them, which cackles when spotted and flits off. They double back out of the dead end it was trying to lure them into, and actually emerge in the church.
6 piles of ash on the floor imply that the prisoners they free were burned by the spirit, who claims they were “unclean” but won’t elaborate further. The team worries they may have sent some long suffering Catholics to a firey death but…. maybe they were possessed or something? They find a note on Fringe’s remains saying goodbye and telling them to keep fighting the good fight- he has sensed a sickness at the core of the Spirit of the City of Chicago, and suggests they continue their investigations. The Jade Cup is fully destroyed, as promised, and the angelic spirit leaves after vowing to return to help 6Cyl and Aylin fight the Black Lodge.
The team heads back to the bolthole to rest and heal, all very exhausted from their ordeal.