The team, newly arrived in London checks in at The Continental and then splits up to do recon. Fentin heads to a matrix cafe to do some networking, Toast networks at the hotel, Chem and Love look into any local opposition, Toff links up with Agatha Hawthorne to get tuned into the magic scene an gain access to a ritual space, and Gethin goes to make inquiries amongst the cities downtrodden. They know they are seeking something old, so likely something deep underground, as London is a city of layers. Also Toff has had a vision of some survivors of 4th World human civilizations settling here after the exodus caused by the sinking of Atlantis, so they decide to look into any underground-dwelling urban druids, and see what pops up.
Chem and Love find out that some Atlantean Foundation types have been seen around town, carefully examining various old objects/places of significance and works of art. They look into some of them, but don’t find any obvious leads. But they now know the other team is onto London as a cache location, so they have to hurry a bit. Love also does some astral recon, after having a strange dream seemingly provided by his mentor spirit Wolf. He confers with Barnaby “Wombat” Rudd, and determines that the center of his vision was the London Stone, which he visits and examines carefully. It is a piece of a larger stone (as well as seemingly the stone from which Arthur pulled his sword), and is crux point on a number of leylines, as well as a key component to London’s sacred geometry. He feels strongly that the rest of the stone, wherever it lays somewhere below, may be a key to finding the cache. He also, after spotting some people tailing him, receives a note with a commcode. He calls the number and receives a cryptic offer of assistance and knowledge in exchange for a first look at anything they uncover, and also suggestions that he look into what his current employers really intend to do with the info and relics themselves. He says he’ll think on it, and is told that “they’ll be watching.”
Gethin hears tell of an area deep underground, past the ghouls, where rumors of some sort of ancient cult with strange rituals and statues reside. Gethin hears that a woman named Veda has long been a high-paying collector if relics and info from the deep underground. Doing some digging, they find that Veda is head of an organization called The Travellers, who collect relics, artifacts, ancient tomes, paracritters, and odd bits of info for the great dragon Shwartkopf, who lairs in Prague. They also hear that some out of town Catholics have been asking around as well- so looks like the Vigilia Evangelica are here as well. Fentin finds a skilled and runner-friendly urban explorer/guide named Chudwick to hire to take them safely through the underground’s various perils.Toast finds out about local contracts, getting a feel for the political and social scene, and is also approached by a man named Tibor Dobos, who the team believes represents The Black Lodge. Frosty Jane tells them that they are UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE to cooperate with BL- she fears greatly what they would do with the knowledge the team is acquiring. This also gets Love thinking that this is who contacted him, which he warns the team about. Fentin scans Love’s ’link, but finds no obvious bugs.
Toff gets the lowdown fro Hawthorne, confirming rumors of secretive urban druids dwelling deep, deep underground, who worship the ancient waterways that London was built atop. He also sets up a ritual circle to do some foretelling, and gains some insite: they will meet the druids, and be able to peacefully negotiate with them, so long as they carry the Piri Reis Map. However, violence will also be needed, but it doesn’t seems to be targeted at or originating from the druids. As he comes back from the vision, he feels a rope suddenly slip around his throat, and is pulled backwards by a slight, wiry man throttling him. The rest of the team is attacked simultaneously, either with rope, or with a terrible poison from a one-use dartgun concealed in a flask, followed by rope. Only Gethin sees their attacker coming, and entirely avoids injury. They all manage to dispatch their assailants (Toast, Love and Chem with the assistance of concealed gun turrets at the Continental, seemingly instructed to prevent violence against guests at all costs), and some have to pay a sizable fee to Hawthorne to magically extract the awakened necrotic poison.
After some conferring, they determine that their attackers were all members of the Thuggee Cult, a fabled order of assassins based in India. This explains their fanaticism and refusal to retreat, but not who sent them. All were wearing printed paper clothes, and had a single small denomination credstick (just enough for train fair across the Chunnel and back as well as a replacement paper suit). Toast checks Neutral Ground again, and finds that someone has taken a contract out on their whole team. They decide to get to the druids ASAP, before anything else goes wrong, and quickly rest up in the hotel before heading underground. Jane gets them the Piri Reis map, with a manacase and instructions to be exceedingly careful. They also notice that one corner of the map is missing- so maybe the ATL Foundation has a piece as well?
Chudwick, a sports-bro ghoul poser who quickly aggravates everyone, handily guides them past the various security presences in the Underplex and into an entrance to the true underground. They bypass a variety of small camps of destitute and downtrodden, as well as some boobytrapped areas and pitfalls that Chudwick warns them away from. They get past a ghoul community with a minimum of threats, and Chudwick says he stays on their good side by informing the ghouls of the location of injured/dead would-be explorers who stumble into some trouble. He gets them to quiet down as they sneak through mafia-controlled turf, confirming rumors they had heard that the syndicate is trying to establish a foothold in the underground after losing a lot of turf in the ongoing re-opening of the Lambeth Containment Zone, after some former team members exposed some of the truth of that situation to Rhiannon Glendower.
They make their way down a series of more and more ancient tunnels and waterways, all in pitch blackness, before finding a corridor lined with strange statuary- it reminds Toff of some of the statues he saw Atlantis survivors building in one of his visions, and the team thinks they may represent The Passions, a sort of 4th World precursor to the modern mentor spirits. Chudwick says he’s never been past this space, as this is rumored to be an area people don’t return from, as well as the province of some sort of weird cult. He seems stoked to explore further in the company of this well-armed/confident group, however. They traverse the corridor, and descend a moss-covered stone block staircase spiraling down an ancient block stone chamber with a waterfall cascading down the center. At the base, they exit the cylindrical chamber into a vaulted dirt and stone room that seems to be a graveyard of sorts- some ancient markers stick out of the ground like broken teeth.
A cloaked and hooded figure steps out from behind one of the stones and greets them. Toff and some others manage to have some success at communicating, using bits of Greek, Latin, and Sperethiel. Toff presents the map, which the figure approves of, saying he has been waiting a long time for someone to come. He says that if their team does him a favor, he will allow them passage. They agree, but ID Chudwick as not really a team member since he keeps talking an interrupting. The druid streches forth a hand and binds him in vines which shoot up from the earthen floor of the chamber and begin enveloping him.The team ignores his pleas for help and tell him they’ll be back for him. The druid explains that the newcomers with their smell of smoke and fire, and their metal tools have been causing too much disturbance down here, and wants them sent a message that this area of the underground is not for them.
The team takes this to mean the mafia, and agrees. They head back out, with the druid accompanying them in the form of a large grey wolf. They ambush 3 separate mafia patrols, taking out 5 members and KO-ing a 6th. The wolf rips the throats out of the 5 dead and eats their faces off (seemingly as a sign of disrespect), and leaves the KO-ed guy with some gnarly wounds. Most of the team and the wolf return to the graveyard while Chem and Gethin arrange the deceased around the KO’ed guy and write a message in blood that they aren’t welcome here. That done, they meet up with the rest of the group. Upon their return, they find Chudwick completely encased in vines, and unmoving….
The druid gestures again, and an ancient tomb that Love feels is somehow connected to the London Stone shifts back, as an earthen stair drops open beneath it. The team descends and it closes behind them, as they enter what looks to be a subterranean stonehenge. The plinths are more intact than the more touristy location, and Love confirms this as the center of the London Stone’s original power. The circle seems to be holding open an astral rift at it’s center, which is dark and swirling. Toff touches one of the pillars, and is treated to a spectacular though incomplete tour through the magical history of London from the time the druids first arrived. They seem to be an offshoot of the precursor group that became the Black Lodge, the Denairastas people. It seems like there were some disagreements, leading to the schism. But a druid cult has existed here, guarding the henge, since then, having survived Romans and many others who invaded and nearly wiped them out. They had apparently filled the henge in completely with dirt as magic faded, and only re-excavated it at the arrival of the 6th World. They seem to have replenished their numbers through kidnapping of wayward or unattended youth in the underground, and kept their culture and mission intact through the long millenia.
However, Toff’s vision is cut off as Chem yanks him free, and the team enters the rift. They find themselves at the lowest level of some sort of towering mega-city, strewn with corp logos which are all slightly “off”- AzCorp across from Mars Macrotech, and the like. They see all of the Big 10 represented, and towers and huge structures sprawl in every direction, though they seem to be weirdly biotech-y. Chitinous exteriors and pulsing wiring abound. Road- and walkways run in a mad maze above them as high and they can see, and are all crowded with every type of traffic (though once again, the vehicles seem partially or wholly alive). They see people plugging into old school cyber-terminals, and witness some go-gangs clashing on roadways, while what seem to be shadowrunners make a daring escape from the “Mitsudaishi” towers via grapple gun.
They decide to venture forth, after some studious assensing suggests a direction of travel, based on a thin trace of druidic magic, and confirms that all the entities they can see are awakened (and thus likely spirits of some sort). This is not like anywhere they had heard of on the Plane of Man, however. They ascend out of the grated sewer in which they emerged from the rift, after confirming that magic works here and that they can cross back through. However, they find themselves unable to summon effectively. They ascend a few levels, sending some large dire rats and some downtrodden folks scattering, muttering about their intentions and the danger being near the team poses.
After they get up to a more pedestrian level, they see some various bars and clubs nearby, seemingly all “classic” runner hangouts. They begin to wonder if they’re on some sort of runner plane? They are approached by a somewhat dowdy man in a trenchcoat, who hops off of a motorcycle that speeds up. He introduces himself as Bartholomew Barkins, parapsychologist and spirit attorney. He says that he has been tasked with giving them the lay of the land, and when they question him, it seems that someone a looooong time ago established his firm with the sole contract of waiting for someone to emerge from that rift and then fulfilling an introduction. Their business has expanded since then, but Barkins seems to take this job seriously. He unfurls a large scroll in some archaic script and confirms the parameters of his task before beginning.
He welcomes the team to Zecorporatum, and refers to Earth as the “mirror realm.” He says that much evil and deceit from the mirror realm bleed over to Zecorp and that many here would not be happy to know that that is where the team hails from. The team starts to get the feeling that this place is kind of an ur-sprawl- the whole plane is one massive city, dominated by the 10 corp entities in their slightly perverted forms, and according to Barkins, their repression of free speech/dissent and the like is extreme. He says he mostly negotiates between different groups in the lower levels, where the corp presence is lessened- it seems like society is literally stratified. Also there seem to be a large community of sentient dire rats led by someone called the Rat King. Inquiring as to why the locals there seem so afraid of the team, Barkins explains that there are 3 types of criminals here, for the most part: Stabbers, who seem to be the equivalent of thrill/go-gangs, apolitical violence junkies. Anarchs, political/anti-corp types, with a penchant for big showy displays, as well as lost causes. And Blackjacks, savvy, super pro operators, always with their own mission hidden within whatever they attach themselves too.
Love and Toff think about, and remember some deep matrix rumors of strange runners going by Jack, who seemed super pro, very into limiting collateral damage, but are very selective of the runs they take, and always split off to complete some secretive solo objective, never returning to pick up their pay. They inquire, and Barkins says that he has heard rumors that some ‘Jacks have been crossing over to the mirror realm, to try to right wrongs here and stop the bleedover into Zecorp, which they believe is destroying their world. He doesn’t know how they cross, or how they choose their targets, however. He tells them their destination- a white citadel at the center of a boiling lake, at the dead center of the plane, a number of days journey unless they hire a ride. All currency here is information or favor-based, though, so they need to do some digging. Barkins says he can’t directly assist them, as reaching their goal is part of the test, but he put out feelers to find someone who can. The team requests a Jack, and they return to Barkins’ office to make some calls.
He plugs into an old-school terminal built into his desktop, and as the wires leading out of it to the wall pulse, announces that he is posting on a secure BBS jobs board. Fentin has a fit realizing how easy it would be to pwn these people if he could figure out their system architecture but he’s not even really sure how to interface with it. Some go-gangers get in a loud confrontation out front, distracting everyone inside such that only Love notices the Jack arrive, slipping silently in through an office window and leaning casually back against the wall as his mirrorshades slip back onto the sides of his head. Love announces his presence, and everyone turns to meet him. He seems like a consummate pro, and says he has secured a large enough transport for their goal, and in exchange wants a ride back to the mirror realm, and assistance on a task in Metropole. As the team needed to get there sometime anyway for this cache hunt, they agree, and leave Barkins’ office via grapple guns, swinging up to a secure safehouse nearby, where they see a number of workbenches for weapons, armor, and vehicle modding and repair.
They load up in a tricked-out battlewagon, which the Jack engages some sort of bio-camo on, to blend in better. They race down a steep ramp straight onto one of the numerours roadways, and the Jack handily speeds them along towards the Citadel (Love confirms they are headed the right way). They get into a fight with some stabbers on bio-bikes, wielding huge stone claymores to devastating effect, but manage to fend them off with no loss of life on their side. They continue racing ahead, hoping to make short work of the travel. They heal up a bit while traveling, and manage to avoid further entanglements until they are within sight of the Citadel.
A white tower pierces the black and rainy sky, it’s shattered top wreathed in a swirling storm. The base of the tower is surrounded by a boiling black moat of some thick substance, with no visible means of crossing. As Jack takes the car on an offramp towards the Citadel, the bridge explodes beneath them- he guns it and their car jumps forward just in time as a huge section of the roadway drops away to the distant ground beneath. They all leap free of the car as it topples back over the edge, and find themselves confronted with what seems to be a hydra, as well as 4 human-seeming figures cloaked and garbed in the manor of the Black Lodge (their astral forms perhaps a mite less subtle than their physical operatives). Having heard rumors that the Denairastas clan had the knowledge to create or summon hydras, they take this as confirmation that the BL are direct descendants of that group.
Toff briefly attempts negotiation, and the BL group’s leader once again suggests that the team should look into what their employers (immortal elves all) plan to do with the info they are giving them, and suggest that the BL would be better keepers of that info. However, given the multi-metatype composition of the group, their appeals to human solidarity are somewhat misjudged. Toast, deciding to strike first, fires some ineffectual arrows at 2 of the heads, before determining that the 7 heads all have different vulnerabilities. They get in a brutal, throwdown fight, managing to take out the 4 BL adepts and mages quickly, but almost getting TPK’ed by the hydra, only being saved by Fentin’s memory of the legend of Hercules and their quick burning of stumps as they sever heads. Toast nearly dies, and accepts Cat’s mentorship to save himself, as he is guided back to his body.
After slaying the hydra, Love is able to harvest a few rare reagents before it disintegrates before them. They witness the bridge regrowing behind them to seal the gap once the fight has stopped. They continue to the moat, and Toast and Jack handily leap across. Toff slowly levitates after, but they notice that the substance seems to be bubbling up and crawling after them. Love overcasts a massive levitate, and gets the rest of the group across, though the substance continues to slowly follow them up as they approach the tower. Sensing no immediate threats, they enter through an open stone portal, and find that the tower consists of a central shaft with chambers inside surrounded by an exterior spiral staircase. At the base of the stairs sits an ancient druid, chained to a stone bench in a small stone alcove.
He querulously greets them, and they offer up the map when asked as proof of their worthiness. He allows them passage, and tells them that what they seek is at the very top. They offer to free him, as the ooze continues to approach, but he says that death will be his only release. Toff tries to mind-read the ooze, and gets a vision of the end of the 4th World, and a village being subsumed under something they call The Filth The Crawls, possibly a lesser horror, which this seems to be similar to. It consumes anything living it touches nearly instantly, turning it into more of itself. They advance up the stairs as the filth follows, with Love hanging back to keep an eye on it’s progress.
They open doors along the way, finding that the BL seemingly had an unadorned chamber that they kept populated here, as well as various clerks, functionaries, and middle management types, ascending in importance as they ascend. It seems like this place is the equivalent of the corporate court for this plane. The doors slam shut after the team passes, and seems to seal out the filth from what Love can tell. After continuing along this route for most of a mile, with Love levitating those too tired to keep ahead of the filth, they reach a final chamber at a sealed portion of the stairs. Entering, they find the most ornate boardroom yet, with a large round table at its center, around which sit 10 figures, each a somewhat altered manifestation of the logo of the Big 10.
The largest, and thus presumably most important, figure is a bullfrog like man, seemingly representing SK’s local variant. He questions the team as to their presence and threatens to have them forcefully expelled for their insolence. However, they manage to make a deal to remove the cache from under the table (they are able to see through the powerful illusion making it seem to be merely the pillar on which the table rests), in exchange for providing secret info about each corp’s future, based on knowledge of the last decade or so on Earth, as this plane seems to be lagging a bit behind. Fentin manages to conjure up a solid report of corp scandals and secrets for each rep, except for the Ares equivalent, who is the only member to vote against their trade after being disappointed by his info.
The team receives the cache, and the frogman gestures skyward, into the shattered space above them, launching the team up towards the swirling eye of the storm. They all manage to daisy chain as Love ensconces them in a powerful levitation spell, just in time for gravity to reverse as they hit the swirling maelstrom. They find themselves plummeting through the sky above London, and Love recognizes the area they are over as the location of the London Stone. There also seems to be an active firefight centered on that site. Fentin calls Jane and requests a midair pickup as Love slows their descent. Toff, unable to resists, launches a massive stunball at some of the figures attacking the London Stone, after Jane confirms that the Atlanteans hired the local mafia to try to destroy it, which would have trapped the team in Zecorporatum indefinitely. Strangely, the Vigilia Evangelica seem to have sprung to its defense, and one of their number makes a sign of the cross towards Toff after his spell assistance (the drain from which nearly kills him).
They link up with a chopper Jane was able to scramble, and get healed up inside. Toast splits off to head to his test at the Tir Tairngire embassy, while the rest of the team return to the Continental to debrief and rest. Jane takes possession of the cache there, and quietly offers both Toff and Love access to more secret, ancient magic. She also, as usual, offers up some of the goodies inside in exchange for forgoing payment. Fentin places an ancient symbiont in his mouth, which consumes his tongue and many nerves in his face, allowing him to taste and smell astrally, but destroying those physical senses. Toff and Love agree to share custody of a spirit web, which allows for the recording of astral signatures before they fade. Love also initiates with Jane’s assistance.
As for the debrief, apparently Jane and Rudd have been doing an extensive amount of research on the Black Lodge, being worried about their interest and involvement. They have found a number of possible examples of their use of micrography in city planning, art, and architecture, and say that their power base seems to originate around Prague and Karlsruhe, though they are believed to now operate in most global capitals and centers of power. However, the micrography and other intel they have uncovered is often indecipherable, as it all uses the Voynich script. So, Jane wants the team to head to Metropole, and link up with a gang there calling themselves the Quantumists, who claim to have quantum computing tech capable of cracking any encryption. They are incredibly secretive, so the team will need to discover for themselves how to make contact locally. Jane also arranges to sell the hydra reagents that Love harvested to Veda, to get on Shwartzkopf’s good side, and hopefully gain Rudd access to some of his massive stash of arcane lore.
This links up well with their promise to Jack to help him complete his mystery mission in Metropole, so the team is on-board, and quickly depart, with Toast to rejoin them later. Jane tells them privately that she’s going to look into Zecorp and the Jacks in general, as she has heard some rumors and wants to know more. She also congratulates them on a job well-done: they’re 1.5 caches ahead, currently! Sadly, she also reports that their guide Chudwick did indeed die from the spell the druid cast on him (it’s possible that opening the portal required a blood sacrifice), and that the team’s rep in London has taken a hit. Also, many druids were killed in a mob counterattack funded by the Atlanteans, but she thinks some survived, though the will likely be even more secretive and removed now.