Otters aka Roadkill
Tabasco aka Cholula
The team preps to head out to Site 000 to start their investigation for Ringmaster, and spends some time massively upgrading the stealth, sensor and mobility capabilities of the van to try to be ready for whatever they find there. Chew Gum, having heard in Ringmaster’s briefing that the area seems bad for spirits, decides to sit this one out and spends some time harvesting plants, tracking toxic magic (finding some power areas), seeking Li Wei (finding some blood magic traces but no hard evidence), seeking out bat swarm sightings (they seem to be flying in and out of the Detroit Down Below), and taking care of some personal business.
The rest of Ringmaster’s briefing consists of recovered logs from a PA National Guard unit that was first on the scene and seems to have also gone missing. He also has some reports from Asgard Data Haven of a runner crew hired to go in a bit after that, who reported in a few times before vanishing. And last, he has an agent on the ground he wants the team to make contact with if they can- codename: Scully. She was following up on the runner team’s reports but has also been out of contact for around a week. The other big news is that Ellis took the team’s advice and posted on Jackpoint, introducing the concept of Betas to the runner world, at least. Also Long Pig Farms is relocating to Detroit, fleeing persecution, and The Betas are working with some ghouls to make better clonal stock, as they need the same quality of body to inhabit that the Infected due to eat.
The team pays Grandmother Biyu for some SIN upgrades to make sure they can travel, and she hires them to look into who else is making high quality SINs in town, when they’re back from their trip. Otters smuggles Cholula out past MET2000 hovercraft in the sub, and drops him at the rendezvous point, and the van gets out past more MET2000 border guards doing magic scans (seemingly checking for bugs) with the rest of the team aboard. They pick up Cholula and head to the Bravo Company training complex in central Ohio to brush up on some squad tactics before the mission.
They all learn a new tactic to help with moving under fire. They decide to sleep there as Otters and others are worried about highjackers on the highway amidst the auto-haulers, though Dig mocks them all for giving in to fear. They eat some bland nutritious mush in the morning (explaining why all the mercs were so excited about Castiron’s cooking perhaps), and head out. Driving past the exits towards Dutchville (a relatively newly incorporated town built around a Wuxing shipping subsidiary), they find all the exits closed and guarded by UCAS MP’s- small groups but still.
They also notice that Dutchville has been scrubbed from digital maps and GridGuide- as if it never existed. So they navigate using geotags, and Otters slickly takes the van off-road in a blind turn between two auto-haulers. They activate their active camo, signature masking, and vehicle radar, and cut across farm fields, bypassing fences and army surveillance/comms blimps as they travel. Cholula and Dig start to notice a bad magical feeling once they hit about 12km out from their destination, and start to really feel the effects at 10k.
Creep, keeping a close eye on the radar while Dig monitors army comms traffic, manages to help Otters steer them around the limited patrols on the way in. Right at the 12km mark, all the fences and everything suddenly cuts, along what seems to be a lengthy curve. The level of the ground drops about a foot, cleanly, and Otters eases the van down onto it’s tracks onto the seemingly freshly exposed dirt- there are some other vehicle tracks and a few footprints, and a dense fog ahead starting at the 10k mark. The fog seems to dome upwards, and it looks like the army is using aerials/blimps to keep a comms line open- as the team watches, they see some light flashing in the upper area of the fog dome near the center, which The Detective things is some kind of IF/F sequence, presumably to verify that comms coming from within the obscuring fog haven’t been compromised.
The team prepares to head in, and begins. Otters keep her new biodrone aloft as a spotter, while everyone else carefully peers around with various modes of perception. Spotting some kind of shape in the dense fog, they head towards it, and find a lone desiccated stump. Searching it, they find a hardened data chip, which after Dig breaks the encryption, contains more comms logs from the missing National Guard unit. They report on bad astral feelings, and something following them. The team, spooked, continues. They find another irregularity another few km in, as well as spotting sensor shadows of their own, and getting worried something may be following them as well. The fog is giving back a lot of weird readings, and something is playing havoc with their navigational systems, so Cholula is mostly dead reckoning.
They are also losing comms access to the outside, which also should obscure them further from army blimps, so good and bad. They send an initial report to Ringmaster to report they are going dark, and he wishes them luck. Approaching the next object, they find a small clearing in the fog, where a strange grid of pairs of combat boots it set up, 13 columns by 7 rows, standing in perfect parade formation as Cholula spots. Creep and the mule start knocking them over, which achieves no effect, but they do notice that all the boots appear like unique pairs- similar make/brand, but a variety of year of manufacture, level of wear, etc. The Detective tries one on and finds it damp from the fog but nothing else of note.
While knocking over boots, Creep eventually finds another comms chip from the Natl Guard, which Dig cracks. They get more reports of feeling hunted and haunted, and manaspace growing worse- which Cholula and The Detective confirm. Signal is getting worse too as they get closer to the epicenter, both seemingly at a steady rate, so Otters pulls the biodrone in much closer. They are all getting pretty worried at this point, as the sensor shadows are also showing up in the astral, and the Natl Guard reports having some of their people MIA.
They press on, and Cholula steers them towards a feeling of water ahead, where Creep detects a slight dip in the landscape. They find what looks like the bottom portion of a dried up stream bed, but as with everything else it seems like about the top 12 inches is gone. Creep spots a hardened milspec case carefully place in the center, and opens it, finding a 3rd chip. Dig cracks it, and they get what seems likely to be the final log from the Natl Guard- they report firing on shadows as more and more of them vanish into the fog. They also found what seemed like a local landmark but turned out to be some sort of astral effect or illusion as the stream was gone in realspace. They also report having travelled much further than they should have to reach it.
While the team is stressing about this, a horrifying sound comes from out of the fog, and Otters is paralyzed, while the others are variously effected. Luckily, Otters was already jumped in hot to the van and drone, so still has some capacity. Creep peers around and then jumps back just in time as what looks like some sort of terrible hybird seemingly swims through the air at him, biting with the head of the shark, while it’s lion’s paws pull it along at alarming speed. All of this attached to the torso of a troll, wearing a shredded military uniform. Cholula misses with a fire arrow, Dig misses with a machine pistol, and Otters opens up with the van machine gun.
A hit! Unfortunately, this thing seems to have some kind of hardened exterior- the gun does a lot of damage but it seems to soak quite a bit of it, though not like a spirit would…. Also unfortunately it seems to recognize the danger from the van and pummels it badly, nearly wrecking it in one hit. Dig pulls out all the stops and blasts it with a lightning bolt as it start to shove itself into the van through the open side door- the mana here is weird and sludgy and irregular, but Dig manages to control it well enough to do some more major damage.
Otters, desperate, turns the machine gun on the van itself, shooting through the roof to hit the beast inside, and manages to fell it before it can kill anyone in the van, though the van takes more damage and is on it’s last legs. Everyone’s paralysis gradually wears off as Dig shoots the thing over and over with his machine pistol, to make sure it stays dead. While collecting themselves, they hear a voice call out, and after exchanging some confirmational chatter, find out that this is “Scully”, aka Erika Knowles, who Creep explains they know of through a convoluted link of runners in the team file, from her Boston days.
She seems happy to see them, and suggests they get back to her base camp with the body to talk further and do some analysis. They manage to navigate there, though doing so in the fog is quite confusing, and Otters is glad she’s been leaving a breadcrumb trail on an offline map to try to follow back out later. They find that Knowles has set up in the somewhat shredded basecamp of the missing runner team, and has another partially dissected hybrid on one of the cots. They haul out the one in the van (massively heavy), and she cuts it open, showing the team how the strange head and limbs seems perfectly grafted the host body, seemingly a troll torso, with some kind of advanced tech- this is beyond 6th World bio-surgeons, as far as she knows, as there is no surgical scarring, or sign of exposure to known mutagens.
She also fishes out some dog tags from the creature’s stomach, and everyone else things he must have eaten a soldier, but she explains that swallowing one’s own dog tags is often a soldier’s last desperate act in the face of certain death, hoping that their body can later be ID’ed and perhaps returned to their family. Disturbingly, the tags are neither from the National Guard nor III Corps, but from the Aztlan national army from about 8-10 years ago. Knowles says all of this lines up with her analysis of the other hybrid, though she didn’t retrieve ID from that one. She plays the team a helmet-cam video that the runner team recovered on one of their recon missions, which seems to show III Corp finding themselves enveloped in fog as comms go down, and they come under attack from unknown forces.
She says she also recovered more logs from the runner crew, which she offers to share with the team, but first they brief her on the updates from Detroit- the Scar, the Betas, etc. She is a bit overwhelmed but luckily they confirm that she herself isn’t magical, so she won’t spot Cholula out, while she takes in the info. She seems very serious and driven, but thrown off by her time in the fog- neither of her hardened chronometers are in agreement, and neither align with the team’s estimate of what day/time it is. They decide to rest and patch up the van before heading further in, or bugging out to report what they’ve found so far…..