The team (minus Chem for the moment- he’s trying to secure a deal for some of the Tir’s more exotic chemical exports for his Ex-Corporate Scientists lab) lays low with Frosty Jane for a few days while they heal up from the terrifying woods, and get the rundown on what exactly they’ve gotten themselves into. Jane explains that, as they team had speculated, Jenna Ni’Fairra was using the Book of Leaves to attempt to recreate a 4th World elven homeland known as Teheronshay, though she was creating it in the image of the late-4th World Bloodwood. Frosty explains that Jenna’s mother, Sheila Blatavska, is one of the rumored immortal elves, was Queen of the Bloodwood Court, and was known at the time as Alachia. She created the ritual, which may have corrupted the Book, in order to protect the court from the coming of the Horrors, the ultra-powerful entities whose arrival signals the beginning of the end of a magical age.
Toff and Love examine the Book some more, which knocks both unconscious, though Toff gets some strange visions over a few days due to his psychometry power. He sees a vision of Alachia, in the pre-corrupted forest city of Teheronshay, angrily rejecting some human envoys, who seem to bear some of the signs of The Black Lodge. They were offering some sort of ritual of protection, but Alachia seemed to believe she could keep her people safe with the Book. Toff then has another vision of Alachia performing a ritual similar to the one that Jenna was enacting, which seems to have killed a sizable portion of Alachia’s Court, leaving the rest bearing prominent thorns bursting through their flesh. After Toff reports this, Frosty tells them that Blatavska has many powerful illusions maintained on her at all times, likely to mask her true, thorny appearance.
Frosty is also deeply concerned that if Jenna and Blatavska have begun to recreate the Bloodwood, they may have intel that the Horrors may be coming sooner than anyone else has thought. Frosty says that Dunkelzahn’s sacrifice should have kept the Horrors at bay for a long time, but that the use of blood magic (and overall high level of magic in the world) may be skewing things even faster than expected. She provides them with a number of documents regarding Ehran the Scribe’s in-progress theories of magical development in the cycle. The ability to summon invae (insect spirits), as well as the presence of gremlins, imps, and shedim (spirits focussed on inanimate possession of various types), confirm that the cycle has been advancing, and Ehran is also worried that the point when Horrors can be easily summoned (or even cross over on their own!) may be approaching. They, and others at the Draco Foundation, hope that the contents of the caches may give necessary hints to future stages of the cycle, as well as steps that could be taken to counteract them.
The doc’s that Frosty provides also hint that in addition to Blatavska, both Ehran and Harlequin are also immortals, given their knowledge of ancient worlds, as well as rumors of their actiivites during the magical downtime. Frosty has Ziusudra as well as the Book secreted away to a more secure DF facility, and tells the team that she initially hired them to remove the Book from Jenna as it’s use was distorting her ability to detect the first cache, which she believes is located nearby, in the Crater Lake region. She says they likely chose to recreate the wood here due to local ties, as the original location seems to be long-term cursed/corrupted- it is now known better as Chernobyl. Frosty also seems to strongly dislike Jenna, which Gethin finds encouraging. She says she will need some time to finetune the artifacts’ detection abilities to home in on the cache, and that the team ought to get themselves to Seattle while she does so, and try to make contact with the Vault of Lore.
The Vault is a troll-run enterprise in the Ork Underground, which attempts to collect ancient knowledge, artifacts, and the like, and provide semi-public access to those resources, rather than letting them fall into the hands of secret organizations and powerful mages and the like. However, given Renraku Computer Systems and the Stonecutter’s Guild forcing their way into/reclaiming chunks of the underground, the Vault’s keepers have been more secretive than usual, and are trying to remain somewhat neutral, as a safe place for dwarf and ork to meet and negotiate, free from prying eyes. So the team will need an in. Luckily, Toff’s old talismonger friend Thadius Mortician is able to get them an introduction, so long as they bring appropriate “gifts.” They agree, and get Rook to smuggle them up to Tarislar, where they secure a safehouse from the Ancients for their time in Seattle.
On the way to the entrance to the Underground, they spot a man selling a small child on the street. Gethin, feeling compelled, purchases the child and tells him that he will brought somewhere safe, which he doesn’t really seem to believe. However, this distracts the man enough that he doesn’t notice Fentin pwning his comm, and copying all of his data. The man quickly brings another child out of a nearby building, and Gethin has to be reassured that they can take more appropriate measures later. They reach the underground, and drop the child off at Aemon’s Kids, after confirming that it doesn’t SEEM to be overrun with CFD. Irfan Aziz accepts a payment on the child’s behalf from Gethin, and reassures them that the child will be in good hands. Toff catches up with Marcus Fireborn, who seems as fanatical as ever.
They leave, and head through the more-touristy-than-ever bustle of the Underground’s main market. It seems Renraku’s Neo-PD is having significant success in bringing more business down here, though many of the stalls look to be newer builds/retrofits, and many of the long-standing merchants have been pushed off the main drag. Gethin notices that at some point, someone slipped a small physical card into their pocket, with an embossed image of a key on it. They head deeper and deeper into less popular streets, and eventually Thadius ushers them into a small cafe, and takes them into the backroom. There is a brick wall with an old steel coal-chute door, which seems likely to be a holdover from pre-Seattle fire days. Thadius blindfolds the team and tells them they will be on their honor to not use matrix or astral abilities to attempt to discern the Vault’s true location.
They head through the coal chute door, and are brought through a series of winding and pitch-black tunnels, seemingly moving down and away from the main market. After a lengthy trek, they hear Thadius speak to a muffled voice in Or’zet, and a grinding sound followed by a bright light shining through their blindfolds. Thadius removes the blinds, they find themselves in a massive stone chamber, lined with carefully stone-shaped shelves stacked high with tomes, folios, magical reagents, and various other objects and oddities. Toff presents their gifts of rare spell formulae (from Frosty), as well as the offer to upgrade their matrix security from Fentin, and funds from Love, Toff, and Toast (the latter two leaving sizable donations and becoming “members”, told that they will be able to return to the Vault at their desire). Fentin fixes up their system, which is a fully hardwired archive of their holdings, and pokes around a bit to see if he can find anything useful to their quest.
Meanwhile, Love and Toff assense to look for books/artifacts/etc with old-feeling auras, and Gethin and Toff do some personal research. Gethin finds that the former Songbird known as Canary is known to be involved in attacking draconic holdings and interests around the globe- a very dangerous pursuit, especially given the recent civil war and its blowback against anyone engaged in such hunts. Canary seems to have survived so far, and is though to be an active user of DIVE, where various hunters were known to research their quarry. Gethin also finds out that there were some hunters active during the magical downtime, implying either some individual or organizational survivors from the 4th World. Apparently some of these hunts were funded by none other than Blatavska, earning her Lofwyr’s enmity, along with others. The Black Lodge may also have been involved.
Toast looks into various powerful entities that have long-staning bounties on them, including the Welsh dragon Rhonabwy, and the former Tir High Prince Lugh Surehand, and gets some useful intel, though he isn’t feeling quite ready to sign up for either hit yet. Love helps out a bit as he’s looking to get an introduction to Neutral Ground from Toast. Fentin also keeps hinting that he really would like an intro to Jackpoint once the team lets slip that most of them are on there (at least provisionally). Fentin also tracks down a number of useful texts, including books on Wiccan ritual and tradition, ancient alchemy, hermetic formulas and the dragon Schwartkopf’s Unified Magical Theory, classic Egyptian spellcraft from the Book of the Dead, modern practical spellcasting, Christian mysticism and spell use, the Path of the Wheel, and ancient elemental tables referenced by Isaac Newton. He gets full scans of these texts, and begins memorizing key components, using his prodigious memory.
Toff and Love uncover some creepier, and older, tomes, including a text on necromancy and dark ritual, one on practical witchcraft, one on ancient rituals encountered by the Roman legions (though ineffectual, these rituals suggest that 4th World survivors attempted to pass down their abilities), and a popular and generally illegal Neo-Anarchist guide to spellcasting, alchemy and ritual for various purposes. They also discover some annotated commentaries that it seems visitors to the Vault are encouraged to add their knowledge to. This includes speculation on the presence and nature of Immortal Elves (suggesting that even more of the founders of the 2 Tir’s than the team knew may be immortal), as well as speculation on the Black Lodge’s ties to the 4th World people known as the Denairastas.
The team decides not to add any of their current restricted knowledge to the tomes, but does further their store of Atlantis lore, which may prove useful. They recognize that the massive central pillar in the Vault seems to be a relic of Atlantis (known in the 4th World as Thera), due to it’s unique red and black striations. The Therans were apparently magical experts, who used this stone to store magical power to preserve their civilization past the point at which their magic should have faded, though when the end came it came hard, causing their isle to sink beneath the waves. It seems these Therans might be the humans Toff saw in his vision of the Book of Leaves, given some rough speculation as to their symbology and appareance.
They also find a number of ancient place names, corresponding to the regions of the modern world, which aids them in deciphering the Atlantis intel they have. Most importantly, they discover a series of references and hints to a number of lost tomes contained in the ancient dwarven Library of Throal, in Barsaive (aka Ukraine). A talismonger named Lisa Suarez has lead some successful digs in the region, but noone has yet uncovered any hint of the Library, it it even survives in any form. However, the Nazi’s, under Himmler, had a massive effort dedicated to discovering Atlantis, as well as the land they called Thule, where they believed a sort of ur-people called the Hyperboreans came from. They were thought to have failed in their efforts, though the texts in the Vault suggest that they may have had some secret successes, and that they may have hidden some of their discoveries before their defeat. The Library is thought to contain texts on Passions (which Love thinks sound a bit like mentor spirits, though broader?), as well as Horrors, dragons, and histories of previous ages, as well as bestiaries and adventurers journals from the 4th World. They decide seeking this Lost Library should be high on their priority list.
They also review the ancient dialogues and theories of Atlantis, courtesy of Plato, Solon, and others, and attempt to collate all the data in to a cohesive whole. Plato is rumored to have concealed Pythagorean musical codes in the cadences of some of his dialogues, and other various luminaries and artists are thought to have hidden other hints of ancient knowledge using micrography in various works of art. They think that if they can recover any of the originals of these works, they could perhaps break the codes. Gethin also manages to find hints about the golden key card they found in their pocket. Once examined closely, it reveals that it is in fact a micrographic script, inviting Gethin to audition for the Society of the Golden Key, a magical and non-magical group of thieves, contortionists, tricksters, and the like who follow the Thieves Code and abhor human trafficking and slavery. Fascinated, Gethin later turns to Jackpoint to find other members, to complete the ritual, and gets 2 names to pursue.
The team also finds some info about Crater Lake- it is thought that the Witches Cauldron on Wizard Island may have been caused when a prison for spirits and mages from the 4th World crashed back to Earth after its magical orbit decayed enough to get pulled in. When they leave the Vault, they confer with Frosty, and she tells them that this makes sense, as to why there would be a cache there. It also explains why this is the only site she knows of that a Horror has been present in the 6th World- she tells the story of her encounter with Aina Dupree and Yrsthgraithe, the horror who hunted her across ages. It seems like this was Frosty’s first taste of the big leagues, and she seems to feel some extreme empathy to the team, who are now fully caught up in it as well. They prepare to surveil and plan their attack on the Tir military facility that squats on Wizard Island since the incident with the Horror, as the cache is located either in or beneath it.