Otters aka Roadkill
The remaining infiltration team, having barely escape the Black Lodge neighborhood before the ritual disruption caused a massive disaster, floats around in Lake St Clair for a while before Wood Raven finds them and hauls them back to shore, tactfully not mentioning the wreckage of his nice stealth speedboat. He tells them that a spirit dog showed up in front of him and guided him out to their floating wreckage raft, and Otters feels that Dog has perhaps repaid the favor owed to her.
When they get back to shore, Wood Raven helps Otters do some emergency drying out of all the drones and the team links back up with ChewGum and The Detective at the main offensive line/distraction attack position. TD had been helping with tactics and coordination. Creep also eventually shows up, a bit too late to assist, reporting that the spirits that attacked and chased him, trying to steal his leg, suddenly vanished.
Not getting any response on the radio, they decide to check up on the Belle Isle crew, and head that way, while Creep works on cracking the safe that Dig stole. Finding some explosives inside, he gets PPJ to use his spectral hand to disable them, and gets in. Creep is also a little weirded out, as is TD, by PPJ’s whole deal and backstory, especially given the revelation of there having been another PPJ in Black Lodge custody. At their insistence, though TD is much gentler about it, PPJ cuts himself and to his great relief, bleeds red.
Inside the safe are a number of Tarot cards and a sheaf of papers. The Tarot cards included 2 that the team hasn’t seen before related to the Seelie Court, one that was stolen from Smoach and Myrryr’s office, and one that was a component of the Crystal Bloodblade, which the BL has some historic interest in. There is also a mysterious 5th card, which seems to be from an entirely different Tarot. Creep stashes them for now, and finds that the mystery 5th card has some kind of repellent function with the standard 6th World Tarot cards, but manages to jam them all in his leg.
Looking at the sheaf of papers, they find it encoded using a language none of them are familiar with, though CG recognizes the use of ideograms, and PPJ spots some linguistic similarities to Sperethiel. TD is able to recognize some cryptographic qualities, and thinks it likely is using an ancient/obscure language as a cipher, rather than fully being written in alternate syntax etc.
PPJ checks the journal that he grabbed off Freddy Bales’ dad, who seems to have used the nom de guerre “Karyos”. The journal is also encoded, but has two other interesting features. One, there is one half of a key to the cipher in it. 2, it seems to have been magically linked to one or more other books, like a written version of Mindlink, but the spell seems to have recently collapsed.
Creep remembers that Penelope Beans was also in the BL sanctum basement, and suggests they check on her shop in Hamtramck after checking out Belle Isle. They arrive at the Isle to find it truly devastated. It seems the BL attackers were eventually fought off (likely unable to summon reinforcements given the team’s assault on Casa Aurelius), but at great cost. Most of the buildings are damaged or levelled, the Cleansing ritual has stopped, and a major portion of the populace has been killed or injured.
After using magic, drones, leadership, flexibility and strength to dig through the rubble, they manage to help pull out Rose and D2 (aka Daiyana Dimeeko) the sole survivors of the Belle Isle/Windsor crew. Rose seems embittered by her continual losses and a bit in shock. D2 is more pragmatic and explains that the BL was close to overrunning them so she was forced to set off some defensive demo charges she had placed around to protect the ritualists as long as she could.
She tells the team that the BL used some kind of horrifying new weapon that the survivors here are referring to as “ghost bombs”- some kind of alchemical container in which they had trapped dark spirits, including some of the ones that came through the rifts, during their various rituals and experiments. When opened or broken, the spirits madly attack anyone in their vicinity, which caused mass casualties and distress. The ritualists were also attacked in astral space by some massive conjured spirits, who luckily vanished right around the time the BL ritual went sideways in Casa Aurelius, so the team did still manage to help here, indirectly.
They eventually find a badly wounded Jaga recuperating inside a large congregation of plant life, and leave her to heal (with some guards), but Walker in Ways and most of the other ritualists have been slain. Dig offers to return to help more soon. Otters finds Howell killed, alongside his 2 cyber-tigers, and while talking to survivors TD and CG hear of a Vatican Sacred Detective who came to their aid, as well as one of the 36 Hidden Righteous Ones who awakened during the fight and managed to keep many civilians safe from the dark spirits, but unfortunately both of them were slain as well.
CG coordinates with The People of the Book to get their mobile crematorium and burial preparation team down here to help out, and Creep and Dig manage to make everyone uncomfortable by suggesting they call the ghouls to eat other remains, before TD smooths things over by clarifying that the ghouls will of course only eat BL remains, which everyone seems ok with. The team hauls the BL bodies off to one side and calls the ghouls. Then they head to Hamtramck.
Good thing they invested so heavily in the district! Local volunteer firefighters managed to quickly extinguish the massive blaze that broke in Penelope Beans’ shop and keep it from spreading. Investigating the burnt remains, they find evidence of alchemical arson, seemingly the same powerful fire magic that destroyed Smoach and Myrryr’s office. They find burnt reagents, tools, books and supplies, and a slagged anthrodrone covered in the melted remains of it’s realistic features “skin”.
Dig uses the catalog spell to search for anything else unusual, and finds a shovel head (the handle burnt) away from the other tools, as well as one loose floor tile. PPJ pries it up and digs a bit til he finds a book- it’s still warm from the extreme heat of the fire but this looks promising. TD goes to open it, carefully not exposing their skin, and barely avoids getting jabbed with a spring-loaded neuro-toxin needle. Looking carefully inside their seem to be no further traps, and this looks to be the other half of the cipher.
A number of pages were torn out and are missing, so there’s no further info than that, but the team can tell this was also part of the linked books spell that Karyos’ was also bound to. This one is also inert. TD hauls their open air bathtub up to the roof of the Tin Can since the team abandoned their safehouse out back, and they all head back to the Plat Zone to rest and work on cracking the code.
With TD and Creep’s skills and focus, and both halves of the key, they manage to make sense of the documents. It seems that the BL had initially conceptualized their Horror-summoning and binding plan based on some research done by something called “Project PILLAR”, run by the Ordo Maximus. The BL has apparently heavily infiltrated the OM and has good sources there, but seems concerned that the legendary vampire hunter Martin deVries may be onto Project PILLAR, so the OM set a trap for him, after being tipped off by the BL.
The BL doesn’t know how this went, as they heard no more from their spy in the OM, and then have lost comms due to the Blackout. The sheaf of papers also includes a lot of technical info about their rituals and plans, the ghost bombs, etc. The journal also proves interesting- it seems that everyone in the BL is constantly scheming. Karyos was worried that a subordinate wad trying to supplant him (the woman who lead the ritual where CG almost got sacrificed and Dog got split up), while also trying to supplant his own superior (Penelope Beans).
He complains that Beans has such a strong position due to her successful longterm infiltration of the IOND, which greatly upsets PPJ. He knew the Boston chapter of the IOND was compromised, but this implies a much larger corruption in his organization. Karyos knows that he needs to pull off something big to compete with Beans, so he made a deal with the Null Sect, through the rogue Brackhaus that the team recently exposed, to assist them with something called “Project IXION”. He apparently knew the Blackouts were coming, to some extent, and was able to prep for them.
He had already spent years building up the local BL presence, recruiting many to move to Detroit from DeeCee when the BL lost their power base there, feeling that ARES would be good protection against UCAS Shedim counterstrikes. He ramped this up even further in prep for the Blackouts, and then triggered his plan in the background while everyone else was distracted by bugs and no power. He also hints at a larger goal beyond his own/the BL’s power- humans need to be able to protect themselves properly against “deep/distant metaplanar threats” and this is how he sees to do that.
With all this disturbing paydata to mull over (and decide who to sell to), the team finally rests. The next day, they get a call from Ringmaster to come meet him and some other Plat Zone Irregulars in a large open lot not too far away. He warns them not to freak out as a portal opens and they hear a distant screaming. As a massive flaming buffalo head at the front of a biomechanical train emerges, they see another rift tear open and the train start entering that as it exits the other. It slows a bit as it moves until once “car” segment irises open and two figures inside frantically toss out a bunch of hardcases before leaping free themselves.
One of them semi-frantically asks if anyone has anything they can pay the train with to make sure it departs peacefully, and Creep offers up the Coin of Woe from his leg, since Cholula is no longer there to protest. The woman accepts it, and tosses it to another flaming buffalo head at the rear of the train as it prepares to scream- it instead chomps down on the Coin, and leaves peacefully, the rifts closing behind it one after the other. And thus also departs whatever remains of Iva Linus Hathaway.
The women uncloaks herself and reveals that she is Dr. Dyna Mite, the metaplanar travel researcher, who recognizes Creep, Dig, and CG. She seems a little horrified that they had a Coin of Woe, but explains it was actually perfect currency, as those trains consume souls to run- efficient travel, but costly and dangerous. She tells them a little more about other “ghost trains” which tend to run more regionally or along their old tracks, rather than free-roaming “Iron Buffalo”.
They chat a bit and catch up, and she explains that she had to leave Seattle, where they last saw her, saying that the Ordo Maximus was after her- she doesn’t know why exactly, all she was able to determine was that it had to do with something called “Project AVERNUS”. The team makes note. She also gives them the brief news update from outside- Free St Louis is official to go along with Seattle, the Sioux Nation has renamed themselves Oceti Sakowin after retaking a bunch of their ancestral lands, and they seems to be doing well in their new turf so far as they go the power back on quickly. Blackouts continue throughout the UCAS, with varying degrees of severity, but it seems like the Grid Pirates/Blackout Boyz haven’t been nearly as active anywhere outside of Detroit, though present in a number of cities.
As the other figure from the train uncloaks herself, she and Ringmaster engage in a handshake-to-hug, and the team recognizes Arleesh’s voice, Kendra de Santos. They all head back to the SCIF at the Plat Zone, and get into it. De Santos provides them with a bit more news from outside, and suggests that the BL ritual implosion that killed thousands of civilians in Casa Aurelius will be excellent PR to recruit for the Rogue Lodge, and then briefs the team on that a bit as well.
Ringmaster provides PPJ with some messages- Darien Black summons him to Denver, promising some information about his disappearance but not acting nearly as fatherly as PPJ always hopes, Jonny Silver survived the Wild Hunt and celebrated with a 100 hour set on a riverboat down to Free STL, and is now back in Denver running Perinawyr’s label and club, since P has been banned from Denver by Ghostwalker, and Prot0 is also apparently back in Denver, but in a secretive “international terrorist on the run” way. Guy is in the wind, presumably with Berto, and de Santos explains that Aylin now works, with her mother, for Grey Cell, and has been especially useful on anti-Fear the Dark and Ordo Maximus ops, being infected herself.
With this news confirming that PPJ will be headed to Denver alongside most of the team, de Santos suggests that it would also be a great town to recruit for the Rogue Lodge in, since they can’t operate as “openly” as usual given GW’s autocratic control. de Santos and Ringmaster next explains that as well as valuable medicines, reagents and the like that they brought on the train, they brought some more of the artifacts that the ASPS made in Chicago to establish a Spirit of the City there, and plan to do the same process here.
They hint that they aim to establish Detroit as a longterm R&D and training base for Grey Cell, as well as wanting it to stay free in general, which the team gets on board with. They say they will also need ritualists to stabilize and sustain the SOTC, esp as it first gets going, and Dig immediately volunteers to remain, distressing Creep, who is still reeling from Cholula’s loss, while also becoming closer and closer to cyberpsychosis himself. They decide to table it for now and talk about the job at hand.
Ringmaster provides them with a list of 7 likely candidates, though he says they are free to seek out more, and suggests they check them all out, and use their influence around town to bring different factions on board to help establish one as the new SOTC. With the Belle Isle cleansing ritual down, and the BL having fucked up local mana space significantly, this project should take some priority.
The team heads out to start their investigation, starting up near Hamtrack along 8 Mile at the Magic Bag theater. There, they interact with some Juggalos, who seem appreciative of the team’s efforts to get food and other supplies to town and distro’ed around, and introduce them to their spirit leader, Hatchetman. Dig stays in the van, refusing to say a single “woop woop”, even though Dog has some affinity for the callouts to “family”. The rest of the team spends a few hours there, and feels a beneficial sense of chaos, at least for the in group. The spirit seems to be engaged in voluntary karmic pacts with it’s followers, and seems focused on keeping them safe and well but also very willing to turn on outsiders.
They aren’t totally sold but other than Dig are not inherently opposed. Next they head to the Motown Museum in Downtown, and party with a mix of spirits and metahumans, who are rotating through various instruments, keeping a dance party going. The Museum seems impressively intact, and TD sees that some of The Keepers seem to use this as a safe downtown spot to sleep. They chat with Smokey, who seems to be “in charge”, and who explains that music is necessary for rebuilding, and people need to cut loose after all the trauma. They dance a bit, and Smokey even gets an earworm stuck in Dig’s mind, after he claims to never have cared about music.
Smokey seems to recognize the balance of business and art needed to make it work, so a strong contender currently. They head for the next one, at an old Ford plant turned museum in Dearborn. They find a bunch of gaunt but muscular workers laboring away to repair the surrounding area, under the guidance of an imperious spirit named “Henry”. They question him a bit, and he seems to have strong feeling about his paternalistic role towards his workers, and his vision for a city rebuilt for the “right” kind of people. Dig is totally onboard but most of the rest of the team is suspicious, especially given Ford’s political history.
They next head up to the Blight, to track down a spirit called simply “Blight”. They find some toxie cultists who call themselves the Scions of the Blight, hanging around the area known as the Rusted Heart. They take the team to a toxic pool, which bubbles and spews forth strange, rapidly growing and decaying vines and plant life, rapidly disassembling nearby structures. The spirit talks through it’s acolytes and calls for an end to Anthropocene- metahuman supremacy must be abolished, cities destroyed, and the world rewilded, through mutation, just another word for rapid change.
CG and Dig are entranced and want to sign on. They spend some team helping tear down some nearby infrastructure, while Dog feels a bit ambivalent and many of the others more so, though also participating for now. They head out but Dig is really onboard. They rest up after a long day before hitting up the remaining 3. The next day they start off with “Hatcher”, at the old Solidarity House in the Docklands. They find a mixed group of dock workers, downtown working class survivors, and Betas/Deso Angels hanging out, shooting the shit, drinking and organizing.
Behind the bar, Hatcher pours the team some drinks. Dig drinks a bunch extra when PPJ, Creep and Otters all refuse (2 for sobriety, 1 for no mouth). Hatcher seems pleased at Dig’s ability to toss them back but less impressed by his admitted lack of physical prowess. They chat for a while, and Hatcher comes across well- recognizing the need for employment and the ability to survive/make a living for the people of Detroit, but wanting to protect all the little people from corpo degradation. PPJ also picks up a buggy vibe in general, and realizes Hatcher may have multiple meanings.
Inquiring about bugs, Hatcher explains she’s against queens the same way she’s against bosses- she’s for collective organizing and power. They hang for a while and have a good time, before heading for the shores of Lake St. Claire, where they encounter Three Fires- 3 spirits who have sat themselves around a campfire, exchanging stories and gossip as a means of doing business, all seemingly having arrived via spectral canoes. These seem to represent the Council of 3 Fires, the Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi people whose ancestral homelands encompass the whole metro area.
They have a long and fruitful conversation, in which the spirits tell the team that especially with the news from out West, it is only a matter of time until all their lands are returned to them, but that the days of mass expulsions are over- assuming the UCAS doesn’t force their hands again. This seems to be more the long game vision though, and a Free Detroit seems reasonable in the meantime- always fun to stick it to DeeCee, plus the people here deserve better than either the Feds or ARES. The team chats and hangs for a while before leaving, also feeling these spirits are strong contenders.
Lastly, they track down Singing Sam, who seems to be glitching between classic Mafia attire and a more modern Triad look. They chat with him for a while and Dig manages to magically chill him out enough that he accepts the shift in local organized crime, taking on a Triad look fulltime. Dig also gets Smokey’s song stuck in Singing Sam’s head, who walks off whistling it with a purpose, seemingly reinvigorated. With all the info in, the team puts together a ranked choice ballot and votes. Hatcher wins out eventually, though the range of opinions was quite wide.
With this decided, they call on all the factional rep and contacts around town, distributing the ASPS artifacts around to everyone they can get onboard, and de Santos leads a ritual at the Plat Zone, setting up Hatcher as the SOTC. Hatcher’s first order of business is setting up a spirit council with the other contenders, all of whom accept except Henry, who prefers to go it along on executing his vision. The team hopes by not giving him more power, they staved off a “paper clip problem” situation, and are encouraged by Hatcher’s action, though Creep is disappointed not to have returned the control of the city directly to it’s Native people.
With that done, Brunwyn gets in touch and tells them that with Otters’ mapping data and the intel they managed to salvage from the rogue Brackhaus that the team revealed, she has managed to track down the “center” of the zap zone and presumably the source of the Blackouts- the old main power station from the wired grid on Zug Island, in the Detroit river. She tells the team it’s time to do some recon and plan their assault- they need to get the power back on.
The other big news is that with the SOTC chosen and initially established, the sky finally returns to Earth normal and the leylines around town start to normalize. Shortly after this occurs, SK troops who had held off a nearby Quebecois invasion attempt, enter Windsor in force and make short work of the “True Canadian” separatists there, focusing on lightning strikes and quick surrender once SK gains control of the airport. This puts them on a more even footing with Wuxing locally, given the heavy Triad influx, leaving AZT in the weak position of the corporate triad in town at the moment.