and introducing: Sanquals Love
Toff takes off from the rest of the team after the stadium run, feeling it is time to follow his true calling in Boston, and seek out the Children of the Dragon up in Salem. From A.J., he has the contact info for a local fixer named Aseela, and knows that the local Dragon church head is a woman named Helva Brightwing, so he feels he has the needed legwork done, and heads north. He considers a brief stop by MIT&T, but the police cordon convinces him otherwise.
Mama’s Boys get him to the Charles river, and a travel pass from Mayor Meghan Rylan gets him past various official security checkpoints, but he mostly tries to stay out of sight (fearing the various wandering gangs, infected, and corrupt officials who have come to prominence in the QZ). Hearing that the 128 runs all the way up, but is thought to be dangerous, due to survivalists, go-gangs, corp experiments on the loose (the Wilds are a favorite dumping ground), and roaming head cases, Toff decides to stick to the Wilds: wilderness interspersed with semi-fortified suburbs & dotted with survivalist communities, go-gangs, & secret corp facilities.
He summons a guidance spirit to approve his plan, and it does (cryptically) tell him that so long as he stays off of, but near to the road, and uses his powers to fly and remain invisible, he should reach his destination. The spirit appears in the guise of an old-timey Red Sox player and is scratching notes in a small gambling book while prophesizing, but doesn’t seem to bear Toff any ill will for his role in blowing up the stadium. Toff decides to scout some of the Boston Enclaves that are on his way, in order to update AJ’s file. He also continues mapping the Dragon Leyline, which conveniently seems like a good beacon for his flight path: he obviously is making the right choice.
The first day goes fine, but as night falls Toff starts getting the feeling that something is stalking him. He’s been focussed on studying/following the leyline, which seems to wend its way through the woods, roughly parallel to the highway but a ways set back. The area around it seems to be abundantly overgrown, even for this wild area, and many of the plants don’t look local (and some even have an astral signature). Sadly he doesn’t know much about flora, but he documents what he can.
After coming to an awareness of his potentially perilous situation, he moves a bit higher off the ground and finds a tree to get some rough rest in for short spell, and try to spot his pursuer (if any). He hears some occasional soft noises of movement in the brush below, and pick up some non-metahuman auras with notable essence loss, but are unable to spot them. However, his spellcraft is sufficient to save him from them as well it seems, as after a restless night with little sleep, the sun rises to find him unmolested by man or beast.
Scouting settlements along the way, he updates the Enclaves file as follows:
Lynn seems overrun by ragers and shamblers (as speculated), though there are some “norms” hanging about (possibly still head cases, given that they seem to be mingling just fine)
Lynn Wilds definitely something going on here, aspected astral space, but Toff can’t tell exactly what. He feels a bit like he is about to be someone/something’s prey while nearby though.
Nahant has a weird vibe, possibly related to the secret lab AJ mentioned? Reminds Toff a bit of the astral feel of the CZ in Chicago….
Malden is totally closed off- he gets a weird vibe- doesn’t see much external movement, but there are a good amount of drones and some large new contructions rising inside the town’s newly fortified walls. Looks a bit more fortress-y than antenna-y, but definitely seems like there are at least some head cases
Swampscott feels very Aztlan/ Aztechnology, just south of Salem (confirms AJ’s suspicions in his journal)
He plans to check on Peabody once he is established in Salem, following up on Smedley Pembrenton III‘s request to investigate a “cure” being offered there. He decides to head around Salem to the west, as he had heard that the Church is established in the North, and forces potentially hostile to them in the South. He gets around city with no problem, there’s a heavy Aztechnology presence in the vicinity but he manages to avoid their patrols. Salem itself seems fairly balkanized, with a alot of astral watchers and spirit patrols, as well as some heavy mojo in the air/various spell barriers around the town. Mostly Wiccan, but also some other traditions floating around the various camps.
Toff can tell that the Dragon Leyline terminates in Salem/seems to originate from there- likely multiple (years?) of rituals were used to build it up, based on it’s strength/presence on the astral, this seems to be the power point that started it, though it has been shaped/guided/powered up elsewhere as well. He can feel a general draconic vibe, especially near the north side of town.
He can’t find much in the way of open structures to rest in, but he does eventually encounter an older human male named Sanquals Love patrolling the outskirts of town. He offers to take Toff into town to meet with the local Dragon Church. Love seems somewhat skeptical of the Church, but Toff gets at least a pro-Damon vibe from him (also makes sense given where he is geographically in town). He gets the feeling Love is mostly annoyed by the divisiveness/drama in general. Also the newest guidance spirit told Toff that “A friendly guide will soon appear, though where your path leads remains unclear.”
They successfully get into town with only a small encounter with an angry spirit on the way. They manage to link up with the Dragon Church, and meet Helva Brightwing, who seems to be the head of operations here. She is welcoming on the surface, but they get a feeling she is holding something back, and perhaps seems a bit suspicious of both runners. Love seems to get a lot of odd looks around town, though no-one is outright rude or anything. Brigthwing offers them housing in the northside of town, which they have taken over, and asks what they hope to do here. She says she is of course always happy for more assistance, as it is a high pressure zone.
A man named Ash, with bright red hair and wearing an immaculate white trench coat, shows them their quarters, and tells them that they ought to rest after the journey. He prods Toff a little bit for stories of the way up, and seems reasonably knowledgable about Church stuff, at least as it relates to dragons, though they don’t get the feeling he is an actual member. Love says he’s seen him around a bit recently, and feels like he is a runner in town for work. Love seems pretty new to the shadows, and suggests that these activities might be why people are acting strangely towards him.
Love introduces Toff to Aseela, the local wiccan fixer. She is conversing with a runner named Astralchild, who is wearing a leather duster over a full leather suit, carrying a large sword, and accompanied by a spirit that he introduces as Druce, who also wields a blade. They take off, on their own business, and Aseela asks what she can do for them. Having heard that Toff knew AJ, Aseela also says there is an elf named Testinchen who wants a word when Toff has a chance.
Talking more with Brightwing the next day, they get the feeling she is trying to feel out their specific loyalties to different factions within the Church- she decides Toff has passed he test, though Love is unable to fully conceal his general disdain for religion. Other than that, she seems wary but glad to have more helpers on hand, though she’s very cold towards Love. She still accepts both his and Toff’s offerings of assistance with healing magic. She seems like a powerful mage, very much following Dragon as a totem. She also seems much more hardline than Toff, as well as a bit paranoid. She respects Toff’s intellectual vigor in combining his various beliefs into a semi-coherent worldview, but heavily encourages him to initiate through the Dragon Church and devote himself to Big D’s will- which is of course why he is here.
With assensing, they get this breakdown on the rest of the people they met: Aseela seems like a classic Wiccan, prob about their power level. Ash seems powerful but is using a masking initiate power, though he is also using it in such a way that one can tell he is using it (which implies that he wants people to know, and also that he is fairly skilled). So they don’t get a good read on his power level. Astralchild and Druce both seem around their power level, and have a similar vibe to Ro, though maybe a stronger affinity (some sort of Druidic Wise Warrior totem). Toff and Love see them practicing some sort of intricate sword-fighting art with each other, also. Testinchen is totally non-magic, and very cybered-up, but seems to have been here a while.
They don’t pick up any signs of CFD infection while scanning around town, and don’t see any headcases. They ask around for more info, but no one is initially very forthcoming- Love knows the town is trying to put some hard losses behind them, having been present for some of the cleanses. Aseela also warns them that Testinchen is very picky as to who he works with, and carefully vets all jobs and Johnsons, as he holds his code very dear. He won’t work with the same team twice, though he will sometimes re-team with individual members who lived up to his ideals. Aseela also seems a bit weird around Love, like doesn’t really address him directly and is somewhat uncomfortable in his presence, though they know each other reasonably well.
Testinchen wants info about AJ from Toff, specifically wether AJ is truly dead. He seems to have a strong bushido code, and they get the feeling AJ pulled a fast one on him on a past run in NYC, which is why Testinchen wound up in Boston when the walls went up. He seems fairly open, and doesn’t try to conceal any of this from you- he seems like he mostly wanted an apology. When Toff tells him AJ is dead (along with most or all of his team), he seems a bit distraught, and says that he must seek the people who did this, as they have taken away the chance to repair the stain to his honor. Toff eventually gives him the details that he has, in exchange for a promise to share anything that Testinchen uncovers, as he seems honorable enough. Testinchen departs to seek his vengeance.
While sharing tales with Ash, they discover that he has the useful skill of getting them to talk more than he is, without seeming like it. They get a strong anti-corp vibe off of him (he seems to especially dislike NeoNET and AZT), and he seems to have a lot of knowledge about the shadows, both in Boston and elsewhere. He seems to recognize some of the names Toff mentions of contacts outside the area. You get the feeling he might be specifically trying to avoid corp attention, and he seems a bit worried about the creeping corp presence in Salem, though he keeps his concern well under wraps. He also doesn’t seem to trust them enough yet to give you more info than that. Once again, Ash is a bit cool towards Love, but seems quite friendly to Toff (who is developing a bit of a crush).
Astralchild and Aseela tell Toff and Love that they might have some work for them: apparently a lot of mages/shamans/etc with ally spirits have either been assassinated themselves, or have had their ally spirits killed/disrupted. Due to the astral patrols around the QZ, it is almost (if not actually) impossible to resummon them while stuck inside. Aseela and AC seem worried, and would like them to look into if they can. They can’t pay much in the way of nuyen, but Toff and Love get the feeling it would boost their rep locally, and might be a good tool in stabilizing the situation a bit (depending on who’s responsible- it could also make it worse!). Love feels especially interested in this mission but can’t quite determine why…
Toff also seems a bit distracted, as it seems he is preparing to initiate, though he is having trouble choosing wether to stick with his current mentor (Oracle) or swap to Dragon, given the power center he is in. He generally seems very open to talking about it though, and Love tries to provide some Wiccan wisdom, giving him a history/cultural lesson in the process. Love’s main advice to Toff is that ultimately power will be the one thing that can help him get where he’s going.
Toff is starting to pick up on how everyone treats Love stange-ly, but he hasn’t gotten to the point of blocking him out yet. Love is trying to stick close, as he also doesn’t know what’s going on. Aseela gives them a few names of people around town to ask about the missing/disrupted allies/free spirits. Toff seems really fascinated with/distracted by Ash, and keeps trying to get him talking more. Ash seems to move around alot, and be a bit paranoid, but generally friendly. Some of the COTD members also treat Ash with a certain reverence…
As time goes on, Toff seems to be making a bit of an effort to avoid Love occasionally, and Love gets a feeling Toff’s been asking around about him- Toff has heard some whispers of some sort of large altercation involving Love shortly after this whole mess began. Toff also has developed a bit of a thing for Ash, and is spending time with him whenever possible. Ash seems both weary and wary of the various politics of the Church, though he seems to know a lot about dragons and their dealings/customs. He warns Toff and Love about some AZT fixers named Sandelerro and Chen who have been working in the area, and are maybe on the lookout for him. Toff also recruits Love to help him try to find Knights of the Dragon members in the Church’s ranks, on Brightwing’s behalf.
In these investigations, Love and Toff do manage to find some people amongst the Church’s followers who seem like they might at least be open to the KOD platform, if not actual members themselves. The idea that a mostly-dead dragon was brought back via some technological means (the current rumor about what’s going on), seems too much like KOD belief to not attract some converts. There is also some discontent in the rank-and-file that Brightwing has been keeping the dragon under such close guard- many believe its Big D come back and want to see for themselves and receive His blessing, while others think it is a new miracle (and time for new leadership!).
Digging deeper into the weird behavior towards Love, Toff questions him. Love doesn’t remember the specific incident that occurred, but tells Toff that he lost some time around when this all started, and hasn’t been able to find his elderly parents anywhere, and fears the worst. Toff decides to leave it at that for now.
Looking into the spirit stuff, they pick up some more rumors and hints, which leads them to a few specific people/places where spirits (and sometimes their metahuman allies) were disrupted/killed. Many of the places have the taint of blood magic, and the names Sandelerro and Chen pop up again as possible involved parties… However, some of the sites have a distinctly hermetic feel, very separate from both the blood tradition, and the Wiccan/dragon magic that suffuses the area. Supposedly some well-armed and armored corp military types were seen in the near vicinity of each attack also.
Love calls a powerful beast spirit to help track culprits in the investigation. Most roads point to the attack originating from a school in Swampscott, and from asking around, they know that the 2 fixers AZT named Sandelerro and Chen are based out of there when in town. Local intel also confirms AJ’s journals that the school is a base of ops for AZT forces in the area. The hermetic attacks are a bit harder to track than the blood magic ones, but still stand out on on the local manasphere (being non-draconic/non-Wiccan), and suggest that someone in the NeoNET camp is likely behind them. You know that Zoh Rothberg, the voice of the great dragon Celedyr, has been coordinating NN activities up here. Ro has an in with her, but they don’t. Zoh’s personal guard all seem a bit strange though- very similar auras/astral signatures. Not quite identical, but abnormally close.
They decide to set a trap for some of the spirit hunters, and recruit Atralchild, Druce and Ash to assist. Using Sanquals as bait, they pick a spot near the water in North Salem (it seems like most of the attacks have occurred when people/spirits were isolated/alone/trying to leave). A hit squad shows up: 4 corpsec goons in body armor and a mage. They spring their trap, and everyone is a little horrified at Sanquals’ massive fireball. Ash explodes another guard, and Toff sees a ghostly draconic mask over his face as he casts, suggesting that Ash may be a drake or dragon, which would explain a lot. Astralchild and Druce take out the remaining guard, while Toff and Sanquals tagteam the mage. Toff mind probes him briefly, and confirms their suspicions: it is a coordinated, multi-corp effort to keep any news from Salem getting out to the QZ at large, or from the QZ out to the world. Whatever actually happened in Boston, the corps are trying to keep it secret for now. They let the mage flee, and confirm that he retreats to the main NeoNET base. So 1 less hit squad, at least. They report their findings, and get paid.
This also seems to help a little bit with Love’s mysterious shunning, as Aseela now at least includes him if not addressing him directly. They decide to look into KOD infiltration of the Church further, and find the most hard core individuals have kind of banded together. Some of the newer converts/possible converts are more vocal than they should be about believing that it is time to overthrow Brightwing, even after Toff warns them off. Many of the suspect people seem merely distrustful of BW’s motives: if it is Big D returned, why won’t she show them? And if not, what is she hiding? Toff doesn’t entirely disagree, but won’t promise to help them either. The runners avoid an outright fight, but it seems they believe that Toff’s loyalties are with BW. Also, they tell him that Love is kind of an out of control caster and killed a bunch of people when this all started, but won’t give more details.
Aseela offers another job, on behalf of Damon: find out who’s been trashing his BAD supplies that are growing along the leyline. The team agrees, and heads down to scout it out. They find some damaged areas with assensing, but have to sneak through anti-dragon Wiccans and Humanis turf to get there, and get spotted before reaching their goal. They kill 3 fanatic Humanis goons and scare off the 3 Wiccan mages with non-fatal wounds. Finding a damaged site along the leyline, they investigate, and find a large amount of evidence pointing at Humanis as the likely funder/culprity, with some Wiccan involvement. Having just trashed 1 group in a hard fight, they decide to hire out the rest of the job, and hire some local entry-level runners who are kicking around to take down as many Humanis chapter members as they can. A dwarf street sam named Halfstack leads the team, and they succeed with light casualties. Toff pays them, and says he’ll be in touch if he needs more work done. Damon offers them free entertainment at his clubs while in Boston (within reason), and also gives Toff a commcode to use to reserve use of Damon’s international collection of safe runner crash pads, as well as a list of cities where they are. Toff is thrilled.
They get a little more info about Love’s background- apparently he’s new to the shadows, and was more of an international pro-Wiccan assassin beforehand. His parents were very involved in Salem, however, and were some of the group of seers who had predicted the coming of a fiery dragon, bearing death and destruction. Many thought that this was Jormungand, during Crash 2.0, and many others later thought it was Damon. But it seems it was most likely the current situation: a reanimated dragon, dripping nanotech. His parents, himself, and many others went out to see what was coming and try to stop if before it reached the town proper, and something went wrong. Somehow, Love channelled far too much mana, and although he somehow survived, everyone (and everything) near him was incinerated, including his parents. But it did help limit the spread of CFD in Salem, and gave the Church people time to start their ritual and bring the dragon down. So people have a complicated view of Love: he killed many, but possibly saved more?
They next investigate the “cure” being offered in Peabody, and find that the area around the town is suspiciously empty of life, and surveilled by drones. As they get closer, they see a bunch of ragers and shamblers acting very strangely- they seem to be on patrol. They don’t have any intelligence behind their eyes, but are moving almost like security drones would. They hide out an astrally project ahead to find out what’s up. It looks like a group of Dissonant Technomancers, possibly even some of the same ones from the train station, have set up shop here, with some large servers and some sort of odd machine-god shrine haphazardly set up in a community center. They also have a bunch of crash beds, where more dissonants seem to indeed be rigging the CFD infected, somehow. They spot Love’s astral manifestatiob, and send the rigged infected after them. They sneak away, luckily not getting spotted, as the security turnout looks intense, and make it back to Salem.
Aseela offers to courier that info (and a general update) to Smedley/Ro, in exchange for Toff filling her in as well, and providing some details about some events in Boston. he agrees, and they trade. Aseela says she had heard rumors that people had been making their way to Peabody and not returning, and that a lot of odd tech had headed that way as well. Also, whispers of the named “Deus”, which she hopes aren’t true…. Aseela seems to have largely gotten over Love’s earlier behavior by now, given the good he’s been doing for the community, and he feels a little better knowing what happened, though not everything is explained: apparently his aura changed a bit after the accident, and it still isn’t clear how exactly he survived.
Toff finally returns to BW to try to make peace within the Church. He tells her she needs to bring the disaffected members in or she will have a revolt on her hands. She acknowledges his point, but says that she can’t: she is choosing the lesser of 2 evils. She says she can’t say more unless Toff initiates, but Oracle warns him to continue thinking critically, and he declines. He makes a deal to hand over the names he gathered and vow his silence, in exchange for a full explanation instead. She reluctantly agrees, and brings him to the gutted basement of the large building they’ve taken over. There, he sees a ritual circle with 12 exhausted high-level Church members on IV’s (and 12 more crashed in beds/pallets around the edges in reserve). Inside is the dragon Eliohann writhes and spits, seizuring wildly and totally out of control.
As Toff watches, the barrier holding him in bulges out under the force of his blows, and it seems the Church barely has him contained. BW says it has been like this since they brought him here from the lake, and that this thing, whatever it truly is, cannot be Dunkelzahn returned. Seeing the nanites crawling over it’s scaled hide, Toff is inclined to agree. However, as BW says, all draconic life is precious, and must be protected, especially as this seems to have some sort of sick corp experiment. She beseeches Toff to keep it secret for now, and try to find out what exactly was done to Eliohann’s body to put it in this state- there are moments where something intelligent seems to take over, but then it slips under again, and worse yet, it is not always the same personality that emerges in these moments.
Toff agrees to research further, and BW gives him the rough locations of 3 ritual sites which she says are linked to this abomination’s creation. She fears the corp’s wanted a controllable dragon, a terrifying thought. She says she can help get him back to Boston proper to look into these sites, and provides Toff with a quiet room where he finally initiates to Oracle, making it official. Although she disapproves of his choice, she respects his intellect. Meanwhile, Love has been doing some serious thinking about his recent past and next steps, and although he is feeling less shunned, he still feels leaving Salem might be best, so he decides to turn to the shadows fulltime, accompanying Toff to Boston.