The team awakens to some happy news: Free Seattle has passed! So Stuck won’t kill them, and Annie is satisfied with their work. Tabasco sends Stuck some celebratory cupcakes and Stuck sends back a slightly creepy thank you note hinting that he knows that Carol is alive. But otherwise all seems well. In response to this, there’s a bunch of corporate maneuvering: Shiawase is officially approved to take over the ACHE, leaving Renraku scrambling to hold onto various other contracts around town, as they see this as a threat. They delete Takuto Nakagawa’s digital persona backup as punishment, since he failed his assignment. Karen King ends up in charge of the local ARES branch, as ARES enacts a major force pullback to Detroit from all around the UCAS. She attempts to begin pragmatically securing maintenance contracts on all the gear the UCAS military may leave behind if Seattle does indeed break free. Horizon and the PPG both benefit from local contracts, and much is made of the safe and exciting “new Matrix” that DelaMar will be launching soon.
It seem that between ARES causing trouble and Free Seattle, plus with DeeCee, Boston, and Chicago all still under the construction, the UCAS is a bit on the ropes and unsure which crisis to focus on. The team also hears of various other factions moving into/out of/around Seattle to take advantage. Telestrian gets some good contracts, and tightens their ties, a bunch of GreenWar operatives start massing around town, and the Sea Dragon dumps a literal ton of gold on the deck of Chuck Beale’s boat after summoning him to a meeting in the Sound, which almost swamps his small craft, and offers her Matronage to the Free City, seemingly deciding it is a done deal. Various corps and nations also publicly signal their backing, and Gov. Potter quickly dispatches “unofficial” Ambassadors to these and other locales, looking to leverage the momentum, and the UCAS’ distraction.
The team also hears that a lot of vets and mercs, especially old-timers and pro’s, have been leaving town, which makes some sense with the referendum done, but also not a lot of sense with all sorts of new contracts likely available in the chaos. They do some digging and find that a Jackpointer named “Rifleman” has been quietly recruiting trusted mercs to come to his/Bravo Company’s training facility in NW Ohio. Tabasco reaches out, but Rifleman says that due to the team’s corporate ties he can’t use them at the moment. The team assumes this means that these mercs are planning something against ARES or in Detroit, as their staging area is fairly nearby, and just across the Michigan border. They do a little research, and find out that Bravo Company has long been an enemy of the Headhunters (the Tan Robes’ mercs), and have actually worked with some past teammates, so they decide to keep this all to themselves for now.
Tabasco, having had his mother’s remains cremated, heads to the Ft. Lewis Zoo with Creep and tries to scatter her ashes in the tiger cage, as this is the last happy place he remembers going with her. However, zoo staff quickly intercepts him, and convinces him to pay a large amount of money for a memorial plaque on a bench nearby instead. He still has about half the ashes which he holds onto for now, but he spots some zoo staff vacuuming up the ashes he already scattered, as they seem worried about tigers consuming it and developing a taste for burnt human (or maybe just cause of the chemicals). They rejoin the rest of the team, and decide they should probably rescue Maggie. Creature tells them xe will be laying low for the moment at Chew Gum’s safehouse to get some protection from magical tracking, since KE is on xyr trail.
As the team has no leads, and no hackers, Dig offers to stay behind on the next job and do a tracking ritual to locate Maggie (or his last known location). The Coven of the Crypt delivers some ritual samples collected from his safehouse. The team also decides to hire Tauren to do some matrix digging and try to figure out where Maggie was grabbed and by whom. When they tell him they suspect Black Lodge involvement, he raises his fees to cover a mage summoning a spirit to watch his back while he hacks. With that out of their hands for a while until those 2 get results, the team decides to finally tackle Shan and Shun’s job in the Underground, which will also give them a chance to return the library book.
They meet up with Shan and Shun at the Big Rhino, and agree on payment before they’ll provide many details. What they need the team to do is head into the Underground, travel a ways into the Depths, and use the provided mule drone with a thermal lance to cut through a specific section of wall. Inside they will find an item (which they will not provide more info on) that the team will need to grab and carefully place in a large padded case (also provided). They will then transport the case to a warehouse at the Tacoma docks and hand it over and get paid. They agree, and all decide they don’t really want or need to know what the item is anyway.
CG and Creep head into the Ork Undergroud from Puyallup with their gear and weapons, and get to a meeting spot with no trouble, having hired a Sprawl Scouts guide and tipped well. Carol and Tabasco head in from the Big Rhino and retrieve the drone, case, and a hand drawn map from a stallkeeper at the far edge of the Tourist Highway market. They link up with the other 2 at the very edge of where the matrix signal reaches, all disguised as Evo construction workers in case they need an alibi. With some impressive navigation from Carol, they follow the loosely accurate map into the Depths.
After a while of descending shafts and squeezing through narrow tunnels, they encounter some Rutra smugglers, but Carol and Tabasco greet them in Or’zet which seems to satisfy them, and then they recognize CG, though they are disappointed not to meet his weird “dog” (since Dig stayed behind). The Rutra warn the team about a vampire trap that they think might be a Fear the Dark cell, and Carol manages to navigate them around it, reaching their destination. They find a dry stone archway in the wall, which looks quite ancient, and the air from inside it is considerably warmer and more humid than the cold, fetid air they’ve been travelling through, though it remains pitch black.
They head inside, and find themselves in a cavern whose height they are unable to determine, but they see the spot they are supposed to cut through across it. They head over, and find an ancient carving, which they do their best to document for Dig to examine later. It depicts some humanoid figures worshiping some sort of serpent. There are also two statues on either side, although on further examination, they don’t seem to be statues at all- they look to be vampires who have been turned to stone! As soon as Creep makes this realization, they come under attack from above, with many tentacles lashing out to attack CG and his spirits.
One of his spirits is instantly disapparated, and CG feels a disturbing paralytic effect creeping into his core but manages to shake it off. The team returns fire and spreads out, with Tabasco lighting one of the tentacle creatures on fire, helping with the illumination. There seem to be 3 of them, and the get in a pretty gnarly fight, though the creatures don’t seem to understand how guns work at first, to their detriment. The team eventually disposes of all 3, which curl up on themselves and turn to stone, though CG and Creep manage to collect a small core sample of one. They were strange blobs with a a large multi-level rotating maw filled with teeth that look designed to crush rock. None of the team have any idea what they are, so they document the best they can, and start the drone cutting through the wall.
The drone uses up it’s full battery doing so, but succeeds just as it powers down, and a smoking oval of the wall drops out and shatters (the ancient carving destroyed), and even warmer, more humid air rushes out. The team finds themselves stepping into a thoroughly modern vault, seemingly intentionally kept humid, and well lit with what look like grow lights. There are heaps of wealth and treasure stacked and piled along the walls, and a heavy security door on the far side from where they cut their way in. But the object they came for is obviously the large, dark egg sitting atop a pedestal in the center of the chamber, which Tabasco licks and distressingly confirms, is a dragon egg.
The team, now in a bit of a panic, carefully puts the egg in the provided case, and Creep sprays C-Squared all over the vault to eliminate bio-signs as best he can. Tabasco blows up the drone with an explosive arrow, and starts as much else as he can on fire in the cavern with white phosphorous. They flee as fast as they can, with MAMA assisting Carol in retracing their steps. They mange to avoid complications, and check that the case blocks assensing- it seems lined with bio-fiber, so working reasonably well, though the signature inside is powerful. They head back to the surface in Downtown, and rent a boat, taking the Sound down to Tacoma and meeting Shan and Shun on their warehouse dock. The two changelings don’t appear to be in a panic about the nature of the item, and Carol fails to renegotiate.
However, they say that they heard the team was planning to leave town soon, and they will happily help them relocate if they are so concerned. The team thinks this might be a good plan. They head back to Puyallup but then think better of it, and dismantle CG’s magical lodge to leave less of a trace, and leave Creature guarding Dig while he keeps seeking Maggie. They call up Eletheria, and get approval to sleep out on Blake Island tonight under the Sea Dragon’s protection, and find some reasonably comfortable Quonset huts set up for them to use. Menehune are still exploring the sea caves and Merrow and some free spirits are setting up their little areas, so it seems like the island is coming well along.
Carol and CG quickly duck back into the Underground and head to the Watering Hole, following ThinkTank’s instructions, and make connection with Ned Reardon, a Lorekeeper from the Vault of Lore. He takes them to the VoL via some secret tunnels, and shows them TT’s memorial bench (troll-sized). He accepts the book, and says that Mr. Bookbinder has been in touch from the Astral Library at Alexandria to set up a linked depository at the VoL. They seem to have been flourishing under the Sea Dragon’s patronage and Ned says they’ve been helping with the search for a lost city. He offers them both one opportunity to research in the VoL in thanks for completing TT’s task, so they both do some digging into topics of personal interest, and then head back to Blake Island.
The next morning, they get a few important pieces of news.First off, Tauren confirms that a very pro team seems to have grabbed Maggie in transit to his safehouse from the Uni, and that they look like unmarked Centurion Security. Which lines up well with Dig’s info: Maggie’s last astral trace is at the entrance to Jonathan Blake’s driveway in Bellevue. So they have an idea of where he might be at least, but it is a hard target…. Second, Kalanyr and Urubia, the two Redmond dragons, apparently went on a little bit of a rampage last night, and have promised to compensate those injured/those who lost property. Carol, worried, tries to check the safehouse feeds and finds nothing. He scans back to the last thing the Hunter-Killer drone saw, and it looks suspiciously like the shadow of a dragon. So his jet ski likely also got fried.
Kit calls them and asks what happened to the safehouse, and after they hint that they don’t really want to know, take over rent on the Puyallup safehouse at Squick’s Vaults and publicly cuts ties with the team- they say that they’ve gotten too dangerous to what Kit is trying to do with the Shadow Chapters and that Kit can’t afford the distraction amidst some complex negotiations. Kit says it was a good run but it’s time they fully parted ways, and wishes them well. Luckily, Creature and Dig were in Puyallup, and the team all had their mission gear on them and the van with them, so no major losses, other than the safehouse itself- onto Finn’s Safehouse #5 it seems.
Third, and most shocking: Johnny Spinrad was assassinated! The killer took a seemingly impossible blind shot through a solid wall, hitting and killing Spinrad instantly. The team digs in a bit, and finds out that Spinrad was closing on an acquisition of a local high end cyber boutique- on brand for his company. This was why he was in town, and showing them the good times with Aradia.The assassin was killed trying to escape, but shapeshifted and KE/Spinrad security haven’t been able to get an ID yet (according to the available info). However, the team recognizes the shapeshift as one of the Tarot images that ThinkTank had sold to a group of assassins some time ago. The sniper wasn’t magical, so Carol thinks they must have had someone on the inside to align their shot and make sure Spinrad was in the right spot.
They call up Aradia, who says she’s on the run, headed out of town: apparently security kicked her off of Spinrad luxury island almost immediately after his death, and she is still worried about the Black Lodge coming after her, especially with both safehouses gone. She says Spinrad seemed unhappy with his home life and was a known philanderer, but she didn’t see him get up to anything unusual while she was around him. She wishes the team luck and goes dark. They call up Miranda King, and Carole reveals that he is still alive, which she seems pleased by. After sharing some info and feeling each other out, they find that Spinrad “let King go” with a sizeable severance package two days before his death, she thinks he suspected something was up but she doubts he thought it would be lethal- he likely just wanted someone on his side outside the official realm of the corp. She’s putting together a team to look into his death from her new base in Bellevue.
The team does a bit more research, and call in a favor with Remo to get some hacking help. Tauren has gone into hiding also, as he is worried the Black Lodge may be chasing him after his previous investigation for the team. Remo gets them info on all the attendees of the meeting at which Spinrad died, and also some other building info. Conferring with King again, they agree to share info in equally, and King also hints at big paydays for solving the mystery. As best they can tell, a Spinrad “construction” team set up the meeting room, but seems to have also weakened the wall that was shot through, and placed a magical item to weaken the present wards. The corp that Spinrad was trying to acquire is really into Feng Shui and harmonic design, so the meeting room was very specifically laid out, so Spinrad’s position would have been known to anyone who knew the layout. And the lawyer present for Spinrad was a longtime consigliere of his wife, Gabrielle al’Thani’s family, and had apparently brought along a special pen, a gift from al’Thani, for Spinrad to use in the signing. There was also a Telestrian strawberry wine present, which may have some connection to the Tarot/Hansu prophecies.
As she inherited the bulk of the shares (many of the rest going to Spinrad’s daughter from a previous marriage), al’Thani seems like the likeliest perpetrator, but the team has no proof, which King would need to make any kind of move. She says she will keep digging, and asks the team to share any further info they find- this definitely all feels like a setup. Spinrad was lured into a false sense of security by a warded room with no windows, and left all his security outside, so this is feeling like a very elaborate, pro, and long-in-the-making plot. The assassin also seems to have undergone significant brain programming/modification. They also hear that a kidnapping attempt against Spinrad’s daughter was narrowly foiled by undercover security at her Swiss Alps boarding school- someone had foreknowledge of his death and was after the heir!
To add to the chaos a bit more, it seems Spinrad was acting as an informal bank and launderer for the international Mob, and with his death his widow seems to have disavowed any knowledge of the scheme, so a lot of mobsters are suddenly scrambling to withdraw any funds they can from casinos and other fronts in a panic. This, on top of the bug infiltration of the N’Drangheta, ARES’ dwindling support as they turn their focus to Detroit, and the mob’s losses in the recent Syndicate War have left the Seattle mafia significantly weakened, and the other syndicates in town are definitely taking advantage.
Carol checks in with Vogel to see if Spinrad’s death will change their plans at all, and Vogel says that between that and Free Seattle passing, it has likely only accelerated the timeline, so Carol should get his team to Detroit asap. Vogel will put him in touch with an on-the-ground operator who can pass along messages, as it will be dangerous and difficult to communicate directly once inside ARES’ hometown. But Vogel says he has some important work for Carol to tackle, starting with some extractions of some essential personnel he wants to make sure survive what is to come…. Which is perfect since the team needs an exit plan from Seattle, pronto. The plan to check out the entropy circles this evening, try to figure out how to help Maggie, and then bail!