Aylin talks to her dad and hears about some promising leads with healing her mom. He’s headed to the Seelie Court to seek out someone called the Ebon Queen who is rumored to have skills or info relevant to the task, so Aylin says she’ll expect to hear from him on his return, whenever that is. She also contacts the Horrorstalkers and trains some new abilities with them, through a “Free Seattle” messageboard, an issue which seems to be heating up heading into the new year. Aylin decides to join the infiltration team and try to sneak into the next 9 Gates event. The team also signs on for another job with Schmidt/STV to help an extreme sports giant named Thor Thunder infiltrate and BASE jump off of one of The Towers, which the team thinks will be a perfect cover mission for their difficult job for Jackpoint.
The team does some recon and intel gathering and starts laying the groundwork for that gig, and then gets back to the Temple. The recon team gets some quality fake Shiawase uniforms from Sully, and get his Albanian contacts to paint the van to match, after the Duelists mod the van out to the team’s specs. They head up to Inwood through the Bronx to hit as few checkpoints as possible, and manage to clear the sensors with some hacking help. Hotkey finds some local NIMBY messageboards about road maintenance and finds a pothole near the gated community where Sunita Taki’s mansion is located. They manufacture an issue by using an earth spirit to tunnel over and rupture some nearby utility pipes, and then talk their way into the enclave after “fixing” them and hacking to shut down their flow valves at their junction inside. They also do some drone and astral recon between drone and astral sec patrols, and get some details on layout and security.
They do some prelim hacking and surveillance from inside, get a data tap installed, and intimidate the night watchman into making sure that he’ll let them back in to continue their work the next night. Teeth is badly electrocuted and uses this a pretense for the intimidation. They turn everything back on, and Hotkey is impressed by Test’s cool TM abilities, which he is seeing in action for the first time. They start scheming on teamwork hacking tricks they can try. They also notice another hacker creating a script loop to overwrite the guest register for the next night, and assume that must be when the event will be.
The infil team head into the Pit through the Underground, and manage to avoid getting entangled in any local side quests. It seems like there are some ongoing paracritter problems, and like Omnistar has been sending in Shadowriders to start trouble as an excuse for a future crackdown. The district seems realtviely safe but does seems to be gentrifying. They both make contact with different sketchy sorts at the Orchard Street Bazaar, Aylin gets ripped off on some reagent jewelry, and then finds a ghoul who sells blood in exchange for a safe place to use for the bloodbags. She then gets housing (also expensive) through the talismongers, who she tells she wants more stuff tomorrow.
Avocado and Six Cyl make a little bit of asses of themselves, but finally finds someone who seems down to sell their desperation to someone looking for their kind- mages who have lost power and want more. They get put up in a sketchy safehouse and wait for morning, both sleeping surprisingly well on a shared couch. They awake the next morning and embark on a long, strange journey- the dealer they made a deal with brings them a semi-intact subway entrance with a ladder down to it nearby, and they find 2 cloaked figures waiting. Both are wearing masks with some kind of voice changer, and tell them to board the nearby train car. They hop aboard and are surprised to find themselves propelled rapidly along the long-abandoned line, heading North up the island, as best they can tell from the broken and empty stops they pass. The travel seems magical in some way, by 6 Cyl’s assessment.
After a lengthy journey, they emerge at a semi-intact station and are given robes and masks of their own, though dingier and cheaper. They are told to leave their clothes behind in a pile of shoes and rags but are not forced to or searched. They ascend a ladder, reaching a building basement that seems better kept than the station below. They take a rickety, old, but functional private elevator up to the roof, where they have 1 brief moment of matrix access to send a message to their friends before boarding a small chopper. The cloaked figures tell them they have no need of their old friends any longer. The chopper flies them north and a little west, and they land on the river-side lawn of a fancy mansion, finding more robed figures waiting for them.
As 6 of the figures in fancier cloaks encircle them, they find themselves in combat with 2 more figures dressed like themselves. Luckily 6 Cyl had prepared some emergency spells and Avocado is a capable fighter and has some adept trickier, so they emerge victorious, though the figures watching seem suspicious of their teamwork. They are told to rest up for the festivities planned for the evening, and each given a small private chamber to do so. The mansion seems quite fancy but has some faint moldering quality or something that seems just slightly off.
Meanwhile, the recon team has received the message, and heads back up North to follow up on their previous nights’ shenanigans. Test and HK upload a script into the cul-de-sac’s cameras to forward to them and then delete the footage sent, so they can see who comes and goes. They see a steady stream of cars arriving, from small electrics to large limos, none of which leave. They head over to get in place, and insert some water-proofed fly spy’s into the sewer line, sending them up towards the house. They have to create a LOS relay to bypass the jamming on the property, but manage to infiltrate the carriage house, where the various drivers and bodyguards are waiting and carousing. Kinnie gets the drones outdoors to do a more thorough exterior recon.
Teeth checks it out further astrally, and with some investigation determines that the strange statues scattered around the property are likely inhabited by imps, a sort of spiritual cousin to shedim. With this info, the team gets the go ahead for a more active approach from Arleesh, and are told to destroy or capture the imp statues, and report back with more info, They start figuring out how to go in, and arrange to have a skimmer wait nearby for potential water extraction.
Back inside, Avocado and 6 Cyl wake up to find their doors locked, and told to ready themselves for the evening, wearing nothing under their robes. There are various oils and creams to anoint themselves as they see fit. They eventually get an announcement from their socialite host, and head down to the kitchen. Them and the other acolytes eat at a large rough table, while the higher order members eat in a grand dining room. They notice that the servers appear to be moving without their own control, and look quite similar to the people they fought on the lawn earlier. They also notice that it is getting harder and harder to tell who’s who under the robes and masks, perhaps in some magical or drug way. 6 Cyl stacks a hefty portion, being fast, and Avocado tries to command him to pass it over, but fails. There is plenty of food but everyone is gorging themselves on the best bits as fast as they can.
When the feast ends, the host summons them to the ballroom for the orgy. The hallway they travel to get there seems longer than should be possible for the size of the mansion. The engage with various degrees of enthusiasm in the orgy, until with one collective climax everyone it spent at once, and all are told to re-robe, and follow them 2 figures in the fanciest cloaks and masks downstairs. 6 Cyl misplaces his robe, in which he had hidden a knife, and fails to find any good replacement weapons. They descend a surprisingly long rough stone staircase, and emerge into a damp stone hallway, with water running in thin rivulets between the large blocks and flagons. They once again travel further than they estimate they should be able to, and wonder if they are somewhere under the river.
They eventually emerge into a circular domed room, with a large open well or pit in the center. The circle of stones surrounding it imply the room was built around the hole, rather than vice versa. There is one other hall branching off, and 7 other stone gates applied to the walls, but with intact wall behind them- perhaps this is the Temple? 2 cloaked figures come down the others hall, herding the 3 servers from before, and line them up along the edge of the well. After some ritual speak, one of the other novice acolytes quickly gets behind them and boots one in. They fall in silence with a look of terror in their eyes, and quickly pass out of sight, though there is no splash or sound of impact.
Avocado and 6 Cyl, unable to converse or tell which of them is which, both also sacrifice one each of the ragged servers, and shortly after the 3rd one falls, one of the highest order members holds aloft what looks like an Ace Tarot card and intones some more ritual. 6 Cyl tries to figure out how to siphon some of it off for himself. Both are feeling disconnected from their mentor spirits. The stone walls behind one of the faux portal splits open and stabilizes into another dark passage. Most of the cultists seem thrilled, but the 2 highest order members seems vaguely disappointed, as if they had hoped for some different outcome.
They ask for volunteers amongst the novice acolytes, and both Avocado and 6 Cyl go through, Avo signals to 6C that it his him by giving one of his trademark leadership speeches. They pass through a long tunnel which shifts in size, keeping one hand on the wall, and one on each others’ shoulders. After a longish walk, they emerge into an unfamiliar starscape, and find themselves in a strange ruined city. The gate still looms behind them, and they can see hints of other gates, as well as strange twisted statues, plinths where others once stood, and winding alleys and stairs scattered about seemingly at random. They feel if they left the small courtyard they’re in they would soon be lost.
6C guesses they may be in Kadath, a metaplane about which little is known. They see a pulsing star that seems closer than the rest but manage to avoid going closer to investigate. They also notice that some of the statues seem to be moving. They decide they got enough info, and head back. As they emerge back into the Temple, 6C feels a new weight in his sleeve, and finds another Ace Tarot card- a voice tells him this is his reward for asking for power, and now he has to take what else he can. Unable to communicate this to Avo, they head back to their rooms to rest after debriefing the head cultists on what they saw.
Meanwhile, Aylin has also awoken in the Pit, and goes through the same thing at the others, though alone. She kicks the first person into the well, but doesn’t proceed through the passage as she is distracted by noticing that not only does the head cultist have another Ace card, there seems to be a 3rd held by the other head cultist. They rest for the night. The team outside scouts around the house interior via the plumbing using drones on autopilot, and manages to make contact with Aylin eventually, and tell her that there will be a once every 8 hours comm window, due to a hack that Teeth and Test sneak up and install on one of the jammers. Unfortunately, they get spotted sneaking away, and the team has to flee the neighborhood under fire, while broadcasting Shiawase ID’s and claiming the trespassing was an accident.
They head back to the Wash Heights safehouse and wait for contact, and get some rest. Meanwhile, the next day, the team inside is told that today they will begin to study the sacred texts. The acolytes are all brought back to the ballroom, now cleared out, and find a shrouded tome on a pedestal. 3 of them rush forward, and 6 Cyl gets there first- he assenses it but doesn’t open it. Aylin arrives second, and knocks on the book while touching the tarot card in her pocket- she gets a hint that both cult leaders and the person next to her have the other 3 Aces, and hears a voice in her head telling her that the strongest should collect all 4 for a reward. 6 Cyl had the same dream, strangely. The 3rd acolyte opens the book, and is instantly blinded by the indescribable image within. 6C takes a good amount of damage as well, but centers himself, recognizing some part of Lightbringer in the image.
2 cultists lead the blinded acolyte away towards the basement, telling them to quit their mewling as their pain will be over soon. Avocado hangs back from the remaining acolytes while they flip through the book (partially since he can’t read). 1/3rd of the engravings have the horrifying effect, burning and disintegrating 2 more acolytes, while the remaining 6 images seem disturbing but mundane. They seem to lay out some sort of ritual for contacting the devil, which seem to have some commonalities with the Tarot. Aylin decides to confront the head cultists in her own way, and walk up holding out both hands and asking them to give her their cards. For her insolence, she is ordered killed, and cultists surround her to haul her to the well. Howver Avocado noticed that one of the head cultists seemed surprised to hear that the other one had a card, and gets the cultists all riled up about the fact.
The surprised head cultist stabs the other one, and goes through her pocket, finding another Ace. The remaining head calls for Aylin to be instead brought to the library for a conversation. 6C, the only acolyte to survive viewing the whole book, says he also knows of the Tarot, and is summoned as well. They head to a new part of the mansion- a grand staircase in a foyer, and a small library. Meanwhile, Avocado is recruited to help desecrate and dismember the body of the “traitor” head cultist, who turns out to be the socialite Sunita Taki, once unmasked. Avo gets an upgraded mask and robe, and learns the way out to the water where they throw all the pieces. He gets a message out to the team with a brief update.
In the library, Aylin and 6 Cyl make a possibly disastrous decision at the same time to attack the cult head, assuming this must be Aletheia (and wanting the cards). Aylin’s first whip attack almost bounces off her spell shield, which disturbs both of them, but 6 Cyl throws her off with some counterspelling and a massive manaball. However, Aylin is almost slain by her response spell before they kill her, one of the highest force spells they’ve ever encountered. Aylin goes somewhat blood rage and slashes apart the body and room extensively before 6C calms her down. They search the body for the cards, and find both Aces and a 9, though Aylin’s whipping destroyed what seems to be the fading remains of another 9.
As 6 Cyl holds the 4 Aces (having pickpocketed Aylin while she was distracted), he feels them pulling together, and a gateway rips open ahead of them. The voice they’ve both been hearing tells them that only the strongest may enter, and both pull out all the stops, competing to get through- and both step in at the same moment as the rift snaps shut. Avocado, along with the other cultists, comes back in and starts searching for the missing acolytes and leader, and combat ensues after Aletheia is found dead. Avo is choked out by a muscular cultist, but sees his assailant felled by a spell as he loses consciousness.
The team outside heads back to the area ahead of the next 8 hour comms window, expecting a message. When none comes, they fear something is wrong and prepare to go in. They contact Fargus Sol who says he will move some support resources to the area, and also get a boat extraction set up with Nichols, who will bring them to a temp safehouse in NJ to lay low afterwards, if the extraction is hot. Teeth intimidates the cul de sac guard to let them in again, and Test and Hotkey fry the guard in matrix to make sure he doesn’t cause trouble. They then reformat the community security system to make response times slower. They send the van off on autopilot as a distraction, and head in on foot.
They notice the imps that are bound to the twisted gargoyles seem to move when they aren’t looking, so they try to move strategically. Test shuts down the jamming field, and they pick up a weak signal from Avo’s burner. They head in, planning to gas all the guards and drivers, but find them dead from some sort of maddened fight- guns, knives, fists, and spells. Those few who escaped the guardhouse look to have been shredded on the lawn, and the stone chips in the wounds suggest them imps are there to keep anyone from fleeing. They head further in and find that the strange extended architecture of the house seems to have collapsed with disastrous effects. They also find a ton of bodies, as well as numerous missing rooms, based on their drone scouting.
They find Avo and wake him up and stabilize him. He seems to be the only survivor- they search for the others but Avo tells them what he knows and they think that they are not there, and likely passed through a portal. Teeth finds the tome clutched by one dead cultist, but the rest of the library seems either fake or destroyed. The door to the basement, which Avo suggests as an exit, seems to have collapsed on itself also, in a way that Teeth thinks could only be caused by the abrupt closure of a metaplanar portal. Sol tells them to try to lure the imps in and then get well clear, so they set a series of explosives to make the imps think they are trying to leave through one blown open hole while they instead use another. Teeth watches in astral to track imp movement.
The team legs it for Nichols’ boat, but Avo and Test fall behind- luckily Teeth tasks his spirit with using it’s remaining powers to give them the movement assistance they need, and they make the boat ahead of the pursuing imps, disturbing to watch as the gargoyles are obviously not meant to move the way that they are. Nichols guns it as the team sees something drop out of the sky, Kinnie ID’s it as a fuel-air bomb, but it seems to have a second canister, which Teeth ID’s as FAB III as it devastatingly goes off, destroying the mansion, as well as the local manasphere. They get dropped in NJ at a safehouse run by a strict safehouse master named Nanuli who tells them they will be locked in til the New Years for their own safety. He offers to take out one message, which they begin to compose, while they wonder what happened to their friends…